"It was heaps of fun making it. Did you notice this picture of Mother's and Grandfather's class on Recognition Day? See, there's Mother herself. She happened to be in the right spot when the photographer snapped."
"How lucky for you! It's perfect. I know Mrs. Emerson will be awfully pleased."
"We hope she will. Are you infants ready?" and Roger swung the parcels on to his back and opened the door for the girls.
"We're going to stop at Dorothy's, aren't we?" asked Ethel Blue.
"Certainly we are. We want to see her presents and to give Elisabeth hers and to say 'Merry Christmas' to Aunt Louise and Miss Merriam."
"You seem very fond of Miss Merriam," said Katharine to Ethel Brown as they turned the corner into Church Street.
"We are. She's splendid. She knows just what to do for Elisabeth and she's lovely any way."
"You act as if she belonged to the family."
"Why shouldn't we?" asked Ethel in amazement.
"Don't you pay her for taking care of the baby?"
"Certainly we pay her. We'd pay a doctor for taking care of her, too, only we happen to have two doctors related to the Club so they give us their services free. Why shouldn't we pay her?"
Ethel Brown was quite breathless. She could not entirely understand Katharine's point of view, but she seemed to be hinting that Miss Merriam was serving in a menial capacity. The idea made loyal Ethel Brown, who had not a snobbish bone in her body, extremely angry. Service she understood—her father and her uncle and Katharine's father, too, for that matter, were serving their country and were under orders. One kind of service might be less responsible than another kind, but that any service that was honest and useful could be unworthy was not in her creed.
"No reason, of course," replied Katharine, who saw that she had offended Ethel. "Any way, her work is more than a nursemaid's work."
"I should say it was," answered Ethel warmly; "she's taken several years' training to fit her for it. But even if she were just a nursemaid I should love her. I love Mary. She was Dicky's nurse and Mother says she saved him from becoming a sick, nervous child by her wisdom and calmness. Mary's skilful, too."
Katharine did not pursue the discussion, and Ethel Brown, when Miss Merriam came into the room to wish them a "Merry Christmas," threw her arms around her neck and kissed her.
"You're a perfectly splendid person," she exclaimed.
Elisabeth was at her very best this morning. Never before had they seen her so beaming. She had a special smile for every one of them, so that each felt that he had been singled out for favors. She shook hands with Roger, walked a few steps, clinging to the Ethels' fingers, patted Helen's cheek, rippled all over when Dicky danced before her, and even permitted Katharine to take her on her lap. This was a concession on Katharine's part as well as on Elisabeth's, for Katharine was not much interested in a stray baby. She saw, however, that the Mortons all were in love with the little creature so she did her best to be amiable toward her.
"You're all so good to me," she cried. "I love all these things that you've made for me with your own fingers."
"We'd do more than that if we could," answered Ethel Blue as they all, including Dorothy, swept out of the front door to take up their journey to the Emersons'.
At the Emersons' there was a renewal of greetings and "Thank yous" and laughter, and a rehearsing of all the gifts that had been received. Mrs. Smith had sent Mrs. Emerson an unusual pair of richly decorated wax candles which she had found at an Italian candlemaker's in New York, and Miss Merriam had sent her and Mrs. Morton each a tiny brass censer and a supply of charcoal and Japanese incense to make fragrant the house.
"Mother gave us handkerchiefs all around," said Roger, "and Mary baked us each a cake and the cook made candy enough for an army."
"You're dining at your Aunt Louise's, dear?"
"We're going right from here to carry some bundles for Mother and then to church, and then to Aunt Louise's for an early dinner. After dinner we are to call on the old ladies at the Home for a half hour and then we go back to a tree for Dicky—just a little shiny one; we've had all our presents. After supper the thing we're going to do is a secret."
"That sounds like a program that will keep you busy while it lasts. They're not tiring you out, I hope?" Mr. Emerson asked Katharine, who listened to Roger's list without displaying much enthusiasm.
"I'm enjoying it all very much," responded Katharine politely, but not in a tone that carried conviction.
"How would it please you if the car took you back and helped you carry those parcels for your mother?"
There was a general whoop of satisfaction.
"Your grandmother and I are going to church, but we won't mind starting earlier than we usually do."
"Which means right now, I should say," said Roger, looking at his watch.
At the Mortons' the car added Mrs. Morton and Dicky to its occupants and several large baskets containing Christmas dinners for people in whom the Mortons had an interest. The young Mortons all had had a hand in packing these baskets and in adding a touch of holly and red ribbon at the top to give them a holiday appearance.
"This first one is for old Mrs. Jameson," Mrs. Morton explained to her mother. "Everything in it is already cooked because she is almost blind and cooking is harder for her than it is for most people. There is a roast chicken and the vegetables are all done and put in covered bowls packed around with excelsior so that their heat won't be lost."
"Like a fireless cooker."
"The Ethels and Dorothy made enough individual fruit cakes for all our baskets, and we've put in hard pudding sauce so that they can be eaten as puddings instead of cakes."
"The girls have made candies and cookies for everybody. That basket for the Flynns has enough cookies for eight children besides the father and mother."
"If their appetites are like Roger's there must be a good many dozen cookies stowed away there."
"You can see it's the largest of all," laughed Mrs. Morton.
Roger played Santa Claus at each house and his merry face and pleasant jokes brought smiles to faces that did not look happy when their owners opened their doors. The Flynns' was the last stop and everybody in the car laughed when all the Flynns who could walk, and that meant nine of them, fairly boiled out of the door to receive the visitor. Roger jumped the small fry and joked with the larger ones, and left them all in a high state of excitement.
It was a very merry party that gathered around the Smiths' table, the largest dinner party that Dorothy and her mother had given since they came to Rosemont to live after they had met their unknown Morton relatives at Chautauqua the summer before. To Mrs. Smith it gave the greatest happiness to see the children of her brothers sitting at her table and to know that her sister-in-law was her very dear friend as well as her relative by marriage.
After dinner they all snapped costume crackers and adorned themselves with the caps that they discovered inside them, and they set the new Victrola going and danced the butterfly dance that they had learned at Chautauqua and had given at their entertainment for the Christmas Ship. Dusk was coming on when the Ethels said that they must go to the Old Ladies' Home or they would have to run all the way. Grandfather Emerson offered to whirl all of them over in the car, and they were glad to accept the offer.
They stopped at home to get the boxes of candy which they had prepared. It was while they were running up stairs to gather them together that Katharine asked Ethel Blue if Mary might press a dress for her.
"I want to wear it this evening," she said.
Ethel Blue gasped. Mary had not yet come back from Mrs. Smith's where she had served dinner for the large party and was still occupied in clearing up after it. Supper at home was yet to come. Mrs. Morton had always urged upon the girls to be very careful about asking to have extra services rendered at inconvenient hours, and a more inconvenient time than this hardly could have been selected.
"Why, I don't know," Ethel Blue hesitated.
"Oh, if you don't care to have her—" replied Katharine stiffly.
"It isn't that," returned Ethel miserably. "Mary's always willing to do things for us, but you see she's had a hard day and it isn't over yet and she won't have any holiday at all if she has to do this."
"Very well," returned Katharine in a tone that made Ethel feel that her friend considered that she was being discourteous to her guest. "I can find something else to wear this evening, I suppose."
She looked so like a martyr that Ethel was most unhappy.
"If you'll let me try it, I can use the stove in our own little kitchen," she offered, referring to the small room where Mrs. Morton allowed the girls to cook so that they should not be in the way of the servants.
"No, indeed, I could not think of letting you," responded Katharine.
"I don't know that I could do it. I never have pressed anything nice—but I'd like to try if you'll trust me."
"No, indeed," repeated Katharine, and the girls entered the automobile each in a state of mental discomfort, Katharine because she felt that she was not being treated with proper consideration, and Ethel Blue because she had been obliged to refuse the request of a friend and guest. The ride to the Home was uncomfortably silent. On Roger's part the cause was turkey, but the girls were quiet for other reasons.
