Dorothy's House Partyñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“So you asked him for a lift down?” asked Aunt Betty, smiling.
“No, I didn’t ask. He was so preoccupied, and I so full of what poor old Hiram had told me, that I just ‘natchally’ stepped into the rear seat without the formality of a request. Truly, I don’t think he even noticed me till we were well out of the city limits and on to the quiet back road. Then I asked: ‘How much will you pay, Friend Oliver, toward the support of Hiram Bowen at St. Michael’s Hospital?’
“Then he heard and noticed. Also, he tried to get rid of his passenger; but I wouldn’t be set down. He gave me a rather strong bit of his opinion on meddlers in general and myself in particular, and finding he had me on his hands for all the distance here he said not another word. It was ‘Quaker Meeting’ in good earnest; but I felt as if I were riding with a man of iron and – it tired me!”
“Oh, you dear Master! Did you have any supper?” suddenly demanded Dorothy, with compunction that she hadn’t thought of this earlier.
“Oh! yes. Some little girls were holding a sidewalk ‘fair’ for the benefit of the children’s ward and, while the authorities inside were arranging for Hiram’s bestowal, I bought out their stock in trade and we ate it all together. I do love children!”
Aunt Betty rose and turning to Dorothy, remarked:
“That should be a much better use for your money when you find it than adopting the grandchildren of a rich old Hardheart! Come, child, we must to bed; and to-morrow, we’ll take home the twins. ‘Pass them on’ to Heartsease.”
“Oh! must we? But, maybe, they won’t keep them there. Then, course, you wouldn’t leave them just anywhere, out of doors, would you? Besides, I don’t know what Molly will say. She’s perfectly devoted to her ‘son,’ ’Nias.”
“Do you not? Then I know very well what her Aunt Lucretia and his honor, the Judge, will say; I fancy that their remarks will have some weight! But I’m not hard-hearted, as you suggest, and we shall see what we shall see!” answered Aunt Betty, in her bright, whimsical way; adding as she bade Mr. Winters good-night and kissed Dorothy just as if no “cloud” had ever been between them:
“I am glad to be at home. I am so glad to come, even thus late to the House Party.”
And though she had said the misunderstanding that had made both herself and Dolly so unhappy “should be set right that very night,” maybe this was her way of “setting” it so.
Thus ended another Day of that Wonderful Week, but the morning proved rainy and dark.
“No day for going to the County Fair,” remarked Mrs. Calvert as she appeared among the young folks, just as they came trooping in to breakfast. “We must think of something else. What shall it be? Since I’ve invited myself to your Party I want to get some fun out of it!”
Helena thought she had never seen anything lovelier than this charming old lady, who moved as briskly as a girl and entered into their amusements like one; and when nobody answered her question she volunteered the suggestion:
“Charades? Or a little play in the big barn?”
“Just the thing; the charades, I mean.
There would hardly be time for getting ready for a play, with parts to study and so on. We might plan that for Friday evening, our last one together. But do you, my dear, gather part of your friends about you and arrange the charades. Enough of us must be left for audience, you know. Well, Dorothy, what is it? You seem so anxious to speak?”
“Why not ‘character’ studies and make everybody guess. There’s that attic full of trunks I discovered one day. Surely they must be full of lovely things; and oh! it’s so jolly to ‘dress up’! Afterward, we might have a little dance in the barn – May we, may we?”
“Surely, we may! Dinah has the keys to the trunks, only I warn you – no carelessness. It’s one of my notions to preserve the costumes of the passing years and I wouldn’t like them injured. You may use anything you find, on the condition of being careful.”
That rainy day promised to be the merriest of all; and Dorothy had quite forgotten some unpleasant things, till, breakfast being over and most of the company disappearing in pursuit of Dinah and her keys to the treasure-trunks, Aunt Betty laid a detaining touch upon her arm and said:
“But you and I, my dear, will have a little talk in my room.”
Down went her happiness in a flash. The “misunderstanding” had not been passed by, then; and as yet there had been no “setting right.” Mrs. Calvert’s face was not stern, saying this, but the girl so thought. Indeed, had she known it, Aunt Betty shrank more from the interview and the reproof she must give than did the culprit herself. However, shrinking did no good, and immediately the Mistress had seated herself she began:
“What grieved me most was your suspicion of Ephraim. Dorothy, that man’s skin may be black but his soul is as white as a soul can be. He has served me ever since he was able to toddle and I have yet to find the first serious fault in him. The loss of the money was bad enough, and your scant value of it bad. Why, child, do you know whose money that was?”
“I – I thought it was – mine.”
“It was – God’s.”
“Aunt – Betty!” almost screamed Dorothy in the shock of this statement.
