"And then you grew bigger and your fingers could reach the latch—you wanted to open it to go out and see what was outside. I had made the little garden as beautiful as I knew how and it was very sunny and the wall was so high that it shut out all trouble—but you wanted so much to open the gate that I knew I must let you!"
"And then I went away to Highacres——" put in Jerry, loving the story as much as ever.
"And I was alone in the garden our love had built, but I was not lonely—I will not be lonely, for—wherever you go—you are my girl and I love you and you love me! Nothing can change that. And I shall leave the gate open—it will always be open!" She said it slowly; her story was finished.
Jerry's face was transfigured. "You mean—you mean"—she spoke softly—"that—if I want to go—back to Highacres—you'll let me? I can go to college? Oh, mamsey, you're wonderful! Mothers are the grandest things. And the gate will always be open so's I can always come back? And you won't be lonely for I'll always love you most in the world of anybody or anything. And when I'm very grown-up and can't go to school any more we'll travel, won't we? You and me and Little-Dad—won't we, mamsey?"
"Yes, dear." But the mother's eyes smiled in the darkness—she was thinking of the empty nest.
Jerry laid her cheek against her mother's arm. She drew a long breath.
"The world's so wonderful, isn't it? It's dreadful to think of anyone in it, like my—father, who's set his heart so hard on just one thing that he can't see all the other things he might do! I shall never be like that! And it's dreadful"—she frowned sorrowfully out over the starlit valley—"to think of girls who haven't mothers and who can't go to school. Why, I'm the very, very richest girl in the world!" Then she blushed. "I don't mean that money, mamsey, I mean having you and—Sunnyside and Kettle and just knowing about—our garden!"
Three girls sat on the Wishing-rock, beating their heels against its mossy side. And the world stretched before them. It was the end of a momentous day—momentous because so many things had been decided and such nice things! First, Uncle Johnny had said that he'd "fix" it with Mrs. Westley that Isobel and Gyp should remain at Kettle a month longer, then Mrs. Allan had driven over from Cobble and announced that she was going to have a house-party and her guests were going to be Pat Everett, Renee La Due and her brother, and Peggy and Garrett Lee, and Garrett Lee was going to bring Dana King. And Jerry and Uncle Johnny had prevailed upon Little-Dad to accept an automobile.
"You can keep Silverheels for just fun and work in the automobile and then we can go over to Cobble and to Wayside and——"
Little-Dad had not liked the thought at first. Somehow, to bring a chugging, smelling, snorting automobile up to Sunnyside to stay seemed an insult to the peace and beauty and simplicity of his little tucked-away home. But when Jerry pleaded and even Mrs. Travis admitted it would be nice and reminded him that Silverheels was growing old, he yielded, and Uncle Johnny promised to order one immediately—he knew just the kind that would climb Kettle and run as simply as a sewing-machine.
But the best of all that had been "decided" since sunrise was that Jerry should go back to Highacres——
"Pinch me, Gypsy Editha Westley—pinch me hard!" she cried as she sat between Gyp and Isobel. "I don't believe I'm me. And really, truly going back to Highacres! I can't be Jerauld Clay Travis who used to sit on this rock and watch the little specks come along that silver ribbon road down there and disappear around the mountain and hate them because they could go and I couldn't. But it used to be fun pretending I knew just what the world was like."
Isobel stared curiously at Jerry. "Hadn't you really ever been anywhere?"
"Oh, yes, in books I'd been everywhere. But that isn't the same as being places and seeing things yourself."
Gyp laid her fingers respectfully on the rough brown surface of the great rock.
"Do you suppose it really is a 'wishing-rock'?"
"Goodness, no. But when I was little I used to play here a lot and I pretended there were fairies—fern fairies and grass fairies and tree fairies. We'd play together. And when I grew older and began to wish for things that weren't—here, I'd come and tell the fairies because I did not want my mother to know, and, anyway, just telling about them made it seem as nice as having them. So I got to calling this my wishing-rock. Sometimes the wishes came true—when they were just little things."
"Well, it's funny if it wasn't some sort of magic that made Uncle Johnny get lost on Kettle and slip right down here in the glade when you were wishing! And your wish came true. And if he hadn't—why, you'd never have come to Highacres and we'd probably never have found that secret stairway nor the Bible nor the letter and wouldn't have known that you were really Jerauld Winton. Oh, it has magic!"
Neither Isobel nor Jerry answered, nor did they smile—after all, more than one name has been given to that strange Power that directs the little things which shape our living!
"So, I say, girls, let's wish now, each one of us! A great big wish! It's so still you could 'most believe there were fairies hiding 'round. I'll wish first."
Gyp sprang to her feet and stood in the exact centre of the flat top of the rock. She stretched her arms outward and upward in ceremonial fashion. She cleared her throat so as to pitch a suitably sepulchral note.
