Dorothy's House Partyñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“Can’t beat this. In those days there was no bridge here, not even a footbridge. One had to ford the stream. The General was going to a party at that very house yonder and was in his best togs. Course, he didn’t want to get his pumps wet so he hired an Irishman – more likely a Britisher – to carry him over. Half way over – a little slip – not intentional, of course! – and down goes my General, ker-splash! Just this way it was! Only it’s turn and turn about, now. Young America totes old England and – ”
“Lads, lads! That footbridge is unsafe! See! The plank’s gone in the middle – Oh! the careless fellows!”
Having been a boy himself the farrier was prepared for pranks; and the good-natured badinage between Herbert and the young Canadian had aroused no anxiety till now. He had been near enough to hear Herbert’s recital of the Lafayette incident but had merely been amused. Now – Oh! why didn’t they keep to the wide, safe bridge, that wagons used!
Already it was too late even for his warning. Herbert had only meant to catch up the slighter Melvin, scare him by pretending to drop him, but in reality carry him pick-a-pack safely to the further shore. He considered himself an athlete and wished to show “young England how they do things in Yankeeland,” and with a shout he darted forward. Headlong he came to the spot above the water where no foothold was – a space too wide for even his long legs to cover, and all the watchers shivered in fear.
But from his elevation on Herbert’s back, Melvin had already seen the chasm and as if he had been shot from a catapult – he cleared it!
“Hip, hip, hooray! England forever!” yelled Frazer Moore and every other lad in the company added his cheers.
Then Melvin, from his side the chasm, doffed his cap and bowed his graceful acknowledgments for his country’s sake. And at sight of that the girls cheered, too, for Herbert had already regained his feet in that shallow stream and they could see that he had taken no hurt beyond a slight wetting.
“Never mind that. He’ll dry off, same as the twins did,” laughed Molly Breckenridge. Which he did, for the sun was warm and his plunge had been a brief one; and in fact this “little international episode,” as Monty called it, but served to increase the jollity of that day.
Such a day it proved; without cloud or untoward incident to mar its happiness; and as they wandered here and there, inspecting for the last time the historical spot which had given them hospitable shelter, none dreamed of any mishap to come. Even the twins were tired enough to behave with uncommon docility, beyond continually removing from one another the ribbon which should have designated Ananias from Sapphira.
“They’ve changed it so often I’ve really forgotten which is which, but I’m sure – that is I think – I’m really positive – that the hair with a kink belongs to Sapphira! After all, that isn’t such a dreadful name when you say it softly,” said Molly.
“I think this is the loveliest old house I ever saw.
I’d just like to stay here forever, seems if. The funny roof, so high up in front and away down, low almost as the ground behind. The great chimney – think of standing in a chimney so big you can look straight up, clear through to the sky!” murmured studious Jane Potter.
“’Tisn’t as big as the Newburgh one, and they haven’t any such Hessian boots, though it does have a secret staircase and chamber,” answered Jim who, also, was greatly interested in the ancient building. “But come on, Janie; they’re getting ready to leave.”
“In just a minute. Just one single minute, ’cause I shan’t ever likely come here again, even if I do live so near it as our mountain.”
Home through the twilight they drove, for kindly Seth couldn’t abridge for his beloved young folks that long, delightful day; and they were ready to declare, most of them, that even the circus to come could hardly be more enjoyable than this day’s “Headquartering” had been.
It was then, on that happy return, that Dorothy had found the telegram awaiting, and had caught it up with a loving thought of her indulgent Aunt Betty. Then her happiness dashed as by cold water she had flown out of the room and shut herself in her pretty chamber to cry and feel herself the most unhappy girl in all the world.
Twice had Norah come to her door to summon her to supper before she felt composed enough to go below among her guests.
Over and over she assured herself that none of them should ever know how badly she had been treated. Nobody, of course, except Alfaretta, and the first thing that girl would be sure to ask would be:
“Have you caught your hare?” In other words: “Did she send the money?”
But in this she did poor Alfy great injustice. It had needed but one glance to tell her – being in the secret – what sort of an answer had come to Dorothy by way of that unexplained yellow envelope. Well, it was too bad! After all, Mrs. Betty Calvert must be a terribly stingy old woman not to give all the money she wanted to her new-found, or new-acknowledged great niece! Huh! She was awful sorry for Dolly Doodles, to have to belong to just – great aunts! She’d rather have Ma Babcock, a thousand times over, than a rich old creature like Dolly had to live with. She would so!
