St. Nicholas/Volume 41/Number 1/The Runaway

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Charter I

THE WALLET

TWO boys were driving along a wooded road. It was June, in the heart of Massachusetts, and even in the shade of the tall trees, the air was so warm that the lads had laid off their jackets, and were enjoying the comfort of their outing shirts.

While the passenger talked, the driver listened. Silent though he was, his quick eye glanced constantly along the roadside, through the woods, or up and down the vista of the road. Yet from time to time his glance came back, inquiringly, to the lad at his side. At each glance, he appraised something in the other: the silk stockings, the patent-leather belt, the heavy gold fob, the fine texture of the shirt, or the handsome scarf-pin. All of these were in contrast to his own costume, which was plainer and simpler. At each glance, also, the driver swept his eye across the other’s face, noting afresh the narrow chin, the loose lips, the nose a little upturned, and the brown, self-satisfied, inattentive eyes.

The talker drew out a little silver case. “A cigarette, Pelham?”

“No, thanks,” said the other,

His companion, with a cigarette between his lips, looked at him sidewise, shrewdly. “Would n't you like to, though?”

Pelham laughed, but gave no other answer.

The other persisted: “Your father won't let you?” He began to light his cigarctte.

“He 'd scalp me,” answered Pelham, still smiling.

The other grew serious. “That ’s perfect tyranny” he declared. “And it ’s entirely out of date for fellows nowadays.”

“Hold on!” said Pelham. “He would n’t scalp me for smoking, but for breaking my promise.”

“Good heavens!” cried his companion. “Why should you promise such a thing?” But Pelham merely smiled, not even changing expression at the taunt, “Country!” He did, however, the next moment, quickly draw rein, stop the horse, and leap from the runabout. Going back for a few yards, he searched a moment by the side of the road, stamped vigorously, and then returned to the carriage.

The other looked at him in surprise. “Did you go back just to put out my match?”

“It needed it,” was the answer. “You 'd better learn right now, Brian, that you can’t do anything much more dangerous than that. When you throw away that cigarette, be sure to throw it in the middle of the road.”

“You say it 's dangerous?” asked Brian, incredulous.

“We have n't had rain for nearly a month,” explained Pelham. “It threatens to be another dry summer. The old leaves are as dry as tinder, and a fire might sweep for miles. That ’s one thing,” he added, “that a city fellow never considers.”

Brian reared his head as if his pride was touched. “We can't know everything,” he responded. “I suppose I ’d have been taught that in this little town where we 've been buying supplies. You seem to think it quite a place, but it ’s little bigger than your own village.”

“About ten times bigger,” remarked Pelham.

“Nothing to buy there,” scoffed Brian. “I saw nothing to make me take out my roll.”

“What do you mean by this roll that you talk so much about?” asked Pelham. “I thought it was understood that your father was to give you no more than my allowance, five dollars a month.”

“Just the same,” laughed Brian, “was it agreed that I was to come without money? It ’s all very well, Pelly, my boy, limiting myself down to your scale of living. Thanks to that robbery, my European trip is spoiled, and Father has to spend the summer in the city. Even Mother is visiting about. So if I 'm to live here with you people, it 's right that I should n’t bring my luxurious habits to corrupt Uncle Rob’s simple country household. Mind you, I don’t think that Uncle is right. He can do nothing to stop the march of progress proper to people of our class. And I think it will work out wrong for you in the long run. When you get to college, Pelham, and meet the fellows that have money—well, never mind. But, at any rate, for this summer I ’ll keep within the same allowance as you do.”

Pelham had listened quietly. The other had not watched his face, or he would have noticed the eyes growing more and more serious, the mouth more and more firm. At the end, he asked, in a voice that was perfectly level, “But the roll?”

Brian reached into his pocket, and, drawing out a wallet, displayed within it layer upon layer of bank-bills. “Why, how you stare!” he mocked. “Has Cousin Pelham never seen so much before?”

But Pelham was not staring. A little line, the beginning of a frown, showed between his eye-brows. Little prickles ran up his neck, a strange sensation of anger at this defiance of his father.

“Don’'t let Father see it!”’ he warned.

“What if he did?” asked Brian, flushing.

“I guess,” his cousin answered, “that either you or the money would go straight back to the city.”

“If he did that,” began Brian, hotly, “then my father—” He checked himself. “My mother, I mean—" He stopped entirely.

