Dorothy's House Partyñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
A giggle from behind the porti?res commented upon this remark and speeding to part them Dolly revealed the hiding figures of their two boy house-mates.
“That’s not nice of young gentlemen, to peep and listen,” remarked Molly, severely; “but since you’ve done it, come and take your punishment. You’ll have to help. James Barlow, you are appointed the committee of ‘ways and means.’ I haven’t an idea what that ‘means,’ but I know they always have such a committee.”
“What ‘they,’ Miss Molly?”
“I don’t know, Mister Barlow, but you’re – it.”
“Monty, you’ll furnish the entertainment,” she continued.
The recipient of this honor bowed profoundly, then lifted his head with a sudden interest as Dorothy suggested the next name:
Even Alfy looked up in surprise. “Do you mean it, Dorothy C.?”
“Surely. After her put Jane Potter.”
James was listening now and inquired:
“What you raking up old times for, Dorothy? Inviting them south-siders that made such a lot of trouble when you lived ‘up-mounting’ afore your folks leased their farm?”
“Whose ‘Party’ is this?” asked the young hostess, calmly, yet with a twinkle in her eye.
“All of our’n,” answered Alfaretta, complacently.
“How many girls now, Alfy?” questioned Molly, who longed to suggest some of her schoolmates but didn’t like a similar reproof to that which fell so harmlessly from Alfaretta’s mind.
“Five,” said the secretary, counting upon her fingers. “Me, and you, and her, and – five. Correct.”
“Who’s she? I never heard of her,” wondered Molly, while Jim answered:
“She’s a girl ’way down in Baltimore. Why, Dorothy C., you know she can’t come here!”
“Why not? Listen, all of you. This is to be my House Party. It’s to be the very nicest ever was. One that everyone who is in it will never, never forget. My darling Aunt Betty gave me permission to ask anybody I chose and to do anything I wanted. She said I had learned some of the lessons of poverty and now I had to begin the harder ones of having more money than most girls have. She said that I mustn’t feel badly if the money brought me enemies and some folks got envious.”
Here, all unseen by the speaker, honest Alfaretta winced and put her hand to her face; but she quickly dropped it, to listen more closely.
“Mabel was a dear friend even when I was that ‘squalling baby’ Alfy wrote about. I am to telegraph for her and to send her a telegraphic order for her expenses, though Aunt Betty wasn’t sure that would be acceptable to Mr. and Mrs. Bruce. To prevent any misunderstanding on that point, you are to make the telegram real long and explicit. I reckon that’s what it means to be that committee Molly named. She’ll make six girls and that’s enough. Six boys – how many yet Alfy?”
“Three. Them two that are and the one that isn’t.”
Both Jim and Alfy exclaimed in mutual protest:
“Why Dorothy! That fellow? you must be crazy.”
“No, indeed! I’m the sanest one here.
That boy is doing the noblest work anybody ever did on this dear old mountain; he’s making and keeping the peace between south-side and north-side.”
“How do you know, Dorothy?” asked Jim, seriously.
“No matter how I know but I do know. Why, I wouldn’t leave him out of my Party for anything. I’d almost rather be out of it myself!”
Then both he and Alfaretta remembered that winter day on the mountain when Dorothy had been the means of saving Mike Martin from an accidental death and the quiet conference afterward of the two, in that inner room of the old forge under the Great Balm Tree. Probably something had happened then and there to make Dolly so sure of Mike’s worthiness. But she was already passing on to “next,” nodding toward Alfy, with the words:
“The two Smith boys, Littlejohn and Danny.”
Jim Barlow laughed but did not object. The sons of farmer Smith were jolly lads and deserved a good time, once in their hard-worked lives; yet he did stare when Dorothy concluded her list of lads with the name:
“You don’t know him very well, Dolly girl. Beside that, he’ll make an odd number. He’s the seventh – ”
“Son of the seventh son – fact!” interrupted Alfaretta; “and now we’ll have to find another girl to match him.”
“I’ve found the girl, Dolly, but she won’t match. Helena Montaigne came up on the train by which your Father John left for the north. You could hardly leave her out from your House Party, or from givin’ her the bid to it, any way.”
“Helena home? Oh! I am so glad, I am so glad! Of course, she’ll get the ‘bid’; I’ll take it to her myself the first thing to-morrow morning. But you didn’t mention Herbert. Hasn’t he come, too?”
James Barlow nodded assent but grudgingly. He had never in his heart quite forgiven Herbert Montaigne for their difference in life; as if it were the fault of the one that he had been born the son of the wealthy owner of The Towers and of the other that he was a penniless almshouse child. Second thoughts, however, always brought nobler feeling into the honest heart of Jim and a flush of shame rose to his face as he forced himself to answer.
