Dorothy's House Partyñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
TROUBLES LIGHTEN IN THE TELLING
But a few moments sufficed to show that this would not do. Despite her own heavy kimono she was already chilled by the air of that late September night, while the little creature beside her was shivering as if in ague, although she seemed to be half-asleep.
She reasoned that Ephraim must have waked and closed the library window and departed to his own quarters. But there must be some way in which a girl could get into her own house; and then she exclaimed:
“Why, yes! The sun-parlor, right at the end of this very piazza. All that south side is covered with glass and if I can get a sash up we can climb through. The place is as nice as a bedroom. Anyway, I’ll try!”
She left the stranger where she lay and ran to make the effort, and though for a time the heavy sash resisted her strength, it did yield slightly and her fresh fear that it had been locked vanished. Yet with her utmost endeavor she could lift it but a few inches and she wondered if she would be able to get her visitor through that scant opening.
“I shall have to make her go through flat-wise, like crawling through fence bars, and I wonder if she will! Anyhow, I must try. I – I don’t like it out here in the night and we’ll both be sick of cold, and that would end our party.”
Dorothy never quite realized how that affair was managed.
Though the wanderer appeared to hear well enough she did not speak and had not from the first. Probably she could not, but she could be as stubborn and difficult as possible and she was certainly exhausted from exposure. It was a harder task than lifting the great window, but, at last, by dint of pushing and coaxing, even shoving, the inert small woman was forced through the opening and dropped upon the matted floor, where she remained motionless.
Dolly squeezed herself after and stooped above her guest, anxiously asking:
“Did that hurt you? I’m sorry, but there was no other way. Please try to get up and lie down. See? There are two nice lounges here and lots of ‘comfy’ chairs. Shawls and couch-covers in plenty – Why! it’ll be like a picnic!”
The guest made no effort to rise but waved the other aside with a sleepy, impatient gesture, then fell to shaking again as if she were desperately cold. Dorothy was too frightened to heed these objections and since it was easier to roll a lounge to the sufferer than to argue, she did so and promptly had her charge upon it; but she first stripped off the damp cotton gown from the shaking body and wrapped it in all the rugs and covers she could find. She did not attempt to penetrate further into the house then, because she knew that Ephraim had bolted and barred the door leading thither. She had watched him do so with some amusement, early in the evening, and had playfully asked him if he expected any burglars. He had disdained to reply further than by shaking his wise old head, but had omitted no precaution because of her raillery.
“Well, this may not be as nice as in my own room but it’s a deal better than out of doors.
That poor little thing isn’t shivering so much and – she’s asleep! She’s tired out, whoever she is and wherever she came from, and I’m tired, also. I can’t do any better till daylight comes and I’ll curl up in this big chair and go to sleep, too,” said Dorothy to herself.
She wakened to find the sunlight streaming through the glass and to hear a chorus of voices demanding, each in a various key:
“Why, Dorothy C!” “How could you?” “Yo’ done gib we-all de wussenes’ sca’, you’ ca’less chile! What yo’ s’posin’ my Miss Betty gwine ter say when she heahs ob dis yeah cuttin’s up? Hey, honey? Tell me dat!”
But Dinah’s reproofs were cut short as her eye fell upon the rug-heaped lounge and saw the pile of them begin to move. As yet no person was visible and she stared at the suddenly agitated covers as if they were bewitched. Presently, they were flung aside; and revealed upon a crimson pillow lay a face almost as crimson.
“Fo’ de lan’ ob lub! How come dat yeah – dis – What’s hit mean, li’l gal Do’thy?”
Dolly had not long been missed nor, when she was, had anybody felt serious alarm, though the girl guests had both been aggrieved that she should not have wakened them in time to be prompt for breakfast. They dressed hurriedly when Norah came a second time to summon them, explaining:
“Miss Dorothy’s room is empty and her clothes on the chairs. I must go seek her for she shouldn’t do this way if she wants to keep cook good natured for the Party. Delaying breakfast is a bad beginning.”
Then Norah departed and went about her business of dusting; and it was she who had found the missing girl in the sun-parlor, and it had been her cry of relief that brought the household to that place.
Demanded old Ephraim sternly:
“Why fo’ yo’-all done leab yo’ baid in de middle ob de night an’ go sky-la’kin’ eround dis yere scan’lous way, Missy Dolly Calve’t? Tole me dat!”
“Why do you leave yours, to sleep on the library couch, Ephraim?” she returned, keenly observing him from the enclosure of her girl friends’ arms, who held her fast that she might not again elude them.