“Yes, my dear, I mean it. He has given me a great deal of wealth but it was His gift, only. Or, His loan, I might better call it. I have to give an account of my stewardship, and as you will inherit after me, so have you.”
For a moment the girl could not reply, she was so amazed by what she heard. Then she ventured to urge:
“You said you gave it to me for my House Party. How could it be like that, then?”
“So I did. I ‘passed it on,’ as poor Hiram Bowen did the twins. Then it became your responsibility. It was a trust fund for the happiness of others, and for their benefit. Why, just think, if you hadn’t been so careless of it, how much good it would have done even yesterday, for that very old man! Then dear Seth wouldn’t have had to tax his small income to pay for a stranger’s keep. Ah! believe me, my Cousin Seth spends money lavishly, but never unwisely, and always for others. When I said ‘dangerously angry’ I meant it. I am, in some respects, always in danger, physically. I shall pass out of your life quite suddenly, some day, my darling, but I do not wish to do so by your fault.
“Now, enough of lectures. Kiss me and tell me that hereafter you will hold your inheritance as a ‘trust,’ and I shall trust you again to the uttermost. Next I want you to go over every incident of that night when you mislaid the money and maybe I can hit upon some clue to its recovery.”
It was a very sober Dorothy who complied. It didn’t seem a very pleasant thing to be an heiress. She had found that out before, but this grave interview confirmed the knowledge; and though they discussed the subject long and critically, they were no nearer any solution of the mystery than when they began.
“Well, it is a strange and most uncomfortable thing. However, we can do no more at present, and I’d like you to take a little drive with me.”
“This morning, Aunt Betty, in all this rain? Ought you? Won’t you get that bronchitis again? Dinah – ”
“Dinah is an old fuss! She never has believed that I’m not soluble in water, like salt or sugar. Besides, I’m not going ‘in the rain,’ I’m going in the close carriage, along with you and the babies with the dreadful names. I’m going to have them renamed, if I can. Run along and put on your jacket. I think I’ve solved the riddle of my neighbor Oliver’s unhappiness and I’ll let no rain hinder me from making him glad again.”
“Dear Aunt Betty, will you do this for a man you do not like?”
“Of course. I’d do it for my worst enemy, if I knew – and maybe this poor miller is that. What ails that man is – remorse. He hasn’t done right but I’m going to give him the chance now, and see his round face fall into its old curves again.”
But good and unselfish as her mission was, for once the lady of Deerhurst’s judgment was mistaken.
A MARVELOUS TALE AND ITS ENDING
Oliver Sands was shut up in his private office. It opened from another larger room that had once been tenanted but was now empty. The emptiness of the great chamber, with its small bed and simple furnishings, both attracted and repelled him, as was witnessed by the fact that he frequently rose and closed the door, only to rise again directly and open it again. Each time he did this he peered all about the big room, whose windows were screened by wire netting as well as by a row of spruce trees. These trees were trimmed in a peculiar manner and were often commented upon by passers along the road beyond. All the lower branches, to the height of the window-tops, were left to grow, luxuriantly, as nature had designed. But above that the tall trees were shaven almost bare, only sufficient branches being left to keep them alive. Also, beyond the trees and bordering the road was a high brick wall, presumably for the training of peach and other fruit trees, for such were carefully trained to it.
But the same wondering eyes which had noticed the trees had observed the wall, where indeed the fruit grew lusciously after a custom common enough in England but almost unknown in this region.
“Looks like both trees and wall were planned to let light into that side the house and keep eyes out. But, has been so ever since Heartsease was, and nothing different now.”
No, everything was outwardly unchanged, but his home was not like his home, that morning, when Mrs. Betty Calvert came to call. The rain that had kept him within had sent him to pass the hours of his imprisonment in his “den,” or office, and to the congenial occupation of looking over the cash in his strong box. He was too wise to keep much there, but there had been a time when the occupation had served to amuse the inmate of the big room, and he was thinking of her now.
Indeed, when there came a knock on the outer door he started, and quickly demanded: “Well?”
“Oliver, Betty Calvert, from Deerhurst, has called to see thee,” said the trembling voice of Dorcas.
“Why? What does she want?”
“To bring thee news. To bring thee a blessing, she says.”
“I will come.”
He rose and locked the strong box, inwardly resolving that its contents must be placed in the bank when next he drove to town, and he again carefully closed the door of the further room. But if there had been any to observe they would have seen his face grow eager with hope while his strong frame visibly trembled. He was not a superstitious man but he had dreamed of Deerhurst more than once of late and news from Deerhurst? A blessing, Dorcas said?
