an ebook published by Project Gutenberg Australia
Title: Doris Of Dobbs Ferry
Author: Carolyn Wells
eBook No.: 2300401h.html
Date first posted: 2023
Most recent update: 2023
This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore
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Chapter 1. - Doris Ballard
Chapter 2. - Doris Is Expected
Chapter 3. - Doris Arrives
Chapter 4. - Doris Takes Command
Chapter 5. - Doris Removes The Bay
Chapter 6. - Doris Hears Stories
Chapter 7. - Doris Has A Guest
Chapter 8. - Doris’ Strange Experience
Chapter 9. - Doris And Miss Luella
Chapter 10. - Doris And Abby Rackham
Chapter 11. - Doris’ New Mystery
Chapter 12. - Doris And Len Hawkins
Chapter 13. - Doris and Looly
Chapter 14. - Doris And The French Soldier
Chapter 15. - Doris Plays Cook
Chapter 16. - Doris And The Poet
Chapter 17. - Doris And The Family Plate
Chapter 18. - Doris On The Trail
Chapter 19. - Doris’ Discovery
Chapter 20. - Doris Repeats Her Words
When Spring comes laughing o’er vale and hill, she never wears a brighter or more contagious smile than when she dances along the valley of the Hudson. And always she casts an especially tender glance at a certain loved spot in the town of Dobbs Ferry.
From the time long ago, when in ancient annals this tract of American soil was designated as “one full lott of woodland lying on and scituate within” the estate of Phillipse Manor, until the present, when eager motorists pause to read its descriptive tablet, the old house, serene in its dignity and happy in its hallowed memories, has graciously accepted the greeting of the Spring more than two hundred and thirty times.
Now, when Spring comes laughing o’er vale and hill, she is no respecter of persons, nor yet, of times or circumstances; and so, on the day of old Abel Hilton’s burial, she laughed her brightest and tossed her pink and white apple-blossoms about in gayest mood.
Owing to early rains, the grass and trees were of that ecstatic green that flashes in the sunlight, and the cloud-puffed sky stretched itself across the Hudson in a very revelry of blue and gold.
To Spring,—the careless beauty,—everything seemed as usual, and she nodded blithely to her old friend, the house, and passed on her riotous, blossomy way.
But within the doors of that historic dwelling, in the rooms made memorable by brave associations and events of vital importance, a strange conclave was being held.
The will of the late Abel Hilton was being read by his lawyer, and the listeners sat breathless at its astounding revelations.
In the southernmost of the two great front rooms the little assembly was gathered; most of them strangers to one another, and all of them gazing curiously about at the old, worn furnishings and casting furtive glances at their companions.
For Abel Hilton, since the death of his wife many years before, had been a recluse; he had not encouraged visits from his relatives, and had had no voluntary dealings with them. Indeed, some of them said that he was more than eccentric; if not actually unbalanced mentally, he was, at least, a little queer. But the foundation for this opinion lay largely in their own disappointment and chagrin at not being made welcome to the home of their kinsman, and now, as many as could possibly arrange to do so, had flocked to his funeral.
The burial rites were over, and the worldly possessions which Abel Hilton had set his heart upon were to be apportioned in accordance with his last will and testament, duly attested and legalised, and in the hands of Lawyer Stanchley.
As the tall, grave-faced man rose to read the document, a stir of excited anticipation rustled through the room. His audience numbered about twenty, eighteen of whom were the visiting relatives or connections of the testator. The other two, an elderly couple, though seated modestly in the background, showed an unmistakable air of importance, and took little or no notice of the others.
These two were the old servants of Mr. Hilton. Jethro Judd and his wife Molly had been the caretakers and houseworkers of Abel Hilton for a quarter of a century, and by virtue of long residence in the old house, they felt themselves superior to those who were merely his kin.
By reason of her extremely serious visage and utter lack of a sense of humour, Mrs. Judd had earned for herself the sobriquet of Solemn Molly, and deeming the present occasion no time for any extra effort at lightness, her worn, wrinkled face took on an added shade of sombreness. Her husband, however, being naturally alert and receptive, sat with his bright, age-sunken eyes darting from one strange face to another and shrewdly appreciating the character and disposition of the anxious would-be heirs.
He peered thoughtfully over his spectacles at one tearful woman, in widow’s weeds; he sniffed scornfully at a burly, red-faced man who tapped a nervous tattoo with his foot in an effort to control his impatience; and he shook his head disapprovingly at a modishly attired woman who continually adjusted her long jet earrings and fussed with her wrist-watch.
But when at last the astonishing conditions of the will were set before them, when despite the legal verbiage and unfamiliar terms, they understood Abel Hilton’s intent, when the incredible truth was definitely stated in unmistakable terms by the grave-faced lawyer, then the listening audience poured forth vials of spoken wrath.
Like a Babel of various tongues, the exclamations and execrations rose in an ever increasing chorus, and refused to be silenced.
“Ridiculous!” they cried, “preposterous! It wouldn’t stand in a court of law!”
“Just like the old man!” “He was out of his mind—” “Undue influence—” “Of course we won’t have that!” and similar more or less denunciatory opinions were volubly expressed and reiterated.
Patiently Hugh Stanchley explained and insisted that the strange will was in every respect legal and binding; that it was his part to see that its decree was carried out and that he fully intended to do so.
Beside the lawyer only two people present were indifferent to the peculiarity of the will. These were Jethro Judd and Solemn Molly. And their serenity was due to the fact that the main issue in no way affected their fortunes. To them their late master had left a generous income from a trust fund held by the lawyer. So long as they remained in service in the house, so long would this steady income be theirs. More than content to stay in the house, irrespective of who its new owner might be, the Judds listened in a respectful silence to the eccentric disposition of the valuable and historic estate.
And this is what Abel Hilton in his mischievous, misanthropic old brain had conceived for the confusion and consternation of his legal heirs; merely that the inheritor of the whole estate should be selected by lot.
There were twenty-eight human beings, his will stated, who had claims as his heirs. These twenty-eight names, he ordered, should be written on separate cards, and, in the presence of such of them as attended his funeral services, should be dropped into a hat. Then, it was further decreed, while Hugh Stanchley held this hat, Mrs. Molly Judd, the faithful housekeeper, should draw forth one card. And the individual whose name was on that card, was declared to be the only heir to all that was included in the entire worldly estate of Abel Hilton, deceased.
Mr. Stanchley, in his quiet, decided way, said further, that the cards with the names had been prepared; that all present were asked to examine them and compare them with the list of names in the will. Each one was urged to assure himself that his or her name was duly recorded, and the lawyer himself agreed to make sure of the absentees.
The first flash of angry surprise having passed, the inevitability of the arrangement being impressed upon them and the utter futility of objection being dearly shown, the heirs, some hopefully, some despairingly, and all resentfully, prepared for the ceremony of drawing lots. They scrutinised the small cards, with names written in neat legal script, they examined the hat that was to be used, a new one of Mr. Stanchley’s, and one and all deplored the slim hope represented by one chance in twenty-eight!
“A low-down trick!” declared Leonard Hawkins, the red-faced man whose nervousness had so disturbed old Judd; “Uncle Abel had no right to make fools of us all like this!”
“You won’t call it bein’ made a fool of, if you get the lucky lot,” observed the lady with the jet earrings.
“Not much I won’t, Mrs. Marshall! But you see, I won’t get it. I jest know I won’t. My pesky luck is always to come out at the little end of the horn. Shucks! Only one can get it, an’ twenty-seven of us has got to be disapp’inted. No-sir-ee! The lucky one won’t be yours truly!”
“If you’re so sure of it, give me your chance. I’ll pay you something for it.”
“You’re a cute one!” and Hawkins looked at her in grudging admiration. “You wasn’t born yistiddy, was you? Well, I ain’t sellin’ my chance! It’s mighty little hope, but I ain’t givin’ it up.”
Mrs. Marshall, whose apparel and appearance proclaimed her in well-to-do circumstances, asked several of the prospective heirs to sell her their chances. None, however, was willing to do so, for, though a forlorn hope, each secretly clung to the feeling that he might be the lucky one, and each was already planning what to do with the inheritance.
A gaunt-framed spinster approached Mrs. Marshall. “I heard you,” she said, “and I’ll take you up,—part way, anyhow. How’s this; you’n me to join our chances. If I get it, I’ll go halves with you, —an’ if you get it, you go halves with me.”
It was funny to see how Mrs. Marshall smiled and nodded at the first part of this proposition and how her smile suddenly faded as she realised the logical but unwelcome proviso that followed.
“No, thank you,” she said, coldly, “I don’t believe I care to do that. What is your name? Aren’t you one of the Maine branch?”
“Yes; the Rackhams. I’m Abby Rackham. I teach school, and if I got this house I wouldn’t know what to do with it. Sell it for a hotel, I guess.”
“It would make a good hotel,” began Mrs. Marshall, when a bystander, overhearing, turned on her.
“A hotel! Desecration! This dear old place! If I get it, I shall rebuild it into a lovely modern country-house. I shall have a porte-cochere at the south corner, and a pergola on the lawn.”
“That wouldn’t be right,” said Abby Rackham, her pale blue eyes looking with a mild scorn at the speaker. “Those things aren’t Colonial.”
“I don’t care, everybody has ’em. And I’d throw out more bay windows—”
“Good land!” cried the exasperated Abby, “that bay window that’s there now is a regular eyesore to me! It doesn’t belong. Say, where you from? West?”
“I’m from Ohio, and I’ll thank you to know that I know as much about architecture as some other people.”
“Oh, architecture!” giggled Mrs. Marshall; “everything goes, nowadays. Just because a house is old, it doesn’t have to stay old.”
“That’s so,” rejoined the Ohio lady; “I’ve got two girls that wouldn’t like anything better’n to fix up this old place—”
“Let me do it for you, if you win out,” volunteered a scholarly looking youth, stepping forward. “I’m a fledgling architect and I’d love to restore this place,—if I don’t draw it myself, which of course I won’t.”
“How pessimistic everybody is!” laughed a breezy-mannered girl; “I’ve heard that from every one! ‘I know I won’t get it!’ ‘I’m sure I won’t be the lucky one!’ Now, I’m the other way. I’m positively certain that I’m going to be the first name drawn from that shiny, silk hat of that shiny, silk lawyer’s! Ermyntrude Whiting,—that’s me. And when you hear that name read out in meeting, you’ll know that I was a true prophetess. I’m willing it, you know. Oh, none of the rest of you stand the glimmer of the ghost of the shadow of the shade of a chance! Not for a minute, you don’t! I just concentrate my mind on it,—or, I shall, when that lantern-jawed sourface puts her skinny claw into said hat. Then, you see, she’s influenced by my aura—”
“Your what?” inquired Abby, who was always curious about matters she didn’t understand.
“My aura,—that’s—why, it’s sort of your soul, you know; your invisible soul—”
“Have you a visible soul?”
“Oh, no, of course not. Nobody has! Well, then, if I must own up, I don’t know exactly what an aura is, but I mean, I influence her choice by my will power,—hypnotism, you see, and then—”
“I don’t think that’s fair,” said Abby, with a wide glance of her light blue eyes. “It gives you an advantage over the rest of us.”
“So it does!” laughed Ermyntrude; “so it does. That’s why I’m so sure of getting it,—see!”
Abby turned to Mrs. Marshall. “Since Miss Whiting is so positive,” she said, “why don’t you share your chance with her?”
“I don’t want to share a chance with anybody,” Mrs. Marshall returned, petulantly, “but if Miss Whiting wants to sell out her chance, I’ll buy it. There’s no harm in that.”
“No harm at all,” cried Ermyntrude, gaily, “only I won’t do it. You see, I’m sure of success.” She walked away, and then there was a stir of excitement, as Mr. Stanchley declared himself ready to have the lot drawn.
It was rather an impressive ceremony. Hugh Stanchley, himself an honest lawyer and a good citizen, strongly disapproved of the arrangement his client had insisted on, but his present duty was merely to see to it that the eccentric wish was carefully fulfilled.
The cards, having been minutely examined and many times counted, were counted again, and recorded as they were dropped into the waiting hat. Then, with the air of one who holds in his hands an impending destiny, Stanchley gravely extended the hat toward the stern-faced woman who stood waiting to do her part.
They stood in the middle of the great square room, the eager audience crowding about in an ever-narrowing circle, and those nearest, watching with hawklike gaze the decisive act.
Quietly, the lawyer held the hat; slowly, Solemn Molly stretched forth her hand. For a moment she held her spread fingers motionless above the fateful brim, her lips moved silently, as if invoking a blessing on her deed, and then, unhurriedly, with her eyes closed and her grim face set in an expression of stern duty, she picked one card from among the twenty-eight bits of pasteboard.
She handed it to Mr. Stanchley and stepped back, her part in the drama over.
Without a moment of unnecessary suspense, he read aloud the name on the drawn card:
Doris Ballard, Pine Level, Missouri.
Exclamations of anger and sighs of regret mingled with more philosophical expressions of resignation, and then one and all began to discuss the fortunate heir to the estate.
“Who is she?” many asked, for the name was unknown to most of them.
“Why,” Leonard Hawkins informed them, “she’s old Uncle Abel’s niece. She’s the darter of his brother Joel; Joel died ’long about eighteen-eighty, I sh’d guess. Well, ’n’ then, Doris, she come here to live with Abel, an’—”
“Oh, I remember,” broke in Mrs. Marshall, “I heard the tale years ago,—Doris eloped and Abel cast her off! Well, well, to think she should get it! She oughtn’t to have it! ’Tisn’t justice!”
“Wait a moment,” said Stanchley’s quiet voice; “remember Abel Hilton made out this list of names himself. As the name of Doris Ballard was included, we must rest assured that Mr. Hilton was willing to include her in his list of possible heirs.”
“Yep, that’s so,” agreed Hawkins. “Well, well, it seems like it was yistiddy when I fust heard that Doris had eloped. An’ with that no-count Bob Ballard! And here she is, comin’ back mistress of this hull place! Land o’ goodness, how things does work out!”
“He wasn’t such a no-good,—Ballard wasn’t,” defended another cousin; “he was a visionary feller, an’ hadn’t no knack at makin’ money,—but he was a good sort in his way.”
“Mighty poor way,” Hawkins asserted; “but, laws-ee, he’s been dead ten years or more. No use a-rakin’ up old scores.”
“I thought Doris was dead too,” said Abby Rackham. “ ’Pears to me I heard so.”
“Nope, Abby,” Hawkins corrected her. “I never heard o’ her death, an’ if she’d died, I’d ’a’ knowed. Well, friends, we can make the best of it,—Doris Ballard’s got the old place, and the rest of us is cut off without the customary shillin’.”
“Nothin’ customary about the hull proceedin’ ’s I kin see,” grumbled another old relative. “I don’t like the way things has gone, an’ I’m free to say so.”
“You are certainly free to say so,” agreed Stanchley, “if it mitigates your disappointment. I trust you are all satisfied that your late relative’s wishes have been duly carried out, whatever your personal opinions of the circumstances may be. I shall, in further accordance with my own instructions, notify this Doris Ballard, and arrange for the deeds of the property to be given to her.”
“Lucky woman!” sighed Mrs. Marshall; “does she know about the will?”
“I sent notifications to all the heirs, but I received no return messages from many of them. There was none from Doris Ballard.”
“Maybe she is dead,” suggested Mrs. Marshall.
“No; unless she has died since Abel Hilton conceived this plan of bequest,—and that was only a few months ago.”
“Oh, well, she’s alive then. Now, I propose to stay here over night,—I suppose there’ll be no objection to that?”
“I have none,” said Hugh Stanchley, courteously, and Mrs. Marshall went off upstairs to select her bedroom.
Molly Judd followed her, still solemn of face and mien.
“Take any room you wish, ma’am,” she said, “unless it’s the master’s. His room ain’t really to rights yet.”
“I wouldn’t want that, anyway. I’ve none too much liking for Abel Hilton, and I’d expect his ghost to haunt me.”
“And that would be no wonder,” returned Molly, imperturbably. “This house is said to be haunted, anyway.”
“Ooh! don’t tell me any ghost stories! Give me the brightest, sunniest, cheerfulest room there is, please. And, stay, Molly, tell me; what do you know of this Doris Ballard?”
“Not much, ma’am. She lived here with her uncle, when me and Judd first came, but soon after, she ran away with Mr. Ballard, and then Mr. Hilton, he cast her off, and she never came here again.”
“Mr. Hilton didn’t want her to inherit this place, do you think?”
“I don’t know, ma’am. I think he had a soft spot in his heart for his niece, though he wouldn’t never own up to it. I’m thinkin’—if so be’s he knows what’s goin’ on down here,—I’m thinkin’ maybe he’s well pleased that his niece Doris got it.”
“Perhaps so. It’s a wonderful old place. I think I shall come to see Mrs. Ballard after she gets here and gets settled.”
“Well, ma’am, pretty nearly every one here today has said that same to me. I’m thinkin’ Mrs. Ballard will be fair crowded with company.”
“Indeed! Then, as I seem unwelcome, I shall not come.”
“It’s not for me to say, ma’am.”
Solemn Molly stalked off and Mrs. Marshall sat down by the window to meditate.
And outside in the green trees the birds sang as blithely as if there had been no change in the ownership of those trees; as if there had been no change in the ownership of the house, the old house, whose roof had sheltered the bowed head of George Washington, when he struggled with his great problems, when he called upon his fine mind, his staunch heart and his noble soul to combine in planning the stroke of state that severed the last fetter and freed our land from tyranny.
And the historic house, content with its old dreams and inviolable memories, calmly awaited whatever changes or vicissitudes might come with a new owner.
Solemn Molly was stalking about the house in a conscientious performance of her duty, but with no apparent effect of enjoying it. “Jethro Judd,” she exclaimed to her long-suffering consort, “it does seem to me that for a two-legged he-person, you’ve got the least sprawl of anybody I ever set eyes on!”
“Well, now, Molly, what is it you want as I should do?”
“I want you to set to work and help me redd up this house. If a woman is comin’ here, an’ goin’ to poke her nose into every hole an’ corner, there’s a sight of cleanin’ to be done afore she comes in.”
“ ’Pears to me you’d oughter a kep’ the place tidy all along, then there wouldn’t be sech a heap to do all to once.”
“Oh, bein’ a man, I s’pose you can’t understand. Well, I’ll jest inform you that keepin’ house, as we have, for twenty years, for an old man who didn’t care for anythin’ ’ceptin’ his three square meals a day, an’ turnin’ that same house over to a woman, is two very different matters. Ve-ry dif-fer-ent!”
“Oh, shucks, you’re all flustered up over Doris’ comin’ home. Why, when she was here, ’bout eighteen years ago, she wasn’t such a fusscat ’bout bein’ so everlastin’ tidy, as I remember.”
“Good land, Judd, she wasn’t nothin’ but a girl, then; a harum-scarum ninny that didn’t know enough to go in when it rained! But now, she’s a middle-aged woman, with her life pretty much behind her, and you bet she knows what’s what in the house-keepin’ line. Well, anyway, you get yourself up into them closed-up rooms on the second floor, and begin to haul out the rubbish, so’s we can burn up a lot o’ stuff and give away the rest.”
“Land sake, Molly, how you do pester a man! I will,—I’ll do it,—but gimme time to look around.”
“Yes, you’d look round from the risin’ of the sun till the goin’ down of the same, if you had your way!”
“She was a pretty girl,—Doris was,” mused Judd, reminiscently; “an’ she was mighty fond o’ me. I rec’lect she used to say, ‘Dear old Juddy, can’t I—’”
“Juddy, indeed! An’ a pretty girl! Her with her red hair an’ freckles! Well, I’d ruther be plain an’ do my duty, than to be pretty and run off with a good-for-nothin’ scalawag!”
“You got your wish, Molly,” said her husband, calmly; “you’re sure plain, and Lord knows you do your duty; and I ain’t seen no scalawags urgin’ you to elope with ’em.”
Solemn Molly was quite indifferent to these not very flattering remarks, and suddenly changed the subject by saying, “That Mrs. Marshall is a hifalutin, ain’t she?”
“Yes; I don’t like her,” returned Judd thoughtfully. “She ain’t one to tie to. But I’ll bet she comes to visit Doris.”
“We’re jest goin’ to be overrun with visitors from now on. The relatives couldn’t come when Mr. Hilton was here, seein’ ’s he wouldn’t have ’em, but unless Doris Ballard sets her foot down in the same way, they’re all for flockin’ in and rampoosin’ all over the place.”
“I sorter liked that Whiting girl—”
“Well, I didn’t. Land, Judd, you’d like any young thing who flung a decent word to you! You’re too soft-hearted. I didn’t like the Whiting piece of property, nor I didn’t like the scrawny old maid schoolteacher, nor yet the bossy and bumptious Len Hawkins.”
“Then it’s lucky for you that none of them drew the lucky ticket. Though goodness only knows what we’ll have to put up with in Doris. Maybe she’s got all sorts of stuck-up ways, herself.”
“If she has, I shan’t stay here. We can go off by ourselves, Judd, and live on our savings—”
“And give up all that trust fund money the old man left us? No sir-ee! We’ll stay here, Molly, unless Mrs. Redhead makes it too hot for us.”
“There’s the telephone, Judd! It always gives me such a turn, now that we have to answer it.”
“Sho! Who’s afraid! I’ll go.”
“No,” and Molly ran ahead of him. “You wouldn’t know what to say.”
It proved to be Lawyer Stanchley who called up, and he informed Molly that he had received a telegram from Doris Ballard.
“And it says,” he went on, “that she is—wait, I’ll read it to you: ‘Surprised and delighted at the news. Will start at once. It seems almost like going back home. Expect me in a few days. Letter follows.’ So you see, she isn’t dead, and she is coming at once to take possession. You put the house in order, and I’ll look after all business matters. Nothing further you want to ask me, is there?”
The lawyer was a busy man, and though interested in the developments of the strange will of his late client, he had other and more pressing affairs on his mind.
“No, sir,” replied Molly, “nothing special,—but I do feel all at sea. An’ I’d like some help, for cleanin’ an’ that. There’s a heap to be done.”
“Oh, don’t bother too much. You see, when Mrs. Ballard comes, she’ll be mistress of the place, and she’ll superintend the housekeeping matters herself. If you want advice, call in Mrs. Busby, she’ll help you out. And engage some workers to help you, if you need them. Mrs. Busby will recommend somebody reliable. Good-bye.”
The lawyer hung up the receiver, and Molly Judd looked a shade more solemn than she had before.
“Mis’ Busby!” she muttered, contemptuously; “Busybee Busby! I jest guess I won’t run to her for help! I can’t abide that woman! Always pokin’ into other people’s business. Though, land knows, this Ballard affair seems to be everybody’s business. Anyway, I can manage without old Busybee’s help!”
But less than an hour later, Mrs. Busby appeared at the kitchen door, and smilingly told Molly that Mr. Stanchley had asked her to run over and be neighbourly.
“Come in,” said Molly, with solemn ungraciousness, and she set a chair for the unwelcome guest.
Mrs. Busby was impervious to the lack of cordiality, and indeed, few people had ever seen Molly Judd really cordial. The visitor sat down and gave a look round the kitchen.
“My,” she said, “you haven’t got many up-to-date things, have you?”
“Don’t want them,” snapped Molly, who did want them very much, but had never been able to persuade Abel Hilton of their necessity.
Mrs. Busby laughed. She was a dumpy, good-natured sort of a woman, and she kept a boardinghouse not very far away from the Hilton place. Her sandy hair was in water waves about her broad, low brow, and her sharp, pointed nose, veritably looked as if formed for the purpose of “poking into other people’s business.” Whether she merely lived up to this effect or whether her nose had shaped itself to conform with her habits is not known, but curiosity was her besetting sin and she willingly let it beset her.
“Well, maybe Mrs. Ballard ’ll let you have whatever you want,” the guest observed, not at all deceived by Molly’s assertion; “say, tell me about her. What’s she like?”
“As I haven’t laid eyes on her for more’n eighteen years, I can’t tell you much,” Molly replied, shortly. “They do say she’s dead,” Mrs. Busby went on, folding her handkerchief neatly, and then shaking it out again, a habit of hers when deeply interested.
“How can she be dead,” asked Molly with asperity, “when Mr. Stanchley’s just got a telegram from her?”
“Pooh, I know he got that telegram. But that’s just the point. S’posin’ she’s dead, and somebody else is pretendin’ to be her. Somebody that knows all about the place and all, and is an impostor.”
“Ridiculous! That couldn’t be.”
“Why couldn’t it? That sort of thing happens often.” Mrs. Busby spoke as with a wide knowledge of the world. “And I heard that some folks of Bob Ballard’s said long ago that Bob’s wife died soon after he did.”
“I don’t believe it. ’Tain’t true. Mr. Stanchley would know.”
“How’d he know? He only knows the name and address of Mrs. Ballard, and if his letter fell into wrong hands, and somebody else seen it to pretend to be Doris Ballard, who’s to know the difference?”
“Why, I’d know her.”
“Oh, come now, you wouldn’t. After eighteen years! Why she’d be so changed her own mother wouldn’t know her!
“I’d know her,” declared Jethro Judd, who had drifted into the room and was lazily listening to the conversation.
“Was she pretty?” demanded Mrs. Busby.
“Pretty as a picture,—a real tasty picture. With red curly hair—”
“Probably grey by now, that sort greys young,” and Mrs. Busby nodded her sagacious head. “Did Mrs. Abe Hilton bring her up?”
“Now I don’t know that,” Judd ruminated; “she was here when we came, and ’twas shortly after that she run away with Ballard.”
“Mrs. Hilton died before I moved here,” Mrs. Busby went on. “She was queer, wasn’t she?”
“No queerer’n most folks,” spoke up Molly, tartly. “She was a sort of spiritualist, in her leanin’s, but a mighty good woman.”
“Yes, I’ve heard about the bay window. Is that true?”
“The bay window’s true. You can see it for yourself.”
“I know, but did Mr. Hilton build it for—for— you know what?”
“Now, see here, Molly,” and Jethro spoke firmly, “ ’tain’t for you an’ me to be talkin’ over Mr. Hilton in any way. ’Scuse me, Mis’ Busby, but I know my place, and jest now my place is to look after things till the new owner gets here. Then, if so be’s you want information, you come over an’ ask her. That’s what you do.”
“Oh, now, Judd, I ain’t meanin’ to be curious. I jest asked a simple question or two, and you don’t need to answer ’em.”
“An’ I don’t intend to, neither.”
“Well, the whole neighbourhood is pesterin’ me to know about that bay window story, an’ I thought there was no harm in askin’ you folks.”
“No, they ain’t no harm in askin’, the harm would be in our tellin’. Me an’ Molly, we knows our place, an’ it ain’t our place to gossip about our dead master or his doin’s.”
Seeing no hope of learning anything from Judd, Mrs. Busby turned her attention to household matters, and offered to help Molly herself, or to recommend some capable workers of the right sort.
* * * * * * * * * *
It was a few days later that Hugh Stanchley came over with a letter he had received from the lady in Missouri.
After expressing her satisfaction at her inheritance, Doris Ballard went on to say that she was getting ready to depart but it was taking rather longer than she had anticipated to wind up her affairs in Pine Level, and as she never expected to go back there, matters must be finally adjusted. She said she would probably reach Dobbs Ferry the following Thursday, and wound up by asking directions for her journey. A postscript inquired what railroad she should take out of New York City.
“There!” exclaimed Judd, “Mis’ Busby’s right, after all! That woman’s an impostor, Mr. Stanchley, that’s what she is! Doris Ballard would know what road Dobbs Ferry’s on! I tell you, somebody’s got your letter and is tryin’ to make believe she’s Mis’ Ballard. Don’t you let yourself be hoodwinked by no upstart Westerner. They’re mighty cute, some of ’em, but they hadn’t ought to fool a big lawyer like you.”
“They haven’t fooled me yet,” and Hugh Stanchley smiled at the old man’s fears. “Don’t worry, Judd. I’ll have to have pretty good proofs of identity before I turn the deed of this house over to any claimant.”
“O’ course, Judd, Mr. Stanchley ‘ll know,” Molly reproved; “I ain’t got the least doubt but what it’s really Doris herself. In all these years, ’tain’t surprisin’ she forgot the name o’ the railroad, an’ it’s likely she thought it was changed by now, anyway. An’ I’ll tell you another thing, Mr. Stanchley, if that letter was from a fake person, an impostor, that’s jest what she wouldn’t do—show ignorance! Why, she’d know that’d look suspicious, an’ it’d be the last thing she’d do.”
“That’s sound logic, Molly. And, personally, I believe this is the real Doris Ballard. But, as I said, I shall have plenty of proof before she takes legal possession.”
“Well, I’ll get the best room ready for her, I s’pose. The big front chamber.”
“Yes, of course. Have that ready,—but she will choose her own. It will be difficult, I daresay, for you two to accustom yourselves to another régime, and perhaps a more modern way of life. But, you remember, the trust fund is for your benefit only so long as you stay in this house, and serve faithfully its mistress, whoever she may be.”
“We know that, sir,” and old Judd spoke respectfully, if firmly. “But if we can’t stand the new ways, an’ likely them Western ways is mighty different from ours, why, we’ve got enough saved up to go off and fend for ourselves.”
“As you like, Judd. But I hope you will be contented to stay here.”
* * * * * * * * * *
It was after the lawyer’s departure that a telegram arrived for Jethro Judd.
This occurrence was so very unusual as to cause a great flutter of excitement on the part of the two old servants.
“For the land’s sake, Molly,” exclaimed Judd, “who can it be from? It’s signed to me, you see!”
“Well, I’ll open it, if it is,” and Molly held on to the yellow envelope while her husband laboriously put his name in the book the boy offered.
Reluctantly the boy went away, for he knew the contents of the message, and wanted to see the actions of the old pair.
But cautious Molly waited until he was out of sight, and then, slitting the envelope with a hairpin, she proceeded to read the telegram as composedly as if it were not the first one she had ever opened.
The message was a short one. It was dated Pine Level, Missouri, and said only:
Are there Canterbury Bells? If not, I won’t come.
And it was signed Doris Ballard.
“That settles it!” and Judd smiled broadly. “I well remember, don’t you, Molly, how Doris loved the Canterbury Bells? And we had grand ones in them days. They’re all run out now. Wonder if it’s too late to set out new ones this season.”
“Set-out plants are no good. You can put in some seeds this year, though, and have good ones for next summer. But if we don’t want her to come, we can tell her there ain’t none.”
“Pshaw! we do want her to come. Why not? Would you rather have Len Hawkins or that hatchetfaced Rackham woman? Land! I’ll be downright glad to see that girl again!”
“She ain’t no girl now, Judd. How you do talk! Well, what you goin’ to reply to this here telegram?”
“Oh, I’ll have to tell her there ain’t no Canterbury Bells, of course.”
“Then she won’t come.”
“Yes, she will. That don’t mean nothin’. She’ll come. But I guess I’ll get a few plants from Farmer Baker; an’ I’ll start a few seeds right away, beside, and then I can tell her there are some on the old place, after all.”
So Judd carried out his plans and an affirmatory telegram was sent concerning the flowers.
And then another telegram arrived for the old man.
“Is there an asparagus bed? If not, set one out at once. Don’t reply.”
“Well, I swan!” and Judd breathed deeply, in his amazement. “She’s sure a hummer, all right! I take it she’s fond of out-doors. Well, she’ll find it hard to beat our asparagus. Hope she gets here ’fore it’s all gone. Not answer, hey? Then she’s on the way here. Maybe she’ll show up in a day or two.”
But in a day or two came another telegram. A night letter, in fact, and it was full of directions that seemed to the Judds both absurd and alarming.
They were instructed not to destroy or discard any old furniture or papers that they might deem rubbish, but to hold all for the newcomer’s inspection. They were told to have gooseberries and Election cake in readiness; and especially they were desired to put the old goosechase bedquilt on the bed prepared for the new lady of the house.
“She’s a goose herself,” grumbled Molly, “with her gooseberries an’ her goosechase quilt! Why that quilt was worn out and thrown away years ago, and gooseberries ain’t ripe now!”
“But it proves she’s really Doris, all right,” said Judd, his eyes shining with satisfaction. “I remember how she used to like gooseberries, an’ it isn’t everybody knows what Election cake is, nowadays.” But that evening the telephone bell rang, and when Molly answered it, and was informed that Doris Ballard was speaking, she nearly dropped the receiver in her surprise.
“Yes, I’m Doris,” said the voice, “and I only called up to say that I can’t come to-morrow. I’m in New York, staying at ‘The Admiral.’ And I’m having such a good time here, that I’m going to stay another day. I’ll come up on Saturday, and please meet me at the 3.15 train. Good-bye.”
Molly hung up, with her solemn face aghast. “That wasn’t Doris a-talkin’ ” she said, in low, scared tones. “Why, Judd, it sounded to me like some society lady!”
“Well, maybe Doris has got stylish. But if she’s too grand for us we won’t stay, that’s all. I ain’t for no hifalutin folderols, when it comes to runnin’ this house.”
“I don’t mean that. I wouldn’t mind Doris, however high and mighty she’d grown. But it wasn’t Doris. I tell you it’s somebody pretendin’ she’s Doris Ballard, so’s she can get possession of this old place. An’ she’ll pull the wool over Mr. Stanchley’s eyes, an’ make him think she’s really Doris. Oh, I know her! The sly thing! I could gather from her voice that she’s a wrong one!”
“But, Molly, she knew all about the place. And she’s fond of asparagus and gooseberries, and Canterbury Bells, just as Doris always was.”
“That’s it, Judd,” and Molly spoke solemnly; “she’s got all that from the real Doris. She’s bankin’ on those bits of personal knowledge she collected from the real one, and now she’s goin’ to carry off the make-believe! Oh, you can’t fool me! If it ain’t the real Doris Hilton,—or Doris Ballard as she is now,—of course I’ll know it. You and Mr. Stanchley, bein’ men, may be fooled,—probably will be,—but I won’t. No, sir! Molly Judd knows a thing or two!”
“So you do, Molly, so you do. But don’t you mix yourself up in affairs outside your spear! If so be’s this is an impostor person, it ain’t for us to make remarks on it. Mr. Hilton, he made his will, queer though it was; and Mr. Stanchley, he did his part, carryin’ it out to the letter. Now, if Mr. Stanchley is satisfied with this lady’s credentials or proofs or whatever they call ’em, we ain’t got no right to put in our oar.”
“That’s so, Judd,” and Molly received the rebuke stoically. “I don’t say you ain’t right. It’s none of our business, to be sure. But all the same that never was Doris Ballard who talked to me over that telephone just now, and that I’d swear to!”
“Well, well, Molly, we’ll see her to-morrow afternoon, and I don’t care about her voice, I’ll know Doris Ballard the minute I lay eyes on her, no matter how much she has changed.”
“Fer the lan’s sake, Judd, do hump yourself! It’s after two now, an’ I wish you’d hitch up an’ get started. Doris said she’d get here on that 3.15 an’ you ain’t got any too much time. An’ remember, we must call her Mrs. Ballard. We ain’t got no sort of call to say Doris to her.”
“That’s so, Molly; Mis’ Ballard it is. Hello, Mis’ Busby, that you?”
“Good land!” cried Molly, ungraciously, “you here again, ‘Liza Busby? Well, now, what do you want?”
“Oh, nothing,” and Mrs. Busby passed by Molly, and went on to the library where she sat down as if with full intention of staying for some time. “I just thought to myself, I’d come over and be here when Mrs. Ballard arrives. I said to Mr. Stanchley I’d do that, and he said, ‘Yes, do.’ So here I am.”
“So I see,” and Molly sniffed. “I s’pose Mr. Stanchley’s got a right to send all the busybodies he likes,” she muttered in a half aside, but her guest paid no attention to these murmurs. She took up a newspaper, and settled herself comfortably in a armchair to await the expected arrival.
Judd drifted in with a remark to the effect that he s’posed he might as well be startin’ and then a sudden noisy excitement took place in the old side yard, and, racing through the wistaria tangle, bounding across the porch and fairly catapulting in at the door, came two eager, agitated and loudly barking dogs, followed by a laughing girl who just barely managed to hold the animals in leash.
“Be still!” she cried, stamping her little foot at her charges. Then, with a sunburst of smile that swept the whole of her astonished audience, she announced,
The Judds were bereft of all perceptive faculties. Petrified, they stood and stared, shrinking back a little from the persistently advancing dogs, but, with their eyes on the girl’s face, trying to collect their scattered senses.
Mrs. Busby, however, with instant appreciation, took in the very evident facts that so definitely and emphatically presented themselves.
She saw a girl of perhaps seventeen, with dancing brown eyes, a flashing smile that seemed made up of scarlet lips and pearly teeth, and a personality that was all movement and charm. The slender, lithe body was never still, bending this way and that, as pulled by the struggling dogs; the lightly poised head now flinging a glance about the room, now about to consider the occupants of it, and then bending over the dogs with desperate attempts to calm them, yet always alert and alive to every condition.
She dominated the situation. She had said but two words, yet her hearers knew them for truth, and spellbound, waited further revelations.
Doris wore what Mrs. Busby silently characterised as the very latest wrinkle in sport clothes. The short skirt was striped green and white, the sweater coat was green with striped attachments, and the fine straw hat, with its knotted band, sat jauntily on her red-brown hair that seemed to curl of itself into flat scallops over Doris’ ears. A blouse of fine white material fell away from the slender throat and spread its embroidered film over the straight, flat back of this incredibly wonderful person, and the silk stockings and sport shoes finished off a specimen of up-to-date girlhood such as never before had come within the focus of Molly Judd’s outlook on life.
“You’re Judd, I know,” the vision exclaimed, with a special and individual smile for the old man, that bowled him over once for all.
“And you’re Molly,” she guessed rightly. “I’d shake hands, but these infants are using all the hands I’ve got, and I need more. Be still, Peter! lie down, Dutch! I just bought them, you see, and they don’t quite know me yet. I named them Peter the Headstrong and the Flying Dutchman, because—because of the place, you know,—and they sure do live up to their names! Peter is the collie, and this pure, pedigreed Boston Bull pup is my own little Flying Dutchman,—so he was—he was! Now, what shall I do with them? Oh, lordy, there’s a cat!”
The large yellow mass of fur that had appeared in the doorway from the hall was, by some mysterious process, expanding itself to a much larger mass, and the interest of the two dogs increased accordingly.
For a space, pandemonium reigned, but Jethro Judd came out of his trance and took a hand, with the result that the two more desperate belligerents were anchored to immovable posts and the cat had vanished.
Doris, who had thrown herself into a big rocking-chair, was shaking with laughter.
“What a cat!” she cried, “oh, what a cat! Dobbs, the Swede! That’s the only possible name for that yellow bunch of complacency!”
“That cat’s name is Moses,” vouchsafed Molly, looking at Doris a little dubiously.
“Was Moses,” corrected the girl, smiling; “from now on, he is Dobbs,—Dobbs, the Swede. Where are the Canterbury Bells?”
Doris jumped up, as if about to make a dash for the garden, but Judd held up a dissuading hand.
“Canterbury Bells don’t bloom till summer time, ma’am. May I make bold to ask if you are Doris Ballard? We—we expected an—an older lady.”
“You did! How could you?” The bright face looked puzzled. “And where is the lawyer, Mr. Stanchley? Oh, me! we ought to begin this business more—more business-like, hadn’t we?”
She turned to Mrs. Busby, as seeming more in authority than the two servants, and nothing loath, that lady took the helm.
“I am Mrs. Busby,” she introduced herself; “Mr. Stanchley boards with me, not far away from here. We expected,—he expected a Mrs. Ballard to arrive on the three-fifteen train from New York—”
“Yes, I know,” and Doris chuckled gleefully; “well, I’m it. That is, I’m not Mrs. of course, but I’m Doris Ballard, and I’m the one you’re looking for.”
“The Doris Ballard we’re looking for is old enough to be your mother,” said Judd, speaking gently because of the girl’s evident sincerity of statement.
“Oh,” and a look of enlightment sprang to the brown eyes, “perhaps you thought I would be my mother! I mean,—why, it’s this way; my mother was Doris Hilton, and she married Robert Ballard—”
“Good land!” cried Molly, “you’re Doris’ daughter!”
“Yes, of course I am. Did you expect my mother?”
“We cert’nly did,” declared Judd. “Not one of us for a minute ever thought but what Doris Ballard was the Doris Ballard who used to live here.”
“No, my mother died many years ago. But I’ll fix all that up with the lawyer man. I’m Doris, and I’m here, that’s all that interests me at present. Oh, what a house! I haven’t half begun to take it in, but the rafters! and the sagged doors; oh, what a house!”
