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Title: Our Next-Door Neighbors
Author: Maniates, Belle Kanaris
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 "Our Next-Door Neighbors" ***

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



OUR NEXT-DOOR NEIGHBORS



By Belle K. Maniates

AMARILLY OF CLOTHES-LINE ALLEY

MILDEW MANCE

OUR NEXT-DOOR NEIGHBORS



[Illustration: "What's your rush?" I asked, when I had overtaken him.
FRONTISPIECE. _See page 114._]



OUR NEXT-DOOR NEIGHBORS

By

Belle Kanaris Maniates

With illustrations by

Tony Sarg

Boston

Little, Brown, and Company

1917



Copyright, 1917,

By Little, Brown, and Company.

All rights reserved

Published February, 1917

Norwood Press

Set up and electrotyped by J. S. Cushing Co., Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.

Presswork by The Colonial Press, Boston, Mass., U.S.A.



CONTENTS

      I ABOUT SILVIA AND MYSELF                                      1
     II INTRODUCING OUR NEXT-DOOR NEIGHBORS                          9
    III IN WHICH WE ARE PESTERED BY POLYDORES                       28
     IV IN WHICH WE TAKE BOARDERS                                   45
      V IN WHICH WE TAKE A VACATION                                 61
     VI A FLIRT AND A WOMAN-HATER                                   77
    VII IN WHICH NOTHING MUCH HAPPENS                               90
   VIII PTOLEMY DISAPPEARS AND I VISIT A HAUNTED HOUSE              99
     IX IN WHICH WE SEE GHOSTS                                     123
      X IN WHICH WE MAKE SOME DISCOVERIES                          138
     XI A BAD MEANS TO A GOOD END                                  152
    XII "TOO MUCH POLYDORES"                                       164
   XIII ROB'S FRIEND THE REPORTER                                  173
    XIV A MIDNIGHT EXCURSION                                       195
     XV WHAT MISS FRAYNE FOUND OUT                                 203
    XVI PTOLEMY'S TALE                                             213
   XVII ALL ABOUT UNCLE ISSACHAR'S VISIT                           229
  XVIII IN WHICH I DECIDE ON EXTREME MEASURES                      254
    XIX WHICH HAS TO DO WITH SOME LETTERS                          267
     XX "THE MONEY WE EARNT FOR YOU"                               276



ILLUSTRATIONS

  "What's your rush?" I asked, when I had overtaken
      him.                                              _Frontispiece_
  Uncle Issachar                                                    10
  Dr. Felix Polydore                                                23
  "Lucien Wade!" she gasped. "Here are our letters to
      Beth and Rob."                                                80
  He pleaded eloquently to be taken with us.                       102
  I babbled aimlessly to myself and then managed to
      pull together and beat it to the lake                        126
  The landlady intears waylaid me                                  132
  I had to carry Diogenes most of the way                          168
  Now and then above his howls, I heard Silvia's
      plaintive protests outside the door                          192
  I held out my hand, which he shook solemnly, but
      with an injured air                                          224
  "He went to the front window and dropped a young
      kitten down on the old gent's head."                         242
  "We heard a suppressed sneeze, and Rob pulled
      Emerald from underneath."                                    256



OUR NEXT-DOOR NEIGHBOURS



CHAPTER I

_About Silvia and Myself_


Some people have children born unto them, some acquire children and
others have children thrust upon them. Silvia and I are of the last
named class. We have no offspring of our own, but yesterday, today,
and forever we have those of our neighbor.

We were born and bred in the same little home-grown city and as a
small boy, even, I was Silvia's worshiper, but perforce a worshiper
from afar.

Her upcoming had been supervised by a grimalkin governess who drew
around the form of her young charge the awful circle of exclusiveness,
intercourse with child-kind being strictly prohibited.

Children are naturally gregarious little creatures, however, and
Silvia on rare occasions managed to break parole and make adroit
escape from surveillance. Then she would speed to the top of the
boundary wall that separated the stable precincts from an alluring
alley which was the playground of the plebeian progeny of the humble
born.

To the circle of dirty but fascinating ragamuffins she became an
interested tangent, a silent observer. Here I had my first meeting
with her. I was not of her class, neither was I to the alley born, but
sailed in the sane mid-channel that ameliorates the distinction
between high and low life.

On this eventful day I was taking a short cut on my way to school. One
of the group of alleyites, with the inherent friendliness of the
unchartered but big-hearted members of the silt of the stream of
humans, had proffered to little Silvia a chip on which was a patch of
mud designed to become a fruitcake stuffed with pebbles in lieu of
raisins and frosted with moistened ashes. Before the enticing pastime
of transformation was begun, however, Silvia was swiftly snatched from
the contaminating midst and borne away over the ramparts.

Thereafter I haunted the alley, hoping for another glimpse of the
little picture girl on the wall. At last I attained my desire. One
Saturday afternoon I saw her coming, alone, down a long rosebush
bordered path. A thrill ran through me. Our eyes met. Yet all I found
to say was: "C'mon over."

She responded to this invitation and I helped her over the wall. She
looked longingly at the Irish playing in the mud, but a clean sandpile
in my own backyard not far away seemed to me a more fitting
environment for one so daintily clad.

We played undisturbed for a never-to-be-forgotten half hour and then
they found her out. Reprimanding voices jangled and the whole world
was out of tune.

Thereafter a strict watch was kept on little Silvia's movements and I
saw her only at rare intervals, when she was going into church or as
she rode past our house. She always remembered me and on such
meetings a faint, reminiscent smile lighted the somber little face and
her eyes met mine as if in a mysterious promise.

She grew up an outlawed, isolated child deprived of her birthright,
but in spite of the handicaps of so barren a childhood, she achieved
young womanhood unspoiled and in possession of her early democratic
tendencies.

When I was making a modest start in a legal way, her parents died and
left her with that most unprofitable of legacies, an encumbered
estate. Then I dared to renew our acquaintance begun on the sandpile.
She went to live with a poor but practical relation and was initiated
into the science of stretching an inadequate income to meet everyday
needs. In time I wooed and won her.

We set up housekeeping in a small, thriving mid-Western city where I
secured a partnership in a legal firm. Silvia had all the requisites
of mind and manner and Domestic Science necessary to a "hearth-and
home-" maker.

We lived in a house which was one of many made to the same measure
with the inevitable street porch, big window, trimmed lawn in front
and garden in the rear. We had attained the standard of prosperity
maintained in our home town by keeping "hired help" and installing a
telephone, so our social status was fixed.

There was but one adjunct missing to our little Arcadia. While at a
word or look children flocked to me like friendly puppies in response
to a call, to Silvia they were still an unknown quantity.

I had hoped that her understanding and love for children might be
developed in the usual and natural way, but we had now been married
ten years and this hope had not been realized.

She had tried most assiduously to cultivate an acquaintance with
members of child-world, but into that kingdom there is no open sesame.
The sure keen intuition of a child recognizes on sight a kindred
spirit and Silvia's forced advances met with but indifferent response.
She wistfully proposed to me one day that we adopt a child. My doubts
as to the advisability of such a course were confirmed by Huldah, our
strong staff in household help. In our section of the country servants
were generally quite conversant with the intimate and personal affairs
of the home.

"Don't you never do it, Mr. Wade," she counseled. "Ready-mades ain't
for the likes of her."

When, in acting on this advice, I vetoed Silvia's lukewarm
proposition, I was convinced of Huldah's wisdom by seeing the look of
relief that flashed into my wife's troubled countenance, and I knew
that her suggestion had been but a perfunctory prompting of duty.

Time alone could overcome the effects of her early environment!



CHAPTER II

_Introducing Our Next-door Neighbors_


One morning Silvia and I lingered over our coffee cups discussing our
plans for the coming summer, which included visits from my sister Beth
and my college chum, Rob Rossiter. We wished to avoid having their
arrivals occur simultaneously, however, because Rob was a woman-hater,
or thought he was. We decided to have Beth pay her visit first and
later take Rob with us on our vacation trip to some place where the
fishing facilities would be to our liking. However, summer vacation
time like our plans was yet far, vague and dim.

[Illustration: Uncle Issachar]

While I was putting on my overcoat, Silvia had gone to the window and
was looking pensively at the vacant house next to ours.

"I fear," she said abruptly and irrelevantly, "that we are destined
to receive no part of Uncle Issachar's fortune."

Uncle Issachar was a wealthy but eccentric relative of my wife. He had
made us no wedding gift beyond his best wishes, but he had then
informed us that at the birth of each of our prospective sons he
should place in the bank to Silvia's account the sum of five thousand
dollars. We had never invited him to visit us or made any overtures in
the way of communication with him, lest he should think we were
cultivating his acquaintance from mercenary motives.

While I was debating whether the lament in Silvia's tone was for the
loss of the money or the lack of children, she again spoke; this time
in a tone which had lost its languor.

"There is a big moving van in front of the house next door. At last we
will have some near neighbors."

"Are they unloading furniture?" I asked inanely, crossing to the
window.

"No; course not," came cheerfully from Huldah, who had come in to
remove the dishes. "Most likely they are unloading lions and tigers."

As I have already intimated, Huldah was a privileged servant.

"They are unloading children!" explained Silvia, in a tone implying
that Huldah's sarcastic implication would be infinitely more
preferable. "The van seems to be overflowing with them--a perfect
crowd. Do you suppose the house is to be used as an orphan asylum?"

"I think not," I assured her as I counted the flock. Five children
would seem like a crowd to Silvia.

"Boys!" exclaimed Huldah tragically, as she joined us for a survey.
"I'll see that they don't keep the grass off our lawn."

Late that afternoon I opened the outer door of the dining-room in
response to the rap of strenuously applied knuckles.

A lad of about eleven years with the sardonic face of a satyr and
diabolically bright eyes peered into the room.

"We're going to have soup for dinner," he announced, "and mother wants
to borrow a soup plate for father to eat his out of."

Silvia stared at him aghast. She seemed to feel something compelling
in the boy's personnel, however, and she went to the china closet and
brought forth a soup plate which she handed to him without comment.

In silence we watched him run across the lawn, twirling the plate
deftly above his head in juggler fashion.

The next day when we sat down to dinner our new young neighbor again
appeared on our threshold.

"Halloa!" he called chummily. "We are going to have soup again and we
want a soup plate for father."

"Where is the one I loaned you yesterday?" demanded Silvia in a tone
far below thirty-two degrees Fahrenheit, while her features assumed a
frigidity that would have congealed father's favorite sustenance had
it been in her vicinity.

"Oh, we broke that!" he casually and cheerfully explained.

With much reluctance Silvia bestowed another plate upon the young
applicant.

"Wait!" I said as he started to leave, "don't you want the soup
tureen, too, or the ladle and some soup spoons?"

"No, thank you," he answered politely. "None of the rest of us like
soup, so we dish father's up in the kitchen. He doesn't like soup
particularly, but he eats it because it goes down quick and lets him
have more time for work."

This time as he sped homeward, he didn't spin the plate in air, but
tried out a new plan of balancing it on a stick.

"I think," I suggested gently, when our young neighbor was lost to our
sorrowful sight, "that it might be well to invest in another dozen or
so of soup plates. I will see about getting them at wholesale rates.
Our supply will soon give out if our new neighbors continue to
cultivate the soup and borrowing habit."

"I will buy some at the five cent store," replied Silvia. "I think I
had better call upon them tomorrow and see what manner of people they
can be."

When I came home the next day it was quite evident that she had
called.

"Well," I inquired, "what do they keep--a soup house?"

"They are literary people, the highest of high-brows. Their name is
Polydore, and the head of the house----"

"Mr. or Mrs.?" I interrupted.

"The head of the house," pursued Silvia, ignoring my question, "is a
collector."

"So I inferred. Has he a large collection of soup plates?"

"She collects antiquities and writes their history. He pursues
science."

"They were seemingly communicative. What did they look like?"

"I didn't see them. After I rang I heard a woman's voice bidding some
one not to answer the bell. She said she couldn't be bothered with
interruptions, so I went on up the street to call on Mrs. Fleming, who
told me all about them. She was also refused admittance when she
called. On my way home I met that boy--that awful boy----"

She paused, evidently overcome by the consideration of his awfulness.

"He had been digging bait--"

Again she paused as if words were inadequate for her climax.

"Well," I encouraged.

"He was carrying his bait--horrid, wriggling angleworms--in our soup
plate!"

"Then it is not broken yet!" I exclaimed joyfully. "Let us hope it is
given an antiseptic bath before father's next indulgence in consommé.
After dinner I will go over and try my luck at paying my respects to
the soup savant."

"They won't let you in."

"In that case I shall follow their lead of setting aside all ceremony
and formality and admit myself, as their heir apparent does here."

After dinner and my twilight smoke, I went next door, first asking
Silvia if there was anything we needed that I could borrow, just to
show them there were no hard feelings.

My third vigorous ring brought results. A slipshod servant appeared
and reluctantly seated me in the hall. She read with seeming interest
the card I handed to her and then, pushing aside some mangy looking
portières, vanished from view.

She evidently delivered my card, for I heard a woman's voice read my
name, "Mr. Lucien Wade."

After another short interval the slovenly servant returned and offered
me my card.

"She seen it," she assured me in answer to my look of surprise.

She again put the portières between us and I was obliged to own myself
baffled in my efforts to break in. I was showing myself out when my
onward course was deflected by a troop of noisy children leaded by
the soup plate skirmisher, who was the oldest and apparently the
leader of the brood.

"Oh, halloa!" he greeted me with the air of an old acquaintance,
"didn't you see the folks?"

On my informing him that I had seen no one but the servant, he
exclaimed:

"Oh, that chicken wouldn't know enough to ask you in! Just follow us.
Mother wouldn't remember to come out."

I was loth to force my presence on mother, but by this time my
hospitable young friend had pulled the portières so strenuously that
they parted from the pole, and I was presented willy nilly to the
collector of antiquities, who had the angular sharp-cut face and form
of a rocking horse. She was seated at a table strewn with books and
papers, writing at a rate of speed that convinced me she was in the
throes of an inspiration. I forebore to interrupt. My scruples,
however, were not shared by her eldest son. He gave her elbow a jog of
reminder which sent her pencil to the floor.

"Mother!" he shouted in megaphone voice, "here's the man next
door--the one we get our soup plates from."

She looked up abstractedly.

"Oh," she said in dismayed tone, "I thought you had gone. I am very
much engaged in writing a paper on modern antiquities."

I murmured some sort of an apology for my untimely interruption.

"I am so absorbed in my great work," she explained, "that I am
oblivious to all else. I have the rare and great gift of concentration
in a marked degree."

I was quite sure of this fact. She took another pencil from a supply
box and resumed her literary occupation. As my presence seemed of so
little moment, I lingered.

"Mother," shouted one of the boys, snatching the pencil from her
grasp, "I'm hungry. I didn't have any supper."

"Yes, you did!" she asserted. "I saw Gladys give you a bowl of bread
and milk."

"Emerald took it away from me and drank it up."

"Didn't neither!" denied a shaggy looking boy. "I spilled it."

He accompanied this denial by a fierce punch in his accuser's ribs.

"Here!" said the author of Modern Antiquities, taking a nickel from
her pocket, "go get yourself some popcorn, Demetrius."

"I ain't Demetrius! I'm Pythagoras."

"It makes no difference. Go and get it and don't speak to me again
tonight."

The boy had already snatched the coin, and he now started for the
exit, but his outgoing way was instantly blocked by a promiscuous pack
of pugilistic Polydores, and an ardent and general onslaught
followed.

I endeavored to untangle the arms and legs of the attackers and the
attacked in a desire to rescue the youngest, a child of two, but I
soon beat a retreat, having no mind to become a punching bag for
Polydores.

The concentrator at the writing table, looking up vaguely, perceived
the general joust.

"How provoking!" she exclaimed indignantly. "I was in search of an
antonym and now they've driven it out of my memory."

I politely offered my sympathy for her loss.

"Did you ever see such misbehaved children?" she asked casually and
impersonally as she calmly surveyed the free-for-all fight.

[Illustration: Dr. Felix Polydore]

"Children always misbehave before company," I remarked propitiatingly.
"Of course they know better."

"Why no, they don't!" she declared, looking at me in surprise,
"they----"

At this instant the errant antonym evidently flashed upon her mental
vision and her pencil hastened to record it and then flew on at
lightning speed.

I was about to try to make an escape when a momentary cessation of
hostilities was caused by the entrance of a moth-eaten, abstracted-looking
man. As the _two-year-old_ hailed him as "fadder", I gathered that he
was the person responsible for the family now fighting at his feet.

"What's the trouble?" he asked helplessly.

"She gave Thag a nickel," explained the eldest boy, "and we want it."

The man drew a sigh of relief. The solution of this family problem was
instantly and satisfactorily met by an impartial distribution of
nickels.

With demoniac whoops of delight, the contestants fled from the room.

I introduced myself to the man of the house, who seemed to realize
that some sort of compulsory conventionalities must be observed. He
looked hopelessly at his wife, and seeing that she was beyond response
to an S O S call to things mundane, he frankly but impressively
informed me that I must expect nothing of them socially as their lives
were devoted to research and study. The children, however, he assured
me, could run over frequently to see us.

I instinctively felt that my call was considered ended, so I took my
departure. I related the details of my neighborly visit to Silvia, but
her sense of humor was not stirred. It was entirely dominated by her
dread of the young Polydores.

"How many children are there?" she asked faintly. "More than the five
you said you counted that first day?"

"They seemed not so many as much. That is, though I suppose in round
numbers there are but five, yet each of those five is equal to at
least three ordinary children."

"Are they all boys? Huldah says the youngest wears dresses."

"Nevertheless he is a boy. They are all unmistakably boys. I think
they must have been born with boots on and," conscious of the imprints
of my shins, "hobnail boots at that. Even the youngest, a two-year
old, seems to have been graduated from Home Rule."

"I can't bear to think of their going to bed hungry," she said
wistfully. "Think of that unnatural mother expecting them to satisfy
their hunger by popcorn."

"They didn't though," I assured her. "I saw them stop a street vender
below here and invest their nickels in hot dogs."

"Hot dogs!" repeated Silvia in horror.

"Wienerwursts," I hastened to interpret.



CHAPTER III

_In Which We Are Pestered by Polydores_


Our life now became one long round of Polydores. They were with us
burr-tight, and attached themselves to me with dog-like devotion,
remaining utterly impervious to Silvia's aloofness and repulses. At
last, however, she succumbed to their presence as one of the things
inevitable.

"The Polydores are here to stay," she acknowledged in a
calmness-of-despair voice.

"They don't seem to be homebodies," I allowed.

The children were not literary like the other productions of their
profound parents, but were a band of robust, active youngsters
unburdened with brains, excepting Ptolemy of soup plate fame. Not that
he betrayed any tendencies toward a learned line, but he was possessed
of an occult, uncanny, wizard-like wisdom that was disconcerting. His
contemplative eyes seemed to search my soul and read my inmost
thoughts.

Pythagoras, Emerald, and Demetrius, aged respectively nine, eight, and
seven, were very much alike in looks and size, being so many pinched
caricatures of their mother. To Silvia they were bewildering
whirlwinds, but Huldah, who seemed to have difficulty in telling them
apart, always classified them as "Them three", and Silvia and I fell
into the habit of referring to them in the same way. Huldah could not
master the Polydore given names either by memory or pronunciation.
Ptolemy, whose name was shortened to "Tolly" by Diogenes, she called
"Polly." When she was on speaking terms with "Them three" she
nicknamed them "Thaggy, Emmy, and Meetie."

Diogenes, the two-year old, was a Tartar when emulating his brothers.
Alone, he was sometimes normal and a shade more like ordinary
children.

When they first began swarming in upon us, Silvia drew many lines
which, however, the Polydores promptly effaced.

"They shall not eat here, anyway," she emphatically declared.

This was her last stand and she went down ingloriously.

One day while we were seated at the table enjoying some of Huldah's
most palatable dishes, Ptolemy came in. There ensued on our part a
silence which the lad made no effort to break. Silvia and I each
slipped him a side glance. He stood statuesque, watching us with the
mute wistfulness of a hungry animal. There were unwonted small red
specks high upon his cheekbones, symptoms, Silvia thought, of
starvation.

She was moved to ask, though reluctantly and perfunctorily:

"Haven't you been to dinner, Ptolemy?"

"Yes," he admitted quickly, "but I could eat another."

Assuming that the forced inquiry was an invitation, before protest
could be entered he supplied himself with a plate and helped
himself to food. His need and relish of the meal weakened Silvia's
fortifications.

This opening, of course, was the wedge that let in other Polydores,
and thereafter we seldom sat down to a meal without the presence of
one or more members of the illustrious and famished family, who made
themselves as entirely at home as would a troop of foraging soldiers.
Silvia gazed upon their devouring of food with the same surprised,
shocked, and yet interested manner in which one watches the feeding of
animals.

"I suppose he ought not to eat so many pickles," she remarked one day,
as Emerald consumed his ninth Dill.

"You can't kill a Polydore," I assured her.

I never opened a door but more or less Polydores fell in. They were at
the left of us and at the right of us, with Diogenes always under
foot. We had no privacy. I found myself waking suddenly in the night
with the uncomfortable feeling that Ptolemy lurked in a dark corner or
two of my bedroom.

