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Title: The Camerons of Highboro
Author: Gilchrist, Beth Bradford, 1879-1957
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 "The Camerons of Highboro" ***

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[Illustration]



[Illustration: How good bacon tasted when you broiled it yourself on a
forked stick]



THE CAMERONS OF HIGHBORO

BY

BETH B. GILCHRIST

Author of "Cinderella's Granddaughter," etc.

ILLUSTRATED BY PHILLIPPS WARD

NEW YORK

THE CENTURY CO.

1919



Copyright, 1919, by The Century Co.

Published, September, 1919



CONTENTS

     I ELLIOTT PLANS AND FATE DISPOSES                               1
    II THE END OF A JOURNEY                                         23
   III CAMERON FARM                                                 37
    IV IN UNTRODDEN FIELDS                                          63
     V A SLACKER UNPERCEIVED                                        91
    VI FLIERS                                                      120
   VII PICNICKING                                                  146
  VIII A BEE STING                                                 171
    IX ELLIOTT ACTS ON AN IDEA                                     197
     X WHAT'S IN A DRESS?                                          223
    XI MISSING                                                     244
   XII HOME-LOVING HEARTS                                          265



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

  How good bacon tasted when you broiled it yourself
      on a forked stick                                 _Frontispiece_
  Laura took the new cousin up to her room                          26
  Cutting the wiry brown stems in the fern-filled
      glade.                                                       140
  "I'm getting dinner all by myself"                               199



THE CAMERONS OF HIGHBORO



THE CAMERONS OF HIGHBORO


CHAPTER I

ELLIOTT PLANS AND FATE DISPOSES


Now and then the accustomed world turns a somersault; one day it faces
you with familiar features, the next it wears a quite unrecognizable
countenance. The experience is, of course, nothing new, though it is
to be doubted whether it was ever staged so dramatically and on so
vast a scale as during the past four years. And no one to whom it
happens is ever the same afterward.

Elliott Cameron was not a refugee. She did not trudge Flemish roads
with the pitiful salvage of her fortunes on her back, nor was she
turned out of a cottage in Poland with only a sackful of her household
treasures. Nevertheless, American girl though she was, she had to be
evacuated from her house of life, the house she had been building
through sixteen petted, autocratic years. This is the story of that
evacuation.

It was made, for all the world, like any Pole's or Serbian's or
Belgian's; material valuables she let pass with glorious carelessness,
as they left the silver spoons in order to salvage some sentimental
trifle like a baby-shoe or old love-letters. Elliott took the closing
of her home as she had taken the disposal of the big car, cheerfully
enough, but she could not leave behind some absurd little tricks of
thought that she had always indulged in. She was as strange to the
road as any Picardy peasant and as bewildered, with--shall I say
it?--considerably less pluck and spirit than some of them, when the
landmarks she had lived by were swept away. But they, you see, had a
dim notion of what was happening to them. Elliott had none. She didn't
even know that she was being evacuated. She knew only that ways which
had always worked before had mysteriously ceased working, that
prejudices and preoccupations and habits of mind and action, which she
had spent her life in accumulating, she must now say good-by to, and
that the war, instead of being across the sea, a thing one's friends
and cousins sailed away to, had unaccountably got right into America
itself and was interfering to an unreasonable extent in affairs that
were none of its business.

Father came home one night from a week's absence and said, as he
unfolded his napkin, "Well, chicken, I'm going to France."

They were alone at dinner. Miss Reynolds, the housekeeper, was dining
out with friends, as she sometimes did; nights that, though they both
liked Miss Reynolds, father and daughter checked with a red mark.

"To France?" A little thrill pricked the girl's spine as she
questioned. "Is it Red Cross?"

"Not this time. An investigation for the government. It may, probably
will, take months. The government wants a thorough job done. Uncle
Samuel thinks your ancient parent competent to hold up one end of the
thing."

"Stop!" Elliott's soft order commandeered all her dimples.

"I won't have you maligning my father, you naughty man! Ancient
parent, indeed! That's splendid, isn't it?"

"I rather like it. I was hoping it would strike you the same way."

"When do you go?"

"As soon as I can get my affairs in shape--I could leave to-morrow, if
I had to. Probably I shall be off in a week or ten days."

"I suppose the government didn't say anything about my investigating
something, too?"

"Now you mention it, I do not recollect that the subject came up."

She shook her head reprovingly, "That _was_ an omission! However, I
think I'll go as your secretary."

Mr. Cameron smiled across the table. How pretty she was, how
daintily arch in her sweetness! "That arrangement would be entirely
satisfactory to me, my dear, but I am not taking a secretary. I
shall get one over there, when I need one."

"But what can I go as?" pursued the girl. "I'd like to go as
something."

Heavens! she looked as though she meant it! "I'm afraid you can't go,
Lot, this time."

She lifted cajoling eyes. "But I want to. Oh, _I_ know! I can go to
school in Paris."

Her little air of having settled the matter left him smiling but
serious. "France has mouths enough to feed without one extra
school-girl's, chicken."

"I don't eat much. Are you afraid of submarines?"

"For you, yes."

"I'm not. Daddies dear, _mayn't_ I go? I'd love to be near you."

"Positively, my love, you may not."

She drew down the corners of her mouth and went through a bewitching
imitation of wiping tears out of her eyes. But she wasn't really
disappointed. She had been fairly certain in advance of what the
verdict would be. There had been a bare chance, of something
different--that was all, and it didn't pay to let chances, even the
barest, go by default. So she crumbled her warbread and remarked
thoughtfully, "I suppose I can stay at home, but it won't be very
exciting."

Her father seemed to find his next words hard to say. "I had a notion
we might close the house. It is rather expensive to keep up; not much
point in doing so just for one, is there? In going to France I shall
give my services."

"Of course. But the house--" The delicate brows lifted. "What were you
thinking of doing with me?"

"Dumping you on the corner. What else?" The two laughed together as at
a good joke. But there was a tightening in the man's throat. He
wondered how soon, after next week, he would again be sitting at table
opposite that vivacious young face.

"Seriously, Lot, I met Bob in Washington. He was there on conservation
business. When he heard what I was contemplating, he asked you up to
Highboro. Said Jessica and he would be delighted to have you visit
them for a year. They're generous souls. It struck me as a good plan.
Your uncle is a fine man, and I have always admired his wife. I've
never seen as much of her as I'd have liked. What do you say to the
idea?"

"Um-m-m." Elliott did not commit herself. "Uncle Bob and Aunt Jessica
are very nice, but I don't know them."

"House full of boys and girls. You won't be lonely."

The piquant nose wrinkled mischievously. "That would never do. I like
my own way too well."

He laughed. "And you generally manage to get it by hook or by crook!"

"I? You malign me. You _give_ it to me because you like me."

How adorably pretty she looked!

He laughed again. "You've got your old dad there, all right. Yes, yes,
you've got him there!"

"Didn't I tell you just now that you mustn't call my father old?"

"So you did! So you did! Well, well, the truth will out now and then,
you know. _Could_ you inveigle Jane into giving us more butter?--By
the way, here's a letter from Jessica. I found it in the stack on my
desk to-night. Better read it before you say no."

"Oh, I will," Elliott received the letter without enthusiasm. "Very
good of her, I'm sure. I'll write and thank her to-morrow; but I think
I'll go to Aunt Nell's."

"Just as you say. You know Elinor better. But I rather incline to Bob
and Jess. There is something to be said for variety, Lot."

"Yes, but a year is so long. Why, Father Cameron, a year is three
hundred and sixty-five whole days long and I don't know how many hours
and minutes and--and seconds. The seconds are awful! Daddles darling,
I never could support life away from you in a perfectly strange family
for all those interminable seconds!"

"Your own cousins, chicken; and they wouldn't seem strange long. I've
a notion they'd help make time hustle. Better read the letter. It's a
good letter."

"I will--when I don't have you to talk to. What's the matter?"

"Bless me, I forgot to tell Miss Reynolds! Nell's coming to-night.
Wired half an hour ago."

"Aunt Nell? Oh, jolly!" The slender hands clapped in joyful pantomime.
"But don't worry about Miss Reynolds. _I_ will tell Anna to make a
room ready. Now we can settle things talking. It's so much more
satisfactory than writing."

The man laughed. "Can't say no, so easily, eh, chicken?"

She joined in his laugh. "There is something in that, of course, but
it isn't very polite of you to insinuate that any one would _wish_ to
say no to me."

"I stand corrected of an error in tact. No, I can't quite see Elinor
turning you down."

That was the joy of these two; they were such boon companions, like
brother and sister together instead of father and daughter.

But now Elliott, too, remembered something. "Oh, Father! Quincy has
scarlet fever!"

"Scarlet fever? When did he come down?"

"Just to-day. They suspected it yesterday, and Stannard came over to
Phil Tracy's. To-day the doctor made sure. So Maude and Grace are
going right on from the wedding to that Western ranch where they were
invited. All their outfits are in the house here, but they will get
new ones in New York."

"Where's James?"

"Uncle James went to the hotel, and Aunt Margaret, of course, is
quarantined. Quincy isn't very sick. They've postponed all their
house-parties for two months."

"H'm. Where do they think the boy caught it?"

"Not an idea. He came home from school Thursday."

"Well, Cedarville will be minus Camerons for a while, won't it?"

"It certainly will. Both houses closed--or Uncle James's virtually so.
Do you know what Aunt Nell is coming for?"

"Not the ghost of a notion. Perhaps she is going to adopt a dozen
young Belgians and wants me to draw up the papers."

"Mercy! I hope not a whole dozen, if I am to stay at Clover Hill with
her. Half a dozen would be enough."

"Want you at Clover Hill?" said Aunt Elinor, when the first greetings
were over and she had heard the news. "Why, you dear child, of course
I do! Or rather I should, if I were to be there myself. But I'm going
to France, too."

"To France!"

"Red Cross," with an enthusiastic nod of the perfectly dressed head.
"Lou Emery and I are going over. That's what I stopped off to tell you
people. Ran down to New York to see about my papers. It's all settled.
We sail next week. Now I'm hurrying back to shut up Clover Hill. Then
for something worth while! Do you know," the fine eyes turned from
contemplation of a great mass of pink roses on the table, "I feel as
though I were on the point of beginning to live at last. All my days I
have spent dashing about madly in search of a good time. Now--well,
now I shall go where I'm sent, live for weeks, maybe, without a bath,
sleep in my clothes in any old place, when I sleep at all; but I'm
crazy, simply crazy to get over there and begin."

It was then that Elliott began dimly to sense a predicament. Even then
she didn't recognize it for an _impasse_. Such things didn't happen to
Elliott Cameron. But she did wish that Quincy had selected another
time for isolating her Uncle James's house. Not that she particularly
desired to spend a year, or a fraction of a year, with the James
Camerons, but they were preferable to her Uncle Robert's family, on
the principle that ills you know and understand make a safer venture
than a jump in the dark. Nothing radical was wrong with the Robert
Camerons except that they were dark horses. They lived farther away
than the other Camerons, which wouldn't have mattered--geography
seldom bothered a Cameron--if they hadn't chosen to let it. On second
thoughts, perhaps that, however, was exactly what did matter. Elliott
understood that the Robert Camerons were poor. More than once she had
heard her father say he feared "Bob was hard up." But Bob was as proud
as he was hard up; Elliott knew that Father had never succeeded in
lending him any money.

She let these things pass through her mind as she reviewed the
situation. Proud and independent and poor--those were worthy
qualities, but they did not make any family interesting. They were
more apt, Elliott thought, to make it uninteresting. No, the Robert
Camerons were out of the question, kindly though they might be. If she
must spend a year outside her own home, away from her father-comrade,
she preferred to spend it with her own sort.

There is this to be said for Elliott Cameron; she had no mother, had
had no mother since she could remember. The mother Elliott could not
remember had been a very lovely person, and as broad-minded as she was
charming. Elliott had her mother's charm, a personal magnetism that
twined people around her little finger, but she was essentially
narrow-minded. With Elliott it was a matter of upbringing, of
coming-up rather, since within somewhat wide limits her upbringing
had, after all, been largely in her own hands. Henry Cameron had had
neither the heart nor the will to thwart his only child.

Before she went to bed, Elliott, curled up on her window-seat, read
Aunt Jessica's letter. It was a good letter, a delightful letter, and
more than that. If she had been older, she might, just from reading
it, have seen why her father wanted her to go to Highboro. As it was,
something tugged at her heartstrings for a moment, but only for a
moment. Then she swung her foot over the edge of the window-seat and
disposed of the situation, as she had always disposed of situations,
to her liking. She had no notion that the Fates this time were against
her.

The next day her cousin Stannard Cameron came over. Stannard was a
long, lazy youth, with a notion that what he did or didn't do was a
matter of some importance to the universe. All the Camerons were
inclined to that supposition, all but the Robert Camerons; and we
don't know about them yet.

"So they're going to ship me up into the wilds of Vermont to Uncle
Bob's," he ended his tale of woe. "They'll be long on the soil, and
all that rot. Have a farm, haven't they?"

"I was invited up there, too," said Elliott.

"_You!_" An instant change became visible in the melancholy
countenance. "Going?"

"No, I think not."

"Oh, come on! Be a sport. We'd have fun together."

"I'll be a sport, but not that kind."

"Guess again, Elliott. You and I could paint the place red, whatever
kind of a shack it is they've got."

"Stannard," said the girl, "you're terribly young. If you think
I'd go anywhere with you and put up any kind of a game on our
cousins--_cousins_, Stan--"

"There are cousins and cousins."

She shook her head. "No wilds in mine. When do you start?"

"To-morrow, worse luck! What _are_ you going to do?"

She smiled tantalizingly. "I have made plans." True, she had made
plans. The fact that the second party to the transaction was not yet
aware of their existence did not alter the fact that she had made
them. Then she devoted herself to the despondent Stannard, and sent
him away cheered almost to the point of thinking, when he left the
house, that Vermont was not quite off the map.

Not so Elizabeth Royce. Bess knew precisely what was on the map, and
had Vermont been there, she would have noticed it. There was not much,
Miss Royce secretly flattered herself, that escaped her. She had heard
of Mr. Robert Cameron; but whether he resided in Kamchatka or
Timbuctoo she could not have told you. Mr. Robert Cameron, she had
adduced with an acumen beyond her years, was the unsuccessful member
of a highly successful family. And now Elliott, adorable Elliott, was
to be marooned in this uncharted district for a whole year. It was
unthinkable!

"But, Elliott darling, you'd _die_ in Vermont!"

"Oh, no!" said Elliott; "I don't think I should find it pleasant, but
I shouldn't die."

"Pleasant!" sniffed Miss Royce. "I should say not."

"It _is_ rather far away from everybody. Think of not seeing you for a
year, Bess!"

"I don't want to think of it. What's the matter with your Uncle
James's house when the quarantine's lifted?"

"Nothing. But it has only just been put on."

"And the tournament next week. You _can't_ miss that! Oh, _Elliott_!"

"I think," remarked Elliott pensively, "there ought to be a home
opened for girls whose fathers are in France."

"Why," asked Bess, gripped by a great idea, "why shouldn't you come to
us while your uncle's house is quarantined?"

Why not, indeed? Elliott thought Bess a little slow in arriving at so
obvious and satisfactory a solution of the whole difficulty, but she
was properly reluctant about accepting in haste. "Wouldn't that be too
much trouble? Of course, it would be perfectly lovely for me, but what
would your mother say?"

"Mother will love to have you!" Miss Royce spoke with conviction.

They spent the rest of the afternoon making plans and Elizabeth went
home walking on air.

But Mother, alas! proved a stumbling-block. "That would be very nice,"
she said, "very nice indeed; but Elliott Cameron has plenty of
relatives. They will make some arrangement among them. I should hardly
feel at liberty to interfere with their plans."

"But her Aunt Elinor is going to France, and you know the James
Camerons' house is in quarantine. That leaves only the Vermont
Camerons--"

"Oh, yes. I remember, now, there was a third brother. They have their
plans, probably."

And that was absolutely all Bess could get her mother to say.

"But, Mother," she almost sobbed at last, "I--I _asked_ her!"

"Then I am afraid you will have to un-ask her," said Mrs. Royce. "We
really can't get another person into the house this summer, with your
Aunt Grace and her family coming in July."

Then it was that Elliott discovered the _impasse_. Try as she would,
she could find no way out, and she lost a good deal of sleep in the
attempt. To have to do something that she didn't wish to do was
intolerable. You may think this very silly; if you do, it shows that
you have not always had your own way. Elliott had never had anything
but her own way. That it had been in the main a sweet and likable way
did not change the fact. And how Stannard would gloat over her! He had
had to do the thing himself, but secretly she had looked down on him
for it, just as she had always despised girls who lamented their
obligation to go to places where they did not wish to go. There was
always, she had held, a way out, if you used your brains. Altogether,
it was a disconcerted, bewildered, and thoroughly put-out young lady
who, a week later, found herself taking the train for Highboro. The
world--her familiar, complacent, agreeable world--had lost its
equilibrium.



CHAPTER II

THE END OF A JOURNEY


Hours later, from a red-plush, Pullmanless train, Elliott Cameron
stepped down to three people--a tall, dark, surprisingly pretty
girl a little older than herself, a chunky girl of twelve, and a
middle-sized, freckle-faced boy. The boy took her bag and asked for
her trunk-checks quite as well as any of her other cousins could
have done and the tall girl kissed her and said how glad they were
to have the chance to know her.

"I am Laura," she said, "and here is Gertrude; and Henry will bring up
your trunks to-morrow, unless you need them to-night. Mother sent you
her love. Oh, we're so glad to have you come!"

Then it is to be feared that Elliott perjured herself. Her all-day
journey had not in the least reconciled her to the situation; if
anything, she was feeling more bewildered and put out than when she
started. But surprise and dismay had not routed her desire to please.
She smiled prettily as her glance swept the welcoming faces, and
kissed the girls and handed the boy two bits of pasteboard, and
said--Oh, Elliott!--how delighted she was to see them at last. You
would never have dreamed from Elliott's lips that she was not
overjoyed at the chance to come to Highboro and become acquainted with
cousins that she had never known.

But Laura, who was wiser than she looked, noticed that the new-comer's
eyes were not half so happy as her tongue. Poor dear, thought Laura,
how pretty she was and how daintily patrician and charming! But her
father was on his way to France! And though he went in civilian
capacity and wasn't in the least likely to get hurt, when they were
seated in the car Laura leaned over and kissed her new cousin again,
with the recollection warm on her lips of empty, anxious days when she
too had waited for the release of the cards announcing safe arrivals
overseas.

Elliott, who was every minute realizing more fully the inexorableness
of the fact that she was where she was and not where she wasn't,
kissed back without much thought. It was her nature to kiss back,
however she might feel underneath, and the surprising suddenness of
the whole affair had left her numb. She really hadn't much curiosity
about the life into which she was going. What did it matter, since she
didn't intend to stay in it? Just as soon as the quarantine was lifted
from Uncle James's house she meant to go back to Cedarville. But she
did notice that the little car was not new, that on their way through
the town every one they met bowed and smiled, that Henry had amazingly
good manners for a country boy, that Laura looked very strong, that
Gertrude was all hands and elbows and feet and eyes, and that the car
was continually either climbing up or sliding down hills. It slid out
of the village down a hill, and it was climbing a hill when it met
squarely in the road a long, low, white house, canopied by four big
elms set at the four corners, and gave up the ascent altogether with a
despairing honk-honk of its horn.

A lady rose from the wide veranda of the white house, laid something
gray on a table, and came smilingly down the steps. A little girl of
eight followed her, two dogs dashed out, and a kitten. The road ran
into the yard and stopped; but behind the house the hill kept on going
up. Elliott understood that she had arrived at the Robert Camerons'.

[Illustration: Laura took the new cousin up to her room]

The lady, who was tall and dark-haired, like Laura, but with lines of
gray threading the black, put her arms around the girl and kissed her.
Even in her preoccupation, Elliott was dimly aware that the quality of
this embrace was subtly different from any that she had ever received
before, though the lady's words were not unlike Laura's. "Dear child,"
she said, "we are so glad to know you." And the big dark eyes smiled
into Elliott's with a look that was quite new to that young person's
experience. She didn't know why she felt a queer thrill run up her
spine, but the thrill was there, just for a minute. Then it was gone
and the girl only thought that Aunt Jessica had the most fascinating
eyes that she had ever seen; whenever she chose, it seemed that she
could turn on a great steady light to shine through their velvety
blackness.

Laura took the new cousin up to her room. The house through which they
passed seemed rather a barren affair, but somehow pleasant in spite of
its dark painted floors and rag rugs and unmistakably shabby
furniture. Flowers were everywhere, doors stood open, and breezes blew
in at the windows, billowing the straight scrim curtains. The guest's
room was small and slant-ceilinged. One picture, an unframed
photograph of a big tree leaning over a brook, was tacked to the wall;
a braided rug lay on the floor; on a small table were flowers and a
book; over the queer old chest of drawers hung a small mirror; there
was no pier-glass at all. Very spotless and neat, but bare--hopelessly
bare, unless one liked that sort of thing.

There was one bit of civilization, however, that these people
appreciated--one's need of warm water. As Elliott bathed and dressed,
her spirits lightened a little. It did rather freshen a person's
outlook, on a hot day, to get clean. She even opened the book to
discover its name. "Lorna Doone." Was that the kind of thing they read
at the farm? She had always meant to read "Lorna Doone," when she had
time enough. It looked so interminably long. But there wouldn't be
much else to do up here, she reflected. Then she surveyed what she
could of herself in the dim little mirror--probably Laura would wish
to copy her style of hair-dressing--and descended, very slender and
chic, to supper.

It was a big circle which sat down at that supper-table. There was
Uncle Robert, short and jolly and full of jokes, who wished to hear
all about everybody and plied Elliott with questions. There was
another new cousin, a wiry boy called Tom, and a boy older than Henry,
who certainly wasn't a cousin, but who seemed very much one of the
family and who was introduced as Bruce Fearing. And there was
Stannard. Stannard had returned in high feather from Upton and
intercourse with a classmate whom he would doubtless have termed his
kind. Stannard was inclined for a minute or two to indulge in code
talk with Elliott. She did not encourage him and it amused her to
observe how speedily the conversation became general again, though in
quite what way it was accomplished she could not detect.

But if these new cousins' manners were above reproach, their
supper-table was far from sophisticated. No maid appeared, and
Gertrude and Tom and eight-year-old Priscilla changed the plates.
Laura and Aunt Jessica, Elliott noticed, had entered from the kitchen.
It was no secret that all the girls had been berrying in the forenoon.
Henry seemed to have had a hand in making the ice-cream, judging by
the compliments he received. So that was the way they lived, thought
the new guest! It was, however, a surprisingly good supper. Elliott
was astonished at herself for eating so much salad, so many berries
and muffins, and for passing her plate twice for ice-cream.

After supper every one seemed to feel it the natural thing to set to
work and "do" the dishes, or something else equally pressing; at least
every one for a short time grew amazingly busy. Even Elliott asked for
an apron--it was Elliott's code when in Rome to do as the Romans
do--though she was relieved when her uncle tucked her arm in his and
said she must come and talk to him on the porch. As they left the
kitchen, the boy Bruce was skilfully whirling a string mop in a pan
full of hot suds.

Under cover of animated chatter with her uncle Elliott viewed the
prospect dolefully. Dish-washing came three times a day, didn't it?
The thing was evidently a family rite in this household. The girl
understood her respite could be only temporary; self-respect would see
to that. But didn't she catch a glimpse of Stannard nonchalantly
sauntering around a corner of the house with the air of one who hopes
his back will not be noticed?

Presently she discovered another household custom--to go up to the top
of the hill to watch the sunset. Up between flowering borders and
through a grassy orchard the path climbed, thence to wind through
thickets of sweet fern and scramble around boulders over a wild,
fragrant pasture slope. It was beautiful up there on the hilltop, with
its few big sheltering trees, its welter of green crests on every
side, and its line of far blue peaks behind which the sun went
down--beautiful but depressing. Depressing because every one, except
Stannard, seemed to enjoy it so. Elliott couldn't help seeing that
they were having a thoroughly good time. There was something engaging
about these cousins that Elliott had never seen among her cousins at
home, a good-fellowship that gave one in their presence a sense of
being closely knit together; of something solid, dependable and
secure, for all its lightness and variety. But, oh, dear! she knew
that she wasn't going to care for the things that they cared for, or
enjoy doing the things that they did! And there must be at least six
weeks of this--dish-washing and climbing hills, with good frocks on.
Six weeks, not a day longer. But she exclaimed in pretty enthusiasm
over Laura's disclosure of a bed of maidenhair fern, tasted
approvingly Tom's spring water, recited perfectly, after only one
hearing, Henry's tale of the peaks in view, and let Bruce Fearing give
her a geography lesson from the southernmost point of the hilltop.

