Part 1 out of 4
Produced by Kevin Handy, John Hagerson, and the Online Distributed
THE SECOND VIOLIN
BY GRACE S. RICHMOND
"Red Pepper Burns," "Mrs. Red Pepper,"
"The Indifference of Juliet," "With Juliet in
A. L. BURT COMPANY
PUBLISHERS NEW YORK
Copyright, 1905, 1906, by
Perry Mason Company.
Copyright, 1906, by
Doubleday, Page & Company
Published, September, 1906.
* * * * *
BOOK I The Second Violin
BOOK II The Churchill Latch-string
* * * * *
THE SECOND VIOLIN
* * * * *
Crash! Bang! Bang! "_The March of the Pilgrims_" came to an abrupt end.
John Lansing Birch laid down his viola and bow, whirled about, and flung
out his arms in despair. "Oh, this crowd is hopeless!" he groaned.
"Never mind any other instrument, providing _yours_ is heard. This march
is supposed to die away in the distance! You murder it in front of the
house. That second violin--"
Here his wrath centered upon the red-cheeked, black-eyed young player.
The second violin returned his gaze with resentment. "What's the use of
my playing like a midsummer zephyr when Just's sawing away like mad on
the bass?" she retorted.
The first violin smiled pleasantly on the little group. "Let's try it
again," she suggested, "and see if we can please John Lansing better."
"You're all right," said Lansing, with a wave of his hand at Celia, "if
the rest of the strings wouldn't fight to drown you out. Charlotte plays
as if second violin were a solo part, with the rest as accompaniment."
Charlotte tucked her instrument under a sulky, round chin, raised her
bow and waited, her eyes on the floor. Celia, smiling, softly tried her
"That's it, precisely," began the leader, still with irritation. "Celia
tunes between practice; Charlotte takes it for granted she's all right
and fires ahead. Your E string is off!"
The second violin grudgingly tightened the E string; then all her
strings in turn, lengthening the process as much as possible. The 'cello
did the same--the 'cello always stood by the second violin. Jeff gave
Charlotte a glance of loyalty. His G string had been flatter than her E.
Lansing wheeled about and picked up his instrument, carefully trying its
pitch. He gave the signal, and the "_March of the Pilgrims_" began--in
the remote distance. The double-bass viol gripped his bow with his
stubby twelve-year-old fingers, and hardly breathed as he strove to keep
his notes subdued. The 'cello murmured a gentle undertone; the first
violin sang as sweetly and delicately as a bird, her _legato_ perfect.
The second violin fingered her notes through, but the voice of her
instrument was not heard at all.
The leader glanced at her once, with a frown between his fine eyebrows,
but Charlotte played dumbly on. The Pilgrims approached--_crescendo_;
drew near--_forte_; passed--_fortissimo_; marched away--_diminuendo_;
were almost lost in the distance--_piano_--_pianissimo_. Uplifted
"Good!" said a hearty voice behind them. Everybody looked up,
smiling--even the second violin. His children always smiled when Mr.
Roderick Birch came in. It would have been a sour temper which could
have resisted his genial greeting.
"Mother would like the _'Lullaby'_ next," he said. "She's rather tired
to-night. And after the _'Lullaby'_ I want a little talk with you all."
Something in his voice or his eyes made his elder daughter take notice
of him, as he dropped into a chair by the fire. "Play your best," she
warned the others, in a whisper. But they needed no warning. Everybody
always played his best for father. And if mother was tired--
The notes of the second violin fell daintily, caressing those which
wrought out the melody enveloping but never overwhelming them. As the
music ceased, the leader, turning to the second violin, met her
reluctant eyes with a softening in his own keen ones. The hint of a
laugh curved the corners of her lips as his smiled broadly. It was all
the truce necessary. Charlotte's sulks never lasted longer than Lanse's
They laid aside their instruments and gathered round their father.
Graceful, brown-eyed Celia sat down beside him; Charlotte's curly black
hair mingled with his heavy iron-gray locks as she perched upon the arm
of his chair, her scarlet flannel arm under his head. The youngest boy,
Justin, threw himself flat on the hearth-rug, chin propped on elbow,
watching the fire; sixteen-year-old Jeff helped himself to a low stool,
clasping long arms about long legs as his knees approached his head in
this posture; and the eldest son, pausing, drew up a chair and sat down
to face the group.
"Now for it," he said. "It looks serious--a consultation of the whole.
Mayn't we have mother to back us?"
"I've sent mother to bed," Mr. Birch explained. "She wanted to come down
to hear you play, but I wouldn't let her. And indeed there are
moments--" He glanced quizzically at his eldest son.
"Yes, sir," Lansing responded, promptly. "There are moments when the
furnace pipes convey up-stairs as much din as she can bear."
Mr. Birch sat looking thoughtfully into the fire for a minute or two.
He began at last, gently, "Celia--has mother seemed quite strong to you
"Mother--strong?" asked Celia, in surprise. "Why, father, isn't she?
She--had that illness last winter, and was a long time getting about,
but she has seemed well all summer."
Their eyes were all upon his face. Even young Justin had swung about
upon his elbows and was regarding his father with attention. They
"I took her to Doctor Forester to-day, and he--surprised me a good deal.
He seemed to think that mother must not spend the coming winter in this
climate. Don't be alarmed; I don't want to frighten you, but I want you
to appreciate the necessity. He thinks that if mother were to have a
year of rest and change we need have no fears for her."
"Fears!" repeated Lansing, under his breath. Was it possible that
anything was the matter with mother? Why, she was the central sun about
which their little family world moved! There could not--must not--be
anything wrong with mother!
"Tell us plainly, father," urged Celia's soft voice. She was pale, but
she spoke quietly.
Charlotte, at the first word of alarm, had turned her face away. Jeff's
bright black eyes--he was Charlotte's counterpart in colouring and
looks--rested anxiously on the second violin's curly mop of hair, tied
at the neck with a big black bow of ribbon. It was always most
expressive to Jeff, that bow of ribbon.
Lansing repeated Celia's words. "Yes, tell us plainly, sir. We'd rather
"I am alarming you," Mr. Birch said, quickly. "I knew I could not say
the slightest thing about her without doing that. But I need to talk it
over with you all, because if we carry out the doctor's prescription it
means much sacrifice for every one. I had no doubt that you would make
it, but I think it is better for you to understand its importance.
Doctor Forester says New Mexico is an almost certain cure for such
trouble as mother's, if taken early. And we are taking it early."
Justin and Jeff looked puzzled, but Celia caught her breath, and
Lansing's ruddy colour suddenly faded. Charlotte buried her head in her
father's shoulder and drew the scarlet flannel arm tighter about his
The iron-gray head bent over the curly black one for a moment, as if the
strong man of the household found it hard to face the anxious eyes which
searched his, and would have liked, like his eighteen-year-old daughter,
to run to cover. But in an instant, he looked up again and spoke in the
cheery tone they knew so well.
"Now listen, and be brave," he said. "Mother's trouble is like a house
just set on fire. A dash of Water and a blanket--and it is out. Wait
till a whole room is ablaze, and it's a serious matter to stop it. Now,
in our case, we've only the little kindling corner to smother, and the
New Mexico air is water and blanket--a whole fire department, if need
be. The doctor assures me that with mother's good constitution, and the
absence of any hereditary predisposition to this sort of thing, we've
only to give her the ten or twelve months of rest and reenforcement--the
winter in New Mexico, the summer in Colorado--to nip the whole thing in
the bud. I believe him, and you must believe him--and me. More than all,
you must not show the slightest change of front to her. She knows it
all, but she doesn't want you to know. I think differently about that.
"Three of you are men and women now, and the other two," he smiled into
the upturned, eager faces of Jeff and Justin, "are getting to be men.
Even my youngest can be depended upon to act the strong part."
Justin scrambled to his feet at that, and gravely laid a muscular boy's
hand in his father's.
"I'll stand by you, sir," he said.
Nobody laughed. Charlotte's black bow twitched and a queer sound burst
from the shoulder where her head was buried. Jeff's thick black lashes
went down for a moment; Celia shook two bright drops from brimming eyes
and patted Just's sturdy shoulder. Mr. Birch shook the hand vigorously
without speaking, and only Lansing found words to express what they
"He speaks for us all, I know, sir. And now if you'll tell us our part
we'll take hold. I think I know what it means. Trips to New Mexico, from
New York, are expensive."
"They are very expensive," Mr. Birch replied, slowly. "I must go with
her. We must travel in the least fatiguing fashion, which means
state-rooms on trains and many extras by the way. She has kept up
bravely, but this unusual exhaustion after one day in town shows me how
careful I must be of her on the long journey. Then, once away, no
expense must be spared to make the absence tell for all there is in it.
And most of all to be considered, while I am away there will be--no
They looked at each other now, Celia at Lansing, and Lansing at Jeff,
and Jeff at both of them. Charlotte sat up suddenly, her cheeks and eyes
burning, and stared hard at each in turn.
The income would stop. And what would that mean? The family had within
three years suffered heavy financial losses from causes outside of their
control, and the father's income, that of attorney-at-law in a large
suburban town, had since become the only source of support. So far it
had sufficed, although Charlotte and Celia had been sent away to school,
and both Celia and Lansing were now in college.
It was the remembrance of these heavy demands upon the family purse
which now caused the young people to look at one another with startled
questioning. Lansing was about to begin his senior year at a great
university; Celia had finished her first year at a famous women's
college. Within a fortnight both were expecting to begin work.