“Don’t you like it?” bristled Molly, jealous for the old place.
“Like it! Why, you old salt of the earth, I never saw anything that I liked half as much! Yesterday I saw the Pennsylvania Station, and that took my breath away, but it isn’t to be mentioned the same day of the week with this house. No,” and the brown eyes darted from one point to another, “no, if I mentioned this house on Monday,—say,—I shouldn’t refer to the Station before Thursday, at least! And that wistaria—”
“A hundred and fifty years old,” observed Molly, proudly.
“I know it is. And this part of the house was built in 1685. Oh, mother told me all about it. That’s how I know about the gooseberries and the goosechase quilt.”
“Oh, is that it?” Judd’s bewildered face began to resume its normal expression, as he realised the situation. “And it was you who sent them telegrams and letters, and telephoned yesterday?”
“Yes,” smiled Doris. “You see, I came on from Missouri with some friends and we staid in New York a few days, and then I was to come here,—but you see I just happened to corral the dogs, so I couldn’t manage very well in the train, so, as a friend of my friends’ was coming up this way in his big car, he gave me a lift, and here I am. I made him go on ’cause I wanted to arrive alone. It’s a new experience, you see, to come into your inheritance, and—and I didn’t know just what it would be like. I only brought a little luggage, and I think it’s dumped in the front yard. Would you mind looking?” This last to Jethro Judd, who started off at once, to find a small mountain of suitcases, hatbox, wraps, furs and a strap full of books, as well as several more odd volumes.
“That’s how it happened,” Doris cried, as Judd brought the books. “I bought a lot of Washington Irving’s stories and other books about this section of God’s green earth, and as I read, I couldn’t wait another minute, so I grabbed at the chance of Mr. Gannett’s car and flew off. Now, good afternoon, Mrs. Busby; you’ll excuse me, I’m sure, as I have so much to do,—getting installed.”
A pleasant nod and smile of dismissal so hypnotised the Busybody that she rose, and went away, quite as a matter of fact, thereby causing Jethro Judd a fresh wave of admiration for one who could so easily manipulate the doings of Eliza Busby.
“Who is she?” Doris asked of Judd, as the stout figure waddled comfortably down the garden path.
“Busybody Busby, Miss. She’s the human colyum of society gossip ’round these parts. An’ whatever she seen an’ heard this day, she’ll spread from Dan to Beersheby afore night.”
“She’s welcome to do so, as far as I’m concerned,” declared Doris, “but I want to see Mr. Stanchley, or somebody in authority.”
“He would ’a’ been here, Miss, only that you came earlier than we looked for.”
“Miss Doris, please, Judd. And will you send for Mr. Stanchley at once? You can telephone, can’t you?”
“Yes, Miss,—Miss Doris. I’ll call him right now.”
“Call him, Judd,—and then I’ll do the talking.”
Whereupon the following conversation ensued: “Is this Mr. Hugh Stanchley?”
“Yes: who is speaking, please?”
“Oh, are you there already, Mrs. Ballard?”
“Yes, I am; I came up from New York by motor, earlier than I had planned. Can you come to see me?”
“Yes, indeed, I’ll be right over there.”
“Thank you, good-bye.”
“Now, Molly,” Doris said, “I’ll scoot up to my room and tidy up before the lawyer man comes. I suppose he thinks I’m my mother, and I didn’t bother to tell him till I see him. Have my suitcases sent up, and you come along and show me about things. Oh, what a house!”
Doris’s shining eyes dwelt lovingly on hastily caught details of the old rooms, as she passed through the hall and up the stairs.
“I’ve fixed this big front chamber for you, Miss Doris,” Molly informed, “but if so be’s you don’t like it—”
“I’ll see about that later, Molly. It will do for the present. I have to grow at home here, you know. What a lot of rooms!”
“Yes, Miss Doris, there are a good many. This, now, is the room Washington slept in.”
“Close the door, Molly, I don’t want to go in there yet. Now, open that suitcase, please,—no, the black one. Why, I hear somebody down stairs—”
“That’s Mr. Stanchley,—he’s here.”
“Then I won’t change now. I’ll run down as I am.”
Down the stairs flew the graceful figure, and in the great front room, where Abel Hilton’s strange will had been announced to his dissatisfied relatives, the chance-chosen heir met the man who was empowered to ratify the terms of her inheritance.
“Bless my soul!” exclaimed the startled lawyer when the green and white clad vision appeared before his unbelieving eyes.
“I’m Doris,” and the laughing face bobbed a greeting, in an evident enjoyment of the situation.
“Doris?” was the blank response.
“Yes, Doris Ballard. You wrote me, you know, that my uncle,—that is, my great uncle, had left me his property.”
“Your great uncle?”
“Yes! Wake up, Mr. Stanchley! I’m Doris Ballard, really I am! But, you see, you expected my mother. I didn’t know this, or I should have explained before I started. But you just summoned Doris Ballard, and so I came!”
“So I see,” and Hugh Stanchley, aroused from his stunned surprise, began to pull his wits together. “You are the daughter of Doris Hilton, Abel Hilton’s niece?”
“Yes! and my grandfather was Joel Hilton, Abel’s brother, and my father was Robert Ballard. Now you know all those things as well as I do. I am the ignorant party in this deal. So, tell me, won’t you, how it all happened?”
Doris had settled herself on the arm of a big chair, and with eager face awaited the vital statistics of which she knew so little. Her great eyes followed the lawyer, as he walked up and down the room, his hands clasped behind him, with fingers working nervously, as he strove to readjust his preconceived notion of the heir to the Hilton house.
“If you could bring yourself to sit down,” Doris hinted, a gleam of amusement in her glance; “I do want to know all about it, and your jumpy ways quite upset me.”
“I’m not jumpy!” and Stanchley looked at her severely, as at a naughty child. Then, with a quick change of manner, he sat down opposite to her, and asked suddenly, “How old are you?”
“Seventeen,” she replied, “seventeen last winter.”
“You act more and look less,” Stanchley commented; “and you’ve upset everything by not being your mother! How was I to know? How was any one to know?”
“Why should any one care?” and Doris sat up straighter. “Wasn’t the property left to me?”
“Don’t you know the details of the will?”
“No; only what you wrote me, which was merely that I am sole heir.”
Stanchley told her then of the eccentric wish of Abel Hilton, and how it had been complied with, and how Molly Judd had drawn from the hat of names the card inscribed Doris Ballard.
The brown eyes opened wide, and the red lips parted in breathless wonder at the whole astonishing story.
“And you thought it meant my mother! Didn’t anybody here know of my mother’s death?”
“Some of the heirs suggested it, or had heard rumours of it, but no one seemed certain. And Mr. Hilton had left the list of names, so it was taken for granted that your mother was meant. But it doesn’t matter, as far as that goes. Your name was on the list, your name was in the hat, your name was the one drawn, therefore you are unquestionably the legal heir. Only, you see, you are a minor. You can’t hold the property until you become of age.”
“Oh, that’s nothing. I’ve been a minor all my life, —nearly. But I don’t mind.”
“What do you mean?”
“Why, you see, my father died when I was quite a baby. Then, of course, I had mother till I was about ten. Then she died, and as I was a minor, too, her property was left to me, in care of a guardian.”
“Oh, you have a guardian, then?”
“Yes, indeed. The dearest old doodlebug! Mark Lovell, his name is. You can write to him for my references and things like that. You see, he has all my money and he gives it to me when I want it, and that’s all he figures in my existence.”
“You’ll have to have another guardian in this matter.”
“All right. The more the merrier. What’s a guardian more or less to me? But you’ll fix it all up, won’t you, Mr. Stanchley? I see already that I won’t have any time here to do anything more than just live!”
“Oh, goodness, no! I don’t mean anything like that! On the contrary, I mean that I see that life here is going to be so full to overflowing, that I won’t have time for any business bothers. So, can’t you attend to all that guardianship business and transfer of properties and all such things, and take a salary for yourself out of the proceeds? I mean the bank account,—or whatever Uncle Abel left to me. I suppose there’s some money as well as the house, isn’t there?”
“Child, you mystify me! Are you utterly alone in the world? Who has been caring for you?”
“Yes, I am utterly alone in the world.” For once the brown eyes had no laughing gleam in them. “But,” and the gleam reappeared, “it’s a whole lot better to be alone than to have people who don’t belong to you. Oh, I know all about it! I’ve tried ’em!”
“Who has had the care of you since your mother’s death?”
“I’ve been in a school. Pine Level is a school, you know, not a city. I’ve been there six years, and vacations, I either staid there or went to stay with Mrs. Lovell.”
“Which did you like better?”
“Six of one and half a dozen of the other!” The brown eyes were dancing now. “Mrs. Lovell was all right, only, you see, she had her own daughter to look after, and Daughtie and I didn’t hit it off very well! So, late years I staid at the school in preference.”
“And what did you intend to do when you left the school?”
“That was my life problem!” Doris sighed.’ “There didn’t seem to be anything to do, except to go and live with the Lovells or make a career of some kind for myself. And I just hate a career!”
“Then you welcomed the idea of coming East?”
“Jumped at it! And, you see, all my life with mother, she told me over and over again of this place, and of Uncle Abel and his wife and about Solemn Molly and Judd and, oh, about everything here! And I learned to love it all, but I never expected to see it! You know, Uncle Abel disowned my mother because she ran away with my father. So, of course, I couldn’t love Uncle Abel,—could I? And when the word came that I had inherited, I thought at first I’d spurn the gift. But then, I thought of the Canterbury Bells and the goosechase quilt and the asparagus, and I realised that they meant more to me than my rancour against Uncle Abel for his treatment of mother. And, it seemed, too, as if Uncle Abel owed us something,—mother and me,—by way of reparation, and if this was it, why, I’d better take it. Anyway, I came, but of course, I supposed the place was willed to me, I didn’t know it was a matter of a raffle!”
“Scarcely a raffle, though of course it was decided by lot. Would you have refused to come, if you had known all the circumstances?”
Doris considered. “No,” she said, at last, “I should have come just the same. For you see, I’m sick and tired of the school during vacation, and I simply couldn’t stand the Lovells, and, oh, well, I was crazy to see the old place. I told Mr. Lovell if I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t live here, and he said, all right.”
“He’s a lenient guardian, I take it.”
“More than that! He never attempted to advise or direct me. He simply has charge of my money matters, and he makes investments or whatever is best in that way, but he has no more to say about my doings otherwise, than—than you will.”
“How do you knew I am to be your new guardian?” and Hugh Stanchley looked quizzically into the independent little face.
“Oh, please do! Oh, Mr. Stanchley, I like you, and I want you to be my guardian. Won’t you,— won’t you, please?”
Impulsively Doris slid from her place, and grasped the lawyer’s hand in the earnestness of her appeal, and as the warm, eager little fingers closed about his own, and the brown eyes pleaded, Hugh Stanchley gave his consent.
Here’s no sense to the whole business!” declared Mrs. Busby, firmly, as, having folded her handkerchief, she shook it out again, with a flourish. “You know yourself, Mr. Stanchley, it’s utterly absurd to put that child at the head of a big house like that! With no one to look after her but two old servants! It’s ridiculous!”
“But what do you suggest, Mrs. Busby?” and Stanchley looked helpless. “She has no people,—”
“Yes, she has! Where are all those other heirs that came rattling along to the funeral? They appeared fast enough when there was a chance of their getting the place! Let one of them come now, and take care of that girl. She’s an unusual child, Mr. Stanchley, and left to herself she’ll run wild. That place will go to distress and destruction and a girl with nobody to advise or direct her will go to destruction, too!”
“She seems to me rather a capable little person,— a live wire, I should say.”
“That may all be, but the more live she is, the more she needs a guiding hand. I suppose you’re her guardian, or will be, when the state fixes up things; now, you listen to me; you are a fine lawyer, but you don’t know the first thing about a young girl. Doris Ballard is just at the age when she needs a strong curb and a wise woman to hold it.”
“Suppose you take the position.”
“Me! nonsense! I’m not the right one, and beside, I’ve built up a first class business of my own, and I intend to keep it. No, sir, Eliza Busby is a boarding-house keeper, not a child’s nurse! But you might ask that Marshall woman or even the Rackham old maid. She’s not a bad sort, with her New England training, and she’d keep Doris inside of conventional bounds, at least.”
Hugh Stanchley sighed. “It’s a big responsibility,” he said. “I had no idea such a thing as this would happen when I drew up that ridiculous will for Abel Hilton.”
“Well, I know if Abel Hilton had his head set, nobody could move him. You had to do as he said, or he’d find somebody else as would. I don’t blame you for making that fool will, Mr. Stanchley, but now you’re into this thing, I do blame you if you don’t carry it on right. And it ain’t right, and you know it, to let that child have full sway of that house and fortune.”
“There isn’t much fortune. Old Hilton left very little money or property aside from the place.”
“But you said Doris has money of her own.”
“Yes, she has. And a strange kind of a guardian out in Missouri, who gives her funds whenever she demands them.”
“She can’t get along with his wife,—ain’t that it?”
“I think the daughter is the stumbling block. The two girls don’t like each other and the only aim of the Lovell family seems to be to keep Doris as far away from them as possible.”
“Humph! jealous! I see through ’em. Doris is pretty as a picture, and taking in her ways, beside. That Lovell girl is probably a lump,—and she can’t get any attention when that little brown-eyed witch is around.”
“You’ve certainly planned a situation, whether it’s the true one or not.”
“Most likely it’s something like that. But, anyhow, that’s neither here nor there. What’s important now, is that you should get the right person to chaperon and take care of that pretty girl, and not leave her to run that place alone.”
For many years Mrs. Busby had lodged and fed the lawyer, and had, moreover, taken it upon herself to give him unlimited advice whenever she felt it was needed. Stanchley took her admonitions good-naturedly, and heeded them or not, as suited his own wishes, but the two were good friends and the worthy widow would have borne almost any sacrifice, had such been necessary, for the good of her star boarder.
“Tenny rate, I’ve done my duty,” she said, smoothing her folded handkerchief, preparatory to its final shake-out; “and if you let that girl run wild to her own destruction, you’ve only yourself to blame.”
“I’ll think it over, Mrs. Busby. You’re right, in a general way, I know.”
“Yes, and that’s all you do know! ‘In a general way,’ I mean. You can’t be expected to know anything about how a girl ought to be brought up, so remember what I’ve told you, and make some arrangement accordin’. And look at her clothes! Rigged out like a sportin’ goods window! She needs a woman with common sense to look after her,— that’s what she needs!”
“Why, I thought her frock most attractive,” and Stanchley looked suddenly blank, as he wondered if the responsibility of Doris’ wardrobe was one of his duties.
“Attractive! Maybe. But sporty,—that’s what it was, sporty. The child must be tamed. She’s too independent.”
“I suppose so,” and Hugh Stanchley sighed anew as he realised his predicament.
* * * * * * * * *
“Hello, Stanchion!” called out a gay voice, as the lawyer approached the garden of the Hilton place. “That’s a new name I’ve made up for you, because I depend on you as a support, don’t you know, a kind of a strong arm to hold me up. Isn’t that what a stanchion is? I’m not quite sure?”
Doris stood in the middle of a bed of flaming scarlet Oriental poppies. She wore a linen smock of a deep orange tint, embroidered in a gay Persian design. A broad-brimmed Panama hat was twined with a soft orange silk scarf, and the laughing face beneath it was flushed with the combined results of physical exertion, air and sunlight.
“Such a garden!” she exclaimed. “I can hardly wait for Canterbury Bell time, but meanwhile I’m getting acquainted with my poppies. Aren’t they darling!” She swept out her arms as if to gather the whole mass into an ecstatic embrace. “What are you here for? Business, or a social call? Because if it’s business, I’ve no time to see you this morning. If it’s just a neighbourly call, I’ve oceans of time.”
“You’ll have to take time, my child,” Stanchley forced himself to speak sternly, though it seemed like disciplining a brilliant butterfly for hovering over a flower bed. “There are some matters that must be attended to. Please come into the house and let me have a little talk with you.’
“Nixie!” and Doris made a face at him. “My business hours are,—any rainy day. Come round when you have to come under an umbrella, and I’ll receive you in state. Under a roof that leaks some, but is hospitable. And, say, Mr. Stanchley, I’ve got to fix this house over a whole lot. It’s in shocking disrepair. My revered great uncle apparently didn’t encourage improvement, or even tidiness! He was a shiftless sort,—if you know what I mean! But I shall change all that. Wait till you see what I’m going to do to my little old house!”
With the diplomacy of his calling, Stanchley determined to lure this elusive client into a business talk without her knowing it, so he followed her lead. “The place does need some repairs, I know. But you can’t undertake to do much until it’s really your own, can you?”
“Isn’t it really mine?” and the soft brown eyes gave him a startled glance. “You told me—”
“I told you it was left to you, but there are some measures to be taken—”
“But you told me you would take those measures without bothering me about them. I haven’t time to take measures, Mr. Stanchley, really I haven’t. I’ve got to live—and that takes every minute of my life. You’re interfering terribly now. How can I live, with you fussing around?”
Doris was the sort of person who used her hands and arms to punctuate her conversation. With a lithe sweeping gesture that included the whole garden and farm, she showed clearly what living meant to her; and with a sudden despairing drop of her arms to her sides, her limp little hands falling palms outward, she scarcely needed the disconsolate expression on her drooping red lips to indicate the utter waste of time it meant to her to bandy useless words with her lawyer.
Stanchley was of a grave, self-centred nature, and though accustomed to illogical and intractable feminine clients, he had never before encountered one so young and so irresponsible.
Exasperated, he said, shortly, “I’m sorry, but I’ll have to fuss around, more or less, until we get some fundamental questions settled. In the first place, you can’t live here alone.”
“Oh, can’t I?” and Doris turned saucy again. “And who’s to prevent me? Did Uncle Abel decree that his heir should have a keeper?”
“He didn’t; but such a condition of things is decreed by convention, by common sense, by good taste—”
“And by Mrs. Busybody Busby! Oh, you don’t fool me! I know that woman has been talking to you, and I know almost the very words she said, and I know how she folded and unfolded her handkerchief as she talked.”
The roguish face drew itself down into a hint of Mrs. Busby’s disapproving countenance and the mischievous fingers imitated the absurd handkerchief habit that was so annoying to an observer.
“She says,” Doris continued, “that I’m too young to be at the head of this big house, and that, given my head, I’ll take the bit in my teeth and run away. Those aren’t her words, but that is the tenor of her views, now isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is,” returned Stanchley, making the most of his chance, “and she is quite right. It’s impossible for a girl like you to manage a place of this sort —”
“A certain not entirely inconspicuous gentleman named Napoleon, once said, ‘If it is possible, it will be done; if it is impossible,—it shall be done.’ I have always remembered that little speech of his, and I apply it frequently to my own undertakings.”
Stanchley stared at her. “How old did you say you are?” he asked.
“I said seventeen, and that is my age in years. But, Mr. Stanchley,” and the brown eyes became serious, “a girl who is an orphan grows faster than one with parents, and I am as capable and wise as if I were fifty.”
“Oh, you are? But, unfortunately, you can’t convince the general public of that.”
“Nor do I want to! What’s the G. P. to me, or I to them? Please understand that I am Doris Ballard, and for me, nobody else exists!”
“What a generous creed!”
Doris laughed. “You know I didn’t mean it that way. I am ready and glad to make friends, and I can be a good one, too; but you meant by your allusion to the general public, the critical public, the neighbours and people about here who are carping and prying and just waiting to pounce on poor little me as an interloper and a freak and a silly little ignoramus.”
“You are right in a degree, and that is why I want to ask you to consent to have an older woman live with you and teach and guide you in matters of which you are really ignorant.”
“Such as—” and a fire smouldered in Doris’ eyes.
“Such as,” Stanchley began bravely and then faltered, “well,—manners,” he concluded lamely.
“Huh!” Doris tossed off, “don’t you believe it! I know all there is to know about manners. I don’t display all I know for your benefit because you couldn’t appreciate them, but don’t worry about my manners,—I’ve trunks full stored away.”
“Well, clothes,” suggested the uncertain man, trying to remember what special points Mrs. Busby had enumerated.
“Clothes!” and Doris’ scorn was immeasurable. “Why, Mr. Hugh Stanchley, I know more about clothes in ten minutes than anybody around here knows in a thousand years! Look at this smock! It came from Paris. You wouldn’t know it from the Department Store variety, but that’s your misfortune, not your fault. Oh, don’t be a goose!”
One little foot stamped down into the soft earth of the poppy bed, as Doris stood, her slender arms akimbo, and her head flung back in derisive defiance of a man who would ignorantly criticise her ultra-correct garden costume.
Then she burst into laughter and shook her head till her hat-brim flapped against her rosy cheeks.
“You are too funny!” she cried; “you didn’t learn your lesson well at all! Why don’t you send Mrs. Busby over to tell me those things herself?”
“Those things are trifles,” and now Stanchley lost patience; “the point is that it isn’t right for you to live here alone, a young girl,—in this big place—”
Doris turned on him like a little fury. “Not right! What do you mean? Unconventional? Not at all. Molly Judd is entirely all right as a chaperon, and old Jethro as a protector. There couldn’t be two more capable, trustworthy caretakers of a girl than they are. And you know it! It may be unusual,— I’m an unusual girl,—but it is all right,—and you know it is! Or, if you haven’t got sense enough to know it, ask any one who has. Ask Mr. Lovell or Mrs. Lovell or any one whom you consider authority on such matters. Yes, even Mrs. Busby. If you pin her down to tell the truth, she’ll have to tell you it’s quite all right.”
“Yes, I suppose it’s right enough, but, well, I shouldn’t think you’d want to live alone.”
“You may criticise my likes and dislikes as much as you choose, but don’t you jump on the propriety of my actions until you have some reason to do so! But, supposing I did want a companion, who is there available?”
“There are several of your family connections who might be induced to come here to live. There is a Miss Rackham,—”
“I know; Molly told me about her. A spinster school-teacher up in Maine! No doubt a worthy and estimable lady, but I can’t see how she would be of any advantage to me as an instructor in manners or as an overseer of my wardrobe!”
Remembering the gaunt, even gawky woman in question, Stanchley hastily suggested another. “There’s a Mrs. Marshall, who is a rather up-to-date lady,—”
“I know her, too. Molly has told me of these people. Now, Mr. Stanchley, you know as well as I do, she is not the sort to live with me. If you know of any really nice, tractable, kind, indulgent, mind-her-own-business kind of an old lady, who is deaf, dumb and nearly blind, I might get along with her,— but I doubt it.”
Tired of the subject, Doris plucked two long stemmed poppies, and waving them as wands, executed an impromptu dance, whose widening circles of area took her farther and farther from her annoying mentor.
“Good-bye,” called out Stanchley, and turned to go away, when Doris darted back toward him, and tucking her arm through his, sidled along with him.
“Don’t go off like that,” she wheedled, smiling up at him; “for if you do, you may get some gorgon person and install her here before I know it! Now, promise me, that you won’t do anything of the sort, and that you won’t ever interfere with my reign and rule in my own own home.”
“But it isn’t yours, yet. There’s a lot of red tape to be tied and a lot of dry-as-dust law business to be put through before you are legal owner, under charge of a guardian—”
“Yes, I know; but you promised to look after all that, with no bother to me, except signing my name now and then. That’s why I call you my Stanchion, because I trust to your strong and firm upholdingness.”
The earnest face, the pleading brown eyes and the sensitive scarlet mouth mutely begged his assurance and Stanchley gave it.
“You may trust me, Doris,” he said; “I will look after all the bothersome business part of the inheritance, but I want you to think over this other matter. You ought to have somebody to live with you. While perhaps not absolutely necessary, it would be better for you in every way; and I think, if you realise all I’ve said, you’ll agree with me. Don’t say anything more about it now, but I’ll be over again soon, and I shall then expect you to consent.”
“Ta-ta tya tya ta-ta,” yodeled Doris, her fingers imitating the playing of a mouth instrument of some sort, and her laughing eyes giving small promise of assenting to the wise man’s suggestions.
“And now, Solemn Molly,” Doris announced, as, after Stanchley’s departure and a wild romp with the two dogs, she entered the kitchen, “will you be so good as to drop that tiresome scrubbing you delight in, and go with me to some of the upper fastnesses of this castle of mine?”
“Now, Miss Doris, how can I? An’ me with the silver all out, a-bein’ cleaned, an’ the silver powder all over and all!”
“The silver will keep, Molly, and, may I ask you who is mistress here, you or I? I know, Molly, it is hard for you to get used to obeying a girl, but, honest, now, don’t you like me better than old Uncle Abel? Don’t you, Molly?”
Two little hands were on Solemn Molly’s shoulders, and it was their warm, vital touch, even more than the intent gaze of the brown eyes that forced an unwilling assent from the sour-visaged old servant.
“I do an’ I don’t,” she qualified. “You’re a darlin’, Miss Doris, but you’re a handful! I wish, now, you had some good lady to manage you.”
“Hold on there, Molly! Don’t you go over to the enemy! You’d have a nice time,—wouldn’t you— with ‘a good lady’ here, ordering you to do things, while I ordered you to do just the opposite! Which would you obey, Molly? Which?”
“Her, Miss Doris,” and Solemn Molly let no smile mar the sternness of her declaration.
“Oh, you would, would you? You old funeral urn, if I didn’t know you were teasing me, I’d cut you out of my will! just think, Molly, as soon as I really own this house, I shall have to make a will! Won’t that be funny? Well, it won’t be any such a lottery as Uncle Abel’s was,—I can tell you that much. Come along, now, I want you to show me the attic rooms. I haven’t been up there yet.”
“No, Miss Doris, nor you haven’t seen the room Washington slept in yet. When are you going there?”
“Now, I guess. I’m a little afraid of that room, Molly. It seems so—so—”
“You ’fraid he haunts it, Miss Doris?”
“Oh, no, not that! But it’s so wonderful, so solemn, you know. When was he here, Molly?”
“In 1781, Miss Doris. In July, just before the great battle of Yorktown. He was in despair—”
“Yes, Miss, he hadn’t no troops nor money nor ships nor nothing,—and he didn’t know which way to turn—”
“And he was here, in this very house?”
“Yes, this was his very room.”
They were now on the second floor of the old house, and Molly opened the door of the bedroom that Washington had occupied during the time he made the place his headquarters.
Doris went in reverently. She looked at the old walls, the sagging doors which slanted in their frames, and the uneven wide-boarded floor.
She turned to the window, her eyes soft with unshed tears.
“And he looked out here, didn’t he, Molly? Out of these very windows,—and down upon this same, this very same wistaria vine.”
“Yes, Miss Doris; though of course there wasn’t no purple blossoms on it in July.”
“But the vine was here, that same old thick trunk, and it was covered with green leaves.”
“Yes; this is the old part of the house, you know. The front rooms was added in 1810.”
“I’m glad they were,” said Doris, softly. “That front part, the new part, shields and hides this old,— this sacred building from the road and the motor cars and the gay, thoughtless crowd going by.”
“The crowds always stop to read the stone tablet, Miss Doris. That tells about Washington being here.”
“That’s all right, they’re welcome to that. But I’m glad that this room is hidden and guarded from the street. It nestles in here, with only the green outlook on the garden and the branches of the waving trees—the same trees that Washington saw,— oh, Molly, I can’t believe it.”
Doris’ voice was awed and reverent, and Molly, understanding, slipped away and left her there alone.
“Peter, Peter, dear, sweet, cunning little Peter, if you’ll only stop being headstrong for just a minute, I’ll—oh, I’ll promise you anything you want! There! you’ve left your muddy paw marks all over my clean frock! Now, are you satisfied? Look here, Peter the Headstrong, if I change your name and give you a nice new one, will you learn to be a nice, quiet little doggie, polite and proper-mannered?”
The great collie wagged his feathered tail and gave every indication of promise, so Doris went on, “Then I’m going to call you Wicquaes-Keck! How’s that for a name? No, I won’t change you, after all. I’ll get another dog and name him that. A Fox Terrier, I guess. Oh, lie down, Peter, darling, and let me read!”
In pursuance of one of her queer customs, Doris was wandering around her domain, carrying a book and reading now and then, between moments when she sat on the grass and mused or gazed absorbedly at the sky and trees.
She threw herself on a bank of lawn on the north side of the house, and reopened her book. It was a volume of Irving’s stories that contained “Wolfert’s Roost,” and Doris was reading it for the dozenth time.
“Now there’s a lady I admire!” she exclaimed, to the attentive dogs, “she was Mrs. Hendrick Hudson. Listen, Dutchman,—it says, ‘his wife, which sate so modestly as any of our country women would do in a strange place.’ Isn’t that splendid? Now, I, as the lady of this house, shall so conduct myself, that they will say of me, ‘she sate so modestly as any of our country women would do in a strange place.’ For it is a strange place. I’m not really at home here yet. But I shall sit modestly. You get the idea, don’t you, Dutch? It means, you know, to be quiet and gracious and courteous, but all the same to go right straight bang ahead, and do exactly as you like without regard for other people’s opinions. That is, if they have no particular right or reason to have opinions about you. You see, there’s a very nice gentleman in this story who was ‘stout of frame, bold of heart and delighted in daring enterprises.’ I think I’m rather more like him in some ways, than I am like Hudson’s wife. Probably they were both more stout of frame than I, but not more bold of heart, and I most certainly do delight in daring enterprises. Oh, but I’m glad I’m here! Just to sit in this green grass and look at that white house,—but it isn’t as white as it ought to be. It must be painted. And they must be sure to match that very green of the shutters. It’s just the exact half-way shade between green and blue. I think those old shutters have reflected the grass and the sky for so many years, they just soaked up colour from both, and that wonderful old soft, pastel tint of blue-green is the result.
“But, you see, my good Peter, we can’t paint until we’ve made some trifling restorations and corrections in the disturbed architecture of my ownty-donty pet house. I’m jolly well glad I took that course of architecture at school, and more glad that I have a born sense of architecture in my own sweet self. That middle section of the house,—the old part,— is so perfect that I ’most wish the front part wasn’t there. But that must stay, I think, though I shall rip off that terrific bay window with immediate neatness and despatch!”
Doris jumped up from her seat on the grass, shook off the clambering dogs, and running into the house, called a carpenter on the telephone.
“And I want you to come at once,” she wound up her conversation, “right away, now!”
“Yes, this minute! If you’re busy, tell me of some other carpenter that I might be likely to get.”
“Oh, I’ll come, Miss Ballard; I’ll be right over.”
The summons of Abel Hilton’s heir was not to be lightly tossed aside, and, too, not a citizen of the town but desired to know more concerning the queer girl who had come to live on the historic old place.
In ten minutes the carpenter had arrived, and found Doris standing before the condemned bay window, which disfigured the north side of the house.
“Did you ever know anything so hideous and so absurd?” she cried to the listening Mr. Crane. “A silly bay window, of the period of Mansard roofs and cupolas, tacked on to this splendid colonial house! It’s to be removed at once.”
“Now, Miss Ballard?”
“Now, Mr. Crane. Can you do it, or must I try somebody else?”
“I—I can do it. I’ll go for a helper,—”
“No; telephone for your helper, and tell him to bring tools and things. I can give you a hammer or an axe to begin with. I don’t like delays.”
“But, have you authority—”
“Mr. Crane, we are not arguing this thing. I engage you to do what I tell you, or—”
“Yes, ma’am,” and like a lamb Bill Crane carried out the orders of the determined girl who gave them.
The helper had arrived and demolition was well under way, before the two scared-looking Judds appeared on the scene.
“Oh, good land! good land!” wailed Molly, wringing her hands, while Jethro stood, gasping at the sight.
Doris laughed at their shocked dismay, and turned to the carpenters. “Go on,” she cried; “you’re working splendidly. You can close up that hole somehow, temporarily, can’t you? Lucky it’s warm weather, though of course we’ll have to shut off the room till it’s all fixed right on the outside. For mercy’s sake, Molly, don’t look as if I were tearing the house down! It’s only that bay window I’m removing.”
“But that’s it, Miss Doris, the bay window!” and Molly gave a shudder and glanced over her shoulder, as if in mortal fear.
“Stop that, Molly! You look as if you saw a spook!”
With a shriek, Molly turned and fled into the house. Jethro Judd looked round wildly, and, as fast as he could, he hobbled after his wife. A door slammed behind them, and Doris turned to the carpenter.
“Go on,” she said, calmly. “I am surprised at their actions,—”
“I’m not surprised,” returned Bill Crane grimly; “don’t you know the hist’ry of this here bay?”
“No; except that it was built on by somebody who didn’t know any better and now, that I’m here, it must come off.”
“But don’t you know why it was put on?”
“No, do you?”
“I ought to,” the man said, with a queer look; “I put it on.”
“Then you’re the very one to take it off,” and Doris gave him a dazzling smile, that put an end to the conversation and sent the carpenter whistling back to work.
* * * * * * * * * * *
“May we come in?” called out a gay voice, and Doris turned to see two young people walking up the drive toward her.
“Yes, indeed,” she returned cordially. “It’s noisy here, come around to the other side and we’ll go in the house.”
They went in to the big living-room, as the girl introduced herself and her brother.
“We’re the Prentisses,” she said, “I’m Ruth, and this noble youth is Guy. We’re sort of neighbours, —though not very near ones, and we’ve come to call.”
“If you’d like to have us,” supplemented the young man.
“I’m awfully glad to have you. Sit down. I’ve been here two or three weeks, and you’re the first real callers I’ve had.”
“People are so shy,” said Ruth, laughing. “And then, you know, our set is too young for regular calls, and our mothers are too old to call on a girl like you.”
“Oh, is that it? Then I’m glad you two suddenly grew old enough to come. I’m sorry those men make such a racket, but they’ll soon be through.”
“It’s fine to have that eyesore of a bay removed,” said Guy, “but how do you dare do it?”
“It doesn’t seem to me such a courageous piece of business,” and Doris looked a little puzzled. “The place is mine, you know. There’s nobody to say what I may or may not do with my own house.”
“Oh, I didn’t mean that. Of course, you can tear down the whole place, if you choose. But that bay window!”
“I begin to think there’s something queer about that window. What is it? It wasn’t here in Washington’s time, of course—”
“Oh, no. Mr. Hilton had that window built himself.”
“Then why shouldn’t Mr. Hilton’s niece and successor take it down?”
“But the story,” broke in Ruth, “the reason he built it,—don’t you know about that?”
“Not a word of it,” and Doris shook her head; “tell me.”
“No,” said Guy, decidedly, “we won’t tell you. It’s nothing of importance, I daresay. Anyway, if you want to know about it, ask old Judd or Mr. Stanchley,—they know more about it than we do.”
“You’ve roused my curiosity, and I wish you’d tell me,” Doris coaxed, but the two visitors firmly refused, and the talk drifted to other matters.
“Yes, indeed,” Doris replied to their inquiries, “I do play tennis and golf, and I can swim and row and ride, and do anything that is outdoorsy. I can’t run a motor car, but I’m going to get one, and learn to drive it myself. But, you see, I’ve so much to do first, learning the place and the house, that it takes all my time just to get fitted in. I’ve always lived in Missouri, and it’s awfully different here.”
“Different how?” asked Ruth, fascinated with this strange girl, who talked with her eyes and her hands as well as with her spoken words.
“I’m not sure that the world is different here, probably it’s about the same; but my own surroundings and conditions are so different, that it means complete readjustment. Why, just think, I’ve lived in a house with sixty girls and a dozen or more teachers, for the last five years; now, here I am, alone, with no one to say go and I goest or come and I cometh.”
Guy Prentiss laughed. “I think you’re in luck! Ninety-nine per cent of the young people I know, are kicking against control. Seems to me the zenith of happiness would be to be one’s own master.”
“It is.” Doris tossed up her head with a little independent gesture, peculiar to herself; “I am in luck. Why, think of this house, all my own, to do what I like with! Indeed, I am in big luck, and I fully appreciate it.”
“I believe you do,” and Guy gave a nod of understanding; “but can’t you take a day off now and then, or an afternoon, and learn your friends and neighbours, as well as your new home?”
“Later, yes. But now, I’ve set sail on the restoration of the house, and I’m going to make it as nearly as I can, what it was before the front rooms were added. I shall leave them, they’re all right,—but somebody took off the gabled roof from the old part, and slapped on a flat roof! That must be pulled off and the gabled, dormer-windowed roof restored.”
“Whew! you’ve got your work cut out for you!”
“Yes, but it’s work I love. I’m an architect by nature, and I’ve studied it some; but really not much experience is needed to know that the thing to do is just to put everything back as nearly as possible as it was when it was built.”
“It will be beautiful,” declared Ruth. “I’ve often thought what a shame it was to spoil the historic part of this old house as they did. But you’ll have modern things inside?”
“Oh, yes, electricity and plumbing and heating and all the things our forefathers would have had if they could have found them. But not bay windows and flat roofs where they don’t belong.”
Again the Prentiss brother and sister exchanged a glance at the mention of the bay window, but Doris ignored it, preferring to learn the secret, whatever it was, from Judd or from Mr. Stanchley.
‘‘I hope you won’t regret it,” said Ruth, as, when they were leaving, they paused to look at the work of demolition, now nearly completed.
“I regret the rubbish and bother,” Doris returned, with a shrug of her shoulders at the heaps of dusty litter, “but after it’s all cleared away it will be peaceful and quiet again.”
“I hope so,” and Ruth tried to conceal an apprehensive shiver, while Guy said cheerfully, “Of course it will. Don’t you let anybody bother you with old tales.”
They went off, and Doris stood looking after them and wondering what they meant about the bay window. The carpenter too, she remembered, had acted queerly, and now she thought again of how Judd and Molly had flown into the house, as if frightened at the sight.
She sat down on the grass again, and put an arm around either dog, who nestled to her as if in silent sympathy.
“What’s the matter?” she whispered, in Peter’s feathery ear. “Are you scared, Peter the Headstrong? And are you, my Flying Dutchman?” Both dogs whined in response, and Dutch gave a low growl, that was not so much angry as nervous. Doris drew their heads closer to her own, and three grave faces watched the carpenters, now nearly at the end of their work of tearing down.
“For the love of goodness! what are you doing?” exclaimed Hugh Stanchley, standing before her.
“Can’t you see?” Doris returned, a little on edge at this latest expression of disapproval.
“Why didn’t you consult with me before you did anything so radical?”
“Mr. Stanchley, I’d be much obliged to you if you’d get over that idea that I propose to consult with you or anybody else, before I do any little thing I choose to this house! I’m going to do a lot more, and I’m going to paint it and put in electricity and fix up the place generally, but I’m telling you this, not asking your consent or permission—or even approval!”
The last words came out with a flash of the brown eyes that showed clearly the state of mind their owner was in.
“I’ve had enough comment for one day!” she went on. “Judd and Molly simply threw a fit! Two neighbours who called were scared to death! Even the carpenters expressed a shocked disapproval, and now, you!”
“But, Doris, you don’t know—”
“I know that the place is mine. You told me yourself that you had looked after all the business details, and that now, though you’re my guardian, because I’m a minor, yet I’m sole owner and mistress of this place. And, as you know, I have money every month from my other guardian, Mr. Lovell, and plenty of it to do all the rebuilding and restoring that I want to do. Now, why, why, Mr. Stanchley, do you look at me as if I were committing a crime? The crime was to add a bay window to a beautiful colonial house—not to take it away!”
“Wait, wait, Doris, my dear, you’ve the wrong idea. You do own this place, you are mistress here; except as a legal guardian, I have no right to direct or comment on your personal expenditures, and all that. But, well, there is a story connected with that bay window, which you ought to have heard before, and then, perhaps, you might not have wanted to tear it down.”
“I can’t think of any story or reason that would have made me want to leave the thing there, but whatever the yarn is, I want to hear it. Was that why Judd and Molly were so overcome, and why the carpenter looked so queer, and why Ruth and Guy Prentiss were making big eyes at me?”
“Yes; it’s common property, the story, and I wonder that Molly hasn’t already told it to you.”
“Come on in the house, and tell me now,” and Doris jumped up, her indignation turned to curiosity, and even tinged with a vague feeling of fear.
It was late in May, and the sun was yet an hour or more above the Hudson river. Stanchley paused on the front verandah, thinking they would sit there in the sunset glow.
“No,” Doris directed, “come around on the side porch. That south side is my favourite; the old farmhouse likes me better than the new part.”
So they sat on the old porch, with its slender columns upholding the roof that once sheltered the head of George Washington; a fact which Doris never forgot, and which was always definitely in her consciousness.
“You don’t know,” she said, very seriously, “how the memory of Washington, the influence of his presence here, impresses me. I feel it all the time, not as if he were a person, but a vague spiritual force, that calls out all that is best in me, and fills my very soul with noble ideals and brave resolves.”