The visit to the old ladies was not long. They distributed their packages and wished everybody a "Merry Christmas" and shook hands with their especial favorites and ran back to the car.
The supper was not really a party meal. It merely served as a gathering place for the U. S. C. before they went to the Christmas tree at the church. It also served as a background for Dick's little shining tree. This small tree had been a part of Dick's Christmas ever since he had had a Christmas, and to him it was quite as important as his dinner, although there never were any presents on it.
It stood now on a small table at the side of the dining room. It was lighted by means of the storage battery and the strings of tiny electric lights that had been used for the Christmas Ship at the Glen Point orphanage. There were all sorts of balls and tinsel wreaths and tiny, glistening cords. It glowed merrily while the supper went on, Dicky, at intervals of five minutes, calling everybody's attention to its beauties. There were favors at each plate, each a joke of some sort on the person who received it. Every one held up his toy for the rest to see and each provoked a peal of laughter.
NEW YEAR'S EVE
"Where is Katharine?" asked Mrs. Morton of the Ethels as Mary announced luncheon on the day before New Year's.
"She went over to Dorothy's. Shall I call her?"
"Give her a minute or two. She knows the luncheon hour," replied Katharine's hostess.
But a minute or two and more passed and no Katharine appeared.
"She must be lunching with Dorothy," suggested Ethel Blue.
"I'm sure Dorothy would have telephoned to ask if we had any plans that would interfere."
"It's twenty minutes past the hour; you'd better call and see if she's still there," said Mrs. Morton, "and we may as well sit down."
Helen was still at the telephone and the family was seated when Katharine came in.
"You didn't wait for me," she remarked with apparent surprise.
"Of course you didn't realize that the luncheon hour had struck," Mrs. Morton apologized for her. "Helen is calling Dorothy now to inquire about you."
Katharine made no reply and sat down with the injured air that she was in the habit of wearing when she thought that not sufficient deference had been paid her. She offered no apology or explanation and seemed to think, if any conclusion could be drawn from her manner, that she had a grievance instead of Mrs. Morton, whose family arrangements were continually being upset by her guest's dilatoriness and lack of consideration. The visit which had been looked forward to with such delight was not proving successful. For themselves the Ethels did not mind occasional delays, but they knew that all such matters interfered with the smooth running of the house, and they could not help wondering that Katharine should seem to think that her hostess should rearrange the daily routine to suit her.
The evening meal was to be supper and not dinner and it was to be especially early because it was to be cooked entirely by the young people. The Hancocks and the Watkinses were at the Mortons' by five o'clock. Dr. Watkins came out, too, by special invitation, but he asked if he might be permitted to pay a visit to Elisabeth while the rest were preparing the meal, in view of the fact that he was not skilled as a cook, and felt himself to be too old to learn in one lesson. He was allowed to go with strict injunctions to be back at half past six and to bring Miss Merriam with him.
The Ethels had planned beforehand what they were going to have for supper and the part that each was to take in the preparations.
When the aprons had been taken off and the guests were all seated at the table the supper went swimmingly. The oysters were delicious, the salad sufficiently "chunky" to please Roger, the biscuits as light as a feather and the fruit melange as good to look at as if it was to eat.
The table decorations hinted at the New Year that was upon them. High in a belfry made of small sticks piled on each other criss-cross hung a small bell. Silver cords ran from it to each place so that every guest might in turn "Ring out the old, ring in the new." Beside the tower on one side stood the Old Year bending with the weight of his twelve-month of experience; on the other side was the fresh New Year, too young to know experience. Both were dolls dressed by Dorothy and Ethel Blue.
"I move you, Madam President," said Tom when the meal was nearly over, "that we extend a vote of thanks to the cooks for this delicious nourishment."
"I was just on the point of making that motion," laughed Edward Watkins.
"And I of seconding it," cried Miss Merriam. "It would come more appropriately from us."
"You were far too slow," retorted Tom. "I couldn't wait for you."
"As the president was one of the cooks she ought to place some one else in the chair to put a motion complimentary in part to herself, but as the maker of the motion and the seconder were also cooks we're all in the same box and I don't believe it's necessary. All in favor say 'Aye'."
A shout of "Ayes" followed.
"Mrs. Morton has the floor."
"I don't want to seem inhospitable, but if you're going to reach the Atwoods' on time you'd better be starting."
There was a general scattering and a donning of outer garments. The boys picked up the bags and the Club started for the bridge, Dr. Watkins and Miss Merriam going with them.
When the Ethels had called on Mrs. Atwood and had asked her if the Club might visit her on New Year's Eve the old lady had been not only surprised but somewhat alarmed. She grew more cordial, however, when Ethel Brown explained it to her.
"Would you mind our asking some of our friends?"
"Not at all. We'd be glad to do the few small things that we've planned for just as many people as you can get in here."
"That isn't many," replied Mrs. Atwood, looking about her sitting room. "But there's one of my neighbors hardly ever gets to the stores or to a movie show, and I'd love to ask her in; and there's another one is just getting up from a sickness."
So the room was quite filled with guests when the Club members arrived.
"That's the boy that hung my gate for me last year the day after Hallowe'en," whispered one old woman as Roger made his way through the room, and several of them said, "Those are the young folks that went round after the regular Hallowe'en party this year and put back the signs and things the other people had pulled down."
The audience was so much larger than the Club had expected that Helen, as president, felt called upon to make a short explanation.
"We're very glad to see you here," she said, "but we don't want you to expect anything elaborate from us. We've just come to entertain our friends for a short time in a simple way. So please be kind to us."
Helen was wearing a pale pink dress that was extremely becoming, and her cheeks were flushed when she realized that these people had seen or heard of their more pretentious undertakings and might be expecting something similar from them now.
There was a reassuring nodding all over the room, and then the young people began their performance. Edward Watkins first played on the violin, giving some familiar airs with such spirit that toes went tapping as he drew his bow back and forth.
Dorothy followed him with Kipling's "I Keep Six Honest Serving Men." The music was Edward German's, and Helen played the accompaniment on Mrs. Atwood's little organ. The introduction was spirited and then Dorothy sang softly.
Dicky's turn came next on the program. He was introduced as the Honorary Member of the United Service Club, and the name of the poem that he was to recite was given as "Russian and Turk."
"We don't know who wrote these verses," Helen explained.
Dicky was helped to the top of a box which served as a stage and bobbed his bobbed hair at the audience by way of a bow. Every S he pronounced TH, which added to the pleasure of the hearers of the following lines:
There was a Russian came over the sea, Just when the war was growing hot; And his name it was Tjalikavakaree— Karindobrolikanahudarot— Shibkadirova— Ivarditztova Sanilik Danevik Varagobhot.
Dicky rattled off these names and two other similar stanzas with astonishing glibness to the amazement of his hearers. His first public appearance with the Club was undeniably a success.
The next number on the program necessitated the disappearance behind a sheet drawn across the end of the room of almost all the members of the Club. Helen, who was making the announcements, stayed outside. A light came into view behind the curtain and the lights in the room were put out.
"This is the last day of the year," began Helen when a muffled whisper had told her that all was ready, "and everybody is eager to know what is going to happen next year. We all would like to know, how the war is going to turn out, and what is going to be the result of the troubles in Mexico, and whether Rosemont will get its new park—"
She was interrupted by laughter, for Rosemont's new park was still a live subject although it never seemed to approach settlement one way or the other.
"What you are going to see now on the screen we call 'Prophecies.' The poet Campbell said that 'Coming events cast their shadows before,' and we might take that line for our motto. The first prophecy is one of trouble. It comes to almost every person at one time or another of his life."
Silence fell on the darkened room. On the sheet came the figure of Dicky. It was recognized by all and greeted with a round of applause. He looked around him as if hunting for something; then seized what was unmistakably a jam pot and began to eat from it with a spoon. His figure grew larger and larger and faded away as he walked back toward the light and disappeared beyond it. In his place came the figure of Edward Watkins, and those who knew that he was a doctor and those who guessed it from his physician's bag understood that his appearance was prophetic of Dicky's deliverance from the suffering caused by jam.