It was only when at last she was in bed in the slant-ceilinged room,
with her candle blown out and a big moon looking in at the window,
that Elliott quite realized how forlorn she felt and how very, very
far three thousand miles from Father was actually going to seem.

The world up here in Vermont was so very still. There were no lights
except the stars, and for a person accustomed to an electrically
illuminated street only a few rods from her window, stars and a moon
merely added to the strangeness. Soft noises came from the other
rooms, sounds of people moving about, but not a sound from outside,
nothing except at intervals the cry of a mournful bird. After a while
the noises inside ceased. Elliott lay quiet, staring at the moonlit
room, and feeling more utterly miserable than she had ever felt before
in her life. Homesick? It must be that this was homesickness. And she
had been wont to laugh, actually laugh, at girls who said they were
homesick! She hadn't known that it felt like this! She hadn't known
that anything in all the world could feel as hideous as this. She knew
that in a minute she was going to cry--she couldn't help herself;
actually, Elliott Cameron was going to cry.

A gentle tap came at the door. "Are you asleep?" whispered a voice.
"May I come in?"

Laura entered, a tall white shape that looked even taller in the
moonlight.

"_Are_ you sleepy?" she whispered.

"Not in the least," said Elliott.

Laura settled softly on the foot of the bed. "I hoped you weren't.
Let's talk. Doesn't it seem a shame to waste time sleeping on a night
like this?"

Elliott tossed her a pillow. It was comforting to have Laura there, to
hear a voice saying something, no matter what it was talking about.
And Laura's voice was very pleasant and what she said was pleasant,
too.

Soon another shape appeared at the door Laura had left half-open. "It
is too fine a night to sleep, isn't it, girls?" Aunt Jessica crossed
the strip of moonlight and dropped down beside Laura.

"Are you all in here?" presently inquired a third voice. "I could hear
you talking and, anyway, I couldn't sleep."

"Come in," said Elliott.

Gertrude burrowed comfortably down on the other side of her mother.

Elliott, watching the three on the foot of her bed, thought they
looked very happy. Her aunt's hair hung in two thick braids, like a
girl's, over her shoulders, and her face, seen in the moonlight, made
Elliott feel things that she couldn't fit words to. She didn't know
what it was she felt, exactly, but the forlornness inside her began to
grow less and less, until at last, when her aunt bent down and kissed
her and a braid touched the pillow on each side of Elliott's face, it
was quite gone.

"Good night, little girl," said Aunt Jessica, "and happy dreams."



CHAPTER III

CAMERON FARM


Elliot opened her eyes to bright sunshine. For a minute she couldn't
think where she was. Then the strangeness came back with a stab, not
so poignant as on the night before but none the less actual.

"Oh," said a small, eager voice, "do you think you're going to stay
waked up now?"

Elliott's eyes opened again, opened to see Priscilla's round,
apple-cheeked face at the door.

"It isn't nice to peek, I know, but I'm going to get your breakfast,
and how could I tell when to start it unless I watched to see when you
waked up?"

"_You_ are going to get my breakfast?" Elliott rose on one elbow in
astonishment. "All alone?"

"Oh, yes!" said Priscilla. "Mother and Laura are making jelly, and
shelling peas in between--to put up, you know--and Trudy is pitching
hay, so they can't. Will you have one egg or two? And do you like 'em
hard-boiled or soft; or would you rather have 'em dropped on toast?
And how long does it take you to dress?"

"One--soft-boiled, please. I'll be down in half an hour."

"Half an hour will give me lots of time." The small face disappeared
and the door closed softly.

Elliott rose breathlessly and looked at her watch. Half an hour! She
must hurry. Priscilla would expect her. Priscilla had the look of
expecting people to do what they said they would. And hereafter, of
course, she must get up to breakfast. She wondered how Priscilla's
breakfast would taste. Heavens, how these people worked!

As a matter of fact, Priscilla's breakfast tasted delicious. The toast
was done to a turn; the egg was of just the right softness; a saucer
of fresh raspberries waited beside a pot of cream, and the whole was
served on a little table in a corner of the veranda.

"Laura said you'd like it out here," Priscilla announced anxiously.
"Do you?"

"Very much indeed."

"That's all right, then. I'm going to have some berries and milk right
opposite you. I always get hungry about this time in the forenoon."

"When do you have breakfast, regular breakfast, I mean?"

"At six o'clock in summer, when there's so much to do."

Six o'clock! Elliott turned her gasp of astonishment into a cough.

"_I_ sometimes choke," said Priscilla, "when I'm awfully hungry."

"Does Stannard eat breakfast at six?" Elliott felt she must get to the
bed-rock of facts.

"Oh, yes!"

"What is he doing now?"

Priscilla wrinkled her small brow. "Father and Bruce and Henry are
haying, and Tom's hoeing carrots. I _think_ Stan's hoeing carrots,
too. One day last week he hoed up two whole rows of beets; he thought
they were weeds. Oh!" A small hand was clapped over the round red
mouth. "I didn't mean to tell you that. Mother said I mustn't ever
speak of it, 'cause he'd feel bad. Don't you think you could forget
it, quick?"

"I've forgotten it now."

"That's all right, then. After breakfast I'm going to show you my
chickens and my calf. Did you know, I've a whole calf all to
myself?--a black-and-whitey one. There are some cunning pigs, too.
Maybe you'd like to see them. And then I 'spect you'll want to go out
to the hay-field, or maybe make jelly."

"Oh, yes," said Elliott, "I can't see any of it too soon." But she was
ashamed of her double meaning, with those round, eager eyes upon her.
And her heart went down quite into her boots.

But the chickens, she had to confess, were rather amusing. Priscilla
had them all named and was quite sure some of them, at least, answered
to their names and not merely to the sound of her voice. She appealed
to Elliott for corroboration on this point and Elliott grew almost
interested trying to decide whether or not Chanticleer knew he was
"Chanticleer" and not "Sunflower." There were also "Fluff" and
"Scratch" and "Lady Gay" and "Ruby Crown" and "Marshal Haig" and
"General Pétain" and many more, besides "Brevity," so named because,
as Priscilla solicitously explained, she never seemed to grow. They
all, with the exception of Brevity, looked as like as peas to Elliott,
but Priscilla seemed to have no difficulty in distinguishing them.

Priscilla's enthusiasm was contagious; or, to be more exact, it was so
big and warm and generous that it covered any deficiency of enthusiasm
in another. Elliott found herself trailing Priscilla through the barns
and even out to see the pigs, meeting Ferdinand Foch, the very new
colt, and Kitchener of Khartoum, who had been a new colt three years
before, and almost holding hands with the "black-and-whitey" calf,
which Priscilla had very nearly decided to call General Pershing. And
didn't Elliott think that would be a nice name, with "J.J." for short?
Elliott had barely delivered herself of a somewhat amused affirmative
(though the amusement she knew enough to conceal), when the small
tongue tripped into the pigs' roster. Every animal on the farm seemed
to have a name and a personality. Priscilla detailed characteristics
quite as though their possessors were human.

It was an enlightened but somewhat surfeited cousin whom Priscilla
blissfully escorted into the summer kitchen, a big latticed space
filled with the pleasant odors of currant jelly. On the broad table
stood trays of ruby-filled glasses.

"We've seen all the creatures," Priscilla announced jubilantly "and
she loves 'em. Oh, the jelly's done, isn't it? Mumsie, may we scrape
the kettle?"

Aunt Jessica laughed. "Elliott may not care to scrape kettles."

Priscilla opened her eyes wide at the absurdity of the suggestion.
"You do, don't you? You must! Everybody does. Just wait a minute till
I get spoons."

"I don't think I quite know how to do it," said Elliott.

The next minute a teaspoon was thrust into her hand. "Didn't you
_ever_?" Priscilla's voice was both aghast and pitying. "It wastes a
lot, not scraping kettles. Good as candy, too. Here, you begin." She
pushed a preserving-kettle forward hospitably.

Elliott hesitated.

"_I'll_ show you." The small hand shot in, scraped vigorously for a
minute, and withdrew, the spoon heaped with ruddy jelly. "There!
Mother didn't leave as much as usual, though. I 'spect it's 'cause
sugar's so scarce. She thought she must put it all into the glasses.
But there's always something you can scrape up."

"It is delicious," said Elliott, graciously; "and what a lovely
color!"

Priscilla beamed. "You may have two scrapes to my one, because you
have so much time to make up."

"You generous little soul! I couldn't think of doing that. We will
take our 'scrapes' together."

Priscilla teetered a little on her toes. "I like you," she said. "I
like you a whole lot. I'd hug you if my hands weren't sticky. Scraping
kettles makes you awful sticky. You make me think of a princess, too.
You're so bee-yeautiful to look at. Maybe that isn't polite to say.
Mother says it isn't always nice to speak right out all you think."

The dimples twinkled in Elliott's cheeks. "When you think things like
that, it is polite enough." In the direct rays of Priscilla's shining
admiration she began to feel like her normal, petted self once more.
Complacently she followed the little girl into the main kitchen. It
was a long, low, sunny room with a group of three windows at each end,
through which the morning breeze pushed coolly. Between the windows
opened many doors. At one side stood a range, all shining nickel and
cleanly black. Opposite the range, at a gleaming white sink, Aunt
Jessica was busying herself with many pans. At an immaculately scoured
table Laura was pouring peas into glass jars. On the walls was a
blue-and-white paper; even the woodwork was white.

"I didn't know a kitchen," Elliott spoke impulsively, "could be so
pretty."

"This is our work-room," said her aunt. "We think the place where we
work ought to be the prettiest room in the house. White paint requires
more frequent scrubbing than colored paint; but the girls say they
don't mind, since it keeps our spirits smiling. Would you like to help
dry these pans? You will find towels on that line behind the stove."

Elliott brought the dish-towels, and proceeded to forget her own
surprise at the request in the interest of Aunt Jessica's talk. Mrs.
Cameron had a lovely voice; the girl did not remember ever having
heard a more beautiful voice, and it was used with a cultured ease
that suddenly reminded Elliott of an almost forgotten remark once made
in her hearing by Stannard's mother. "It is a sin and shame," Aunt
Margaret had said, "to bury a woman like Jessica Cameron on a farm.
What possessed her to let Robert take her there in the first place is
beyond my comprehension. Granting that first mistake, why she has let
him stay all these years is another enigma. Robert is all very well,
but Jessica! I would defy any one to produce the situation _anywhere_
that Jessica wouldn't be equal to."

That had been a good deal for Aunt Margaret to say. Elliott had
realized it at the time and wondered a little; now she understood the
words, or thought she did. Why, even drying milk-pans took on a
certain distinction when it was done in Aunt Jessica's presence!

Then Aunt Jessica said something that really did surprise her young
guest. She had been watching the girl closely, quite without Elliott's
knowledge.

"Perhaps you would like this for your own special part of the work,"
she said pleasantly. "We each have our little chores, you know. I
couldn't let every girl attempt the milk things, but you are so
careful and thorough that I haven't the least hesitation about giving
them to you. Now I am going to wash the separator. Watch me, and then
you will know just what to do."

The words left Elliott gasping. Wash the separator, all by herself,
every day--or was it twice a day?--for as long as she stayed here! And
pans--all these pans? What was a separator, anyway? She wished flatly
to refuse, but the words stuck in her throat. There was something
about Aunt Jessica that you couldn't say no to. Aunt Jessica so
palpably expected you to be delighted. She was discriminating, too.
She had recognized at once that Elliott was not an ordinary girl.
But--but--

It was all so disconcerting that self-possessed Elliott stammered. She
stammered from pure surprise and chagrin and a confusing mixture of
emotions, but what she stammered was in answer to Aunt Jessica's tone
and extracted from her by the force of Aunt Jessica's personality. The
words came out in spite of herself.

"Oh--oh, thank you," she said, a bit blankly. Then she blushed with
confusion. How awkward she had been. Oughtn't Aunt Jessica to have
thanked her?

If Aunt Jessica noticed either the confusion or the blankness, she
gave no sign.

"That will be fine!" she said heartily. "I saw by the way you handled
those pans that I could depend on you."

Insensibly Elliott's chin lifted. She regarded the pans with new
interest. "Of course," she assented, "one has to be particular."

"Very particular," said Aunt Jessica, and her dark eyes smiled on the
girl.

The words, as she spoke them, sounded like a compliment. It mightn't
be so bad, Elliott reflected, to wash milk-pans every morning. And in
Rome you do as the Romans do. She watched closely while Aunt Jessica
washed the separator. She could easily do that, she was sure. It did
not seem to require any unusual skill or strength or brain-power.

"It is not hard work," said Aunt Jessica, pleasantly. "But so many
girls aren't dependable. I couldn't count on them to make everything
clean. Sometimes I think just plain dependableness is the most
delightful trait in the world. It's so rare, you know."

Elliott opened her eyes wide. She had been accustomed to hear charm
and wit and vivacity spoken of in those terms, but dependableness? It
had always seemed such a homely, commonplace thing, not worth
mentioning. And here was Aunt Jessica talking of it as of a crown
jewel! Right down in her heart at that minute Elliott vowed that the
separator should always be clean.

The separator, however, must not commit her indiscriminately, she saw
that clearly. Perhaps in fact, it would save her. Hadn't Aunt Jessica
said each had her own tasks? Ergo, you let others alone. But she had
an uncomfortable feeling that this reasoning might prove false in
practice; in this household a good many tasks seemed to be pooled. How
about them?

And then Laura looked up from her jars and said the oddest thing yet
in all this morning of odd sayings: "Oh, Mother, mayn't we take our
dinner out? It is such a perfectly beautiful day!" As though a
beautiful day had anything to do with where you ate your dinner!

But Aunt Jessica, without the least surprise in her voice, responded
promptly: "Why, yes! We have three hours free now, and it seems a
crime to stay in the house."

What in the world did they mean?

Priscilla seemed to have no difficulty in understanding. She jumped up
and down and cried: "Oh, goody! goody! We're going to take our dinner
out! We're going to take our dinner out! Isn't it _jolly_?"

She was standing in front of Elliott as she spoke, and the girl felt
that some reply was expected of her. "Why, can we? Where do we go?"
she asked, exactly as though she expected to see a hotel spring up out
of the ground before her eyes.

"Lots of days we do," said Priscilla. "We'll find a nice place. Oh,
I'm glad it takes peas three whole hours to can themselves. I think
they're kind of slow, though, don't you?"

Laura noticed the bewilderment on Elliott's face. "Priscilla means
that we are going to eat our dinner out-of-doors while the peas cook
in the hot-water bath," she explained. "Don't you want to pack up the
cookies? You will find them in that stone crock on the first shelf in
the pantry, right behind the door. There's a pasteboard box in there,
too, that will do to put them in."

"How many shall I put up?" questioned Elliott.

"Oh, as many as you think we'll eat. And I warn you we have good
appetites."

Those were the vaguest directions, Elliott thought, that she had ever
heard; but she found the box and the stone pot of cookies and stood a
minute, counting the people who were to eat them. Four right here in
the kitchen and five--no, six--out-of-doors. Would two dozen cookies
be enough for ten people? She put her head into the kitchen to ask,
but there was no one in sight, so she had to decide the point by
herself. After nibbling a crumb she thought not, and added another
dozen. And then there was still so much room left that she just filled
up the box, regardless. Afterward she was very glad of it. She
wouldn't have supposed it possible for ten people to eat as many
cookies as those ten people ate after all the other things they had
eaten.

By the time she had finished her calculations with the cookies, Aunt
Jessica and Laura and Priscilla were ready. When Elliott emerged from
the pantry, the little car was at the kitchen door, with a hamper and
two pails of water in it, and on the back seat a long, queer-looking
box that Laura told Elliott was a fireless cooker.

"Home-made," said Laura, "you'd know that to look at it, but it works
just as well. It's the grandest thing, especially when we want to eat
out-of-doors. Saves lots of trouble."

Elliott gasped. "You mean you carry it along to cook the dinner in?"

"Why, the dinner's cooking in it now! Hop on, everybody. Mother, you
take the wheel. Elliott and I will ride on the steps."

Away they sped, bumpity-bump, to the hay-field, picking up the
carrot-hoers as they went. It is astonishing how many people can cling
to one little car, when those people are neither very wide nor, some
of them, very tall. From the hay-field they nosed their way into a
little dell, all ferns and cool white birches, and far above, a canopy
of leaf-traceried blue sky. In the next few minutes it became very
plain to the new cousin that the Camerons were used to doing this kind
of thing. Every one seemed to know exactly what to do. The pails of
water were swung to one side; the fireless cooker took up its position
on a flat gray rock. The hamper yielded loaves of bread--light and
dark, that one cut for oneself on a smooth white board--and a basket
stocked with plates and cups and knives and forks and spoons. Potted
meat and potatoes and two kinds of vegetables, as they were wanted,
came from the fireless cooker, all deliciously tender and piping hot.
It was like a cafeteria in the open, thought Elliott, except that one
had no tray.

And every one laughed and joked and had a good time. Even Elliott had
a fairly good time, though she thought it was thoroughly queer. You
see, it had never occurred to her that people could pick up their
dinner and run out-of-doors into any lovely spot that they came to, to
eat it. She wasn't at all sure she cared for that way of doing things.
But she liked the beauty of the little dell, the ferny smell of it,
and the sunshine and cheerfulness. The occasional darning-needles, and
small green worms, and black or other colored bugs, she enjoyed less.
She hadn't been accustomed to associate such things with her dinner.
But nobody else seemed to mind; perhaps the others were used to taking
bugs and worms with their meals. If one appeared, they threw him away
and went on eating as though nothing had happened.

And of course it was rather clever of them, the girl reflected, to
take a picnic when they could get it. If they hadn't done so, she
didn't quite see, judging by the portion of a day she had so far
observed, how they could have got any picnics at all. The method
utilized scraps of time, left-overs and between-times, that were good
for little else. It was a rather arresting discovery, to find out that
people could divert themselves without giving up their whole time to
it. But, after all, it wasn't a method for her. She was positive on
that point. It seemed the least little bit common, too--such
whole-hearted absorption as the Camerons showed in pursuits that were
just plain work.

"Stan," she demanded, late that afternoon, "is there any tennis
here?"

"Not so you'd notice it. What are you thinking of, in war-time,
Elliott? Uncle Samuel expects every farmer to do his duty. All the men
and older boys around here have either volunteered or been drafted. So
we're all farmers, especially the girls. _Quod erat demonstrandum_.
Savvy?"

"Any luncheons?"

"Meals, Lot, plain meals."

"Parties?"

Stannard threw up his hands. "Never heard of 'em!"

"Canoeing?"

"No water big enough."

"I suppose nobody here thinks of motoring for pleasure."

"Never. Too busy."

"Or gets an invitation for a spin?"

"You're behind the times."

"So I see."

"Harry told me that this summer is extra strenuous," Stannard
explained; "but they've always rather gone in for the useful, I take
it. Had to, most likely. They'd be all right, too, if they didn't live
so. They're a good sort, an awfully good sort. But, ginger, how a
fellow'd have to hump to keep up with 'em! I don't try. I do a little,
and then sit back and call it done."

If Elliott hadn't been so miserable, she would have laughed. Stannard
had hit himself off very well, she thought. He had his good points,
too. Not once had he reminded her that she hadn't intended to spend
her summer on a farm. But she was too unhappy to tease him as she
might have done at another time. She was still bewildered and inclined
to resent the trick life had played her. The prospect didn't look any
better on close inspection than it had at first; rather worse, if
anything. Imagine her, Elliott Cameron pitching hay! Not that any one
had asked her to. But how could a person live for six weeks with these
people and not do what they did? Such was Elliott's code. Delightful
people, too. But she didn't wish to pitch hay and she loathed washing
dishes. There was something so messy about dish-washing, ordinary
dish-washing; milk-pans were different.

Then suddenly Elliott Cameron did a strange thing. By this time she
had shaken off Stannard and had betaken herself and her disgust to the
edge of the woods. She was so very miserable that she didn't know
herself and she knew herself less than ever in this next act. Alone in
the woods, as she thought, with only moss underfoot and high green
boughs overhead, Elliott lifted her foot and deliberately and with
vehemence stamped it. "I don't like things!" she whispered, a little
shocked at her own words. "I don't _like_ things!"

Then she looked up and met the amused eyes of Bruce Fearing.

For a minute the hot color flooded the girl's face. But she seized the
bull by the horns. "I am cross," she said, "frightfully cross!" And
she looked so engagingly pretty as she said it that Bruce thought he
had never seen so attractive a girl.

"Anything in particular gone wrong with the universe?"

"Everything, with my part of it." What possessed her, she wondered
afterward, to say what she said next? "I never wanted to come here."

"That so? We've been thinking it rather nice."

In spite of herself, she was mollified. "It isn't quite that, either,"
she explained. "I've only just discovered the real trouble, myself.
What makes me so mad isn't altogether the fact that I didn't want to
come up here. It's that I hadn't any choice. I _had_ to come."

The boy's eyes twinkled. "So that's what's bothering you, is it? Cheer
up! You had the choice of _how_ you'd come, didn't you?"

"How?"

"Yes. Sometimes I think that's all the choice they give us in this
world. It's all I've had, anyway--how I'd do a thing."

"You mean, gracefully or--"

"I mean--"

"Hello!" said Stannard's voice. "What are you two chinning about
before the cows come home?"



CHAPTER IV

IN UNTRODDEN FIELDS


"You don't want to have much to do with that fellow," said Stannard,
when Bruce Fearing had gone on about whatever business he had in
hand.

"Why not?" Elliott's tone was short. She had wanted to hear what Bruce
was going to say.

"Oh, he is all right, enough, I guess, but nobody knows where he came
from. He and that Pete brother of his are no relations of ours, or of
Aunt Jessica's either."

"How does he happen to be living here, then?"

"Search me. Some kind of a pick-up, I gathered. Nobody talks much
about it. They take him as a matter of course. All right enough for
them, if they want to, but they really ought to warn strangers. A
fellow would think he was--er--all right, you know."

Stannard's words made Elliott very uncomfortable. She thought the
reason they disquieted her was that she had rather liked Bruce
Fearing, and now to have him turn out a person whom she couldn't be as
friendly with as she wished was disconcerting. It was only another
point in her indictment of life on the Cameron farm; one couldn't tell
whom one was knowing. But she determined to sound Laura, which would
be easy enough, and Stannard's charge might prove unfounded.

But sounding Laura was not easy, chiefly for the reason Stannard had
shrewdly deduced, that the Robert Camerons took Peter and Bruce
Fearing in quite as matter-of-fact a way as they took themselves.
Laura even failed to discover that she was being sounded.

"Who is this 'Pete' you're always talking about?" Elliott asked.

"Bruce's older brother--I almost said ours." The two girls were
skimming currants, Laura with the swift skill of accustomed fingers,
Elliott more slowly. "He is perfectly fine. I wish you could know
him."

"I gathered he was Bruce's brother."

"He's not a bit like Bruce. Pete is short and dark and as quick as a
flash. You'd know he would make a splendid aviator. There was a letter
in the 'Upton News' last night from an Upton doctor who is over there,
attached now to our boys' camp; did you see it? He says Bob and Pete
are 'the acknowledged aces' of their squadron. That shows we must have
missed some of their letters. The last one from Bob was written just
after he had finished his training."

"This--Pete went from here?"

"He and Bob were in Tech together, juniors. They enlisted in Boston,
and they've kept pretty close tabs on each other ever since. They had
their training over here in the same camps. In France, Pete got into
spirals first, 'by a fluke,' as he put it; Bob was unlucky with his
landings. But, some way or other, Bob seems to have beaten him to the
actual fighting. Now they're in it together." And Laura smiled and
then sighed, and the nimble fingers stopped work for a minute, only to
speed faster than ever.

"I haven't read you any of their letters, have I? Or Sid's either?
(Sidney is my twin, you know. He is at Devens.) But I will. If
anything, Pete's are funnier than Bob's. Both the boys have an eye to
the jolly side of things. Sometimes you wouldn't think there was
anything to flying but a huge lark, by the way they write. But there
was one letter of Pete's (it was to Mother), written from their first
training-camp in France after one of the boys' best friends had been
killed. Pete was evidently feeling sober, but oh, so different from
the way any one would have felt about such a thing before the war
began! There was plenty of fun in the letter, too, but toward the end,
Pete told about this Jim Stone's death, and he said: 'It has made us
all pretty serious, but nobody's blue. Jim was a splendid fellow, and
a chap can't think he has stopped as quick as all that. Mother Jess,
do you remember my talking to you one Sunday after church, freshman
vacation, about the things I didn't believe in? Why didn't you tell me
I was a fool? You knew it then, and I know it now.' That's Pete all
over. It made Mother and me very happy."

Elliott felt rather ashamed to continue her probing. "Have they always
lived with you," she asked, "the Fearings?"

"Oh, yes, ever since I can remember. Isn't Bruce splendid? I don't
know how we could have got on at all this summer without Bruce."

