"This wrangle," sighed Mr. Perkins, "is both unseemly and sordid. Let us all agree to abide by dear Uncle Ebeneezer's last bequests."
"There won't be no desire not to abide by 'em," snorted Mrs. Smithers, "wot with cats as can't stay buried and sheeted spectres of the dead a-walkin' through the house by night!"
By this time, Mrs. Dodd had the box open, and a cry of astonishment broke from her lips. Several heads were badly bumped in the effort to peep into the box, and an unprotected sneeze from Uncle Israel added to the general unpleasantness.
"You can all go away," cried Mrs. Dodd, shrilly. "There's two one-dollar bills here, two quarters, an' two nickels an' eight pennies. 'T aint nothin' to be fit over."
"But the letter," suggested Mr. Perkins, hopefully. "Is there not a letter from dear Uncle Ebeneezer? Let us gather around the box in a reverent spirit and listen to dear Uncle Ebeneezer's last words."
"You can read 'em," snapped Mrs. Holmes, "if you're set on hearing."
Uncle Israel wheezed so loudly that for the moment he drowned the deep purr of Claudius Tiberius. When quiet was restored, Mr. Perkins broke the seal of the envelope and unfolded the communication within. Uncle Israel held the dripping candle on one side and Mrs. Smithers the smoking lantern on the other, while near by, Dick watched the midnight assembly with an unholy glee which, in spite of his efforts, nearly became audible.
"How beautiful," said Mr. Perkins, "to think that dear Uncle Ebeneezer's last words should be given to us in this unexpected but original way."
"Shut up," said Mrs. Smithers, emphatically, "and read them last words. I'm gettin' the pneumony now, that's wot I am."
"You're the only one," chirped Mrs. Dodd, hysterically. "The money in this here box is all old." It was, indeed. Mr. Judson seemed to have purposely chosen ragged bills and coins worn smooth.
"'Dear Relations,'" began Mr. Perkins. "'As every one of you have at one time or another routed me out of bed to let you in when you have come to my house on the night train, and always uninvited——'"
"I never did," interrupted Mrs. Holmes. "I always came in the daytime."
"Nobody ain't come at night," explained Mrs. Smithers, "since 'e fixed the 'ouse over into a face. One female fainted dead away when 'er started up the hill and see it a-winkin' at 'er, yes sir, that's wot 'er did!"
"'It seems only fitting and appropriate,'" continued Mr. Perkins, "'that you should all see how it seems.'" The poet wiped his massive brow with his soiled handkerchief. "Dear uncle!" he commented.
"Yes," wheezed Uncle Israel, "'dear uncle!' Damn his stingy old soul," he added, with uncalled-for emphasis.
"It gives me pleasure to explain in this fashion my disposal of my estate," the reader went on, huskily.
"Of all the connection on both sides, there is only one that has never been to see me, unless I've forgotten some, and that is my beloved nephew, James Harlan Carr."
"Him," creaked Uncle Israel. "Him, as never see Ebeneezer."
"He has never," continued the poet, with difficulty, "rung my door bell at night, nor eaten me out of house and home, nor written begging letters—" this phrase was well-nigh inaudible—"nor had fits on me——"
Here there was a pause and all eyes were fastened upon Uncle Israel.
"'T wa'n't a fit!" he screamed. "It was a involuntary spasm brought on by takin' two searchin' medicines too near together. 'T wa'n't a fit!"
"The idea!" snapped Mrs. Holmes. "Poor little Ebbie and Rebbie had to be born somewhere."
"That was Cousin Si Martin," said Mrs. Dodd, half to herself. "He was took bad with it in the night."
"He has never come to spend Christmas with me and remained until the ensuing dog days, nor sent me a crayon portrait of himself"—Mr. Perkins faltered here, but nobly went on—"nor had typhoid fever, nor finished up his tuberculosis, nor cut teeth, nor set the house on fire with a bath cabinet——"
At this juncture Uncle Israel was so overcome with violent emotion that it was some time before the reading could proceed.
"Never having come into any kind of relations with my dear nephew, James Harlan Carr," continued Mr. Perkins, in troubled tones, "I have shown my gratitude in this humble way. To him I give the house and all my furniture, my books and personal effects of every kind, my farm in Hill County, two thousand acres, all improved and clear of incumbrance, except blooded stock,——"
"I never knowed 'e 'ad no farm," interrupted Mrs. Smithers.
"And the ten thousand and eighty-four dollars in the City Bank which at this writing is there to my credit, but will be duly transferred, and my dear Rebecca's diamond pin to be given to my beloved nephew's wife when he marries. It is all in my will, which my dear friend Jeremiah Bradford has, and which he will read at the proper time to those concerned."
"The old snake!" shrieked Mrs. Holmes.
"Further," went on the poet, almost past speech by this time, "I direct that the remainder of my estate, which is here in this box, shall be divided as follows:
"Eight cents each to that loafer, Si Martin, his lazy wife, and their eight badly brought-up children, with instructions to be generous to any additions to said children through matrimony or natural causes; Fanny Wood and that poor, white-livered creature she married, thereby proving her own idiocy if it needed proof; Uncle James's cross-eyed third wife and her two silly daughters; Rebecca's sister's scoundrelly second husband, with his foolish wife and their little boy with a face like a pug dog; Uncle Jason, who has needed a bath ever since I knew him—I want he should spend his legacy for soap—and his epileptic stepson, whose name I forget, though he lived with me five years hand-running; lying Sally Simmons and her half-witted daughter; that old hen, Belinda Dodd; that skunk, Harold Vernon Perkins, who never did a stroke of honest work in his life till he began to dig for this box; monkey-faced Lucretia and the four thieving little Riley children, who are likely to get into prison when they grow up; that human undertaker's waggon, Betsey Skiles, and her two impudent nieces; that grand old perambulating drug store, Israel Skiles; that Holmes fool with the three reprints of her ugliness—eight cents apiece, and may you get all possible good out of it.
"Dick Chester, however, having always paid his board, and tried to be a help to me in several small ways, and in spite of having lived with me eight Summers or more without having been asked to do so, gets two thousand two hundred and fifty dollars which is deposited for him in the savings department of the Metropolitan Bank, plus the three hundred and seventy dollars he paid me for board without my asking him for it. Sarah Smithers, being in the main a good woman, though sharp-tongued at times, and having been faithful all the time my house has been full of lowdown cusses too lazy to work for their living, gets twelve hundred and fifty dollars which is in the same bank as Dick's. The rest of you take your eight cents apiece and be damned. You can get the money changed at the store. If any have been left out, it is my desire that those remembered should divide with the unfortunate.
"If you had not all claimed to be Rebecca's relatives, you would have been kicked out of my house years ago, but since writing this, I have seen Rebecca and made it right with her. It was not her desire that I should be imposed upon.
"Get out of my house, every one of you, before noon to-morrow, and the devil has my sincere sympathy when you go to live with him and make hell what you have made my house ever since Rebecca's death. GET OUT!!!
The letter was badly written and incoherent, yet there could be no doubt of its meaning, nor of the state of mind in which it had been penned. For a moment, there was a tense silence, then Mrs. Dodd tittered hysterically.
"We thought diamonds was goin' to be trumps," she observed, "an' it turned out to be spades."
Uncle Israel wheezed again and Mrs. Smithers smacked her lips with intense satisfaction. Mrs. Holmes was pale with anger, and, under cover of the night, Dick sneaked back to his room, shame-faced, yet happy. Claudius Tiberius still purred, sticking his claws into the bark with every evidence of pleasure.
"I do not know," said Mr. Perkins, sadly, running his fingers through his mane, "whether we are obliged to take as final these vagaries of a dying man. Dear Uncle Ebeneezer could not have been sane when he penned this cruel letter. I do not believe it was his desire to have any of us go away before the usual time." Under cover of these forgiving sentiments, he pocketed all the money in the box.
"Me neither," said Mrs. Dodd. "Anyhow, I'm goin' to stay. No sheeted spectre can't scare me away from a place I've always stayed in Summers, 'specially," she added, sarcastically, "when I'm remembered in the will."
Mrs. Smithers clucked disagreeably and went back to the house. Uncle Israel looked after her with dismay. "Do you suppose," he queried, in falsetto, "that she'll tell the Carrs?"
"Hush, Israel," replied Mrs. Dodd. "She can't tell them Carrs about our diggin' all night in the orchard, 'cause she was here herself. They didn't get no spirit communication an' they won't suspect nothin'. We'll just stay where we be an' go on 's if nothin' had happened."
Indeed, this seemed the wisest plan, and, shivering with the cold, the baffled ones filed back to the Jack-o'-Lantern. "How did you get out, Israel?" whispered Mrs. Dodd, as they approached the house.
The old man snickered. It was the only moment of the evening he had thoroughly enjoyed. "The same spirit that give me the letter, Belinda," he returned, pleasantly, "also give me a key. You didn't think I had no flyin' machine, did you?"
"Humph" grunted Mrs. Dodd. "Spirits don't carry no keys!"
At the threshold they paused, the sensitive poet quite unstrung by the night's adventure. From the depths of the Jack-o'-Lantern came a shrill, infantile cry.
"Is that Ebbie," asked Mrs. Dodd, "or Rebbie?"
Mrs. Holmes turned upon her with suppressed fury. "Don't you ever dare to allude to my children in that manner again," she commanded, hoarsely.
"What is their names?" quavered Uncle Israel, lighting his candle.
"Their names," returned Mrs. Holmes, with a vast accession of dignity, "are Gladys Gwendolen and Algernon Paul! Good night!"
Just before dawn, a sheeted spectre appeared at the side of Sarah Smither's bed, and swore the trembling woman to secrecy. It was long past sunrise before the frightened handmaiden came to her senses enough to recall that the voice of the apparition had been strangely like Mrs. Dodd's.
The next morning, Harlan and Dorothy ate breakfast by themselves. There was suppressed excitement in the manner of Mrs. Smithers, who by this time had quite recovered from her fright, and, as they readily saw, not wholly of an unpleasant kind. From time to time she tittered audibly—a thing which had never happened before.
"It's just as if a tombstone should giggle," remarked Harlan. His tone was low, but unfortunately, it carried well.