The light behind the sheet was moved close to the curtain while the table and chairs were set in place. When it went back to its proper spot there were seen the silhouettes of a group of men sitting around the table arguing earnestly.
"This," said Helen, "is the Rosemont Board of Aldermen talking about the park."
The argument grew excited. One man sprang to his feet and another thumped the table with his fist. Suddenly they all threw back their heads and laughed, rose and left the stage arm in arm.
"They're wondering why they never agreed before," Helen decided. "It's the Spring getting into their bones; and here are some of the people who are benefited by the park."
The table and chairs disappeared and a bench took their place. There followed a procession of folk apparently passing through the park. A workman, shovel and pick over his shoulder, stopped to look up at the trees. That was James. A young man and his sweetheart—Roger and Ethel Brown—strolled slowly along. Dicky rolled a hoop. Margaret, carrying a baby borrowed from the audience, sat down on a bench and put it to sleep.
The onlookers approved highly of this prophecy which was of a state of affairs which they all wanted.
"The other day," went on Helen in her gentle voice, "I found a prophecy that was not written for this war but for another, yet it is just as true for the great war that is devastating the homes and hearts of men today. It was written by Miss Bates who wrote 'America the Beautiful,' which we all sing in school, and it is called 'The Great Twin Brethren.' You remember that the Great Twin Brethren were Castor and Pollux. They were regarded as gods by the Romans. They fought for the Romans in the battle of Lake Regillus, and the high priest said about it, according to Macaulay:
Back comes the Chief in triumph Who, in the hour of fight, Hath seen the Great Twin Brethren In harness on his right.
These are the divine helpers to whom Miss Bates refers in her poem."
On the screen there came into view the shadows of Castor and Pollux dressed like Roman knights—with a corselet over a loose shirt, a short plaited skirt, greaves to protect their legs, a helmet on the head and a spear in the hand. While Ethel Brown, who had stepped forward, read the poem, the two figures—really Roger and Tom, who were nearly of a height—stood motionless. As it ended they glided backward and faded from view.
THE GREAT TWIN BRETHREN
The battle will not cease Till once again on those white steeds ye ride O Heaven-descended Twins, Before Humanity's bewildered host. Our javelins Fly wide, And idle is our cannon's boast. Lead us, triumphant Brethren, Love and Peace.
A fairer Golden Fleece Our more adventurous Argo fain would seek, But save, O Sons of Jove, Your blended light go with us, vain employ It were to rove This bleak Blind waste. To unimagined joy Guide us, immortal Brethren, Love and Peace.
These beautiful lines were read with great seriousness and their profound meaning went to the hearts of the hearers. Its gravity was counterbalanced by the next prophecy which gave hope of immediate fulfilment. Across the screen passed a procession of Club members, the first carrying a plate full of something that proved to be doughnuts when one was held up so that its hole was visible. The second person in the row bore a basket heaped high with apples, the third a dish of cookies. Then came more doughnuts, nuts and raisins, corn balls, and oranges. The lights were turned on, and the silhouettes, changed by simple magic into laughing boys and girls, passed among the people distributing their eatables. Every one had a word of praise for them. The Atwoods, for whom the effort had been made, said little, but shook hands almost tearfully with each performer.
At home they found a rousing fire and something to eat awaiting them, with Mrs. Morton smiling a cheerful welcome. They sat before the fire and cracked nuts and ate apples until the chimes rang their notice that 1927 was vanishing into the past and giving way to the New Year of hope and promise. Clasping hands they stood quite still until the chimes stopped and the slow strokes of the town clock fell on their ears. With the last they broke into the hymn:
Now a new year opens, Now we newly turn To the holy Saviour, Lessons fresh to learn.
Katharine ended her visit a few days later and returned to Buffalo under the care of Gretchen. She was escorted to the train, but the farewells of the Morton's were not intermixed with expressions of regret at her departure. She had not been a considerate guest and she had not seemed appreciative of efforts that had been made especially to give her pleasure.
It was on the way to the Atwoods' on New Year's Eve. Katharine and Della were walking together.
"It must be rather awful," said Katharine, "to have a family scandal such as the Morton's have."
"A family scandal!" repeated Della. "What do you mean?"
"About Dorothy. Her father was shot, you know."
"I know. But it wasn't a scandal. It was awful for Mrs. Smith and Dorothy but there was nothing scandalous about it—nothing at all. Dorothy has spoken to me about it quite frankly."
"She has?" returned Katharine skeptically. "I shouldn't think she would want to."
"I could see that it was very painful for her; but I think she and the Mortons, too, would be much more pained now if they knew that a guest was discussing their affairs."
Katharine dropped Della's arm and the two girls hardly spoke during the remainder of Katharine's stay.
When weeks passed and no "bread and butter letter" came from Katharine to thank Mrs. Morton and the family, the rudeness set the capstone to her sins against hospitality.
"Any letter from Katharine?" became a daily question from Roger when he came in from school and when he received a negative he sometimes opened his lips as if to say something in condemnation.
"Take care," his mother warned him when this happened; "because a guest makes mistakes is no reason that her host should copy them."
With the coming of the new year the younger people all settled down to serious work. Not only Roger but James and Tom also were to graduate in June, and all of them wanted to do themselves credit. James was going to Harvard and later to the Harvard Medical School. Tom was booked for Yale and then for business.
It was the day after Lincoln's birthday, and Saturday. Edward Watkins had come out for his weekly visit to Elisabeth and was sitting in Mrs. Smith's living room surveying her and talking to Miss Merriam. Elisabeth was walking with a fair degree of steadiness now, and made her way about all the rooms of the house without assistance. She still preferred to crawl upstairs and she could do that so fast that the person who was supposed to watch her had to be faithful or she would disappear while an eye lingered too long on the page of an interesting book or on the face of a friend.
Downstairs Edward leaned forward from his chair in front of Gertrude and picked up the ball from which she was knitting a soldier's scarf. He paid out the yarn to her as she needed it.
"You're happy here, aren't you?" he asked softly.
"Happy! I should say so! Next to having your very own home I can't imagine anything lovelier than this, with dear people and a pretty house and a darling baby. It's beautiful."
"You'd hate to leave it, wouldn't you?"
"Leave it? Why should I leave it? I think they like me. I think they want me to stay."
She looked at him piercingly, evidently disturbed at the suggestion.
"Want you to stay! I should think they would!" ejaculated the young physician. "I was just wondering what inducement would make you leave these dear people and this pretty house and this darling baby. If any one should—"
"Hullo," cried Ethel Brown, entering at this instant. "Do you know where Aunt Louise is?"
"She went out," replied Miss Merriam, somewhat nervously.
"Dorothy has gone to Della's this afternoon to help her get ready for tonight," Ethel said.
"She arrived before I left," admitted Edward—a confession that drew a long look from Gertrude.
"Playing under the table," answered Gertrude in cheerful ignorance that Ayleesabet had departed to more stimulating regions over the stairs.
Ethel lifted the table cover to investigate.
"She isn't here."
Gertrude jumped up and the doctor followed her into the hall. Ethel Brown ran into the dining room and then upstairs, with Miss Merriam in pursuit.
It was a moment of relief for everybody when Ethel gave a shout of discovery.
"Here she is!" she called, "and O, what will Dorothy say when she comes back and sees her room!"
"What's the modern way of dealing with that situation?" Edward asked when Miss Merriam re-appeared with Elisabeth under one arm.
"Do you mean ought she to be punished? Why should she? She was only following out her instinct to learn. How could she know that that was a time and place where it would inconvenience somebody else if she did? I'm the one to be punished for letting her have the opportunity."
"I suppose that's true. She'd never learn much if she didn't investigate, would she? And, as you say, she isn't yet conscious that she has any especial duty toward any one else's comfort."
"The Misses Clark are always saying 'No, no,' to her. I should think she'd think of their house as 'No, no Castle'."
"They love her, though," defended Ethel Brown.