Then Elliott gave up. If a mystery existed, either Laura didn't know
of it, or she had forgotten it, or else she considered it too
negligible to mention.

The girl found that for some reason she did not care to ask
Stannard the source of his information. Would Bruce himself prove
communicative? There could be no harm in finding out. Besides, it
would tease Stannard to see her talking with "that fellow," and
Elliott rather enjoyed teasing Stannard. And didn't she owe him
something for a dictatorial interruption?

The thing would require manoeuvering. You couldn't talk to Bruce
Fearing, or to any one else up here, whenever you felt like it; he was
far too busy. But on the hill at sunset Elliott found her chance.

"I think Aunt Jessica," she remarked, "is the most wonderful woman
I've ever seen."

A glow lit up Bruce's quiet gray eyes. "Mother Jess," he said, "is a
miracle."

"She is so terrifically busy, and yet she never seems to hurry; and
she always has time to talk to you and she never acts tired."

"She is, though."

"I suppose she must be, sometimes. I like that name for her, 'Mother
Jess.' Your--aunt, is she?"

"Oh, no," said Bruce, simply. "I've no Cameron or Fordyce blood in me,
or any other pedigreed variety. My corpuscles are unregistered. She
and Father Bob took Pete and me in when I was a baby and Pete was a
mere toddler. I was born in the hotel down in the town there,--Am I
boring you?"

"No, indeed!" Elliott had the grace to blush at the ease with which
she was carrying on her investigation.

He wondered why she flushed, but went on quietly. "Our own mother died
there in the hotel when I was a week old and we didn't seem to have
any kin. At least, they never showed up. Mother was evidently a widow;
Mother Jess got that from her belongings. She stopped overnight at
Highboro, and I was born there. She hadn't told any one in the hotel
where she was going. Registered from Boston, but nobody could be found
in Boston who knew of her. The authorities were going to send Pete and
me to some kind of a capitalized Home, when Mother Jess stepped in.
She hadn't enough boys, so she said. Bob and Laura and Sid were on
deck. Henry and Tom came along later. Fordyce was the one that died;
he'd just slipped out. Mother Jess was feeling lonely, I guess.
Anyway, she took us two; said she thought we'd be better off on the
farm than in a Home and she needed us--bless her! Do you wonder Pete
and I swear by the Camerons?"

"No," said Elliott. "Indeed I don't." She had what she had been
angling for, in good measure, but she rather wished she hadn't got it,
after all. "Haven't you had any clue in all these years as to who your
people were?"

"Not the slightest. I'm willing to let things rest as they are."

"Yes, of course," thought Elliott, "but--" She let it go at "but."
Oughtn't somebody, as Stannard said, to have warned her? These boys'
people might have been very common persons, not at all like Camerons.
The fact that no relatives appeared proved that, didn't it? Every one
who was any one at all had a family. Bruce did not look common: his
gray eyes and his broad forehead and his keen, thin face were almost
distinguished, and his manners were above criticism. But one never
could tell. And hadn't he been brought up by Camerons? The very
openness with which he had told his story had something fine about it.
He, like Laura, seemed to see nothing in it to conceal.

Well, was there? Elliott could quite clearly imagine what Aunt
Margaret, Stannard's mother, would say to that question. She had never
especially cared for Aunt Margaret. As Elliott looked at Bruce
Fearing, one of the pillars of her familiar world began to totter.
Actually, she could think of no particularly good reason why, when she
had heard his story, she should proceed to shun him. His history
simply didn't seem to matter, except to make her sorry for him; and
yet she couldn't be really sorry for a boy who had been brought up by
Aunt Jessica.

Perhaps the Cameron Farm atmosphere was already beginning to work.

"I think you and your brother had luck," she said.

"I know we did," answered Bruce.

Elliott turned the conversation. "I wish you could tell me what you
were going to say, when we were interrupted yesterday, about a
person's having no choice except how he will do things--_you_ having
had only that kind of choice."

"I remember," said Bruce. "Well, for one thing, I suppose I could get
grouchy, if I chose, over not knowing who my people were."

"They may have been very splendid," said Elliott.

Bruce smiled. "It's not likely."

"In that case," she countered, "you have the satisfaction of _not_
knowing who they were."

"Exactly. But that's rather a crawl, isn't it? Of course, a fellow
would like to know."

The boy bent forward, and, with painstaking care, selected a blade
from a tuft of grass growing between his feet. He nibbled a minute
before he spoke again.

"See here, I'm going to tell you something I haven't told a soul. I'm
crazy to go to the war. Sometimes it seems as though I couldn't stay
home. When Pete's letters come I have to go away somewhere quick and
chop wood! Anything to get busy for a while."

"Aren't you too young? Would they take you?"

"Take me? You bet they'd take me! I'm eighteen. Don't I look twenty?"

The girl's eye ran critically over the strong young body, with its
long, supple, sinewy lines. "Yes," she nodded. "I think you do."

"They'd take me in a minute, in aviation or anything else."

"Then why don't you?"

"Who'd help Father Bob through the farm stunts? Young Bob's gone, and
Pete and Sidney. They were always here for the summer work. Henry's a
fine lad, but a boy still. Tom's nothing but a boy, though he does
his bit. As for the Women's Land Army, it's got up into these parts,
but not in force. Father Bob can't hire help: it's not to be had.
That's why Mother Jess and the girls are going in so for farm work.
They never did it before this year, except in sport. We have more land
under cultivation this summer than ever before, and fewer hands to
harvest it with. But Mother and the girls sha'n't have to work
harder than they're doing now, if I can help it. Could I go off and
leave them, after all they've done for me? But that's not it,
either--gratitude. They're mine, Father Bob and Mother Jess are, and
the rest; they're my folks. You're not exactly grateful to your own
folks, you know. They belong to you. And you don't leave what belongs
to you in the lurch."

"No," said Elliott. With awakened eyes she was watching Bruce. No boy
had ever talked of such things to her before. "So you're not going?"

"Not of my own will. Of course, if the war lasts and I'm drafted, or
the help problem lightens up, it will be different. Pete's gone. It
was Pete's right to go. He's the elder."

"But you _are_ choosing," Elliott cried earnestly. "Don't you see?
You're choosing to stay at home and--" words came swiftly into her
memory--"'fight it out on these lines all summer.'"

Bruce's smile showed that he recognized her quotation, but he shook
his head. "Choosing? I haven't any choice--except being decent about
it. Don't _you_ see I can't go? I can only try to keep from thinking
about not going."

"You being you," said the girl, and she spoke as simply and soberly as
Bruce himself, though her own warmth surprised her, "I see you can't
go. But was that all you meant"--her voice grew ludicrously
disappointed--"by a person's having a choice only of how he will do a
thing? There's nothing to that but making the best of things!"

Bruce Fearing threw back his head and laughed heartily.

"You're the funniest girl I've ever seen."

"Then you can't have seen many. But _is_ there?"

"Perhaps not. Stupid, isn't it?"

"Yes," she nodded, "I'm afraid it is. And frightfully old. I was
hoping you were going to tell me something new and exciting."

The boy chuckled again. "Nothing so good as that. Besides, I've a
hunch the exciting things aren't very new, after all."

Elliott went to sleep that night, if not any happier, at least more
interested. She had looked deep into the heart of a boy, different, it
appeared, from any boy that she had ever known; and something loyal
and sturdy and tender she had seen there had stirred her. It was odd
how well acquainted she felt with him; odd, too, how curious she was
to know him better, even though he hadn't the least idea who his
grandfather had been. "Bother his grandfather!" Elliott chuckled to
realize how such a sentiment would horrify Aunt Margaret. Grandfathers
were very important to Aunt Margaret and Aunt Margaret's children.
Grandfathers had always seemed fairly important to Elliott herself
until now. Was it their relative unimportance in the Robert Camerons'
estimation, or a pair of steady gray eyes, that had altered her
valuation? The girl didn't know and she was keen enough to know that
she didn't; keen enough, too, to perceive that the change in her
estimation of grandfathers applied to a single case only and might be
merely temporary.

However that might be, she was not ready yet to do anything so
inherently distasteful as make the best of what she didn't like,
especially when nobody but herself and two boys would know it. When
one makes the best of things, one likes to do it to crowded galleries,
that perceive what is going on and applaud. The Robert Camerons,
Elliott was quite sure, wouldn't applaud. They would take it as a
matter of course, just as they took her as a matter of course. They
were quite charming about it, as delightful hosts as one could
wish--if only they lived differently!--but Elliott wasn't used to
being taken for granted. She might have been these new cousins' own
sort, for any difference she could detect in their actions. They
didn't seem to begin to understand her importance. Perhaps she wasn't
so important, after all. The doubt had never before entered her mind.

The fact was, of course, that among these busy, efficient people she
was feeling quite useless; and she didn't like to appear incompetent
when she knew herself to be, in her own line, a thoroughly able
person. But it irked her to think that she had been forced into a
position where in self-defense she must either acquire a kind of
efficiency she didn't want or do without. At the same time it troubled
her lest this reluctance become apparent. For they were all loves and
she wouldn't hurt their feelings for worlds. And she did wish them to
admire her. But she had a feeling that they didn't altogether, not
even Priscilla and Bruce.

Nevertheless, the next day when Laura asked whether she would take her
book out to the hay-field or stay where she was on the porch, Elliott
looked up from "Lorna Doone" and said, with the prettiest little
coaxing air, "If I go, will you let me pitch hay?" And Laura answered
as lightly, "Certainly." "I don't believe you," said Elliott. "You may
ride on the hay-load," smiled Laura. "That won't do at all," Elliott
shook her head. "If I can't pitch hay, I'll stay here." Laura laughed
and said: "You certainly will be more comfortable here. I can't quite
see you pitching hay." And Elliott retorted: "You don't know what I
could do, if I tried. But since you won't let me try--"

It was all smiling and gay, but it was a crawl, and Elliott knew it
and knew that Laura knew it, and she felt ashamed. Wasn't Stannard's
frank shirking better than her camouflaged variety? But hadn't she
picked berries all the morning in a stuffy sunbonnet under a broiling
sun, until she felt as red as a berry and much less fresh and sweet?

"It's a shame," said Laura, "that this is just our busy season; but
you know you have to make hay while the sun shines. Father thinks we
can finish the lower meadows to-day. Then to-morrow we begin cutting
on the hill. It's really fun to ride the hay-rake. I mostly drive the
rake, though now and then I pitch for variety."

She looked so strong and brown and merry, as she talked, that Elliott,
comfortably established with "Lorna Doone," felt almost like flinging
her book into the next chair, slipping her arm through Laura's, and
crying, "Lead on!" But she remembered just in time that, as she hadn't
wished to come to the Cameron Farm, it would ill become her to have a
good time there. Which may seem like a childish way of looking at the
thing, but isn't really confined to children at all.

So the hay-makers tramped away down the road, their laughter floating
cheerfully back over their shoulders; and Elliott sat on the big shady
veranda and read her book.

She might have enjoyed it less had she heard Henry's frank summary at
the turn of the lane, when his father inquired the whereabouts of
Stannard.

"Beau Brummell hiked over to Upton half an hour ago. I offered him the
other Henry, but he doesn't seem to care to drive anything short of a
Pierce-Arrow. Twins, aren't they?" and Henry nodded in the direction
of the veranda.

"Sh-h!" reproved Laura. "They're our guests."

"Guests is just it. Yes, they're _guests_, all right."

"Mother says they don't know how to work," Priscilla observed.

"That's another true word, too."

Mother turned gaily in the road ahead. "Who is talking about me?" she
called.

Priscilla frisked on to join her, and Henry fell back to a confidential
exchange with Laura. "Beau wouldn't be so bad if he could forget for a
minute that he owned the earth and had a mortgage on the solar system.
But when he tries to snub Bruce--gee, that gets me!"

"Aren't you twanging the G string rather often lately, Hal?--Stannard
can't snub Bruce. Bruce isn't the kind of fellow to be snubbed."

"Just the same, it makes me sick to think anybody's a cousin to me
that would try it."

Laura switched back to the main subject. "We didn't ask them up here
as extra farm hands, you know."

"Bull's-eye," said Henry, and grinned.

What she did not know failed to trouble Elliott. She read on in lonely
peace through the afternoon. At a most exciting point the telephone
rang. Four, that was the Cameron call. Elliott went into the house and
took down the receiver.

"Mr. Robert Cameron's," she said pleasantly.

"S-say!" stuttered a high, sharp voice, "my little b-b-boys have let
your c-c-cows out o' the p-p-pasture. I'll g-give 'em a t-t-trouncin',
but 't won't git your c-c-cows back. They let 'em out the G-G-Garrett
Road, and your medder gate's open. Jim B-B-Blake saw it this mornin'!
Why the man didn't shut it, I d-d-dunno. You'll have to hurry to save
your medder."

"But," gasped Elliott, "I don't understand! You say the cows--"

"Are comin' down G-Garrett Road," snapped the stuttering voice, "the
whole kit an' b-b-bilin' of 'em. They'll be inter your upper m-medder
in five m-m-minutes."

Over the wire came the click of a receiver snapping back on its hook.
Elliott hung up and started toward the door. The cows had been let
out. Just why this incident was so disastrous she did not quite
comprehend, but she must go and tell her uncle. Before her feet
touched the veranda, however, she stopped. Five minutes? Why, there
wouldn't be time to go to the lower meadow, to say nothing of any
one's doing anything about the situation.

And then, with breath-taking suddenness, the thing burst on her. She
was alone in the house; even Aunt Jessica and Priscilla had gone to
the hay-field. The situation, whatever it was, was up to her.

For a minute the girl leaned weakly against the wall. Cows--there were
thirty in the herd--and she loathed cows! She was afraid of cows. She
knew nothing about cows. She was never in the slightest degree sure of
what the creatures might take it into their heads to do. For a minute
she stood irresolute. Then something stirred in the girl, something
self-reliant and strong. Never in her life had Elliott Cameron had to
do alone anything that she didn't already know how to do. Now for the
first time she faced an emergency on none but her own resources, an
emergency that was quite out of her line.

Her brain worked swiftly as her feet moved to the door. In reality,
she had wavered only a second. When Tom went for the cows, didn't he
take old Prince? There was just a chance that Prince wasn't in the
hay-field. She ran down the steps calling, "Prince! Prince!" The old
dog rose deliberately from his place on the shady side of the barn and
trotted toward her, wagging his tail. "Come, Prince!" cried Elliott,
and ran out of the yard.

Luckily, berrying had that very morning taken her by a short cut to
the vicinity of the upper meadow. She knew the way. But what was
likely to happen? Town-bred girl that she was, she had no idea. A
recollection of the smooth, upstanding expanse of the upper meadow
gave her a clue. If the cows got into that even erectness-- She began
to run, Prince bounding beside her, his brown tail a waving plume.

She could see the meadow now, a smooth green sea ruffled by nothing
heavier than the light feet of the summer breeze. She could see the
great gate invitingly open to the road and oh!--her heart stopped
beating, then pounded on at a suffocating pace--she could see the
cows! There they came, down the hill, quite filling the narrow roadway
with their horrid bulk, making it look like a moving river of broad
backs and tossing heads. What could she do, the girl wondered; what
could she do against so many? She tried to run faster. Somehow she
must reach the gate first. There was nothing even then, so far as she
knew, to prevent their trampling her down and rushing over her into
the waving greenness, unless she could slam the gate in their faces.
You can see that she really did not know much about cows.

But Prince knew them. Prince understood now why his master's guest had
summoned him to this hot run in the sunshine. The prospect did not
daunt Prince. He ran barking to the meadow side of the road. The
foremost cow which, grazing the dusty grass, had strayed toward the
gate, turned back into the ruts again. Elliott pulled the gate shut,
in her haste leaving herself outside. There, too spent to climb over,
she flattened her slender form against the gray boards, while, driven
by Prince, the whole herd, horns tossing, tails switching, flanks
heaving, thudded its way past.

And there, three minutes later, Bruce, dashing over the hill in
response to a message relayed by telephone and boy to the lower
meadow, found her.

"The cows have gone down," Elliott told him. "Prince has them. He will
take them home, won't he?"

"Prince? Good enough! He'll get the cows home all right. But what are
you doing in this mix-up?"

"A woman telephoned the house," said Elliott. "I was afraid I couldn't
reach any of you in time, so I came over myself."

"You like cows?" The question shot at her like a bullet.

The piquant nose wrinkled entrancingly. "Scared to death of 'em."

"I guessed as much." The boy nodded. "Gee whiz, but you've got good
stuff in you!"

And though her shoes were dusty and her hair tousled, and though her
knees hadn't stopped shaking even yet, Elliott Cameron felt a sudden
sense of satisfaction and pride. She turned and looked over the fence
at the meadow. In its unmarred beauty it seemed to belong to her.



CHAPTER V

A SLACKER UNPERCEIVED


"I think," remarked Elliott, the next morning, "that I will walk up
and watch the haying for a while."

She had finished washing the separator and the milk-pans. It had
taken a full hour the first morning; growing expertness had already
reduced the hour to three-quarters, and she had hopes of further
reductions. She still held firmly to the opinion that the process
was uninteresting, but an innate sense of fairness told her that the
milk-pans were no more than her share. Of course, she couldn't spend
six weeks in a household whose component members were as busy as
were this household's members, and do nothing at all. That was the
disadvantage in coming to the place. She was bound to dissemble her
feelings and wash milk-pans. But if she had to wash them, she might
as well do it well. There was no question about that. If the
actual process still bored the girl, the results did not. Elliott
was proud of her pans, with a pride in which there was no atom of
indifference. She scoured them until they shone, not because, as she
told herself, she liked to scour, but because she liked to see the
pans shine.

Aunt Jessica liked to see them shine, too. She paused on her way
through the kitchen. "What beautiful pans! I can see my face in every
one of them."

A glow of elation struck through Elliott. Aunt Jessica was loving and
sweet, but she did not lavish commendation in quarters where it was
not due. Elliott knew her pans were beautiful, but Aunt Jessica's
praise made them doubly so.

It was then, as she hung up her towels, that she made the remark about
walking up to the hill meadow. She had a notion she would like to see
the knives put into that unbroken expanse of tall grass for which she
continued to feel a curious responsibility. A mere appearance at the
field could not commit her to anything.

"If you are going up," said Aunt Jessica, "perhaps you will take some
of these cookies I have just baked. Gertrude has made lemonade."

That was one of the delightful things about Aunt Jessica, Elliott
thought: she never probed beneath the surface of one's words, she
never even looked curiosity, and she gave one immediately a reason for
doing what one wished to do. Lemonade and cookies made an appearance
in the hay-field the most natural thing in the world.

The upper meadow proved a surprise. Not its business--Elliott had
expected business, but its odd mingling of jollity with activity. They
all seemed to be having such a good time about their work. And yet the
jollity did not in the least interfere with the business, which
appeared to be going forward in a systematic and efficient way that
even an untrained girl could not fail to notice. Elliott's advent
would have occasioned little disturbance, she suspected, had it not
been for the cookies. She was used by now to having no fuss made over
her. Laura waved a hand from her seat behind the horses; the boys
swung their hats; Priscilla darted over to display a ground-sparrow's
nest that the scythes had disclosed.

It was Priscilla who discovered the cookies and sent a squeal of
delight across the meadow. But even then the workers did not pause.
Priscilla had to dance out across the mown grass and squeal again and
wave both hands, a cooky in one, a cup in the other, and add a shrill
little yelp, "Come on! Come on, peoples! You don't know what we've got
here," before they straggled over to what Henry called "the
refreshment booth."

Then they were ready enough to notice Elliott. Uncle Robert and the
boys cracked jokes, the girls chattered and laughed, and every one
called on her to applaud the amount of work they had already
accomplished, exactly as though she understood about such things.

And Elliott did applaud, reinforcing her words with a whole battery
of dimples, all the while privately resolving that no contagion of
enthusiasm should inoculate her with the haymaking germ. There were
factors that made it all a bit hard to withstand; the sky was so blue,
the breeze was so jolly, the mown grass smelled so delicious, and
the mountain air had such zest in it. But, on the other hand, the sun
was hot and downright and freckling; Priscilla's tip-tilted little
nose was already liberally besprinkled. If Laura hadn't such a
wonderful skin, she would have been a sight long ago, despite the
wide brim of her big straw hat. A mere farm hat, and Laura looked
like a mere husky farm girl, as she guided her horses skilfully around
the field. How strong her arms must be! But how could a girl with
Laura's intelligence and high spirit and charm enjoy putting all
this time into haying? With Priscilla, of course, matters stood
differently. Children never discriminate.

"No, I sha'n't do that kind of thing," said Elliott, firmly. But she
would investigate the haymaking game, investigate it coolly and
dispassionately, to find out exactly what it amounted to--aside, of
course, from an accumulation of dried grass in barns. To this end, she
invaded the upper meadow a good many times, during the next few days,
took a turn on the hay-rake, now and then helped load and unload,
riding down to the barn on a mound of high-piled fragrance, and came
to the conclusion that, as an activity, haymaking wasn't to be
compared with knocking a ball back and forth across a net. To try
one's hand at it might do well enough, now and then, to spice an
otherwise luxurious life, but as a steady diet the thing was too
unrelenting. One was driven by wind and sun; even the clouds took a
hand in cudgeling one on. A person must keep at it whether she cared
to or not--in actual practice this point never troubled Elliott, who
always stopped when she wished to--there were no spectators, and,
heaviest demerit of all, it was undeniably hard work.

But she was curious to discover what Laura found in it, and you know
Elliott Cameron well enough by this time to understand that she was
not a girl who hesitated to ask for information.

The last load had dashed into the big red barn two minutes before a
thunder-shower, and Laura, freshly tubbed and laundered, was winding
her long black braids around her shapely little head. Elliott sat on
the bed and watched her.

"Aren't you glad it's done?" she asked.

"The haying? Oh, yes, I'm always glad when we have it safely in. But I
love it."

"Really? It isn't work for girls."

"No? Then once a year I'll take a vacation from being a girl. But that
doesn't hold now, you know. Everything is work for girls that girls
can do, to help win this war."

"To help win the war?" echoed Elliott, and blankly and suddenly shut
her mouth. Why, she supposed it did help, after all! But it was their
work, the kind of thing they had always done, up here at the Cameron
Farm; only, as Bruce had assured her, the girls hadn't done much of
it. Was that what Bruce had meant, too?

"Why did you suppose we put so much more land under cultivation this
year than we ever had before, with less help in sight?" Laura
questioned. "Just for fun, or for the money we could get out of it?"

"I hadn't thought much about it," said Elliott. She was thinking now.
Had she been a bit of a slacker? She loathed slackers.

"I never thought of it as war work," she said. "Stupid, wasn't I?"

Laura put the last hair-pin in place. "Just thought of it as our job,
did you? So it is, of course. But when your job happens to be war work
too--well, you just buckle down to it extra hard. I've never been so
thankful as this year and last that we have the farm. It gives every
one of us such a splendid chance to feel we're really counting in this
fight--the boys over there and in camp, the rest of us here." Laura's
dark eyes were beginning to shine. "Oh, I wouldn't be anywhere but on
a farm for anything in the wide world, unless, perhaps, somewhere in
France!"

She stopped suddenly, put down the hand-mirror with which she was
surveying her back hair, and blushed. "There!" she said, "I forgot all
about the fact that you weren't born on a farm, too. But then, you can
share ours for a year, so I'm not going to apologize for a word I've
said, even if I have been bragging because I'm so lucky."

Bragging because she was lucky! And Laura meant it. There was not the
ghost of a pose in her frank, downright young pride. Her cousin felt
like a person who has been walking down-stairs and tries to step off a
tread that isn't there. Elliott's own cheeks reddened as she thought
of the patronizing pity she had felt. Luckily, Laura hadn't seemed to
notice it. And Laura was quick to see things, too. Elliott realized,
with a little stab of chagrin, that Laura wouldn't understand why her
cousin had pitied her, even if some one should be at pains to explain
the fact to her.

But Elliott couldn't let herself pass as an intentional slacker.

"We girls did canteening at home; surgical dressings and knitting,
too, of course, but canteening was the most fun."

"That must have been fine." Laura was interested at once.

Elliott's spirit revived. After all, Laura was a country girl. "Do you
have a canteen here?"

"Oh, no, Highboro isn't big enough. No trains stop here for more than
a minute. We're not on the direct line to any of the camps, either."

"Ours was a regular canteen," said Elliott. "They would telephone us
when soldiers were going through, and we would go down, with Mrs.
Royce or Aunt Margaret or some other chaperon, and distribute
post-cards and cigarettes and sweet chocolate; and ice-cream cones, if
the weather was hot. It was such fun to talk to the men!"

"Ice-cream and cigarettes!" laughed Laura. "I should think they'd have
liked something nourishing."

"Oh, they got the nourishing things, if it was time. The Government
had an arrangement with a restaurant just around the corner to serve
soldiers' meals. We didn't have to do that."

"You supplied the frills."