Pelham smiled with sudden amusement. “So Aunt Annie gave you the money! Well, Brian, keep it to yourself, that ’s all.”

Brian slipped the wallet into his pocket. “No fear,” he remarked. “There is n’t anything to spend it on here, anyway. If I had Father’s auto here, I could run you over to Springfield in a couple of hours, and give you some fun.”

“Your father lets you run his big auto?” asked Pelham, with a slight accent of surprise.

Brian looked away. “I can run it,” he answered. “But, Pelham,” he asked quickly, “does n’t your father ever let you handle money? He ought to get you used to it.”

“Oh, I 'm used to it,” replied Pelham. ‘“More than once I ’ve carried three thousand dollars, all in bills, right in my inside pocket.”

“What for?” said Brian, surprised in his turn.

“For the pay-roll,” explained Pelham. “Some of our men at the mills get as high as thirty dollars a week, and all of them are paid above the average of ordinary mill-workers. The money comes over this road every Saturday, and—"

“Over this road!” interrupted Brian. He glanced up and down the lonely road, running through unbroken woods. “Why, a robbery would be easy!”

“Not with Father or Brother Bob carrying the money!” There was a ring of pride in Pelham's voice. “They ’re known to be pretty handy with the revolver. Bob brought over the stuff this morning.”

“But what have you to do with the money?” asked Brian.

“Oh, sometimes when they 're very busy in the office, Father sends me home with it, and Mother and Harriet and I make up the pay envelops. Or Harriet and I do it alone; she ’s mighty clever about it. And then I take the envelops back to the mill. It ’s only a couple of hundred yards.”

“Only a couple of hundred yards!” scoffed Brian. “It was only twenty-five feet across the alleyway from the bank to the side door of Father’s office, but the messenger lost twenty thousand dollars there last month in just three seconds!”

“It was hard,” murmured Pelham, sympathetically.

“It meant no Europe for me,” grumbled Brian. “And Mother ’s given up her limousine, and Father has no summer vacation. I tell you, Pelham, if you lived in the city, you 'd never dare take such risks with your money. Why, I don’t go fifty feet in a crowded street without touching myself to see if my money is safe.” Brian put his hand to his hip, started, stared, felt wildly inside the pocket, then cried:

“The wallet is gone!”

Pelham stopped the horse. “Look under your feet,” he suggested.

But Brian was already searching frantically among the bundles that had reposed beneath the seat. “It ’s not here!” he cried, after a minute, “Pelham, we must go back. It must have fallen out!”

“Jump out and walk back,” directed Pelham, “I’ll turn and follow.”

Presently they were going slowly back, the one walking, the other in the wagon, both looking carefully in the middle of the road and on both sides. But the wallet was not found.

“We ’ve not missed it,” stated Pelham, presently. “And we ’ve passed the place where you had it in your hand.”

“Just around this next bend,” said Brian.

“It was in your hand as we turned the curve,” asserted Pelham.

“No,” insisted Brian, “I must look!”

They went, therefore, around the bend, Brian first, Pelham after. And there, in the middle of the road, stood a lad no older than themselves, intently examining something which he held in his hand. He was more than half turned away from them, and his face they could not see.

Instinctively Brian trod softly; and Pelham, stopping the horse, leaped silently to the ground and glided to his cousin’s side. On tiptoe they approached the boy, until they could see what he held. It was, unmistakably, a wallet.

He caught the sound of their steps, and thrust the wallet into his pocket. Then he turned. He was startled to find strangers so close upon him, and threw his head high, while his nostrils distended with his sudden gasp. But he stood his ground. Pelham felt the swift impression of the wiry, well-knit frame; the clothes, not ragged, yet apparently torn by briers; the crop of fair and well-trimmed hair, not guarded by a cap; and the high forehead; but all these he merely glimpsed, for almost immediately his attention was riveted by the stranger’s eye, alert and inquiring, yet curiously gentle. The boy was looking at Brian.

Brian rushed at him. “Give me that!”

The brown eye snapped, the nostrils opened wider, and the stranger stopped Brian with a rigid arm. As if instantly measuring him, and while holding him in play, the lad looked past Brian at Pelham, to see what threatened from him.

The eye was like that of a deer, which looks for kindness even when at bay. In spite of the frown and the set jaw, the eye was liquid, almost girlish in its appeal. Yet this was only for a moment. For Brian, grappling at the arm that held him off, cried, “Take him, Pelly!” and Pelham, unwillingly yet loyally responding, moved to take the stranger from the other side.

