"Jump through a hoop," enumerated Sarah, "push a doll carriage and walk around carrying a doll like a baby—I broke two of Shirley's china dolls, teaching him that trick, but she doesn't know it yet. And, oh, yes, he can sweep—with a toy broom—and play a toy piano."
"So that's where all Shirley's toys have gone to!" Rosemary tried to speak severely, but she ended by laughing. "Shirley has been missing her playthings, one after the other," Rosemary explained to the boys. "And we thought she took them outdoors to play with and forgot where she left them."
"After supper to-night," said Sarah, calmly ignoring this disclosure, "I'll give an exhibition in the barn."
WILLING AND OBLIGING
Sarah was as good as her word. She not only assembled the entire Rainbow Hill family in the barn that evening and put Bony through his paces, but she continued to give "exhibitions" whenever and wherever she could assemble an audience of one or more. Eventually she took Bony over to the Gay farm and delighted the children there who thought he was absolutely the most clever pig they had ever seen and Sarah the most wonderful trainer.
The fame of Bony spread abroad and gradually Sarah's family grew accustomed to having a horse and wagon drive in, usually with a couple of empty milk cans rattling around in the back showing that the driver was on his way home from the daily trip to the creamery; and to hearing a knock at the door, followed by a voice asking, "Is the little girl in—the one with the pig?"
Answered in the affirmative, the inevitable request would be: "Do you think she would mind letting me see him do tricks? They tell me, down to the creamery" (or at the store or the postoffice) "that he is sure a smart pig."
These requests pleased Sarah immensely. She, would sally forth importantly and rout Bony out of his comfortable box, present him as one would introduce a famous artist and put him through his program. The audience never failed to be pleased and grateful and to be generous with praises. Warren declared that there was small danger of Bony ever forgetting his accomplishments for hardly a day passed that he wasn't "billed to appear."
But before Bony attained this place in the limelight, Doctor Hugh and Jack Welles arrived for their promised two weeks' visit and vacation. Even her marvelous pig could not hope to compete with these arrivals and Sarah's interest in Bony slackened slightly though she kept him rigorously in training.
The doctor and Jack came in the former's car. It was difficult to say whose disappointment was keenest when Jack announced that he intended to sleep at the bungalow and eat at Mr. Hildreth's table—Mrs. Willis, Winnie and Rosemary were equally dismayed.
"Jack dear, I thought of course you'd live with us," protested Mrs. Willis. "You know we'll love to have you and I'm afraid you won't be comfortable at the bungalow."
"It won't be any kind of a vacation for you," declared Rosemary. "You'll have to get up at five o'clock because they have breakfast at six; and Mrs. Hildreth won't let you put a book or a paper out of place—Richard says so."
"I'm not saying anything against her cooking," pronounced Winnie, through the screen door, where she had been drawn by the argument. "But I tell you this in all honesty, Jack Welles; Mrs. Hildreth puts too much salt in her oatmeal, to my way of thinking, and she skimps on the shortening in her pie crust."
Jack glanced across the porch at Doctor Hugh, who was seated in the swing with Rosemary.
"This isn't a vacation, you know," said Jack mildly. "I've hired out, at wages, and I'm to go to work to-morrow morning. And it is in the agreement that Mr. Hildreth is to 'board and lodge' me."
"Well, you can work for him and live here with us, too," suggested Rosemary comfortably. "Can't he, Mother?"
"It's ever so nice of you to want me," said Jack, "but you see, I've figured out that I want the complete experience; I want to get up when the other hired men do and eat breakfast when they do—Winnie wouldn't like to get me a six o'clock breakfast for the next two weeks—and I wouldn't let her, if she did."
"Richard doesn't think you'll stick it out for the whole two weeks," offered the placid Sarah, looking up from the book she was sharing with Shirley on the grass rug. "He said so."
Jack flushed, Doctor Hugh looked annoyed and Mrs. Willis sighed. Sarah's remarks usually aroused varied emotions.
"I think Jack is quite right," said the doctor firmly, before anyone could speak. "He wants to see this thing through and while he knows I'd like first rate to have him stay here at the house, I think he'd be handicapped from the start. There'll be the evenings left him, anyway, and Sundays—two of them at least."
"You must come to us for Sunday dinner," planned Mrs. Willis instantly. "I'll ask Richard and Warren, too; Winnie has wanted me to for some time, but there never seemed to be a mutually convenient time."
So Jack took his suit case over to the bungalow and was introduced to the little room next to the one shared by Warren and Richard. He had met Mr. and Mrs. Hildreth on one of his trips to Rainbow Hill with Doctor Hugh, but he had not seen Warren and Richard till this afternoon.
The three boys shook hands pleasantly. Jack was the youngest by a couple of years and not so deeply tanned; though, being an active lad and fond of outdoor sports, he had acquired a coat of brown since the closing of school. But he felt, looking at the other two, that he lacked their muscular advantage and a certain hardness that bespoke sturdy endurance.
"I'm ready to go to work," said Jack, in response to a question from Mr. Hildreth. "I've brought overalls and I'm said to be willing and obliging."
Richard grinned and Warren's gray eyes smiled.
"Well, I hope you'll tumble up early in the morning," observed the farmer, his mind busy already with the next day's work. "We're going to start picking tomatoes for the cannery."
There wasn't much thrill about the persistent ringing of the alarm clock the next morning and Jack turned over with a groan. The dial said five o'clock, though he was sure he had not been asleep longer than two hours.
"Morning," was Mr. Hildreth's brief greeting when he met his new hand at the back door. "Glad to see you made it. Warren's your boss—he knows what has to be done. You'll find him out in the barn, milking."
Even a careless observer—and Jack was not that—would have been struck with the dewy freshness of the grass and shrubbery and the magnificent splendor of the Eastern sky; and Jack, on his way to the barn, drew a deep breath of something like contentment.
"Not so bad," he thought, beginning to whistle. "Not so bad, after all."
Warren glanced up from his milking, his eyes cordial, his busy hands continuing their task.
"Mr. Hildreth said you're my boss," said Jack directly. "What do you want me to do?"
"You can't milk, can you?" replied Warren. "No, of course, you haven't been around cows. Richard is feeding and cleaning the horses—you might help him."
Jack was inclined to remember the remark Sarah had attributed to Richard, but five minutes spent in that cheerful youth's company were enough to dispel any faint resentment he might feel. Richard liked to chatter and he liked to sing and whistle; and while he showed Jack what constituted a proper breakfast for a horse and how these useful beasts should be groomed, he kept up a running fire of comment and good-natured musical effort that made up in volume what it lacked in depth. By the time Warren's pails were full and the barn work done, the three boys were on a friendly footing and they marched into breakfast to the tune of "There Were Three Crows Sat in a Tree."
Jack could have found it in his heart to wish that Mrs. Hildreth might think less of time and more of passing comfort. The dining-room of the bungalow was fully furnished, but the farmer's wife used it only on state occasions. It made less work, she said, to eat in the kitchen and she could "get through" a meal more rapidly and take fewer steps when those to be served were close to the stove.
It fell to the lot of Jack to be close to the stove this morning and he gave a momentary sigh for the coolness and order and daintiness that he knew would give atmosphere to the breakfast in Mrs. Willis' household. Not that he minded eating in the kitchen—he and his mother often did that when his father was away and thought it a lark; but he did mind the heat and the haste and the silence in which this, his first meal with the Hildreths, was consumed.
"Ready?" said Warren briefly, when they had finished, leading the way to the barn.
They had been working in the barnyard and vegetable garden for an hour and were on their way to the tomato field—it was necessary to wait for the heavy dew to dry before they began to work among the vines—when the Willis family gathered for their breakfast at the round table set on the porch this warm morning in Doctor Hugh's honor.
"Hugh, will you come watch me wade in the brook?" asked Shirley, eating her cereal as though hypnotized and quite forgetting to protest that she didn't see why she had to drink milk.
"You wait till you see Bony, Hugh," Sarah told him. "He's the best pig you ever saw. He's bright."
"I wish, if you have time, Hugh," said Rosemary, "you'd show me what is the matter with the camera. Every picture I take is overexposed."
"For mercy's sake, let your brother rest," Winnie admonished them, bringing in a plate of fresh Parker House rolls. "He only gets a bit of a breathing spell and he doesn't want to race from one end of this farm to the other. Take that large brown one, Hughie."
Mrs. Willis, behind the silver coffee pot, smiled at her son.
"Best rolls I ever ate, Winnie," he said appreciatively. "I'll bet if Mr. Greggs' wife could make rolls like these he'd be a sweeter-tempered carpenter. I'm going to have the finest of vacations and rest thoroughly by going everywhere with everybody. I'll watch you wade, Shirley; and I'll give Sarah my opinion of this remarkable pig; Rosemary and I will 'snap' the whole farm. But I wish it distinctly understood that Mother and I have an unbreakable engagement to take a drive every afternoon, or just after dinner, as she prefers."
"And won't you have to go see any sick people at all?" demanded Shirley, almost upsetting her glass of milk in the excitement of having a brother with time to spare.