Charlotte did not care about a college course, but she had planned for
two years to go to a school of design, for she was a promising young
worker in things decorative. As for Jefferson, sixteen years old,
captain of the high-school football team, six feet tall, and able to
give his brother Lansing a hard battle for physical supremacy, his
dearest dream was a great military school. Even Justin--but Justin was
only twelve--his dreams could wait. His was the only face in the group
which remained placid during the moments succeeding Mr. Birch's mention
of the astonishing fact about the income.
The father's observant eyes noted all that his children's looks could
tell him of surprise, disappointment and bewilderment; and of the
succeeding effort they made to rally their forces and show no sign of
Lansing made the first effort. "I can drop back a year," he said,
thoughtfully. "Or I--no--merely working my way through this year
wouldn't do. It wouldn't help out at home."
"Why, Lanse!" began Celia, and stopped.
He glanced meaningly at her, and the colour flashed back into her
cheeks. In the next instant she had followed his lead.
"If Lanse can stay out of college, I can, too," she said, with decision.
"If I could get some fairly good position," Lanse proposed, "I ought to
be able to earn enough to--well, we're rather a large family, and our
"I could do something," began Charlotte, eagerly. "I could--I could do
At that there was a general howl, which quite broke the solemnity of the
occasion. "Charlotte--sewing!" they cried.
"Why not take in washing?" urged Lanse.
"Or solicit orders for fancy cooking?"
"Or tutor stupid little boys in languages? Come! Fiddle--stick to your
Charlotte's face was a study as she received these hints. They
represented the things she disliked most and could do least well. Yet
they were hardly farther afield than her own suggestion of sewing.
Charlotte's inability with the needle was proverbial.
"What position do you consider yourself eminently fitted for, Mr.
Lansing Birch?" she inquired, with uplifted chin.
"You have me there," her brother returned, good-humouredly. "There's
only one thing I can think of--to go into the locomotive shops.
Mechanics' wages are better than most, and a little practical experience
wouldn't hurt me."
It was his turn to be met with derision. It could hardly be wondered at,
for as he stood before them, John Lansing looked the personification of
fastidiousness, and his face, although it surmounted a strongly
proportioned and well developed body, suggested the mental
characteristics not only of his father, but of certain
great-grandfathers and uncles, who had won their distinction in
intellectual arenas. Even his father seemed a little daunted at this
"That's it--laugh!" urged Lanse. "If I'd proposed to try to get on the
'reportorial staff' of a city newspaper you'd all smile approval, as at
a thing suited to my genius. I'd have to live in town to do that, and
what little I earned would go to fill my own hungry mouth. Now at the
shops--you needn't look so top-lofty! Dozens of fellows who are taking
engineering courses put on the overalls, shoulder a lunch-pail and go to
work every morning during vacation at seven o'clock. They come grinning
home at night, their faces black as tar, their spirits up in Q, jump
into a bath-tub, put on clean togs, and come down to dinner looking like
gentlemen--but _not_ gentlemen any more thoroughly than they have been
Jeff looked at his brother seriously. "Lanse," he said, "if you go into
one of the locomotive shops won't you get a place for me?"
But Celia interposed. "Whatever the rest of us do," she said, "Jeff and
Just must keep on with school."
Jeff rebelled with a grimace. "Not much!" he shouted. "I guess one
six-footer is as good as another in a boiler-shop. You don't catch me
swallowing algebra and German when I might be developing muscle. If
Lanse puts on overalls I'm after him."
Celia looked at her father. "What do you think of all this, sir?" she
asked. "If I stay at home, dismiss Delia, and do the housework myself,
and Lanse finds some suitable position, can't we get on? Charlotte can
put off the school of design another year. We will all be very
economical about clothes----"
"Being economical doesn't bring in cash to pay bills," interrupted Jeff.
"Do the best he can, Lanse won't draw any hair-raising salary the first
year. He could probably get clerical work at one of the banks, but
what's that? He'd fall off so in his wind I could throw him across the
room in three months."
They all laughed. Jeff's devotion to athletics dominated his ideals at
all times, and his disgust at the thought of such a depletion of his
brother's physical forces was amusing.
Celia was still looking at her father. He spoke in the hearty tone to
which they were accustomed, his face full of satisfaction.
"You please me very much, all of you," he said. "It will be the best
tonic I can offer your mother. Her greatest trial is this very
necessity, which she foresaw the instant the plan was formed--so much
sacrifice on the part of her children. Yet she agreed with me that the
experience might not be wholly bad for you, and she said"--he paused,
smiling at his elder daughter--"that with Celia at the helm she was sure
the family ship wouldn't be wrecked"
Then he told them that they might plan the division of labour and
responsibility as they thought practicable. He agreed with Celia that
the younger boys must remain in school, but added--since at this point
it became necessary to mollify his son Jefferson--that a fellow with a
will might find any number of remunerative odd jobs out of school and
study hours. He commended Lansing's idea, but advised him to look around
before deciding; and he passed an affectionate hand over Charlotte's
black curls as he observed that young person sunk in gloom.
"Cheer up, little girl!" he said. "The second violin is immensely
important to the music of the family orchestra. The hand that can design
wall-papers can learn to relieve the mistress of the house of some of
her cares. Celia, without a maid in the kitchen, will find plenty of use
for such a quick brain as lies under this thatch."
But at this moment something happened--something to which the family
were not unused. Charlotte suddenly wriggled out from under the
caressing hand, and in half a dozen quick movements was out of the room.
They had all had a vision of brilliant wet eyes, flushing cheeks, and
red, rebellious mouth.
"Poor child!" murmured Celia. "She thinks we find her of no use."
"She is rather a scatterbrain," Lanse observed. "The year may do her
good, as you say, father--as well as the rest of us," he added, with
"There's a lot of things she can do, just the same,"--Jeff fired up,
instantly--"things the rest of us are perfect noodles at. When she gets
to earning more money in a day than the rest of us can in a month maybe
we'll let up on that second-fiddle business."
"Good for you, you faithful Achates!" said Lanse. Then he turned to his
father. "You haven't told us yet when you go, sir."
"If we can, two weeks from to-day," said Mr. Birch. Then he went
up-stairs to tell his wife that she might go peacefully to sleep, for
her children were ready to become her devoted slaves. Justin followed
Jeff out of the room, and Jeff broke away from this younger brother and
hastened to rap a familiar, comforting signal of comradeship on
Charlotte's locked door.
Left alone, Lanse and Celia looked at each other.
"Well, old girl--" began Lansing, gently.
"O Lanse!" breathed Celia.
He patted her shoulder. "Bear up, dear. It's tough to give up college
for a year--"
"Oh, _that's_ not it!" cried the girl, and buried her face in a sofa
"No, that's not it," he answered, under his breath. He shook his
shoulders and walked away to the fire, stood staring down into it for a
minute with sober eyes, then drew a long breath and came back to his
"It's a relief that there's something we can do to help her get well,"
he said, slowly. "And she will get well, Celia--she will--_she must_!"
* * * * *
"Where's the shawl-strap?"
"Charlotte, wait just a moment; are you perfectly sure that mother's
dressing sack and knit slippers are in the case? Nobody saw them put in,
and I don't--"
"Justin, run down-stairs, please, and get that unopened package of
water-biscuit. You'll find it on the pantry shelf, I think."
"Lanse, if the furnace runs all night with the draught on, your fire
will be burned out in the morning, and it will take an extra amount of
coal to get it started again."
"Where's Jeff? He must be told about--"
"Put mother's overshoes to warm."
"I have left two hundred dollars to your credit at the bank, Lansing,
"Lanse, did you telephone for--"
"Where did Celia put the--"
"Listen, all of you. I--"
"What did Jeff do with that small white--"
"_Silence!_" shouted Lansing, above the din. "Can't you people get these
traps together without all yelling at once? You will have mother so used
up she can't start."
Mrs. Birch smiled at her tall son from the easy chair where she had been
placed ten minutes before, her family protesting that they could finish
the numberless small tasks yet to be done. It was nine o'clock in the
evening, and it lacked but an hour of train-time.
They all looked at the slender figure in the easy chair. They had
learned in these last two weeks to take note of their mother's
appearance as, with easy confidence in her exhaustless strength, they
had never done before. Since the night when they had learned that she
was not quite well, they had discovered for themselves the delicacy of
the smiling face, the thinness of the graceful body, the many small
signs by which those who run may read the evidences of lessened
vitality, if their eyes are once opened. They wondered that they had not
seen it all before, and found the only explanation in the cheery,
undaunted spirit which had covered up every sign of fatigue.
"She is too tired already," declared Celia. "Run away, and let father
and me finish."
But they would not go. How could they, with only an hour left? They
subdued their voices, and ran whispering about. Jeff held a long
conference in an undertone with his mother. Justin perched on the arm of
her chair, with his head on her shoulder, and she would not have him
taken away, her own heart sick within her at thought of the long absence
from them all. Altogether, when one took into account the preceding
fortnight of making ready for the trip, it was not strange that in this
last hour of preparation she gave out entirely.
The first they knew of it was when Mr. Birch, with a low exclamation,
sprang across the room, and catching up his wife in his arms, carried
her to a couch.
"Water!" he said. "And open the window!"
