The White Shield
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"Can they read?" It was Grace, an always practical individual, who spoke.
"If they can't, they can learn," responded Miss Stone. "It will be an incentive to their best efforts in every way."
Katherine Bryant leaned forward, her face flushed, and her eyes shining. "Girls," she said, "it's perfectly beautiful. We'll send all of our own magazines and illustrated papers, all we can collect from other sources, and we'll raise money to buy new ones. I don't know of any other way in which we can do so much good."
Plan after plan was suggested, and at last it was decided that the committee should write to a society in Boston which did similar work, and ask for the names and addresses of twenty-five persons who were in need of reading matter. These could be removed from the lists of the Boston society, as the Committee on Literary Extension of the Detroit Young Woman's Club would attend to their needs in future.
In due time the list arrived, with a few particulars opposite each name. The committee was again called together, and the chairman gave each girl five names.
"Katherine dear," she said, "there are some more names in the little note-book that is up-stairs in my desk. They are all boys who have left the reform school. A friend of mine, who is one of the directors, gave them to me, and there are only four or five. Would you mind taking those in addition to your own?"
"Not at all," and Katherine ran up to Margaret's desk.
"Wonder where she keeps her note-book! Oh, here it is, and here is the list." She copied busily. "One, two, three, four; that's all. No, here's another on the next page," and at the end of her slip she wrote: "Robert Ross, Athol, Spink Co., South Dakota." The work was taken up in earnest and many magazines were collected within the next few days. A strict account was kept of everything sent out, and occasionally the girls met to compare notes.
Margaret came home one day and found Mrs. Boyce waiting for her. "My dear," said the lady, "I've lost an address that troubles me, and I think it may have been on the card that I gave you the other day."
"I'll see," replied Margaret, "I copied them all that very afternoon." She took her note-book out of her chatelaine bag and handed it to Mrs. Boyce. "Which one is it?"
The elder lady laughed in a relieved way. "This last one," she answered. "Robert Ross. He's my favourite nephew, off on a shooting trip, and he wants me to write to him. He'd never forgive me, if I didn't. Just give me a card, and I will try not to be so careless again."
Meanwhile Katherine was absorbed in addressing magazines with great vigour. She had found a pile of back numbers in the attic and was trying to divide them properly. The household journals went to a woman in Kansas, fifty miles from a city, others she mailed to a boy of sixteen who was on a farm in Minnesota, and a copy of a popular magazine was addressed to Mr. Robert Ross. At the top of each one she had written, "From Miss Katherine Bryant, Jefferson Ave., Detroit."
A short time afterward, she received a pathetic letter from the woman to whom she had sent the household magazines."I married for love," she wrote, "and have never been sorry, but I miss many of the things to which I was accustomed in my eastern home. A magazine is an unusual thing upon a Kansas farm, and with all my heart I thank you for the great pleasure you have given a lonely woman."
Mindful of the fact that one of the objects of the committee was to get into correspondence with its beneficiaries, Katherine sat down to write an encouraging note to her and also to others, but before she had finished the postman brought another letter.
It had been mailed in South Dakota. The paper was the white ruled variety, to be found in country stores, but the penmanship was clear and business-like.
Katherine knit her pretty brows, and read it over again. "It's no queerer than the one I got from the Kansas woman," she decided. "At any rate, they both seem glad to get them and they shall have some more."
She wrote very kindly to Robert Ross, inquiring into the particulars of his injury, and whether or not he lived on a farm. She said he was very fortunate, if he did indeed live in the country, because so many people were pining away and dying in the great cities. The magazine she had sent was one of her own favourites also, and she would send the next number as soon as it came out. In the meantime, she hoped the package of papers she was sending in the same mail would prove acceptable.
Out on the porch of the Athol House, Mr. Ross sat in the sun and reviled creation in general. It was a palatial hotel – for that region – but he seemed unmindful of his advantages.
"Oh, confound it," he groaned, "why couldn't I have shot some other idiot instead of myself? I ought not to be trusted with a gun! Right in the height of the prairie chicken season too, and those other fellows, three of them, off bagging every bit of the game! I hope they won't forget to come back this way, and take me home with them! Emperor, old fellow, it's hard luck. Isn't it?"
