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Title: Round the Corner in Gay Street
Author: Richmond, Grace S. (Grace Smith), 1866-1959
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.

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[Illustration: Cover]



[Illustration: "’HERE YOU ARE--YOU DON’T HALF LET ME HELP YOU’"]



                           _ROUND THE CORNER
                             IN GAY STREET_


                         _By_ GRACE S. RICHMOND



                               AUTHOR OF
                       "With Juliet in England,"
                   "The Indifference of Juliet," etc.



                             ILLUSTRATED BY
                  MAUD THURSTON AND CHARLES M. RELYEA

                          _A. L. BURT COMPANY_
                        _Publishers -- New York_



                       COPYRIGHT, 1907, 1908, BY
                          PERRY MASON COMPANY

                          COPYRIGHT, 1908, BY
                       DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY
                        PUBLISHED, AUGUST, 1908

           ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, INCLUDING THAT OF TRANSLATION
           INTO FOREIGN LANGUAGES, INCLUDING THE SCANDINAVIAN



                      PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES
                                   AT
               THE COUNTRY LIFE PRESS, GARDEN CITY, N.Y.



                                   TO
                      MARJORIE, GUERNSEY AND JEAN



                                CONTENTS


                          BOOK I.  GAY STREET

CHAPTER

      I. An Introduction by Telephone
     II. Gay Street Settles Down
    III. Peter Sees a Light
     IV. Forrest Plays a Trick
      V. Without Gloves
     VI. Weeds and Flowers
    VII. Jane Puts a Question
   VIII. Murray Gives an Answer
     IX. Snap Shots
      X. Hide and Seek
     XI. In the Garden


                      BOOK II.  WORTHINGTON SQUARE

      I. Jane Wears Pearls
     II. Shirley Has Grown Up
    III. Luncheon for Twelve
     IV. Pot-hooks
      V. Black Care
     VI. A Breakdown
    VII. Christmas Greens
   VIII. Peter Reads Rhymes
     IX. A Red Glare
      X. Peter Prefers the Porch



                          BOOK I.  GAY STREET



                               CHAPTER I

                      AN INTRODUCTION BY TELEPHONE


The hour for breakfast at the home of Mr. Harrison Townsend, in
Worthington Square, was supposed to be eight o’clock.  In point of fact,
however, breakfast was usually served from that hour on, until the last
laggard had appeared.

The head of the house himself was always promptly on hand at eight.  On
the morning of April second he had, as usual, nearly finished his
breakfast before the door opened to admit a second member of the family.
Mr. Townsend raised his eyes as a tall and slender figure limped slowly
across the floor.

"Morning, Murray!" he said, and dropped his eyes again to his paper.

"Good morning, sir!" responded his son, and glanced indifferently over
the table as he sat down.  "Bring me grapefruit and a cup of coffee," he
said to the maid.  "No, nothing else.  Be sure the grapefruit is fixed
as I like it."

Mr. Townsend finished his newspaper and his coffee at the same moment,
and rose from the table.  Although five minutes had elapsed since the
elder of his two sons came into the room, no conversation had passed
between them. Mr. Townsend’s glance dropped upon the young man, who,
with his look of ill health, would have appeared to a stranger to have
lived several more than the twenty-three years which were really his.

"You’re not feeling well this morning, Murray?"

"About as usual."

"It’s not strange that you have no strength, when you take nothing
substantial with your morning meal."

"How can I, when I can’t bear the sight of anything but fruit?"

"You don’t get out enough."

"I suppose I don’t.  There’s nothing to take me out."

Mr. Townsend turned away.  As he passed through the door, he met his
daughter Olive, and greeted her.

This very pretty, dark-skinned, dark-eyed girl of eighteen evidently had
been keeping late hours on the previous evening.  Her long lashes
drooped sleepily over her eyes as she nodded to her brother.

"Grapefruit any good?" she asked.

"Fair, if it wasn’t sweetened like a bonbon."

"I like mine sweet.  Annie, tell Gretchen to put half a dozen maraschino
cherries in my grapefruit and some crushed ice."

"You must like the mess that will be," Murray observed.

"I do--very much," replied his sister, decidedly.

The two continued their breakfast in silence, which was presently
interrupted by the advent of a fourth member of the family.  Forrest
Townsend, flinging into the room with a rush, dressed in riding clothes,
and casting hat and crop upon a chair as he passed it, offered a
picturesque contrast to the two dark-eyed young persons.  Of a little
more than medium height, strongly built, fair-haired and blue-eyed, he
looked the young athlete that he was.

"Hello!" was his morning greeting, as he dropped into a chair.  He
proceeded instantly to give his directions to the maid.  No invalid
order was his.

"No--no grapefruit.  I want my chop, and some bacon and eggs; tell
Gretchen to brown the eggs better than she did yesterday.  Muffins this
morning?  What?  Oh bother!  You know I hate toast, Annie!  Oh,
waffles--that’s better! Coffee, of course."

"Sounds like an order you ’d give at a hotel," observed his sister, with
scorn.  "I wonder Gretchen does n’t make a fuss at having to cook a
whole breakfast like that just for you. Nobody else wants such a heavy
meal at this hour."

"The bigger geese you all are then.  If I picked at my breakfast the way
the rest of you do, I ’d soon lose this good muscle and wind of mine."

"I never heard that hot waffles and syrup were good for muscle and
wind."  Murray looked cynical under his dark eyebrows.  "They would n’t
be allowed at any training-table."

Forrest leaned back in his chair and surveyed his brother.  "A lot you
know about training tables--a fellow who spent his two college years
cramming for honours," he said, pointedly.  "No wonder you look like a
pale ghost on such rations. Here comes mother at last."

Mrs. Harrison Townsend, in a trailing pale blue gown, her fair hair
piled high upon her head, came in with an air of abstraction.

"Out late last night?" Forrest asked her, attacking his chop with
relish.  "A dissipated lot you all look but me.  Even Murray would be
taken for a chap that got in toward morning. That comes of reading in
bed.  Now look at me. I was in after the last of you, and I ’m as fresh
as a daisy."

"For a boy not out of his teens your hours strike me as peculiar."
Murray rose slowly as he spoke.  He glanced at his mother.  She was busy
with letters she had found at her plate.

Murray limped slowly over to the end of the room, where a great
semi-circular alcove, filled with windows, a cushioned seat running
round its whole extent, looked out upon the shrubbery and the street
beyond.  He sank down upon this seat, and gazed indifferently out of the
window.

Across the narrow side street which led away from stately Worthington
Square into a much less pretentious neighborhood stood a big furniture
van, unloading its contents before a small brown house.  Although upon
the left side of the Townsend place lay a fine stretch of lawn, at the
right the house stood not more than ten yards away from the side street.
Its present owner had attempted to remedy this misfortune of site by
planting a thick hedge and much shrubbery, but a narrow vista remained
through which, from the dining-room windows, the little brown house
opposite could be seen with the effect of being viewed through a
field-glass and brought into close range.

"What’s that over there in Gay Street?"  Olive had caught a glimpse of
the furniture-van. "New people moving in?  Goodness!  How many tenants
has that house had?  They ’re always moving out and moving in--nobody
can keep track of them."

Mrs. Townsend, looking up from her letter, glanced out in her turn.
"There is certainly no need to keep track of them," she observed. "What
your Grandfather Townsend could have been thinking of when he built this
house on the very edge of such a fine lot----"

"Grandfather Townsend was a shrewd old man, and had an eye to the sale
of lots on the farther side of the house when land got high here," was
Forrest’s explanation.

Five minutes later he was out of the house and crossing the lawn to the
stables--a gay and gallant young figure in his riding clothes.  From the
window of his own room upstairs Murray watched his brother go, feeling
bitterly, as he often did, the contrast between Forrest’s superb young
health and his own crippled condition, the result of an accident two
years before, and the illness which had followed it.

"Don’t get outdoors enough!" he said to himself.  "I fancy if I could go
tearing out of the house like that every morning, jump on Bluebottle,
and gallop off down Frankfort Boulevard I could get outdoor air enough
to keep me healthy."

An hour afterward there was a knock at his door, and a child’s voice
called: "O Murray, may I come in?"

His thirteen-year-old sister Shirley somehow seemed nearer to Murray
than any other member of his family.  "Come in!" he responded.

"O Murray," the little sister began instantly, "some new people are
moving into the little brown house, and there ’s a girl just my age! She
looks so nice!  I ’ve been watching her. She ’s helping wash windows.
Oh, please come into the den and let me show you!"

From the ’den’ it could all be seen.  There were two girls on the small
porch, each washing a window.  The elder girl looked as if she were
about eighteen, her abundant curly hair, of a decided reddish brown,
being worn low at her neck after the fashion of girls of that age.  Even
across the street the observers could see that she had a merry face,
full of life and colour.

The younger girl, was about Shirley’s size, round-faced and sturdy, and
apparently of an amiable frame of mind, for having accidentally tipped
over her pail, she took the mishap in the jolliest spirit, and throwing
back her thick brown braids of hair, mopped up the swimming porch with
lively flourishes.

"I wish we could see ’em closer," suggested Shirley.  "They look so
nice--don’t you think they do?--not a bit like the other people that
have lived in that house.  I saw their mother, I ’m sure I did, a little
while ago--she had the dearest face!  Murray, don’t you think you ’d
like to take a little walk?  It would be such fun to go past the house
while they ’re out there, and they ’d be sure to turn and look, so we
could see their faces.  Please, Murray!  We may not have so good a
chance after they get the windows washed."

It was something to do, certainly.  Motives of interest for the daily
walk upon which the doctors insisted were few, and the older brother
gladly followed his anxious young leader out into the spring sunshine.
Slowly, Murray’s cane tapping their advance, they turned the corner from
Worthington Square into Gay Street.

Coming rapidly toward them from the opposite direction was a young
fellow of about Murray’s age.  This youth, looking toward the brown
house, gave a low whistle.  The girls upon the porch turned and waved
their cloths, and the newcomer, making three leaps of the short path to
the house, and one jump of the low porch, was with them.

They did not shout, those three, and the elder girl’s voice, Murray
noted, was delightfully modulated; but he and Shirley were close now,
and they could not help hearing the greeting.

"Hard at it already?  Everything come?  I got off for an hour, and
thought I ’d rush up and do what I could."

"That was lovely of you, Pete," said the elder girl.  A surreptitious
glance from Murray, and a frank stare from Shirley, proved her to
possess a very attractive face, indeed, as she smiled at the stoutly
built young man before her.  "Yes, everything has come, and mother can
keep you busy every minute.  Window-washing would n’t _seem_ to come
first, but we thought we ’d get at least this little front room in order
by night, so that when you all came home----"

Her voice was growing indistinct as the passers-by moved reluctantly on.
But the younger girl at this point broke in, and her voice, high and
eager like Shirley’s own, carried farther:

"O Petey, Jane and I are to have the dearest, littlest room you ever
saw, right under the eaves. Jane can’t stand up all over, but I
can--except close to the wall.  It’s so little, Jane thinks we can paper
it ourselves.  If we can only----"

Here the deeper voice of the youth interrupted, and nothing more was
distinguishable.  Murray and Shirley walked on, both, it must be
confessed, wishing they had eyes in the backs of their heads.

"Oh, do let’s turn and go back!" begged Shirley, with one quick glance
behind.  But Murray made her keep on to the corner, and then insisted on
crossing the street.

"Even now they may guess that we ’re watching them," he said.  "Don’t
stare so at them, child."

"But they’re going in.  Oh, look,"--she clutched his arm--"there’s the
mother!  I’m sure she is.  Look!  Isn’t she dear?"

She did look "dear."  She was enveloped in an apron, and her sleeves
were rolled up to the elbows revealing a pair of round, white, capable
arms.  Her abundant gray hair rolled and puffed about her face in a most
girlish fashion, her bright, dark eyes were set under arching eyebrows,
and her face, almost as fresh in colouring as her daughter’s, was full
of charm.

The young man, laughing, put an arm about her shoulders, and drew her
back with him into the house.  The two girls, gathering up their pails
and cloths, and exchanging low, gay talk, followed, and the door was
closed.

The April sunshine suddenly faded out of the narrow side street and left
it as commonplace as ever.  Yet not quite.  Murray and Shirley, gazing
across at the dull little brown house. were longing to enter it.  It was
quite evident that life of a sort they hardly knew was about to be lived
within.

With this new interest to stimulate him, it was perhaps not strange that
Murray should have found it rather easier than usual to get out for his
afternoon walk, or that it should have ended by a slow progress through
Gay Street.  There were somehow so few young people he cared for, and
the faces of the three he had seen had struck him as so interesting,
that he wondered, as he tapped along with his cane, by what means he
could learn to know them.

Just as Murray came along the street, the younger of the two girls he
had seen opened the door, and holding it ajar, addressed somebody inside
in her childishly penetrating voice:

"I ’m going to find a telephone somewhere, Janey, if I have to ring at
every door.  No--I ’ll _tell_ them we are n’t the sort of people who
borrow molasses and telephones and things all the time, but----  Why, I
’ll say it’s _very_ important--_anybody_ would understand about
wall-paper not coming and the man waiting.  No, I don’t suppose they
have in such a little house, but it won’t do any harm to ask.  Of
course, across the street they’d have--but I don’t quite----  No, of
course I won’t, but----"

She ended an interview which evidently was not proceeding according to
her satisfaction by closing the door and running down the steps into the
street.  Murray wanted very much to speak to her and offer the use of
his telephone, but she whisked away so fast he had no time. He walked
more slowly than ever, saw her turn away from two Gay Street doors, and
then retraced his steps, and met her as she was preparing to ascend the
third small porch.

"I beg your pardon," he said, "but I thought I heard you say something
about needing to use a telephone.  Won’t you please come over and use
ours--the house on the corner?"

"Oh, thank you!"  She looked relieved. "That’s good of you.  We hate to
bother anybody like this, and Jane--my sister--did n’t want me to, but
the paper man is waiting, and he ’s getting very cross, and we do want
to get the dining-room done before night.  I ’ll go and tell Jane.  She
’ll have to telephone.  I can’t--I don’t know how!"

She ran into the house, and a moment later the elder sister emerged, and
came down to Murray to accept his courtesy.

"It’s very kind of you," she said, as he accompanied her across the
street and in at the hedge gate.  "To-morrow happens to be a legal
holiday, you know, and the paperer says if he does n’t have the right
paper this afternoon it will be three days before he can finish."

"That would be an awful bother," Murray declared, "just as you ’re
getting settled.  I ’m glad we ’re so near.  Come in.  This way, please.
Take this chair here by the desk. I ’ll just wait in the hall and show
you the way out."

As he waited, Murray could not help hearing. The business did not seem
to be easily accomplished.  When his visitor had succeeded in getting
the paper house on the telephone she had a very bad time making the man
at the other end of the line understand about the mistake in the paper,
and when it became plain that he did understand, Jane’s surprised little
sentences showed that he was a most unaccommodating person, and would
not do what she requested.

"You can’t do it?" she asked, and Murray observed that with all the
trouble she was having her voice did not lose its courteous intonations.

"Not this afternoon _at all_?  We are very anxious to get the room
settled and the paperer says----  Yes, I know, but it surely was n’t our
mistake.  I beg your pardon--it ’s only three o’clock, I think, not
four.  He says there ’s plenty of time if----  No, I ’ve nobody to
send."

"Look here!"  Murray’s disgusted voice was at her ear.  He was gently
attempting to take the receiver away from her.  "Let me tackle that
person, please."

The next moment Jane was standing beside the desk, her cheeks rosy with
a quite reasonable indignation at the treatment she had been receiving
from the surly unknown.  At the telephone sat her new acquaintance,
sending rapid requests over the wire in a tone which plainly was making
somebody attend.

"Not fix up your own mistake to-night--with to-morrow a holiday?  Why
not?  There’s plenty of time.  Send by a special messenger, of course,
and tell him to be quick.  Who’s talking to you?  That does n’t make any
special difference, does it?  It may be a small order--I don’t see what
that has to do with it. Mrs. Bell needs that paper up within half an
hour. Yes--well, this is Harrison Townsend’s house--Worthington Square,
and I ’m telephoning for our friends.  What?  Oh, you will!  Well, thank
you!  I ’m glad you see your way clear. Yes--half an hour--I say, make
it twenty minutes, can’t you, please?  Very well."  And Murray broke
off, and hung up the receiver with an impatient click which expressed
his contempt for a clerk who would hurry up an order for Worthington
Square when he would n’t do it for Gay Street.

"Idiot!" he remarked.

The girl beside him moved toward the door, smiling.  "It was ever so
kind of you," she said.  "The paper is for the dining-room, and you can
guess how it upsets things to have the dining-room in confusion."

"I hope you didn’t mind my telling that fellow you were our friends,"
said Murray, as he accompanied his guest to the door.  "Such near
neighbours----"

"Oh, I understood!  That was what made it so easy for him to get a
messenger! Only--please don’t think we----"

"Yes?"  Murray was smiling encouragingly at her.

"It sounds absurd, but--it’s so dreadfully soon to be borrowing
telephones----"

"Or molasses?"

They both laughed.  Murray’s hand lingered upon the door knob, which at
this moment it became timely for him to turn for her.  "I could n’t help
hearing your sister assuring you that she would tell people you never
borrowed molasses.  I don’t see why not.  We might need to borrow it of
you some time, but of course if you feel there’s something especially
prohibitive about molasses----"

He knew he was not saying anything brilliant, but it made her laugh
again, and laughing is an excellent way of getting over a trying
situation.

But he was obliged to open the door for her without delay, for she
plainly was not going to be tempted into lingering.  She ran down the
steps, and he saw her bronze-red hair catch the sunshine as she went.
As she reached the bottom he called after her: "I hope you’ll like that
paper mighty well when it’s on!"

"Thank you!" he heard her answer, over her shoulder, and he was sure
that she was still smiling.  It seemed to him reasonably certain that
the Bells were pleasant people to know.



                               CHAPTER II

                        GAY STREET SETTLES DOWN


Tramp, tramp, upon the little porch. Peter flung the door wide, and in
marched the four male members of the house of Bell.  The door opened
hospitably at once into the living-room, so that the four were able at a
glance to see what had been accomplished, and they immediately gave
voice to their surprise.  "Hi!"  This was fifteen-year-old Rufus’s
exclamation. "Hi! hi!  Hip, hip, hurray-ay!"

"Well, well, they must have worked!" said Peter.  "I was up here an hour
this morning, and they had n’t got further than washing the windows."

"When it comes to hustling work, Mother Bell and corps can’t be beaten,"
declared Ross McAndrew, the cousin of the Bells, a pleasant-faced lad of
eighteen.

There was a rush from the rear of the house, and Nancy was upon
them--Nancy, the twelve-year-old, with the thick brown braids and the
round, bright face.  Ross caught her and swung her up to his shoulder,
where she struggled frantically.

"I ’m too old, Ross!" she pleaded, rumpling his curly fair hair in
revenge until it stood on end.  "Put me down!  Put me down at once!
O-oh, you ’re bumping my head against the ceiling!"

He looked up and laughing swung her gently down.  "It is n’t a very
lofty apartment, is it, Nan?  Did it hurt?"

"Only my feelings.  Does n’t it look nice here?  Mother worked at the
kitchen, and Jane and I did all this.  We wanted it to look like home
when you came."

"It does, indeed.  But I must admit I ’m glad mother kept at the
kitchen," laughed her father, with a tweak of one fat braid.  "It seems
too much to expect that we should have a meal to-night in all the
disorder, but Peter brought back word this morning that we were to
come."

"Indeed you are," said a voice from an inner doorway, and everybody
turned.  A fresh white apron tied about her trim waist--where did she
find it in the confusion?--her beautiful hair in careful order, Mrs.
Bell beamed at her big family.  "We’ve nothing but an Irish stew for
you, but we had it on this morning as soon as the fire was built, and
it’s tender and fine."

"Good for you!  We like nothing better. Where’s Janey?"

"In the kitchen, trying to make places for you all at the kitchen table.
We could n’t do anything with the dining-room.  The paperer has only
just gone."

"Come on, you people!" called a blithe voice from the next room, and
Jane’s face looked over her mother’s shoulder.  "Turn to the right as
you come through the door, and follow the wall round.  I ’ve made a
passage that way, but you ’re likely to get into perilous places if you
try to steer for yourselves."

In single file they followed directions, all but young Rufus, who
preferred leaping from box to barrel, and from table to trunk, and so
reached the haven of the kitchen first.

"_Whoo-p!_" he ejaculated.  "Say, but this is jolly!  _Mm-m_!  Smell
that stew?  Hope you ’ve lots of it?"

"All you can eat," responded Jane, confidently. "Now if you ’ll let me
seat you all, I ’ll make a place for every one.  Mother to go first, at
the other end, in the chair--our only one available as yet.  Next, Ross,
on the cracker-box, and Nan on the wood-box.  Daddy’s to have this
soap-box all to himself, with a cushion on it. Peter can sit on that
coal-hod, turned upside down."

There was a roar at this, and a protest from Peter.  "’Can’t I have a
newspaper to pad the top of it, sis?"

"If you will find one," Jane responded, unmoved.  "Rufe will have to
take the top of that flour-barrel, and we ’ll hand up his things."

Mrs. Bell was a famous cook, and understood well the quantity of food
necessary to appease the keen appetites of her big family, so the bowls
were replenished again and again, until all were satisfied, and still
the kettle was not quite empty.

"You’re not much like a girl I saw to-day, Janey," remarked Peter,
balancing himself in the attempt to sit comfortably back upon his
coal-hod, while his sister removed the plates and set forth a dish of
baked apples and cream.  Peter laughed at the recollection.  "She was
too stately and languid to lift her eyes to look at me, after the first
frosty glance.  We rode up town on the same street car yesterday, when I
was coming here to make sure the house was ready for us.  It was the
rush hour, of course, and I gave her my seat. I think--yes, I really
think"--Peter paused to reflect--"she said, ’Thank you,’ though since of
course I was n’t looking at her as I took off my hat I did n’t see her
lips move.  She and I got off the car together, and came up Gay Street
together----"

[Illustration: "’YOU ’RE NOT MUCH LIKE A GIRL I SAW TODAY, JANEY’"]

"Together!" from Jane.

"On opposite sides of the street.  She was a little ahead, for the car
stopped on her side.  I looked across at her with interest as I came
along--wanted to find out what our neighbors were like, you know.  She
was carrying a big muff, and had some things in it--been shopping, of
course.  Oh, I don’t mean parcels--she would n’t be caught carrying a
parcel--but letters and a purse and a card-case and a
pocket-handkerchief, and so forth.  Well, as we came along I noticed she
had dropped something--handkerchief, by the way it fluttered down. Of
course I bolted across the street, through six inches of spring mud,
grasped the article, and rushed after her.  I said, ’Pardon me, but you
dropped your handkerchief,’ and held it out.  She took it, murmured
’Thank you!’--I saw her lips move this time--"and sailed on like a
queen.  I took off my hat, waded back through the mud, and was
continuing on my thankless way----"

"Thankless!--I thought you just admitted she thanked you," objected
Ross, with a twinkle.

"It was one of those thankless thank-yous, just the same," explained
Peter, with gravity. "Well, as I say, I went on--like this
story--meditating upon her cordial manner, when I saw something else
fall from the capacious muff."

"You didn’t!"  Jane looked incredulous.

"Pardon me, I did.  This time I did not bolt across the street; indeed,
I stopped to consider whether I should not shout, ’Hi, hi, there, you
’ve dropped your purse, lady!’ like a street gamin.  But reflecting on
the embarrassment this might cause me at some future date, when she and
I should really meet, I picked my way across again, seized the
pocketbook, and was about to pursue her, when she looked round and
caught me in the act of scrutinizing it, as one naturally does upon
picking up a gold-mounted, aristocratic affair like that, the like of
which he expects never----"

"Oh, go on!" Rufus could no longer endure his brother’s tantalising
eloquence.

"I hastened to her side," continued Peter, who was gifted in the art of
putting things elaborately when he chose, "and remarked, ’I believe this
is yours?’  She--now what, friends, would you naturally expect a girl to
do on receiving the third favour from a stranger within fifteen
minutes?"

"What did you expect?  Did you suppose she would fly into your----"

"Did you want her to open the pocketbook and hand you a quarter, saying,
’Here, my honest lad----’"

"Think she ’d say, ’You must call and see father.  He will give you a
position in his----’"

"Your suggestions are far-fetched and improbable. I expected none of
these things to happen. But consider the situation.  Here was I,
crossing the street for the third time in the mud----"

"Go on!"

"Would n’t you have thought, considering the absurdity of the
affair--her strewing things along the street like that--the least she
could have done would have been to----"

"Smile!" supplied Jane.  "_Did n’t_ she, Peter?"

"She did not," avowed Peter.  "She just looked at me as if she thought I
had been about to steal her purse, took it, and went on, this time
without saying thank you!"

"Good gracious!"  This from Ross.  "She must be a nice girl to know.
And you look pretty well, too, Pete, in that blue suit."

"Where does she live?" Nancy inquired, her round face sympathetic with
Peter’s mock humiliation.

"In the big house across the street.  If you get out of milk or eggs,
Janey, don’t hesitate to run across and borrow some," counselled Peter.

"Now if you ’ll just make use of us all this evening," proposed Mr.
Bell, rising, "we can accomplish a good deal--eh, boys?  Shall I open
the boxes and barrels, Martha?"

At this suggestion three more pairs of strong arms were put at Mrs.
Bell’s service.  She set every one at work at once.

"Yes, Joe, dear," she agreed, "if you will open the boxes, I ’ll take
out the things and put them in place as far as I can.  That’s right,
Nancy, you help Jane with the dishes, and when they are done you can go
up stairs and make up the beds.  Ross and Peter----"

"Yes, we ’ll set up the beds," said Peter, with alacrity, anticipating
the division of work, "and uncrate the chests of drawers and the bedroom
furniture generally.  Come on, Ross.  You ’re as much one of the family
as any of us now, since you helped us move, and a little family labour
like this will complete the job.  Whoever lives with us has to learn to
be handy man about the house."

"I ’m ready."  Ross looked it.  There was an air of alertness about him,
for he was slimmer and lighter than Peter, and his fair curly hair made
him appear much younger, although only two years separated the ages of
the cousins.

"You will find the furniture mostly in the rooms where it belongs," Mrs.
Bell called after them.  "Jane will be up soon and straighten you out,
if you get mixed.  Rufus, suppose you go round after the others and
bring away all the litter they leave after the uncrating, and make a
neat pile of it in the wood-shed."

The steep and narrow little staircase ascended abruptly between walls
from the dining-room and led to low-ceiled regions above, which, to the
eyes of Murray and Shirley Townsend, from the big house across the
street, facing Worthington Square, would have seemed too cramped and
small of dimensions to be habitable, to say nothing of the possibility
of their ever being made comfortable.  But the Bells were of the sort
who make the best of everything, and so far none of them had suggested
that the little house was not an abode fit for the finest.

"Jane and Nan in one room, Rufe and I in another, and Mr. Ross McAndrew
alone in state in this little one in the corner.  I judge by the signs
that’s the stowing of the crowd intended," speculated Peter, surveying
each room in turn.

"That corner room’s as big as any.  I don’t think I ought to have it all
to myself," objected Ross.

"What, not that spacious eight-by-nine apartment, with one whole side
under the eaves?" laughed Peter.  "Well, since we can’t split ourselves
into halves, and like the family of the famous poem ’we are seven,’ I
don’t see but you ’ll have to make the best of your loneliness. The beds
are only three-quarters size, and Rufe takes up less room than you do,
so he and I naturally chum it."

"All right.  Let’s make a start.  Catch hold of that bureau, and heave
it around into place."

They fell to work with a will.  Ross, the more lightly built, showed the
greater energy of the two, though Peter worked away quite as steadily.
But after an hour of hard labour Peter called a halt.

"Oh, let’s put it through," and Ross bent over a box with undiminished
ardour.

His attitude appealed to Peter, spoiling for fun after a long day at the
factory, and in a twinkling he had tipped his cousin head first into the
nearly empty box.  Shouts, laughter and a lively scuffle ensued--so
lively a scuffle, indeed, that Mr. Bell, Jane and Nancy, in the
dining-room below, energetically sweeping up the litter made by the
paperer, smiled at one another in mock dismay as the floor above
resounded with the pounding and scraping of boot-heels, and the very
walls of the small house trembled with the fray.

"Goodness, I should think it was elephants up there!" cried Nancy, and
ran half-way up the stairs to see what was going on.

Mr. Bell opened his mouth to say, "Tell them it’s an old house, Nan, and
the ceiling ’s cracked"--when the thing happened.

The ceiling was old, the house was not too solidly built, and the battle
above had reached its height when, quite without warning, down upon the
freshly cleaned floor fell a great mass of plaster.  The powdery lime
rose in a suffocating cloud and covered Jane and her father with dust
and debris.

It was a minute more before the combatants, wrestling furiously over the
bare floors above, could be made to understand by a horrified young
person, who shrieked the news at them from the top of the staircase, the
havoc they had wrought.

But when they comprehended what had happened they hurried downstairs.

"Well, of all the----"  Ross was too shocked to finish.

"I say, but we’ve done it now, have n’t we?" exclaimed Peter, in
disgust.  "Janey--dad--it did n’t hurt you, did it?"

"Only my pride--and my hair," answered Jane, as she vainly tried to
brush her curly locks free from plaster.

"It’s a shame!  Why didn’t you stop us? Clumsy louts!  Pulling the place
down about our ears the very first night!"

"And how we hurried that paper man, to get him through to-night!"
lamented Nancy, brushing off her father with anxious fingers.  "We were
going to have the dining-room all settled to-morrow----"

"And to-morrow ’s a holiday," murmured Jane, from under her hair.

She was bending forward, with her head at her knees, while Mrs. Bell
shook out the clinging lumps from the tangle of hair in which they were
caught.

"It’s a quarter of ten," announced Rufus, cheerfully. "Do we have to
clear this up to-night?"

"I should say so!"  Ross caught up a broom.

"It’s the least we can do.  Get a box, will you, Rufe, and let’s have
the worst over.  Pete and I will do the job, and the rest of you can go
upstairs and dance a hornpipe over our heads. If you will throw things
at us from time to time down the stairs it may relieve your feelings."

"Don’t feel too badly.  I had a notion all the time that that ceiling
ought to have been pulled down before we papered the room; it looked old
and shaky to me.  Now we ’ll have a new one that will stand
pillow-fights as long as we live here," said Mrs. Bell, smiling at the
rueful countenance of her nephew.

"Right you are, and I’ll have a man here to put that plaster on in the
morning, holiday or no holiday," promised Peter.

In ten minutes the plaster had been swept up, Jane’s hair had received a
thorough brushing, Mr. Bell had been relieved of several lumps which had
worked their way down his back, and the family went to bed in as good
spirits as if nothing had happened.

The next morning Peter started early in quest of a plasterer to restore
the ceiling, and finding it by no means easy to discover one who cared
to work when he might play, came home after two hours’ search baffled
but still determined. A passing acquaintance gave him a clue, and he was
presently hurrying across the street in search of the Townsends’
coachman, whose brother, the acquaintance had said, might be persuaded
to do the job.

In the stables, much to his astonishment, he came fairly upon the girl
whose propensity for losing things he had described with so much gusto
the evening before.

"I beg your pardon," he said, quickly--he seemed to be always begging
her pardon--"but I was looking for your coachman.  I--he--I hoped he
could tell me the name--that is, of course he knows the name--I mean, I
wanted his brother’s address."

Peter was no stammerer, and it irritated him very much to be saying all
this so awkwardly, but there was something about the cool dark eyes of
this girl, as she stood looking at him, which rather disconcerted him.
She had evidently just dismounted from her horse, and now Peter observed
two things--first that she was rather oddly pale, and second, that her
side-saddle had slipped, and rested at an altogether improper angle upon
the horse’s back.  As he saw this he came forward.

"What is the matter?" he asked quickly. "You haven’t had a fall?  You
didn’t ride this way, of course?"

"Yes, I did," she answered, lifting her head rather high, and then
suddenly drooping it again.

"How far?  When did it slip?  Were you alone?"  Peter examined the
side-saddle.

"It began to slip--back--at--the boulevard," said the girl, rather
slowly.  "I--I don’t know just how I kept on, but I did.  Lewis is n’t
here.  He ought to be.  I can’t put up Blackthorn myself."

"Let me do it for you."  Peter took the bridle from her.  He soon had
the horse in the stall and had put away the saddle and bridle.

"That was a plucky thing to do," declared Peter, coming back to the
stable door, where the girl had dropped into the coachman’s chair, "to
ride home with a slipping saddle.  But you ought not to have done it,
you know.  It might have slipped a lot more with a jerk, and thrown you.
See here, you ’re not feeling just right, are you?  Shall I call
somebody?"

"No, no!"  She started up.  "If mother knew the least thing went wrong
she would n’t let me ride at all.  If you--if you just would n’t mind
staying here a little, till I feel like myself again----"

"Why, of course I will"--and Peter stayed.

It was only for a few minutes, and meanwhile Lewis, the coachman, had
returned, and the matter of the loose saddle-girth had been fully
discussed by all three.  Then Peter took his way home.

Jane met him at the door.  "Did you find where the plasterer lives?" she
asked, eagerly.

Peter stared at her, turned about, and gazed across the street, as if he
expected to see a plasterer following in his path, trowel and float in
hand. Then he burst into a laugh.  He mumbled something which sounded
like a very peculiar name, if it was a name, and rapidly retraced his
footsteps across the street, to make his inquiry of Lewis, the coachman.



                              CHAPTER III

                           PETER SEES A LIGHT


The Bells had been at home for a fortnight in Gay Street.

The little house was in order from cellar to roof, and its occupants had
settled down to the routine of their daily living, well content with the
new abode.  In a way they missed the larger house and freer environments
of the remote suburban place they had left, but the early hour at which
Mr. Bell and the boys were now able to reach home, and the later one at
which they could leave in the morning, amply compensated for the more
cramped quarters made necessary by the higher rates of rental in the
city.

"It’s not a very friendly neighborhood, though, is it, Janey?" commented
Peter one evening, as he and Jane stood on the porch, enjoying the mild
mid-April evening.  "How many calls have you had?  Two?"

"Three," corrected Jane, cheerfully.  "The two old ladies on the right,
the mother of six the left, and one odd person from Westlake Street.
The rest are still looking us over."

"Nobody from Worthington Square?"  Peter’s tone was quizzical.

"Absolutely nobody," Jane laughed.  "But we have one acquaintance in
Worthington Square, Peter--the little Townsend girl with the sweet, pale
face.  She wants to know us dreadfully, and she’s such a dear,
democratic little person the smiles positively tremble on her mouth when
I meet her--which I do almost every day.  So does Nancy.  It ’s the
oddest thing!  Nan says she almost never stirs out that the Townsend
child does n’t appear."

"She wants to get acquainted.  I don’t blame her.  They ’re the dullest
lot over there.  There seems to be one stirabout--the good-looking chap
who ’s off on horseback every day.  But the other son ’s a paleface, and
the daughter--hum--well----"  Peter’s pause was eloquent. "I think
she’s----  Hello!  What’s that?"

He had looked over at the big house as he spoke of its inmates, and his
eye had been caught by an appearance which struck him as unusual. The
house was dimly lighted everywhere, but in one room, the upper one with
the semicircular window, there was an effect of brilliancy of a ruddier
color than is ordinarily produced by electric lights.  As Peter and Jane
now stared at it, it seemed to grow in intensity, and there showed a
wavering and flashing of this singular light which looked suspiciously
like fire.

"Do you suppose there can be anything wrong?" speculated Peter,
anxiously.  "Of course a fire of coke or cannel in a fireplace might
give that effect, through those thin curtains, but we--haven’t
seen--anything like it--before--and--By George!" as the light flared
more ruddily than ever for an instant and then grew dull again, "I
believe there _is_ trouble there!  Anyhow, I ’ll run over and find out!
They can’t blame me for that."

He was starting off at a run when Jane darted after him.  "I ’m sure I
saw flames jump up, Pete!" she called, excitedly.  "The window’s open,
and the curtain blew to one side.  Oh, hurry!  Most of them are away; I
saw them drive off an hour ago."

She was running at Peter’s side, fleet of foot as he.  Her mind had
leaped to the youngest member of the unknown household, the one who did
not drive away after nightfall to dinners and parties, like the others.
Only that day she had met Shirley and exchanged with her the few bright
words the little girl seemed to welcome so eagerly.  They ran up the
steps of the great portico, with its stately columns, and hurrying
across it, came to a partly opened door.  Peter rang the bell, peering
impatiently through the vestibule into the large, square, half-lighted
interior.  "I ’ll wait just one minute for an answer," he said with his
foot on the threshold, "and then I ’ll be up that gorgeous staircase
back there."

Jane put her head in at the door.  "I smell smoke!" she breathed, and
Peter pushed past her.  Delaying no longer, he ran across the hall and
up the staircase, closely followed by Jane.

As he reached the top, a little white-clad figure ran screaming toward
him.  He rushed by, but Jane, at his heels, caught the little girl up in
her arms.

"There, there, darling," she soothed the frightened, sobbing child, "you
’re all safe!  Peter will take care of the fire.  Are they all away?
There, don’t be frightened, dear!"

Over Shirley’s head Jane saw Peter vanish through a doorway--beyond
which she could see a mass of smoke and flame--slam down a window, and
dash out again, closing the door behind him.  Then he was off down the
stairs, shouting for help as he went, and getting no response from any
quarter of the strangely deserted house.

"Take her away!" he called back to Jane, as he ran, and Jane attempted
to obey.

"Where are your clothes, dear?" she asked the child in her arms, but
could get no coherent answer.

She looked about her, and carrying Shirley, who was slender and as light
of weight as a much younger child, soon discovered the little girl’s
room.  She caught up the pile of clothes on a chair, and attempted to
dress her charge.  But Shirley only cried and clung.  Jane pulled a
silken blanket from the little brass bed, and wrapping the child in it,
and rolling her clothes into a bundle, which she tucked under one arm,
carried her downstairs and into a small reception-room near the front
entrance.

Peter, dashing through the silent house toward the rear, hoping to come
upon a man-servant somewhere, was met at last by a startled maid.

"A room upstairs is on fire," he said.  "Any men here to help me put it
out?  If there are n’t I must send in an alarm.  Any fire-extinguishers
about?"

The girl’s wits scattered at the news, but she managed to recall the
fact that the coachman must be at the stable again by this time, and
flew to call him.  Peter ran back to keep track of events.  He saw that
the walls were heavy, that the fire was thus far confined to the one
room, and that if help came speedily it would not be necessary to call
out the fire department, an expedient to be avoided, he felt sure,
unless the danger to the house was greater than he thought.

But the frightened maid forestalled him in this plan.  She ran to the
telephone and sent in the alarm herself, although in the confusion of
her fright she lost some minutes in getting the message properly
reported.  Meanwhile, the coachman having arrived to aid Peter, bringing
with him the apparatus kept in the stables for the purpose of
extinguishing fire, the two were soon successfully fighting the flames
without further aid.

Shirley, downstairs, was still trembling in Jane’s arms, and
incoherently crying for her brother Murray, who, she insisted, had not
gone out with the others that evening, but had been reading in the room
which was now on fire.  At that moment Murray himself came limping in at
the open door.  The maid met him at the threshold.

"O Mr. Murray," she began--and Jane, in the reception-room, heard
her--"the house is on fire, and----"

"What?  Where?  Where’s Shirley?  Who’s----"

Jane, with the child in her arms, appeared at the door of the
reception-room.  "She ’s here--quite safe," she said; and with an
exclamation, Murray came anxiously toward the two.  Then he paused and
looked up the staircase, for through the distant closed door upstairs
could be heard the sounds of voices, shouting directions.  The maid was
beginning an excited explanation when Jane interrupted her:

"My brother is here, and he and your coachman are putting it out, I ’m
sure."

"Has anybody sent in an alarm?"

"I did," said the maid.  "The young man told me not to, but how did he
know he could put it out?  And the master ’d be blamin’ me----"

"We don’t want the firemen here if we don’t need them," Murray was
beginning, when the distant and familiar clang of a gong stopped the
words upon his lips.  In a moment more it became evident that a
fire-engine and its train were upon them.  Murray turned away, and
started hurriedly up the stairs.

At the approaching noises, which to the delicate child had always been
peculiarly terrifying, little Shirley began to cry afresh.  Jane
gathered her up with an air of determination.

"I’m going to take her to our house across the street," she said to the
maid.  "There’s no need of her staying here to be so frightened."

The girl made no remonstrance.  She was too excited to do more than
bewail the absence of the other servants, and the misfortune of her
having been left alone in charge.  "I ’d just stepped out of the door a
minute, miss," she explained, "to speak to a friend of mine that was
passing.  ’T was a mercy I left the door open, or the young gentleman
couldn’t have----.  There’s the gong!--There ’s the fire-engine!--Oh,
my--but look at the crowd comin’ after ’em!"

"Show me a side door where I can slip out, please," requested Jane
hurriedly, and the maid obeyed.

As the firemen ran in at the front door, Jane, with Shirley in her arms,
hurried out at a low side entrance, from which a path through the
shrubbery led to a gateway in the high hedge next the street.

As she reached her own porch, the rest of her family came rushing out,
having heard the commotion in the street.  She almost ran into Nancy who
stopped abruptly to stare at Jane’s burden.

"Come back into the house with me, Nan," said Jane, quickly.  "Here ’s
our frightened little neighbour.  The fire will soon be out, but I
thought she’d be happier over here, for the family are all away."

In the house she put Shirley down upon the couch in the front room, and
the child, staring up, her big eyes full of tears and fright, beheld the
face of the girl she had so longed to know smiling down at her.

"This is splendid!" said Nancy Bell.  "I’ve wanted to know you like
everything, and now I ’ve got you right here in my own house.  Won’t you
let me help you get dressed?  I ’d love to."

Seeing that Nancy would be better for the shy little visitor than any
number of older persons, Jane left the two together, and went out to see
what was happening.

It was very little.  The fire-engine was already turning to leave, the
driver grumbling at a needless alarm.  "All out!" a voice was shouting,
and the crowd was reluctantly pausing upon the edge of the lawn,
disappointed that no further excitement was to be had.  Upstairs the
firemen had found the fire subdued to a mere dying smother of smoke, the
efficient chemical having made quick work of the blaze, which had not
had time to attack the walls of the room, but had been confined to its
furnishings.

Peter, his hands and clothes grimy, made light of the affair to Murray,
who was looking in at the ruin of the room.

"I took a few liberties with your front door," Peter said, "finding it
open and no one about. Oh, no, it hadn’t much headway; I saw that when I
decided not to call out the department. It was quite a blaze, but mostly
the light stuff about.  It must have caught from the curtains blowing
into that student-lamp."

"That’s my fault," Murray owned.  "I hate electric lights to read by, so
I lighted that lamp here.  I was reading, but the room began to feel
stuffy, and I opened the window.  It looked so pleasant outside I
thought I ’d take a turn round the square.  I ’m not a fast walker"--he
glanced at his lame leg--"and I was probably at the other side of the
square when you came in. Look here, you must have been mighty quick to
take in the situation, for I couldn’t have been away over five minutes
when you saw the blaze."

"My sister and I happened to be standing out on our porch--you see, we
live just round the corner in Gay Street--about opposite these windows
here----"

"I know," Murray nodded.  "I ’ve seen you."