Startled, they obeyed him. It was only a brief unconsciousness, and the
lovely brown eyes when they unclosed were as full of bravery as ever,
but Mr. Birch spoke anxiously to Lansing in the hall outside.
"I don't like to start with her, as worn-out as this," he said. "Yet
everything is engaged--the state-room and all--and I don't want to delay
without reason. There's not time to send to the city for Doctor
Forester. Suppose you telephone Doctor Ridgway to come around and tell
us what to do about starting. If he is out, try Sears or Barton. Have
him hurry. We've barely forty-five minutes now."
In three minutes Lansing came back and beckoned his father out of the
"They're all out," he said, "I tried old Doctor Hitchcock, too, but he's
sick in bed. How about that new doctor that's just moved in next door? I
like his looks. He certainly will know enough to advise about this."
Mr. Birch hesitated a moment. "Well, call him," he decided.
Lansing was already down the stairs. Three minutes later he returned
with the young doctor. Mr. Birch met them in the hall.
"Doctor Churchill, father." Mr. Birch looked keenly into a pair of eyes
whose steady glance gave him instantly the feeling that here was a man
The young people waited impatiently outside while Doctor Churchill spent
fifteen quiet minutes with their father and mother. When Mr. Birch came
to the door again with the physician, he was looking relieved.
Doctor Churchill paused before the little group, his eyes glancing
kindly at each in turn, as he spoke to Lansing. He certainly was young
but there was about him an air of quiet confidence and decision which
one felt instinctively would be justified by further acquaintance.
"Don't be anxious," he said. "All this hurry of preparation has been a
severe test on her, taken with her reluctance to leave her home. She is
feeling stronger now, and it will be better for her to get the
leave-taking over than to postpone and dread it longer. You will all
make it easy for her--No breakdowns," he cautioned, with a smile. "New
Mexico is a great place, and you are doing the best thing in the world
in getting her off before cold weather."
He was gone, but they felt as if a reviving breeze had passed over them,
and when they went back to their mother's room it was with serene faces.
If Charlotte swallowed hard at a lump in her throat, and Celia lingered
an instant behind the rest to pinch the colour back into her cheeks,
nobody observed it. Perhaps each was too occupied with acting his own
light-hearted part. Somehow the minutes slipped away, and soon the
travellers were at the door.
Into Mrs. Birch's face, also, the colour had returned, summoned there,
it may be, not only by the doctor's stimulating draught, but by the
insistence of her own will.
"Good-by! good-by! God be with you all!" murmured Mr. Birch, breaking
with difficulty away from Justin's frantic hug.
Mrs. Birch, on Lansing's arm, had gone down the steps to the carriage.
The father followed, surrounded by an eager group. Only Lansing was to
go to the train. The others, as they crowded round the carriage door,
were incoherently mingling parting messages. Then presently they were
left behind, a suddenly quiet, sober group.
Inside the carriage Mrs. Birch, with her hand in her eldest son's, was
saying to him things he never forgot, while his father looked steadily
out of the window.
"I leave them in your care, dear," she told Lansing, in the quiet,
confident tones to which he was used from her. "I could never go, I
think, if I hadn't such a strong, brave, trustworthy son to leave in
care of the younger ones. Celia will do her part, and do it beautifully,
I know, but it's on you I rely."
"I'll do my best," he answered, cheerfully, although he felt, even more
than before, the heavy responsibility upon him.
"I know you will. Don't let Celia overdo. She will be so ambitious to
run the household economically that she will set herself tasks she's not
fit for. See that Jeff keeps steadily at his studies, and be lenient
with Justin. He adores you--you can make the year do much for him if you
take thought. And with my little Charlotte--be very patient, Lanse. She
will miss us most--and show it least."
"I doubt that," thought Lanse, but aloud he said, "We'll all hang
together, mother, you may count on that. We have our differences and
our, eccentricities, but we've a lot of family spirit, and no one of us
is going to sacrifice alone while the rest fail to take notice. And
you're going to know all that goes on. We've planned to take turns
writing so that at least every other day a letter will start for New
"And if anything should go wrong?"
"Nothing will," asserted Lansing.
"That you don't know, dear," said the gentle voice, not quite so
steadily as before. "If anything should come we must know."
"I'll remember," he promised, reluctantly, his hand under pressure from
hers. But inwardly he vowed, "Anything short of real trouble you'll not
know, little mother. Your children are stronger than you now, and they
can bear some things for you."
At the train it took all Lansing's determination, sturdy fellow though
he was, to keep up his cheerful front. The colour had ebbed away from
Mrs. Birch's face once more, and as she put up her arms to her tall son,
in the little state-room, she seemed to him all at once so small and
frail that he could not endure to see her go away from them all, facing
even the remote possibility that in the new land she might fail to find
again her old vigour.
It had to be done, however. Lansing received her clinging good-by,
whispered in her ear something which would have been unintelligible to
any but a mother's intuition, so choky was his voice, gripped his
father's hand with both his own, turned and smiled back at the two as he
pulled open the door, and swung off the train just as it began to move.
He raced away over the streets to take a trolley-car for home, having
dismissed the carriage, and craving nothing so much as a long walk in
the cool September night.
At home he found everybody gone to bed except Celia, who met him at the
door. She smiled at him, but he could see that she had been crying.
Although he had carried home a heavy heart, he braced himself to begin
his task of keeping the family cheered up.
"Off all right!" he announced, in a casual tone, as if he had just sent
away the guests of a week. "Splendid train, jolly state-room, porter one
of the '_Yassir, yassir_' kind. Judge and Mrs. Van Camp were taking the
same train as far as Chicago. That will do a lot toward making things
pleasant to start with."
"I'm so glad!" Celia agreed. "How did mother get off? Did her strength
"Pretty well--better than I'd have thought possible after all the fuss
of that last hour. The new doctor braced her up in good shape. He seems
all right. Didn't you like the way he acted? Neither like an old family
physician nor a new johnny-jump-up; just quiet and cool and pleasant.
Glad he lives next door. I mean to know him."
Lansing was turning out lights as he talked, looking after window
fastenings, and examining things generally. Celia watched him from her
place on the bottom stair. He was approaching her with the intention of
putting out the hall light and joining her to proceed up-stairs, when he
stopped still, wheeled, and made for the back of the hall, where the
cellar stairs began.
"I'm forgetting the furnace!" he cried.
"It's all right," Celia assured him. "Jeff took care of it. He says
that's his work, since you're to be away all day."
"Think he can manage it?"
"Of course he can. The way to please Jeff is to give him responsibility.
He's old enough, and even having to look after such small matters
regularly will help to develop him."
Lansing laughed; then, extinguishing the light, he came up to her on the
stair, and putting his arm about her shoulders, began to ascend slowly
"Shouldering your cares already, aren't you? Got to keep us all
straight, and develop all our characters. Poor girl, you'll have a hard
"I'm afraid I shall. Do you go to work at the shops in the morning?"
"Yes. Breakfast at six. Did you tell Delia?"
"Yes, but I'm going to let her go afterward. I arranged with her, when
father first told us, to stay just till they had gone, and then leave
things to me. I can't be too busy from now on, and I don't want to wait
a day to begin."
"Wise girl. Sorry, though, that I have to get you up every morning so
early. Couldn't you leave things ready so I could manage for myself
about breakfast, somehow?"
"No, indeed! If I'm to have a day-labourer for a brother, I shall see
that he has a good hot breakfast and the heartiest kind of a lunch in
his pail every-day."
"You're the right sort!" murmured Lansing, patting his sister's shoulder
as he paused with her in front of her door. "I must admit I shall prefer
the hot breakfast. Better sleep late to-morrow morning, though."
"I shall be up when you are," Celia declared.
"Look here, little girl," said Lansing, speaking soberly in the
darkness. "You know you haven't got this household on your shoulders all
alone. It's a partnership affair, and don't you forget it. Now, good
night, and take care you sleep like a top."
Celia held him tight for a minute, and answered bravely:
"You're a dear boy, and a great comfort."
Lansing tiptoed away to his own room, farther down the hall, feeling a
strong sense of relief that the determination of the young substitute
heads of the house to begin the new regime without a preliminary hour of
wailing had been successfully carried through.
"We've got the worst over," he thought, as he fell asleep. "Once fairly
started, it won't be so bad. Celia's clear grit, that's sure."
Alone in her room, Celia had it out with herself, and spent a wakeful
night. But she brought a cheerful face to Lansing's early breakfast, and
when the younger members of the family came down later she was ready for
them with the sunshine they had dreaded not to find.
Everybody spent a busy day. Jeff and Justin went off to school.
Charlotte announced with meekness that she was ready for whatever work
Celia might find for her, and was given various rooms up-stairs to sweep
and dust, her sister being confident that vigorous manual labour would
be the best tonic for a mind dispirited.
As for Celia herself, she dismissed Delia, the maid of all work, with a
kindly farewell and the letters of recommendation her mother had
prepared, and plunged eagerly into business. She was a born manager, and
loved many of the details of housework, particularly the baking and
brewing, and she was soon enthusiastically employed in putting the small
kitchen to rights.
At noon Charlotte and the boys were served with a light luncheon, with
the promise of greater joys to come, and by five in the afternoon the
house was filled with the delightful odours of successful cookery.
