"I'll come up with you to-night, honey," said Doctor Hugh. "I don't believe I've forgotten how to put you to bed. Sit still, Mother."
"Are you going to tell a story, Hugh?" asked Sarah anxiously. "Are you, Hugh?"
"Will you, Hugh?" begged Shirley. "Tell about the little boy in the hospital who wouldn't eat his supper? Will you, Hugh?"
"All right, I will," promised the doctor, "if you'll march upstairs this minute."
"I'm coming, too," announced Sarah. "I was up early this morning, wasn't I, Mother?"
"Yes indeed you were," agreed her mother, catching her as she scrambled past and holding her tightly—Sarah usually had to be caught or pursued if one wanted to kiss her. "Kiss Mother good night, dearest."
Mrs. Willis understood perfectly that Sarah was saving her pride when she spoke of being up early that morning—some excuse had to be made to explain her willingness to go to bed when Shirley did.
"If Sarah had known I'm going to sleep outdoors to-night, she would have been wild to come, too," said Rosemary, when she and her mother were left alone.
"Are you sure you want to try it, dear?" asked Mrs. Willis.
"Why Mother, I've always wanted to sleep outdoors!" cried Rosemary earnestly. "I'm so tired of ordinary beds and houses—and—and things. It will be perfectly lovely to lie under a tree and see the stars over my head and pretend I am out on the desert. I'd like to sleep outdoors every night."
When Doctor Hugh came down to report that both little girls were asleep, he found his mother and sister knitting under the shaded porch light.
"I don't approve of night work for women," he informed them gravely. "Especially for those who have had as active a day as you have had. You don't want to knit, do you, Mother?"
She put down her work at once and smiled.
"I'll play for you," she said quickly and went in to the piano.
Doctor Hugh sat down in the swing and patted the pillows invitingly. Rosemary, fastening her needles securely in place, put down her work a little reluctantly and crossed over to the swing. But when he put his arm about her and she leaned back against the cushions, her head on his comfortable shoulder, she gave a little tired sigh of relief. A big brother was nice!
And as the music drifted out to them—all the sweet old melodies the doctor loved best, played as only Mrs. Willis could play them—Rosemary felt her impatience and hurry slipping away. She who had been so eager to have nine o'clock come, so anxious to get the evening over so that she might be free to put her wish into practise, began to wish that she could stay up later than usual.
"Ten minutes after nine," said Doctor Hugh, all too soon. "I must help you get your sleeping outfit together."
"Oh, I'll just take a quilt and spread it out and then roll myself up in it," planned Rosemary.
But Doctor Hugh insisted on a rubber sheet, to go under the heavy quilt and insure positive protection from dampness; and blankets, he declared, would be indispensable. He arranged the quilt under a maple tree—the tree most distant from the house—which was Rosemary's choice, carried out a pair of light blankets and parried Winnie's volley of questions good-naturedly when she came in from visiting Mrs. Hildreth and discovered what he was doing.
"Well, Rosemary, I see you're going to have your own way and I only hope you don't regret it," was Winnie's greeting when Rosemary danced out, a dark kimono over her gown and moccasins on her feet.
"I won't," Rosemary replied confidently.
"Of course I won't," she said to herself stoutly, when she was curled up on a quilt, under the blankets. "This is heaps of fun!"
She could see the light from the porch lamp which made a golden shaft through the wire netting into the darkness of the night. Over her head the stars twinkled and the leafy branches of the maple spread out like a network.
Pouf!—Rosemary scrambled to her feet, brushing at her face frantically.
"Something fell on me!" she gasped. "A bug—I'm almost sure it was a bug!"
But after feeling around on the quilt and finding nothing that felt like a bug, she decided that after all it might have been a leaf. She didn't mind the thought of a leaf tumbling down on her nose, so she carefully smoothed out the tumbled quilt, shook the blanket and laid them straight and went to bed again.
Usually she fell asleep readily, but to-night she did not feel sleepy.
"I wonder what time it is?" she meditated, turning sideways so that if another leaf—or bug—should drop it would not fall on her face. "I wish I'd brought my little clock."
Presently she heard the sound of horse's hoofs on the road, soon saw the winking white light turn into the drive that led to the barn. She watched it moving slowly forward, saw it stop and knew that Richard and Warren were harnessing outside the barn. In another moment the light flickered out as Warren backed the runabout into the shed and Richard led the horse to a stall. The hollow echo of the barn door as Richard slammed and bolted it, came next. She thought she could see the dim outline of two figures walking toward the bungalow but that might have been imagination.
Rosemary sighed and twisted about uneasily to face the other way. The porch light was out! That meant her mother and Hugh had gone to bed and she was utterly alone on the lawn. She felt inexplicably abandoned—Hugh might have whistled to her, to see if she were asleep, before he turned off the light. That, thought Rosemary, would not have been much to do.
She decided to lie flat on her back for a while. In that position she might begin to feel sleepy. It was not a pitch-black night, indeed the darkness seemed half luminous—the kind of light in which, after the eyes have grown accustomed to it, it is possible to make out the outlines of objects quite plainly. Rosemary knew she could not be mistaken when she saw a shadowy form on the other side of the lawn.
She sat up with a jerk, staring. Yes, something was certainly moving. Frantically she recalled her arguments that all animals slept at night. How foolish she had been to advance a statement of that sort. Vividly now she remembered stories heard and read of night marauders—foxes, weasels—skunks! These prowled about at night and she wouldn't care to come in contact with any of them.
"Snakes!" whispered Rosemary with a sudden prickling of her scalp. "Do they go around at night, I wonder? Sarah would know."
But Sarah, the naturalist, was safely asleep in her own bed. Rosemary suddenly envied both her sisters. She remembered that Mrs. Hildreth had spoken of the warfare she waged against rats which tried to carry off the young poultry at night—Rosemary, in imagination, could picture a procession of rats running over her as she slept, on their way to the hen houses.
She got gingerly to her feet, straining her eyes to see the moving object. What could it be? Something brushed past her, close to her face. Instantly Winnie's horror of bats came to the girl's nervous mind.
"If the screen door is unlocked, I'm going in," whispered Rosemary, gathering her kimono tightly about her. "Sarah may like animals but I don't."
She started as the mournful cry of a hoot owl sounded in the distance—and then something cold and wet touched her hand! With one bound Rosemary cleared the quilt and ran like a deer across the grass. The shadowy object she had seen came toward her, moving slowly. Rosemary dodged, tripped on her kimono and fell.
She was up again in a moment and running again, her breath coming in little sobbing gasps. Jack Welles had once said that she did not "happen to be the screaming kind of girl" and though terrified now she made no outcry. She gained the porch step, tugged frantically at the screen door and felt it open in her grasp. She pitched forward, striking her knee against a chair and felt herself caught in a strong, firm clasp. For a moment she struggled furiously and silently and then realization came to her.
"Oh, Hugh!" she cried. "Hugh! There's something out there!"
AN EVENTFUL DAY
Doctor Hugh snapped on the porch lamp, carefully turning the shade to shield Rosemary's eyes from the sudden light. He was fully dressed and had evidently been dozing in the swing.
"Hush—don't wake Mother!" he said warningly. "What frightened you, dear?"
Rosemary's face was quite white and her wide, startled eyes gave eloquent testimony that she had been alarmed.
"Something wet touched me—wet and cold," she whispered. "And there was something else moving around, too. I ran as fast as I could."
"Some of the farm animals out for a stroll," said Doctor Hugh with a quiet assurance that his sister found most comforting. "What do you say to going to bed now, dear, and investigating in the morning?"
"Oh, yes," agreed Rosemary. "Is it nearly morning, Hugh?"
The doctor consulted his watch.
"It is just eleven o'clock," he said quietly. "Try not to make a noise as you go upstairs for I hope Mother is asleep. I'll turn the lamp so that it will light you as far as the landing."
So she had been out there only two hours, thought Rosemary as she tumbled into her own bed. Two hours!
"It seemed like two years!" she murmured, drifting off into a peaceful sleep almost instantly.
She woke in the morning to find the others downstairs, breakfast over and all traces of her couch under the maple tree removed.
"I know Hugh did that," she said to herself gratefully as she dressed. Her first act had been to run to the window to see if the quilt was spread out on the grass. "He'll never give me away, either. And I know, too, he would have stayed out on the porch all night, if I hadn't come in, just so he would be on hand to help me when I needed him. Hugh is so dear to me!"
She said something of this to him late that afternoon, following him out to the barn when he went to get the car, preparatory to making the trip back to Eastshore. Sarah and Shirley had remained in ignorance of the brief experiment and Winnie had proved extremely tactful, asking no questions at all. Rosemary had learned, from the conversation of Warren and Richard, that a cow had strayed from the pasture and a blind old sheep had cropped the grass all night. It had been the wet nose of the cow that touched her hand and she had clumsily dodged the sheep.
"You're so good, Hugh," said Rosemary, pretending to polish the foredoor handle. "But I won't want to sleep outdoors ever again—did you know I wouldn't?"
Doctor Hugh smiled a little.
"We'll all go camping some day and you'll 'love' sleeping outdoors, as you say," he declared. "My dear little sister, I would be the last person to try to discourage you in that effort. But Mother knew and Winnie knew and I knew that, for a number of reasons, it isn't practical for you to try to sleep outdoors here; neither practical nor necessary. It wasn't a matter of sleeping outdoors, Rosemary—it was just the same old question, 'Why can't I have my own way?' Now wasn't it?"