"We thought at first it was a cannel-coal fire--you know how they flash
with a red light. But when we suspected, we just ran across.  I hope
your little sister wasn’t too badly frightened?"

"Her room’s next to this.  Poor child, she _was_ frightened.  I deserve
a thrashing, you know, for my carelessness.  Every one of the family is
out, and all the servants except my mother’s maid. It was very kind of
your sister to take Shirley in charge.  She’s downstairs with her now."

"Will your people be getting news of the fire-alarm and be frightened?"
Peter asked, putting on his coat.

"I don’t think so.  Father and mother are out of town at a dinner, and
my sister’s at a party in a country house.  They won’t be likely to
hear. I don’t know where my brother is.  Don’t go. Must you?  I--you
know I’m awfully obliged to you for this----"

"It’s nothing.  Glad I happened to be on hand," and Peter would have
said good night and run down the stairs, but he saw that his host meant
to go down with him.  So he descended slowly, keeping pace with the
other’s halting steps, and talking with him as he went.

"Your sister was here when I came in," said Murray, glancing into the
small reception-room. The maid, who had been watching the departure of
the crowd from the window of this room, turned to him.

"The young lady took Miss Shirley home with her," she explained.  "I was
that flustered I let her go without so much as asking you, Mr. Murray,
but----"

"It’s all right," Murray put in, hastily.  "It was just the thing to do,
the child was so scared. If they ’re at your house, I ’ll just step over
there with you, if you don’t mind."

"Glad to have you," said Peter, wondering what Jane would say to this
second unexpected introduction.

Murray, as he walked slowly toward the house in Gay Street, felt
distinctly glad of the chance. Since his illness he had led a lonely
life, and he longed for comrades near at hand.  From behind the curtains
he had done not a little watching of the coming and going in Gay Street,
and had been strongly attracted toward each one of the household across
the way.  He liked the faces of those people.  He had wished that he
could make their acquaintance.

"Walk in!" invited Peter, throwing the door hospitably open; and Murray,
his quick, curious eyes taking in everything at a glance, entered the
small front room, which was just then unoccupied. He heard voices and
laughter near at hand, but for the moment, while Peter went to summon
his mother, he had time to look about him.

There was not very much in the room, and there was nothing of value, as
that word was used in the Townsend house, yet the visitor could not help
finding the place warmly attractive. There was a homelike look about it,
and there was an indefinable air of refinement.  The furniture was old
and very nearly shabby, but it was not the cheap and tawdry furniture
one might have expected to find in such a house.  The pictures on the
walls were all good copies of great pictures, or photographs set under
glass.  Piles of music lay on the old-fashioned square piano, and a few
papers and magazines, all of good selection, were upon the table, in the
centre of which burned a brilliant lamp.  But most of all, the character
of the household was shown by the books--as it inevitably is.

Of these there were a surprising number. Murray felt his respect for the
Bell family rising immensely as he noted the contents of the rows of
home-made book-shelves.  They were in plain, worn bindings, most of
them, quite unlike the stately rows in the great library at home; but
they were the same old friends, in common clothes, and Murray rejoiced
at the sight.

Peter was quickly back, bringing with him the lady whom Murray
recognised as the mother of the family.  She _was_ a lady--no doubt of
that.  He had been sure of it before.  Now, as he listened to her
voice--the test incontrovertible--he knew beyond question.

She greeted him cordially.  He was charmed with her face, with her
manner, with everything about her.  Then Peter brought all the others
in, and Murray shook hands with them all.  Shirley appeared, clinging to
Nancy’s hands, and Shirley was so happy, and begged so hard in his ear
to stay a few minutes longer, that he willingly delayed their departure.

Fine fellows, Peter and Ross and Rufus proved to be on acquaintance.
Not in the least overawed by the presence of the rich man’s son from
Worthington Square, they talked business and football and politics and
various other things in those few minutes, in a hearty, half-boyish,
decidedly manly fashion that he thoroughly enjoyed.

It happened that Murray said less to Jane than to any of the others, but
he noticed her not a little.  He thought he had never seen a girl who
looked so spirited and sweet and gay and gentle all in one.  He felt
that his sister Olive must learn to know her at once, that she might
learn what it is to be pretty without seeming aware of the fact, and how
it is possible to make a stranger feel wholly at his ease without
appearing to exercise any arts.

"I suppose I ought to be taking my sister home," Murray said at last,
getting to his feet. "The truth is, she has wanted to know Miss Nancy
since she first saw her, and so----"

"Murray wanted to know you, too," said Shirley, in Nancy’s ear; but as
her brother paused, the words were audible to everybody.

"To know _me_?" queried Nancy, in surprise, and everybody smiled.

"I’m sure my mother and sister will call--soon," said Murray, trying to
feel sure of that rather doubtful proposition as he made it.

The moment would have been an awkward one in some small houses, for it
was impossible not to remember that the Worthington Squares do not make
many calls in the Gay Streets, but young Rufus, studying Shirley with
interest, broke in, without intention, upon his mother’s reply.  Rufus
was quite untroubled by the social inequalities existing between
localities divided only by a stone’s throw.

"That ’s a dandy tennis-court you will have there when you put it out,"
he remarked.

"It’s pretty fair--and we shall have it in shape early this year,"
replied Murray, smiling. There was a beauty about Murray’s rare smile
which quite transformed his pale face.  His eyes met Jane’s as he spoke.

"It ’s too bad to grow up past the point of breaking the ice so easily,
is n’t it?" she said, merrily, as he shook hands.

"We ’ll have to follow their wise example," he replied.

"I hope that you ’ll find your way over to Gay Street often in the
future," declared Peter, shaking hands.

"I mean to, thank you, if you’ll let me?"  Murray looked into Mrs.
Bell’s eyes, and a shade of wistfulness crept into his own, which she
saw, and recognising, was sure she understood.

"Please come, if you care to," she said, cordially, and he felt her
warm, firm hand give his a friendly pressure, which quite completed the
capturing of his heart.

A ringing step on the porch outside, a knock at the door--it boasted no
bell--and everybody looked up surprised, for it was nearly ten o’clock.
Ross opened the door.

"I beg your pardon," said a gay and careless voice outside, "but I came
to look for my brother and sister.  They seem to be lost, and I ’m told
they ’re here."

"Come in!" said Ross, and the owner of the voice appeared upon the
threshold.  Standing there, surveying the company with his
characteristically assured expression, his handsome face taking on a
saucy smile as his eyes fell on his brother, Forrest Townsend was
carefully and formally presented by Murray to each one of the household
in turn.

He looked a fine figure in his evening clothes, his long outer coat
falling open, his hat in his hand. His audacious young eyes fell on Jane
before he was presented to her, and his manner acquired a sort of
laughing gallantry rather effective. "It was a very lucky fire for us,"
he said, gaily, as he bowed.  "I only wish I had been at home."



                               CHAPTER IV

                         FORREST PLAYS A TRICK


"It’s no more than civil, mother, that you and Olive should go over and
call!" insisted Murray Townsend, with heat.

"I can’t see that it is necessary at all," replied Mrs. Townsend, with
offsetting coolness.  "The young man has been properly thanked for his
services; indeed, I should say that between you and Forrest and Shirley
the entire family have had quite fuss enough made over them."

"I didn’t make much of the fuss," Forrest said.  "I was only there five
minutes at the end of the show.  Time enough to see, though, that those
people are n’t off the same piece as the usual tenants of that house.
They ’ve seen better days, or I miss my guess."

"Not at all.  They ’ve never had much money, but they ’re educated
people, just the same--self-educated, a mighty good sort. You ’ve only
to look at the books that fairly line that little room to see for
yourself.  Is n’t there any rule for sizing up men but by the dollars
they ’ve made--or women but by the clothes they wear?"

The vehemence of Murray’s speech was so unusual, and his ordinarily
quiet and indifferent expression had given place to one so eager, that
the family all turned with one accord to look at him.  They were at
dinner, one late April evening, a week after the fire.  The dining-room
was the one place in the house where all the family were accustomed to
meet; therefore any question of the sort which Murray had proposed was
brought up there as a matter of course.

Mr. Townsend himself answered his son’s pointed observation,
forestalling the rejoinder about to fall from his wife’s lips:

"It’s the way of the world, Murray, and an unjust one in many cases.
Still, one can’t help feeling that a man who has lived to the age of
Joseph Bell without reaching a position higher than the one he holds
with the Armstrong Company can’t be possessed of a very unusual
endowment of brains."

"I should say that depends on whether making money has been his
ambition, or something else."

"He certainly hasn’t achieved the something else," was Olive’s comment.
"Not even a decent home."

"Decent!"  Murray turned on her.  "It’s a home worthy the name--I can
tell you that! And if you refuse to call on these people that live in
it, after Peter Bell saved ours over our heads, I say you ’re acting
like snobs!"

"Murray!"  His mother spoke very sharply. Forrest laughed.  He enjoyed
the scene, being inclined, by his remembrance of Jane, to take his
brother’s side.  Mr. Townsend came to the rescue.

"You are rather rough in your language, Murray, but I think you are
right in your notions about the call.  It’s only a courtesy, surely,
Eloise, to go over and make one call.  You don’t need to continue the
acquaintance unless you wish, but I should be glad myself if you would
go. It is several days now since----"

"It’s a week," said Murray.

"He knows--no doubt of that!" laughed Forrest.  "He’s cultivated the
acquaintance, anyhow.  I saw him walking up the street yesterday with
the pretty girl of the family."

"You walked up with her yourself the day before!" cried Shirley.

Forrest threw back his head and laughed. "You ’re a little spy.  Well, I
don’t mind owning that I did.  She’s a trim-looking girl on the street,
too, if she does n’t wear the furbelows Olive does.  She----"

"We may as well go over and call, mother," said Olive, with emphasis.
"If both the boys are running after the family, we ought to find out
what they are."

"You won’t be so condescending as you think," Murray said to her, as he
left the room at her side. "Mrs. Bell is n’t the sort to be impressed
with the honour you do her."

Mrs. Townsend and Olive, realising that the wishes of the three male
members of the family were not to be lightly disregarded, made the call
without further delay.  Dressed as carefully as if they had been calling
in Worthington Square, they knocked upon the door of the little house in
Gay Street, and were admitted by Nancy.

It chanced that this was a Saturday afternoon. And Saturday was a
half-holiday for nearly all workers in the city.  Thus it came about
that in the middle of the stiff little call--stiff in spite of Mrs. Bell
and Jane, who had received their visitors with all simplicity and
naturalness--Peter arrived at home.  Being burdened with small parcels,
he hurried round to the kitchen door, and depositing his parcels on the
table there, started in search of his sisters.

"Jane--Nan--where are you?" he shouted through the little house, and
before Nancy, springing down the stairs, could stop him, he had bolted
into the front room.

Olive Townsend, turning quickly, recognised the big, fresh-coloured
youth, with the good-humoured, clever-looking face, who had several
times been of assistance to her.  Peter was presented to the visitors by
his mother, who seemed quite undisturbed by the interruption.  Jane only
laughed, and Peter himself recovered his balance with but a momentary
show of confusion.

"It was important business, you see," he said, smiling, and explaining
to Jane.  "I brought home the flower-seeds you wanted, and I had an idea
they must get into the ground within the next fifteen minutes, or it
would be too late."

"I don’t wonder he thought so," Jane said to Olive, glancing from her
brother to her guest. "I impressed upon him this morning the fact that
if the sweet peas were n’t planted to-day we should n’t have any growing
before August. Don’t go, Peter.  Perhaps Miss Townsend can tell us what
else we ought to have in our garden."

Peter obediently drew up a chair and sat down.

Olive, responding that she knew nothing whatever about gardens, because
the gardener always attended to whatever flower-beds there were about
the grounds, was conscious of a keen and steady scrutiny from Peter’s
cool gray eyes, quite as if he were not in the least abashed by her
distinguished presence.

She was, moreover, forced to acknowledge, as the moments went by, that
Peter could talk, and talk well.  He came to the assistance of Jane, who
had begun to feel the difficulties of entertaining the visitor, and told
an amusing incident of the morning’s experience.  Before she knew it,
Olive was laughing, for Peter’s clever mimicry was quite irresistible.

As she rose to go Olive made an immense condescension: "I believe it
must have been you, Mr. Bell," she said, "who picked up my handkerchief
for me one day."

Peter laid his hand on his heart with a droll gesture and a formal
bow--an interesting combination.--"I think I had the honour," he
admitted, with a twinkle.

And now something unforeseen happened. Exactly as the visitors rose to
go, the April skies, which five minutes before had been smiling,
suddenly opened, and poured out one of those astonishing spring
downfalls which arrest street traffic on the instant.

Mrs. Townsend and Olive, with the door opening to let them out, stood
still upon the threshold in dismay, glancing down at their delicate
spring attire.

"You can’t go in this," said Mrs. Bell, cordially.  "It will be over
soon.  Please come back and sit down."

The fates must surely have intended from the first to mix up things
between these two families of Townsend and Bell.  With that end in view
nothing could have been more opportune than this shower, for it lasted a
good half-hour without showing signs of slackening, and it contributed
also lightning and thunder, which made Olive shrink and shudder.  Also
Ross, McAndrew and young Rufus Bell, coming home in the late afternoon,
and being caught at the corner in the downpour, dashed for the little
front porch for shelter, and then into the living-room.

Ross, making apologies on account of his moist condition, and getting
through the room and out with Rufus as fast as possible, was yet able to
take in the surprising fact that Peter was sitting in the corner with
the girl from the aristocratic square, chatting cheerfully with her, and
eliciting not altogether unwilling smiles in response.

Out in the kitchen, with the door closed, Ross and Rufus interviewed
Nancy.

"How on earth did old Peter get into it like this?" Ross inquired, as he
hung his coat to dry by the stove.  "I could hardly believe my eyes to
see him confabulating with Miss Worthington Square.  She seems quite
human, does n’t she--when you get her indoors?"

"I don’t know," said Nancy.  "I only let them in.  She looks awfully
pretty, don’t you think? And maybe she’s nice when you get to know her."

"If you ever do," qualified Ross.  "Pretty? Well, all I saw was a
gorgeous hat and a pair of big eyes; I felt as if somebody was looking
at me with a spy-glass.  She is n’t in it with our Janey, if you’re
talking about prettiness."

"No, of course not!" cried loyal Nancy.

By the time the storm had ceased, a good deal of the stiffness in the
little front room had melted away.  It may be possible for some people
to be formal and frigid for the space of a ten-minute call, but to keep
it up for full three-quarters of an hour longer, while rain pours, and
lightning flashes, and unconventional young persons dash in and out, and
a youth like Peter tells jolly stories--that becomes much more
difficult.  Mrs. Townsend maintained a peculiar dignity to the end, but
Olive--well, in spite of her prejudices, Olive was young, and liked
young associates, and as she looked and listened, it became more and
more difficult for her to refuse to recognise that the people in this
little house were not ordinary, not commonplace, not uneducated, as she
had fancied them, but bright, and gay, and interesting.

When she gave Jane her hand, as she took her leave--the April storm
having at last given place again to brilliant April sunshine--she found
herself wishing she might know this prepossessing maid.  There was a
straightforward sweetness in the glance of Jane’s rich hazel eyes, a
captivating charm in her free smile, which the other girl had never
encountered in quite so beguiling a form.  Olive Townsend, of all the
girls whom Jane had ever met least likely to succumb to the fascinations
of another girl not in her own "set," fell, nevertheless, considerably
under Jane’s influence on that very first encounter. In taking leave she
said to Jane that which she had not dreamed of saying, commonplace an
expression of friendliness as it was: "I shall hope to see you often,
since we live so near."

"Gone--gone--all gone?" queried Ross, putting in his head cautiously at
the living-room door, as the visitors turned the corner.

"All gone," replied Peter.  "Gone forever--silks and velvets and new
spring hats."

"Ribbons and laces, and sweet, pretty faces," chanted Ross, reminded of
the old child-rhyme. "’Sugar and spice, and everything nice.’  Not much
sugar about Miss Worthington Square, eh, Pete?"

"Oh, I don’t know," mused Peter, gazing absently out of the window
toward the square, where Olive’s spring finery was just fluttering out
of sight.  "She ’s not so bad at close range.  I should n’t wonder if an
earthquake shock might stir her up into quite an interesting girl.
Lacking that, some lesser convulsion of nature might possibly----"

"The Bell family certainly did their best to shock her.  If daddy and
Nan could have just burst in from somewhere, I think the effect would
have been complete," declared Jane, merrily.

The subject of these comments, upon reaching home, found herself called
upon for an opinion of the Bells.

Forrest Townsend, encountering his sister upon the stairs, followed her
to her room.

"Own up that they ’re not as odd as you thought," he demanded.

"They ’re very well--of their sort," was Olive’s reply, observing
herself in her mirror, and congratulating herself on the fact that the
new spring hat was undoubtedly becoming.

"See here, why not send Jane and Peter an invitation to your party?"

"’_Jane and Peter!_’  You seem to be pretty intimate with them already."

"I don’t call them that to their faces.  But you ’ve seen for yourselves
they ’re all right. Ask them over; it won’t hurt you."

"Why, Forrest Townsend--people who don’t know a soul in our set!  What
an idea!"

"A mighty good idea.  Nobody ’ll know they live in Gay Street--and you
won’t be ashamed of them either."

"I shall not do anything of the sort."  Olive took off the hat and laid
it in its box.  "I don’t know what in the world has got into you and
Murray; you ’re both perfectly mad over the Bells.  If you ’re so
charmed with that girl you can go and call on her, I suppose."

She recalled with some surprise her own liking for Jane, wondering, now
that her brother showed his prepossessions so strongly, how she could
have fancied her.  It seemed sometimes to be a matter of principle with
Olive never to like the people whom Forrest or Murray liked.

"See here," said Forrest, frowning, "I think it’s pretty ill-natured of
you not to invite one or two persons I ask you to, whether you happen to
want them or not.  This party may be your birthday affair, but there ’s
no reason why somebody else should n’t have a hand in the inviting.
Let’s see your list, will you?"

Olive unwillingly handed him a sheet of paper, upon which the names of
her prospective guests were written.  He scanned it sharply.

"Same old crowd," he observed, his handsome brows knit into a scowl.  "I
should think you ’d want a little fresh blood, to liven things up."

"For you to sit in a corner with, you mean."

"Will you do it to please me?"

"No!"  Olive snatched the list out of his hand and returned it to a box,
which she laid in a drawer of her desk.

Forrest stood looking at her for a moment, then, without a further word,
shrugged his shoulders and walked out of the room.

Two hours later he came quietly back.  Olive had gone out, as he knew.
He crossed the room to the desk, searched and found the box into which
he had seen the list put, and discovered, as he had expected, the
invitations to the birthday party folded and partially addressed. He
knew that they were to go out upon the morrow, and that Olive doubtless
would finish the task of addressing them that evening.  He had heard her
bewailing the fact that this labour consumed so much time, but he had
not cared to offer to assist her.

Forrest looked the invitations over, smiling to himself, took out two
unaddressed envelopes and put them into his pocket, closed the door and
strolled away.  In his own room he took them out again, and wrote upon
them in his best hand, "Peter Bell, Esq.," and "Miss Jane Bell," adding
the street and number, and stamping and sealing them, still with the
laugh in the corners of his mischievous mouth.

The next day, when Olive’s invitations went into the letter-box on the
corner, they were shortly followed by two of which the giver of the
party had no knowledge.

It happened that the early morning mail in Gay Street always arrived
just before the departure of the family workers for their place of
business. So when Nancy, after answering the postman’s ring, came back
to the table with the mail, both Peter and Jane, just finishing
breakfast, were on hand to receive it.

"Whose handwriting can this be, I wonder?" speculated Jane, intently
studying the dashing address.

Peter glanced over her shoulder.  "Same as mine," he observed, ripping
his envelope open. "Looks like a wedding invitation; but since none of
our friends, Janey, are so much as thinking of getting married--
Hello, what’s this?"

"Oh, why--"  Jane was stammering, eagerly. "O Petey--how lovely--why--
There, I knew she was n’t as cold and proud as you thought her!"

"Who--what?" demanded Nancy, with excitement.

"Miss Olive Townsend," explained Jane, flushing with pleasure.

"What!  Miss Worthington Square invited you two every-day folks to her
party?" Ross inquired, getting up from the table and reaching for his
hat.  "Pete, you ’ll lose your car if you stand mooning over that
thing."

"How did you know she was to have a party?"

"Little Miss Shirley confided it to me."

"Me, too!" cried Nancy, proudly.  "But she did n’t tell me her sister
would ask you."

"Miss Olive probably didn’t intend to," hazarded Peter, folding up his
note and putting it carefully in his pocket, "until she came to call and
saw our charms.  She came--she saw--we conquered--eh, Janey?--with our
sweet smiles and our stories.  How about it, sister?  Do we go?"

"If," began Jane slowly, the smile fading a little on her bright face,
"if----"

"If we’ve anything to wear!" supplied Ross, and began to whistle gaily.
"_Oh, ye shall walk in silk attire_," breaking off to glance at the
clock and start hastily for the door, with Peter and Rufus after him.
Jane turned to Mrs. Bell, who, sitting quietly in her place at the head
of the table, was regarding her young daughter as if she understood all
the doubts which had instantly risen in the girl’s mind.

"I think we can manage it, dear," she said, "if the party dress does n’t
have to match the invitation."

Jane’s face grew flushed again.  "I can wear anything, mother, if I have
some fresh ribbons. But Peter----"

"Yes--Peter--" agreed Mrs. Bell.  She rose and came round to Jane.
"Peter shall have a new cravat," said she, and smiled into Jane’s eyes.

Jane smiled back.  Each knew that the other was thinking of Peter’s best
black suit--in which he went to church on Sundays.  Each knew that the
Townsend sons would wear evening clothes.

"Yes, with a new cravat Petey will be all right," said Jane.  "Dear boy,
he was pleased, was n’t he?  And it _is_ nice of her to ask us!"



                               CHAPTER V

                             WITHOUT GLOVES


"O Jane, the big porch is all shut in with white stuff, and there’s a
striped awning where the carriages stop, just as if it was a great
grown-up party or a wedding.  And I saw them carrying in loads of palms
and things.  Oh, are n’t you excited to be going?"

This was Nancy Bell, flying into the front room upstairs, where Mrs.
Bell and Jane were putting the finishing touches to Jane’s frock, to be
worn that evening.

"Awfully excited, darling," admitted Jane, smiling at the eager little
sister.

"Oh, how pretty that is!"  Nancy clasped her hands in ecstasy over the
dainty ruffled skirt, with its tiny yellow flowers scattered over a
white ground.  Then she caught up the long sash belt of primrose-yellow
ribbon, its graceful rosettes and flowing ends promising an effective
finish to the simple toilet.  "You ’ll be the prettiest girl at the
party!" she declared, joyously.

Mrs. Bell and Jane laughed across at each other.  "In a ten-cent
dimity," their eyes said, with congratulations, "reduced from eighteen!"

"My ribbon is what rejoices my soul," said Jane, touching the soft silk.
"That was a bargain we just happened on--the price cut in two because of
a few soiled places.  We simply did n’t use those at all, and there were
enough long lengths to make the streamers.  It’s such a beautiful
quality it makes the whole dress look finer than it is."

"How can you ever wait till evening?" sighed Nancy.  "O Jane, Shirley
wants me to hide in the shrubbery over there by the hedge, and she’s
going to slip out with some ice-cream and cake for me!"

Mrs. Bell’s eyes and Jane’s met again with a smile.  Jane’s eyebrows
went up in interrogation. Mrs. Bell nodded.  "I think Nancy may have
that much of the party," she said.

Evening came at last, although Nancy had moments of feeling sure that it
never would. Jane, her curly auburn locks tied up in charming fashion,
with various rebellious tendrils waving about her face, slipped into the
pretty frock, and Mrs. Bell arranged the primrose girdle, which set off
the whole effect.  Peter, in his best black suit and wearing the new
cravat, looked at his sister approvingly.

"My, but I ’m proud of my girl!" he said.

"Not prouder than I am of my big brother," responded Jane.

The family saw them off, rejoicing in their youthful good looks, and
sure they would hold their own in appearance with anybody in Worthington
Square.  Peter and Jane, not feeling quite so confident, yet
experiencing a pleasant stir of anticipation, walked slowly round the
corner.

Nearly all the guests were arriving in carriages, and the brother and
sister, as they crossed the porch, encountered a number of these,
entering from the _porte-cochère_.  As Jane’s eyes fell upon the gaily
dressed young people, the first thing she observed about them gave her
an unpleasant shock.  They all, youths and girls, were wearing gloves.
Jane glanced from her own round white arms, bare from the elbows, to
Peter’s uncovered hands.

"Peter, we never once thought of gloves," she murmured in his ear, as
they lingered to let the party from the carriages go in at the door
ahead of them.

Peter stared from her to the other guests. Then his gay twinkle replaced
the look of dismay.  "Gloves--on youngsters like us!  Don’t you care a
bit," he whispered back in her ear.

It was a little difficult not to care, especially for Jane, as in the
dressing-room upstairs she met many curious glances.  The maid in charge
even offered to help her put on her gloves, and Jane could not help
feeling a bit unhappy as she replied that she was not wearing gloves.

But the sight of Peter, smiling serenely at her from the head of the
staircase, where he awaited her, strengthened her resolution not to
mind. A glance at the mirror had assured her that the inexpensive little
dimity with its primrose ribbons was irreproachable in its dainty
distinction of style--thanks to Mrs. Bell’s clever fingers--and this
knowledge was very comforting.  Her face was as bright as ever when she
joined Peter, whose hearty whisper: "You ’re all right!" put her quite
on her feet again.

Downstairs, where Olive Townsend stood receiving with her mother, with
Forrest and Murray close at hand, a brief but interesting colloquy took
place just before Jane and Peter came into the reception room.  Forrest
had been keeping sharp watch on the hall entrance, and the moment that
he saw the two Bells arrive and make their way toward the staircase, he
watched for a chance to get a word in the ears of his family.  A lull in
the arrivals gave him his opportunity.

"Olive," he said coolly to his sister in an undertone, "I took the
liberty of sending Jane and Peter Bell an invitation--and they ’re here.
I want you to brace up and give them just as nice a welcome as you ’re
giving the rest.  Hold on! If you ’re angry at anybody, it’s at me, and
you ’ve no right to take it out of them for that. One thing I can tell
you; if you are frosty to them you ’ll settle with me afterward."

He had his sister in a corner--so to speak. Olive cared very much for
appearances.  There were many eyes upon her; she could make no angry
response or show chagrin in any way without attracting notice and
comment.  All she could do--which she promptly did--was to whisper back,
with lips which smiled for the sake of those who looked at her:

"You wretch, I ’ll pay you off--never fear!"

"Do; I don’t mind," and Forrest approached his mother.  He was her
favourite son, and she was a thorough woman of the world.  He had
reckoned on her making the best of the situation; and when he had told
her, with a gay glance and a furtive squeeze of her hand, he received no
more severe threat of punishment than he had expected in her light: "You
naughty boy! You ’ll have to take care of them; nobody else knows them,
or will care to."

"I’ll see to them," was her son’s careless reply, and he crossed over to
Murray, who was indifferently playing his part of young host. To him, as
Jane and Peter appeared at the doorway, Forrest made a hasty
explanation.

Murray’s face instantly brightened, and he answered promptly: "It was a
risky thing to do, but I ’m glad they ’re here.  Between us we ’ll make
sure they have a good time."

There was nothing in the greeting of Mrs. Townsend or of Olive to give
Peter and Jane a hint of their position.  The Bells had expected only a
formal reception on an occasion like this, and when they received it,
felt no special lack. And whatever was wanting in the greeting of the
hostesses was made up by the masculine half of the receiving party.

"This is jolly," said Forrest, giving each a hearty grasp of the hand.
"’I ’m immensely glad you could come," and as others pressed toward him,
he passed them on to Murray.

"Do you know," said Murray, "having you two come to-night makes up to me
for the whole thing.  I detest parties, as a rule, never go to them, and
would n’t come downstairs at our own affairs if I could get out of it.
But I ’m glad I could n’t--this time--.  See here, you don’t know many
of these people, do you?"

"Nobody at all."

"Of course not--having only just moved into the neighbourhood.  I can’t
do much myself except sit about and look on, and I ’m going to be so
bold as to beg your company, Miss Bell, for so much of the evening as
you ’ll give me.  There are a lot of pleasant nooks about the rooms and
halls, and I ’d like to try them all with you.  That’s a selfish plan,
is n’t it?" and he smiled at her.

"It’s lovely of you, of course, and you know it," she answered.

"It’s a risk for me, lest I lose you, but I ’ll present a few of these
chaps to you, first, so if you care to dance----"

"I don’t--truly."

"I ’m glad.  But I ’ll do it, for the sake of my conscience," and Murray
began the task on the spot.

Half a dozen youths accordingly bowed ceremoniously to Jane, gazed with
interest at her charming face, said something or other in the way of an
attempt at conversation, and got away again. Not one asked Jane to
dance.

"She needs Olive’s guardianship, not mine," thought Murray, resentfully.
"If Olive backed her up, the rest would accept her in a jiffy.  But
Olive won’t do it--I know that well enough,--so I ’ll do my best in my
way, and thank my stars for the chance.  There is n’t a girl in the
house to match her, that’s sure."

The moment that his duties in the reception-room were over Murray
convoyed Jane away to one of the attractive retreats he had mentioned, a
beflowered nook on the staircase landing, from which they could view the
hall below, and see the greater part of the long drawing-room, where the
dancing had begun.  Strains of gay music from the orchestra floated
pleasantly up to them.

"Now this is something like!" said Murray, sinking back upon the soft
divan behind the palms.  He pulled off his gloves as he spoke, rolled
them into a ball and crammed them into his pocket.  He did not put them
on again that evening--a bit of kindliness which two guests understood
and appreciated.

"If I ’m not monopolising the host when he ought to be looking after his
other guests," replied Jane, as her eyes followed the distant dancers.

"If there is any monopoly, I ’m the guilty one--and enjoying my guilt.
Honestly, Miss Bell, it’s a fine chance for me to get acquainted with my
neighbour, if she ’ll let me.  And as for my being missed--"  A shake of
the head told Jane more than its owner meant of his loneliness, at which
she had hitherto only guessed.

Meanwhile, Peter had also fallen into friendly hands, if youthful ones.
Shirley, allowed to play a modest part in the affairs of the evening,
but finding nobody willing to give her more than a smile and nod, fell
upon Peter as a possible ally. He had been standing at one side of the
crush, in the doorway of the drawing-room, looking on with interested
eyes, but feeling a trifle deserted, nevertheless, when he felt a warm
little hand slide into his own.  Looking down, surprised, he met
Shirley’s friendly smile.

"You don’t know many people, do you?" asked that frank young person.

"I don’t know anybody," returned Peter. "No, I ought not to say that,
for your brother Forrest presented me to a number of girls.  But I don’t
know how to dance, and they soon left me for livelier company."

"’Nobody asks me to dance, either," said Shirley, "because Olive would
n’t invite any boys of my age, and the big ones want the big girls."

"I don’t," Peter assured her.  "I want one about thirteen years old,
dressed in a jolly white lacy frock, with pink ribbons and pink
slippers. I feel more at home with a girl like that than with any of
those I was introduced to.  You see, their hair was so--done up!"

"Done up!  Was n’t your sister’s hair done up?" queried Shirley.  "Oh
no, I remember!  Those lovely thick curls of hers were tied in a bunch
at her neck--such a lovely way; none of the others do theirs like that.
She ’s awfully pretty, is n’t she?  Prettier than Olive, I think."

"I admire my sister very much," agreed Peter, "but it would be hard for
anybody to be prettier than your sister."

His eyes turned to Olive as he spoke.  She stood near by, exchanging gay
talk with a tall youth in the interval between dances.  More beautifully
dressed than any young girl he had ever seen, her dark face lighted into
brilliancy by excitement, the rare colour in her cheeks set off by the
big bunch of red roses she carried, she was a picturesque figure indeed.

"Yes, Olive does look pretty," admitted Olive’s little sister.  "Excuse
me a minute, please," she added, and slipped over to Olive’s side.  If
Peter could have heard the brief whispered conversation exchanged, he
would hardly have dared to stand watching it, as he did.

"Olive," begged Shirley, when with difficulty she had secured her
sister’s reluctant attention, "if I take care of Peter Bell for a while,
won’t you be nice to him?  He does n’t dance, and he does n’t know
anybody----"

"It’s enough that he ’s here!" retorted Olive, with a frown.  "I didn’t
ask him or his sister, so I----"

"You did n’t ask him?"

"No, no--run along!

"But who----"

"Forrest--without saying a word to me."

"Oh!" Shirley gasped, and was silent for a minute.  Then she pulled at
Olive’s arm again.

"Olive, but they ’re our guests just the same, and----"

"Shirley, don’t bother me now!"

"Listen, Olive, just a minute.  Peter says nobody could be prettier than
you."

It was a shot which told.  Olive’s grudging attention was arrested.  She
glanced over her sister’s head, in the direction of Peter.  Her eyes met
his, and she turned away again, but not before the momentary vision of
the strong, intent face had impressed itself upon her as rather better
worth consideration than many of the others.

The thought of such a compliment as Shirley had reported coming from
those firm-set lips of Peter Bell gave the recipient rather a novel
sensation.

Olive had been out of patience with Peter from the moment that she
caught sight of his unconventional attire, but she felt all at once more
tolerant of his presence.  "He did n’t tell you to tell me that, I
suppose?" she whispered to Shirley.

"Oh, no, I only----"

"Go back, and tell him to save some time for me after this dance.  I ’ll
keep the next one for him."

"But, Olive, you know he does n’t dance----"

"I’ll sit it out with him, since he doesn’t know enough to come and ask
me for himself."

Half an hour later Jane, passing through the hall with Murray, on the
way to the library, where he was to show her certain books of which they
had been talking, caught sight of her brother just mounting the
staircase to the retreat on the landing.  To her surprise and
relief--for she had anxiously looked for him from time to time, and had
seen him with nobody but little Shirley--she noted that he was now in
the company of his girlish hostess, and that that young person was
turning upon him a gracious face.

To Jane the remainder of the evening passed in full pleasure.  She spent
an interesting hour in the library with Murray, who made himself a
delightful companion, expanding in the sympathetic atmosphere of her
good comradeship into a more genial warmth and sincerity of manner than
she had imagined him capable of showing. Then Forrest came in search of
her, and bore her away to join a company of young people who were going
to supper together.

Under Forrest’s wing she found her position secure, for he was a
much-admired youth, and whatsoever girl he chose to favour must--as he
had known--be treated with friendliness by all his companions.  Jane’s
own charms came to her aid also, and brought several unattached young
gentlemen to her side, so that before the evening was over she had made
what Forrest inwardly congratulated himself upon as "a respectable
success."

Upon the landing Peter established Olive and himself on the divan among
the palms.  He studied his companion’s face a moment, then said
abruptly, "I want to tell you, Miss Townsend, that I ’m more than sorry
to be here by an accident."

She looked up at him, startled, but met only a quiet smile.  "How did
you--I didn’t mean you----"

"I know you did n’t--and you were very kind not to show how you must
have felt.  Perhaps it would be in better taste for me not to mention it
at all.  But I wanted you to know that I appreciated your courtesy in
accepting the situation."

"But how----"

"I found out--from a little slip of Miss Shirley’s.  I wanted to go
home, of course, but--I could n’t make up my mind to spoil my sister’s
evening, and besides--I thought your brother’s invitation made it right
for us to be here."

Olive’s dark face was colouring warmly.  She looked down at her roses,
wondering what to say. Somehow she found herself unwilling to let Peter
Bell think she did n’t want him at her party, for it was becoming clear
to her that she did.

"I’m so sorry," she murmured.  "But I’m very glad you did n’t go home.
If I had known you longer I ’m sure I should have invited----"

"Don’t bother to explain," urged Peter’s low voice.  "’I did n’t tell
you to make you uncomfortable. Perhaps you won’t mind my saying that
looking on at this sort of thing is very interesting to me.  I ’ve never
seen it before."

"How do you like it?" asked Olive, glancing up at him curiously.

Peter laughed, looking off for a moment toward the drawing-room.  "I ’m
an outdoor sort of chap, I think," he said.  "Yet it’s very pretty, all
that down there, and I like to look at it.  Miss Townsend, do you ride
horseback much?"

"Sometimes--not often.  I don’t care for it."

"Neither should I, down the boulevard or in the park, but out on a
country road.  I ’m a country boy, and I like a good gallop down the old
Northboro Road--miles of it as smooth as a floor.  As for
cross-country--ah, there’s sport!"

"I ’ve never seen you ride."

Peter’s face changed.  "No, I don’t ride now," he said.

"But you have Saturday afternoons free?"

"Oh, yes."

"There are three saddle-horses in the stable," said Olive, making a
sudden resolve, "and only one of them gets much use.  Would you--care to
take me for a gallop down the Northboro Road some day?"

That she should make such a proposition as this would have seemed to
Olive Townsend but an hour before preposterous.  But now, looking up at
the sturdy figure before her, noting the wistful smile with which Peter
had spoken of past experiences, it had come to her all at once that a
new pleasure might be hers.  She saw plainly that she should not be
ashamed of Peter as an escort anywhere.

Peter stared at his hostess for a moment as if he could hardly believe
that he had heard aright. "Do you really mean that, Miss Townsend?" he
asked.

"Indeed I do.  I ’m not in the habit of saying things I don’t mean."

"Then, thank you, I should like it immensely," he said, with a smile and
bow, more attractive, Olive admitted to herself, than any she had
received that evening.



                               CHAPTER VI

                           WEEDS AND FLOWERS


"Good morning, Miss Jane Bell!  May I come in?"

Jane lifted her head quickly from over the phlox-bed she was weeding in
the little garden back of the house, to see Forrest Townsend looking
over the wooden gate which shut away the garden from the surrounding
neighborhood.

"Good morning!  Yes, indeed, come in," she responded blithely, waving a
discarded white ruffled sunbonnet at her guest.  He vaulted over the low
barrier and came swinging down the narrow path to the end of the
enclosure, where the phlox-bed lay.  Here he stood still, regarding with
favour the girl in the blue dress, whose bronze-tinted hair glinted in
the early June sunlight.

"Always busy at something, are n’t you?" he said, tipping over a
bushel-basket half-filled with weeds, and seating himself upon it.
"Yes, I know I ’ve spilled out the weeds, but I ’ll pick ’em up again
when I ’m through.  I came over to have a serious talk with you, and I
’ve got to be down here near you, where I can look you in the eye.  The
grass is too damp yet to sit on in white trousers."

Jane laughed.  "It can’t be a very serious matter that’s troubling you,
or you would n’t think of your clothes."

"It is serious, though.  I ’m full of it, and can’t stop to talk about
the weather, so here goes.--I ’ve quarrelled with my father."

Jane, who had thus far not ceased her weeding, stopped work and sat
still to look at her neighbour. He met her gaze defiantly.

"Yes, I know.  You think this is another case of schoolboy heroics, like
the last fuss I told you I had with him--"

"I wish you would n’t tell me."

"I ’ve got to tell somebody.  Come, Jane--you ’ve grown to seem like the
best friend I have--don’t turn the cold shoulder on me just when I need
you.  You know what my mother and sister are like----"

With a gesture of disapproval Jane turned away to her work.

Forrest watched her for a moment in silence; then he began again:

"All right, I won’t complain if you ’ll just let me tell you about this
last scrape.  There ’s nobody else I can talk to--you know enough about
us to know that."

"There ought to be.  Your brother----"

"Oh, Murray!  With all respect to him--since you insist on respect--he
’s not off the same piece of cloth with me, and can’t understand me any
more than I can him.  His blood is n’t good red blood at all; it’s
white, I think, and I----"

Jane rose up from her knees and stood above her visitor, determination
on her frank face.

"Forrest Townsend," said she, "if you can talk to me without running
down your family, I ’ll listen, but not otherwise.  I don’t think you
ought to tell me your affairs at all, but if you ’re sure I can be of
use I ’ll hear them, on that one condition."

Forrest studied her a moment without replying, while her clear hazel
eyes returned his gaze. Then he laughed rather awkwardly.

"You ’re the soul of honour, are n’t you?" he said. "And that’s just why
I need your advice. I don’t want to do anything dishonourable, but I ’m
in a corner, and don’t see any way out except a jump over the wall.  Let
me tell you--please!"

Jane dropped upon her knees again and gave her attention to her work.
Taking this as permission, Forrest began, picking up a long, pink-headed
weed and pulling it through his fingers as he talked.

"I ’ve known all the while father wanted me in the house with him, and
wanted me to go to college with that end in view.  We ’ve had a few
brushes on the subject from time to time, and I ’ve told him over and
over I never meant to go to college, or to go into the business, either,
but he ’s thought it boy talk, I suppose.  Anyhow, it turns out he’s
never taken me seriously when I ’ve told him I meant to live my own life
in my own way.  He had me tutored all last winter, to get me ready for
my entrance examinations, and he expects me to go down and take them
next week.  That ’s where I balked.  He tackled me last night, and I had
it out with him.  The result was"--Forrest tried to keep up the
nonchalant manner he had assumed when he began this explanation, but his
voice showed his strong feeling as he ended the sentence--"the result
was--he gave it to me hot and heavy, and I--talked back at him.  In
short, I----"

Jane, her pretty lips set close together, her troubled eyes on the
ground, listened anxiously for the words.

"You don’t mean----" she began, slowly.

Forrest nodded, and she caught the gesture. It brought her head round
and her eyes to search his.  "You didn’t--say you wouldn’t do what he
wants?"

"I did--and meant it."

Jane drew a long breath.  She forgot her weeding and sat back upon the
walk, pulling off her gloves.  Forrest waited silently for her first
comment.

"Imagine my brother Peter doing that," she murmured.

"I can’t imagine it--though Peter’s no soft-head.  But your father’s
human, Jane. Mine--isn’t."

"Oh, he is--he is!  Don’t say that!  He may seem stern and hard, but
that ’s only on the surface, I ’m sure."

"Much you know about it!" muttered Forrest. "But, anyhow, hard or not, I
’m not going to be put into a business life I hate."

"What would you like to do?"

"Go into the army."

Jane stared at him, astonished.  This idle youth live that sort of life?
Her lips curved slowly into a smile, at which Forrest promptly took
umbrage.

"See here," he said, sitting up straight, "you ’re not to judge me, you
know, from what you ’ve seen of me in the two months you ’ve lived in
Gay Street.  I ’ve been on vacation, I admit, ever since my tutor left
in March.  Besides, it ’s not enlisting as a private I ’m thinking
of--no, no!  I want to enter the army by the way of West Point, and get
my lieutenant’s commission at graduation. That ’s a very different
thing."

"Yes, that’s true.  It means, I believe, four years of the severest
training in the world.  I know a boy who went--he could n’t stand it."

Forrest flushed hotly under his fair skin.  "And you think I could n’t.
That settles it.  I ’ll go, if only to prove you ’re mistaken."

The girl looked up quickly, startled by his tone.  "Ah, please," she
began, "don’t talk that way.  Tell me--will your brother go into the
business?"