At that hour Charlotte, whose labours had been enlarged by herself to
cover a thorough overhauling of the entire house--such tasks being her
special aversion, and therefore to be discharged without mitigation on
this first day of self-sacrifice--wandered disconsolately into the
kitchen with broom and dust-pan, looking sadly weary. She gazed with
envious eyes at her sister, flying about in a big apron, with sleeves
rolled up, her cheeks like carnations, her eyes bright with triumph.
"Well, you do start in with vim," the younger sister observed, dropping
into a chair with a long sigh.
"Yes; and the work has gone better than I had hoped," declared Celia,
whisking a tinful of plump rolls into the oven. "It's really fun."
"I'm glad you like it."
"Poor child," said Celia, pausing to glance at the dejected figure in
the chair, its dark curls a riot of disorder, a smudge of black upon its
forehead, and its pinafore disreputable with frequent use as a duster,
"I gave you too much to do! Didn't I hear you in Delia's room? You
needn't have touched that to-day."
"Wanted to get through with it. Delia may be a good cook, but she left a
mess of a closet up-stairs. Please give me one of those warm cookies.
I'm so used up and hungry I can't wait for supper."
"Justin came in half an hour ago so famished there wouldn't have been a
cookie left if I hadn't filled him up with a banana. By the way, I sent
him down cellar after some peach pickles, and I haven't seen him since.
I'll run down and get some. I've hot rolls and honey for supper, and
Lanse always wants peach pickles with that combination."
Celia took a bowl from the cupboard, opened the cellar door and started
down, turning on the second step to say:
"Go and take a bath and put on a fresh frock; you won't feel half so
tired. Wear the scarlet waist, will you? I want things particularly
bright and cheery to-night, for I know Lanse will come home fagged with
the new work. Mrs. Laurier sent over some red carnations. I've put them
in the middle of the table; they look ever so pretty. I'm going to----"
What she intended to do Celia never told, if she ever afterward
remembered. What she did do was to slip upon the third step of the steep
stairway, and, with no outcry whatever, go plunging heavily to the
* * * * *
"Celia--Celia--are you hurt?" cried Charlotte, and dashed down the
There was no answer. With trembling hands she felt for her sister's
head. It lay close against the cellar wall, and she instantly understood
that Celia must be unconscious. But whether there might be more to be
feared than unconsciousness she could not tell in the dark. Her first
thought was to get a light, the next that she must have help at once.
She rushed up the stairs, calling Jeff and Justin, but neither boy was
to be found. Then she ran to the telephone, with the idea of summoning
one of the suburban physicians, but turned aside from this purpose with
the further realisation that first of all Celia must be brought up from
the cold, dark place in which she lay, and restored to consciousness.
She ran to the front door to summon the nearest neighbour, and she
remembered then, with relief, that the nearest neighbour was Doctor
Churchill, the young physician who had been called in to see her mother
the evening before.
She flew across the narrow lawn between her own house and that where the
new doctor had set up his office, and rang imperatively. The door
opened, and Doctor Churchill, hat and case in hand, evidently on his way
to a patient, stood before her.
What he thought of the figure before him, with its riotous curly black
hair, brilliant eyes, pale dark cheeks, dusty pinafore, a singular
smudge upon the forehead, and sleeves rolled up to the elbows, nobody
would have known from his manner, which instantly expressed a friendly
Charlotte could only gasp, "Oh, come--quick!"
He followed her, stopping to ask no questions. At the open cellar door
Charlotte stood aside to let him pass.
"Down there--my sister!" she breathed.
"Bring a light, please," said the doctor, and he disappeared down the
stairs. Charlotte lighted a little kitchen lamp and came after him. He
bade her stand by while he made his first brief examination.
"I think the blow on her head isn't serious," he said, presently, "but I
can't tell where else she may be hurt till I get her up-stairs."
He was strong, and he lifted Celia as if she had been a child, and
carried her easily up the steep stairs.
Charlotte led the way to a wide couch in the living-room. As Celia was
laid gently upon it she opened her eyes.
Half an hour later, John Lansing Birch, in his oldest clothes and
wearing a rather disreputable soft hat pulled down over his forehead,
with his hands and face excessively dirty and a lunch-pail on his arm,
pushed open the kitchen door. "_Phew-w!_ Something's burning!" he
shouted. "Celia--Charlotte--where are you all? Great Scott, what a
He strode across the room and lifted from the stove a kettle of
potatoes, from which the water had boiled away some minutes before.
"First returns from the amateur cooking district!" he muttered, glancing
critically about the kitchen.
Something else in the way of overcooked viands seemed to assail his
nostrils, and he jerked open the oven door. A tin of blackened rolls
puffed out at him their pungent smoke.
"Well, what--" he was beginning with the natural irritation of the
hungry man, who has been anticipating his supper all the way home, and
sees it in ruin before his eyes, when Charlotte appeared in the doorway.
"O Lanse!" she cried, and ran to him.
"Well, what is it? Celia got a headache and left you in charge?
Everything's burnt up--I can tell you that----"
"Celia is--she's broken her knee!"
"She fell down the cellar stairs and----"
"Where is she?" Lunch-pail and hat went down on the floor as Lanse got
rid of them and seized Charlotte's arm.
"Up in her room. Doctor Churchill's there. He's sent for Doctor
"Churchill--Forester," repeated Lanse, as if dazed. "Poor old girl--is
she much hurt?"
"She's broken her knee, I tell you," Charlotte repeated. "Of course
she's much hurt. She's suffering dreadfully. She hit her head, too. She
was unconscious at first. I was all alone with her."
Lanse started for the door, then hesitated. "Shall I go up?"
"The doctor wants to see you as soon as you are home. He's waiting for
Doctor Forester. He's made Celia as comfortable as he can, but wants our
regular doctor here, he says, before he does up her knee. I don't see
why. I wanted him to fix it himself."
"That's all right," said Lanse. "Doctors always do that kind of
thing--the honourable ones do. It's better to have Doctor Forester see
it, too. Did you get him? Will he be here right off?"
"The doctor got him. He'll be here soon."
"Go tell Doctor Churchill I'm here, will you? Maybe I'd better not see
Celia till I'm cleaned up a bit. She's not used to me like this. Poor
little girl! poor little girl!" he groaned, as he made his rapid way to
the bath-room. "The cellar stairs--they're dark and steep enough, but
how could a light-footed girl like Celia get a fall like that? And
father and mother--how are we going to fix it with them?"
In the midst of his splashing and scrubbing he heard Jeff and Justin
come shouting in for supper and Charlotte hushing them and telling them
the news. The next instant Jeff was upon him.
"Say, but this is awful, Lanse! She was getting up a rattling good
dinner, too--been at it all day. Her one idea was to please you, your
first day at the shops. Been up to see her? Charlotte says I'd better
not go yet--nor Just. Just's all broken up, poor youngster! Says Celia
told him to go after the pickles, and he forgot it. If he'd gone she
wouldn't have got her tumble. What'll father and mother say? What are we
going to do, anyhow? Second Fiddle's no good on earth in the kitchen;
she couldn't boil an egg. Say, breaking your knee-pan's no joke. Price
Williston did it a year ago August, and he hasn't got good use of it
yet,--'fraid he never will----"
"Oh, let up on that,"--Lanse cut him short,--"and don't mention it again
to anybody. Doctor Forester and Churchill will fix her up all right,
only it's an awful shame it should have happened. I'm going up to see
At the foot of the stairs he met that person coming down, shook hands
with him eagerly, and listened to a brief and concise account of his
sister's injury. As it ended, Doctor Forester's automobile rolled up to
"Did the five and a half miles in precisely twenty minutes," said Doctor
Forester, as he came up the steps, watch in hand; "slow speed within
limits and all. Lanse, my boy, this is too bad. Doctor Churchill--very
glad to see you again. Decided to settle out here, eh? Well, on some
accounts I think you're wise. Charlotte, little girl, cheer up! There
are worse things than a fractured patella--I believe that's what you
called the injury, Doctor Churchill."
In such genial fashion the surgeon and old friend of the family made his
entry, bringing with him that atmosphere which men of his profession
carry about with them, making the people who have been anxiously
awaiting them feel that here is somebody who knows how to take things
coolly, and is not upset at the notion of a broken bone.
He moved deliberately up-stairs toward Celia's room, listening to the
younger physician's statement of the conditions under which he had been
called, turning at the door to smile and nod back at Charlotte, who
watched him from the top of the staircase with serious eyes.
At the end of what seemed like a long period of time the two physicians
came down-stairs together, meeting Lanse at the foot.
"Well, sir," said Doctor Forester, "so far, so good. Celia is as
comfortable as such cases usually are an hour or two afterward, which is
not saying much from her point of view, though a good deal from ours.
She has a long siege of inactivity before her to put that knee into a
strong condition, but it will not be a great while before she can be
about on crutches, I hope. Doctor Churchill, at my insistence, has put
up the knee in the best possible shape, and I am going to leave it in
his care. I'll drop in now and then, but the doctor is right beside you,
and I've full confidence in him. I knew his father, and I know enough
about him to be sure that you're all right in his hands."
Lanse drew a long breath of relief. "I'm very thankful it's no worse,"
he said. "But, Doctor Forester, what are we to do about father and
mother? We can't tell them----"
"Tell them! No!" said Doctor Forester, with decision. "I wouldn't have
your mother told under any consideration, so long as the girl does well.
She would be back here on the next train and then we'd have something
worse than a broken patella on our hands. If there is any way by which
you can let your father know I should do that."