"Tombstone or not, just as you like," responded Mrs. Smithers, as she came in with the bacon. "I'd be careful 'ow I spoke disrespectfully of tombstones if I was in your places, that's wot I would. Tombstones is kind to some and cussed to others, that's wot they are, and if you don't like the monument wot's at present in your kitchen, you know wot you can do."
After breakfast, she beckoned Dorothy into the kitchen, and "gave notice."
"Oh, Mrs. Smithers," cried Dorothy, almost moved to tears, "please don't leave me in the lurch! What should I do without you, with all these people on my hands? Don't think of such a thing as leaving me!"
"Miss Carr," said Mrs. Smithers, solemnly, with one long bony finger laid alongside of her hooked nose, "'t ain't necessary for you to run no Summer hotel, that's what it ain't. These 'ere all be relations of your uncle's wife and none of his'n except by marriage. Wot's more, your uncle don't want 'em 'ere, that's wot 'e don't."
Mrs. Smithers's tone was so confident that for the moment Dorothy was startled, remembering yesterday's vague allusion to "sheeted spectres of the dead."
"What do you mean?" she demanded.
"Miss Carr," returned Mrs. Smithers, with due dignity, "ever since I come 'ere, I've been invited to shut my 'ead whenever I opened it about that there cat or your uncle or anythink, as you well knows. I was never one wot was fond of 'avin' my 'ead shut up."
"Go on," said Dorothy, her curiosity fully alive, "and tell me what you mean."
"You gives me your solemn oath, Miss, that you won't tell me to shut my 'ead?" queried Mrs. Smithers.
"Of course," returned Dorothy, trying to be practical, though the atmosphere was sepulchral enough.
"Well, then, you knows wot I told you about that there cat. 'E was kilt by your uncle, that's wot 'e was, and your uncle couldn't never abide cats. 'E was that feared of 'em 'e couldn't even bury 'em when they was kilt, and one of my duties, Miss, as long as I lived with 'im, was buryin' of cats, and until this one, I never come up with one wot couldn't stay buried, that's wot I 'aven't.
"'E 'ated 'em like poison, that's wot 'e did. The week afore your uncle died, he kilt this 'ere cat wot's chasin' the chickens now, and I buried 'im with my own hands, but could 'e stay buried? 'E could not. No sooner is your uncle dead and gone than this 'ere cat comes back, and it's the truth, Miss Carr, for where 'e was buried, there ain't no sign of a cat now. Wot's worse, this 'ere cat looks per-cisely like your uncle, green eyes, white shirt front, black tie and all. It's enough to give a body the shivers to see 'im a-settin' on the kitchen floor lappin' up 'is mush and milk, the which your uncle was so powerful fond of.
"Wot's more," continued Mrs. Smithers, in tones of awe, "I'll a'most bet my immortal soul that if you'll dig in the cemetery where your uncle was buried good and proper, you won't find nothin' but the empty coffin and maybe 'is grave clothes. Your uncle's been livin' with us all along in that there cat," she added, triumphantly. "It's 'is punishment, for 'e couldn't never abide 'em, that's wot 'e couldn't."
Mrs. Carr opened her mouth to speak, then, remembering her promise, took refuge in flight.
"'Er's scared," muttered Mrs. Smithers, "and no wonder. Wot with cats as can't stay buried, writin' letters and deliverin' 'em in the dead of night, and a purrin' like mad while blamed fools digs for eight cents, most folks would be scared, I take it, that's wot they would."
Dorothy was pale when she went into the library where Harlan was at work. He frowned at the interruption and Dorothy smiled back at him—it seemed so normal and sane.
"What is it, Dorothy?" he asked, not unkindly.
"Oh—just Mrs. Smithers's nonsense. She's upset me."
"What about, dear?" Harlan put his work aside readily enough now.
"Oh, the same old story about the cat and Uncle Ebeneezer. And I'm afraid——"
"Afraid of what?"
"I know it's foolish, but I'm afraid she's going to dig in the cemetery to see if Uncle Ebeneezer is still there. She thinks he's in the cat."
For the moment, Harlan thought Dorothy had suddenly lost her reason, then he laughed heartily.
"Don't worry," he said, "she won't do anything of the kind, and, besides, what if she did? It's a free country, isn't it?"
"And—there's another thing, Harlan." For days she had dreaded to speak of it, but now it could be put off no longer.
"It's—it's money," she went on, unwillingly. "I'm afraid I haven't managed very well, or else it's cost so much for everything, but we're—we're almost broke, Harlan," she concluded, bravely, trying to smile.
Harlan put his hands in his pockets and began to walk back and forth. "If I can only finish the book," he said, at length, "I think we'll be all right, but I can't leave it now. There's only two more chapters to write, and then——"
"And then," cried Dorothy, her beautiful belief in him transfiguring her face, "then we'll be rich, won't we?"
"I am already rich," returned Harlan, "when you have such faith in me as that."
For a moment the shimmering veil of estrangement which so long had hung between them, seemed to part, and reveal soul to soul. As swiftly the mood changed and Dorothy felt it first, like a chill mist in the air. Neither dreamed that with the writing of the first paragraph in the book, the spell had claimed one of them for ever—that cobweb after cobweb, of gossamer fineness, should make a fabric never to be broken; that on one side of it should stand a man who had exchanged his dreams for realities and his realities for dreams, and on the other, a woman, blindly hurt, eternally straining to see beyond the veil.
"What can we do?" asked Harlan, unwontedly practical for the nonce.
"I don't know," said Dorothy. "There are the diamonds, you know, that we found. I don't care for any diamonds, except the one you gave me. If we could sell those——"
"Dorothy, don't. I don't believe they're ours, and if they were, they shouldn't be sold. You should keep them."
"My engagement ring, then," suggested Dorothy, her lips trembling. "That's ours."
"Don't be foolish," said Harlan, a little roughly. "I'll finish this and then we'll see what's to be done."
Feeling her dismissal, Dorothy went out, and, all unknowingly, straight into the sunshine.
Elaine was coming downstairs, fresh and sweet as the morning itself. "Am I too late to have any breakfast, Mrs. Carr?" she asked, gaily. "I know I don't deserve any."
"Of course you shall have breakfast. I'll see to it."
Elaine took her place at the table and Dorothy, reluctant to put further strain on the frail bond that anchored Mrs. Smithers to her service, brought in the breakfast herself.
"You're so good to me," said the girl, gratefully, as Dorothy poured out a cup of steaming coffee. "To think how beautiful you've been to me, when I never saw either one of you in my whole life, till I came here ill and broken-hearted! See what you've made of me—see how well and strong I am!"
Swiftly, Dorothy bent and kissed Elaine, a strange, shadowy cloud for ever lifted from her heart. She had not known how heavy it was nor how charged with foreboding, until it was gone.
"I want to do something for you," Elaine went on, laughing to hide the mist in her eyes, "and I've just thought what I can do. My mother had some beautiful old mahogany furniture, just loads of it, and some wonderful laces, and I'm going to divide with you."
"No, you're not," returned Dorothy, warmly. She felt that Elaine had already given her enough.
"It isn't meant for payment, Mrs. Carr," the girl went on, her big blue eyes fixed upon Dorothy, "but you're to take it from me just as I've taken this lovely Summer from you. You took in a stranger, weak and helpless and half-crazed with grief, and you've made her into a happy woman again."
Before Dorothy could answer, Dick lounged in, frankly sleepy. "Second call in the dining car?" he asked, taking Mrs. Dodd's place, across the table from Elaine.
"Third call," returned Dorothy, brightly, "and, if you don't mind, I'll leave you two to wait on yourselves." She went upstairs, her heart light, not so much from reality as from prescience. "How true it is," she thought, "that if you only wait and do the best you can, things all work out straight again. I've had to learn it, but I know it now."
"Bully bunch, the Carrs," remarked Dick, pushing his cup to Elaine.
"They're lovely," she answered, with conviction.
The sun streamed brightly into the dining-room of the Jack-o'-Lantern and changed its hideousness into cheer. Seeing Elaine across from him, gracefully pouring his coffee, affected Dick strangely. Since the day before, he had seen clearly something which he must do.
"I say, Elaine," he began, awkwardly. "That beast of a poem I read the other day——"
Her face paled, ever so slightly. "Yes?"
"Well, Perkins didn't write it, you know," Dick went on, hastily. "I did it myself. Or, rather I found it, blowing around, outside, just as I said, and I fixed it."
At length he became restless under the calm scrutiny of Elaine's clear eyes. "I beg your pardon," he continued.
"Did you think," she asked, "that it was nice to make fun of a lady in that way?"
"I didn't think," returned Dick, truthfully. "I never thought for a minute that it was making fun of you, but only of that—that pup, Perkins," he concluded, viciously.
"Under the circumstances," said Elaine, ignoring the epithet, "the silence of Mr. Perkins has been very noble. I shall tell him so."
"Do," answered Dick, with difficulty. "He's ambling up to the lunch-counter now." Mr. Chester went out by way of the window, swallowing hard.
"I have just been told," said Miss St. Clair to the poet, "that the—er—poem was not written by you, and I apologise for what I said."
Mr. Perkins bowed in acknowledgment. "It is a small matter," he said, wearily, running his fingers through his hair. It was, indeed, compared with deep sorrow of a penetrating kind, and a sleepless night, but Elaine did not relish the comment.
"Were—were you restless in the night?" she asked, conventionally.
"I was. I did not sleep at all until after four o'clock, and then only for a few moments."
"I'm sorry. Did—did you write anything?"
"I began an epic," answered the poet, touched, for the moment, by this unexpected sympathy. "An epic in blank verse, on 'Disappointment.'"
"I'm sure it's beautiful," continued Elaine, coldly. "And that reminds me. I have hunted through my room, in every possible place, and found nothing."
A flood of painful emotion overwhelmed the poet, and he buried his face in his hands. In a flash, Elaine was violently angry, though she could not have told why. She marched out of the dining-room and slammed the door. "Delicate, sensitive soul," she said to herself, scornfully. "Wants people to hunt for money he thinks may be hidden in his room, and yet is so far above sordidness that he can't hear it spoken of!"
Seeing Mr. Chester pacing back and forth moodily at some distance from the house, Elaine rushed out to him. "Dick," she cried, "he is a lobster!"