"That's why I let her go there. A baby knows when she's loved and those two old ladies make her feel it even above the 'No, Nos'."
"I went in there yesterday when I saw Elisabeth's carriage outside their door," said Ethel, "and I found the older Miss Clark sitting on the floor clapping her hands and the baby trying to dance and sitting down, bang, every four or five steps."
Elisabeth was in a coquettish mood and played like a kitten with Edward.
"She is the very sweetest thing I ever saw!" exclaimed Ethel Brown. "I do wish I could take her to Washington."
"Take her to Washington! What on earth do you mean?" asked Miss Merriam.
"Nothing, only I hate to go away from her for even a few days. I came over to tell Dorothy that Grandfather Emerson is going to send us all to Washington with Mr. Wheeler's party for Washington's Birthday. Do you think Aunt Louise will let her go?"
"I think it will depend on who are going."
"There'll be lots of older people and teachers from our church and both the other churches, too."
"Any of your mother's particular friends?"
"I shouldn't be a bit surprised if Grandmother and Grandfather went themselves."
"Then your mother won't have any objection."
"That would settle the question for Dorothy, too, I should think," said Edward. "Are you taking outsiders along?"
"New Yorkers. Della and Tom, for instance?"
"Oh, is there any chance of Mrs. Watkins's letting them go?"
"I'll suggest it if you think they'd be welcome."
"I don't see why they wouldn't be. Mr. Wheeler wants to have as many as possible because the more there are the better rates he can make with the railroad and at the hotel."
"Why don't you stir up the Hancock's?"
"The whole U. S. C.? Why not? It would be just too glorious," and Ethel proceeded to dance her butterfly dance around the room.
"Talk it over this evening," advised Edward, taking up his hat.
"Going?" inquired Ethel.
"I might as well—I mean, I must go, thank you," responded the doctor automatically, for she had said nothing to be thanked for.
It was a charming table around which the Club seated itself at the Watkinses'. Mr. and Mrs. Watkins sat at the head and foot and Della and Tom in the center of the sides.
"I ran in to see the baby a minute before I left," Ethel Blue explained to Mrs. Watkins, "and Dr. Watkins was there and he asked me to tell you that Aunt Louise had invited him to stay to dinner."
"Edward is becoming a very uncertain character, like all doctors," said Edward's mother.
"I think he is," remarked Ethel Brown to Ethel Blue who sat beside her. "He was just saying 'Good-bye' to Miss Gertrude when I left, and he must have stayed on after all."
Everybody had contributed something to the table decorations, but no one had seen them all assembled and they all paid themselves and each other compliments on the prettiness of the various parts and Della and Dorothy on the effectiveness of the whole.
In the center was a glowing centerpiece made of three scarlet paper hearts, each about eight inches high placed with the pointed ends up and the lower corners touching so that they made a three-sided cage over the electric light. From the top a tiny Cupid aimed his arrow at the guests before him. Della and Tom had designed this warm-hearted lantern.
Half way between the centerpiece and the plates a line of dancing figures ran around the table linked to each other by chains made of wee golden hearts. Ethel Blue had drawn and painted these paper dolls, so that each represented one of the Club members and they served as place cards as well as ornaments.
"I seem to see myself in Miles Standish's armor," said James. "Does that mean that I'm to sit here where I can admire my warlike appearance?"
"It does," said Della, "and I've put Priscilla next you so that for once you can cut out John Alden. Here's John Alden—that's you, Roger, and here's a little Russian for you to take home to Dicky."
"Where am I?"
"And I?" cried one after the other.
"Can't you guess? This is the Muse of History," pointing to a white-robed figure holding a scroll.
"Helen, of course," they all shouted. "And isn't this Hallowe'en witch Ethel Brown?"
"It really looks like her!"
"And what do you guess about this songstress?"
"Dorothy, and the young lady knitting is Della."
"I hate to think that that's my face looking out of that cabbage," protested Margaret, "but Ethel Blue has a wonderful ability to catch likenesses."
"That's you, Mrs. Stalk of the Cabbage Patch, just as clearly as if it were your photograph."
"One of these two is mine and the other is for Edward," guessed Tom. "Am I one of the Great Twin Brethren and is Edward's the Pied Piper?"
"Right again. And this is Ayleesabet herself, and the Guardian Angel is Miss Merriam."
"She is an angel, isn't she!" exclaimed Della. "Look at these dozens of tiny hearts. Ethel Brown cut out those and James made them into the chains."
"Paste, paste," groaned James melodramatically. "My future calling is that of bill-poster."
Everything that could be was pink at the dinner. The soup was tomato bisque, the fish was salmon, the roast was beef, rare, the salad, tomato jelly, the dessert, strawberry ice cream, and with it small cakes heart-shaped and covered with pink icing.
In the drawing room a Cupid whirling on a card pointed with his arrow to a number, and the person who took from Mrs. Watkins's hand the envelope marked with the number indicated was instructed where to look for his valentine. Helen found hers inside of the piano. The Ethels turned up diagonal corners of the rug in the northwest corner of the library and discovered two flat packages. Margaret sought out a small bundle tied to the electrolier on the right hand side of the hall. So it went.
Each of them had prepared a valentine for every other member of the Club, so each had nine, for Dicky had sent his in to be distributed with the rest. Each had made all his nine of the same sort though not all alike. James, for instance, had made prettily decorated boxes and filled them with candy. Tom, who had a knack at cutting paper, had cut lacy designs out of lily white barred paper which he mounted on colored cardboard, and out of thin colored sheets whose patterns were thrown into relief by a background of white. Ethel Blue had drawn comical Cupids, each performing an acrobatic act. Ethel Brown had baked heart-shaped cookies and tied them into pretty boxes with pink ribbon. Dorothy's knowledge of basket making led her to experiment with some little heart-shaped trays, useful for countless purposes. She made them of different materials and they proved successful. Della stencilled hearts on to handkerchiefs, decorating some with a border of hearts touching, some with a corner wreath of interlaced hearts, the boys' with a single corner heart large enough for an initial. Each one was different.
Roger's contributions were heart-shaped watch charms of copper, each with a raised initial and mounted on a stray of colored leather and furnished with a bar and snapper of gun metal. Margaret's little heart-shaped pincushions were suitable for boys and girls alike. Some of them were small, for the pocket or the handbag; others were larger and were meant to be placed on the bureau. They were of varied colors, the girls' being of silk to match the colors of their rooms and the boys of darker hues.
Dicky's offerings were woven paper book marks made like Roger's blotter corners and intended to keep the place in a book by slipping over the corner of the leaf. Helen, who had been learning from Dorothy how to model in clay, had attempted paper weights. The family cat had served as a model, and each was a cat in a different position. Some were more successful than others, but, as Roger said, "You'd recognize them as cats."
When the search was over and every one had admired his own and his neighbor's valentines, Ethel Brown recited Hood's sonnet, "For the 14th of February," and Ethel Blue read part of Lamb's essay, "Valentine's Day," and they all felt that Saint Valentine's star was setting and that of the Father of his Country was rising resplendent.
ST. PATRICK'S DAY AND THE FIRST OF APRIL
The Misses Clark had borrowed Elisabeth for the afternoon. It was becoming a custom with them, and as Miss Merriam insisted that her little charge should have her naps out of doors with unbroken regularity, the old ladies found themselves almost every day sitting, rug-enwrapped, on Mrs. Smith's veranda or their own while the baby dozed luxuriously in her carriage. Elisabeth grew pink in the fresh air and if her self-appointed attendants did not do likewise they at least found themselves benefiting by the unaccustomed treatment.
In early March a brother came to visit them. He was a dignified elderly man, "just like the sisters before Elisabeth made them human," Roger declared, "except that he has whiskers a foot long." At first he paid no attention to the child, though the story of its escape from Belgium interested him. But no one resisted Elisabeth long and it was not many days before Mr. Clark was holding his book with one hand and playing ball with the other.
