More Tish/Tish Does Her Bit
TISH DOES HER BIT
TISH DOES HER BIT
FROM the very beginning of the war Tish was determined to go to France. But she is a truthful woman, and her age kept her from being accepted. She refused, however, to believe that this was the reason, and blamed her rejection on Aggie and myself.
"Age fiddlesticks!" she said, knitting violently. "The plain truth is—and you might as well acknowledge it, Lizzie—that they would take me by myself quick enough, just to get the ambulance I've offered, if for no other reason. But they don't want three middle-aged women, and I don't know that I blame them."
That was during September, I think, and Tish had just received her third rejection. They were willing enough to take the ambulance, but they would not let Tish drive it. I am quite sure it was September, for I remember that Aggie was having hay fever at the time, and she fell to sneezing violently.
Tish put down her knitting and stared at Aggie fixedly until the paroxysm was over.
"Exactly," she observed, coldly. "Imagine me creeping out onto a battlefield to gather up the wounded, and Aggie crawling behind, going off like an alarm clock every time she met a clump of golden rod, or whatever they have in France to produce hay fever."
"I could stay in the ambulance, Tish," Aggie protested.
"I understand," Tish went on, in an inflexible tone, "that those German snipers have got so that they shoot by ear. One sneeze would probably be fatal. Not only that," she went on, turning to me, "but you know perfectly well, Lizzie, that a woman of your weight would be always stepping on brush and sounding like a night attack."
"Not at all," I replied, slightly ruffled. "And for a very good reason. I should not be there. As to my weight, Tish, my mother was always considered merely a fine figure of a woman, and I am just her size. It is only since this rage for skinny women——"
But Tish was not listening. She drew a deep sigh, and picked up her knitting again.
"We'd better not discuss it," she said. But in these days of efficiency it seems a mistake that a woman who can drive an ambulance and can't turn the heel of a stocking properly to save her life, should be knitting socks that any soldier with sense would use to clean his gun with, or to tie around a sore throat, but never to wear."
It was, I think, along in November that Charlie Sands, Tish's nephew, came to see me. He had telephoned, and asked me to have Aggie there. So I called her up, and told her to buy some cigarettes on the way. I remember that she was very irritated when she arrived, although the very soul of gentleness usually.
She came in and slammed a small package onto my table.
"There!" she said. "And don't ever ask me to do such a thing again. The man in the shop winked at me when I said they were not for myself."
However, Aggie is never angry for any length of time, and a moment later she was remarking that Mr. Wiggins had always been a smoker, and that one of his workmen had blamed his fatal accident on the roof to smoke from his pipe getting into his eyes.
Shortly after that I was surprised to find her in tears.
"I was just thinking, Lizzie," she said. "What if Mr. Wiggins had lived, and we had had a son, and he had decided to go and fight!"
She then broke down and sobbed violently, and it was some time before I could calm her. Even then it was not the fact that she had no son which calmed her.
"Of course I'm silly, Lizzie," she said. "I'll stop now. Because of course they don't all get killed, or even wounded. He'd probably come out all right, and every one says the training is fine for them."
Charlie Sands came in shortly after, and having kissed us both and tried on a night shirt I was making for the Red Cross, and having found the cookie jar in the pantry and brought it into my sitting room, sat down and came to business.
"Now," he said. "What's she up to?"
He always referred to Tish as "she," to Aggie and myself.
"She has given up going to France," I replied.
"Perhaps! What does Hannah report?"
I am sorry to say that, fearing Tish's impulsive nature, we had felt obliged to have Hannah watch her carefully. Tish has a way of breaking out in unexpected places, like a boil, as Charlie Sands once observed, and by knowing her plans in advance we have sometimes prevented her acting in a rash manner. Sometimes, not always.
"Hannah says everything is quiet," Aggie said. "Dear Tish has apparently given up all thought of going abroad. At least, Hannah says she no longer practises first aid on her. Not since the time Tish gave her an alcohol bath and she caught cold. Hannah says she made her lie uncovered, with the window open, so the alcohol would evaporate. But she gave notice the next day, which was ungrateful of her, for Tish sat up all night feeding her things out of her First Aid case, and if she did give her a bit of iodine by mistake——"
"She is no longer interested in First Aid," I broke in. Aggie has a way of going on and on, and it was not necessary to mention the matter of the iodine. "I know that, because I blistered my hand over there the other day, and she merely told me to stick it in the baking soda jar."
"That's curious," said Charlie Sands. "Because—— Great Scott, what's wrong with these cigarettes?"
"They are violet-scented," Aggie explained. "The smell sticks so, and Lizzie is fond of violet."
However, he did not seem to care for them, and appeared positively ashamed. He opened a window, although it was cold outside, and shook himself in front of it like a dog. But all he said was:
"I am a meek person, Aunt Lizzie, and I like to humor whims when I can. But the next time you have a male visitor and offer him a cigarette, for the love of Mike don't tell him those brazen gilt-tipped incense things are mine."
He then ate nine cookies, and explained why he had come.
"I don't like the look of things, beloved and respected spinsters," he said. "I fear my revered aunt is again up to mischief. You haven't heard her say anything more about aeroplanes, have you?"
"No," I replied, for us both.
"She's been taking swimming lessons again," I said, thoughtfully.
"Lizzie!" Aggie cried. "Oh, my poor Tish!"
"I think, however," said Charlie Sands, "that it is not a submarine. There are no submarine flivvers, as I understand it, and a full-size one would run into money. No, I hardly think so. The fact remains, however, that my respected and revered aunt has made away with about seven thousand dollars' worth of bonds that were, until a short time ago, giving semi-annual birth to plump little coupons. The question is, what is she up to?"
But we were unable to help him, and at last he went away. His parting words were:
"Well, there is something in the air, and the only thing to do, I suppose, is to wait until it drops. But when my beloved female relative takes to selling bonds without consulting me, and goes out, as I met her yesterday, with her hat on front side behind, there is something in the wind. I know the symptoms."
Aggie and I kept a close watch on Tish after that, but without result, unless the following incident may be called a result. Although it was rather a cause, after all, for it brought Mr. Culver into our lives.
I think it important to relate it in detail, as in a way it vindicates Tish in her treatment of Mr. Culver, although I do not mean by this statement that there was anything of personal malice in the incident of June fifth of this year. Those of us who know Tish best realize that she needs no defence. Her motives are always of the highest, although perhaps the matter of the police officer was ill-advised. But now that the story is out, and Mr. Ostermaier very uneasy about the wrong name being on the marriage license, I think an explanation will do dear Tish no harm.
I should explain, then, that Tish has retained the old homestead in the country, renting it to a reliable family. And that it has been our annual custom to go there for chestnuts each autumn. On the Sunday following Charlie Sands' visit, therefore, while Aggie and I were having dinner with Tish, I suggested that we make our annual pilgrimage the following day.
"What pilgrimage?" Tish demanded. She was at that time interested in seeing if a table could be set for thirty-five cents a day per person, and the meal was largely beans.
"For chestnuts," I explained.
"I don't think I'll go this year," Tish observed, not looking at either of us. "I'm not a young woman, and climbing a chestnut tree requires youth."
"You could get the farmer's boy," Aggie suggested, hopefully. Aggie is a creature of habit, and clings hard to the past.
"The farmer is not there any more."
We stared at her in amazement, but she was helping herself to boiled dandelion at the time, and made no further explanation.
"Why, Tish!" Aggie exclaimed.
"Aggie," she observed, severely, "if you would only remember that the world is hungry, you would eat your crusts."
"I ate crusts for twenty years," said Aggie, "because I'd been raised to believe they would make my hair curl. But I've come to a time of life when my digestion means more to me than my looks. And since I've had the trouble with my teeth——"
"Teeth or no teeth," said Tish, firmly, "eating crusts is a patriotic duty, Aggie."
She was clearly disinclined to explain about the farm, but on being pressed said she had sent the tenants away because they kept pigs, which was absurd and she knew it.
"Isn't keeping pigs a patriotic duty?" Aggie demanded, glancing at me across the table. But Tish ignored the question.
"What about the church?" I asked.
Tish has always given the farm money to missions, and is therefore Honorary President of the Missionary Society. She did not reply immediately as she was pouring milk over her cornstarch at the time, but Hannah, her maid, spoke up rather bitterly.
"If we give the heathen what we save on the table, Miss Lizzie," she said, "I guess they'll do pretty well. I'm that fed up with beans that my digestion is all upset. I have to take baking soda after my meals, regular."
Tish looked up at her sharply.
"Entire armies fight on beans," she said.
"Yes'm," said Hannah. "I'd fight on 'em too. That's the way they make me feel. And if a German bayonet is any worse than the colic I get——"
"Leave the room," said Tish, in a furious voice, and finished her cornstarch in silence.
But she is a just woman, and although firm in her manner, she is naturally kind. After dinner, seeing that Aggie was genuinely disappointed about the excursion to the farm, she relented and observed that we would go to the farm as usual.
"After all," she said, "chestnuts are nourishing, and might take the place of potatoes in a pinch."
Here we heard a hollow groan from the pantry, but on Tish demanding its reason Hannah said, meekly enough, that she had knocked her crazy bone, and Tish, with her usual magnanimity, did not pursue the subject.
There was a heavy frost that night, and two days later Tish called me up and fixed the following day for the visit to the farm. On looking back, I am inclined to think that her usual enthusiasm was absent, but we suspected nothing. She said that Hannah would put up the luncheon, and that she had looked up the food value of chestnuts and that it was enormous. She particularly requested that Aggie should not bake a cake for the picnic, as has been her custom.
"Cakes," she said, "are a reckless extravagance. In butter, eggs and flour a single late layer cake could support three men at the front for two days, Lizzie," she said.
I repeated this to Aggie, and she was rather resentful. Aggie, I regret to say, has rather a weakness for good food.
"Humph!" she said, bitterly. "Very well, Lizzie. But if she expects me to go out like Balaam's ass and eat dandelions, I'd rather starve."
Neither Aggie nor I is inclined to be suspicious, and although we noticed Tish's rather abstracted expression that morning, we laid it to the fact that Charlie Sands had been talking about going to the American Ambulance in France, which Tish opposed violently, although she was more than anxious to go herself.