"Yes." Somehow Elliott did not quite like the words.

Laura was quick to notice her discomfiture. "I imagine they needed the
frills and the jollying, poor lonesome boys! They're so young, many of
them, and not used to being away from home; and the life is strange,
however well they may like it."

"Yes," said Elliott. "More than one bunch told us they hadn't seen
anything to equal what we did for them this side of New York. Our
uniforms were so becoming, too; even a plain girl looked cute in those
caps. Why, Laura, you might have a uniform, mightn't you, if it's war
work?"

"What should I want of a uniform?"

"People who saw you would know what you're doing."

"They know now, if they open their eyes."

"They'd know why, I mean--that it's war work."

"Mercy! Nobody around here needs to be told why a person hoes potatoes
these days. They're all doing it."

"Do you hoe potatoes?" Elliott had no notion how comically her
consternation sat on her pretty features.

Laura laughed at the amazed face of her cousin. "Of course I do, when
potatoes need hoeing."

"But do you like it?"

"Oh, yes, in a way. Hoeing potatoes isn't half bad."

Elliott opened her lips to say that it wasn't girls' work, remembered
that she had made that remark once before, and changed to, "It is hard
work, and it isn't a bit interesting."

Then Laura asked two questions that left Elliott gasping. "Don't you
like to do anything except what is easy? Though I don't know that it
is any harder to hoe potatoes for an hour than to play tennis that
length of time. And anything is interesting, don't you think, that has
to be done?"

"Goodness, _no_!" ejaculated Elliott, when she found her voice. "I
don't think that at all! Do you, really?"

"Why, yes!" Laura laughed a trifle deprecatingly. "I'm not bluffing. I
never thought I'd care to spray potatoes, but one day it had to be
done, and Father and the boys were needed for something else. It
wasn't any harder to do than churning, and I found it rather fun to
watch the potato-bugs drop off. I calculated, too, how many Belgians
the potatoes in those hills would feed, either directly or by setting
wheat free, you know. I forget now how many I made it. I know I felt
quite exhilarated when I was through. Trudy helped."

"Goodness!" murmured Elliott faintly. For a minute she could find no
other words. Then she managed to remark: "Of course every one gardens
at home. They have lots at the country club, and raise potatoes and
things, and you hear them talking everywhere about bugs and blight and
cold pack. I never paid much attention. It didn't seem to be meant for
girls. The men and boys raise the things and the wives and mothers can
them. That's the way we do at home."

"Traditional," nodded Laura. "We divide on those lines here to a
certain extent, too; but we're rather Jacks of all trades on this
farm. The boys know how to can and we girls to make hay."

"The boys _can_?"

"Tom put up all our string-beans last summer quite by himself. What
does it matter who does a thing, so it's done?"

Laura was dressed now, from the crown of her smooth black head to the
tip of her white canvas shoes, and a very satisfactory operation she
had made of it. Elliott dismissed Laura's last remark, which had not
sounded very sensible to her--of course it mattered who did things;
why, that sometimes was all that did matter!--and reflected that,
country bred though she was, her cousin Laura had an air that many a
town girl might have envied. An ability to find hard manual work
interesting did not seem to preclude the knowledge of how to put on
one's clothes.

But Laura's hands were not all that hands should be, by Elliott's
standard; they were well cared for, and as white as soap and water
could make them, but there are some things that soap and water cannot
do when it is pitted against sun and wind and contact with soil and
berries and fruits. Elliott hadn't meant to look so fixedly at Laura's
hands as to make her thought visible, and the color rose in her cheeks
when Laura said, exactly as though she were a mind-reader, "If you
prefer lily-white fingers to stirring around doing things, why, you
have to sit in a corner and keep them lily-white. I like to stick mine
into too many pies ever to have them look well."

"They're a lovely shape," said Elliott, seriously.

And then, to her amazement, Laura laughed and leaned over and hugged
her. "And you're a dear thing, even if you do think my hands are no
lady's!"

Of course Elliott protested; but as that was just what she did think,
her protestations were not very convincing.

"You can't have everything," said Laura, quite as though she didn't
mind in the least what her hands looked like. The strangest part of it
all was that Elliott believed Laura actually didn't mind.

But she didn't know how to answer her, Laura's words had raised the
dust on all those comfortable cushiony notions Elliott had had sitting
about in her mind for so long that she supposed they were her very own
opinions. Until the dust settled she couldn't tell what she thought,
whether they belonged to her or had simply been dumped on her by other
people. She couldn't remember ever having been in such a position
before.

Yes, Elliott found a good deal to think of. One had to draw the line
somewhere; she had told herself comfortably; but lines seemed to be
very queerly jumbled up in this war. If a person couldn't canteen or
help at a hostess house or do surgical dressings or any of the other
things that had always stood in her mind for girl's war work, she had
to do what she could, hadn't she? And if it wasn't necessary to be
tagged, why, it wasn't. Laura in blouse and short skirt, or even in
overalls, seemed to accomplish as much as any possible Laura in a
pantaloon suit or puttees or any other land uniform. There really
didn't seem any way out, now that Elliott understood the matter.
Perhaps she had been rather dense not to understand it before.

"What would you like me to do this morning, Uncle?" she asked the next
day at the breakfast-table. "I think it is time I went to work."

"Going to join the farmerettes?"

"Thinking of it." She could feel, without seeing, Stannard's stare of
astonishment. No one else gave signs of surprise. Stannard, thought
the girl, really hadn't as good manners as his cousins.

Uncle Bob surveyed the trim figure, arrayed in its dark smock and the
shortest of all Elliott's short skirts. If he felt other than wholly
serious he concealed the fact well.

"The corn needs hoeing, both field-corn and garden-corn. How about
joining that squad?"

"It suits me."

Corn--didn't Hoover urge people to eat corn? In helping the corn crop,
she too might feel herself feeding the Belgians.

Gertrude linked her arm in her slender cousin's as they left the
table. "I'll show you where the tools are," she said. "Harry runs the
cultivator in the field, but we use hand-hoes in the garden."

"You will have to show me more than that," said Elliott. "What does
hoeing do to corn, anyhow?"

"Keeps down the weeds that eat up the nourishment in the soil,"
recited Gertrude glibly, "and by stirring up the ground keeps in the
moisture. You like to know the reason for things, too, don't you? I'm
glad. I always do."

It wasn't half bad, with a hoe over her shoulder, in company with
other boys and girls, to swing through the dewy morning to the garden.
Priscilla had joined the squad when she heard Elliott was to be in it,
and with Stannard and Tom the three girls made a little procession. It
proved a simple enough matter to wield a hoe. Elliott watched the
others for a few minutes, and if her hills did not take on as
workmanlike an appearance as Tom's and Gertrude's, or even as
Priscilla's, they all assured her practice would mend the fault.

"You'll do it all right," Priscilla encouraged her.

"Sure thing!" said Tom. "We might have a race and see who gets his row
done first."

"No races for me, yet," said Elliott. "It would be altogether too
tame. I'd qualify for the booby prize without trying. But the rest of
you may race, if you want to."

"Just wait!" prophesied Stannard darkly. "Wait an hour or two and see
how you like hoeing."

Elliott laughed. In the cool morning, with the hoe fresh in her hand,
she thought of fatigue as something very far away. Stan was always a
little inclined to croak. The thing was easy enough.

"Run along, little boy, to your row," she admonished him. "Can't you
see that I'm busy?"

Elliott hoed briskly, if a bit awkwardly, and painstakingly removed
every weed. The freshly stirred earth looked dark and pleasant; the
odor of it was good, too. She compared what she had done with what she
hadn't, and the contrast moved her to new activity. But after a
time--it was not such a long time, either, though it seemed hours--she
thought it would be pleasant to stop. The motion of the hoe was
monotonous. She straightened up and leaned on the handle and surveyed
her fellow-workers. Their backs looked very industrious as they bent
at varying distances across the garden. Even Stannard had left her
behind.

Gertrude abandoned her row and came and inspected Elliott's. "That
looks fine," she said, "for a beginner. You must stop and rest
whenever you're tired. Mother always tells us to begin a thing easy,
not to tire ourselves too much at first. She won't let us girls work
when the sun's too hot, either."

Elliott forced a smile. If she had done what she wished to, she would
have thrown down her hoe and walked off the field. But for the first
time in her life she didn't feel quite like letting herself do what
she wished to.

What would these new cousins think of her if she abandoned a task
as abruptly as that? But what good did her hoeing do?--a few
scratches on the border of this big garden-patch. It couldn't
matter to the Belgians or the Germans or Hoover or anybody else
whether she hoed or didn't hoe. Perhaps, if every one said that,
even of garden-patches--but not every one would say it. Some people
knew how to hoe. Presumably some people liked hoeing. Goodness, how
long this row was! Would she ever, _ever_ reach the end?

Priscilla bobbed up, a moist, flushed Priscilla. "That looks nice. You
haven't got very far yet, have you? Never mind. Things go a lot faster
after you've done 'em a while. Why, when I first tried to play the
piano, my fingers went so slow, they just made me ache. Now they skip
along real quick."

Elliott leaned on her hoe. "Do you play the piano?"

"Oh, yes! Mother taught me. Good-by. I must get back to my row."

"Do you like hoeing?" Elliott called after her.

"I like to get it done." The small figure skipped nimbly away.

"'Get it done!'" Elliott addressed the next clump of waving green
blades, pessimism in her voice. "After one row, isn't there another,
and another, and _another_, forever?" She slashed into a mat of
chickweed with venom.

"I knew you'd get tired," said Stannard, at her elbow. "Come on over
to those trees and rest a bit. Sun's getting hot here."

Elliott looked at the clump of trees on the edge of the field. Their
shade invited like a beckoning hand. Little beads of perspiration
stood on her forehead. A warm lassitude spread through her body,
turning her muscles slack. Hadn't Gertrude said Aunt Jessica didn't
let them work in too hot a sun?

"You're tired; quit it!" urged Stannard.

"Not just yet," said Elliott, and her hoe bit at the ground again.

Tired? She should think she was tired! And she had fully intended to
go with Stan. Then why hadn't she gone? The question puzzled the girl.
Quit when you like and make it up with cajolery was a motto that
Elliott had found very useful. She was good at cajolery. What made her
hesitate to try it now?

She swung around, half minded to call Stannard back, when a sentence
flashed into her mind, not a whole sentence, just a fragment salvaged
from a book some one had once been reading in her hearing: "This war
will be won by tired men who--" She couldn't quite get the rest. An
impression persisted of keeping everlastingly at it, but the words
escaped her. She swung back, her hail unsent. Well, she was tired,
dead tired, and her back was broken and her hands were blistered, or
going to be, but nobody would think of saying that that had anything
to do with winning the war. Stay; wouldn't they? It seemed absurd;
but, still, what made people harp so on food if there weren't
something in it? If all they said was true, why--and Elliott's tired
back straightened--why, she was helping a little bit; or she would be
if she didn't quit.

It may seem absurd that it had taken a backache to make Elliott
visualize what her cousins were really doing on their farm. She ought,
of course, to have been able to see it quite clearly while she sat on
the veranda, but that isn't always the way things work. Now she seemed
to see the farm as part of a great fourth line of defense, a trench
that was feeding all the other trenches and all the armies in the open
and all the people behind the armies, a line whose success was
indispensable to victory, whose defeat would spell failure everywhere.
It was only for a minute that she saw this quite clearly, with a kind
of illuminated insight that made her backache well worth while. Then
the minute passed, and as Elliott bent to her hoe again she was aware
only of a suspicion that possibly when one was having the most fun was
not always when one was being the most useful.

"Well," said a pleasant voice, "how does the hoeing go?"

And there stood Laura with a pitcher in her hand, and on her face a
look--was it of mingled surprise and respect?

"You mustn't work too long the first day," she told Elliott. "You're
not hardened to it yet, as we are. Take a rest now and try it again
later on. I have your book under my arm."

When, that noon, they all trooped up to the house, hot and hungry,
Elliott went with them, hot and hungry, too. Nobody thanked her for
anything, and she didn't even notice the lack. Farming wasn't like
canteening, where one expected thanks. As she scrubbed her hands she
noticed that her nails were hopeless, but her attention failed to
concentrate on their demoralized state. Hadn't she finished her row?

"Stuck it out, did you?" said Bruce, as they sat down at dinner. "I
bet you would."

"I shouldn't have dared look any of you in the face again, if I
hadn't," smiled Elliott. But his words rang warm in her ears.



CHAPTER VI

FLIERS


Laura and Elliott were in the summer kitchen, filling glass jars with
raspberries. As they finished filling each jar, they capped it and
lowered it into a wash-boiler of hot water on the stove.

"It seems odd," remarked Laura, "to put up berries without sugar."

"Isn't it horrid," said Elliott, who had never put up berries at all,
but who was longing for candy and hadn't had courage to suggest buying
any. "I hope the Allies are going to appreciate all we are doing for
them."

"Do you?" Laura looked at her oddly. "I hope we are going to
appreciate all they have done for us."

"Aren't we showing it?" Elliott felt really indignant at her cousin.
"Think of the sacrifices we're making for them."

"Sacrifices?"

How stupid Laura was! "You know as well as I do how many things we are
giving up."

"Sugar, for instance?" queried Laura.

"Sugar is one thing."

"Oh, well," said Laura, "I'd rather a little Belgian had my extra
pounds, poor scrap! Of course, now and then I get hungry for it,
though Mother gives us all the maple we want, but when I do get
hungry, I think about the Belgians and the people of northern France
who have lost their homes, and of all those children over there who
haven't enough to eat to make them want to play; and I think about the
British fleet and what it has kept us from for four years; and about
the thousands of girls who have given their youth and prettiness to
making munitions. I think about things like that and then I say to
myself, 'My goodness, what is a little sugar, more or less!' Why,
Elliott, we don't begin to feel the war over here, not as they feel
it!"

Elliott, who considered that she felt the war a good deal, demurred.
"I have lost my home," she said, feeling a little ashamed of the words
as she said them.

"But it is there," objected Laura. "Your home is all ready to go back
to, isn't it? That's my point."

"And there's Father," said Elliott.

"I know, and my brothers. But I don't feel that _I_ have done anything
in their being in the army. It is doing them lots of good: every
letter shows that. And, anyway, I'd be ashamed if they didn't go."

"Something might happen," said Elliott. "What would you say then?"

"The same, I hope. But what I mean is, the war doesn't really touch us
in the routine of our every-day living. _We_ don't have to darken our
windows at night and take, every now and then, to the cellars. The
machinery of our lives isn't thrown out of gear. We don't live hand in
hand with danger. But lots of us think we're killed if we have to use
our brains a little, if we're asked to substitute for wheat flour, and
can't have thick frosting on our cake and eat meat three times a day.
Oh, I've heard 'em talk! Why, our life over here isn't really
topsyturvy a bit!"

"Isn't it?" There were things, Elliott thought, that Laura, wise as
she was, didn't know.

"We're inconvenienced," said Laura, "but not hurt."

Elliott was silent. She was trying to decide whether or not she was
hurt. Inconvenienced seemed rather a slim verb for what had happened
to her. But she didn't go on to say what she had meant to say about
candy, and she felt in her secret soul the least bit irritated at
Laura.

Then Priscilla whirled in on her tiptoes, her hands behind her back.
"The postman went right straight by, though I hung out the window and
called and called. I guess he didn't hear me, he's awful deaf
sometimes."

"Didn't I get a letter?" Elliott's face fell.

"Mail is slow getting through, these days," said Aunt Jessica, coming
in from the main kitchen. "We always allow an extra day or two on the
road. Wasn't there anything at all from Bob or Sidney or Pete, Pris?
You little witch, you certainly are hiding something behind your
back."

Then Priscilla gave a gay little squeal and jumped up and down till
her black curls bobbed all over her face. When she stopped jumping she
looked straight at Elliott.

"Which hand will you take?" she asked.

"I? Oh, have you a letter for me, after all?"

"You didn't guess it," said the child. "Which hand?"

"The right--no, the left."

Priscilla shook her head. "You aren't a very good guesser, are you?
But I'll give it to you this time. It's not fat, but it looks nice. He
didn't even get out, that postman didn't; he just tucked the letter in
the box as he rode along."

"Certain sure he didn't tuck any other letter in too, Pris?" queried
Laura.

The child held out empty hands.

"That's no proof. Your eyes are too bright." Laura turned her around
gently. "Oh, I thought so! Stuck in your dress. From Bob!"

"Two," squealed Priscilla, with an emphatic little hop. "Here, give
'em to Mother. They're 'dressed to her. Now let's get into 'em, quick.
Shall I ring the bell, Mother, to call in Father and the rest? Two
letters from Bob is a great big emergency; don't you think so?"

The words filtered negligently through Elliott's inattention. All her
conscious thoughts were centered on her father's handwriting. She had
had a cable before, but this was his first letter. It almost made her
cry to see the familiar script and know that she could get nothing but
letters from him for a whole long year. No hugs, no kisses, no
rumpling of her hair or his, no confidential little talks--no anything
that had been her meat and drink for years. How did people endure such
separations? A big lump came up in her throat and the tears pricked
her eyes; but she swallowed very hard and blinked once or twice and
vowed, "I won't cry, I _won't_!"

And then suddenly, through her preoccupation, she became aware of a
hush fallen on the bubbling expectancy of the room. Glancing up from
the page, she saw Henry standing in the doorway. Even to unfamiliar
eyes there was something strangely arresting in the boy's look, a
shocked gravity that cut like a premonition.

"They say Ted Gordon's been killed," he said.

"Ted--Gordon!" cried Laura.

"Practice flight, at camp. Nobody knows any particulars. Cy Jones told
Father." The boy's voice sounded dry and hard.

"Are they certain there is no mistake?" his mother asked quietly.

"I guess it's true. Cy said the Gordons had a telegram."

"I must go over at once." Mrs. Cameron rose, putting the letters into
Laura's hands, and took off her apron.

"I'll bring the car around for you," said Henry.

"Thank you." She smiled at him and turned to the girls. "You know what
we are having for dinner, Laura. Priscilla will help make the
shortcake, I'm sure. I will be back as soon as I can."

Mutely the four watched the little car roll out of the yard and down
the hill.

Then Henry spoke. "Letters?"

"From Bob," said Laura.

"Did she read 'em?"

Laura shook her head.

"Gee!" said the boy.

"Perhaps she thought she couldn't," hesitated Laura, "and go over
there."

A moment of silence held the room. Henry broke it. "Well, we're not
going. Let's hear 'em."

Elliott took a step toward the door.

"Needn't run away unless you want to," he called after her. "We always
read Bob's letters aloud."

So Elliott stayed. Laura's pleasant voice, a bit strained at first,
grew steadier as the reading proceeded. Henry sat whittling a stick
into the coal-hod, his lips pursed as though for a whistle, but
without sound, and still with that odd sober look on his face.
Priscilla, all the jumpiness gone out of her, stood very still in the
middle of the kitchen floor, a kind of hurt bewilderment in the big
dark eyes fixed on Laura's face. Nobody laughed, nobody even chuckled,
and yet it was a jolly letter that they read first, full of spirit and
life and fun. High-hearted adventure rollicked through it, and the
humor that makes light of hardship, and the latest slang of the front
adorned its pages with grotesquely picturesque phrases. The Cameron
boys were obviously getting a good time out of the war. Bob had got
something else, too. The letter had been delayed in transmission and
near the end was a sentence, "Brought down my first Hun to-day--great
fight! I'll tell you about it next time if after due deliberation I
decide the censor will let me."

"Some letter!" commented Henry. "Say, those aviators are living like
princes, aren't they! Mess hall in a big grove with all the fixings.
And eats! More than we get at home. Gee, I wish I was older!"

"So you could come in for the eats?" smiled his sister.

"So I could come in for things generally."

"You couldn't work any harder if you were a man grown," she told him.

"Huh!" said Henry, "a lot I hurt myself!" But he liked the smile and
the praise, wary though he might pretend to be of it. Sis was a good
sort. "You're some worker, yourself. Let's get on to the next one."

The second letter--and it too bore a date disquietingly far from the
present--told of the fight. It thrilled the four in the pleasant New
England kitchen. The peaceful walls opened wide, and they were out in
far spaces, patrolling the windy sky, mounting, diving, dodging
through wisps of cloud, kings of the air, hunting for combat. Their
eyes shone and their breathing quickened, and for a minute they forgot
the boy who was dead.

"Why the Hun didn't bag me, instead of my getting him," wrote Bob, "is
a mystery. Just the luck of beginners, I guess. I did most of the
things I shouldn't have done, and, by chance, one or two of the things
I should--fired when I was too far off, went into a spinning nose-dive
under the mistaken notion it would make me a poor target, etc., etc.,
etc. Oh, I was green, all right! He knew how to manoeuver, that Hun
did. That's what feazes me. How did I manage to top him at last? Well,
I did. And my gun didn't jam. Nuff said."

"Gee!" said Henry between his teeth. "And Ted Gordon had to go and
miss all that! Gee!"

"If he had only got to the front!" sighed Laura.

"Anything from Pete?" asked the boy.

"No."

"Sid?"

She shook her head. "We had a letter from Sid day before yesterday,
you know."

"Sid lays 'em down pretty thick sometimes. Well, I must be getting on.
This isn't weeding cabbages."

The three girls, left alone, reacted each in her own way to the touch
of the dark wings that had so suddenly brushed the rim of their blithe
young lives. Priscilla frankly didn't understand, but her sensitive
spirit felt the chill of the event, and her big eyes gazed with a
tinge of wonder at the blue sky and sunshine of the world outside.

"Seems sort of queer it's so bright," she remarked.

Laura was busy, as were thousands of sisters at that very minute and
every minute all over the land, scotching the fears that are always
lying in wait, ready to lift their ugly heads. Queer the letters had
come through so tardily! Where was Bob, her darling big brother, this
minute? Where was Pete Fearing, hardly less dear than Bob? Pictures
clicked through her brain, pictures built on newspaper prints that she
had seen. But one died twice that way, she reflected, and it did no
good. So she put the letters on the shelf beside the clock and brought
out the potatoes for dinner.

"Ted Gordon was in the Yale Battery last summer," she remarked. "He
came up from camp to get his degree this year. Mrs. Gordon and Harriet
went down. He was Scroll and Key."

In Elliott's brain Laura's words made a swift connection. Before that,
Ted Gordon had meant nothing to her, the name of a boy whom she had
never seen, a country lad, whose death, while sudden and sad, could
not touch her. Now, suddenly, he clicked into place in her own
familiar world. A Scroll-and-Key man? Why, those were the men she
knew--Bones, Scroll and Key, Hasty Pudding--he was one of them!

She felt a swift recoil. So that was what war came to. Not just natty
figures in khaki that girls cried over in saying good-by to, or smiled
at and told how perfectly splendid they were to go; not just high
adventure and martial music and the rhythm of swinging brown
shoulders; not just surgical dressings and socks and sweaters; not
even just homes broken up for a time and fathers sailing overseas. Of
course one understood with one's brain, that made part of the thrill
of their going, but one didn't realize with the feeling part of
one--how could a girl?--when they went away or when one made
dressings. Yet didn't dressings more than anything else point to it?
And Laura had said we didn't feel the war over here!

A sense of something intolerable, not to be borne, overwhelmed
Elliott. She pushed at it with both hands, as though by the physical
gesture she could shove away the sudden darkness that had blotted with
alien shadow the face of her familiar sun. Death! There was an
unbearable unpleasantness about death. She had always felt ill at ease
in its presence, in the very mention of its name; she had avoided
every sign and symbol of it as she would a plague. And now, she
foresaw for an instant of blinding clarity, perhaps it could not be
avoided any longer. Was this young aviator's accident just a symbol of
the way death was going to invade all the happy sheltered places? The
thought turned the girl sick for a minute. How could Laura go on with
her work so unfeelingly? And there was Priscilla getting out
raspberries.

"I don't see," said Elliott, and her voice choked, "I don't see how
you can _bear_ to peel those potatoes!"

"Some one has to peel them," said Laura. "The family must have dinner,
you know. We couldn't work without eating. Besides, I think it helps
to work."

Elliott brushed the last sentence aside. It fell outside her
experience, and she didn't understand it. The only thing she did
understand was the reiteration of work, work, and the pall of
blackness that overshadowed her hitherto bright world. She wished
again with all her heart that she had never come to Vermont. She
didn't belong here; why couldn't she have stayed where she did belong,
where people understood her, and she them?

A great wave of homesickness swept over the girl, homesickness for the
world as she had always known it, her world as it had been before the
war warped and twisted and spoiled things. And yet, oddly enough,
there was no sense in the Cameron house of anything being spoiled.
They talked of Ted Gordon in the same unbated tone of voice in which
they spoke of her cousin Bob or of his friend Pete Fearing, and they
actually laughed when they told stories about him. Laura baked and
brewed, and the results disappeared down the road in the direction
Mother Jess had taken. Aunt Jessica herself returned, a trifle pale
and tired-looking, but smiling as usual.