The Irish setter, who had been addressed, came and put his cold nose into Mr. Ross's hand. The well-bred dog had refused to desert his wounded master, even for the charms of prairie chickens, and touched by his dumb devotion Ross permitted him to stay. Long conversations were held every day, and Emperor told Ross as plainly as a dog could, that if it hadn't been for that dreadful flesh wound they would be having a fine time in the fields, capturing more game than any other dog and man in the party.
When the landlord returned from the post-office he brought a letter which Emperor carried in triumph to his master. Ross read it in surprise. Who Miss Bryant might be, he did not know, but she wrote a pleasant letter, and it was certainly kind of her to notice him.
He decided that the letter he wrote in acknowledgment of the magazine must have been extremely well done. He thought of the unknown fair one for some time, and then concluded to write again. He was non-committal about himself, fearing to spoil any delusion she might have been labouring under when she sent the magazine.
When Katherine received the second letter, she felt several pricks of conscience. It wasn't a nice thing she was doing, and she knew it. But a person shouldn't let squeamishness interfere with philanthropic work, so she answered promptly.
She drew him into a discussion of an article on "The Desirability of Annexing Canada to the United States," and he criticised it harshly. He forgot to tell her that he was a Canadian by birth and a loyal subject of the King. His point of view was naturally distorted, and she replied with some spirit, dealing very patiently, however, with the frail arguments which he had submitted.
Katherine thought the discussion was a good thing. Anything that would make him think was an unmixed blessing. She fairly glowed as she thought of the mental stimulus she might give to this poor Dakota farmer, who had been hurt in some mysterious way, and her letters grew longer even as they increased in frequency, for Mr. Ross wrote very promptly indeed. She could well understand that, when a cripple had so little to occupy his time in that far away wilderness.
Ross was highly amused. He admired Miss Bryant's letters and wished he might see Miss Bryant herself. A bright idea (as he thought) occurred to him – why not?
With very red cheeks, Miss Katherine read the latest news from Spink County. Her own beautiful Irish setter put his head into her lap, and begged to be petted.
"Go away, Rex, I want to think. The wretch! To ask for my photograph! He evidently doesn't know his place! I'll teach him where it is and then take the name of the impertinent creature off my list!"
She sat down to compose a letter which should make Mr. Robert Ross, alias wretch, squirm in agony. Rex was persistent and put his paw up to shake hands. Katherine turned and looked at him.
"You're a dreadfully nice doggie, but I wish you'd go away and not bother me."
Then an idea came to her which startled her at first, but grew more attractive as she became better acquainted with it. She bent down and whispered to Rex, and he wagged his tail as if he fully understood.
"Yes, Rex, it's got to be done. I'm sorry to sacrifice any of your beauty, but you've got to get your mistress out of a scrape. Come on!" And the willing Rex was escorted into the back yard.
Sooner than he expected, Mr. Ross found a letter at his plate when he limped in to the customary breakfast of black coffee and fried eggs. On this occasion, he omitted the eggs and hastily swallowed the coffee, for the envelope was addressed in familiar style.
It was a very pleasant letter. The writer seemed to meet his advances in a proper spirit, but there was no photograph. "I don't give my pictures to young men, nor old ones either, but I enclose a lock of hair which I have cut off on purpose for you, and I hope you will be pleased with it."
He looked at the enclosure again and again. It was a single silky curl, of a beautiful reddish gold, tied daintily with blue ribbon. He certainly was pleased with it, as she had hoped. "Hair like this and violet eyes," soliloquised Ross. "I must write again without delay." So when the landlord went to the post-office he mailed another letter to Miss Bryant. The first page consisted wholly of raptures.
He began to think that Athol was not so dull a place as he had at first imagined. Those fellows off in the fields shooting prairie chickens were not having any better time than he and Emperor in this thriving town. It was true that Emperor slept most of the time, but magazines, and papers, and letters not only made the time less tedious, but there seemed to be opening up a vista of romance which made the tramping in the stubbly fields look very much less attractive.
While he thought of it, he would read Miss Bryant's letter again. He took it out of the envelope, and the curl fell unnoticed to the floor of what the landlord was pleased to term "the front stoop." Emperor walked over, and seemed interested. His master did not notice him, being absorbed in the letter; at last the dog sniffed uneasily, and then growled, so Ross looked up and was surprised to find him pawing something vigorously. Still Ross did not see what the dog had. "What's the matter with you, old fellow?" Emperor growled again, and bit fiercely at the curl. Its owner rescued it at once, but the dog would not be appeased. He made such a fuss that his master put the letter away. Then Emperor made another attack on the curl, and Ross took it away from him again and examined it closely. A queer look came into his face and a queerer note into his voice. "Emperor, come here. Keep still."