Ephraim fairly jumped; though he looked not at her but in a timid way toward Dinah, still bending in anxious curiosity over the stranger on the couch; and she was not so engrossed but that her turbaned head rose with a snap and she fixed her fellow servant with a fiercely glaring eye. Between these two equally devoted members of “Miss Betty’s” family had always existed a bitter jealousy as to which was the most loyal to their mistress’s interests. Let either presume upon that loyalty, to indulge in a forbidden privilege, and the wrath of the other waxed furious. Both knew that for Ephraim to have lain where Dorothy had discovered him, during that past night, was “intol’able” presumption, and at Dinah’s care would be duly reported upon and reprimanded.
Alas! The old man’s start and down-dropped gaze was proof in Dorothy’s opinion of a graver guilt than Dinah imputed to him, and when he made no answer save a hasty exit from the room her heart sank.
“Oh! how could he do it, how could he!” and then honesty suggested. “But I haven’t asked him yet if he did take the bills!” and she smiled again at her own thoughts.
Attention was now diverted to Dinah’s picking up the stranger from the couch and also departing, muttering:
“I ’low dis yeah’s a mighty sick li’l creatur’! Whoebah she be she’s done fotched a high fevah wid her, an’ I’se gwine put her to baid right now!”
Illness was always enough to enlist the old nurse’s deepest interest and she had no further reproof for the delayed breakfasts or Ephraim’s behavior.
There followed a morning full of business for all. Jim Barlow and old Hans, with some grumbling assistance from the “roomatical” Ephraim, whose “misery” Dinah assured him had been aggravated by sleeping on a cold leather lounge instead of in his own feather-bed – these three spent the morning in clearing away the fallen tree, while a carpenter from the town repaired the injured doorway.
When Dorothy approached Jim, intending to speak freely of her suspicions about the lost money, he cut her short by remarking:
“What silliness! Course, it isn’t really lost. You’ve just mislaid it, that’s all, an’ forgot. I do that, time an’ again. Put something away so careful ’t I can’t find it for ever so long. You’ll remember after a spell, and say, Dolly! I won’t be able to write that telegram to Mabel Bruce. I’ve got no time to bother with a parcel o’ girls. If I don’t keep a nudgin’ them two old men they won’t do a decent axe’s stroke. They spend all their time complainin’ of their j’ints!”
“Well, why don’t you get a regular woodman to chop it up, then?”
“An’ waste Mrs. Calvert’s good money, whilst there’s a lot of idlers on her premises, eatin’ her out of house and home? I guess not. I’d save for her quicker’n I would for myself, an’ that’s saying considerable. I’m no eye-servant, I’m not.”
“Huh! You’re one mighty stubborn boy! And I don’t think my darling Aunt Betty would hesitate to pay one extra day’s help. I’ve heard her say that she disliked amateur labor. She likes professional skill,” returned the girl, with decision.
James Barlow laughed.
“I reckon, Dolly C., that you’ve forgot the days when you and I were on Miranda Stott’s truck-farm; when I cut firewood by the cord and you sat on the logs an’ taught me how to spell. ’Twouldn’t do for me to claim I can’t split up one tree; and this one’ll be as neat a job as you ever see, time I’ve done with it. Trot along and write your own telegrams; or get that Starky to do it for you. Ha, ha! He thought he could saw wood, himself. Said he learned it campin’ out; but the first blow he struck he hit his own toes and blamed it on the axe being too heavy. Trot along with him, girlie, and don’t hender me talkin’.”
The “Little Lady of the Manor,” as President Ryall had called her, walked away with her nose in the air. Preferred to chop wood, did he? And it wasn’t nice of him – it certainly wasn’t nice – to set her thinking of that miserable old truck-farm and the days of her direst poverty. She was Dorothy Calvert now; a girl with a name and heiress of Deerhurst. She’d show him, horrid boy that he was!
But just then his cheerful whistling reached her, and her indignation vanished. By no effort could she stay long angry with Jim. He was annoyingly “common-sensible,” as he claimed, but he was also so straight and dependable that she admired him almost as much as she loved him. Yes, she had other friends now, and would doubtless gain many more, but none could ever be a truer one than this homely, plain-spoken lad.
She spied the girls and Monty in the arbor and joined them; promptly announcing:
“If our House Party is to be a success you three must help. Jim won’t. He’s going to chop wood. Monty, will you ride to the village and send that telegram to Mabel Bruce?”
The lad looked up from the foot he had been contemplating and over which Molly and Alfy had been bending in sympathy, to answer by another question:
“See that shoe, Dolly Calvert? Close shave that. Might have been my very flesh itself, and I’d have blood poisoning and an amputation, and then there’d have been telegrams sent – galore! Imagine my mother – if they had been!”
