"That's certainly a sure thing, isn't it?" said he.
"No question of it, I think."
"Are you satisfied?"
"Perfectly. I haven't seen very much of Fred since he—and we—grew up, but if he's his father's son——"
"He is, I think," said Doctor Churchill, confidently. "And the doctor likes it, I'm sure. There's satisfaction in his face whenever he looks at them. In fact, I can't help thinking he planned both the house party and this trip with a view of bringing them together all he could."
"Dear Celia—if she's just half as happy as she deserves to be——"
"She will be. She loves to travel, hasn't had half enough of it, and he'll take her round the world. I haven't had a chance to tell you that he's going to India in the fall, in some important capacity. He received the appointment just yesterday."
"Really?" Charlotte looked thoughtful. "Celia—in India! Andy——"
"Does that startle you? I don't imagine it's for any long stay, but as a matter of some scientific investigations. Here, don't go to looking sober. I shall be sorry I told you."
Charlotte smiled and answered brightly that it was not a thing to look sober over. Nevertheless, her thoughts were much with her sister. The next morning, as the party found their places on the little steamer which was to take them down the river to Mount Vernon, she found herself watching Celia more closely than she had meant to do, in the anxiety to discover if the trip to India was really imminent.
"Isn't Mount Vernon a fascinating spot?" asked Evelyn, as she and Jeff walked up the long, ascending road from pier to house together. "I've never forgotten my first visit. I lived in Washington's times in my dreams for weeks afterward. I never saw it at this season of the year. The garden must be in its prime now."
"Let's go and see it first," responded Jeff, quickly. "I don't remember much about it. My two visits here have all been spent in the house."
So while the others rambled through the quaint and interesting rooms, Jeff and Evelyn made their way to the box-bordered paths of Lady Washington's garden, and wandered about there in the warm June sunshine. It grew so hot after a while that they betook themselves to the lawn and banks overlooking the river, and sat there talking, as they watched the waters of the Potomac.
"What are you going to do when you get home?" asked Jeff, somewhat suddenly.
"Put our rooms in order," Evelyn responded, promptly.
"All by yourself?"
"We live in the same house with a lovely little woman, the wife of a former Confederate general. I shall be with her until Thorne comes."
"I suppose you've lots of friends of your own age?" Jeff observed.
"Not as many as I ought to have. You see, I've lived very quietly with my brother for six years now, except for the time I spent at a girls' school in Baltimore. Since I came home from there I've not been very strong, and Thorne has kept me very quiet, until he sent me North to school last fall."
"You're so well now you'll be going about a lot. Any young people in the house with you? It's a boarding-house, isn't it?"
"Yes, a small one. There are no young people in it except Mrs. Livingstone's son."
"How old a fellow?"
"Twenty-one, I believe."
"I suppose you're great friends with him?" said Jeff suspiciously.
Evelyn looked at him quickly and laughed, flushing a little. "Why, we're naturally very good friends," she said.
"Evelyn," said Jeff, sitting up straight again, "I'm absolutely bursting to tell you some news, and I can't seem to lead up to it. I've got to bring it out flat. The only thing I'm anxious about is whether it's going to be as good news to you as it is to me."
She looked at him with a quickening of her pulses, his expression had become so very eager. "Please don't keep me in suspense," she begged.
"Well"—Jeff did his best to speak coolly, as if the matter were really of no great importance, after all—"you know it's been a question with me all along as to just what I was going to do when I got out of college. I wanted tremendously to get to work, and a lot of the usual things didn't seem to appeal to me at all. I haven't enough of a scientific turn to go into any of the engineering courses. I didn't care for a mercantile berth. In fact, while my brother Lanse has had his future cut out for him since he was fourteen, and Just, at sixteen, is body and soul in for electrical engineering, I've been the family problem. Father's had the sense not to assert his wishes for a moment. He saw from the start, I suppose, that the family traditions were not for me—I could never begin by studying law and end by wearing the ermine, as a lot of my grandfathers and uncles have done. So—"
Jeff paused and drew a long breath. He had been looking off down the river as he talked, but now he brought his eyes back to Evelyn's face, and his spirits leaped exultantly as he saw with what eager attention she was listening.
"You really care to hear all this, don't you?" he asked, happily, and went on before she could do more than nod. "Well, the short of it is that through Doctor Forester I got to know a friend of his who is a railroad magnate—the real thing—and to please the doctor he seemed to take an interest in me. He's offered me a position in one of his offices, provided I take a year to study practical railroading first. Of course I'm only too glad to do that. And now I'm coming to the point of the whole thing. When my year is up, that office where I'm to begin to work up in the railroad business is"—he paused dramatically, watching his hearer's face, as his own, in spite of himself, broke into a smile—"in your own city, Evelyn Lee!"
