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Title: The Carter Girls' Mysterious Neighbors
Author: Speed, Nell, 1878-1913
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Carter Girls' Mysterious Neighbors" ***

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  [Illustration: The popovers had popped just right.
  (_Frontis_)    (_The Carter Girls' Mysterious Neighbors_)]



  THE CARTER GIRLS'
  MYSTERIOUS NEIGHBORS

  By NELL SPEED

  AUTHOR OF

  "The Molly Brown Series," "The Tucker
  Twins Series," etc.

  [Illustration]

  A. L. BURT COMPANY
  Publishers      New York
  Printed in U. S. A.



  Copyright, 1931
  BY
  HURST & COMPANY

  MADE IN U. S. A.



Contents


      I. EN ROUTE TO THE FARM                     7
     II. THE LANDLADIES AND A NEW ACQUAINTANCE   19
    III. THE COUNT                               38
     IV. GRANTLY                                 56
      V. VALHALLA                                63
     VI. CHLOE                                   76
    VII. BOBBY'S BLAME PAY                       90
   VIII. SATURDAY                               107
     IX. GOLDILOCKS' CHAIRS                     118
      X. NOVEMBER                               133
     XI. PARADISE                               153
    XII. HERZ                                   167
   XIII. GOOSE STEPPING                         189
    XIV. AN EIGHTEENTH BIRTHDAY                 197
     XV. BLACK SOCIALISM                        211
    XVI. DRESSING FOR THE BALL                  221
   XVII. THE BALL                               231
  XVIII. ANGEL'S FOOD                           247
    XIX. A LITTLE LEARNING                      255
     XX. IN THE MEANTIME                        262
    XXI. THE FLAMING SWORD                      272
   XXII. A NEAT TRICK                           287
  XXIII. VISITORS AT PRESTON                    294
   XXIV. THE CARRIER PIGEON                     308



The Carter Girls' Mysterious Neighbors



CHAPTER I

EN ROUTE TO THE FARM


"How I hate being poor!" exclaimed Helen Carter, looking ruefully at her
darned glove.

"Me, too!" echoed the younger sister, Lucy.

"Shh! Father will hear you," admonished Douglas.

"Nobody can hear above the rattle of this horrid old day coach,"
declared Helen. "There is something about the odor of a common coach
that has spent its life hauling commuters from home to work--from work
to home, that sickens me," and Helen's sensitive nostrils quivered in
disgust.

"I'm sorry, dear; I know it is all so hard on you," said Douglas.

"Not a bit harder on me than it is on you."

"Not a bit!" from Lucy.

"I think it must be," smiled Douglas. "I have an idea Nature did not
intend me to ride in Pullmans. I am really just as comfortable in a
day coach and I think they are lots more airy and better ventilated.
What do you think about it, Nan?"

"Oh, I like 'em--such interesting types," drawled Nan. "You get to your
destination sooner, too, as the Pullman is always hitched onto the back
end of the train."

"I can't see anything very interesting in commuters, I must say,"
laughed Helen, "but Nan was always easy to please."

"Yes, Nan is our philosopher," said Douglas.

"Well, since Lucy and I are to join the army of commuters it would be
foolish of us not to find them interesting. Don't you remember Mrs.
Doasyouwouldbedoneby? If we find them interesting maybe they will return
the compliment."

"Yes, and I remember Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid, too," declared Douglas,
exchanging a sly glance with Helen.

The two older sisters could not help seeing that a nice looking boy
sitting across the aisle had already found something to interest him in
the dreamy brown eyes of one courageous commuter to be. His own grey
eyes were twinkling with merriment. Evidently the rattle of the despised
coach had not drowned the conversation so far as he was concerned. He
had made some pretense of studying, but Latin Comp. was deadly dull in
comparison with the chatter of the Carter girls.

The Carters were _en route_ to their winter quarters, chosen after much
discussion and misgivings as the best place they could find for all
concerned. The doctor had pronounced the ultimatum: Mr. Carter must be
in the country for another year at least and he must have no business
worries. He must live out-of-doors as much as possible and no matter
how perplexing the problems that in the natural course of events would
arise in a household, they were not to be brought to the master of that
household. As Mrs. Carter had determined many weeks before to play the
rôle of a lily of the field, announcing herself as a semi-invalid, who
was to be loved and cherished and waited on but not to be worried, it
meant that Douglas, as oldest child, must be mother and father as well.
Hers was the thankless task of telling her sisters what they must and
must not do, and curbing the extravagance that would break out now and
then in spots. Small wonder that it was the case, as, up to a few months
before this, lavish expenditure had been the rule in the Carter family
rather than the exception.

They had spent a wonderful summer running a week-end boarding camp on
the side of a mountain in Albemarle County. It had been a remarkable
thing for these young girls to have undertaken and accomplished, all
untrained as they were. But when their father's nervous breakdown came
and the realization that there was no more money in the family till, and
none likely to be there unless they could earn it, right manfully they
put their young shoulders to the wheel and with a long push and a strong
push and a push all together they got their wagon, if not hitched to a
star, at least moving along the highroad of life and making some
progress.

Dr. George Wright, the nerve specialist who had undertaken Mr. Carter's
cure, had been invaluable in their search for the proper place in which
to spend the winter, this winter that was to put the keystone in their
father's recovery. Such a place was not easy to find, as it must be near
enough to Richmond for Nan and Lucy to go to school. That was one time
when Douglas put her foot down most emphatically. The two younger girls
were quite willing to follow in their sister Helen's footsteps and
"quiturate," but Douglas knew that they must be held to their tasks.
She bitterly regretted her own inability to continue her education, as
college had been her dream, and she also deplored the fact that Helen
was not able to spend the one more year at school necessary for her
graduation. As for Helen, not having to go to school was the one bright
spot for her in the whole sordid business, at least she had boldly
declared such was the case.

The winter was to be a busy one for Helen, as the home work was to fall
to her share. Douglas, by a great piece of good luck, had obtained a
place as teacher in a district school not far from the little farm that
had been selected as the abiding place for the Carter family during that
winter of 1916 and '17. The teacher who had been employed had been
called away by private affairs, and Douglas had fallen heir to the
position.

The train rocked and swayed and bumped on the illy-laid road-bed as our
girls sped on to their destination. Mrs. Carter in a seat across the
aisle had placed her tired head on her husband's shoulder. The poor
little lady felt in her heart of hearts that all of this going to
out-of-the-way country places to spend winter months was really absurd,
but then it was absurd to be poor anyhow, something she had not
bargained for in her scheme of existence. She had said not a word,
however, but had let Douglas and that stern Dr. Wright manage
everything. She felt about as capable of changing the plans of her
family as her youngest child, Bobby, might.

Bobby, who had spent the time on the train most advantageously, having
made friends with the brakeman and conductor, was now sitting in an
alert attitude, as his new friends had informed him that there were only
five minutes more before they would reach Grantly, their destination.
Going to the country was just what he wanted and he was preparing to
have a glorious time with no restrictions as to clean face and hands. To
be sure, he had heard that he was to go to school, but since Douglas was
to be the teacher this fact was not disturbing him much.

The summer in the mountains had done much to develop this darling of the
Carters. He no longer looked so much like an angel as when we were first
introduced to the family. His curls were close cropped now and he was
losing teeth faster than he was gaining them. If there could be such a
thing as a snaggled tooth angel perhaps that celestial being would
resemble Bobby Carter; but I am sure if that angel could have thought up
as much mischief in a week as Bobby could execute in an hour, he would
have met the fate of Lucifer and been hurled from Heaven. It may be,
though, that if Lucifer had possessed such eyes as this little boy he
would have been forgiven and might still be in his happy home. It was an
impossibility to harbor wrath against Bobby if once you looked in his
eyes. They were like brown forest pools. His sister Nan had the same
eyes and the same long curling lashes. The shape and color of their eyes
were inherited from their beautiful little mother, but the soulful
expression that the children possessed was something that came from
within and is not controlled by laws of heredity. Mrs. Carter's eyes if
they reminded one of forest pools were certainly very shallow pools.

"At last!" as the brakeman called out their station, came with a sigh of
relief from the whole family.

The station consisted of a platform and a little three-sided shed
designed to shield the traveler from the weather, if the weather did not
happen to arrive on the unprotected fourth side.

"They promised to meet us," said Douglas as she collected parcels and
umbrellas, "but I don't see a sign of them."

"Maybe they are on the other side," suggested the hopeful Nan, peering
through the window.

They weren't, however, nor anywhere in sight. Douglas and Helen looked
at each other askance. The two older girls were the only ones in the
family who had seen their future abode and they felt very responsible.
This hitch of not being met was most disconcerting. They had felt if
everything went off smoothly and well their choice of a home would be
smiled upon. First, the day they moved must be good, and this day in
October was surely perfect. The packing must be done without bustle
and confusion, and that had been accomplished. They must have a good
luncheon before leaving Richmond, and Miss Elizabeth Somerville, who had
invited them to her house, had feasted her cousins most royally, sending
them forth with well-nourished bodies and peaceful minds in consequence.
This was the first obstacle to their carefully laid plans. They were to
learn that no plan depending in any particular on the coöperation of
their landladies, the Misses Grant, would go through safely.

Miss Ella and Miss Louise Grant were joint owners of the small farm that
the glib real estate agent had persuaded Dr. Wright and our girls was
the one and only place in which the winter could be comfortably spent.

"Excellent air and water; close to schools and churches; neighborhood as
good as to be found in Virginia, and what more could be said? House one
of the old landmarks of the county; the view from the front porch quite
a famous one; R. F. D. at yard gate; commuting distance from Richmond;
roads excellent, as we have found on our way here." They had motored out
and certainly the roads had seemed very good.

The Misses Grant were all that was left of a large and at one time
influential family. They lived in a great old mansion erected in the
middle of what was at one time a vast estate but which had gradually
shrunk through generations of mortgages until now it comprised about two
thousand acres. The name of this old place was Grantly.

The farm that Helen and Douglas had rented for the year was only called
a farm by courtesy, as it had in its holding only about ten acres. It
had at one time been the home of the overseer of Grantly when that
aristocratic estate could boast an overseer. It was too humble an abode
to have a name of its own, but our girls were determined to give it a
name when they found out what would suit it. Now they stood on the
platform of the tiny station and said in their hearts that such a place,
belonging to such unreliable persons, deserved no name at all.

"Oh, I'm so sorry they haven't sent to meet us. They told me if I would
write to them they would have a carriage and a farm wagon here," wailed
Douglas.

"Why not walk?" suggested Mr. Carter. "A quarter of a mile is nothing."

"Oh, do let's walk!" exclaimed Lucy. "We can just leave the luggage
here and get someone to come back for it."

"All of you can walk," came faintly from Mrs. Carter. "Just leave me
here alone. I don't fancy anything much will happen to me."

"But Mumsy, only a quarter of a mile!" begged Lucy.

"Why, my child, I never expect to walk more than a few blocks again as
long as I live."

Mr. Carter looked pained and ended by staying with his wife while the
four girls and Bobby trooped off to find someone to send for them.

"Why does Mother say she never expects to walk more than a few blocks
again as long as she lives?" blurted out Lucy. "Is she sick? She looks
to me like she's getting fat."

"Tell her that," suggested Nan, "and I bet you she will find she can
walk a teensy little more than a few blocks."



CHAPTER II

THE LANDLADIES AND A NEW ACQUAINTANCE


"This is a long quarter of a mile," said Nan, trying to keep up with her
more athletic sisters.

"The agent told us a quarter of a mile, but I reckon he meant as the
crow flies. He did not allow for all the twistings and turnings of this
lane," laughed Helen.

"It is a very pretty walk, anyhow, and I'm glad we are not so close to
the track because of Bobby," said the philosophic Nan.

"Shucks! You needn't be a-thinkin' I can't find my way back to that old
station," said that young hopeful. "I wisht it was barefoot time and I
would wade in that branch."

They were crossing a pretty little stream that intersected the road. Of
course Bobby took occasion to slip off the stepping-stones and get his
foot wet.

"S'long as one is wet I reckon I might as well get th' other one wet,
too," and he stepped boldly into the stream. "Sqush! Sqush! Ain't this a
grand and glorious feeling?"

"Oh, Bobby!" chorused his sisters.

"'Tain't gonter make no diffunce! My 'ployer says sech things as this
toughen kids."

Bobby always called Dr. Wright his employer, as it had been his habit to
go with that young physician while he was making his professional calls,
his duties being to hold out his arm when they were turning corners or
preparing to stop; and to sit in the car and guard his 'ployer's
property from the depredations of hoodlums and micks.

"I don't think some kids need toughening," said Nan, trying to look
severe.

"Yes'n I gotter joke on you, too! They was a pretty near grown-up boy on
the train wanted to know what yo' name was. I was jawin' the inductor
an' the boy comed and plunked hissef down by me an' he axed me what was
my name and where I was a-gointer, an' was all'n you my aunts or what.
He was so busy a-findin' out he come near a-missing his gettin' off
place. He lives jus' befo' our gettin' off place."

"Oh, that must have been the good-looking boy sitting opposite us, just
behind Mother and Father! You noticed him, Douglas, didn't you?" asked
Helen.

"Well, he wasn't a-noticin' you much," proceeded the _enfant terrible_.
"He wanted mostly to know what was Nan's name an' where she went to
school."

"Surely you didn't tell him!" blushed Nan.

"Sho' nix! I told him yo' name was Lizajane an' you was a-clerkin' in
the five an' ten."

"Oh, Bobby!"

Nobody could help laughing at the saucy youngster, and his sisters were
ever inclined to find him amusing and altogether delightful in spite of
his outrageousness. Their laughter rang out clear and infectious.
First they laughed at Bobby and then they laughed for the pure joy of
laughing. Douglas forgot her burdens and responsibilities; Helen forgot
how she hated to be poor; Nan forgot that the quarter of a mile she was
going to have to trudge twice a day to join the army of commuters was
much nearer half a mile and she was not a very energetic girl; Lucy
had nothing to forget or regret, being only thirteen with a perfect
digestion. For the moment all of them forgot the nerve-worn father and
the hypochondriacal mother waiting so forlornly at the station with the
luggage piled so hopelessly at one end.

In the midst of their gale of laughter they heard the hum of a motor and
the toot of a horn. A large touring car came swerving around the curve
in the road.

"That's him now!" cried the delighted Bobby.

It was no other than the boy on the train. He stopped his car and with
crimson face began to stammer forth unintelligible words.

"Excuse me!--but--that is a--you see I---- Oh, hang it all! er--my name
is William--Will--Billy Sutton."

"Oh, he's plum nutty an' thinks he's Billy Sunday--Billy Nut Sunday!"
and Bobby danced gleefully in his squshy shoes.

"Bobby! Behave yourself!" said Douglas, trying to swallow the laugh she
was in the midst of.

"We was jes' a-talkin' about you," said Bobby, with his most disarming
smile.

"About me?" and the young fellow choked his engine.

"Yes, I was a-tellin'----"

But here Helen took her little brother in hand. Helen could usually
manage him better than any of the others. She whispered some mysterious
something to him which quickly sobered him.

"I don't want you to think I am impertinent or interfering, but your
little brother told me on the train coming out that your mother and
father were both ill----"

"Yes, I told him they were likely to die mos' any time."

"And I heard at the post-office at Preston, where I live, that you have
rented the farm from the Misses Grant; also that those ladies were not
expecting you until tomorrow----"

"But I wrote we would be there today, Wednesday!" exclaimed Douglas.

"That doesn't make a bit of difference to Miss Ella and Miss Louise
Grant," laughed the boy. "They never get anything straight because they
discuss every subject so thoroughly that they are all mixed up before
they get through. Anyhow, they did not meet you, and if you don't think
I am pushing or forward or something----"

"Butinsky!" suggested Bobby, but Helen slipped her hand over his pert
little mouth.

"Thank you for that word--butinsky--why, I should like the privilege of
going after your mother and father and bringing all the luggage my car
will hold."

"Oh, you are too kind!" chorused the girls.

"Let me take all of you first to the farm."

"We must go by Grantly to let the ladies know we are here," suggested
Douglas.

"They are both of them at the farm. I saw them as I came by."

"Did you tell them we had come?"

"No! They were sure to let me know it was none of my business, and, as
I was fully aware of the fact, I just drove on by, hoping to be of more
service to you in this way."

The girls and Bobby piled into the car assisted by the boy, who handed
them in with pleasing gallantry. By adroit manoeuvering he managed to
get Nan in front, although the irrepressible did squeeze in, too.

"I must sit in front so I can poke out my arm. Maybe you is huntin' a
shover. I'm Dr. Wright's shover in town an' up'n the mountings. He don't
mind my having two jobs in off times when he ain't a-needin' me."

"Well, then, I'll employ you right now," said Billy Sutton, solemnly.

"I think maybe it is in order for us to introduce ourselves," said
Douglas. "This is Helen Carter; and this, Nan; and this, Lucy; I am
Douglas; and Bobby has already been noticed enough."

Hands were shaken and then they started gaily off.

"It seems a long quarter of a mile from the station to the farm, but
maybe it is because I am lazy," said Nan, who was unfeignedly glad of
a lift.

"Who said it was only a quarter of a mile? It is exactly three
quarters."

Two minutes brought them to the farm gate, where Billy deposited the
occupants of the back seat. It was decided that Nan and Bobby were to go
on to the station with their new friend and benefactor and explain him
to Mr. and Mrs. Carter.

"Oh, Douglas, isn't the place sweet? Lucy, don't you like it?" asked
Helen as they opened the big gate that led from the road into the lawn
of their new abode.

"Great! It looks so romantical."

"I was so afraid it wasn't going to be as nice as we thought it was
because the real estate agent was so glib and rattled on so he confused
us. I was afraid he had hypnotized us into liking it. But it is lovely,"
and Douglas breathed a great sigh of relief.

Indeed it was lovely; lovelier, I fancy, than the real estate agent
dreamed. The lawn was spacious, with soft rolling contours and a few
great trees, some of them centuries old. In the front a mighty oak stood
guard at one corner and an elm at another. Nearer the house a straight
young ash and a willow oak divided the honors. At one side of the quaint
old house a great mock orange had established a precedent for mock
oranges and grown into a tree, just to show what a mock orange is
capable of when not confined to the limitations of a hedge. Its trunk
was gnarled and twisted and because of careful pruning of lower branches
it had grown like a huge umbrella with limbs curving out from the parent
stem and almost touching the ground all around.

"What a grand place to play house and tell secrets!" thought Lucy,
regretting that thirteen years old, almost fourteen, was too great an
age to indulge in dolly tea parties.

A grove of gum trees glorified the back yard with their brilliant
October foliage. There never was such a red as the gum tree boasts and
these huge specimens were one blaze of color. The trunks had taken on a
hoary tone that contrasted pleasantly with the warm tints of the leaves.

The yard contained about four acres enclosed by a fence that had been
covered entirely by honeysuckle, and even then a few blossoms were
making the air fragrant. In the back there were several rather
tumble-down outhouses, but these, too, were covered with honeysuckle
as though by a mantle of charity.

The house had been added to from time to time as the race of overseers
had felt the need. These additions had been made with no thought of
congruity or ornamentation, but since utility had been the ruling
thought the outcome was on the whole rather artistic. The original
house, built in the first years of the nineteenth century, had a
basement dining-room, a large chamber over this and two small,
low-ceilinged attic rooms. Later a shed room had been built at one
side in the back, then a two-story addition had reared itself next to
that with no apparent connection with the main house, not even a
family resemblance. This two-storied "lean-to" was known always as
"the new house," although it had been in existence some threescore
years. There were two rooms and two halls in this addition and it had
a front porch all its own. The old house also boasted a front porch,
with a floor of unplaned boards and posts of rough cedar. But who
minds cedar pillars when Washington's bower has done its best to cover
them up? As for unplaned boards with cracks between: what a good place
to sweep the dirt!

The green blinds were open all over the house and windows were raised.
As our girls stood on the lawn drinking in the beauty and peace of the
scene they heard loud and angry voices proceeding from the basement
window.

"Louise Grant, you are certainly foolish! Didn't I tell you they
wouldn't be coming down here yesterday? Here you have littered up this
place with flowers and they will all be faded by tomorrow. I have told
you a million times I read the letter that Douglas Carter wrote and she
said distinctly she was coming on Thursday." This in a loud, high,
commanding tone as though the speaker was determined to be heard. "You
needn't put your hands over your ears! I know you can hear me!"

"That's all right, Ella Grant," came in full contralto notes; "just
because they didn't come yesterday is no sign they did not say they were
coming that day. I read the note, too, and if you hadn't have been so
quick to burn it I guess I could prove it. Those flowers are not doing
anybody any harm and I know one thing--they smell a sight better than
that old carbolic you are so fond of sprinkling around."

"I thought I heard the three train stop at the crossing," broke in the
high, hard voice.

"No such thing! I noticed particularly."

"Nonsense! You were so busy watching that Sutton boy racing by in his
car that you didn't even know it was train time. What John Sutton means
by letting that boy drive that car I can't see. He isn't more than
fourteen----"

"Fourteen! Ella Grant, you have lost your senses! He is twenty, if he
is a day. I remember perfectly well that he was born during the Spanish
war."

"Certainly! That was just fourteen years ago."

The girls couldn't help laughing. It happened that it was eighteen years
since the Spanish war, as our history scholar, Lucy, had just learned.
That seemed to be the way the sisters hit the mark: one shooting far in
front, one far behind.

"We had better knock," whispered Helen, "or they will begin to break up
the china soon."

She accordingly beat a rat-tat on the open front door of the old house.

"Someone is knocking!" exclaimed the contralto.

"Not at all! It's a woodpecker," put in the treble.

One more application of Helen's knuckles and treble was convinced.

"That time it was a knock," she conceded.

There was a hurrying and scurrying, a sound of altercation on the
stairs leading from the basement to the front hall.

"Why do you try to go first? You know perfectly well I can go faster
than you can, and here you have started up the steps and I can't get by.
You fat----"

"If you can go so much faster, why didn't you start up the steps first?"
panted the contralto.

"Don't talk or you'll never get up the steps! Save your wind for
climbing."

The bulky form of Miss Louise hove in sight and over her shoulder the
girls could see the stern countenance of her long, slim sister. How
could two such different looking persons be born of one mother? Miss
Louise was all breadth and no height; Miss Ella, all height and no
breadth. Miss Louise was dark of complexion, with coal-black hair
streaked with grey; Miss Ella was a strawberry blonde with sandy hair
streaked with grey. Age that brought the grey hair seemed about the only
thing they had in common, except, of course, the estate of Grantly. That
had been willed to them by their father with a grim humor, as he must
have been well aware of their idiosyncrasies. They were to hold the
property together with no division, the one who survived to inherit
the whole.

"Well!" said Miss Ella over the shoulder of her sister, who refused to
give her right of way but who was silenced for the moment by shortness
of breath. "Why did you come today when you wrote you were coming
to-morrow?"

"I did not write I was coming tomorrow," said Douglas, smiling in spite
of herself.

"There! What did I tell you?" panted Miss Louise. "You said Tuesday,
didn't you, honey?" with ingratiating sweetness.

"No, Miss Grant, I said Wednesday."

The incident was closed. The wrangling sisters had no more to say on the
subject except to apologize for not having them met. It was explained
that Billy Sutton had gone to get Mr. and Mrs. Carter, but the trunks
must be sent for. Quite humbly Miss Ella went to get her farmhand to
hitch up the mules to drive to the station, while Miss Louise showed
the girls over the house.

Everything was in beautiful order and shining with cleanliness. The
white pine floors were scrubbed until they reminded the girls of biscuit
boards, and very lovely did the bright rag rugs look on these floors.
The furniture was very plain with the exception of an occasional bit of
fine old mahogany. A beautiful old highboy was not too proud to stay in
the same room with a cheap oak dresser, and in the basement dining-room
a handsome mahogany table democratically mingled with split-bottom
chairs.

Miss Louise had put flowers everywhere for their reception the day
before and the whole house was redolent of late roses and mignonette
and citronella. An occasional whiff of carbolic acid and chloride of
lime gave evidence of the indomitable practicality of Miss Ella.

Miss Louise proved very sweet and kindly when not in her sister's
presence and later on the girls found Miss Ella to be really very
agreeable. Both ladies seemed to be bent on showing kindness and
consideration to their tenants to make up for the mistake about their
day of arrival.

Mr. and Mrs. Carter could not help thinking that the place their
daughters had chosen for them to spend the winter was pretty. As they
rolled up in Billy's car the quaint house and beautiful lawn certainly
presented a most pleasing aspect, and their handsome daughters were an
added loveliness to the landscape as they hurried to meet their parents.

"Ah, this is great!" exclaimed Mr. Carter, taking a deep breath of the
pure fresh air. "I think I shall have to have a cow and some pigs and do
some fall plowing besides. Eh, Helen? You and I are to be the
stay-at-homes. What do you think?"

"I think what you think, Daddy," answered Helen, smiling happily over
her father's show of enthusiasm. Dr. Wright had told her that with
returning healthy nerves would come the enthusiasm that before his
illness had seemed to be part of Robert Carter's make-up.

"How do you like it, Mumsy?" asked Douglas as she drew her arm through
her mother's.

"Very nice, I am sure, but I think it would be wiser for me to go to bed
now. I am not very strong and if I can give up before I drop it would be
less trouble for my family," and Mrs. Carter took on a most plaintive
accent. "A little tea and toast will be all I want for my supper."

"Oh now, it will be too bad for you to go to bed," said Miss Ella. "We
were planning to have all of you come up to Grantly for supper."

She and Miss Louise seemed to have agreed for once on the propriety of
having their tenants to supper.

"The count is coming," said Miss Louise, with a sentimental note in her
full voice.

"The count! Who is the count?" asked Mrs. Carter with some show of
animation and interest.

"He is a nobleman who has settled in our neighborhood," said Miss Ella
in a matter-of-fact tone, as though noblemen were the rule rather than
the exception in her life.

"Maybe it would be possible for me to take a short rest and come to
Grantly," said Mrs. Carter, with a quickening in her pretty eyes.

At mention of the count, Billy Sutton pretended to be much occupied with
his engine, but Nan noticed a slight curl on his lip as he bent over the
wheel.



CHAPTER III

THE COUNT


"Isn't it fine not to have to bother about supper?" said Helen, as she
and Douglas were attempting to get some order out of the chaos of trunks
that had been brought from the station and systematically put in the
wrong place by the good-natured, shambling, inefficient darky who served
as factotum to the Misses Grant.

Helen and Douglas had decided to take one attic room in the old house
for their bedroom; Bobby was to have the other; the large chamber below
them was to serve as family sitting-room; Nan and Lucy were to have the
upstairs room in the new house; Mr. and Mrs. Carter the lower room; the
shed room was to serve as guest chamber when needed; the dining-room was
in the basement. Over the outside kitchen was another extremely low
attic room that was to be the servant's bedroom, when they got her.
This room was accessible from the kitchen by a flight of primitive
chicken steps, that is, accessible to the young and agile.

The two servants the Carters had had at the week-end camp had been eager
to come with them to the country, but Douglas and Helen had decided that
they were expensive luxuries, and as much as they hated to part with
them, had determined to have a country girl, accustomed to less wages
than Susan, and to do without a manservant in place of the faithful, if
high-priced, Oscar. Dr. Wright had insisted that some chores were
indispensable for Mr. Carter, such as chopping wood, carrying water,
etc., and that gentleman was eager to assist wherever he could.

"Surely you are not going to dress up to go out to supper this evening,"
said Douglas, as Helen shook out a pretty little old-rose dinner gown, a
leftover from the time when the Carters purchased clothes for every
occasion and for every passing style and season.

"I am going to dress suitably, but I don't call it dressing up," said
Helen, hunting for the stockings to match the gown. "I think Father is
well enough for me to wear silk stockings this evening," she said a
little wistfully. We all remember that in the first throes of agony over
her father's nervous breakdown Helen had taken an oath not to wear silk
stockings until he was well. "What do you think, Douglas?"

"Of course, you goose, just so you don't have to buy the stockings,"
laughed Douglas. "I am going to wear what I have on, I can tell you
that. There is a lot to do to get the beds made up and the house ready
to sleep in, and I have no idea of unpacking my own trunk until
tomorrow," and Douglas unlocked the trunk that held the bed linen.

"Oh, Douglas, please put on your grey crêpe de chine! I'll get it out
for you and find your stockings and everything," begged Helen. "I don't
think it is very respectful to our hostesses for you not to be suitably
dressed."

"Is it altogether our hostesses you are thinking about?" teased Douglas.

"Whom else should I consider?"

"How about the count?"

"Well, naturally I can't help thinking some about a nobleman," declared
Helen frankly. "Do you fancy he is young or old, rich or poor, handsome
or ugly? I am wild to see him."

"I can't imagine. They didn't even say what he was a count of. I hope he
is not German. I must say I'd hate to put on my best dress for a German
count," laughed Douglas.

"Why, Douglas, I wouldn't be so biased as all that. As long as our
country is neutral, I don't think it is fair for us to take such a
stand. I'd rather dress up for a German count than--than--a Russian
anarchist or maybe an Australian Bushman."

"Well, I am not pining to dress up for anybody, but if I must, I must.
How about Mumsy?"

"She has already got out her black lace and is going to wear her pearls.
She is trying to persuade Father into his tuxedo but I fancy he will
rebel."

"Mercy on us! I thought we would never have to dress in this
out-of-the-way spot," sighed Douglas.

"Well, I for one am glad to have a chance to dress. It seems to me we
have been khakied to death all summer, and I believe people deteriorate
when they stay in the same old clothes year in and year out. I could
wish my old-rose had another width in it. Skirts are much broader this
fall. The sleeves are quite right, though,--sleeves haven't changed
much."

Poor Helen! It was a keen misery to her not to be in the latest style.
She had a natural taste for dress and the tendency to overrate the
importance of clothes had been fostered in her by her frivolous mother.
Douglas, on the other hand, had a tendency to underrate the value of
dress and her inclination was to be rather careless of her attire.

After much scrabbling and stirring up of trunks the whole family was
dressed in what Mrs. Carter and Helen considered suitable garments, with
the exception of Mr. Carter, who could not be coerced into a dinner
coat.

"I can't think that a quiet supper in the country with two old ladies
who are renting us the overseer's cottage could possibly call for formal
dressing. Of course, you women know best what you want to wear, and very
handsome all of you look I am sure, but you must excuse me."