Dick's clouded face brightened. "Is he?" he asked, eagerly, knowing instinctively whom she meant. "Elaine, you're a brick!" They shook hands in token of absolute agreement upon one subject at least, and the girl's right hand hurt her for some little time afterward.
Left to himself, Mr. Perkins mused upon the dread prospect before him. For years he had calculated upon a generous proportion of his Uncle Ebeneezer's estate, and had even borrowed money upon the strength of his expectations. These debts now loomed up inconveniently.
The vulgar, commercial people from whom Mr. Perkins had borrowed filthy coin were quite capable of speaking of the matter, and in an unpleasant manner at that. The fine soul of Mr. Perkins shrank from the ordeal. He had that particular disdain of commercialism which is inseparable from the incapable and unsuccessful, and yet, if the light of his genius were to illuminate a desolate world, Mr. Perkins must have money.
He might even have to degrade himself by coarse toil—and hitherto, he had been too proud to work. The thought was terrible. Pegasus hitched to the plough was nothing compared with the prospect of Mr. Perkins being obliged to earn three or four dollars a week in some humble, common capacity.
Then a bright idea came to his rescue. "Mr. Carr," he thought, "the gentleman who is now entertaining me—he is doing my own kind of work, though of course it is less fine in quality. Perhaps he would like the opportunity of going down to posterity as the humble Maecenas of a new Horace."
Borne to the library in the rush of this attractive idea, Mr. Perkins opened the door, which Harlan had forgotten to lock, and without in any way announcing himself, broke in on Harlan's chapter.
"What do you mean?" demanded the irate author. "What business have you butting in here like this? Get out!"
"I—" stammered Mr. Perkins.
"Get out!" thundered Harlan. It sounded strangely like the last phrase of "dear Uncle Ebeneezer's last communication," and, trembling, the disconsolate poet obeyed. He fled to his own room as a storm-tossed ship to its last harbour, and renewed the composition of his epic on "Disappointment," for which, by this time, he had additional material.
Harlan went back to his work, but the mood was gone. The living, radiant picture had wholly vanished, and in its place was a heap of dead, dry, meaningless words. "Did I write it?" asked Harlan, of himself, "and if so, why?"
Like the mocking fantasy of a dream as seen in the instant of waking, Elaine and her company had gone, as if to return no more. Only two chapters were yet to be written, and he knew, vaguely, what Elaine was about to do when he left her, but his pen had lost the trick of writing.
Deeply troubled, Harlan went to the window, where the outer world still had the curious appearance of unreality. It was as though a sheet of glass were between him and the life of the rest of the world. He could see through it clearly, but the barrier was there, and must always be there. Upon the edge of this glass, the light of life should break and resolve itself into prismatic colours, of which he should see one at a time, now and then more, and often a clear, pitiless view of the world should give him no colour at all.
Presently Lawyer Bradford came up the hill, dressed for a formal call. In a flash it brought back to Harlan the day the old man had first come to the Jack-o'-Lantern, when Dorothy was a happy girl with a care-free boy for a husband. How much had happened since, and how old and grey the world had grown!
"I desire to see the distinguished author, Mr. Carr," the thin, piping voice was saying at the door, "upon a matter of immediate and personal importance. And Mrs. Carr also, if she is at leisure. Privacy is absolutely essential."
"Come into the library," said Harlan, from the doorway. Another interruption made no difference now. Dorothy soon followed, much mystified by the way in which Mrs. Smithers had summoned her.
Remembering the inopportune intrusion of Mr. Perkins, Harlan locked the door. "Now, Mr. Bradford," he said, easily, "what is it?"
"I should have told you before," began the old lawyer, "had not the bonds of silence been laid upon me by one whom we all revere and who is now past carrying out his own desires. The house is yours, as my letters of an earlier date apprised you, and the will is to be probated at the Fall term of court.
"Your uncle," went on Mr. Bradford, unwillingly, "was a great sufferer from—from relations," he added, lowering his voice to a shrill whisper, "and he has chosen to revenge himself for his sufferings in his own way. Of this I am not at liberty to speak, though no definite silence was required of me later than yesterday.
"There is, however, a farm of two thousand acres, all improved, which is still to come to you, and a sum of money amounting to something over ten thousand dollars, in the bank to your credit. The multitudinous duties in connection with the practice of my profession have prevented me from making myself familiar with the exact amount.
"And," he went on, looking at Dorothy, "there is a very beautiful diamond pin, the gift of my lamented friend to his lovely young wife upon the day of the solemnisation of their nuptials, which was to be given to the wife of Mr. Judson's nephew when he should marry. It is sewn in a mattress in the room at the end of the north wing."
The earth whirled beneath Dorothy's feet. At first, she had not fully comprehended what Mr. Bradford was saying, but now she realised that they had passed from pinching poverty to affluence—at least it seemed so to her. Harlan was not so readily confused, but none the less, he, too, was dazed. Neither of them could speak.
"I should be grateful," the old man was saying, "if you would ask Mr. Richard Chester and Mrs. Sarah Smithers to come to my office at their earliest convenience. I will not trespass upon their valuable time at present."
There was a long silence, during which Mr. Bradford cleared his throat, and wiped his glasses several times. "The farm has always been held in my name," he continued, "to protect our lamented friend and benefactor from additional disturbance. If—if the relations had known, his life would have been even less peaceful than it was. A further farm, valued at twelve thousand dollars, and also held in my name, is my friend's last gift to me, as I discovered by opening a personal letter which was to be kept sealed until this morning. I did not open it until late in the morning, not wishing to show unseemly eagerness to pry into my friend's affairs. I am too much affected to speak of it—I feel his loss too keenly. He was my Colonel—I served under him in the war."
A mist filled the old man's eyes and he fumbled for the door-knob. Harlan found it for him, turned the key, and opened the door. Mrs. Dodd, Mrs. Holmes, Mrs. Smithers, and the suffering poet were all in the hall, their attitudes plainly indicating that they had been listening at the door, but something in Mr. Bradford's face made them huddle back into the corner, ashamed.
Feeling his way with his cane, he went to the parlour door, where he stood for a moment at the threshold, his streaming eyes fixed upon the portrait over the mantel. The simple dignity of his grief forbade a word from any one. At length he straightened himself, brought his trembling hand to his forehead in a feeble military salute, and, wiping his eyes, tottered off downhill.
The Lady Elaine knows her Heart
It was on a dark and stormy midnight, when the thunders boomed and the dread fury of the lightnings scarred the overhanging cliffs, that the Lady Elaine at last came to know her heart.
She was in a cave, safe from all but the noise of the storm. A cheery fire blazed at her door, and her bed within was made soft with pine boughs and skins. For weeks they had journeyed here and there, yet there had been no knight in whose face Elaine could find what she sought.
As she lay on her couch, she reflected upon the faithful wayfarers who had travelled with her, who had ever been gentle and courtly, saving her from all annoyance and all harm. Yet above them all, there was one who, from the time of their starting, had kept vigilant guard. He was the humblest of them all, but it was he who made her rest in shady places by the wayside when she herself scarce knew that she was weary; had given her cool spring water in a cup cunningly woven of leaves before she had realised her thirst; had brought her berries and strange, luscious fruits before she had thought of hunger; and who had cheered her, many a time, when no one else had guessed that she was sad.
Outside, he was guarding her now, all heedless of the rain. She could see him dimly in the shadow, then, all at once, more clearly in the firelight. His head was bowed and his arms folded, yet in the strong lines of his body there was no hint of weariness. Well did the Lady Elaine know that until Dawn spun her web of enchantment upon the mysterious loom of the East, he would march sleeplessly before her door, replenishing the fire, listening now and then for her deep breathing, and, upon the morrow, gaily tell her of his dreams.
Dreams they were, indeed, but not the dreams of sleep. Upon these midnight marchings, her sentinel gave his wandering fancy free rein. And because of the dumb pain in his heart, these fancies were all the merrier; more golden with the sun of laughter, more gemmed with the pearl of tears.
Proud-hearted, yet strangely homesick, the Lady Elaine was restless this night. "I must go back," she thought, "to the Castle of Content, where my dear father would fain have his child again. And yet I dread to go back with my errand undone, my quest unrewarded.
"What is it," thought Elaine, in sudden self-searching, "that I seek? What must this man be, to whom I would surrender the keeping of my heart? What do I ask that is so hard to find?
"Am I seeking for a god? Nay, surely not, but only for a man. Valorous he must be, indeed, but not in the lists—'tis not a soldier, for I have seen them by the hundred since I left my home in the valley. 'Tis not a model for the tapestry weaver that my heart would have, for I have seen the most beautiful youths of my country since I came forth upon my quest.
"Some one, perchance," mused the Lady Elaine, "whose beauty my eyes alone should perceive, whose valour only I should guess before there was need to test it. Some one great of heart and clean of mind, in whose eyes there should never be that which makes a woman ashamed. Some one fine-fibred and strong-souled, not above tenderness when a maid was tired. One who should make a shield of his love, to keep her not only from the great hurts but from the little ones as well, and yet with whom she might fare onward, shoulder to shoulder, as God meant mates should fare.
"Surely 'tis not so unusual, this thing that I ask—only an honest man with human faults and human virtues, transfigured by a great love. And why is it that in this quest of mine, I have found him not?"
"Princess," said a voice at her doorway, "thou art surely still awake. The storm is lessening and there is naught to fear. I pray thee, try to sleep. And if there is aught I can do for thee, thou knowest thou hast only to speak."
From the warm darkness where she lay, Elaine saw his face with the firelight upon it, and all at once she knew.
"There is naught," she answered, with what he thought was coldness. "I bid thee leave me and take thine own rest."
"As thou wilt," he responded, submissively, but though the sound was now faint and far away, she still could hear him walking back and forth, keeping his unremitting guard.
So it was that at last Love came to the Lady Elaine. She had dreamed of some fair stranger, into whose eyes she should look and instantly know him for her lord, never guessing that her lord had gone with her when she left the Castle of Content. There was none of those leaps of the heart of which one of the maids at the Castle had read from the books while the others worked at the tapestry frames. It was nothing new, but only a light upon something which had always been, and which, because of her own blindness, she had not seen.
All through this foolish journey, Love had ridden beside the Lady Elaine, asking nothing but the privilege of serving her; demanding only the right to give, to sacrifice, to shield. And at last she knew.