Rosemary blushed, but her eyes met his honestly.
"Yes, I guess it was," she admitted. "But I'm sorry I was so obstinate—truly I am, Hugh."
Doctor Hugh leaned forward from behind the wheel and kissed her.
"You'll make the Willis will an aid and not a hindrance yet," he declared. "All I want to do, dear, is to save you from learning these lessons the most painful way. Hop in and I'll drive you around to the house," he added cheerfully.
The next morning was naturally a most busy one at Rainbow Hill. Monday morning is apt to be a busy time anywhere, but Mrs. Hildreth, who would sooner have dreamed of starting the day without breakfast than starting the week without washing, saw to it that not one idle moment was unaccounted for as far as her jurisdiction extended. She rose at four, instead of the customary five, and Warren and Richard, alternating, helped her with filling and emptying the tubs and lifting the heavy boiler. Mrs. Hildreth scorned the modern washing machine and did her clothes in the old-fashioned laborious way.
Winnie had a woman to help her wash—a Mrs. Pritchard who cheerfully walked two miles each way—but the temptation to bleach the household linens on the lawn in the hot sunshine appealed powerfully to the housewifely instincts of Winnie, and Mrs. Willis declared that she washed everything she came to, regardless of its state of cleanliness. Certainly one would have thought that her normal wash of light summer dresses for three girls and two women would have contented Winnie, but the combination of soft water, soap, floods of sunshine and the washing machine left by Mrs. Hammond proved well nigh irresistible to Winnie. She may have been said to fairly revel in wash.
"Let's go wading, Rosemary," coaxed Shirley this Monday morning, soon after breakfast.
"I can't—not now," said Rosemary. "I want to help Mother first and then I must practise. Ask Sarah."
"Sarah's cross," complained Shirley. "She brought the cat in from the barn and put her to sleep in the clothes basket and Winnie tipped her out."
"Yes, that would make Sarah cross," agreed Rosemary. "Where is she now?"
"I don't know," said Shirley and her tone indicated that she didn't particularly care. "Come on and let's go wading, Rosemary."
"Rosemary is going to make the beds for Mother," interposed Mrs. Willis. "Winnie is so busy this morning she hasn't time. Don't you want to pick up the papers on the porch, Shirley and put the cushions straight in the swing and bring in some fresh flowers for the glass jar? Then, when you have it all in order, I'll come out there and sit and make a new dress for your doll."
"Oh, yes, that will be nice!" beamed Shirley, trotting off busily.
In all that hive of industry, represented by the farm, Sarah was the one idle figure. She sat on the fence commanding a view of the pig pen—not the pleasantest prospect Rainbow Hill afforded, it must be confessed—and dangled her feet moodily. She was still resentful at the summary ejection of the barn cat from the clothes basket and, in addition, had been worsted in an argument with Warren whose turn it was to cultivate the corn. Sarah had wished to ride on the cultivator, preferably in the driver's seat or, failing that, on the horse's back. Warren had endeavored to dissuade her as tactfully as possible but finding that tact made small impression on Sarah, had been obliged to come out with a flat refusal.
"What a funny chicken!" said Sarah aloud, turning her attention from the grunting pigs before her to a solitary chicken behind her, a feat which nearly cost her her balance.
"I do b'lieve it's sick!" she declared, jumping down and walking over to the limp-looking fowl which stared at her coldly from a glassy eye.
Sarah, in the few weeks she had spent on the farm, had really learned a good deal about the care of the stock. To her natural love for animals and aptitude for handling them, she had added a store of knowledge gleaned by asking questions of the boys and Mr. Hildreth and observing them as they went about the barns. She had faithfully tagged Mrs. Hildreth, who took care of the poultry too, and had often seen her pick up a chicken and examine it.
So now she picked up the apathetic bird and felt of his crop with exploring little brown fingers.
"You're hungry, I'll bet," she informed him. "You probably didn't feel well this morning and the other hens knocked you away from the corn. Don't you care, I'll get you some breakfast, all for yourself."
Sarah knew where the grain bins were in the barn and she went in and opened them all. Using her dress as an apron she selected a handful of wheat, another of cracked corn, some buckwheat, a generous scoop of "middlings" and a double handful of the meat scraps bought especially for the ducks. Then out she dashed and spread the feast before the hen who really did brighten up and eat a good deal of the grain. No one hen could have eaten it all—and survived—and of course the other chickens spied the feast in time, but not before the invalid had been revived somewhat.
"Now I'll put you in a coop till you feel better," said Sarah, "so nothing can pick on you."
She stuffed her patient into one of the feeding coops in the poultry yard, gave her a pan of water and then, feeling more cheerful herself, decided to go wading.
She glanced toward the house, reflected that if she went back to get Shirley her mother might object to the wading plan or, worse yet, Winnie set her at some useful task, and made up her mind to amuse herself alone.
"Going wading?" called Warren cheerfully, as she skirted the cornfield where he sat on the swaying cultivator pulled by the plodding Solomon, both horse and boy protected from the blazing sun by straw hats.
Sarah refused to reply. She had no intention of resuming friendly intercourse so soon after the painful episode of the morning.
"He needn't think he can boss me," she scolded, sitting down by the brook to take off her shoes and stockings. "Ow, the water's cold!"
Like a great many older people, Sarah preferred to think a long time before she committed herself to an icy flood. She tucked her feet under her comfortably and gave herself up to thought.
In the grass beside her a hundred busy little ants ran to and fro and Sarah's speculations led her to wonder whether they had ever made a trip by water.
"I'll build them a little boat," she planned, "and give them a little ride."
Actuated by the kindest of motives, she fashioned a rude sort of ferry boat from a leaf and then spent twenty minutes catching passengers for it. In her energy and haste she squashed several of the little creatures and alas, when she finally sent a dizzy half dozen on their voyage the leaf capsized and the passengers were drowned. This effectually discouraged Sarah and she turned again to the prospect of wading.
The water was so cold that the soft green grass seemed more inviting and Sarah began to walk along the brook's edge, wincing a little now and then as her foot struck a sharp stone. Then, without warning, she stepped into a hole and sharp, darting tongues of fire attacked her ankles.
"Yellow jackets! Wasps! Bees!" shrieked the unfortunate child, flinging her shoes into the brook and her stockings clear on the other side as she started to run. "Get away—leave me alone!"
She had stepped into a nest of yellow jackets and stirred up great wrath. Her feet and ankles suffered the most stings, though one furious insect lighted on her elbow and another on her wrist while a third punctured her cheek. Running madly and crying with pain, Sarah finally succeeded in distancing the yellow jackets, but her shoes and stockings, as far as she was concerned, were a total loss. Nothing, she was positive, would induce her to go back and get them.
She limped sadly to the orchard and climbed her favorite wide-branching apple tree, to take count of her injuries. Angry, white puffy swellings showed where each sting had exacted toll.
"There must be a million," said the suffering Sarah.
But it was cold comfort, counting the wounds, and she longed for sympathy. Glancing through her leafy screen she saw Richard skirting the orchard fence on his way to the barn. She turned to scramble down and in the descent struck her elbow on the bark, the poor elbow already tender from a vicious sting. Sarah cried out in pain, let go hastily and tumbled to the ground.
Richard had heard her cry and he came running to pick her up.
"Good grief, you are a wreck!" he ejaculated when he saw her. "There, there, Sarah! You haven't broken any bones—I'll brush you off and you'll be as good as new. Don't cry like that—please don't!"
ALL SERENE AGAIN
"I think," said Richard, judiciously, "I'll carry you up to the barn and wash you off; your mother might think you were permanently disfigured if she saw you now."
Sarah was truly a forlorn-looking object, but he tucked her under his arm and set off for the barn, trying in vain to soothe her as they went. Sarah wept continuously and only stopped when she was put down on the barn floor. She stopped then because someone was making more noise than she could possibly make.
"I don't want to hear another word," Mr. Hildreth was saying in a cold, loud voice. "Not another word. You left those grain bins open and the least you can do is to admit it like a man."
"I did not leave them open!" Warren's voice was as passionate and shaken as the other's was cold. "I tell you I did not! I haven't been in the barn this morning, except once to get the oil can. I wasn't near the bins."
Richard was pumping water into a basin and Sarah was glad he was not looking at her; She had forgotten to put the lids of the grain bins down! The door of the small washroom was jerked violently open and Warren strode in. Mr. Hildreth had evidently terminated the argument by leaving the barn.
"Hello, you look about as amiable as a thunder storm," Richard greeted his chum. "Got a clean handkerchief handy?"
Warren grimly extended a clean square.
"What's the matter with Sarah?" he asked curiously.
"Oh, she's had a hard morning—thought I'd wash off some of the worst of it before she scared everyone at the house into fits," explained Richard, beginning gently on Sarah's face, with the clean handkerchief dipped in water. "What was the row?"
Warren's face darkened. He bit his lip.
"Mr. Hildreth found the whole flock of hens having a Thanksgiving dinner out of the grain bins this morning," he said in a tone which he strived to make light and even. "He insists I left the lids up and I am just as sure I didn't. In a moment of madness I might leave one up, but I never had all the bins open at the same time since I've worked here."
"If Mr. Hildreth had a grain of sense," pronounced Richard, looking dubiously at Sarah who still presented a sad appearance notwithstanding his ministrations, "he'd know better than to accuse you. Of course some of these children have been fooling around the bins."
Sarah jumped at this uncanny penetration. She wanted nothing in the world so much as to get out of that washroom, away from Richard's straightforward gaze.
