JANE D. ABBOTT
Author of "Keineth," "Larkspur" and "Happy House"
With Illustrations by Harriet Roosevelt Richards
Philadelphia and London J. B. Lippincott Company
Copyright, 1920, by J. B. Lippincott Company
Printed by J. B. Lippincott Company At the Washington Square Press Philadelphia, U. S. A.
TO THOSE DEAR CHUMS
"WRITE A STORY ABOUT SCHOOL," YOU ASKED ME. "WRITE A STORY IN WHICH THE HEROINE HAS A MOTHER AND A FATHER—WE'RE SO TIRED OF POOR ORPHANS," YOU BEGGED. I HAVE TRIED TO DO IT, ASKING YOUR FORGIVENESS FOR ONE LITTLE STEP-FATHER. TO YOU I AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATE THE STORY
I. KETTLE MOUNTAIN
III. ON THE ROAD TO COBBLE
IV. THE WESTLEYS
V. JERRY'S WISH COMES TRUE
VI. NEW FACES
IX. THE SECRET DOOR
X. THE DEBATE
XI. AUNT MARIA
XII. THE PARTY
XIII. HASKIN'S HILL
XIV. THE PRIZE
XV. CUPID AND COMPANY
XVI. FOR THE HONOR OF THE SCHOOL
XVIII. THE RAVENS CLEAN THE TOWER
XIX. THE LETTER
XX. THE FAMILY COUNCILS
XXI. POOR ISOBEL
XXII. JERRY WINS HER WAY
XXIII. THE THIRD VIOLINIST
XXV. THE LINCOLN AWARD
XXVII. CRAIG WINTON
XXVIII. HER MOTHER'S STORY
XXIX. THE WISHING-ROCK
Amid the unforgettable shouts of the boys and girls she slid easily on down the trail
She pointed down to the winding road
One by one, quite breathless with excitement, they climbed to the tower room
Gyp, Jerry, Tibby, even Graham, superintended Isobel's preparations for the dress rehearsal
If John Westley had not deliberately run away from his guide that August morning and lost himself on Kettle Mountain, he would never have found the Wishing-rock, nor the Witches' Glade, nor Miss Jerauld Travis.
Even a man whose hair has begun to grow a little gray over his ears can have moments of wildest rebellion against authority. John Westley had had such; he had wakened very early that morning, had watched the sun slant warmly across his very pleasant room at the Wayside Hotel and had fiercely hated the doctor, back in the city, who had printed on a slip of office paper definite rules for him, John Westley, aged thirty-five, to follow; hated the milk and eggs that he knew awaited him in the dining-room and hated, more than anything else, the smiling guide who had been spending the evening before, just as he had spent every evening, thinking out nice easy climbs that wouldn't tire a fellow who was recuperating from a very long siege of typhoid fever!
It had been so easy that it was a little disappointing to slip out of the door opening from the big sun room at the back of the hotel while the guide waited for him at the imposing front entrance. There was a little path that ran across the hotel golf links on around the lake, shining like a bright gem in the morning sun, and off toward Kettle Mountain; feeling very much like a truant schoolboy, John Westley had followed this path. A sense of adventure stimulated him, a pleasant little breeze whipping his face urged him on. He stopped at a cottage nestled in a grove of fir trees and persuaded the housewife there to wrap him a lunch to take with him up the trail. The good woman had packed many a lunch for her husband, who was a guide (and a close friend of the man who was cooling his heels at the hotel entrance), and she knew just what a person wanted who was going to climb Kettle Mountain. Three hours after, John Westley, very tired from his climb but not in the least repentant of his disobedience, enjoyed immensely a long rest with Mother Tilly's good things spread out on a rock at his elbow.
At three o'clock John Westley realized that the trail he had chosen was not taking him back to the village; at four he admitted he was lost. All his boyish exhilaration had quite left him; he would have hugged his despised guide if he could have met him around one of the many turns of the trail; he ached in every bone and could not get the thought out of his head that a man could die on Kettle Mountain and no one would know it for months!
He chose the trails that went down simply because his weary legs could not climb one foot more! And he had gone down such steep inclines that he was positive he had descended twice the height of the mountain and must surely come into some valley or other—then suddenly his foot slipped on the needles that cushioned the trail, he fell, just as one does on the ice—only much more softly—and slid on, down and down, deftly steering himself around a bend, and came to a stop against a dead log just in time to escape bumping over a flight of rocky steps, neatly built by Nature in the side of the mountain and which led to a grassy terrace, open on one side to the wide sweep of valley and surrounding mountains and closed in on the other by leaning, whispering birches.
It was not the amazing view off over the valley, nor the impact against the old log that made his breath catch in his throat with a little surprised sound—it was the sudden apparition of a slim creature standing very straight on a huge rock! His first joyful thought was that it was a boy—a boy who could lead him back to the Wayside Hotel, for the youth wore soft leather breeches and a blouse, loosely belted at the waist, woolen golf stockings and soft elkskin shoes, but when the head turned, like a startled deer's, toward the unexpected sound, he saw, with more interest than disappointment, that the boy was a girl!
"How do you do?" he said, because her eyes told him very plainly that he was intruding upon some pleasant occupation. "I'm very glad to see you because, I must admit, I'm lost."
The girl jumped down from her rock. She had an exceptionally pretty face that seemed to smile all over.
"Won't you come down?" she said graciously, as though she was the mistress of Kettle Mountain and all its glades.
Then John Westley did what in all his thirty-five years he had never done before—he fainted. He made one little effort to rise and walk down the rocky steps but instead he rolled in an unconscious heap right to the girl's feet.
He wakened, some moments later, to a consciousness of cool water in his face and a pair of anxious brown eyes close to his own. He felt very much ashamed—and really better for having given way!
"Are you all right now?"
"Yes—or I will be in a moment. Just give me a hand."
He marveled at the dexterity with which she lifted him against her slim shoulder.
"Little-Dad's gone over to Rocky Point, but I knew what to do," she said proudly. "I s'pose you're from Wayside?"
He looked around. "Where is Wayside?"
She laughed, showing two rows of strong, white teeth. "Well, the way Little-Dad travels it's hours away so that Silverheels has to rest between going and coming, and Mr. Toby Chubb gets there in an hour with his new automobile when it'll go, but if you follow the Sunrise trail and then turn by the Indian Head and turn again at the Kettle's Handle you'll come into the Sleepy Hollow and the Devil's Pass and——"
John Westley clapped his hands to his head.
"Good gracious, no wonder I got lost! And just where am I now?"
"You're right on the other side of the mountain. Little-Dad says that if a person could just bore right through Kettle you'd come out on the sixth hole of the Wayside Golf course—only it'd be an awfully long bore."
John Westley laughed hilariously. He had suddenly thought how carefully his guide always planned easy hikes for him.
The girl went on. "But it's just a little way down this trail to Sunnyside—that's where I live. Little-Dad's my father," she explained.
"I'd rather believe that you're a woodland nymph and live in yonder birch grove, but I suppose—your garments look so very man-made—that you have a regular given-to-you-in-baptism name?"
"I should say I had!" the girl cried in undisguised disgust. "Jerauld Clay Travis. I hate it. Nearly every girl I know is named something nice—Rose and Lily and Clementina. It was cruel to name any child J-e-r-a-u-l-d."
"I think it's—nice! It's so—different." John Westley wanted to add that it suited her because she was different, but he hesitated; little Miss Jerauld might misunderstand him. He thought, as he watched from the corner of his eye, every movement of the slim, strong, boyish form, that she was unlike any girl he had ever known, and, because he had three nieces and they had ever so many friends, he really knew quite a bit about girls.
"Yes, it's—different," she sighed, unconscious of the thoughts that were running through the man's head. Then she brightened, for even the discomfiture of having to bear the name Jerauld could not long shadow her spirit, "only no one ever calls me Jerauld—I'm always just Jerry."
"Well, Miss Jerry, you can't ever know how glad I am that I met you! If I hadn't, well, I guess I'd have perished on the face of Kettle Mountain. I am plain John Westley, stopping over at Wayside, and I can swear I never before did anything so silly as to faint, only I've just had a rather tough siege of typhoid."
"Oh, you shouldn't have tried to climb so far," she cried. "As soon as you're rested you must go home with me. And you'll have to stay all night 'cause Mr. Chubb's not back yet from Deertown and he won't drive after dark."
If John Westley had not been so utterly fascinated by his surroundings and his companion, he might have tried immediately to pull himself together enough to go on to Sunnyside; he was quite content, however, to lean against a huge rock and "rest."
"I'm trying to guess how old you are. And I thought you were a boy, too. I'm glad you're not."
"I'm 'most fourteen." Miss Jerry squared her shoulders proudly. "I guess I do look like a boy. I wear this sort of clothes most of the time, 'cept when I dress up or go to school. You see I've always gone with Little-Dad on Silverheels when he went to see sick people until I grew too heavy and—and Silverheels got too old." She said it with deep regret. "But I live—like this!"