Aggie put in her knitting bag the bottle of blackberry cordial without which we rarely travel, as we find it excellent in case of chilling, or indigestion, and even to rub on hornet stings. I was placing the suitcase, in which it is our custom to carry the chestnuts, in the back of the car, when I spied a very small parcel. Aggie saw it too.
"If that's the lunch, Tish," she said, "I don't know that I care to go."
"You can eat chestnuts," said Tish, shortly. "But don't go on my account. It looks like rain anyhow, and the last time I went to the farm in the mud I skidded down a hill backwards and was only stopped by running into a cow that thought I was going the other way."
"Nonsense, Tish," I said. "It hasn't an idea of raining. And if the lunch isn't sufficient, there are generally some hens from the Knowles place that lay in your barn, aren't there?"
"Certainly not," she said stiffly, although it wasn't three months since she had threatened to charge the Knowleses rent for their chickens.
Well, I was puzzled. It is not like Tish to be irritable without reason, although she has undoubtedly a temper. She was most unpleasant on the way out, remarking that if the Ostermaiers's maid continued to pare away half the potatoes, as any fool could see around their garbage can, she thought the church should reduce his salary. She also stated flatly that she considered that the nation would be better off if some one would uncork a gas bomb in the Capitol at Washington, in spite of the fact that my second cousin, once removed, the Honorable J. C. Willoughby, represents his country in its legislative halls.
It is always a bad sign when Tish talks politics, especially since the income tax.
Although it had no significance for us at the time, she did not put her car in the barn as she usually does, but left it in the road. The house was closed, and there was no cool and refreshing buttermilk with which to wash down our frugal repast, which we ate on the porch, as Tish did not offer to unlock the house. Frugal repast it was indeed, consisting of lettuce sandwiches made without butter, as Tish considered that both butter and lettuce was an 'extravagance. There were, of course, also beans.
Now as it happens, Aggie is not strong and requires palatable as well as substantial food to en able her to get about, especially to climb trees. We missed her during the meal, and I saw that she was going toward the barn. Tish saw it also, and called to her sharply.
"I am going to get an egg," Aggie replied, with gentle obstinacy. "I am starving, Tish, and I am certain I heard a hen cackle. Probably one of the Knowles's chickens——"
"If it is a Knowles's chicken," Tish said, virtuously, "its egg is a Knowles's egg, and we have no right to it"
I am sorry to relate that here Aggie said: "Oh, rats!" but as she apologized immediately, and let the egg drop, figuratively, of course, peace again hovered over our little party. Only momentarily, however,, for, a short time after, a hen undoubtedly cackled, and Aggie got up with an air of determination.
"Tish," she said, "that may be a Knowles's hen or it may be one belonging to this farm, I don't know, and I don't give a—I don't care. I'm going to get it."
"The barn's locked," said Tish.
"I could get in through a window."
I shall never forget Tish's look of scorn as she rose with dignity, and stalked toward the barn.
"I shall go myself, Aggie," she said, as she passed her. "You would probably fall in the rain barrel under the window. You're no climber. And you might as well eat those crusts you've hidden under the porch, if you're as hungry as you make out you are."
"Lizzie," Aggie hissed, when Tish was out of hearing, "what is in that barn?"
"It may be anything from a German spy to an aeroplane," I said. "But it's not your business or mine."
"You needn't be so dratted virtuous," Aggie observed, scooping a hole in the petunia bed and burying the crusts in it. "Whatever's on her mind is in that barn."
"Naturally," I observed. "While Tish is in it!"
Tish returned in a short time with one egg, which she placed on the porch floor without a word. But as she made no effort to give Aggie the house key, and as Aggie has never learned to swallow a raw egg, although I have heard that they taste rather like oysters, and slip down in much the same way, Aggie was obliged to continue hungry.
It is only just to record that Tish grew more companionable after luncheon, and got into a large chestnut tree near the house by climbing on top of the hen house. We had always before had the farmer's boy to do the climbing into the upper branches, and I confess to a certain nervousness, especially as Tish, when far above the ground, decided to take off her dress skirt, which was her second best tailor-made, and climb around in her petticoats.
She had to have both hands free to unhook the band, and she very nearly overbalanced while stepping out of it
"Drat a woman's clothes, anyhow," she said. "If we had any sense we'd wear trousers."
"I understand," I said, "that even trousers are not easy to get out of, Tish."
"Don't be a fool, Lizzie," she said tartly. "If I had trousers on I wouldn't have to take them off. Catch it!"
However, the skirt did not fall clear, but caught on a branch far out, and hung there. Tish broke off a small limb and poked at it from above, and I found a paling from a fence and threw it up to dislodge it. But it stuck tight, and the paling came down and struck Aggie on the head. Had we only known it, this fortunate accident probably saved Aggie's life, for she sat down suddenly on the ground, and said faintly that her skull was fractured.
I was bending over Aggie when I heard a sharp crack from above. I looked up, and Tish was lying full length on a limb, her arm out to reach for the skirt and a most terrible expression on her face. There was another crack, and our poor Tish came hurtling through the air, landing half in Aggie's lap and half in the suitcase.
I was quite unable to speak, and owing, as I learned later, to Tish's head catching her near the waist line, Aggie had no breath even to scream.
There was a dreadful silence. Then Tish said, without moving:
"All my property is to go to Charlie Sands."
"Tish!" I cried, in an agony, and Aggie, who still could not speak, burst into tears.
However, a moment later, Tish drew up first one limb and then the other, and observed that her back was broken. She then mentioned that Aggie was to have her cameo set and the dining room sideboard, and that I was to have the automobile, but the next instant she felt a worm on her neck and sat up, looking rather dishevelled, but far from death.
"Where are you hurt, Tish?" I asked, trembling.
"Everywhere," she replied. "Everywhere, Lizzie. Every bone in my body is broken."
But after a time the aching localized itself in her right arm, which began to swell. We led her down to the creek and got her to hold it in the cold water and Aggie, being still nervous and unsteady, slipped on a mossy stone and sat down in about a foot of water. It was then that our dear Tish became like herself again, for Aggie was shocked into saying, "Oh, damn!" and Tish gave her a severe lecture on profanity.
Tish was quite sure her arm was broken, as well as all the ribs on one side. But she is a brave woman and made little fuss, although she kept poking a finger into her flesh here and there.
"Because," she said, "the First Aid book says that if a lung is punctured the air gets into the tissues, and they crackle on pressure."
It was soon after this that I saw Aggie, who had made no complaint about Tish falling on her, furtively testing her own tissues to see if they crackled.
Leaving my injured there by the creek, I went back to the tree and secured my paling again. By covering it with straw from the barn I was quite sure I could make a comfortable splint for Tish's arm. However, I had but just reached the barn and was preparing to crawl through a window by standing on a rain barrel when I saw Tish limping after me.
"Well?" she said. "What idiotic idea is in your head, Lizzie? Because if it is more eggs——"
"I am going to get some straw and make a splint."
"Nonsense. What for?"
"What do you suppose I intend it for?" I demanded, tartly. "To trim a hat?"
"I won't have a splint."
"Very well," I retorted. "Then I shall get some straw and start a fire to dry Aggie out."
"You'll stick in that window," Tish said, in what, in a smaller woman, would have been a vicious tone.
"Look here, Tish," I said, balancing on the edge of the rain barrel, "is there something in this barn you do not wish me to see?"
She looked at me steadily.
"Yes," she said. "There is, Lizzie. And I'll ask you to promise on your honor not to mention it."
That promise I am glad to say I have kept until now, when the need of secrecy is past, Tish herself having divulged the truth. But at the time I was greatly agitated, and indeed almost fell into the rain barrel.
"Or try to find out what it is," Tish went on, sternly.
I promised, of course, and Tish relaxed somewhat, although I caught her eye on me once or twice, as though she was daring me to so much as guess at the secret.
"Of course, Lizzie," she said, as we approached Aggie, "it is nothing I am ashamed of."
"Of course not," I replied hastily. I took my courage in my hands and faced her. "Tish, have you an aeroplane hidden in that barn ?"
"No," she replied promptly. She might have enlarged on her denial, but Aggie took a violent sneezing spell just then, pressing herself between paroxysms to see if she crackled, and we decided to go home at once.
Here a new difficulty presented itself. Tish could not drive the car! I shall never forget my anguish when she turned to me and said:
"You will have to drive us home, Lizzie."
"Never!" I cried.
"It's perfectly easy," she went on. "If children can run them, and the idiots they have in garages and on taxicabs——"
"Never," I said firmly. "It may be easy, but it took you six months, Tish Carberry, and three broken springs and any number of dead chickens and animals, besides the time you went through a bridge, and the night you drove off the end of a dock. It may be easy, but if it is, I'd rather do something hard."
"I shall sit beside you, Lizzie," she said, in a patient voice. "I daresay you know which is your right foot and which is your left. If not, I can tell you. I shall say 'left' when I want you to push out the clutch, and 'right' for the brake. As for gears, I can change them for you with my left hand."
"I could do it sitting in a chair," I said, in a despairing voice. "But Tish," I said, in a last effort, "do you remember when you tried to teach me to ride a bicycle? And that the moment I saw something to avoid I made a mad dash for it?"
"This is different," Tish said. "It is a car——"
"And that I rode about a quarter of a mile into Lake Penzance, and would likely have ridden straight across if I hadn't run into a canoe and upset it?"
"You can always stop a car," said Tish. "Don't be a coward, Lizzie. All you have to do is to shove hard with your right foot."
Yet, when I did exactly that, she denied she had ever said it. Fond as I am of Tish, I must admit that she has a way of forgetting things she does not wish to remember.
In the end I consented. It was against my better judgment, and I warned Tish. I have no talent for machinery, but indeed a great fear of it, since the time when as a child I was visiting my grand-aunt's farm and almost lost a finger in a feed-cutter. In addition to that, Tish's accident and her secret had both unnerved me. I knew that calamity faced us as I took my place at the wheel.