The long golden fringe that made Emperor's tail the thing of beauty that it was, was drawn up on his knee and the curl was laid beside it. There was no doubt at all. It matched exactly. Ross leaned back in his chair with a low whistle. "Well – by – Jove! I wonder if she'll tell me when she writes," he said to himself. With a despairing grin, he remembered his raptures on the subject and decided that Miss Bryant would be very certain to tell him where that "sweet curl" came from!
When the missive from Spink County reached Detroit, Miss Katherine Bryant was a very happy girl. As a rule, it takes very little to make girls happy. For the first time in her life, she longed for a confidant, and unlike most girls, she had none. She took Rex for a long walk and told him all about it. The poor dismantled tail wagged in ecstasy, but his mistress was not sure that he understood the joke in its entirety.
At last she would have her revenge and she took keen delight in answering that letter. "I quite agree with you concerning the beauty of the hair," she wrote. "It came from my beautiful Irish setter, and I am very glad you are pleased with it, though to tell the truth, I should think you utterly heartless if you were not."
Ross sent an elaborate apology for his impertinence, and confessed that he admired her all the more for outwitting him. Inwardly, he wished that Emperor had made his discovery before he had mailed that idiotic letter. His manliness, however, appealed to Katherine and she did not take his name off the list.
In the meantime, the three other men returned to their wounded comrade. They had been very successful and were profuse in their expressions of regret. Ross said nothing of his unknown friend. He felt that it would not be fair to her, and anyhow, when a girl has sent you dog-hair, and you have raved over it, it isn't best to tell of it. He was sure that all the circumstances were in favour of his keeping still about it.
The ugly wound had quite healed when the four men started East together. At St. Paul they separated, Ross and Emperor taking the night train for Detroit and the promised visit to Mrs. Boyce.
She was delighted to see her nephew, and Emperor soon found his way into her good graces. His master took him out for a stroll the same day he arrived, the dog having been long confined in a box-car, and the released captive found his excursion especially refreshing. At a corner, however, he met another Irish setter, also out for a stroll, and the two speedily entered into a violent discussion.
A snarling, rolling, mahogany-coloured ball rolled toward Ross, and a young lady followed, crying at the top of her voice, "Rex! Rex! Come here."
The owner of Emperor rushed into the disturbance with his cane, and succeeded in resolving the ball into its component parts.
Rex, panting and injured, was restored to his agitated mistress, while Emperor chafed at his master's restraining hand.
Apologies were profuse on both sides. "I'm stronger than you," Ross said, "and if you can hold your dog until I get mine out of sight, we shall have no more trouble."
Miss Bryant scolded Rex until his head and tail drooped with shame, and relentlessly kept him at heel all the way home.
At her own gate, she met Margaret Stone, to whom she told the story of her adventure with the handsome stranger, and the other dog, who "looked so much like Rex that his own mother could not have told them apart!"
Margaret's errand was a brief one. Mrs. Boyce was coming over to the Stone mansion with her nephew and she wanted Katherine to come to dinner and stay all night. So Katherine put on her prettiest gown and went over, little thinking what fate had in store for her.
She instantly recognised in Ross the man she had met a few hours before under very different circumstances. He was too much of a gentleman to allude to the occurrence, but she flushed uncomfortably.
Both girls found him an exceedingly pleasant fellow. Katherine had recovered from her embarrassment, and was laughing happily, when Mrs. Boyce began to speak of the Committee on Literary Extension and the good work the girls were doing.
"Do you know, Bob," she went on, "that I nearly lost your address in that way? I gave it to Margaret with the names of some boys from the Reform School. It's a blessed wonder you didn't get magazines and tracts!"
If Robert had been an angel he would not have looked at Katherine, but being merely human he did. Miss Bryant rose in a dignified manner. "Margaret," she said unsteadily, "I must go home."
"Why, Katherine, you were going to stay all night!"
"My – head – aches," she answered.
"Bob," commanded Mrs. Boyce, "you must take Katherine home."
