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Title: When She Came Home from College
Author: Wilson, Jean Bingham, McNeely, Marian Hurd
Language: English
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WHEN SHE CAME HOME FROM COLLEGE


[Illustration: (page 16)

HEL-LO, LITTLE GIRL]


WHEN SHE CAME HOME FROM COLLEGE

by

MARIAN KENT HURD

and

JEAN BINGHAM WILSON

With Illustrations by George Gibbs



[Illustration: TOVT
RIEN OV
RIEN]

Boston and New York
Houghton Mifflin Company
The Riverside Press Cambridge
1909

Copyright, 1909, by Marian Kent Hurd and Jean Bingham Wilson
All Rights Reserved

Published October, 1909



Contents


       I. Alma Mater                                   1

      II. Home                                        15

     III. The Theory of Philosophy                    40

      IV. The Practice                                56

       V. The “Idgit”                                 81

      VI. The Duchess                                106

     VII. “The Falling out of Faithful Friends”      128

    VIII. Applied Philanthropy                       142

      IX. “Without”                                  170

       X. The Vegetable Man’s Daughter               193

      XI. Real Trouble                               222

     XII. The End of the Interregnum                 249



Illustrations


    _Hel-lo, little girl_              (page 16) _Frontispiece_

    _Cantyloops! What’s them?_                              68

    _Why are you eating in here?_                           72

    _In the middle of the floor sat the Idgit_             104

    _I’m Mrs. ’Arris, an’ I’ve come to ’elp you hout_      108

    _Such a sadly changed Gassy_                           182

    _Barbara sank down wearily_                            190



When She Came Home From College



CHAPTER I

ALMA MATER


“WELL, this is cheerful!” cried the Infant, as she stepped briskly into
the room where the rest of the “Set” were dejectedly assembled. “What
if this _is_ the last night of college! What if our diplomas _are_ all
concealed in the tops of our top trays! Can’t this crowd be original
enough to smile a little on our last evening, instead of looking like a
country prayer-meeting?”

The Infant cast herself upon the cushionless frame of a Morris
armchair, and grinned at the forms on the packing-boxes around her. Her
eyes roved round the disorderly room, stripped of the pretty portières,
cushions, mandolins, and posters, which are as inevitably a part of a
college suite as the curriculum is a part of the college itself. Even
the Infant suppressed a sigh as she caught sight of the trunks outside
in the corridor.

    “Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean;
     Tears from the depths of some divine despair,
     Rise from the heart and gather to the eyes,
     On looking at the—excelsior—on the floor,
     And thinking of the days that are no more,”

she chanted.

“It’s all very well to talk in that unfeeling way, Infant,” said
Knowledge, separating herself with difficulty from the embrace of the
Sphinx and sitting up on the packing-box to address her chums to better
advantage. “It’s very well to talk, but the fact remains that to-morrow
we are all to be scattered to the four corners of the United States.
And who knows whether we shall ever all be together again in our whole
lives?” Knowledge forgot the dignity of her new A. B. and gulped
audibly; while the Sphinx patted her on the back, and said nothing, as
usual.

“Well!” retorted the Infant, rising, “if I _am_ the youngest, I have
more sense than the rest of you. I’ve kept my chafing-dish out of
my trunk, and I’ve saved some sugar and alcohol and chocolate, and
‘borrowed’ some milk and butter from the table downstairs; because I
knew something would be needed to revive this set, and I hadn’t the
money to buy enough smelling-salts.”

The Infant ran down the corridor, and came back with her battered dish;
and the girls gathered together on the dusty floor around the box,
which now served as a table. Their faces, worn from the strain of the
week of graduation, relaxed noticeably as the familiar odor began to
float upon the air.

“This _is_ comfortable,” sighed Barbara, gratefully. “Let me take the
spoon, Infant. Your four years of college life have not yet A. B.’d you
in fudge.”

“Oh, you are not quite crushed by the pangs of the coming separation,
after all, then,” grinned the youngest member. “Girls, did you hear
an awful chuckle when our Barbara finished her Commencement speech
yesterday? It was I, and I was dreadfully ashamed.”

“Mercy, no!” cried Atalanta, turning shocked eyes at the offender.
“What on earth did you chuckle for, when it was so sad?”

“That’s just it!” said the Irreverent Infant. “When Babbie began
to talk of Life and Love and the Discipline of Experience and the
Opportunities for Uplifting One’s Environment,—wasn’t that it,
Babbie?—I began to wonder how she knew it all. Babbie has never loved
a man in her life” (the Infant glanced sharply at Barbara’s clear
profile); “Babbie has never had any experiences to be disciplined
about; Babbie’s environment, which is _we_, girls, hasn’t been
especially uplifted by any titanic efforts on her part; and as for
Life, why, Babbie’s had only twenty-one years of it, and some of them
were unconscious. So when her oration ended with that grand triumphant
climax, and every one was holding her breath and looking awed and
tearful, I was chuckling to think how beautifully Barbara was selling
all those people.”

A horrified clamor arose from the girls.

“Why, Evelyn Clinton! It was lovely!”

“Infant, you shameless creature!”

With a whirl of her white skirts, amid the confusion that followed, the
House Plant rose to her feet and the rescue of her chum. “Just because
you can’t appreciate what a splendid mind Babbie has, Evelyn Clinton,
and how much the English professors think of her, and what a prodigy
she is, anyway—”

“Hear, hear!” cried Barbara, laughing.

“—And how proud we are of her,” went on the impetuous House Plant
“Just because you have no soul is no reason why you should deny its
possession by others!”

“Well, I’ve stirred you all up, anyway,” said the Infant, comfortably.
“And that is all I wanted.”

Barbara took the spoon out of the fudge dreamily. “You may be right,”
she said to the Infant. “You know I didn’t get the Eastman Scholarship.”

“Don’t you ever mention that odious thing again!” cried Atalanta. “You
know that the whole class thinks you should have had it.”

Barbara turned her face aside to hide a momentary shadow.

“Well, in any case,” she said, “there is work ahead for me. Every one
who anticipates a literary career must work hard for recognition.”

“You won’t have to,” declared the House Plant, hugging her chum, and
followed by a murmur of assent from the floor. “Why, Babbie, didn’t you
get five dollars from that Sunday-School Journal, and don’t they want
more stories at the same rate? I think that is splendid!”

“I shall not write insipid little stories when I go home,” Barbara
answered, smiling kindly down at the enthusiastic little devotee
who had subsided at her feet “I shall write something really worth
while,—perhaps a story which will unveil characters in all their
complexity and show how they are swayed by all the different elements
which enter into environment—”

“Ouch!” exclaimed the Infant “You are letting the fudge burn, and
unveiling your characteristic of absent-mindedness to the set, who
know it already. This stuff is done, anyway, and I’ll pour it out Or,
no,—let’s eat it hot with these spoons.”

The Infant dealt out spoons with the rapidity of a dexterous
bridge-player, and the girls burned their tongues in one second, and
blamed their youngest in the next.

“By the way, Babbie,” suggested the Infant with a view to hiding
speedily her second enormity, “you never told us the advice that New
York editor gave you last week.”

Barbara’s scorn rose. “He was horrid,” she said. “He told me that an
entering wedge into literary life was _stenography_ in a magazine
office. Imagine! He said that sometimes stenographers earned as much as
twenty dollars a week. I told him that perhaps he had not realized that
I was of New England ancestry and Vassar College, and that I was not
wearing my hair in a huge pompadour, nor was I chewing gum.”

The others looked impressed.

“What did he reply?” asked the Infant.

“He said, ‘Dear me, I had forgotten the need of a rarefied atmosphere
for the college graduate. I am sorry that I am no longer at leisure.’
And I walked out.”

“You did just right,” declared the House Plant, warmly, confirmed in
her opinion by a murmur of assent from the girls.

“Right!” echoed the Infant. “Babbie, you are the dearest old goose in
the world. You will never succeed nor make any money if you take an
attitude like that.”

“I shall not write for money,” declared Barbara, beginning to pace the
floor. “What is money, compared to accomplishment? I shall go home,
shut myself up, and write, write, write—until recognition comes to me.
I am sure it will come if I work and wait!”

She flung her head back with her usual independent gesture, and
the crimson color rose in her cheeks. And the girls eyed, a little
awesomely, this splendid prodigy, in whose powers they believed with
that absolute, unquestioning faith which is found only in youth and
college. The short silence was broken almost immediately by the Infant.

“Are you going to have a chance to write at home, undisturbed?” she
asked. “Our house is a perfect Bedlam all the time. Two young sisters
and a raft of brothers keep me occupied every minute.”

“There are four children younger than I, too,” answered Barbara. “But
do you suppose that I am going to allow them to come between me and my
life-work? It would not be right; and my mother would never permit it.”

“Mine would,” said the Infant, gloomily. “She thinks it is the mission
of an elder sister to help manage those who have the luck to be younger
and less responsible. I wish your mother could have come to graduation,
Babbie. She might have converted my mother to her standpoint.”

“I wish she had come,” said Barbara, wistfully. “It seems as if she
might have managed some way.”

Her mind flew back to the quiet little Western town,—a thousand miles
away; to the household full of children, presided over by that serene,
sweet-faced mother. Why could not that mother have left the children
with some one, and have come to see her eldest daughter graduate “with
honor”?

“What a splendid thing it is to have a real gift to develop, like
Babbie’s,” sighed the House Plant.

Barbara looked uncomfortable. “You all have them,” she said. “I think I
talk about mine more than the rest of you.”

“You may give us all presentation copies of your magnum opus,”
announced the Infant, mercenarily. “You will come forth from your
lair—I mean workroom—a dozen years hence, and find us all living happy,
commonplace lives. The House Plant here will be fulfilling her name by
raising six Peter Thompson children and embroidering lingerie waists.
Atalanta,—by the way, girls, mother asked me why we called that very
slow-moving girl Atalanta, and I told her I was ashamed to think that
she should ask such a question,—well, Atalanta will marry that Yale
individual who never took his eyes off her at Class-Day march. And
I think you are mean not to tell us, Atalanta, when we know you’re
engaged.”

The Infant threw a spoon at her blushing friend, who unexpectedly
justified her nickname by dodging it.

“As for the Sphinx,” went on the Infant, happy in the unusual feat
of holding the attention of the girls, “the poor Sphinx can’t get
married because she never says enough for a man to know whether it’s
yes or no. She will just keep on loving her pyramids and cones, and
teaching algebraic riddles, until she dies. Knowledge will always look
so dignified that she will frighten men away. Father exclaimed to me,
when he met her, ‘What a lovely, calm, classical face!’ I said, ‘Yes,
that is our Knowledge all over.’ And you can imagine how I felt when
she opened those dignified lips of hers and remarked conversationally,
‘Say! Isn’t it hot as hot?’”

The girls laughed at poor Knowledge, and the cruel Infant continued to
read the future.

“Well, all of us will get presentation copies of Bab’s great work,
even I, who will be making home happy ‘if no one comes to marry me’”—

“‘And I don’t see why they should,’” finished Barbara, cuttingly. She
rapped the Inspired Soothsayer on her fluffy head with a curtain-rod.

“Your mind runs on matrimony to a disgusting extent, Infant,” she
warned. “I shall never marry unless I can carry on my writing.”

“And be a second Mrs. Jellyby?” inquired her friend. “All right;
I’ll come to live with you and keep the little Jellybys out of the
gravy while you unveil the characters of some Horace and Viola to the
admiring world. Oh, girls! The fudge is gone, and it’s twelve o’clock,
and even _my_ eyelids will not stay apart much longer.”

The girls rose slowly from their improvised chairs, and stood together,
half-unconsciously taking note of the dear, familiar room in its
dismantled, unfamiliar condition. Out in the corridor a few unseen
classmates began to sing,

    “Gaudeamus igitur, juvenes dum sumus—”

“What on earth are they gaudeamusing about to-night?” growled the
Infant; but no one answered her.

They stood looking at each other in silence.

“Some of you I won’t see again,” said Barbara, in a wavering voice. “My
train goes so early. Dear, dear Sphinxy,—and Atalanta—”

An odd, snuffling sound caused her to look around. “The Infant’s
crying!” she exclaimed.

The Infant threw her arms about Barbara’s neck. “I guess I have
feelings,” she sobbed, “if I did try to make things cheerful. Don’t
forget me, Babbie dear, for I do love you astonishingly, and expect
great things from you.”

Barbara hurried blindly down the corridor, with the faithful House
Plant beside her. At the end she turned, and faintly saw the four white
figures still watching her. They were looking their last at their
beloved companion, the girl whose strength of character and instinctive
leadership had first attracted, then held them together, through four
eventful years at college.

Barbara waved her handkerchief at the silent figures, and her head
dropped on her room-mate’s shoulder as they neared their familiar door.

“Oh, Helen dear!” she sobbed. “How can we ever leave this college?”



CHAPTER II

HOME


THE Overland Passenger was clanking its way across the prairies of the
middle West. Barbara, sitting on one of the stuffy red-plush seats,
pressed her face against the window-pane, and looked out into the
night. There was little to see,—the long, monotonous stretches of land,
cloaked in shadows, with dim lights showing from a few farmhouses, and
a wide expanse of sky, freckled with stars, above. But Barbara was
nearing home, and the dull pain which had been with her since the last
good-bys at college was forgotten, as her eyes drank in every familiar
detail of the shadowy landscape. Above the purr and hiss of the engine
sounded the jerky refrain of the rails, and the girl’s heart echoed the
words.

“Near-home, near-home,” it throbbed.

The noise of the train deepened as the piers of a bridge flashed by. A
porter with a lighted lantern passed through the car, and a traveling
agent in the seat ahead began to gather up his hand-baggage. But
Barbara still gazed out of the window, over the great piles of pine
that marked the boundary of the Auburn lumber-yard, towards a dim light
that shone down from the hill.

“Auburn, Auburn! This way out,” called the brakeman.

A thin, gray man stood at the steps of the car almost before the wheels
ceased to move. His voice and his hands went up simultaneously.

“Hel-lo, little girl,” he said to Barbara.

“Dear old Dad!” said Barbara to him.

“We’ll have to trust to the livery,” said Dr. Grafton. “Maud S. has had
a hard day, and I didn’t have the heart to have her harnessed again
to-night.”

“There’s a rummage-sale hat,” laughed Barbara, as a driver in a shabby
suit of livery and an ill-fitting top hat approached for her baggage
checks.

Auburn knew naught of cabs. A “hack line,” including perhaps three
dozen carriages which had passed beyond the wedding and funeral stage,
attended passengers to and from the railway station. In a spirit
of metropolitanism which seized the town at rare intervals, the
proprietors of the “line” had decided to livery their drivers. So they
had attended a rummage sale, given by the women members of an indigent
church, and had purchased therefrom every top hat in sight, regardless
of size, shape, or vintage. These they had distributed among their
drivers in an equally reckless and care-free way. Auburn, as a whole,
had not yet ceased to thrill with pride at her liveried service; but
those of her inhabitants who happened to be blessed with a sense of
humor experienced a sensation other than that of pride, upon beholding
the pompous splendor of Banker Willowby’s last season’s hat held in
place by the eyebrows of Peanuts Barker, or Piety Sanborn’s decorous
beaver perched upon the manly brow of Spike Hannegan.

The mutual enjoyment of this other sensation renewed the old feeling of
fellowship between Barbara and her father.

“It’s good to have you back, Girl,” he said.

Barbara crept a bit closer. “It’s good to be here,” she answered.

The Grafton house stood at the top of the longest hill in Auburn, and
it was ten minutes more before the carriage stopped at the maple tree
in front of the doctor’s home. The electric lights of Auburn, for
economical reasons, were put out upon the arrival of the moon, and
it was still and dark when the two started up the walk together. The
stars hung low near the horizon, a sleepy bird was talking to himself
in the willow tree, and the air was full of the bitter-sweet of cherry
blossoms. A little gray, shaggy dog came bounding over the terrace to
meet them, and the doorway was full of children’s heads.

Barbara’s mother stood on the front porch. Her eyes were soft and full,
and her face was the glad-sorry kind. She did not say a word, only
opened her arms, and the girl went in.

The children’s greetings were characteristic. Eighteen-year-old Jack
added a hearty smack to his “Hello, Barb”; David laid a pale little
cheek against his sister’s glowing one; and the Kid thrust his school
report into Barbara’s hand, and inquired in eager tones what gifts were
forthcoming. Only one member of the family circle was absent.

“Gassy’s gone to bed,” exclaimed Jack. “She’s got a grouch.”

“I have not,” retorted an aggressive voice. “Hello, Barbara.” A thin
little girl of eleven, in a nightgown, her head covered with bumps of
red hair wrapped about kid-curlers, seized Barbara from behind. There
was a vigorous hug, which sent a thrill of surprise to the big sister’s
heart, and Gassy became her own undemonstrative self again.

“Gee, you ought to see how you look!” said Jack.

“_You_ ought not, ’cause ’twould make you unhappy,” retorted Gassy.

“I should think you’d _feel_ unhappy, sleeping on that tiara of
bumps. Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. You look just like a
tomato-worm.”

“Careful, Jack,” cautioned his father.

But the warning came too late. The small girl rushed at her tormentor,
leapt upon him, and thrust a cold little hand inside of his gray
sweater.

“There, there, children, don’t squabble before Barbara; she’s forgotten
that you are not always friends,” said Mrs. Grafton. “Run back to bed,
Cecilia; you’ll take cold. The rest of us are going, too. It’s long
past bedtime.”

Barbara had expected to find the first nights away from her college
room lonely ones; but the big four-poster, ugly as it had always seemed
to her, was an improvement upon the cot that was a divan by day and
a bed by night. Blessed, too, was the silence that was almost noisy,
out-of-doors, and the good-night pat of the mother, as she tucked her
firstling in. It was good, after all, to be at home, and good, too,
that she could be of use there. Her last thought was of the new green
carpet in the sitting-room below.

“It’s an outrage on æsthetics, that shade,” she said to herself. “I
wish mother hadn’t bought it until I got home. They do need me here.”

       *       *       *       *       *

“It’s the same old place,” said Barbara, at four o’clock the next
afternoon, “the same dear, old, sleepy place. Aside from the fact that
I find some more tucks let down in gowns and some more inches added
to trousers each year, I don’t think Auburn changes anything—even her
mind—from going-away time to coming-home time. Procrastination is the
spice of life, here.”

“The things that keep a town awake are usually sent away to college,”
said her mother, slyly. “But Auburn is solid, as well as conservative.”

“It’s pitifully, painfully solid,” said Barbara. “If it only realized
its own deficiencies, there would be hope for it. But it is always so
complacent and contented with itself. The road that leads up the hill
to Dyer’s Corner is characteristic of the whole town. Some man with
plenty of time on his hands—or for his feet—ambled along up the hill in
the beginning of things, and for fifty years the people have followed
his long, devious path, rather than branch out and originate another
easier. I believe that any sign of progress, civic or intellectual,
would cut Auburn to the quick,—if there is any quick to cut, in the
town.”

“Haven’t you noted the fine schedule on our electric-car line?” laughed
her mother.

“That’s just what I was thinking of. I commented on the improved time
that the cars make to Miss Bates, this morning. To my surprise she
stiffened at once. ‘You ain’t the first to make complaint,’ she said.
‘There ain’t no need of running a street-car like a fire-engine; and
they say that since this new schedule has been fixed, the conductors
won’t deliver dinner-pails to the factory men, or hold the car for you
while you go on a short errand. Auburn ain’t going to tolerate that.’
Doesn’t that sound just like Miss Bates, and like Auburn?”

“That’s right; run down Auburn,” said Jack, tossing his strap of
school-books on a chair, and hanging his cap on the rubber-plant.
“You’ll make yourself good and popular if you go about expressing
opinions like that in public. Auburn was good enough for Airy Fairy
Lilian in high-school days, but having received four years of
‘culchaw,’ and a starter on the alphabet to add to her name, the
plebeian ways of the old home-place jar her nerves. I like your
loyalty, Mistress Barbara!”

“That is totally uncalled for, Jack,” said Barbara. “I like Auburn
as much as you do. But it’s not an intellectual affection. I can’t
help seeing, in spite of my love for it, that the town is raw and
Western,—and painfully crude.”

“An intellectual affection! That’s as bad as a hygienic plum-pudding,”
groaned Jack. “If I didn’t have to go out to coach the football team
in five minutes, I would sit down and express my sympathy at the
stultifying life which you must lead for the next sixty years. Unless,
of course, we marry you off. There is always that alternative.”

“I hope you _are_ going to be contented, dear,” said Mrs. Grafton, as
her tall son relieved the rubber-plant of its burden, and clattered
noisily out of the room. “I realize that after four years of the jolly
intercourse you have had with the girls, and the growing college life,
we must seem slow and prosaic to you here; nothing much happens when
you are away. Of course, I don’t miss things as much as you will. _I’m_
used to the old slow way, and besides, I’m too busy to have time to
think of what is lacking. But I don’t want you to be hungry for what is
not. The happiest thing I’ve had to think about all these four years,
has been your home-coming, but I’ve been a little worried about your
coming, sometimes. Do you think you are going to be contented with us?”

Barbara’s answer was judicial. “Why, yes, I think so,” she said. “Of
course I shall miss the college life, and the intellectual stimulus
I had there, but _I’m_ going to work hard, too. All the theories I
learned at Vassar are just ready to be put into practice, and I have
so much to give the world that I can hardly wait to take my pen in
hand. Oh, I am so glad, mother, that my life-work is laid out for me.
I tell you frankly that I never could stand living in Auburn if I were
not busy. The sordidness of the workers, and the pettiness of the
idlers, would make me desperate. But I shall go to work at once, and
write—write—all the things I have been longing to give utterance to for
four years.”

“But you can’t write all the time,” said Mrs. Grafton.

“No, I don’t intend to. There are other things to do. There has never
been any organized philanthropy in Auburn, and there is plenty of work
for somebody in that line. I hope, too, that I may fall in with some
congenial people who will care to do some regular, systematic study
with me,—though I suppose they will be hard to find in a town of this
size. Then, too, I thought that I might help Susan.”

Mrs. Grafton’s busy needle flew as she talked. “How, dear?”

“Oh, in her studies. Susan and I kept together in high-school days,
and I think that it has always been a tragedy in her life that she
couldn’t have a college education. She has a fine mind,—not original,
you know, but clear-thinking,—and she loves study. Poor girl, I can
help her so much. And of course it will be a mental stimulus to me,
too.”

“I’m afraid Susan won’t have time.”

“Why, what is she doing?”

“Housework,” replied her mother. “She is cooking, and caring for her
father and brothers, and she does it well, too.”

“What a shame!”

“What, to do it well?”

“You know what I mean, you wicked mother. A shame to let all that
mental ability go to waste, while the pots and pans are being scoured.
It doesn’t take brains to do housework.”

“Doesn’t it!” sighed Mrs. Grafton; “I find, all the time, that it takes
much more than I possess. When it comes to the problems of how to let
down Cecilia’s tucks without showing, how to vary the steak-chops diet
that we grow so tired of, and how to decrease the gas-bills, I feel my
mental inferiority. I’m glad that you have come home with new ideas; we
need them, dear.”

A voice rose from the foot of the stairs below,—a shrill soprano voice,
that skipped the scale from C to C, and back again to A.

“That’s Ellen,” said Mrs. Grafton, laying down her sewing with a sigh.
“I can’t teach her to come to me when she wants me. She says that she
doesn’t mind messages if she can ‘holler ’em,’ but she ‘won’t climb
stairs fer Mrs. Roosevelt herself.’ I suppose I’ll have to go down.”

“What does she want?”

“That’s what makes it interesting: you never know. Perhaps an
ironing-sheet, or the key to the fruit-closet. Maybe the plumber has
come, or the milkman is to be paid, or the telephone is ringing. Or
possibly a book-agent has made his appearance. She always keeps it a
mystery until I get down.”

“I don’t see how on earth you live in that way. I never could get
anything done.”

“I don’t accomplish much,” sighed her mother. “The days ought to be
three times as long, to hold all the things they bring to be done. My
life is like the mother’s bag in the ‘Swiss Family Robinson.’”

“I can’t work that way,” said Barbara. “It’s ruinous to any continuity
of thought. I suppose that means that I’ll have to shut myself up in my
room to write.”

Mrs. Grafton had gone downstairs.

“I don’t see how mother can stand it,” said the girl to herself. “Two
telephone calls, an interview with the butcher, a stop to tie up
David’s finger, a hunt for father’s lost letter, some money to be sent
down to the vegetable man, and two calls to the front door,—that makes
eight interruptions in the last hour. If she would only systematize
things, so she wouldn’t be disturbed, she wouldn’t look so tired as she
does. There ought not to be so much work in this house.”

She glanced around the big, homey-looking living-room, through the
door into the narrow, old-fashioned hall, and beyond, into the
sunny dining-room. The house was an old one; the furnishing, though
comfortable, showed the signs of hard usage and disorder. An umbrella
reposed on the couch, Jack’s football mask lay on the table, and her
mother’s ravelings littered the floor. A heterogeneous collection of
battered animals occupied the window-sill, and a pile of the doctor’s
memoranda was thrust under the clock.

“I don’t wonder that things stray away here,” she added, “with no
one to pick them up but mother. She ought to insist upon orderliness
from each member of the family, and save herself. I’m afraid that her
over-work is partly her own fault.”

“Another mishap,” said her mother, as she picked up her sewing on
entering the room. “The gas-stove this time. Ellen can’t make it burn,
and I’ve had to telephone the gas-man. Her baking is just under way,
too, and I’ll have to send out for some bread for supper. I hate to ask
you to do it, dear, this first day, but I’m afraid that Jack won’t be
back in time to go.”

“Where shall I go? To Miss Pettibone’s?”

“Yes; my purse is on the table. Get a loaf of bread and some cookies,
and anything else that would be good for supper. The meal is likely to
be a slim one.”

Miss Pettibone’s tiny front room took the place of a delicatessen shop
in Auburn. She was a little, brown, fat acorn of a woman, who had been
wooed in her unsuspicious middle age by a graceless young vagabond, who
had brightened her home for six weeks and then departed, carrying with
him the little old maid’s heart, and the few thousand dollars which
represented her capital. She was of the type of woman who would feel
more grief than rage at such faithlessness, and she refused to allow
her recreant lover to be traced. After the first shock was over, she
turned to her one accomplishment as a means of livelihood, and produced
for sale such delicious bread, such delectable tarts, such marvelous
cakes and cookies, that all Auburn profited by the absence of the
rogue. She did catering in a small way, and sometimes, as an especial
favor, serving; and the sight of Miss Pettibone in a stiff white apron,
with a shiny brass tray under her arm, going into a side entrance, was
as sure a sign of a party within, as Japanese lanterns on the front
porch, or an order for grapefruit at the grocer’s. The tragedy of her
life had not embittered her, and all the grief that she had stirred
into her cakes was as little noticeable in the light loaves as the
evidences of sorrow in her intercourse with the world. Optimism was the
yeast of her hard little life, and had raised her to the soundness and
sweetness of her own bread.

There was no one in the shop as Barbara swung the door open and set
a-jingle the bell at the top. But there was encouragement in the sight
of a spicy gingerbread, some small yellow patty-cakes, some sugary
crullers, and a pot of brown baked beans, in the glass-covered counter.
Miss Pettibone came bustling into the room at the sound of the bell.

“Why, Barbara Grafton,” she said delightedly; “you, of all people! When
did you get back?”

“Last night,” answered Barbara.

“Well, I declare! If I’m not glad to see you! You haven’t changed a
mite,—even to get taller. I guess you’ve got your growth now. You
spindled a good deal while you was stretching, but you seem to be
fleshing up now.”

“I’m always a vulgarly healthy person,” said Barbara. “But how about
you? How is the rheumatism?”

“It’s in its place when the roll is called. I’ve had a lame shoulder
all spring.”

“I’m sorry about that.”

“Well, you don’t need to be. That’s one of the things that make dying
easy. Providence was pretty kind when she began to invent aches and
pains. Just think how hard it would be to step off, if you had to
go when you was perfect physically. But that ain’t the usual way,
thank goodness! All of the rheumatic shoulders, and bad backs, and
poor sights, and failing memories, are just stones that pave the road
to dying. I guess that’s what St. Paul meant when he said, ‘We die
daily.’ But you don’t look as though you had begun, yet.”

“College food seems to agree with me, Miss Pettibone, but it’s not like
your baking. I’ve come for a loaf of bread, and to carry off that pot
of beans.”

“You can have the bread, child, but not the beans; they was sold hours
ago.”

“Too bad,” sighed Barbara. “Give me the gingerbread.”

“I’m sorry, but that’s sold, too.”

“Why do you keep them, then?”

“I always ask my customers to leave them, if they ain’t in any hurry
for them. It keeps my shop full, and besides, it makes folks that come
in late see what they’ve missed. I notice that the minute a sold sign
goes on a thing, it raises its value with most people. Barbara, it does
my heart good to see you back again.”

“I’m glad to be back, too. How much are the little cakes?”