"And do you wander alone all over the mountain?"
"Oh, no—just on this side of Kettle. Once a guide and a man from the Wayside disappeared there beyond Sleepy Hollow and that's why they call it Devil's Hole. Little-Dad made me promise never to go beyond the turn from Sunrise trail. I'd like to, too. But there are lots of jolly tramps this side. This"—waving her hand—"is the Witches' Glade and that"—nodding at the rock against which the man leaned—"is the Wishing-rock."
John Westley, who back home manufactured cement-mixers, suddenly felt that he had wakened into a world of make-believe.
He turned and looked at the rock—it was very much like a great many other rocks all over the mountainside and yet—there was something different!
Jerry giggled and clasped her very brown hands around her leather-clad knees.
"I name everything on this side—no one from Wayside ever comes this way, you see. I've played here since I was ever so little. I've always pretended that fairies lived in the mountains." She leveled serious eyes upon him. "They must! You know it's magic the way things—are—here!"
John Westley nodded. "I understand—you climb and you think you're on top and then there's lots higher up and you slide down and you think you're in the valley and you come out on a spot—like this—with all the world below you still."
"Mustn't it have been fun to make it all?" Jerry's eyes gleamed. "And such beautiful things grow everywhere and the colors are so different! And the woodsy glens and ravines—they're so mysterious. I've heard the trees talk! And the brooks—why, they can't be just nothing but brooks, they're so—so—alive!"
"Oh, yes," John Westley was plainly convinced. "Fairies must live in the mountains!"
"Of course I know now—I'm fourteen—that there are no such things as fairies but it's fun to pretend. But I still call this my Wishing-rock and I come here and stand on it and wish—only there aren't so awfully many things to wish for that you don't just ask Little-Dad for—big things, you know."
"Miss Jerry, you were wishing when I—arrived!"
She colored. "I was. Little-Dad says I ought to be a very happy girl and I am, but I guess everybody always has something real big that they think they want more than anything else."
John Westley inclined his head gravely. "I guess everybody does, Jerry. I think that's what keeps us going on in the race. Does it spoil your wish—to tell about it?"
"Oh, my, yes!" Then she laughed. "Only I suppose it couldn't because there aren't really fairies."
"What were you wishing?" He asked it coaxingly, in his eyes a deep interest.
She hesitated, her dark eyes dreaming. "That I could just go on along that shining white road—down there—around and around to—the other side of the mountain!" She rose up on her knees and stretched a bare arm down toward the valley. "I've always wished it since the days when Little-Dad used to ride that way and leave me home because it was too far. I know that everything that's the other side of the mountain is—oh, lots different from Miller's Notch and—school—and—Sunnyside—and Kettle." Her voice was plaintively wistful, her eyes shining. "I know it's different. From up here I can watch the automobiles come along and they always turn off and go around the mountain and never come to Miller's Notch unless they get lost. And the trains all go that way and—and it must be different! It's like the books I read. It's the world——" She sank back on her knees. "Once I tried to walk and once I rode Silverheels, but I never seemed to get to the real turn, it was so far and I was afraid. At sunset I look at the colors and the little clouds in the sky and they look like castles and I think it's the reflection of what's on the other side. That's what I was wishing." She turned serious eyes toward Westley. "Is it dreadfully wicked? Little-Dad said I was discontented and Sweetheart—that's mother—cried and hugged me as though she was frightened. But some day I've just got to go along that road."
For some reason that was beyond even the analytical power of his trained mind, John Westley was deeply stirred. Little Jerry, child of the woods—he felt as her mother must have felt! There was a mystery about the girl that held his curiosity; she could be no child of simple mountain people. He rose from his position against the rock with surprising agility.
"If you'll give me a hand I'll stand on your rock and wish that your wish may come true, if you want it so very much! But, maybe, child, you'll find that what you have right here is far better than anything on the other side of the mountain. Now, suppose you lead the way to Sunnyside."
Jerry sprang ahead eagerly. "And then you'll meet Sweetheart and Little-Dad and Bigboy and Pepperpot!"
Jerry had led her new friend only a little way down the sharply-descending trail when suddenly the trees, which had crowded thickly on either side, opened on a clearing where roses and hollyhocks, phlox, sweet-william, petunias and great purple-hearted asters bloomed in riotous confusion along with gold-tasseled corn, squash, beets and beans. A vine-covered gateway led from this into the grassy stretch that surrounded the low-gabled house.
"Hey-o! Sweetheart!" called Jerry in a clear voice.
In answer came a chorus of joyful yelping. Around the corner dashed a Llewellyn setter and a wiry-haired terrier, tumbling over one another in their eagerness to reach their mistress; at the same moment a door leading from the house to the garden opened and a slender woman came out.
John Westley knew at a glance that she was Jerry's mother, for she had the same expression of sunniness on her lips; her hair, like Jerry's, looked as though it had been burnished by the sun though, unlike Jerry's clipped locks, it was softly coiled on the top of her finely-shaped head.
"This is my mother," announced Jerry in a tone that really said: "This is the wisest, kindest, most beautiful lady in the whole wide world!"
Though the dress that Mrs. Travis wore was faded and worn and of no particular style, John Westley felt instinctively that she was an unusual woman; in the graciousness of her greeting there was no embarrassment. Only once, when John Westley introduced himself, was there an almost imperceptible hesitation in her manner, then, just for an instant, a startled look darkened her eyes.
While Jerry, with affectionate admonishing, silenced her dogs, Mrs. Travis led their guest toward the little house. She was deeply concerned at his plight; he must not dream of attempting to return to Wayside until he had rested—he must spend the night at Sunnyside and then in the morning Toby Chubb could drive him over. Dr. Travis would soon be back and he would be delighted to find that she and Jerry had kept him.
"We do not meet many new people on this side of the mountain," she said, smilingly. "You will be giving us a treat!"
So deeply interested was John Westley in the Travis family and their unusual home, tucked away on the side of the mountain, to all appearances miles away from anyone or anything (though Jerry had pointed out to him the trail down the hillside that led to Miller's Notch and the school and the little church and was a mile shorter than going by the road), that he forgot completely the alarm that must be upsetting the entire management of the Wayside Hotel over the disappearance of a distinguished guest. Indeed, at the very moment that he stepped across the threshold into the sunlit living room of the Travis cottage, a worried hotel manager was summoning by telegraph some of the most expert guides of the state for a thorough search of the neighborhood, and, at the same time, a New York newspaperman, at the Wayside for a vacation, was clicking off to his city editor, from the town telegraph station, the most lurid details of the tragedy.
Sunnyside, John Westley knew at once, was a "hand-made" house; each foot of it had been planned lovingly. Windows had been cut by no rule of architecture but where the loveliest view could be had; doors seemed to open just where one would want to go. The beams of the low ceiling and the woodwork of the walls had been stained a mellow brown. There was a piney smell everywhere, as though the fragrant odors of the mountainside had crept into and clung to the little house. A great fireplace crowned the room. Before it now stretched a huge Maltese cat. And most surprising of all—there were books everywhere, on shelves built in every conceivable nook and corner, on the big table, on the arm of the great chair drawn close to the west window.
All of this John Westley took in, with increasing wonder, while Mrs. Travis brought to him a glass of home-made wine. He drank it gratefully, then settled back in his chair with a little contented laugh.
"I'm beginning to feel—like Jerry—that Kettle Mountain is inhabited by fairies and that I am in their stronghold!"
But there was little suggestive of the fairy in Jerry as she tumbled through the door at that moment, Pepperpot held high in her arms and Bigboy leaping at her side. They rudely disturbed the Maltese—Dormouse, Jerry called her—and then occupied in sprawling fashion the strip of rug before the hearth.
"Be still, Pepper! Shake hands with the gentleman, Bigboy. They're as offended as can be because I ran away without them," she explained to John Westley. "Do you feel better now?" she asked, a little proprietary note in her voice.
"I do, indeed, and I'm glad, too, very glad, that I got lost."
"And here comes Little-Dad up the trail! I'll tell him you're here. Anyway, he'll want me to put up Silverheels." She was off in a flash, the dogs leaping behind her.
After having met Jerry and Jerry's mother, John Westley was not at all surprised to find Dr. Travis a most unordinary man, also. He was small, his clothes, country-cut, hung loosely on his spare frame, his hair fringed over his collar in an untidy way, yet there was a kindliness, a gentleness in his face that was winning on the instant; one did not need to see his dusty, worn medicine case to know that his life was spent in caring for others.