Therefore it was not at all of news from town that warm-hearted Alfaretta inquired, as Dorothy at last appeared in the supper room, but with an indifferent glance around:
“Why, where’s Jane Potter?”
MUSIC AND APPARITIONS
Where, indeed, was good Jane Potter! The least troublesome, the most self-effacing, staidest girl of them all.
“Didn’t she ride home with you?”
“Why no. I supposed she did with you. That is – I never thought.”
“But – somebody should have thought!” cried Dorothy, diverted from her own unhappiness by this strange happening.
“Yes, and that ‘somebody’ should have been myself,” admitted Mr. Seth, after question had followed question and paling faces had turned toward one another.
“Are you sure she isn’t in her room?” asked Helena.
“Sure as sure. I thought it funny she didn’t come to clean herself, I mean put on her afternoon things; but I guessed she was too tired, and, anyway, Jane never gets mussed up as I do,” answered Molly Martin, tears rising in her eyes.
The Master rose from his unfinished meal.
“Then we’ve left her behind and the poor child will be terrified. I’ll have one of the work horses put to the pony cart at once, and go back for her. I’d like one of you lads to go with me. I might need somebody.”
Jim rose and Herbert, and, oddly enough, Mr. Winters nodded to Herbert; adding to Dorothy:
“Have a bottle of milk and some food, besides a heavy wrap sent out to the cart. She will have missed her supper.”
“But you and Herbert are missing yours, too. I shall send something extra for you two and mind you eat it. I – I’m sure you’ll find Jane all right only maybe frightened,” said Dorothy, doing her utmost to banish anxiety from her friends, though she felt troubled enough in her own mind. If it had been any other girl but Jane, the steady!
However, there was the long evening to get through, even though the rescuing party made their best speed. Many miles stretched between the old mansion and this with the distance to cover twice; and all the time there lay on the hostess’s heart the burden of her own personal grief. But she mustn’t think of that. She must not. She was a Calvert, no matter what Aunt Betty said. A gentlewoman.
Only yesterday Helena had explained that a gentlewoman, “in society,” had no thought save for the comfort of others. Well, she was in “society” now, and – She almost wished she wasn’t! She’d rather have been a poor little girl, unknowing her own name, who’d never dreamed of being an heiress and who’d have been free to run away and hide and cry her eyes out – if she wished!
So she put her best efforts to her task of entertaining and a jolly evening followed; though now and then one or another would pause in the midst of a game and ask:
“Ought we to be carrying on like this, while we don’t know what’s happened to Janie?” Then the spirit of fun would sway them all again; for, as Alfaretta practically put it: “Whether we laugh or cry don’t make any difference to her. Time enough to solemn down when we find out she’s hurt.”
They were rather noisily singing the old round of “Three Blind Mice,” with each particular “mouse” putting itself into its neighbors’ way, so that the refrain never would come out in the proper order, when it was caught up by lusty voices in the outer hall and Mr. Seth’s deep tones leading.
“They’ve come! They’ve come – and it must be all right, else they wouldn’t sing like that!” cried Molly Martin, infinitely relieved on her friend’s and room-mate’s account; she and the sedate Jane being as close chums as Dolly and the other Molly were.
“The Campbells Are Coming,” whistled Herbert merrily, and with the air of a courtier led the embarrassed Jane into the midst of the circle. She jerked her hand away with the reproof:
“Don’t be silly! I’ve made trouble enough without acting foolish over it.”
She seemed so completely ashamed of herself that Dorothy pitied her and hastened to put her arm about her and say:
“Why should you think of trouble to anybody else since you’re – alive?”
“Alive! Did you think I might be dead, then? That makes it worse, still. I was never in the slightest danger. I was only just a – dunce.”
“You couldn’t ever be that, Jane Potter!” cried Molly Martin, enthusiastically embracing the restored one from her other side.
But Jane shook herself free from the caresses of both and calmly explained:
“Since you’ll all want to know I may as well tell just how thoughtless I was. I wanted to find that secret staircase Jim had told about, and the hidden chamber above it, under the roof. I couldn’t at first. It led out of the paneled chamber, he said, where all the side walls looked like doors and only one of them would move. Finally, after I’d tried ’em all, and that took some time, I slid one open. It was the secret stair; nothing but a close sealed cupboard, so little that even I could hardly squeeze up it. It wasn’t a regular stair, only tiny three-cornered pieces of board nailed in the back angles, first one side and then another. They are far apart and some are gone. I thought I’d never get up the thing, but I hadn’t stayed behind to be worsted by a sort of old grain-chute like that.”