Even Silvia's boudoir was not free from their invasion. But one door
in our house remained closed to them. They found no open sesame to
Huldah's apartment.

"I wish she would let me in on her system," I said. "I wonder how she
manages to keep them on the outside?"

"I can tell you," confided Silvia. "Emerald and Demetrius went in one
day and she dropped Demetrius out the window and kicked Emerald out
the door. You know, Lucien, you are too softhearted to resort to such
measures."

"I was once," I confessed, "but I think under Polydore régime I am
getting stoical enough to follow in Huldah's footsteps and go her one
better."

Our conversation was interrupted by the entrance of Diogenes.

Silvia screamed.

Turning to see what the latest Polydore perpetration might be, I saw
that Diogenes was frothing at the mouth.

"Oh, he's having a fit!" exclaimed Silvia frantically. "Call Huldah!
Put him in a hot bath. Quick, Lucien, turn on the hot water."

"Not I," I refused grimly. "Let him have a fit and fall in it."

"He ain't got no fit," was the cheerful assurance of Pythagoras, as he
sauntered in.

"Your mother would have one," I told him, "if she could hear your
English."

"What is the matter with him?" asked Silvia. "Does he often foam in
this way?"

"He's been eating your tooth powder," explained Pythagoras. "He likes
it 'cause it tastes like peppermint, and then he drank some water
before he swallowed the powder and it all fizzed up and run out his
mouth."

"I wondered," said Silvia ruefully, "what made my tooth powder
disappear so rapidly. What shall I do!"

"Resort to strategy!" I advised. "Lock up your powder hereafter and
fill an empty bottle with powdered alum or something worse and leave
it around handy."

"Lucien!" exclaimed my wife, who could not seem to recover from this
latest annoyance, "I don't see how you can be so fond of children. I
did hope--for your sake and--on account of Uncle Issachar's offer that
I'd like to have one--but I'd rather go to the poorhouse! I'd almost
lose your affection rather than have a child."

"But, Silvia!" I remonstrated in dismay, "you shouldn't judge all by
these. They're not fair samples. They're not children--not home-grown
children."

"I should say not!" agreed Huldah, who had come into the room. "They
are imps--imps of the devil."

I believe she was right. They had a generally demoralizing effect on
our household. I was growing irritable, Silvia careworn. Even Huldah
showed their influence by acquiring the very latest in slang from
them. Once in a while to my amusement I heard Silvia unconsciously
adopting the Polydore argot.

As the result of their better nourishment at our table, the imps of
the devil daily grew more obstreperous and life became so burdensome
to Silvia that I proposed moving away to a childless neighborhood.

"They'd find us out," said Silvia wearily, "wherever we went. Distance
would be no obstacle to them."

"Then we might move out of town, as a last resort," I suggested. "Rob
says he thinks there is a good legal field in----"

"No, Lucien," vetoed Silvia. "You've a fine practice here, and then
there's that attorneyship for the Bartwell Manufacturing Company."

My hope of securing this appointment meant a good deal to us. We were
now living up to every cent of my income and though we had the
necessities, it was the luxuries of life I craved--for Silvia's sake.
She was a lover of music and we had no piano. She yearned to ride and
she had no horse. We both had longings for a touring-car and we wanted
to travel.

"I've thought of a scheme for a little respite from the sight and
sound of the Polydores," I remarked one day. "We'll enter them in the
public school. There are four more weeks yet before the long summer
vacation."

"That would be too good to be true," declared Silvia. "Five or six
hours each day, and then, too, their deportment will be so dreadful
that they will have to stay after school hours."

I thought more likely their deportment would lead to suspension, but
forbore to wet-blanket Silvia's hopes.

I made my second call upon the male head of the House of Polydore to
recommend and urge that its young scions be sent to the public school.
I had misgivings as to the outcome of my proposition, as the Polydore
parents believed themselves to be the only fount of learning in the
town. To my surprise and intense gratification, my suggestion met with
no objections whatever. Felix Polydore referred me to his wife and
said he would abide by her decision. I found her, of course, buried in
books, but remembering Ptolemy's mode of gaining attention, I
peremptorily closed the volume she was studying.

My audacity attained its object and I proferred my request, laying
great stress on the quietude she would gain thereby. She replied that
attendance at school would doubtless do them no harm, although she
expressed her belief that the most thorough educations were those
obtained outside of schools.

Silvia was wafted into the eighth heaven of bliss and then some, as
the result of my diplomatic mission. Of course the task of preparing
pupils out of the pestiferous Polydores devolved upon her, but she was
actively aided by the eager and willing Huldah and between them they
pushed the project that promised such an elysium with all speed. The
prospective pupils themselves were not wildly enthusiastic over this
curtailment of their liberty, but Huldah won the day by proposing that
they carry their luncheon with them, promising an abundant supply of
sugared doughnuts and small pies.

Pythagoras foresaw recreation ahead in the opportunity to "lick all
the kids," and I assumed that Ptolemy had deep laid schemes for the
outmaneuvering of teachers, but as his left hand never made confidant
of his right, I could not expect to fathom the workings of his mind.

Early on a Monday morning, therefore, our household arose to lick our
Polydore protégés into a shape presentable for admission to school.
It took two hours to pull up stockings and make them stay pulled,
tie shoestrings, comb out tangles, adjust collars and neckties, to
say nothing of vigorous scrubbings to five grimy faces and ten
dirt-stained hands.

At last with an air of achievement Silvia corralled her round-up and
unloaded the four eldest upon the public school and then proceeded to
install the protesting Diogenes in a nursery kindergarten. Huldah
stood in the doorway as they marched off and sped the parting guests
with a muttered "Good riddance to bad rubbish."

Silvia returned radiant, but her rejoicing was shortlived. She had
scarcely taken off her hat and gloves when the four oldest came
trooping and whooping into the house.

"What's the matter?" gasped Silvia.

"Got to be vaccinated," explained Ptolemy with an appreciative
grin. Of all the Polydores he was the one who had least objected
to scholastic pursuits, but he seemed quite jubilant at our
discomfiture.

We were somewhat reluctant to undertake the responsibility of their
inoculation, especially after Ptolemy told us that his mother didn't
believe in vaccination.

"I'll take 'em down and get 'em vaccinated right," declared Huldah.
"Their ma won't never notice the scars, and if one of you young uns
blabs about it," she added, turning upon them ferociously, "I'll cut
your tongue out."

"Suppose there should be some ill result from it," said Silvia
apprehensively.

"Don't you worry!" exclaimed Huldah. "Most likely it won't amount to
anything. It'll take some new kind of scabs to work in these brats.
They're too tough to take anything. Come on now with me," she
commanded, "and after it's done, I'll get you each an ice cream
sody."

Through Huldah's efficiency the vaccination was quickly accomplished
and the children of our neighbor were reluctantly accepted by the
school authorities.

The Polydores were not parted by reason of dissimilarity of age or
learning, as they were put into the ungraded room. To keep them there
enrolled taxed to the utmost our ingenuity in the way of framing
excuses for their repeated cases of tardiness and suspension.

Silvia felt a little remorseful when she listened to the tale of woe
recited to her by their teacher at a card party one Saturday
afternoon.

"She said," my wife repeated, "that yesterday Pythagoras brought two
mice to school in his marble-bag and let them loose. She doesn't
believe in corporal punishment, but she determined to experiment with
its effect on Pythagoras, so she kept him and Emerald, who was
slightly implicated, after school and sent the latter out to get a
whip. When he came back he said: 'I couldn't find any stick, but
here's some rocks you can throw at him,' and handed her a hat full of
stones. This made her too hysterical to try her experiment, so she
took away his recess for a week."

"We ought to make her a present," I observed.

"She said," continued Silvia, "that they had given her nervous
prostration, but she had no time to prostrate, and if she didn't
succeed in getting them graded by the coming fall term, she should
accept an offer of marriage she had received from a cross-eyed man,
and you know how unlucky that would be, Lucien!"

"We may be driven to worse things than that by fall," I replied
ruefully.



CHAPTER IV

_In Which We Take Boarders_


Four weeks of unalloyed bliss and then the summer vacation times
arrived, bringing joy to the heart of the Polydores and the teacher of
the ungraded room, but deep gloom to the hearthside of the Wades.

One misfortune always brings another. A rival applicant received
the coveted attorneyship and we bade a sad farewell to piano,
saddle-horse, automobile and journey, the furnishings to our Little
House of Dreams.

"I did want you to have a car, Lucien," sighed Silvia, regretfully,
"and you worked so hard this last year, you need a trip. Won't you go
somewhere with Rob--without me?"

I assured her it would be no vacation without her.

"Do you know, Lucien," she proposed diffidently, "I think it would be
an excellent plan to invite Uncle Issachar to visit us. He knows no
more about children than I do--than I did, I mean, and if he should
see the Polydores he'd give us five thousand each for the children we
didn't have."

I wouldn't consent to this plan. I had met Uncle Issachar once. He was
a crusty old bachelor with a morbid suspicion that everyone was
working him for his money. I don't wonder he thought so. He had no
other attractions.

Perceiving the strength of my opposition Silvia sweetly and
sagaciously refrained from further pressure.

"We should not repine," she said. "We have health and happiness and
love. What are pianos and cars and trips compared to such assets?"

What, indeed! I admitted that things might be worse.

Alas! All too soon was my statement substantiated. That night after we
had gone to bed, I heard a taxicab sputtering away at the house next
door.

"The Polydores must have unexpected guests," I remarked.

"I trust they brought no children with them," murmured Silvia
drowsily.

The next morning while we were at breakfast, the odor of June roses
wafting in through the open window, the delicious flavor of red-ripe
strawberries tickling our palate, and the anticipation of rice
griddle-cakes exhilarating us, the millennium came.

For the five young Polydores bore down upon us _en masse_.

"Father and mother have gone away," proclaimed Ptolemy, who was always
spokesman for the quintette.

This intelligence was of no particular interest to us--not then, at
least. We rarely saw father and mother Polydore, and they were
apparently of no need to their offspring.

Ptolemy's next announcement, however, was startling and effective in
its dramatic intensity.

"We've come over to stay with you while they are away."

I laughed; jocosely, I thought.

Silvia paid no heed to my forced hilarity, but ejaculated gaspingly:

"Why, what do you mean!"

"They have gone away somewhere," enlightened our oracle. "They went to
the train last night in a taxi. They have gone somewhere to find out
something about some kind of aborigines."

"Which reminds me," I remarked reminiscently, "of the man who traveled
far and vainly in search of a certain plant which, on his return, he
found growing beside his own doorstep."

Silvia paid no heed to my misplaced pleasantry. She was right--as
usual. It was no time for levity.

"I don't see," spoke my unappreciative wife, addressing Ptolemy, "why
their absence should make any difference in your remaining at home.
Gladys can cook your meals and put Diogenes to bed as usual."

"Gladys has gone," piped Demetrius. "She left yesterday afternoon. She
was only staying till she could get her pay."

"Father forgot to get another girl in her place," informed Ptolemy,
"and he forgot to tell mother he had forgotten until just before they
went to the train. She said it didn't matter--that we could just as
well come over here and stay with you."

"She said," added Pythagoras, "that you were so crazy over children,
that probably you'd be glad to have us stay with you all the time."

My last strawberry remained poised in mid-air. It was quite apparent
to me now that there was nothing funny about this situation.

"Milk, milk!" whimpered Diogenes, pulling at Silvia's dress and making
frantic efforts to reach the cream pitcher.

Huldah had come in with the griddle-cakes during this avalanche of
news.

"Here, all you kids!" commanded our field marshal, as she picked up
Diogenes, "beat it to the kitchen, and I'll give you some breakfast.
Hustle up!"

The Polydores, whose eyes were bulging with expectancy and
semi-starvation, tumbled over each other in their eagerness to "hustle
up and beat it to the kitchen." Our oiler of troubled waters followed,
and there was assurance of a brief lull.

"What shall we do!" I exclaimed helplessly when the door had closed on
the last Polydore. I felt too limp and impotent to cope with the
situation. Not so Silvia.

"Do!" she echoed with an intensity of tone and feeling I had never
known her to display. "Do! We'll do something, I am sure! I will not
for a moment submit to such an imposition. Who ever heard of such
colossal nerve! That father and mother should be brought back and
prosecuted. I shall report them to the Society for the Prevention of
Cruelty to Children. But we won't wait for such procedure. We'll
express each and every Polydore to them at once."

"I should certainly do that P.D.Q. and C.O.D.," I acquiesced, "if the
Polydore parents could be located, but you know the abodes of
aborigines are many and scattered."

My remarks seemed to fall as flat as the flapjacks I was siruping.

Silvia arose, determination in every lineament and muscle, and crossed
the room. She opened the door leading into the kitchen.

"Ptolemy," she demanded, "where have your father and mother gone?"

He came forward and replied in a voice somewhat smothered by cakes and
sirup.

"I don't know. They didn't say."

"We can find out from the ticket-agent," I optimistically assured
her.

"They never bother to buy tickets. Pay on the train," Ptolemy
explained.

My legal habit of counter-argument asserted itself.

"We can easily ascertain to what point their baggage was checked," I
remarked, again essaying to maintain a rôle of good cheer.

But the pessimistic Ptolemy was right there with another of his
gloom-casting retaliations.

"They only took suit-cases and they always keep them in the car.
Here's a check father said to give you to pay for our board. He said
you could write in any amount you wanted to."

"He got a lot of dough yesterday," informed Pythagoras, "and he put
half of it in the bank here."

Ptolemy handed over a check which was blank except for Felix
Polydore's signature.

"I don't see," I weakly exclaimed when my wife had closed the kitchen
door, "why she put them off on _us_. Why didn't she trade her brats
off for antiques?"

Silvia eyed the check wistfully. I could read the unspoken thought
that here, perhaps, was the opportunity for our much-desired trip.

"No, Silvia," I answered quickly, "not for any number of blank checks
or vacation trips shall you have the care and annoyance of those wild
Comanches."

"I know what I'll do!" she exclaimed suddenly. "I'll go right down to
the intelligence office and get anything in the shape of a maid and
put her in charge of the Polydore caravansary with double wages and
every night out and any other privileges she requests."

This seemed a sane and sensible arrangement, and I wended my way to
my office feeling that we were out of the woods.

When I returned home at noon, I found that we had only exchanged the
woods for water--and deep water at that.

I beheld a strange sight. Silvia sat by our bedroom window twittering
soft, cooing nonsensical nothings to Diogenes, who was clasped in her
arms, his flushed little face pressed close to her shoulder.

"He's been quite ill, Lucien. I was frightened and called the doctor.
He said it was only the slight fever that children are subject to. He
thought with good care that he'd be all right in a few days."

"Did you succeed in getting a cook to go to the Polydores?" I asked
anxiously. "You'll need a nurse to go there, too, to take care of
Diogenes."

She looked at me reproachfully and rebukingly.

"Why, Lucien! You don't suppose I could send this sick baby back to
that uninviting house with only hired help in charge! Besides, I don't
believe he'd stay with a stranger. He seems to have taken a fancy to
me."

Diogenes confirmed this belief by a languid lifting of his eyelids, as
he feelingly patted her cheek with his baby fingers.

I forebore to suggest that the fancy seemed to be mutual. Diogenes,
sick, was no longer an "imp of the devil", but a normal, appealing
little child. It occurred to me that possibly the care of a sick
Polydore might develop Silvia's tiny germ of child-ken.

"Keep him here of course," I agreed, "but--the other children must
return home."

"Diogenes would miss them," she said quickly, "and the doctor says his
whims must be humored while he is sick. He is almost asleep now. I
think he will let me put him down in his own little bed. Ptolemy
brought it over here. Pull back the covers for me, Lucien. There!"

Diogenes half opened his eyes, as she laid him in the bed and smiled
wanly.

"Mudder!" he cooed.

Silvia flushed and looked as if she dreaded some expression of mirth
from me. Relieved by my silence and a suggestion of moisture in the
region of my eyes--the day was quite warm--she confessed:

"He has called me that all the morning."

"It would be a wise Polydore that knows its own parents," I observed.

The slight illness of Diogenes lasted three or four days. I still
shudder to recall the memory of that hideous period. Silvia's time and
attention were devoted to the sick child. Huldah was putting in all
her leisure moments at the dentist's, where she was acquiring her
third set of teeth, and joy rode unconfined and unrestrained with our
"boarders."

Polydore proclivities made the Reign of Terror formerly known as the
French Revolution seem like an ice cream festival. I don't regard
myself as a particularly nervous man, but there's a limit! Their war
whoops and screeches got on my nerves and temper to the extent of
sending me into their midst one evening brandishing a whip and
commanding immediate silence. I got it. Not through fear of
chastisement, for fear was an emotion unknown to a Polydore, but from
astonishment at so unexpected a procedure from so unexpected a source.
Heretofore I had either ignored them or frolicked with them. Before
they had recovered from their shock, Silvia appeared on the scene.

"Diogenes," she informed them, "was not used to such unwonted quiet,
and was fretting at the unaccustomed stillness. Would the boys please
play Indian or some of their games again?"

The boys would. I backed from the room, the whip behind me, carefully
kept without Silvia's angle of vision. Before Ptolemy resumed his rôle
of chief, he bestowed a knowing and maddening wink upon me.

I wished that we had remained neighbor-less. I wished that the
aborigines would scalp Felix Polydore and the writer of Modern
Antiquities. Then we could land their brats on the Probate Court. I
wished that this were the reign of Herod. I vowed I would backslide
from the Presbyterian faith since it no longer included in its
articles of belief the eternal damnation of infants. How long, O
Catiline, would--

A paralyzing suspicion flashed into the maelstrom of my vituperative
maledictions. I rushed wildly upstairs to our combination bedroom,
sickroom, and nursery, where Silvia sat like a guardian angel beside
the Polydore patient.

"Silvia," I shouted excitedly, "do you suppose those diabolical
Polydore parents purposely played this trick on us? Was it a
premeditated Polydore plan to abandon their young? And can you blame
them for playing us for easy marks? Could any parents, Polydore, or
otherwise, ever come back to such fiends as these?"

"Hush!" she cautioned, without so much as a glance in my direction.
"You'll wake Diogenes!"

Wake Diogenes! Ye Gods! And she had also implored the brothers of
Diogenes to continue their anvil chorus! This took the last stitch of
starch from my manly bosom. Spiritless and spineless I bore all
things, believed all things--but hoped for nothing.



CHAPTER V

_In Which We Take a Vacation_


Diogenes finally convalesced to his former state of ruggedness and
obstreperousness. He continued, however, to cling to Silvia and to
call her "mudder." To my amusement the other children followed suit
and she was now "muddered" by all the Polydores.

"I am glad," I remarked, "that they scorn to include me in their
adoption. I wouldn't fancy being 'faddered' by the Polydores."

"You won't be," Ptolemy, appearing seemingly from nowhere, assured me.
"We've named you stepdaddy."

"If it be possible, Silvia," I implored, "let this cup pass from me."

"I am going down to the intelligence office today," replied Silvia
soothingly. "Diogenes is well enough to go home now, and I can run
over there every evening and see that he is properly put to bed."

I went down town feeling like a mule relieved of his pack.

When I came home that afternoon, I found Silvia sitting on the shaded
porch serenely sewing. A Sabbath-like stillness pervaded. Not a
Polydore in sight or sound.

"Oh!" I cried buoyantly. "The Polydores have been returned to their
home station!"

"No," she replied calmly. "They told me at the intelligence office
that it would be absolutely impossible to persuade, bribe, or hire a
servant to assume the charge of the Polydore place."

"I suppose," I said glumly, "that Gladys gave the job a double cross.
But will you please account for the phenomenon of the utter absence of
Polydores at the present period? Has Huldah at last carried out her
oft-repeated threat of exterminating the Polydore race?"

"Pythagoras," explained Silvia dejectedly, "has gone to the doctor's.
He broke his wrist this morning. Diogenes is lost and Emerald has gone
to look for him--"

"Oh, why hunt him up?" I remonstrated. "Maybe Emerald, too, will get
lost or strayed or stolen."

"Huldah," continued Silvia, "has locked Demetrius in the cellar. I am
unable to report on Ptolemy. Huldah is half sick, but she won't go to
bed. She said no beds in Bedlamite for her. But I have a wonderful
plan to suggest. There is relief in sight if you will consent."

"I will consent to any committable crime on the calendar," I assured
her, "that will lead to the parting of the Polydore path from ours.
Divulge."

"We both need a change and rest. Today I heard of a most alluring,
inexpensive, unfrequented resort called Hope Haven. Unfashionable,
fine fishing, beautiful scenery, twelve miles from a railroad, and a
stage stops there but once a day."

"If there is such a place, we'll go there at once, though why such an
enticing spot should be unfrequented is beyond me. Do we leave the
Polydores to their fate, or as a town charge?"

"We'll leave them to Huldah. She offered to keep them here if we'd
take the outing. She said she'd either give them free rein or beat
their brains out."

"Then I see where the Polydores land in a juvenile jail, or else I
return to defend Huldah for a charge of murder. We'll take our
departure by night--tomorrow night--and like the Arabs, or the
Polydore parents, silently steal away."

"Lucien," said Silvia constrainedly, when we had arranged the details
of our plan, "if you wouldn't object too much, I should like to take
Diogenes with us. He hasn't missed his mother, but I really believe
he'd be homesick without me."