“Really?” and Stanchley looked at the sweet, serious face with a new interest. “I thought you too much of a will-o’-the-wisp to have thoughts of that sort! You have serious moments, then?”
Doris resented the quizzical smile that accompanied this speech more than the words themselves, and with her quick perversity, replied: “Oh, no, not really! I just said that to impress you! I have no thoughts deeper than the colour of a new frock, or the removal of an obnoxious bay window! Oh, no! Now, tell me the story, please.”
Never averse to the sound of his own voice, Stanchley began, congratulating himself that it had fallen to his lot to detail the old narrative to this attentive listener.
“Abel Hilton had two wives,” he began; “the first, who probably died before you were born, I never knew myself. But the second wife was a strange sort of woman, and was, moreover, a spiritualist.”
“Lovely!” cried Doris; “I’m just crazy about table-rapping and those things!”
“Have you ever seen any?”
“No; but I’ve read about them in stories,—and ghost stories! Oh, I adore ghost stories.”
“You’ve come to the right place, then. This house has more than one proper and authenticated ghost.”
“Oh, joy! That was the one thing needed to make it perfect! Go on!”
“And you may have, by your precipitate action to-day, you may have started up a new ghost who will haunt you to your heart’s content. How would you like that?”
“Love it! Go on; hurry up.”
“Don’t rush me. Let me tell the tale in its due dignity. Well, Mrs. Hilton, during the most of her married life, begged and coaxed her husband to build for her a bay window on the north side of that front room.”
“And he did!”
“Don’t interrupt. He didn’t. He wouldn’t. She plead, implored, besought,—”
“Teased, cried, pouted,” supplemented Doris, as Stanchley paused for breath.
“Yes, and scolded, stormed and ballyragged him generally,—but all to no avail. He refused, because, as he said, a bay window was all out of keeping with the architecture of the house.”
“I love my Uncle Abel as never before!” murmured Doris. “But how did the bunch of wood get itself into place? Did the lady have it done herself? I suppose she gave up in despair, and called in Mr. Crane,—he told me he built it,—”
“Are you telling this story, or am I?”
“You, please, sir,” and with exaggerated demureness, Doris sat back and waited further developments.
“Well, then, about seven years or so ago,—no, it must have been eight or nine years,—well, anyway, when Rachel Hilton lay on her death-bed, Abel gave in, and sorely regretted his past refusals to grant her wish. He lamented deeply and probably loudly, that he hadn’t given her the bay window that was the wish of her heart, and he promised her if she would get well, he would have it added to the house at once.”
“Did she get well?” asked Doris, breathlessly.
“I told you she was on her death-bed. She did not get well,—she died.”
“And the bay window? Who put it there?”
“That’s the story.”
“You see,” Stanchley went on, spurred to dramatic recital by the intense interest of his hearer, “Rachel Hilton was a true woman. She was really dying, she couldn’t live to enjoy her long-delayed and hard-won victory, but she was not willing to relinquish that victory entirely. So, she told Abel that if he would build the bay window, after her death she would return in spirit form and communicate with him at stated times.”
“Was he a spiritualist, too?” asked Doris, her eyes glowing with her tense excitement.
“Not exactly, but he was more or less influenced by his wife’s views. Anyway, she made him promise to do as she said, and she agreed to appear to him alone every Sunday afternoon between four and six.”
“Oh! and did she?”
“That nobody knows. But this we do know. Abel Hilton built the bay, and every Sunday afternoon he went into that room and locked the door, for the two hours between four and six o’clock. Then he reappeared, and he never entered the room again until the next Sunday.”
“Never went into that room through the week?”
“No; Molly will tell you the same. Nor did he ever speak concerning what took place in there at those sessions; or tell any one, so far as I know, whether Rachel appeared to him or not.”
“Poor old Uncle Abel,” and Doris’ face looked wistfully sad, “I hope he wasn’t disappointed.”
“I hope not, I’m sure. But now, my lady, do you see what you’ve done? You’ve torn down Rachel’s sacred bay-window, and you may face the possibility of adding her haunting and vengeful spirit to the crowd of wraiths that already have reputed lodgings here.”
Doris looked at him with unseeing gaze. She leaned forward, grasping the arms of her chair, and merely breathed the word, “ghosts!”
“Yes, the place is infested with them,—that is, by tradition and legend; I’ve never seen any, nor do I know of any one who has. But there are stories galore.”
“Tell them to me,—all of them. If there are ghosts in this house, they are my ghosts, and it is my right to know all about them. Does my great aunt Rachel haunt the place?”
“If she hasn’t, she will, now that you’ve torn down her sacred bay window.”
“It wasn’t sacred.”
“Abel Hilton held it so. That room was rarely entered after his wife’s death, except when he locked himself in there.”
“Then perhaps Uncle Abel’s ghost will walk, with the rest.”
“Look here, Mr. Stanchley,” Doris was very much in earnest, “as I understand it, Abel Hilton’s will left everything to the fortunate person whose name should be drawn from the lot.”
“And that person was to have absolute authority and control of all the property and estate?”
“Yes, but he had no notion that heir would be a child of sixteen!”
“That doesn’t affect the bequest. But, this is what does affect it. If any will or any intent of a will is interfered with, the spirit of the dead testator will haunt the house until such interference ceases.”
“Bless me, Doris! don’t look at me like that!” and Hugh Stanchley moved uncomfortably before Doris’ piercing gaze.
“I’m not looking at you in any particular way, Mr. Stanchley, but I’m telling you that I propose to make my own plans and carry them out. You do not know me very well, if you think I am a docile or pliable sort. My mother often told me that I inherited my father’s adventurous and wild disposition. I’m glad of it! I want adventure and experience. This house is mine, and I shall do as I will with my own. And if there are ghosts, so much the better! I am not afraid of them. They will have no reason to harm me, for already I love the house, and I shall do with it only what is best for it. I don’t mean to be obstinate or pig-headed,— in fact I want to conduct myself like Mrs. Hendrick Hudson, who sate so modestly, but I must and will have my own way!”
Doris had risen, and stood with one raised arm around a slender pillar of the old porch, and waved the other toward the house itself.
“It is mine,” she said solemnly; “all mine. I love it for its age and dignity; I revere it because it is glorified by the memories of Washington, because in these very rooms,—on this very porch, he sat and brooded over the fate of the country he loved! I shall restore and renew it, until it is as nearly as possible the house it was then, and if foolish bay windows and flat roofs stand in my way, they’ll have to go, that’s all!”
A smile broke over the lovely face, a reverent light glowed in the brown eyes, and Doris stood, in the sunset glow, looking a veritable and worthy inheritor of the old house and its glorious traditions.
“I will not interfere with your wishes, Doris,” Stanchley said; “you are right, it is your house, and you have power to do as you will with it. Also, you have sufficient income to make these restorations possible, but I hope you will consult with me as to carpenters’ and painters’ estimates. Such things it would be wise to submit to a more experienced judgment, before you give your orders.”
“Now, you’re my Stanchion again! My stronghold and helper. Thank you for understanding at last. I am impetuous, I know, but you see, I have to be, to gain my point. There’s another gentleman I greatly admire told about in that Irving story. He ‘warred for quiet,’ and ‘took part in every brawl in his eagerness to keep the peace and promote public tranquillity’! How’s that for a diplomat? And that’s me, all over! Now, I’ve warred you for quiet, and you’ve surrendered, so that’s all right! You’ll learn me after a while. If any one picks me up for a white-muslined, blue-ribboned, spinet-playing damsel, he’ll set me down again, pretty quick! Come along now, and let’s go and look at the waterfall. And I’ll tell you how I’m going to transform that brook arrangement into a swimming pool! If any ghost of the Neperhan or rainbow fairy of the cascade wants to haunt me, it may. Why, Mr. Stanchley, I just eat up ghost stories,—always have. When will you tell me my own spectral legends?”
“Not now,” laughed Stanchley. “They should be told on a dark winter night, with only the light of one flickering candle—”
“Which the soughing wind would blow out,” interrupted Doris. “All right, let the ghosts wait, and come to the spring.”
* * * * * * * * * *
But it was not the lawyer, after all, who told Doris the time-honoured legends of the old house.
That night, before going to her own bed-room, the girl went into the room Washington had used during his stay there, and sat by the window in the moonlight gloom, looking out on the soft night. The air was filled with the fragrance of the wistaria, and the spring garden blooms, and she saw the dogwood trees, numerous and of a ghostly white, like scattered phantoms.
“Molly,” she called out, softly; “oh, Molly! come up here, won’t you, please?”
Solemn Molly obeyed the bidding, and as she appeared at the door, Doris said, “Sit down, Molly. I want you to tell me about the ghosts.”
“There’s only one, Miss Doris,” and Molly spoke in a strained, scared voice, “that is, unless you count the lady,—but I don’t believe—”
“Now, don’t tell it in that jerky, mixed-up way! Sit down, Molly; take your time, and tell me the whole story. I want it all and I want it now.”
“Lord save us, child! Can’t we have a light?”
“No; no ghost story likes a light! Are you afraid, Molly?”
“That I am, Miss Doris! It’s seldom I think of the ghost, I’ve schooled myself not to,—and, now, if I bring up the whole tale—”
“Which is just what you are to do. Don’t be foolish, Molly. There’s no such thing as a ghost, really, you know. But I want to hear the tradition, and I want it now, on this heavenly moonlight night, here in Washington’s room,—did he know of the ghost, Molly?”
“Land, Miss Doris, it wasn’t a ghost in his day here! It was a gay young man.”
“Oh, it is a young man ghost? Great! Go on, now, Molly, I won’t interrupt with a word, till you’ve finished. Begin at the very beginning.”
“Well, the beginning was in Washington’s time, Miss Doris. He was here in 1781, you know—”
“Yes, bless his heart! Sad, gloomy, despondent, —His army, only a tattered remnant of troops, encamped right out in this very landscape! Oh, I know all about that, Molly, I’ve read every bit of history I can find about that summer. And that blessed man sat here, in this room, ‘his soul in arms,’ but distracted for lack of help or encouragement to fight the enemy!”
“And the French troops, Miss Doris, they was here, too.”
“Yes, I know, Rochambeau’s men filled up this scenery, also. But go on, Molly, get to the ghost.”
“It was one of Rochambeau’s soldiers, some say a gay young blade—”
“Of course he was a gay young blade, if he was a French soldier! Oh, what a lovely ghost! Go on, Molly.”
“Now, don’t be flippantish, Miss Doris, dear, an’ oh, please, can’t we have a little light?”
“Nonsense! go on.”
“Well, the French soldiers was all about these hills, and they was all for flirtin’ an’ sweetheartin’ with the young ladies in the country houses round about.”
“Oh, were they? I never thought of them that way, I thought they were drilling and fighting all the time.”
“Now, Miss Doris, you know there wasn’t any battle here. They camped here, jest waitin’ to see what next. Why, they lived in tents, you know, and they raised little gardens, I’ve heard, and amused themselves as best they might, while waitin’ for marchin’ orders.
“Well, they was one French chap, a gallant youth, named Le Fevre, and he was sweethearts with a lovely young lady named Cutler—Miss Luella Cutler.”
“What a pretty name.”
“And a pretty girl, so the story goes. Well, this young man, he had the run of this house, bein’ one of Rochambeau’s pets, and a good friend of George Washington’s, and they kept him busy runnin’ important errants an’ conveyin’ secret messages hither an’ yon. Many a time, ’tis said, Le Fevre slept under this roof—”
“Oh, did he? Molly, you can’t begin to know how I love this house! I shall always live here. I shall marry, and my children and grandchildren shall be brought up to love and revere it, too.”
“Laws, Miss Doris, maybe you won’t marry any one round these parts.”
“He’ll have to come here to woo me, Molly. Only in this house will the troth of Doris Ballard be plighted. This house is my house, these traditions are my traditions,—”
“You talk like your ancestors had lived here.”
“I wish they had,—’way back, I mean. But I find they didn’t. Old Uncle Abel bought the place after he was a grown man. But it doesn’t matter. It is my home now, and always will be. I shall start the family traditions and my descendants will carry them on, and now and forever this house shall be reverenced and loved by its own people. Good gracious, Molly, can’t you see the wonder of it! Can’t you understand?”
“Yes, Miss Doris, I do,” and the solemn face looked at the radiant countenance before her. All in white, round her shoulders a pale blue scarf that turned misty in the moonlight, Doris looked herself like a wraith of the Revolutionary Spirit. She was living far back in the past, her thoughts, her mind were all full of the memory of Washington and his times, and she almost forgot the promised story as she lost herself in her glorious fancies.
“Now as to the ghost, Miss,” Molly proceeded, and Doris roused herself with a start.
“Yes, yes, Molly, go on. Was the gay young Frenchman the ghost?”
“Later on comes that. Now, Mr. Le Fevre, he was the beau of the beautiful Miss Cutler. And at that time the whole countryside was in fear and trembling of the troops of Hessians who had just reached New York. Fearful tales of the Hessians’ doings was everywhere told, an’ nobody felt safe from a raid,—as it might be any minute. So, all hands hid their valuables and their moneys and took every precaution against the terrible Hessians.”
“Did they come up here?”
“I don’t know that. I haven’t much history, except as I’ve heard it in these tales.”
“Who told you this story, Molly?”
“I’ve known it all my life, Miss Doris. I’ve heard it an’ told it hundreds of times. Everybody round here knows it.”
“I suppose it gains with every recital.”
“It don’t need to. The facts speak for themselves. Well, then, this Miss Cutler, she had a string of valuable pearls,—”
“Oh, now it gets interesting!”
“A string of valuable pearls, as was a heirloom, and the clasp of ’em was a big ruby, which they called a luck, I believe.”
“Yes, old families often had one special gem that was their ‘luck.’ I must get one, to start my traditions on. They ought to cling about a Luck, of some sort. Say, Molly, I must name this place. I believe, though, I’ll continue to call it Collander. They tell me it used to be called that, and I like it a lot. Yes, I’ll call it Collander, for all time! Go on, Molly.”
“Yes, Miss. And so, this poor young lady was in a great to-do about where to hide her necklace. And not wishing to trust it in her own home, she begged Le Fevre to hide it in this house, sort of feeling that as George Washington was living here, it was the safest place. So the young Frenchman, he hid it one night, and they do say that the very next day he was marched off to Yorktown, without so much as a minute to tell the lady where was the hiding-place.”
“For goodness’ gracious sake! Is it here yet, Molly? Where?”
“Land, Miss Doris, how you do run on! How do I know where it is? Now do you want to hear the tale, or don’t you?”
“Yes, please, Molly, and I will be good, and not interrupt, but, oh, you don’t know how exciting it is to be hearing your own traditions of your own house!”
“Then listen a bit. He went off to the war, and he was killed in the Siege of Yorktown.”
“Oh, Molly, not really?”
“Yes, really. And now here’s the story itself. As he was a-dyin’ on the battlefield,—with his very dyin’ gasp,—he told a fellow comrade where the pearls was hidden.”
“That’s it, Miss, nobody knows. Leastways, what he said was so incoherent and un—un—”
“Yes, that. An’ though the comrade soldier brought the message back to Miss Cutler, this was all he could make of it. The Frenchman said he hid the pearls in among the family plate of this house.”
“The silver? Where? On the sideboard? Was there much of it?”
“I don’t know the answers to those questions. The old story goes that he said, gaspin’ like, ‘the family plate,’ an’ then, when his comrade tried to get more information, he said, ‘the willow pitcher.’ An’ that’s all.”
“Why, he meant that old willow pattern china,— don’t you know? The old blue design, of the lovers crossing the bridge,—’’
“Of course, I know, Miss Doris. Don’t you s’pose whoever first heard this story, knew all about the willow pattern china, even more’n we do now?”
“Of course they did! I suppose this house was full of it then. And he put the pearls in the willow pitcher?”
“How could any one know? He said first, the family plate, an’ of course, they s’posed they’d find the pearls in a tankard or tureen or some of those big pieces as wasn’t used every day. But it didn’t seem much of a hiding place, did it now? An’ then he followed it up with the remark about the willow pitcher, an’ who knows which he meant? He couldn’t ’a’ put the pearls in the piece o’ plate and in the pitcher, too.”
“Unless he divided them.”
“That, of course. But it don’t seem likely as he’d break a pearl necklace in two, now, does it? Maybe, though, the string was weak, an’ give way, an’ he thought it a good plan to put some in one place an’ some in another. But, to my way o’ thinkin’, either a pitcher or a silver jug was a poor place to conceal ’em.”
“You can’t judge, Molly. Perhaps the piece of family plate he chose for the hiding place was already hidden itself. Suppose it had been concealed by the people living here, and Le Fevre spotted it, and just dropped the pearls in. That would be all right, I think. Oh, again, maybe the willow pitcher was an old cracked thing on a high kitchen shelf and he felt sure it wouldn’t be looked into by the thieves, because it was so old and discarded.”
“You sure are ingenious, Miss Doris! Maybe those things are so. But anyway, they never found the pearls, and to this day Miss Cutler—a direct descendant of the lady who lost ’em—is offerin’ a reward for ’em.”
“I wish I could find them, Molly; I’d give them to her without any reward.”
“That you would, I’ll be bound. Well, Miss Doris, now for the ghost. They do say that the poor young man can’t rest quiet in his grave on account of them lost pearls. An’ so,” Molly looked apprehensively over her shoulder.
“Oh, does he haunt this house? Does he, Molly?”
“Yes, he does. I wish you’d have a light. I’m that shaky in my knees.”
“Don’t be foolish! When does he haunt? Have you ever seen him?”
“Land, no! I’d ’a’ dropped dead from fright, if I had! Nobody’s seen him o’ late years, but they do say as he haunts of August nights,—that’s when it happened,—’long about August.”
“Oh, did it? And what does the ghost do, Molly? Trail around in a misty vapour, and clank his chains, —no, he didn’t have chains,—well, clank his sword, and wail as he seeks for the lost treasure?”
Solemn Molly resented the light tone and the laughter in the young voice, and she said, shortly, “If so be’s you see fit to make fun of it, Miss Doris, I hope to goodness the haunt appears to you!”
“I hope he does, Molly. I’m not afraid of ghosts. I’m not a bit superstitious. Look! Molly! Don’t you see a form in that corner? See,—a vague, shadowy,—”
Doris dropped her voice to a hoarse whisper, and clutched Molly’s arm in a pretended agony of fear. With a shriek, Molly jumped up and rushed from the room and flew downstairs as fast as her fright would let her.
Doris heard her hurry to the kitchen, and slamming the door behind her, give vent to her terror and indignation in a storm of angry words to her husband.
“She’ll threaten to leave to-morrow,” thought Doris, smiling, “but I’ll coax her up and she won’t go. I oughtn’t to have scared her, but it was such a temptation. Well, anyway, now I’ve got my own real live ghost. And a dandy one he is, too. I ’most wish I could believe in hauntings, for it somehow seems as if I ought to. But I don’t, and that’s all there is about that. I do believe in the sacred memories and the noble, splendid influence of the great man who used to live in this room; I do believe that the thought and knowledge of his spirit and character will help me to mould my own on his ideals and standards. I believe in such influences and forces, but not in the return to earth in ghostly wise of the gay French soldier! Though it’s nice of him to be so disturbed about the disappearance of the pearls that were put in his care. I think I’ll put up a pretty good search for them, and in my tearing downs and building ups, I may find them! Who knows?”
Midsummer found the old house well on its way to a complete restoration. Doris had found it necessary to call in a skilled architect, and in accordance with his directions, the workmen had removed the flat roof and replaced it with a gabled, dormered one that left the third story as it had been originally planned, with many small rooms and two large attics, beneath whose slanting sides one could scarcely stand upright.
Around and behind a chimney, a secret hiding place had been discovered and from it were dragged old papers and old bills, but as these all bore dates subsequent to eighteen hundred, they were of no immediate interest to Doris.
She had a vague hope of finding some papers or documents that would throw a light on the hiding place of the pearls, which she hoped were still in the old house.
Stanchley laughed at her, saying the old family plate of the people who had lived at that time had long ago disappeared, whether stolen or legitimately carried away. And as to a willow pitcher, if that had been made the receptacle of the treasure, the first person to discover the fact would soon have removed the gems to a safer place.
“No, my dear Doris,” the lawyer assured her, “those pearls are gone beyond recall, as far as you are concerned. Of course somebody found them years ago, and it must have been some dishonest person, for the Cutler people have tried to recover them many, many times.”
“They’re trying now, aren’t they?” asked Doris. “Molly told me there’s a reward still offered.”
“I suppose there is a standing offer, but it will probably continue to stand, till the crack of doom. Why, think a minute, child. How could those pearls stay in any silver piece of silver plate or in any old pitcher for more than a century? I think, with you, that the tankard or pitcher was a hidden one,—that would give the story credibility, at least. And as to the mention of the two pieces, it may have been that the silver piece of plate, whatever it was, was hidden with or near the willow pitcher, and the finding of one implied the other. You see, the whole tale is merely a series of verbal repetitions, and has doubtless been garbled and exaggerated in the telling. Perhaps the willow pitcher is an addition of a fanciful and enthusiastic Cutler, who told the tale many years ago; and, on the other hand, perhaps the family plate was the addition and the pitcher the real thing. Anyway, you know as much about it as any one else of the present day, so search away to your heart’s content, as many people have done before you.”
“But I have the house,” said Doris, smiling up at him, “and so I have the best opportunity to hunt for the secret.”
“Generations of Cutlers have scoured the house from attic to cellar, but the more sensible ones of that family agree that the pearls and the pitcher were removed long, long ago, and further search is about as useless as seeking perpetual motion.”
“But if I am the perpetual motion who does the seeking,”—and Doris danced about, waving her arms energetically—“there may yet be something doing!”
“Hello, Doris,” called a summoning voice, and Guy Prentiss stepped through the long open window, into the living room. “Ready to go to the tennis court with me?”
“I can’t go to-day, Guy,” and Doris perched herself on the corner of a table, prepared for what she knew would be a stormy argument. “I’ve got to be here when the masons come to fix the old Franklin thing-a-majig in the fireplace.”
“Oh, pshaw, Doris, they can get along without you. Let Molly see to it, or that capable and important personage who chauffs your car and owns this ranch generally.”
“Hardy? He doesn’t own this place,—I do.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, this place owns you. You’re a slave to it, and it rules you with a rod of iron! Doesn’t it, Mr. Stanchley?”
“About fifty-fifty, I think. The place has cast a spell over Doris, but she has her own sweet way with it.”
“Oh, her ways are sweet enough,” and Guy scowled at the saucy face and scornful tiptilted chin.
Doris paid little heed to him, for she was contemplating the great lock and key on one of the old doors of the room.
“Did you ever see anything like it?” she asked. “We found it down cellar, and it seemed to belong there, so I had it put on. But I think now it was a lock for an outer door.”
“Of course it was,” Guy assented. “Probably the lock that the burglar picked to get the loot the Frenchman hid in the family plate of the house that Jack built!”
“He’d have a high old time picking that lock!” and Doris exhibited with pride the old and complicated processes. “And I don’t believe people locked up much then; I’ve always heard of the old farmhouses with their doors standing wide open all night.”
“In piping times of peace, little one, not when the black-avised Hessians were abroad in the land. But, come along, you’ve just got to go to that tennis game. You promised me.”
Doris’ red lips formed a mutinous little curve. “I have an ineradicable detestation of doing anything I promised to do,” she declared. “If I said I’d go, I won’t go,—and that settles that!”
“But you’re all dressed for it. You expected to go.”
Doris glanced down at her smart tennis suit of tan-coloured Rajah with scraps of bright plaid silk attached in just the right places.
“Some togs!” said Guy, approvingly, but the little foot in its canvas shoe swung indolently against the pedestal of the old mahogany table, and Doris serenely repeated her intention of staying at home.
“Well, stay, then,” and Guy prepared to leave; “stay here alone, you little hermit! Just keep right on staying alone, and pretty soon all your friends will desert you, and you’ll have no company but the old ghosts, and most likely they’ll desert you, and you’ll live alone for a thousand years, and you’ll get older and older and older, until you dry up and blow away!”
“Haven’t blown away yet!” and Doris sprang down from the table, and stood poised on one foot, arms outspread, and hovering like a big butterfly, “but I may fly away!”
“Don’t!” and Guy grabbed her fringed sash. “I shouldn’t be surprised to see you fly up the chimney! You’re a witch! Did your ancestors hail from Salem?”
“‘Spect they did. But I’d like to fly up the chimney, and see what ails that flue,—oh, here come the masons, now. I won’t detain you, Guy, if you feel you must go!” Doris stood by the open window, with very evident intention of closing it behind her departing guest, and as the boy went away, grumbling, Stanchley laughed at his determined young ward.
“I have to fire him,” she said, apologetically, “he’s bothering around here all the time, anyhow. I did mean to play tennis this afternoon, and I want to, but I want even more to look after things here.”
“I’ll see to the masons, Doris, I assure you I’m quite capable of it.”
“Yes, I know you are, but I want to be here. So, you needn’t stay unless you like.”
“More dirt and rubbish and work!” growled Molly, coming in a little later.
“Yes, but it’s all done now, Molly,” cheered Doris; “the masons have finished, and now all that remains—”
“Is for me to break my back clearing away! I do think, Miss Doris, that you just naturally love to tear down—”
“I do, Molly; you’ve struck it. I’ve a streak of total depravity that makes me love distress and destruction, which is what you usually call my performances. Now, old Plymouth Rock, stop your freting. Didn’t I get you that Hester person to clean and scrub for you? Didn’t I get that very clever Cooper or Hooper or whatever her name is to cook and wash, so you could have all your time to devote to your dear, cunnin’ li’l Doris child? Didn’t I, Molly?”
“Yes, Miss Doris, you engaged enough servants to run a hotel, but’s fur’s I can see, they make as much work as they do.”
“Oh, fiddle-dee-dee, Molly, and tum-te-tiddy, I-ay, I-ay! Let out another inch of that widening smile of yours, and remember ’tis a gay old world we’re living in,—not a graveyard.”
“Say, Miss Doris, I heard the spooks again last night.”
“Yes, you did! You must cut out the cucumbers with cream dressing, Molly. I always knew they wouldn’t agree with most folks. Now, my little faded primrose, please get busy at clearing up this room, for my devoted swain, one Mr. Guy Prentiss, will, without doubt, call on me at the sunset hour.”
“If he don’t, it’ll be because he’s dead,” and Molly began to wield her broom.
“Good gracious, is he as attentive as all that? I hadn’t realised it. I must not encourage the youth, I must repulse him!”
“Yes, you an’ your repulsin’! Well you know, Miss Doris, your repulses is more allurin’ than other girls’ invitations.”
“You don’t tell me, Mrs. Judd! Well, well, I am surprised! Am I then such a siren?”
“I don’t know what that is, Miss Doris, but you’re a handful. An’ me an’ Judd we’ve about come to the conclusion that what with your new-fangled ways, an’ your extry servants, and your motor car an’ its chuffer, an’ your everlastin’ tearin’s down an’ cuttin’s up, that we ain’t needed here any more, an’ so—”
“O, Molly! would you desert me?” and Doris fell into a chair, and dropped her head in her hands, in an attitude of abject despair. Her shoulders shook, sounds of choked sobs were heard, and whether real or pretended, a plaintive cry, childish and appealing, smote Molly’s heart.
“Now, Miss Doris, dear,—you know you don’t need us old folks—”
“But I do, Molly,” and the soft brown mass of curly hair refused to lift itself. “I do,” came the smothered voice. “You and Judd are all I’ve got to stand between me and the cold world! How’d I look, living here alone with a parcel of hired servants? I couldn’t do it! I’d have to rent a chaperon. But you and Judd are the very bulwarks of respectability and protection that I need. Oh, Molly, dear, solemncholy Molly, don’t forsake me!”
“You’re a tantaliser,” and the grim old face set itself against these blandishments. “You do need us, an’ I know it. But you make such a lot of work, you kick up such a lot of bobbery, that Judd,—he says—”
“Ah, yes, I thought it was Judd who was at the bottom of this disturbance. Now, see here, Molly, you love me enough to coax old Judd around, don’t you? What ails him, anyway?”
“Well it’s that Mr. Hardy,—”
“Yes, I thought so! And it’s only jealousy, Molly. You know that as well as I do. Just because Hardy is a little stuffy and important in his manner, Judd must needs get envious of him! You know, Molly, I have to have my little car, how could I get along without it? Then naturally, I have to have somebody to care for it, and to drive me when I don’t want to drive myself. Now, Judd couldn’t do those things. So, you coax him up, Molly, and make him see how much I need you two, and how much more necessary you are than Hardy. Why I could get a thousand chauffeurs, but where, ladies and gentlemen, where, I ask you, could I find another couple o’ Judds?”
“All right, Miss Doris, I’ll try to ca’m Judd down, an’ if you’ll speak to Hardy not to be quite so high an’ mighty,—”
“Oh, I’ll speak to Hardy! I’ll speak to him with such a glint in my fiery eye that he’ll bite the dust at my feet! You leave Hardy to me,—and you look after that sensitive plant that has the honour of being your better half. And, for the love of St. Michael, Molly, here comes a visitor, and for a wonder it isn’t Mr. Guy! Who is it? And look at this room! Never mind, show her into the other room.”
“You don’t know me,” the newcomer said, a moment later, as she smiled into Doris’ inquiring eyes, “but you soon will! I’m Madame Marshall.”
“Madame Marshall?” and the brown gaze continued to inquire, though with pleasant cordiality Doris offered a chair.
“Yes; I’m one of Abel Hilton’s heirs,—one of the unsuccessful ones, you know.”
“Are you?” and though the words were few the courteous manner gave them warmth.
“You drew the lucky chance, you know—”
“So I was told,” and Doris smiled, amusedly.
“Yes; though nobody dreamed that you were a young girl. I wanted the place, I don’t mind owning up to that, and I even went so far as to offer to buy out the chances of some of the others,—I’ve rather a bent for speculation,—but I’m mighty glad they wouldn’t sell. I’d have been just that much out.”
“So you would,” agreed Doris. “I suppose you thought, like the others, that the Doris Ballard who drew the chance was my mother.”
“Yes, I did. Lemmesee, you look a little like her, I think. Your hair is more brown, but there’s a smack of red in it.”
“Yes there is,” and Doris laughed. “As a kiddy, I had almost a carrot top, but it darkened a lot of later years, and now it only shows really red in a bright sunlight.”
“Well, I staid here all night, after the funeral of Uncle Abel,—and I told the old woman who was here that I was comin’ to see you. So,—here I am, if you don’t mind.”
“And if I do mind?” Doris smiled, but looked her guest squarely in the face.
“Why, then of course, I’ll be going,” and Madame Marshall started to rise.
“No,” said Doris, quickly, “don’t go. I invite you to remain over night. Will you?”
“Why, yes, thank you. I brought a trunk, in case you invited me. It’s down to the station. Will you send for it?”
“Yes,” replied Doris, but her heart sank. She had thought her independent spirit would prevent her from being hospitable to this unwelcome and uninvited guest, but her natural delicacy and her real inability to be rude, made her weakly succumb to the invasion. For a premonition told her that if the lady had brought a trunk, and was of the pushing nature that her advent indicated, she would by no means depart after one night’s stay.
Nor did she. Mrs. Marshall, or Madame Marshall, as she said she preferred to be called, gently but firmly insinuated herself into the household and staid on and on, until she quite wore out her originally unwilling welcome.
At last, old Judd approached Doris on the subject.
“You’ve got a right to fire her, Miss Doris,” he declared; “she’s no call settlin’ down here for a week or more! Tell her she must go.”
“Oh, I can’t do that, Judd. I’m sick and tired of seeing her around, but I can’t tell her to go.”
“You’re too generous, Miss Doris. You’ve got too much kindness an’ unselfishness in your big heart for your little bit of a body. Some day it’ll spill over.”
“It has, in this case, Judd. But I can’t help it. Sometimes I feel like setting Peter the Headstrong on her,—but of course, I don’t.”
“No, Miss Doris, you just smile and say what a pleasant day it is! But, you mark my words, if you let her, she’ll stay all summer.”
“I wouldn’t mind so much, if she didn’t quiz me and bother me to bits all the time,” Doris sighed. “It’s no fun having a house, if some old outsider is going to hover over you every minute. I believe I will try to boost her off, Judd.”
“You better get about it, Miss Doris; the longer she stays the solider she sets.”
* * * * * * * * *
So Doris tried to “get about it.” She threw out delicate and unoffending hints that she loved solitude and liked to be alone.
“But it isn’t good for you, child,” said Madame Marshall, with a benevolent smile. “You’re too young to be at the head of this big house.”
“I seem to be able to manage it. That is, when I can have my own way.”
“And that you always have, my self-willed little beauty. Do you know how pretty you are, Doris?”
“That doesn’t bother me now,” and Doris shook her red-brown mop with a careless gesture. “I’m not thinking of such things. I’m devoting all my time and energies to getting this house into shape, and having every spick speck of it just the way it should be. After that is entirely completed, I’ll begin to think about my personal appearance and manners.”
Madame Marshall laughed pleasantly. “What a dear child it is, to be sure! But, all the same, dearie, you need a guiding hand. If only your poor, dear mother could have lived to care for you.”
“My mother was a darling, and I wish indeed she could have lived. But in many ways I am a wiser girl for having had to look out for myself. I am self-reliant and capable, because of my independent life. You know George Washington’s mother was said to be ‘fond and unthinking’ in her bringing up of her son, and my dear mother was like that. So, though I miss her and mourn her, I know I am braver and better for facing the world alone.”
“My, my! what a child! I never saw any one like you, Doris Ballard! Didn’t your guardian out West have any authority over you?”
“Not much. He is a very busy man, and I couldn’t get on with his family. George Washington said, ‘there is much greater circumspection to be observed by a guardian than a natural parent,’ but my guardian in Missouri didn’t feel that way about it.”
“You have Washington’s sayings and thoughts at your tongue’s end!”
“I know it,” and Doris smiled. “I read about him all the time. I don’t know how many United States Histories and Lives of Washington I’ve bought since I came here. But I’ve heaps of ’em.”
“You seem to have plenty of money.”
Doris looked up resentfully at this bit of rudeness, but she only said, “Do I?”
“Yes. Did your father leave it to you? Or is it Abel Hilton’s fortune. I understood he didn’t leave much beside the house.”
“Let us go out and look at the spring, Madame Marshall. I’m having a swimming pool built out there. Do you know, this is one of the springs that the wives of the first Dutch settlers here brought over from Holland.”
“What do you mean?”
“Yes, those darling old, fat Dutch ladies felt sure there would be no decent drinking water over here, so each one, before she sailed, slipped out in the night, took up a fine little Dutch spring, hid it in a churn, and brought it over, quite unknown to her husband. Then she set it out,—and that’s why there are so many lovely springs and brooks all around here.”
“Where did you read all that?”
“In my Washington Irving. Oh, his books are great! And the ghosts! Why, this section of country is alive with them. You’re named for one, aren’t you, my booful Flying Dutchman?” She gave a tweak to the smug face of the Boston Bull, who returned an appreciative growl. “And Wolfert Acker’s ghost prowls not very far away; and, oh, there are ghosts prancing about in every direction, if we could only see them!”
“Aren’t you afraid of them?”
“Not I! I love every hollow groan and every rattle of their dear old dry bones! I’ve never heard any, but I wouldn’t be afraid.”
“You know there are said to be ghosts in your house.”
“I know it; the French soldier who hid the Cutler pearls; you know about him?”
“I’ve heard of him, of course. But I meant of a later date. Rachel Hilton haunts the place, since you tore down her bay window.”
“She does! Have you seen her?”
“I know much that I daren’t tell,” and Madame Marshall’s thin lips met in a straight, hard line.
Casual inquiry on Doris’ part failed to get any definite information as to Madame Marshall’s meaning, and not caring much what she meant, Doris did not pursue the subject.
“I am clairvoyant,” the visitor stated, “and I have much revealed to me that I may not divulge, lest there be serious consequences.”
“All right,” agreed Doris, “keep your secrets to yourself. I’m sure I don’t want to have those serious consequences fall on your head.”
“Not serious to me, my dear, but to you.”
“Mercy, are they going to fall on my head? Then, let’s drop the subject, before you let slip any revelation.”
“I feel a premonition of impending disaster. To you,—my dear, brave child, something is about to happen.”
“Let it happen! I just love happenings! And I’m not afraid of those serious consequences you referred to. But, as I don’t want anything dire to fall on your head, I am going to suggest that you bring your visit here to an end.”
“Are you putting me out of your house, you rude child?”
“I hate to use those words, Madame, but I may as well tell you frankly, what I am sure you suspect, that you and I are not very congenial companions and I can’t feel it’s good for either of us to bide under the same roof much longer. I daresay I am rude, but you must remember that I’ve had little of the kind of training you deem so necessary—”
“You’re a saucy, impertinent chit! You have the devil-may-care spirit of your father and the red hair of your mother, but you’ll find your pride will have a fall sooner or later! You’ve no right to this house! I don’t believe that will was genuine! You—you—”
Madame Marshall paused in sheer bewilderment, for Doris had dropped down on the grass and was rocking back and forth in convulsions of laughter.
“Oh, go on!” she cried, “do go on! You’re so funny when you get mad! And, as the stories say, ‘you interest me strangely!’ Uncle Abel’s will not genuine! Perhaps he made another, leaving this house to you. Perhaps it’s hidden in a willow pitcher, or somewhere. That would be one more mystery for the old place!”
“The mysteries of this old place may be more than you think. And they may have a more baleful influence upon your own destiny than you think. Have a care how you defy the evil influences that cling round all these old rooms; there are strong ones at work, even now, as my occult vision tells me.” Madame Marshall had apparently forgotten her anger, and was staring into space with the blank, intense gaze of a seer.
Doris was interested rather than frightened.
“You did go for me, you know, and you have no right to talk to me like that; but I’ll forgive you if you’ll tell me what you mean. Do you really have second sight? Isn’t that what they call it?”
“Yes, little Doris, I have,” and now the anger was gone and the voice of the speaker was low and gentle. “It is a gift vouchsafed to few, but it is my privilege to hear sounds you may not hear,—to see sights you may not see—”
“Tell me of them,” breathed Doris, fascinated by the woman’s manner and appearance.
Madame Marshall half-closed her long, narrow eyes, and stood motionless for a moment. Then she gave a few quick gasps, and fairly flinging her hands up to her drawn and contorted face, she gave a low moan that ended in a shriek.
“No! no!” she cried, “not that! Oh, not that! I beg of you,—No!”
Doris remained quiet, closely watching the agonised woman, when attracted by the commotion, for the dogs had begun to howl in sympathy, Judd and Molly came running to the scene.
“What ails her?” queried Molly, and Doris laid her finger on her lips.
“Hush!” she whispered, “I think she’s talking to ghosts. Don’t interrupt her.”
Molly gave a shriek more terrifying than Mrs. Marshall’s disturbance had been, and went flying back to the house. Judd, however, stood his ground, and said, rather sternly:
“I wish you’d stop that nonsense, ma’am. You’re scarin’ my young lady to death,—to say nothin’ of my poor wife. What seems to ail ye?”
“Let her alone, Judd,” directed Doris. “I want to see what she’ll do next.”
“You ’tend to her then, Miss, an’ I’ll go look after Molly.”
Judd went off, with a snort of disdain for the whole performance, and Mrs. Marshall opened her eyes wide to find Doris looking hard at her, as if to fathom her sincerity.
“How can you be on such terms with those underlings?” said the older lady. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself, to act as if they were your equals. Have you no notion of good breeding?”
“Oh, that’s all right, Madame,” Doris returned, easily; “you see Judd and Molly understand me and I them. They’re trusted and tried old retainers—”
“Old retainers! I suppose you think that sounds grand and elegant!”
“Yes, rather. Anyway, they are the trustedest and triedest and oldest retainers I possess, and so, as they’re awfully good to me, I love and respect them.”
“But they’re common, lowbred—”
“Now, now, good people are always well-bred, whatever their walk in life may be; and common— means just nothing at all.”
“You’re determined to cling to them, then?”
“De-ter-mined. Yes, ma’am! Why?”
Doris had struck an independent attitude, standing very straight, her hands resting lightly on her hips and her head thrown a little back, as she scrutinised her strange guest.
“Oh, only,” and the tone was most ingratiating, “I thought perhaps you might be enough alive to your own advantage to discharge them, and take me on for a chaperon, housekeeper and companion.”