Then the softness vanished from the eye; it flashed dark lightning, the wiry frame bent and then snapped erect—and between Pelham and the stranger sprawled Brian, face downward in the dust.

For a moment the lad confronted Pelham; then suddenly he turned and plunged into the woods.

Pelham, leaping over his cousin, followed instantly, although a grudging admiration checked the fierceness of a true pursuit. At the third leap, he found himself amid a thicket of birches, through which the stranger had already passed. Another stride, and he tripped. As he narrowly saved himself from falling, and staggered against a tree before he could recover his balance, he saw that his chance of success was gone. The stranger had vanished behind a screen of scrub-pine, and not a sound floated back to tell of his course. Pelham returned to the road.

Brian was just rising to his feet, making unseemly sounds as he cleared his mouth of dust. “You lost him!” he accused.

“So did you,” responded Pelham. Sudden amusement seizing him at the sight of his cousin’s angry, dirty face, he turned quickly to the horse. Brian kept at his side.

“Ptoo!” he spluttered. “All dirt! Turn the horse around! Ptah! We ’ll give the alarm at the village.” In another minute, they were spinning homeward. “Faster!” urged Brian.

“We can’t keep a faster pace than this,” answered Pelham. He listened in silence to his cousin’s denunciations, until Brian grew peevish for lack of a response. “Look here,” he demanded. “That fellow has my money. Don’t you care?”

Pelham was thinking. “Brian,” he asked, “are you sure you put your wallet in your pocket before we passed that turn?”

“What if I did n’t?” returned Brian. “He could have found it at this side of the bend, and dodged out of sight.”

“Yes,” answered Pelham. “But where could he have come from? He could n’t have overtaken us, coming on foot. He certainly did n’t come this way. I should have seen him if he had been sitting by the road. And as for his coming through the woods, why, there ’s scarcely a path or a farm or a clearing from the railroad, ten miles north of this strip of road, to river, eight miles south.”

“What of it?” demanded Brian. “The thing to do is to catch him. I tell you to hurry.”

“We ’re going as fast as we can,” returned Pelham. “And as for catching him, it depends entirely on the direction that he takes. He may swing toward Nate’s farm, and if he comes out there, we ’ve as good as got him already. But if he keeps to the west of it, we ’ll have to turn out the whole town in order to catch him.”

“Then we ’ll turn out the town!” declared Brian.

Pelham asked, “What are you going to say about the money?”

Brian was checked, but only for a moment. “I ’ll say that there was five dollars in the wallet.”

“You won’t get up much interest in that,” remarked Pelham.

“Well, then,” declared Brian, “I ’ll catch that fellow, even if I have to tell the truth. There was a hundred and seventy-five in the wallet.”

Pelham whistled. ‘“That ’s worth offering a reward for. We can turn out the boys and even the mill-hands on the strength of that. They ’re all free on Saturday afternoon.”

They drove on for a while in silence. The road wound slowly upward until, reaching the “height of land,” it paused for a moment before its descent, and gave a single view of a round valley, in the center of which lay a village. Then once more the travelers, descending, were among trees.

“Brian,” ventured Pelham at length, consoling, “that ’s a pretty big loss.”

Brian answered sharply: “Don’t speak about it.”

Pelham looked at him in surprise. Brian was sitting huddled together, with both his hands in his pockets. His face was red, and he did not look at his cousin.

“Oh, very well,” said Pelham, slowly. The uncertainties of his cousin’s temper irritated him, but he reminded himself that Brian’s loss was heavy, and that his fall in the road must have shaken him roughly. He said no more, therefore, but drove on until the woods gave way to fields, and the village lay in sight,

It was a typical New England town, spread on both sides of a narrow stream which, from its depth and swiftness, almost merited the name of river. The road crossed it near the woods, and met it again in the center of the village, where the best houses of the place were spaced at generous intervals. From one opening in the houses and trees could be seen, not far away, a collection of long, stone buildings, the mills of Pelham’s father. Finest of all the houses of the village stood the Dodd homestead, likewise of stone, square, and solid, and simple. It stood well back from the street, amid lawns, shrubberies, and flowers. Beyond it showed glimpses of a wide mill-pond. Pelham turned the horse in at the gate, and drove toward the house. There, seeing his father sitting upon the piazza, Pelham stopped the horse, and spoke.