"Take him, of course," I said. "He's manageable away from the others.
I plainly see you've formed the Polydore habit, and maybe a partial
parting from the Polydores would be wiser, but we'll take Diogenes as
an antidote against too perfect a time. But I forgot to tell you that
I had a letter from Rob today. He plans to come and make his visit
now and will arrive next Monday. I'll write him to join us at Hope
Haven. You must write down again for me the route we take to get
there."

Silvia laughed hopelessly.

"It never rains but it pours. I had a letter from Beth this afternoon,
and she says she would like to come to us now. She arrives Monday.
Here is her letter."

"Great minds! It is quite a coincidence," I declared.

"I thought it would be so nice to have Beth go with us to this
resort."

"It can't be done," I said. "That is, they can't both go. I am not
going to let even Rob Rossiter slight my sister."

"Still it would be a triumph to have her change his mind--or his
heart. You know a woman-hater always succumbs to the right girl."

"In books, yes!"

I had been scanning Beth's letter and I laughed derisively as I read
aloud: "'I am so curious to see those next-door children. When you
first wrote of the "Polydores" I never once thought of them as
children.'"

"She thought exactly right," I told Silvia, and then continued
reading: "'I supposed them to be something like tadpoles or polliwogs.
I really think I shall enjoy them.'"

"It would serve her right," I said, "to let her come and stay with
them here in our absence. She'd get the cure for enjoyment all right.
Rob wrote of them in the same strain and says he, too, is curious to
meet the missing links."

"Does she know," asked Silvia, "how Rob regards women?"

"No; I've always made some excuse to her for not having them meet. I
didn't want to hear her make disparaging remarks about him, and she
is such a flirt, she'd try to draw him out and he would shut up like a
clam."

"Well, I think," decided Silvia, "that the best way out of it is to
write Rob to postpone his visit and I will write Beth to come direct
to Hope Haven."

"Yes," I agreed, "that will be fine. She shall have charge of dear
little Di and study the evolutions of the Polydores later."

I approved this plan. So we wrote our letters and stealthily, but
joyously, prepared for our getaway, leaving the house like thieves in
the night and bearing the sleeping cherub, Diogenes.

Silvia sighed in relief when we were aboard the train.

"I feel quite chesty," she declared, "at being smart enough to outwit
Ptolemy, the wizard."

"I have the feeling," I observed forebodingly, "that they may be on
the train or underneath it."

The next morning we reached Windy Creek, the station nearest our
destination, and continued our journey by stage.

"People will think you have consoled yourself very speedily for the
death of your first husband," I observed, as we were en route.

"Why, what do you mean, Lucien?"

"You know Diogenes addresses me as stepdaddy. It is the only word he
speaks plainly."

"Oh!" she exclaimed in perturbation, "I never thought of that! Well,
we can explain to everyone, or I'll teach them to leave off the
'step.'"

"Not on your life!" I demurred.

"He had better call you Lucien, then. Emerald calls his father
'Felix.'"

She at once began her tutelage of the bewildered Diogenes. After
several stabs at pronouncing Lucien he managed to evolve "Ocean" to
which he sometimes affixed "step" so that people to whom he was not
explained doubtless thought me the latest thing in dances.

Hope Haven was like most resorts--a place safe to shun. There was a
low, flat stretch of woods in which a clearing had been made for a
barn-like structure called a hotel, with rooms rough and not always
ready. The beautiful recreation grounds mentioned in the advertising
matter consisted of a plowed field worked over into a space designated
as a tennis court and a grass-grown croquet ground.

"Anyway," claimed Silvia hopefully, "it's a treat to see woods, water,
and sky unconfined."

She devoted the remainder of the morning to unpacking and after
luncheon set off to explore the woods, borrowing from the landlady a
little cart for Diogenes to ride in. My plan to go in swimming was
delayed by my garrulous landlord.

I was just starting for the lake when I heard sounds from the woods
that alarmed the landlord but which I instantly recognized as the
Polydore yell. A moment later I saw Silvia emerging at full speed into
the open, drawing the cart in which Diogenes was doubled up like a
jackknife. I hastened to meet them.

"Oh, Lucien," exclaimed my wife tearfully, "we are bitten to bits!
Just look at poor little Di!"

I lifted the howling child from the cart. His face, neck, and hands
were stringy and purplish--a cross between an eggplant and a round
steak.

"Mosquitoes!" explained Silvia. "They came in flocks and they
advertised particularly 'no mosquitoes.'"

A dour-faced guest paused in passing.

"There aren't--many," she declared. "Very few, in fact, compared to
the number of black flies, sand fleas, and jiggers. However, you'll
find more discomfort from the poison ivy, I imagine."

"Lucien," began Silvia in lament.

"Never mind!" I hastened to console, "you are out of the woods now,
and you won't have to go in again. I presume they have an antidote up
at the house. I'll give you and Diogenes first aid and then we will
all go down to the lake shore. You can both sit on the dock and watch
me swim."

They both brightened up, and when we reached the hotel the landlady
provided a soothing lotion for the bites and stings.

By the time we had started for the lake, the afflicted two were in
holiday spirit again.

I sought cover in a small shed called a bath-house and got into my
swimming outfit and shot out from the dipping end of the diving-board
into the water. When I came to the surface, Silvia, sitting beside
Diogenes on the dock, shrieked wildly.

"Oh, Lucien, there are snakes all around you! Come out, quick!"

"They are only water snakes," I assured her.

"I don't care what kind they are. They are snakes just the same."

Diogenes instantly began to bellow for me to hand him a snake to play
with.

"He recognizes his own," I told Silvia, who, however, saw nothing
amusing in my implication.

When I came out of the water, the temperature had climbed several
degrees and we were glad to seek the hotel parlor, which was cool and
damp.

After dinner Silvia put Diogenes to bed and we sat out on the veranda.
I was enjoying my evening smoke and the feel of the night wind in my
face. Silvia had just finished telling me that merely to be away from
the Polydores was Paradise enough for her, and that she didn't care
very much about the woods, anyway--the lake was sufficient, when her
optimism was rudely jolted by the shrill, shudder-sending song of the
festive mosquito.

She fled into the parlor. The landlady, who seemed to have a panacea
for all ills, suggested that she might tack mosquito netting around
the little balcony extending from our bedroom, and then she could sit
there in comfort when the mosquitoes bothered.

"That's what the last lady that had that room did," she said, "but
when she left, she took the netting with her. We keep a supply in our
little store."

Silvia immediately sought the hotel store and bought a quantity of the
netting and a goodly stock of the mosquito lotion.

That night as I was drifting into slumber, Silvia remarked: "Only one
of the things I heard and read about this place is true."

"Which one?" I asked between winks.

"That it was unfrequented. I have seen only three guests besides us so
far. How do they make it pay?"

"The hotel is evidently only a side issue," I replied.

"To what?"

"To the store. Think of the quantities of lotion and netting they must
sell in the season, which, you must know, is in the fall. The hunting,
the landlord tells me, is very good, and his hotel is quite popular
in October and November."

"I think we had better stay, Lucien. Mosquitoes don't poison you."

"Even if they did," I declared, "as a choice between them and the
Polydores I would say, 'Oh, Mosquito, where is thy sting?'"



CHAPTER VI

_A Flirt and a Woman-Hater_


The next morning I arose early and screened in the little birdhouse
balcony. There was a large piece of netting left and Silvia converted
it into a robe and headgear for the swaddling of Diogenes.

"He looks like the Bride of Lammermoor," I declared, as he went forth
in this regalia.

"Well, that's preferable to looking like a pest-house patient, as he
did yesterday."

His first-aid costume didn't find favor with the landlady, as it would
seem indicative to the newly arrived of the features of the place.
However, before another stage-coming was due, Di had rent his garment
sufficiently to make it useless is a "skeeter skirt."

During the morning I enjoyed my solitary swim with the snakes.
Diogenes played football with the croquet balls and bruised one of his
toes, besides hitting the landlady's child in the eye. Silvia went for
a walk which had been pictured in the advertisements. She speedily
returned, her ardor dampened.

"There are so many sticks and stones and rocks," she said in a
discouraged tone, "that there was no pleasure in walking. I nearly
sprained my ankle."

"Well, the real sport we haven't tried yet," I said. "We'll get a boat
and take Diogenes and go for a row on the lake."

This proposition met with instant favor. I put Silvia and Diogenes in
the stern of the boat and pulled for the opposite shore. My endeavors
to gain this point were balked by Silvia's remarkable conceptions of
the art of steering craft. She was so serenely satisfied, however,
with the way she performed her duties and the aid she thought she was
giving me, that I forbore to criticize.

In order to achieve a few strokes in the right direction, I asked her
to get me a cigar from an inside pocket of my coat, which was on the
seat in front of her. Then came the blight to our bliss. She looked in
the wrong pocket and instead of producing a cigar, she extracted two
letters with seals unbroken.

[Illustration: "Lucien Wade!" she gasped. "Here are our letters to Beth
and Rob."]

"Lucien Wade!" she gasped. "Here are our letters to Beth and Rob.
Well, it is my fault. I should have known better than to give them to
you."

"The plot thickens," I replied thoughtfully.

"This is Monday. They must both be at the house now. What will they
think!"

"They will think we didn't receive their letters."

"Isn't it unfortunate--" she began.

"No," I replied. "I am not sure but what it is a good thing. It will
give Rob a jolt to see that girls can be as nice as Beth is, and as
for her, she is quite able to take care of the situation where a man
is concerned."

"But we must have Beth here. Maybe you'd better telegraph her."

"Huldah understands conditions. She will send Beth on here."

The next morning we took Diogenes and went down the road to meet the
stage. As it came around the curve, we saw there were three
passengers.

"Tolly!" cried Diogenes with an ecstatic whoop.

"Beth!" recognized Silvia.

"Rob!" I ejaculated.

The stage stopped to allow us to get in.

Mutual explanations followed. Ours were brief and substantiated by the
documents in evidence.

"Now," I said turning threateningly to Ptolemy, "what did you come
here for?"

"To show them," indicating Beth and Rob, "how to get here and to look
after Di so you and mudder could enjoy your vacation," he replied
glibly.

Beth laughed mirthfully.

"Check! Lucien."

"Didn't Huldah warn you," I asked her, "that our whereabouts were to
remain unknown?"

"Ptolemy," she replied, "is evidently a mind reader, for he told me
where you were before I saw Huldah."

"Why, Ptolemy, how did you know where we were?" asked Silvia.

"I was on top of the porch when you told stepdaddy about coming. I
didn't tell the others. I won't bother you any. And I know how to look
after Di. You won't send me back, mudder," he pleaded, looking
wistfully at the foam-crested water of the little lake.

I wondered mutely if Silvia could resist the appeal in the eyes of the
neglected boy when he turned his imploring gaze to hers, and the
delight depicted in Diogenes' eyes at "Tolly's" arrival. She could
not.

"You may stay as long as we do," she said slowly, "if you are a good
boy and will not play too rough with Diogenes."

We had reached the hotel by this time, and with a wild "ki yi"
Ptolemy dashed for the shore, dragging the delighted Diogenes with
him.

"It's only fair to Huldah to take one more off her hands," Silvia said
apologetically.

"Them Three is what bothers me," I complained. "If they, too, follow
after, Heaven help them! I won't."

"It's a good arrangement all around," declared Rob. "I judge it takes
a Polydore to understand his ilk, so the kids can pair off together.
Miss Wade will be company for you, while Lucien and I go fishing."

He looked keenly at Beth as he spoke, but Beth was looking demurely
down and made no sign of having heard him.

Silvia and I went with Beth to her room, and then she told her story.

"Knowing Lucien's failing, I was not surprised at receiving no
response to my letter. When I got out of the cab in front of your
house, a wild-looking boy, very bas-relief as to eyes, and who I felt
sure must be Ptolemy of the Polydores, appeared. As soon as he saw me
he gave utterance to a blood-curdling yell of--'Here she is!'

"In response to his call three of his understudies came on with
headlong greeting.

"'You are Beth, aren't you?' Ptolemy asked me. Then he drew me aside
and in mysterious whispers told me where you were and that you had
written me to join you here. He added that stepdaddy never remembered
to mail letters. I went within and interviewed Huldah who confirmed
his information.

"Presently I saw a taxi stop before the house.

"'That's him!' exclaimed Ptolemy.

"'Him who?' I asked.

"'Rob somebody--stepdaddy's college chum. He wrote he was coming, and
they thought they had postponed him.'

"With a sprint of speed the four Polydores surrounded your Mr.
Rossiter, all talking at once. I came to the rescue, of course, and
explained the situation, and we decided to follow you.

"Ptolemy was promoter for the trip and suggested the advisability of
his accompanying us as courier and future nursemaid to Diogenes. He
was intending to come anyway, but thought he'd wait for us. He had all
his belongings packed."

"He hasn't many except those he had on," said Silvia thoughtfully.

"He has some swimming trunks, two collars, two shirts, some mismated
socks, homemade fishing tackle and a battered baseball bat. We came
away surreptitiously to escape detection by the trio left behind. I
knew you wouldn't welcome his presence--but he said he was coming
anyway, so we thought we might as well bring him and express him
back."

After visiting with Beth for a few moments, Silvia and I withdrew to
talk matters over confidentially.

"All's well that ends well," I quoth.

"It hasn't ended yet," reminded Silvia. "I trust Ptolemy didn't reveal
what you said about Rob's being a woman-hater and Beth a flirt."

Ptolemy conveniently appeared just then, as he generally did in the
midst of private interviews. Silvia asked him if he had repeated those
remarks to Beth or Rob.

"Why, no," he said. "I knew you didn't want her to know, because
stepdaddy said so, and I thought he wouldn't like to be called that,
and I wasn't going to give Beth away to him."

"You're all right, Ptolemy!" I exclaimed, for the first time awarding
him approbation.

Out on the veranda we met Rob.

"Say, those Polydores certainly have the punch and pep," he declared.
"I'd like to have fetched the whole bunch along with me."

"If you had," I replied dryly, "our life's friendship would have died
on the spot."



CHAPTER VII

_In Which Nothing Much Happens_


"Why Hope Haven?" asked Rob reflectively, when he had taken inventory
of the possibilities of the resort.

"Because," sighed Silvia, "so many hopes--vacation hopes--must have
been buried here."

Rob was of an investigating turn of mind, however, and he had heard
from a native of H. H., as he had abbreviated the place, that there
was a smaller lake, abounding in fish, farther on through the forest.
It was so strongly fortified, however, by the formidable battalions of
sharp-shooting insects that but few fishermen had ever been able to
lay siege to it.

Rob and I being poison proof decided to try our luck and pitch camp
for a few days on the shores of this hidden treasure. As we had to
send to town by the stage driver for the necessary supplies, we
remained in H. H. the remainder of the day.

We at once paired off in Noah's most approved style as Rob had
outlined. Beth and Ptolemy went up shore, sticks and stones and rocks
being no obstacles to their feet. Rob and I sought the society of the
snakes, while Silvia and Diogenes, mosquito-netted, watched a game of
croquet.

We dined without the pleasure of the society of Ptolemy and Diogenes,
who had been invited to sit at the table with the landlady's
children. I might state, incidentally, that the invitation was never
repeated.

Beth was quite excited over her walk.

"Ptolemy and I," she boasted, "made more of a discovery than Mr.
Rossiter did. We found a haunted house, a perfectly haunted house."

"I am not surprised," declared Silvia. "You couldn't expect any other
kind of a house in such a region."

"Where is it?" I asked, "and what is it haunted by?"

"Insects," suggested Silvia.

"You go around shore about two miles, only it's farther, as you have
to make so many ups and downs over the rocks. Then you leave the shore
and go through a low marshy stretch, sort of a Dismal Swamp, and then
up a hill. After Ptolemy and I climbed to the top, we looked down and
saw, hidden in a clump of lonely looking poplars, a small, rudely
built house. We went down to explore and had hard work making our way
through a thick growth of--everything. We crawled under some tangled
vines and came up on the steps. The house was vacant, although there
were a few old pieces of furniture--a couple of cots, a cook-stove,
table, and chairs.

"On our way home we met a woman who gave us a history of the house. An
old miser lived there long ago. One night he was robbed and murdered,
and his ghost still haunts the place. No one ventures in its vicinity,
and she said most likely we were the first people who had gone there
since the tragedy. She told us of a nearer way to reach it. You take
the road to Windy Creek, and about two miles below here, turn into a
lane and then go through a grove and over a hill."

"You don't really believe the story, that is, the ghost part of it?"
asked Rossiter.

"N--o," allowed Beth. "Still, I'd like to. It makes it interesting.
Ptolemy and I are going down there some night to see if we can find
the ghost."

"You won't see one," I assured her. "Ptolemy's presence would be
sufficient to keep even a ghost in the background."

"Ptolemy's a peach," declared Beth emphatically.

"If he were older, you wouldn't think so," said Rob.

"Why not?" asked Beth in surprise, or seeming surprise.

He smiled enigmatically, and irrelevantly asked her if she wouldn't
really be afraid to go to the haunted house at night with only Ptolemy
for protection.

She assured him she shouldn't be afraid of a ghost if she saw one, and
that she shouldn't be afraid to go alone.

Throughout the evening, which we spent in rowing, walking, and later
at a little impromptu supper, I was interested in observing the
puzzling behavior of Beth and my chum. I had expected that he would
avoid her as much as possible and speak to her only when common
politeness made conversation obligatory, and that she, a born
coquette, would seek to add his scalp to her collection. Instead, to
my surprise, their rôles were reversed. He appeared interested in her
every remark and looked at her often and intently. He was quite
assiduous in his attentions which, strange to say, she discouraged,
not with the deep design of a flirt to increase his ardor, but with a
calm firmness that admitted of no doubt as to her feelings.

"Your sister," he remarked to me as we were walking down to the lake
for a swim just before going to bed, "is a very unusual type."

"Not at all!" I assured him. "Beth is the true feminine type which you
have never taken the trouble to know."

"Oh, come, Lucien! Not feminine, you know. Though she is inconsistent."

I resented the imputation hotly, but he only laughed and said that he
guessed it was true that a man didn't understand the women in his
family as well as an outsider did.

"You think," I said, "just because she says she isn't afraid of
ghosts--"

"Not at all," he denied. "That wasn't the reason, but--I like her
type, though I always supposed I wouldn't. It is a new one to
me--anyway. I didn't think so young a girl as she--"

Our discussion was cut short by the inevitable, ever-present Ptolemy,
who came running up to us, clad in about four inches of swimming
trunks.

"Why aren't you in bed?" I demanded.

"I was in bed, but it was so warm I couldn't sleep, and I went to the
window and saw you coming down here, so I thought I'd come, too."

I repeated Rob's remarks to Silvia when I returned to our room, and
she betrayed Beth's confidences in regard to Rob.

"She says she would like him if it were not for one trait that she
dislikes more than any other in a man and that it was sufficient in
her estimation to counterbalance all his good qualities."

"What can she mean?" I asked bewildered. "I don't see a flaw in Rob,
except for his being a woman-hater, and he surely hasn't betrayed that
fact to her, judging from his manner toward her. I think he is making
an effort to be nice to her on my account, and she doesn't appreciate
it."

"I asked her what the flaw was, and she flushed and said she couldn't
tell me."

"Well, I guess all around it is a good thing we are going off on our
fishing expedition. I don't want my friend turned down by my sister,
and I don't want my friend calling my sister a new type and
unfeminine."



CHAPTER VIII

_Ptolemy Disappears and I Visit a Haunted House_


When Rob and I, with our camping outfit, drove off through the woods,
Ptolemy's eyes followed us so enviously and he pleaded so eloquently
to be taken with us that Rob was actually on the point of considering
it.

"See here, Rob Rossiter!" I exclaimed, "This is my vacation and all I
came to this God-forsaken place for was to escape the Polydores. If he
goes, I stay. You know I've always tried to meet issues, but this
antique family has got me going."

"All right," he yielded.

After a drive of a few miles we came to the lake and pitched our tent.
Two days of ideal camp life followed. The weather was fine, Rob was a
first-class cook, and the sport was beyond our most optimistic
expectation. We landed enough of the Friday food to satisfy the most
fastidious fishing fiend, and the mosquitoes, finding we were
impervious to their stings, finally let us alone.

I forgot all business cares and disappointments, yes, even the
Polydores; but on the morning of the third day Rob began to show signs
of restlessness and spoke of the likelihood of my wife's being
lonely.

"Not with Beth and Ptolemy in calling distance," I told him.

"But they will be off together," he replied, "and your wife will be
alone with that _enfant terrible_. I fancy, too, that your sister
isn't exactly a companion for your wife."

"Well, that shows how little you know her. She and Silvia are great
friends."

"Oh, yes, of course they are friendly, but I mean their tastes are so
different, and they are so unlike. Your sister doesn't care for
domesticity."

"Sure she does. You have turned the wrong searchlight on Beth. If you
knew her, you'd like her."

"I do like her," he declared. "It's too bad she--"

He stopped abruptly and quickly changed the conversation. In spite of
my efforts to renew the controversy about Beth, he refused to return
to the subject.

[Illustration: He pleaded eloquently to be taken with us.]