"Lucinda and Harriet are just as brave as you would expect them to
be," Elliott heard her tell Father Bob. "No one knows yet how it
happened. They hope to learn more from Ted's friends. Two of the
aviators are coming up. Harriet told me they rather look for them
to-morrow night."

Hastily Elliott betook herself out of hearing. She wanted to get
beyond sight and sound of any reference to what had happened. It was
the only way known to her to escape the disagreeable--to turn her back
on it and run away. What she didn't see and think about, so far as she
was concerned, wasn't there. Hitherto the method had worked very well.
What disquieted her now was a dull, persistent fear that it wasn't
going to work much longer.

So when Bruce remarked the next day, "I'm going to take part of the
afternoon off and go for ferns; want to come?" she answered promptly,
"Yes, indeed," though privately she thought him crazy. Ferns, on a
perfectly good working-day? But when they were fairly started, she
found she hadn't escaped, after all. Instead, she had run right into
the thing, so to speak.

"We want to make the church look pretty," Bruce said, as they tramped
along. "And I happen to know where some beauties grow, maidenhair and
the rarer sorts. It isn't everybody I'd dare to take along."

"Is that so?" queried the girl. She wondered why.

"Things have a way of disappearing in the woods, unless they're treated
right. Took a fellow with me once when I went for pink-and-white
lady's-slippers, the big ones--they're beauties. He was crazy to go, and
he promised to keep the place to himself. You could have picked bushels
there then. Now they're all cleaned out."

"But why? Did people dig them up?"

"Picked'em too close. Some things won't stand being cleaned up the way
most people clean up flowers in the woods. They're free, and nobody's
responsible."

In spite of her thoughts Elliott dimpled. "I think it is quite safe to
take me."

He grinned. "Maybe that's why I do it."

It was very pleasant, tramping along with Bruce in the bright day;
pleasant, too, leaving the sunshine for the spicy coolness of the
woods, and climbing up, up, among great tree-trunks and mossy rocks
and trickling mountain brooks. Or it would have been pleasant, if
one could only have forgotten the reason that underlay their
journey. But when they had reached Bruce's secret spot and were
cutting the wiry brown stems, and packing together carefully the
spreading, many-fingered fronds so as not to break the delicate
ferns, that undercurrent of numb consternation reasserted itself. Like
Priscilla, Elliott felt a little shocked at the brightness of the
sunshine, the blueness of the sky, and the beauty of the fern-filled
glade.

"It was dreadful for him to be killed before he had done anything!" At
last the words so long burning in her heart reached the tip of her
tongue.

"Yes." Bruce's voice was sober. "It sure was hard."

[Illustration: Cutting the wiry brown stems in the fern-filled glade.]

"I should think his people would feel as though they couldn't _stand_
it!" Elliott declared. "If he had got to France--but now it is just a
hideous, hideous waste!"

Bruce hesitated. "I suppose that is one way of looking at it."

"Why, what other way could there be?" She stared at him in surprise.
"He was just learning to fly. He hadn't done anything, had he?"

"No, he hadn't done anything. But what he died for is just the same as
though he had got across, isn't it, and had downed forty Huns?"

She continued to stare fixedly at the boy for a full minute. "Why,
yes," she said at last, very slowly; "yes, I suppose it is." Curiously
enough, the whole thing looked better from that angle.

For a long time she was silent, cutting and tying up ferns.

"How did you happen to think of that?"

"To think of what?" Bruce was tying his own ferns.

"What you said about--about _what_ this Ted Gordon died for."

It was Bruce's turn to look surprised. "I didn't think of anything.
It's just a fact, isn't it?"

Then he began to load himself with ferns. Elliott wouldn't have
supposed any one could carry as many as Bruce shouldered; he had great
bunches in his hands, too.

"You look like a walking fernery," she said.

"Birnam Wood," he quoted and for a minute she couldn't think what he
meant. "Better let me take some of those on the ground," he said.

"No, indeed! I am going to do my share."

Quietly he possessed himself of two of her bunches. "That's your
share. It will be heavy enough before we get home."

It was heavy, though not for worlds would Elliott have mentioned the
fact. She helped Bruce put the ferns in water, and she went out at
night and sprinkled them to keep them fresh; but she had an excuse
ready when Laura asked if she would like to go over to the little
white-spired church on the hill and help arrange them.

Nothing would have induced her to attend the services, either, though
afterward she wished that she had. There seemed to have been something
so high and fine and--yes--so cheerful about them, so martial and
exalted, that she wished she had seen for herself what they were like.
In Elliott's mind gloom had always been inseparably linked with a
funeral, gloom and black clothes. Whereas Laura and her mother and
Gertrude and Priscilla wore white. A good many things at the Cameron
farm were very odd.

It was after every one had gone to bed and the lights were out that
Elliott lay awake in her little slant-ceilinged room and worried and
worried about Father, three thousand miles away. He wasn't an aviator,
it was true, but in France wasn't the land almost as unsafe as the
air? She had imagined so many things that might perfectly easily
happen to him that she was on the point of having a little weep all by
herself when Aunt Jessica came in. Did she know that Elliott was
homesick? Aunt Jessica sat down on the bed, as she had sat that first
night, and talked about comforting, commonplace things--about the new
kittens, and how soon the corn might be ripe, and what she used to do
when she was a girl in Washington. Elliott got hold of her hand and
wound her own fingers in and out among Aunt Jessica's fingers, but in
the end she spoke out the thing that was uppermost in her mind.

"Mother Jess," she said, using unconsciously the Cameron term; "Mother
Jess, I don't like death."

She said it in a small, wabbly voice, because she felt very strongly
and she wasn't used to talking about such things. But she had to say
it. Though if the room hadn't been dark, I doubt if she could have got
it out at all.

"No, dear," said Aunt Jessica, quietly. "Most of us don't like death.
I wonder if your feeling isn't due to the fact that you think of it as
an end?"

"What is it," asked Elliott, "but an end?" She was so astonished that
her words sounded almost brusque.

"I like to think of it as a coming alive," said Aunt Jessica, "a
coming alive more vigorously than ever. The world is beginning to
think of it so, too."

Elliott lay still after Aunt Jessica had gone out of the room and
tried to think about what she had said. It was quite the oddest thing
that anybody had said yet. But all she really succeeded in thinking
about was the quiet certainty in Aunt Jessica's voice, the comforting
clasp of Aunt Jessica's arms, and the kiss still warm on her lips.



CHAPTER VII

PICNICKING


"I feel like a picnic," said Mother Jess, "a genuine all-day-in-the-woods
picnic."

It was rather queer for a grown-up to say such a thing right out like
a girl, Elliott thought, but she liked it. And Aunt Jessica was
sitting back on her heels, just like a girl too, looking up from the
border where she was working. Elliott had caught sight of her blue
chambray skirt under a haze of blue larkspurs and had come over to see
what she was doing. It proved to be weeding with a clawlike thing
that, wielded by Aunt Jessica's right hand, grubbed out weeds as fast
as she could toss them into a basket with her left. Elliott was
surprised. Weeding a flower-bed when, as she happened to know, the
garden beets weren't finished did not square with her notions of what
was what on the Cameron farm. She was so surprised that she answered
absently, "That sounds fine. I think I feel so, too," and kept on
wondering about Aunt Jessica.

"We usually have a picnic at this time of year when the haying is
done," said that lady, and fell again to her weeding. "It is
astonishing how fast a weed can grow. Look at that!" and she held up a
spreading mat of green chickweed. "I have had to neglect the borders
shamefully this summer."

Elliott squatted down beside her and twined her fingers in a tuft of
grass. "May I help?" She gave a little tug to the grass.

"Delighted to have you. Look out! That's a Johnny-jump-up."

"Is it? Goodness! I thought it was a weed!"

"Here is one in blossom. Spare Johnny. He is a faithful friend till
the winter snows."

"Johnny-jump-up." Elliott's laughter gurgled over the name. "But he
does rather jump up, doesn't he? Funny little pansy thing! Funny name,
too."

"Not so odd as a few others I know. Kiss-me-in-the-buttery, for
instance."

"Not really!"

"Honest Injun, as Priscilla says."

"These borders are sweet." The girl let her gaze wander up and down
the curving lines of color splashed across the gentle slope of the
hill. "But flowers don't stand much chance in a war year, do they? I
know people at home who have plowed theirs up and planted potatoes."

"A mistake," said Aunt Jessica, shaking the dirt vigorously from a
fistful of sorrel. "A mistake, unless it is a question of life and
death. We have too much land in this country to plow up our flowers,
yet a while. And a war year is just the time when we need them most.
No, I never feel I am wasting my time when I work among flowers."

"But they're not _necessary_, are they?" questioned Elliott. "Of
course, they're beautiful; but I thought luxuries had to go, just
now."

"Flowers a luxury? Oh, my dear little girl, put that notion out of
your head quickly! American-beauty roses may be a luxury, and white
lilacs in the dead of winter, but garden flowers, never! Wait till you
see the daffodils dancing under those apple trees next spring!" And
she nodded up the grassy slope at the apple trees as though she and
they shared a delightful secret that Elliott did not yet know.

Privately the girl held a different opinion about next spring, but she
wondered why Aunt Jessica should talk of daffodils. They seemed rather
lugged into a conversation in July.

Mother Jess reached with her clawlike weeder far into the border. Her
voice came back over her shoulder in little gusts of words as she
worked. "Did you ever hear that saying of the Prophet?--'He that hath
two loaves let him sell one and buy a flower of the narcissus; for
bread is food for the body, but narcissus is food for the soul.'
That's the way I feel about flowers. They are the least expensive way
of getting beauty and we can't live without beauty, now less than
ever, since they have destroyed so much of it in France. There! now I
must stop for to-day. Don't you want to take this culling-basket and
pick it full of the prettiest things you can find for Mrs. Gordon?
Perhaps you would like to take it over to her, too. It isn't a very
long walk."

"But I've never met her."

"That won't matter. Just tell her who you are and that you belong to
us. Mrs. Gordon loves flowers, though she hasn't much time to tend
them."

"I shouldn't think any one could have less time than you."

Aunt Jessica laughed. "Oh, I make time!"

Elliott picked up the flat green basket, lifted the shears she found
lying in it, and went hesitatingly up and down the borders. "What
shall I pick?"

"Anything. Suit yourself. Make the basket as pretty as you can. If you
pick here and there, the borders won't show where you cut from them."

Mother Jess gathered up gloves and tools, and went away, tugging her
basket of weeds. Elliott, left behind, surveyed the borders
critically. To cut without letting it appear that she had cut was
evidently what Aunt Jessica wanted. She reached in and snipped off a
spire of larkspur from the very back of the border, then stood back to
see what had happened. No, if one hadn't known the stalk had been
there, one wouldn't now know it was gone. The thing could be done,
then. Cautiously she selected a head of white phlox. The result of
that operation also was satisfactory.

Up and down the flowery path she went, snipping busily. On the stalks
of larkspur and phlox she laid a mass of pink snapdragons and white
candytuft, tucking in here and there sprays of just-opening
baby's-breath to give a misty look to the basket. A bunch of English
daisies came next; they blossomed so fast one didn't have to pick and
choose among them; one could just cut and cut. And oughtn't there to
be pansies? "Pansies--that's for thoughts." Those wonderful purple
ones with a sprinkling of the yellow--no, yellow would spoil the color
scheme of the basket. These white beauties were just the thing. How
lovely it all looked, blue and white and pink and purple!

But there wasn't much fragrance. Eye and nose searched hopefully.
Heliotrope!--just a spray or two. There, now it was perfect. Anybody
would be glad to see a basket like that coming. Only, she did wish
some one else were to carry it, or else that she knew the people. It
might not be so bad if she knew the people. Why shouldn't Laura or
Trudy take it? Elliott walked very slowly up to the house, debating
the question. A week ago she wouldn't have debated; she would have
said, "Oh, I can't possibly." Or so she thought.

"How beautiful!" said Aunt Jessica's voice from the kitchen window.
"You have made an exquisite thing, dear."

Elliott rested the basket on the window ledge and surveyed it proudly.
"Isn't it lovely? And I don't think cutting this has hurt the borders
a bit."

"I am sure not." Aunt Jessica's busy hands went back to her yellow
mixing-bowl. "You know where the Gordons live, don't you?--in the big
brick house at the cross-roads."

"Yes," said Elliott, and her feet carried her out of the yard,
stopping only long enough to let her get her pink parasol from the
hall, and down the hill toward the cross-roads. It was odd about
Elliott's feet, when she hadn't quite made up her mind whether or not
she would go. Her feet seemed to have no doubt of it.

The pink parasol threw a becoming light on her face, as she knew it
would, and the odor of heliotrope rose pleasantly in her nostrils as
she walked along. But the basket grew heavy, astonishingly heavy. She
wouldn't have believed a culling-basket with a few flowers in it could
weigh so much. The farther Elliott walked, the heavier it grew. And
she hadn't gone a quarter of the way, either.

A horse's feet coming up rapidly behind her turned the girl's steps to
the side of the road. The horse drew abreast and stopped, prancing.
"Want a lift?" asked the man in the wagon. He was a big grizzled
farmer, a friend of her uncle's.

Elliott nodded, smiling. "Oh, thank you!"

"Purty flowers you've got there."

"Aren't they lovely! Aunt Jessica is sending them to Mrs. Gordon."

"That's right! That's right! Say, just look at them pansies, now!
Flowers, they don't do nothin' but grow for that aunt of yours. She
don't have to much more 'n look at 'em."

Elliott laughed. "She weeds them, I happen to know. I helped her this
afternoon."

"Did you, now! But there's a difference in folks. Take my wife: she
plants 'em and plants 'em, but she can't keep none. They up and die on
her, sure thing."

Elliott selected a purple pansy. "This looks to me as though it would
like to get into your buttonhole, Mr. Blair."

"Sho, now!" He flushed with pleasure, driving slowly as the girl
fitted the pansy in place, a bit of heliotrope nestling beside it.
"Smells good, don't it? Mother always had heliotrope in her garden.
Takes me back to when I was a little shaver."

Elliott's deft fingers were busy with the English daisies.

"Now don't you go and spoil your basket."

"No, indeed! see what a lot there are left. Here is a little nosegay
for your wife. And thank you so much for the lift."

He cranked the wheel and she jumped out, waving her hand as he drove
on. Queer a man like that should love flowers!

It was only when she was walking up the graveled path to the door of
the brick house that she remembered to compose her face into a proper
gravity. She felt nervous and ill at ease. But she needn't go in, she
reminded herself, just leave the flowers at the door. If only there
were a maid, which there probably wasn't! One couldn't count for
certain on getting right away from these places where the people
themselves met one at the door.

"How do you do?" said a voice, advancing from the right. "What a
lovely basket!"

Elliott jumped. She was ready to jump at anything and she had been
looking straight ahead without a single glance aside from a
non-committal brick front. Now she saw a hammock swung between two
trees, a hammock still swaying from the impact of the girl who had
just left it.

She was the biggest girl Elliott had ever seen, tall and fat and
shapeless and very plain. She was all in white, which made her look
bigger, and her skirt was at least three years old. There was a faint
trickle of brown spots down the front of it, too, of which the girl
seemed utterly unaware.

"You don't have to tell me where those flowers come from," she said.
"You are Laura Cameron's cousin, aren't you? Glad to know you."

"Yes," said Elliott, "I am Elliott Cameron. Aunt Jessica sent these to
your mother."

The girl's fingers felt cool and firm as they touched Elliott's, the
only pleasant impression she had yet gathered.

"They look just like Mrs. Cameron. Sit down while I call Mother. Oh,
she's not doing anything special. Mother!"

Elliott, conducted through the house to a wide veranda, sank into a
chair, conscious in every nerve of her own slender waistline. What
must it feel like to be so big? A minute later she seemed to herself
to be engulfed between two mountains of flesh. A woman--more unwieldy,
more shapeless, more oppressive even than the girl--waddled across the
veranda floor. What she said Elliott really didn't know; afterward
phrases of pleasure came back to her vaguely. She distinctly
remembered the creaking of the rocking-chair when the woman sat down
and her own frightened feeling lest some vital part should give way
under the strain.

After a time, to her consciousness, mild blue eyes emerged from the
mass of human bulk that fronted her; gray hair crinkled away from a
broad white forehead. Then she perceived that Mrs. Gordon was not a
very tall woman, not so tall as was her daughter. If anything, that
made it worse, thought Elliott. Why, if she fell down, no one could
tell which side up she ought to go--except, of course, head side on
top. The idea gave her a hysterical desire to giggle. The fact that it
would be so dreadful to laugh in this house made the desire almost
uncontrollable.

And then the big girl did laugh about something or other, laughed
simply and naturally and really pleasantly. Elliott almost jumped
again, she was so startled. To her, there was something repulsive in
the sight of so much human flesh. At the same time it discouraged her.
In the presence of these two she felt insignificant, even while she
pitied them. She wished to get away, but instinctive breeding held her
in her chair, chatting. She hoped what she said wasn't too inane; she
didn't know quite what she did say.

Just then suddenly Harriet Gordon asked a question: "Has your aunt
said anything yet about a picnic this summer?"

"I heard her say this afternoon that she felt just like one," said
Elliott.

Mother and daughter looked at each other triumphantly. "What did I
tell you!" said one. "I thought it was about time," said the other.

"Jessica Cameron always feels like a picnic in midsummer," Mrs. Gordon
explained. "After the haying 's done. You tell her my little niece
will want to go. Alma has been here three weeks and we haven't been
able to do much for her. Do you think you will go, too, Harriet?"

"I'd rather not this time, Mother."

"The Bliss girls will probably go, and Alma knows them pretty well.
She won't be lonesome."

"Oh, no," said Elliott, "we will see that she isn't lonely."

"Must you go? Tell Mrs. Cameron we will send our limousine whenever
she says the word." On the way back through the house Harriet Gordon
paused before the picture of a young man in aviator's uniform. "My
brother," she said simply, and there was infinite pride in her voice.

Elliott stumbled down the path to the road. She quite forgot to put up
the pink parasol. She carried it closed all the way home. Were they
limousine people? You would never have guessed it to look at them.
Why, she knew about picnics of that kind!--motor-car, luncheon-kit
picnics! But what a shame to be so big! Couldn't they _do_ something
about it? Good as gold, of course, and in such terrible sorrow! They
weren't unfeeling. The girl's voice when she said, "My brother,"
proved that. It seemed as though knowing about them ought to make them
attractive, but somehow it didn't. If they only understood how to
dress, it would help matters. Queer, how nice boys could have such
frumpy people! And Ted Gordon had been a perfectly nice boy. The
picture proved that. But Aunt Jessica had been right about the
flowers. The big woman and the farmer proved _that_. Altogether
Elliott's mind was a queer jumble.

"She said she'd send back the basket to-morrow, Aunt Jessica," she
reported. "Said she wanted to sit and look at it for a while just as
it was. And Miss Gordon asked me to tell you that whenever you were
ready for the picnic you must let her know and she would send around
their limousine."

"If that isn't just like Harriet Gordon!" laughed Laura. "She is the
wittiest girl! Didn't you like her, Elliott?"

Elliott's eyes opened wide. "What is there witty in saying she would
send their limousine?"

Tom snorted. "Wait till you see it!"

"Why, she meant their hay-wagon! We always use the Gordon hay-wagon
for this midsummer picnic. That's a custom, too."

Everybody laughed at the expression on Elliott's face.

"Not up on the vernacular, Lot?" gibed Stannard.

"When is the picnic to be, Mother?" asked Laura.

"How about to-morrow?"

"Better make it the day after," Father Bob suggested, and they all
fell to discussing whom to ask.

So far as Elliott could see they asked everybody except townspeople.
The telephone was kept busy that night and the next morning in the
intervals of Mother Jess's and the girls' baking. Elliott helped pack
up dozens of turnovers and cookies and sandwiches and bottled quarts
of lemonade.

"The lemonade is for the children," said Laura. "The rest of us have
coffee. Don't you love the taste of coffee that you make over a fire
that you build yourself in the woods?"

"On picnics I have always had my coffee out of a thermos bottle," said
Elliott.

"Oh, you poor _thing_! Why, you haven't had any good times at all,
have you?"

Laura looked so shocked that for a minute Elliott actually wondered
whether she ever really had had any good times. Privately she wasn't
at all sure that she was going to have a good time now, but she kept
still about that doubt.

"Aren't you afraid it may rain to-morrow?" she asked.

"No, indeed! It never rains on things Mother plans."

And it didn't. The morning of the picnic dawned clear and dewy and
sparkling, as perfect a summer day as though it had been made to the
Camerons' order. By nine o'clock the big hay-wagon had appeared,
driven by Mr. Gordon himself, who said he was going to turn over the
reins to Mr. Cameron when they reached the Gordon farm. Two more
horses were hitched on and all the Camerons piled in, with enough
boxes and baskets and bags of potatoes, one would think, to feed a
small town, and away the hay-wagon went down the hill, stopping at
house after house to take in smiling people, with more boxes and
baskets and bags.

It was all very care-free and gay, and Elliott smiled and chattered
away with the rest; but in her heart of hearts she knew that there
wasn't one of these boys and girls who squeezed into the capacious
hay-wagon to whom she would have given a second glance, before coming
up here to Vermont. Now she wondered whether they were all as
negligible as they looked. And pretty soon she forgot that she had
ever thought they looked negligible. It was the jolliest crowd she had
ever been in. One or two were a bit quiet when they arrived, but soon
even the shyest were talking, or at least laughing, in the midst of
the happy hubbub. It seemed as though one couldn't have anything but a
good time when the Camerons set out to be jolly. Alma Gordon and the
little Bliss girls were the last to squeeze in and they rode away
waving their hands violently to a short, fat woman and a tall, fat
girl, who waved briskly from the brick house's front door.

Then Mr. Cameron turned the horses into a mountain road and they began
to climb. Up and up the wagon went with its merry load, through
towering woods and open pastures and along hillsides where the woods
had been cut and a tangle of underbrush was beginning to spring up
among the stumps. And the higher the horses climbed the higher rose
the jollity of the hay-wagon's company. The sun was hot overhead when
they stopped. There were gray rocks and a tumbling mountain brook and
a brown-carpeted pine wood. Everybody jumped out helter-skelter and
began unloading the wagon or gathering fire-wood or dipping up water,
or simply scampering around for joy of stretching cramped legs.

It was surprising how soon a fire was burning on the gray stones and
coffee bubbling in the big pail Mother Jess had brought; surprising,
too, how good bacon tasted when you broiled it yourself on a forked
stick and potatoes that you smooched your face on by eating them in
their skins, black from the hot ashes that the boys poked them out of
with green poles. Elliott knew now that she had never really picnicked
before in her life and that she liked it. She liked it so much that
she ate and ate and ate until she couldn't eat another mouthful.

Perhaps she ate too much, but I doubt it. It is much more likely to
have been the climb that she took in the hot sunshine directly after
that dinner, and the climb wouldn't have hurt her, if she had ended
the dinner without that last potato and the extra turnover and two
cookies; or if she had rested a little before the climb. But perhaps,
it wasn't either the dinner or the climb; it may have been the pink
ice-cream of the evening before; or that time in the celery patch, the
previous morning, when she had forgotten her hat and wouldn't go back
to the house for it because Henry hadn't a hat on, and why should a
girl need a hat more than a boy? Or it may have been all those things
put together. She certainly had had a slight headache when she went to
bed.

Whatever caused it, the fact was that on the ride home Elliott began
to feel very sick. The longer she rode the sicker she felt and the
more appalled and ashamed and frightened she grew. What could be going
to happen to her? And what awful exhibition was she about to make of
herself before all these people to whom she had felt so superior?

Before long people noticed how white she was and by the time the wagon
reached the brick house at the cross-roads poor Elliott hardly cared
if they did see it. Her pride was crushed by her misery. Mrs. Gordon
and Harriet came out to welcome Alma home and they hesitated not a
minute.

"Have them bring her right in here, Jessica. No, no, not a mite of
trouble! We'll keep her all night. You go right along home, you and
Laura. Mercy me, if we can't do a little thing like this for you
folks! She'll be all right in the morning."

The words meant nothing to Elliott. She was quite beyond caring where
she went, so that it was to a bed, flat and still and unmoving. But
even in her distress she was conscious that, whatever came of it, she
had had a good time.



CHAPTER VIII

A BEE STING


Elliott was wretchedly, miserably ill. She despised herself for it and
then she lost even the sensation of self contempt in utter misery. She
didn't care about anything--who helped her undress or where the
undressing was done or what happened to her. Mercifully nobody talked;
it would have killed her, she thought, to have to try to talk. They
didn't even ask her how she felt. They only moved about quietly and
did things. They put her to bed and gave her something to drink, after
which for a time she didn't care if she did die; in fact, she rather
hoped she would; and then the disgusting things happened and she felt
worse and worse and then--oh wonder!--she began to feel better.
Actually, it was sheer bliss just to lie quiet and feel how
comfortable she was.

