"They would sell, all right," Richard declared thoughtfully, "but I don't see where they can go. The place won't bring enough to keep a family of six very long."
"We can talk that over, after I see the place," said Mr. Robinson. "You can trust me to be fair to a parcel of kids—I lived on a farm and I was bound out on a farm."
Eager as Sarah was to exhibit her pig, she had to wait. It was "dinner time" at the farmhouse and lunch time for the Willis family when Richard stopped before the barn. Mrs. Willis and Shirley had returned—Doctor Hugh had dropped them at the crossroads and gone on to the hospital in Bennington—and while at the table Sarah made no mention of her plans. She had a habit of taking no part in the general conversation, unless personally interested, and her silence created no wonderment.
After the hospitable manner of the countryside, the circus agent was asked to dinner by Mr. Hildreth who took it for granted that he had asked a lift of Richard on his way from one town to another. And, the meal over, Richard piloted him to the barn, where Rosemary and Shirley and Sarah and the pig awaited him.
"Come on and watch," said Sarah cordially, but Richard, declaring he was too busy, went on to his work.
Sarah was a little fearful lest Bony develop "temperament," of which he had his share, and refuse to act, but he happened to be in the best of humors, thanks to a peaceful morning free from interruptions, which had allowed him to enjoy a full-length nap.
Sarah put him through his paces and change of costumes with pride. He danced, he marched, he went through his acrobatics; he wheeled the doll carriage and poured afternoon tea; he played the piano and read, wearing a pair of glassless spectacles and turning the printed page with a graceful air of interest. He grunted "Yes" and he squeaked "No" to half a dozen questions. And finally, seated in a doll's rocking chair, he fanned himself as though the exactions of his art were wearing in the extreme.
"I ought to sign you up with the circus," said Mr. Robinson admiringly, when Sarah announced that Bony had displayed the extent of his accomplishments. "You must have a gift, to be able to train an animal like that. Of course he is a clever pig, but you have developed him and made it easy for us to teach him fancier tricks. Do you want to sell him?"
Sarah looked at Rosemary, who, with Shirley, had come out to witness the performance.
"Yes," said Sarah, after a minute. "Yes, I want to sell him."
"You can't change your mind, you know," announced the circus agent warningly. He wanted the pig but he wished to be fair.
Sarah's chin went up in the air.
"I won't change my mind," she declared. "I won't sell Bony and then ask for him back. You may have him—now."
"Can't take him till to-morrow morning," said Mr. Robinson. "Don't you have to ask any older person—your mother, for instance?"
Rosemary shook her head.
"Mr. Hildreth gave the pig to Sarah," she explained. "It is all hers. And you mustn't tell anyone about buying it—that is, that the money is for Louisa."
Mr. Robinson looked perplexed, as well he might.
"But little grasshoppers!" he ejaculated, scratching his head. "You can go just so far with a secret, you know; if I buy this Gay farm a heap of people will have to know about it."
"Oh, who?" said Rosemary in quick distress.
"Well, the guardian, or whoever holds the estate for them," said Mr. Robinson. "Then the lawyer who draws the deed and all the folks at the Court House who have anything to do with the searches and like that."
"I don't understand," declared Rosemary, while Sarah and Shirley began to fold up the dresses Bony had worn. "But I am sure there is no guardian. Louisa would have said something about it."
"Never mind," said the circus agent kindly. "Plenty of time to find out all that later. Now if the little girl really wants to sell the pig—"
He named a figure that surprised them all. Whether, as Doctor Hugh suspected when he heard the story, Mr. Robinson wanted to help the Gays too, and added more as a practical way to assist them; or whether, as Sarah was firmly convinced, Bony was the smartest pig he had ever seen and he recognized his value, does not really matter. There, before three pairs of wondering eyes, he counted out a little heap of soiled bills and gave them to Sarah.
"I'll take the pig in the morning," he said, folding up the remainder of his money and fastening the roll with an elastic. "I expect to put up with the Hildreths to-night and one of the boys will take me back to town after breakfast. You look after the pig for me till then, won't you?"
Sarah promised and then, as she did not seem to know what to do with the money, he suggested that she run into the house and give it to her mother to put away.
The three girls were anxious to go over to the Gay farm with Mr. Robinson, but he explained that he thought he could talk better to Alec and Louisa alone.
"I'm just going to wander over there and tell 'em that Richard Gilbert sent me," he said. "I'll say he heard I wanted to buy a small place and that I thought they might be in the market. I'll tell you all about it, soon as I get back."
They watched him start "across lots" to the Gay farm and then Sarah went into the house to ask her mother to put away the money.
"You've sold Bony, dear?" echoed Mrs. Willis when she heard the news. "And for all this money? Who bought him, Sarah? When did you sell your pig?"
Sarah told her about Mr. Robinson, and Rosemary and Shirley listened eagerly for they had not heard the details, nor learned how Sarah had met the circus agent.
"I always said Bony was a smart pig!" wound up Sarah, watching her mother counting the money into a little black tin box, fitted with a lock and key.
"But Sarah dear, I thought you were very fond of Bony," said Mrs. Willis. "Why did you want to sell him—and what are you planning to do with all this money?"
"It's a secret," declared Sarah, setting her lips tightly.
"Oh, lamb! Don't you want to tell Mother?"
Sarah shook her head so violently her black hair whipped across her eyes.
"Nobody must ever tell—never, never, never!" she asserted and, catching Shirley by the hand, she ran out of the room, dragging her small sister with her.
Rosemary's beautiful blue eyes turned to her mother's troubled ones.
"It's all right, Mother," she urged. "Really it is; the man wanted to buy the pig—he told Rich it was very cleverly trained. And what Sarah wants to do with the money won't be a secret after the first of September. She'll tell you then."
"I'll have to hold it for her until she does tell me," said Mrs. Willis quietly. "I don't see how Sarah could bring herself to part with Bony, Rosemary; she has been devoted to him."
Rosemary wanted to tell of the motive that had prompted Sarah's sacrifice, but thought she was in honor bound not to. So she went downstairs to her practising, wondering what Louisa and Alec were saying to Mr. Robinson and whether he would buy the farm from them.
Sarah and her pig disappeared till dinner time and if during the meal the former seemed more silent than usual it might easily have been because she was tired.
Mrs. Hildreth came for one of her rare chats with Mrs. Willis after dinner that night and then the girls felt free to slip down to the bungalow to hear what Mr. Robinson had to tell them.
Eager as they were to learn what had been done for the Gays, they were not to go directly to the bungalow for half way across the lawn Mrs. Hildreth called to them.
"Miss Clinton sent me word to-day, Rosemary," she said, "that she'd like very much to see you; the letter-man told me. I thought maybe you'd go down there this evening."
"Don't go," whispered Sarah. "We want to see Mr. Robinson."
Rosemary stopped uncertainly. It was still light and Mrs. Willis would not object if they were back before dark.
"We were going to see the boys," said Rosemary. "There was something I wanted to ask them—"
"Oh, you can see them when you come back," Mrs. Hildreth answered. "I'd go see Miss Clinton if I were you; she gets lonely and it isn't very nice to disappoint an old lady. She hasn't so many interests as you have."