“Father,” he said, “back here in the woods Brian dropped his wallet from the carriage, and when we went back for it, we found that a boy, one that I never saw before, had picked it up. He got away from us, and ran into the woods.”

Mr. Dodd rose and came to the railing. He was a man of middle height, stockily built, and with a short, grizzled beard. His keen eyes looked at his nephew. “How much money did you lose?”’

“Only five dollars,” answered Brian.

Pelham looked at him quickly. Brian, still uncomfortably slumped in his seat, did not look up to meet his uncle’s eye.

“Don’t feel so badly about it,” said Mr. Dodd. “Perhaps we can make it up to you.”

“Oh, no!” protested Brian. His face, under Pelham’s gaze, slowly reddened deeply.

“We ’ll see,” said his uncle. “Lucky it was n't more!”

The two boys drove to the stable. “So!” said Pelham, after a pause, “you ’d rather lose the money than tell Father the truth of it?”

Brian, still very red, made no answer,


Charter II

THE STRANGER AGAIN

On a hillside, three girls were picking berries. Clumps of blueberry bushes, which here yielded their earliest fruit, dotted the pasture. The wide field was fringed, at its upper edge, with woods, beyond which rose the weather-worn face of a cliff that topped them by a dozen feet. Turning and looking down the slope, the girls could see a valley shaped like a bowl], in whose bottom reposed a little town. Five miles away, a gap in the surface of hills showed the outlet to the river.

There was but one of the girls worth our attention. The others were nobodies, the hand-maidens of Nausicaa, whose self she was. But they felt themselves quite her equals, never suspected her of being a princess, and called her Harriet. Their talk was girls’ talk, happy and careless, except when one of them asked: “Are n't you scared to be so far away by ourselves?”

Harriet straightened her slender figure, shook down the berries in her basket, and looked at the town. “Three miles home,” she said. “I can see our own roof. But it ’s only a mile to Nate's. Why should we be scared?”

Her voice was clear, her tone light. The other asked her: “Are n’t you ever scared?”

“Are you?” returned Harriet. Her gray eyes showed amusement.

“Oh, I am, often,” cried the third of the girls. “I hate to be out after dusk; and I loathe the garret and the cellar. I don't like any lonesome places. I would n’t come here all by myself for anything!”

Harriet smiled. “What is there to hurt us?”

“I suppose,” said one of the others, “you think you can’t be scared!”

“I know I can” Harriet answered. “But I hope never to be.” She looked again at the landscape. “Here least of all. Why, it ’s beautiful here!”

One of her companions clutched her arm. “There ’s some one on the cliff!” They all turned and looked.


“BRIAN RUSHED AT HIM, ‘GIVE ME THAT!’”

The cliff was, perhaps, a hundred feet away, its brown and streaked rocks topped with low bushes. "I see no one,” said Harriet,

“He was climbing down.” explained the other, “He ’s got behind the trees. Listen!”

They listened, and from behind the trees came the sound of scrambling. "It was a man?" asked Harriet, lowering her voice in spite of herself.

“Or a boy,” was the answer. The other pulled nervously at her hand. “Let ’s run!”

“Run?” demanded Harriet. It may be some one we know. It ought to be.”

“Let ’s hide, then, till we make sure.” urged the other, her voice trembling.

Harriet looked around upon the low bushes. “There ’s no place to hide. We must wait.”

The others, pressing close on either hand, clutched her gown. Impatient that, in spite of herself, their fears infected her, she stood, with head erect, trying to pierce the screen of trees that concealed the face of the cliff. And now showed clearly which was the princess here, and which the handmaidens; for, while the others drew partly behind her, she pressed a little forward.

“Don’t!” they begged, clutching her the tighter. Suddenly there came a crash, the clatter of rocks striking and breaking, and a long, splintering fall. Then came a great cry of pain and horror. The two girls squealed and cowered, putting up their hands as against a blow. Even Harriet, though she held herself still more erect, responded to the cry with a gasp that was like a sob. Then there was silence.

"Oh,” cried one of the girls, “what is it?”

“Wait,” answered Harriet.

Behind the trees, at first, was stillness, but then, as they listened, there came a groan. The two girls sprang backward. “Run!”

“Stand still!? commanded Harriet. She did not know that she was brave, nor think that she was sensible; but the others felt her power, and crept back to their positions behind her.