She edged carefully toward the door—but there was to be no escape.
"Sarah, were you in the barn this morning?" asked Richard.
Her answer was a look that Doctor Hugh would have been able to instantly interpret—it meant that Sarah had retreated into one of her obstinate, sulky silences and had made up her mind not to be forced into speech.
Richard turned and shot the bolt across the door.
"Were you in the barn this morning?" he repeated. "Answer me—but I know you were; and you must have left the grain bins open."
Sarah remained silent. Richard took a step toward the obdurate little figure, but Warren's voice halted him.
"Quit it, Rich," he said quietly. "Open that door. Run along, Sarah, and next time you climb an apple tree, have a pillow on the ground ready to catch you."
Sarah stepped over the sill, turned around, seemed about to speak and then went silently out of the barn. She heard Richard say something and Warren's reply:
"Oh, what difference does it make, if she did?"
Mrs. Willis knew what to do for the yellow jacket stings and she knew how to cure scratched hands and arms and soothe aching little heads. She knew, too, the signs of a hurt heart—when it was Sarah's. Shirley thought her sister was merely "cranky" when she pushed her out of the swing and Rosemary decided to let Sarah severely alone when that small girl hurled her music from the piano rack and began a violent performance of "chop sticks." But Mrs. Willis waited patiently.
It can not be denied that Sarah made the remainder of the day a veritable "blue Monday" for her family. Secure in the privileges accorded her as an invalid, she quarreled with Shirley and Rosemary, drove Winnie to distraction with repeated requests for cookies and lemonade and answered Mrs. Hildreth snappishly when that good woman stopped in for a moment's chat and generally behaved, as Winnie put it "like all possessed."
And yet, when Rosemary announced at supper that Richard and Warren were going to walk to the "Center" to see a man at the creamery and that they would be back before dark and had said the girls might go with them, Sarah's refusal to go immediately convinced her sisters that she must be really ill.
They set off as soon as the meal was over, Rosemary and Shirley and the two boys, and Sarah curled herself, a disconsolate little heap, in the porch swing. And there her mother found her and in less than two minutes had the whole story, from the pathetic beginning. "The hen was awfully sick, Mother," down to the "queer feelings" Sarah had experienced when Richard, always so good-natured and kind, had turned into an entirely different person.
"And I'm afraid of Mr. Hildreth," wailed Sarah, the tears flowing again as she ended her recital. "He'll yell at me, if I tell him, the way he did at Warren."
"Why no," said Mrs. Willis, in the most matter-of-fact tone. "Why no, he won't, Sarah. Certainly not. And you're not one bit afraid of him. He'll he sitting out on the porch now, smoking his pipe and quite ready to listen to whatever you have to tell him. You don't want Mother to go with you, do you?"
"Of course not," said Sarah, almost as matter-of-factly. "I'll go now, before the boys get back, Mother."
And away she marched to the bungalow, confidently, if not cheerfully. She had meant to ask her mother whether it would be necessary to confess that she had been the one who left the bins open, but Mrs. Willis had so evidently taken for granted that Sarah meant to do this at once, that the question had never been asked. Well, if Mr. Hildreth wasn't going to yell at her and if she wasn't afraid of him—and her mother had said he wouldn't and she wasn't—there was no earthly reason why she should not admit that she had been careless.
It all happened exactly as Mrs. Willis had said. Mr. Hildreth was sitting on his porch, smoking comfortably and resting after a hard day. He was surprised to see Sarah, but he did not yell at her. Instead he listened silently while she stammered out that she had been to blame for the hens feasting in the bins. She told him about the sick hen and she outlined her eventful day, culminating in the tumble from the apple tree and Richard's attempt to render first aid in the washroom.
"Well," Mr. Hildreth spoke for the first time, when she had finished. "Well, I'm glad you came to me and told me—though that's the natural thing to do. Own up when you're wrong—isn't it?"
"Is it?" asked Sarah doubtfully.
"Only square thing to do," the farmer assured her. "I'll tell Warren before I turn in to-night, then we'll be above board all around. You like animals, don't you?" he added suddenly.
"When I grow up," she announced, "I'm not going to do a thing but take care of animals. I'm going to have a farm, like yours, Mr. Hildreth, and I'm going to have seven automobiles with men to drive 'em. They'll go through all the cities and take the poor sick horses and dogs and cats and—and birds and things and bring 'em back to my farm. Then I'll doctor them up and cure them."
"So you think you'll be a doctor, hey?" said the farmer lazily.
"An animal doctor," Sarah affirmed. "I won't take care of sick folks, 'cause they're cross; Shirley is going to be that kind of a doctor maybe. Animals are never cross, no matter how sick they are. Did you know that, Mr. Hildreth?"
"Come to think of it, I do," Mr. Hildreth admitted, enjoying the conversation immensely. "But where'll you get money to run this farm, Sarah? Don't you think you ought to raise some crops?"
"Rich and Warren can do that," she decided easily. "They'll be through agricultural college by then and perhaps they'll like to run my farm. But Warren will have to buy a tractor, because I won't let my horses plow. None of the animals are going to work, when I take care of them."
Mr. Hildreth glanced at her queerly.
"You're just like the rest," he said grimly. "You think of work as something to side-step, don't you? Let me tell you, Sarah, that unless you give these animal friends of yours something to do and train them to do it regularly, you will have to spend all your days dosing them."
"You mean they'll be sick?" asked Sarah, worried at once.
"Of course they'll be sick," declared Mr. Hildreth. "Animals and people need work to keep them well. Ask your brother."
"Then I'll let my animals work just enough," said Sarah thoughtfully. "Not too much, but just enough. And maybe I'll let Warren plow with the horses."
"I would, if I were you," agreed Mr. Hildreth. "You work pretty hard yourself, don't you, Sarah?"
Sarah stared at him suspiciously. Apparently he was serious.
"Of course," continued Mr. Hildreth, "you call it play. But when I see you flying over this farm and trying to be in two places at once and cram half a hundred experiences into one short day, I think you work as hard as I do. Maybe harder. Don't you ever get tired, Sarah?"
"When I go to bed," responded that active person. "But I'm not tired when I first go," she added hastily. "Mother or Hugh or Winnie are always making me go to bed before I'm sleepy. I want to study the insects on the lawn, but how can I when I have to go to bed?"
"You're not the first person who has wanted to turn night into day," said Mr. Hildreth calmly. "It's lucky for some of us that you're not successful. If we had to keep an eye on you all night, Sarah, as well as during the waking hours, think how little else we'd get done."
Sarah had a shrewd suspicion that he was laughing at her. She turned to go.
"Wait a minute—wouldn't you like a pet?" said the farmer quickly.
"Oh, yes!" replied Sarah.
"I was thinking you might like a baby pig," Mr. Hildreth informed her. "There's one in the last litter that isn't getting a fair chance. He's a runt and crowded out. If you want to take him and bring him up on a bottle, you can have him for your own."
"I'll take him," said Sarah quickly. "I can learn how to feed him, can't I? And he can sleep with me—or at least in my room—I knew a girl who had a little puppy and he slept in her doll's bed. Thank you ever so much, Mr. Hildreth."
So it was arranged that Sarah was to have her pig in the morning and she and Mr. Hildreth parted excellent friends.
She did not go back to the house but, instead, started off down the road over which, she knew, Warren and Richard, Rosemary and Shirley, must come. She had walked perhaps half a mile, when she saw them.
Sarah became unaccountably shy. She walked more and more slowly and, reaching Rosemary, who was ahead, she found she had nothing to say.
"Hello, dear," Rosemary greeted her, wondering why Sarah had changed her mind and come to meet them. "Do you feel better?"
"Come back and walk with me, Sarah," said Warren pleasantly, for he had determined to put Sarah at her ease about the grain bins.
"A fuss like that is nothing to worry about," he had told Richard, "and I don't like to see a kid unhappy over such trifles."
Sarah waited till the other three were a little ahead and then she slipped a confiding hand into Warren's.
"I told Mr. Hildreth," she whispered, "and he wasn't cross one bit; and I'm going to have a baby pig for my own and bring it up on a bottle."
Warren's face was as bright as the one she lifted to his.
"Why Sarah Willis!" he said joyfully. "Why Sarah! You went to Mr. Hildreth about those silly grain bins? You needn't have done that—I meant to tell you not to worry. But, of course, I'm glad you did tell him."
"What are you talking about?" demanded Shirley, looking back. "Did Sarah tell Mr. Hildreth something?"
Richard's glance rested sharply on Sarah. He smiled, grasping what had happened with his usual quickness.
"You're a brick, Sarah!" he complimented her. "A brick—that's what you are."
But Sarah was eager to tell about her pig and Warren wished to change the topic so no more was said then. Instead Richard addressed himself to the three Willis girls collectively.
"I think you've about explored Rainbow Hill," he announced, "at least Sarah has. She's exhausted its possibilities, if I'm a fair judge. I think you need some new interests."
"Yes," agreed Shirley with perfect gravity and not the slightest idea of his meaning, "yes we do, Richard."
They all laughed, but Richard was not to side-tracked.
"There's the Gay family," he said. "You don't know them, but some of the children must be about your own age."
Rosemary thought "Gay" a pretty name and said so while Sarah reproved her. "Gay isn't a name, silly; it means they always have a good time. Doesn't it, Richard?"
"Well no, not in this case," replied Richard, "but I'm going over there to-morrow morning and, if you like, you may come along and get acquainted."