“Yes, course. The hull fambly’s here.”
Dorothy checked the teasing words which rose to her lips, for when ambitious Jim relapsed so hopelessly into incorrect speech it was a sign that he was deeply moved; and it was a relief to see Alfaretta once more diligently count upon her fingers and to hear her declare:
“We’ll never’ll get this here list straight and even, never in this endurin’ world. First there’s a girl too many and now there’s a girl too short!”
“Never mind; we’ll make them come out even some way, and I’ll find another girl. I don’t know who, yet, and we mustn’t ask any more or there’ll be no places for them to sleep. Now we’ve settled the guests let’s settle the time. We’ll have to put it off two or three days, to let them get here. I wish your cousin Tom Hungerford could be asked to join us but I don’t suppose he could come,” said Dolly to her friend Molly.
“No, he couldn’t. It was the greatest favor his getting off just for those few hours. A boy might as well be in prison as at West Point!”
“What? At that ‘heavenly’ place? Let’s see. This is Wednesday night. Saturday would be a nice time to begin the Party, don’t you all think?”
“Fine. Week-end ones always do begin on Saturday but the trouble is they break up on Monday after;” answered Molly.
“Then ours is to be a double week-ender. Aunt Betty said ‘invite them for a week.’ That’s seven days, and now Master Stark comes your task. As a committee of entertainment you are to provide some new, some different, fun for us every single one of those seven days; and it must be something out of the common. I long, I just long to have my home-finding House Party so perfectly beautiful that nobody in it will ever, ever forget it!”
Looking into her glowing face the few who were gathered about her inwardly echoed her wish, and each, in his or her own way, resolved to aid in making it as “perfect” as their young hostess desired.
Monty heaved a prodigious sigh.
“You’ve given me the biggest task, Dolly Doodles! When a fellow’s brain is no better than mine – ”
“Nonsense, Montmorency Vavasour-Stark! You know in your little insides that you’re ‘’nigh tickled to death’ as Alfy would say. Aren’t you the one who always plans the entertainments – the social ones – at your school, Brentnor Hall? You’re as proud as Punch this minute, and you know it, sir. Don’t pretend otherwise!” reproved Molly, severely.
“Yes, but – that was different. I had money then. I hadn’t announced my decision to be independent of my father and he – he hadn’t taken me too literally at my word;” and with a whimsical expression the lad emptied his pockets of the small sums they contained and spread the amount on the table. “There it is, all of it, Lady of the Manor, at your service! Getting up entertainments is a costly thing, but – as far as it goes, I’ll try my level best!”
They all laughed and Dorothy merrily heaped the coins again before him.
“You forget, and so I have to remind you, that this is to be my Party! I don’t ask you to spend your money but just your brains in this affair.”
“Huh! Dorothy! I’m afraid they won’t go much further than the cash!” he returned, but nobody paid attention to this remark, they were so closely watching Dorothy. She had opened a little leather bag which lay upon the table and now drew from it a roll of bills. Crisp bank notes, ten of them, and each of value ten dollars.
“Whew! Where did you get all that, Dorothy Calvert?” demanded Jim Barlow, almost sternly. To him the money seemed a fortune, and that his old companion of the truck-farm must still be as poor in purse as he.
She was nearly as grave as he, as she spread the notes out one by one in the place where Monty had displayed his meager sum.
“My Great-Aunt Betty gave them to me. It is her wish that I should use this money for the pleasure of my friends. She says that it is a first portion of my own personal inheritance, and that if I need more – ”
“More!” they fairly gasped; for ten times ten is a hundred, and a hundred dollars – Ah! What might not be done with a whole one hundred dollars?
“’Twould be wicked,” began James, in an awestruck tone, but was not allowed to finish, for practical Alfaretta, her big eyes fairly glittering, was rapidly counting upon her fingers and trying to do that rather difficult “example” of “how many times will seven go into one hundred and how much over?” “Seven into ten, once and three; seven into thirty – Ouch!”
Her computation came to a sudden end. The storm had broken, all unnoticed till then, and a mighty crash as if the whole house were falling sent them startled to their feet.
THE FIRST AND UNINVITED GUEST
For an instant the group was motionless from fear; then Jim made a dash for the front entrance whence, apparently, the crash had come. There had been no thunder accompanying the storm which now raged wildly over the mountain top, and Alfy found sufficient voice to cry:
“’Tain’t no lightnin’ stroke. Somethin’s fell!”
The words were so inadequate to the description that Molly laughed nervously, and in relieved tension all followed James forward; only to find themselves rudely forced back by old Ephraim, gray with fear and anxiety.
