Infomotions, Inc.We Ten Or, The Story of the Roses / é, Lyda Farrington



Author: é, Lyda Farrington
Title: We Ten Or, The Story of the Roses
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): phil; nora; nannie; felix; hilliard; papa; betty; jack; miss marston; fee
Contributor(s): Kiljander, K., 1817-1879 [Translator]
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Title: We Ten
       Or, The Story of the Roses


Author: Lyda Farrington Kraus



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Language: English

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WE TEN

Or

The Story of the Roses

by

BARBARA YECHTON

Author of
"Ingleside," "A Matter of Honor,"
"Gentle-Heart Stories," "Two Knights-Errant,"
"Little Saint Hilary," "Christine's Inspiration"

With Illustrations by Minna Brown







[Illustration: "'OH, PAPA! _PAPA_! SURELY YOU ARE NOT GOING TO _BURN_
THE _FETICH_!'"]



New York
Dodd, Mead and Company
1896
Copyright, 1896,
by Dodd, Mead and Co.
All rights reserved.

University Press:
John Wilson and Son, Cambridge, U.S.A.



TO
MY DEAR ONES.


_"Thou hast done well thy part, if
    Thou hast done thy best;
  As sure as I am God, I answer
    For the rest."_




CONTENTS.


CHAPTER                                   PAGE

     I. ROSES AND ROSES                      1

    II. IN THE STUDY                        17

   III. CONCERNING A PERFORMANCE            25

    IV. AND A FETICH                        43

     V. A FRACAS AND AN ARRIVAL             53

    VI. DISPOSING OF A FETICH               72

   VII. NEW FRIENDS                         92

  VIII. A RESOLUTION                       109

    IX. MAX'S WARD                         123

     X. IN THE SCHOOLROOM                  145

    XI. AN AFTERNOON RECEPTION             165

   XII. IN THE SHADOW                      182

  XIII. THROUGH THE SHADOW                 200

   XIV. A MISSION OF THREE                 213

    XV. SOME MINORS                        230

   XVI. AND A MAJOR                        254

  XVII. NORA'S SECRET                      274

 XVIII. EXPERIENCES AT ENDICOTT BEACH      283

   XIX. HIS BROTHER'S KEEPER               322

   XX. A SOLEMN PROMISE                    346

  XXI. THROUGH THE SLOUGH OF DESPOND       367

 XXII. AUF WIEDERSEHEN                     378




WE TEN,
OR THE
STORY OF THE ROSES.




I.

ROSES AND ROSES.

TOLD BY JACK.


When papa said positively that only Phil could go to college, we all
felt so badly for Felix that we held a council in the schoolroom that
very afternoon. At least, six of us did; the other four had been ruled
out by Felix, who declared that "kids were not allowed in council." Paul
and Maedel didn't mind so much,--they're the twins, they're only seven
years old; nor did Alan,--he's the baby; but Kathie was awfully mad: you
see, she's nearly ten, and she does love to hear all that's going on.
When she gets crying, there's no stopping her, and I tell you she made
things pretty lively round that schoolroom for a little while. How she
did howl! We were so afraid she'd start Alan, and that the noise would
reach papa's study; good-bye then to our council. We got provoked with
Kathie; it was so silly of her to stand there crying like a big baby,
and keeping us back that way.

First Phil called out, "You just stop, this minute, Kathie!" and then,
when she kept right on, he threw the old sofa pillow at her, and told
her to go smother herself; Nora said, "Horrid child!" in her most
disgusted tone, and Nannie and Betty coaxed and coaxed, trying to
quiet her.

[Illustration: "THE SCHOOLROOM VIXEN."]

But nothing had any effect until Felix limped over to his easel. Felix
is lame,--dear old Fee!--but my! isn't he clever! Greek and Latin are
just as easy as--as--anything to him, and he writes stories and
poems,--though nobody knows this 'cept us children and Miss Marston, and
we wouldn't tell for the world,--and he paints the most _beautiful_
pictures you ever saw. Well, as I was telling you, he limped over to his
easel, and took up his brush. "Just keep that charming expression on
your face a few minutes longer, Kathie," he said, "until I get it on
canvas; and I'll paint your picture as the 'Schoolroom Vixen,' and send
it to the Academy. That's right, open your mouth _just_ a little
wider--what a wonderful cavern!--hullo! why'd you stop crying? I'm not
half through."

That quieted my lady! You see she was afraid he was in earnest; and
after Nannie had wiped her eyes for her, and given her the last piece of
chocolate in her box, off she went to the other end of the room, and
began playing house with the twins and Alan under the schoolroom table,
as nicely as you please.

Then the council began. Nannie said it was called to discuss "ways and
means." I suppose by that she meant to see if there was any way that
Felix could go to college too; but, as usual, in a very little while
everybody began to take "sides," and then, the first thing we knew, we
were all talking at the same time, and just as loud as ever we could.
That's a way we have,--all talking and nobody listening. What a din
there was, until Felix scrambled up on a chair and pounded on the floor
with his cane, and shouted out louder than anybody else: "Who _am_ I
talking to? I _will_ be heard!" That made everybody laugh, and brought
us back to business; but in a few minutes we were just as bad again.

We're the greatest family for taking sides that you ever heard of, and
we do get so excited over things! Anybody that didn't know would surely
think we were quarrelling, when really we'd just be having a discussion.
I can't see where we got it from, for dear mamma was always just as
sweet and gentle, and goodness knows papa doesn't say ten words in a
day, and those in the very quietest voice. I can't explain it, but it's
a fact all the same that we are a noisy family,--even Nora. Miss
Marston--she's our governess--says it's very vulgar to be noisy, and
that we ought to be ashamed to be so boisterous; but nurse declares--and
I think she's right--that the reason is 'cause "the whole kit an' crew"
(she means us) "come just like steps, one after the other, an' one ain't
got any more right to rule than the other." You see Phil is seventeen
and Alan is five, and between them we eight come in; so we are "just
like steps," as she says.

[Illustration: "PLAYING HOUSE WITH THE TWINS AND ALAN UNDER THE
SCHOOLROOM TABLE."]

Perhaps I'd better tell you a little about each of us, so you'll
understand as I go on: Well, to begin, Phil is a big strong fellow, and
just as full of fun and mischief as he can stick; he just _loves_ to
play practical jokes, but he isn't so fond of study, I can tell you, and
that vexes papa, 'cause he's got it all laid out that Phil's to be a
lawyer. Being the eldest, he seems to think he can order us children
round as he pleases, and of course we won't stand it, and that makes
trouble sometimes. But Phil's generous; he'd give us anything he's got,
particularly to Felix, he thinks so much of him,--though of course he
wouldn't say so,--so we get along pretty well with him.

Next come Felix and Nannie; they're twins too. I've told you 'most
everything about Fee already. He's awfully cross sometimes, when he
isn't well, and, as Nora says, he really orders us about more than Phil
does; but somehow we don't mind it, 'cause, with all his queerness, he's
the life of the house, and he's got some ways that just make us love him
dearly: mamma used to call him her "lovable crank." Nannie is devoted to
Felix; they're always together. They're trying to teach themselves the
violin, and she reads the same books and studies the same lessons as he
does, to keep up with him; she's clever, too, now I tell you,--- I'd
never get my Greek and Latin perfect if she didn't help me,--though she
doesn't make any fuss over it. Nannie is an awfully nice girl,--I don't
know what we'd do without her; since mamma died, she's all the time
looking after us children, and making things go smoothly. She doesn't
"boss" us a bit, and yet, somehow, she gets us to do lots of things.
She is real pretty, too,--her eyes are so brown and shiny. It's queer,
but we don't any of us mind telling Nannie when we get into scrapes;
she talks to us at the time, and makes us feel sorry and ashamed, but
she never makes us feel small while she's doing it, and we never hear
of it again.

But you wouldn't catch us doing that to Nora! She comes next, you know,
and she's really _very_ pretty, though we never tell her so, 'cause
she's so stuck up already. Felix puts her into lots of his pictures, and
I heard Max Derwent say once that she was beautiful. Max is papa's
friend; he is a grown-up man, though he isn't as old as papa. He used to
come here a lot, and we children like him first-rate; but now he's in
Europe. Well, to come back to Nora: she likes to be called Eleanor, but
we don't do it; she is so fussy and so very proper that Felix has
nick-named her Miss Prim, and we _do_ call her that. Miss Marston thinks
Nora is the best behaved of us all; and sometimes, when Nannie is in
papa's study, she lets her go in the drawing-room and entertain people
that call. You should see the airs that Nora puts on when she comes
upstairs after these occasions; it's too killing for anything! We boys
make lots of fun of her, but she doesn't care a jot. And yet, isn't it
queer! with all her primness and fine airs, of us all, Nora cares most
for Phil, and he's so untidy and rough; she almost runs her legs off
waiting on him, and half the time he doesn't even say thank you!

The next after Nora is Betty, our "long-legged tomboy," as Felix calls
her, 'cause she is so tall and so full of mischief. Just to look at her
you'd think she was as mild as a lamb; but in reality she's wilder than
all of us boys put together. I've seen her slide down the banisters of
three flights of stairs, one flight after the other, balancing papa's
breakfast tray on one palm; and for warwhoops and the ability to make
the most hideous faces, she goes ahead of anything I've ever heard or
seen. She is as bad as Phil for playing jokes, and when she gets in one
of her wild moods, the only way Miss Marston can manage her is to
threaten to take her to papa's study; that brings her to terms every
time. For that matter, we none of us like to go there, though I'm sure
papa never scolds, as some people's fathers do,--I almost wish he would
sometimes; he just looks at us; but, all the same, we don't like to go
to the study.

I hope you won't think from what I've said that Betty is a disagreeable
girl, for she isn't at all; I'm really very fond of her, and we're
together a great deal, because I am the next in age to her. She's
awfully quick-tempered, and flies into a rage for almost nothing; but
she's very honest, and she'll own up to a fault like a soldier. Once in
a while we have a falling out, but not often, 'cause I won't quarrel.
Nannie says that I give in sometimes when I oughtn't to,--she means when
it isn't right to; I guess that's my fault, but I do hate to squabble
with any one,--it's such a bother. I don't know what to tell you about
myself, except that I'm not very bright at my books, though I love to
read stories. It does seem so strange that we shouldn't all be smart,
when papa, as everybody knows, is such a wonderfully clever man. I'm
Jack, or, rather,--to give my full name,--John Minot Rose. I think
that's rather a nice name, but you can't think what fun the whole family
make of it; they call me "a Jack rose," and "Jacqueminot," and
"Rosebud," and a "sweet-scented flower," and all sorts of absurd names.
Of course it's very silly of them. Betty gets furious over it; but I
don't really care, so what's the use of being angry.

Kathie comes next to me; she is a nice little girl, only she does love
to tattle things, and that makes trouble sometimes. She's very gentle,
and just as pretty as a picture, with her long light curls and pretty,
big blue eyes; but my! isn't she obstinate! She doesn't fly into rages,
like Betty, but she keeps persisting and persisting till she carries
her point, and when she once starts in crying, you may make up your
mind she isn't going to stop in a hurry. But she doesn't mean to be
naughty, I'm sure; and she's the most polite child, and so willing
to do things for people!

Then come the other twins, Paul and Maedel. Paul is a standing joke with
us, he's so solemn; and yet he says such bright, funny things, in his
slow way, that we have to laugh: we call him the "Judge." Maedel is a
little darling, just as jolly and round and sweet as she can be; nurse
says she's going to be a second Nannie. We all make a great deal of
her,--much more than we do of Alan; for though he's the baby, he's so
independent that he doesn't like to be petted.

So now you know all about the Roses; it does seem as if I'd been a long
time telling about them, but you see there are such a lot of us.

Well, to go back to the council. Fee was awfully cut up over his
disappointment, and cranky too; but nobody minded what he said, until,
all at once, Nora got in a tantrum, and declared he was "acting _very_
mean to Phil," that he needn't always expect to have things his own way,
and that papa was perfectly right to give Phil the first chance. That
set Fee off, and in about two minutes we were all mixed up in the
fuss,--taking "sides," you know; that is, all but Phil,--he just sat
hunched up on the arm of the old sofa, swinging one of his long legs,
and scowling, and chewing away on a piece of straw he'd pulled out of
the whisk-broom, and he didn't say a word until Nora turned on him, and
asked him, very indignantly, how he could sit there and let Felix bully
her in that way. Then all at once he seemed to get very mad and just
pitched into Fee.

I don't remember what he said, and I'm glad that I don't, 'cause I
_know_ Phil didn't mean a word of it; but Felix felt awfully hurt. He
got two bright red spots on his cheeks, and he set his lips tight
together, and when Phil stopped to catch his breath, after an unusually
long speech, he got up and pushed his chair back. "It is so pleasant to
hear one's family's honest opinion of one's self," he remarked, in that
sarcastic way he has. "I shall try to remember all that you've said,"
bowing to Phil and Nora, "and I shall endeavour to profit by it. And as
long as I'm such a contemptible and useless member of the community,
I'll relieve you of my company." His voice shook so he could hardly say
the last words, and he started for the door, stumbling over the
furniture as he went. Between you and me, I think his eyes were full of
tears, and that they blurred his glasses so he couldn't see,--did I tell
you that Felix is near-sighted? Well, he is.

"Oh, Phil, how _could_ you say such mean things to your own brother!"
cried out Nannie; and with that she flew after Felix.

That cooled Phil down, and if he didn't turn on Nora! "It's all your
fault," he said angrily; "you just nagged me on to it. You're never
happy unless you're quarrelling."

This was pretty true, but I don't think it was at all nice of Phil to
say so, and I felt very sorry for Nonie when she burst out crying. Betty
and I were trying to quiet her, when in walked Miss Marston, to know
what all that loud noise and banging of doors meant. We didn't tell her
about the _fracas_, 'cause, though she's pretty good in a way, she isn't
at all the person one would want to tell things to. She carried the
little ones off for their early dinner, and Nora and Betty too,--"to
help," she said. But I stayed in the schoolroom. I knew if I went down
stairs they'd just keep me trotting about waiting on them all, and
that's such a nuisance! so I curled up on the sofa and read for a while.

The fire was so bright, and everything was so cozy, that I did wish some
of the others would come in and enjoy it. I was really pleased when
Major and Whiskers came walking in and settled down near me. They're our
dog and cat, and they're good playfellows with us; but they will fight
with each other now and then. At first I enjoyed my story immensely; it
was about a boy who was having the wildest kind of adventures among the
Indians. I wouldn't go through such exciting times for anything; but I
enjoy reading about 'em, when I'm all safe and comfortable at home.

Well, when it grew too dark to read, I laid my book down and began to
think, and presently it seemed as if a whole pack of Indians were
dancing like wild round me, in full war-paint and feathers, and nipping
little pieces out of my arms and legs. I stood it as long as I could,
and then I began to hit out at 'em. All at once one of the creatures
commenced flourishing his tomahawk at me, getting nearer and nearer all
the time. "I _have_ tried, but I can't get in," he said, grinning
horribly, and the voice sounded just like Phil's; "he's locked his door,
and he won't even answer me,--he's madder than hornets."

[Illustration: "'WHY, _JACK_!' SAID NANNIE."]

"I'm sure you can't blame him: what you said was very unkind, Phil; I
didn't think it of you!" The voice was certainly Nannie's; and yet there
was that horrid old Indian still nipping me.

"I know it, Nan; you needn't rub it in," groaned Phil,--the Indian. "But
really, I didn't mean one word of it, and he ought to have known that.
Why, Fee's got more brains than the whole crowd of us put together, and
if only one of us can go to college, he ought to be that one. I've
screwed up my courage, and I'm going to speak to father about it."

"Oh, Phil, don't, please don't; it'll be no use. You know there is no
changing papa when his mind is made up. Better let things stand as they
are until Max gets home; it won't be very long, you know. And besides,
I'm sure Felix wouldn't let you give up college for him. But you're a
dear, generous boy, to propose it."

"No, I'm not; I'm a great clumsy, cantankerous animal. Now if I could
only talk as Felix can, I wouldn't mind interviewing the _pater_
to-morrow; but just as sure as I undertake to say anything to him, I get
so nervous and confused that I act like a fool, and that provokes him.
He seems to paralyse me. But, all the same, I'm going to talk to him
about this matter to-morrow, Nannie,"--the Indian's voice sank so low
that I could hardly hear it; "I have a feeling that mother would want
Fee to go to college."

I sat up and rubbed my arms that had gone to sleep, and looked around; I
was still on the old sofa, and just a few feet away from me sat Phil, on
the edge of the schoolroom table, and Nannie in a chair beside him.

Confused and only half awake as I was, my one idea was to slip away
quietly and not let 'em know I'd heard what they had been saying, for I
was sure they wouldn't like that. Nannie says I ought to have spoken
right out; but I do hate to make people feel uncomfortable. So I swung
myself softly to my feet, and--landed hard on Whiskers's tail!

Of course, after that, there was no hiding that I was there. Poor
Whiskers gave a howl of pain, and, flying at Major, boxed the solemn old
doggie's ears, much to his surprise and wrath, and they had a free fight
on the spot.

"Why, _Jack_!" said Nannie; and I got hot all over, for I just felt by
her tone that she thought I'd been listening.

"Our Jacqueminot, I declare!" cried Phil. "You are a nice young rosebud,
I must say, to be snooping around this way! Come here, sir!"

He made a dive for me, but I drew back. "I _didn't_ listen!" I called
out. And then I remembered that I really had, only I thought it was the
Indians talking; and, dipping under his arm, I rushed out of the room as
hard as I could go, before he could catch me.




II.

IN THE STUDY.

TOLD BY JACK.


I thought very often of what Phil had said, I couldn't help it; but I
don't suppose I would ever have really understood what he meant if I
hadn't heard something more the next day. Poor me! it just seemed for
those two days as if I did nothing but get into people's way and keep
hearing things that they didn't want me to. This time it was partly
Betty's fault,--at least, she was what Phil calls the "primary cause."
I suppose it was because it was such a lovely day out-of-doors, that I
couldn't seem to put my mind on my books at all, and when Betty pulled
two feather-tops out of her pocket, and offered me one, I took it very
willingly, and we began to play on the sly. Of course we got caught: my
feather-top must needs fly away from the leg of the table, which was our
mark, and stick itself into Kathie's leg. I don't think it hurt her so
very much, but she was startled, and didn't she howl! Miss Marston was
all out of patience with me already, and when, soon after that, I made
a mess of my Latin, she got very angry, and walked me right down to
the study.

Papa listened in dead silence to all she told him; then he just lifted
his eyes from his writing, and pointed to a chair a good way from him:
"Sit there," he said, "and study your lesson, and don't disturb me." So
I took my seat, and Miss Marston shut the door and went away.

My! how quiet it was in that room! Not a sound except a faint scrabbling
noise now and then from the L behind the portiere,--where some very old
reference books are kept,--and papa's pen scratching across the paper,
and even that stopped presently, and he began to read a book that lay
open beside him. As he sat there reading, with sheets upon sheets of the
Fetich scattered all round him, I looked and looked at him; I don't know
why it is, but somehow, when I'm anywhere alone with papa, I just have
to keep looking at him instead of anything else. He's a tall man, and
thin, and he stoops round his shoulders; he wears glasses, too, like
Felix, and he always looks as if he were thinking of something 'way off
in his mind. Nurse says she's sure he'd forget to eat, if the things
weren't put right under his nose; you see that's because he's all the
time thinking of books. Oh, papa's awfully clever!

[Illustration: "PLAYING FEATHERTOP."]

After a while I found a lollipop in my pocket, and I began to suck
it,--just for company, you know; and truly the room was so quiet I was
afraid papa'd hear me swallow. Every now and then there was that little
scrabble behind the portiere; I made up my mind papa must have some one
there making references for him, and I wondered who. But just then came
a quite loud knock at the study door, and before papa had finished
saying "Come!"--he never does say it right away,--the door flew open,
and in bounced Phil, as if he were in an awful hurry. He marched
straight to papa's desk, and began, very quickly, "Father, I'd like--"
But papa just waved his hand at him, without looking up: "In a few
minutes," he said, and went right on reading.

You should have seen Phil fidget: he stood on one foot, then on the
other; he put his hands in his pockets and jingled the things he had
there, till he remembered that papa doesn't like us to do that, then he
took his hands out. He straightened up, and shook his coat collar into
place, and he cleared his throat; but nothing had any effect until he
accidentally knocked a book off the desk. Then papa started, and peered
up at him in the near-sighted way that Felix does sometimes: "H'm, too
bad!" he said, taking the book from Phil; then he sighed, put his finger
on the page of his book to mark the place, and said, in a resigned sort
of way, "Well, what is it you want?"

And I tell you, Phil didn't take long to come to the point; he pitched
right in, in that quick, headlong way he has when he's awfully in
earnest. "I want to ask you, father, please to let Felix go to college
in my place. As long as we can't both go, I think he ought to be the
one. You know, sir, he's a thousand times cleverer than I am, and he'll
be sure to do you twice the credit that I shall. I do wish you'd
consider the change."

"And what do _you_ propose to do in that case?" papa asked, peering up
at him again.

"Go into business,--lots of fellows do at my age,--if I can get anything
at all," answered Phil, squaring his shoulders.

Papa sat and thought and thought for several minutes, without a word;
then he said, in that quiet tone of voice that we children know always
settles a question, "No, I prefer that the present arrangement should be
carried out." Then he began reading again.

I thought Phil would have gone, after that; but no, he got quite
excited: "It isn't fair to Felix," he cried, thumping his hand down
on the desk with such force that the pages of the Fetich just
danced,--you'll hear more about the Fetich by and by,--"indeed it
isn't! He's got the most brains of the whole lot of us put together,
and he _ought_ to have some advantages. And besides, sir, you know
he was mother's boy." Phil's voice shook so that a big lump came in
my throat. "I'm sure she would want him to go to college; for her
sake, let us change places."

Papa put up his hand quickly, and shielded his eyes from the light, and
he didn't answer right away. "It was--her wish--that you should go," he
said presently, stopping between the words.

"Because she expected there'd be money enough for us both," Phil began
eagerly; but all of a sudden the portiere that hung over the L was
pushed aside, and who should come limping up to them but Felix!

His eyes were shining, even through his glasses, and he didn't seem to
mind papa one bit. "So that's what you're up to, is it?" he said to
Phil, "trying to give me your birthright!" By this time he'd reached
Phil's side, and he threw his arm right across Phil's shoulders. "_Dear_
old Lion-heart!" he said,--how his voice did ring out! "And I thought
you didn't care!"

And papa just sat there and looked at them, without a word, from under
his hand.

Now I suppose you think I was a very mean sort of a boy to sit there and
take in all this that wasn't intended for me to hear; but really it
wasn't my fault. You see, I was so surprised when Phil walked in and
began to talk like that, that I never thought of saying anything; but
pretty soon I remembered, and I felt very uncomfortable. I got up then,
and walked a few steps forward, but nobody noticed me. And when Phil got
so excited, I _couldn't_ get a word out. Then Felix came out, and I
really got desperate,--I felt I _must_ let 'em know I was there; so I
just called out twice, quite loud, "Please, I'm here!"

They all jumped, they were so surprised, and Phil wheeled round on me
in a minute. "That ubiquitous 'Jack rose' _again_!" he exclaimed; and
taking me by the collar,--that was really _very_ mean of Phil,--he
walked me very fast over to the door. Then he opened the door, and said,
"_Skip!_" and gave me quite a hard shove into the hall, and shut the
door again. I tell you what now, my feelings were awfully hurt; I just
wished Betty were there; I know she'd have given it to Phil!

"Jack!" somebody called just then, and there was Nannie seated in the
niche at the head of the stairs. I ran up and squeezed in alongside
of her, and she snuggled me up to her, and made me feel ever so much
better. I told her the whole story, and somehow, by the time I got
through, instead of being angry any more, I really felt sorry for the
boys. "Oh, Nannie," I said, "I do wish Fee _could_ go to college!"

Nannie caught my hand tight between her two palms. "Jack," she said
softly, "say our verse for the day, will you?"

So I repeated it: "'I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on
earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for
them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are
gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.'"

"That has comforted me all day," whispered Nannie. "That's what we can
do for Felix: we can pray--you and I--that God will make a way for him
to go to college. Will you, Jackie-boy?"

"Yes," I said presently; "but--but--perhaps, Nannie, you'd better not
say anything to Betty about it, 'cause--well, you know she _might_ make
fun of me."

"Oh, no, she won't," said Nannie, "because you and I are the 'two,'
Jack, and she's the 'three'; she's praying for Felix, too."

Well, I _was_ dumfounded,--Betty, of all people!

Just then the study door opened, and Phil and Felix came out; Phil had
his arm over Fee's shoulder, and he began helping him up the steps. I
felt they'd want Nannie to themselves,--and, besides, Phil might just
have said something to tease me again; so I ran up stairs alone, and
left them to talk together.

All this happened some weeks ago, and though Phil has commenced college,
no way has come yet for Felix to go; but we "three" still keep on
praying for it.




III.

CONCERNING A PERFORMANCE.

TOLD BY NANNIE.


So many and such unexpected things have happened lately that I scarcely
know where to begin, or how to tell everything.

The very first surprise was two letters that came for Felix and me from
our godmother, aunt Lindsay. She is not really our aunt, though we call
her so, and I'm named Nancy after her; but she knew dear mamma when she
was a girl, and she is the only person except mamma that we ever heard
call papa "Jack." Aunt Lindsay is quite an old lady, and she's very
eccentric. She lives in a big old house in Boston, and very seldom
comes to New York; but twice a year, on our birthday and at Christmas,
she sends us a letter and a present,--generally a book,--and Fee and I
have to write and thank her. How we dread those letters! It was hard
enough when we had mamma to talk them over with before we began them;
but now it's a great deal worse, for Miss Marston does not help us in
the least.

She says we are quite old enough now to do them alone, and I suppose we
are. But we can't express ourselves in the same way time after time, and
it is so difficult to think of new things to say that are interesting
and not frivolous,--for aunt Lindsay wouldn't permit that. Sometimes we
really get low-spirited over our efforts, and I'd be ashamed to tell how
many sheets of paper and envelopes are spoilt in the undertaking. Once,
in a fit of desperation, Felix bought a "Complete Letter-Writer," and
we hunted through it; but there seemed to be nothing in it suitable
for an occasion such as ours, and besides, the language used in the
"Letter-Writer" was so very fine and unlike our former efforts that we
were afraid aunt Lindsay would, as Phil vulgarly puts it, "smell a
mice." So that had to be given up, and finally, after many and great
struggles, with the help of the whole family, we would manage to write
something that Miss Marston allowed us to send. On the principle that
brevity is wit, some of these productions of ours are really remarkable.

And now, though it was neither Christmas nor our birthday, here came two
letters from our godmother which would have to be answered. We groaned
as we received them, and the family, even to Kathie, gave us their
sympathy,--Phil suggesting that perhaps "the old lady" had sent us a
whole library this time, which would of course call for a special
expression of gratitude.

Think, then, how we felt when we opened the letters and found that our
godmother wrote to tell us she had made arrangements for Felix to take
painting lessons for one term, and for me, violin lessons for the same
length of time! To say we were astonished doesn't at all express our
state of mind. The questions that occurred to us when we got over the
first shock were, how could aunt Lindsay have known just what would best
please each of us, and why had she remembered us at this time of the
year, which was no particular occasion? And then we thought of her
kindness, and were _so_ ashamed! Fee and I looked at each other, and
though we didn't say it, the same thought came to us both,--that we
would write her the nicest letter of thanks that we could compose, if
it took every sheet of note-paper we owned.

Of course we read aunt Lindsay's letter aloud,--that and talking them
over is the best part of receiving letters,--and of course we all got
very much excited over our unexpected good fortune. Felix said right
away that he would give Nora lessons in drawing two afternoons in
the week,--she really draws very nicely, and is so anxious to get
on,--provided she'd promise not to "put on any airs or frills;"
and I told Fee I'd help him--in the same way--with his violin
playing. Then Phil proposed, and the whole family approved, that
we should on the following evening--which was papa's night at the
Archaeological Society--celebrate the happy event by what we call
"a musical performance."

Though we are very fond of these "performances," we have not had one for
quite a while, because some of us older ones haven't felt up to it; for,
as Fee truly says, "it really requires very good spirits indeed to make
a festive occasion go off successfully." Since that day in papa's study
that Jack has told about, nothing more has been said of Fee's going to
college,--though we all want it just as much as ever, and Jack and I
feel that it _will_ come,--and Felix himself seems to have quite given
up the idea.

He laughs and jokes again in his old merry way, particularly when Phil
is at home; Nora and he have made friends, and Betty and Jack have got
over staring at Fee with big round eyes of sympathy, and dear old Phil
no longer skulks in and out of the house as if he were ashamed of
himself; now he tells us bits of his college experience, and--as of
old--gets Felix to help him with his studies. Things look as if
everybody was satisfied; but, though he never alludes to it, I know
Fee's heart is sore over his disappointment,--you see, he is my own
twin, and, while I love all my brothers and sisters, Felix is more dear
to me than any one else in the whole wide world, and I understand him
better than anybody else does.

Fee is not like the rest of us; in the first place, he is more delicate,
and his lameness makes him very sensitive. Then, too, though we all,
from Phil to Alan, confide in him our troubles and pleasures, he rarely,
if ever, opens his heart to any of us. And when we talk things over
among ourselves, and so in a way help one another along, Fee keeps his
deepest feelings to himself. Very often we children talk of dear mamma,
particularly when we're together in the firelight Sunday afternoons and
evenings,--it's a comfort to us; but Felix simply listens,--he never
speaks of her, though he was mother's boy. But I know, all the same,
that he misses her every day of his life, and that as long as he
lives he'll never forget one tone of her voice, or one word she
has said to him.

Fee used to have a dreadful temper; he'd say such cutting, sarcastic
things! and when mamma would speak to him about it, he'd declare that he
_couldn't_ help it, and that the sharp ugly words _would_ come. But now,
since she's gone, he is so much better, and I'm sure that he's trying to
control himself, because he remembers how grieved she used to be when he
got into a rage. I don't mean to say that he has entirely gotten over
it,--I don't suppose that will ever be; but he doesn't flash out as he
used to, and sometimes when he is very angry, he sets his lips tight
together, and limps out of the room just as fast as ever he can go, to
keep the ugly words from being spoken.

Once in a great while, if I am alone in the schoolroom, he'll come and
throw himself down on the old sofa beside me, and, putting his head in
my lap, lay my hand over his eyes. I know then, as well as if he had
told me, that he is thinking of dear mamma and longing for her; and such
a rush of love comes into my heart for him that I think he must feel it
in my very finger-tips as they touch him.

He was more with mamma at the last than any of us, because he is so
gentle and helpful in a sick-room; but when the end had come, and we
children were standing about the bed, crying bitterly, with our arms
around one another, I missed Felix. From room to room I hunted, and
at last I found him, huddled up in a heap on the floor of the old
store-room at the top of the house. And never shall I forget the
white, utterly wretched face that he turned on me, as I knelt down
by him and put my arms round his neck. He held my shoulders with his
two thin hands so tight that I could feel his finger-nails through my
sleeves. "Oh, Nannie!" he said, in such a hoarse whisper I'd never
have known it for Fee's sweet voice, "if I could only _die_ this
very night!" Then he sank down, and lay there trembling from head
to foot, and sobbing, sobbing!

I pulled a quilt down from one of the shelves and threw it over him;
then I sat on the floor and drew his head into my lap and just
smoothed his forehead and hair for the longest while, without a word,
until he quieted down. I felt, somehow, that he would rather not have
me say anything.

Don't imagine, from what I've said, that Fee is a dismal sort of person,
for indeed he isn't; he's the merriest of us all, and the prime leader
in all the mischief and fun that goes on; and just as soon as it was
settled that we should have a performance, he began to plan what each
person should do, and to arrange the programme. We always have a
programme: it saves confusion and people's feelings getting hurt; for,
of course, then one can only go on in one's turn and for the special
part set down; otherwise, everybody would be on the stage at once, and
there'd be no audience.

The large closet in the schoolroom is our dressing-room on these
occasions, and as we have no way of making a stage, the younger
children, Paul and Maedel and Alan,--Kathie is too big for that
now,--stand on a table near the closet and deliver their parts. Felix
makes up the funniest names for us on the programme, and we answer to
them as readily as if we were in the habit of doing so every day.

We were all very busy that afternoon and evening and the next afternoon
preparing our parts for the performance; but, with all that, Fee and I
got our letters off to our godmother. I felt so truly grateful both for
him and for myself, that I didn't have nearly as much trouble composing
it as I had expected. But all day I was in a perfect fever to get up to
the Conservatory, where aunt Lindsay had entered my name, and to make
arrangements for taking my violin lessons. Miss Marston and I talked
the matter over, and found that when all the little home duties and
my regular studies were finished, there was but one hour that I could
set aside regularly for my new work. For though I should only take two
lessons a week, I should have to have time to practise, or I'd be able
to make no progress at all.

She said I might go up that afternoon; so right after school Nora and I
started out to the Conservatory. I was very nervous, and my violin is
not a very good one; Phil says it's nothing but a fiddle, and that
the old second-hand dealer from whom we bought them--Fee has one,
too,--cheated us. They certainly do squeak dreadfully, at times, when
you least expect it; but then we didn't pay much for them,--you may know
that, when we saved for them out of our allowance!--and, as nurse says,
"If you want a good article, you've got to pay for it;" still, they're a
great deal better than nothing. But to go back to my story: Nora says
that, considering how very nervous I was, and the poor instrument I had,
she thinks I did fairly well. I love violin music! I can't express what
a delight it is to me to play; and the prospect of being able to improve
myself in it made me very happy. The professor that aunt Lindsay wanted
to be my teacher told us his classes were very full, and that the hour I
named for Wednesday and Saturday afternoons was the only time he could
give me; then he said something kind about my playing, that gave me a
little confidence, and sent me home quite radiant.

As I came out of the room which Betty and I share, after putting away my
things, nurse opened the nursery door and beckoned me in: "Miss Nannie,"
she said impressively, "I'm kinder worried 'bout your pa. He's never had
no appetite to brag of; but for a week past he's been eatin' like a
bird. Mornin' after mornin' he ain't touched nothin' but his tea, an'
I'm afraid something's wrong. I don't want to frighten you, my dear, but
I thought by tellin' you, maybe you could find out if anything ails him,
and get him to send for the doctor. I think he looks kinder bad,
and--lors! child, if anything happened to him, what _would_ become o'
you all!"

I got very nervous, until I remembered how easily nurse gets alarmed; if
the children feel the least under the weather, she is apt to imagine
that they are going to be seriously ill. "No," I said, "I haven't
noticed that he looks badly; but thank you, nursie, for telling me. I'll
look closely at him this evening at dinner, and I'll try my best to find
out if he isn't well."

Papa always has his breakfast and lunch in the study, and dines with us.
We older ones think that he does this as a duty, for we are pretty sure
that he doesn't enjoy it; you see, papa does not really care for
children, and there is no grown person now for him to talk to,--except
Miss Marston, and she is not very interesting. Poor papa!

He sits at the head of the table, but Phil does the carving; and though
very often he does not say a dozen words throughout the entire meal, yet
even our daring Betty is subdued into good behaviour by his presence.
There is no reason for it that we know of,--papa has never forbidden our
talking at table,--but somehow, since dear mamma has gone, we have very
little conversation at dinner; though we make up for it at other meals,
I assure you. I sit in mamma's place now, and this evening, as I looked
carefully at papa across the long table, I could see that he did look
thinner: there was a tired expression on his face, too, that troubled
me. As I passed through the hall, about half an hour later, he stood
there in overcoat and hat, putting on his gloves before starting out for
a meeting of the Archaeological Society; and when I asked, "Papa, are you
feeling well? really quite well?" he put on that bored expression that
always makes me feel miles away from him.

"Well? Oh, yes!" then he added, with more animation, "Nannie, I wish
you would get me that pamphlet that is lying on my desk. I nearly
forgot it."

[Illustration: "ALAN MADE HIS BOW."]

He took the pamphlet when I brought it, and began fingering it
aimlessly, giving me a disagreeable feeling of being in the way; and as
I turned and ran up the stairs, he went into the drawing-room. He wasn't
there but a minute or two,--before I reached the second floor I heard
the front door close behind him,--and the next morning, when Nora and I
were dusting the drawing-room, we found the pamphlet on the floor before
mamma's picture. After all, he had forgotten it.

I ran on up to the schoolroom, and there everybody was in a great state
of excitement, preparing for the performance, which was to begin and
end early on account of the younger children. There was no attempt
at costume, but we girls wore a ribbon--they belong to our "stage
property"--tied from shoulder to waist, the boys carried a paper rose in
their button-holes, and Kathie and the twins and Alan were decorated
with huge paper-muslin sashes and fancy caps, so that we all presented
quite a festive and unusual appearance. The chairs were ranged in rows;
the invited guests--Murray Unsworth, and his cousin, Helen Vassah (they
always come to our "festive occasions")--arrived; nurse, and Hannah, our
maid, came in and took their places at the back, cook stealing in a
little later; a bell tinkled; Alan walked out of the closet, was
assisted to the table by Felix,--who was master of ceremonies,--and made
his bow to the audience with one hand on his heart and a trumpet in the
other, and the performance began.

[Illustration: "VIOLIN DUO, RENDERED BY THE WORLD-RENOWNED VIOLINISTS,
MLLE. NANINA AND MONS. FELIX."]

The programme was elaborately printed in two or three colours, on heavy
light-brown paper, and it was tacked up on the schoolroom wall in full
view of all, so that each person would know when his or her turn had
come, and could disappear in the dark closet,--no lights were allowed
there for fear of fire,--to reappear immediately before the audience,
amid a storm of applause. This is the way the programme read:--

    "Yankibus Doodlum," trumpet solo by the Infant Prodigy, Master
    Alano Enrico Rosie.

    "Eight White Sheep," vocal duet, rendered with appropriate
    finger-play by the Celebrated Twin Singers, Fraeulein Maedel and
    Herr Paulus.

    "Little White Lily," charming vocal solo by the Famous Prima
    Donna, Mlle. Kathe.

    "Charge of the Six Hundred," favourite recitation by the
    Distinguished Elocutionist, Prof. Jacqueminot.

    Extraordinary exhibition with Indian clubs by the Remarkable
    Strong Girl, Signorina Bettina, with piano accompaniment by
    Signorina Eleanora Nonie.

    "Serenade," Gounod, violin duo, rendered by the World-Renowned
    Violinists, Mlle. Nanina and Mons. Felix.

    "Le Soupir," piano solo by the Brilliant Pianist, Signorina
    Eleanora Nonie.

    { "Swanee River."
    { "Feniculi."
    { "Good-night, Ladies," college songs, with banjo accompaniment,
    by the Wonderful Tenor Singer and Banjoist, Prof. Philipo.

    Curtain down! Lights out!

Everything went off beautifully, from Alan's opening bow to Phil's
parting obeisance, with two exceptions,--the small boy fell off the
table and scraped his shin, and so had to be comforted, and Kathie got
so excited when she knew her turn was coming that she jumped up from her
chair and raced round and round the schoolroom table, scuffing her feet
on the floor and making her hand squeak on the wooden surface of the
table, thereby interfering with the effect of Fraeulein Maedel and Herr
Paulus's vocal efforts. She was captured, however, and brought to reason
and good behaviour by the threat of having her name crossed off the
programme. With these two trifling exceptions, the performance was most
creditable, the _artistes_ were warmly received and enthusiastically
applauded,--in one or two instances they even applauded themselves.

Hastily manufactured bouquets of newspaper and paper-muslin were
showered upon the stage, and when all was over nurse and cook surprised
us by refreshments of cookies and lemonade, served on the schoolroom
table. How we enjoyed it! Not a cake was left, nor a drop of lemonade.
Nora was shocked, and I was so glad Miss Marston had not accepted our
invitation to be present!

When it was all over, and we were putting away the things, I told
Felix what nurse had said, and asked him if he had noticed that
papa wasn't well.

Fee looked at me with reflective eyes for a moment or two. "Yes," he
said slowly, "come to think of it, the _pater_ _has_ looked rather seedy
lately. And another thing," he added, "he hasn't let me make a single
reference for him this whole week; and yesterday, when I went in
somewhat abruptly, he was sitting at his desk with pages of the Fetich
before him, but not writing or reading, just resting his head on his
hand. I don't think I've ever seen him do that before."

Again that horrid apprehension came over me.

"Oh, Fee," I said nervously, "do you suppose he is ill,--that anything
is going to happen to him? _Do_ tell me frankly what you think!"

Felix bent over the stage property he was doing up, as he answered:
"I've thought for some time past that he misses--mother--more than
ever." Then he walked off with his bundle.

How utterly ashamed I felt! Nurse had noticed how badly he looked; Felix
had, too,--and perhaps he had guessed the trouble truly; Phil, even,
might have seen it, and I, papa's eldest daughter, who had promised
mamma to take care of him, had been too selfishly absorbed in my own
affairs to even think of him! It was no comfort to tell myself that papa
was hard to get at; I felt I had neglected him.

"Don't worry, twinnie," Felix said, kindly, coming back to me. "You know
care once killed a feline, in spite of his nine lives; so don't you go
in for that sort of thing, or you'll get the worst of it. Go to bed
now, and have a good sleep; by daylight things will look very much
brighter; and at any rate you have your violin lessons ahead of you,
and the performance behind you,--two good things. Good-night."




IV.

AND A FETICH.

TOLD BY NANNIE.


BUT my first thought in the morning was of papa, and I wondered what I
ought to do for him; how I longed for dear mamma! If even Max were
home!--for he was a great favourite with papa, and might be able to
persuade him to see Dr. Archard. Though papa is so quiet and gentle, he
is really a very difficult person to get to do things that he doesn't
want to; and he never wants to have a physician for himself. I was
feeling very blue, when something Betty said reminded me of my violin
lessons, and then the very thought made me more cheerful.

Betty and I room together, and Nora and Kathie have the next
apartment; and what did Nora and Betty do but put their heads together
while we were dressing to think of a place in the house where I might
go to practise every afternoon without disturbing papa. One or the
other of the girls practises every afternoon, and the combination of
violin squeaks and piano exercises would, we knew, disturb papa very
much. Miss Marston, we were sure, would not permit them to neglect
their music,--Nora is a fine musician, and Betty would be if she'd
only put the same interest into that that she does into some other
things, such as Indian clubs, and sliding down banisters, and playing
practical jokes,--and we couldn't plan where my violin hour could best
come in, when Nora thought of the old store-room at the top of the
house. That was a good idea, because, by closing the door and hanging
a thick quilt over it, not much of my scraping would escape to mingle
with the piano scale-running, and so annoy papa. The girls' arranging
for me in this way quite cheered me up,--the question of practising
having troubled me a good deal, for I knew a noise of that kind would
seriously interfere with papa's writing, and delay still longer the
completion of the Fetich.

Years and years ago, before Phil was born,--indeed, before mamma and
papa were ever married,--papa began to write a book, and it is not yet
finished, though there are pages and pages of it. Of course it is _very_
deep and _very_ clever, for papa is a great scholar. Max Derwent says
that if papa would only finish the book he thinks he knows of a
publisher who would accept it at once; and that would be a great help
to us, for papa has lost a lot of money this year, and we have to be
_very_ economical. That is the reason Fee can't go to college as well as
Phil; papa explained this to the boys that day in the study, after Jack
had been put out. Dear Jack! he is such a gentle, old-fashioned little
fellow, it really seems as if he ought to have been the girl, and Betty
the boy.

But, for all that Max said, papa can't seem to get to the end of his
work; he writes and re-writes, and keeps making changes all the time.
Sometimes I have wondered if he has worked over it so long that he hates
to part with it. The title of this great piece of work is "The History
of Some Ancient Peoples," or something very like that,--it's about
the Egyptians and Phoenicians and Chaldeans; but among ourselves we
children call it the Fetich. Long ago Fee gave it that name, because he
says it rules the house, and everything and everybody has to give way to
it; and he isn't very far wrong, I'm sorry to say. Ever since we older
ones can remember, the Fetich has engrossed papa's entire attention, and
kept him so occupied that he has had no time for anything else,--not
even for his children. In our own home we have to go quietly and soberly
about as if in a stranger's house,--to creep softly through the halls
and steal up the back stairs, and to subdue our voices when the natural
childish impulse is to run gaily and speak out merrily. It has kept our
father apart from us and made him almost a stranger to his children;
and, as we look back, some of us grudge the hours of dear mamma's time
that were spent each day in the study,--away from us,--reading and
copying off the Fetich, and helping and encouraging papa.

Dear, blessed mother! what a brave, loving spirit hers was! Even to the
last, when she was almost too weak to speak, she would have papa carry
her to the study, and, lying there in the invalid-chair, she'd smile at
him as he kept looking up at her from his writing. The very last talk we
had together,--after she had been taken back to her room,--when we had
spoken about the children and she had told me different little points
about their dispositions, and some ways in which I might be able to help
them after she had gone, she said very earnestly, "And always be very
good to your father, Nannie; he will be in sore need of comfort, for he
will miss me more than any one else."

"Oh, mamma, mamma!" I cried, choking, "no one _could_ miss you more than
we shall!"

Mamma stroked my hand softly as it lay on the bed beside her. "Dear,"
she said presently, "I know my boys and girls will _never_ forget me,
not even the very youngest, for they will hear of me from you older
ones. Oh, if it had been my Father's will, how gladly would I have
remained with you all! But you are all young; life and hope are strong
within you, and you love one another. He--your father--is so different;
he will grieve--alone--and grow farther and farther from human love and
sympathy. Nannie, dear little daughter, remember how very, _very_ happy
he has made me all these years, and oh, be good to him, and very patient
and loving when I am gone!"

Her very last look was given to papa; her last word was "Jack!"

[Illustration: "I GAVE A VERY FAINT KNOCK."]

For a good while I did try to do things for him, and to let him see that
I loved him; but I had a feeling all the time--as in the hall that
night--that he didn't want me near him, and would rather not have me in
the study: so gradually I gave up going there, except for a few minutes
each morning to ask if he needed anything. But this morning dear mamma's
words came back to me, and I felt very guilty as I ran up to the study
after breakfast; I had tried faithfully to look after the brothers and
sisters, but I had neglected papa; and I am afraid, in the lowness of my
spirits, that I gave a very faint knock on the door. After waiting a
minute or two, I opened the door, as no answer came, and stepped into
the study.

Papa's breakfast, which had been sent up more than half an hour before,
lay cold and untasted on his desk, and papa himself knelt on the
hearth; there was no fire, and in the empty grate, laid criss-cross,
were pages and pages of closely written manuscript. On the chair beside
him, and on the floor, were more pages of manuscript in bundles. In my
father's hand was a match, which he had just drawn and was about to
apply to the papers.

My heart gave a tremendous throb that seemed to send it right into my
throat, and I sprang forward, crying out, "Oh, papa! _papa!_ surely you
are not going to _burn_ the _Fetich_!"

The match fell from papa's fingers, and he looked up at me with an
expression that was half bewilderment, half relief. "Eh! burn _what_?"
he said.

"I--I--mean--were you going to burn--your book?" I remembered in time
that he did not know we called it the Fetich. "Oh, papa," I pleaded,
"_why_ are you doing this? Your wonderful book, that mamma was so
proud of!"

