While Caroline Was Growing/His Father's House
HIS FATHER'S HOUSE
Caroline stopped abruptly at the edge of the little pine-encircled glade that edged the pond-lily pond and waved her hand in warning.
"Hist! there are human creatures there!" she whispered loudly.
It would be evident to anyone not absolutely stone blind that she was a fairy. A lace-edged, snowy nightgown was caught up by a sky blue ribbon about her hips, trailing gloriously behind her over the grass; two large wings artfully constructed of wrapping-paper flopped behind her surprisingly bare shoulders—the nightgown was decidedly décolleté, and had been made for a person several sizes larger than Caroline.
"Hooma keecha da!" crooned the General. His conversation was evidently based on the theory that the English language is a dark mystery, insoluble by system, but likely to be blundered into fortuitously, at any moment, if the searcher gabble with sufficient steadiness and persistence. His costume, consisting merely of the ordinary blue denim overalls of commerce, would have been positively commonplace were it not for the wings of bright pink tissue paper, which he wore with a somewhat confusing obstinacy, pinned firmly to his chest. Miss Honey assisted his wavering footsteps rather sulkily; she longed for the white and lacy draperies in front of her and regarded her ballet skirts of stitched newspaper with bare tolerance. It is true she wore a crown of tinfoil and carried a wand made of half a brass curtain rod; but her laced tan boots, stubbed and stained, showed with disgusting plainness, and nobody would take the trouble to make her a newspaper bodice.
"If you don't stop tickling me with that arrow, Brother Washburn, I'll go back!" she declared, snappishly.
The fourth member of the crew, whose bathing trunks and jersey, fitted with surprisingly life-like muslin wings, pointed to Puck, though the quiver slung across his shoulder woke conflicting memories of Diana, chuckled guiltily and took a flying leap from the big boulder into the center of the glade. His wings stiffened realistically, and as he landed, poised on one classically sandalled foot with arms outspread, the picnic party before him started violently, and one of them clutched the other's sleeve with a little cry.
"What the—oh, it's all right! He's the real thing, isn't he, now?"
The young man patted the girl's shoulder reassuringly and chuckled as the rest of the crew emerged from the pines and peered over the boulder.
"They're only children," he said.
She dropped her eyes and tightened her fingers around the shining drinking cup.
"Why, yes, they're only children," she repeated carelessly.
Now, each of these picnic people had said the same words, but it was entirely obvious to their fascinated audience that the words meant very different things. For this reason they sidled around the young lady impersonally, avoiding with care the edges of her pale-tinted billowy skirts, and lined up confidently beside the young gentleman.
Not that he controlled the picnic. It was spread out in front of her, bewitching, intimate, in its suggestion of you—and—I; two shiny plates, two knives, two forks, two fringed and glossy napkins. A dark red bottle was propped upright between two stones, a pile of thin, triangular sandwiches balanced daintily on some cool lettuce leaves, and a fascinating object that glistened mysteriously in the sun, held the platter of honor in the middle.
"The Honorable Mr. Puck," suggested the young man, in the tone of one continuing an interrupted conversation, "is figuring out how the chicken got into the jelly without busting it—am I not right?"
Brother grinned, and Caroline moved a little nearer. Miss Honey stared at the young lady's fluted skirts and glistening yellow waves of hair, at the sweeping plume in her hat, and her tiny high-heeled buckled slippers.
"I am obliged to admit," the young man went on, slicing into the quivering aspic, "that I don't know myself. I never could find out. Perhaps the young person in the—the not-too-long skirts, waved her wand over the bird and he jumped in and the hole closed up?" He slipped a section of the bird in question upon the lady's plate and held the red bottle over her cup.
"There was hard-boiled eggs stuck on those jelly things at our wedding," Brother remarked, "on the outside, all around. But they were bigger than yours."
"I don't doubt it for a moment," the young man assured him politely. "Have you been married long, may I ask? And which of these ladies—"
"Brother doesn't mean that he was married," Miss Honey explained, "it was his oldest sister. She married a lawyer. I was flower girl."