“I thank you,” and Doris made a low, slow bow. “I am deeply appreciative of your kindness, but my one and only answer to your proposition must be Nevaire! Forgive me, if you are disappointed, but I can make no other decision. This is my house, this is my home. Like Caesar’s wife, or whoever it was, I came, I saw, and I am conqueror. There is, I think, nothing more to be said.”
Whistling the dogs to her heel, Doris turned, and with an ironical wave of her hand, walked away.
“My goodness gracious sakes alive!” she exclaimed, “if it hadn’t been for your support, Peter and Dutch, I should have fallen down, kersmack! and that’s the truth! Did you ever see such a woman? Now, if she doesn’t go off instanter, I’m going to get Mr. Stanchley to put her out! It’s no fair for a poor little girl to be burdened with such an incubus,—if that’s the word I think it is. Anyway, doggumses, we’ll go on a tear, for a mile or so, and come back all pleasanted up. Us can’t allow a bad-tempered clairvoyant lady to ruffle our sweet, placid disposition, can us? But she most certainly did come near it!”
A run with the dogs quite restored Doris’ equanimity, and when she returned to the house, she found Molly awaiting her, in depths of despair.
“She got after me, Miss Doris,” Molly said, an unusual solemnity on her always sad face, “and she said as how me an’ Judd was puttin’ you in desp’rit danger every minute we staid here with you. She says she’s spook-proof,—’course she didn’t say that, but she got off a lot o’ stuff that meant that. Anyway, she give me to understand, that we wasn’t no sort of protection for you, an’ if we didn’t get out an’ let her come here to live, you’d be et up by the spooks—or—or somethin’ awful would happen to you!”
“Oh, Molly!” and Doris struggled between laughter and indignation, “oh, you blessed old goose! Don’t pay any attention to her. She’s going away from this place, if I have to get a constable to put her out! Now, calm yourself, my old Bunker Hill Monument; don’t you dream that you’re going to be ousted,—I think that’s the word I’m after,—by that bunch of foolishness. I only wish she was the clairvoyant she pretends to be. I’d take an interest in her then. But she’s an old fraud, and she’s got to go!”
“Now, Miss Doris, you wait a minute. Listen to reason. There is spooks in this house, and I know it. Now, me an’ Judd, we can’t lay ’em—”
“Lay ’em?” repeated Doris, puzzled.
“Yes, that’s what they do to ghosts to get rid of ’em. Lay ’em—”
“Sounds like eggs! Well, go on.”
“Well, this Madame, she knows all about such things, she says,—”
“Oh, yes, ‘she says’! Now, my dear old person, —my standby Molly,—if you leave me, I’ll be desolate indeed! For that Marshall Madame is going to-day, and that’s all there is about that.”
Doris went to the room of her guest and found her packing her trunk.
With a sudden compunction at this sight, Doris softened a little and asked the Madame to stay another day, and go off more leisurely.
“Thank you,” said the guest, humbly. “You have been most kind to me, Doris, and though I’m sorry you’re determined to stand in your own light by retaining those two old people near you, yet of course, you are your own mistress,—”
“Indeed I am!” and Doris’ gentler feelings became ruffled again at this slight to the Judds. “I am sorry I seem to you wilful and obstinate, but it is my nature, and I can’t help it.”
“No; I suppose you can’t. Come in, Doris, close the door. I want at least to give you a word of warning.”
Doris obeyed the request, and sat down on a couch wondering whether she would have to get angry again or not.
“I know you don’t believe it,” Madame Marshall said, “but there are such things as malevolent spirits, and as you have seen fit to lay profane hands on Rachel Hilton’s window, you need not be surprised if that restless spirit should appear to you some time.”
“Then I’ll lay profane hands on her,” returned Doris, gaily. “You know I’d like nothing better than to catch a ghost. Now, if you’ve nothing to tell me except that sort of nonsense, I’ll ask you to excuse me.”
“You exasperating child! I hope Rachel does come and scare you half to death!”
“I hope she comes, too, but she couldn’t scare me,” persisted Doris.
“Look here, Miss,” and Madame Marshall looked suddenly incredulous; “if you’re so brave, prove it! Will you, out of sheer bravado, go down to that room where the bay window used to be, tonight at midnight, alone and with only a candle for light, and lock yourself in there for an hour?”
“Will I? Why, of course I will. But what good would that do?”
“This good. If you have no uncanny experience, if no hint is given you of Rachel Hilton’s ill will, then, I shall know that she bears you none, and I can depart from this house in peace, knowing that you rest under no curse and are in no danger.” Madame Marshall looked wistful and kindly, and Doris suddenly felt that she had misjudged her, and was anxious to make amends.
“I’ll do it, Madame,” she cried, “I’ll be glad to do it. I’m sure nothing will happen, but I’ll do it. Only, don’t tell Molly, for she is superstitious, and she wouldn’t sleep a wink if she thought I was up to any such flapdoodle as that! And don’t you lie awake over it, either. I’ll run the whole show, from overture to curtain, and I’ll tell you to-morrow morning the result of my vigil, which will be just plain, everyday nothing! But I’ll do it.”
“Oh, I was only joking, child. Don’t really do it. As you say, nothing would happen. But I am sensitive to these things, and when I have a premonition, it is a rare occurrence that it is not a true one.”
“Oh, yes, I’ll do it; I said I would and I will. Shall we say I’m to go into that room, and sit there by my flickering candle’s light from twelve to one, this very night?”
“How will you waken at that unearthly hour?”
“I’ve a little alarm clock, a tiny affair that will wake no one else. I’ll set that for twelve; and then, I’ll go downstairs, afoot and alone!”
“Don’t do it unless you really wish to,” and Madame Marshall shivered a little. “I confess I’m pretty nervous, to-day, and, if you please, we’ll say no more about it, and you go or not as you like.”
The handsome face did look haggard, and the long black eyes seemed weary, so Doris made a laughing reply and ran away to look after her own affairs.
But that night, when the tinkle of the little clock woke her, Doris jumped out of bed, and solemnly donned a fluffy frilled negligee, a belaced and beribboned cap, and thrust her little bare feet into brocaded satin mules.
Then, taking her candle, in its old, brass candlestick, she went softly down stairs and into the room from which she had so ruthlessly torn the offending bay window.
The old house was very still, and the creak of certain steps made slight sounds which, however, were too faint to waken Mrs. Marshall or the servants in the third story.
From the foot of the stairs, Doris went straight into the room,—the north one of the two front rooms,—and as the blinds were already drawn she had only to set her candle on a convenient stand, and take up her vigil.
She chose a comfortable armchair, and, though fearing she might fall asleep, she felt no drowsy inclination.
At first, she thought over her house; thought about the work done and that still to do.
“I’m almost through,” her thoughts ran; “next week we can get the walls painted and the ceilings fixed up in these rooms and the halls, and then there’s only the library shelves and ceiling to paint,—and there you are! Oh, what a comfort that I could do it all! Suppose my daddy hadn’t left me enough money to live as I want to live. And, goodness knows I don’t want much,—I mean in the way of grandeur or luxury, but, I do want this place to be right, and it is,—or will be soon. Gracious! what was that?”
Doris heard a sound, a vague, faint sound, but unmistakably a sigh,—a soft, long-drawn sigh.
“Imagination,” she said to herself, scornfully. “I wish it had been a ghost, but it wasn’t anything.”
But a moment later, she heard it again. A mere breath of sound, and fading to a silence more awesome than the sound itself.
And then Doris heard the throbbing of her own heart, and it was going at a trip-hammer gait.
“Pooh!” she said, in an audible whisper, “ ’deed I’m not afraid. If it’s a ghost, I’ll—I’ll be glad— I guess I’ll be glad, but somehow, I think it was the wind. I didn’t realise what a wind has sprung up. It’s been such a pleasant day.”
She babbled aloud to herself, in a low voice, because it was pleasanter than that queer silence.
“Now it has stopped,” she murmured, “and I don’t believe I heard anything, anyway. It was my imagination. Oh! my heavens! there it is again! It must be the wind.”
But whatever it was, it was clearly not the wind, for as Doris peeped from the window, she saw there was not a leaf stirring.
She gave a little jump away, for she suddenly remembered that was the place where the bay window had been, and a strange, eerie feeling took possession of her.
She resumed her seat, quivering in every nerve, but bravely assuring herself of her own courage.
“It’s too silly,” she told herself, “to think there’s anything here that doesn’t belong here. There are no ghosts, I know there aren’t! I’m going to get a book and read.”
There were few books in the old room, for it was not yet really arranged for living, there being yet painting to be done in it.
But a few very old books were there in a pile, and these Doris looked over, humming a gay little tune the while.
They were books that she had found in the old attic, tucked away in the gabled end room up there, and perhaps unearthed by the workmen who were doing her rebuilding.
She wasn’t sure, for she had not yet found time to look them over,—and didn’t even know what era they belonged to.
She opened one, and it was a very old copy of “Fox’s Book of Martyrs.”
“This ought to be a valuable old volume,” she thought; “and interesting. But what awful pictures!” One glance at the depicted horrors of the martyrs was enough for Doris in her present state of mind, and she hastily shut the book and laid it down.
As she did so, she heard again the soft sound, and now it was a vocalised effort.
“Dor—is,” the voice seemed to say, as though the word were difficult of enunciation. “Dor—is,—be-ware—”
It was not hollow or threatening; it was not even frightful, save as the weird situation made it seem so, but in another moment Doris felt her flesh grow cold and her hands tremble as she heard distinctly, ‘‘I—am—Rachel—”
Distinct, but so low as to have been inaudible, had there been any other sound to drown it. But in that unearthly, that uncanny silence, the voice sounded like a clear, ghostly note from a spirit world.
But, though frightened so that her teeth chattered, Doris was plucky.
“I don’t believe you are Rachel,” she said, herself speaking softly, but clearly.
“My window,—” came the voice again, and this time so faint was it, that Doris scarce caught the words.
“N-now,” Doris began, in what she hoped was a casual tone, “I’m not afraid, you know. If you’re really the ghost of Rachel Hilton, I want to know it. I don’t for one minute be-believe you are— but if you are, I’d like to be sure of it. Give me some sign—”
Even as Doris said the words, the candle, which was nearly a whole one when she brought it down, flickered and almost went out.
Really scared now, Doris bent her gaze on the candle. Tall and straight it stood, but by no means burnt to its socket or near it, yet as she looked, the wick burst into a brighter flame, then the light dimmed,—flickered twice and went out.
The room was in black darkness, and the silence was profound.
Doris never knew how she got out of that room.
She tried to scream, but her voice died in her throat from sheer vocal inability.
Trembling, gasping, she managed to reach the door, unlocked it, and somehow crawled upstairs to her own room.
She flung herself into her own bed, and lay there trembling and almost hysterical.
She was wide awake, she was keenly aware of everything that had happened, and she knew that though the voice, the words, might be the result of her own over-stimulated imagination, no imagination could have made that candle go out. There was no draught in the room, but even if there had been, it would have blown out the flame, not caused it to dwindle, flicker and die before her very eyes.
And she had asked for a sign.
Well, she had received one, and if that was the way houses were haunted, she had had enough of it!
After a long time, from very exhaustion and nerve strain, Doris fell into a troubled sleep, but it was full of awful dreams, and she welcomed at last the dawning of the day.
Doris kept her own counsel regarding the events of that night. When Madame Marshall quizzed her next morning with frank curiosity, she refused to give any account of her experiences.
“Something strange did happen, Madame Marshall,” she said, “but I’m not going to tell you what it was. It may have been a simple, natural occurrence, and my imagination made it seem weird, or —it may have been—I don’t know what! But I’m not going to talk about it.”
Madame Marshall was clearly disappointed, even angry, and exclaimed, “I think it’s mean of you, when you know how interested I am. At least tell me if you saw a ghost.”
“No,” replied Doris, “I’ll tell you that plainly. I did not see any ghost.”
“Then Rachel Hilton didn’t haunt you. I’m thankful for that!”
“Don’t trouble yourself to be thankful on my account. As I told you I’m not afraid of ghosts, but—”
“You don’t fool me, Doris Ballard! You’re scared to death this minute! I can see it in your eyes! Do tell me what happened.”
“Nixie!” and Doris forced a gay laugh. “If there are ghosts about this house, they’re my ghosts, and I share their secrets with nobody. You’re going away to-day, Madame Marshall?”
“Yes,” said the older woman, but with a show of hesitation. “I suppose you want me to.”
“Well, to be frank, I do. I begin to think I’m like my Uncle Abel, I like solitude.”
“Solitude nothing! You’re glad enough to have your young friends around you. You love to go to see them, and have them come here. You enjoy the country club—”
“Do you know those things don’t seem strange to me. When you were my age, didn’t you like young company?”
“I s’pose I did. I s’pose I am an old woman, and no young girl could be expected to have kindly feelings toward me.”
This pathetic speech didn’t move Doris deeply, for she knew it was simply a bid for sympathy and for an invitation to remain longer.
“You’re far from being an old woman, as you well know,” she replied smiling; “but all the same I can’t conveniently have guests staying in the house while these repairs are going on.”
“Oh, then, I’ll go now, and return for a visit later in the summer.”
“I scarcely know what to say to you,” and Doris looked truly perplexed; “I must live up to the traditions of this house; I want to be worthy of it, and I suppose hospitality is one of the first virtues I must cultivate. But it does seem as if a girl of my age has a right to expect to make friends with people near her own age.”
“But I’m a relative, rather than a friend.”
“A relative?” and Doris’ eyebrows arched themselves. “How do you make that out?”
“Why, Rachel Hilton’s cousin—”
“But my dear lady, I’m in no way related to Rachel Hilton. She was Uncle Abel’s second wife; and anyway, my mother was a Hilton, you know. She was no relation to Rachel. I don’t count the connections by marriage in my family as the family itself.”
“Well, then, I accept your invitation to return later in the summer, and I’ll get off to-day.”
She ran away, leaving Doris aghast at her assumption.
“Well of all the nerve!” the girl exclaimed, speaking, as often, to the dogs. “Peter the Headstrong, I doubt if your old namesake had such effrontery! Seems to me I’ll have to fight fire with fire, and manage some way to keep her away from my own little vine and fig-tree. I’ll speak to Stanchion about it, he’ll know what to do. Though between you and me and the Flying Dutchman, Peter, I don’t think old Stanchy has such a lot of nerve himself. Guy Prentiss is a good friend, I’ll ask his advice.”
Doris had quickly become a favourite among the young people, but her interest in her new home was to her paramount as yet. She went occasionally to the Club, she had many callers and sometimes returned calls, but for the most part she was absorbed in her building, or rather restoring plans, and she frankly said so.
“When the house is all in ship-shape condition,” she told Ruth Prentiss, “I’ll have a big party, and then, after that, I’ll be a good citizen. But now I’m busy.”
The young men flocked round like bees in a blossom orchard, for Doris was fascinating as well as pretty, and her charm was not diminished by her gay indifference or her lack of insistent cordiality. She smiled on them all, but she was capricious and never hesitated to send the “bothering boys” away, if she wanted to consult with the workmen about the house.
“You’re spending a lot of money on the place, Doris,” Hugh Stanchley observed to her one day.
“I know it, Stanchion, but it’s time somebody did. I don’t believe Uncle Abel put a dollar’s worth of repair on it all the time he lived here—except, of course, to build that bay window.”
“He was a tight-fisted old chap, but then, he was not a rich man. You are fortunate, Doris, in having the means to restore the old house.”
“I am, indeed. You see, my daddy made that lucky speculation shortly before he died, and left mother and me plenty. But the trick is, to know how to spend it. Not one in a thousand could do up that darling old house as I’ve done it. And it’s nearly finished now. Only the interior decorators’ work, and that’s delayed most aggravatingly.”
“Oh, only white paint. Not a scrap of wall paper in the house, except in the dormered rooms.”
“And after it’s all finished, then are you going to settle down and become a good little member of the young set here, and have beaux and all that?”
“Oh, some time in the future, yes. But the house is my sweetheart, now. And, say, Stanchy, as soon as I get time, I’m going to put up a thorough hunt for those lost pearls.”
“You may as well hunt for the Fountain of Immortal Youth!”
“Oh, I found that long ago! But I feel convinced that the pearls are still on my property, somewhere.”
“You’d better tell Miss Cutler that. By the way, she’s over at the house.”
“Over at Mrs. Busby’s? Where you board?”
“Yes; she comes every summer for a few weeks. Want to meet her?”
“Indeed I do! Let’s go right over there now.”
“Come along, then.”
Impulsive Doris caught up a hat and gloves, and together they started off.
“You’ll like her, I know,” Stanchley said, as they walked along. “She’s the old-school type, and I know you’ll admire her.”
“How is her name Cutler, if she’s a descendant of the original Luella?”
“Not direct. The brother of the original Luella was the ancestor of this Miss Luella. She’s terribly proud of the family line.”
“Are there many Cutlers?”
“No, very few. She has a nephew Looly—”
“Looly! What a name for a man! Or, was he named for her?”
“No, I think not,—there’s Mrs. Busby on the porch, now, and Miss Cutler with her.”
As Doris had anticipated, she was charmed with the little lady. Luella Cutler seemed like a real link with the past days, for, though not really very old, she was old-fashioned, and her prim, courteous ways delighted modern Doris.
“You’re wonderful!” the girl said, looking in frank admiration at the picturesque spinster. “I’d like to buy you!”
“If ever I’m put up at auction, I hope you’ll bid me in,” laughed Miss Cutler. “You have such a capable air, I’m sure you could take care of me.”
“ ’Deed I could!” and Doris flung wide her expressive arms, in a gesture of protection.
“You, Doris!” exclaimed Mrs. Busby, “you can do anything you set out to, I believe. It’s amazing the way you’ve fixed up that house. You must ’a’ spent a mint o’ money on it.”
“Oh, not a whole mint full! I’ve only made necessary repairs and alterations.”
“Yes, an’ knocked off that bay! I declare to goodness it gave me the creeps when I heard you done that!”
“Did it? Well, get over creeping, for it’s off for good!”
“I’ll bet the ghost of Rachel Hilton’ll haunt you! You keep a watch out for her.”
“I’m more interested in another ghost. What I want is to meet the gay young French soldier, who hid the Cutler pearls.”
Doris glanced at Miss Cutler, who said little then, but who, later on, asked Doris to go with her to her room, to see a miniature of the first old-time Luella Cutler.
“What a peach!” exclaimed Doris, when shown the lovely portrait of the Revolutionary belle.
“She was an acknowledged beauty,” returned Miss Cutler, pleased at Doris’ praise. “The pearls round her throat in that picture are the ones that were hidden.”
“Now, honestly, Miss Cutler, don’t you think they’re still hidden?”
“I do, my dear. That has always been my opinion, though it’s only an opinion. I’ve no real reason for it.”
“I think there is reason,” Doris said, earnestly. “For I feel sure that young man never would have placed them in a pitcher or tankard, that was sitting around in plain sight! It was hidden or buried.”
“Buried, that’s what I’ve often thought. But after all these years, with no directions as to the spot, it would be impossible to dig for them.”
“Absolutely. But I think we can find directions, somehow, somewhere, if we’re only clever enough. And I’m going to try. Shall you be here long, Miss Cutler?”
“A month or more. But, my dear child, don’t let your enthusiasm run away with you. Remember, the Cutlers for generations have been far more anxious to solve the mystery than you can possibly be, and they’ve tried every possible way to fathom it. It isn’t likely you can succeed any better.”
“No, I know it isn’t. But I’m going to have a try at it. Do you know anything about the family plate that was in the house at that time?”
“Not definitely. All the families of that day had big, old-fashioned silverware on their sideboards. Not sterling silver, but Sheffield, or some such plate. It was called the family plate, even if there were but a few unpretentious bits. Of course, that would have been scattered and sold long ago.”
“Now, Miss Cutler, let’s discard the idea of the plate on the sideboard. Nobody would be such a goose as to drop a string of pearls into a dish or tankard on an exposed sideboard. No. That plate was hidden, as lots of things were, from the Hessians, and so when we find the hidden container, we’ll find the thing contained!”
“What about the willow pitcher?”
“There again, let’s give that poor young man credit for some common sense. He never would hide pearls in an ordinary, as they were then, willow pitcher. You know, his speech was disjointed and incoherent, and I think he meant to say more,—perhaps that the room where the willow pitcher was, looked out over the place where the thing was hidden,—or that the bits of a broken willow pitcher marked the spot, or,—oh, he could have meant so many things!”
“Yes, he could,” and Miss Luella sighed. “I wish I could find the pearls. I’d treasure them as an heirloom, quite apart from their real value. In fact, I doubt if they were so very valuable, although they may have been. Our family still has a standing offer of ten thousand dollars reward, so if you succeed in your search—”
“It would be enough reward to give you the pleasure of their restoration; but of course if I do find them, I shall consider myself entitled to the prize money. Tell me of the ghost, won’t you? Have you any personal knowledge of his appearance?” Miss Cutler looked disturbed.
“That’s one reason I’m always here in August,” she said, in a low tone. “I’ve never really seen anything supernatural, but I’ve noticed inexplicable circumstances. I—I hate to talk of these things to a young girl.”
“Oh, go ahead, you can’t scare me. Why, my house is full of ghosts,—they—”
Doris stopped, for she had determined to tell no one of her experience in the bay-window room.
“What do they do?” asked Miss Luella, her eyes growing large with interest, and an expression of alarm on her gentle face.
“Nothing much, as yet. But I daresay they’re not really started. My knowledge of them so far is mostly legendary. Tell me more of the Frenchman. What is he reputed to do?”
“They are but traditions with me, too. I’ve heard my aunts tell of the phantom’s appearance, always in August, and always in the house, never out on the lawn,—”
“As might be expected, if he had buried anything! Oh, isn’t it exciting! And what does he do?”
“Searches. Hunts the rooms and halls, and wanders with never ceasing step around and around the house.”
“Has he been seen? The ghost, I mean?”
“According to the stories, yes. But you know how such tales grow. Every one who tells them adds a little, and, perhaps ’twas merely imagination in the first place.”
“Oh, I don’t know! Something tells me I shall yet see or hear that phantom. You see, it’s my house, now, and I took over all ghosts with the title deeds! I own those ghosts, and if they don’t manifest themselves to me, I shall feel defrauded!”
“Child! How you talk!”
“How you talk! I should think so!” and Mrs. Busby came in at the open door. “ ’Scuse me, but I couldn’t help hearin’ as I was passin’ by.” And with an air of curiosity that justified her reputation for it, Busybody Busby sat down without being asked. “I just chanced to hear you was talkin’ about the Le Fevre ghost, an’ I was that interested, I couldn’t keep out. Don’t mind, do you?”
“Not at all,” said Miss Cutler, politely, but she changed the subject and spoke of some casual matter.
“Yes,” returned Mrs. Busby, folding and patting her handkerchief, “but let’s go back to ghosts. They do say, Doris, that you want to see some.”
“Do they?” laughed the girl. “But, Mrs. Busby, they say so many things about me! It’s fortunate I don’t mind being talked about.”
“Yes, it is. My, how the gossips do run on about you! And your clo’es! They think you’re a reg’lar stylisher for dress.”
“I hope I am. I love pretty clothes, and I like to have them just right for any occasion. Don’t you like these togs?” and Doris looked down at her smart sport skirt and silk sweater.
“Yes,” said Mrs. Busby, “but they do look terribly expensive.”
“That,” said Doris, looking at her calmly, “is the gossips’ business, not ours. Now I must fly home. Won’t you come to see me, Miss Luella, some day soon?”
“I will, with pleasure, my dear child.”
“Well, Doris, you may take that as a compliment!” exclaimed Mrs. Busby. “Miss Cutler, she ’most never goes anywhere around here. Though o’ course, she’s just goin’ over to see the house.”
“Not entirely,” and Luella Cutler smiled at Doris, to whom she had felt attracted at once. “But we can hunt together for the lost pearls.”
“Oh, then let me come, too,” pleaded Mrs. Busby. “I’m awful good at searchin’.”
“Why haven’t you found them long ago, then?” laughed Doris.
“Because they ain’t there. I’ve got a little sense, I hope, an’ I mighty well know those pearls was found an’ carried off pretty soon after they was hid. But I’ll come to your search party all the same.”
“Miss Cutler,” cried Doris, struck with a new idea, “suppose that family plate was the door-plate!”
Luella Cutler laughed outright. “I’m not at all sure they had door-plates in those days, and if they did, one couldn’t hide pearls in it!”
“ ’Course not!” put in Mrs. Busby, but Doris interrupted, “I don’t mean that, but I’ve a sort of an idea that there might have been a paper describing the hiding-place, and the paper could have been stuck in the door-plate.”
“But it was flat against the door, child.”
“Maybe not. Maybe it was a bit loose, and he stuck a paper in back of it,—”
“Maybe he did, but I can’t see that that gets us any farther. Where’s the door-plate?”
“Where indeed!” sighed Doris. “But there’s one thing sure, I’m going to set up a hunt while you’re here, Miss Cutler, and if I find nothing, at least there’s no harm done.”
“Not a bit,” chimed in Mrs. Busby, who could never keep quiet long. “Say, Doris, how’d you get along with that Madame Marshall?”
“All right,” replied Doris, a little shortly.
“Yes, you did! I’ll bet she bothered you ’most to pieces. Didn’t she quiz you a lot?”
“I don’t let myself be quizzed, unless I want to be,” and Doris smiled at her present questioner.
“Well, Mis’ Marshall, she told me she b’lieved the ghost of Rachel Hilton was a hauntin’ over there. She was a spiritualist, you know.”
“Who, Mrs. Marshall?”
“No, Rachel. Why they do say,—”
“Now, Mrs. Busby,” and Doris clapped her hands over her ears, already covered by her curly, tawny waves of hair, “I don’t want to hear what other people say. Your opinions are, of course, worth listening to, but spare me your hearsay evidence. And, too, you’ll make Miss Cutler think I’m a ghost stalker! Truly, Miss Luella, I’ve little, interest in the creatures, except as they belong to the atmosphere of my house. And, according to my friend, Mr. Washington Irving, all this section is the legitimate property of witches and warlocks, of haunts and wraiths; but I like them vague and traditional, not definite and subjects of town tattle.”
“The traditions of your home, then, are more dear to you, than proof of their veracity?”
“Yes, as to ghosts. But more than all that sort of thing, I love my traditions of Washington and his occupancy of my house. Why, often I sit alone in the room he used to have, and I can fancy his spirit is there, not a phantom, at all, but his dear, splendid influence and just the thoughts of his noble, great soul, and the memories of his great deeds seem like a vision of glory! You’ve no idea how I revere and love the place for his sake. It has, in some ways, transformed my whole being,—changed my whole nature. I never before was a hero-worshipper, but I never before found a hero worth such worship. I never knew ideals so fine and true as those he reverenced. You see, I’ve read up a lot about him, since I live in his house. I call it his house, because, if he didn’t own it when he lived in it, he does now.”
“Hifalutin talk, Doris,” commented Mrs. Busby.
“Perhaps so,” and Doris smiled with a lovely faraway look in her big, brown eyes. “But hifalutin isn’t what I really feel,—if my way of expression does make it seem so!”
“I’m sure of that,” said Miss Cutler, understandingly.
It was in the early part of August that Doris received a letter from Abby Rackman, saying she was on her way to New York and would like to stop over and stay a day or two at the old house.
“Now, I kinda sorta like that letter, Dutchman,” Doris observed to the smug-faced Bull pup, “and as she’s bound to come anyway, I believe I’ll be a little bit cordial about it. I’m not overly-hospitable, as you know, Dutch, and if I can throw a gleam of light across the humdrum life of a Maine school-marm, I solemnly believe I ought to do it.”
Doris jumped up, upsetting both the dog and his dignity,, and ran to tell Molly.
“Very well, Miss Doris; that Rackham old maid ain’t such a bad sort, but I hope to goodness she don’t land up here for a month or so.”
“No-sir-ee! I shall set the time for her to arrive and leave. That’s the proper way, Molly.”
“It may be the proper way for proper people, but you don’t know the stayin’ propensities of some folks! Remember the Marshall?”
“I do! But somehow, Abby’s letter sounds rather pleasant. Molly, you know that morning that Madame Marshall went away, did you notice a candle in the north parlour?”
“Yes, I did. ’Twas your own bedroom candlestick.”
“Yes, it was. What did you do with the candle? Anything?”
“Well, now I don’t remember. Yes, seems to me I put in a fresh one, and put the whole business back in your bedroom.”
“What did you do with the old candle? Why did you change it?”
“Laws, Miss Doris, I dunno. You gettin’ scrimpy all of a sudden?”
“But it was a fairly new candle.”
“Was it? Well, it was kinda short and sorta dusty-lookin’ and,—oh, Je-rusalem! I didn’t know you was goin’ to hold me to account for every scrap-end of candle! I like to keep things tidy around your bedroom, and if I put in a new candle, I s’pose it was ’cause I thought the old one wasn’t all it should be! If you’re so fussy particular, I don’t believe you an’ me can get along together. I guess I’ll be packin’.”
“I guess you won’t!” Doris was getting used to these threats. “And it isn’t stinginess. I just wanted to see that candle, that’s all.”
“To see it! Land, Miss Doris, are you spyin’ on me to see if I waste? I just guess you can’t find a thriftier housekeeper’n what I am!”
“Oh, there now, Molly, my own old Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, don’t fly off the reel like that! We’ll drop the bone of contention, for I see you don’t know what you did with the candle. Now, let’s bury the hatchet and return to our Rackham muttons. I’m going to write for her to come along, and stay from Tuesday till Friday, that’s as long as I can devote to her, unless she turns out to be a charmer.”
“No, Miss Doris, nobody’d ever pick Abby Rackham up for a charmer! But she’s got good common sense, which is more’n I can say for some folks!”
“Meaning you and Judd?” asked Doris, with an innocent gaze, and she ran away to write her letter.
* * * * * * * * * *
Solemn Molly was right. Nobody, of any discrimination, could call Abby Rackham a charmer. But she was innately good-hearted, and her shrewd keen insight made her a satisfactory guest and an interesting person to talk to. She was the typical country school-ma’am, and seemed dryly aware of it.
“You’re not a bit like your mother,” she said, as she scrutinised Doris on her arrival. “She was a lolling sort, you’re up and coming! I don’t know’s I ever saw such a live piece of property as you seem to be.”
“You read character quickly,” and Doris smiled appreciatively. “How do you know I’m capable?”
“I don’t know as I said you were that, but of course you are. You use your hands as if you had all your power at your fingers’ ends. Your glance is as quick as a flash, you take in everything at once. If I were to vanish this minute, you could enumerate and describe everything I have on, both visible and unseen.”
“My gracious!” and Doris stared at her, “I think you’re sizing me up quite as thoroughly as you think I do you!”
“Yes, I’m quick-witted enough. I don’t know where I’d be if I weren’t. But you’ve got lots besides quick wits. You’ve got experience and knowledge and you’ve seen the world.”
“Oh, not such a lot of it.”
“Well, what you did see wasn’t in Maine! I’m glad you let me come here. Just to look at you is educating. And Lord knows I want educating.”
“And you a school teacher!”
“I said educating, not education. Though I’d like a lot more of that, too. Now, where’m I going to sleep? I’d like to get located.”
Doris showed her guest to a pleasant room, made sure that she had everything she required, and then went off about her own affairs.
They met again at dinner time, and Abby, looking a little bewildered, asked:
“Say, is that stylish? To go off and leave your company alone?”
“Why, I didn’t mean to be inhospitable. Were you lonely? I thought you’d look about the house a bit and—”
“I’ve heard it was all right, and I’m not offended. I told you I wanted to learn things, and I meant just such things as that. Now, where I live, we’d never think of leaving a visitor, that is, unless we had work to do.”
“Well, I did have some things to look after, but I’ve been brought up differently from you, perhaps. Yes, I’ve always thought it right to leave a guest to herself part of the time, but if you’d prefer it, I’ll stand by.”
“No; I want to do as you usually do, all the time I’m here. Do you have beaux in the evening?”
“Sometimes,” and Doris smiled amusedly. “But if any call to-night, you shall see them too. I won’t exclude you. If you don’t care to see callers, I’ll not either. Truly, Abby, I want you to have a pleasant visit, and if I don’t make it so, tell me. I’m only a young hostess, and to tell truth, I’m not terribly hospitable, by nature. I’m afraid I’m selfish.”
“Who isn’t?” rejoined Abby, as they seated themselves at the dinner table. The old low-raftered dining-room, with its enormous fireplace, seemed to pour forth the hospitality that Doris disclaimed, and Abby took her place with a deep sigh of enjoyment.
“Well, at last,” she declared, “I can say truly I am glad you got this house. You know I was one of the names in the hat.”
“Yes, I know.”
“And I s’pose that Marshall woman told you what I said.”
“Why, no, she didn’t.”
“Well, I said that if I did get the place I’d sell it for a hotel.”
“Why, Ab-by Rack-ham! I wouldn’t have believed that of you if any one else had told me.”
“You can believe it, for it’s true. But, think, child. I wouldn’t have had the means to fix it up as you’ve done. I knew it needed to have that bay taken off, and the roof fixed over and all, but as I couldn’t do it, all I thought of was to sell it.”
“But to strangers!”
“Pooh! Who could be more of a stranger than you are?”
“At least, I’m related to the Hilton people.”
“I know; we all were. But the Hiltons didn’t live here always. It isn’t like an ancestral home, you know. Anyway, I didn’t have any sentiment about it, and I’d been glad to sell it. Now, I s’pose you don’t like me any more.”
“Oh, yes, I do. And I like your honesty in speaking right out. But I’m glad you didn’t get it!”
“Oh, you’d be glad of that, anyway, for if I’d had it, you couldn’t have. But I’m going to give you some advice, my little girl. I’ve thought it over, and I think it’s right that I should. First off, I said to myself, I wouldn’t tell you, but seeing that you’re so understanding, I think I will. And it’s this. You want to be careful about some of the other heirs.”
“There aren’t any other heirs.” Doris’ serene face beamed at Abby across the candle-lit table, and the red-brown head tossed a little proudly, as the girl glanced around the beloved room. “It was by chance, I know, but I won the chance, and this is mine, just as surely as if bequeathed to me direct.”
“Oh, I know it. I don’t mean that. I mean the other people who hoped to be heirs. Can’t you imagine that there was more or less jealousy and envy at your success and their failure?”
“I never thought about it.”
“I do, but all I think is that I’m sorry for their disappointment, but glad of my own good fortune. And I’m pretty sure, Abby Rackham, that any one of them, in my place, would feel the same.”
“They would, most of them. The others wouldn’t even be sorry for the disappointments! Now, Doris some of those people are by no means friendly toward you.”
“Sorry! But what can I do?”
“Nothing definite. But I want to put you on your guard. They mean to bother you.”
“How can they? I’m secure in my inheritance. They can’t take it from me. All the law business has been carefully looked after by Mr. Stanchley, who was Uncle Abel’s lawyer. Are you trying to scare me, Abby?”
“Only to let you know the truth. There are some who mean, even yet, to get the property away from you. They think you’re a young girl—”
“So I am.”
“Without an old head on your shoulders—”
“It’s seventeen years old.”
“And they think they can fix up some way to defraud you. Now, I don’t know anything definite, or I’d tell you, but do, Doris, I beg of you, be on your guard against any of them who make any advances regarding the place.”
“Regarding the place! Abby, you’re crazy! What could they do to me or to this place?”
“Well,” and Miss Rackham shook her head doggedly, “they think they can. Didn’t Madame Marshall say anything about it? Haven’t you heard from Ermyntrude Whiting?”
“No, to both questions. Abby, you’ve got a foolish notion that doesn’t mean a thing. Forget it, and let’s enjoy ourselves in peace.”
So Miss Rackham kept her own counsel for the most part, but once or twice she again took occasion to warn Doris of possible fraud or trickery directed against her.
The second night of Abby’s visit, Guy Prentiss called. Doris insisted on Abby’s presence, and nothing loath, the guest acquiesced.
Young Prentiss was a well-mannered chap, and his pleasant attentions to the visiting spinster won her heart. Under the influence of his gay chatter, she expanded like a flower to the balm of summer days. As the talk fell naturally upon old furniture and antiques, Prentiss told of some heirlooms his mother had. And Abby, suddenly reminded, told of an old picture her mother had once owned.
“And she left it to me,” she said, “and I’m ashamed to say, I sold it to an antique dealer.”
“Hope you got its value,” laughed Guy.
“I don’t believe you did!” exclaimed Doris. “What sort of a picture, Abby?”
“Oh, a doleful thing! A spider-waisted lady, under a tree, weeping over the grave of her husband! There was a funeral urn, no not an urn, a headstone, and an inscription on it to her dear departed. Why, Doris, it was too gloomy to have on your wall, or I’d wish I’d kept it for you.”
“Was it very old?”
“Oh, very! Mother’s great aunt gave it to her—”
“Why, Abby Rackham. You ought to be ashamed of yourself to sell that! Who bought it?”
“An old dealer up where I live.”
“Has he got it yet? Of course not!”
“Maybe he has. I tell you, Doris, it’s no good. It isn’t a fine painting, you know. I think some amateur did it.”
“Probably the widow herself,” suggested Guy. “Well, if you want it, Doris, why don’t you go up there and track it down?”
“Perhaps I will, when I get time. But as soon as you go home, Abby, you go and see if you can rescue it, will you?”
“I certainly will, but I know when you see it, you won’t want it. A thing like that isn’t desirable merely because it’s old. It must have some merit of its own too.”
“You’re no collector!” and Doris frowned at her. “I want to see it, anyhow, whether I use it or not. But I think it would be just the thing to hang in this old house. It’s awfully hard to get just right pictures,—furniture is easier.”
“Of course,” and Abby smiled; “because the furniture has merit in itself, and is hoarded or sold. But the pictures of that day, except for some worthwhile portraits, were mostly rubbish.”
“That’s right, Doris,” agreed Guy. “Still, I hope you get the sorrowful dame, if you want her. Ugh! I know those old graveyard pictures! I’ve seen engravings of them. They make me shudder!”
Guy went away and the two friends sat chatting. “He’s a nice chap,” Abby said, as if after due thought. “Shall you accept him, Doris?”
“Why, why, Abby, are you a matchmaker? I never thought of such a thing, nor Guy either. We’re just kids and good friends. In fact there are several boys around here that I like better than I do Guy.”
“But he’s desperately in love with you.”
“Nonsense! that’s your vivid imagination. Our crowd is the younger set. We don’t think about love or lovers. Some day, in the dim future, I’m going to put my mind to it, and choose my life-mate, but not for years yet.”
“What will he be like?”
“Oh, just like George Washington. He’s my ideal for everything. Do you suppose, Abby, there’s a man like him in the world to-day? A man with a real nobility of soul, with fine ideals and true standards?”
“Yes, I think so, Doris, dear, and if there is, I hope he will be your fate.”
Abby spoke gently and seriously. She was of a romantic nature and dearly loved a love-affair, often imagining some that did not exist.
“Furthermore,” Doris went on, “he must be a terribly outdoorsy man. I couldn’t live with a man who didn’t love every kind of sport and who wasn’t a fine athlete. Could you, Abby?”
“Me? Why, I don’t know. I think I’d care more for a fine mind than a fine physique.”
“Oh, I mean both. Of course the ‘Lord of my life, my King, my Star!’ must be the smartest, wisest, best, handsomest and strongest man in the whole world! Ta, ta, tya-tya, ta! Will you dance at my wedding, Abby Rackham? It won’t be for many a long year yet, but when it does be, it’ll be right here in this room!” and Doris grabbed Miss Rackham round the waist and waltzed her into the old library.
“Not in the big front room?” said the guest, in surprise.
“Not on your life, my friend. No; little Doris will stand under the mistletoe,—I mean under the bower of orange blossoms in this, my favourite room of all the house, this old library. Though I suppose it was the parlour then.”
“When Washington was here. In this room, they say, he made his plans, met his aides and the French officers, and thought up that wonderful scheme of scooting down to Yorktown, when the British thought he was kiting toward New York City. Oh, the dear, clever, grand old chap! How I do adore him!”
“He was a genius.”
“Genius! He was a super-hyper-geniusissimo! He was—he was Washington! And he sat right here,—no, here,” Doris darted from one side of the room to the other,—“and Rochambeau stood there, and the soldiers were festooned all about, and oh, it was glorious! Ta-ta, tya-tya—ta-ta!”
“You sound like a regular fife and drum corps.”
“Thanks for your appreciation! That’s just what I meant to sound like! For heaven’s sake, Abby, what’s that?”
Doris pointed to a sheet of paper that lay on the floor near the hall door.
“Something that you knocked off the mantel or bookshelf as you flew round the room.”