The doubting in her heart was for ever stilled and in its place was a great peace. There was an unspeakable tenderness and a measureless compassion, so wide and so deep that it sheltered all the world. For, strangely enough, the love of the many comes first through the love of the one.
The Lady Elaine did not need to ask whether he loved her, for, unerringly, she knew. Mated past all power of change, they two were one henceforward, though seas should roll between. Mated through suffering as well, for, in this new bond, as the Lady Elaine dimly perceived, there was great possibility of hurt. Yet there was no end or no beginning; it simply was, and at last she knew.
At length, she slept. When she awoke the morning was fair upon the mountains, but still he paced back and forth before her door. Rising, she bathed her face in the cool water he had brought her, braided her glorious golden hair, changed her soiled habit for a fresh robe of white satin traced with gold, donned her red embroidered slippers, and stepped out into the sunrise, shading her eyes with her hand until they grew accustomed to the dawn.
"Good morrow, Princess," he said. "We——"
Of a sudden, he stopped and fled like a wild thing into the forest, for by her eyes, he saw what was in her heart, and his hot words, struggling for utterance, choked him. "At last," he breathed, with his clenched hands on his breast; "at last—but no, 'tis another dream of mine that I dare not believe."
His senses reeled, for love comes not to a man as to a woman, but rather with the sound of trumpets and the glare of white light. The cloistered peace that fills her soul rests seldom upon him, and instead he is stirred with high ambition and spurred on to glorious achievement. For to her, love is the end of life; to him it is the means.
The knights thought it but another caprice when the Lady Elaine gave orders to return to the Castle of Content, at once, and by the shortest way—all save one of them. With his heart rioting madly through his breast, he knew, but he did not dare to look at Elaine. He was as one long blinded, who suddenly sees the sun.
So it was that though he still served her, he rode no longer by her side, and Elaine, hurt at first, at length understood, and smiled because of her understanding. All the way back, the Lady Elaine sang little songs to herself, and, the while she rode upon her palfrey, touched her zither into gentle harmonies. After many days, they came within sight of the Castle of Content.
As before, it was sunset, and the long light lay upon the hills, while the valley was in shadow. Purple were the vineyards, heavy with their clustered treasure, over which the tiny weavers had made their lace, and purple, too, were the many-spired cliffs, behind which the sunset shone.
A courier, riding swiftly in advance, had apprised the Lord of the Castle of Content of the return of the Lady Elaine, and the maids from the tapestry room, and the keeper of the wine-cellar, and the stable-boys, and the candle-makers, and the light-bearers all rushed out, heedless of their manners, for, one and all, they loved the Lady Elaine, and were eager to behold their beautiful mistress again.
But the Lord of the Castle of Content, speaking somewhat sternly, ordered them one and all back to their places, and, shamefacedly, they obeyed. "I would not be selfish," he muttered to himself, "but surely, Elaine is mine, and the first gleam of her beauty belongs of right to these misty old eyes of mine, that have long strained across the dark for the first hint of her coming. Of a truth her quest has been long."
So it came to pass that when the company reached the road that led down into the valley, the Lord of the Castle of Content was on the portico alone, though he could not have known that behind every shuttered window of the Castle, a humble servitor of Elaine's was waiting anxiously for her coming.
As before, Elaine rode at the head, waving her hand to her father, while the cymbals and the bugles crashed out a welcome. She could not see, but she guessed that he was there, and in return he waved a tremulous hand at her, though well he knew that in the fast gathering twilight, the child of his heart could not see the one who awaited her.
One by one, as they came in single file down the precipice, the old man counted them, much astonished to see that there was no new member of the company—that as many were coming back as had gone away. For the moment his heart was glad, then he reproached himself bitterly for his selfishness, and was truthfully most tender toward Elaine, because she had failed upon her quest.
The light gleamed capriciously upon the bauble of the fool, which he still carried, though now it hung downward from his saddle, foolishly enough. "A most merry fool," said the Lord of Content to himself. "I was wise to insist upon his accompanying this wayward child of mine."
Wayward she might be, yet her father's eyes were dim when she came down into the valley, where there was no light save the evening star, a taper light at an upper window of the Castle, and her illumined face.
"How hast thou fared upon thy quest, Elaine?" he asked in trembling tones, when at last she released herself from his eager embrace. He dreaded to hear her make known her disappointment, yet his sorrow was all for her, and not in the least for himself.
"I have found him, father," she said, the gladness in her voice betraying itself as surely as the music in a stream when Spring sets it free again, "and, forsooth, he rode with me all the time."
"Which knight hast thou chosen, Elaine?" he asked, a little sadly.
"No knight at all, dear father. I have found my knight in stranger guise than in armour and shield. He bears no lance, save for those who would injure me." And then, she beckoned to the fool.
"He is here, my father," she went on, her great love making her all unconscious of the shame she should feel.
"Elaine!" thundered her father, while the fool hung his head, "hast thou taken leave of thy senses? Of a truth, this is a sorry jest thou hast chosen to greet me with on thy return."
"Father," said Elaine, made bold by the silent pressure of the hand that secretly clasped hers, "'tis no jest. If thou art pained, indeed I am sorry, but if thou choosest to banish me, then this night will I go gladly with him I have chosen to be my lord. The true heart which Heaven has sent for me beats beneath his motley, and with him I must go. Dear father," cried Elaine, piteously, "do not send us away!"
The stern eyes of the Lord of the Castle of Content were fixed upon the fool, and in the gathering darkness they gleamed like live coals. "And thou," he said, scornfully; "what hast thou to say?"
"Only this," answered the fool; "that the Princess has spoken truly. We are mated by a higher law than that of thy land or mine, and 'tis this law that we must obey. If thou sayest the word, we will set forth to my country this very night, though we are both weary with much journeying."
"Thy land," said the Lord of the Castle, with measureless contempt, "and what land hast thou? Even the six feet of ground thou needest for a grave must be given thee at the last, unless, perchance, thou hast a handful of stolen earth hidden somewhere among thy other jewels!"
"Your lordship," cried the fool, with a clear ring in his voice, "thou shall not speak so to the man who is to wed thy daughter. I had not thought to tell even her till after the priests had made us one, but for our own protection, I am stung into speech.
"Know then, that I am no fool, but a Prince of the House of Bernard. My acres and my vineyards cover five times the space of this little realm of thine. Chests of gold and jewels I have, storehouses overflowing with grain and fine fabrics, three castles and a royal retinue. Of a truth, thou art blind since thou canst see naught but the raiment. May not a Prince wear motley if he chooses, thus to find a maid who will love him for himself alone?"
"Prince Bernard," muttered the Lord of Content, "the son of my old friend, whom I have long dreamed in secret shouldst wed my dear daughter Elaine! Your Highness, I beg you to forgive me, and to take my hand."
But Prince Bernard did not hear, nor see the outstretched hand, for Elaine was in his arms for the first time, her sweet lips close on his. "My Prince, oh my Prince," she murmured, when at length he set her free; "my eyes could not see, but my heart knew!"
So ended the Quest of the Lady Elaine.
With a sigh, Harlan wrote the last words and pushed the paper from him, staring blankly at the wall and seeing nothing. His labour was at an end, all save the final copying, and the painstaking daily revision which would take weeks longer. The exaltation he had expected to be conscious of was utterly absent; instead of it, he had a sense of loss, of change.
His surroundings seemed hopelessly sordid and ugly, now that the glow was gone. All unknowingly, when Harlan pencilled: "The End," in fanciful letters at the bottom of the last page, he had had practically his last joy of his book. The torturing process of revision was to take all the life out of it. Sentences born of surging emotion would seem vapid and foolish when subjected to the cold, critical eye of his reason, yet he knew, dimly, that he must not change it too much.
"I'll let it get cool," he thought, "before I do anything more to it."
Yet, now, it was difficult to stop working. The rented typewriter, with its enticing bank of keys, was close at hand. A thousand sheets of paper and a box of carbon waited in the drawer of Uncle Ebeneezer's desk. His worn Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases was at his elbow. And they were poor. Then Harlan laughed, for they were no longer poor, and he had wholly forgotten it.
There was a step upon the porch outside, then Dorothy came into the hall. She paused outside the library door for a moment, ostensibly to tie her shoe, but in reality to listen. A wave of remorseful tenderness overwhelmed Harlan and he unlocked the door. "Come in," he said, smiling. "You needn't be afraid to come in any more. The book is all done."
"O Harlan, is it truly done?" There was no gladness in her voice, only relief. Doubt was in every intonation of her sentence; incredulity in every line of her body.
With this pitiless new insight of his, Harlan saw how she had felt for these last weeks and became very tenderly anxious not to hurt her; to shield his transformed self from her quick understanding.
"Really," he answered. "Have I been a beast, Dorothy?"
The question was so like the boy she used to know that her heart leaped wildly, then became portentously still.
"Rather," she admitted, grudgingly, from the shelter of his arms.
"I'm sorry. If you say so, I'll burn it. Nothing is coming between you and me." The words sounded hollow and meaningless, as he knew they were.
She put her hand over his mouth. "You won't do any such thing," she said. Dorothy had learned the bitterness of the woman's part, to stand by, utterly lonely, and dream, and wait, while men achieve.
"Can I read it now?" she asked, timidly.
"You couldn't make it out, Dorothy. When it's all done, and every word is just as I want it, I'll read it to you. That will be better, won't it?"
"Can Dick come, too?" She asked the question thoughtlessly, then flushed as Harlan took her face between his hands.
"Dorothy, did you know Dick before we were married?"
"Why, Harlan! I never saw him in all my life till the day he came here. Did you think I had?"
Harlan only grunted, but she understood, and, in return, asked her question. "Did you write the book about Elaine?" she began, half ashamed.
"Dear little idiot," said Harlan, softly. "I'd begun the book before she came or before I knew she was coming. I never saw her till she came to live with us. You're foolish, dearest, don't you think you are?"
He was swiftly perceiving the necessity of creating a new harmony to take the place of that old one, now so strangely lost.
"There are two of us," returned Dorothy, with conviction, wiping her eyes.
"I wish you'd ask me things," said Harlan, a little later. "I'm no mind reader. And, besides, the seventh son of a seventh son, born with a caul, and having three trances regularly every day after meals, never could hope to understand a woman unless she was willing to help him out a little, occasionally."