"That's what I say!" exclaimed Bobby, putting his hands in his pockets
and trying to balance himself with his feet very far apart. "Me'n Father
certainly do nachelly hate clean clothes. When I gits to be growed up,
I'm gonter be a barefoot tramp an' ain't never gonter wash nor nothin'."
Bobby was still smarting and indignant from the polishing Helen had
seemed to think the occasion demanded, especially concentrating on his
long-suffering ears.

"Sometimes I wisht I hadn't never had my curls cut off. Folks weren't
near so 'ticular 'bout my yers when I had curls. They kinder hid 'em."

"But, Bobby, when you are going to have supper with a count you must be
very carefully dressed," explained Lucy. "Counts are not just common
persons like us."

"I thank you I'm no common person," drawled Nan. "I'm a good American
and fit to dine with any count living. That's the way Douglas and I
feel. We wouldn't have changed our dresses if Mother and Helen hadn't
made such a point of it."

"Good for you, Nan!" and her father put his arm around her. "Of course
you must dress as your mother sees fit, but don't, for goodness' sake,
think a man, because he is a count or even a king, must be treated
differently from any other gentleman of your acquaintance."

They were on their way to Grantly, only about five minutes' walk from
the farmhouse. The sun had set in a blaze of glory but already the great
October moon was doing her best to take his place. There was a hint of
frost in the air and our Carters were bringing their appetites with them
to grace the board of their hospitable landladies.

"I do hope Miss Ella and Miss Louise won't quarrel all the time,"
whispered Helen as they approached the imposing mansion.

"They remind me of the blue and white seidlitz powders," said Douglas:
"bound to sizzle when you mix 'em. They are so mild and gentle when they
are apart and the minute they get together--whiz!"

Mrs. Carter cast a triumphant glance at her husband as they entered the
parlor at Grantly. The Misses Grant were dressed in rustling black silk
with old lace berthas and cuffs, and the gentleman who sprang to his
feet, bringing his heels together with a click as he bowed low, was
attired in a faultlessly fitting dress suit.

Helen's questions were answered by one glance at this distinguished
stranger; certainly he was young and handsome; the chances were that he
was also not poor. That cut of dress suit did not go with poverty, nor
did the exquisite fineness of his linen. Douglas's question of his
nationality remained to be solved. "Count de Lestis" did not give the
girls a clue to the country from which this interesting person hailed.

"He does not look German," Douglas said to herself. "He is too dark and
too graceful."

She breathed a sigh of relief that her grey crêpe de chine had not been
donned in honor of a German, count or no count. When she saw that the
Misses Grant evidently considered their suppers worthy to be dressed up
for, she was glad she had listened to the dictates of Helen.

That young lady was looking especially charming in the old-rose gown, in
spite of the fact that the skirt did not flare quite enough. Helen had a
way of wearing her clothes and of arranging her hair that many a dame at
Palm Beach or Newport would have given her fortune to possess.

Mrs. Carter always was at her best in a parlor and now her beauty shone
resplendent, framed in black lace and pearls. Her gracious manner and
bearing marked her as one whose natural place was in society. Her gift
was social and it did seem a great waste that such a talent should
have to be buried under the bushel of an overseer's cottage in an
out-of-the-way spot in the country, with a once prosperous husband to
do the chores and a maid-of-all-work, chosen because of her cheapness
and not her worth.

The Misses Grant smiled their approval over the appearance of their
guests. The fact that they were two quarrelsome old sisters farming on
a dwindling estate did not lessen their importance in their own eyes,
and they always felt that the dignity of Grantly demanded ceremonial
dressing for the evening meal.

The sisters showed no marks of having toiled through the entire
afternoon to prepare the feast that they were to set before their
guests. Disagreeing as they did on every subject, food was not exempt.
If Miss Ella decided to make an angel's food cake, Miss Louise must
make a devil's food cake; if one thought the whites of eggs left from
the frozen custard would be well to use in a silver cake, the other
simultaneously determined to have apple float, requiring whites of eggs,
and then the yolks must be converted into golden cake. The consequence
was that their supper table groaned with opposing dishes. Each one
pressed upon the guests her own specialty, and if it so happened that
Miss Ella had to serve some dish of Miss Louise's concocting, she would
do it with a deprecating air as though she were helping you to cold
poison; and if Miss Louise perforce must hand you one of Miss Ella's
muffins, she would shake her head mysteriously as though to warn you
against them.

One thing was apparent from the beginning and that was that the count
was a good mixer. His English was perfect, except for an occasional
suggestion of an interchange of b and p, and also a too great stress on
his s. He was a brilliant conversationalist but had the wit not to be a
monologueist. He had done much traveling for a man under thirty and had
lived in so many places that it made him a real citizen of the world.
Evidently he had the Misses Grant charmed. From the moment that he
bought Weston, a fine old estate in the neighborhood, and came into
their county to settle, the old ladies had taken him to their hearts.
They seemed in danger of agreeing on the subject of this fascinating
young man's charms. However, they found something to quarrel about even
in this stranger: Miss Ella thought his mouth was his best feature,
while Miss Louise insisted that his eyes were.

Of course the Carters were one and all dying to know more about him: Who
was he? What was his nationality? Why had he settled in America? Where
were his people? Did he have a family?

He seemed to be equally curious about them. Why should city people of
such breeding and beauty come and live in a little tumbledown shack in
the country? He had merely been told by the Misses Grant that the
tenants who had just moved into the little farmhouse were to have supper
with them, when these visions of loveliness burst upon him. He couldn't
decide which one of the sisters was the most attractive. Douglas was the
most beautiful with her titian hair and clear complexion, not ruined by
the summer out-of-doors as her mother had feared. But Helen--there was
a piquancy about Helen that was certainly very fetching; her brown hair
was so beautifully arranged at exactly the right and becoming angle; her
little head was so gracefully set on her athletic shoulders; her bearing
was so gallant;--certainly Helen was very attractive. Then there was Nan
with her soft loveliness, her great eyes now shining with excitement and
now dreaming some entrancing dream. She was only sixteen but there was
something about her countenance that gave promise of great cleverness.
Lucy was growing more like Helen and much of Helen's charm was hers,
although the child had strong characteristics all her own.

While Count de Lestis was deciding which one of the sisters was
most attractive, he did the extremely tactful and suitable thing of
addressing his remarks to their mother, not forgetting to give the
hostesses a full share of attention. Mr. Carter, who since his illness
had been inclined to be very quiet, was drawn into the conversation and
held his own with his old time power. Little wonder that his daughters
were grateful to this interesting stranger who had this effect on their
beloved father.

The young man told them he was Hungarian and had bought the estate of
Weston with a view to entering into intensive farming.

"Then you are not Prussian!" exclaimed Douglas. "Oh, I am so glad!"

"Ah!" and his handsome eyes flashed for a moment. Then he looked amused.
"And why are you so glad?"

"Why, of course anyone would be glad," and Douglas blushed. "Who would
want to have a Prussian for a neighbor?"

"Do you dislike them so much then?"

"I hate them!"

"And you, too?" turning to Helen.

"I am trying to remain neutral as our president has asked us to. I don't
feel so terribly Anglo-Saxon as my sister."

Of course this started the question of the war, which was in the minds
of everybody. Count de Lestis rather surprised Mr. Carter by his frank
announcement concerning his connection with Berlin.

"I, no doubt, would be fighting with the Central Powers if I had not
committed political suicide four years ago."

"And how was that?"

"I wrote a book in which I made a plea for a democratization of
Austria-Hungary. In it I intimated that the Hohenzollerns had no right
to dictate to the universe. I was requested to leave the country. I was
then living in Vienna, making short trips to my estate, which lies
partly in Austria and partly in Hungary. Now there is danger of my
entire possessions being confiscated."

"Oh, but when Germany is finally whipped you can come into your own
again," asserted Douglas. "The outcome is merely a matter of time."

"And so Germany is to be whipped?" his eyes flashing again.

"Of course," said Douglas simply.

"And why of course?"

"'Because God's in his Heaven,'" whispered Nan, but the count heard her.

"Yes, but whose God?"

"The God of Justice and of Right."

"How about the God of Might?"

"There is no such God," and this time Douglas's eyes did some flashing.

"I believe the United States will intervene before so very long," said
Mr. Carter as he and the count strolled out on the veranda to enjoy
their cigars. The older man was enjoying his talk with this young
foreigner. He looked forward with pleasure to seeing much of him, since
Weston was only about three miles from the farm. They made plans to do
some shooting together, as the open season was only a week off.

When de Lestis learned that Mr. Carter was an architect he asked him to
visit him at his earliest convenience at Weston to advise with him
concerning the restoration of the old house to its original grandeur.

"I'm not supposed to be doing any work for at least a year," sighed Mr.
Carter, "but I might look it over and tell you what I think and then
recommend a suitable architect to take it in hand."

Douglas and Helen had a talk with Miss Louise on the subject of a
country girl to come to them as maid of all work.

"They are all of them thoroughly trifling," declared that lady in her
soft round voice, "but this creature we have has a sister who could come
to you. I beg of you not to give her any more wages than ours receives,
as in that case we should have to go up."

"Certainly not," said Douglas. "Just tell us what that is." But on
learning that it was only seven dollars a month, the girls felt that it
was no wonder the creatures were thoroughly trifling.

"Did she cook this wonderful supper?" asked Helen.

"No, indeed! Ella and I always cook everything we eat and this Tempy
washes the dishes and cleans."

"But we want someone to cook. Do you think I might train the sister?"

"Well, I have heard you can train monkeys but I have never seen it
done," laughed the fat old lady. "Come with me now and we can speak to
Tempy about her sister Chloe."

They found Tempy in the pantry, peacefully sleeping in the midst of the
unwashed dishes. Not in the least abashed at being caught napping, she
waked up and told Helen that no doubt Chloe would be pleased fur ter
come. She promised to fetch her on the morrow.

"I will pay her just what the Misses Grant pay you," said Helen.

"Lawsamussy, missy, she ain't wuth what I is. She ain't nebber wucked
out ter say much. I done started at six and wucked up ter seben, an' if
Chloe gits now what I gits, she'll be too proudified. You jis' start her
at six same as Miss Ellanlouise done me."



CHAPTER IV

GRANTLY


Since our girls were to become quite intimate with the peculiar old
sisters and their home, perhaps it would be just as well for me to give
my readers some idea of what Grantly was like.

The first thing that struck a visitor was the wonderful box bushes in
the hedge enclosing the yard and in a labyrinth in the garden. These
bushes were so thick that one could really walk on the tops of them if
they were kept clipped, which they were not. In the labyrinth the
bushes met overhead and even after a heavy rain the paths between were
perfectly dry. It took days of soaking rain to make those winding paths
wet. Beyond the labyrinth was an old-fashioned garden, but now in
October chrysanthemums and late roses and cosmos were all that was left
of the riot of color that could be seen there during the spring and
summer.

The house was of a very peculiar architectural design: a long, low body
with a tower at each end. In each tower was a square room with many
windows overlooking the country for miles around. Miss Ella claimed one
of these rooms as her own especial property; Miss Louise the other. To
approach Miss Ella's sanctum sanctorum it was necessary to climb a
narrow spiral stairway; Miss Louise's was more accessible by reason of
a broad stairway of many landings, but the ceilings at the landings
were so low that anyone of ordinary stature must stoop to ascend.

These rooms were used only as sitting-rooms by the erratic sisters as,
strange to say, the two old ladies slept in the same room and in the
same great four-posted tester bed. There were many other bedrooms in the
mansion, but they both preferred the great chamber leading from the
parlor, and there they slept and no doubt quarreled in their sleep.

"This is my sitting-room up here," said Miss Ella as she showed her
guests over the quaint old house. "You may come up if you like. I had
the steps made this way so Louise can't get up here and worry my soul
out of me with her eternal chatter. She's too fat for the spiral
stairway. Elephant!"

"Yes, and my sitting-room is in the other tower, and thank goodness,
Ella would find it a back-breaking job to get up my steps," retaliated
Miss Louise. "Giraffe!"

Those strange old ladies had actually had the original steps to the
towers changed to suit their particular grouches! They really spent very
little time in their tower fastnesses, however, as they were much
happier when together and quarreling.

A tale was told in the neighborhood that once Miss Ella had neglected or
forgotten to contradict Miss Louise on some vital subject such as
whether it was or was not going to rain, and Miss Louise was so uneasy
that she sent post haste for Dr. Allison.

"I was afraid it was a stroke or something," whimpered Miss Louise. She
worried herself into a sick headache before the doctor arrived, and
then the fat one had to go to bed and take the medicine and Miss Ella
was forced to repent of her misbehavior by nursing her sister. Dr.
Allison left strict injunctions that she was not to worry her poor
sister again by agreeing with her.

Grantly was filled with fine old furniture and all kinds of curios. A
great-uncle had been a traveler in the Orient and many were the
teakwood cabinets and jade ornaments; curious Japanese prints; Chinese
embroidered fans and screens; bronze Buddhas; rare vases with inlaid
flowers and birds; Toby jugs and lacquered teapots; quaint armor, swords
and daggers; everything in fact that might be found in an old house that
a traveler had once called home.

"Does Tempy dust all these beautiful things?" asked Mrs. Carter, who was
quite carried away by the wonders in her landladies' home.

"Bless you, no! She doesn't dare to touch a one of them," laughed Miss
Louise. "Ella dusts the high ones, I dust the low." She said it quite
with the air of the song:

    "You take the high road,
    I'll take the low."

With all of its beauties, Grantly was undergoing a process of slow
decay. Lack of paint and neglected leaks were getting in their insidious
work. There never seemed to be money enough for the owners to afford the
needed repairs, and if there ever was any money at all, they could never
come to an agreement on which repairs were the most urgent.

The overseer's house was suffering in the same way. A kind of dry rot
had attacked portions of it. Weather-boarding was so loose in places
that Bobby could pull it off. Steps groaned and floors creaked; shutters
had lost fastenings; putty had dropped from the window panes, which were
insecurely held in place with tacks; mop-boarding and floors had parted
company many years before. All of these little details had escaped the
inexperienced eyes of Douglas and Helen when they decided that this
was the place of all others to spend the winter. Dr. Wright, who had
accompanied them, had been more noticing, but had wisely decided to say
nothing, as he wanted his patient to become interested in tinkering at
small jobs, and he could see that this little farm would keep Mr. Carter
busy.

The ladies of Grantly had promised to have everything in order before
the tenants should arrive, but disagreeing on which workman they should
employ, the time had slipped by and nothing had been done.

The pump to the well had lost its sucker and had to be primed before
water could be got. This meant that the person who pumped must remember
to fill a can of water and leave it for the next pumper. The yard gate
shut with difficulty and opened with more. The stovepipe in the kitchen
had a large hole in one side and if the wind shifted, so did the smoke,
seeking an outlet through the nearest aperture.

All of these disagreeable features dawned gradually on our girls. They
saw nothing to be complained of in those rare October days. Accustomed
as they had become to camp life, they made light of any inconveniences.
Their father was happy and getting better every day, so any small
hardships that might fall to their share were to be lightly borne.



CHAPTER V.

VALHALLA


That was the name Nan gave to the little winter home.

"Valhalla is the place where the dead warriors go, and that is what we
all of us are after the day's work is done."

Commuting at first was very tiring for both Nan and Lucy. Catching
trains was hard on their nerves and the trip seemed interminable, but in
a few weeks they fell into the attitude of mind of all commuters and
just accepted it as part of the daily routine. It became no more irksome
than doing one's hair or brushing one's teeth.

The girls made many friends on the train and before the winter was over
really enjoyed the time spent going to and from school. Billy Sutton was
Nan's devoted cavalier. He managed, if possible, to sit by her and
together they would study. He helped her with her mathematics, and she,
quick at languages, would correct his French exercises. Those were sad
mornings for Billy when the seat by Nan was taken before they reached
Preston. He cursed his luck that Preston should not have been beyond
Grantly instead of a station nearer to town. Coming home he always saw
to it that no "fresh kid" got ahead of him in the choice of seats. He
would get to the station ahead of time and watch with eagle eye for
Nan's sedate little figure; then he would pounce on her like a veritable
eagle and possess himself of her books and parcels. Thereafter no power
could have separated him from her short of the brakeman who cruelly
called out: "P-errr-reston!"

Billy's younger sister Mag was of great assistance to her big brother in
his manoeuvres. She struck up a warm friendship with Lucy, and since
the two younger girls were together, what more natural than that he and
Nan should be the same?

"How would you like me to run you over to see Lucy for a while this
afternoon?" he would ask in the lordly and nonchalant manner of big
brothers, and Mag would be duly grateful, all the time laughing in her
sleeve, as is the way with small sisters.

The only person who ever got ahead of Billy on the homeward voyage
was Count de Lestis. That man of the world with lordly condescension
permitted Billy to carry all the books and parcels and then quietly
appropriated the seat by Nan. That was hard enough, but what was harder
was to see how Nan dimpled under the compliments the count paid her, and
how gaily she laughed at his wit, and how easily she held her own in the
very interesting conversation into which they plunged. Billy, boiling
and raging, could not help catching bits of it. Actually Nan was quoting
poetry to the handsome foreigner. With wonder her schoolboy friend
heard her telling the count of how she had gone up in an aeroplane the
preceding summer and what her sensations were. She had never told him
all these things.

"And why is it you like so much to fly?" the count asked. "Is it merely
the physical sensation?"

"Oh no, there is something else. I'll tell you a little bit of poetry I
learned the other day from a magazine. That is the way I feel, somehow:

    "'Well, good-by! We're going!
            Where?
    Why there is no knowing
            Where!
    We've grown tired, we don't know why,
    Of our section of the sky,
    Of our little patch of air,
    And we're going, going!
            Where?

    "'Who would ever stop to care?--
      Far off land or farther sea
      Where our feet again are free,
    We shall fare all unafraid
    Where no trail or furrow's made--
    Where there's room enough, room enough, room enough for laughter!
      And we'll find our Land o' Dreaming at a long day's close,
      We'll find our Land o' Dreaming--perhaps, who knows?
    To-morrow--or the next day--or maybe the day after!

    "'So good-by! We're going!
            Why?
    O, there is no knowing
            Why!
    Something's singing in our veins,
    Something that no book explains.
    There's no magic in your air!
    And we're going, going!
            Where?

    "'Where there's magic and to spare!
      So we break our chains and go.
      Life? What is it but to know
      Southern cross and Pleiades,
      Sunny lands and windy seas;
    Where there's time enough, time enough, time enough for laughter!
      We'll find our Land o' Dreaming, so away! Away!
      We'll find our Land o' Dreaming--or at least we may--
    Tomorrow, or the next day, or maybe the day after!'"

Nan Carter was a very charming girl at any time, but Nan Carter reciting
poetry was irresistible. So the count found her. Her eyes looked more
like forest pools than ever and the trembling Billy was very much afraid
the handsome nobleman was going to fall into said pools. He gritted his
teeth with the determination to be on the spot ready to pull him out by
his aristocratic and well-shod heels if he should take such a tumble.

"Ah, you have the wanderlust, too! I'd like to go with you to your Land
o' Dreaming." Fortunately Billy did not hear this remark, as the
brakeman opened the door at this juncture and shouted the name of a
station.

For once Billy was glad when the brakeman finally called:
"P-err-reston!" If he had to get out, so had the hated count. He never
had taken as much of a fancy to de Lestis as the other members of the
neighborhood had, anyhow, and now he knew why he had never liked him.

"He is a selfish, arrogant foreigner," he raged on in his boyish way.
"He might have let me sit with Nan part of the way, anyhow."

Nan went home quite pleased with the interesting conversation she had
had on the train. The count was rapidly becoming a warm friend of the
family. Everybody liked him but Lucy, and she had no especial reason for
disliking him.

"He's got no time for me and I guess that's the reason," she said when
questioned. "Mag doesn't cotton to him much, either."

"Well, I should think you would be glad for Father to have somebody to
talk to," said Helen. "You and Mag are too young to have much in common
with a grown-up gentleman."

"Pooh, Miss Grandmother! I'm most as old as Nan and he cottons to her
for fair. I know why he doesn't think much of Mag and me--it is because
he knows we know he is nothing but a Dutchman."

"Dutchman! Nonsense! Dutchmen proper come from Holland and Count de
Lestis is a Hungarian."

"Well, he can talk Dutch like a Prussian, anyhow. You oughter hear him
jabbering with that German family that live over near Preston. He brings
old Mr. Blitz newspapers all the time and they laugh and laugh over
jokes in them; at least, they must be jokes to make them laugh so."

"Of course the count speaks German. He speaks a great many languages,"
declared Helen with the dignified air that she thought necessary to
assume when she and Lucy got in a discussion.

"Well, what's the reason he ain't fighting for his country? Tell me
that! Mag says that Billy says that if his country was at war you
wouldn't catch him buying farms in strange countries, like this de
Lestis. He says he'd be in the fight, if he couldn't do anything but
beat a drum."

"But you see he is not in sympathy with the cause, child. All of the
Austrians and Hungarians are not on the Kaiser's side. A whole lot of
them believe in a more democratic form of government than Emperor
William wants. The count explained all that to Father. He says he
could not conscientiously fight with Prussia against democracy."

"All that sounds mighty fine but I like men that fight," and Lucy
tossed her head. "Me and Mag both like men that fight."

"Mag and I," admonished Helen.

The gentleman in question had just been off on a business trip. He had
much business in New York and Washington and sometimes made flying
visits to Chicago. He was interested in a land agency and was hoping to
import some Hungarian and Serbian families to the United States. He had
bought up quite a tract of land in Virginia, making cash payments that
showed he had unlimited means.

"They make excellent servants," he told the Misses Grant, "far superior
to your negroes. The Serbs are especially fine farmers. It is really a
nation of yeomen. They could make the barren tracts of Virginia blossom
like the rose."

"Well, bring them over then." The sisters almost agreed about this but
they had a diverging point in that Miss Ella thought she would rather
have a family of Hungarians, since that was the count's nationality;
while Miss Louise fancied some Serbs, because they were at least
fighting on the side of the Allies.

But to return to "Valhalla."

Douglas did not at all approve of the name Nan had given the little
home. "I am not a dead warrior when the day is over nor do I mean to be
one ever," she declared.

She started in on her winter of teaching with all the energy and vim of
the proverbial new broom. She gloried in the fact that she was able to
turn her education to some account; and while the remuneration of a
country school teacher is certainly not munificent, it helped a great
deal towards the family expenses.

The rent from the Carters' pretty home in Richmond was all they had to
live on now, except for a small sum in bank left over from the camp
earnings. It would be possible to manage if no clothes had to be bought,
and one and all promised to do with last year's suits.

Only a born teacher could make a real success of a country school where
thirty children must be taught in all grades up to high-school standing.
It took infinite patience, boundless good humor, and a systematic saving
of time, together with a keen sense of fun to get Douglas over each day.
She found the school in a state of insurrection, due to having proved
too much for the first teacher, who had found urgent business
elsewhere, and then for a series of substitutes until the present
incumbent, Miss Douglas Carter, was installed.

She made a little speech the first morning, telling the pupils quite
frankly that this was her first year of teaching but that it was not
going to be her last; that she was determined to make good and she asked
their help; that she was willing to give them all she had in the way of
knowledge and strength but that they must meet her half-way and do their
best. She gave them to understand from the very first that she intended
to have good order and that obedience was to be the first lesson taught.

Most of the children fell into her plans with enthusiasm. Of course
there were the reactionaries who had to be dealt with summarily. Bobby
was one of them. He was very difficult to manage in school. Never having
been under the least restraint before in all of his seven years, it was
hard on him to have to sit still and pretend to study, and he made it
harder on Douglas. The faction opposed to government in any form egged
him on. They laughed at his impertinent remarks to the teacher and
bribed him to do and say many outrageous things.

Poor Douglas was tempted to confess herself beaten as far as her little
brother was concerned and give up trying to teach him. He was rather
young for school, she almost fooled herself into believing; but there
was a sturdiness and determination in Douglas Carter's make-up that
would not let her succumb to difficulties.

"I will succeed! He shall learn! My pupils must respect me, and if I
can't make my own little brother obey me, how can I expect to control
the rest of them?"

She asked herself what she would do with any other pupil, not her
brother, who gave her so much trouble.

"Write a note to his mother or father, of course," she answered.

"But I can't bear to bother Father, and Mother would blame me and no
doubt pet Bobby. I'll write a note to Dr. Wright and his disapproval
will hurt Bobby more than anything that could happen."

And so she wrote the following letter to Bobby's employer:

                                _Preston, Va., R. F. D. Route 1.
                                              November 1, 1916._

  DEAR DR. WRIGHT:

  I am sorry to inform you that your chauffeur, Robert Carter, Jr.,
  is misbehaving at school in such a way that his teacher is afraid
  he will have to be expelled. She has done everything in her power
  to make him be more considerate but he is very, very naughty and
  tries to worry his teacher all the time.

                                           Very sincerely,
                                                 DOUGLAS CARTER.

Dr. Wright telephoned that he would be down to see them on Saturday
after receiving Douglas's note; but the message was sent via Grantly,
as the Carters had no telephone, and Miss Ella and Miss Louise could
not agree just what his name was or when he said he was coming. So the
matter was lost sight of in the wrangle that ensued and the word was
not delivered until too late.



CHAPTER VI

CHLOE


To Helen had fallen the most difficult and trying part of the program:
training a cheap, country servant to the ways of civilization. Many
times did she think of Miss Louise's trained monkey as she labored with
Chloe, with whom she had to start all over every day.

A seven o'clock breakfast must be ready for Nan and Lucy, and the one
morning that she left it to Chloe the girls had to go off with nothing
more comforting on their little insides than cold bread and milk. That
was when the new maid had first arrived and Helen had not sounded the
depths of her incompetence and ignorance.

"What would you have done in your own home if you had had to have an
early breakfast for someone?" asked Helen, curious to know if the girl
knew how to do anything.

"I'd 'a' done what I done this mornin': let 'um fill up on what col'
victuals they was lef' on de she'f."

Helen endeavored to introduce Chloe to the mysteries of the fireless
cooker, which they had brought with them from camp, but the girl seemed
to think there was some kind of magic in a thing that cooked without
fire and would none of it.

"I ain't a-goin' ter tetch no sich hoodoo doin's as dat 'ere box," she
asserted. "It mus' hab a kinder debble in it ter keep it hot 'thout a
piece er dry wood or nothin'."

Helen was lifting out the pot full of steaming oatmeal that she had put
in the cooker the night before, determined that her sisters should not
have to go off again with such cold comfort.

"All right, you keep up the wood fire and I'll attend to the fireless
cooker," laughed Helen. "What makes the stove smoke? It was burning all
right yesterday."

"Smoking 'cause dat hoodoo debble done got in it," and Chloe rolled her
great eyes until nothing showed but the whites.

"Smoking because you've got the damper turned down," and Helen righted
the appliance. "Have you set the table?"

"Yassum!"

"Put everything on it just as I showed you yesterday?"

"Nom! I ain't put nothin' on it. I jes' sot the cheers up to it, but all
the gals is got ter do is jes' retch the things off'n the sidebo'd."

That meant that Helen must run and get the table set as quickly as
possible as it was three minutes to seven.

Chloe followed her meekly to the dining-room to do her bidding.

"Run back to the kitchen, Chloe, and look at the biscuit, and see if
they are burning," cried Helen as she rapidly placed the silver on the
table.

A few minutes later, having set the table she hastened to the kitchen.
An ominous odor greeted her.

"Chloe, did you look at the biscuit?"

"Yassum! They was gettin' ready to burn. I guess they is 'bout burned by
now."

"Oh, Chloe, why didn't you take them out?" and poor Helen thought maybe
she was going to weep with exasperation.

"You nebber tol' me ter do mo'n look at 'em. My maw an' Sis Tempy both
done caution me not to be too frisky 'bout doin' things 'til the white
folks tells me. Tempy says white folks laks ter boss 'bout ev'ything."

"Oh, for a trained monkey!" thought Helen. "I could at least give one a
good switching."

Chloe had only two characteristics to work on: one was perfect
good-nature, the other unbounded health and strength. Helen wondered
if she had enough material to go on to evolve even a passable servant.
Anyhow she meant to try. She determined to do the cooking herself for
a little while with Chloe as scullion, and also to have the girl do
the housework.

Of course Mrs. Carter was of absolutely no assistance. She held to her
purpose of semi-invalidism. The family would not listen to her when
she offered the only sane suggestion for the winter: that they should
oust the tenant and move back into their own pretty, comfortable,
well-furnished home; Douglas to make her début in Richmond society and
the other girls continue at school. As for money--why not just make
bills? They had perfectly good credit, and what was credit for but to
use? Dr. Wright had been so stern with her, and Douglas so severe and
unfilial, and they had intimated that she wanted to kill her dear
Robert, so she had just let them have their own way. She insisted she
had not the strength to cope with these changed conditions and took on
the habits of an invalid.

Helen, remembering how Susan, who was supposed to help with the cooking
at the camp, had been kept busy waiting on her mistress, feared Chloe
would be pressed into lady's maid service, too. Indeed Mrs. Carter
attempted it, but Chloe proved too rough for the job, and that poor
lady was forced to run the ribbons in her lingerie herself.

Chloe's cleaning was even worse than her cooking if such a thing was
possible. She spread up the beds, leaving great wrinkles and bumps,
which proved to be top sheets and blankets that she had not thought fit
to pull up. When Helen remonstrated and made her take all the covers off
to air before making the beds she obeyed, but put the covers back on
regardless of sequence, with counterpanes next to the mattress and
sheets on top, with blankets anywhere that her fancy dictated. She swept
the dirt safely under the rugs; wiped up the floor with bath towels; and
the crowning glory of her achievement was sticking all the tooth-brushes
together.

Now when we remember that Helen herself had perhaps never made up a bed
in her whole life until about eight months before this time, we may
indeed have sympathy for her in her tribulations. Her days were full to
running over, beginning very early in the morning and ending only after
the family was fed at night. The cooking was not so difficult, as she
had a genius for it and consequently a liking. Chloe could wash dishes
after a fashion and clean the kitchen utensils, which was some comfort.

Mr. Carter always carried his wife's breakfast tray to her room and
waited on her like a devoted slave. He would even have run the ribbons
in had she trusted him. All he could do for her now was wait on her and
spoil her, and this he did to perfection. She was the same lovely little
creature he had married and he was not unreasonable enough to expect her
to be anything else. He did not think it strange that his little canary
could not turn herself into a raven and feed him when he was hungry.
His tenderness to his wife was so great that his daughters took their
keynote from him and their patience towards their mother was wonderful.
They vied with one another in their attentions to the parent that they
would not let themselves call selfish.