In the afternoon, when I was doing a little scale work preparatory to
cooking, a messenger from the hotel drove up with a note from Silvia
which I read aloud:

"Ptolemy has been missing for twenty-four hours. We are in hopes he
has joined you. If not, what shall I do?"

"We'll go back with you," said Rob to the man. "Just lend a hand here
and help us pull up these tent stakes."

"What's Ptolemy to me or I to him?" I asked with a groan, "can't we
give him absent treatment?"

"You're positively inhuman, Lucien," protested Rob. "The boy may be at
the bottom of the lake."

"Not he! He was born to be hung."

All this time, however, I had been active in making preparations for
departure, as I knew that Silvia would feel that we were responsible
for Ptolemy's safety, and her anxiety was reason enough for me to
hasten to her.

Rob was quite jubilant on our return trip and declared that the fish
came too easily and too plentifully to make it real sport, but I felt
that I had another grudge to be charged up to the fateful family.

We found Silvia pale from anxiety, Beth in tears, and Diogenes loudly
clamoring for "Tolly." We learned that the afternoon before, Silvia
and Beth had gone with the landlady for a ride, leaving Diogenes in
Ptolemy's care, but on their return at dinner time, Diogenes was
playing alone in the sandpile.

Nothing was thought of Ptolemy's absence until bedtime, and they had
then sent out searching parties to the woods and the lake shores.
Finally it occurred to Beth that he might have gone to join Rob and
me, so they sent the messenger to investigate.

"He must be lost in the woods somewhere," said Beth tearfully, "and
he will starve to death."

Rob actually touched her hand in his distress at her grief.

"Ptolemy is too smart to get lost anywhere," I declared. "He knows
fully as much about woodcraft as he does about every other kind of
craft. He's one of his mother's antiquities personified. But haven't
you been able to find anyone who saw him after you went for your
ride?"

"No; even the hotel help were all out on the lake."

"And he left Diogenes here, absolutely unguarded?"

"Well!" admitted Silvia, "he tied Diogenes to a tree near the
sandpile."

"Then he must have gone away with malice aforethought," I said,
"and Diogenes is the only one who knows anything about his last
movements."

I lifted the child to my knee, and speaking more gently to him than I
had ever done, I asked:

"Di, did you and Tolly play in the sandpile yesterday?"

He was quite emphatic in his affirmative.

"Well, tell Ocean: Did Tolly go away and leave you?"

"Tolly goed away," he confirmed.

"Oh, Lucien!" protested Beth, laughing. "He's too little to know what
you are talking about or to remember."

"Lucien's ruling passion strong in death," murmured Rob. "He can't
help cross-examining the cradle even!"

"Which way," I resumed, ignoring these interruptions, "did Tolly
go--that way?" pointing towards the woods.

"No! Tolly goed--" and he trailed off into his baby jargon which no
one could understand, but he pointed to the lake.

"What did he say when he went away; when he tied the rope around
you?"

"Bye-bye."

"What else?"

Diogenes' intentions to be communicative were certainly all right, but
not a word was intelligible. As he kept picking at his dress and
pointing to it, I finally prompted:

"Did Tolly pin a paper to Di's dress?"

"'m--h'--m."

"Bravo, Lucien!" applauded Rob. "They say you can induce a witness to
admit anything."

"What did Di do with the paper?" I continued.

The word he wanted evidently being beyond his vocabulary and speech,
he made a rotary motion with his fist. The gesture conveyed nothing to
our minds, but was instantly recognized and interpreted by the
landlady's little girl, who said he meant a windmill such as she had
sometimes made for him.

"What did Di do with the windmill?" I asked.

He pointed to the sandpile, which I investigated and found a stick
planted therein. I pulled it up and saw a pin sticking in the end of
it. Further excavation revealed a crumpled piece of paper on which was
written in Ptolemy's round hand:

  "Want to see kids. Am going home. Tell Beth I bet she dasent go to
  the haunted house alone at night. Ptolemy."

"Poor Huldah!" sighed Silvia.

"I thought he was having the time of his life here," said Rob.

"He was sore," declared Beth, "because you and Lucien wouldn't take
him with you on the fishing trip. He was moping by himself all the
morning."

"Trying to think up some new deviltry," I theorized, "to make us feel
bad."

"No," asserted Silvia, "I think he really misses the boys. The
Polydores, for all their scrappings, are very clannish. But how do you
suppose he got down to Windy Creek?"

"He could catch plenty of rides along the way, but what is puzzling me
is how he got the money to pay his fare."

"He seemed very well provided with cash," informed Rob. "I tried to
pay for his ticket down here, but he insisted on buying it himself."

Silvia worried so much about what might happen to him en route that
after dinner I motored to Windy Creek with some tourists who had
stopped at the hotel in passing.

I called up long distance and after some delay got in communication
with our house. Ptolemy himself answered and assured me he had arrived
all "hunky doory", that Huldah, who was out on an errand, was "hunky
doory", and that the kids were all "hunky doory." In fact, his
cheerful tone indicated that the whole universe was in the beatific
state described by his expressive adjective.

I was really ripping mad at his taking French leave and so giving
Silvia cause for her anxiety, but I forbore to reprimand him by word
or tone, lest he get even by "coming back" literally. I did tell him
how the loss of the note for twenty-four hours had caused a general
excitement, but he felt no remorse for his share in the situation,
blaming Diogenes entirely and bidding me "punch the kid's face" for
unpinning the note.

On my return from Windy Creek I was fortunate enough to fall in with a
farmer who lived near the hotel. He was driving some sort of a machine
he called an _autoo_. He was an old-timer in the vicinity and related
the past, present, and pluperfect of all the residents on the route. I
had a detailed and vivid account of the midnight visitor of the
haunted house.

"I'd jest naturally like to see what there is to it," he said. "Not
that I am afeerd at all, only it's sort of spooky to go to a lonesome
place like that all alone. If I could git some one to go with me, I'd
tackle the job, but I vum if every time I perpose it to anyone they
don't make some excuse."

"I'm on," I declared. "I don't dread ghosts near as much as I do some
living folks I know."

"Right you air," chuckled the old man. "If you say so we'll go right
off now jest as sure as shootin'. We may be ghosts ourselves
tomorrow."

I assured him I was quite ready to encounter the ghost, so he
jubilantly turned the machine from the road into a grass-grown lane.
We zigzagged for some distance and then got out and went on foot
through a grove. The moon and the stars were half veiled by some
light, misty clouds, so that the little house didn't show up very
clearly, but as we came to the top of the hill, we saw something that
shook even my well-behaved nerves.

From a window in the roof-room extended a white arm and hand, with
index finger pointing threateningly and directly toward us.

My farmer friend turned quickly and fled toward the grove. I followed
fleetly. "What's your rush?" I asked, when I had overtaken him.

"I just happened to remember," he explained gaspingly, "that there's a
pesky autoo thief in these 'ere parts. Bukins had his stole jest last
night."

The lights on his machine must have reassured him as to its safety
when we emerged from the woods into the open, but he didn't lessen his
speed. We got in the "autoo" and soon said good-by to the lane. At one
time I believed it was good-by to everything, but at last we gained
the highway, right side up.

"Well!" I said, when we were running normally again on terra firma,
"that was some little old ghost,--beckoned to us to come right in,
too!"

"You seen it then!" he exclaimed excitedly. "I'm mighty glad I had an
eyewitness. Folks wouldn't believe me."

"They probably won't believe me, either," I assured him. "I am a
lawyer."

"You don't tell me! Well, it did jest give me a start for a minute.
I'd like to hev gone in and seen it nigh to, if I hadn't happened to
think of this 'ere autoo. You see I ain't got it all paid for yet. I'm
jest clean beat. You don't mind my takin' a leetle pull at a stone
fence, do you?"

"I guess not," I assented somewhat dubiously, however. "That was a
rail fence we took a pull at back in the lane, wasn't it? Of course,
if we shouldn't happen to clear the stone fence as well as we did the
rail fence, it might be more disastrous."

"Oh, land!" he said with a cackling laugh, "I ain't meanin' that kind
of a fence. I mean the kind you--Say! You ain't one of them
teetotalers, be you?"

"Only in theory," I replied, "but this stone fence drink is a new one
on me. What's it like?"

He stopped the "autoo" and pulled a bottle from an inner pocket.

"You kin taste it better than I kin tell it," he declared. "Take a
pull--a condumned good one."

I rarely imbibed, confining my indulgences to the demands of
necessity, but I thought that the flight of Ptolemy, the ghostly
encounter, and my Mazeppa--wild ride all combined to constitute an
occasion adequate to call for a bracer in the shape of a stone fence,
or anything he might produce.

I took what I considered a "condumned good one" from the bottle and it
nearly strangled me, but I followed the aged stranger's advice to take
another to "cure the chokes" caused by the first one. On general
principles I took a third and then reluctantly returned him the
bottle.

"Here's over the moon," he jovially exclaimed as he proceeded to make
my attempt at a "condumned good one" appear most niggardly.

"May I ask," I inquired when my feeling of nerve-tense strain had
vanished, and I felt as if I were treading thin air, "just what is in
a stone fence?"

"Well, what do you think?" he asked slyly.

"I think the very devil is in it," I replied.

"Well, mebby," he admitted. "It's two-thirds hard cider and one-third
whisky. It's a healthy, hearting drink and yet it has a leetle come
back to it--a sort o' kick, you know. But this is where I live,"
pointing to a farmhouse well back from the road, "but I am goin' to
run you on to your tavern though."

The hotel was dark, save for a light in my room. I invited him in, but
he was anxious to "git hum and tell the folks", so I gave him some
cigars and went in to "tell my folks."

I found them in the room waiting for me. That is, Beth was in the
room, sitting by the table and pretending to read. Silvia and Rob were
out in the little balcony. They came inside as soon as they heard my
voice.

"Oh, was he there?" asked Silvia anxiously.

"Yes," I replied. "He answered the telephone himself."

I was feeling quite exhilarated by this time. My wife looked a perfect
vision to me. Beth, I thought, was some sister, and Rob the best
fellow in the world. Even the Polydores at long range, and under the
ameliorating influence of stone fences, seemed like fine little
fellows--rather active and strenuous, to be sure, but only as all
wholesome children should be.

Silvia was relieved at the announcement of Ptolemy's safety, but very
much disappointed that I did not succeed in interviewing Huldah and
finding out something about domestic affairs.

I assured her that everything was "hunky doory" at home, praised the
telephone service, my expedition to town, and painted my return ride
with "the honest farmer" in glowing terms. I was suddenly halted in my
eulogy by becoming aware of an amazed expression on my wife's
countenance, a most suspicious glance in Beth's wide-open eyes, and a
very knowing wink from Rob.

"Lucien," said Silvia severely, "I believe you've been drinking. I
certainly smell spirits."

"Maybe you do," I replied jocosely. "I certainly saw spirits. I went
to the haunted house on my way back."

"I thought Windy Creek was a dry town," remarked Rob innocently.

"It is," I assured him, "but I rode home with an old man--a farmer."

"Does he run a blind pig?" asked Rob.

"It was more like a pig in a poke," I replied.

"Lucien," exclaimed Silvia reproachfully, "you told me two years ago,
after that banquet to the Bar, that you were never going to touch wine
or whisky again. What did that horrid old man give you?"

"A stone fence. That's what he said it was anyway."

"It's a new one on me," commented Rob.

"There was a new toast went with it. He drank to 'over the moon.'"

"You must have gone there all right and taken all the shine from the
moon-man," said Rob.

"Lucien," asked Beth, "did you really go to that haunted house?"

Again I was moved to eloquence, and I told of the farmer's yearning,
the fulfillment, the beckoning hand and the beating of the retreat at
length.

"Are you sure," asked Rob, "that you didn't take that stone fence
before you visited the haunted house?"

"I know," I replied, loftily, "that a lawyer's word is worthless, but
seeing is believing. We will all visit the haunted house tomorrow
night and I'll make good on ghosts."

This plan was unanimously approved, and then Silvia suggested that she
thought I had better go to bed. I had no particular objection to doing
so.

"Lucien," she said solemnly, when we were alone, "I want you to
promise me something. I want you to give me your word that you will
never take another stone wall."

I did this most readily.



CHAPTER IX

_In Which We See Ghosts_


The next morning Rob tried earnestly and vainly to drive a wedge in
Beth's good graces, but she treated him with a casual tolerance that
finally put him in an ill humor which he took out on me with many a
gibe at my "stone fence spirit."

Men of my profession who have to deal with facts rather than fancy are
not believers in the supernatural. I was sure that the extending arm
and the beckoning finger were there, but belonged to no ghost. It
might have been a curtain blowing out the window or a fake of some
kind. But I knew that unless there was some kind of a showing in a
ghostly way that night, I should never hear the last of my stone fence
indulgence, so I resolved to make a preliminary visit alone by
daylight and rig up something white to substantiate my spectral
narrative.

I didn't find an opportunity to escape unseen until late in the
afternoon, when I went, ostensibly, for a solitary row on the lake.

I landed and came by a circuitous route to the haunted house. The calm
security of sunshine, of course, prevented any shivers of anticipation
such as I had experienced the night before. On passing one of the
windows on my way to the front entrance, I glanced in, stopped in
sheer fright, stooped and backed to the next window, which was
screened by a labyrinth of vines through which I peered. I am sure I
lost my Bloom of Youth complexion for a few moments. I babbled
aimlessly to myself and then managed to pull together and beat it to
the lake with as much speed as my farmer friend had shown in his
retreat. I made the boat and the hotel in double quick time.

[Illustration: I babbled aimlessly to myself and then managed to pull
together and beat it to the lake]

I felt no misgivings now as to the promise of a sensation that night,
and that sustaining thought was all that propped my flagging spirits
throughout the day, but I resolved to keep my little party at safe
distance from the house.

"Say we keep our nocturnal noctambulation under our hats," proposed
Rob.

When this proposition was translated to Silvia, she entirely approved,
so, committing Diogenes to the Polydores' Providence, we left the
hotel at half past eleven for a row on the lake by moonlight.

When we descended the slope leading to the House of Mystery, I
cautioned silence and a "safety-first" distance.

"Ghosts are easily vanished," I informed them. "They don't seek
limelight, and I want you to be sure to see this one."

As we came to the untrodden undergrowth we heard a weird, wailing
sound that would have curdled my blood had I not glanced in the window
that afternoon and so, in a measure, been prepared for this--or
anything.

"Look!" whispered Beth. "The arm!"

Silvia looked at the roof window and with a stifled shriek of terror
turned and fled up the hill, Rob chivalrously pursuing her.

Beth was pale, but game.

"What can it be, Lucien?" she whispered. "Do we dare go in to see?"

"I wouldn't, Beth," I vetoed quickly. "Maybe some lunatic or
half-witted person has taken up abode here."

"Lucien!" called Rob peremptorily.

I turned quickly. He was at the top of the hill, half supporting
Silvia. I ran toward them, followed by Beth.

"It isn't a ghost, of course, Silvia," I said soothingly, and then
repeated my supposition about the lunatic.

"Of course I don't believe in ghosts," said Silvia shudderingly, "but
it's an awful place and those sounds are like those I have heard in
nightmares."

"We'll hurry back to the hotel and forget all about it," I urged.

I rowed the boat and Silvia sat opposite me. Beth and Rob were in the
stern and I had to listen to their conversation.

"Of course I felt a little creepy," she admitted, "but then I like to
feel that way, and I wasn't afraid."

"No, of course, you wouldn't be," he replied somewhat ironically.
"You're the new woman type."

"No, I am not," she denied. "I wish I were. Silvia's really the
strong-minded type."

"She didn't act the part when she saw the ghost," he retorted.

"It's very unusual for her nerves to give way. Silvia's quite a
surprise to me this summer, but I think those funny Polydores have
upset her more than Lucien realizes."

I wondered if she were right, and once again murderous wishes toward
the Polydores entered my brain, and I made renewed vows about
disposing of them on our return home.

One thing, however, had been accomplished by our expedition. Silvia
was more lenient in her judgment on my indulgences of the preceding
night.

By the time we pulled in at the landing, Silvia had recovered her
equilibrium.

"Lucien, what the devil do you suppose was in that house?" asked Rob,
when we were putting up the boat.

"Loons and things," I allowed.

"But what was that white arm?"

"Some fake thing the village wag has put up to scare the natives."

Next morning's stage brought some new arrivals, and among them were
two college students who at once were claimed by Beth. She played
tennis with one and later went rowing with the other. Rob smoked and
sulked, apart.

My farmer friend had been garrulous and rumors of the ghost and the
haunted house had come to the ears of the hotel inmates, thereby
causing a pleasurable stir of excitement. A number of them announced
their intention of visiting the place. They asked me to be their
guide, but I refused.

"It was interesting," I said, "but I think it would be a bore to see
the same ghost twice."

"I am sure I don't care to go again," was Silvia's emphatic reply
when asked to be one of the party.

"Ghosts are scientifically admitted and explained," growled Rob, "so I
don't see anything to be excited about."

Beth accepted the offer of escort of one of the students, so Silvia,
Rob, and I remained at home. The night was quite cool, and we played
cards in our room. When the party returned, Beth joined us. She looked
rather out of sorts.

"Oh, yes," she replied in answer to Silvia's eager inquiry. "We saw
the ghost. I don't know whether it was the same little old last
night's ghost or a new one. He showed more of himself this time
though. He had two arms and a veiled head out of the window. As soon
as our crowd glimpsed it, they all fled quicker than we did last
night. Those two students fell all over each other and left me in the
lurch."

"What could you expect," asked Rob, "from such ladylike things? They
ought to be kept in the confines of the croquet ground. If they are a
fair specimen of the kind you have met, no wonder you--"

[Illustration: The landlady intears waylaid me]

He stopped abruptly.

"No wonder what?" she asked quickly.

"Nothing," he replied glumly.

When I came down to breakfast the next morning, the landlady in tears
waylaid me.

"Oh, Mr. Wade," she began in trouble-telling tone, "this affair about
the ghost is going to hurt my business. Some of those folks say they
are going home, and they will tell others and--"

"I'll fix the ghost story. Just leave it to me!" I assured her
optimistically, as we went into the dining-room.

There were only enough guests to fill one long table, and every one
was excitedly dissecting the ghost.

I took my seat and also the floor.

"I hate to dispel your illusions," I said cheerfully, "but the fact
is, I made a daylight investigation of the haunted house. First I
looked in the window and I saw--"

"Oh, what did you see?" chorused a dozen or more expectant voices.

"A lot of--mice."

"Oh!" came in disappointed and skeptical tones.

"But, the ghost, Mr. Wade?"

"Yes! The arms and the head?"

"A fake figure put up by some practical joker for the purpose of
frightening timid people and encouraging the credulous. I didn't want
to spoil your little picnic, so I kept still."

"Those sounds, Lucien!" reminded Silvia.

"Were from a cat chorus. They were prowling about the house."

"You're sure some lawyer, Mr. Wade," doubtfully complimented my
grateful landlady, as we went out of the room after breakfast.

"Lucien," asked Rob _sotto voce_, joining me on the veranda, "why
don't the cats you speak of catch that lot of mice?"

Fortunately Beth came up to us, and I didn't have to explain.

"Oh!" she said with a shudder. "I'll never go near that awful place!
I'd rather see a perfectly good ghost, or a loon, or a lunatic any day
than a mouse."

"You're surely not afraid of a mouse!" exclaimed Rob.

"Why not?" she asked coolly as she walked on.

"I told you she was feminine," I reminded him.

He shook his head.

"I can't understand," he remarked, "why a girl who is afraid of mice
should be--"

"You don't understand anything about women," I interrupted.

"You're right, Lucien. I don't, but your sister is surely the greatest
enigma of them all."

I rented the stone fence farmer's "autoo" and took Silvia and
Diogenes to a neighboring town that afternoon. We didn't get back to
the hotel until dinner time.

"What have you been up to all day, Rob?" I asked.

"Numerous things. For one, I strolled down to the haunted house."

"What did you see?" cried the women.

"I saw four--"

"Ghosts?" asked Beth.

I shot him a warning glance.

"Young tomcats playing tag with the mice."

I corralled Rob outside after dinner.

"For Heaven's sake!" I implored. "Don't disturb Silvia's peace of
mind. Did you go inside?"

"No; I was sorely tempted to, but refrained out of deference to the
evident wishes of my host, but really, Lucien, we should--"

"I have only ten more days off, Rob. Don't make any unpleasant
suggestions."

"I won't," he said promptly.



CHAPTER X

_In Which We Make Some Discoveries_


Diogenes, who, for a Polydore, had been quite placid since Ptolemy's
departure, caused a commotion by disappearing the next morning. As he
was possessed of a deep desire to go in the lake and get a little
snake, he had been, when not under strict surveillance, tied to a tree
with enough leeway in the length of rope to allow him to play
comfortably.

By some means he had managed to work himself loose from the rope and
had evidently followed Ptolemy's example. I suggested calling up
Huldah and asking if he had arrived yet, but I met with such chilling
glances from Silvia and Beth that I got busy and organized searching
parties, who reluctantly and lukewarmly engaged in the pursuit. Rob
and I took the shore. After we had walked some little distance, we met
a woman and stopped for inquiry. She said she had seen a child of
about two years, clad in a blue and white striped dress and a big hat,
going over the hill in company with a boy of about eight.

