The Carter Girls
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They were up and almost dressed. “Lucy and I thought maybe we could help, so we hurried. I know you’ve lots to do,” said Nan.
“That was dear of you both. Of course we won’t have so much to do right now, as we have to wait for Dr. Wright to come home; and then if we can rent the house furnished, we must get everything in order. But first listen to the good news!” and she read the telegram.
“Isn’t that splendid and wasn’t it kind of Dr. Wright to send it to you?”
“I think so. If only Helen would not feel so unkindly to him! She utterly refuses to like him,” and Douglas sighed.
“I don’t intend to like him either, then!” exclaimed Lucy. “He shan’t boss me if he isn’t going to boss Helen.”
“How absurd you are,” laughed Nan. “You are so afraid that Helen will get something you don’t have that you won’t even let her have a private little dislike without wanting to have some, too. I bet if Helen got the smallpox you would think yourself abused if you didn’t get it, too.”
“And in your heart of hearts you know you do like him,” said Douglas with a severity that she felt such silliness warranted.
“Well, if I do – and – and – maybe I do, I’m not going to take anything off of him that Helen won’t.”
“Well, I reckon Dr. Wright will be glad to wash his hands of us, anyhow,” said Nan. “I can’t see that it would be any sweet boon to look after you and Helen or any of us, for that matter.”
“I should think not,” laughed Douglas; “but you see his having power of attorney from Father makes it necessary for us to consult with him about some things, selling the automobile, for instance, and renting the house.”
“Selling the car!” wailed Lucy. “I think it is foolishness to do that. I’d like to know how you are to occupy Dan, the chauffeur, if we haven’t a car to keep him busy.”
“Oh, you incorrigible girls! Of course we will have to let the chauffeur go immediately; and I’ve got to tell the servants to-day that we can’t keep them. I’ll give them all a week’s warning, of course.”
“I understand all that,” said Nan, “so please don’t bunch me in with the incorrigibles.”
“But, Douglas, Oscar has been with us since long before we were born. I don’t see how you can have the heart to dismiss him,” and Lucy looked resentfully at her older sister.
“Heart! I haven’t the heart to let any of them go, but it would be a great deal more heartless to have them work for us with no money to pay them with.”
“Now, Lucy Carter, you’ve pretty near made Douglas cry. You sound like a half-wit to me. Heartless, indeed! If you had half of Douglas’s heart and one-fourth of her sense, you wouldn’t make such remarks,” and Nan put her arms around Douglas.
“No, she didn’t make me cry, but what does make me feel bad is that Lucy and Helen can’t even now realize the state of affairs. I hated to have to tell Helen she mustn’t charge anything more, no matter what it is she wants.”
“Charge! I should say not! I think I would walk on my uppers all the rest of my life before I’d put any more burden like that on Father,” declared Nan.
“But don’t people always charge when they haven’t got any money? What will we do when we need things?” asked Lucy.
“Do without,” said Douglas wearily.She saw it was going to take more than a few hours or a few days to make two of her sisters realize the necessity for reconstruction of their lives. “Helen and I are going right after breakfast to see real estate agents about getting us a tenant, and Helen is going to purchase some cotton stockings. She still persists in sticking to the letter of her oath not to wear silk stockings until Daddy is home and well.”
“I’m going to wear cotton stockings, too, if Helen is.”
“So you are, so are all of us, but we are going to keep on with the ones we have until we go to the country. Helen is spending her own money, some she had, on these stockings and no one is buying them for her,” and Douglas went back to her room to dress and take up the burden of the day that was beginning to seem very heavy to her young shoulders. “If only Helen and Lucy could see without being knocked down and made to see,” she thought. “Poor Father, if he had only not been so unselfish how much better it would have been for all of us now that we have got to face life!”
True to their determination, Douglas and Helen went to several real estate agents. None of them were very encouraging about renting during the summer months to reliable tenants, but all of them promised to keep an eye open for the young ladies.
“Your father gone off sick?” asked one fatherly old agent. “Well, I saw him going to pieces. Why, Robert Carter did the work of three men. Just look at the small office force he kept and the work he turned out! That meant somebody did the drudgery, and that somebody was the boss. What do the fellows in his office think of this?”
“I – I – don’t know,” stammered Douglas. She couldn’t let the kind old man know that she had not even thought of informing the office of her father’s departure. How could she think of everything?
Before seeing any more agents, she and Helen betook themselves to their father’s office, a breezy apartment at the top of a great bank building. Two young men were busily engaged on some architectural drawings. They stopped work and came eagerly forward to inquire for Mr. Carter. Their consternation was great on hearing of his sudden departure and their grief and concern very evident.
“We will do all we can to keep things going,” said the elder of the two.
“You bet we will!” from the other, who had but recently been advanced from office boy.
“There is a big thing Mr. Carter has been working on for some time, a competitive design for a country club in North Carolina. It is about done and I will do my best to finish it as I think he would want it, and get it off. Did he leave power of attorney with any one? You see, Mr. Carter has two accounts, in different banks, one, his personal account, and one, his business one.”