Rosemary looked at the speaker a trifle resentfully. Mrs. Hildreth, like many busy people, was an adept at pointing out duties for other folk.
"Shall we go, Mother?" she asked doubtfully.
Now Mrs. Willis knew nothing of Mr. Robinson's all important visit to the Gay farm and she saw no special reason for a visit to the bungalow.
"Why I don't see why not, darling," she answered. "If you are not too tired. Don't stay long, because you want to be home before dark. As Mrs. Hildreth says, the old lady is probably lonely."
Rosemary went on and Sarah began to scold.
"I don't see why you said you'd go," she complained. "We never plan to go anywhere that someone doesn't spoil it. Why didn't you say you'd go when you got ready and not before?"
"Because that would have been disrespectful and rude and you know it," retorted Rosemary tartly. "You and Shirley go on and see Mr. Robinson and I'll see Miss Clinton. I don't mind going alone."
"I'll go, too," said Shirley.
"I'm not going to hear what he has to say and let you wait," announced Sarah gruffly. "What do you suppose Miss Clinton wants?"
"Company, probably," said Rosemary. "We'll tell her we can't stay long, because Mother doesn't like us out after dark; we can stop at the bungalow on the way back and the boys will walk back with us."
They found Miss Clinton, sitting in her chair, in the center of the doorway. Then they were glad they had come, for it was easy to picture her sitting like that a whole dreary evening, watching and waiting.
"I hoped you'd come this evening," the old lady greeted them. "Is that Sarah with you? My, my, I don't often have you for a visitor, my dear."
Sarah looked pleased. She appreciated cordial welcome as much as anyone.
"I told the letter-man to tell Mrs. Hildreth I wanted to see you, Rosemary," went on Miss Clinton, "because I have a letter I can't read and I don't want to trust it to anyone around here. They are such gossips!" she added a little harshly.
"But can I read it?" asked Rosemary, surprised. "I mean will I be able to?"
"Oh, it's written in English, all right," laughed the old lady, her bright bird-like eyes twinkling. "I'm not asking you to translate a French or Spanish letter. I don't believe it will take you very long, because you are bright."
"We mustn't stay till dark," murmured Rosemary, wondering what kind of a letter it could be that Miss Clinton was unable to decipher.
"You'll have it done long before dark," Miss Clinton assured her. "Let me see, where did I put it? Oh yes—look in that jar on the cabinet shelf."
Rosemary lifted the lid of the Canton ginger jar. It was apparently empty but feeling around in it, her fingers found some scraps of paper.
"That's the letter," said the old lady placidly. "I put it down on a pile of old papers this morning when it first came and then when I went to start a fire this noon, I carelessly tore the papers across and with them the letter. Fortunately I discovered what I had done in time to save the scraps, but I can't put them together again. I thought you could."
Rosemary emptied out the pieces of paper on the table and, instructed by Miss Clinton, found the paste and a large sheet of paper on which to paste the bits. Shirley and Sarah sat down on the floor and began playing with the toys in the cabinet.
"Adelaide has real good sense," remarked Miss Clinton as Rosemary studied the pieces attentively, "she never writes on more than one side of the paper. I'd be in a pretty fix, if she had."
Rosemary privately thought that she was in a fix as it was, for the scrawled writing made no sense whatever, as far as she could see. She arranged it tentatively, scattered the pieces again and laboriously pieced them together in another combination.
"Did it begin, 'Dear Aunt'?" she asked desperately.
"Mercy no." Miss Clinton looked up brightly from her crocheting. "Adelaide calls me 'Clintie' and always has. Usually she begins, 'Clintie dear.'"
Rosemary worked feverishly, anxious to please the old lady and even more anxious to be on her way. She wanted to know what the circus agent had done about the farm and she was curious to know if Louisa was displeased that their straits had become known to a stranger.
"There!" she said, after almost an hour's work. "I think I have it all right—it makes sense, anyway. But there's a corner missing."
"I don't mind a corner, as long as you have the gist of it," returned Miss Clinton gratefully. "I didn't want to write to Adelaide that I'd destroyed her letter before I'd even read it. I'm sure I don't know how to thank you, Rosemary!"
She wanted the girls to stay and have some of her sponge cake—baked that afternoon—but they were in a fever of impatience to be gone. When they finally found themselves out in the lane that took them to the Hildreth house, Sarah was the first to speak.
"If she'd had a telephone we could have asked her what she wanted and then we wouldn't have gone," she declared.
"Yes we would," smiled Rosemary. "That wasn't much to do—or it wouldn't have been, if we weren't going to hear about the Gays. Miss Clinton didn't know that."
"I see Mr. Robinson!" chirped Shirley as they came in sight of the house.
TRULY A SACRIFICE
"Did you buy the farm?" asked Sarah bluntly.
Richard and Warren and Jack and the circus agent sat on the top step and below them were ranged Rosemary, Shirley and Sarah. Mr. Hildreth had considerately gone into the kitchen to read.
"No," answered Mr. Robinson, "I didn't buy the place."
Three faces fell.
"But I've rented it," he went on, "and paid a quarter's rent in advance."
"Is that just as good?" inquired Rosemary respectfully.
Mr. Robinson laughed and Warren nodded.
"Alec was over at milking time and he was feeling as gay as his name," said Warren. "I guess their troubles are over for a time."
Then Mr. Robinson explained what he had done and why and never did a speaker have a more attentive audience.
"I won't bother you with the legal end of it," he said good-naturedly, "but these children are under twenty-one and when their parents died a guardian should have been appointed for them. If I tried to buy the farm there would have to be a guardian appointed and even then I doubt if he could give me a clear title.
"So, for many reasons, it is much simpler to rent the farm from them and better, I am firmly convinced, for the children. They are to stay on in the house and this winter I and my wife will come out and make our headquarters there. Alec can lend me a hand with the animals and Mother will see that that plucky girl gets her schooling. I'll stable most of the circus horses out here and as nearly as I can tell it's just the kind of a place we need."
He told them a great deal more about Alec's surprise and Louisa's delight and something of the plans for the winter which should include the attendance at school of the five Gays old enough to go.
The boys walked back with Rosemary and Shirley and Sarah, and Warren told them further details.
"Mr. Robinson is a brick!" he declared heartily. "He's renting the farm because he discovered in what desperate straits the Gays are; if he tried to buy it, it would take months to get their affairs untangled—there would be miles of red tape and court hearings and dear knows what all. Instead he has paid them cash down for a quarter and I understand from Alec he is paying a generous rental, besides offering Alec employment this winter. He's put out because the town hasn't done anything—and now, he says, he and his wife will look after them and Bennington can save its legal snail tracks."
"But Alec and Louisa didn't want the town to know anything about them," protested Rosemary.
"Well, they're too young to manage their own affairs," said Warren curtly. "Somebody should have been responsible long before this."
It was odd, but Jack, Warren and Richard separately, each took Sarah aside and asked her if she had wanted to sell her pig. Each offered to return the money to the circus agent for her and get Bony back.
"I wanted to sell him," said Sarah stolidly, three times.