"I left word with Mrs. Welles that I'd answer emergency calls, of course," explained Doctor Hugh, answering his mother's unspoken question. "I've arranged it so I won't have to go the hospital and, barring the unforeseen, I can count on a free fortnight. So we'll hope there won't be any sick people to go see, Shirley."
"Where are you going, Rosemary?" the doctor hailed her as she and Sarah started down the lawn after breakfast was over.
"We thought we'd go down and see Jack," called Rosemary.
Doctor Hugh pushed open the screen door and came down the steps.
"Let Jack get his bearings first," he advised. "There is bound to be a number of new experiences for him this initial day and I think it will be kinder to let him get adjusted to his job. He'll be up this evening and you and Mother can play for him and cheer him up generally."
"Why—why—will he need cheering up?" Rosemary looked so startled that her brother laughed.
"Not precisely cheering up, perhaps," he said, "but a mental and physical rest. Jack is bound to have sore muscles, after a long day bending over tomato crates; he thinks he knows what it means to work, but he has never worked in his life as he will now. And I don't know, but I suspect, he may have a sore mind; Jack has never worked for anyone and he must learn to be 'bossed.' All in all, Rosemary, I'd put off going down to the tomato field till to-morrow."
"Well—all right," agreed Rosemary reluctantly. "I do think he might have stayed with us and then he would have had a better time."
"If we're not going down to the field, I'll go get Bony and take him down to the brook," said Sarah, quick to seize her advantage. "I can wash him while Shirley goes wading."
A NEW FRIEND
They spent the morning down at the brook. Shirley was enchanted to be allowed to help build a dam—the height of his ambition, Doctor Hugh whimsically told them. Shirley paddled around in the brook and brought him stones and he laid them in a chain that made a crude dam, both getting very warm and very wet and having a thoroughly enjoyable time of it.
Rosemary had brought the camera and snapped a dozen poses of the sunny-haired Shirley as she gamboled about with her skirts tucked up to her waist, looking like a particularly chubby elf. Doctor Hugh had done something to the camera that would, Rosemary was sure, correct her tendency to overexpose a film and the results fully justified her faith; whether it was due to his manipulation of the "innards" of the camera or his instructions to her, the prints were exceptionally good and clear.
Sarah, of course, devoted her morning to scrubbing the pig. The doctor's shouts of laughter could not persuade her to curtail the ceremony in the slightest detail. She had brought soap and towels and brush with her and she gravely scrubbed and rinsed and dried Bony and put him out in the sun to dry.
"He'll bake," protested Doctor Hugh, when, the pig's bath finished, Sarah arranged him on a dry towel in the sun. "You'll have roast pork, Sarah, if you're not careful."
"No I won't," answered Sarah confidently, straightening the pig's legs for him since he did not offer to move.
"Can't he even grunt?" demanded Doctor Hugh who had never seen an animal so willing to be waited upon.
"Of course he can grunt—" Sarah was indignant. "He can do anything."
"When the sun dries him on that side, she'll turn him over on the other," whispered Rosemary. "You'll see."
The dam was built, the roll of films used up and Bony dry and immaculate by the time Winnie rang the bell to tell them that lunch was ready.
"We must have a picnic," said Doctor Hugh as they went up to the house, he carrying Shirley, who objected to putting on her socks and sandals, and Sarah carrying the pig with almost as much care. "I haven't been to a picnic in years."
That afternoon he carried his mother off for a drive in the car, and the three girls were left to their own devices. Rosemary's natural inclination was to find Jack and ask him how his day was going, but mindful of her brother's advice, she resolved to wait. She was playing jack stones with Shirley and Sarah when Mrs. Hildreth came hurrying across the lawn.
"Rosemary," she said, fanning her flushed face with her apron, "I wonder if you'd do me a favor. All the men are busy and I couldn't ask them to drop their work for such a trifle; and I have to grease the chickens for lice, so I can't go myself."
Mrs. Hildreth always seemed to choose the hottest days for the most unlovely tasks, reflected Rosemary, but Sarah held a different opinion.
"I'll come hold 'em for you, Mrs. Hildreth," she offered, rising in such haste that she almost knocked Shirley off the step. "I love to see you grease chickens!"
"All right, I do need somebody to help me," said Mrs. Hildreth gratefully. "Rosemary, Miss Clinton telephoned me this morning she wanted a dozen fresh eggs—why do they always say 'fresh eggs'?" she broke off irritably. "'Tisn't likely I'd go out and get her a dozen stale eggs, even if I could find 'em. Well, she wants them this afternoon and I hate to disappoint her. She's kind of used to getting what she wants and everybody feels sorry for her. I know you like to walk and when I saw your mother and brother going off in the car, I says, 'Maybe she won't mind walking over there for me, having nothing else to do.'"
"I'll go," said Rosemary pleasantly, "but where does this Miss Clinton live?"
Mrs. Hildreth gave minute directions for finding the house. It was close to the road, the same road that went past the Gay farm, but in the opposite direction. It wasn't over a quarter of a mile and Rosemary was to knock on the door and when someone called "Come in" to lift the latch and enter.
"I'll take Shirley with me," said Rosemary, "and you'll tell Winnie, won't you, Mrs. Hildreth? She went down to the mail box at the cross-roads to mail a letter and she'll wonder where we are when she comes back."
Mrs. Hildreth promised to tell Winnie and she and Sarah departed to begin their war on the chicken pests while Rosemary and Shirley set off to follow the back road to the little yellow house where Miss Clinton lived.
They found it without difficulty, knocked and heard someone call "Come in," just as Mrs. Hildreth had predicted.
"How do you do?" said the same voice when they stepped directly into a large square room. "I'm very glad to see you."
A very tiny old lady sat in a wheel chair in the center of the room. Her skin was almost as yellow as the paint on the house and considerably more wrinkled. She had bright black eyes that reminded Rosemary of a bird and little, eager claw-like hands that were strangely bird-like, too. She beamed at the girls, plainly delighted to have company.
"I'm glad you came," she said when Rosemary had given her the eggs and explained they were from Rainbow Hill. "Mrs. Hildreth told me the Hammonds rented their house this summer. Sit down and we'll talk. Let the little girl play with the toys in the cabinet—she won't hurt 'em."
The cabinet stood in one corner of the room and was well stocked with toys, some new, some well-worn. Shirley sat down on the floor and amused herself contentedly while Miss Clinton kept up a running fire of comment till Rosemary's wrist watch showed half-past four.
"I wish you'd come see me again," said the old lady wistfully. "I get lonesome for someone to talk to. I get around pretty good in this chair and I have lots of books and papers to read; but I like to talk and summers everyone is so busy they don't think to drop in."
"I'll drop in," promised Rosemary impulsively. "Mother would come to see you, too, but she couldn't walk this far; perhaps Hugh, my brother, will bring her some day."
"Let me have my knitting, if you're really going," said Miss Clinton regretfully. "It's there in that basket beside you. That's my sixth bedspread, or will be, when I get it finished."
"What beautiful work!" exclaimed Rosemary as the old lady spread the knitted square over her knee. "How fine it is—isn't it very difficult?"
"Not a bit," Miss Clinton assured her. "I do it when my eyes get tired of reading print. I'll teach you how to make a spread, if you'll come see me now and then," she offered quickly. "They tell me they're worth seventy-five dollars apiece but I never sell mine; I give them to relatives and friends."
Rosemary and Shirley said good by and were half way down the path when the door was opened and Miss Clinton called after them:
"Bring the little girl with you, too; I'll get her something new to play with when she gets tired of the cabinet toys."
"Rosemary," said Shirley, skipping happily—she seldom walked, her brother said, but ran or hopped her way along—"Rosemary, what is there?"
"Where?" said Rosemary, puzzled.
"There," insisted Shirley, pointing behind her.
"Why, nothing—except Miss Clinton's house—you know that, Shirley," replied Rosemary.
"No, not Miss Clinton's house," said Shirley, shaking her head. "Next to that, Rosemary."
"You mean around the curve?" asked Rosemary, for the road curved sharply beyond the big maples that marked the line of Miss Clinton's property.
"What is there?" she repeated.
"I don't know, dear," Rosemary admitted. "I've never been that far. Do you want to go and see? We have time, I think."
Shirley slipped a small hand into her sister's.
"Let's go," she said eagerly.
Rosemary had often felt a curiosity to know what was beyond a bend in a road, but she never remembered making a deliberate attempt to gratify that feeling. Shirley, having been made curious, had no mind to go away unsatisfied.
They turned and walked back, Rosemary hoping the little old lady might not see them. But she was nowhere in sight and was, in all probability, absorbed in her knitting.
"Maybe the three bears live around the corner," suggested Shirley, beginning to regret her curiosity as they neared the turn.
"The Big Bear and the Middle Bear and the Little Bear?" said Rosemary. "I wonder if they do? In a cunning little house, Shirley, with three beds and three porridge bowls—wouldn't that be fun?"
Shirley pressed closer. She preferred to hear about the three bears, rather than meet them face to face.