"I can, I think," said Lanse, thoughtfully. "We're to send them
general-delivery letters until they're settled, and father will get
those at the post-office and read them first."
"As to your other problems--housekeeping and all that, over which Celia
is several times more worried than over her own condition--can you
figure those out?"
"Good! Go up and tell her so. She thinks the house is going to
destruction without her. Good chance for the second violin. Too bad that
clever little orchestra will have to drop its practice for a few weeks.
I meant to run in some evening soon and hear you play. Well, I'm overdue
at the hospital. Good-by, Lanse--Doctor Churchill. Keep me posted
concerning the knee."
Then the busy surgeon, who had put off several engagements to come out
to the suburban town and look after the family of his old friend, whom
he had known and loved since their college days, was off in his
runabout, his chauffeur getting promptly under as much headway as the
law allows, and rushing him out of sight in a hurry.
Lanse turned to Doctor Churchill, who stood upon the porch beside him,
hat and case in hand.
"I'm mighty thankful you were so near," he said.
"Doctor Forester hasn't given you much choice," said the other man,
smiling. "I did my best to give you the chance of having some one of the
physicians you know here in town take charge of the case, but he
insisted on my keeping it. I should like, however, to be sure that you
are satisfied. You don't know me at all, you know."
The steady eyes were looking keenly at Lanse, and he felt the sincerity
in the words. He returned the scrutiny without speaking for an instant;
then he put out his hand.
"Somehow I feel as if I do," he said, slowly. "Anyhow, I'm going to know
you, and I'm glad of the chance."
"Thank you." Doctor Churchill shook hands warmly and went down the
steps. "I will come over for a minute about ten o'clock," he added, "to
make sure that Miss Birch is resting as quietly as we can hope for
Lanse watched the broad-shouldered, erect figure cross the lawn and
disappear in the office door of the old house near by; then he turned.
"Well, we're in a sweet scrape now, that's certain," he said gloomily to
himself, as he marched up-stairs.
At the top he encountered his young brother Justin. That twelve-year-old
stood awaiting him, his face so disconsolate that in spite of himself
"Cheer up, youngster," he said. "It's pretty tough, but as Doctor
Forester says, it might be worse. Want to go in with me and see sister a
But Justin got hold of his arm and held him back. "Lanse, I've got to
tell you something," he begged. "Please come here, in your room a
Lanse followed, wondering. Justin, although a healthy and happy boy
enough, was apt to take things seriously, and sometimes needed to be
joked out of singular notions. In Lanse's room Justin carefully locked
"It's all my fault, Celia's knee," he said, going straight to the point,
as was his way. His voice shook a little, but he went steadily on. "She
sent me down cellar after pickles, and I sat on the top of the stairs
finishing up a banana before I went. I've been down there to look,
and--and the banana skin was there--all mashed. It was what did it."
He choked, and turned away to the window.
"You left a banana skin on those stairs?" Lanse half-shouted.
"Right there, at the top--when Delia almost broke her neck more than
once going down those stairs only last winter, just because they're so
steep and narrow?"
"And you fell on a banana skin once yourself, and wanted to thrash the
fellow who left it!"
Just's chin sank lower and lower.
Lanse eyed him a moment, struggling with a desire to seize the boy and
punish him tremendously. But as his quick wrath cooled a trifle in his
effort to control himself and act wisely, something about Just's brave
acknowledgment, where silence would have covered the whole thing,
appealed to him. The thought of the way the absent father and mother had
met every confession of his own that he could remember in a life of
prank-playing softened the words which came next to his lips.
"Well, it's pretty bad," he said, in a deep voice of regret. "I don't
wonder it breaks you up. Such a little thing to do so much mischief--and
so easy to have avoided it all. I reckon you'll take care of your banana
skins after this. But I like the way you own up, Just, and so will
Celia. That's something. You haven't been a sneak in addition to being
thoughtless. It would have been hard to forgive you if I had found it
out while you kept still. It's pretty hard as it is," he could not help
adding, as his imagination pictured Celia spending her winter as a
Just said not a word, but the outline of his profile against the fading
light at the window was so suggestive of boyish despair that the elder
brother walked over to him and laid a hand on his shoulder.
"It gives you a chance to make it up to her in every way you can," he
said. "There are a lot of things you can do for her, and I shall expect
you to try to square the account a little."
"I will! Oh, I will!" cried poor Just, who had longed for his mother in
this crisis, and had found facing the elder brother, whom he both
admired and feared, harder than anything he had ever had to do. "I'll do
anything in the world for her, if she'll only forgive me."
"She'll forgive you, for she's made that way. It's forgiving yourself
that can't be done."
"I never shall."
"Don't. If I thought you would, I'd thrash you on the spot," said Lanse,
grimly, sure that a wholesome remorse was to be encouraged. Then he
relented sufficiently to say in a tone considerably less severe:
"Go and wash up, and begin your good resolutions by getting down and
seeing to the kitchen fire. It's undoubtedly burnt itself out by this
time. There's probably no dinner for anybody, but we can't mind little
things like that to-night."
He went to Celia's room at last, feeling many cares upon him, a
sensation which an empty, stomach did not tend to relieve. He found his
sister able to give him a very pale-faced but courageous smile, and to
receive his earnest sympathy with a faint:
"Never mind, dear. Don't worry. It might have been worse."
"That seems to be everybody's motto, so I'll accept it. We'll take
courage, and you shall have us all on our knees, since yours are laid up
"You haven't had your dinner, Lanse," murmured Celia. She was suffering
severely, but she could not relax anything of her anxiety for the family
"Oh, I forgot there was such a thing as dinner in the world!" cried
Charlotte, and was hurrying to the door when Celia called her back.
"_Please_ wash that smudge off your face," she whispered, and covered
* * * * *
Coming down-stairs from Celia's room, Dr. Andrew Churchill made his way
through what had now become somewhat familiar ground to the little
kitchen. As he looked in at the door he beheld a slim figure in a big
Turkey-red apron, bending over a chicken which lay, in a state of
semi-dissection, upon the table. As he watched for a moment without
speaking, Charlotte herself spoke, without turning round.
"You horrid thing!" she said, tragically, to the chicken. "I hate
you--all slippery and bloody. Ugh! Why won't your old windpipe come out?
How anybody can eat you who has got you ready I don't know!"
"May I bother you for a pitcher of hot water?" asked an even voice from
Charlotte turned with a start. Her cheeks, already flushed, took on a
still ruddier hue.
"Yes, if you'll please help yourself," she answered, curtly, turning
back to her work. "I am--engaged."
"I see. A congenial task?"
"Very!" Charlotte's tone was expressive.
"Did I gather that the fowl's windpipe was the special cause of your
distress?" asked the even voice again.
Charlotte faced round once more.
"Doctor Churchill," she said, "I never cleaned a chicken in my life. I
don't know what I'm doing at all, only that I've been doing it for
almost an hour, and it isn't done. I presume it's because I take so much
time washing my hands."
She smiled in spite of herself as the doctor's hearty laugh filled the
"I think I can appreciate your feelings," he remarked.
He walked over to the table. "Get a good hold on the offending windpipe,
shut your eyes and pull."
"I'm afraid of doing something wrong."
"You won't. The trachea of the domestic fowl was especially designed for
the purpose, only the necessary attachment for getting a firm grip on it
was accidentally omitted."
"It certainly was." Charlotte tugged away energetically for a moment,
and drew out the windpipe successfully. The doctor regarded the bird
with a quizzical expression.
"I should advise you to cut up the chicken and make a fricassee of it,"
"I want to roast it. I've got the stuffing all ready." She indicated a
bowlful of macerated bread-crumbs mixed with milk and butter, and
liberally seasoned with pepper.
"I see. But I'm a little, just a little, afraid you may have trouble in
getting the stuffing to stay in while the chicken is roasting. You
see--" He paused.
"I suppose I've cut it open too much."
"Rather--unless you're a very good amateur surgeon. And even then--"
"I'm no surgeon--I'm no cook--I never shall be! I--don't want to be!"
Charlotte burst out, suddenly, beginning to cut up the chicken with
vigorous slashes, mostly in the wrong places.
"Yes, you do. Hold on a minute! That joint isn't there: it's farther
down. There. See? Once get the anatomy of this bird in your mind, and it
won't bother you a bit to cut it up. Pardon me, Miss Charlotte, but I
know you do want to be a good cook--because you want to be an
Charlotte put down her knife, washed her hands with furious haste, got
out a pitcher, poured it full of hot water, and handed it silently to
Doctor Churchill without looking at him. He glanced from it to her with
amusement as he received it "Thank you," he said, politely, and walked
When he came down-stairs fifteen minutes later, he found the slim figure
in the Turkey-red apron waiting for him at the bottom. As the girl
looked up at him he noted, as he had done many times already in the
short two weeks he had known her, the peculiar, gipsy-like beauty of her
face. It was a beauty of which she herself, he had occasion to believe,
was absolutely unconscious, and in this he was right.
Charlotte disliked her dark skin, despised her black curls, and
considered her vivid colouring a most undesirable inheritance. She
admired intensely Celia's blonde loveliness, and lost no chance of
privately comparing herself with her sister, to Celia's infinite
"Doctor Churchill," she said, as he approached her, hat in hand, "I was
very rude to you just now. I am--sorry."
She held out her hand. Doctor Churchill took it. Charlotte's thick black
lashes swept her cheek, and she did not see the look, half-laughing,
half-sympathetic, which rested on her downcast face.