In the morning she kissed Bony good by and watched him drive away with Richard and Mr. Robinson. Then she went out to the barn, refusing Rosemary's invitation to go over to the Gays'. Shirley went in her stead and they were greeted by a radiant Louisa who declared that her troubles were at an end and that now she had hopes of being able to keep the family together and even educate them.
"Of course we have to be careful," she said, smiling as though that would be comparatively easy. "The quarter's rent Mr. Robinson paid won't quite meet the interest, but Alec thinks he can scrape the rest together somehow. And of course we will have to pay for the potato fertilizer and the store bill is overdue; but we'll manage."
It was on the tip of Rosemary's tongue to tell her about the money Sarah had, but she stopped in time and sent Shirley a warning glance. That pleasure belonged to Sarah and no one should take it from her.
"Will you come upstairs a moment, Rosemary?" asked Louisa, "I want to show you something. Let Shirley play with Kitty in the yard."
The two girls went up the steep, straight stairs and Louisa took her guest into one of the front rooms.
"Mr. Robinson said his wife would be out to get acquainted with us soon," Louisa explained, "and of course she'll have to stay all night. And where, I ask you, Rosemary, is she to sleep?"
"Why I don't know, dear," replied Rosemary, smiling. "What is the matter with this room?"
She looked about it as she spoke. It was a large, square room, very clean and, it must be confessed, very bare. There was a bureau, one leg missing and the lack supplied by a brick; one chair, the bed and a little table (not large enough to be useful and not small enough to be dainty) completed the furnishings.
"It looks so awful," said poor Louisa. "And of course I can't buy material for curtains; Mother used to say that curtains softened a room and helped to furnish it. But I certainly am thankful for one thing."
"What?" Rosemary asked.
"That I've always saved one pair of Mother's good sheets and her best light blankets and two pillow cases, real linen ones," said Louisa. "When the linen began to wear out, I patched it and darned it as well as I could, but our sheets last winter were made of flour sacks, stitched together. They're white as snow for I bleached them, but I wouldn't want to have Mr. Robinson's wife sleep on flour sack sheets."
"Oh, my, of course not," said the sympathetic Rosemary.
"She won't have to," declared Louisa with satisfaction. "Much as I have wanted to use these sheets and the blankets, I've kept them put away. They are linen Mother had when she was married and I never could afford to buy any like it now."
"That's fine," said Rosemary, a trifle absently.
She was studying the windows, three placed close together on one side of the room.
"Do you know, Louisa," she said slowly, "I believe we could make curtains for those windows—just straight side-drapes, you understand, with a plain valance across the top."
"I've seen pictures," Louisa admitted, "but I haven't any material."
"I could get it," Rosemary began, but Louisa shook her head.
"It's a silly idea, anyway," she declared resolutely. "I haven't any business to be thinking about curtains when the whole house is as shabby as my old winter coat. If Mrs. Robinson does come and see new curtains she'd know right away that I'd spent money I couldn't afford on them. She might even get the idea that I was trying to make an impression."
"You have a perfect right to try and make a pleasant impression!" flared Rosemary hotly. "Of course you have. And I'll tell you how to make new curtains and they won't cost a cent—except money you have already paid. Use the blue and white gingham!"
Louisa stared. She had bought, almost as soon as Alec had told her the good news of the farm's rental, a dozen yards of neat blue and white checked gingham to make Kitty and June some much-needed frocks and herself an apron or two.
"But I never heard of gingham curtains!" Louisa protested.
"They're very fashionable for bedrooms," Rosemary assured her. "We have some at Rainbow Hill—I can show you those. And Mother has a magazine with heaps of pictures in that show checked casement curtains. You'll love them when you see them made and hung, Louisa."
"Well—the children can wait for the dresses, I suppose," said Louisa.
And, with Rosemary's help, the curtains were made and hung before the circus agent's wife paid her promised visit. They were a great success and Louisa was inordinately proud of them.
Now they went back to the kitchen to look again at the gingham.
"I wish there was some way I could earn a little money," said Louisa wistfully.
The knitted face cloth on the back of the kitchen chair was responsible for Rosemary's idea.
"You could knit a bedspread, Louisa!" she said with enthusiasm. "I'll show you how; Miss Clinton told me they sell for lots of money and Warren has a cousin who is a domestic science teacher in a large city; he said she was out here last summer and offered to get orders for Miss Clinton, but she wouldn't agree to sell her spreads. She doesn't need the money, but you do."
Louisa was as excited as Rosemary and before an hour had passed the two girls had, in imagination, knit four elaborate spreads and disposed of them for eighty dollars apiece.
Then Louisa came down to earth and spoke more practically.
"It will take a long time to do a full-sized spread," she said, "but I will have plenty of time to knit this winter. You show me how and Miss Clinton will help me, if I get stuck in the middle of a pattern. You are too lovely, Rosemary, to think of something I can do!"
"I wish I could earn some money for the Gays," sighed Shirley, trotting home beside Rosemary when they had left the cheerful Louisa.
"Well, you're a pretty little girl to earn money, darling," Rosemary told her, "but I'll try to think of something you can do. We'll ask the boys; they know more about money than we do, Warren and Rich especially."
Her intuition proved to be right, for Warren, consulted, suggested that Shirley might pick herbs, wild ones, and get the Gay children to help her.
"Old Fiddlestrings buys wild herbs and sells them, along with those he raises in his garden, to city druggists," explained Warren. "I'll see him to-night and find out what he wants right now. Then I'll help you till you learn to know the different leaves and after that it will be easy."
Warren was as good as his word and in a few days Shirley and Jim, Kenneth and Kitty Gay were earnestly hunting herbs. They made a few mistakes at first, but soon learned and as it was wholesome work and did not take them off the farm, they were encouraged to go herb picking every day. Warren acted as selling agent and the little heap of pennies and dimes and nickels in the pink china bank grew steadily.
That, however, was after Sarah had presented her offering to Louisa. For one anxious half day it seemed that there might be no presentation, for Sarah disappeared completely after saying good by to Bony; and diligent search on the part of her sisters failed to produce her.
"Sarah didn't come to lunch, and Mother is worried," announced Rosemary, meeting the wagon as it returned from the cannery with Warren driving and Jack sitting on the empty crates in the back.
Warren reined in the horses and looked anxious.
"She hasn't taken Belle again, has she?" he asked.
"No, I looked and Belle is in the pasture," replied Rosemary. "I've looked everywhere and Winnie came and helped me and Shirley, too. And Hugh telephoned he would be out for dinner—where can she have gone?"
Jack spoke suddenly.
"I'll tell you what I think," he said. "I think she is crying somewhere about Bony. You know Sarah—she would run a mile before she would let anyone see her cry. And I'll bet seeing Bony go just about broke her heart. She was crazy about that pig."
"Yes, she was," agreed Rosemary. "Poor little Sarah! She was determined to sell him and give the money to Alec and Louisa—and all the time she must have cared so much!"
"You go help Rosemary find her, Jack," said Warren. "Rich and I will get up the next load. Think where she would be likely to run and hide and then look for her there."
Jack jumped down from the wagon and faced Rosemary anxiously.
"Where shall we look?" he asked.