Tish was still in her petticoat, as we were obliged to leave her dress skirt in the tree, and Aggie was wrapped in the rug to prevent her taking cold.
"When we meet a buggy," Tish said, "we'd better go past it rather fast. I don't ache to be seen in a seersucker petticoat."
"Fast." I said, bitterly. "You'd better pray that we go past it at all."
However, by going very slowly, I got the thing as far as the gate going into the road. Here there was a hill, and we began to move too rapidly.
"Slower," said Tish. "You've got to make a turn here."
"How?" I cried, frantically.
"Brake!" she yelled.
"Right foot. Right foot!"
However, it seems that my right foot was on the gas throttle at the time, which she had forgotten. I jammed my foot down hard, and the car seemed to lift out of the air. We went across the ditch, through a stake and rider fence, through a creek and up the other side of the bank, and brought up against a haystack with a terrific jolt.
Tish sat back and straightened her hat with a jerk.
"We'd better go back and do it again, Lizzie," she said, "because you missed one or two things."
"I did what you told me," I replied, sullenly.
"Did you?" said Tish. "I don't remember telling you to leap the creek. Of course, cross country motoring has its advantages. Only one really should have solid tires, because barbed wire fences might be awkward."
She then sat back and rested.
"Well?" I said.
"Well?" said Tish.
"What am I to do now?"
"Oh!" she said. "I thought you preferred doing it your own way. I don't object, if you don't. You are quite right. Roads do become monotonous. Only I doubt, Lizzie, if you can get over this stack. You'd better go around it."
"Very well," I said. "My own way is to walk home, Tish Carberry. And if you think I am going to steer a runaway automobile you can think again."
Aggie had said nothing, but I now turned and saw her, pale and shaken, taking a sip of the blackberry cordial we always carry with us for emergencies. I suggested that she drive the thing home, but she only shook her head and muttered something about almost falling out of the back end of the car when we leaped up out of the creek. She had, she asserted, been clear up on the folded-back top, and had stayed there until the jolt against the haystack had thrown her forward into the seat again.
I daresay we would still be there had not a young man with a gun run suddenly around the haystack. He had a frightened look, but when he saw us all alive he relaxed. Unfortunately, however, Aggie still had the bottle of blackberry cordial in the air. His expression altered when he saw her, and he said, in a disgusted voice:
"Well, I be damned!"
Tish had not seen Aggie, and merely observed that she felt like that and even more. She then remarked that I had broken her other arm, and her nose, which had struck the wind shield. But the young man merely gave her a scornful glance, and leaning his gun against the haystack, came over to the car and inspected us all with a most scornful expression.
"I thought so!" he said. "When I saw you leaping that fence and jumping the creek, I knew what was wrong. Only I thought it was a party of men. In my wildest dreams—give me that bottle," he ordered Aggie, holding out his hand.
Now it is Aggie's misfortune to have lost her own teeth some years ago, owing to a country dentist who did not know his business. And when excited she has a way of losing her hold, as one may say, on her upper set. She then speaks in a thick tone, with a lisp.
"Thertainly not!" said Aggie.
To my horror, the young man then stepped on the running board of the car and snatched the bottle out of her hand.
"I must say," he said, glaring at us each in turn, "that it is the most disgraceful thing I have ever seen." His eyes stopped at Tish, and traveled over her. "Where is your clothing?" he demanded, fiercely.
It was then that Tish rose and fixed him with a glittering eye.
"Young man," she said, "where my dress skirt is does not concern you. Nor why we are here as we are. Give Miss Pilkington that bottle of blackberry cordial."
"Blackberry cordial!" jeered the young man.
"As for what you evidently surmise, you are a young idiot. I am the President of the local branch of the"
"Of course you are," said the young man. "I'm Carrie Nation myself. Now watch."
He then selected a large stone and smashed the bottle on it.
"Now," he observed, "come over with the rest of it, and be quick." But here he seemed to realize that Tish's face was rather awful, for he stopped bullying and began to coax. "Now see here," he said. "I'm going to help you out of this if I can, because I rather think it is an accident. You've all had something on an empty stomach. Go down to the creek and get some cold water, and then walk about a bit. I'll see what I can do with the car."
Aggie was weeping in the rear seat by that time, and I shall never forget Tish's face. Suddenly she got out of the car and before he realized what was happening, she had his gun in her good hand.
"Now," she said, waving it about recklessly, "I'll teach you to insult sober and God-fearing women whose only fault is that one of them hasn't all the wit she should have and let a car run away with her. Lizzie, get out of that seat."
It was the young man's turn to look strange.
"Be careful!" he cried. "Be careful! It's loaded, and the safety catch——"
"Get out, Aggie."
Aggie crawled out, still holding the rug around where she had sat down in the creek.
"Now," Tish said, addressing the stranger, "you back that car out and get it to the road. And close your mouth. Something is likely to fly into it."
"I beg of you!" said the young man. "Of course I'll do what I can, but—please don't wave that gun around."
"Just a moment," said Tish. "That blackberry cordial was worth about a dollar. Just give a dollar to the lady near you. Aggie, take that dollar. Lizzie, come here and let me rest this gun on your shoulder."
She did, keeping it pointed at the young man, and I could hear her behind me, breathing in short gasps of fury. Nothing could so have en raged Tish as the thing which had happened, and for a time I feared that she would actually do the young man some serious harm.
He sat there looking at us, and he saw, of course, that he had been mistaken. He grew very red, and said:
"I've been an idiot, of course. If you will allow me to apologize——"
"Don't talk," Tish snapped. "You have all you can do without any conversation. Did you ever drive a car before?"
"Not through a haystack," he said in a sulky voice.
But Tish fixed him with a glittering eye, and he started the engine.
Well, he got the car backed and turned around, and we followed him through the stubble as the car bumped and rocked along. But at the edge of the creek he stopped and turned around.
"Look here," he said. "This is suicide. This car will never do it."
"It has just done it," Tish replied, inexorably. "Go on."
"I might get down, but I'll never get up the other side."
"Tish!" Aggie cried, anguished. "He may be killed, and you'll be responsible."
Aggie is a sentimental creature, and the young man was very good-looking. Indeed, arriving at the brink, I myself had qualms. But Tish has a will of iron, and was, besides, still rankling with insult. She merely glued her eye again to the sight of the gun on my shoulder, and said:
Well, he got the car down somehow or other, but nothing would make it climb the other side. It would go up a few feet and then slide back. And at last Tish herself saw that it was hopeless, and told him to turn and go down the creek bed.
It was a very rough creek bed, and one of the springs broke almost at once. We followed along the bank, and I think Tish found a sort of grim humor in seeing the young man bouncing up into the air and coming down on the wheel, for I turned once and found her smiling faintly. However, she merely called to him to be careful of the other springs or she would have to ask him to pay for them.
He stopped then, in a pool about two feet deep, and glared up at her.
"Oh, certainly," he said. "I suppose the fact that I have permanently bent in my floating ribs on this infernal wheel doesn't matter."
At last he came to a shelving bank, and got the car out. I think he contemplated making a run for it then and getting away, but Tish observed that she would shoot into the rear tires if he did so. So he went back to the road, slowly, and there stopped the car.
However, Tish was not through with him. She made him climb the chestnut tree and bring down her dress skirt, and then turn his back while she put it on. By that time, the young man was in a chastened mood, and he apologized handsomely.
"But I think I have made amends, ladies," he said. "I feel that I shall never be the same again. When I started out today I was a blithe young thing, feeling life in every limb, as the poet says. Now what I feel in every limb does not belong in verse. May I have the shotgun, please?"
But Tish had no confidence in him, and we took the gun with us, arranging to leave it at the first signpost, about a mile away. We left him there, and Aggie reported that he stood in the road staring after us as long as we were in sight.
Tish drove the car home after all, steering with one hand and taking the wheel off a buggy on the way. I sat beside her and changed the gears, and she blamed the buggy wheel on me, owing to my going into reverse when I meant to go ahead slowly. The result was that we began to back unexpectedly, and the man only saved his horse by jumping him over a watering trough.
I have gone into this incident with some care, because the present narrative concerns itself with the young man we met, and with the secret in Tish's barn. At the time, of course, it seemed merely one of the unpleasant things one wishes to forget quickly. Tish's arm was only sprained, and although Aggie wore adhesive plaster around her ribs almost all winter, because she was afraid to have it pulled off, there were no permanent ill effects.
The winter passed quietly enough. Aggie and I made Red Cross dressings for Europe, and Tish, tiring of knitting, made pajamas. She had turned against the government, and almost left the church when she learned that Mr. Ostermaier had voted the Democratic ticket. Then in January, without telling any one, she went away for four days, and Sarah Willoughby wrote me later that the Honorable J. C, her husband, said that a woman resembling Tish had demanded from the gallery of the Senate that we declare war against Germany and had been put out by the Sergeant-at-arms.
I do not know that this was Tish. She returned as unannounced as she had gone, and went back to her pajamas, but she was more quiet than usual, and sometimes, when she was sewing, her lips moved as though she was rehearsing a speech. She observed once or twice that she wanted to do her bit, but that she considered digging trenches considerably easier than driving a sewing machine twelve miles a day.
I remember, in this connection, a conversation I had with Mrs. Ostermaier some time in January. She asked me to wait after the Red Cross meeting, and I saw trouble in her eye.
"Miss Lizzie," she said, "do you think Miss Tish really enjoys sewing?"
"Not particularly," I admitted. "But it is better than knitting, she says, because it is faster. She likes to get results."
"Exactly," Mrs. Ostermaier observed. "I'll just ask you to look at this pajama coat she has turned in."
Well, there was no getting away from it. It was wrong. Dear Tish had sewed one of the sleeves in the neck opening, and had opened the sleeve hole and faced back the opening and put buttons and buttonholes on it.
"Not only that," said Mrs. Ostermaier, "but she has made the trousers of several suits wrong side before and opened them up the back, and men are such creatures of habit. They like things the way they are used to them."
Well, I had to tell Tish, and she flew into a temper and said Mrs. Ostermaier never could cut things out properly, and she would leave the society. Which she did. But she was very unhappy over it, for Tish is patriotic to her finger tips.