"Not much!  His health settles that for him. Besides, he ’s too bookish,
and father ’ll let him do what he pleases, anyway--he does n’t mind
having one son of that stripe.  But the other son--he must go into the
mill, whether he wants to or not!"

"Could you get to West Point without your father’s permission?  Don’t
you have to be sent by somebody--your Congressman, is n’t it?"

"Oh, there ’s a lot of red tape, and father could block the whole game,
I suppose.  If he does--well, I ’d enlist and get into the ranks and
work my way up, rather than go into that dingy old office and tie myself
to a desk and a telephone."

Forrest got upon his feet as he spoke, brushed a clinging weed leaf or
two from his clothes, and stood looking gloomily down at Jane, who had
risen also.  "It ’s evident I get no sympathy from you," he said.  "I
thought you were a girl who could understand a fellow’s ambitions--not
wet-blanket them."

Jane looked up at him, smiling, although her eyes were still troubled.
"I can, I think," she said.  "Yet--somehow--I’m imagining the
disappointment it must be to a father who has built up a great business
like Townsend & Company’s to have his son take no interest in it.  I
can’t help thinking--"

"What?"--as Jane paused abruptly.

"Never mind."

"But I want to know what you can’t help thinking."

"Well, I ’m wondering if it would be any harder for you to go into your
father’s office than it is for Peter to work with my father in the
note-paper factory.  Do you know what Peter wants to be?"

"No.  I know he has a good position for his age, with the Armstrongs."

"Yes, but Peter wants--has wanted for six years--to be a chemist--an
expert, you know. Oh, I ’m not sure I ought to tell you--please never
speak of it.  Even father does n’t know it’s any more than a boy’s
fancy.  Peter could n’t afford the years of training, of course--and
father can’t spare him.  There are"--as Forrest looked surprised--"more
people dependent on father and the boys than you know of--and I must n’t
tell you.  All I want you to know is that"--Jane smiled
wistfully--"there are other people who can’t have their own way--and who
are making the best of it, and pretty bravely, too."

Mrs. Bell came to the door of the house, and with a pleasant nod and
smile to Forrest, told Jane that a certain bowl of bread-dough had
reached a critical condition of lightness.  The girl picked up her
basket, and Forrest bent to toss into it the weeds he had thrown out.

"Please don’t feel I ’m an unsympathetic listener," begged Jane, as her
visitor took his leave.

"I won’t.  I know you mean it all right.  I just think you don’t
understand all the facts in the case.  Much obliged to you for hearing
me out.  If I turn up missing some day, you ’ll know you did your part,
and gave me the proper grandmotherly advice."  And Forrest swung away
through the gate with a reckless air, which Jane thought rather
melodramatic, and quite in keeping with a certain staginess sometimes
apparent in the youth’s bearing.


Jane’s acquaintance with Olive Townsend had progressed very slowly.
Olive was not a girl who possessed the gift of making many warm
friendships. She was not well liked even by the young people of her own
chosen circle.  Girl visitors were not frequent at the Townsend house,
and Olive was seldom seen coming or going with one or another of such
friends.  Yet there was something about her personality which held a
strong attraction for Jane, and made her want to know Olive well.

When Peter returned from his first horseback ride in Olive’s company,
Jane had waited with interest for his description of the event.  Peter
always told Jane his experiences--for the reason, perhaps, that she
never demanded them from him, never betrayed his confidences, and
invariably showed her appreciation of his comradeship.

"She ’s an odd girl," said Peter to Jane.  "She seemed principally
occupied, for the first two miles, in noticing how I rode, whether I
kept elbows in, head up, back stiff, like herself, and whether I held my
whip in the proper position. We jogged along at a fussy little pace,
talking about nothing in particular, and minding our p’s and q’s as if
we were at Professor Miller’s riding academy, with the eye of the master
on us."

"I hope she was satisfied with your correct style," Jane said.  "I saw
you start, and I thought you looked more at home in the saddle than
she."

"I probably am.  After riding everything on grandfather’s farm ever
since I was a little shaver, and breaking every colt he had for the
three years we lived there, I ought to feel fairly comfortable on a
model saddle-horse like the one she gave me.  She’s been trained in the
school, which leaves a lot of things to be desired, to my way of
thinking.  She broke loose all right, though, when I got my chance to
show her what my idea of the sport is."

Peter’s face took on a comical expression, and Jane hurried him on with
an eager "Well?"

"We got out on the Northboro Road.  You know that long stretch where
there are so few houses--just a sort of lane between big trees, shady
and cool, and the road like a training-track at this time of year?"

Jane nodded.

"I proposed that we let out a reef or two.  She agreed, and we broke
into a baby canter.  I kept hitting up the pace a little.  Her horse
caught the idea, and began to quicken.  She bumped about a bit, but I
saw she would know how to stay on, even if she moved faster than she
ever had before.  Just as we got up a fairly decent speed, one of those
little _crack-a-cracks_ of motor-cycles came bursting out of a driveway,
and both our horses shied and threatened to bolt.

"It was nothing, you know; they were over it in a jiffy, and she kept
her seat all right, and showed she was game.  But it stirred both horses
to take the rest of that stretch at as pretty a gallop as you ’d care to
see; and when I saw the girl was all right, I shouted, ’Come on!’ and
let them have it.  I tell you, she forgot the riding academy and
Professor Miller, and rode for fair.  It was jolly good fun, and she
enjoyed it, too."

Peter laughed reminiscently.  Jane remarked that she had noticed Olive’s
masses of black hair were not in quite such trim shape when she came
home from that ride as upon setting forth; and Peter admitted that upon
that joyous gallop she had dropped not only her whip, but most of her
hairpins, of which latter articles he had been able to recover for her
only a few.

"That’s all the girl needs," he observed, sagely. "Just shake out a few
of her hairpins each time you ’re with her, and she ’ll learn how to be
good friends with you."

"I don’t have much chance to shake out her hairpins," Jane objected.

"You will.  You’re to go next time--some day when her brother Forrest is
away, and I can ride his horse and you the one I had.  I told her a
pitiful tale of how you loved to ride, how well you could do it,
and----"

"Peter!"

"Oh, I didn’t whine--just let her know I was n’t the only horseman in
the family.  She ’ll ask you--see if she doesn’t; if she doesn’t I won’t
go my self."

Olive did not ask Jane, however, and after one more ride with her, Peter
suddenly became too busy to accept her invitations.  Olive went off by
herself one day, suffered a fall and a sprained shoulder, and was
thereby initiated at last into Jane’s friendship.

"My sister sent me over," said Murray Townsend, one June evening, to
Jane, who, hemming a tiny ruffle, sat in the western sunlight upon the
little back porch, where the family now spent their evenings, enjoying
the first blossomings of the small garden.  "She’s been fretting all day
with that shoulder of hers she hurt last week, and vows she can’t get
through the evening with me.  The others are all away--as usual. Won’t
you do us the favour of coming over?"

"Was it really her suggestion--or yours?" Jane challenged him, for it
was not the first time he had made the attempt, upon one excuse or or
another, to get her across the street.

"Hers, on my honour, though I ’ll admit I seconded the motion.  She
really wants you. She’s lying on a couch round on the side porch. It’s a
jolly place, or would be if it--had you in it," he nearly said, but
discreetly substituted--"had such a nice crowd in it as this."

He glanced from one to another of the group upon the little porch.  Ross
was softly breathing notes from a flute.  Mr. and Mrs. Bell sat side by
side, in happy comradeship.  Peter, his long legs extending well out
upon the grass before the porch, whittled at a bit of wood; and Nancy,
close beside her cousin Ross, was holding for him a page of music, which
he evidently was trying for the first time.

"Stay with them, if you ’d like to," suggested Jane, softly, as she put
away her work and prepared to accept his invitation.  "You know they
always like to have you--every one of them--and I can slip across by
myself. I ’ll take her some of my mignonette and June roses."

"Thank you for your kind permission," answered Murray, following Jane’s
white-clad figure slowly down to the mignonette-bed at the farther end
of the garden, "but I ’d rather accept it some evening when Miss Jane
Bell is to be at home.  ’Hamlet’ with Ophelia left out would n’t be much
more of a play than it would be minus the melancholy gentleman himself."

Armed with a great bunch of the fragrant blossoms from the garden, Jane
accompanied Murray across Gay Street, through the gate in the high
hedge, and over the lawn and round the house to the great sheltered
porch on the other side, its tall columns making it as great a contrast
to the miniature place she had just left as could be imagined.  Rugs
carpeted the floor, big bamboo and rush chairs invited repose, and
screens hung ready to be dropped, and to shut it quite away from
invading breezes.

On a wide, richly cushioned settee lay Olive, listless and unhappy.  She
scanned Jane closely, noted that her visitor was not less attractively,
if far less expensively, dressed than herself, and lifted to her face
eyes into which had suddenly come a look of relief and interest.

"For me?" she asked, as Jane put the flowers into her outstretched
hands.  "Oh, how sweet! Why don’t we have such mignonette as that in our
gardens?"

"There are a lot of flowers," thought Murray, as he watched Jane take
her seat by his sister and begin to entertain her, "that they grow in
Gay Street which we don’t know the smell of over here.  If we could just
transplant the one I brought over to-night, what a beginning of a garden
we should have!"



                              CHAPTER VII

                          JANE PUTS A QUESTION


On her way home from a trip to a not far-distant fruit-shop, Nancy Bell
caught sight of her friend, Shirley Townsend, waving an eagerly
summoning hand from the gateway in the hedge.

It was a hot morning in early July, and Nancy, after running into the
house to report her return to her mother, joined Shirley in a shady
corner under the shrubbery, which had become a favourite trysting-place
of the two children.

Half an hour afterward Nancy, her eyes wide with excitement, sought out
her mother and Jane upon the small back porch, where each was busy with
the morning’s work--at this moment the looking-over of raspberries and
the shelling of peas.

"O mother--O Jane!" the child began, "the dreadfullest thing has
happened over at the big house!  Forrest Townsend ’s run away, and they
don’t know where he is!"

"Why, Nan!"  Jane’s busy fingers, red with raspberry stains, stopped
their work, as she stared at her sister in dismay.  "That can’t be so!"

"Yes, it can--it is!  Shirley told me.  He’s been gone three days, but
they thought he must be off on a visit till they got a letter this
morning. And they don’t even know where the letter was mailed from.
Mrs. Townsend ’s sick in bed about it, and Shirley says her father won’t
say a word--just looks white and angry and queer."

"The poor father and mother!" murmured Mrs. Bell, her eyes full of
sympathy.

"But he can’t have gone away to stay," said Jane, staring at Nancy,
still incredulous.  "He’s an impulsive fellow--quick tempered,
hot-headed--and he and his father don’t get on well together. But to run
away----"

"But he has," persisted Nancy.  "The letter said it was no use looking
for him; he’d come back some time when he ’d shown he could look after
his own--oh, I don’t remember just what he said--Shirley was n’t sure
what it meant. But she said her mother just cried and cried, and told
her father she’d always known his harsh ways----"

"Don’t, dear--don’t tell us!" Mrs. Bell interrupted, quickly.  "Shirley
should n’t have told you anything that was said; we have no right to
know.  When people are hurt and sad, they say bitter things they are
very sorry for afterward.  The only thing for us to know is that this
trouble has come to our neighbours.  We must think how we can help them.
I would go over at once if I thought I could be of use to poor Mrs.
Townsend--and were sure she was willing I should know."

They discussed the situation, Mrs. Bell and Jane, as they went on with
their work; and Jane told her mother all she knew of Forrest’s
differences with his father.  "It bothers me so," she ended,
sorrowfully, "that I did n’t realise he was in earnest about taking
things into his own hands, and do something to let the others know.  Do
you suppose that foolish threat about enlisting in the army could really
have been what he meant to do?  Do you suppose he has done it?"

"It is a possible clue.  I think they ought to know it, if they have
nothing else to guide them. When your father comes home I will talk with
him about it, and he may think it best to go to Mr. Townsend himself,
tell him what we know, and offer to help."

But it proved not necessary to wait until the evening to consult about
offering sympathy and counsel to the troubled family in Worthington
Square. Early in the afternoon, while Mrs. Bell lay resting in her room,
and Nancy and Jane sat in the shadow of one of the big maples at the end
of the garden--their special retreat on hot days--the tap of Murray’s
cane was heard on the walk outside.

"Run into the house, dear, please!" Jane whispered, quickly.  "It ’s
Murray, and I believe he’s come to talk with me about Forrest."

Her surmise proved correct, as she knew from her first glance at the
pale face and grave eyes of her friend.  He was her friend--that she had
come to know very clearly in the last few weeks--her friend in quite a
different way from that in which Forrest had shown her friendship. There
had developed a genuine congeniality of interests between the quiet,
book-loving youth and the girl who had not gone to college, but who was
persistently giving herself the higher education she longed for.  Books
he was lending her, lessons in French and German he had been lately
begging to be allowed to give her, and many inspiring talks he had with
her on the subjects both loved, whenever a chance offered or he could
make one.

So now, as Murray came toward her, his eyes fixed upon her as if he were
sure that here he would find something he sorely needed, Jane felt an
added longing to show her power to be of use in time of trouble; and
dropping her book--one that belonged to Murray--she came forward to meet
him with outstretched hand, and a look which showed him that she already
understood.

"You ’ve heard?" he asked, in surprise.  "I don’t know how, but I ’m
glad, for I dreaded to tell it."

"Shirley told Nancy--just the bare facts--and of course my little sister
told my mother and me.  We ’ve been thinking of you all ever since,
wishing we could help you."

"You can; we need you.  Even mother feels it.  Olive says when she asked
her if she wanted a nurse, she refused to have one except her maid, but
said, ’I wish I dared to ask that kind-faced Mrs. Bell.  I feel as if
she could tell me what to do.’"

"Mother will be so glad.  She will go over by and by.  She loves to help
people, and always knows how better than anybody else in the world."

"I can believe it.  She makes a fellow feel as if he belonged to her,
somehow, and she was interested in him."

"She is--that’s why she makes you feel so.--Come over here in the shade,
please, and tell me what I can do."

Murray dropped upon the grass beside Jane’s low chair with a sigh of
weariness, and ran his hand through the thick locks of his hair, pushing
them away from his forehead with an impatient gesture, as if he would
like thus easily to clear away the clouds which bothered him.

"You see," he began slowly, "I feel more or less responsible myself for
this outbreak.  I can’t help thinking that if things had been between us
as they ought to be between brothers Forrest would have brought his
notions and troubles to me."

"But you--but he----"  Jane paused, surprised at the tone he took.  "You
have n’t been able to be with Forrest much, because--because he has been
so active and lived such a different life----"

"You are kind to excuse me, but I don’t see how that makes it any
better.  I could have shown interest and sympathy enough with his tastes
and plans to have made him come naturally to me.  I ’m the elder
brother, and I have n’t been a brother, only a querulous, fault-finding,
elderly relative, as if he were fourteen and I forty.  He did come to
you with his grievances against father, did n’t he?"

Jane coloured a little as his eyes keenly questioned her.

"Yes, though I did n’t want him to tell me, and would n’t listen to very
much of it.  I felt guilty to let him talk at all, but he was so----"

"I ’m glad you did.  If anybody could have given him advice that he
would take it would have been you.  I was pretty sure he had been to
you, by the way I saw him fling over here just after he ’d had a bout
with father."

"He said something that day I feel as if your father ought to know, and
I ’ve been wondering how I could let him know," and with this
introduction, Jane told Murray all she had learned of Forrest’s
inclination toward the army and its varied experiences, ending as gently
as she could with the boyish threat of enlisting if he could not bring
about his own appointment to West Point.  Murray listened to her very
soberly.

"Father would veto the West Point proposition from the first word," he
said, "merely because he has no notion of the sort of fascination the
idea would have for a restless chap like my brother. So if Forrest asked
him to let him go, I ’ve no doubt he refused him, and then--well, I can
easily imagine Forrest carrying out his threat out of pure bravado.  It
gives us something to go by, anyhow.  We can soon find out if he ’s had
the folly to enlist.  He may have the dash and bravery to do a gallant
deed, to fight stoutly enough at a time of need, but the patience and
endurance for the every-day army life----"  He shook his head.  "He’s
only a boy, you know. You could n’t expect it of him."

Just here Peter opened the little garden gate and came swinging in.
"Hello!" he called, at sight of the pair under the maple-tree.  "You two
look cool and restful out there.  May I join the picnic party when I ’ve
freshened up a bit? A breakdown in the power at the factory sent fifty
or sixty of us in our department home for a quarter-holiday."

"That ’s luck for us, too!" called back Murray, cordially.

Jane bent forward eagerly.  "Do you mind Peter’s knowing?" she asked.
"Pete’s so big and strong and--ingenious; he ’s like mother at knowing
what to do."

"I want Peter to know," Murray replied, without hesitation.  "We ’re
going to try to keep this thing out of the papers, of course, and away
from our acquaintances as long as we can, but your family must all know.
I feel, somehow, as if having the Bell family stand by us would be worth
a lot."

When Peter came out, in fresh clothes, his brown hair damp from the
splashing shower he had just taken, and joined the two others under the
maple, he was told the whole story.  He listened in clear-eyed gravity,
with once or twice a short exclamation of regret.  As Murray ended with
Jane’s suggestion about the runaway’s possible enlistment in the army,
Peter drew a long breath.

"I believe I can understand how he felt about it," he said, throwing his
head back and staring up at the sky for a moment.  Then, coming back to
earth with a squaring of his broad shoulders, he added, with a rueful
smile at Jane, "And that’s not because my home is n’t the happiest one
on earth.  It ’s just the feeling a fellow gets once in a while that he
’d like to jump over something and make a dash for the horizon line--to
see what’s beyond it!  And I can see how he----"  Then he broke off
suddenly, looking at Murray.  "That does n’t mean I don’t appreciate
what this is to all his family.  And if there’s anything I can do to
help, I ’m your man."

"You ’d be a good one to send after him," Murray answered, with a slight
smile.  "You ’d know better than to pounce on him like an officer of the
law.  You ’d treat him like a brother--a better brother than I ’ve
been,"--and the smile faded.

"Look here, don’t take it that way.  There are few brothers I know who
stand shoulder to shoulder as they ought to do.  It’s odd, but it’s so,
and a pity it is, too.  I think our family is different from most--for
the reason----"  Here Peter stopped abruptly once more, meeting Jane’s
eyes.  He could not say that early training, given by wise parents, had
made all the difference in the world with their family life.

"Yes, I fancy I know the reason," said Murray, wistfully, "and I
congratulate you on it."

"I ’m a stupid sort of Job’s comforter," Peter went on.  "But one thing
is sure; if you ’d like an extra brother, to stand by in this
difficulty, here he is."

He laid his hand on Murray’s arm as he spoke, and Murray flushed with
pleasure.  He turned and held out his own hand, and Peter’s closed on it
with a grip.  Then both began to talk with a will about other things.

When Murray went home he took Mrs. Bell with him.  He watched her vanish
through the doorway of his mother’s room, where that poor lady had been
all day in a state of nervous prostration, and felt that he had brought
her a friend worth while.

The moment that his father came home Murray went to him with the news he
had obtained in Gay Street.  The two had a long conference, during which
Murray discovered his father to be watching him with a peculiar
expression, as if surprised to find this reserved son so ready with
suggestions.

Mr. Townsend shook his head over the notion that Forrest could have
carried his revolt against authority so far as to have taken the step of
enlisting in the army; but when Murray urged that the clue should be
followed up, the elder man said slowly:

"I don’t know whether it would do any good to hunt him up and bring him
home.  He’s taken things into his own hands.  I feel like letting him
manage his own affairs for a while. He has n’t the force of character to
deprive himself of the comforts of life very long.  If he has enlisted,
he ’d better take the consequences.  I ’m not so sure but a term of
service in the army would do him good, take the conceit out of him, and
show him that he cannot escape discipline anywhere;--life itself means
discipline of one sort or another."

"If we should find he had enlisted, then, you wouldn’t take the steps to
get him off?  You could, you know, sir, since he ’s under age.  Peter
says so."

"Peter?  Peter who?"

"Peter Bell--in Gay Street."

"Oh, yes.  You see a good deal of the Bells, Murray?"

"Yes, sir."

"I don’t think I should apply to have him released from service," said
Mr. Townsend, slowly, grim lines settling about his mouth.

A week went by.  At its close a second briefly letter arrived from
Forrest, addressed to his mother.  It stated that Forrest had enlisted
in the army, and had, at his own application, been allowed to join a
regiment just leaving for San Francisco, to be sent for a term of three
years’ service in the Philippines.  By the time the letter reached home,
Forrest would have sailed.

The letter was written in a spirit of boyish bravado, like the first,
but although it upset Mrs. Townsend again and sent her back to her bed,
it relieved the tension of the family.  It furnished definite news of
the young fellow’s whereabouts, and made it possible to communicate with
him when he should have reached his destination.

Mrs. Townsend spent many days thereafter in urging her husband to apply
at headquarters to have her son returned.  It could be done, she was
sure, because the boy was but nineteen, and having enlisted without his
father’s permission, must have misrepresented his age at the
recruiting-station.  But Mr. Townsend remained firm.  He said that
Forrest, having chosen this course, must abide by it, at least for the
term of service for which he had enlisted. He would not have a turncoat
for a son, he said sternly, although with a suspicious lowering of the
voice; and he was more and more impressed with the conviction that the
hard realities of life would make a man out of Forrest if the stuff of
which men are made was in him.

"Meanwhile," he said to Murray, with a sadness which the other detected,
"it is the father, rather than the son, after all, who has the bitterest
dose of medicine to take."

"I ’m sorry, sir," was all Murray could say, wondering if his father
meant the fact that his plan for taking Forrest into the business would
have to be given up.

He suggested this to Jane Bell, in the little garden one evening, down
by the phlox-bed, where she had gone to pick a bunch of flowers for
Olive, who sat upon the porch with Ross and Peter.  Olive had at last
learned the way over to Gay Street, and having found it, had discovered
that the knowledge lent interest to a life she had felt to be very dull.

"I suppose he feels badly about it," said Murray, holding the phlox Jane
gave him while she picked a cluster of lilies to go with it.

"Indeed, he must."

"It is the thing he has looked forward to for years--ever since he
realised he could n’t make a business man out of me."

"Yes, and I suppose, even if your brother came back after two or three
years, less head-strong than now, he might not be any more willing to
settle down to that life."

"No, I doubt if he would.  It’s all up for father, and it’s a tremendous
disappointment."

"I am very, very sorry for him," said Jane, gravely, musing over her
lilies.  There was silence for a moment; then she looked up.  "You don’t
think," she ventured, her hazel eyes scanning his, "that anybody could
possibly make it up to him?"

"Anybody?  Who?"

"Who, indeed?"  Jane was breathing a little quickly.

Murray stared at her in mingled astonishment, questioning and dismay.
Then he spoke, abruptly and roughly: "In the name of all absurdity, you
can’t mean _me_?"

Jane dropped her eyes, flushing deeply.  She bit her lips.  "It would be
very, very hard, would n’t it?"

Murray drew a deep, impatient breath. "_Hard!_" he exploded, and turned
away.  Then he wheeled back.  "You’re not serious?" he said, hurriedly.
"You can’t be serious in even suggesting such a thing.  I--bookworm,
cripple, weakling----"

Jane raised her eyes once more.  In the deepening twilight Murray felt
as if they were searching his soul.

"And yet," she said, slowly, and almost wistfully, "it would be such a
magnificent thing to do.  It would take hero stuff, I know--yet," she
smiled, "I think--you--could----"  Then she stopped short.  "Oh, forgive
me!" she cried, softly, under her breath.  "What am I that I should
suggest hero deeds to you?  A girl who cries nearly every night of her
life because she can’t go to college!"



                              CHAPTER VIII

                         MURRAY GIVES AN ANSWER


"I wish I knew," observed Olive Townsend to Jane Bell, "what in the
world is the matter with Murray.  He acts as if he had lost his head
completely.  I went into his room this morning, and almost fell over a
pile of Indian clubs and dumb-bells; and I saw a set of chest weights
hanging against the wall.  It’s the queerest thing!  He’s never gone in
for that sort of thing at all--and I shouldn’t think he was strong
enough for it, either."

The two girls were driving along the park roadway in a high-hung phaeton
of Olive’s, behind a very smartly harnessed horse.  This was the third
time Olive had asked Jane to drive with her, and although Jane would
have enjoyed excursions into the country much more than these drives
about the fashionable city streets, she appreciated the honour Olive
meant to do her in thus exhibiting their friendship to all beholders.
Olive had grown to be rather proud of Jane’s company upon these drives,
for she was conscious that they attracted considerable admiring
attention, and she fancied that Jane’s quiet daintiness of attire set
off her own rather more striking style.

Jane laughed at the notion that Murray was not strong enough to put
himself in the way of being stronger.  She knew it was Peter who had
suggested this course of proceedings in response to an envious comment
from Murray, when he had seen Peter scantily garbed for some severe
physical labor about the house.

"Biceps?"  Peter had laughed, as Murray grasped the sinewy arm and
expressed his admiration for the fine development thereof.  "And
deltoid?--Oh yes, that’s easy.  If your particular form of daily toil
does n’t give you muscle where you want it, get it for yourself with
exercise. You can build up anything you like in a gymnasium--or in your
own room, if you have the persistence."

"You could, with your splendid health to begin on, of course," Murray
replied, with a sigh, for he had begun to suspect that Peter’s unusual
level-headedness and efficiency came in considerable degree from his
well-developed body.

"So could you.  A year of solid work with a good instructor would make
another chap of you.  Two years, an athlete."

"Oh, no--not with my constitution."

"Your constitution, man!"  Peter had almost shouted.  "What’s
constitution?  Something to be made just about what you will of.
Fellows with a direct tendency toward consumption have made themselves
giants by living outdoors and sawing wood."

This had been the beginning, the first result of which serious talk had
been the dumb-bells and chest-weights which had called forth Olive’s
suspicion of her brother’s sanity.

"But he’s never cared for anything but books--and to be let alone,"
objected Olive, when Jane replied that she thought nothing better could
happen to Murray than to become interested in building up his physical
being.  "It’s just since Forrest has been gone--only think, that’s six
weeks now--that Murray has been at this."

"It’s telling on him already, too," said Jane, feeling a sense of
elation over the fact which she could not quite account for.  "He has a
better colour.  I noticed it yesterday."

"That was sunburn," declared Olive, skeptically. "He spent the afternoon
lying on the ground with a book down by the hedge, right squarely in the
hot August sun.  I think it was ridiculous."

"He’s lived in the house ever so much more than was good for him," Jane
insisted, gently. "So does everybody in cities.  My idea of
happiness--one sort--is a day on my grandfather’s farm.  It’s only about
ten miles out, and we ’ve a plan.  Should you, Murray, and Shirley, care
to spend a day with us out there?  A sort of picnic, you know.  Down by
the river there are the loveliest places you can imagine, and Peter says
he ’ll take you fishing if you care for it."

"Indeed I should, I ’m sure," agreed Olive, with real pleasure.  She
loved new sensations, and the notion of going fishing with Peter Bell
appealed to her strongly.  She was growing more and more to respect and
admire Peter; in a way, it was true, in which she quite failed to
appreciate his best qualities, but in which she responded, nevertheless,
to those which his family would have rated as his second best.

"Don’t forget the picnic," was Olive’s last word, as she set Jane down
at her own door. "I shall begin to get an outing hat ready now."

"If I should forget, Peter would remind me. It’s his plan,"  Jane
reassured her--a fact which of itself pleased Olive, for she was
confident that it meant his regard for her entertainment.

If she had known, however, the whole plan was a plot of Peter’s for
Murray’s diversion.

"The fellow ’s worrying about something," Peter had said.  "He’s
pitching into the exercises I showed him, but his mind ’s counting
against him.  I know what he wants to build himself up for.  He told me
that if he had to be the family’s sole representative in the matter of
sons for the next three years, he wanted to put up a better showing, and
I ’m decidedly glad he takes it that way.  I ’d hate myself to be five
feet ten and weigh only one hundred and thirty. Let ’s take him--and the
girls if you like--out for a day on Grandfather Bell’s farm.  What do
you say?  Do you suppose we could make the thing acceptable to Miss
Worthington Square?"  After due consideration of the matter, and some
consultation with her mother, Jane had enthusiastically agreed.  Now,
upon returning from the drive, she was able to tell Peter that Olive had
accepted the invitation with alacrity.

"What--fishing and all?" he laughed. "Really, I think better of her
ladyship than ever for coming down to earth like that.  The question is
now, how to get them there without resorting to hay-wagons--a form of
conveyance I judge Miss Olive would n’t deign to accept."

"Imagine one rolling up to the _porte-cochère_ on the Worthington Square
front!" and Jane broke into such a merry laugh that everybody joined
in--for Jane had told Peter her news at the dinner-table.

"Let Miss Olive and Murray and Shirley drive in their own trap, and have
Pete bring out grandfather’s new surrey for us.  I ’m sure it’s as trim
a looking vehicle as any, if his horses don’t have quite the smartest
harness going," suggested Ross McAndrew.  "The horses themselves are
crack-a-jacks."

"That will have to do, I think," Jane agreed, "though it seems too bad
to ask our guests to take themselves."

"No matter in what order we go, you ’ll find we ’ll come home
democratically mixed up," prophesied Ross.  "I defy Miss Worthington
Square to withstand the leveling influences of a day on Grandfather
Bell’s farm.  I ’ve no doubt Peter will drive the trap home, with Rufe
hanging on the back seat, and Murray will learn what it means to coax a
pair of shy farm horses past the electric cars.  As for me, I may come
home as jockey on young Major’s back, the city youth having proved not
up to the situation."

With such merry comments the preparation for the picnic was made.  And
if the Bells had known it, their guests looked forward to the affair
with quite as pleasant anticipations as themselves.  When the day
came--a sultry August morning, with signs of thunder-showers in the
west--Olive and Murray and Shirley found themselves as willing to risk a
possible wetting as the Bells themselves, who never minded such small
things as thunder-showers in the least.

The farm horses--Grandfather Bell’s pride, and with reason, for they
were a fine pair of blacks--led the way, the new surrey carrying such a
jolly company that the guests, following close behind in the smart trap,
tried in vain to rival their hilarity.  The three Townsends were all
arrayed in white linen from head to foot, and presented a cool and
attractive spectacle; but Murray’s eyes watched with envy the
parti-coloured group in the conveyance ahead, and Olive reluctantly
owned to herself that Jane’s fresh little blue cotton frock, while
better suited to a farm picnic than one of white linen, was also a
charming spot of colour upon the landscape.

"Now, who’s going fishing?" called back Peter, as he drove his steeds
briskly in through Grandfather Bell’s gateway, followed by the trap at
its best pace.  "It’s clouding over now, so that we ought to have some
good sport--if the rain holds off, and I think it will, judging by the
wind.  Grandfather Bell can tell us that," he added, as a tall old man
of a hale and vigorous aspect came out of the house to greet his guests.

"The rain won’t bother you before afternoon, I guess," prophesied
Grandfather Bell, shaking hands cordially with his guests.  "When it
does, you ’d better put for the house.  You can have your picnic
indoors, where you won’t get your clothes wet," and his glance fell on
the three white-clad young people from the city.

"Never mind our clothes," said Murray.  "We were thinking of the hot day
coming when we put them on.  It would have been more sensible to dress
like you fellows," and he glanced from Ross’s worn gray corduroys to
Peter’s faded blue flannels, in which costumes both young men looked
ruggedly--and not unattractively--ready for roughing it.

"Picnics appeal to people from different points of view," suggested
Ross.  "Now, Miss Olive can certainly sit on a rock and watch Peter,
Rufe, Nan and myself fish, giving us practical suggestions from time to
time--in a whisper. Perhaps she ’ll photograph us with that camera she
has there.  But I would advise that Mr. Murray Townsend, Miss Shirley
Townsend, and Miss Jane Bell, sit apart on some mossy bank and read some
pleasant tale _about_ fishing."

"Nonsense.  You talk like a stage manager," jeered Peter.  "Miss Olive
’s going to do some real fishing if Grandmother Bell has to lend her a
dress to go home in--and so are the rest. Fishing is the first thing on
this programme and fishing is to be done.  You saw to the rods and
lines, Rufe--where are they?"

Rufe raced away to the barns, and came back with a full fishing
equipment for everybody. After greeting Grandmother Bell, a pleasant
little old lady, with a warm welcome for every one, the party proceeded
through the orchard and down a long, maple-Leaded lane to the river--a
picturesque spot, which had been the paradise of the Bell family from
its earliest recollections.

Here sport reigned for an hour, although few fish were caught.  The
spirit of hilarity ruled the holiday too thoroughly to admit of much
wooing of the frightened prey; but nobody minded except Rufus, who
finally left the others and wandered away up-stream, whence he returned
after a time, triumphant, with a respectable showing of fish.

"The clouds don’t look as threatening as they did.  Could n’t we climb
that small hill on the other side of the river?  I ’ve been looking at
that winding path for an hour, wishing I could see where it leads," said
Murray to Jane, propping his fishing-rod against a tree.

"It leads to a little hemlock grove, and a field of corn beyond,"
answered Jane, fanning her flushed and laughing face with her
wide-brimmed hat.

"Oh, don’t tell me!  Come and explore it with me, will you?"  Murray
gave her such a pleading look that she could not refuse him, although
she and Peter had agreed that this picnic was not to be a "pairing off"
affair, because that would leave Ross in the lurch, and Ross had been
working hard of late, and needed an outing, his cousins thought, more
than anybody.

"We’ll just go over and back, if you like--to satisfy your curiosity,"
and Jane let him walk away with her.

They slowly climbed the hill path, Murray stopping to cut himself a
stout staff in lieu of the cane he no longer used.  "I shall always be
lame," he said to Jane, "but I ’m not going to depend on canes any
longer except for such special occasions as this.  Do you know, I think
I ’m growing a shade brawnier--thanks to Peter’s training."

"I ’m sure you are; you look it," responded Jane, warmly, "and I ’m so
glad."

"There has been wonderful work done in the world by people in ill
health.  But I ’m afraid I could never be a Carlyle or a Stevenson, no
matter how bright the fires of genius burned. They worked for the love
of it, but when the task a fellow sees before him is one he dislikes, he
certainly needs the backing of a sound body."

As they attained the top of the hill, panting a little for breath,
Murray stared ahead into the hemlock grove.

"That ’s a cool-looking spot.  Can’t we sit down there a few minutes?  I
’ll have to rest a bit before I do more," he urged.  "It’s three years
since I climbed a hill like that--just the day before I had my accident.
I seem to have got started on the uninteresting subject of myself, so I
may as well go on a little further and tell you my plans about the same
chap, if you don’t mind listening."

"I ’d love to hear them.  Here’s a fine mossy spot, and two trees to
lean against," and Jane dropped at the foot of one of the trees she had
pointed out.  Murray, casting aside his stick, threw himself down at
full length near by, his arms clasped under his head.

"Ah, this is great!" he murmured.  "Smell those balsams?  It makes one
want to live outdoors.  And that’s what I’m thinking of doing."

"Really?  How?  Will you pitch a tent on the lawn?  That would be fine
for you, and we should all envy you."

"No, I want a more radical change to outdoor life than that--or at least
I want the results. I ’ve made up my mind that to live my life out as a
bookish invalid, if I might do better, is ’too poor a way of playing the
game of life,’ as one author I like immensely puts it.  I shall stick to
the books all I can, but--I want some good red blood in my veins
besides."

Forrest’s words spoken weeks ago, charging Murray with the very lack of
"red blood," came to Jane’s mind, and she smiled and sighed, thinking
what a change those weeks had made in the relations of the two brothers.
And here was Murray wishing for the very thing the want of which his
vigorous brother had deplored.

"I ’m sure you can have it, and all the good things that go with it."

"Which are many, as you people have already taught me.  Honestly, it’s
seeing your family so alive and hearty and happy that’s brought me to be
dissatisfied with myself.  I ’m going to have need of all I can put into
Murray Townsend, and so--I ’ve about made up my mind----"

He hesitated, pulling a hemlock branch through his slim fingers with
nervous energy.  Then he began again: "I ’ve been reading a lot lately
about life on one of those Western ranches--real ranch life, I mean; not
Eastern play at it. I ’ve a cousin who went to Montana six years ago.  I
get a letter from him once in a while. He’s a Westerner now,
full-fledged.  I doubt if he ever comes East again to stay.  I ’ve
written him to ask if he has any room for a tenderfoot on his ranch, and
if he says he ’ll take me in, I think I ’ll go."

"Right away?"

"Right away, if father agrees--and I think he will.  He ’ll be only too
glad to have me take the chance of making a man out of myself, instead
of a bloodless bookworm."  Murray turned over with a short laugh, and
propping his chin on his elbows, lay looking at Jane.

"How long shall you stay?"

"Long enough to do the business.  A year, if necessary.  When I come
back, I ’ll probably be wearing leather leggings with fringes, a
handkerchief round my neck, and a sombrero.  I ’ve no doubt the cowboys
will have played tricks enough on me to prove satisfactorily to all
concerned whether I ’m a man or a mushroom."

Jane looked steadily down at the face below her, and realised that it
was a face of strength as well as of fineness.  The eyes which met hers
were enlivened by a determination she had never seen in them before, and
her answer brought into them a light which surprised and pleased her.

"I think it’s the best plan in the world," she said, heartily, "and I
know it will succeed. Nobody ever set himself to accomplishing anything
without accomplishing either that thing or something better."

"What could the ’something better’ be in my case?"

"I don’t know.  Do you?"

The question was a challenge.  Murray sat up.  A tinge of red crept into
his cheek.  "Yes, I know," he answered.  "So do you, I think. You put it
into my head.  Am I a coward, that I can’t decide to give myself over to
my father and the business?"

"No.  But you are planning to put your shoulder to his wheel somehow--I
know you are, or you would n’t be trying so hard to strengthen that
shoulder."

"You’re a wizard--or a witch."  Murray spoke soberly; then he laughed,
as the two pairs of eyes met, and he caught the fire in Jane’s. "Are you
always so sure of your friends?"

"Always.  If I have a friend, I believe in--her--whether she wants me to
or not.  She always proves me right."

"Suppose it ’him’?

"I don’t know so much about the ’hims,’" said Jane, "except my brothers.
The rule works with them."

"You must be an inspiring sister.  You ’ve brothers enough already, I
suppose, but I wish you ’d adopt another.  My sister--she can’t be far
from your age, but she seems years younger. She has n’t thought about
things the way you have.  Look here!  If I go to Montana for a year, I
shall be pretty lonesome sometimes, I expect.  Will you let me write to
you?"

"It would be great fun," answered Jane, simply, "to have letters from a
real cowboy with six-shooters in his belt."

"I ’ll take them out when I write to you. Must we go back?  Well, if you
think we ought--though I ’d like to lie here all day and dream dreams
about the great things I ’m going to do. But a fellow can’t dream much
in the society of the Bells--he has to be up and doing."

"With a heart for any fate," quoted Jane, blithely, as she led the way.
"I ’ll tell you a better motto than that, though, fine as it is."

"What is it?  Give it to me, will you?"

"I ’ll write it out for you."

"When?"

"To-morrow, perhaps."

"To-day, please.  I ’m an impatient chap."

"Very well.  You shall have it when we get home.  It’s one I can’t talk
about, somehow--it gives me a choke in my throat--I don’t know why."

Hours later Murray found out why.  By the time he and Jane had rejoined
the rest of the party the threatening storm-clouds had brought the
promised rain.  The lunch had to be eaten in Grandmother Bell’s pleasant
kitchen, but the guests enjoyed it almost as much as they could have
done in the sylvan spot that Peter had picked out.  By three o’clock in
the afternoon the storm had passed.  It had cooled the air a little, so
that it was possible for the party to spend three long and delightful
hours upon the river before going home.

"We three in what was once white," said Murray, as he stood by the trap,
"are a pretty sorry-looking crowd to go back all together. Why may I not
change places with Peter, and drive the Bell family home?"

Ross chuckled as he winked at Jane, and she recalled his prophecy of
some days earlier.  But it was he and Nancy who took the back seat of
the trap, leaving Rufus and Shirley in the surrey, to carry on an
acquaintance which had developed to great friendliness in the Townsend
tennis-court, where the children had played every evening throughout the
summer.

Up in his own room Murray took from his pocket a slip of paper Jane had
given him as she said good night, and unfolding it as if it were a
message from a royal hand, he read it slowly through.  The expectation
of this message had been warm all through the pleasant drive home in the
twilight.

The words of Jane’s quotation were these:--and as it happened that he
had never seen them before, they came to him at this crisis of his life
with peculiar force.

    "Life is an arrow--therefore you must know
    What mark to aim at, how to use the bow--
    Then draw it to the head, and let it go!"


There was a little constriction in Murray’s own throat as he studied the
brave words.  He saw at a flash their deeper meaning.  "Make myself fit
to live my life," he thought "and then--whether it’s the life I want to
live or not--let it go!  Jane, you know how to fit the arrow to my
hand--bless you!  I will _draw_ it to the head--_and let it go_!"



                               CHAPTER IX

                               SNAP SHOTS


"A letter from Montana for Miss Jane Bell," observed Peter, distributing
the mail at the breakfast-table one May morning, nine months after the
picnic at Grandfather Bell’s farm.  "It strikes me these Montana letters
are beginning to arrive with astonishing regularity."

"They began," declared Ross, enjoying the sight of the sudden colour in
Jane’s face, as she tucked the letter into her belt and tried vainly to
look unconscious as she went on serving the family from a big dish of
oatmeal porridge, "by coming modestly once in about three or four weeks.
Then they got to once a fortnight--that was in midwinter.  Along about
April----"

"If I were a big, grown man," murmured Jane, "I ’d never condescend to
keep track of----"

"Along in April," pursued Ross, unmoved, "once in ten days was the
schedule.  But this last, coming as it does just one short week after
its predecessor, and carrying, as it does, two large red
postage-stamps--which, I am confident, is underpayment----"

"Stop teasing!" cried Nancy, always loyal to her sister.  "Every one of
you is envying Jane, wishing you could have letters from a real cowboy."

"A real cowboy!" laughed Ross.  "I think I see Murray Townsend getting
himself up in that rig.  With his pale face and thin shoulders he ’d
look like the tenderest kind of a tenderfoot."

Jane pulled the letter out of her belt.  The previous letter had
promised that this one should bring some snap-shot pictures of the
writer and his surroundings.  She hoped, as she broke the seal, that she
should find them, feeling sure that the extra thick letter indicated
that it carried the promised enclosures.

As she pulled out the sheets a little packet of blue-prints dropped into
her lap.  She picked them up and fell to looking at them.  Peter,
sitting next to her, laughed to himself, as he reached for his dish of
oatmeal, Jane having forgotten to serve him.  But everybody forgot
breakfast, as the blue-prints went round the table. All but one were
scenes of ranch and camp life, bringing into view horses and cowboys of
all sorts and conditions, each carefully labelled with its descriptive
title.  But the one at the bottom of the pack was called "the
tenderfoot"--the only one of the set in which Jane’s correspondent was
in evidence.

"Can it be possible this is Murray?" exclaimed Mrs. Bell, studying
incredulously the erect figure on horseback, life and energy in every
outline, from the tilt of the wide hat to the set of the leg in the
saddle.  "Why, he looks as if he weighed thirty pounds more than when he
went away."