"In the woods," answered Rosemary, after a moment's thought. "There's a place there we call the cave—four rocks around in a ring. You can climb over them and drop down on the moss and it feels as though you really were in a cave. Let's go look there."
The woods were some distance away and the sun was hot, but Rosemary and Jack ran nearly all the way. Rosemary was almost crying, for the more she thought about Sarah, the more plausible it seemed that she must be heart-broken over the loss of her beloved pet.
"You go look," whispered Jack, when they reached the four large rocks Rosemary had described. "Peek over and see if she is there."
Cautiously Rosemary crawled over the rocks—long afterwards she remembered how cool and damp they felt to her fevered hands and knees—and peered down into the green hollow they formed. A little figure in a crumpled tan frock was huddled against one of the stones.
"Sarah!" called Rosemary softly. "Sarah dearest! You must be starved!"
"Go away!" said Sarah crossly.
That was all she would say, though Rosemary told her how worried they had all been, urged that Doctor Hugh was coming to dinner and pleaded with her to come home at once and have something to eat.
"Come on, Sarah—that's a good girl," begged Rosemary. "Jack is here, too, and he wants to get back to work."
"Tell him to go, then," muttered Sarah. Jack climbed over one of the boulders and gazed down at the obdurate little person whose unhappy brown face lacked its usual life and color. Sarah did not look like herself.
"Look here, Sarah," said Jack with directness, but not unkindly. "Your mother is worried stiff about you and you're coming back with us and coming now. If you don't want me to climb down there and pull you out, you'd better scramble up this minute."
Suddenly Sarah climbed up the rock furthest from Jack and dropped to the ground. She refused to take Rosemary's hand and scuffed on before them silently, like a small Indian in a very bad temper.
"She does care," whispered Rosemary to Jack. "She always acts like this when she wants to cry and is too proud."
With Rosemary to the left of her and Jack on her right and no possible avenue of escape open, Sarah mounted the porch steps. Someone all in white, fragrant and dainty and sweet, gathered her, dirt-stained and disheveled as she was, into loving arms. Sarah began to cry.
"There, my precious," said Mrs. Willis softly, "tell Mother all about it—she wants to hear."
Rosemary and Jack slipped away.
UP TO MISCHIEF
Once more a flood of moonlight and a night or two when "Old Fiddlestrings" wandered up and down the road playing the "Serenade" and then the first of September was blazoned on the calendar and on the fields of Rainbow Hill. The summer was virtually over.
Jack went away hilariously for a brief fishing trip with his father before the Eastshore schools should open; and to the delight of his mother and sisters, Doctor Hugh came out to stay till they were ready to go back with him, a matter of ten days or so, for school would be in session by the middle of the month.
Finding Sarah in a sad state from violent crying on his arrival the day of Bony's departure, Doctor Hugh was soon in possession of the Gays' story; and he not only succeeded in persuading Louisa and Alec to accept the money Sarah's sacrifice had obtained, but he also managed to give them a more wholesome outlook on the world in general. Although Alec and Louisa were naturally reluctant to accept Sarah's money, when they were finally persuaded, their relief was plain. Now they had enough cash in hand to meet the dreaded interest payment. Alec insisted that the money from Sarah was to be regarded as a loan and Doctor Hugh agreed to this.
"All right," said Sarah when this arrangement was explained to her, "but I don't want to see Bony—not ever any more."
Alec had told her that the pig would probably be brought to the farm to spend the winter and had offered to drive to Eastshore some day and bring her back to see her pet. Sarah's refusal was unmistakable; the parting once made, she was not minded to harrow her feelings again.
Rosemary found Louisa a diligent pupil and the knitted spread was soon under way. Louisa's pet ambition was to buy a good flock of hens and raise chickens. The money earned from the spread, or spreads she might make, she confided to Rosemary, was to be saved toward this venture.
"We haven't had our picnic yet," said Doctor Hugh one morning at the breakfast table. "We must have one before we go back to town. Let's ask the Gays and the Hildreths and Warren and Richard—next week will be a good time."
And then for a few days a round of emergency calls kept him so busy he forgot that such things as picnics were ever held.
Bringing the car around a few mornings later, intending to take his mother and Winnie in to look at the remodeled house, he found Sarah and Shirley placidly seated behind the wheel when he came out from breakfast.
"You can't go this time—there isn't room," he informed them pleasantly. "Hop out—here come Mother and Winnie."
"You said we could go next time and this is next time," insisted Sarah.
There were tears of disappointment in Shirley's eyes, but she climbed out of the car in response to a second look from Doctor Hugh. Sarah, however, clung to the wheel and had to be lifted out bodily.
"You're too old to act like this," said her brother sternly. "It is important that Mother and Winnie go with me this morning—they were going yesterday and then I had to put them off to go in to the hospital; suppose Mother scowled the way you do, Sarah, when things didn't go to suit her."
Rosemary came out to see them off and Mrs. Willis and Winnie waved as though nothing had happened. Doctor Hugh suddenly swooped down upon Sarah, lifted her high in his arms and kissed her. With another swift kiss for Shirley, he was back in the car before the angry Sarah could recover from her astonishment. The car rolled down the road and left her standing glaring after it.
Sarah was exceedingly put out and she did not attempt to disguise her state of mind. Rosemary, finding it impossible to win her to a more reasonable point of view, went indoors to finish the odds and ends of work Winnie had had to leave undone. This left Shirley to Sarah, and Sarah was like the disgruntled sailor who deliberately incites mutiny.
"I want to be bad!" she told Shirley passionately. "Let's think of something awful and go do it!"
Shirley could not think of anything, unfortunately, that is unfortunately from Sarah's point of view.
"I know!" cried that small sinner, after a moment's thought. "We can go in the tool house."
Sarah had remembered what Warren had said when they first came to the farm—that the tool house was forbidden ground. He had also warned them against going into the windmill.
"Come on, Shirley," cried the naughty Sarah. "We'll look at the old tools—we won't hurt 'em."
She found she had reckoned without the canny Mr. Hildreth, when she reached the tool house. It was securely locked and no amount of tampering could make any impression on the stout padlock.
"Come on, we'll go up in the windmill," said Sarah, not to be balked.
She would have found it hard to explain what satisfaction disobeying Mr. Hildreth and Warren gave her, when her anger was really directed toward her brother. However, she may have reasoned that doing something she knew was wrong was one sure way to plague Doctor Hugh.
Shirley obediently trotted after her sister to the graceful red shingled tower that enclosed the iron framework of the windmill. Alas, for once in his busy life, Mr. Hildreth had inspected the pump and left the door unlocked. Sarah had merely to open it and fold it back and the interior of the mill was revealed to her.
"We'll play it's a robbers' cave, Shirley," suggested Sarah. "It's nice and dark."
She was minded to climb the enticing iron ladder, but fearful lest Shirley develop an obstinate streak and refuse, she had decided to begin with a milder amusement.
"I'll be the robber chief, Shirley," she went on—Sarah had a fondness for such plays and her brother often said that she would have had a wonderful time as a boy. "I'll be the robber chief," she repeated, "and you drag in the loot."
"What's loot?" asked Shirley hopefully, having a vague idea that it was something one ate.