“Not much it isn’t! Look at it, it’s old and yellow with age. Look at the writing on it!”
Abby stooped to pick up the page, but Doris reached over ahead of her.
“Let me,” she cried, “it’s mine.”
Abby drew back, and almost reverently, Doris picked up what was evidently an old bit of paper,— a page, it seemed, from a written book.
“It is old,” said Doris, “where did it come from?”
“Read it,” advised the practical Abby. “Why, it’s a diary.”
“So it is; It’s a leaf from somebody’s old diary. Look, Abby, it’s just legible and that’s all. Wherever did it come from?”
“See, there’s the word Abel! It must be his diary.”
“No, he wouldn’t write about himself by name. But it’s somebody who lived here when he did. So it isn’t so terribly old. Oh, it says, ‘I am happy in my new home. Abel is very kind to me,’ then there’s a lot so blurred I can’t read it. Then it says, ‘Today we went to New York and bought a Rogers Group.’ What’s that, Abby?”
“My! are you too young to know? Why, a sort of grey statuary they used to have years ago. Doris, this is a leaf out of Rachel Hilton’s diary! How did it get here?”
“I don’t know, I’m sure. I’ve never seen such a thing anywhere round the house.”
“But it couldn’t get here of itself, you know. Is Molly about?”
“No, gone to bed long ago. It’s quite late.”
“But don’t you care where this paper came from? Haven’t you any fear of what it means?”
“What do you mean, Abby?”
Abby Rackham said nothing, but her gaunt frame trembled and her pale blue eyes stared in a vacant fashion.
Her manner startled Doris, who exclaimed, “What do you mean, Abby? tell me! Oh, do you mean that it’s—it’s supernatural?”
“What else can it be? You know, Doris, that paper wasn’t in this room when we came in here a moment ago?”
“When I waltzed you in.”
“Yes, it wasn’t on the floor there, then, or we’d have seen it.”
“But you said I whirled it off the table or bookshelf as I flew around.”
“Was it on any table or bookshelf?”
“No, it couldn’t have been. Unless,—Abby,— unless Molly or somebody found it, in the attic, you know, and thought I’d be interested—”
“Doris Ballard, you’re making up. You know perfectly well if one of your servants found such a thing it would be brought straight to you, and not laid on a table or shelf! Wouldn’t it, now?”
“It certainly would, Abby. But, all the same, I don’t believe a ghost laid it there on the floor.”
“Well, I do. It’s all because you tore down that bay window! Oh, Doris!” and to Doris’ great amazement, Miss Rackham burst into hysterical tears.
No, Miss Doris,” said Solemn Molly, when questioned next morning, “I never saw that paper before. What is it? It looks old.”
“It isn’t so very old. It’s a leaf from Rachel Hilton’s diary.”
“Land save us! Where’d you get it?”
Doris told her, and Molly dropped limply into a chair, her face white and her lips quivering. Abby Rackham, who was present, watched her keenly. “Didn’t you find it somewhere?” she asked, “and lay it here on the table or shelf?”
“No, Miss Rackham, of course I didn’t. Where could I find it? Or where could any one else find it? This house has been not only cleaned but scraped and polished, and every hole an’ corner’s been dug out an’ overhauled, an’ no piece o’ paper’s big’s a pin could ’ve escaped notice! No, ma’am, that there paper was brought here an’ dropped here by Rachel Hilton herself—”
“Don’t be foolish, Molly,” cried Doris, “how could she?”
“Well she could, Miss Doris,” and Solemn Molly fixed her big grey eyes on the girl, “she was a—a spiritualist, you know. An’ when you tore down her bay, I was sure she’d haunt you! Oh, why did you ever do it?”
“Molly, Molly! Let up on that line of talk, or I’ll send you packing!”
“You won’t need to, Miss Doris! Not another night will I stay in a house with such goin’s on! Me an’ Judd’ll get out to-day!”
“Oh, I don’t think you will, Molly my larky. Don’t mind her, Abby, she sometimes has these hallucinations of leaving her angel child,—that’s me,— but she doesn’t get farther than the next room, do you, Solemncholy Molly?”
“I do this time, Miss Doris. I can stand a lot, but I can’t stand it if Rachel Hilton is comin’ back here in the sperrit, that I can’t!”
“Why, Molly, she wouldn’t be half as dangerous in the spirit as in the flesh! But you run away now, while I talk this over with Miss Rackham.”
“All your talkin’ can’t lay that ghost. If Rachel’s hauntin’ on account o’ that there bay, she’ll haunt till it’s put back in place!”
“Then she’ll haunt till the crack of doom! Go away, Molly, and don’t let me hear any more of that foolish talk!”
“I’m going to-day, Doris,” declared Miss Rackham, as Molly left the room. “If you felt afraid, I’d stay with you, but you don’t, you say,—and—I do. I’m naturally nervous, and anything supernatural gets me in such a state, I ’most go crazy! So I’ll be going to-day.”
Doris looked at her. “You see, Abby,” she said slowly, “you’ve been brought up to these notions. I suppose New England people are full of superstition. But out West, we never did a thing but laugh at it. So I can’t take it seriously, as you do.”
“All right; then, where did that paper come from?”
“I don’t know.”
“But say where it might have come from. As Molly said, the house has been cleaned out spick and span. It couldn’t have been around all the time. It appeared suddenly, after you and I came into this room last night. When we came in it wasn’t there, and in two minutes it was there,—on the floor in plain sight. Now, where could it have come from?”
“I don’t know,” repeated Doris.
“Of course you don’t, because there is but one answer. It was put there by some superhuman agency. You know it, Doris, but you won’t admit it.”
“No, I certainly shan’t admit it, for I don’t believe it.”
“I’m glad you don’t, for it makes me easier in my mind to leave you here alone. You’re a brave little piece, and you’re well protected and cared for by those old Judds,—if they stay by you.”
“Oh, they will. Don’t believe a word of Molly’s talk about leaving me. She adores me, and so does Judd. They’re all right. But, Abby, I’d like to have you stay longer.”
“No, I don’t want to. Sometime, if you get clear of Rachel Hilton’s haunt, I’ll come and see you again.”
Miss Rackman kept her word and departed that very day.
In the afternoon Miss Luella Cutler came over to call, and Doris told her the whole story.
The little old maid smiled.
“I think Miss Abby Rackham tricked you,” she said.
“Oh, no!” and Doris looked amazed; “I never thought of that. Of course, Abby could have had that old paper, and put it there on the floor to fool me—but, I don’t think so.”
“You don’t know her well?”
“Oh, no, only very slightly. But I like her, and she seemed most sincere and trustworthy.”
“Well, my dear child, I can’t help thinking she knows more about that old paper than she told you. I fancy Rachel Hilton won’t leave any more pages around on the floor, now Miss Rackham has gone. If she does, you tell me about it.”
“I will, Miss Luella, and while I’m hunting your pearls, I may find some other hidden treasures,— perhaps some of Rachel’s.”
“I’ve never heard of anything hidden in this house except the pearls. But I do believe they’re still within these old walls. Did you find any secret cubbies or hidy-holes when you renovated?”
“One or two, but they were most carefully cleaned out, and we found no papers of importance. But now, except for some delinquent workmen, the house is about done, and I’m going to set to to find the pearls.”
“What’s your plan of campaign?”
“Haven’t quite decided yet, but I’ve a dim notion of sounding the walls, and poking around in the cellar. I can’t get rid of a feeling that the jug or pitcher that holds the secret is buried. And another thing. The pearls couldn’t have been put in a pitcher and a piece of silver plate both. One of those things holds some relation to the other, and if I find either it will be a big help. And I must find one or the other. If the soldier had only had breath enough to say what sort of a piece of plate!”
“Perhaps he did. The comrade who brought the message may not have repeated it verbatim. And by the way, my dear, you may have an assistant in your search, if you wish.”
“Who, Miss Luella?”
“My nephew, Looly. He is coming to Mrs. Busby’s for a vacation and rest, and he’ll be glad to help and advise you. He’s always been keen to search this house, but Mr. Hilton never encouraged intruders, though he was willing Looly should hunt around. But he wasn’t cordial or encouraging, and so Looly didn’t do much. And of course, from a common sense point of view the matter is hopeless.”
“I suppose so. What’s your nephew like?”
“Oh, just an every-day young man. Good-looking chap, college education, splendid mind and lovely disposition.”
“Sounds attractive. I shall be glad to meet him. Does he know all our young people?”
“No. He’s never been here before. But as I’m here at Mrs. Busby’s, and he wants a quiet place to stay a few weeks, he’s coming to be with me. He’s great chums with his old aunt.”
Doris pondered over Miss Cutler’s theory that Abby Rackham had deliberately played a trick on her. It didn’t seem at all like the matter-of-fact and unimaginative Abby, but it was the only solution Doris could think of. Several times she was on the point of telling Mr. Stanchley all about it, but refrained, lest he laugh at her. Nor had she told him about her experience the night the candle went out. But she thought over it all, long and deeply.
She told Molly what Miss Luella had said, but that grim personage only sniffed.
“Not she! Why, Miss Doris, Abby Rackham ain’t that sort. If you’d put up a joke on her now, I’d ’a’ believed it, but her on you! Never.”
Molly staid on, as Doris knew she would. In fact, Molly and Judd had come to love Doris dearly, and nothing would have made them desert the girl. Her winning personality, her breezy good nature, and her sound sense and judgment made her a most satisfactory chatelaine, and the servants all adored her. Her word was law, and though Molly was housekeeper, Doris had a general supervision over everything. The chauffeur had proved adaptable, and Judd had patched up their feud. And the women servants accepted Molly’s superiority, and obeyed her, and all because the wise little head of Doris Ballard happened to be set squarely upon her shoulders.
But that same little head was mystified. In a way, Doris courted mystification, for she loved the old legends and traditions, and enjoyed reading of the “haunts” and “ghosts” storied by Washington Irving and other writers about Colonial or Revolutionary times. But these mysterious happenings in her own house were another matter.
She sat alone one evening in the George Washington room, thinking it over. Two rooms she devoted to the memory of Washington, the bedroom he had used, and the library on the first floor, where she pictured him as busily and anxiously consulting his maps and charts, planning his campaigns and making specifications.
In the library she sat, beneath the light of a green shaded electrolier, and pored over “The True George Washington,” one of her favourites among the “Lives” of her hero. She left off reading to gaze at the spot on the floor where the mysterious paper had lain when she and Abby first saw it. The place was in a corner formed by the hall door and the door into the living-room. Both doors were shut, and Doris stared a moment at the floor and then returned to her reading.
A moment later she looked up again, as she turned a page, and there on the floor in the corner she saw a sheet of paper.
Her heart seemed to stop beating as she looked. A moment before there had been nothing there: Now, there was a paper! With the door closed, no one could have come in from the hall, nor could the paper have been tossed in from there. The living-room door, too, was tight shut, hence there was positively no way that the paper could have been put where she saw it by any human agency.
Doris tried to rise, but her muscles refused to obey her will.
“I’m scared stiff,” she said, to herself, “I most certainly am! I don’t want to scream, but I will, if I can’t get up and go and get that paper! Where did it come from? It’s just in the same place the other was! Now, there’s one thing certain, Abby Rackham has nothing to do with this!”
She tried to think it was some paper of her own, that she had lost, but she couldn’t fool herself to that extent.
“I must see it!” she whispered, half aloud, and with a desperate effort she rose, and then stood, clinging to her chair back for support.
“I know how silly I am,” she mused, scowling at her own hesitation, “but I can’t seem to get over there!”
She forced herself to cross the room, and with trembling fingers picked up the paper. It was old and age-yellowed, and her first glance showed the name of Rachel Hilton!
She dropped the paper without reading it, and then in a spasm of fear rushed from the room by another door.
“What is it, Miss Doris?” asked Molly, looking up from her sewing.
The casual voice and the comfort of human companionship restored Doris’ poise, and she managed to say, “Oh, nothing, Molly-Polly. Only I’m looking for my Japanese bag. Oh, here it is.”
Catching up the bag, which she had just happened to see, Doris returned to the library, feeling more ready for her task of investigation. She knew if she told Molly, there would be a scene indeed! So she wisely kept her own counsel.
The paper was just where she had dropped it, and as she gingerly took it up again, she saw it was a bill. A bill for household supplies, made out to Rachel Hilton. A simple enough list, enumerating tea, coffee, and such things, but to Doris it seemed a message from the unknown.
“There’s no sense in it!” she told herself over and over. “No sense at all. There’s no such thing as haunting, but if Rachel did mean to revenge that bay window performance, she wouldn’t throw her old bills and diaries at me!”
This logic helped little, though, for the mystery remained. Doris had heard strange sounds that night she sat alone in the bay window room. The appearance of these two papers was absolutely unexplainable by natural causes. And the weird extinction of the candle flame beside! Surely, unless some explanation could be reached, these were as near an approach to the supernatural as could be well imagined.
Doris scrutinised the paper. It was so old and yellowed as to preclude all possibility of its being a forgery. The creases where it had been folded were brown and broken, but it was not folded at all when it was laid on the floor. It had been flat, and blank side up. Doris went over and over the items. The prices of commodities had not been very different then from those of the present day. But it was clear that the items of the bill or the facts recorded on the page of the diary had no direct message for Doris. She told herself this, but the vague notion persisted, that Rachel Hilton was merely disclosing her presence in the old house and her ability to produce mysteriously these proofs of her presence.
Slowly Doris went up to her bedroom. For the first time, she felt her loneliness, not so much need of companionship, as of advice and sympathy. She wanted some one whose judgment she could rely on; not the emotional and easily frightened Molly, but a wise and experienced counsellor.
She thought of Abby Rackham, who had offered to come if wanted. But she would be a broken reed in such a case as this, for though practical in most matters she was quite ready to believe in the supernatural, and Doris was not. There was Miss Luella Cutler, but Doris felt disinclined to trouble the elderly lady. Mrs. Busby was kind-hearted, but she was a busy woman and ought not to have her time intruded on by a lonesome child-neighbour.
Mrs. Marshall would gladly come to live with her, but that, Doris decided, would be worse than the trouble she was now in.
She sat down for a few moments in Washington’s bedroom and looked out of the open window. As she looked down among the trees, the branches waving softly and eerily, she fancied she could see vague strange forms moving slowly about.
But these didn’t frighten her in the least.
“I imagine those,” she told herself, “and I know it. I like to imagine them. But this Rachel business is a different matter. I can’t imagine those two papers getting in that room without some motive power! I didn’t imagine those sounds and words I heard that other night, and it certainly wasn’t imagination when my candle went out, being less than half used up! I wish Molly hadn’t thrown that away. I’d like to examine it. But it doesn’t matter. It was one of our regular candles, and it was long enough to burn for hours. And it went out of itself, which a candle can’t do!”
Though unable to get any clue to the mysteries, the quiet hour by the well-loved window soothed and calmed her and Doris went to bed and slept peacefully.
The next day she sent for Mr. Stanchley and told him the whole story.
“Rubbish!” he exclaimed. “Doris, my dear child, you’ve gone daffy over these things. Now, give them a rest, and run around more with the young people. These old-time matters get on your nerves, and make you see things!”
“But, Stanchy,” and Doris fixed him with her earnest gaze, “I can’t admit it’s rubbish, until you tell me what it is. Do you deny the existence of these two old papers?”
“Certainly not, as I hold them in my hand. But they are merely old papers, such as we found in quantities in the attics. These are a few old ones that were scattered about and were—”
“Well, were where?”
“Why, perhaps in a book, and somebody took the book from the shelf and the paper fluttered to the floor.”
“All very well, if we had come in and found it there! But that paper was laid on the floor while Abby and I were in the room and not handling the books. And the other one was laid there while I sat there alone. I looked at the very spot on the floor where we found the first one and there was nothing there. Then, in less than two minutes I looked again, and there it was! I hadn’t touched a book, except the one I was reading, and that was a brand-new one!”
“I don’t say that’s the exact explanation, Doris, but it must have been something like that.”
“But Stanchy, it couldn’t! It just sim-pul-ly could not! Also, my bright young friend, do you mean to say that I blew out my own candle?”
“Pshaw, that was the wind.”
“But there wasn’t any wind. And it wasn’t blown out. It just flickered, flared up, and died out just as a candle does, that is all burnt down to its last gasp.”
“Forget it, Doris. Put it out of your mind—”
“Well, it isn’t very pleasant to live in a house all full of ghosts!”
“I thought you liked them.”
“I do, to read about, and hear stories about. But not to have them come and take up bed and board in my house without an invitation! They’re worse than my intrusive visitors in the flesh! By the way, I’ve had a letter from Madame Marshall and she wants to know if the house is settled enough for her to make another little visit.”
“Poor Doris child! You are bothered to death with these people! Tell her you can’t have her.”
“I do want to do that, but she’s so persistent, she’ll come anyway. Oh, I know the Marshall invader! I’ve a notion to ask Miss Luella Cutler to visit me, and then tell Mrs. Marshall I already have a guest.”
“Fine idea! Do that. Miss Cutler likes you a lot. But her beloved nephew is expected and she won’t want to leave him. You can’t very well entertain a young man too.”
“No, I s’pose not. And beside, I dislike intensely that nephew of hers.”
“Why, do you know him?”
“No, but any young man called Looly must be the limit!”
“The limit of what?”
“Of all that’s sappy, silly and soft! he’s a vanilla Willy,—I know he is!”
“I’m not familiar with the species, but I can guess what you mean.”
“Oh, you Sherlock! As if a Looly could be anything but a buttered muffin sort of a man. Do you know him?”
“No, never saw him. None of Mrs. Busby’s flock knows him. But they’ve heard his praises sung by Miss Cutler till they’re ready to welcome him with open arms.”
“Miss Luella is a darling, and I adore her. But she’s just the sort to think her nephew a piece of perfection whatever he is. But don’t expect me to sidle up to any piece of perfection who allows himself to be titled by that marshmallow of a name!”
“I doubt if Guy Prentiss allows you to sidle very far away from him.”
“Pooh! I sidle where the fancy takes me. Guy Prentiss is a ducky-daddles, and I like him quite a heap,—but I sidle where I list, for all that, Mr. Guardian Stanchley.”
“All right, little wilful girl, but don’t sidle off into realms other than those occupied by rational, material people.”
Keep off the flowers, Peter, you Headstrong! Dutchman, if you fly into that phlox again I’ll have you tied up! You know better! The idea of great big nice well brought up dogs like you two, rampoosing all over my poseybeds. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves,—your great big naughty bad selves! Yes,—ash-a-a-a-med!”
The scathing reproof in Doris’ tone brought the heedless dogs to their senses, and they intelligently backed off from the trampled and broken stalks of blossoms for which they were entirely responsible.
Penitent they were indeed, but the mischief was done, and Doris sadly lifted the bruised phlox and stocks, and sent reproachful glances at the remorseful culprits.
In a morning frock of pink linen and a sunbonnet of flowered organdy, the mistress of Collander nursed her wounded flower-darlings, and sang patriotically as she worked.
She hummed past the watched ramparts, but on the high notes of the rockets’ red glare, her voice sounded out full and gave Molly, who was hunting for her, an idea where to find her.
“Miss Doris,” cried the solemn one, coming up to her with a stern, set face, “Miss Doris, Len Hawkins is here an’ wants to see you.”
“Len Hawkins? Dunno him. Is he captivating?”
“Now, Miss Doris, listen, do. He’s one of the heirs—”
“Oh, Molly, Molly, am I forever to be pestered with these everlasting heirs, who are not heirs! Tell him I’ve gone to the war, tell him I’ve got smallpox, tell him I’ve lost my mind and am apt to be violent, tell him anything but keep him away from me. Do, please, dear little buttercup Molly, won’t you?”
“I can’t, Miss Doris. He wants to see you special. He’s not for visitin’ here, of course. He’s on business, he says.”
“But I’ve no business with Mr. What’s-his-name?”
“Hawkins, Leonard Hawkins.”
“Horrid name, if you ask me. No poetry in Hawkins at all, and very little in Leonard.”
“Please, Miss Doris, do see him. I can’t get rid of him, lessen you do.”
“Oh, well, if we must, we’ll have to, I suppose. Come along, dogsy-wogsies, help me through a trying scene.”
Restored to her smiling favour, the dogs bounded to her side, and the three came, racing, to the side porch, where the visitor sat.
“Mr. Hawkins?” said Doris, with cool politeness, and as he smiled and admitted his identity, she added, “Come round to the front verandah, please.” For it was Doris’ rule never to receive strangers, or indeed any but her favourite friends on the old side porch, hallowed as it was by her revered memories.
So to the front they went, and it was clearly to be seen that Mr. Hawkins was a bit surprised at the appearance and demeanour of his hostess.
“Sit there, please,” Doris directed, as she seated herself opposite. “Be still, Dutch. Lie quietly or go away at once.”
The Boston Bull lay down obediently, but kept an alert eye on the guest.
“Your dogs mind well,” Mr. Hawkins observed, conversationally.
“Why not?” returned Doris. “And what did you want to see me about, Mr. Hawkins?”
She had not meant to be quite so curt, but the looks and manner of the man did not please her. She felt his visit uncalled for, and unless he had a definite and plausible errand, she proposed to make his stay a short one.
“You’ve fixed up quite considerable, I see,” he said, looking about him.
“Yes, I’ve tried to restore the house as it was originally.”
“Succeeded mighty well, too. Got money enough to keep it up?”
“Yes, thank you,” replied Doris, after combating a strong desire to tell him what she thought of that question.
“Well you’re lucky! I may say you’re very lucky.”
“You may, if you wish,” and the brown eyes looked straight at him, without a glimmer of gaiety.
Hawkins shifted about a little uncomfortably. He had heard of this girl of seventeen but he had not expected to find her possessed of quite so much poise and self-reliance.
“Well, I s’pose you’re wondering what I came for.”
“Yes, I am.”
“Ain’t going to ask me to dinner?”
“I think not. Is there any reason why I should?”
“Common politeness, maybe.”
“My politeness is of the uncommon sort. Now, Mr. Hawkins, please state your errand.”
“Oh, well, if you’re so short about it,—why, I came here to buy this house.”
Doris’ calm was jarred.
“What?” she cried, sharply, “to buy this house? this house!”
“Yes. I’m prepared to offer a good price. Even more than I thought to, now I see how you’ve fixed it up.”
“Mr. Hawkins, you—you must be crazy. Why this house isn’t for sale.”
“If people only bought houses what was for sale, there’d be a heap less deals made.”
“I never thought of that. Well, you’re going to make one less deal than you expect, right now, for I’m not going to sell this house to you or to anybody else.”
“Now, look-a-here, Doris,—”
“Miss Ballard, please.”
“Isn’t it Miss Ballard, Dutchman?” and Doris put the question to the ever-ready Bull pup.
A certain bristling of the dog’s anatomy seemed to settle the matter, and Hawkins proceeded, with a shade more of deference in his manner.
“You see, Miss Ballard,” he permitted himself a sarcastic tone,—“you ain’t no person to be at the head of a big place like this.”
“Are you?” The glance that Doris swept over him must have given him a sudden hint of his own incongruity, for he grew more red-faced even than he had been, and blustered:
“Yes, I am, the way I mean to run it. Now, be reasonable. We don’t want to cheat you, we’re ready to pay a fair price,—a big price,—but we want the proppity.”
“Yes, me and two or three other people. Sort of a syndicate arrangement.”
“Mr. Hawkins,” she said, in cool, even tones, “I’m sorry, but I really haven’t the least interest in the plans of your syndicate arrangement. May I ask you to seek a more attentive audience?”
Her air of amused intolerance and her little smile of disapproval infuriated the man.
“You look-a-here,” he cried, “you needn’t try to buck up against me! Why, you chit, I’m accustomed to havin’ my own way,—I am!”
Doris giggled. “How do you get it?” she said. “By intimidating people who chance to be smaller than you are? I’m not afraid of you, you know, for my Flying Dutchman is all ready to argue on my side, but I trust it won’t come to that.”
“No, you bet it won’t,” and Leonard Hawkins looked appraisingly at the sublime self-confidence in the dog’s eyes. “I’m a peaceable man, I am, and I just want to make a dicker.”
“Yes, for this proppity. Nobody ever bought or sold Real Estate without a dicker.”
“But there’s no buying or selling of real estate going on on these premises—”
“Now, you listen to reason. You’d be a heap better off in some nice modern little house, say, a bungalow, or a stucco cottage. It ain’t just right for a young girl to run a place like this.”
“Well, never mind my part of it; what do you want of the place?”
“I’ll tell you. I’m spokesman for a few of us relatives of Abel Hilton; and we’ve made a little combine to acquire this house and make it into a first-class roadhouse. You see, with the monument and all—”
The man’s glance, sweeping the front lawn, the road and the whizzing motors, swung back to Doris, and his jaw dropped in sheer shock at her appearance.
Her little hands were helplessly clenched at her sides; her body was tense in a very paralysis of rage; but her quickly tossed-up head flung back the frills of the flowered sunbonnet and the fire that flashed from her brown eyes was the same light that shone in the eyes of Molly Pitcher at Monmouth, when she sprang to her dead husband’s gun and struck the linstock home.
“You—you—” she forced from her contracted throat, and then two big tears formed in the brown eyes and rolled down the soft, round cheeks.
Hawkins stood staring, the Flying Dutchman alertly awaited developments, but Doris gave herself a little shake, bit her lip and recovered her poise.
“You can understand making me indignant,— angry,—furious,—” she said, looking at him contemptuously, “but of course you can’t understand how you hurt me.”
“Hurt you, miss? Now I don’t want to do that.”
“Hush! You don’t even know what I mean! You’ve no idea of the sacrilege you hinted at. Now, I really must ask you to go away, Mr. Hawkins. If you wish to repeat your proposition of buying this place, go to Mr. Stanchley, the lawyer.”
“Oh, has he the privilege of selling it?”
“No,” Doris even smiled at the man’s eagerness, “but he has the privilege of telling you it is not for sale, so that you will believe it,—which seems to be more than I can accomplish.”
“But, say, just listen a minute. I’m sorry if I offended you; I s’pose you do feel attached to it, now you’ve fixed it up so, but I’m prepared to offer you a big,—really big price.”
“So you said before. But an offer of a million dollars wouldn’t tempt me in the least.”
“You little simpleton! You don’t mean that!”
“Yes, I do. But please do not call me names. I’m not accustomed to it.”
“That ain’t callin’ names, that’s the plain truth. You are a simpleton, if you refuse to sell a thing for twice what it’s worth. We ain’t talkin’ in millions, exactly, but we are talkin’ big money, and I rather reckon you’ll come round. I’ll go see your lawyer fellow, and I think he’ll have some sense, if you haven’t.”
“Go ahead, Mr. Hawkins. But Mr. Stanchley will tell you, just as I have, that the place is not in the market.”
“I don’t care, I’m a-goin’ to get it. By hook or by crook, I’ll manage it somehow. You think you’re pretty smart, and you are, for a young ’un; but I’m nobody’s fool, myself, and, as I told you, I always get my own way.”
“In-deed! And you say you’re going to do it by hook or crook? I’m not sure I quite understand, but doesn’t that mean by dishonest or underhanded means?”
“Mebbe and mebbe not. Anyway, I’m goin’ to get it!”
“The gobble-uns’ll get you if you don’t watch out!” Doris said this with no thought other than a flippant whim, but Hawkins turned pale.
“Say,” he whispered, “those—you know—spooks. Have you seen ’em?”
“Well, no, I haven’t. But,” a thought striking her, “I’m quite sure there are some about. Are you afraid of them.”
“Pooh, no,” but the man glanced uneasily over his shoulder, “I don’t believe in ’em.”
“If you lived in this house, you’d have to,” and Doris turned large solemn eyes full upon him. “They appear to sceptics and haunt them.”
“Oh, I don’t want to live here! I wouldn’t live in a haunted house for anything.”
“This isn’t a haunted house!” Doris flared up indignantly. “I didn’t say it was that. A ghost, now and then, doesn’t make a haunted house.”
“Do they come now and then?”
“They’re said to,” and Doris felt a secret delight in seeing the man shudder. “There’s an annual one due soon now. He comes every August.”
“Lord save us! What are you talking about?”
“Didn’t you know about him? He’s a French soldier. I’m expecting him ’most any time.”
“How you do talk! You give me the creeps! And you so ca’m. Well, I don’t like ghosts, I admit, but a ha’nt’ll give interest to the old place as a roadhouse. People’ll just flock here!”
Again the tears sprang to Doris’ eyes. But she only said, “Good morning, Mr. Hawkins. You can find Mr. Stanchley at his office.”
Her glance was of such definite finality that he went at once,—moving awkwardly off the piazza steps. He was routed by this strange girl, he scarce believed in his own defeat, but he couldn’t stay another minute under the lashing contempt of her look and manner.
* * * * * * * * *
“Who’s your fat friend?” and Guy Prentiss came alongside the verandah rail.
“Oh, Guy! I’m all in! I don’t know whether to break down and cry or brace up and forget it.”
“Well, those two unshed tears you’re balancing on your lower lashes are mighty fetching, but I don’t want you to produce any more for my benefit. What’s the tabloid drama all about?”
“Come around on the side porch, and I’ll tell you about it.”
They went around, and Doris sat down slowly among the green striped cushions of the porch swing.
“That highly-coloured and lowly-bred individual,” she began, as Guy flung out a cushion and made room for himself beside her, “has concluded to buy this place and turn it into a roadhouse.”
Young Prentiss gave her a glance. Her voice quivered, and he saw that a word of sympathy might precipitate a flood of tears.
So, tactfully he made light of it, and said, in a casual tone, “Well, don’t let’s needlessly set foot upon the worm. Consider him kicked out of our path. How about a round of golf?”
“No, I’m too upset. That awful, horrid, dreadful man got on my nerves.”
“Didn’t know you had any.”
“Nor I, ever before.”
“Well, take off that dinky sunbonnet thing until you get over your nerves, then.”
“Because, when you’re nervy,—nervous, I mean, you pout,—and that sunbonnet with a pout in it, is more than I can stand!”
The pout turned to a dimpled smile.
“That’s better. Alluring enough, but not so desperately compelling. I say, Doris, I’m going to camp next week.”
“Really? Oh, Guy, I’m so glad!”
“Well, I like that!”
“Oh, of course, I’m awfully sorry to have you go, but, all the same I want you to go. I want everybody to go,—I ’most wish I were a man and could go myself!”
“Yes, I know. If you’re not careful, some day that patriotism of yours’ll go off, and you’ll fly into a million pieces, all at once, like the one-hoss-shay.”
“Your comparisons are so apt! The one-hoss-shay didn’t explode.”
“Don’t be fussy! If you go to pieces all at once, it doesn’t matter whether you explode or not. Anyway, it went ‘just as bubbles do when they burst,’ and if that isn’t exploding, I don’t know what is.”
“‘Stormed at with shot and shell, boldly they rode and well,’—oh, Guy, won’t you be in the cavalry? You’re stunning on a horse.”
“Yes! that’s your patriotism! If a chap registers some riding togs and a bucking broncho, you think he’s a howling hero.”
“Diddums gettum maddums? Why, bless his heart, it’s only ’cause him looks so booful in hims riding silhouette, that—honest to goodness, Guy, I’m glad you’re going. You’ll make a splendid soldier, you’re so—so soldiery! I s’pect your ancestors were Zenobia and—Sir Galahad.”
“Oh, Doris! What nice things you do say! If I make good, it’ll be to live up to your ideals.”
“But you want to go, don’t you? You’re glad you’re going?”
“I am that! Except for one reason. One little reason.”
“ ’Bout as big as me?”
“No! Heaps littler.”
“Who is she?”
“ ’Tisn’t a girl, it’s a little, little reason. It’s that tiniest red curl at the back of your neck.”
“This one?” and Doris fingered a tendril.
“Oh, mercy, no! Not that one!”
“No, no. Here, I’ll show you. This one. To be sure, they’re all ‘round locks of gold to trick the heart,’ but this one is the roundest, reddest,—I say, Doris, won’t you give—er—lend it to me, for the duration of the war?”
“Oh, no, let that be the curl you left behind you! I say, Guy, you’re getting sentimental as you get soldiery.”
“And you’re getting clever. A girl with red curli-locks oughtn’t to be clever.”
“I didn’t mean to be. It slipped out unbeknownst. But I won’t have my hair called red.”
“Red-gold. Quite different from carrot-top, I do assure you. And it’s only gold in the strong sunlight.” He looked at it critically. “Red-brown, is its every-day colour, I suppose.”
“Is red-brown an every-day colour?”
“Only when I see you every day. Which I won’t, after I’m camping on the old tent ground.”
“Oh, we’ll come and visit you, sometimes, Ruth and I.”
“Will you? And I’ll be home on leave, more or less, so life still holds out hope of sweetness. But, whatever happens, always remember, ’is ’eart was true to Poll.”
“Me bein’ Poll?”
“You bein’ Poll. But, see here, my lady, I hear that a gay young blade is imminent at the Busby Palace Hotel. Dost like the picture?”
“Oh, a’ the lads they smile at me, but I don’t think I can smile back at a person named Looly!”
“Is that his home address? Well, well. I fear no foe with ‘Looly’ stamped on his cigarettes. Remember I’m the main Guy,—won’t you, little Doris?”
“Yes, but your only claim to my fleeting interest is that you’re going to war.”
“And coming back to get the little red curl that I mayn’t have to take with me.”
“You’ll have so many medals and things, you’ll forget curls.”
“In that case you’d better let me take it as a reminder.”
But Doris shook her wise little head.
“Angel Doggie Peter,” observed Doris, “stop shaking your fedders all over my nice clean frock! For if I bethink me aright, here comes that Looly person to call on Miss Doris Ballard. And lordyation! the Busby is bringing him, instead of Miss Luella!”
“You see,” Mrs. Busby profusely explained, a moment later, as she presented the young man, “Miss Cutler has a touch of her rheumatism and she asked me to bring Looly over for her.”
“I couldn’t be sent by Parcel Post, because I’m just over the six foot limit,” and Doris looked up to find the laughing blue eyes on a far higher level than her own.
But the Looly person was well proportioned though slenderly built, and gave an effect of nerve force rather than physical strength. His movements were deliberate, his manner a trifle languid, and though he looked at Doris with interest, his regard was a bit appraising, and Doris hated to be appraised.
In fact, such an attitude on the part of a stranger always made her draw a light mantle of formality over her naturally spontaneous cordiality.
“How d’y’do?” she said with the rising inflection approved by the up-to-date code of the moment, and young Cutler gave her a quick, amused glance.
He met her on her own ground, however, and responded with a politeness as indifferent as her own. This, added to the fact that his white flannel raiment was aggressively immaculate and obtrusively perfect in cut and mode made Doris promptly positive that she never could abide a man named Looly!
Though not blatantly apparent, this undercurrent of antagonism was perceptible, and Busybody Busby got busy.
“What’s the matter with you two?” she asked, tactfully. “You don’t appear to be friendly inclined. Come, now, Doris, speak up pretty.”
“It’s Mr. Cutler’s first move,” and a sideward glance of the soft brown eyes showed the smile that was not allowed to curve the scarlet lips.
“My first move is a promise; when I feel that I know you well enough, I’ll tell you what I’m thinking about you now.”
“How do you know I’ll be interested enough to listen?”
“Because by that time you’ll be interested in anything I may say—concerning you.”
The last clause changed Doris’ look of incredulous hauteur to appreciative fun, and she returned:
“But by that time I’ll be telling you my first impressions of your own self, and then—maybe you’ll never speak to me again.”
“Oh, come now, I’m not such an undesirable citizen as all that! You can’t dislike me at first sight, unless you’ve a prejudice, and if that’s the case, tell it me and I’ll immediately remove it.”
“I know what it is,” put in the Busybody duenna, “Doris thinks it’s awful for a man to be named Looly.”
“I think it’s awful to have my secrets told!” exclaimed the girl, rosy pink from annoyance. “Dear Mrs. Busby, let’s change the subject.”
“Let’s,” agreed Cutler. “I can’t wait another minute to see the house. You know, we Cutlers have a spiritual lien on this place, and I want to see what you’ve done to it. So far I see only improvement, but there may yet be surprises.”
“Come on,” said Doris, rising, “I’d like your opinion on some matters I’ve been waiting to ask you.”
Together they went all over the old house. Seeing Molly, Mrs. Busby staid to talk with her, and Doris and Looly proceeded.
If he had seemed indifferent before, Cutler was interested enough now. Eagerly he noted every change, carefully he inspected restorations and improvements, nodding approval here and questioning there, with the sure touch of knowledge and experience.
“Does it jar on you at all,” he asked, “the introduction of electrics, steam heat, telephones, plumbing and all that? Do you think the push-button shatters the atmosphere?”
“I know what you mean,” and Doris spoke seriously. “But it had to be, and there was no use in half-way measures. And, too, remember, we’re living now and the house is living now; so, to my mind, there’s no reason why these old walls and windows and mantels should mind the intrusion of modern inventions. They in no way detract from the charm and dignity of the original building.”
“That’s right! You see it perfectly clearly. The charm, the impressiveness of these rooms and halls is immortal. Nothing added in a true spirit of convenience or utility could mar it.”
“It’s the dearness of it all,” said Doris, simply. “These rooms in the old part breathe memories of only simple, gentle people. At least, that is their effect on me. There is no hint of grandeur or ostentation. This part, you know, was the old farmhouse, the house where Washington staid during that critical, that important period just before the Siege of Yorktown, the decisive battle of the Revolution.”
“Yes, I know,” and Cutler’s face glowed, “the great old chap! I’ve no doubt it was here in this very room, this library, that he planned that campaign.”
“Of course it was. And so, I hold this room sacred to his memory, and also the room above this, which was his bedroom. And, incidentally, I revere the dining-room, because he ate there, and the South porch, because he sat there of an evening to brood over his country’s weal and woe. And there was a lot of woe just then.”
“How do you know he sat out there to brood?”
“Why, I just know it. You don’t need Lossing’s Field Book of the Revolution to tell you that! Of course, he sat out on the porch of a summer evening, —that porch was the front of the house then,—and his soldiers were encamped all around here, and they came to consult and to take orders, and they all adored him! And he sat there, in his beautiful clothes,—Washington was like you, rather vain as to clothes,—”
“I don’t suppose he was often as much admired as I am at present,” and Cutler absorbedly flicked a speck of dust from his sleeve.
The brown eyes flashed him a scornful glance and Doris went on: “Well, whether he had on his uniform or his satin togs he looked perfectly lovely! Maybe his pictures flatter him, but he is always the most distinguished looking gentleman I ever saw.”
“He’s all of that. And his face is that of a thoroughbred. Oh, I share your infatuation for George! And for this house too. Remember, my lady, it was an ancestor of mine whose pearls were hidden here.”
“And it is my house in which those pearls are still hidden.”
“Do you think that, too? It has always seemed to me they are still here.”
“Of course they are. The piece of plate was a hidden piece—”
“Or the pitcher?”
“That was not hidden as a valuable thing, but it may have been in some obscure place.”
“Or hidden because it already contained something of value.”
“Yes, perhaps. Can’t we—you and I—make a desperate search and find the pearls?”
“I’ll gladly do my part. I’m just loafing round, and except for entertaining Aunt Lulie a bit, I’ve nothing to do.”
“Oh, are you named for her?”
“Not exactly, and yet our names are alike. Don’t you like Looly as a strong, manly sort of a name?” The blue eyes looked lazily amused, and Doris retorted:
“Oh, it’s a stunning name! Fancy, if you were to be knighted. Sir Looly Cutler! Perfectly darling!”
“Those last two words are the most scathing I have ever had hurled at me. Some day I shall make you say them with a different intonation. By the way, aren’t we well enough acquainted now to own up to our first impressions of each other?”
“I suppose if we’re going to make common cause of this pearl search, we must be not only acquaintances but friends.”
“It would seem so,” and Doris nearly gasped in her amazement that this provoking young man didn’t follow up her lead more definitely. “Well, go ahead, what did you size me up as?”
“And then they call women the curious sex! I’ve a notion not to tell you. Anyway, you must tell me first.”
“Aha! True daughter of Pandora and Paul Pry! Well, when I first laid eyes upon the fair chatelaine of—what do you call the place?”
“Collander, of course.”
“It’s always been called that, and I like the old name.”
“I do, too. Well, when I first saw you, there flew into my mind a line of poetry that seemed to fit you. I shall always think of it when I think of you.”
“But I shall mostly be ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ ”
“There’s another line that goes, ‘I cannot think of thee, I am too near thee.’ But I suppose that is not entirely appropriate.”
“Hardly. What is your original line?”