“Are you, my dear? Well, I’m glad to hear you say so. Twenty cents a
dozen. Do you want them right away? You see, going away from home
spoils lots of young folks, these days. Sending ’em away is like
teaching them to tell time when they’re children. Of course it’s a
matter of education, but after that they’re always on the outlook to
see if the clock is fast or slow. And most of the young people who go
away to college find it pretty slow in Auburn. I’m glad that _you_
ain’t going to be discontented.”

Barbara looked guilty. She did not want to accept undeserved praise,
and yet it was hard to be frank without being impolite.

“Of course I expect to miss college life, Miss Pettibone,” she began.

“Dear me, yes. I know what that will mean to you. Why, after I came
back from Maine, twenty years ago, I was as lonesome for sea-air as
though it had been a person. To this day I long for the tang of that
salt wind. That’s why I use whale-oil soap—because the smell of the
suds reminds me of the sea. Of _course_ you’re going to miss college,
Barbara.”

“I shall try to keep so busy that I won’t have time to be lonely,” said
Barbara.

“That’s the right spirit. It won’t be hard to do, either, in your
house. Your family is a large one, and your mother is put to it to do
everything. Gassy ain’t old enough yet to be of much help, and it’s
easier to keep a secret than a girl, in Auburn. I guess she’ll be
glad to have you here to pitch in. It’s a good thing that you like
housework.”

“I’m afraid I don’t know much about it. Housekeeping is not my forte.
Of course I shall help mother, but I don’t intend to do that kind of
work to the exclusion of all other. I intend to save the best of myself
for my writing.”

Miss Pettibone looked properly awed.

“Well, it’s a wonderful thing to be able to write. I always said that
you’d be an authoress, when I used to see those school compositions of
yours that the ‘Conservative’ used to print. Why, Barbara, you come in
here once when you was in Kindergarten school, and you set down on my
front window-sill, and you says, ‘Miss Pettibone,’ you says, ‘I’ve
written a pome.’ And I says, ‘Good fer you, Barbara, let’s hear it.’ So
you smoothed down your white apron, and recited it to me. ‘It’s about
my mother,’ you says; ‘and this is it:—

    ‘Oh, Mrs. Grafton,’ said Miss Gray,
    ‘Oh, do your children run away?’
    ‘Oh, no,’ said she, ‘they never do;
     Because I always use my shoe.’

Then when you was through you explained to me that your ma didn’t
really whip you. You just had to put in that part about the shoe to
make it rhyme, you said. You was an awful old-fashioned child, Barbara!”

“My poetry was of about the same quality then that it is now,” laughed
Barbara. “I’ll take the bread and the cakes with me, Miss Pettibone.
This is like old Auburn days. I haven’t carried a loaf of bread on the
street since I left home.”

“Well, paper bundles with the steam rising from them ain’t very swell,
but sometimes the insides makes it worth while,” said the little
baker. “Come in and see me often, Barbara, when it ain’t an errand. And
give my love to your mother. She hasn’t been looking well lately, seems
to me.”

Barbara smiled her good-by, and the little bell jingled merrily as the
door swung shut.

“It’s always good to see Miss Pettibone,” she said to herself as she
started up the quiet street. “She belongs in a story-book,—a little
felt one with cheery red covers. It is queer about her, too. She is as
provincial as any one in Auburn, and yet she is never commonplace.”

At the corner she encountered another of the characters of Auburn. This
was Mrs. Kotferschmidt, the old German woman, whose husband had been
for years the proprietor of the one boat-livery of the town. He had
died during the past winter, and Barbara, meeting the widow, stopped to
offer her condolences. The old boatman had taught her to swim and to
row, and her expressions of sympathy were genuine.

“Mother wrote me about your loss,” she said. “I was so sorry to hear
about Mr. Kotferschmidt.”

The old lady rustled in her crape, but the stolid face in the black
bonnet showed no sign of emotion.

“Oh, you don’t need to mind that,” she said politely. “He was getting
old, anyways. In the spring I hired me a stronger man to help me mit
the boats.”

Mrs. Kotferschmidt was the only passer Barbara met on her way home.
Chestnut Street was practically deserted. The school-children’s
procession had passed, and the business-men’s brigade had not yet
started to move. The shaded avenue, with its green arch of trees
overhead, stretched its quiet, leisurely way from Miss Pettibone’s shop
to the Grafton house. A shaft of red sun cut its way through the thick
leaves, and covered with a glorified light the square, substantial
houses that bordered the road. A few children played upon the street, a
dog was taking an undisturbed siesta on the sidewalk, and three snowy
pigeons were cooing softly as they strutted along the gutter. It
was all pretty and peaceful, but quiet, desperately quiet. Barbara’s
thoughts went back to the college campus, crowded with chattering
students, leisurely professors, hurrying messenger-boys, and busy
employees, and full of activity at this hour. What if the Sphinx could
see her now, or the Infant, or the dear House Plant, with that plebeian
loaf of bread under her arm, on that deserted Western road? She knew
what they would say; she could almost feel their glances of pity. Oh,
it was a misfortune to be born in a place like Auburn,—a stultifying,
crude, middle-western town. She choked down a lump in her throat that
threatened her.

“I must get to work,” she thought. “Soon,—soon! I shall never be able
to exist in Auburn, if I give myself time to think about it.”



CHAPTER III

THE THEORY OF PHILOSOPHY


IT was eight o’clock on a warm morning in June, a few days after
Barbara’s return. She rose from the table, where she had been
breakfasting in solitude, and sought her mother.

It was not easy to find her. The girl looked into the kitchen, passed
through her father’s office, and ran upstairs to Mrs. Grafton’s
chamber—all without result.

“Jack!” she called, stopping at the door of her brother’s room, and
severely regarding the recumbent figure in bed. “Jack! I’d be ashamed
of lying in bed so late! Where’s mother?”

A muffled groan, a tossing of the long swathed figure—and silence.

“Jack! Tell me at least, if you know where she is.”

The swathed figure rose up in majesty, and a pair of half-open, sleepy
eyes became visible in a yawning face.

“Well, I’ll be hanged!” said Jack. “If you didn’t actually wake me up
to ask where mother is. What do you think I am! A supernatural dreamer,
with visions of everything mother does floating around my bed? Think I
can see all over the house with my eyes shut?”

Jack flounced back, and recomposed his long limbs for slumber.

“You ought to be up, anyway, by this time,” declared Barbara, eyeing
him with cold disapproval. “There are plenty of things that you could
do to help.”

She walked down the stairs, puzzling over the strange lack of system
that she saw everywhere about her. There was Jack, lying at his ease
in his room, with a superb disregard of responsibilities. She caught a
glimpse of Gassy sitting in the dusty, disorderly library, reading the
story from which she had been forcibly separated the evening before at
bedtime. And finally, as she reëntered the dining-room, she stumbled
over the Kid, who was arranging plates, taken from the uncleared
dining-table, in a neat line on the carpet.

“Don’t upset my ships!” he roared, as Barbara unconsciously crunched a
butter-plate under her erring tread.

She stared in horror at the débris; then, sweeping the plates up, to
the accompaniment of shrieks from the youngest Grafton, she sat down on
a chair and took her struggling little brother on her lap.

“Charles Grafton, listen to me!” she said firmly but not angrily,
remembering the pedagogic articles on “Anger and the Child,” and the
extracts which had filled a large college note-book. “Charles! What do
you mean by doing such a dreadful thing as this? Answer, immediately.”

It was while she was trying to understand his stormy articulations that
Mrs. Grafton appeared, and sank down wearily in a chair near the door.
The Kid immediately wriggled from his sister and ran to his mother,
weeping.

“Just see what this boy has done!” cried Barbara. “I picked up half
these plates from the floor. I never saw such a child! This table ought
to have been cleared long ago, anyway.”

“Ellen can’t clear the table until breakfast is over,” said Mrs.
Grafton, soothing the little boy in her arms. “Your father, Cecilia,
Charles, and I had our breakfast as usual at quarter after seven. I
imagine that Ellen was waiting for you to finish. Moreover, the gas-man
came to look at the meter in the cellar, and she and I both went down
with him. I just came up from there.”

Mrs. Grafton’s face settled into weary lines, and she sighed heavily.
But Barbara did not notice. She was looking at the new egg-stain on the
Wilton rug.

“Mother,” she said, in her fresh, energetic voice, “I really do think
things might be managed more systematically here than they actually
are. You know that, if there is one thing that we learn at college, it
is the need of system. Now see here!” Barbara rose, and began to pace
back and forth over the egg-stain. “We rise at six-thirty, an absurdly
early hour, though perhaps necessitated by the work of a large family—”

“Yes,” interposed her mother, smiling through her pallor. “We _all_
rise at half-past six.”

Barbara flushed. “Now, mother!” she said. “I know I haven’t done it
these few days since I came home, but that was accidental. It shall not
happen again. And Jack is dreadful about getting up!”

“Well,” said Mrs. Grafton, “this ‘system’?”

“Oh, yes. We should rise and finish breakfast by quarter-past eight.
Then let Ellen do the dishes, of course, and all the work in the
kitchen. Then make Jack get up and do the outside work, the lawns,
sweeping the porches, and so forth, to get it out of the way early.
Cecilia,—how I hate that nickname Gassy!—Cecilia ought to do her share.
She should be taught to keep her room in order, and the library too, I
think.”

“I won’t!” shouted an excitable little voice from the next room.

“Don’t talk that way, Cecilia,” called Barbara. “You’ll never improve,
if you don’t do something in this world.”

“Why don’t _you_ do something, then?” retorted the voice, “instead of
telling mother how to run the house?”

A smile flickered upon Mrs. Grafton’s pale face, and died in another
sigh. Barbara rose and shut the dining-room door.

“Now I”—she resumed—“I will guarantee to keep the lower floor looking
fresh and clean,—not doing the sweeping, of course; and I will take
care of my own room and Jack’s also. That will probably occupy me
until half-past nine, after which I must spend my time until twelve
in writing every minute, undisturbed. In this way, you see, we shall
each have our own individual work,—David and the Kid being allowed to
play,—and your burden will be considerably lessened. And all through a
little application of system.”

“System!” echoed her mother, mechanically allowing Charles to slip from
her lap.

“Yes,” said Barbara. “That leaves your room and David’s and the
ordering for you.”

“My room, and David’s, and the ordering,” repeated Mrs. Grafton.

“Why, yes,” Barbara responded, looking curiously at her mother. “What
is the matter, dear? You look so queer and white. Aren’t you well?”

“Oh, yes,” replied Mrs. Grafton. “Here is Susan coming to see you. Keep
her out on the porch, Barbara, there is so much to do in the house.”

Left alone, Mrs. Grafton’s eyes filled, and her lips began to twitch
nervously. “So much to do!” she repeated. She put her handkerchief up
to her shaking lips. “What am I crying for?” she asked herself sternly.
“I never used to be so foolish.” But her eyes kept filling and her lips
twitching. She had a feeling that she was allowing herself to be weak.
Then a sense of hopelessness in a domestic universe seemed to rise up
and overwhelm her, and she wept again.

Suddenly she rose and hurried from the room, as she caught the sound of
Jack’s boots on the stairs.

“I’m so glad to see you!” cried Barbara, pushing forward the best
porch-chair to receive her guest. “And I’m especially glad that you
came so early, for I shall be inaccessible after ten o’clock. My
literary hours begin then.”

Susan fanned herself. “I just stopped a minute on my way to get some
sewing-silk,” she said, “but I couldn’t help trying to get a glimpse
of you again. How fresh and at leisure you look, Babbie. All your work
done so soon?”

“No-o,” answered Barbara, a slight blush making her confession
charming. “The fact is, Sue, I got up later than usual this morning,
for some reason, and mother and I have been taking our time in
discussing a new system of housekeeping, by which I am to lighten
mother’s labors considerably.”

Susan looked wistful as she rocked back and forth. “I suppose your
college training makes you accommodate yourself to all circumstances,”
she said. “It must be hard to have to come to every-day living like
this, after all the advantages you have had. I believe you know enough
theory to fit into any situation.”

“Oh, no,” interposed Barbara, “not _every_ one.”

“And all these four years,” went on Susan, her sweet face sobering,
“I have just been doing housework, and trying to take dear mother’s
place. My life has been bounded by dishpans and darning-cotton, and my
associates have been housemaids and dressmakers. I haven’t improved at
all.”

“Now you are fishing!” rejoined Barbara. “I must say, Susan, that as
for not being a college girl, you show it less than any other girl I
ever saw.”

“You flatter me,” declared Susan. “And oh, Barbara, I want to say that
it’s awfully sweet of you to be willing to read with me an hour every
day. It will help me ever so much, to get your trained point of view
about things. I am so immature in my mental judgments, I know.”

“I am only too glad to help you,” said Barbara, heartily. “And really,
Sue, you are a godsend to me, for you are the only girl in town that is
congenial to me at all.”

Susan looked pleased. “That’s kind of you,” she answered. “Well, I must
not keep you from helping your mother. By the way, how is she to-day?
Everybody is saying how tired and worn out she looks, and is glad that
you have come to share her burdens.”

“Why, mother’s all right,” replied Barbara. “How people will talk and
gossip about nothing! Good-by, Sue dear. Take some roses on the way
out. And let’s begin reading to-morrow.”

She paused a moment on the porch, looking with appreciative eyes at the
pretty lawn, with its wealth of gay-colored nasturtiums and roses. As
she passed through the hall, her eyes fell upon Gassy, still curled up
in the chair, and absorbed in her book.

“Cecilia!” called Barbara, with all the authority of an elder sister.
“You have done nothing all morning. Take the duster and dust the
living-room immediately.”

The little girl’s legs kicked convulsively in protest. “Oh-h, how I
hate you, Barbara!” she cried abstractedly. “I’ve only eight pages
more.”

“Nearly ten o’clock!” sighed the girl, as she mounted the stairs to her
room. “I shan’t get much done to-day.”

She made her bed with resigned patience, pinned an “Engaged” sign on
her door, and fell to work. But even through the closed door came
the busy sounds of an active household. A thump, thump, thump of the
furniture downstairs in the living-room proclaimed that a vigorous
sweeping was going on; the maddening click-click-clash outside drew
her to the window to behold Jack sulkily guiding the lawn-mower. Just
below her came the measured hum of the sewing-machine, and Barbara
remembered, with a guilty start, that she had promised to finish those
sheets herself, the day before. Finally, the sound of a toy drum and
the martial tramp of little feet in the hall outside her door nerved
her to action.

“What _are_ you doing, children?” she cried, putting her head out
through the door in despair.

David and the Kid stopped marching simultaneously, and eyed their big
sister. “I’m Teddy Roosevelt,” said David, mildly, “and the Kid is all
my Rough Riders.”

“Well, you must not ride here,” declared Barbara. “You are disturbing
me and I can’t write. Go downstairs and play,—right away. You must not
annoy me again.”

She shut her door, cutting a yell from the Kid into two sections. The
martial sounds died away, and she was free to resume her thoughts.
Their continuity seemed broken, however. It was some time before she
took up her work again.

About an hour afterwards, as Barbara, with pleased expression and
a flying pen, was half way through an enthusiastically philosophic
peroration, she was disturbed by a sudden jar, as if some heavy weight
had fallen, shaking her chair considerably. In a minute, footsteps
sounded outside again, and some one timidly opened her door. It was
David.

“Mother—” he began.

“I _cannot_ be disturbed!” cried Barbara, frantically, waving her pen.
“Run away, David; I simply must not be talked to!”

The little fellow, with a scared look, obeyed, and Barbara was once
more left alone. It was not the conglomeration of sounds which now
annoyed her,—it was the utter absence of the noises to which she had
grown accustomed. The hum of the sewing-machine had abruptly ceased,
and a sudden cry of “Jack, come here, quick!” had stopped the teasing
whir of the grass-cutter. To Barbara there was something ominous in the
sudden cessation.

“Well, it’s nearly twelve, anyway,” she exclaimed, shutting up her
desk. “I’ll give up for this morning.”

She opened her door and went downstairs. No one in the halls; no one in
the living-room. She turned toward the kitchen, but was arrested by the
sound of her father’s voice coming from the sewing-room,—his voice, but
strange, low, unnatural.

“There, Jack! That’s enough water. Slowly, Ellen. Stop crying,
Charles. Mother’s all right.”

Barbara reached the door in one bound. “What—” she began, and stopped,
while her shocked eyes took in the scene before her.

In a frightened, huddled group near her stood Gassy, David, and the
Kid, staring at their mother, who lay on the floor perfectly quiet.
Jack and Ellen stood by, with water and cloths, and the doctor was
gently sponging away the blood from a cut on Mrs. Grafton’s temple. No
one spoke to Barbara or noticed her.

As she crossed over, brushing the children from her path, her father
looked up and saw the alarmed look on her face. “Your mother fainted,
that’s all,” he said reassuringly. “She fell from the sewing-machine
and cut herself. But she will be all right soon!”

Mrs. Grafton opened her eyes and faintly smiled.

“O mother dear!” cried Barbara. “O mother! It is my fault! I said I
would do those sheets yesterday.”

Mrs. Grafton began to cry. “I don’t want to hear about sheets,” she
sobbed weakly.

“No, dear, no, dear, you needn’t,” soothed the doctor, motioning
Barbara away.

It was a new sensation to Barbara to stand back, while the doctor
carried Mrs. Grafton upstairs to her room, and, aided only slightly,
put her to bed. Mechanically she did as ordered, and followed her
father out of the room, when her mother had fallen asleep, with a
feeling that the end of the world had come, and that “system” had
deserted the universe.

“Yes, it is a nervous break-down,” said the doctor, throwing himself
into an easy-chair in the living-room. “I might have known that it
would come, with the crushing weight of this household on her delicate
shoulders. But your mother is so brave and bright that I didn’t realize
what she has been doing.”

“And of course I’ve been away,” sighed Barbara.

“Well, _she_ must go away now,” said Dr. Grafton, with determination.
“A complete rest and change she must have, as soon as possible. And
Barbara, my girl, you’ll have to take the helm.”

“Oh, I will,” she cried confidently. “I can and will gladly. I won’t
let it crush _me_. I’ll reduce it all to a science.”

“H’m,” said her father. “This science is not taught at Vassar. However,
I don’t see what else we can do. And your mother must go at once.”

Barbara lost her sense of the logical continuity of events during the
next few days. Packing, planning, consoling small brothers, encouraging
her mother, who was inclined to rebellion,—the minutes and hours flew.
Before she realized, she stood one morning on the front porch with her
arms around the sobbing Kid, resolutely forcing a smile, while she
waved a cheerful farewell to the departing phaeton, containing a very
pale mother and a very determined-looking father.

“Good-by, mother dear!” called little David, winking away his tears.
“Come back soon.”

“Come back _well_!” added Barbara, cheerfully.



CHAPTER IV

THE PRACTICE


MAUD S. lengthened her measured tread an infinitesimally small
distance, in response to the doctor’s impatient command. But she did
it sorrowfully, and with the air of yielding to a child’s whim. Maud
S. had been born and brought up in Auburn, and she had been educated
to a stern sense of the proprieties. It was right and proper to forego
appearances, and even to abandon one’s dignity, if necessary, upon
a call of mercy; but a trip to the station, with a trunk aboard,
and a feeble passenger inside, certainly ought to be made decently
and in order. Moreover, it was the first outing that Mrs. Grafton
had taken for eight years, and the occasion was one that required
proper observance. To be told to “Chirk up, Maud,” right in front of
Banker Willowby’s house, was certainly irritating, and her excessive
good-breeding showed in the forbearance with which she received the
admonition. Maud S. made up in refinement and courtesy what she lacked
in speed, and she showed her delicacy, even in her resentment, by the
ladylike way in which she flapped her ears forward, in order that she
might not hear the domestic conversation that was going on in the
carriage behind her.

“I feel like a deserter from the regiment,” sighed Mrs. Grafton. “I
ought not to be going away from home.”

“Well, I’m sorry to say it,” responded the doctor, “but you certainly
ought to be getting away from home just as fast as the train will carry
you,—and Maud S. will condescend to take you to it. I can’t get you out
of Auburn too soon.”

“It is wicked of me to leave the house and the children.”

“It would be wicked of me not to _make_ you leave the house and the
children! You have had an undisturbed diet of house and children four
years too long. No wonder your heart rebels. A fine kind of doctor I
am, not to have detected this long ago! If it had been any patient but
my wife, I should have been quick to discover it. But it’s partly your
own fault, Elizabeth; you had no business to be so uncomplaining about
yourself. Even that excuse, though, doesn’t keep me from realizing how
brutally thoughtless I have been.”

The mother-mind went back to the forlorn little group on the porch.
“Poor children,” she sighed; “I don’t know how they are going to get
along; if they only had some one to rely upon for their three meals a
day! But Ellen is woefully inefficient, and she has to be handled with
sugar-tongs, besides. The spring sewing isn’t finished yet; the porch
ought to be screened; David—poor little pale face—ought to be sent away
before his hay fever begins; and the fruit-canning season is just at
hand.”

“Oh, _we’ll_ get along,” assured the doctor, in the old, illogical way
that means nothing, and yet is so comforting to a woman; “Barbara’s
young and strong, and full of energy. She’ll put her hand to the helm,
if need be.”

“But this is her vacation, and I want her to enjoy it. She’s worked
hard at her books for four years. Besides, she is so full of her
writing now—”

Dr. Grafton laughed,—a merry, contagious laugh, that rivaled his
medical skill in winning his patients. “I thought as much,” he said.
“Getting admission to her room nowadays is attended with all the
formalities of the Masonic ritual, and she goes about with ink on her
fingers and ink on her nose. I suppose she is fired by the ambition
of the Banbury Cross lady in making ‘music wherever she goes.’ Poor
little Barbara; she’s taking herself so very seriously, these days! She
feels that she must gush forth a stream of living water for thirsty
mankind, forgetting, dear little lass, that she is not a spring yet,
but only a rain-barrel. Four years of college have filled her, but she
doesn’t realize that now is the time to keep all the bung-holes shut.
I suppose we must all pass through that think-we-are-artists disease,
but Barbara seems to have an aggravated case.”

“She has been encouraged in it a good deal.”

“Yes, I know she has,—more’s the pity. A prodigy now and then must be
encouraging to a college faculty, but it’s a bit hard on the prodigy
herself, and harder still on the prodigy’s family. Intellectual lights
ought to be hidden under a ton, instead of a bushel, so it wouldn’t be
so easy to dig them out. I believe, myself, that Barbara _has_ a fine
mind, and unusual ability, but, dear heart, she’s only a child! She has
to live before she can write.”

“I haven’t dared tell her that yet,” said her mother; “I don’t want
even to seem to discourage her. And you know how confident Barbara is.”

“I wish she were a bit less _self_-confident; she’s bound to be
disappointed, and I’m afraid that she sets her hopes so high that the
fall, when it comes, will be a hard one. I wish, too, that she wasn’t
quite so serious about it all. Her saving grace of humor seems to have
utterly deserted her at this trying period of her existence.”

“That’s a way that humor sometimes has,” said Mrs. Grafton. “The very
jolliest, drollest woman I ever knew confided to me once that her sense
of humor had entirely deserted her, at one time. She had been out
sailing with the man who afterward became her husband, and during the
course of the evening he had done a little love-making. ‘He called me
Sweetie,’ she said to me. ‘Think of it! Sweetie! Why, it’s as bad as
Pettie, or Lambie!’ And the worst of it was that it didn’t even seem
funny to me until after I thought it over at home. ‘When love comes in
the door, humor flies out of the window,’ she said; and I suppose it
may be the same way with genius.”

“If Barbara’s genius was armed with a broom instead of a pen, it would
be better for her,” said her father. “And that is why I am glad,
for her sake as well as yours, that you are going away. The girl
isn’t all dreamer; she has a practical compartment in that brain of
hers, and your absence will give her a chance to open the doors and
windows of it, and sweep the cobwebs out. Oh, I’m not worried about
_Barbara_,—she’ll rise to occasions. And _we’ll_ get along beautifully.
If _you’ll_ only come back to us well and strong—”

Maud S. made an unnecessary clatter over the macadam road, in order
not to hear the rest of the sentence. The anxious note in her master’s
voice swallowed up the last trace of her resentment.

In the meantime the little group on the Grafton porch had turned back
into the house. Jack had taken his fishing-tackle, and gone off down
the dusty road without a word. David, with a plaintive expression on
his thin little face, had turned to his beloved “Greek Heroes” for
comfort. The Kid’s tears had been dried by Barbara’s handkerchief and
two raisin cookies, and he had gone to the sand-pile to play. Gassy,
alone, was unaccounted for. She had slipped away from the porch when
her mother was assisted into the carriage, and was not in sight when
the others turned back into the house.

“Picking up, first,” sighed Barbara, as she came back into the big
living-room, which seemed unusually untidy and cheerless. “Then the
bed-making and the chamber-work, planning the meals, and ordering the
supplies. I think I shall write out all the menus for Ellen,—that will
be the easiest way.” She was putting the room in order, and her hands
flew with her thoughts. “I mean to do everything systematically. I
want to prove to father that, college fits a girl for anything,—even
practical life, and if I keep the house in order, discipline the
children, and have some excellent meals, I think he’ll be convinced. It
will take some time to get things started, but I believe that after I
have them systematized, they will go smoothly, and I shall have plenty
of time left for my writing. Mother always spent so much time on the
unnecessary little things; no wonder she went to pieces—poor mother!”

Something dimmed Barbara’s tender eyes, but she steadied her lips and
went on with her plans:—

“One thing I intend to change, and that is having dinner at noon. It’s
horribly unhygienic, and old-fashioned, too. I’ll speak to Ellen about
it.”

She pulled open the door of the hall-closet to find a dust-cloth. A
huddled pile of pink gingham, with two long, black legs protruding, lay
prone upon the floor. The head was hidden.

Barbara put an arm about the place which seemed to mark a waist in the
gingham. “What’s the matter, dear?” she asked tenderly.

There was a long-drawn breath, and an unmistakable snuffle. Then
Gassy’s voice answered coldly,—

“Nuthin’.”

“Well, don’t lie in here in the dark. Come out with me, little sister.”

Gassy came, slowly and reluctantly. She rose from the floor, back
foremost, keeping her face assiduously turned away from her sister.

“I don’t like to see you cry—”

“Wasn’t crying,” stiffened Gassy, with a sob.

“I mean I don’t like to have you tucked away in here, when I need you
outside. I want your help, little girl.”

“What for?” demanded Gassy, suspiciously.

“Oh, just to have you about, to talk to,” said Barbara. “Come on out
with me, and help me plan the lunch.”

“Lunch? Are we goin’ to have a picnic?” asked Gassy, seating herself
with her proud little face turned toward the window.

“No; but we’re going to have dinner at night while mother’s away. And
Cecilia, how would you like to turn vegetarian?”

“Just eat vegetables?”

“Yes; it’s much more hygienic.”

“No meat at all?”

“No; we eat altogether too much flesh.”

“It would be cheaper to board at a livery stable,” said Gassy.

“And healthier, too, I think. I’ve gone without meat voluntarily for
three whole years, and I have been in perfect physical condition. It’s
a help mentally, too. And diet isn’t restricted if you substitute eggs
and nuts and fruit for meat.”

Nuts and fruit sounded good to Gassy. “All right,” she said; “I’d like
to try it. But we can’t do it yet awhile; we’re working out a bill at
the butcher’s. His wife broke her collarbone last year, and he’s paying
the doctor’s bill in meat. Besides, what will Ellen say?”

Barbara wondered, herself. But she was too proud to admit her
foreboding.

“Ellen draws her salary” (college settlement lessons forbade her using
the term “wages”) “for following our wishes—”

“Then she doesn’t earn it,” interrupted Gassy.

“And I’m sure she could find no objection to any decision of ours as to
the best kind of food. Will you ask her to come here, Cecilia, as soon
as she gets her dishes washed? I’ll have the menu ready for her by that
time.”

Miss Parloa’s cook-book, which Barbara took down from the shelf
to assist her in her task, was not a vegetarian; but memories of
her self-imposed college meals still lingered. By the time Ellen’s
lumbering step was heard in the back hall the menu was ready, neatly
written upon the first page of a new little blank-book.

“I wuz down in the cellar,” stated Ellen, “and I can’t leave my work to
come every time I’m wanted. Just holler the things down to me. Me and
your ma has an understanding about that.”

“If you come in here after the dish-washing every morning, Ellen,
you won’t have to make an extra trip upstairs,” said Barbara, in
the approved college-settlement tone. “I have no desire to demand
unnecessary service from you. I shall always have the menu for the day
ready for you at this hour. This is for to-day: while mother is gone we
shall have dinner at night, and luncheon at noon.”

Ellen’s expression was not wholly encouraging, as she took the little
book. It read:—

                    Cantaloupes with ice.
                         ------
    Eggs in tomato cases.                Rice patés.
                Thin bread and butter.
    Parmesian balls on lettuce, with French dressing.
                   Olives.      Wafers.
                         ------
                      Mint sherbet.
                         ------
                         Nuts.

“Cantyloops! What’s them?” demanded Ellen.