"Loot is what we steal from the noble lords and ladies," Sarah asserted with a faint memory of old firelight stories.
"But where do we get it?" the literal-minded Shirley demanded.
"Oh, we go out and hunt for it," said Sarah. "Don't let anybody see you—remember we're robbers."
And she opened the windmill door cautiously and peered out.
There was no one in sight and the two little girls crept out and sped to the nearest tree with a delicious sense of excitement. If they had turned around and seen someone chasing them, they would not have been surprised.
"Take a stone," said Sarah. "Take a stone for loot. A little one, Shirley—that one by your foot."
Shirley picked it up and dropped it immediately with a little cry.
"Did you drop it on your foot?" asked Sarah.
"What's the matter?"
"Horrid, nasty little bugs under that," Shirley announced, pointing with a dainty pink forefinger at the stone she had sent crashing back to earth.
"Well, a few bugs never hurt anyone," proclaimed Sarah. "I only hope you haven't mashed any; when will you learn not to be afraid of bugs, Shirley?"
Shirley refused to look as Sarah carefully turned the stone over. There were numerous little crawling creatures beneath it and several white slugs.
"I suppose you've murdered a hundred, but I can't see them," Sarah reported. "If I had something to scrape them up with, I could save some."
"Don't play with bugs, Sarah," pleaded Shirley, who knew too well the fatal attraction of all creeping and crawling things for her sister. "I don't like bugs. Leave them alone."
"All right, I will," said Sarah with surprising amiability. "We'll go back to the cave; I'll take this stone and you needn't take any."
Back to the windmill they went and nothing would please Sarah but closing the door again. She liked the dark, she said.
"What's that?" cried Shirley, starting. "I heard a noise, Sarah."
Sarah had heard it, too.
"It's the clanking chains," she declared with relish.
"What clanking chains?" whispered Shirley fearfully.
"The chains we put on our prisoners," said Sarah whose imagination was stimulated by the dark pit in which she found herself.
"What prisoners?" asked Shirley, fascinated in spite of herself.
"Prisoners we robbed," said Sarah solemnly. "We put long chains on them and they have to walk up and down and they can't get out."
"Oh—Oh—I don't like them to have on long chains," Shirley wailed. "I want you to take them off, Sarah. Please, Sarah."
"Well," Sarah considered. "Perhaps I will. We might as well let the prisoners go, anyway. They make too much noise. Now the chains are off, Shirley."
Just as she said that, the noise sounded louder than before.
"Clank! Clank! Clank!"
"You said you took 'em off!" wept Shirley. "You said so, Sarah."
"I thought I did," admitted Sarah. "Wait till I get the door open and I'll see what made that last noise."
She had latched the door of the windmill and in the darkness it took her some time to find it. At last she got it open and the light streamed in, showing Shirley's face streaked with tears.
"I see what made the noise!" proclaimed Sarah triumphantly. "It's the jigger-thing pumping up and down."
The wings of the mill had turned lazily and the iron rods, jerked up and down, had made the clanking noise.
"I don't want to play that any more," said Shirley with more decision than she usually showed.
"We'll play we are firemen and climb the ladder," said Sarah, pointing to the narrow iron ladder that led to the top of the mill.
And she actually helped the confiding Shirley to start the long upward climb and followed close behind her.
Half way up, the inky darkness—for the narrow windows were few and far between, frightened Shirley and she begged to go back. Sarah cajoled and bullied her into continuing and the two children managed to make the steep climb and reach the platform at the top of the mill. As they stepped out on the boards a gust of wind caught the big fan-like sails and the pump began to sound with a loud clanking noise. This and the sensation of being high among the clouds terrified Shirley and she clung to Sarah, screaming.
Sarah would have liked to scream too. Her face was quite white under the tan and she grasped the framework tightly. As she looked far across the fields and felt the dizzy sensation of floating with the clouds that seemed near enough for her hand to touch, one awful thought came to her—"How are we to get back?" She was sure they could never go down that narrow ladder—it had been hard enough to climb up and going down would be impossible.
She sat down, close to the frame, and Shirley hid her face on her shoulder. And there Rosemary found them—having heard from Mrs. Hildreth that they had been seen going down to the brook. The quickest way to reach the brook was past the windmill.
Rosemary called as she came through the field and Sarah heard her. She stood up and shouted and, because the wind had died down and it was very quiet and still, Rosemary, too, heard. Kneeling down, Sarah could see her sister through a knot hole in the platform.
Rosemary's first impulse was to run and get help—someone to bring the girls down, but Sarah implored her "not to tell."
"Everyone will scold and tell Hugh," said Sarah, shouting her plea. "You come get us, Rosemary—please don't tell."
Both she and Shirley were confident that Rosemary could rescue them alone and unaided. As the older, Rosemary was accustomed to helping Sarah out of tight places and, it must be confessed, shielding her from the consequences of her own wrong-doing. She promised not to tell "this time."
Setting her teeth, Rosemary began the climb and accomplished it with fair ease. Her nerves were steady and she was strong and vigorous. But when it came to getting Shirley down, all her powers of endurance were taxed to the utmost.
Shirley was rigid with fright. She wanted to hang on to Rosemary and it was necessary to force her to face the ladder and come down step by step, Rosemary just below her steadying her with a light touch and constant words of encouragement. Shirley cried piteously, she stopped often and refused to take another step. Rosemary had to plead, to scold, to stimulate, everything but pity—that would have been fatal. Long before they reached the floor of the mill, Rosemary's face and hands were dripping with cold perspiration.
Shirley safe on the ground at last. Rosemary detached her clutching little fingers and went back for Sarah. Gone was Sarah's bravado, lost her courage completely. She hung back and cried and only started the descent when Rosemary threatened to leave her. Twice Sarah lost her footing and shrieked and Rosemary's heart raced madly. The climb seemed interminable and all the time, down in the darkness below, they could hear Shirley crying to herself.
A great wave of thankfulness surged over Rosemary as she felt her foot touch the ground and lifted Sarah from the ladder. They were safe!
"Come away, quick!" said Rosemary, her voice sounding hoarse and unnatural in her own ears. "Don't ever come here again!"
They stumbled over the doorsill, the strong sunlight blinding their eyes after the darkness of the windmill interior. So it happened that none of them saw Warren till he was close to them.
"Rosemary!" he cried in quick alarm. "Is anything the matter? You're as white as a sheet!"
Rosemary tried to smile, but she swayed as she stood. He put an arm around her and led her to an overturned tomato crate under a tree. "Sit down," he said commandingly. "Do you feel faint?"
"I'm not!" Indignation sent the color flying back to Rosemary's cheeks. "I'm never faint."
But to her disgust, she began to tremble uncontrollably. She shook from head to foot and her lips were blue.
"I was afraid!" she whispered. "So afraid—" and then she could have bitten her tongue.
Sarah and Shirley were dismayed—never had they seen Rosemary like this. They crept close to her and she leaned her head against Sarah, closing her eyes. All the horror of the dizzy climb and descent pressed in upon her, tenfold stronger.
Warren's quick eyes went from face to face. All three were white and strained. Plainly something had happened. Sarah and Shirley had torn their dresses and there were great dust and oil stains on Rosemary's white skirt.