“Weren’t you scared? Didn’t you feel as if some enemy were after you?” Molly Breckenridge interrupted to ask.
Jane coolly sat down and glanced contemptuously at the questioner. All the company felt a trifle disappointed by Jane’s manner. They had expected a more exciting revelation.
“What should I be afraid of? I haven’t any enemies, as I know.”
“But it must have been very dark in such a place, a shut-in box like that,” protested Helena, who as well as the others thought Jane might have made more out of her adventure.
“No, it wasn’t, not there. The panel-door let the light through from the big room where there are no blinds or curtains. All the light there was – only dusk, you know – came through. It was at the top, after I’d climbed off the top step into the hidden chamber that it got dark – black as night. Because, you see, I accidentally hit my foot against the trap-door and it fell shut. That’s all. I ain’t dead, you see, and there’s nothing to be sorry for except the trouble I gave Mr. Winters and this boy. I’ve told them I was sorry, so that’s all there can be done about it now. Anyway I’ve learned something, and that is how a prisoner must feel, shut up in a box like that.”
A sort of groan came from the further side of the room where the Master had sunk into a great chair as if he were utterly weary. Then he said:
“I’m glad Jane is so philosophical. I think she doesn’t know just how dangerous her situation was. The ‘hidden chamber’ under the roof was nothing but a closely sealed box, without any possible ventilation. Nobody could have lived long shut up in that space, breathing the vitiated air. It was well we found her, and you must all thank God for a tragedy averted. Nor would I have thought of looking there for her if Jim hadn’t remembered talking with her about the place and told Herbert just as we started. He’d inspected it himself, had read of it, yet even I who had visited that old mansion many times didn’t know of its existence.”
“Oh! I wish you’d told us all, Jim Barlow, when we were there! I think it was selfish mean of you not to, when we were sight-seeing on purpose,” pouted Jolly Molly.
“Wish ’t I had, now, since you all seem to care. I didn’t think then anybody – I mean – I didn’t think at all, except for myself,” frankly answered the lad, which made them laugh again and so restored their ordinary mood.
“Well, it’s about breaking up time. I move that Dorothy C. give us a bit of music from her violin,” said the Master, smiling upon his beloved child.
She smiled in return but it was such a wan little attempt that it pained more than pleased him. Something was sorely troubling sunshiny Dolly and he wondered what, not knowing the purport of her begging letter to Mrs. Calvert nor what the telegram had said. He feared she was still grieving about the lost one hundred dollars and could sympathize in that, for he also grieved and puzzled. He made up his mind to ask her about it at the first opportunity; meanwhile, there was the obliging girl already tuning her violin and asking from her place beside the mantel piece:
“What shall it be – when I’ve done squeaking this way?”
“Yankee Doodle!” “God Save the King!” cried Herbert and Melvin, together; and immediately she began, first a strain of one, then the other, till even the mischievous petitioners cried that they had had enough of that medley and would be glad of a change.
One after another she played the selections asked, watching with curiosity which all the others shared, the strange effect her music had on Luna. The waif now seemed to consider herself entirely one of the Party – the “Silent Partner,” Danny called her; for though she never spoke she had learned to keep close to some one or other of the young folks, and so to avoid that big room where Dinah had placed her earlier on her visit. She took no part in any of their games but watched them with that vacant smile upon her wrinkled face, keeping out of the way of being jostled by cuddling down in some corner just as the twins did. Indeed, there was a close intimacy between the three “uninvited”; the little ones promptly realizing that no matter how mischievous they had been and how much they deserved punishment, they would be unmolested in Luna’s neighborhood. She paid scant attention to them, no more than she did to anything, except gay colors and music. She slept much of the time, and just as the twins did; cuddled upon the floor or lounge or wherever drowsiness had overcome her. Yet let even the faintest strain of music be heard and she would instantly arouse, her eyes wide open and her head bent forward as one intently listening; and the strangest part of this attraction was that she dumbly realized the sort of melody she heard.
At the jumble of the two national airs she had smiled, then frowned, and finally looked distressed. It was this expression upon the dull face she watched that had made Dorothy give over that nonsense, even more than the protests of her mates; and now as Molly begged:
“Something of your own making-up, Dolly Doodles!” she let her bow wander idly over the strings, until a sort of rhythmic measure came to her; fragments she knew of many compositions but bound into a sheaf, as it were, by a theme of her own.