[Illustration: CANTYLOOPS! WHAT’S THEM?]

Barbara explained.

“Oh, mush-melons! Why didn’t you say so? Mush-melons won’t be ripe fer
a month. What’s that next thing?”

“That’s a new way of serving eggs,” said Barbara; “the recipe’s in the
book. It’s simple, and very pretty.”

“You can’t serve ’em that way in this town,” grumbled Ellen. “Tomatoes
don’t come in cases,—they come in baskets. And as long as there’s a
dish in the house where I’m working, I won’t never set a tomato-basket
on the table. What’s rice payts!”

“The recipes are all in the book: I’ve marked the pages,” said Barbara,
with dignity. “Of course, Ellen, if cantaloupes are not in the market,
we’ll have to substitute something else. Or perhaps we could get along
without that course.”

“We might have the ice, without the melons,” suggested Gassy.

Barbara glanced up suspiciously, but the sharp little face was innocent.

“That is all, then, Ellen. The recipes are given in full, and you will
have no trouble in following them. I have ordered all the necessary
materials. The rice and the cheese will be here in half an hour. Miss
Cecilia will show you where the mint-bed is in the garden.”

Ellen’s large freckled face took on an expression of astonishment.
“_Who_ will?” she asked.

“Miss Cecilia,” responded Barbara.

Ellen’s eyes followed Barbara’s glance. “Oh, _Gassy_!” she said.
“Didn’t know who you meant, before. Say, Barbara Grafton, I can’t
never get up a meal like this, with no meat, and on ironing-day, too.
Your ma never has sherbet but Sundays, and then Jack turns the crank
fer me. And nuts! Nuts won’t be ripe till October.”

“The nuts are already ordered,” said Barbara, turning away. “That will
do, Ellen. I’m going upstairs now to do the chamber-work, and after
that I shall go to my writing. I don’t want to be disturbed. If any one
comes to see me, say that I’m not at home.”

“I’ll holler if I want you,” said Ellen, grimly.

“No, don’t do that, because it breaks into what I am doing. I shall
be downstairs again before luncheon-time, and you can tell me then
anything you need. Cecilia, I trust you to see that I am not disturbed
for two hours. Don’t call me before twelve o’clock, no matter what
happens.”

It was long past noon when the last sheet of “The Spirit of the Eternal
Ego” slipped from Barbara’s hand, and the pen was dropped. She glanced
up at the little clock near the vine-wreathed window. “Ten minutes of
one!” she exclaimed; “I must have missed the din—luncheon bell. But my
essay is done—hurray!”

She hurried down the stairs. The living-room was empty and the porch
deserted. The dining-room table had not been set. In the kitchen the
sink was piled high with dirty dishes, dish-towels hung over every
chair, and a trail of grease-spots ran from pantry to back door. The
kitchen table was pulled up before a window, and about it were seated
David, with some canned peaches, Gassy, with a saucer full of ground
cinnamon and sugar, and Jack, with a massive sandwich of cold beefsteak
and thick bread. On the table were a bowl of cold baked beans, a saucer
of radishes, a dish of pickles, and a bottle of pink pop.

Barbara shuddered. “Where’s Ellen?” she asked.

Jack looked up. “Ah, the authoress!” he exclaimed. “I judge from your
appearance upon the scene of action that the fire of genius has ceased
to rage in unabated fury.”

[Illustration: WHY ARE YOU EATING IN HERE?]

“Why are you eating in here? Where’s Ellen?” Barbara repeated.

“In reply to your first question, to save carrying; in reply to your
second, I canna say. I know not where she went; I only know where she
deserves to go.”

“Has she gone away to stay?”

“In the language of the housewife, she has ‘left,’” said Jack. “I
hurried home from the river, bringing two thirty-pound trout to grace
the festal board, an hour ago. I found that if there was to be any
festal board, I must supply both the festives and the boarding. The
gas-stove had ceased to burn; the kitchen was still. Ellen had flown
the coop. I was for calling you, but Gassy, here, was obdurate. She
said that you had left orders with your private secretary that, come
what might, you were not to be disturbed. Luckily, father telegraphed
that he was not coming home until to-morrow. So, with the aid of my
little family circle, I prepared the repast which you see before you.
It was dead easy: each one took out of the ice-box his favorite article
of food, and for a wonder, no two happened to want the same article.
Fall to, yourself, fair lady; there is still some cold boiled cabbage
in the refrigerator, and you have earned it after your valiant fight as
bread-winner for the family this morning!”

“Stop your nonsense, Jack. Didn’t Ellen make any explanation of her
going?”

“Like the girl in the ballad, ‘She left a note behind.’ It was written
on the other side of a wonderful menu, which probably was the cause of
her leaving. I don’t wonder it scared her off. The note lies there on
the table.”

Barbara picked it up. The page had been torn from the blank-book, and
on it was scrawled:—

“i am leving youse. my folks have been at me to come home, and i have
desided not to stay where i cant holler, also i cant get no dinner like
this, youse can pay my wages to the boy that comes for my close.”

Barbara sank hopelessly into a chair. There seemed nothing further to
be said upon the subject of Ellen.

“Where’s Charles?” she inquired.

“Don’t _you_ know?” said Jack. “I haven’t seen him since I came home.
We thought you must have sent him on an errand, when he didn’t appear
at noon. The Kid always turns up regularly at meal-time.”

“I haven’t seen him since mother left,” replied Barbara. “Then I sent
him to the sand-pile. I haven’t an idea where he is.”

“You told him he couldn’t go to a picnic,” said David, dreamily.

“Why, no, I didn’t.”

“But you did, Barbara. He came and knocked on your door while you
were writing, and told you he wanted to go. And you said no. Then he
hollered that he thought you were”—David hesitated delicately over the
epithet—“a mean old thing; that he hadn’t asked you to let him have a
picnic before since mother had left. And you told him to run away,—that
you were busy.”

“Did I?” asked Barbara, trying to remember. She had a faint
recollection of such an interruption, but she was never sure of what
happened during the hours which she spent in the throes of authorship.
“How long ago was it?”

“’Bout eleven o’clock.”

Barbara looked worried. “I can’t think where he could have gone,” she
said. “Have you looked everywhere in the house?”

“Everywhere we could think of,” responded Jack. “Don’t worry, Barb;
he’ll show up as soon as he gets hungry. Disappearance is his long
suit.”

“Does he often run away like this?”

“Every time the spirit moves him. Not even a letter-press could keep
him down when the wanderlust seizes him. Sometimes he is gone for
hours. Punishment doesn’t seem to do him much good, either, though I
must say he never gets enough of it to make any impression. If he were
mine, I should test the magic power of a willow switch.”

“How do you find him?”

“Oh, he comes wandering in, like the prodigal son, after he has fed
upon husks for a while. Maybe he has been unable to face the ordeal of
a separation from Ellen, and has gone with her.”

“I wish he hadn’t gone while father and mother are away. I feel,
somehow, as though it were my fault.”

“Now stop worrying, Barbara; he’ll turn up. My only fear is that you’ll
receive him with open arms when he arrives. Just you plan to be a
little severe on him, and we’ll cure him of his habit before mother
gets home.”

But in spite of Jack’s reassurance, Barbara was troubled, and as she
cleared away the remains of the children’s feast, she caught herself
looking out of the window, and listening for the click of the gate. At
two o’clock, when the last dish was put away, the Kid had not returned;
at three he was not in sight; at four none of the neighbors had seen
him; at five she left the anxious seat at the front window for the
kitchen, with reluctance; and at six it was a worried-looking Barbara
who greeted Jack’s return from baseball practice.

“Hasn’t the little rascal turned up yet?” asked the boy. “I think I’ll
go out and take a look at some of his favorite haunts. Now, Barbara, if
he comes while I’m away, don’t you play prodigal with him!”

The dinner was eaten, and cleared away. At seven there was no Kid. At
eight the other children went to bed without him. At nine o’clock Jack
returned with no news. Even he showed anxiety as Barbara met him at the
door with expectant face.

“Nobody has seen a glimpse of him,” he reported. “I’ve been the round
of his intimates, and to all of his pet resorts, and I’ve scoured the
town. I don’t know what else to do.”

There was a noise on the front porch. A slow, halting step came up the
stairs. Barbara rushed toward the door.

“Careful, now,” cautioned Jack. “That’s the Kid, all right Don’t you
greet him with outstretched arms.”

But the caution was not necessary. All of the pent-up anxiety turned
into wrath as Barbara became sure of the step. Her heart hardened
toward the small offender as she hastily made her plans for his
reception. In response to the second knock at the door, she answered
the summons.

“Who’s there?” she asked, without opening the screen.

“It’s me,” said a still, small voice.

“What do you want?”

“Want to come in.”

“Well, you can’t come in. I don’t let strange men into my house at this
time of night.”

There was a pause on the front step as the little lad wearily shifted
his weight from one foot to the other. Then he knocked again.

“Want to get in.”

Jack looked at Barbara, warningly. “I can’t let you in,” she said; “I’m
alone in the house; my father and mother are away from home, and I
never let strangers in when I’m alone.”

“I’m not strangers; I’m Charles.”

“Charles wouldn’t be out at this time of night,” remarked Barbara,
impersonally.

“I’m hungry,” said the Kid.

There was a wistfulness in the voice that touched all the mother in the
girl. “Well, I never turn any tramp away hungry,” she said; “I’ll give
you some bread and milk, but then you’ll have to go.”

She unlocked the door, and surveyed her small brother chillingly. The
Kid had evidently made a day of it. His cap was gone, his shoestrings
were untied, his face and hands were streaked with dirt, and one
shirt-waist sleeve was torn away.

“Goodness, how dirty!” she said. “There is a place set at the table for
our own little boy, but he’s a clean child, and I can’t let you have
it as you are now. You’ll have to wash, first. Go up those stairs, and
you’ll find a bathroom, the first room to the left. Wash your hands and
face, and then come down. I’ll give you something to eat before you go.”

The Kid looked at Barbara steadily. Wonderment, doubt, and
understanding were expressed in turn on his round face. He turned
without a word, his small fat legs climbed the stairway, and his dirty
little figure disappeared inside the bathroom door.

His sister for the first time ventured a look at Jack.

“Bravo, Bernhardt!” he said.

“I hated to do it,” said Barbara. “But I know that he deserved it, and
I feel sure that it was the right thing. A psychological punishment is
so much better than a scolding or a whipping. And Charles realized what
it meant; did you see his dear puzzled little face take on contrition
as he began to understand my meaning? Mother says that he is a hard
child to manage, but I don’t see why. He responds so readily to an
appeal to his reason.”

There was a sound in the upper hall. From the bathroom door floated
down the voice of the Kid:—

“Missus,” he called; “hey, Missus! There ain’t no soap in here.”



CHAPTER V

THE “IDGIT”


THERE were two newspapers in Auburn. The “Transcript” was one of the
oldest newspapers in the middle West, and it well upheld the dignity
of its years. It was Republican as to politics, conservative as to
opinion, and inclined to Methodism as to religion. It prided itself
upon the fact that in the fifty years of its existence it had never
changed its politics or its make-up, and had never advanced its
subscription price or a new theory. It represented Auburn in being
slow, substantial, and self-satisfied.

The “Ledger” was a new arrival in Auburn, and had not yet proved its
right to live. It had a flippant tone that barred its entrance to the
best families, and Auburn had never given it the official sanction
that would insure its permanent success. The difference in the spirit
of the two papers might be seen by a glance down the personal columns
of each. The “Transcript” was wont to state in dignified terms that
“Joseph Slater departed yesterday for Jamestown.” The “Ledger” would
announce flippantly, “Joe Slater went to Jimtown yesterday. What’s up,
Joe?” This was spicy, all Auburn agreed, but it savored of vulgarity,
and the old residents clung to their old paper, in spite of the fact
that the new sheet was enterprising, clean, and up-to-date. The
“Ledger” catered to advertisements; the “Transcript” paid special
attention to the obituary column. And the citizens of Auburn subscribed
to the “Transcript,” and borrowed the “Ledger.”

On the morning of the sixteenth of July the “Transcript” contained two
items more than the “Ledger.” The first of these was headed:

                   AUBURN AUTHORESS!

    Miss Birdine Bates of this city contributes some lines
    upon the death of little Martha Johnson.

         Dearest parents, from the Heavens
         Comes this message unto thee,—
         Do not weep for little Mattie,
         Thou art not so glad as she.

    There were six Johnson children
    Living on the fruits of heaven.
    But the winged angels asked for
    Still another, which made seven,—

    And they held out beckoning fingers,
    Saying, “Little Mattie, come!”
    In a dainty old-rose casket
    Little Mattie was took home.

    There is no hearth, however tended,
    But one dead lamb is there;
    And Martha will be greatly missed
    For one who was so small and spare.

    But in the crystal, opal heavens,
    Clustering near the golden gate,
    Her and all the other Johnsons
    For her family sit and wait.

    Cheer up, mother, sister, brothers,
    And the pastor of her church,
    For though Martha’s joined the angels,
    She leaves none in the lurch.

The other item was not poetic. It was in the advertisement column, and
read:—

    WANTED: immediately. A good cook. Must be neat,
    willing, honest, and experienced. No laundry work.
    References required. Only competent workers need apply.
    Address X. Y. Z., this office.

“I saw your advertisement in the paper this morning,” said Miss Bates,
stopping at the doctor’s gate in the early evening.

Barbara sat on the porch step, her bright head drooped upon the
vine-covered railing. It had been sweeping-day, and the unused muscles
of her back were protesting against their unaccustomed exercise.
Perhaps it was weariness that sent the querulous note into her voice.

“How did you know it was mine?”

“Why, I happened to meet David on the way to the ‘Transcript’ office
this morning. I knew that Ellen left you several days ago, so I
put two and two together. Besides, my dear, I would have known for
other reasons. The advertisement showed that it was written by an
inexperienced housekeeper.”

“How?” asked Barbara.

“Nobody ever advertises for help in Auburn. Newspapers aren’t much good
for that. If you want a girl, all you have to do is to spread the news
among your acquaintances.”

“That isn’t hard, with _you_ to help,” muttered Gassy, from the step
above.

“What’s that, Cecilia? Oh, I thought you spoke to me.—And they will be
on the outlook for you. It is much cheaper than advertising. How are
you getting along without Ellen?”

Barbara thought of the half-done potatoes, the broken water-pitcher,
and the soda-less biscuits that had been incidents of the day. But she
was in no humor for a confession to Miss Bates.

“Pretty well,” she said.

“That’s good. You know so little about housework, Barbara, that I
wouldn’t have been surprised if you were missing her. Not that you’re
to blame for that. Lots of people set a college education above home
training, nowadays. Just about noon to-day I smelled something burning,
and I said to myself, ‘There goes Barbara Grafton’s dinner.’ But of
course it might have come from some other kitchen. The wind came
straight this way, though.”

“Yes?” said Barbara, wearily.

“Is it true that you’ve turned vegetarian? I was at the butcher’s this
morning, and Jack came in and got a steak. I knew that your pa is away,
but I thought that one steak wouldn’t do for your family. I happened
to mention it to the butcher, and he said that your meat orders were
falling off lately. So I just wondered if you had given up eating meat.”

A long, thin arm, extended from the step above, thrust Barbara
vigorously in the side. In the dusk the action was hidden from the
visitor, but Barbara knew well its purport She was being enjoined to
tell nothing to Miss Bates.

“Our appetites for meat seem to be falling off this hot weather,” she
returned guardedly.

“Of course it’s a lot cheaper to live that way,” said the visitor.
“Saves cooking, too. And you won’t have time to do much cooking if all
these reports I hear of your starting a benevolent society are true.”

There was no response from Barbara.

“If you’re thinking of going into club-work, you’d better join our
lodge,—the Ancient Neighbors. Maybe you’d be elected to office. Mrs.
Beebe, the old Royal Ranger, resigned three months ago, and Miss Homer,
the new one, ain’t giving satisfaction. She don’t seem to be capable of
learning the ritual. She got the meeting open last night, and forgot
what came next, and had to send for Mrs. Beebe to get it shut. If you
have any memory for rituals, Barbara, maybe I could get you in for
office.”

Barbara murmured her thanks. “I haven’t much time for club-work,
though, now,” she said.

“I have,” said a small voice. Gassy’s fist, inclosing an imaginary
missile, shook in the direction of the unconscious visitor.

“I expect that your literary work takes up most of your time.”

Barbara caught her breath sharply. How much had that dreadful woman
heard?

“Of course you may not _be_ writing, but I have had my suspicions
about it, since I met you with that fat envelope with the Century
Company’s stamp, a week ago. I knew that you had done a bit of writing
at school, and I put two and two together, and said to myself, ‘Barbara
Grafton’s gone to writing.’ I couldn’t help wondering if the ‘Century’
had taken it, or sent it back. Of course, being an author myself, I’m
always interested in budding genius. What is it, Barbara, poetry or
fiction?”

Out of the shadow of the porch vines came Gassy’s sharp little voice.
“Jack cut _your_ poetry out of the paper this morning, Miss Bates,” she
said.

“Did he?” said Miss Bates, delightedly. “I didn’t know Jack was so
appreciative as that. I’m afraid the poetry wasn’t as good as some I
have written. But I felt it—every word of it—when I wrote it. And I
suppose Jack liked its tone of sincerity. That is my highest ambition:
not to win fame or money, but to be cut out and carried in the
vest-pocket.”

“He said,” giggled Gassy, from behind the vines, “that he couldn’t have
the sanctity of the home invaded,”—the imitation of Jack’s inflection
was perfect,—“an’ that he wouldn’t suffer our minds,—David’s and mine,
he meant,—to be c’rrupted, so he cut it out; but I think he sent it to
mother. We always save all the funny things for her, to cheer her up,
now she’s sick.”

The darkness hid the terrible expression upon Miss Bates’s face, but it
did not conceal the frigidity of her tones as she took her elbows from
the doctor’s gate. “Your sister’s got a job in giving you some of her
college culture, Gassy Grafton,” she said to the small fold of light
gingham which showed alongside the vine-clad porch post. She looked
back over her shoulder to fire her last volley of ammunition.

“I hope it will _amuse_ your mother,” she said. “If you’d all been a
little less selfish about using her like a hack-horse when she was at
home, you wouldn’t have to be sending jokes to her at a sanitarium,
now.”

“What on earth did you tell her that for?” asked Barbara, as Miss Bates
swept around the corner.

“She deserved it. She needn’t pick on you!”

“But you can’t give people all they deserve, in this world, little
sister.”

“No, not always,” said Gassy. “But I always do when I can.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Miss Bates’s opinion about the value of newspaper advertising seemed
to be well founded. A week passed without an applicant for the vacant
position in the Grafton kitchen. Barbara grew tired and cross and
discouraged. The weather turned hot, and the sunny kitchen on the
east side of the house seemed to harbor all the humidity of the day.
The nurse at the sanitarium wrote that Mrs. Grafton was not improving
as rapidly as she could wish. David’s hay fever began, and he went
wheezing around the house in a state of discomfort that wrung Barbara’s
sympathetic heart. The writing and the precious study-hour had to be
abandoned. So it was with a feeling of relief that the over-worked
girl saw a strange woman come through the office gate one morning. The
newcomer was not at all prepossessing. Hair, eyes, and skin were of the
uncertain whity-yellow of a peeled banana. Her shirt-waist bloused in
the back as well as the front, and she had yet to learn the æsthetic
value of sufficient petticoats. She stared uncertainly at Barbara as
the latter opened the side door.

“Did you wish to see any one?” asked Barbara, after a painful silence.

“Yes, mam,” said the girl.

“Whom do you want?”

There was another long pause, during which the girl shifted her weight
from one foot to the other. Then she said, “The lady, mam.”

“Did you come to inquire about a position?”

The young woman evidently concentrated her energy upon the question.
Her mind moved so slowly and jerkily that Barbara, watching the
process, was reminded of the working of an ouija board. She would not
have been surprised to hear the girl squeak. But the query was beyond
the newcomer. It was plain that vernacular must be tried.

“Do you want a place?”

The girl brightened a shade. “Yes, mam.”

“Can you cook?”

“No, mam.”

“Wait upon the table?”

“No, mam.”

“Sweep and dust?”

“No, mam.”

“Can’t you bake at all?”

“No, mam.”

“Have you never cooked?”

“No, mam.”

“Well, what can you do?”

The whity-yellow girl brightened again. It was evident that this time
she was to vary her reply.

“I kin milk, mam.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Two hours later, Jack surveyed the new acquisition through the porch
window. “I see we have an Angel of the House,” he said to Barbara, who
had stretched her weary length in the hammock. “How came she here?”

“She just blew in.”

“In answer to your advertisement?”

“No, she had never seen it.”

Jack took another critical look through the window. “She doesn’t give
the impression of being overweighted with intelligence. And she’s
certainly not beautiful. Has her color run in the wash, or was she
always of that gentle hue? But appearances must be deceitful; she’s a
paragon of cleverness, if she fills the bill for you. I suppose she is
a wonderful cook?”

Barbara shook her head.

“Neat?”

“She doesn’t look so.”

“Well, willing?”

“I haven’t discovered yet.”

“Honest, anyway?”

“I don’t know anything about her morals.”

Jack assumed a momentary air of distress. Then he drew a long sigh of
relief as he remarked, “Well, I _know_ she’s experienced. You said no
others need apply!”

The hammock’s motion stopped, and Barbara lay ominously silent for a
minute. Then the pent-up feeling of the past week burst forth in her
reply:—

“John Grafton, I don’t know one earthly thing about that girl! She’s
done farm-work all her life. She doesn’t know how to cook. She never
heard of rice or celery. She never has seen a refrigerator! She’s
afraid of the gas-stove. She wouldn’t know what I meant if I asked her
about references. She can’t do anything but milk. She isn’t one single
thing that I advertised for, or hoped for, or wanted! But maybe she can
learn. And I’m so tired, and hot, and discouraged, and I’ve spoiled so
many things!”

And for once in his life Jack understood, and forbore.

       *       *       *       *       *

“I’ve seen a good many kinds of imbecility in my life,” said Jack, a
week later. “But never one to equal hers.

    She is willing, she is active,
    She is sober, she is kind,
    But she _never_ looks attractive,
    And she _hasn’t_ any mind.

She was born stupid, achieved stupidness, and had stupidity thrust upon
her,—all three. I found her pouring water on the gas-stove to put out
the burner, the other day. She’ll have us all gas-fixiated, if we don’t
watch out.”

“That was several days ago,” laughed Barbara. “She’s developed a stage
beyond that, now. In fact, she’s devoted to the gas-stove. I can hardly
prevail upon her to turn it off at all. She announced to me yesterday
that it was the handiest thing she ever saw,—that you ‘only had to
light it once a day, and fire all the time.’ Think what our gas-bill is
likely to be under her tender ministrations!”

“Her awe of it is evidently great,” said Jack. “She asked Gassy this
morning if she was named after the stove. ‘I don’t wonder they named
you that,’ she said; ‘I ain’t never seen nothing like it. W’y, if I wuz
to go home and tell ’em I turned on a spit, and there wuz the fire,
they’d say I wuz a liar!’”

“She’s an idgit!” ejaculated Gassy; “a born idgit!”

Gassy’s epithet clung. It was used by the family with bated breath
and apprehensive glance, but still it was used. No other title seemed
appropriate after that was once heard, and her Christian name sank into
oblivion from disuse. It was never employed except in her presence.
And the Idgit certainly earned her title. She put onions in the
rice-pudding; she melted the base off of the silver teapot by setting
it on the stove; she cut up potatoes peeling and all, for creamed
potatoes, explaining that “some liked ’em skinned, an’ some didn’t”;
she left the receiver of the telephone hanging by its cord for hours,
until the doctor’s patients were desperate, and so many complaints
poured in at the central office that a man was sent to repair damages;
she turned the hose on the walls and floor of the kitchen to facilitate
scrubbing, until the whole room was deluged, and overflowed like the
Johnstown flood; she answered the doorbell by calling through the
dining-room and the front hall that “no one’s to home”; she put the
bread sponge in the oven of the range, and then built a fire above it
to “raise it quick” (the oven was full of burned paste before Barbara
discovered the time-saving device); she ladled the gold-fish out of the
aquarium to feed them, and left the four red, dead little corpses on
the library mantel. “They’re too pretty to sling out,” she said.

Barbara wavered between exasperation and amusement during the
twenty-four hours of the day. “I don’t know what I’m going to do
with her,” she confided to her father one evening. “I thought that
intelligence was a part of the make-up of every human being; but Addie
either has no place for it in her identity, or else the place that is
there is empty. I gave her a recipe yesterday,—how she ever learned
to read is beyond my comprehension,—that called for ‘six eggs beaten
separately.’ Addie emptied one from its shell, beat it, emptied
another, beat that, and followed the same proceeding with the whole
six.”

“I can tell something funnier than that,” said Dr. Grafton. “I
telephoned over here from the livery stable this afternoon, and asked
Addie to ‘hold the phone’ until I could read a message to her. Central
rang off before I could read it, and then I couldn’t get connections
again. So I came over home to give it to her, twenty minutes later, and
found her obediently still holding the receiver.”

“The last teller of tales has the best chance,” chuckled Jack. “What
message did you give the Idgit to give Miss Bates when she called here
yesterday?”

Barbara considered. “That I was in, but that I was engaged, I think,”
she said finally.

“She gave it, all right! She told Miss Bates that you _were_ at home,
but that you were going to be married. Thanks to Miss Bates’s activity
and interest, the report is widely circulated throughout Auburn.”

Barbara groaned.

“Don’t worry over it,” said her father. “The fact that Miss Bates is
standing sponsor for the story will destroy its danger.”

“Oh, I’m not worrying about that,” responded Barbara. “What is the
report of my betrothal to an unknown, and therefore harmless, man, as
compared with the problem of the Idgit? I don’t _want_ her, I can’t
_keep_ her, and yet how am I to get rid of her?”

“Maybe she’ll leave; she told me her family wanted her back,” said
Gassy, hopefully.

“I can’t see what for,” said Barbara, “unless it is to kill chickens.
That is the one thing she has done without blunder or assistance, since
she stepped over our threshold. And unless Addie’s family are given
over wholly to a diet of fowl, I fail to see how she could be of any
use to them.”

But relief from the Idgit came sooner than was expected. In the middle
of an afternoon of canning raspberries, Mrs. Willowby came to inquire
about Mrs. Grafton’s health. Barbara slipped off her berry-stained
apron, sighed over the fruit-stained nails that no amount of
manicuring would whiten, and dabbed some powder on her shiny face. Then
she went into the living-room to greet her guest.

Mrs. Willowby was one of the few residents who reconciled Barbara to
Auburn. Refinement was her birthright, and in her gentle voice, simple
manner, and fine breeding were combined all the aristocracy of old
Auburn, and none of its pettiness; all the progress of new Auburn, and
none of its crudeness. The miseries of kitchen-work were forgotten, as
the two dropped into the dear familiar talk of the college world, that
partook of neither servants nor weather, recipes nor house-cleaning.

“It’s a hundred years since I have talked Matthew Arnold with any one,”
sighed Barbara. “No, perhaps two months would be nearer the truth. But
it _seems_ like a hundred years.”

“Why _don’t_ you?” asked Mrs. Willowby.

“Just now, I haven’t time,” said Barbara; “but if I had all the time in
the world, there wouldn’t be any one to talk to.”

“Why not your father and mother?”

“Father and mother! Why, father doesn’t know poetry,—except Riley and
Bret Harte; and mother doesn’t care for it.”

Mrs. Willowby’s sweet brown eyes twinkled. “You’re joking with me,
Barbara.”

“No, I’m in earnest.”

“You dear little girl! Are you such a stranger to your own home people?
I don’t believe that Matthew Arnold ever wrote anything that your
mother doesn’t know. Where she gets time, with all her multitudinous
duties, to love Shelley, and live Browning, and keep abreast of Stephen
Phillips and Yeats, I don’t see; but she does it, somehow. She is one
of the few true poetry-lovers I know. As for your father, I have heard
him quote Riley and Harte to you children, because, I always supposed,
he thought you could understand them. But he himself doesn’t stop
there. He isn’t so widely read as your mother, but the old poets he has
made his own. He knows his yellow Shakespeare from cover to cover. How
have you ever lived in the same house with them and yet been such a
stranger? Your father and mother, dear, are the cultivated people of
Auburn.”

Surprise was written strongly on every feature of Barbara’s face.

“That’s the trouble with college life. You young people never get the
opportunity to know your own families, nowadays. At the time when you
are just beginning to be old enough to appreciate your parents, you
are sent away. Then you go to work, or marry, and leave home without
knowing the real wealth that often lies at your own doors. Did you ever
read Emerson’s ‘Days’?”

Barbara shook her head. Mrs. Willowby turned to the open book-shelves,
and took down a shabby green volume. “It has your mother’s own marks,”
she said, as she turned to the page, where a lead pencil had traced a
delicate line about the words,—

    “Daughters of Time, the hypocritic Days,
     Muffled and dumb like barefoot dervishes,
     And marching single in an endless file,
     Bring diadems and fagots in their hands.
     To each they offer gifts after his will,
     Bread, kingdom, stars, and sky that holds them all
     I, in my pleachèd garden, watched the pomp,
     Forgot my morning wishes, hastily
     Took a few herbs and apples, and the Day
     Turned and departed silent. I, too late,
     Under her solemn fillet saw the scorn.”