Warren wheeled and looked back. The windmill door swung slowly in the breeze.
"Rosemary!" he spoke so sharply that she jumped. "Rosemary, have you been in the windmill? Have you been hurt?"
SOMETHING TO REMEMBER
Warren stood a moment in indecision. Rosemary's pallor frightened him and she was evidently concealing something. Sarah and Shirley glanced at him hostilely as though, he thought resentfully, he was in some way to blame.
He turned on his heel and ran over to the mill, shutting the door with a resounding slam. In a trice he had snapped the padlock and had come back to the three girls huddled under the tree.
And then a cheerful whistle sounded and down the lane came the one person Rosemary least desired to see at that moment—Doctor Hugh.
"Got through early!" he called, vaulting the fence and striding toward them. "Why, Rosemary! What's wrong?"
Rosemary made a desperate effort to recover her self-control. She managed a shaky smile, but she did not dare try to stand.
"Perhaps you can find out," said Warren grimly. "I found her like this a few minutes ago and Shirley and Sarah looking as though they'd seen a ghost; and not a word will any of 'em say."
Very coolly, very quietly, very firmly, Doctor Hugh lifted Sarah aside and took her place beside Rosemary on the crate. He rested the tips of his fingers for a moment on the slender wrist nearest him. Then—
"What frightened you. Rosemary?" he asked evenly.
The touch of his skilled fingers seemed to slow down her hammering pulse. Rosemary's troubled gaze swept the circle of faces surrounding her, Sarah's and Shirley's expressive of their anxiety lest she be "sick," Warren's baffled and worried, and came back to the steady, understanding dark eyes behind the doctor's glasses. In that moment Hugh became a tower of refuge to her and she suddenly knew what she would do.
"I don't know what made me act like this," she apologized, a little tinge of color creeping into her white face. "I'm sorry, because I am afraid I have made you think it is worse than it is."
She stopped and looked at Sarah who stared at her in a puzzled way.
"You won't want me to tell, Sarah dear," went on Rosemary, still calmly, "but this time I think I'd better; because—well, because if there should be a next time and you should hurt yourself, I should be to blame. Besides, there is Shirley."
Warren drew a deep breath and Doctor Hugh sent a look toward Sarah that made that young person decidedly uncomfortable though she pretended to be absorbed in the antics of a beetle and sat down, cross-legged, to consider it.
"Then it was the windmill?" asked Warren.
"Yes, it was the windmill," nodded Rosemary, putting her arm around Shirley who was beginning to feel that her adored older sister had for once deserted her.
And then she told them, graphically and in detail, how she had found the two children on the platform and of the climbs she had made to bring them down safely.
"That part wasn't so bad, really it wasn't," she explained earnestly. "Though when Sarah's foot slipped—"
Warren looked at Doctor Hugh.
"But I keep thinking of that awful platform!" cried Rosemary, hiding her face against her brother's shoulder and tightening her arm about Shirley. "Every time I close my eyes I can see them there—and it is such a narrow space and they could have fallen off so easily—"
"Stop!" said Doctor Hugh sternly. "Stop that at once, Rosemary. You are letting your imagination run away with you. Closing your eyes and thinking what might have happened, will not do at all. You'll get the better of your nerves, if you try. Don't think what has happened and, above all, don't talk about it. Tag around after Warren and Rich to-day and keep so busy you haven't time to think—you'll find the worst is over now that you have told us."
Rosemary lifted her head. She was quite herself, her blue eyes told Warren. Under her arm, Shirley peeped uncertainly at her brother.
"Come around here where I can see you, Shirley," he commanded.
She obeyed disconsolately.
"You were there when Warren said that you must not go in the windmill, weren't you?" said Doctor Hugh. "And now you see what happens when you disobey him. I understand that Sarah suggested this disobedience, but that doesn't excuse you, Shirley; there have been plenty of times when you have refused to do as Sarah asked you to. You didn't have to be naughty because she was, did you?"
Shirley shook her head.
"I know you're sorry," her brother went on. "Then tell Warren so—and next time, Shirley, have a mind and will of your own when you are asked to do something you know is wrong."
Warren accepted Shirley's apology gravely and then made a suggestion.
"I'm going over to the mill with the heavy wagon," he said, "and if you want to come along, I'll take you. I'll harness up now and let the team stand till after dinner."
Sarah scrambled to her feet with the evident intention of including herself in the invitation.
"Run along, Rosemary," directed Doctor Hugh, "and take Shirley with you. But I want to talk to you, Sarah."
Rosemary glanced back as she walked away with Warren.
"Poor Sarah!" she said. "I'm so sorry and I know Hugh is going to scold. But oh, Warren, I think I did right."
"Sure," agreed Warren tersely. He had been more shaken by her recital than he cared to admit.
"I couldn't have given Sarah away like that, if it hadn't been for Shirley," said Rosemary, her eyes now on the infinitely dear little figure dancing ahead. "Sarah asked me not to tell and I said I wouldn't—and I never have before. Once she lost Aunt Trudy's ring and we all got in an awful mess, but we wouldn't tell. Hugh said then it was wrong and not being truly kind to Sarah.
"I didn't see it that way—then," confessed Rosemary. "But to-day—well, to-day, Sarah frightened me so! And I thought that if I kept still and said nothing, next time she might hurt herself or Shirley—when she makes up her mind, she can persuade Shirley to do anything. And Sarah goes a little bit further every time, unless she is stopped."
"If you are fretting about whether you did the right thing or not, forget it," Warren advised her seriously. "In the first place, your brother would have had the truth from you in five minutes and in the second place shielding Sarah when she is in a fair way to break her neck unless someone interferes, isn't far from wicked, to my way of thinking."
"But she trusts me," urged Rosemary. "Suppose I have lost her confidence?"
"You haven't," said Warren with conviction. "More likely, you've gained her respect."
Sarah was never to forget the talk with Doctor Hugh that morning. He sat down beside her on the grass and gravely and kindly, without raising his voice or threatening punishment, made her see what she had done.
"You were angry at me and you wanted to do something to 'get even,' Sarah," he began. "And to satisfy that miserable little desire to get even, you would have let serious injury, perhaps worse, come to Shirley and Rosemary—Shirley who would follow you anywhere and Rosemary who loves you so much she would dare anything for you."
Ignoring her tears and protests, he spoke to her of the responsibility of an older sister for a younger one and explained the far-reaching consequences of temper and disobedience.
"You have frightened Rosemary and you have disappointed me," he said sadly. "We both thought that head-strong and willful and reckless as you are, you would always take care of Shirley. How can we ever trust her to you again?"
"I didn't think she would get hurt," wept Sarah. "I do take care of her."
"My dear little sister—" Doctor Hugh took her in his arms and the stolid Sarah clung to him crying as though her heart would break. "My dear, dear little sister, it is because I want you to always think first, before you do something wrong, that I am talking to you like this. Shirley admires you—when you do the right thing, she will try to imitate you even more readily than when you do wrong. You are constantly setting her an example."