All the spring, until war was declared, she was restless and discontented, and she took to long trips in the car, by herself, returning moodier than ever. But with the announcement of war she found work to do. She made enlisting speeches everywhere, and was very successful, because Tish has a magnetic and compelling eye, and she would fix on one man in the crowd and talk at him and to him, until all the men around were watching him. Generally, with every one looking he was ashamed not to come forward, and Tish would take him by the arm and lead him in to the recruiting station.
It was on one of these occasions that we saw the young man of the blackberry cordial again.
Tish saw him first, from the tail of the wagon she was standing in. She fixed him with her eye at once, and a man standing near him said:
"Go on in, boy. You're as good as in the trenches already. She landed me yesterday, but I've got six toes on one foot. Blessed if she didn't try to take me to a hospital to have one cut off."
"Now," said Tish, "does any one wish to ask any questions?"
I saw the blackberry cordial person take a step forward.
"I would like to ask you one," he said. "How do you reconcile blackberry cordial with the W. C T.U.?"
Tish went white with anger, and would no doubt have flayed him with words, as our black berry cordial is made from her own grandmother's recipe, and a higher principled woman never lived. But unluckily the driver of the furniture wagon we were standing in had returned without our noticing it, and drove off at that moment, taking us with him.
It was about this time that Charlie Sands came to see me one day, looking worried.
"Look here," he said, "what's this about my having appendicitis?"
"Well, you ought to know," I replied rather tartly. "Don't ask me if you have a pain."
"But I haven't," he said, looking aggrieved. "I'm all right. I never felt better."
He then said that once, when a small boy, he had been taken with a severe attack of pain, following a picnic when he had taken considerable lemonade and pickles, followed by ice cream.
"I had forgotten it entirely," he went on. "But the other day Aunt Tish recalled the incident, and suggested that I get my appendix out. It wouldn't matter if she had let it go at that. But she's set on it. I may waken up any morning and find it gone."
I could only stare at him, for he is her favorite nephew, and I could not believe that she would forcibly immolate him on a bed of suffering.
"I used to think she was fond of me," he continued. "But she's—well, she's positively grewsome about the thing. She's talked so much about it that I begin to think I have got a pain there. I'm not sure I haven't got it now."
Well, I couldn't understand it. I knew what she thought of him. Had she not, when she fell out of the tree, immediately left him all her property? I told him about that, and indeed about the entire incident, except the secret in the barn. He grew very excited toward the end, however, where we met the blackberry-cordial person, and interrupted me.
"I know it from there on," he said. "Only I thought Culver had made it up, especially about the gun being levelled at him, and the machine in the creek bed. He's on my paper; nice boy, too. Do you mean to say—but I might have known, of course."
He then laughed for a considerable time, although I do not consider the incident funny. But when I told him about Mr. Culver's impertinent question at the recruiting station, he sobered.
"You tell her to keep her hands off him," he said. "I need him in my business. And it won't take much to send him off to war, because he's had a disappointment in love and I'm told that he walks out in front of automobiles daily, hoping to be struck down and make the girl sorry."
"I consider her a very sensible young woman," I observed. But he was already back to his appendix.
"You see," he said, "my Aunt Letitia has a positively uncanny influence over me, and if I have it out I can't enlist. No scars taken."
I put down my knitting.
"Perhaps that is the reason she wants it done," I suggested.
"By George!" he exclaimed.
Well, that was the reason. I may as well admit it now. Tish is a fine and spirited woman, and as brave as a lion. But it was soon evident to all of us that she was going to keep Charlie Sands safe if she could. She was continually referring to his having been a sickly baby, and I am quite sure she convinced herself that he had been. She spoke, too, of a small cough he had as indicating weak lungs, and was almost indecently irritated when the chest specialist said that it was from smoking, and that if he had any more lung space the rest of his organs would have had to move out.
One way and another, she kept him from enlisting for quite a time, maintaining that to run a newspaper and keep people properly informed was as patriotic as carrying a gun.
I remember that on one occasion, when he had at last decided to join the navy and was going to Washington, Tish took a very bad attack of indigestion, and nothing quieted her until after train time but to have Charlie Sands beside her, feeding her peppermint and hot water.
Then, at last, the draft bill was passed, and she persuaded him to wait and take his chance.
We were at a Red Cross class, being taught how to take foreign bodies out of the ear, when the news came. Tish was not paying much attention, because she considered that if a soldier got a bullet or shrapnel in his ear, a syringe would not help him much. She had gone out of the room, therefore, and Aggie had just had a bean put in her auditory canal, and was sure it would swell before they got it again, when Tish returned. She said the bill had passed, and that the age limit was thirty-one.
Mrs. Ostermaier, who was using the syringe, let it slip and shot a stream of water into Aggie's right eye.
"Thirty-one!" she said. "Well, I suppose that includes your nephew, Miss Tish."
"Not at all," said Tish. "He will have his thirty-second birthday on the fifth of June, and he probably won't have to register at all. It's likely to be July before they're ready."
"Oh, the fifth of June!" said Mrs. Ostermaier, and gave Aggie another squirt.
Now Tish and I have talked this over since, and it may only be a coincidence. But Mrs. Ostermaier's cousin is married to a Congressman from the west, and she sends the Ostermaiers all his speeches. Mr. Ostermaier sends on his sermon, too, in exchange, and every now and then Mrs. Ostermaier comes running in to Tish with something delivered in our national legislature which she claims was conceived in our pulpit.
Anyhow, when the draft day was set, it was the fifth of June!
Aggie and I went to Tish at once, and found her sitting very quietly with the blinds down, and Hannah snivelling in the kitchen.
"It's that woman," Tish said. "When I think of the things I've done for them, and the way I've headed lists and served church suppers and made potato salad and packed barrels, it makes me sick."
Aggie sat down beside her and put a hand on her knee.
"I know, Tish," she said. "Mr. Wiggins was set on going to the Spanish war. He said that he could not shoot, but that he would be valuable as an observer, from church towers and things, because he was used to being in the air. He would have gone, too, but——"
"If he goes," Tish said, "he will never come back. I know it. I've known it ever since I ran over that black cat the other day."
Well, we had to leave her, as Aggie was buying wool for the Army and Navy League. We went out, very low in our minds. What was our surprise, therefore, on returning late that afternoon, to find Tish cheerfully hoeing in the garden she had planted in the vacant lot next door, while Hannah followed her and gathered up in a basket the pieces of brick, broken bottles and buried bones that Tish unearthed.
"You poor dear!" Aggie said, going toward her. "I know just how you feel. I——"
"Get out!" Tish yelled, in a furious tone. "Look what you're doing! Great heavens, don't you see what you've done? That was a potato plant."
We tried to get out, although I could see nothing but a few weeds, but she yelled at us every moment and at last I gave it up.
"I'd rather stay here, Tish," I said, "if you don't mind. I can keep the dogs away, and along in the autumn, when it's safe to move, you can take me home, or put me in a can, along with the other garden stuff."
Here Tish fired a brick at Hannah's basket, but struck her in the knee cap instead, and down she went on what Tish said was six egg plants. In the resulting conversation I escaped, and went up to Tish's sitting room.
Tish followed us soon after, and jerked the window shades to the top.
"There's nothing like getting close to nature," she said. "I feel like a different woman, after an hour or so of the soil."
She then took Hannah's basket and placed it on the window-sill overlooking the vacant lot, explaining that she used its contents to fling at dogs, cats and birds below.
"It makes a little extra work for Hannah," she commented. "But it's making a new woman of her. It would be good for you, too, Lizzie. There's nothing like bending over to reduce the abdomen."
But Aggie, having come to mourn, proceeded to do it.
'"To think," she said, "that if they had only made it a day later, dear Charlie would have been exempt. It's too tragic, Tish."
"I don't know what you are talking about," said Tish in a cold tone. "He does not have to register. He was born at seven in the morning, June fifth."
"In the evening, Tish," said Aggie gently. "I was there, you know, and I remember——"
Tish gave her a terrible look.
"Of course you would know," she observed, icily. "But as I was in the room, and recall distinctly going out and telling old Amanda, the cook, about breakfast——"
"Supper," said Aggie firmly. "You were excited, naturally. But I was in the hall when you came out, and I was expecting my first gentleman caller, which no girl ever forgets, Tish. I remember that Amanda was hooking my dress, which was very tight, because we had waist lines in those days and I wanted——"
"Aggie," Tish thundered, "he was born early in the morning of June fifth. He will be thirty-two years of age early in the morning of Registration day. And if he tries to register I shall be on hand with the facts."
Well, whether she was right or not, she was convinced that she was, and it is useless to argue with her under those circumstances. Luckily she heard a dog in the lot just then, and threw down a broken bottle and some bricks at him, and the woman in the apartment below raised a window and threatened to report her to the Humane Society. But, as usual, Tish was more than her equal.
"Come right up, then," she said. "Because I am a member of the Humane Society and have been for twenty years. I consider throwing bricks at that dog as patriotic a duty as killing a German, any day."
Here, by accident, the basket slid off the window-sill, and Tish closed the window violently.
"It hit her on the head," she said, in what I fear was an exultant tone. "I wouldn't have done it on purpose, but I guess it's no sin to be thankful."
Because the incident I am about to relate concerns not only Registration Day, but also Mr. Culver and the secret in the barn, I have been some time in getting to it. And if, in so doing, I have reflected at any time either on Tish's patriotism or her strict veracity, I am sorry. No one who knows Tish can doubt either.
In spite of Aggie, in spite of Charlie Sands, who protested violently that he distinctly remembered being born in the evening, because he had yelled all the ensuing night and no one had had a wink of sleep—in spite of all this, Tish remained firm in her conviction that 7 A. M. on Registration Day, when the precincts opened, would find him too old to register.
On the surface the days that followed passed uneventfully. Tish sewed and knitted, and once each day stood Aggie and myself on the outskirts of her garden and pointed out things which she said would be green corn, and tomatoes and peppers and so on. But there was a set look about her face, to those of us who knew and loved her. She had moments of abstraction, too, and during one of them weeded out an entire row of spring onions, according to Hannah.