There was a moment’s pause after the stately lines were finished.

“I understand,” said Barbara, finding her voice. “But I never
knew,—before. It _is_ true, Mrs. Willowby, about losing some things by
college life. I’m beginning to think that there are lots of things to
be learned at home.”

The gentle brown eyes smiled at the new tone of humility. “My dear
little girl,” began Mrs. Willowby, “if you have discovered that, you
have learned the very thing for which you were sent to college. The
most important lessons in the word are not learned from textbooks, and
all—Goodness, Barbara, what on earth was that?”

Somewhere from the back regions of the house had come the sound of a
mighty explosion. It was followed by the sound of breaking glass, and
a shrill shriek.

[Illustration: IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FLOOR SAT THE IDGIT]

“The Idgit!” breathed Barbara. The Emerson slid to the floor, and the
hostess and guest rushed to the kitchen.

In the middle of the floor sat the Idgit, a whity-yellow island in a
sea of raspberry juice and broken glass. From the oven of the gas-stove
came a volume of flame and smoke. The stove-lids lay on the floor, and
the kitchen was full of flying flecks of soot. Barbara rushed to the
stove, and turned off the burners, one by one. Then she lifted the
huddled heap from the floor.

“What is the matter, Addie?” she asked.

The ouija board in the Idgit’s brain was unusually stubborn and
unmanageable. It was fully three minutes before anything intelligible
came from her lips. Then the inarticulate sounds resolved themselves
into the words, “Oh, gol, mam!”

“What happened?”

“I dunno, mam.”

“What did you do to the stove?”

“I dunno, mam.”

“Did you light it? How did the burners come to be turned on?”

“I was cleaning the stove, mam. I must ’a’ turned ’em on when I washed
the knobs.”

“Then did you light it?”

“No, mam. I left it to carry the fruit down cellar; an’ I lit a match
to see by.”

“Oh!” said Barbara.

For the first and last time in her career the Idgit uttered a voluntary
sentence. “I’m going to quit to-night. Gol! that gas-stove!”



CHAPTER VI

THE DUCHESS


IT was eleven o’clock in the morning, and Barbara threw herself into
the hammock on the porch, every nerve in her body tingling with
fatigue. In a chair near by sat the Kid, driving imaginary horses along
Main Street, and politely removing his hat to every one he met on the
way. He inquired whether Barbara desired to ride on the front seat
with him, but she was so tired that she scarcely answered the little
boy, and wearily closed her eyes to avoid seeing David’s book and
Jack’s racket lying on the piazza floor. She felt that to rise from the
hammock and pick up that racket was a task requiring the strength and
energy of a Titan.

She was gradually succumbing to the influence of the swaying hammock,
and the tension of her nerves was relaxing, so that the sudden stampede
of the horses on the porch was dimly associated in her mind with
thunder, when she felt a sudden touch on her shoulder, and opened her
eyes to see the Kid standing near.

“There’s a lady at the gate, Barb’ra,” he said.

Barbara peered over the edge of the hammock. Coming up the path, with
a stately stride and a majestic swing that allowed her skirts to sweep
first one edge of the path and then the other, advanced a Being whose
presence immediately inspired Barbara with a sense of approaching
royalty. It was not that the visitor was fashionably attired, for
her faded black garments and dejected-looking bonnet, even in their
palmiest days, could not have been called stylish. Yet, resting in
serenity upon the thin, tall form of their wearer, they seemed calmly
self-satisfied and distinguished. As the visitor approached, she shed
kindly critical and affable glances about her, and rewarded Barbara’s
inquiring gaze with a cheerful smile.

“You’re Barbara Grafton, I s’pose,” she said in a brisk voice. “I’m
Mrs. ’Arris, an’ I’ve come to ’elp you hout.”

[Illustration: I’M MRS. ’ARRIS, AN’ I’VE COME TO ’ELP YOU HOUT]

Barbara sat up quickly. “Oh!” she said. “Do you wish a position as cook
here?”

Mrs. Harris’s eyes rested upon her with amiable condescension. “I come
to ’elp you hout,” she repeated. “I’m Mrs. Brown’s widder sister, and
when she told me as ’ow you was left alone and the ’ouse agoin’ to rack
and ruin—”

Barbara suddenly stiffened in the hammock.

“Why, she says to me, she says, ‘’Ilda, I’m awful fond of Dr. Grafton,
an’ I can’t let ’im starve without proper care while ’is wife’s gone.
Now you jest put on your things an’ go up there an’ ’elp hout.’ So I
come,” concluded Mrs. Harris, composedly; and she sat down.

The Kid drew nearer, and stared at her from under his mass of tawny
hair. “You goin’ to stay here?” he inquired.

“Yes, of course,” answered Mrs. Harris, with a sweeping glance at the
little fellow, that took in the holes in the knees of his stockings.

“Then please get out o’ that chair,” said the Kid, promptly. “It’s my
black Arabian horse.”

“Charles!” cried Barbara.

“You take another chair, or play somewheres else,” said Mrs. Harris,
calmly. “Runnin’ wild sence ’is mother left, I s’pose,” she remarked,
turning to Barbara.

Barbara choked back her astonished resentment at this speech, and
returned to the subject at hand.

“It may be that you will not suit,” she said coldly, rising. “Can you
cook well, and do you understand gas-ranges?”

Mrs. Harris laughed complacently, eyeing the slender girl before her
with amused condescension. “I ’ave cooked for the finest families o’
Hengland,” she announced. “I’ll settle with your father about wages.
Now you jest show me the kitchen, an’ then I’ll let you go, as I see
this porch ain’t tidy, an’ that there child needs to be attended to,
an’ probably the rest o’ the ’ouse wants cleanin’.”

The Kid slunk off the porch as the words “needs to be attended to”
pierced his small cranium. He thought it meant chastisement for his
last speech, poor child, and saw, with joy, Barbara following this new
and surprising person into the house. In Barbara’s mind a sense of
resentment and defeat was conflicting with a feeling of relief at the
prospect of help. She rejoiced to herself as they passed through the
hall, for she had just swept it with her own hands.

“Dreadful dusty mopboards,” said Mrs. Harris, nonchalantly. Barbara’s
spirits sank.

As they entered the kitchen, she suddenly remembered that she had left
some dishes piled in the sink, to be washed with the dinner things.
In her absence, moreover, some hungry boy had been rummaging in the
cake-box, and had left crumbs and morsels of food scattered over the
table. Mrs. Harris paused on the threshold, and untied her bonnet,
while her roving black eyes quickly took in the scene before her. Clean
enough it had seemed to Barbara an hour before, but now many things,
hitherto unnoticed, suddenly sprang into prominence. She saw that the
white sash-curtain at the window was disreputably dirty; that the stove
was actually rusty on top; that cobwebs lurked in the corners; and she
remembered, with a pang, that the ice-box had not been cleaned since
her mother left.

“My!” ejaculated Mrs. Harris. “Well, I’ll get dinner first, then I’ll
tackle this lookin’ room. You set the table, Barbara,—ain’t that your
name?—an’ I’ll do the cookin’. What meat ’ave you ordered?”

“None,” answered Barbara; “I don’t approve of eating meat, and have not
allowed the children to have any for some time. Father has been taking
his dinners down-town lately.”

“Land alive!” ejaculated Mrs. Harris, turning shocked eyes upon
Barbara. “The poor children! An’ your paw,—druv from ’is ’ome! Well!
You jest go to the telephone, an’ horder a good piece of steak before
it’s too late.”

“I prefer not to have meat,” said Barbara, stiffly.

Mrs. Harris’s face settled into stubborn lines. “I’ve never ’eard of
anything so foolish,” she declared. “Growin’ children need meat, an’
you run right along an’ horder that steak.”

It was at this point that Barbara’s sense of diplomacy came to her aid.
This woman had indeed forced herself into the kitchen, but she was
very welcome, nevertheless. She must not prejudice her at the outset,
but must gradually accustom Mrs. Harris to her views. Barbara turned
away to the telephone. Immediately Mrs. Harris’s manner changed, and
she became affable again as she bustled capably about the kitchen, and
assigned small jobs to her young mistress.

“Hello!” cried Jack, joyfully, as he took his seat in his father’s
place, and viewed the well-cooked steak. “Is the embargo off? Is this
a carving-knife that I see before me? Why, Barbara! Didst do this
thyself, lass?”

“Jack,” said Barbara, nervously, “I have engaged a new maid and—”

A decided voice from the kitchen interrupted her.

“Barbara, you come an’ git the bread. I’m busy.”

The children seated around the table stared at one another.

“Whew!” whispered Jack to Gassy; “now, by my halidame, there goes
Barbara. Is Petruchio in the kitchen?”

Barbara reëntered with scarlet cheeks. There was something in her
manner which warned even the Kid not to comment The meal began in
absolute silence, another cause of which may have been the perfectly
cooked dinner, which descended like manna into the loyal but empty
stomachs of the Grafton offspring. The Kid ate his steak voraciously,
and eagerly extended his plate for more.

“See ’ow ’e’s ben pinin’,” remarked a voice from the open doorway.

The children started, and looking up, for the first time saw the
dignified figure of Mrs. Harris surveying them with a condescendingly
satisfied gaze. “These are all the children, I s’pose, Barbara. Well,
now, there’s a nice rice puddin’ for dessert, an’ then you an’ that
little girl can ’elp me clear away to-day, ’cause there’s so much to do
to clean up this ’ouse.”

“I don’t want any pudding,” declared Jack, in haste, longing to get
away to some nook where he could laugh unseen.

“Set right where you are,” said Mrs. Harris, calmly. “You don’t get no
more to eat till supper, so you’d better fill up now.”

Jack gasped and obeyed.

Even when dinner was over, and the dishes washed with the surprised
help of a subdued Gassy, there was no diminution of Mrs. Harris’s
energy. She cleaned the kitchen thoroughly; she scrubbed the bathroom;
she charged upon the children’s rooms, and the dust and dirt retreated
in confusion before her vigorous onslaught. She accompanied the
performances with a running fire of ejaculatory comment. Barbara, with
set lips, kept just behind her, and followed directions with an injured
determination to die in her tracks before giving up.

“I am glad to have such capable help,” she said, observing Jack in the
next room.

“’Eh?” returned Mrs. Harris, looking up from her dustpan. “Wish I could
say the same! But never mind, you’ll learn in time, I dare say. O’
course you’ve ben in school an’ can’t be expected to know much yet.”

Barbara heard a chuckle and subdued applause from the next room.

“Who’s that?” inquired Mrs. Harris, abruptly. “Oh, it’s your brother. I
was lookin’ for ’im. What’s ’is name? Jack? Well, Jack, you jest take
these rugs out to the back yard an’ beat ’em a little. They need it.”

Jack advanced, hesitating. “I don’t know how to beat rugs,” he muttered.

“Well, I’ll show you,” said Mrs. Harris, serenely. “Lend a hand with
this big one.”

Barbara surveyed with joy the sullen droop of Jack’s back, as he
followed his instructor down the hall.

“Let well enough alone,” she called impersonally.

“Don’t you do it!” exclaimed Mrs. Harris. “You beat ’em thorough.”

“I think we won’t do any more,” declared Barbara to Mrs. Harris, as
the clock struck four. “We have been at this all the afternoon, and
I’ll let you leave Jack’s room until to-morrow. We have done enough for
to-day.”

Mrs. Harris put her hands on her hips and surveyed Barbara quizzically.
“Well, you ain’t used to work, be you?” she said. “Tired, I s’pose.”

Barbara’s face flushed. She was so weary that she lost the dignity to
which she had been clinging desperately all day.

“Yes, I am tired!” she burst out. “I worked all the morning before
you came. Besides, it’s absurd to fly around like this, trying to do
everything at once. My time is too valuable to waste so much of it upon
such things as these.”

A queer expression settled upon the features of Mrs. Harris. She looked
amused, indulgent, and vastly superior.

“Your time too valuable?” she said slowly and calmly; “your time too
valuable? Well, young lady, I don’t know jest what things you’ve got to
do besides taking care of your brothers and your sister, but I reckon
there ain’t nothing better.”

Barbara drew a long breath of anger and walked away.

       *       *       *       *       *

“It wouldn’t be so bad,” she said ruefully to her father, a few days
later, “if only she didn’t assume all the powers and prerogatives of
a sovereign. But she has actually reduced the children to the most
subdued state you can imagine. Jack never ravages the pantry now, since
Mrs. Harris caught him that first afternoon, and asked him kindly if he
would mind leaving enough for the rest of us. Even Gassy never answers
her saucily, and David goes about the house like a crushed piece of
nothing. And yet she isn’t a bit cross or unkind. It’s something in her
manner that admits of no disputation. Jack has named her the Duchess,
and it just suits her.”

The Doctor laughed. “You mustn’t allow yourself to be so easily
impressed, my dear,” he said. “I notice, however, that she takes
a great deal of responsibility off your hands, and that ought to
reconcile you to any drawbacks. I have just sent word to Mrs. Harris to
have dinner at one instead of twelve, as I shall be busy at the office,
and can’t get away so soon.”

The words were scarcely out of his mouth when they saw David returning
down the hall in haste, followed by a tall figure advancing with
majestic tread. The doctor coughed uneasily.

“Dr. Grafton!” proclaimed the Duchess; “David says as ’ow you wants the
dinner put off till one!”

There was an accent of such injury in her voice that the Doctor found
himself saying hastily:—

“Why, yes, Mrs. Harris, I did send that message, but—”

“I thought it best to tell you as ’ow it can’t be done,” replied the
Duchess, with finality, turning to depart.

Dr. Grafton caught the smile on Barbara’s face.

“What’s that?” he said peremptorily; “can’t be done? Why not?”

The Duchess turned back with surprise written in her large, serene
countenance. “Why not? Why not?” she repeated. “Why, because it ain’t
convenient to change, sir.”

Dr. Grafton found himself following her down the hall. “I’m going to
be very busy and can’t get away,” he said apologetically. “Perhaps
half-past twelve—”

The Duchess turned again, and contemplated him calmly. “Any reason why
the rest must wait for you?” she inquired with uplifted eyebrows.

“Why, no,” said the Doctor.

“Well, then,” answered the Duchess, “come any time you want. You’ll
find your dinner kep’ nice an’ warm on a plate in the oven.”

Dr. Grafton meekly returned to the living-room, to find his daughter
considerately averting her face from him. His hearty laugh brought her
back to his side. He threw himself on the couch by the window.

“Well, I give up!” he announced. “Was there ever such a martinet!”

Barbara laughed with him, but her face quickly sobered. “I really don’t
think I shall stand it much longer,” she said. “She has absolutely no
regard for my ideas, and pays no attention to any orders or requests.
She even tells me what she ‘desires’ for meals.”

“They are very good meals,” put in the Doctor, hastily. His mind
reviewed the gastronomic comforts of the last few days, and the
uncertainty and scantiness of those meals before the arrival of the
Duchess.

“Don’t give Mrs. Harris up, my dear,” he said, as he rose to depart.
“You are forgetting the state of things before she came, just as it
is hard to remember the tooth-ache when it has finally succumbed to
treatment.”

A drawling voice from the library broke the ensuing silence.

“‘It feels so nice when it stops aching,’” quoted Jack. “Remember
those green-apple pies, Miss Babbie?”

“Remember those rugs that you beat so happily?” retorted Barbara.

“Well, I am going to try to accustom the Duchess gradually to those
regulations which are necessary; and if she won’t fall into line, she
can—”

“Fall out!” said Jack, promptly. “Only in that case, my dear, you will
not find the poet truthful in those charming lines,—

    The falling out of faithful friends
    Renewing is of love.

You will find it a renewal of—Idgits, I’m thinking.”

But it was another week before the clash came. A few preliminary
skirmishes marked the passage of time, but Barbara might have
overthrown theories and plans, however “necessary,” if matters had not
been precipitated by a morning visitor.

“I just thought I’d drop in,” said Miss Bates, coming up to the porch
where Barbara was sitting shelling peas and Gassy was reading. “I
wanted to see how you were getting on. Where you goin’, Gassy?”

“To read where people aren’t talking,” answered the little girl as she
left the porch.

Miss Bates shook her head sorrowfully. “It’s awful to see how those
children act without their mama,” she said. “I don’t like to complain,
Barbara, but Cecilia’s conduct to me is almost beyond parallel! An’
Charles called me a real naughty name yesterday, when I took his toy
reins off of my gate-posts.”

“I’m sorry,” said Barbara, mechanically, putting some peas in with the
pods. “I’ll speak to Charles—”

She was interrupted by the voice of one who called with authority,
“Barbara, ain’t them peas done? It’s time to put them on.”

Barbara excused herself, and carried in the dish. When she returned,
with flaming cheeks, Miss Bates was watching for her with open
curiosity.

“I heard you quarreling about the potatoes,” she said. “They say you’re
completely changed now, an’ that you haven’t the say about anything
any more, since that Englishwoman came; but I didn’t believe it until I
heard you give up about havin’ the potatoes mashed.”

They had forgotten the presence of David, who had been reading in a
corner of the porch all morning.

“You always have your say about everything, don’t you?” he inquired
dreamily. “I wonder how you know so many things people say. Barbara
never does.”

“I must go,” said Miss Bates, rising abruptly. “Barbara, since things
_are_ all took off your hands, why don’t you spend some time teaching
them children manners?”

Barbara ate her appetizing dinner in almost complete silence. The
comfort of sitting down to a well-set table and of staying there
throughout the meal, without rising half a hundred times for forgotten
articles, had no power to soothe her injured feelings. So all Auburn
was talking about her, and calling her incompetent, and imposed upon
by a woman who was only a kitchen “help”! It was intolerable, and she
would endure it no longer. She would take the initiative, and once for
all convince Mrs. Harris of the necessity of subordination.

After dinner, Barbara wiped the dishes, a task which Mrs. Harris
exacted on ironing-day. Her resentful silence was lost entirely on
the Duchess, whose good-humor was almost startlingly displayed in
conversation.

“I’ve ben hironin’ like a fiend to-day,” she said in a self-satisfied
tone, “an’ there’ll be plenty o’ time this afternoon to finish, an’ to
put up them tomatoes as ’as ben waiting to be put up. You’ll ’ave to
’elp, Barbara, if we’re to get them done in time.”

“That will be impossible, I’m afraid,” said Barbara, endeavoring to
keep her voice calm. “Susan Hunt is coming over this afternoon for a
lesson.”

“Oh, well, put ’er off,” replied the Duchess.

Barbara moved uneasily. “No,” she answered steadily. “I don’t wish to
put her off. The tomatoes can be put up to-morrow.”

“Them tomatoes is just right now, an’ it’s so warm, lots O’ them will
spoil afore mornin’,” the Duchess answered, the smile dying out of her
face. “Go to the telephone, Barbara, an’ tell that ’Unt girl she can’t
come. She’s ben runnin’ ’ere enough lately, an’ I can’t get through
them tomatoes alone.”

For a moment Barbara wavered. Insufferable as she felt this dictation
to be, she thought of the comfort and order of the house, and her heart
sank at the thought of losing them. Then Miss Bates’s words suddenly
came back to her: “You haven’t the say about anything any more; they
say you’re completely changed.”

She turned on the unsuspecting Duchess. “Mrs. Harris,” she said
determinedly, “you ordered those tomatoes yesterday, when I had decided
that it was best not to have them until later, because of the ironing.
Now you want to put them up when it is inconvenient to me to do so,
because you have them on your hands, and they may spoil. I cannot help
you this afternoon. If you cannot attend to them alone, let them go
until to-morrow, when I shall be at leisure. We shall simply have to
throw away those tomatoes which are not good.”

Auburn should have seen the expression of the Duchess. Good-humor
gave way to surprise, which was succeeded by disapproval, in turn to
be routed by annoyance. It was not until the last sentence that a
Jove-like rage sat upon her reddening countenance.

“You _won’t_ do them tomatoes?” she inquired in a queer voice.

“No,” said Barbara.

“You’ll let ’em spoil?” incredulously.

“Yes, if necessary.”

Mrs. Harris stopped ironing. She reached out a strong brown hand, and
turned out the gas under the irons. She unrolled the sleeves of her
brown calico dress. Then she turned slowly toward her resolute mistress.

“Barbara Grafton,” she said with an awful calmness of manner, “you’re
an ungrateful, ’ard-’eaded girl, an’ I’m sorry for your family. I come
’ere to ’elp you hout in your trouble,—I ain’t no common ’elp,—an’
you flies in my face whenever you can, an’ goes agin me every chanct
you get. What does I do about that? Nothin’. You try to make me spend
my time in frills, an’ fussin’ over things as the finest families in
Hengland never ’as. What does I do? Nothin’. I goes on my way an’
swallers insults from a chit of a girl. I seen lots o’ things sence I
come which ’urt my sensitive disposition, but I passes ’em by. Now it
comes to tomatoes, an’ I guess we’ll part. You’re an ungrateful girl,
an’ I washes my hands of you.”

Mrs. Harris crossed over to the sink, and solemnly washed and wiped her
hands. Then she put on her faded black bonnet, which always hung by its
rusty strings from a hook behind the door. She stood a minute, on the
threshold, and looked at Barbara in Olympic sorrow.

“Onct more,” she said almost entreatingly, “will you ’elp with them
tomatoes?”

“No,” said Barbara.

The screen-door banged loudly. Barbara was alone again.



CHAPTER VII

“THE FALLING OUT OF FAITHFUL FRIENDS”


THE Kid stamped loudly up the piazza steps, and trotted through the
house to find Barbara. His infant intellect, assisted by the pangs of
his stomach, assured him that it was past the dinner-hour. And yet no
loud-tongued bell, energetically operated upon by the Duchess, had
summoned him from his play in the dusty street. On such a dire occasion
the Kid always reported to headquarters; and passing through the empty
dining-room, he came upon Barbara alone in the kitchen, desperately
struggling with a can of salmon. The Kid stopped on the threshold and
stared.

Barbara, with the can in one hand and the opener in the other, was
hotly endeavoring to effect a combination of the two, with a notable
lack of success. At first she held the can in the air, and attempted to
punch a hole in it with the can-opener; but as this seemed an entirely
futile course, she gave it up, and adopted a new method of attack.
When Charles arrived upon the scene of action, she placed the can
firmly on the table, and gave it a vicious stab with her knife. The tin
yielded; Barbara smiled, and all was proceeding merrily, when a sudden,
inexplicable twist jerked can and can-opener out of her hand and landed
them both on the floor. Barbara forgot herself, and stamped her foot
forcibly.

“Where’s Mrs. Harris?” inquired the Kid, with a look of fearful
anticipation gathering in his eyes.

No reply. His sister picked up the can, and succeeded in boring a small
hole in its top.

“Say, where’s Mrs. Harris?” repeated the little boy, anxiously.

“Charles,” said Barbara, looking at the child for the first
time,—“mercy, how dirty you are!—Charles, dinner will be ready soon.
Mrs. Harris has left us—”

She stopped short in astonishment. The Kid had thrown himself prone
upon the floor, and had broken into loud wails.

“What is it? What is it?” she cried, running to him and trying to pull
him up from the floor.

The Kid held his tough little body down, and wept copiously.

Barbara tried sternness. “Charles, get up this minute,” she commanded,
“and tell me what is the matter.”

The Kid lifted a woe-begone face to his sister.

“She’s gone,” he said, “and we can’t ever have any more beefsteak, or
lamb with gravy.”

“Was that what you were crying for?” asked Barbara, coldly. “Charles, I
am disgusted with you. Now you get up and wash your hands, and dinner
will soon be ready.”

She sighed as she carried in the salmon, extracted from the hole in the
can in minute sections, so that it resembled a pile of sawdust rather
than the body of a fish. She found herself wishing that it had been
possible to reconcile her desires and Mrs. Harris’s commands.

It was a melancholy family that partook of the pulverized fish, fried
potatoes, bread, butter, and bananas, which constituted Barbara’s
effort.

“Oh dear!” sighed Jack, as he took his seat. “Variety is the spice of
life; we certainly have that, so I suppose you think we don’t care for
the other spices, having left the pepper-cellar in the pantry. I always
did like pepper on fried potatoes.”

David lifted his large blue eyes and let them rest on his elder sister.

“You must be like Cinderella’s sisters,” he said reflectively. “Had
such an awful temper,—couldn’t anybody live with ’em.”

Barbara looked angrily at the little boy, but his face was so innocent
that her heart softened. She did not answer him, but began to explain
matters to her father, who looked grave and rather preoccupied. Her
story did not seem to impress him, for some reason, and Barbara found
herself faltering over her account, and justifying herself in every
other sentence.

“Yes—yes,” said the Doctor, abstractedly, as she finished. “Of course
you ought not to have to put up tomatoes if you don’t want to. Mrs.
Harris was a very capable woman, though, and you are in for another
siege, I’m afraid. It’s too bad. You will have to try to get some one
else.” And, looking at his watch, he left the table.

Gassy had been quiet during the whole meal, her elfish locks, bright
eyes, and silence making her more conspicuous than if she had shouted.
After dinner, she soberly enveloped herself in her large apron, and
took her place at Barbara’s side, ready to help her sister.

“I hate dishes,” she remarked conversationally, as she took the first
plate in hand. “They are never over, and they never change. I must have
wiped this Robinson Crusoe plate of the Kid’s at least a million times
since mama went—There! Oh my, Barbara, I’ve broken it!”

“Cecilia! Why don’t you hold on to the things you take in your hands?”
cried Barbara. “I never saw such a child! You break everything you
touch!”

The child’s face flushed. She stood quietly a moment, and wiped two
plates with deftness and precision. The next moment, Barbara at the
sink suddenly felt as if a whirlwind had struck the room. A dishcloth
went whizzing upwards until it clung to the clock on the shelf, a
wriggling figure freed itself from a blue-checked apron, which was
flung tumultuously on the floor, and an agitated, retreating voice
exclaimed, “I’ll never—_never_—NEVER wipe for you again! There!”

Barbara finished the work alone, and went to the porch, with a struggle
going on in her mind. She felt that she was failing, in spite of her
best efforts,—failing with the children, failing to do the “simple”
household tasks, and to manage the household machinery that had never
been so startlingly in evidence before. What was the cause of it all?

“Of course I am not very experienced,” Barbara said to herself, “but
still, with a moderately good servant, I am sure I could manage very
well. The trouble has been with the frightful maids we have had. And
the children are demoralized by the frequent changes, and are hard to
control. Oh, for one good cook, so that I could show myself to be the
capable girl that a college girl ought to be!”

She felt so cheered by her soliloquy, which she did not realize to be
unconscious self-justification, that she sat down almost happily to
write the daily report that went to brighten her mother’s exile. In
spite of all domestic accidents and crises, this letter was always
written; and the more lugubrious Barbara’s state of mind, the harder
she strove for a merry report. She had nearly finished the last sheet,
with flying fingers, when a chuckle caused her to look up, and discover
that Jack had been reading page after page, as she had discarded it.

“Bab,” he said, “you certainly do write the funniest letters I ever
read. If you should try to write a story instead of ‘The Absolute
In-ness of the Internal Entity,’ you would make your fortune
immediately. I don’t see how you can write one way and feel another, as
you do.”

Barbara’s reply was checked by the appearance of Susan, and Jack
disappeared, carrying the letter with him.

“I’m so glad to see you!” said Barbara, cordially. “Did you bring your
Browning with you?”

“Yes,” answered Susan, sitting down in the big cane rocker. “Yes, I
brought him, and a basket of mending besides. I am awfully behind in
it, and I can talk and darn at the same time.”

The glad light faded out of Barbara’s eyes. “Why, Sue dear!” she
said, “that’s impossible. No one could possibly study Browning and do
anything else at the same time. He absorbs all the energy and attention
that one has.”

“Oh dear!” sighed Susan. “I did want to begin our lessons to-day, but
we’ll have to put it off till to-morrow, then. Bob leaves for New York
to-night, you know, and he must have all the socks that I can muster.”

“Are you really going to mend those things now, instead of reading the
‘Ring’ with me?”

Susan looked up quickly. “Why, what else can I do?” she said. “Bob must
have decent clothes, and we can begin the ‘Ring’ to-morrow.”

“Very well,” responded Barbara, icily. “Of course Browning doesn’t
mean so much to you as he does to me. But I considered our engagement
to read this afternoon so binding that I have just lost Mrs. Harris in
consequence.”

“Lost Mrs. Harris in consequence?” repeated Susan. “Why, Barbara, how?”

“She insisted upon putting up tomatoes this afternoon when I couldn’t
help her, because of our engagement, and—well, she wouldn’t stay when
I was firm,” replied Barbara, wishing that the subject of disagreement
had been a little more dignified. “Really, Susan, that woman was
insufferable.”

“And you let her go for that?” cried Susan, in a surprised voice.