"I wish," she chanted, "I wish to make the All-Lincoln basketball team—I wish that dreadfully. I wish that I can get through the college entrance exams.—I don't care how much. I wish to get through college without "busting." Then I wish that I'll have a perfectly spliffy position offered to me somewhere which I shall refuse because a tall man with curly yellow hair and soulful, speaking gray eyes has asked me to marry him. Then I'll marry him and have six children and I'll bring them to the mountains to live. Then"—she paused for breath—"if I'm not asking too much I wish that my hair'll get curly."
"Did I remember everything?" she asked anxiously, jumping down from the rock. "Who's next?"
Jerry politely waved Isobel to the top.
Isobel laughed in her effort to frame all that she wanted to wish.
"I just want to be the most famous decorator in the country. I want to have women coming to me from all over, begging me to do their houses. And if the women are cross and ugly I'll make everything pink to cheer them up and if they're smug and conceited I'll make their houses dull gray, and if they are too frivolous I'll make things a spiritual blue. Oh, it will be fun! And I want to go to Paris to study just as soon as I get through college, and I don't want to get married for a long, long time, maybe never."
It was Jerry's turn. Isobel and Gyp stood aside. Jerry's eyes were shining—it was fun to pretend that, maybe, a shadowy, spectral Fate waited there in the valley to hear what they were saying!
"I wish—oh, it seems as though just going back to Highacres is all anyone could wish! I want to go to school as long as ever I can and then I want to go all around the world, and then I want to study to be a doctor like Little-Dad and take care of sick people and make them well, so they can enjoy things. And I want to marry a man who's jolly and always young-acting and loves dogs and has light brown hair and a very straight nose and——"
"Jerry Travis, that's just like Dana King," cried Gyp, accusingly.
Jerry flushed scarlet. "It isn't anything of the sort! I mean—can't there be lots of men with light brown hair and straight noses—hundreds of them? And anyway," loyalty blazed, "Dana King is the nicest boy I've ever known!"
"And he thinks you're the nicest girl," Gyp laughed back. "I know it—he told Garrett Lee and Garrett told Peggy. So there——"
"You've interrupted my wish and I don't know where I left off," Jerry rebuked. "Oh, I wish most of all that I can always, no matter where I am, come back to Sunnyside and Sweetheart and Little-Dad and—my garden! There, I've wished everything!"
The distant tinkle of a cowbell sounded faintly; a thrush sang; the sun, dropping low toward the wooded crest of the opposite mountain, cast a golden glow over valley and slope. The air was filled with the drowsy hum and stirring of tiny unseen creatures, the birches that fringed the glade leaned and whispered. The three girls sat silent, staring down into the valley, each visioning a golden future of her own. But a thoughtfulness shadowed the radiance of Jerry's face. Yesterday she had been just Jerry Travis of Kettle, now she was another Jerry; on a page far back in her life's book, opened to her, she had glimpsed the tragedy of disappointment, of blighted hope, of defeat—her own young, undaunted spirit cried out that none of this must come into her life! Or, if it did, she must be strong to meet it——
Gyp roused. For her the golden spell was broken. She yawned and stretched.
"Isn't school funny? You think you hate it and then when vacation comes you keep thinking about going back. And you bury geometry and Caesar forever and try to forget them and then first thing you're thinking about what you're going to take next year and whom you'll get and what new girls will come and what sort of a team we'll have! We've just got to train a forward who'll be as good as Ginny when she graduates and I believe, Jerry Travis, you're it."
Jerry and Isobel turned promptly from their dreaming.
"I wonder who'll take Miss Gray's place—and Barbara Lee's——"
"And, oh," Jerry hugged them both. "I'll be there! I'll be there! I hated to think of your all going on without me. It would have broken my heart! Dear old Highacres!"
"To thy golden founts of wisdom, Alma Mater, guide our step——"
caroled the young voices, softly.
* * * * *
BY JANE ABBOTT
"There is something of Louisa May Alcott in the way Mrs. Abbott unfolds her narrative and develops her ideals of womanhood; something refreshing and heartening for readers surfeited with novels that are mainly devoted to uncovering cesspools."—Boston Herald.
STORIES FOR GIRLS
"'Keineth' is a life creation—within its covers the actual spirit of youth. The book is of special interest to girls, but when a grown-up gets hold of it there follows a one-session under the reading lamp with 'finis' at the end."—Buffalo Times.
"Mrs. Abbott takes her story writing seriously and the standards she sets up in the actions of her characters must help to shape the judgment and ideals of those who read her books."—Christian Endeavor World.
"Saturated with the spirit of youth, and written in the happy vein characteristic of Mrs. Abbott's previous stories and which is endearing the author with her growing army of youthful readers."—Brooklyn Standard Union.