Widely traveled as John Westley was, never in his whole life had he met with such an interesting experience as his night at Sunnyside. Most amazing was the hospitality of these people who seemed not to care at all who he might be—it was enough for them that chance had brought him, in a moment's need, to their door. Everything seemed to prove that Mrs. Travis, at least, was a woman educated beyond the ordinary, yet nothing in their simple, pleasant conversation could let anyone think that they had not both been born and brought up right there on Kettle. Everything about the house had the mark of a cultured taste, yet the cushioned chairs, the rugs, the soft-toned hangings were worn to shabbiness. And most mystifying of all was Miss Jerry herself, who had appeared at the supper table in a much faded but spotless gingham dress, black shoes and cotton stockings replacing the elkskins and woolen socks, very much a spirited little girl, with a fearlessness of expression that amused John Westley while at the same time he wondered if it could possibly be the training of the school at Miller's Notch.
He felt that Mrs. Travis must read in his face the curiosity that consumed him. He did not know that deep in her heart was a poignant regret that Jerry should have, in such friendly fashion, adopted this stranger—Jerry, who was usually a little shy! Of course she could not know that it was because he had admitted to Jerry that he, too, found something in Kettle that approached the magic—that he had stood on the Wishing-rock and had wished, very seriously, and if Mrs. Travis had known what that wish was her regret would, indeed, have been real alarm! After Jerry, with Pepper, had gone off to bed and Dr. Travis with Bigboy had slipped out to the little barn, John Westley said involuntarily, as though the words tumbled out in spite of anything he could do: "Of course, you know that I'm completely amazed to find a spot like this—off here on the mountain."
Mrs. Travis smiled, as though there were lots of things in her head that she was not going to say.
"Does Sunnyside seem attractive? We haven't any wealth—as the world reckons it, but the doctor and I love books and we've made our little corner in the world rich with them."
"And you have Jerry."
"Yes!" The mother's smile flashed, though there was a wistful look in her eyes. "But Jerry's growing into a big girl."
"You must have an unusually excellent school here." John Westley blushed under the embarrassment of—as he plainly put it—"pumping" Jerry's mother.
Her explanation was simple. "It's as good as mountain schools are. When the snow is so deep that she cannot go over the trail I have taught her at home. You see I have not always lived at Miller's Notch—I came here—just before Jerry was born."
"Has she many playmates?" He remembered Jerry chattering about some Rose and Clementina and a Jimmy Chubbs.
"A few—but there are only a few of her own age. And she is outgrowing her school." A little frown wrinkled Mrs. Travis' pretty brow. "That is the first real problem that has come to Sunnyside for—a very long time. Life has always been so simple here. We have all we can want to eat and the doctor's practice, though it isn't large, keeps us clothed, but—Jerry's beginning to want something more than the school down there—and these few chums and—even I—can give her!"
John Westley recalled Jerry's face when she told her wish: "I want to go along that shining road—down there—around and around—to the other side of the mountain." He nodded now as though he understood exactly what Mrs. Travis meant by "her problem." He understood, too, though he had no child of his own, just why her voice trembled ever so slightly.
"We can't keep little Jerry from growing into big Jerry nor from wanting to stretch her wings a bit and yet—oh, the world's such a big, hard place—there's so much cruelty and selfishness in it, so much unhappiness! If I could only keep her here always, contented——" she stopped abruptly, a little ashamed of her outburst.
John Westley knew, just as though she had told him in detail all about herself, that life, sometime and somewhere away from the quiet of Sunnyside, had hurt this little woman.
"Dr. Travis and I find company in our books," Mrs. Travis went on, "and our neighbors, though we're quite far apart, are pleasant, simple-hearted people. Jerry does all the things that young people like to do; she swims down in Miller's Lake, and skates and skis and she roams the year round all over the side of Kettle; she can call the birds and wild squirrels to her as though she was a little wild creature herself. She takes care of her own little garden. And I do everything with her. Yet she is always talking as though some day she'd run away! Of course I know she wouldn't do exactly that, but I sometimes wonder if I have the right to try to hold her back. I haven't forgotten my own dreams." She laughed. "I certainly never dreamed of this"—sweeping her hand toward the shadowy room—"and yet this is better, I've found, than the rosy picture my young fancy used to paint!"
John Westley wished that he had read more and worked less hard at making cement-mixers; so much had been printed in books about this reaching out of youth that he might repeat now, if he knew it all, to the little mother. Instead he found himself telling her of his own three nieces. Then quite casually Mrs. Travis remarked:
"Some very pleasant people have opened Cobble House over on Cobble Mountain—Mr. and Mrs. Will Allan. I met her at church. She's—well, I knew in an instant that I was going to like her and that she'd help me about Jerry. I——"
"Allan—Will Allan? Why, bless my soul, that's Penelope Everett, the finest woman I ever knew! They come from my town." He sprang to his feet in delight. "I never dreamed I was anywhere near them! I'll get Mr. Chubb to take me there to-morrow. Of course you'll like her. She's—well, she's just like you!"
ON THE ROAD TO COBBLE
The next day Mr. Toby Chubb's "Fly-by-day," as Dr. Travis called the one automobile that Miller's Notch boasted, chugged busily over the mountain roads. John Westley started out very early to find his friends at Cobble; then he had to drive back to Wayside to appease a distraught manager and half a dozen angry guides and also to pack his belongings; for the Allans would not let him stay anywhere else but with them at Cobble. Then, after he had been comfortably established in the freshly painted and papered guest-room of the old stone house which the Allans had been remodeling, he coaxed Mrs. Allan to drive back to Sunnyside that she might, before the day passed, get better acquainted with Jerry and Jerry's mother.
"I couldn't feel more excited if I'd found a gold mine there on the side of Kettle!" John Westley had told his friends. Mrs. Allan, an attractive young woman, who was accustomed to many congenial friends about her, had been wondering, deep in her heart, if she was not going to find Cobble just the least little bit lonely at times, so she listened with deep interest to John Westley's account of Jerry and Sunnyside.
"I can't just describe why the girl seems so different—it's that she's so confoundedly natural! There's a freshness about her that's like one of these clean, cool mountain winds whipping through you."
Mrs. Allan laughed at his awkward attempt to explain Jerry. She was used to girls—she loved them, she understood just what he was trying to say. He went on: "And here she is growing up, tucked away on the side of that mountain with a mother who's more like a sister, I guess—says she skates and skis and does everything with the child. And the most curious father—don't believe he's been further away from Kettle than Waytown more'n three or four times in his life; sits there with his books when he isn't jogging off on his horse to see some sick mountaineer, and the kindest, gentlest soul that ever breathed. There's an atmosphere in that house that is different, upon my word—makes one think of the old stories of kings and queens who disguised themselves as peasants—simple meal, everything sort of shabby but you couldn't give all that a thought, there was such a feeling of peace and happiness everywhere." John Westley actually had to stop for breath. But he was too eager and too much in earnest to mind the glint of amusement in Mrs. Allan's eyes. "When I went to bed didn't that big, amber-eyed cat of Jerry's follow me upstairs and into the room and stretch herself across my bed just as though that was what I'd expect! I never in my life before slept with a cat in the room, but I felt as though it would be the height of rudeness to chuck her off the bed! And I haven't slept as soundly, since I've been sick, as I did in that little room. I think it was the piney smell about everything. Miss Jerry wakened me at an unearthly hour by throwing a rose through my window. It hit me square in the nose. The little rascal was standing down there in the sunshine, in her absurd trousers, with a basket of berries in her hand—she'd been off up the trail after them."
Although John Westley's glowing account had prepared her for what she would find at Sunnyside, ten minutes after Penelope Allan had crossed the threshold she could not resist nodding to him, as much as to say: "You were quite right." In such places as Sunnyside little conventional restraints were unknown and in a very few moments the two women were chatting like old friends while Dr. Travis was explaining in his drawling voice the advantages of certain theories of planting, to which Will Allan listened intently, because he was planning a garden at Cobble, while John Westley, only understanding a word now and then, wished he hadn't devoted so much of his time to cement and knew more about spinach.
Afterwards, as they drove down the rough trail back to Cobble, John Westley demanded: "Honestly, Pen Allan, doesn't it strike you that there is a mystery about these Travis people?"
She hesitated a moment before answering, then laughed lightly as she spoke. "You funny man—the magic of these mountains is getting in your blood! Of course not—they are just a very happy family who know a little more than most of us about what's really worth while in this world. Now tell me about your own nieces—Isobel, and that madcap Gyp, and little Tib." She knew well how fond John Westley was of these three girls and to talk of them brought to her a breath of what she had known at home before she had married Will Allan, the spring before.
"Oh, they're as bad as ever," he said in a tone that implied exactly the opposite. "Isobel's growing more vain each day and Gyp more heedless, and Tibby's going to spoil her digestion if her mother doesn't make her eat less candy and more oatmeal. I haven't seen much of the youngsters since I was sick."
"And Graham—poor boy, stuck in among those girls! He must be in long trousers now."