Helen cooked her little dainties; Nan kept her in light literature from
the circulating library in town; Lucy scoured the fields for mushrooms
that a late fall had made plentiful; Douglas always brought her the
choice fruit and flowers that her pupils showered on her; even Bobby did
his part by bringing her ripe persimmons that the frost had nipped just
enough to make delicious. Mr. Carter was often able to bring her in a
partridge or a young hare. On the whole life wasn't so bad. When one
felt perfectly well, semi-invalidism was a pretty pleasant state. As for
society: the count was a frequent visitor and the ladies from Grantly
most attentive. The Suttons had called, too, several times, and other
county families were finding the Carters out. It was easy to treat the
fact that they were living in the overseer's house as a kind of joke. Of
course, anyone could tell that they were not the kind of persons who
usually lived in overseers' houses.

Chloe was the thorn in the flesh, the fly in the ointment for Mrs.
Carter. Chloe could not be laughed away,--Chloe was no joke. Accustomed
to trained, highly-paid servants to do her bidding, this rough, uncouth
ourang-outang was more than the dainty little lady could stand.

The very first time Count de Lestis called, Mrs. Carter happened to be
alone in the house except for Chloe, Mr. Carter having gone to Preston
for much-needed nails and Helen having run up to Grantly to ask the
advice of Miss Ella on the best way to preserve some late pears. A knock
and Chloe promptly fell down the steps in her eagerness to get to the
door. She had been up in Douglas's and Helen's room attempting to make
up the bed to suit Miss Helen.

"Thank Gawd I fell down instidder up! If'n I had 'a' fell up I wouldn't
'a' got ma'ied dis year," and she picked herself up and dived at the
front door.

"Are Mr. and Mrs. Carter and the young ladies at home?" Mrs. Carter
heard in the count's fine baritone.

"Nawsir! The boss is done gone ter Preston ter fetch some nails ter try
ter bolster up this here ole shack, an' Miss Douglas is done gone ter
her teachin' job an' Miss Helen is done stepped up to see Miss
Ellanlouise 'bout 'zervin' some ole hard pears----"

"And how about Mrs. Carter?" in an amused voice.

"Oh, she is a-layin' on the sofy tryin' ter git sick."

"Is she ill?" solicitously.

"Naw! She is jes' plum lazy. She's too lazy ter chaw an' has ter have
all her victuals fixed soft like."

"Well, will you please take her this card?"

"That there ticket?"

Imagine Mrs. Carter's mortification, when the grinning Chloe came
running into the sitting-room with the count's card crushed in her eager
hand, to discover that the wretched girl was in her stocking feet;
capless, with her wrapped plaits sticking out all over her head like
quills upon the fretful porcupine; her apron on hind part before.

"Chloe! Where is your cap?" exclaimed that elegant lady.

"Well, lawsamussy! I done forgot about it. It do make my haid eatch so
I done pulled it off."

"And your shoes?"

"I's savin' them fer big meetin' nex' year."

"And why do you wear your apron in the back? Put it on right this
minute."

"Well, Ole Miss, my dress was siled an' my ap'on was clean, so I jes'
slid it 'roun' behinst so it wouldn't git siled, too."

Nothing but the fact that the count was cooling his heels on the front
porch kept Mrs. Carter from weeping outright. Old Miss, indeed! All she
could do was feebly tell Chloe to ask the gentleman in.

If Count de Lestis had been ushered in by a butler in livery he could
not have entered in a more ceremonious manner. He bowed low over the
fair lady's hand, kissing her finger-tips lightly. Even the spectacle of
Chloe's walking off, with her clean apron on hind part before and her
shoeless condition disclosing large holes in the heels of her stockings,
did not upset his gravity. He, too, realized that Chloe was no joke.

Afterwards Chloe said to Helen:

"That sho' is a pretty man what comed ter see you alls. I ain't knowin'
yit what made him stoop over an' smell yo' ma's hand. Cose she mus'
smell pow'ful good with never put'n her hands in nothin' mo' than her
own victuals." Helen was weak with laughter.

"What fer they call him a count, Miss Helen? Is it 'cause he spen' all
his time a-countin' out money? They do say he is pow'ful good an' kin'
ter the niggers. Some say he likes niggers better'n what he does white
folks, but I says that is plum foolish. Anyhow, he talks mighty sweet to
'em an' don't never call 'em low down triflin' black rascals whin they
gits kinder lop-sided with liquor, like some of the county gents does
whin hands gits so fur gone they can't git in the craps. He done started
a night school over at Weston what his secondary is teachin'."

"I didn't know he had a secretary," exclaimed Helen, "but it certainly
is kind of him to try and help the poor colored people. I wish you could
go to night school, Chloe."

"Lawd, Gawd, no! Miss Helen! I ain't got no call to larn."

"Can't you read at all, Chloe?"

"Well, I kin read whin they is picters ter go by. I done been ter school
mos' six months countin' the diffunt years what I started, but my ma,
she say my haid was too hard an' she 'fraid it might git cracked open
if'n teacher tried to put any mo' in it. She say some folks is got sof'
haids what kin stretch an' they ain't so ap' ter bus' open, haids kinder
like hog bladders what you kin keep on a-blowin' up."

"Wouldn't you like me to teach you to read, Chloe?" asked Helen, feeling
rather ashamed that this foreigner should come to Virginia and take more
interest in the education of the negroes than she should ever have done.
"I believe I could teach you without breaking your head open."

"Anything you says do I'll do, but I tell you now I ain't got no mo'
notion er readin' than a tarrapin. A tarrapin kin git his haid out'n the
shell an' you might git a little larnin' in it, but my haid is groun'
what you gotter break up with a grubbin' hoe."

"I am willing to try. Let's begin now! First we will learn how to spell
things right here in the kitchen and then you can soon be reading
recipes," said Helen kindly. "Now we are making biscuit, so we will
begin with that. First take two cups of flour," and she wrote on the
whitewashed wall of the kitchen: "2 cups of flour."

Chloe was delighted with this kind of school, very different from her
former experiences where she was made to sit for hours on a hard bench
saying the same thing over and over with no conception of what it was
all about. Now "2 cups of flour" had some sense in it, so had "2 spoons
of baking powder." "Lard the size of an egg" was a brilliant remark;
"1 spoon of salt" had a gleam of intelligence, too; "1 cup of milk" was
filled with gumption. In less than a week the girl could read and write
the recipe for biscuit and was eagerly waiting for her beloved Miss
Helen to advance her to cake.



CHAPTER VII

BOBBY'S BLAME DAY


Dr. George Wright was making a name for himself in his chosen
profession. Older men were beginning to look upon him as an authority on
nervous cases and now he had been asked to come in as partner in a
sanitarium starting in the capital city of Virginia. Certainly he had
been very successful in his treatment of Robert Carter's case, so
successful that even Mrs. Carter could not but admire him. She was still
very much in awe of him, but he had her respect and she depended upon
him. The daughters felt the same way without the awe. Douglas and Nan
and Lucy were openly extravagant in their praise of him. Helen was a
little more guarded in her expressions of admiration, but she had a
sincere liking for him and deep gratitude not only for what he had done
for her father but for his service to her.

She could never forget that it was Dr. Wright who had brought her to her
senses when her father was first taken ill, making her see herself as a
selfish, extravagant, vain girl. It takes some generosity of spirit to
like the person who makes you see the error of your ways, but Helen
Carter had that generosity. There were times when her cheeks burned at
the memory of what Dr. Wright must have thought of her. How silly he
must have found her, how childish!

After the experience in the mountains when the rattlesnake bit her on
the heel and Dr. Wright had come to her assistance with first aid to the
injured, which in the case of a snake bite means sucking the wound,
Helen began to realize that what the young physician thought of her made
a great deal of difference to her. His approval was something worth
gaining.

Douglas had not told her she had written the letter to Dr. Wright as
Bobby's employer. She had a feeling that her dignity as teacher was
involved and she must not confide in her family. She was waiting, hoping
to hear from him, rather expecting him to write to Bobby and call him
to account for his misdemeanors.

Bobby had been especially unruly all week. There was nothing he had not
thought of doing in the way of mischief, and thinking mischief was
almost identical with doing mischief where Bobby Carter was concerned.
The deed was no sooner conceived than accomplished and the other
children, who were inclined to be naughty, thought up extra things for
him to do.

Putting a piece of rubber on the stove was certainly not Bobby's idea,
nor slipping chestnut burrs in the desk-seats while the girls were not
looking, causing howls of anguish when they inadvertently sat down on
the same. Bobby manfully took the blame for all of these things,
however, confidently certain that no punishment worth speaking of would
be meted out to him.

"He is honest, at least," sighed Douglas, "and owns up every time."

Friday afternoon on the way home she felt that maybe Nan's name for
their place was a good one. She was almost a dead warrior if not quite
one.

"Oh, for a Valkyrie to bear me to Valhalla!"

Bobby was trudging along by her side looking as though butter would not
melt in his mouth. What a sturdy little fellow he was growing to be!
Douglas looked down on his jaunty, erect figure.

"Bobby, you are getting right fat."

Bobby slapped his pockets. "That ain't fat, that's blame pay!"

"Blame pay! What on earth?"

"Oh, them is the gif's I gits fer saying I done it ev'y time you asks us
to hol' up our han's who done it."

"Oh, Bobby!"

"You see, the big fellers say you ain't man enough to whup 'em an' you
is too soft to whup me, so I don't run no risk nohow. This is a top
string I got for 'tendin' like I put the rubber on the stove,--this here
is a big apple I got for not fillin' the girls' desks with chestnut
burrs,--this here pile er oak balls I come mighty near not gettin'. I
sho' did want to turn the fleas loose on Minnie Brice but the big boys
was afraid I might not be able to open the little purse right and so one
of them done it."

"Fleas on Minnie Brice?"

"Yes, you never did fin' out about it, so I didn't have to own up. You
know what a funny thin neck Minnie's got, just like a mud turkle, and
how she wears a stiff collar kinder like a shell and it sets out all
around, fur out from her neck?"

"Yes, I know," said Douglas, struggling with a laugh.

"Well, the fellers caught some fleas off'n ol' Blitz's houn' dog an'
then they put 'em in a teensy money purse with a tight clasp, an' while
Minnie was leaning over studying her joggerfy, Tim Tenser dumped 'em all
down her back."

"Poor Minnie! No wonder she missed all of her lessons today. I could not
imagine what was the matter with her. Bobby, you wouldn't have done such
a cruel thing as that surely!"

"Shoo! That ain't nothin'. It might 'a' been toads, 'cep'n the little
ones is all growed up big now. We are a-savin' up the toad joke 'til
spring. First the fellers said I didn't 'serve no blame money 'cause
Minnie jes' cried when she missed her lessons an' didn't scratch none,
only wiggled, an' teacher never did ask us to hol' up our han's who done
it. But Ned Beatty said I was a dead game spo't an' I took the chanst
an' I mus' have my blood money, an' so I got all these here oak balls."

"Bobby, do you realize that you must take all of these blame gifts back
to the boys?"

"Blamed if I will!"

"Please don't talk that way! Don't say: 'Blamed if you will.'"

"Well, wasn't you a-talkin' that way? Didn't you say, 'blame gif's,'
with your own mouth? I'd like to know why I have to take them back."

"Well, you got them for taking the blame and now you no longer take the
blame but have told on the ones who did the naughty things."

"But I ain't a-tellin' teacher! I'm a-tellin' my own sister Douglas.
You ain't teacher 'cep'n when you is in school."

"Oh, so that is the way you look at it! I suppose you think I am not
your own sister while I am teacher, either, and when you worry me sick
at school it is only teacher and not Douglas you are distressing so
much," and Douglas sat down on the roadside and burst out crying.

Now Douglas Carter was no weeper. I doubt if her little brother had ever
seen her shed a tear in all of his seven years. And he, Robert Carter,
Jr., had done this thing! He had made his sister Douglas cry. When she
was playing teacher, she had feelings just as much as she did when she
turned into his sister Douglas again. And what was this thing she was
saying about his having to give back the blood money? Had he told on the
boys after having received pay for taking the blame? Why, that was a
low-down, sneaky trick!

"Don't cry, Douglas, please don't cry! I'm a-gonter take back all the
things--'cep'n the apple--I done et into that a leetle bit."

But the flood gates were opened and Douglas could not stop crying. Like
most persons who cry with difficulty, when she once began she kept it
up. Now she was crying for all the times she might have cried. She had
had enough to make her cry but had held in. She was crying now for all
the days and nights of anxiety she had spent in thinking of her sick
father; she was crying for the stern way in which she had been forced to
deal with her mother over extravagancies; she was crying for having to
make Helen understand that there was no money for clothes; she was
crying for having to be the adamant sister who forced Nan and Lucy to go
on to school; she was crying because her own dream of college was to
come to nothing; she was crying very little because of Bobby's
naughtiness, but he, of course, thought that it was all because of him.

One of her biggest grievances was against herself: why had she been so
priggish with her cousin, Lewis Somerville? Last August he had come to
her on the eve of his enlistment to go with the troops to the Mexican
border and had plead so earnestly with her to try to love him just a
little bit and to let him go off engaged to her, and she had turned him
down with absurd talk of friendship and the like. He had astonished her
when he made love to her, but she knew perfectly well in her heart of
hearts that it would have astonished her a great deal more if he had
made love to someone else.

No doubt that was what he was doing that minute: making love to someone
else. A young man who looked like a Greek god was not going to be turned
down by every girl. How good Lewis had always been to her and how well
he had understood her! He thought she was cold and unfeeling now, she
just knew he did. She had received no letters from him for weeks, at
least it seemed weeks. Oh well, if he wanted to make love to other
girls, why she wasn't going to be the one to care!

"Douglas, I hear a auto a-comin'. If'n you don't stop bawlin' folks will
see you."

A car was coming! She could hear its chug as it climbed the hill half a
mile off.

"Please wet my handkerchief in that little branch so I can wash my
face," she begged Bobby, while she smoothed her ruffled hair and wished
she had one of Helen's precious dorines to powder her red nose.

"Yo' hankcher is as wet as water already. I don't see what you want it
any wetter for," said Bobby, who might have quoted: "'Too much of water
hast thou, my poor Ophelia,'" had he known his Hamlet.

"I ain't a-gonter be bad no mo', Douglas," declared Bobby as he brought
the little handkerchief back from the brook dripping wet. "You mos'
cried yo' face away, didn't you, Dug?" and with that Douglas had to
laugh.

"Feel better now?" he said with quite the big brother air. "That there
car is jes' roun' the bend. I reckon if you turn yo' face away the folks
in it won't know you is been a-bawlin'."

The car slowed up, then stopped when the driver recognized Douglas, and
Count de Lestis sprang out to greet her. The signs of the recent storm
were still visible on her pretty face in spite of all the water Bobby
had brought from the brook. Douglas tried to hold her head down so the
count could not see her disfigured countenance, but such floods of
weeping could not but be noticed.

"My dear Miss Carter, you are in distress!" He looked so truly grieved
and anxious that already Douglas felt somewhat comforted. Sympathy is a
great balm.

"It is nothing! I am a foolish, weak girl."

"Not that! You are very intelligent and far from weak. Are you not the
staunch ally? The poor Kaiser would not find you weak."

"I done it all! I made her cry!" declared Bobby.

The count looked at the youngster, amused. "And so! Do little American
gentlemen make their sisters cry?" Bobby hung his head. "Well, come on
and let me take you home, and then I'll take your sister for a little
ride and wipe all the tears away with the wind."

"Let me go riding, too. I don't want to go home."

"No, not this time. My little red car doesn't like to take for long
rides boys who make their sisters cry."

So Bobby had to climb meekly in to be ignominiously dumped at the yard
gate while Douglas was whisked off in the count's natty little red
roadster.

"Now you are looking like your beautiful self," he declared, slowing
down his racer and turning to gaze into Douglas's face. "What is it that
made you weep so profusely? Not the little brother. Beautiful damsels do
not weep so much because of little brothers."

Douglas smiled.

"Ah, the sun has come out! Now I am happy. I am so distressed by tears
that I can hardly bear it."

"You must have a very tender heart."

"Yes, perhaps! Now tell me what caused your grief."

How handsome this man was and how kind! He seemed like an old friend. He
really did care what was troubling her and it would be a relief to pour
out all of her foolish griefs. Douglas missed her father's sympathy. She
knew that he was as ready as ever with his love and solicitude for her,
but she felt that she must not add to his worries one iota. Her mother
was out of the question and Helen was too young. Before she knew it, she
was trying to tell Count de Lestis all about it, all but about Lewis
Somerville--somehow that was something she could not mention. Her
grievances sounded very small when she tried to put them into words.
Naturally she could not dwell upon her mother's extravagancies or this
man would think her poor little mother was selfish; Helen was such a
trump, the fact that she longed for stylish clothes certainly was not
enough to make a grown girl sit on the roadside and dissolve in tears;
while Nan and Lucy were commuting to school like little soldiers. It
ended by being a humorous account of Bobby and his blame pay.

Of course the count knew perfectly well that that was not all that
had made this lovely girl give way so to grief. No doubt Bobby's
misbehavior was the last straw, but there had been a heavy load to
carry before Douglas's camel of endurance had got his back broken. He
laughed merrily over the fleas and Douglas forgot all about her worries
and laughed, too.

"Poor little Minnie! She did squirm so, and think of her being too
ladylike to scratch, and how she must have disappointed those bad boys
by refraining!"

"Yes, if all women would just squirm and not scratch it would take much
from the pleasure of teasing them," laughed de Lestis. "What amuses me
is how boys are alike all the world over. The discipline of my school
days was very strict, but a thing like that might have happened among
boys in Berlin as much as here in a rural school in Virginia."

"Berlin! But you are Hungarian!"

"So! So--but Hungarians can go to school in Berlin. Even Americans have
profited by the educational advantages offered there."

Douglas thought her companion's tone sounded a little harsh. She bent
her candid gaze on him and met his glowing eyes. Blue eyes looked
unflinchingly into black until the steering of the red car forced him to
give his attention to the wheel.

"I wish the count's moustache did not turn up quite so much at the
corners," thought the girl. "It makes him look a wee bit like the
Kaiser; of course, though, he is kind and the Kaiser is cruel."

"Perhaps we had better turn around now," she suggested gently, contrite
that even for a moment she had thought this kind friend could resemble
the hated Kaiser.

Certainly the wind had wiped away all traces of the emotional storm from
Douglas's countenance. The young man by her side could but admire the
pure profile presented to him, with its soft, girlish lines but withal a
look of strength and determination. Her loosened hair was like sunlight
and her cheeks had the pink of the Cherokee rose. Profiles were all well
enough, but he would like another look into those eyes as blue as summer
skies after a shower.

"Of course, my dear Miss Carter, I know that the little rascal Bobby
must have been very annoying but I cannot but think that you have not
entrusted to me your real troubles."

Douglas stiffened almost imperceptibly.

"When one finds a beautiful damsel sitting by the roadside in such grief
that her charming face is convulsed with weeping, one cannot but divine
that some affair of the heart has touched her. Tell me, has some bold
cavalier trifled with her affections?"

Douglas stiffened more perceptibly.

"Your father told me of a young cousin, a Mr. Somerville, who is now on
the Mexican border----"

"Father told you! I don't believe it."

"My dear young lady, he only told me there was such a cousin; you have
told me the rest. Now! Now! Don't let your sweet eyes shed another tear
for him. He is not worth it! If he can find amusement in the ladies of
Mexico, who are, when all is told, an untidy lot, why should you worry?
There are other fish in the sea!"

If the Count de Lestis wished to see something more of Douglas's eyes he
had his desire fulfilled now. She turned and once more blue eyes looked
unflinchingly into black. This time the black eyes had a mischievous
gleam and the blue ones looked more like winter ice than summer skies.

"Now I have made you angry." Once more his car took his attention for
the moment.

"Not at all!" icily.

"You wish you had not come with me."

"I appreciate your kindness in bringing me for the drive very much,"
still cold and formal in tone.

"I guessed too well, that is where I sinned."

Douglas was silent, but she still looked at her companion.

"She is like the little Minnie: she squirms but will not scratch."

"I was just thinking," said Douglas, changing the subject with a
swiftness that disarmed the count, "your moustache certainly turns up
at the ends just like Emperor William's."



CHAPTER VIII

SATURDAY


"Isn't it glorious to be living and for it to be Saturday?" yawned Lucy.

"Yes, and not to have to catch that old train," and Nan snuggled down
luxuriously under the bedclothes. "I used to think Saturday was a pretty
good institution when we lived in town, but now--Oh, ye gods! Now!"

"Did you know that Saturday was decreed a half-holiday in the days of
the Saxon King Edgar 958 A. D.?" asked Lucy, who had a way of springing
historical facts on people.

"No, but I know it's going to be a whole holiday for Nan Carter in the
year of grace 1916. I intend to do nothing but laze the whole day long,
laze and read."

"I bet you won't. I bet you go nutting with Mag and me, because if we go
it means Billy goes along, and if he goes along he'll be in a terrible
grouch unless you go, too."

October had delightfully spread over into November. The weather had
obligingly stayed good, and although our Carters had been at Valhalla
more than a month, they had experienced no real bad days.

Nippy, frosty nights had put Mr. Carter wise to the many cracks that he
must stop up. Weather strips must be put on windows and doors, panes of
glass must be puttied in. Suspicious stains on walls and ceilings warned
him of leaks, but he had to wait for a rain to locate them. He found
himself almost as busy as he had been before his breakdown, but busy in
such a different way.

"I'm glad it's Saturday! I think I won't work today," he had remarked to
his wife at about the same time Nan and Lucy were having their talk.
"Come and walk in the woods with me."

That lady had graciously consented, if he promised not to go far and to
lift her over fences.

"I think I'll wash my hair today; and darn the stockings; and go over
the accounts; and write some letters; and read the _Saturday Evening
Post_," said Douglas as she and Helen dressed hurriedly. Their little
attic room was hot in summer and cold in winter.

Douglas had been thinking a great deal about her ride with the count.
Had he only meant to tease her? Was he trying to flirt with her? Did she
like him at all or did she in a way distrust him? She asked herself all
of these questions. Of course she liked him! Why should she distrust a
man because of the way his moustache grew? Of course he was teasing
her, and who could help teasing a silly goose of a girl who sat on the
roadside and bawled until her nose was disgracefully red, and then
insisted it was all because her little brother had aided and abetted in
the crime of putting fleas down a little girl's neck? He had made a good
guess about Lewis Somerville, because no doubt her father had told him
that she and Lewis had been chums from the time they were babies.

"I only hope I will be able to make up to him for my discourtesy by
being very polite to him the next time I see him," she thought.

"Count de Lestis is coming to lunch with us today," said Helen, almost
as though she had been reading her sister's mind. "Father asked him."

"That's good! Isn't it nice for Father to have such a congenial friend?"

"And Mumsy! She enjoys his visits so much. I am going to try and have a
scrumptious luncheon, but I tell you I am going to leave mighty little
of it to Chloe."

"I think she is improving, Helen."

"Of course she is improving. She is trying so hard to do what I want her
to and I am trying so hard to be patient. I think I am improving some
myself."

"Oh, honey, you are simply splendid. I think you have the hardest job of
all and I think you are doing better than any of us."

"Nonsense!" But Helen looked very happy over her sister's praise. "I'd
rather do general housework for six dollars a month than go every day
and teach thirty little nincompoops a-b, ab."

"But the thing is you are doing general housework for nothing a month."

"I am doing a little teaching of a-b, ab, too, only my methods are
different. I have evolved a very advanced style of teaching and Chloe,
too, is learning to spell. My method is somewhat that of Dotheboys'
Hall--you remember: 'W-i-n-d-o-w, window--Go wash them.' I make her
spell and write all the kitchen utensils. She learns while she is
working and it makes her take an interest in becoming educated."

"Oh, Helen, you are so clever! You must let me help about the luncheon."

"How about washing your head; and writing your letters; and casting up
the household accounts; and the _Saturday Evening Post_?"

"Well, the letters and _Post_ will keep!"

On Saturday the rule was that the dead warriors must make up their own
beds and clean their own rooms, so shortly after breakfast there
was a general scramble in process. Helen turned Chloe loose in the
dining-room to have it swept and garnished for their distinguished
visitor.

What a pretty room it was, much the most attractive in the house, with
the exception of the sitting-room, perhaps! Low, rough-hewn rafters were
frankly exposed to view. The walls were sealed with pine boards. Walls
and ceiling were both painted a very soft, pleasing grey-green. On the
high mantel was an old-fashioned wooden clock with painted door, and
this was flanked on both sides by funny old vases with large raised
roses and gilt ears. Two high windows and a glass door, opening on a
covered passage leading to the kitchen, gave a soft and insufficient
light.

Douglas had just put the finishing touch to the table: a bunch of cosmos
sent down by the Misses Grant. Nan had made the mayonnaise; and Lucy had
found a great basket of mushrooms and peeled them for Helen to cream.
Truly they were to have a scrumptious luncheon. The count had arrived
and was playing lady-come-to-see, so Lucy said, with Mrs. Carter.

The whir of a motor drew the attention of all.

"Who on earth!" exclaimed Helen. "Surely not callers at this hour, just
when my popovers are almost ready to eat!"

"Mo' comply!" declared Chloe. "Dat ol' red rooster what yo' paw set so
much sto' by is been a-crowing halleluja all mornin'. I been a-tryin'
ter make him hesh, 'cause we ain't got no mo' cheers fer comply."

"That's so, there aren't but eight dining-room chairs," laughed Helen.

"My 'ployer done come and a soger is in with him!" cried Bobby, tearing
excitedly by the dining-room in his race to open the gate for his
beloved Dr. Wright.

Helen ran out in her pink bungalow apron, first peeping into the oven,
not trusting Chloe yet to keep things from burning.

"Douglas!" she called excitedly, but Douglas, with flushed cheeks, bent
over the bowl of cosmos.

"A soldier with him! What soldier? Could it be Lewis?" she asked
herself.

It was Lewis Somerville, looking very handsome and upstanding indeed in
his khaki uniform, with his face burned a deep bronze so that his eyes
looked very blue and his teeth very white. He clambered out over the
great basket of fruit Dr. Wright was bringing to Mrs. Carter, dropped
the boxes and parcels piled in around him and hugged and kissed all the
female cousins in sight, Helen, Nan and Lucy. He shook Bobby by the
hand, knowing full well that that youngster would sooner die than be
hugged and kissed.

"Douglas, where is Douglas?" he whispered to Helen.

"In the dining-room! You can get there around at the back of the
house--in the basement. We thought you were still in Mexico."

Lewis did not wait to tell her that he wasn't, but doing double quick
time he streaked around the house, and finding the basement stairs
without any trouble, he was down them in one stride.

"Douglas!"

"Oh, Lewis!"

Douglas forgot that not so very many months before this time she had
informed her cousin that she was too big to be kissed and that he was
not close enough kin to warrant indiscriminate hugging. Certainly she
was no younger than she had been eight months before and Lewis was no
closer kin, but now she submitted to his embraces and even clung to him
for a moment.

It was so wonderful to have him back safe and sound. She could hardly
believe it was only yesterday that she had sat on the roadside and wept.
He was her same Lewis, too. She felt instinctively that the count's
suggestion in regard to Mexican beauties was ridiculous.

"And Lewis, sergeant stripes on your sleeve, too! Why didn't you tell
me?"

"I did! Didn't you get my letter?"

"No, not for weeks and weeks!"

"Strange! I must say I am not crazy about that letter's being lost."

"Can't you tell me what was in it?"

"Sure! I'm telling you now," and the young man caught her to him once
more, but Douglas suddenly remembered she was too old to be kissed by a
second cousin, once removed. "I'm not crazy about having anyone but you
read that letter, though, not only because of my telling you this," and
he took another for luck, "but," as Douglas recovered her maidenly
reserve and pushed him from her laughing, "I said some other things in
that letter that I wouldn't like anyone and everyone to see."

"State secrets?"

"Well, a newly-made sergeant would hardly have such things intrusted to
him! It was only my opinion concerning the state of affairs down there
on the border. I may be wrong about things, but a soldier has no right
to blab his conclusions about conditions in belligerent countries,
especially when the press is wary in its comments."

"I wouldn't worry a moment about it. If you could see the road that our
R. F. D. has to come over you would not wonder that some of our letters
jolt out. There is one creek to cross that is like going down the Grand
Canyon."

"If it only jolted out there and found watery oblivion, I shan't mind.
But what a bully little shack this is! Wright was afraid we would not
get here in time for luncheon, and he and I were determined to lie and
say we had eaten, but gee, I'm glad not to have to perjure my soul!"



CHAPTER IX

GOLDILOCKS' CHAIRS


"Miss Hell-e-en! Miss Hell-e-en! Yo' popovers is done popped over!"
came in a wailing shriek from the kitchen.

Helen went so fast her pink bungalow apron looked like a rosy streak.
Dr. Wright, fearing some dire calamity had befallen someone and his
"first aid to the injured" might be in demand, ran after her. The
popovers had popped just right, however, but must be devoured
immediately; so luncheon was served as quickly as possible.

"Bring those two chairs from the kitchen, Chloe," commanded Douglas as
she deftly rearranged the table for ten persons instead of eight.

"Now, Miss Douglas, don't you know 'bout dem cheers in de kitchen? Th'
ain't got no mo' seat to 'em dan a rabbit."

"Bring them anyhow," laughed Douglas. "I can sit in one and Miss Helen
in the other."

In the confusion of placing family and guests, Douglas forgot all about
the bottomless chairs. After everyone was seated she suddenly remembered
them with horror.

"Suppose the count got one of them!" It made very little difference
about anyone else. But the count! All of that charm and elegance in a
chair with no seat!

As soon as grace was said, Bobby, with a shriek of delight, suddenly
collapsed and disappeared.

"One chair accounted for!" thought Douglas.

Bobby's heels were sticking up and he peered saucily through his feet at
the astonished company.

"I done got a Goldilocks' cheer," he announced. "'An' Goldilocks sat,
an' sat, an' sat, an' sat 'til she sat the bottom out of the little
bar's cheer.'"

"Bobby, take your seat!" commanded Mr. Carter, trying to look stern.

"I done took it!"

"Get up!"

Easier said than done! Bobby was fast stuck, "I reckon my 'ployer'll
have to op'rate on me," he said plaintively, "'fo' I kin eat."

There was a roar of laughter at this and Dr. Wright, who was sitting
between Helen and Bobby, extricated the youngster and then changed
chairs with him, whereupon they proceeded to the business of eating
popovers and creamed mushrooms and the other good things that Helen had
planned for the repast.