"Ima fow guh," murmured the General, thrusting out a fat and unexpected hand and snatching from a hitherto unperceived box a tiny cake encased in green frosting.
"Oh, dear, it's got the pistache!" said the yellow-haired lady disgustedly.
Miss Honey fled after the General, who, though he was obliged to wear whalebone braces in his shoes on account of youth and a waddling and undeveloped gait, scattered over the ground with the elusive clumsiness of a young duckling. Brother blushed, but scorned to desert his troop.
"He's awfully little, you know—he doesn't mean to steal," he explained.
"Twenty-two months," Caroline added, "and he does go so fast." She smiled doubtfully at the lady, who selected a cake covered with chocolate and looked at the young man.
"Don't forget that Mr. Walbridge wants to use the car at six," she said, "and you have to allow for that bad hill."
He looked a little uncomfortable. "Don't you want to speak to the children, Tina, dear?" he asked, dropping his voice; he sat very close to her.
"They have both spoken directly to you, you see, and children feel that so—not being noticed. They're trying to apologize to you for the cake."
She bit her lip and turned to Miss Honey, who arrived panting, with the General firmly secured by the band of his overalls. An oozy green paste dripped from his hand; one of the pink wings intermittently concealed his injured expression.
"That's all right," she said, "don't bother about the cake, little girl, the baby can have it."
Miss Honey sniffed.
"I guess you don't know much about babies if you think they can eat cake like that," she answered informingly.
"Hush, now, General, don't begin to hold your breath? Do you want a nice graham cracker! It's so nice!"
"So nice!" Caroline repeated mechanically, with a business-like smile at the General, helpfully champing her teeth.
The General wavered. He allowed one sticky paw to be cleaned with a handful of grass, but his expression was most undecided, and he was evidently in a position to hold his breath immediately if necessary.
Miss Honey nodded to Caroline. "You've got 'em, haven't you?" she asked.
Caroline fumbled at the interior of the nightgown and produced a somewhat defaced brown wafer.
"General want it?" she said invitingly. There was another moment of disheartening suspense. Brother assisted gallantly.
"They're fine, General!" he urged, "try one!" And he, too, nodded and chewed the empty air. Instinctively the strange young gentleman did the same.
The General looked around at them cautiously, noted the strained interest of the circle, smiled forgivingly, and reached out for the brown wafer. Peace was assured.
"If you could only see how ridiculous you looked," the young lady remarked, wiping her shining pink finger nails carefully, "you'd never do that again, Rob. Have a cake?"
He laughed, but blushed a little at her tone.
"I suppose so," he admitted. "No, thanks, I'll pass up the cake. Isn't there enough to go 'round, perhaps?"
He examined the box.
"By George, there are exactly three left!" he said delightedly. "Will the fairy queen hand one to her brother—the big brother—and one to—to the angel?"
Caroline moved firmly to the front. "I am the Queen," she explained, "but I let Miss Honey take the crown and the wand, or she wouldn't be anything. Brother isn't her brother—that's just his name. Brother Washburn. The General's her brother. I'll take that strawberry one. We're much obliged, thank you."
The cakes vanished unostentatiously and the young gentleman filled his cup and disposed of it before anyone spoke.
"We were such a big family, you see," he explained to the pursed red mouth beside him, "and I know just how it is. You never get enough cake, and never that dressy kind. It's molasses cake and cookies, mostly."
Brother moved nearer and nodded.
"Well, but you can have all the cake you want, now, thank goodness," said the lady, glancing contentedly at the tea basket, complete with its polished fittings, at the big box of bonbons beside her, and the handsome silk motor coat that was spread as a carpet under her light dress.
"Oh, yes, but now I don't want it," he assured her, "I want—other things." He flashed a daring glance from two masterful brown eyes, and she smiled indulgently at him for a handsome, spoiled boy.
"Am I going to get them?" he persisted.
She laughed the light little laugh of the triumphant woman.