On this particular day Mrs. Smith and Miss Merriam had both needed to go to New York, and the Misses Clark had seized the opportunity to have an unusually long call from Ayleesabet. They had sat on their veranda with her while she napped; but when she came in, fresh and wide awake, their older eyes were growing sleepy from the cold and they went upstairs for forty winks, leaving their nursling in charge of their brother.
Ayleesabet was goodness itself. She sat on the floor and rolled a ball to her elderly playmate, chuckling when it struck the edge of a rug and went out of its course so that he had to plunge after it. She walked around the edge of the same rug, evidently regarding it as an island to be explored, Crusoe fashion. Her explorations were thorough. If she had been old enough to know what mines were one would have thought that she was playing miner, for she lay on her back, pushed up the rug and rolled under it.
"Upon my word," ejaculated Mr. Clark, adjusting his spectacles and examining the hump made by the baby's round little Belgian body. "Upon my word, that doesn't seem the thing for her to do."
But Elisabeth seemed entirely contented and made no response to the old gentleman's cluckings and other blandishments.
"Come out," he whispered in beguiling tones. "Come out and play."
"Come and play horsey. Don't you want to climb up? That's it. Up she goes! Steady now. Hold tight."
As he started on a slow tour of the room on all fours his rider lurched unsteadily.
"Take hold of my collar," cried the aged war-horse.
Ayleesabet fell forward, her arms went around his neck and her hands buried themselves in his whiskers. With a chirrup of delight she righted herself, a bridle-rein of hair in each hand. On went the charger, his speed increasing from a walk to an amble. Louder and louder laughed Elisabeth. Steed and rider were in that perfect accord wherein man seems akin to the Centaur.
At the height of the race the drawing room door opened and in walked Ethel Blue and Ethel Brown Morton. The horse stopped suddenly and wiped his forehead with one of his forefeet, but maintained his horizontal position in order not to throw his rider. Elisabeth's equilibrium was somewhat disturbed by the abrupt cessation of her charger's advance but she kept a firm hold on her bridle and restored herself.
"Go, go," she chortled, thumping the prostrate form of Mr. Clark with her slippered feet and smiling with excusable vanity at the new arrivals.
The Ethels stood side by side so stricken with amazement and amusement that for an instant it seemed that apoplexy would overtake them. Thanks to their natural politeness they did not laugh, though they agreed later that it had been the hardest struggle of their lives not to do so.
"We've come to take Ayleesabet home," they said. "It's awfully good of you to entertain her so long."
They lifted the protesting equestrian to the floor and put on her outer garments while the late steed resumed an upright position and dusted his knees.
"A very good child," he observed. "A very intelligent child. She does Miss Merriam great credit."
"She's growing splendidly," replied Ethel Brown.
"Too bad she can't continue under her care. Too bad."
"Can't continue under her care!" repeated the Ethels in unison. "Why can't she? What do you mean?"
"Why, on account of Miss Merriam's leaving. Of course you know. I hope I haven't betrayed any confidence."
"Miss Merriam's leaving!" exclaimed the Ethels as one girl.
"We don't know anything about it!"
"Where is she going?"
"When is she going?"
The questions poured thick and fast and Mr. Clark seemed distinctly taken aback by the excitement he had created.
"Why, Dr. Watkins said that he thought she wasn't going to stay with Elisabeth much longer. That's what I understood him to say. I don't think I'm mistaken," and the old gentleman passed his hand nervously over the top of his head.
"That's perfectly terrible if it's really so," declared Ethel Blue, who was an especial admirer of Gertrude Merriam's and a devout believer in her ability to turn Elisabeth from a skeleton into a robust little maiden.
"We must find out at once," and Ethel Brown put Elisabeth into her coat with a speed that so disregarded all orderly procedure as to bring a frown to the young Belgian's brow.
The two girls talked about the news in low, horrified tones on the way back to Dorothy's, and down they sat, prepared not only to amuse Elisabeth but to amuse her until the return of Miss Merriam, no matter how late that proved to be.
It seemed an eternity but it was only half past five when she and Mrs. Smith came back. The Ethels sat before the fire in the sitting room like judges on the bench. They made their accusation promptly. Gertrude sat down as if her knees were unable to support her. Her blue eyes stared amazedly from one to the other.
"Mr. Clark says I am going away? That Dr. Watkins said he thought I was going away?"
Her complete wonderment proved her not guilty.
"But I'm not going away! I haven't any idea of going away—unless you want me to," and she turned appealingly to Mrs. Smith.
"My dear child, of course we don't want you to," and Mrs. Smith bent and kissed her. "We love you dearly and we like your work. I can't think what Mr. Clark could have meant—or Dr. Watkins—"
"It was Edward Watkins who told Mr. Clark," repeated Ethel Brown.
Gertrude sat stupefied.
"Unless the wish were father to the thought," ended Mrs. Smith softly.
"Unless he wanted it to be true?" translated Gertrude inquiringly. "Unless—Oh!"
A blush burned its way from her chin to her brow and lost itself in the soft hair that swept back from her temples.
"He wanted it to be true, and he said he thought it was going to happen. Well, he's altogether too sure! It's humiliating," and she threw up her chin and walked firmly out of the room, for the first time forgetting Elisabeth.
"What does she mean?" Ethel Blue asked her aunt.
"Why is she humiliated?" asked Ethel Brown.
"What is she going to do?" was Dorothy's question.
"I don't know," Mrs. Smith replied to Dorothy. "We'd better not bother her. Don't tease her with questions."
The girls obeyed, but they talked the matter over a great deal among themselves and they would have asked Edward Watkins about it the first time they saw him except that their Aunt Louise guessed their plan and forestalled it by telling them that any mention of the matter would be an intrusion upon other people's affairs which would be wholly unwarranted.
The first time they saw Edward was the next day, when the Rosemont Charitable Society gave a bazaar for the benefit of its treasury, depleted by the demands upon it of an uncommonly hard winter. The seats were all taken out of the high school hall and the big room became the scene of a Donnybrook Fair on St. Patrick's Day. Of course the U. S. C. had been called on to help; it had made a name for itself and outsiders looked to it for ideas and assistance.
In fact, the idea of the fair was Ethel Brown's. She heard her mother talking with one of the Directors of the R. C. S. one afternoon about the unending need for money and suggested the Irish program as a possible means of making some.
"The child is right," fat Mrs. Anderson promptly agreed. "Rosemont never had anything of the sort."
"It wouldn't be harder to get up than any other kind of fair," said Mrs. Morton.
"And St. Patrick's Day will be here so soon that it's a good excuse for hurrying it."
So it had been hurried, and the day after the strange encounter with Mr. Clark and the disturbing conversation with Miss Merriam the scholastic American precincts of the high school were converted into an Irish fair ground. Every one who had anything to do with the tables or the conduct of the bazaar was dressed in an Irish peasant costume, the girls with short, full skirts with plain white shirt waists showing beneath a sleeveless jacket of dark cloth. Heavy low shoes and thick stockings would have been the appropriate wear for the feet, but all the girls rebelled.
"This footgear was meant for the earth floor of a cabin and not for a steam-heated room," declared Helen. "I'll wear green stockings, but thin ones, and my own slippers, even if they aren't suitable."
The boys were less inconvenienced by their garb, which included, to be sure, heavy shoes and long stockings, but also tight knee breeches and, instead of jackets, waistcoats with sleeves.
Every one in Rosemont who had any green furnishings lent them for the occasion. Mrs. Anderson robbed her library of a huge green rug to place before the stationery booth over whose writing paper and green place-cards and novelties, all in green boxes, she presided robustly.
Mrs. Morton, with Helen and Margaret to assist her, ruled over a table shaped like a shamrock and laden with articles carved from bog oak, and with china animals and photographs of Ireland and of Irish colleens.
Dorothy told fortunes in the lower part of Blarney Castle, built of canvas but sufficiently realistic, in a corner of the hall. On top Tom was ready to hold over the battlements by the heels any one who was "game" for the adventure of kissing the Blarney Stone.