“Yes,” answered Barbara.

Susan jabbed her big needle into a large sock, with energy. Her friend
watched her with uninterested gaze. Suddenly Susan stopped, and looked
at Barbara with an expression of determination.

“Babbie,” she said with an air of having summoned up her
courage,—“Babbie, I hope you won’t think me officious, but I feel that
I must tell you some things. Even if I am not a college girl, I have
learned a good deal about common things in these four quiet years at
home. You are having a hard time, my dear, as everybody knows. Of
course every one talks about it. But I don’t know _what_ people will
say when they find out why Mrs. Harris left,—for of course they will
find out.”

Susan stopped her incoherent outburst, and eyed Barbara doubtfully.
Then she went on.

“It was dreadful of you to let Mrs. Harris go, when she had been so
kind. What if she _did_ go contrary to your ideas! Some of them are
queer, you know, and why did you care, anyway, so long as your poor
family were taken care of comfortably? You can’t get along without a
maid, Barbara,—it’s all too much for you. But I’m afraid you’ll find it
hard to get any one to come, now.”

Susan stopped uncertainly.

“Do finish,” said a cold voice from the hammock.

Susan looked at the motionless figure lying in an attitude of superior
attentiveness, and her color rose.

“Barbara, I can’t let it go on,” she broke out. “If no one suffered
but yourself, it would be different But the children are affected,
too. David never looked so really ill as he does now; and if you are
not careful, you will find him sick on your hands. Your father is worn
and worried all the time, and you yourself are as thin as a rail.
It’s because you don’t accommodate yourself to circumstances. You
insist upon carrying out some absurd theoretical ideas in the face of
practical difficulties. And I hate to have people talk about you as
they do.”

As these last words fell upon her ears, Barbara sprang up from
the hammock. Her eyes were flashing, and her dignity had utterly
disappeared.

“Don’t ever say that to me again!” she cried excitedly. “I don’t care a
continental what people say about me! Just because I have been away all
these years and have had superior advantages, all the people of Auburn
discuss me and criticise me, and are—well, jealous!”

“Do you mean that I am jealous?” asked Susan, an unusual light in her
soft blue eyes.

“That makes no difference,” retorted Barbara. “The truth of the
matter is, that you have stayed here, and have had some experience in
housekeeping, and you have grown to think that it is so important that
nothing else is of value to you—none of the higher things. If that is
what you and Auburn mean,—that I care more for,—yes, Browning, and
literature, and the real issues of life, than for housekeeping,—then
you are quite right I do. And I always shall. And I must say that I
resent any interference whatever.”

There was a long silence. Then Susan rose, biting her lips, to hide
their trembling. “I must go,” she said.

“Can’t you stay longer?” asked Barbara, politely.

“No, I’m afraid not,” replied Susan.

To both girls, the very air was full of constraint. Barbara accompanied
her visitor to the gate, where they parted with scarcely a word. Then
she turned back swiftly to the porch, and sat down in the chair just
vacated by Susan. She pressed her hand to her temples.

“I must think this out,” she said aloud. “Could I have been wrong?”

Some time later, the Kid cantered up to the porch. He went straight to
a bowed figure in the big chair, and pulled down the hands from the
hidden face.

“I’m hungry, Barb’ra,” he said. “Isn’t supper ready?”

Barbara put her arms around him, and hugged him tightly.

“_You_ like me, little brother, don’t you?” she said.

“Of course,” answered the Kid, nonchalantly; “and I’m hungry.”

Barbara took him by the hand, and led him gently into the house.

“I think I can find something for hungry little boys,” she said.



CHAPTER VIII

APPLIED PHILANTHROPY


“DADDY, please fasten me up,” said Barbara.

The doctor thrust two large hands inside of her gown, in the man’s
way, using them as fulcrums over which to pull the fragile fabric with
all the force of two strong thumbs. “Pretty snug, isn’t it?” he said.
“Where are you going in your Sunday best?—mill or meeting?”

Barbara shook out the folds of her violet gown. “Meeting,” she
responded. “The Woman’s Club has asked me to give them a paper to-day.”

“The Woman’s Club! What has become of the A. L. L. A.?”

“The Auburn Ladies’ Literary Association is still in existence,
unfortunately. But it isn’t going to be long.”

“Why not?” asked her father.

“It’s going to have its name changed, if I have any influence with its
members,” said Barbara. “Isn’t it absurd for it to go on calling itself
‘_Ladies’_ Literary Association,’ just because it has been used to
the title for thirty years, when every other women’s organization in
the country is ‘Woman’s Club’? And ‘_Literary_’! Did you ever hear of
anything so pretentious! Nobody is literary nowadays, but Tolstoi and
Maeterlinck. Besides, the name debars the members from philanthropic
and civic work, which are the moving factors in all club life. I shall
certainly make an effort to have the other members change the name,
this very day.”

“You’d better keep your hands off,” laughed the doctor. “The A. L.
L. A. is Auburn’s Holy of Holies. What are you going to ‘stand and
deliver’ before it?”

“One of my college papers. I haven’t had time to write anything new
since the Duchess left. It’s on the ‘Psychology of the Child in
Relation to Club Work.’ I had to piece on half the title to make it
appropriate.”

The suspicion of a twinkle lurked about the doctor’s eyes. “Well, good
luck to you,” he said; “the Literary Association may not approve of
your paper, but it can’t find fault with your dress.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Jack. “That garb
is like all the rest of Barbara,—it’s too irritatingly new to pass
unscathed in Auburn. Is that churn effect the Umpire Style, Barb?”

“It can’t rouse any more criticism than it has already had,” said his
sister. “I shan’t care what they say about the gown, if they only hear
my message.”

       *       *       *       *       *

With subdued swish of black silk skirts, and a decorous silencing
of whispers, the Auburn Ladies’ Literary Association came to order.
Barbara, with veiled amusement, looked about the familiar “parlors”
of the Presbyterian church. The standard and banner, with the legend
“Honor Class,” had been moved into a corner, the melodeon, stripped
of its green cover, stood in walnut nakedness on the platform,
and a sprawling bunch of carnations and a gavel ornamented the
superintendent’s desk. The map of Palestine, done in colored chalk, had
been partially erased from the blackboard at the head of the room, and
beneath it was written the following


PROGRAM

  _Roll Call._ Answered by quotations from Shakespeare.

  _Instrumental Solo._ “Murmuring Zephyrs.”
                  MISS MARTHA CRARY.

  _Recitation._ “Queen of the Flowers.”
                MISS HYPATIA HARRISON.

  _Paper._ “Geo. Eliot’s Life, Character, and Position as a Novelist.”
                   MRS. ABBIE PENFOLD.

  _Vocal Solo._ “Night Sinks on the Wave.”
                   MISS LIBBIE DARWIN.

  _Address._ “The Literary Atmosphere of Our Club.”
                  MRS. ANGIE BANKSON.

  _Readings._ { _a._ Macbeth.
              { _b._ Daisy’s Daisies.
                     MISS COLEMAN.

  _Paper._ “Psychology of the Child in Relation to Club Work.”
             MISS BARBARA PRENTICE GRAFTON.

“It’s to be hoped that Abbie’s and Angie’s are not so long as mine,”
thought Barbara, irreverently, “or there’ll be no one to put the
Grafton mackerel to soak to-night; to say nothing of all the winds and
waves that must be passed through before they come to me.”

It was the “wind and wave” part of the program that appealed to the
audience. The papers were accorded polite attention, as befitted
Auburn manners, but the musical numbers and readings were followed by
the subdued hum that is an expression of club delight. For Barbara,
the entire entertainment of the day was not furnished by the program.
Between the swaying fans she caught glimpses of Mrs. Enderby’s placid
face, relaxed in sleep; from the church kitchen came the rattle of
paper napkins and the clink of Miss Pettibone’s tray, and from the
rear of the room sounded, at intervals, the cough of Mrs. Crampton, a
genteel warning to speakers that their voices did not “carry.”

“Was there ever a human being more frightfully out of her element than
I am here!” thought Barbara. “If the House-Plant could only see Mrs.
Enderby! But she’s no more asleep than all the rest of them. What _am_
I going to do to wake them up!”

This thought was uppermost in her mind as the afternoon was tinkled
and applauded away. It was more than ever prominent as the precise,
ladylike voice of Mrs. Bankson was raised a half-tone higher in her
closing paragraph:—

“But, however, after all is said and done, it is the _literary_
atmosphere that makes our club what it is. The dearly-loved paths
that we have followed for many years have led us to lofty summits
and ever-widening vistas, but never away from our original goal. The
Ever-Womanly has always been our aim, and, while less substantial
ambitions have fluttered by on airy wing, and the thunder of the new
woman has rolled even upon our peaceful horizon, we have never faltered
in our footsteps.

“On, on we go in our devotion to literature. And, as one of the most
notable of our lady poets has so aptly expressed it,—

    Still forever yawns before our eyes
    An Utmost, that is veiled.”

A ladylike patter of applause, and a more active flutter of fans,
greeted the end of the speech. The back door creaked violently, and
Miss Pettibone’s round face appeared in the opening to see if time for
refreshment had come. It disappeared suddenly as Miss Coleman mounted
the platform to impersonate, first a bloody Macbeth, and then a swaying
field daisy. And, finally, Barbara Prentice Grafton and the Empire gown
faced the Literary Association.

Later, when she recalled the afternoon, Barbara was surprised to
remember how little of her original paper she had used. The triviality
of the program had supplied her with text enough, and the “Psychology
of the Child” was partially diverted into a sermon upon the aimlessness
of a purely literary club. In her earnestness she was carried beyond
caution.

“I call you to new things,” rang out her resolute voice, in conclusion.
“Literary effort in club life is outworn. You _can_ read your Homer
alone, but it takes concentrated, combined interest to accomplish the
_vital_ things of living. You have read too long. It is philanthropy we
need in Auburn,—civic improvement, educational effort that shall be for
the masses rather than our selfish selves. I call you to this. I ask
you to work with me for the good of our town and our people.”

The effect of Barbara’s personal magnetism was never more strongly
evidenced than by the genuine applause that greeted her effort. The
Literary Association might disapprove her theories and her violet
gown, but her sincerity was inspiring. The Auburn mothers caught the
contagion in her voice, and were interested, if not convinced.

There was a momentary pause as the applause subsided. Then Barbara said
earnestly: “I’m afraid I may have been too abstract in my statements.
But I have very definite ideas of what might be done in Auburn that
would be most beneficial to our children and ourselves. The crêche that
I spoke of is one of them. If any of you care to ask any questions, I
shall be glad to answer them. If I can,” she added more modestly.

Mrs. Enderby, who had been aroused from her nap just in time to hear
Barbara’s ringing close, rose to the occasion. To her a question was
a question. “Miss Barbara,” she inquired, an interested expression on
her rested face, “do you believe in children going barefoot this hot
weather?”

Barbara looked surprised. “W-why, n-no,” she said.

“Oh,” said Mrs. Enderby, conversationally, “I was wondering.”

There was another pause. Then Mrs. Bellows rose in her place. “Did I
understand you to say _Kreysh_?”

“Yes,” said Barbara. “A day-nursery would be the first form of
philanthropy I should advise for Auburn.”

“What need, if I may ask,” inquired Mrs. Bellows, impressively, “has
Auburn for a day-nursery?”

Barbara explained the relief to the mother and the good to the child.

“It seems to me,” remarked Mrs. Bellows, “that a Kretch is about as
necessary here as two tails to a cat. If there’s a death or sickness in
the family, I send the children over to Lib’s. Otherwise, I’d rather
have them at home. They gad enough as it is.”

“Do you mean that the mothers are to take turns in taking care of all
the children in town?” asked Mrs. Penfold.

“My goodness!” murmured Mrs. Enderby.

“It saves the children from the moving-picture shows and the cheap
theatres that are among the most pernicious of evil influences,” said
Barbara. “It keeps them off the street and out of bad company”—

“Not if she lets that Charles attend,” whispered Mrs. Bellows to the
woman in the next chair. “I’ve forbidden Sydney to play with him.”

“And gives the mothers a vacation. Instead of the care of their little
ones every day, they have charge of them possibly two afternoons a
summer.”

“I’d hate to trust my boys to Bertha Enderby,” whispered Mrs. Bellows
again.

In the discussion that followed, Barbara offered her most convincing
inducement. “I’m not a mother,” she said, “but I am willing to do my
part toward furthering the work. If I can have coöperation in the
establishment of the nursery, I’ll give my time, in turn, to it. And I
think—I’m not certain about it, but I think I may be able to furnish
the room for the purpose.”

The novelty of the idea carried the day with the younger members of the
club, and when Barbara took her place again, the seed of the enterprise
had been planted. But her second mission to the Association met with
less favorable result. The suggestion for the change of name met with
decided opposition.

“It doesn’t seem ladylike to call it _Woman’s_ Club,” objected Mrs.
Angie Bankson.

“The name has been good enough for us for thirty years,” said Mrs.
Bellows, with acerbity.

“A. L. L. A. makes such a good monogram,” sighed Miss Lillie Beckett,
who designed the programs for the club on state occasions.

Mrs. Enderby’s sleep had filled her with good-will toward the world,
and she amiably proposed a compromise. “Why not keep our old initials,”
she said, “and take another name, each word beginning with the same
letter as the old one?”

“What, for instance?” demanded Mrs. Bellows. “Do you happen to think of
any?”

The sarcasm of the speech was lost on Mrs. Enderby.

“Well, Auburn for the first word,” she suggested mildly.

But when put to vote, the motion was lost. The Auburn Ladies’ Literary
Association triumphed, and the “Woman’s Club” died before it was born.

“That snip of a Barbara Grafton!” said Mrs. Bellows to her neighbor, as
the pink sherbet and the paper napkins went around. “The idea of her
being invited to address us, and then giving that fool advice to women
that knew her when she should have been spanked! I’d never send a child
of mine to college, if I had all the money in the world. Normal school
can do enough harm. I didn’t know she could be such a fool! _Kretch!_”

Susan leaned over from the next chair. “Barbara isn’t a fool, Mrs.
Bellows,” she said warmly; “she’s the cleverest girl I ever knew.”

“In books, maybe,” sniffed Mrs. Bellows.

“No, in everything,” said Susan. “It is in books that she’s had the
most training, but she is just as clever in other things. She’s had an
awful time this summer with sickness, and poor help, and housework, and
no experience in any of them. Any one else would have been discouraged
long ago. But she has stuck it out, and been big and brave and cheerful
about it, to give her mother a chance to get well. I can’t let any one
say anything against Barbara.”

The two women looked their surprise at the warm defense from quiet
Susan.

“It’s her theories I object to, not her,” said Mrs. Bellows.

“She won’t keep them all,” said Susan. “She’ll always be loyal to her
own convictions, just as she is now; but she’ll find out later that
some of them are not so worth while as she is herself. Then she’ll sift
them out.”

“I wish she’d hurry up with her sifting, then,” said Mrs. Bellows.

Barbara, in the meantime, had not waited for her sherbet but had
hurried home to prepare the meal. In the evening she laid the matter of
the nursery before her father, and was surprised to be met with some of
the same objections that had been advanced at the woman’s club.

“But mayn’t I _try_?” she pleaded finally.

“I see your heart is set on it,” said the doctor. “I’m not going to
refuse you the carriage-house for the use of your children, though I
do think you won’t need it more than once. Auburn has no real _poor_,
you know. Only, Barbara, _don’t_ take any more upon yourself this hot
weather! The Kid is a whole day-nursery, himself.”

It took all Barbara’s leisure time from Monday until Thursday, which
was the appointed day for the opening, to get the deserted, dusty
carriage-house in order; to coax sulky Sam, the stable-boy, to move
the accumulation of broken-down sleighs and phaetons into a corner; to
hire two women to sweep, scrub, and dust floors, windows, and walls,
in order to make the carriage-house fit for an afternoon’s habitation
by the many clean, starched children whom she hoped to see. But it
was worth it,—oh, yes, it was worth it!—and Barbara’s heart glowed
with enthusiasm at the idea of driving the entering wedge of civic
improvement into the flinty heart of staid Auburn.

Meanwhile the house suffered. Dr. Grafton was called away at meal-times
with conspicuous frequency. Gassy, David, and the Kid did not
object greatly, for their imaginations were fired by the elaborate
preparations for the “party,” which the Kid firmly believed to be
held in honor of his birthday, three months past. But Jack protested
bitterly.

“Another ‘walk-around’!” he ejaculated, coming in at six o’clock
Wednesday evening, and gazing blankly at the bare dining-room. “Say,
Barb, a fellow that’s been canoeing all afternoon has an appetite that
reaches from Dan to Beersheba. I don’t want to make you mad, but I feel
mighty like Mother Hubbard’s dog.”

Barbara looked up nervously. “Now, Jack, what difference does it make
to you whether you sit at table with the others and use up hundreds of
dishes, or eat in the kitchen and save my time? The bread is in the
pantry with butter and raspberries, and there is some cold meat in the
ice-box. Cut all you want. Besides, I have sent Charles over to Miss
Pettibone’s for a blueberry pie.”

Jack looked unwontedly cross. “Sometimes I think you are the camel
that edged himself into the tent and crowded out his master,” he said.
“These walk-arounds on Sunday nights were pleasant enough at first with
everything piled on the kitchen table, so that we walked around with a
sandwich in each hand; but it comes so often now that it seems as if
‘every day’ll be Sunday by and by.’”

Barbara’s reply was checked by the sudden appearance of the Kid,
bearing a disk in both hands. The paper covering was torn and spotted
with blue patches, and a broad stain extended the full length of
his blouse. He put his burden carefully on the table, and turned
apologetically to Barbara.

“I may have dropped that pie; I don’t remember,” he said.

“N. P., no pie for me!” declared Jack. “Au revoir, Miss Grafton. Peter
asked me over to supper, and there’s still time to overtake him.”

Away went Jack, lustily chanting “The Roast Beef of Old England.”
Barbara fed the Kid to the brim, feeling somewhat guilty when she met
his clear young eyes full of affectionate trust in his big sister. It
was too bad to offer up the family on the altar of philanthropy. The
Infant’s cruel prediction as to a Jellyby future came back to her, but
the ends justified the means in this case.

The next morning was so clear, warm, and bright, that Barbara’s spirits
rose to fever heat. This was the day of her opportunity to loosen the
bondage of Auburn mothers, and to take the first step toward raising
them to higher standards of ease and culture. Her face beamed as she
sped downstairs to do the daily tasks which awaited her. Breakfast was
ready long before any one appeared to partake of it; dishes were washed
in haste, beds made in a trice,—just this once!—and dusting passed over
entirely.

All Barbara’s morning was spent in planning games, in decorating the
carriage-house with flags, in going to Miss Pettibone’s for the dozens
of cookies which she had ordered, and in finding cool space in the
refrigerator for twelve bottles of milk. The children were to come at
two; and at half-past one Barbara sat on the porch, dressed in a simple
white gown, waiting for the first arrival and for her assistant, Mrs.
Enderby.

At five minutes after two, there were no children. At ten minutes past,
still no children. At fifteen minutes after two, Mrs. Enderby’s fat,
placid self waddled up to the doctor’s gate.

“My children are coming along,” she said. “It’s awful warm. I’ve
brought a palm-leaf fan. I can fan the children, if you want me to. Any
come yet?”

“No, not yet,” replied Barbara. She had been awaiting the arrival of
Mrs. Enderby with that desire for moral support which a new undertaking
always brings upon its authors. Mrs. Enderby, as the mother of six
children, might well be expected to furnish any amount of support
derived from experience; but somehow, as Barbara looked at her, she
felt that she had made a great mistake. A cushion cannot serve as a
propelling-board; and poor Mrs. Enderby looked very cushiony.

She sat rocking slowly and evenly on the porch. “If no one comes by
three o’clock,” she said, “I think I’ll leave and go over to Main
Street to see the new moving pictures. I forgot about them when I
promised to help.”

“Oh, I am sure some children will come,” Barbara replied hastily. “It
is such a fine chance for the mothers to rest.”

At quarter of three, it seemed to the confused girl that all Auburn
was invading her lawn in a body. Streams of small children, dragged
along by elder brothers, sisters, nurses, and mothers, descended upon
the house like a flood. The air resounded with the shrieks of suddenly
deserted youngsters, with the threats and warnings of their departing
guardians, with the consolations of Barbara, Mrs. Enderby, and Gassy
herself. Just as suddenly as they had come, all the natural protectors
left, with singular unanimity, Barbara thought. It was not at all
as she had planned. There had been no grateful approach of a mother
at a time to meet the white-robed, calm hostess; no pleasant chat,
no graceful reassurance of a child’s safety. But an enormous wave
had broken upon the Grafton house and as quickly retreated, leaving
thirty-nine pebbles of assorted sizes on the shore. Thirty-nine!
Barbara gasped.

Her first step was to sweep the children to the carriage-house in a
body. Mrs. Enderby led the procession, waddling along like a very fat
hen, with innumerable little chickens running after. Barbara brought
up the rear, anxiously counting thirty-nine over and over to herself.
Loyal little Gassy kept her eyes upon the children as if she had been
transformed into a faithful watch-dog. And the Kid himself seemed to
exercise a remarkable amount of oversight; he was waiting for the
presents which were, of course, the object of a birthday party.

Barbara’s whole subsequent recollection of the afternoon lay in
a picture,—the one which greeted her as she stepped into the
carriage-house, gently pushing the last of the flock before her.
The large room seemed to her bewildered eyes fairly decorated with
children. Every broken-down buggy and sleigh was filled with more than
its quota, and prancing steeds were tugging at the ancient shafts in
vain. In a corner of the room, ten boys were fighting for possession of
a dilapidated harness. Shrieks of delight were rising from the hay-mow
above her head, and thin little legs were running up and down the
upright ladder with spider-like agility.

Barbara gasped. “Mrs. Enderby!” she exclaimed. “How shall we ever get
them together again!”

Mrs. Enderby did not answer. She stood in the middle of the room with
her fan idle in her hand and her head turned backward as far as it
would go. Involuntarily following her gaze, Barbara looked up and saw a
sight which haunted her in dreams forever after.

Fifteen feet above the floor, a long, narrow beam extended horizontally
from one edge of the hay-mow to the opposite wall. Sitting on the beam,
with legs dangling down, sat seventeen children, one behind another,
so tightly wedged that there would not have been space for even half a
child more. Wriggling, twisting, turning upon one another,—and at any
instant the slender beam might break!

It was little Gassy who saw the look of frozen horror on Barbara’s
face, and took action first. Without a word she sprang up the ladder
and out to the edge of the hay-mow. There she called out:—

“Each kid that comes back _now_, slowly and carefully, gets a cookie!”

No one moved. Mrs. Enderby down below dropped her fan and began walking
up and down beneath the beam, with her ample skirts outspread to catch
any child overcome by dizziness.

“A raisin cookie!” cried Gassy.

No one stirred.

“With nuts in it!”

The child nearest the hay-loft began to wriggle backwards. “I get first
choice!” she said.

“Second!”

“Third!”

The line took up the slow wriggle, and Barbara below watched, with her
skirts also extended. She could think of nothing else to do.

“Slowly!” shouted Gassy militantly. “Keep below there, Mrs. Enderby.
Each kid has to go down the ladder to Barbara for the cookie, an’
_stay_ down. Then we’ll play down there.”

Children respond quickly to an appeal to the stomach. In less than
five minutes, seventeen children were munching seventeen cookies,
and a rousing game of “Drop the Handkerchief” had been started by a
now thoroughly alert Barbara. Most of the children joined in with
gusto. Mrs. Enderby picked up her palm-leaf, and tapped Gassy with it
approvingly.

“Now you can just keep on helping by counting thirty-nine over and over
again,” she said.

Game succeeded game. London Bridge fell down in weary repetition for
Barbara. The players assured themselves unto seventy times seven times
that “King Willyum was King George’s Son.” A trousers button had to
be pressed into each child’s hand as a hiding-place. Six children
at different times were hurt, and cried. Mrs. Enderby, now that the
danger was over, took her chair into a corner and went to sleep behind
her fan. But faithful Gassy remained at the front, singing with rare
abandon and helping to lead each game.

Barbara herself was so engrossed in wiping away youthful tears, and in
singing, that she did not notice the gradual diminution of her forces
until Gassy suddenly took her aside.

“Barbara,” she said anxiously, “there are only twenty-seven kids in
this room; where are the others?”

Barbara counted hastily; looked up in the hay-mow; gave a wild glance
into the abandoned vehicles. It was true; the Kid himself was missing.
Then she crossed over to Mrs. Enderby and touched her shoulder.

“Mrs. Enderby,” she said, “I am afraid you will have to take ‘King
William’ with Gassy, while I look for twelve children who seem to be
missing.”

She flung open the door, and looked around. No children. Some odd
instinct led her towards her own house. As she approached, the
dining-room door facing the carriage-house suddenly opened, and a
swarm of little boys issued forth. Little boys they were, but little
goblins they looked to be, so impish were their faces, so bedraggled
their appearance. Each boy held in one hand a milk-bottle, which he
was applying to his lips in infant fashion; each blouse was bulging
with rapidly disappearing cookies. Barbara’s refreshments were almost a
thing of the past.

As she rushed over to the group, it disintegrated, and in the centre,
deserted by all his fellows in crime, stood the guilty Kid.

There were no words suitable for the occasion, and therefore Barbara
said nothing. Under her stern gaze, the Kid visibly shrunk. His
milk-bottle dropped from his hand and splashed them both. He began to
weep most violently.

“Oh, I don’t like birthday parties,” he sobbed. “They didn’t bring
any presents this time; I asked ’em. An’ we got tired o’ games, so we
went wading in the creek an’ got all wet. An’ nen we were hungry an’ I
thought you did forget the supper—”

Wading! Barbara glanced around at the little boys, and at the rest
of the troop which had filtered from the carriage-house. Were these
the children that had come to her house several hours before—these
unrecognizable _gamins_? The boys were the most torn; but even the
girls seemed lost in dirt and disorder.

Mrs. Enderby made her leisurely way up to Barbara, and began to fan
her placidly. “They’re all here,” she said; “I’ve just counted the
thirty-nine of ’em. And here comes the mothers again, so our labors are
over.”

Again the strange influx of parents and guardians, which had so puzzled
Barbara before. Again the receding wave, carrying the pebbles back this
time.

Barbara was vaguely conscious of choruses of remarks singularly alike
in character. “James Greenleaf, _where_ is your hat?”—“Robbie, you
dirty boy, come here”—“Martha, how did you tear your apron so?” She
realized that she was not being thanked as much as was her proper
due. But all she wished to do on earth was to get to her own room to
rest—not to think.

It was not until next morning, however, that the final blow fell. A
very relaxed Barbara sat at the head of the breakfast-table, and
around its corner Jack was looking at her quizzically.

“What beats me,” he said, “is why you should have been willing to do
all that work in order that the mothers of the enlightened A. L. L. A.
should be enabled to go almost in a body to see the opening of the new
moving-picture theatre. Do you believe so heartily in the ‘culchah’ of
those things?”

“Jack!” cried Barbara, starting from her seat. “Jack, they _didn’t_ do
that, did they?”

“They sure did,” responded her cruel brother. “Nineteen maternal
parents of the thirty-nine were visible to me from my seat in the back
row. They had the time of their lives.”

Barbara’s eyes filled with tears at this disappointment of her hopes.
As she struggled hard to keep them back, she caught the glance of her
father,—so apprehensive, so tender, and yet so amused, that, although
the tears came from her eyes, laughter also sounded from her lips.

“‘Here endeth the first lesson,’” she said.



CHAPTER IX

“WITHOUT”


THE alarm-clock under Barbara’s pillow sent forth a muffled rattle,
like a querulous old woman with tooth-ache, complaining from beneath
her bandages. The girl turned over in bed and sighed. A moment later
the town-clock struck six, with insistent note, and after a sympathetic
delay of a minute more, the living-room clock below sounded its
admonition. Sleepily and reluctantly Barbara drew forth the alarm-clock
to make sure of the worst.

“It’s _always_ six o’clock,” she said crossly. Then she slammed the
offender down upon the bed, and set her bare feet upon the floor
with a thud that betokened no happy morning spirit. Oh, for those
luxurious days at college when a closed transom and an “engaged” sign
upon the door insured sufficient slumber after a night of school-girl
dissipation! Not since the nightmare of housekeeping had attacked her
rest, two months before, had “Babbie the Nap-kin,” as she was jocularly
known at college, had enough sleep. This starting the day with heavy
eyes, and body that sighed for rest, was a new thing. How had her
mother done it, all these years? Probably as she, Barbara, was doing it
now;—there was no one else to share it with her.

The same old routine,—Barbara wearily went over it: Unlock the doors,
open the windows; light the fire, put the kettle on, take the food out
of the ice-box, skim the milk, grind the coffee, make the toast, set
the table, rouse the sleepers. Every one of the mornings in the year
her mother had done it, or superintended the doing of it. Three hundred
and sixty-five mornings, for twenty-three years. 8395 times! Barbara
shuddered.