"My dear Bob," she said, "anybody who can buy all the cake he wants can usually get the—other things!"
His face clouded slightly.
"I hate to hear you talk like that, Christine," he began, "it's not fair to yourself—"
"How'd you know I was Puck?" Brother inquired genially. He made no pretense of including the lady in the conversation; for him she was simply not there.
"Oh, I'm not so ignorant as I look," the young man replied. "I don't believe you could stump me on anything you'd be likely to be—I've probably been 'em all myself. We were always rigging up at home. Didn't you use to do that, Tina?"
The lady shook her head decidedly.
"If I'd ever got hold of a—well, if I'd had a chance of things as nice as that biggest one's dragging through the dirt there, I'd have been doing something very different with it, I can assure you, Mr. Armstrong! I'd have been saving it."
"But at that age—" he protested.
"Oh, I knew real lace from imitation at that age, all right," she insisted.
"But you don't think of those things—you go in for the fun," he urged.
"It wasn't exactly my idea of fun."
"No?" he queried, "why, I thought all children did this sort of thing. We had a regular property room in the attic. We used to be rigged out as something-or-other all day Saturday, usually."
"What were you?" Brother demanded eagerly. Unconsciously he dropped, hugging his knees, by the side of the young man, and Caroline, observing the motion, came over a little shyly and stood behind them. The young lady raised her eyebrows and shot a side glance at her host, but he smiled back at her brightly.
"Well, we did quite a little in the pirate line," he replied. "I had an old Mexican sword and Ridgeway—that was my cousin—owned a pair of handcuffs."
"Handcuffs!" Brother's jaw dropped.
"Yes, sir, handcuffs. It was rather unusual, of course, and he was awfully proud of them. An uncle of his was a sheriff out in Pennsylvania somewhere, and when he died he left 'em to Ridge in his will. That was pretty grand, too, having it left in a will."
Caroline nodded and sat down on an old log behind the young man. A long smear of brown, wet bark appeared on the nightgown, and one end of the blue ribbon dribbled into a tiny pool of last night's shower, caught in a hollow stone.
"It was a toss-up who'd be pirate king," the young man went on, smiling over his shoulder at Caroline, "because I was older than he was, handcuffs or not, and after all, a sword is something. This one was hacked on the edge and every hack may have meant—probably did—a life."
He paused dramatically.
"I bet you they did!" Brother declared, clapping his hands on his knees.
"Weren't there any girls?"
Caroline slipped from the log and sprawled on the pine needles.
"Dear me, yes," said the young man, "I should say so. Four of them. Winifred and Ethel and Dorothea and the Babe—about as big as your General, there, and dreadfully greedy, the Babe was. Winifred had the brains and she made up most of the games; I tell you, that girl had a head!"
"Just like Caroline," Brother inserted eagerly.
"Probably," the young man agreed. "She was pretty certain to be Fairy Queen, too, I remember. But Thea sewed the clothes and begged the things we needed and looked after the Babe."
"And what did Ethel do?"
"Why, now you speak of it, I don't remember that Ethel did much of anything but look pretty and eat most of the luncheon," he said. "She used to be Pocahontas a good deal—she's very dark—and I usually was Captain John Smith. Ridge was Powhatan. And Ethel's married now. Good Lord! She has twins—of all things!—and they're named for Ridge and me."
"I'm glad General isn't twins," said Miss Honey thoughtfully, pulling her brother back from the fascinations of the tea basket and comforting him with the curtain-rod wand.
"Still, we could do the Princes in the Tower with him—them, I mean," Caroline reminded her, "and then, when they got bigger, the Corsican Brothers—don't you remember that play Uncle Joe told about?"
The young man laughed softly.
"If that's not Win all over!" he exclaimed. "She always planned for Ridge to be Mazeppa on one of the carriage horses, when he got the right size, but somehow, when you do get that size, you don't pull it off."
"I did Mazeppa," said Brother modestly, "but of course it was only a donkey. It wasn't much."