Douglas then laughingly told of their predicament in having only eight
whole straight chairs in the house and of her intention of sitting on
one of the decrepit ones herself and of having Helen sit on the other.

"It is rather like playing 'Thimble, thimble! Who's got the thimble?'"
she laughed. "I hope whoever has it is comfortable."

"Don't all speak at once!" said Lucy. "Of course some of the company's
got it, because home folks would put you out of misery at once."

Still silence and Douglas was mortally certain the count had it and was
too polite to say so.

"He certainly has beautiful manners," she said to herself, and turning
from Lewis, who was endeavoring to monopolize her, she smiled her
sweetest on the courteous foreigner. She felt she must make up to him
anyhow for telling him his moustache turned up like the Kaiser's.

"Isn't it strange, Cousin Robert," said Lewis to Mr. Carter, "I wrote
Douglas I was coming and she never got my letter?"

The count's manner was a little distrait. Evidently he was trying to
hear what Douglas was saying and to listen to the conversation between
Lewis and Mr. Carter at the same time.

"Is that so? I am afraid our postman is careless. He seems to get the
mail mixed sometimes. Every now and then our letters get left at
Grantly."

"But the ladies up there would send them down, I am sure," said Mrs.
Carter.

"You got my telephone message all right, didn't you?" Dr. Wright asked
Douglas.

"What message?"

"Why, I telephoned Grantly I would be out today!"

"No, they did not deliver it."

"Perhaps they will send the letter with the message," suggested the
count in an amused tone.

Just then Chloe fell down the steps into the dining-room with a plate of
hot popovers, which she adroitly caught before they reached the floor.

"Miss Ellanlouise done sent Sis Tempy down with the news that you alls
is gonter hab some comply. They done dis'greed whether they is a-comin'
yesterday or tomorrow."

"Who is it coming?" laughed Helen.

"They done 'sputed whether it is a doctor or a lywer, an' they ain't
able t' agree what his name is, but Miss Ella thinks it is Stites an'
Miss Louise she holds that it is Bright. Both on 'em was a-tryin' ter
listen at the 'phome ter onct so they done got kinder twis'ed like."

"When was the message sent?" asked Douglas.

"Sis Tempy said Miss Ella said it come of a Chuseday an' Miss Louise
called her back an' tol' her not ter pay no 'tention ter Miss Ella, that
she knows it come of a Thursday."

"Why, that must be my message I sent on Wednesday!" exclaimed Dr.
Wright. "I am either Lawyer Stites or Dr. Bright."

"Of course!" and everyone laughed heartily over the mistake of the
peculiar old sisters.

"Well, it doesn't make any real difference since you are here, does it?"
asked Helen.

"Not a bit! Being here is what is important to me. Does it make any
difference to you?"

Dr. Wright was able to say this in a whisper to Helen. It seemed very
difficult for him to have many words in private with this girl, who
seemed to him to become more charming every day. Certainly adversity had
improved her in his eyes. The character and determination she had shown
when once the gravity of her father's condition had been explained to
her were really remarkable in one so young, and one who had up to that
time never done a single thing she had not wanted to do. Tête-à-têtes
with Helen were made difficult for him by reason of his popularity with
the whole Carter family. Mr. Carter had various questions to discuss
with him; Mrs. Carter must always tell him her symptoms; Douglas wanted
his advice about many things; Nan found him very sympathetic and always
had something to confide in him; Lucy, realizing that Helen no longer
looked upon him as an enemy to the family, had come over to his camp and
now considered him her company just as much as anybody's and demanded
his attention accordingly. Of course Bobby knew he belonged exclusively
to him. Was he not his 'ployer?

"Does it make any difference to you?" he repeated.

Helen was on the point of answering him very kindly when Count de Lestis
leaned over and engaged her attention.

"Miss Helen, do not forget the promise you made me to come to Weston
some morning with your father. There are many things I want to show
you. I want your advice, too, about some pantry arrangements I am
contemplating. What does mere man know of pantry shelves?"

"Oh, I'd love to come!" exclaimed Helen, and the kind answer she was
preparing to give Dr. Wright never was spoken.

That young physician looked at the Hungarian count as though he would
cheerfully throttle him. Helen's advice about pantry shelves, indeed!
What business had this foreigner to draw Helen into his household
arrangements?

During that luncheon de Lestis managed to antagonize both Lewis
Somerville and George Wright. Douglas had smiled entirely too many times
on this stranger to suit Lewis, and Helen had been much too eager to
pass on the housekeeping arrangements to accord with George's ideas of
United States' relations with Hungary.

"Why is he not fighting with his country?" each young man asked himself.

Chloe was waiting on the table remarkably well, much to Helen's
gratification. Only once had she fallen down the steps, and, thanks to
her teacher's vigilance, she usually remembered to pass things to the
left.

"You must try to show the Count de Lestis how much you have learned,"
Helen had told her while she was preparing the lunch; "remember how
interested he is in educating colored people."

Helen, seated at the head of the table, was pouring the tea, Mrs. Carter
having resigned her place to her daughter when she resigned herself to
be a semi-invalid.

"Hand this to Count de Lestis," Helen said, having put in sugar to his
taste.

"Here's yo' C-U-P, CUP of T-E, TEA," shouted Chloe, as she balanced the
cup precariously on the tray.

"Beg pardon!" exclaimed the honored guest in amazement.

"C-U-P, CUP! H-O-T, HOT! T-E, TEA!"

The count took the tea with a puzzled look on his handsome countenance
and Chloe fled from the room, not in embarrassment but to impart to Sis
Tempy how she had done made Miss Helen proud by showing the count how
much she done learned her to spell.

Everybody roared, even Mrs. Carter, who had come to the realization that
the most dignified way to treat Chloe was to recognize her as a joke.

"It is this way," said Helen when she could speak. "You see, I have been
trying to teach the poor thing to read and spell. She told me of the
wonderful work you are doing," to the count.

"I am doing?"

"Yes, in your night school at Weston! It made me ashamed to think you,
a foreigner, should be doing so much for the colored race, and I doing
nothing, so I determined to do what I could with my own servant at
least. I can't tell you how splendid I think it is of you and your
secretary to give so much time to the poor country darkies."

The count flushed a dark red. He seemed actually confused by this girl's
praise.

"All of us think it is fine," said Nan.

"Speak for yourself!" whispered Lucy. "Mag and I think it is smart Alec
of him and we bet he does it 'cause he wants to, not to help the colored
people."

"I beg your pardon! Did you speak to me?" asked the count, recovering
himself from the evident confusion into which Helen's and Nan's
approbration seemed to have plunged him.

"I--I--said--er--I said you and your kind secretary must enjoy the
work," stammered Lucy.

"Do you find they learn easily?" asked Dr. Wright, trying to hide his
feelings and wishing he had put in his spare time in altruistic work
among the colored brethren.

"The truth of the matter is I do no teaching myself. This night school
is a fad of Herz, my secretary."

"Ah, but I know you do some, because Chloe tells me of how kindly you
speak to the darkies," insisted Helen. "She says you make beautiful
talks to them sometimes and they are crazy about you."

"They exaggerate!" shrugged the count. "They seem a simple, kindly folk,
grateful for any crumb of learning."

"Aren't there any district schools here for the colored people?" asked
George Wright.

"Yes, but no place for the older ones to learn. It is quite pathetic how
they yearn for knowledge,--so Herz tells me."

"Well, my opinion is that too much learning is bad for them," blurted
out Lewis.

"Oh, Lewis!" exclaimed Douglas. "How can you say such a thing? Too much
learning can't be bad for anybody."

"What I mean is too much and not enough. They get just enough to make
them big-headed and not enough to give them any balance."

    "'A little learning is a dangerous thing--
    Drink deep or taste not the Pierian Spring,'"

murmured Nan.

"Exactly!" said Lewis gratefully. "I don't want to hold the darky down,
but I do think he should be taught very carefully or he will get wrong
notions in his head, social equality with the whites and such stuff."

"I find Americans very strange when one gets them on the subject of
social equality," and de Lestis suddenly seemed very superior and quite
conscious of his own station in life. "There is much talk of being
democratic but not so much practice. Your Declaration of Independence
plainly states that all men shall be free and equal, and still, while
you grant the black race freedom, you deny it equality."

"I reckon you don't understand the South very well," answered Lewis, his
blue eyes flashing.

"Ah!" was all the count said, but he said it with a toploftical manner
that irritated Lewis.

"The colored soldiers are excellent, so I have heard," put in Douglas,
hoping to get the subject changed, if not too abruptly.

"Yes, they are good," said Lewis, "but that is because they are trained
well. That is drinking deep of Nan's Pierian Spring. I think a military
training in colored schools is almost more important than in the white
ones. It gives them the kind of balance they don't get in any other
way."

"Why don't you give the pupils in your night school some drilling?"
asked Helen.

"Thank you for the suggestion!" and the count bowed low over Helen's
hand as they arose from the table at a signal from Mrs. Carter, who
began to think the conversation was getting entirely too serious and not
at all social. "I shall profit by it immediately and introduce a kind of
setting-up exercise at least."

"Now we'll find out who had the other busted cheer!" cried Bobby.

It was the count, and his tact and good manners in patiently sitting
through the meal on what must have been a rather uncomfortable perch
made the females of the party, excepting Lucy, admire him just that much
more, but it did not make George Wright and Lewis Somerville think any
more highly of the good-looking foreigner.

"He had much better be fighting for his country," grumbled Lewis to his
companion in misery, "even if it would be on the wrong side." Which was
not the proper remark for a soldier in the army of a neutral nation.



CHAPTER X

NOVEMBER


The mystery that will never be solved for the human race is why some
days must be dark and dreary and why those days sometimes stretch
themselves into weeks.

The weather that had been so perfect when our Carters first came to
Valhalla had held for a long time. Frosty, crisp autumn mornings that
made the blood tingle in one's veins, followed by warmer days and then
cold bracing nights when a fire in the great chimney of the living-room
was most acceptable, had become so much the rule that when the exception
occurred no one was prepared to accept it.

Morning after morning Nan and Lucy had trudged cheerfully over the
fields and through the lane to Grantly Station to catch the early train,
enjoying the walk and not minding at all that the quarter of a mile was
really three-quarters. Coming home was happy, too. The train reached
Grantly by half-past three, the pleasantest time in an autumn afternoon,
and the girls would loiter along the road, stopping to eat wild grapes
or to crack walnuts or maybe to get some persimmons, delicious and
shriveled from the hard frosts. Sometimes Billy and Mag would have the
good news for them that the Suttons' car was to be at Preston and that
meant that our girls were to get out at that station and be run home by
Billy.

They were great favorites with both Mr. and Mrs. Sutton who encouraged
the intimacy with their son and daughter. Suitable companions are not
always to be found in rural communities and the coming of the Carters
to the neighborhood was recognized by that worthy couple as a great
advantage to their children.

"Nan is a charming girl, William," Mrs. Sutton had said to her husband,
"and even if Billy fancies himself to be in love with her it will do him
no harm, only good, since she has such good sense and breeding."

"Of course it will do him good and maybe it is not just fancy on his
part. We Suttons have a way of deciding early and sticking to it. Eh,
Margaret? I remember you had your hair in a plait and wore quite short
skirts when I began to scheme how best to get a permanent seat by you on
the train, and here I've got it!" and Mr. Sutton gave his portly wife a
comfortable hug.

"And Mag is having a splendid time with Lucy," continued that lady,
accepting the hug with a smile. "Lucy is so quick and clever, no one
could help liking her. I, for one, am glad the Carters have come."

"What do you think is the matter with their mother? They always speak of
her as an invalid. She looks well enough to me, although of course not
robust like one beautiful lady I know." Mr. Sutton admired his wife so
much that the flesh she was taking on just made her that much more
beautiful in his eyes. He thought there could not be too much of a good
thing.

"Invalid indeed! She is just spoiled and lazy," declared Mrs. Sutton who
was all energy and industry. "She is attractive enough but I should
hate to be her daughter."

"Yes, and I'd hate to be her husband, too!"

The Suttons had been most pleasant and hospitable to their new
neighbors, although there could not have been two women brought together
so dissimilar as Mrs. Sutton and Mrs. Carter. Mrs. Carter considered her
mission in life to be as beautiful as possible and also charming. Mrs.
Sutton had never had time to think what her mission in life was, she was
so busy doing the things it seemed important to do. She was first of all
the wife of a successful farmer and that meant eternal vigilance on her
part, as the success of a farm depends so much on the management of
women. Next she was the mother of two healthy, normal children who must
be trained in the way they should go. After that she was an important
member of a community where her progressive spirit was needed and
appreciated. Her home, Preston, was where the Ladies' Aid met and worked
and kept the little church out of debt; there was headquarters for the
Traveling Library; there the Magazine Club read and swapped periodicals.
She was president of the Preston Equal Suffrage League, a struggling but
valorous band, and now that work of organizations was sorely needed for
suffering humanity, this same league was rolling bandages and making
comfort kits for the Allies, showing that votes for women was not the
only thing it could work for. Truly Mrs. Sutton was a busy and happy
woman.

But we are forgetting that the weather seemed destined to become our
topic! Certainly the Suttons are a more agreeable subject than the
weather our girls were fated to endure. Of course the sun can't shine
all the time and in the natural course of events October days must
shorten into November days and they in turn into December, with nights
growing longer and longer and days shorter and shorter and both of them
colder and colder. Drizzling rains must fall, even if a trusting family
has taken its abode in a weather-beaten old house, up a muddy lane that
must be walked through to reach the station.

    "'In winter I get up at night
    And dress by early candle light,'"

yawned Nan one morning as the alarm went off, warning her it was time to
rouse herself and Lucy. Lucy had curled up in a little ball, having gone
to bed without quite enough cover. It had turned cold and damp during
the night, a heavy rain had kept up for hours and now at six in the
morning it was drizzling dismally.

"I don't see how we can go to town to-day," sighed Nan, peering out of
the window. "It is so dark and gloomy."

"I reckon the lane will be awfully muddy," said Lucy, reluctantly
uncurling herself, "and I believe I left my rubbers at school that time
I took them in when I thought it was going to rain and it didn't."

"You'll have to borrow Helen's."

"Gee! Isn't it cold?" and Lucy drew back the foot she had tentatively
poked out of bed. "I wish we could live in a steam-heated house again."

Valhalla was heated by open fireplaces, drum stoves and the Grace of
God, according to Chloe. There was a small stove in the younger girls'
room, but up to this time they had not felt the necessity of having a
fire.

It seemed difficult on that rainy morning for everyone to awaken.
Chloe's feet and then her reluctant legs came through the trap-door of
her attic room and slowly down the chicken steps leading into the
kitchen long after Helen had started the kerosene stove and put on the
kettle.

"I ain't slep' none," she declared when Helen remonstrated with her
because of her tardiness. "The rain done leaked in on my haid an' I
reckon I's gonter die er the ammonia."

"Oh, I fancy not! A little water won't hurt you," said Helen, flying
around the kitchen like a demented hen trying to scratch up a breakfast
for her brood. "Hurry up and set the table, it is so late."

"Won't hurt me! Lawsamussy, Miss Helen! Don't you know that niggers
can't wash they haids in winter time? They do say they wool has deeper
roots than what white folks' hair is got an' the water what touches they
haids dreens plum down inter they brains."

"Brains, did you say?" said Helen, but her sarcasm was lost on Chloe.
"If it leaked on your head why didn't you move your bed? It leaked on
Miss Douglas and me, too, but we moved the bed."

"Well, I was in a kinder stupid an' looks like I couldn't raise han' or
foot."

"I can well believe it," muttered Helen. "Please set the table as fast
as you can!"

"Helen," cried Lucy, hurrying into the dining-room, "you'll have to lend
me your rubbers! I left mine in town."

"Have to?"

"Well, please to!"

"I hate for you to stretch my rubbers all out of shape."

"Stretch 'em much! Your feet are bigger than mine."

"That being the case I certainly won't lend them to be dropped off in
the mud."

"Children! Children!" admonished Douglas, hurrying to breakfast. "What
are you quarreling about?"

"Who shall be Cinderella!" drawled Nan. "And it seems a strange subject
to dispute about on such a morning. For my part, I wish my feet were a
quarter of a mile long and I could take three steps and land at the
station."

"It leaked in our room last night," said Lucy.

"And ours!" chorused Helen and Douglas.

"Mine, too! But I ain't a-keerin'," from Bobby.

"My haid is done soaked up with leaks," grinned Chloe.

"I really think Miss Ella and Miss Louise should have had the roof
mended before we came," said Douglas.

"Well, tonight we can go to bed with our umbrellas up," suggested Nan.

"Yes! An' wake up a corp!" said Chloe dismally, as she handed the
certainly not overdone biscuit. "It am sho' death ter hist a umbrell in
the house."

Nan and Lucy were finally off, forlorn little figures with raincoats and
rubbers and dripping umbrellas. Helen's rubbers were a bit too small,
much to that young lady's satisfaction and to Lucy's chagrin.

"My feet will slim down some as I grow older, the shoe man told me. I
betcher when I am as old as you are my feet will be smaller," said Lucy
as she paddled off with the rubbers pulled on as far as she could get
them.

The road was passable until they got within a hundred yards of the
station and then they struck a soft stretch of red clay that was the
consistency of molasses candy about to be pulled. Nan clambered up an
embankment, balancing herself on a very precarious path that hung over
the road, but Lucy kept to the middle of the pike.

"I hear the train!" cried Nan. "We must hurry!"

"Hurry, indeed! How can anyone hurry through fudge?" and poor Lucy gave
a wail of agony. She was stuck and stuck fast.

"Come on!" begged Nan, but Lucy with an agonized countenance looked at
her sister.

"I'm stuck!"

"If I come pull you out, I'll get stuck, too! What on earth are we to
do?"

"Throw me a plank," wailed Lucy in the tones of a drowning man. Her feet
were going in deeper and deeper. Helen's rubbers were almost submerged
and there seemed to be nothing to keep Lucy's shoes and finally Lucy
from going the way of the rubbers.

Nan dropped her books, umbrella and lunch on the bank and pulled a rail
from the fence. Lucy clutched it and with a great pull and a sudden
lurch which sent Nan backwards into the blackberry bushes, the younger
girl came hurtling from what had threatened to become her muddy grave.

The train was whistling, so they had to forego the giggling fit that
was upon them and run for the station. The small branch that they
must pass before they got there, was swollen beyond recognition, but
one stepping-stone obligingly projected above water and with a mighty
leap they were over. The accommodating accommodation train reached
the station of Grantly before they did, but the kindly engineer and
conductor waited patiently while the girls, puffing and panting, raced
up the hill.

They had hardly recovered their breath when Billy and Mag boarded the
train at Preston.

"Well, if you girls aren't spunky!" cried Billy admiringly as he sank in
the seat by Nan, which Lucy had tactfully vacated, sharing the one with
Mag. "Mag and I were betting you couldn't make it this morning."

"We just did and that is all," laughed Nan, recounting the perils of the
way.

"And only look at my boots! Did you ever see such sights?" cried Lucy.
"Oh, Heavens! One of Helen's rubbers is gone!"

"That must have happened when I fished you out with the fence rail. I
heard a terrible sough but didn't realize what it meant. They were so
much too small for you," said Nan.

"Small, indeed! They were too big. Their coming off proves they were too
big," insisted Lucy.

"I'm glad your feet didn't come off too, then," teased Nan. "At one time
I thought they were going to."

Billy produced a very shady handkerchief from a hip pocket and proceeded
to wipe off the girls' shoes, while he sang the sad song of the Three
Flies:

    "'There were three flies inclined to roam,
    They thought they were tired of staying at home,
    So away they went with a skip and a hop
    Till they came to the door of a grocer-ri shop.

    "'Away they went with a merry, merry buz-zz,
    Till they came to a tub of mo-las-i-uz,
    They never stopped a minute
    But plunged right in it
    And rubbed their noses and their pretty wings in it.

    "'And there they stuck, and stuck, and stuck,
    And there they cussed their miserable luck,
    With nobody by
    But a greenbottle fly
    Who didn't give a darn for their miser-ri.'"

"But what I am worrying about," he continued when his song had been
applauded, "is how you are going to get home. Our car has been put out
of commission for the winter. Mag and I had to foot it over the hill
this morning, but our path is high and dry, while the road to Grantly is
something fierce. If you get off at Preston and go home with us, I'll
get a rig and drive you over."

"No, indeed, we couldn't think of it," objected Nan. "This is only the
beginning of winter and we can't get off at Preston every day and impose
on you and your father's horses to get us home. We shall just have to
get some top boots and get through the mud somehow."

"But you don't know that stream. If it was high this morning, by
afternoon it will be way up. The Misses Grant should have told you what
you were to expect. They should have a bridge there, but it seems Miss
Ella wants a rustic bridge and Miss Louise thinks a stone bridge would
be better, so they go a century with nothing but a ford."

"Going home I mean to pull another rail off the fence and do some pole
vaulting," declared Lucy. "I hope I can find Helen's big old rubber I
left sticking in the mud."

"It may stay there until the spring thawing," said Mag. "You had better
stick to the path going home. It is better to stick than get stuck."

"I wish I had some stilts," sighed Nan. "They would carry me over like
seven league boots."

"Can you walk on them?" asked Billy.

"Sure! Walking on stilts is my one athletic stunt," laughed Nan. "I
haven't tried for years but I used to do it with extreme grace."

That afternoon Billy had a mysterious package that he stowed under the
seats in the coach.

"What on earth is that?" demanded Mag.

"Larroes to catch meddlers!"

"Please, Billy!"

"Well, it's nothing but some fence rails to help Nan and Lucy get home.
I'm afraid the Misses Grant will object if they pull down a fence every
time they get stuck in the mud."

The parcel proved to contain two pairs of bright red stilts found at a
gentleman's furnishing store. They had been used to advertise a certain
grade of very reliable trousers, of an English cut. Just before the
train reached Preston Billy unearthed them and presented Nan and Lucy
each with a pair.

"Here are some straps, too, to put on your books to sling them over your
shoulders. You can't walk on stilts and carry things in your hands at
the same time. Tie your umbrellas to the stilts! So long!" and Billy
fled from the coach before the delighted girls could thank him.

Going home over the muddy road was very different from the walk they had
taken that morning. In the first place it had stopped raining and their
umbrellas could be closed and tied to the stilts. The air was cold and
crisp now and there was a hint of snow. They stopped in the little
station long enough to strap their books securely and get their packs on
their backs, and then, mounting their steeds, they started on their way
rejoicing.

"I wonder if I can walk," squealed Nan. "It has been years and years
since I tried," and she balanced herself daintily on the great long red
legs.

"Of course you can! Once a stilt walker, always a stilt walker!" cried
Lucy, starting bravely off.

Nan found the art was not lost and followed her sister down the muddy
hill to the branch. Billy was right: it had been high in the morning but
was much higher in the afternoon. The one stepping-stone that had kept
its nose above water on their trip to town was now completely submerged.

"Ugggh!" exclaimed Lucy. "My legs are floating!" And indeed it was a
difficult feat to walk through deep rushing water on stilts. They have a
way of floating off unless you put them down with a most determined push
and bear your whole weight on them as you step.

"Look at me! I can get through the water if I goose step!" cried Nan.

"Isn't this the best fun ever? Oh, Nan, I pretty near love Billy for
thinking of such a thing. Don't you?"

"Well, I wouldn't say love exactly."

"I would! I can't see the use in beating 'round the bush about such
matters. He is certainly the nicest person we know and does more kind
things for us."

"He is nice and I do like him a lot," confessed Nan.

"Better than the count and Mr. Tom Smith?"

"I don't see what they have to do with it," and Nan got rosy from her
exertion of goose stepping through the water and up the muddy hill.

"Well, the old count talked about taking a trip with you to the land of
dreaming, wherever that is, and Tom Smith took you on fine flying bats,
but Billy here, he gets some stilts for you and lets you help yourself
through the mud. I say, give me Billy every time!"

"Billy is a nice boy; but Count de Lestis is an elegant, cultured
gentleman; and Tom Smith--Tom Smith--he--he----"

"I guess you are right--Tom Smith, Tom Smith he he! But flying machines
wouldn't do much good here in the mud, and stilts will get us over the
branch dry shod. There's Helen's rubber!" and Lucy adroitly lifted the
little muddy shoe out of the mire on the end of one of her stilts and
with a skillful twist of the wrist flopped it onto dry ground.

When they reached the top of the hill where the road became better they
hid their stilts in the bushes, up close to the fence, carefully
covering them with dry leaves and brush.

"Our flamingo legs," Nan called them. During that winter many times the
girls crossed the swollen stream on those red stilts and truly thanked
the kind Billy Sutton who had thought of them. They would cache them
under the little station, there patiently and safely to await their
return.

It was always hard to walk through the water and on one dire occasion
when the stream was outdoing itself, having burst all bounds and spread
far up on the road, poor Nan goose stepped too far and fell backwards in
the water. Fortunately it was on her homeward journey and she could get
to Valhalla and change her dripping garments. She came across the
following limerick of Frost's which she gleefully learned, feeling that
it suited her case exactly:

    "'There was once a gay red flamingo
    Who said: By the Great Jumping Jingo!
      I've been in this clime
      An uncommon long time
    But have not yet mastered their lingo.'"



CHAPTER XI

PARADISE


It was astonishing how quickly that winter of 1916 and '17 passed for
those sojourners in Valhalla in spite of the fact that they were at
times thoroughly uncomfortable. It is not an easy matter for persons,
brought up in a modern, steam-heated house with three bath rooms, every
form of convenience and plenty of trained servants, to adapt themselves
to the simplicity of country life and that in its most primitive state.

Hard as the life was it agreed with them, one and all. Douglas and Bobby
walked to school, rain or shine, but their road lay in the uplands where
the mud rarely got more than ankle deep. Nan and Lucy had to contend
with much more serious conditions, but thanks to their flamingo legs
they got by.

The weather wasn't always bad by any means. There were wonderful clear
sparkling days with the ground frozen hard, and then came the snow that
meant sleigh rides with the Suttons and grand coasting parties.

Mr. Carter was growing very robust from his labors of stopping up cracks
and cutting fire wood. He gradually mended the leaks in the roof;
puttied in the window panes; replaced the broken hinges and fastenings
to doors and shutters; propped up sagging porch floors; and patched the
cracked and fallen plastering.

The Misses Grant viewed his efforts with mingled satisfaction and
embarrassment.

"We have intended to do all this for you, Mr. Carter, but Ella was so
stubborn about the carpenter. She never would agree to having that new
man at Preston, who is really quite capable," Miss Louise would explain.

"Certainly not! We knew nothing about him and have always employed Dave
Trigg----"

"But you know perfectly well that Dave Trigg is doubled up with
rheumatism," snapped Miss Louise.

"Yes, and you know perfectly well, too, that that man at Preston has
moved away," retaliated her tall sister, and so on would they wrangle.

"I enjoy doing it," Mr. Carter would assure them. "My only fear is that
I will get the place in such good order that you will raise our rent."

Which sally would delight the souls of the ladies who were in danger of
agreeing about one more thing, and that was the altogether desirability
of the Carters and the especial desirability of Mr. Carter.

Accepting Mrs. Carter at the extremely high valuation of her patient
family, they were ever kind and considerate of her. Many were the dainty
little dishes they sent to Valhalla from the great house to tempt the
palate of their semi-invalid tenant, vying with each other in their
attentions.

"An' she jes' sets back an' takes it," Chloe would mutter. "Mis' Carter
done set back so much that settin' back come nachel ter her now.

    "'My name is Jimmie
    An' I take all yer gimme.'

"That's my ol' Mis'."

Chloe and Helen had continued the lessons in reading and writing. The
whitewashed kitchen walls bore evidence to much hard work on part of
both teacher and pupil. Chloe had learned to cook many simple dishes and
to write and spell all she cooked. By slow stages, so slow they were
almost imperceptible, the girl was becoming an efficient servant. Her
wages were raised to eight dollars a month in spite of the remonstrances
of her sister Tempy, who thought she must serve as long as she had
before she could make as much.

"Sis Tempy been a-goin' over ter night school at the count's ev'y time
she gits a chanst but she ain't ter say larned nothin'."

Helen and Chloe were engaged in the delectable task of making mince pies
for Christmas. Chloe had just electrified Helen by writing on the wall
of her own accord: "Reseat fer miCe Pize."

"What does she learn?" asked Helen, smiling as she deftly rolled the
pastry.

"She say they done started a kinder 'batin' siety an' ain't ter say
foolin' much with readin' an' writin' an' sich. The secondary ain't so
patient as what you is, an' he uster git kinder worked up whin the
niggers wint ter sleep in school."

"I fancy that would be trying."

"They's drillin' 'em now an' they likes that 'cause the secondary done
promised them from the count that some day he'll gib 'em uniforms.
Niggers is allus keen on begalia."

"Does Tempy drill, too?"

"Lawsamussy, no! Women folks jes' sets an' watches. Tempy say she
done march aroun' enough fer Miss Ellanlouise, an' as fer flingin'
broomsticks--she does enough of that 'thout no German gemmun a-showin'
her nothin' 'bout how ter do it."

"Do they drill with broomsticks?"

"Yassum, that's what they tell me, but they do say----"

"Say what?" asked Helen as the colored girl hesitated.

"They don't say nothin'!"

"You started to tell me something they say about broomsticks."

"I ain't started ter tell a thing!" and Chloe shut her mouth very tight
and rolled her eyes back in a way she had that made you think she was
going to turn herself inside out.

"What do they debate about?" asked Helen amused at Chloe's sudden
reserve.

"They 'spute 'bout the pros an' cons of racin'."

"Horse racing?"

"I ain't so sho', but from what Sis Tempy done tol' me it mought be an'
agin it moughtn't."

"Does Tempy debate?"

"Sis Tempy! Yi! Yi!" and Chloe went off in peals of laughter. "Sis Tempy
can't argyfy with nothin' but a rollin' pin. She done put up a right
good argymint only las' Sunday with her beau, that big slue-footed
nigger, Jeemes Hanks."

"What was the argument about?"

"Jeemes he done say he's jes' as good as any white folks an' some
better'n a heap er them. He say his vote don't count none an' he ain't
able ter buy no good lan' jes' 'cause de white folks won't sell him none
up clost ter they homes,--an' Sis Tempy ups an' tells him that his vote
ain't no count 'cause he ain't no count hisse'f. She tells him that
buzzards lays buzzard eggs an' buzzard eggs hatches out mo' buzzards;
an' that made him hoppin' mad 'cause that nigger Jeemes sho' do set
great sto' by hisse'f."