In the restaurant, which was a corner of the hall shut off by screens covered with green paper, Mrs. Anderson superintended the serving of supper by her assistants—Ethel Blue and Della and some of their friends. They offered a hearty meal of Irish stew, or of cold ham and potato salad, followed by pistachio ice cream and small cakes covered with frosting of a delicate green. At one side Ethel Brown controlled the "Murphy Table" and sold huge hot baked Irish potatoes and paper plates of potato salad and crisp potato "chips" ready to be taken home. Before the evening was many minutes old she had so many orders set aside on the shelves that held books in the hall's ordinary state that she had to replenish her stock.
James acted as cashier for the whole room. Roger, armed with a shillelagh, ran around for every one until the time came for him to mount the stage and show what he knew about an Irish jig. Under the coaching of George Foster's sister, he and his sisters had learned it in such an incredibly short time that they were none too sure of their steps, but they managed to get through it without discredit to themselves or their teacher.
Then Mrs. Smith played the accompaniments for a set of familiar Irish songs—"The Harp that once through Tara's Halls," "Erin go Bragh," "Kathleen Mavourneen," "The Wearing of the Green." Dorothy led the choruses, the whole U. S. C., including Dicky, sang their best, and Edward Watkins's tenor rose so pleadingly in "Kathleen Mavourneen" that Mrs. Smith was touched.
"I'm going home now," she said to him, "to stay with the baby so that Gertrude can come to the bazaar. You may go with me if you like."
Edward did like. He glowed with eagerness. He hardly could carry on an intelligent conversation with Mrs. Smith, so eager was he to test the possibilities of the walk back when he should be escorting Miss Merriam.
When they entered the house and he saw her reading before the fire his heart came into his throat, so demure she looked and so lovely.
"I've come home, dear, so that you can go," explained Mrs. Smith. "Dr. Watkins will take you back."
Gertrude had given Mrs. Smith's escort one startled glance as they entered.
"Thank you very much indeed," she answered. "You are always so thoughtful. But I'm not going out again tonight. It's quite out of the question; please don't urge me," and she left the room without a look at the disappointed face of the young doctor.
"Now, what does that mean?" he inquired in amazement.
"You ought to know."
"I don't know. Do you?"
"I think I do."
"Won't you tell me?"
"If you think over any conversations you have had recently about Miss Merriam perhaps it will come to you."
"And you won't tell me?"
"I may be a wrong interpreter. At any rate I'm not an interferer. Your affairs are your own."
"That's a very slender hint you've given me, but I'll do my best with it."
His best was of small avail. Miss Merriam would not see him when he called, did not go anywhere where she would be likely to meet him, bowed to him so coldly when she passed him one day going into the house, that he actually did not have the courage to stop her, but rang the bell and asked for Mrs. Smith.
The Ethels and Dorothy felt that the part of courtesy was to preserve a civil silence, but they were consumed with curiosity to know just what was going on. Certainly Miss Gertrude was not happy, for she often looked as if she had been weeping, and certainly Dr. Watkins was wretched, for Tom and Della quite immediately reported him as being "so solemn you can't do anything with him." Indeed, at the April Fool party which the Hancocks gave to the U. S. C., he indulged in an outburst that startled them all.
Margaret and James had asked him because the Club had formed the habit of doing so when they were undertaking anything special. The Ethels were quite right when they guessed that he accepted the invitation because he hoped to see Miss Merriam there. She did not go, offering as an excuse that Ayleesabet needed her.
The April Fool party might have been named the Party of Surprises. There were no practical jokes;—"a joke of the hand is a joke of the vulgar" had been trained into all of them from their earliest days;—but there were countless surprises. The opening of a candy box disclosed a toy puppy; a toy cat was filled not with the desired candy but with popcorn. The candy was handed about in the brass coal scuttle, beautifully polished and lined with paraffin paper. Each guest received a present. A string of jet beads proved to be small black seeds, and a necklace of green jade resolved itself on inspection into a collar of green string beans strung by one end so that they lay at length like a verdant fringe.
The early evening was spent in the dining-room—no one knew why. When supper was served in the library it became evident that it was just a part of the program to have everything topsy turvy. It was evident, too, that a raid had been made on Dr. Hancock's supplies, for the lemonade was served in test tubes and the Charlotte Russe in pill boxes.
It was after supper when Edward Watkins had grown sure that Miss Merriam surely was not coming that he indulged in a burst of sarcasm. After a consultation with Margaret he drew the curtains across the door leading into the hall.
"Are you ready?" he called to Margaret.
"Yes," came in reply.
"Then here, my friends, you see the portrait of the original April Fool."
He swept back the portiere and the laughing group, silenced by the energy of his announcement, saw Edward himself reflected in a mirror that Margaret had set up on a chair. They all laughed, but it was uneasy laughter, and Tom tried to reassure his brother by clapping him on the shoulder and exclaiming, "You do yourself an injustice, old man, you really do," with a touch of earnestness in it.
APRIL 19 AND 23
Ethel Blue took no part in the historical program that Helen put on the stage of the Glen Point Orphanage on April 19th, "Patriots' Day," when Massachusetts folk celebrated the Revolutionary battle of Concord and Lexington. The reason was that she was just getting over a cold that had come upon her at the very time when the others were making ready for the performance, and had made her feel so wretched that she could do nothing outside of her school work. This was how it happened that she was sitting at the rear of the room when Edward Watkins came in, looked searchingly over the audience and then slipped into a chair beside her.
"Miss Merriam not here?" he murmured under cover of a duet that Dorothy and Della were playing on the piano.
"Do you know why she won't speak to me?"
Ethel Blue fairly trembled. What was she to say? She had been warned not to interfere in other people's affairs. Yet she did not know how to answer without telling the truth. So she said:
"I know how it began—her getting mad with you. I don't understand why."
"How did it begin?"
Ethel Blue looked about wildly. Dorothy and Della were thumping away vigorously. There was no possibility for escape.
"Mr. Clark told us—Ethel Brown and me—that you said you thought Miss Merriam was going away soon. We were wild, because we love her so—"
There was a strange mumble from the Doctor.
—"and she's so splendid with Ayleesabet. We asked her the minute we saw her if she was going away. She said she hadn't any idea of it and she asked us how we came to think so, and we told her what Mr. Clark had said."
"Great Scott! What did she say then?"
"Oh, Miss Gertrude and Aunt Louise said, 'why should Edward have said such a thing?' And Aunt Louise said, 'unless he wanted it to be true'."
"Ah, your Aunt Louise is a woman of intelligence!"
Edward smiled, though somewhat miserably. Ethel Blue was warming to her subject.
"Miss Gertrude said you were too sure and it was humiliating, and she went up stairs and she's never been the same since then. I don't know why it was humiliating, but she was angry right through."
"I've noticed that," said Edward reminiscently. "Now let me see just what she meant. She was told that I said I thought she was going away soon. 'Thought' or 'hoped'?"
"'Thought.' Did you say it?"
"And your Aunt Louise said that I must have wanted it to be true," went on Edward slowly, unheeding Ethel Blue's question. "And Gertrude—Miss Merriam said I was too sure and that it was humiliating. Is that straight?"
"Yes. Did you say it?"
Ethel Blue was beginning to think that if she was giving so much information she ought to be given a little in return.
"Do you know what I think about it?" asked Edward, again ignoring Ethel's question. "I don't wonder a bit that she was as mad as hops. Any girl would have been."
"Do you really want me to tell you? Well," continued Edward in her ear, "I dare say you've guessed that I'm in love with Miss Merriam."
Ethel drew a deep breath and stared open-mouthed at Dr. Watkins, who nodded at her gravely.
"I love her very much, and one day she was especially kind to me and I went walking down the street like a peacock and plumped right on to Mr. Clark. We walked along together and he said something about Miss Merriam, and I was jackass enough to say that I hoped—not thought, Ethel Blue, but hoped; do you see the difference?"
Ethel Blue nodded.
"I hoped that before long she would leave Rosemont. Don't you see, Ethel Blue? I said it out of the fullness of my heart because I hoped that before long she would marry me and go away."