"It's all right," said Doctor Churchill's low, clear voice. "Don't think
I fail to understand what it means for the cares of a household like
this to descend upon a girl's shoulders. But I want you to know that
I--that they are all immensely pleased with the pluck you are showing. I
have seen your sister's lunch tray several times since I have been
coming here; it was perfect."
"I burned her toast just this morning," said Charlotte, quickly. "And
poached the egg too hard. Lanse says the coffee is better, but--oh, no
matter--I'm just discouraged this morning, I--shall learn something some
time, perhaps, but----" She turned away impulsively. Doctor Churchill
followed her a step or two.
"See here, Miss Charlotte," he said, "how many times have you been out
of the house since your sister was hurt?"
"Not at all," owned Charlotte, "except evenings, after everything is
done. Then I steal out and run round and round the house in the
moonlight, just running it off, you know--or maybe you don't know."
"Yes, I do. Will you do something now if I ask you to very humbly?"
Charlotte looked at him doubtfully. "If you mean go for a walk--which is
what doctors always mean, I believe--I haven't time."
Doctor Churchill looked at his watch. "It is half past ten. Is that
chicken for luncheon?"
"No, for supper--or dinner--I don't know just what it is we have at
night now. I simply began to get it ready this morning because I hadn't
the least idea in the world how long it takes to cook a chicken." She
was smiling a little at the absurdity of her own words.
"And you didn't want to ask your sister?"
"I meant to surprise her."
"Well, of one thing I am fairly confident," said Doctor Churchill, with
gravity. "If you take a run down as far as the old bridge and back,
there will still be time to see to the chicken. What is more, by the
time you get back, all big obstacles will look like little ones to you.
Go, please. I am to be in the office for the next hour, and if the house
catches fire I will run over and put it out. I could even undertake to
steal in the back door and put coal on the kitchen fire, if it is
"It won't be."
"Then will you go?"
"Perhaps--to humour you," promised Charlotte.
"Thank you! And remember, please, Miss Charlotte, if you are to do
justice to yourself and to your family, you must not plod all the time.
Plan to get away every day for an hour or two. Go to see your
friends--anything--but don't cultivate 'house nerves' at eighteen."
"I'm older than that," said Charlotte, as she watched him go down the
steps. He turned, surprised. "But I shall not tell you how much," said
she, and closed the door.
Doctor Churchill went straight through his small bachelor house to the
kitchen. Here a tall, thin woman, with sharp eyes and kindly mouth, was
energetically kneading bread.
"Mrs. Fields," said he, "I wish you would find it necessary to-morrow
morning to run in at that door over there"--he indicated the little back
porch of the Birch house--"and borrow something."
Mrs. Fields eyed him as if she thought he had taken leave of his senses.
"Me--borrow?" she said. "Doctor Andrew--are you----"
"No, I'm not crazy," the doctor assured her, smiling. "I know it's
tremendously against your principles, but never mind the principles, for
once--since by ignoring them you can do a kindness. Run in and borrow a
cup of sugar or something, and get acquainted."
"Who with? That curly-haired girl with the red cheeks? She don't want my
"She would be immensely grateful for it if it came about naturally. Take
over some of your jelly for Miss Birch, if that way suits you better,
but get to know Miss Charlotte, and show her a few things about cookery.
She's trying to do all the work for the whole family, and she knows very
little about it."
"I suspected as much. You haven't told me about 'em, and of course,
being a doctor's housekeeper, I'm too well trained to ask."
The doctor smiled, for Mrs. Fields had been housekeeper in his mother's
family in the days of his boyhood, and she felt it her right to tell
him, now and then, what she thought. She was immensely proud of her own
ability to hold her tongue and her curiosity in check.
"So I know only what I've seen. You told me the oldest girl had broke
her knee, and that's all you've said. But I see this girl a-hanging
dish-towels, and opening the kitchen door to let out the smoke each time
she's burned up a batch of something, and I guessed she wasn't what you
might call a graduate of one of those cooking-schools."
"You must be a bit tactful," warned the doctor. "The young lady is a
trifle sensitive, as is natural, over her inefficiency, but she's very
anxious to learn, and there's nobody to teach her. She is too
independent to go to the other neighbours, but I've an idea you could be
a friend to her."
"She looks pretty notional," Mrs. Fields said, doubtfully. "Shakes out
her dust-cloth with her chin in the air----"
"To avoid the dust."
"And pulls down the shades the minute the lamp is lighted----"
"So do you."
"I saw her lock the kitchen door in the face of that Mis' Carter the
other day, when she caught sight of her coming up the walk."
"See here, Fieldsy, you've been spying on your neighbours," said Doctor
Churchill severely. "You despise that sort of thing yourself, so you
mustn't yield to it. Go over and be neighbourly, as nobody knows how
better than yourself, but don't judge people by their chins or their
He gave her angular shoulder an affectionate pat, looked straight into
her sharp eyes for a moment, until they softened perceptibly, said,
"You're all right, you know,"--and went whistling away.
"That's just like your impudence, Andy Churchill," said Mrs. Hepsibah
Fields to herself, as she laid her smooth loaves of bread-dough into
their tins and proceeded energetically to scrape the board. "You always
did have a way with you, wheedling folks into doing what they didn't
want to just to please you. Now I've got to go meddling in other
people's business and getting snubbed, most likely, just because you're
trying to combine friendship and doctoring."
But Mrs. Fields, when her work was done, went to look up her best jelly,
as Doctor Churchill had known she would do. And twenty-four hours had
not gone by before she had made friends with Charlotte Birch.
It was not hard to make friends with the girl if one went at it aright.
Mrs. Fields came in as Charlotte was stirring up gingerbread.
"I don't think much of back-door neighbours," Mrs. Fields said, "but I
didn't want to come to the front door with my jelly. I thought maybe
your sister would relish my black raspberry."
"That's very kind of you," said Charlotte. "You are--I think I've seen
you across the way. Won't you come in?"
"No, thank you. You're busy, and so am I. Yes, I'm Doctor Churchill's
housekeeper, and his mother's before that."
The sharp eyes noted with approval, in one swift glance as Charlotte
turned away with the jelly, the fact that the little kitchen was in
careful order. To be sure, it was four o'clock in the afternoon, an hour
when kitchens are supposed to be in order, if ever, yet it was a relief
to Mrs. Fields to find this one in that condition. Brass faucets gleamed
in the afternoon sunlight, the teakettle steamed from a shining spout,
the linoleum-covered floor was spotless, and the table at which
Charlotte was stirring her gingerbread had been scrubbed until it was as
nearly white as pine boards can be made.
"Gingerbread?" said the housekeeper, lingering in the doorway. "I always
like to make that. It seems the biggest result for the smallest labour
of anything you can make, and it smells so spicy when it comes out of
"Yes, when it isn't burned," agreed Charlotte, with a laugh. Things had
gone fairly well with her that day, and her spirits had risen
"Burning's a thing that will happen to the best cooks once in a while.
'Twas just day before yesterday I blacked a pumpkin pie so the doctor
poked his fun at me all the time he was eating it," said the
housekeeper, with a tactful disregard for the full truth, which was that
a refractory small patient in the office had driven the doctor to
require her assistance for a longer period than was consistent with
attention to her oven.
"Oh, did you?" asked Charlotte, eagerly. "That encourages me. Doctor
Churchill told me he had the finest cook in the state, and I've been
envying you ever since."
"Doctor Churchill had better be careful how he brags," Mrs. Fields
declared, much gratified. "Well, now, I'll tell you what you do. It
ain't but a step across the two back yards. When you get in a quandary
how to cook anything--how long to give it or whether to bake or
boil--you just run across and ask me. I ain't one o' the prying
kind--the doctor'll tell you that--and you needn't be afraid it'll go
any further. I know how hard it must be for a young girl like you to
take the care of a house on yourself, and I'll be pleased to show you
anything I can."
"That's very good of you," said Charlotte, gratefully, as Mrs. Fields
went briskly down the steps; and she really felt that it was. She would
have resented the appearance of almost any of her neighbours at her back
door with an offer of help, suspecting that they had come to use their
eyes, and afterward their tongues, in criticism. But something about
Mrs. Hepsibah Fields disarmed her at once. She could not tell why.
"This gingerbread is perfect," said Celia, an hour later, when Charlotte
had brought up her supper. "You are improving every day. But it frets me
not to have you come to me for help. I could plan things for you, and
teach you all the little I know. I'm doing so well now, the doctor says
I may get down-stairs on the couch by next week. Then you certainly must
let me do my part."
But Charlotte shook her head obstinately. "I'm going to fight it through
myself. I'd rather. You've enough to do--writing letters."
When Lanse came into Celia's room that evening, his first words were
"What I'm anxious to know," he said, "is what you did with your rice
pudding. Charlotte says you ate it--and the inference was that it was
good to eat. So I ate mine--manfully, I assure you. But it was a bitter
"Poor little girl! She tries so hard, Lanse. And the gingerbread was
"So it was. It helped take out the taste of the pudding. Did you
honestly eat that pudding?"
"See here." Celia beckoned him close. She reached a cautious hand under
her pillow and drew out her soap-dish. "Please get rid of it for me,"
she whispered, "and wash the dish. I couldn't bear not to seem to eat
it, so I slipped it in there."