He let her cry a little while and then supplied her with his clean pocket handkerchief. With her flushed face pressed against his coat, Sarah listened while he explained gently the old, old lessons and laws that govern us all.
"Remember this, Sarah," he concluded earnestly, "you may think, when you do wrong, that you will take all the punishment yourself, but you can not; no one can bear the consequences of a misdeed wholly alone. Every time you do wrong you hurt someone else, two or three others, perhaps, and usually those who love you most."
Sarah was only nine years old, but she understood. Doctor Hugh had a faculty for making people understand him. He slipped his hand under Sarah's chin now and lifted the little brown face till the shamed dark eyes met his.
"Am I to trust you again, Sarah?" he asked gravely.
The little brown face grew vivid, resolution and love contending for possession of the dark eyes.
"I will be just as good!" promised Sarah. "Truly I will, Hugh."
And they sealed the compact with a kiss.
"Keep away from that coffee pot!" said Warren for the sixth time in as many minutes.
Rosemary laughed and pulled Shirley back from the fire.
After twice fixing a day for the picnic, only to have Doctor Hugh summoned by telephone and obliged to remain away till early evening, the suggestion of a picnic supper had been suggested and accepted.
"A good idea, I call it," Winnie had approved. "We won't have to start till around four o'clock and by that time Hughie ought to have a couple of hours off, anyway. I'm not crazy about eating outdoors, but if a body can have something hot, it isn't so bad as it might be."
Warren and Richard had promised to build the fire and make the coffee—they assured Winnie that even she would praise their brew—and Doctor Hugh had insisted on the "hot dogs" without which no properly conducted supper—so he said—could be arranged. He was sharpening a stick to serve Sarah as a toaster now.
Winnie's hospitable soul rejoiced in the groups gathered about the glowing fire, built on an improvised stone hearth between two tree stumps. Winnie had put her best efforts into the food and she liked to be assured that the quantity, as well as the quality, would be appreciated.
They were all there—the six from the Willis household, Mr. and Mrs. Hildreth, Richard and Warren; and the six Gays with roly-poly little Mrs. Robinson and her husband who had come up to introduce his wife to the farm and leave her there while he finished "the season" on the road. Mrs. Willis had been delighted to have this opportunity to meet the people who were to live with the Gay children and who would, she reasoned, have more or less influence over them. Mrs. Robinson had been three days at the farm and already she had won the friendship of Louisa and Alec, not an easy matter to bring about. The younger children were devoted to her and it was apparent that the motherless household unconsciously welcomed her wealth of tact and wisdom and sympathy.
"They need you so," said Mrs. Willis when she had a chance to speak confidentially to the wife of the circus agent.
"Not more than I need them," responded Mrs. Robinson. "They have no mother and I have no children."
And if the payment of the quarter's rent in advance had "turned the luck," as Alec insisted, it was the coming of Mrs. Robinson that turned the Gays back to normal, happy living.
Rosemary had stipulated that the "grown-ups" were to visit and leave the preparation of the supper to the children. Most of the preparation was confined to setting the table—on a flat rock—and to boiling the coffee and toasting the meat. Richard and Warren were in charge of the fire and Louisa and Rosemary undertook to set out the eatables, while Alec carried fresh water from the spring, fished out ants from the milk pitcher and endeavored to keep the younger fry from tasting everything left unguarded.
Sarah's insistence on toasting her own "hot dog" led to a general clamor for sticks and Doctor Hugh obligingly whittled a dozen wands. taking care to make them long as a precaution against a too eager approach to the fire.
The table looked very pretty when Rosemary summoned them, for a bouquet was in the center and tiny wreaths of flowers circled the paper dishes. Warren's coffee was pronounced delicious and Winnie received so many compliments on her stuffed eggs and the potato salad that she told Mrs. Hildreth it would serve her right if the cake should turn out to be soggy.
"Then," declared Mrs. Hildreth neatly, "I should know it was no cake of your baking!"
But one distressing incident interrupted the serene progress of that wonderful supper—when the paper cup of ants and bugs and beetles and flies that Sarah had captured before sitting down, upset directly into her saucer of home-made ice cream. Even that catastrophe could not mar the general enjoyment, though Sarah retired to fish out the bugs carefully by hand with the forlorn hope of "drying them off and saving them."
When the supper was over and everything cleared away, Warren built up the fire again and they gathered around it. The day had been warm but a slight chill was in the air—the early touch of fall.
"It doesn't seem as though we were going home to-morrow," remarked Rosemary pensively. "And school opens next week."
"The summer has gone so swiftly," said Mrs. Willis. "I can scarcely realize that this is September. The Hammonds have started—Hugh had a letter yesterday."
"I think it's been a long summer," declared Sarah, trying to hide a yawn.
"Well, I'm glad it's over," said Louisa bluntly.
Then the baby June was discovered asleep in Alec's lap and Mrs. Robinson offered to take her back to the house and put her to bed. Louisa decreed that bed-time had arrived for the other Gays and they all turned homeward, promising to say good by to the Willises in the morning.
"And remember you've promised to bring Rosemary out to see us this winter, Doctor Willis," Louisa reminded him.
"You come along, Sarah, and see the new tricks I've taught your pig," said Mr. Robinson with the kindest intention in the world.
Sarah made no reply. She had never voluntarily mentioned Bony since the morning she had watched him driven off the farm and gradually her mother and sisters had forgotten him. Not so Sarah. She never forgot but nothing ever induced her to go and see the pig though she had plenty of opportunities later, had she so desired.
The twilight shut down and Warren added more fuel to the fire. Shirley pressed close to her mother, hoping to hide the fact that she, too, was getting sleepy.
"I don't think it was a long summer," she chirped, "I would like more summer to get herbs in; Mr. Fiddlestrings likes us to get them for him."
"You don't call him that, do you?" asked Rosemary, shocked.
"Everyone does," retorted Shirley. "Only they say 'Old Fiddlestrings' and we don't—do we, Sarah?"
"He has a stuffed snake," said Sarah who seldom troubled herself to answer questions that failed to directly interest her. "Rich, you said you'd show me how to stuff a snake and you never did."
"Well, I never got around to it," Richard apologized. "I'm one who found the summer too short."
Mr. Hildreth grunted.
"Guess you don't need a stuffed snake, Sarah," he said humorously. "A stuffed chicken seemed to be too much for your family."
Sarah looked disgusted, while the others laughed at the recollection of that chicken. Sarah, a few weeks before, had found a dead chicken under the carriage house and had decided it to be a Heaven-sent opportunity to practise her theories of taxidermy. She had stuffed the carcass with a variety of available materials—grass and hay and pebbles, mixed with small sticks and cakes of mud—and, her task completed, had hidden the treasure in a cupboard in the pantry. For some reason she deemed the sympathy of her family doubtful and she made no mention of the experiment to anyone.
It was not long before Winnie complained of an unpleasant odor in her always thoroughly aired pantry. She stood it for one day, grumbling. The second day she began to talk about "country plumbing" and the third morning she started in to scrub and scour and disinfect vigorously. Her activities led her to the dark corner where Sarah had stowed her chicken and the subsequent interview was brief and to the point. Sarah buried the unfortunate fowl, using the cake turner which she was later to bury also on command of Winnie, and this, to date, had been her sole experience with "stuffing" anything.