Ethel gasped again.
"I was riding such a high horse that I hardly knew what I said, but I can see that when that was repeated to her with 'thought' instead of 'hoped' it looked as if I was mighty sure she was going to have me, and I hadn't even asked her. Yes, any girl would be indignant, wouldn't she?"
Edward scanned Ethel's face, hoping to find some comfort there, but there was none. Ethel's discomfiture and bewilderment had passed and she was putting an unusually acute mind on the situation. She understood perfectly that it looked to Miss Gertrude as if Dr. Watkins had made so sure that she returned his affection that he had gone about talking of it to strangers even before he had told her of his own love.
"I don't wonder that she felt humiliated," was Ethel's verdict.
The program on the stage was going on swiftly. Helen had made the historical introduction, telling the circumstances that led to the affair of April 19th. Tom had recited "Paul Revere's Ride."
It was while the whole Club was singing some quaint Revolutionary songs and winding up with "Yankee Doodle" that Dr. Watkins made his appeal to Ethel Blue.
"She won't listen to a word from me," he said. "She won't let me speak to her. Do you think you could find a chance to tell her how it was? It was bad enough but it wasn't as bad as she thinks. Will you tell her I'd like to apologize before I go to Oklahoma?"
"A friend of Dr. Hancock's is settled in a flourishing town there. He has a bigger practice than he can attend to, and he sent East for Dr. Hancock to find him an assistant. He has offered the chance to me."
"But it's so far away!"
"I hesitated a long while on that account. You see I didn't know whether Miss Merriam would care for the West."
"Weren't you taking a good deal for granted?"
"You're finding me guilty just as she has. But of course a man has to think about what he has to offer a wife. I suppose you think I'm queer to talk about this with you," he broke off his story to say, "but I haven't said a word about it to any one and it has been driving me wild so it's a great relief if you'll let me talk."
"You see, my practice in New York is so small it's ridiculous. You can't ask a girl to marry you when you aren't making enough money to support even yourself. But suppose I should go to Oklahoma where I shall soon make a good living, and then come back and ask her, and find out that she hates the West. Don't you see that I'm not all to blame?"
"Perhaps she wouldn't like you enough to marry you no matter where you lived," suggested Ethel.
Edward heaved a sigh that seemed to come from his very boots and leaned back weakly in his chair.
"There's a certain brutal frankness about you, Ethel Blue, that I never suspected."
"I thought you were thinking about all sides of the question," Ethel defended herself.
"Um, yes. I suppose I must admit that there is that possibility. Any way if you'll try to get her to let me talk to her I'll be grateful to you evermore," and Edward got up and strolled away to compliment the participants in the program, leaving Ethel Blue more excited than she had ever been in her life, even just before she went up in an aeroplane, because she was touching the edges of an adventure in real life.
It was embarrassing to broach the subject to Miss Merriam. She was sweetness itself, but she was dignified to a degree that forbade any encroachment upon her private affairs, and twice when Ethel Blue's lips were actually parted to plead in Edward's behalf her courage failed her.
"Mr. Clark is deaf," said Ethel Blue abruptly. "Edward Watkins didn't say he 'thought' you were going away; he said he 'hoped' you were going away."
"Oh!" exclaimed Miss Gertrude, turning a startled face toward Ethel.
"He hoped so because he loves you and he wants to ask you to marry him but he can't until he has a good practice, and he doesn't know whether you would like Oklahoma."
"Whether I'd like Oklahoma!" repeated Gertrude slowly.
"He wants to explain it all to you but you won't let him speak to you. He's had a good practice offered him in Oklahoma, but he won't go if you don't like Oklahoma; he'll try to work up a practice here, but it will take such a long time."
"Ethel Blue, do you really know what you're talking about?"
"Yes, Miss Gertrude," replied Ethel, blushing uncomfortably, but keeping on with determination. "Please don't think I'm awful, 'butting in' like this. Dr. Watkins asked me to ask you to let him see you. He tried a long time without telling any one; he told me when he couldn't think of anything else to do. He didn't really know why you were mad until I told him; he just knew you wouldn't see him when he called."
Miss Gertrude's eyes were on her fragile pink work as Ethel Blue blundered on.
"What shall I tell him?" she said, breaking the silence.
"You may tell him," said Gertrude slowly, "that I have a school friend in Oklahoma who tells me that Oklahoma is a very good place to live."
Ethel Blue clapped her hands noiselessly.
"But tell him, also," Gertrude went on, her blue eyes stern, "that I shall be too busy to see him before he goes."
"Oh, Miss Gertrude!" ejaculated Ethel, disappointed. "I don't quite know whether you care or not."
"Neither do I," replied Gertrude, and she leaned over and kissed Ethel Blue with lips that smiled sadly.
Ethel Blue gave Gertrude Merriam's message to Edward Watkins who was as much puzzled by it as she had been.
"What does she mean?" he asked. "Does she care for me or doesn't she?"
"She doesn't know herself. I asked her."
Edward whistled a long, soft whistle.
"Aren't girls the queerest things ever made!" he ejaculated in wonder.
"I don't think it's queer," defended Ethel. "First, it was all guesswork with her because you never had told her that you cared. And then she was angry at your having talked about her when you hadn't talked to her. Her feelings were hurt badly. And now she doesn't know what she does feel."
"She isn't strong against Oklahoma, anyway. I guess I'll accept that offer."
Ethel Blue nodded.
"I want to tell you one thing more before you go," she said. "I haven't told any one a word about this, even Ethel Brown. It's the first thing in all my life I haven't told Ethel Brown."
"I suspect it's been pretty hard for you not to. You know I appreciate it. If things work out as I hope, it will be you who have helped me most," and he shook hands with her very seriously. "There's one thing more I wish you'd do for me," he pleaded.
Ethel Blue nodded assent.
"If I can."
"I know you Club people will be hanging May baskets on May Day morning. Will you hang this one on Miss Gertrude's door—the door of her room, so that there won't be any mistake about her getting it?"
"Certainly I will."
"It's just a little note to say 'good-bye.' See, you can read it."
"I don't want to," responded Ethel Blue stoutly, though it was hard to let good manners prevail over a desire to see the inside of the very first letter she had ever seen the outside of to know as the writing of a lover to his lass.
"You'd better tell your Aunt Marian that I've told you all this," he went on. "I shouldn't want her to think that I was asking you to do something underhand."
"She wouldn't think it of you. She likes you."
"Tell her about it all, nevertheless. I insist."
Ethel felt relieved. It had seemed queer to be doing something that no one knew about.
"Thank you," she said.
The May basket was duly hung, and Miss Gertrude's eyes wore the traces of tears all the rest of the day, but Ethel Blue was not to learn for a long time what was in the note.
May passed swiftly. All the boys were so busy studying that they could give but little time to Club meetings and there was nothing done beyond the making of some plans for the summer and the taking of a few long walks. The Ethels and Dorothy and Della were doing their best to make a superlative record, also. With Helen and Margaret life went more easily, for graduation days were yet two years off with them.
GRADUATION AND FOURTH OF JULY
With the coming of June thoughts of graduation filled the minds of all the prospective graduates. The boys were able to get through their examinations quite early in the month, and as they all did better than they expected the last days of the month were days of joy to them. The girls had to wait longer to have the weight removed from their minds, but they, too, passed their examinations well enough to earn special congratulation from the principals of their respective schools.
The graduation exercises of the Rosemont graded schools were held in the hall of the high school and all the schools were represented there. The Ethels and Dorothy all sang in the choruses, and each one of them had a part in the program. Ethel Brown described the character of Northern France and Belgium, the land in which the war was being carried on. Although no mention of the war was allowed every one listened to this unusual geography lesson with extreme interest. Ethel Blue recited a poem on "Peace" and Dorothy sang a group of folk songs of different countries. It was all very simple and unpretentious, and they were only three out of a dozen or more who tried to give pleasure to the assembled parents and guardians.