"We never had one," the young man explained. "Nothing but Ridge's goat, and she was pretty old. But she could carry a lot of lunch."
He turned suddenly on his elbow and smiled whimsically at the lady.
"Come on, Tina, what did you play?" he asked.
"Is it possible you have remembered that I still exist?" she answered, half mockingly, half seriously vexed. "I'm afraid I'm out of this, really. I never pretended to be anything, that I remember."
"But what did you do when you were a youngster?" he persisted, "you must have played something!"
She shook her head.
"We played jackstones," she said indulgently, after a moment of thought, "and then I went to school, of course, and—oh, I guess we cut out paper dolls."
Caroline looked aghast.
"Didn't you have any dog?" she demanded.
"I hope not, in a four-room flat," the lady returned with feeling. "One family kept one, though, and the nasty little thing jumped up on a lovely checked silk aunty had just given me, and ruined it. I tried to take it out with gasolene, but it made a dreadful spot, and I cried myself sick. Of course I didn't understand about rubbing the gasolene dry then; I was only eleven."
The children looked uncomfortably at the ground, conscious of a distinct lack of sympathy for the tragedy that even at this distance deepened the lovely rose of the lady's cheek and softened her dark blue eyes.
"But in the summer," the young man said, "surely it was different then! In the country—"
"Oh, mercy, we didn't get to the country very much," she interrupted. "You know July and August are bargain times in the stores and a dressmaker can't afford to leave. Aunty did all her buying then and I went with her. Dear me," as something in his face struck her, "you needn't look so horrified! It's not bad in New York a bit—there's something going on all the while; and then we went to Rockaway and Coney Island evenings, and had grand times. To tell you the truth, I never cared for the country—I don't sleep a bit well there. Of course, to come out this way, with everything nice, it's all very fine, but to stay in—no, thanks."
"I know what you mean, of course," he said, "but the city's no place for children. I'm mighty glad I didn't grow up there. And I've always had the idea the country would be the best place to settle down in, finally. You can potter around better there when you're old, don't you think so? I remember old Uncle Robert and his chrysanthemums—"
"Dear me, we all seem to be remembering a good deal this afternoon!" she broke in. "Since we're neither of us children and neither of us ready to settle down on account of old age, suppose we stick to town, Bob?"
There was a practical brightness in her voice, and her even white teeth, as she smiled persuasively at him, were very pretty. He smiled back at her.
"That seems a fair proposition," he agreed. He reached for her hand and for a moment her soft, bright coloring, her dainty completeness, framed in the green of the little glade, were all he saw. Then, as his eyes lingered on the cool little pond and the waving pine boughs dark against the blue sky, he sighed.
"But I'm sorry you don't like the country, Tina, I am, truly," he said boyishly. "I've had such bully times in it. And I—I rather had the idea that we liked the same things."
"Gracious!" the young lady murmured, "after the arguments we've had over plays and actors!"
"Oh well, I suppose girls are all alike. But I mean other things—"
"Where did you do the Pirates?" Brother inquired, politely.
"What? Where did I—oh to be sure," he returned good-naturedly. "We had an enormous cellar, all full of pillars, to hold it up, and queer little rooms and compartments in it; a milk room and vegetable bins and a workshop. You could ride on a wheel all round, dodging the pillars. There were all kinds of places to lie in wait there, and spring out. Win told us an awful thing out of Poe that happened in a cellar, and Thea would never go there after four in the afternoon.
"It was a jolly old place," he went on dreamily, "I can't keep my mind off it this afternoon, somehow, since I've seen you fellows rigged out the way we used to. And there was a pond back in the Christmas Tree Lot like this one. Ridge and I built a raft out there and stayed all day on it. It was something out of Clark Russell's books, and Win pushed a barrel out and rescued us. She was a wonder, that girl."
He chuckled softly to himself.
"We tried to stock that pond with oysters once, and Ridge and I printed invitations for a clambake on our handpress, on the strength of them, but it was a dreadful waste of money. When we found it wasn't working, Ridge nearly killed himself diving for 'em, so we could get some good out of 'em. There they lay at the bottom, showing just as plain as possible, but it was no use—Poor fellow, he'll never dive any more."