On the third of June I went into the jeweller's to have my watch regulated, and found Tish at the counter. She muttered something about a main spring and went out, leaving me staring after her. I am no idiot, however, although not Tish's mental equal by any means, and I saw that she had been looking at gentlemen's gold watches.
I had a terrible thought that she intended trying to purchase Charlie Sands by a gift. But I might have known her high integrity. She would not stoop to a bribe. And, as a matter of fact, happening to stop at the Ostermaiers' that evening to show Mrs. Ostermaier how to purl, I found that dear Tish, remembering the anniversary of his first sermon to us, had presented Mr. Ostermaier with a handsome watch.
It was on the fourth of June that I had another visit from Charlie Sands. He is usually a most amiable young man, but on that occasion he came in glowering savagely, and on sitting down on Aggie's knitting, which was on steel needles, he flung it across the room, and had to spend quite a little time apologizing.
"The truth is," he said, "I'm so blooming upset that I'm not myself. Let me put these needles back, won't you? Or do they belong in some particular place?"
"They do," Aggie retorted grimly. "And for a young man who will be thirty-two tomorrow morning——"
"Evening," he corrected her, with a sort of groan. "I see she's got you too. Look here," he went on, "I'm in trouble, and I'm blessed if I see my way out. I want to register tomorrow. I may not be drawn, because I'm an unlucky devil and always was. But—I want to do my bit."
"Well," I observed, tartly. "I guess no one can prevent you. Go and do it, and say nothing."
"Not at all," he replied, getting up and striding up and down the room. "Not a bit of it. I grant you it looks simple. Wouldn't any one in his senses think that a young and able-bodied man could go and put his name down as being willing to serve his country? Why, she herself—she's crazy to go. I'd like to bet a hat she'll get there before long, too, and into the front trenches."
"Oh, no!" Aggie wailed suddenly.
"But not I," went on Charlie Sands fiercely. "Not I. How she ever got around that old fool Ostermaier I don't know. But she has. He's appointed her an assistant registrar in his precinct, which is mine. And she'll swear until she's black in the face that I'm over age."
"Can't you have the place opened before seven in the morning?" I suggested.
"I've been to him, but he says the law is seven o'clock. Besides," he added bitterly, "she knows me, and as like as not she'll sleep there, to be on hand to forestall me."
As I look back, I am convinced that a desire to do his bit, as he termed it, was only a part of his anger that evening. The rest was the feeling that Tish's superior acumen had foiled him. He had a truly masculine hatred of being thwarted by a woman, even by a beloved aunt.
"Well," he said at last, picking up his hat. "I'll be off." He went to the door, but turned back and glowered at us both, although I am sure we had done nothing whatever. "But mark my words, and remind her of them the day after to morrow. This thing's not over yet. She's pretty devilish clever"—(I regret to record this word, but he was greatly excited)—"but she hasn't all the brains in the family."
For a day that was to contain so much, however, the fifth of June started quietly enough. We telephoned Hannah, and she reported that Tish had left the house at five-thirty, although obliged to go only one block to the engine house which was her destination.
So far as I can learn, for Tish is very uncommunicative about the entire matter, the morning passed quietly enough. She had taken the precaution of having her folding card table and two pillows sent to the engine house, and when Aggie and I arrived at midday she was seated comfort ably, with her hat hung on a lamp of the fire truck. When we arrived she was asking the sexton of the Methodist Church, whom she has known for thirty years, if he had lost a leg or an arm.
Aggie had brought a basket with some luncheon for her, and she placed it on the truck. But there was an alarm of fire soon after, and the thing went out in a rush with the lunch and also with Tish's hat.
Tish was furiously angry. Indeed, I have since thought that much of what followed was due to the loss of the luncheon, which the firemen declared they had not seen, although Aggie was positive she saw one of them eating one of the doughnuts that afternoon behind a newspaper.
But, worst of all, Tish's hat was missing. It reappeared later, however, but was brought in by the engine house dog, after having been run over by the Chief's machine, two engines and a ladder truck.
As I say, that was part of her irritation, but what really upset her was the number of married men. More than once, as she grew excited, I heard her say:
"Married? How many wives?"
When of course she meant how many children.
She had registered twenty-four married men and two single ones by one o'clock, and she was looking very discouraged. But at one o'clock the clerk from the shoe store at the corner came in, and said he had dependent on him a wife, four children, a mother-in-law, a sister-in-law and his sister-in-law's husband.
"Of course," Tish said bitterly, "you claim exemption."
"Me?" he said. "Me, Miss Carberry? My God, no."
Well, about two o'clock Charlie Sands came in. Tish saw him the moment he entered the door, and stopped work to watch him. But he made no attempt to register. He said he was doing a column of slackers for the next morning's paper.
"There's aren't many," he said, "but of course there are some. The license court is the place to nail them."
"Do you mean to tell me," Tish demanded, "that there are traitors in this country who are getting married today?"
"There are," said Charlie Sands, sitting down on the fire truck. "Even so, beloved aunt. They aremarried so they can claim exemption because of a dependent wife. And I'll bet the orphan asylums are full of fellows trying to get ready-made families."
Tish is a composed and self-restrained woman, but she spoke so distinctly of how she felt about such conduct that Charlie Murray, our grocer's assistant, who has four children, did not so much as mention them when she made out his card.
"Of course," Charlie Sands observed, "I don't want to dictate to you, because you're doing all that can be expected of you now. But if some one would go to the license court and tell those fellows a bit of wholesome truth, it might be valuable."
"You do it, Lizzie," Tish said.
"I? I never made a speech in my life, Tish Carberry, and you know it."
"And I never before tried to get the truth from an idiot who says he is twenty-eight and has a daughter of eighteen! See here," Tish said to a man in front of her, waving her pen and throwing a circle of ink about. "I'll have you know that I represent the government today, and if you think you are being funny, you are not."
Well, it turned out that he had married a widow with a child, but had a cork leg anyhow, so it made no difference. But Tish's mind was not on her work. However, she was undecided until Charlie Sands said:
"By the way, I saw your friend Culver among the Cupid-chasers today. And this is his district. You'd better round him up."
"Culver!" Tish said. "Do you mean that—Lizzie, where's my hat?"
Well, we had to recover it again from the engine house dog, whom we found burying it in the back yard. Tish's mind, however, was far away, and she merely brushed it absently with her hand and stuck it on her head. Then she turned to Charlie Sands.
"I'm going to the license court," she said, between clenched teeth. "And I am going to show that young fool that he is not going to hide behind any petticoats today."
"It's his privilege to get married if he wants to."
"When I finish with him," said Tish, grimly, "he won't want to."
All the way to the court house Tish's lips were moving, and I knew she was rehearsing what she meant to say. I think that even then her shrewd and active mind had some foreboding of what was to come, for she called back unexpectedly to Aggie:
"Look in the right-hand pocket and see if there is a box of tacks there."
"Tacks?" said Aggie. "Why, what in the world——"
"I had tacks to nail up flags this morning. Well?"
"They are here, Tish, but no hammer."
"I shan't need a hammer," Tish replied, cryptically
I am afraid I had expected Tish to lead the way into the license court and break out into patriotic fury. But how little, after all, I knew her! Already in that wonderful brain of hers was seething the plot which was so to alter certain lives, and was to leave an officer of the law— but that comes later on.
Mr. Culver was at the desk. Just as we arrived, a clerk handed him a paper, and he walked across the room to an ice-water cooler and took a drink.
"The slacker!" said Tish, from clenched teeth. "The coward! The poltroon! The——"
At that moment Mr. Culver, with a paper cup in his hand, saw us and stared at us fixedly. The next moment he had whipped off his hat, and was coming toward us.
"Well!" he said, as he came up to us, "so it really did happen!"
Tish took a deep breath, to begin on him, but he went on blithely:
"You see, when I got back home that day, I felt it hadn't really been true. I had not gone rabbit-shooting, and found three ladies half-buried in a haystack. And of course I had not driven an automobile along a creek bed and through the old swimming hole, with my own gun levelled at my back."
Tish took another breath and opened her mouth.
"Then, the other day," he went on, smiling cheerfully, "I thought I had had a return of the hallucination, because I fancied I saw you all on a wagon. But the next moment the wagon was driving on, and you were nowhere in sight."
"That was because," said Aggie, "when the wagon started we all sat down unexpectedly, and——"
"Aggie!" Tish said, in a savage tone. "Now, young man, I want to say something to you, and I'd thank you——"
"Oh, I say!" he broke in, looking suddenly depressed, "I can see you are still down on me. But don't scold me. Please don't. Because I am a sensitive person, and you will ruin what was going to be a perfect day. I know I was wrong. I apologize. I eat my words. And now I'll leave you, because if you should vanish into thin air again I should have to go and lock myself up."
Well, with all his gaiety he did not look particularly gay, and he was rather hollow in the cheeks. I came to the conclusion that he was going to marry another young woman, partly to keep out of going to war, but partly to spite the first. I must say I felt rather sorry for him, especially when I saw the way he looked at her. Oh, yes, I picked her out at once, because she never took her eyes off him.
I didn't think she was fooled much, either, because she looked as if she needed to go off into a corner and have a good cry. Well, she got her wish later, if that was what she wanted.
But Tish is a woman of one idea. While he chattered with one eye on the girl, Tish was eyeing him coldly. At last she caught him by the arm.
"I have something to say to you, young man," she commenced. "I want to ask you what you think of any one who——"
"I beg your pardon," he interrupted, and freed his arm. "Awfully sorry. I think a young lady over there wishes to speak to me."
He left us briskly enough, but he slowed up before he got across the room. He stopped once and half turned, too, with the unhappiest face I've ever seen on a human being. Aggie was feeling in her knitting bag for the glasses.
"Is she pretty?" she asked.
"Too pretty to be a second choice," I replied, shortly. "She's a nice little thing, and deserves something better than a warmed-over heart."
Tish had been angry enough before, but when I told her that he had been disappointed in love, and was merely making the girl a tool, her eyes were savage.