It was hot and stuffy downstairs. The chairs were set about at untidy
angles, and the sun blazed in fiercely at the window. The kitchen
door-knob was sticky to the touch, and a bold cockroach ran across
the back porch as she opened the door. Was this summer hotter and more
disagreeable than usual, or was it possible that Mrs. Grafton had been
responsible for the cool, shaded rooms and the fresh morning air that
had always greeted Barbara when she arrived upon the scene of action?
For the third time in her experience the girl considered herself with
misgiving. Was it possible that housekeeping was a science, instead
of merely an occupation,—to be learned by study, and experiment, and
experience, just like philosophy? Was it even possible that she,
Barbara Grafton, called “The Shark” at college, was, for the first time
in her life, to fail miserably in a “course”?

Dr. Grafton and David were the only members of the family who responded
to the breakfast-bell. The doctor drank his under-done coffee and ate
his over-done toast without comment; the small boy bent contentedly
over a bowl of bread and milk. Barbara herself ate nothing.

“What’s the matter, girl?” asked her father. “Aren’t you well?”

“I’m all right, only not hungry.”

“I’m afraid you’re working too hard. I can’t have you losing your
appetite and looking like a ghost. Don’t you hear of a cook?”

Barbara shook her head.

“I’m afraid we’ll have to make other sort of arrangement, then. Perhaps
Mrs. Clemens will take us all to board until we hear of some help. I’ll
try to see her to-day. I don’t mind the meals,—my stomach is proof
against anything!—but I can’t have you sick.”

Her father laid a tender hand on her shoulder, and gave her a playful
little pat as he left the room. But Barbara felt anything but playful.
Her eyes flashed, and her lips set in a hard, bitter line. “My stomach
is proof against anything!” Such a stupid joke,—such a cruel bit of
pleasantry! There were unshed tears in her voice, as well as her eyes,
as she went to the stairway and called up, crossly: “Jack, Cecil—ia!”

There was no answer. Repeated calls brought forth an angry response
from Gassy, and a lazy one from Jack.

“Breakfast is all over. If you’re not down in five minutes, there’ll be
nothing for you; I’m not going to let my dishes stand all morning!”

Gassy deigned no answer. Dangerously near the time-limit, Jack appeared.

“The wind seems to be from the east this morning,” he remarked casually.

Barbara did not answer.

“Was there anything special requiring my attendance at this witching
hour of the morn?”

“The lawn-mower,” said his sister, sharply.

“Ah, I thought it must be a telegram or a fire,—judging from your
agonized voice.”

“If it _had_ been a fire, you would have had to be roused! When you
haven’t an earthly thing to do about the house, Jack, I do think that
you might get up in time for breakfast.”

“You have some new theories since you began housekeeping. I have some
faint recollections about your being the last man in the house to
rise, a few weeks ago. I’m sorry, though, I overslept, Barb. I got up
the minute you called.

    I roused me from my slumbers,
    I hied me from my bed.
    If I had known what breakfast was,
    I would have slept, instead.

Excuse me for turning up my trousers. The coffee seems to be somewhat
muddy.”

The storm that had been threatening all the morning came at last.
College dignity was forgotten, and Barbara became a cross, over-worked,
over-heated child, with a strong sense of grievance.

“Jack Grafton, you are a lazy, selfish, inconsiderate _beast_! If you
had to do anything but _eat_ the meals, you wouldn’t criticise them so
sharply. You _know_ I’m doing the best I can,—you know it!—and it’s so
hot, and there’s so much work—”

David’s serious brown eyes looked reproach at his older brother.

“I’m sorry, Barb,” said Jack, penitently. “I exaggerated about the
coffee,—it’s not muddy, only riley. You mustn’t get so fussed up about
things that are said in fun. You always _used_ to be able to take a
joke. As for the grass, I’ll hie me hence at once. It needs a cutting
as badly as Gassy’s hair.”

In spite of herself, Barbara smiled at the comparison. “Poor Cecilia,”
she sighed. “I don’t know what on earth to do with that hair of hers.
It is so stiff and rebellious that it won’t lie smooth, and yet so thin
and straight that it won’t fluff out, like other children’s. I want
her to have it cut, but she objects, and pins her faith to that row of
curl-papers that makes her look like a Circassian Lady. It is such an
ugly shade of red, too. If the child only knew how she looked—”

“She’d never have another happy moment,” interrupted Jack, pushing back
his coffee-cup. “Well, to work, to work! My, it looks hot out there in
the sunshine!”

An hour later, Barbara raised a flushed face from the ironing-board
to greet the Vegetable Man. The Vegetable Man was fat and red, and
wheezed as he walked. He was an old patient of the doctor’s, and his
bi-weekly trips to the Grafton house were partially of a social nature.
His face wore the blank expression of a sheet of sticky fly-paper, and
he was equally hard to get rid of. He sat down on one of the kitchen
chairs and fanned himself with his hat.

“This is a scorcher!” he remarked.

No one appreciated the truth of this statement more strongly than
Barbara. But she feared the result of an enthusiastic response to the
Vegetable Man. “Yes,” she assented. “It is.”

“Ninety-three, accordin’ to the official thermometer on the weather
bureau’s porch. My thermometer’s three degrees higher, an’ when I’m out
in the sun, I believe mine’s right. Even the guv’ment’s likely to make
mistakes on a day like this.”

Barbara nodded.

“Want any vegetables this morning?”

“No, I have already ordered my meals to-day.”

“Got some nice corn out there in my wagon. An’ some prime cauliflower.”

“I don’t want either, to-day.”

“All right; only you know you save money by buyin’ from me instead of
the grocery-store. Your ma would tell you that, if she wuz here. How
_is_ your ma?”

“Getting better, slowly.”

“That’s good; give her my respects when you write. Leander Hopkins’s
respects, an’ hopes you will soon be in your accustomed health again.
How are you gettin’ on while she’s gone? Are you just helpin’ in the
kitchen, or are you without?”

“Without?”

“Yes, without.”

“I don’t understand what you mean, Mr. Hopkins.”

“Why, without a gurrl—a kitchen gurrl.”

“We have no cook at present. Do you know where I can get one?”

“No, I can’t say as I do. Gurrls are pretty scarce in kitchens,
nowadays, though there seems to be plenty of them in parlors. Maybe my
Libbie would come in and help you out, though she ain’t never worked
out, regular.”

“Oh, would she?” exclaimed Barbara.

“Can’t say fer sure. I’ll ast her when I go home. She’s got steady
company, now,—he’s a brakeman on the Southern Limited,—an’ he always
gits back fer Sunday night. I dunno as she’d like to engage herself fer
Sunday nights. But I’ll ast her. You ain’t got that waist sprinkled
enough; it’s too dry to iron well.”

Barbara only thumped her iron a little harder.

“Don’t like to be told, do ye? Guess you must be a little like my
wife,—set in your ways. I know a good deal about ironin’; seen the
women-folks do it fer thirty years.”

“You must have had a good deal of time to sit and watch.”

“Wal, no, not so much as you might think; they’s a good deal of work on
my place. I’ve been sickly, though, a good bit of my life, an’ had to
sit by an’ let others do it. I know, Miss Barb’ry, that I’ve got the
reputation of bein’ lazy, but it ain’t true: I ain’t lazy; I don’t
mind workin’, but I don’t like to _have_ to work. That’s what I like
about vegetablin’: I can rest a little as I go along.”

“You are fortunate!”

There was a pause as the stubborn iron squeaked its way over the
half-dry linen.

“Wal, I guess I must be goin’. You wouldn’t like no egg-plant, would
ye?”

“No, I think not.”

“Shell I bring in a little pie-plant before I go? Ye might change your
mind if you was to see it.”

“No, I won’t trouble you.”

“No trouble at all, even if it is a hot day. You’re sure you don’t want
it?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“Wal, good-day, then. Don’t fergit my respects to your ma.”

Out of the kitchen door waddled Mr. Hopkins. In at the same door he
waddled a few seconds later. “Hate to int’rupt ye, Miss Barb’ry,” he
said mysteriously, “but jest look a’ here.”

“What is it?” inquired Barbara, suspiciously, fearing she was being
enticed to the vegetable wagon.

“That’s what I don’t know,” said Mr. Hopkins.

The Vegetable Man led the way around the walk at the side of the house.
He stopped at the turn, where the syringa and the lilac mingled their
branches in a leafy roof. The sun and the leaves made a checkerboard of
light and shade below, and here in the dancing flecks of sunshine lay a
grotesque little figure, asleep. It was Gassy, but such a sadly changed
Gassy! Reckless hands and a pair of scissors had worked havoc with the
hair that had been “too stiff to lie smooth, and too thin to fluff.”
Except for the crown of the head, where a few locks stood erect, like
faithful sentinels on a battle-swept field, the scalp was almost as
bare as a billiard ball. Not content with devastating her enemy,
Gassy had concealed the last sign of the hated color by covering the
remains with a coating of black. Perspiration and tears had aided its
extension, and two streaks of the dark fluid had found their way down
her cheeks. There were traces of recent crying about the closed eyes,
and a damp handkerchief was tightly clutched in one of the thin little
hands.

[Illustration: SUCH A SADLY CHANGED GASSY]

Barbara dismissed the Vegetable Man with a few whispered words of
explanation, walking with him to the gate to insure his departure. Then
she returned to the syringa-bush, and took the shorn little head in her
lap. Gassy started, and sat erect. For a moment she looked bewildered;
then she remembered, and her proud little voice said defiantly:—

“I guess I won’t look like a Circassian Lady, now!”

Barbara hesitated; words seemed so futile, and any explanation
was impossible. Then she did the very best thing, under the
circumstances,—caught the small sister in her arms, and held her close.
Gassy struggled for a second, then her thin little body relaxed, and
the hot tears drenched Barbara’s shoulder.

“You needn’t think I didn’t know about my hair, before!” she said
fiercely, between sobs. “I’ve always hated it, long before I heard
what you and Jack said. But I’ve got it fixed now. It ain’t stiff, or
thin, or red, any more!”

Barbara waited until the first shower was over. “How did you do it,
dear?” she asked, at last.

“Manicure scissors and liquid blacking,” said Gassy, with a fresh storm
of sobs. “I don’t care if I _do_ look awful! I looked just as bad
before. Jack said I’d never have another happy moment if I knew how I
looked. And I do. I’m the ugliest girl in Auburn,—the very homeliest!”

Barbara’s quick thoughts flew to the sanitarium at Chariton. Was it
possible that tragedies like this were of common occurrence in her
mother’s life? It was only a child’s tragedy, but it was a very real
one; and the tenderest wisdom and the wisest tenderness were needed to
dispel it. Her mind went back to the sweet lips and the loving arms
that had soothed so many of her own baby griefs. Housekeeping had been
such a small part of her mother’s life; was she, Barbara, capable of
being a substitute in a case like this?

“I’m sorry you heard what we said,” she replied, tenderly stroking the
sticky head. “Of course you know that we always exaggerate when we
joke,—Jack and I,—and we said what we did in fun. Your hair isn’t as
pretty now as it will be when you get a little older; then it will turn
dark,—red hair always does,—and you may have real auburn, which is the
prettiest shade in the world.”

“It isn’t just my hair,—it’s all of me,” sobbed Gassy. “I’m so dang
homely!”

Barbara laughed, a merry, hearty laugh, that carried more comfort than
a million words to the aching little heart. “You blessed chicken!
You’re not so homely.”

“But I want to be pretty like you; not skinny, and awkward, and tight
little pig-tails of hair! I’d just love to shake curls out of my neck,
the way the other girls do.”

“Well, not _every_body can have curly hair; I’m not that lucky, either.
But I was thinner than you when I was your age, and far more awkward.
You’ll grow fatter in a year or two. And in the meantime, dear, be glad
of the pretty things about yourself,—your clear, wide-open eyes, your
dainty little ears, your high-arched instep. You have a very sweet
mouth, too, when you are happy.”

Gassy snuggled a shade closer to her sister. “I like you, Barbara,” she
said, her proud little voice strangely softened.

“I know you do, dear. And I love _you_, so much that I want you to like
yourself. Don’t think about how you look; you’re always pretty when
you’re merry. Let’s go in and shampoo that head of yours. You won’t
mind it short during this hot weather, and it will probably grow in
thicker and darker because of this cutting.”

The half-ironed waist had dried when they returned to the house, and
Barbara, as she re-sprinkled the garment and laid it back in the
ironing basket, was reminded of her frequent admonitions to her mother
about “systematizing the housework.” “A mother is a composite of cook,
laundress, seamstress, waitress, nurse, and kindergartner,” she said
to herself. “And yet that isn’t what keeps her busiest; it’s the
unforeseen happenings, and the interruptions, that eat up the time. I
don’t wonder she never finished her work. What next, I’d like to know?”

Her wish was soon gratified by the appearance of Jack at the door. “Gee
whiz! but this day is a scorcher,” said the boy, mopping his forehead
with his handkerchief, as he threw himself upon the lounge in the next
room. “It is ninety in the shade in the yard,—that is, it would be if
there was any shade to get under. If I ever said anything derogatory
unto the snow-shovel, I take it all back. Here’s a letter, Barb;
mail-man left it.”

Barbara, reaching for the envelope, stumbled over the prostrate form of
David, who lay on his stomach on the floor, reading his well-worn copy
of the “Greek Heroes.”

“Goodness, David, do get out of the way! There isn’t room to step in
this house when you lie on the floor. And please don’t read aloud
until I finish this letter.” She tore open the envelope, and her eyes
eagerly ran over the words, as her mind hungrily took them up:—

                           VASSAR COLLEGE, August 6, 1907.

    MY DEAR MISS GRAFTON,—It gives us much pleasure to
    notify you that the Eastman Scholarship will fall into
    your hands this year. Miss Culver, who ranked slightly
    above you in the competitive examination, writes us
    that circumstances make it impossible for her to enjoy
    its advantages. You, as second in rank of scholarship,
    fall heir to her place and her honors.

    We heartily congratulate you upon the attainment of
    what you so richly deserve, and beg that you will
    notify us of your acceptance this week. It is so
    late in the season now that an immediate decision is
    necessary.

                  Cordially yours,
                    Eastman Scholarship Committee,
                              E. C. BEDFORD, _Chairman_.

Jack, glancing up from the lounge, caught a glimpse of Barbara’s face,
“What’s the matter? Is mother worse?” he demanded, sitting bolt upright
on the sofa.

“No,—oh, no. It’s just a letter from college,” said Barbara. She got up
from her chair suddenly, and made her way back to the kitchen.

“If you’re through with it, may I read aloud now?” called David; but
his sister did not hear him. She stepped inside the pantry and sat down
on a tin cracker-box to think it over.

The Eastman Scholarship! The highest honor which Vassar had to offer,
and which carried with it a year of post-graduate study, had been the
ambition of Barbara’s life. Nobody but herself could dream what that
letter meant to her. Nobody but herself ever suspected how bitter the
disappointment had been the spring before, when Miss Culver, who was
less brilliant, but more of a student than Barbara, had taken the
scholarship almost out of her hands. Every one in college had expected
her to win it, and though she had been outwardly dubious about her
prospects, she had been inwardly self-confident. It had taken courage
to offer congratulations to Miss Culver, on that dreadful day when
the decision had been announced. _Everybody_—that is, everybody but
the faculty—knew that it belonged, by right, to her. She had made
light of her defeat at home,—she had never dared think much about it,
herself,—and nobody had suspected how deep a tragedy it was.

And now the chance had come, _now_, when everything in the world was
upside down; when a sick mother and a forlorn household needed her;
when an empty kitchen called her; and when a pair of hands, awkward
though they were, meant as much to her family as a brilliant brain
meant to her college. Barbara closed her eyes, and tried to think.

David, in the next room, had taken up his reading again, at the Isle of
the Sirens:—

    “And all things stayed around and listened; the gulls
    sat in white lines along the rocks; on the beach great
    seals lay basking and kept time with lazy heads; while
    silver shoals of fish came up to hearken, and whispered
    as they broke the shining calm. The wind overhead
    hushed his whistling as he shepherded his clouds
    toward the west; and the clouds stood in mid-blue, and
    listened dreaming, like a flock of golden sheep.

    “And as the heroes listened, the oars fell from their
    hands and their heads drooped on their breasts, and
    they closed their heavy eyes; and they dreamed of
    bright, still gardens, and of slumbers under murmuring
    pines, till all of their toil seemed foolishness, and
    they thought of their renown no more.”

[Illustration: BARBARA SANK DOWN WEARILY]

“I’ve been asleep,” thought Barbara, bitterly, “asleep and dreaming.”

    “Then Medea clapped her hands together, and cried,
    ‘Sing louder, Orpheus; sing a bolder strain; wake up
    these hapless sluggards, or none of them will see the
    land of Hellas more.’

    “Then Orpheus lifted his harp, and crashed his cunning
    hand across the strings, and his music and his voice
    rang like a trumpet through the still evening air: into
    the air it rushed like thunder, till the rocks rang,
    and the sea, and into their souls it rushed like wine,
    till all hearts beat fast within their breasts.”

“Every dream I had at college—every hope, every aspiration—has gone,”
interrupted Barbara’s thoughts. “Surely I left school with plenty of
ambition. But here I am, a drudge of a housekeeper, and a poor one at
that! I can’t even cook a meal or iron a waist. And I haven’t the
chance to do anything else, with mother sick. Oh, I would like to! I
would, I would! Because this is my last opportunity. If I don’t take
this, _I_ shall never, never, see the land of Hellas more.”

David lost his place in the story. But the new page he turned was just
as sweet to him, and he went on reading in his child’s voice, made
hoarse by hay fever, and yet sweet with love of the words:—

    “And a dream came to Æetes, and filled his heart with
    fear. He thought he saw a shining star which fell into
    his daughter’s lap; and that Medea his daughter took it
    gladly, and carried it to the river-side and cast it
    in, and there the whirling river bore it down, and out
    into the Euxine Sea.”

It was nine o’clock that evening before the last dish was washed,
David’s throat-wash prepared, Gassy’s head anointed, and a letter
written. After these things were done, Barbara went out to the
mail-box. She posted her letter, and came back through the moonlight
that seemed to heat the breathless night. Mosquitoes hummed about the
porch, a cricket creaked in the grass, and the voices of innumerable
locusts nicked the silence of the evening. The house was dark and
lonely, and still. Barbara sank down on the porch, wearily, and laid
her head against the railing.

“I’ve cast in my star,” she said to herself.

The homely words of the Vegetable Man came back to her with new meaning.

“Yes, it’s true, I _am_ without,” she added; “that’s just the word for
it!”

She put both hands before her eyes, and burst into tears.



CHAPTER X

THE VEGETABLE MAN’S DAUGHTER


                      CHARITON SANITARIUM, August 23, 1907.

    DEAR LITTLE DAUGHTER,—You don’t know how nice it is to
    be able to write a letter all by one’s self. Dictating
    a letter to your home people is like eating by proxy.

    I am getting better every day. Am sleeping without
    opiates, and am actually hungry for my meals. Those
    trying periods of faintness appear far less often, and
    my temperature is so normal that I am losing prestige
    with the nurses. It won’t be long now until I shall be
    home again.

    I feel guilty every minute I stay away. Those
    cheery letters of yours tell only the funny side of
    housekeeping, but I know that there is another side,
    too, and that inexperience and hot weather and hard
    work are a serious combination. It is too big a load
    for one pair of shoulders. I was sorry to hear that
    the Duchess had gone; she promised so well that I
    felt relieved about my motherless children and my
    wifeless husband. I hope you will be able to get Mr.
    Hopkins’s daughter. If not, you had better go to the
    boarding-house for dinner and supper during the hot
    weather.

    How is David? I think of him so often these torrid
    days. If his hay fever is bad, he ought to be sent
    nearer the lake. Watch him carefully, dear, won’t you?

    There is little for me to write you. No news is
    sanitarium news, and I see no one but my doctor
    and nurse and a few people whose illness is the
    most interesting thing about them. I live on your
    letters,—the dear, funny letters that you must steal
    time from recreation to write. I read scraps of them to
    the doctor and a few friends I have made here, and they
    never fail to ask me daily if I have “heard from the
    clever daughter.” The cleverness I knew all about, long
    ago, but I am finding out new things every day about
    the sweetness and usefulness of that same daughter. Try
    to save yourself all you can, dearie. Why, oh, why,
    when you were choosing, didn’t you select a mother that
    didn’t “prostrate”?

    Kiss the babes for me, and tell your father that I
    can’t and won’t stay away much longer. Much love from

                                             MOTHER.

Barbara read the letter aloud to Gassy on one of the hottest of the
August days. Then she drew the little sister into her arms and kissed
her,—a long-drawn kiss in which was expressed relief and joy and
gratitude. Gassy understood, and nestled close with a happy little
croon.

“Won’t it be nice to have her back, Barbara?” she whispered. “It’s been
awful lonesome without her! If it hadn’t been for you, I couldn’t have
stood it.” Then, ashamed of her unwonted show of affection, she drew
herself out of her sister’s lap, saying in her stiff little voice,
which had been heard less frequently of late, “It’s too hot to kiss!”

“There’s another letter, too,” said Barbara; “I don’t know whether I’d
better open it or not. It’s addressed to mother, but I think it is from
Aunt Sarah.”

Gassy made a grimace. “Better open it, then. It won’t hold any good
news.”

“I’m afraid I must; Aunt Sarah doesn’t know that mother is away from
home. I hope it isn’t descriptive of any more family broils. If it is,
I shan’t forward it.”

“Prob’ly she’s going to make us a visit,” said Gassy.

A horrible foreboding of what Gassy’s prediction would mean swept over
Barbara. It was succeeded by a still more horrible sensation as she
read the letter:—

    MY DEAR NIECE,—I am about to start for the shore on
    my annual trip, and intend to stop and see you on the
    way. I leave here Thursday, and expect to arrive in
    Auburn some time Friday. I intended to let you know
    before, but I have been very busy attending to my
    wardrobe, and have neglected less important things. You
    never make much fuss over me when I come, so I knew I
    could break the monotony of the long trip east without
    inconveniencing you.

    Your last letter said you were not very well. Of course
    I regret to hear that, but you cannot expect me to
    express sympathy for what is obviously your own fault.
    New Thought stands ready to help you, and until you are
    willing to accept its teachings, you cannot hope to
    have peace of either mind or body. I shall do my best
    to convince you of this when I come.

    I understand that Barbara is with you. I am anxious to
    see that college life, of which I never approved, has
    improved her. I shall telegraph you later when to meet
    me.

                           Your affectionate aunt,
                                      SARAH T. BOSSALL.

    P.S.—I neglected to say that I shall bring Edward’s
    boys with me.

Barbara laid down the sheet of paper, and sat looking at it with
troubled eyes.

“What’s the matter?” asked Gassy.

“She’s coming, _to-morrow_!” groaned Barbara; “and she’s going to
bring those awful grandchildren of hers. That means that one of us
will have to give up a room, and sleep in the attic. And to-morrow is
sweeping-day, and not a thing baked in the house, and father away, and
David half-sick, and only me to do the cooking for nine people! And
Mrs. Clemens can’t take us to board; father asked her before he left.”

Gassy looked equally disconsolate. “I just hate those Bossall boys,”
she said; “they fight all the time, and grab the best pieces, and call
you red-head, and brag about living in the city. Archie’s the biggest
cry-baby I ever saw, and Nelson’s an awful liar, and that Freddy
hasn’t even sense enough to keep his stockings up; they’re always in
rolls about his ankles.”

Barbara listened unhearingly. “Aunt Sarah always expects to be
‘entertained.’ And she’s so particular that I just dread to have her
come inside the house. During this hot weather I’ve been letting things
go a little, and I know she’ll comment on the way they look. It doesn’t
seem as though I _could_ do any more work than I have been doing! What
_shall_ I do, Gassy?”

“We might go out and see the Vegetable Man’s daughter,” suggested
Gassy, flattered at being taken into consultation.

“I think that’s the only thing left,” agreed Barbara; “ask Sam to
harness Maud S., and I’ll put on my hat while you’re gone. You may go
with me, if you want to.”

Grassy looked wistful. “I s’pose if I stayed, I could pare the potatoes
for you,” she said hesitatingly.

“You dear little chicken, you,” said Barbara. “Never mind the
potatoes; we can fix them together when we come back. I’d rather have
you with me, now.”

Maud S. jogged slowly along the road that led to the Vegetable Man’s.
It was a winding road that twisted its way uphill like a yellow shaving
curl. Midsummer lay heavy on the farm-lands stretching away on either
side. The corn-fields gleamed yellow in the sunshine, the locusts
filled the air with their incessant drone, and goldenrod and wild
asters, covered with a veil of dust, flaunted in every corner of the
rail-fences. Barbara loved those rail-fences, built in the days when
time was the farmer’s chief asset, and now rapidly giving way to the
ugly, prosaic barbed-wire that is so symbolic of the present age of
commercialism. Something of this thought she expressed to Gassy.

“It keeps the cows out of the corn, though,” was the small sister’s
response.

Barbara mused over the words as she urged on Maud S. They, too, were
characteristic of this Western country, the new world that was so
busy at money-making that it had no time to think of beauty; the world
that lived alone to keep the cows out of the corn. She loved the long,
rich stretches of rolling prairie lands; she was proud of the miles
of waving yellow corn-fields; at college she had felt a tender sort
of thrill every time she claimed ownership with the middle West. But
planted in that same prairie land, like a stalk of corn, herself,
her beauty-loving soul revolted at its materialism, and pride in its
productiveness seemed a sort of vulgar greed. The beautiful middle West
was peopled by men with souls so dead, that to keep the cows out of the
corn was their ambition in life. Live-stock and grain bounded their
existence on four sides. Was it possible that people could grow so deaf
to the voice of loveliness that a midsummer day could fail to speak of
beauty to them? The strident clatter of a harvesting-machine seemed to
assent to the question.

At the top of the hill, Maud S. stopped for a rest. And looking down
from the summit, Barbara was answered. Into the hazy, blue distance
stretched the corn-fields, so far away that the tasseled tops became
but an indistinct, waving sea. Eyes could not see where the sea ended
and the hills began; the two met, blended, melted into each other;
every sign of industry was a part of the wonderful landscape, and
utilitarianism became beauty itself.

At the third curl of the shaving stood the Vegetable Man’s large red
barn. Back of it, and hidden from the road, stood his small white house.

“I should think his wife would rather live in the stable,” said Gassy,
as the two girls went up the narrow walk with the grass growing
untidily through the broken planks.

Leander Hopkins himself answered their knock at the door, and to him
Barbara explained her errand.

“Wal, I dunno. She’s got steady company now, and her mind seems to be
set on him. She’d like to do it fer yer ma, though, I’m sure. Ye’d best
ast her.”

He led the way through an uncarpeted hall into the kitchen, where
a tired-faced woman and a slatternly girl were at work. Barbara
cast a quick look at the latter, and her heart sank. The Vegetable
Man’s daughter was thirty-odd years old. She was thin and sallow and
stupid-looking. Her eyes were crossed, and a pair of large glasses,
apparently worn to hide the defect, succeeded only in making it more
prominent. She listened to Barbara’s recital with little show of
interest.

“I dunno,” she said finally, “as there’s any need I should work out.”

Again Barbara offered inducements.

“Do you let your girls have company?” asked the Vegetable Man’s
daughter, with a simper.

“Oh, yes, certainly,” answered Barbara.

“Steady company, I mean,” said the girl.

“If they prefer that kind,” said Barbara, smiling in spite of herself.

“And all their evenings?”

“Yes,” replied Barbara.

“And Sunday afternoons to supper?”

Barbara hesitated. “Yes,” she agreed, finally.

“Well, I dunno,” said the girl. The tired-faced woman put in a word:—

“You might go and help her out a bit, Libbie. Then you could buy those
white shoes you’ve been wanting.”

“Well, maybe,” assented the girl. “When do you want me?”

“Right now,” said Barbara.

Ten minutes later, Mr. Hopkins accompanied the three girls to the
gate, lending his presence while Barbara untied the horse and cramped
the buggy. “Good-by, Libbie,” he said; “write us frequent, and don’t
work too hard. Give my regards to yer pa, Miss Barb’ry. I ain’t never
forgot the time he pulled me out of noomonia. There ain’t nothing too
big fer me to do fer him; tell him to come out some time, and pick
gooseberries.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Great-Aunt Sarah reached Auburn the next day. No telegram had heralded
the hour of her coming, and consequently there was no one at the
station to meet her on arrival. At noon on Friday, while Barbara was
convincing the Vegetable Man’s daughter that steak should be broiled
instead of fried, a carriage rolled up to the door. Peanuts Barker,
still in Banker Willowby’s top hat, deposited a trunk on the front
walk, and a stout lady, with two methodical puffs of shiny black hair
in under her bonnet, and three small boys dismounted.

At the sound of the wheels there was a general scattering of the clan.
Gassy, whose hatred for Aunt Sarah was general, and for the boys
specific, retired to the coal-cellar, David hurried to put his dear
books out of reach of marauding hands, and Jack meanly abandoned the
scene of action for an upstairs window. Barbara and the Kid were the
only members of the family to greet the guests.