"I am so sorry!" she murmured apologetically to a presence beside the
bed. "I have made you a horrid lot of trouble."

"Not a bit," said the presence, quietly. "So don't you begin worrying
about that."

And she didn't worry. It seemed impossible to worry about anything
just then.

"I feel lots better," she remarked, after a while.

"That's right. I thought you would. Now I'm going to telephone your
Aunt Jessica that you feel better, and you just lie quiet and go to
sleep. Then you will feel better still. I'll put the bell right here
beside the bed. If you want anything, tap it."

The presence waddled away--the girl could feel its going in the tremor
of the bed beneath her--and Elliott out of half-shut eyes looked into
the room. The shades were partially drawn and the light was dim. A
little breeze fluttered the white scrim curtain. The girl's lazy gaze
traveled slowly over what she could see without moving her head. To
move her head would have been too much trouble. What she saw was
spotless and clean and countrified, the kind of room she would have
scorned this morning; now she thought it the most peaceful place in
the world. But she didn't intend to go to sleep in it. She meant
merely to lie wrapped in that delicious mantle of well-being and
continue to feel how utterly content she was. It seemed a pity to go
to sleep and lose consciousness of a thing like that.

But the first thing she knew she was waking up and the room was quite
dark and she felt comfortable, but just the least bit queer. It
couldn't be that she was hungry!

She lay and debated the point drowsily until a streak of light fell
across the bed. The light came from a kerosene lamp in the hands of an
immense woman whose mild blue eyes beamed on Elliott.

"There, you've waked up, haven't you? I guess you'll like a glass of
milk now. You can bring it right up, Harriet. She's awake."

The woman set down her lamp on a little table and lumbered about the
room, adjusting the shades at the windows, while the lamp threw
grotesque exaggerations on the wall. Elliott watched the shadows, a
warm little smile at her heart. They were funny, but she found herself
tender toward them. When the woman padded back to the bed the girl
smiled, her cheek pillowed on her hand. She liked her there beside the
bed, her big shapeless form totally obscuring the straight-backed
chair. She didn't think of waist lines or clothes at all, only of how
comfortable and cushiony and pleasant the large face looked.
Mothery--might not that be the word for it? Somehow like Aunt Jessica,
yet without the slightest resemblance except in expression, a kind of
radiating lovingness that warmed one through and through, and made
everything right, no matter how wrong it might have seemed.

"I telephoned your Aunt Jessica," said the big woman. "She was just
going to call us, and they all sent their love to you. Here's Harriet
with the milk. Do you feel a mite hungry?"

"I think that must be what was the matter with me. I was trying to
decide when you came in."

The fat form shook all over with silent laughter. It was fascinating
to watch laughter that produced such a cataclysm but made no sound.
Elliott forgot to drink in her absorption.

"Mother," said Harriet Gordon, "Elliott thinks you're a three-ringed
circus. You mustn't be so exciting till she has finished her milk."

Elliott protested, startled. "I think you are the kindest people in
the world, both of you!"

"Mercy, child, anybody would have done the same! Don't you go to
setting us up on pedestals for a little thing like that."

The fat girl was smiling. "Make it singular, mother. I have no quarrel
with a pedestal for you, though it might be a little awkward to move
about on."

Mrs. Gordon shook again with that fascinating laughter. "Mercy me! I'd
tip off first thing and then where would we all be?"

Elliott's eyes sought Harriet Gordon's. If she had observed closely
she would have seen spots on the white dress, but to-night she was not
looking at clothes. She only thought what a kind face the big girl had
and how extraordinarily pleasant her voice was and what good friends
she and her mother were, just like Laura and Aunt Jessica, only
different.

"There!" said Mrs. Gordon. "You drank up every drop, didn't you? You
must have been hungry. Now you go right to sleep again and I'll miss
my guess if you don't feel real good in the morning."

"Good night," said Harriet from the door. "Did you give Blink her
good-night mouthful, Mother?"

"No, I didn't. How I do forget that cat!" said Mrs. Gordon. She turned
down the sheet under Elliott's chin, patted it a little, and asked,
"Don't you want your pillow turned over?" Then quite naturally she
stooped down and kissed the girl. "I guess you're all right now. Good
night." And Elliott put both arms around her neck and hugged her, big
as she was. "Good night," she said softly.

The next time Elliott woke up it was broad daylight. Her eyes opened
on a framed motto, "God is Love," and she had to lie still and think a
full minute before she could remember where she was and why she was
there at all. Then she smiled at the motto--it wasn't the kind of
thing she liked on walls, but to see it there did not make her feel in
the least superior this morning--and jumped out of bed. As Mrs. Gordon
had prophesied, she felt well, only the least bit wabbly. Probably
that was because it was before breakfast--her breakfast. She had a
disconcerting fear that it might be long long after other people's
breakfasts and for the first time in her life she was distressed at
making trouble. Hitherto it had seemed right and normal for people to
put themselves out for her.

She dressed as quickly as she could and went down-stairs. Harriet was
shelling peas on the big veranda that looked off across the valley to
the mountains. There must have been rain in the night, for the world
was bathed clean and shining.

"Mother said to let you sleep as long as you would." Harriet stopped
the current of apology on Elliott's lips. "Did you have a good
night?"

"Splendid! I didn't know a thing from the time your mother went out of
the room until half an hour ago."

"Didn't know anything about the thunder-shower?"

"Was there a thunder-shower?"

"A big one. It put our telephone out of commission."

"I didn't hear it," said Elliott.

"It almost pays to be sick, to find out how good it feels to be well,
doesn't it? Here's a glass of milk. Drink that while I get your
breakfast."

"Can't I do it? I hate to make you more trouble."

"Trouble? Forget that word! We like to have you here. It is good for
Mother. Gives her something to think about. Can't you spend the day?"

Now, Elliott wanted to get home at once; she had been longing ever
since she woke up to see Mother Jess and Laura and Father Bob and
Henry and Bruce and everybody else on the Cameron farm, not omitting
Prince and the chickens and the "black and whitey" calf; but she
thought rapidly: if it really made things any easier for the Gordons
to have her here--

"Why, yes, I can stay if you want me to." It cost her something to say
those words, but she said them with a smile.

"Good! I'll telephone Mrs. Cameron that we will bring you home this
afternoon. I'll go over to the Blisses' to do it, though maybe their
telephone's knocked out, too. The one at our hired man's house isn't
working. Here comes Mother with an egg the hen has just laid for your
breakfast." "Just a-purpose," said Mrs. Gordon. "It's warm yet and
marked 'Elliott Cameron' plain as daylight. Is my hair full of straw,
Harriet?"

"It is, straw and cobwebs. Where have you been, Mother? You know you
haven't any business in the haymow or crawling under the old carryall.
Why don't you let Alma bring in the eggs? She's little and spry."

"Pooh!" said Mrs. Gordon, with one of her silent laughs. "Pooh, pooh!
Alma isn't any match for old Whitefoot yet. You'd think that hen laid
awake nights thinking up outlandish places to lay her eggs in. Wait
till you get to be sixty, Harriet. Then you'll know you can't let
folks wait on you. Before that it's all right, but after sixty you've
got to do for yourself, if you don't want to grow old.--Two, dearie?
I'm going to make you a drop-egg on toast for your breakfast."

"Oh, no, one!" cried Elliott. "I never eat two. And can't I help? I
hate to have you get my breakfast."

"Why, yes, you can dish up your oatmeal," calmly cracking a second
egg. "'T won't do a mite of harm to have two. Maybe you're hungrier
than you think. Now Harriet, the water, and we're all ready. I'll help
you finish those peas while she eats."

The woman and the girl shelled peas, their fat fingers fairly flying
through the pods, while Elliott devoured both eggs and a bowl of
oatmeal and a pitcher of cream and a dish of blueberries and wondered
how they could make their fingers move so fast.

"Practice," said Mrs. Gordon in answer to the girl's query. "You do a
thing over and over enough times and you get so you can't help doing
it fast, if you've got any gumption at all. The quarts of peas I've
shelled in my life time would feed an army, I guess."

"Don't you ever get tired?"

"Tired of shelling peas? Land no, I like it! I can sit in here and
look at you, or out on the back piazza and watch the mountains, or on
the front step and see folks drive by, and I've always got my
thoughts." A shadow crossed the placid face. "My thoughts work better
when my fingers are busy. I'd hate to just sit and hold my hands. Ted
dared me once to try it for an hour. That was the longest hour I ever
spent."

Mrs. Gordon had risen to peer through the window after a rapidly
receding wagon.

"There!" she said. "There goes that woman from Bayfield I want to sell
some of my bees to. She's going down to Blisses' and I'd better walk
right over and talk to her, as the telephone won't work. I 'most think
one hive is going to swarm this morning, but I guess I'll have time to
get back before they come out. Hello, Johnny, how do you do to-day?"

"All right," lisped the small solemn-eyed urchin who had strayed in
from the kitchen and now stood in the door hitching at a diminutive
pair of trousers and eying Elliott absorbedly. "Gone!" he announced
suddenly; coming out of his scrutiny.

"What, your button?" Harriet pulled him up to her. "I'll sew it on in
a jiffy. Don't worry about the bees, Mother. I can manage them, if
they decide to swarm before you get back, and while you're at the
Blisses' just telephone central our phone's out of order--and oh,
please tell Mrs. Cameron we're keeping Elliott till afternoon."

Mrs. Gordon departed and Harriet sewed on the button. "There, Johnny,
now you're all right. You can run out and play."

But Johnny became suddenly galvanized into action. He dived into a
small pocket and produced a note, crumpled and soiled, but still
legible.

"If that isn't provoking!" said Harriet, when she had read it. "Why
didn't you give me this the first thing, Johnny? Then Mother could
have done this telephoning, too, at the Blisses'."

"What is it?" asked Elliott.

"A message Johnny's mother wants sent. She's our hired man's wife and
I must say at times she shows about as much brains as a chicken. You'd
think she'd know our 'phone wouldn't be likely to work, if hers
didn't. Now I shall have to go over to the Blisses' myself, I suppose.
The message seems fairly important. Where has your mother gone,
Johnny?"

But Johnny didn't know; beyond a vague "she wided away" he was
non-committal.

"She might have stopped somewhere and telephoned for herself, I should
think," grumbled Harriet. "I'll be back in a few minutes. Or will you
come, too? If I can't 'phone from the Blisses' I may have to go
farther."

"I'll stay here, I think, and wash up my dishes. And after that I'll
finish the peas."

"Mercy me, I shan't be gone that long! We're shelling these to put up,
you know. Don't bother about washing your dishes, either. They'll
keep."

"Who's saying bother, now?" Elliott's dimples twinkled mischievously.

Harriet laughed. "You and Johnny can mind the place. The men and Alma
are all off at the lower farm and here goes the last woman. Good-by."

Elliott went briskly about her program. She found soap and a pan and
rinsed her dishes under the hot-water faucet. Then she sat down to the
peas. Johnny, who had followed her about for a while, deserted her for
pressing affairs of his own out-of-doors. Elliott pinched the pods as
scientifically as she knew how and wondered whether, if she should
shell peas all her life, her slender fingers would ever acquire the
lightning nimbleness of the Gordons' fat ones. How long Harriet was
gone!

She was thinking about this when she heard something that made her
first stop her work to listen and then jump up hurriedly, spilling the
peas out of her lap. The wailing of a terrified child was coming
nearer and nearer. Elliott set down the peas that were left and ran
out on the veranda. There was Johnny stumbling up the path, crying at
the top of his lungs.

"Why, Johnny!" She ran toward him. "Why, Johnny, what is the matter?"

Johnny precipitated himself into her arms in a torrent of tears. Not a
word was distinguishable, but his wails pierced the girl's ear-drums.

"Johnny! Johnny, _stop it_! Tell me where you're hurt."

But Johnny only sobbed the harder. He couldn't be in danger of
death--could he?--when he screamed so. That showed his lungs were all
right, and his legs worked, too, and his arms. They were digging into
her now, with a force that almost upset her equilibrium. Could
something be wrong inside of him?

"What's the matter, Johnny? Stop crying and tell me."

Johnny's yells slackened for want of breath. He held up one brown
little hand. She inspected it. Dirty, of course, unspeakably, but
otherwise--Oh, there was a bunch on one knuckle, a bunch that was
swelling. "Is that where it hurts you, Johnny?"

Johnny nodded, gulping.

"Did something sting you?"

"Bee stung Johnny. _Naughty_ bee!"

The girl stared at the small grimy hand in consternation. A bee sting!
What did you do for a bee sting or any kind of a sting for that
matter? Mosquitoes--hamamelis. And where did the Gordons keep their
hamamelis bottle?

Johnny's screams, abated in expectation of relief, began to rise once
more. He was angry. Why didn't she _do_ something? This delay was
unendurable. His voice mounted in a long, piercing wail.

"Don't cry," the girl said nervously. "Don't cry. Let's go into the
house and find something."

Up-stairs and down she trailed the shrieking child. At the Cameron
farm there were two hamamelis bottles, one in the bath-room, the other
on a shelf in the kitchen. But nothing rewarded her search here. If
only some one were at home! If only the telephone weren't out of
order! Desperately she took down the receiver, to be greeted by a
faint, continuous buzzing. There was nothing for it; she must leave
Johnny and run to a neighbor's. But Johnny refused to be left. He
clung to her and kicked and screamed for pain and the terror of
finding his secure baby world falling to pieces about his ears.

"It's a shame, Johnny. I ought to know what to do, but I don't. You
come too, then."

But Johnny refused to budge. He threw himself on his back on the veranda
and beat the floor with his heels and wailed long heart-piercing wails
that trembled into sobbing silence, only to begin all over with fresh
vigor. Elliott was at her wits' end. She didn't dare go away and leave
him; she was afraid he might kill himself crying. But mightn't he do
so if she stayed? He pushed her away when she tried to comfort him.
There was only one thing that he wanted; he would have none of her, if
she didn't give it to him.

Never in her life had Elliott Cameron felt so insignificant, so
helpless and futile, as she did at that minute. "Oh, you poor baby!"
she cried, and hated herself for her ignorance. Laura would have known
what to do; Harriet Gordon would have known. Would nobody ever come?

"What's the matter with him?" The question barked out, brusque and
sharp, but never had a voice sounded more welcome in Elliott Cameron's
ears. She turned around in joyful relief to encounter a pair of
gimlet-like black eyes in the face of an old woman. She was an ugly
little old woman in a battered straw hat and a shabby old jacket,
though the day was warm, and a faded print skirt that was draggled
with mud at the hem. Her hair strayed untidily about her face and
unfathomable scorn looked out of her snapping black eyes.

"It's a--a bee sting," stammered the girl, shrinking under the scorn.

"Hee-hee-hee!" The old woman's laughter was cracked and high. "What
kind of a lummux are you? Don't know what to do for a bee sting!
Hee-hee! Mud, you gawk you, mud!"

She bent down and slapped up a handful of wet soil from the edge of
the fern bed below the veranda. "Put that on him," she said and went
away giggling a girl's shrill giggle and muttering between her
giggles: "Don't know what to do for a bee sting. Hee-hee!"

For a whole minute after the queer old woman had gone Elliott stood
there, staring down at the spatter of mud on the steps, dismay and
wrath in her heart. Then, because she didn't know anything else to do
and because Johnny's screams had redoubled, she stooped, and with
gingerly care picked up the lump of black mud and went over to the
boy. Mud couldn't hurt him, she thought, put on outside; it certainly
couldn't hurt him, but could it help?

She sat down on the floor and lifted the little swollen fist and held
the cool mud on it, neither noticing nor caring that some trickled
down on her own skirt. She sat there a long time, or so it seemed,
while Johnny's yells sank to long-drawn sobs and then ceased
altogether as he snuggled forgivingly against her arm. And in her
heart was a great shame and an aching feeling of inadequacy and
failure. Elliott Cameron had never known so bitter a five minutes. All
her pride and self-sufficiency were gone. What was she good for in a
practical emergency? Just nothing at all. She didn't know even the
commonest things, not the commonest.

"It must have been Witless Sue," said Aunt Jessica, late that
afternoon, when Elliott told her the story. "She is a half-witted old
soul who wanders about digging herbs in summer and lives on the town
farm in winter. There's no harm in her."

"Half-witted!" said Elliott. "She knew more than I did."

"You have not had the opportunity to learn."

"That didn't make it any better for Johnny. Laura knows all those
things, doesn't she? And Trudy, too?"

"I think they know what to do in the simpler emergencies of life."

"I wish I did. I took a first-aid course, but it didn't have stings in
it, not as far as we'd gone when I came away. We were taught bandaging
and using splints and things like that."

"Very useful knowledge."

"But Johnny got stung," said Elliott, as though nothing mattered
beyond that fact. "Do you think you could teach me things, now and
then, Aunt Jessica? the things Laura and Trudy know?"

"Surely," said Aunt Jessica, "and very gladly. There are things that
you could teach Laura and Trudy, too. Don't forget that entirely."

"Could I? Useful things?" She asked the question with humility.

"Very useful things in certain kinds of emergency. What did Mrs.
Gordon do for Johnny when she got home?"

"Oh, she washed his hand and soaked it in strong soda and water,
baking-soda, and then she bound some soda right on, for good measure,
she said."

"There!" said Aunt Jessica. "Now you know two things to do for a bee
sting."

Elliott opened her eyes wide. "Why, so I do, don't I? I truly do."

"That's the way people learn," said Mother Jess, "by emergencies. It
is the only way they are sure to remember. Laura is helping Henry
milk. Suppose you make us some biscuit for supper, Elliott."

Elliott started to say, "I've never made biscuit," but shut her lips
tight before the words slipped out.

"I will tell you the rule. You'd better double it for our family.
Everything is plainly marked in the pantry. Perhaps the fire needs
another stick before you begin."

Carefully the girl selected a stick from the wood-box. "Just let me
get my apron, Aunt Jessica," she said.



CHAPTER IX

ELLIOTT ACTS ON AN IDEA


Six weeks later a girl was busy in the sunny white kitchen of the
Cameron farm. The girl wore a big blue apron that covered her gown
completely from neck to hem, and she hummed a little song as she moved
from sink to range and range to table. There was about her a delicate
air of importance, almost of elation. You know as well as I where
Elliott Cameron ought to have been by this time. Six weeks plus how
many other weeks was it since she left home? The quarantine must have
been lifted from her Uncle James's house for at least a month. But the
girl in the kitchen looked surprisingly like Elliott Cameron. If it
wasn't she, it must have been her twin, and I have never heard that
Elliott had a twin.

Though she was all alone in the kitchen--washing potatoes, too--she
didn't appear in the least unhappy. She went over to the stove, lifted
a lid, glanced in, and added two or three sticks of wood to the fire.
Then she brought out a pan of apples and went down cellar after a roll
of pie crust. Some one else may have made that pie crust. Elliott took
it into the pantry, turned the board on the flour barrel, shook flour
evenly over it from the sifter, and, cutting off one end of the pie
crust, began to roll it out thin on the board. She arranged the lower
crust on three pie-plates, and, going into the kitchen again, began to
peel the apples and cut them up into the pies. Perhaps she wasn't so
quick about it as Laura might have been, but she did very well. The
skin fell from her knife in long, thin, curly strips. After that she
finished the pies off in the pantry and tucked all three into the
oven. Squatting on her feet in front of the door, she studied the dial
intently for a moment and hesitatingly pushed the draft just a crack
open. If it hadn't been for that momentary indecision, you might have
thought that she had been baking pies all her life. Then she began to
peel the potatoes.

[Illustration: "I'm getting dinner all by myself"]

So it was that Stannard found her. "Hello!" he said, with a grin.
"Busy?"

"Indeed, I am! I'm getting dinner all by myself."

He went through a pantomime of dodging a blow. "Whew-ee! Guess I'll
take to the woods."

"Better not. If you do, you will miss a good dinner. Mother Jess said
I might try it. Boiled potatoes and baked fish--she showed me how to
fix that--and corn and things. There's one other dish on my menu that
I'm not going to tell you." And all her dimples came into play.

"H'm!" said Stannard, "we feel pretty smart, don't we? Well, maybe
I'll stay and see how it pans out. A fellow can always tighten his
belt, you know."

"Aren't you horrid!" She made up a face at him, a captivating little
grimace that wrinkled her nose and set imps of mischief dancing in her
eyes.

Stannard watched her as with firm motions she stripped the husks from
the corn, picking off the clinging strands of silk daintily.

"Gee, Elliott!" he exclaimed. "Do you know, you're prettier than
ever!"

She dropped him a courtesy. "I must be, with a smooch of flour on my
nose and my hair every which way."

He grinned. "That's a story. Your hair looks as though Madame
What-'s-her-name, that you and Mater and the girls go to so much, had
just got through with you. I've never seen you when you didn't look as
though you had come out of a bandbox."

"Haven't you? Think again, Stan, think again! What about your Cousin
Elliott in a corn-field?"

Stannard slapped his thigh. "That's so, too! I forgot that. But your
hair's all to the good, even then."

"Stan," warned Elliott, "you'd better be careful. You will get in too
deep to wade out, if you don't watch your step. What are you getting
at, anyway? Why all these compliments?"

"Compliments! A fellow doesn't have to praise up his cousin, does he?
It just struck me, all of a sudden, that you look pretty fit."

"Thanks. I'm feeling as fit as I look. Out with it, Stan; what do you
want?"

"Why, nothing," said Stannard, "nothing at all. Shall I take out those
husks, Lot?"

"Delighted. The pigs eat 'em." Her eyes held a quizzical light. "If
you're trying to rattle me so I shall forget something and spoil my
dinner, you can't do it."

"What do you take me for?" He departed with the husks, deeply
indignant.

In five minutes he was back. "When are you going home?"

"I don't know. Not just yet. Your mother has too many house parties."

"That won't make any difference."

"Oh, yes, it does! Her house is full all the time."

"Shucks! Have you asked her if there's a room ready for you?"

"Indeed I haven't! I wouldn't think of imposing on a busy hostess."

"I might say something about it," he suggested slyly.

"You will do nothing of the kind."

"Oh, I don't know! I'm going home myself day after to-morrow."

Hastily Elliott set down the kettle she had lifted. "Are you? That's
nice. I mean, we shall miss you, but of course you have to go some
time, I suppose."

"It won't be any trouble at all to speak to Mother."

"Stannard," and the color burned in her cheeks, "will you _please_
stop fiddling around this kitchen? It makes me nervous to see you. I
nearly burned myself in the steam of that kettle and I'm liable to
drop something on you any time."

"Oh, all right! I'll get out. Fiddling is a new verb with you, isn't
it?"

"Yes, I picked it up. Very expressive, I think."

"Sounds like the natives."

"Sounds pretty well, then. Did I hear you say you had an errand
somewhere?"

"No, you didn't. You merely heard me say that finding myself _de trop_
in my fair cousin's company, I'd get out of range of her big guns.
Never expected to rattle you, Lot."

"I'm not rattled."

"No? Pretty good imitation, then. Oh, I'm going! Mother's ready for
you all right, though; says so in this letter. Here, I'll stick it in
your apron pocket. Better come along with me, day after to-morrow.
What say?"

"I'll see," said Elliott, briefly.

He grinned teasingly, "Ta-ta," and went off, leaving turmoil behind
him.

The minute Stannard was out of the door Elliott did a strange thing.
Reaching with wet pink thumb and forefinger into the depths of the
blue apron pocket, she extracted the letter and hurled it across the
kitchen into a corner.

"There!" she cried disdainfully, "you go over there and _stay_ a
while, horrid old letter! I'm not going to let you spoil my perfectly
good time getting dinner."

But it was spoiled: no mere words could alter the fact. Try as she
would to put the letter out of her mind and think only of how to do a
dozen things at once one quarter as quickly and skilfully as Laura and
Aunt Jessica did them, which is what the apparently simple process of
dishing up a dinner means, the fine thrill of the enterprise was gone.
Laura came in to help her and Elliott's tongue tripped briskly through
a deal of chatter, but all the while underneath there was a little
undercurrent of uneasiness and anxiety. Wouldn't you have thought it
would delight her to have the opportunity of doing what she had so
much wished to do?

"What's this?" Laura asked, spying the white envelop on the floor; "a
letter?"

"Oh, yes," said Elliott, "one I dropped," and she tucked it into the
pocket of the white skirt that had been all the time under the blue
apron, giving it a vindictive little slap as she did so. Which, of
course, was quite uncalled for, as if any one was responsible for what
was in the letter, that person was Elliott Cameron. The fact that she
knew this very well only added a little extra vigor to the slap.

And all through dinner she sat and laughed and chattered away, exactly
as though she weren't conscious in every nerve of the letter in her
pocket, despite the fact that she didn't know a word it said. But she
didn't eat much: the taste of food seemed to choke her. Her gaze
wandered from Mother Jess to Father Bob and back, around the circle of
eager, happy, alert faces. And she felt--poor Elliott!--as though her
first discontent were a boomerang now returned to stab her.