Papa got up and sat in his chair, and the sadness of his face made me
think of Fee's that awful night; the tears came rushing to my eyes,
and I knelt down and took his hand in my two and held it fast. He
let me keep it, and peered earnestly at me for a few minutes in his
near-sighted way. "It might as well be destroyed; I shall never finish
it--_now_" he said presently, in a low voice, as if he were speaking to
himself, and looking beyond me at the Fetich in the grate. "She is no
longer here to praise and encourage--my lifelong work,--a failure!"

Then, all at once, a daring idea came to me; and, without giving my
courage time to cool, I said quickly: "Papa! dear, dear papa,"--how my
voice shook!--"_please_ let me help you with your work of an afternoon,
something as mamma used to do!" I thought I saw a refusal in his face,
and went on hastily: "I know quite a good deal of Latin and Greek, and I
write a plain hand; I could copy for you, anyway, and I would be _very_
careful. Will you? Ah, _please_! I know she would like me to do it. And
perhaps"--the words faltered--"perhaps she can see and hear us now; and
if she can, I _know_ she will be glad to have me do this for you."

Papa gave an eager, startled glance around the room; then he drooped his
head, and covered his face with the hand I wasn't holding, and for
several minutes we didn't speak. Presently he said slowly,--and the
unsteadiness of his voice told me more than his words did,--"I suppose I
could let you try; for I do need--some one. You might be useful to me,
my dear, if you could come regularly to help me--every day; on that
condition I will accept your offer, and thank you for it--"

"I can--I will; _indeed_ I will!" I broke in.

A look of relief came over papa's face, a faint little smile stirred his
lips, and he gently patted my shoulder. "You are like your mother," he
said; and turning up my chin he kissed me,--a light little kiss that
just brushed my face, but I knew what it meant from him.

Then, as he stooped over and began to gather up the Fetich, he added, in
his usual voice: "These are some chapters that I've written lately, and
become somewhat discouraged over. Help me put them back in their place
on my desk, Nannie; and be careful to keep every page in its regular
order." I did so, and listened attentively while he explained, with
great care and insistence, what I should have to do, and how much time
he would require me to spend in the study.

It was not until I had left him, and was on my way to the schoolroom,
that I remembered that the hours I had promised papa were those I had
set aside for my violin lessons and practice. And then--I am sorry and
ashamed, but I _couldn't_ help it--I ran swiftly away and hid in a
corner by myself, and cried bitterly. It wasn't that I wished I hadn't
made papa that offer, for I would have done it over again, even while I
felt so badly; but, oh, how hard it was to give up my dear music! And I
really didn't know what to do about my teacher and aunt Lindsay.

[Illustration: "'I CAN--I WILL; _INDEED_ I WILL!'"]

But it all came right after a while; dear old Felix came to the rescue,
as he generally does, and offered to go to the conservatory and take
the lessons for me, and then give them to me in the evenings in the
old store-room,--that is, if aunt Lindsay didn't object. Of course I
was thankful; for while Fee does not love violin music as I do, he is
very thorough, and would, I know, do his best for me. So I wrote and
explained to aunt Lindsay, and she did not object in the least; in fact,
her letter was the nicest she has written us yet. And this is the way
that things stand at present: Papa is still writing the Fetich, and I
am helping him; evenings, Fee and I have great times in the store-room,
with the door closed and heavily muffled, giving and receiving music
lessons, and practising with our squeaky violins,--we really do have
lots of fun!

And now to-day comes the good news from Max that he will soon be home;
he writes that he has a "surprise" for us, and of course we are all
very curious. Dear old fellow! It will be such a comfort to have him
among us again!




V.

A FRACAS AND AN ARRIVAL.

TOLD BY BETTY.


Of all people in the world, _Jack_ has been in a fight! Phil brought him
in, and such a sight as he was! his nose bleeding, his coat torn, and a
lump on his forehead as big as a hen's egg! "Why," said Phil, "I
couldn't believe my eyes at first; but true it was, all the same,--there
was our gentle 'rosebud' pommelling away at a fellow nearly twice his
size! And what's more, when I pulled him off, and separated them, if my
young man didn't fly at the other fellow again like a little cock
sparrow! I could hardly get him home."

"Yes, and I'd do it again!" cried Jack, ferociously, mopping his wounded
nose with his handkerchief, while Nannie rushed to get water and
court-plaster.

"What'd he do?" asked Phil and Fee and I, all together. We knew it must
have been something very dreadful to rouse Jack to such a pitch; for,
as nurse says, he is one of the "most peaceablest children that ever
lived." But he wouldn't tell. "Never you mind," was all he'd say.

By this time Nannie had brought a basin of water and the other things,
and when Fee waved his arm and called out tragically, "Gather round,
gather round, fellow-citizens, and witness the dressing of this bleeding
hero's wounds," we crowded so near that Nannie declared we made her
nervous. Jack did look so funny, with a big bath-towel pinned round his
shoulders, and the basin right up under his chin, so the water shouldn't
get over his clothes! And of course, as we looked on, everybody had
something to say. "Tell you what, Jack," said Phil, "you could paint
the town red now, and no mistake, just from your nose; _what_ an
opportunity lost!"

"And I shouldn't wonder if the bridge of that classic member were
broken. Oh the pity of it!" put in Fee, in mock sympathy.

"You'll be a sight to-morrow,--all black and blue," remarked Nora,
eyeing him critically. "I thought you were too much of a gentleman to
fight on the street, Jack,--just like a common rowdy!"

"I'm glad you didn't get beaten," I said; "but my! won't Miss Marston
give it to you to-morrow!" She was out this afternoon.

"Your nose is all swelling up!" announced Judge, solemnly, and Kathie
murmured sympathetically, "_Poor_ Jack!"

[Illustration: "'GATHER ROUND, GATHER ROUND, FELLOW-CITIZENS, AND
WITNESS THE DRESSING OF THIS BLEEDING HERO'S WOUNDS.'"]

Even Nannie--and she isn't one bit a nagger--said, "Oh, Jackie, I'm _so_
ashamed of you! Mamma wouldn't want her gentle boy to become a fighter."

"Yes, she _would_ so, if she knew what this fellow did," asserted Jack,
as positively as he could with the water pouring down over his mouth.

"_What_ did he do?" we all shouted. "Tell us, what _did_ he do, Jack?"

But Jack got furious. "None of your business!" he roared; and twisting
himself away from us, he dashed out of the room, Nannie following after
him, basin in hand, imploring him to let her finish dressing his nose.

We really didn't mean to make him angry,--it's just a way we have of
speaking out our minds to one another; but Nannie felt very sorry,--she
said we had teased Jack. I felt sorry, too, when he told me all about
it,--Jack generally does tell me things,--after making me promise "truly
and faithfully" that I would not say "one word about it to any single
person we know." Many a time since I've wished that I hadn't
promised,--it isn't fair to Jack himself; but he won't let me off.
Jack is really a _very_ odd boy.

Well, it seems that as Felix passed along the street where Jack and some
of his friends were playing, one of the boys caught up a piece of straw,
and twisting it across his nose like a pair of spectacles, limped after
Fee, mimicking his walk, and singing, "H'm-ha! hipperty hop!" Jack
clinched his hands tight while he was telling me. "Betty," he said, "I
got such a queer feeling inside; I just _swelled_ up, and if he'd been
_three_ times as big, I'd have tackled him. I waited for Fee to turn the
corner,--you see I didn't want him to know what Henderson was doing
behind his back,--and _then_ didn't I just _go_ for him! I _tell_ you,
I whacked him!"

My blood fairly boiled to think that anybody could have been so
contemptibly mean as to mock our dear old Fee,--as if he didn't feel
badly enough about being near-sighted and lame! I would like to have
gone right out and thrashed Henderson all over again; but, as Jack very
truly said, "that would only make a grand row, and then the whole
thing'd be sure to get to Fee's ears, and that's what we don't want." So
I had to cool down. This was the reason Jack wouldn't tell the others
what the trouble was--and there Felix himself had been teasing him! Nor
has he said one word to anybody but me about it, though he has been
blamed and punished for fighting on the street, when, if he had only
told, or let me tell for him, the true reason for his acting so, I'm
sure everybody would have changed their mind at once; but he will not.
This was very nice of Jack,--he has some ways that really make me very
fond of him; but he is also a very queer and provoking boy sometimes,
as you will hear.

The worst was to get through dinner that evening without papa's
noticing. Of course Miss Marston would be sure to tell him as soon as
she knew, and of course Jack would be punished; but he did want to put
off the evil hour as long as possible. His seat at table is quite near
to papa, but I come between, and I promised I'd lean as far forward as I
could, all through the meal, so as to shield him. We got downstairs and
settled in our places safely; but Jack was as nervous as a cat. I really
think he wouldn't have minded taking his dinner _under_ the table for
that one occasion; and no wonder, for everybody, even to Hannah, kept
looking at him, and Phil and Felix kept passing him all sorts of things,
with such unusual politeness as was enough to fluster anybody. Still,
everything went well until we came to dessert; it was cottage
pudding,--Jack's favourite,--and I suppose he got reckless, or forgot,
in his enjoyment of it, and leaned a little too far forward, for
presently papa said, very quietly, "Betty, sit properly in your chair."
Of course I had to obey, and that brought poor Jack into full view.

A broad strip of white court-plaster across one's nose, and a big
bruised lump on one's forehead _are_ rather conspicuous things, and, I
tell you, papa did stare! but he didn't say a word. Neither did Jack
speak, though he knew papa was looking at him; he just kept right on
eating very fast. He said afterward he'd have eaten the whole pudding,
had it been before him, for he was so nervous he didn't really know what
he was doing; but he got redder and redder in the face, and presently he
choked,--a regular snort! I immediately flew up and pounded him on the
back; but papa made me sit down again, and as soon as Jack had stopped
coughing violently, he said, "Leave the table, sir, and come to my study
to-morrow morning at nine o'clock."

I think, had we dared, we could all have roared with laughter as Jack
got up and walked out of the room; not because we didn't feel sorry for
him, for we did,--I especially, knowing how it was he got into this
scrape,--but he did look _so_ funny! I don't know why it is, but Jack is
a person that makes one laugh without his intending in the least to be
funny; it's the way he does things.

I can't begin to tell you how I urged Jack to tell papa why it was he
had gotten into that fight. I scolded, and coaxed, and talked, _and_
talked, but I _couldn't_ get him to say he would, nor to let me tell; in
his way, I do believe he is as obstinate as Kathie. Even the next
morning, when he stood at the study door, ready to knock, though his
hands were as cold as ice, and he looked awfully scared, all he'd say to
my repeated, "_Do_ speak out like a man, and tell it, Jack," was,
"_Perhaps_." I would like to have gone right in and told papa the whole
matter myself, but you see I had promised; and besides, we are none of
us very fond of going into the study,--though Nannie is in there pretty
often lately,--I'm sure I can't say why it is, for papa never scolds us
violently: whatever he says is very quietly spoken, but I tell you every
word goes home!

The schoolroom bell rang while I was talking to Jack; so of course I had
to go, and it was fully half an hour before he walked in and took his
place. His face was very red, even his ears, and he didn't look happy;
but it wasn't until after school that I had a chance to ask him
anything, and he wasn't very amiable then. He had a book,--some story of
wild adventure and hair-breadth escape, and he hated to be interrupted.
For all that Jack is such a quiet, gentle sort of a boy, he likes to
read the most exciting books, about fighting and shipwrecks and
savages,--though I'm _sure_ if an Indian should walk into the room, he'd
fly into the remotest corner of the closet and hide,--and the hymns he
loves the best are the ones that bring in about war and soldiers. You
should hear him sing, "The Son of God goes forth to war," in church! he
positively shouts. So when I said, "Well, Jack, how'd you get along this
morning?" he went right on turning over the leaves to find his place,
and answered shortly:--

"Oh, no play out-of-doors for a week, and a double dose of that vile
Latin, and a sound rating for getting into a row on the street,--that's
all."

"But didn't you tell him--" I began indignantly, but Jack interrupted.

"He didn't ask why I did it, and I didn't tell him," he said.

"What a _silly_ you are!" I cried, I was _so_ mad! "That Henderson ought
to be told about and punished--now!"

"Henderson is a beast!" Jack said severely; then, having come to his
place in the story, he added: "Now please go away, and don't bother me,
Betty; I want to read." He settled himself on the schoolroom sofa in his
favourite position, with his back against the arm of the sofa, and his
legs straight out along the seat, and began to read. I knew he'd get
cranky if I said any more, so I went away.

But for all that he called Henderson names, what did Jack do but go
and make _friends_ with him just a day or two after he was allowed
to go out!

I was so provoked when I heard of it, that I fairly stormed at Jack; he
took it all in the meekest way, and when I finished up,--with a fine
attempt at sarcasm,--"If _I'd_ been you, I would have snubbed such a
mean boy for at least a _week_ longer," he grinned and said, "If you'd
been I, you'd have done just as I did." Then he added, in that
old-fashioned, confidential way he has, "I couldn't help it, Betty; you
see the boys wouldn't have a thing to do with him, or let him join in
any of the games, until I had forgiven him, and I just _couldn't_ stand
seeing him hanging around and being snubbed."

"Oh, yes, you're very considerate for him; but _he_ will make fun
of _your_ brother again to-morrow, if he feels like it," I said,
still angry.

"No, he _won't_" asserted Jack, positively; "'cause I told him--not
disagreeably, you know, but so he'd feel I was in earnest--that if he
ever did, I'd just have to thrash him again. And he said, 'A-a-h, what
d'you take me for? D'you s'pose I knew 'twas _your_ brother?' And that's
a good deal from Henderson, for he's an awfully rough boy. You know,
Betty, you've _got_ to make allowances for people, or you'd never get
along with 'em. And, besides, he looks worse than I do," went on Jack,
feeling of his nose and forehead. "I really felt ashamed to think I'd
hit him so hard, and,"--shuffling his feet, and looking very
sheepish,--"well, you know, the Golden Rule is my motto for this year,
and, as I thought to myself, what's the use of a motto, if you don't act
up to it? So I just made friends with Henderson. I knew you'd say I was
silly to do it, but I don't care,--I feel better; I do hate to be mad
with people!" And with that he walked off, before I could think of
anything to say.

A lot of things happened that week. To begin with, some new people moved
into the house opposite us, that has been empty for so long. It's a
small house,--nurse says it used to be a stable, and was turned into a
dwelling-house since she has lived here,--set quite a good way back from
the street, and with a low stoop to one side and a piazza off that. A
tall iron railing, with an ornamental gate, encloses a front yard in
which are some forlorn-looking shrubs, a rosebush or two, and a couple
of scraggy altheas. Workmen had been about the place for some time,
putting everything in order, and of course we took the liveliest
interest in all that went on, from the pruning of the shrubs to the
carrying in of the furniture; and the day the new people moved in, Miss
Marston could hardly keep us younger ones from the windows: indeed, for
that matter, Nora was just as curious as we were, for all she talks
about "vulgar curiosity." They came in a carriage, and there were three
of them,--a tall, black-bearded man, a little, fragile-looking lady, and
a tall, lanky boy, perhaps as old as Felix, with a rather nice face, who
shouldered a satchel and the travelling-rugs, and brought up the rear of
the procession to the house, with the end of a shawl trailing on the
ground behind him.

Jack heard from Henderson--who has become his shadow--that the gentleman
has something to do with a newspaper, and that the boy goes to college,
and Phil saw him there the other day; but it wasn't until the following
Sunday, nearly a week after, that we heard their name and who they
were,--and that came by way of a grand surprise.

We were sitting round the schoolroom fire, talking and singing hymns,
when the door opened, and who should come walking in but--Max Derwent!
We _were_ surprised; for though he'd written to say he was coming, we
didn't expect it would be so soon. Dear old Max! we were delighted to
see him, and I do believe he was just as glad to see us. But just at
first we couldn't any of us say very much; dear mamma was with us when
Max was here last!

After a while, though, that feeling wore away, and I tell you our
tongues did fly! Max measured us all by the closet door, where he took
our measurements before he went away, and he says we have grown
wonderfully,--particularly Nannie. He was so surprised when he first saw
her, that he just held her hands and looked at her, until Nannie said,
"Why, Max, you haven't kissed me; aren't you glad to see me?" I think
she felt a little hurt, for he'd kissed the rest of us,--even to Phil
and Felix,--and Nannie and he used to be such good friends.

"Why, Nancy Lee," Max said, "you have grown such a tall young lady
since I've been away, that I didn't know whether you'd still allow
me the dear old privilege; indeed I will kiss you;" and with that
he stooped,--Max is tall,--and kissed her on her forehead, just
where the parting of her hair begins.

But Max couldn't get over her being so grown, for he kept on gazing
and gazing at Nannie, and she did look sweet, sitting there in the
firelight. Nora is very pretty,--her features are so regular; but Nannie
has a _dear_ face: her brown eyes are big and shining, and her hair is
so thick and pretty; it's light brown, and little locks of it get loose
and curl up round her forehead and ears, and when she talks and laughs I
think she's every bit as pretty as Nora. Somehow there's a look about
Nannie's face that makes you know you can trust her through and through;
I tell you I'm awfully glad she's in the family; in fact, I don't know
what we'd any of us do without her, from papa to Alan.

Well, we told Max every single thing that had happened--good, bad, and
indifferent--since he went away, including, of course, about Phil's
going to college, and Fee's not going, and about aunt Lindsay's present
to Fee and Nannie,--all talking together, and as loud as we pleased (we
always do with Max) until we came to the new people that had moved in
across the way--and what do you suppose? Max knows them!

"They are the Ervengs," he said, "and the boy's name is
Hilliard,--Hilliard Erveng. The father is a partner in a large Boston
publishing house that has just opened an agency here, and I shouldn't
wonder if Erveng were in charge of the agency by his taking a house in
New York. That's the firm I thought would buy your father's book, if
he'd only finish it; but from what he told me this afternoon, it's
still a long way from completion." He glanced at Nannie as he spoke,
and she nodded her head sadly. "I used to know Erveng; he was a
classmate of mine," went on Max, thoughtfully, wrinkling up his
eyebrows at the fire. "I wonder how it would do to rake up the
acquaintance again, and bring him over unexpectedly to call on the
professor,"--papa's friends all call him Professor Rose,--"and
surprise him into showing Erveng the manuscript!"

[Illustration: "'THE BOY'S NAME IS HILLIARD ERVENG.'"]

"Oh, Max, that would never, never do," cried Nannie, quickly. "You know
how averse papa is to showing his work to any one; he couldn't do it,
I'm sure, and it might make him very angry."

"And yet, if he _did_ show it, think what a benefit to you all it might
be; for I am convinced the work is one that would be an acquisition to
the reading public; and Erveng would recognise that at once. Think of
what it means for all of you, Nancy Lee," urged Max,--"college for
Felix, drawing lessons for Nora, a fine violin for you, gymnasium for
Betty, a splendid military school for Jack,"--here Jack broke in rudely
with, "_Don't_ want any military school, this one's bad enough," and
was silenced by Phil's hand being laid suddenly and firmly over his
mouth,--"and all sorts of good things for everybody, if only Erveng
sees the manuscript of the Fetich" (Max knows what we call it).

Nannie still looked dubious, but Nora exclaimed: "I say, do it, Max! It
does seem a shame to have us suffering for things, and that manuscript
just lying down there; and perhaps then papa would stir himself a little
and finish it. I declare I would like to take some of the pages over and
show them to Mr. Erveng myself!"

We all knew that she wouldn't; but as she said the words, an idea
popped into my head, such a splendid idea--at least I thought it was
then--that I nearly giggled outright with delight, and I had positively
to hold myself in to keep from telling it. Happening to look up
suddenly at Phil, I caught him with a broad grin on _his_ face, and
winking violently at Felix, who winked back. That did not surprise
me,--those two are always signalling to each other in that way; but
when they both straightened their faces the instant I saw them, and
assumed a very innocent expression, then I began to suspect that they
were up to some mischief: little did I dream what it was, though! Phil
is a _fearful_ practical joker; you never know where he's going to
break out. I'm pretty bad, but he is ever so much worse; and Felix
helps him every time.

"What sort of a man _is_ Mr. Erveng?" asked Felix, with an appearance of
great interest.

Max laughed. "Well, he used to be considered rather eccentric," he said.
"I remember the fellows at college nick-named him 'Old-Woman Erveng,'
because--so they said--he had a large picture in his room of a fat old
woman in a poke bonnet; and at the social gatherings to which he could
be induced to go, he always devoted himself to the oldest and fattest
ladies in the room, without noticing the young and pretty girls. _I_
thought he was rather a nice sort of fellow; what's the matter, Betty,
want any assistance?"

What Max said fitted in so well with the plan I had in my mind
that--though I tried to keep it back--I had chuckled, and now they were
all looking at me.

"When Elizabeth 'chortles' in that fashion you may be sure there's
mischief in her mind," Felix remarked, eyeing me severely. "Out with
it, miss."

"Or I'll have to garote you," put in Phil, leaning over toward me with
extended thumb and finger; but I skipped away and got beside Max.

"Indeed, it's you and Felix that are up to something," I retorted. "I
can see it in your faces."

"Oh, tell us what your 'surprise' is, Max," put in Nannie, quickly. I
think she wanted to turn the conversation, and so keep us from
wrangling, this very first evening that Max was with us.

"Why, I've brought back a ward," answered Max. "His name is Chadwick
Whitcombe. He went to-day from the steamer to stay a week or two with
an old friend of his father's; then I shall bring him to see you, and
I'm going to ask you _all_"--here Max looked at each one of us--"to be
nice and friendly to him, for poor Chad is singularly alone: he has not
a relative in the world. Though he will come into a good deal of money
by and by, the poor fellow has knocked about from place to place with
his former guardian, who has just died, and he has had no home training
at all. May I count on your being kind to him?"

Of course we all said yes,--couldn't help ourselves,--but I heard Fee
sing, under his breath, so it shouldn't reach Max's ears:--

    "Here comes Shad,
     Looking very sad;
     We'll hit him with a pad,
     And make him glad!"

and when I laughed, Phil scowled at me, and muttered something about
"giving him to Betty to lick into shape." I couldn't say anything, for I
was right close to Max; but I made one of my worst faces at Phil. Soon
after this, Max went down to the study to spend the rest of the evening
with papa.




VI.

DISPOSING OF A FETICH.

TOLD BY BETTY.


I might as well tell you that my plan was to dress up, some afternoon
that week, in one of nurse's gowns, and her bonnet and veil,--if I could
possibly induce her to lend them all to me without having to tell why I
wanted them,--and to go and call on Mr. Erveng in regard to the Fetich.
What I should say when I met him didn't trouble me; you see there was
really only to tell him about the book, so he might make papa an offer
for it; but what _did_ weigh upon me was how to get dressed up and out
of the house without being caught: there are such a lot of us that
somebody or other's sure to be hanging around all the time. For several
days I couldn't get a chance: Monday it rained; Tuesday afternoon Phil
took Paul to the dentist, and nurse went along,--Judge is one of her
pets; Wednesday afternoon Jack and a whole lot of boys played close to
the house, and of course I couldn't walk right out before them,--it
would have been just like Jack to run up and say something, perhaps
offer to assist my tottering steps down the stoop. But at last, on
Thursday, the coast seemed clear: Nannie was in the study with papa,
Nora was practising, Jack was on the schoolroom sofa reading, the
children in the nursery, and Phil and Felix up in Fee's room; I could
hear a murmur of voices from there, and every now and then a burst of
laughter. This was my opportunity.

The door of nurse's room, which was next to the nursery, was open, and
as I stole in, hoping she was there, that I might ask her, I saw her
wardrobe door open, and hanging within easy reach a dress and shawl that
would just serve my purpose. But her bonnet and veil were not in their
usual place, which rather surprised me, for nurse is very particular
with us about those things, and I had to hunt before I found even her
oldest ones, in deadly fear all the time that I'd be caught in the act.
You see, I made up my mind I'd borrow the things, and then tell her
about it when I brought them back.

Flying into my room, I locked the door, and just "jumped" into those
clothes, as the boys would say; and I did look so funny when I was
dressed, that I had to laugh. In the first place, Max had said Mr.
Erveng liked fat old women; so I stuffed myself out to fill nurse's
capacious gown to the best of my ability, with pillows and anything else
I could lay my hands on; I think I must have measured yards and yards
round when I was all finished. Then I pinned my braid on the top of my
head, put on nurse's bonnet, and dividing the veil so that one part hung
down my back and the other part over my face, I was ready to start. I
had slipped on a pair of old black woollen gloves that I found in the
pocket of my new skirt, and, stealing cautiously down the stairs, I got
out of the house without meeting any one.

But I can't tell you how queer I felt in the street,--it seemed as if
everybody looked at me, and as if they must suspect what I was up to. I
forgot all about walking slowly, like an old woman, and fairly flew up
the flagged path to the Ervengs' stoop; and the ring I gave to the bell
brought a small boy in buttons very quickly to the door. "I wish to see
Mr. Erveng on business," I said, disguising my voice as well as I could.
Then, as he murmured something about "card,"--I had entirely forgotten
that,--I pushed my way past him, saying, "It is something _very_
important, that I _know_ your master will be glad to hear."

This seemed to satisfy him, and he ushered me into a room which looked
to be half drawing-room, half study: there were in it a sofa, some fancy
chairs, a set of well-filled Eastlake book-shelves, and a desk almost as
big as papa's. Portieres hung at the end of the room. I took a seat
near one of the long windows opening on the balcony, and began to
arrange in my mind what I would say to Mr. Erveng, when suddenly,
glancing toward the gate, I saw some one open it and come slowly up the
walk,--a stout, elderly female, dressed in a black gown, a black shawl,
and a bonnet and veil, _precisely_ like the ones I had on! Her veil was
drawn closely over her face, she wore black woollen gloves, and held in
one hand a black reticule--which I would have declared was nurse's--and
in the other a clumsily folded umbrella. As I sat and stared at the
advancing figure, I wondered if I were dreaming, and actually gave
myself a pinch to assure myself I was awake. But who _could_ she
be,--this double of mine? I wouldn't like to tell Jack or any of the
others, you know, but I would really not have been sorry to have been
at home just then.

At this moment the old lady entered the room. Buttons closed the door,
and we were left alone facing each other,--for I had got up when she
came in,--and I must say the unknown seemed as much surprised as I was.
Then all at once she began to walk round and round me; and as I didn't
want her to get behind me, I kept turning too,--just as if I'd been on
a pivot; I believe I was fascinated by those big eyes glaring at me
through the thick black veil.

"Betty! 'by all that's abominable!'" suddenly exclaimed my double; and
_then_ I knew who it was.

"_Phil!_ you _mean_ thing!" I cried, intensely relieved; and darting
forward I caught hold of his bonnet and veil.

"Hands off!" he called out, wriggling away; "an ye love me, spare me
'bunnit.'" Then, as he got to a safe distance, and threw back his veil:
"Look here, old lady, if you lay violent hands on me again, I'll yell
for help, and bring the house about your ears. _Then_ you'll rue it."

This provoked me. "You're the one will rue it," I said. "You've just
spoilt the whole thing by spying on me and following me here--"

"Well, I like that!" Phil interrupted. "It seems to me the shoe's on the
other foot. What are _you_ doing here, in that outrageous costume, and
in a stranger's house? Whew! wouldn't there be a small circus if the
_pater_ should see you! I'd feel sorry for you, I tell you. And what
excuse do you propose to offer Mr. Erveng when he makes his appearance
here, as he will in a few minutes?" Sidling up to me, he nudged my
elbow, and added persuasively: "'There _is_ a time for _dis_-appearing.'
Say, Betty, my infant, one of us has _got_ to go, so I'd advise you to
fly at once. Buttons is out of the way, and in an excess of brotherly
affection I'll escort you to the door myself. Come--fly!" And he nudged
me again.

"No," I said obstinately, "I won't go; I was here first. I'm here, and
here I'll remain."

"Oh, very well," said Phil, in a resigned sort of tone, seating himself
in a most unladylike attitude on a three-cornered chair. "Then come sit
on the edge of my chair, you little fairy, and we'll pose for the
Siamese twins."

[Illustration: "'COME SIT ON THE EDGE OF MY CHAIR, YOU LITTLE FAIRY.'"]

But I was so disappointed I was afraid I'd cry. I had hoped _so_ much
from this interview with Mr. Erveng, and here was Phil spoiling
everything by his silliness. "I think you are simply _horrid_," I
broke out, very crossly. "I just wish Mr. Erveng would come in and
beat you, or turn you out, or _something_."

"If the old man shows fight, I'll have his blood," cried Phil,
tragically, springing from his chair. "Gore, _gore_! I _will_ have
gore!" He did look _very_ funny, striding up and down the room and
scraping his toes along the floor in our most approved "high tragedy"
style, with nurse's shawl hanging over one shoulder, his bonnet crooked
and almost off his head, and shaking the umbrella, held tight in a
black-woollen-gloved fist, at an imaginary foe.

Angry as I was, I _had_ to laugh, and I don't know what next he mightn't
have done--for Phil never knows when to stop--had we not just then
caught the sound of a distant footstep. Phil didn't seem to mind, but I
got so nervous that I didn't know what to do. "Oh, _won't_ you go?" I
cried in despair. "He'll think we are crazy! Oh, where _am_ I to go?"

"Goodness only knows!" answered Phil, trying to straighten his bonnet;
then, glancing around the room, "There isn't a piece of furniture here
large enough to hide your corpulent form," he said. "There he comes!
_Now_, I hope you're satisfied; you _wouldn't_ go when you could."

Sure enough, the footsteps were almost at the door. I looked frantically
about. I would gladly have escaped through the window, and climbed over
the balcony to the ground; but to put aside the delicate lace curtains
and unlatch the sash would have taken more time than we had to spare.
Suddenly Phil cried, "The _portieres_, you dunce!" giving me a push in
that direction, and like a flash I got behind them. I heard Phil say
"Bother!" under his breath, as he stumbled over a footstool in his haste
to get seated, then the door opened, and some one entered the room.

Provoked as I was with Phil, I couldn't help hoping that his bonnet was
straight, and that he had on his shawl, for his figure wasn't as good as
mine. I heard a strange voice--Mr. Erveng's--say: "I'm sorry to have
kept you waiting so long, but I am extremely busy. Will you be kind
enough to state your business as briefly as possible?"

Then Phil began, imitating an old lady's voice to a nicety: "Having
heard that you publish a great many books, I thought you would like to
know of a very clever--really _re_markable--work which is being written
by a well-known scholar who lives in this street, and that perhaps you
would call on him and make him an offer for it." I knew the moment I
heard this speech that Felix had made it up, and just coached Phil; it
was certainly better than what I had thought of.

The portieres behind which I had hid only covered a door, and, though I
squeezed up as tight as I could, I was awfully afraid they would part
and show me underneath. But, all the same, I couldn't resist peeping to
see what was going on. Phil had his back to me, but Mr. Erveng sat
facing me in the swing-chair that was by his desk, and I noticed at once
that he was the black-bearded man we'd seen the day the family moved in.

I listened eagerly for Mr. Erveng's answer. He said very coolly: "It is
not our custom to make an offer for a work of which we know nothing.
Manuscripts are generally submitted to us. What is the title of this
'remarkable work'?"

I didn't like the way he said this, and I thought he looked very
suspiciously at Phil; but Phil didn't seem to notice it, for he answered
eagerly: "It's called the Fe--'History of Some Ancient Peoples,' and
I've brought you a chapter or two to look at." Here I heard a rustling,
and peeping between the portieres, what should I see but Phil handing
Mr. Erveng some _pages of the Fetich_!

I was so perfectly amazed that I had to stuff the portiere into my
mouth to keep from calling out; how _had_ Phil ever got hold of those
chapters without papa's knowledge? I knew Nannie would never have
helped him after what she had said on Sunday to Max, and how had Phil
_dared_ to bring them here! What would papa say if he should know what
he had done,--indeed, what we had both done! Oh, how sorry I was that
I hadn't gone when Phil urged me to.

When I got over my surprise a little, and again looked through the
portieres, Mr. Erveng stood holding the Fetich in his hands, and looking
over the pages with a frown on his face. "This is curious," I heard him
say. And then, suddenly, before I could guess what he was going to do,
he crossed the room and drew my portieres aside! At first I held on to
them, with a desperate desire to lose myself in the scanty folds; but
they were firmly withdrawn, and there I stood,--a fac-simile of the fat,
black-robed, black-veiled person who sat on the three-cornered chair by
Mr. Erveng's desk!

"_Whew!_" whistled Phil, then tried to look as if he hadn't uttered a
sound, while Mr. Erveng took hold of my arm and walked me over to where
Phil stood. "Now," he said sternly, "I should like an explanation of
this extraordinary behaviour."

But not a word said either of us,--I couldn't, I was so frightened; I
assure you I wished myself home! And while we stood there--Mr. Erveng
waiting for an answer--the door opened, and the boy that Max had said
was Hilliard Erveng came into the room.

"Oh, I beg your pardon," he exclaimed, turning back, "I didn't know any
one was with you."

But his father called out to him, "Stay here, Hilliard!" Then turning
to us he said _very_ sternly, "I have reason to think that this
manuscript"--he still held the Fetich in his hand--"has been stolen
from its rightful owner, of whom I have heard, and to whom I shall take
pleasure in restoring his property. Unless you both at once take off
what I am convinced is a disguise, and offer a full and satisfactory
explanation, I shall be under the painful necessity of calling in a
policeman and giving you in charge."

"Oh, no! no! _no!_" I cried out. "We _didn't_ steal it--at least, it
belongs to our father, and--"

[Illustration: "THERE WE STOOD; A FINE PAIR WE MUST HAVE LOOKED!"]

But Phil strode over to my side. "Hush, Betty," he whispered; "I'll
explain." Sweeping off his bonnet and veil, he threw them--nurse's best
Sunday hat!--on a chair, and faced Mr. Erveng. You can't think how
comical he looked, with his handsome boy's face and rumpled hair above
that fat old woman's figure. And in a moment or two, I think, I must
have looked almost as comical too; for before Phil could begin, Mr.
Erveng said, "I insist upon that person removing her bonnet and veil
as well."

So off went mine, and there we stood; a fine pair we must have looked!
That boy Hilliard gave a little giggle,--Phil said afterwards he'd like
to have "punched" him for it, and I felt awfully foolish,--but Mr.
Erveng frowned.

Then Phil began and told who we were, and how something that had been
said by a friend of ours had given him, and me,--though neither knew
about the other,--the idea of coming over and asking him, Mr. Erveng,
to buy the Fetich (of course Phil called the Fetich by its proper
name), and thinking he might like to see some of the manuscript, he
had got hold of two chapters and brought them along to show.

"But why this absurd disguise, if all this is true?" asked Mr. Erveng
of us, looking from one to the other.

I began: "Because Ma--" but Phil gave me a hard nudge of the elbow: "Max
mightn't like us to tell that," he mumbled, which ended my explanation.

But I was determined to get in a few remarks: "Papa doesn't know a thing
about our doing this," I said very fast, for fear Phil would interrupt
again, "and we don't want him to. We just came here and told you about
the Fe--his book, because we were sure he'd never tell you, or let you
see it, himself, and we thought if you knew of it, you would want to
buy it from him, and that would make him finish it up,--papa's been
_years_ writing that book,--and then Felix could go to college and--"

"_Betty!_" broke in Phil, in such a sharp, angry tone, and with such a
red face, that I moved away from him.

"That's where I've seen you,--at college," exclaimed the boy; he talks
in a slow, deliberate way, something like Judge. "They _do_ live across
the way, father; I've seen him"--with a nod of his head at Phil--"going
in there."

"Ah, really, how kind of you to remember me!" cried Phil, with sarcasm.
"Please let me have that manuscript, Mr. Erveng, and we will go home."

"No," remarked Mr. Erveng, very decidedly. "There is something about the
affair that I don't understand, and I shall not feel satisfied until I
have restored this manuscript, which I know is valuable, to its owner,
and found for myself that the story you have told me is true."

"All right, then," Phil cried recklessly. "Come, Betty, let's put on our
'bunnits' and go face the music."

Deeply mortified, we "dressed up" again, and went home under the escort
of Mr. Erveng and his son. Hannah opened the door, and how she did stare
at the two fat, black-robed, closely veiled ladies who waddled past her
into the drawing-room! Hilliard did not come in with us, and when Mr.
Erveng found that neither Phil nor I would answer Hannah's "Please, what
name shall I say?" he took a card out and gave it to her, saying, "Ask
Mr. Rose if he will be kind enough to let me see him for a few minutes."

While we sat waiting, Fee came limping down the stairs and looked in on
us. "Hullo!" he exclaimed in astonishment; "_two_ here? What's up?" Then
he saw the stranger and stopped.

"Oh, we've had a dandy time!" said Phil, throwing back his veil, "and
it isn't over yet. Mr. Erveng, allow me to introduce to you my brother,
Felix Rose."

While the introduction was going on, papa came into the room, and the
expression of his face was something that can't be described when he
found that the two ladies to whom he had bowed when he entered were
indeed Phil and I. Mr. Erveng stated the case as briefly as possible,
making much more light of it than we had expected, and handed to papa
the pages of the Fetich that Phil had brought to him. Papa said very
little, but his face grew quite pale, and he accompanied Mr. Erveng to
the door, where they stood talking for a few minutes; then Mr. Erveng
went away.

Fee had disappeared with our bonnets and veils,--we would willingly have
divested ourselves of the other garments as well, but we knew he was
not equal to the accumulation of pillows, shawls, and gowns which that
would involve,--and we were sitting in dead silence when papa returned,
and, opening the folding doors, motioned us to go into the study.

Nannie sat there writing; but the merry little laugh with which she
greeted our entrance died quickly away as she guessed what we had been
doing, and her low, "Oh, Phil, oh, Betty, how _could_ you!" made me feel
more ashamed than a scolding would have.

Papa put the two chapters of the Fetich carefully away; then he took his
seat at his desk and said, "Now I wish to hear the meaning of this most
extraordinary and unwarrantable behaviour."

For an instant neither of us spoke; then, just as I opened my mouth,
Phil began. He made a very short story of it,--how, through Max, we had
heard of Mr. Erveng's being a publisher, and how the story about his
liking fat old ladies had put the idea into our heads to dress up and
call on him, and interest him in papa's book.

Papa frowned at us over his glasses. "What has Mr. Erveng to do with my
book?" he asked, sternly. "And why did my son put my most cherished work
into a stranger's hands without my knowledge?"

"Because--" began Phil; then he got as red as a beet, and stood
plucking at the skirt of nurse's gown without another word.

I felt sorry for Phil. I knew that, like me, he had done it in the
interest of the whole family; so when papa said a little sharply, "I am
waiting for an answer, Philip," I said very quickly, "Please don't be
angry with Phil, papa; we did it because we thought if Mr. Erveng knew
of the Fet--book, he'd want to buy it, and then perhaps you would finish
it, and sell it for a lot of money, and then Fee--um--eh--we could do
lots of things."

Just then the study door opened, and in came Felix, quite out of
breath from hurrying up and down stairs. He saw Phil's downcast
face, and hastening forward, laid his hand on Phil's shoulder,
saying, "I deserve a full share of Phil's scolding, father. Betty
evidently carried out her scheme without assistance, but I dressed
Phil, and helped him to get off without being seen. So I know, sir,
that I ought to share his punishment."

"I see; then this was a conspiracy to force me to finish my work and
sell it," said papa, slowly, with a grieved, shocked look in his eyes;
then, turning to Nannie, he asked unsteadily: "Are _you_ in it, too?
Margaret--your mother--used to urge me to--write slowly--but--perhaps I
have lingered too long over it. I thank you," with a look at us, "for
recalling me to my duty, though I think it would have been kinder to
have spoken to me, rather than to have gone to a stranger in this way.
I will finish the History--as soon--as I can."

There was no anger in papa's voice, but a hurt tone that went right to
my heart, and made me horribly ashamed, while Nannie flew to his side
and threw her arms around his neck. "Don't take it to heart, dear
papa," she pleaded, pressing her cheek against his face. "It was only
thoughtlessness on their part; they _didn't_ mean to grieve you, I know
they didn't. Oh, boys, Betty, speak up and assure papa of this."

I began to cry out loud. I _despise_ crying, and I know papa hates it,
but I simply _had_ to sob, or I would have choked. The boys felt badly,
too. Fee leaned on the desk and said, low and very earnestly, "I am _so_
ashamed of myself, father. And I know Phil is, too."

"I've made a great ass of myself," growled poor Phil. "I wish, sir, that
you'd give me a thrashing, as if I were a little shaver,--a sound one; I
know I deserve it."

But papa loosed Nannie's arms from about his neck, and put her gently
from him. "My dear," he said wearily, "I--I--wish you would make them
all go; I want to be alone."

       *       *       *       *       *

Papa did not come down to dinner that evening, and we were a very
subdued party, though Nora tried to cheer Phil up by telling him that
she knew he had done what he had for the benefit of the whole
family,--she didn't tell _me_ that!

"Yes," answered our eldest brother, gloomily, "it was my first attempt
at that sort of philanthropy, and it'll be my last--stop staring at me,
Jack, or I'll throw a bread-pill at you."

"Is that what you call it, Philip?" said Miss Marston, lifting her
eyebrows. "It seems to me more like that love of practical joking
and the self-will that your mother was so constantly warning you
and Betty against."

"Indeed, then, you're right, ma'am," put in nurse, who happened to be in
the room, adding, with a pointed glance at me, "I wonder what the dear
lady would 'a' said to this day's conductions!"

And not one of us had a word to say in reply, for we well knew how
grieved she would have been.




VII.

NEW FRIENDS.

TOLD BY BETTY.


"Betty! _Bet-ty!_" called Nannie from the foot of the stairs, "tell Jack
that he's got just about three minutes more, as papa has started to put
on his overcoat, and he does so dislike to have us late for church. Do
make him hurry!"

But that, as I knew very well, was easier said than done, for Jack hates
to hurry. Almost at the last minute, when we had gathered in the
schoolroom to let Miss Marston see us before we started out with papa
for church, it was discovered that Jack's boots needed cleaning. So now
he was up in the attic, brushing away at them, and singing with all his
might,--

    "Thy gardens and thy goodly walks
       Continually are green,
     Where grow such sweet and pleasant flowers
       As nowhere else are seen.
     Right through thy streets, with pleasing sound,
       The living waters flow;
     And on the banks on either side,
       The trees of life do grow."

Jack was just beginning the last line of this verse when Nannie called
to me; so I let him finish, then I shouted up the attic stairs, "Jack,
you've just got about two minutes and a half; papa has started to put on
his overcoat. Are you ready?"

"Most," Jack answered; "I've got one more heel to do,"--as if he'd had a
dozen or so! and he actually started on another verse of the hymn.

I flew up the attic steps and gazed indignantly at him through the
railings: "You are the most provoking boy I ever knew," I said, "and the
biggest poke! I do believe you _love_ to be late. There's everybody down
in the hall ready to start, and here you are loitering as if you had
hours to spare."

[Illustration: "'BETTY! _BET-TY!_' CALLED NANNIE."]

"Are you two coming, or are you not?" cried Phil from the hall below.
"The procession is ready to start, and woe to stragglers! If service
began at twelve instead of eleven o'clock, Jack, you'd still be late.
Come on, Betty."

"I declare, if you aren't all the greatest pack of naggers!" exclaimed
Jack, impatiently, throwing down the blacking brushes and snatching up
his hat; then he raced after us down the stairs and brought up the rear
as we filed out of the front door.

There are always so many of us to go to church--all of us children
(except Alan, who goes to the children's service in the afternoon),
and Miss Marston and papa--that we do make, as Phil says, a regular
procession as we walk down the avenue and across the park to the old
brown church every Sunday. I don't mind going in the procession, nor
does Jack,--unless he's _very_ late; but Nora thinks it's horrid, and
Phil and Felix always hang back for the very last, and try to look as if
they didn't belong to us at all. Nannie and Maedel go with papa, Kathie
and Paul with Miss Marston, and the rest of us straggle along as we like
until we get to the church. It's brown and very large, and has a good
deal of ivy growing all over it. It's the church where Murray Unsworth
and Helen Vassah stood sponsors for their little cousin Paul; they go
there and their grandfather and grandmother.

Papa likes to sit away up front; so up the middle aisle we go,--oh, how
the boys and Nora hate this part!--and file into the first two pews. We
are always early, and sometimes it does seem so long before service
begins. Jack and I sit at the upper end of the first pew, and I couldn't
tell you how many times we have read the Creed and Commandments that are
printed back of the chancel, and the memorials on each side. Then we
look out the hymns for the day, and read them all through. Jack likes to
do this; he has all sorts of odd ideas about them; for instance, he says
that when he sings,

    "Christian! dost thou see them
       On the holy ground,
     How the powers of darkness
       Rage thy steps around?
     Christian! up and smite them,
       Counting gain but loss;
     In the strength that cometh
       By the holy cross,"

he somehow always thinks of the picture in papa's study of St. Michael
and the Angel. He says he can see, right in his mind, the great
beautiful angel of light triumphant in the strength of God, and under
his feet the stormy evil face of the conquered Lucifer. I've got so now
that I too think of the picture when I sing the hymn, and of the hymn
when I look at the picture.

Then in the other hymn, where it says,

    "Finding, following, keeping, struggling,
       Is He sure to bless?
    'Saints, apostles, prophets, martyrs,
       Answer, Yes,'"

Jack says he sees--just like a picture--a steep hill up which a whole
lot of people are striving, with all their might, to climb; they're poor
and tired and sick and lame, but they struggle bravely on; and by the
beautiful gates at the top of the hill stands One grand and white and
shining, wearing a golden crown. He bends forward and takes hold of each
tired traveller as soon as he is within reach, and helps him safe within
the gates; and in the hands that do this are "wound-prints." Jack always
shuts his eyes and lowers his voice when he tells us about this thought
of his; only Nannie and I know of it, and while I am hearing about it I
always feel quiet.

How he _does_ enjoy singing! His little body seems to expand, and you'd
be astonished at the noise that he can make. This particular Sunday that
I am telling you about my ears were fairly ringing as Jack joined in the
chorus of "Onward, Christian Soldiers," and I wasn't sorry when Phil
leaned over from behind and whispered, "Say, Rosebud, you're not
detailed to lead the choir, you know."

Even the choir-master looked at him; but, perfectly regardless of
everything and everybody, Jack sang through the five long verses, and
sat down with the air of having thoroughly enjoyed himself.

I made up my mind, though, that I'd say something about it on our way
home; but just as we were coming down the church steps Jack gave my arm
a nudge. "There are your friends," he said, with a grin,--"the two of
'em; just see Phil and Felix scoot!" And when I turned quickly to see,
who should it be but Mr. Erveng and Hilliard!

Mr. Erveng has been over to call on papa since that horrid afternoon
that he escorted Phil and me home; but Hilliard didn't come with him,
and we weren't sorry,--I mean Phil and I,--for we both felt foolish
about meeting him; we hadn't forgotten that giggle of his when we took
off our bonnets and veils that day in his father's library, and I think
we both felt that we didn't want to know him any better.

Mr. Erveng and papa walked across the park together, talking, and as we
all followed behind,--Felix and Phil were out of sight,--who should come
up beside me and lift his hat but that Hilliard! "May I walk with you
part way home?" he asked, "I want to say something to you."