Which, after all, was more or less true.
Uncle Ebeneezer's Diary
Harlan had taken his work upstairs, that the ceaseless clatter of the typewriter might not add to the confusion which normally prevailed in the Jack-o'-Lantern. Thus it happened that Dorothy was able to begin her long-cherished project of dusting, rearranging, and cataloguing the books.
There is a fine spiritual essence which exhales from the covers of a book. Shall one touch a copy of Shakespeare with other than reverent hands, or take up his Boswell without a smile? Through the worn covers and broken binding the master-spirit still speaks, no less than through the centuries which lie between. The man who had the wishing carpet, upon which he sat and wished and was thence immediately transported to the ends of the earth, was not possessed of a finer magic than one who takes his Boswell in his hands and then, for a golden quarter of an hour, lives in a bygone London with Doctor Johnson.
When the book-lover enters his library, no matter what storm and tumult may be in his heart, he has come to the inmost chamber of Peace. The indescribable, musty odour which breathes from the printed page is fragrant incense to him who loves his books. In unseemly caskets his treasures may be hidden, yet, when the cover is reverently lifted, the jewels shine with no fading light. The old, immortal beauty is still there, for any one who seeks it in the right way.
Dorothy had two willing assistants in Dick and Elaine. One morning, immediately after breakfast, the three went to the library and locked the door. Outside, the twins rioted unheeded and the perennially joyous Willie capered unceasingly. Mr. Perkins, gloomy and morose, wrote reams of poetry in his own room, distressed beyond measure by the rumble of the typewriter, but too much cast down to demand that it be stopped.
Mrs. Dodd and Mrs. Holmes, closely united through misfortune, were well-nigh inseparable now, while Mrs. Smithers, still sepulchral, sang continually in a loud, cracked voice, never by any chance happening upon the right note. As Dorothy said, when there are only eight tones in the octave, it would seem that sometime, somewhere, a warbler must coincide for a brief interval with the tune, but as Dick further commented, industry and patience can do wonders when rightly exercised.
Uncle Israel's midnight excursion to the orchard had given him a fresh attack of a familiar and distressing ailment to which he always alluded as "the brown kittys." Fortunately, however, the cure for asthma and bronchitis was contained in the same quart bottle, and needed only to be heated in order to work upon both diseases simultaneously.
Elaine rolled up the sleeves of her white shirt-waist, and turned in her collar, thereby producing an effect which Dick privately considered distractingly pretty. Dorothy was enveloped from head to foot in a voluminous blue gingham apron, and a dust cap, airily poised upon her smooth brown hair, completed a most becoming costume. Dick, having duly obtained permission, took off his coat and put on his hat, after which the library force was ready for action.
"First," said Dorothy, "we'll take down all the books." It sounded simple, but it took a good share of the day to do it, and the clouds of dust disturbed by the process produced sneezes which put Uncle Israel's feeble efforts to shame. When dusting the shelves, after they were empty, Elaine came upon a panel in the wall which slid back.
"Here's a secret drawer!" she cried, in wild delight. "How perfectly lovely! Do you suppose there's anything in it?"
Dorothy instantly thought of money and diamonds, but the concealed treasure proved to be merely a book. It was a respectable volume, however, at least as far as size was concerned, for Elaine and Dorothy together could scarcely lift it.
It was a leather-bound ledger, of the most ponderous kind, and was fastened with a lock and key. The key, of course, was missing, but Dick soon pried open the fastening.
All but the last few pages in the book were covered with fine writing, in ink which was brown and faded, but still legible. It was Uncle Ebeneezer's penmanship throughout, except for a few entries at the beginning, in a fine, flowing feminine hand, which Dorothy instantly knew was Aunt Rebecca's.
"On the night of our wedding," the book began, "we begin this record of our lives, for until to-day we have not truly lived." This was signed by both. Then, in the woman's hand, was written a description of her wedding-gown, which was a simple white muslin, made by herself. Her ornaments were set down briefly—only a wreath of roses in her hair, a string of coral beads, and the diamond brooch which was at that moment in Dorothy's jewel-box.
For three weeks there were alternate entries, then suddenly, without date, were two words so badly written as to be scarcely readable: "She died." For days thereafter was only this: "I cannot write." These simple words were the key to a world of pain, for the pages were blistered with a man's hot tears.
Then came this: "She would want me to go on writing it, so I will, though I have no heart for it."
From thence onward the book proceeded without interruption, a minute and faithful record of the man's inner life. Long extracts copied from books filled page after page of this strange diary, interspersed with records of business transactions, of letters received and answered, of wages paid, and of the visits of Jeremiah Bradford.
"We talked long to-night upon the immortality of the soul," one entry ran. "Jeremiah does not believe it, but I must—or die."
Dick soon lost interest in the book, and finding solitary toil at the shelves uncongenial, went out, whistling. Elaine and Dorothy read on together, scarcely noting his absence.
The book had begun in the Spring. Early in June was chronicled the arrival of "a woman calling herself Cousin Elmira, blood relation of my Rebecca. Was not aware my Rebecca had a blood relation named Elmira, but there is much in the world that I do not know."
According to the diary, Cousin Elmira had remained six weeks and had greatly distressed her unwilling host. "Women are peculiar," Uncle Ebeneezer had written, "all being possessed of the devil, except my sainted Rebecca, who was an angel if there ever was one.
"Cousin Elmira is a curious woman. To-day she desired to know what had become of my Rebecca's wedding garments, her linen sheets and table-cloths. Answered that I did not know, and immediately put a lock upon the chest containing them. Have always been truthful up to now, but Rebecca would not desire to have any blood relation handling her sheets. Of this I am sure.
"Aug. 9. To-day came Cousin Silas Martin and his wife to spend their honeymoon. Much grieved to hear of Rebecca's death. Said she had invited them to spend their honeymoon with her when they married. Did not know of this, but our happiness was of such short duration that my Rebecca did not have time to tell me of all her wishes. Company is very hard to bear, but I would do much for my Rebecca.
"Aug. 10. This world can never be perfect under any circumstances, and trials are the common lot of humanity. We must all endeavour to bear up under affliction. Sarah Smithers is a good woman, most faithful, and does not talk a great deal, considering her sex. Not intending any reflection upon my Rebecca, whose sweet voice I could never hear too often.
* * * * *
"Aug. 20. Came Uncle Israel Skiles with a bad cough. Thinks the air of Judson Centre must be considered healthy as they are to build a sanitarium here. Did not know of the sanitarium.
* * * * *
"Aug. 22. Came Cousin Betsey Skiles to look after Uncle Israel. Uncle Israel not desiring to be looked after has produced some disturbance in my house.
* * * * *
"Aug. 23. Cousin Betsey Skiles and Cousin Jane Wood, the latter arriving unexpectedly this morning, have fought, and Cousin Jane has gone away again. Had never met Cousin Jane Wood.
"Aug. 24. Was set upon by Cousin Silas Martin, demanding to know whether his wife was to be insulted by Cousin Betsey Skiles. Answered that I did not know.
"Aug. 25. Was obliged to settle a dispute between Sarah Smithers and Cousin Betsey Skiles. Decided in favour of S. S., thereby angering B. S. Uncle Israel accidentally spilled his tonic on Cousin Betsey's clean apron. Much disturbance in my house.
* * * * *
"Aug. 28. Cousin Silas Martin and wife went away, telling me they could no longer live with Cousin Betsey Skiles. B. S. is unpleasant, but has her virtues.
* * * * *
"Sept. 5. Uncle Israel thinks air of Judson Centre is now too chilly for his cough. Does not like his bed, considering it drafty. Says Sarah Smithers does not give him nourishing food.
* * * * *
"Sept. 8. Uncle Israel has gone.
* * * * *
"Sept. 10. Cousin Betsey Skiles has gone to continue looking after Uncle Israel. Sarah Smithers and myself now alone in peace.
* * * * *
All that Winter, the writing was of books, interspersed with occasional business details. In the Spring, the influx of blood relations began again and continued until Fall. The diary revealed the gradual transformation of a sunny disposition into a dark one, of a man with gregarious instincts into a wild beast asking only for solitude. Additions to the house were chronicled from time to time, with now and then a pathetic comment upon the futility of the additions.
Once there was this item: "Would go away for ever were it not that this was my Rebecca's home. Where we had hoped to be so happy, there is now a great emptiness and unnumbered Relations. How shall I endure Relations? Still they are all of her blood, though the most gentle blood does seem to take strange turns."
Again: "Do not think my Rebecca would desire to have all her kin visit her at once. Still, would do anything for my Rebecca. Have ordered five more beds."
As the years went by, the bitterness became more and more apparent. Long before the end, the record was frankly profane, and saddest of all was the evidence that under the stress of annoyance the great love for "my Rebecca" was slowly, but surely, becoming tainted. From simple profanity, Uncle Ebeneezer descended into blasphemous comment, modified at times by remorseful tenderness toward the dead.
"To-day," he wrote, "under pressure of my questioning, Sister-in-law Fanny Wood admitted that Rebecca had never invited her to come and see her. Asked Sister-in-law why she was here. Responded that Rebecca would have asked her if she had lived. Perhaps others have surmised the same. Fear of late I may have been unjust to my Rebecca."
Later on, "my Rebecca" was mentioned but rarely. She became "my dear companion," "my wife," or "my partner." The building of wings and the purchase of additional beds by this time had become a permanent feature, though, as the writer admitted, it was "a roundabout way."
"The easiest way would be to turn all out. Forgetting my duty to the memory of my dear companion, and sore pressed by many annoyances, did turn out Cousin Betsey Skiles, who forgave me for it without being so requested, and remained.
"Trains to Judson Centre," he wrote, at one time, "have been most grievously changed. One arrives just after breakfast, the other at three in the morning. Do not understand why this is, and anticipate new trouble from it."
The entries farther on were full of "trouble," being minute and intimate portrayals of the emotions of one roused from sleep at three in the morning to admit undesired guests, interlarded with pardonable profanity. "Seems that house might be altered in some way, but do not know. Will consult with Jeremiah."