He entered the living-room, cast one eager glance around, and sat down. He had offered no salutation whatever to Mrs. Calvert and the gloom had returned to his face even more deeply. Dorcas was standing wringing her hands, smiling and weeping by turns, and gazing in a perfect ecstasy of eagerness upon Ananias and Sapphira, huddled against Dorothy’s knees. She held them close, as if fearing that cross old man would do them harm, but they were not at all abashed, either by him or by the novelty of the place.
“Well, Oliver Sands, you like plain speech and use it. So do I – on occasion. I have brought home your grandchildren, Rose’s children. Their grandfather on the other side has been committed to an institution and will give you no trouble. He ‘passed them on’ to my household and I, in turn, ‘pass them on,’ to yours, their rightful home. You will feel happier now. Good-morning.”
“What makes thee think he is unhappy?” ventured Dorcas, at last turning her eager gaze away from the twins.
“All the world sees that. He’s a changed man since last we met, and I suppose his conscience is troubling him on account of the way he treated Rose and her children. Their demented grandfather, on the other side, gave them horrible names. I’d change them if I were you. Good-morning.”
But if the miller had not sought to detain her nor responded to her farewell, Dorcas caught at her cloak and begged:
“Wait, wait! Oliver, does thee hear? Elisabeth Calvert is going. She is leaving Rose’s babies! What – what – shall I do? May I keep them here? Say it – Oliver speak, speak, quick! If thee does right in this thing mayhap the Lord will bless thee in the other! Oliver, Oliver!”
He shook her frail hand from his sleeve but he spoke the word she longed to hear, though the shadow on his face seemed rather to deepen than to lighten and astute Betty Calvert was non-plussed. She had so fully counted upon the fact that it was remorse concerning his treatment of his daughter which burdened him that she could not understand his increased somberness.
But he did speak, as he left the room, and the words his wife desired:
“Thee may do as thee likes.”
Then Mrs. Calvert, too, went out and Dorothy with her; strangely enough the twins making no effort to follow; in fact no effort toward anything except a pan of fresh cookies which stood upon the table! and with their fists full of these they submitted indifferently not only to the desertion of their friends but to the yearning embraces of their grandmother.
“Oh! what perfectly disgusting little creatures! Didn’t mind our leaving them with a stranger nor anything! Weren’t they horrid? And it didn’t make him look any happier, either, their coming.”
“No, they were not disgusting, simply natural. They’ve been half-starved most of their lives and food seems to them, just now, the highest good;” said Aunt Betty, as the carriage door was shut upon them and they set out for home. “I cannot call it a wasted morning, since that timid little woman was made glad and two homeless ones have come into their own. But – my guess was wide of the mark. It isn’t remorse ails my miller neighbor but some mystery still unsolved. Ah! me! And I thought I was beautifully helping Providence!”
“So you have, Aunt Betty. Course. Only how we shall miss those twins! Seems if I couldn’t bear to quite give ’Phira up. Deerhurst will be so lonesome!”
“Lonesome, child! with all you young folks in it? Then just imagine for an instant what Heartsease must have been to that poor wife. Shut up alone with such a glum, indifferent husband, in that big house. I saw no other person anywhere about, did you?”
“No, and, since you put it that way, of course I’m glad they’re to be hers not Molly’s and mine.”
“The queer thing is that he was so indifferent. I thought, I was prepared to have him rage and act – ugly, at my interference in his affairs; but he paid no more attention than if I had dropped a couple of puppies at his fireside. Hmm. Queer, queer! But if I’m not mistaken his young relatives will wake him up a bit before he’s done with them.”
After all, though Dorothy had hated to leave the other young folks on such an errand, through such weather, and in some fear of further “lectures,” the ride to Heartsease had proved delightful. She wouldn’t have missed the rapture on lonely Dorcas Sands’s pale face for the wildest frolic going and, after all, it was a relief to know the “twinses” could do no more mischief for which she might be blamed; and it remained now only to appease the wrath of Molly Breckenridge when she was told that her adopted “son” had been removed from her authority without so much as “By your leave.”
Naturally, Molly said nothing in Mrs. Calvert’s presence, but vented her displeasure on Dorothy in private; until the latter exclaimed:
“You would have been glad, just glad, Molly dear, to hear the way the poor old lady said over and over again: ‘Rose’s children! Rose’s children!’ Just that way she said it and she was a picture. I wish I was a Quaker and wore gray gowns and little, teeny-tiny white caps and white something folded around my shoulders. Oh! she was just too sweet for words! Besides – to come right to the bottom of things – neither of us could adopt a child, yet. We haven’t any money.”
“Pshaw! We could get it!”
“I couldn’t. Maybe you could; but – I’m glad they’re gone. It’s better for them and we shouldn’t have been let anyway, and – where’s Helena?”