If he had had any lingering doubt that this might not be as good news to Evelyn as he wanted it to be, his fears were put to rout.
"O Jeff!" she said, quite breathlessly, and the happy colour surged into her face. "Why, that's almost too good to be true!"
"Is it? You're a trump for saying so. Jupiter! I feel like standing up and shouting. The thing has been sure since that afternoon I went to Weston, but I didn't mean to tell you of it in this crazy boy fashion, but write it to you quite calmly after you got home. But—it wouldn't keep."
"I shouldn't think it would. Besides, it's so much nicer to hear it now, when it makes it——"
She stopped abruptly, and jumped up. Jeff leaped to his feet also.
"Makes it—what?" he asked, eagerly.
"Why—it's such a pleasant place to hear good news in."
"That wasn't what you were going to say."
"We ought to go back to the house." She began to move slowly away. Jeff followed.
"I'd like to hear the end of that sentence," he urged, as they walked up the grassy slope to the house in the clear sunlight.
She laughed a little, but shook her head. She was looking very sweet in her brown travelling dress, her russet hair shaded by a wide brown hat with captivating curving outlines. Jeff looked at her dainty profile and realised that the hour for separation was coming fast.
"Anyhow, I know what I wish you were going to say,"—he was striding close by her side—"and I can certainly say it if you can't. Telling you that I'm coming to work near you next year makes it easier for me to say good-by now. And that's—well—that's going to be a bit tough."
Evelyn walked on a few steps in silence. Then she turned and spoke softly over her shoulder. There was not a touch of coquetry in her simple manner, yet it had an engaging quality all its own.
"That's what I wanted to say, Jeff."
"Thank you," he responded. "I'll not forget that," and his tone told that he appreciated the little concession.
It seemed but the briefest possible space of time before they had gone over the house, had been hurried back to the landing by emphatic toots from the small excursion steamer, and were off for the city again. The trip back up the river was finished also before it seemed hardly begun. All too soon for anybody the three young travellers were on their train, and Doctor Churchill and Fred Forester had taken leave of them and were out on the platform, ready to jump off. Jeff had lingered till the last.
"Good-by, Lucy! Good-by, Ran!" he said, and gave each a hearty grip and smile. Then his hand clasped Evelyn's, his eyes said things his lips would not have ventured to speak, and his hand wrung hers with a fervour which made it sting. Then he went away without a backward look, as if he must get the parting quickly over.
Outside the train, however, he turned with the others, and as the train rolled slowly out of the station, and Evelyn strained her eyes to see the group of her friends waving affectionately to her from the platform, the last face upon which her gaze rested wore the strong, loyal, eloquent look of Jefferson Birch.
* * * * *
"Home again," said Andrew Churchill, as he set his latch-key in the door of the brick house four days later. "Fieldsy must be away, or she would have answered."
They hurried through the house. It was in absolute order, but empty. On the office desk was a note in the housekeeper's awkward hand:
"If you should come to-night, I've had to go to take care of a sick woman, will be back in the morning, you will find everything cooked up."
Doctor Churchill read it with a laugh. "Charlotte, we're actually alone in our own house. Let's run over to the other house and embrace them all round, and then come back and see how it feels over here."
So they went across the lawn.
"We shall be delighted to have you stay with us, my dears," said Mrs. Birch, after the greetings.
"Mother Birch," said her son-in-law, with air affectionate hand on her shoulder, "not even you can charm us out of our own house to-night. Do you know that we're all alone—that not even Fieldsy is over there? Charlotte's going to get dinner, and I'm to help her with the clearing up, and then we're going to sit on our porch. Of course we shall be constantly looking down the street for a messenger boy with a telegram announcing the coming of our next guest, but until he comes—"
Everybody laughed at the expressive breath he drew.
"Go, you dear children," said Mrs. Birch, and the rest joined in warmly.
"I'll sit on our doorstone with a rifle, and pick off the visitors as they come up the street!" cried Just, as the two went off.
"Don't shoot to kill!" Doctor Churchill called back, gaily. Then the door closed on the pair.
When the happy little dinner was over, the dishes put away, and Charlotte had slipped on a cool frock in which to spend the warm summer evening, she went out to find her husband lying comfortably in the hammock behind the vines, his hands clasped under his head. The twilight was just slipping into evening, and the breath of unseen roses was sweet upon the shadows.
Charlotte drew a chair close to her husband's side and sat down.
"After all, Andy," said she, as they fell to talking of the past year, "I wouldn't have had it different. One thing is certain—out of our three guests we entertained at least one angel unawares."
"Yes, and I like to think that perhaps the others are none the worse for staying with us," Andrew Churchill answered, thoughtfully. "I'm glad we did it, glad it's over, and shall be glad to have other people come to see us—by and by. But—I want a good long honeymoon first. Is that your mind?"
"Yes," she answered fervently, smiling.