The entire household was startled to be awakened at three o'clock the next morning by the mad ringing of an alarm clock. Shirley wept, Mrs. Willis and Rosemary were sure it was the telephone and Winnie scolded vigorously and, still scolding, traced the noise to Sarah's bed.
Sure enough, the clock was there and Sarah admitted that she had set it.
"I wanted to be sure and get up early," she explained. "I have to get my pig and go and see the Gay family."
But she further conceded that she had not meant to rise at the witching hour of three A. M. Her intention had been to set the alarm for half-past five and her mistake was due to the fact that she had not set an alarm clock before.
"And never will again," commented Winnie, bearing the offending clock away with her for safe-keeping. "Not if I have anything to say, will you ever touch an alarm clock."
Breakfast was half an hour later than usual, in consequence of this performance, and Sarah was in a fever of impatience to reach the pig pens. When finally excused from the table, she shot through the door and was back before her mother and sisters had left the dining-room.
Loud sounds of altercation in the kitchen proclaimed her return.
"You can't bring that in here—go away, Sarah Willis!" came Winnie's voice. "Where did you get that dirty beast?"
"He's mine—he's a pig," countered Sarah, who always assumed that Winnie was intensely ignorant in matters of natural history. "Mr. Hildreth gave him to me."
There was the noise of a scuffle, the slam of a door and then Sarah's wail:
"Oh, you've hurt him! And he's sick—you're the most cruel woman I ever knew and I'll tell Mother so!"
Mrs. Willis opened the swinging door into the kitchen and Rosemary and Shirley pressed close behind her. Sarah stood on the back porch, a young pig in her arms, and Winnie occupied the center of the kitchen floor.
"We don't keep our pigs in the parlor—not in this house," said Winnie firmly. "Nor yet in the kitchen—as long as I'm in it."
Rosemary thought then, as she had often thought before, how easily her mother settled differences and with how few words. It took scarcely five minutes for Mrs. Willis to examine the pig and praise his possibilities to Sarah; to suggest a comfortable box in the woodshed as his logical home—where he might have fresh air in abundance and yet be close to Sarah if he needed her attention; and to enlist the sympathies of Winnie—whose bark was always loud and whose bite had never materialized yet—to the extent that she provided a piece of soft flannel to line the box and warm milk to comfort the interior of the little pig.
His pigship was a runt, as Mr. Hildreth had said, and deprived of his fair share of nourishment was bony and far from prepossessing. Rosemary had no desire to touch him, but Shirley was fascinated and she and Sarah put him to bed in the box and covered him up with all the care and devotion they had hitherto showered on dolls. As Richard observed, when he came to tell them he was starting for the Gay farm, even a pig could be killed by kindness.
"Mother said she'd get me a bottle for him," babbled Sarah as she emerged clean and damp from Winnie's polishing and joined Richard on the step. "Hugh is going to take her to Bennington this morning and she'll buy it then. And I can bring him up by hand and teach him tricks. His name is—what is a good name for him, Richard?"
"Napoleon Bonaparte," supplied Richard with mischievous promptness. "You can call him 'Bony' for short, you know."
The practicality of this suggestion charmed Sarah beyond words, and the pig was immediately christened. "Bony" he became in that hour and "Bony" he remained, with the use of his full name on state occasions, long after he was as plump as any of his more fortunate brothers and sisters.
"Where do the Gays live?" asked Rosemary, when she and Shirley had joined the two sponsors and they were all walking over the field that led to the back road.
"Their land joins Rainbow Hill," returned Richard, "and if I had my way, we'd be better neighbors. The Gays are hard up and proud and the Hildreths are busy and like to keep to themselves. I don't know now whether Louisa and Alec will be glad to see me bringing three strangers to meet 'em, but my honest opinion is they need someone to say 'Hello' and be friendly without prying."
Rosemary looked at him speculatively.
"Perhaps Mother had better go to see Mrs. Gay first," she suggested, with a little touch of her mother's own generalship.
"There isn't any Mrs. Gay," said Richard soberly. "They're orphans—all six of 'em. And Warren and I have it figured out that grown people frighten them—Louisa and Alec shut up like clams when they meet anyone in town. They won't think you and Sarah and Shirley mean to boss their affairs. Maybe they'll be friends with you."
The three girls drew closer to Richard as they approached a tumbled-down fence. Six year old Shirley expressed, in a measure, their feelings when she stopped Richard as he attempted to lift her over, with the observation that she had never seen an orphan.
"An orphan hasn't any mother or father, you know, Shirley," said Richard, smiling. "You'll find Kitty Gay a little girl very much like yourself. Show her how lovely a little girl named Shirley Willis can be."
"We'll know eight orphans then, in a minute," declared Sarah, her statistical mind functioning even as she helped to replace the fence bars. "The Gays are six and you and Warren are two; so you did see an orphan before, Shirley."
"For mercy's sake, forget the orphan part of it," begged poor Richard. "Don't say 'orphan' once—I didn't bring you up here to look at the Gays. They're no side show."
Rosemary laughed, then sobered instantly as a turn in the lane brought them face to face with a tow-headed lad, carrying two pails of water. He was about the age of Jack Welles, she decided, but infinitely thinner and lacking Jack's solid build.
"'Lo, Dick!" he said cordially. "Want me?"
Richard introduced the three girls with more ease than Rosemary had expected. Alec Gay was undeniably shy, but he asked them to come to the house and meet his sister, Louisa. Richard took one pail and Alec the other, and they went on.
"Louisa!" shouted Alec as they came in sight of a weather-beaten house set in a fenced enclosure of rank grass where a cow grazed peacefully.
A girl appeared in the doorway, a tow-headed girl with blue eyes like her brother's, and thin shoulders, like his, too. She wore a faded blue dress and a black apron and looked clean and neat.
This was Louisa Gay and noting that she glanced uncertainly into the doorway, after Richard had introduced them, Rosemary tactfully suggested that they sit on the stoop.
"We can't stay long and it is too nice to go indoors," she said sincerely.
"The house doesn't look very nice this morning," apologized Louisa, "to tell the truth, everything is in a mess; but if we stay out here, the children will come hunting for me and they're a mess, too. There isn't much choice, either way."
She sat down beside Rosemary who kept fast hold of Shirley lest she start an exploring tour of her own.
"Where's the Kitty girl?" asked Shirley frankly.
As she spoke a stream of children poured out of the house—or it seemed like a stream, though when they were counted they were but four. Each and every one of them had light hair and blue eyes like Alec and Louisa, all were tanned and freckled and all were shouting madly. The youngest was a baby, the oldest a year or so older than Sarah. Two were boys and two girls.
"Jim, Ken, Kitty and June," said Alec glibly. "For goodness' sake, do keep still," he admonished the children. "Can't you see we have company?"
Richard, who evidently felt at home, had gone on into the kitchen with the pail of water and came out in time to hear Alec's remark.
"We're not company," he said quickly. "We're neighbors."
Shirley, after staring a few seconds at Kitty, began to talk to her as though she were an old friend. Sarah went over to look at the cow and Jim and Ken followed her. The baby, June, climbed into Rosemary's lap and sat quietly there.
"She never goes to strangers," marveled Louisa, leaning over to straighten out the crumpled little skirts. "Look Alec, she likes her."
Alec was looking and so was Richard. Rosemary made a pretty picture there in the sunlight, her lovely vivid face turned to Louisa, her arms about the tousled little figure on her knees.
"It's so nice to have a girl of my own age to talk to," Louisa said appreciatively. "I never have time to go down to town any more and I don't see the girls I used to know."
"But in the winter?" suggested Rosemary, "You go to school, winters, don't you?"
Louisa's lips tightened.
"I didn't last winter and I don't intend to this," she announced with curious defiance. "There's no one to take care of the children except Alec and me. We tried taking turns staying home, but neither one of us could learn much that way so we gave it up."
Richard had come over, so he said, to borrow a file and presently he declared he must get back to work. June was handed back to Louisa, Sarah summoned from her lecture on pigs—to which the boys were giving rapt attention, and Shirley, with difficulty, detached from Kitty and a dilapidated rope swing.
"You'll come over and see us, won't you?" said Rosemary eagerly.
"No," interposed Alec, standing straight and tall beside his sister.
The monosyllable sounded ungracious but Rosemary, looking at Alec, saw that he did not mean to be discourteous. He looked a little unhappy, a little shy, a bit afraid, even. And Louisa's blue eyes were wistful.
"Then we'll come see you," promised Rosemary gravely.
"I'm glad you said that," approved Richard, leading the way down the road. "Alec never goes anywhere that he doesn't have to and Louisa is getting to be just like him. First thing those kids know, they'll be queer."
"Am I queer?" asked Sarah in sudden alarm.
"Not yet, but you want to be mighty careful," Richard warned her. "Lots of people get queer, thinking too much about pigs, I've heard."
"I won't talk about any pig but my darling Bony," declared Sarah. "I won't get queer talking about him."
THE GAY FAMILY
As Richard had foreseen, the Willis girls formed the habit of wandering over to the Gay farm nearly every day. Rosemary liked Louisa and the taciturn Alec, and the younger children were companionable in age and tastes for Sarah and Shirley.
It was Warren who explained something of the conditions under which the Gay children worked and lived, one evening when the girls were in bed and Winnie was busy setting bread in the kitchen. Warren treasured these rare half hours on the porch with Mrs. Willis and he had once declared to Richard that ten minutes' uninterrupted conversation with "Rosemary's mother" could make him forget the hardest and longest day.