"Are you going on to the hotel?" I asked.

On her replying that she was, I told her to inform them that she had
met me and that the lost child was located.

Rob and I then kept on over the hill, and when we neared the haunted
house, we heard hair-raising sounds.

"If I hadn't been here before," remarked Rob, "I should think that
Sitting Bull had been reincarnated and was reviving the warrior war
whoops."

We paused on the threshold. A human windmill of whirling legs and
arms--Polydore legs and arms--flashed before our eyes.

"Stop!" I thundered.

The flying wheel of arms and legs slacked, ran a few times, then
slowly stopped, and the Polydore quintette assumed normal positions.

"Halloa, stepdaddy!"

A landslide composed of Emerald, Pythagoras, and Demetrius started
toward me. I side-stepped and let Rob receive the charge.

"Line them up now, for attention," I directed Ptolemy. "I have
something to say to you all."

Ptolemy knocked the three terrors up against the wall, and I picked up
Diogenes, who had a bump as big as an egg on his head.

"I told you," said Ptolemy to Pythagoras, "that if you brought Di down
here they'd get on our trail. He wanted to see Di," he explained, "so
he sneaked over there and got him."

"We were wise before today," I informed him. "I saw you all day before
yesterday."

"And I discovered you yesterday," added Rob.

Ptolemy looked rather crestfallen, and then, seeming to consider that
my discovery had been succeeded by inaction, which must mean
non-interference, he heartened up.

"Now," I demanded, "I want you to begin at the time you left the hotel
and tell me everything and why you did it."

"I wasn't having any fun after you two went off camping," he began
lugubriously. "I couldn't hang around women folks all the time. I
wanted boys to play with."

I saw a gleam of sympathy and understanding come into Rob's eyes.

"A harem of hens," he muttered.

"I knew we could all have a grand time here and not be a bother to
mudder, or Huldah or anyone, and it seemed too bad for this nice house
to be empty, and no one anywhere else wanting us."

I felt my first gleam of pity for a Polydore and wiped Diogenes'
dirty, moist face carefully with my handkerchief.

"So I went home and told Huldah I had come after the boys to take them
back with me."

"And told her we had sent for them?" I asked sharply.

He flushed slightly at my tone.

"No; I didn't tell her so. She got that idea herself, and I didn't
tell her different."

"When did you come?"

"I came the same night that you telephoned, and took the train you and
mudder came on. We got to Windy Creek in the morning. We fetched all
our stuff here from home. I bought it."

"Right here," I said, "tell me where you got the money to buy your
stuff and to pay your fare here."

"I cashed father's check."

"I didn't know he left you one."

"He didn't, except the one he gave me to give you for our board. You
told mudder you wouldn't touch it, and it seemed a pity not to have it
working."

Visions of a future Polydore doing the chain and ball step flashed
before my vision.

"And they cashed it for you at the bank?"

"Sure. Father always has me cash his checks for him."

"What amount did you fill in?" I asked enviously.

"One hundred dollars. There's a lot more in the bank, too."

"How did you get your truck here from Windy Creek?" asked Rob.

"We divided it up and each took a bunch and started on foot, and some
people in an automobile, going to the town past here, took us in and
brought us as far as the lane. We've been having a fine time."

"What doing?" asked Rob interestedly.

"Fishing, sailing on a raft, playing in the woods all day and--"

"Playing ghost at night," said Pythagoras with a grin.

"Who made that ghost in the window?" I demanded.

"I did. I rigged up an arm and put it out the window the afternoon I
left, hoping Beth would come down and see it, but we've got a jim
dandy one now."

"That was quite a shapely arm," said Rob. "Where did you learn
sculpturing?"

"Oh, I rigged it up," he said casually.

"What did you bring in the way of supplies?"

"Bacon, crackers, beans, candy, popcorn, gum, peanuts, pickles,
candles, matches, and butter," was the glib inventory.

"You may stay here," I said, "until we go home, but you are not to
stir away from the woods about here and not on any account to come
near the hotel, or let it be known that you are here. And you are to
end this ghost business right off. Now, Di, we'll go home to mudder."

"No!" bawled Di. "Stay with boys. Mudder come here."

At least this was Ptolemy's interpretation of his protest.

I threatened, Rob coaxed, and Ptolemy cuffed, but every time I started
to leave and jerk him after me, he uttered such demoniac yells I was
forced to stop.

"Wish it was night," said Emerald regretfully. "Wouldn't he scare
folks though! How does he get his voice up so high?"

"Poor little Di!" said a voice commiseratingly from the doorway. "Was
Ocean plaguing him?"

Beth gathered the child in her arms, and his howls changed to sobs.
Rob stood petrified with amazement at her appearance.

"Don't want to go," said Diogenes between gulps.

"Needn't go!" promised Beth. "Stay here with me, and we'll have dinner
with the boys and then we'll go home and get some ice cream."

"All yite," agreed the appeased Polydore.

"May Lucien and I stay to dinner, too?" asked Rob humbly.

"No," she replied icily.

"But, Beth," I remonstrated. "Silvia will be worrying about Di. How
can we explain?"

"Silvia has gone to Windy Creek for the day. You see, I met that woman
you sent to the hotel, and she told me she saw Di going over the hill
with a boy, and I suddenly seemed to smell one of your mice, so I sent
the woman on her way, and told Silvia you and Rob had found Diogenes.
Just then some people she knew came along in a car and asked her to go
to Windy Creek. I made her go and told her I'd look after Di."

"You're a brick, Beth!" applauded Ptolemy.

"If you boys will be very careful and not let anyone besides us know
you are here, so mudder will not hear of it, for though she'd like to
see you"--this without a flicker or flinch--"we want her to have a
nice rest. I'll come over every day except tomorrow and bring things
from the hotel store, and bake up cookies and cake for you."

A yell of approval went up.

"Why can't you come tomorrow?" asked the greedy Demetrius.

"Because I've promised to go to the other end of the lake on a picnic.
All the people at the hotel are going."

"I'll come tomorrow and spend the whole day with you," promised Rob.
"We'll have a ride in the sailboat and do all sorts of things."

"Why, aren't you going on that infernal picnic?" I asked.

"No; I'll have all the picnic I want over here. Like Ptolemy I feel
that I want to play with some of my own kind."

Beth looked at him approvingly; then she said a little sarcastically:

"Maybe you'll change your mind--about going on the picnic, I
mean--when you see the new girl who just came to the hotel on the
morning stage. She's a blonde, and not peroxided, either."

"That would certainly drive him down here, or anywhere," I laughed.

"Oh, don't you like blondes?" she asked innocently.

"He doesn't like--" I began, but Ptolemy rudely interrupted with an
elaborate description of a new kind of fishing tackle he had bought.

Then Beth bade Pythagoras build a fire in the cook-stove while she
set the room to rights.

"We'll eat out of doors," she said, "I think it would be more
appetizing."

"How did you get here?" Rob asked her as we were leaving.

"I rowed over."

"May I come over and row you back?" he asked pleadingly.

She hesitated, and then, realizing that she could scarcely manage a
boat and Diogenes at the same time, assented, bidding him not come,
however, until five o'clock.

"She'll have enough of the Polydores by that time," I said to Rob on
our way home.

"Do you know," he said reflectively, "I like Ptolemy. There's the
making of a man in him, if he has only half a chance. I didn't suppose
your sister understood children so well or was so fond of them. She
looked quite the little housewife, too."

"You'd discover a lot of things you don't know, if you'd cultivate the
society of women," I informed him.



CHAPTER XI

_A Bad Means to a Good End_


When we were setting out on the proposed picnic the next day, Rob made
himself extremely unpopular by announcing his intention to spend the
day otherwise. The new blonde girl gave him fetching glances of
entreaty which he never even saw. He made another sensation by
proposing to keep Diogenes with him. To Silvia's surprise, Diogenes
voiced his delight and chattered away, I suppose, about playing with
the boys, but fortunately no one understood him.

"Won't you change your mind and come, too?" he asked Beth.

She seemed on the point of accepting and then firmly declined.

When we returned at six o'clock, Rob and Diogenes were awaiting us.
There was something in Rob's eyes I had not seen there before. He had
the look of one in love with life.

"Did you have a nice time playing solitaire?" asked Silvia.

"I had a very nice time," he replied with a subtle smile, "but I
didn't play solitaire. You know I had Diogenes."

"Diogenes apparently had a good time, too," said Silvia, looking at
the child, who was certainly a wreck in the way of garments. "What did
you do all day, Rob?"

"We went out on the water, played games, and had a picnic dinner
outdoors."

"You had huckleberry pie for one thing," she observed, with a glance
at Diogenes' dress, "and jelly for another, and--"

"Chicken, baked potatoes, milk, cake, and ice cream," he finished.

"Where did you get ice cream?" she asked.

"I went down to a dairy farm and got a gallon."

"A gallon!" she exclaimed. "For you and Diogenes?"

"We didn't eat it all," he said guardedly. "I gave what we didn't eat
to some stray boys."

"I hope Di won't be ill."

"He won't," asserted Rob. "I am sure he is made of cast iron."

Throughout dinner Rob remained in high spirits. He kept eyeing Beth in
a way that disconcerted her, and then suddenly he would smile with the
expression of one who knows something funny, but intends to keep it a
secret.

Presently Silvia left us and went upstairs to give Diogenes a bath
before she put him to bed.

"You've had two days' freedom from the last of the Polydores," I
called after her. "Doesn't it seem delightful?"

"Lucien," she answered slowly, "I've really missed the care of him. I
was lonesome for him all day."

"He isn't such a bad little kid when he is out from Polydore
environment," I admitted, regretting that he had been restored to it.

"Now tell us all about your day with the boys," Beth asked Rob, when
we were left alone. "It really does seem too bad to keep a secret from
Silvia, and yet it is a case of where ignorance is bliss--"

"It would be folly to be otherwise," finished Rob. "Well, Diogenes and
I left here with a boat load of supplies in the way of provender and
things for the boys. I had to tie Diogenes in the boat, of course, so
he would not try some aquatic feat. He objected and yelled like a
fiend all the way. I was glad there was no one at the hotel to come
out and arrest me for cruelty to children. Of course before we landed,
his cries were heard by his brothers and they were all at the water's
edge. They made mulepacks of themselves and transferred the commissary
supplies. The ice cream and bats and balls which I found at the store
made quite a hit.

"We played baseball, fished, and had a spread on the shore. Then
Ptolemy and I rowed out to where the sailboat was. I explained the
mysteries of the jib and he caught on instantly. We took in the other
Polydores and sailed for a couple of hours. Then we all went in
swimming."

"Not Diogenes!"

"Certainly. I tucked him under my arm and he seemed perfectly at home,
although greatly disappointed because we didn't succeed in catching a
snake.

"I finally landed them all safely under the roof of the Haunted House,
and Ptolemy assured me it was the best day of his young life. In
appreciation of the diversions I had afforded him, he made a
confession which proved such good news to me that I was a lenient
listener and exacted no penalty."

"What was it?" I asked.

"He told me that on the day of Miss Wade's and my arrival at your
house, he had made a misstatement to each of us and had not repeated
to us accurately what he had overheard you telling Silvia when he was
on the porch roof. Miss Wade, what did he tell you about me?"

"He said that Lucien said that your only failing was that you were
daffy over women and made love to every one you saw."

"Oh, Beth!" I cried, light bursting in, "and you believed that little
wretch?"

"I did."

"Then that is why you have been so--"

"Yes--so--" repeated Rob grimly.

"Well, I never did have any use for a man-flirt, and I was awfully
disappointed, for I had thought from what Rob said that you were a
man's man."

"And then, of course, when for the first time in my life I began being
interested in a woman--in you--I played right into that little scamp's
hands."

"He is a man's man, Beth," I said warmly. "What Ptolemy heard me say
was that Rob was a woman-hater."

"I am not!" declared Rob indignantly--"just a woman-shyer, but I
haven't finished with Ptolemy's confession. I wonder, now, if either
of you can guess what he told me was Miss Wade's characteristic."

"I don't dare guess," laughed Beth.

"What I did say about Beth was that she was a born flirt."

"I am not!" protested my sister, in resentment.

"I should prefer that appellation to the one he gave you. He said you
were strong-minded and a man-hater."

Even Beth saw the irony of this.

"I asked him," continued Rob, "what his motive was, and he said
'Stepdaddy didn't want Beth to know about the man-hater business,' so
he took that means of throwing you off the track.

"I took the occasion to talk to him like a Dutch uncle, though I don't
know exactly what that is. I think it was the first time anything but
brute force had been tried on him. I must have touched some little
flicker of the right thing in him, for he was really contrite and
seemed to sense a different angle of vision when I explained to him
what havoc could be worked by the misinformation of meddlers. He
promised me he'd try to overcome his tendency to start things going
wrong."

I made no comment, but it occurred to me that Ptolemy was a shrewd
little fellow, and that there had been wisdom back of his strategic
speeches to Beth and Rob, for he had taken the one sure course to make
them both "take notice."

"So, Beth," said Rob, and her name seemed to come quite handily to
him, "can't we cut out the past ten days and begin our acquaintance
right?"

"I think we can," she answered.

"I had better go upstairs," I suggested, "and tell Silvia that
Diogenes doesn't need a bath, seeing he has been in swimming."

Neither of them urged me to remain, so I went up to our room and found
Silvia tucking Diogenes under cover.

"What did you come up for?" she asked. "I was just coming down to join
you."

"Beth is treating Rob so--differently, that I thought it well to
retreat."

"I am so glad! Whatever came over the spirit of her dreams?"

"They've just discovered in the course of conversation that Ptolemy as
usual crossed the wires and told Beth Rob was a flirt, and then
informed Rob that Beth was strong-minded and a man-hater."

"Oh, the little imp!" she exclaimed indignantly.

"I don't know. It worked, anyway, so Ptolemy was the bad means to a
good end."

"How did they ever happen to discover what he had done?"

"They caught on from something Rob said," I told her, feeling again
guilty at keeping my first secret from her.

"It will be a fine match for Beth," said Silvia. "Rob is such a
splendid man, and then he has plenty of money. He can give her
anything she wants."

I winced. I think Silvia must have been conscious of it, even though
the room was dark, for she came to me quickly.

"I wish I could give you--everything--anything--you want, Silvia."

"You have, Lucien. The things that no money could buy--love and
protection."

Well, maybe I had. I had surely given her protection from the
Polydores, though she didn't know to what extent.

"I am going to give you more material things, though, Silvia. When we
go home, I shall start to work in earnest and see if I can't get
enough ahead to make a good investment I know of."

"I'd rather do without the necessities even, Lucien, than to have you
work any harder than you have been doing. We must let well enough
alone."



CHAPTER XII

"_Too Much Polydores_"


The next morning at breakfast, Beth announced that she and Rob were
going to spend the day camping in the woods.

Silvia and I tried not to look significantly at each other, but Beth
was very keen.

"We will take Diogenes with us," she instantly added.

"Oh, no!" protested Silvia. "He'll be such a bother. And then he can't
walk very far, you know."

"He'll be no bother," persisted Beth. "And we'll borrow the little
cart to draw him in."

"Yes," acquiesced Rob. "We sure want Diogenes with us."

"I'll have them put up a lunch for you," proposed Silvia.

"No," Rob objected. "We are going to forage and cook over a fire in
the woods."

"Then," I proposed to Silvia with alacrity, "we'll have our first day
alone together--the first we have had since the Polydores came into
our lives. I'll rent the 'autoo' again, and we will go through the
country and dine at some little wayside inn."

"Get the 'autoo', now, Lucien," advised Beth privately, "and make an
early start, so Rob and I can take supplies from the store without
arousing Silvia's suspicions."

"I don't believe," said Silvia disappointedly, when we were "autooing"
on our way, "that they are in love after all, or that he has
proposed, or that he is going to."

"Where did you draw all those pessimistic inferences from?" I asked.

"From their both being so keen to take Diogenes with them."

"Diogenes would be no barrier to their love-making," I told her. "He
couldn't repeat what they said; at least, not so anyone could
understand him."

Many miles away we came upon a picturesque little old-time tavern
where we had an appetizing dinner, and then continued on our aimless
way. It was nearly ten o'clock when we returned to the hotel, where
the owner of the "autoo" was waiting.

Rob came down the roadway.

"Where's Beth?" asked Silvia.

"She has gone to bed. The day in the open made her sleepy."

When Silvia had left us, the old farmer said with a chuckle: "I can't
offer you another swig of stone fence."

"It's probably just as well you can't," I replied.

"I'd like to be introduced to one," said Rob, who appeared to be
somewhat downcast. "I sure need a bracer."

"What's the matter, Rob?" I asked when we were lighting our pipes. "A
strenuous day? Two in rapid 'concussion' with the Polydores must be
nerve-racking."

"Yes; I admit there seemed to be 'too much Polydores.' We all had a
happy reunion, and I devoted the forenoon to the entertainment of the
famous family so I could be entitled to the afternoon off to spend
with Beth. At noon we built a fire and cooked a sumptuous dinner. Beth
baked up some things to keep them supplied a couple of days longer.
After dinner I asked her to go for a row. She insisted on taking
Diogenes along, and the others all followed us on a raft. So I decided
to cut the water sports short, and Beth and I started for a walk in
the woods. Three or more were constantly right on our trail. I begged
and bribed, but to no avail. They were sticktights all right, and," he
added morosely, "she seemed covertly to aid and abet them. When we
started for home, I found that the young fiends had broken the cart,
so I had to carry Diogenes most of the way, and of course he bellowed
as usual at being parted from the whelps."

[Illustration: I had to carry Diogenes most of the way]

"They aren't such 'fine little chaps' after all," I couldn't resist
commenting. "Familiarity breeds contempt, you see. I am sorry Diogenes
had so much of their society. He'll be unendurable tomorrow. Well, you
had some day!"

"So did the Polydores. Demetrius and Diogenes fell in the fire twice.
Emerald threw a finger out of joint, but Ptolemy quickly jerked it
into place. Pythagoras was kicked off the raft twice, following a
mutiny. Demetrius threw a lighted match into the vines and set fire to
the house. They said it was a 'beaut of a day', though, and urged us
to come tomorrow and repeat the program. By the way, they went across
the lake on their raft yesterday and bought a tent of some campers.
They have pitched it in the woods beyond the house."

When I went upstairs Silvia met me disconsolately.

"He didn't propose," she said disappointedly. "She wouldn't let him."

"Did you wake her up to find out?" I asked.

"She hadn't gone to bed and she wasn't sleepy. She was trimming a
hat."

"Why wouldn't she let him propose, if she cares for him?" I asked
perplexedly.

"Well, you see," explained Silvia, "that when a girl--a coquette girl
like Beth--is as sure of a man as she is of Rob, she gets a touch of
contrariness or offishness or something. She said it would have been
too prosaic and cut and dried if they had gone away for a day in the
woods and come back engaged. She wants the unexpected."

"Do you think she loves him?" I asked interestedly.

"She doesn't say so. You can't tell from what she says anyway. Still,
I think she is hovering around the danger point."

"She'd better watch out. Rob isn't the kind of a man who will stand
for too much thwarting," I replied.

"If he'd only play up a little bit to some one else, it would bring
things to a climax," said my wife sagely.

"There's no one else to play up to. The blonde left today because it
was so slow here."

"Maybe some new girl will come tomorrow," said Silvia, "or there's
that trim little waitress who is waiting her way through college. He
gave her a good big tip yesterday. I think I will give him a hint."

"It wouldn't help any. He wouldn't know how to play such a game if you
could persuade him to try. He'd probably tell the girl his motive in
being attentive to her and then she'd back out. Maybe, after all, Beth
doesn't love him."

"I think she does," replied my wife, "because she is getting
absent-minded. She let Diogenes go too near the fire. His shoes are
burned, his hair singed, and his dress scorched. He woke up when I
came in and he was so cross. He acted just the way he does when he is
with his brothers."



CHAPTER XIII

_Rob's Friend the Reporter_


Silvia's vague prophecy was fulfilled. When the event of the day, the
arrival of the stage, occurred, a solitary passenger alighted, a slim,
alert, city-cut young woman.

She looked us all over--not boldly, but with a business-like
directness as if she were taking inventory of stock, or acting as
judge at a competition. When her blue eyes lighted on Rob, they
darkened with pleasure.

"Oh, Mr. Rossiter!" she exclaimed, "this is better than I hoped for."

They shook hands with the air of being old acquaintances, and he
introduced her to us as "Miss Frayne, from my home town."

She went into the office, registered, and sent her bag to her room.
Then she asked Rob if she might have a talk with him.

They walked away together down to the shore and she was talking to him
quite excitedly. Rob suddenly stopped, threw back his head and laughed
in the way that it is good to hear a man laugh.

"Miss Frayne must be a wit," observed Beth dryly.

I looked at her keenly. Something in her eyes as she gazed after the
retreating couple told me that Silvia's surmise was right, and that
Miss Frayne might be just the little punch needed to send Beth over
the danger point.

"I rather incline to the belief that Ptolemy told the truth in the
first place," she continued, and then looked disappointed because I
did not contradict her.

I decided not to reveal, for the present anyway, what I knew of Miss
Frayne, of whom I had often heard Rob speak.

"She can't be going to stay long," said Silvia hopefully. "She didn't
bring a trunk."

