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CHAPTER XII.

MRS. HERRINGFORD'S PARTY.

"Jim," said Colonel Kerry, meeting the young man at the post-office, "that cottage of Grant's, up near mine, has been rented at last. The parties took possession today."

"Who got it, Colonel?"

"One of the big millionaires of St. Louis, they say; and he's arrived with his wife and daughters and a whole gang of servants. Jarrod says he's a capital fellow, but did n't mention the size of the capital. Money won't buy health, Jim, and the poor Midas is an invalid and came here to try to brace up."

Jim was white and staring.

"You—you did n't hear the name, Colonel?"

"Why, yes; it's Everton."

The young man gave a low, solemn whistle and walked away with a guilty and disturbed demeanor, while the colonel favored a group that had overheard his remarks with further particulars concerning the new arrival.

There was considerable excitement in quiet Tamawaca over the advent of the Evertons; for while the resort boasted several families of great wealth, none was so marvelously rich or of such conspicuous note as the well known patent medicine man who had won mountains of gold by the sale of his remedies. And when it was understood his own poor health had brought him to this place to seek relief the folks were really shocked, and George B. Still declared he would send the poor man a bottle of "Everton's Magic Healer" and ask him to read the printed testimonials. The affair was a nine days' gossip because the people had for the time exhausted the subject of Easton & Wilder and craved excitement.

When Jim went to Susie with a hanging head and told her his father had come to the very place where he had himself taken refuge, the girl counselled with him seriously, and advised him not to run away but rather to meet his family frankly and if possible resume friendly relations with them.

"The only thing that Mr. Carleton urges against our engagement," she said, "is that you have not treated your parents fairly in this matter. And your poor father is ill, they say, and must be unhappy over the desertion of his only son. How do you feel about it, Jim?"

"Why, I have n't looked at the matter in that light before, Susie," he replied. "But I'll think it over and try to do what is right. What do we do this evening?"

"We're invited to Mrs. Herringford's party, and I'm curious to go and see what it will be like. The old lady is the mother of Mrs. Drybug—you remember the Drybugs, don't you? Both the little dears weigh about as much as a healthy schoolboy, and they remind one of ants because they're so busy and you have to be careful not to step on them."

"I remember. If Mrs. Herringford is the mother of the Drybugs she ought to be able to do stunts."

"Well, let's go."

So they went, as curious as every one else who had been invited, and were glad they did not miss the show.

The oldest inhabitant could not remember when Mrs. Herringford had ever entertained before. At the Yacht Club card parties she was always in evidence, and the little lady played such an earnest, strenuous game that the men rather avoided being her partners. Once George B. Still, being caught, "bid" with such desperate recklessness that he set back poor Mrs. Herringford far enough to ruin her game, and she went home broken-hearted. But usually she glared at her partner so fiercely that he played with unusual care and made the game a business and not a diversion. Every one liked her, when she was at some other card table.

Tonight the lady wished to repay all her social obligations in a bunch by giving a party at her cottage. Being rather nervous, she asked Mrs. McCoy and the Widow Marsh to assist her to receive. Mrs. McCoy was a sweet little woman who was everybody's friend and therefore could refuse Mrs. Herringford nothing that might please her, while the Widow Marsh was possessed of such grace and beauty that she charmed every male heart in spite of her modest ways and made the women with husbands nervous whenever she was around.

With two such drawing cards the Herringford party could scarcely fail of success, yet as the guests slowly arrived the atmosphere of gloom that hung over the place was hard to dissipate. Mr. Idowno, one of the first comers, began to look at his watch and suggest that it was time to go, as "he had to work for a living;" but the Widow Marsh suspected his intention and made him forget his worries by sitting at his side and telling him how young he was growing.

The invited guests were so slow to arrive that some never came at all, but bye and bye there were enough to start the card playing, and then the hostess made them a clever speech.

"I have n't any prizes for the winners," she announced, "because I want a very harmonious gathering here tonight and prizes always result in disappointment, malice and envy. Besides, they're getting expensive. But I hope you'll all play in a friendly spirit for the honor of winning, and that you'll have a real good time."

Instead of applauding this speech, Mr. Idowno looked at his watch, but his wife pinched him and made him put it away and take a seat at one of the card tables.

It is impossible to repress Tamawaca folks when they are out for a good time—which is the only reason they are ever out. "These people," whispered Lucy Kerry to her neighbor, "would enjoy themselves at a funeral." "True," was the reply; "especially if they could pick the corpse."

To relieve any chill in the temperature they at once began to laugh and joke with one another, while Mrs. McCoy and the Widow Marsh fluttered around to see that all were properly paired and the cards were rightly sorted. The game began with as much energy as a lack of prizes would warrant, but no effort could make it a whirlwind of joy, so presently they gave up the cards and played blindman's bluff and puss-in-the-corner. Mrs. Herringford was worried to death lest some one should catch her and kiss her, but no man was so ungentlemanly.

Although these youthful frolics served to while away the front of the evening, there was no temptation to linger very late, so when Mr. Stakes suggested that they all "go home and have a good time" the party was on the verge of breaking up.

"Wait—wait!" cried Mrs. Herringford. "We're going to have refreshments."

Being cowed by wonder and made curious by the unexpected revelation, they waited.

The hostess disappeared into the kitchen.

"It hardly seems possible," murmured Mrs. Purspyre, "but truth is stranger than Mrs. Herringford. We shall see what we shall see. Her grocery bill was twenty-eight cents last week, and she is said to have half a million in government four-per-cents. Perhaps she's going to open her heart, to prove she's alive and not a resuscitated Egyptian mummy, as Mr. Wright claims she is. Let's wait."

They waited, and waited so long that the Widow Marsh and Mrs. McCoy had hard work to prevent a stampede through the front door. But finally the hostess appeared, bearing two plates and radiant with the joy of generous hospitality.

"Run, Lucy and Grace and Ada and Mary," she called, "and help me bring in the plates. The refreshments are all ready!"

They ran and brought in the plates. Upon each one was placed with dainty care one soda cracker, one withered ginger-snap and one puffy cracknel. The guests took the "refreshments" in dismal silence and began to gnaw.

"But there's no plate for you, my dear," said Mrs. McCoy to the hostess, in a solicitous tone.

"Never mind," returned the little lady, cheerfully; "I ain't hungry, so I guess I can wait till breakfast."

Mrs. Purspyre choked on the puffy cracknel and was saved to the world by a glass of water. Mrs. Herringford thoughtfully brought water for them all.

"You'll find it nice and fresh," she said, with pardonable pride, as she poured the precious fluid with a lavish hand.

"Then it's different from this ginger-snap," remarked Mr. Wogie, nursing a jarred tooth.

"Ladies and gentlemen!" announced Mr. Sherlock, getting upon his feet and waving one arm. "Let us thank Mrs. Herringford for her kind entertainment, which will be a red letter event in our calendar of glorious memories. This dissipation is unusual with us all, but I hope in no case will it prove fatal. Once in a while it is good for stagnant humanity to indulge in high life and cracknels—"

"Bravo!" shouted one of the Naylor girls, who had pocketed her refreshments to carry home as a souvenir.

"Therefore," concluded the orator, "let us leave the glamour and bewildering gaiety of these festivities and seek a more common-place seclusion. Let us thank Mrs. Herringford once again—and go home."

"Bravo!" yelled Idowno, jumping up, and instantly the meeting adjourned.