"Does James feel that white people ought to sell him land whether they
want to or not?"

"'Zactly! He been wantin' ter buy a strip from Miss Ellanlouise up
yander by the clarin', not so fur from the great house. They's glad
enough ter sell some er that rocky lan' off over by the gravel pit, but
they don't want no niggers fer clost neighbors."

"And what did Tempy say?"

"She never said nothin'. She jes' up'n driv him out'n the cabin with the
rollin' pin. She tells him while she's a-lickin' him, though, that he's
a-larnin' his a-b-c's upside down at the count's school an' fer her part
she ain't a-goin' back."

"Do you think the count is responsible for James's nonsense?" asked
Helen. "I can't see how he got such notions from a gentleman like the
count."

"I ain't a-sayin'! I ain't a-sayin'!" and once more Chloe's mouth went
shut with a determined click and she rolled her great eyes.

Helen thought no more about it. Darkies were funny creatures, anyhow. Of
course it was hard on James Hanks if he wanted to buy good ground and no
one would sell it to him, but on the other hand one could hardly expect
the Misses Grant to sell off their ancestral acres just to accommodate
the slue-footed beau of their cook.

Miss Ella and Louise were entirely unreconstructed as far as the colored
people were concerned. They were kind to them when they were ill and
helped them in many ways, but they never for an instant lost sight of
the fact that they were of an inferior race nor did they let the darkies
lose sight of the fact. They were not very popular with their negro
neighbors although they were mutually dependent. Grantly had to depend
on colored labor and many families among them got their entire living
from Grantly.

The medicine chest at the great house furnished castor oil and paregoric
for all the sick pickaninnies for miles around; Miss Louise had to make
up great jars of her wintergreen ointment so that the aching joints of
many an old aunty or uncle might find some ease; while Miss Ella's
willow bark and wild cherry tonic warded off chills and fevers from the
mosquito infested districts down in the settlement in the swamps.

The older members of the community of negroes appreciated the real
goodness and kindness of the two old ladies and overlooked their
overbearing ways, but the younger generation, who cared not for the
ointment or tonic, could see nothing but arrogance in the really
harmless old spinsters.

Most of the former slaves, who had at one time belonged to Grantly, had
passed away. The few who remained were old and feeble and these had
many arguments with the younger ones, trying to make them see the real
kindness and goodness of Miss Ellanlouise.

"You done got fat on castor ile out'n the chist at Grantly whin you was
a sickly baby," old Uncle Abe Hanks would say to his refractory grandson
Jeemes. "An' you an' yo' paw befo' you was pulled from the grabe by
parrygoric from dat same chist, an' now you set up here an' say: 'Down
with southe'n 'ristocrats!' Humph! You'd better be a-sayin': 'Down with
the castor ile an' parrygoric!' 'Down with the good strong soup an' fat
back Miss Ellanlouise done sent yo' ol' gran'pap las' winter whin there
warn't hide or har er his own flesh an' blood come nigh him!' Yes! They
went down all right--down the red lane. You free niggers is got the
notion you kin live 'thout the 'ristocrats. Why don't you go an' live
'thout 'em then? Nobody ain't a-holdin' you. As fer me--gib me
'ristocrats ev'y time!"

"The Count de Lestis is as 'ristocratical as those ol' tabbies," the
grandson would reply sullenly, "and he doesn't treat a colored gemman
like he was a houn' dog."

"'Ristocratical much! That furrener? You ain't got good sinse, boy. That
there pretty little count didn't even come from Virginny an' all the
'ristocrats done come from Virginny one time er anudder. I done hear Ol'
Marster say dat time an' time agin."

"The count say he gonter sell us all the lan' we want. An' he say he
gonter fetch over some nice, kind white folks ter live neighbors to us;
white folks what is jes' as good as these white folks 'roun' here but
who ain't a-gonter hol' theyselves so proudified like."

"Yes! I kin see him now tu'nnin' loose a lot er po' white Guinnies what
will take the bread out'n the mouth er the nigger. Them po' white
furreners kin live on buzzard meat, an' dey don' min' wuckin' day in an'
day out, an' if'n dey gits a holt in the lan' the nigger'll hab ter go.
As fer a-livin' long side er niggers,--I tell you now, son, that the
white folks what don't min' a-livin' long side er niggers is wuss'n
niggers, an' I can't say no mo' scurrilous thing about them than
that--wuss'n niggers!"

A strong discontent was certainly brewing among the younger generation
of negroes. Conversations similar to the one between Uncle Abe Hanks
and James were not uncommon in the settlement that lay midway between
Grantly and Weston. This settlement was known by the exceedingly
appropriate name of Paradise. There were about a dozen cabins there,
some of them quite comfortable and neat, others very poor and forlorn.

There was a church, the pride of their simple hearts because it was
built of brick; also a ramshackled old building known as "The Club."
This club had originally been a tobacco barn, built, of course, without
windows, for the curing of tobacco. In converting it into a club house,
windows had been cut in the sides but with no fixed plan. Wherever a
member decided it would be nice to have a window, a window was cut. No
two were the same size or on the same level. Most of them were more or
less on the slant, giving the building the appearance of having survived
an earthquake.

In this club house the secret societies met to hold their mysterious
rites. Here they had their festivals and bazaars and sometimes, when the
effects of protracted meetings had worn off and the ungodly were again
to the fore, they would have dances that threatened to bring down the
walls and roof of the rickety building. It was whispered through the
county that a blind tiger was also operated there but this was not
proven. Certainly there was much drunkenness at times in Paradise,
considering the state was dry.

Count de Lestis was very popular in Paradise. He always had a kind word
for old and young. Then, too, he had work for them and paid them well.
His fame spread and actually there was a boom in Paradise. Other negroes
in settlements near by were anxious to move to Paradise. Town lots were
in demand and the club had a waiting list for membership. The church was
full to overflowing when on Sunday Brother Si took his stand in the
little pulpit.

Night school at Weston was something new and something to do, so the
darkies flocked to it. Herz, the secretary, had his hands full trying to
teach the mob that congregated three times a week to sit at the feet of
learning. He did get angry occasionally when his pupils, tired out no
doubt after a hard day's work, would fall asleep with audible
attestations.



CHAPTER XII

HERZ


Herz was in such strong contrast to his employer, the count, that he
gave Helen and Douglas quite a shock when they first met him. They had
walked over to Weston with their father, who had been prevailed upon to
take the order for the restoration of the old mansion. Dr. Wright had
been consulted as to the advisability of his trying to do this work and
had approved of it as being something to occupy his patient without
making him nervous. It meant many trips to Weston on the part of Mr.
Carter and equally many to Valhalla on the part of the count.

De Lestis had done very little talking about Herz, mentioning him
usually rather in the tone of one speaking of a servant, but Helen
came to the opinion the moment she looked at him that there was
nothing servile about him; on the contrary, he was evidently the more
intellectual of the two men. He was a little younger than the count,
much taller, with broad spare shoulders and a back as straight as a
board. His blue eyes were very near sighted, necessitating the wearing
of very thick lenses in his large gold-rimmed spectacles. His hair was
yellow and grew straight up on his head like wheat stubble. His brow was
broad and high and well shaped. He really was a handsome man except that
his mouth was too full lipped and so very red. His English was perfect
with no touch of accent as with the count. He said he had been born in
Cincinnati and his father was a naturalized American, so even Douglas,
the strong pro ally, had to accept him as German in name only.

Weston was a good three miles from Grantly by the road, but much closer
if one took a path through the woods, skirting Paradise and approaching
the old house from the rear. Truly it had been a grand estate in its day
and de Lestis was determined to restore it to its pristine glory. He had
owned the place about a year and had accomplished much in that time.
The fences and gates were in perfect repair; the fields showed that good
farming theories had already been put into practice; the woods, that
some knowledge of forestry had been applied, as the undergrowth had been
cleared away and useless timber been cut down to give room to valuable
trees.

"What a lot of money must have been spent here," said Douglas, noting
the new fencing and well-built barns as they approached the house.

"Yes, de Lestis seems to have unlimited supplies of cash. I fancy he is
a man of great wealth," said Mr. Carter. "I have ordered a Delco light
to be installed in his house. He spares no expense in restoring the old
place. I was rather opposed to having the new lighting system. It seems
such an anomaly in a colonial mansion."

"But, Daddy, you wouldn't want the count to grope his way around with
tallow dips," laughed Helen. "I fancy that was what was used when Weston
was first built."

"I'd have him do it rather than ruin the architectural effect of such a
wonderful old house; but de Lestis has his own ideas about things and
all he wants of me, after all, is to do the work of a contractor. As for
Herz,--he has better taste than de Lestis, I believe."

"Tell us about Herz, Daddy. You never have told us what he is like,"
demanded Helen.

"You judge for yourselves," answered the father.

The truth was that Mr. Carter had not known just what to make of Herz.
Clever he was certainly and no underling, as they had gathered from de
Lestis.

This was the girls' first visit to Weston although the count had
urged their coming many times. Douglas's school was dismissed for the
Christmas holidays and she felt like a bird out of the cage: two whole
weeks of delightful freedom ahead of her!

Teaching had come easy to her and she had conquered Bobby and the other
unruly pupils and felt that she was in a way getting on top of her
work. The days passed rapidly and her school was in a fine condition,
enthusiastic pupils and eager students. Nevertheless it was great to be
having a holiday and she meant to make the most of it. She and Helen
were planning a trip to Richmond after Christmas to visit Cousin
Elizabeth Somerville. Lewis was stationed there with his company and his
duties not being so very arduous, he hoped to spend much time with his
favorite cousin. Valhalla was very lovely and the girls had grown very
fond of it. Their plans for their father were working out and they knew
they had done right in taking the place and moving the family to the
country, but nevertheless they were looking forward with pleasure to the
visit to Richmond and release from all of their duties for a few days.

What glowing girls they were! Robert Carter looked at them with
pardonable pride as they tramped through the woods, their cheeks crimson
with the exercise in the cold air. How they had shown the "mettle of
their pasture" when the time came for them to take hold! He had always
known that Douglas had a certain bulldog tenacity that would make her
keep her grip no matter what happened, but Helen had astonished him.
When something had snapped in his tired brain he had instinctively
turned to Douglas as the person to decide for the family welfare, but
Helen had shown herself capable far beyond his hopes. He well knew that
her part of the work was most difficult, and he saw with wonder her
patience with her mother and with the seemingly impossible Chloe.

"I'll make it all up to them," he said to himself.

The doctor's prescription of country life and freedom from care with
plenty of occupation for his hands was working wonders. This work he had
been doing for de Lestis was not taxing his mind at all, and he suddenly
realized that it was not because it was so easy but because his mind was
in working order again. He felt his old power coming back to him, the
power of concentration, of initiative. Sometimes he would try to lie
awake at night just for the pleasure of feeling himself to be well.

His illness had been a blessing in disguise since it had brought out all
this latent fineness in his girls. It had somehow made them more
beautiful, too, at least they seemed so in the eyes of their doting
father.

Approaching Weston from the rear, no one was in sight. Smoke arising
from the kitchen chimney gave evidence of a servant's being somewhere.
The yard was in perfect order, with no unsightly ash pile or tin cans to
offend the eye. To one side Mr. Carter pointed out the rose garden that
the count had taken much care of, spending hundreds of dollars on
every known variety that would flourish in that latitude. Beyond were
greenhouses and hot beds that furnished lettuce and cauliflower and
spinach through the winter for the master's delicate palate.

"Isn't it lovely?" gasped Helen. "It must be splendid to be rich."

Mounting the broad steps leading to the pillared gallery they heard
voices speaking in some foreign language, they could not tell whether
it was German or not, and then a loud laugh and "Ach Gott!" in the
count's unmistakable baritone. Through the window they saw the two men,
de Lestis and Herz, bending over a table spread with papers. Herz was
pointing out something to his employer which seemed to delight him, as
he was laughing heartily. This was gathered only by one glance, as
immediately the Carters passed beyond the angle through which they could
view the interior of the room and Mr. Carter knocked on the front door.

The door was not opened for several minutes. Evidently the count
employed servants for such tasks and did not believe in opening doors
with his own august hands. Helen gave an impatient rat tat again. She
was not fond of waiting. The door was opened suddenly and by the count.

"Ah! My good friends!" he exclaimed enthusiastically. "I did not expect
you until tomorrow, my dear Mr. Carter."

"I came a day sooner because my daughters could come with me."

"And what an honor!"

He ushered them into the room where they had viewed him for the moment
in passing. There were no papers on the table now and everything was in
perfect order. The secretary was standing at attention, awaiting an
introduction to the ladies.

He bowed from his waist up, shutting up like a jack-knife. He had not
the easy, graceful manners of the count, but seemed much blunter and
less polished. One could not fancy his kissing the hand of a lady as
the count was famous for doing.

Love at first sight is supposed to happen only in books but it does
happen sometimes in real life, and on that frosty day in December it
came to pass in the library at Weston, came like a flash of lightning,
came without warning and without being wanted. Certainly the secretary
had not wanted to stop the work he was engaged in that seemed to be so
engrossing; he did not even want to meet these Carter girls but had
been forced into it by his employer. What good would it do him to
fall in love? He cared not a whit for women, anyhow, despised them in
fact. But the little blind god, Cupid, took none of these things
into consideration. He simply let fly his dart and as Adolph Herz
straightened himself up after making his stiff, jack-knife bow, the
arrow hit him square in his heart.

It was a toss of the penny which sister it should be; both of them
were lovely, both of them rosy and charming. He looked at Douglas
first, however, and never saw Helen at all, at least, seemed not to.
He did not take his eyes from Douglas's face during the entire call.

"Has the lighting system come yet?" asked Mr. Carter. "It should have
been here by now."

"Did you order one?" asked the count. "I understood I was to send the
order and have done so. You sent it off, did you not, Herz?"

"Certainly! A week ago!"

"But you told me to order it," insisted Mr. Carter. "I am sure you did."

"Why, that is all right, my dear fellow," said the count very kindly.
"If both of them come it will make no difference. I can install one of
them in the barn and garage."

"Oh, but I cannot let you have the expense of both if I was at fault,"
and Mr. Carter looked distressed. Was his head not behaving as it
should, after all?

"Why, my dear Mr. Carter, it might easily have been my mistake and I
cannot have you bothered about it. The expense is trifling. Miss Helen,
help me to persuade your father that it is nothing."

The count's manner was so kindly and he seemed so anxious to make Mr.
Carter feel that if any mistake had been made he, the count, had made
it that Helen was deeply grateful. How much she liked this foreign
nobleman, anyhow. He was always so gracious, so suave, so elegant. His
heart must be tender, his disposition good, or how could he make all of
the poor colored people like him so much? Helen was fully aware of the
fact that the count was attracted by her, but there had been times when
she was sure he was equally taken with Douglas, and certainly his
manner to Nan on several occasions had been one of devotion. He always
seemed to be coming out on the train with Nan and Lucy, and Lucy had
intimated that he had caused Billy Sutton many sad hours by "hogging"
the seat by Nan. Could he be a flirt? Helen put the thought from her.
She hated a male flirt. Nevertheless she was conscious of the fact that
she had a little tiny twinge of jealousy, so tiny that it was only a
speck, but it was there.

"It's Douglas's hair and Nan's eyes," she thought. "I believe he thinks
I'm more interesting than they are, though," and then she took herself
to task for a foolish, vain girl. "What difference does it make to me,
anyhow? What do we know of this stranger and what is he to us?"

Now the girls gave their attention to the estate, for they were
naturally interested in the work their father had undertaken. The
workmen were through, carpenters, plasterers and painters, and the place
had been turned over to Count de Lestis. Very beautiful it was and one
for any owner to be proud of. The spacious hall, with its waxed floor
and beautiful stairway with mahogany treads and bannisters, was as
fine an example of southern colonial as one could find in the whole of
Virginia. The furnishings were in keeping with the general plan of the
house, as at Mr. Carter's suggestion an antique dealer and decorator
from Richmond had had his finger in the pie. Much of the furniture had
been bought with the house, being old mahogany that had been at Weston
for more than a century.

"How lovely it is!" gasped Helen as the doors to the great dining-room
were thrown open.

"I am so glad you like it," whispered the count in a very meaning tone.
"I have your father to thank for its being so complete. Never have I
seen work carried on so rapidly. I was afraid I would be living in the
discomfort of shavings and mortar beds for months to come."

"Daddy is always like that," said Helen smiling. Nothing pleased Helen
so much as praise of her father. "He can always make workmen work. They
say in Richmond that not even plumbers disappoint him. He always turns
over his houses on time unless there is something absolutely unforeseen,
like a strike or something."

"I am indeed fortunate in having prevailed upon him to do this for me."

"But he has enjoyed doing it so much. You see Daddy has not been able to
work for so long and I think he had begun to feel that maybe he had lost
out, and this proves that he hasn't. He does not know how to be idle.
Why last summer when he was supposed to do nothing but rest he drew the
plans and built bird houses for Bobby."

"Ah, indeed! I am so glad you reminded me of something. Mr. Carter," he
called to that gentleman who was critically examining some electric
wiring recently put in ready for the Delco batteries which were on the
way, "I want now some plans for bird houses if such trivial work is not
beneath you. I want bird houses for every kind of feathered songster
that can be attracted and persuaded to live at Weston."

"How wonderful!" cried Helen and Douglas in chorus. Douglas had been
engaged in conversation by the secretary, who was limbering up in an
amazing manner. He was most attentive, showing her into every nook and
cranny of the old house. He opened sideboards and cabinets to reveal the
exquisite finish of the satinwood drawers and shelves; he took down bits
of rare old china from the plate rack in the dining-room, explaining the
marks on the bottoms. He was so kind that Douglas almost liked him, but
not quite.

"Adolph Herz is too German in sound," the Anglo-Saxon in her cried out.
"And then his mouth! It is so red!"

"Certainly I'll enjoy drawing plans for bird houses," laughed Mr.
Carter. "I shall even take pleasure in carpentering them. They are
really lots of fun to make."

"I agree with you," said Herz. "Simply drawing a design is never so much
pleasure as carrying it out. How a sculptor can be willing to do only
the clay modeling of his statue and then let someone else carve the
marble is more than I can understand. When I think of something to be
done, I must do it myself--trust it to no one."

"Well, I am a lazy bones myself and anyone can do my work," laughed the
count. "Now Adolph here has drawn the plan for a pigeon house and he
wants to build it himself. I tell him it is absurd, that any carpenter
can carry out his ideas, but he will not listen to me. Adolph is a very
stubborn man, Miss Carter." He addressed this remark to Douglas who
smiled at the young secretary. He was frowning heavily and his full lips
were drawn into a hard red line. The count caught his eye and gave him a
bantering look in return.

"Come on, Adolph, and show Mr. Carter your plans for the pigeon house!"

"They are not completed," he answered sullenly.

"I am quite a pigeon fancier," went on the master of Weston. "They are
charming birds to raise and one can make much money on squabs. We are
going into pigeon raising quite seriously. I think we shall build a very
large house. Eh, Adolph?"

"Where will you put the pigeon house?" asked Mr. Carter.

"Right there on the roof, about in the centre of the house," said the
count, pointing to the top of the mansion.

"Not there! Surely you would not do such a thing!" cried Helen
incredulously.

"Why not?"

"It would ruin the architectural effect of Weston," declared Mr. Carter.

"I think not!"

"Well, I know it would," maintained the architect stoutly. "Why, de
Lestis, all of my work would be as nothing if you should put a pigeon
house there. I beg of you not to!"

"But, my dear Mr. Carter, I am a pigeon fancier and want my pigeons at a
point where I can watch them twirling and dipping. I love their cooing,
too."

"All right! It is your house and you can do as you choose with it, but
please do not mention me as the architect who restored the place. I
cannot stand for such a piece of Philistinism." Mr. Carter laughed as he
made the above remark, but his daughters knew by a certain look in his
eyes that he was angry.

"Are you to have carrier pigeons?" asked Douglas, hoping to relieve the
company of an embarrassment that seemed to have fallen upon it.

The secretary still had his mouth drawn in a stern line although he had
smoothed his frowning brow. Helen was plainly put out at the count's
daring to go against her father's artistic taste, while Count de Lestis
seemed to be taking a kind of delight in teasing everybody.

"If you will promise to send me a message, I will," he answered
gallantly.

"Oh, that would be great fun! I have never seen a carrier pigeon."

The count then devoted himself to Douglas for the rest of the visit,
showing her the pantry shelves that he had on one occasion expressed
himself as desirous for Helen to pass on.

"All we need now is a lady of the manor," he said in a low tone. "It is
not meet for man to live alone."

Douglas looked at him quite frankly, her blue eyes steady as she gazed
into his black ones. "Can't your mother come and keep house for you?"
she asked quite simply.

There was no flirting in Douglas Carter's make-up. Herz, who refused to
go far from her in spite of the count's sudden devoted attentions,
relaxed his grim expression that he had held ever since the pigeon house
had been the subject of conversation. His mouth broke into a smile and
his easy manner returned.

The Carters soon took their departure, although the master of the house
was insistent that they should stay to tea with them.

"We must get back to Valhalla," declared Douglas.

"Valhalla! Is that the name of your place?" asked Herz.

"That is the name my sister Nan gave it. She says we are all more or
less dead warriors when the day is over. I don't like giving it such a
German name myself, but Nan says poetry is universal and---- Oh! I beg
your pardon!" The girl had forgotten that her companion was of German
birth.

"Do you dislike the Germans so much?" he asked.

"Not the German people----" she stammered. "Just the Imperial
Government!"

"But aren't the people the Government?"

"I hope not."

"Ah, so Miss Carter has opened fire on you, too, has she?" laughed de
Lestis. "If there were more fighters like her among the Allies, poor
Germany would have her banners trailing in the dust by now."

"I did not mean to be rude to Mr. Herz," said Douglas. "I am too
prejudiced in favor of France and England to remember my manners. If I
have injured you, I beg your pardon," and she gave the secretary her
hand in good-by.

He blushed like a schoolgirl and stammered out some unintelligible
something.

De Lestis renewed his attentions to Helen just as though he had not been
hovering over her sister with tender nothings.

"He is a flirt!" thought Helen. "I think I can give him as good as he
sends, but I am beginning to hate him." She dimpled to his remarks,
however, and as she bade him good-by at the door she smiled saucily into
his eyes.

"To think of that man's being willing to ruin his roof line," sighed Mr.
Carter as he and his daughters started on their homeward walk. "Just
look how beautiful it is," pointing to the old chimneys where the roof
melted into the sky.

"It is a shame," cried Helen. "But how cold it is! There now, I left my
gloves on the library table."

"Run back and get them, honey; Douglas and I will wait for you here by
the stile."

Helen ran back. Once more she glanced into the library where on their
arrival they had caught a glimpse of the two men bending over the
papers. Now what was her astonishment to see the secretary actually
shaking the count, who was laughing heartily. The secretary's eyes were
flashing as he blurted out the words:

"Fool! Fool!"

The count opened the door quickly this time at her knock.

"Your gloves! I found them and almost hoped you would leave them with
me, but the little hands would have been so cold. Indeed, they are so
cold," and he gallantly kissed them.

Helen seized her gloves and with glowing cheeks raced back to her father
and sister. She gave her hands a vigorous rubbing on her grey corduroy
skirt before she put on her gloves as though she might rub off the kiss.
In the excitement over the dénouement of the visit she forgot for the
time being that she had caught the secretary shaking his employer and
calling him a fool.



CHAPTER XIII

GOOSE STEPPING


The winter wore on. Our warriors were fighting the good fight and each
night as they gathered round the cheerful fire in the great chimney in
the living-room at Valhalla they had tales to tell of difficulties
overcome. Of course there were failures, many of them, but each failure
meant a lesson learned and better luck next time.

Douglas had days when the little ideas refused to shoot and her pupils
seemed to be just so many wooden dolls, but she learned the rare lesson,
that teachers must learn if they are to be successful: when a class
won't learn, and can't learn, and doesn't want to learn, there is
something the matter with the teacher. When she came to this realization
she took herself to task, and the dark days came farther and farther
apart.

The letter she had written Dr. Wright had had a most salutary effect on
Bobby. That young physician had taken the naughty boy for a long ride
and had given him a man to man talk, first temporarily dismissing him
from his employ and sternly forbidding him to hold out his hand when
they were going around corners. He was not allowed to blow the horn at
dangerous curves and all of his honors were stripped from him.

"It nearly killed me to do it," George Wright confessed to Helen. "I
couldn't look him in the eye for fear of weakening, but he took it like
the little man he is. I fancy Douglas will have no more trouble with him
for a while. I am glad she asked me to help her out. It is no joke to
teach your own flesh and blood. Bobby says he thought that Douglas was
just playing school and he didn't know he was really bothering her. He
knows now and is even prepared to lick any boy not twice his size who
disturbs his sister."

Count de Lestis seemed to have much business that took him away from
Weston. Sometimes he was gone for several weeks at a time, but when he
returned he would drop in at Valhalla as though he had not been away at
all. He was always a welcome visitor. Mrs. Carter greeted him as a long
lost friend. He seemed to be the incarnation of the social world to the
poor little lady, destined to spend her days out of her element. Mr.
Carter had almost forgiven him the pigeon house, but not quite.

"There is something lacking, somehow, in a man who would do such a
thing," he had declared to Helen.

The pigeon house was built by the secretary, according to his own plans
and specifications, and placed on the roof, where it loomed an eyesore
to the artistic. Truly they seemed to be going into pigeon raising in
good earnest. It was a huge affair, large enough to accommodate many
pigeons; and then, with the careless expenditure of money that seemed to
characterize the master of Weston, crates of pigeons arrived and were
installed in their new quarters.

"The carrier pigeons have not come, but when they do I'll bring one to
you," the count said to Douglas, "and you must promise to send me a
message." The girl laughingly promised.

The count was still doing what Helen called "browsing." He flitted from
sister to sister, whispering his tender nothings and for the moment
seeming all devotion to the one with whom he happened to be.

"Thank goodness, I found out in time what a flirt he is!" Helen
whispered to her inmost self. "Once, for just a fraction of a second, I
was jealous of Douglas and of Nan, too. His house is so lovely and he is
so rich and handsome and so fascinating, and I do so hate to be poor!
But I can't abide a male flirt!"

Nevertheless, Helen was very glad to see the count when he called at
Valhalla and she was very successful in hiding her real feelings
from that gentleman, who twirled his saucy moustache in masculine
satisfaction when he thought of the attractive girl who so courteously
received his attentions. Douglas's indifference rather piqued him and
he was constantly trying to break through it, but no matter what
flattering remarks he made to her she never seemed to know they were
intended for her, Douglas Carter.

"That young soldier is at the bottom of it!" he would exclaim to
himself after trying his best to get an answering spark from this
girl who appeared so altogether lovely in his eyes, more lovely and
desirable because of her indifference, and then, too, because he knew
instinctively that Herz was hopelessly in love with her; and many men
are like sheep and go where others lead.

The secretary was becoming a real nuisance to Douglas, who in a way
liked him, but who never got over his very German name and his red, red
mouth. He so often seemed to know exactly the moment when she was to
dismiss school and would appear as she locked the schoolhouse door and
quietly join her on the walk home. He was very interesting and Douglas
much preferred him to the count, who could not be with any female for
more than a few moments without bordering on love-making of some kind.
Herz had a great deal of information and this he would impart to
Douglas in quite the manner of a professor as he walked stiffly by her
side.

Bobby was not at all in favor of sharing the walks home with this tall,
stiff stranger. Ever since Dr. Wright's talk with him he had considered
himself Douglas's protector, and he liked to pretend that as they went
along the lonesome road and skirted the dark pine woods he was going to
shoot imaginary bandits who infested their path. He couldn't play any
such game with this matter-of-fact man stalking along by their side,
explaining to Douglas some intricate point in philosophy.

"Say, kin you goose step?" he asked one day when Herz was especially
irritating to him. Bobby had a "bowanarrow" hid in the bushes by the
branch, with which he had intended to kill many Indians on their
homeward walk.

"Yes, of course!" came rather impatiently from Herz, who thought
children should be seen and not heard and that this especial child would
be well neither seen nor heard.

"Well, do it!"

"Bobby, don't bother Mr. Herz," Douglas admonished.

"He kin talk an' goose step at the same time," Bobby insisted.

Herz began solemnly to goose step, expounding his philosophy as he went.
Bobby shrieked with delight. This wasn't such a bad companion, after
all. It was so ridiculous that Douglas could hardly refrain from
shouting as loud as Bobby.

"Is that the way the German soldiers really walk?" asked Bobby.

"So I am told."

"Where did you learn to do it?" asked Douglas.

"I--I--at a school where I was educated."

"Oh, but you are an American, so the count told me."

"I am an American." This was uttered in a very dead tone. The man
suddenly turned on his heel and with a muttered good-by disappeared.

"Ain't he a nut, though?" exclaimed Bobby.

"He is peculiar," agreed Douglas.

"Do you like for him to walk home with you, Dug?"

"I don't know whether I do or not."

"Well, I don't like it a bit, 'cep'n, of co'se, when he goose steps an'
then it's great. I seen a colored fellow a-goose steppin' the other day,
an' he says he learned it at the count's school what Mr. Herz is
a-teachin'. He says they call it settin' up exercises, but he would like
to do some settin' down exercise. I reckon he was tryin' to make a
kinder joke."



CHAPTER XIV

AN EIGHTEENTH BIRTHDAY


Every American will always remember that winter of 1917 as being one of
extreme unrest. Would we or would we not be plunged into the World War?
Should we get in the game or should we sit quietly by and see Germany
overrun land and sea?

Valhalla was not too much out of the world to share in the excitement,
and like most of the world was divided in its opinions. Douglas and her
father were for the sword and no more pens. Helen and Mrs. Carter felt
it was a pity to mix up in a row that was not ours, although in her
secret soul Helen knew full well that the row was ours and if war was to
be declared she would be as good a fighter as the next. Nan was an out
and out pacifist and declared the world was too beautiful to mar with
all of this bloodshed. Lucy insisted that Nan got her sentiments from
Count de Lestis, who had been "hogging" a seat by her sister quite often
in the weeks before that day in March when diplomatic relations with
Germany were broken off by our country. As for Lucy: she could tell you
all about the causes of the war and was quite up on Bismarck's policy,
etc. She delighted her father with her knowledge of history and her
logical views of the present situation. She and Mag were determined to
go as Red Cross nurses if we did declare war, certain that if they
tucked up their hair and let down their dresses no one would dream they
were only fourteen. Bobby walked on his toes and held his head very
high, trying to look tall, hoping he could go as a drummer boy or
something if he could only stretch himself a bit.