Rosemary leaned forward, smiling at the fire.
"What are you thinking of, Rosemary?" asked her brother, dexterously shifting Sarah's position so that she could not kick the fire with her shoes—a feat she was anxious to accomplish.
"Oh, ever so many things," said Rosemary. "About Louisa and Alec and the circus. And the poor farm, too."
Warren was watching the fire closely, too.
"I drove past the poor farm the other day," he said slowly, "and the lawns have all been ploughed up and seeded. There's no place now for the folks to sit, except on the back porch. Not till the new grass has a good start."
"I don't see why Sarah is always planning a farm for animals," Rosemary declared a little passionately. "If I ever have a farm it is going to be a home for people who haven't any other home. People like the Gays and old men and women who have no one to take care of them."
"I'll have a poor farm, too," cried Sarah, wide awake in an instant. "I never thought of that. I'll have a place for sick animals, too, but I'll have a real poor farm for old horses and cows and pigs and things—when they're too old to work, like old Belle."
Warren and Richard laughed and Doctor Hugh patted his small sister's energetic dark head.
"I wish you and Rosemary could do all you plan," he said with a half sigh. "There's room enough for that help and more."
Mrs. Hildreth, her busy hands for once idle, stared at the blazing fire. She had told her husband earlier in the day that she hardly knew how to behave at a picnic, it had been so long since she had allowed herself such a frivolous pleasure.
She sat now, between Winnie and Mrs. Willis, tense and upright, unable to relax, but resting nevertheless.
"It's been a nice summer," she said slowly. "I don't know when I've had time go so fast. Young people in the house and outside do brighten things up amazingly. And Warren and Rich have made me so little trouble—I never knew two boys who needed less waiting on; yes, I've had a nice summer. I can say that."
Warren's tanned face flushed a little and Richard stirred uneasily. Both recalled moments of impatience, fortunately suppressed, and remembered small kindnesses they might have easily performed. Poor Mrs. Hildreth, so utterly unable to take life easily, was something of a taskmaster like her husband. She prided herself on asking no more of anyone than she was willing to do herself and the result was nerves strung up to concert pitch and a volume of work turned out that was the wonder of a neighborhood famed for its industry. Warren and Richard felt guiltily that they might have made more positive contributions to her "nice summer," but they were thankful for the little they had done to lighten the good woman's labors.
"How about you, Mother?" said Doctor Hugh mischievously.
"I? Oh, I have learned to love Rainbow Hill," was Mrs. Willis' response. "I could ask no more of any summer than these weeks have given me—love and happiness and health. And to-morrow we're going home!"
Rosemary smiled across the fire at her mother. She, too, liked to think of going home.
"I only hope the smell of the paint will be out of the house," remarked Winnie who could never, under any circumstances, be accused of being sentimentally inclined.
"And the gas stove," went on Winnie dreamily. "If that Greggs has been mixing messes on it and dropping his glue on the enamel, I'll give him a piece of my mind. I left that kitchen like wax and it's my hope to find it like that, but I have my doubts."
Doctor Hugh laughed and put back a brand that slipped from the glowing embers.
"Ah, Winnie, you know you can hardly wait to get to the straightening up part," he accused her. "You're already turning the rooms inside out in your mind's eye for a grand cleaning. I had thought of getting someone to come in and have it all in order for you and then I was afraid you might not like it so I changed my mind."
"Hughie, if a strange person lays hand on a thing in that house," began Winnie solemnly and then she stopped as she saw the smiling face.
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself to be teasing me," she scolded.
"Shirley's asleep and so is Winnie," said Doctor Hugh suddenly.
"I am not!" protested Shirley indignantly as usual.
"Eh?" Winnie jerked her eyes open with a start. "For mercy's sake, do we have to stay out here all night?" she demanded crossly. "I can stand a picnic supper, if I have to, but it's no picnic for me to have to sleep out on damp grass."
Doctor Hugh laughingly declared that after that gentle hint there was nothing to do but go in. He helped the boys cover the fire and stamp out every vestige of an ember and then led the way to the house, carrying Shirley and leading Sarah who pretended to be very wide-awake but whose feet lagged unaccountably.
"I declare, I can't get used to having no dinner dishes to wash," said Winnie when they had reached the porch. "I'm going in now and see if I left the kitchen in good order."
She disappeared and Mrs. Willis took Shirley and Sarah up to bed, while Doctor Hugh snapped on the reading light.
"I want to look over the paper," he said comfortably. "Don't go, Warren—it's early yet, Rich."
Rosemary found her favorite low rocker and the boys chose the swing.
"We'll miss this," said Warren slowly.
"Yes, we haven't any swing at Ag State," declared Richard with a grin.
"You know what I mean, well enough," retorted Warren. "Confabs, music—being inside a home."
Richard was silent. He knew.
"Mother says she asked you to write to her," broke in Rosemary. "She says we'll never forget this dear little house at Rainbow Hill and the friends we've made this summer."
"Have you found your pot of gold, Rosemary?" asked Richard, watching the light which threw the outline of the girl's pretty head into relief.
Rosemary laughed a little. Early in the summer Mrs. Hildreth had explained that the name "Rainbow Hill" had been given the farm by Mrs. Hammond because the first time she had seen the house its roof had been spanned by a beautiful rainbow. The Willis girls had waited hopefully two months for a glimpse of a rainbow, but none had been vouchsafed them. Sarah, for one, believed the rainbow to be as mythical as the pot of gold Mrs. Hildreth had told her was always to be found at its end.
"I don't believe I've found any pot of gold," said Rosemary wistfully.
"Oh, yes, you have," contradicted Warren. "Look at the Gays—you helped them find their pot of gold; look at Miss Clinton—you gave her many happy hours; look at Mrs. Hildreth—she says she never knew a summer to go so quickly and it's all because she has had someone cheerful to talk to her. Look at Rich and me—"
"Oh, Warren!" Rosemary protested. "Sarah did more for the Gays than ever I did. And Mother and Winnie talked to Mrs. Hildreth. I haven't done anything."
"It's your pure joyousness, I think," went on Warren as though he had not heard her. "I don't believe enough people are simply happy in this world. That's your pot of gold, Rosemary—happiness. And you share it with everyone you meet. It makes a fellow feel—well, as though he were standing on a mountain top in the morning, just to look at you."
"Oh!" said Rosemary softly, astonished at quiet Warren and yet oddly pleased, too. "Oh!"
"You're even glad to go back to school, aren't you, Rosemary?" asked Richard with a half unconscious sigh. Going back to school for him, and for Warren, meant much hard work and more anxiety.
The dreamy light went out of the girl's eyes. Her lovely, vivid face glowed with characteristic enthusiasm. It might be said of Rosemary that no future was ever else than rosy to her ardent gaze.
"Of course I'll be glad!" she answered eagerly. "It will be my last year in grammar school, you know. And it's sure to be exciting—in spots. Besides I just love going ahead!"
Across his lowered paper, Doctor Hugh smiled at the two boys in the swing.
"And that," he said whimsically, "explains why Rosemary is Rosemary."