“It isn’t original with me. I’m ’most afraid to confess it, but it is the beginning of a Limerick.
‘There was a young lady whose eyes
Were unique as to colour and size—”
The big brown eyes glinted with laughter as Doris looked at him. “It’s all right,” she said, “as long as you don’t finish the verse.”
“Why, I forget the rest. What is it?”
“‘When she opened them wide
Folks all turned aside,
And scooted away in surprise.’ ”
“Don’t worry. I’m not for scooting just yet. I haven’t heard your indelible first impression of my humble self. Do I understand you’ve sized me up as a tailor’s dummy?”
“You’re not so far off,” said Doris coolly. “All I could think of when I first saw you was a very bright new pin that ought to be put with his brother pins in his proper row on the green paper.”
“Why, that’s real nice of you. I’m glad I look tidy. Now let’s leave us live people for a time, and talk about immaterial ones. Aunt Luella told me about the mysterious papers you found,—may I see them?”
“Yes, indeed. And, see, here’s where they lay. Right in that corner of the library, between the two doors.”
“Here?” and Cutler stepped over to the corner indicated.
“Yes, and I can’t imagine how they got there with both doors shut. There was no draught, of course, but even if there had been, where did the papers blow from?”
Cutler scrutinised the floor, the walls, and then began to tap on the side of the chimney jamb which was next the door.
“No use,” said Doris. “I’ve pounded that chimney till I ’most made it cave in, but no papers appeared from there.”
“These are both papers that belonged to Rachel Hilton,” mused Cutler, studying the yellowed sheets.
“They certainly are. I thought the first one might have been put on the floor there by Miss Rackham, a guest I had at the time I found it. But the second one appeared after she left. I was in this room entirely alone, and one minute it was not there and the next minute it was.”
“Were you frightened?”
“I was, and I wasn’t. I felt skittish, of course, but I’m so crazy to find out the truth of the matter that I forget all fear.”
“Good girl! That’s the right spirit. Now, let’s leave the letters a moment, and consider the pearls. I’ll be here a month or so, and I want to make a systematic search, not the futile desultory hunt that my ancestors put up.”
“How do you know they did?”
“I’ve heard about it all my life. Every generation thinks itself a little bit smarter than the last one, and in every case the result is the same. Now, I want to start differently.”
“How?” asked Doris, her eyes shining with interest.
“Not by hunting the house, for that’s been done.”
“A thousand times, I suppose. And with my tearings out and pullings down, there’s no nook or cranny uninvestigated.”
“That’s my idea. And yet I think the pearls are in the house. My theory is, that if they had been found, by a rightful owner or by a dishonest person, that would have been divulged sooner or later. A thing like that couldn’t have been kept secret. Anyway, that’s the principle I want to start out with, and see where it gets us.”
“What to do first?”
“Imagine. Throw yourself back into Le Fevre’s—”
“Don’t be funny. Now, supposing you were here, and had the pearls to hide, just as he had, where would you put them?”
“In the wall somewhere,” returned Doris, promptly.
“Because, you could find an insignificant place, I mean, an unobservable place, say, in the cellar, and make a hole and put them in, and sort of plaster it over, and nobody could ever find it. As the years went on it would become less and less noticeable.”
“I believe you,” and Cutler thought over it. “But what about the family plate and the willow pitcher?”
“You see, in the first place, those two things rather contradict each other. If in a silver receptacle, why the china jug? I’ve sometimes wondered whether the willow pattern, so often seen on china, was ever reproduced in silverware.”
“Why are you so sure?”
“Only because if it had been, collectors would know of it, and we’d see specimens of it, or at least read about it in the collector’s books. No, I’m sure that’s a wrong tack.”
Cutler was attractive when he smiled. His thick, light brown hair had a little ripple in it, and he tossed it back as an impatient lion does his mane. His eyes were very blue, and when he thought deeply he stared with an intent preoccupied gaze that seemed to deepen their colour. His face was long and lean, with a firm jaw and throat, and thin lips that smiled back from white and even teeth. He was entirely free from self-consciousness, and talked to Doris with the careless ease of an old acquaintance.
“No; keep the silver and the china separate, please. Now, take first, the family plate. That’s always mentioned first when the tale is told.”
“But maybe the dying soldier didn’t speak it first.”
“Good for you! You have ideas, haven’t you? I foresee we shall get along famously.”
“Yes,—if you have ideas too.”
“Oh, I have, I assure you. Now, as to this family plate. I can’t quite see it in the picture. This house was a farmhouse then, not a mansion. I doubt if the farmer’s people had a great sideboard, crowded with silver trenchers and tankards, which is the scene family plate suggests to me.”
“Me, too. The willow pitcher is far more in keeping with their probable house-furnishings.”
“So I think some other sort of a plate is meant.”
“I spoke of a doorplate to Miss Luella.”
“It might have been; and yet, that doesn’t ring quite true.”
“I didn’t say a door-bell!”
“Now, be good kiddy, or we won’t get anywhere. How about the plate being part of the same set as the pitcher?”
“A willow plate?”
“But where does that get us? He couldn’t have hidden pearls in a willow-pattern plate!”
“Let’s get away from the timeworn idea that his message told the hiding pace. Assume that it was to lead to a direction in which to look.”
“As if a paper had been dropped in the pitcher, containing written directions,—maybe a cryptogram or cipher.”
“Perhaps. I’d love to find a cipher. Bet I could figure it out.”
“I’d rather find the pearls themselves.”
“That would follow, as the night the day. Now, stick to the text. Could the family plate be a china plate?”
“No, sir, it could not.”
“Because a china plate is never spoken of in that way. Family plate means the collection of family silver—”
“Ordinarily, yes. But say, these people had no silver to speak of, and suppose they had a great ancestral platter of willow pattern china, which they called the family plate.”
“Doubtful but possible. Go on.”
“And suppose it had been hidden in a cubbyhole, —a secret cupboard or alcove,—and our French friend had put the pearls in the same hiding place, or, had put in there with the plate, a paper telling where the pearls were hidden.”
“And the willow pitcher?”
“Same theory applies. If they were of the same set, the best Sunday-go-to-meeting dishes, you know, they may have hidden the whole layout.”
“Maybe so, but it doesn’t sound—”
“That enough,—but not interesting.”
“Oh, you want a cipher message or a donjon keep or something romantic, I suppose.”
“Something a little more plausible, anyway. Now, here’s my scheme. Don’t try to connect the plate and the pitcher. Take one or the other and work it up alone. Then, if it fails, try the other. The combination seems to lead nowhere. One alone might lead to something worth while. And, too, working on one might later include the other, and we could tell better what it meant.”
“Start with the pitcher then, because we know what that means. That is, a willow pitcher is a solid, sensible object. But a family plate is uncertain as to its very meaning.”
“I agree. But, alas, imagine trying to find now a china pitcher that was in existence in 1781! Why, it’s not only in pieces but in dust. Don’t you suppose the early Cutlers investigated every willow pitcher for miles around?”
“Yes, but I mean if the pitcher is hidden. Maybe hidden in this house. As you say, it must have escaped discovery or it would have been known. Therefore, I argue, it was hidden and is hidden still.”
“Then we’ll find it. But we can only look in the walls. For every other bit of the house has been gone over by the masons and painters and plumbers. If it’s ’way inside of one of the thick walls it may be securely hidden, but nowhere else. The roof has all been restored, you know.”
“Aren’t there any hidyholes that you know of?”
“What a brilliant question! Do you mean some that I know of,—but haven’t searched?”
Cutler laughed. “Right, Miss Ballard. It was a fool speech! But, anyway, here’s a point I meant to make. Suppose the willow plate,—I mean, willow pitcher, is a sort of cryptogram itself.”
“Oh, I see! And the design holds the key of the hiding place! Why, then any piece of the willow pattern would do to study! Even a modern reproduction.”
“Hold on! Don’t go too fast. I had in mind that the soldier boy took a piece of the house-wife’s willow china, and added, maybe with a pencil or brush, a few marks that would tell the secret,—to one who understood.”
“Oh, I see, but I like better the theory that any willow patterned piece would tell the story. Couldn’t we gather from the Chinese picture, the lovers crossing the bridge, you know, and the willow tree, and the two doves, and the irate father—”
“Say the hiding place was under a bridge or in a dovecote—”
“It isn’t impossible. I suppose they may well have had an old dovecote. And there were bridges all about, of course.”
The two went into the dining room, and sitting opposite each other at the long refectory table, they pored over the old willow pattern on a very new and cheap plate, until they knew every detail by heart.
“Me for climbing every willow tree for miles around,” announced Cutler at last.
“Hunt especially in those that were planted of late years,” said Doris, ironically. “I shall look for an old dovecote.”
“There are dozens of those about, which have been in use for centuries, of course!”
“Oh, I mean the ruins of one. It might be buried almost out of sight, but still survive the passing years.”
“Rubbish! We haven’t accomplished a thing. But we have made a start, and we have something to start from. May I take this plate home with me, to study over? I doubt if Lady Busby has one.”
“Yes, and welcome. When you have a brilliant idea, come over again and tell me about it.”
“Are you always at home?”
“Almost never. But take a chance, or telephone first and I’ll stay in for you.”
“May I? You’re awfully kind. Aunt Luella will be delighted.”
“And her nephew?”
“Is already delighted.”
After Looly had departed with his precious plate, Doris sat in the porch swing, thinking him over.
“He’s a nice boy,” she confided in Peter the Head-strong’s feathery ear, “but there’s something about him I hate. It isn’t that he wears the very latest cry in men’s clothes,—though that’s part of it. But, I’d forgive that, if he were a little more—well, active. He looks almost athletic, but he acted indolent, and never even moved unless he had to. He has no physical energy, somehow. I don’t believe he’s a live wire,—I think he’s a mollycoddle. But he’s nice to talk to, and quick to catch on, so I think I’ll let him help me with my search.”
And the condescending young woman went for a romp with the dogs that soon proved her physical energy very much in evidence.
“Here’s your mail, Miss Doris,” said old Jethro Judd, coming to the swing on the east end of the side porch, which was Doris’ favourite abiding place. “An’ I don’t want to be a calamity howler, but I do say as there’s a letter from that earring woman. Always distrust a person what wears earrings, say I, be he man or woman, but specially be he a woman.”
“Goodness, Judd, what a tirade! I suppose you mean Madame Marshall.”
“I do, Miss Doris, an’ I hope the spooks fly away with her, so I do!”
“Oh, the spooks of Collander are like the snakes in Ireland, there aren’t any. Here it is the latter part of August and Friend Le Fevre hasn’t clanked around yet! Even Wolfert Acker’s ghost hasn’t shown up,—he’s scheduled for midsummer; and Irving tells of another, a young lady who died of love and green apples,—she must be a lovely ghost! Judd, do you suppose the motor-car and such modern contraptions have scared the ghosts away entirely?”
“I wish you wouldn’t make so light of it, Miss Doris.” The old man looked apprehensively up the tree-clouded slope beyond the flower beds. “Mebbe they ain’t no ghostses,—an’ then again,—mebbe they is.”
“That speech, Judd, sums up just about all the greatest investigators of psychic phenomena have discovered.”
Judd didn’t get the drift of this, but he did see that Doris was laughing at him, and with a grieved glance at her, he walked away.
“Molly, Molly, Solemncholy Molly!” called Doris, and the gloomy-faced one appeared in the dining-room door.
Her sunken grey eyes were rolled up with an air of pious resignation to any new blow Fate might have in store, and she placed one hand against a pillar to brace herself, if need be.
“Madame Marshall arrives this afternoon,” announced Doris, her own vexed expression giving way to amusement at Molly’s limp relaxation of despair.
“No!” she said, with enough vehemence to ward off the impending disaster, could it have been met by such means.
“Yes!” contradicted Doris. “She knows where she’s going and she’s on her way! She will gladden this house with her presence for two days and two nights. I shall repair to Ruth Prentiss’ and remain there until the invader departs.”
“Indeed, you’ll do nothing of the sort. Listen, Miss Doris, dear, if you go off and leave that Tartar in petticoats here alone, she’ll play hob with all your things—”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, she’ll go snoopin’ into everything, and bossin’ me and Judd, and raisin’ Cain, generally. No, you stay right here on deck. You ain’t bigger’n a pint of cider, but you’ve got a way with you that sorta puts the kibosh on Madame Earrings!”
“Why do her earrings trouble you so? Lots of people wear them.”
“Not like she wears ’em. She fair dangles ’em in your face!”
“Oh, well, of course I’ll stay here. I’d no intention of deserting. Now, scoot off and fix up the room over the dining-room for her.”
* * * * * * * * *
Since the unwelcome guest planned to stay such a short time, Doris concluded to be gracious toward her. After all, she was one of the disappointed twenty-seven, and, as the successful one, Doris felt a certain sense of noblesse oblige.
So her greeting, when Madame Marshall came, was cordial and pleasant. She didn’t say she was glad to see her, but she asked about her health and showed graceful little attentions that caused the visitor to look curiously at her young hostess.
“You’ve improved a lot in your manner since I saw you last,” she observed.
Doris was tempted to retort, “You haven’t!” but instead, she said:
“It’s the place, and the influences of the house. Nobody could be ill-mannered, I think, if they realised all it means to live in a historic home.”
“Sentimental, eh?” and Madame shook her long jet earrings scoffingly.
“Yes,” Doris said, simply, “I have learned here the meaning of sentiment. There are many sorts, but one of the best is the love and reverence for the memory of a hero. And when the hero is the greatest ever, and when his memories are part of your every-day existence, you can’t help moulding your own ideals and ambitions in harmony with his.”
“Very pretty, my dear, very pretty. And so Washington’s ghost haunts the whole house.”
“Not at all, Madame Marshall! Please don’t say such things! I know the ghost stories and haunt stories, and I love them too, but the spirit of Washington that pervades my home is not a ghost, it is an influence, a protection,—like a guardian angel or a guiding star.”
When Doris was very much in earnest, her restless hands grew quiet and her voice dropped to a low, exquisite tone that carried conviction of her true feeling.
“You are a strange girl,” Madame said, after a pause. “I don’t believe you’ve changed so much after all.”
Doris’ laugh rang out. “Oh, I’m the same forward, obstinate, pig-headed piece, that I was dubbed when I first came here.”
“Who dubbed you that?”
“I don’t know. A bird of the air carried the matter. But you were interested, when you were here, in the Rachel Hilton spook. Let me tell you about the papers she has given me.”
“What! What do you mean?”
Doris told the details of the mysterious appearance of the two old papers in the library, and Madame Marshall was indeed interested.
She wanted the story told and retold. She wanted to know Doris’ opinion and the opinions of all to whom the story had been related.
“I’ve told several people,” Doris said, “because I wanted to get all possible suggestions. Molly and Judd are scared out of their wits, but they’ve promised not to tell the other servants, for I know they’d all leave. But Mr. Stanchley and Miss Cutler laugh at it, and insist there’s some natural explanation. Though I don’t see how there can be. Mr. Cutler, Miss Luella’s nephew, is over at the Busby house, and he’s terribly interested. But he’s more crazy about hunting those old pearls than in discovering where the papers came from. He thinks Molly or Judd put ’em there to fool me. Of course, I know better than that,—but I’ve no idea what the truth may be.”
“Who’s this young Cutler? What’s he like?”
“Nice enough. Big and good-looking, but not as, —well, not as much given to outdoor sports as I think a man should be. He sits in the hammock and writes poetry most of the time! Think of that! A big strong man writing poetry between meals!”
“Do you want him to write it at the dinner table?”
“I don’t want him to write it at all. I want him to get up and get out and hustle at something between meals. Why doesn’t he enlist?”
“Have you asked him?”
“Indirectly, and he answered indirectly. I think he’s a softy. I call him Vanilla Willy.”
“Who is your favourite beau?”
“Don’t have such things. I have boy friends, and I like Guy Prentiss as well as any of ’em. But he’s gone to training camp. Dicky Forbes is nice, but he goes to camp next week, too. Looly Cutler ought to go, but I think likely they refused to take a man named Looly.”
“Hasn’t any other name?”
“Dunno. ’Spect he was christened Louis or Lewis, but he was really named for his spinster aunt, and he’s trying to be a nice, old-lady-like person. She’s a dear. Do you know Miss Luella?”
“No; you know Uncle Abel didn’t entertain much.”
“No, I know it. I don’t either, but—”
“You oughtn’t to live here this way,—alone.”
“So forty-leven people have told me. And I know it, and when I get around to it, perhaps next winter, I’m going to buy a chaperon and ‘come out.’ ”
“Oh, are you? Doris, let me be your chaperon! I’d love to. And I’ve had wide experience in society,—and—”
“Now, don’t go too fast. I said, next winter, and maybe I’ll wait another year. Molly is chaperon enough, while I’m a flapper.”
“But you’re not. You’re old enough—”
“I’m only seventeen, but I’m old enough to plan my own life. I’ve two live guardians, and Washington for a guardian spirit. Nothing can harm me in this house. The very walls love me and protect me.”
Again Doris’ voice fell to that low, mystic note, and the soft radiance in her brown eyes seemed to glorify the lovely face.
Madame Marshall watched the girl closely, and felt an awe, as of something beyond her ken.
“Why did you give me this room?” she asked, as Doris hovered about like a housewifely butterfly. “I wanted to sleep in the room Washington slept in. Isn’t that right next?”
“Next but one. But you can’t have it. I never put guests there. In fact, I may as well own up I look on it as a sort of shrine. I go there when I’m troubled or anxious, and I sit there and look out of the window he looked out of, and see the trees and the wistaria vine that he saw, and always peace fills my soul, and my troubles straighten themselves out.”
“You are a funny little thing! Very well, run away now, about your own affairs. I’ll see you at dinner time.”
* * * * * * * * *
For her own bedroom Doris had the great front room over the living room. This was in the later part of the house, added in 1810, and the floor level, a few feet higher than the old part, was reached by half a dozen extra stairs.
Long after she had fallen asleep that night, Doris was awakened by a hasty footstep on the stairs, and a moment later she heard a quick tap at her door.
“Who is it?” she cried, springing out of bed, and opening the door.
“Me,” breathlessly exclaimed Madame Marshall, who, wrapped in a voluminous kimono, scurried into the room.
“What is the matter? Are you ill?”
“No, no. But Doris,” she leaned close and whispered, “there’s a ghost out in the garden!”
“Nonsense!” and Doris burst into laughter. “Is that all? Well, I’m glad you aren’t ill, or the house on fire or something really serious.”
“Don’t! Don’t laugh,” and the elder lady shivered with fear. “Come, look out your window.”
“Wait till I turn on the light.”
“No, don’t make a light. Here, throw this round you. Now, peep through the curtain.”
Madame Marshall led the girl to the window, which overlooked the flower garden, and with finger on lip, bade her look off toward the dark mass of trees. The night was very dark, and there was no moon, and but few stars, and Doris could see nothing but a gloom of trees against a black sky.
The terror of Madame Marshall seemed to communicate itself to the girl, and she too shivered with a nameless dread.
“I see nothing,” she whispered, but even as she spoke, she felt her arm clutched warningly, and then a strange luminous mist rose slowly from the ground at a spot just above the corner of the garden.
“See—see!” said the other, and Doris stood spellbound, while her flesh turned cold, and her teeth chattered.
Scarcely visible at first, the quivering luminous mass rose taller and seemed the semblance of a man. The outline was so vague as to be almost indiscernible, but the thing took shape, and moved with slow stalking steps toward the house.
“Oh, I am afraid,” moaned Doris, turning to catch the horrified stare of Madame Marshall’s eyes. “What shall we do?”
“Nothing,” whispered the other, “there’s nothing to do. Would you rather get back into bed?”
“Oh, no, no! That would be worse. Is it,—is it the French soldier?”
“It must be. See, he is searching for the lost pearls.”
The phantom moved with a slow, swaying step, and then, even as they watched, it disappeared.
“Oh, it’s gone,” and Doris gave a hysterical sigh of relief.
And then, as suddenly, the dimly glowing shape reappeared, a little nearer to the house.
“Oh!” breathed Doris, “there he is again! and nearer! Oh, what shall we do?”
“We can’t do anything my dear. But d-don’t be afraid. He c-can’t harm us—you know.”
Madame Marshall’s own voice was unsteady, though she tried to reassure the trembling Doris.
“N-no, of course he can’t. There, he’s fading again!”
Huddled together, shivering with fright, yet too fascinated to leave the window, they watched while the strange, eerie thing drew nearer and nearer the house.
“He’s coming in,” whispered Madame Marshall, “he’s coming in the house!”
“He can’t,” said Doris, “every door’s locked.”
“That doesn’t matter to a—a—”
Doris gave her a wild look. “Oh, no! of course not. Help me, Madame Marshall. What can I do? I can’t stand it if he appears to us here—close by— ooh!”
Doris gave a smothered shriek as the phantom disappeared beneath the shadow of the house.
“I must—I must go and look in the hall!” she moaned. “I can’t just wait here in suspense!”
Breaking away from Madame’s detaining hand, Doris flew out into the hall and peered over the banister.
In the hall below, there was only blackness, but as she stared into the dark, a form took shape and she saw the same vague luminous thing that had traversed the garden. It stood in front of the tall clock at the stair foot, and it seemed to Doris that it turned as if to ascend the stairs.
She ran into the Washington bedroom, and only waiting for Madame Marshall to squeeze in beside her, she locked and bolted the door.
“He cannot harm us here,” she whispered, but in an agony of fear she listened breathlessly, her ear against the old wooden panels.
Faintly, but unmistakably, they heard slow ascending footsteps. Sometimes a clanking noise could be distinguished and again only that soft, muffled, measured tread. Along the long hall, toward the back of the house, the steps sounded, and paused at every door, and on each door resounded three faint hollow-sounding taps.
They could distinguish each room that was visited, and then the steps returned, drawing nearer and nearer the room they were in.
But the steps passed that door and proceeded to Doris’ own room, so recently vacated. Here the three taps were struck,—slow, faint, hollow,—and then down the short stair came the steps again, and paused in front of the very door against which Doris leaned.
Distinctly, so that she not only heard, but felt them through the panel, the ghostly taps fell.
Doris shrank back from the door, and Mrs. Marshall caught her in her arms.
“Hush, child, hush,” she soothed the quivering, sobbing girl. “Hark! Listen! He’s going downstairs.”
Doris roused herself to listen and they heard the slow descent. Then the sounds, ever growing fainter, ceased, and Doris fell limply into a chair.
“See!” said Madame suddenly, “see, dear, it’s back in the garden!”
Doris sprang to look, and saw the faintly luminous shape returning by the path it had come. It faded slowly and then entirely disappeared, and though they watched for some time it did not reappear.
And now Doris was eagerly alert. “I must go down stairs,” she said, “and make sure the doors are all locked. You see, if this should be a trick some one has played on me, a door or window must be unfastened.”
Like a flash she sprang from the room and flew down stairs. Madame Marshall followed, and turning on the lights, they examined every door and window on the lower floor.
“You see,” said Madame, softly, as she tried the lock of the last door, “every one is securely locked and bolted. No human being could get in.”
“No,” said Doris, and then as she met the other’s frightened stare, a sort of reaction overcame her and she fainted. The nervous strain had been too great.
Madame Marshall soon revived her and gently cared for her, and at last Doris was once again in her own bed and had quieted down to a normal calm. She refused the sleeping draught her friend offered, saying she preferred to lie awake, if natural sleep refused to come to her.
“Don’t try too hard to sleep, dear,” said Madame, “just think of something pleasant, and forget what has happened to-night. I’ll sit here in this big chair by the window and keep guard.”
Doris smiled faintly at the idea of forgetting the dreadful experience that still thrilled her every nerve. But finally, her physical nature triumphed and demanded rest through sheer exhaustion. She fell into a deep, sound sleep which lasted till late the next morning.
When Doris came down stairs next morning, she found a fine state of affairs, indeed!
Madame Marshall had told the household of the appearance of the ghost, and the servants, except the two Judds had frantically packed up their belongings and scurried away.
“I couldn’t keep them, my dear,” Madame Marshall explained to Doris, “and it was useless to waken you, for they said no persuasion would induce them to remain another day in a haunted house. So, I paid them what was due them, knowing you would repay me. Don’t worry over their going, for the cook wasn’t very good, anyway, and that chauffeur was positively impertinent. I will get better help for you in a day or two, and meanwhile faithful Judd and Molly can do for us. Or, perhaps you won’t care to stay in the house yourself. I should think not, after last night! How glad I am that I was here with you! If you had been alone—oh, I shudder to think of it!”
Molly brought in breakfast for Doris from the kitchen. As the girl sat down at the table, she felt dazed, she could hardly pull herself together. But the sight of Molly’s solemn face and the glimpse of Judd, working around outside, gave her a sudden realisation of two faithful and dependable friends and helpers.
So, it was a shock when Molly said, “We’ll be goin’ to-day, Miss Doris,—Judd an’ me. You’ve got Mis’ Marshall here, an’ she says she’ll get you some proper servants. We ain’t much good, —the way you want things,—an’ too, the story Mis’ Marshall tells of last night’s goin’s on, fair takes the heart out o’ me. I’d drop dead in my tracks if I saw a sperrit, an’ Judd, he would too.”
Doris got up and went to the perturbed old woman. The long, gaunt frame quivered as the two fluttering hands of the girl rested on the old shoulders.
“Molly,” and Doris looked into her eyes, “you break my heart! You smash it into a thousand bits when you talk like that. Other workers in this vineyard of mine may come and go,—but you and Judd go on forever. See? Now, quit your fooling and clear away the breakfast table. That’ll occupy your mind and keep it off of ridiculous fairy tales. There wasn’t any ghost, Molly.”
“Why, Doris, what do you mean?” and Madame Marshall looked amazed. “You saw it as plainly as I did!”
“I thought I did,—but now I believe it was all imagination. In this bright sunlight of day, I can’t believe that we saw a phantom.”
“Oh, you can’t! Well, I wish I couldn’t! When I remember those three hollow taps,—just like this,”—and she slowly thudded on the wall,—“I can’t help thinking it was a warning—”
Molly gave a shriek. “Yes, Miss Doris, that always means death is near for somebody. Oh, don’t stay in this house, Miss Doris, dear, pray don’t!”
“She won’t, Molly,—she can’t. No young girl ought to stay in such a home.”
“In-deed!” and Doris’ whole soul flamed up in wrath, “now, here’s where I make a stand! This house is my house, this home is my home, and these ghosts are my ghosts,—to do with as I will. Incidentally, the servants were my servants and you had no right, Madame, to come down here and tell them a story that would make them clear out, without giving me a chance to hold them! But never mind that,—here’s the point of this declaration of independence. I love this house,—with an affection that you can’t even understand, Madame Marshall. In the short time I have been here it has grown into and around my heart with a clinging strength like that old wistaria vine,—and you know how strong that is. Here I am, and here I stay; and no ghosts or haunts or phantoms can drive me out! I was scared last night, I frankly admit it, but I’d rather be scared than go away from this place. So there now! And if that was the ghost of the French soldier who hid those pearls, I hope to goodness he’ll come again, and keep on coming till he finds ’em! By the way, he ought to know where they are! I wonder if that indicates that they’ve been taken away from here, after all.”
“It indicates that you’re a silly child! You don’t even know enough to be frightened at a supernatural visitation. As Molly says, such an occurrence presages disaster, if not death, and I can tell you, miss, it is no laughing matter. If you’d read history, other than the American history you’re so eternally poring over, you’d learn that many old families have authenticated spectres which only appear when a calamity is at hand. But with your blind ignorance and your foolhardy arrogance, you defy these conditions and you’ll yet rue the day!”
“Now, now, Madame Marshall,” and Doris laughed gaily, “‘rue the day’ sounds melodramatic to me. But this whole situation is melodramatic, and I don’t mind being the leading lady.”
“Leading lady! You chit of a girl! But, Doris,” and the angrily shaken earrings suddenly grew quiet, “you must realise, dearie, that if you insist on staying here you ought to have an older woman to live with you and watch over you.”
“I know it, so I’m going to prevail on Molly Judd to stand by me,—if I have to tie her to the bedpost! Eh, Molly?”
Solemn Molly looked at Doris sadly.
“I said you was a handful the first time I laid eyes on you, Miss Doris, an’ I still say so. But you grow more ontractable every day, an’ I’m sure I dunno what to do. I’m fearfully afraid of sperrits, an’ always have been, an’ the blood-cruddling way Mis’ Marshall told her story of that spook last night—”
“Never mind the spook, Molly, you run along and do the dishes. I’m going to send for a general advisory board and thrash this matter out.”
“What do you mean?” asked Mrs. Marshall.
“Not quite sure myself yet. But I’m going to telephone for some kind big man to advise me. A little girl can’t decide everything for herself even if she is ignorant and arrogant and bound to rue the day! I’m going to summon my friend and pardner, Mr. Stanchley.”
“What earthly good can he do?”
“Well, he can’t lay ghosts, but maybe he can lay down a few laws, that I don’t seem able to enforce in this house. And one is, that if ghosts appear, they are not to be at once reported to my servants, with such harrowing details that said servants decamp! Do I make myself plain?”
“Now, Doris dear, don’t take that tone with me. I only want to help and comfort you,—”
“And you do it by sending off all my help!”
“I didn’t send them. Naturally, I told of our experience,—I couldn’t seem to help it,—and then they all took fright. They’re an ignorant lot,—”
“But you say I’m ignorant, so—”
“You wilfully misunderstand me,” and the earrings shook with the deep sigh. “But if you would try to like me a little better, I’m sure I could fill the place of housekeeper here,—’’
“Yes, I’m Doris,” the clear voice said into the telephone, “is Mr. Stanchley there?”
“No; but I’m Looly, won’t I do?”
“Are you any good in spectre—”
“Am I a good inspector! What do you mean?”
“No, I didn’t say inspector,—I said,—”
“Oh, never mind, let me come over and see what’s it all about. Mayn’t I? I’ve been dying for an excuse to come.”
“Very well, come ahead, and come soon.”
* * * * * * * * *
From the front piazza Doris impatiently watched the tall figure as it drew nearer.
“What a slowcoach he is!” she thought. “I’d like him heaps better if he’d only skittle once in a while.”
Calm and unruffled, in raiment perfectly fitted and properly creased, Looly greeted her gaily.
“Nice little Doris child, to let me come over in the morning. Thought you were busy with your intensive gardening and housekeeping.”
“Housekeeping! well rather. You see before you the chauffeur and cook and scullery-maid of the Nancy Brig!”
“That my staff of menials has walked out en masse, except for my faithful Judds, and they’re on the brink.”
“Because—” Doris dropped her voice to appropriately sepulchral tones, “because the ghost walked last night!”
“Oh, no, ghosts don’t walk really, of course, but he gave a pretty fine imitation of a French soldier seeking your lost pearls!”
“Oh, Doris, tell me all about it.”
“All right, I will. Come around on the other porch.”
Doris told the story. Madame Marshall appeared, without invitation, and added details here and there. Judd and Molly, unable to keep away, hovered in the dining-room door, and uttered occasional insuppressible groans or exclamations.
Looly looked very thoughtful. He said little, save to ask a question now and then, but he asked only regarding facts, not opinions or impressions.
“H’m,” he said, once in a while, and again, “Oho!” but mostly he listened.
Suddenly he turned to the Judds.
“Does Miss Doris’ account of the affair sound the same as Madame Marshall’s did?” he asked.
“Just the same,” declared old Jethro, but Molly demurred.
“No,” she declared, “I was a heap more scared by Madame Marshall’s story than by Miss Doris’.”
“Naturally,” said Madame, “Doris’ telling is the repetition of mine, and of course it is not so thrilling as a first hearing. And, too, Mr. Cutler, Doris doesn’t appreciate the gravity of the matter. You see—”
“Wait a moment, Madame Marshall; are you quite sure you saw the spectre? Could it have been imagination or hallucination?”
“It could not. Why, Doris and I both saw it—”
“You saw it first?”
“Yes; from my window.”
“You hadn’t retired?”
“I had, but I was wakeful, and the night was so warm, I got up and sat by the window for a time. And as I looked out at the trees, I saw the dim form take shape before my very eyes.”
“Across the garden?”
“Yes, at the farthest corner. I went straight to Doris’ room, because I thought she ought to know of it.”
“You didn’t think it wiser to save the child from possible unnecessary fright?”
“No. I thought too quickly, perhaps, but I knew Doris’ interest in the legendary phantom, and my first impulse was to let her know it had really arrived.”
“Yes, a natural thought. Were you very frightened, Doris?”
“Yes,—and no. I was physically frightened,—I mean, my teeth chattered and my flesh turned cold and clammy, but still, I felt that I must watch it,— I must know what happened. Then, when it came upstairs,—oh, yes, I was frightened then! I feared it would touch me—Oh, Looly, it was awful!”
“It was, I know. And you heard sounds?”
“Yes, steps,—and the raps at the doors.”
“You heard the raps distinctly?”
“Faintly, but yes, distinctly, too. And when it rapped on the door I was leaning against,—” Doris shuddered, “I felt the light impact.”
“Yes, and I know,—I know he would have entered that room, but that it was Washington’s room, and that kept me safe.”
Doris’ eyes shone with the glow that always irradiated them at the mention of that revered name, and Looly nodded:
“I know. I’m glad you were in that room. But, Doris, this isn’t an inimical spirit. If it’s the French soldier’s wraith, he has no grudge against you. He’s just hunting the stuff that was confided to his care—”
“How you do talk!” exclaimed Mrs. Marshall, “why, a ghost is a ghost. Its appearance always presages doom. Remember the great phantoms of history. Nearly all historic houses are haunted—”
“Poppycock!” and Looly drawled out the word with fine scorn. “Look here, Doris, put me on this job, will you? I’d like to catch this ghost for you.”
“Catch him? How? What do you mean?”
“Well, one way would be to set a ghost-trap. Just as you’d set a mouse trap, don’t you know? You bait it, and set it, and Mr. Ghost walks into it, unbeknownst, and, there you are!”
“Oh, Looly, don’t be silly! I thought you’d help me.”
“And I will. Oh, I’ll buy your flowers, little girl. But about your servants. Did they really light out?”
“Yes; but I can get more. For, you see, I’m going to stick to the ship. My theory is that now that Mr. Le Fevre has made his visit, he won’t come again till next August. How’s that?”
“A little bit of all right. Of course he won’t.”
“How absurd!” and Mrs. Marshall jingled her earrings. “I should think Doris had had enough of ghosts! There’s Rachel Hilton haunting too.”
Doris’ bravado began to give way.
“I mind her, and her mysterious letters, more than I do the Frenchman,” she said, her eyes dark with troubled fear. “Remember, Looly, how the candle went out—”
“What!” cried Madame, “you didn’t tell me the candle went out that night.”
“Were you here?” asked Cutler.
“Yes, but next morning Doris wouldn’t tell me what happened.”
“Nor will I tell you now,” said Doris, jumping up. “For it’s time to get luncheon, and as Molly is just about worn out doing everybody’s work, I’m going to send her off to rest and I’m going to get luncheon myself.”
“If you’ll ask me to stay, I’ll help you,” offered Looly. “I’m a tip-top cook, and then we can talk over our problems, too.”
“All right. What’s for lunch, Molly?”
“Chops, Miss Doris, and salad and—well, that’s about all;—you see, cook hadn’t made the desserts.”
“Was there ever a lunch that didn’t have chops at it?” exclaimed Looly. “But you let me at ’em, and I’ll fix ’em up so, their own maternal sheep wouldn’t recognise them.”
“Go ahead,” laughed Doris, “and I’ll make a dessert that you’ll be crazy about. Do you like blueberry puddings? Little cunnin’ ones, with gorgeous hard sauce?”
“Do I! Me for ’em! You can have my chops!”
“Let me make the salad,” offered Madame Marshall. “I can do it, I assure you.”
“Good!” agreed Doris. “Fix it up gay, Madame; there’s peppers in the garden and capers and dinky bottled things in the pantry. What fun!”
“Fun!” and Solemn Molly looked doleful as she prepared to leave them to their own devices. “I will lie down for a bit, Miss Doris, for my head is that upset! But I’ll come down to clear up after you.”
“Good old Molly! I hate to clear up. Run along, I’ll bring you a cup of tea, soon.”
Madame Marshall concocted the salad, and further helped by setting the table, and the two other cooks sent her off to rest till the feast was all in readiness.
Doris, in one of Molly’s enveloping aprons, beat away at her batter until her cheeks were rosy pink and her hair in ringlets and tendrils from the heat.
“Are cooks always as—as—er,—I mean is cooking so becoming to everybody?” and Looly smiled at the flushed little face.
“It isn’t to you,” and Doris regarded him critically. “You’re white as a sheet, and you look— well,—all in.”
“Nonsense! nothing of the sort. I’m always pale and interesting, and I’m nervous for fear my breaded chops won’t turn out all my fancy has already painted them. Doris, will you fire that interloper, before another dawn?”
“Why, I can’t very well, Looly. And, too, I’ve been thinking. She insists I ought to have a woman to live here, I mean more companionable and more my own sort than Molly, and she wants to be It. Whatcha think?”
“I think,—oh, splash! how these chops sputter! Here, you poke at them with this fork a minute, won’t you?”
Laughing at Looly’s scowl, Doris took the fork and deftly turned the sizzling chops, and transferred them to the waiting platter.
“All aboard!” she cried; “everything’s ready,— oh, will you chip off a little ice for the drinking water? There,—in that refrigerator.”
“You do it, Queen of the Chippers! It’ll cool you off a bit.”
“Lazybones!” Doris said to herself, but aloud she said: “All right. You put things on the table, and summon Madame.”
Luncheon was a merry meal. Ghosts and kindred subjects were taboo, and Madame Marshall exerted herself to be affable and entertaining. Looly was gay, but thoughtful at intervals, and Doris was bothered because of her indecision whether to ask Madame Marshall to remain longer, or to speed the parting guest.
A chance speech decided her.
“Now that I’m here, dearie,” the visitor said, “you must let me relieve you of much responsibility. If you’ll order a car or a chauffeur from somewhere, I’ll fly down to New York this very afternoon, and bring you back a staff of just-right servants. Don’t you think, with me here, you’d rather set up a butler?”
Doris decided all at once.
“With you here, Madame Marshall, a butler would be delightful,” she said, and the earrings bobbed with pleasure. “But you see you’re not going to be here,—only until to-morrow. You said, you know, you were for two nights.”
“Yes, dearie, but that was before your dreadful experience. You see yourself, now, you mustn’t live alone. You need—”
“Don’t tell me over again what I need, please,” and Doris’ dimpled smile robbed the words of rudeness; “I’ve heard it so often! I think I do need a nice, chaperon sort of person, but it won’t be one who calls me dearie!”
“Oh, I’ll not do that, if you don’t want me to! Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I have told you; and I’m sorry, but I must also tell you that I can’t offer you the position of chaperon. So let’s don’t discuss the subject, but consider it past history.”
“And don’t ‘But Doris’ me! I’m here in my own home, and I’ve got to live! You don’t know what I mean by live, but I do. It isn’t only playing golf and tennis, it isn’t only dressing up and going about with the young people, it’s a life of my own, my real life, and I have to live it alone. I could stand a quiet, docile, unobtrusive little old lady, but not,”— she glanced at the earrings,—“a fashionable, up-to-date society lady.”
The compliment pleased, but the definite statement so angered Madame Marshall that she gave one annoyed exclamation and then fell into a sullen hopeless silence for the rest of the meal.
“Where’s Judd?” exclaimed Doris in surprise, as, after luncheon she summoned him in vain.
“I sent him over to Mrs. Busby’s with a note,” said Looly. “I thought you wouldn’t mind.”
“Not a bit. Here he comes now. And there’s the telephone. Everything at once, of course!”
The call was for Madame Marshall, and after informing her of it, Doris went out to the swing to talk things over with Looly.
Hugh Stanchley laughed at Doris’ account of the ghost.
“But how do you explain it?” she urged, when he said it couldn’t have happened.
“Well, to begin with, you were all wrought up, and ready to imagine anything that was supernatural, whether it was or not.”
“But what was it?”
“Fancy. Madame Marshall woke you from a sound sleep and told you there was a ghost in the garden. Prepared to see one, you thought you did see one.”
“Oh, nonsense, Stanchy, I did see it. It was glowing,—not bright, you know, but dully luminous. It was there, it surely was.”
“But, Doris, it’s impossible.”
“And it came in the house, and came upstairs, and rapped at all the doors.”
“Dear child, you thought you heard sounds, but you didn’t.”
“Now, Mr. Stanchley, you’re trying to make me think what you don’t think yourself. You know I couldn’t imagine all that. And, you know there is a tradition of that ghost and he comes in August and it is August.”