After this came the record of an interview with the village carpenter, and rough sketches of proposed alterations. "Putting in new window in middle and making two upper windows round instead of square, with new porch-railing and two new narrow windows downstairs will do it. House fortunately planned by original architect for such alteration. Taking down curtains and keeping lights in windows nights should have some effect, though much doubt whether anything would affect Relations."
Soon afterward the oppressed one chronicled with great glee how a lone female, arriving on the night train, was found half-dead from fright by the roadside in the morning. "House is fearsome," wrote Uncle Ebeneezer, with evident relish. "Have been to Jeremiah's of an evening and, returning, found it wonderful to behold."
Presently, Dorothy came to an intimate analysis of some of the uninvited ones at present under her roof. The poet was given a full page of scathing comment, illustrated by rude caricatures, which were so suggestive that even Elaine thoroughly enjoyed them.
Pleased with his contribution to literature, Uncle Ebeneezer had written a long and keenly comprehensive essay upon each relation. These bits of vivid portraiture were numbered in this way: "Relation Number 8, Miss Betsey Skiles, Claiming to be Cousin." At the end of this series was a very beautiful tribute to "My Dearly Beloved Nephew, James Harlan Carr, Who Has Never Come to See Me."
Frequently, thereafter, came pathetic references to "Dear Nephew James," "Unknown Recipient of an Old Man's Gratitude," "Discerning and Admirable James," and so on.
One entry ran as follows: "Have been approached this season by each Relation present in regard to disposal of my estate. Will fix surprise for all Relations before leaving to join my wife. Shall leave money to every one, though perhaps not as much as each expects. Jeremiah advises me to leave something to each. Laws are such, I believe, that no one remembered can claim more. Desire to be just, but strongly incline to dear Nephew James."
On the last page of all was a significant paragraph. "Dreamed of seeing my Rebecca once more, who told me we should be together again April 7th. Shall make all arrangements for leaving on that day, and prepare Surprises spoken of. Shall be very quiet in my grave with no Relations at hand, but should like to hear and see effect of Surprise. Jeremiah will attend."
The last lines were written on April sixth. "To-morrow I shall join my loved Rebecca and leave all Relations here to fight by themselves. Do not fear Death, but shudder at Relations. Relations keep life from being pleasant. Did not know my Rebecca was possessed of such numbers nor of such kinds, but forgive her all. Shall see her to-morrow."
Then, on the line below, in a hand that did not falter, was written: "The End."
Dorothy wiped her eyes on a corner of Elaine's apron, for Uncle Ebeneezer had been found dead in his bed on the morning of April seventh. "Elaine," she said, "what would you do?"
"Do?" repeated Elaine. "I'd strike one blow for poor old Uncle Ebeneezer! I'd order every single one of them out of the house to-morrow!"
"To-night!" cried Dorothy, fired with high resolve. "I'll do it this very night! Poor old Uncle Ebeneezer! Our sufferings have been nothing, compared to his."
"Are you going to tell Mr. Carr?" asked Elaine, wonderingly.
"Tell him nothing," rejoined Dorothy, with spirit. "He's got some old fogy notions about your house being a sacred spot where everybody in creation can impose on you if they want to, just because it is your house. I suppose he got it by being related to poor old uncle."
"Do I have to go, too?" queried Elaine, rubbing her soft cheek against Dorothy's.
"Not much," answered Mrs. Carr, with a sisterly embrace. "You'll stay, and Dick 'll stay, and that old tombstone in the kitchen will stay, and so will Claudius Tiberius, but the rest—MOVE!"
Consequently, Elaine looked forward to the dinner-hour with mixed anticipations. Mr. Perkins, Uncle Israel, Mrs. Dodd, and Mrs. Holmes each found a note under their plates when they sat down. Uncle Israel's face relaxed into an expression of childlike joy when he found the envelope addressed to him. "Valentine, I reckon," he said, "or mebbe it's sunthin' from Santa Claus."
"Queer acting for Santa Claus," snorted Mrs. Holmes, who had swiftly torn open her note. "Here we are, all ordered away from what's been our home for years, by some upstart relations who never saw poor, dear uncle. Are you going to keep boarders?" she asked, insolently, turning to Dorothy.
"No longer," returned that young woman, imperturbably. "I have done it just as long as I intend to."
Harlan was gazing curiously at Dorothy, but she avoided his eyes, and continued to eat as though nothing had happened. Dick, guessing rightly, choked, and had to be excused. Elaine's cheeks were flushed and her eyes sparkled, the flush deepening when Mrs. Dodd inquired where her valentine was. Mr. Perkins was openly dejected, and Mrs. Dodd, receiving no answer to her question, compressed her thin lips into a forced silence.
But Uncle Israel was moved to protesting speech. "'T is queer doin's for Santa Claus," he mumbled, pouring out a double dose of his nerve tonic. "'T ain't such a thing as he'd do, even if he was drunk. Turnin' a poor old man outdoor, what ain't got no place to go exceptin' to Betsey's, an' nobody can't live with Betsey. She's all the time mad at herself on account of bein' obliged to live with such a woman as she be. Summers I've allers stayed here an' never made no trouble. I've cooked my own food an' brought most of it, an' provided all my own medicines, an' even took my bed with me, goin' an' comin'. Ebeneezer's beds is all terrible drafty—I took two colds to once sleepin' in one of 'em—an' at my time of life 't ain't proper to change beds. Sleepin' in a drafty bed would undo all the good of bein' near the sanitarium. Most likely I'll have a fever or sunthin' now an' die."
"Shut up, Israel," said Mrs. Dodd, abruptly. "You ain't goin' to die. It wouldn't surprise me none if you had to be shot on the Day of Judgment before you could be resurrected. Folks past ninety-five that's pickled in patent medicine from the inside out, ain't goin' to die of no fever."
"Ninety-six, Belinda," said the old man, proudly. "I'll be ninety-six next week, an' I'm as young as I ever was."
"Then," rejoined Mrs. Dodd, tartly, "what you want to look out for is measles an' chicken-pox, to say nothin' of croup."
"Come, Gladys Gwendolen and Algernon Paul," interrupted Mrs. Holmes, in a high key; "we must go and pack now, to go away from dear uncle's. Dear uncle is dead, you know, and can't help his dear ones being ordered out of his house by upstarts."
"What's a upstart, ma?" inquired Willie.
"People who turn their dead uncle's relations out of his house in order to take boarders," returned Mrs. Holmes, clearly.
"Mis' Carr," said Mrs. Dodd, sliding up into Dick's vacant place, "have I understood that you want me to go away to-morrow?"
"Everybody is going away to-morrow," returned Dorothy, coldly.
"After all I've done for you?" persisted Mrs. Dodd.
"What have you done for me?" parried Dorothy, with a pleading look at Elaine.
"Kep' the others away," returned Mrs. Dodd, significantly.
"Uncle Ebeneezer does not want any of you here," said Dorothy, after a painful silence. The impression made by the diary was so vividly present with her that she felt as though she were delivering an actual message.
Much to her surprise, Mrs. Dodd paled and left the room hastily. Uncle Israel tottered after her, leaving his predigested food untouched on his plate and his imitation coffee steaming malodorously in his cup. Mr. Perkins bowed his head upon his hands for a moment; then, with a sigh, lightly dropped out of the open window. The name of Uncle Ebeneezer seemed to be one to conjure with.
"Dorothy," said Harlan, "might an obedient husband modestly inquire what you have done?"
"Elaine and I found Uncle Ebeneezer's diary to-day," explained Dorothy, "and the poor old soul was nagged all his life by relatives. So, in gratitude for what he's done for us, I've turned 'em out. I know he'd like to have me do it."
Harlan left his place and came to Dorothy, where, bending over her chair, he kissed her tenderly. "Good girl," he said, patting her shoulder. "Why in thunder didn't you do it months ago?"
"Isn't that just like a man?" asked Dorothy, gazing after his retreating figure.
"I don't know," answered Elaine, with a pretty blush, "but I guess it is."
"Algernon Paul," called Mrs. Holmes, shrilly, "let the kitty alone!"
Every one else on the premises heard the command, but "Algernon Paul," perhaps because he was not yet fully accustomed to his new name, continued forcing Claudius Tiberius to walk about on his fore feet, the rest of him being held uncomfortably in the air by the guiding influence.
"Algernon!" The voice was so close this time that the cat was freed by his persecutor's violent start. Seeing that it was only his mother, Algernon Paul attempted to recover his treasure again, and was badly scratched by that selfsame treasure. Whereupon Mrs. Holmes soundly cuffed Claudius Tiberius "for scratching dear little Ebbie, I mean Algernon Paul," and received a bite or two on her own account.
"Come, Ebbie, dear," she continued, "we are going now. We have been driven away from dear uncle's. Where is sister?"
"Sister" was discovered in the forbidden Paradise of the chicken-coop, and dragged out, howling. Willie, not desiring to leave "dear uncle's," was forcibly retrieved by Dick from the roof of the barn.
Mr. Harold Vernon Perkins had silently disappeared in the night, but no one feared foul play. "He'll be waitin' at the train, I reckon," said Mrs. Dodd, "an' most likely composin' a poem on 'Departure' or else breathin' into a tube to see if he's mad."
She had taken her dismissal very calmly after the first shock. "A woman what's been married seven times, same as I be," she explained to Dorothy, "gets used to bein' moved around from place to place. My sixth husband had the movin' habit terrible. No sooner would we get settled nice an' comfortable in a place, an' I got enough acquainted to borrow sugar an' tea an' molasses from my new neighbours, than Thomas would decide to move, an' more 'n likely, it'd be to some new town where there was a great openin' in some new business that he'd never tried his hand at yet.
"My dear, I've been the wife of a undertaker, a livery-stable keeper, a patent medicine man, a grocer, a butcher, a farmer, an' a justice of the peace, all in one an' the same marriage. Seems 's if there wa'n't no business Thomas couldn't feel to turn his hand to, an' he knowed how they all ought to be run. If anybody was makin' a failure of anythin', Thomas knowed just why it was failin' an' I must say he ought to know, too, for I never see no more steady failer than Thomas.
"They say a rollin' stone never gets no moss on it, but it gets worn terrible smooth, an' by the time I 'd moved to eight or ten different towns an' got as many as 'leven houses all fixed up, the corners was all broke off 'n me as well as off 'n the furniture. My third husband left me well provided with furniture, but when I went to my seventh altar, I didn't have nothin' left but a soap box an' half a red blanket, on account of havin' moved around so much.