"She doesn't need one," replied Beth. "She is probably one of those
mannish girls who believe in a skirt and a few waists for a
wardrobe."

When Rob and the newcomer returned, he seemed to be monopolizing the
conversation in a very emphatic and earnest manner. As they came up
the steps to the veranda, we heard her say:

"Very well, Mr. Rossiter, I will do just as you say. I have perfect
confidence in your judgment."

They passed on into the hotel and Beth jumped up and went down toward
the lake.

"Did you ever hear Rob speak of this Miss Frayne?" asked Silvia.

"Often. She is engaged to his cousin, and is a reporter on a big
newspaper."

"Why didn't you say so? Oh, Lucien," she continued before I could
speak, "were you really shrewd enough to see which way the wind was
blowing?"

"Sure. After you set my sails for me last night."

Just then Rob came out of the hotel.

"Say, Lucien, I want to see you a minute. Come on down the road."

"We've got some work ahead," he said when we were out of Silvia's
hearing.

"What's up?" I asked.

"Miss Frayne is up--and doing. What do you suppose her paper sent her
here for?"

"For a rest, or to write up the mosquitoes of H. H."

"H. H. is all right, only it happens they stand for Haunted House."

"Not really?"

"Yes, really. The rumors of the house and the ghost, greatly
elaborated, of course, reached the Sunday editor of the paper Miss
Frayne is on, and he sent her up here to revive the story of the
murder, translate the ghost, and get snapshots of the house. She was
quite keen to have me take her there at once, so she could commence
her article, but I headed her off, so she wouldn't discover the summer
boarders at the hotel annex. I assured her that daytime was not the
time to gather material and the only way she could get a proper focus
on the ghost and acquire the thrills necessary for an inspiration was
to see the place first by night."

"If she would view Fair Melrose aright," I quoted, "she must visit it
in the pale moonlight, but you were very clever to delay her visit
long enough for us to get over there and warn the enemy. If she had
gone down there and caught the Polydores unawares, she would have come
back here and revealed our secret, and there would be the end of
Silvia's vacation."

"To tell the truth, Lucien, I wasn't thinking so much of that as I was
of Miss Frayne's interests. You see she has come a long ways for a
story and if it collapsed from her ghostly expectations to a showdown
of four healthy boys, the blow might mean a good deal to her in a
business way. I think we had better let Ptolemy plant a ghost just
once more for her. You know you made him take a reef in the flapping
of ghostly garments. Can't we resurrect the specter and restore the
wails just for tonight, and bring her over here at the witching
hour?"

"Sure we will," I agreed heartily. "She shall have her ghost and all
the trappings. It will give the Polydores the time of their lives."

"Let's go over there now and put Ptolemy next so he can get busy on
his spirits." We went down to the shore and pulled off. Midway across
the lake, Rob suddenly rested on his oars and asked:

"Where did Beth go?"

"Back to first principles," I replied. "She thinks, judging from your
excited, earnest manner in addressing Miss Frayne and your rushing
frantically away for a walk with her before she had removed the travel
dust, that Ptolemy was quite correct, after all, in declaring you to
be a 'ladies' man.'"

"Didn't you explain to her who Miss Frayne was?" he asked.

"No," I replied. "I am on my vacation and I am not doing any
explaining, professionally or otherwise."

He swung the boat around.

"Starboard!" I cried. "Don't you know a trump card when you see it?"

Again he rested on his oars and stared at me.

"What do you mean, Lucien? If you have a grain of hope for me, please
let me in."

I repeated Silvia's theories.

"I am not going to win her that way," he said slowly, "not by playing
a part."

"Well," I declared, "if you go back to the hotel now, you can't
explain Miss Frayne to Beth, because she went for a walk with old
Professor Treadtop."

He turned the boat again.

"Silvia won't come to the Haunted House, will she?" he asked.

"No, indeed. Nothing would induce her to."

"Then you bring Miss Frayne here tonight and I'll bring Beth. And I'll
be sure that there are no double boats lying around loose. I'll have
two at the dock, see?"

"I see your system," I replied, "but I am not sure how I can explain
Miss Frayne to Silvia. Silvia is not in the least narrow-minded, but
still to leave the hotel at midnight with a perfectly strange young
woman--"

"You can tell her I want a clear field for Beth. She will see it is in
a good cause."

The Polydores greeted us rapturously and roughly. When I had restored
order, and they were once more right side up, I addressed the chief of
the bandits.

"Ptolemy," I began, "a young lady, who is a reporter for a big
newspaper, has come from many miles away to write up the haunted house
and the ghost, and they will be pictured out in the Sunday edition."

Ptolemy's eyes glistened, and "Them Three" were instantly "at
attention."

"Oh, say, stepdaddy," begged the young chief, "let me play ghost right
for her, just once, will you?"

"You may for tonight," I said, "but you will have to be very careful
and not overdo the matter, for she isn't the kind that is easily
fooled. She's had to keep her eyes and wits sharpened, else she
wouldn't be on a newspaper, so I want you to be very careful and not
bungle. Make a neat job of it."

"I'll do it up brown, you bet!" he cried gleefully.

"Naw, do it up white," drawled Pythagoras.

"Show me your ghost stuff by daylight," I demanded, "and let me see
how you are going to rig him up."

He brought forth a head and shoulders and arms that were ghastly even
in sunlight, and proceeded to explain them.

"I got this skull out of father's study, and the arms came off a
skeleton mother had in her antiquities. I dressed them up in a pillow
case and the white cotton gloves are Huldah's. I can get some
phosphorus in the woods and put it in the eyes. And Demetrius bought
two electric flashlights yesterday, and Pythagoras can snap them once
in a while from the lower windows."

"You are some little property man," said Rob in admiration. "But tell
me who produces those heart-rending shrieks?"

"That was Pythagoras who did the high ones. And Em came in with low
groans. Show 'em, boys."

Pythagoras uttered high-trebled, thin-toned whines and ever and anon
Emerald added a _basso profundo_ accompaniment, making a combination
that was most trying to the ears at close range.

"I don't know," said Rob, "as I want Beth subjected to such a
realistic performance. We will loiter in the distance."

"Your rehearsal," I assured Ptolemy, "is very good, but you must
remember that Miss Frayne is used to encountering things far more
terrible than ghosts. She may insist on coming right in here to
investigate. Of course, if she does, I can't refuse or she'll think I
am afraid, or else that I put up a fake ghost here, myself."

"We'll lock the door with a chair," suggested Emerald.

"She'll be quite capable of breaking into a little house like this,
but I'll keep her back until you have time to haul in your ghost and
make a quick and quiet getaway by a back window. Then another thing,
she'll be over here tomorrow morning to take some pictures of the
house, so by sunrise I want you all to take up your abode in the tent
you have in the woods and stay there until I come and tell you the
coast is clear."

"We're dead on," assured Ptolemy. "I'm glad there's going to be
something doing. We're getting tired of being here alone. I had to tie
Demetrius up this morning. He was bound to go over to the hotel and
see mudder."

"Don't one of you dare to make such an attempt," I said peremptorily.
"You keep right on here for a few days. Some of us, either Rob, or
Beth and I will drop over every day. If you play your ghost just as I
tell you and keep out of sight, I'll bring you over some ice cream
tomorrow."

"Bring me a bigger bat."

"Bring me a mitt."

"Bring me a boat," came in chorus from Ptolemy, Emerald, and
Demetrius.

"What'll you give me to stay here?" asked Pythagoras, who was a born
bargain-driver.

"I'll give you a licking if you don't stay," was the only offer he
gleaned from me.

"Be good boys," adjured the softhearted Rob, "and I'll bring you
everything I can find at the hotel."

It was long past the luncheon hour when we returned. We found Miss
Frayne wondering at Rob's sudden disappearance and Beth was
accordingly mystified.

I planted myself directly in front of Miss Frayne.

"May I take you to the haunted house tonight at the yawning
churchyard hour?" I asked. "I am most eminently fitted to be your
guide, for I was the first one of this assembly to see the ghost _in
toto_."

"He saw it over a stone fence," remarked Rob.

"Indeed you may, thank you very much," she said enthusiastically.

Silvia's face was a study.

"And will you come with me, Beth?" asked Rob. "Of course, the ghost is
an old story to us, but we really should hover in Lucien's wake out of
regard to the conventions."

"Is Miss Frayne interested in ghosts?" asked Beth.

Miss Frayne turned and answered the question.

"Not personally," she admitted frankly, "but the newspaper I am on is,
and they sent me up here to get a story."

"Oh, you are a reporter?"

"Yes; on the _Times_."

"She won't be one long, though," asserted Rob cheerfully, "because she
is going to marry my cousin in the fall."

Beth's expression remained neutral at the announcement, but I noticed
throughout the afternoon that she was extremely affable toward Miss
Frayne, and that she had the whiphand again with Rob, and meanwhile he
seemed to be gathering a grim determination to do or die.

"Lucien, how did you come to ask Miss Frayne to go to that awful place
tonight?" asked Silvia when we had gone to our room for a siesta,
which seemed impossible by reason of the bellowing of Diogenes, who
balked at being required to lie down.

"Rob asked me to," I informed her, when I had cowed Diogenes, "so he
could have a free field for Beth. I believe he planned this
expedition so he could storm the citadel."

She reflected.

"Well, maybe he is wise. Girls like Beth have to be taken by storm
sometimes. I shouldn't wonder if Rob could be a bit of a bully, too,
but--"

She ended her speculations in a shriek.

"Oh, Lucien! Diogenes has jumped out the window."

We rushed down stairs, Silvia informing the guests in transit of the
awful catastrophe.

Silvia paused at the door opening on to the veranda.

"I can't see him," she said faintly, closing her eyes. "You'll have to
tend to it alone, Lucien."

Beth was already at the telephone, which connected with the country
doctor's. Rob joined me. We located our window, and began hunting
underneath for the pieces.

"Where in the world do you suppose he landed?" asked Rob.

Just then the missing one came around the house clasping a bologna
sausage in his fist.

"Ye Gods and little Polydores!" exclaimed Rob.

I caught Diogenes by the arm and rushed him in to Silvia.

I found her in company with an old colored mammy, who was laundress
for the hotel.

"Sho'," she was saying, "I done gwine by de windah with ma baby cab
full o' cloes, an' dis yer white chile done come tumblin' down an'
fall right in ma cab. Now, what do you think o' dat? I reckon I was
nevah so done clean skeert afoah in ma life. An' ef de chile didn't
grab one of ma bolognas and done git out de cab an' run around de
house."

"Oh," cried Silvia, "poor little baby! Come to mudder. Lucien, where
are you going with him?"

I had picked up the acrobatic Polydore and was going up the stairs two
at a time. I gained our room, locked the door and proceeded to give
the "poor little baby" all that was coming to him. Now and then above
his howls, I heard Silvia's plaintive protests outside the door, but I
finished my job completely and satisfactorily, and laid the penitent
Polydore in his little bed. Then I went out into the hall, feeling
better than I had in months.

Silvia essayed to pass me, but I took her arm and led her to a recess
in the hall.

"I am convinced," I told her, "that we have Diogenes as a permanent
pensioner on our hands, so it was up to me to show him where to get
off. You can't go to him for a quarter of an hour."

We went down stairs and I was sure I read suppressed regret in the
faces of most of the guests at learning of the soft place in which
Diogenes' lot had been cast. Silvia tearfully told Rob and Beth of my
cruelty.

[Illustration: Now and then above his howls, I heard Silvia's plaintive
protests outside the door]

"Do him good!" approved Rob heartily.

"How mean men are!" declared Beth indignantly. "I am going up and
comfort the poor little thing."

I held up the key to the room with a grin, and she had to content
herself by making unkind remarks about me.

At the expiration of the allotted time, I handed Silvia the key. She
took it from me without a word or a look. It was quite evident I was
in wrong.

In half an hour my wife came down, carrying Diogenes, who, dressed in
fresh white clothes, was a good picture of an angel child. She passed
me and went to a remote corner of the veranda and sat down. When he
spied me, he leaped from her arms and ran to me.

"Ocean," he said propitiatingly, "me love oo."

I took him up. His arms clasped about my neck, and over his curly
head, I winked at Silvia and Beth.

Rob roared.



CHAPTER XIV

_A Midnight Excursion_


The night was Satan's own: dark, wind-shrieking, and Polydorish. No
one saw us leave the hotel when, at a late hour, we started on our
little excursion. On account of the darkness and the poor landing near
the haunted house, we decided to go by the overland route. I managed
to purloin a lantern from the kitchen to light our path.

Rob and Beth kept behind Miss Frayne and myself, and in spite of the
wildness of the weather, he was evidently pleading his suit, for now
and then above the roar of the wind, I heard his ardent voice.
Apparently Beth had not yet given him any encouragement.

Going down the lane my lantern underwent a total eclipse, so we had a
Jordan-like road to travel. Miss Frayne was quite impervious to
unfavorable conditions, as it was a matter of bread and butter to her,
she said, and she was accustomed to braving worse storms than this,
and anyway she hadn't come here for a summer picnic.

When we came into the grove it was so dark, I lost my bearings.

"Why didn't we bring a flashlight?" asked Beth.

"There were none at the hotel," I told her.

"I know some boys," said Rob with a little laugh, "who would have lent
us one--maybe."

Fortunately we were well provided with safety matches and after
striking a box or so, we gained the open. A rise of ground hid the
house, but when we climbed to the top, the ghost loomed up ghastlier
than ever.

I felt the business-like Miss Frayne start and shiver as a little
scream escaped her. I didn't wonder. Even I, knowing that it was an
illusion and a snare, felt my flesh creeping as I looked at the
ghastly thing in the window.

Every now and then according to schedule a light flashed from the
windows below. And then came the blood-curdling sounds--whimpers and
groans that were rivaling the whistling of the wind.

"This is awful!" said Miss Frayne in a hoarse whisper.

"Do you want to go inside the house?" I asked.

"No--o! I couldn't. Not tonight."

We were some little in advance of Rob and Beth. When one spectral
sound came like a tense whisper, Miss Frayne turned and fled, and of
course I followed her. We could not see our two companions, but
suddenly in an interim of wind and ghost whispers, we heard Beth say:

"Yes, Rob. I think we should really be cosier in a story-and-a-half
cottage than we should in a bungalow."

"Ye Gods!" muttered Miss Frayne, "did he propose in the face of that
awful Thing?"

"Ship ahoy!" I called.

"Oh, didn't you go inside?" asked Rob.

"Go in! I wouldn't go inside that place; not if I lose my job on the
paper. What can it be? You don't seem to mind it, Miss Wade."

"Well, you know," said Beth apologetically, "this is my third
performance."

We were now down the hill out of sight of the gruesome, ghastly window
display, and Miss Frayne gained courage as we retreated.

"Of course I don't believe in ghosts," she said, "but what do you
suppose that is?"

"I had a theory," I said, "that it is the work of a lunatic, but I've
since concluded it is due to practical jokers. I'll tell you what I'll
do. If you wait here, I'll investigate and see what I can find out for
you."

"Oh, would you really dare, Mr. Wade? I don't believe men ever have
creepy nerves," she exclaimed.

I began to feel ashamed of my deception.

"I wouldn't go, Lucien," warned Rob, coming to my rescue. "There may
be a gang of desperadoes in there, or counterfeit money-makers, or
something of that kind. Besides, I have a far more interesting piece
of news than anything the ghost could give you."

"Rob!" protested Beth.

"We know it already," I laughed. "It's to be a story-and-a-half
high."

"I think I am getting material for quite a story," declared Miss
Frayne.

I knew Beth's dislike of scenes and display of emotions--mock
heroics--she called them, so I made no congratulatory speeches of the
bless-you-my-children order, but presently under the cover of
darkness, I felt a little hand slipped in mine, and my clasp was
eloquent of what I felt.

"I hope," said Miss Frayne, "that daylight will make me so ashamed of
my cowardice that I can come down here and take some pictures and go
inside the house."

"We'll all come with you," promised Beth. "There's safety in
numbers."

When we were back at the hotel I managed to have a few words with Rob
before we went upstairs.

"Bless the ghost!" he said cheerily. "When Beth first glimpsed it, she
just turned and fell into my arms. She was really frightened for the
first time. I shall feel under obligations to Ptolemy for a
lifetime."

"Thank goodness!" I ejaculated fervently, "that I am under no
obligations to a Polydore. Ptolemy certainly did put up the most
ghastly thing in the way of ghosts. The lights in the eyes of the
skeleton were frightful."

"Did you see the ghost?" asked Silvia sleepily, when I came in.

"Yes; same old ghost, only more of him," I assured her.

She was asleep before I had uttered this reply.

"Silvia," I said, "I have a more startling piece of news for you than
that."

She sat bolt upright.

"Are they engaged, Lucien?"

"They are. They are building their castle--I mean their story-and-a-half
cottage already."

Alas for my own desire to sleep! I had so effectually awakened Silvia
that she planned Beth's trousseau, the wedding, honeymoon, and the
furnishing of their house before she subsided.



CHAPTER XV

_What Miss Frayne Found Out_


We had planned to go to the haunted house at nine o'clock the next
morning, but owing to my dissipation of the night before, it was long
after the appointed hour when Silvia awoke me.

I hurried down stairs and ate my breakfast in solitude. I inquired for
Beth and Rob, but the waitress told me they had left the dining-room
at seven o'clock and gone for a walk in the woods. She said it with a
knowing smile that told me she, too, must be a "sister of the Golden
Circle."

"And Miss Frayne?" I asked.

"She went down the road over an hour ago."

Evidently her courage had come up with the sun. I was greatly
disturbed at the chance of her stumbling over one or more Polydores,
and Rob didn't want to let the cat out of the bag until her article
was written, as he believed that if the ghostly spell were broken, she
would lose her "punch."

I was unable to think of any plausible explanation to offer Silvia as
to why I should start in pursuit, and I wished all sorts of dire
calamities on Rob's blond head. Lovers were surely blind and selfish.

About ten o'clock they came strolling in.

"We didn't know it was so late," said Beth cheerfully, "but the boys
will keep in the woods all right."

"With her nose for news, there is no telling how far into the woods
Miss Frayne's investigation will take her."

"Say we go down by the lane and meet her," proposed Beth, "so that if
she has run across the boys we can explain to her why we desire
secrecy from Silvia."

"You and Rob go," I advised. "It would seem odd to Silvia if we didn't
ask her to go with us."

So the newly engaged couple started down the road, but in their
self-absorption they didn't notice the turn to the lane, and they got
half way to Windy Creek before they came back to earth and the hotel.
Miss Frayne still had not shown up, and I began to have misgivings
lest the Polydores had locked her up in the house, but finally just as
we were having a happy family gathering and discussing the new event
under the shade of the one resort tree, she came excitedly up to us.

"Such an interesting morning as I have had!" she exclaimed
enthusiastically. "I made some corking pictures of the place, and I've
found out about not only that ghost, but all ghosts--the whole race of
ghosts."

I hurriedly interrupted her and made elaborate and jumbled apologies
for not keeping our engagement, which evidently bored her and
mystified Silvia.

"I am glad I went alone," she finally replied. "Otherwise I might not
have got such an interesting interview."

Beth, Rob, and I made frantic and appealing gestures to her behind
Silvia's back, but she didn't seem to notice them.

"Whom did you interview, the ghost?" asked Silvia.

"No, indeed. Some very interesting and unusual people who are staying
there."

I threw her a wildly beseeching glance and Beth and Rob began at the
same time to ply her with distracting questions. I think she seemed to
divine that there was something in the situation that was not to be
explained, but Silvia interrupted them.

"Do let Miss Frayne tell us about her interview," she said. "We all
seem to be very talkative today."

I saw there was no way to dodge the dénouement, so I awaited the
finale in dread desperation. It proved to be more of a stunner than I
had expected.

"I went down the lane," she said, "and through the grove, up the
little hill, and laughed at myself for the hallucinations of the night
before. There were no ghosts visible and the door to the haunted
house was hospitably open. I stood on the hill long enough to make
some pictures and then went on. I walked up the steps fearlessly and
looked within. A woman, an untidy, disheveled-looking woman, sat at a
table writing furiously in just the same breathless way I write when I
have a scoop, and the presses are waiting open-mouthed for my copy.

"She looked up and scowled at my intrusion.

"'Don't bother me,' she said, and continued writing.

"I went through the house and came outside again where I met an
absent-minded, spectacled man. I told him who I was and of my object
in coming to the house. Then he showed signs of coming to.

"'Oh, the ghost!' he said. 'That is what brought me here. My wife is
interested in more tangible, more material things. We have just
returned from a long journey, and when we were nearly to our
destination, our place of residence, I happened to read in a paper
about this haunted house and its apparition, so we came right up here
this morning to remain overnight and see if the article were true.'

"I told him how successful I had been and he became quite alert and
enthusiastic. He showed me why I should not have been alarmed, because
ghosts, he said, were scientific facts. He then explained to me at
length how the gases from the dead arise and form a nebulous vapor or
a vaporous nebula. It sounded very simple and plausible when he told
me, but I can't seem to remember it. Fortunately I have it all down in
writing."

Silvia's eyes and mine had met in speechless horror since she had
mentioned the "writing woman."

"Lucien!" Silvia now said in a tragic, hoarse whisper--"the
Polydores!"