"Is he—did he—" Caroline had crawled along till her head lay almost on the young man's knee; her eyes were big with sympathy.
"Lost his leg," he told her briefly. "Philippines. Above the knee. He ran away from college to go. He had the fever badly, too, and he'll never be fit for much again, I'm afraid. But he's just as brave about it—"
"Oh, yes," Brother burst out eagerly, "I bet you he is!"
"We had such plans," he said softly, "all of us, you know, for coming back to the old place and ending up there. Win says her kids shall stay there if she can't."
"Where is she?"
"Oh, she's 'most anywhere. Her husband's in the Navy—Asiatic Squadron—and she hangs about where he's likely to strike the country next. She was in Honolulu the last I heard. So she's not likely to do much for the place, you see."
"Where's Thea?" Miss Honey inquired.
"Wha tee?" mimicked the General, with an astounding similarity of inflection.
The young man threw his light cap at the baby's head; it landed grotesquely cocked over one eye, and the General, promptly sitting upon it to protect himself from further attacks, fell into convulsions of laughter as the young man threatened him.
"Thea's out West, on a ranch just out of Denver. She was married first, and her boys have ponies now—broncos. Of course it's fine for them out there, but she says she won't be happy till they can get East for a year or two. She wants them to see the place and grow up a little in it. She wants 'em to see the attic and poke about the barn and the stable and climb over the rocks. You see they're on the ranch all summer and in school in Denver all winter, and Thea says they don't know the look of an old stone wall with an apple tree in the corner. She says the fruit's not nearly so nice out there."
"Where is the place? Near here?"
"No, not so very. It's in the Berkshires, just out of Great Barrington. Father's practice was there, and grandfather's, too. Grandfather built it."
"That's where Lenox is, the Berkshires, isn't it?" the lady inquired with a yawn.
"Heavens, its nothing like Lenox!" he assured her hastily.
"No?" she moved slightly and scowled.
"My foot's asleep! That comes of sitting here forever!"
She got up slowly and with little tentative gasps and cries stamped her prickled feet.
"Aunty has several customers who go to Lenox"—a vicious stamp—"it must be grand there, I think. One of them, a regular swell, too—she thinks nothing of a hundred and fifty for a dress"—a faint stamp and a squeal of anguish—"told her that property was going up like everything around there. You could probably"—a determined little jump—"sell your old place and buy a nice house right in Lenox."
The young man sat up suddenly. "Sell the place!" he repeated, "sell the place!"
He had been watching her pretty, vexed contortions with lazy pleasure, noticing through rings of cigarette smoke her dainty ankles, white through the mesh of the thin silk stockings, her straight, slim back, and the clear flush that deepened her eyes. But now his face changed, and he stared at her in frank irritation.
"Sell the place!" echoed Brother and Miss Honey in horror, and Caroline's lower lip pushed out scornfully.
The lady stamped again, but not wholly as a therapeutic measure.
"Well, really!" she cried, "any one would think that these children were your friends, and I was the stranger, from the way you all talk. What is the matter with you, anyway? What are you quarreling about, Rob?"
He looked at her thoughtfully, appraisingly.
"I don't think we're quarreling, Tina," he said, "its only that we look at things differently. And—and looking at things in the same way rather makes people friends, you know."
He glanced down at the children, close about him now, and then over appealingly at her. But she had moved to a rock a little away from them and now sat on it, her face turned toward the road, leaning on her pale pink parasol: she did not catch the glance.
"What became of the Babe?" Caroline suggested suddenly.
"Babe? She's—her name's Margaret—at school now. She's growing awfully pretty."
"And is she going to live at the place, too?" queried the young lady sharply.
"Babe's going to capture a corporation or trust or something, and have oceans of money and build on a wing and a conservatory and make Italian gardens, I believe," he answered, pleasantly enough.