“Stan’ back dere, stan’ back, you-alls! ’Tis Eph’am’s place to gyard Miss Betty’s chillens!”
He didn’t look as if the task were an agreeable one and the lads placed themselves beside him as he advanced and with trembling hands tried to unbar the door. This time he did not repulse them, and it was well, for as the bolts slid and the heavy door was set free it fell inward with such force that he would have been crushed beneath it had they not been there to draw him out of its reach.
“Oh! oh! oh! The great horse chestnut!” cried Dorothy, springing aside from contact with the branches which fell crowding through the doorway. Hinges were torn from their places and the marvel was that the beautifully carved door had not itself been broken in bits.
Jim was the first to rally and to find some comfort in the situation, exclaiming:
“That’s happened exactly as I feared it would, some day; and it’s a mercy there wasn’t nobody sittin’ on that piazza. They’d ha’ been killed dead, sure as pisen!”
“Killing generally does mean death, Jim Barlow, but if you knew that splendid tree was bound to fall some day why didn’t you say so? We – ” with a fine assumption of proprietorship in Deerhurst – “we would have had it prevented,” demanded Dorothy.
Already she felt that this was home; already she loved the fallen tree almost as its mistress had done and her feeling was so sincere, if new, that nobody smiled, and the lad answered soberly:
“I have told, Dolly girl. I kept on tellin’ Mrs. Calvert how that lily-pond she would have dug out deeper an’ deeper, and made bigger all the time, would for certain undermine that tree and make it fall. But – but she’s an old lady ’t knows her own mind and don’t allow nobody else to know it for her! Old Hans, the gardener, he talked a heap, too; begged her to have the pond cemented an’ that wouldn’t hender the lilies blowin’ and’d stop trouble. But, no. She wouldn’t listen. Said she ‘liked things perfectly natural’ and – Well, she’s got ’em now!”
“Jim Barlow, you’re – just horrid! and – ungrateful to my precious Aunt Betty!” cried Dorothy, indignant tears springing to her eyes. To her the fallen tree seemed like a stricken human being and the catastrophe a terrible one. “It’s taken that grand chestnut years and years and years – longer’n you or I will ever live, like enough – to grow that big, and to be thrown down all in a minute, and – you don’t care a mite, except to find your own silly opinion prove true!”
“Hold on, Dolly girl. This ain’t no time for you an’ me to begin quarrelin’. I do care. I care more’n I can say but that don’t hender the course o’ nature. The pond was below; ’twas fed by a spring from above; she had trenches dug so that spring-water flowed right spang through the roots of that chestnut into the pond; and what could follow except what did? I’m powerful sorry it’s happened but I can’t help bein’ common-sensible over it.”
“I hate common-sense!” cried Molly, coming to the support of her friend. “Anyway, I don’t see what good we girls do standing here in this draughty hall. Let’s go to bed.”
“And leave the house wide open this way?”
Dorothy’s sense of responsibility was serious enough to her though amusing to the others, and it was Monty who brought her back to facts by remarking:
“The house always has been taken care of, Dolly Doodles, and I guess it will be now. Jim and I will get some axes and lop off these branches that forced the door in and prop it shut the best way we can. Then I’ll go down to the lodge with him to sleep for he says there’s a room I can have. See? You girls will be well protected!” and he nodded toward the group of servants gathered at the rear of the great hall. “So you’d better take Molly’s advice and go up-stairs.”
Dolly wasn’t pleased to be thus set coolly aside in “her own house” but there seemed nothing better to do than follow this frank advice; therefore, taking a hand of each of her girl friends, she led the way toward her own pretty chamber and two small rooms adjoining.
“Aunt Betty thought we three’d like to be close together, and anyway, if we had all come that I wanted to invite we’d have to snug up some. So she told Dinah to fix her dressing-room for one of you – that’s this side mine; and the little sewing-room for the other. She’s put single beds in them and Dinah is to sleep on her cot in this wide hall outside our doors. It seemed sort of foolish to me, first off, when darling Auntie planned it, as if anything could happen to make us need Dinah so near; but now – My! I can’t stop trembling, somehow. I was so frightened and sorry.”
“I’m sorry, too, and I’m scared, too; but I’m sleepier’n I’m ary one,” yawned Alfaretta.
“I’m sleepy, too;” assented Molly; and even the excited Dorothy felt a strange drowsiness creeping over her. It would be the correct thing, she had imagined, to lie awake and grieve over the loss of Mrs. Calvert’s beloved tree, which would now be cut into ignominious firewood and burned upon a hearth; but – in five minutes after her head had touched her pillow she was sound asleep as her mates already were.