"Oh, do you know them?" asked Miss Frayne. "Dr. Felix Polydore, the
eminent LL.D. or something like that."

"The whole family are D's," I said.

"His wife is the highest of high-brows, and they are averse to
interviews. They moved to a small city sometime ago to be secluded.
Just think of my opportunity! I have them headlined! 'The Haunted
House of Hope Haven. Ghost that appears at midnight scientifically
explained by the distinguished Dr. Felix Polydore.'"

"I think we are in luck," I said to Silvia, on second thoughts. "We
will take them home by the nape of the neck and deliver their children
into their keeping to have and to hold."

"I can't turn Diogenes over to them," she said plaintively.

"Diogenes!" repeated Miss Frayne in astonishment.

I then narrated to her the history of our next-door neighbors, and how
they planted their five children upon us.

"We had better go down at once and see them," said Silvia, "before
they escape. No telling where they might take it in their heads to
go."

"We will," I said, "we'll go soon after luncheon."

"Thrice blessed haunted house," quoted Rob. "It gave me Beth, and it
has restored the parents of the wise Ptolemy and 'Them Three.'"

"And gave me a ripping story," said Miss Frayne.

Just then the gong sounded, and after luncheon while I was comfortably
tipped back in a chair, my feet on the veranda rail, seeing in the
smoke from my pipe dream visions of Polydoreless days, a faint cry
from Silvia brought me back to earth.

"Lucien, look!"

I looked.

My chair came down to all fours and my feet slipped from the rail.



CHAPTER XVI

_Ptolemy's Tale_


Four defiant, determined-looking Polydores came up the steps and bore
down upon us. Then Silvia as usual thought she saw land ahead.

"Oh, boys," she asked hopefully, "did your father send for you to meet
him here? And when is he going to take you home?"

"Didn't I tell you," I thundered at Ptolemy, "that you were not to
leave that house--"

"It left us," interrupted Emerald with a grin.

"Went up in smoke," added Pythagoras blithely, "ghost and all."

"Four minutes quicker," said Demetrius, "and it would have took father
and mother, too."

"Oh, is it the haunted house they are talking about?" asked Miss
Frayne joyfully. "What a story I'll have!"

Life to Miss Frayne seemed to be one story after another. Well, it was
certainly becoming the same way to us.

"Did the ghost set fire to the house?" asked Beth.

"What are you all talking about," demanded Silvia, "and how did you
know these boys were there? How long have you been here?" she asked,
turning to Ptolemy.

"I told you," I repeated angrily to the subdued boy, "not to leave.
Those were plain orders. If the house did burn up, you could have
stayed in your tent in the woods."

Ptolemy's lips twitched faintly.

"The house burned up and all our clothes and our stuff to eat, and our
bats and things, and father and mother went away and I didn't know
what to do, so--I came here. But we'll go back to our own house. We
have learned to cook. Come on, boys."

"You'll stay right here with me, son," and Rob's hand came down
intimately on Ptolemy's shoulder.

"It isn't likely we'll turn them out into the woods, when they haven't
a roof over their heads," declared Silvia, drawing Emerald to her
side.

"I think you are absolutely inhuman, Lucien," cried Beth. "I don't see
what has changed you so," and she proceeded to make room for
Pythagoras in the porch swing.

"Did the fire scare you?" asked Miss Frayne gently, as she put her
arms about Demetrius.

"Et tu, Brute? Well, I plainly see this is no place for an inhuman,
childless, married man," I said with a laugh, walking down the
veranda.

In the doorway I met Diogenes, who raised his chubby arms invitingly.

"Up, up, Ocean!" he begged sweetly.

I lifted him to my shoulder, and then turned and walked triumphantly
back to the family group.

"Now," I said, "here is the whole d-dashed family. And I propose that
each keep unto his charge the child he has now under his wing."

Miss Frayne quickly relinquished the dirty Demetrius. Beth shrank away
from Pythagoras.

As I seated myself still holding Diogenes, his brothers sprang toward
him in greeting, but he spat at one, kicked at another, and pulled the
hair of a third, although he patted Ptolemy's cheek gently.

"Now, we'll have this affair thrashed out," I declared in my most
authoritative, professional manner, and I then proceeded to explain to
Silvia the housing of the Polydores, and our strategies to keep their
arrival a secret simply on her account.

"Because you know," interpolated Beth, with a consideration for the
feelings of the young Polydores--a consideration they had never before
encountered--"we wanted you to have a nice rest."

Silvia looked quite penitent and remorseful for her seeming lack of
appreciation of our combined efforts. When I had answered all her
inquiries satisfactorily, Miss Frayne's curiosity regarding the
progeny of the eminent Polydores had to be fully relieved.

"And do you mean that the scribbling lady I saw at the table is really
the mother of these five boys?" she asked, unable to grasp the fact.

"Yes; and the father hereof is the man who explained the ghosts to you
so scientifically that you cannot remember what he said. Now, Ptolemy,
we'll hear your story of the fire and the whereabouts of your parents.
Take your time and tell it accurately."

"Well, you see we did just as you said to, and took the ghost out of
the window and went out to the woods early this morning so as not to
let the paper lady see us."

"Oh!" cried Miss Frayne, "am I the paper lady? I begin to see
daylight. Are these boys the ghost perpetrators, and were you in on
the put-up job?"

"You're a good guesser," I replied.

"And why wasn't I taken into your confidence?"

"For two reasons. First, because your friend Rob said you'd get better
results for copy--more inspirations and thrills, if you weren't behind
the scenes on the ghost business,--and then we didn't want to tell you
about the presence of the Polydores lest inadvertently you betray the
fact to my wife. Now, proceed, Ptolemy."

"After we were in the woods, I heard an automobile coming down the
lane, and I went up near the edge of the woods and peeked out behind a
tree, and pretty soon I saw father and mother come over the hill and
go in our haunted house, so I came up there and hid under the window
and heard mother say: 'What an ideal place to write this is. It looks
as if I might really get a chance to write unmo--'

"'--lested,'" I finished for him.

"I guess so," he allowed. "Well, she began writing, so I didn't go in,
but when father came outside I went up to him and told him you and
mudder were at the hotel and that we were all with you. He told me
they came up here to write an article for some big magazine about the
ghost. He hired an automobile down at Windy Creek to bring them up to
the house and the man was going to come back for them tomorrow
morning. I didn't let on the ghost was a fake, because I thought he'd
be so disappointed to have all his trouble for nothing, and he'd be
mad at me for swiping his skull. I told him a paper lady was coming
and then I went back to the woods. He went down with me to see the
boys, and he said he would come back and have lunch with us. Mother
doesn't ever stop to eat at noon when she is writing.

"He went back and talked to the paper lady and pretty soon he came
down and ate with us. I told him all about how we couldn't get any
girl to do the work for us and so we had been living with you, and how
Di got sick and mudder was all worn out taking care of him and came
down here to rest, and that you wouldn't cash the check, so I did and
was spending it and he said that was all right." Here Ptolemy flashed
me a most triumphant glance.

"He said you must be paid for all your expense and trouble, so he made
out a check and gave it to me and told me to make mudder a nice
present. He ain't so bad when he ain't thinking about dead stuff. When
he felt in his pocket for his check book, he found a letter he had got
yesterday and forgotten to open, so he read it then and found it was
from some magazine, and the man said he'd pay his and mother's
expenses to go to Chili and write up some stuff about--something. So
father said they must go at once."

"Not to Chili!" I exclaimed.

"Yes; we all went up to the house with him and I took mother's pencil
and paper away so she would have to listen. She was wild for Chili,
and I had to go and hunt up a farmer who had a machine to take them
down to Windy Creek. Father signed another blank check for you and
said you could board us with it or do anything you thought best.

"Then mother took a lot of papers out of her bag, some stuff she had
written and didn't get suited with, and she stuffed them in the stove
and set fire to them. Then we all went down to the lane to see father
and mother off and when we got back the house was on fire. The chimney
burned out."

"Guess mother must have written some hot stuff," said Emerald.

"It was burning so fast," continued Ptolemy, "that we didn't dast go
in to save anything and all our food and clothes and balls and bats
and fishing tackle are gone, and we didn't know what to do, or what to
eat, and so--we came here."

"You did just right, Ptolemy," I admitted. "I shouldn't have called
you down--not until I heard your story, anyway."

I held out my hand, which he shook solemnly, but with an injured air.

"Do you mean to tell me," asked Miss Frayne, "that your father and
mother went away without seeing the baby?"

Ptolemy flushed a little.

"You see," he explained apologetically, "mother gets woolly when she
writes and she's forgotten there's Di. She thinks Demetrius is the
youngest. She's mad about writing. If she sees a blank paper
anywhere, she ain't happy until she has written something on it, and
the sight of a pencil makes her fingers itch."

[Illustration: I held out my hand, which he shook solemnly, but with an
injured air]

"Take warning, Miss Frayne," I said, "and don't get too literary."

"Some day," resumed Ptolemy, "mother'll get the antiques all out of
her system and then she'll remember us."

I liked the boy's defense of his mother, and I began to see that Rob
was right in thinking there were possibilities in the lad, but it was
Silvia's influence that had developed them, for in the days when he
borrowed soup plates of us, there had been no redeeming trait that I
could discern.

And while I was recalling this, I heard Silvia saying to him kindly:
"And in the meantime, I'll be 'mudder' to you."

"So will I," chimed in Beth.

"I'll be a big brother," offered Rob.

"I'll be next friend, Ptolemy," I contributed.

Strange to say, my offer seemed to make the most impression on him. He
came to me and gazed into my eyes earnestly.

"I'll do just as you say," he promised.

"Where do we'uns come in?" asked Pythagoras, with one of his satanic
grins.

Miss Frayne saved the day.

"You all come in with me," she said, "and have lunch. I haven't eaten
since breakfast, and I understand there is warm ginger cake and
huckleberry pie. Aren't you hungry?"

"You bet," spoke up Pythagoras. "We only had coffee, peanuts, and
beans down in the woods, and father ate the beans and drank all the
coffee."

"We're out of the frying pan into the fire," said Silvia woefully,
when we were alone.

"I wish the Polydore parents had gone up in smoke," I declared.

"Then your last hope of getting rid of the children would have gone up
in smoke, too," argued Beth.

"No; in case of the demise of their parents, we could have turned them
over body and soul to the probate court," I informed her.

"We will fill out this blank check for any amount, Lucien," declared
Silvia, "that will induce a housekeeper to take charge of their house.
I shall keep Diogenes, though, until he is older."

"I wouldn't mind Ptolemy, either," I admitted. "I shall be interested
in seeing what I can make of him, and he hasn't a bad influence over
Diogenes, but I'll be hanged if anything would induce me to have 'Them
Three' Chessy cats running wild over us. They can live in their house
alone, or be put in a reformatory. We won't have them. We're under no
obligations, pecuniary or moral, to look after them."

"I think, Lucien, we might as well go home now. We've had a good rest
and a good time, and I am anxious to be back and see how Huldah is
getting on."

As Huldah had never mastered two of the three R's, we had not been
able to receive any reports from her.

"I'll tell you what we'll do," proposed Beth. "Rob and I will take all
the Polydores save Diogenes, and go home tomorrow and prepare the
house and Huldah for the overflow. Then you two can come on with
Diogenes the next day."

"Good idea, Beth!" I approved. "I'd hate to face Huldah, unprepared,
with the return of the Polydores _en masse_."

"I am glad," said Silvia, "that Huldah has been having a rest from
them for a few days."



CHAPTER XVII

_All About Uncle Issachar's Visit_


The next morning's stage carried seven passengers to Windy Creek, as
Miss Frayne with a big roll of "copy" also took her departure.

Diogenes had been quite docile and amenable to my rule since the
licking I gave him, so we had a pleasant and comfortable return
journey on the following day.

"I hope, Lucien," said Silvia, "you won't refuse to cash this check
for a good amount. The Polydore parents may never show up, and it's
only right we should be reimbursed for their keep."

"I will cash it," I assured her, "and use it for a housekeeper or else
send the boys off to a school. I should like very much to have it out
with Felix Polydore, but, as you suggest, I may never have the
opportunity to see him at close range."

Beth, Rob, and Ptolemy met us at the station.

"Where are 'Them Three'?" I asked hopefully.

"Huldah is feeding them little pies hot from the kettle--the kind she
cooks like doughnuts, you know."

"Huldah cooking for 'Them Three'!" I exclaimed. "She must have passed
into her second childhood. She grudged them even an apple to piece
on."

"She has pampered them ever since our return," said Rob.

"Poor Huldah! She must indeed be afflicted with softening of the
brain," I decided.

"She has probably been so lonely, shut in here by herself," said
Silvia, "that even 'Them Three' looked good to her."

In the hallway Huldah met us. She was beaming with pleasure, but
except in her bearing toward the children, she was quite normal.

"We've all had a real good rest," she observed, "and you do look so
well, Mrs. Wade. My! but this place has been lonesome. I'm glad we're
all together again."

"Now, Silvia, shut your eyes," directed Beth, "and come into the
library. Ptolemy has bought you a present with the check his father
gave him."

"Beth helped me pick it out," said Ptolemy.

Beth led the way into the library, and we followed.

"Open your eyes."

Silvia gave a little cry of pleasure, and looking over her shoulder, I
beheld a baby grand piano.

"Oh, Ptolemy!" she cried, giving him a fervent kiss and fond hug, "I
can never let you do so much."

"Oh, yes," he said, flushing a little under the endearments which were
doubtless the first ever bestowed upon him. "Father's got a whole lot
of money grandpa left him and it's fixed so he can't draw out only so
much each year. He said the board and bother of us was worth more than
this and we'll all enjoy the music. But Thag and Em and Dem ain't to
touch it. I'll knock tar out of the first one that comes near it."

I was disconsolate. I didn't see how we could return it and I didn't
want the Polydore web woven any tighter. To think of Silvia's
receiving from them what it had been my longing to give her! But as I
was to learn later, she was to acquire much more than a piano from the
eminent family.

After dinner Silvia asked Huldah to come in and hear the music, and
when Silvia's repertoire was exhausted, we gave our faithful servant
all the little details of our trip which Beth had not supplied.

"Now tell us, Huldah, how things went along here," said Silvia.

"Well, you think some wonderful things happened to you all on your
trip mebby--ghosts and proposals," looking at Beth and Rob, "and fires
and Polydores, but back here in this quiet house something happened
that has your ghosts and things skinned by a mile."

"Oh, dear!" cried Silvia apprehensively, "what is it?"

"Break it very gently, Huldah," I cautioned. "You know we've borne a
good deal."

"Your uncle Issachar was here for a couple of days."

She certainly had made a sensation.

"Not Uncle Issachar! Not here?" exclaimed Silvia incredulously.

"Yes, ma'am. He came the next day after Beth and Mr. Rossiter and
Polly left. I told him you'd gone away for a little vacation and rest.
I didn't let on that I knew where you had gone, because I didn't want
him straggling up there, too, or sending for you to come back. He said
your absence would make no difference to his plans; that he never let
nothing do that. He come to pay a visit and he should pay one."

"Yes," said Silvia feebly. "That sounds like Uncle Issachar."

"I told him to make himself perfectly at home; that every one did that
to this place, and he said he would. I'd just slicked up the big front
room upstairs and I seen to it that he had everything all right. I
cooked the best dinner I knew how, and he said it was the first white
man's meal he had eat since his ma died, so I found out what she used
to cook and fed him on it. Them three kids and him eat like they was
holler. I guess if Polly hadn't took them away your grocery bill would
'a looked like Barb'ry Allen's grave.

"Well, as I was saying, your uncle he eat till he got over his
grouches, and like enough he'd be here eating yet, if he hadn't got a
telegraph to hit the line for home, some big business deal, he said,
and I guess it was a great deal, for he licked his chops and smacked
his lips over it, and he give me a ten dollar bill to get a new dress
and each of Them Three one dollar fer candy."

"The old tightwad!" I exclaimed. "It was your cooking, sure, that made
him loosen up that way."

"Tightwad nothing!" she declared indignantly. "You won't think he was
tight-wadded when you read this here letter he left for you. He told
me what was in it, and I've just been busting to tell it to Beth, but
I waited for you to know it first."

With great excitement Silvia opened the letter, read it, gasped,
re-read it, and then in consternation handed it to me.

"Read it aloud, Lucien," she bade. "Maybe I can believe it then."

This was the letter.

  "My dear Niece:

  "I was sorry not to see you, but glad to learn that, as every wise
  and good woman should do, you are raising a fine family--a family
  of _sons_, which is what our country most needs. Your son
  Pythagoras informed me that you had taken your oldest child,
  Ptolemy, and your youngest, Diogenes, with you, I am glad you left
  three such promising samples for me to see.

  "As you have five sons, I have, agreeable to my promise, placed in
  your name in the First National Bank of your city the sum of
  twenty-five thousand dollars.

                                           "Your affectionate uncle,
                                                   "Issachar Innes."

"Huldah," I asked, "did you tell him the Polydores were our
children?"

"Me?" she repeated indignantly. "Me tell a lie like that! No; I didn't
get no chance to tell him anything about them. 'Them Three' done the
telling. The first thing that one"--pointing to Pythagoras--"said was,
'Mudder went away and took the baby, Diogenes, with her.' And then
that next one"--indicating Emerald--"said: 'Yes, and our oldest
brother, Ptolemy, went on with Beth to see them.'

"The old gent asked them all their names and ages and he was so
pleased and said he thought it was just fine for you to raise five
sons, so I didn't have no heart to tell him no different. 'Twan't none
of my business anyhow. Then 'Them Three' kept talking about stepdaddy,
and your Uncle Issachar asks 'Who the devil is he? Did my niece marry
again?' And I told him as how Mr. Wade was all the husband you ever
had, and that stepdaddy was nothing but a sort of pet-name the kids
had give Mr. Wade."

"I told him," said Demetrius, "that stepdaddy was cross to us
sometimes and not as nice as mudder, and he said--"

"You shut up," commanded Huldah quickly, "and let me talk."

"No," I intercepted, "I'd really be interested in hearing what he told
Uncle Issachar. What was it, Demetrius, that your great-uncle said to
you?"

"He said," stated the imp, darting his tongue out in triumph at his
victory over Huldah, "that he always thought you was a stiff."

"He didn't say nothing of the kind!" declared Huldah. "He said you was
stiff-necked, and that he presumed you would act more like a
stepfather than the real thing. Well, as I was saying, he asked their
names, and he liked them fine. Said they were so classy."

"Didn't he say classic, Huldah?" inquired Rob.

"Mebby. What's the difference?" snapped Huldah.

"None," I assured her quickly, dodging a definition.

"She told him--" began Emerald.

"You shut up," again adjured Huldah, "or I'll never bake you one of
those small pies no more."

"Oh, please, Huldah," I coaxed. "Let us hear everything. I've always
told you my life's secrets, and I don't mind what you or the boys told
him."

"Well, I suppose what he was going to tattle was that I thought the
old gent might feel hurt, 'cause none of them was named after him, so
I told him Polly's middle name was Issachar."

"Why, Huldah," remonstrated Silvia.

"Well, he's always wanted a middle name, and he's never been baptized,
so you can stick it in and have him ducked next Sunday and then that
will square that. 'Them Three' stuck to him like a hive of bees, and I
was scairt for fear they'd let the cat out of the bag, and so long as
they had put it in, I thought it might just as well stay in, but they
were just as slick as grease in all they said. They'll hang in that
rogues' gallery yet."

"I suppose they were pretty--strenuous," said Silvia with a sigh.

"They was more than that. The first afternoon right after dinner when
he was sitting on the front porch, sleeping peaceful and snoring, that
there one--" pointing to Pythagoras--

"Tattle-tale!" he began, but I administered a cuff and he subsided
into surprised silence.

[Illustration: "He went to the front window and dropped a young kitten
down on the old gent's head."]

"He," said Huldah, looking pleased at this little attention to the
boy, "went to the front window and dropped a young kitten down on the
old gent's head. It clawed something fierce. We had just got things
going smooth again when Emmy got one of his earaches. I roasted an
onion and put in his ear, and what did he do but take it out of his
ear and slip it down your poor uncle's back."

"Why didn't you beat them?" I asked indignantly.

"Because the old gent did that. He put 'em across his knee, and
believe me, it was some licking they caught. They didn't let out a
whimper and that pleased him."

"Huh!" said Emerald. "Thag don't know how to cry. He hasn't got any
tears, and old Uncle Iz didn't hurt me, because, you see, when I heard
Thag getting his, I went and stuffed the Declaration of Independence,
that book of stepdaddy's that Demetrius tore the pictures out of, in
my pants."

"Go on!" urged Rob delightedly. "What else did you all do? Uncle must
have had some time. It would make a fine scenario. 'The first visit of
the rich uncle.'"

"Well," resumed Huldah. "One of 'em put red pepper in the old man's
bed, and he like to sneeze his head off, but he said as how sneezing
was healthy, and showed you'd got rid of a cold."

"He never got on to the pepper," said Demetrius gleefully.

"In the morning, that second one put a toad in his new uncle's pocket,
and Emmy broke his specs. Then Meetie he dropped his watch. They used
his razor to cut the lawn with. And then they took him down to the
creek to go fishing, and they put the fish in Uncle's silk hat, and
and----"

"Stop!" implored Silvia, who was now in tears. "Uncle Issachar
believes them mine! Ours! And that I brought them up! Oh, why did we
ever go away?"