"She is pretty," Aggie observed. "Perhaps, after all, he does love her. Or if not he may learn to. And he cannot be very unhappy about marrying her. He said, you know, it was a perfect day."
"Go down and get into the car," Tish said, in a choking voice. 'I'll fix his perfect day for him. Go down and start the engine."
I took a last glance as Aggie and I left the License Court, and if we had had any doubts they vanished then, because he was speaking to the girl with angry gestures, and she was certainly crying.
"Brute," Tish said, with her eyes on him. "A bully as well as a slacker. Never mind. She won't have to put up with him long. If I have any influence in this community that youth will be drafted and sent to a mud hole in France. Mark my words," she went on, settling her hat with a jerk, "that boy will be registered as a single man before this day's over. Go and start the engine, Lizzie. I daresay you remember that much."
Seeing that she had a plan, and "ours not to reason why, ours but to do and die," as Aggie frequently quotes, we went down to the street again. I was even then vaguely apprehensive, an apprehension not without reason, as it turned out. For, reaching over to start the engine, as Tish had taught me by turning a lever on the dashboard and moving up a throttle on the wheel, what was my horror to see the car moving slowly off, with Aggie in the rear seat and as white as chalk.
Tish, in her patriotic fervor, had stopped the thing in gear.
I ran beside it, but was unable to get onto the running board. I then saw Aggie, generally so timid, crawling over the back of the seat, and called to her to put on the brake. She did so, but not until the car had mounted the sidewalk and struck a policeman in the back.
This would not be worth recording, as there were no immediate results, had it not been for the policeman. It brought us to his attention, and came near to ruining Tish's plan. But of this later on.
I do not, even now, know just what arguments Tish used with Myrtle. Yes, that was her name. We had a great deal of time later on to learn her name, and all about her. The matter is a delicate one, and we have not since discussed the events of that day. But Aggie said later on, when we were sitting in the dark and wondering what to do next, that Tish had probably waited until Mr. Culver went out to look up a minister.
Whatever Tish said or did, the result was that only a short time after Aggie had jammed on the brake, they came out together, and Tish was carrying a suitcase. Myrtle was hanging back, but Tish had her by the arm.
At first she did not see us. When she did, however, she worked her way through the crowd and opened the rear door.
"Get in," she said, in an uncompromising tone.
"But I really think," said Myrtle, "that I should——"
"Get in," Tish said again, firmly. "We can talk it over later."
"But are you sure he sent for me?" she demanded, looking ready to cry again. "I think it must be a mistake. He said to wait, and he would come back as soon as——"
It was the crowd that really settled the matter, for some one yelled that the girl had been eloping and that her mother had caught her in the License Court. Most of them were men, but they called to Myrtle not to let the old lady bully her. Also one young man said that if her young man didn't come back she could have him and welcome. It frightened Myrtle, and she got into the car and asked Tish to drive away quickly.
"I know it will be in the papers," she said forlornly. "And my people think I am at a house party."
But the next moment I caught her looking at Tish's hat, and her lip quivered.
"I guess I'm nervous," she said, in a choking voice. "I had no idea it was so much trouble to get married."
Tish heard her, although she had her hands full getting the car back to the street. She said nothing until we were in the street again, and moving away slowly.
"Then you might as well settle down and be quiet," she said. "Because you are not going to be married today."
Myrtle may have suspected something before that, perhaps when she first saw Tish's hat, for she looked dazed for a moment, and then stood up in the car and yelled that she was being kidnapped. Tish threw on the gas just then, and she had to sit down, but I looked back just in time to see Mr. Culver and the policeman standing in the center of the street, gesticulating madly.
"Little fool!" Tish muttered, and bent low over the wheel.
Well, they followed us. At the top of the first hill the girl was crying hard, and there were eleven automobiles, Aggie counted, not far behind us. At the end of the next rise there were still ten. It was then that Tish, with her customary presence of mind, told us to scatter the tacks over the road behind us.
The result was that only four were to be seen when we got to the top of Graham's Hill, and they had lost time and were far away. Tish was in a terrible way. Her plan had been merely to take the girl away, because Culver belonged in her precinct and it was her business, as ordered by the government, to gather in all the slackers, matrimonial or otherwise. Then, after Culver had registered as a single man, he could, as Tish tersely observed later, either marry or go and drown himself. It was immaterial to her.
But now we were likely to be arrested for abduction, and the whole thing would get in the papers.
"Tish," Aggie begged, "do stop and put her out in the road. That Culver and the policeman are in the first car. I can see them plainly—and they can pick her up and take her back."
But Tish ignored her, and kept on. She merely asked, once, if we had any scissors with us, and on Aggie finding a pair in her knitting bag, said to get them out and have them ready.
I pause here for a moment to reflect on Tish's resourcefulness. How many times, in the years of our association, has her active brain come to our rescue in trying times? And, once the danger is over, how quickly she becomes again one of us, busy with her charities, her Sunday school class, and her knitting for the poor! Indomitable spirit and Christian soul, her only fault, if any, perhaps a slight lack of humor, that is Letitia Carberry.
"Watch for a barbed wire fence, Lizzie," she said, as we flew along. "And see how near they are."
Well, they were very close, but owing to Tish leaving the macadam at this point, they lost time at a cross-roads. At the top of the next hill Aggie said she could not see anything of them. It was then that Myrtle tried to jump out, and would have succeeded had not Tish speeded up the car.
I could hear Aggie trying to soothe her, and telling her that Tish was not insane, but was merely saving her from a terrible fate.
"I have never been married, my dear, owing to an unfortunate circumstance," she said, in her gentle voice. "But to marry without love——"
The girl sat up, startled.
"But how do you know I don't love him?" she demanded.
"I am speaking of the young man," said Aggie. "My dear child, all over this great land of ours today, here and there are wretches who would use a confiding young woman in order——"
"Barbed wire!" said Tish exultantly, and stopped the car with a jerk. In an instant she was out in the road, cutting lengths of barbed wire from a fence with the scissors and placing them across the road behind us. Her expression was set and tense. When she had placed some six pieces of wire in position, she returned to the car.
"We can thank the war for that," she observed, coolly. "As long as the barbed wire fences hold out they'll never get us."
The first car was in sight by that time, and we could see that Mr. Culver and the policeman were in it. They shouted with joy when they saw us, but Tish merely smiled, and let in the clutch. Soon after we heard a series of small explosions, and Tish observed that the enemy attack was checked against our barbed wire, and that she reckoned we could hold the position indefinitely.
Aggie looked back and reported that they were both out of the car, and that the policeman was standing on one foot and hopping up and down.
It had been Tish's intention, as I learned later, merely to take the young woman for a country ride, and there to strive to instill into her the weakness and folly of being married by Mr. Culver as an exemption plea. But as we had been making forty-five miles an hour by the speedometer, there had been little opportunity.
However, as the last car was now standing on four rims in the barbed wire entanglement behind us, and as Tish's farm was not far ahead, she improved the occasion with a short but highly patriotic speech, flung over her shoulder.
"I don't believe it," said Myrtle, sullenly. "He loves me. We only ran away today instead of some other day later because my father is leading the parade in my town, and mother is presenting a flag at the schoolhouse."
"Very well," said Tish. "If he loves you, well and good. When your young man has registered, I'll see that you get married, if I have to kidnap a preacher to do it. But I'll tell you right now, I don't think you'll be getting anything worth having."
Well, Myrtle grew quieter then, and I heard Aggie saying Miss Tish never made a promise she could not fulfill. She then told about Mr. Wiggins, and had just reached the place where he had slipped on the eve of his wedding and fallen off a roof, when the car stopped dead.
Tish pushed a few things on the dashboard, but it only hiccoughed twice and then stopped breathing.
"No gasoline!" she exclaimed, in a rage. "We'll have to run for it."
The farmhouse was in sight now, about a half mile ahead. Aggie groaned, but got out and turned to Myrtle. But Myrtle was sitting back in the car with a gleam of triumph in her eyes.
"Certainly not" she said calmly.
"Very well," Tish replied. "I don't know but you are just as well where you are. That last car is done for, if I know anything about barbed wire, and they're not likely to chase a machine on foot. They're probably on their way back to town now, and I hope the policeman has to hop all the way. It's only forty miles or so."
She then started up the road, but turned:
"Bring her suitcase, Lizzie," she said. "There's no use leaving it there for tramps to come along and steal it."
She then stalked majestically up the road, and we followed. I am not a complaining woman, but if that girl had left any clothes at home they couldn't have amounted to much. Aggie refused to help with the suitcase, as she had her knitting bag, and as any exertion in summer brings on her hay fever.
It was perhaps five minutes later that I heard a faint call behind me, and turned to see Myrtle coming along behind. She was not crying now, and her mouth was shut tight.
"I suppose," she said angrily, "that it does not matter if tramps get me."
"Miss Tish invited you to the farm," I replied.
"Invited!" she snapped. "If this is what she calls an invitation, I'd hate to have her make it a request."
However, she seemed to be really a very nice girl, although misguided, for she took one end of the suitcase. But I learned then how difficult it is for the average mind to grasp the high moral purpose and lofty conception of a woman like Tish.
"I might as well tell you now," she said, "that I don't believe they'll pay any large sum. They're not going to be very keen about me at home, since this elopement business."
"Who'll pay what sum?"
"The ransom," she said, impatiently. "You don't suppose I fell for all that patriotic stuff, do you?"
I could only stare at her in dumb rage.
"At first, of course," she said, "I thought you were white slavers. But I've got it now. The other game is different. Oh, I may come from a small town, but I'm not unsophisticated. You people didn't send my father those black hand letters he's been getting lately, I suppose?"
"Tish!" I called sharply.
But Tish had stopped and was listening intently. Suddenly she said:
There was a sort of pounding noise somewhere behind, and Aggie screeched that it was the Knowleses' bull loose on the road. I thought it quite likely, and as we had once had a very unpleasant time with it, spending the entire night in the Knowleses' pig pen, with the animal putting his horns through the chinks every now and then, I dropped the suitcase and ran. Myrtle ran too, and we reached the farmhouse in safety.