A few minutes' walk brought them to the curve and around it—and there was a vegetable stand; almost a small market, with fruits and garden produce attractively displayed and a number of boldly painted signs announcing that fresh eggs and dressed poultry were for sale on specified days of the week.
"Is it a store?" asked Shirley, much interested.
"It's like a store," Rosemary told her. "I remember Hugh was telling Mother something about this plan the other night. He said that down on the shore road he saw lots and lots of stands, when he spent his summers at Seapoint. And he was wondering why some of the farmers inland didn't do this—sell to people who have automobiles."
"Do people come and buy?" asked Shirley, staring at the tomatoes as though she had never seen that homely vegetable before.
"Yes, they come out in their cars, from Bennington and further away, I suppose," said Rosemary. "And they buy all this stuff fresh and take it home with them. I wonder who takes care of the stand?"
A sharp, thin, freckled face rose slowly from behind the tiers of baskets and a reedy voice announced, "I do—want to buy anything?"
Rosemary jumped. She had not known there was anyone near. Now she saw the owner of the freckled face was a girl, a few years older than herself.
"Do you take care of the stand?" Rosemary asked, smiling her friendly smile.
The freckle-faced one nodded.
"That's my job summers," she confided. "Winters I'm studying. I'm going to be a school teacher. What are you going to be?"
Rosemary pulled Shirley back from a contemplated investigation of a basket of early pears.
"Why—I don't believe I know," she answered the question. "I've thought of being a nurse—my brother Hugh is a doctor; or I might be a music teacher."
"I'm going to teach school," the other girl declared again. "I'm going to have some pretty dresses and go to the city every Saturday, if I have a mind to. What's your name?"
"Rosemary Willis," Rosemary answered meekly. "This is my sister, Shirley."
"I'm Edith Barrow," the girl announced. "I don't live here, except in summer. I help Mr. and Mrs. Mains—know them?"
Rosemary shook her head.
"We're here for the summer," she replied.
"Renters," said Edith Barrow as though that catalogued the Willis family as perhaps it did. "Well, when I'm going to school I live with my aunt. She boards students. I don't suppose you're in high school yet?"
"Don't touch those onions, Shirley," Rosemary warned. "No, I'm not in high school—not for a year. In June I'll graduate from the Eastshore grammar school," she explained.
"Do you like keeping store?" asked Shirley, who had kept still longer than usual. She may have thought it was her turn to ask questions.
"This isn't a store—it's a stand," Edith corrected her. "Yes, I like it well enough. I took in twelve dollars yesterday. You have to be good at arithmetic to make change; that's why Mr. Mains likes me to be out here. Mrs. Mains can't tell how much money to give back when she gets a bill from a customer."
"Have you any candy?" was Shirley's next query.
"Not a bit," Edith Barrow answered. "Only things that are good for you to eat. Candy makes you sick. Did you know that?"
Rosemary couldn't help thinking that, young as she was, Edith already talked like a school teacher.
"Like the fussy kind," Rosemary emended to herself.
"Here comes a car now," said the young saleswoman suddenly. "They're going to stop—I know them. I hope they'll want tomatoes today. We haven't much else."
"We'll have to go," Rosemary declared hastily. "Good by—say good by, Shirley."
"She isn't looking at me," complained Shirley and indeed Edith was centering her attention on the coming car and her thoughts were evidently all for the approaching sale.
"Jack would say she was chasing success," Rosemary told herself smiling as she took Shirley's hand and led her away.
Doctor Hugh and his mother were on the porch when Rosemary and Shirley reached the house, but Sarah was nowhere in sight. When a few minutes later she walked out among them, radiantly clean, attired in fresh tan linen, her shining dark hair neatly brushed, her family welcomed her with delighted surprise.
"How nice you look!" said her mother appreciatively.
"I wish you could have seen her half an hour ago," announced Winnie from the doorway.
Her words were in direct opposition to her desire, for she went on to say that she had met Sarah as the latter came from the chicken yard.
"She was grease from head to foot," pronounced Winnie, while Sarah sat down on the rug and looked innocent. "You'd have thought, to look at her, that Mrs. Hildreth had been greasing her and not the chickens; there were feathers in her hair and dirt ground into her face and hands, and she must have been sitting in the dust pile where the chickens scratch. I had to give her a bath and change every stitch of her clothes, because I was afraid you wouldn't know her. And if dinner is late to-night, you can thank Sarah Baton Willis."
"I'll come set the table." offered Rosemary, jumping up.
As she laid the knives and forks, she told Winnie about her visit to Miss Clinton.
"I know her," declared Winnie, slicing bread—she had fastened back the communicating door between the kitchen and the dining-room. "At least I know of her; Mrs. Hildreth was telling me the other day. She's a woman who likes company—that's all she wants and all she doesn't get, summer times at least. I never saw a neighborhood like this one—I don't believe any of the farmers dare die in July or August for fear their friends couldn't stop farming long enough to come to the funeral."
"Is she poor, Winnie?" she asked with frank curiosity.
"My, no, not that I have heard tell of," answered Winnie. "She has an income of her own and plenty of relatives, scattered hereabouts. I believe a niece comes and stays with her during the winter months—her brother's daughter. Mrs. Hildreth was telling me that she writes hundreds of letters—though I guess she can't write as many as that—and she wheels herself out to the mail box and back in that chair and washes dishes and everything, sitting in it. But summers she gets fearfully lonesome. The neighbors run in a good deal in the winter and hold sewing-circle meetings there, but they haven't time to bother in the growing season."
"She had toys in a cabinet—Shirley played with them and she said she'd get her some more if she tired of those," said Rosemary, placing the chairs. "Do many children go see her, Winnie?"
"Mrs. Hildreth told me she keeps those toys to amuse the children who may come visiting with their mothers," explained Winnie. "Miss Clinton figured that if the children had something to play with they wouldn't be in a hurry to go home. Downright pathetic, I call it, to be so hungry for someone to talk to that you try to bribe people to stay a little longer."
"I'm going to see her," Rosemary said, as she filled the water glasses. "I told her I'd come—it isn't far to go and I have plenty of time. Can I do anything more, Winnie?"
"Nothing except to tell your mother dinner is ready," was Winnie's grateful reply. "You are the handiest child, sometimes, Rosemary, and I declare I don't know how I should have got dinner on the table to-night without a bit of a lift. I hate to be late, too, when Hughie is here."
"I hope Jack comes up to talk to-night," said Rosemary as they sat down at the table. "I want to know if it is fun to earn your own living. I'm going to try it myself some day."
It wasn't all fun, Jack assured her when, soon after dinner, he came toiling up the grass path and mounted the porch steps wearily.
"I never was so tired in my life," he declared. "Gee, I thought I was 'hard' enough—I've been fishing lots since school closed and that isn't a lazy man's work especially if you wade upstream. I've hiked miles and I've worked in the garden at home; but at this minute I have three hundred and ninety-eight muscles creaking in my machinery that I never knew before existed."
Doctor Hugh tossed him an extra sofa cushion and Jack stuffed it behind his back as he sat in one of the comfortable wicker chairs.
"Where's Richard and Warren?" demanded Sarah. "I want to tell them about greasing the chickens. Jack, did you ever grease chickens?"
"Now look here, Sarah," protested Doctor Hugh hastily, "we've listened to the unsavory details of that process once and not even for Jack's sake can we go through it again. Besides, Jack has a recital of his own; you come sit with me and we'll listen to an agricultural lecture."
Sarah and Shirley both rushed to accept the invitation and after some skirmishing managed to squeeze into the one big chair.
"Warren and Richard have gone down to the brook," reported Jack. "Mr. Hildreth thinks someone from town is gigging there nights and they want to keep a watch. I haven't enough ambition to catch a worm, let alone a gigger."
"What's gigging?" cried Sarah, twisting about so that she placed her feet in Rosemary's lap.
"Gigging is fishing at night," said Jack briefly. "I'll show you sometime—when I can bend my knees again."
Doctor Hugh adroitly shifted the wandering feet by turning Sarah back to her original position.
"The first day is always the hardest," he said encouragingly. "You will live through to-morrow, if that's any comfort, Jack."
"Well, of course, I'm not complaining," Jack declared. "I don't expect to pick roses—ouch!—and I won't grunt. But that tomato field must be twenty miles long!"
Rosemary played for him presently and Mrs. Willis brought out the drop cakes she had "saved" for him, and before it was nine o'clock—his self-imposed bed-time—Jack felt more cheerful in spirit if not in muscle.
But the days that followed tested his spirit severely. It was, as Doctor Hugh had said, an entirely new experience for him to work for anyone else and to work straight through a hot summer day with a brief noon hour and no free time planned. There were even a number of chores to be done after supper. "Vacation" to Jack had hitherto meant long, cloudless days with leisure to read lazily in the hammock, or go swimming when he pleased and license to grumble when his father suggested that a little weeding would do the garden no harm.