"Graham can take care of himself," laughed the uncle. "Wish I had the four of them here with me! I wanted to bring them along but Dr. Hewitt said it'd be the surest way to the undertaker. They are a good sort but—sometimes, I wonder——"
"You are an extraordinary uncle, to take the responsibility of your nieces and nephew the way you do."
"I can't help it; I've lived with them since they were babies and it's just as though they were my own. And their father's away so much that I think their mother sort of depends on me. Sometimes I get a little bothered—they're having the very best schooling and all the things money can give young people and yet—there's a sort of shallowness possessing them that makes them—well, not value the opportunities they're having——"
"You talk like a veritable schoolmaster," laughed Mrs. Allan, teasingly.
"Have you forgotten that when Uncle Peter Westley left Highacres to the Lincoln School it made me trustee of the school? That's almost as bad as being the principal. And this year I'm going to take an active interest in the school, too. The doctor says I must have a 'diversity' of interests to offset the strain of making cement-mixers and I think to rub up against two hundred boys and girls will fill the bill, don't you? They've remodeled the building at Highacres this summer and completed one addition. There are twenty acres of ground, too, for outdoor athletics."
"What a wonderful gift," mused Mrs. Allan, recalling the pile of stone and marble old Peter Westley had built in the outskirts of his city that could never have been of any possible use to himself because he had been a crusty old bachelor who hated to have anyone near him. Gossip had said that he had built it just because he wanted his house to cost more than any other house in the city; unworthy as his motive in building it might have been, he had forever ennobled the place when he had bequeathed it to the boys and girls of his city.
"There'll be a chance, with the school out there, of offsetting just what's threatening Isobel and Gyp—a sort of grownupness they're putting on—like a masquerade costume!"
"I love your very manlike way of describing things," laughed Mrs. Allan, recalling certain experiences of her own when, for six months, she had undertaken the care of her own niece, Patricia Everett. "It's so—vivid! A masquerade make-up, too big and too long, and then when you peep under the 'grown-up' costume, there's the little girl still—really loving to frolic around in the delightful sports that belong to youth and youth only."
John Westley rode on for a few moments in deep silence, his mind on the young people he loved—then suddenly it veered to the little girl he had found on the Wishing-rock, her eyes staring longingly out into a dream-world that lay beyond valley and mountain top.
"I've an idea—a—corker!" he exclaimed, just as the Fly-by-day bounced into the grass-grown drive of Cobble House.
"Gyp Westley, get right down off from that chair! You know mother doesn't want you to stand on it!"
Miss Gyp, startled by her sister's sudden appearance at her door, fell promptly from her perch on the dainty chintz-cushioned chair.
"I was only tacking up my new banner," she answered crossly. "Here, Tib, put the hammer away. What are you going to do, Isobel?" Gyp's tone asked, rather: "What in the world have you found to do?"
Because Mrs. Hicks' mother had been so inconsiderate as to have a stroke of apoplexy, much misery of spirit had fallen upon the young Westleys. Mrs. Hicks was the Westley housekeeper and Mrs. Robert Westley, who, with her four youngsters, was spending the month of August at Cape Cod, had declared that she must return home at once, for Mrs. Hicks' going would leave the house entirely alone with the two housemaids who were very new and very inexperienced. There had been of course a great deal of rebellion but Mrs. Westley, for once hardhearted, had turned deaf ears upon her aggrieved children.
"Not a bit of silver packed away or anything, with that yellow-haired Lizzie! And anyway, it'll only be two or three weeks before school opens." Which was, of course, scant comfort!
"Oh, I thought I'd walk over and see if Ginny's home yet."
"Of course she isn't. Camp Fairview doesn't close until September second. I wish I'd gone there! Where's Graham?"
Isobel stretched her daintily-clad self in the chintz-cushioned chair that Gyp had vacated.
"He went out to Highacres to see the changes. Won't it seem funny to go to school in old Uncle Peter's house?"
For the moment Gyp and Tibby forgot to feel bored.
"It'll be like going to a new school. I know I shall be possessed to slide down the banisters. I wish I'd known Graham was going out, I'd have gone, too."
"Barbara Lee's going to take Capt. Ricky's place in the gym," Isobel further informed her sisters. "You know she was on the crew and the basketball team and the hockey team at college."
"Let's try for the school team this year, Isobel." Gyp sat up very straight. "Don't you remember how Capt. Ricky talked to us last year about doing things to build up the school spirit?"
Isobel yawned. "It's too hot to think of doing anything right now! Miss Grimball's always talking about school spirit as though we ought to do everything for that. This is my last year—I'm going to just see that Isobel Westley has a very good time and the school spirit can go hang!"
Gyp looked enviously at her valiant sister. Isobel was everything that poor, overgrown, dark-skinned Gyp longed to be—her face had the pink and white of an apple blossom, her fair hair curled around her temples and in her neck, her deep-blue eyes were fringed by long black lashes; she had, after much practice, acquired a willowy slouch that would have made a movie artist's fortune; she was the acknowledged beauty of the whole Lincoln school and had attended one or two dances under the chaperoned escort of older boys.
"Here comes Graham," cried Tibby from the window. She leaned out to hail him.
Graham Westley, who had, through the necessity of defending, for fifteen years, an unenviable position between Isobel and Gyp, developed an unusual amount of assertiveness, was what his uncle fondly called "quite a boy." But the dignity of his first long trousers, at one glance, fell before the boyish mischievousness of his frank face.
His sisters deluged him now with questions.
"Why don't you go out there and look at it yourselves?" But he was too enthusiastic about the new school to withhold his information. The living room and the old library had been built into one big room for a reference library; the classrooms were no end jolly; the billiard room had been enlarged and was to be an assembly room. A wing had been added for an indoor gymnasium. He and Stuart King had climbed way to the tower, but the tower room was locked.
"I remember—mother and Uncle Johnny said that Uncle Peter's papers and books had been put up there. Mother wouldn't have them here."
"Isn't it funny," mused Gyp as she balanced on the footboard of her bed. "Everybody hated old Uncle Peter, he was such a cross old thing, and nobody ever wanted to go to Highacres, and then he turns it into a school and we'll all just love it and make songs about it——"
"And celebrate Uncle Peter's birthday with an entertainment or something," broke in Graham. "Maybe they'll even give us a holiday—to show respect to his memory. Hurrah for old Bones!"
"Graham—you're dreadful," giggled Gyp.
"I don't care. It's Uncle Peter's own fault. It's anyone's fault if nobody in the world likes 'em—it's because they don't like anybody else!"
Isobel ignored his philosophy. "You want to remember, Graham Westley, that being Uncle Peter's grandnieces and nephew and having his money gives us a certain——" she floundered, her mind frantically searching for the word.
"Prestige," cried Gyp grandly. "I heard mother say that. And I looked it up—it means authority and influence and power. But I don't see how just happening to be Uncle Peter's nieces——"
At times Gyp's tendency to get at the very root of things annoyed her older sister.
"I don't care about dictionaries. Now that the school's going to be at Highacres we four want to always be very careful how we speak of Uncle Peter and act sort of dignified out there——"
"Rats!" cut in Graham, with scorn. "I say, Gyp—that's my banner!" Thereupon ensued a lively squabble, in which Tibby, who adored Graham, sided with him, and Isobel, in spite of Gyp's tearful pleading, refused to take part, so that the banner came down from the wall and went into Graham's pocket just as Mrs. Westley walked into the room.
"Why, my dears, all of you in the house this glorious afternoon?"
Mrs. Westley was a plump, bright-eyed woman who adored her four children, and enjoyed them, with happy serenity, except at infrequent intervals, when she worried herself "distracted" over them. At such times she always turned to "Uncle Johnny."
Isobel and Gyp had almost managed to answer: "There's no place to go," when the mother's next words cut short their complaint.
"I have the most astonishing news from Uncle Johnny," and she held up a fat envelope.
"Oh, when's he coming back?" cried Tibby.
"Very soon. But what do you think he wants to do—bring back with him a little girl he found up there in the mountains—or rather, she found him—when he got lost on a wrong trail. Listen:
"'...She is a most unusual child. And she has outgrown the school here. I'd like, as a sort of scholarship, to send her for a year or two to Lincoln School. But there is the difficulty of finding a suitable place for her to live—she's too young to put in a boarding house. Could not you and the girls stretch your hearts and your rooms enough to let in the youngster? I haven't said anything to her mother yet—I won't until I hear from you. But I want to make this experiment and it will help me immensely if you'll write and say my little girl can go straight to you. I had a long talk with John Randolph, just before I came up here—we feel that Lincoln School has grown a little away from the real democratic spirit of fellowship that every American school should maintain; he suggested certain scholarships and that's what came to my mind when I found this girl. Isobel and Gyp and all their friends can give my wild mountain lassie a good deal—and she can give Miss Gyp and Isobel something, too——'"
"Humph," came a suspicion of a snort from Isobel and Gyp.