"By George, the fellow has n’t roughed it nearly a year for nothing, has
he?" admitted Ross.  "He doesn’t look the stage cowboy, either--I ’ll
say that for him.  Those clothes have seen wear and rain, and that hat
has had the true Western shape knocked into it.  It makes you envy him,
does n’t it?"

Peter said nothing, but his eyes dwelt upon the figure in the saddle
with a look of longing so intense that if anyone had been observing him
it must have told his story plainly.  One person was observing him, and
as Peter looked up at last, with an involuntary glance at his father,
who had just made some observation on the advantage it had been to the
rich man’s son to get out among the ranchmen and gain a new view of
life, he met his father’s eyes.  Joseph Bell understood just what it
meant to Peter to stay at home and work as foreman in a note-paper
factory when there were such places as Montana in the world waiting for
young men to come and explore them.  And there was that in his father’s
look which told Peter that his sacrifice was appreciated.

Up in her own room, when a dozen duties had been done, Jane read her
letter.  It was to her a deeply interesting letter, as had been all
those which came before it, for Murray wielded a graphic pen, and his
pictures of the sort of life he had been living were vivid as
colour-sketches. He was rejoicing in the coming of spring and summer,
after the long, cold winter, and his delight seemed to Jane so unlike
any pleasure in outdoor life she had seen him show at home that it
filled her with joy.  The letter said, as it neared the close and fell
into the personal vein, as letters do:


I never knew before what it was to breathe way down to the bottom of my
lungs.  My existence--after my accident, and up to the time I came
here--seems now to me like that of some pale monk in his cell, feeding
on other men’s thoughts, but never living them himself.  I’ve learned to
live!  You, who have long known that secret, will be glad with me, won’t
you?

All through the winter I was wrapped to the eyes whenever I put my head
out of the cabin door.  Men dress warmly here in the
winter--flannel-lined canvas overcoats--"blanket coats" they call
them--felt boots, and all that.  But they don’t make grannies of
themselves as I did--at first.  As the winter advanced, though, I began
to get hardened to it, and before spring I could stand a pretty low
temperature without feeling my blood congeal.  But when spring
came--spring in this Western country!  I wish I could describe it.  The
air like wine, the sunshine like--nothing I can think of. When spring
came I began to expand mentally and physically--and in still another
way, I think.  Anyhow, I ’m not the same fellow who went to the doctor
for an outfit of drugs before he dared start West.

I ’ve learned a lot from these men I ’ve been associated with.  A rough
set they would seem to you, most of them--they did to me at first.  But
when I got to know them, underneath the roughness I found--men.  It’s no
use trying to put it into a letter.  I must talk with you, face to
face--and just what that means to me when I think of it I won’t venture
to say.  I ’ll be home in the fall, and then--I ’m going into my
father’s business.  I have n’t said that before, have I?  You ’ll please
not mention it to anyone, except Peter, if you like; I want to surprise
father.  That’s going to be my reward for doing my duty.  It is my
duty--I see it plainly at last, and every ounce of determination I can
grow from now till fall is going to be just so much more to offer him.
But I won’t brag about that.  Do the best I can, it won’t be a wonderful
gift, for I ’m afraid my talents don’t lie in that direction.  But if
honest effort can make up--Jane, I have n’t watched some of these heroic
chaps for nothing.  I ’m simply shamed into taking my medicine, and
shutting my mouth tight after it.  And that’s the last word about it’s
being medicine.  I ’m going to get interested in the business if
pitching in all over will do it.

This is a long letter, and I ’m done--except to tell you that the West
does n’t deserve all the credit for my altered views of life.  A certain
girl I know, who wanted to go to college, but gave up all thought of it
because, besides the family, her father and brothers had half a dozen
helpless elderly relatives to support, isn’t the poorest sort of
inspiration to her friend, when he happens to be a fellow who never gave
up anything for anybody in his life.  He values her friendship far more
than he dares to tell her now. Somebody--Ruskin?--said a knight’s armour
never fitted him quite so well as when the lady’s hand had braced
it--and I ’m beginning to understand what that rather picturesque
metaphor may mean.  Do I sound sentimental, and are you laughing at me?
Don’t do it!  I ’ve not a "gun" in my belt, but I’m rather a rough
looking customer nevertheless.  I came in an hour ago, wet to the
skin--caught out in a cloudburst without my slicker--and while my
clothes dry am attired in my cousin’s (seven sizes too big!) being
averse to putting on any of the clothes in my trunk, the foolish clothes
of civilisation.

I weigh one hundred and sixty-five.  What do you think of that?  And
it’s not flesh, but worked-on muscle and sinew. Did I say I was done?  I
am.  But I am also

Faithfully your friend,
       MURRAY TOWNSEND.


"You look it," agreed Jane, studying the photograph.  "You certainly
look it."  She gave the little print one more careful examination,
noting the steady gaze the pictured face gave back, a spirited
expression very different from the half-moody look she had first known;
then she put the photographs away and went about her work.  And as she
went, a little song sang itself over and over in her heart--the song of
trust in a ripening friendship of the sort that makes life worth living.

Spring and summer passed slowly by, marking a growing interchange of
amenities between the little house in Gay Street and the big one in
Worthington Square.  Things had happened during the winter, things kept
on happening as the year advanced, to draw the two families together. In
January Shirley had had a long and severe illness, during which Mrs.
Bell and Jane made their way into the inmost heart of every member of
the household.  There were nights during that illness when Joseph Bell,
feeling that difference of social position counted for nothing when a
father was in trouble, went over to shake Harrison Townsend’s hand,
bidding him be of courage--and found himself detained as a friend in
need.

By and by, when the anxiety was over and the Bells ceased coming often
in and out, the Townsends began to summon them.  Mr. Townsend discovered
the shrewd wisdom and genial philosophy of Joseph Bell to be of value,
and often went to sit with him in the little front room, where his eyes
noted with approval the rows of books.  He discovered that Armstrongs’s
head man knew more that lay between the covers of those books than did
Harrison Townsend himself.

As for Mrs. Townsend and Mrs. Bell, while they were too different in
temperament and taste to get far into each other’s lives, they found
enough in common to bring them together rather oftener than could
naturally have been expected. There was a quiet poise about Mrs. Bell
which the other woman, accomplished woman of the world though she was,
could only study in despair of ever being able to attain.  But she found
a rest and refreshment in her neighbour’s society which none of her more
fashionable friends could give her, and she sent often for Mrs. Bell to
keep her company.

"Olive’s taken one big step in advance," Peter said to his mother, one
day in early summer. "She has begun to write regularly to Forrest."

"I’m very glad," said Mrs. Bell.  "Does he answer her letters?"

"He does--only too glad to, I should say. She’s shown me some of his
letters.  There ’s a homesick grunt to them, that’s sure.  Life in the
army, and particularly life in the Philippines, is n’t unmitigated
bliss, and he’s finding it out. He does n’t exactly squeal, but you can
see how it is with him."

"It will do Olive good to take up such a sisterly duty.  Was it your
suggestion?" asked Mrs. Bell.

"How did you guess that?  I did give her a talk one day, when she
happened to say that Shirley was the only one of the family who wrote to
Forrest with any regularity.  She was pretty angry with me for a day or
two, but she came round, and now she writes once a fortnight.  There ’s
really more to that girl than you would think."

"She is improving very much, I am sure," agreed his mother, warmly.
"With a different early training, Olive would have been by now a much
more lovable girl than she has seemed. But, happily, it ’s not too late
to give her new ideals, and I think you have helped in that direction."

"Ideals?" mused Peter.  "I don’t think I have any of those--at least, I
don’t call them by that name.  Rules of the game--how will that do,
instead?  The foreman of Room 8 in a note-paper factory is n’t supposed
to have ideals, is he?"

"I don’t know about that.  Suppose you ask the men and women under you.
I fancy they would protest your ideals were pretty hard for them to live
up to?"

Peter laughed to himself.  "Maybe they would.  But they would n’t put it
that way. ’The boss is a tough one to suit,’ they ’d say."

"Call it what you will--rules of the game, if you like.  But, as the
children used to say, ’Peter Bell plays fair!’"

"I hope he does.  If he does n’t, it is n’t the fault of his trainer."
And the gray eyes met the brown ones for an instant in a glance which
said many things Peter could not have spoken.

The days went on; June gave place to July; August heat melted into
September mildness; and October, with its falling leaves, marked the end
of the days of outdoor life lived from April to November in the little
garden.

"The twenty-fifth is Jane’s birthday," observed Nancy to Shirley,
several days before that event. "We ’re wondering what to do in
celebration."

"Why, it’s mine, too!" cried Shirley.  "How funny that we did n’t know
it!  We ought to celebrate it together."

This remark was duly reported to Mrs. Bell, who said at once that they
must invite Shirley over to have her birthday cake with Jane’s. But
before this plan could be carried into effect, an invitation arrived
from the big house, asking every member of the Bell household to be
present at a small dinner of Shirley’s own planning.

"This is the first time we ’ve all been asked over there together--it’s
quite an occasion," declared Peter, on the evening of the twenty-fifth,
as he stood waiting in the doorway for everybody to be ready.  "I say,"
he exclaimed, "but we’re gorgeous!"

And he fastened admiring eyes on his mother, who was dressed in a pale
gray gown of her own making, and therefore of faultless effect.  The
quality was fine also, for Peter had looked after that.

"Gorgeous does n’t seem exactly the word," Ross commented.  "Demure but
coquettish, I should call that gown."

The party proceeded in a body to the corner of Worthington Square, where
Jane, under escort of Peter, came to a sudden halt.  "Oh, I ’ve
forgotten something to go with my present to Shirley," she said to him.
"Give me the key, please.  I ’ll run back and get it.  Don’t wait. I
want to slip into the dining-room over there, anyway, before I see
anybody, and I ’ll come in by the side door."

So Jane ran back alone, and let herself into the dark house, the lamps
having, for safety, been all extinguished before the family went out.
She hurriedly lighted the lamp in the front room, for she meant to fill
out a card with a certain appropriate quotation, to put with Shirley’s
gift, and the book she needed was in this room.

The quotation was not as easily found as she had thought it would be,
and hurriedly searching for it, Jane consumed considerable time, but did
not want to give it up, for the words fitted Shirley delightfully, and
would give point to the gift.

So bending over the book, still unsuccessful, she heard with regret the
sound of a quick step upon the porch, followed by a ring at the bell.
She sprang up, book in hand, wishing she had taken her affairs, with her
light, into the dining-room. Hoping that her appearance, in her evening
frock, would warn the chance visitor that the time was inopportune, she
opened the door.

"Jane!" exclaimed a joyful voice.  "Ah, but this is good luck!"  And
Jane looked up into a face so brown and rugged and strong that for an
instant she did not know it.  But the eyes gazing eagerly into her own
told her in the next breath who stood before her.  She put out both
hands, speechless with surprise.  They were grasped and held, as Murray
Townsend closed the door behind him with a sturdy shoulder.

"I--you--why, I thought you were n’t coming for a month yet," she said,
half shyly, for in spite of the smile and the warm handclasp, it seemed
as if this must be a stranger who stood before her, radiating health and
happiness, and looking so different from the pale young man who had gone
away a year before.

"I was hit by a sudden wave of homesickness that swept me off my feet,"
Murray explained, releasing the hands which were gently drawing
themselves away, but continuing to stare down at the engaging young
figure in its modest evening attire, as if he had seen nothing so
attractive in all Montana, in spite of his fine tales of its glories.
"I began to think about it, and that was fatal.  Once the notion of
coming home a bit ahead of the date I ’d set took hold of me, I was no
more use to anybody.  They told me to pack up and start, for I was n’t
fit to brand a calf, and could n’t earn my salt."  He laughed.  "Tell me
you ’re not sorry."

"Indeed, I’m not.  This happens to be my birthday, and it’s the nicest
surprise I’ve had yet."

"Thank you--that’s the welcome I wanted. But"--he glanced at her dress
again, and his face fell--"you were going out?"

"Only to Worthington Square," laughed Jane. "It’s Shirley’s birthday,
too, and we’re all to be there at dinner.  Why, you must know!  You ’ve
just come from there."

"That is a joke on me.  I rang--no latch-key, you know--and a new maid I
’ve never seen let me in.  I saw everything lighted up and flowers all
about, and asked if they were entertaining.  She said they were, and
everybody was dressing.  So I just turned and ran, thinking I ’d slip
over here and see you first, since I could n’t see much of my family
till the affair was over. Well, well--so I may spend the evening in your
company.  Talk about luck!"

They stood there, exchanging questions and replies in the laughing,
disconnected way in which people are wont to address each other in the
first excitement of an unexpected and welcome meeting, neither of them
knowing quite what they were saying, but each feeling that something of
great importance had happened.  Then Jane gathered up her wraps and
Shirley’s gift, and said, with a startled glance at the clock, "It is
later than I thought!  We must go this minute."

"Shall I put out the light?" and Murray strode across the floor.  Jane
noted with gladness that his walk was the walk of a strong man.

They crossed the street to the hedge gate, and came to the side
entrance.  As he put his thumb to the bell, Murray said, half under his
breath, "I’ve imagined all sorts of home-comings, but never one quite so
nice as this.  To make my entrance with you----"

"Oh, you ’re not going to make it with me!" said Jane, gaily.  "I shall
stay in the dining-room, arranging Shirley’s plate, until you are safe
in the midst of them."

And plead as he would, Murray found there was no way to make her change
this decision. So, at last, hearing the voices of the others in the big
hall, where they were gathered about the fireplace, in which roared a
royal October fire, he went to the door and opened it a crack.  From
this position, he looked back at Jane, where she stood by Shirley’s
chair watching him across the gala decorations of roses which crowned
the handsome table.

"I ’m at home again!" he called to her softly, and she nodded, smiling.

Then, hat in hand, he threw the door wide and marched through, shoulders
back, head up, eyes intent upon the faces which, at the opening of the
door, had turned that way.



                               CHAPTER X

                             HIDE AND SEEK


There was a moment’s astonished hush as the group about the fire stared
at the erect young figure.  Then Murray’s father was the first across
the floor to meet him; and in an instant more the whole family was upon
him, while the Bells rose, smiling, to do him honour.

"My dear boy!"  There was a great gladness in Harrison Townsend’s voice
and he wrung his son’s hand as if he would wring it off.  Murray’s
mother, too--he had not known she was capable of so much tenderness, and
he kissed her with a feeling that in his thoughts he had n’t done her
love for him justice.

As for Olive and Shirley, there was nothing lacking in the way they
showed their joy in having him at home again.  Murray himself, during
this long year of absence, was not the only one who had learned a few
enlightening truths about the great business of living.

To the full, also, Murray enjoyed the surprising fact that the Bells
were grouped about the fire in a way which indicated that they were
entirely at home.  He rejoiced in the heartiness with which the male
members of that family gripped his hand--they seemed like brothers.  And
when the sweet-faced, bright-eyed lady in gray pressed his hand in both
her own and looked at him as if her pleasure in his return was very
great, Murray, quite unable to help it, stooped and kissed her also.
Surely, homecoming was a happier thing than he had dared to picture it.

He was off upstairs to his room presently, while word was sent to an
exasperated cook to delay the dinner yet a little longer.  In less time
than could have been expected, however, Murray was down again, and in
his evening clothes showed even more plainly than before the astonishing
increase in his weight.

"These shoulders," cried Peter, inspecting them, "can they be the
shoulders of the delicate young gentleman who went away last year
looking so long and lean and lank?  I wonder you could get them into
your coat."

"I could n’t," Murray answered, laughing. "I had to borrow father’s
dinner-jacket and one of his waistcoats."

"It was fortunate for you that the old coat was n’t given away when the
new one came home," his father observed, regarding the shoulders in
evidence with great satisfaction.

They went out to dinner in the gayest spirits, and if everybody
remembered with regret the one absent, everybody still rejoiced that
this promising son of the house was once more at its board.  For there
could be no question that the eldest son looked now a fit representative
of the family of Townsend.

The dinner which followed was an elaborate one, for it was not within
the range of the hostess’s notions to entertain in any simple fashion,
even when the occasion was the birthday of a fourteen-year-old.  But the
young people at the board succeeded in infusing so much of their own
joyousness into the affair that the time passed swiftly.  There were
birthday gifts at Jane’s plate as well as at Shirley’s, and it would
have been hard to tell, at the close of the feast, which pair of cheeks
was the pinker, or which pair of eyes the brighter.  It is safe to guess
however, that there were elements in the pleasure of one recipient which
must have been lacking in that of the other, and that the presence of
one birthday guest counted for more to her than all the gifts put
together.  The fact that she could hardly look up without encountering
the interested glance of the newly arrived traveller was just a trifle
disconcerting, and it must be admitted that when Jane and Shirley
gathered up their gifts at the close of the dinner, the little girl knew
better than the older one just what she had received.

Dinner over, a short and not especially dramatic little scene took place
behind closed library doors.  Scenes which mean the most are often
quietest of all.

"I just wanted to tell you, sir," said Murray to his father, "something
I thought you might like to know right away.  I--went West to make
myself strong enough to--to go into the business, if you care to have
me.  I mean," he went on quickly, as his father looked at him as if he
could not quite believe the purport of these words, "I mean in whatever
capacity you can use me.  Shipping-clerk, if you think I ’d better begin
at the bottom"--and his smile was not a smile which supplied "but of
course you won’t."

Mr. Townsend stood looking at Murray, studying the straightforward gaze
which met his; noting the tints of health, the signs of vigour in the
fine face.  "Murray, do you mean it?" he asked.

"I do, sir."

"And yet you don’t like the prospect of a business life any more than
you ever did, do you?"

"Not much, sir."

"You make this offer knowing fully what it entails?  I have little
expectation that your brother will ever agree to my wishes."

"That’s what decided me."

"You are willing to give up your books? You could complete your college
course now, with your renewed health."

If Murray winced at this he did not let it show.

"I think you need me now, sir.  And as for the college course--and the
books--I shall have my evenings."

Mr. Townsend studied his son’s face a full minute in silence.  Then he
held out his hand. Murray seized it with a grasp which banished the
elder man’s doubts and showed him that his boy’s heart was in this offer
of himself.  The two shook hands without speaking.  There seemed no need
of further words just then.

It being Shirley’s birthday, that young person’s wishes ruled the hour.
Prompted by Rufus, who thirsted for something lively, she decreed a game
of hide-and-seek over the whole house, and succeeded in enticing the
elder people into the frolic.  Mr. Townsend and Murray, coming from the
library, found things in full swing.

Mr. Bell was just emerging from a small closet under the staircase, his
hair much rumpled.  Mrs. Bell, laughing blithely, had run round a corner
of the reception-room and touched "goal" before her son Rufus could
swing himself down the stairs and get in ahead of her. Mrs.
Townsend--and her husband could not quite credit his eyes as he saw
her--was, with trailing skirts held close, squeezing out of a very small
corner behind the grand piano in the drawing-room.

"Well, well!" cried the newcomers, enthusiastically. "Let us into the
game."

"Come on!" shouted Rufus.  "Father ’s ’it’! Let’s play it in another
way, and hide for keeps. Everybody stay hid till found, and each man
found join the hunt.  Makes it nice and exciting for the last fellow."

"You ’ll have to tell us our bounds pretty carefully," said Mr. Bell,
smiling at his hostess. "In our excitement we may open the wrong doors."

"Open any door," responded Mrs. Townsend promptly, feeling more like a
girl again than she had felt in many years of formal entertaining, and
preparing, as she spoke, to hurry up the staircase to a retreat that she
felt would be secure. It proved great fun, and a full half-hour went by
before the last one was found.  Murray had been the first to be
discovered, his head so full of the late talk in the library that he had
somewhat dazedly secreted himself in a position easily come upon by Mr.
Bell.  So when the second round began, it was Murray who stood counting
the tale of numbers in the hall below, while his quarry scurried away
over the house.

"He knows every nook and corner of it, of course," whispered Ross to
Jane, as they ran lightly up the second flight of stairs, "so we ’ll
have to hide pretty close to escape him.  I ’m for a closet I know of
where there’s a pile of blankets as big as a barn.  Will you come?"

"No--I know a better place," and Jane slipped away by herself.  She
meant to be the last found, and to elude Murray as long as she could, a
very girlish feeling having taken possession of her that the time to run
away is the time when you see somebody looking uncommonly as if he would
like to be with you.  Although she longed to hear the outcome of the
conference in the library, she was somehow just a little afraid of the
new Murray, and it was with a delightful sense of exhilaration that she
made her quick and quiet way up a third flight of stairs to one of
Shirley’s haunts in an unused portion of the regions under the eaves.

It was a long time before she heard the sounds of the hunt, in which at
last the whole party had come to join, approaching her hiding place. But
suddenly a lower door was thrown open, and Murray’s voice sounded far
down in a determined challenge:

"We’ll have you now, Jane--it’s no use. Shirley ’s kept us away so
far--the rascal--but your time ’s up!"

She _could not_ be caught!  There was a tiny door low down in the side
of the closet where she was hiding, and dark though she knew it must be
in the unknown region beyond this door, she opened it, slipped through,
closed it, and crept along the bare beams beyond.

Murray was carrying a little electric searchlight, which he was flashing
into every nook and crevice. Its sharp beam had penetrated the hole in
the blankets Ross had kept for a breathing space. It had likewise sought
out the hems of skirts, the soles of shoes, fingers clutching concealing
draperies, and elbows sticking unwarily out from sly nooks.  Jane saw
its rays outline the edges of the small door beyond which she crouched;
then she heard Murray’s triumphant cry, "O-ho, she’s dropped her
handkerchief!  Now we ’re hot on the trail.  She’s gone through this
door, the crafty lady!"

There was a shout of mingled laughter and expostulation.  "She wouldn’t
go through that rat-hole!  It’s too dark in there for a girl.  There ’s
no floor, either."

But Murray was attempting to open the door. It was a sliding door, not a
hinged one, and for a moment it delayed him, for he was not familiar
with these regions, so dear to Shirley.

During that moment, Jane, with the breathless unreadiness to be
discovered which takes hold of the hiding one, even in a game, had
desperately retreated over the rafters, in the hope of coming upon some
sheltering corner.  The next instant, with a smothered cry, she had
fallen over the edge of something, _splash_ into three feet of water!

Nobody had heard her, and somehow, in the intensity of the game, Jane’s
second emotion, after the startling sensation of her sudden immersion,
was one of absurd relief at finding herself, after all, safe from
discovery.  For, as the little door at last flew open, and Murray’s
brilliant light leaped into the space under the eaves, it disclosed to
Jane that she had dropped into a cistern, the top of which lay level
with the floor beams, and at the bottom thereof, where, having scrambled
to her feet, she stood stooping, was out of sight of the faces peering
in at the small door.

"Not here," was Murray’s disappointed observation, after one wave of his
light round the small space, "unless she’s in mother’s special
rain-water tank, white frock and all.  Come on.  I thought we had her
then, sure.  Where can she be?  She’s been here--witness that
handkerchief.  And if there’s a cranny we have n’t explored, I ’ll----"

The little door closed with a slam; the light faded away from its edges.
The voices of the party were heard retreating down the stairs, and Jane
was left alone to realise the humour of the situation.

It was undoubtedly humorous.  It could hardly be dangerous, for October
had been a mild month, and Jane was well used to cold plunges. The
wetting of the pretty frock was of no consequence, for it was quite
washable.  It was fairly easy to scramble back to the rafters--Jane had
done that the moment the searching party was out of hearing, and was
carefully wringing out her drenched skirts.  Her impromptu bath had wet
her to the shoulders, besides bruising her arm rather badly.  But the
trying thing was to get downstairs and away without being
discovered--and the whole company in full cry over the house!

Jane laughed rather hysterically, shivering a little, more from
excitement and chagrin than from chill.  She crept carefully to the
small door, meaning to push it open and listen, when suddenly it began
to slide quietly aside of itself. The next instant she saw a sunburned
hand upon its fastening, and heard a cool voice, close by, say quietly:

"It’s all right.  Nobody knows but me. They ’ve given it up, and sat
down to await your own sweet will in showing up.  Here ’s a big steamer
rug.  Will you have it to wrap up in? I ’ll get you home without a soul
knowing, and we ’ll play it off as a joke, somehow."

"Thank you," answered Jane, in a very meek voice, which shook with
mingled irritation and merriment, as the rug came through the opening.
"Perhaps I could put it on better if I were not balancing myself on
these rafters."

"I beg your pardon.  I ’ll get out of this closet, and you can get in.
I just thought you would n’t leave so--so damp a trail behind you if you
were wrapped up in something.  Here are a--er--a pair of Olive’s rubbers
for your feet, so you won’t show any tracks."

Murray’s voice was shaking also, and in a minute more the two were
laughing together. Jane, shrouded in her rug, emerged from the closet
into the attic, and Murray regarded her by the light of his electric
searcher.

"You don’t look much the worse for having taken such desperate measures
to escape me," he remarked, noting with keen enjoyment the rich colour
on the cheek near which he was rather mercilessly holding his torch.
"Rather meet a cold ducking than a warm friend any time, wouldn’t you?"

"Not at all.  I--you know how one hates to be caught."

"Does one?  Now I can’t conceive jumping into a tank of water to escape
you, if you had been after me!"

"Please stop laughing at me and help me to get home."

"I’m not laughing at you.  I’m--I may pretend to be laughing, but
inside, I assure you, I ’m tremendously worried lest this running away
indicates a state of mind--"

"Please take me home!"

"Come, then."  He led the way, by back staircases, to a quiet side
entrance, and so quickly across the street, and into her own house.
Then he went back to the others, to evade their questioning so cleverly
that nobody but Jane’s mother suspected that anything out of the
ordinary had happened.  In a very short time indeed Jane drifted
inconspicuously in upon the company again, and when inquiries from the
younger members of the party as to the change in her costume fell thick
and fast upon her, Murray protected her with the nonchalant explanation:

"Don’t bother her.  She’s very kindly trying to shield me for being the
cause of a little accident that happened to the other dress.  It was
confoundedly awkward of me, but she cheers me by declaring that she can
easily repair damages!"

It was Murray who took Jane home again by and by, and who lingered on
the porch, after the others had gone in, to tell her how his father had
received the good news.

"I ’m so glad!"  Jane’s hands were clasped tight together.  "I knew it
would be just as you tell me.  Are n’t you wonderfully happy?"

"Wonderfully.  Happier than ever in my life--except for just one thing."

"Nothing serious?"

"Well--I certainly hope not.  What bothers me is that--you seem,
somehow--not exactly afraid of me, but--different.  I don’t know how to
express it--but I----"  He stopped, his tone growing anxious.  "You
know, I could n’t bear that," he added.  "Unless I thought it meant----
See here, Jane--are we just as good friends as ever?"

"Why, of course we are!"  She said it shyly. She was very glad it was so
dark on the little porch.

"Friends for always?"

"I don’t change, I think," she answered, with a proud little lift of the
head.

"Don’t you?  Well, as I don’t either, that ought to satisfy me.  Yet it
does n’t quite, after all.  It’s odd, but I believe just being good
friends who don’t change is n’t enough.  Oh, don’t go!  You’re not
angry?  Yes, I know it’s late, but I ’ve hardly seen you yet.  You will
go?--But you ’ll let me come over early to-morrow--after more than a
year away? Well, then, to-morrow I ’ll have to teach you not to be
afraid of me.  On my honour I ’m not carrying a ’gun!’  Wait a
minute--just a minute! ... _How did I ever stay away from you so long?_
... --Good night, little Jane--good night!"



                               CHAPTER XI

                             IN THE GARDEN


Winter--long and cold; spring--late and slow; then, all at once, in
June, radiant summer and the little garden round the corner in Gay
Street was a place of richly bursting bloom--a riot of colours against
the leafy green background of its vine-hung walls.

Toward the end of June a week of almost tropical heat had made the
evenings outdoors, on the little porch, and in the garden itself, events
to be looked forward to throughout the day, Joseph Bell, Peter, Ross,
and Rufus, thought of them many times during the hottest day of
all--midsummer, the twenty-first of the month--and came home at night to
find the table laid for a cool-looking supper out under the shadow of
the maple, and Mrs. Bell, Jane, and Nancy, in thin summer frocks,
putting the finishing touches to the attractive meal about to be served
there.

Up in a window of the house next door, behind closed blinds, an elderly
neighbour had watched Jane wreathing a big glass bowl full of
strawberries with a crisp little green vine spray.

"The Bells certainly are the queerest people anybody ever lived
neighbour to," she said over her shoulder to her sister, a withered
little spinster, who, in this hot, small upstairs room, was sewing at
another window, which did not look out upon the garden, and therefore
could have its blinds open.  "Anybody ’d think life was just one picnic
to them.  Think of lugging all those dishes outdoors this hot night, and
then lugging ’em all in again--and they all dressed out in flowered
muslins!"

The sister came to the window and peered somewhat wistfully out through
the closed blinds. "It does look sort of pleasant out there," she said.
"And we certainly can’t say they ’re not good neighbours.  Mrs. Bell
sent over a whole tin of those light rolls of hers this morning. They
’ll come in handy for supper."

"There come the men."  Mrs. Hunter brought her gaze to bear upon the
four who had stolen up to the gate, and who, as she spoke, burst out
suddenly with a crisp clapping of hands which brought the three in the
"flowered-muslins" to the right-about.  If Mrs. Hunter and Miss Maria,
watching those four advance, could have heard what they were saying as
they caught sight of the flower-decked table, they might have had a new
light shed upon the question whether the trouble of bringing forth all
those dishes from the house had been worth while.

The neighbours saw the merry little meal eaten, and saw all hands clear
it away at the end, making short work of the many dishes.  But afterward
twilight fell, and little could be discerned except the gleam of the
light dresses and the presence near of dark forms lying on the grass.

It was after the midsummer moon was lighting the garden into a small
fairy-land that Peter, springing up, exclaimed, "There’s Olive and
Murray!" and ran to greet them.

There was a third person with them, and a moment later the others heard
Peter exclaim, in a tone of surprise:

"Well, well, well!  You don’t mean to say this is----Why, how are you?
How are you? I ’m tremendously glad to see you!"

"Thank you!  I ’m a good deal gladder to be home than anybody possibly
can be to have me."  And Jane, recognising first the peculiar quality of
the voice, cried out:

"Why, it’s Forrest!" and led the others, as a general uprising took
place.

"Yes, it’s Forrest," said the voice, and in the bright moonlight Jane
looked up into the face whose outlines in these two years of absence had
grown dim in her memory.  It was the same face, but she thought it
looked older and thinner, and she realised then and there that Forrest
was not the same careless boy who had gone so lightly away to lead a
soldier’s life.

When the greetings were over and the company had settled down again on
the turf under the maple, Jane found Forrest next to herself, and had
her first little insight into his thoughts.

"I feel like a stranger from a foreign country, I assure you," he was
saying to her, presently, as the talk and laughter of the others made a
bit of confidence possible.  "And the strangest thing of all to me is
the sight of my brother grinding away down there in the office, looking
like the healthiest fellow in town.  I can’t understand it; it took me
off my feet!"

"We have grown so used to the change," said Jane, smiling to herself, in
the dim light, "that we don’t think about it any more."

"You see," Forrest pursued, "I came home on the quiet--just wanting to
see, you know, how they would take it.  I thought if they really still
cared, I should know it by the look on their faces----"

"Oh, how could you think----" Jane began, eagerly.

But he interrupted.  "A fellow thinks a good many things when he ’s on
the other side of the world, and I--well, I got to wanting to know some
things so badly, I was n’t sorry when I had my fever.  Yes--you did n’t
know that, did you?  Oh, I had it all right!  And I wasn’t sorry when
they sent me home with a lot of other convalescents.  So I made for the
office the minute I had seen my mother and the girls, for they told me
that Murray was down there for good--a thing I had n’t known.  Maybe
they thought I ’d be jealous--and maybe I was--in a way, though I don’t
want the job any more than I ever did.

"Father gave me a good warm greeting--I ’ll say that.  And Murray--well,
when he got up and came toward me with his hand out, looking like the
strongest kind of a young business man, I felt as if--But I can’t tell
you about that now."

There was a general movement of the younger people of the party, in
response to a request from Ross, who was entertaining them with some new
tricks, at which he was an adept. During the confusion Murray came and
flung himself upon the grass beside Jane.

"Take me into the conference, will you?" he said.  "I’m envious of
anybody my brother talks to, I ’m so glad to get him back."

Under cover of the subdued light, Jane found her hand, which had been
resting on the cool grass where she sat, taken into a warm, significant
grasp, as familiar now as it was dear.  She gave back a little answering
pressure, without turning her head toward Murray, at whose close
presence she had grown instantly happier.

"Take you in?" Forrest answered slowly. "Well, if you--and all the
others--will only take me in, and never turn me out--or let me turn
myself out again--I ’ll be--satisfied."

With one hand holding tight the small one buried in the grass, Murray’s
other hand went out toward the fist clenched on Forrest’s knee.  "Old
fellow," he said, warmly, "if you ’ll just stay where you can get over
often into this garden in Gay Street, you ’ll find it will do as much
toward making life worth living as it has done for every other one of
the Townsend family."

"I believe you," answered Forrest, and gave the brotherly hand an
answering grip.



                                BOOK II
                           WORTHINGTON SQUARE



                               CHAPTER I

                           JANE WEARS PEARLS


A tap upon her door sent Mrs. Murray Townsend flying across the room to
answer it.  She expected to find her husband there, awaiting her
permission to come in and see her in the cloud-like white gown which she
had worn but once before--two months ago.  He had vowed since that he
had never seen that wedding-gown, being occupied wholly upon the
occasion on which it was worn in keeping his head, in order to play his
own part with dignity and self-command.

But to Jane’s disappointment, she opened the door only to a maid with a
florist’s box.  The box, upon being examined, yielded up among a mass of
roses Murray’s card, which bore this message:


Sorry to be delayed, dear, but father wanted to go over everything that
has happened at the office during my absence. Will be up in time for the
pow-wow.  Wear one of these for

MURRAY.


Jane smiled regretfully.  It had seemed a long day.  Only that morning
she and Murray had returned, belated, from their wedding journey across
the continent, to find cards out for a reception in their honour to take
place that very evening.

"You knew the date," Mrs. Harrison Townsend had said to her elder son,
when, upon being told that his delay had caused much anxiety to the
givers of the affair, he turned to his bride with a soft whistle of
recollection and chagrin.

"I certainly did," he had owned.  "I forgot, I ’m afraid, that there
were such things as after-wedding festivities due to society, and that
this was the date for the first of the series.  I don’t think Jane even
knew."

"I didn’t," said Jane, looking regretfully at her mother-in-law’s
handsome face, which betrayed a slight annoyance.  It certainly had been
trying to receive daily telegrams from the travellers throughout the
past week, announcing delays at this place and that on the homeward way.

"Of course it’s of no consequence now that you are safely here.  I ’m
only sorry Jane will have no chance to rest and visit.  The florist’s
men will arrive within an hour, and the house will be generally upset."

"I ’ll run away over to Gay Street, then," said Jane.  "Murray ’s going
down to the office, and mother and Nan will be looking for me."

"My dear, I ’m sorry, but Olive has asked a few friends informally for
luncheon, people from out of town who are coming for to-night. It would
hardly do for you not to meet them--since two are cousins."

So Jane had had to be content with one brief hour in the little home
round the corner in Gay Street, and then she had come back to the big
house in Worthington Square, there to begin to act the part expected of
her.  Murray had been more than sorry to leave her on this first day,
but his father’s affairs were pressing, the office work had suffered in
his absence, and he felt it a necessity to get back into the harness
without an hour’s delay.  He had expected to be early at home, but his
message showed Jane that even for her he did not mean to cut short the
work of taking up again the routine of business at the point where he
had left it two months ago.

Selecting half a dozen of the finest of her roses, Jane, with a long,
light coat slipped on over her finery, opened the door and peeped
cautiously out into the large, square gallery of the upper hall.  Nobody
was in sight.  The doors of Mrs. Townsend’s and Olive’s rooms were
closed, the ladies dressing for the affair of the evening. The door of a
guest-room, occupied by the two cousins from out of town, was slightly
ajar, and a maid was to be seen inside, offering a cup of tea on a tray.
One of the cousins had a headache, and was fortifying herself for a
fatiguing evening.

Jane slipped quietly by this door and round the gallery to the point
where a staircase led to the lower landing, a place just now embowered
in palms, which were to serve as a screen for the string orchestra.  She
paused an instant on this landing, to look down upon the brilliant
picture presented by the entrance-hall and its opening rooms below.  The
look of it reminded her of an evening long ago, the first upon which she
had set foot as a guest in the great unknown house in Worthington
Square, when Murray had taken charge of her and brought her up here on
the landing, to look down upon the scene in which neither of them had
much cared to take part.

"Can this really be my home?" thought Jane, feeling as if it could not
all be true, even yet. She ran quickly on downstairs and round the foot
of the staircase to a door beneath, which furnished an inconspicuous
exit from the big hall, and which opened upon a short passage and a side
entrance not much used by the family. This had long been a favourite
entrance for Murray himself, for it shortened the way to Gay Street.

A very short cut Jane made of it, for a flood of light from the long row
of windows in the dining-room fell across the path, and turned it into
one less obscure than she wished it to be just now.  Holding her
delicate skirts well away from the dust of the road, she hurried across,
through the warm air of the May evening.

There was nobody to be seen downstairs in the old house, although lamps
were lighted and the small rooms wore their usual air of home-likeness
and order.  Jane ran up the steep little staircase which led to the
sleeping-rooms above. She understood that, as at the big house, the
family were engaged in arraying themselves for the Townsend reception.
She paused at the top of the stairs to listen and observe, for the
various doors were all more or less ajar, and the usual atmosphere of
friendly family comradeship gave her a little pang of homesickness.

The first thing distinguishable was the fact that Peter seemed to be
having a bad time with his neck-gear, and that his cousin, Ross
McAndrew, was enjoying his perturbation of mind.

"Either my neck is bigger than it was, or this neckband has shrunk."
Peter’s growl rolled out into the tiny hall, and brought a dimple into
Jane’s cheek as she listened.

"Probably both catastrophes have happened."  This was Ross’s voice in
reply.  "Anybody who has seen you stow away buckwheat cakes and
maple-syrup all winter could n’t be surprised if your neck should take a
seventeen collar this spring."

"Seventeen nothing!  Sixteen’s my size, and when I wear a bigger it ’ll
be because----  O jiminy, I ’ve burst that buttonhole!  What on earth am
I to do now?  I don’t own but one dress shirt that ’ll fit the barn-door
opening in my white waistcoat."

"Your mother ’ll sew that up on your back. I ’ll do it myself if you
won’t howl at a prick or two."

"Much obliged, but I know the general style of your repairs in a case
like this.  Nan ’ll do it, if she’s dressed," and Peter’s door swung
open. Intent on reaching his younger sister, whose door was next beyond
his own, he did not observe the figure at the head of the stairs in the
shadow. He proceeded to perform a double tattoo upon Nancy’s door.

"What’s the matter, Petey?" sounded an amiable voice from within.

"Neckband of my shirt’s a wreck.  Want you to come and splice the main
brace."

"All right--if you ’ll button me up the back. I can’t reach below the
fourth button, and mother’s busy dressing, too.  It’s so inconvenient
having Janey married."

"Give and take’s fair play," agreed Peter, as a charming young figure in
pink-flowered muslin backed out of the door, both bare arms strenuously
demonstrating that they could not reach below the fourth button.  "Stand
still now--no fidgeting.  What on earth a girl wants her rigging
fastened behind for is beyond me!  If it must be, why not use buttons
big enough to get hold of?"

"Look out, don’t treat my buttonholes as you did your own, or I ’ll have
to be sewed up, too."

"All right--you’re done.  Turn round and let’s see how you look in
front.  Good work! You ’re a stunner, and tremendously grown up, too,
with your hair that way.  Put it up the day you were eighteen, did n’t
you?"

"Of course," admitted Nancy, with her comely head held high.  Then, as
Jane’s white skirts in the shadow caught her eye, "Why, there ’s Janey!
You dear!  Oh, how good it looks to see you standing there!"

At the cry three doors flew wide open, and Mr. Bell, Ross, and Rufus
appeared simultaneously upon their respective thresholds, while a voice
from within called, "Is Jane there?  Come here, dear!"

"O mother, let me do your hair, will you?" offered Jane, eagerly, when
she had succeeded in making her way past the embraces of her delighted
family.

"Not in that dress, child!  Mercy, remember it’s your wedding-gown, and
don’t whisk round so!  Sit down there and let me look at you while I put
my hair up; it won’t take but a minute, and then you shall help me into
my dress."

"If you won’t let me do your hair, I ’ll go sew up Pete’s buttonhole.  I
must do something for somebody.  It seems so funny to have got dressed
over in the big house.  I just had to come over here and see the rest of
you getting ready and consulting each other on details as usual. Where’s
your work-basket, mother dear?  Nan," running to the door--"don’t you
_dare_ to mend Peter’s shirt!  I want to do it myself."

"All right, Mrs. Townsend, nothing will suit me better," declared Peter,
with satisfaction, kneeling in front of his sister with his back to her,
while she sat on the edge of his splint-bottomed armchair and threaded
her needle.  "What does Murray think, by the way, of having his bride
rush over here to assist her family, and leave him to shift for himself?
Why are n’t you putting in his studs and things, like a dutiful wife?"

"He could n’t get home from the office till the last minute.
Mr.--Father Townsend wanted to consult him on so much that’s happened
while we ’ve been gone.  Of course I ’m going back before he comes,"
responded Jane.  "Dear me--wreck is certainly the word for this
buttonhole.  Did you try to put your thumb through it?"

"Tried to climb through it myself bodily at the last.  Anything better
calculated to put a fellow into a lovely frame of mind for an affair
where’s he’s expected to make himself agreeable I don’t know.  Wrestling
to get an iron collar on a steel neckband is--well--it’s a trifle
upsetting to the nerves.  Be sure you get that buttonhole the right
size.  Better try the collar-button in it before you make fast."

"When you ’re done with him you can tie my tie for me, if you ’re
looking for work," announced Rufus, appearing in the doorway.  "I can’t
seem to get the right curve on the thing."

"Janey, would you wear this bracelet Shirley gave me last Christmas, or
would n’t you?"  Nancy looked in over Rufus’s shoulder.  At eighteen she
was tall for her years; at twenty-one Rufus, although sturdily built,
had no advantage of her in inches.  It was Peter, with his six feet of
brawn, who was the family pride in the matter of size.

Jane snipped off her thread and turned to look at her younger sister.
"Do as you like, Nan, of course," said she, "but--if you want to look
quite perfect in my eyes you ’ll leave it off."

"Good for you!"  Peter observed Nancy’s simple frock and fair neck with
approval.  "Lots of time for the gewgaws when they ’re needed to cover
up the hollows."

"Now I ’ll go help mother," said Jane, having adjusted Rufus’s cravat to
his satisfaction, mended a tiny rip in Ross’s glove, and given her
father a hug, since his dressing was completed, and there seemed to be
nothing else she could do for him.  He had held her fast, regardless of
her bridal attire, for he had missed her sorely during her two months’
absence, and the thought that, however often she might seek it, his roof
was no longer hers, was one not easily assimilated.

"I should really not have felt properly dressed," averred Mrs. Bell, as
Jane hovered about her, performing all sorts of small offices, "if you
had not been here to assure me that I was quite right in all points."