“It wasn’t your flesh, was it?”
“That’s as Yankee as I am. Always answer your own questions when you ask them and save a lot of trouble to the other fellow. No, I wasn’t hurt but I might have been! Since I’m not, I’m at your service, Lady D. Providing you word your own message and give me a decent horse to ride.”
“There are none but ‘decent’ horses in our stable, Master Stark. I shall need Portia myself, or we girls will. You can go ask a groom to saddle one – that he thinks best. I see through you. You’ve just been getting these girls to waste sympathy on you and you shall be punished by our leaving you alone till lunch time. I’ll write the message, of course. I’d be afraid you wouldn’t put enough in. Only – let me think. How much do telegrams cost?”
“Twenty-five cents for ten words,” came the prompt reply.
“But ten would hardly begin to talk! Is telephoning cheaper? You ought to know, being a boy.”
“Long distance telephoning is about as expensive a luxury as one can buy, young lady. But, why hesitate? It won’t take all of that hundred dollars,” he answered, swaggering a trifle over his superior knowledge.
Out it came without pause or pretense, the dark suspicion that had risen in Dorothy’s innocent mind:
“But I haven’t that hundred dollars! It’s gone. It’s —stolen!”
“Dorothy Calvert! How dare you say such a thing?”
It was Molly’s horrified question that broke the long silence which had fallen on the group; and hearing her ask it gave to poor Dorothy the first realization of what an evil thing it was she had voiced.
“I don’t know! Oh! I don’t know! I wish I hadn’t. I didn’t mean to tell, not yet; and I wish, I wish I had kept it to myself!” she cried in keen regret.
For instantly she read in the young faces before her a reflection of her own hard suspicion and loss of faith in others; and something that her beloved Seth Winters had once said came to her mind:
“Evil thoughts are more catching than the measles.”
Seth, that grand old “Learned Blacksmith!” To him she would go, at once, and he would help her in every way. Turning again to her mates she begged:
“Forget that I fancied anybody might have taken it to keep. Of course, nobody would. Let’s hurry in and get Mabel’s invitation off. I think I’ve enough money to pay for a message long enough to explain what I want; and her fare here – well she’ll have to pay that herself or her father will. I’ve asked to have Portia put to the pony cart and we girls will drive around and ask all the others. So glad they live on the mountain where we can get to them quick.”
“Dolly, shall you go to The Towers, to see that Montaigne girl?” asked Alfaretta, rather anxiously.
“Yes, but you needn’t go in if you don’t want to, Alfy dear. I shall stay only just long enough to bid her welcome home and invite her for Saturday.”
“Oh! I shouldn’t mind. I’d just as lief. Fact, I’d admire, only if I put on my best dress to go callin’ in the morning what’ll I have left to wear to the Party? And Ma Babcock says them Montaignes won’t have folks around that ain’t dressed up;” said the girl, so frankly that Molly laughed and Dorothy hastened to assure her:
“That’s a mistake, Alfy, dear, I think. They don’t care about a person’s clothes. It’s what’s inside the clothes that counts with sensible people, such as I believe they are. But, I’ll tell you. It’s not far from The Towers’ gate to the old smithy and I must see Mr. Seth. I must. I’m so thankful that he didn’t leave the mountain, too, with all the other grown-ups. So you can drop me at Helena’s; and then you and Molly can drive around to all the other people we’ve decided to ask and invite them in my stead. You know where all of them live and Molly will go with you.”
“Can Alfy drive – safe?” asked Molly, rather anxiously.
Dolly laughed. “Anybody can drive gentle Portia and Alfy is a mountain girl. But what a funny question for such a fearless rider as you, Molly Breckenridge!”
“Not so funny as you think. It’s one thing to be on the back of a horse you know and quite another to be behind the heels of another that its driver doesn’t know! Never mind, Alfy. I’ll trust you.”
“You can,” Alfaretta complacently assured her; and the morning’s drive proved her right. A happier girl had never lived than she as she thus acted deputy for the new little mistress of Deerhurst; whose story had lost none of its interest for the mountain folk because of its latest development.
But it was not at all as a proud young heiress that Dorothy came at last to the shop under the Great Balm Tree and threw herself impetuously upon the breast of the farrier quietly reading beside his silent forge.
“O, Mr. Seth! My darling Mr. Seth! I’m in terrible trouble and only you can help me!”