"Wish he'd found a boy," added Graham.
From the moment she had read the letter, Mrs. Westley's mind had been working on ways and means of helping John Westley. She always liked to do anything anyone wanted her to do—and especially Uncle Johnny.
"If Gyp would go back with Tibby or——"
"Mother!" Gyp's distress was sincere—the spring before she had acquired this room of her own and she loved it dearly.
"And Gyp's things muss my room so," cried Tibby, plaintively.
"Then perhaps you'll all help me fix the nursery for her." Everyone in the household, although the baby Tibby was twelve years old, still called the pleasant room on the second floor at the back of the house, the "nursery." Mrs. Westley liked to take her sewing or her reading there—for her it had precious memories; the old bookcase was still filled with toys and baby books; Tibby's dolls had a corner of their own; Isobel's drawing tools were arranged on a table in the bay window and, on some open shelves, were displayed Graham's precious "specimens," all neatly labeled and mixed with a collection of war trophies. To "fix the nursery" would mean changes such as the Westley home had never known! Each face was very serious.
"It wouldn't be much to do for Uncle Johnny!"
Isobel, Gyp, Graham and Tibby, each in her and his own way, adored Uncle Johnny. Because their own father was away six months of every year, Uncle Johnny often stood in the double role of paternal counsellor and indulgent uncle.
"And he's been so sick," added Tibby.
"I can keep my stuff in my own room." Graham rather liked the idea.
"I suppose I can do my drawing in father's study—even if the light isn't nearly as good." Isobel, who underneath all her little affectations had an honest soul, knew in her heart that hers was not much of a sacrifice, because she had not touched her drawing pencils for weeks and weeks, but she purposely made her tone complaining.
"I s'pose we can play in there just the same?" asked Gyp.
"Of course we can," declared her mother. "We'll put up that little old bed that's in the storeroom."
"What's her name?" Gyp's forehead was wrinkled in a scowl.
Mrs. Westley referred to the letter.
"Jerauld Travis. What a pretty name! And she's just your age, Gyp!"
But Gyp refused to be delighted at this fact.
Then Mrs. Westley, relieved that the children had consented, even though ungraciously, to the change in their household, slipped the letter back into its envelope. "I'll write to Uncle Johnny right away," and she hurried from the room, a little fearful, perhaps, of the cloud that was noticeably darkening Isobel's face.
"I think it's horrid," Isobel cried when she knew her mother was out of hearing.
"What you got to kick about? How'd you like it if you was me with another girl around?"
"If you was I," corrected Gyp, loftily. "I think maybe it'll be nice."
"You won't when she's here! And probably Uncle Johnny'll like her better than any of us." Which added much to the flame of poor Isobel's jealousy.
"Well, I shall just pay no more attention to her than's if she was a—a boarder!" Isobel had a very vague idea as to how boarders were usually treated. "And it's silly to think that Uncle Johnny will like her better than us—she's just a poor child he feels sorry for."
"Do you suppose mountain people dress differently from us?" asked Tibby.
Graham promptly answered: "Yes, silly—she'll wear goatskin—and she'll yodel."
"Anyway," Isobel rose languidly, "we don't want to forget about Uncle Peter——"
"And our prestige," interrupted Gyp, tormentingly. "And we can't act horrid to her 'cause that'd hurt Uncle Johnny's feelings——"
Tibby suddenly saw a bright side of the cloud.
"Say, it'll be fun seeing how she can't do things!"
And, strangely enough, such is human nature in its early teens, little Tibby's suggestion brought satisfying comfort to the three others. Gyp's face cleared and she tossed her head as much as to say that she was not going to worry any more about it!
"Come on, Isobel, I'll treat down at Wood's."
"Let me go, too," implored Tibby.
Gyp hesitated. "I only have thirty cents——"
"You owe me ten, anyway," urged Tibby.
Graham, in a sudden burst of generosity, relieved the tension of their high finance. "Oh, let's all go—I'll stand for the three of you!"
JERRY'S WISH COMES TRUE
Jerry would, of course, never know how very hard Mr. John had had to work to make her "wish" come true. Ever afterwards she preferred to think that it was just standing on the Wishing-rock and wishing and wishing!
She had noticed, however, and had been a little curious, that every time Mr. John had come to Sunnyside he and her mother had talked and talked together in low tones so that, even when she was near them, she could not hear one word of what they were saying, and that, after these talks, her mother had been very pale and had, again and again, for no particular reason, hugged her very close and kissed her with what Jerry called a "sad" kiss.
Then one afternoon Mrs. Allan had come with John Westley, and her mother, to her disgust, had sent her down to the Notch with a message for old Mrs. Teed that had not seemed a bit important. After her return John Westley had invited her to take him and Bigboy and Pepperpot to the Witches' Glade because, he said, he "had something to tell her!"
It was a glorious afternoon. August was painting with her vivid coloring the mountain slopes and valleys; over everything was a soft glow. It was reflected on Jerry's eager face.
John Westley pointed down into the valley where Jerry's "shining" road ran off out of sight. They could see an automobile, like a speck, moving swiftly along it.
"Your road, down there, goes off the other side of the mountain and on and on and after a very long way—takes me back home. I'm going on Thursday."
Jerry turned a disappointed face. Each day of John Westley's two weeks near Miller's Notch had brought immeasurable pleasure and excitement into her life.
"Mrs. Allan is going to drive back with me—she lived in my town, you know. She hasn't been home for months and I shall enjoy her company."
Jerry was staring at the distant road. After awhile the specks that were automobiles and that she liked to watch would become fewer and fewer; the days would grow colder, school would begin, the snow would come and choke the trails and she and Sweetheart and Little-Dad would be shut in at Sunnyside for weeks and weeks. Her face clouded.
"And now listen very carefully, Jerry, and hold on to my arm so that you won't fall off from the mountain! You are going with us!"
Jerry did hold on to his arm with a grip that hurt. She stared, with round, wondering eyes.
He laughed at her unbelief. "Your wish is coming true! You're going to ride along that road yonder, in my automobile, which ought to get here to-morrow, straight around to the other side of the mountain, and on and on—then you're going to stay all winter with my own nieces and go to school with them——"
Jerry's breath came in an excited gasp.
"Oh, it can't—be—true! Mother'd never let me."
"It is true! Mothers are always willing to do the things that are going to be best for their girls. Mrs. Allan and I have persuaded her——"
But Jerry, with a "whoop," was racing down the trail, Bigboy and Pepperpot at her heels. She vaulted the little gate leading into the garden and swept like a small whirlwind upon her mother, sitting in the willow rocker on the porch. With a violent hug she tried to express the madness of her joy and so completely was her face hidden on her mother's shoulder that she did not see the quick tears that blinded her mother's eyes.
That was on Monday—there were only three days to get her small wardrobe ready and packed and to ask the thousand questions concerning the Westley girls (Graham was utterly forgotten) and the school. Then there were wonderful, long talks with mother, sitting close by her side, one hand tight in hers—solemn talks that were to linger in Jerry's heart all her life.
"I don't ever want to do anything, Mumsey Sweetheart, that'd make you the least little, little bit unhappy!" Jerry had said after one of these talks, suddenly pressing her mother's hand close to her cheek.
On Wednesday afternoon she declared to Mr. John, when he drove over from Cobble, that she was "ready." She said it a little breathlessly—no Crusader of old, starting forth upon his holy way, felt any more exaltation of spirit than did Jerry!
"I've packed and I've mended my coat and I've finished mother's comfy jacket that I began winter before last and I've said good-by to Rose and poor old Jimmy Chubb, who's awfully envious, 'cause he wanted to go to Troy to work in his uncle's store and he says it makes him mad to have a girl see the world 'fore he does, but I told him he ought to keep on at school, even if it was only Miller's Notch. And I've cleaned Little-Dad's pipes. And I've promised Bigboy and Pepperpot and Dormouse that they may all sleep on my bed to-night. I'm afraid Pepperpot—he's so sensitive—is going to miss me dreadfully!" Jerry tried to frown away the thought; she did not want it to intrude upon her joy.
That last evening she sat quietly on the porch with one hand in her mother's and the other in Little-Dad's. Not one of them seemed to want to talk; Jerry was too excited and her mother knew that she could not keep a tremble from her voice. At nine o'clock Jerry declared that she'd just have to go to bed so that the morning would come quicker. She kissed them both, kissed her mother again and again, then marched off with her pets at her heels.
Far into the night her mother sat alone on the edge of the porch, staring at the stars through a mist of tears and praying—first that the Heavenly Father would protect her little Jerry always and always, and then that He would give her strength to let the child go on the morrow.