“Well, well, have it your own way. And, now, do you want to sell this house and live somewhere else?”
“Do I? I do not! Why, Stanchy, every day, every hour I live in this house, it twines its blessed old self more and more closely around my heart.”
“Your figure of speech is a little unusual, but I gather you are fond of the old place.”
“Fond!” Doris held out her arms as if to caress the whole atmosphere. “Why, if I had to live anywhere else now, I’d just plain, every-day die, that’s what I’d do!”
“Gracious! We mustn’t have such a desirable citizen as you cut off in the flower of her youth and beauty, so, I suppose it’s just as well I said No to a prospective purchaser.”
“Who? that Hawkins idiot?”
“The same. He really was unpleasantly persistent in his efforts to obtain possession of your adored domain.”
“I know it. He was here first, you know. I hope you were positive and decided with him.”
“I sent him packing! He wanted to turn the place into a roadhouse! Why, it was sacrilege!”
“Don’t talk about it! Is he gone? Where does he live?”
“Yes, he’s gone, I think. Forget him. Now, let’s forget everything unpleasant. You’re here, and you’ve the house pretty much in shape, and you can begin to live.”
“Yes, if the ceiling painters ever get their work done.”
“They’ve been delayed by lack of materials. But they’ll get around soon. And your August ghost has been and gone, and now, can’t you feel that you’ve nothing to worry over?”
“Good gracious, Stanchion, I don’t worry! Why, I’m as happy as a bird, if Hawkinses and Marshallses and Rackhamses will let me alone, to live my own life.”
“Oh, they will. I see you can dismiss them, when necessary. Have you good servants?”
“A good cook and chauffeur. The rest will be found sooner or later. And look here, Mr. Guardian, how about my bills? Have I overrun my allowance?”
“No, child. I’ve been keeping an eye on you, and there are lots of bills due about now, but your remittance from Mr. Lovell is due also, and it will be ample.”
“Good.” Doris gave a sigh of content. “Now, in deference to the conventions and to promote the general welfare, I’m going to find a mild little old lady to live here with me. She must be the sweetfaced, white-haired sort, with old, yellowed lace ruffles at her wrists and a mull fichu with a cameo brooch.”
“You know the type, don’t you? Can you get it?”
“I think so. Miss Luella knows a lady who may be willing to come. Well, then I’m going to give a party, a lawn fête, I think, and start in correctly as a member of the younger set. Oh, Stanchy, life is very bright,—I am so happy.”
“Even though Guy Prentiss has gone to Plattsburg?”
“Good old Guy! He’s the right sort. But what do you think of that Willy Vanilla over at your Busby Palace? Isn’t he the limit!”
“Looly Cutler? Why, I like him.”
“Yes, I like him, too. But he’s so indolent and— well,—languid is a word that fits him.”
“Languid? Oh, no.”
“Oh yes. He sits around and never moves if he can help it!”
“I thought he was helping you solve the great mystery of the Cutler pearls.”
“Oh, he is. That is, we talk about it when I can get time. But it’s only talk, of course. And he’s trying to find out where those old papers came from. He won’t believe Rachel Hilton carefully laid them on the library floor.”
“I should say not! But, Doris, I don’t just see myself how they got there.”
“You don’t! Why, of course you don’t. If you did, you’d be a warlock!”
“A warlock. That’s a man witch, a wizard. But I think Looly is one. He does see into things, and I believe he will solve the mystery of the papers, and of the candle that went out.”
“Oh, that was a draft of wind.”
“It was not! There wasn’t a window open, or a door. And it didn’t blow out, it went out—it died out.”
“Well, I wouldn’t bother much about the candle.”
“No, I sha’n’t. But it was queer. And the ghost was queer! You may say all you like about imagination! I guess if you had seen that wavering light, small and dim at first, and then growing bigger and taller and then moving slowly along the garden path —ooh! I rather guess you wouldn’t say ‘imagination’! Well, Looly says it wasn’t a ghost at all; and he’s going to ferret out what it was. He’s clever, Looly is.”
“Yes, he writes poetry.”
“What! Oh, that finishes him, then! A real live big man writing poetry!”
“Men have done so, with conspicuous success.”
“But not young men—of to-day! Why doesn’t he get out and hustle for his country? George Washington didn’t moon around writing poetry!”
“Oh, come now, Looly Cutler is no milksop.”
“Perhaps not. But he’s more for ornament than use, as far as fighting is concerned. I don’t think his country needs him, unless he cultivates a little more muscular energy. His blood is bluer than it is red! Why, Miss Luella herself has more patriotism than her gentle namesake. He is good-looking, but when you’ve said that, you’ve said all.”
“Oh, Doris, how unjust you are.”
“All right, then, what is he good for?”
“He’s a deep thinker—and—”
“And thinks out rhymes and jingles! Well, then, why doesn’t he write a national anthem or a soldier’s marching song?”
“He isn’t a musician—”
“No, I mean the words! Why doesn’t he write a second Tipperary, or Star Spangled Banner!”
“Both those achieved popularity from the tune, not the words. But I see you’re prejudiced against Cutler, so nothing I can say will help.”
“Oh, he’s all right, and I do like to talk to him. Maybe I can persuade him to learn to like a few outdoor sports, and then he’d be good fun.”
“I doubt it. Men with brains in their heads don’t always run to muscle too. Your friend Washington was no athlete.”
“I don’t believe they had golf or tennis when he was young.”
“Nor motors. I suppose he always rode a horse.”
“He rode the two hind legs of a horse,—that’s what he rode!”
“Probably Cutler would do that if you asked him to.”
“Huh! I’d like to see him! A Sedan chair would suit him better.”
Later in the afternoon the disdained Looly sauntered over to see Doris.
That smiling young person, after the manner of her sort, gave no hint of disapproval, and greeted the marvellously attired youth with a pair of outstretched fluttering little hands that spoke welcome.
“Solomon in all his glory had nothing on you,” she commented, looking at the old gold tie and silk socks that nearly matched the thick shock of hair.
“Yes; pity the old chap lived before the days of Palm Beach robes. He’d have loved ’em. Has old rue-the-day Marshall gone?”
“Yes, long ago. I haven’t seen you for days and days! Where you been?”
Cutler looked surprised. “How’d you know?”
“One has only to look at you to know. You have that poetic, aesthetic, good-for-nothing air—”
Looly flushed scarlet. “You little scamp! What do you mean?”
“What I say. Why don’t you play tennis or golf? Why don’t you go off on tramps with the rest of us? Why don’t you walk with a brisk swing instead of like a loping anaconda!”
Cutler had been looking at her with indignation, but her last words brought a roar of laughter from him, and he settled back in a lounging chair, looking more indolent than ever.
“We can’t all be Sandows,” he said, and I’m so busy with my head-piece, that I—I’ve little time for exercise.”
“Huh!” commented Doris. “And what is this wonderful poetry stuff you’ve been grinding out? Mayn’t I hear some of it?”
Cutler looked at her amusedly. “Be careful, my angel child, not to let that habit of sarcasm grow on you. It will spoil your gentle, meek-eyed charm.”
“Meek-eyed!” and the gleam that shot from Doris’ brown orbs was anything but docile. “You remind me of a meek-eyed cow yourself!”
“Pleased and proud,” murmured Cutler. “But, since you flatter me by asking of my productions, may I read one I wrote for you?”
“Wrote for me? Oh, goody! I never had a poem written to me before!”
“The personal note helps, does it? But I didn’t say to you, I said for you. I wouldn’t presume to write one to you.”
“But I wish you would,—really I do. All right, read me the one for me.”
Doris sat listening, and with a half shy air, Cutler read, in his slow, pleasant voice, his own lines:
Washington at Collander
He came, whelmed by a nation’s ills,
By might of foes and war’s alarms;
He gazed out o’er these star-topped hills,—
His soul in arms.
Again he came. Secure the state!
Won for our forebears and for us;
His conqueror soul proudly elate,—
Still here, in never-dying fame,
His spirit lives, while ages roll;
We reverently breathe his name,—
The hero soul!
“Oh, Looly!” Doris stared hard at him. “Did you really do that?”
“Yes,” diffidently. “Do you like it?”
“I love it. It’s my Washington you wrote it about! Oh, give it to me! You said it was for me, didn’t you?”
“Yes. I’m glad you like it. It’s so hard not to write platitudes—”
“I never did know exactly what platitudes were, but this isn’t ’em, I know. Oh, I do like it!”
The lovely face was aglow with pleasure, and the fluttering hands clasped themselves round the precious paper in a joy of possession.
“I’ll only be here about a fortnight longer,” Cutler said, “and don’t you think we can get some forrarder with our pearl fishery in that time?”
“I wish we might, but to tell you the truth I don’t know which way to look.”
“Nor I. I’ve concluded there’s nothing to that willow pattern plate guess. Maybe the hiding-place is a willow tree, but if so, I think the dying gladiator would have said so, and not lugged in the pitcher at all.”
“I think so, too. And the family plate is hopeless as a clue. So where are we?”
“Not anywhere. But think up some other allusion for plate. Suppose there’s a plate set into the wall somewhere, I mean a—a name plate—”
“What you have in mind is a coffin plate, but they don’t set those in walls, except in old castles where there are crypts and family burial vaults.”
“Mightn’t there be here? All walled over, you know.”
“No; I asked the architect about that, and he said there were no concealed places tucked away anywhere. Try again.”
“Well, a collection plate,—at church. Maybe the family gave one,—sort of memorial, you see.”
“That might be. Let’s go to see the sexton of all the old churches around here. But, no, they didn’t use plates for collections then. They had silk bags on the end of long poles.”
“Did they, really?”
“Yes, I’ve read of them; and later they had long-handled boxes, rather like corn-poppers. Plates are a very modern innovation.”
“That settles that, then. Well, I still incline to a metal plate set in somewhere, like a fireplace or brick wall.”
“It’s a free country. You may incline which way you like. Good gracious, here comes my grave and reverend guardian again! Two visits in one day! I am complimented, Mr. Stanchley!”
But Hugh Stanchley didn’t smile as he sat down near his young ward.
“Suppose you run along home, Looly,” he said to Cutler. “I’ve some matters to discuss with Doris.”
Cutler caught the serious note in the speaker’s voice, and rising slowly, he said good-bye, and sauntered off toward the Busby house.
“What is it all about?” asked Doris, gaily, and then ceased to smile as she saw a positively pained look on Stanchley’s face.
“I don’t know how to tell you, Doris, my dear. I have very bad news for you.”
“‘Bad news soon told, Br’er Fox,’ ” she quoted from her favourite Uncle Remus story.
“Soon told, but—I don’t know how to begin. Mr. Lovell came to see me to-day.”
“My Mr. Lovell? Why didn’t he come here?”
“He brought the bad news. Doris, he re-invested your money—”
“And lost it!” cried the girl, with instant premonition.
“Is it—is it very bad?”
“Is it—all gone?”
“Oh!” The busy fingers interlaced, then untwined. One tightly closed hand pressed its knuckles against her lips as the other pounded on the side of her chair. Then, flinging both arms wide, she said: “Never mind, Stanchy, I have my home, this dear place, and I can get along. I will retrench, discharge all servants except the Judds—”
“Wait, Doris, dear child, you don’t understand. The bills, the big bills for all this work you’ve had done, are not paid. They were to be paid out of this quarter’s income. And—there is no income.”
Stanchley made no response, but suddenly Doris knew. A cold chill struck her heart. She couldn’t speak,—couldn’t put the dreadful thing into words, —but she knew!
At last Stanchley said, miserably, “Mr. Lovell wants you to go to live with them.”
“With the Lovells!”
“Yes. He knows you can’t keep this— That is, he feels that as he lost your money, he ought to offer you a home. But I don’t think it was his fault. A sudden depreciation of values that he could not foresee,—oh, Doris, dear, don’t take it so hard.”
For Doris was choking. Determined not to give way to the feeling of faintness that well-nigh overcame her, she gasped for breath, and the very vividness of her understanding of what had happened made her acutely alive to its shock.
“Is—is there no hope—no chance—” she managed to articulate.
“For the recovery of your money? None at all. It is swept away as surely as if the ocean had engulfed it. Forgive me, but I think it kinder to tell you the absolute truth.”
“Yes. Yes. But isn’t there enough for me—to— to—somehow stay here.”
“I can’t see how. The bills you have incurred are quite equal to the previous value of the whole place, if not more. Unless these can be met,—of course, —I wish I could help you out, but I am not a rich man. You could mortgage the place perhaps, but then you would have nothing to pay interest with— or to live on. You see, child, you are by no means destitute, for you have the house, and even with the amounts due, there’s a good equity in it for you. But you cannot continue to live in it. Do you think you’ll go to the Lovells’?”
“Not live here? Go to the Lovells’?” Doris looked dazed. Her agitation had passed but she was now abnormally calm. Her glance was wandering and her hands played nervously. “Why, Mr. Stanchley, I must live here.”
“But, my dear little girl—” The tears at last began to come into the brown eyes. “There, there! Oh, I am so sorry for you! Doris, suppose I go away now, and come back to talk things over. You go and rest.”
“Yes, yes,” she assented vaguely. “Yes, go, Mr. Stanchley.”
With bowed head the lawyer walked away. It was a terrible situation he had to face. Through no fault of his, through little if any fault of Doris’ other guardian, the money left the girl by her father, which had been a large sum originally and which had increased greatly of late years, was entirely swept away, by a colossal business failure. The child had the house, with its debts, and nothing else. The house could be sold, debts and all, with a fairly substantial sum left for Doris, but as Stanchley had said, she couldn’t live there.
* * * * * * * * * *
Walking uncertainly, Doris went into the house, and upstairs to the room hallowed by the memories of her hero.
She sat down by a window, and looked out into the thick greenery of the old trees, the great monarchs, that had been goodly-sized trees when Washington looked out on them.
At first, Doris laid her head down on the window sill and cried. Cried in a very abandonment of grief and despair. It was hopeless, there was no chance— no way of escape. She cried until her tears were exhausted, and then sat, shaken with deep, painful sobs.
The future was a blank—a black, awful blank. Life at Lovells’ had been bad enough when she had been an heiress. Now, penniless and dependent, life there would be unbearable. To be sure, their money was gone, too. Mr. Lovell had invested his fortune with hers. But Doris had no room in her full heart just then to be sorry for the Lovells. She was absorbed in her own misery.
A long time she sat there. Her mind raced through various vicissitudes that might come to her, various life plans that she might pursue,—but always she came back to the one stunning blow,—she must leave Collander!
Her mind dwelt on Washington. There he had sat, just where she was now,—despairing, as she was now.
She faintly smiled to herself at the comparison of her own woe with that long ago crisis on which the fate of a nation hung.
“But,” she said to herself, “I’m only a little girl, and this trouble to me is as great as his was to him. Anyway, it’s all my heart will bear, and he couldn’t have had more than that!” Then came more thoughts of her hero,—of his strength and endurance.
“If I only could see a way out,” moaned the poor child. “But it’s so—so final! I’ve got to give up this place, and—oh, and that dreadful man will buy it for a roadhouse!”
The tears flowed afresh; this last thought was a crushing blow.
But the very horror of it gave Doris a sort of new will power.
“It shall not be!” she whispered, beating her little clenched hands on the window-sill. “I won’t submit! Washington overcame his obstacles, he conquered when everything was against him, when he had no men, no funds, no help, no encouragement,—he sat up here,—it says so in the history,—with his soul in arms! I shall fight for my home, for the home that I love. And I shall win! My soul is in arms!”
But with all the bravery, all the will power and all the fighting spirit that Doris could conjure up for the weapons of her “soul in arms,” she was practically helpless. One cannot pay architects’ and carpenters’ bills with bravery, or keep up the running expenses of a big estate on will power alone.
The next morning she called the two old Judds in consultation.
Solemn Molly sat and stared blankly, in a very bewilderment of woe, but old Jethro broke out in fierce and voluble anger.
“Well, I’m plumb mad!” he declared. “Just as you got ready to live neat and pretty, to have a whack in the face like that!”
“It’s a whack in my heart, Judd,” and Doris smiled sadly. “You know how I love this place.”
“Lord, Miss Doris, you love it closer’n a brother! I’ve seen you adorin’ of it, when you thought no one was lookin’. And somehow, you’ve et your way into my old heart, till what hurts you, hurts me twict as much. I’m free to confess, Miss Doris, when you first come, I was a bit skittish about you. You was so,—well, so dressy an’ tasty-like, I feared you’d be one too many for us old-fashioned, plain folks. But dressy though you be, you’ve a sweet, sound nater, and I’m for you!”
“Thank you, Judd,” said Doris, very sincerely. “And let me tell you this: though I’m just fearfully fond of you and Molly, and I hate to go and leave you, it’s a comfort to know that you two will still be here living in the old place and loving it.”
“Land sakes, Miss Doris,” Molly broke in, rousing from her apathy. “You needn’t to think we’ll stay here if you go away!”
“Oh, yes, Molly; you know Abel Hilton’s trust fund for you two, is only for as long as you remain in this house.”
“Trust fund! Huh!” grunted Judd. “You’re our trust fund, Miss Doris, and you can just bet that whithersoever thou goest me and Molly’ll trot along too. Lessen you go to board some place, and even then we’ll pitch a tent nearby. Say, we got a little saved up, Miss Doris, if ’twould be any use to you, now—”
“Thank you, Judd; you make me feel like a heroine in a novel,—with my good old retainers offering me their little hoard! But it would be only a drop in the bucket, and I wouldn’t take it, anyway. I’m more grateful for your kind-heartedness toward me, than I’d be for a whole heap of money,— that is, unless the heap was big enough for all I want! Then, I’d take it pretty quick! You see, Judd, it’s a clean sweep. I haven’t a cent in the world, but this place, and though that’s valuable and—and s-salable, I d-d-don’t want to s-sell it!” Doris tried not to, but the thought of sale was too much for her, and in Molly’s quickly outstretched arms she sobbed her poor little stricken heart out.
“There, there, lammie,” said old Molly, crying, too, “there, there, dear Miss Doris,—don’t-ee, don’t-ee, now. Maybe—” but Molly couldn’t think of a single comforting maybe in the desolate outlook.
“Can I come in?” sounded a brisk voice, and without waiting permission, Busybody Busby entered the library.
“Land sake, Mis’ Busby!” cried Jethro, “must you be always a intrudin’ of yourself everywheres!”
“Now, now, don’t get techy. Mr. Stanchley, he sent me over to see what I could do. I say, Doris, I’m all broke up over this trouble of yourn, and I want you should come over to live with me. I’ll give you my best front chamber, and I’ll make you as comfortable as I can.”
The honest plainness of Mrs. Busby’s offer was backed up by such sincere sympathy and wholehearted desire to help, that Doris realised the kindness of the intrusive and self-important landlady.
“You’re awfully good to me, Mrs. Busby, and I may be glad to go to your house for a time,—till I decide what to do. You see, I only knew about this last night, and I—I haven’t got used to it yet.”
“No, poor child. And don’t you think Mr. Stanchley’s been telling it all over. He just told me and the Cutlers, that’s all, and he did that out of his kindness o’ heart. For, says he, what’s that child goin’ to do? So, of course, my first thought was to offer you a home under my roof. Miss Cutler, she sent her love and says she’d like to come to see you, soon’s you can bear it.”
Doris laughed involuntarily.
“Oh, there’s no death in the family!” she cried, “don’t look on me as afflicted. I’m not going to be ‘sorrowfully resigned’ and all that. I’m mad! mad as a hornet! mad as a wet hen! but I’m not crushed flat. I have to cry a little,—’most anybody would,— but I’d be a pretty specimen of an American patriot if I couldn’t bear trouble. Only, it’s such—such biting trouble. Why, I wouldn’t mind working— any kind of work, if I could keep my home. But,— I thought about it all night,—and there’s no work a girl like me can do, that would bring in enough to run this big house.”
“No, there ain’t,” and Mrs. Busby shook her head thoughtfully. “Unless,—say, Doris, you might keep a boardin’ house here. It’d take away from my patronage,—but I wouldn’t mind.”
Doris looked at her gratefully. “Mrs. Busby, that’s a big, generous offer, and I appreciate it, for I know what it means to you. But, I wouldn’t do that, even if I could. You see,—to have this dear old house filled with transient, thoughtless people, giddygadding all over it, would be almost as bad as —as what Mr. Hawkins suggested.”
“And what he’ll probably do, if he gets hold of the place,” Mrs. Busby nodded sagaciously. “Land, Doris, I wish I could take the house off your hands and run the two—but you wouldn’t like that, either, I s’pose.”
“Oh, dear Mrs. Busby, I wouldn’t like anything, but just to stay here myself, just as—as I expected to. I don’t know yet what I can do.”
“Of course, you don’t, you poor child! Well, I must run back, I’ve oceans to do. But, remember, any way I can help you, I’m more’n willin’. Just call on Mary Ann Busby for anythin’ you want.”
“Boardin’ house, indeed!” stormed Judd, as Mrs. Busby went away. “That woman ain’t got but one idea in her empty head.”
“Oh, now, Judd, she meant well,” defended Doris, “and if that’s her only idea, we couldn’t expect anything else of her. But I couldn’t make a lot of money from a boarding house. Why, my—”
“That you couldn’t! The boarders would eat up all the garden—”
“And then the ghosts would eat up the boarders!” and Doris laughed.
“That’s another thing,” said Solemn Molly, “nobody would come here to board with them ghost stories flyin’ about.”
“Well, nobody will be asked to come here to board. I shan’t let my pet ghosts be put out of their haunts for any horrid old boarders.”
“Land! Miss Doris, how you do talk! Well, me an’ Judd’ll stand by you, an’ if you want to set up a small home,—which, as I see it, is all you can do,—me an’ Judd is ready to go with you an’ work for you, if you want us. We don’t care two cents about Mr. Hilton’s old trust fund—compared with you.”
Doris, deeply touched at this proof of affection and loyalty, began to cry afresh, and her face was buried on Molly’s shoulder when Looly Cutler appeared at the door.
“A sobfest, Doris?” he said, trying to speak cheerily. “Go ahead, it’ll do you good. Would you rather I didn’t come in now?”
“No, come on in. I can pour out my woes to you, and give Molly and Judd a rest.”
“Pour away. It’s hard lines, little girl. How I wish I could help.”
“I wish you could, Looly. But nobody can. The case is beyond all human assistance. If the French soldier’s ghost, now, would only find the pearls, and tell me where they are, I could get the reward, and live happy ever after!”
“Land, Miss Doris, don’t call on the spooks for help!” exclaimed Molly as she and Judd were leaving the room.
“I’d call quick enough,” Doris averred to Looly, “if it would do a particle of good. But Collander spooks are not of a helpful sort. Seriously, there’s no way out; and all I have to do now, is to get used to the idea of dragging out a miserable existence somewhere else, instead of living here.”
“Plucky girl. But don’t take it too calmly. Give way to your feelings now and then.”
“Oh, I’m all ready to ‘ky and kick and keam and hold my bwef,’ but what’s the use? No,” and Doris brushed away some persistent tears, “I’ve got to meet this blow, and I may as well do it decently and in order. But,—I’m going to inscribe my name in the index of Fox’s ‘Book of Martyrs’ which I found up in the oldest corner of the oldest attic.”
“Is it an old copy? Let me see it, it may be valuable—”
“And I might sell it for enough to pay my bills and stay here! Nothing doing, Looly. I looked at the date long ago, and it isn’t a first edition, but a later reprint.”
“Pshaw! Another good scheme gone wrong! You’re a brick, Doris, the way you buck up, but, oh, girl, I’m sorry!”
“Good old Looly, you’re sympathetic in the nicest way. And I’m not a pauper, you know. I—well, I’m what old Judd calls ‘proppity poor.’ I’ll have to sell the place, but, Looly, do help me to devise some way not to sell it to Leonard Hawkins! I could stand it, if some nice people lived here, but— if that man gets it—I can’t—I just can’t stand it!”
“All right, we’ll organise a Home Guard of two to keep off Hawkinses.”
“Do you belong—are you on a Home Defence League—really?”
“Aren’t you anything? Aren’t you even interested in the war?”
“Why,—er—yes, of course, I’m interested.”
“Well, why don’t you—”
“Oh, Doris—look there!”
Doris followed the direction of Looly’s staring eyes, and saw an old paper lying in the identical spot the previous two had lain.
“It’s another!” she whispered. “You pick it up —I’m—afraid.”
Cutler stepped across the room and picked up the paper, a bit gingerly, and returning, sat by Doris’ side, and they read it together.
“This is older than the others,” said Doris, looking wonderingly at the yellowed paper and the faded ink.
“But what is it? It’s a bill, I think. But it’s long before Rachel Hilton’s day. See, it’s seventeen hundred and something.”
“Then Rachel didn’t put it there, and it must have been brought by the French soldier!” Doris laughed a little hysterically, and Looly said:
“Now, see here, Doris, these papers aren’t left by spooks, let’s give up that nonsense. There’s a reasonable, rational explanation of their appearance, and I’m going to find it, and I’m going to find it now.”
“Let’s see first what this bill’s about. Look, Looly, it’s for engraving something. Stationery,—I think that word is.”
“Yes, and here’s a clearer line. Why, it’s for one hundred books, no, book—plates. Oh, yes, bookplates. And it’s made out to,—no, the name is illegible. But it’s a daisy of an old paper! Now to trace its source.”
Cutler went to the corner where he had found the paper, and getting down on his knees searched the floor and baseboard; then, rising, looked at the chimney jamb and door frames, all of which he had done a dozen times before.”
“Look up!” cried Doris, suddenly; “oh, Looly, look!”
He looked, and protruding through an almost invisible crack in the ceiling was the corner of another yellowed paper.
“Whoopi Eureka! There’s the secret! Doris, there’s a cubby right above here—that would be— yes, it would be under those few steps, the ones that go up to the new front rooms on the second floor, don’t you know? Come out in the hall, I’ll show you!”
They stepped out into the old hall, and looked up, and sure enough, beneath the few steps that were necessary on account of the two different floor levels of the bedrooms, was necessarily a space. It was walled and panelled and had been recently painted, but indubitably that was where the papers came from.
Stepping back to the library, Looly on a chair, gently pulled out the protruding paper. It was another old bill.
“Clear as day!” he cried. “That cubbyhole is full of old papers and they sift out once in a while through that tiny crack. The jarring of footsteps above them, on the stairs, shakes them around, and when one edge happens to strike the crack squarely, it sifts through.”
“But it’s such a mite of a crack!”
“That’s why the papers hit it so seldom.”
“And I’ve been waiting for the painters to paint this ceiling!”
“If they had, it would have sealed up that place forever! But I don’t see why the carpenters didn’t open it.”
“They were so hurried, you know. I never dreamed of there being anything in that space. I think there was a sort of door, but it wouldn’t open, so they painted right over it.”
“Good gracious, is that so! Let’s pry into it.”
“All right. It’ll mar the paint,—but,—it doesn’t matter now.” Doris’ voice quivered, and Looly hurriedly went on talking.
“Never mind. Us for the mystery! Why, Doris, this may mean any thing! It may mean—pearls!”
Then Doris braced up. Eagerly she flew to old Judd for tools, and returned with a chisel and hammer and screwdriver.
Judd followed with more tools and a step-ladder, and they found Looly sitting on the lowest step of the stairs.
“You do it, Judd,” he said, “and I’ll direct. Pry in there, see,—just next that moulding.”
Doris looked at him, the old feeling of contempt for his indolence rising in her breast. But she was so interested in developments, she forgot Looly in her excitement.
After some vigorous picking and prying, Judd opened up the old place.
A veritable hidy-hole it was, and stuffed with old papers, books and rubbish.
Doris pounced on the things as Judd threw them out, and was disappointed to find them really rubbish. A lot of copybooks there were, that some long ago children had laboriously filled with pothooks; sheafs of old bills, that promised little interest; some more leaves of Rachel Hilton’s diary; and a few old letters. But mostly, the find was old newspapers and books not sufficiently old to be of real value, and dull of themselves.
“I see through it,” Looly said at last. “This place was always a receptacle for old papers, and though there might have been very old things in it, they were routed out by later comers and fresh rubbish put in. That old bill that fell through is among the very old ones, and there may be more. But! see nothing that has the glimmer of pearls, do you, Doris?”
“No, and I’m disappointed. I felt sure one of my pet ghosts was opening up a way for me to get out of my trouble, and here I am back in the slough of despond.”
“Here are a few account books that are very old.”
“And very tattered. They’ll drop to pieces if you touch them. Where were they?”
“Tied up in a bundle by themselves. Look out, they’re positively crumbly!”
Looly still sat on the stair, and Doris on the floor beside him. Judd pulled out every scrap of paper there was in the cubby and declared it empty at last.
“And now,” Doris said, “bring a big box, Judd, or baskets, and we’ll sort this stuff out. You see, Looly, we must look carefully at every piece, and we may glean a hint.”
“I’m afraid the gleaning’s poor, my lady fair, but I’ll see it through. Let’s be systematic, and then we won’t have to go over these old horrors twice.”
All the morning they worked on their task, until they had scrutinised every scrap of age-worn, tattered paper, and had learned nothing of definite purport. To an antiquarian the old papers would be a find, but to these two youngsters, each secretly hoping something about the pearls would be discovered, it was merely a bunch of junk.
“Nothing doing, my girl,” and Looly rose and stretched his cramped frame.
“No; those old books are all of the dryest type of reading.”
“Old law books, those are. No good now: I doubt if dealers would look at them, they’re so desiccated.”
“Aren’t they queer?” and Doris gingerly fingered the tattered tomes. “And see, they have bookplates in. You know that bill mentioned bookplates. I’m —I mean, I was going to have one made for me.”
“Oh, you can have a bookplate all the same, if you don’t live here.”
“Looly!” Doris gave a wild, half-gasped exclamation, and dropped into a chair.
“Well, what’s up now? Have you seen a ghost?”
“No! But I’ve got an idea!”
“Oh, come now, I can’t stand many more shocks to-day.”
“No,—but really! Oh, Looly, come into the library. Shut the door! No more letters can appear, you know.”
“Listen! Oh,—haven’t you thought of it yourself? Hasn’t it occurred to you?”
“I assure you it hasn’t. But break it gently.”
“I will. Looly Cutler, the family plate is—the bookplate!”
“By Jove, Doris! It is! Whoopee! Wow!”
“Hush! Don’t let anybody hear. But where does that bring us?”
“Let me think! Why, the old bookplate was in the books of the library of the man who lived here then. They hadn’t very big libraries in those days, but they were choice of them and their bookplates were fine and elaborate. You saw some in those old books.”
“Yes, and there’s one in that old Fox’s Book of Martyrs!”
“Run and get it.”
Doris brought it, and sure enough, there was an old bookplate, but it bore date of 1858.
“Oh, this is a modern book, and a modern bookplate. We’re after the old one.”
“But we can’t find any. Whatever old books of that period were left in the house are not here now, they’re scattered to the winds of heaven.”
“And anyway,—I don’t want to shatter your hope, —but how could the soldier conceal pearls in a bookplate?”
Doris sat as if in a dream. Her deep brown eyes grew vague and faraway.
“He didn’t,” she said, slowly. “But he wrote a note or memorandum of where he did hide them, and,—he concealed the paper in one of the bookplates in some book.”
“A little far-fetched, honey, but—well, it might be. Does your inner consciousness tell you what book?”
“It does not, but it tells me to search for said volume. And, oh, Looly, I’ve another idea!”
“Thick as leaves in Vallombrosa! Divulge!”
“Why, all those old account books have bookplates in. We can at least look in those!”
“We can, indeed! Doris, you are one witch! You certainly, surely are!”
Very carefully they picked over the old account-books. Some had bookplates in, brown and stained, to be sure, but fairly legible. The half-obliterated design showed a crest or coat of arms, with a scroll-like ornament below.
Suddenly Doris gave a shout. “Here it is!” she cried; “oh, Looly, see! This bookplate has a paper under it, and it’s half peeled off, anyway. Look!”
“Careful, there. Don’t jerk it. Let me try.” Taking the book from Doris’ quick, nervous fingers, Cutler gently manipulated the old cover, and slowly drew from the sheltering bookplate a paper slip. It was very thin, a sort of parchment paper, and had a few lines written on it, in a cramped, old-fashioned hand.
“Looks like the writing of the Declaration of Independence,” exclaimed Doris, who possessed a fine copy. “Can you read it?”
“No; have you a reading glass?”
“Yes, here’s one. Oh, Looly, is it—is it it!”
“It is! Doris, it sure is! Here, you read it,—it’s your find!”
Excitedly, Doris grasped the glass, and studied the paper. “I can’t make out a thing!” she cried. “You try, Looly.”
After a patient study, Cutler managed to make out these words:
“Pearls of—Luella Cutler—in care—lady—neath weeping willow tree.”
“What nonsense!” he cried, disappointedly, “under a tree!”
But Doris’ eyes were shining. “I know!” she said, “oh, I know! It’s the picture Abby Rackham’s mother had! Don’t you know, the old funeral urn, and the lady by the weeping willow? And, Looly! That soldier said ‘willow picture,’ not willow pitcher!”
“Doris! You’re a wonder! Of course he did! We’re forging ahead ’most too rapidly, but it’s all true! This is,—it must be—a direction where to find the pearls. He told of the family plate, and then mentioned the willow picture, knowing either of them would be indicative. But how could he hide pearls in a picture?”
“Oh, easily. Between the back board and the canvas,—or in the frame, maybe. Or, perhaps the picture is only a clue to look further still. And, too, Looly, maybe they’re not big pearls, but little seed pearls, that would easily slip in behind the picture itself.”
“It’s a big order, Doris. You’ve unearthed the secret,—so far, at any rate.”
“Yes, and before we go farther, we ought to tell Miss Luella, she has a right to know. And Mr. Stanchley, too.”
“Yes, but no one else. Don’t let the Busy Bee in on this, or she’ll report it all over the neighbourhood.”
“All right, I won’t,” and Doris picked up the telephone and called the others over.
Hugh Stanchley was a little dubious at first, but when he examined the paper by means of the reading glass, he agreed that Looly had read it aright, and that it must mean what they had assumed. Both he and Miss Cutler were greatly interested in the old cubby under the stairs, and in the lot of old papers that were now sorted into piles, or thrown into baskets.
“I think they’re valuable, Doris,” Hugh Stanchley said, “or would be, if they’d hold together long enough for an antiquarian to look them over.”
“I hope so, Mr. Stanchley,” Doris said, “but I’m all for the willow picture now. To think of that old tradition of a pitcher suddenly turned into a picture!”
“A most natural mistake,” observed Miss Luella. “A willow pitcher is more often heard of than a willow picture, though those old funeral mementoes were much thought of. Who has it, Doris?”
“Abby Rackham told me her mother had it. Then it fell to Abby, and, oh, I do believe she said she sold it! I thought little of it at the time, but I remember now, she said she sold it to a dealer!”
“Then it’s lost forever!” and Miss Cutler looked very disappointed.
“No—sir-ee!” cried Doris, “I’ll hunt that thing down, if it takes all summer! I’ll go to Maine and get it, if I have to!”
“Telegraph her,” suggested Looly, “send a night letter.”
“I’ll send it now, I can’t wait till night.”
The result of the despatch to Abby Rackham was a reply the next day stating that she had sold the picture to a dealer in her home town, who, in turn, had sold it to an antique dealer in Poughkeepsie.
“Me for there!” cried Doris, as she read the message. She called up Looly to ask if he and his aunt would go to Poughkeepsie with her at once, and if he would drive her.
“No,” said Cutler, though a bit uncertainly, “no; I think I won’t go, Doris. You have Hardy yet, haven’t you?”
“Yes, he’s to stay his month out,—several days longer. But I wish you’d go, Looly.”
“I will, but I won’t drive.”
“All right. Tell Miss Luella I’ll be there in half an hour.”
“Lazybones!” said Doris to herself, as she went to dress for the trip. “He’d be such a nice boy if he had a reasonable amount of energy. I never saw such a Doddy Doolittle! If he weren’t so attractive and entertaining mentally, I’d throw him over for good. But I like to talk to him, and he is good help in this investigating business. I’m glad he’s going to-day, even if he won’t drive.”
The trip was a lovely one. Fine roads, pleasant weather and congenial company made the time fly, and soon they were at the shop designated by Abby.
“Why, yes,” said the antique dealer, “I had that picture you tell of. I sold it about a year ago. Lemme see now, I sold that—now, who did I sell it to?”
Doris waited breathlessly, and Miss Cutler fairly hung on his words.
“Can’t you look it up in your ledger?” suggested Looly, and the man finally did so.
“Here you are!” he said. “I sold that picture of the weeping willow and the weeping lady to Mrs. Fenn of Fenn Farm. That’s only a few miles along the East road, why don’t you go there and see her, if you’re so keen about it. Like’s not she’d let you have it for just what she paid for it.”
“You see it’s a sort of a family relic,” and Doris shed one of her prettiest smiles broadcast.
“Well, you folks go ask Mrs. Fenn, like’s not you’ll get it,—see it, anyway.”
Off they started, and by good chance found the lady at home. She was kindly, and quite willing to listen to their plea.
“I did have it,” she said, “I bought it because I thought it was an interesting old thing. But my husband said it was a fright, and he wouldn’t have it around. So we put it up in the attic, and, let me see,—it wasn’t more than a month ago, I gave it to some people for a rummage sale.”
“Oh,” and Doris looked so woefully disappointed that Mrs. Fenn tried to help further.
“You might go to see the rummage sale ladies,— or, no,—I’ll telephone. Wait a minute.”
A telephone conversation brought the joyful news that the rummage sale people had sold it to a Mrs. Blake, whose home was some distance off in another direction.
“Telephone her,” said Looly, “and see if she still has it.”
But the Blake lady had no telephone, and so the indomitable Doris decreed that they must go there forthwith.
Thanking Mrs. Fenn for her assistance, they started off on their new trail.
“Oh, you poor, dear Miss Luella,” cried Doris, conscience-stricken, “it’s long after lunch time, and you’ve had nothing since breakfast! We’ll go home, and look up the Blake farm to-morrow.”
“No, no,” remonstrated Miss Cutler, “let us get some crackers at a grocer’s and then probably Mrs. Blake will give us some milk, and that will do nicely.”
“Good old sport!” cried Looly, giving his aunt an approving glance, and the programme was carried out.
Mrs. Blake turned out to be a plain and unadorned farmer’s wife, and her welcome was not enthusiastic.
“Whatcha want?” she asked curtly, as the smart little car stopped at her porch.
“To see you,” said Doris, trying the disarming qualities of one of her ingratiating smiles.
But it didn’t prove successful, for the sour-faced woman looked even more forbidding as she said, “Whatcha wanta see me fur?”
“Let’s get right down to brass tacks,” said Looly. “It’s just this, Mrs. Blake. We heard you bought a picture at the rummage sale,—a picture of a lady standing by a willow tree.”
“Well, what uv I did?”
“Only this: We particularly want that picture, and we thought you might be willing to sell it for what you paid, or a trifle more.”
“Huh! I dunno as I care to sell that ere picksher. It’s not so cheerful as it might be, but it’s a vallyble old thing.”
“How do you know? Not all those so-called antiques are genuine.”
“This one is. You kin tell by the frame, an’ all.”
“Won’t you let us see it?” asked Miss Luella, so gently that Mrs. Blake turned to look at her.
“You’re reel nice-spoken,” she said, appraisingly. “These young folks, now—”
“I accept the reproof, Mrs. Blake,” and Doris smiled apologetically. “Our generation has much to learn from the older one. If you’ll let us see your picture, I’ll promise to do better.”
The smile won, and with a grunt of discomfort, the old woman turned and went into the house.
“Let’s get out,” said Looly. “I perceive a long argument ahead. But some way or another we must get the ‘willow picture,’ now that we have it almost within our grasp. Don’t appear too anxious for it.”
They all stood on the porch when Mrs. Blake returned with the old picture. It was a sorry-looking affair, but faded and stained though it was, it was undoubtedly the thing they were in search of.
“Is that it?” exclaimed Looly, contemptuously, giving it one glance and then turning away indifferently.
Doris took the cue with her usual quickness of perception.
“It isn’t attractive, is it?” she smiled. “I thank you for troubling to bring it out.”
“I thought you wanted to buy it!” and Mrs. Blake looked disappointed.
“That old thing!” Looly gave it another scornful glance. “Now, you don’t admire it yourself, do you, Mrs. Blake? Honestly?”
“I ain’t sayin’ I admire it, but it’s vallyble because it’s so old. It’s ’most a hundred years old, I shouldn’t wonder.”