He speaks slowly, deliberately, and has a way of half-closing his eyes
when he's talking, that gives him a sleepy look,--though he can open
them very wide too, sometimes; and he's sallow, and has lots of
freckles. Altogether, he isn't nearly as good-looking as our boys, or
Murray Unsworth; still he has rather a nice face, and we've found out
that he is just as gentle and nice as a girl to his mother,--I mean in
waiting on her and doing things for her. But all the same, I don't know
whether I like him or not; you see he's never had a sister, never been
much with girls, and he's got such silly, prim ideas about them.

Well, to go back: when he asked that, I said, "Oh, yes, I suppose so;"
but Jack says my tone wasn't very polite. I didn't mean to be impolite,
but seeing him brought that horrid afternoon right to my mind, and I
could just hear him giggle all over again; I assure you Phil and I'll
not try that sort of thing again,--not if the Fetich never gets sold.

And evidently that was in his mind, too; for he said, "I want to
apologise for being so rude as to laugh that day in my father's
office,"--that's the way he talks, so formal, as if he were as old as
papa,--"and for guarding--"

"We didn't think it was at all polite, I must say," I broke in.

But he went right on; that's another of his ways,--if one interrupts
him fifty times in a remark, he'll listen, but make no reply until he's
finished what he started out to say. Now I think that's provoking,--I
wonder how he'd get on if he lived in our family!--and it makes the
person that interrupts feel very small and nettled, too. "And for
guarding you and your brother home, as if I doubted your word,"
he finished.

Well, now, do you know, I hadn't ever thought about that part,--his
going along to guard us,--until he said this; and then, all at once, I
felt very angry. "I think it _was_ very, _very_ rude of you," I said
decidedly, "and I really wish you would go away and walk with your
father, or by yourself--"

"Why, _Betty_!" exclaimed Jack, in surprise; then, leaning across me,
he said politely, "_Please_ don't think that Betty is a rude girl, for
indeed she isn't; but she is awfully quick-tempered, and when she gets
mad she is apt to say lots of things that she doesn't mean. She is
really quite a nice girl. I'm Jack Rose, her brother; so you see I
ought to know."

"So you should; I'm glad to meet you," Hilliard said, shaking hands with
Jack. Then he added to me: "I _do_ hope you and your brother will let us
be friendly. I've told my mother about you both, and she wants so much
to know you and your sisters. Perhaps some of you would come over and
see her? She is very much of an invalid, and is not able to go out,
except for a drive now and then; but when she is well enough to see
them, she enjoys having visitors."

I was ashamed of having spoken so sharply, but I _didn't_ want to go and
see Mrs. Erveng; so all I could say was, in a lame sort of way, "Thank
you; perhaps--if papa says we may."

Instead of letting the matter drop there, he must needs go on: "I have
tried several times to speak to your brother,--at college, and once on
the street,--but he seems to avoid me," he said. "I wanted to explain to
him; I was afraid you might think my father was severe, but he really
didn't beli--he didn't suppose--that is, the young people we've known--"
He stopped, looking awfully red and embarrassed, then ended up with,
"I'm afraid I'm making an awful muddle of it, but I'm really very sorry;
I hope you and your brother will understand that."

By "brother" I think he meant Phil, but Jack took it to himself. "Of
course, oh, certainly," he said, nudging my elbow to say likewise, and
bobbing his head round my shoulder.

But I wouldn't, for I understood, just as well as if Hilliard'd said it,
that he--they all--thought our coming over to his house, as we had done,
to sell the Fetich, was a very queer proceeding. Miss Marston had said
that they must think me very unladylike. She so often tells me people
think that of me that I've got used to it and don't mind; but I felt
_very_ uncomfortable when it occurred to me that perhaps this boy and
his father and mother thought so too. "Why didn't you say right out that
you thought my dressing up and coming over to your house that way was
very queer and unladylike?" I demanded. "I know it's what you think."
He opened his mouth to speak, but I went on quickly: "Pooh! that's
_nothing_ to what I _can_ do. I can slide down three flights of
banisters without one swerve, and make worse faces than any one we
know, and whistle, and brandish Indian clubs, and fence and climb
besides, and, oh! lots of other things that only boys do; why, I'm
strong enough to be able to thrash Jack--there _now_!"

"I'd just like to see you try it!" put in Jack, hastily, ruffling up;
then, in an undertone, with a nudge of his elbow, "Oh, come now, Betty,
_do_ behave yourself."

But Hilliard just looked at me--his eyes were wide enough open now--as
if I were some strange kind of animal; he really looked shocked. I
wondered what he would think of some of my performances at home, and
I couldn't resist saying, "I suppose the girls that you know never do
such things?"

"Not when they are as old or as tall as you are," he answered quietly.

Just then Miss Marston and the little ones and Nannie and Nora came up
to us, so I introduced Hilliard to them, and as soon as we saw that Nora
was talking to him, Jack and I dropped behind and kept there.

"Betty," said Jack, severely, as we turned away, "you are really a most
provoking girl! I told that boy that you were nice, and you turned
right round and acted _abominably_. What possessed you? I didn't hear
him say one thing to make you angry."

"Jack," I answered, "sometimes you're as dense as a London fog. That boy
is a conceited poke because he has no sister; and you'd be just like him
if I weren't here to train you."

"Well, I declare!" exclaimed Jack, indignantly. "Talking about
conceit,--where do you put yourself?"

Two hands came suddenly between us; a pleasant voice said, "Let's talk
about the sermon, and see which of us remembers most of it;" and there
was Max. He had been in church, he said, but stopping to speak to some
one had detained him, and he was now going home to have dinner with
us,--which meant a visit with papa after dinner, and then a nice long
talk with us in the schoolroom. Max is so nice about that; he never
slights us. In fact, I think he spends more and more time with us, for
he and Nannie have started in to play violin and piano duets together,
and he comes one week-evening to practise. He has lent her his
violin,--a beauty!--and he takes the piano part. His ward--"the great
Shad," as Phil and Felix call him--has not yet arrived; but Max told us
this Sunday, as we walked along, that he expected him to be in the city
very soon, "and then," he said, "I shall bring him round to be
introduced to you young people."

When we reached our house, Hilliard said good-bye, and ran across to his
own gate; but Max, Mr. Erveng,--Max has been to call on the Ervengs, and
has renewed acquaintance with his college-mate,--and papa stood talking
for a few minutes before they separated. As we entered our door, Nannie
was right behind me, and I heard her say to Felix in a low voice, "Look
at papa as he stands between those two men; don't you think he looks
_very_ old and worn?"

"Well, he's years older than they, isn't he?" asked Fee, turning to
look. I too craned my neck for a glimpse, but barely caught sight of
the top of papa's hat over Phil's shoulder.

"Not so many," Nannie said; "he is eight years older than Mr. Erveng,
and ten years older than Max. Not enough to show such a difference."

"Why, he looks twenty years older than either of them;" then, lowering
his voice,--but I heard him,--Felix added, "Poor old _pater_! He seems
to enjoy talking to Mr. Erveng; but do you know, Nannie, I'm _awfully_
sorry we played that joke about the Fetich. I fancy he hasn't been quite
the same since."

"No, he hasn't, and he's working desperately to get the book finished;
he even works in the evening, when he used to read as a recreation. I
hope he won't get ill." Then the front door closed, and there was a
general rush upstairs to take off coats and hats.

I wasn't very happy the rest of that day; Nannie's remark about papa,
and what that disagreeable boy across the way had said, kept coming back
and coming back to me, so that I really got quite unhappy over it, until
I told Nannie the whole thing that night, and then I began to feel
better. Though Nannie always tells you right out if you've been wrong,
she is also sure to say something to comfort you.

I was in the schoolroom the next afternoon, practising, when suddenly
the door flew open, and in bounced Jack, in a state of wild excitement.
"Oh, think of it! _think_ of it, Betty!" he exclaimed joyously, "I'm
going to sing--to _sing_! just think of it!"

"Why, you've been doing that for a long time, haven't you?" I asked,
with a lively recollection of what I had endured only yesterday.

"Oh, but this is different; it's to be in church,--I mean in the
_choir_,--and I'm to be _paid_ for it!"

"What! really?" I gasped in astonishment. "Why, Jack! _Do_ tell me all
about it!"

[Illustration: "'WHY, YOU'VE BEEN DOING THAT FOR A LONG TIME, HAVEN'T
YOU?' I ASKED."]

This he was only too delighted to do; but he was so excited that he
could not sit still, and he kept walking backward and forward before
me while he was speaking. "Well, it was this way," he said; "just now,
while I was playing in the yard, Hannah said papa wanted to see me.
Of course I thought right away that something must be wrong, and I
didn't feel very happy over it, I can tell you; but when I got to the
study, there was papa with a big piece of news for me. Mr. Hawkins from
our church had come to see him to ask if he would let me sing in the
choir, and was waiting in the drawing-room for my answer! Why, I'd have
been glad to sing there for nothing, you know; but when papa went on,
and said I would get fifty cents for each Sunday that I sang, I was so
delighted, Betty, that I really couldn't say a word. But I guess papa
knew by my face how overjoyed I was, for he patted my shoulder and said,
'Well, then, you can go in the drawing-room and tell Mr. Hawkins that
you will accept his offer, and be at rehearsal on Friday evening;' and
then he spoke about what an honour it was to be chosen to sing God's
praises in His own house. I tell you what, Betty, I'm going to try to
be a very, _very_ good boy; now aren't you glad for me?"

Indeed I _was_ glad, and I told him so; and then what do you think he
said? Why, he came close to me, with his clasped hands behind his back,
and rocked himself to and fro on his heels and toes; his eyes were
shining with delight. "Betty," he said, "I'm to get fifty cents a week
at first, and more, Mr. Hawkins says, just as soon as I can read music
readily. Now I'm not going to spend one cent of it,--not a single
penny. I'm going to save it up until I get a lot, and then,--what d'you
think? I'm going to _send Felix to college_! Isn't that a splendid
scheme? now isn't it? You see," he went on eagerly, "I've been praying
for a way for Fee to go,--you have, too, haven't you? and Nannie,--and
I think God has just answered our prayers by letting me get this."

"Yes; but won't it take an awfully long time at that rate to save enough
to send Fee?" I asked.

"Oh, not so _very_ long," Jack replied cheerfully. In the exuberance of
his joy he took hold of the schoolroom table and threw his heels in the
air; he looked so funny that I could have roared with laughter,--Jack is
as clumsy as a cow! Then all at once he remembered something, and coming
over to me said, very impressively, "Now, remember, Betty, you're not to
say one word about this to Fee,--not a word; I sha'n't mention it to any
one beside you, but Nannie, and she wouldn't tell; and then, when we've
got enough, we'll give it to Fee, and tell him what it's for. Hoopla!"
And again he embraced the table and threw his heels in the air.




VIII.

A RESOLUTION.

TOLD BY BETTY.


Two or three days after this--after school hours--Nannie came flying
into the schoolroom, where we all were, and announced that some of us
had been invited to take tea with the Ervengs that afternoon. While we
sat in surprised silence, she went rapidly on to explain: "Such a nice
little note to papa, written by Mrs. Erveng: this is one of her 'good
days,' and she would like so much to make our acquaintance; would four
of us come over and take tea, etc. Hilliard brought the note just now,
and papa told him that some of us would be happy to accept." She paused
and looked mischievous as a groan broke from us. "I know you are all
dying to hear who are to go," she said, "so I'll put you out of your
suspense at once; Phil--"

"No, you don't! I haven't any 'bunnit,'" broke in Phil. "You don't catch
me going over there again in a hurry, I can tell you."

"But you ought to go, Phil, really you ought," Nannie said. "You and
Betty ought to go over and apologise to Mr. and Mrs. Erveng for the way
in which you two Goths invaded their house. Fee, papa says you are to
go, too," she added to her twin.

"Oh, but this is too bad of the _pater_!" exclaimed Felix, colouring up;
"he knows how I hate to go among strange people. I declare, I _won't_
go!"

"Go tell the governor so--go _now_, while you're in the humour for it,"
urged Phil, with suspicious eagerness; "and--um--while you're about it,
you know, just mention incidentally that those are my sentiments, too,
will you?"

"Nonie, you're to lend grace to the entertainment," went on Nannie, with
twinkling eyes.

"Who, me? I?" exclaimed Nora, quickly. "Oh!" Then, recovering herself
the next minute, she said coolly, "Well, I'm perfectly willing to go;
for that matter" (with that superior air that does so provoke us), "some
of us ought to have gone long ago, and called on the Ervengs,--Miss
Marston says so, too,--to apologise for and explain the, to say the
least very peculiar, conduct of some other members of our family."
And here she looked at me,--just as if Phil were not more to blame
than I in that horrid affair of the Fetich!

I made a face, and Phil said: "Oh, come, now, Nora, we've heard that
before; so do spare us the rest. Who else is to be a victim, Nancy?"

"Betty fills up the sum of the 'some,'" answered Nannie; "papa thinks
she certainly ought--"

"I _won't_ go, I won't, I will not," I interrupted. "That boy is too
conceited for anything, and I'm not going over there to be
criticised,--so now! I don't want any of their old tea, and I'd just
like to be ill or to hide away or something, so's not to go."

"Let's you and I run away," suggested Phil, in a stage whisper behind
his hand; then, striking an attitude, he extended his long arms: "Come,
fair damsel, come, we'll fly to other climes,--the attic or the cellar,
_anywhere_, so it be not to the Ervengs'." He made a sudden snatch at
me, but I was prepared,--I know him of old!--and, dodging under his arm,
darted round the table and soon put a wide distance between us.

"Then nobody's going," asserted Jack; he sat on the edge of the
schoolroom table, grinning and hugging his knees, which were drawn
up to his chin.

"Not a one!" "No, _sir_!" "No, _indeed_!" answered Phil, Felix, and I,
in one breath.

"I do think you are all the rudest, most unmannerly creatures!"
exclaimed Nora, indignantly. "These people have been polite enough to
invite us to their house, have taken the trouble to prepare for us, when
really the attention should have come from us to them, and here you all
act as if they had insulted us. Positively, you are a most uncouth set.
_I_ am very much pleased with Mrs. Erveng's invitation, and I am going,
if no one else does. Rude things!"

She started for the door; but Phil got before her, and salaamed to the
floor. "What _would_ we do without you, O most noble and elegant
Eleanora!" he cried, as he bobbed up and down; and limping over, Fee
stared at her through and under and over his glasses. "Friends," he
exclaimed, turning to us and putting on an expression of intense
astonishment, "allow me to call your attention to this remarkably
healthy variety of a well-known plant, Miss"--with a wave of his hand
toward Nora--"Miss Prim Rose."

"You think that's very smart, don't you?" Nora said, getting red, and
tossing her head. Jack flew down from the table, and over to Nora's
side, calling out, "Now you just stop teasing her, Felix!" and Phil
threw an arm round her, and pulled her down on his lap, saying, "Don't
ruffle yourself over such trifles, old lady; keep cool!"

I laughed, and Nannie put in quickly, "Nora is quite right: it _was_ our
place, as old residents, to call first on the Ervengs,--particularly
under the Fetich circumstances; and when they are kind enough to
overlook our remissness, and invite us to visit them, we ought at least
to appreciate the attention, not rail at it. Anyway, it was papa who
decided which of us should go. I would certainly have been included in
the number had I not something to do for him this afternoon and evening;
I would have liked to go. So do behave yourselves!"

"Nancy Lee on etiquette," said Felix, with a grimace, while Nora
struggled away from Phil's encircling arm with a sharp, "Of _course_ I
am right!" and stalked out of the room, her nose in the air.

Now perhaps you think because we said all this that we didn't go to the
Ervengs'; well, we did, the whole four of us, and that very afternoon.
Though we fret and fume over things beforehand, we generally end by
doing just as papa says about them. One reason for this is that, when
it comes to the point, none of us are willing to tell him that we won't
obey. Papa's very gentle, but he expects us to do as he says, and dear
mamma always made us mind; so, as I said, it generally ends by our
following orders. Still, sometimes it is a great satisfaction to "spunk
up" beforehand, as Phil calls it, and just speak out our minds in the
bosom of our family. And after that,--it's the funniest thing! but do
you know, we'll almost always turn right round and do just what we said
we wouldn't do, as meek as lambs. I don't know if all large families are
like this, but it's our way.

Well, to go back to the tea. Nora was very glum on the way over,--she
usually is when she's on her high horse,--but the boys seemed to be in
great spirits, for they just giggled to the Ervengs' very door, and
barely had a straight face when Buttons appeared. I fancied that he
looked curiously at me, and I wondered uncomfortably if he knew that
Phil and I were the two fat old black-robed ladies he had admitted the
other day.

Mr. Erveng was out, for which Phil and I weren't sorry; but Hilliard
met us in the hall and took us upstairs to his mother's sitting-room,
where she was lying in an invalid's chair with a white shawl round her
shoulders. She's very pretty,--Hilliard isn't a bit like her,--but she
looks very delicate and fragile; why, her hands are like _mites_, and
she's very, _very_ gentle, and speaks in a low voice. She welcomed us
very cordially, and said she thought it was so kind of us to come,--here
I thought of our remarks at home, and didn't dare look at Phil and
Fee,--and she and Nora seemed to get on nicely.

[Illustration: "HILLIARD SHOWING HIS MICROSCOPE AND HIS 'SPECIMENS.'"]

Very soon Hilliard carried the boys off to show them his microscope and
his "specimens," and what he called his home-gymnasium. I should have
loved dearly to go, too, but nobody asked me; so there I had to sit
primly on a chair and listen while Mrs. Erveng and Nora talked of books
and pictures and music and all sorts of things. And while they talked I
looked around the room; Nora said afterward that I stared at everything,
until she was ashamed,--but what else was there for me to do? And it was
such a pretty room! furnished in light blue, with touches of yellow here
and there; some lovely pictures hung on the walls, a graceful bronze
Mercury stood on a pedestal between the curtains of one of the windows,
growing plants were scattered about, and everywhere were books and
flowers. It was all very sweet and lovely: it matched well with Mrs.
Erveng, who looked daintiness itself lying back on her silken cushions,
and I ought to have enjoyed it; but in some way or other it made me feel
uncomfortably big and clumsy and overgrown, and I couldn't get over the
feeling. Nora, however, didn't seem to be troubled in this way; I
couldn't but notice how pretty she looked, and how well she talked.

You mustn't think that Mrs. Erveng slighted me, for she didn't,--she was
very polite; but I had a feeling all the time that she just looked upon
me as a great rough tomboy,--thinking of that horrid Fetich affair! for
she certainly didn't treat me as she did Nora, and there are only
fourteen months between us, if Nora _is_ so tall, and acts so grown up.
At home we make great fun of Nora's airs and graces, and even that night
Phil nudged me, when no one was looking, and whispered, "Do see the
frills Nonie's putting on!" but all the same I think both Felix and he
were very glad that she could carry off things so well.

We had tea in the cosiest little room on the same floor, and we couldn't
but notice how Hilliard waited on his mother,--just like a girl would
have done; indeed, he was very much more gentle and helpful than I
could have been, I am afraid,--though Fee used to be like that with
mamma. After tea Nora played; I was asked, too, but I could no more
have got through a piece without breaking down than I could have flown.
She didn't feel so, though, and did splendidly; she is really a fine
pianist, Miss Marston says. After that we sang college songs, and about
nine o'clock, or a little after, we four went home.

"Unfortunately, I am not able to return any visits," Mrs. Erveng said,
when we were leaving, "but if you or your sisters will take pity on my
loneliness, and come over to see me whenever you can spare an afternoon
or evening, I shall consider it very friendly, and I shall be very glad
to see you."

She looked at Nora, and Nora answered very sweetly, "Thank you for our
pleasant evening, Mrs. Erveng; we shall be glad to come again." Now I
never would have thought of saying that! Then we all bade good-night
and went home.

Hilliard walked to our door with us, and as he shook hands for
good-night he said to me, "I'm very glad you came over; mother and I
enjoyed it. I hope you'll come again; you see we get very quiet
sometimes, just she and father and I."

I was surprised that he didn't say this to Nora, for he had talked
almost entirely to her,--very little to me during the evening; but I
suppose he did it so I shouldn't feel slighted,--as if I cared!

Phil admits that he likes Hilliard better than he did, and Felix, who
had a long talk with him, says "he's bright, and 'way up in the
classics." Well, he may be all that, but all the same I think he's a
poke. I don't like him very much. I have a feeling that he went home
and told his mother what I said about making faces and sliding down
banisters, and that--with the Fetich affair--she thinks I'm a great
rough girl. I don't really care, you know, for I have other friends who
like me and think I am nice,--Murray and Hope Unsworth and Helen Vassah
are always glad to have my company,--but still it _isn't_ comfortable,
now that I'm growing older, to be treated as if I were a child.

I didn't say much while Nora and the boys were giving Nannie an account
of our evening,--they had enjoyed it; but later, when we were alone
up in our room, it all came out. She said: "What's wrong, Miss
Elizabeth?"--that's one of her pet names for me. "You look as sober
as a judge; didn't you enjoy yourself this evening?" And then I told
her all about it, though really there wasn't much to tell when we came
to it, for Mrs. Erveng had been very polite and nice, and the boy had
treated me politely, too. I was afraid Nannie would think I was making
a mountain out of a molehill, as nurse says. But that's one of the
lovely things about Nannie,--she understands just how things are, and
so quickly.

She came over and sat on the edge of the bed, and taking one of my hands
in hers, kept smoothing it while she talked. "It means this, dear," she
said, "that you are getting to be quite grown up, and that the time has
come for you to put away rough, hoidenish ways, and to begin to be
gentle and dignified, like the true lady that we all know you are at
heart. You see we are accustomed to your ways, and while we may tease
and scold one another here at home, we also make allowances for the
different ones as an outsider would never do, because we love one
another--see? Mrs. Erveng and Hilliard simply know you as a tall girl
who looks quite a young lady, and naturally they are surprised when you
act like a tomboy. You know, Betty, you are nearly as tall as Nora; now
just imagine her sliding down the banisters, wrestling with the boys,
climbing the fence in the yard, hanging to the tops of the doors, and
making the horrible faces that you do!"

But my imagination couldn't picture such an impossibility as Nora and I
acting alike. "I couldn't--I _couldn't_ be like Nora," I declared,
sitting up in bed. "I know she's got nice manners and all that,"--I had
never really thought so till that evening,--"but, oh! I _couldn't_ be as
prim and--and--proper as she is--" Here my voice began to shake, and I
got so sorry for myself that the tears came.

Then Nannie put her arms round me, and gave me a hug. "You needn't be
like anybody but yourself," she said,--"the nicest, gentlest, and best
part of yourself. Give up one hoidenish way at a time; that will be
easier than trying to do all at once, you know. Suppose you begin by
walking down the stairs to-morrow morning to breakfast, instead of
sliding down on the banisters, as you usually do."

"Oh, but you don't _know_ how awfully hard that'll be to do," I said
tearfully; "our banisters are so broad and smooth, and one goes so
swiftly down them,--almost like flying--"

"I don't suppose it will be easy to give up the habit," broke in Nannie,
wiping my eyes with her handkerchief; "but all the same, Miss Elizabeth,
I am confident that if you really make up your mind to stop sliding,
you'll do it. You can't keep up such a tomboyish trick all your life,
and now is a good time to begin, _I_ think. Dear mamma used to say that
everybody had to have some responsibility or other; why not begin to
take up yours now? Helen Vassah is only about six months older than you
are, and here she has the responsibility of being little Paul's
godmother. And there's Hope Unsworth a little younger than you; you know
how she helps her grandmother in her charitable work. They are certainly
not 'prim or proper;' they are full of fun, yet they wouldn't either of
them ever think of doing the rough things that you do,--now would they?"

I had to admit that I knew they wouldn't.

"Then," said Nannie, "don't you do them either. Take yourself as your
responsibility, and show us what you can accomplish in that line. Will
you, dearie?" She snuggled her head close up to mine on the pillow as
she said this.

"Oh, _dear_!" I sighed, "I do wish Jack had been I, and I'd been Jack!"

"Even then you would have had to stop such childish tricks some time or
other before you grew up. With all his larks, Phil doesn't do them; and
think of papa's coming down to breakfast on the banisters!" Nannie and I
had to laugh at the very thought.

"Well," I said presently, "perhaps I'll try; but that conceited boy'll
think he's made me do it."

"Oh, no, he won't!" Nannie said, in a tone of conviction that was very
comforting. "If he does think now that you're inclined to be a hoiden,
why, he'll soon change his mind, when he finds what a nice, sweet little
lady you are from day to day. _Don't_ look so dismal, Miss Elizabeth;
there's lots of fun left for you!"

"I'll try; but I _know_ I'll forget, time and again," I said, sighing
heavily.

"I don't think there'll be so very many slips," Nannie answered
cheerfully; "but if there should be, we'll just do as Rip Van Winkle
did,--'we won't count' them."

"And will you promise not to tell anybody that I'm trying--not a single
creature--not even Felix or Jack?" I asked anxiously.

"I _will_ promise not to tell anybody--not a single creature--not even
Felix or Jack," Nannie replied, laughing. "Does that satisfy you? Now,"
she added, "I'm going to say my prayers here beside you, and I'm going
to ask our Lord to help you keep your word; you'll ask, too, won't you?"

I nodded, and as she knelt down slipped my hand into hers; a few minutes
after I was asleep.




IX.

MAX'S WARD.

TOLD BY BETTY.


No less than three birthdays in our family fell in the next week: first
Fee's and Nannie's,--which I suppose I ought really to count as one, as
they are twins,--and then Nora's. As these birthdays _will_ always come
together, and to avoid hurting people's feelings, as Jack would say, we
celebrate them alternately,--Fee's and Nannie's one year, and Nora's the
next; and this was Nora's year. We had had several performances lately,
so Fee said he'd try to think of something else, if we'd all promise to
do just as we were told. Of course we promised; then he and Phil invited
the Unsworths and Helen Vassah and that boy across the way,--I didn't
want _him_, but all the others did, so he was asked. Hope was at her
grandma's, so she couldn't come; but Murray and Helen did, and, _of
course_, Hilliard.

The birthday fell on a Friday, and as papa is always at home on that
evening, we were afraid he wouldn't allow us to celebrate it; but to
our great joy he told Nannie to tell us that we might have all the fun
we wanted, as long as we behaved ourselves and kept the doors closed, so
the noise would not escape. So right after school hours Phil and Felix
took possession of the schoolroom, and after having got us to give them
all our presents for Nora, they locked themselves in. "We're going to
have a bang-up entertainment, now, you'll see," Felix said, just before
he closed the door,--"something unique, unprecedented, etc.; and no one
is to put even a nose into the banqueting hall"--with a wave of his hand
over his shoulder--"until the doors are thrown open and the music
strikes up. Now remember--"

"Yes, and no snooping or hanging around either!" put in Phil, standing
on tip-toe to rest his chin on Fee's crown and glare at us. Then the
door was locked.

Such a hammering and dragging about of furniture you never heard; and
when every now and then Phil would come out for something or other,
Fee would open the door very cautiously, as if afraid somebody'd see
something, and shut and lock it with a bang when he re-entered. As you
may imagine, our curiosity was excited to the highest pitch to know what
we were going to have. Then just before dinner Jack came running in, in
a great state of excitement; he had been to rehearsal, and had done so
well in the piece he had to sing that Mr. Hawkins had really engaged
him, at fifty cents a week, with the promise of more as he improved.
Jack was almost wild with delight. "Isn't it fine! Isn't it just jolly!
You should have heard me sing; really, it didn't sound bad!" he
exclaimed about twenty times; and the knowing looks and nudges and
winks that he bestowed on me couldn't be counted. No amount of
snubbing could repress him.

It seemed to us as if dinner would never be over; but at last it came to
an end, and Jack and I and the younger children flew upstairs and stood
waiting for the signal to enter the "banqueting hall." In a few minutes
more up came Nora, with Helen and Murray and Hilliard. I was sure Murray
and Helen would enjoy the "festive occasion," for they like the things
that we do; but I didn't know how that boy would take it. He was very
smiling, however; and I heard him tell Nora, as he presented her with a
lovely bunch of roses, that it was "very kind of her to allow him to be
of the party." Just then the schoolroom doors were thrown open, and the
strains of the wedding march from Lohengrin floated sweetly out to us
from violin and piano. At the same moment Phil appeared with a paper
flower in his buttonhole, and arranged us in couples,--Nora and he
going first,--and so we marched into the schoolroom.

I think perhaps I ought to describe the schoolroom to you, for it is
playroom, sitting-room, schoolroom, and everything to us. It's on the
top floor,--so that our noise sha'n't disturb papa,--and takes in the
whole width of the house and half its length, making an immense room.
There are some back rooms on this floor, and the large open space on
each side of the stairs is what we call the attic. Though almost
everything in it is old and shabby, we do have royal times in the
schoolroom, for it is our own, and out of study hours we can do there
as we please. Here are Phil's banjo and his boxing-gloves, and a lot
of what nurse calls his "rubbish"; Fee's easel is in this corner, and
a couple of forlorn, dirty old plaster casts which--unless he has a
painting-fit on him--generally serve as hat-rests for Phil and himself.
Pictures in various stages of completion stand about. Here, too, are
Nannie's and Fee's violins, resting against a pile of old music that Max
gave them before he went away. In the next corner, the other side of the
low, deep-silled windows, hangs Nora's china-shelf, on which are ranged
what the boys call her Lares and Penates,--vases and pretty cups and
saucers that have been given to her. Here, too, are her plants,
conspicuous among which is a graceful fan-leaved palm, known in
the family as Lady Jane.

These are the front corners; and between the windows stand our
book-shelves,--they are in a clumsy, unsteady old case, that rocks from
side to side if you touch it, and is only held together by the wall
against which it leans. The shelves are rather short,--now and then a
shelf slips off its notches and spills our library,--and they are so
narrow that books constantly fall down behind, and lie there until
house-cleaning or a sudden desire for one of those volumes brings them
all to light, and they are restored to their places.

One of the other--back--corners is mine; and here I have my
"gymnasium,"--my Indian clubs and dumb-bells; here, too, are my tennis
racket (I love to play!) and two old walking-canes with which (when I
can get him to do it) Jack and I fence,--dear me! I wonder if I shall
have to give _that_ up too, now that I have given that promise to
Nannie! Then comes our sofa: it's an old-fashioned, chintz-covered
affair, with a high back and high arms that stick straight out at each
end, and it's dreadfully shabby now; but all the same there isn't one of
us--except, perhaps, Nora--that would be willing to exchange it for the
handsomest piece of furniture that could be offered us. The times we've
played house and shipwreck, and gone journeys on it, and romped and
pranced all over it, can't be counted! This is Jack's favourite place to
sit and read; and under it, concealed from public view by the deep
chintz flounce that runs around the front and sides of the sofa, are
stored his treasures,--his books and stamp album, a queer-looking boat
that he has been building for ages, and a toy steam engine with which he
is always experimenting, but which, so far, absolutely refuses to "go."

I have frequently offered to share my corner with Jack, and I couldn't
understand why he always refused, until one day I accidentally
over-heard him speaking about it to Nannie.

"You see, Nannie, Betty means well," he said, "but she does hit out so
with those clubs! I'd be sure to get hurt some time or other; and then,
besides, she'd just own my things more than I would myself." Of course
this last part isn't really so, for he hasn't a thing that I'd care for;
but still he sticks to the sofa.

[Illustration: "THE 'QUEEN OF THE REVELS.'"]

Kathie and the twins and Alan have the other corner with their doll's
house, a tail-less hobby horse, known both as the "palfrey" and the
"charger," and blocks and toys without number. We've a piano in the
schoolroom for practising, and in the middle of the floor is a large
table, round which we sit in and out of school hours. This table has no
cover; it is liberally besprinkled with ink stains, and adorned in many
places with our initials, and with circles done in red ink,--goals for
feather-top playing,--and pieces have been hacked out of the edges,
trying the sharpness of sundry new knives. The old table is not at
all ornamental, but we couldn't get on without it, and we older ones
have quite an affection for our old Jumbo. Some pictures--three or four
of them by Felix--are hung up on the walls. And now you know how our
schoolroom looks.

But a grand transformation had taken place: all our stage property had
been utilised; the pictures were draped with red, white, and blue paper
muslin; the "statuary" and plants were arranged about the room with an
eye to a fine effect; great bunches of paper flowers bloomed in every
available place,--even on the gas fixtures! The large table was too
heavy to be pushed aside, but it was covered with Murray Unsworth's big
flag, which gave it quite a festive appearance; while the smaller table
over in the corner, though partially concealed by the dining-room
screen, gave tempting glimpses of "refreshments." Nannie was at the
piano, and beside her was Fee, playing away on his violin with all
his might.

At the farther end of the room, on a dais, was Miss Marston's chair,
covered with red paper muslin, and here, after we had promenaded several
times round the room, Phil seated Nora, announcing her the "Queen of the
Revels," which so struck Jack's fancy that he gave his hand a little
upward jerk, and shouted, "Hurray for we!" And then, though of course we
oughtn't to have done it, being for ourselves, you know, we every one
joined in a "three times three" hurrah! Kathie and the little ones got
so excited that they fairly yelled, and we had some difficulty in
quieting them.

When order was restored, Phil and Felix brought from the closet a large
clothes-basket, piled full of neatly tied-up parcels of all sizes, which
they placed beside Nora. Fee then made a sign to Phil. "Begin!" he
whispered. Phil struck an attitude, with his hand on his heart, and
began, "Fair Queen!" then stopped, looked astonished, put his hand to
his forehead, gazed at the floor and the ceiling, then burst out with:--

    "When these you see,
     Fair maid, remember we;
     As we've remembered you,
     And given you your due."

"_That_ isn't what you were to say, you goose!" exclaimed Felix,
wrathfully. "That isn't your speech!"

"Don't talk to me about your old set speeches, when a man can rise to
an occasion like _that!_" remarked Phil, loftily, straightening up and
throwing back the lapels of his coat with a great air. "_Poetry!_--d'ye
mind that, Mr. Wegge? The genuine article, and at a moment's notice! At
last I've struck my vocation."

Of course we laughed uproariously; we were in the mood for it, and
would have laughed if some one had held up a finger at us.

Felix then made his speech, expressing our love and wishes for many,
many (I believe there were six manys) happy returns of Nora's birthday,
and he began to hand her her presents, reading out the inscription on
each as he did so, she opening them. The first was "Nora, with love and
birthday wishes from Max," and when the wrapper was off, it proved to
be a lovely print of Von Bodenhauser's Madonna. Max had given Nannie a
picture on her birthday, and Nora was delighted to get one as well.
Next came smaller gifts from Helen Vassah, Jack, Felix, and Nannie,
and then Felix fished up a large, rather bulky parcel, the inscription
on which he read very distinctly: "Dearest Nora, with love from the
'Twinsies,'"--that's the name we give to Felix and Nannie to
distinguish them from the younger twins.

"Why!" exclaimed Nora, in surprise, as she took the parcel on her lap,
"you have both already given me something, you dear, generous creatures;
I'm afraid you've been extravagant. And so nicely done up, too; thank
you, thank you very much!" and she kissed them warmly.

"Oh, that's all right; don't speak of it," said Felix, modestly, while
Nannie began wonderingly, "Why, I didn't--"

"Ought to be something very fine," hastily interrupted Phil, "_four_
wrappers!" The next minute there was a shout of laughter from us all
as, after carefully unfolding the last paper, Nora drew out nurse's
work-basket, piled high with innumerable pairs of our stockings and
socks which were waiting to be darned!

I expected Nora would have been provoked, but she only laughed as
heartily as the rest of us. It was a fortunate thing she was in such
a good humour, for three more times the boys played that joke on her
before the basket was emptied. One was her own choicest cup and saucer,
"with love from papa;" the next, the drawing-room feather-duster, "a
token of appreciation from the family,"--Nora _hates_ to dust! and the
third, an unfinished sketch which she began months ago, and which was
for Phil when completed; this was "from her affectionate brother,
Philip." And they were so cleverly sandwiched in between the real
birthday gifts that Nora got caught each time, to our great enjoyment.

After this we had games, and refreshments were served early on account
of the little ones. As soon as they had said good-night we played more
games, and then the boys began to get noisy; that's the worst with
boys,--at least our boys,--just as soon as they begin to enjoy
themselves, it seems as if they _must_ make a noise and get rough. Ever
since Nannie and I had that talk, I've been trying my best to act like
a young lady, and this evening I was particularly on my good behaviour;
but, oh, it was tiresome! and I could see that the boys didn't know what
to make of it,--Murray Unsworth asked if I didn't feel well, and Fee
looked very quizzically at me, though I pretended I didn't see him. I
was so afraid he'd say something right before that boy!

Well, as it happened, all my pains went for nothing,--and just through
Fee's nonsense. Murray and I were looking at Phil's boxing-gloves,--Phil
was out of the room,--and as we talked, I slipped on one of the gloves,
when Felix came up behind me and took hold of my arm. "That's Phil
opening the door," he said quickly; "let's play a joke on him." And
before I had the least idea of what he was going to do, Fee had raised
my arm and given the person who was entering such a whack on the
shoulder with the boxing-glove as whirled him completely round, so
that he got in the way of another person who was behind him, and
nearly knocked him over. In a moment more we saw that the two
persons were papa and a stranger,--a young man!

There was an instant's awful pause, broken by a nervous little giggle
from Jack at the sight of Phil--behind papa--with his hands clasped,
his knees bent as if in abject terror, and his eyes rolled up to the
ceiling. Then, settling his glasses--which had been nearly knocked
off--straight on his nose, papa looked around at us and asked, "Is
this the way you welcome your guests, Nora?" adding, to me, "Take
off that glove, Betty!"

I got awfully red, I know; but before I could say anything Felix stepped
forward and explained, and Nora advanced with a smile, saying, "We are
very glad to see you, papa."

Then papa introduced the young man, and who should he be but Max's ward,
"the great Shad," or, to give him his proper name, Chadwick Whitcombe!
He had expected to meet Max at our house, and had waited some time
downstairs for him; then, as the evening wore on and Max did not
appear, papa had thought it best to himself bring him up and introduce
him to us.

Of course we all looked at him,--and the more so that he isn't at all
like what we had any of us expected. In the first place, though Max says
he's just nineteen, he acts as if he were years older than that, and
altogether he is different to any of the boys we've ever known. He's not
quite so tall as Fee, though he wears very high heels on his boots; and
his features are so delicate, his complexion so pink and white, that in
spite of a tiny moustache, which he's very fond of caressing, he looks
a great deal more like a girl than a boy. His hair is as yellow as
Maedel's; it's wavy like a girl's, and he wears it long and parted in
the middle; and his eyes are large and very blue,--Phil says they are
"languishing," and he and Felix have given him another nick-name of
"Lydia Languish." He wore evening clothes, with a white flower in his
buttonhole, and there were diamond studs in the bosom of his shirt, and
a diamond ring on one of his fingers. When papa introduced him, he put
his heels together and made us three very low and graceful bows, saying,
in a voice just like a girl's, and with a smile that showed his white
teeth, "I am _very_ happy to--aw--meet you!"

[Illustration: "'AW!'"]

After looking at the presents, which, minus the jokes, were ranged on a
table, and saying a few words, papa went away. I have an idea that he
noticed the difference between this delicate Dresden-china young man and
our own fun-loving boys, and rather dreaded leaving the stranger to our
devices; for at the door he laid his hand on Phil's shoulder and said,
"Remember, no more jokes to-night, Phil." And with a look of injured
innocence that almost upset Felix and me, Phil answered, "Why, no, sir,
_certainly_ not."

We were rather quiet at first after papa went away; then Phil nudged
Nannie, with the whisper: "Go talk to him; I don't know what to say to
such a dude;" while Felix chimed in, in the same low voice, "Ask him if
he puts his hair up in papers, nights,--or get Betty to ask him."

But I edged away quickly, and joined Murray and Helen at the other side
of the room. I was determined I would get into no more mischief.

But they needn't have troubled themselves,--Chad didn't seem one bit
embarrassed: he just drew a chair to Nora's side and began talking to
her as easily as if he had known her all his life; and in a little while
Nannie got the boys over to the piano and singing songs with rousing
choruses, which they always enjoy. I think she did it this time, though,
to divert their attention from the new-comer, for they were just ready
to bubble over at the way he talked; even Hilliard's sleepy eyes were
twinkling with sly merriment.

When Chad talks he is, as Murray puts it, "too awfully English, you
know, for anything," though he was born and has lived most of his life
in America; and he pronounces his words in the most affected way.
Altogether, he is awfully affected; you should see the air with which
he flirts his handkerchief out of his pocket, his mincing steps, and the
bored, you-can't-teach-me-anything expression of his face.

"I've--aw--really been very busy since my return," he told Nora, in that
high-pitched, affected voice of his. "I've--aw--moved into bachelor
quarters, and been--aw--having my apartments decorated and furnished.
Have my own ideahs, you know, and--aw--'m having 'em carried out--all
in blue--effect will be--aw--really very fine. I've--aw--brought back
pictures and bric-a-brac and--aw--curios of all descriptions, and
now--aw--'ll turn 'em to good account. Awful job, you know--expect to
work like a slave--these--aw--so-called decorators over here have such
abominable taste! but the effect will be unique--of that--aw--'m sure."

"Why, aren't you going to school--I mean college?" Phil turned round in
the middle of a chorus to ask bluntly.

"I--aw--have no intention of it," answered Chad, lounging off in his
chair and stroking his baby moustache.

"Oh, I see: your education's finished," said Phil, with that innocent
expression on his face that we know means mischief; but before he could
say another word, Helen Vassah cried out, "Oh, Phil, here's our
favourite duet; you must sing it with me," and Nannie struck up an
unusually loud accompaniment.

Before the evening was over, we made up our minds that Chad was the
silliest, most conceited creature; he did nothing but talk of himself
and his possessions, and in the most lordly way imaginable. No matter
what subject was introduced, he'd go right back to the one thing that
seemed to interest him,--himself. He lounged back in his chair and made
not the slightest effort to join in the entertainment. In fact, Nora was
the only person he honoured with any notice; and while we all think him
very unmannerly, she--would you believe it!--likes him.

Coming over later in the evening to the corner of the room where Helen,
Fee, Jack and I were, she said to Helen, "Isn't he nice? Did you see the
way he offered me his arm to the piano? so polite, and different from
the generality of boys,--don't you think so?"

"Yes," Helen said, with a smile, "he is quite unlike any of the boys we
know; who _does_ he look like, Nora? We all see a likeness, but can't
think to whom."

"Oh, I know, I've got it, I know," cried Jack, excitedly; "he looks
(except that he hasn't got on knee-breeches and lace ruffles) just like
that picture Max gave you, Felix,--don't you remember?--with a lace
handkerchief in one hand and a snuff-box in the other. Oh, you
_know_,--the French Marquis--"

"You're right, Jack,--so it is; he does look like 'Monsieur le
Marquis,'" Nora said, glancing at Chad. "He _has_ an aristocratic
face,--'Monsieur le Marquis.'"

[Illustration: "HERE IS THE SKETCH."]

"Monsieur le Don_key_ would be a more suitable name," exclaimed Fee,
while Helen, Jack, and I laughed. "If you'd seen how absurd he looked
when he clicked his heels together and offered you his arm, you would
know mine is the title that best suits him. I declare I'll make a sketch
of you both from memory; it was too rich to be lost." Catching up a
blank book, he began to sketch rapidly. Nora turned away, laughing; but
we three remained, looking over Fee's shoulder, criticising and offering
suggestions, until it was finished. Here is the sketch: it's pretty good
of Nora, but of course it's a caricature of Chad.

About a quarter to ten the "party" broke up. Chad was the first to go;
as he rose to say good-night, I heard Nannie whisper to Phil: "Phil,
you'll have to see him out. Fee can't go all the way downstairs and then
up again,--it's too much for him,--and Jack is too young; anyway, it is
your place as the eldest."

"Little snob!" said Phil, savagely. "I'd like to take him down by way of
the banisters,--just give him one shove, and let him fly."

"He _is_ a snob," admitted Nannie, "but he is also Max's ward, and that
entitles him to some consideration from us; and remember, too, what Max
said,--that he has knocked about the world ever since he was a little
fellow: that would account for much. You know, Phil, we've had our home
and one another and dear mamma; and besides, you wouldn't want to spoil
Nonie's birthday. Do treat him civilly! will you?"

"Well, I'll try," Phil answered, making a wry face; "but if he begins
any of his 'aw--aw,' on the way down, I'll not answer for the
consequences."

Bending low over Nora's hand, Chad murmured something of which we only
heard "Chawming evening--pleasure of meeting you--Max again," then,
bowing twice to the rest of the company, he took his departure.

"I've enjoyed myself immensely," Hilliard said, as he bade good-night;
then he added to me, "I never knew before how interesting a large family
could be,--you have such fun among yourselves; and I think it is so kind
of you all to let me come over and share your good times." Then Murray
and Helen made their adieux, and all went away together.

Phil came racing back to the schoolroom after seeing them out. "Well,"
he said breathlessly, taking a seat on the edge of the big table, "well,
everything went off all right; quite a success, wasn't it? barring the
great Shad,--he was no addition to our party. I'm awfully sorry he's
such a cad; for Max's sake I'd have liked to be nice to him."

"You are hard on him, Phil," Nora said. "He may be a little conceited,
but I think he's not at all a bad fellow; now see if you don't like him
better after you get to know him."

"Not at all a bad fellow!" repeated Felix, sharply. "Well, you may think
so, but I don't. I agree with Phil,--he _is_ a cad! Did you see the
expression of his face as he looked around our shabby old schoolroom,
and took in the simple birthday refreshments? he didn't even take the
trouble to hide his contempt for our poverty and childishness. You may
think that's like a gentleman, but I do not."

"He wouldn't touch the cake, and only took a glass of water," I
volunteered at this point.

"You here?" cried Nora, wheeling round on me, "and Jack? It's high time
you two were in bed." Then she went on: "Our appetites are equal to
anything; but not everybody dotes on home-made cookies and tough sponge
cake. _I_ found Max's ward a very polite young gentleman, a pleasant
change from the rough, unmannerly boys one usually has to put up with.
Betty and Jack, _are_ you going to bed, or not? Why don't you speak to
them, Nannie?"

"Don't be cross to them," whispered Nannie to her; "it's your birthday,
you know. Come, Betty; come, Jack, let's go off together. I'm tired and
sleepy, too."

Rather unwillingly we bade good-night and went downstairs with Nannie.
As the schoolroom door closed behind us, I heard Felix say, with a sharp
insistence unusual to him, and bringing his hand down on the table to
emphasise his words, "I _don't_ like that fellow! I _don't_ like him,
and I wish he hadn't come here!"




X.

IN THE SCHOOLROOM.

TOLD BY FELIX.


"Felix," said the _pater_, "your two elder sisters are to go with me on
Thursday afternoon to Mrs. Blackwood's reception, and I should like you
to accompany us; Phil went the last time--" He stopped abruptly, with a
stifled sigh, and began hastily turning over the leaves of the book
which lay open before him on his desk.

I knew why he sighed; I remembered well who had been with him the last
time he attended a reception at Mrs. Blackwood's; the awful, aching
longing that I have so often to fight down has taught me something of
what my father must suffer. If I could only have expressed what was in
my heart! but all I could manage to get out was, "Very well, sir," and
my voice sounded so cold and indifferent that I was ashamed.