It was a minor, moving melody and slowly but effectually touched the heart of every listener. Melvin leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, picturing to his sometime homesick soul a far-away Yarmouth garden, with roses such as bloomed no other where and a sweet-faced, widowed mother gently tending them.
Helena pondered if she did right to be in this house, a guest, with her own home so near and her parents thus deserted of both their children, and unconsciously she sighed.
James Barlow and Jane Potter, after the habit of each, drifted into thought of the wide field of learning and the apparent hopelessness of ever crossing far beyond its boundaries. “The worst of studying is that it makes you see how little bit you can ever know;” considered the ambitious lad, while Jane regretted that she had not been left in peace in that old house from which she had been rescued and so have had the chance of her life to learn history on the spot.
More or less, all within the sound of that violin grew thoughtful; but it was upon poor, “unfinished” Luna that the greatest stress was wrought. She did not rise to her feet but began to creep toward the player, inch by inch, almost imperceptibly advancing as if drawn forward by some invisible force.
Presently they all became aware of her movement and of nothing else, save that low undercurrent of melody that wailed and sobbed from the delicate instrument, as the player’s own emotions ruled her fingers.
Even the Master sat erect, he who made a study of all mankind, touched and influenced beyond himself with speculations concerning this aged woman who was still a child.
“Music! Who knows but that was the key to unlock her closed intelligence? Oh! what a pity that it came so late! But how sad is Dorothy’s mood to evoke such almost unearthly strains! It’s getting too much for her and for that helpless creature. I must stop it;” thought the farrier, but didn’t put his thought into action. Just then he could not.
“Makes me think of a snake charmer I saw once,” whispered Monty Stark to Littlejohn.
“Ssh! Luna’s cryin’! Did you ever see the beat? Alfy Babcock, stop snivellin’ as if you was at a first class funeral!” returned master Smith, himself swallowing rather hard as he happened to think of his mother bringing in her own firewood.
Luna had reached the spot directly before Dorothy and was on her knees looking up with a timid, fascinated stare. Her small hands were so tightly clasped that their large veins seemed bursting, and great tears chased one another down her pink, wrinkled cheeks. Her close cropped head was thrown back and her back was toward the windows over which no curtains had been drawn. In her gay frock, which firelight and lamplight touched to a brilliant flame color, she must have appeared to one beyond the panes like a suppliant child begging pardon for some grave misdoing.
Suddenly Alfaretta screamed, and Molly Breckenridge promptly echoed her; then bounded to Dorothy’s side and snatched the violin from her hands.
“Stop it, Dolly, stop it! I couldn’t help doing that, for in another minute you’d have had me and – and everybody crazy! What made you – ”
“Why, Alfaretta! Whatever is the matter? Why do you stand like that, pointing out into the night as if you’d seen a ghost?” demanded Jane Potter, going to her schoolmate and shaking her vigorously. “Don’t yell again. It’s – it’s more frightful to hear you than it was to be locked up in that hidden chamber, with a spring-locked trap shut between you and liberty.” Which was the only admission this self-contained young person ever gave that she had once known fear.
Alfy gulped, shivered, and slowly answered:
“So I did. It – was a ghost. Or – or – just the same as one! A – lookin’ – a lookin’ right through the window – with his face – big and white – He – he wore a hat – ”
“Wise ghost! Not to cavort around bare-headed on a damp September night!” cried Monty, as much to reassure his own shaken nerves as those of the mountain girl.
“Dorothy’s music was so strange – weird you might say – that she’s made us all feel spooky; but we have no apparitions at Deerhurst, let me tell you,” said Herbert, consolingly.
“Huh! You may say what you like, but that one apparited all right. I seen it with my very own eyes and nobody else’s!” retorted Alfaretta, with such decision and twisting of good English that those who heard her laughed loudly.
The laughter effectually banished “spookiness” and as now poor Luna sank down upon the floor in her accustomed drowsiness, her enwrapt mood already forgotten, the Master lifted her in his strong arms and carried her away to Dinah and to bed. But as he went he cast one keen glance toward the windows, where nothing could now be seen – if ever had been – save the dimly outlined trees beyond. Yet even he almost jumped when Jim, having followed him from the room, touched his arm and asked:
“What do you s’pose sent old Oliver Sands to peekin’ in our windows?”
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