There was another groan, and then a scuffing began among the trees. The bushes creaked and snapped. The girls, with straining eyes, saw first a glimpse of white, then a blond head, and then, blindly staggering into the open, the figure of a boy. And such a figure! One temple was streaming blood; the face writhed with pain; and from one arm, held stiffly forward, protruded the stub of a tree-branch, standing out like a bone from a red rent in the wrist.

“Oh!” shuddered the two girls. Fascinated by this terrible figure, they stared, motionless.

The boy came reeling forward. He did not see them; he did not know where he was going. His eyes were strained at the crude thing that, like some savage weapon, protruded from his arm. With his other hand he pulled at it, and Harriet shuddered as she saw it resist him. Again he pulled, and, with a great effort, he yanked it from the wound. It was followed by a gush of blood. The boy gazed for a moment at the inches of crimsoned wood, then cast the stick from him. Three more strides he took toward the girls, until they prepared to avoid him. Then, without a word or a groan, he plunged heavily, and fell almost at their feet.

Two of them screamed and turned to run. “Stop!” commanded Harriet. They waited, poised for flight, while Harriet looked at the boy.

He was motionless, insensible. The wound in the temple was concealed as he lay, but she saw that from the injured wrist, lying in the grass, were coming regular jets of blood. Immediately she dropped on her knees before him.

“Your handkerchiefs, girls!” she cried. But she knew that in this emergency handkerchiefs were too short and weak. Quickly unbuttoning the sleeve of the lad’s outing shirt, with one strong pull she tore it open to the shoulder, and with two more ripped it from the arm. The blood still spurted from the wrist, and behind her the girls squealed again. Then rapidly Harriet knotted the sleeve round the arm above the wound, and gave one end of it to the stronger of her friends. “Pull!” she directed. At her own first pull, she drew the other almost from her balance. “Pull!” she commanded impatiently. To her relief, at the second pull she saw the blood slacken its flow. At the third, it stopped entirely. Then she threw the ends again around the arm, knotted them securely, and looked up at her friends.

“I can run fastest,” she said. “Will you two stay here while I go and get Nate?”

They looked at each other, hesitating. Like silly creatures they blushed, and like foolish ones they shuddered. *“No,” they agreed. “We don't dare!”

“Then go for Nate quickly!” she ordered. “Both go. Together you ought to find the way.”

“Come with us,” begged one.

Harriet shook her head. “He must n’t be left alone. If he moves, the knot may slip, and he ’d bleed to death. No, go quickly, and try to notice how to find your way back.”

With visible relief, yet fluttered by excitement and importance, they left her. Harriet was alone in the pasture with the boy.

Now, first, she began to feel the strain of the event. It was scarcely a minute since she heard that startling cry in the bushes, and her nerves yet thrilled in response. The excitement of the sudden need was still on her. Her heart was beating fast; her knees were so weak that with relief she sat down on a stone to rest. Presently she found herself studying the boy.

He was so pale that her heart was sore for him. She wished for water, to revive him; but there was none on that hillside, and so she waited, and thought. She had never seen the lad before: what kind of a boy was he? The features were clear-cut and, in fact, refined; the clothes, though torn, seemed rather to have suffered from the fall than from wear. They were fairly new and of good quality.

Suddenly she remembered the wound in the temple, and, rising, went to the boy and turned his head. The bleeding had stopped, but the flesh was rapidly swelling and darkening from a cruel bruise. She put her fingers to it, and, with a groan, the boy opened his eyes.

At sight of her he started and tried to rise. He was on his knees, his face red with the effort, when once more he turned white, groaned, and collapsed again. This time he fell on his back. Anxiously Harriet examined the bandage: it had not slipped. When she looked at the boy’'s face again, he was watching her.

“It is not bleeding,” she said. “How do you feel?”

“Everything swims,” he answered faintly. His eyes closed, and so long remained so that she feared he had fainted again. But after a while he looked at her.

“Are you in pain?”’ she asked.

He shook his head, not in answer, but as if waving the question aside. With some difficulty he spoke. “Back there where I fell—my coat.”

“Do you want it?” she asked.

His eyes closed wearily, but he nodded.

She hastened into the little wood, and there found, at the foot of the cliff, the place of his fall, marked by two large fallen stones, and by a young tree quite broken down. There lay his jacket, and she carried it back to him. Though he did not open his eyes, she felt that he knew she had returned.

“I have it,” she said. Slowly he spoke again. “In the pocket—a wallet.”