It had not occurred to Jack, when he so blithely decided to hire out to Mr. Hildreth, that he was contracting to give six days of labor—and part of the seventh—as a week's work; he had not thought much about it, but somewhere in the back of his mind there had been a hazy scheme of affairs that included a day or two off, when it should be convenient for him—free days which he would spend fishing with Doctor Hugh and "playing around" with Rosemary and Sarah and Shirley. He was surprised to find that fishing and kindred sports had no place on Warren and Richard's schedule; work was a serious thing to them and in their experience money was not to be easily earned.
Jack said little, but an undercurrent of friction began to develop between him and Warren though to do him justice Warren was more than ordinarily thoughtful and ready to make every allowance for Jack's inexperience. But naturally the issuing of orders fell to him and he was made responsible for the volume of work accomplished each day. Mr. Hildreth permitted no excuses for failure in tasks set and though extremely just he had a shrewd and accurate knowledge of the time required for each chore and the amount of finished work to be turned out each hour.
Jack and Richard "hit it off together" very well, too well, in fact; they began to "fool," to skylark and, insensibly, waste time. When Warren interfered it was in the role of kill-joy, a character he did not fancy. When, on his return from driving a load of tomatoes to the cannery one afternoon, instead of finding filled crates ready for a second trip, he discovered that neither boy had picked a tomato and that they had broken several crates and mashed a quantity of ripe tomatoes in good-natured tussling. Warren spoke sharply and to the point. He sent Jack to one end of a row and Richard to the other and kept them separated the remainder of the afternoon.
The team was another grievance. Jack was sure he could be trusted to drive Solomon and his mate to the cannery and back and this hauling afforded a welcome break in a monotonous day. But Mr. Hildreth flatly refused to allow Jack to handle the horses and either he or Warren made the twice a day trip to the Center.
"I'll quit to-morrow," said Jack desperately, night after night.
And in the morning he would decide to stick it out another day.
Twice he went to sleep in his chair on the porch of the little white house, waking to find that Mrs. Hildreth and the girls had gone to bed and left Doctor Hugh, reading quietly under the lamp, to keep him company.
"Nothing to be ashamed of," said the doctor when Jack stammered his apology. "After a day of honest toil, Nature's going to exact her toll. You'll be as hard as nails, Jack, if you keep this up."
The girls soon accepted the idea that Jack was not free to go about with them and made their plans without including him. Rosemary went nearly every day to see Miss Clinton, on some pretext or other, and Shirley often accompanied her. Rosemary was rapidly learning to knit the blocks for a bedspread with which she intended to surprise her mother. Sarah gave most of her time and attention to Bony, but she also visited the Gays though, in the excitement and pleasure of having Doctor Hugh at their beck and call, it is to be regretted that the Gay family were left more to themselves than Rosemary or her sisters intended.
Jack's irritation culminated in the second week of his contract. True to her promise, Mrs. Willis had asked the three boys to Sunday dinner and, under the mellowing influence of Winnie's best cooking and the friendly atmosphere of the little white house, the tension had relaxed and the afternoon spent on the porch had been restful for at least three of the group and happy for all.
"I'm going fishing to-morrow," announced Doctor Hugh, a night or two later. "The alarm clock is set for four and I'm coming home when the last nibble plays me false."
"Care if I go along?" said Jack impulsively. "I haven't had a bit of fishing since I've been here. I brought my rod and tackle in case I had a chance, but I haven't unpacked them yet."
The creak of the swing ceased suddenly. Warren had been swaying back and forth gently in the darkness.
"Why—no—come along, if it's all right," said the doctor, after a moment's hesitation.
"I'll meet you at the barn," promised Jack. "Gee, it will seem good to take a day off."
Still Warren said nothing. The three boys had said good night and walked almost to bungalow before he spoke.
"Are you really planning to go fishing tomorrow, Jack?" he asked quietly.
"Of course," said Jack shortly.
"What about the work?"
"One day out won't wreck the crops," hazarded Jack.
"Don't stand here arguing all night," urged Richard. "Come on—I'm going to bed."
Warren paid no attention and continued to address Jack.
"If you don't turn out in the morning I'll know you've quit," he said.
"I'm not fired till Mr. Hildreth says so," angrily retorted Jack.
"You work to-morrow, or you're through," declared Warren, a steel edge to his voice. "I'm bossing this job and it doesn't happen to be one that can wait anyone's personal convenience."
They tramped upstairs to their rooms, Jack inwardly seething. He took off one shoe and hurled it across the bed as a relief to his feelings.
He'd show Warren Baker! It was a pity if a fellow had to ask him every time he wanted a few hours to himself—he didn't have to have money, anyway—he'd let the old job slide. He had come up voluntarily to "hire out" and he didn't intend to be treated like a day laborer.
The other shoe followed the first.
Richard had said he wouldn't "stick it out" for two weeks. Perhaps he ought not to quit with the time so nearly gone. Mr. Hildreth would, of course, uphold Warren. He would hate to be left short-handed in such beautiful picking weather, but he would not condone a fishing trip. And there was his record—Jack was secretly rather proud of that; he and Richard were keeping count of the number of crates each picked daily and Jack had high hopes of outdistancing Richard before the end of the week. Maybe he might stay his week out—just to show Richard!
Doctor Hugh waited twenty minutes for Jack the next morning, then rightly concluded that he had changed his mind. Warren, meeting Jack in the barn at the usual hour, said "good morning" pleasantly, but Jack merely gave a curt nod. He might be working, but there was no reason why he should pretend to like it, he said to himself childishly.
He went about his chores jerkily, still "sore" as Richard described it and, as industrial statistics demonstrate, ill temper lowers our guard; another time Jack might have been more careful, but this morning he caught his finger on a nail in the harness room and tore an ugly gash down its brown length.
He said nothing about the accident, washed the cut as well as he could and went doggedly to work after breakfast at the interminable rows of tomatoes.
Doctor Hugh and his car returned with a most respectable "catch" about four o'clock that afternoon and the lucky fisherman suggested that company be asked to dinner to enjoy the fish.
"I never saw such acting boys—never!" scolded Rosemary, who had volunteered to be the messenger. "They won't any of them come! Warren said he was too tired to talk to anyone and Jack said 'No'—just like that—he is too cross for words! And then Richard said if they were going to act like ninnies he wasn't going to come and make excuses for them, so he said 'No thank you,' too."
"Jack has a sore finger," said Sarah wisely. "I heard Richard tell him he ought to take care of it and Jack told him to mind his own affairs."
"Well, it's been a warm day and perhaps they're entitled to be cross," said Doctor Hugh pacifically. "We'll send Mrs. Hildreth three of the fish and if she fries them as well as Winnie does, there may be a peace treaty signed."
A LITTLE GIRL LOST
Mrs. Hildreth may not have been as good a cook as Winnie. Whatever the reason, no one came whistling up from the bungalow after dinner to suggest "Let's hear 'Old Black Joe,'" or to offer to play a game of croquet. Presently Doctor Hugh announced that he was going to walk down to see Jack, and Rosemary went with him. Sarah and Shirley were, with some difficulty, persuaded to remain behind.
"Nobody home," was Richard's disconsolate greeting as he rose from the porch railing. "Mr. Hildreth has gone across fields to borrow some more crates and Mrs. Hildreth is setting bread in the kitchen. Warren has gone to the Center and Jack is nursing a grouch upstairs."
"Well, I came to see Jack," said the doctor. "I'll go up in a minute."
"He and Warren are on the outs," declared Richard frankly. "Each one thinks he is a Roman candle."
"How perfectly horrid of Warren!" said Rosemary hotly.
"Warren?" echoed the bewildered Richard. "What has Warren done to you?"
"He hasn't done anything to me—" Rosemary's color began to rise. "But I don't think he is one bit fair to Jack."
Before Richard could argue this, the door opened and Jack came out. He had heard voices and perhaps wished to discourage the intention of the doctor to come up and see him. He sat down on the opposite side of the step from Rosemary and her brother and put one hand carelessly behind him.
"Hello!" he said grumpily.
"Say, those fish were fine," declared Richard, feeling his responsibility as host, since Jack did not seem moved to speech. "They were so fresh, I could almost see 'em leaping out of the brook. You must have had good luck."
"First-rate," said the doctor. "Sorry you couldn't come up to the house for dinner, Rich."
"Well, I could have come," admitted Richard cautiously, "but I'm no good presenting regrets for others. Warren and Jack were peeved—"
"You needn't make any excuses for me," interrupted Jack coldly, holding up a throbbing hand behind his back.
"See?" said Richard with a gesture of despair. "What could a fellow do? And I'll bet Winnie cooks fish so you never forget it."
"She's a good cook," Doctor Hugh conceded.
Richard sighed. He wished Rosemary felt more talkative. In his anxiety to entertain his guests, he stumbled on a sore subject.
"I used to go fishing pretty often myself," he said pleasantly. "The first year we were in college, Warren and I went off by ourselves nearly every Saturday afternoon. We made friends with the State wardens and they told us a lot of useful things. Once we saw them stock a stream—that was great. Ever see that, Jack?"
"No," snapped Jack, "and I'm not likely to; the only thing I'll know by the end of this summer will be how many cans of tomatoes the Goldenrod Canning Company has packed this year."
"How do they stock a stream?" asked Rosemary, her curiosity unloosening her tongue.