“Up garret, yet. They’re all up there. Let’s hurry. They’ll have all the nicest things picked out, if we don’t.”
They “hurried” and before they knew it the summons came for luncheon. After that was over Danny Smith and Alfaretta Babcock mysteriously disappeared for a time; returning to their mates with an I-know-something-you-don’t sort of an air, which was tantalizing yet somehow suggested delighted possibilities. The afternoon passed with equal swiftness, and then came the costume parade in the barn; the charades; and, at last, that merry Roger de Coverly, with Mrs. Betty, herself, and Cousin Seth leading off, and doing their utmost to teach the mountain lads and lassies the figures.
All the servants came out to sit around and enjoy the merry spectacle while old Ephraim, perched upon a hay-cutter plied his violin – his fiddle he called it – and another workman plunked away on his banjo till the rafters rang.
“Oh, such a tangle! And it seems so easy!” cried Jane Potter, for once aroused to enthusiasm for something beside study. “Come on, Martin! Come half-way down and go round behind me – Oh! Pshaw! You stupid!”
Yet uttered in that tone the reproof meant no offense and Jane was as awkward as her partner, but the dance proved a jolly ending for a very jolly day. Only, the day was not ended yet; for with a crisp command:
“Every one of you get your places an’ set round in a circle. It’s Danny’s and my turn now, and – Come on, Daniel!” Alfaretta vanished in the harness room.
Danny followed, rather sheepishly, for despite his love of fun he didn’t enjoy being forced into prominence; and from this odd retreat the pair presently emerged with great pans of snowy popped-corn, balanced on their heads by the aid of one hand, while in the other they carried each a basket of the biggest apples even Melvin had ever seen; yet the wonder of the Nova Scotian apples had been one of his proudest boasts.
“Jump up, Jim, in your ‘Uncle Sam’ clothes and fetch the jugs out. Fresh sweet cider, made to farmer Smith’s this very day! There’s nuts in there all cracked, for some of you other fellows to bring and tumblers and plates ’t Aunt Malinda let us take. We’ve had ice-cream and plum-puddin’ and every kind of a thing under the sun and now we’re going to have just plain up-mounting stuff, and you’ll say it’s prime! Danny and me done this. We planned it that night Monty got stuck – Oh! my soul, I forgot!”
“Never mind. I don’t care,” said Monty; and, maybe to prevent another doing so, promptly related for Mrs. Calvert’s benefit the tale of his misadventure. Indeed, he told it in such a funny way that it was plain he was no longer sensitive about it; and he finished with the remark that:
“If Deerhurst folks don’t stop feeding me so much I may even get stuck in that big door!”
The quiet sitting and talking after so much hilarity was pleasant to all and tended to a more thoughtful mood; and finally clapping her hands to insure attention Molly Breckenridge demanded:
“A story, a story! A composite story! Please begin, Mrs. Calvert: ‘Once upon a time – ’ Then let Helena, my Lady of the Crinoline take it up and add a little, then the next one to her, and the next – and so on all around the ring. The most fun is to each say something that will fit – yet won’t make sense – with what went just before. Please!”
“Very well: ‘Once upon a time and very good times they was, there was a Mouse and a Grouse and a Little Red Hen and they all lived in the one house together. So wan day, as she was swapin’ the floor, they met a grain o’ cor-run.’ ‘Now, who’ll take that to the mill?’ ‘I won’t,’ says the Mouse. ‘Nayther will I!’ say the Grouse. ‘Then I’ll aven have to do it mesel,’ says the Little Red – Next!”
Irish Norah was in ecstasies of laughter over her mistress’s imitation of her own brogue, and all the company was smiling, as Helena’s serious voice took up the tale:
“’Twas in the dead of darksome, dreadful, dreary night, when the Little Red Hen set forth on her long, lonely, unfrequented road to the Mill. The Banshees howled, the weird Sisters of the Night made desperate attempts to seize the Grain of Corn – Next!”
“Which, for safe keeping the fearless Little Red Hen had already clapped into her own bill – just like this! So let the Banshees howl, the Weird Sisters Dree their Weird – for Only Three Grains of Corn, Alfy! Only Three Grains of Corn!” cried Monty, passing his empty plate; “and I’ll grind them in a mill that’ll beat the Hen’s all hollow! while Jane Potter – next!”
“For the prisoner was terrified by the sounds upon the roof and after brief deliberation and close investigation he came to the conclusion, ’twas a snare and a delusion to toy with imagination and fear assassination till the hallucination became habituation and his mental aberration get the better of his determination toward analyzation of the sound upon the roof. Of the pat, pat, patter and the clat, clat, clatter of small claws upon the roof! Then with loud cachinnation – Next!”ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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