“Yes, Dr. Wright, his physician, was given power of attorney. There was no time to let any of you know as it was important to have Father kept very quiet, with no excitement. Dr. Wright will come in to see you on Monday, I feel sure. He does not get back from New York until to-night.”
“More work and responsibility for the doctor,” thought Douglas.
“More power over us than we dreamed even,” was in Helen’s mind.
“We want to rent our house, furnished, for the summer, giving possession immediately, or almost immediately,” continued Douglas; “perhaps you may hear of some one who will be interested.”
“I know of some one right now,” eagerly put in Dick, the promoted office boy. “It is a family who have been driven from Paris by the war. They have been living there for years – got oodlums of money and no place to spend it now, poor things! They want a furnished house for six months with privilege of renewing the lease for a year.”
“Oh, please, could you send them to me or me to them right off?”
“Yes, Miss Carter, that’s easy! If you go home, I’ll have the folks up there in an hour.”
“How kind you are!”
“Not a bit of it! I’m so glad I happened to know about them – and now you will be saved an agent’s fee.”
“How much do you think we should ask for our house?” said Douglas, appealing to both young men.
“Well, that house is as good a one as there is in Richmond for its size,” said Mr. Lane, the elder. “I know, because I helped on it. There is not one piece of defective material in the whole building. Even the nails were inspected. If it had been on Franklin Street, I’d say one hundred a month, unfurnished, with all the baths it has in it; but since it is not on Franklin, I believe one hundred, furnished, would be a fair price.”
“Oh, wouldn’t that be fine, Douglas?” spoke Helen for the first time. She had been very quiet while these business conferences had been going on. “That will be a whole lot of money. Now we need not feel so poverty stricken.”
“Certainly families do live on less,” and the young man smiled. “I think Mr. Carter usually takes out about six hundred a month for his household expenses – of course, that’s not counting when he buys a car. I know it is none of my business, but I am very much interested to know what you young ladies are going to do with yourselves. If I can be of any assistance, you must call on me.”
“Oh, we’ve got the grandest scheme! I thought of it myself, so I am vastly proud of it. We are going up to Albemarle County, where Father owns a tract of land right on the side of a mountain, and there we are going to spend the summer and take boarders and expect to make a whole lot of money.”
“Take boarders? Is there a house there? I understood from Mr. Carter that it was unimproved property.”
“So it is. That is the beauty of it. We intend to camp and all the boarders will camp, too.”
The young men could not contain themselves but burst out laughing. They had not seen much of their employer’s family but they well knew the luxurious lives they lived and their helplessness. It was funny to hear this pretty butterfly of a girl talking about taking boarders and making money at it.
“It does sound funny,” said Douglas when the laugh in which she and Helen had joined subsided, “but we are really going to do it – that is, I think we are,” remembering that the Power of Attorney had not yet been consulted and nothing could really be determined on until then. “I don’t know about our making lots of money, but we can certainly live much more cheaply camping than any other way.”
“That’s so!” agreed Mr. Lane. “Now maybe this is where Dick and I can help. Camps have to be built and we can get up some plans for you. There is a book of them just issued and we can get a working plan for you in short order.”
“That is splendid. We have a cousin, Lewis Somerville, who is home now and has nothing to do, and he is going up to Albemarle ahead of us and build the camp. I’ll tell him to come down and see you and you can tell him all about it.”
Then the girls, with many expressions of gratitude, hastened home to prepare for the poor rich people who had been driven from Paris and now had no place to spend their money.
They stopped on Broad Street long enough for Helen to spend one of her precious dollars for six sixteen-and-two-third-cent stockings.
“Do you think it would be very extravagant if I spent a dime in market for flowers?” asked Helen. “It would make the house look more cheerful and might make the poor rich people like it better.”
“Why, no, I don’t think that would be very extravagant,” laughed Douglas.
So they went over to the Sixth Street market, where the old colored women sit along the side-walk, and purchased a gay bunch of wild phlox for a dime. And then Helen could not resist squandering another nickel for a branch of dogwood. They jitneyed home, another extravagance. There was no tangible reason why they should not have ordered out their own car for this business trip they had been forced to take, but it had seemed to both of them a little incongruous to ride in a seven-seated touring car on the mission they had undertaken.
“It doesn’t gee with cotton stockings, somehow,” declared Helen, “to step out of a good car like ours. Jitneys are much more in keeping.”
The exiles from Paris came with the faithful Dick; liked the house; did not mind the price, although furnished houses during the summer months are somewhat a drug in the real estate market; and were ready to close the bargain just as soon as Dr. Wright should return.
The son, an ?sthetic looking youth of seventeen, who was Dick’s acquaintance, was carried away with the wild phlox and went into ecstasies over the branch of dogwood which Helen had placed near a Japanese print in the library.
“Let’s take it, Mamma! It is perfect!” he exclaimed as he stood enraptured by the effect.
Helen always declared that the market flowers rented the house, and so they may have.