"Oh, they have thousands of baby fish and they ladle 'em out like so much fine gold," said Richard. "And we saw them net a pond once for carp—I wish I had more time to play around. Perhaps when Warren and I get our own farm we can carry out a few ideas of ours."
"What's that you're going to do when you get your own farm, Richard?" asked Mrs. Hildreth, coming out on the porch, looking warm and tired. "I declare, every summer I say I'll have the baker stop here," she added. "I get so sick of baking my own bread when it's warm."
She did not sit down, but stood poised on the top step. Jack who had risen with the rest, kept one hand stiffly away from his body.
"What were you saying, Richard?" asked Mrs. Hildreth again.
"Oh, I was day-dreaming I guess," Richard answered. "I said that when Warren and I have our own farm, perhaps we'll have time to do some of the things we have always wanted to do."
Mrs. Hildreth mopped her flushed face with a handkerchief of generous size.
"Well, you won't," she prophesied. "I never knew anyone who lived on a farm to have a minute's time for anything but the hardest kind of work. Even in winter when the crops are in, there's wood to get out and cut and the animals to be fed and bedded down and the fires to look after and paths to be opened and the milking to be done. It's one thing after another, all the year round."
Richard put one arm around the porch pillar.
"It could be different," he insisted. "For instance, you could buy bread—you just said so. That would save you some time."
"Which I should feel duty-bound to use in canning more fruit," countered Mrs. Hildreth promptly. "I'm not so keen on work, but the way I'm made, I feel guilty if I waste a half hour."
"It isn't wasting time to have a little enjoyment and leisure," Richard declared doggedly. "Is it, Jack?"
Jack a moment before had struck his hand against the porch railing, a light tap, scarcely to be noticed. But his face was white as he turned savagely on Richard.
"Work is the only thing that counts and you know it," he said fiercely. "The crops and the crops alone, are to be considered. If you kill yourself getting them in, that's a small matter; next year someone else will plant 'em again and perhaps kill himself, too."
"Dear me, Jack, maybe you have a little touch of the sun," said Mrs. Hildreth. "I think the doctor had better give you something to make you sleep. You will, won't you, Doctor Willis?" the good woman urged anxiously.
"I'm all right," said Jack.
"Well, I'm sure I hope so," she returned in a voice that was far from sounding convinced. "Mr. Hildreth had a brother who had a sunstroke once and he wasn't right for years. Were you working in a blaze to-day, Jack?"
"He wore a hat," said Richard quickly, fearful that Jack's scant supply of patience would be utterly exhausted. "Besides, there was a breeze in the afternoon. It wasn't a bad day at all, Mrs. Hildreth."
"Don't you want to sit down, Mrs. Hildreth?" suggested Rosemary, wondering how anyone could remain standing so long, after being on her feet virtually all day.
"No, I'm going down the road in a minute," Mrs. Hildreth answered. "I want to ask Mrs. Tice about some new kind of rubber rings she got for her jars. How much fruit did Winnie put up so far, Rosemary?"
"Why—I don't believe I know," said Rosemary with a little laugh. "She made jelly, I remember and she's been canning nearly every week; but I don't know how many quarts or pints she has. Do you, Hugh?"
"Never counted," acknowledged the doctor lazily. "I'll warrant Winnie can tell you right off the reel, Mrs. Hildreth. She's proud of her success—I heard her tell my mother so."
"I'll step over and look at her shelves some day," promised Mrs. Hildreth. "Dear me, I'm tired. But if I don't go to Bertha's now, I'll never get there. Tell Mr. Hildreth I'll be right back, if he asks you where I am."
She went heavily down the steps and disappeared across the lawn.
Richard dropped with an exaggerated thud.
"Another minute and my ankles would have given out!" he declared. "And she thinks it is work that tired her out."
"Well, it is," said Rosemary. "She works from five in the morning till nearly ten at night."
"But she could rest, if she only knew how," Richard protested.
"Ah, now you have it, Rich," said Doctor Hugh. "There's a great deal in knowing how to rest."
"There's no use in knowing how, when you can't rest if you want to," Jack complained bitterly.
"That isn't a very clear sentence, Jack," said the doctor. "Explain a little, won't you?"
"Oh, I'm tired," Jack declared ungraciously, "and there's nothing to explain, anyway."
The desultory conversation that followed was almost wholly between Rosemary and Richard. Jack was curiously silent and Doctor Hugh, too, seemed content to listen. Finally he rose.
"We must be getting back," he said. "First though, I'll take a look at your hand, Jack."
"There's nothing the matter with it," countered Jack gruffly.
"You act remarkably like Sarah," was Doctor Hugh's response to this. "Come in where I can have a light and don't be foolish."
Jack followed him sulkily and Rosemary and Richard watched while the doctor unwound the cloth that bound the injured finger. The cut was an angry-looking one.
"Needs attention," Doctor Hugh commented briefly. "Do you want to come up to the house with me, or shall I send Rosemary for the iodine bottle?"
Jack elected to remain where he was, and Rosemary sped away to get bandages and antiseptics. Mrs. Hildreth's tea kettle was requisitioned for a supply of hot water and then the doctor washed and dressed the cut, Jack enduring the process gamely.
"I won't knock off," he said defiantly as the last gauze fold was fastened in place. "I'm going to pick tomatoes, if I have to do it with my left hand."
"You can use your hand, if you'll keep the bandages in place," the doctor assured him. "I'll dress it again for you in the morning—and don't let me have to send for you. When you have had breakfast, come and get your hand attended to, before you go into the field."
"He'll feel better now," he said to Rosemary as they walked slowly down the road, extending their walk to enjoy the beauty of the summer evening. "His finger was throbbing and beginning to fester and must have given him great pain all day."
"Here comes Warren," whispered Rosemary.
Warren looked warm and tired. He stopped when he saw them and Rosemary would have walked on with a short "Hello!" had not her brother's hand upon her arm held her.
"You've been down to the bungalow?" said Warren, after he had thanked them for the fish and congratulated the fisherman on his luck. "I'm sorry I missed you."
"We went to see Jack," Rosemary informed him pointedly. "He's sick."
"Jack sick?" Warren looked surprised and, though she would not have admitted it, concerned.
"Not sick—but he has rather a nasty cut on one finger," corrected Doctor Hugh. "He'll be all right, if he follows directions."
Warren's eyes were troubled.
"I'm afraid he's having a tough time," he said regretfully. "I'm sorry, but—" he left the sentence unfinished.
The storm signals in Rosemary's expressive face were easily interpreted by her brother. He said good night to Warren and they resumed their walk.
"Why didn't you say something, Hugh!" burst out Rosemary, hardly waiting till they were beyond earshot. "Why didn't you tell him that Jack is our friend and that Warren needn't think he can treat him like that!"
"I don't know that Jack is being treated 'like that,'" protested Doctor Hugh whimsically. "You looked so like a thunder cloud, Rosemary, that there was nothing left to be said."
Rosemary jerked her arm free and faced him tempestuously.
"I believe you're taking Warren's part!" she accused him. "How can you? Anyway, I don't care what you do—Jack Welles is my friend!"
"Jack is to be envied," said Doctor Hugh gently. "Though I wish, dear, that you would learn to reason a little more quietly. You know I am very fond of Jack—he is a splendid lad in many ways. So is Warren. This quarrel between them will blow over—why Rosemary, you and Jack have half a dozen quarrels a year and none of them are serious."
But the next day matters remained in much the same uncomfortable state. Jack reported obediently to have his finger dressed and refused—with more vigor than courtesy—Warren's offer to release him from picking for that day. Rosemary had a hot argument with Sarah, who perversely upheld Warren's cause, and then quarreled with her brother, who would not admit that Jack was a martyr.
"We won't discuss it any further, Rosemary," he said at last. "As far as I can judge, Warren is in the right and Jack is acting like a young and obstinate donkey."
The following afternoon Mrs. Willis went in to spend the night at the Eastshore house and choose the wall paper for the new suite of rooms. Doctor Hugh drove her in and was to drive her out the next morning. Jack had just finished bedding down the horses that night, and was wondering whether he had the energy to dress and go up to the little white house, when he heard Rosemary's voice outside the barn.
"Jack! Jack, where are you?"
"Here!" Jack hurried into sight. "What's the matter?" he demanded when he saw her face.
"Sarah!" gasped Rosemary. "She didn't come in to supper and none of us have seen her the entire afternoon. Winnie wanted to telephone Hugh, but I am so afraid it will worry Mother."
"Don't telephone!" commanded Jack. "She's somewhere on the place and has forgotten to come in; let her get hungry and she'll turn up. But we'll go find her and remind her it's after six o'clock."
Jack's cheerful matter-of-fact acceptance of Sarah's absence was the surest way to relieve the anxiety Winnie, as well as the girls, felt. At once they assured each other that Sarah was playing somewhere on the farm and had forgotten to come home. The discovery that Bony was also missing bore out Jack's theory; Sarah and the pig were having a beautiful time together.