His book went one way, his spectacles another, dashed from his hands by her heedless onrush; but he let them lie where they had fallen and putting his arm around her, assured her:
“So am I. Therefore, let us condole with one another. You first.”
“I’ve lost Aunt Betty’s hundred dollars!”
Her friend fairly gasped, and held her from him to search her troubled face.
“Whe-ew! That is serious. Yet lost articles are sometimes found. Out with the whole story, ‘body and bones’ – as my man Owen would say.”
Already relieved by the chance of telling her worries, Dorothy related the incidents of the night, and she met the sympathy she expected. But it was like the nature-loving Mr. Winters that he was more disturbed by the loss of the great chestnut tree than by that of the money. Also, the story of the stranger she had found wandering by the lily-pond moved him deeply. All suffering or afflicted creatures were precious in the sight of this noble old man and he commented now with pity on the distress of the friends from whom the unknown one had strayed.
“How grieved they’ll be! For it must have been from some private household she came, or escaped. There is no public asylum or retreat within many miles of our mountain, so far as I know. I wonder if we ought to advertise her in the local newspaper? Or, do you think it would be kinder to wait and let her people hunt her up? Tell me, Dolly, dear. The opinion of a child often goes straight to the point.”
“Oh! Don’t advertise, please, Mr. Seth! Think. If she belonged to you or me we wouldn’t want it put in the paper that – about – you know, the lost one being not quite right, someway. If anybody’s loved her well enough to keep her out of an asylum they’ve loved her well enough to come and find her, quiet like, without anybody but kind hearted people having to know. If they don’t love her – well, she’s all right for now. Dinah’s put her to bed and told me, just before I came away, that it was only the exposure which had made her ill. She had roused all right, after a nap, and had taken a real hearty breakfast. She’s about as big as I am and Dinah’s going to put some of my clothes on her while her own are done up. Everybody in the house was so interested and kind about her, I was surprised.”
“You needn’t have been. People who have lived with such a mistress as Madam Betty Calvert must have learned kindness, even if they learned nothing else.”
Dorothy laughed. “Dear Mr. Seth, you love my darling Aunt Betty, too, don’t you, like everybody does?”
“Of course, and loyally. That doesn’t prevent my thinking that she does unwise things.”
“O – oh!!”
“Like giving a little girl one hundred dollars at a time to spend in foolishness.”
Dorothy protested: “It wasn’t to be foolishness. It was to make people happy. You yourself say that to ‘spread happiness’ is the only thing worth while!”
“Surely, but it doesn’t take Uncle Sam’s greenbacks to do that. Not many of them. When you’ve lived as long as I have you’ll have learned that the things which dollars do not buy are the things that count. Hello! ‘By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.’”
The blacksmith rose as he finished his quotation and went to the wide doorway, across which a shadow had fallen, and from whence the sound of an irritable: “Whoa-oa, there!” had come.
It was a rare patron of that old smithy and Seth concealed his surprise by addressing not the driver but the horse:
“Well, George Fox! Good-morning to you!”
George Fox was the property of miller Oliver Sands, and the Quaker and his steed were well known in all that locality. He was a fair-spoken man whom few loved and many feared, and between him and the “Learned Blacksmith” there was “no love lost.” Why he had come to the smithy now Seth couldn’t guess; nor why, as he stepped down from his buggy and observed, “I’d like to have thee look at George’s off hind foot, farrier. He uses it – ” he should do what he did.
How it was “used” was not explained; for, leaving the animal where it stood, the miller sauntered into the building, hands in pockets, and over it in every part, even to its owner’s private bedroom, as if he had a curiosity to see how his neighbor lived. Seth would have resented this, had it been worth while and if the miller’s odd curiosity had not aroused the same feeling in himself. It was odd, he thought; but Seth Winters had nothing to hide and he didn’t care. It was equally odd that George Fox’s off hind foot was in perfect condition and had been newly shod at the other smithy, over the mountain, where all the miller’s work was done.
“It seems to be all right, Friend Oliver.”
“Forget that I troubled thee,” answered the gray-clad Friend, as he climbed back to his seat and shook the reins over his horse’s back, to instantly disappear down the road, but to leave a thoughtful neighbor, staring after him.
“Hmm. That man’s in trouble. I wonder what!” murmured Seth, more to himself than to Dorothy, who had drawn near to slip her hand in his.
“Dear me! Everybody seems to be, this morning, Mr. Seth; and you haven’t told me yours yet!”
“Haven’t I? Well, here it is!”
He stooped his gray head to her brown one and whispered it in her ear; with the result that he had completely banished all her own anxieties and sent her laughing down the road toward home.
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