"Good news, girls!" cried Helen one evening in February when they had
drawn their seats around the roaring fire piled high with wood cut by
Mr. Carter, whose muscles were getting as hard as iron from his outdoor
work.

"What?" in a chorus from the girls, always ready for any kind of news,
good or bad.

"The count is going to have a ball!"

"Really? When?"

"On the twenty-second of February! He says if he gives a party on
Washington's birthday nobody can doubt his patriotism."

"Humph! I don't see what business he has with patriotism about our
Washington," muttered Lucy.

"But he does feel patriotic about the United States, he told me he did,"
said Nan.

"I think he means to take out his naturalization papers in the near
future," said Mr. Carter.

"He tells me he feels very lonesome now that he is in a way debarred
from his own country," sighed Mrs. Carter. "That book he wrote has made
the Kaiser very angry."

"Well, after the war is over that book will raise him in the estimation
of all democracies," suggested Douglas.

"Mag says that Billy wrote to Brentano's to try and get him that book
and they say they can't find it; never heard of it," blurted out Lucy.

"It has perhaps not been translated into English," said Helen loftily.

"Mag says that that's no matter. Brentano will get you any old book in
any old language if it is in existence."

"How can they when a book has been suppressed? I reckon the Kaiser is
about as efficient about suppressing as he is about everything else.
Well, book or no book, I'm glad to be going to a ball. He says we must
ask our friends from Richmond and he is going to invite everybody in the
county and have a great big splendid affair, music from Richmond, and
supper, too."

"Kin I go?" asked Bobby, curling up in Helen's lap, a way he had of
doing when there was no company to see him and sleep was getting the
better of him.

"Of course you can, if you take a good nap in the daytime."

"Daddy and Mumsy, you will go, surely," said Douglas.

"Yes, indeed, if your mother wants to! I'm not much of a dancer these
days, but I bet she can outdance any of you girls. Eh, Mother?"

"Not as delicate as I am now; but of course I shall go to the ball to
chaperone my girls," said the little lady plaintively. "I doubt my
dancing, however."

"He says we must ask Dr. Wright and Lewis and any other people we want.
He says he is really giving this ball to us because we have been so
hospitable to him," continued Helen.

"We haven't been any nicer to him than Miss Ella and Miss Louise," said
Lucy, who seemed bent on obstructing.

"But they are too old to have balls given to them," laughed Helen. "They
are going, though. I went to see them this afternoon with Count de
Lestis and they are just as much interested as I am. They asked the
privilege of making the cakes for the supper and he was so tactful that
he did not tell them he was to have a grand caterer to do the whole
thing. The old ladies just love to do it, and one is to make angel's
food and one devil's food.

"The Suttons are going," and Helen held the floor without interruptions
because of the subject that was interesting to all the family. "Mr.
Sutton says if the roads permit he will send his big car to take our
whole family, and if the roads are too bum he will have the carriage out
for Mrs. Sutton and Mumsy, and all of us can go in the hay wagon."

"Grand! I hope the roads will be muddy up to the hubs!" cried Lucy. "Hay
wagons are lots more fun than automobiles."

"Hard on one's clothes, though," and Helen looked a little rueful. The
question of dress was important when one had nothing but old last year's
things that were so much too narrow.

"What are you going to wear to the ball?" asked Douglas that night when
she and Helen were snuggling down in their bed in the little room up
under the roof.

"I haven't anything but my rose chiffon. It is pretty faded looking and
hopelessly out of style, but I am going to try to freshen it up a bit.
Ah me! I don't mind working, but I do wish I were not an unproductive
consumer. I'd like to make some money myself and sometimes buy
something."

Douglas patted her sister consolingly. "Poor old Helen! I do feel so bad
about you."

"Well, you needn't! But I did see such a love of a dancing frock when we
were down town that day with Cousin Elizabeth: white tulle over a silver
cloth with silver girdle and trimmings. It was awfully simple but so
effective. I could just see myself in it. I ought to be ashamed to let
clothes make so much difference with me, but I can't help it. I am
better about it than I was at first, don't you think?"

"I think you are splendid and I also think you have the hardest job of
all to do: working all the time and never making any money."

The next morning Douglas held a whispered conversation with Nan before
they got off to their respective schools.

"See what it costs but don't let Helen know. She will be eighteen
tomorrow, and if it isn't worth a million, I am going to take some of my
last month's salary and get it for her."

When Nan, who was not much of a shopper, approached the great windows of
Richmond's leading department store, what was her joy to see the very
gown that Douglas had described to her displayed on Broad Street and
marked down to a sum in the reach of a district school teacher.

"It looks so like Helen, somehow, that I can almost see her wearing it
in place of the wax dummy," exclaimed Nan.

"Must I charge it, Miss Carter?" asked the pleasant saleswoman as she
took the precious dress out of the show-window.

"Please, Miss Luly, somehow I'd rather not charge it, but I haven't the
money today. Couldn't you fix it up somehow so I could take it with me
and bring you the money tomorrow? We don't charge any more, but if I
don't buy it right now I'm so afraid somebody else might get it."

The smiling saleswoman, who had been waiting on the Carters ever since
the pretty Annette Sevier came a bride to Richmond, held a conference
with the head of the firm on how this could be managed.

"Miss Nan Carter is very anxious not to charge, but can't pay until
tomorrow."

"Ummm! A little irregular! What Carter is it?"

"Mr. Robert Carter's daughter!"

"Let her have it and anything else she wants on any terms she wishes.
Robert Carter's name on a firm's books is the same as money in the bank.
I have wondered why his account has been withdrawn from our store," and
the head of the firm immediately dictated a letter to his former patron,
requesting in polite terms that he should run up as big a bill as he
wished and that he could pay whenever he got ready. So very polite was
the letter that one almost gathered he need not pay at all.

Mr. Carter laughed aloud when he read the letter, remembering those days
not yet a year gone by when the bills used to pile in on the first of
every month and he would feel that they must be paid immediately and the
only way to do it was redouble his energy and work far into the night.

The flat box with the precious dancing dress was not an easy thing to
carry on stilts, but the lane was muddy and Nan had to do it somehow.
With much juggling she got safely over the dangers of the road and
smuggled it into the house without Helen's seeing it.

"I got it!" Nan whispered to Douglas when she could get her alone.

"But you didn't have the money! I asked you to find out the price
first," said Douglas, fearing Nan, in her zeal, had overstepped the
limit in price. "I didn't want anything charged. I am so afraid we might
get started to doing it again."

"Never! I just kind of borrowed it until tomorrow. You see I struck a
sale and they couldn't save it for me because there were only a few of
them. I told them I couldn't charge but would bring the money tomorrow,
and Miss Luly fixed it up for me, somehow, and told me I could have the
whole department store on any terms I saw fit to dictate."

Morning dawned on Helen's eighteenth birthday but found her in not very
jubilant spirits. It isn't much fun to have an eighteenth birthday when
you have to bounce out of bed and rush into your clothes to see that a
poor ignorant country servant doesn't make the toast and scramble the
eggs before she even puts a kettle of water on for coffee. Chloe always
progressed backwards unless Helen was there to do the head work.

Helen found Chloe had already descended her perilous ladder and had the
stove hot and the kettle on as a birthday present to her beloved
mistress. Chloe really adored Helen and did her best to learn and
remember. The breakfast table was set, too, and Chloe's eyes were
shining as though she had something to say but wild horses would not
make her say it.

The sisters came in at the first tap of the bell and her father was in
his place, too. Helen started to seat herself at her accustomed place,
but at a shout from Lucy looked before she sat. Her chair was piled high
with parcels.

"Happy birthday, honey!" said Douglas.

"Happy birthday, daughter!" from Mr. Carter.

"Happy birthday! Happy birthday!" shouted all of them in chorus.

"Why, I didn't know anybody remembered!" cried Helen.

"Not remember your eighteenth birthday! Well, rather!" said Mr. Carter.

Then began the opening of the boxes while Chloe stood in the corner
grinning for dear life.

A pearl pin from Mrs. Carter, one she had worn when she first met her
husband, was in the small box on top. An old-fashioned filigree gold
bracelet was Mr. Carter's gift. It had belonged to his mother, for whom
Helen was named.

"It will look very lovely on your arm, my dear," he said when Helen
kissed him in thanks.

Cousin Elizabeth Somerville had sent her ten dollars in gold; Lewis,
some new gloves; there was a vanity box from Lucy with a saucy message
about always powdering her nose; a little thread lace collar from Nan,
made by her own hands; and to balance all was a five-pound box of candy
from Dr. Wright.

"I had a big marble for you, but it done slipt out'n my pocket," said
Bobby, and then he had to give a big hug and a kiss, which Helen
declared was better than even a marble.

"But you haven't opened your big box, the one at the bottom," insisted
Nan. It had got covered up with papers and Helen had overlooked it.
"Please hurry up and open it because Lucy and I have to beat it. It will
be train time before we know it."

As Helen untied the strings and unwrapped the tissue paper that was
packed around the contents of the big box you could have heard a pin
drop in that dining-room at Valhalla. She eagerly pulled aside the
papers and then shook out the glimmering gown.

"Oh, Douglas! Douglas! You shouldn't have done it! It is even prettier
than I remembered it to be!"

"Mind out, don't splash on it," warned Nan just in time to keep the two
great tears that welled up into Helen's eyes from spotting the exquisite
creation.

"My Miss Helen's gwinter look like a angel whin she goes ter de count's
jamboree," declared Chloe.

"Well, your Miss Douglas is the angel and she's going to have to have a
new dress with slits in the shoulder-blades to let her wings come
through," sobbed Helen, laughing at the same time as she held the dress
up in front of her and danced around the table. She had thought nobody
remembered her eighteenth birthday and now found nobody had forgotten
it.

"You shouldn't have afforded it, Douglas. I can't keep it. It would be
too selfish of me."

"Marked down goods not sent on approval," drawled Nan.



CHAPTER XV

BLACK SOCIALISM


Sergeant Somerville and Private Tinsley accepted the invitation to the
count's ball with alacrity. Their company had been mustered out just in
the nick of time for them to obtain indefinite leave. It was rumored
that they were to be taken in again, this time as regulars, but the
certainty of having no military duties to perform for the time being was
very pleasant to our two young men.

The Carter girls had taken the count at his word and invited several
friends from Richmond to stay at Valhalla and attend the ball. Dr.
Wright was eager to come and with the recklessness of physicians who use
their cars for business and not for pleasure, he made the trip in his
automobile. He had a new five-seated car, taking the place of his former
runabout.

"M. D.'s and R. F. D.'s have to travel whether roads are good or bad,"
he had declared.

The two young soldiers and Tillie Wingo had the hardihood to risk their
necks with him, and at the last minute he picked up Skeeter Halsey and
Frank Maury, who had been invited by Lucy so that she and Mag would not
have to be wall flowers. Six persons in a five-passenger car insures
them from much jolting, as there is no room to bounce.

Tillie was in her element with five pairs of masculine ears to chatter
in. She and Bill were still engaged "in a way," as she expressed it,
although neither one of them seemed to regard it very seriously. Tillie
insisted upon making a secret of it as much as she was capable, so that
in Bill's absence she might not be laid on the shelf.

"The fellows don't think much of an engaged girl," she said frankly,
"and I have no idea of taking a back seat yet awhile."

The recklessness of the guests in coming over Virginia roads in an
automobile in the month of February was nothing to the recklessness of
the Carters in inviting six persons to spend the night with them when
they possessed but one small guest chamber.

"We can manage somehow," Helen declared, "and, besides, we will be out
so late dancing there won't be much use in having a place to sleep,
because we won't have any time to sleep."

"Only think of all of those bedrooms at Grantly with nobody in them!"
exclaimed Lucy. "Those old ladies might just as well ask some of us up
there, but they will never think of it, I know."

"If they do, they will disagree about which ones to ask and which rooms
to put them in, and we will never get the invitation," laughed Helen.
"Anyhow, they are dear old ladies and I am mighty fond of them." Helen
often ran up to the great house to ask advice from the Misses Grant
about household affairs and was ever welcome to the lonely old women.

"They are certainly going to the ball, aren't they?" asked Douglas.

"They wouldn't miss it for worlds. They are having a time just now,
though, because Tempy has left them. They can't find out what her reason
is and feel sure she didn't really want to go; now her sister Chloe is
so near she seemed quite content, but for weeks she has been in a
peculiar frame of mind and the last few days they have caught her in
tears again and again. They sent for Dr. Allison, who lives miles and
miles from here, but Miss Ella and Miss Louise will trust no other
doctor. He says as far as he can tell she is not ill. Anyhow, she has
gone home, and today their man-servant departed, also. Of course they
might draw on the field hands for servants, but they hate to do it
because they are so very rough. They have had this man-servant for years
and years, ever since he was a little boy, and they can't account for
his going, either. He had a face as long as a ham when he left them and
gave absolutely no excuse except that his maw was sick, and as Miss Ella
says, 'His mother has been dead for ten years, and she ought to know,
since she furnished the clothes in which she was buried.' Miss Louise
said she had only been dead eight, and they were her clothes, but they
agree that she is dead at least, and can't account for Sam's excuse."

"Poor old ladies, I am sorry for them," said Douglas.

On the day of the ball, there was much furbishing up of finery at
Valhalla. Mr. Carter's dress suit had to be pressed and his seldom used
dress studs unearthed. Mrs. Carter forgot all about being an invalid and
was as busy and happy as possible, trying dresses on her daughters to
see that their underskirts were exactly the right length and even
running tucks in with her own helpless little hands.

"It is a good thing I don't have to think about my own outsides," said
Helen, "as all of my time must be spent in planning for our guests'
insides. I tell you, six more mouths to fill is going to keep Chloe and
me hustling."

"It sho' is an' all them dishes ter wash is goin' ter keep me hustlin'
some mo'," grumbled Chloe. "An' then I gotter go ter the count's an'
stir my stumps."

"I am sorry, but I am going to give you a nice holiday after it is all
over," said her young mistress kindly. The count had asked Helen to
bring Chloe to look after the ladies in the dressing-room.

"I ain't a-mindin' 'bout dishes. I's jes' a-foolin'---- Say, Miss Helen,
what does potatriotic mean?"

"Patriotic? That means loving your country and being willing to give up
things for it and help save it. Everybody should be patriotic."

"But s'posin' yer ain't got no country?"

"Why, Chloe, everybody has a country, either the place where you were
born or the place where you have been living long enough to love and
feel that it is yours."

"But niggers is been livin' here foreveraneveramen, an' still they ain't
ter say got no country."

"Why, you have! Don't you think Uncle Sam would look after you and fight
for you if you needed his help?"

"I ain't got no Uncle Sam, but I hear tell that he wouldn't raise his
han' ter save a nigger, but yit if'n they's a war that he'll 'spec' the
niggers ter go git shot up fer him."

"Why, Chloe! How can you say such a thing?"

"I ain't er sayin' it--I's jes' a-sayin' I hears tell."

"Who told it to you?"

"Nobody ain't tol' it ter me. I jes' hearn it."

"Well, it's not true."

"I hearn, too, that they's plenty er money ter go 'roun' in this
country, but some folks what thinks they's better'n other folks has
hoarded an' hoarded 'til po' folks can't git they han's on a nickel. An'
I hearn that they's gonter be distress an' misery, an' wailin' an'
snatchin' er teeth 'til some strong man arouses an' makes these here
rich folks gib up they tin. Nobody ain't a-gonter know who dat leader
will be, he mought be white an' thin agin he mought be black, but he's
a-gonter be a kinder sabior."

"How is he going to manage?" asked Helen, amused at what sounded like a
sermon the girl might have heard from the rickety pulpit of the brick
church.

"I ain't hearn, but I done gib out ter all these niggers that my white
folks ain't got no tin put away here in this Hogwallow or whatever Miss
Nan done named it. They keeps their money hot a-spendin' it, I tells 'em
all."

Helen laughed, and with a final touch at the supper table and a last
peep at the sally lunn muffins, which were rising as they should, she
started to go help her mother with the dancing frocks and their
petticoats that would show discrepancies.

"Say, Miss Helen, is you sho' Miss Ellanlouise is goin' ternight?" asked
Chloe, following her up the steps.

"Yes, Chloe, I'm sure."

"An', Miss Helen, if'n folks ain't got no country ter love what ought
they do?"

"Why, love one another, I reckon. Love the people of their own race, and
try to help them."

"Oughtn't folks ter love they own color better'n any other?"

"Why, certainly!"

"If'n some of yo' folks got into trouble, what would you do?"

"Why, I'd help them out if I could."

"Even if'n they done wrong?"

"Of course! They would still be my own people."

"If they ain't ter say done it but is a-gonter do it, thin what would
you do?"

"I'd try to stop them."

"Would you tell on 'em?"

"I'd try to stop them first. Who has done wrong or is going to do it,
Chloe?"

"Nobody ain't done wrong an' I ain't a-never said they is. I ain't said
a word. This talk was jes' some foolishness I done made up out'n my
haid. But say, Miss Helen,--I'd kinder like ter stop at Mammy's cabin
over to Paradise befo' I gits ter de count's. I kin take my foot in my
han' an' strike through the woods an' beat the hay wagin thar, it goin'
roun' by the road."

"All right, Chloe!"

Helen rather fancied that Chloe wanted to see her sister, who was
evidently contemplating some imprudence. She had been threatening to
marry James Hanks, but her people had shown themselves very much opposed
to it. Perhaps the girl was on the eve of an elopement which had called
forth all of the above conversation from her sister. Where did she get
all of those strange socialistic ideas? Was Lewis Somerville right and
was the little learning a dangerous thing for these poor colored people?
Surely she had helped Chloe by the little teaching she had given her.
The girl was like another creature. She seemed now to have self-respect,
and Helen felt instinctively that her loyalty to her and her family was
almost a religion with her.



CHAPTER XVI

DRESSING FOR THE BALL


"How are Miss Ella and Louise going?" asked Douglas, as she stooped for
a parting glance in the mirror which the sloping ceiling necessitated
hanging so low that a girl as tall as Douglas could not see above her
nose without bending double.

"In their phaeton," answered Helen. "They don't mind driving themselves.
I asked them. You see with Sam gone they can't get out the big old
rockaway."

"They must keep along near the hay wagon. Such old ladies should not be
alone on the road," said Douglas.

"I dare you to tell them that! They have no fear of anything or anybody.
They say they have lived alone in this county for so many, many years
that they are sure nobody will ever harm them."

"Well, I am sure nobody ever would," said Nan.

The girls had decided that the only way to take care of so many guests
was to double up "in layers," as Lucy called it. Bobby was sent over
into the new house with Lewis and Bill, his old tent mates, for whom Nan
and Lucy had vacated their room while they came over to the old house
and brought Tillie Wingo with them.

"Three in a double bed and two in a single bed wouldn't be so bad after
a ball," Nan had declared.

Dressing for the ball was the more difficult feat, however. The ceiling
was so low and sloping and Tillie Wingo did take up so much room with
her fluffy ruffles. The Carter girls were glad to see the voluble
Tillie. She was such a gay, good-natured person and seemed so pleased to
be included in this pleasure party. She looked as pretty as a pink in a
much beruffled painted chiffon; and while they were dressing, she
obligingly showed Helen the very latest steps in dancing.

Helen was charming in her birthday present dress. Nan declared she
looked like the princess in the fairy tale with the dress like the
moonlight.

"With all my finery, I don't look nearly so well as you do, Douglas,"
Helen declared.

Indeed Douglas was beautiful. She had on the graduating dress, the price
of which had caused her so much concern the spring before. With careful
ripping out of sleeves and snipping down of neck, Mrs. Carter had
converted it into an evening dress with the help of a wonderful lace
fichu, something left over from her own former splendor.

The sight of her eldest daughter all dressed in the ball gown brought
tears of regret to poor Mrs. Carter's eyes.

"What a débutante you would have made!" she sighed. "You have a queenly
something about you that is quite rare in a débutante and might have
made the hit of the season."

"Oh, Mumsy, I'm a much better district school teacher!" and Douglas
blushed with pleasure at her mother's rare praise.

The girl had seen a subtle difference in her mother's manner to her ever
since she had felt it her duty to take a stand about their affairs. Mrs.
Carter was ever gentle, ever courteous, but Douglas knew that she looked
upon her no longer as her daughter somehow,--rather as a kind of
taskmistress that Fate had set over her.

The young men were gathered in the living-room waiting for the girls and
when they burst upon them in all the glory of ball gowns they quite
dazzled them.

"Douglas!" gasped Lewis in an ill-concealed whisper, "you somehow make
me think of an Easter lily."

"Well, I don't feel like one a bit. I can't fancy an Easter lily's
dancing, and I mean to dance every dance I get a chance and all the
others, too."

"I reckon I can promise you that," grinned her cousin.

Bill Tinsley made no ado of taking the pretty Tillie in his arms and
opening the ball with a whistled fox trot.

"I'm going to get the first dance with you, and to make sure I'll just
take it now, please."

"Don't you like my dress?" asked Helen, twirling around on her toe
before Dr. Wright, whose eyes plainly showed that he not only liked the
dress but what was in the dress rather more than was good for the peace
of mind of a rising young nerve specialist.

"Lovely!" he exclaimed, not looking at the dress at all, but at the
charming face above the dress.

"Douglas gave it to me for a birthday present,--it was her extravagance,
not mine. I think she is about the sweetest thing in all the world. The
only thing that worries me is mashing it all up in the Suttons' hay
wagon."

"Are the roads so very bad? Why not go in my car?"

"They are pretty bad, but no worse than the road from Richmond. It
certainly is strange how that road changes. It was fine when the agent
brought us out here to see the place. Wasn't it?"

"It was, but I don't think it is such a very bad road now. It may be
because I like to travel on it. But come on and go with me in my car. If
you will trust your dress and neck to me."

"I will, since you put my dress first! Somehow that makes me feel you
will be careful of it and respect it."

A rattle of wheels and Billy Sutton came driving up in a great hay wagon
filled with nice, clean straw, and close on his heels were Mr. and Mrs.
Sutton in their carriage, which was to take Mr. and Mrs. Carter sedately
to the ball.

"Helen and I are going in my car. Does anyone want to occupy the back
seat?" asked George Wright, hoping he would be paid for his politeness
by a refusal.

"No indeed, I adore a hay wagon! It's so nice and informal," cried
Tillie.

Douglas did want to go, but felt perhaps it was up to her to chaperone
the youngsters in the hay wagon, so for once Dr. Wright thought he was
to get Helen for a few moments to himself.

"Chloe must go with us," declared Helen. "She wants to stop in Paradise
to see her mother."

Dr. Wright cracked a grim joke to himself which concerned Chloe and the
antipodes of Paradise, but he smothered his feelings and opened the door
for the delighted colored girl, who had never been in an automobile
before.

What a gay crowd they were in that hay wagon! Billy Sutton had contrived
to get Nan on the front seat with him, where she was enthroned high
above the others, looking down on the horses' backs as they strained and
pulled the great wagon through the half-frozen mud. Billy had some
friends out from town who immediately attached themselves to Tillie
Wingo, who was to beaux just as a honey-pot to bees. They stopped and
picked up two families of young folks on the way to the count's, and by
the time they got them all in, the wagon was quite full.

"I am glad Helen didn't trust her new dress to this," Douglas whispered
to Lewis.

"Well, I am glad you didn't have on such fine clothes and came this
way," he whispered back. "Wright is too reckless for me on these country
roads. Not that I am afraid myself, but I certainly should hate to see
you turned over."

"Whar Miss Ellanlouise?" asked Chloe, when she could get her breath
after the first mad plunge into the delights of motoring.

"Oh, there! How selfish of me! I should have thought of it and asked
them to go with us," said Helen.

"We can go back for them," suggested the doctor, who had begun to feel
that he never would have a chance to see Helen alone.

"Oh, no, we needn't mind. They are coming in their phaeton, and no doubt
have started long before this. They are so good to me, I should have
thought of them."

Chloe was put out at Paradise, assuring her mistress she would come up
through the woods in a few moments and no doubt be at her post in the
dressing-room before the guests should arrive.

Paradise was very dark and lonesome. The few scattered cabins showed
not a gleam. There was a dim light trickling from the windows of the
club, but as they approached that rickety building, that disappeared.
Helen saw some dark forms up close to the wall when she looked back
after passing that place of entertainment.

"I reckon they are going to initiate someone tonight," she thought.

"Chloe had such a strange talk with me today," she told her companion
and then repeated the conversation she had had with the colored girl. "I
can't quite understand her."

"Perhaps this count is instilling some kind of silly socialistic notions
in their heads," suggested the doctor, who held the same opinion Lewis
Somerville did of the gentleman who was to be their host for the
evening. Indeed, he so cordially mistrusted him that only the fact he
was to be with Helen had reconciled him to spending an evening under his
roof.

"Oh, no, I can hardly think that, and besides, the count does not do the
teaching. That is done by a Mr. Herz, his secretary. He is an American,
born in Cincinnati. He seems to be very intelligent and certainly has
taken a shine to Douglas. I don't know just what she thinks of him, but
she lets him walk home from school with her every now and then."

"I don't like the name much!"

"Well, the poor man can't help his name. You speak as though we were
already at war with Germany. I am trying to preserve our neutrality
until war is declared."

"My neutrality has been nothing but a farce since I have realized that
Germany is at war with us."

"You sound just like Douglas and Father. Will you go to war if it
comes?"

"Why, of course! Would you have me do otherwise?"

"I--I--don't know," and Helen wished she had not asked the question that
had called forth this query. This night was to be one of pleasure,
feasting and dancing. War had no place in her thoughts when she had on
her new dress and the music was coming from Richmond.



CHAPTER XVII

THE BALL


"Music and lights put me all in a flutter!" exclaimed Helen as they
approached the broad and hospitable mansion.

Already there were several buggies and carriages in the gravelled
driveway. The guests were arriving early, as sensible country people
should. Let the city folks wait until far in the night to begin their
revels, but those living in the country as a rule feel that balls should
start early and break up early.

"Do you care so much for parties?"

"I think I must. I have not been to very many balls, because you see I
am not out in society yet. I reckon I'll never make my début now," and
Helen gave a little sigh.

"Does it make so very much difference to you?"

"Well, not so much as it would have a year ago. I used to feel that
making one's début was a goal that was of the utmost importance, but
somehow now I do feel that there are things a little bit more worth
while."

"What for instance?"

"Getting Father well, and--and----"

"And what?"

"You might think I am silly if I tell you,--silly to talk about it."

"I promise to think you are you no matter what else it is, and you
are--well, never mind what you are."

"Well, somehow I have begun to feel that helping people to be gay is
important, like cheering up Miss Ella and Miss Louise. They have such
stupid times. I really believe they quarrel just to make life a little
gayer. I go to see them every day and it makes me feel good all over to
know how much they like to have me come."

"And you were afraid I'd think that was silly?" asked George Wright as
he halted his car down under a great willow oak, well away from the
other vehicles. How he wished they were to stay out under that tree all
evening! Music and dancing were nothing to him compared to the pleasure
he obtained from talking to this girl.

"Let's sit here until the others come," he suggested.

"And waste all that good music!"

Dr. Wright began to envy the Misses Grant whom Helen wanted to make
happy.

"Of course not! I forgot how seldom you have a chance to dance."

Weston was wonderfully beautiful. The electric lights may have been an
anomaly, but they certainly helped to make the old house show what it
was capable of. The dead and gone colonials who had built the place
had been forced either to have their balls by daylight or to content
themselves with flickering candles, which no doubt dropped wax or even
tallow on the handsome gowns of the beauties and belles. The broad hall
with the great rooms on each side seemed to be made for dancing. The
floor was polished to a dangerous point for the unwary, but the unwary
had no business on a ballroom floor.

The count seemed in his element as he received his guests, but Herz
looked thoroughly out of place and ill at ease.

"Ah, Miss Helen! I am so glad to welcome you--and Dr. Wright--it is
indeed kind of you to come! I am depending upon you, Miss Helen, to
help me entertain these people who have come so promptly. They neither
dance nor speak. Herz is about as much use to me on this occasion as a
porcupine would be. Only look around the room at my guests!"

They did indeed look most forlorn. One old farmer was almost asleep
while his wife sat bolt upright by his side with a long sad face and a
deep regret in her eyes. No doubt, she was regretting the comfortable
grey wrapper she had discarded for the stiff, best, green silk, and
the broad easy slippers that had been replaced by the creaking shoes.
Several girls with shining eyes and alert expressions were evidently
wondering what ailed the young men who stood against the wall as though
it might fall down if they budged an inch.

"Why are they wasting all this good music?" demanded Helen.

"As you say in America: 'Seek me!'" laughed the host.

"Search me, you mean."

"Ah, but is it not almost the same? What do you say, Dr. Wright?"

"Well, I'd rather someone would seek me than search me."

"So! And now, Miss Helen, if you will discard your wraps and return
quickly and help me I shall be most grateful. If these poor people do
not get started they will go to sleep."

Helen flew up to the dressing-room which, sure enough, Chloe had reached
before her. The girl was huddled down in a corner of the room looking
the picture of woe.

"Did you see Tempy?" asked Helen, taking for granted that Chloe had been
speaking of her sister when she had asked about one's duty to one's own
people.

"No'm!"

"Wasn't she at your mother's?"

"I don't know, 'm!"

"Was your mother there?"

"Yassum!"

There was never any use in trying to make Chloe talk when she had
decided not to, so Helen threw off her wraps and with a peep in the
mirror where one could see from top to toe, she hastened to the aid of
Count de Lestis.

"Mother will be along soon and she can do wonders with people who are
bashful," declared Helen, "but I'll try my hand at it until she comes.
They must dance, then they will thaw out."

"Certainly, and will you dance with me to show them how?"

Helen forgot all about the fact that she had come with Dr. Wright and he
might reasonably expect to claim the first dance.

"Yes, but you must introduce me to all these people and I'll ask some of
the girls to dance while you go get the young men to come fall in the
breach."

The shiny-eyed girls were willing enough and the young men seemed to
think if the count didn't mind his walls falling down, far be it from
them to hold them up, so in a few moments the sad crowd were in a gale
of good humor. The old farmer waked up and his wife looked as though she
might try her new creaky shoes on the waxed floor if anyone would only
ask her.

Dr. Wright looked on rather grimly as Helen was whisked from under his
very nose. He might have stood it better if the count had not been such
a perfect dancer and so very handsome. He had a way of whispering to his
partner during the dance that was also a sore trial to the young
physician.