Leaving Winnie and the two girls to search the barn and outbuildings, Jack hurried off to get reinforcements. He thought of Warren as a tower of strength, cool, level-headed Warren who could manage any situation.
Warren and Richard had finished the last chore and were beginning to change, when Jack burst unceremoniously into their room.
"Warren!" he hurdled the wall of misunderstanding that had grown up between them in one agile leap. "Warren, they say Sarah Willis is lost. She didn't come home to supper. Mrs. Willis is in Eastshore with Hugh to-night and we have to find Sarah without letting her mother know."
Warren agreed that Rainbow Hill was to be searched from one end to the other. He and Richard and Jack went in different directions and Mr. Hildreth took a fourth. Winnie stayed at the house, in case the lost one returned, and Rosemary and Shirley went down to Miss Clinton's to ask if Sarah had perhaps been there that afternoon. She had not and when they came back Winnie put Shirley to bed for it was past her bed hour and she was tired and sleepy.
No trace of Sarah was found on the farm and no better luck was encountered at the Gay farm, whither Jack went, or at the two nearest neighbors, queried by Warren and Richard, cautiously, lest the alarm spread and be relayed by the garrulous and unthinking to the little mother.
"Say, Warren," Jack stopped him as he was setting out again. "Old Belle isn't in her pasture."
"And the light runabout and one set of single harness is gone—I looked."
"That kid couldn't harness without help and get off this place—don't tell me!" Warren's tone was half skeptical, half alarmed.
"Sarah can do anything you don't expect her to do," declared Jack. "Take it from me, that's what she has done this time. But how are we to find out the direction she took?"
"She'd go to Bennington," said Warren quickly. "If she had gone toward Eastshore someone who knew her would have been sure to spot her; besides, she is crazy about Bennington, always teasing to go with Hugh."
Old Belle was the oldest horse on the farm, a shambling, half-blind creature whose days of work had long been over. In summer she reveled in clover pasture, and the warmest box stall and choicest oats were hers in winter. Sarah had ridden her around the pasture a number of times, but it had never occurred to anyone that she would attempt to drive her. Indeed the boys had not known that Sarah knew how to harness.
Three pairs of willing hands quickly backed "Tony," Mr. Hildreth's light driving horse, into the shafts of the buggy and, telling the anxious Winnie and Rosemary that they would have good news for them soon, they drove off toward Bennington, the county seat.
They said little, but they were more worried than they cared to admit. The highway was a state road and automobiles ran in both directions, two fairly steady streams. It was dark by now and the glare of the headlights might easily confuse an old, enfeebled horse and a little girl whose driving skill was of the slightest.
Warren drove and presently he pulled in the horse and gave the reins to Jack.
"I want to look at the road," he said, leaping lightly over the wheel and turning his pocket flash light full on the dusty macadam.
DOWN LINDEN ROAD
"What is it?" asked Richard eagerly.
"Yes, what is it?" urged Jack.
Warren stooped and picked up something from the road.
"A horse shoe," he said briefly. "One of Belle's—hers were old and thin, you know, Rich. And over here—" he walked a few steps to a crossroad—"Sarah must have turned off. You can see the marks."
"Well," sheer relief spoke in Richard's voice, "that's one thing to be thankful for; if she turned off from the main road, she wouldn't meet many cars. But how far do you suppose she can have gone down the Linden road?"
Warren climbed back into the buggy and turned Tony's head down the Linden road.
"She hasn't gone far, not with Belle," he asserted confidently. "The old horse couldn't stand a long trip; I don't know whether there are any places for Sarah to drive in down here, but I hope some kind farmer has her safely housed."
The Linden road was very dark and there was no moon to help out the two twinkling buggy lights. Suddenly Tony whinnied.
"Pull in, pull in!" cried Richard excitedly. "I think I see something!"
With a sharp "Whoa!" Warren brought the buggy to a standstill.
"Unscrew one of the lights," he directed Richard, at the same time jumping out and running to Tony's head with the rope and weight, a wise precaution for the horse might take fright easily in that strange place and start to run. "Come on, Jack."
They had to go only a few rods. Then the buggy lamp and the pocket flash showed them the runabout, with something dark and small curled up on the seat. The mare was down between the shafts and she raised her head inquiringly as the lights flashed into her patient eyes.
"Sarah—asleep!" whispered Jack. "And the pig, too!"
"Belle fell down and Sarah couldn't get her up," said Warren, realizing at once what had occurred. "The poor kid—she must have been frightened stiff."
Jack pulled himself up on the runabout step and leaned over Sarah. The tears were not dry on her cheeks and as he looked she opened her dark eyes with a little cry.
"You're all right, Sarah," he said soothingly. "Warren and Richard and I have come to take you home."
To his astonishment, Sarah, who hated demonstration of any kind, threw her arms about his neck and burrowed her face on his shoulder. Bony rolled protestingly to the floor and squeaked sharply as he hit the dashboard in his descent.
"The horse fell down," sobbed Sarah, "and she wouldn't get up. And it got darker and darker and there weren't any houses anywhere. Is Belle dead, Jack?"
"Not a bit of it," said Jack stoutly. "She was tired, because she is an old horse and isn't used to traveling far."
"Now that she is rested, we'll have no trouble getting her home," put in Warren. "You stay where you are, Sarah, till we get her up."
But Sarah had had enough of the runabout and she insisted on climbing down while the boys got Belle to her feet and went over the harness.
"It's a wonder it didn't slide off her," declared Warren as he cinched belts and snapped unfastened buckles. "I'll give you a lesson in harnessing some day, Sarah, for you still have a few points to learn."
It was an odd procession that drove into Rainbow Hill lane an hour later. They dared not hurry the old horse and Sarah flatly refused to be taken home in the buggy with Tony, leaving Belle and the runabout to be driven in at a slower pace. Jack would have bundled her off unceremoniously but Warren, while admitting that she had "made enough trouble and ought to consider the feelings of other people once in a while" would not force the issue.
"She's dead tired and she's been badly frightened," he said quietly. "After all, it will mean a difference of not more than half an hour. We'll wait for old Belle."
So Jack and Richard, driving the runabout and the old mare, set the pace and Sarah and Bony in the buggy with Warren followed behind Tony.
Rosemary and Winnie and the Hildreths came running out to greet the prodigal, who had to be awakened to answer their eager questions—and Winnie bore Sarah off to bed while Rosemary flew to the kitchen and began making sandwiches to serve with the ginger ale she knew was in the ice box. Excitement has a way of making people hungry and the boys especially were appreciative of the refreshments.
Doctor Hugh read his small sister a severe lecture the next morning when, upon his return with his mother, he heard the story, and extracted her promise that hereafter she would not leave the farm without explicit permission. A subdued Sarah made a shamefaced apology to Mr. Hildreth for taking his horse and runabout and for as much as three days she slipped about like a meek little shadow.
"Jack told me you found the horse shoe, Warren," said Rosemary, meeting Warren that next morning as he came from the creamery. "So you really found Sarah for us—and I think you are very quick and clever."
"Any one of us would have found her," declared Warren lightly. "You can't really lose a little girl and a horse—you're bound to fall over them sometime, sooner or later."
"Sarah might have had to spend the night on that lonely road," insisted Rosemary. "Hugh says so, too. And Mother thinks just as we do."
She turned, with a little determined nod of her pretty head.
"Rosemary!" Warren's voice halted her.
He made no motion to drive on to the barn but sat in the wagon, holding the reins, and looking at her steadily.
"You're not angry with me now?" he said.
Rosemary was perplexed.
"Of course not."
"But you were a night or two ago—when I met you and Doctor Hugh?"
The tell-tale color rose under Rosemary's smooth skin.
"Well—" she hesitated. "Perhaps I was then—just a little. But I get mad so easily, Warren, it doesn't count."
"I'd prefer," said Warren composedly, "to always be good friends with you."
The impulsive Rosemary took a step forward that brought her close to the wagon.
"We are friends," she assured Warren eagerly. Then, mischief welling up in her blue eyes, "When you've known me a little longer you'll find out that I often quarrel with my friends."
"I don't," said Warren soberly, but he drove away to the barn whistling merrily.
The few days remaining of Doctor Hugh's vacation and Jack's agreement with Mr. Hildreth, passed quickly and pleasantly. The three boys worked together in perfect harmony and Jack began to enjoy a sense of power and ease that came with the hardening of his muscles. The sun might be hot, but the rays no longer made him uncomfortable—the rows of vines were as long as ever, but he swung down them easily and picked the ripe tomatoes almost automatically.
"I don't see why you don't finish out the month," Mr. Hildreth said to him the night before his two weeks were over. "I'd like to have you first rate and it seems a pity to leave just when you're broke in."
Somewhat to his surprise, Jack heard himself agreeing to stay. Warren and Richard heartily applauded his decision and Doctor Hugh agreed to carry back an approved report to Mrs. Welles.
"It will do you good, in many ways, Jack," said the doctor seriously. "And if you are going to try for the football team this fall, you'll be in the pink of condition."
The next day Doctor Hugh went back to resume his regular schedule though, he promised his disconsolate family, he would try to spend the week-ends, or Sundays at least, with them.