"This is Elliott's dinner, I would have you all know," announced Laura
when the pie was served. "She did it all herself."

"Not every bit," said Elliott, honestly; but her disclaimer was lost
in the chorus of praise.

Father Bob laid down his fork, looking pleased. "Did you, indeed? Now,
this is what I call a well-cooked dinner."

"I'll give you a recommend for a cook," drawled Stannard, "and eat my
words about tightening my belt, too."

"Some dinner!" Bruce commented.

"Please, I'd like another piece," said Priscilla.

"Me, too," chimed in Tom. "It's corking."

Laura clapped her hands. "Listen, Elliott, listen! Could praise go
further?"

But Mother Jess, when they rose from the table, slipped an arm through
Elliott's and drew her toward the veranda. "Did the cook lose her
appetite getting dinner, little girl?"

"Oh, no, indeed, Aunt Jessica! Getting dinner didn't tire me a bit. I
just loved it. I--I didn't seem to feel hungry this noon, that was
all."

Mother Jess patted her arm. "Well, run away now, dear. You are not to
give a thought to the dishes. We will see to them."

At that minute Elliott almost told her about the letter in her pocket,
that lay like a lump of lead on her heart. But Henry appeared just
then in the doorway and the moment passed.

"Run away, dear," repeated Aunt Jessica, and gave the girl a little
push and another little pat. "Run away and get rested."

Slowly Elliott went down the steps and along the path that led to the
flower borders and the apple trees. She wasn't really conscious of the
way she was going; her feet took charge of her and carried her body
along while her mind was busy. When she came out among a few big trees
with a welter of piled-up crests on every side, she was really
astonished.

"Why!" she cried; "why, here I am on the top of the hill!"

A low, flat rock invited her and she sat down. It was queer how
different everything seemed up here. What looked large from below had
dwindled amazingly. It took, she decided, a pretty big thing to look
big on a hilltop.

She drew Aunt Margaret's letter out of her pocket and read it. It was
very nice, but somehow had no tug to it. Phrases from a similar letter
of Aunt Jessica's returned to the girl's mind. How stupid she had been
not to appreciate that letter!--stupid and incredibly silly.

But hadn't she felt something else in her pocket just now? Conscience
pricked when she saw Elizabeth Royce's handwriting. The seal had not
been broken, though the letter had come yesterday. She remembered now.
They were putting up corn and she had tucked it into her pocket for
later reading and then had forgotten it completely. Luckily, Bess need
never know that. But what would Bess have said to see her friend
Elliott, corn to the right of her, corn to the left of her, cobs piled
high in the summer kitchen?

Bess's staccato sentences furnished a sufficiently emphatic clue. "You
poor, abused dear! Whenever are you coming home? If I had an aëroplane
I'd fly up and carry you off. You must be nearly _crazy_! Those
letters you wrote were the most TRAGIC things! I shouldn't have been a
bit surprised any time to hear you were sick. _Are_ you sick? Perhaps
that's why you don't write or come home. Wire me _the minute you get
this_. Oh, Elliott darling, when I think of you marooned in that awful
place--"

There was more of it. As Elliott read, she did a strange thing. She
began to laugh. But even while she laughed she blushed, too. _Had_ she
sounded as desperate as all that? How far away such tragedies seemed
now! Suppose she should write, "Dear Bess, I like it up here and I am
going to stay my year out." Bess would think her crazy; so would all
the girls, and Aunt Margaret, too.

And then suddenly an arresting idea came into her head. What
difference would it make if they did think her crazy? Elliott Cameron
had never had such an idea before; all her life she had in a perfectly
nice way thought a great deal about what people thought of her. This
idea was so strange it set her gasping. "But how they would _talk_
about me!" she said. And then her brain clicked back, exactly like
another person speaking, "What if they did? That wouldn't really make
you crazy, would it?" "Why, no, I suppose it wouldn't," she thought.
"And most likely they'd be all talked out by the time I got back, too.
But even if they weren't, any one would be crazy to think it was crazy
to want to stay up here at Uncle Bob's and Aunt Jessica's. Even
Stannard has stayed weeks longer than he needed to!"

When she thought of that she opened her eyes wide for a minute. "Oho!"
she said to herself; "I guess Stan did get a rise out of me! You were
easy game that time, Elliott Cameron."

She sat on her mossy stone a long time. There wasn't anything in the
world, was there, to stand in the way of her staying her year out, the
year she had been invited for, except her own silly pride? What a
little goose she had been! She sat and smiled at the mountains and
felt very happy and fresh and clean-minded, as though her brain had
finished a kind of house-cleaning and were now put to rights again,
airy and sweet and ready for use.

The postman's wagon flashed by on the road below. She could see the
faded gray of the man's coat. He had been to the house and was
townward bound now. How late he was! Nothing to hurry down for. There
would be a letter, perhaps, but not one from Father. His had come
yesterday. She rose after a while and drifted down through the still
September warmth, as quiet and lazy and contented as a leaf.

Priscilla's small excited face met her at the door.

"Sidney's sick; we just got the letter. Mother's going to camp
to-morrow."

"Sidney sick! Who wrote? What's the matter?"

"He did. He's not much sick, but he doesn't feel just right. He's in
the hospital. I guess he can't be much sick, if he wrote, himself.
Mother wasn't to come, he said, but she's going."

"Of course." Nervous fear clutched Elliott's throat, like an icy hand.
Oh, poor Aunt Jessica! Poor Laura!

"Where are they?" she asked.

"In Mumsie's room," said Priscilla. "We're all helping."

Elliott mounted the stairs. She had to force her feet along, for they
wished, more than anything else, to run away. What should she say? She
tried to think of words. As it turned out, she didn't have to say
anything.

Laura was the only person in Aunt Jessica's room when they reached it.
She sat in a low chair by a window, mending a gray blouse.

"Elliott's come to help, too," announced Priscilla.

"That's good," said Laura. "You can put a fresh collar and cuffs in
this gray waist of Mother's, Elliott--I'll have it done in a
minute--while I go set the crab-apple jelly to drip. And perhaps you
can mend this little tear in her skirt. Then I'll press the suit.
There isn't anything very tremendous to do."

It was all so matter-of-fact and quiet and natural that Elliott didn't
know what to make of it. She managed to gasp, "I hope Sidney isn't
very sick."

"He thinks not," said Laura, "but of course Mother wants to see for
herself. She is telephoning Mrs. Blair now about the Ladies' Aid. They
were to have met here this week. Mother thinks perhaps she can arrange
an exchange of dates, though I tell her if Sid's as he says he is,
they might just as well come."

Elliott, who had been all ready to put her arms around Laura's neck
and kiss and comfort her, felt the least little bit taken aback. It
seemed that no comfort was needed. But it was a relief, too. Laura
_couldn't_ sit there, so cool and calm and natural-looking, sewing and
talking about crab-apple juice and Ladies' Aid, if there were anything
radically wrong.

Then Aunt Jessica came into the room and said that Mrs. Blair would
like the Ladies' Aid, herself, that week; she had been wishing she
could have them; and didn't Elliott feel the need of something to eat
to supplement her scanty dinner?

That put to rout the girl's last fears. She smiled quite naturally and
said without any stricture in her throat: "Honestly, I'm not hungry.
And I am going to put a clean collar in your blouse."

"What should I do without my girls!" smiled Mother Jess.

It was after supper that the telegram came, but even then there was no
panic. These Camerons didn't do any of the things Elliott had once or
twice seen people do in her Aunt Margaret's household. No one ran
around futilely, doing nothing; no one had hysterics; no one even
cried.

Mother Jess's face went very white when Father Bob came back from the
telephone and said, "Sidney isn't so well."

"Have they sent for us?"

He nodded. "You'd better take the sleeper. The eighty-thirty from
Upton will make it."

"Can you--?"

"Not with things the way they are here."

Then they all scattered, to do the things that had to be done. Elliott
was helping Laura pack the suit-case when she had her idea. It really
was a wonderful idea for a girl who had never in her life put herself
out for any one else. Like a flash the first part of it came to her,
without thought of a sequel; and the words were out of her mouth
almost before she was aware she had thought them.

"You ought to go, Laura!" she cried. "Sidney is your twin."

"I'd like to go." Something in the guarded tone, something deep and
intense and controlled, struck Elliott to consternation. If Laura felt
that way about it!

"Why don't you, Laura? Can't you possibly?"

The other shook her head. "Mother is the one to go. If we both went,
who would keep house here?"

For a fraction of a second Elliott hesitated. "_I_ would."

The words once spoken, fairly swept her out of herself. All her little
prudences and selfishnesses and self-distrusts went overboard
together. Her cheeks flamed. She dropped the brush and comb she was
packing and dashed out of the room.

A group of people stood in the kitchen. Without stopping to think,
Elliott ran up to them.

"Can't Laura go?" she cried eagerly. "It will be so much more
comfortable to be two than one. And she is Sidney's twin. I don't know
a great deal, but people will help me, and I got dinner this noon. Oh,
she must go! Don't you see that she must go?"

Father Bob looked at the girl for a minute in silence. Then he spoke:
"Well, I guess you're right. I will look after the chickens."

"I'll mix their feed," said Gertrude; "I know just how Laura does
it--and I'll do the dishes."

"I'll get breakfasts," said Bruce.

"I'll make the butter," said Tom. "I've watched Mother times enough.
And helped her, too."

"I'll see to Prince and the kitty," chimed in Priscilla, "and do, oh,
lots of things!"

"I'll be responsible for the milk," said Henry.

"I'll keep house," said Elliott, "if you leave me anything to do."

"And I'll help you," said Harriet Gordon.

It was really settled in that minute, though Father Bob and Mother
Jess talked it over again by themselves.

"Are you sure, dear, you want to do this?" Mother Jess asked Elliott.

"Perfectly sure," the girl answered. She felt excited and confident,
as though she could do anything.

"It won't be easy."

"I know that. But please let me try."

"And there are the Gordons," said Mother Jess, half to herself.

"Yes," echoed Elliott, "there are the Gordons."

When the little car ran up to the door to take the two over to Upton
and Mother Jess and Laura were saying good-by, Laura strained Elliott
tight. "I'll love you forever for this," she whispered.

Then they were off and with them seemed to have gone something
indispensable to the well-being of the people who lived in the white
house at the end of the road. Elliott, watching the car vanish around
a turn in the road, hugged Laura's words tight to her heart. It was
the only way to keep her knees from wabbling at the thought of what
was before her.



CHAPTER X

WHAT'S IN A DRESS?


Of course Elliott never could have done it without the Gordons.
Elliott and Harriet made the crab-apple juice into jelly, Mrs. Gordon
sent in bread and cookies, and both mother and daughter stood behind
the girl with their skill and experience, ready to be called on at a
moment's notice.

"Just send for us any time you get into trouble or want help about
something," said Mrs. Gordon over the telephone. "One of us will come
right up. Most likely it will be Harriet. I'm so cumbersome, I can't
get about as I'd like to. Large bodies move slowly, you know."

Other people besides the Gordons sent in things to eat. Elliott
thought she had never known such a stream of generosity as set toward
the white house at the end of the road--intelligent generosity, too.
There seemed a definite plan and some consultation behind it. Mr.
Blair brought a roast of beef already cooked, from Mrs. Blair, and
hoped for both of them that there would soon be good news of the boy.
The Blisses sent in pies enough for two days and asked Elliott to let
them know when she was ready for more. People she knew and people she
didn't know brought rolls and cookies and doughnuts and gelatines and
even roast chickens, and asked, with real anxiety in their voices, for
the latest news from Camp Devens.

They didn't bring their offerings all at once; they brought them
continuously and steadily and with truly remarkable appropriateness.
Just when Elliott was thinking that she must begin to cook, something
was sure to rattle up to the door in a wagon, or roll up in an
automobile, or travel on foot in a basket. It was the extreme
timeliness of the gifts that proved the guiding intelligence behind
them.

"They couldn't all happen so," was Henry's conclusion. "Now, could
they? Gee! and I've thought some of those folks were pokes!"

"So have I," said Elliott, feeling very much ashamed of her hasty
judgments.

"You never know till you get into trouble how good people are," was
Father Bob's verdict.

Gertrude fingered a doughnut ruefully. "I want it, but I'm almost
ashamed to eat it. I've thought such horrid things of that old Mrs.
Gadsby that made 'em."

"They're good," said Tom. "Mrs. Gadsby knows how to make doughnuts, if
she _has_ got a tongue in her head! Say, but I'd as soon have thought
old Allen would send us doughnuts as the Gadsby."

"Mr. Allen brought us a tongue this morning," Elliott remarked; "said
his housekeeper boiled it; hoped it wasn't too tough to eat. You
couldn't 'git nothin' good, these days!'"

"_Enoch_ Allen?" demanded Henry; "the old fellow that lives at the
foot of the hill? Go tell that to the marines!"

"I don't know where he lives," said Elliott, "but he certainly said
his name was Enoch Allen."

Bruce chuckled. "Mother Jess's chickens have come home to roost, all
right."

"What did she ever do for Enoch Allen?" asked Tom.

"Oh, don't you remember," cried Gertrude, "the time his old dog died?
Mother found the dog one day, dying in the woods. I was along and she
sent me to call Mr. Allen, while she stayed with the dog. I was just a
little girl and kind of scared, but Mother said Mr. Allen wasn't
anybody to be afraid of; he was just a lonely old man. I heard him
tell her it wasn't every woman would have stayed with his dog. It was
dead when he got there."

But even with competent advisers within call and all the aids that
came in the shape of "Mother Jess's chickens," and with the best
family in the world all eagerness to be helpful and to "carry
on" during Laura and Mother Jess's absence, Elliott found that
housekeeping wasn't half so simple as it looked.

Life still had its moments and she was in the midst of one of the
worst of them now. If you have ever stood in a kitchen where little
gray kittens of dust rollicked under the chairs and all the dinner
kettles and pans were piled on the table, unscraped and unwashed, and
you saw ahead of you more things that you had planned to do than you
could possibly get through before supper, and one girl was crying in
the attic and another was crying in the china-closet, and your own
heart was in your boots, you know how Elliott Cameron felt at this
minute. Everything had gone wrong, since the time she got up half an
hour late in the morning; but the most wrong thing of all was the
letter from Laura.

It had come just as they were finishing dinner, for the postman was
late. Father Bob had cut it open, while every one looked eager and
hopeful. Mother Jess had written the day before that the doctors
thought Sidney was better; there had been a telegram to that effect,
too. Father Bob read Laura's letter quite through before he opened his
lips. It wasn't a long letter. Then he said: "The boy's not so well,
to-day.--Bruce, we must finish the ensilage. Come out as soon as
you're through, boys. Tom, I want you to get in the tomatoes before
night. We're due for a freeze, unless signs fail." Not another word
about Sidney. And he went right out of the room.

"What does she say?" whispered Gertrude, dropping her fork so that
it rattled against her plate. Gertrude was always dropping things,
but this time she didn't flush, as she usually did, at her own
awkwardness.

Elliott picked up the letter Father Bob had left beside her plate. She
dreaded to unfold the single sheet, but what else could she do, with
all those pairs of anxious eyes fixed on her? She steadied her voice
and read slowly and without a trace of expression:

  "Sidney had a bad time in the night, but is resting more easily
  this morning. Mother never leaves him. Every one is so good to us
  here. His officers seem to think a lot of Sid. So do the men of
  his company, as far as we have seen them. I don't know what to
  write you, Father. The doctor says, 'While there's life there's
  hope, and that our coming is the only thing that has saved Sid so
  far. He says that he has seen the sickest of boys pull through
  with their mothers here. We will telegraph when there is any
  change. Love to all of you, dear ones, and tell Elliott I shall
  never forget what she has done for me.

                                                             "LAURA"

The room was very still for a minute. Elliott kept her eyes on the
letter, to hide the tears that filled them. Sidney was going to die;
she knew it.

Slowly, silently, one after another, they all got up from the table.
The boys filed out into the kitchen, washed their hands at the sink,
and still without a word went about their work. Gertrude and Priscilla
began mechanically to clear the table. A plate crashed to the floor
from Gertrude's hands and shattered to fragments. She stared at the
pieces stupidly, as though wondering how they had come there, took a
step in the direction of the dust-pan, and, suddenly bursting into
tears, turned and ran out of the room. Elliott could hear her feet
pounding up-stairs, on, on, till they reached the attic. A door
slammed and all was quiet.

Down in the kitchen Elliott and Priscilla faced each other. Great
round drops were running down Priscilla's cheeks, but she looked up at
Elliott trustfully. And then Elliott failed her. She knew herself that
she was failing. But it seemed as though she just couldn't keep from
crying. "Oh, dear!" she sighed. "Oh, dear, isn't everything just
_awful_!" Then she did cry.

And over Priscilla's sober little face--Elliott wasn't so blinded by
her tears that she failed to see it--came the queerest expression of
stupefaction and woe and utter forlornness. It was after that that
Elliott heard Priscilla sobbing in the china-closet.

Her first impulse was to go to the closet and pull the child out. Her
second was to let her stay. "She may as well have her cry out,"
thought the girl, unhappily. "_I_ couldn't do anything to comfort
her!"--which shows how very, very, very miserable Elliott was,
herself.

The world was topsyturvy and would never get right again.

Instead of going for Priscilla she went for a dust-pan and brush and
collected the fragments of broken china. Then she began to pile up the
dishes, but, after a few futile movements, sat down in a chair and
cried again. It didn't seem worth while to do anything else. So now
there were three girls crying all at once in that house and every one
of them in a different place. When at last Elliott did look in the
closet Priscilla wasn't there.

The appearance of that usually spotless kitchen had a queer effect on
Elliott. She saw so many things needing to be done at once that she
didn't do any of them. She simply stood and stared hopelessly at the
wreck of comfort and cleanliness and good cheer.

"Hello!" said Bruce at the door. "Want an extra hand for an hour?"

"I thought you were cutting ensilage," said Elliott. It was good to
see Bruce; the courage in his voice lifted her spirits in spite of
her.

"I've left a substitute." The boy glanced into the stove and started
for the wood-box.

"Oh, dear! I forgot that fire. Has it gone out?"

"Not quite. I'll have it going again in a jiff."

He came back with a broom in his hands.

"Let me do that," said the girl.

"Oh, all right." He relinquished the broom and brought out the
dish-pan. "Hi-yi, Stan, lend a hand here!"

The boy in the doorway gave one glance at Elliott's tear-stained face
and came quietly into the room. "Sure," he said, picking up a
dish-cloth and gingerly reaching for a tumbler. "Which end do you take
'em by, top or bottom?"

Stannard wiping dishes, and with Bruce Fearing! The sight was so
strange that Elliott's broom stopped moving. The two boys at the
dish-pan chaffed each other good-naturedly; their jokes might have
seemed a little forced, had you examined them carefully, but the
effect was normal and cheering. Now and then they threw a word to the
girl and the pile of clean dishes grew under their hands.

Elliott's broom began to move again. Something warm stirred at her
heart. She felt sober and humble and ashamed and--yes, happy--all at
once. How nice boys were when they were nice!

Then she remembered something.

"Oh, Stan, wasn't it to-day you were going home?"

"Nix," Stannard replied. "Guess I'll stay on a bit. School hasn't
begun. I want to go nutting before I hit the trail for home."

It was a different-looking kitchen the boys left half an hour later
and a different-looking girl.

Bruce lingered a minute behind Stannard. "We haven't had any
telegram," he said. "Remember that. And as for things in here, I
wouldn't let 'em bother me, if I were you! You can't do everything,
you know. Keep cool, feed us the stuff folks send in, and let some
things slide."

"Mother Jess doesn't let things slide."

"Mother Jess has been at it a good many years, but I'll bet she would
now and then if things got too thick and she couldn't keep both
ends up. There's more to Mother Jess's job than what they call
housekeeping."

"Oh, yes," sighed Elliott, "I know that. But just what do you mean,
Bruce, that I could do?"

He hesitated a minute. "Well, call it morale. That suggests the
thing."

Elliott thought hard for a minute after the door closed on Bruce.
Perhaps, after all, seeing that the family had three meals a day and
lived in a decently clean house and slept warm at night, necessary as
such oversight was, wasn't the most imperative business in hand.
Somehow or other those things weren't at all what came into her mind
when she thought of Aunt Jessica--no, indeed, though Aunt Jessica made
such perfectly delicious things to eat. What came into her mind was
far different--like the way Aunt Jessica had sat on Elliott's bed and
kissed her, that homesick first night; Aunt Jessica's face at
meal-time, with Uncle Bob across the table and all her boys and girls
filling the space between; Aunt Jessica comforting Priscilla when the
child had met with some mishap. Priscilla seldom cried when she hurt
herself; "Mother kisses the place and makes it well." The words linked
themselves with Bruce's in Elliott's thought. Was that what he had
meant by morale? She couldn't have put into words what she understood
just then. For a minute a door in her brain seemed to swing open and
she saw straight into the heart of things. Then it clicked together
and left her saying, "I guess I fell down on that part of my job,
Mother Jess."

Elliott hung up her apron and mounted the stairs. She didn't stop with
the second floor and her own little room, but kept right on to the
attic. There was a door at the head of the attic stairs. Elliott
pushed it open. On a broken-backed horsehair sofa Gertrude lay, face
down, her nose buried in a faded pillow. In a wabbly rocker, at
imminent risk of a breakdown, Priscilla jerked back and forth.
Gertrude's hair was tousled and Priscilla's face was tear-stained and
swollen.

"Don't you think," Elliott suggested, "it is time we girls washed our
faces and made ourselves pretty?"

"I left you all the dishes to do." Gertrude's voice was muffled by the
pillow. "I--I just couldn't help it."

"That's all right. They're done now. I didn't do them, either. Let's
go down-stairs and wash up."

"I don't want to be pretty," Priscilla objected, continuing to rock.
Gertrude neither moved nor spoke again.

What should Elliott do? She remembered Bruce.

"We haven't had any telegram, you know," she said. Nobody spoke.
"Well, then, we were three little geese, weren't we? Not having had a
telegram means a lot just now." Priscilla stopped rocking.

"I'm going to believe Sidney will get well," Elliott continued. It was
hard work to talk to such unresponsive ears, but she kept right on.
"And now I am going down-stairs to put on one of my prettiest dresses,
so as to look cheerful for supper. You may try whether you can get
into that blue dress of mine you like so much, Trudy. I'm going to let
Priscilla wear my coral beads."

"The pink ones?" asked Priscilla.

"The pink ones. They will be just a match for your pink dress."

"I don't feel like dressing up," said Gertrude.

Elliott felt like clapping her hands. She had roused Trudy to speech.

"Then wear something of your own," she said stanchly. "It doesn't
matter what we wear, so long as we look nice."

Mercurial Priscilla was already feeling the new note in the air.
Elliott wouldn't talk so, would she, if Sidney really were not going
to get well? And yet there was Gertrude, who didn't seem to feel
cheered up a bit. Pris's little heart was torn.

Elliott tried one last argument. "I think Mother Jess would like to
have us do it for Father Bob and the boys' sake--to help keep up their
courage."

Priscilla bounced out of the rocker. "Will it help keep up their
courage for us to wear our pretty clothes?"

"I had a notion it might."

"Let's do it, Trudy. I--I think I feel better already."

Gertrude sat up on the horsehair sofa. "Maybe Mother would like us
to."

"I'm sure she'd like us to keep on hoping," said Elliott earnestly.
"And it doesn't matter what we do, so long as we do something to show
that's the way we've made up our minds to feel. If you can think of
any better way to show it than by dressing up, Trudy--"

"No," said Gertrude. "But I think I'll wear my own clothes to-day,
Elliott. Thank you, just the same. Some day, if Sid--I mean some day
I'll love to try on your blue dress, if you will let me."

Three girls, as pretty and chic and trim as nature and the contents of
their closets could make them, sat down to supper that night. It was
not a jolly meal, but the girls set the pace, and every one did his
best to be cheerful and brave.

Half-way through supper Stannard laid down his fork to ask a question.
"What's happened to your hair, Trudy?"

"Elliott did it for me. Do you like it?"

Stannard nodded. "Good work!"

Father Bob, his attention aroused, inspected the three with new
interest in his sober eyes. He said nothing then, but after supper his
hand fell on Elliott's shoulder approvingly.

"Well done, little girl! That's the right way. Face the music with
your chin up."

Elliott felt exactly as though some one had stiffened her spine. The
least little doubt had been creeping into her mind lest what she had
done had been heartless. Father Bob's words put that qualm at rest.
And, of course, good news would come from Sidney in the morning.

But courage has a way of ebbing in spite of one. It was dark and very
cold when a forlorn little figure appeared beside Elliott's bed.

"I can't go to sleep. Trudy's asleep. I can hear her. I think I am
going to cry again."

Elliott sat up. What should she do? What would Aunt Jessica do?