As Jane smiled, first at her mother, then at her father, wondering how
she had ever been able, even for Murray’s sake, to leave two people so
dear, a low call, apparently proceeding from downstairs, reached her
ear, and she turned quickly to listen.

"Jane?" came the voice again, interrogatively. "Gentle Jane, you ’re not
lost to me for good and all?"

Jane ran to the head of the small stairway and looked down.  In the
light from a bracket lamp at the foot, her husband’s face smiled up at
her.  A bright, strong face it was, ruddy with health, and alert with
interest in that which he beheld at the top of the stairs.  Murray was
in evening dress, and as Jane observed the fact she cried softly and
regretfully:

"Why, it must be later than I thought!  I did n’t mean to be away when
you came--I ’m so sorry!  It doesn’t seem as if I ’d been here five
minutes."

"No excuses necessary, dear," he answered. "When I sent you word, I did
n’t expect to be able to get away till the last minute, but a telegram
from a man who had an appointment with father let us out, and I followed
my message home.  I came after you because mother is getting a bit
uneasy.  She wants to be sure the bride is at her elbow, ready for the
fray, though not a soul will show up, of course, till long after the
hour on the cards."

"I ’ll come this minute," and Jane caught up her long coat, threw a kiss
at her family, and hurried down.  "You ’ll all come right away, won’t
you?" she called back, and let Murray walk off with her.

At the curb she paused.  "I meant to have borrowed Nan’s rubbers," she
said, looking down at her white-shod feet.  "I forgot when I came over."

"That’s easy," and Murray had her across the street before she could
protest that she was too heavy for him.

"You could n’t have done that when I first knew you, could you?" laughed
Jane, with pride in his strength of arm.

"Not much.  What a slim and sickly whiffet I was!  I wonder you ever
looked twice at me, with Pete at hand as a contrast."

"I liked muscle, but I like brains too," explained Jane, as if this were
the first time the matter had been made clear.

"Thank you.  I ’m afraid I had none too many of those, either.  The
house looks festive, does n’t it?  Have you seen the dining-room? Mother
seemed to be particularly pleased with the decorations there."

"I ’m afraid I ran away in too much of a hurry to notice."

Murray gave his young wife an amused look as they stood together on the
steps of the small side entrance by which Jane had come out an hour
before.

"Do you know where you are to stand in the receiving line?" he inquired.

Jane shook her head.

"Do you know whether you are to shake hands with the guests or merely
bow?"

"No.  You ’ll tell me, won’t you?"

"Do you know whether I ’m to present people you don’t know to you, or
whether you ’re to depend on mother for that?"

"I suppose I’ll find that out when the time comes."

"Do you know whether you ought to look beamingly happy or coolly
composed?"

"Which do you prefer?"

Murray laughed.  "A judicious mixture of both, I should say.  Well, my
small bride, ignorant as you profess to be of your part, I ’m not
worried about you.  Just the same, I expect we ’d better hunt up mother
and be coached as to the precise line of conduct she expects of us.  I
’ve never played the leading man’s part in a bridal ’At Home’ myself,
and mother’s something of a stickler for doing things according to the
latest revision of the code.  Well, well," he added in surprise,
glancing at his watch as they entered the hall, "it’s later than I
thought.  Do you need to go upstairs?"

"Just a minute--to smooth my unruly hair," and Jane ran away, leaving
him gazing after her.

"Murray!"  His mother came toward him from the library, a striking, even
imposing, figure in black and white lace and amethysts.  "Between you
and Jane, I was getting anxious.  I have n’t seen the child since I went
to her room, at least two hours ago."

"She is all ready--dressed early so she might run home, since I sent her
word I should be late."

"But where is she now?"

"Ran upstairs to see if her hair was right. Is n’t that the invariable
custom at the last minute?"

"She is wearing her wedding-gown, of course?"

"She surely is."

"No ornaments?"

"I sent her some roses.  She ’ll carry them, or wear one, or something,
I suppose."

"But no jewels?"

"I think she ’s wearing the pearl pin I gave her."

"Murray!  You are quite as bad as Jane! To be sure, her girlish way of
dressing has been very pretty and appropriate in view of her father’s
lack of means.  But her position now, as your wife, is different.  Olive
insists that Jane does not care for ornaments of any sort, but I am sure
she would not object, Murray, to wearing that beautiful pearl necklace
of Grandmother Townsend’s--if you explain to her that it’s an heirloom
and that it will give me great pleasure to have her wear it?  Pearls are
not becoming to Olive," added Mrs. Townsend, and her son smiled.

"If you want Jane to wear that, mother, you will have to ask her
yourself.  She ’s coming now, I think.  Yes"--as Jane looked over the
gallery rail and nodded down at him--"here she is.  Do you really think
she needs ’ornaments’? They strike me as superfluous."

Mother and son were watching Jane as she came down the staircase, her
white figure outlined against the dark green of the palms and foliage.
Her bronze-tinted hair shone like a crown under the radiance of the
lights, and her softly blooming face made one forget the simplicity of
her attire.  At least, it made Murray forget it.  But Mrs. Harrison
Townsend saw in the white neck and arms a background for her pearls.
She picked up a case from the table where she had laid it.

"My dear," she said, "you are very sweet, and I shall be very proud to
present you as my daughter.  And you won’t mind wearing, to please me,
these pearls of Murray’s great-grandmother’s, will you?  They are just
what you need to set off your colouring."

Jane’s face grew warm as her eyes fell upon the pearls, lying in a worn
old case lined with faded green velvet.  She looked from them to
Murray--an appealing little glance and a questioning one.  He nodded
ever so slightly in return, smiling at her.

"You are very kind," said Jane, simply, to her mother-in-law.  "I will
wear them--if you wish."

She let Mrs. Townsend clasp the necklace, received that lady’s kiss and
approving comment on the difference it made in her appearance, and
allowed herself to be led to a mirror to see the effect.  As she stood
before it, her lashes falling after one glance of a pair of unwilling
eyes, somebody called Murray’s mother away.  Jane looked at her husband
again.

"Yes, I know you hate it, little modesty," said he.  "And I own I like
to see you without any jewels.  Yet there can be no doubt you become
those pearls.  You set them off, not they you. And seeing they ’re not
diamonds----"

Jane’s eyes flashed.  "Not even for you----"

His eyes responded with an answering brilliance, as he shook his head,
laughing.  "Not even for me!  Are you sure?  But you need n’t fear.
Diamonds, little Jane Townsend, were not made for you.  Let those
sparkle who want to.  I prefer a steady glow!"

An hour later Ross McAndrew and Peter Bell, making their entrance to the
long drawing-room together, and waiting their turn to advance toward the
receiving party, exchanged a series of low-voiced comments, under cover
of the general hum of talk.

"My word, Pete!  Can that be our small girl, standing up there like a
young queen? Watch her!  I say, watch her!"

"I am watching her," said Peter, with great satisfaction.  "If you see
my eyes drop out, pick ’em up, will you?"

"Not that we might n’t have expected it of her.  I knew well enough she
’d be sweet and charming--but that little gracious manner--that
self-possession--jolly, she’s great!"

"Look at Murray!  Is he proud of her, or is n’t he?"

"Proud as Lucifer.  And has a right to be. His mother looks pretty
complacent herself.  And Olive--she’s stunning, as usual.  But our
Jane--"

The time to go forward had arrived.  With head up and shoulders squared
Peter led the way.  As he passed his host and hostess he was a model of
well-trained propriety, but when he reached Jane and Murray his formal
manner relaxed, and he grasped each hand with a hearty grip.

"You’re a delightful pair," he murmured, "and the sight of you takes me
off my feet."

"You look perfectly composed, even bored," retorted Murray, laughing,
glad to greet a brother who could be relied upon not to say the usual
thing.

But Jane whispered as she smiled up at him, "I ’m dreadfully frightened,
Petey, and I can’t do it well at all."

"Keep on being frightened, then," advised her brother.  "The result’s
perfectly satisfactory, is n’t it, Murray?"

"You’re not really frightened?" whispered her husband, taking advantage
of a slight lull in his duties to detain Peter.  "She does n’t look it,
does she?"

"Not a bit."

"You ’ve only to look at mother," was Murray’s comforting assurance, "to
know that she’s entirely satisfied.  If she were not--well--she’d look
different, that ’s all!"



                               CHAPTER II

                          SHIRLEY HAS GROWN UP


As Peter Bell abruptly rounded the corner from Gay Street into
Worthington Square he saw coming toward him an attractive young figure
in a white frock.  He glanced at it and away again; then back, as he
came nearer; once more away; then returned to look steadily, positive
that his second impression had been the right one, after all.  It must
be that he knew this girl.  If he did, he must give her a chance to
recognise him.

She not only recognised him, she smiled outright, and stopping short
held out her hand. The eyes which were laughing at him were eyes he had
surely seen before.

Peter’s hat had come off promptly; when she stopped, he stopped.  When
she held out her hand he took it, and stood staring down into the merry
eyes with puzzled interest.

"O Mr. Peter Bell!" she jeered softly.  "To be so slow to recognise an
old friend--a connection of your own family.  Dear, dear, you should go
to an oculist!  Has it been coming on long?  Can you still distinguish
trees and houses?"

The voice told him who its owner was, though it was a degree richer in
quality than when he had heard it last, two years before. "Shirley
Townsend!" he cried.  "Miss Shirley, I mean, of course.  Well, well!  No
wonder I----  When did you come?  And you’ve grown up!"

"Of course I have.  Has n’t Nancy grown up? I ’m a year older than she,
too.  And I came last night--a whole month before they expected me.  I
was supposed to be going to stop in New York with Aunt Isabel for a
month--after two long years away off in England at school! But Marian
Hille’s mother met her at the ship--she ’s the girl who went with me,
you know--and they came right along home.  I could n’t stand it to stop
in New York, and I came with them.  And you don’t mean ’Miss Shirley’ at
all, of course--with Jane married to Murray!"

"Then you don’t mean ’Mr. Peter Bell.’"

"You look terribly elderly yourself.  But I knew you!  The mere fact
that you are not wearing the same clothes you were when I went away----"

"It was n’t your clothes--except the extension on the length of them.
It was--it was----"

"I understand.  My hair is up.  I no longer wear two big black bows
behind my ears."

"Your cheeks," protested Peter.  "You--the English air, I suppose----"

"No, I ’m not a pale little, frail little girl any more, thanks to miles
and miles of walking.  You don’t look very frail, either.  Are n’t we
delightfully frank--after staring each other out of countenance?  Is
Nancy at home, and Mrs. Bell?"

"They ’ll be delighted to see you."

"They ’ll _know_ me, too," laughed Shirley.

"She certainly has grown up," thought Peter, when Shirley had walked
away from him toward Gay Street.  He rather wished he had not been so
obviously rushing away from home when he met this new-old acquaintance.
The little Shirley had always been a good friend of his; the older
Shirley looked distinctly better worth knowing. But Peter’s days were
busy ones; he had few moments for lingering by the side of pretty girls;
nor was he wont to spend much time lamenting his deprivations.

Shirley Townsend’s appearance at the door of the Bell house caused a
flurry of welcoming. Nancy, after two minutes of shyness at the sight of
her former chum looking so like and so unlike herself, discovered that
the unlikeness was going to make no difference.  It was a great relief,
for somebody who had seen Marian Hille at the end of one year at the
English school had declared her grown insufferably consequential, and
had prophesied that Shirley Townsend would come home "spoiled."

But almost the first remark Shirley made was, "Isn’t Jane the dearest
thing you ever saw? And are n’t we just the luckiest people to get her
into the family?"  So then Nancy knew it was precisely the same Shirley,
and was glad.

"I don’t suppose she’s really as good-looking as Olive," commented
Rufus, when he, too, had seen his old-time partner at tennis, and had
had a game with her, "but she ’s a lot more alive, and jollier, ten
times over.  And her playing form ’s improved; she can serve a ball that
keeps you up and doing for fair.  She knows cricket too; she ’s going to
teach us.  I ’m glad she ’s got home. It ’ll be a good deal pleasanter
for Jane over there. Shirley won’t go in for society, like Olive and
Mrs. Harrison."

Rufus’s prophecy proved a true one.  Upon the second day after Shirley’s
return, Mrs. Townsend, Senior, announced--with some languor, as if she
herself found summer affairs wearisomer after a winter which had been
unusually full--that a garden-party and _musicale_ would that afternoon
claim all four feminine members of the household.  "Our men ought to go,
too," she added, "but your father simply will go to nothing that takes
him away from his business, and Murray seems to be lapsing into the same
attitude.  Forrest, when he is at home, is my only standby, but this
freak of his to spend his time travelling makes him seldom to be counted
on. Shirley, I hope you have something suitable to wear.  It was a
strange idea for you to come home, after being two years within an hour
of London, with nothing but tennis suits and cricketing shoes.  If you
had stopped in New York, as I expected, your Aunt Isabel would have
remedied all deficiencies in your wardrobe.  But as it is----"

"As it is, I ’ve nothing suitable, mother mine. So you won’t ask me to
go, will you?"

"You must have something that will do.  The Hildreths will expect you,
now that every one knows you are at home.  Marian Hille will be sure to
be there, and you ought to be, quite as much."

"I ’ve had two years of Marie Anne--as she wishes to be called now.  I
can do without her very comfortably for a day or two," objected Shirley,
smiling at Jane.

Jane was indeed rejoicing in her new young sister’s return.  The
relations between herself and Olive, although cordial and affectionate,
were not based on so strong a congeniality of tastes as existed between
Jane and Shirley.  The girl, before she went away, had shown decided
promise of originality and force of character. Looking at her now, as
she stood before them in short tennis dress and fly-away hat, with
vivacious, wide-awake face full of clear colour, it needed small
discernment to make sure of the fact that here was a girl out of the
common, and quite irresistibly out of the common, too.

"I don’t like to insist, Shirley, and I would not, if you were showing
the slightest fatigue after your journey.  But since all the apology I
could make for you would be that you preferred to play tennis in the sun
with Nancy Bell----"

"I see.  It’s evident I must face the music--Miss Antoinette Southwode’s
searching soprano, and Mr. Clifford Burnham-Brisbane’s wabbly tenor--and
tea and little cakes.  Since it’s my duty I ’ll do it.  But, mother
dear, please don’t make many engagements for me.  Give it out that I ’m
eccentric--that Miss Cockburn told me positively, before I came away
from Helmswood, that after a severe course of study under her
unexceptionable tutelage I must have absolute relaxation.  Say that I
have no fine clothes, no floppy hats covered with roses, suitable for
lawn-parties.  Say anything, but after to-day don’t make me go--unless I
most awfully want to. Promise--_please_!"

Two firm tanned hands clasped themselves behind Mrs. Townsend’s neck,
two importunate black-lashed blue eyes looked at her beseechingly. The
mother sighed.

"Child, what shall I do, with two of you? Here is Jane, accepting her
invitations under protest, and now you are going to be still more
unreasonable."

"Is Jane another?  Then why not just make a simple division of labour?
You and Olive play the society parts, and give Jane and me the domestic
ones."

"My dear, nothing can be so unfortunate for a girl, or for a young
married woman, as to become known as peculiar.  Of course you are not
serious--no girl of your age is ever serious in declaring that she wants
nothing to do with society--but it distresses me to have you even talk
as you are doing.  Go and dress, and look your best, dear, and don’t
worry me with this sort of thing. I am quite worn out already.  Doctor
Warrener advises a course of baths at a rest-cure, and I think I shall
have to follow his advice."

"I’m sorry," and Shirley kissed her mother, with a pat upon the smooth
white cheek, where faint lines were beginning to show.  Then she went
away to dress, discarding the short skirt and canvas shoes with a
smothered breath of regret, but appearing, in due course of time, in a
costume eminently suitable for a garden-party, at least from her own
point of view.  Her mother did not see her until the carriage was at the
door, and then it was too late for her to do more than to murmur:

"My dear, if that is the best you can do, I must take you to a
dressmaker at once.  White linen is well enough for some occasions, and
that hat----Did you tell me that Miss Cockburn advised it, and you got
it in Bond Street?  But the effect is decidedly more girlish than is
necessary."

"I should think you would want me as infantile as possible, with Olive
to do the dressy young lady.  You and Jane and Olive, with your

    ’Ribbons and laces,
    And sweet, pretty faces,’

need a plain little schoolgirl to set you off.  And I shall not be ’out’
until next winter.  I ’m all right, mother dear.  Miss Cockburn was
always delighted with white linen, and discouraged fussy frocks.  I ’m
really beautifully ’English,’ and you should be satisfied.  Girls are
n’t allowed to grow up half so fast over there as here, and I think it
is a sensible thing."

Mrs. Townsend said no more until, crossing the Hildreth lawn an hour
later, she caught sight of Marian Hille.  At the first opportunity
thereafter, she said in Shirley’s ear, "Miss Cockburn certainly did not
advise Marian to cling to the schoolgirl style of dressing.  If that is
not a French frock she is wearing, my eyes deceive me.  She is charming
in it, too, and not at all overdressed.  That rose-covered hat is
exquisite, and quite girlish enough."

Shirley smiled, a protesting little smile, but she did not argue the
question further.  To her mind, "Marie Anne" looked like a Parisian
fashion-plate, and her manner was certainly that of a young person of
considerable social experience.  Shirley did not like it.  Her eye went
from Miss Marian Hille to Mrs. Murray Townsend, and rejoiced at the
contrast.  The two were close together, taking their seats for the
outdoor _musicale_, which was about to begin. No fault could possibly be
found with Jane’s attire, but in it she looked, beside Marian, like a
dainty gray pigeon beside a golden pheasant.

"I beg your pardon, but may I ask what you are staring at so intently?"
said a voice beside her, and Shirley turned to confront the interested
gaze of Brant Hille, Marian’s elder brother. "I ’ve been standing beside
you here all of three minutes, waiting for you to come back to earth and
recognise me.  Do you realise we have n’t met since you and Marian came
back?  And won’t you let me find you a chair over on the edge of the
crowd, where we can talk?"

This suited Shirley, and she let him establish her in a corner where a
clump of shrubbery screened the two from a part of the audience. Until
the music began, young Hille plied her with questions about her
experiences at Miss Cockburn’s school, evidently enjoying the fact that
her point of view seemed decidedly to differ from that of his sister.

"I should n’t know you had been at the same place," was his whispered
comment, as the first notes of the initial number on the programme smote
the summer air and caused a partial hush to fall upon the assemblage.
He had been noting, with interest, the change in her.  He had known
Shirley since their earliest days, but beyond the friendly liking she
had always inspired in him, as in everybody, by her girlish good humour
and love of sport, he had not thought her especially attractive.  Now,
however, as Peter Bell had done, he found himself discovering in her
qualities distinctly noteworthy.

"So they took you to a lot of old churches and cathedrals," he began
suddenly to Shirley, after an interval during which they had listened
politely to Miss Antoinette Southwode’s truly "searching" soprano and
Mr. Burnham-Brisbane’s astonishingly "wabbly" tenor, intermingled in an
elaborate Italian duet.  "Did n’t you find that sort of thing deadly
dull?"

"Not a bit," denied Shirley, promptly.  "It was such fun to hear the
dear old vergers proudly recite the histories of the antiquities.  And
the antiquities themselves!  In one very, very old church there was a
tablet of a man and his six wives, all kneeling before a shrine.  He
knelt first and they came after, all in profile.  The poor dears were
all dressed alike--they must have worn the same dress, handed down.
One’s head was gone--that made her more touching than the others.  You
could n’t help feeling that her husband had been harder on her than on
the rest.  He looked that sort, you see."

"No doubt he was," agreed Hille, laughing. "Did you see anything else
equal to that?"

"No end of things.  Of course there was ever so much that was dignified
and beautiful, but one could n’t help being glad to find something funny
now and then.  One tablet in another ancient chapel showed three men,
one above another on their painted wooden tombs, all lying sidewise and
half rising on their elbows, and staring right down at you with their
eyes wide open.  They had pink cheeks and black hair.  They were father,
son, and grandson, and the father looked the youngest.  Their wives were
all lying quietly asleep at one side.  It did n’t seem fair for the men
to be so wide awake, while the poor wives had to slumber and see
nothing.--Oh, there goes Mr. Brisbane again! Why _does_ his voice shake
so much harder than when I heard him last?"

"He ’s that much more celebrated," said Hille. "See here, are n’t you
and Marian about the same age."

Shirley shook her head.  But when the song was over he asked the
question again.

"I ’m three months older," admitted Shirley.

"She looks three years older.  Why is it?"

Shirley shook her head again.  It was one thing to air her views to her
family, quite another to tell Brant that Marian was leaping into young
ladyhood and its signs too fast.  But Brant studied his sister.  Her
blond head, the hair elaborately waved, could be seen between the heads
and shoulders in front, the striking rose-crowned hat conspicuous among
other elaborate hats of all patterns.

"She looks twenty-five, at least," he commented, approvingly.  "She
looks older than your sister Olive.  And she seems to have that cad
Maltbie glued to her for the afternoon.  If that ’s the best she can do,
she ’d better take me.  But she ’s no use for brothers.  Look here, when
’s Forrest coming home?"

"I ’ve no idea.  He was leaving Ecuador before the hot season began, and
was intending to stay at Jamaica as long as it was comfortable.  He
wrote he might be off for the South Sea Islands soon. He ’s had a
tempting invitation."

"He ’s a rover.  His taste of army life gave him the fever.  I wish he
’d get enough of it and come back.  Things always ’go’ while Forrest’s
home."

Altogether, between Brant Hille and two or three other young people,
Shirley found the garden-party endurable.  But its cakes and ices
spoiled her appetite for dinner, and the moment that meal was over, she
was off to the tennis-court. Here she and Rufus played several sets in
so spirited a fashion that Murray and Jane, strolling over the lawn to
watch them, were moved to comment upon Shirley’s vigour.

"I ’m just working off the garden-party," declared the girl, when her
brother asked the cause of so much energy upon so warm an evening.

"You should have put on your tennis skirt, dear," said Jane, as Shirley
came up to her, racquet in hand.

"So I ought, but I was afraid mother would be made ill by the sight of
me, if I did, after dinner.  Oh, how good it is to be at home!  Let’s
camp down here on the grass and send for the rest of the clan.  Run
over, Rufie, will you, and get all the Bells that will come?"

As she spoke, Shirley dropped upon the smooth turf close by the big
wicker chair that Murray had just drawn up for Jane, on the terrace at
the edge of the court.  Her cheeks were flushed by the lively exercise
she had been taking, her hair curled moistly about her forehead.  Jane
looked at her with a touch of envy in her affectionate glance.  Being
Mrs. Murray Townsend, she supposed it became her to sit demurely in a
chair, instead of putting herself, as she longed to do, beside Shirley,
on the grass.  But Murray, with no such restraining thought in his head,
cast himself upon the turf beside his sister, at his wife’s feet.

Presently Rufus returned, bringing Nancy and Ross McAndrew.  Olive,
spying the group upon the lawn, came trailing out in all her pretty
finery of the afternoon.  Two or three young neighbours appeared.  By
and by Peter Bell, just home from the paper-factory, looked across from
the Gay Street porch and descried the distant group. Somebody had
brought a banjo, and somebody else was essaying to sing a boating-song
to the accompaniment.

"Shall I go over?" thought Peter, when he had had his bath and his
supper, and had come out upon the porch again.

He was quite alone, for his mother, after serving his supper, had
hurried out to see a neighbour who had been long ill, and who depended
upon Mrs. Bell for her daily cheer.  Mr. Bell had driven out to
Grandfather Bell’s farm.  The little house seemed strangely silent, and
the porch, in the early summer twilight, more companionable.  A hammock
swung behind the vines, and after a moment’s indecision, Peter stretched
his long form in it, clasping his hands under his head.  He was
unusually weary, for the day had been very hot.  He lay quietly
listening to the distant ’plunkings’ of the banjo and to the faint
sounds of talk and laughter which floated across the space to him.  So,
after a little, he fell asleep.

He was awakened by the sound of voices on the step.  The Bell porch,
unlike that of the Townsends, possessed no electric lamps, and the
nearest illumination to-night came from an arc-light on the corner.
Peter, in his hammock, lay shrouded wholly in darkness.  He could see a
gleam of white between the vines which sheltered him, and the voices
were those of his sister Nancy and Shirley Townsend.

"It’s such a relief," Shirley was saying, "to get away from that banjo.
I seem to have been listening all day to the sorts of music I like
least. Rodman Fielding and his banjo are the last straw.  Nan, what do
you suppose is the matter with me that I don’t seem to care for the
things most girls do--clothes and boys and--banjos. I detest banjos!"

"What do you care for?" Nancy asked.  "Tennis, anyhow.  And you like
Rufus and Ross and Peter, don’t you?  As for banjos--I don ’t think
anybody thinks they ’re very musical. They just like the funny songs
that go with them."

"Rufus is like a brother, and Ross like an uncle--a young one.  As for
Peter--I don’t seem to know Peter.  He ’s changed.  What ’s he been
doing to make him look so old and sober?  I almost thought I saw a gray
hair--and he ’s no older than Murray."

"Peter old and sober?"--Peter himself was growing fairly awake, although
not fully enough roused to the situation to realise that he was playing
eavesdropper.--"What an idea!  He has n’t changed a particle.  Gray
hair!  It could n’t be.  Why, Peter ’s stronger than all the rest of us
put together!"

"He’s been taxing his strength, then.  He looks as if he had been
carrying loads of responsibility--solving problems--worrying over some
he could n’t solve.  He’s working too hard."

Nancy laughed incredulously, and said that Peter’s work was quite the
same as it had been, and that her friend’s absence had made her see
things unnaturally.  But Peter’s eyes, in the darkness, opened wide.
Here was extraordinary discernment for a nineteen-year-old girl, who had
met him only once since her return, casually upon the street, during
which time she had merely laughed at him for not knowing her
immediately, and then had walked on.  Was it possible that she had seen
that which he had been carefully guarding from the eyes of his family
for a long, long time, and at which even his mother did not guess?

But here was Shirley again, speaking low and thoughtfully: "I seem to
see everybody, since I came home, as if I had never seen them before. I
see father looking as if he thought it did n’t pay to have made so much
money, after all; and mother looking worn-out playing the grand lady;
Olive following after, and not finding much in it.  Murray and Jane
absorbed in each other, but Jane wishing--no, I ’ll not say what I think
Jane is wishing.  She would n’t admit it, I know. Ross and Rufus and
you, busy and happy.  Your father and mother contented as ever.  But
Peter----"

It would not do.  He was fully awake now.  If she was going on to talk
about him again he must let her know he was there.  Besides, if she
really divined something of the truth, he must not let her make Nancy
anxious.

Shirley had paused with his name upon her lips, as if soberly thinking.
Peter sat up.  But at the fortunate instant a figure dashed across Gay
Street.

"You runaways!" Rufus called, reproachfully. "A fine hostess you are,
Shirley Townsend! They ’re asking for you.  You ’ll have to come back."

So they went away and Peter was left alone upon the porch.  There was a
queer feeling tugging at his heart.  Nobody else had seen, nobody else
had even noticed the slightest change in him.  Of course it was not
possible that Shirley could know the least thing about his situation,
but it was something that she appreciated one fact--that he was working
to the limit of his capacity, and that, although he was not yet
overdone, the strain was beginning to tell.  Not the strain of work, but
the greater and more exhausting drain of anxiety.



                              CHAPTER III

                          LUNCHEON FOR TWELVE


"Mrs. Murray, Mrs. Townsend would like you to come to her room, if you
please."

"Yes, Sophy, certainly.  Is Mrs. Townsend’s headache better this
morning?"

"It’s very bad, Mrs. Murray.  And she’s that upset about the luncheon
she’s giving. Cook’s taken sick, too--the bad luck!"

"Since breakfast, Sophy?"

"’T was Norah and Mary served breakfast. Cook but got out of bed and
went back. Mr. Townsend bade me send for the doctor.  He says she ’ll
not leave her bed again the day.  And Mrs. Townsend says the luncheon
must go on, and not a bit of outside help to be had at this short
notice."

Jane hurried down the hall, Sophy’s laments in her ears.  She found
Olive sitting on the foot of her mother’s bed talking perturbedly with
the elder woman, in the effort to dissuade her from the purpose of
attempting to entertain any guests whatever in the circumstances.  But
it became evident to Jane at once that Mrs. Townsend was not to be
dissuaded.

"There must be somebody to be had," she asserted, as Jane drew up a
chair, after laying a cool hand on the aching forehead and expressing
her sympathy with the headache.  "It can’t be possible that Lemare could
n’t send me somebody if he understood the necessity--or Perceval. We
don’t need much done.  Cook had all the preliminary baking done
yesterday.  It’s only to get everything together."

"But that’s the whole of it, mother," Olive urged.  "You may say it’s
only a simple luncheon, but Norah and Mary are certainly not equal to
it.  Is n’t it excuse enough to send those women word that you ’re ill?
I ’ll telephone--or write notes, if you prefer."

She rose as she spoke, but Mrs. Townsend waved an agitated hand, and
shook her head violently.  "You don’t understand," she moaned, pressing
her hand to her head and falling back among the pillows.  "There are
reasons why I can’t have this thing fail.  Mrs. Arlo Stevenson is a most
difficult person to get for any affair whatever--and this is
particularly in her honour. I could have had a caterer, of course, but I
consider it not good form to put small entertaining into any hands but
one’s cook’s.  I am indebted to Mrs. Wister very deeply, and she is
bringing a guest whom she is very anxious to have meet Mrs. Stevenson.
There are other reasons----"

"But, mother"--Olive’s tone was growing impatient--"what can’t be, can’t
be.  We can’t get any one."

"Perhaps I could do it," Jane began, with some hesitation.  "If it’s
really a simple luncheon----"

"It is!"  Mrs. Townsend spoke with eagerness.

"I might not be able to manage the most elaborate dishes----"

"Cook can’t be too ill to tell you what is necessary."

"But, mother," Olive protested, "Jane must be at the table.  She can’t
be in the kitchen, sending in courses."

"That’s of no consequence," declared Jane, quickly.  "I don’t mind
missing the luncheon in the least."

"They are all older women," murmured Mrs. Townsend, closing her eyes
wearily.  When Olive took things in hand, it was always difficult to
oppose her.

"Yes, but Jane is our bride.  And you expect me to be there.  If Jane
stays in the kitchen, so shall I."

"I don’t know what to do," and the poor lady on the bed, among her
pillows, looked as if she were indeed suffering.

There was a minute’s silence.  Then Jane spoke with gentle decision.

"Olive, dear, that is very nice of you, but I truly don’t mind in the
least.  It is n’t as if you had n’t already introduced me everywhere,
and I had n’t been entertained over and over.  If mother’s guests are
older ladies, my absence surely won’t be noticed.  And I ’d love to try
what I can do. You know I ’ve had years of training at cookery, and if I
can’t manage all of Cook’s dishes, perhaps I can substitute others that
are n’t at all common. I can promise at least that nothing will be
burned."

"You are a dear child," said Mrs. Townsend fervently.  She wiped away a
nervous tear or two.

Olive followed Jane to her room to watch her new sister exchange her
morning dress for one more suitable for the affairs she meant to take in
hand.

"This is going to be fun," said Jane gaily.

"I don’t see how you can think so.  It’s certainly very foolish of
mother to persist against all odds.  One would think her life depended
on that luncheon."

"It does--in a way.  Her poor nerves are quite worn out.  I ’ve seen it
for a long time. Having things go wrong just now is the last straw."

"Why, Jane, what’s going to happen?" called Shirley, five minutes later,
encountering Jane on the stairs which led to the servants’ rooms on the
third floor.  Shirley had been up to see Cook, who adored her.

"Is Bridget able to see me?" asked Jane.

"She ’ll be much flattered.  It’s sciatica, and it lays her low, but she
can converse with intelligence, even with brilliancy.  She ’s in a
terrible state over not being able to get up that luncheon."

"I ’m going to hold a council of war with her," and Jane disappeared
into Cook’s room.

Half an hour later she came out again, her eyes dancing with
anticipation, pencil and paper in hand.  As she ran downstairs, Sophy
came up with a tray, and caught the overflow of Bridget’s emotions.

"The cleverness of her!" exclaimed the invalid.  "To take the menyou
into her own pretty hands and think she can see to it all! She can, too,
or I ’m deceived.  Consultin’ with me and gettin’ my directions, and
tellin’ me where she makes bold to follow, and where she ’s not quite
sure.  It’s a pity she ’s not mistress of the house in Mrs. Townsend’s
place--and her so wore out she ought to be at a sanitarium this minute.
Look to it, Sophy, that Norah and Mary does their duty by Mrs. Murray
this day, If they ’re inclined to be triflin’, bid them come up to me.
I ’ll soon put them in mind of what Mr. Murray says to me when he
brought home his wife.  ’Whatever you do to please her will be
appreciated,’ he says, ’by me.’  And it’s nothing I would n’t do for Mr.
Murray and Miss Shirley, these seven years I ’ve lived here.  And now I
’m feelin’ the same way toward Mrs. Murray."

Whether it was the potency of the message which reached scullery maid
and waitress by way of Sophy, or whether it was Jane’s own engaging
manner, together with the respect she soon inspired by the assured and
competent way in which she "took hold," there could be no question that
by the end of the first hour not only Norah and Mary, but also Ellen,
the laundress, were flying about as they had rarely done before, even
for Bridget, who certainly knew how to get out of them work enough and
to spare.

At a moment when they chanced to be all together, Jane had said to them,
as with deft fingers she mixed a bowlful of ingredients, that if with
their help she could only bring about the serving of a luncheon which
the guests would like to eat, she should be happier than over any
entertainment she herself had ever been offered. And she had been able
to tell from their smiling interested faces that she was to have from
that moment the best service they could give her.

Shirley, when affairs were well under way, had gone to the telephone and
called up Murray’s office.

"I want you to come home for a few minutes at two o’clock!" she said,
imperatively.

"What for?  Anything the matter?" asked her brother.

"Not a thing," said Shirley, reassuringly "But there ’s something
happening up here at the house that you must see."

"I ’m pretty busy."

"You ’ll never forgive yourself, when you hear about it, if you don’t
see with your own eyes."

"All right, I ’ll try to make it.  Anything connected with Jane?"

"Of course.  Do you suppose I ’d ask you if it was n’t?"

"I’ll be there."

"I thought you would," and Shirley laughed as she hung up the receiver.
No doubt Murray was a happy man.

"Do you suppose Jane is going to be able to do it?" queried Mrs.
Townsend, dressing with the help of Shirley and Sophy.  As the hour for
the arrival of her guests approached, doubts were beginning to assail
her.  Jane was no doubt an extremely capable young matron, but the
preparing of such a luncheon as Bridget had planned meant not only
accomplished cookery, but much skill and care in the details of serving.
Had Jane’s eyes been open during the brief period of her entertainment
at various fine tables! It was too late to do anything but hope so.

"Don’t worry, mother," Shirley had urged. "Jane’s doing wonders.  If she
can keep it up she ’ll surprise you."

"I had a bit sip of the booly-on just now when I was down in the
kitchen," offered Sophy, "and it was elegant.  And you know yourself ’m,
Bridget says that’s one of the most trying things of all to get tasty."

Mrs. Townsend went wanly down into her rooms, to find flowers all about,
distributed by Olive’s skilful fingers.  She looked into the
dining-room.  Her table was faultlessly laid, to the last detail, and a
charming arrangement of lilies was mirrored in the polished mahogany.

"Now come and rest until the last minute," urged Shirley.  "And don’t
worry.  Mrs. Arlo Stevenson won’t have a thing to criticise--except the
conversation."

An hour afterward, Murray, letting himself in with his latch-key, found
Shirley awaiting him inside the door.  "Don’t say a word," she
whispered.  "Just walk straight past the dining-room without looking in.
Mother ’s entertaining Mrs. Stevenson at luncheon, you know, and it’s a
very solemn occasion."

Wondering, Murray, hat in hand, followed his sister as she walked
demurely by the wide entrance to the dining-room, from within which he
could hear a subdued murmur of voices.  But once past, she hurried him,
by a circuitous route, to a narrow hallway at the back of the house,
which led to the kitchen.  Here she stationed him, and bade him push the
door open a cautious crack and peep within.  He obeyed her.  Shirley
stood behind him, alive with anticipation, while she watched her
brother’s shoulders.

Shirley could not see his face, but she heard his subdued exclamation as
he gazed at the scene within.  She knew what it was.  The luncheon had
reached the salad course.  Jane was arranging plates picturesque with an
enticing combination of ingredients, parti-coloured, crisp and cool. Her
fair arms were bared to the elbow, her cheeks were flushed.  At her
right hand Mary was ready with assistance, her eyes respectfully
studying the arrangement--not of the salad, but of her young mistress’s
hair, which was certainly worth studying for its effective simplicity.
The maid could never hope to match that daintiness of arrangement with
her own ash-coloured locks, but she meant to try.

Murray turned about at last.  "Well, by Jove!" he exploded, softly.
"How does this come about?"

Shirley noiselessly closed the door and explained in a whisper.
Murray’s eyes grew eloquent as he listened.  "The little trump!" was his
comment.  "I wish I could stay till she’s finished.  I suppose it would
n’t do to call her out now?"

"Mercy, no!  You might upset her.  So far I don’t think the least thing
has gone wrong."

"What possessed mother to put the thing through, anyhow?  Jane ought to
be in there with the others."

"It was something about entertaining Mrs. Arlo Stevenson.  Mother felt
it must be done, though the heavens fell.  They nearly did fall, till
Jane came under and held them up.  As for Jane’s being at the table--she
did n’t want to be there.  And Olive would n’t be, without her, so
there’s nothing noticeable.  They ’re all women of mother ’s age--on
some special board of charities, or something like that, that makes them
congenial."

"Its making them congenial does n’t necessarily follow, unfortunately.
So Olive stayed out, did she?  That’s one count for Olive.  Why is n’t
she helping Jane, though?"

"Jane would n’t have either of us in the kitchen. Olive did the flowers,
and Norah and I the table. I got in an English fashion or two that will
either drive mother to distraction or fill her with pride. I forgot to
tell her," and Shirley began to laugh. She led Murray away to safer
regions, but he looked at his watch and said he must be off.

"Wasn’t it worth coming up for?" she demanded.

"No question of that.  Much obliged for letting me know.  I ’ll settle
with Jane later.  Take her out for a drive, or something, to cool her
off, will you?  Good bye!"  And Murray vanished, smiling to himself.
"That ought to make her pretty solid with mother," he reflected, as he
raced to his car.

But when the last guest had rustled away, Mrs. Townsend was in no
condition to fall upon Jane’s neck and overwhelm her with thanks.
Instead she had to be carried to her room by Phelps, the
coachman--summoned in haste from the stable--and put to bed by her
daughters. Her physician arrived in short order, and his edict, when he
had telephoned for a nurse, was stern.

"When you society women stop putting yourselves through a grind that no
strong man could stand up under, you will get a grip upon your nerves,"
said he.  "Mrs. Townsend was at the end of her forces two months ago,
and I told her so.  She has simply been keeping up on will--with the
inevitable result.  The moment she is fit to travel she must get off to
the quietest place on my list--and stay there.  Home would be a better
place for her, if she would obey the rules; but she won ’t, so that
settles it.  And you, Miss Olive"--he turned abruptly to the elder
daughter of the house--"would do well to go with her. It’s evident you
’ve been travelling along the same road."

"O Doctor Warrener, how absurd you are! I ’m perfectly well.  And I ’ve
half a dozen invitations to lovely places.  They ’ll do me far more good
than going to some invalid resort and taking baths."

He shook his head.  "You’re all alike," said he.  "I may talk till I ’m
dumb--you ’ll pay the price.  And when you ’ve paid it, you ’ll
remember."

"There are two," said Olive, indicating Jane and Shirley, "who will
never have nervous prostration on account of overdoing society."

Doctor Warrener surveyed them, and the grimness of his face relaxed.
"I’ll acquit them on their faces," said he.  "Tell your husband, Mrs.
Murray, to shut you up in a bandbox--or, better, take you off West to
that place where he got back his health--before he lets you drift into
the swirl.  As for Shirley,"--he laid his hand upon her shoulder--"if
I’m any reader of destiny--and I ought to be--she ’s going to swing that
tennis racquet for several years yet before she gives up and settles
down."

All this had happened before Mr. Townsend and Murray came home.  Mrs.
Townsend’s breakdowns after fatigue in fulfilling her engagements, and
the summoning of the doctor, had become too frequent occurrences to
imply the sending for her husband.  The orders away, for rest and
recuperation, were also, within the last few years, of semi-annual
recurrence.

"It simply means," said Murray, pacing with Jane up and down the long
flower-bordered walk between the house and the tennis-court, "it simply
means six weeks or two months for you to try your hand at being mistress
of the establishment.  And judging by what I saw that hand do
to-day----"

Jane looked quickly up at him.

"I should say that it was competent to run anything.  That salad was
a--what do women say?--a symphony--a star.  Not that I care much for
salads myself, but to see you putting it together----"

"Murray--you didn ’t!"

"Didn’t I?  You had on a pink-and-white checked apron that came up over
your shoulders. Your sleeves were short, and your hair curled round your
ears, the way it does on damp days. You----"

"Where were you?  How did you know!  Who----"

"I was on the other side of the door, which you forgot to lock.  Never
in my life was I so bowled over by the sight of a girl in a kitchen."

"If I had known you were looking----"

"Precisely.  That was why Shirley wouldn’t let me call you out.  Of
course I should have kissed you--I never felt more like it--and that
might have endangered the composition of the salad."

"I ’m afraid it would," laughed Jane. "As it was, I made the one real
mistake of the luncheon--I sent that salad in on the game plates!  The
girls were in such a flurry they did n’t notice till the plates began to
come out again.  I hope mother did n’t mind very much."

"I ’ll warrant nobody else did.  Mrs. Arlo Stevenson is as short-sighted
as an owl in the day-time, and as I understand it, Mrs. Stevenson was
the guest who counted--goodness knows why!  I think she’s insufferable.
I ’m glad mother ’s got her off her mind, for the time being. It will
give her a chance to recuperate.  Poor mother!  She misses a lot of fun,
does n’t she?"

"She thinks it’s we who miss it."

"Perhaps we can show her better some day--when we ’ve been very good and
earned that house by ourselves.  Hi!  What?" exclaimed Murray.  "How you
jumped!  Did you think that house by ourselves was n’t really to
materialise some day?"

"I--wasn’t sure."  Jane’s voice was low. She did not mean to show how
much she cared, or how she longed to believe definitely in a prospect
which, as yet, had not been in so many words held out to her.

"Why, it’s a certainty!  Have n’t I made that clear, little girl?  You
know, when I told you how anxious father was to have us live with them,
I said it would n’t be for all time.  Don’t you remember that?"

"I know.  But I thought----"

"You thought, I see, it meant while he needed me, which would be as long
as he lived.  No, he does n’t insist on that.  It was to be only while
he stayed an active partner in the business.  He wanted me at his elbow,
and I did n’t feel like refusing him.  He means to retire within five
years--or sooner, if his health shows signs of breaking.  Then he
understands that I ’m to have a home by myself--build one, you know.
Well, well, what a squeeze my arm is getting! Are you so glad?"