"But I hope you realize that the summer is almost over," he told Rosemary who was riding with him down to the cross-roads where she expected to get out and walk back. "School opens next month and we must be safely moved back to Eastshore before that important day. You have not more than four weeks left to spend at Rainbow Hill, young lady."
"I'll go over and see Louisa," said Rosemary to herself, as she reached the back road that led to the Gay farm, after leaving her brother. "Mother won't expect me back till lunch time, for I told her I might stop in and see Miss Clinton. But I've seen Louisa only once since Hugh came."
The Gay farm looked more dilapidated than ever to Rosemary's eyes and the little attempt at a flower bed, in the center of the long, dried grass before the house, only made the general effect more hopeless.
Rosemary walked around to the back door and knocked. Louisa answered, carrying June in her arms.
"I thought maybe you'd gone back to Eastshore," said Louisa dully, "but Sarah and Shirley said no, your brother was visiting for his vacation."
"Yes, Hugh did come," answered Rosemary honestly, "and we went somewhere with him nearly every day, if only over the farm. I would have liked to bring him to see you and Alec, but I was afraid—I thought—"
"Mercy, I'm glad you didn't!" the idea seemed enough to frighten Louisa. "I wouldn't want a stranger coming here."
"Louisa, do you know Miss Clinton?" asked Rosemary suddenly. "She lives all by herself and she is so lonesome."
She had a hazy thought of suggesting that Louisa might be willing to go and see Miss Clinton—Louisa needed friends as badly as the little wheel-chair woman did—but the girl's answer was not encouraging.
"She lives in that little yellow house," said Louisa. "She may be lonely, but she has enough money to live on and no one need be pitied who can keep out of debt."
"Oh, Louisa!" Rosemary drew nearer in concern. "Haven't you the money for the interest?"
"Not a cent," said Louisa bitterly. "The little we did have saved toward it, we had to spend on a pump. The old one gave out and you can't get along without water, no matter what else you can do without."
Rosemary glanced toward the shining new pump—so obviously new and shiny that it made everything else in the kitchen look shabbier by contrast.
"There ought to be some way to get money when you need it," she said earnestly.
"There isn't," Louisa informed her. "Don't you suppose I've thought and thought? No matter how much you need it, there isn't any money to get—and if there was, you wouldn't need it because it would be there to get," and Louisa laughed rather hysterically.
"That may not make good sense," she added, "but I can't help that; it is true."
SARAH HAS AN IDEA
Rosemary walked home slowly. Louisa, worn out by worry and work, had yielded to the luxury of a good cry and though, when she had wiped her eyes, she declared she felt much better and more cheerful than for a week. Rosemary was not convinced. A glimpse of Alec, thin and brown, with the same worried look in his nice clear eyes, had not helped to convince her. It was plain that both Louisa and Alec were expecting the foreclosure of the mortgage on the farm and anticipating the separation of the family.
"I couldn't stand it," said Rosemary earnestly to a chipmunk, who shook his head in sympathy. "I couldn't stand it, if Sarah and Shirley and I had to go live in different houses. Suppose we didn't have Mother and Hugh and Winnie!"
The realization of her own blessings only emphasized the hard position of the Gays without a father or mother. By the time she had come to the Rainbow Hill orchard, Rosemary was feeling very blue indeed.
"Come on up!" two sweet little voices called to her. "Come on up, Rosemary!"
Rosemary peered at the trees, and giggles floating from one gnarled old apple tree revealed where Sarah and Shirley were hidden.
"What's the matter?" asked Shirley instantly, when Rosemary had swung herself up to a seat beside them.
"I've been to see Louisa Gay," explained Rosemary, "and they haven't a cent of money for the interest on that awful mortgage. It's due the first of September and Louisa says the man will take the farm and they'll all be on the town!"
"I thought you had to go and live in the poor house, if folks took your farm," objected Sarah.
"It's all the same," said Rosemary impatiently. "Louisa says so. When you're 'on the town' that means the town supports you and you live at the poor farm. Girls, we just have to get some money for the Gays!"
"Ask Hugh," suggested Shirley, as her favorite way out of money difficulties.
"We can't," Rosemary told her. "Louisa and Alec don't like strangers and Hugh is a stranger to them. We mustn't even tell grown-up people about them, because if they know the Gays are poor, they'll come and take them to the poor farm, anyway. Alec says they don't even go to the Center any more because he doesn't want people to ask him questions."
When Winnie rang the bell to signal that lunch was ready, the three girls had not succeeded in forming any definite plan to help the Gays. They had made up their minds that money must be obtained, but the way was anything but clear.
"You see," said Rosemary, taking up the question again after lunch, "we can't ask Warren or Richard for any money. They are saving all they earn to get them through agricultural college and Hugh told me they have to do some work in the winter to get enough. Jack never has any money of his own—he will have some at the end of the month, but he's set his heart on buying his mother something lovely with the first money he has ever really earned. There doesn't seem to be anybody to help Louisa and Alec, except us."
"And we haven't a cent, except the five-dollar gold pieces Aunt Trudy sent us Fourth of July," said Sarah practically.
"We must think," declared Rosemary solemnly. "You think hard, Sarah, and you, too, Shirley. And I'll think with all my might."
Such concentration of thought should have produced some result, but the next morning each had failure to report. Then Richard announced that Solomon must be shod and offered to take anyone over who felt free to spend the morning in Bennington.
"I have to make up my lost practising," said Rosemary, "and Hugh is going to take Mother and Shirley with him—he telephoned he'd stop for them. Sarah would like to go—she was wailing that everyone went to places and left her home."
Sarah climbed happily into her place by Richard and they drove off to Bennington, at a slower pace than usual for Richard wished to "favor" the shoeless foot.
"Ph, look!" the rather silent Sarah kindled into animation at the sight of a gay-colored poster tacked to a telegraph pole along the road. "What's that, Richard?"
"Circus!" he answered smilingly. "Coming next month. See the lions, Sarah? How would you like one of those to play with, eh?"
He obligingly pulled in the willing Solomon, and Sarah studied the poster with intent, serious dark eyes. Driving on, Richard found her curiously self-absorbed. She answered him in monosyllables and was apparently deep in a brown study.
"A penny for your thoughts?" he offered, wondering what she could be pondering over.
But Sarah refused to sell and continued to be silent.
Richard would have been surprised indeed, could he have seen what was going on in that active little brain. The circus poster had shown Sarah, besides the wonderful lions, a marvelous performing bear, dancing on his hind legs. A crowd of people laughed at him and applauded.
"Bony can do that!" Sarah had thought with pride, and then, like a flash, followed the thought: "I could sell Bony to the circus and give the money to Louisa!"
The rest of the way to Bennington was occupied, as far as Sarah was concerned, in selling Bony to the owner of the bear, who promised to give the pig a kind home and explain to him frequently why his mistress had consented to let him leave Rainbow Hill.
Sarah had reached the moment when she put her precious pig into the bear man's hands (she innocently assumed that he must have charge of all the circus animals) just as Richard drew up before the blacksmith's shop.
"You don't want to hang around here," said Richard authoritatively, lifting her down from the seat. "I'll have to give some orders about shoeing Solomon and you wait for me on the side porch of the hotel. I won't be long."
He led Sarah unprotestingly—though at any other time she would have teased to be allowed to stay and watch the fascinating work of the smithy—across the street and to the steep little flight of steps that led to the pleasant, vine-covered side porch of the country hotel.
"Good morning, Mrs. King," he said, lifting his hat as a gray-haired woman peered over the railing at them. "This is Sarah Willis—I want to have her wait here while I'm over at the shop."
"She'll be all right," answered Mrs. King kindly. "She can sit here and rest; it's nice and shady."
Mrs. King was shelling peas, and Sarah sat down in the cretonne-covered rocking chair next to her. There was one other person on the porch—a stout gentleman, stretched out in an arm chair, sound asleep. His face was covered with a white silk handkerchief which partially hid his round, bald head.
"Do you like the country?" asked Mrs. King, glancing toward her small visitor while her clever, quick fingers sent a continuous shower of peas rattling into the pan in her lap.
"Oh, yes, I like it," nodded Sarah with enthusiasm. "I like it lots better than Eastshore and going to school. I wouldn't mind living in the country for always."
"But you'd have to go to school if you lived in the country," said Mrs. King mildly. "You can't get away from lesson-books, no matter where you go."
"Not in Africa?" suggested Sarah who never disdained an argument.
"I've never been in Africa," Mrs. King replied, "so I can't tell you positively. But my guess is all the children who aren't natives, have to be educated."
"What do the children who are natives do?" asked Sarah.
Mrs. King considered.
"I imagine they go around without any clothes on and the tigers eat them," she decided, recalling to mind several doleful pictures she had seen in an old geography.
Sarah shivered, not in sympathy with the scantily clad children, but because of the tigers mentioned.
"I wouldn't want to be eaten by a tiger," she declared, rocking violently back and forth, "but I would love to have a baby tiger to play with me."