She took it out and held it in her hand. “Yes, it ’s here.”

His eves flew wide open. and he tried to raise himself. Failing, he yet commanded her with his glance. He seemed no longer dazed by his fall, but to understand his situation. He looked at her with strangely appealing eyes. Harriet was reminded of a wild animal which, when cornered or trapped. mutely begs for help. But now he spoke.

“Don’t open it!”

“Very well.” she answered. “What shall I do with it?”

“Keep it for me,” he replied. “Don't let any one know you have it.”

She slipped the wallet into the pocket of her skirt. “All right.”

His eves did not leave her. A desperate kind of earnestness was growing in them. Then she saw that he was struggling to rise again. He lifted his head but an inch before it fell back. Quickly she knelt by him and put a hand on his chest. “You must lie still!”

He tried to lift his hand—failed—succeeded. His eyes implored her. “Hide it!” he gasped. “Promise!”

With a womanly instinct to soothe by complying, she also raised a hand. "I promise!” she repeated, and felt as if she had taken an oath.

His hand fell, and he looked his gratitude; but then his eyes closed again. This time she knew that he had fainted once more. He lay so still, and the silence of the wide pasture so long remained unbroken, that at last she became anxious. Would the others manage to find help?

It was a mile to Nate’s, and the way might easily be missed. And then her own position would be hard to find. The cliffs stretched for a long distance above the upper end of the pasture, and the girls might not be able to tell at what point of them she was. When she listened, she heard nothing but the wind in the trees and the distant cawing of the crows. She looked down at the town, seemingly so near, and wished that a single friend of all that were there below might be here at her side. She lookad again at the boy. He lay as if he were dead.

Harriet was a girl bred in a gentle household, to whom, as yet, life had been made easy. Even sickness and bereavement, which none can escape,
“‘STAND STILL!’ COMMANDED HARRIET.”
so far had passed her by: and apart from simple daily duties, she had had no responsibilities. But she was of the kind that learns quickly, As she sat here, curbing her impatience, seeing her own home below her and yet knowing that it was hopeless to wish to bring this injured boy into its shelter, she had a glimpse of the meaning of patience.

But at last she heard a hail. “Harriet, where are ye?”

She sprang to her feet. “Here!” she called. “Here, Nate!”

There came in sight a tall and wiry man, looking, in spite of the fact that he was her father’s best dyer, like a woodsman, which, indeed, he preferred to be. He came up the hillside with long strides, nodded to her briefly, and, gaunt and weather-beaten, stood over the unconscious boy.

“Fainted, hez he?” he asked. He dropped on his knee, tested the tightness of the bandage, nodded once more at Harriet, and then rose again.

“All the better,” he remarked. “He won’t mind the travel.” Stooping, he picked up the boy as if he were a child, and, cradling him in his arms, started downhill as swiftly as if he bore no burden.

“The girls?” asked Harriet, keeping pace with him.

“One I sent for the doctor,” explained Nate. “She ’ll telephone from the Upper Cross-Roads. The other—she ’s gittin’ the fire an’ heatin’ water, since I let the stove out arter gittin’ breakfust.”

He still strode swiftly onward, not pausing in the whole of the journey. “Jes’ as easy on the legs,” he explained, “an’ a great sight better for the arms an’ back if the trip is short.” Harriet, carrying the jacket, had to hurry to keep up with him, and was glad when they came in sight of the little low farm-house in which Nate lived. She was equally glad to see, laboring up the road that approached from below, the doctor’s carriage. Nate reached the house, strode through the open door, and laid his burden on a couch.

“Thar!” he said.

The lad lay so white and still that fear clutched swiftly at Harriet’'s heart. “He is n't—dead?” she faltered.

“Lord love ye, no!” answered Nate. “Now the best thing you can do is to see if that Joanna friend of yours has got the fire goin’ rightly. Somehow I mistrust her. I ’m goin’ to put this young gentleman to bed while it can’t hurt him.”

In the kitchen, Harrict found Joanna, flushed and vexed. “Oh, I ’ve fussed so over this old stove!” she cried. “And it just smolders!”

“Let me try,” said Harriet.

She took off the lid and rearranged the wood; she studied the drafts, opened one, closed another, and then stood listening. The roar of the fire answered to the change, and she smiled. Harriet was “capable.”

“Well, I never!” sighed Joanna.