I'm not afraid of the _pater_,--I can talk easily enough to him on
ordinary subjects; but when it comes to anything about which I feel
very deeply, Nannie is the only person to whom I can bear to speak, now
that _she_ is gone. And even to Nannie I can't say much; I wish I
could,--it would be a relief sometimes. I envy the others that they can
talk of--mother; it is a comfort to me to listen, but it cuts me to the
heart to even say her name. So this afternoon I sat quietly at Nannie's
table, and went on sorting the references I had been making for the
Fetich, until my father got up from his desk and began pacing up and
down the study floor, with his hands clasped behind his back. His head
was bent forward, and he had evidently entirely forgotten that I was in
the room; for he sighed heavily several times, and then, with a sudden
straightening of his whole body, as if in acute physical pain, he threw
back his head, and a low, quivering "_A-a-h!_" that was like a groan,
broke from his lips.

An iron hand seemed clutching my throat, and I could hardly see for
the blur across my eyes, as I crept out of the room and closed the
door softly.

I sat on the steps for a few moments, then--for I had forgotten my cane
in the study--went slowly upstairs, and that gave me a chance to recover
myself before I reached the schoolroom; though perhaps Nannie noticed
something unusual,--my twinnie's eyes are so sharp, and her heart is so
tender,--for it seemed to me that her voice was very loving as she said,
pushing forward our big old rocker as soon as I entered the room: "You
naughty Fee! you've come up without your cane; you must be tired. Sit
here and get rested."

[Illustration: "ALAN, ON HIS FIERY STEED."]

I _was_ tired,--unusually so,--and was glad to get into the chair. It
was after school hours, and the clan was in full force. Nora was seated
at my easel, humming "A Media Noche," and trying to copy her birthday
picture; Betty and Jack were fencing,--at least, Betty was making
furious lunges at Jack, which he was mainly occupied in dodging, while
every now and then a vehement protest was heard, such as, "Now, Betty,
look out! that was my head," or, "That came within an inch of my nose--I
_do_ wish you'd be careful!" Kathie and the twins were playing house,
holding lively conversations in a high key, while Alan paid them
repeated visits, prancing around the room, and to their door, on a
broomstick, which was his fiery steed, and to control which required
both voice and whip; Nannie was hunting through our pile of violin music
for a certain duet to play with Max when he got home; and in the midst
of all the noise Phil lay on the sofa, his head nearly level with the
seat, and his long legs extended over the arm, reading Virgil aloud.

That's his way of studying,--a most annoying one to a nervous
person!--and, as the noise around him increases or decreases, so he
raises or lowers his voice. As may be easily understood, there are times
when he fairly roars.

The news of the reception had preceded me, and as I came in Phil reared
his head in such a comical way to speak to me that Betty instantly
declared that he looked like a turtle. "So you're booked for the
Blackwood tea-fight," he said. "Well, old man, my sympathy for you is
only equalled by my thankfulness that I am not the victim. Take my
advice,--I've been there several times, you know, and you
haven't,--fortify the inner man before you go. It's a very mild
orgy,--a thimbleful of chocolate and one macaroon are all you'll
get,--and coming between luncheon and dinner, I'm afraid you'll
feel--as I did--as if you'd like to fall on the table and eat up all
that's on it." His head fell back, and he resumed his reading, the
book resting upright on his chest.

"People are not supposed to gorge themselves at an afternoon reception,"
remarked Nora, before I could get a word in. "It is--"

"'A feast of reason and a flow of soul,'" finished Nannie, smiling,
"though I'm sure dear old Mrs. Blackwood would willingly have given you
a pound or two of macaroons and a whole pitcher full of chocolate, had
she known you were hungry."

"Oh, I'm not saying a word against her in particular; she's a first-rate
old party," commenced Phil, but he was instantly interrupted.

"Phil, you are positively vulgar," cried Nora, in a tone of disgust.

"Don't speak of our dear old friend in that way, Phil; it isn't nice,"
said Nannie.

"Well, now, here's a queer thing," remarked Phil, in an argumentative
tone. "If I'd said Mrs. Blackwood was 'a host in herself,' it would
have been considered a delicate compliment; and yet when I call her a
'party,' which certainly means a host, you two jump on me. There's no
accounting for the eccentricities of the feminine character." Then, as
his head sank back, "I do believe somebody's been pulling the feathers
out of this sofa pillow; there can't be two dozen left in it. I suppose
Betty's been making an Indian head-dress for herself. Just poke that
history under my head, will you, Jack? or I'll certainly get rush of
blood to the brain. There, that's better! Why so silent, most noble
Felix?" with a sidelong glance at me after settling himself. "Art
filled with fears for Thursday's function?"

Usually I enjoy Phil's nonsense, and talk as much of it as he does; but
somehow I didn't feel in the mood for it this afternoon. One reason may
have been because of the dreadfully tired feeling that had come over me
since entering the schoolroom: it was really an effort for me to answer
him; I felt as if I wanted only to be let alone, and I realised, without
being able to control it, that my voice was very irritable as I said
briefly, "One has got to be silent when you begin to gabble."

Phil reared his head again, and looked at me. "Whew!" he whistled,
"aren't we spicy this afternoon!" Nannie immediately rushed into
conversation.

"Mrs. Blackwood wrote papa that she and Mr. Blackwood had just received
some very rare old books from Europe," she said, "among them a
Chaucer,--and beside that, a charming Corot; so, Fee, both you and
papa will have something to enjoy, while Nora and I are exchanging
small-talk."

"Oh, that's why papa was so willing to go to the reception," Nora
remarked, with her usual brilliancy. "I might have known there was
something like that about it."

[Illustration: "'FEE, DEAR,' SHE SAID IN AN UNDERTONE, 'DON'T YOU FEEL
WELL? TELL ME.'"]

Willing! I thought of what had happened in the study that
afternoon--poor old _pater_! I felt like saying something sharp to
Miss Nora, but it was actually too much trouble to speak; I was so
tired, and the chair was so comfortable, that I did not want even
to think of any exertion.

By this time Nannie had found her duet, and she came and stood by my
chair, looking anxiously at me. "Fee, dear," she said in an undertone,
"don't you feel well? Tell me." Her fingers stole up and gently stroked
the hair behind my ear. "Tell me, Fee," she pleaded.

"I only want--to be let alone," I said, but not unkindly. I didn't mean
to be disagreeable to her, and I think she understood,--she is so quick
of comprehension!

At this moment there was an outcry from one of the fencers. "If you
aren't the meanest girl I know!" cried Jack. "You don't seem to care
how much you hurt a person. I won't play another minute, now, then!"
and his stick rattled on the floor.

"She's given me a horrid poke in the ribs," he said, coming over to
Nannie, with his hand pressed to his side. "I tell you now, it hurts;
and she doesn't care a rap,--rough thing!"

Betty was laughing immoderately. "Poor wounded warrior!" she mocked;
"he's taken his 'death of danger' ever since we began. What a baby you
are, Jack! I'd just like to give you something to make a fuss about. Ho,
there! defend thyself, Sir Knight."

She bore down on him with upraised stick, but Jack dodged behind Nannie.
"Now stop, I tell you, Betty!" he cried sharply. "Go away! I'm not
playing; you're too disagreeable."

"Oh, come, Miss Elizabeth, do behave yourself," said Nannie.

But Betty kept dancing around Jack, and making thrusts at him. "Hie thee
hither, my squires," she called to the younger boys. "Come on, Sir Paul,
come on, Sir Alan, and we'll capture this recreant knight."

"You ought to be sent to boarding-school, where you'd be _made_ to
behave yourself!" "Fair play, Elizabeth; don't hurt our Rosebud;" and
"I'd just like to see 'em try it," came simultaneously from Nora, Phil,
and Jack.

But the "squires" had no intention of interfering; they had pressing
affairs of their own to look after. One of the dolls having suddenly
developed a complication of diseases,--measles, scarlet fever, and
whooping cough,--the heads of the household were after the doctor in hot
haste. Sir Paul had mounted the "charger," and was urging him on at his
highest speed, while Sir Alan came dashing toward us on his broomstick,
thrashing his steed without mercy, and shouting, "Gee up, horsie,
_g-e-e_ up!" at the top of his voice.

At this juncture the door opened, and in stepped nurse. "Lors-a-me!
Bedlam let loose!" she exclaimed, putting up her hands and looking as
surprised as if this noisy state of things were not of daily occurrence.
"Master Felix, your pa'd like to see you 'bout some referumces,--or
something like that. Come, children, it's time to get ready for your
dinner. Oh, come now,--I ain't got no time to waste; to-morrow you c'n
get the doctor--come!"

As I sat up and took hold of the arms of the rocker, as a preliminary to
rising, Nannie said, coaxingly: "Mayn't I go down and explain to papa
about those references? You could tell me, you know, Fee. Then you could
go to your room and lie down for a little while before dinner,--you look
so tired."

"I _am_ tired," I answered slowly, "awfully tired. And I really don't
know why I should feel so. I've not done any more or as much as usual
to-day. No, Nan, I think I'll go down; but first I'll get ready for
dinner, and that will spare another trip up and down the stairs. I'll
go to bed early to-night, and that'll make me all right to-morrow." So
saying, I stood up and took a step forward; just then Alan, who had
escaped from nurse and taken another gallop around the room, came
kicking and prancing up on his restive steed. He rushed by with a great
flourish, whirling the end of the broomstick as he got near me; nurse
made a dive at him, and the next moment I was in a heap on the floor!

I wasn't hurt, except for a sharp rap on one elbow, and my first impulse
was to call out and reassure the family, for they were frightened; but
though I could hear all that went on,--in a far-off way, as if I were
in a dream,--to my great surprise I found that I could neither move nor
speak, nor even open my eyes!

Like a flash, Nannie was beside me on the floor, crying, "Oh, _Fee!_ are
you hurt?" and trying to slip her little hands under my shoulder. Nora
and Betty immediately began scolding Alan, who protested vehemently,
"I _didn't_ hit him; no, I _didn't_, truly I didn't." I heard Jack's
nervous demand, "Oh, do, somebody, tell me what to do for him!" and
Phil's startled exclamation, "Great Caesar's ghost!" and the thud with
which his Virgil fell on the floor. Then I felt his strong arms under
me, and I was lifted and laid on the sofa.

"Are you hurt, old fellow? are you, Fee?" Phil asked anxiously, bending
over me.

"Mebbe he's faint like; open the window, Master Phil! Children, _don't_
crowd round your brother so," said nurse. "There, now, fan him, an' I'll
bring some water." As she turned away I heard her say,--nurse never can
whisper,--"I don't like his looks; go tell your pa, Master Phil, an' ask
him if you can run for the doctor."

Nannie's fingers tightened round my hand. "O-o-h, my _dear_!" she
whispered.

The quiver in her voice told me that she, too, had heard nurse's remark,
and that she was frightened,--my little twinnie! I think she would
willingly any time suffer pain to spare me. I longed to comfort her,
to tell them all that I was not at all hurt, that I had no pain
whatever,--even the backache, which is my almost daily companion,
having left me since the fall,--yet the terrible languor which
controlled me seemed almost too great to be overcome. Then I thought
of poor Nannie, and the _pater_, and the doctor, and the beastly
fussing and restrictions I'd have to endure, and with a desperate
effort--for my tongue really felt heavy--I managed to get out,
"I'm--not--hurt. Don't--need--doctor."

Nannie gave a little gasp when I spoke, and catching my two hands in
hers, kissed them.

"You old humbug!" cried Phil, gaily,--I could hear the note of relief in
his voice; "I do believe you've been shamming to give us a scare. Open
your eyes this minute."

And then I found that I could raise my lids and look at the dear faces
gathered about me.

"Sure you feel all right, Master Felix?" nurse asked, eyeing me closely.

"Sure," I answered slowly; "only tired."

"Well, if it's only tired you are, the best place is bed, an' we'll not
send for the doctor," she said; and I made no objection, though usually
I hate to go to bed in the day-time.

Not having inherited the good physique of the family, I've spent more
days in bed and on the sofa than I'd be willing to count, and I'm not
anxious for more. Still I would rather do that now than have the doctor
sent for, so without demur I let Phil carry me down to my room, and
undress and put me to bed.

What wouldn't I give to be as strong as he is! And he's gentle with it;
sometimes he provokes me by the way he watches and takes care of me,--as
if I were so fragile I'd go to pieces at a knock,--though in a way I
like it, too, and he doesn't mean to rub it in.

He has an idea that I care less for him than he does for me, because I
am so unfortunately constituted that I can't express what I feel;
but--if he only knew it--life to me wouldn't be worth the living without
him and Nannie,--dear old lion-heart! Sometimes I wonder if he will
always be as good to me, and care as much; I mean when he gets older,
and goes more among people, and they find out what a fine fellow he is,
and what jolly company. He declares now that I'm the good company; but
_I_ know that my good spirits are more dependent on his than his on
mine. In our studies I'm the quicker,--he doesn't love books as I
do,--but he is so kindly and brave and bright and merry, that I'd defy
anybody not to like him.

But--though he thinks he is awfully sharp--Phil is one of the kind that
will be imposed upon; he's so honest and straightforward himself that
he thinks everybody else is also, and I'm constantly afraid that some
fellow or other that he doesn't see through'll get hold of him and get
him into mischief. This was one of the reasons why I was so awfully
disappointed at not going to college; Phil and I've been together all
our lives, and I hated mortally to have him go off alone and meet
people, and make friends there that I would never know. He really
needs me--my cooler judgment, I mean--just as much as I ever need
his protecting strength. I'm almost sure that _she_ thought so, too,
for whenever college was spoken of she would say, "You must go at
the same time, Felix, and help him;" and once she added, "help him
in _everything_," and I understood what she meant.

It won't always be so: I think that by and by, when Phil gets to be a
man, he'll have more judgment; and now it's only because he's so true
himself, and so simple-hearted. I really believe I love him all the
better for these traits, though sometimes, when I get provoked, I tell
him that he is gullible, and a second Dr. Primrose.

When I found that I couldn't possibly go to college, it was a great
relief to know that Murray Unsworth was there, and that they'd be
together. Murray's an A 1 fellow! But I must confess that so far Phil
hasn't changed at all; he depends on me and seems to like to be with
me just as much as ever. And now comes along that snob Chad. I _don't_
like that fellow, and I'll be furious if he gets intimate with Phil.
Phil didn't like him at all at first, but I can see--though he won't
admit it--that Chad is worming himself into his good graces. He's
found out that Phil is first-rate company, and now he is trying to
be very friendly.

Max was called out of town on the evening of Nora's birthday, and he
didn't get back for some time; but that has not prevented Monsieur le
Don_key_ from coming here again and again. He had the assurance to send
his card up to Nora the second time he called,--for her to go down to
the drawing-room and entertain him alone! just like his impudence! But
of course Miss Marston would not let Nora go, and instead, the _pater_
walked in, and squelched Mr. "Shad." We don't know what father said, but
the next time Chad appeared he found the schoolroom good enough for him;
and now, as I said, he is trying to be very friendly with Phil.

I don't want him to get intimate with Phil; I dread it, for I have a
conviction he's not the sort of fellow that it will do anybody any good
to know. From what he has told Nora, it seems that Chad's father was a
miner who "struck a bonanza," as he expresses it, and made a great deal
of money; then, just as he was ready to enjoy the fortune, he and his
wife were killed in a railroad disaster, leaving Chad, who was the only
child, to the guardianship of a fellow miner--another "bonanza" man--and
Max, whose only acquaintance with Mr. Whitcomb, by the way, had been in
successfully conducting a law case for him. The other guardian took the
boy all over the United States, and then to Europe, letting him, I
fancy, do as he pleased,--study or not as suited his own will,--with the
result that Chad is an ignorant, vulgar, conceited cad, with the merest
veneering of refinement, who cares for no one but himself, and whose
sole standard for everything and every one is that of money. When
the other guardian died, of course Max had to assume the charge of
Chad,--who'll not be of age for nearly two years,--though I should think
he must be a serious trial, for Max is so thoroughly nice himself, so
honourable and clever and refined, that this affected, snobbish little
Dresden-china-young-man, as Betty calls him, must jar on him in every
way, though perhaps Chad is on his best behaviour with his guardian.

Chad affects to be quite a man of the world, talks a great deal about
his "bachelor quarters" and the theatres; he drinks and smokes, and
I've heard him swear; he considers all this the proper thing for young
fellows of our age, and more than once he has sneered at Phil and me as
"behind the times." He calls Murray "the Innocent," though I've snubbed
him for it pretty sharply, and whenever he gets a chance, he makes fun
of Hilliard's slow ways, when old Hill is worth a dozen or two of such
blowers as he. I almost wish Murray'd give the bediamonded cad a
thrashing,--only that the fellow's not worth his touching. Phil and
I neither drink nor smoke; we've never spoken about it to each other,
but we know that our--mother--would not have liked us to do any of
these things, so we let them alone.

I think Chad knows that I've no liking for him,--to put it mildly,--and
that he returns the compliment. I try not to quarrel with him; in
fact,--though it goes awfully against the grain,--I make an effort to be
civil, so as to see, hear, and know all that goes on between himself and
Phil, and to be able to guard Phil from him without Phil's knowing it.

I've said a few things to warn Phil; but I had to be careful, for he's
such an old Quixote that, if he thought I was particularly down on Chad,
he'd begin to take up the cudgels for him. But he _sha'n't_ get hold of
Phil, I declare he sha'n't,--not as long as I am here. I wish to
goodness he hadn't ever come near us!

Nannie is the only one to whom I've said anything of my fear, and she
laughs it away. She says Phil is the last person in the world to fall
in with a fellow like Chad; but I'm not so sure of that, for Chad can
be entertaining enough when he chooses to be, telling of his life in
California and the wild West, and in Europe. I know he has invited Phil
to come to his rooms, and twice he has taken him off for a long walk.

Phil _loves_ to walk, with long, swinging strides, that, try to keep up
as I may, wear me out before we've gone many blocks, even with the
support of his arm. So there I can't be with him.

_She_ used to say that it was best to recognise one's limitations, and
to respect them: I recognise mine only too well,--I've _got_ to; but
instead of respecting, I abhor them, and am always striving to get
beyond them. With all the strength of soul that is in me I try to be
patient and contented--to accept myself; but now that she has gone, only
God and I know the miserable failure I make of it day after day. I want
to do so much; I want to amount to something in the world, to have
advantages for study and improvement, and to fit myself to mix with wise
men by and by,--clever men and scholars,--and to hold my own among them.
I could do it, I feel I could, if only I had the opportunity for study,
and the health to improve it; this isn't conceit,--_she_ knew that,--but
a cool, calm gauging of the sort of ability that I know I have.

We--she and I--used to plan great things that I was to do when I went to
college; when I finished college, and went into the world, I was to
become a famous lawyer,--"good, wise, and great, my son Felix," she used
to say, with a look in her eyes that always stirred me to more and
better efforts. She helped me in every way, and it was a delight to
learn, in spite of the drawback of ill-health. But now all is changed:
she is gone, there is no prospect whatever of my getting to college, and
somehow, lately, this miserable old back of mine seems to be getting to
be a wetter and wetter blanket than ever on my ambition. Ah, if I but
had a physique like Phil's! She used to say, "Remember always, Felix,
that your fine mind is a gift from God, a responsibility given you by
Him." Oh, why, then, did He not give me a body to match? All things are
possible to Him; He could have done so.

When I was a little fellow I used to pray most earnestly that God would
let me outgrow this lameness and be strong like other boys; but we had a
talk about it,--just before she went away,--and ever since then I have
asked only to be patient and contented. But with all the trying, it is
_very_ hard to say truthfully that I am thankful for my creation. I have
never spoken of this to Nannie, but perhaps, with that quick intuition
which makes her such a blessing to us, she guesses it; for only last
Sunday, in church, when we came to that part in the General
Thanksgiving, she snuggled closer to me as we knelt, and gave my hand a
quick, warm little squeeze, as if to tell me that she was glad of my
"creation and preservation."

Nannie comforts me more than I can ever express to her; she has many a
time given me courage when my spirits were at a very low ebb.




XI.

AN AFTERNOON RECEPTION.

TOLD BY FELIX.


Though I felt all right the next day, to please nurse I did not get up;
but on Wednesday I did. At first my legs were very shaky, even for me:
my cane was not enough; I had to hold on to the furniture besides to
make my way about the room. But gradually that wore away, and by
afternoon I was quite as well as usual; so on Thursday we went to the
reception in the order first planned.

The Blackwoods live in a large old house, and by the time we got
there--we were rather late--the parlours were quite crowded. I think
the _pater_ was a little nervous as we went up the palm-lined
staircase; he hates an affair of this kind, and only the rare editions
and a strong dislike to hurting the feelings of his old friends could
have induced him to attend it. He kept Nannie close beside him, Nora
and I following behind.

Mrs. Blackwood is a fine-looking old lady, with beautiful white hair,
which she wears turned straight off her face; she gave us a warm
welcome, and after walking father through the rooms, and introducing him
to a number of people,--not one of whom he would have recognised five
minutes after!--and after showing us the Corot, which is a _beauty!_ she
led the way to the library. It was a cosy room, for all it was so large.
The walls were lined with books; a desk stood near one of the windows;
some tables--on which were books, photos, and several handsome glass and
china bowls filled with flowers--and a variety of comfortable chairs
were scattered about; in a space between the book-shelves, and thrown
into bold relief by the dark portiere behind it, was an exquisite marble
Laocooen, and in the bay-window the beautiful Venus de Milo.

[Illustration: "IN THE BAY-WINDOW."]

I should have enjoyed staying there, but we'd only been in a short
while when Mrs. Blackwood's daughter came and carried us younger ones
off to the drawing-room again. In vain Nannie and I politely protested
that we should rather stay in the library; Mrs. Endicott was not to be
resisted. "Your father and my mother enjoy looking at books more than
anything else," she said pleasantly, as we made our reluctant way back;
"but I know that young people like to be where there are life and
gaiety,--and you haven't even had a cup of chocolate. Come this way,
and I'll introduce you to Miss Devereaux."

She piloted us rapidly through the crowd to the upper end of the room,
where at a table sat a young lady pouring chocolate, to whom she
introduced us.

Taking my "thimbleful" of chocolate, I retreated to a corner where I
could sit and sip and take observations unobserved. To begin with, I
could not but notice the difference in my two sisters. Nannie had found
a place on a lounge near the tea-table, and was gazing about her with
the deepest interest,--her brown eyes all a-shine, the faintest ripple
of a smile stirring her lips; to my eyes she looked very sweet! Nora
stood, cup in hand, sipping her chocolate, and chatting as easily to
Miss Devereaux and the different ones who came up as if she were in the
habit of going to afternoon receptions every day in the week. I saw
people look and look again at her, and it didn't surprise me, for Nora
is a stunner, and no mistake. As Phil says, she carries herself as if
she owned the whole earth, and she is self-possessed to a degree that is
a constant surprise to us. If she weren't always so dead sure that she
is right and everybody else wrong, we'd all think a great deal more of
her; but as she is, one feels it a positive duty to snub her sometimes.
We are proud of Nora's beauty, but she's the very last one we'd any of
us go to for comfort or in a strait,--why, Betty'd be better, for all
she's so fly-away and blunt.

Miss Devereaux was handsome, too: she was large and statuesque, with
beautifully moulded throat and arms, and hair which rippled like that
of my poor old plaster Juno at home,--in fact, she suggested to my mind
some Greek goddess dressed up in silk and lace; I quite enjoyed looking
at her, and would have liked to make a sketch of her. But she wasn't as
nice as she looked; in her way she was as snobbish as is Chad. A tall,
very richly dressed woman was brought up and introduced; she wore
enormous diamond ear-rings, and her manner was even more condescending
than that of the young goddess herself. She pulled forward a chair,
completely barring the way to the table, and, seating herself, stirred
her chocolate languidly.

Miss Devereaux was all attention; she offered almost everything on the
table, and listened with the deepest interest while the diamond lady
talked loudly and impressively of _her_ last afternoon reception,--the
distinguished people who were present, and what the music and
refreshments cost. Then, suddenly remembering that she was "due at one
of 'Mrs. Judge' Somebody's receptions,--they were always _alagant_
affairs,"--the diamond lady put down her cup, from which she had barely
taken a sip or two, and with a bow, and what Phil calls "a galvanised
smile," sailed off to parts unknown.

"Such a charming woman!" murmured the goddess to Nannie.

Before Nannie could answer, there was a new claimant for
refreshments,--a slender, rather spare little woman this time, dressed
in a severely plain black gown; her hair was parted and pulled tightly
away from her face; her bonnet was a good deal plainer and uglier than
anything that nurse has ever had,--and she has rather distinguished
herself in that line. This little woman was evidently not used to
receptions and young goddesses. She seated herself on the extreme edge
of the chair the diamond lady had just vacated, and after taking off her
gloves, and laying them across her lap, she accepted her chocolate and
cake with a deprecating air, as if apologising for the trouble she was
causing. "Oh, thank you, _thank_ you," she said gratefully; "you are
_very_ kind."

The young goddess gave her a haughty stare, and then assumed a bored
expression that I could see made the poor little woman nervous. She
stirred her chocolate violently, and drank half of the cupful at a
draught; then, evidently considering it her duty to make conversation,
she remarked, "Didn't we have an interesting address yesterday at the
Missions House?" She glanced at Miss Devereaux as she spoke.

"Ah--indeed!" answered that young person, with another haughty glare
that almost overcame the little woman. She got very red, and in her
agitation drained her cup, and sat holding it. She looked thoroughly
uncomfortable.

I'm not fond of addressing strangers, but I couldn't stand that sort
of treatment any longer, and got on my feet with the desperate intention
of immediately starting a lively conversation with this particular
stranger, without regard to Miss Devereaux. But Nannie was ahead of me;
bending forward, she said in her friendliest tone,--and Nancy's
friendliest tone is worth hearing, I tell you,--"I read of it in the
papers; it must have been _very_ interesting."

The little woman's look of gratitude was positively pathetic.

[Illustration: "'IT MUST HAVE BEEN _VERY_ INTERESTING.'"]

"Yes, it was, _very_ fine!" she said,--bending forward, and jerking
her sentences out nervously,--"so many people, and such splendid
speakers! I wish Mrs. Blackwood'd been there!" Then, waxing
confidential, she went on in a lower key: "She and I used to be girls
together,--ages ago. Then her folks took her to Europe to finish her
education,--some people set such store by foreign education! We didn't
meet again--though I heard of her off and on--till here, lately, when I
came to New York to live. Of course--for old times' sake--I looked her
up and called,--handsome house, isn't it? Seems like some people have
everything,"--with a short sigh that sounded almost like a snort,--"but
I must say Tilly isn't a bit stuck up over it,--never was. Say, who's
_she_?" A quick sidelong motion of eyes and thumb in Miss Devereaux's
direction gave point to this last question.

"I think her name--" began Nannie, but she was interrupted by a loud
crash which seemed to come from one of the adjoining rooms. In an
instant my twin was on her feet: "Oh, _Felix_!" she cried breathlessly,
"that came from the library! Papa has knocked over something!"

The _pater_ has an absent-minded way of upsetting things, and Nannie's
tone carried conviction with it; so, as fast as I could, I followed in
her wake as she threaded her way swiftly through the crowded room.

Nora raised her eyebrows with an air of mock resignation. "No use our
_all_ going," she said in an undertone as I went past her, and resumed
her conversation with the gentleman to whom she had been talking.

Some people had collected in the doorway of the library by the time I
got there, and I was delayed a minute or two in getting into the room;
then I saw, at one glance, that our worst fears were realised. There
stood my father, minus his spectacles, peering about him with a most
anxious, bewildered expression on his face,--I was struck with how ill
he looked! and around him on the polished floor lay the fragments of
one of the Doulton bowls! The small table on which it had stood
was-overturned, flowers were scattered in every direction, and among
the ruins shone my father's glasses, broken in several pieces.

Nannie went straight to the _pater's_ side and took his hand. "Felix and
I are here, papa; what can we do for you?" she said. The colour was in
her face; I know she felt embarrassed, but her voice was quite calm.

My father screwed up his eyes in a vain attempt to see the extent of the
mischief: "I--I think--I think, my dear, that I've broken something," he
said. At which very obvious statement there was a sound of smothered
laughter at the door.

Nannie's colour deepened, and I believe I muttered something about
finding Mrs. Blackwood; to tell the truth, I was so rattled--between
sympathy for the _pater_ and embarrassment at the accident--that I
hardly knew what I was saying, but my father caught at it. "Yes, yes,"
he said nervously, "I must speak to our hostess; I must apologise for my
awkwardness. Ask Mrs. Blackwood if she will be kind enough to step here,
Felix--or stay, I will go to her."

"I'll find Mrs. Blackwood for you," volunteered one of the bystanders;
but at that moment the little crowd at the door parted and in came Mrs.
Blackwood, and who should be behind her but _Max_! I was delighted to
see him. I felt that we were all right then, for Max always knows what
to do; and I think Nannie felt as relieved as I did, for she gave a
glad little cry as she held out her hand. Then she turned as red as a
rose,--I suppose she suddenly realised how many people were looking at
her; but evidently Max didn't mind them in the least, for he held on
to Nannie's hand, and smiled, and looked at her just as kindly as if
we were at home,--Max likes us all, but Nannie has always been his
favourite.

In the mean time Mrs. Blackwood was trying, with exquisite tact, to make
my father feel less uncomfortable. "It was the most absurd place to put
a bowl of flowers," she asserted cheerfully, "on so slight a table, and
so near the book-shelves. I've always declared that an accident would
occur; now I can say, 'I told you so!' and that's such a satisfaction
to a woman, you know."

She laughed merrily, but the _pater_ still looked troubled. "It was a
great piece of carelessness on my part," he repeated mournfully, for
about the fifth time. "I stood looking over a volume I had taken from
the shelf,--that, I am thankful to know, has not been injured" (with a
hasty glance at the book still tightly clasped in his left hand),--"and
becoming interested, I presume I forgot where I was, and--and leaned too
heavily against the table. It gave way, and--this ruin is the result!
I--I--cannot express to you how I regret the accident."

"_Don't_ be troubled over it, dear friend, _please_ don't," Mrs.
Blackwood urged. "Nothing is broken but the bowl, and that may have been
cracked before,--it seems to me that one of them was; let us rather
rejoice that you were not hurt by your fall, for _that_ would indeed
have been a serious matter. Now I'm sure you want to resume looking over
that 'Abbe Marite;' isn't it quaint? and perhaps among Mr. Blackwood's
glasses we may be able to find a pair that would suit your eyes for the
nonce. I know how perfectly lost one feels without one's 'second eyes.'
Shall we make the selection? Come, Felix and Nannie,--you, too,
Max,--and help us get the right focus. Oh, please don't speak of going,
Mr. Rose."

Chatting pleasantly to divert my father's mind from the accident,
Mrs. Blackwood led us into her husband's smoking-room, where from
his collection of spectacles and eyeglasses my father made a selection
which enabled him to finish the "Abbe," and soon after that to get home
with some degree of comfort.

There were no more _contretemps_ that afternoon, I am thankful to say;
Max went home and dined with us. He was in fine spirits,--so glad to get
home again, he said,--and made even the _pater_ smile over a description
of what he calls his "adventures in the far West." With the exception
of a short visit in the study, he spent the evening with us in the
schoolroom, hearing all that has happened to us since he went away,
and playing violin and piano duets with Nannie and me.

I intended to have had a talk with Max about Chad, but there was no
opportunity on this evening; and besides, he looked so pleased when Nora
said she thought that Chad was "nice"--and she claims to be so _very_
fastidious! I can't understand it--that I concluded I'd wait until
another time to air my opinion. I noticed that Phil didn't say anything
for or against Chad: all the same, _I_ shall speak, just as soon as I
can get Max alone; for, if he doesn't know it already, he ought to be
told the sort of individual his ward is. As far as I'm personally
concerned, I'd put up with the fellow rather than trouble Max, but
I've got to think of Phil.

After Max had taken his departure, and Betty and Jack had been walked
off to bed, we four older ones sat talking for a few minutes. Phil, as
usual, sat on the edge of the schoolroom table. "Well, you three gay and
festive creatures," he said, with a comprehensive wave of his hand
toward us, "what's your true and honest opinion of the afternoon's
tea-fight, politely termed 'reception'? You needn't all speak at once,
you know."

"Thanks awfully for the information," laughed Nora, making him a very
graceful and sweeping bow. "Well, except for the unhappy _quart d'heure_
that papa gave us, I enjoyed the reception immensely. Oh, I'd _love_ to
be out in society," she said, with sparkling eyes, "and meet lots of
people, and go to balls and receptions and all those affairs every day
of my life. That's what _I_ call living,--not this stupid, humdrum
school life; and I 'll have them all, too, some day, see if I don't,"
she ended, with a toss of her head and a little conscious laugh. Nora
knows she's pretty; that's one of the things that spoil her.

Phil eyed her severely, wrinkling up his brows. "Eleanor, my love," he
remarked, with his most fatherly air, "I beg that you will bear in mind
the fable of the unwise canine who lost his piece of meat by trying to
catch its larger reflection in the stream, and endeavour to profit
thereby. No charge made for that good advice. Now, Nancy, let's hear
from you."

Nannie hesitated a little. "Why--I think I enjoyed it," she said slowly;
"yes, I did."

"What! _did_ you?" I exclaimed in surprise. "You mean to say you enjoyed
sitting on that lounge and seeing Miss Devereaux snub that unfortunate
little woman in the hideous bonnet?"

"Well, no, not that part," admitted Nannie.

"And did you enjoy the _pater's_ smashing the Doulton bowl?"

"Oh, no, of _course_ not," Nannie returned, somewhat indignantly.

"Then where did the enjoyment come in?" I persisted.

"I can't tell you why, or when, or how, but I enjoyed it," was Nannie's
reply; and then, "without rhyme or reason," as nurse says, she blushed a
vivid red.

"Do look at her!" teased Phil. "Why, Nancy, it isn't against the law to
have enjoyed yourself. What're you blushing for?"

"I'm sure I don't know," my twinnie answered, with such a look of
perplexity in her sweet, honest eyes that we had to laugh. Whereupon she
blushed rosier than ever, even to her ears and her pretty throat, and
running over to me, hid her flushed face on my shoulder. "Please stop
teasing, Fee," she whispered.

Now if anybody was teasing just then Phil was in it, and I started to
tell her so; but Phil interrupted: "One more county to be heard from,"
he declared, "and that's you, most noble Felix. Are you, like Nora,
hankering after the unattainable in the shape of daily receptions?"

"Can't say that I'm devoured with a desire that way," I confessed with a
grin. "I wouldn't go over this afternoon's experience for a farm! As
they say in the novels, my feelings can be better imagined than
described when I walked into the Blackwoods' library and saw the _pater_
standing in the midst of the shattered vase _a la_ Marius in the ruins
of Carthage. Had I but owned a genii, we'd have been whisked out of that
room and home in about two seconds. No, on calm reflection, I forswear
receptions for the future."

"Hullo!" exclaimed Phil, suddenly, "I say,--come to think of it,--how
d'you suppose the _Blackwoods_ enjoyed the orgy?"

We looked at each other. "_I_ said I enjoyed myself," asserted Nora,
with a superior and very virtuous air. "It's the least one can do when
people go to the trouble and expense of entertaining one."

Nannie sat up and looked contrite. "_Poor_ Mrs. Blackwood!" she said;
"Doulton is her favourite china, and that bowl _was_ a beauty!"

"I guess they got the worst of it," I said to Phil.

"I shouldn't wonder if they had," he answered with a nod. "Moral: Don't
give afternoon receptions. Let's be off to bed. Good-night, all."




XII.

IN THE SHADOW.

TOLD BY JACK.


Felix and I were together in his room; he was helping me with my
Latin--that vile Latin, how I despise it!--when we heard some one
calling from the hall two flights below. "Why, that sounds like Nannie's
voice!" Felix said, starting from his chair. "I wonder what's up?"

We heard plainly enough when we got in the hall, for Nannie was calling,
in a loud, frightened way, "Felix! Phil, Jack! somebody!--_anybody!_"

"All right! here we are! What's the matter?" Felix answered, making for
the steps as fast as he could go. "Oh, pshaw! I've left my cane in the
room; get it for me, Jack, and catch up to me on the stairs."

I dashed into Fee's room, snatched up the cane, and was out again in
time to hear Nannie say, excitedly: "Tell nurse to come right down to
the study, Felix, and send Jack flying for Dr. Archard; papa is _very_
ill, I am afraid. Oh, be quick, _quick!_"

"Great Scott!" exclaimed Fee. I knew by his voice that he was awfully
frightened. Then suddenly he slid down in a sitting position on one of
the steps. I thought he must have stumbled; but before I could say
anything, or even get to him, he called out, "All right, Nan! nurse will
be there in a minute," adding impatiently to me: "What are you gaping
at? Get on your hat--it's on the hat rack--and rush for Dr. Archard as
fast as you can. Tell him father's very ill, and to come at _once_. Step
lively, Jack!"

"But nurse--" I hesitated. "Shall I tell her first?"

"Do as you've been told," Fee said sharply. "I'll see to that; do you
suppose I'm _utterly_ useless? _Start!_" He gave me a little push on the
shoulder as he spoke, and I tell you I just flew down those steps and
out into the street.

I ran every step of the way, and caught Dr. Archard just as he was
stepping into his carriage to go somewhere. He looked very serious when
he heard my message. "I'm not surprised," he said; "I've been expecting
a break-down in that quarter for some time." Then he made me jump into
the carriage with him, and we drove rapidly round to the house.

There we found everybody very much excited. The study door stood open,
and from the hall I could see papa lying on the lounge, with his eyes
closed, and looking very white. Nurse was rubbing his feet, Nannie his
hands, and Miss Marston stood by his head fanning him.

[Illustration: "I COULD SEE PAPA LYING ON THE LOUNGE."]

Felix and Phil were not around, but I tell you the younger children
were; nurse and Miss Marston not being there to keep them upstairs, they
had all collected in the hall, and refused flatly to go to the nursery.
For fear of the noise they might raise, Nora couldn't very well make
them obey; but after the doctor came, she and Betty half coaxed, half
drove them into the drawing-room, and tried to keep them there. It was
hard work to do this, though, for every now and then Paul or Alan, or
even Kathie--_she_ ought to have known better--would sneak out "to see
what was going on." Then Betty'd fly out too, and as quietly as possible
catch and haul back the runaway. I think both Nora and Betty would like
to have had me come in there too,--Nora said as much,--but I pretended I
didn't hear; _I_ didn't want to be shut up, and anyway, as I thought,
somebody ought to be on hand to run errands in case anything was needed.
So I just stayed where I was.

"Oh, I am so _thankful_ you have come!" Nannie exclaimed, as the doctor
walked in. But, except for a nod, he didn't notice her; he laid his
fingers on papa's pulse, then in a minute or so knelt down and put his
ear to papa's chest. I was watching him so intently that I didn't know
Phil had come in until I heard Nora--she was standing in the hall and
holding the drawing-room doors shut--say, in a low tone, "Hush! don't
make a noise; papa is ill. Dr. Archard's here--in the study."

"What's the matter?" Phil asked, opening his eyes in a startled sort of
way, and looking very serious.

"Why, he complained to Nannie of feeling queer, and then suddenly
fainted away; and since then he has gone from one fainting fit into
another. Isn't it strange? I don't think he has ever done such a thing
as faint in his life before."

"He's been working like a slave over that beastly old Fetich," Phil said
irritably, "as if he was _bound_ to get it finished."

I knew he was cross because he was scared about papa, and sorry for him;
but Nora didn't seem to guess that,--she doesn't see through things like
that as Nannie does,--and now she just put up her eyebrows as if
surprised, and said, "Why, isn't that what you all wanted,--to have the
Fetich finished?"

Phil got red in the face, and he made a step nearer the drawing-room
door. "That was a mean speech, Nora," he said in a low, angry voice.

_I_ think it was mean, too; but perhaps it was because she felt badly
about papa that Nora spoke so,--as nurse says, different people have
different ways of showing their feelings,--for she put out her hand and
commenced, quickly, "I didn't mean to hurt--"

But while she was speaking, Nannie came out of the study. "Oh, Phil,"
she said, as soon as she saw him, "come right in here, won't you? the
doctor says we must get papa to bed as quickly as possible, and you can
help us."

Phil flung his books on the hat-rack table, and followed her into the
room at once, and they shut the study door.

It opened again, though, in a minute or two, and out came Miss Marston,
just in time to catch Alan as he rushed along the hall, away from Betty,
who was in hot pursuit. "What are _you_ doing down here?" demanded Miss
Marston, severely.

"They're all here," Alan paused to explain, rather defiantly, whereupon
Betty pounced on him.

Miss Marston held a hot-water bottle in her hand; she was on her way to
the kitchen, but she stopped to speak to the children,--for at the sound
of her voice Nora had opened the drawing-room doors, and Kathie, Paul,
and Maedel had tumbled out into the hall in a body. "This will never do,"
Miss Marston said, "racing about the halls while your father is so ill!
Can't you find something for them to do, Nora? Take them to the nursery,
or the schoolroom, and give each--"

I didn't wait to hear the rest. I was afraid she'd see me, and remember
that old Latin, so I scooted up the back stairs as hard as I could go;
you see she wouldn't have taken into account that I was waiting down
there in case I was wanted for an errand.

It was as I got up near Fee's room that I began to wonder where he was,
and why he hadn't been downstairs with the rest of us; he must have
wanted to know how papa was, I thought. I looked in the schoolroom, but
he wasn't there,--the place had a deserted appearance! Then I ran down
again and peeped into his room, and just think! there, flat on the
floor, with his feet barely inside the doorway, lay Felix!

I was so astonished and so scared--it's a serious matter for Fee to
fall, you know (he hasn't really been himself, I mean not as strong,
since that day in the schoolroom, when Alan upset him)--that when I
cried out, "Oh, _Fee!_ did you fall? have you hurt yourself?" and knelt
down by him, I hardly knew what I was saying or doing.

[Illustration: "'OH, _FEE!_ DID YOU FALL? HAVE YOU HURT YOURSELF?'"]

"Shut the door," Felix said; he spoke slowly, as if he were very tired.
His face looked badly, too,--pale, and with black rings under his eyes
away below his glasses. And there was something in the way he lay
there--a limpness and helplessness--that somehow frightened me, and made
me feel right away as if I ought to call nurse or somebody. But I know
Fee likes to have people do as he tells them, so first I shut the door
tight, then I came back and knelt down by him again. "Hadn't I better
help you up, Fee?" I asked, "or shall I call"--I was going to say
"Nannie or Phil," but remembered they were helping papa, and ended up
with "somebody?"

But Felix only said, "How's father? Tell me about him."

He listened to all I could tell about papa; then, when I had finished,
he threw his arms wide apart on the floor with a groan, and rolled his
head impatiently from side to side. I just _longed_ to do something for
him,--dear old Fee!

"Don't you want to get up?" I asked again, in as coaxing a way as I
could. "I could help you, you know, Fee; the floor is so hard for
your back."

Then he told me. "Jack," he said, in a tired, hopeless voice that made a
lump fly into my throat, "I'm in a pretty bad fix, I'm afraid; my poor
old back and my legs have given out. I got a very queer feeling that
time I sat down so suddenly on the steps, and after you'd gone 'twas all
I could do to brace up and drag myself to this floor to call nurse. Then
I crawled in here, and barely got inside the door when I collapsed. My
legs gave way entirely, and down I tumbled just where you see me now."
He threw his arms out again, and twisted one of his hands in the fringe
of the rug on which he was lying; then presently he went on: "Do you
know why I'm still lying here? do you know why, Jack? because"--his
voice shook so he had to stop for a minute--"because, from my waist
down, I can't move my body at all. Unless somebody helps me, I'll
have to lie here all night; _I'm perfectly helpless_!"

I'd been swallowing and swallowing while Fee was talking, but now I
couldn't stand it any longer; I felt awfully unhappy, and I just _had_
to let the tears come. "It's that fall that's done it," I said, trying
to wipe away the tears that came rushing down,--it's so _girlie_ to
cry!--"the day Alan upset you in the schoolroom! Oh, Fee, _do_ let me
call somebody to help you! Phil's downstairs, you know; oh, and the
doctor,--please, _please_ let me ask _him_ to come up! Oh, mayn't I?"

Felix put out his hand and patted my knee in a way that reminded me of
Nannie; he doesn't usually do those things. "Don't cry, Jackie-boy," he
said very gently, "and don't blame Alan,--I don't believe he touched me
that day; I believe now that that was an attack similar to this, only
not so severe. What'll the _next_ one be!" His voice began shaking
again, but he went right on: "Now I want you to help me keep this thing
quiet,--I was hoping you'd be the one to find me,--so that Nannie and
the others won't have it to add to their anxiety while the _pater_ is
ill. I'm afraid he's in a bad way; I don't like the doctor's sounding
his heart,--that looks as if he suspected trouble there. He has been
working like a slave ever since--oh, what _beasts_ we were to get up
that Fetich joke! Poor old _pater_!" Felix folded his arms across his
eyes and lay perfectly quiet; I _think_ I saw a tear run down the side
of his face to his ear, but I won't be sure. That just brought that
horrid lump right back into my throat, but I was determined I wouldn't
break down again; so I got up, and taking a pillow from the bed, brought
it over to slip under Fee's head,--the floor was _so_ hard you know.

This roused him. "You're not very big, Rosebud, but perhaps you can help
me to get to bed," he said, trying to speak as if nothing had happened.
"I may feel better after I'm there; who knows but this attack may wear
off in a day or two, as the other did."

He spoke so cheerfully that I began to feel better, too, and I flew
around and did just as he told me. First I pulled his bed right close up
to where Fee lay,--it's very light,--then I made a rope of his worsted
afghan, and passing it round the farthest bedpost, gave the ends to him;
then, as he pulled himself up, I pushed him with all my might, and by
and by he got on the bed. It was awfully hard to do, though, for the bed
was on casters, and would slip away from us; but after a good while we
succeeded.

"There, I feel a little better already!" he said, after I'd got him
undressed. "That floor _was_ hard, and I was there some time; yes, I do
feel a little better." He took hold of the railing at the head of the
bed and pulled himself a little higher on the pillows.

"Perhaps you'll be all right again in a few days, same as the last
time," I suggested.

Fee's face brightened up. "That's so,--perhaps I shall," he said. "Why,
Jack, you're almost as good a comforter as Nannie!" Then he took my hand
as if he were going to shake hands, and holding it tight, went on with,
"Now, Jack, I want you to promise me that you'll not speak about this
attack of mine to _anybody_. As you say, I'll possibly--probably--be all
over it in a few days, and there's too much sickness and trouble in the
house already, without my adding to it. Promise me, Jack!" He gave my
hand a little shake as he spoke.

But I hesitated; for, though now he seemed better, I couldn't get out of
my mind how _awfully_ he had looked when I first found him,--and Fee
isn't strong like the rest of us. But he shook my hand again two or
three times, saying impatiently, "Why don't you promise? There's no harm
in doing what I ask; think how worried and anxious Phil and Nannie are
about papa!"

"Yes, presently," we heard Phil's voice say at the door at that
very moment.

"Promise! _promise!_" repeated Felix, almost fiercely, and I got so
nervous--Phil was coming right into the room--that I said, "All right,
I promise," almost before I knew what I was saying. I got a frightened
sort of feeling the moment the words were out of my mouth, that made
me just wish I hadn't said them.