"Look out you don't go over backward," warned the landlady. "Don't you know a baby tiger would grow up to be a fierce, wild animal and probably end up by eating you?" she added.
"He wouldn't eat me, if I brought him up tame," said Sarah. "Baby tigers are like kittens—I saw some pictures of them once. I'd keep mine to guard my farm and I'll bet no robbers would come if they knew a live tiger was roaming around."
"No, robbers wouldn't come, or your friends, either," Mrs. King said grimly. "And the butcher would be afraid to turn up, for fear the tiger might think he was the meat ordered for his dinner. You and your tiger would get lonely after a while."
"I have a tiger cat home," volunteered Sarah. "But she isn't very exciting. I like big animals. Maybe a baby elephant would be more fun."
"Than a tiger?" said Mrs. King, pausing to admire a freshly opened pod in her hand. "Seven perfect peas," she murmured.
"Yes, I could use a baby elephant," Sarah informed her. "They are very strong. I have an animal book that tells all about them. Even baby elephants are strong. I saw a picture of one pulling a tree over."
"My land, a farm won't be big enough for you," commented Mrs. King. "What you ought to do is to go out West and start a place in the middle of the desert. But the snakes would probably send you back home before long."
She was quite unprepared for Sarah's cry of rapture.
"Snakes!" repeated that small girl in a voice of ecstasy. "Are there snakes in the desert?"
Mrs. King shook her pan vigorously in the effort to find a stray pod that had slipped through her fingers.
"I've heard that the place is full of snakes," she answered. "Man or beast isn't safe from them. Rattlesnakes and all kinds—sometimes, I've heard folks say, if the nights are the least bit chilly, the rattlers crawl under the blankets to get warm. Imagine waking up in the morning and finding a snake in bed with you!"
"He wouldn't hurt you, if you didn't provoke him," Sarah asserted. "Snakes are polite and they'll let you alone if you let them do as they please. I think snakes are the most interesting things to see!"
"I don't!" said Mrs. King. "I'd run a mile before I'd face one. There is nothing, to my mind, more disgusting than a wriggling snake."
Sarah looked grieved.
"That's the same way my Aunt Trudy talks," she observed. "She is scared to death of little, tiny snakes. Even water snakes. And a water snake never hurts anyone."
"Don't show me one," said Mrs. King hurriedly. "I don't care what kind of a snake it is, they're all alike as long as they can move. I never want to see one on the place."
Sarah wisely concluded that another topic would be welcome and unconsciously the huge gray cat that climbed over the porch railing and leaped heavily to the floor, provided it.
"What a darling cat!" cried Sarah, abandoning her chair in such haste that it narrowly missed falling backward. "Is it yours, Mrs. King?"
"Yes, he's mine," said the landlady. "He used to be a right handsome cat but lately he's getting too fat. The girls in the kitchen feed him all the time. I don't believe he has caught a mouse or a rat for six weeks."
"He wouldn't catch mice," Sarah declared feelingly. "Would you, darling? He's too nice for that," and she sat down in the cretonne-covered rocker again, holding the cat in her arms.
"No cat is worth his board, to my way of thinking, who doesn't catch mice and rats," retorted Mrs. King. "Garry used to be a famous mouser."
"I guess the poor mice want to live," Sarah protested, stroking the thick fur of the purring cat with a practised hand.
"It's a question of human beings living, or the mice," declared Mrs. King. "Of course if you want the mice to move into your house and you move out, that's another matter. Till I get ready to do that, I'm going to set traps in the pantry every night and leave Garry shut up in the kitchen."
"Just like Winnie," murmured the hapless Sarah.
"Seems to me you ought to run a zoo," said Mrs. King glancing curiously over her spectacles at the small girl rocking the fat cat. "Though how you're going to keep the mice and the cats and the snakes and the tigers all happy and contented together, is more than I'm able to figure out."
"I could make 'em love each other," said Sarah confidently.
"I don't know about that," argued Mrs. King. "Even in the circus they can't bring that about. Mr. Robinson would tell you that," and she pointed to the stout man who was still asleep in his chair.
"Who's that?" whispered Sarah, wondering why anyone should want to sleep with a handkerchief over his face.
"That's Mr. Robinson, dearie," replied Mrs. King, her swift fingers never pausing in their work. "He's advance agent for the circus."
Sarah sat up with a jerk.
"Does he own the circus?" she asked eagerly.
"Bless you, no," said Mrs. King smiling, "he doesn't own it, though he has a good deal to do with it, in one way or another. He comes every year to see that the posters are put up and to arrange for space for the tents and some extra help, if it's needed. He goes around to all the towns, ahead of the circus, you see, and tells folks it is coming; and in the winter he does considerable buying of animals and whatnot and hiring of performers, they tell me."
Sarah stared at the silk handkerchief in spellbound fascination. One more question struggled for utterance.
"What is whatnot?" she demanded, her eyes still on the fat man asleep in his chair.
"Whatnot?"—Mrs. King was puzzled.
"You said he bought whatnot for the circus."
"My land alive, didn't you ever hear of whatnot? It doesn't mean a thing—it's just a phrase," poor Mrs. King protested. "I meant Mr. Robinson buys little tricks and novelties and small side-show stuff like that."
Sarah nodded absently, though she had no very clear idea of the good lady's meaning even then. When Mrs. King went away presently, murmuring that it was time to put the peas on to cook, Sarah sat quietly in her chair, her gaze riveted to the silk handkerchief.
Suddenly, as she watched, a large and noisy fly also discovered the handkerchief. He decided to investigate, experience probably having taught him that handkerchiefs may be used to conceal a set of sensitive features.
Cautiously he alighted and began to crawl—swat! the stout gentleman slapped sleepily, narrowly missing the tormentor.
Up rose Sarah and bore down upon the scene.
"Don't swat him!" she begged. "He won't hurt you—flies only tickle. Anyway, if you'd use a palm leaf fan, no flies would ever bother you."
The circus agent snatched the handkerchief from his face and sat up in astonishment, revealing a very kindly, very good-humored face fringed with white hair and lighted by a pair of twinkling eyes.
"Bless me!" he cried when he saw the determined small girl. "What's all this?"
"The fly!" explained Sarah seriously. "You tried to kill him. And he doesn't even bite."
"Well, I may have been hasty," apologized Mr. Robinson, his eyes twinkling more than ever. "I don't always think when I am half asleep."
Sarah's mind was already running on what she wanted to say to him. She was more direct by nature than tactful as her next remark showed.
"You're a circus man, aren't you?" she said, making it more a statement of fact than a question.
"I'm advance agent, yes," Mr. Robinson admitted.
He was totally unprepared for the next query.
"Then," said Sarah gravely, "wouldn't you like to buy a very fine pig?"
BONY JOINS THE CIRCUS
Mr. Robinson, recovered from his first surprise, proved to be an excellent listener. Sarah told him of Bony and that animal's accomplishments and he admitted that his circus did not have a trained pig. He was interested, too, to hear how she had taught the pig these tricks and Sarah, quite carried away by this flattering evidence of understanding, told him a great deal more. In fact, unconsciously, she presented him a picture of the family at Rainbow Hill and, before she had finished, of the Gay family, too. This last, to do her justice, was quite unintentional.
"I didn't mean to tell you about the Gays," she cried in quick remorse. "Rosemary said we must never tell a stranger about them; when a grown-up person knows how poor they are, the town will take them to the poor farm."
"Now don't you be sorry," Mr. Robinson comforted her. "Don't you be sorry for one thing you've told me. I won't let it go any further—least ways not among the town folk. I'm glad you told me about this family, downright glad. I've known what it is to live on a farm with a mortgage hanging over your head."
"Have you?" asked Sarah humbly, much relieved. "Then maybe Louisa won't care if you do know about their mortgage."
"I've been thinking," said Mr. Robinson slowly, "that it would be a good thing if I went with you this morning and saw the pig you've told me about; mind you, I can't promise to buy it, till I've seen it. But I'd like to look at it. And I'd like to see this Gay farm—maybe that will turn out to be something I can use."
Sarah did not see how he could use a farm in a circus, but she wisely refrained from asking. Richard returning for her at this juncture, she introduced him to the circus agent and explained that he wanted to go back to Rainbow Hill with them.
Richard was surprised, but cordial, and as Solomon, brave in a new shoe and three tightened old ones, trotted them homeward, Sarah and Mr. Robinson together explained their plans.
Sarah's was comparatively simple. She wanted to sell Bony to the circus and give the money to Louisa. The pig was the most valuable possession she owned and would surely bring more money than anything else she might part with—even her five-dollar gold piece. Yes, she admitted, in response to Richard's questioning, she was fond of Bony—but she thought he would like living with a circus.
Mr. Robinson's plan was more complicated. "For some time past," he said to Richard, a little breathlessly, for he was stout and the wagon jolted him considerably, "for some time past, I've been on the lookout for new winter quarters for the circus. My idea has been to get a farm in a good section of the country, but of course we can't afford to pay a price a place in a good state of cultivation would bring; what we want is acreage and buildings in fair shape. This Gay farm the little girl tells me about, may fill the bill, providing they are willing to sell."