"The way I figure it out," said Warren, his lean, brown face showing earnest lines even in the shaded light from the porch lamp, "the way I figure it, Mrs. Willis, the Gays will help Rosemary and Sarah and Shirley and they will certainly help them. Alec is fifteen and Louisa is just Rosemary's age—and yet they have the burden of supporting and bringing up four younger children."
"And my girls have such a happy, sheltered life," struck in Mrs. Willis. "Yes, Warren, I can see what you mean; it won't hurt them to learn of the existence of poverty and hard work. But what happened to the parents of these children?"
"They died a couple of years ago—within three months of each other, I believe," said Warren. "All they left was these few acres—sixty, I think Alec told me. There's a mortgage and most of the stock has been sold off—Alec does wonders for his age, but he can't get the work done alone. I helped him some last year and I'd help him more, but he is too proud to take much."
"But they can't go on like this," Mrs. Willis protested. "It is unthinkable—to allow six children to struggle alone for a living on a barren little farm. Doesn't anyone take an interest in them—the Hildreths or any of the people who live near and who knew their father and mother?"
Warren settled deeper into his comfortable chair.
"If the house burned down, I suppose they'd be taken in by some of the neighbors," he said a trifle bitterly. "Or if they all came down with the plague, someone might drop in to offer advice. But either of these calamities would have to happen in winter at that, to attract attention; the farmers of this community can't be disturbed in summer when they're up to their elbows in work."
"You don't mean that, Warren," the little lady opposite him smiled confidently.
"I mean at least half of it," asserted Warren doggedly. "Of course when Mr. and Mrs. Gay died, everyone pitched in and helped the children; I suppose they did, though I wasn't here to see. But I do know that now when they need advice and practical help, they're apparently forgotten. Their attendance at school last winter was a farce and yet the authorities let an investigation slide; Mr. Hildreth promises vaguely to 'look after them' in the fall—and there they are, six fine American children left to bring themselves up."
"Someone must be responsible," said Mrs. Willis firmly. "I'll speak to Hugh—he will know what to do."
Warren shook his head.
"I wouldn't—that is not yet," he declared. "It is rather difficult to explain and—well, I suppose I haven't been quite fair in my statements, either. Alec and Louisa do not invite friendship—they are extremely proud and shy and so reserved as to be almost repellant to strangers. I think every allowance should be made, under the circumstances, for them, but the neighbors who tried to do for them at first were miffed, I suppose, and take the attitude that if they want to keep to themselves, they may.
"Alec is close-mouthed, too, and I fancy he has resented attempts to publicly discuss their financial affairs. There is a mortgage on the farm, of course—what would a farm be without a mortgage?" Warren digressed for a moment but was instantly serious—"and I suppose the interest keeps Alec awake nights figuring. Both he and Louisa have given up going anywhere—they send one of the children to the Center for the few things they have to buy. It's simmered right down to this—they're avoiding everyone and if they don't look out they'll be as queer as—as the dickens!"
"Like some of those mountaineers I saw when Hugh took me over the back road to that little settlement at the foot of the hills," said Mrs. Willis. "The women peep out of the windows furtively and the children run if they see a stranger—all because they have lost the habit of meeting folk."
"That's it," agreed Warren eagerly. "That's what I mean. And I think it is a shame, for the Gays are nice kids—clean and honest and wholesome. You know I would never have taken the girls over there if there was the slightest possibility of the Gays setting them a bad example in any way. I have a cousin who is a teacher and she is always preaching that children pick up the bad traits they see in others quicker than they do the good ones."
"I'm not so sure of that," smiled Mrs. Willis. "But I am glad you are so thoughtful, Warren. They are very precious to me—my three daughters."
"If I had three sisters like them—" Warren's voice faltered.
He began again, hurriedly.
"What the Gays need," he said earnestly, "is human contacts—I think that's the phrase I want. They need to know normal, happy children their own age. It isn't the poverty that will hurt them—Rich and I have been as poor as church mice and are still; but we have battled our way through school and mixed with fellows and met people. In some ways Louisa and Alec are ten years beyond their time—they run the farm and train and punish those four youngsters and figure out expenses like a couple of old stagers. Give 'em one more year and they'll forget how to laugh and be hopelessly mixed on the true values."
"I think I know what you are trying to bring about," observed Mrs. Willis sagely. "You think they'll trust the girls and make friends with them and, later, an older person will be able to gain their confidence. An older head will be needed soon, if that farm is the only source of income. Well, Warren, I believe you are right and it will work out nicely in the end. I'm glad to have the girls see something of lives that are different from theirs and I know they will all three learn a great deal that will be helpful to them. I did plan to go over and see the Gays but now I'll wait, for a time at least."
"She's a wonder!" said Warren to himself, walking back to the bungalow a few minutes later. "She can see just what is in a fellow's mind and sort it out for him. Funny how Rich and I puzzled over what made those three girls so different from any girls we ever knew—they do just as many crazy things and Winnie says they have tempers and wills of their own, but they have something that sets them apart—Rich said it was ideals and I called it fine standards and, in a measure, I suppose we're both right. But just two words will explain everything—their mother!"
It must be confessed that Bony, the pig, claimed a large share of Sarah's time and attention. She let Rosemary and Shirley go over to see the Gays very often without her. There were the pig's meals to be served, his toilet to be made and his manners and training carefully considered.
"My conscience, Sarah Willis, you're not going to wash that pig, are you?" demanded Winnie the first morning Sarah made known her ideas on the question of cleanliness in connection with Bony.
"I certainly am," announced Sarah with appalling firmness. "Hugh says you can't be well, 'less you are clean. I don't suppose I can wash Bony in the bathtub?"
"Now Sarah, if I didn't love you, you would have driven me crazy years ago," said Winnie, who was a famous general when she minded to be. "You know washing a pig in the bathtub is out of the question. I wouldn't wash him in the laundry tubs, either; we have to be nice to Mrs. Pritchard for if she deserts us like as not there'll be no more clean clothes this summer; you can't pick and choose your washwoman in the country."
"Where'll I wash him then?" asked Sarah.
"Take him out to the barns—there must be tubs there," directed Winnie. "I'll give you a piece of soap and an old towel. Don't bring the towel back, either."
"I'll hang it on a bush to dry," promised Sarah amiably. "But I have to have some hot water, Winnie; Bony is delicate and I can't give him a cold bath."
"Then he'll have to wait till to-morrow for his bath," said the wily Winnie. "The tea kettle is empty and I can't be lighting the stove to heat water just now."
"Well, I'll try the cold water," Sarah decided reluctantly, "but if Bony catches cold, you'll be sorry—that's all."
The pig under one arm and the towel and soap under the other, Sarah made for the barn and reached the big tub where the horses were watered, when Warren saw her.
"What are you going to do with that pig, Sarah?" he asked suspiciously.
"Wash him," said Sarah, beginning to weary of being questioned.
"Not in that horse tub," declared Warren. "I've just filled it for the team. That's a drinking trough, not a bathtub."
Brief experience had already taught Sarah, as it had Rosemary and Shirley, that while Richard might be cajoled or persuaded, Warren was firmness itself. If he said that pigs could not be washed in the watering tub, that settled the matter.
"The brook is the best place to wash a pig, anyway, Sarah," suggested Warren helpfully. "You take this stiff brush and put Bony in the middle of the brook and scrub his back and he'll be the happiest little pig you ever saw. But if that is a good dress you have on, take my advice and stay away from water," he added.
"I won't get wet," said Sarah indifferently. "Well, I guess I'll have to wash Bony in the brook. I never saw such a fussy bunch of people."
She scrubbed the pig thoroughly, soaking herself to the skin in the process, and dried him neatly with the towel. Then she took him back to his box, fed him a nursing bottle of warm milk—he had readily learned to take the bottle—covered him up and hung the soiled wet towel on the rose bush by the front door. Leaving the scrubbing brush in the porch swing and the jellied remains of the soap on a gingham pillow, Sarah retired to put on a dry frock, feeling that she had accomplished one task successfully.
"That pig," said Winnie, when she came upon the soapy trail of his bath, "that pig will drive us crazy yet. You mark my words!"
THE GAY FINANCES
Sarah continued to bathe her pig every day. In fact she omitted no slightest detail that could contribute to his health and comfort; and the amount of care and affection she lavished on "that porker," as Mr. Hildreth referred to Bony, would have amazed anyone unacquainted with Sarah's trait of exceeding thoroughness. Whatever she found to do—providing it was to her liking—this small girl did with all her might.
But naturally the most interesting of pigs could not occupy all her time. Bony was young and he craved sleep. It was during his rest periods that Sarah would consent to accompany her sisters to the Gay farm. Once there, she was like the boy who, led protestingly to the party, had to be dragged home.
"Oh, dear, I'm sorry you have to find the house in such a mess," Louisa Gay apologized one morning, across the table filled with dirty dishes and pots and pans piled high in confusion. "I was helping Alec in the field all day yesterday and just let the dishes pile up. This morning I meant to wash everything in sight—I was too tired to touch a plate last night."
"We'll help," said Rosemary sympathetically. She knew that the four younger Gays were forbidden to light a fire in Louisa's absence—she and Alec were most strict about this—and that, for this reason, they could not heat water and wash the dishes for their sister.
"We'll help," repeated Rosemary cheerfully. "I have washed tons of dishes in cooking class; and Sarah will dry them for us."
"I will, if Kitty will," qualified Sarah, hastily, having no mind to be tied down to domestic duties while someone else played.