"Hullo! in bed? What's up?" asked Phil in surprise, as he walked up to
Fee. "I wondered where you were." Then, without waiting for an answer,
he sat down on the edge of the bed, and went on, in an excited tone of
voice, "Did you hear about the _pater_? I tell you we've had our hands
full downstairs; I'm afraid he's"--here Phil stopped and cleared his
throat--"he's pretty low down. Dr. Archard as much as admitted it when I
asked him to tell me the truth. It's that Fetich! He has been working
over it like a galley slave, because--" Phil stopped again. He and Felix
looked at each other; then, starting up, Phil walked over to the other
side of the room, and stood with his hands in his pockets, staring at
Fee's picture of the Good Shepherd which hangs on the wall there, and
which he had seen scores of times before.

"Who's going to take care of father?" Felix asked presently, and that
brought Phil back to his bedside.

"The doctor is going to send us a trained nurse this afternoon," he
said; "but in the mean while Nannie and nurse are with him. Every time
he became conscious he asked for Nannie or spoke her name, and seemed
easier when she was near him; once or twice he called her 'Margaret'!"

We were quiet for a moment or two,--that was dear mamma's name,--then
Phil began again: "The nurse that's coming is a woman, and very
efficient, I believe. Of course she'll have to have a certain amount of
rest every day, and at those times somebody will have to take her place;
so I'm going to try to be home early afternoons,--Nannie can't do
everything, you know,--and sit with the _pater_ while the nurse takes
her nap. I thought perhaps we could alternate, you and I,--you're so
splendid in a sick room; but I suppose I'll be as awkward as the
proverbial bull in the china shop. I generally get rattled when I
undertake to do anything for father, and am sure to do just what I
shouldn't; so I'm not sorry you're going to be there for a change, old
man." He threw his arm across Fee's poor helpless legs as he spoke, and
gave one of them a little squeeze.

Fee hesitated. "I'm afraid I can't begin right away," he said slowly;
"I'm not up to the mark just now, and it would be best not to depend on
me for anything for at least--a week. Then, if I can, you may be sure
I'll willingly take my part of the nursing."

"Why, you're not ill, are you?" exclaimed Phil. "You were all right
this morning when I went out. It's just to sit in the room, you know;
you could read there, I suppose, if you wanted to."

Felix coloured up at Phil's tone. "You know very well I'm not one of the
sort to shirk,--I would do anything for the _pater_," he said quickly,
"and just as soon as I can I'll take my full share in looking after and
nursing him; but, as I told you, I don't feel quite up to it just now.
I'm going to keep quiet for a few days,--a week, perhaps."

Fee was trying to speak in his usual way, but there was something in his
voice when he said that "perhaps" that made me just long to tell Phil
right out what the trouble was. As it was, maybe Phil noticed something,
for he eyed Fee sharply as he asked, rather anxiously: "Look here,
Felix, is there anything you're keeping back? Come to notice, you do
look rather white about the gills; do you feel ill, old fellow?"

I thought everything would come out then, for I knew Fee wouldn't lie
about it; and so it would, I'm pretty sure, if Paul and Alan hadn't come
bouncing into the room, and Nora behind them.

The boys flew to Fee's bedside. "Oh, Fee, _don't_ let her get us!" "Oh,
Fee, _do_ let us stay with you!" they cried at the same moment, while
Alan added saucily, "she just thinks we b'long to her!"

"They're the _rudest_ children I ever knew!" exclaimed Nora,
angrily,--just as if she knew all the children in the world! "They don't
know what the word, 'obedience' means. Come straight upstairs this
minute,--both of you!"

She made a dive for them, but the boys were too quick for her. Alan
ducked under Fee's bed, and came up on the other side with a triumphant
chuckle, while Paul rolled right over Fee's legs and landed on the
floor, where Phil grabbed him.

"Can't you behave yourselves, you young rascals?" demanded Phil,
sternly, giving Paul's arm a shake, and catching Alan by the collar.
"Just walk straight upstairs, and do as your sister tells you. Stop
your noise this minute,--do you hear me?"

But instead they both roared the louder, at the same time pulling and
tugging to get away. "She's just _horrid_!" asserted Alan, trying to
wriggle out of Phil's grasp. "I just wish she'd go an' live in some
other house, and never come back;" while between his sobs Judge drawled
out pertly: "She thinks she can treat us like anything 'cause nurse
isn't here to take our part. She won't let us do one single thing, an'
she's just as cross as an old cat--so _now_!"

"I am, eh?" cried Nora, indignantly. "Well, like it or not, you
will have to obey me. Go upstairs at once,--both of you! _Make_
them go, Phil!"

I felt awfully sorry for them,--you see I know Nora is a nagger, she
tries it on me sometimes; but they _were_ making a horrible din. Fee
looked very white; he lay with one arm folded over his eyes; and to make
matters worse, in walked Betty. "Kathie has started crying, and I can't
stop her," she announced, as she got in the doorway. "I'm afraid Maedel
will be off in a few minutes, too, if we don't quiet Kathie; hadn't I
better call Nannie?"

"Who is taking my name in vain?" said a voice that we were all glad
to hear, and there was Nannie herself, smiling at us over Betty's
shoulder.




XIII.

THROUGH THE SHADOW.

TOLD BY JACK.


Well, it was astonishing how things quieted down after that. Phil let go
the boys, and with a shout of delight they rushed up to Nannie, and just
threw themselves on her; with an arm round each, she went straight to
Fee's side: "Why, Felix, are you ill? My dear, is it your back again?"
As she spoke she laid her hand on his forehead, and then stroked his
hair back.

"Yes," Fee said wearily, closing his eyes; "my back--and the _noise_!"

"Come, boys, we'll go up to the nursery and get ready for dinner. Nurse
has to stay with poor papa, so I'm going to give you your dinner; and of
course I want my little knights to be on their best behaviour for the
occasion." Nannie drew them, still hanging on to her, toward the door.

"Oh, yes, and _do_ stop Kathie, if you can," put in Betty. "Maedel
accidentally rocked the charger on Kathie's pet doll's head and smashed
it, and she's just _howled_ ever since. Do listen!"

Sure enough, we could all hear a long, mournful wail; then another and
another; if there's one thing Kathie does well, it's crying.

"What! Esmeralda Dorothea? Poor Kathie!" said Nannie; "I don't wonder
she feels badly. Come, boys, we'll go up and see if we can comfort her."

The boys looked quite jubilant! holding on to Nannie's hand, Alan threw
a defiant glance at Nora as he passed her, and Judge quoted in his slow,
droll way: "'My _dear_ dolly's dead! She died of a hole in her head!'"

"Instead of petting those boys, Nannie, you ought to punish them well,
or give them a good scolding!" cried Nora. "They have both been
exceedingly rude and disobedient to me."

Nannie looked grieved, and the boys immediately began making excuses,
which Nannie heard in silence. When they had finished, she said: "We are
going upstairs to get ready for dinner, Nonie; but after that, when we
are all sweet and clean, these two little men will, I am sure, come to
you and ask you to overlook this afternoon's behaviour. I can't think
that they really meant to be rude or disobedient to sister Nora."

Nora tossed her head, but said nothing until Nannie had gone upstairs;
then she remarked: "It's outrageous the way Nannie spoils the children;
did you see the impertinent look Alan gave me as he went by? You will
see they won't apologise,--I know they won't;" and then she, too, walked
out of the room.

But they did apologise, all the same, and very soon after, too.

"Like oil on troubled waters! What a blessing that Nannie belongs to
this family!" Phil said, when we three were alone again.

"Ay, thank God for her!" answered Felix, fervently; and I felt like
saying so too. Really, I don't know what we'd do without Nannie to keep
the peace. It isn't that we don't love one another, for we do, dearly,
and we just _love_ to be together, too; but somehow, somebody or other's
sure to get into a discussion, or a fuss, or a regular quarrel, if
Nannie isn't on hand to smooth things down. I don't know how it is, but
she can get us to do things that we wouldn't do for any one else, and it
isn't because she coaxes, for she doesn't always; sometimes she speaks
right square out, and doesn't mince matters either,--but even then we
don't mind. I mean it doesn't hurt as it would from somebody else. Felix
says it's because she has tact, and Betty says it's because she loves us
an awful lot. _I_ think perhaps it's both.

[Illustration: "'THESE TWO LITTLE MEN WILL, I AM SURE, COME TO YOU AND
ASK YOU TO OVERLOOK THIS AFTERNOON'S BEHAVIOUR.'"]

Well, those next two weeks were just _awful_! Seems now as if they'd
been a tremendous long nightmare. There was Fee in bed upstairs he
didn't get up or stand on his feet for nearly ten days,--he couldn't,
you know, his legs wouldn't hold him up, though I rubbed and rubbed them
every night till I was so tired, I felt as if I'd drop. Of course I
didn't let Fee know how tired I got over it, 'cause then he wouldn't
have let me rub 'em so long, and I did want to do it thoroughly.

At first Fee hadn't a bit of feeling in his legs; but gradually it came
back, and at last one afternoon he managed to stand on his feet, holding
on to me and the furniture,--his cane wasn't any good at all at
first,--and I tell you he used to press hard, though he didn't know it.
You see he was anxious to be all right as soon as he possibly could,
'cause the others began to think 'twas queer he stayed in bed so long if
it was nothing but his back, and he didn't want them to know what the
trouble was; and besides, he felt all the time that he should be up and
helping take care of papa: there was a good deal to do, though the nurse
was there, for the doctor said papa shouldn't be left alone for even a
minute. So they were all very busy and anxious, or they would certainly
have noticed what a long time I stayed in Fee's room every afternoon,
and perhaps have suspected something.

Phil was the one Fee said he was most afraid would find out, but he was
a good deal in papa's room in the afternoons, and evenings he was
studying, 'cause his exams, were coming on, though sometimes he went for
long walks with Chad. Chad was very often at the house at this time, but
he never went in to see Fee; and after the first or second time I didn't
tell Fee, for he doesn't like Chad, and I could see he didn't want Phil
and Chad to be together without his being there too. We don't any of us
care very much for Chad,--not half or even a quarter as much as we do
for Hilliard; even Betty has to admit that, for all she makes such fun
of Hill's slow ways. You see Chad puts on such silly airs, pretending
he's a grown-up man, when really he's only a boy,--he's only a year
older than Phil. And then he talks so much about his money, and wears
_diamonds_,--rings and pins and buttons,--fancy! As Betty says, nice men
and boys don't wear diamonds like that.

Betty is awfully rude to Chad sometimes; she calls him Monsieur le
Don_key_, and Dresden-china-young man, and laughs at him almost to his
face. I should think he'd get mad, but he just ignores her. In fact, the
only one he shows any attention to is Nora; he's all the time bringing
her flowers, and talking to her in his affected way, and lately he has
begun to be very friendly with Phil, though I'm not sure that Phil cares
very much in return,--he's so short with Chad sometimes.

But, dear me! all this isn't what I started to say; I was telling you
about those awful nightmare weeks. Well, to go back, there was Fee in
bed upstairs, just as brave-hearted as he could be, but getting thinner
and paler every day; and there was papa in the extension--he's slept
down there ever since dear mamma died--in bed too, and desperately ill.
The doctor came two and three and four times a day, and the house was
kept as still as could be; we just stole through the halls, and scurried
up the stairs like so many mice, so's not to make any noise, and because
the constant muttering that we could hear from the sick-room made us
feel so badly,--at least it did us older ones, the younger children
didn't understand.

Papa doesn't usually say very much; but now he was out of his head, and
he just talked the whole time, and loud, so one couldn't help hearing
what he said. 'Twas about the Fetich; he called it "my book," and
scolded himself because he couldn't work faster on it, so's to sell it.
I tell you what, that just broke Betty and Phil all up! Then he'd seem
to forget that, and begin about walking in the country with mamma,
through fields full of flowers and trees and "babbling brooks,"--that's
what he called 'em, and quoted poetry about them all. He never once
spoke of us; it was always "Margaret, Margaret!" sometimes in a glad
voice, as if he were very happy, and sometimes in a sad, wailing sort
of way, that brought a great lump into our throats.

Nannie had to be in papa's room most all of every day,--the nurse said
he got very restless when she wasn't around,--and as he kept getting
worse and worse, she was in there lots of nights, too. Her lessons, and
all the other things, had to just go, and we hardly saw her except for a
little while now and then, when she ran up to sit with Felix and tell
him about how papa was getting on.

After a while she began to look a little pale, and her eyes got real big
and bright; but she never once said she was tired, and it never occurred
to any of us--you see we were all worked up over papa--until one day Max
spoke of it to Felix: he said Nannie was just killing herself, and got
so sort of excited over it--Max isn't one of the excitable kind--that
Fee started in to worry about Nannie. It was when he had just begun to
walk about a little, and he was wild to go right down and take Nannie's
place in the sick-room. But he couldn't, you know; why, 'twas as much as
he could do to barely stand on his feet and get round holding on to the
furniture. Then, when he realised that, he got disheartened, and called
himself a "useless hulk," and all sorts of horrid names, and was just as
cranky as he could be; but I felt so sorry for him that I didn't mind.
Poor old Fee!

Well, from day to day papa got more and more ill; the fever kept right
on and he was awfully weak, and at last he fell into a stupor. That day
Dr. Archard hardly left our house for even an hour, and the other
physicians just went in and out all the time. Max was there, too,--he
almost lived at our house those weeks, taking all the night watching
they'd let him, and doing all he could for papa and us,--and about seven
o'clock that evening he came up to the schoolroom, where we older ones
were. Dr. Archard had told Phil, and he had told us, that a change would
come very soon,--papa would either pass from that stupor into a sleep
which might save his life, or he would go away from us, as our dear
mother had gone.

No one of us was allowed to stay in the sick-room but Nannie, and she
had promised to let us know the minute the change came; so we five and
Max were waiting in the schoolroom, longing and yet just dreading what
Nannie might have to tell us.

It was a glorious afternoon: the sun had just gone down, and from where
we sat--close together--we could see through the windows the sky, all
rose-colour and gold, with long streaks here and there of the most
exquisite pale blue and green; and soft, white, fleecy clouds that kept
changing their shape every minute. When I was little and heard that
anybody we knew was dead, I used to sit in one of our schoolroom
windows and watch the sunset, to see the angels taking the soul up to
heaven,--- I thought that was the way it went up; I could almost always
make out the shape of an angel in the clouds, and I'd watch with all my
eyes till every speck of it had melted away, before I'd be willing to
leave the window. Of course I really know better than that now, but this
afternoon as we all sat there so sad and forlorn, looking at the skies,
there came in the clouds the shape of a most beautiful large angel,
all soft white, and with rosy, outspread wings, and I couldn't help
wondering if God was sending an angel for papa's soul, or if he would
let mamma come for it--she loved him so dearly!

Betty saw the angel, too, for she nudged my elbow and whispered softly,
"Oh, Jack, look!"

Just then we heard a step outside, the door flew open, and Nannie came
in; her face was pale, but her eyes were wide opened and shining, and
when she spoke her voice rang out joyfully: "Oh, my dears, my dears!"
she cried, stretching out her arms to us, "God is good to us,--papa is
asleep! He will live!" Then, before anybody could say a word, she got
very white, and threw out her hand for the back of Fee's chair; Phil
sprang to catch her, but like a flash Max was before him. Taking Nannie
right up in his arms, as if she'd been a little child, Max went over
and laid her on the sofa, then knelt down by her, and began rubbing one
of her hands.

Phil flew for nurse, Nora for a fan, Betty for water, and I caught up
Nannie's other hand and began rubbing it, though I could scarcely reach
it from where I stood almost behind Max. I could hear Fee's chair
scraping the floor as he hitched himself along toward us.

Max stopped rubbing and began smoothing the loose, curly pieces of
Nannie's hair off her forehead. "Dear little Nancy Lee!" I heard him
say; and then, "My brave little--" I lost that word, for Nannie opened
her eyes just then, and looked up at him with a far-off, wondering look;
then the lids fell again, and she lay perfectly still, while Max and I
rubbed away at her hands.

In a minute or two the others came trooping in with nurse and the things
they'd gone for, and pretty soon Nannie was much better. She sat up and
looked at us with a smile that just lighted up her whole face,--I think
Nannie is so pretty! "What a goose I was to faint!" she said, "when we
have such _good_ news! Oh, isn't it splendid, _splendid_! that papa will
get well!" Then in a minute--before we knew what she was about--she was
kneeling by Felix, with her arms round his neck, crying and sobbing as
if her heart would break.

And what d'you think! in about two minutes more, if we weren't every
one of us crying, too! I don't mean out loud, you know,--though Nora and
Betty did,--but all the same we all knew we were doing it. Phil laid his
arms on the schoolroom table and buried his face in them, Fee put his
face down in Nannie's neck, and I was just _busy_ wiping away the tears
that would come pouring down; nurse threw her apron over her face and
went out in the hall, and Max walked to the window and stood there
clearing his throat. And yet we were all _very_, _very_ glad and happy;
queer, wasn't it?




XIV.

A MISSION OF THREE.

TOLD BY JACK.


That was the turning-point, for after that papa began to get better; but
my! so slowly: why, it was days and days, Nannie said, before she could
really see any improvement, he was so dreadfully weak. After a while,
though, he began to take nourishment, then to notice things and to say a
few words to Nannie, and one day he asked the doctor how long 'twould be
before he could get at his writing again.

The evening that Nannie came upstairs and told us about his asking the
doctor this, we held a council. The "kids" were in bed, and Miss Marston
was in her own room, so we had the schoolroom to ourselves; and in about
five minutes after Nannie got through telling us, we were all quite
worked up and all talking at once. You see we didn't want papa to begin
working again on the Fetich as he had done, for Dr. Archard had said
right out that that was what made him ill; and yet we didn't see,
either, how we could prevent it.

"Let's steal the Fetich and bury it in the cellar," proposed Betty,
after a good deal'd been said; "then he _couldn't_ work at it, for it
wouldn't be there, you know."

Her eyes sparkled,--I think she'd have liked no better fun than carrying
off the Fetich; but Phil immediately snubbed her. "Talk sense, or leave
the council," he said so crossly that Nannie put in, "Why, _Phil_!" and
Betty made a horrible face at him.

Then Fee spoke up: "Say, how would it do for us, we three,--you, Phil,
and Betty and I,--to tell the _pater_ how mean we feel about that
beastly joke, and then run through the potential mood in the way of
beseeching, imploring, exhorting him not to slave over his work in the
future as he's been doing in the past months. I have a fancy that Mr.
Erveng has really made him an offer for the book when completed--"

"I'm pretty sure he has, from something Mrs. Erveng said the other day,"
broke in Nora, with a slow nod of her head.

"Well," went on Felix, in an I-told-you-so tone of voice, "and I suppose
the _pater_ thinks we're watching and measuring his progress like so
many hungry hawks, just ready to swoop down and devour him--_ach_!" He
threw out his hands with a gesture of disgust that somehow made us all
feel ashamed, though we weren't all in it, you know.

"That isn't a bad plan," said Nora, presently. "In fact, I think it is
good; only, instead of three of you going at papa about it, why not let
one speak for all? He would be just as likely to listen to one as to
three, and it wouldn't tire him so much,--that's _my_ opinion. What do
you think, Nannie?"

Nannie shook her head dubiously; she was lying on the sofa looking
awfully tired. "I'm not sure that it'll do any good," she answered; "I'm
afraid papa has made up his mind to do just so much work, and he likes
to carry out his intentions, you know. But I'd speak all the same," she
added, "for I think he felt dreadfully cut up over that Fetich affair,
and this will show him, anyhow, that you all care more for him--his
well-being, I mean--than for the money the book might bring in. I fancy
he has been doubtful of that sometimes. And I agree with Nora that it
would be better for one to speak for the three. He is getting stronger
now, and whoever is to be spokesman might, perhaps, go in to see him for
a few minutes some afternoon this week. Who is it to be,--Phil?"

"Don't ask me to do it!" exclaimed Phil; "_don't_--if you want the
affair to be a success. I feel mortally ashamed of my share in that
joke, and I agree with Felix that _somebody_ ought to speak to the
_pater_ about working so hard, and almost killing himself; but I warn
you that the whole thing will be a dead failure if I have the doing of
it. In the first place, he looks so wretchedly now that I can't even
look at him without feeling like breaking down; and with all that, if I
undertook to say to him what I'd have to, why, I'm convinced I'd get
rattled,--make an ass of myself, in fact,--and do no good whatever,--for
that sort of thing always makes him mad. That's just the truth,--'tisn't
that I want to shirk. Why don't you do it, old fellow?" (throwing his
arm across Fee's shoulders), "you always know what to say, and can do it
better than I."

But Fee didn't seem willing either; _I_ think the chief reason was
because he was afraid of the steps,--it's as much as he can do to get
up the one short flight from his floor to the schoolroom, and he gets
awfully nervous and cranky over even that short distance; but of course
the others didn't know that, and he didn't want them to know, and I
couldn't say anything, so everybody was very much surprised: even Nannie
opened her eyes when, after a good deal of urging, he said sharply, "I
am _not_ going to do it, and that settles it!"

I was afraid there'd be a fuss, so I sung out quickly, "Why don't _you_
do it, Betty? You're always saying you're equal to anything."

Well, if you had seen her face, and felt the punch she gave my shoulder!
I declare Betty ought surely to've been a boy; she's entirely too
strong for a girl, and rough. I will say, though, that she's been better
lately; but still she breaks out every now and then, and then she hits
out, perfectly regardless of whether she hurts people or not.

She just glared at me. "_Me!_ _I!_ _I_ go into papa's room and make a
speech to him!" she exclaimed so loudly that Phil reminded her she
needn't roar, as none of us were deaf. "Why, I couldn't, I simply
_couldn't_! I'm just as bad as Phil in a sick-room,--you all know I
am; I'd tumble over the chairs, or knock things off the table, or fall
on the bed, or something horrid, and papa'd have me put out. Then I'm
sure matters would be worse than they are now. 'Tisn't that I'm
_afraid_,"--with a withering glance at me,--"and I _do_ feel awfully
sorry about papa; but all the same, I don't want to be the one to speak
to him about the Fetich,--I don't think it's my place: how much
attention do you suppose he would pay to what _I_'d say?" She fanned
herself vigorously, then added, in a milder tone, "Why not let Felix
draw up a petition, and we could all sign it; then--eh--" with another
withering glance--"_Jack_ could take it in to papa!"

"You're a fine set!" mocked Nora; "all _very_ sorry, _very_ penitent,
all seeing what should be done, but no one willing to do it. You are as
bad as the rats who decided in council that a bell should be placed on
the neck of their enemy, the cat, so that they should always have
warning of her approach; but when it came to deciding on who was to do
the deed, not one was brave enough."

"I suppose you think, as Nora does, that we're a pretty mean set?" Felix
said to Nannie; he ignored Nora's remark, though Phil made a dash for
her with the laughing threat, "Just let me catch you, Miss Nora!"

Nannie sat up and pushed her hair off her forehead; she looked pale
and languid, and when she spoke, her voice sounded tired. "No," she
said, "I don't think you are any of you mean; but I am disappointed:
I like people to have the courage of their convictions, and
particularly you, Fee."

"That's right, give it to us, Nancy,--we deserve it!" shouted Phil,
coming back in triumph with Nora; but Felix coloured up, and, leaning
over, laid his hand on Nannie's arm. "Perhaps if you--" he began
eagerly, but he didn't say the rest, for Max and Hilliard came in just
then, and Nannie got up to speak to them.

That was on a Tuesday evening, and the next afternoon, as I was going
through the hall, Miss Appleton came out of the sick-room and asked if I
would sit with papa for a short time, while she went to the basement to
make some nourishment or something or other. "There is nothing to do but
to sit somewhere about the room, within range of your father's sight,"
she said, as I hesitated a little,--not that I minded, but you see I was
rather nervous for fear I might be asked to do things that I didn't know
how to. "I won't be long, and I don't think he will need anything until
I return."

[Illustration: "MISS APPLETON ... ASKED IF I WOULD SIT WITH PAPA FOR A
SHORT TIME."]

Nannie was lying down with a headache, and nurse, Miss Marston, and the
others were away upstairs; Phil had not yet come home; so I said, "Very
well," and walked in.

Papa was lying in bed, and he did look awful!--white and thin! He put
out his hand as I went up to the bed, and said with a little smile,
"Why, it is Jack! how do you do, my dear?" then he drew me down and
kissed me. I would _love_ to have told him how very, _very_ glad I was
that he was better, but I choked up so I couldn't get out a word. I just
stood there hanging on to his hand, until he drew it away and said,
"Take a seat until the nurse returns."

Miss Appleton had told me to sit where papa could see me, so I took a
chair that somebody had left standing near the foot of the bed, and in
full view of him.

It was very quiet in the room after that; papa lay with his eyes
closed, and I could see how badly he looked. He was very pale,--kind of
a greyish white,--his eyes were sunk 'way in, and there were quite big
hollows in his temples and his cheeks. I wondered if he knew that he
had nearly died, and that we had prayed for him in church; then I
thought of the figure of the angel that we'd seen in the clouds that
afternoon in the schoolroom, and of the Beautiful City--"O mother dear,
Jerusalem"--where everything is lovely and everybody so happy, and I
wondered again if papa were sorry or glad that he was going to get
better. You see he would have had dear mamma there, and been with the
King "in His felicity;" but then he wouldn't have had the Fetich or
his books!

Suddenly papa opened his eyes and looked at me. "Jack," he said,
"suppose you take another seat,--over there behind the curtain. I
will call you if I need anything."

He told Nannie afterward--and she told me, so I shouldn't do it
again--that I'd "stared him out of countenance." I was awfully sorry; I
wouldn't have done such a rude thing for the world, you know,--I didn't
even know I was doing it; but, as I've told you before, when I'm alone
with papa, I somehow just _have_ to look and look at him.

I'd hardly taken my seat behind the curtain when the door opened and Fee
came slowly in. He leaned heavily on his cane and caught on to the
different pieces of furniture to help him make his way to papa's
bedside. They just clasped hands, and for a minute neither of them
said a word; then Felix began: "Oh, sir, I thank God that you are
spared,"--his voice shook so he had to stop.

Papa said gently: "More reference-making for you, my lad; I am evidently
to be allowed to finish my work." And then Fee began again.

He didn't say a great deal, and it was in a low tone,--a little slow,
too, at first, as if he were holding himself in,--but there was
something in his voice that made my heart swell up in me as it did
that day I thrashed Henderson. It's a queer feeling; it makes one feel
as if one could easily do things that would be quite impossible at any
other time.

"I hope I'll not tire or agitate you, sir," Fee said, "but I feel I must
tell you, for Phil, Betty, and myself, how _utterly_ ashamed we are of
that miserable, heartless joke we got off some months ago,--going to Mr.
Erveng about your book; no, father, _please_ let me go on,--this ought
to have been said long ago! We earnestly ask your forgiveness for that,
sir; the remembrance of it has lain very heavy on our hearts in these
last anxious weeks--"

He stopped; I guess there was a lump in his throat,--_I_ know what that
is! And presently papa said, very gently: "That did hurt me, Felix; but
I have forgiven it. It may be that the experience was needed. I am
afraid that I forgot I owed it to my children to finish and make use
of my work."

"No, _no_!" exclaimed Felix, vehemently. "_Don't_ feel that way, father;
oh, _please_ don't! We hope you won't ever work on it again as you have
been working,--to run yourself down, to make yourself ill. We beg, we
implore that you will take better care of yourself. Let the book go;
_never_ finish it; what do we care for it, compared to having you with
us strong and well once more! Oh, sir, if you really do forgive us, if
you really do believe in the love of your children, promise us that you
will not work as you've been doing lately!"

He waited a minute or two; then, as papa said nothing, he cried out
sharply: "We are--_her_--children, sir; for _her_ sake do as we ask!"

"Why do you want this--why do you want me to live?" papa asked slowly.

"_Why?_ Because we love you!" exclaimed Fee, in surprise.

And then I heard papa say, "My _son_!" in _such_ a tender voice; and
then,--after a while,--"I am under a contract to finish my book, and I
must do it; but I will endeavour to work less arduously, and to look
more after my health."

Here I think Fee must have kissed him,--it sounded so. "I shall have
good news for the others," he said. "You know, sir, Phil and Betty feel
as keenly about this as I do, but, for fear it would tire you, it was
thought best for only one of us to speak to you about the matter. You
don't feel any worse for our talk,--do you, father?" He said this
anxiously, but papa said no, it hadn't done him any harm; still, he
added, Felix had better go, and so he did in a few minutes. I felt so
sorry when I thought of all the steps he'd have to climb to the
schoolroom; I wondered how he'd ever get up them.

Well, after that I think papa had a nap; anyway, he was very quiet. It
was pretty stupid for me behind that curtain, and I was just wishing
for about the tenth time that Miss Appleton would put in an appearance,
when the door opened suddenly, and who should come walking in but Phil!

He went straight up to papa, and began rather loud, and in a quick,
excited sort of way,--I could tell he was awfully nervous,--"How d'you
feel to-day, sir?" Then, before papa had time to answer, he went on: "We
were talking things over last evening, and--and we--well, sir, we--that
is, Felix, Betty, and I--feel that we're at the bottom of this illness
of yours, through our getting up the scheme about the Fet--your book,
you know--in going to Mr. Erveng. It was the cheekiest thing on our
part! I deserve to be kicked for that, sir,--I know I do. And we're
afraid--we think--you're just killing yourself! I'm a blundering idiot
at talking, I know, so I might's well cut it short. What I want to say
is this: We'd rather have you living, sir, and the--history--_never_
finished, than have it finished, with no end of money, and you dead. Oh,
father, if you could know how we felt that night when your life hung in
the balance!" He broke right down with a great sob.

Then everything was so quiet again that I looked round the portiere;
Phil knelt by the bedside with his face buried in the bed-clothes, and
papa's hand was resting on his head.

I let the curtain fall. I felt, perhaps, they'd rather I didn't look
at them.

Then presently papa said quite cheerfully, "It will be all right, Phil:
I think I am going to get well, and I shall try to take better care of
myself; so you will, I hope, have no further occasion to be troubled
about my health. I appreciate your speaking frankly to me, as you have
done. Now, perhaps, you had better go; I am a little tired."

Phil shook hands with papa and started to go, but paused half-way to the
door. "This is for Felix and Betty, as well as for myself, father," he
said pleadingly. "They feel just as badly as I do about you, but we
thought 'twas best for one to speak for the three; and I being the
eldest,--you understand?"

"Yes," papa said gently, "I understand."

As the door closed behind Phil, papa called me. "Jack," he said, in a
weak voice, "it seems to me that Miss Appleton is gone a good while;
perhaps you had better give me something,--I think I am tired."

My! didn't I get nervous! There was nothing on the table but bottles and
a medicine glass; I didn't know any more than the man in the moon what
to give him, and I didn't like to ask him. I was pretty sure he didn't
know; and besides, he had shut his eyes. I caught up one of the bottles
and uncorked and smelled it without in the least knowing what I intended
doing next. How I did wish the nurse would come! Just then some one
came into the room, and when I turned quickly, expecting to see Miss
Appleton, who was it but _Betty_!

Well, I was so surprised, I nearly dropped the bottle. But she didn't
even look at me; she just marched up to papa and began talking.

She stood a little distance from the bed,--she said afterward she was
afraid to go nearer for fear she'd shake the bed, or fall on it,--with
her hands behind her back, and she just rattled off what she had to say
as if she'd been "primed," as Phil calls it. Without even a "how d'you
do?" she plunged into her subject. That's Betty all over; she always
goes right to the point. "Papa," she said earnestly, "I'm awfully--that
is, _very_, _very_ sorry we went to Mr. Erveng that time about your
book, without first speaking to you about it. We're all _very_
sorry,--Phil, Felix, and I,--and just as ashamed as we can be. We've
worried dreadfully over it, and about you, and it was simply _awful_
when we thought you were going to die! We didn't acknowledge it to one
another, but if you had died, I know we three'd have felt as if we had
as much as killed you" (here Betty's voice dropped to almost a whisper;
I thought perhaps she was going to cry, but she didn't, she just went on
louder); "for we are sure you never would have hurried so with--your
book--if we hadn't played that mean joke. You see, papa, we're _so_
afraid you'll--you'll--die, or be ill, or something else dreadful if you
don't stop working so hard,--like a galley slave, as Phil says. And I've
come to ask you, for Phil, Felix, and myself, to let the hateful old
book go, and just get well and strong again; will you?"

"But if the history is completed, it can be sold, and thus bring in the
money that is so much needed in the family."

Betty eyed papa; I think she wasn't sure whether he was in sarcasm or
earnest. "Oh," she said, "we did think it would be nice to have enough
money to send Fee to college, but we don't want it any more,--at least,
not if it's to come by your being ill--or--or--oh, papa, dear, we're all
so _very_ glad and thankful that you are going to get well." She took
his hand up carefully and kissed it.

"I think that now I am glad, too, Betty," said papa; "much more so than
I ever expected to be."

"And you won't work so hard again, will you?" asked Betty, anxiously.
"You see, papa, I'm to get you to promise that; that's what I've come
for. We talked the matter over last evening, and Phil would have come to
speak to you about it, but he said you looked so wretchedly--and so you
do--that just to look at you made him break down, and he was afraid
he'd get rattled and make an a--a mess of it. Then Felix, he couldn't
come, because, well, because--I guess he felt badly, too, about your
being ill. So I thought _I'd_ better come down and have a talk with you,
though I must say I was afraid I might do something awkward,--I'm so
_stupid_ in a sick-room; but so far all's right, isn't it? The boys
don't know I've come,--I thought I'd surprise them; and so I will, with
the good news: you'll promise, won't you, papa?"

"Yes," papa said, "I promise."

Then Betty flew at him and kissed him, and then papa told her she'd
better go. It was only just as she got to the door that she spied me.
"Hullo! you here?" she exclaimed in astonishment,--adding, in a lower
tone, "What're you laughing at?" Then, as I didn't answer, she walked
out.

"Jack," called papa, "are there anymore of them to come? Do you suppose
they are crazy?" Then he added to himself, "I wonder if any one else in
the world has such children as I have?" We looked at each other for a
minute or two (papa's eyes were bright, and his mouth was kind of
smiley, and I was, I know, on a broad grin), and then we both
laughed,--papa quietly, as he always does; but I cackled right
out, I _couldn't_ help it.

At this moment in came Miss Appleton with papa's nourishment, and right
behind her Nannie.

"Oh, how bright you look!" Nannie exclaimed with delight, as she came up
to him; "that last medicine has certainly done you good."

"Yes, I think it has," papa said, with a quizzical glance at me. "It was
a new and unexpected kind; Nannie, my dear,--I have had a visitation."




XV.

SOME MINORS.

TOLD BY JACK.


Instead of going in the country early, as usual, this year we just hung
on and hung on until the weather was quite warm, waiting for papa to get
strong enough to stand the journey. It seemed to us as if he were an
awful while getting well: long after he was able to be dressed, he had
to lie on the lounge for the greater part of every day,--the least
exertion used him up; and as for his work, Dr. Archard said he wasn't to
even _think_ of touching it. But at last--after changing the date
several times--a day was set for us to start. We were all delighted; we
_love_ to be at the Cottage. You see we have no lessons then, 'cause
Miss Marston goes away for her holidays, and we can be out of doors all
day long if we choose; papa doesn't mind as long as we're in time for
meals and looking clean and decent. There's a lovely cove near our
house,--it isn't deep or dangerous,--and there we go boating and
swimming; then there's fishing and crabbing, and drives about the
country in the big, rattly depot-wagon behind Pegasus,--that's our
horse, but he's an awful old slow-poke,--and rides on our donkey,
G. W. L. Spry. Oh, I tell you now, it's all just _splendid_! We
always hate to go back to the city.

Perhaps you think our donkey has a queer name. Most people do until we
explain. Well, his real name is George Washington Lafayette Spry,--so
the man said from whom papa bought him,--but that was such a mouthful
to say that Fee shortened it to G. W. L. Spry, and I do believe the
"baste," as cook calls him, knows it just as well as the other
name,--any way, he answers to it just as readily. He _is_ pretty
spry when he gets started, but the thing is to start him.

[Illustration: "G. W. L. SPRY."]

Well, to go back, we were delighted at the prospect of getting away,
and we all worked like beavers helping to get ready. Miss Marston
and the girls and Phil packed,--his college closed ever so long
ago,--Fee directed things generally, and addressed and put on tags,
and we children ran errands. Almost everything was ready; in fact,
some of the furniture had gone,--there're such a lot of us that we
have to take a pile of stuff,--when two unexpected things happened
that just knocked the whole plan to pieces.

For a good while Max had been urging and urging papa to go to his place
in the Adirondacks; he said his mother was there, and she was first-rate
at taking care of sick people, and that she'd be awfully glad to see
Nannie, too, who, Max declared, needed the change as much as ever papa
did. But papa refused, and it was settled that we were all to go to the
Cottage, when suddenly Dr. Archard turns round and says that mountain,
not sea air was what papa should have, and insisted so on it that at
last papa gave in and accepted Max's invitation for Nannie and himself.
So then it was arranged that papa, Nannie, and Max were to go to the
mountains, and we to the Cottage with Miss Marston,--they going one day,
and we the next.

[Illustration: "WE ALL WORKED LIKE BEAVERS."]

That was the first set-back, and the next one was ten times worse. Just
as papa was being helped down the steps to the carriage, what should
come but a telegram for Miss Marston from her aunt in Canada, asking her
to come right on. Well, that just upset _our_ going in the country! Phil
and Felix told papa they could manage things, and get us safely to the
Cottage,--and I'm sure they'd have done it as well as ever Miss Marston
could, for she's awfully fussy and afraid of things happening; but
no, papa wouldn't hear of it, though Max declared he thought 'twould be
all right. Felix took it quietly, but Phil got kind of huffy, and said
papa must think he was about two years old, from the way he treated him.
I tell you, for a little while there Nannie had her hands full,--what
with trying to smooth him down, and to keep papa from getting nervous
and worked up over the matter.

Well, after a lot of talking, and papa losing one train, it was arranged
that we should remain in the city with nurse until we heard from Miss
Marston, and knew how long she'd be likely to stay in Canada. If only a
short time,--say ten days,--we were to wait for her return and go under
her care to the Cottage; but if she'd be gone several weeks, then Phil,
Felix, and nurse would take us to the country. As soon as this was
settled, papa, Nannie, and Max went off, and a little later Miss Marston
started for her train.

Besides being worried about her aunt, Miss Marston felt real sorry at
leaving us so hurriedly, and she gave no end of directions to Nora and
Betty, to say nothing of nurse. Nora didn't seem to mind this, but nurse
sniffed--she always does that when she doesn't like what people are
telling her--and Betty got impatient; you see Nannie'd been drilling
Betty, too,--telling her to be nice to Nora, and to help with the
little ones, and all that,--and I guess she'd got tired of being
told things.

"I know just how Phil feels about papa's snubbing," she said to me.
"Some people never seem to realise that we're growing up. Why, if
papa and Miss Marston should live until we were eighty and ninety
years old, I do believe, Jack, that they'd still treat us as if we
were infants,--like the story Max told us of the man a hundred and
ten years old, who whipped his eighty-year-old son and set him in a
corner because he'd been 'naughty'! It's too provoking! And as to
being '_nice_' to Nora, I feel it in my bones that she and I will
have a falling out the very first thing; she'll put on such airs
that I'll not be able to stand her!"

But as it turned out, there was something else in store for Betty; that
same evening over came Mr. Erveng and Hilliard with an invitation from
Mrs. Erveng for Betty to go to their country home, near Boston, and
spend a month with them. Mr. Erveng had met papa in the railroad station
that day, and got his consent for Betty to accept the invitation. So all
she had to do was to pack a trunk and be ready to leave with them the
next morning,--they would call for her.

I felt awfully sorry Betty was going: though there are so many of us,
you've no idea what a gap it makes in the family when even one is away;
and, with all her roughness and tormenting ways, Betty is real nice,
too. I didn't actually know what I'd do with both Nannie and her away. I
couldn't help wishing that the Ervengs had asked Nora instead of Betty,
and I know Betty wished so, too, for you never saw a madder person than
she was when she came upstairs to help nurse pack her trunk: you see she
didn't dare make any objections, as long as papa had given his consent,
but she didn't want to go one step, and she just let us know it. "I'll
have to be on my company manners the whole livelong time, and I simply
_loathe_ that," she fumed. "Mrs. Erveng won't let me play with Hilliard,
I'm sure she won't, 'that's so unladylike!'"--mimicking Mrs. Erveng's
slow, gentle voice,--"and I never know what to talk to _her_ about. I
suppose I'll have to sit up and twirl my thumbs, like a regular Miss
Prim, from morning to night. Why didn't they ask _you_?" wheeling round
on Nora. "You and Mrs. Erveng seem to be such fine friends, and you suit
her better than I do. I always feel as if she looked upon me as a
clumsy, overgrown hoiden, an uncouth sort of animal."

"I couldn't very well be spared from home just now," answered Nora,
calmly, with her little superior air; "and any way, I presume Mrs.
Erveng asked the one she wanted,--people generally claim that
privilege." So far was all right; but she must needs go on, and, as
Phil says, "put her foot in it." "I really hope you'll behave yourself
nicely, Betty," she continued, "for only the other day I heard Mrs.
Erveng say that she thought you had improved wonderfully lately; _do_
keep up to that reputation."

Betty was furious! "No, _really_? How _very_ kind of her!" she burst out
scornfully. "The idea of her criticising me,--and to you! You ought to
be ashamed not to stand up for your own sister to strangers! Indeed,
I'll do just as I please; _I'm_ not afraid of Mrs. Erveng! I'll slide
down every banister, if I feel like it, and swing on the doors, too, and
make the most horrible faces; you see if I don't come home before the
month is out!"

"Leave their house standing, Elizabeth,--just for decency's sake, you
know," advised Phil.

We were all laughing, and what does Nora do but pitch into me for it.
"Can't you find anything better to do, Jack, than encouraging Betty to
be rude and unladylike?" she commenced sharply; but just then Hannah
came, asking for something, and, with a great air of importance, Nora
went off with her.

But if Nora didn't understand how Betty felt, I did. Of course the
Ervengs meant it kindly asking her; but _I_ wouldn't have wanted to go
off alone visiting people that were almost strangers,--for that's what
Mr. and Mrs. Erveng are to us, though we do know Hilliard so well,--and
I just said so to her, and gave her my best feather-top. As I told her,
she might play it times when she was alone in her own room, to keep up
her spirits. I'd have given her something nicer, but all my things were
packed up, except my locomotive, and I knew she wouldn't care for
_that_,--she's always making fun of it.

Betty's one of the kind that just hate to cry where people can see them,
so she went away without the least fuss--though I know her heart was
full--when the Ervengs called for her the next morning. Hilliard was as
merry as a lark. "It's so good of you to come," he said, beaming on
Betty when he met her on the steps. "We are going to take the very best
care of you, and help you to enjoy yourself immensely; I only wish all
the others were coming with us, too,"--with a glance at us (the whole
family had crowded out on the stoop to see Betty off).

"We don't want to; we'd rather go to the Cottage," sung out Alan. Nora
had to hush him up.

Hilliard was just as nice as he could be, putting Betty into the
carriage, and looking after her things,--I hadn't thought he could be so
polite; but Betty was very cool and snippy, and the last sight I got of
her, as the carriage turned the corner, she was sitting bolt upright,
looking as stiff as a poker. I felt sorry for Betty, and I felt sorry
for the Ervengs, too,--at least for Hilliard. I can't think why Betty
doesn't like him better.

We were awfully lonely and unsettled for a few days,--it seemed so
queer to have Nora in Nannie's place, and Phil at the head of the
table; to hear Nora giving orders, and for Phil to have to see to
shutting up the house nights. Somehow it made us feel grown-up,--it was
such a responsibility, you know; and at first we were all very quiet,
and so polite to one another that nurse declared she "wouldn't 'a'
known we was the same fam'ly." Felix and Phil were as dignified as
could be, and the little ones went to bed without a murmur, and obeyed
Nora like so many lambs. But it didn't last,--it couldn't, you know,
for we weren't really happy, acting that way; and pretty soon we began
to be just as we usually were,--only a little more so, as we boys say.

You see nobody was really head, though Nora and Phil both pretended they
were,--we didn't count nurse,--and each person just wanted to do as he
or she pleased, and of course that made lots of fusses. Phil did a lot
of talking, and ordered people around a good deal, but nobody minded him
very much. Nora had her hands full with the children; they were awfully
hard to manage, particularly Kathie,--her feelings get hurt so easily.
Nora said that nurse spoiled them, and in a sort of way took their part
against her, while nurse said Nora was too fond of "ordering," and that
she nagged them; so there were rumpuses there sometimes. I read over all
my favourite books that weren't packed up, and worked on my steam
engine, and went about to see what the others were doing; but I tried
not to be mixed up in any of the rows. Fee got a fit of painting,--he
wanted Nora to pose for him for Antigone, but she wouldn't; and he
played his violin any time during the day that he liked,--you see there
wasn't anybody there to mind the noise.

That was in the day; in the evenings we--Nora and we three boys--sat on
the stoop, it was _so_ warm indoors. The Unsworths and Vassahs and 'most
all the people we knew were out of town, and Chad Whitcombe was the only
person that came round to see us. When he found we hadn't gone to the
country, he'd make his appearance every evening, and sit with us on the
stoop. At first he stayed the whole evening, and was so pleasant and
chatty I could hardly believe 'twas Chad; of course he was affected,--he
always is,--but still he was real interesting, telling about places he'd
been to, and some of the queer people he'd met in his travels. After a
while, though, he began to stay for about half the evening, then he'd
ask Phil to take a walk with him, and away they would go; and sometimes
Phil wouldn't get back very early either.

Well, Felix stood it for a few times without saying anything,--he always
has precious little to do with Chad; but one evening when Chad stood up
and asked, "Take a stroll--aw--will you, Phil?" and Phil rose to go, Fee
got quickly on his feet. "Just let me get my cane, and I'll come, too,"
he said.

I was looking at Chad just then, and I could see he didn't like it; but
Phil answered at once, "All right, old fellow; come on!" And Fee went.

I was alone on the stoop when the boys got back,--Chad wasn't with them.
Nora was playing the piano in the drawing-room, and Phil went in to
speak to her; but Felix sat down on the step beside me with his back
against the railing. As the light from the hall lamp fell on him, I
could see how white and tired he looked. I couldn't help saying
something about it. "You do look awfully used up, Fee," I said; "I guess
you've been walking too far. Whatever made you do it? You know you can't
stand that sort of thing."

Of course I didn't say this crossly,--Fee isn't at all the sort of
person that one would say cross things to,--but you see I knew just how
miserable he'd been, and that he wasn't well yet, by any means. He
pretended to be quite well, but I noticed that he sat down lots of
times, instead of standing, as he used to, and that it was still an
effort for him to go up and down stairs. When I said that about his
being tired, he pushed his straw hat back off his face, and I could see
his hair lying wet and dark on his white forehead. "I _am_ dead tired,"
he said, wearily. "I tell you, Jack, the ascent to the third floor seems
a formidable undertaking to-night." Then he added abruptly, "_Why_ did I
do it? Because I'm _determined_"--he brought his clinched hand down on
the stoop--"that that scalawag sha'n't get hold of Phil. I suppose my
miserable old back'll take its revenge to-morrow; but I don't care,--I'd
do it again and again, if I couldn't keep them apart any other way."