When the parting came everyone tried to be very busy and very merry, to cover the heartache that was under it all; John Westley fussed with the covers and the cushions in the big car and had his chauffeur pack and repack the bags. Mrs. Allan and Mrs. Travis discussed the lunch that had been stowed away in the tonneau, as though the whole thing was only a day's picnic. Jerry, a funny little figure in her coat that was too small and a fall hat that Mrs. Chubb had made over from one of her mother's, was, with careful impartiality, bestowing final caresses upon Bigboy, Pepperpot, Silverheels, and her father and mother alike. Then, at the last moment, she almost strangled her mother with a sweep of her strong young arms.
"Mumsey Sweetheart, if you want me dreadfully—you'll send for me," she whispered, stricken for a moment by the realization that the parting was for a very long time.
Then, though her heart was almost breaking within her, Mrs. Travis managed to laugh lightly.
"Need you—of course we won't need you! Climb in, darling," and she almost lifted the girl into the tonneau, where Mrs. Allan was already comfortably fixed.
But at this moment Bigboy tried to leap into the car. When Dr. Travis gripped his collar he let out a long, protesting howl.
"Oh, Bigboy—he knows! Let me say good-by again," cried Jerry, jumping out and, to everyone's amusement, embracing the dog.
"You must be a good dog and take very good care of my Sweetheart and Little-Dad," she whispered. Then, standing, she looked around.
"Where's Pepperpot?" she asked anxiously. The little dog had disappeared.
"He'll think that I love Bigboy more than I do him," she explained, as she climbed back in.
The car started down the rough road. Jerry turned to wave; as long as she could see her mother and father she kept her little white handkerchief fluttering. Then she faced resolutely forward.
"You know," she explained to John Westley, with shining eyes, "when you've been wishing and wishing for something, you must enjoy it as hard as you can."
Even the familiar buildings of the Notch seemed different now to Jerry, as she flew past them, and she kept finding new things all along the way. Then, as they turned from the rough country road into her "shining" road, which was, of course, the macadam highway, she looked back and up toward Kettle to see if she could catch a glimpse of Sunnyside or the Witches' Glade and the Wishing-rock. They were lost in a blaze of green and purple and brown.
"Isn't it funny? If I was up there watching I'd see you moving like a speck! And in a moment you'd disappear around the corner. And now I'm the speck and—I don't know when we reach the corner. But I'm—going, anyway!"
Then upon her happy meditations came a sudden, startling interruption in the shape of a small dog that leaped out from the dense undergrowth at the side of the road and hailed the automobile with a sharp bark.
"Pepperpot!" cried Jerry, springing to her feet.
The chauffeur had brought the car to a sudden stop to avoid hitting the dog. At the sound of Jerry's voice the little animal made a joyous leap into the car.
"He came on ahead—through the Divide! Oh—the darling," and Jerry hugged her pet proudly.
John Westley looked at Penelope Allan and she looked at him and the chauffeur looked at them both—all with the same question. In Jerry's mind, however, there was no doubt.
"He'll have to go with us, Mr. John, because I know he'd just die of a broken heart if I—took him back!"
Then, startled by John Westley's hesitation, she added convincingly, "He's awfully good and never bothers anyone and keeps as still as can be when I tell him to and I'll—I'll——"
No one could have resisted the appeal in her voice.
"Very well, Jerry—Pepperpot shall go, too."
"Ten miles more... three miles more ... five blocks more," Mr. John had been saying at intervals as the big car rolled along, carrying Jerry nearer and nearer to her new home.
For the two days of the trip Jerry had scarcely spoken; indeed, more than once her breath had caught in her throat. Each moment brought something new, more wonderful than anything her fancy had ever pictured. She liked best the cities through which they passed, their life, the bustle and confusion, the hurrying throngs, the rushing automobiles, the gleaming railroad tracks like taut bands of silver, the smoke-screened factories with their belching stacks, the rows upon rows of houses, snuggling in friendly fashion close to one another.
John Westley had found himself fascinated in watching the eager alertness of her observation. He longed to know just what was passing back of those bright eyes; he tried to draw out some expression, but Jerry had turned to him an appealing look that said more plainly than words that she simply couldn't tell how wonderful everything seemed to her, so he had to content himself with watching the rapture reflected in her face and manner.
But when, after leaving Mrs. Allan at her brother's, Mr. John had said "five blocks more," Jerry had clutched the side of the car in an ecstasy of anticipation. From the deep store of her vivid imagination she had drawn a mental picture of what the Westley home and Isobel, Gyp, Graham and Tibby would be like. The house, in her fancy, resembled pictures of turreted castles; however, when she saw that it was really square and brick, with a little iron grille enclosing the tiniest scrap of a lawn, she was too excited to be disappointed.
Two small carved stone lions guarded each side of the flight of steps that led to the big front door; their stony, stoic stare drew a sharp bark of challenge from Pepperpot, snuggled in Jerry's arms.
"Hush, Pepper," admonished Jerry. "You mustn't forget your manners."
As John Westley opened the door of the tonneau his eyes swept the front of the house in a disappointed way. He had expected that great door to open and his precious nieces and nephew to come tumbling out to welcome him.
He could not know—because his glance could not penetrate the crisp curtains at a certain window of the second floor—that from behind it Gyp, Graham and Tibby had been watching the street for a half hour. Isobel had resolutely affected utter indifference and had sat reading a book, though more than once she had peeped covertly over Gyp's shoulder down the broad avenue.
"There they are!" Tibby had been the first to spy the big car.
"Isobel"—Gyp screamed—"look at her hat!"
"I wish she was a boy," groaned Graham again. "Doesn't Uncle Johnny look great? I say—come on, let's go down!"
It had been a prearranged pact among the young Westleys not to greet the little stranger with any show of eagerness.
Tibby welcomed the suggestion. "Oh—let's!" she cried.
It was at that moment that Pepperpot had barked his disapproval of the weather-worn lions. Graham and Gyp gave a shout of delight.
"Look! Look—a dog! Hurray!"
"Maybe now mother will have to let us keep him," Graham added. "Come on, girls," he raced toward the stairs.
Their voices roused Mrs. Westley. She had not expected Uncle Johnny for another hour. She flew with the children; there was nothing wanting in her welcome.
"John Westley—you look like a new man! And this is our little girl? Welcome to our home, my dear. Did you have a nice trip? Did you leave Pen Allan at the Everetts? How is she?" As she chattered away, with one hand through John Westley's arm and the other holding Jerry's, she drew them into the big hall and to the living-room beyond. Jerry's round, shining eyes took in, with a lightning glance, the rich mahogany woodwork, the soft rugs like dark pools on the shiny floor, the long living-room with its amber-toned hangings, and the three curious faces staring at her over Mr. John's shoulder.
"Gyp, my dear," John Westley untangled long arms from around his neck, "here's a twin for you. Jerry, this boy is my nephew Graham—he's not nearly as grown-up as he looks. And this is Tibby!"
Jerry flashed a smile. They seemed to her—this awkward, thin, dark-skinned girl whom Uncle Johnny had called Gyp, the tall, roguish-faced boy, and little Tibby, whose straight braids were black like Gyp's and whose eyes were violet-blue—more wonderful than anything she had seen along the way; they were, indeed, the "best of all."
"Oh," she stammered, in a laughing, excited way, "it's just wonderful to—really—be—be here." Before her glowing enthusiasm the children's prejudice melted in a twinkling. Gyp held out her hand with a friendly gesture and Pepperpot, as though he understood everything that was happening, stuck his head out from the shelter of Jerry's arm and thrust his paw into Gyp's welcoming clasp.
Everyone laughed—Graham and Tibby uproariously.
"Goodness me—a dog!" Mrs. Westley cried, with a startled glance toward John Westley.
"Let him down," commanded Graham, as though he and Jerry were old friends. Jerry put Pepperpot down and the four children leaned over him. Promptly Pepperpot stood on his hind legs and executed a merry dance.
"He cut through the woods and headed us off, miles away from the Notch—we couldn't do anything else but bring him along," Uncle Johnny whispered to Mrs. Westley under cover of the children's laughter. "For Heaven's sake, Mary, let him stay."
There had been for years a very fixed rule in the Westley household that dogs were "not allowed." "They bring their dirty feet and their greasy bones and things on the rugs and the chairs," was the standing complaint, though Mrs. Westley had never minded telltale marks from muddy little shoes nor the imprint of sticky fingers on satin upholstery; nor had she ever allowed painters to gloss over the initials that Graham had carved with his first jackknife on one of the broad window-sills of the library. "When he's a grown man and away from the nest—I'll have that," she had explained.
"I don't know what Mrs. Hicks will say," she answered rather helplessly, knowing, as she watched the young people, that she would not have the heart to bar Pepper from their midst.
"I say, Jerry,"—Graham had Pepper's nose in his hand—"can I have him for my dog? Nearly all the fellows have dogs, but mother——" he glanced quickly in her direction.