"Kitty is in bed," said Louisa severely. "I told her to make the beds yesterday and she never touched one. She said she forgot. So now she has to stay in bed till dinner time to make her remember."
"I'm going to get up now, Louisa!" shrilled the wrathful voice of Kitty from the upstairs hall.
"You go back to bed and stay there, till I tell you you can get up," directed Louisa. "Unless you want to be locked in your room and your dinner."
Kitty retreated—they heard the door of room slam—and Louisa went on with her plate scraping.
"There's the baby!" Louisa started nervously. "Kenneth must have stopped rocking her."
At that moment Kenneth appeared in the kitchen doorway, looking distinctly cross.
"I don't see why I always have to rock the baby!" he grumbled. "Alec wants me to stake Dora down by the brook and when am I going to get any time to help him if I have to keep June quiet?"
"Let me rock her," said Shirley. "I can rock just as nice—can't I, Rosemary?"
"Well, I think you could," admitted Rosemary, smiling. "You must touch the cradle very gently, you know, Shirley—don't rock June as though she were in a boat at sea."
She went in to the darkened room off the kitchen with Shirley and showed her how to sway the old-fashioned cradle with a soothing motion. When she came back to Louisa, Kenneth had disappeared and Sarah with him.
"I declare, sometimes I get so discouraged, I don't know what to do," confided Louisa, filling the heavy tea kettle at the sink and lifting it to the stove. "We do everything the wrong way and yet I don't see where we can take time to do them any better.
"For instance, there's June. I know she shouldn't be rocked to sleep—but the one day I tried to break her of the habit and make her go to sleep quietly by herself, I didn't get a thing done. The other children got into mischief, Alec was hurt trying to pitch hay and manage the team without help and, after all, June didn't learn a thing. She acted worse the next day, so I had to give it up and go back to the cradle rocking."
"I suppose it is hard because she is used to the cradle now," said Rosemary, busily clearing a place on the table for the clean dishes.
"Yes, that's the reason," agreed Louisa. "And we spend a lot of time staking Dora around in different places—she was in the front yard that day you came over with Richard. She was there because the front yard has the one decent piece of fencing left on the farm. She would give more milk if we could let her go free in the pasture—but Kenneth has to stake her with a staple and rope because the fences are so poor—where there are any—that the only way to keep her home is to tie her."
"You're tired," said Rosemary quickly. "You worked too hard yesterday, Louisa. I wish you'd go off somewhere—find a nice, cool place—and rest; I'll do these dishes."
Louisa did look tired. More than that, she looked discouraged. She had not taken pains to brush her hair as carefully as usual and it was "slicked back" in the tightest possible knot. Her dress was perfectly clean, but so faded and mended that it would have taken a merry-hearted girl to have been quite happy in it. Louisa was far from merry-hearted.
"But the potatoes will bring in some money, won't they?" urged Rosemary, who now knew a great deal about the Gay finances.
"They will, if they're not all sunburned, before Alec gets them into the barn," responded Louisa gloomily, pouring hot water over a pan of dishes. "Last year the yield was poor, too. Ken and Jim try to help, but neither Alec nor I can bear to keep such little boys working in the hot sun all day long. It isn't right."
Louisa was not given to complaint and Rosemary guessed something of the pressure the slender shoulders must be enduring.
"I wish I had a million dollars!" burst out Rosemary, putting her arm about Louisa. "I'd give it all to you!"
To her distress, Louisa began to cry. She was standing near the kitchen table and she just put her head down on her arms and "let go" as Rosemary later told her brother. Shirley, who had ventured to leave the cradle, after several cautious tests to determine the depth of June's slumbers, peered in aghast. Rosemary motioned to her to go on and Shirley dashed out into the sunshine, glad to escape.
"You're so sweet to me!" choked Louisa, raising her tear-stained face. "And you're so pretty—I never saw a girl as pretty as you are. I wish I could look the way you do and have the clothes you do!"
So the faded dress had had something to do with it, after all.
Rosemary had always taken her pretty summer frocks for granted. Now she looked from her own blue and white gingham to Louisa's old dress and remembered the freshly-ironed linens and ginghams hanging in her closet. Not many, perhaps, but dainty and pretty, every one, and neither old-fashioned nor faded.
"I wish you'd let me give you a couple of mine," said Rosemary impulsively. "We're almost the same size and you would look so nice in blue, Louisa. I wouldn't tell a single soul."
Louisa dried her eyes and reached for the dish mop.
"I'm ashamed of myself," she declared briskly. "I don't know what made me cry like that—Alec and the boys would think I had lost my mind. No, I couldn't take a dress from you, Rosemary—I don't really need it, anyway. Thank you, just the same. We need so many things that I vow there is no place to begin to replenish; a dress would be a drop in the bucket."
They both laughed a little at Louisa's mixed metaphor and the laughter cleared away the last trace of the tears. As they washed and dried the mountains of dishes, Louisa explained that what was really troubling her, was the interest.
"The interest on the mortgage, you know," she said earnestly. "It is due the first of September. Mr. Greenleaf holds the mortgage and Alec is desperately afraid he will foreclose."
Rosemary's experience with mortgages dated from that minute, but she sensed the importance of the interest.
"Perhaps the potatoes—" she suggested hopefully, having great faith in Alec's main crop.
"We owe for the seed and the fertilizer," answered Louisa. "And last year's taxes are not paid; and if we do manage to scrape together enough to pay the interest, I don't see what we're going to live on the rest of the year."
Rosemary had to admit that the outlook was discouraging. She scoured a paring knife thoughtfully and polished it off before she ventured a new suggestion.
"Why doesn't Alec go to this Mr. Greenleaf, and tell him that he is having a hard time?" Rosemary proposed. "Ask him to wait a little longer for his money. Hugh waits when people can not pay him; I heard Winnie say that he never collects a bill, but waits for the money."
Louisa looked graver than ever.
"The one thing we must never do, and you must never, never tell," she said impressively, "is to go to Mr. Greenleaf. Just as soon as it is known in town that we are having a hard time to get along, do you know what will happen? They'll take the farm away from us and send us to the poor farm—probably bind Alec and me out and separate the family for good and all. My father and mother would rather have us dead than paupers."
"Could anyone take the farm away from you and do that?" asked Rosemary, much shocked.
"Of course—it's often done," said Louisa, her light blue eyes gazing intensely at her friend. "They'd take us to the poor farm in a minute, if they knew we couldn't hold the farm."
"Perhaps it is pleasant at the poor farm," Rosemary was trying to find the cloud's silver lining. "You might like it there; did you ever see it?"
"No, and I never want to," retorted Louisa with finality.
Then Rosemary asked what it was to be "bound out" and Louisa told her that children old enough to work were bound out to families who agreed to give them their board and clothes and send them to school in return for their services.
"It would mean that until we are eighteen we'd never have a cent to call our own," declared Louisa. "We couldn't do a thing for the younger children and, worst of all, we should be separated."
It was a very sober Rosemary who helped with the remainder of the work that morning. She spread dish towels to bleach, she swept the porch, made the beds—visiting for a brief moment with the unrepentant Kitty who clamored to be allowed to get up and finally was released a half hour ahead of time on her promise to pick the "greens" for dinner—and, at Louisa's request, showed her how a simple soup was made in cooking class at the Eastshore school. But she was unusually silent while she did all this.
Walking home across the fields at noon—they steadfastly refused to burden the harassed family with three extra mouths to feed—Sarah noticed her sister's abstraction.
"What's the matter, Rosemary?" she asked curiously and Shirley echoed the question.
"Oh—I'm thinking," said Rosemary.
THE POOR FARM
Rosemary thought a great deal about the Gays in the days that followed. Louisa had asked her to promise that she would tell no one the precarious state of their finances—"no one can help and I won't be discussed like the 'cases' they bring up at the sewing circle," said Louisa passionately.
"They'd be 'running up' clothes for June and Kitty," she said another time, "and fitting us out to go to the poor farm looking respectable. I'd rather stay here and look any old way."
Sarah was extremely observant for her years and she surprised Rosemary and Louisa with a shrewd comment or two, until the latter deemed it expedient to take her into the inner circle of confidence. Sarah could be loyal and she could be silent. From that day she and Rosemary were leagued with Louisa and Alec to circumvent the town authorities.
Not that authority, in any guise, was ever manifested. At least it had not been so far. Rosemary, on the beautiful moonlight nights when "Old Fiddlestrings" wandered again up and down the road, playing the "Serenade" with his soul in his fingers, found it hard to believe that there could be such ugly things in the world as poverty and fear. She was sure that Louisa and Alec must be mistaken—or else the money would come from somewhere—it must. There could not be such music and such moonlight and such heavenly scented breezes on an earth that was anything but wholly lovely, wholly kind.
"My dear child, you must go to bed," Mrs. Willis remonstrated on the third night when she came in to find Rosemary's room flooded with moonlight and Rosemary herself kneeling at the window. "You can hear the music just as well in bed and I don't like to have you lose so much sleep."
And then she brought a light comfortable from the bed and, wrapped in that, knelt with Rosemary at the window till the player and his violin walked wearily away out of sight. After all, what was the loss of a little sleep as compared with such playing?
"Heard Old Fiddlestrings again last night," said Mr. Hildreth, drawing up before the kitchen door the next morning while Richard carried in the piece of ice they had brought from the creamery for Winnie. "I declare it's a mercy we don't have full moon more than once a month; no one would get a fair night's sleep. Does he bother you?"