“It may be,” said Looly, turning on his heel.
Miss Cutler spoke up then. “It is,” she said, “it’s more than a hundred, Mrs. Blake. But even so, as a picture I don’t think it’s of any great value. You can see it’s amateur work.”
That was clear enough. The scene was painted on canvas, and was beyond all doubt the work of a young and inexperienced hand. The willow tree was merely a green daub, faded and discoloured by time. The weeping lady was mostly hidden by the tombstone over which she leant, and her face was entirely concealed by her voluminous and belaced handkerchief. The tombstone itself was the high light of the composition, and it loomed whitely in the foreground, bearing an indication of an inscription doubtless meant to set forth the virtues of the deceased relict.
On the whole it was a fright, but Doris yearned for its possession as she had never longed for anything before.
Miss Luella, too, was anxious to acquire it, but her honesty would not let her misrepresent its worth.
“As a picture, I believe it is worthless,” Miss Luella said, in that high bred way of hers, which precluded all idea of insincerity. “But it is of interest to me because of family associations; so I wish you would sell it, unless you are specially attached to it.”
“ ’Tain’t that so much, but it jest fills a space over my mantelpiece,—between the crayons of me’n my husband. And somehow, it seemed to sorta fit.”
“I shall have a sorta fit, if she keeps on!” Looly confided to Doris in an aside.
But Miss Luella listened courteously. Then she said, “Let me see the place over the mantel, mayn’t I? I think I have a picture at home just about this size, and it would go nicely with your crayon portraits. It’s a picture of five angel heads,—beautiful ones, by a great artist. It’s a good photograph of the original, and I think angel faces are a great deal pleasanter to look at than a cemetery scene.”
“So they be! I should admire to see that picture you speak of. I’d consider a trade.”
“I’ll make that bargain, and pay you something besides, said Miss Cutler. “But perhaps you wouldn’t care for my picture.”
“Yes, I should, I seen that onct, at a store in town. All five heads with little wings, ain’t they?”
“Yes, all looking up, and they seem to be singing.”
“I remember. Is your picture framed?”
“In a plain, flat frame of polished wood.”
“Ruther have gilt.”
“Oh, not on a photograph.”
“This here’s a gilt frame; s’pose I keep the frame and let you have the picture. I’m free to confess I don’t hanker after that weepin’ woman. But the frame’s a good one.”
“No, it isn’t,” spoke up Doris, who wanted the old heirloom complete as it was. “This isn’t a very good frame; see, it’s nicked and marred,—but if you’ll agree, I’ll get you a gilt frame for the angel picture, that’s nice and new.”
“Oh, Doris, a gold frame on a sepia photograph!” and Miss Cutler shook her head.
“Yes,” and Doris nodded hers, “if Mrs. Blake prefers it.”
“Oh, I do. Every one to their likin’ you know, and I’ve a strong leanin’ towards a gold frame. Will you promise it, Miss? and I’ll let you take this picture along with you.”
“Yes, I’ll promise,” said Doris, eagerly. “Let us take this, and I’ll bring you the other to-morrow,—or just as soon as I can get the frame to fit it.”
“I’ll trust you, for I see you’re a lady. I dunno why you set such store by this old thing, but if it’s a family piece, that’s different. Any of your kin, ma’am?”
“No,” answered Miss Culter, who had been addressed, “but it was in an old house where some of my ancestors used to visit, I believe. Any way, it is for family reasons that I am interested. And I shall pay you something extra, because you may feel that a painting is more valuable than a photograph,—or somebody may tell you that I had the best of the bargain.”
She slipped a bill into the hand of the farmer’s wife, and then Mrs. Blake was more than willing that the willow picture should be placed in the motor.
Good-byes were said, and in a moment they were off with their prize.
“Hooray!” cried Looly, “success has crowned our efforts!”
“Thanks to Miss Luella,” added Doris. “We hadn’t enough tact, or at least, not the right kind to get it, Looly. We never could have wheedled it from the old woman if Miss Luella hadn’t chipped in with her angel heads. I never should have thought of such a scheme.”
“Pleasant idea, that, to have a cemetery or a few angels hung between the family portraits!” observed Looly.
“Pleasant idea to have the family portraits in crayon!” said Doris. “Ever see those things? Crayon enlargements of photographs, you know.”
“I have,” and Miss Cutler laughed. “They are next to the worst pictures in the world. But the very worst is the one you’re holding so affectionately, Doris, dear.”
“All right. I’ll admit it’s the worst art, if you like, but it’s our ne plus ultra, sine qua non, e pluribus unum, Erin go bragh! all the same!”
“Which is,” put in Looly, “being interpreted, Veni, vidi, vici!”
“We did, indeed!” agreed Doris; “and now for home, and a feast of fat things to keep us from actual starvation and also to celebrate our success. I invite you all to dinner, and we’ll call in Mr. Stanchley, and then we’ll proceed to investigate our precious find. But first, we must stop and order that gold frame.”
The conclave in the library after dinner was a serious one. An unspoken hope was in each mind that somehow the picture might disclose the hiding place of the Cutler pearls, that Doris might thereby win the reward and perhaps be thus enabled to keep her home. No word of this had been said, but as they examined the old painting, each scanned it eagerly for some hint or suggestion of a hidden message.
“I don’t see any pearls, Doris,” said Mr. Stanchley, at last, when they had all exclaimed at the picture’s hideousness, and wondered how any one could have painted such a lugubrious subject.
“No Stanchion, but there must be some directions somewhere about the thing. It’s the willow picture, —I don’t believe there were two in the house,—and so it must be the one the poor dear soldier boy referred to. Now, don’t give up too easily. Think how long it took to discover what was meant by the ‘family plate,’ but little Smarty-cat Doris ferreted it out! Didn’t she?”
“She did, and very cleverly, too. Go ahead with this riddle,—and tell me when you find the answer.” Mr. Stanchley turned away and began looking over the old papers they had found, while Doris and Looly continued to study the picture of the tombstone.
“Can it be a sort of an enigma or puzzle picture,” suggested Miss Luella.
“Not that, I think,” said Doris, “for you know it wasn’t painted as a description of the hiding place. When the man said in his written message, ‘the pearls are in the keeping of the lady under the willow tree,’ or something like that, I think he wrote or scratched or made some mark on this picture to say where they are hidden.”
“Seems to me he took a roundabout way of disclosing his secret.”
“But he hoped to come back and find the pearls himself,” returned Doris; “he only left this note in case he didn’t come back. And, then, when he found he was dying, he tried to tell about it. Oh, he is my ideal of a hero! He got out and got busy! He didn’t sit around everlastingly doing nothing!”
“Meaning any reference to allusions, or hints of implication of anybody?” and Looly smiled at her.
“Oh, no!” said Doris, with exaggerated emphasis. “Oh, no, of course not!”
“Look here, Doris,” and Cutler’s busy fingers felt along the back of the frame. “Here’s a little groove hollowed out. Could he have put a note in here?”
“Gracious, Looly! The poor man must have spent the whole night writing notes! Anyway, there’s no note there now. Did he put the pearls there? It’s quite a long groove!”
“Well, as you so wisely observe, if he did, they’re not there now.”
“I don’t see any hope, Doris,” and Stanchley came to them, and looked sceptically at the picture and its frame, so empty of possibilities. There was no back board, merely the old canvas on its wooden stretcher.
“Then there’s no hope anywhere,” and Doris bravely forced a smile that she trusted would steady her quivering lips, but it didn’t.
And long after her guests had gone, the girl sat by her favourite window, tears in her eyes, her heart sad and hopeless, but her soul in arms.
“I must find a way out!” she moaned. “I must! I cannot give up Collander! I will not!”
I don’t know, Doris,” said Stanchley, a few days later, “whether it wouldn’t be to your best interests to let Hawkins take over this place, after all.”
“But, Stanchion,—you know what he’d do with it!”
“Yes, my girl; but whoever buys it will probably sell it to Hawkins later, for that man is determined to get it.”
“Not as determined as I am that he shan’t get it!”
“But he can carry out his determination, and— forgive me,—you can’t.”
“No,” and Doris was pathetically quiet. “My last hope of the pearls is gone, for now we’ve found the family plate and the willow picture,—there’s nothing left to look for.”
“And you see, Hawkins will get the house sooner or later, unless we can find a buyer who will promise to keep it,—and that’s not easy to do in a hurry.”
“No, I suppose not,—but, oh, Stanchion, don’t you see how I feel about it? Don’t you know it’s going to just about kill me!”
“No, Doris, not that. I do know how you shrink from the idea of this house you love so being turned into a public place, a rendezvous for motor parties and all that. But, you’re no worse off than before you had it.”
“Oh, yes, I am! Why, then, I didn’t know anything about it, I didn’t know what it all meant,— never mind, Mr. Stanchley, you can’t understand. Now, what am I going to do?”
“I think the best plan is to go to Mrs. Busby’s for a time. Though of course, you can stay here a week or so, if you like. Take time to get your things together.”
“You mean—let Mr. Hawkins take the house at once?”
“I think so. He makes a most generous offer—”
“Oh, don’t! I can’t bear it!” and Doris broke down utterly.
“There, there,—bless my soul, Doris! Don’t cry like that! Let’s talk of something else! By the way, have I told you. I think we’ve found an explanation for your ghost.”
“What? The French soldier?”
“Yes. I knew it wasn’t any phantom, didn’t you?”
“Why, I didn’t think it could be, but it was—it certainly was very weird.”
“I don’t know whether to tell you or not,— but—”
“Tell me, of course! Why wouldn’t you?”
“Yes, I daresay you ought to know. Well, it was Len Hawkins himself.”
“Do you know, I thought of that. But it didn’t seem like a real, live person.”
“No, he did it very well. You see, Madame Marshall helped him.”
“They were accomplices!”
“Yes. They and one or two others have combined in an effort to get this house,—and Hawkins thought that he could scare you out by a phantom visitor.”
“Good gracious! Scare me out!”
“So he planned that performance. Madame Marshall left the side door open for him to come in, and she relocked it, before you got around to it afterward.”
“Clever bunch! But it was such a ghostly looking thing.”
“He was draped in a sort of thin veil, a big, full arrangement, and it was daubed with a stuff they call luminous paint, that shines in the dark.”
“Oh, I see! And he stooped down, and then seemed to rise out of the ground, and stalk along the garden.”
“Yes; Mrs. Marshall knew just when he was coming, and she went and alarmed you. The rest was easy.”
“Yes, and she was so seemingly scared herself she rather scared me.”
“Of course, she did. She meant to. Well, they hoped you’d be so frightened you wouldn’t live in this house another day, and then they could get it. They’ve had their eye on it ever since Mr. Hilton’s death. And after you improved it so, they wanted it more than ever.”
“How did you find out about the ghost?”
“Cutler did it. He’s a clever chap, and he knew there was somebody behind it all, so he investigated. And when you said that you not only heard the raps on your door, but that, as you were leaning against it, you felt the wood jarred, he knew it was a human agency. Immaterial spirits can’t jar inanimate objects, though voices or sounds may be imagined. So, here’s how clever that chap was. He surmised at once that Mrs. Marshall was involved, and the day you and she were telling him about it,—the day after it happened, you know,—he sent Judd over to me with a note.”
“I remember he did.”
“Well this was the note. He said, ‘Telephone Madame M. at once, and simply say, in a low voice, ‘How did it work?’ Get her reply, but say nothing more.” I did exactly as he said. Mrs. Marshall thought it was Hawkins, and she replied, ‘Fine. But don’t talk now.’ Then she hung up quickly. That was proof enough. So I taxed Hawkins with it, and though he wouldn’t own up, his confused manner gave him away. He’ll never admit it, but I know he did it.”
“Of course, he did! Oh, Mr. Stanchley, I won’t let him have this place! I’ll—no, I won’t set fire to it first, but I’d—”
“Set fire to him?”
“Almost! But this is foolish talk. I can meet misfortune, I can be brave, but the thought of his owning this house—”
“Madame Marshall is as bad as he is. He tried to put the blame entirely on her, saying she contrived the plan.”
“I’ve no doubt she did.”
“Nor I. Hawkins told me that she was responsible for that candle going out so strangely that night.”
“She was! How?”
“It seems she sneaked into your room and fixed the candle—”
“She softened it so that she could draw the wick nearly through, and then cut it off leaving only about an inch in the upper part of the candle.”
“Oh, it’s an old trick. It’s in the books of legerdemain and conjuring I had when I was a boy.”
“Why didn’t you suspect something of that sort?”
“I don’t know why I didn’t. But I wasn’t looking for hocus-pocus,—until Looly put me up to it. He’s a fine fellow, Doris, I wish you wouldn’t be so snippy toward him.”
“Never mind Looly. Tell me more about this Rachel Hilton performance. Did Madame make those sepulchral sounds I heard, too?”
“Yes; she had a piece of rubber tubing, which she hung down the chimney flue, from her room above, and she talked and groaned through that.”
“If I weren’t so mad at her, I’d have to admire her ingenuity.”
“Well, it did no harm, as you’re such a cool-headed sensible girl, but if you had been of a really nervous temperament it might have thrown you into spasms of fear.”
“Indeed it might! It pretty nearly did, as it was! And that sly woman begged me to tell her all about it the next morning!”
“She wanted to know how it affected you. When she found you were not much scared, she was disappointed. You see, then, there was no thought of your sudden reverse of fortune, and they had to plan some desperate way to get the house.”
“Yes, you know Hawkins came to me and insisted on buying it. Mr. Stanchley, is there no way I can keep it?”
“I can’t see any. A mortgage isn’t practicable, as you’ve no income. You can’t go to work and earn enough to keep up such a place, however in earnest you may be. You might appeal to the New York State Sons of the Revolution—”
“No! I don’t want charity!”
“You might marry a millionaire.”
“I don’t see any handy by, and I wouldn’t marry a man I didn’t love, even to save Collander!”
“That’s right. But I can’t see any other way out. And while I feel very sorry for you, my dear, you must remember you’re a lucky girl to have plenty of means after the house is sold. You will be able to live nicely,—and your affection for this place is, after all, only sentiment—”
“Only sentiment!” Doris rose, with flashing eyes. “Well, I suppose a practical old lawyer-person like you can’t be expected to appreciate or understand what sentiment means!”
“Help! Help! Don’t annihilate me!” and Stanchley laughed at the scorn on Doris’ lovely face. “Here comes somebody that may understand better. I’ll leave it to him.”
Hugh Stanchley hurried away, just as Looly Cutler came up on the side porch and in at the library door.
“Why the dramatics?” he asked, smiling at the tiptilted head and the indignant flash in the dark eyes.
“Old Stanchion doesn’t know sentiment from cabbages!” said Doris purposely loud enough for the departing lawyer to hear.
“But I do,” and a sudden tender note came into Cutler’s voice. “I know a lot about sentiment, and— Doris, dear,—sometime I’d like to tell you what I know.”
His gentleness, after Stanchley’s business-like attitude, went straight to the girl’s heart, and the tears came as she fell into a chair, unstrung and exhausted.
“Oh, Looly, I am so miserable! I can’t see any way to turn!”
“Turn to me, dear.” Cutler came nearer and laid his hand on her quivering shoulder. “Little Doris, I love you, and I wish you could care for me. Can’t you,—just a little?”
“Mr. Cutler!” Doris rose and faced him like a small fury, “you ought to be ashamed of yourself! You say that, only because you are sorry for me! I don’t care for pity, thank you! I wish you’d go! I can fight my own battles, rather than have a man offer to help me because he thinks I need help!”
“Now, now, kiddy, don’t get wrathy! And you mistake my meaning. I love you,—when you’ll let me, I’ll tell you how much—but I never dared tell you when you were a great heiress and all that. Now, I offer you all I have and all I am, and—if you’ll only care a little bit—Doris, darling—”
“Don’t, Looly! Please go away! No, I don’t love you.”
“Then that’s all there is about that. Now, let me help you as a mere casual friend. What can I do?”
His voice was so strong and cheery, so truly friendly, that Doris looked up gratefully. Here was a friend she could rely on.
A faint noise in the living room attracted her attention.
“What’s that?” she cried, “there’s nobody in there!”
Springing to the door she threw it open just in time to see a man climbing out of the window. In his arms he had the willow picture!
“Stop thief!” she cried. “Looly, come! help me!”
“Who is it?” said Cutler coming in from the library.
“It’s that Hawkins! and he has stolen the picture! We must chase him—and catch him!”
“You can’t, Doris. And the picture is of no great value.”
“Looly Cuder! I thought you wanted to help me! If you do,—fly after that man and get that picture back for me!”
“Oh, let it go, Doris. And it would be useless to try to catch him. See, he’s in a motor. Somebody was waiting for him. There they go!”
Sure enough a motor car started, and at a rapidly quickening pace whizzed out of sight up the road.
“You are the worst I ever saw! If you can’t do anything, get out of my way and let me!”
Doris pushed past Cutler, ran out to the garage, and in an incredible short space of time was flying, in her own little car, after the thief.
“Of all good-for-nothing mollycoddles!” she exclaimed to herself, in wrath at Cutler’s unwillingness to help her. “Well, thank goodness, I can run this thing myself!”
She followed the route the other car had taken, and after a time she caught sight of it,—a long, red sporting runabout, going at a pretty good speed.
“I never can catch it,” she despaired, “but I’ll have a try at it. Maybe they’ll have an accident.”
They didn’t, but she did. Going over an unnoticed stone, the bump broke the glass of her windshield, and a large corner piece of it fell shattered into her lap.
She made no pause, but avoiding the bits, she let her laprobe slide down round her feet, carrying with it the broken glass. On she flew, at the best speed she could command, and as often as she caught sight of her quarry, they also forged ahead. Her radiator cap flew off, but she didn’t stop to recover it, she dashed on, till passing through a town she saw that the other car had stopped to buy gasoline.
They had not seen her, then! Slowing down, she looked about for a policeman, and seeing one, asked his aid.
The officer got in beside her, and they went to the other car. Doris spoke to Hawkins, who still sat in it, his companion having gone into the garage.
“Give me my picture, Mr. Hawkins,” demanded Doris, “or be arrested for robbery. You ought to be jailed, anyway.”
“Why, if it isn’t Miss Ballard,” and Hawkins laughed, though a bit uncomfortably. “What is it you want?”
“The young lady wants that picture you have,” interrupted the arm of the law. “She claims it is hers.”
Hawkins seemed about to deny this, then, looking at Doris’ determined face, he said, “Why, yes, it is hers. She asked me to take it to get a new frame for it. It needs one.”
“He’s not telling the truth, officer,” said Doris, calmly. “He stole that picture from my house, and got out of the window with it, less than half an hour ago. I can produce a witness who saw him at the same time I did. Arrest him, and I’ll appear against him.”
The suggestion of a witness startled Hawkins, and he said, “I didn’t steal the thing, but if the young lady has changed her mind and doesn’t want me to do her errand for her, she can take her picture back.”
Doris hesitated. To push the arrest might mean a lot of trouble for her, and she felt she had trouble enough already. Would it not be better to take the picture, and go back with it, and then put the matter in Mr. Stanchley’s hands for further adjustment? She thought so, and said:
“Very well, we’ll let it go that way. Make a note of the matter, officer, and I’ll take the picture now.”
Hawkins looked disturbed at her words, but he handed over the old canvas, and Doris put it carefully in her car.
“Broke your glass,” observed the policeman.
“Yes, I chased the intruder in a hurry.”
“Some heroine!” and the big man looked at her admiringly. “Well, if you’re satisfied, run along, Miss.”
Doris “ran along,” and on her way home she thought more deeply over Looly Cutler’s defection than over the willow picture.
“And he dared to tell me he loved me!” she mused, her face growing pink at the recollection. “And— and I would be glad—yes, glad,—if only he were a man, a man of energy,—‘stout of frame, bold of heart and delighting in daring enterprises,’—like old Jacob Van Tassel! Huh! Looly would have been a nice warrior sachem! Fancy him attacking or even defending anything or anybody! And yet—well, I don’t care if I do nearly, almost,—imagine I care for him a tiny little speck,—it flies away entirely when I think how he acted to-day!”
She reached home, jumped out of the car, cutting her arm on the broken glass of the windshield, and called Hardy to look after the machine.
Then she ran in the house to find Looly still there. He sat moodily by the library table, and looked up as she ran in.
“I got it!” she cried, “small thanks to you! But I got it!”
“Doris! you’re hurt! What has happened?”
“Never mind. You can’t help. Could you guard this picture, while Molly fixes me up?”
With fine scorn she gave the old picture to him, and ran out of the room.
The cut was not deep and she soon returned, fresh in a spick and span white frock.
“Now, I’ll tell you all about it,” she exclaimed, almost forgetting her detestation of the man before her in her eagerness for an audience.
“But I can’t see why he wanted the picture,” Cutler mused, staring at it, after hearing her tale. “He must have thought of something we haven’t thought of.”
“Oh, do you think so! You’re clever, Looly, do, do think of some new possibility. Do, Looly!”
The lovely face, alight with eagerness, the pleading brown eyes, the pathetic white-bandaged forearm made Cutler’s heart throb with a wild desire to fulfil her wish. He frowned as he gazed at the old picture. Then, without a word, he picked up a stout paper-knife, and drew the few loosened old tacks that held the canvas in its frame.
Minutely he scanned it, around the edges, where the turned over canvas was tacked to the stretcher.
“Doris,” he said, slowly, “these tacks round the edge here, have been pulled out and replaced. See what I mean. Across this end and along this side, the tacks are not in their original holes.”
“I see,” and she too looked closely at the marks. “That’s sure, Looly. Does it mean anything?”
“Probably not. But I want to take the canvas off the stretcher and see. Will you give me a claw,— a tack-puller?”
Doris ran and got one, and returning, closed the door carefully.
“Busy Bee is out there with Molly,” she said, “don’t let her know what we’re doing.”
Cutler dug at the nails with the claw, but they were so deeply rusted in that they resisted his efforts. The heads broke off or sank in and then he could do nothing with them.
“Call Hardy,—will you, Doris? Or old Judd?”
“No! I won’t!” the brown eyes blazed angrily at him. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself,— you hate to raise a finger or make the least exertion! I despise you! Now, either you draw those tacks yourself, or you give me the picture and go home. I’ll have it looked into.”
“Why, why, what a little Xantippe! All right, since you put it like that, I’ll have a go at it.”
Standing up, and leaning over the picture, Cutler exerted all his strength, and finally, after a tedious and hard bit of work, he loosened the canvas along three sides.
“Turn it back yourself, Doris,” he said, in a low tone. “I think there’s something there. If there is, you must find it.”
Impressed by his grave tone, Doris took the picture, and laid it face down on the table. The old canvas still clung in place, though the tacks were out.
“Pick off the edges,” directed Cutler, and Doris carefully drew the canvas from the wooden stretcher. It stuck and tore, but Looly told her to go ahead, and at last it was free all round.
“Now, turn the whole thing over, but carefully.”
Doris did so, and then at a nod from Cutler, she slowly peeled the whole canvas free from the wood.
This disclosed a long narrow groove along one side of the rectangular stretcher.
“It is! I know it is!” whispered Doris, in a very agony of excitement. “Oh, Looly!”
“Steady,” he said, and his arm slipped round her, as she lifted the crumbling bit of soft old paper that was stuffed into the groove in the wood.
And with it came the string of Cutler pearls.
“Doris!” Looly cried, with shining eyes. “Oh, dear heart, I am so glad!” He stepped away a few paces, and dropped into a chair, as if exhausted. But Doris was too excited to notice him at all.
“It is! They are!” she cried. “Oh, perhaps the reward and all will let me keep Collander! Oh, Looly, do you think so?”
“For mercy’s sake, what’s going on?” exclaimed Mrs. Busby, opening the door and coming in. “Why, Doris Ballard! What’s that?”
“The Cutler pearls!” cried Doris. “Come in, if you like. Come in, Molly, Judd, all of you! I’ve found them! I’ve found them!”
“Oh, Miss Doris, heaven be praised!” cried Molly, and the girl flung her arms round the old woman’s neck in ecstasy.
“What’s the matter with Looly?” suddenly said Mrs. Busby, “he’s fainted.”
“No, I haven’t,” returned Cutler, but he spoke and looked a bit queer. “It’s all right, Doris. I’m so glad and happy for you. But I’ll go home now,— will you come with me, Mrs. Busby?”
“Yes, lad, come along.”
The two went away, and Doris, still dazed at her discovery, sat gloating over the jewels.
“I must tell Miss Luella right away,” she said, going to the telephone. “Looly will tell her, but I want to get her ear first.”
It’s a great secret, Doris, and I wouldn’t tell you, only I think you ought to know,—but you mustn’t breathe a word of it to anybody!”
Busybee Busby folded her handkerchief with unusual energy and unfolded it with an extra jerk.
“What is?” queried Doris. “I promise not to tell.”
But she paid only indifferent heed to her caller, for she was still quivering with delight over her great find of the morning. She had the pearls safely under lock and key, until Miss Luella should come over to get them, and the thought of the money reward gave her rapt visions of probably being able to pay her bills and in some way manage to retain her home. She had sent for Hugh Stanchley, but before he came, Mrs. Busby had come flying over evidently agitated with news of importance.
“Now listen, Doris, this is very serious. In the first place,—Looly Cutler isn’t Looly Cutler at all!”
“No? Who is he? An Italian dancing-master?”
“You ought to be ashamed of yourself! He’s Llewellyn Prescott,—that’s who he is!”
“Marvellous, Holmes, marvellous! And who is Llewellyn Prescott?”
“How ignorant you are! I suppose that’s because you lived out West! But, even then, I should think you’d have heard of Prescott! Why, he’s a well known athlete. He was the most famous stroke oar of his University. He’s,—why, his reputation is country-wide.”
“Now, now, Mrs. Busby, don’t tell me my friend, Looly Marshmallow, is an athlete! That’s a little too much!”
“But he is! and he’s been very ill, and he’s very ill now,—and it’s all your fault!”
“What are you talking about?”
“That’s the secret. You see, Looly is an inspector of ordnance in a big munitions plant over in New Jersey, and also, a representative of the Secret Service. Well, a couple of months ago, he keeled over with TNT, and—”
“What in the world is TNT?”
“I can’t remember the exact words, it’s something like trini-tro-toluol,—”
“Oh, never mind the exact name, it’s a fearful kind of poisoning that people get in the munition factories. And it’s liable to be fatal, and it gets into the skin when they don’t know it, and the effect is terrific! Looly was in the hospital a month, and then he came here to get over it, and he only used two of his names, because of the Secret Service, and too, because, he says, he didn’t want all my people fussing over him. His aunt knew, but nobody else. His name is Llewellyn Cutler Prescott, so he just used the first two.”
“What made you say I had anything to do with his getting poisoned?”
“I didn’t. But while he’s recuperating, the doctors forbade him to take any vigorous exercise, and made him promise to do just absolutely nothing for a few weeks. So, he didn’t want everybody to know he was the celebrated athlete. He didn’t care what people thought of him,—he’s been so busy studying, and attending to a lot of secret service correspondence, and, oh, Lord knows what all! Then he fell in with you, and—oh, well,—I guess you know what he thinks of you! And when you scorned his laziness,—and teased him about doing nothing, he just chuckled and let you misjudge him.”
“The silly thing! Why didn’t he tell me?”
“Oh, he’s queer that way, Looly is. And, too, if he told you, the secret would have come out, most likely. Well, he was getting along fine, and then, you see, this morning he over-exerted himself pulling those old rusty nails, and now, he’s awful sick! He’s had a doctor up from New York, and there’s two trained nurses lookin’ after him.”
“Really! Oh, Mrs. Busby, I’m so sorry! But how was I to know?”
“That’s so, Doris, I don’t blame you. I know it did seem ’s if he was a milksop. I felt that way about it myself. And I guess he’ll pull through, all right. But it’s a relapse, and you never can tell.”
“And that’s why he wouldn’t drive a car, or—or climb a step-ladder—or anything! And I was so mad when he let me chip ice one day instead of doing it himself!”
“He couldn’t. You see, the poison breaks out all over his chest and shoulders and arms, and if he uses those muscles it makes it worse right away.”
“Poor Looly! I’m so sorry. Can I see him?”
“Goodness, no! The nurses won’t even let his aunt go in the room.”
“Is he so very ill?”
“Well, I dunno, but they won’t let him move; and he needs absolute quiet and freedom from all excitement. Lemme see them pearls, won’t you?”
Doris locked the door, and then showed Mrs. Busby the old necklace.
“My, my!” she exclaimed, “to think o’ them bein’ buried,—as you may say,—in that picture, all these years!”
“It is wonderful! I can hardly believe it yet. See, the man must have taken the canvas off of one side, hollowed out a groove to hold them, and then tacked the canvas back in place.”
“He had to take it off two sides to get at it.”
“Yes, and part of a third side. It was the replaced nails and the empty nail holes that made Looly think of looking under the canvas. You know he found the pearls, I didn’t.”
“Well, you rescued the picture! I guess you did more toward the findin’ than what he did. The feller that hid ’em musta had plenty of time.”
“I’ve been thinking it over, and I imagine he was here all night,—as a guard or an aid, you know. And as he had the pearls to hide, he made a good and careful job of it. As you say, it took time.”
“Ain’t you clever at figgerin’ it out! But it must be jest as you say, for there’s the pearls. I don’t think so much of ’em after all,—except for their antiqueness.”
“They’re not very large, nor very perfectly matched, and the ruby clasp is but a tiny stone. But that doesn’t matter, they’re the Cutler pearls, all right, and if I am entitled to the reward, I think,— I hope I can stay here! Oh, Mrs. Busby, if I only can!”
“You dear child. I hope so, I’m sure. Here comes Mr. Stanchley to see you,—I’d better make myself scarce.”
“Well, Doris,” and the lawyer came in as his landlady went out, “your lucky star is in the ascendant! I’ve had word from Mr. Lovell, and he’s going to save something out of the wreck, after all. If you’ve really found the Cutler pearls, too, you’ll be just about all right financially, and I see no reason why you can’t keep your beloved Collander.”
“It’s too good to be true!” and Doris grasped Stanchley’s hand and shook it vigorously up and down, in sheer joy. “But you haven’t seen the pearls, look!”
She held up the old necklace, and he examined it curiously.
“Well, well! It isn’t much to look at, but it’s valuable all the same. The Cutler people will be glad to pay you the reward, my dear.”
“Won’t Miss Luella have it?”
“No; the present head of the family, a man in Boston, will probably claim it.”
“All right, I don’t care, so long as I get the prize money. It’s honestly mine, isn’t it, Stanchion?”
“But Looly thought of looking in the wood part of the picture. I never should have thought of that.”
“You might have thought of it later; and anyway, you got the picture by your own efforts,—and desperate efforts, too! Why, you ferreted out the idea of the family plate being a bookplate. You thought of this willow picture, after reading the note you found. You hunted it down when it was lost in obscurity, and then, after all that, you rushed off and rescued it when it was stolen from you! I should say you had a right to the find!”
“And how I have misjudged Looly! I thought he was a mollycoddle and a slacker, and all the time he was serving his country in ways I never dreamed of,—and had suffered more than a wounded soldier, and never peeped!”
“Oh, Llewellyn Prescott is a big man. A splendid chap, but no martyr. He let you think him a mollycoddle because you piqued him to it. He was amused at your scorn of him because he knew his own powers. And, too, he did want to keep his identity secret for several reasons. And you mustn’t tell, Doris. For a time yet, he wants to preserve his incognito.”
“He’s going to get well?”
“Oh, Lord, yes. Unless a bad relapse sets in.”
“Did it—did it hurt him very much—pulling those nails?”
“Well, you know, they were very old and rusted, and the strain on the pectoral muscles was just what he had been ordered to avoid.”
“And I made him do it! He wanted me to call Judd or Hardy, but I wouldn’t. I was ashamed of his indolence and I made him do the work himself!”
“That was his own fault. He should have told you that he was under doctors’ orders. Don’t blame yourself, at all, Doris; he was foolishly obstinate.”
“He misled me all along. I thought he was a lazybones who just sat around and wrote poetry. He does write awfully good verse.”
“I know it, but he never does it when he’s got any real work to do. Cutler has a poet mind, but he has a very strong and muscular body, and after he gets it back to normal conditions, you won’t call him milksop, I can assure you!”
“Will you take care of these pearls, Guardy? I don’t want the responsibility. And, too, I expect that old Hawkins will make another try for them.”
“No, he won’t. I’ve settled him for good and all. I had an interview with him that made him feel the farther away from Dobbs Ferry he spends the rest of his life, the better for him!”
“And Madame Marshall, too?”
“I don’t know about her. She may pester you further. She declares Hawkins put her up to all the mischief she did, and he vows all he did was at her instigation. I daresay it was six of one and half a dozen of the other.”
“I think so, too. They worked together.”
“And there were two more. Ermyntrude Whiting and her brother were in the game, and the four of them were determined to get this place in their possession and make money out of it. After they found how you had improved it, they were more anxious than ever to get it, and they planned to play ghosts until you were actually driven out by fright! Then you lost your money, they jumped for joy, and began to gather together their resources to buy the place at once.”
“And you were ready to sell it to them!”
“Yes, Doris, because it seemed the only thing to do. I had looked the market over, and there was little hope of selling immediately to any one who would promise to keep it. And if they bought from another purchaser, it seemed as well that they should buy directly from you.”
“Yes, Stanchion, that’s all true. But I don’t want to think about that. I just want to rejoice that all’s well with my world, now. It is,—isn’t it? There’s no reason now, that I can’t keep Collander?”
“I don’t know of any. I telephoned the Cutler representatives in Boston, and they’re quite ready to pay the reward for the pearls as soon as they are convinced of the genuineness of the find. And as that is beyond all question, you’re sure of the money. Then, from what Mr. Lovell writes me, I feel certain you’ll have enough income, with reasonable economy, to run this house about as you’ve been doing. I think a housekeeper or companion—”
“Yes, Guardy, I’m going to get one. I’m going to have a lovely lady that Miss Cutler knows, and I’ll economise all that’s necessary, and, oh, I’ll be so happy that I can stay here, I don’t care for any conditions or deprivations!”
“You won’t be deprived of anything greatly conducive to your comfort, and I am glad, Doris, dear, that you can stay. It’s all very wonderful, I think, and it’s no more than you deserve after your good work on the house and your persevering search for the treasure. You’re a girl in a thousand, my child, and I congratulate you on your well-earned reward.”
“In a few well-chosen words!” said Doris, laughing. “I feel as if I were a flag-raising or whatever they make speeches at. And another thing, Stanchy, I never want to see Looly Cutler,—or Prescott,—again! I needn’t, need I?”
“I’m ashamed to. I misjudged him so, and I was horrid to him. He’ll never forgive me, or if he does, it’ll be just to save my feelings. He won’t stay here much longer, will he?”
“No; only till he’s able to go away. But, that may be some time.”
“I don’t care how long it is. I needn’t see him. I can’t explain it exactly,—but I just want to forget him.”
“After he helped you so much in your search?”
“He wasn’t exactly helping me, he was hunting on his own account.”
“But, Doris, it wouldn’t be kind,—it wouldn’t be decent-mannered,—to refuse to see him again!”
“I don’t care, I don’t want to, and I won’t! So there, now!”
“Doris, you’re a little goose! But it’s none of my affair. You can do as you like, I suppose. Now, shall I take these pearls away with me?”
“Yes, please; I don’t want the responsibility of their safety. You can show them to Miss Luella, and then keep them till the Boston people come for them.”
Stanchley went away, and Doris drew a long breath and went upstairs to her favourite window in Washington’s room.
“Now I can live,” she said to herself, with a deep sigh of thankfulness. Oh, Collander, my dear, dear Collander, I can live here with you! I feel now, as Washington did when he came back here, in 1783, and met Carleton to arrange for the evacuation of New York by the enemy.
“He had conquered, he was victorious, just as I am now! But I feel a sort of still, quiet gladness, too deep for any rejoicing. Come here, Peter,” for her faithful shadow had followed her, “aren’t you glad that we’re to stay here?”
The collie waved his tail with due solemnity, and his great soft eyes looked intelligently into the brown ones that questioned him.
“And we’re going to do our best, Peter, to be worthy of the house and its traditions, and we’re going to live up to the brave memories and influences just as far as we can,—aren’t we, Peter?”
With her arm round Peter’s neck, Doris staid kneeling by the window a long time. Her thoughts were disconnected and wandering, but filled with the peace of possession and the knowledge that her home was safe.
The shadows lengthened toward sunset, and with a tranquil joy, Doris looked down on her lawn, her garden, her trees,—all her loved domain.
“I oughtn’t to have a harsh or unkind thought in my heart,” she mused, “not even toward Mr. Hawkins—or,—or Looly Cutler,—Prescott.
“But I am mad at him for deceiving me and making fun of me! I’ll never forgive him—I don’t want to.
“Well, I suppose I do want to,—and he did say he—but I know he said that only because he was sorry for me. He needn’t be sorry for me now! But—I suppose I ought to thank him—I oughtn’t to let the sun go down upon my wrath,—”
Acting on a sudden impulse, Doris ran downstairs, and outdoors and along the road to Mrs. Busby’s house.
Several times she turned back, then after an instant’s hesitation, went on again.
Reaching the boarding house, she slipped in at the side door, and found the nurse who was not then on duty.
A few whispered words ensued.
“Oh, no, he isn’t so very ill,” the nurse assured her, “he’s worrying about some business matters, that’s what makes him feverish. He wants somebody to do something for him, in connection with some government work, and he can’t think who is the best one to ask.”
“Would I do?” and Doris’ big brown eyes grew very earnest.
“I don’t think so. I think he wants a man.”
“But mayn’t I see him,—just for a minute?”
“Why, yes,—so far as I’m concerned. But the doctor’s orders are against it; and the other nurse,— well,—she’s the strictest I ever saw!”
“But listen; what time do you go on duty?”
“Right away now. I’m just going to get into my uniform.”
Then there was more whispered consultation, and the two girls nodded and talked eagerly.
Ten minutes later, a white clad figure softly went into the darkened sick-room, where Looly Cutler lay, silent and immobile as any marble figure.
The nurse who was leaving, spoke absently. “Everything’s all right; the chart’s filled up to now. I’ll send up his supper.”
“Yes, Miss Davis,” said the newcomer,—which was what Miss Merwin always said.
Miss Davis went out softly, and the other nurse approached the bed.
The closed eyes did not open, the still figure did not move; but the patient’s mouth twitched at the corners and he said in a whisper, “Hello, Doris.” The white-clad figure jumped, and in a panic, started to leave the room.
“Hold on there,” said the patient, distinctly, “you come back! If you don’t, I’ll thrash around and get all fussed up again!”
“Oh, Looly,” and Doris was genuinely distressed, “I oughtn’t to have done this! I just wanted to see for myself how sick you were, and see if I could tell you—”
“I’m not sick at all, and you can tell me anything. You’re a little brick to do this, and Miss Merwin is another, to let you.”
“How’d you know it was me?”
“Knew your voice. Miss Davis was so absorbed in that precious chart, she didn’t notice. You spoke just as Miss Merwin always does,—I suppose she told you to?”
“Yes,” Doris was still frightened, but mischievously enjoying the situation.
“Looly, listen, you mustn’t talk or move, I know, but if you want a message sent, mayn’t I take it?”
“You want to ‘carry a message to Garcia’?”
“Yes, if you want to send one. Not another word now,—but when you get ready to send it, let me look after it, mayn’t I?”
“You dear child! You’re the very one. I’ll be up to it to-morrow,—I’m sure.”
“All right, now I must scoot. I’m so glad you’re as well as you are, and—Looly,—I’m sorry I teased you.”
“Oh, ter-bul sorry,” the laughing voice had a tender note in it, and the gloom of the room was not so deep but that the sweet, wistful face was visible beneath the nurse’s cap that sat so lightly on the red-gold hair.
“Is that all you’ve got to tell me?”
“No, I want to thank you for helping me find the pearls. But that will keep till you’re better.”
“Yes, that will. But now, before you go, I want you to do one thing for me.”
“I want you to say something. Come here; I’m sorry I can’t move, but you can put your head down, so I can tell you. Listen. The day I first met you, you said something, and I told you then that some day you should say that to me, with a different intonation. Do you remember what it was?”
“Don’t tell a story, now! Do you remember,— little Doris?”
“You remember the words exactly?”
“Well, then, I’ll ask a question, and you say those words in reply, with the intonation I want. Doris, little sweetheart, you are all the world to me. What am I to you?”
Lower drooped the lovely, blushing face, and the scarlet lips almost brushed his ear as Doris breathed the words,
Then she ran out of the room.
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