Just then Phil's voice came to us through the open drawing-room window.
"It's a lovely night," he was saying to Nora; "I don't feel a bit like
going to bed,--I think I'll go out again for a little while. You needn't
wait up for me, Nonie, and I'll see to the shutting up of the house when
I come in; don't let Fee bother about it,--he looks tired."

With a quick exclamation, Felix caught hold of the railing of the stoop,
and dragging himself to his feet, limped into the parlour. "It's an age
since we've sung any of our duets, Phil," he called; "let's have some
now. Nora, play 'O wert thou in the cauld blast,'--that's one of our
favourites." And in a minute or two they were singing away with all
their might.

But presently Phil came out with his hat on, and behind him Felix.
"Still here, Jack? It's getting pretty late!" Fee said. Then to Phil,
"I guess it's too late for another tramp to-night, Philippus; come on,
let's go upstairs." He was trying to speak off-hand, but I could hear
in his voice the eagerness he was trying to keep back.

Perhaps Phil heard it, too, and suspected something, for he answered
very shortly, "I'm going out; I'm not an infant to be put to bed at
eight o'clock." And with that he jammed his hat tighter on his head,
ran down the stoop, and was soon out of sight.

Felix sat down on one of the hall chairs, and leaned his head on his
hand in such a sad, tired way that I felt as if I'd have liked to pitch
right into Phil. I darted in from the stoop and put my hand on Fee's
shoulder. "Fee," I whispered,--I didn't want Nora to hear,--"can I do
anything to help? Shall I run after him and _make_ him come back?"

Felix looked up at me; his lips were set tight together, and there was a
stern expression on his face that made him look like papa. "'Twould take
a bigger man than you are to do that, Jack," he said, with a faint
smile, adding slowly, "but I'll tell you what you _can_ do,--you can
keep mum about this; and now help me upstairs, like a good boy: I'm
almost too tired to put one foot after the other." Then, as he rose and
slowly straightened himself up, he said, "After all, Phil's only gone
for a walk, you know, Jack; he'll be home pretty soon, you may depend."
But I had a feeling that he said this to make himself believe it as well
as me.

Fee _was_ awfully used up; I could hardly get him up the steps. Nora
would certainly have heard the noise we made if she hadn't been so
interested in her music.

Phil did not come in very early; in fact, I think it was late. I room
with him, you know, and it seemed as if I'd been asleep a good while
when his shutting of our door woke me up. Of course I turned over and
looked at him; I'm sure there wasn't anything in that to make a person
mad, though perhaps I did stare a little, for Phil had a queer
expression on his face,--jolly, and yet sort of ashamed, too. His
face was quite red, and his eyes looked glassy.

He leaned against the closed door, with his hat on the back of his
head, and just scowled at me. "What're you staring at, I'd like to
know?" he said roughly. "Without exception, you're the most inquisitive
youngster! you _must_ have your finger in every pie. Just turn yourself
right over to the wall and go to sleep this minute; I _won't_ have you
spying on me!"

Now I usually give in to Phil, and I do hate to get into rows with
people, but I couldn't stand that; I just sat straight up in bed and
spoke out. "I'm _not_ inquisitive," I said, "and I'm _not_ spying on
you, either. I wouldn't do such a mean thing, and you know it."

"Oh, hush up, and go to sleep! you talk entirely too much," Phil
answered back, and taking off his hat, he threw it at me.

The hat didn't touch me,--it barely fell on the edge of the bed,--but it
seemed to me as if I couldn't have felt worse if it had struck me; you
see my feelings were so hurt. Phil likes to order people, and he's
rough, too, sometimes. We know him so well, though, that I don't usually
mind; but this evening he was awfully disagreeable,--so bullying that I
couldn't help feeling hurt and mad.

I felt just like saying something back,--something sharp,--but I knew
that would only make more words, and there was Felix in the next
room,--I didn't want him to be waked up and hear how Phil was going on;
it wouldn't have done any good, you see, and would only have made Fee
unhappy. So I just swallowed down what I was going to say, and bouncing
over on my pillow, I turned my face to the wall, away from Phil. But I
couldn't go to sleep,--you know one can't at a minute's notice,--and I
couldn't help hearing what he was doing about the room.

I heard a clinking noise, as if he were putting silver money down on the
bureau; then, while he was unlacing his boots and dropping them with a
thud on the floor, he began to whistle softly, "O wert thou in the cauld
blast." I suppose that reminded him of something he wanted to say, for
presently he called out, "Say, Rosebud--_Rose_bud!"

I just _wouldn't_ answer,--after his treating me that way! What did he
do then but lean over the footboard and shake me by the heel. "Turn
over," he said; "I want to talk to you,--d'you hear me?" and he shook
my heel again.

I jerked my foot away. "I wish you wouldn't bother me," I answered; "I'm
trying to go to sleep."

"Oh, I see,--on your dig." Phil laughed and pulled my toe. "Well, you
provoked me, staring at me with those owly eyes of yours; but now I want
to speak to you about Felix."

I still felt sore over the way he'd acted, but as long as it was Fee he
wanted to talk about, I thought I'd better listen; so I turned over
again and looked at Phil.

"See here, what's the matter with Felix?" As he spoke, Phil went over
and threw himself into a chair, where he could see me. "He's never been
very much of a walker, but seems to me that he's worse than ever at it
lately. Why, last evening--this evening I mean" (he gave me a funny
look)--"we hadn't gone three blocks before he began to drag, and took
hold of my arm; he hung on it, too, I can tell you. We didn't go very
far, not nearly as far as we used to last winter; and I'd have made it
still shorter, for I could see he was most awfully used up, but Fee
wouldn't give in,--you know he can be obstinate. And when he came into
the drawing-room to sing, he looked wretched,--white as a ghost! Since
I've been home, I've noticed, in a good many little ways, that he
doesn't do as much as he used to,--in the way of moving around; yet,
when I speak to him 'bout it, he either--puts me off, or turns--cranky;
I can't get a thing--out--of--him." Phil's voice had been getting slower
and slower, and almost before he finished the last word he was _asleep_.

I thought he was making believe at first,--he's such a tease,--but I
soon found out that he wasn't. Well, I _was_ astonished; for a minute
I couldn't say a word; I just lay there and looked at him. Then I
remembered how late it was, and called him,--not loud, though, for
fear of waking Felix. "Phil, _Phil_, aren't you coming to bed? it's
awfully late."

"Oh, let me _alone_," he muttered sleepily; then presently he roused up
and began to talk real crossly, but in the same slow voice, and with his
eyes shut: "I'm not a _child_--and I'm not going--to be treated--like
one--you needn't--think so--I'm a _man_--all--the fellows--do
it--'tisn't--any harm--" His head drooped and he was off again.

I had got awfully nervous when he first began, I mean about Felix; you
see Fee hadn't given me back my promise not to speak of his attack when
papa was so ill, so I couldn't have told Phil, and I shouldn't have
known what to say. Oh, that promise! that _miserable_ promise! if only I
had _never_ made it!

Well, as I said, I was thankful I didn't have to answer Phil; but when
he acted so queerly, I didn't like that either, and jumping out of bed,
I went at him, and just talked and coaxed and pulled at him, until at
last I got him to get up and undress and go to bed.

       *       *       *       *       *

Phil was as cross as a bear the next morning; he said he had a headache,
and didn't get up until late. He lay in bed with his face to the wall,
and just snapped up everybody that spoke to him; when I took him up some
tea and toast,--that was all he'd take,--he turned on me. "I suppose
you've told them about last night," he said sharply, "and you've all had
a grand pow-wow over me!"

"Indeed, I _haven't_" I answered; "I haven't said one single word about
it to anybody; we've got other things to talk of, I can tell you,
besides your being such a sleepy-head." Perhaps this was a little
snippy, but I couldn't help it,--just as if I couldn't keep a thing to
myself. You see I didn't understand then what it all meant.

Phil looked straight at me for a minute, and it seemed to me there was a
kind of sorry expression came in his face; then he laughed. "Great head!
keep on being mum!" he said, in that teasing way of his, nodding at me.
"Now, Mr. Moses Primrose, suppose you set that tray down and vacate the
apartment--shut the door."

But I could see that he wasn't sorry I hadn't spoken of it; I've
wondered sometimes, since, whether things would have been different if I
had told Felix the whole business.

Well, he was a little pleasanter for a while; but when a telegram came
later in the day from Miss Marston, saying she'd be back in ten days to
take us to the Cottage, Phil got all off again, and scolded like
everything. He said it was a burning shame for us to have to stay in the
city and just _stew_, waiting for Miss Marston to "escort" us to the
Cottage, when he and Felix could have taken us there long ago; that he
wanted to go in the country _right away_; that papa'd made a big mistake
in keeping us back, and that he'd find it out when 'twas too late,--and
all that sort of talk. Felix and Nora did their best to cool him down,
but it was no use,--the nicer they were, the more disagreeable he grew;
and at last they got provoked and left him to himself.

"I wish Nannie were here," Fee said, as we stood on the landing
together, outside Phil's door; "perhaps she could do something
with him."

"I just wish she were," I agreed dolefully; and if Nora didn't get
miffed because we said that!

I can tell you it wasn't a bit pleasant at home those days. As Fee said,
"everybody seemed to be disgruntled," and there wasn't a thing to do but
wander around; I missed Betty awfully, she's such a splendid person for
keeping up one's spirits.

Toward afternoon, Phil came downstairs, and after dinner we sat on the
stoop; he was still rather grumpy, though we pretended not to notice it.
Presently Chad came along and took a seat beside us; but at first I
don't think anybody, except, perhaps, Nora, paid him much attention.
Felix had been very quiet all day, and now he sat with his elbows on his
knees, and his hands holding up his face, a far-off look in his eyes,
and not saying a word until about half-past eight, when Chad leaned
over, and in a low voice asked Phil to go for a walk.

Phil's answer sounded like, "Had enough of it;" and before Chad could
say anything more, Fee began to talk to him. I was surprised, for Felix
doesn't usually talk to Chad; but to-night, all at once, he seemed to
have a friendly fit. He started Chad talking of his travels; then he got
Phil into the conversation, and then Nora, and he just kept them all
going; he was so bright himself, and funny, and entertaining, that the
evening fairly flew by. We were all amazed when ten o'clock struck;
soon after that Chad bid good-night, and we shut up the house and
went to bed.

'Most always Phil stops in Fee's room for a few minutes: he didn't this
evening, though; he just called out,--a little gruffly,--"Good-night,
old man!" and marched right into his own room. But I went in.

Fee was sitting on the edge of his bed; he looked almost as tired as he
had the night before, though now his eyes were bright and his cheeks
red. He turned quickly to me. "Did you think I was wound up to-night?"
he asked. Then, before I could answer, "But I kept them--I kept them
both, Jack; they didn't go walking to-night,--at least, Phil didn't, and
that's the main point. Why, I could go on talking till morning." He got
up and limped restlessly about, then stopped near me. "What'll we do
to-morrow evening?" he said, "and the next, and the next?--there are
_ten_ more, you know. We'll _have_ to think of something, that's all;
it'll not be easy, but we'll have to do it. I'm afraid"--Fee spoke
slowly, shaking his head--"I'm afraid the _pater_ _has_ made a mistake,
a big mistake. Now if Nannie were only here--what an owl you look,
Rosebud! Come, off to bed with you!" He threw his arm across my shoulder
and gave me a little squeeze, then pushed me out of the room and shut
the door.

I have an idea that he didn't sleep very well that night, for the next
morning _he_, too, looked like a owl, in the way of eyes.




XVI.

AND A MAJOR.

TOLD BY JACK.


The next day Phil was more like himself,--almost as usual, at least
during the first part of the day; after that, everybody got into such
a state of excitement that we forgot all about his mood,--I guess he
forgot it himself.

As I've told you, Kathie and the little ones weren't behaving at all
nicely. You see the trouble was they wanted their own way, and Nora
wanted hers, and nurse wanted hers too; and some days things went all
wrong in the nursery. Nora'd declare that _she_ was mistress as long as
Nannie wasn't at home, and that the children _should_ obey her; then
nurse would get huffy and call the little ones her "pets" and her "poor
darlin's," and of course that made them feel as if they were being
dreadfully abused. I think Nora did nag some, and perhaps she ordered
people a little more than she need have done, but that's her way of
doing things; she didn't mean in the least to be disagreeable, and the
children were certainly _very_ provoking. It seemed to me as if they
were forever in mischief, and my! weren't they pert! and sometimes they
wouldn't mind at all. Once or twice I tried to see if I could help
things, but I just got into trouble both times, and only made matters
worse, so I thought I'd better leave 'em alone.

Well, on this particular morning, nurse woke feeling so ill that she
couldn't get up at all; so Nora had to see to dressing the children and
giving them their breakfast. Maedel was good,--she's a dear little
creature!--but the boys were wild for mischief, and just as saucy and
self-willed as they could be, and, worst of all, Kathie got into one of
her crying moods. She cried all the time she was dressing, and all
through breakfast,--a kind of whining cry that just wears on a person.
Phil called her Niobe, and declared that if she didn't look out, she'd
float away on her tears; Fee threatened to put her in a picture, just as
she looked; I coaxed and promised her one or two of my things, and Nora
scolded: nothing had any effect, Kathie just wept straight on.

She _is_ awfully trying when she gets in these moods, but I guess she
can't always help it,--at least Nannie thinks so,--and perhaps if Nora
had been patient just a little while longer, the storm would have blown
over. But all at once Nora lost her temper, and catching Kathie by the
arm, she walked her wailing from the room.

Well, in just about one minute more, Paul and Maedel and Alan were off
too, roaring like everything.

"_O-o-h!_ we _want_ Kathie! we _w-a-n-t_ Kathie! _O-o-o-h!_ bring back
_Kath-i-e_!"

Well, you'd have thought they never expected to lay eyes on Kathie
again!

[Illustration: "WHERE WE FOUND KATHIE."]

I coaxed and talked and talked till my throat fairly ached, telling 'em
funny things to divert their attention,--the way I've heard Nannie and
Betty do; Fee began just as loud as he could (to drown their noise and
make them listen) about the Trojan horse,--they like that story; and
Phil offered them everything that there was on the table if they'd
_only_ stop yelling; he declared the neighbours would be coming in to
see what we were doing to them. But at last they quieted down, and let
me take them upstairs to the nursery, where we found Kathie seated upon
a chair, and still weeping.

On account of nurse's being ill, there were a good many things for
Nora to do,--I could see she had her hands full,--so I stayed in the
schoolroom and looked after the children to help her. By and by Kathie
stopped crying--I guess there were no more tears left to come--and began
to join in the games I started. Usually she's very penitent after one of
these fits of temper, but this time she seemed more sulky than anything
else; and she was such a sight that I felt sorry for her. Kathie's very
fair,--she's a real pretty little girl when she's in a good humour,--and
now, from crying so much, and rubbing her eyes, they were all swollen
and red; the red marks went 'way down on her cheeks; and her nose was
all red and swollen, too: you'd hardly have known her for the same
child.

After awhile--I'd set them playing house, and things seemed quiet--I got
out one of my books, and, fixing myself comfortably on the sofa, began
to read. But presently something--a sort of stillness in the room--made
me look up; the children were under the schoolroom table with their
heads close together, and they were whispering. Kathie was weeping
again, but very softly; Maedel had one arm around her, and was wiping
Kathie's tears away with her pinafore; Paul was showing them something
which I couldn't see,--he had his back to me,--and Alan sat on his
heels, grinning, and gazing at Judge with wide-open, admiring eyes.

Just at this moment Nora opened the door and called me; you should have
seen those four jump! and the way Judge hurried what he had in his hand
out of sight! But I didn't suspect anything; I didn't dream of what they
were up to.

"Jack," said Nora, when I got out in the hall, "Phil has gone out to see
to something for me, and I can't send Fee, so I wish you would go round
to Dr. Archard's and ask him to call and see nurse as soon as possible.
She won't let me do a thing for her, and yet she's groaning, and says
she feels _dreadfully_; she may be very ill, for all I know."

There was such an anxious look on Nora's face that I tried to cheer her
up. "Don't worry, Nonie," I said; "you know nurse gets scared awfully
easy. If she has a finger-ache, she thinks she's dreadfully ill, and
wants the doctor."

"Well, perhaps she'll feel better after she has seen him," Nora said.
"Between Kathie and her I've had a pretty hard morning; I'm doing my
very best, but nobody seems to think so." She gave her head a proud
toss, but I could see there were tears in her eyes. I didn't know what
to say, so I just patted her hand, and then got my hat and went for
the doctor.

It was a lovely day, and I didn't suppose there was any need for me to
hurry back, so I took a walk, and didn't get home for a good while after
leaving my message at the doctor's.

Before I had time to ring the bell, Nora opened the front door; she
looked very much excited, and asked breathlessly, "Did you meet them?
Have you seen them?"

Of course I didn't understand. "Meet whom? What d'you mean?" I asked
in surprise.

"The children. Then they are _lost!_" answered Nora, and she sat down on
a chair in the hall and burst out crying. Then out came Phil and Felix
from the drawing-room, where they had been with Nora, and I heard the
whole story.

It seems that soon after I left for the doctor's, Judge went down stairs
and asked cook for some gingerbread,--"enough for the four of us," he
said,--and some time later, when Nora went up to the schoolroom to see
what the children were doing, not one of them was there, nor could they
be found in the house. Nora flew to tell Felix and Phil, and in the
hurried search from garret to cellar which everybody made,--except
nurse, she wasn't told anything of it,--it was found that the children's
every-day hats were gone.

Of course, as soon as I heard that, I remembered the whispering under
the schoolroom table, and I felt at once that the children had run away.
I just wished I had told Nora about it, or that I had come right back
from the doctor's; I might have prevented their going.

[Illustration: "NORA TORE IT OPEN."]

While I was telling Nora and the boys what I thought about the matter,
Hannah came flying into the drawing-room,--she was so excited, she
forgot to knock. She held a cocked-hat note in her hand,--Kathie is
great on cocked-hat notes and paper lamplighters. "Oh, Miss Nora! it's
meself that's just found this on the flure mostly under the big Sarytogy
thrunk,--the one that's open," she cried, almost out of breath from her
rush down the steps.

"Nora" was scrawled in Kathie's handwriting on the outside of the note.
In an instant Nora tore it open, but she passed it right over to Phil.
"Read it,--I can't," she said in a shaky voice. So he did.

The note was very short and the spelling was funny, though we didn't
think of that until afterward; this is what was in it: "We are not
goging to stay here to be treted like this so we have run away we are
goging to Nannie becaws she tretes us good. I have token my new
parrasole for the sun goodby we have Jugs bank with us Kathie."

Poor Nonie! that just broke her all up! She cried and cried! "I _didn't_
ill-treat them; I was trying to do my _very_ best for them. If I _was_
cross, I didn't mean it,--and they _had_ to be made to mind," she kept
saying between her sobs. "And now they've gone off in this dreadful way!
Oh, _suppose_ some tramp should get hold of them--or they should be run
over or hurt--or--we--should--_never_ see them again! Oh--_oh!_ what
shall I say to papa and Nannie!"

"Oh, shure, Miss Nora, you don't mane to say the darlints is ralely
_lost_!" exclaimed Hannah, and with that _she_ began to bawl; Phil had
to send her right down stairs, and warn her against letting nurse know.
Then we tried to comfort Nora. "You've done your level best, and nobody
can do any more than that," Phil said, drawing Nora to him, and pressing
her face down hard on his shoulder, while he patted her cheek. "Cheer
up, Nonie, old girl, they are no more lost than I am; you see if we
don't walk them home in no time,--young rascals! they ought to be well
punished for giving us such a scare."

"Yes, we'll probably find them in the park, regaling themselves with the
good things that 'Jugs bank' has afforded," remarked Fee, trying to
speak cheerfully. "We're going right out to look for them. Come, Jack,
get on your hat and go along too; I'm ready." As he spoke, he stuck his
hat on and stood up.

"Shall we go separately?" I asked, dropping Nora's hand,--I'd been
patting it.

"Indeed we _will_ go separately," answered Phil, emphatically. "Here,
Nora, sit down; and we will have a plan, and stick to it, too," he
added, "or we'll all three be sure to think of the same scheme, travel
over the same ground, and arrive at the same conclusion. There's been
rather an epidemic of that sort of thing in this family lately,--the
'_three_ souls with but a single thought, three wills that work as one,'
business. Yes, sir, we'll have a plan. Fee, you go to the little parks,
and some way down the avenue; Jack, you go up the avenue, and through as
many of the cross streets as you can get in; and I'll go east and west,
across the _tracks_"--as the word slipped out he gave a quick look at
Nora; we knew he was thinking of those dreadful cable cars: but
fortunately she didn't seem to have heard.

So off we started, after making Nora promise she'd stay at home and
wait for us to bring her news.

We separated at our corner; but I'd only gone a block or two when I
thought of something that sent me flying back to the house. I slipped in
the basement way, and up the back stairs to the nursery, where I hunted
out an old glove of Kathie's; then down I went to the yard and loosed
Major, and he and I started out as fast as we could go.

Once or twice in the country, when the children had strayed too far on
the beach, by showing Major something they'd worn, and telling him to
"Find 'em!" he had led Phil and me right to them. I had remembered this,
and now as we walked up the avenue I kept showing Kathie's glove to the
dear old doggie, and telling him, "Find Kathie, Major, find her! find
her, old boy!" And it did seem as if he understood--Major's an awfully
bright dog--by the way he wagged his tail and went with his nose to the
ground smelling the pavement.

He went pretty straight for nearly a block up the avenue, then he got
bothered by the people passing up and down so continually, and he began
to whine and run aimlessly about; I could hardly make him go on; and
when I took him in the cross streets, he wasn't any good at all. I felt
real discouraged. But just as soon as we turned into Twenty-third
Street, I could see that he'd struck something; for though he did a lot
of zigzagging over the pavement, he went ahead all the time: I tell you,
I was right at his tail at every turn. When we came opposite to where
Madison Avenue begins, if Major didn't cross over and strike off into
the park. Presently he gave a short, quick bark, and tore down a path. I
fairly _flew_ after him; up one path and down another we went like mad,
until we came to the fountain, and there, in the shade of a big tree,
just as cool and unconcerned as you please, were the runaways!

Kathie was seated off on one end of the bench, with her new parasol open
over her head, putting on all sorts of airs, while she gave orders to
Paul and Maedel, who were setting out some forlorn-looking fruit on the
other end of the bench; Alan was walking backward and forward dragging
his express waggon after him.

"Why, it's _Major_!" cried Alan, as the old doggie bounced on him and
licked his face.

"And _Jack_! hullo!" sang out Paul, turning round and seeing me.

"Oh, _lawks_!" exclaimed Maedel,--she'd caught that expression from
nurse, who always says it when she's frightened or excited,--and with
that she scrambled up on the bench and threw her arms round Kathie's
neck with such force that she knocked the parasol out of her hand, and
it slipped down over their heads and hid their faces.

[Illustration: "AND THERE, JUST AS COOL AND UNCONCERNED AS YOU PLEASE,
WERE THE RUNAWAYS."]

Of course I was thankful to see them, _very_ thankful; but at the same
time I must say I was provoked, too, at the cool way in which they were
taking things, when we'd been so frightened about them. "You mean little
animals!" I said, giving Paul's shoulder a shake. "There's poor Nonie at
home crying her eyes out about you, and here're you all _enjoying_
yourselves! What d'you mean by behaving like this?"

Instead of being sorry, if they didn't get saucy right away,--at least
the boys did. Judge jerked himself away from me. "If anybody's going to
punish us, _I'm not_ coming home," he drawled, planting his feet wide
apart on the asphalt pavement, and looking me square in the eye. "Nor
me!" chimed in Alan, defiantly.

The parasol was lifted a little, and Maedel peeped out. "Will Nora make
us go to bed right away?" she asked anxiously; "before we get any
dinner?"

Up went the parasol altogether, and Kathie slipped to the ground. "Oh,
Jack, is everybody awfully mad? and what'll they do to us?" she said,
and she looked just ready to begin weeping again. "'Cause if they are,
we'd rather stay here; we've got things to eat--"

"Yes, we've got lots of things," broke in Alan; "see," pointing to the
miserable-looking fruit on the end of the bench, "all that! Judge bought
it; we couldn't get the bank open, but the fruitman took it,--he said
he didn't mind,--an' let us have all these things for it; wasn't he
kind? We're going to have a party."

Well, for a few minutes I didn't know what to do,--I mean how to get
them to go home without a fuss. I could see that Paul and Alan were just
ready for mischief; if they started to run in different directions, I
couldn't catch both, and there were those dangerous cable cars not very
far away. Suppose the boys should rush across Broadway and get run over!
I suppose I could have called a policeman, and got him to take us all
home, but I knew that'd make a terrible fuss; Kathie and Maedel would
howl,--they're awfully afraid of "p'leecemen," as Alan calls them, and I
really don't care very much for them myself. At last I got desperate.
"See here, children," I said, "I've been sent to find you if I could,
and to bring you home, and I've _got_ to do it, you know. If you'd seen
how worried everybody was, and how poor Nonie cried for fear some tramp
had got hold of you--"

"I just guess not!" broke in Judge, defiantly; but all the same he
glanced quickly over his shoulder, and drew a little nearer to me.

"--or for fear you'd get hurt, or have no place to sleep in, you'd want
to go straight home this minute. You know this park's all very well for
the day-time; but when night comes, and it gets dark, what'll you do?
The policemen may turn you out, and where will you all go _then_?
Nannie is miles and _miles_ away from here by the cars, and how're
children like you ever going to get to her without money or anything?
And even if it were so you could get to her, what do you suppose
Nannie'd say when she found you had all _run away from home_?"

I said all this very seriously,--I tell you I felt serious,--and the
minute I stopped speaking Maedel slipped from the bench and slid her
little hand into mine. "_I'm_ going home," she declared.

"Perhaps I will, too, if Nora won't punish us," said Kathie,
undecidedly.

"I don't know if she'll punish you or not," I said; "but even if she
should, isn't that better than staying here all the time, and having
no dinner,--cook's made a lovely shortcake for dessert,--and no beds
to sleep in, and never coming home at all again?"

Kathie caught hold of my hand. "I'm ready," she said; "let's go now."

"Coming, boys?" I asked carelessly.

"Oh, I s'pose we'll _have_ to," answered Paul, sulkily, kicking the leg
of the bench; "and there's my money all gone!"

I was wild to get them home, but I had to wait as patiently as I could
while the boys piled the horrid old fruit into the express wagon--they
wouldn't have left it for anything--and harnessed Major to it with
pieces of twine they had in their pockets; then we started.

We passed the fruitman that had cheated Judge, and Phil said afterwards
that I ought to have stopped and made him give up the bank,--there were
nearly two dollars in it, besides the value of the bank itself, and he
had given the children about ten or fifteen cents' worth of miserable
stuff for it,--but I do hate to fight people, and besides, I was in a
hurry to get home, so I didn't notice him at all.

We went along in pretty good spirits--Major at the head of the
procession--until we got near home; then Kathie asked once or twice,
rather nervously, "What do you suppose Nora'll do to us, Jack?" and the
boys began to lag behind a little. As we turned off the avenue, into our
street, two people came down our stoop--we live near the corner--and
came toward us. One of them was an old lady, and I knew at once that I'd
seen her before, though I couldn't remember where. She was a little old
lady, and she stooped a good deal; her nose was long and hooked, and she
had a turn-up chin like in the pictures of Punch that we have at home.
Kathie saw the likeness, too, for she pulled my elbow and whispered:
"Oh, Jack, doesn't she look like Punch? Perhaps she's his wife."

The other woman was stout, and she helped the old lady along,--I think
she was a maid. As we got near them, the old lady fumbled for her
eyeglasses, put them on, and looked sharply at us. "Yes, yes, looks like
his father!" we heard her say; then, "Have we time, Sanders? I should
like to speak to them."

"Indeed, mum, we haven't time to stop," replied Sanders; "we've barely
time to catch the boat." Then they got into the hansom that was standing
at the curb, and were driven away.

Hannah opened the door, and the yell of joy that she gave when she saw
the children brought Nora flying to meet us. I couldn't help noticing
how bright and happy Nora looked, very different from when we had left
her, an hour or so before; and the way she met the children was also a
surprise to me. I knew she'd be glad to see them safe, but I thought
surely she would have given them a good scolding, too, or punished them
in some way; they deserved it, and I know they expected it. But she met
them as sweetly and affectionately as even Nannie could have; she gave
them something to eat,--it was long past our lunch hour,--and then she
walked them into the study and gave them a tremendous talking to. I
don't know whether it was the unexpected way in which she treated them,
or the talking to, or what, but they came out of the study looking very
subdued, and they certainly behaved better for the rest of the time
before we went in the country. And Nora was different, too, for that
time; she scarcely nagged, and she was more gentle,--so perhaps their
running away taught her a lesson as well.

In the mean time--while Nora and the children were in the study--Felix
came in, all tired out, and a little while later Phil; and weren't they
indignant, though, with those youngsters when they found they were safe
and sound!

All that afternoon Nora seemed very happy; we could hear her singing as
she went up and down stairs and about the house, looking after nurse and
the children. It was the same all through dinner-time,--she just bubbled
over with fun, and it was the pleasantest meal we'd had since the family
broke up. Now Nora isn't often like this,--in fact, very seldom; and
to-day we supposed it was because she was so glad the children had been
found; as Phil said, 'twas almost worth while losing the youngsters--as
long's we'd found them again--to have Nora so bright and pleasant. His
ill humour had all disappeared, and he and Nora just kept us laughing
with their funny sayings. But Fee was rather quiet; his tramp after the
children had tired him, and I guess, too, that he was thinking of the
evening, and wondering how he could keep Phil from going off with Chad.

After dinner I went out to feed Major; I tell you, we all think him the
wisest old doggie in New York! and I gave him the biggest dinner any
dog could eat. Just as I was coming through the hall to go on the stoop
where Phil and Felix were sitting, Nora ran down the steps and stood at
the open front door. "Come in the drawing-room, boys; I have something
particular to tell you," she said. "Come right away; better close the
front door,--it's a long story."

Fee got up slowly, but Phil hesitated. "I wonder if Chad will be round?"
he said.

"Oh, not to-night," answered Nora, quickly. "Why, didn't you hear him
say last evening that he was going out of town for two or three days?"

Fee's face lighted up, and he opened his big eyes at me,--I know he was
delighted; and it seemed to me that Phil's surprised "No! is _that_ so?"
did not sound very sorry.

"Oh, hurry in, _do_!" Nora said impatiently. "I've kept the secret all
the afternoon,--until we had a chance to talk quietly together,--and now
it is just burning my lips to get out. Come, Jack, you, too."




XVII.

NORA'S SECRET.

TOLD BY JACK.


Of course that brought us into the drawing-room in double-quick time.
Fee threw himself full-length on a lounge; Phil sat on a chair with his
face to the back, which he hugged with both arms; I took the next
chair,--the biggest in the room; and pulling over the piano stool, Nora
seated herself on that, and swung from side to side as she spoke to the
different ones.

For a minute she just sat and smiled at us without a word, until Phil
said: "Well, fire away! We're all ears."

"Who do you think has been here to-day?" began Nora.

Phil rolled his eyes up to the ceiling, and he and Felix both answered
very solemnly, and at the same moment:--

"The Tsar!"

"The President!"

"_Don't_ be silly!" said Nora, with dignity; then, "I suppose I might as
well tell you at once, for you never could guess,--_aunt Lindsay!_"

"No!" "Jinks!" "We _saw_ her!" exclaimed Felix, Phil, and I.

"Yes," said Nora, swinging herself slowly from side to side, and
enjoying our surprise. "And what do you suppose she came for?" Then,
interrupting herself, "But there! I'll begin at the very beginning; that
will be the best. Well, I had just told Dr. Archard good-bye--by the
way, he says nurse will be all right by to-morrow--and come in here for
a minute, when the bell rang, and Hannah ushered an old lady into the
room. Of course I knew at once that it was aunt Lindsay, though I hadn't
seen her for a long time; and I welcomed her as warmly as I could,
feeling as I did about the children,--I didn't tell her anything about
them, though,--and asked her to take off her things. But she said she
could only stay a very short time, and asked to see 'Nancy' and Felix.

"She sat in the chair you are in, Jack,"--Nora turned to me,--"and as
she's very small, she looked about as lost in it as you do. When I said
that Felix was out, and Nannie away in the Adirondacks with papa, she
looked _so_ disappointed. 'I knew your father was there,' she said, 'but
he did not mention that Nancy was with him. And so Felix is out! H'm,
sorry for that. Good children, good children, both of them!'"

"Doesn't know you, old man, does she?" put in Phil; and then he and
Felix grinned.

"Well," continued Nora, "she said she couldn't stay for lunch, but I
got her to loosen her bonnet strings and take a cup of tea and some
crackers. While she sipped her tea she said: 'I am _en route_ for my
usual summer resort, and have come a good deal out of my way to see my
godchildren. It is a disappointment not to meet them; but if Nancy is
with her sick father, she is doing her duty.' Then she asked about you,
Fee; your health particularly. After I had told her that you were as
well as usual, and as fond of study as ever, then she told me what she
had come on from Boston for. Felix, she knows all about your
disappointment in not going to college last fall,--who do you suppose
could have told her?--and she says--" Nora stopped and looked at us
with a teasing smile.

Fee was sitting up, and we were all leaning forward, eager for the rest
of the story.

"Oh, _go_ on!" cried Fee, quickly.

"Yes, out with it!" chimed in Phil.

"She says," went on Nora, slowly, lingering over each word, "that you
are to prepare yourself for examination to enter Columbia in the fall,
and she will see you through the college course. These are her very
words: 'Tell Felix that his father has consented that I shall have the
great pleasure and happiness of putting him through college. I wanted to
do it last fall, but Jack would not listen to it then. Tell the boy that
I shall enjoy doing this, and that he will hear from me about the last
of August.' Oh, Felix, isn't it _splendid_?"

[Illustration: "'HE WILL HEAR FROM ME ABOUT THE LAST OF AUGUST.'"]

"Perfectly immense--_immense!_" exclaimed Phil, landing on his feet in
great excitement. "Why, it's the _jolliest_, the _very_ best, the
_finest_ piece of good news that I could hear--simply _huge!_ _Blessed_
old dame! She's given me _the_ wish of my heart! Hurrah, old chappie!
after all we'll be at college together! _Oo-h-ie!_" And he threw his
arms right round Felix and just hugged him.

Fee's eyes were wide open, and so bright! they shone right through his
glasses; he leaned forward and looked anxiously from one to the other of
us, his hands opening and shutting nervously on his knees as he spoke.
"Are you _sure_ about this?" he asked wistfully; "because I've dreamed
this sort of thing sometimes, and--and--the awakening always upsets me
for a day or two."

"Why, _certainly_ we're sure!" cried Nora. "_Dead sure!_" answered Phil,
emphatically; and Nora added reproachfully: "Why, Felix! aren't you
glad? I thought you'd be delighted."

"_Glad?_" echoed Fee, "_glad?_ why, I'm--" His voice failed, and turning
hurriedly from us, he buried his face in the sofa cushions.

All this time I hadn't said a word; I really couldn't. You see, ever
since I've been a choir boy, I've saved all the money that's been paid
me for singing, so's to get enough to send Fee to college. Betty didn't
think much of my scheme: she said 'twould take such a long while before
I could get even half the amount; but still I kept on saving for it,--I
haven't spent a penny of my salary,--and you've no idea how full the
bank was, and _heavy!_ I've just hugged the little iron box sometimes,
when I thought of what that money would do for Fee; and for a few
minutes after I heard Nora's story I was so disappointed that I
_couldn't_ congratulate him.

Then, all at once, it came over me like a rush how mean I was to want
Felix to wait such a long time for me to do this for him, when, through
aunt Lindsay's kindness, he could go to college right away. I got
awfully ashamed, and going quickly over to Fee's side, I knelt down by
him and threw my arm over his shoulder. "Fee," I said,--he still had his
face in the cushions,--"I'm _very_, _very_, _very_ glad you are to go to
college this fall,--_really_ and _truly_ I am, Fee."

I didn't see anything funny about this, but Phil and Nora began to
laugh, and, sitting up, Felix said, smiling, "Why, I know you are,
Jacqueminot; I never doubted it for a moment. And by and by, when Phil
and I are staid old seniors, your turn will come,--we'll see to that."
Then, looking round at us, he went on, speaking rapidly, excitedly: "_At
last_ it has come, and when I least expected it--when I had given up all
hope. I can hardly believe it! _Now_ I shall go in for the hardest sort
of hard work, for I've great things to accomplish. Don't think I'm
conceited, but I'm going to try for _all_ the honours that a fellow can;
and I'll get them, too--I'll get them; I _must!_ I promised--_her_--" He
broke off abruptly and turned away, then presently added in a lighter
tone: "I must write to my twinnie to-night,--how delighted she will be!
Oh, I tell you, you don't any of you know what this is to me!--but
there, I _can't_ talk of it. Let's have some fun. What shall we do to
celebrate the occasion? Play something lively, Nora; we'll have a
_musicale_."

He stood up, and as Nora ran to the piano and struck up a waltz, Phil
caught Fee round the waist and danced off with him.

But before they had turned twice round, Fee was in a chair, holding on
to his back, and laughing at Phil's grumbling protest. "I never was much
on dancing, you know," he said. "Here, take Rosebud; he'll trip the
light fantastic toe with you as long as you like."

So Phil finished the waltz with me, but I didn't enjoy it; Phil is so
tall, and he grips a person so tight, that half the time my feet were
clear off the floor and sticking straight out; and he went so fast that
I got dizzy.

Well, we had a _jolly_ evening. After the dance, Fee didn't move about
very much, but he was just as funny and bright as he could be; Nora was
nicer, too, than I've ever known her; and as for Phil, he was perfectly
wild with good spirits. He danced,--alone when he couldn't get anybody
for a partner,--and sang, and talked, and joked, and kept us in a roar
of laughter until bedtime.

"Well," said Nora, as we stood together by the drawing-room door for a
few minutes before going upstairs, "I thought this morning that this was
going to be a black day,--one of the days when everything goes
wrong,--and yet see how pleasantly it has ended."

"It has been a great day for me," said Fee, slowly. "I don't mind
telling you people, now, that that disappointment in the fall took the
heart and interest all out of my studies; but now"--he straightened
himself up, and his voice rang out--"_now_ I have hope again, and
courage, and you'll see what I can do. Thanks don't express my
feelings; I'm more than thankful to aunt Lindsay!"

"So 'm I," I piped up, and I meant that; I was beginning to feel better
about it.

"Thankful, more thankful, most thankful," Phil said, pointing his finger
at Nora, then at me, then at Felix; "and here am I, the 'thankfullest'
of all."

There was a break in his voice that surprised us; and to cover it up, he
began some more of his nonsense. "High time for us--the _pater's_ little
infants--to be a-bed," he said, laughing. "Come, Mr. Boffin, make your
adieux and prepare to leave

    "'The gay, the gay and festive scene;
      The halls, the halls of dazzling light.'"

And suddenly, catching Fee in his arms, he ran lightly up the stairs
with him, calling back to us: "'Good-night, ladies! good-night, ladies!
good-night, ladies! I'm going to leave you now!'"




XVIII.

EXPERIENCES AT ENDICOTT BEACH.

TOLD BY BETTY.


Nora insisted that it was "exceedingly kind" of the Ervengs, and "a
compliment" to me, and all that sort of thing, to invite me to spend a
month with them at their country place. Well, perhaps she was right:
Nora is _always_ right,--in her own estimation; all the same, I didn't
want to go one step, and I am afraid I was rather disagreeable about it.

You see I had been looking forward to going to the Cottage with the
others; and having to start off for an entirely different place at only
a few hours' notice quite upset me. At the Cottage, Nannie takes charge
while Miss Marston is away for her holidays, and she lets us amuse
ourselves in our own way, as long as we are punctual at meals,--papa
insists on that,--and don't get into mischief. One can wear one's oldest
clothes, and just _live_ out of doors; what with driving old Pegasus,
and riding G. W. L. Spry, and boating, fishing, crabbing, wading, and
playing in the sand, we do have the jolliest times! Now, instead of all
this fun and freedom, I was to be packed off to visit people that I
didn't know very well, and didn't care a jot about. Of course I knew
Hilliard _pretty_ well,--he's been at the house often enough! I didn't
mind him much, though he is provokingly slow, and so--well, _queer_, for
I could speak my mind right out to him if I felt like it; but it seemed
to me that Mr. Erveng must always remember that silly escapade of mine
whenever he looked at me, and I was sure that Mrs. Erveng regarded me as
a rough, overgrown tomboy. Somehow, when I am with her I feel dreadfully
awkward,--all hands, and feet, and voice; though these things don't
trouble me in the least with any one else. I did wish that she had
invited Nora to visit her instead of me.

When I saw my old blue flannel laid with the things to go to the
Cottage, and only my best gowns put into the trunk I was to take to the
Ervengs', it suddenly rushed over me that I would have to be on my
company manners for a whole month! and I got so mad that it would have
been a relief to just _roar_,--the way Kathie does.

Nannie was away, and the others didn't seem to understand how I felt; in
fact, Nora aggravated me by scolding, and saying I ought to feel highly
delighted, when I knew that deep down in her heart she was only too
thankful that _she_ hadn't been asked. Jack was the only person that
sympathised with me,--dear old Jackie-boy! I'm beginning to think that
there is a good deal to Jack, for all he's so girlie.

[Illustration: "IN THE DRAWING-ROOM CAR."]

The Ervengs called for me the morning after papa and Nannie had gone to
the mountains,--right after breakfast,--and I can assure you it was
dreadfully hard to keep back the tears when I was telling the family
good-bye; and when I was seated in the carriage, right under Mr. and
Mrs. Erveng's eyes, I got the most insane desire to scream out loud, or
burst the door open and jump out: I had to sit up very straight and set
my lips tight together, to keep from doing it.

That feeling wore off, though, by the time we got settled in the
drawing-room car, and I was three seats from Mrs. Erveng,--I managed
that,--with Mr. Erveng and Hilliard between us. It was a marvel to me
the way those two waited on Mrs. Erveng; in watching them do it I
forgot about myself. Her chair must be at just such an angle, her
footstool in just such a position, and the cushions at her back just so
many, and most carefully arranged; and if she stirred, they were all
attention immediately. And they were like that the whole month that I
was at Endicott Beach, though it seemed to me sometimes that she was
very exacting.

Now with us, though we love one another dearly, and, as Phil says, would
go through fire and water for one another if need be, particularly if
any one were ill, still we're not willing to be imposed on _all_ the
time, and we do keep the different ones up to the mark, and stand up for
our individual rights,--we've _got_ to where there are so many. But the
Ervengs aren't in the least like us; and I think that, in some ways,
Hilliard is the very oddest boy I've _ever_ known.

To begin with, he is so literal,--away ahead of Nora; he took so many
things seriously that I said in joke that at first I didn't know what
to make of him. I used to get _so_ provoked! He doesn't understand the
sort of "chaffing" that we do so much at home, and he is slow to get an
idea; but once it's fixed in his mind, you needn't think he's going to
change,--it's there for the rest of his natural life. He could no more
change his opinion about things as I do than he could fly. Perhaps he
thinks I'm frivolous and "uncouth,"--as Nora sometimes says I am. Well,
let him; who cares? _I_ think _he_ is a regular old poke, though he is
better than I thought at first; but you'll hear all about it. Of course
Hilliard was polite, and all that, when he came to our house, but I
didn't always see him; in fact, I used to keep out of the way on
purpose, many a time: so I didn't really know what sort of a boy he
was until I went to stay at the beach.

Well, as soon as Mrs. Erveng was comfortably settled, Hilliard came
over to me with a big soft cushion in his hand. "May I put this at your
back?" he asked. "It's a tiresome journey to Boston, and we've got
quite a ride after that to reach Endicott Beach; so let me make you
as comfortable as possible."

Now if he had come up and simply put the cushion on the back of my
chair, the way Phil, or Felix, or Jack would have done, I wouldn't have
minded at all,--I like cushions; but to stand there holding it, waiting
for me to give him permission, struck me as being very silly. I knew he
expected me to say yes, and instead of that I found myself saying, "No,
I thank you,"--I could hear that my tone was snippy,--"I can get on
very comfortably without a cushion." Our boys, or Max, or even Murray
Unsworth would have said, "Oh, come now, Betty!" and just slipped the
cushion behind me, and I'd have enjoyed it, and made no more fuss. But
not so this individual. He looked helplessly at me for a minute, then
laid the cushion down on his mother's travelling satchel; and there it
reclined until we reached Boston.

'Twas the same way with getting me things to eat. With all the
excitement that morning, I had very little appetite for breakfast, so
by lunch time I was _very_ hungry; and when Mrs. Erveng opened her box
of sandwiches, I felt as if I could have eaten every one in it,--but of
course I didn't. They were delicious; but, oh, so small and thin!

Mr. Erveng did not take any,--he never takes a mid-day meal. Mrs.
Erveng ate two, trifling with the second one as if tired of it. I ate
three,--when a _dozen_ would not have been too many! Hilliard disposed
of four, and then went out to get his mother a cup of tea,--I suspect
he had something more to eat in the restaurant. He asked, in a tone as
if he meant it, "Mayn't I bring you a cup of tea?"

But I despise tea, so I answered, "No, I thank you," for the second
time. Mr. and Mrs. Erveng were talking to an acquaintance who had come
up, and actually Hilliard hadn't the sense to offer me anything else,
and I _couldn't_ ask. Having sisters is certainly a great thing for a
boy, as I've told Jack scores of times; why, for all that he is so shy,
Jack could have taken twice as good care of a girl as Hilliard did of
me, just because he has had me to train him.

Presently Mrs. Erveng passed the lunch box over to me. "_Do_ take
another sandwich, Betty," she said kindly, "and some cake."

But by this time no one else in the car was eating, and I didn't want
to be the only person,--I hate to have people stare at me while I'm
eating,--so I refused. The open box remained by me for some
time,--'twas all I could do to keep from putting out my hand
for a sandwich; then the porter came by, and Mr. Erveng handed
it to him to take away.

Hilliard talked to me as we flew along, in his deliberate, grown-up way,
but pleasantly; if I had not been so hungry and homesick, I might have
been interested. But by and by the hunger wore off, and by the time we
reached Endicott Beach I had a raving headache; but I said nothing about
it until after dinner, for Mrs. Erveng was so tired out that she had to
be looked after and got to bed the very first thing, and that made a
little fuss, though her maid Dillon, who had come on the day before, was
there to assist her.

The house is very prettily furnished and arranged,--almost as prettily
but more simply than Mrs. Erveng's rooms in New York.

After dinner Hilliard showed me a little of the place, which is _very_
pretty, and quite unlike anywhere else that I have been. There's a queer
scraggly old garden at the back of the house, and in front a splendid
view of the beach, with the ocean rolling up great booming waves. Before
very long I got to like Endicott Beach very much; but this first
afternoon, though the sunset was most gorgeous, I felt so miserable
that I could take interest in nothing. Oh, how I longed for home!

Presently Hilliard said, "I'm afraid you are dreadfully tired,--you look
so pale. I should have waited until to-morrow to show you the place; I
have been inconsiderate--"

"I have a headache," I broke in shortly; then all at once my lips began
to tremble. "I wish I were at home!" I found myself exclaiming; and then
the tears came pouring down my face.