Graham might just as well have asked Jerry to cut out a part of her heart and hand it over; however, his face was so wistful that she answered, impulsively: "He can belong to all of us!"
"Where's Isobel?" cried Uncle Johnny, looking around.
Isobel had been listening from the turn of the stairway. She had really wanted, more than anything else, to race down the stairs and throw herself in Uncle Johnny's arms. (He was certain to have some pretty gift for her concealed in one of his pockets.) But she must show the others that she would stick to her word. So, in answer to his call, she walked slowly down the stairway, with a smile that carefully included only Uncle Johnny.
Jerry thought that she had never in her whole life seen anyone quite as pretty as Isobel! She stared, fascinated. To Uncle Johnny's introduction she answered awkwardly, uncomfortably conscious that Isobel's eyes were unfriendly. She wished, with all her heart, that Isobel would say something nice, but Isobel, after a little nod, turned back to her uncle.
"Gyp, take Jerry to her room. Graham, carry her bags up," directed Mrs. Westley.
"Pepper, too?" cried Tibby.
But Pepper had dashed up the stairs, and had turned at the landing and, standing again on his hind legs, had barked. Even Mrs. Westley laughed. "Pepper's answering that question himself," she replied. She turned to Uncle Johnny. "If it comes to a choice between Mrs. Hicks and that dog I plainly see Mrs. Hicks will have to go."
John Westley declared he had not known how "good" it would feel to get "home" again. Though he really lived in an apartment a few blocks away, he had always looked upon his brother's house as home and spent the greater part of his leisure time there. Mrs. Westley ordered tea. Uncle Johnny slipped Isobel's hand through his arm and followed Mrs. Westley into the cheery library.
Above, Jerry was declaring that her room was just "wonderful." She ran from one window to another to gaze rapturously out over the neighboring housetops. The brick, wall-enclosed court below, with its iron gate letting into an alleyway, was to her an enchanted battlement!
Graham's trophies, Tibby's dolls, Isobel's drawing tools had disappeared; a little old-fashioned white wooden bed had been put up in one corner; its snowy linen cover, with woven pink roses in orderly clusters, gave it an inviting look; there was a pink pillow in the deep chair in the bay-window; a round table stood near the chair; on it were some of Gyp's books and a little work-basket. And the toys had been left in the old bookcase, so that, Mrs. Westley had decided, the room would look as if a little girl could really live in it! Little wonder that Jerry thought it all "wonderful."
When Gyp heard the rattle of tea-cups below, they all tore downstairs again, Pepper at their heels. They gathered around Uncle Johnny and drank iced tea and ate little frosted cakes and demanded to be told how he had felt when he knew he was lost on that "big mountain." They were all so nice and jolly, Jerry thought, and, though Isobel ignored her, she must be as nice as the others, because Uncle Johnny kept her next to him and held her hand. The late afternoon sun slanted through the long windows with a pleasant glow; the rows and rows of books on the open shelves made Jerry feel at home; the great, deep-seated chairs gave her a delicious sense of refuge.
It was Uncle Johnny who, after dinner, sent Jerry off to bed early; though she declared she was not one little bit tired, he had noticed that the brightness had gone from her face. Gyp and Tibby went upstairs with her; Graham disappeared with Pepperpot.
"What do you think of my girl?" John Westley asked his sister-in-law. They had gone back to the library. Isobel sat on a stool close to Uncle Johnny's chair.
"She seems like an unusually nice, jolly child. But——" Mrs. Westley looked a little distressed. "May she not be homesick here, John—so far from her folks?" She hated to think of such a possibility.
"I thought of that," John Westley chuckled. "I said something about it to her. What do you think she said? She waited a moment before she answered me—as though she was carefully considering it. 'Well,' she said, 'anyway, one wouldn't be homesick for very long, would one?' As though it'd be like measles—or mumps. This is an Adventure to her; she's been dreaming about it all her life!" He told, then, about the Wishing-rock.
"I tell you, Mary, there's some sort of spirit about the girl that's unusual! It must come from some fire of genius further back than her hermit-parents. I'm as certain as anything that there's a mystery about the child. I've knocked about among all sorts of people, but I never found such a curious family before—in such a place. Dr. Travis is one of those mortals whose feet touch the earth and whose head is in the clouds; Mrs. Travis is a cultured, beautiful woman with a look in her eyes as though she was always afraid of something—just behind. And then Jerry—like them both and not a bit like 'em—her head in the clouds, all right—a girl who sees beauty and a promise and a vision in everything—a girl of dreams! You can imagine almost any sort of a story about her."
As Mrs. Allan had done, Mrs. Westley laughed at her brother-in-law's enthusiasm.
"She's probably just a healthy girl who has been brought up in a simple way by very sensible parents." Her matter-of-fact tone made John Westley feel a little foolish. "She's a dear, sunny child and I hope she will be happy here."
"What got me was her utter lack of self-consciousness and her faith in herself. Not an affectation about her—that's why I wanted her at Lincoln school."
"No one'll look at her there—she's so dowdy!" burst out Isobel.
Her uncle turned quickly, surprised and a little hurt at the pettishness of her tone.
"Isobel, dear—" protested her mother.
Then Uncle Johnny laughed. "I rather guess, from my observation of the vagaries of you young people, that sometimes one little thing can make even a 'dowdy' girl popular—then, if she has the right stuff in her, she can be a leader. What is it starts you all wearing these little black belts round your waists, or this mousetrap," poking the puffs of pretty silk hair that hid her ears; "it's a psychology that's beyond most of us! Maybe my Jerry will set a new style in Lincoln."
Isobel blazed in her scorn.
"Well, I'd die before I'd look like her!" she cried. "I'm going to bed." She felt very cross. She had wanted Uncle Johnny to tell her that she looked well; she had on a new dress and her hair was combed in a very new way; she had grown, too, in the summer. Instead he had talked of nothing but Jerry, Jerry—and such silly talk about her eyes shining as though they reflected golden visions within! She stalked away with a bare good-night.
Uncle Johnny might have said something if Isobel's mother had not given a long sigh.
"I can't—always—understand Isobel now," she said. "She has grown so self-centered. I'll be glad when school begins." Mrs. Westley, like many another perplexed parent, looked upon school as a cure for all evils.
Jerry and Gyp had been busily unpacking Jerry's belongings and putting them away in the little white bureau.
"Where's Pepper?" asked Jerry, in sudden alarm. The children had been warned to keep the little dog from "under Mrs. Hicks' feet." In a flash Jerry had a horrible vision of some cruel fate befalling her pet.
"I'll just bet Graham has him," declared Gyp, indignantly.
They tiptoed down the hall and up the stairs to Graham's door. Graham lay in bed, sound asleep; beside him lay Pepper, carefully tucked under the bedclothes. One of Graham's arms was flung out over the dog.
Some instinct told Jerry that a long-felt yearning in this boy's heart had at last been satisfied. And Pepper must have felt it, too, for, though at the sight of his little mistress a distressed quiver shot through him, he bravely pretended to be soundly sleeping.
"Let him have him," whispered Jerry.
But, for a long time, Jerry, under the pink and white cover, blinked at the little circle of brightness reflected from the electric light outside, trying hard not to wish she had Pepperpot with her "to keep away the lonesomes." The night sounds of the city hummed in eerie cadences in her ears. She resolutely counted one-two-three to one hundred and back again to one to keep the thoughts of mother and Sunnyside out of her head; then, just as she felt a great choking sob rise in her throat, she heard a little scratch-scratch at her door.
"Oh, Pepper—I'm so glad you came!" She caught the shaggy little form to her. She could not let him lie on the pink-and-whiteness, so she carefully spread it over the footboard and folded her own coat for him to sleep on.
How magically everything changed—when a shaggy terrier snuggled against her feet. The haunting shadows fled, the sob gave way to a contented little sigh and Jerry fell asleep with the memory of Gyp's dark, roguish face in her thoughts and a consuming eagerness to have the morning come quickly.
Old Peter Westley had made up his mind, so gossip said, to build Highacres when he heard that Thomas Knowles, a business rival, had bought a palatial home on the most beautiful avenue of the city. "Pouf"—that was Uncle Peter's favorite expression and he had a way of blowing it through his scraggly mustache that made it most impressive. "Pouf! I'll show him!" The next morning he drove around to a real estate office, bundled the startled real estate broker into his car and carried him off to the outskirts of the city, where lay a beautiful tract of land advertised as "Highacre Terrace," and held (with an eye to the growth of the city) at a startling figure. In the real estate office it had been divided into building lots with "restrictions," which meant that only separate houses could be built on the lots. Peter Westley struck the ground with his heavy cane and said he'd take the whole piece. The real estate man gasped. Uncle Peter said "pouf" again and the deal was settled.