Striving to smother his mirth, Lanse bore the soap-dish away. Returning
with it, he carefully replaced the soap and set the dish on the stand,
where it had been within Celia's reach. "I wish I had had a soap-dish at
the table," he remarked, "but the cook's eye was upon me, and I had to
stand up to it. But see here. I've a letter for you--from Uncle
Celia stretched an eager hand, for a letter from Uncle John
Rayburn--middle-aged, a bachelor, and an ex-army officer, retired by an
incurable injury which did not make him the less the best uncle in the
world--could not fail to be welcome. But she had not read a page before
she dropped the sheet and stared helplessly and anxiously at Lanse.
"What's up?" he asked.
"Why, Uncle Rayburn writes that he would like to come to spend the
winter with us," answered Celia.
"Luck--with Charlotte in the kitchen?"
"Uncle Ray is a crack-a-jack of a cook himself. His board bill will help
out like oil on a dry axle, and if we don't have a lot of fun, then
Uncle Ray has changed as--I know he hasn't."
* * * * *
"Two cripples," declared Capt. John Rayburn--honourably discharged from
active service in the United States Army on account of permanent
disability from injuries received in the Philippines,--"two cripples
should be able to keep a household properly stirred up. I've been here
five days now, and my soul longs for some frivolity."
He leaned back in his big wicker armchair and looked quizzically across
at his niece Celia, who lay upon her couch at the other side of the
room. She gave him a somewhat pale-faced smile in return. Four weeks of
enforced quiet were beginning to tell on her.
"Some frivolity," repeated Captain Rayburn, as Charlotte came to the
door of the room. "What do you say, Charlie girl? Shall we have some
"Dear me, yes, Uncle Ray," Charlotte responded, promptly, "if you can
"I can. Is there a birthday or anything that we may celebrate? I've no
compunction about getting up festivities on any pretext, but if there
happened to be a birthday handy--"
"November--yes. Why, we had forgotten all about it! Lanse's birthday is
the fourth. That's--"
"Day after to-morrow. Good! Can you make him a birthday-cake? If not,
"Oh, yes, I can!" cried Charlotte, eagerly. "I've just learned an
"All right. Then we'll order a few little things from town, and have a
jollification. Not a very big one, on account of the lady on the couch
there, who reminds me at the moment of a water-lily whom some one has
picked and then left on the stern seat in the sun. She looks very sweet,
but a trifle limp."
Celia's smile was several degrees brighter than the previous one had
been. Nobody could resist Uncle Ray when he began to exert himself to
cheer people up.
He was a young, or an old, bachelor, according to one's point of view,
being not yet forty, and looking, in spite of the past suffering which
had brought into his chestnut hair two patches of gray at the temples,
very much like a bright-faced boy with an irrepressible spirit of energy
and interest in the life about him. It could hardly be doubted that
Capt. John Rayburn, apparently invalided for life and cut off from the
activity which had been his dearest delight, must have his hours of
depression, but nobody had ever caught him in one of them.
"I should like some music at this festival," Captain Rayburn went on.
"Is the orchestra out of practice?"
"We haven't played for six weeks," Charlotte said. "And Celia's first
"You couldn't play, bolstered up?"
Celia shook her head. "I should be tired in ten minutes."
"I'm not so sure of that, but we'll see. Anyhow, I've the old flute
"Oh, fine!" cried Charlotte.
"Suppose we ask Doctor Forester out, and your young doctor here next
door, and two or three of your girl friends, and a boy and girl or two
for Jeff and Just."
"What a funny mixture, Uncle Ray! Doctor Forester and Norman Carter,
Just's chum, and Carolyn Houghton?"
"Funny, is it?" inquired Captain Rayburn, undisturbed. "Now do you know,
that's my ideal of a well-planned company, particularly when all the
family are to be here. Invite somebody for each one, mix 'em all up,
play some jolly games, and you'll find Doctor Forester vying with Norman
Carter for the prize, and enjoying it equally well. It sharpens up the
young wits to be pitted against the older ones, and it--well, it
burnishes the elder rapiers and keeps them keen."
"All right, this is your party," agreed Charlotte, and she went back to
"You're not afraid it will be too much for you, little girl?" Captain
Rayburn asked Celia, whose smile had faded, and who lay with her head
"Mercury a little low in the tube this morning?"
"Just a little."
"Any good reason why?"
"Except the best reason in the world--heavy atmospheric pressure. Knee a
trifle slow to become a solid, capable, energetic knee, such as its
owner demands. Owner a bit restless, physically and mentally. Plans for
the winter upset--second lieutenant winning spurs while the colonel lies
in the hospital tent, fighting imaginary battles and trying to keep cool
under the strain."
Celia looked round and smiled again, but her head went back to its old
position, and tears forced themselves out from under the eyelids which
she shut tightly together.
"And a little current of anxiety for the inhabitants of New Mexico keeps
flowing under the edge of the tent and makes the colonel fear it's not
pitched in the right place?"
"Well, that's not warranted in the face of the facts. Latest advices
from New Mexico report improvement, even sooner than we could have
expected. Then at home--Lanse is conquering the situation in the
locomotive shops very satisfactorily. Doctor Churchill told me yesterday
that he's won the liking of nearly all the men in his shop--which means
more than a girl like you can guess. Jeff and Just are prospering in
school, according to Charlotte, who is herself working up in her new
profession, and whose last beefsteak was broiled to a turn, as her
critical soldier guest appreciates. As for Celia--"
He got to his feet slowly, grasped his two stout hickory canes and
limped across the room to the couch, showing as he went a pitiful
weakness in the tall figure, whose lines still suggested the martial
bearing which it had not long ago presented, and which it might never
present again. Captain Rayburn sat down close beside Celia and took her
"In one thing I made a misstatement," he said, softly. "They're not
imaginary battles that the colonel lies fighting in the hospital tent.
They're real enough."
There was a short silence; then Celia spoke unsteadily from the depths
of her pillow:
"Uncle Ray, were you ever mean enough to be jealous?"
The captain looked quickly at the fair head on the pillow. "Jealous?"
said he, without a hint of surprise in his voice. "Why, yes--jealous of
my colonel, my lieutenants, my orderlies, my privates, my doctors, my
nurses--jealous of the very Filipino prisoners themselves--because they
all had legs and could walk."
"Oh, I know--I don't mean that!" cried Celia, "Of course you envied
everybody who could walk. Poor Uncle Ray! But you weren't small enough
to mind because the officers under you had got your chance?"
"Wasn't I, though? Well, maybe I wasn't," said the captain, speaking
low. "Perhaps I didn't lie and grind my teeth when they told me about
the gallant work Lieutenant Garretson had done with my men at Balangiga.
A mere boy, Garretson! The whole world applauded it. If I'd not been
knocked out so soon it would have been my name that would have gone into
history. Yes, I chewed that to shreds many a sleepless night, and hated
the fellow for getting my chance."
Captain Rayburn drew a long breath, while his fingers relaxed for an
instant; and it was Celia's hand which tightened over his.
"But I got past that," he said, quietly. "It came to me all at once that
Garretson and the other fellows in active service weren't the only ones
with chances before them. I had mine--a different commission from the
one I had coveted, to be sure, but a broader one, with infinite
possibilities, and no fear of missing further promotion if I earned it."
There was a little stillness after that. When the captain looked down at
Celia again he found her eyes full of pity, but this time it was not
pity for herself. He comprehended instantly.
"No, I don't need it, dear," he said, very gently. "I've learned some
things already in the hospital tent I wouldn't have missed for a year's
pay. And you, who are to be only temporarily on the sick-leave list, you
don't need to mind that the little second lieutenant--"
But the second lieutenant was rushing into the room, bearing on a plate
a great puffy, round loaf, brown and spicy.
"Look," she cried, "at my steamed brown bread! I've tried it four times
and slumped it every time. Now Fieldsy has shown me what was the
matter--I hadn't flour enough. Fieldsy is a dear--and so are you!"
She plunged at Celia, brown bread and all, and kissed the top of her
head, tweaked a lock of Captain Rayburn's thick hair, and was flying
away when Celia spoke. "You're the biggest dear of anybody," she said,
with a smile.
* * * * *
It was getting up a party in a hurry, but somehow the thing was
accomplished. Whether Lanse remembered his own birthday at all was a
question. When he came home at six o'clock on that day, Charlotte told
him that she had special reasons for seeing him in his best.
"Why, you're all dressed up yourself," he observed. "What's up?"
"Doctor Forester's coming out to hear us play," was all she would tell
him, and Lanse groaned over the fact that the little orchestra was so
out of practice.
When the guests arrived, they found the man with the birthday anxiously
looking over scores. He greeted them with enthusiasm.
"Doctor Forester, this is good of you, if we can't play worth a copper
cent. Miss Atkinson! Well this is a surprise--a delightful one! Miss
Carolyn, how goes school? How are you, Norman? You'll find Just in a
minute. Miss Houghton, now you and I can settle that little question we
were discussing. Charlotte, you rogue, you and Uncle Ray are at the
bottom of this! Ah, Doctor Churchill! This wouldn't have been complete
without our neighbour. Miss Atkinson, allow me to present Doctor
Thus John Lansing Birch accepted at once and with his accustomed ease
the role of host, and enjoyed himself immensely. Celia, watching him
from her couch, said suddenly to Captain Rayburn, who sat beside her:
"This is just what the family needed. If you hadn't come we should
probably have gone drudging on all winter without realising what was the
matter with us. No wonder poor Lanse appreciates it. He's had a month of
hard labour without an enlivening hour. And Charlotte--doesn't she look
like a fresh carnation to-night?"