"But I'd just as soon she left the gardens alone," he went on, "the rest of us like 'em the way they are. There was one separate one on the west side, just for Uncle Robert's chrysanthemums. He used to work all the morning there and then read in the afternoon. He'd sit on the side porch with his pipe and Bismarck—he was an old collie—and he did tell the bulliest yarns. He helped us with lessons, too. I don't know what we'd have done without Uncle Rob. Father was so busy—he had a big country practice and he used to get terribly tired—and we went to Uncle Rob for everything. He got us out of more scrapes, Ridge and me—
"There were tiger lillies in the south garden and lots of clumps of peonies. Grandmother put those there. And fennel and mint. Mother used to like dahlias—it seems as if she must have had a quarter of a mile of dahlias, but of course she didn't—all colors. That garden ran right up against the house, and directly next to the bricks was a row of white geraniums. They looked awfully well against the red. It's a brick house and the date is in bricks over the door—1840. Of course it's been rented for ten years now, but we have our things stored in the attic and the people are careful and—well they love the old place, you know, and they keep up the gardens. They wanted to buy when father died and again after mother—
"But Ridge and I just hung on and leased it from year to year. We always hoped to get it back. And now to think that I should be the one to do it!"
"How are you the one?" Brother inquired practically.
"Why Uncle Wesley that ran away to sea—I used to have his room, just over the kitchen, and many a time I've climbed down the side porch just as he did, and run away fishing—Uncle Wesley died in England, last year, and left me considerably more than he'd ever have made if he'd minded grandmother and studied to be a parson. It seems Uncle Rob knew where he was all the time, and wrote him, before he was sick himself, to leave the money to the family, and by George, he did.
"Lots of the old stuff is there—the sideboard and the library table and grandfather's old desk mother kept the preserves in.
"I used to lie on an old sofa in the dining-room on hot afternoons, waiting for it to get cool, reading some travel book, eating summer apples, and listening to Win and Thea practicing duets in the parlor. Lord, I can hear 'em now! I'd look out at the brick walls, hot, you know, in the sun, and the pear tree, with the nurse rocking Babe under it, and old Annie shelling peas by the kitchen door, and it all seemed so comfortable—"
His eyes were half closed. The children listened dreamily, huddled against him; low red rays crept down from the west-bound sun and struck the little pond to copper, the nickel dishes to silver, the lady's skirt to a peach-colored glory; a little sudden breeze set the red bottle tinkling between the stones. But to the group entranced with memories so vivid that reality blurred before them, the peach and copper glories were ripe fruit against an old brick wall, the tinkle echoed from an old piano in a dim, green-shuttered parlor, and the soft snoring of the General, asleep on the silk motor coat, was the drowsy breathing of a contented little fellow in knickerbockers dreaming in a window seat.
"Did you ever go to Atlantic City?"
The lady's voice woke them as a gong wakes a sleeper. "Now that's my idea of the country!"
He stared at her vaguely.
"But—but that's no place for children," he protested. He had hardly grown up at that moment, himself.
She shrugged her shoulders.
"It's not exactly necessary to have six children, you know," she said, "and then you needn't be worried over a place for them, and can afford to think a little about the place you'd like for yourself."
The sun was in her eyes and she missed the look in his as he jumped up from the astonished group and seized her wrist.
"Christine, you simply shan't talk that way!" he said. "I don't know what's the matter with you to-day—why are you so different? Are you trying to tease me? Because I might as well tell you right now that you're succeeding a little too well."
The pink parasol dropped between them. Her eyes met his squarely, though her voice shook a little.
"Let my wrist go, Mr. Armstrong," she said, "you hurt me. I assure you I'm not different at all. If you really want to know what the matter with me is, let me ask you if you saw anything out of the way before your friends there interfered?" she pointed to the little group he had left. "We seemed to be getting on very well then."
His face fell, and she went on more quickly and with less controlled tones.
"You are the one that is different! I have always been just the same—just exactly the same! Ask anybody if I've changed—ask aunty! 'Tina has the best temper of any girl I know,' aunty always says. But its just as she warned me. Aunty always knows—she's seen lots and lots of people and plenty of swells, too—it isn't as if you were the only one, Mr. Armstrong!"