Outside, the storm abated and the moon arose, lighting the scenery with its brilliance and setting the still dripping trees aglitter with its glory. Moonlight often made Dorothy wakeful and did so on this eventful night. Its rays streaming across her unshaded window roused her to sit up, and with the action came remembrance.
“My heart! That money! All those beautiful new bills that are to buy pleasant things for my Party guests! I had it all spread out on the library table when that crash came and I never thought of it again! Nobody else, either, I fancy. I’ll go right down and get it and I mustn’t wake the girls or Dinah. It was careless of me, it surely was; but I know enough about money to understand it shouldn’t be left lying about in that way.”
Creeping softly from her bed she drew on her slippers and kimono as Miss Rhinelander had taught her pupils always to do when leaving their rooms at night, and the familiar school-habit proved her in good stead this time. Once she would have stopped for neither; but now folding the warm little garment about her she tiptoed past old Dinah, snoring, and down the thickly carpeted stairs, whereon her slippered feet made no sound. Quite noiselessly she came to the library door and pushed the porti?re aside.
Into this room, also, the moonlight streamed, making every object visible. She had glanced, as she came along the hall, toward the big door, bolstered into place by the heavy settle and hat-rack; and the latter object looked so like a gigantic man standing guard that she cast no second look but darted within the lighter space.
Hark! What was that sound? Somebody breathing? Snoring? A man’s snore, so like that of dear Father John who used, sometimes, to keep her awake, though she hadn’t minded that because she loved him so. The sound, frightful at first, became less so as she remembered those long past nights, and mustering her courage she tiptoed toward the figure on the lounge.
Old Ephraim! Well, she didn’t believe Aunt Betty would have permitted even that faithful servant to spend a night upon her cherished leather couch; but the morning would be time enough to reprimand him for his audacity, which, of course, she must do, since she stood now in Mrs. Calvert’s place, as temporary head of the family. She felt gravely responsible and offended as she crossed the room to the table where three chairs still grouped sociably together, exactly as the three girls had left them.
Ah! yes. The chairs were in their places, Alfaretta’s list of guests as well, and even the little leather bag out of which she had drawn the wealth that so surprised her mates. But the ten crisp notes she had so spread out in the sight of all – where were they?
Certainly nowhere to be seen, although that revealing moonlight made even Alfy’s written words quite legible. What could have become of them? Who had taken them? And why? Supposing somebody had stolen in and stolen them? Supposing that was why he was sleeping in the library? Yet, if there had been thievery there, wouldn’t he have kept awake, to watch? Supposing – here a horrible thought crept into her mind – supposing he, himself, had been the thief! She was southern born and had the southerner’s racial distrust of a “nigger’s” honesty; yet – as soon as thought she was ashamed of the suspicion. Aunt Betty trusted him with far more than she missed now. She would go over to that window and think it out. Maybe the sleeper would awake in a minute and she could ask him about it.
The question was one destined to remain unasked. As she stood gazing vacantly outward, her hands clasped in perplexity, something moving arrested her attention. A small figure in white, or what seemed white in that light. It was circling the pond where the water-lilies grew and was swaying to and fro as if dancing to some strange measure. Its skirts were caught up on either side by the hands resting upon its hips and the apparition was enough to startle nerves that had not already been tried by the events of that night.
Dorothy stood rooted to the spot. Then a sudden movement of the dancer which brought her perilously near the water’s edge recalled her common sense.
“Why, it’s one of the girls! It must be! Which? She doesn’t look like either – is she sleep-walking? Who, what can it mean?”
Another instant and she had opened the long sash and sped out upon the rain-soaked lawn; and she was none too soon. As if unseeing, or unfearing, the strange figure swept nearer and nearer to the moonlit water, its feet already splashing in it, when Dorothy’s arms were flung around it to draw it into safety.
“Why – ” began the rescuer and could say no more. The face that slowly turned toward her was one that she had never seen before. It was the face of a child under a mass of gray hair, and its expression strangely vacant and inconsequent. Danger, fear, responsibility meant nothing to this little creature whom Dorothy had saved from drowning, and with a sudden pitiful memory of poor, half-witted Peter Piper who had loved her so, she realized that here was another such as he. In body and mind the child had never grown up, though her years were many.
“Come this way, little lady. Come with me. Let us go into the house;” said the girl gently, and led the stranger to the window she had left open. “You must be the odd guest I needed for my House Party, to make the couples even, and so I bid you welcome. Strange, the window should be shut!”
But closed it was; nor could all the girl’s puny pounding bring help to open it. Against the front door the great tree still pressed and she could not reach its bell; and confused by all she had passed through Dorothy forgot that there were other entrances where help could be summoned and sank down on the piazza floor beside her first, her uninvited guest, to wait for morning.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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