"Very much," agreed the captain, with approving eyes on his younger
niece, who wore her best frock of French gray, a tint which set off her
warm colouring to advantage. Celia had thrust several of Captain
Rayburn's scarlet carnations into her sister's belt, with a result
gratifying to more than one pair of eyes.
"Still," remarked the captain, his glance returning to Celia, "I'm not
sure that I can say whether a fresh carnation is to be preferred to a
newly picked rose. That pale pink gown you are wearing is certainly a
joy to the eye."
Celia blushed under his admiring glance. There could be no question that
she was very lovely, if a trifle frail in appearance from her month's
quiet, and it was comforting to be assured that she was not looking like
a "limp water-lily" to-night.
"When are we to hear the orchestra?" cried Doctor Forester, after an
hour of lively talk, a game or two, and some remarkable puzzles
contributed by Just. The distinguished gentleman from the city was
enjoying himself immensely, for he was accustomed to social functions of
a far more elaborate and formal sort, and liked nothing better than to
join in a frolic with the younger people when such rare opportunities
"Of course we're horribly out of practice and all that," explained
Lanse, distributing scores, and helping to prop up Celia so that she
might try to play, "but since you insist we'll give you all you'll want
in a very few minutes. Here's your flute, Uncle Ray. If you'll play
along with Celia it will help out."
It was not so bad, after all. Lanse had chosen the most familiar of the
old music, everybody did his and her best, and Captain Rayburn's flute,
exquisitely played, did indeed "help out."
Celia, her cheeks very pink, worked away until Doctor Churchill gently
took her violin from her, but after that the music still went very well.
"Good! good!" applauded Doctor Forester. "Churchill, you're in luck to
live next door to this sort of thing."
"Now that I know what I live next door to," remarked the younger
physician, "I shall know what to prescribe for the entire family on
There could be no question that Doctor Churchill also was enjoying the
evening. Helping Charlotte and the boys serve the sandwiches and
chocolate, which appeared presently--the chocolate being made by Mrs.
Fields in the kitchen--he said to the girl:
"I haven't had such a good time since I came away from my old home."
"It was so nice of Fieldsy to make the chocolate," Charlotte replied,
somewhat irrelevantly. Then as the doctor looked quickly at her and
laughed, she flushed. "Oh, I don't call her that to her face!" she said,
"I don't think she would mind. That's what Andy Churchill called her,
and calls her yet, when he forgets her newly acquired dignity as a
doctor's housekeeper. I'm mighty glad Fieldsy can be of service to you.
You've won her heart completely and I assure you that's a bigger triumph
than you realise."
"She's the nicest neighbour we ever had," said Charlotte, gaily. The
doctor paused, delayed them both a moment while he rearranged a pile of
spoons and forks upon his tray, and said:
"If you talk of neighbours, Miss Charlotte, there's a certain homesick
young doctor who appreciates having neighbours, too."
Charlotte answered as lightly as he had spoken: "With Mrs. Fields in the
kitchen and you in here with a tray full of hospitality, I'm sure you
seem very much like one of our oldest neighbours."
"Thank you!" he answered, with such a glad little ring in his voice that
Charlotte could not be sorry for the impulsive speech. But she found
herself wondering more than once during the evening what he had meant by
calling himself "homesick."
"See here, Mrs. Fields," called Jeff, hurrying out for fresh supplies,
"this is the best chocolate ever brewed! Doctor Forester wants another
cup, and all the fellows looked sort of wistful when they heard him ask
for it. May everybody have another cup?"
"Well, I must say, Mr. Jefferson!" said Mrs. Fields, in astonishment. "I
thought Miss Charlotte was going clean crazy when she would have three
double-boilers made. But it seems she knew her friends' appetites. Don't
you know it ain't considered proper to pass more than one cup--light
refreshments like these?"
"Oh, this isn't any of your afternoon-tea affairs, I can tell you that!"
declared Jeff, watching with pleasure the filling of the tall
blue-and-white chocolate pot. "People know they are going to get
something good when they come here. I warned the fellows not to eat too
much supper before they came. Any more of those chicken sandwiches?"
"For the land's sake, Mr. Jeff!" cried Mrs. Fields.
"What's the matter, Jeffy?" asked Charlotte, coming out. Doctor
Churchill was behind her, bearing an empty salad bowl.
"I want more sandwiches," demanded Jeff.
"Everybody fall to quick and make them," commanded Charlotte. "Norman
Carter and Just have had seven apiece. That makes them go fast."
"Well, I never!" breathed the housekeeper once more. But Charlotte was
slicing the bread with a rapid hand. The doctor, laughing, undertook to
butter the slices, and Jeff would have spread on the chicken if Mrs.
Fields had not taken the knife from his hand.
Ten minutes later Jeff was able to announce that everybody seemed to be
"That's a mercy," said Mrs. Fields, handing him a tray full of pink and
white ices, Captain Rayburn's contribution to the festivities. "You'd
have to give 'em sody-crackers now if they wasn't. Carry that careful,
and tell Miss Charlotte to send out for the cake. I'll light the
Doctor Churchill came out alone for the cake. It stood ready upon the
table, Charlotte's greatest success--a big, old-fashioned orange
"layer-cake," with pale yellow icing, twenty-three pale yellow candles
surrounding it in a flaming circle, and one great yellow Marechal Niel
rose in the centre.
"Whew-w, that's a beauty!" cried Doctor Churchill. "Did you make it,
"Indeed I didn't," denied Mrs. Fields, with great satisfaction. "Miss
Charlotte made it herself, and I didn't know but she'd go crazy over it,
first for fear it wouldn't turn out right, and then for joy because it
The doctor handed it about with a face so beaming that Doctor Forester
leaned back in his chair and regarded his young colleague quizzically.
"You make this cake, Churchill?" he asked.
The doctor laughed. "It was joy enough to bring it in," he said.
"Who did make it?" demanded Forester. "It was no caterer, I know."
Charlotte attempted to escape quietly from the room, but Lanse barred
the way. "Here she is," he said, and turned his sister about and made
her face the company. A friendly round of applause greeted her, mingled
with exclamations of surprise. They all knew Charlotte, or thought they
did. To most of them this was a new and unlooked-for accomplishment.
"It's not half so good as the sort Celia makes," murmured Charlotte, and
would hear no more of the cake. But Celia, in her corner, said softly to
"It's going to be worth while, my knee, for the training Charlotte is
getting. She'll be a perfect little housekeeper before I'm about again."
"It's going to be worth while in another way too," returned her friend,
with an appreciative glance at the face which always reminded him of her
mother's, it was so serenely sweet and full of character.
"It is? How?" she asked, eagerly, for his tone was emphatic.
"I have few patients on my list who learn so soon to bear this sort of
thing as quietly as you are bearing it," he said. "Don't think that
doesn't count." Then he rose to go.
Celia hardly heard the leave-takings, her mind was so happily busy with
this bit of rare praise from one whose respect was well worth earning.
And half an hour afterward, as Lanse stooped to gather her up and carry
her up-stairs to bed, she looked back at Captain Rayburn, who still sat
beside her couch, and said, with softly shining eyes:
"The colonel _almost_ wouldn't be the second lieutenant if he could,
Lanse, lifting his sister in his strong arms, remarked, "I should say
not. Why should he?"
Celia and Captain Rayburn, laughing, exchanged a sympathetic,
* * * * *
Three times Jefferson Birch knocked on his sister Charlotte's door. Then
he turned the knob. The door would not open. "Fiddle!" he called,
softly, but got no reply.
"You're not asleep, I know," he said, firmly, at the keyhole. "I can see
a light from outside, if you have got it all plugged up here. Let me in.
I've some important news for you."
Charlotte's lock turned and she threw the door open. "Well, come in,"
she said. "I didn't mean anybody to know, but I'm dying to tell
somebody, and I can trust you."
"Of course!" affirmed Jeff, entering with an air of curiosity. "What's
The table by the window was strewn with artist's materials, drawings,
sheets of water-colour paper and tumblers of coloured water. In the
midst of this confusion lay one piece of nearly finished work--the
interior of an unfurnished room, showing wall decoration and nothing
more. The colouring caught Jeff's eye.
"That's stunning!" he commented, catching up the board upon which the
colour drawing was stretched. "What's it for? Going to put in some
Charlotte laughed. "No, I'm not going to put in any furniture," she
said. "This is just to show a scheme for decorating a den--a man's den.
Do you really like it?"
"It's great!" Jeff stood the board up against the wall and backed away,
studying it with interest. "Those dull reds and blues will show off his
guns and pictures and things in fine shape. How did you ever think it
Charlotte brought out some sheets of wall-paper, as Jeff thought, but he
saw at once that they were hand-work. They represented in full-size
detail the paper used upon the den walls. Jeff studied them with
"So this is where you are evenings, after you slip away. You're sitting
up late, too. See here, this won't do!"
"Oh, yes, it will. Don't try to stop me, Jeff. I'm not up late, really
I'm not--only once in awhile."
"I thought people couldn't paint by artificial light."
"They can when they get used to the difference it makes. But I do only
the drudgery, evenings--outlines and solid filling in and that sort of
"Going to show this to somebody?"