"Bother us?" echoed Rosemary in astonishment. "Bother us? Why, it is the loveliest playing we have ever heard!"
Richard judged this an excellent time to ask a question.
"How would you like to go over to the poor farm?" he suggested, pulling Shirley back from the dusty wheel and taking a firm grip on Sarah with the other hand to prevent her from crawling under the horse—for what reason she alone knew.
"The poor farm?" Rosemary's mind immediately leaped to the Gays.
"Oh, Richard, do let's go!" she cried, her enthusiasm kindling. "I've always wanted to see the poor farm."
"Well, your brother goes there often enough," said Mr. Hildreth drily. "It's thanks to him that the new Board of Freeholders put in decent plumbing all through the place."
Richard climbed back into his seat and took the reins.
"Well, be ready in about fifteen minutes," he directed. "It's thanks to Mr. Hildreth that the poor-farm folks are going to get some early tomatoes."
"I've a good mind to cuff you," said the exasperated Mr. Hildreth who had never been known to raise his hand against anyone. (Warren had once remarked that when he raised his voice he needed no further reinforcements.) "It's a pity when we have the first tomatoes and more than we can use, not to send those poor creatures a few."
The "few" tomatoes proved to be six peach baskets full and they made a crimson splash in the back of the light spring wagon Warren presently drove around harnessed to the useful Solomon.
"Mother says do you want to take us all?" cried Shirley, balancing herself on the lowest step and eyeing Richard anxiously. "I hope you want all of us, Richard, because no one wants to stay home."
Her mother, coming out in time to hear this speech, laughed.
"Have you room for three, Richard?" she asked. "The girls have had a great many rides lately and I'm sure one or two will stay home without grumbling, if necessary."
"Room for everybody," Richard assured her. "Don't you want to go, Mrs. Willis? I'll tip the girls over with the tomatoes and you may have the whole front seat, if you'll come."
"Thank you no," she answered him smiling. "Winnie and I have a busy day ahead of us. You know the doctor and Jack Welles are coming up next week to stay two weeks and Winnie and I want to have as much done ahead as we can. Have a good time and bring me home some wild flowers if you pass any growing along the road."
It was a warm morning, but no one minds that in July. Besides, as Sarah pointed out, there was now and then a breeze. Sarah and Shirley were seated in the middle of the single long seat with Richard at one end and Rosemary the other.
As usual Sarah and Shirley both wanted to drive and, also as usual, Richard settled the argument diplomatically by allowing each to hold the reins in turn, stipulating fixed distances for each, using the trees which could be seen ahead as boundary marks.
Rosemary was less interested in the driving than in their destination. She plied Richard with questions about the poor farm. Who lived there? How many people? How poor did one have to be before he was compelled to live on the poor farm? Did one, once sent there, ever save enough money to go somewhere else? Were there any children and what did they do?
"Good grief!" ejaculated the harassed Richard, at last rebelling. "I never lived on a poor farm, Rosemary. I don't know a great deal more about it than you do."
"Is it a nice place?" persisted Rosemary.
"Depends on what you call nice," answered Richard. "It is a large farm and the house looks comfortable. I'll tell you one thing—if I had to be a county charge, I'd rather be sent to a country poor farm than to a city almshouse; in the country you at least have something green to look at."
"Would you like to live at this poor farm?" said Rosemary.
Louisa and Alec, Kitty, Ken, Jim and June—they were in her mind. She would, perhaps, have some comforting news to take them about the poor farm. She was totally unprepared for the violence of Richard's reply.
"Like to live at the poor farm?" thundered he. "Not if it was the most magnificent place on earth! Do you think for one moment that I'd have charity handed out to me? I'd rather wash dishes for a living—what do you take me for, anyway?"
Three pairs of astonished eyes stared at him. Then Rosemary laughed and, after a moment, Richard laughed with her.
"Guess I got too eloquent," he admitted a little shamefacedly. "But honestly, Rosemary, I pity those poor souls who have to live at the poor farm, more than I pity any other people of whom I've ever heard. There is nothing worse, to my mind, than to be deprived of your independence and ability to work."
"How do you come to live in the poor house?" inquired Rosemary. "Sit still, Sarah; no, it isn't your turn to drive yet."
"Oh, sometimes you're old and haven't saved any money," said Richard absently. "Sometimes you're old and sick and have to stop earning. Lots of people lose those who would have supported them—say their children. And now and then parents die and leave a family of kids who must be brought up as wards of charity."
Rosemary hardly noticed when he took the reins from Shirley and turned Solomon into a beautiful tree-lined road in perfect condition. She was thinking that "wards of charity" did not sound half as happy as when one said "the Gay children."
"Here we are!" announced Richard, stopping before a handsome red brick building with a great white front porch and a fine stretch of lawn before it. "How do you do, Mrs. Carson? Mr. Hildreth thought you might like some early tomatoes for supper."
A stout gray-haired woman had come out from the beautifully paneled door and Richard performed the introductions. Mrs. Carson was voluble in her thanks and suggested that the "young ladies" might like to go through the buildings.
"If you'll come, too," whispered Rosemary to Richard, pressing closer to him.
Mrs. Carson was a rather handsome woman and there was efficiency and competency in every crisp fold of her immaculate gingham dress and every neat coil of her iron-gray hair. No doubt the Board of Freeholders was to be congratulated on its choice of a matron for the poor farm—but it was awe she inspired in the minds of the three girls before her. Not for worlds would they have left the safe companionship of sunny, kind-hearted Richard and gone on a tour alone with this formidable personage.
"Where are the people who live here?" whispered Sarah, when they had been led through spotless corridors, glistening with varnish and covered with bright linoleum, into orderly rooms stiffly furnished and showing no signs of use and out again on to the porch tiled in red and supported with white columns.
It was a question Rosemary had been debating, too.
"Oh, they're out back—there's a porch there they can use," said Mrs. Carson carelessly. "Some of 'em spend the time in their dormitories—just puttering around. The old ones are so messy I can't have them out here or it would never be clean; and the young ones work in the kitchen, mornings. Now if you'll come upstairs, I'll show you the bathrooms your brother had installed for us."
Richard had explained that they were Doctor Hugh's sisters and Mrs. Carson was determined to show them every courtesy. They saw the large kitchen at last, with three young girls, in blue dresses made exactly alike, scraping carrots, and four old women peeling potatoes, and then went out to the back lawn where half a dozen old people dozed in the glare of the hot sun.
"You needn't bother to speak to them," said Mrs. Carson. "Most of them are deaf."
But Rosemary, catching several indignant glances darted at the speaker, doubted this.
"I hope you'll come over again," Mrs. Carson said, walking with them to the wagon after they had, as she expressed it, "seen everything."
"Tell Mr. Hildreth he'll be a popular man tonight when we have those tomatoes for supper," she added. "The old folks would rather have something they like to eat than any other kind of gift; and our tomatoes are late this year."
Yes, she meant to be kind—one could see that, thought Rosemary, mechanically holding on to Shirley as Solomon speeded up in his haste to reach the home barn.
She was very silent during the return drive and busied with her own thoughts. Richard's quizzical announcement, "This car doesn't go any further—end of the line, lady," woke her from her dreaming to find that they were home.
As she lightly jumped to the ground, she put the gist of her meditations into words:
"No," said Rosemary with conviction. "No, I wouldn't want to live at the poor farm!"
Sarah remained untroubled by any idea of living at the poor farm, but at the supper table that night she had an individual announcement to make.
"All those people weren't deaf," she said placidly.
"How do you know?" Rosemary asked in astonishment.
"I found out," Sarah answered, buttering her mashed potato lavishly.
"But how?" insisted Rosemary, not without anxiety. One never knew what Sarah would do next.
That small girl grinned impishly.
"I asked one old lady," she replied. "She said she wasn't. And that's how I know."
Winnie folded up a pair of stockings and dropped them into the capacious bag which hung on the arm of her chair.
"It beats me," she said conversationally, "where Sarah runs to every afternoon. It's been going on now for three weeks and she shuts up like a clam when I ask her any questions."
Winnie and Mrs. Willis were seated in the cool, shaded living-room with their mending. It was an intensely warm afternoon and several degrees cooler inside the house than on the porch. Winnie insisted on helping with the darning—she would have felt hurt had she been denied the task of mating and sorting and mending the stockings and socks for the family each week—and she took pride in assisting Mrs. Willis to keep Doctor Hugh's belongings in perfect order.
"Mother!" Rosemary hurried in, her hair a tangle of waves and ringlets dampened from heat and perspiration, her cheeks like scarlet poppies and her eyes glowing with enthusiasm. "Mother, I've thought of something!"
"Rosemary leads an exciting life," Jack Welles had once declared in Mrs. Willis' hearing. "She can get all worked up about anything she happens to be thinking about."
Rosemary's mother remembered this speech now, smiling a little at the recollection.
"Richard and Warren are down in the tomato field, working their heads off in this broiling sun," said Rosemary more picturesquely than accurately. "And Mother, couldn't I make lemonade and take it down to them?"
"We have lemons," put in Winnie.
Mrs. Willis nodded approval.
"Make plenty, dear," she said cordially. "Don't put in too much sugar, for the boys don't like it so sweet; but why not wait an hour until it is cooler?"
"Oh, Mother, let me do it now—they'll like it when they're working hard. Where's Shirley? She could carry the cups," and Rosemary paused in her flight kitchenwards.