"I’m pretty glad.  It’s not that--that this place is n’t pleasant, and
everybody more than kind, but----"

"You needn’t be afraid to tell me--in fact, you don’t need to tell me.
You ’re too much of a born Jenny Wren not to want to feather your own
nest.  And I want to see you do it.  We ’ll begin to look over plans.
We can talk about it and think about it----"

"No, we can’t, Murray."

"Why not?  Isn’t anticipation----"

"Yes, but it would make it harder to wait. Now I know it’s sure, I
can----"

"Be good?" said her husband.  "You are being good--heavenly.  What you
did to-day--well, if you could have known what I thought about you when
I saw you out there putting those pretty shoulders to the domestic
wheel--proud is n’t the name for it.  And let me tell you, Janey
Townsend, it is n’t every girl who could take command of the forces and
have them working for you at the top of their ability, like that.  Norah
has n’t a nose and chin of that perky shape for nothing; and Mary can
soldier for fair when she chooses.  As for Sophy--but you had Sophy for
your own from the start.  And it ’s not been done with tips, either, has
it? Honestly, now, have you ever given Sophy a tip since you came to the
house?"

"A tip?" said Jane.  "Money, you mean? Why, no.  Should I?  I never
thought of it. Does she expect it?"

"She probably doesn’t now--from you--or want it, as long as you reward
her with your smiles and ask about her invalid brother, the way I
overheard you doing the other day.  She’d probably rather have your
friendly interest than all Olive’s dollar bills.  Oh, there are several
ways of winning people’s loyalty, dear--and yours is the best.  Only
everybody can’t do it. Do you know, gentle Jane, I ’m a good deal
interested in seeing you in the role of mistress of this house for a
while?"

"Murray, I ’m so doubtful about it!"

"You need n’t be.  The commanding officer who has proved to his regiment
that in an emergency he can work with them, shoulder to shoulder--and
work better than they can--need have no fears.  It ’ll just be a case of
’Bridget, Norah, Sophy, Mary, Ellen--fall in!  Shoulder arms!  March!’
And off the regiment will go, heads up, chests out, eyes to the front."



                               CHAPTER IV

                               POT-HOOKS


"I want to have a talk with you, Murray."

"All right, sister, I ’m at your service."

"Please come over to the seat beyond the shrubbery, where nobody will
see or hear.  It’s not a very suitable place, but it’s better than the
house this hot night."

"Not a suitable place?" queried Murray, as he followed Shirley across
the lawn.  "Not so fast, child.  It is a hot night, and I ’ve only just
cooled off since dinner.  It was insufferable in the office to-day--or
would have been if anybody had had time to stop and think about it.  Why
is n’t that romantic seat beyond the shrubbery just the place to talk?"

"Because the talk has no romance about it. The office would be the place
for it, only you ’ve no time to give me if I should come there."

"You excite my curiosity."  Murray disposed himself comfortably upon the
wide rustic seat, screened from all beholders without and within the
grounds, not only by shrubbery and hedges, but by the fast deepening
July twilight.  "Fire away.  Anything gone wrong?"

"Nothing--except me."

"You alarm me."

"Don’t joke.  I ’m serious."

"I see you are.  And that’s what alarms me. Seriousness, at
eighteen----"

"I ’m nineteen--nearly twenty.  And I ’m not only serious--I ’m cross.
Murray, I want something to do."

"Haven’t you plenty?  Jane tells me she could n’t get on without you."

"Jane is a dear.  And I love to help her.  But I want to be doing
something--else.  I want to amount to something.  I want to learn
something."

"Miss Cockburn’s finishing-school didn’t finish then?  Is college the
bee you have in your bonnet?"

"No, I ’m afraid I ’m too unsettled for that now--I don’t know why.
Once I spent a whole week trying to convince mother I must go to college
instead of to school in England. But I don’t want that any more.  I
want--Murray, please don’t laugh when I tell you!"

"Why should I laugh?  It’s plain you mean business of some sort, and I
’m honoured by your confidence.  Go ahead, little girl, and don’t be
afraid of your big brother."

"Well, then, I want to learn stenography and typewriting."  It came with
a rush, and after it Shirley sat still, one hand holding the other
tightly while she waited for the explosion she expected.

It did not come.  Murray turned his head until she could feel that he
was looking directly at her through the dim light.  He sat up slightly,
and thrust his hands deeper down into his pockets--a masculine action
which usually indicates concentration of attention.  He was silent for a
full minute before he spoke.  When he did speak, it was in the tone that
one man uses to another when the basis of their intercourse is that of
mutual respect.

"Would you mind giving me your idea?  It’s plain you have thought
something out to the end.  I need to know it from the beginning, if you
want any advice worth while."

"I can, now I know that you’re not going to knock me down with arguments
against it before you know mine for it."

"That would be poor policy.  That’s the boomerang sort of argument--the
one that comes back at one’s self.  Besides, I’ve too much confidence in
my sister’s good judgment to believe that she would fire a proposition
like that at me without a reason back of it."

"The reason is easy.  I’m restless for something to do.  I don’t want to
be a next season’s debutante, and go through a winter like the five
Olive has spent.  I want to work.  I want to fit myself to be
independent.  If anything should happen to father’s money, I don’t want
to be like the Desmond girls after their father’s failure, as helpless
as baby birds pushed out of the nest.  Olive could n’t do a thing.
Forrest is just an idler.  You have Jane to take care of.  But I--I
could be learning to support myself."

"The business is in fine condition.  We never were so substantial a firm
as now.  There’s very little danger of our going to pot."

"That may be," said Shirley, "though things do happen, Murray, out of a
clear sky.  But that’s not my real reason.  My real reason is a genuine,
great big longing to amount to something. I never come down to the
office without envying the girls I see there.  I envy them because they
have to do it--because they ’re supporting themselves and somebody else
by it."

"Do you mean that you would like a position in our office?"

"Oh, would n’t I!  If I could study and study, and practise and
practise, and then some day take a dictation from you or father and
bring you a perfect copy, I believe I ’d be--Murray, I ’d be the
happiest girl that ever lived!"

"You mean that, do you?"

"I do."

"Have you thought that if you took a position in our office, or in any
other, you ’d be shutting out some poor girl who really needs the
salary?"

"Yes, I’ve thought of it.  I know that’s an argument against it.  But,
Murray, don’t you think the rich men’s daughters need employment
sometimes quite as much as the poor ones do?  Why, I ’m telling you I
envy the poor ones!"

"I know; but the fact remains that they need the money, and you don’t."

"Are n’t you keeping some poor man out of the salary you get by taking
the place of father’s right hand man?"

Murray laughed.  "There’s a back-hander for me!  But I ’m practically a
partner, you know, and a firm can’t do without its heads, no matter how
many poor fellows would like the job."

"And you have the right to make something of yourself.  But I have n’t
because I should be taking work away from some girl who needs it.  I
don’t want to do that.  I ’d work for nothing, or give my salary away."

"Ah, but that wouldn’t solve the problem. The girl whose job you took
from her would n’t accept your salary from you."

"Then, just because a girl’s father can support her, must she give up
learning how to support herself?  And the fun of doing it?"

"What do you expect the family to say about it?"

"Of course they won’t like it.  Except father. I think he will."

"Possibly, after you have wheedled him and hung round his neck.  Well,
do you feel you have a right to disappoint mother and Olive, as you will
do, if you so much as begin on this course, to say nothing of sticking
to it?"

Shirley was silent for a moment.  Then she answered, very gently, "I
should be sorry for that, of course, but I think I have the right.
Devoting one’s self to society can’t be a duty one owes to one’s family,
if one does n’t feel satisfied with that life.  And my learning to earn
my own living won’t disgrace my family--not in these days of millionaire
milliners and violet raisers."

"No, it won’t disgrace your family.  Instead, it makes one member of it
sit up and look at his small sister with a good deal of respect.  If you
take hold of the thing, you ’ll go through with it.  I ’ve not the least
doubt of that, for you ’re no quitter."

"Thank you.  Then will you go with me to talk with father about it?"

"When?"

"Now.  He ’s in the library."

Murray got up.  "You are in earnest," he remarked.  "Yes, I ’ll go with
you.  But you ’ll find the question will have to be pretty thoroughly
threshed out with him before he agrees.  He employs none but experts;
you ’ll have to win your spurs before you can wear them.  And good
stenographers are born, not made.  If you ’ve got it in you, you ’ll
succeed; if you have n’t, you won’t, no matter how hard you try."

He could not see his sister’s eyes, but he could read the determination
in her voice as she answered that it was the expectation of winning
those spurs that made her heart jump just to think about it.

It was a fortnight after this talk, and the longer and more earnest one
which succeeded it, that, coming away from the factory one warm July
afternoon at an earlier hour than usual, Peter Bell happened upon his
young neighbour in a most unexpected place.  Far downtown, blocks below
the usual shopping district, he saw Shirley Townsend come out of a
doorway and start rapidly up the street.  She had not seen him, and he
was too far away to call to her, so he was forced to quicken his pace
almost to a run to overtake her at the next corner before she signalled
her car.

She had walked so fast that the best he could do was to run and swing
himself aboard the same car just as it got under way.  The car was full,
and Shirley herself was obliged to stand, clinging to a strap.  Peter
secured a strap beside her. There was little chance for conversation
during the long ride uptown, but Peter’s eyes were observant, and he
noticed a peculiarity in Shirley’s attire.

At an hour in the afternoon when the girls of her sort would all be
wearing light frocks and ribbons, Shirley was dressed like the girls in
the office he had just left.  With a difference--which Peter’s eyes also
discerned, although he could not have told just where the difference
lay.  Shirley’s white blouse, her blue serge skirt, her sailor hat, her
trim shoes, all bore about them the stamp of quality, indefinable, yet
not to be denied.

As for her face, Peter thought he had never seen it so alight with life.
The smile she had flashed at him was brilliant.  He was glad he had
caught the car.  It was a decided enlivenment of the long ride,
monotonous with daily repetition, just to stand beside the trim, swaying
figure, and occasionally exchange a word with its possessor.  Besides,
he was feeling not a little curiosity as to the errand which had taken
her to a place where hung the sign of a well-known commercial college.

"It is a hot day, isn’t it?" observed Shirley, when he had handed her
off the car, and they were walking up Gay Street toward Worthington
Square.  "Just the day to get into the country. I ’d like a gallop over
about ten miles of good roads--just to feel the wind in my face."

"It would be great, would n’t it?" agreed Peter.

She looked up at him.  "You and Olive don’t ride as much as you used
to."

"She has n’t seemed to care for it for the last year or so."

"Hasn’t she asked you to ride Grayback whenever you wanted?"

"She ’s been very kind about offering him. But I don’t like to go over
and order him out myself."

"He ’s pining for exercise.  So is Pretty Polly, though I had one short
canter on her before breakfast.  You ’ve never been out with me on
horseback.  Perhaps you don’t know I can ride."

"I have my eyesight.  And as for inviting you to go with me--how can I,
when you have the horses?  If you ’re asking me to go with you--there ’s
nothing on earth I ’d rather do just now."

"I believe that," thought Shirley, as she ran into the house to change
her clothes.  "If ever a man looked as if he ’d like to drop his cares
and get off on a horse’s back, Peter does to-day."

In a few minutes she was crossing the lawn, in her riding habit, crop in
hand.  Peter met her, himself in riding trim.  His face showed his
pleasure in the prospect, as he put her up and swung into his own
saddle.

"’If wishes were horses,’" he quoted, as they turned toward the
Northboro road.  "And sometimes they are.  An hour ago I was looking out
of the office window at the factory, and wishing for this very sort of
thing.  I ought to see Grandfather Bell.  Do you mind if we go that
way?"

"I ’m fond of that way.  It will give us a good gallop down the old
turnpike, and a cool walk through the woods to freshen the horses."

Once out of the city they were off at a brisk trot, talking a little now
and then, but mostly busy with thoughts.  They had seen so little of
each other since Shirley’s return that a sense of having begun a new
acquaintanceship hampered them both.  They had not yet found common
ground.

"Now for the gallop," said Shirley, as they rounded a turn and came out
upon a long, level stretch of road, with few vehicles in sight.

"This is the spot where your sister lost most of her hairpins, when she
took her first ride with me," said Peter, indicating to Grayback that a
change of pace was in order.  "I don’t think she ’d ever had such a
dashing get-away before. Off, are you?  Well, well, you do mean
business, don’t you?  All right, I ’m with you.  But don’t expect me to
recover the hairpins!" he called, as Grayback picked up the pace Pretty
Polly had set.

But both Pretty Polly and her rider were evidently on their mettle, and
Grayback, bigger and longer of stride though he was, had to look to his
heels to keep up with the little brown mare.

Shirley proved a daring rider, and before she finally pulled Polly down
to a canter she certainly had felt the wind in her face with a rush.

When she looked round at Peter, as they entered the mile-long course of
wood-shaded road which succeeded the turnpike, she met a brighter smile
than she had seen on his face since she came home, two months before.
Once more, for the moment, he looked the care-free boy again.

"You may be a pupil of the riding-schools, but you ’ve taken plenty of
road-training since," was his comment.  "And not a hairpin loose, so far
as I can see."

"That’s because I always tie my mop with a ribbon for riding, like any
schoolgirl.  It’s childish, but comfortable.  Is n’t this deliciously
cool in here?  And I ’ve forgotten all about the pothooks already."  But
having said this, Shirley bit her lip.  She had not meant to tell yet.

"Pothooks?" repeated Peter, curiously.  "Have you been bothered by
pothooks lately?"

"A trifle."  She turned away her head, and pointed out a fine clump of
ferns, growing on a bank by the roadside.

"Do you want them?" he asked.

"No, no, not enough to get down for.  I--said something I did n’t mean
to, and the ferns offered a way of escape."

Peter was silent, wondering what she could mean.

Then Shirley said, frankly:

"That sounds rude, and I ’m going to tell you."

"Not because something slipped out.  I won’t even guess at it, unless
you want me to."

"I do--now.  I think I ’d like to tell you, though not even Nancy knows
yet.  My family do--but I don’t think even they quite realise what it
means to me.  Perhaps you would."

"I ’d like to try."

"I--have begun to study stenography," said Shirley.  "When I’ve learned
it--and typewriting--thoroughly, I ’m to have a place in Murray’s
office."

She said it with her eyes looking straight between her horse’s ears; and
she did not see the quick, astonished glance which fell upon her.

Peter made no answer for so long that she turned, wondering and a little
resentful.

"I beg your pardon," said Peter.  "I believe I forgot to answer.  But
that was n’t from lack of interest.  You took my breath away.  When I
got it back I fell to thinking that I might have expected it of you."

"You might?  Why?"

"I ’m not good at telling my thoughts.  But I knew you had a mind of
your own from the day you first gave Nancy Bell of Gay Street the
preference over the little Hille girl of Worthington Square."

"Gay Street was sixteen times more interesting than Worthington Square,
always," declared Shirley, frankly.

"How do you like the pothooks?"

"I ’m going to like them, whether they ’re likable or not.  Just now I
’m in a sort of delirium ever them.  Little black quirls and dots and
dashes walk through my dreams.  I ’ve just one week of it now, and I ’m
fascinated. The only trouble is, I want to get hold of everything at
once."

"Hold steady and make sure as you go.  Slow accuracy at first is much
better than a fast jumble that you can’t read yourself.  If you like it,
and are getting hold of it already, that shows you are going to win out.
It’s easy to tell, from the start, who ’ll make a stenographer in the
end and who won’t."

"That’s what Murray says, and it encourages me.  You ’ve studied it
yourself, then?"

"Taught myself in odd hours; thought it might be useful some time, and
it has been, many times. I can show you a lot of technical short cuts
that will be of use to you, when you ’re familiar with the regular
method.’

"Oh, thank you--I’ll be grateful.  Come Polly--you ’ve cooled off--try a
smooth little canter for a while."

At Grandfather Bell’s Peter took Shirley down and sent her to roam about
the great orchard, while he hunted up the old gentleman and had a talk
with him.  This consumed nearly an hour, and when they were off upon the
road once more, Shirley discovered that the care-free look had vanished
from her companion’s face, and that his mouth had taken again the grave
expression it had acquired after she went away to school.

She let him ride to the edge of the woods, four miles toward home, in
the abstracted silence which had fallen upon him; but as they came under
the first cool shadows, she brought Pretty Polly down to a walk, and
began to talk lightly about Murray and Jane, and the successful way in
which Jane had taken up the cares of managing the big house and its
affairs.  Peter obediently followed her lead, but after a short time she
discovered that he gave her his attention only by an effort.

She longed to know what was the matter, for that something had gone
wrong with him she was more than ever sure.  Two years ago she would
have demanded, with the familiarity of long acquaintance, an explanation
of any cloud upon his brow, for she and Peter had been as good friends
as seventeen and twenty-six may be, when the families of both are united
by certain common interests.  But somehow nineteen and twenty-eight had
not yet recovered quite the old ground of mutual frankness, and
Shirley’s anxious questions halted upon her lips.

They had another gallop when they came to the smooth stretch, but this
time, although Peter said, "That was a good one, was n’t it?" his face
did not clear.

Just before they reached home, however, he appeared to realise all at
once that he must have been poor company, and said so, with a word of
regret.

"I don’t mind a bit," said Shirley.  "One does n’t always feel like
talking.  And I know in your position, you must have a good many cares."

"A few.  I ’m afraid I ’m not good at carrying them, since I let myself
keep them on my own shoulders, even on horseback.  They fell off on the
way out, but at the farm they climbed up Grayback’s tail again.  I ’m
sorry, for you ’ve been jolly company, and I ’ve honestly enjoyed the
ride more than anything that has happened in a year."

"We ’ll go again, then, on another half-holiday, and next time we ’ll
leave Black Care behind altogether.  Or, if you will take him along you
shall introduce me.  Will you?"

Her look was so girlishly sympathetic and inviting, Peter could hardly
be blamed for finding a ray of comfort in it, although he only said
stoutly:

"That would n’t be fair."

"Indeed it would.  What are one’s friends for?  And Black Care does n’t
like the society of two."

"That’s true.  But he’s not a desirable acquaintance, and I don’t mean
to introduce him to you.  Remember the pothooks--they ’ll keep you
busy."

He smiled as he said it, but Shirley persisted, more boldly, for she
thought she detected the fact that it would be a relief to Peter to tell
somebody his troubles, if his conscience would let him.

"I ’ve seen, ever since I came home, that something was worrying you.
It’s made me feel badly.  Perhaps just telling would make it easier."

"I should imagine it might.  I ’ll think about it.  Meanwhile, thank you
for two fine hours. We ’re back just in time for your dinner--and my
supper.  Will you go to the house door, or dismount here at the stable?"

"Here, please.  And next Saturday we’ll go again, if you really care
to."

"I shall think about it through the week.  Here you are--you don’t half
let me help you.  Success to the pothooks!  Good-bye!"



                               CHAPTER V

                               BLACK CARE


On the following Saturday it rained all day, and no horseback-riding or
excursions of any sort were possible.  Before another half-holiday had
come round, an unusual and severe pressure of work had overtaken Peter,
which shut him off from any leisure whatever for many successive weeks.
Night after night, all through July and August, he came home late in the
evening, too weary for anything but supper and bed.  During all this
time he saw little of the people in Worthington Square.

As for Shirley, although she thought often of Peter, and was sorry that
no chance seemed to favour her getting at the secret of his burdens,
whatever they might be, her own work absorbed her.  She was proving a
ready pupil, keen of intellect and quick of eye and hand. As she
advanced in the mastery of stenography, she became more and more
fascinated by its details, and spent more and more of her spare hours in
practice.  The typewriting she acquired in an unexpectedly short space
of time, but her chief ambition was to achieve the ability to take
dictation rapidly and accurately, and to this end she laboured with much
zeal.

Nancy Bell was taken into confidence, and became an active and
interested partner.  Many were the hours she spent with Shirley, reading
aloud to her from all sorts of books and papers, with a view to
accustoming her to any kind of composition.

"You certainly can do anything now," Nancy said, one day in late
September, when she had given Shirley an unusually trying test at top
speed, and the worker had typewritten it without an error worth
mentioning.

"I ’m not so sure."  Shirley studied her paper. "I ’m used to you, and
you don’t flurry me much. But if I should go to father and offer myself
for a trial, I ’m afraid I should bungle it."

"But you can’t get office practice without office practice.  Nothing can
take its place or give you confidence, I should think.  Why don’t you
let Murray try you?  If he dictates as fast as he talks when he ’s
discussing business with Peter, he must be hard enough for anybody."

That evening, as Murray and Jane, in the library, were discussing
certain household matters, Shirley, sitting at the big table with her
notebook, turned a leaf and began to take down the conversation.

"Did I say that?" Murray asked, toward the close of the conference.  "I
thought I put it quite differently."

"You said, dear," said Jane, "that it ought to cost that, not that it
did."

"Are you sure?"

"Quite sure."

"I must have been wandering in my mind. I seem to hear myself saying in
a tone of great assurance that it actually did cost seventeen dollars.
I could n’t have said anything else, knowing the facts."

Jane merely smiled, sure of her ground, but not liking to dispute it
further.  Murray took a turn up and down the room, whistling softly. He
himself would not insist upon the thing he was sure he had said, but he
was none the less confident.  It seemed to bring the discussion to a
standstill, as such small differences of statement sometimes will.

Shirley began to read aloud from her note-book a reproduction of the
conversation which had just taken place.  Listening incredulously,
Murray heard himself quoted as saying precisely that which Jane had
asserted.

"Look here," said he, coming over to the table and seizing upon the
note-book.  "Are you sure you have that straight--that you ’re not
saying it from memory of what Jane said I said?"

"I did n’t get every word you said, but I did get that sentence.  You
brought out the ’ought’ so strenuously I put the exact sign down."

"I ’ll give in, of course, but I ’ll have to be careful of what I say in
your hearing after this. You must be pretty good at it, if you caught
all that off our tongues.  We were talking fairly fast, if I remember."

"You were very nearly too fast for me--in spots.  Conversation ’s harder
to take than anything else.  Do you want to try me on a business
letter?"

"With pleasure," and Murray promptly pulled a letter out of his pocket,
glanced it over, and began to dictate a reply.

Before she had done two lines, Shirley realised that the actual
receiving of dictation from a man of business, who was seriously putting
her to a test, was quite different from any amount of practice with
Nancy Bell.  Murray’s keen eyes were upon her, he was watching her
fingers as they flew, he was using business terms with which she was not
familiar.  These technicalities she was forced to omit, but after a
little she steadied under the consciousness that he was speaking not too
rapidly, and that he paused now and then between sentences, as if
studying the letter he was answering.

At the end she said, "I ’ll make you a copy," and flew out of the room.
Murray smiled at Jane, who had been an interested witness of the scene.

"I can’t get used to the idea that the child is serious in all this,"
said he.  "I know she’s been working at it all summer, but I ’ve seen so
little of it, and she ’s been so quiet about it, I forget that she means
business.  If mother and Olive had been at home all this time I should
have heard of little else."

"There ’s no doubt of her being in earnest.  She and Nan have practised
by the hour," answered Jane.  "I think you’ll find her copy pretty
correct."

"I doubt it.  She certainly caught the gist of our conversation, but
that ’s comparatively easy, for her memory would help out on the sort of
thing we were saying.  But when it comes to getting it word for word, as
a business letter must, she ’ll find that ’s another thing."

Shirley came back presently and handed her brother the letter.  He read
it through carefully. "By Jove!" he ejaculated, and looked at his
sister.

"I had to leave spaces for the words you used that I had never heard,"
said she.  "I did n’t think of it before, but there must be a lot of
such words in your correspondence.  Would you mind making me out a list
of them, or giving me a catalogue? Next time I ’ll know them."

"I’ll warrant you will.  Except for them, you ’ve practically every word
just as I gave it to you.  See here, when have you done it? You have n’t
had time to accomplish so much. It takes at least six months to make a
respectable stenographer.  You ’ve been at it but four. Come here and
let me look at you.  By rights you ought to have grown thin.  No, I
can’t see that you have."

"Of course I have n’t.  I ’ve never been so happy in my life."

"Miss Henley, who is in the office, is going to be married in October."
He studied her face keenly.

She looked at him with eager eyes.  He laughed.

"If you were a pauper with a family to support, you could n’t look more
appealing," he said. "Well, keep pegging away, and I ’ll recommend you
to father."


Mrs. Harrison Townsend did not come home at all that autumn.  Instead,
she sailed for Italy, taking Olive with her.  From Europe Mrs. Townsend
wrote Murray a letter which he showed to no one, but which gave him no
little discomfort of mind.

"I am much better away," she wrote, "where I shall not be in the throes
of the revolution which has overtaken my household.  With Jane refusing
many of her most important invitations, Forrest away, and Shirley
casting herself into the business world, like any poor man’s daughter, I
should be too distressed to be able to play my own part with composure.
I hear that Jane is not keeping up her calling list as conscientiously
as she should do.  Please try to impress her with her duty to our
friends, even if she does not care to make them hers.  When I return, I
shall wish to take up my social life where I left it, and if I should
find my friends alienated by the eccentricity of my daughter-in-law, I
should feel that a wrong had been done which it would be difficult to
overlook."

"About the hardest thing in the world," thought Murray, as he pondered
these lines, "seems to be for one woman to get another’s point of view.
Here ’s Jane, staying at home all summer to keep me company, when she
might have gone off to the seaside or the mountains with Olive.  She ’s
tackling big problems every day in the management of the house, to say
nothing of looking after all mother’s social correspondence.  She ’s
entertained relatives of ours from in town and from out of town, to say
nothing of making father’s evenings pleasant and seeing to her own
family. Yet because some woman on mother’s list writes her that Jane has
failed to pay a call within the required limit of time, the poor girl is
’eccentric.’  Well, she shall not be taxed with it, if I can help it."

Feeling that Jane, although unconscious of the elder woman’s
dissatisfaction with her endeavours, should have amends made her after
some fashion, Murray arranged to take her with him upon a week’s
business trip, a flying journey half-way across the continent and back.
In the absence of Mrs. Townsend and Olive, this left Shirley and her
father quite alone for a week.

One of the evenings of that week Mr. Townsend spent with Joseph Bell--as
was now his frequent custom.  On this evening Shirley settled down with
a book before the library fire.  She had been working harder and harder
to perfect herself for the position which she had been assured should be
hers upon the resignation of Miss Henley, a fortnight hence.  And she
had at last arrived at that state of confidence in her own powers which
permitted an occasional indulgence in an idle evening without a twinge
of conscience.

The book proved so entertaining that an hour passed, during which she
took no note of time. She could not have told whether it was late or
early, when a slight stir in the hall brought her attention to the fact
that somebody was there, awaiting her recognition.  She looked up to see
Peter Bell standing in the doorway, his face so grave and worn that she
gave a little cry of amazement.

"Why, Peter!" she said, and came forward to give him her hand.  He
looked down at her almost as if he did not see her.  His hand was cold.

"You ’ve been out in the wet--you ’re chilled," she said, eagerly
drawing him toward the fire. "Why, you ’re very wet!  You did n’t have
an umbrella."

"I believe I did n’t," Peter answered, glancing at his coat-sleeve,
which was, indeed, almost dripping with dampness.  "I ’ve been walking a
long way--I don’t know how far."

He took the big armchair which she offered him, but she stood regarding
his moist condition with concern.  His visits were too few to make her
willing to run the risk of losing this one by suggesting that he ought
not to sit down in his wet coat; and after a moment she ran away and
came back with a house coat of Murray’s.

"Please put this on," she said.

Peter protested that he had no need of taking such precautions, but
Shirley persisted until he obeyed her and donned the coat, throwing his
own upon a chair, whence she rescued it and hung it where it might have
a chance to dry.

"Now rest and be comfortable," said she, drawing her own small chair
into a friendly nearness to the big one, "and tell me what’s wrong.  It
needs to be told at once, I know--or I ’d try to talk about something
else first."

"I’m afraid I couldn’t talk about anything else first," said Peter.
"Yet I don’t know that I can talk about this.  But--I had to come. There
was no one else I could go to.  I ’ve stood all the rest by myself, but
this----"

He stopped short, as if he could not go on. Something about his
appearance made Shirley’s heart begin to beat fast with apprehension.
It must be a very bad trouble indeed which could make Peter act so
unlike himself, Peter the strong, the self-reliant.

Her mind went back in a flash to the day, weeks before, when he had half
promised to give her his confidence in regard to matters which it was
evident were bothering him.  But he had not looked then in the least
like this.  It had been merely business care which was heavy on his
shoulders at that time.  This was trouble, or she did not know the
signs.  His set face, upon which her welcome had brought no hint of an
answering smile, the lines about his mouth, the suggestion of pallor
which was already succeeding to the colour which had been the result of
the tramp in the rain, all made her sure of her conclusions.

"I want to hear," began Shirley, very gently, controlling the anxiety in
her voice.  Then, suddenly, as a startling thought occurred to her,
"Peter, it’s not--Murray--or Jane?--or mother?"

"No, no," said Peter, quickly, turning to her. "No, it’s not your
trouble, it’s mine--ours. Only the others don’t know it yet.  They must
n’t know it till it--comes.  That’s why I came here.  It’ s not right to
burden you with it, I ’m afraid.  But, somehow I----"

Shirley impulsively put out her hand, as if to touch his.  He did not
see it, and she withdrew it again.  She longed to give him comfort in
some way.  Yet, until the story was told, she could not tell what to do.
If only he would tell it quickly.  But, plainly, it was hard to tell.

He drew a deep breath; then sat up straight, staring into the fire.

"There has been a long succession of misfortunes," he began, slowly.  "I
don’t need to go into those, though I thought them bad enough--until
now.  Now--if it were nothing worse than those things, if I could just
go back to them, I ’d shoulder them all gladly, and not mind.  It was
property business, all of it--foreclosure of a heavy mortgage
threatening Grandfather Bell’s farm, loss of the little money father had
got together and put into stocks that have gone to pieces--that sort of
thing.  It was up to me to straighten it all out--and not much to do it
with.  And father--he seemed not very well--had two or three queer
attacks of illness at the factory during the hot weather. I felt I could
n’t worry him with it.  He seemed to be getting old--all at once.
Finally, yesterday----"

Peter paused; then he went on in a lower voice:

"Yesterday he had another of those attacks--much worse than before.  A
man near him sent for me, and I sent for a doctor.  The doctor brought
him round, but it took some time. To-day I made him go to another
doctor--a specialist. He examined father, and told me what it was."

Shirley, in a breathless silence, waited.

"Any over-exertion, excitement, worry--anything--may end it at any time.
If he would give up and stay quietly at home, he might last a good
while.  But that’s what he won’t do. He knows it all--took it as coolly
as if it were nothing at all, but won’t give up.  And he won’t have
anybody told.  Says they ’d never know another happy moment--and that’s
true enough. He ’ll just take his chances.  It’s brave of him, and I can
understand how he feels, but the hard thing for me is--I ’ve got to keep
still, and stand by, and--see it come."

With the last word Peter’s voice almost broke. He turned his head away.
Shirley got up and went to him.  She laid one hand on his shoulder,
standing still beside him, her heart aching with sympathy, but finding
not a word to say.  In all his unhappiness, Peter recognised the light
touch, and putting up his cold hand grasped the warm one.  He held it
tight for a minute, for the sense of comradeship and comprehension it
brought him gave him courage to go on.

Shirley understood the warm and close relations which had always existed
between Peter and his father.  And she realised, with a pang, that which
Peter had not mentioned, but which must add its share to the poignancy
of his apprehension--the fact that with the loss of the head of the
family, the burden of the support of that family must fall upon the
son’s shoulders.  Money problems were not to be mentioned in the same
breath with the threatened loss of a dear parent, but the anxiety they
were bound to cause would make Peter’s trouble immeasurably more
serious.

When Peter spoke his voice was steady again.

"Of course I ’m facing nothing harder than other people have to face
every day, in one way or another.  I mean to stand up to it, like a man,
if I can--it would n’t be worthy of a chap with a father like mine to be
bowled over by what he bears with such courage.  But it seemed to me I
must tell somebody, and you--something you said weeks ago, when we went
riding together, made me sure you would care."

"I do care, very, very much," Shirley answered. "I ’ve wished ever so
many times since then that I knew what was the matter.  If you had told
me that, it would have been easier for you to come to me with this, I
think.  I ’m so glad you did.  I only wish--oh, how I wish--there were
something I could do!"

"You can.  You ’re doing it now.  Just knowing you know makes it easier.
If there were anything I could do myself I could bear it better."

She slipped out of the room.  In a few minutes she came back, bearing a
tray, upon which was a cup of chocolate with a little mound of whipped
cream on top, and beside it a plate of sandwiches. She set her tray at
Peter’s elbow.

"Father is so fond of this, late in the evening, that Cook keeps a
double boiler ready on the back of the range, and the rest of us make
use of it," she explained.  "You may not be hungry, but it will be good
for you.  Tell me, did you have your supper?"

"No, I haven’t been home," he owned.  "If a fellow could eat at all, he
ought to be able to eat this."

To Shirley’s satisfaction Peter consumed every one of the six thin
sandwiches, and when she suggested a second cup of chocolate, he
gratefully accepted it.  He had been famishing, though he had not known
it.  The interview with the specialist had taken place before lunch
time, and Peter had not remembered lunch at all.

Being human, and very weary, creature comforts did their part in
strengthening him, in mind as well as body.  When he had finished, and
had spent another half-hour listening to Shirley’s account of news from
Forrest, who was in the West Indies now, he rose, a very different young
man from the one who had come in out of the rain an hour before.

When he had exchanged the velvet house-coat for the rough tweed one, now
dried by the fire, he stood before her, hat in hand.  He looked down
into her friendly uplifted face and something very appreciative showed
in his own.  He could summon only the suggestion of a smile, but his
eyes were less heavy, his colour had come back, and resolution was once
more in his bearing.

"You would put heart into a craven," he said, shaking hands.

"You ’re no craven," answered Shirley, returning the look steadily with
her frank eyes, "but one of the stoutest-hearted I ever knew.  I know
lots more about you than you think, and I know what you have been facing
all these years in the way of sticking to work you did n’t like."

"That’s nothing.  Everybody does that, if he amounts to any thing."

"Everybody doesn’t.  But it’s made you strong and brave.  You ’re brave
now--and you ’re going to be braver yet."

He studied her a moment in silence.  Then the smile she had missed shone
briefly out upon her as Peter said fervently: "If I am, it will be
thanks to you, my friend.  Good night!"



                               CHAPTER VI

                              A BREAKDOWN


"Now make her come!" commanded Marian Hille, as her brother Brant
brought his big green motor-car to a stand in front of the great
building belonging to Townsend & Company.  "Don’t let her refuse.  How
she can spend her days down here, drudging away, I don’t see!  Brant,
tell her I shall simply never forgive her if she does n’t shut up that
typewriter at once and come along."

"I ’ll say what seems to me to suit the situation," declared her
brother, sliding out of his seat and divesting himself of his motoring
coat.  "Whether it will make any impression I ’m not so sure."

He walked leisurely off, but when he was inside the building he made a
short trip of it to the fifth floor and the offices.  He was quite as
anxious as his sister for the success of his errand.

Murray himself welcomed young Hille cordially, and when Brant asked for
Shirley, he led his visitor into an inner office.  Here Brant stood
still, gazing with interest.  He had not yet seen his old acquaintance
at her new tasks.

Shirley sat before a typewriting machine, her fingers playing as lightly
and swiftly over the keys, for all Brant could see, as those of any
veteran at the business.  The girl did not look up. Plainly she was much
absorbed in her work, a little flush on her cheek, her eyes devouring
the "copy" before her in the shape of her note-book, held open by a
device above her machine.

Brant turned to look at Murray, and Murray smiled.

"She looks as if she enjoyed it!" Brant exclaimed, under his breath.

"She does.  No question of that."

"It ’ll wear off, don’t you think?"

"I doubt it."

He walked over and stood at her elbow, waiting. Shirley paid him no
attention while she finished the long business letter before her, and
she would not have turned then if her brother had not said quietly, "A
caller is waiting to see you, Miss Townsend."

Then she glanced up, and rose, pulling a glove finger from the
forefinger of her right hand before she let the visitor take it.  "I
still seem to give this finger a bit of extra work," she said smiling.

Brant said a complimentary thing or two in recognition of her
businesslike command of the typewriter, and then proceeded to put his
case.

As she knew, a November house party was in progress at the Hildreth’s
country place, eighteen miles out.  He and Marian had come in on an
errand, and were going back.  A particularly jolly evening was in
prospect.  Somebody had suggested that the Hilles bring Shirley back
with them, just for the evening.  They felt she owed them that much,
after so resolutely declining the original invitation for the entire
week.  Would she not go?  It was a rare evening for early November, the
air mild, the moon magnificent, the roads like a floor.

The Hildreths wanted her to stay the night; but Brant would rise with
the lark and bring her back to town before breakfast, that she might not
miss so much as a semicolon of her day’s work.  Or--as Shirley continued
to look doubtful--he urged that, if she preferred, he would actually get
her back to-night.  Some of the married people would drive in with them
for the sake of the run in the moonlight.  Please!

"Go, Shirley, and have a fine time," said her brother.

She was only human--and a girl--after all, and after many weeks of close
and serious work the prospect of the little spin of an hour’s duration,
with the "jolly evening," appealed to her. Smiling at Brant’s last
proposition, Shirley yielded.

"I shall have to go to the house first," she said, setting the cover on
her machine and putting away her work.  The clock already indicated the
end of the working-day in the Townsend office.

"Of course.  We ’ll take you right up in a jiffy."  And Brant led the
way to the elevator, his soul filled with satisfaction.

The green car was shortly _chug-chugging_ in front of the Townsend
house, while Shirley ran up to exchange her office clothes for the
pretty dull red silk frock which seemed to her to fit the November
evening.

A sense of exhilaration took possession of her as she pulled on her long
driving-coat, and pinned in place the close hat and swathing gray veil
which made her ready for the swift drive in the autumn air.  To be
really a working girl, and yet not to be shut out from an occasional
taste of this sort of pleasure--it was certainly a pleasant combination.
And Shirley had accomplished one of the best day’s works that she had
yet done, and felt as if she had earned whatever of jollity the evening
might have in store for her.

"Well, I’m certainly thankful to see you acting like one of us again, if
only for a few hours," asserted "Marie Anne," as they whirled away.
"Shirley Townsend in a blue serge at four o’clock in the afternoon is an
extraordinary sight.  Now you look like yourself again.  What have you
got on?  That Indian-red silk?  When you like a thing you like it
forever, don’t you?  I wonder how many times you came down to dinner
last winter at Miss Cockburn’s in that red silk!"

"Don’t be brutal, Marian!" called her brother, over his shoulder.  "As
if it made any difference what she wears as long as she comes with us!
Besides, I haven’t seen the red silk."

But Shirley was only smiling at Marian’s comments on her attire.  She
had not summered and wintered Miss Hille as a room-mate for two years in
the English school not to have become inured to her style of intimate
criticism. Besides, she knew perfectly that that Indian-red silk frock
had been her friend’s envy for the first six weeks of its existence, on
account of its beauty and the way it became Shirley’s colouring.

It does not take long for a motor-car of high horse-power driven by a
young man with the usual dash of daring in his composition to cover
eighteen miles of smooth roadway, and it was not yet six o’clock when
the car shot up to the entrance of the Hildreth’s country place.  Half a
dozen young people, returning from the golf links, hurried up to welcome
Shirley Townsend back to the ranks of the pleasure-seekers, and she was
borne into the house on a little wave of good-fellowship and merriment
which she could not help decidedly enjoying.

"It’s a shame to think of that girl throwing herself away on the sort of
fad she ’s taken up!" growled Somers Hildreth to Brant Hille, as the two
came in, after dressing for dinner, to find Shirley Townsend the centre
of a gay group before the great fireplace, which was the heart of the
country house.

"I wonder what fault Marian had to find with that dress," Brant was
thinking, as he caught its gleam in the firelight and saw the sparkling
eyes and warm-tinted cheeks above it.  "If she is n’t by long odds the
finest girl in that crowd I ’ll go without my dinner."  But aloud he
responded, calmly, "It does n’t seem to have dulled her charms.  She
never looked more as if she found things worth while, did she?"

"That’s reaction," declared the other young man.  "Shut any girl up in a
cage, and she’ll stretch her wings when she gets out.  It will tell on
her after a while, though, if she keeps it up.  But she won’t.  That
goes without saying."

"Don’t you fool yourself!" muttered Brant, adopting Murray Townsend’s
view of the matter.

Shirley, indeed, did not look like a girl who was accustomed to adopt
courses, only to abandon them when weary.  Whatever her views of the
"things worth while," she certainly enjoyed that evening.  Those who had
sent for her congratulated themselves on their foresight.

Without making herself in any way a conspicuous figure, or appearing to
take the lead, Shirley’s very presence seemed somehow to bring about
that result most desirable to a hostess, the making things "go."  The
young people had been together for five successive evenings, and had
about exhausted their resources and those of their entertainers in the
way of diversion. But with Shirley Townsend’s softly brilliant eyes
looking on, her spirited mouth curving into mischief or merriment, her
appreciative comments spurring them, the young men of the party at least
found themselves stimulated to their best achievement, and exerted
themselves to bring the response of her pleasure.

As for the girls, they all liked her, although not without here and
there a touch of envy at the success of a style so free from affectation
that nobody could accuse its possessor of not being genuine.

"You can’t say you ’re not having a good time," urged Hille, cornering
Shirley as the evening went on.

"There ’s no reason why I should want to say it.  I ’m having a
delightful time."

"I thought it was part of your code, from now on, to enjoy nothing but
hard labour."

Her laugh rang out softly.

"You did n’t believe anything of the sort. If all work and no play make
Jack a dull boy, what would they do to Jill?  She would be unendurable."

"She would.  But anybody would have taken alarm at sight of you to-day,
over your typewriter. You looked as if you were nothing short of carried
away with it.  You did n’t so much as notice I was in the room."

"I ’m not supposed to notice people who come into Murray’s office.  I
learned that at once, by watching Miss Henley.  While I ’m there I ’m to
be merely an intelligent machine."

"’Machine’ doesn’t strike me as exactly the word--in your case.  As for
the ’intelligence’--I suppose Townsend & Company are very exacting. Do
you suppose they ’d take me on the force?"

"You!"  It seemed to amuse her very much.

Brant looked nettled.  He had asked the question in sport, but he did
not like to be taken that way.  "Look here, am I such a joke as that?"

"The notion of your working for anybody, even for yourself, is very
interesting."

"You think I ’m not capable?"

"I think the mere thought of going to an office every morning at nine
o’clock would be too much for you."

"You must have a pretty poor opinion of me."

"Not at all.  But you have never needed to work, never expect to need to
work, and have never shown the first sign of intending to work. Why
shouldn’t the idea of your working seem strange?"

"I might have said the same of you a few months ago."  Brant was getting
red.

"So you might.  But I ’m a girl."

"Does my being a man--I’m twenty-four--make it a foregone conclusion
that I should roll up my sleeves and tackle a shovel and pick, whether I
need the money or not?"

Shirley surveyed him.  "No, I don’t think it does--_with you_."

The red which had begun to show above Brant’s collar now spread toward
his ears, extended his forehead, and finally suffused his entire face.
He broke out hotly: "Look here, you used not to be sharp-tongued like
that. If your taking up this sort of thing is going to make you not mind
how you cut your friends, it ’s my opinion you ’d be better at your
embroidery."