"I got so's I'd never unpack all the things in any one place, but keep 'em in their dry-goods boxes an' barrels nice an' handy to go on again. When the movin' fit come on Thomas, I was always in such light marchin' order that I could go on a day's notice, an' that's the way we usually went. I told him once it'd be easier an' cheaper to fit up a prairie schooner such as they used to cross the plains in, an' then when we wanted to move, all we'd have to do would be to put a dipper of water on the fire an' tell the mules to get ap, but it riled him so terrible that I never said nothin' about it again, though all through my sixth marriage, it seemed a dretful likely notion.
"A woman with much marryin' experience soon learns not to rile a husband when 't ain't necessary. Sometimes I think the poor creeters has enough to contend with outside without bein' obliged to fight at home, though it does beat all, my dear, what a terrible exertion 't is for most men to earn a livin'. None of my husbands was ever obliged to fight at home an' I take great comfort thinkin' how peaceful they all was when they was livin' with me, an' how peaceful they all be now, though I think it's more 'n likely that Thomas is a-sufferin' because he can't move no more at present."
Her monologue was interrupted by the arrival of the stage, which Harlan had gladly ordered. Mrs. Holmes and the children climbed into it without vouchsafing a word to anybody, but Mrs. Dodd shook hands all around and would have kissed both Dorothy and Elaine had they not dodged the caress.
"Remember, my dear," said Mrs. Dodd to Dorothy; "I don't bear you no grudge, though I never was turned out of no place before. It's all in a lifetime, the same as marryin', and if I should ever marry again an' have a home of my own to invite you to, you an' your husband'll be welcome to come and stay with me as long as I've stayed with you, or longer, if you felt 'twas pleasant, an' I'd try to make it so."
The kindly speech made Dorothy very much ashamed of herself, though she did not know exactly why, and Gladys Gwendolen, with a cherubic smile, leaned out of the stage window and waved a chubby hand, saying: "Bye bye!" Mrs. Holmes alone seemed hard and unforgiving, as she sat sternly upright, looking neither to the right nor the left.
"Rather unusual, isn't it?" whispered Elaine, as the ponderous vehicle turned into the yard, "to see so many of one's friends going on the stage at once?"
"Not at all," chuckled Dick. "Everybody goes on the stage when they leave the Carrs."
"Good bye, Belinda," yelled Uncle Israel, putting his flannel bandaged head out of one of the round upper windows. He had climbed up on a chair to do it. "I don't reckon I'll ever hear from you again exceptin' where Lazarus heard from the rich man!"
"Don't let that trouble you, Israel," shrieked Mrs. Dodd, piercingly. "I take it the rich man was diggin' for eight cents in Satan's orchard, an' didn't have no time to look up his friends."
The rejoinder seemed not to affect Uncle Israel, but it sent Dick into a spasm of merriment from which he recovered only when Harlan pounded him on the back.
"Come on," said Harlan, "it's not time to laugh yet. We've got to pack Uncle Israel's bed."
Uncle Israel was going on the afternoon train, and in another direction. He sat on his trunk and issued minute instructions, occasionally having the whole thing taken apart to be put together in a different kind of a parcel. As an especial favour, Dick was allowed to crate the bath cabinet, though as a rule, no profane hands were permitted to touch this instrument of health. Uncle Israel himself arranged his bottles, and boxes, and powders; a hand-satchel containing his medicines for the journey and the night.
"I reckon," he said, "if I take a double dose of my pain-killer, this noon, an' a double dose of my nerve tonic just before I get on the cars, I c'n get along with these few remedies till I get to Betsey's, where I'll have to take a full course of treatment to pay for all this travellin'. The pain-killer bottle an' the nerve tonic bottle is both dretful heavy, in spite of bein' only half full."
"How would it do," suggested Harlan, kindly, "to pour the nerve tonic into the pain-killer, and then you'd have only one bottle to carry. You mix them inside, anyway."
"You seem real intelligent, nephew," quavered Uncle Israel. "I never knowed I had no such smart relations. As you say, I mix 'em in my system anyway, an' it can't do no harm to do it in the bottle first."
No sooner said than done, but, strangely enough, the mixture turned a vivid emerald green, and had such a peculiarly vile odour that even Uncle Israel refused to have anything further to do with it.
"I shouldn't wonder but what you'd done me a real service, nephew," continued Uncle Israel. "Here I've been takin' this, month after month, an' never suspectin' what it was doin' in my insides. I've suspicioned for some time that the pain-killer wan't doin' me no good, an' I've been goin' to try Doctor Jones's Squaw Remedy, anyhow. I shouldn't wonder if my whole insides was green instead of red as they orter be. The next time I go to the City, I'm goin' to take this here compound to the healin' emporium where I bought it, an' ask 'em what there is in it that paints folk's insides. 'Tain't nothin' more 'n green paint."
The patient was so interested in this new development that he demanded a paint-brush and experimented on the porch railing, where it seemed, indeed, to be "green paint." In getting a nearer view, he touched his nose to it and acquired a bright green spot on the tip of that highly useful organ. Desiring to test it by every sense, he next put his ear down to the railing, as though he expected to hear the elements of the compound rushing together explosively.
"My hearin' is bad," he explained. "I wish you'd listen to this here a minute or two, nephew, an' see if you don't hear sunthin'." But Harlan, with his handkerchief pressed tightly to his nose, politely declined.
"I don't feel," continued Uncle Israel, tottering into the house, "as though a poor, sick man with green insides instead of red orter be turned out. Judson Centre is a terrible healthy place, or the sanitarium wouldn't have been built here, an' travellin' on the cars would shake me up considerable. I feel as though I was goin' to be took bad, an' as if I ought not to go. If somebody'll set up my bed, I'll just lay down on it an' die now. Ebeneezer would be willin' for me to die in his house, I know, for he's often said it'd be a reel pleasure to him to pay my funeral expenses if I c'd only make up my mind to claim 'em, an'," went on the old man pitifully, "I feel to claim 'em now. Set up my bed," he wheezed, "an' let me die. I'm bein' took bad."
He was swiftly reasoning himself into abject helplessness when Dick came valiantly to the rescue. "I'll tell you what, Uncle Israel," he said, "if you're going to be sick, and of course you know whether you are or not, we'll just get a carriage and take you over to the sanitarium. I'll pay your board there for a week, myself, and by that time we'll know just what's the matter with you."
The patient brightened amazingly at the mention of the sanitarium, and was more than willing to go. "I've took all kinds of treatment," he creaked, "but I ain't never been to no sanitarium, an' I misdoubt whether they've ever had anybody with green insides.
"I reckon," he added, proudly, "that that wanderin' pain in my spine'll stump 'em some to know what it is. Even in the big store where they keep all kinds of medicines, there couldn't nobody tell me. I know what disease 'tis, but I won't tell nobody. A man knows his own system best an' I reckon them smart doctors up at the sanitarium 'll be scratchin' their heads over such a complicated case as I be. Send my bed on to Betsey's but write on it that it ain't to be set up till I come. 'Twouldn't be worth while settin' it up at the sanitarium for a week, an' I'm minded to try a medical bed, anyways. I ain't never had none. Get the carriage, quick, for I feel an ailment comin' on me powerful hard every minute."
"Suppose," said Harlan, in a swift aside, "that they refuse to take the patient? What shall we do then?"
"We won't discuss that," answered Dick, in a low tone. "My plan is to leave the patient, drive away swiftly, and, an hour or so later, walk back and settle with the head of the repair shop for a week's mending in advance."
Harlan laughed gleefully, at which Uncle Israel pricked up his ears. "I'm in on the bill," he continued; "we'll go halves on the mending."
"Laughin'" said Uncle Israel, scornfully, "at your poor old uncle what ain't goin' to live much longer. If your insides was all turned green, you wouldn't be laughin'—you'd be thinkin' about your immortal souls."
It was late afternoon when the bed was finally dumped on the side track to await the arrival of the freight train, being securely covered with a canvas tarpaulin to keep it from the night dew and stray, malicious germs, seeking that which they might devour. Uncle Israel insisted upon overseeing this job himself, so that he did not reach the sanitarium until almost nightfall. Dick and Harlan were driving, and they shamelessly left the patient at the door of the Temple of Healing, with his crated bath cabinet, his few personal belongings, and his medicines.
Turning back at the foot of the hill, they saw that the wanderer had been taken in, though the bath cabinet still remained outside.
"Mean trick to play on a respectable institution," observed Dick, lashing the horses into a gallop, "but I'll go over in the morning and square it with 'em."
"I'll go with you," volunteered Harlan. "It's just as well to have two of us, for we won't be popular. The survivor can take back the farewell message to the wife and family of the other."
He meant it for a jest, but even in the gathering darkness, he could see the dull red mounting to Dick's temples. "I'll be darned," thought Harlan, seeing the whole situation instantly. Then, moved by a brotherly impulse, he said, cheerfully: "Go in and win, old man. Good luck to you!"
"Thanks," muttered Dick, huskily, "but it's no use. She won't look at me. She wants a nice lady-like poet, that's what she wants."
"No, she doesn't," returned Harlan, with deep conviction. "I don't claim to be a specialist, but when a man and a poet are entered for the matrimonial handicap, I'll put my money on the man, every time."
Dick swiftly changed the subject, and began to speculate on probable happenings at the sanitarium. They left the conveyance in the village, from whence it had been taken, and walked uphill.
Lights gleamed from every window of the Jack-o'-Lantern, but the eccentric face of the house had, for the first time, a friendly aspect. Warmth and cheer were in the blinking eyes and the grinning mouth, though, as Dick said, it seemed impossible that "no pumpkin seeds were left inside."
Those who do not believe in personal influence should go into a house which uninvited and undesired guests have regretfully left. Every alien element had gone from the house on the hill, yet the very walls were still vocal with discord. One expected, every moment, to hear Uncle Israel's wheeze, the shrill, spiteful comment of Mrs. Holmes, or a howl from one of the twins.
"What shall we do," asked Harlan, "to celebrate the day of emancipation?"
"I know," answered Dorothy, with a little laugh. "We'll burn a bed."