He looked curiously at the flushed, lovely face; curiously, as though he had never really studied it before.
"Perhaps—perhaps it is I," he said slowly, "I—maybe you're right. And of course I know—" he smiled oddly at the pretty picture she made—"that I'm not the only one."
Something in his tone irritated her; she unfurled the rosy parasol angrily.
"Aunty said from the beginning you'd be hard to get on with," she flashed out. "She said the second time you came to the house with Mr. Walbridge for his sister's fitting and asked Kitty and I for a ride in the machine, 'I'm perfectly willing you girls should go, for they're both all right and I think the dark one's serious, but—"
"You discussed me with your aunt, then?"
She looked at him in amazement.
"Discussed you with aunty? Why certainly I did. Why shouldn't I? How do you suppose I'm to get anywhere, placed as I am, Mr. Armstrong, unless I'm pretty careful? I've nothing but my looks—I know that perfectly well—and I can't afford to make any mistakes. And aunty said, 'I think the dark one's serious, Tina, but I don't know, somehow, I'd keep in with Walbridge. He may not have so much money, but he'll be easier to manage. Armstrong seems like any other gay young fellow, and for all I know he is—he's certainly generous—but I'd rather have you Mrs. Walter Walbridge and lose the family custom, than have you tied up to an obstinate man."
"And—excuse me, but I'm really interested," he asked, "could you be Mrs. Walter Walbridge?"
"Yes, I could," she answered, "he asked me when he lent you the machine. I suppose he thought you might," she added simply.
He drew a long breath.
"And you answered—"
"I said I'd think it over," she said softly. "I—are you really angry with me, Rob? We're friends, aren't we? Friends—"
Her eyes lifted to his. "You see, Rob," she went on, still softly, "a girl like me has to be awfully straight and pretty careful. It's not easy to go to theaters and suppers and out with the machines and keep your head—you can't always tell about men. And I've cost aunty quite a lot, though of course, my clothes were the cheapest, really, all made in the house. I had two good offers to go on the stage, but she wouldn't have it. And even if Mr. Walbridge's mother did make a fuss, she can't help his getting the money. Of course I told him I'd think it over, but I always liked—"
"And now you've thought it over," he interrupted quickly, "and you've found out that your remarkably able aunt was right. You're a wise little girl, Tina, for if I know Walter, he will be easier to manage! He's a lucky fellow—always was. But he'll never get his car at six to-night."
He plucked out his watch and strapping up the tea basket began to push the things hastily into it.
She stared ahead of her, her chin shaking a little, her eyes a little dim and most beautiful.
"I—you don't—you're not angry, Rob?" She leaned over him.
"Tina, if you look like that I'll kiss you, and Walter will call me out!" he said lightly. "Of course I'm not angry—we're as chummy as you'll let me be. Come on and find the choo-choo car!"
He slipped his arm through the basket handle and made for his coat. The children scrambled off it apologetically; they were not quite certain where they stood in the present crisis. But he smiled at them reassuringly.
"We'll have to meet again," he called, already beyond them, "and have some more of those little cakes! Good-by till next time!"
"Good-by! Good-by!" they called, and Miss Honey, eyeing the pink parasol longingly, ventured, "Good-by, Miss Tina!"
The lady did not answer, but walked slowly after the young man, shaking out her billowy skirts. Soon he was behind the big boulder; soon she had followed him.
"Yady go!" the General announced.
"They had a quarrel, didn't they?" Miss Honey queried. "But they made up, so it was all right."
Caroline shook her head wisely.
"We—ell," she mused, "they made it up, but I don't believe he changed his mind, just the same."
Something puffed loudly in the road, whirred down to a steady growl, and grew fainter and fainter.
"There they go!" Brother cried.
He picked up a bit of bark and tossed it into the little pool.
"I bet you Ridge will be glad to get back to the Place," he said.