"Oh, pshaw," exclaimed Huldah comfortingly, "he said you had brung
them up fine; that they were no mollycoddles or Lizzie boys, and he
didn't suppose you had so much sense as to leave them natural."

"A left-handed one for mudder," laughed Beth.

"He must be a very peculiar man--ready for the asylum, I should say,"
commented Rob.

"He would have been if he'd stayed any longer, or else I would have
been," declared Huldah.

"Couldn't you make them behave, someway?" asked Silvia.

"Well, at first I tried to, and every time I pinched one of 'em when
the old gent wasn't looking, or knocked 'em down when I got 'em alone,
they would threaten to tell who they was, and then when I seen how
your uncle liked the way they acted, I just let 'em go it, head on.
And seeing as how they each brung you five thousand, I've treated 'em
best I know how. They're worth it, now. They done one thing more that
was awful. Could you stand it to hear?" turning to Silvia.

"Please, Silvia," implored Rob.

"Well," argued Silvia faintly. "I suppose we might as well know the
worst."

"You see the old gent didn't always get up to breakfast with the kids
and one morning when I brought in the cakes Emmy looked up and
grinned. I nearly dropped the plate. He had both sets of the old man's
false teeth in his mouth. I got 'em back in his room without his
waking, but I'd have liked a picture of Emmy."

"Pythagoras," I demanded, when we had recovered from this recital,
"why didn't you tell him who you were, and how you all came to be
here with us?"

"Because she is our mudder, and we are going to stay with her, always.
We've got a snap. So has father and mother. And Ptolemy told us that
if you ever got any kids, you'd get five thousand each for them, and I
thought we'd just make that much for you. So we played Uncle Iz for
it. Easy money, all right, all right."

"Talk about fine financiering," quoth Rob. "'Them Three' will surely
land on Wall Street."

But poor Silvia had no heart for humor and was weeping silently.

"Why, look here, my dear," I said in consolation, "this is a very
simple matter to adjust. In the morning when you feel better, just
write a full explanation of the affair and inclose your check for
twenty-five thousand."

Silvia quickly wiped away her tears.

"I'll do it tonight, Lucien. I feel better now. I never thought of
writing."

Huldah and "Them Three" looked most lugubrious.

"The old skinflint won't miss it as much as I would a penny," declared
our faithful handmaiden. "And I'm sure you've earnt that twenty-five
thousand if anyone ever did. You've had as much care and worry about
them brats as you would if they'd been your own."

"Huldah," I said severely, "there is a pretty stiff penalty for
obtaining money under false pretences."

"After all the pains we took to make things lively for him, so he
wouldn't get bored and think he was having a poor time!" regretted
Pythagoras.

"And us watching every word we spoke so as not to give it away,"
wailed Emerald.

"Cake's all dough," muttered Demetrius.

Ptolemy regarded the three disapprovingly. He had the old inscrutable
look, the look that foreboded mischief, in his eyes.

"You bungled, you fool kids!" he said in disgust, "and Huldah, what
did you want to let on to mudder for that he thought we was hers? You
ought to have torn up the note he left and just said he'd put
twenty-five thousand in the bank for her."

"Huh! you're just jealous because you weren't in the Uncle Izzy deal
yourself," jeered Pythagoras. "You always think you're the only one
that can do anything right."

"I wish you had been here, Polly," said Huldah, "I am sure you could
have worked it through somehow."

"I wish I had stayed and put it across," he answered. "If you and the
kids would only learn not to blab everything you know. It's the only
way to work anything. Minute you tell a thing, it's all off."

There was still a great deal of development work to be put on
Ptolemy's moral standard.

"You'll find, my lad," remonstrated Rob, "that honesty is the best
policy."

"I'd have been perfectly honest about it," he defended. "I would have
told him the truth, and how our parents had deserted us, and how
mudder took us in when we were homeless and was bringing us up like
her own because she hadn't got any, and how stepdaddy wanted to turn
us out, and she wouldn't let him, and then he would have decided
against stepdaddy and given mudder the money so she could keep us."

"Ptolemy," I said warningly, "there is a way of telling the truth, or
rather of coloring white lies with enough truth to make them deceive,
that is more dishonorable than an out and out lie."

"Tell me, Ptolemy," asked Silvia, "how did you know about that offer
of five thousand dollars for each child?"

"I overheard it," he said guardedly; "but I can't remember where."

"He heard me say so," confessed Huldah.

"It was when he first come here and he was making us so much trouble,
and I told him it was too bad we had to have other folks' brats around
when, if we only had our own, they'd be bringing in something."

The recital now broke up and Silvia sat down to write a long
explanatory letter to Uncle Issachar. The next morning I procured her
a check from the First National Bank and she filled it out.

"Oh!" she said with indrawn breath, when she had asked me how to write
twenty-five thousand dollars, "I never expected to be able to sign my
name to a check for such an amount."

"You never will again, I fear," was my sad prophecy.

"It must feel rich," said Beth, "just to have a large check pass
through your fingers."

"Them Three" came the nearest to tears that they were able to do.

"We worked so hard for it," they sighed.

"So did I!" muttered Huldah.

"I couldn't live a double life," declared Silvia.



CHAPTER XVIII

_In Which I Decide on Extreme Measures_


Everyone in our house, which was now filled to overflowing--in fact,
there were Polydores on sofas and in beds on the floor--save Silvia
and myself, was on the alert for a response to the letter during the
succeeding few days. Knowing Uncle Issachar, we felt sure he would
make no response, or notice the matter in any way save to cash the
check promptly.

The monotony was somewhat relieved by the difficulties under which
Beth and Rob were pursuing their courtship. On the third evening
succeeding our return, Silvia and I started upstairs early to give
them a chance to have the exclusive use of the library, the Polydores
having all been sent to bed. As we were making some plausible excuse
for going to our room, Beth remarked with a smile:

"Your motive in retiring so early is commendable, but of no particular
benefit to Rob and me. The Polydores, like the poor, we always have
with us."

"I saw that every one of them except Ptolemy was in bed at eight
o'clock last night and the night before," said Silvia. "You don't mean
to tell me--"

"Yes, I do mean," laughed Beth. "Not Ptolemy, though. He has become
too dignified to spy on us, but last night as we sat here on the
settee, we heard a suppressed sneeze, and Rob pulled Emerald from
underneath."

"How in the world did he ever squeeze under there?" I asked, gazing at
the slight space between the floor and settee.

[Illustration: "We heard a suppressed sneeze, and Rob pulled Emerald from
underneath."]

"He did look a little flattened, as if he had been put in a letter
press," said Rob. "I gave him a dime to go to bed and stay there. Beth
and I had just resumed our conversation when a still, small voice
said: 'I'll go to bed for a dime, too.' I then hauled Demetrius from
behind the davenport."

"And the night before," said Beth, "when we were sitting on the porch,
Pythagoras rolled off the roof, where he had been listening to us, and
came down into the vines."

"Now I'll stop that," I declared. "I'll tie them in their beds and
lock the doors and windows."

"No," refused Rob. "I'd like to try to circumvent them by their own
weapons of wits. I have a little plan which I don't dare whisper to
you lest their long-range ears get in their work. We are just about to
start for a walk."

"In this pouring rain!" protested Silvia.

"We like the rain," he replied, "and we--are not going far."

Pythagoras entered the room just then and looked astounded and
disappointed when he saw Beth and Rob departing.

"We are going out to a small party," Rob remarked to me, casually.

It was after eleven when we heard them returning.

"Do you suppose they have been walking all this time?" said Silvia in
concern. "Beth wore no rubbers."

The next day was Sunday and Huldah put into execution a plan for
procuring one happy hour each week. This plan was the admission of the
Polydores, _en masse_, to one of the Sunday schools. She chose the
church most remote from home so they would be a long time going and
coming, which she said would "help some."

"Now," said Beth, as she watched them march away, "I can dare to tell
you where we spent last evening. We were at the Polydore house next
door. There is a little vine-screened porch on the other side of the
house. Rob managed to open one of the windows and brought out a couple
of chairs. It was as snug as could be."

"I'll corral them every night," I said, "until you make your getaway,
and I'll give you the key so you can go inside when it is cool or
stormy."

"We'll go around the block by way of precaution," said Rob.

Presently Huldah returned from the Sunday school with triumphant
mien.

"They made them all into one class and put a redheaded woman with
spectacles in for their teacher. I gave them street car tickets to
come home on."

When the Polydores returned, however, they were dragging Diogenes
along and he looked quite weary.

"Didn't you come home on the street car?" I asked Ptolemy.

"No; we sold our tickets and got ice cream sodas," he explained. "We
took turns carrying Diogenes on our backs."

"You only had one ticket for yourself, and two half fares for Thag and
Emmy," said Huldah suspiciously. "I thought Meetie and Di could ride
free. You couldn't have sold them tickets for enough for sodies."

"Rob gave us three nickels to put in the plate," said Pythagoras. "We
only put in one of them, seeing we were all in one family and one
class. That gave us four nickels for ice cream sodas and the clerk
gave Di half a glass some one had left."

"I gave you a penny for Di to put in," said Huldah. "What did you do
with that?"

"We wanted him to put it in, and when they took up the collection, he
wouldn't give it," said Emerald. "I tried to take it away from him
and he swallowed it. The redhead teacher was awful scared, but I told
her he was used to swallowing things and that you said he carried a
whole department store in his insides."

"Poor little Di," said Silvia; "it's the only way he has of keeping
things away from you all."

That night I saw to it personally that each and every Polydore was in
his little bed. It should have aroused my suspicions that none of them
rebelled, or had evinced the slightest degree of interest or curiosity
when Beth and Rob announced their intention of going out for the
evening.

At ten-thirty the lovers returned, bringing in Pythagoras, who was
clad in his pajamas.

"Where did you pick him up?" I asked in astonishment.

"He picked us up," said Beth.

"He was wise, maybe, in discovering where we were," said Rob, "but he
fell down when he tried to work off the ghost screeches on us. We
recognized them at once, and ran him down inside, so our party broke
up."

"Come here, Pythagoras," I commanded.

He obeyed promptly and fearlessly.

"How did you know they were there, and when did you go over there?"

"I was playing over in our house today," he replied, "and I found one
of Beth's hairpins with the little stones in, in the big chair, so I
knew that was where they hid last night. As soon as you went down
stairs tonight, I got out the window and slid down the roof and came
over to scare them."

"You've missed a lot of sleep the last few nights," I said quietly,
"so you will have to make it up. You can stay in bed all day
tomorrow."

"Hold on, Lucien!" exclaimed Rob. "Tomorrow's the big baseball game of
the season, and I promised to take them all."

"So much the better," I said. "He will learn to mind."

Pythagoras looked as if he had been struck, and quickly put his arms
across his eyes. In a moment his shoulders were heaving. At last I had
found a vulnerable spot in the stoic, and I began to relent.

"See here, Pythagoras," I said, "if I let you up in time to go to the
game, will you promise me something?"

"Anything," came in a muffled voice.

"Will you promise not to spy on Beth and Rob and keep Emerald and
Demetrius from doing it?"

"Yes," he promised quickly, his arm coming down and his face
brightening. "Sure I will, but I did want to hear what they said."

"Why?" asked Rob interestedly.

"We're getting up a show, and Em is going to take the part of a girl
and he spoons with Tolly, and we didn't know what to have them say to
each other."

"I'll rehearse you on the play, and prompt you," said Beth with a
little giggle.

"Come on upstairs with me now," I said to Pythagoras.

When I landed him at his door, he leaned up against me, and rubbed his
cheek against my arm.

"Thank you for letting me go to the game," he said.

I found myself responding to his affectionate advance. This would
clearly never do. I couldn't let another Polydore squeeze himself into
my regard.

"Silvia," I said abruptly, as I came into our room, "we must really
make some immediate plan for disposing of the Polydores, or, at
least, of 'Them Three.'"

"Huldah is managing them tolerably well," demurred Silvia. "Since they
depreciated in market value from five thousand per to nothing, she has
resumed her former harsh treatment of them."

"Well, we are not going to keep them," I replied with finality. "We
are under no obligations to do so. I am going to put them in a school
for boys and use the blank check Felix Polydore left to pay for their
tuition."

"I suppose that is what we will have to do," she admitted with a
little sigh. "Yet, Lucien, it doesn't seem quite right. If they are in
a boys' school, they will keep on right along the same lines. They
need home influence and contact with women. Demetrius is fond of music
and will sit still and listen when I play. Emerald obeyed me today the
first time I spoke, and I even thought I saw a glimmer of good in
Pythagoras."

I didn't tell her that this glimmer was what had decided me to dispose
of him.

"It would, doubtless, be better for them to stay," I admitted, "but I
am not going to be a martyr to the cause. They are going."

The next morning I wrote for catalogues and prospectus to the
different schools, and I felt as if three old men of the sea had been
lifted from my shoulders.



CHAPTER XIX

_Which Has to Do with Some Letters_


One morning when I came down to my office, I found a letter postmarked
from the city in which Uncle Issachar lived addressed to me. I opened
it and found inclosed, with seal unbroken, the letter Silvia had
mailed to her uncle and which she had marked "personal." There was a
note addressed to me accompanying it:

  "Dear Sir:

  "I am returning herewith your personal letter to Mr. Innes, as he
  has gone to South America and left no forwarding address. Should
  such be received from him at any future date, you will be duly
  notified thereof.

                                          "Very truly yours,
                                          "Chester K. Winslow,
                                                    "Secretary."

I read the above to Silvia at luncheon. She was grievously disappointed
because her uncle had not received her letter of explanation.

"It is most fortunate," she said, "that I sent it in one of your
office envelopes."

As usual, she had found the bright spot she always looked for and
generally discovered.

"I wouldn't care," she said, "to have Uncle Issachar's private
secretary or the dead-letter office know all our private affairs, but
I shall feel like an impostor until Uncle Issachar is undeceived."

"I feel a hunch," said Rob, "that Uncle Issachar will run across
Doctor Felix and his wife down there in Chili and find you out."

"He may run across the Polydores," I replied, "but he'll never find
out from them that they are the parents of Silvia's children. They
would not mention a subject in which they have so little interest."

"But," argued Beth, "naturally they'd tell him where they lived, and
then, of course, he'd say he had a niece living in the same town. They
would inquire her name and inform him that they were her near
neighbors, and then he'd tell them what fine sons you have, and then,
of course, the Polydores would claim their own."

"Which theory goes to show," said Silvia, "how little you know Uncle
Issachar and the Polydore seniors. He would not think of speaking to
strangers, and if he did, he wouldn't say any of those usual
conversational things you mentioned. The Polydores wouldn't be
interested, in the least, in knowing he had a niece unless she
happened to know something about antiques, and if he should describe
her children, she wouldn't recognize them."

After luncheon I went out on the porch. While I sat there, the mail
carrier came along and handed me a letter--a returned letter. It was
directed in Ptolemy's round hand to Mr. Issachar Innes. He had
evidently used the envelope to Silvia's letter to her uncle as his
model, for the address was written in the same way. "Personal" was
added in the left-hand corner, and his name and our house number was
in the upper left-hand corner.

I went into the library where my wife, Beth, Rob, and Ptolemy were
sitting.

"Ptolemy," I said, handing him the letter, "here is your communication
to Uncle Issachar, returned."

He lost some of his usual _sang froid_ and appeared quite disconcerted.

"Why, Ptolemy," exclaimed Silvia in consternation, "what in the world
did you write to Uncle Issachar about?"

Ptolemy had recovered and was quite himself again.

"About us," he said innocently. "As the oldest of our family, I
thought I ought to do a little explaining."

"And I think," I said, looking at him keenly, "that we have the right
to know what your explanation was."

Ptolemy handed me over the letter.

"Read it aloud," he said, with the air of one who is proud of his
productions.

Rob's eyes shone in anticipation.

I broke the seal. A note from the secretary fell out. It was an
apology for not returning the letter sooner, but it had been
inadvertently mislaid. I then read aloud the letter Ptolemy had
written:

  "Dear Uncle Issachar

  "I am sorry Diogenes and I were away when you were here. You
  thought the others were fine, but you should have seen--Diogenes.
  I hope you will send mudder back her check, because there is lots
  of things she needs, and it takes a lot of money to take care of
  all us. You see our own father and mother don't want to be
  bothered with us and they went away and left us, and so we are
  living with mudder the same as if we were really her adopted
  children, and if her own would have been worth five thousand per
  to you, I think her adopted children ought to be worth half as
  much anyway, so it would only be fair to send her a check for
  $12,500 anyway, and if you are a good sport like the kids said you
  were, you'll send back her check.

                                            "Yours truly,
                                    "P. Issachar Polydore Wade."

Rob's laughter was so free and spontaneous that I had to join in
against my will. Ptolemy, who had seemed a little apprehensive of the
verdict, looked accordingly relieved.

"That's a fine letter, young man," approved Rob. "Stepdaddy ought to
take you into his law firm."

"No," declared Beth. "I think Ptolemy has inherited his mother's gift.
He should be a writer."

"Not on your life!" cried Ptolemy with feeling. "I want to live
things instead of writing about them."

A tear or two came into Silvia's eyes.

"It was very sweet in you, Ptolemy, to try to get the money for
mudder."

I felt that all this commendation was bad for Ptolemy, and that it was
up to me to take a reef in his sails.

"It was a well-meant letter, Ptolemy," I said, "and I know that your
motive was unselfish, but it is very poor policy to meddle in other
people's affairs. Meddlers are mischief makers in spite of their good
intentions. I am very glad it did not fall into Uncle Issachar's
hands."

Ptolemy looked sufficiently squelched.

"By the way, Silvia," I said. "I wrote Mr. Winslow and told him not to
forget to forward Uncle Issachar's address as soon as he possibly
could do so, as I had matters of importance to communicate to him."

"He may travel about like father and mother," said Ptolemy, again
regaining confidence, "so why don't you put that check for twenty-five
thousand in the Savings Department and get the interest on it
anyway?"

"I think, Ptolemy," said Rob, "that you are too good a financier,
after all, to become a lawyer. I will go back to my first conviction
that you should be a promoter."

"We'll give him to Uncle Issachar," I proposed, "for a partner."



CHAPTER XX

_"The Money We Earnt for You"_


Life went on uneventfully save for the dire doings of "Them Three."
Knowing that they were to be sent to school, they were having their
last fling at life untrammeled. September came, and Rob set the day
for his departure, as he was going home to arrange his affairs, so he
and Beth could leave for an extended honeymoon trip. I planned to go
with Rob and install the Polydore three in their distant school. They
were so despondent at leaving, as the time drew near, that a feeling
of gloom hung over the household, all the members of which, even to
Huldah, urged me to relent. But I remained adamant until the evening
before the day set for the dissolution of the Polydore family, when
something happened that changed all our plans.

We were assembled in the library in a state of forced cheerfulness
when the doorbell rang. I answered it, and receipted for a telegram
which I opened and read in the hall. It was from Chester K. Winslow.

"Silvia," I said gravely, as I returned to the library, "your Uncle
Issachar is dead. Died in South America. Heart disease. Very sudden."

Conflicting emotions were depicted in Silvia's expression.

The thought uppermost in all our minds was expressed simultaneously by
"Them Three."

"Gee! Then you can keep the money we earnt for you."

"You know," interpolated Rob in soft-pedaled tone, "they are going to
train school children toward the military--teach the young ideas how
to shoot, as it were. It won't be long before they are ordered to
Mexico to protect us."

"If Them Three ever meets that there Viller man," commented Huldah
confidently, "the fur will fly some."

"Lucien," said Silvia thoughtfully, "we are under obligations to these
children, you see, after all."

"Yes," I acknowledged with a sigh, "seeing they are now ours, bought
and paid for, I suppose we'll have to treat them as such."

"You wouldn't send your own kids away to school," said Pythagoras
significantly.

"No," I reluctantly allowed, answering the protest of Pythagoras, "and
we won't send you. You will all go to the public school tomorrow."

The deafening Polydore powwow that followed made me hope that Uncle
Issachar had met with his just deserts.



"By the author of Mildew Manse."

AMARILLY OF CLOTHES-LINE ALLEY

By BELLE K. MANIATES

Illustrated. 12mo. $1.00 net.

A book for the many who are weary of problem novels. How prosperity came
to the Jenkins family, how Amarilly got an education, how the Boarder
married Lily Rose and built the Annex, and the adventures of the rector's
surplice, are told in a wholesome little story, between whose covers await
many laughs, and a tear or two as well.

Amarilly is blessed with a large family and amiable neighbors, and their
doings are amusing, but her fancies and devices are captivating.... The
little heroine is all right.--_New York Sun._

The sort of story which pulls at the heartstrings of all readers who like
a real and genuine character.... No one can afford to miss the sweet humor
and helpful cheeriness which the author serves in generous
measure.--_Boston Globe_.

"Amarilly of Clothes-Line Alley" is a dear companion for vacation days
and comes deservedly under the books of real amusement.... Dear Amarilly!
she brightens every hour spent with her.--_Buffalo News_.

LITTLE, BROWN & CO., Publishers

34 Beacon Street, Boston





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