"It's not at all necessary," pleaded Katherine piteously.
"But I insist," repeated Mrs. Boyce with the utmost good will.
Mr. Ross rose. "If Miss Bryant will permit me, I shall be only too glad to accompany her home," he said courteously.
There was nothing to do but submit with the best grace she could assume. Once out of doors, she was the first to break the silence:
"I'm afraid to be out alone – in the city."
"Yes," replied her escort cheerily, "it's a pity you didn't bring your dog!" He could have bitten his tongue out for making such an unlucky speech, but to his surprise Katherine broke down and sobbed hysterically.
Mr. Ross took both her hands in his own. "You are tired and nervous, Miss Bryant, and I beg you to think no more about what has happened. You have no idea how much good you did me out in that miserable little place, and I shall be only too glad to be your friend, if you will let me."
Katherine wiped her eyes: "If you can be my friend, I ought to be very willing to be yours," and just outside of her door Canada and the United States clasped hands in a solemn treaty of peace.
Safely in her own room, the mistress of Rex sat down before the mirror and studied her face attentively. "Katherine Bryant," she said to herself, "you are an idiot! Not foolish, nor silly, nor half witted, nor anything like that – just a plain idiot! He has graduated from the University with high honours, and you, with your miserable little boarding-school education, have instructed him on many subjects. I am thoroughly ashamed of you."
When she finally slept, her dreams were a medley of handsome strangers, mixed with dogs, and reddish-yellow curls tied up with blue ribbons.
Leaning up against the corner lamp-post, Mr. Robert Ross indulged in a spasm of irreverent mirth, but with a great effort he preserved a calm exterior when he again entered the drawing-room of his hostess.
On their way home Mrs. Boyce said: "Bob, why don't you go into business with your uncle and become a good American citizen? We'd love to have you with us, and there is surely a good opening here."
"I'll think about it," he answered, and he did, with the usual result, for it is proverbial that he who hesitates is lost.
Mr. Boyce was quite willing to shift a part of his responsibility to the broad shoulders of his nephew, and an agreement was easily reached. Emperor was quartered in the back yard, where he fretted for a few days and then wreaked his vengeance on sundry grocery boys and milkmen.
When his master went out, the dog usually went along except when Miss Bryant and Rex were to be favoured with a call. If the two dogs met, the customary disturbance ensued. Rex included Ross in his hatred of Emperor, and Emperor was equally hostile toward Miss Bryant.
"Rex," said Katherine, one day, "you are a very nice doggie, but I won't have you treat Mr. Ross with such disrespect. The other night, when we were going out, you had no business to growl when he buttoned my gloves, nor to sniff in that disgusted way at the roses he brought. If you ever do that again, I shall let the dogcatcher take you to the pound!"
The imaginary spectacle of Rex en route to the pound nearly unnerved Katherine, but she felt that she must be severe. Ross punished Emperor with a chain, or with confinement in the back yard, which the dog hated, but where it was necessary to keep him a part of the time, and for a while all went well.
But Ross went away one evening without explaining matters to the sensitive being in the back yard.
Emperor knew well enough where he had gone – knew he was visiting that disagreeable girl who owned that other Irish setter – a very impertinent dog whose manners were so bad that he was a disgrace to the whole setter tribe!
He sulked over his wrongs for an hour or so, and then crawled out through a friendly hole in the fence which he had for some time past been spending his hours of imprisonment in making.
The dining-room of the house on the avenue was lighted by a single gas jet, and the shades were lowered. Miss Bryant and the chafing dish together had evolved a rarebit which made the inner man glow with pleasure.
"Do you remember that awful quarrel we had about annexing Canada to the United States?" asked Robert.
Katherine remembered distinctly.
He went over to her side of the table. "What do you think about it now?"
It was a very ordinary question, but Miss Bryant turned scarlet.
"I – I don't know," she faltered.
He put his arm around her. "I give in," he said; "annexation is the most desirable thing in the world – when shall it take place?"
Katherine raised her head timidly. "Say it, sweetheart," he whispered tenderly.
It happened at this moment that Emperor arrived in search of his master. Rex was sitting on the front steps and declined to take in his card. Then the shrieking, howling barking ball rolled into the vestibule, and Ross made a dash for the door. With considerable effort he got Rex into the back yard, and locked Emperor into the vestibule. Then he went back to Katherine.
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