"Whose bed?" queried Dick.
"Mr. Perkins's bed," responded Elaine, readily. The tone of her voice sent a warm glow to Dick's heart, and he went to work at the heavy walnut structure with more gladness than exercise of that particular kind had ever given him before.
Harlan rummaged through the cellar and found a bottle of Uncle Ebeneezer's old port, which, for some occult reason, had hitherto escaped. Mrs. Smithers, moved to joyful song, did herself proud in the matter of fried chicken and flaky biscuit. Dorothy had taken all the leaves out of the table, so that now it was cosily set for four, and placed a battered old brass candlestick, with a tallow candle in it, in the centre.
"Seems like living, doesn't it?" asked Harlan. Until now, he had not known how surely though secretly distressed he had been by Aunt Rebecca's persistent kin. Claudius Tiberius apparently felt the prevailing cheerfulness, and purred vigorously, in Elaine's lap.
Afterward, they made a fire in the parlour, even though the night was so warm that they were obliged to have all the windows open, and, inspired by the portrait of Uncle Ebeneezer, discussed the peculiarities of his self-invited guests.
The sacrificial flame arising from the poet's bed directed the conversation to Mr. Perkins and his gift of song. Dick, though feeling more deeply upon the subject than any of the rest, was wise enough not to say too much.
"I found something under his mattress," remarked Dick, when the conversation flagged, "while I was taking his blooming crib apart to chop it up. I guess it must be a poem."
He drew a sorely flattened roll from his pocket, and slipped off the crumpled blue ribbon. It was, indeed, a poem, entitled "Farewell."
"I thought he might have been polite enough to say good bye," said Dorothy. "Perhaps it was easier to write it."
"Read it," cried Elaine, her eyes dancing. "Please do!"
So Dick read as follows:
All happy times must reach an end Sometime, someday, somewhere, A great soul seldom has a friend Anyway or anywhere. But one devoted to the Ideal Must pass these things all by, His eyes fixed ever on his Art, Which lives, though he must die.
Amid the tide of cruel greed Which laps upon our shore, No one takes thought of the poet's need Nor how his griefs may pour Upon his poor, devoted head And his sad, troubled heart; But all these things each one must take, Who gives his life to Art.
His crust of bread, his tick of straw His enemies deny, And at the last his patron saint Will even pass him by; The wide world is his resting place, All o'er it he may roam, And none will take the poet in, Or offer him a home.
The tears of sorrow blind him now, Misunderstood is he, But thus great souls have always been, And always they will be; His eyes fixed ever on the Ideal Will be there till he die, To-night he goes, but leaves a poem To say good bye, good bye!
"Poor Mr. Perkins," commented Dorothy, softly.
"Yes," mimicked Harlan, "poor Mr. Perkins. I don't see but what he'll have to work now, like any plain, ordinary mortal, with no 'gift'."
"What is the Ideal, anyway?" queried Elaine, looking thoughtfully into the embers of the poet's bedstead.
"That's easy," answered Dick, not without evident feeling. "It's whatever Mr. Perkins happens to be doing, or trying to do. He fixes it for the rest of us."
"I think," suggested Dorothy, after a momentary silence, "that the Ideal consists in minding your own business and gently, but firmly, assisting others to mind theirs."
All unknowingly, Dorothy had expressed the dominant idea of the dead master of the house. She fancied that the pictured face over the mantel was about to smile at her. Dorothy and Uncle Ebeneezer understood each other now, and she no longer wished to have the portrait moved.
Before they separated for the night, Dick told them all about the midnight gathering in the orchard, which he had witnessed from afar, and which the others enjoyed beyond his expectations.
"That's what uncle meant," said Elaine, "by 'fixing a surprise for relations.'" "I don't blame him," observed Harlan, "not a blooming bit. I wish the poor old duck could have been here to see it. Why wasn't I in on it?" he demanded of Dick, somewhat resentfully. "When anything like that was going on, why didn't you take me in?"
"It wasn't for me to interfere with his doings," protested Dick, "but I do wish you could have seen Uncle Israel."
At the recollection he went off into a spasm of merriment which bid fair to prove fatal. The rest laughed with him, not knowing just what it was about, such was the infectious quality of Dick's mirth.
"They've all gone," laughed Elaine, happily, taking her bedroom candle from Dorothy's hand, "they've all gone, every single one, and now we're going to have some good times."
Dick watched her as she went upstairs, the candlelight shining tenderly upon her sweet face, and thus betrayed himself to Dorothy, who had suspected for some time that he loved Elaine.
"Oh Lord!" grumbled Dick to himself, when he was safely in his own room. "Everybody knows it now, except her. I'll bet even Sis Smithers and the cat are dead next to me. I might as well tell her to-morrow as any time, the result will be just the same. Better do it and have it over with. The cat'll tell her if nobody else does."
But that night, strangely enough, Claudius Tiberius disappeared, to be seen or heard of no more.
The Love of Another Elaine
When Dick and Harlan ventured up to the sanitarium, they were confronted by the astonishing fact that Uncle Israel was, indeed, ill. Later developements proved that he was in a measure personally responsible for his condition, since he had, surreptitiously, in the night, mixed two or three medicines of his own brewing with the liberal dose of a different drug which the night nurse gave him, in accordance with her instructions.
Far from being unconscious, however, Uncle Israel was even now raging violently against further restraint, and demanding to be sent home before he was "murdered."
"He's being killed with kindness," whispered Dick, "like the man who was run over by an ambulance."
Harlan arranged for Uncle Israel to stay until he was quite healed of this last complication, and then wrote out the address of Cousin Betsey Skiles, with which Dick was fortunately familiar. "And," added Dick, "if he's troublesome, crate him and send him by freight. We don't want to see him again."
Less than a week later, Uncle Israel and his bed were safely installed at Cousin Betsey's, and he was able to write twelve pages of foolscap, fully expressing his opinion of Harlan and Dick and the sanitarium staff, and Uncle Ebeneezer, and the rest of the world in general, conveying it by registered mail to "J. H. Car & Familey." The composition revealed an astonishing command of English, particularly in the way of vituperation. Had Uncle Israel known more profanity, he undoubtedly would have incorporated it in the text.
"It reminds me," said Elaine, who was permitted to read it, "of a little coloured boy we used to know. A playmate quarrelled with him and began to call him names, using all the big words he had ever heard, regardless of their meaning. When his vocabulary was exhausted, our little friend asked, quietly: 'Is you froo?' 'Yes,' returned the other, 'I's froo.' 'Well then,' said the master of the situation, calmly, turning on his heel, 'all those things what you called me, you is.'"
"That's right," laughed Dick. "All those things Uncle Israel has called us, he is, but it makes him a pretty tough old customer."
A blessed peace had descended upon the house and its occupants. Harlan's work was swiftly nearing completion, and in another day or two, he would be ready to read the neatly typed pages to the members of his household. Dorothy could scarcely wait to hear it, and stole many a secret glance at the manuscript when Harlan was out of the house. Lover-like, she expected great things from it, and she saw the world of readers, literally, at her husband's feet. So great was her faith in him that she never for an instant suspected that there might possibly be difficulty at the start—that any publisher could be wary of this masterpiece by an unknown.
The Carrs had planned to remain where they were until the book was finished, then to take the precious manuscript, and go forth to conquer the City. Afterward, perhaps, a second honeymoon journey, for both were sorely in need of rest and recreation.
Elaine was going with them, and Dorothy was to interview the Personage whose private secretary she had once been, and see if that position or one fully as desirable could not be found for her friend. Also, Elaine was to make her home with the Carrs. "I won't let you live in a New York boarding house," said Dorothy warmly, "as long as we've any kind of a roof over our heads."
Dick had discovered that, as he expressed it, he must "quit fooling and get a job." Hitherto, Mr. Chester had preferred care-free idleness to any kind of toil, and a modest sum, carefully hoarded, represented to Dick only freedom to do as he pleased until it gave out. Then he began to consider work again, but as he seldom did the same kind of work twice, he was not particularly proficient in any one line.
Still, Dick had no false ideas about labour. At college he had canvassed for subscription books, solicited life and fire insurance, swept walks, shovelled snow, carried out ashes, and even handled trunks for the express company, all with the same cheerful equanimity. His small but certain income sufficed for his tuition and other necessary expenses, but for board at Uncle Ebeneezer's and a few small luxuries, he was obliged to work.
Just now, unwonted ambition fired his soul. "It's funny," he mused, "what's come over me. I never hankered to work, even in my wildest moments, and yet I pine for it this minute—even street-sweeping would be welcome, though that sort of thing isn't going to be much in my line from now on. With the start uncle's given me, I can surely get along all right, and, anyhow, I've got two hands, two feet, and one head, all good of their kind, so there's no call to worry."
Worrying had never been among Dick's accomplishments, but he was restless, and eager for something to do. He plunged into furniture-making with renewed energy, inspired by the presence of Elaine, who with her book or embroidery sat in her low rocker under the apple tree and watched him at his work.
Quite often she read aloud, sometimes a paragraph, now and then an entire chapter, to which Dick submitted pleasantly. He loved the smooth, soft cadence of Elaine's low voice, whether she read or spoke, so, in a way, it did not matter. But, one day, when she had read uninterruptedly for over an hour, Dick was seized with a violent fit of coughing.
"I say," he began, when the paroxysm had ceased; "you like books, don't you?"
"Indeed I do—don't you?"
"Er—yes, of course, but say—aren't you tired of reading?"
"Not at all. You needn't worry about me. When I'm tired, I'll stop."
She was pleased with his kindly thought for her comfort, and thereafter read a great deal by way of reward. As for Dick, he burned the midnight candle over many a book which he found inexpressibly dull, and skilfully led the conversation to it the next day. Soon, even Harlan was impressed by his wide knowledge of literature, though no one noted that about books not in Uncle Ebeneezer's library, Dick knew nothing at all.
Dorothy spent much of her time in her own room, thus forcing Dick and Elaine to depend upon each other for society. Quite often she was lonely, and longed for their cheery chatter, but sternly reminded herself that she was being sacrificed in a good cause. She built many an air castle for them as well as for herself, furnishing both, impartially, with Elaine's old mahogany and the simple furniture Dick was making out of Uncle Ebeneezer's relics.