“How do you do, my dears?” said Aunt Sarah, majestically. “I was
surprised to find no one at the station when I arrived. I am not
accustomed to the care of my own baggage. Barbara, how sallow you are!
Don’t set my trunk down there, sir; my fee to you includes payment for
carrying it upstairs. Archie, let the dressing-case alone; I don’t
want to have to speak to you about it again! I suppose I am to have
the east room, as usual. I hope the morning light won’t wake me up at
day-break.”

“The same old Great Sahara!” whispered Jack, appearing in the hall to
shoulder the luggage. “Age cannot wither, or custom stale her infinite
arrive-ity. If I should hear that voice in the heart of the Hartz
Mountains, I should say, ’Tis she! ’Tis she!”

It was true that the three years that had passed since aunt and niece
had met had done little to change Aunt Sarah. At the table that noon,
Barbara, who had sacrificed her vegetarian theories to the comfort of
her visitors, hospitably inquired about the result:—

“How is your steak, Aunt Sarah?”

Mrs. Bossall plied her knife vigorously for a moment, then replied to
her niece’s question with a single word:—

“Tough!”

Barbara’s housekeeping, Jack’s idleness, Gassy’s disposition, David’s
dreaminess, and the Kid’s table-manners were all criticised with
impartiality. Even the Vegetable Man’s daughter was not spared.

“If that girl were working for _me_, she wouldn’t sit up with her young
man until half-past ten o’clock,” she announced, on the second morning
after her arrival.

She commented on the hardness of her bed, the crack in her window,
the quality of her food; Barbara’s theories, the doctor’s weakness
for charity cases, the lack of economy in the household, and the
extravagance of sanitarium life, all came in for her condemnation.
Barbara’s temper was held by a single airy thread, that threatened
daily to snap, and was kept in place only by exertion of much
will-power, and the comforting thought that Aunt Sarah’s visit could
not last forever.

“Edward’s children” had inherited some of the most striking of their
grandmother’s characteristics. Moreover, added to her aggressiveness
and her domineering qualities, they possessed a fertility of resource
and an ingenuity for mischief that filled the Kid with envy, Barbara
with horror, and Jack with amusement.

“They have imbibed some of their beloved grandmother’s theories,” said
Jack to Barbara, on the third day of the visit. “Talk about the ‘New
Thought’! Those kids have more new and original thoughts in ten seconds
than her whole sect has in ten years. What idea do you suppose they
conceived this morning? I came up the back walk in time to see a bundle
of white linen dangling in the air at the barn window. Those little
fiends were up in the loft working the hay pulley, and hanging from the
rope below was the youngest Wemott baby, the hook of the rope caught
through the band of its little apron. There was only a button between
that infant and eternity when I rescued it.”

“They are the worst children I ever saw,” said Barbara. “Cecilia is
hard to manage, but she is as nothing compared with the Bossall boys.
You can’t appeal to their better natures, for there is nothing there
to appeal to. And as for punishing them, I don’t believe that they are
afraid of anything in this whole world.”

“Except Gassy,” suggested Jack.

“Yes, they seem to hold her in wholesome respect I can’t understand the
cause of their consideration for her, unless it is fear. Cecilia isn’t
mighty in the flesh, but her tongue is a power.”

       *       *       *       *       *

The reason for this respect came to light the next day. It _was_ fear:
but fear of something besides Gassy’s tongue. Before daylight, Aunt
Sarah creaked her way up the attic stairs to the little, hot room in
which Barbara had slept since the arrival of the guests. Aunt Sarah was
addicted to black silk nightgowns, and the long, dark robe, a lighted
candle, and curling-pins, rolled so tightly that they lifted her
eyebrows, gave her a decidedly Lady Macbethian appearance.

“Are you awake, Barbara?” she inquired, in an angry stage whisper.

By that time Barbara could truthfully answer that she was. “What is
it?” she asked.

“I’m sorry to disturb you,” said Aunt Sarah, in a voice that betokened
anything but regret. “But I am in such a state of mind that even New
Thought fails to calm me. I was never so insulted in my life as by the
treatment that has been accorded me and mine while in my own niece’s
home.”

“What do you mean, Aunt Sarah?” cried Barbara, now thoroughly aroused.

“I mean just this: Cecilia has been according Edward’s children a
system of torture that has nearly robbed them of their sanity.”

Even in her worry and bewilderment, a wicked thought, reflecting upon
the _present_ mental condition of Edward’s children flashed through
Barbara’s mind. But she checked the desire to give utterance to it.

Aunt Sarah set down the candle, and faced Barbara severely. “I was
aroused from sleep a few moments ago by a noise in the next room,”
she said. “It sounded like a scream from Archie, and I sat up in bed
and listened. I heard a deep voice in the children’s room, saying,
‘I am the Holy Ghost,’ and other irreverent things which I cannot,
at this moment, recall. I knew that no burglar would stop for that
announcement, so I quietly opened the door and looked in. A figure in
a sheet was standing between the two beds, with arms outstretched over
the two boys.”

“What!” exclaimed Barbara.

“It was Cecilia, of course,” continued Aunt Sarah. “The dear little
lads were speechless with fright and horror, and that bad child was
claiming to be the Holy Ghost, and threatening all sorts of terrible
things to them if they tore David’s books again. I sent her back to bed
at once, and tried to reassure the boys, but they were in a sad state
of terror. They tell me that this has gone on from night to night. They
know, of course, that it _is_ Cecilia, but they are timid by nature,
and they have been in a pitiable frame of mind. I have noticed, ever
since our arrival, that they have been slightly unmanageable, and this
explains it all; New Thought cannot work against a supernatural fear.
Now, the question is, what are you going to do with Gassy?”

Wicked Barbara suppressed a chuckle as she debated. “Well, I think I’ll
let her sleep till morning, Aunt Sarah,” she said aloud, soberly.
“Then I’ll see what I can do with her. It was very wrong of her, of
course, and I’m sorry that you and the boys have been put to so much
distress. It isn’t like Cecilia to be cruel.”

“It is exactly what I should expect of her,” was the sharp reply.
“Cecilia I like the least of any of my niece’s children. She is
_naturally_ an inhuman sort of child, without the slightest trace of
affection for any one; and then she has always been allowed to have
her own way, until she is most unmanageable. Elizabeth and your father
have spoiled all of their children, but the result is most obvious in
Cecilia. She ought to be severely dealt with for a trick of this kind.
Reverence, if not simple humanity, should have deterred her. But none
of you children seem to have any reverence for anything. I think I
shall speak to Cecilia, myself, this morning.”

“Oh, please don’t, Aunt Sarah,” exclaimed Barbara, impulsively. “You
know how sensitive Cecilia is, and how hard to handle! I think that if
I talk to her first, I can make her sorry for frightening the boys.
But she doesn’t li—”

Aunt Sarah took up her candle with as much dignity as it is possible
to assume in curling-pins. “I understand that Cecilia doesn’t like
me,” she said stiffly, “and I assure you that the feeling is mutual. I
shall not speak to her, of course, if you prefer that I shall hold no
communication with her. But I shall write your mother a full account
of the whole affair as soon as I leave, which will be this morning, if
possible. I must say, Barbara, that I never expected that you would
condone wrongdoing, even in your own household. I shall telephone for
an expressman to take my trunk to the station at ten this morning. If
there was ever a home and a family where New Thought is needed, this is
the one!”

       *       *       *       *       *

Aunt Sarah was as good as her word. During the entire breakfast hour,
she deigned not so much as a glance at her guilty great-niece. Upon her
departure, she ostentatiously kissed every other member of the family,
including Jack, who presented a cheek gingerly for the salute. Barbara
accompanied her to the station, but she was not to be mollified, and
the farewell was enlivened only by Edward’s boys, whose parting act was
to open a coop of chickens in the Auburn baggage-room, and give the
fowls their freedom. Barbara, as well as the station-master, heaved a
sigh of relief as her relatives boarded the train.

Upon her return to the disorderly home, the big sister sought out the
little one. It was hard to find fault with the punishment that had been
meted out to Edward’s boys, but it must be done. Barbara took the small
girl on her lap. “Why did you do it, Chicken?” she asked.

Gassy’s lips set in a decided line. “Because they deserved it,” she
said. “I ain’t one bit sorry, Barbara Grafton, not one single bit!
Those are the meanest, sneakiest boys that ever lived! They didn’t
dare torment Jack,—he was too big; they were afraid of me because
I could beat them running. So they took it all out on David and
the Kid, ’specially David. He ain’t strong enough to fight, and,
besides, he’s too gentle; and they knew it, and took advantage of
it all the time. First they used to hit him, and tease him, but he’d
never answer back,—just look at them kind of sad and slow, like Mary,
Queen of Scots, on the scaffold. And that spoiled all their fun; the
scratch-back kind are the only ones who are ever really teased, you
know.”

Barbara put this bit of philosophy away for future reference.

“But after awhile,” the child continued, “they found out that it
hurt him lots worse to meddle with his books, so they did that,
just to worry him. You _know_ how he loves that King Arthur book of
his! Yesterday they cut out every single picture in it with their
jackknives,—just hacked it all up! You can’t _hurt_ those boys,—they’re
too tough; but they’re awful ’fraid-cats, and you can scare ’em easy.
So I just put on a sheet, and went in and warned ’em that they dasn’t
touch David’s books again. He cries every time they do, and that makes
his hay fever worse.”

“But, dear,” Barbara said quietly, “it wasn’t nice to do it. They were
in your own house, you know—”

“We didn’t invite them,” interrupted Gassy.

“And, besides, you must never scare people. It’s a very dangerous thing
to do. If they had been frightened into brain fever, you would never
forgive yourself. And one thing more, dear, I don’t like your calling
yourself the Holy Ghost.”

“That was because my sheet was torn. The hole-y ghost, you know.”

“I know, but it isn’t a reverent thing to say.”

“But, Barbara, it doesn’t seem wicked to me to say that. I never could
even imagine the Holy Ghost. It just seems like words, and nothing
else. Every time I go to church they talk about the Holy Ghost, and the
Spirit, and the Life Infinite, and I can’t understand ’em. Even Jehovah
sounds awful big and far off. But when they say Jesus,—Baby Jesus, I
mean, or Little Boy Jesus, or Man Jesus,—that is easy and sweet. I
always like best to think of Him that way; not like a God, so far off,
and with so many things to manage, that it’s hard to believe that He
cares, but like a man, that made mistakes, and had to try over again.”

“Yes,” said Barbara, understandingly.

“I like to think,” went on Gassy, “that He did just the same things
that we do, and loved the same things, and wanted the same things.
It wouldn’t help me any to have Him be _glad_ to die and go up in a
chariot of fire, with people hollering, like Elijah did. But it does
help me to know that He _wanted_ to live, just like I do, and cried
about leaving everything, at first, and then was big and brave enough
to stand it. You know I wouldn’t be irreverent about _Him_, Barbara!”

“No, and it would hurt you to have any one else irreverent about Him.
And that is why I don’t like to have you say what you did about the
Holy Ghost; you may hurt some one else.”

“Well, I won’t do it again; that is, I won’t be irreverent,” promised
Gassy. “But about scaring them, Barbara Grafton, you mustn’t try to
make me be sorry about that, for I’d be telling a lie if I said I was.
They deserved it, and there wasn’t any other way of making them let
David alone. I’m glad I frightened some of the bad out of them.”

And with this Barbara was forced to be satisfied.

       *       *       *       *       *

The path was straightened for Barbara after the departure of her
guests. The Vegetable Man’s daughter was incompetent, but she was
good-natured and cheerful. Her shrill soprano voice rose at all hours
of the day in the request to be waltzed around again, Willie, around,
and around, and around. Her “Steady Company” made regular calls at the
kitchen every evening that he was off his run, and sat on the back
porch, with his feet on the railing and his pipe in his mouth, scarcely
uttering a word during the call. The Vegetable Man’s daughter proved
to be a fluent conversationalist, and judging from the scraps of sound
that floated around to the front porch, now and then, the evening
visits seemed to consist of monologue, sandwiched in between a kiss
of greeting and one of parting. Promptly at half-past ten the Steady
Company would withdraw, and the Vegetable Man’s daughter would renew
her request to be waltzed around again, Willie, all the way up the back
stairs.

Perhaps it was the thought of her absent lover that prevented her
success as a cook, for it was certain that the day after one of
his calls the bread was apt to be unsalted, the napkins forgotten,
and the milk left to sour. But she was strong and willing, patient
with Barbara’s theories, and fond of the children. Something of the
old-time comfort returned to the house, and Barbara found time to
mingle with the young people of Auburn, and to enjoy the first youthful
companionship she had had since her return from college. On some of
these occasions she met Susan, who greeted her with a stiff smile, in
which wistfulness was scarcely hidden. There was nothing of regret in
Barbara’s cool nod. Susan was not as necessary to her as she was to
Susan, and in the popularity which came to her as readily with the
young people at home as at school, she easily forgot the quiet girl on
the outskirts of the jolly crowd.

Gayeties began to thicken upon the approach of school-days, and Barbara
took active part in all of them. In the relief about her mother’s
condition, all serious thoughts took wing, and Barbara played the
butterfly with light heart. “The Infinite of the Ego” lay untouched
in a pigeon-hole of her desk, and she felt no inclination to write
anything heavier than the semi-weekly letters that merrily told the
life at home to her mother. The taste of play-time was very sweet after
the hard summer; and tennis and boating and driving filled the days of
early autumn to the brim.

But the recess was of short duration. Barbara, coming in from an
afternoon tea, was met in the hall by the Vegetable Man’s daughter.
“I’ve something to tell you, Miss Barbara,” she said.

“What is it, Libbie? Are we out of eggs? I remembered, after I had
gone, that I had forgotten to order more.”

“No’m, it ain’t eggs; it’s me. We eloped this afternoon.”

“What!”

“Yes’m; me and my Steady Company. He got off his run this afternoon,
and we thought we might as well do it now and be done with it.”

“So you’re married?”

“Yes’m; we went to the justice’s office. They said it was the prettiest
wedding that had been there in a month. I wore my white shoes, and I
flush up so when I get excited.”

“But how did you _elope_? Didn’t your family ever know that you were
going to be married?”

“Oh, yes, they knew that for two months already, but we didn’t say
nothing to them about this. We wanted a piece in the paper about it,
and they always write it up when a couple elope. So we told the justice
we was running away, and we wanted it wrote up, and he said he’d see
to it. Besides, we didn’t have time to let ’em know, out home; we just
decided it ourselves this afternoon.”

“Well, I hope you’ll be happy, Libbie,” Barbara recovered herself
enough to say. “I suppose this means that I shall lose you?”

“Yes’m. I’m just back for my clothes. We’re going out to his mother’s
to-night. She’s got the harvesters at her house this week, and will
want me to come out and help her cook for them. After that, we’re going
to housekeeping in town.”

“Aren’t you going to have any wedding-trip?”

“We had it already. We took the trolley-car out to the cemetery after
the wedding, and set there two good hours, till it was time to come
in and get supper. I knew you wouldn’t get home in time. I’m sorry to
leave you this way, without warning, Miss Barbara, but it can’t be
helped. That’s what an elopement is.”

Barbara’s pretty reception gown was laid aside for a shirt-waist and
skirt and a kitchen apron. And as she and Gassy “cleared up” the
dishes, the Vegetable Man’s daughter and her Steady Company passed away
in a cloud of romance and tobacco smoke.



CHAPTER XI

REAL TROUBLE


    “THE lion is the beast to fight,
     He leaps along the plain:
     And if you run with all your might,
     He runs with all his mane.
     I’m glad I’m not a Hottentot,
     But if I were, with outward cal-lum
     I’d either faint upon the spot,
     Or hie me up a leafy pal-lum,”

sang Jack, in a clear baritone that made up in volume what it lacked in
quality. “I don’t know but I’ll _have_ to take to the tall timber, if
I don’t find my school-books. Barberry, have you seen anything of my
Greek since the twenty-sixth of last June?”

“All the school-books are piled on the rubber-box in the vestibule,”
said Barbara. “I suppose your Greek is among them. Hurry, David; you’ll
have to put on a clean blouse before you start, and it’s after eight,
now.”

David’s voice came from the pillows of the couch, where he had curled
himself into a disconsolate little ball,—“I’m not going to school
to-day, Barbara.”

“Why not?” asked his sister.

“I’ve got a headache, and my shoulders are tired.”

“First symptoms of the nine o’clock disease,” commented Jack; “David
has it every year.”

“I don’t think you feel so very bad,” said Barbara. “You’ve been so
much better lately. And you’ll have to make up all the lessons that you
miss, you know.”

“Wish I didn’t have to go to school,” said David, in a petulant voice
that was most unusual with him; “I hate it.”

“I can’t understand why you don’t like to study when you so love to
read,” remarked Barbara. “You ought to do much better work in school;
you’re not a bit stupid at home.”

“I have ideas in my head,” said David, plaintively. “But when I get
them out, they aren’t ideas.”

“You do too much dreaming and too little studying. I can’t pull you
away from books at home, but you don’t seem to be able to concentrate
your mind on your school work.”

“Lessons are so unint’resting,” said David. “If I was in history or
mythology, now, I’d like those; but I only have reading and ’rithmetic
and language and g’ography. I’ve read everything in my reader a million
times, and every time we come to a beauteous sentence in our language
lesson we have to chop it up into old parts of speech. I can’t do
numbers at all, and I just hate g’ography!”

“You like to read it at home.”

“Yes, but that’s diff’runt. I always read about the people, and the
animals, and what’s in the country, and what the inhabitants do, and
how they live. But at school they make you tell all the mountain ranges
from the northeast to the southwest of Asia, and the names are awful
hard to learn. They’re just like eight times seven, and seven times
nine: there doesn’t seem to be anything to make you remember them, but
there’s a whole lot of things to make you forget them!”

“Wait until you get into fractions,” said Gassy. “_Then_ you’ll see!
’Rithmetic is just planned to keep you guessing. When I was beginning
addition, I thought that was all there was to learn, but afterwards I
found that I’d only learned it so I could do subtraction. Everything
you find out about just makes more things for you to study. I wish I’d
stayed with my mind a blank,—like the Everett baby.”

“Don’t worry about that,” said Jack, consolingly. “You haven’t strayed
so far from that condition that you can’t find your way back.”

There was a crackle of stiff white apron, a flash of thin, black legs,
and Whiting’s Language Lessons went sailing through the air, its pages
falling as it struck Jack’s head.

“Now see what you’ve done, Spitfire!” said Jack.

Two months before, this exhibition of temper would have been made the
subject of a moral lecture from Barbara. Now she only looked sober
as she bent to help Gassy pick up the leaves. “Poor book,” she said;
“you’ve given it what Jack deserved. That’s hardly fair, is it? Come,
Boy, help repair the damage that you caused. No, David, you needn’t
help; I want you to go and get ready for school.”

“Must I?” pleaded David.

“I think you had better.”

The little boy raised himself from the couch with a long-drawn sigh
that Barbara remembered days afterward. “All right, if you say so,” he
said: “I’ll change my waist now.”

The house seemed very still after the children had trooped out to
swell the procession of young people headed toward the school. Barbara
reflected with relief that their departure would lighten her labors.
With the Kid at kindergarten, and the others away from home, she could
count on a tidy house and an unbroken opportunity for work.

“It doesn’t seem very affectionate to be glad that they are gone,” she
said to herself. “Mother always seemed to be sorry when our vacation
was over. But it _is_ a relief to have a quiet house, and a chance to
work without a dozen interruptions an hour. Perhaps, after I get things
into running order, I shall have time to do a little writing every
morning while they are out of the way. Then—”

The thought of the pile of rejected manuscripts lying upstairs in the
corner of her desk stopped her dreams. “I can’t even write any more,”
she thought bitterly. “This kitchen drudgery takes the life out of my
brain as well as my body. I _must_ find time to put the early morning
freshness into something besides dishes.”

It was with this idea that she carried a writing-pad and her fountain
pen out to the side porch an hour later. An orderly house and an
undistracted mind seemed to make conditions favorable for writing,
and the scanty bits of philosophy that had sifted their way into the
gayeties of the past fortnight began to find utterance in best college
rhetoric. The lust of writing stole over the girl, and for two hours
she wrote steadily, utterly oblivious to everything.

The sound of the opening of the gate roused her. It was Jack, coming up
the gravel walk with David in his arms,—an inert little David, whose
arm hung heavily over his brother’s, and whose hand swung limply at the
end. The fountain pen rolled unheeded off the porch.

“What is it?” breathed Barbara.

“Where’s father?” asked Jack.

“Gone to see the Wemott baby. What’s the matter with David?”

“I wish I knew,” said Jack, hoarsely. “He’s sick, though. Call father
by ’phone, and then help me to get him to bed. I’ll tell you about it
when you come upstairs.”

Barbara’s heart stood still, but her feet flew. “Wemott’s residence,”
she said at the telephone. “Oh, I don’t _know_ the number, Central;
hurry, please, do hurry!”

It seemed hours before the answer came. “Is Dr. Grafton still
there? . . . No, don’t call him. . . . Tell him to come home at once.”
Even in her excitement she found thought to add the words that should
save him ten minutes of worry,—“There has been a hurry call.”

The limp little body lay stretched out on David’s bed. “I can’t find
his night-shirt,” said Jack, in the same hoarse voice. “Where do you
keep it, Barbara? He was taken sick at school. Bob Needham came running
over to the High School to tell me to come at once,—that David was
acting strangely. By the time I got there, he was lying just like this
across one of the recitation benches, and his teacher was trying to
make him swallow a little brandy. She told me that she had noticed
that he was not himself during a recitation; he began to talk loudly
and rather wildly, and to insist that his head _did_ ache; that”—Jack
seemed to force out the words—“that it _wasn’t_ the nine o’clock
disease. She tried to quiet him, and had just succeeded in getting him
to agree to go home, when he toppled over on the floor. Don’t wait to
unfasten that shoe-string, Barbara; cut it. Of course I brought him
right home. Willowby’s driver was just passing the school, and I hailed
him. When will father be here?”

Between the disjointed sentences brother and sister put the sick child
to bed. Then Jack hurried to call Dr. Curtis by telephone, while
Barbara hovered over the still form until her father’s step was heard
on the stair. In the ten minutes’ interval the girl learned what four
years of college had failed to teach,—the hardest lesson that Time
brings to Youth,—how to wait.

The two physicians arrived almost simultaneously. Then Barbara and Jack
were sent downstairs on errands that both felt were manufactured for
the occasion. When they came back, the bedroom door was shut and they
sat down in the hall outside, silent and aloof, and yet drawn together
by the same fear which struggled at each heart. After what seemed to
be hours, the door opened, and Dr. Curtis came out. Two white faces
questioned his.

“Probably brain fever,” said the doctor. “We hope that it won’t be
very serious,—if we’ve caught it in time. Jack, you come along to the
drug-store with me. Miss Barbara, you might go in and see your father
now.”

But the girl had not waited for his instructions, to push past him
into the bedroom. Dr. Grafton stood looking down at the little figure
outlined by the bed-clothes. He turned as Barbara came in, and the girl
received no encouragement from his face. When he spoke, however, it was
reassuringly. “Come in, Barbara; you can’t disturb him now. He’s had
some medicine, and he won’t rouse for some time. I want to talk with
you.”

“Is he dangerously sick?”

“We can’t tell just how sick he is, but we won’t think about danger
yet. His fever is pretty high. Has he complained about not feeling well
lately?”

“Not until this morning, and then not much. David never does really
complain. He wanted to stay away from school, though.”

“He ought never to have gone,” said her father.

Barbara winced as though she had been struck. “That was my fault,
father; I told him that I thought he had better go.”

Dr. Grafton did not seem to hear. “I’ve been trying to think what is
the best thing for us to do. I don’t dare to let your mother know yet.
I’ve sent for a nurse for the boy, but it’s going to make extra care
for you to have sickness in the house. I don’t know just what we’ll do
with the children; we must try to find some haven for Cecilia and the
Kid. You and Jack and I must hold the fort. Do you think we can manage
it? It may be a long siege.”

Barbara’s eyes overflowed, but her voice was steady as she answered
her father with a slang phrase that seemed, somehow, to carry more
assurance with it than college English would have done,—“Sure thing!”

“That’s all, then. The nurse will be here in twenty minutes. Try to
keep the children still when they get home from school. I know that I
can depend on you to keep things running, downstairs.”

“Yes, father.”

News traveled fast in Auburn, and before the children had returned
from school, two visitors had cleared some of the difficulties from
Barbara’s path. The first was Mrs. Willowby, who stopped at the door
to tell Barbara that Gassy and the Kid were to be provided with a
temporary home. “I am on my way to school now,” she said; “and I’ll
explain it to them, and will take them home with me this noon. If you
can get together what clothing they will need, I’ll send Michael over
for it this afternoon. You know what a happiness it will be to me to do
anything for your mother’s children, and I’ll try to mother them enough
to keep them contented. In the mean time, dear, we are all at your
service.”

As Mrs. Willowby’s carriage left the door, Susan came hurrying up the
walk, a covered plate in her hand, and her face alive with sympathy.
She caught Barbara’s face and drew it down to her own, using the
childish name for her which had been dropped since college days. “Dear
old Bobby,” she said. “I’ve just heard about.”

Barbara’s face relaxed and the tears began to gather.

“I’ve come to stay,” said Susan, in a practical voice, which brought
more relief than pity would have done. “That is, to stay as long as you
need me. David may be all right in a day or two, and then I’ll only be
in the way. But in the mean time, I’m going to be Bridget.”

“Oh, no,” protested Barbara.

“Oh, yes,” mocked Susan. “You’ll have enough on your hands with all the
extra cares, let alone the cooking. You must save a part of yourself
for David, if he needs you. I don’t expect to do as well as you have
been doing, if Auburn gossip is to be trusted, but I shan’t poison your
family during your absence from the kitchen.”

“I can’t let you do it,” said Barbara. “You ought not to take so much
time away from home. What would your family do without you?”

“I have them trained so that they could get along without me for a
year,” answered Susan. “Brother Frank is as handy about the kitchen
as a woman, and he is not at work, now. Besides, I shan’t be away all
the time; I shall run back and forth, enough to have my fingers in
both pies. And speaking of pie, Barbara, here is a cherry one that I
had standing idle in my pantry; I felt sure that you hadn’t made any
dessert, yet.”

Barbara took the plate unsteadily. The two girls seemed to have changed
natures, and something of Susan’s former stiffness had fallen upon
Barbara. Of the two, Susan was far more at ease. “But I can’t take
favors from you,—now,” said Barbara, awkwardly, “after what—”

“Look here, Barbara Grafton,” answered Susan. “You’ve always been doing
favors for me,—all your life,—favors that I couldn’t return. It wasn’t
that I didn’t want to, but that I didn’t know how. You could always
_do_ things,—write, and draw, and sing, and entertain, and teach,—and
I’ve reaped the benefit. Don’t you suppose I’ve ever wished that I
could return the favors? Now there’s only one thing in all this world
that I can do for you, and that is cook. Do you mean to say that you’re
not going to let me do it?”

Over the little brown pie the two girls clasped hands. “Where do you
keep your potatoes?” said Susan. “It’s so late that I’ll have to boil
them.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Somehow the long hours of the day dragged by, and ten o’clock at night
found Barbara in her room.

“Go to bed, now,” her father had said. “David’s stupor will last all
night, and I want you to be ready for to-morrow, when we shall need
you. Miss Graves can take care of him better than either of us, just
now. Our turn will come later.”

It was hard to stay in the sick-room, where the deathly silence was
broken only by the little invalid’s heavy breathing and the swish of
Miss Graves’s stiffly starched petticoats; harder still to go away,
beyond these sounds. Barbara went reluctantly, dreading the long night
when hands must lie idle, and feet still. Jack, too, had decided to
“turn in early,” and the house seemed very silent without the usual
uproar of the children’s bedtime. She had just fallen into an uneasy
sleep, when she was roused by a step upon the stair. In a moment she
was wide awake. Was it her father with bad news, or Miss Graves in
search of something? By the familiar squeak Barbara knew that the top
stair had been reached. The step sounded in the hallway, and the girl
sat up in bed as her door was pushed open and a shadowy little figure
entered the room.

“Cecilia Grafton!” exclaimed Barbara.

Gassy tiptoed toward the bed. “How’s David?” she demanded, in a whisper.

“How on earth did you get here?”

“Walked. How’s David?”

“Just about the same. Father says he is not suffering any pain. Did you
come alone at this time of night?”

“Yes,” said Gassy, defiantly, “I did. Mrs. Willowby thought we ought
to go to bed early. So we did. She let me sleep in the rose room, only
I couldn’t. Mr. Willowby went to bed early, too, in the room just
across the hall, and he snored awful. I stayed awake about two hours. I
knew I couldn’t get to sleep unless I knew, myself, how David was, so
I dressed and came. Is he going to be awful sick, Barbara? Tell me the
truth; please don’t fool me!” A pair of cold little hands found their
way to Barbara’s shoulders.

“We hope not, dear.”