Shirley bit her lip with a mischievous desire to say something which
would make the angry gleam in his eyes light up still more vividly.  She
and Brant had played together and quarreled and made up since their
nursery days, and this retort, which she would have resented from
anybody else, merely delighted her from Brant.

She liked to wake him up, and considered that hurting his feelings on
the score of his idleness was both salutary and justifiable.  Ever since
she had returned she had been feeling more and more annoyed with him for
seeming to settle down so unconcernedly to a life of absolute ease and
the spending of his share of the estate left him by a father who had
toiled a lifetime to get his property together.

But she did not intend to be led into a serious argument with him now
and here, nor did she wish to make him like her less on account of her
new method of employing her time.  She liked him for many good points,
and she was rather wiser than most girls in perceiving when she had said
enough.  So after an instant’s silence, she asked, with a bright glance,
disarming because unexpected, "Shall we call it even?"

"Did my shot about the embroidery hit?" Brant exulted.

"Hard.  It doesn’t matter that I don’t know how to embroider."

"Not in the least.  Yes, I ’ll call it even, though I got the worst of
it.  I was mad enough to bite something a minute ago, but you always did
have a way of making a chap double up his fists, and then open them
again, feeling foolish. Oh, here comes Mrs. Hildreth.  You don’t want to
go back to-night, do you?"

"I ’ll wait till morning.  But we must be off early.  I would n’t miss
being on time for a week’s salary."

"Before breakfast?"

"Of course--if they’ll let us.  We’ll have breakfast at home; the early
morning run will make us hungry."

"It certainly will.  See here, we don’t have to get anybody up to go in
with us, do we?"

Shirley looked doubtful.  "I ’m afraid we do."

"Then I ’d rather take you in to-night," said Brant, promptly.  "We ’ll
fill up the car with chaperons, and you can sit in front with me. They
’ll be tickled to go, in this moonlight.  I ’ll ask Mrs. Hildreth and
Miss Armitage; they ’ll discuss dressmakers all the way in and leave us
in peace."

Shirley let him arrange it, personally much preferring to reach home
that night and get up at the usual hour in the morning, with an interval
between her pleasure-making and her work. The hour was not late, and
Brant professed to be able to make incredibly quick time, so he had no
difficulty in arranging his party.

There were many sallies at Shirley’s expense as her friends saw her
depart.  Her devotion to business was considered a caprice, likely at
any time to give way to more rational behaviour, and she was assured of
an enthusiastic welcome back to the company of sane beings when her
"craze" should be over.  She went away smiling at the thought of how
little they understood her, and with a sense of having at hand resources
of contentment at which they could not even guess.

With an empty road ahead, and the moonlight making all things clear,
Brant sent his car humming.  In the rush of air caused by their flight,
all four travellers stopped talking, and it was upon a silence hitherto
disturbed only by the muffled mechanism of the car that the startling
_bang_ of an exploding tire woke the echoes.

"Confound the luck!" burst from the young man in the driver’s seat, as
he brought the machine to a standstill.  "That means stop and repair
right here.  We can’t run her in on her rim. We ’re not half way."

Shirley looked about her.  Ten rods away, its big barns looming against
the sky, its white house showing clearly in the moonlight, lay the farm
of Mr. Elihu Bell, the grandfather of her friends.  Although it was
after eleven o’clock, there were lights showing in windows which she
knew belonged to the front room of the farm-house.

"Shall you need help?" she asked, as Brant threw open the box which held
his repair kit. "The noise has brought somebody to the door over there.
It ’s the Bell farm--my sister Jane’s grandfather, you know."

"Is it?  Then we’ll pull over there into the yard, and you people can go
inside, since they seem to be up.  It may take me quite a while to get
out of this scrape.  I ’m not much of a mechanic, and I ’ve been lucky
enough not to puncture many tires."

He got in again, and ran the car slowly over to the open gate of the
Bell place.  As he turned in, the two figures which had been standing in
the doorway came out and crossed the yard.

Shirley recognized them both, one tall and slim, with the slight stoop
and characteristic walk of age; the other also tall, but
broad-shouldered and erect.  She wondered what Peter Bell could be doing
out here, calling on his grandfather at this late hour, and then
remembered that Peter’s time was so full by day that he must needs make
his visits by night.  She thought of the mortgage he had spoken of, and
surmised that the visit, prolonged past the hour when farmhouses are
usually dark and silent, was on business.

"Well, well!" called the kindly voice of the old man.  "Broke down, have
you?  Anything we can do?  Your lights are brighter than any we can
furnish you."

Peter came close.  "Will the ladies come into the house?" he asked.  He
could not see who they were.

Mrs. Hildreth and Miss Armitage accepted the offer, for the November air
was not so mild as it had been during the day, and they had no great
confidence in Brant’s ability to repair his own machine.

Peter offered a helping hand.  When the older ladies were out, he turned
to the girl on the front seat.  She sprang down, and stood still before
him.  She had pulled her gray veil closely about her face, and she spoke
in a muffled whisper: "Guess who I am."

[Illustration: "SHE SPRANG DOWN, AND STOOD STILL BEFORE HIM"]

Peter glanced toward Brant, who had now come around into the glare from
his own headlights.  Peter knew Brant, as anyone must who was included
in the entertaining done in the Townsend house.  But it had always been
many leagues farther to Gay Street from the Hille home on the north side
of Worthington Square than from that of Murray and Shirley Townsend on
the south side.

"I’m afraid I can’t guess," admitted Peter, who thought he knew that
Shirley was at home that night, having noted a light in her window when,
at nine o’clock, he had mounted his bicycle to make the trip to
Grandfather Bell’s.  Her figure in the long coat and shrouding veil was
not familiar to him, and the whisper had conveyed no note of Shirley’s
real tones.

"Then you shall never know," the sepulchral whisper assured him, and he
found some difficulty in holding his hand from the desire forcibly to
remove the provoking veil.  The possibility that it was his sister Jane
caused him to estimate sharply the height of the figure before him.

It was a little too tall for Jane, and Peter was about to hazard a guess
that it was one of the least formidable of the girls of Shirley’s set
whom he occasionally met at her home, when Brant Hille called out,
annoyance sounding in his voice:

"You ’d better go in with the others, Shirley--this is going to take
time.  I ’ve got to put on a new tire--worse luck!"

Peter’s fingers grasped the veil and gently pulled it aside from the
laughing face beneath, "No wonder you wanted to hide!" he jeered, under
his breath.  "A working-girl like you, off on midnight larks like this,
with to-morrow ahead."

But there was a distinct hint of pleasure in his voice at the discovery
of her here, thrown upon his hospitality.  He led her away to the house,
within whose open door the other ladies had disappeared.

"Grandmother has gone to bed long ago," he said, as they came up on the
porch, "and I don’t think I ’ll disturb her.  She ’s deaf and won’t
hear, and she needs her sleep.  But I can get you all something hot to
drink, and something to eat, too, if there ’s much delay."

Shirley presented him to Mrs. Hildreth and Miss Armitage, who were
already making themselves at home in the low-ceiled, pleasant
living-room which lay all across the front of the farm-house.  A dying
fire reddened the hearth, which Peter soon revived into a blaze.  Then
he went in search of refreshments.  Thereafter, returning to the scene
of the breakdown, he rendered Brant valuable assistance, proving handier
at the process of replacing the injured tire than Brant himself. When
they finally had done the work, and Brant pulled out his watch with a
hand black with dirt and grease, he gave an exclamation of dismay.

"One A.M., by all that’s unfortunate!  Better let me take you back to
Longacre, Shirley, and get you home comfortably in the morning.  What
difference does it make if you do miss part of a day?"

"Leave her here," said Mr. Elihu Bell.  "We ’ll take care of her
to-night, and I ’ll drive in with her in the morning, bright and early.
That’s the best way out, and you people can go back and go to bed.
Grandma ’ll be mightily pleased to wake up in the morning and find the
little girl here."

Feeling it the simplest solution of a situation which was involving
somebody’s sacrifice, whatever she did, Shirley accepted the offer.
Brant did not feel altogether pleased over driving away and leaving her
standing on the porch beside Peter, but he was decidedly weary with his
exercise, and sleepy after two brimming glasses of milk, and he resigned
his charge with one murmured speech: "Shows what a fool thing it is for
a girl like you to play at holding down a business position.  You can’t
be either one thing or the other with any comfort, and it even gets your
friends into trouble."

This surly farewell was punished by the girl’s gay rejoinder:

"I suppose it was the weight of your cares that was too much for the
car!  I ’m sorry, and I ’ll promise not to run away from my work
again--with you."

When the car was off, Peter promptly brought round his bicycle.  "This
is n’t quite so imposing a conveyance as Hille’s automobile," he said,
standing at the foot of the steps and looking up at Shirley, "and I
can’t invite anybody to share it with me and ride home.  But it’s very
convenient for these little runs out to the farm, and I ’m glad I
happened to be here to-night. Somehow, just the sight of you, without
any chance to talk, does me good."

"If that is true, I should think you might take advantage of living so
near just a bit oftener than you do.  Do you know how long it is since
you ’ve been over?"

"It seems six months to me," said Peter, smiling.

"It is six weeks.  Are you so busy all your evenings?"

"Pretty busy.  And I spend what little spare time I can make with
father."

"Of course," she agreed, gently.  "But I think you need a little more
change of scene than you get."

"I ’d like it.  But I can’t be bothering a girl like you with
entertaining an old chap like me."

"An old chap!" mused Shirley.  "Is that the way you feel?"

"I was feeling forty, at least--till the tire blew up.  Then I came down
to thirty.  When I found the girl under the veil, I dropped off several
years more.  But when I looked at that boy Hille I became a patriarch
again."

"I wish he could hear you call him a boy! Suppose I give you a special
invitation, and run the risk of your bothering me, will you accept it?"

"In a hurry!"

"Your first spare evening then?"

"You tempt me to cut everything and come to-morrow night.  No--I ’ll
wait a decent interval, to let you get caught up after this midnight
dissipation.  May I come early?"

"The earlier the better."

"And you won’t invite anybody else to help make it jolly for me?  The
last time I ventured over you had a roomful."

"I ’ll invite nobody.  Come, Peter Bell--do you know I ’m being much
nicer to you than I ordinarily am to anybody?  I let mother and Olive do
the inviting, and I just look demure, as if I did n’t care."

"You do care, then, this time?"

"It’s time you were off, is n’t it?" and she retreated, laughing, to the
open door.

Peter looked back at her, an alluring figure, with the lamplight falling
over the dull red silk of her frock, and wished he need not go at all.
But Grandfather Bell’s tall form appeared just behind Shirley’s.  This
was an unheard-of hour for Grandfather Bell.  So, with a friendly good
night and a warm feeling at his heart, Peter bestrode his wheel and was
off down the moonlit road toward home.



                              CHAPTER VII

                            CHRISTMAS GREENS


"Jane, I’ve the most charming plan in my head for Christmas week you
ever heard of."

"Have you, Shirley dear?  And are you going to tell it to me?"

"I am, indeed.  Listen.  Let’s take cook and Norah, and go--all of us,
your houseful and ours--and spend part of holiday week at Grasslands."

"Shirley!  You take my breath away!  Could we do it?  Would n’t it be
fun if we could?"

"I don’t see a thing in the way.  When I stayed overnight, in November,
your Grandmother Bell said she wished she could get her family together
once more at Christmas there, instead of going in to have dinner in Gay
Street, as they ’ve been doing since your family went to live in town.
She said she ’d like to have us all if she were younger again, but she
has no ’help,’ and thought it would be a pity to ask us, and then have
your mother and Nan do the work.  I ’ve thought about it ever so many
times since, but this idea has only just popped into my head."

"I should think it could be done," mused Jane. "There are rooms and
rooms at the farm, and little open wood-stoves in every one.  You and I
could go out the day before, and get everything aired and ready."

"What if you and Mrs. Bell and Nan and I went, without telling any of
the men?  I ’m to have Christmas week for my first vacation, you know.
Then when they came home in the evening, have a bouncing big sleigh
ready to carry them off to the farm, and a jolly supper waiting? Then a
tree that night, and Christmas next day, with coasting and skating and
snowballing, if the weather is right?"

"You artful child!" exclaimed Jane.  "It would do us all heaps of
good--especially father and mother.  Father looks to me so worn and
tired.  Have you noticed it?"

Shirley nodded.  She had indeed noticed it, and a deep-laid plot, having
for its beneficiary Mr. Joseph Bell, was at the back of the planning.
But she did not intend that anybody should find that out.  So she agreed
lightly that Jane’s father needed a holiday, as did all the others.

"If we can’t get any of them to take more than Christmas day, we can at
least bring them out there every night and back every morning," she
said.  "We ’ll give them such good things to eat they won’t mind the
drive.  With Grandfather Bell’s big horses, all jingly with
sleigh-bells, they certainly won’t.  Oh, will you go and speak to Cook
now?  I simply can’t wait to get things under way."

"Do you mean to surprise Grandmother Bell, too?"

"Yes, if your grandfather agrees, as I ’m sure he will.  If we told her
she ’d tire herself all out, doing wholly unnecessary things.
Everything in the house is always in apple-pie order, but she would n’t
think so."

"You ’re quite right, I think.  I ’ll go and talk with Cook"--and Jane
hurried away, looking as girlishly eager as Shirley herself.

She had small doubt of Cook.  If Mrs. Murray Townsend had a friend in
the house, it was Bridget. Mrs. Harrison Townsend had never considered
Bridget a particularly amiable person, but Jane had won her completely
by treating her always with consideration, and by showing the interest
in her affairs, which is appreciated most by those who expect it least.

"Sure, then, we ’ll go, Mrs. Murray, and take it as a holiday," agreed
Cook, when her young mistress had explained her plans.  "And we ’ll take
some of the fixings with us they ’ll not be havin’ at the farm."

During the week that intervened before Christmas, Shirley’s head was so
full of her schemes that for the first time since her initiation into
office work she had considerable difficulty in keeping her mind upon her
tasks.  Christmas fell upon a Tuesday that year, fortunately for her
plans, so after Saturday noon she was free to give her mind to the
pleasures in prospect. Mrs. Bell and Nancy had agreed enthusiastically
to every detail of the arrangements, and Grandfather Bell, when
cautiously consulted over the telephone and urged to keep it all a
secret from his wife, had responded as joyously as a boy that the party
might occupy every nook and corner of the house and have things all
their own way, if they would only come.

It proved necessary to let somebody into the plan at the last, in order
that the men, returning to their homes on Monday evening, should be
directed what to do.  Rufus was selected for this office, an appointment
which tickled him so that it was with difficulty he kept from bursting
out with his secret.  At night he was first at home, and as the others
one by one arrived, he haled them to their rooms, bade them make
themselves ready in short order, and surreptitiously packed away several
travelling bags in the recesses of Grandfather Bell’s capacious
market-wagon, now on runners and fitted with seats.

"What on earth does it all mean?" asked Murray, taking his seat in the
sleigh in which the energetic Rufus had stowed the male members of his
own family, amidst a storm of questions and surmises, accompanied by
much good humoured raillery at his own quite evident excitement.

"It means that you ’re kidnapped, and may never see home again,"
responded Rufus, tucking a hot soapstone under his father’s feet, for
the night was sharp, and Shirley’s orders imperative. "Warm, daddy?
Want an extra rug over you? I ’ve enough here to wrap up a party of
elephants."

"I’m very comfortable," Mr. Bell replied. His shoulder rested against
Peter’s, and Peter’s arm lay along the low back of the seat behind him.
Mr. Bell always felt a comfortable sense of support and protection when
Peter was near--and Peter generally was near in these days. The elder
man well understood why, and appreciated the devotion which showed
itself in acts rather than in words.

"I’ve only one objection to make," declared Ross, as the sleigh moved
briskly off, driven by Grandfather Bell’s next neighbour, a man who did
odd jobs for him when needed, and worked for him steadily during the
summers.  "I ’m hungry as a bear, and don’t want to go more than fifty
miles to supper."

"It would pay you to go a hundred, judging by my observations," asserted
Rufus, from among the fur robes at Ross’s feet.  "And we ’ll be there in
a jiffy.  Don’t these boys go, though? They must get fed plenty of
oats."

"They certainly do," agreed the driver. "Elihu Bell is n’t the man to
starve his horses, let alone humans."

"That’s encouraging," and Murray, who also boasted a vigorous appetite,
fell to conjecturing, after the manner of hungry man, what supper at the
farm would be like.  He knew nothing of the arrangements that had been
made, and felt rather doubtful whether anything could take the place of
the dinner of Jane’s planning he had expected to find at home.

The ten miles were covered in a little more than an hour, for the
sleighing was good, and the driver anxious to show what his horses could
do.  As they turned in at the gate and drew up at the side porch, they
saw that the old house was aglow from top to bottom with lights in every
window.  At the jingle of their bells the door flew hospitably open,
although no one was in sight, and only the roaring fire in the wide
fireplace opposite the door seemed on hand to give them a welcome.

"It looks Christmas-sy enough in there, does n’t it?" said Ross,
catching sight of holly branches and ropes of ground-pine adorning the
chimney-piece, and holly wreaths tied with scarlet ribbons in the
windows.

"Well, well!" ejaculated Mr. Joseph Bell, slowly, as Peter gently pushed
him ahead into the room, and his eyes fell upon a tree, its top touching
the low ceiling, its branches twinkling with candles and loaded with
packages.  He blinked with astonishment, and sat abruptly down in the
first chair that offered, looking as pleased as a boy.

"Where are they all?" and Rufus, putting his hands to his mouth, gave a
ringing hail.

"Merry Christmas!" responded a chorus of gay voices, and a curtain fell
aside.  Grandmother Bell, her rosy old face beaming, advanced with
outstretched hand, her husband close behind her.  In the background
appeared Mrs. Joseph Bell, Jane, Shirley and Nancy, all in white
dresses, with holly berries gleaming in their hair.

"This is the best surprise ever heard of!" cried Peter, stooping to kiss
Grandmother Bell’s soft, wrinkled cheek, and then turning to wring his
grandfather’s hand.  "This beats Christmas in town all to nothing."

"It _is_ jolly!" and Murray saluted the old lady in his turn, for he was
a favourite with her, not only because he was Jane’s husband, but
because, from the first, he had taken pains to be very good to her.  He
smiled at Jane as he stood straight again, thinking she had never looked
prettier than she did to-night.  But Murray was apt to think that,
wherever he first caught sight of her after a day’s absence.

"I ’ve been trying all day," said Ross, as he greeted the old people,
"to make myself realise this was Christmas eve.  But from this hour all
difficulty leaves me.  I smell Christmas in the air."

"It’s the pumpkin pies, and mince, and doughnuts, and plum pudding you
smell," laughed Nancy.

"The greens smell sweet and Christmas-sy, too," said Shirley.  "We had
such fun gathering them this morning.  It seemed a pity to do it by
ourselves."

"If I ’d known of it, I should have blown out through the factory roof
and landed over in grandfather’s woods!" declared Peter, coming up to
shake hands.  "Woods in winter!  And to-morrow’s a holiday!  Are we to
stay?  I thought I fell over a grip as I got out of the sleigh."

"Indeed you are--for four days."

"Four days!  I only wish I could!"

"You can--evenings and nights and mornings."

"Do you mean it?  Are we invited?"

"We are."

"Who thought this magnificent scheme up?" demanded Peter.  "Ah, you ’re
blushing!  I might have----"

"I ’ve been out in the cold air more than half the day," and Shirley
covered one brilliant cheek with her hand.  "Are n’t you hungry?"

"Famishing!"

"We ’re to have supper right away.  Your grandmother calls it supper,
and Cook calls it dinner."

"Cook!"

"She ’s here."

"Well, of all the----"

But Peter had to be hurried away by his sister Nancy to his room--his
old room upstairs under the eaves, where he found his hand-bag awaiting
him, and a brisk fire snapping in the old box stove.  For the time
being, he felt he could let himself forget that the old roof was
encumbered by a heavy mortgage, due in six weeks now, and held by a man
who had long coveted that farm.  It was Christmas.

The meal spread in the long, low dining-room, to which a merry company
presently sat down, was a delicious one.  Grandmother Bell’s old
blue-and-white Canton plates and cups had never been more delectably
filled, nor had her antique silver forks and spoons clinked to a
livelier measure than the talk and laughter which went round as the
supper proceeded.

"Does it seem like home here?" Shirley asked Mr. Joseph Bell.

"Home?" said he, with a glance from the old prints upon the walls to the
antique side table below, with its turned-up leaf.  "It’s the only place
in the world that will ever really seem like home to me.  It ’s just a
makeshift, living in the city, to people who were brought up on a place
like this.  You see, though I went away from here when I was a young
man, and lived a long time in the city, working up in the paper factory,
we came back here again and stayed five years, while the children were
little, on account of a breakdown in my health.  Then when I grew strong
again, we moved back and settled in Gay Street.  But the farm is
home--always will be.  My wife feels the same way, though she was a city
girl.  She ’d like to live here now as much as ever."

"I don’t wonder.  It’s one of the pleasantest farm-houses I ever saw."
And Shirley smiled across the table at Peter as she spoke, meeting his
eyes as he glanced from his father’s face to hers, well pleased to see
the elder man looking as if heartily enjoying himself.

"The tree is only to look at this evening," announced Jane, when they
were all back in the living-room.  "Nothing is to be taken off it till
to-morrow evening."

"And we’re to be tantalised all that while? I ’m willing to see it shorn
of its fruit any time after I ’ve made a quick trip to town--which will
be the first thing to-morrow morning," said Murray, with a meaning wink
at Peter, who nodded, comprehending.

Rufus grinned at his father, and a general spirit of understanding
appeared to prevail among the guests, who had been brought away to the
party without a chance to get together the parcels they had stowed in
sundry secret places.

"We ’re glad you ’re so clever at seeing our reasons for delay," said
Nancy, gazing up into the thick branches of the tree, her eye upon
various packages of her own, all tied in the same way, so that they were
easily recognisable. She had worked for months over her gifts, having
little money to spend, but possessing much love and ten skilful fingers.

"Meanwhile we must have something doing this evening," said Rufus.
"What shall it be?"

"How will making candy suit your zest for sport?" asked Jane.

"Bully!  We haven’t made candy since we grew up--not real candy.  I
don’t count Nan’s caramels and Shirley’s fudge.  Let’s make some real
old-fashioned molasses candy, and _pull_ it!"

"What else, at the old farm?  As soon as the kitchen is clear we ’ll go
out," and Jane disappeared, to hasten operations in the kitchen by tying
on an apron and wiping dishes herself with Norah.  Her blithe talk,
while her fingers flew, kept both Cook and Norah smiling while they
worked, and the big farm-house kitchen was soon in spotless order.

"It does be after doin’ me good to work in a place like this again,"
declared Cook, as she helped Jane measure out molasses and get the big
kettle on.  "It’s not that I don’t like the tiles and the copper and all
the conveniences of my kitchen in the city.  But when a person has been
brought up in the country, there ’s always the fondness clingin’ to them
for the old ways, even if they ’re a bit inconvenient.  See the gourd
dipper, now, Norah.  Will you say that water does n’t taste better out
of it than from granite ware?"

"I never saw a dipper like this before," answered Norah, who had been
born in town, and could hardly share Cook’s enthusiasm for these details
of country living.

"_She_ knows what I mean," said Cook, with a nod of the head after her
young mistress, just departing.  "Sure, I have n’t seen such a sparkle
in the eyes of her since she came to live at the house. She ’s not born
to be a great lady, just a home-keeping one.  And that’s the best sort,
to my mind."

Then she beckoned Norah away, and they fled up the back stairs, just as
the sounds of approaching feet warned them that the company were coming.

"Jolly!  This is the stuff!" exulted Rufus, bursting first into the
kitchen.  "Doesn’t that smell like the real thing?  Tie an apron on me
and let me take charge of the kettle.  The rest of you can grease tins.
I ’ll offer a prize for the whitest candy.  Secure your partners for the
pulling!"

"May I have the honour?" and Peter made his best bow to Shirley as she
appeared from the pantry, her hands full of shining tins.

"Of course you may, if you ’ll show me how. I never pulled candy in my
life."

"Your education has been appallingly insufficient, in spite of those two
years in England. But I used to be pretty good at it, and we ’ll take
the prize if you follow directions.  Please begin by taking off those
rings!" commanded Peter.

Shirley obediently slipped off several pretty rings.  Then she tied on a
small and frivolous apron, at which Peter frowned.

"Do you call that absurdity of lace and ribbons an apron?" he demanded.
"What do you suppose will happen to it if you drop a hunk of candy in
the sticky stage on it?  Here, I ’ll get you one of grandma’s--they ’re
worth something."  Shirley presently found herself invested in a
bountifully made apron of checked white material, with a bib and
strings, which nearly covered her from sight.  "Now you’re safe--and so
is the candy.  The minute it’s fairly cool, we ’ll seize a generous
portion and get away to some cool spot with it."

It was some time before this stage in the operations was reached, and
meanwhile Peter found himself obliged to share his partner with Ross and
Rufus, who had no idea of allowing monopolies, with no other girls
present but Nancy.

The elder people, however, proved themselves nearly as good company as
the younger ones, for everybody seemed to have adopted the spirit of the
season and to be ready for as much fun-making as possible.  And to the
great satisfaction of both Peter and Shirley, not the least care-free of
the company seemed Mr. Joseph Bell himself.

To Peter, especially, watching his father with an eye which took note,
as the others could not, the very evident relaxation and refreshment of
the occasion were a source of deep satisfaction. For once the son felt
that he could himself relax and dare to get out of the hour all the joy
there was in it. Happiness of this sort could not hurt, he was sure.  It
could only help.

"Our panful is cool enough!" declared Peter, flourishing the
blue-and-white-checked gingham apron which veiled his long legs, as he
returned from the porch, where the candy had been cooling. "Now,
partner, hands buttered, courage good? Stand ready to take hold when I
say the word, I ’ll work the lump into malleable condition. Open the
door into the wood-shed, please.  We ’ll do our pulling there, if it’s
not too cool for you; then we ’ll not get stuck."

"_Ooh-h-h!_" Shirley gave a little shriek as Peter presently, with a
deft pull of his big lump into a long, smooth skein, handed her one end
with the injunction to draw it out quickly and swing it back to him.
"But it’s hot!"

"Of course it is, Miss Tender-Fingers!  If we let it get comfortably
cool we could n’t pull it at all.  Keep hold--keep it moving.  Don ’t
let it stay in your fingers long enough to stick.
Pull--swing--pull--swing!  Hold on!  You’re getting stuck!  Wait a
minute!"

"I can’t do anything but wait!" gasped Shirley, holding up ten fingers
hopelessly embedded in a mass of uncomfortably warm material.

"What!  Can this be the expert stenographer, all balled up in a couple
of quarts of molasses? Hold still!  Don’t try to work out.  I ’ll pull
you loose.  Don’t let the others see.  Keep away from that kitchen
door!"

But Rufus, pulling smoothly away from Jane, with the art acquired by
much practice in past years, spied out the tangled ones.  His shout of
laughter brought all the others toward the wood-shed door.

Shirley and Peter were obliged to return to the kitchen to obtain butter
for the stuck-up fingers.  They fell into a state of great merriment
over the situation, in which everybody else joined appreciatively, and
the old kitchen rafters rang with the laughter.

"Where would the stage apron be now?  This is no gallery play!" jeered
Peter, rescuing one long string of brownish-yellow sweetness from the
front of Shirley’s big white apron.  "Want a taste?  Shut your eyes and
open your mouth!"

"No, thank you.  Eat it yourself."

"I will," and Peter tipped back his head.

At this interesting moment the door between dining-room and kitchen
swung open.  A figure appeared upon the threshold--a figure clad in silk
and furs, topped by a Parisian bonnet. Over its shoulder showed the
heads of two others--one wearing a wonderful hat covered with fine black
ostrich-plumes, the other its own thin thatch of short, iron-gray hair.

"We have found you at last!" said the voice of Mrs. Harrison Townsend.

Behind her, Olive burst into a musical peal of laughter.

"Look at Shirley, mother!  Don’t you think it’s about time we came home
to prevent her quite returning to childhood?"

Then Mr. Harrison Townsend, from the background:--"This is rather
stealing a march on you, good friends.  But we found our own house
dark--and this is Christmas eve!"



                              CHAPTER VIII

                           PETER READS RHYMES


"Stay?  Of course you’ll stay!" declared Grandfather Bell to Mr. and
Mrs. Townsend. "It’ll do you good after all your junketing, and we’ll be
mightily pleased to have you."

It had not taken much persuasion.  There certainly was a charm pervading
the old farmhouse, and the thought of resting quietly there for a few
days appealed to Mrs. Townsend. Her husband was delighted at the plan,
for he had been persuaded to join his wife abroad, and several months of
European travel had wearied him.  Everything simple and homelike
attracted him now more than ever.  It had been his restlessness which
had brought his party home a month before the date originally set for
their return.

If there had been a goodly number of packages upon the Christmas tree on
Christmas eve, there were more than double that number by the evening of
Christmas day.  Not only had Murray and Peter made an excursion to town,
but Mrs. Townsend, mindful of many intended gifts stored away in her
trunks, had sent Olive in with the others to get them.

When the Christmas dinner was over, Rufus proposed that the clan go out
for an hour’s skating on a pond not far away.  "We can enjoy that tree a
lot better if we have some good brisk exercise beforehand," he asserted.

"I don’t skate," said Olive, looking as if she wished she did.

"Come along with us just the same," urged Ross, "and we ’ll take turns,
not exactly ’sitting out’ with you, but walking up and down the shore.
Or--we’ll teach you."

Olive declined to be taught, but agreed to accompany the others.
Promenading along the bank, fur-wrapped, her dark beauty made brilliant
by the frosty air which nipped her cheeks, she was a figure to compel
attention.  She had never seemed more companionable than now, and both
Ross and Rufus enjoyed, with more zest than they had anticipated, the
period allotted to them for bearing her company.  Murray, observing her
with brotherly penetration, found her decidedly improved, and wondered
what had happened during the months of her absence to make her so much
more appreciative of her family’s society than she had been wont to be.

When Peter, in his turn, came to offer himself as partner in her exile
from the gaieties going on upon the ice, she greeted him with a smile so
radiant that he looked at her in wonder.  The old friendship between the
two, begun in the earlier days of their acquaintance, and carried on
through several years, while they grew from boy and girl to man and
woman, had waned and nearly died of neglect on both sides during the
past two years.  Each had become absorbed in pursuits so different that
they had little in common, and Olive, especially, had seemed to outgrow
the traits of frankness and friendliness which had made Peter like her
in spite of many obvious faults.  Before she went away, he had come to
think of her as hopelessly spoiled and artificial.  But now--had
something changed her point of view?

"A few years ago."  said Olive, as the two paced up and down, exchanging
comments on the occurrences of the past months, "I was in a hurry to be
grown up.  When I look at Jane and Shirley and Nancy, after having been
away from them for six months, I realise that their genius for remaining
girls is going to be an advantage.  What a trio they are!  Shouldn’t you
say they were all three about sixteen?"

The three had just joined hands and skated away from Murray, Ross, and
Rufus, who had promptly started in pursuit.  All three wore skirts of
ankle length, short jackets and close little caps, and none had
considered furs a necessary article of apparel for lively exercise.  A
blue silk scarf about Jane’s throat and a scarlet one floating to the
breeze from Shirley’s furnished notes of colour to the agile, dark-clad
figures, and three health-tinted, winsome faces looked up at the two on
the bank with a gay greeting as the trio swung lightly by.

"I certainly should," agreed Peter.  "I don’t think Jane will ever grow
old.  Nan is an infant, and will be for ten years yet, as far as
settling down to consider herself too old for pranks like that, and I ’m
glad of it.  As for your sister Shirley----"

"Tell me what you think of Shirley.  The child is a continual puzzle to
me; I can’t make her out.  This idea of working steadily at earning a
salary in the office seems to be a fixed one, though I had supposed it
only a freak.  Does she look as contented as this all the time, or is it
just the relaxation of the holiday?"

"I should say it was a permanent condition of mind.  She ’s more
interested to-day in her work than when she began, and is growing
surprisingly expert.  Murray told me yesterday she wants to tackle the
special foreign correspondence--French, you know.  That means a lot of
extra labour."

Peter spoke as if he felt a personal pride in Shirley’s achievements, an
attitude which Shirley’s sister was quick to note.

"I felt out of patience with you when she began, for I thought her zeal
for making a working-girl of herself might be of your inspiring," said
Olive, with a quick look at him.

"Not a bit of it.  I never heard of it till she had been a week at her
first studies.  How should I have dared suggest such a course?"

"You and she seem to be great friends."

"Do we?  It is an honour I appreciate very much," answered Peter, with a
little touch of courtliness in his manner such as had often surprised
her in the early days of their acquaintance, and which struck her now as
decidedly interesting in a young man who spent his days in a factory,
even if he was many degrees higher in position in that factory than when
she had first known him.  What his position was at present she did not
guess, nor did she know that Murray had begun to look at him as a man to
be desired in his own business, a man whose brain was undoubtedly to
make him an important factor wherever he might be.

What she did recognise was that she had met few men anywhere who had the
power to command her interest as Peter had always done, and seemed now
more capable of doing than ever before.  As for his looks--she owned to
herself that she had never before realised quite how fine and resolute
and altogether manly was his whole personality.

"Speaking of contentment," said Peter, breaking the little silence which
had followed upon his last words, "don’t you think it follows rather
naturally upon feeling that you are accomplishing something worth the
doing?  It does n’t make so much difference what it is; the point is,
that you ’re doing it.  If it costs effort, so much the better."

"It depends on what you think is worth the doing," said Olive.  "You and
I would be apt to differ on that--as Shirley and I do."

"Not much question of that," admitted Peter, smiling.  He gave her one
of his clear-sighted glances, under which she shrank a little though she
did not show it.  It made her say, rather defiantly:

"Of course you think, as you always did, that I ’m the most useless
creature living, and that my ideals are about as insignificant as the
amount of actual work I do."

Their eyes met, hers black and sparkling, his gray and steady and cool.
He studied her for an instant, with a quality in his intent scrutiny
before which her eyes went down.  She was used to admiration in men’s
observation of her, and though that element could hardly be lacking in
Peter’s, since he was human, and she a more than ordinarily charming
young woman, there was also in his regard that appearance of taking her
measure, which, quite unconsciously, he could never help exercising when
brought into contact with men or women.  But his words, when they came,
were gentle.

"If you don’t mind my saying so, I think you ’re capable of things so
well worth while that your life might be a wonderful thing to you. You
could, if you cared to, do what you pleased with almost anybody.  You
have the art, the magnetism--whatever it may be--of the born leader.
The only trouble is--you don’t much mind--do you?--which way you lead."

This from Peter Bell!  For a minute Olive was left speechless.  Yet it
was impossible to resent his frank putting of the case, for it conveyed
something which gave her a distinct pleasure.

"I ’m not sure whether I ought to be angry with you or not," she said,
after a minute.

"Please don’t be."

"When did you take up the profession of preacher?"

"To the queen?" suggested Peter, with an odd smile.  "But you ’re at
liberty to order my head off at any minute, you know.  Or to preach
back--which would be worse."

In spite of this passage-at-arms, they were both laughing when the
others came up with the announcement that it was time to go back to the
house.  But Peter’s keen speech sank in; Olive did not forget it soon.
And somehow, she was more than ever sure that Peter himself was well
worth cultivating.

"I never was so excited over a Christmas tree as over this one,"
confided Nancy to Shirley, as the two dressed for the evening.  The
Christmas dinner had taken place, after the country fashion, in the
middle of the afternoon.  It was now six o’clock, and the evening was
before them.  No supper was in order, after the tremendous banquet at
three o’clock; but Jane had provided certain light refreshments of the
decorative sort; salad and sandwiches, gay-coloured ices and bonbons,
cakes and a great bowl of fruit punch, all of which waited in a cool
spot ready for the serving by the young people themselves.  Cook and
Norah had been sent into town, for a celebration of their own with
friends.

"Oh, oh!  What a pretty frock!" cried Nancy, as her friend shook out a
soft silken fabric of pale gray, lighted up here and there with small
sprigs of scarlet flowers, with belt and long streamers of scarlet
velvet to match.

"Do you like it?  It’s my one French gown, and an inexpensive one, too,
but it looks festal, and I thought I ’d christen it to-night.  Will you
wear the one I have for you?  I meant to put it on the tree, but it
occurred to me you might like to wear it and keep me company," and
Shirley pulled a long box from under the valance of the high
’four-poster’ bed.

"You are the dearest thing that ever lived!" cried Nancy, going down on
her knees before the box, and lifting out the frock of pale blue
veiling, with its trimmings of flowered ribbon, a girlish creation of
the sort to please young eyes.

It was a very happy pair of maids who descended the staircase together.
They were happy, however, in two quite different ways.  Nancy’s cup was
overflowing in the delight of her pretty finery; but it was a joy of
another sort which made Shirley’s heart beat high.  Under the folds of
gray with the scarlet flowers a small envelope lay hidden, over the
contents of which the girl had spent an anxious hour.

There has not been room to tell of it in this brief chronicle, but for
the last month Shirley had been having consultations with Murray over an
important subject--the matter of an investment she wished to make.  She
owned not a small amount of property, in stocks and bonds, an
inheritance from her grandfather, the management of which had been put
into her hands by her father as a matter of education. Within a few
weeks a chance for profitable investment of a portion of this holding
had appealed to her, and after a spirited argument with her brother, she
had received his sanction in the course she was eager to adopt.

The legal part of the transaction had been completed two days before
Christmas, and since then Shirley had been greatly occupied in spare
moments with the composition of something which might seem to have small
connection with so prosaic a subject as the transfer of certain legal
documents from one pair of hands to another. She was not yet satisfied
with the result of her endeavours, being no poet, but the best burlesque
production of which she had been capable had been carefully copied on
her typewriter, and was now reposing where its presence considerably
quickened the heart-beats under the scarlet flowers.

At a moment when she was alone in the room Shirley slipped round behind
the tree, and extracting the envelope from its agitating position,
quickly, although with fingers which mixed themselves up a little, tied
it in an obscure place beneath a bough, where a gay golden ball nearly
hid it from view.

"Come out!  Come out!" commanded Rufus, as, arriving upon the scene, he
spied her. "Absolutely not a feather’s weight more allowed on that tree.
There never was a tree so bowed down with care as that one.  Nor another
small boy so impatient to begin as this one.  I caught sight of my name
on that package six feet long under there, and I ’ve been delirious with
suspense ever since."

"As soon as Santa Claus arrives," promised Jane, who had agreed with
Shirley that no accompaniment of the traditional Christmas should be
lacking, although there were no small children present to be edified by
the sight of the patron saint.  Older people, as she well knew,
frequently enjoy a return to childish means of entertainment, and when
Santa Claus, in full rig, walked into the room, she was not surprised to
see the looks of greatest pleasure upon the faces of Grandfather and
Grandmother Bell.

Peter made a capital Santa Claus, treating them all as children, and
making speeches as he presented the gifts which brought forth peals of
merriment.  The gifts themselves were many and varied, from the mittens
knit by Grandmother Bell’s skilful fingers, to the silken scarfs and
fans and foreign photographs which were the contributions of the
travelled Townsends.

"Skees!" cried Rufus, going into contortions of ecstasy over Murray’s
present, and clumping up and down the room on the unwieldy articles.
"Won’t I get out to-morrow night on that hill back of the pond!"

"Such beautiful lace I never saw," said Mrs. Joseph Bell to Mrs.
Townsend, her fingers caressing the exquisite tracery of the pattern
lying in her lap, which had come to her "with the love of Eleanor
Forrest Townsend."

"I thought it looked like you," returned Mrs. Townsend, who was looking
very much pleased herself over a handkerchief wrought by Nancy’s clever
art.  The others were busy over their gifts; it was a pandemonium of
exclamations and congratulations, expressions of gratitude and
observations of wonder and delight.  Shirley, her lap full of parcels,
tissue-paper, ribbons, and cards of presentation, talking and exclaiming
with the rest, was yet keeping her eye on Santa Claus, as he stripped
the tree.  She was watching for the moment when he should find that
envelope. When it came, she meant to be out of the room and away.

Meanwhile Santa Claus dropped a fresh package into her lap.  She
recognised the saint’s own handwriting on the wrapper--a bolder, firmer
hand than one would have expected from a gentleman with so long and
snowy a beard. She opened it with strong anticipation, and found within
a set of note-books of special style and quality, evidently made to
order, for the binding was of a beautiful texture of leather, and the
paper within of the best known to trade--the thin India, used only for
fine work.  Her name, delicately stenciled on the covers, completed a
gift which appealed to the girl with a sense of the thought and care put
into its make-up.  She looked up, to find Santa Claus’s eyes watching
her from behind the tree, his lips smiling beneath the white beard, for
her surprise and pleasure were plainly to be read upon her face.  She
nodded at him, colouring rosily--a picture, in her gray and scarlet
frock, as she sat upon the floor surrounded by her gifts, the sight of
which was quite sufficient to reward any giver.

Almost everything was off the tree.  "Hello, here ’s something I nearly
missed!" murmured Santa Claus, catching sight of the corner of the white
envelope beneath the golden ball.  Shirley looked up quickly, saw him
struggling with the red ribbon which tied the envelope in place, and
rose to her feet, letting a lapful of miscellaneous articles slide to
the floor.

Everybody was busy, and only Mrs. Bell noticed, and said, gently, "Look
out, dear, you ’re dropping things."  But Shirley was gone, through the
crowd of people and packages, to the door, and had closed it softly
behind her.

Peter had already had a gift from Shirley, a little thing.  She was not
the girl to present any man with a keepsake more valuable than the small
book of modern verse which had in it certain stirring lines that she
knew would be a stimulus to him.  So when he saw his own name in
typewriting upon the envelope, he opened it without much consideration,
thinking it a joke of Ross’s or Rufus’s.  But a second envelope was
fitted inside the first, and it was labeled, "Please don’t read this in
public."

His curiosity was awakened now, and slipping the communication into his
pocket, he summarily finished his duties by distributing the few
remaining parcels without comment, and then walked away out of the room.
It had occurred to him that that note-paper was of a sort that he had
seen once or twice before, when Shirley had had occasion to send him a
note of invitation.

Outside in the hall, which was dimly lighted by an oil side-lamp screwed
to the wall, Peter opened his inner envelope.  Still in typewritten
characters was a set of rhymes, cast in a popular fashion used by makers
of humorous doggerel.  His eye ran over them hurriedly, with a low
ejaculation of astonishment and incredulity at the end; then he read
them again more intently, looking as if he could not believe the
evidence of his eyes, They ran thus:

    A farm owned by people named Bell
    Was a place where a Thorn would fain dwell.
      So he bought up a mortgage,
      Intending to war wage
    On the property-owners named Bell.

    Now one of the Bells, christened Peter,
    Thought life would be fuller and sweeter
      If the farm could be shorn
      Of this sharp-pricking Thorn,
    For he feared a foreclosure, did Peter.

    A designing young person called Townsend
    Was seeking investment (cash down), and
      She purchased the mortgage.
      She never will war wage,
    She’ll never foreclose, will S. Townsend.