"Come in here and cry on me."

Priscilla climbed in between the sheets and Elliott put both arms
around the little girl. Priscilla snuggled close.

"I tried to think--the way you said, but I can't. _Is_ Sidney--"
sniffle--"going to die--" sniffle--"like Ted Gordon?"

"No," said Elliott, who a minute ago had been afraid of the very same
thing. "No, I am perfectly positive he is going to get well."

Just saying the words seemed to help, somehow.

Priscilla snuggled closer. "You're awful comforting. A person gets
scared at night."

"A person does, indeed."

"Not so much when you've got company," said Priscilla.

The warmth of the little body in her arms struck through to Elliott's
own shivering heart. "Not half so much when you've got company," she
acknowledged.



CHAPTER XI

MISSING


Sure enough, in the morning came better news. Father Bob's face, when
he turned around from the telephone, told that, even before he opened
his lips.

"Sidney is holding his own," he said.

You may think that wasn't much better news, but it meant a great deal
to the Camerons. "Sidney is holding his own," they told every one who
inquired, and their faces were hopeful. If Father Bob had any fears,
he kept them to himself. The rest of the Camerons were young and it
didn't seem possible to them that Sidney could do anything but get
well. Last night had been a bad dream, that was all.

The next morning's message had the word "better" in it. "Little" stood
before "better," but nobody, not even Father Bob, paid much attention
to "little." Sidney was better. It was a week before Mother Jess wrote
that the doctors pronounced him out of danger and that she and Laura
would soon be home. Meanwhile, many things had happened.

You might have thought that Sidney's illness was enough trouble to
come to the Camerons at one time, but as Bruce quoted with a twist in
his smile, "It never rains but it pours." This time Bruce himself got
the message which came from the War Department and read:

  You are informed that Lieutenant Peter Fearing has been reported
  missing since September fifteenth. Letter follows.

The Camerons felt as badly as though Peter Fearing had been their own
brother.

"The telegram doesn't say that he's dead," Trudy declared, over and
over again.

"Maybe he's a prisoner," Tom suggested.

"Perhaps he had to come down in a wood somewhere," Henry speculated,
"and will get back to our lines."

"The government makes mistakes sometimes," Stannard said. "There was a
woman in Upton--" He went on with a long story about a woman whose son
was reported killed in France on the very day the boy had been in his
mother's house on furlough from a cantonment. There were a great many
interesting and ingenious details to the story, but nobody paid much
attention to them. "So you never can tell," Stannard wound up.

"No, you never can tell," Bruce agreed, but he didn't look convinced.
Something, he was quite sure, was wrong with Pete.

"Don't anybody write Mother Jess," he said. "She and Laura have enough
to worry about with Sid."

"What if they see it in the papers?" Elliott asked.

"They're busy. Ten to one they won't see it, since it isn't head-lined
on the front page. Wait till we get the letter."

"How soon do you suppose the letter will come?" Gertrude wished to
know.

"'Letter follows,'" Henry read from the yellow slip which the postman
delivered from the telegraph office. "That means right away, I should
say."

"Maybe it does and maybe it doesn't," said Tom and then _he_ had a
story to tell. It didn't take Tom long, for he was a boy of fewer
words than Stannard.

Morning, noon, and night the Camerons speculated about that telegram.
They combed its words with a fine-toothed comb, but they couldn't make
anything out of them except the bald fact that Pete was missing.

If you think they let it go at that, you are very much mistaken. Where
the fact stopped the Cameron imaginations began, and imaginations
never know where to stop. The less actual information an imagination
has to work on, the busier it is. The Camerons hadn't any more
imagination than most people, but what they had grew very busy. It
fairly amazed them with its activity. If you think that this was silly
and that they ought to have chained up their imaginations until the
promised letter arrived, it only shows that you have never received
any such telegram.

After all, the letter, when it came, didn't tell them much. The letter
said that Lieutenant Peter Fearing had gone out with his squadron on a
bombing-expedition well within the enemy lines. The formation had
successfully accomplished its raid and was returning when it was taken
by surprise and surrounded by a greatly superior force of enemy
planes, which gave the Americans a running fight of thirty-nine
minutes to their lines. Lieutenant Fearing's was one of two planes
which failed to return to the aërodrome. When last seen, his machine
was in combat with four Hun planes over enemy territory.

"What did I tell you?" interrupted Tom. "He's a prisoner."

An airplane had been reported as falling in flames near this spot, but
whether it was Lieutenant Fearing's machine or another, no data was as
yet at hand to prove. The writer begged to remain, etc.

No, that letter only opened up fresh fields for Cameron imaginations
to torment Cameron hearts. Nobody had happened to think before of
Pete's machine catching fire.

"Gee!" said Henry, "if that plane was his--"

"There's no certainty that it was," said Bruce, quickly.

All the Camerons, you see, knew perfectly well what happens to an
aviator whose machine catches fire.

"If that machine was Pete's," Father Bob mused, "Hun aviators may drop
word of him within our lines. They have done that kind of thing
before."

"Wouldn't Bob cable, if he knew anything more than this letter says?"
Gertrude questioned.

"I expect Bob's waiting to find out something certain before he
cables," said Father Bob. "Doubtless he has written. We shall just
have to wait for his letter."

"Wait! Gee!" whispered Henry.

"Both the boys' letters were so awfully late, in the summer!" sighed
Gertrude. "However can we wait for a letter from Bob?"

Elliott said nothing at all. Her heart was aching with sympathy for
Bruce. When a person could do something, she thought, it helped
tremendously. Mother Jess and Laura had gone to Sidney and she had had
a chance to make Laura's going possible, but there didn't seem to be
anything she could do for Bruce. And she wished to do something for
Bruce; she found that she wished to tremendously. Thinking about
Mother Jess and Laura reminded her to look up and ask, "What _are_ we
going to write them at Camp Devens?"

Then she discovered that she and Bruce were alone in the room. He was
sitting at Mother Jess's desk, in as deep a brown study as she had
been. The girl's voice roused him.

"The kind of thing we've been writing--home news. Time enough to tell
them about Pete when they get here. By that time, perhaps, there will
be something definite to tell." He hesitated a minute. "Laura is going
to feel pretty well cut up over this."

Elliott looked up quickly. "Especially cut up?"

"I think so. Oh, there wasn't anything definite between her and
Pete--nothing, at least, that they told the rest of us. But a fellow
who had eyes--" He left the sentence unfinished and walked over to
Elliott's chair. "You know, I told you," he said, "that I shouldn't go
into this war unless I was called. Of course I'm registered now, but
whether or not they call me--if Pete is out of it--and I can possibly
manage it, I'm going in."

A queer little pain contracted Elliott's heart. And then that odd
heart of hers began to swell and swell until she thought it would
burst. She looked at the boy, with proud eyes. It didn't occur to her
to wonder what she was proud of. Bruce Fearing was no kin of hers, you
know.

"I knew you would." Somehow it seemed to the girl that she could
always tell what Bruce Fearing was going to do, and that there was
nothing strange in such knowledge. How strong he was! how splendid and
understanding and fine! "Oh," she cried, "I wish, _how_ I wish I could
help you!"

"You do help me," he said.

"I?" Her eyes lifted in real surprise. "How can I?"

"By being you."

His hand had only to move an inch to touch hers, but it lay
motionless. His eyes, gray and steady and clear, held the girl's. She
gave him back look for look.

"I am glad," she said softly and her face was like a flower.

Bruce was out of the house before Elliott thought of the thing she
could do for him.

"Mercy me!" she cried. "You're the slowest person I've ever seen in my
life, Elliott Cameron!" She ran to the kitchen door, but the boy was
nowhere in sight. "He must be out at the barn," she said and took a
step in that direction, only to take it back. "No, I won't. I'll just
go by myself _and do it_."

Whatever it was, it put her in a great hurry. As fast as she had
dashed to the kitchen she now ran to the front hall, but the third
step of the stairs halted her.

"Elliott Cameron," she declared earnestly, "I do believe you have lost
your mind! Haven't you any sense _at all_? And you a responsible
housekeeper!"

Perhaps it wasn't the first time a whirlwind had ever struck the
Cameron farmhouse. Elliott hadn't a notion that she could work
so fast. Her feet fairly flew. Bed-covers whisked into place;
dusting-cloths raced over furniture; even milk-pans moved with
unwonted celerity. But she left them clean, clean and shining.

"There!" said the girl, "now we shall do well enough till dinner-time.
I'm going into the village. Anybody want to come?"

Priscilla jumped up. "I do, unless Trudy wants to more."

Gertrude shook her head. "I'm going to put up tomatoes," she said,
"the rest of the ripe ones."

"Don't you want help?"

"Not a bit. Tomatoes are no work, at all."

Elliott dashed up-stairs. In a whirl of excitement she pinned on her
hat and counted her money. No matter how much it cost, she meant to
say all that she wanted to.

Her cheeks were pink and her dimples hard at work playing hide-and-seek
with their own shadows, when she cranked the little car. Everything
would come right now; it couldn't fail to come right. Priscilla
hopped into the seat beside her and they sped away.

"I have cabled Father," Elliott announced at dinner, with the
prettiest imaginable little air of importance and confidence, "I have
cabled Father to find out all he can about Pete and to let us know _at
once_. Perhaps we shall hear something to-morrow."

But the next day passed, and the next, and the day after that, and
still no cable from Father.

It was very bewildering. At first Elliott jumped every time the
telephone rang, and took down the receiver with quickened pulses. No
matter what her brain said, her heart told her Father would send good
news. She couldn't associate him with thoughts of ill news. Of course,
her brain said there was no logic in that kind of argument, and that
facts were facts; and in a case like Pete's, fathers couldn't make or
mar them. Her heart kept right on expecting good tidings.

But when long days and longer nights dragged themselves by and no
word at all came from overseas, the girl found out what a big empty
place the world may become, even while it is chuck-full of people,
and what three thousand miles of water really means. She thought
she had known before, but she hadn't. So long as letters traveled
back and forth, irregularly timed it might be, but continuously,
she still kept the familiar sense of Father--out of sight, but there,
as he had always been, most dependably _there_. Now, for the first
time in her life, she had called to him and he had not answered.
There might be--there probably were, she reminded herself--reasons
why he hadn't answered; good, reassuring reasons, if one only knew
them. He might be temporarily in a region out of touch with cables;
the service might have dropped a link somewhere. One could imagine
possible explanations. But it was easier to imagine other things. And
the fact remained that, since he didn't answer, she couldn't get
away from a horrible, paralyzing sense that he wasn't there.

It didn't do any good to try to run from that sensation; there was
nowhere to run. It blocked every avenue of thought, a sinister shape
of dread. The only help was in keeping very, very busy. And even then
one couldn't stop one's thoughts traveling, traveling, traveling along
those fearful paths.

At last Elliott knew how the others felt about Pete. She had thought
she understood that and felt it, too, but now she found that she
hadn't. It makes all the difference in the world, she discovered,
whether one stands inside or outside a trouble. The heart that had
ached so sympathetically for Bruce knew its first stab of loss and
recoiled. The others recognized the difference; or was it only that
Elliott herself had eyes to see what she had been blind to before? No
one said anything. In little unconscious, lovable ways they made it
quite clear that now she was one with them.

"Perhaps we would better send for them to come home from Camp Devens,"
Father Bob suggested one day. He threw out his remark at the
supper-table, which would seem to address it to the family at large,
but he looked straight at Elliott.

"Oh, no," she cried, "don't _send_ for them!" But she couldn't keep a
flash of joy out of her eyes.

"Sure you're not getting tired?"

"Certain sure!"

It disappointed her the least little bit that Uncle Bob let the
suggestion drop so readily. And she was disappointed at her own
disappointment. "Can't you 'carry on' _at all_?" she demanded of
herself, scornfully. "It was all your own doing, you know." But how
she did long at times for Aunt Jessica!

Of course, Elliott couldn't cry, however much she might wish to, with
the family all taking their cues from her mood. She said so fiercely
to every lump that rose in her throat. She couldn't indulge herself at
all adequately in the luxury of being miserable; she couldn't even let
herself feel half as scared as she wished to, because, if she did,
just once, she couldn't keep control of herself, and if she lost
control of herself there was no telling where she might end--certainly
in no state that would be of any use to the family. No, for their
sake, she must sit tight on the lid of her grief and fear and
anxiety.

But there were hours when the cover lifted a little. No girl, not the
bravest, could avoid such altogether. Elliott didn't think herself
brave, not a bit. She knew merely that the thing she had to do
couldn't be done if there were many such hours.

One day Bruce heard somebody sobbing up in the hay-loft. The sound
didn't carry far; it was controlled, suppressed; but Bruce had gone up
the ladder for something or other, I forget just what, and, thinking
Priscilla was in trouble, he kept on. The girl crying, face down in
the hay, wasn't Priscilla. Very softly Bruce started to tiptoe away,
but the rustling of the hay under his feet betrayed him.

"I didn't mean--any one to--find me."

"Shall I go away?"

She shook her head. "I can't stand it!" she wailed. "I simply can't
_stand it_!" And she sobbed as though her heart would break.

Bruce sat down beside the girl on the hay and patted the hand nearest
him. He didn't know anything else to do. Her fingers closed on his
convulsively.

"I'm an awful old cry-baby," she choked at last. "I'll behave myself,
in a minute."

"No, cry away," said Bruce. "A girl has to cry sometimes."

After a while the racking sobs spent themselves. "There!" she said,
sitting up. "I never thought I'd let a boy see me cry. Now I must go
in and help Trudy get supper."

She dabbed at her eyes with a wet little wad of linen. Bruce plucked a
clean handkerchief from his pocket and tucked it into her fingers.

"Yours doesn't seem quite big enough for the job," he said.

She took it gratefully. She had never thought of a boy as a very
comforting person, but Bruce was. "Oh, Bruce, you _know_!"

"Yes, I know."

"It's so--so lonely. Dad's all I've got, of my really own, in the
world."

He nodded. "You're gritty, all right."

"Why, Bruce Fearing! how can you say that after the way I've acted?"

"That's why I say it."

"But I'm scared all the time. If I did what I wanted to, I'd be a
perpetual fountain."

"And you're not."

She stared at him. "Is being scared and trying to cover it up what you
call grit?"

"The grittiest kind of grit."

For a sophisticated girl she was singularly naïve, at times. He
watched her digest the idea, sitting up on the hay, her chin cupped in
her two hands, straws in her hair. Her eyes were swollen and her nose
red, and his handkerchief was now almost as wet as her own. "I thought
I was an awful coward," she said.

A smile curved his firm lips, but the steady gray eyes were tender. "I
shouldn't call you a coward."

She shook herself and stood up. "Bruce, you're a darling. Now, will
you please go and see if the coast is clear, so I can slide up-stairs
without being seen? I must wash up before supper."

"I'd get supper," he said, "if I didn't have to milk to-night.
Promised Henry."

She shook her head positively. "I'll let you do lots of things, Bruce,
but I won't let you get supper for me--not with all the other things
you have to do."

"Oh, all right! I dare you to jump off the hay."

"Down there? Take you!" she cried, and with the word sprang into the
air.

Beside her the boy leaped, too. They landed lightly on the fragrant
mass in the bay of the barn.

"Oh," she cried, "it's like flying, isn't it! Why wasn't I brought up
on a farm?"

There was a little choke still left in her voice, and her smile was a
trifle unsteady, but her words were ready enough. In the doorway she
turned and waved to the boy and then went on, her head held high,
slender and straight and gallant, into the house.



CHAPTER XII

HOME-LOVING HEARTS


Mother Jess and Laura were coming home. Perhaps Father Bob had dropped
a hint that their presence was needed in the white house at the end of
the road; perhaps, on the other hand, they were just ready to come.
Elliott never knew for certain.

Father Bob met the train, while all the Cameron boys and girls flew
around, making ready at home. The plan had developed on the tacit
understanding that since they all wished to, it was fairer for none of
them to go to the station.

Priscilla and Prince were out watching. "They're coming!" she
squealed, skipping back into the house. "Trudy, Elliott, everybody,
they're coming!" And she was out again, darting in long swallow-like
swoops down the hill. From every direction came Camerons, running;
from house, barn, garden, young heads moved swiftly toward the little
car chug-chugging up the hill.

They swarmed over it, not giving it time to stop, jumping on the
running-board, riding on the hood, almost embracing the car itself in
the joy of their welcome. Elliott hung back. The others had the first
right. After their turns--

Without a word Aunt Jessica took the girl into her arms and held her
tight. In that strong, tender clasp all the stinging ache went out of
Elliott's hurt. She wasn't frightened any longer or bewildered or
bitter; she didn't know why she wasn't, but she wasn't. She felt just
as if, somehow or other, things were going to be right.

She had this feeling so strongly that she forgot all about dreading to
meet Laura--for she had dreaded to meet Laura, she was so sorry for
her--and kissed her quite naturally. Laura kissed Elliott in return
and said, "Wait till I get you up-stairs," as though she meant
business, and smiled just as usual. Her face was a trifle pale, but
her eyes were bright, and the clear, steady glow in them reminded
Elliott for the first time of the light in Aunt Jessica's eyes. She
hadn't remembered ever seeing Laura's eyes look just like that. How
much did Laura know, Elliott wondered? She wouldn't look so, would
she, if she had heard about Pete? But, strangely enough, Elliott
didn't fear her finding out or feel nervous lest she might have to
tell her.

And after all, as soon as they got up-stairs, it came out that Laura
did know about Pete, for she said: "I'm glad, oh, so glad, that
wherever Pete is now, he got across and had a chance really to do
something in this fight. If you had seen what I have seen this last
week, Elliott--"

The shining look in Laura's face fascinated Elliott.

All at once she felt her own words come as simply and easily as
Laura's. "But will that be enough, Laura--always?"

"No," said Laura, "not always. But I shall always be proud and glad,
even if I do have to miss him all my life. And, of course, I can't
help feeling that we may hear good news yet. Now--oh, you blessed,
blessed girl!"

And the two clung together in a long close embrace that said many
things to both of them, but not a word aloud.

How good it seemed to have Mother Jess and Laura in the house! Every
one went about with a hopeful face, though, after all, not an inch had
the veil of silence lifted that hung between the Cameron farm and the
world overseas. Every one, Elliott suspected, shared the feeling she
had known, the certainty that all would be well now Mother Jess was
home. It wasn't anything in particular that Mother Jess said or did
that contributed to this impression. Just to see her face in a room,
to touch her hand now and then, to hear her voice, merely to know she
was in the house, seemed enough to give it.

They all had so much to say to one another. The returned travelers
must tell of Sidney, and the Camerons who had stayed at home had tales
of how they had "carried on" in the others' absence. Tongues were very
busy, but no one forgot those who weren't there--not for a minute. The
sense of them lived underneath all the confidences. There were
confidences _en masse_, so to speak, and confidences _à deux_.
Priscilla chattered away into her mother's ear without once stopping
to catch breath, and Bruce had his own quiet report to make. Perhaps
Bruce and Priscilla and the rest said more than Elliott heard, for
when Aunt Jessica bade her good-night she rested a hand lightly on the
girl's shoulder.

"You dear, brave little woman!" she said. "All the soldiers aren't in
camp or over the seas."

Elliott put the words away in her memory. They made her feel like a
man who has just been decorated by his general.

She felt so comforted and quiet, so free from nervousness, that not
even the telephone bell could make her jump. It tinkled pretty
continuously, too. That was because all the next day the neighbors who
didn't come in person were calling up to inquire for the returned
travelers. Elliott quite lost the expectation that every time the
telephone buzzed it meant a possible message for her.

She had lost it so completely that when, as they were on the point of
sitting down at supper, Laura said, "There's the telephone again, and
my hands are full," Elliott remarked, "I'll see who it is," and took
down the receiver without a thought of a cable.

"This is Elliott Cameron speaking.... Yes--yes. Elliott Cameron. All
ready." A tremor crept into the girl's voice. "I didn't get that....
Just received my message? Yes, go on.... Repeat, please.... Wait a
minute till I call some one."

She wheeled from the instrument, her face alight. "Where's Bruce?
Please, somebody, call--oh, here you are!" She thrust the receiver
into his hands. "Make them repeat the message to you. It's from
Father. Pete was a prisoner. He's escaped and got back to our lines."

Then she slipped into Aunt Jessica's waiting arms.

Supper? Who cared about supper? The Camerons forgot it. When they
remembered, the steaming-hot creamed potato was cold and the salad was
wilted, but that made no difference. They were too excited to know
what they were eating.

To make assurance trebly sure there were more messages. Bob cabled of
Pete's escape through the Hun lines and the government wired from
Washington. The Camerons' happiness spilled over into blithe
exuberance. They laughed and danced and sang for very joy. Priscilla
jigged all over the house like an excited brown leaf in a breeze. None
of them, except Father Bob, Mother Jess, and Laura, could keep still.
Laura went about like a person in a trance, with a strange, happy
quietness in her ordinarily energetic movements and a brightness in
her face that dazzled. There was no boisterousness in any one's
rejoicing, only a gentleness of gaiety that was very wonderful to see
and feel.

As for Elliott, she felt as though she had come out from underneath a
great dark cloud, into a place where she could never again be anything
but good and happy. She had been coming out ever since Aunt Jessica
reached home, but she hadn't come out the same as she went in. The
Elliott Aunt Jessica and Laura had left in charge when they went to
Camp Devens seemed very, very far away from the Elliott whose joy was
like wings that fairly lifted her feet off the ground. Smiles chased
one another among her dimples in ceaseless procession across her face.
She didn't try to discover why she felt so different. She didn't care.
The dimples, of course, were the very same dimples she had always had,
and at the moment the girl was entirely unconscious of their
existence, though as a matter of fact those dimples had never been
busier and more bewitching in all Elliott Cameron's life.

"I suppose," Mother Jess said at last, "we shall have to go to bed, if
we are to get Stannard off in the morning."

Going to bed isn't a very exciting thing to do when you are so happy
you feel as though you might burst with joy, but by that time the
Camerons had managed to work out of the most dangerous stage, and
inasmuch as Stannard's was an early train, going to bed was the only
sensible thing to do. So they did it.

What was more remarkable, the last sleepy Cameron straggled down to
the breakfast-table before the little car ran up to the door to take
Stannard away. They were really sorry to see him go and he acted as
though he were just as sorry to go, which would seem to indicate that
Stannard, too, had changed in the course of the summer. He looked much
like the long, lazy Stannard who had rebelled against a vacation on a
farm, but his carriage was better and his figure sturdier, and his
hands weren't half so white and gentlemanlike. Underneath his lazy
ease was a hint of something to depend on in an emergency. Perhaps
even his laziness wasn't so ingrained as it used to be.

They all went out on the veranda to say good-by and waved as long as
the car was in sight.

"Sorry you're not going, too?" Bruce asked Elliott.

"Oh, no! I wouldn't go for anything."

"For a girl who didn't want to come up here at all," he said softly,
"you're doing pretty well. Decided to make the best of us, didn't
you?"

She looked at him indignantly. "Indeed, I didn't! I wouldn't do such a
thing. Why, I just _love_ it here!" Then she saw the twinkle in his
eye. "You tease!"

"I'm going away, myself, next week, S. A. T. C. I can't get any nearer
France than that, it seems, just yet. Father Bob says he can manage
all right this winter and he has a notion of something new that may
turn up next spring. He says, 'Go,' and so does Mother Jess. So--I'm
going."

Elliott stole a quick glance at the firm, clear-cut face, chiseled
already in lines of purpose and power.

"I'm glad," she said, "but we shall--miss you."

"Shall _you_ miss me?"

"Yes."

"I'd hate to think that you wouldn't."

Elliott always remembered the morning, three days later, when Bruce
went away. How blue the sky was, how clear the sunshine, how glorious
the autumn pageant of the hills! Beside the gate a young maple burned
like a shaft of flame. True, Bruce was only going to school now, but
there was France in the background, a beckoning possibility with all
that it meant of triumph and heroism and pain. That idea of France,
and the fiery splendor of the hills, seemed to invest Bruce's strong
young figure with a kind of glory that tightened the girl's throat as
she waved good-by from the veranda. She was glad Bruce was going, even
if her throat did ache. Aches like that seemed far less important than
they used to. She waved with a thrill coursing up her spine and a shy,
eager sense of how big and wonderful and happy a thing it was to be a
girl.

With a last wave to Bruce turning the curve of the road Mother Jess
stepped back into the house.

"Come, girls," she said. "I feel like getting very busy, don't you?"

Elliott followed her contentedly. Others might go, but she didn't
wish to, not while Father was on the other side of the ocean. It made
her laugh to think that she had ever wished to. That laugh of pure
mirth and happiness proved the completeness of Elliott Cameron's
evacuation.

"What is the joke?" Laura asked, smiling at the radiant charm of the
dainty figure enveloping itself in a blue apron.

"Oh," said Elliott lightly, "I was thinking that I used to be a queer
girl."

THE END





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