"Shirley is asleep—don't wake her," cautioned the mother. "Ask Sarah to help you, dear; she is out in the barn. And do keep out of the sun as much as you can, dear."
"Yes'm," promised Rosemary obediently, disappearing.
"I'll go crack the ice," said Winnie, rising. "There's no use in making the kitchen look like Niagara Falls, if a little forethought can prevent it."
Rosemary was a quick worker and a neat one, when she didn't have to chop ice, and she soon had a shiny white enamel pail half filled with delicious cold lemonade. She poured out two generous glasses for her mother and Winnie and carried them in with her compliments and then set off expeditiously, carrying pail, dipper and three cups, a feat that required her closest attention.
"Sarah!" she called when she reached the barn.
"What?" called back Sarah, not very graciously.
"Please come help me take some lemonade to the boys?"
Sarah put her head out of the barn door and eyed the pail thirstily.
"Let me have some?" she begged.
"If you'll help me carry these things," said Rosemary. "I brought three cups and there's enough lemonade for everyone."
"Well—all right, I'll help you," decided Sarah, "but I'm thirsty now."
"The ice will melt if you're going to talk all day," said Rosemary, the blazing sun making her more impatient than usual. "Come help me first and drink your lemonade after we get down to the tomato field."
Sarah darted back into the barn and reappeared in a moment with Bony, the pig, under her arm.
"Sarah Willis! You can't carry that filthy pig and help me lug this pail, too—put him down," scolded Rosemary.
"Bony isn't filthy—he's had a bath this morning!" flared Sarah. "He's just as clean as any person, so there. And I want to show Richard and Warren what he can do."
"You know what Hugh would say if he saw you fussing with a pig and then coming around food without washing your hands," Rosemary reminded her. "If there is one thing Hugh won't stand, it's to have you handle pets and then come to the table without scrubbing your hands. You know that, Sarah."
"I'm not coming to any table," insisted Sarah. "Besides Bony is clean, I tell you. If I can't bring him I won't come at all."
The walk down to the tomato field was long and hot, and Rosemary could not hurry unless she had someone to share the weight of the pail which would, she knew, grow heavier at each step. She capitulated.
"But keep Bony on the other side of you," she commanded Sarah. "I don't see why he can't walk; do you carry him everywhere he goes?"
Sarah tucked the pig under one arm and gave the other hand to the handle of the pail.
"Bony can walk, but I am saving his strength," she remarked with a dignity worthy of Winnie. "You wait till you see what a smart pig he is, Rosemary; no one appreciates him except me."
Warren and Richard, bending over the long rows of tomatoes, straightened up in surprise as Rosemary's clear call came down to them.
"Stay up by the fence—you'll get your dress stained!" shouted Warren. "We'll come over."
"Ye gods, lemonade!" ejaculated Richard when he was near enough to hear the inviting tinkle of ice.
"And a pig!" grinned Warren. "Isn't Bony too heavy to cart around on a day like this, Sarah?"
Sarah shook her head in negation, but remained silent.
"You must be baked!" Rosemary looked with sympathy at the two flushed faces.
Both boys looked warm and tired, but they averred stoutly that no one minded the heat "after they were used to it." They declared that nothing had ever tasted as good as the lemonade.
"What made you think of bringing us it?" asked Warren, sitting down on an overturned crate after his second cup and mopping his face with his handkerchief.
"Oh, last winter Jack Welles and the high school boys were shoveling snow, we took them hot coffee and doughnuts," said Rosemary carelessly. "I suppose I must have remembered how much they liked something warm to drink—and you like something cold just as much, don't you?"
"We sure do," agreed Richard warmly. "This Jack Welles is coming up next week, isn't he? Mr. Hildreth is counting on him for two weeks."
Rosemary moved the pail beyond the reach of Sarah who seemed to have developed an excessive thirst.
"Jack and Hugh are both coming next Sunday," she answered. "You'll like Jack, Warren, and so will you, Richard. He lives next door to us, you know."
"Well, I only hope he's used to hard work," said Richard. "How old is he, Rosemary? Almost sixteen? I don't suppose he has ever picked tomatoes from sunup to sundown, but the cannery opens next week and we'll be picking steadily until it closes. Mr. Hildreth is shipping some crates to-day, but the real picking starts when the cannery opens. We're counting on Jack to make a third hand."
"He'll want to go fishing," declared Sarah.
"Jack doesn't care how much he hurts the poor fish, jabbing hooks into them."
Sarah and Jack had had more than one violent argument over this question.
"It isn't cruel to go fishing," said Rosemary impatiently, thinking how tired Warren looked.
"I haven't been this year," announced Richard, "though they say there are several good streams near here. Sundays I seem to lack ambition and during the week, of course, there isn't time."
Sarah edged a little nearer the pail.
"You wouldn't catch fish would you, Warren?" she asked coaxingly.
Warren looked at her and grinned.
"Not only would I catch them," he told her, "but I'd eat them; if we are to have fish to eat, Sarah, someone must catch them for us. The same way with roast chicken for Sunday dinner and roast pork, you know; they don't grow on bushes."
Sarah's eyes turned to Bony, now lying comfortably sprawled across her lap. She was sitting on the ground and Rosemary beside her.
"I never would eat Bony!" she said in horror-stricken tone.
"No, of course not," Richard put in quickly, "but you'd eat a pig you were not acquainted with, wouldn't you?"
Sarah was most uncomfortable. She liked roast pork and in winter was fond of little sausages. And now here was Richard telling her that pigs—like Bony—had to be killed before one could have roast pork to eat.
"Never mind, Sarah," said Rosemary, taking pity on her sister. "You don't have to think about what you eat—just don't try to make everyone see your way and don't argue so much and eat what Winnie gives you and you'll have nothing to worry about."
Warren laughed and held out his cup as Rosemary lifted the dipper invitingly.
"In other words, Sarah," he counseled, "don't be so valiant a reformer."
"What's a reformer?" demanded Sarah, eyeing the pail anxiously.
"You're one when you try to stop your friends from going fishing," Warren informed her. "That's the whole trouble with reform—no one is willing to improve himself and let his neighbor alone; for all you know, Sarah, you drive Jack Welles fishing in self-defense. Perhaps, if you let him alone, he wouldn't go at all."
Sarah stared, but Rosemary nodded.
"I don't know about Jack," said Rosemary, "but I do know that as soon as someone says it isn't right to do such and such a thing, I always want to do it. And it may be something I never thought of before."
"Like coasting down hill backward," contributed Sarah.
Rosemary dimpled and Warren, who had been uneasily thinking they ought to go back to the vines, resolved to wait a few minutes longer.
"Did you coast backward?" asked Richard with interest. "What happened?"
"Oh, I ran into another sled and cut my wrists and nearly broke the legs of the two boys on the other sled," Rosemary recited. "The trouble was I never would have thought of it, if it hadn't been for Miss Johnson. She's a woman who lives in Eastshore and she's forever scolding about girls—the way they 'carry on,' she calls it. I happened to hear her say that no nice, well-brought up girl would make herself conspicuous on a coasting hill."
"So you thought up the most conspicuous way of getting down the hill and did it?" suggested Richard.
"Well, it turned out more conspicuous than I intended," Rosemary acknowledged. "I never intended to tangle up three or four sleds and have the news get around that there had been an accident on the hill. Mother was so frightened when she heard of it—remember, Sarah?"
Sarah remembered. But she was more interested in the lemonade.
"There's some left, Rosemary," she tactfully declared.
"You've had enough," said Rosemary.
Richard rose to his feet at a significant glance from Warren. It was pleasant to rest a few moments, but the driving force of waiting work had not relaxed, merely slowed down.
"I wish I could help you," said Rosemary, simply and sincerely.
"What do you call it you've just been doing?" answered Warren. "Picking tomatoes isn't so hard, but it is monotonous; giving us a little break in the day is something that counts big, Rosemary."
"Well, anyway, Jack will be here to-morrow to help you," said Rosemary. "Then perhaps you won't have to work so hard—many hands make light work, Winnie says."
"Now what," said Richard thoughtfully, "should you say was troubling the small Sarah at this moment?"
Sarah, cut off from the supply of lemonade, had turned her back on the others and was busily disgorging an assortment of articles from her blouse. When she whirled around upon the astonished group it was apparent that she had secreted upon her small person a pair of baby shoes, a doll's dress and a small parasol. In these her pig, Bony, was now arrayed.
"You want to look at my pig!" she announced in clarion tones. "He can do tricks!"
"Tricks!" echoed Richard, while Rosemary rapidly identified the dress as belonging to Shirley's largest doll, ditto the parasol, and the shoes as a pair of Sarah's own carefully treasured for years by Winnie.
"What kind of tricks?" demanded Warren.
"You wait and see—" Sarah was so excited her voice trembled. "I taught him lots of things. I've been teaching him every afternoon in the barn—he is a naturally bright pig."
Her audience was inclined to share her opinion, after watching Bony perform. The pig walked up and down before them in the absurd costume, twirling the parasol and bowing to each in turn as he passed.
He danced, very mincingly, to a tune Sarah played for him on the harmonica—Rosemary wondered how many other treasures Sarah's blouse could hold—and though Richard said that no pig, no matter how highly educated, could hope to identify that tune, it was admitted that Bony was a graceful dancer.
"He can wear spectacles and read a book, too," declared Sarah proudly, "but I couldn't bring them!"
Like all managers of celebrities she had begun to experience the tyranny of the "props."
"Well, you must have had a heap of patience," commented Warren admiringly. "Can he do anything else, Sarah?"