Roger's graduation was more formal. A speaker came out from New York, a man of affairs who had an interest in education and who liked to say a word of encouragement to young people about to step from one stage of their education into another.
"Of course education never ends as long as you live," Roger said thoughtfully to Ethel Brown, "but there is a big feeling of jump when you go from one school to another, and you can't deny it."
"I don't want to deny it," retorted Ethel Brown. "I'm all full of excitement at the idea of going into the high school next autumn."
The graduating class of the high school was going to inaugurate a plan for the decoration of the high school hall. They were to have a banner which was to be used at all the functions, connected with graduation and in after years was to be carried by any of the alumni who came back for the occasion of the graduation and alumni dinner. During the year this banner and those which should follow it were to be stacked in the hall, their handsome faces encouraging the scholars who should see them every day by the thought that their school was a place in which every one who had passed through was interested. The power of a body of interested alumni is a force worth having by any school.
The graduating class found the idea of the banner most attractive, but when it came to the making they were aghast at the expense. A committee examined the prices at places in New York where such decorations were made and returned horrified.
It was then that the Ethels offered to do their best to help out the Class of 1915.
"We'll do what we can, and I know Helen and Margaret and Della will help us," they said and fell to work.
Ethel Blue drew the design and submitted it to the class and to the principal of the school. With a few alterations they approved it. The girls had seen many banners at Chautauqua and they had talked with the ladies who had made the banner of their mother's class, so that they were not entirely ignorant of the work they were laying out for themselves. Nevertheless, they profited by the experience of others and did not have to try too many experiments themselves.
They had learned, for instance, that they must secure their silk from a professional banner-making firm, for the silk of the department store was neither wide enough nor of a quality to endure the hard wear that a banner must endure. From this same banner house they bought linen canvas to serve as interlining for both the front and the back of the banner.
Several tricks that were of great help to them they had jotted down when they discussed banner making at Chautauqua and now they were more than ever glad that they had the notebook habit.
The front of their banner was to be white and to bear the letters "R. H. S." for Rosemont High School, and below it "1915." They remembered that in padding the lettering they must make it stand high in order to look effective, but they must never work it tight or it would draw. Another point worth recalling was that while the banner was still in the embroidery frame and was held taut they should put flour paste on the back of the embroidery to replace the pressing which was not possible with letters raised so high.
When it came to putting the banner together they found that their work was not easy or near its end. They cut the canvas interlining just like the outside, and then turned back the edge of the canvas. This was to prevent the roughness cutting through the silk when that should be turned over the canvas. Back and front were stitched and the edges pressed separately, and then they were laid back to back and were stitched together. The row of machine stitching was covered by gimp.
A heavy curtain pole tipped with a gilt ball served as a standard and was much cheaper than the pole offered by the professionals. The cross bar, tipped at each end by gilt balls, was fastened to the pole by a brass clamp. The banner itself was held evenly by being laced on to the crossbar.
The cord had been hard to find in the correct shade and the girls had been forced to buy white and have it dyed. A handsome though worn pair of curtain tassels which they found in Grandmother Emerson's attic had been re-covered with finer cord of the same color. The entire effect was harmonious and the work was so shipshape as to call forth the admiration of Mr. Wheeler and all the teachers who had a private view on the day when it was finished. The girls were mightily proud of their achievement.
"It has been one of the toughest jobs I ever undertook," declared Ethel Brown, "but I'm glad to do it for Roger and for the school."
With the graduation past all Rosemont, young and old, gave their attention to preparing for a safe and sane Fourth of July. Of course the U. S. C. were as eager as any not only to share in the fun but to help in the work.
One piece of information was prominently advertised; it was a method of rendering children's garments fire-proof. "If garments are dipped in a solution of ammonium phosphate in the proportion of one pound to a gallon of cold water, they are made fire-proof," read a leaflet that was handed in at every house in the town. "Ammonium phosphate costs but 25 cents a pound," it went on. "A family wash can be rendered fire-proof at an expense of 15 cents a week."
The U. S. C. boys handed out hundreds of these folders when they went about among the business men and arranged for contributions for the celebration. The girls took charge of the patriotic tableaux that were to be given on the steps of the high school, with the onlookers gathered on the green where the Christmas tree and the Maypole had stood.
"We must have large groups," said Helen. "In the first place the Rosemonters must be getting tired of seeing us time after time, and in the next place this is a community affair and the more people there are in it the more interested the townspeople will be."
The selection of the people who would be suitable and the inviting of them to take part required many visits and much explanation, but the U. S. C. had learned to be thorough and there was no neglect, no leaving of matters until the last minute in the hope that "it will come out right."
"It seems funny not to be waked up at an unearthly hour by a fierce racket," commented Roger on the morning of the Fourth. "I'm not quite sure that I like it."
"That's because you've always helped make the racket. As you grow older you'll be more and more glad every year that there isn't anything to rouse you to an earlier breakfast on Fourth of July morning."
The family ate the morning meal in peace and then prepared for the procession that was to gather in the square. This procession was to be different from the Labor Day procession, which was one advertising the trades and occupations of Rosemont. Today was a day for history, and the floats were to represent episodes in the town's history. Roger was to be an Indian, George Foster one of the early Swedish settlers, and Gregory Patton a Revolutionary soldier. None of the girls were to be on the floats. The procession was to be given over to the men and boys.
It was long and as each float had been carefully arranged and the figures strikingly posed the whole effect was one that gave great pleasure to all who saw it.
A community luncheon followed on the green. Tables were set on the grass, and the girls from every part of town unpacked baskets and laid cloths and waited on the guests who came to this new form of picnic quite as if they never had ceased to do these agreeable neighborly acts.
The girls had tired feet after all their running around, but they rested for an hour and were fresh again when it was time for the tableaux as the sun was sinking.
The high school was approached by a wide flight of steps and on these Helen posed her scenes. The people below sat on the grass in the front rows and stood at the back. The floats of the morning had been scenes of local history. These were scenes from the life of Washington. Washington, the young surveyor, strode into the woods with his companions and his Indian attendants. Washington became commander-in-chief of the Continental army. Washington crossed the Delaware—and the U. S. C. boys were glad that they had built the Jason at the Glen Point orphanage and did not have to study out the entire construction anew. Washington and Lafayette and Steuben shook hands in token of eternal friendship. Washington reviewed his troops under an elm at Cambridge. Washington suffered with his ragged men at Valley Forge. Then Cornwallis surrendered, and last of all, the great general bade farewell to his officers and retired to the private life from which he was soon to be summoned to take the presidential chair.
There were a hundred people in the various pictures, but the winter's experiences had taught the Club so much that they found no trouble in managing the whole affair. Each person had been made responsible for furnishing his costumes, a sketch of which had been made for him by Ethel Blue, and every one was appropriately dressed.
"This is another success for you young people," exclaimed Mr. Wheeler, shaking hands with them all. "I always know where to go when I want help."
Ethel Blue walked home with Miss Merriam, who was wheeling Elisabeth. She seemed much gayer than she had been for a long time.
Ethel kissed her as well as her sleepy little charge as she went into the house to put on a warmer dress before she should go out in the evening to see the community fireworks.
"You and Elisabeth are my helpers," she whispered gratefully. "You make everybody happy—except, perhaps—"
Ethel hesitated, for Gertrude had never mentioned Edward to her since he left for Oklahoma.
"Do you want to know what was in my May basket?"
Ethel clasped her hands.
Gertrude took out of her cardcase a tattered bit of paper. It read: "When you know that you really like Oklahoma and all the people there, please telegraph me. Good-bye."
"I telegraphed this morning," she said, almost shyly. "I said 'Oklahoma interests me'."
"Here comes the telegraph boy down the street now," cried Ethel.
Gertrude took the yellow envelope from him, and, before she opened it, signed the book painstakingly. When she had read the message she handed it to Ethel Blue.
"I start for Rosemont on the tenth to investigate the truth of the rumor."
Gertrude bubbled joyously.
"Oh!" exclaimed Ethel Blue softly. "That means you're engaged!"