Peter had noticed, if nobody else had, when Shirley went out of the
room.  He now understood her sudden disappearance.  He made a quick trip
through the lower part of the house, paper in hand, his questioning gaze
penetrating every corner.  She was not in the sitting-room, or the
dining-room, or the kitchen--at least he thought she was not, although
he even looked into the wood-shed.  As he was returning through the
kitchen, an expression of determination on his face not wholly obscured
by his patriarchal beard, whose hitherto uncomfortable presence he had
quite forgotten, a slight movement of the pantry door caught his eye.
He seized the door-knob.  It would not turn for a moment; then it
slipped slowly round, for his fingers were stronger than hers.

The two confronted each other--the white-bearded gentleman, with the
figure of an athlete and the eyes of an excited youth, and the slim girl
in the gray silk, with cheeks like her scarlet ribbons.

"What does this mean?" demanded Santa Claus.  He put forth one vigorous
arm and drew the runaway out from the closet by her resisting hand.

"Just what it says, I should think," answered Shirley, bravely, although
trembling.  Had she offended him?  Through the whole transaction that
had been the one burden of her anxiety. "It doesn’t say it very clearly,
but she never tried writing limericks before.  They ’re not so easy as
you might think."

"She!  Who?"

"’S. Townsend.’"

"Do you mean to say you ’ve actually bought that mortgage?":

"Murray did the business.  I didn’t see Mr. Thorn."

"But you own the mortgage?"

"Yes."

"Thorn did n’t want to sell it."

"No--but he had to take payment if it came when the mortgage matured."

"It is n’t due for six weeks yet."

"He did n’t mind being paid sooner, when he found all hope of the chance
of foreclosing was gone."

"He would n’t sell for the face of it?"

"I ’m not familiar with business terms," urged Shirley.

"Not?  A girl who holds a position with Townsend & Company!  Tell me,
Shirley--you did n’t get that mortgage six weeks before it was due, for
the face value of it?"

"Not quite."

"How much did you pay?"

"Not more than it was worth."

"Please tell me _how much more_ you paid."

"I think that’s my affair," said Shirley, with her head up.  But her
eyes were down.

There was a silence.  Peter put his hand to his mouth with intent to
cover a sudden urgent and unwonted necessity to steady his lips.  He
encountered the beard, tore it off, and cast the wig beside it upon the
floor.  A young man with a face of mingled light and shadow emerged from
the disguise of the elderly one.

"If I didn’t know that, with this farm as security, you ’d made a safe
investment, I could n’t stand this."  he said, in a low tone. "But I
know that making a safe investment was the last thing you cared about.
You wanted to stand by in a time of need--and you ’ve done it."

"You mustn’t think," said Shirley, looking up eagerly, "that you ’re
under the least obligation to me.  It’s just as you say.  The farm
itself is more than security.  It’s merely a matter of business.  You
know, I ’m learning to manage my little affairs.  Father thought it
would be good for me.  And a change of investment like this is great
fun."

Peter looked at her steadily.  "Oh, no, we ’re not under the least
obligation to you!" he answered.  "It’s very easy to find people to take
a mortgage at terms that will induce a man to sell it who ’s looking for
a chance to foreclose--that’s why I have n’t done any worrying about the
matter!  Shirley--you ’re----" he seized her hand.  "You’re----"

"It ’s all right," said Shirley, turning her head away with a sudden
access of shyness.  There was no knowing what terms Peter might be going
to use, when his voice dropped to that vibrating note.

But she did not escape.  Peter was ordinarily a self-controlled young
man, with a cool head not likely to be carried away by sudden emotion.
But he had a warm heart, none the less, and the girl’s friendly act had
touched him deeply. Besides, he was, as has been admitted before,
entirely human, and Shirley, in her gray and scarlet, with her brilliant
cheeks and drooping eyes, was a very captivating figure.  Tightening his
grasp upon her hand he ended his impulsive speech half under his breath
with--"You ’re the--dearest--girl in the world!"

What he would have said--or done--next can only be conjectured, for upon
this unexpected and most disconcerting demonstration Shirley pulled her
hand away and ran--somewhere--anywhere--she did not just know where.  In
this indefinite region she remained for fully half an hour.  In the end
she had to come back to the living-room, but when she did it was not to
look at Peter.

As for Peter himself, when he had got rid of his Santa Claus costume and
put himself in order again, he also came back to the living-room. His
face had been put in order as well as his dress, and nobody noticed
anything odd about him. But there _was_ something odd about him--very
odd.  He felt like a railway locomotive off the track, obliged to convey
to the beholders, by its steadiness of gait, the impression that it was
still on!



                               CHAPTER IX

                              A RED GLARE


"By all that’s astonishing, are you actually idling?  And may I come and
idle, too?"

Shirley looked up from the depths of one of the capacious willow chairs,
which, well stocked with cushions, were favourite lounging-places upon
the great side porch of the Townsend house, and from which one could
look out over a long and charming stretch of lawn toward the
tennis-court.

It was a warm evening in late May.  Everybody else was away, and Shirley
had settled herself for one of the rare hours of rest and solitude which
she so much enjoyed when her work was done.  But she answered Brant
Hille cordially:

"Of course you may, if you will be nice and soothing.  These first warm
days make me feel a trifle lazy."

"Not strange, when you spend them in a stuffy office."  Brant accepted
the cushions she tossed to him, and disposed himself comfortably upon
them on the top step near her feet.

"The office is n’t stuffy.  I ’ve sat by a wide-open window all day.
Besides, the first thing Murray did when he went in with father was to
overhaul our whole system of ventilation. So the office is never stuffy,
even in winter."

"Don’t be belligerent, or I ’ll not be responsible for the soothing
effects of my society.  What can I do to lull you to repose?  You don’t
like banjo music, or I ’d have brought my banjo over. It’s just the
evening for that."

"If you had, you’d have gone home again."

"You _are_ in a sweet mood!" Brant spoke with the familiarity of old
acquaintance.  "Would you object to telling me what’s gone wrong with
your ladyship?"

"I can’t find out the French for certain phrases it’s necessary to use
in the correspondence we have on hand just now.  There are no
equivalents for the idioms that I can discover as yet, and it’s most
important that I get them right.  I ’ve practically had to make a
phrase-book for myself so far, because the dictionaries and hand-books
don’t give the terms I want.  I got hold of some old correspondence last
week that helped me immensely, but to-day I was completely baffled. I
suppose it has got on my nerves, and made me fractious."

Yet she did not look particularly nerve-worn, lying there in the low
chair, in her thin white frock, her round arms resting upon the arms of
the chair, her head thrown back, as she regarded her visitor from under
low-sweeping lashes. Neither did she look in the least like the young
woman of business she had become.

Brant was always trying to convince himself that her work was spoiling
her--it would be a comforting realisation if he could think it.  But as
often as he had succeeded in making himself half believe that some other
girl, whose ways of living were such as he approved, was nearly as
attractive as Shirley Townsend, just so often did the sight of Shirley
in some unbusinesslike surroundings upset his convictions.  To-night she
looked particularly feminine and alluring, in spite of her avowed
fractiousness and her explanation of the cause.

"All baffling things wear on one," he answered, with an air of being
sympathetic.  "I know how it is, from experience.  I ’d like a
dictionary or a phrase-book myself--one that would tell me what to say
to you when you want to be ’soothed.’  Shall I go in and get a book of
verse and read aloud to you?"

"Please don’t."

"Fiction, then?

"Worse and worse."

"History?  Philosophy?  Science?  Travel?--Or humour?"

"None of them.  I don’t like to be read to--as a duty."

"Duty!  I’d be delighted."

"I should n’t, then."

"What _do_ you want?"

"Silence, I think," said the girl in the chair, with a mischievous look
at the back of her companion’s head.  Her face was demure again,
however, when he turned.  "Don’t you like just to sit and gaze off into
space on a languid night like this, and say nothing at all?"

"If you prefer to have me go home----"

"Not in the least.  I ’d like to know you were there on call--if you
would n’t talk."

A silence of some length ensued.  Brant stared moodily off over the
darkening lawn, watching distant electric lights twinkle into existence
along the rows of tree-tops which outlined the streets.  Shirley closed
her eyes.  She really was more weary than she knew.  It had been a busy
winter in the office, and she had worked hard to be able to fill the
place she held.  Her achievements in the matter of the technical French
correspondence had proved of considerable importance to the firm, and
her satisfaction at becoming so useful had led her to spend much of her
spare time in making herself proficient.

It was fully fifteen minutes--he thought it at least an hour--before
Brant looked around. He had vowed to himself that he would give her all
the silence she wanted, that he would not speak until she spoke.  But
after a time her absolute motionlessness struck him as caused by
something even less flattering to himself than her desire for absence of
speech.

"Confound it--I believe she ’s gone to sleep!" he said to himself, and
rose abruptly, to stand looking down at her, discomfited and very nearly
angry.  Of all the odd girls, one who would tell you to stop talking,
and then go off to sleep in your presence, was certainly the oddest.  He
supposed she might be tired, and with reason, but--to go to sleep!

The shaded electric bulbs, which hung at each corner of the porch, at
this moment came glowingly into life, as somebody within switched on the
current.  They were not designed to illuminate the porch strongly, only
to turn its gloom into a mellow moonlight effect.  But the light was
quite sufficient to show Brant that although Shirley’s lashes still
swept her cheek, her lips were smiling.

"It was a frightful test of your friendship, n’t it?" she murmured,
without opening her eyes.  "But you did nobly.  I never thought you
could hold out so long!"

"You--rascal!  I ’ll wager you wanted to talk, yourself, after a while."

"Of course I did.  The minute a woman gets what she wants, she
wants--something else."

"What is it now?  Me to go home?"

"How distrustful of yourself you are to-night!"

"That’s the effect you usually have on me."  Brant drew up a chair.
"Shirley," he began again abruptly, "do you know what I wish?"

"No."

"Do you want to know it?"

"Not badly."

"You don’t care a straw for me, do you?"

"Several straws."

"You do!  I say----"

A door opened.  Sophy said, deferentially, "You ’re wanted at the
telephone, if you please, Miss Shirley."

Shirley vanished.  Brant rose and paced about the porch, waiting.

"Of course it’s no use!" he said, discontentedly, to himself.  "I ’ve
got as far as this forty times--and no farther.  The next thing she did
would be to throw a soaking wet blanket over me.  I ought to be used to
it.  But she might at least take me seriously.  She never does.  It ’s
no good--this growing up with a girl and then trying to convince her
that you mean anything when you speak!"

Inside, Shirley was listening to a rapid fire of words which woke her up
as thoroughly as anything had ever done in her life.  They came in the
voice of Peter Bell, a voice at once excited and controlled:

"Shirley, the factory is on fire.  I don’t want father to hear about
it--he ’d come down--you understand.  Will you think up some way to get
him off with yourself for the next hour? We ’ll probably have to turn in
a general alarm, and if we do, somebody ’ll be sure to call him up and
tell him.  That ’s all.  I can count on you?"

"Yes--yes.  Peter----"

But Peter was already gone.  Evidently he had no time to spare for
answering questions. Shirley turned away from the telephone, thinking
rapidly.

She knew that Mr. Joseph Bell was at home, for she had seen him, an hour
earlier, training vines over the front porch.  She understood that Peter
had remained for late work at the factory office, as he so often did,
although it was now nearly nine o’clock.  And she knew well that it
would never do for Peter’s father to go down to the burning
building--the excitement of a great fire at his own place of business
would be the worst thing in the world for him.

Mr. Joseph Bell had kept steadily on at his work throughout the year,
and nothing that Peter had feared had happened.  It had been arranged
somehow so that the most fatiguing part of his duties now came upon the
broad shoulders of the son instead of the bent ones of the father.  But
it was as necessary as ever that there should be no sudden strain,
either physical or mental, and it was this which she now must prevent.

Brant Hille, waiting impatiently outside, saw Shirley fly back to him,
and looked up at her with gratification.  But her first words made him
sit up, for she spoke in haste:

"Brant, is your car ready for a start?"

"Always is.  Want to----"

"Will you get it--quick?  The Armstrong paper-factory is on fire.  Mr.
Bell mustn’t know it.  I can’t stop to explain.  I must get him away
where he won’t hear.  I ’ll go ask him and Mrs. Bell to take a drive
with us--out to the farm, perhaps.  I ’ll run over.  You drive round
there--will you?"

"Why on earth should n’t he know?  He----"

"Oh, don’t stop to talk about it.  I ’ll tell you afterward.  The
general alarm may go in any minute, and somebody will telephone him if
he’s at the house.  Quick--please!"

Of course Brant did not understand, but Shirley’s manner was not to be
taken lightly. Even as she spoke she left him and ran indoors again.
Well, if he could serve her, it would be better than having to sit
beside her in silence while she thought about technical French phrases.
Besides, he was an enthusiastic motorist, and a hurry call for the car
always gave him more or less pleasure.  He bolted across the lawn,
through the hedge by a short cut to the street, and so to his own home,
on the farther side of Worthington Square.

Shirley hurried across Gay Street, having stopped only to pick up a long
coat and scarf. She caught sight of Mrs. Bell’s light skirt at the edge
of the vine-screen of the porch.

"Isn’t it a perfect night?" Mrs. Bell heard a familiar, clear-toned
voice ask.  "Don’t you and Mr. Bell want to take a gentle little spin
down Northboro road in Mr. Hille’s car?  He ’s asked me out, and given
me leave to invite whomever I want.  I ’d love to have you."

Mr. Brant Hille--inviting Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Bell to go motoring with
him at nine o’clock on a May evening--there was no precedent for this!
But Mrs. Bell, with the intuition of the mother of young people, thought
she understood.  Shirley wanted a chaperon, and her kind young heart
prompted her to ask a pair who were not much accustomed to the delights
of automobiling in the moonlight.

"Why, yes, we’ll go," said Mr. Bell, getting up from his rocking-chair.
"We ’re all alone to-night--the young people are off at a party. If you
’ll persuade the young man not to put on too much speed."

So in less than five minutes the party were settling themselves in the
big green car, its headlights making a wide, brilliant track before it
down the quiet street.

"All ready?" asked Hille, and started the car.  As it began to move, the
distant but distinct sound of a telephone-bell struck upon Shirley’s
ear.  Mr. Bell turned his head. "Was that in our house?" he asked.

Mrs. Bell was tying a scarf over her hair, slightly muffling her ears.
She had not heard.

"Go on--fast!" breathed Shirley in Hille’s ear.  The street was nearly
empty, and he obeyed.  For a moment Mr. Bell’s attention was taken by
the new sensation of speed,--not appreciable speed, from the motorist’s
stand-point, because the car was within city limits, but to the novice
considerable.

At the intersection of Gay Street with Conner Street it was possible to
look for a moment straight down toward the heart of the city, into the
business district.  A red glare was plainly visible, although partly
dimmed by hundreds of twinkling electric lights between.

"Must be a big fire," said Mr. Bell, straining his eyes to see.  Then
the trees and houses hid the city from view.  "It was down our way, too.
I wish I could telephone the factory and find out.  Peter’s there.  He
’d know.  Might be that was our telephone-bell that rang."

"I did n’t hear any bell, dear," his wife assured him.

"A fire always looks nearer than it is," said Hille, over his shoulder,
driving on without diminishing his speed.  Instead, he accelerated it.
The street was a quiet one, there was nobody in sight.

"One summer, when I was a little girl, and we were staying in the
country, father and I walked half a mile to see a fire--and found a big
red moon coming up behind the trees," said Shirley, and talked lightly
on.

Brant seconded her efforts with skill, for which she inwardly thanked
him, and between them they soon had the thoughts of their guests far
away from the dangerous subject.  They ran quickly through the suburbs
out into the open country, taking the Northboro road, for that course
led directly away from the red glare which, as Shirley covertly glanced
back from time to time, could be clearly perceived on the western side
of the city behind them.

Gaily as she talked and laughed, the girl’s thoughts were with Peter.
He was somewhere back in that red glare, working, without doubt, if
there were anything for him to do.  She was thankful that it was after
hours, and that there were probably few of the factory hands about the
place, yet there were undoubtedly many things to be saved in the
office--books and papers and drawings.  She knew Peter well enough to be
sure that his own personal safety would be the last thing he would think
of, so long as he could do what might look like his duty to the house he
served.

The Bells did not know how far they went, nor did they guess at what a
pace.  Brant’s machine was a fine one, and he was an expert at smooth
running.  The flight through the warm moonlight was a delightful
experience, for few curves and no sharp grades gave accent to the speed,
and the hour flew by as swiftly as the road.  When they turned again
toward the city, the crimson glow upon the clouds had gone.

"The fire is out," remarked Mr. Bell, as they arrived at the top of a
small hill in the suburbs, from which he could see into the heart of the
business district.  "Hope it was n’t as serious as it looked."

But Brant’s eyes and Shirley’s, younger and sharper, could make out a
dense mass of smoke hanging over the place where the flames had been.

"It won’t do to take them home yet," thought the girl, setting her wits
at work again.

The result was an invitation to the Bells to alight at the great porch
of the Townsend house, instead of in Gay Street, with the promise of
some light refreshment.  At first they shook their heads; but Hille
declared so loudly that he knew what Shirley had to offer, and could not
think of letting them down short of the full measure of the
entertainment, that there seemed to be no way out without spoiling the
pleasure of the two young people.  So presently they were all partaking
of a hastily concocted iced drink, served with tiny cakes, and laughing
over Hille’s stories of certain college incidents, which he told with
gusto, incited thereto by Shirley’s whispered, "You ’re helping me
splendidly. Please keep it up, and I ’ll be forever in your debt."

"If there’s any way of making you forever in my debt," Brant made reply
under his breath, "I ’ll do a continuous performance for your friends
till daylight."

But such an effort as this would have been was unnecessary.  Mrs. Bell
presently took her husband away, and since it was a late hour, and no
other chaperons appeared upon the scene, Brant was forced to go, also.
He was obliged to give up making any further attempts at gaining headway
in Shirley’s good graces, for although she dismissed him with hearty
thanks, it was with an air of abstraction hardly to be wondered at.  Her
one desire was to hear the telephone-bell ring again, and learn that
although the factory might have burned to the ground, no lives were
lost--and that not a hair of her friend’s head was hurt.

She stood alone upon the porch, waiting anxiously, when the Townsend
landau drove in at the gate, bringing home Murray and Jane, who had been
out to dinner.

"There she is," said Murray, with suppressed excitement.  The next
instant he was out, had whirled Jane out also, and was grasping his
young sister’s hands.

"Don’t be frightened--it ’s all right.  But a few things have happened
this evening.  The Armstrong factory----"

"I know.  Is it gone?"

"To the foundations.  Peter found the fire, fought it alone till the
firemen came, rescued the night-watchman--played the leading part
generally--till an accident put him out.  My word!--that
fellow----Well--he ’s all right, but he ’s burned a bit, and his leg ’s
broken.  He was so confoundedly risky, trying to save the last calendar
on the wall----"

"Where is he?"

"St. Martin’s Hospital.  We ’ve just come from there.  He got his
knock-out the first half-hour after the thing began, so there ’s been
time to get him fixed up.  Our man Larrabee was at the fire, saw Peter
put into the ambulance, and telephoned me at the Kingsfords’.  Tried
three times to get his people at home, but could n’t. See here, he wants
you to tell his mother--says Jane is too much upset."

[Illustration: "’LARRABEE WAS AT THE FIRE AND SAW PETER PUT INTO THE
AMBULANCE’"]

Shirley looked at Jane.  "I ’m not upset," said Jane, but her lips were
unsteady.  Murray put his arm around her.

"You see, Larrabee thought it was worse than it was with Peter, when
they put him in the ambulance.  He was stunned by the fall that broke
his leg.  It gave Janey a bad shock, and no wonder--it did me.  But the
old boy ’s himself again, all right, and his one idea is to let his
mother know why he does n’t come home, but to keep even the news of the
factory fire from his father to-night, if he can.  We don’t see why, but
he seems to, so we ’ll follow his wishes.  It’s the least we can do for
him."

Shirley slipped through the hedge, and slowly crossed Gay Street in the
moonlight.  She was trying hard to be cool and do as Peter wanted her to
do.  If she rang, Mr. Bell would come to the door, and then how should
she manage, what excuse should she give?  She thought of a way.

"Mr. Bell," she said when he appeared, "Janey ’s come home from her
party--and she ’s had just a little bit too much party.  She feels like
a small girl again, and wants her mother to come over for a few
minutes."

"Why, of course," said Mr. Bell, heartily, from the shadow of the
doorway.  "Nothing much the matter with the little girl?"

"Oh, no--she ’ll be all right in the morning."

So Mrs. Bell crossed the road with Shirley, and the girl, with her arm
round the elder woman’s shoulders, gently told her the news.  Mrs. Bell
took it as Peter had known she would, quietly, although, aside from his
personal injury, there was much cause for anxious thought in the loss of
the factory and the consequent putting of its workers out of employment.

When Peter’s mother had gone home again, resting on Murray’s promise
that in the morning he would take her to the hospital, Shirley turned to
her brother.  He had taken Jane upstairs, and come down again, himself
too restless to go to bed.  He discovered his sister to be in a like
mood, and they sat down once more in the moonlit porch to talk it over,
regardless of the hour, which was past midnight.

"I wonder sometimes," said Murray, suddenly, when he had told Shirley in
detail all he knew of the events of the evening, "whether anybody but me
fully appreciates that chap, Peter Bell.  Do you know what I’ ve been
thinking a long time?  That he ’s the man we need at the head of one of
our departments.  From all I can learn, he ’s been growing as nearly
invaluable to the Armstrongs as a man can be, yet they have n’t raised
his salary for two years. Now ’s our chance to jump in and get him.  If
I can only convince father--and I think he ’s pretty nearly convinced--I
’ll make Peter an offer to-morrow.  Pretty good medicine for a broken
leg and burned hands--eh?"

"I should hope it would be."

"You ’d like to see him in the business, would n’t you?"

"If you think him fit for it."

"If I think him fit!  What about you?"

"How can I judge?  It’s for you to say."

Murray looked sharply at her, in the shaded light of the electric bulbs.
He smiled, for in spite of her remarkably quiet manner, her fingers,
unconsciously twisting and untwisting her delicate handkerchief, were,
as he put it to himself, "giving her away."  He had an idea that it
mattered a good deal to his sister what Peter Bell’s future might be,
although he was confident that there was no understanding between them.

If he knew Peter, that young man was not the one to ask to marry a rich
man’s daughter until his own feet were on substantial ground. But that
Peter cared, and cared very deeply, for Murray Townsend’s sister, Murray
was well assured.

"It’s for me to say, is it?" he went on, wickedly persisting in his
theme.  "But it’s for you to think!  How about having him round our
office every day--desk next mine--giving you dictation, now and then,
maybe, when it suits me to put it off on him?  Think you could stand it?
Look up at him as coolly as you do at me?  Could you, Miss Townsend,
stenographer?  See here, what are you jumping up for?"

"Because you are getting impudent," responded Miss Townsend, turning her
head so that her face was in shadow.  Her heart was beating so quickly
she was afraid her brother would recognise the fact.  It had been an
agitating evening all through, and now this last suggestion was rather
more than she could face with composure.

"I ’ve a notion P. B. himself could put up with the situation," went on
Murray, watching her.  "His dictation might be a trifle flurried at
first, and he might forget himself now and then, and ignore those purely
businesslike relations which should always exist between a business man
and his stenographer.  But I ’ve no doubt that by a judicious course of
snubbing you could----"

But he was talking to the empty air.  By a hasty flight and the abrupt
closing of a door, his sister had put herself out of range.



                               CHAPTER X

                        PETER PREFERS THE PORCH


"You ’re quite sure you want me?" asked Peter Bell.

"Quite sure," replied Murray Townsend.  The two pairs of eyes looked
into each other.

Peter’s gaze shifted to his father.  "I ’ll do it under one condition,"
he said.  "That father gives up factory work and goes to live at the old
farm."

Mr. Harrison Townsend turned also toward Mr. Joseph Bell.  He smiled
slightly, noting the hesitation of the other man.

"It’s time you and I retired, Bell," said he. "I ’ve been getting to the
point for a long time. Let’s make a bargain of it.  If you ’ll go back
to the farm, I ’ll come and spend a good share of my time there.  I ’d
like to help with the haying.  I should enjoy watching the cows come
home.  I ’ll venture to say I could drive a mowing-machine--for an hour
or two."

The four men occupied the small rear porch of the house in Gay Street,
looking out on Nancy’s garden.  Peter lay upon a couch, his leg in
splints, his hands in bandages.  After a few days at the hospital he had
been brought home, to spend the long hours of his recovery where he
could bear them best.  The other three were close by, Murray nearest.
He had put off making his proposition to Peter until he and his father
could arrive at a perfect agreement as to every term of the offer.

Joseph Bell met his son’s meaning gaze with understanding.  He knew
nothing counted with Peter as did the anxiety over his father’s physical
condition.  He had kept his boy a long time upon the rack, because of
his own unwillingness to give up his old work.  But the work was taken
away from him now; there would be a considerable interval before the
Armstrongs would be ready for him again; and he could hardly think of
trying for a new position.  Meanwhile, the haying season was
approaching.  He thought with longing of the scent of the newly cut
grass.  He could not work hard out under the sun, he knew that; but--he
could play at work.  And his friend, Harrison Townsend, rich man though
he was, was offering to play, too.

He looked at Peter and smiled, under his short gray beard.  Peter smiled
back entreatingly. Slowly Joseph Bell nodded.  "All right, Peter," he
said.  "I’ll let you have your way at last."

For a moment Peter could not speak.  He lay with dropped eyelids,
fighting lest the sudden relief from the long strain should unman him
before these who had been paying tribute to his manhood.  But after a
short space he looked from Mr. Townsend to his son.

"I ’ll come," said he, and forgetting his bandaged hands, started to
hold one out.  Then he smiled whimsically, and added in an odd tone, "If
you ’re not afraid of the bad omen in taking on a man with a pair of
hands like these?"

"Not much, when we remember what put them in that shape!" declared
Murray, in a tone of great satisfaction; and his father gave an emphatic
assent.


"What do you think ’s going to happen _now_?" cried Nancy, rushing out
upon Peter’s porch, a week later.

"Give it up.  But nothing can surprise me, after recent events," replied
Peter, removing his gaze for a moment from the morning newspaper pinned
up in front of him to the excited face of his sister, but looking
immediately back again at the absorbing column of business news he had
been with some difficulty perusing.  His hands had been slow in
recovering from the severe injuries they had received.

"This will.  Somebody’s going to be married."

"Remarkable.  But such events have occurred before in the history of
nations," replied her brother, abstractedly.

"Not at the Townsend house, for Murray married Jane over here.  Ah, ha!
I thought you ’d give me your undivided attention at last," crowed
Nancy, triumphantly.

Peter did his best to look unconcerned, but his heart had begun to thump
quite suddenly and disconcertingly.  He waited.  He forgot the
newspaper.

"Have n’t you noticed how devoted Brant Hille has been for the last
year?" Nancy demanded.

"No."

"Then you ’ve been blind."

"I ’ve been busy."

"How oddly you speak!  Is your throat sore?"

"Don’t tease, Nan.  I’m not up to it."  It was no use trying to look
unconcerned.

Nancy saw, and took pity on him, as she might not have done if he had
been upon his feet.  "It’s Olive, then--though I believe I could have
made you think it was Shirley.  It’s not Brant Hille’s fault that it is
n’t, I can tell you that.  Olive’s going to marry an Englishman she met
last summer abroad--Mr. Arthur Crewe of Manchester. It’s just announced.
The wedding ’s to be the first of July.  You ’ll be on crutches, Peter.
Is n’t that lucky?  You can go."

"Oh, yes, I ’ll dance at the wedding!" agreed Peter, looking as if the
shot that missed him had come uncomfortably close.

"It’s going to be a big wedding--a gorgeous one.  Is n’t that like
Olive?  Shirley’s to be maid of honour, and there ’ll be six
bridesmaids. Six ushers--and you ’d have been one if you had n’t broken
your leg.  Olive told me so."

"Compensation in all things," murmured Peter.

"The best man is the Englishman’s brother. Olive says he ’s stunning.
Would n’t it be funny if he and Shirley should take a fancy to each
other?  The maid of honour and the best man often do, you know."

"Very interesting.  I should say you had been taking a course of novels,
you ’re so full of possible plots."  And Peter eyed his newspaper as if
he preferred its practical columns to his sister’s outlines of
sentimental situations.  Nancy laughed.

"Shirley’s to have a vacation, for a week before the wedding.  Perhaps
she ’ll find time to get over to see you oftener, then."

"She ’s been over to see me."

"How many times?"

"Twice."

"For how long?"

"Five minutes, the first time, three, the second."

"How many other people present?"

"A dozen or so."

"Have a satisfactory visit?"

"Oh, very!"  Peter hit the newspaper with his elbow, and it fell down.
"What have you got it in for me this morning for, Sis?" he demanded,
wrathfully.

Nancy stopped laughing and looked serious. "It won’t hurt you any.  It
may wake you up. I just want you to know that I ’m honestly and truly
worried about Brant Hille."

Then she vanished, and Peter lay wishing he had two good legs, that he
might get up and go and see for himself just how much all this meant. He
read the newspaper no more that morning; it lay forgotten on the floor
where it had fallen.

The weeks went by slowly enough to the convalescent, impatient to begin
his new work, and full of plans for it.  Long talks with Murray helped
most to make the waiting endurable, and the two young men grew to know
and respect each other still more deeply than ever before. Everybody was
kind.  Both Mr. and Mrs. Townsend came often to see Peter; and even
Olive, although at times distraught with the business of preparation for
her approaching marriage, found a half-hour now and then in which to
slip across to Gay Street and talk with him.

At these times she found decided refreshment in his society, for Peter’s
ideas on the subject of matrimony were both novel and sensible, and in
after years she often found herself remembering and putting into
practice one or another of his quizzical maxims, founded on much shrewd
observation.

"You are coming to my wedding, you know," she said, on the last of these
occasions, three days before the date set for that event.  "And I want
you at dinner the evening before, so you may get to know Mr. Crewe, and
he you, as well as you can in one short evening.  I’m so disappointed he
could n’t be here all this week, as he planned."

"Dinners?--weddings?--on these sticks?" scoffed Peter, that day promoted
to crutches and finding them as yet merely invitations to ironic humour.

"Certainly.  If you make them an excuse for staying away, I shall never
forgive you."

"Please let me off from the dinner.  If you ’ll put me in the porch, and
let me be found there afterward, I ’ll agree, but I can’t hobble out to
the table on crutches of torture."

"Not even to take out Shirley?"  Olive glanced at him mischievously, and
saw him colour slightly as he answered:

"That would be an inducement if anything would.  But I ’m sure you ’ll
adopt my point of view if I beg you to."

"Then I shall have to send her in with Geoffrey Crewe--or Brant Hille."

"Will the men stay behind when the ladies come out?"

"Yes, of course."

"Then I prefer the porch," persisted Peter, comfortably; and Olive
acknowledged that he had chosen the wiser part.

So on Tuesday evening, when Shirley, in the midst of a rainbow-tinted
group of young women, floated airily out from the brightly lighted and
oppressively warm dining-room to the cool, softly lighted recesses of
the great porch, it was with a sense of refreshing change that she went
straight to the big chair by a pillar, where Peter sat waiting for her.
As she dropped into a low seat by his side, she thought she had never
seen him show to greater advantage, although he could not rise to do her
honour, and could only say, with a straight, upward glance, "This is
kind of you. I ’ve been thinking for an hour how you ’d look when you
came out that door."

"Do I look it?"

"My imagination fell a long way short.  It’s months since I ’ve seen you
in this sort of thing."

He indicated her gauzy evening frock of pale rose-colour.  A wreath of
tiny rosebuds crowned her hair; a little silver basket of roses,
ribbon-tied, lay in her lap, a dinner favour like those the others
carried, but suiting her attire with special charm.

"Do you remember our first party?" asked Shirley, smiling at him.

"I certainly do," Peter assured her.  "You had on a white dress and pink
ribbons--pink slippers, too.  You came up and slid your hand into mine,
because you saw I was feeling lonely. You were jolly kind to me that
night, and I never forgot it.  I suppose I was a pitiful object,
standing there looking on, all by myself."

"You did n’t look pitiful at all, but rather superior, if I remember,
like a big St. Bernard, condescending to watch the antics of a lot of
frolicsome terriers."

Peter threw back his head and laughed low, with a gleam of white teeth.
Whatever there might have been that was odd about Peter’s appearance at
that first party, there could be no criticism of his looks to-night.

Olive, taking critical note of Shirley’s companion, owned that she
should feel no hesitation in presenting him to Mr. Arthur Crewe and his
brother as a connection of the family.  When that moment arrived, the
American and the Englishmen appeared to take a frank liking to one
another on the spot, for the Crewes both sat down to talk, and Peter,
sitting up, met them half-way in a cordial effort to become acquainted
in the brief time allotted them.

"Will you tell me what you think of him?"  It was Olive, slipping for a
moment toward the end of the evening into the chair by Peter’s, he being
temporarily left to himself.

"I think he’s a man," said Peter, heartily, and to the point.  "There ’s
nothing better I could say than that, is there?"

"I suppose not, being one yourself.  A woman would think it necessary to
add a number of complimentary things about his appearance and his manner
and all that."

"I could do that, at a pinch," said Peter, smiling, "for my memory would
tell me that they were all right, though I thought nothing about them at
the time.  I was looking to see what it was you were going to marry, and
I found out--as far as a half-hour’s talk would show it.  I wish you
great happiness, Olive--and I believe you ’ll get it."

"Thank you," and Olive was gone again, being in constant demand, as the
central figure of the occasion.  She found time, however, to ask much
the same question of Arthur Crewe concerning Peter Bell, and received so
nearly the same sort of answer that she laughed, and told him of the
similarity in the two estimates.

"I am flattered," said Crewe, "for I don’t know when I ’ve met a young
American I ’ve liked better.  He ’s both frank and reserved--a
combination which appeals to me.  It looks a bit as if you were going to
have him in the family, I believe you told me?  I sincerely hope you
will--though, if you don’t mind my saying it, now that I see your
sister, I feel as if I ’d like to leave Geoffrey here for the summer,
with deliberate intention.  I fancy it’s too late for that, though."

"I ’m glad you like Peter.  It would be too unkind to the family to take
more than one daughter to England."

"See how well Geoffrey appreciates his privileges?" whispered Crewe,
indicating his brother, as that personable young man went by with
Shirley, his manner suggesting concentration of attention upon the
subject in hand.  Then he looked in Peter’s direction.  "The chap in the
chair isn’t deserted, is he?  I think each bridesmaid has taken a turn
at him, and he seems equal to them all."

However this might have been, Peter found himself thoroughly weary at
the end of the evening, and glad to be put into a wheeled chair and
taken home, ignominious as that mode of departure seemed.  Arthur Crewe
insisted on walking at Peter’s elbow, all the way round to the house in
Gay Street and the two parted with friendly warmth of good-will on each
side.

According to Nancy, who kept Peter informed, Geoffrey Crewe neglected
none of the opportunities afforded him by his brief visit, and in one
way and another Shirley was kept busy all the next day.  The wedding was
to take place in the evening, so Peter had plenty of time to rest and
reflect on the advantages an able-bodied man has over a temporary
cripple, as he caught glimpses, from time to time, of such sights as
Shirley driving off in the trap with the younger Englishman, or sitting
beside Brant Hille as he took a portion of the bridal party away for a
spin in his big green car.

Olive had chosen to be married at home, so every effort at effective
decoration had been expended upon the house and grounds in Worthington
Square.  For a hot night in July, it was expected that the outdoor
arrangements would be most popular, and the great lawn, with its natural
beauties of landscape-gardening enhanced by the devices of electricity
and Chinese lanterns, flowers and bunting, was like a fairyland.

"If a fellow’s will amounted to anything, a scene like this would make
him get on his legs, if both of them were only just out of the
repair-shop!" groaned Peter, as he was brought through the gates by
Rufus at an early hour.  He took note of the paths winding away through
the grounds, made enticing to promenades by every witchery of art, and
his imagination already pictured Shirley, in her maid-of-honour attire,
floating away down one of them, devotedly attended by Brant Hille or
Geoffrey Crewe.

"Cheer up.  The wounded-hero role is awfully taking with the girls, you
know," consoled Rufus, divining the tantalising effect of this stage
setting upon his handicapped brother.

"Wounded hero be shot!" retorted Peter.

"It would be the most soothing thing that could happen to him.  Would
you like to change places with him, instead of being able to dash about
in search of what you want?"

"I shouldn’t mind, if my crippled condition seemed to have the hypnotic
effect yours did last evening.  According to Nancy, the bride-elect was
n’t in it with you at posing as an interesting figure.  She said the
bridesmaids were four deep around you."

"Kind-hearted things--they were nearly the finish of me.  When I become
a society man please notify my family.  I shall not have the brains,
myself."

"I will.  Where will you be placed for the ceremony?"

"Behind a screen of palms, if possible," requested Peter.  He did not
get his wish literally, but by grace of a special plea to one of the
ushers, he was put in an inconspicuous place of great advantage, where
he could not only view the entire scene, but could watch the bridal
party during its whole course, from stair-landing to improvised altar
beneath a vine-covered canopy at one end of the long drawing-room.

Olive made a strikingly beautiful bride, as her friends had known she
would, and her bridesmaids were nearly all more than ordinarily fair--or
seemed so in their picturesque garb.  But to Peter, in all the bridal
party there was only one face and figure worth more than a moment’s
glance.  And when the maid-of-honour finally turned away from the altar
to take her position by the side of the best man for the ceremonies of
reception and congratulation which followed upon the conclusion of the
marriage service, the one onlooker who could not get up and take his
place in the gay company forming in line to greet the bridal party, was
feeling more than ever like a stranded canal-boat in the company of a
fleet of racing yachts.

They came to him, however, when they were free--Olive Crewe and her
husband, Shirley and Mr. Geoffrey Crewe, several of the bridesmaids, and
even Brant Hille, and Peter said all the things that were expected of
him, and said them well.  He might be no "society man," as he had said,
but he possessed the self-command and quickness of wit which take the
place of familiarity with such situations.  Arthur Crewe liked him
better than ever as the two shook hands, and Peter spoke his quiet but
earnest words of felicitation and prophecy for the future.

"I ’m sorry I can’t be here to see you when you get about again," said
Crewe, at parting. "I can quite fancy the energy and enthusiasm you put
into your work."

"I don’t need to see you at yours to be sure you ’re a steam-engine both
at project and performance," responded Peter, smiling.

"We ’d work jolly well together, I venture to say," said the Englishman.
"Perhaps we’ll have the chance some day."

"I wish we might," and Peter gave the friendly hand a hearty grip.
"Good-bye--good-bye. The best of luck."


Peter sat alone upon the Townsend porch, waiting for someone to come and
take him home.  Everything was over; the bridal pair had gone; the last
lingerers along the lantern-lighted paths among the shrubbery had
straggled in and reluctantly taken their departure.  The big marquee in
the centre of the lawn, where supper had been served, was empty except
for scurrying caterer’s men.  The string orchestra stationed in the
summer-house had at last stopped playing, mopped their perspiring heads,
and packed up their instruments.  Mrs. Townsend had betaken herself to
her room in a state of collapse, requiring the attendance of her husband
and Jane; and Murray paced up and down the upper hall, thinking to
himself that he had never before realised what unpleasant things
weddings were when they occurred in one’s own family.

As for Shirley, no one had laid eyes upon her since the moment when the
Townsend landau had driven away, with everybody throwing confetti, and
Olive, leaning out, had flung her bouquet straight at her sister’s feet.
Everybody had laughed as Shirley picked it up, but the girl had run away
with the white bridal roses crushed close against her breast, her lips
set tight and her eyes brilliant with unshed tears.  She and Olive had
been more to each other during this last year than ever before--and
England, as a place of permanent residence, seemed a very, very long way
off.

It was odd that at the last everybody seemed to have forgotten Peter.
Ross, laughing with a pretty girl, had walked directly past him and gone
home, unmindful.  Peter had supposed he would come back, but he did not.
The servants were busy, the quiet of the deserted porch restful, and
Peter leaned his head against one of the tall white pillars, thinking
less of the evening that was past than of the future that was,
coming--so soon as he could walk sturdily about once more.

Up through the narrowest and least conspicuous path of all, one which
few of the wedding revelers had noticed because its entrance was
designedly unlighted, came a slim white figure with bent head.  Peter,
gazing dreamily out over the lawn, saw it at once, and recognised it
with a start of gladness.

Shirley came on across the velvety grass without looking up, and slowly
ascended the porch steps with her eyes still cast down. Reaching the
top, she turned about and stood leaning against the pillar, on the other
side of which was Peter’s chair, without noticing his presence, staring
off at the rainbow-tinted lights, and seeing a little misty halo about
each one.

When she had stood motionless there for some time, Peter spoke, so
quietly that he hardly startled her.  She turned about with a little
choking breath, said, "Oh, is it you?" in a tone of relief, and resumed
her former position.

"I wish I could help make it easier," said Peter, very gently.  "You ’ve
made things easier for me so many times, first and last."

"You do," said Shirley, in a half-whisper.

"Do I?  I’m glad.  But how?"

"Just by being there."

Peter’s face lighted up.  This was a most unusual tribute from his
independent little friend. He got slowly to his crutches, and with a
greater effort than he had yet made, came stumping round to her side of
the pillar, and stood near her, leaning against a great green tub which
held a towering palm.  He felt somehow as if he must be literally upon
his feet in order to stand by her in this crisis.

Both were silent again for some minutes, until suddenly Shirley looked
round at him, and exclaimed, "Why, I mustn’t let you stand like this!
Please sit down again."

"Not unless you do."

"Why?  I ’m not tired."

"But I want to be near you.  I ’ve done nothing all the evening but envy
the men who could get about and do things for you."

"You ’ll soon be walking off at your usual breakneck pace," said
Shirley, the colour coming back with a rush into cheeks which had been
pale since Olive went.

"To the office--yes--your office.  I can hardly wait.  But I wonder
sometimes if I can keep my wits and do my work there."

"Why not?"

"Don’t you know why?"

Shirley’s little moist ball of a handkerchief was all at once being
clutched very tight in her fingers.  She shook her head.

"I think you do.  I think you must know why I ’m half out of my head
with the prospect of being manager of the new house of Townsend & Son."

"I ’m glad that you like the prospect," said Shirley, in the lowest of
voices, and looking anywhere but at Peter.

"Are you?  Do _you_ like it?"

"Very much."

Peter forgot his crutches, and one of them fell with a rattle at
Shirley’s feet.  She would have bent to pick it up, but he prevented
her, and laboriously reached for it himself.

"I ’m not going," said Peter, deliberately, "to let you wait on me, when
all in life I want is the chance to serve you--all my life."

"It would be a very poor partnership," said Shirley, in a half-whisper,
after a minute--and Peter’s heart stopped beating--"if the serving were
all on one side"--and Peter’s heart went thumping on again, though not
in proper rhythm.

"Partnership!  _Is_ it a partnership, Shirley?"

She nodded.  But she moved three steps out of reach.  Peter made a hasty
movement, and both crutches slipped down to the floor with a crash, and
slid away off the edge of the porch to the ground.  Peter glared after
them.  Then he looked at Shirley, standing there, rose-cheeked, her
tear-wet eyes now full of laughter.

"Oh, _please_ get them for me, dear!" he pleaded. "Or--no--never mind
the crutches!  Just--_come here_!"





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