It was then that we realized that the sound was the pursuing car, bumping along slowly on four flat tires. Tish shut and bolted the door, and as the windows were closed with wooden frames, nailed on, we were then in darkness. We could hear the runabout, however, thudding slowly up the drive, and the voices of Mr. Culver and the policeman as they tried the door and the window shutters.
Tish stood just inside the door, and Myrtle was just beside me. Aggie had collapsed on a hall chair. I have, I think, neglected to say that the farmhouse was furnished. Tish's mother used to go out there every summer, and she was a great woman for being comfortable.
At last Mr. Culver came to the front door and spoke through it.
"Hello, inside there!" he called, in a furious voice. As no one replied, he then banged at the door, and from the sound I fancy the policeman was hammering also, with his mace.
"Open, in the name of the law!" bellowed the policeman.
"Stop that racket," Tish replied sternly. "Or I shall fire."
Of course she had no weapon, but they did not know this. We could hear Mr. Culver telling the policeman to keep back, as he knew us, and we had any other set of desperadoes he had ever heard of beaten for recklessness with a gun.
There was a moment's silence, during which I heard Aggie's knitting needles going furiously. She learned to knit by touch once when she had iritis and was obliged to finish a slumber robe in time for Tish's birthday. So the darkness did not trouble her, and I knew she was knitting to compose herself.
Tish then stood inside the door, and delivered through it one of the most inspiring patriotic speeches I have ever heard. She spoke of our long tolerance, while the world waited. Then of the decision, and the call to arms. She said that the sons of the Nation were rising that day in their might.
"But," she finished, "there are some among us who would shirk, would avoid the high and lofty duty. There are some who would profane the name of love, and hide behind it to save their own cowardly skins. To these ignoble ones there is but one course left-open. Go. Put your name on the roster of your country as a free man, unmarried and without impediments of any sort. Then return and these doors will fly open before the magic of a blue card."
It was at that time, we learned later, that the policeman, who was but a rough and untutored type, decided that Tish was insane—how often, alas, is genius thus mistaken!—and started off for the Knowles farm to bring help. Mr. Culver made no reply to Tish's speech, and we learned later had gone away in the midst of it. Later on he was reported by Aggie, who looked out from an upper window, to be sitting under the chestnut tree where he had once rescued Tish's black alpaca skirt, sulking and watching.
Tish then went up and spoke to him from the window.
"See here," she said angrily, "do you think that I did not mean what I said through that door?"
He had the audacity to yawn.
"I didn't hear all of it," he said. "But judging from what I know of you, I daresay you meant it. Would you mind tossing me a tin cup or some thing to drink out of?"
"You are not going back to town to register, then?"
"It's early," he replied, coolly. "If you mean do I intend to walk back, I do not. I shall wait for the Sheriff and the posse."
It was then that Tish saw the policeman crossing a field toward the Knowles farm and she tried to reason with the young man. But he dropped his pretence of indifference, and would not even listen to her.
"I've only one thing to say," he said, fiercely. "You be careful of that young lady. As to whether I register or not, that's my business and has nothing to do with the case. When you open that door and send her out, with four good tires to take the place of the ones you ruined, I'll talk to you, and not before."
He then got up and walked away, and Tish came downstairs and lighted a candle with hands that shook with rage. We had heard the entire conversation, and in the candlelight I could see that Aggie was as white as wax.
Well, the situation was really desperate, but Tish's face forbade questions. Aggie ventured to observe that perhaps it would be better to unlock the door and release the girl, but Tish only gave her a ferocious glance.
"I am doing my duty," she said, firmly. "I have done nothing for which the law can punish me. If a young lady comes willingly into my car for a ride, as you did"—she turned sharply to Myrtle—"and if a young fool chooses to sit in my front yard instead of registering to serve his country, it is not my fault. As a matter of fact, I can probably have him arrested for trespass."
As I have said, the farmhouse is still furnished with Tish's mother's things. She was a Biggs, and all the things the Biggses had not wanted for sixty years were in the house. So at least we had chairs to sit on, and if we had only had water, for we were all thirsty from excitement and dust, we could have been fairly comfortable, although Myrtle complained bitterly of thirst.
"And I want to wash," she said fretfully. "If I could wash I'd change my blouse and look like something."
"For whom?" Tish demanded. "For that slacker outside?"
Suddenly Myrtle laughed. She had been in tears for so long that it surprised us. We all stared at her, but she seemed to get worse and worse.
"She's hysterical, poor child," Aggie said, feeling for her smelling salts. "I don't know that I blame her, Tish. No one knows better than I do what it is to expect to be married, and then find the divine hand of Providence intervening."
But Myrtle suddenly walked over to Aggie and, stooping, kissed her on the top of her right ear.
"You dear thing!" she said. "I still don't get all the idea, but I don't much care if I don't. I haven't had so much excitement since I ran away from boarding school."
She then straightened and looked at Tish. It was clear that her feeling for dear Tish was still vague, but was rather more of respect than of love.
"As for the—the young man outside," she said,"I seem to gather that he hasn't registered, and that I am not to marry him until he has. Very well. I hadn't thought about it before, but that speech of yours—suppose you tell him that I won't marry him until he has a—a magic blue card. I should like to see his face."
But Tish is a woman of delicacy, and she suggested that Myrtle do it herself, from an upper window. I went up with her, and we found Mr. Culver again under the tree. The conversation ran like this:
Mrytle, (looking very pretty indeed but very firm): Look here, I—I've decided not to marry you.
Mr. Culver (rousing suddenly and staring up at her): I beg your pardon!
Mrytle: I know now that I was making a terrible mistake. No matter how much I care for you, I cannot marry a slacker.
Mr. C. (furiously angry and glaring at her): You know better than that!
Mrytle: Not at all. Can you deny that you haven't registered yet?
Mr. C.: What's that got to do with it? I daresay I'm losing my mind. It wouldn't be much wonder if I have. When I think of the way I've suffered lately—look at me!
Mrytle (in a somewhat softened voice): Have you really suffered?
Mr. C.: I? Good Lord, Myrtle—why, I haven't slept for weeks. I——
But here he stopped, with his eyes fixed on the roof overhead.
"Watch out!" he yelled. "Get back. Myrtle, she'll fall on you."
"Not at all," said Tish's calm voice from over head. There was a rasping sound, and then a long wire fell past the window. "Now," she called triumphantly, "let your policeman telephone for the Sheriff and a posse! That was a party wire, and that farmhouse over there is on it. There isn't another telephone for ten miles."
Well, I looked around for Myrtle, and she was on the guest room bed, face down.
"Oh," she groaned, "I wouldn't have missed it for a trip to Europe. And his face! Miss Lizzie, did you see his face?" She then got up suddenly and put her arms around me. "I'm simply madly happy, Miss Lizzie," she said. "I have to kiss somebody, and since he—may I kiss you?"
Well, of course I allowed her to, but I was surprised. It was not natural, somehow.
Myrtle came down soon after and said that Mr. Culver was bringing some water from the well, and would he be allowed to come in with it? But Tish was firm on this point. She gave her consent, however, to his leaving the pail on the porch and then retiring to the chestnut tree. He did so, whistling to signify that he was at a safe distance, and I then carried it in.
"I say," he called to me when he saw me, "this situation is getting on my nerves. I carried off that policeman, for one thing. He was on duty."
"You needn't stay here."
"I daresay not," he replied rather bitterly. "But what I want to ask is this: Won't it be deucedly unpleasant for you three, when I report that you deliberately put my car out of commission so I could not get back by nine o'clock to register? Of course," he went on, "a box of tacks may have spilled itself on the road, but I never heard of a barbed wire fence trying to crawl across a road and getting run over, like a snake."
I reported this to Tish, and I saw that she was uneasy, although she merely remarked that he still had two legs, and that she had not asked him to follow us. All she had set out to do was to see that he didn't get married before he registered, and she was doing that to the best of her ability. The rest was his affair.
It was six o'clock by that time, and Tish had had nothing to eat since five in the morning, and none of us had had any luncheon. Although a woman who thinks little or nothing of food, I found her, shortly afterwards, in the pantry, looking into jars. There was nothing, however, except some salt, a little baking powder and a pack age of dried sage. But Aggie, going to an attic window to look for the policeman, discovered about a quart of flour in a barrel up there, and scraping it out, brought it down.
"I might bake some biscuits, Tish," she suggested. "I feel that I'll have to have some nourishment. I'm so weak that my knees shake."
"Myrtle," Tish said abruptly, with that quick decision so characteristic of her, "you might tell that worthless young man of yours to look in the granary. Sometimes the Knowleses' hens come over here, and I daresay they've eaten enough off the place to pay for the eggs."
But Myrtle, after a conference from the window, reported that Mr. Culver had said he would get the eggs, if there were any, on condition that he get his pro rata share of them.
"If there are ten eggs," she said, "he wants two. And if there is an odd number he claims the odd one."
This irritated Tish, but at last she grudgingly consented. In a short time, therefore, Mr. Culver knocked at the kitchen door.
"I am leaving," he said, "eleven eggs, eight of undoubted respectability, two questionable, and one that I should advise opening into a saucer first. Also some corn meal from the granary. And if you will set out a pail and come after me if I am wounded, I shall go after a cow that I see in yon sylvan vale."
His voice was strangely cheerful, but, indeed, the prospect of food had cheered us all, although I could see that Tish was growing more and more anxious, as time went on and no policeman appeared in the Knowleses' machine. However, we worked busily. Myrtle, building a fire and setting the table with the Biggses' dishes., and Aggie making biscuits, without shortening, while Tish stirred the corn meal mush.
"Many a soldier in the trenches," she said, "would be grateful for such a frugal meal. When one reflects that the total cost of mush and milk is but a trifle——"
Here, however, we were interrupted by Mr. Culver outside. He spoke in gasps and we heard the pail clatter to the porch floor.
"I regretfully report——" he said, through the keyhole. "No milk. Wrong sex. Sorry."
Ten of the eggs proving good, we placed two of them on a plate with three biscuits and a bowl of mush, and Tish carried it out, placing it on the floor of the porch, much as she would have set it out for the dog.
"Here," she called. "And when you have finished you might go after that accomplice of yours. He's probably asleep somewhere."