Then he summoned architects from all over the country who, to his delight, spent hours in the office of the Westley Cement-Mixer Manufacturing Company trying to outdo one another in finesse and suavity. Fortunately he decided upon a man who had genius as well as tact, who, without his knowing it, could quietly bend old Peter Westley to his way of thinking. Under this man's planning the new home grew until it stood in its finished perfection, a mass of stone and marble surrounded by great trees and sloping lawns. Gossip said further that Highacres so far surpassed the remodeled home of Thomas Knowles that that poor gentleman had resigned from the Meadow Brook Country Club so that he would not have to drive past it!
What sentiment had led Peter Westley to leave Highacres to the Lincoln School no one would ever know; perhaps deep in his queer old heart was an affection for his nephew Robert's children, who came dutifully to see him once or twice a year, but made no effort to conceal the fact that they thought it a dreadful bore.
"I think," Isobel said seriously to her family, as they were gathered around the breakfast table, a few days after Jerry's arrival, "that it'd be nice if Gyp and I put on black——"
"Black——" cried Gyp, spilling her cocoa in her astonishment.
"Yes, black. We should have worn it when Uncle Peter died and now, going to school out there, it would show the others that we respected——"
Mrs. Westley laughed, then when she saw the color deepen on Isobel's cheeks she added soothingly: "Your thought's all right, Isobel dear, but it will be hardly necessary for you and Gyp to put on black now to show your respect. I think every pupil of Lincoln can best do it by building up a reputation for scholarship that will make Lincoln known all over the country."
"Isobel just wants everybody to remember she's Uncle Peter's——"
"Hush, Graham." Mrs. Westley had a way of saying "hush" that cleared a threatening atmosphere at once.
"Oh, isn't it going to be fun?" cried Gyp. "Mother, can't we take Jerry out there this morning?"
"But I have to use the car——"
"If you girls were fellows, we could walk," broke in Graham.
"We can—we can! It's only two miles and a half. Simpson watched on the speedometer the last time we drove out."
Graham looked questioningly at Jerry and Jerry, suddenly recalling the miles of mountain trail over which she had climbed, laughed back her answer.
Because a new world, that surpassed any fairy tale, had opened to Jerry in these last few days, it seemed only fitting to go to school in a building that was like a palace. She thrilled at the thought of the new school life, the girls and boys who would be her classmates, the new teachers, the new studies. For years and years, back at the Notch she had always sat in front of Rose Smith and back of Jimmy Chubb; she had progressed from fractions to measurements and then on to algebra and from spelling to Latin with the outline of Jimmy's winglike ears so fixed a part of her vision that she wondered if now she might not find that she could not study without them. And there had always been, as far back as she could remember, only little Miss Masten to teach multiplication and geography and algebra alike; she and the other children who made up the "advanced grade" of the school at Miller's Notch always called her "Miss Sarah." Would there be anyone like Miss Sarah at Lincoln?
As they walked along, Gyp bravely measuring her step to Jerry's freer stride, Gyp explained to Jerry "all about" Uncle Peter.
"He's father's uncle. Father's father—that's my grandfather—was his youngest brother. He died when he was just a young man and Uncle Peter never got over it. Mother says my grandfather was the only person Uncle Peter ever really liked. He always lived in the same funny little old house even after he made lots of money, until he built Highacres. He was terribly queer. I used to be dreadfully afraid of him because he always carried a big cane and had the awfullest way of looking at you! His eyes sort of bored holes right through you, so that you turned cold all over and couldn't even cry. I'm glad he's dead. He was awfully old, anyway—or at least he looked old. We used to just hate to have to go to see him. The old stingy wouldn't ever even give us a stick of candy."
"The poor old man," Jerry said so feelingly that Gyp stared at her. "My mother always said that such people are so unhappy that they punish themselves. Maybe he really wanted to be nice and just didn't know how! Anyway, he's given his home to the school."
If Peter Westley, looking down from another world, was reading that thought in a hundred young hearts he must surely be finding his reward.
"There it is!" cried Graham, who was walking ahead.
School could not really seem a bit like school, Jerry thought, as she followed the others through the spacious grounds into the building, when one studied in such beautiful rooms where the sun, streaming through long windows framed in richly-toned walnut, danced in slanting golden bars across parqueted floors. Gyp's enthusiasm, though, made it all very real.
"Here, Jerry, here's where the third form study room will be. Look, here's the geom. classroom! Oh, I hope we'll be put in the same class. Let's go down to the Gym. Oh—look at the French room—isn't it darling?" The trees outside were casting a shimmer of green through the sunshine in the room. "Mademoiselle will say: 'Young ladies, it ees beau-ti-ful!' Aren't these halls jolly, Jerry? Oh, I can't wait for school to begin."
On their way to the gymnasium, which was in the new wing of the building, the girls met another group. One of these disentangled herself from the arms that encircled her waist and threw herself into Gyp's embrace. The extravagance of her demonstration startled Jerry, but when Gyp introduced her, in an off-hand way: "This is Ginny Cox, Jerry," Jerry found herself fascinated by the dash and "camaraderie" in the girl's manner.
There were other introductions and excited greetings; each tried to tell how "scrumptious" and "gorgeous" and "spliffy" she thought the new school. Like Gyp, none of them could wait until school opened. Then the group passed on and Jerry, breathless at her first encounter with her schoolmates-to-be, remembered only Ginny Cox.
"She's the funniest girl—she's a perfect circus," Gyp explained in answer to Jerry's query. "Everybody likes her and she's the best forward we ever had in Lincoln." All of which was strange tribute to Jerry's ears, for, back at the Notch, poor Si Robie had always been dubbed the "funniest" child in the school and he had been "simple." Jerry did not know exactly how valuable a good "forward" was to any school but, she told herself, she knew she was going to like Ginny Cox.
In the gymnasium the girls found Graham with a group of boys. Gyp greeted them boisterously. Jerry, watching shyly, thought them all very jolly-looking boys.
"Do you see that tall boy down there?" Gyp nodded toward another group. "That's Dana King. Isobel's got an awful crush on him. She won't admit it but I know it, and the other girls say so, too. He's a senior."
The boy turned at that moment. His pleasant face was aglow with enthusiasm.
"Come on, fellows," he cried to the other boys, "let's give a yell for old Peter Westley." And the yell was given with a will!
"L-I-N-C-O-L-N! L-I-N-C-O-L-N! Lincoln! Lincoln! Rah! Rah! Rah! Peter Westley! Pe-ter! West-ley!"
Jerry tingled to her finger-tips. Gyp had yelled with the others, so had Ginny Cox, who had come back into the room. What fun it was all going to be. Dana King was leading the boys in a serpentine march through the building; out in the hall the line broke to force in a laughing, remonstrating carpenter. Jerry heard their boyish voices gradually die away.
"Before we go back let's climb up to the tower room." That was the name the children had always given to the largest of the turrets that crowned Highacres' many-gabled roof. A stairway led directly to it from the third floor. But the door of the room was locked.
"How tiresome," exclaimed Gyp, shaking the knob. Not that she did not know just what the tower room was like, but she hated locked doors—they always made her so curious.
"It's the nicest room—you can see way off over the city from its windows." She gave the offending door a little kick. "They put all of Uncle Peter's old books and papers and things up here—mother wouldn't have them brought to our house, you see. I remember she told Graham the key was down in the safety-deposit box at the bank. Well——" disappointed, Gyp turned down the stairs. "I've always loved tower rooms, don't you, Jerry? They're so romantic. Can't you just see the poor princess who won't marry the lover her father has commanded her to marry, languishing up there? Even chained to the wall!"
Jerry shuddered but loved the picture. She added to it: "She's got long golden, hair hanging down over her shoulders and she's tearing it in her wretchedness."
"And beating her breast and vowing over and over that she will not marry the horrible wicked prince——"
"And refusing to eat the dry bread that the ugly old keeper of the drawbridge slips through the door——"
At this point in the heartrending story the two laughing girls reached the outer door. Gyp slipped an affectionate hand through Jerry's arm. She forgot the languishing princess she had consigned to the prison above in her joy of the bright sunshine, the inviting slopes of Highacres, velvety green, and the new friend at her side.
"I'm so glad Uncle Johnny found you!"
In the Westley home each school day had always begun with a rite that would some day be a sacred memory to Mrs. Westley, because it belonged to the precious childhood of her girls and boy. Graham called it "inspection." It had begun when the youngsters had first started school, Isobel and Graham proudly in the "grades," Gyp in kindergarten. The mother had, each morning, laughingly stood them in a row and looked them over. More than once poor Graham had declared that it was because his ears were so big that mother could always find dirt somewhere; sometimes it was Isobel who was sent back to smooth her hair or Gyp to wash her teeth or Tibby for her rubbers. But after the inspection there was always a "good-luck" kiss for each and a carol of "good-by, mother" from happy young throats.