"What could he be saying to Helen to make her dimple and blush?"

The arrival of the carriage containing Mrs. Sutton and Mrs. Carter with
their rather bored husbands was a welcome interruption to the poor young
man. Soon came the lumbering hay wagon with its giggling, chattering
load, and then Helen was at liberty to dance with him, since the count
perforce must again play the gracious host.

"Isn't it perfect?" she exclaimed. "The floor, the music, and
everything!"

"Not quite so perfect now as when you had the count for a partner, I am
afraid," he muttered, bending over to make her hear. He was too tall to
converse while dancing with Helen. He had never regretted his inches
before.

"Nonsense! You dance just as well as he does, and he talks so much while
he is dancing. I hate to dance and talk, too,--just dancing is enough
for me."

"Me, too, then!" and once more he felt the satisfaction that a man who
measures over six feet can't help feeling.

Helen was right. Mrs. Carter was a born entertainer and she had hardly
taken the social reins in her hands before the ball was running
smoothly. Even Bobby found a partner, a funny little girl with such
bushy hair that anyone could tell at a glance it had been put up in
curl papers for several days. She looked like a pink hollyhock in her
starched book-muslin that stood out like a paper lamp shade. Her round
black eyes seemed very lovely to the gallant Bobby, who took her into
the back hall where they turned round and round in imitation of the
dance, and when dancing palled on them they showed each other how to
make rabbits out of their handkerchiefs.

"This is the kind of party I like," said the wholesome Mrs. Sutton.
"Every Jill has her Jack and there are some Jacks to spare. Deliver me
from parties where girls must sit against the wall and wait for partners
to be released."

"When you get the vote you can do the asking, and then parties where the
females predominate will be more popular," teased her husband.

"Nonsense! We can still do the asking if we care to. Come on and dance
with me, sir!" and Mr. Sutton delightedly complied.

Mrs. Carter did not have to spend all the evening making other people
have a good time. She was asked to dance by the count and her pretty
little figure and graceful bearing attracted other partners, and she
was soon tripping the light fantastic toe as untiringly as any of her
daughters. Tillie Wingo herself did not get broken in on oftener.

Herz stood in corners, looking like one of the men out of Noah's ark,
Nan declared, so stiff and wooden.

"I don't know which one he resembles most, Shem, Ham, or Japheth," she
whispered to Billy Sutton, "but I wonder if you licked him if the paint
would come off."

"I don't know, but I'd like to try. I can't abide that Dutchman. I
believe he thinks he is superior to all of us, even his precious count.
Jehoshaphat! I believe he is asking Douglas to dance."

So he was. The secretary was stalking across the room, determination on
his noble brow and his full mouth drawn together in a tight red line. He
stopped in front of Douglas and placing one hand on his breast and the
other one on his waist line in the back, he shut up like a jack-knife.

Douglas looked a little astonished, not knowing exactly what the young
man wanted, and then the memory of the early days at dancing school came
to her when the little boys were forced to bow to the little girls
before they danced with them.

"Certainly," she said, excusing herself from Lewis, who looked a little
sullen, having expected to claim this particular waltz with his cousin,
but who had neglected to do so, being too intent on gazing at her pretty
flushed face.

Herz clasped her around the waist and began to twirl in a most
astonishing manner. She could hardly keep her footing and very early
lost her breath. Skilful guiding was not necessary, although when they
arose to dance the floor was well filled with other couples, but these,
knowing full well that discretion was the better part of valor, gave the
spinning pair the right of way. The man never lost his gravity or
dignity, but his mouth broke from the hard red line to its usual
full-lipped curve. Douglas felt as though that dance would never end.
His strong arm held her like an iron ring as round and round they went.

    "'Hi! Lee! Hi! Low!
    Hi! Lee! Hi! Low!
    I jus' come over,
    I jus' come over--
    Hi! Lee! Hi! Low!
    Hi! Lee! Hi! Low!
    I jus' come over the sea,'"

sang Billy Sutton, as he and Nan watched the gyrations of their host's
secretary. "Did you ever see such a proof of foreign blood in any man
who pretends to be American born?"

"Why, Billy, he is American born. The count says he was born and raised
in Cincinnati."

"Yes, and the count says he himself was born and raised in Hungary, but
I bet you anything they may have been born where they say they were but
they were raised in Berlin. Look at that fellow and tell me if he
doesn't dance like Old Heidelberg."

"The count doesn't, anyhow. I never saw such divine dancing as the
count's."

As though he had heard her, the handsome smiling de Lestis came to claim
her for the rest of the dance.

"Aren't these foreigners the limit?" said the boy, seeking the
disconsolate Lewis. "I know I oughtn't to say anything about a fellow
when I am in his house, but somehow that count gets my goat."

"Mine, too! Who is this Herz?"

"Oh, he is a kind of lady's maid or secretary or something for his nibs.
Says he is an American, but I have my doubts. I don't see how Miss
Douglas Carter can stand for him, but she lets him walk home from school
with her any time, so I hear," announced Billy, absolutely unconscious
of the fact he was retailing very unwelcome news to his companion.

"Humph!" was all Lewis could say, but that monosyllable had a world of
meaning in it. And so although the music was gay and the lights were
bright and the laughter was merry in that ballroom, there were several
sore hearts, and the little green-eyed monster was waltzing or fox
trotting or one stepping every dance.

"I wonder why Miss Ella and Louise don't get here," Helen said to Dr.
Wright, who had at last persuaded her to sit out one dance with him.
"They have had plenty of time even with their slow old horse."

They had found a sofa in the back hall behind a clump of palms. There
were many plants artistically grouped by the florist from town, who had
tastefully decorated the whole mansion.

"The telephone has been ringing a great deal since we came. Could they
be trying to get the count? I always feel like jumping when the 'phone
rings, feeling that it must be for me."

"Oh, no! The ring for Weston is two long and three short rings. These
country 'phones are hard to learn, but I often answer the one at Grantly
for my old friends."

"Listen, there goes the bell again! Goodness! I believe one of these
'phones that rings everybody's number would send me crazy."

"They say you get used to them. That is four shorts and a long. That's
for Dr. Allison, who lives miles and miles from here. Don't you remember
Page Allison, that lovely girl who came to Greendale with the Tucker
twins? It is her father."

"Of course I do, and I know Dr. Allison, too! A delightful gentleman!"

"I believe I'll call up Miss Ella and see what is the matter,--why they
don't come on."

George Wright sighed. There always seemed to be something to keep Helen
from talking to him tête-à-tête. Still, he felt glad to think that Helen
was so fond of these old ladies and so thoughtful of them.

The telephone was under the stairway, quite near their retired nook.
Helen rang the number for Grantly and there was a quick response.

"Hello!" came in Miss Louise's contralto notes.

"Miss Louise, this is Helen Carter! Why haven't you started yet? Don't
you know the count can't give a ball without you and Miss Ella?"

"Oh, my dear, my sister is ill, very ill,--fainted just as we were
getting ready to leave. You see she would make that cake, that angel's
food, although I told her I was going to make a fruit cake, but you
know Ella---- Oh, but how can I rattle along this way? I have been
trying so hard to get Dr. Allison and he doesn't answer."

"Wait a minute, Miss Louise," and Helen put her hand over the receiver
and turned to Dr. Wright.

"Dr. Wright, will you take me to Grantly? Miss Ella has had a fainting
fit--a stroke, I am afraid it is."

"Take you! My dear, I'll take you anywhere you want to go."

"Miss Louise, Dr. Wright is going to bring me to Grantly in his
automobile immediately. Don't worry; we will be there soon."

She rang off quickly and flew upstairs for her wraps. Chloe was not in
the dressing-room, but she quickly unearthed her cape and hood from the
bed where the many shawls and cloaks had been piled. On the way out she
whispered to Nan where she was going, but told her not to tell the
others, as she did not want to break up the ball or to cast a shadow
on the happiness of the dancers.



CHAPTER XVIII

ANGEL'S FOOD


Not a sound or glimmer of light in Paradise as they speeded silently
through the settlement! The club, too, was deserted.

"I think you are splendid to be willing to give up this ball to go to
the aid of these old ladies," said Dr. Wright, drawing the rug more
closely around Helen, as the air was quite nipping.

"Why, the idea of my not doing it! You must think I'm nothing but a
heartless butterfly."

"I think you are anything but one. You love dancing, though, so much.
I should have come alone. Somehow I couldn't make up my mind to forego
the ride alone with you. Isn't it a beautiful night?"

The stars were shining brightly but the lazy moon had not yet gotten up.

"If we find the poor old lady not too ill, I'll take you back to the
dance after we have made her comfortable. There will be a moon to light
our way later on."

"That will be fine! Maybe they won't even miss us. But somehow I have a
feeling that Miss Ella is very ill."

"Five minutes more will decide the question. Hasn't my new car eaten up
distance, though? Just think, in old days what a time sick persons had
to wait for a physician without telephones and without cars!"

"Dr. Allison still drives a fast horse to a light buggy. Page says he
will none of horseless carriages. I believe it is only recently that he
has submitted to a telephone."

"It is a good thing his medical theories have not kept pace with his
means of locomotion, or he would be a back number sure."

Valhalla was very quiet, peacefully sleeping under the stars. What a
haven of refuge it had been to the Carters! Helen looked lovingly at the
picturesque roof lines as the car glided rapidly past.

"Do you know, I think that must be the most restful place in all the
world? I have grown so attached to the little tumbledown house, leaks
and cracks, smoking stove and all."

"Hasn't it been awfully hard on you?"

"Not any harder on me than on the others!"

"I can't tell you what I think of all of you Carter girls for the way
you have grappled with the winter in the country. I think you have had
the hot end of it, too."

There flashed through Helen's mind a picture of the first time she saw
the young doctor, in the library of their pretty home in Richmond. There
had been no approval in his cold glance then, nothing but censure and
severity. She had deserved it all. Did she deserve the praise he gave
her now?

"The hot end is better than the cold end during the winter months," she
laughed. "At least I can stay snugly in the kitchen and not have to go
out in all weathers like poor Douglas and the other girls."

Miss Louise met them at the door, tears rolling down her fat cheeks.
She still was dressed in her stiff black silk but had tied on a great
gingham apron over her best dress.

"How good of you to come to us!" was all she could sob out.

"You should have sent for us immediately," said Helen, putting her arms
around the trembling old woman.

"Ella always wants Dr. Allison, and I hated so to break up the pleasure
of the young people."

"Where is your sister?" asked Dr. Wright, taking off his gloves and
great coat, and extracting a small leather case from its pocket.

"I got her to bed after she came to."

"She is conscious then?"

"Yes, but very low, very low. She has been so docile I am afraid she is
going to die," and the poor lady began to weep anew.

"Let me go in with the doctor," insisted Helen. "I can do what is
necessary and you might scare Miss Ella. She mustn't be made to think
she is so ill."

The tall form of Miss Ella was stretched on the great four-posted bed,
and so still was it that for a moment Helen was afraid to go near.

"She might be dead! She might be dead!" her heart cried out, but she
shut her mouth very tight and advanced bravely up to the bedside.

"Miss Ella, Dr. Wright has come to see you. Dr. Allison will be here
later on perhaps."

"I'll be better in a few moments. I must have fainted," she said weakly.
"I ought not to have tried the angel food cake. It is so tedious. Louise
told me not to, but I was very headstrong."

Helen looked up apprehensively at the doctor, who was feeling the
patient's pulse. It did seem rather ominous for Miss Ella to be so
humble and to confess that Louise's judgment was of any importance.

"What did you eat for dinner?" asked the doctor.

"I--I--don't remember."

"Think!"

"I reckon I ate some bread."

"Nothing else?"

"I can't remember."

At a nod from the doctor Helen went out to seek this information from
Miss Louise, whom she found huddled up on the hall sofa.

"Eat for dinner! I am sure I don't know. She wouldn't eat when I did and
I do believe she didn't eat anything."

"How about supper?"

"Oh, we neither one of us ate any supper. We felt it would be
discourteous to the count after all the trouble and expense he must
have gone to, with caterers from Richmond and all."

Helen flew back to the bedside of Miss Ella.

"She ate no dinner that Miss Louise can remember and neither one of them
ate any supper," she cried.

"Well, of course she fainted then. Can you take the matter in hand and
get some toast and tea for both of them? Miss Louise will be toppling
over next."

Helen was intimate enough with the old sisters to know just where they
kept everything and in short order she had a tray ready for poor
half-starved Miss Ella.

"It was not a stroke at all," Dr. Wright assured the anxious sister.
"Nothing but hunger."

"I told her to eat," and Miss Louise looked venomously at the invalid.

"I came to get my dinner and you had taken all the breast of the
chicken. I wasn't going to eat your leavings," declared Miss Ella, color
coming back into her wan cheeks and the fire of battle to her faded
eyes. Helen laughed happily. The sisters were quarreling again and
everything was assuming a more normal aspect.

"Now both of you ladies must get to bed," insisted the doctor, after
Miss Louise had been persuaded to eat some of Helen's good toast.

"I think you have had ball enough for tonight." He looked at his watch.
"I will take you back to Weston," he whispered to Helen.

Helen would not go until both of her old friends were tucked peacefully
in their great bed and then, kissing them good-night, she stole quietly
from the room. She was greatly relieved that things had turned out so
well and delighted that she was to be taken back to the ball.

"It's pretty nice to do your duty and still have a good time," she said
to herself.

Dr. Wright was waiting in the hall for her. He silently bundled her up
in her cape and hood and together they stepped on the gallery.

The lazy moon was up now and outshining the faithful stars. The great
box bushes and thick hedge cast deep shadows across the lawn. The two
stood for a moment in silence, drinking in the beauty of the scene.

"We can't lock the front door," said Dr. Wright finally. "I see it has
an old-fashioned great brass key and the only way to lock it is to
fasten the old ladies in the house."

"Why, nothing will ever hurt those dear old folks," laughed Helen.
"There are as safe as can be. They tell me they often go to bed without
locking doors. They usually have a quarrel about whether the front door
has been locked or not, and get so excited they both forget to do it."



CHAPTER XIX

A LITTLE LEARNING


"Listen! What is that?"

A low rumble of voices was heard, coming from the rear of Grantly.

"Could it be the dancers coming home?" suggested Helen.

"No, not from that direction!"

The rumble increased to a roar, low but continuous. Evidently a great
many persons were talking or muttering and they were getting closer and
closer.

"Let's have a light, so we kin see!" said a voice louder and clearer
than the rest, and then there was a guffaw from many throats.

"A lot of darkies!" gasped Helen. "What can they be doing here?"

"You go inside and I'll see," commanded the young man.

"I'll do no such thing! I'll go with you and see. If I go in the house
again I'll wake Miss Ella and Miss Louise up, and you said yourself that
it was most important for them to have a night of unbroken rest."

"Helen, I insist!"

"But I'm not going to be sent back in the house while you go get shot up
or something, so there!"

"Shot up! The idea! It is nothing but some late revelers going home.
Perhaps the darkies have been having a ball somewhere, too."

"Perhaps, but they have no business coming through Grantly."

There was a hoarse shout from the rear and suddenly a light shot up into
the sky.

"The straw stack! They are burning the straw stack!" cried Helen.

George Wright quietly opened the great front door and picking Helen up
in his arms, carried her into the hall. He put her down and hastily
closed the door. Helen heard the great brass key turn in the lock.

It was very dark in the hall. She groped her way along the wall. It was
all she could do to keep from screaming, but remembering her two old
friends, now no doubt peacefully snoozing, she held herself in check.
Suddenly she bumped square into the telephone.

"I'll give a hurry call for the whole neighborhood," she cried, and no
sooner thought than done. It was said afterwards that no such ringing of
a 'phone had ever been heard before in the county.

"_Grantly on fire and a great crowd of negro brutes in the yard!_" was
the message that was sent abroad.

The two old ladies slept peacefully on. Helen could hear the deep
stertorous snore, Miss Louise's specialty, and the high steam-whistle
pipe that Miss Ella was given to.

"I can't stand this!" cried the girl. "They may be killing him this
minute; and he expects me to stay shut up in this house while he gets
shot to death!"

She felt her way back to the kitchen where she could see well enough,
thanks to the fire that the desperadoes had kindled. She cautiously
unlocked the door and stepped out on the back porch.

The negroes were dancing around the burning stack, led by a tall
gangling man whom Helen recognized as Tempy's slue-footed admirer, James
Hanks. Some of them seemed to be rather the worse for drink, and all of
them were wild-eyed and excited-looking.

"Come on, gent'men!" cried the leader. "Let's git our loot while we's
got light a-plenty. The ol' tabbies is safe at the count's ball, safe
an' stuffin'."

There was a shout of laughter at this witticism. Helen was trembling
with fright, but not fright for herself. The dear old ladies were
uppermost in her mind, and the doctor! Her doctor! Where was he? Would
he tackle all of those crazy, half-drunk brutes single-handed and not
even armed?

A sudden thought came to her. She slipped back into the kitchen.
Remembering the box tacked to the wall, just over the kerosene stove
where the matches were kept, she felt along the wall until her hand
touched it. Then armed with these matches she crept back through the
house to the great parlor where the trophies of the dead and gone
great-uncle, the traveler in the Orient, were. She cautiously struck a
match, thankful that the parlor was on the other side of the house from
the fire, and seized at random what old arms she could lay her hands on:
a great sword, that Richard the Lion-Hearted might have wielded, an
Arabian scimiter and a light, curiously wrought shield. The sword was
heavy but she managed to stagger along the hall with her load.

"Now remember, friends an' citizens!" James Hanks was saying as he
harangued the crowd. "This here prop'ty by rights b'longs to us. Ain't
we an' our fo'bars done worked this here lan' from time in memoriam?
Ain't we tilled the sile an' hoed the craps fur these ol' tabbies an'
what is we got to show fur it? Nothin'! Nothin', I say! All we is
a-doin' on this sacred night is takin' what is ourn. 'Tain't meet nor
right fur two ol' women to hab control of all these fair lands, livin'
in luxry, wallowin' in honey an' rollin' in butter, while we colored
ladies an' gent'men is fo'ced to habit pig stys an' thankful to git
sorghum an' drippin's. Don't none of you go into this here undertakin'
'thout you is satisfied you is actin' up to principles. All what
considers it they bounden duty to git back what is by rights theirn,
jes' step forward."

Helen counted fifteen men as they reeled forward.

Where was Dr. Wright? Was he hearing the speech that the perfidious
James was making? And the old ladies--were they still sleeping? The back
porch was littered up with various barrels and boxes, and behind these
Helen crouched. Of course she realized that the darkies thought that
Grantly was empty and that they intended to break in and take what
treasures they could find. Would they be scared off when they found
someone was in the house, or would they feel that they had gone too
far to retreat in their infamous undertaking? Whatever was to be the
outcome, she must find the doctor and help him, die by his side if
necessary.

What an ending to the ball, the ball where she had danced so gaily and
happily! Had they missed them yet? She had not been able to tell what
'phones had answered her hurry call. She had only known that several
persons got on the line and that her message had reached some ears, but
whose she could not say.

The mob had started towards the front.

"Yes, we'll go in the front way, now an' ever after," growled the
leader. "Only las' week that ol' skinny Ella done driv me to the back
do'. I come up the front way jes' to tes' her an' she sent me roun' to
the back jes' lak some dog. Whin we gits through, I reckon she'll be
glad enough if she's got a back do' to go in."

Helen waited to hear no more but streaked around the opposite side of
the house, bearing her ancient weapons. Peeping through the railing of
the great gallery in front she espied George Wright calmly standing in
the doorway which was flooded with moonlight.



CHAPTER XX

IN THE MEANTIME


Nan and Billy Sutton were the only persons at Weston who knew that Helen
and Dr. Wright had left the house, and they, according to instructions,
had kept mum.

"I hate for Helen to miss one teensy bit of the ball," Nan said. "She
does so adore dancing."

"I should think she would. Anybody who can dance like that ought to like
it. I think she is a ripper to go to those old grouches."

"Now, Billy, that is no way to talk! Those old ladies are really lovely.
You would have gone to them in a minute."

"Well, maybe! But I wouldn't have enjoyed leaving this to go."

"Perhaps they will be able to come back. Miss Louise is an awful
alarmist."

Supper was served, the waiters from Richmond taking affairs into their
own hands, so that the untrained country servants at Weston were pushed
into the background.

"Miss Helen done said I's got quite a el'gant air in serving," grumbled
Chloe, when she was not allowed to bear in the trays of dainties to the
hungry guests. "I reckon these here town niggers thinks they is the king
bees. I don't care what they says, I's gonter git a sicond hep ter my
Miss Helen."

The girl filled a tray with salad, croquettes, sandwiches and what not
and made her way into the parlors. She peered around for her young
mistress. The rooms were well filled with the country guests and many
couples were having their supper in the nooks made by the skilful
decorators of clumps of palms and evergreens. Chloe peeped behind them
all and not finding her Miss Helen she went to Douglas.

"Whar Miss Helen?"

"Why, I don't know, Chloe! What do you want?"

"I want my Miss Helen ter git her fill er victuals she ain't had ter
mess in."

"I haven't seen her," laughed Douglas. "Ask Miss Nan."

"Miss Nan, whar Miss Helen?"

"Why, Chloe, she has gone away but may be back later."

"Whar she gone?"

"She told me not to tell, because she doesn't want to disturb the
others, but she has gone with Dr. Wright to see Miss Ella Grant, who is
ill."

"Miss Ellanlouise is here to the ball, ain't they?"

"No, they didn't come."

"Miss Helen ain't gone ter Grantly, is she?"

"Of course!"

Then poor Chloe dropped her tray, laden with goodies for her beloved
mistress, and a mixture of salad and croquettes and sandwiches rolled
over the floor.

"My Gawd! My Gawd!" shrieked the girl. "Whar the count? Whar Mr. Carter?
Whar that secondary?"

"What is it?" demanded the count sternly, as he stepped over the
débris.

"My Miss Helen done gone ter Grantly!"

"Is that so? Why did she leave?"

His calm tones quieted the girl a little.

"She done gone with Dr. Wright----"

"Miss Ella Grant is ill and Helen went with Dr. Wright to look after
her," put in Nan. "I don't know why Chloe is so excited."

By this time the guests were crowding around the corner where Nan and
Billy had ensconced themselves for what they thought was to be a quiet
little supper.

"'Cited! I tell you, you'd better git a move on you, you count and you
secondary. The niggers is planning no good fur Grantly this night."

"What negroes?" asked the count.

"'Tain't no diffunce what niggers! You git out that little red devil of
a mobile an' you licksplit ter Grantly as fas' as you kin, an' you take
mo'n one gun."

If everybody had not been wrought up to a high pitch of excitement, they
would have been amused to see this ignorant country black girl handing
out orders to the Count de Lestis as though she were a duchess and he a
stable boy.

The count motioned to Herz and they turned and left the room.

"I get in on this!" cried Lewis Somerville.

"And I! And I!" from every male throat in the room.

Many of the farmers had pistols with them, deeming it more prudent to go
armed on midnight drives through the lonely districts. Mrs. Carter
fainted when it was explained to her where her daughter had gone and
what the danger was. For once in her life, however, her husband had no
thought for her. He left her to the ministrations of the farmer's wife
in the stiff green silk, and hastened out to climb on the running-board
of the count's little car, which was already under way.

In what seemed like a moment since the poor Chloe had dropped her tray,
there was not a single white male left at Weston, except Bobby Carter
and he was only left because Lucy held him, scratching and fighting to
go to the rescue of his precious sister. Even the musicians from
Richmond had joined the posse. The negro waiters stepped gingerly around
with many superior airs, congratulating themselves that they were as
they were and not as the ignorant country blacks.

Chloe sat on the floor and rocked and moaned, refusing to be comforted.

"I done what she tol' me was right!" was her cryptic remark which none
understood.

"Why do we wait here?" asked Douglas, who was pale as death.

Mrs. Carter had been revived and was lying on a sofa.

"Why, indeed! Let's get in the hay wagon and go," said Nan.

"Who can drive it?"

"I!" cried the redoubtable Mrs. Sutton.

Almost all of the carriages and buggies had been requisitioned by the
masculine element but the hay wagon remained and a few other vehicles.
The horses were quickly unblanketed by the women with the help of the
waiters. Mrs. Carter and Douglas were the last to leave the house, as
the poor nervous lady was kept quiet until they were ready to start.

Just as they were going out the door Douglas heard a violent ringing of
the telephone. Knowing the peculiarities of a country connection and its
way of ringing at every house, and also knowing that the long, violent,
protracted ringing meant emergency of some sort, Douglas ran to answer
it. She distinctly heard Helen's voice crying the alarm:

"_Grantly on fire and a great crowd of negro brutes in the yard!_"

"What is it, my dear?" feebly asked Mrs. Carter.

"Nothing at all!" said Douglas calmly. She felt that such a message
would only upset her poor mother more, and it was best to keep it locked
within her own panting breast.

If any of the persons in that hay wagon should live to be a thousand
years old they could never forget that terrible ride over the rough,
muddy roads on that twenty-second of February, 1917.

"Look, the moon is up!" whispered Lucy to Mag, both of them remembering
the gay ride to the ball only a few hours before and how they had
remarked that it would be so jolly going back because the moon would be
up.

"Something's on fire!" someone cried, and then the heavens were lit by
the burning straw stack. A straw stack can make more light in the sky
than a Woolworth building if both should be set afire; but the straw
burns out so quickly that it is little more than a flash in the pan.

Mrs. Sutton proved a famous Jehu. She managed her team quite as well as
Billy. Nan sat up on the high seat by her, looking with admiration at
the strong, capable hands.

"Do you think they will be in time?" Nan whispered to her valiant
companion.

"Sure they will, my dear! They are there by this time and I believe that
fire is nothing but a straw stack. Look, even now how it is dying down!
Poor Miss Ella and Miss Louise! They seem to have the faculty of not
getting along with the darkies. They are as kind as can be to them when
they are sick or in want, but they always have an overbearing manner
with them when they are well. I wonder what that girl meant by saying
she had done just as Helen had told her."

"I don't know. Helen has been so patient with Chloe and has really made
a pretty good cook of her. She simply adores Helen. She comes to her
with all kinds of questions to answer and problems of life to solve. Do
you think these colored men would want to kill Helen just because they
are angry with the Misses Grant?"

"No, my dear, I don't think these colored men would want to kill
anybody. God grant they are not drunk! That is the only danger I am
fearing. I am not afraid of any sober negro alive, but a drunken one is
to be avoided like a rattlesnake."

"Well, Mrs. Sutton, I just feel somehow that God and Dr. Wright are
going to take care of Helen,--and Miss Ella and Miss Louise, too."

"I am sure of it, my dear. I am so sure of it that I am thanking God for
having sent Dr. Wright and Helen to Grantly,--otherwise the poor,
foolish old ladies might have been found there by the darkies when they
expected the house to be empty, with everyone gone to the ball, and then
there is no telling what would have happened." Mrs. Sutton shuddered as
though she were cold.

"I keep on thinking of Dr. Wright's face,--his keen blue eyes and his
jaw,--somehow, I believe that jaw will pull them out safely."



CHAPTER XXI

THE FLAMING SWORD


And what a time we have had to keep Helen peeping through the railings
at Dr. Wright as he stood in the brilliant moonlight on the gallery at
Grantly, while the crazed mob of darkies advanced jauntily to the front
of the old mansion! It was their intention to enter and claim the spoils
thereof: treasures that they had begun to think belonged to them by
reason of their long service and the service of their fathers and
fathers' fathers.

Confident that the mansion was empty, they made no endeavor to be quiet.
All the white folks for miles and miles around were feasting at the
count's ball; as for the burning rick,--they had not thought that the
fire would do more than warm things up for their deed.

"Now fur the loot!" cried James Hanks. "An' we mus' hurry up, 'cause
whin the ol' tabbies gits home from the ball they mus'n't be hide or har
of the house lef' standin'."

"Bus' open the bar'l er coal ile!" suggested one black brute, "so's we
can pour her on."

"They keep the coal ile in the woodshed," a little bandy-legged man
remarked.

"Now see hyar! Befo' we enter this here domicyle, they's to be a reg'lar
understandin' 'bout the findin's," continued James Hanks. "The money is
to be 'vided ekal an' the silvo and chino an' other little value bowles
is to be portioned out 'cordin' to they valubility."

"Sho'! Sho'! We's all 'greed to that!" came in a chorus.

"I goes fust, as the man 'pinted by Gawd as yo' leader."

As James Hanks started up the broad steps he was dumfounded when Dr.
Wright came forward. He retreated down the steps and the crowd of
darkies behind him surged backward.

"What is it you want?" asked the young physician quite simply, in a
voice as cool and natural as though he were a soda clerk dealing out
soft drinks.

"We--er--we--we didn't know any of the white folks was in."

"Exactly!" and Dr. Wright came closer to the nonplussed darky. "Perhaps
God has appointed me to defend this home."

"We is hyar fur our rights," came from the extreme edge of the crowd in
a growling voice.

"Your rights!"

"Yessah!" and James Hanks spoke up more bravely, emboldened by the
support he felt the crowd was able to give him.

"Aw go on, Jeemes! He ain't even armed," cried the black brute who had
been so free in his suggestions about breaking open the barrel of
kerosene. "Gawd wouldn't send nobody 'thout even a razor."

Helen saw the crowd pushing forward. She felt a choking in her throat
and loosened the cord that fastened her evening wrap. The heavy cape
and hood fell to the ground. She was over the railing in a twinkling
of an eye, dragging her ancient weapons of offense and defense with
her. The hood had loosened her hairpins and now her hair fell around
her shoulders in a heavy shower. She ran along the gallery, dragging
the sword with one hand and with the other clutching the shield and
scimiter. Without a word she thrust the great sword in the
outstretched hand of the young man.

He looked at her in astonishment and terror. Having locked her in the
hall he had thought of course she would remain there. At least, he had
so devoutly hoped so that he had made himself believe that was where he
would find her when this wretched affair was over.

His face blanched and his knees trembled visibly. The fear that he had
not felt for himself was intense for this girl, but he grasped the sword
and waved it over the crowd.

At sight of Helen the crowd set up a groan. They sank on their knees
or fell prone to the earth. God had sent an angel of vengeance with a
flaming sword for their undoing. Indeed less superstitious persons than
those poor darkies might have been startled by the sudden appearance of
Helen Carter. Her dress, that Nan had described as like the moon, might
well have been the garb of an angel. Her long light brown hair, usually
so carefully coiffed but now falling below her waist, added to the
make-up, as did also the ancient shield and the crescent scimiter.