"Oh, I am so sorry! so _very_ sorry! What can I do for you?" began
Hilliard. "Oh! mayn't I--"

I was so mortified that I got very mad; I hate to cry, any way, and
above all before this stiff wooden boy! I threw my hands over my face,
and turning my back on him, started for the house, walking as fast as I
could, stumbling sometimes on the uneven beach.

But Hilliard followed close behind me. "I'm _so_ sorry!" he repeated.
"Why didn't you let me know sooner? May I--"

I got so provoked that I wheeled round suddenly on him,--I think I
startled him. "Oh, _do_ stop _asking_ people if you 'may' or 'mayn't do
things for them,"--I'm afraid that here I mimicked his tone of voice.
"_Do_ the things first, and then ask,--if you must. I declare, you don't
know the very first thing about taking care of a girl; why, our Paul
could do better."

Hilliard stood stock still and stared at me; his sleepy eyes were
wide open, and there was such a bewildered expression on his face
that it just set me off laughing, in spite of the tears on my cheeks,
and my headache.

"I am exceedingly sorry if I have neglected--" he began stiffly; but
before he could say any more I turned and fled.

I fancied I heard his footsteps behind me, and I fairly flew along the
beach, into the house, and up to my room, where I began undressing as
quickly as I could. But before I was ready for bed, Mrs. Erveng's maid
brought a message from her mistress. She was so sorry to hear that I
was not well; was there nothing that she could do for me? "Please say
that I am going to bed; that will cure my headache quicker than anything
else," I called through the keyhole, instead of opening the door. I had
a feeling that the Ervengs would think me a crank; but I had got to that
pitch that afternoon where I didn't care what anybody thought of me.
Then Dillon went away, and I got into bed.

But I couldn't sleep for ever so long: you see the sun had not yet set,
and I'm not used to going to sleep in broad daylight; besides, I was
very unhappy. As I lay there looking at the brilliant colours of the
sky, I thought over what I had said to Hilliard, and the oftener I went
over it, the more uncomfortable I got; for I began to see that I'd been
very rude--to insult the people I was visiting! I wondered if Hilliard
had told his mother what I said; and what she thought of me? Would she
send me home? I had declared to Nora that I would behave so badly as to
be sent home before the visit was over, but I had not really meant it. I
got all worked up over the horrid affair, and if I had had then enough
money to pay my expenses to New York, I really think I should have been
tempted to climb out of the window, or make my escape in some way or
other,--I dreaded so having to face the Ervengs in the morning.

After a long while I fell asleep, and dreamed that Mr. and Mrs. Erveng
were holding me fast, while Hilliard stuffed sandwiches down my throat.

But by the next morning my headache was gone, and the sunshine and
beautiful view from my window made me feel a new person, though I still
dreaded meeting the Ervengs. Usually I dress quickly, but this morning I
just dawdled, to put off the evil moment as long as possible. It seemed
so strange not to have Nannie, or Miss Marston, or Nora, or any one to
tell me what to say or do; I really felt lost without dear old Nannie. I
would have been delighted to see her that morning,--we have such nice
talks at home while we are dressing!

Before I left home, Nora said particularly, "Now, Betty, _do_ remember
that your ginghams are for the mornings and your thinner gowns for the
afternoons. Don't put on the first frock that comes to your hand,
regardless of whether it is flannel, gingham, or _organdi_. You know
you haven't a great many clothes, so _please_, I beg of you, for the
reputation of the family, take care of them, or you will not have a
decent thing to wear two weeks after you get to the Ervengs'."

I was provoked at her for saying this, but I could not resent it very
much, for--though I love pretty things as well as anybody does--somehow
accidents _are_ always happening to my clothes. Nurse says it's because
I am too heedless to think about what I have on, and perhaps it is: yet,
when I remember, and try to be careful, I'm simply _miserable_; and it
does seem too silly to make one's self uncomfortable for clothes,--so I
generally forget.

But this morning I looked carefully over the ginghams that Dillon had
unpacked and hung in the closet in my room, and finally, taking down the
one I considered the prettiest, I put it on; I wished afterward that I
had chosen the plainest and ugliest.

As I said, I was taking as much time as possible over my dressing, when
I happened to think that breakfast might be ready, and the Ervengs
waiting for me,--papa says "to be late at meals, particularly when
visiting, is _extremely_ ill-bred;" then I rushed through the rest
of my toilet, and raced down the stairs, not thinking of Mrs. Erveng's
headache until I reached the foot of the steps.

I was relieved to find no one in the parlour, or in the room across the
hall, where the table was set for breakfast. But as I stepped out on the
broad front piazza, Hilliard rose from the hammock in which he had been
lying, and came forward with such a pleasant "Good-morning!" that I felt
surprised and ashamed.

"How is your head?" he asked, adding, "It must be better, I fancy,--you
look so much brighter than you did yesterday."

I could feel my face getting warm; I hate to apologise to people, but I
knew that I ought to do it here. "That headache made me cross, and I was
homesick," I answered, speaking as fast as I could to get it all over
with quickly. "I am sorry I spoke so rudely--"

But Hilliard broke in quickly,--for him. "Don't say that; please
don't ever speak of it again," he said earnestly. "It's for _me_ to
apologise; I must have deserved what you said, or I know you would
not have said it."

[Illustration: "BETTY."]

Well, I _was_ taken aback! that was a new view of the case. At first I
thought he might be in sarcasm; but no, he was in earnest, saying the
words in his slow, deliberate way, with his eyes half shut. I couldn't
help wishing that the family had been there to hear; but I decided
that I would certainly tell them of it,--you see I don't often get
such a compliment.

I would like to have made a polite speech to him, but what was there to
say?--it still remained that he _hadn't_ taken good care of me. And
while this thought was going through my brain, I heard myself say, "Did
you tell your mother what I said to you?"

Now I had no more idea of asking Hilliard that--though I did want to
know--than I had of flying; my mouth opened, and the words just came out
without the least volition on my part,--in fact, I was perfectly
astonished to hear them. More than once this has happened at home; Phil
teases me about it, and Fee calls me Mrs. Malaprop, because--that's the
trouble--these speeches are almost always just the things I shouldn't
have said. I'm sure I don't know what I am to do to prevent it.

My face actually burnt,--it must have been as red as a beet. "I didn't
mean to ask you that," I blurted out. While I was speaking, Hilliard was
saying, "Why, certainly not; I simply mentioned that you had a
headache," in such a surprised voice that I felt more uncomfortable than
ever: but wasn't it nice of him not to tell?

I just rushed into talk about the scenery as fast as I could go. From
where we stood we could see the wild, rugged coast for miles,--the huge,
bare brown rocks standing like so many grim sentinels guarding the
spaces of shining white sand, which here and there sloped gently to the
water's edge; the sea gulls resting, tiny white specks, against the dark
rocks, or circling in flocks above them; the dark blue ocean, dotted
with steamers and sailing-vessels and sparkling and dancing in the
morning light, rolling up great white-crested waves that dashed on the
rocks and threw up a cloud of foaming spray, and broke on the beach with
a dull booming noise; and over all was the warm, glorious summer
sunshine. As I looked and looked, all the disagreeableness slipped away,
and it was _splendid_ just to be alive. I thought of Felix, and how much
he would enjoy all this beauty. We all think so much of the scenery at
the Cottage, and really it is nothing compared with this. There the
beach is smooth and nice, but it hasn't a rock on it; and the
water--it's the Sound, you know--just creeps up on it with a soft
lapping sound very different to the roar and magnificence of the ocean.

I was so surprised and delighted that first morning that I spoke out
warmly. "Oh!" I cried, "isn't it _beautiful_! oh, it is grand!
fascinating!--I could watch those waves all day!"

Hilliard's face lighted up. "I thought you would like it," he said. "You
should see it in a storm,--it is magnificent! but it is terrible,
too,"--he gave a little shudder. "I love the ocean, but I am afraid of
it; it is treacherous."

"Afraid!" I looked at him in surprise,--the idea of a big strong boy as
he is being _afraid_ of the water! I opened my mouth to exclaim, "Well,
_I'm_ not afraid!" then remembered my unlucky remark of a few minutes
before and said instead, and in a much milder tone, "After breakfast I'm
going to explore those rocks, and get as near to the ocean as I can--"

"Don't attempt to do any climbing alone," broke in Hilliard, more
positively than he usually speaks; "the rocks are very slippery, and you
know nothing about the tides. People have been caught on those rocks and
cut off--drowned--by the incoming tide, before they could reach the
shore, or be rescued. I shall be very glad to go with you whenever--"

"Good-morning!" Mr. Erveng said, appearing in the doorway behind us;
"will you young people come in and have some breakfast?"

Breakfast was served in a room that looked out on the garden; and
everything was very nice, though quite different from our breakfasts at
home. Mrs. Erveng was not down,--I found afterward that she always took
her breakfast in her own room,--and Hilliard sat in his mother's place
and poured the tea. I was thankful that Mr. Erveng hadn't asked me to do
it; but it did look so _queer_ to see a boy doing such a thing,--so like
a "Miss Nancy," as Phil would say. Mr. Erveng and Hilliard talked a good
deal about things that were going on in the world, and about books, and
places they had been to. I was perfectly surprised at the way Mr. Erveng
asked Hilliard's opinion, and listened to his remarks,--I couldn't
imagine papa's doing such a thing with any of us, not even with Felix;
and when I said anything, they both acted as if it were really worth
listening to,--which is another thing that never happens in our family!
And yet, on the other hand, Mr. Erveng goes off to Boston in the
mornings without even saying good-bye to Mrs. Erveng or Hilliard,--they
never know by what train he is coming home; and in the whole month I
visited them I never once saw Hilliard and his mother kiss each other.

Now at home papa always tells some one of us when he is going out, and
about when he will return; and if we children go anywhere, the whole
family is sure to know of it; and quite often we kiss one another
good-bye, and always at night. Nora often tells us that it isn't "good
form" to do this; and sometimes, when she's in an airish mood, she calls
us "a pack of kissers,"--as if that were something dreadful. Still, all
the same, I'm _glad_ that we're that sort of a family; and I am more
than ever glad since I've been staying with the Ervengs.

Hilliard and I were just starting for the beach that morning, when
Dillon came out on the piazza with a message. "Mr. Hilliard," she said,
"your mother would like to speak to you." So off he went with, "Excuse
me; I'll be back in a few minutes," to me.

But instead, presently back came Dillon with another message: "Mrs.
Erveng asks, Will you please to excuse Mr. Hilliard; she would like him
to do something for her for a while."

So off I went for my walk, alone. I strolled down to the beach and sat
in the shade of a big rock and looked at the waves,--watching them
coming in and going out, and making up all sorts of thoughts about them.
But after a while I got tired of that, and began wondering what they
were all doing at home without Nannie, or Miss Marston, or papa; and
then I felt so lonely and homesick that I just _had_ to get up and walk
about. And then I got into trouble,--I don't know another girl that gets
into scrapes as I do!

There were lots of little coves about the beach,--the water in them
was just as clear as crystal; and as I stepped from rock to rock,
bending down to look into the depths, what should I do but slip,--the
rocks _are_ slippery,--and land in the middle of a cove, up to my waist
in water!

There was nothing to do but to scramble out,--the rocks ran too far out
into the ocean to think of walking round them,--and I can assure you it
was no easy thing to accomplish with my wet skirts clinging to me. I
scratched my hands, and scraped my shoes, and got my sleeves and the
whole front of my nice gingham stained with the green slimy moss that
covered the rocks.

But at last I got out; then came the walk up the beach to the
house,--there was no other way of getting there,--and you may imagine my
feelings when, half-way up, I discovered that Mrs. Erveng was seated on
the piazza in her invalid's chair. I saw her put her _lorgnette_ to her
eyes; I imagined I heard her say to Hilliard, who was arranging a
cushion back of her head, "Who _is_ that extraordinary looking creature
coming up the beach?" and I _longed_ to just burrow in the sand and get
out of her sight.

Hilliard came running to meet me. "You've fallen into the water--you are
wet! I hope you're not hurt?" he exclaimed, as he reached me.

It was on the tip of my tongue to answer sharply, "I _have_ fallen into
the water; did you expect me to be dry?" It was such a _silly_ speech of
his! But I was afraid of Mrs. Erveng, so I just said carelessly,--as if
I were in the habit of tumbling into the ocean with all my clothes on
every day in the week,--"Oh, I just slipped off one of the rocks; I got
my feet wet." And there I was, mind you, wet almost to my waist, and
such a figure!

Any one of our boys--even Jack, and he is pretty dense sometimes--would
have seen the joke, and we'd have had a hearty laugh, anyway, out of the
situation; but not a smile appeared on Hilliard's face. Either he didn't
see the fun at all, or else he was too deadly polite to laugh. If he had
even said roughly, "Didn't I _tell_ you not to go there!" I wouldn't
have minded it as much as his "How unfortunate!" and his helpless look.
I was afraid to say anything for fear I'd be rude again, so we walked up
to the piazza in solemn silence.

"Good morning!" Mrs. Erveng said pleasantly, as I laboured up the steps.
"An accident? I am so glad you are not hurt! Hilliard should have warned
you about those slippery rocks--oh, he did--I see. Dillon will help you
change your things; ring for her, Hilliard. Too bad, Betty, to spoil
that pretty frock."

Well, I changed my wet clothes, and for the rest of that day I was as
meek as a lamb. I sat down, and got up, and answered, and talked to the
Ervengs as nearly in Nora's manner as I could imitate. Perhaps they
liked it, but I didn't; I was having the pokiest kind of a time, and I
was so homesick that I cried myself to sleep again that night.

Mind you, I wouldn't have our boys and Nora know this for a kingdom!

The next few days were more agreeable; the people from the other
cottages on the beach came to call on Mrs. Erveng, and while she was
entertaining them, Hilliard and I went for walks or sat on the sands. As
I've told you before, he isn't at all a wonderful sort of boy,--except
for queerness,--and he always _will_ be a poke; but sometimes he's
rather nice, and he is certainly polite. He knows the beach well,--he
ought to, he's been here nearly every summer of his life, and he is
eighteen years old,--and he showed me everything there was to see.
There were no more accidents under his guidance; and no wonder,--he
is caution itself.

There was only one part of the beach that he did not take me, and that
was where a tall pointed rock stood, that was separated from the others
by a rather wide strip of sand. I thought it looked interesting; I could
see what looked in the distance like the arched entrance to a cave in
the side of the rock. I would like to have gone to look at it, but every
time I proposed it, Hilliard turned the conversation. "Some day we'll
investigate it," he said at last; "but don't ever go over there
alone,--it is a dangerous place." According to him, the whole beach was
dangerous; so I made up my mind that I would "investigate" for myself at
the first opportunity that offered.

While we rested on the sands, Hilliard would read aloud to me,--he likes
to read aloud. Neither Phil nor I care as much for books as do the
others in the family; but to be polite, I did not tell Hilliard that I
am not fond of being read to; to me it always seems so slow. At first I
used to look at the ocean and make up thoughts about it, so that I
hardly heard any of what he was reading; but after a while I began to
listen, and then, really, I got quite interested.

We were sitting in the shade of the rocks one very warm
afternoon,--Hilliard was reading aloud,--when there came a sudden peal
of thunder, and presently a flash of lightning. "Oh, we're going to have
a storm!" I exclaimed. "I am so glad! now I can see the ocean in a
storm,--you said it was magnificent then. Why, what are you doing?"

"We must get in the house as quickly as possible." Hilliard rose to his
feet as he spoke, and began hastily gathering up the books and cushions,
and the big sun umbrella.

"But the rain hasn't come yet, and I _do_ want to watch the water,--see,
it's beginning to get white-caps," I said. "We can reach the house in a
few minutes."

As I spoke there was another flash of lightning and a long roll of
thunder, but neither was severe. To my great astonishment Hilliard
shrank back against the rock, and shielded his face with the cushion he
held in his hand; I could see that he was very pale. "Oh, come, _come_!"
he begged; "oh, let us get to the house at once!"

"What!" I flashed out scornfully, "are you _afraid_ of a thunder storm?"

He didn't answer; he just stood there flattening himself against the
rock, his face deadly white, his eyes almost closed, and his lips set
tight together.

I got _so_ angry! I _despise_ a coward! Had Jack done that, I thought to
myself, I'd have been tempted to thrash him to put some spirit and pluck
into him; and here was this great big overgrown boy--! "Why don't you
run away to the house?" I broke out sharply. "I can take care of myself;
_I'm_ not afraid of a little thunder."

He put up his hand in a deprecating way, as if asking me to hush. Then,
as a nearer peal reverberated among the rocks, and another flash lighted
up the now leaden-coloured sky, he sprang forward and caught hold of my
arm, with a sharp cry of "_Come! come!_" Wheeling me round suddenly, he
ran toward the house, carrying me along with him with such force and
swiftness--though I resisted--that in a few minutes we were on the
piazza, and then in the hall, with the heavy outer door swung shut. We
were barely under cover when the rain pelted down, and the thunder and
lightning grew more loud and vivid.

Hilliard leaned breathlessly against the hat-rack table,--I could see
that he was trembling. I stood and looked at him,--I suppose it was
rude, but I couldn't help it; you see I had never met such a kind of
boy before.

Mrs. Erveng had spent part of the day on the beach, and had come to the
house about an hour before to take her afternoon nap. Now we heard her
voice from the floor above us. "Hilliard! Hilliard, my son!" she called;
there was something in her voice--a sort of tenderness--that I had never
noticed before. "Come here to me; come!"

And he went, without a glance at me, lifting his feet heavily from step
to step, with drooping head and a shamed, miserable expression on his
pale face.

In about an hour's time the storm was all over, and that afternoon we
had a gorgeous sunset; but Mr. Erveng and I were the only ones who sat
on the piazza to enjoy it. Neither Mrs. Erveng nor Hilliard appeared
again that day. Mr. Erveng took me for a walk along the beach, and did
his best to entertain me: but I had a feeling that I was in the
way--that he would rather have been upstairs with his wife and son,
or that perhaps if I had not been there they would have come down.

I thought of them all at home,--Phil and Fee with their fun and merry
speeches, and Jack, and the little ones, and Nora; there is always
something or other going on, and I would have given almost anything to
be back once more among them. I was so unhappy this afternoon that I
actually deliberated whether I had the courage to do something
desperate,--make faces at Mr. Erveng, or race upstairs and interview
Mrs. Erveng, or call Hilliard names out loud,--_anything_, so that
they would send me home.

But after a while I concluded I wouldn't try any of these desperate
remedies; not that I minded what they'd say at home (teasing, I mean),
but papa would want to know the whole affair,--he has got to think a
good deal of Mr. Erveng,--and besides, somehow, though she's so gentle
and refined, Mrs. Erveng isn't at all the sort of person that one could
do those things to. So I said nothing, though I thought a great deal;
and I went to bed before nine o'clock thoroughly disgusted with the
Ervengs.

Hilliard was at breakfast the next morning, just as stiff and prim and
proper as ever,--it almost seemed as if what had happened in the storm
must be a dream. But later on, when we were on the piazza, he spoke of
it to me.

"I feel that I should explain to you that I have a nervous dread of
a thunder storm," he said, in that proper, grown-up way in which he
speaks, but getting very red. "It completely upsets me at the time;
I am afraid you think me a coward--" He broke off abruptly.

"If it is nervousness, why don't you do something for it?--go to a
physician and get cured?" I answered shortly; it seemed to me so
silly--"so girlie," as Jack says--to try to turn his behaviour off
on _nervousness_.

"I _am_ under a physician's care," he said eagerly; "and he says if
I could only once--"

But just then the carriage that had taken Mr. Erveng to the train drove
up to the door, and with an exclamation of pleasure Hilliard started
forward to meet the lady and young girl who were getting out of it.

They were Mrs. Endicott and her daughter Alice, relatives of the
Ervengs, and they had come to stay with them while some repairs were
being made to their own house, which was farther along the beach.

It was _such_ a relief to see a girl again; and she turned out to be
just as nice as she could be. She and Hilliard are cousins, but she
isn't at all like him in any way. In the first place, she is splendid
looking,--tall and strong, and the picture of health, with the most
beautiful colour in her cheeks; and she is so jolly and full of fun
that we got on famously together.

Alice is a little over sixteen,--just one year older than I am,--and she
has travelled almost everywhere with her parents (she's the only child,
you see), all over America and in Europe. But she doesn't put on any
airs about it; in fact, instead of talking of her travels, as I would
ask her to do, she'd beg, actually coax me to tell her about my brothers
and sisters, and the times we have at home,--it seems Hilliard has
written her about us. She said she had never known such a large family,
and she wanted me to describe each one, from Phil down to Alan.

On warm mornings we would sit on the beach in the shade of the rocks,
and when Hilliard wasn't reading to us, somehow the conversation always
got round to the family. Hilliard thinks a good deal of our boys, and he
talked to Alice about them; he told her of our entertainment on Nora's
birthday, and our "performances," and she seemed to enjoy hearing of it
all. She asked questions, too, and said she felt as if she really knew
us all.

Mrs. Endicott was almost as nice as Alice, and so _kind_! Why, almost
every day she got up some amusement for us,--driving, or walking, or a
picnic, or something. I really began to enjoy myself very much,--only
that I didn't hear often enough from home. Nora's notes were very
short,--just scraps; she said she was too busy to write more; and Jack
never has shone as a letter writer. He'd say, "Nora had a circus with
the 'kids' to-day,--will tell you about it when you come home;" or,
"Something splendid has happened for Fee,--you shall have full
particulars when you get back," and other things like that. Provoking
boy! when I was longing to hear everything.

After the Endicotts came, I enjoyed myself so well that the time flew
by, and almost before I knew it the last day but one of my visit at the
beach had come. That afternoon, instead of going with Mrs. Endicott,
Alice, and Hilliard, to see how the repairs were getting on at their
cottage, I decided to remain at home. Thinking it over afterward, I
could not have explained why I did not care to go; I didn't even
remember the excuse I made. It could not have been the heat,--though it
was extremely warm,--for a little while after they had gone I dressed
for dinner, and started for a stroll along the beach.

[Illustration: "ON WARM MORNINGS WE WOULD SIT ON THE BEACH."]

I walked slowly on and on, enjoying the beauty of the scenery, until I
suddenly discovered that I was directly opposite the large rock which
Hilliard and I were to have "investigated" some day, but to which he had
never taken me. I knew we could not do it the next day, for Mr. Endicott
had invited us to spend it on his steam yacht, and the day after that
I was to leave for home; so I made up my mind that that afternoon was
my opportunity.

Carefully gathering up my skirts,--I had on my best white gown,--I
picked my way over the rocks and stepped down on the wide strip of sand
which divided this rock from the others. I noticed that the beach sloped
downward to the rock; but in my heedlessness I did not notice that the
sand was slightly damp.

On reaching the rock, I found that what had looked at a distance like an
arched entrance to a cave was really some irregular steps cut out of its
surface, and which led to a narrow shelf, or ledge, a little more than
half-way up the tall, solid-looking mass of stone. I knew that the view
from that height must be fine, and I _love_ to climb; so I determined to
get up to that ledge.

It was not very easy,--the steps were slippery and rather far apart, and
then, too, my dress bothered me, I was so afraid I would soil or tear
it,--so I was a little tired and warm by the time I reached the top. But
the view from there was _beautiful!_ One had a clear sweep of the beach,
except that smaller portion which lay behind the big rock. The shelf on
which I sat, with my feet resting on the step below, was a little
rounded, something of a horseshoe shape, and with the rock to lean back
against I was quite comfortable. I wondered again and again why
Hilliard had avoided showing me this place, and enjoyed every detail of
the view to my heart's content,--the grand, rugged outline of the beach,
the exquisite colours of the sky and water, and the crafts that went
sailing and purring past. I wondered where they were all going, and
made up destinations for them. Then I began counting them, so as to
tell Alice at dinner; I got up to twenty-eight, and then--I must have
fallen asleep.

How long I slept I don't know, but I woke with a great start, conscious
of some loud, unusual noise, and that something cool had fallen on my
face; and for a moment what I saw turned my heart sick with terror.

Everything was changed since last I had looked at it. The sky, so blue
and clear then, was now covered with heavy black clouds, across which
shot vivid flashes of lightning, and there were deep, fierce growls of
thunder. The shining sands that I had crossed so easily but a while
before had disappeared; the ocean, which had then been so far away, now
covered them, and was on a level with the step on which my feet rested.
The blueness of the water had gone,--it was lead-coloured, to match the
sky,--and great angry, white-crested, curling waves came rolling in,
tumbling over and over each other in a mad race to dash themselves
against the rock on which I sat, throwing up each time a heavy shower
of white, foamy spray. It was the touch of this spray on my face that
had wakened me; and to my horror, the water was dancing and gurgling at
my very feet!

In a flash I realised that I was in great danger,--entirely cut off from
the land, and on a rock that was under water at high tide!

"Oh, it can't be! it _can't_ be!" I cried aloud, standing up and looking
wildly around; and as I did so, a big wave broke over my feet.

With a scream I scrambled back on the ledge, and stood there, clinging
to the jagged points of the rock, while I called for help at the top of
my voice. I shouted, and shrieked, and yelled, until I was hoarse, and
the cries were driven back into my throat by the wind; but all that
answered me was the roar of the storm and the screams of the sea gulls
as they flew by.

As the wind lulled for a minute or two, I managed to drag off the skirt
of my gown and wave it, hoping to attract the attention of some passing
vessel,--a long range of rocks cut off any view of the cottages on the
beach,--but the next wild gust tore it out of my grasp.

The water kept rising,--it was bubbling and foaming over my ankles; the
waves were lashing themselves higher and higher, the rain coming down in
sheets, the wind howling and raging,--I was afraid it would blow me off
the ledge! and never in all my life have I heard or seen such thunder
and lightning!

At first I was all confused,--I was so startled that I could think of
nothing but that I was going to be drowned; but after a while I quieted
down, and then I remembered that I could swim. Many a swimming match had
Jack and I had at the Cottage,--I should have said that I was a very
good swimmer; but that was in still water, not in this terrible, cruel
ocean. I made up my mind to throw myself off the ledge and strike out
for the shore,--three times I thought I would, and each time shrank back
and clung the closer to the rock. At last I had to admit to myself that
I was _afraid!_ I, Betty Rose, who had always boasted that I was not
afraid of anything, had to own to myself that I had not the courage to
even attempt to struggle with those waves! My courage seemed all gone. I
was afraid--_deadly_ afraid--of the waves; I screamed as each one struck
me higher and higher, and I hid my face from the lightning. Oh, it was
awful! _awful!_

By and by I began to think; I still felt the rain and waves, and shrunk
from the lightning, but not as I had at first, for I was thinking
thoughts that had never come to me before in all my life. I could
see right before me the faces of papa, and my dear brothers and
sisters,--oh, how I loved them! and I should never be with them again!
How they would miss me! and yet how many, _many_ times had I been
disagreeable, and commanding, and unkind! I loved them, but I had
spoken sharply, and teased, and grumbled when I had had little services
to do for them; now there would be no more opportunities. I wished that
I had done differently!

Then my thoughts flew off to Mrs. Erveng,--how surly and disagreeable I
had behaved to her! Not once had I offered her the slightest attention;
instead, I had got out of her way at every chance. I had called this
being very sincere, honest, above deceit; but it did not seem like that
to me now. And there was Hilliard,--I had laughed at him, been rude to
him, despised him for being a coward, I was _so_ sure of my own courage;
and what was I _now?_ I was ashamed--_ashamed!_ Oh, how my heart ached!

Then I began saying my prayers. The water was up to my waist now; it
came with such force that it swayed me from side to side, and beat me
against the rock to which I still clung. My fingers were cramped by my
tight grip; the next wave, or perhaps the next to that, would sweep me
off--away--to death!

I prayed from my very heart, with all my strength and soul, and it
seemed as if the other things--the waves, the storm, the terrible
death--grew fainter; a feeling came to me that I was speaking right into
God's ear--that He was very near to me.

Somewhere out of the roar and awfulness of the storm came a human
voice,--a cry: "_Betty! Betty! hold on! hold on! I can save you--only
hold on!_" And when I opened my eyes, there was a boat coming nearer and
nearer, dancing on the top of the waves like a cockle shell, and in it
was Hilliard!

"I can't--come--too--close," he shouted. "Jump--with--the--next--wave."

I understood; and with the next receding wave I leaped into the
water,--a wild plunge, scarcely seeing where I was going.

But Hilliard's hands caught me and hauled me into the boat, where I sank
down, and lay huddled up, confused, and trembling so that I couldn't
speak. Hilliard threw something over me,--the rain was coming down in
torrents,--and then he pulled with all his might for the shore.

Presently my senses began to come back; I knew what a terrible strain it
must be to row in such a storm,--though fortunately the tide was with
us,--and he had come out in it for me. I felt I ought to take my share
of the work. "I--can--row. Let--me--take--an--oar," I said slowly,
sitting up.

"Not an oar,--I need both," Hilliard answered decidedly; then he added
persuasively, "Be a good girl, Betty, and just keep in the bottom of
the boat."

I saw that he was rowing in his shirt sleeves,--his coat was over
me,--and his hat was gone; the rain was pouring down on his bare head.
His face was very pale and set,--stern looking,--and the veins in his
forehead were standing out like cords as he strained every nerve at
the oars.

"I'm going for one of the coves," he shouted to me presently, "where I
can run her aground."

Again and again we were tossed back by the receding waves; but at last
we shot into the cove, and I heard the keel grating on the rocky beach.
In an instant Hilliard was overboard, and had pulled the boat up on the
sand, out of reach of the highest wave. As he helped me on to the beach,
I looked up in his white face, and such a sense of what he had endured
for me rushed over me that I couldn't get the words out fast enough.

I threw my hands out and caught hold of his shoulders: "Oh, Hilliard
Erveng, you _are_ a brave boy!" I cried out, choking up. "You are no
coward; you are brave--_brave!_ and I have been a mean, contemptible,
conceited, stuck-up girl." I think I shook him a little; I was in such
earnest that I hardly knew what I was doing.

The rain had plastered Hilliard's hair flat to his head, and washed it
into funny little points on his forehead, and there were raindrops
pouring down his face; but his mouth was smiling, and his eyes were
wide open and shining. He laid his hands over mine as they rested on his
shoulders. "Thank God for to-day, Betty, _thank_ God!" he said, in a
glad, excited way. "He has saved your life, and I am no longer a coward;
I am no longer afraid--see!" As the lightning flashed over us he lifted
his head and faced it, with lips that quivered a little, but also with
unflinching eyes. "Doctor Emmons always said that I would be cured of my
dread could I but face one thunder storm throughout," he added, still
with that joyous ring in his voice. "And now I've done it! I've done it;
I am _free!_"

"Oh! I am so _glad!_ so _very_ thankful!" I began, and then broke down
and burst into a violent fit of crying.

I couldn't stop crying, though I _did_ try hard to control my tears; and
my knees shook so that I could hardly walk. Hilliard almost carried me
along until we met Jim the coachman and Mr. Erveng on the beach. Mr.
Erveng had just got home, and heard that Hilliard and I were out in the
storm. Then between them they got me to the house, where Mrs. Erveng and
Alice and her mother were anxiously waiting for us.

How glad they were to see us! and how they all kissed and hugged me!
Mrs. Erveng took me right into her arms.

Everybody began talking at once. I heard Alice say, "As soon as we
missed you, and Dillon said she had seen you walking toward that part of
the beach, Hilliard declared you were on the rock,--he seemed to guess
it. And he was off for the boat like a flash,--he wouldn't even wait for
Jim; he said every minute was precious--"

I lost the rest; a horrid rushing noise came in my ears, everything got
black before me, and I fainted, for the very first time in my life.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is now nearly a week since all this happened, and to-morrow I am
going home--to the Cottage. I was so stiff and tired from the beating of
the waves that Mrs. Erveng kept me in bed for several days, and
telegraphed the family not to expect me until Thursday; otherwise
neither Hilliard nor I have suffered from our drenching in that awful
storm. Mrs. Endicott and Alice are going as far as New York with me, and
there Phil will meet me and take me home.

I shall be _very_ glad to be with my own dear ones again,--it seems an
age since I saw them; and I long to talk to Nannie, and tell her
everything. Still, _now_, I'm not sorry that I came here. I think that I
shall never forget my visit to Endicott Beach.




XIX.

HIS BROTHER'S KEEPER.

TOLD BY JACK.


Nora was playing a sweet, wild Hungarian melody on the piano, the boys
were on the stoop talking to Chad,--every now and then the sound of
their voices came in through the open windows,--and I sat under the
drawing-room chandelier reading. Presently Chad came in, and, leaning on
the piano, began talking to Nora in a low tone; and without stopping her
music, she talked back, in the same tone of voice.

[Illustration: "WITHOUT STOPPING HER MUSIC, SHE TALKED BACK, IN THE SAME
TONE OF VOICE."]

The story I was reading was A 1, and I'd got to a _very_ thrilling
place, where the boy comes face to face with an infuriated tiger, when I
heard something said outside that just took all the interest out of my
book. Phil was speaking sharply,--I wondered Nora and Chad didn't hear
him. "What's the _matter_ with you?" he flared out. "I declare, you're
getting as fussy as an old cat! I won't stand the way you're watching
me, and you've just got to drop it. I'm not a _baby_, to be tied to
anybody's apron-strings! I'll go and come as I please."

I didn't hear what Fee said to this, but Phil's answer to it was quite
loud: "Yes, I _am_ going,--to-night, and to-morrow night, and any other
night I please. The _idea_ of a fellow of my age not being able to go
out for a walk without asking your permission!"

[Illustration: "THE STORY I WAS READING WAS A 1."]

"When you talk like that you are downright silly!" broke in Felix. I
could tell by his voice he was trying hard to control his temper.
"'Tisn't the going out that anybody objects to; it's the person you're
going with. You know very well, Phil, that he isn't the sort of fellow
to do you any good. I sized him up the very first time we saw him, and I
still hold to my opinion,--he's a _b-a-d_ lot."

"_A-c-h!_ you make me tired!" exclaimed Phil,--that's a favourite
expression of his when he's cornered,--and leaning in through the
window, he called, "See here, Chad; any time to-night!"

"Yes, A'm coming," Chad called back, and bidding Nora good-night, he
went out; a minute after I heard their steps as Phil and he ran down the
stoop and passed by the drawing-room windows.

Laying my book down quietly and very quickly, I ran out on the stoop.
Fee sat there with his elbows on his knees, and his chin resting on his
clasped hands, staring at nothing. Dropping down beside him, I slipped
my hand in his arm and squeezed it to me. "I heard Phil," I said. "I'm
awfully sorry he _would_ go."

"Yes," Fee answered, but in a way that I knew he wasn't thinking of what
he was saying.

We sat quiet for a little while, then Felix turned suddenly and laid his
hand on my knee. "Jack," he said earnestly, "I've made up my mind about
something that's been bothering me since last night. What I'm going to
do may turn out right, it may turn out wrong,--God only knows; but it
seems right to me, and I'm going to try it. I dread it, though,--just
_dread_ it. If I hadn't promised--" He broke off abruptly, and turned
his head away. I wanted to say something to him, but I couldn't think of
a _thing_.

In a minute Felix began again. "Tell me honestly, Jack," he said, "do
you think that Phil cares as much for me as he used to,--I mean before
that fellow Chad came?"

"Why, Fee!" I exclaimed, "_of course_ he loves you just as well; I
_know_ he does,--we all love you _dearly_!" Do you know, it just hurt
me to have him think Phil could let a person like Chad come between
them. Of course, as nurse says, we have our ups and downs; we get mad
with one another sometimes, and all that, you know; but still we do
love one another dearly, and we'd stand up for the different ones like
everything, if need be. We've always been very proud of Fee,--he's so
clever, you see; but since that night that I'm going to tell you about,
I just think my brother Felix is the noblest, bravest, truest boy in
the world! I've always loved Fee very dearly; but now,--well, now I
have a feeling that I would be willing to give my life for him. Poor
old Fee!

When I said that so positively about Phil's caring, I could see Fee was
pleased; his face brightened up. "Well, perhaps he does," he said. "He's
been very cranky lately, and sharp to me,--in fact to everybody; but I
have a feeling that that's because he isn't really satisfied with the
way he's acting. I tell you, Jack, Phil's a good fellow,"--Fee pounded
his hand down on his knee as he spoke; "it isn't easy for him to do
wrong. And he isn't up to Chad's tricks, or the set he's got him into.
They've flattered Phil first, and that has turned his head; and then
they've laughed at him for not doing the things they do, and that's
nettled him,--until they've got him all their way. I know what they
are,--I can see through their cunning; but Phil isn't so sharp. There
are people in this world, Jack, so contemptible and wicked that they
hate to have anybody better than they are themselves, and Chad and his
crowd belong to that class. If I'd been able to go about with Phil as I
used to, they'd _never_ have had the chance to get hold of him. And as
it is, now that I've found out their game, I'm going to stop the whole
business, and bring Phil to his senses. He's too fine a fellow for
those rascals to spoil. I'll stop it--I'll stop it, no matter _what_
it costs me!"

Oh, how often I've thought of those words since that dreadful night! And
yet, I have a feeling that even if he had known, he would have gone--I
tell you, there isn't another boy in all the world like our Felix!

Fee's voice was shaking, and he got on his feet as if he were going to
start that very minute; but before I could say anything he began again:
"I've got a plan,--not a very good one, I must confess, but it's the
best I can think of, and it may work; that is, if Phil has as much of
the old feeling for me as you think, Jack: I'm building a good deal on
that,--I hope I won't get left. He may turn obstinate,--you know he
_can_ be a very donkey sometimes; and I suppose he'll get furiously mad.
Well, I'll have to stand that,--if only he doesn't blaze out at me
before those cads; _that_ would cut me _awfully_. But that I'll have to
risk; he's worth it. Now, Jack, I want you to help me,--to go somewhere
with me, I mean. I'm sorry to have to ask this, for it's no place for a
youngster like you; but I think you're one of the kind that won't be
hurt by such things, Rosebud,"--putting his hand on my arm,--"and I'm so
unsteady on my feet that I am afraid I really couldn't get along alone.
Get your hat--and my cane."

In a minute I had both, and we went down the stoop together. At the foot
of the steps Fee stopped, and taking off his hat, began pushing his hair
back off his forehead. I could see he was nervous. "Suppose this
_shouldn't_ be the right thing that I'm going to do; suppose it should
make matters worse," he said undecidedly, almost irritably. "Now, if
Nannie were here--I haven't a creature to advise me!"

"_I_ think you're doing right, Fee," I began. I didn't remember until
afterward that I really didn't know what his plan was; but I don't think
he heard what I said, for he went on in a low tone, as if he were
talking to himself: "Suppose he gets furiously angry, and pitches into
me before those low fellows,--you never know what Phil's going to say
when he gets mad,--and _will not_ come home with me, what'll I do
_then_? It's a risk. And if this plan fails, I don't know what else to
do. Had I better just let things drift along as they are until we get in
the country, and then speak to him? I _dread_ a row before that crowd;
they'd just set him up against me. And yet--a week more of nights to
come home as he did last night, and the night before that--_ought_ I to
let that go on? What would _she_ say to do?"

He stood with his head bent, thinking,--his hat and cane in one hand,
and holding on to the stone newel-post with the other. And as we waited
the gay strains of Nora's waltz came to us through the windows; since
that night I just hate to hear her play that piece.

Presently Felix looked up at me with the faintest little smile. "I came
pretty near asking you to write me down a coward, Jack," he said; "but
I'm all right again. Now for your part of this affair: If Phil will come
back with me, as I hope, you'll have to make your way home alone,
without letting him know of your being there. Try and manage it. If he
gets ugly, and will _not_ leave that crowd, why, then we--you and I--'ll
have to travel back as we went. You must judge for yourself, Rosebud,
whether to go, or to stay for me; I'll have enough to do, you know, to
manage Phil. Apart from that, have as little to do in the matter as
possible; ask no questions, speak to no one, and see and hear no more
than you can help. All right?"

"Yes," I answered quickly, "and I only wish I could do more for
you, Fee."

Felix put his hand on my shoulder for a rest, as he usually did when we
walked together. "You've been a real comfort to me, Jack, since Nannie
went away," he said. I tell you that meant _lots_ from him, and I knew
it; I just put up my hand and squeezed Fee's fingers as they rested on
my coat; then we started off.

On Fee's account we walked very slowly; but after a while we came to a
house with a very low stoop,--just a step or two from the ground. There
were handsome glass doors to the vestibule, and the rather small hall
was brilliantly lighted up. I fancied that the man who opened the door
looked at me as if he thought I had no business there; but Felix marched
right by him and stepped into the elevator, and of course I followed.

"Mr. Whitcombe," said Fee; and then I knew that we were in the apartment
house where Chad has his "bachelor quarters."

"Turn to your left," said the elevator man, as he let us out. We did so,
and just as we got opposite the door with the big silver knob and old
bronze knocker that Chad had told us he brought from Europe, it opened,
and some one came out. Well, truly, he didn't look any older than
fifteen,--two years older than I am, mind you,--but if he didn't have
on a long-tailed evening coat, an awfully high stand-up collar, and
a tall silk hat! You can't think what a queer figure he was,--like
a caricature.

Before he could shut the door, Felix lifted his hat, and then put out
his hand quickly. "Allow me," he said politely; and the next moment we
were in Chad's hall, with his front door closed behind us.

At the other end of this hall was a room very brightly lighted; the
portiere was pushed almost entirely aside, and we could see some young
fellows seated round a table. Nearly all had cigars or cigarettes in
their mouths,--Phil, too; the room was just thick with smoke, and they
were playing cards.

"Sit where they can't see you," Fee whispered to me; "and if you find
Phil will go home with me, just slide out without letting him know of
your being here. Oh, Jack, if I can _only_ succeed!" He gave my hand a
little squeeze--though it was a warm evening, his fingers were cold--and
then walked up the hall and stood in the doorway of Chad's room.

"Hullo! _you!_ Oh--aw--come in--aw--glad to see you! Take a chair," Chad
said, in a tone of voice that told he was taken all aback; while Phil
was so startled that he dropped his cigarette and called out roughly,
"What the mischief are _you_ doing here?"

Of course they all looked at Felix; but he answered carelessly, "Oh, I
thought I'd accept a long-standing invitation,"--with a little bow
toward Chad,--"and drop in for a while."

"Oh, certainly, certainly--aw--glad to see you!" exclaimed Chad.

"Who's with you?" demanded Phil; but Fee didn't answer him: he just went
forward and took the place that one of the fellows made between himself
and Phil. And then Chad began introducing Felix to the others.

From where I sat on the hat-rack settle,--it was the most shielded place
in the hall, and near the door,--I had a full view of the people sitting
on one side of the table, and particularly of Felix and Phil, who were
almost directly under the glare of the light. Fee's face was as white as
marble, except a red spot on each cheek, and there was a delicate look
about his eyes and temples, and round his mouth, that I hadn't noticed
before. Somehow his fine, regular features and splendid, broad white
forehead made me think of the head of the Young Augustus that the
Unsworths have.

But Phil certainly didn't look like any marble statue; his face was very
red and cross, and he was scowling until his eyebrows made a thick black
line above his eyes. He was disagreeable, too,--rough and quarrelsome,
something like that night when he came home so late, and hurt my
feelings. When, in reply to an invitation from Chad, Felix said he would
join the game, Phil sung out in a kind of ordering tone, "What's the
sense of spoiling the fun for everybody? You know nothing about cards;
why don't you look on?"

"Because I prefer playing," answered Fee, smiling; "it's the quickest
and surest way of learning, I believe,"--with a glance round the
company. "What are the stakes?"

He drew a handful of money from his pocket, and laid it before him on
the table.

"Don't make an ass of yourself, Felix!" Phil exclaimed angrily,
laying a hand right over the little pile of silver. "We're not
fooling here; we're playing in dead earnest, and you will lose
every cent of your money."

Some of the fellows snickered, and one called out sharply, "Look
out what you're saying, Rose."

I saw the red spots on Fee's cheeks grow brighter. "I _am going_ to
play," he said quietly, but looking Phil steadily in the eyes; "so
please don't interfere."

"Evidently you've never learned that 'consistency is a jewel'!" Phil
retorted with a sneer. I suppose he was thinking of what Fee had said
that evening on the stoop.

But Felix only answered good-naturedly, "Oh, yes, I have; that used to
be one of our copy-book axioms," and then they all began to play.

Well, Phil's face was a study,--it grew blacker and blacker as the game
went on, and Fee kept losing; and he got very disagreeable,--trying to
chaff Felix, almost as if he wanted to make him mad. But Fee just
turned it off as pleasantly as he could. Those fellows made it ever so
much harder, though; they got off the _silliest_ speeches, and then
roared with laughter over them, as if they were jokes. And, in a sly
kind of way, they egged Phil on to quarrel with Fee,--laughing at all
his speeches, and pretending that they thought Phil was afraid of
Felix. And Chad joined in, I could hear his affected laugh and drawl
above all the others; I felt how that must cut Fee!

There were some decanters and glasses on a side table, and every now and
then Chad urged his friends to drink, and he would get up and wait on
them. Felix refused every time, and Phil did too at first, until those
common fellows began to twit him about it,--as much as saying that he
was afraid to take anything 'cause Fee would "go home and tell on him."
What did Phil do then--the silly fellow! 'twas just what they
wanted--but snatch up a glass and swallow down a lot of that vile stuff!
Well, I was so _mad_ with Phil! I'd have liked to go right in and punch
him. Felix never said a word ('twouldn't have done the least good,--Phil
can be like a mule sometimes); he just sat there with his lips pressed
tight together, looking down at the cards he held in his hands.

After that Phil's face got awfully red, and how his tongue did run! Real
ugly things he said, too, and perfectly regardless who he said them to.
And those fellows got _very_ boisterous, and began again trying to tease
our boys. I was _so_ afraid there'd be a row; and there surely would
have been, if Felix hadn't just worked as he did to prevent it. I tell
you now, it was awfully hard to sit out there in that hall and hear
those fellows carrying on against my brothers,--you see I was so near I
couldn't help it, I just _had_ to hear everything,--and not be able to
take their part.

Fee kept getting whiter and whiter, the spots on his cheeks redder and
redder; and by and by such a tired look came in his face that I got real
worked up. I felt as if I _must_ go in and just pitch right into those
fellows. Almost before I knew it, I'd got up and gone a step or two in
the hall, when suddenly Phil dashed his cards down on the table, and
got on his feet. "I'm going home!" he declared. "Are you coming?"
turning to Felix.

"You sha'n't go!" "Oh, _don't_ go!" "You've _got_ to finish the game,"
several called out. But Phil just repeated doggedly, "I'm going home!
Are you coming or not, Felix?"

This was just what Fee wanted,--I knew how glad and thankful he must
feel. But all he said was, "Yes, I'll go with you, if our host will
excuse us," rising as he spoke and nodding his head toward Chad.

Those unmannerly things burst out laughing, as if this were a great
joke; and with a smothered exclamation, Phil started for the door,
knocking over a chair as he went.

Well, if you had seen me scoot down that hall and out of the door! I
simply _flew_, and barely got round the corner in the shadow, when Phil
and Felix came along. Phil looked like a thundercloud, and instead of
leaning on his arm, Fee just had hold of a piece of Phil's sleeve. They
marched along in dead silence, and got into the elevator.

I hung around a little, until I was sure they were out of the way,
then I went down; the elevator man looked harder than ever at me,--I
suppose he wondered why I hadn't gone with Fee,--but I pretended I
didn't notice.