"Dear lady," said Mr. Culver, "I would, but I dare not. A fiery creature, breathing fury from its nostrils, is abroad and——"
But Tish came in and slammed the door.
It was after supper that we missed Tish. She was nowhere in the house, and the kitchen door, which had been bolted, was unlocked. Aggie wrung her hands, but Myrtle was quite calm.
"I shouldn't worry about her," she said. "She's about as well able to cake care of herself as any woman I ever saw."
It was now quite dark, and our fears increased. But soon afterwards Tish came in. She went to the stove and pouring out a cup of hot water, drank it in silence. Then she said:
"I've been to the Knowleses'. The dratted idiots are all away, probably to the schoolhouse, registering. The car's gone, and the house is closed."
"And the policeman?" I asked.
"I didn't see him," said Tish. But she did not look at me. She fell to pacing up and down the kitchen, deep in thought.
"What time is it, Lizzie?" she asked.
Here Tish gave what in another woman would have been a groan.
"It's raining," she observed, and fell to pacing again. At last she told me to follow her outside, and I went, feeling that she had at last made a decision. Her attitude throughout her period of cogitation had been not unlike that of Napoleon before Waterloo. There were the same bent head and clasped hands, the same melancholy mixed with determination.
Mr. Culver was sitting under his tree, with his coat collar turned up around his neck. Tish stopped and surveyed him with gentle dignity.
"You may enter the house," she said. "The country will gain nothing by your having pneumonia, although personally I am indifferent. And, after thinking over your case, I have come to this decision." She paused, as for oratorical effect. "I shall deliver you to your registration precinct by nine o'clock," she said impressively, "and immediately after that, I shall see that you two are married. I am not young," she went on, "and perhaps I do not think enough of sentiment. But it shall never be said of me that I parted two loving hearts, one of which may, before the snow flies, be still and pulseless in a foreign grave."
She then, still with that new air of melancholy majesty, led me to the barn, leaving him staring.
It was there, by means of a key hanging round her neck, that Letitia Carberry, great hearted woman and patriot that she is, bared her inner heart to me. In the barn was a large and hand some ambulance, with large red crosses on side and top, which she had offered to the government if she might drive it herself. But the government which she was even then so heroically serving had refused her permission, and Tish had buried her disappointment in the bucolic solitude of her farm.
Such, in brief, was Tish's tragic secret.
"I shall take it in to the city tonight, Lizzie," she said heavily. "And tomorrow I shall present it to the Red Cross. Some other hand than mine will steer it through shot and shell, and ultimately into Berlin. It has everything. There's a soup compartment and—well," she finished, "it is doing its work even tonight. Get in."
We found Aggie on the porch, having with her usual delicacy of feeling left the lovers alone in side. When she saw the Ambulance, however, she fell to sneezing violently, crying out between paroxysms that if Tish was going to the war, she was also. But Tish hushed her sternly.
There was a good engine in the Ambulance. Tish said she had ordered a fast one, because it was often necessary to run between shells, as it were. She then shoved on the gas as far as it would go, and we were off. After a time, finding it impossible to sit on the folding seats inside, we all sat on the floor, and I believe Mr. Culver held Myrtle's hand all of the way.
He said little, beyond observing once that he felt a trifle queer about leaving the policeman, who had been on duty when he picked him up at the Court House, and who was now lost some forty-five miles from home, in a strange land.
I am glad, in this public manner, to correct the report that on the evening of June fifth a German Zeppelin made a raid over our country, and that the wounded were hurried to the city in a Red Cross Ambulance, traveling at break-neck speed.
At nine o'clock Mr. Culver was registered at Engine House number eleven, fourteenth ward, third precinct.
At nine-fifteen Mr. Culver and Myrtle were married at the same address by Mr. Ostermaier, standing in front of the fire truck.
But this should be related in detail. So bitter was Charlie Sands, so uneasy about the license, and so on, that I feel in fairness to Tish that I should relate exactly what happened.
At ten o'clock that night everything was over, and we had gathered in Tish's apartment while Hannah broiled a steak, for Tish felt that the occasion permitted a certain extravagance, when Charlie Sands came in. Behind him was a dishevelled young man, with wild eyes and a suitcase. Charlie Sands stood and glared at us.
"Well!" he said. And then: "Where's the young lady?"
"What young lady?" asked Tish, coldly.
The young man stepped forward, with his fists clenched.
"Mine!" he bellowed. "Mine! Don't deny it. I recognize you. I saw you—the lot of you. I saw you drag her into a car and kidnap her. I saw that ass Culver and a policeman chasing you in another car. Oh, I know you, all right. Didn't I pay twenty-two dollars for a taxicab that got three punctures all at once thirty miles from the city? Now where is she?"
"Just a moment," said Tish's nephew, holding him back by an arm across his chest. "Just remember that whatever my aunt has done was done with the best intentions."
"D—— her intentions! I want Myrtle."
The dreadful truth must have come to Tish at that moment, as it did to the rest of us. I know that she turned pale. But she rose and pointed magnificently to the door.
"Leave my apartment," she said majestically. And to Charlie Sands: "Take that madman away and lock him up. Then, if you have anything to say to me, come back alone."
"Not a step," said the young man. "Where's my marriage license? Where's——"
But Charlie Sands pushed him out into the hallway and closed the door on him. Then, with folded arms he surveyed us.
"That's right!" he said. "Knot! I believe most pirates knit on off days. Now, Aunt Letitia, I want the whole story."
"About the license. He says the girl had the license."
"Don't evade!" he said sternly. "Where were you this afternoon?"
"If you want the truth," said Tish, "although it's none of your business, Charlie Sands, and you can unfold your arms, because the pose has no effect on me,—I was out rounding up a young man who had not registered. I got him and brought him in to my precinct at five minutes to nine."
"And that's the truth?"
"Go and ask Mr. Ostermaier," said Tish, in a bored tone.
"But this boy outside——"
"Look here," Tish said suddenly, "go and ask that noisy young idiot for his blue card. It's my belief he hasn't registered and more than likely he's been making all this fuss so he'll have an excuse if he's found out. How do we know," she went on, gaining force with each word, "that there is a Myrtle?"
"By George!" said Charlie Sands, and disappeared.
It was then, for the first time in her valiant life, that I saw our Tish weaken.
"Lizzie!" she groaned, leaning back in her chair. "That Culver was married with another man's name on the license. What's more, I married him to that flibbertygibbet who had just jilted him. What have I done? Oh, what have I done?"
"They both seemed happy, Tish," I tried to soothe her. But she refused all consolation, and merely called Hannah and asked for some blackberry cordial. She drank fully half a tumbler full and she recovered her poise by the time Charlie Sands stuck his head through the door again.
"You're right, most shrewd of aunts," he said. "He's been playing me for a sucker all right. Not a blue card on him! And he belongs out of town, so it's too late."
"It's a jail matter," said Tish, knitting calmly, although we afterwards discovered that she had put a heel on the wristlet she was making. "You'd better get his name, and I'll notify the sheriff of his county in the morning."
Charlie Sands came over to her and stood looking down at her.
"Aunt Tish," he said. "I believe you. I believe you firmly. I shall not even ask about a young man named Culver, who went to get our marriage license list at the Court House this afternoon and has not been seen since. But I want to bring a small matter to your attention. That policeman had not registered."
He then turned and went toward the door.
"But I did, dear Aunt Letitia," he said and was gone.
Tish came to see me the next afternoon, bringing the paper, which contained a glowing account of her gift to the local Red Cross of a fine ambulance. An editorial comment spoke of her public spirit, which for so many years had made her a conspicuous figure in all civic work.
"The city," it finished, "can do with many like our Miss 'Tish' Carberry."
But Tish showed no exultation. She sat in a rocking chair and rocked slowly.
"Read the next editorial, Lizzie," she said, in a low voice.
I have it before me now, cut out rather raggedly, for I confess I was far from calm when I did it.
"A SHAMEFUL INCIDENT.
"Perhaps nothing has so exposed this city to criticism as the conduct of Officer Flinn, as shown in a news item in our columns exclusively. Officer Flinn has been five years on the police force of this city. He has until now borne an excellent record. But he did not register yesterday, and on limping into the Central Station this morning told a story manifestly intended to indicate temporary insanity and thus still further disqualify him for the service of his country. His statement of seeing three elderly women kidnap a young girl from in front of the Court House, his further statement of following the kidnappers far into the country, with a young man he cannot now produce, is sufficiently outrageous.
"But, not satisfied with this, the inventive ex-officer went further and added a night in a pig-pen, constantly threatened by a savage bull, and a journey of forty-five miles on foot when, early this morning, the animal retired for a belated sleep!
"Representatives of this paper, investigating this curious situation, found the farmhouse which Officer Flinn described as being the den of the kidnappers and which he stated he had left in a state of siege, the bandits and their victim within and the young man who had accompanied the officer, without. Needless to say, nothing bore out his story. A young married couple, named Culver, who are spending their honeymoon there, knew nothing of the circumstances, although stating that they believed that a neighboring family possessed a belligerent bull.
"It is a regrettable fact that the only scandal which marred a fine and patriotic outburst of national feeling yesterday should have involved the city organization. Is it not time that loyal citizens demand an investigation into——"
"Never mind the rest, Lizzie," Tish said wearily. "I suppose I'll have to get him something to do, but I don't know what, unless I employ him to follow me around and arrest me when I act like a dratted fool."
She sighed, and rocked slowly.
"Another thing, Lizzie," she said. "I don't know but what Aggie was right about Charlie Sands. I've been thinking it over, and I guess it was evening, for I remember seeing a new moon just before he came, and wishing he would be a girl. But I guess I was too late. If I'd known about this war, I'd have wished it sooner. I'm a broken woman, Lizzie," she finished.
She put on her hat wrong side before, but I had not the heart to tell her, and went away.
However, late that evening she called me up, and her voice was not the voice of a broken creature.
"I thought you might like to come over, Lizzie," she said. "That woman below has told the janitor she is going to pour ammonia water down on my tomato plants tonight, and I am making a few small preparations."