With the shield held forward, as though to guard the doctor, and the
scimiter raised aloft, she stood gazing on the trembling crowd.

"Gawd save this nigger! Gawd save this nigger!" cried the abject one
with the bandy legs.

"A angel of destruction, carryin' a flamin' sword! Lemme git out'n
this!" wailed another.

"'Twas Jeemes Hanks set fire to the straw stack! Not me! Not me!" from
one who knelt and rocked himself back and forth.

"I ain't teched a thing what don't b'long to me!"

"I jes' come along to see the fun! I ain't nebber had no idee er harmin'
Miss Ellanlouise!"

"Me neither! Me neither!"

"Jeemes Hanks, He's the one, good Gawd! He's the one!"

James Hanks, goaded to desperation by the backslidings of his followers,
turned on them in fury:

"You low down sneaks! Can't you see that this ain't no angel of the
Lawd? This is one of them gals come to live in the ol' tumble-down
overseer's house, jes' a play actin' to scare you. If'n we can't down
them we ain't worth of the name of Loyal Af'cans. Come on, boys, an'
let's finish 'em an' thin we can git our loot. I ain't afraid of them. A
flamin' sword ain't in it with a gun." He reached for his hip pocket.

Dr. Wright grabbed the angel of the Lord most unceremoniously and held
her behind him. The kneeling and groveling mob was divided in its
feelings as to whether Helen was or was not a celestial visitor, but
they were one and all anxious to be through with the night's work
without bloodshed. This was an outcome they had not bargained for. To
go to Grantly and get all the money that they ignorantly supposed the
old ladies to possess, to steal the silver and whatever else they
fancied and then to set fire to the ancient pile, thereby destroying
all trace of their burglary, so that when the white folks came home
from the count's fine ball there would be naught to tell the tale, was
a very different matter from this thing of having to get rid of two
persons, perhaps kill them and then be found out.

"Jeemes, you is foolish in de haid," spoke up Bandy-Legs.

"Indeed you are!" came in clear ringing tones from Helen as she waved
her scimiter, the moonlight flashing on it. "This minute the whole
county knows that Grantly is on fire and that all of you are here."

"Oh, rats! Whatcher tryin' ter give us?" from the scornful, incredulous
leader.

"I am telling you what is so. As soon as I heard you in the yard and saw
the light from the straw stack, I gave a hurry call and got the
neighbors on the 'phone."

"An' what was you an' the young man a-doin' of in Grantly?" sneered
James, coming up quite close to Helen. "Looks like whin Miss Ellanlouise
is to the ball, it's a strange place----" but James was not allowed to
finish what he had to say. Dr. Wright's powerful fist shot out and the
darky received a scientifically dealt blow square on his jaw bone that
sent him backwards down the steps, where he lay in a huddled heap and
like the Heathen Chinee:

"Subsequent proceedings interested him no more"--at least, not for a
while.

Their leader down and out, the crowd began to melt away, but in a tone
that commanded instant obedience George Wright bade them to halt.

"Listen, you fools! If one of you budges from this spot until I give
him permission I will lick him to within an inch of his life. Miss Ella
Grant had a fainting spell and could not go to the ball, and Miss Carter
and I came over here from Weston when her sister telephoned us the
trouble she was in. We were just leaving the house when you arrived."

"Is Miss Ellanlouise in dar now?" asked a trembling old man.

"Yes!"

"Praise be ter Gawd fer stayin' our han'! Praise be ter Gawd!"

"Yes, you had better give praise. I am not going to tell you what I
think of you for attempting this terrible thing. You know yourselves how
wicked and foolish you are."

Just then a light shot across the yard and in a moment the red car
belonging to the count came whizzing into view.

"Now you may go, all but you, and you, and you!" indicating the ones who
had been so glib about the kerosene and their rights, and the one who
had known so well that God would not have sent an angel without even a
razor.

The men pointed out tremblingly obeyed, coming up to the steps as though
drawn by a magnet. The rest of the mob simply disappeared, dodging
behind the box bushes and losing themselves in the convenient labyrinth.

That little red car had brought over six men: the count and his
secretary, Mr. Carter, Mr. Sutton, Lewis Somerville and Bill Tinsley.
Hardly a word had been spoken on that ride. The count had pushed the
powerful engine to its utmost ability and it had taken the car through
heavy mud, up hills and down dales, through mire and ruts with a speed
truly remarkable.

"Some car!" remarked Lewis.

"Some!" grunted Bill.

Mr. Carter's mouth was close set and his eyes looked like steel points.
All of his girls were dear to him but Helen had always seemed closer for
some reason; perhaps her very wilfulness was the reason. And now as he
thought of her in danger, it seemed as though he could single-handed
tackle any number of foes. He prayed continuously as he stood on the
running-board of that speeding car, but his prayer was perhaps not very
devout:

"Oh, God, let me get at them! Let me get at them!"

The relief of finding his dear girl alive and unharmed was so great
that Mr. Carter sobbed. When Helen saw him jump from the car, she flew
down the box-bordered walk and threw herself into his arms.

"Daddy! Daddy! We saved Miss Ella and Miss Louise!"

"And who saved you?"

"Dr. Wright saved me and I saved him."

Mr. Sutton, who was magistrate for the district, made short order in
arresting James Hanks and his companions. As the vehicles arrived with
the other members of the posse there was some whisper of a lynching, but
Mr. Sutton downed the whisper with contempt.

"There hasn't been a lynching in Virginia for eighteen years and I
should hate our county to be the one to break the record. It will have a
much more salutary effect to have these poor fools locked up in jail and
be brought to trial with all of their deviltry exposed and aired in the
papers. After all, the only real harm done is the burning of an old
rotting straw stack that was not fit for bedding, as I remember."

The count and Herz were most solicitous in their endeavors to help in
any possible way. It was decided that Grantly must be patrolled for the
rest of the night, as it was feared that some of the darkies might
return. Dr. Wright smiled at the suggestion. He knew full well that the
poor negroes who had been allowed to depart would not be seen or heard
of for many a day. He had seen too great and abject a fear in their
rolling eyes to have any apprehension of danger from them.

James Hanks showed signs of returning life. The young physician leaned
over him and felt his pulse.

"Umm hum! You had better be glad I didn't break your jaw. You'll be all
right in a few days and in the meantime the quiet of the lock-up will be
very good for your nerves."

"Ah, then that is some work that Herz and I can do," cried the count.
"These men must be taken to jail, and why should not we attend to it?
Eh, Adolph!"

"Certainly!" Herz had been looking very grim ever since Chloe had
dropped the tray of second helpings for Helen.

"I wish we had handcuffs," said Mr. Sutton.

"Why, that is hardly necessary. I should think Herz and I with pistols
could take four poor devils, unarmed, to jail. Especially since one of
those devils has been already put out of business by this skilful
surgeon," laughed the count.

"Yes, and I'll go along with you," sighed Mr. Sutton who was accustomed
to early retiring. This midnight rioting was not much to his taste, but
he was determined as magistrate of the district to see the matter safely
through.

"Why, my dear man, there is not a bit of use in your going. You can
trust Herz and me to land them safely."

"Well, all right, but I feel responsible for the good of the community
and these black devils must be locked up in the court-house jail before
many hours."

"You had better take my car," suggested Dr. Wright. "It will hold the
six of you more comfortably."

"Oh, not at all! Mine brought six of us over here from Weston and can
take six away. The prisoners can stand on the running-boards, all but
the injured one, and he can sit by me. If any of them attempts to escape
we can wing him quite easily."

Dr. Wright felt rather relieved that his offer was turned down. No man
would relish his perfectly new car being used to carry four bad darkies
to jail over roads that were quite as vile as the prisoners.

Everyone felt grateful to the count for his unselfish offer, everyone
but Skeeter Halsey and Frank Maury. They had fondly hoped to have a hand
in the undertaking. The night had been a thrilling one for the two boys.
They bitterly regretted that they had not got there in time to rush in
and save Miss Helen.

"I felt like I could 'a' killed at least six niggers," Skeeter said to
Lucy and Mag.

"Humph! Only six? I could have put a dozen out of business," scoffed
Frank; and Lucy and Mag were sure they could.

The boys were allowed to divide the patrol duties with Lewis and Bill,
and very proud they were as they stalked up and down in front of the
mansion and around the barnyard, keeping a sharp lookout for skulking
blacks.

Almost everything has an amusing side if one can see it. Witness: the
jokes that are cracked by the men in the trenches in the midst of the
tremendous world tragedy. The amusing thing about that night's
happenings was that Miss Ella and Miss Louise slept right through it.
Worn out by their cake making and wrangling, intensely relieved that it
was nothing but hunger and not a stroke that had befallen one of them,
they had slept like two children.



CHAPTER XXII

A NEAT TRICK


The court-house was due south of Grantly and towards it the count turned
his powerful little car. After running about two miles, he made a
deviation to the west and then to the north.

"How much gasoline have we?" he asked Herz.

"The tank is full."

"Good! I take it you grasp my intentions."

"Of course! I'm no fool. It would never do to have these idiots testify
in court. Where to?"

"Richmond! There we can turn them loose with money enough to get north."

"Boss, ain't yer gonter han' us over?" asked James Hanks, who was
rapidly recovering.

"Naturally not! You can thank your stars that you are too big a fool to
be trusted to face a judge," snarled Herz.

The three negroes who were hanging to the car were jubilant at the
news.

"I sho' is lucky," said one. "I ain't nebber had no sinse an' it looks
lak it done he'p me out a heap ter be so foolish lak."

"It would be much easier to shoot them all and testify that they
endeavored to escape," suggested Herz with a humorous twist to his ugly
mouth.

"Oh, boss! Please don't do no sich a deed," whined James Hanks. "I ain't
never a-goin' ter let on that you----"

"I know you are not!" and Herz put a cold revolver against the negro's
temple. "You are not even going to let on anything here in this car. Now
you keep your mouth shut, and shut tight or I'll blow your head off.
We've got no use for people who fail."

"Heavens! What a Prussian you are, Herz!" laughed the count.

Richmond was reached in safety. Money was handed out to each one of the
grateful negroes with instructions to take the first train north and
then to separate.

"They'll catch you sure if you stick together. But if they do catch
you, you keep your black mouths shut about anything connected with the
Count de Lestis or me,--do you understand?"

They understood and made off as quickly as they could.

"Ain't he a tur'ble slave driver, though?" said the bandy-legged one,
and the others agreed.

No time for rest for the occupants of the little red car. Back they went
over the muddy roads as fast as the wonderful engine could take them. It
was just dawn when they reached a certain spot in the road on the way to
the court-house where they considered it most likely they could work
their machinations.

There was a sharp curve with a steep embankment on the outer edge. The
car was carefully steered until two wheels were almost over the
precipice. Then the count alighted, first turning off his engine. With
shoulders to the wheel, the two men pushed until the machine toppled
over into the ditch.

"There, my darling! I hated to do it. I hope you are not much hurt,"
said the count whimsically.

"Now roll on after her," and Herz pushed his employer over the
embankment. Then he jumped down himself and wallowed in the mud.

"Here's blood a-plenty for both of us. You can furnish blue blood but I
have good red blood for two."

He deliberately gashed his arm with his penknife and smeared his face
with blood, and then rubbed it all over the countenance of the laughing
count, who seemed to look upon the whole affair as a kind of college
boy's prank.

"Now your ankle is sprained and you can't walk, so I'll go to the
nearest farmhouse for assistance and there telephone Mr. Sutton that his
prisoners have escaped. You were pinioned under the car and I had to dig
you out,--remember!"

"All right, but I wish you would have the sprained ankle and let me go
for aid. I'm beastly hungry and besides I don't want to be laid up just
now. I rather wanted to take a walk with Miss Douglas Carter this
afternoon. Heavens! Wasn't she beautiful last night?"

"Humph!"

"Much more beautiful than her sister, although I tell you that that
Helen was very wonderful, especially after her hair came down and she
had played angel. I wish I could have taken that stupid doctor's car
instead of my own little red devil. I should have enjoyed ditching his
car, but we needed the endurance and speed of my own darling."

"You had better be having some pain now in case a traveler comes along
the road. I'll get help as soon as possible;" and Herz went off without
any comment on the comparative beauty of the two Misses Carter. Douglas
was to him the most beautiful person in all the world, but he hated
himself for loving her, feeling instinctively that his love was
hopeless. His very name was against him and should she ever know the
truth--but pshaw! These stupid people never would find out things. They
were as easy to hoodwink as the darkies themselves.

Mr. Sutton's fury knew no bounds when he got the message from Herz that
the prisoners had escaped. It was with difficulty that he composed
himself sufficiently to ask after the welfare of the two gentlemen who
had undertaken the job of landing the negroes safely in jail.

"The Count de Lestis has sprained his ankle and his face is all smeared
with blood,--I could not tell how great were his injuries," lied the
unblushing one over the telephone. "I spent hours getting him from under
the car. Fortunately the mud was soft and deep and he is not seriously
injured."

"Just where was the accident?"

"At that sharp curve in the road about two miles this side of the
court-house,--just beyond the bridge."

"Umhum! Do you need any assistance?"

"No, I thank you. I'll get some mules to right the car. I think I am
mechanic enough to repair the engine."

"How about a doctor for your friend? Dr. Wright is still with the
Carters."

"Oh--er--ah--I think he can get along very well without calling in a
physician. I have bandaged his ankle."

"You did a good deal before you gave warning as to the escape of the
prisoners."

There was no answer to this remark, so without further ceremony Mr.
Sutton hung up the receiver.

There was to be no rest for the weary, it seemed. A search party must be
called and the country scoured for the missing men.



CHAPTER XXIII

VISITORS AT PRESTON


Dr. Wright was pretty sure that James Hanks would not have been able to
travel very far after the knockout blow he had received, so when they
could not find him in the woods near by it was decided he must be in
hiding in some cabin. The search continued but no trace was found of the
missing men.

"Sounds shady to me," declared Lewis Somerville.

"The idea! You can't mean that the count and Mr. Herz deliberately let
the men get away!" exclaimed Douglas.

"I believe they are capable of it."

"Lewis! How can you?"

"I tell you I mistrust them both. I don't like their names--I don't like
their looks--I don't like their actions."

"Nor do I," declared Billy Sutton, who had dropped in that morning to
have a chat after the ball. Everybody was too exhausted to think of
going on with any very arduous work.

"Well, I think that after you accepted the count's hospitality you have
no right to say things about him," broke in Nan.

"Well, hasn't he accepted the hospitality of this country, and what is
he doing? Don't you know it is that fool darky school that got all those
poor nigs thinking that Grantly belonged to them? I bet Miss Helen
agrees with me."

"I--I--don't know," said Helen faintly. "I am all mixed up about the
whole thing. Why should the count want to make trouble?"

The matter was discussed up and down by the young people. The males for
the most part sided against the count and his secretary, the females,
with the exception of Lucy and Mag, taking up for them. Mrs. Carter was
most indignant that anyone should say anything disagreeable about a
gentleman of such fine presence and engaging manners as the Count de
Lestis, one who knew so well how to entertain and who was so lavish. As
for the other man, that Herz, no doubt he was fully capable of any
mischief. He could not dance, had no small talk, and held his fork in a
very awkward way when at the table.

The count's ankle did not keep him in very long. He was soon around,
although he limped quite painfully. His only difficulty was in
remembering which foot was injured. He renewed his attentions towards
the ladies at Valhalla. His protestations of concern for the Misses
Grant were warm and convincing. He offered to come stay with them or let
Herz come until they were sure that the county had settled down into its
usual state of safety and peace.

Those ladies were not in the least afraid, however, but still declared
that nobody would ever hurt them. It turned out that on the night of
what came so near being such a tragedy they had had in the house exactly
three dollars and twenty cents. What an angry crowd it would have been
when they began the division!

Now came stirring news in the daily papers.

Diplomatic relations were broken with Germany and the declaration of
war imminent! Excitement and unrest were on every hand. Sometimes Nan
and Lucy would come home laden with extras with headlines of terror and
bloodshed. Mr. Carter occasionally went to town with them.

"I feel as though I must find out what people are saying and thinking,"
he would declare.

The truth of the matter was that Mr. Carter was well,--as well as ever,
and the mere chopping of wood and stopping of cracks was not enough to
occupy him. It had seemed to him as he went on that mad ride to the
rescue of his beloved Helen that he was absolutely himself again. No
longer could he let people plan his life for him. He was a man and meant
to take the reins into his own hands. Not that his girls had not driven
the family coach excellently well. They were wonderful, but he was able
to do it for himself now and he intended to start.

He consulted Dr. Wright:

"I tell you, Wright, I am as fit as a fiddle and can get to work now."

"Of course you are! Didn't I give you a year? You have not taken quite a
year but the time is almost up. The shock that night of the ball helped
you on to a complete recovery a little ahead of time. Sometimes a
nervous patient gets a shock that does more than rest. The trouble is,
one can't tell whether it will kill or cure."

"Well, this one cured all right. Why, man, I could build a cathedral
tomorrow!"

"Good!"

"I never can thank you enough for your kindness to me and my family. If
there is ever anything I can do for you----"

"No doubt there will be," was the doctor's cryptic remark.

Herz kept up his walks with Douglas, although the girl did nothing to
encourage him. She did everything to discourage him, in fact, except
actually ask him to let her alone. She would find him waiting on the
road after school. Sometimes he would even come to the school door for
her if for any reason she was detained. These walks were usually taken
when the count was off on one of his many business trips.

In Virginia, March means spring, although sometimes a very blustering
spring. If one wanders in the woods it is quite usual to find hepatica
and arbutus making their way up through the leaves. The tender green
begins to make its appearance on hedge and tree, and in the old gardens
jonquils and daffodils and crocuses pop up their saucy heads, defying
possible late snows and frosts.

The roads were still muddy but not quite so bad as in the winter, and
now, more than ever, Douglas with her faithful protector, Bobby, could
enjoy the walks to and from school. The stilts did not have to be used
nearly so often, although Nan and Lucy had become such adepts on their
flamingo legs that they often mounted them merely for the pleasure and
not because of the mud.

Valhalla was growing lovelier day by day. The gaunt trees had taken on a
veil of green. The nations were at war. The United States was being
forced into the game in spite of her attempts at neutrality; but Mother
Nature's slogan was: "Business as usual!" and she was attending to it
exactly as she had from the beginning and as she will until the end of
time.

Spring had come in good earnest, and with her the myriads of little
creatures who must work so hard for a mere existence. Strange
scratchings had begun in the chimneys at Valhalla. The swallows were
back and gave the Carters to understand that they had been tenants in
that old overseer's house long before those city folks ever thought of
such a thing as spending the winter in such a place. The robins were
hopping about the lawn, trying to decide where they would build, while
the mocking-birds were already busy in the honeysuckle hedge.

One Saturday, the Saturday before war was actually declared, the Count
de Lestis came to call, bringing with him in a lovely wicker cage a
carrier pigeon for Douglas.

"You promised that sometimes you would send me a message, remember," he
said with the sentimental glance that Douglas refused to respond to.

"Certainly I will. I'll send a note asking you to come to dinner. Would
that do?"

"Anything you send will do," he sighed.

The pigeon was a beautiful little creature with glossy plumage and
dainty red legs.

"He will come back straight to Weston because he has young in the nest.
He is not like some men who are up and away at the smallest excuse."

"But how cruel to take him away from his young!"

"Ah, but the hausfrau is there! She will see that no harm befalls the
babies. And, too, she will remain faithful until her lord returns. As
faithful as a pigeon means true unto death."

The pigeon house had continued to be a thorn in the flesh to Mr. Carter.
It was painted white, as that is what the pigeons like, and it was so
large and so out of tone with the fine lines of the roof that Mr. Carter
declared he could not bear to go to Weston any more.

No trace of the lost negroes was found, although Mr. Sutton had
detectives from Richmond to work on the case. They had evidently got
away and well away. The farmer who had been so nearly asleep when Helen
and Dr. Wright arrived at the ball, the farmer whose wife wore the
stiff, green silk, declared he had passed that road on the way home that
night and he had seen no sign of a red car turned turtle down a ditch.
Of course the neighbors all said he had been driving in his sleep.

Mr. Sutton made a trip into Richmond and had a conference with the
governor. He told him that the bloodhounds employed to trace the darkies
had never left the scene of the accident, although they had had many
things belonging to the escaped men as a clue to tracing them. The
governor told Mr. Sutton something that made him open his honest eyes
very wide. At the same time he was cautioned to keep his honest mouth
shut very tight. He came back to Preston with an air of mystery about
him that disconcerted his good wife greatly.

"Margaret, could you accommodate a guest just now?"

"Why, certainly, if it is necessary, but who is the guest?"

"A gentleman I have never met, maybe there will be two of them,--but we
must pretend they are our very good friends."

"Why, William, are you crazy?"

"No, ma'am!" and then he whispered something to her, although they were
alone, and she, too, opened her eyes very wide but promised to keep her
mouth shut.

The visitors came, two quiet gentlemen with good manners and simple
habits. Mr. and Mrs. Sutton decided they should be some long lost
cousins from the west who were in the country for their health. Thus
they explained their visitors to Billy and Mag and their neighbors. They
brought a small Ford runabout which they used a great deal.

Mr. Sutton had a long conference with Mr. Carter. There was some more
opening of eyes and shutting of mouths.

"What a fool I have been!" cried that gentleman. "I can see it all now.
Lewis Somerville tried to make me see but I was quite hard on the boy.
Well! Well! What is to be done?"

"Nothing! Just bide our time."

"See here, Sutton, I believe there was method in that man's madness when
he got two electric light systems. He told me to order one and then said
his secretary had ordered one, too. Pretended he had not told me to, and
then was tremendously kind and magnanimous about it. I began to think
maybe I had not understood,--you see my head hadn't been very clear for
business for many months and I mistrusted myself. I'll wager anything
that that extra battery is running a wireless station at Weston."

"Geewhilikins!" exclaimed the elder Sutton in very much the same tone
his son might have used. "This business is growing very exciting."

Sometimes the two quiet gentlemen visitors at Preston would go out for
an airing in their little car, and finding a secluded spot in a pine
woods, one of them would cleverly convert himself into an Armenian
pedlar with a pack filled with cheap lace and jewelry. Then he would
make the rounds of the cabins. He could speak almost no English when
doing this part and seemed not to understand any at all. He visited
every house in Paradise and from there made his way to Weston. His
heavy, blue-black beard and long straggling hair so completely disguised
him that the count never dreamed the man he saw at his kitchen door
haggling with his colored cook over some coarse pillow shams was the
same smooth-faced gentleman he had met that morning driving with his
neighbor Sutton.

As a book agent, the clever detective gained access to the count's
library and actually sold him a set of Ruskin. As telephone inspector,
he got much information desired, and as a government agricultural
expert, he was favored with a long, intimate talk with the owner of
Weston.

Old Blitz, the German farmer near Preston, came in for his share of
visits, too, from pedlars and book agents, etc. The mills of the
government were grinding slowly but they were grinding exceeding small.

The neighborhood was in absolute ignorance of the fact that their
delightful count was being watched. His comings and goings were known.
He had few secrets. It was learned by the detectives that he was not a
Hungarian at all but his father was Austrian, his mother Prussian. He
had been sent to this country by his government to make trouble among
the negroes and to buy up tracts of land for future emigration. When the
world was to be Prussianized, fair Virginia was not to be neglected.

The raid on Grantly was traced absolutely to his lectures and the
teachings of Herz, the so-called secretary. The only thing that had gone
wrong was that the negroes had acted sooner than their masters had
planned. Their object had been to have a general uprising and they
wanted it to be timed about when war was declared. Their schemes had not
been directed against poor old Grantly especially, but against all the
whites, with a view of keeping the darkies out of the army.

Herz turned out to be a full-blooded Prussian, who had lived in
Cincinnati for about five years. He was a trusted spy of his government
and had done wonderful work for them in Mexico. He was really the brains
of the partnership and de Lestis the mixer. When de Lestis went off on
his long business trips to Chicago and New York it developed he had been
across the water several times, bearing with him maps and information
that must be personally conducted.

A wireless station was suspected but it was difficult to locate.

"Look in the pigeon house," suggested Mr. Carter, still bearing a grudge
against the atrocity that had ruined his beloved roof line.

There it was, as neatly installed an instrument as one could find with
the extra batteries doing the work perfectly. The telephone inspector
found it quite easily. The pigeon house was a hollow sham. There was a
reason for making it so large since the wireless was to have an inner
chamber.

The net was drawing more closely around the two men but they, scornful
of the intelligence of the stupid Americans, went unconcernedly on,
laying their plans and hatching their deviltries. Many a laugh they had
over the automobile accident.

"Those darkies before a clever lawyer would have been our undoing," they
admitted to one another.

The night school was discontinued for the time being and the poor
colored people got back into their one time rut. Tempy resumed her
labors at Grantly, a sadder and wiser girl. She no longer slept amidst
the unwashed dishes but seemed anxious to become as good a servant as
her sister Chloe. Sam, the factotum, returned in time to put in the
garden.



CHAPTER XXIV

THE CARRIER PIGEON


There came a day in mid-April that will always be remembered by the
dwellers in Valhalla. Herz had walked home from school with Douglas,
and contrary to his custom, had come in when they reached the house. He
was in a strange, fierce humor and it seemed to Douglas as though his
near-sighted eyes were boring holes in her. She could not keep her mind
and talk off the war and whenever war was mentioned he became very glum.

"Now that we are at war, will you not enlist?" she asked. "If you are a
true American, I do not see how you can help it."

"My eyes would debar me. Near-sighted men can't always serve where they
would like to," he answered rather bitterly. "You see good in no one but
a soldier."

"Why, not at all!" blushed Douglas. "Of course, when my country is at
war I want our young men to be willing to fight. Being a girl is all
that keeps me here. You might work in a munition factory and help that
way."

"Ah, I should like that! Would you think more of me if I could help your
country in some way?"

"Your country, too!"

Herz had come so close to her as they stood in the middle of the quaint
old living-room that Douglas felt a desire to run away. She welcomed
the sight of Helen running across the lawn from the direction of
Grantly.

"Guess!" panted Helen, bursting in on them. "I have seen James Hanks! He
was sneaking out of the kitchen at Grantly. Had been in to see Tempy, I
reckon. The man is crazy about her. Miss Louise saw him, too, and has
'phoned Mr. Sutton. I fancy he is on the way over here now with those
western cousins of his. Funny men, aren't they? Miss Ella says she never
heard of either Mr. or Mrs. Sutton's having any western kin, and she has
known them and all their people for pretty near a century. I believe
they are detectives myself, trying to find those runaway darkies."

While Helen was giving out this information, Herz stood as though he had
turned to stone. His face was white with a red spot on each high cheek
bone.

"Where is your carrier pigeon?" he asked Douglas abruptly.

"The cage hangs on the porch."

He drew from his pocket a small note-book and wrote rapidly in it.
Tearing out the sheet, he strode to the porch, and with a small rubber
band he quickly attached the note to the foot of the docile bird that he
had grabbed from the cage without even a "by your leave."

"What are you doing?" demanded Douglas. Was the man crazy?

"Stop!" cried Helen. "Count de Lestis gave that bird to my sister."

"Yes, and she was to send him a message. This is the message. It is as
he would have it, I am sure. You remember he told you he would rather
someone would seek him than search him. He shall have his choice."

He carried the pigeon out on the lawn and freed it. The clever bird rose
in a spiral flight and then started straight towards Weston and its
mate. Without a word, Herz left the girls and started towards Weston,
too, taking a line almost as straight as the one the pigeon had chosen.

"Is he crazy, Douglas?"

"I think he is something worse. I believe he is afraid of detectives."

The count and his confederate got away,--although they were captured
later on in North Carolina. The faithful red car carried them off
rapidly. De Lestis was waiting for his one time secretary at the cross
roads by Paradise.

"Did you destroy the papers and maps?" gasped that gentleman as he
sprang into the car.

"How could I when your call was so urgent? I brought all the money,
though. Those fools will never find the wireless. They have no
imagination. And I have the grey paint to put my darling here in her
uniform."

That night, after having speeded for hours, the two men drew the little
red car into the woods where they painted her a dingy grey. The count
had purchased the paint only the day before at the country store.

"In case of an emergency!" he had told Herz.

Little did he dream that one of the visitors at Mr. Sutton's found out
before night that he had bought the paint, and that when messages were
sent in every direction to look out for two German spies, information
was also given that they would be in a red car that had more than likely
been painted grey.

When Weston was thoroughly searched, many things besides the wireless
station were brought to light. One of the detectives brought to Douglas
a letter addressed in Lewis Somerville's writing.

"Where did you find it?" blushed Douglas.

"In the count's desk! I am sorry to have to tell you that it was my duty
to read it before giving it to you."

It was the letter Lewis had written from the Mexican border and no
wonder Douglas blushed. He had made most violent love to her in this
letter and had also spoken quite openly of the situation in Mexico from
a soldier's standpoint.

"Nothing is too small for them!" cried Douglas.

"But what an escape we have made!" exclaimed Helen. "I bet you that man
has made love to every one of us except Lucy."

"He had better not say anything sweet to me," said that young lady. "Mag
and I never could abide him."

"Well, I liked him a whole lot," sighed Nan. "He appreciated poetry so
thoroughly."

There were three young men who were secretly glad when the count and
Herz were caught: Dr. Wright, Lewis Somerville and Billy Sutton. They
did not wish to be ungenerous, but it _was_ hard to have your especial
girl monopolized on every occasion.

The Misses Grant never could be made to understand that their precious
count was a spy. "He was a charming gentleman and we want to hear
nothing unkind about him," they actually agreed.

Mrs. Carter insisted it was all the doings of that common Herz, who did
not know how to conduct himself in a ballroom and who held his fork so
awkwardly at the table. And Mr. Carter, true to his professional
instinct, declared he had had his doubts about de Lestis from the moment
he sacrificed his roof line to the pigeon house.

But whatever the opinion held by the various members of the Carter
family, all agreed that the surprising summer at Valhalla was one
long to be remembered. Fascinating as had been its mysteries, its
uncertainties, its new friendships and responsibilities however, not one
of the family was sorry to return to Richmond. There, as fall advanced
into winter, new doors of opportunity were opened and old associations
renewed. Once more there were numbered among the city's happily busy
people "The Carter Girls of Carter House."


THE END



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Transcriber's Note

In this text-version italics has been indicated with _italics_ and
bold with =bold=. Small capitals has been changed to all capitals.

A few obvious printer's errors have been corrected. Otherwise the
original has been preserved, including inconsistencies in spelling,
hyphenation or accentuation.





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