“I wish I could sleep here to-night. I hate to be sent away.”

“But Mrs. Willowby will worry, if she finds that you have gone.”

“Can’t you telephone her that I’m here? I’ll go back to-morrow,
Barbara, and I’ll be awful good if you’ll just let me sleep with you
to-night. I always thought heaven was like that rose room, but I can’t
sleep in it. Please let me stay here.”

Barbara slipped on her bath-robe and tiptoed down to the telephone.
All was quiet in the sick-room as she passed. When she reached her own
chamber, Gassy was cuddled down between the sheets. She snuggled close
to her older sister with a little sob. “Even rose rooms can’t keep you
from worrying, can they?” she said.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the three weeks that followed, Barbara discovered that nothing can
“keep you from worrying” when the dark shadow that men call Dread of
Death stands on the threshold. She marveled constantly that one frail
little body could withstand such desperate onslaughts of fever and
pain. David’s illness was quick of development: the drowsiness was
followed by days of high fever, and these were succeeded by nights of
unconsciousness which plainly showed the strain to which the little
frame was being subjected. He wasted greatly under the suffering, and
although her father and Dr. Curtis said, “About the same,” each day,
it seemed to Barbara’s eyes that the little brother grew less human
and more shadowy with every succeeding twenty-four hours. Mrs. Grafton
had not been told, both physicians deciding that the shock might cause
a relapse, and Barbara’s hardest duty was to keep the news from her
mother. In the cheery letters that continued to go to the sanitarium at
regular intervals, there was not a word of the tragedy at home, but the
writing was more of a strain than the watching in the sick-room.

As Dr. Grafton had predicted to Barbara, her turn came later. David
took a most unaccountable dislike to Miss Graves, whose devotion
to starch was the only thing in her disfavor, and he objected to
her presence in the sick-room with the unreasoning vehemence of the
delirious. It was impossible to dismiss Miss Graves without some valid
excuse, and equally impossible to secure another nurse in Auburn. So
most of the care devolved upon Barbara, much to David’s satisfaction,
for he called constantly for his sister, and seemed most contented when
her hands smoothed the hot pillow or gave the sleeping-draught.

To the management of the housework, Barbara gave little thought. Meals
were scarcely an incident in those days of waiting. Little by little,
as conditions grew graver in the invalid’s room, Barbara gave up more
and more of her household duties, yet she was vaguely aware that things
went on like clockwork downstairs. The meals that appeared upon the
table were delicious, and yet Susan’s part in them was not obvious. She
slipped in and out of the house at all hours, always bringing comfort
with her, and yet bestowing it so quietly that it seemed the gift of a
beneficent fairy.

Every critical thing that Barbara had ever said of the provincialism
and officiousness of Auburn folk came back to her during these days of
trouble. When Mrs. Willowby came with advice or encouragement, when the
Enderby children brought home David’s school-books, when Miss Pettibone
came running “across lots” with beef tea or a plate of doughnuts, when
Mr. Ritter pressed his telephone into service, and agreed to carry all
messages, that the sick child might not be disturbed, when even Miss
Bates stopped at the door to inquire affectionately about the invalid,
and when all the town combined to keep the news from Mrs. Grafton,
Barbara’s conscience was stricken. Her heart warmed with gratitude,
and the meaning of the word neighborliness was, for the first time,
made clear to her.

And yet, with all the kindliness and helpfulness that Auburn could
bestow, there was plenty left for the girl to do. It was Barbara who
answered the door, who took the messages, who encouraged the children,
who cheered Jack, who comforted her father, who assisted the nurse, who
was brave when conditions were most discouraging, and sunny when the
clouds hung lowest. And it was Barbara, too, who sat beside the bed,
ready to rub the aching side or smooth the feverish brow, and who met,
with a sinking heart, the discouragement that each day brought.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was the middle of October before the crisis came. An early frost had
stripped the flower beds, withered the vines, and left the yard bare.
Barbara, looking out of the window through a blur of rain, on the day
when David’s fever was highest, was vaguely relieved by the desolation
outside. Sunshine out of doors would have been a mockery. She stood
with her back toward the bed and her face toward the street, but her
eyes saw nothing but the wasted little form that tossed restlessly to
and fro, and her ears heard only the heavy breathing, broken, now and
then, by a moan. Miss Graves had gone to get a few hours’ sleep to
fortify herself for the vigil of the night, and Dr. Grafton, in the
next room, was consulting with Dr. Curtis. The house was so still that
their low voices were plainly audible. The words were not distinct,
but the discouraged note in her father’s speech fell heavily upon the
girl’s heart. “_They_ are afraid,” she said to herself.

She turned from the desolate window to the bed, and with pale lips and
dry eyes gazed down at the little brother. David tossed restlessly upon
his pillow, and called aloud for Barbara.

“I’m here, dear,” said the girl, taking the small, hot hand in hers;
but the boy flung it away with a strange strength.

“I want _Barbara_,” he cried.

At the sound of the hoarse voice, Dr. Grafton hurried back into the
room, followed by Dr. Curtis. And then began a fight with death that
Barbara never forgot. Pushed aside as merely an onlooker, the girl
watched, with a sort of curiosity, the man that she saw for the first
time in her life. The father she had always known had vanished; in
his place was the skilled physician, who seemed to have thought for
the patient rather than the son. The two doctors worked like one
machine,—fighting the fever back step by step, beating it, choking it,
quenching it; pitting against it strength and science and skill. And
when it finally succumbed, and David was snatched from the burning, a
poor little wasted wraith of life, Barbara understood the worship that
Dr. Grafton’s patients gave him.

“We’ve won out,” he said. “The fever’s left the boy. Now if we can only
keep him alive to-night—”

       *       *       *       *       *

The shadows of evening were heavy in the room as Miss Graves’s
starchiness sounded along the hall. She went at once to the bedside,
and laid her hand on the boy’s forehead. Then she looked quickly up
at the doctor. In that glance Barbara read the whole story,—it was a
question, now, of vitality.

Susan herself brought up the tray of supper to Barbara, who tried to
eat it in order to seem appreciative. But the rolls and the creamed
chicken were sent back untasted, and she could not even find words to
reply to the unworded sympathy in Susan’s good-night. The old habit
of gesture comes back in times of deepest emotion, and both girls
understood, without need of words, Susan’s reassuring pat of the
shoulder, and Barbara’s tight grasp of the hand.

“Go to bed, children,” said Dr. Grafton, as he came out of the
sick-room to the hall where Barbara and Jack stood together. “We need
absolute quiet and plenty of air for the boy. There’ll be no change for
several hours, and you want all the sleep you can get.”

“I can’t sleep,” protested Jack.

“But you can _rest_, and you must do it,” answered his father. “We may
need you both—later.”

“You’ll call us,” said Jack, “if—”

“Yes,” said his father, “I will.”

Jack turned, without a word, to his own room, and Barbara heard him
throw himself on the bed with a half-stifled moan. She herself opened
her bedroom door and went in. Sleep was out of the question. She fell
upon her knees beside her couch and prayed,—an inarticulate, broken cry
for the help that is beyond human power. Then she lighted her little
night lamp, and sat down before her desk with a volume of Emerson in
her hand. She turned to the essay on Compensation, and read, her eyes
seeking and finding the detached sentences that seemed written for her:—

    We cannot part with our friends. We cannot let our
    angels go. We do not see that they only go out that
    archangels may come in. . . . We cannot again find
    aught so dear, so sweet, so graceful. But we sit
    and weep in vain. . . . The death of a dear . . .
    brother . . . breaks up a wonted occupation, or a
    household. . . . But . . . the man or woman who would
    have remained a sunny garden flower with no room for
    its roots and too much sunshine for its head, by the
    falling of the walls and the neglect of the gardener is
    made the banian of the forest, yielding shade and fruit
    to wide neighborhoods of men.

Barbara dropped the book hastily. “There’s no compensation in that!”
she said bitterly. Then she picked up a bit of paper, and put the cry
of her heart into a few crude words.

Her father, coming into the room two hours later, found her there at
her desk, her tear-stained face bowed on her arms. The pencil was still
in her hand. Dr. Grafton touched her shoulder gently, but the girl did
not waken. He hesitated for a moment, hoping for the right words to
tell her, and as he did so his eyes fell upon the crumpled paper before
him. It read:—

          THE BANIAN TREE

    The flower grows beside the wall,—
    A little, sheltered thing,
    And over it the sunbeams fall
    And merry linnets sing.
    No usefulness it has in life
    So weak it is, and small,
    And yet how happily it grows
    Beside the shielding wall.

    The banian tree grows tall and straight,
    It sends its branches wide;
    Beneath its shade the pilgrims wait,
    The travelers abide.
    They praise it, lying on the sward;
    But what is that to me?
    Forgive me, Lord; but it is hard
    To be a banian tree!

The doctor’s eyes filled. “Thank God,” he said, “she won’t have to be,
this time!”



CHAPTER XII

THE END OF THE INTERREGNUM


THE Grafton children stood in a row, watching their father and Barbara
establish David in the big Morris chair, on the occasion of his first
trip downstairs. Joy and awe were struggling for supremacy in their
hearts, but were carefully concealed after the fashion of young America.

“Well, David,” said Jack, jocularly, “you look just exactly like a
collapsed balloon. Remember how nice and round you used to be? Now,
hurry up and get there again. It was becoming.”

“He reminds me of the pictures of the famine-sufferers in India,”
remarked Gassy. “How their ribs did stick out, and how funny their
hands were,—like claws.”

“David looks to me like the sweetest small boy ever made,” said
Barbara, quietly, as she bent down to kiss the pale lips of the little
fellow, and tucked the afghan around him more closely.

“Puzzle,—find David!” called Jack. And indeed, the child seemed lost
in the huge chair, his wasted little face wearing a faint smile of
contentment at being the centre of so much attention.

“If you children continue to talk so loudly, you will have to leave,”
said Dr. Grafton, as he prepared to depart. “Barbara, you will see that
David has all the quiet he needs, of course.”

The Kid raised himself from the floor, where he had been wriggling in
the imaginary likeness of a boa constrictor.

“Everybody talks about David,” he said jealously. “Aren’t I the baby
any more?”

“You’ll always be a baby,” consoled Jack; “a great big baby, even when
you are as old as I am. So don’t worry.”

Gassy laughed, and the Kid looked puzzled. “Babies always cry,” he said
reflectively.

“Yes?” said Jack.

“Then you must be a baby too,” added the Kid, with triumph, “’cause I
saw you cry when we first saw David. I didn’t cry at all.”

“No, you young sinner,” returned his elder brother. “You’ve made a
picnic of the whole thing. I’ll bet a cookie you’ve had a good half of
every bit of food that has been sent to David. Hasn’t he, Barbara?”

“People have been very kind,” said his sister, disregarding his
question. “But really, if Miss Bates brings another installment of
preserved plums, I don’t know what I shall do. David can’t eat them,
and I’ve explained it to her; but she insists that they are the
best things possible for him, and brings them every other day, with
unvarying regularity.”

“Let them come,” said Jack, “and Charles and I will advance to the
onslaught, and deliver David from the attacks of the enemy. Plums,
chicken-broth—even quail—let them continue to flow in abundantly, and
fail to mention to Auburn that David is not an ostrich.”

“I guess Mrs. Willowby understands,” observed Gassy, impersonally.
“She asked me if David enjoyed the wine jelly she sent yesterday, and
I said I didn’t know, but that Jack said it was the best he had ever
tasted.”

“Thunder!” exclaimed Jack, turning very red. “Gassy, you do bear away
the palm for unpalatable honesty. Why is it, I wonder, that every
really honest person is disagreeable, too?”

“Letters!” said Dr. Grafton, reappearing opportunely. “Two for you,
Barbara, one from your mother, marked ‘Personal,’ and the other
postmarked New York. David, how would you like to see your mother
again?”

The little boy looked up and smiled at his father. “I wish she’d come,”
he said. “She’s never seen me since I was a sufferer from India. I was
a balloon when she left.”

“Well, you will soon have a chance to show her how fast you are getting
well,” replied the doctor, smiling. “I wrote her the whole story of
last month, the other day, since she is so much stronger, and here is
her answer. She will be at home at six o’clock this very afternoon.”

The children all exclaimed at once, even Gassy, who threw her
arms around Jack’s neck and hugged him, quite forgetting her usual
self-repression, and his recent thrust at her honesty.

“Hurray!” cried Jack, joyfully, escaping from Gassy and twirling a
small chair in air. “It seems too good to be true.”

Barbara said nothing. She glanced at her father, who returned her look
with one of understanding. They were both thinking of the home-coming
as it might have been.

“I forget about mother, some,” remarked the Kid. “Was she as nice as
Barbara?”

David answered him. “They’re both the same kind,” he said quaintly,
“but mother’s mother. That’s all the difference.”

“We must have a house clean and pretty enough for mother to come back
to,” said Barbara, smiling at the invalid. “Gassy, you will have to
help a little; there will be so much to do. Jack, take care of David
for a little while, please.”

“I don’t mind helping,” said Gassy, as they left the room together.
“I’d sweep the whole house, if it would bring mother back. I wonder
how she’ll think I look, with my hair bobbity. Mercy, Barbara; you
dropped one of your letters. Here it is.”

“I’ll open it now,” said Barbara, sitting down on the stairs. “Why,
it’s from the Infant.”

The Infant’s letter was short and to the point.

“You haven’t written me or the other girls for three months,” it
began; “and I shall punish you. I shan’t tell you that Atalanta is
engaged, and that the Sphinx is too, though how it happened, I don’t
see. The man must have been able to answer some of her mathematical
riddles, or he never could have reached her heart. And I won’t tell
you about my summer abroad,—not a word,—nor how Knowledge is going to
be a post-grad. at Columbia, and visit me at the end of every week.
You don’t deserve a line, Barbara Grafton! But I am writing to tell
you that I just heard—no matter how—that you refused the Eastman
Scholarship, and to ask you mildly whether you are insane. With all
your talent and ability, Babbie, how could you refuse it? Every one
always knew that you should have had it in the first place. Now you
surely are not going to stay in that little town of yours that you have
so often ridiculed. There is only one reason by which I can account for
it, and I don’t think you can be in love.”

Barbara laughed aloud, and folded up the letter. “To think that I
wanted it so much,” she said aloud, unconsciously. “What if I had not
been here this autumn!”

“Hadn’t been here?” repeated Gassy. “Why, Barbara! Did you ever think
of leaving us?”

Barbara threw an arm around her sister’s shoulders. “I wouldn’t leave
you for anything,” she said.

They had reached the kitchen, and had fallen to work together. “It’s
too bad we haven’t a servant,” said Gassy, “though you do cook very
well now, Barbara. Only I’d like mother to come home and find a girl in
the kitchen.”

“It’s too bad, indeed,” returned Barbara, cheerfully. “But remember how
we were helped when David was ill; and think how Mrs. Willowby gave
up her own maid to us for so long, and of all that Susan did. I’m so
happy over David that I don’t mind cooking nowadays. And you are a nice
little assistant, Gassy.”

The nice little assistant glowed with pleasure. “Know why?” she
inquired.

“No; why?”

“Hair!” replied Gassy, laconically. “Hair and clothes. You were pretty
good to me that dreadful day when the hair went, and you make me look
so much nicer. I like you very much, Barbara,”—Gassy never used the
word “love,”—“and I don’t think college has hurt you one bit, no matter
what Miss Bates says. It’s just as Jack says,—your A. B. stands for A
Brick, instead of A Bachelor.”

“Did he say that?” said Barbara, laughing at the unexpected conclusion,
as she leaned over and patted the stiff little shoulder near her.

“You’re a dear little sister,” she said. “Who’s that?”

A loud knock had sounded at the door.

“Come in!” called Barbara.

The door opened slowly; a puffing man, carrying a small trunk, entered,
and dropped it heavily on the floor. It was the Vegetable Man.

“Why—what—” began Barbara.

The Vegetable Man smiled at her serenely. “She’s comin’,” he said,
and disappeared, leaving Barbara and Gassy staring at each other in
astonishment.

Suddenly the door reopened, and there appeared the Vegetable Man’s
daughter, as untidy and breezy as ever.

“I’ve come back,” she said. “I heerd you was wantin’ help, so I come
over. Guess I’ll _stay, this_ time. Shall I hang my hat here?”

“But—your husband—” began Barbara.

“_Him? Why_, don’t you know?” returned the Vegetable Man’s daughter,
serenely. “I didn’t like ’im after we was married. He drank. So I come
home.”

“Drank!” cried Gassy, in horror.

The Vegetable Man’s daughter nodded. “Like a fish!” she added. “’Twan’t
a day before he began. Stood it two months, I did, an’ then I lit out.
Come home, an’ it wasn’t excitin’ enough for me, so when I heerd you
was still without, I come over ag’in. Miss Barbara, if you don’t tell
me what to git for dinner, there won’t be no time for gittin’.”

Barbara started. “You took me so by surprise, Libbie,” she said, “that
I can scarcely think. I’m delighted to have you back, especially since
mother is coming home to-day.”

“Want to know!” ejaculated the girl. “Landed right in the middle of
excitement, didn’t I?”

“Yes; and we’re going to celebrate with a grand supper,” put in Gassy,
thinking it best to break the news at once.

“You bet!” cried the Vegetable Man’s daughter, cheerfully. “Nothing’s
too good for your ma. Now, Miss Barbara, what meat? Or do you still go
without?”

Barbara hesitated. In that moment’s hesitation there was involved
more than the ordering of a dinner. Theory had its last battle with
Practicality, and came out with drooping colors. But Dr. Grafton would
have been relieved in regard to the stability of Barbara’s sense of
humor, if he could have heard the laugh with which she admitted her own
defeat. “I will order some steak,” she said.

“It’s too good to be true,” she said joyfully to Gassy, as they left
the kitchen. “I declare, I scarcely know where I am, I am so glad.
Isn’t it beautiful when things unexpectedly work out right?”

“Glad the Vegetable Man’s daughter’s husband drank?” inquired Gassy.

Barbara laughed again, and did not answer.

The morning flew by as if Father Time had suddenly borrowed the
wings of Mercury. Barbara dusted and straightened the rooms, putting
everything in immaculate order. Many little duties, which had been
disregarded during David’s illness, suddenly came to her recollection,
and the girl essayed to finish them all. She resolved that her reign
should end in a blaze of glory, and that her mother should see that
the Interregnum had not been entirely discreditable to the House of
Grafton. Gassy, a willing assistant, performed unwonted miracles in
the way of dusting, at the same time keeping up an unending flow of
conversation.

They were putting the finishing touches to the living-room, where David
still sat, waited upon cheerfully by the Kid, when the doorbell rang
vigorously. The door opened without ceremony and a strident voice in
the hall called, “Barbara Grafton!”

“It’s Miss Bates!” exclaimed Barbara, in a low tone. “Run and take her
into the library, Gassy.”

But it was too late.

“Oh, here you are!” said Miss Bates, appearing in the doorway. “I came
right in because I thought you were probably not dressed to answer the
bell. Barbara, I brought in some more plums because I know David ought
to eat ’em to build him up.”

“I am so sorry,” said Barbara. “But father says they are still too much
for him.”

“Your father don’t know, Barbara; no, he don’t. Men never know about
such things. Now there ain’t much sugar in ’em—”

“Never mind!” interposed the Kid, courageously. “Never mind, Miss
Bates, I’ll eat ’em. Jack says”—

“Hey?” ejaculated the spinster.

“Charles,” warned Barbara, “you—”

“Jack says to let you give ’em and we’ll eat ’em,” continued the Kid,
determined to finish his sentence.

Miss Bates glared at him. “Barbara,” she said, “I don’t know why it
is, but I get insulted by these children every time I put my nose into
this house. Now I don’t want to complain, but I’ve a mind to tell you
what Charles did to me last night. I was laying the table for supper,
and I’d left the window open for air, and all of a sudden that child’s
head was in the window, and he says, ‘Mercy on us, Birdine, is that all
you’ve got for supper?’”

The Kid disappeared under the sofa like a whipped dog. Barbara closed
her lips tight, to keep from smiling.

“Well, of course,” put in Gassy, “the Kid is always used to plenty of
food, you see.”

Miss Bates glared again. “Is that why he wants to eat up my plums?” she
inquired. “No, Barbara, I’ll take ’em back, since you won’t let David
eat ’em. And I want to tell you now, that I don’t intend to come to
this house again under any circumstances, since these children are so
rude, till your ma comes home, no matter _how_ long it is!”

“But she’s coming home to-day!” burst from both David and Gassy, in
dismayed unison.

Miss Bates gave them a queer look, flashed a disdainful glance at
Barbara, and left the house.

“It’s no use to scold you, Charles,” said Barbara, as she extricated
the child from his hiding-place. “But I am glad that mother is coming
to take the burden of your dreadful speeches. Now see if you _can_ stay
good until supper-time.”

She left the room to arrange the details of the feast, and as she
passed through the hall, she came upon the letter marked “Personal”
which she had left forgotten on the table.

“I declare!” said she, sitting down on the stairs again. “I believe
I am going crazy with joy to-day. I have forgotten one thing after
another.”

She opened the letter eagerly, and as she did so, stray words caught
her eye,—“undoubted talent,”—“unquestionable success,” etc. She turned
to the first page and read:—

    DEAR LITTLE GIRL,—For you are a little girl to me, and
    always will be, in spite of your twenty-one years,—I
    have something to tell you which cannot wait until I
    reach home. It is also somewhat of a confession, and
    I am sure that you will absolve me when you have read
    this.

    I wonder if you have realized how very entertaining
    your letters have been, and what a godsend they were
    to me in this tedious place. They were so clever that
    I could not help reading them to a few of the friends
    whom I have made here. One of them is Hugh S. Black,
    whom I have often mentioned, you remember, and who
    has been slowly recovering from an attack of nervous
    prostration. He grew very much interested in your
    letters,—so much so, that I had not the heart to refuse
    to read them. I told him of your desire to write, and
    of the piles of rejected psychological studies which
    have been mounting up on your desk. In fact, you told
    him, yourself, although you were not aware of it. We
    have often talked you over, and he thinks that you have
    undoubted talent, and can gain unquestionable success
    in writing for publication, if you will be willing to
    attempt the kind of things that lie within your own
    experience. Mr. Black said the other day, “Your girl
    has wit, humor, an excellent power of description, the
    faculty of seeing things as they are, and of describing
    them from an original point of view. Why won’t she
    write stories or sketches dealing with every-day life,
    instead of such nonsense as ‘The Effect of Imagination
    on the Habits of the Child’?”

    This morning, Mr. Black asked me if I would not
    request you to read over your letters and change them
    into proper form for a story, which he will be glad
    to publish serially in his magazine, if the finished
    product meets with his approval. This is a splendid
    opportunity for you, little daughter, and I advise you
    to grasp it.

    Are you disappointed to find that your talents do
    not lie along the psychological paths of lofty,
    intellectual labor? Does this story of your experiences
    of one summer seem too trivial for your effort? I think
    not, my dear, if the change in the tone of your letters
    can be depended upon for inference. We shall talk this
    over when I am once more at home, and can relieve my
    brave, strong girl of the burdens which she has borne
    for four long months.

There was more in the letter, but Barbara did not read it. She danced
about the hall with such abandon that her father opened his office
door, and regarded her with amazement.

“Has my housekeeper taken leave of her senses?” he asked affectionately.

“On the contrary,” returned Barbara, saucily, “she has just regained
them. Father dear, I realize that we must not all aspire to high
tragedy or classic sublimity. High comedy seems to be more in my line.”

Her father looked at her with his eyes softening more and more. “Come
in here,” he said, and closed the door behind them.

“Barbara, my dear,” he began, looking at her over his spectacles, “I
have a kind of confession to make to you.”

“Another one!” thought Barbara.

“When you came home last June, things were a little hard for you, and
seemed still harder, didn’t they?”

“Well, rather!” said Barbara, slangily.

“Your point of view was young and uncompromising, and—yes—rather
toploftical.”

“I know it.”

Her father smiled. “You surveyed the world from a collegiate summit,
and found it woefully lacking. Well, so it is lacking, but all the
advice from all the lofty heights in the world will never make it
better. We must come down into the plain, and struggle with the common
herd, and help to raise it by our individual effort; glad to be a
living, toiling part of great humanity, like every one else; never the
isolated, censorious onlooker who does not share the common lot. This
is one of the hardest lessons for youth to learn, and I have watched
you learn it, during all these long, hard months.”

“If I only have really learned it!” put in Barbara.

“I have stood aside,” her father continued. “Sometimes I did not help
you, even when I might, and you thought me undiscerning or abstracted.
Barbara, my dear, you have done it all yourself, and I am very, very
proud of my firstborn.”

Barbara crimsoned with pleasure. “I’ve made awfully silly mistakes,”
she said, “and you have been _so_ dear and patient.”

She kissed her father gratefully. As she went upstairs, her mind
was filled with wonder that she should ever have misunderstood him
so completely, and have complacently ascribed to herself intellect
and culture and knowledge superior to his. She found herself feeling
actually grateful for the events of her life since June.

“What if I had never known his darlingness!” she said.

It was not many hours before Auburn knew of the expected arrival of
Mrs. Grafton. Miss Bates had constituted herself an information
bureau, and had flitted hither and thither with an alacrity not at all
hindered by her rage against the younger Graftons.

About four o’clock in the afternoon, as Barbara was giving capable
directions in the kitchen, a knock sounded on the door.

“I just ran in this way,” said Susan, “because I wanted to congratulate
you, and to see if you don’t want this chocolate cake for supper.
Barbara, what are you laughing at?”

“This is the third cake I have received to-day for mother,” giggled
Barbara, “and four chickens are waiting to be consumed. But put it
down, Sue dear, and Jack will make a hole in it very soon.”

“Well, anyway,” Susan declared, “it’s because every one loves your
mother so much! And it is also because every one recognizes your pluck.”

“Everybody in this whole town is lovely!” answered Barbara.

Susan smiled. But there was no triumph in her face, only joy that her
friend had come into her own.

“It is half-past five!” announced Barbara from the window-seat of the
living-room. “Father has gone to the train almost an hour ahead of
time. Everything in the house is in perfect order; supper is nearly
ready; David isn’t tired; and we are all ‘neatly and tastefully
attired’ for the occasion. Won’t mother be impressed!”

“Not by Gassy,” answered Jack. “Gassy has a hole in her stocking above
her shoe, and I don’t know how many below. Her waist has two buttons
missing in the back; still, her hair is somewhat improved, and that’s
one comfort.”

“I look as well as you,” retorted Gassy, carrying the work-basket over
to her sister. “You have some soot on your face, and I won’t tell you
where, and nobody else shall, either.”

“Am I clean?” asked David, plaintively.

“Clean!” exclaimed Jack. “Why, David, you’re as clean as a piece of
blank paper, and just as thin. Turn your face to mother when she comes
in, for she won’t be able to see you if she catches a glimpse of you
sideways.”

“How tiresome you are, Jack!” observed Gassy, condescendingly. “I—”

She was interrupted by a series of bumps and scrapings in the cellar
below, followed by a strange wailing moan.

“Hark from the tombs a doleful sound!” cried Jack, rising. “I’ll bet a
quarter it’s the Kid.”

It was the Kid. Clad in a clean white sailor suit, and finding time
pressing heavily on his hands, he had bethought himself of a gift with
which to meet his mother,—none other than one of the new kittens which
had been born two weeks before and were now passing their infancy on
an old rug at the bottom of a barrel in the cellar. Having made an
expedition to the barrel, the Kid had endeavored to gain one of the
feline offspring by reaching over into the dark depths, with a logical
result of falling headlong into the barrel. The muffled shrieks which
the family heard, and the sounds of scraping, were such as would
naturally proceed from the attempts of a small boy to rescue himself
from an uncomfortable posture. When Jack arrived upon the scene, the
Kid had just succeeded in freeing himself by tipping over the barrel
and crawling out. Being blinded and confused by the length of time in
which he had been standing on his head, he had made a wild dive for the
door, and found himself prone on the piles of coal on the cellar floor.

“Well, here’s a mess!” cried Jack, with disgust, picking him up and
dragging him along to the upper regions. “Look at this, Barbara; and
there are only ten minutes to change his clothes.”

Barbara hurried the little boy upstairs without a word of reproach. She
washed him quickly, and was struggling with a stiff new linen suit,
when the sound of a carriage came to her ears.

“I love you, Barbara, for changing me,” the Kid said humbly.

She kissed him affectionately. “Now your tie,—there!”

The carriage had stopped. She heard Jack’s excited voice downstairs.
The Kid made a desperate wriggle from her and fled down the steps,
shouting for his mother. Barbara felt a sudden pang as he left her,—a
pang of loneliness and desertion. She stood still a moment, and then,
almost before she had time to move, a quick step sounded on the stairs,
a new, fresh mother came swiftly into the room, and two strong, firm
arms held her close.

“Barbara, my brave, splendid daughter!” said the most motherly voice in
the world.

Barbara’s reign was over.


      The Riverside Press
    CAMBRIDGE . MASSACHUSETTS
           U . S . A





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