“There 's rather too much water in the kettle,” decided Harriet. "It heats too slowly. I ’ll put some of it in this pan, and bring on both the faster.”

Then the third friend, Elinor, joined them, full of the importance of her achievement. She had got the doctor by telephone, and had made him come at once. “You know how slow old Doctor Fitch is.” She had returned with him, making him urge his horse. Now he was with Nate. They were n't in the next room any longer, but were in Nate’s own bedroom, just beyond. The three girls waited now, listening for sounds from the farther room. At a groan, the two girls turned pale, and Harriet, biting her lips, covered the water in the open pan, that it might heat more quickly. It was some minutes before Nate reappeared.

“Now, Harriet, if you 've got some warm wa-ter—” He went back.

She felt helpless, but thought rapidly. If the water was to be but warm, then perhaps it ought to be a little warmer than the hand. She had noticed a little pile of coarse, clean towels; perhaps a couple would be useful. With the water and the towels she went into the bedroom, expecting Nate to take them from her. Both he and the doctor were busy beside the bed.

The doctor looked up and nodded. “Right here beside me,” he directed. “So. Now stand there till I want them.”

Harriet felt herself turn pale. The motionless body lay beneath a sheet, but clear in view was the dreadful red wrist, with the jagged rent. The doctor was too horribly businesslike. Harriet wanted to run away. At the sound of a moan, she shuddered.

Nate, with understanding, looked up into the girl's pale face. “He ain’t rightly conscious,” he explained. “But he ’s kinder sensitive, and when the doctor tries to sew, why, he tries to pull away. So I 've got to hold the arm, Harriet, and you—why, you ’ve got to stand by. We need you. Don’t mind it if he groans; he don't really feel it.”

Harriet tried to steady herself. If only these things were n’t so terrible! Never had she realized it before.

Nate looked at her a moment longer. “Don’t look at us,” he directed. ‘“And, Harriet, remember your mother.”

The last words helped. Her mother would not flinch at such a time. She would be like her mother. While the doctor worked, while every nerve in her shrank at each groan from the boy, Harriet clenched her teeth upon her lip, forced herself to stand still, and silently obeyed each order. The strain seemed endless. The doctor’s movements were deliberate; the threadings, and snippings, and tyings, and washings seemed to go on forever. Yet it was but a scant five minutes before the doctor had begun to cover the wound with cotton and with gauze. Then Nate, taking the basin from Harriet, led her out of the room, through the kitchen—where the other two looked at her in silent awe—and out into the open air.

“Sit down,” he said, pointing to a bench that stood beside the door. “Lean your head against the house.”

Harriet obeyed. It was a relief to sit down, a pleasure to rest her head. Wearily she closed her eyes. For a moment, the darkness was shot with golden streaks, her ears sang, and she felt as if she were falling infinitely far. Was she fainting? She felt very cold. Then suddenly her brain cleared, the singing stopped, and warmth returned to her. She opened her eyes, and, finding Nate watching her anxiously, was able to smile at him.

Thet ’s all right!” he exclaimed with relief. “If you went off in a faint, you 'd bother me more than the boy. Here, girls. Water for Harriet. Keep her sitting here for a while, then go and get your horse.”

“I feel perfectly well,” protested Harriet. “Don’t waste a thought on me. I 'm all right.”

“Ten minutes on that bench!"” ordered Nate as he went into the house.

Fifteen minutes later, the girls were saying good-by. “A quiet afternoon to you, Harriet,” the doctor recommended. ‘“And don’t worry about this youngster. He ’s knocked out, of course, and he ’ll be weak. But you saved him, I think.” He went back to his patient.

Nate helped the girls into the carriage, and then spoke to Harriet. “Your mother ’ll want to come up and see about him, of course. I don’t object to that, but you tell her from me that she can’t take him home with her. I don’t mean to let a chap go that ’s chucked right into my arms, and, besides, I ’ve taken a fancy to him.”

The girls jogged slowly homeward. Harriet, holding the reins over her old horse, was content to let him take his own pace; she did not listen to her friends’ chatter, but fell into a study. The others, glancing at each other behind her back, nodded knowingly and giggled.

“She ’s thinking,” said Joanna, “how good-looking he was.”

Harriet, lost in thought, did not hear the silly remark. In the past hour, she had received ideas which her friends were not capable of grasping, but of which she began to see the meaning. The mystery of pain, a girl’s usefulness, these were in her thoughts.