I'd never been out very late alone before, and at first it seemed queer;
but I hurried, so that I soon forgot all about that. You see I wanted to
get home before the boys did, and yet I had to look out that I didn't
run across them.

I hadn't thought of the time at Chad's; but we must have been there a
good while, for when I got to the house the drawing-room windows were
closed, and so was the front door. I don't know what I'd have done if
cook hadn't come to close the basement door just as I got to our stoop,
and I slipped in that way. "Master _Jack_!" she cried out, holding up
her hands in horror; "a little b'y like you out late's this! What'd your
pa say to such doin's, an' Miss Marston? An' there's Miss Nora gone to
bed, thinkin' it's safe an' aslape ye are."

"Oh, hush, cook! it's _all_ right. Don't say anything; please don't," I
said softly; then I let her go upstairs ahead of me.

The drawing-room was all dark, and the light in the hall was turned down
low. The house was very quiet,--everybody had gone to bed; and after
thinking it over, I made up my mind I'd wait downstairs and let the boys
in before they could ring,--I forgot that Phil had taken possession of
papa's latch-key, and was using it. I sat on the steps listening, and
what d'you think? I must have fallen asleep, for the first thing I knew
there were Phil and Felix in the hall, and Phil was closing the front
door. "Oh, I see,--as usual, our gentle Rosebud's to the front,"
exclaimed Phil, still keeping his hand on the knob of the door; "all
right, then he can help you upstairs," and he turned as if to go out.

"What!" Fee cried out in a sharp, startled voice, "you are _never_ going
back to that crowd!"

"That's just what I _am_ going to do," answered Phil; his voice sounded
thick and gruff. "Shall I give your love?"

Felix caught him by the arm. "_Don't_ go, Phil," he pleaded; "_don't_ go
back to-night, _please_ don't. We've had enough of them for one evening.
Come, let's go upstairs. Won't you? I have a good reason for what I'm
asking, and I'll explain to-morrow."

Phil came a step or two forward, shaking Fee's hand off. "Look here!" he
said sharply, "this thing might's well be settled right here, and once
for all. I'm a man, not a child, I'll have you to understand, and I'm
not going to be controlled by you. Just remember that, and don't try any
more of your little games on me, as you have to-night, for I _will not_
stand 'em! The idea of your coming up there among those fellows and
making such an ass of yourself--"

"The asinine part of this evening's performance belongs to you and your
friends, not to me," broke in Felix, hotly,--Phil's tone was _so_
insolent. "And there are a few things that _you_ might as well
understand, too," he went on more calmly. "If you continue to go to
Chad's, I shall go, too; if you make those fellows your boon companions,
they shall be mine as well; if you continue to drink and gamble, as
you've been doing lately, and to-night, I will drink and gamble, too. I
mean every word I am saying, Phil. It may go against the grain at first
to associate with such cads as Chad and his crowd; but perhaps that'll
wear away in time, and I may come to enjoy what I now abhor. As these
low pleasures have fascinated you, so they may fascinate me."

"If you _ever_ put your foot in Chad Whitcombe's house again, I'll make
him turn you out," cried Phil, in a rage, shaking his finger at Felix.
"Why, you donkey! less than three months of that sort of life'd use you
up completely. I'll fix you, if you ever undertake to try it; I'll go
straight to the _pater_,--I swear I will."

"No need to do that, old fellow," Fee said, in _such_ a loving voice!
"Just drop that set you've got into, and be your own upright, honourable
self again, and you shall never hear another word of such talk out of
me. But," he added earnestly, "I _cannot_, I will not stand seeing you,
my brother, my chum, our mother's son"--Fee's voice shook--"going all
wrong, without lifting a finger to save you. Why, Phil, I'd give my very
life, if need be, to keep you from becoming a drunkard and a gambler.
_Don't_ go back to those fellows to-night, dear old boy; for--for _her_
sake, _don't_ go!" Felix was pleading with his whole heart in his voice,
looking eagerly, entreatingly up at Phil, and holding out his hands
to him.

My throat was just filling up as Fee spoke,--I could almost have cried;
and I'm sure Phil was touched, too, but he tried not to let us see it.
He sort of scuffled his feet on the marble tiling of the hall, and
cleared his throat in the most indifferent way, looking up at the gas
fixture. "Perhaps I will drop them by and by," he said carelessly, "but
I can't just yet,--in fact, I don't want to just yet; I have a reason.
And that reminds me--I _must_ go back to-night. Now don't get _silly_
over me, Felix; there's no danger whatever of my becoming a drunkard or
a gambler,--nice opinion of me you must have!--and I'm quite equal to
taking care of myself. As I've told you several times before, I'm a man
now, not a child, and I will _not_ have you or anybody running round
after me. Just remember that!" As he spoke, he turned deliberately to
go out.

Then Fee did a foolish thing; he ought to have known Phil better, but
he was so awfully disappointed that I guess he forgot. In about one
second--I don't know how he _ever_ got there so quickly--he had limped
to the door, and planted himself with his back against it. His face was
just as _white_! and his lips were set tight together, and he held his
head up in the air, looking Phil square in the eye.

A horrid nervous feeling came over me,--I just _felt_ there was going to
be trouble. I stood up on the steps quickly, and called out, "Oh, boys,
_don't_ quarrel! Oh, please, _please_ don't quarrel!" But Phil was
talking, and I don't believe they even heard me.

"Get away from that door,--I'm going out!" Phil commanded.

Not a word answered Fee; he just stood there, his eyes shining steadily
up at Phil through his glasses.

"Do you hear me?" Phil said savagely. "Get--out--of--the--way. I don't
want to hurt you, but I am _determined_ to go out. Come,--move!"

He stepped nearer Felix, with a peremptory wave of his hand, and
glowered at him. But Fee didn't flinch. "No," he said quietly, but in
just as positive a tone as Phil's, "I will _not_ move." Then, suddenly,
a sweet, quick smile flashed over his face, and he threw his hands out
on Phil's shoulders as he stood before him, saying, in that winning way
of his, "I'm not a bit afraid of _your_ ever hurting me, old
Lion-heart."

I heard every word distinctly, but Phil didn't; in his rage he only
caught the first part of what Fee said, and with a sharp, angry
exclamation he shoved Felix violently aside, and, hastily opening the
door, stepped into the vestibule.

Fee was so completely taken by surprise--poor old Fee!--that he lost his
balance, swung to one side with the force of Phil's elbow, striking his
back against the sharp edge of the hall chair, and fell to the floor.

I can't tell you the awful feeling that came over me when I saw Fee
lying there; I got _wild_! I dashed down those steps and into the
vestibule before Phil had had time to even turn the handle of the
outer door, and, locking my hands tight round his arm, I tried to
drag him back into the hall. "Come back," I cried out; "come
back--oh, come back!"

"Hullo! what's happened to you,--crazy?" demanded Phil, giving his arm a
shake; but I hung on with all my weight. And then I said something about
Felix; I don't remember now what it was,--I hardly knew what I was
saying,--but, with a sharp cry, Phil threw me from him and rushed back
into the hall.

When I got to him, Phil was kneeling by Felix, with his hand on his
shoulder, gently shaking him. "Fee, _Fee_!" he exclaimed breathlessly,
"what's the matter? Are you hurt? Are you, Fee? Oh, _tell_ me!" But Fee
didn't answer; he just lay there, his face half resting on the arm he
had thrown out in falling; his glasses had tumbled off, and his eyes
were closed.

In an instant Phil had rolled him over on his back on the hall rug, and
I slipped my arm under his head. Fee looked _dreadfully_,--white as
death, with big black shadows under his eyes; and such a sad, pitiful
expression about his mouth that I burst out crying.

"Oh, hush, hush!" Phil cried eagerly; "he's coming to himself. Oh, thank
God! Stop your crying, Jack,--you'll frighten him."

But he was mistaken; Fee wasn't coming to,--he lay there white and
perfectly still. Oh, how we worked over him! We took off his necktie and
collar, we poured water on his forehead, and fanned him, and rubbed his
hands and feet with hands that were as cold as his own, and trembling.
And Phil kept saying, "Oh, Jack, he'll soon be better,--don't you think
so? _don't_ you, Jack? Oh, surely, such a _little_ fall couldn't be
serious! he _couldn't_ have struck himself on that chair,--see, it's
entirely out of his way," with such a piteous pleading in his eyes and
voice that I hadn't the heart to contradict him.

Nothing that we did had any effect; Fee still lay unconscious, and there
was a pinched look about his features, a limp heaviness about his body,
that struck terror to our hearts. "Oh, isn't this _awful_!" I sobbed.
Then all at once I thought of that day I found Felix lying on the
floor,--could this be an attack like that, only worse? His words,
"What'll the _next_ one be!" flashed into my mind, and I burst out
eagerly, "Oh, Phil, call somebody--go for the doctor--quick, quick, oh,
do be _quick_! The doctor will know what to do--he can help him--call
nurse--oh, call _somebody_!"

But Phil suddenly dropped Felix's hand that he'd been rubbing, and
bending down laid his ear on Fee's chest over his heart. I shall never
forget the awful horror that was in his white face when he lifted it and
looked at me across Fee's body. "Jack," he said in a slow, shrill
whisper, that just went through my ears like a knife, "Jack, it's no
use; Fee is--"

But I screamed out before he could say that dreadful word,--a loud
scream that rang through the house and woke the people up.

In a confused sort of way--as if I had dreamed it--I remember that Nora
came flying down the stairs in her dressing-gown and bare feet, and
nurse hurrying behind her, both crying out in a frightened
way,--something like, "Oh, _lawkes_! what _have_ them boys been doin'?"
and, "Oh, boys, _boys_! what _is_ the matter?"

But Phil's answer stands out clear,--I can hear it every time I let
myself think of that awful night. He had pushed me aside, and was
sitting on the floor with Fee's body gathered in his arms, Fee's
face lying against his shoulder. He looked up at Nora; his dry,
white lips could hardly utter the words. "Fee is dead," he said;
"I have killed Felix!"




XX.

A SOLEMN PROMISE.

TOLD BY JACK.


For a little while there was a dreadful commotion down there in the
hall. Hannah and cook had come, too, by this time, and everybody was
crying, and rushing about, and all talking at once,--telling everybody
else what to do. Poor Nonie was awfully frightened; at first she
couldn't do a thing but cry, and I was just as bad,--I'd got to that
pitch that I didn't care who saw my tears.

But nurse kept her head splendidly; generally she gets all worked up
over the least little sickness, but this time she kept cool, and told us
what to do.

"Don't talk so foolish, Master Phil!" she exclaimed sharply, when
Phil said that awful thing about Fee. "Ain't you ashamed of
yourself,--frightening your sister that way! He ain't no more
dead 'n you are."

Well, if you'd seen the look of hope that flashed into Phil's face! "Oh,
nurse!" he gasped, "do you _honestly_ think so? But he isn't
breathing,--I can't feel his heart beat."

"That's 'cause he's in a swoond," nurse answered briskly. "Here, lay him
down flat. Now rub his feet--_hard_; Hannah, slap his palms,--that'll
start up a cirkilation. Here, Miss Nora, fan your brother. Cook, fill
them hot-water bottles; if the water in the biler ain't hot 'nough,
start your fire _immejiate_. Master Jack, you run for the doctor; an' if
he can't come," she added, dropping her voice so that only I heard her,
"get another. Don't you come back here without _somebody_. An' be
quick's you can."

That told me that she wasn't as sure about Fee as she pretended to be,
and the hope that had come up in my heart died right out. My eyes got so
blinded with tears that I just had to grope for my hat; but as I was
opening the outer door, I heard something that brought me in again in
double quick time.

It was a cry from Phil,--a shout of joy: "He _is_ breathing! Oh, he's
_breathing_! His eyes are opening!"

Sure enough, they were. Slowly the heavy lids raised, and Fee's
near-sighted eyes looked blankly up at Phil.

"Don't you know me, old fellow?" Phil asked with a break in his voice,
bending eagerly over Felix.

A sweet little smile flickered over Fee's lips. "Phil," he said faintly;
and then, with what we could all see was a great effort, he raised his
hand slowly and let it fall heavily on Phil's hand.

Poor Phil! that broke him down completely. Catching Fee's face between
his two hands, he kissed him warmly two or three times, and then,
dropping his head down on Fee's shoulder, burst into a storm of sobs.

"Oh, come, come! this'll _never_ do!" cried nurse, bustling forward.
"Come, Master Phil, this ain't any time for sich behaviour,"--mind you,
she was wiping the corners of her own eyes! "Now we must get him up to
his own room soon's possible; _then_ we can make him comfort'ble. Can
you carry him up? Me and Hannah can help."

"I can do it alone," Phil said quickly, beginning to gather Fee into
his arms. But I tell you it was hard work getting him up, he was such
a dead weight!

Fee knew Phil was making a desperate effort to lift him, and he tried,
poor fellow, to help all he could. When at last Phil stood erect, with
him in his arms, nurse raised Fee's hands and joined them back of Phil's
neck. "Now clasp your hands tight, Master Felix," she said, "and that'll
take some of your weight off your brother."

Fee's hands were actually resting one on the other, and I saw his
fingers move feebly, trying to take hold of one another. Then he said in
a slow, frightened whisper, "I--can't--make--them--hold!" and his arms
slipped down, one of them swinging helplessly by his side, until nurse
laid it in his lap.

"Never mind, don't worry about that, Fee; I can get you up," Phil said
cheerfully. "Why, don't you remember I took you almost up to your room
the other night?"

Nora and I looked at each other. I know we were both thinking of the
same thing,--that happy evening when we heard of aunt Lindsay's plan for
Fee, and when Phil had picked Felix up and run so gaily up the stairs
with him, singing. Was it possible that was only three or four evenings
ago! It seemed _years_.

"Run for the doctor, Master Jack--_don't_ loiter," nurse said, as she
fell in with the procession that was moving so slowly up the stairs;
Phil was going one step at a time, and sometimes sliding himself along
against the banister to rest the weight he was carrying.

I rushed out and up to Dr. Archard's as fast as I could go. The streets
through which I went were very lonely,--I scarcely met a creature,--but
I didn't mind; in fact, the stillness, and the stars shining so clear
and bright in the quiet sky, seemed to do me good. I knew Who was up
there above those shining stars; I thought of the poor lame man that He
had healed long ago, and as I raced along, I just _prayed_ that He would
help our Fee.

Dr. Archard was away, out of town, the sleepy boy who answered the bell
told me; but Dr. Gordon, his assistant, was in,--would he do?

I didn't know him at all,--he'd come since papa's illness; but of course
I said yes, and in a few minutes the doctor was ready and we started.

He had a nice face,--he was years younger than Dr. Archard,--and as we
hurried toward home and began talking of Felix, I suddenly made up my
mind that I would tell him about the attack Fee had had when papa was so
ill. That promise of mine not to speak of it had always worried me, and
now, all at once, a feeling came over me that I just _ought_ to tell Dr.
Gordon everything about it,--and I did.

He asked a lot of questions, and when I finished he said gravely, "You
have done very right in telling me of this; the knowledge of this former
attack and his symptoms will help me in treating your brother's case."

"Is it the same trouble?" I asked eagerly.

"Certain symptoms which you have described point that way," he answered;
"but of course I can say nothing until I have seen and examined him."

"Could such an accident"--I'd told him that Fee had struck his back
against a chair and then fallen--"do anybody--_harm_?" My heart was
thumping as I put the question.

"Under some circumstances, serious harm," the doctor said. And just
then--before I could say anything more--we came to our stoop, and there
was Hannah holding the door open for us to go in.

       *       *       *       *       *

The doctor turned every one out of Fee's room but Phil and nurse; and he
was in there an awful long time. And while Nonie and I sat on the upper
stairs waiting for news, what did I do but fall _asleep_! and I didn't
wake up until the next morning, when I found myself in my own bed. It
seems that Phil had undressed and put me to bed, though I didn't
remember a thing about it. I felt dreadfully ashamed to have gone to
sleep without hearing how Fee was, but you see I was so dead tired, that
I suppose I really _couldn't_ keep awake.

Did you ever wake up in the morning with a strange sort of feeling as if
there was a weight on your heart, and then remember that something
dreadful had happened the night before? Well, then you know just how I
felt the morning after Fee got hurt. For a moment or two I tried to make
myself believe it was all a bad dream; but there sat Phil on the edge of
our bed, and the sight of his wretched white face brought back the
whole thing only too plainly.

"Oh! how is Fee?" I exclaimed, sitting up in bed. "What does the doctor
say about him?"

Phil's elbow was resting on his knee, his chin in his palm. "The doctor
says," he answered, with, oh! such a look of misery in his tired eyes,
"that Felix is not in danger of death, but it looks now as if he _might
not be able to walk again_!"

[Illustration: "THERE SAT PHIL ON THE EDGE OF OUR BED."]

"Oh, Phil, _Phil_!" I cried out; then I sat and stared at him, and
wondered if I were really awake, or if this were some dreadful dream.

"His back was weak from the start," went on Phil, drearily, "and
probably would have been to the end of his life; but at least he would
have been able to get around--to go to college--to enter a profession.
Now all that is over and done with. Isn't it _awful_!"

"Oh, but that can't be true," I broke in eagerly. "Why, Phil, Fee was in
a dreadful way that last attack, I told the doctor about it,"--Phil
nodded; "he couldn't stand on his feet at all,--and yet he got better.
Oh, he may now; he may, Phil, only with a longer time! See?"

"I thought of that when Gordon told me what you had told him, and I
begged for some hope of that sort,--begged as I wouldn't now for my own
life, Jack." Phil's voice got so unsteady that he had to stop for a
minute. "After a good deal of talking and pleading," he went on
presently, "I got him to admit that there _is_ a bare chance, on account
of his being so young, that Fee _may_ get around again, in a sort of a
way; but it's too slim to be counted on, and it could only be after a
long time,--two or three years or longer. Dr. Archard'll be in town
to-morrow, and they will consult; but Gordon says he's had cases of this
kind before, and knows the symptoms well. I think he would have given us
hope if he could. You see Fee isn't strong; oh, if it had _only_ been
_I_!--great, uncouth, ugly brute that I am!" Phil struck his hand so
fiercely on the bed that the springs just bounced me up and down.

"Fee's feet and legs are utterly useless," he began again; "his spine
is so weak he can't sit up. Even his fingers are affected,--he can't
close them on anything; he's lost his grip. And he may lie in this
condition for years; he may _never_ recover from it. Oh, think of that,
Jack!" Phil broke out excitedly; "_think_ of it! Our Fee, with his
splendid, clever mind, with all his bright hopes and ambitions, with the
certainty of going to college so near at hand,--to have to lie there,
day in and day out, a helpless, useless creature! And brought to it by
_my_ doing,--his own brother! _Oh_!" He drew his knee up, and folding
his arms round it, laid his face down with a moan.

I slipped over to his side and threw my arm across his shoulder.
"Phil, dear," I said, to comfort him, "try and not think of that
part; I'm sure Fee wouldn't want you to. You know he had that other
attack--and--perhaps this would have come any way--"

But Phil interrupted, looking at me with those miserable, hollow eyes.
"Not like this," he said. "Dr. Gordon told me himself that the blow Fee
got was what did the mischief this time; with medical care he might have
got over those other attacks. Gordon didn't dream that I was the
infuriated drunken brute who flung him against that chair. Drunken! I
think I must have been possessed by a _devil_! That _I_ should have
raised my hand against Fee,--the brother I love so dearly, my chum, my
comrade, mother's boy, of whom she was so tender! Oh, _God_! shall I
have to carry this awful remorse all the rest of my life!" His voice
broke in a kind of a wail, and he threw his clinched hands up over
his head.

"Oh, Phil, _dear_ Phil! Oh, _please_ don't," I begged. "Oh, Fee
_wouldn't_ want you to talk like this."

"I know he wouldn't. God bless him!" Phil answered in a quieter tone,
dropping his arms by his sides. "Oh, Jack, it cuts me up awfully to
see him lying there so cheerful and serene when he knows that what's
happened has just spoiled his whole life--"

"Oh, _does_ he know?" I exclaimed.

"He insisted on knowing, and bore it like a soldier. When I broke down
he smiled at me, actually _smiled_, Jack, with, 'Why, old fellow, it
isn't so bad--as all that'--_o-oh_!" Phil choked up, and, throwing
himself on the bed, he buried his face deep in the pillows, that Fee
in the next room might not hear his sobs.

       *       *       *       *       *

That was a miserable day. Dr. Archard came quite early, and after the
consultation we heard that, in the main, he agreed with Dr. Gordon.
"Still," he said to Nora and me, as he was going, "Felix _may_ surprise
us all by recovering much faster and more fully than we expect. The
thing is to get him out of town _just_ as soon as we can, and in the
mean time to follow directions and keep him quiet and cheerful. Phil
seems to have taken charge of the boy, and I do believe he's going to
develop into a nurse. I'll send you round a _masseur_, and I'll write
to your father, so he'll not be alarmed. Keep up your spirits, and your
roses, my dear," patting Nora's cheek. Then he got into his carriage and
drove away.

Because the doctor said that about keeping Fee quiet, no one but Phil or
nurse was allowed in his room all day. But late in the afternoon nurse
let me take something up to him,--she had to see to the children's
dinner, or something or other downstairs; she said if Phil were with him
I wasn't to stay.

I knocked, but not very hard,--my hands were pretty full; and then, as
nobody answered, I opened the door softly, and went in. Fee was lying
sort of hunched up among the pillows, which weren't any whiter than his
face. Oh! _didn't_ he look delicate!

He had on his glasses again, and now his eyes were shining through them,
and there was a very sweet expression on his lips. Phil was sitting on
the edge of the bed, talking in a low, unsteady voice: "I didn't really
care for them," he was saying, "and there were times when I fairly
loathed them; but somehow they got round me, and--I began to go there
regularly. They drank and gambled; they said all young fellows did it,
and they laughed at me when I objected. I held out for a good
while,--then one night I gave in. I was a fool; I dreaded their
ridicule. There were times, though, when I was _disgusted_ with myself.
Then I began to win at cards, and--well--I thought I'd save the money
for a purpose; though in my heart I knew full well that--the--the--the
person I was saving for wouldn't touch a penny got that way. Well, then
something happened that made that money I was saving quite unnecessary,
and then I just played to lose. I wanted those fellows to have their
money back; after that I thought I'd cut loose from 'em. That was the
reason I wanted to go back to Chad's that night,--was it _only_ last
night? It seems like _years_ ago!"

Phil dropped his face down in his hands for a minute; then he went on:
"I started out this morning and gave each of the fellows his money back.
They didn't want to take it,--they think me a crazy loon; but I
insisted. I've got beyond caring for their opinion. And now, Fee, the
rest of my life belongs to you; you've paid an awful price for it, old
fellow,--I'm not worth it. Think of your college course--your
profession--all the things we planned! I'm not worth it!"

Phil's voice failed, but he cleared his throat quickly, and spoke out
clearly and solemnly. "Felix," he said, "I will _never_ play cards again
as long as I live; and I will _never_ drink another drop of liquor,--so
help me God." He raised his hand as he spoke, as if registering the
oath. Then he bent over and buried his face in the bed-clothes.

Slowly Fee's poor helpless hand went out and fell on Phil's head. "What
is all the rest compared with _this_," he said, oh, so tenderly! then,
with a little unsteady laugh, "Philippus, I always said there wasn't a
mean bone in your body." And then Phil threw his arms round Felix and
kissed him.

I laid what I had brought down on the table, and went quickly away,
shutting the door a little hard that they might know somebody'd gone
out. I should have left just as soon as I found they were talking,--I
know I should,--but it seemed as if Phil's words just held me there.
I've told Phil and Felix all about it since then, and they say they
don't mind my having heard; but between what I felt for them both, and
for my having done such a mean thing as to listen to what wasn't meant
for me to hear, I was a pretty miserable boy that afternoon.

I flew upstairs to the schoolroom, and throwing myself down on the old
sofa I just had a good cry. It seems as if I were an awful cry-baby
those days; but how could a person help it, with such dreadful things
happening?

Well, I hadn't been there very long when in came Nora and opened
the windows to let in the lovely afternoon light, and of course
then I got up.

I guess I must have been a forlorn-looking object, for Nora smoothed my
hair back off my forehead and kissed me,--she doesn't often do those
things. "I'm going to write to Nannie," she said, laying some note-paper
on the schoolroom table. "It is the first minute I've had in which to do
it; perhaps,"--slowly,--"if she had been here, all this trouble might
not have happened. Why don't you send Betty a few lines, Jack? You know
she will want to hear of Fee; but don't frighten her about him."

So I thought I would write Betty,--I owed her a letter. After all, she
wasn't having at all a bad time with the Ervengs; in fact, I fancy she
was enjoying herself, though she was careful not to say so.

Nora and I were sitting at the same table, but far apart, and I'd just
called out and asked her if there were two l's in wonderful--I was
writing about Fee--when the schoolroom door opened, and in walked Chad
Whitcombe! As usual, he looked a regular dandy, and he held a bunch of
roses in his hand. He came forward with his hand out and smiling:
"I've--aw--just called in for a minute," he said. "I thought--aw--you
might care for these flowers--"

But Nora rose quickly from her chair, pushing it a little from her, and
putting her hands behind her back, she faced him with her head up in the
air. My! how handsome she looked,--like a queen, or something grand like
that! "I thank you for your polite intention," she said very stiffly and
proudly, "but hereafter I prefer to have neither flowers nor visits
from you."

Well, you should have seen Chad's face! he'd been stroking his
moustache, but now, positively, he stood staring at Nora with his mouth
open, he was so astonished. "Wha--what's wrong?" he stammered. "What've
I done?"

Then Nora gave it to him; she didn't mince matters,--truly, she made me
think of Betty. "What have you done?" she repeated, opening her grey
eyes at him. "Oh! only acted as I have never known any one calling
himself a gentleman to act. Mr. Whitcombe,"--with a toss of her head
equal to anything Betty could have done,--"I will _not_ have the
acquaintance of a man who drinks and gambles."

Then _I_ was the one to be astonished; I didn't dream Nora knew anything
about that part. Phil must have told her that day.

[Illustration: "'HEREAFTER I PREFER TO HAVE NEITHER FLOWERS NOR VISITS
FROM YOU.'"]

"And who not only does those dreadful things himself," went on Nora,
"but inveigles others into doing them, too. The idea of coming here
among us as a friend, and then leading Phil off,--trying to ruin his
life!" Nonie's cheeks were scarlet; she was getting madder and madder
with every word she said.

"Why, that isn't gambling; we just play for small amounts," exclaimed
Chad, eagerly, forgetting his affectation, and speaking just like
anybody. "All the fellows do it; why, I've played cards and drunk liquor
since I was twelve years old. It hasn't hurt me."

"No?" said Nora, coldly. "We don't agree on that point;" then, curling
her lip in a disgusted way: "What an unfortunate, neglected little
boy you must have been. If Jack should do either of those low, wicked
things, I should consider a sound thrashing entirely too mild treatment
for him. And allow me to tell you that _all_ the young fellows we know
are _not_ after your kind: they neither drink, nor play cards; and yet,
strange to say,--that is, from your point of view,--they are extremely
manly."

"I'm sorry, you know; but I didn't suppose you'd mind--so much," Chad
began, in the meekest sort of tone. "You always seemed to understand
lots of things that the others didn't, and--"

But Nora interrupted: "I made allowances for you," she said, with her
little superior air, "knowing that you had lost your parents as a
little boy, and that you had had so little--now I will say _no_--home
training. Besides, I thought, perhaps"--she hesitated, then went
on--"that perhaps the others were a little hard on you; it seemed
rather unjust, simply because you were--well--different from ourselves.
But I didn't imagine for one moment that you were this sort of a
person. It isn't honourable to do those things,--don't you know that?
It is low and wicked."

"I only wanted Phil to have a good time; I never thought he was such a
baby he'd get any harm," exclaimed Chad, a little sulkily, getting
awfully red, even to his ears. "And as to Felix, he came of his own free
will. It's he that has told you all this, and set you up against me.
Felix doesn't like me, and he hasn't taken any pains to hide it. I don't
see why he came up there last night, if he thinks we're so wicked."

"I will tell you why," cried Nora; "he came in the hope that seeing
_him_ there would shame Phil, and induce him to get out of such a set.
And it _has_ gotten him out,--though not in the way that Fee expected.
When I think of all that has happened since you and Phil went out
together last evening,--of all the trouble you have brought on
us,--I really wish you would go away; I prefer to have nothing
more to say to you."

She made a motion of her hand as if dismissing him, but Chad never
moved. He just stood there, holding the roses upside down, and looking
very gloomy. "You're _awfully_ down on me," he said presently; then,
"and A'm awfully sorry. Ah wish you'd forgive me!" in _such_ a
beseeching sort of tone that I could have laughed right out.

But Nonie didn't laugh, or even smile; she just answered, a little more
kindly than before: "It's not a question of _my_ forgiving you that
will set the matter right; the thing is to give up that way of living.
Surely there are plenty of other ways of amusing yourself,--nice
honourable ways that belong to a gentleman. Then--people--would be able
to respect as well as like you. I wonder that Max has let this sort of
thing go on."

"Oh, he doesn't know," Chad said, with a quick glance over his
shoulder at the door, as if he thought Max might be there, ready
to walk in on him.

"_Tell_ him," advised Nora,--she just loves to advise people,--"and get
him to help you. You could study for college, or--go into business, if
you preferred that."

Chad was looking intently at her; suddenly he threw the roses on the
schoolroom table,--with such force that they slid across and fell on the
floor on the other side,--and made a step or two toward Nora, with his
hands extended, exclaiming eagerly, "Oh, Nora, if I thought that _you_
cared--"

But like a flash Nora got behind her chair, putting it between herself
and Chad. "Don't say _another_ word!" she broke in imperiously, standing
very straight, and looking proudly at him over the back of the chair.
"Jack, pick up those flowers and return them to Mr. Whitcombe, and then
open the door for him."

Chad was so startled that he jumped,--you see he hadn't noticed that I
was there,--and didn't he look foolish! and _blush_! why, his face
actually got mahogany colour. He snatched the poor roses from me and
just bolted through that schoolroom door.

Well, I had to laugh; and when I turned back into the room, after seeing
him to the head of the stairs, I said, "I'm just _glad_ you gave it to
him, Nonie!"

"There is nothing for you to laugh at, Jack," Nora said sharply, turning
on me. "Remember you are only a little boy, and this is none of your
affair." With that she picked up her writing materials and walked off.
Aren't girls the _funniest_!




XXI.

THROUGH THE SLOUGH OF DESPOND.

TOLD BY JACK.


The man to massage Felix came the next day; but, except for the time he
was there, Phil took entire charge of Fee. He had always declared he
wasn't of any use in a sick-room, but now he seemed to get on very well;
you can't think how kind and gentle he was!

For one thing, Fee wasn't hard to suit, and that helped things a great
deal. If Phil made a mistake, or did something awkwardly, Fee just
turned it off in a joking way. He was very white and languid, but not at
all sad; in fact, he kept our spirits up with his funny sayings. We all
thought it was amazing; nurse said he was "a born angel," and now and
then I saw Phil look wistfully at Fee, as if wondering how he _could_ be
so brave. And Felix, when he caught Phil's eye, would give a roguish
little smile, and say something so merry that we had to laugh.

The only part that troubled me was that Phil stuck so closely to Fee
that nobody else got a chance to do anything for him. I just longed to
go in and sit with Fee a while, but the doctor didn't want more than one
to be with him at a time; and what with Nora, and nurse, and Phil, I
didn't get any chance at all until about the third day that Fee'd been
ill. A telegram came that morning from Miss Marston, saying she was on
the way home, and would arrive early in the afternoon, and that we would
start for the Cottage the next day,--she didn't know about Fee; we'd
been so upset that nobody had thought of writing her.

Well, that threw Nora into what Phil calls "a state of mind," and she
and nurse began getting things together and packing 'em.

I just hate packing times; you have to keep running up and down stairs
carrying things, and all that, and you don't have a minute to yourself
for reading. But of course I had to help, and I was busy in the nursery
handing things to nurse off a shelf, when Phil came to the door with his
hat on. He looked brighter than he had for some time. "Jack," he said,
"will you sit with Felix for a while? I have to go out; but I'll be back
as soon as I can."

Of course I was only too glad, and I went right to Fee's room. He looked
tired, and those circles under his eyes were very big and dark; but he
smiled at me, and chatted for a few minutes. Then presently, after
Phil'd gone, he said: "Would you mind taking a seat over there in the
window, Jack? I want to do a little quiet thinking. There's a nice book
on the table; take it. Phil said he wouldn't be away long."

[Illustration: "PACKING TIMES."]

I was disappointed,--I wanted to talk with him; but I took the book and
went over to the window.

It was a capital story, and I soon got interested in it. I don't know
how long I'd read--I was enjoying the story so much--when I heard a
queer, smothered sound, and it came from the direction of Felix.

In a minute I was by his side, exclaiming, "Why, what's the matter,
Fee?"

He had slipped down in the bed, and while his poor helpless legs still
lay stretched straight out, he'd twisted the upper part of his body so
that he was now lying a little on his side, hugging one of the pillows,
and with his face buried in it. His shoulders were shaking, and when
he raised his head to answer me, I saw the tears were streaming down
his cheeks.

"Shut the door--_quick_!" he cried, gasping between the words. "Lock
it--pile the furniture against it--don't let a creature in--oh, _don't_
let them see me!"

I flew to the door and locked it; and by the time I got back to the bed,
Fee seemed to have lost all control over himself. He twisted and
twitched, rolling his head restlessly from side to side,--one minute
throwing his arms out wildly as far as they could reach, the next
snatching at the pillows or the bed-clothes, and trying to stuff them
into his mouth. And all the time he kept making that horrible sharp
gasping noise,--as if he were almost losing his breath.

I was _dreadfully_ scared at first,--that _Felix_, of all people,
should act this way! I got goose-flesh all over, and just stood there
staring at Fee, and that seemed only to make him worse.

"Don't stare at me like that. Oh, don't, don't, _don't_!" he cried out.
"I can't help this--really--I can't, I _can't_! Oh, if I could only
_scream_ without the others hearing me!" He threw his head back and beat
the pillows with his outstretched arms.

Then, somehow, I began to understand: a great lump came in my throat,
and taking hold of one of Fee's cold, clammy hands, I commenced stroking
and patting it without a word.

His fingers were twitching so I could hardly hold them, and he talked
very fast,--almost as if he couldn't stop himself.

"Don't tell them of this, Jack," he begged, in that sharp gasping voice,
"_don't_ tell them! they wouldn't understand--they'd worry--and poor
Phil would be wretched. I know what this is to him,--poor old fellow! I
see the misery in his face from day to day, and I've tried--so hard--to
keep everything in--and be cheerful--so he shouldn't guess--until I
thought I _should_ go _mad_! Oh, think of what this _means_ to me,
Jack! College, profession, hopes, ambitions--gone _forever_--nothing
left but to lie here--for the rest of my life--a useless hulk--a
cumberer of the ground. Only seventeen, Jack, and I may live to be
eighty--like _this_! never to go about--never to walk again. Oh, if
I might _die_!"--his voice got shrill,--"if God would _only_ let me
die! I've always been a poor useless creature,--and now, _now_, of
what good am I in the world? Nothing but a burden and a care. Oh,
how shall I ever, _ever_ endure it!"

I was so nervous that I began shaking inside, and I had to speak very
slowly to keep my voice from shaking too. "Don't talk so foolishly,
Fee," I said,--but not unkindly, you know. "Why, I don't know what we'd
all do without you,--having you to ask things of, and to tell us what to
do. I know papa depends on you an awful lot; and Miss Marston said the
day she went away that she wouldn't've gone if she hadn't known you
would be here to look after us and keep things straight; and what
_would_ Nannie do without you? Talk about being of no use,--just think
what you've saved Phil from!"

"I _am_ thankful for that," broke in Felix, "most _thankful_! I don't
regret what I did that night, Jack. I'd do it again if need be, even
knowing that it must end like _this_,"--with a despairing motion of his
hand toward his helpless legs.

Then he added eagerly, breathlessly, "Don't ever tell Phil about this
morning, Jack,--that I feel so terribly about the accident. Don't tell
him,--'twould break his heart. I hope he'll _never_ know. I pretended
to be cheerful, I laughed and talked to cheer him up, but my heart grew
heavier and heavier, and my head felt as if it were being wound up; I
was afraid I'd go mad and tell the whole thing out. Oh, Jack, it's those
dreary days, those endless years of uselessness that terrify me. Oh,
help me to be strong! Oh, Jack, help me! _help_ me!"

His arms began to fly about again; he had thrown off his glasses, and
his big hollow eyes stared at me with a wild, beseeching expression
in them.

"I'm so afraid--I'll scream out--and then they'll all hear me--and
know," he gasped. "Oh, give me something, _quick_--oh, do something
for me before I lose entire control of myself."

I flew to the table and got him some water; I didn't know what else to
do, and he wouldn't let me call anybody,--even just speaking of it made
him wild. Then I fanned him, and knelt by the bed stroking one of his
hands. But nothing seemed to help him. And then--God must have put the
thought into my mind--I said suddenly, "Fee, dear, I'm going to sing to
you;" and before he could say no, I began.

At first I could hardly keep my voice steady,--on account of that
horrid, inward shaking,--but I went right on, and gradually it
got better.

I sang very softly and went from one hymn to the other, just as they
came to my mind: First, "O Mother dear, Jerusalem,"--I love that old
hymn!--then, "And now we fight the battle, but then shall win the
crown;" and then, "The Son of God goes forth to war." That's one of
Fee's favourites, and he sobbed right out when I sang,--

    "'Who best can drink his cup of woe,
        Triumphant over pain;
      Who patient bears his cross below,--
        He follows in His train.'"

But I kept on,--really, I felt as if I couldn't stop,--and when I got to
the last line of "For all the saints who from their labours rest," Fee
whispered, "Sing those verses again, Jack."

I knew which he meant; so I sang:--

    "'Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress, and their Might;
      Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight;
      Thou, in the darkness drear, the one true Light.
                                        Alleluia!

     "O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold,
      Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
      And win, with them, the victor's crown of gold.
                                        Alleluia!

           *       *       *       *       *

     "And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
      Steals on the ear the distant triumph-song,
      And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
                                        Alleluia!'"

Fee lay quiet when I finished. He was still twitching, and tears were
slipping down his cheeks from under his closed lids; but he no longer
made that dreadful gasping sound, and there was a beautiful expression
on his mouth,--so sweet and patient. "I've not been a soldier 'faithful,
true, and bold,'" he said sadly, "but a miserable coward. Ah! how we
must weary God with our grumblings and complainings, our broken
resolutions and weaknesses. I prayed with all my heart and strength for
Phil, that he might be saved from that crowd. And now that God has
granted my prayer, I bewail His way of doing it. I was willing then to
say, 'At any cost to myself,' and here I am shrinking from the share He
has given me! dreading the pain and loneliness. A faithless soldier,
Jack,--not worthy to be called a soldier."

"Oh! not faithless," I put in eagerly; "indeed, Fee, you're _not_
faithless. Even if you do shrink from this--this trouble--it's only
just here between us; you are going to be brave over it,--you know
you are. _Going_ to be! why, Fee, I think you _are_ the _bravest_ boy!
the truest, noblest--" I had to stop; that lump was just swelling up
in my throat.

"No," Fee said mournfully, drawing his breath in as Kathie does hers
sometimes when she's been crying for a long while; "no, Jack, I'm not
really brave,--not yet! I'm going to bear this only because I
must--because I _can't_ escape it. Perhaps, by and by, strength may
come to endure the trial more patiently; but now--I _dread_ it. I would
_fly_ from it if I could; I would _die_ rather than face those awful
years of helplessness! See what a poor creature your 'brave boy' is,
Jack." His lips were quivering, and he folded one arm over his eyes.

Then all at once there came back to me a talk which mamma and I once
had, and I thought perhaps 'twould comfort poor Felix, so I tried to
tell him as well as I could. "Fee, dear," I said, holding his hand tight
in mine, and snuggling my head close up to his on the pillow, so I could
whisper, "once, when mamma and I were talking, she said always to
remember that God knows it's awfully hard for people to bear suffering
and trouble; and that He always helps them and makes allowances for
them, because He's our Father, and for the sake of His own dear Son, who
had to go through so much trouble here on earth.

"And _He_ knows, too, Fee,--Jesus knows _just_ how you feel about this;
don't you remember how He prayed that last night in Gethsemane that--if
God would--He might not have to go through the awful trial of the cross?
He meant to carry it right through, you know, all the time,--that's what
He came on earth for; He meant to do every single thing that God had
given Him to do, and just as _bravely_! But, all the same, He felt, too,
how _awfully_ hard 'twas going to be, and just for a little while
beforehand He _dreaded_ it,--just as you dread the years that'll have to
pass before you can be well. See?

"And He knows your heart, Fee; He knows that you're going to be just as
_brave_ and _patient_ as you can be, and He'll help you every time.
Nannie and I'll ask Him for you--and Betty--and poor old Phil--all of
us. And dear mamma's up there, too; perhaps she's asking Him to comfort
you and make you strong. I feel as if she must be doing it,--she loved
you so!"

Fee drew his hand out of mine, and raising his arm, touched my cheek
softly with his feeble fingers, and for a few minutes we neither of us
said a word.

Then there came a knock at the door; I scrambled to my feet, and going
over, turned the key. Somebody brushed quickly by me with the swish of a
girl's dress, and there was Nannie in the middle of the room! She ran
toward Felix with her arms out, her brown eyes shining with love. "Oh,
my darling!" she cried out, "my _dear_!"

I heard Fee's glad, breathless exclamation, "My _twinnie_!" Then
Phil's arm went over my shoulders and drew me into the hall, and
Phil's voice said softly in my ear, "Come, Rosebud, let's leave
them alone for a while."




XXII.

AUF WIEDERSEHEN.

TOLD BY JACK.


Miss Marston arrived that afternoon, and the next day we started, bag
and baggage, for the Cottage. And here we've been for nearly three
months; in a week or two more we'll be thinking of going back to the
city. Dr. Gordon came up with us, and he and Phil did all they could to
make the journey easier for Felix. But he was dreadfully used up by the
time we got him to the house, and for days no one but Phil and Nannie
were allowed in his room.

Papa came a few days after we did, looking ever so much better than
when he went away, and he settled down to work at once. Betty's here,
too. From what she lets out now and then, I'm pretty sure she's had a
real good time; but, do you know, she _won't_ acknowledge it. Still, I
notice she doesn't make such fun of Hilliard as she used to; and I
will say Betty's improving. She doesn't romp and tear about so much,
nor flare out at people so often, and of course that makes her much
more comfortable to live with. I'm ever so glad she's here; if she
hadn't been, I'm afraid I'd have had an awfully stupid time this
summer. You see Betty and I are in the middle; we come between the
big and the little ones in the family, and we 'most always go together
on that account.

[Illustration: "OUT OF DOORS."]

Nannie's had her hands full, what with helping papa with the Fetich, and
doing all sorts of things for her twin. Nora's looked after Phil and
cheered him up when he got blue about Felix, and Phil has just devoted
himself to Fee. He's with him almost the whole time, and you can't think
how gentle and considerate Phil is these days.

Fee is out of doors a great deal; Phil carries him out on fine days,
and lays him on his bamboo lounge under the big maples; and there you're
sure to find the whole family gathered, some time or other, every day
that he is there.

It seems as if we love Fee more and more dearly every day,--he's so
bright and merry and sweet, and he tries _so_ hard to be patient and
make the best of things. Of course he has times--what he calls his "dark
days"--when his courage sinks, and he gets cranky and sarcastic; but
they don't come as often as at first. And we all make allowances, for we
know there isn't one of us that in his place would be as unselfish and
helpful. We go to him with everything,--even papa has got in the way of
sitting and talking with Fee; anyway, it seems as if papa were more with
us now than he used to be, and he's ever so much nicer,--more like other
people's fathers are, you know!

Felix has got back the use of his fingers since we've been in the
country; he can paint or play his violin for a little while at a time,
but his legs are still useless. The doctor, though, declares he can see
a slight improvement in them. He says now that perhaps--after several
years--Fee may be able to get around on crutches! Betty and I felt
awfully disappointed when we heard this,--we've been so sure Fee would
get perfectly well; but Fee himself was very happy over it. "Once let me
assume the perpendicular, even on crutches," he said, smiling at Phil,
who sat sadly beside him, "and you see if, after a while, these old pegs
don't come up to their duty bravely. I may yet dance at your wedding,
Philippus."

Max comes up to the Cottage quite often, and stays from Saturday to
Monday. He's just as nice and kind as he can be,--why, he doesn't seem
to mind one bit going off on jolly long drives in the old depot-wagon,
or on larks, with only Nannie and us children; and he's teaching Maedel
how to manage G. W. L. Spry and make him go, without being thrown off.

Phil and Felix and Max had a long talk together the first time Max came
up, and I have an idea 'twas about Chad, for Max looked very grave. I
don't know what he did about it, but the other day I heard him tell
Nora that Chad had positively made up his mind to go into business.
"He says he has broken loose from a very bad set he was in," Max said,
"and seems very much in earnest to make the best of himself,--which is,
of course, a great relief to me. I hope his good resolutions will amount
to something."

"Perhaps they will," Nora answered, rather indifferently, but her cheeks
got real red. I shouldn't wonder if she thought Chad'd done it because
she advised him to.

We have a way this summer, on Sunday afternoons, of all sitting with
Felix under the maple-trees, talking, and singing our chants and hymns
there instead of in the parlour. We were all there--the whole ten of
us--one afternoon, when papa came across the lawn and sat down in the
basket-chair that Phil rushed off and got him. We'd just finished
singing, "O Mother dear, Jerusalem," Fee accompanying us on his violin,
and we didn't begin anything else, for there was a queer--sort of
excited--look on papa's face that somehow made us think he had something
to tell us. And sure enough he had.

"My children," he said presently, and his voice wasn't as quiet and even
as it usually is, "I have this to tell you,--that last night I finished
my life work; my History is completed!"

The Fetich finished! we just looked at each other with wide-open eyes.

Then Nannie knelt down by papa's chair and kissed him warmly, and Phil,
who was sitting on the edge of Fee's lounge, leaned over and shook hands
with papa in a kind of grown-up, manly way.

"Allow me to congratulate you, sir," Fee said earnestly, with shining
eyes. "It is a great piece of work, and your children are _very_ proud
of it and of you."

The rest of us didn't know what to say, so we just sat and looked
at papa.

"I began it years ago," papa said after a minute or two, in a dreamy
voice, as if talking more to himself than to us, and looking away at
the sunset with a sad, far-off expression in his eyes, "_years_ ago;
just after I met--Margaret. But for her encouragement--her loving
help--her perfect faith in my ability--it could never have been
accomplished. Now it is finished--I am here alone--and she--is far
away--at peace!" Papa's lips were working; he put his hand up quickly
and shielded his eyes from us.

We were all very still; we older ones felt very sad. And then, soft and
low--almost like an angel's voice--there came from Fee's violin the
sweet strains of Handel's "Largo." The music rose and fell a bar or two,
and then Nannie and Nora and Phil sang together very softly:--

    "The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God. There shall
     no sorrow touch them. In the sight of the unwise they seemed to
     die; but they are in peace, for so He giveth His beloved sleep."



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