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The Second Violin by Grace S. Richmond

Part 2 out of 4

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"Oh, don't talk about it!" said Charlotte, breathlessly. "If I can get
my courage up. You know Mr. Murdock, with that decorating house where
the Deckers had their work done? Well, some day I'm going to show him.
But I'm so frightened at my own audacity!"

"If he doesn't like this, he's a fool!" declared Jeff, vigorously, and
although Charlotte laughed she felt the encouragement of his boyish
approval. Putting away her work, she suddenly remembered the excuse her
brother had given for forcing his way into her room.

"You said you had important news for me. Did you mean it, or was that
only to get in?"

"Oh," said Jeff sitting down suddenly and looking up at her, his face
growing grave. "You put it out of my head when I came in. I met the
doctor just now. He'd been to see Annie Donohue. She's worse."

Charlotte dropped her work instantly. "Worse?" she said, all the
brightness flying from her face. "Why, I was in yesterday, and she
seemed much better. Jeff, I must go down there this minute."

"It's after ten--you can't. Wait till morning."

"Oh, no!" The girl was making ready as she spoke. "You'll go with me.
Think of the baby. There'll be a houseful of women, all wailing, if
anything goes wrong with Annie. They did it before, when they thought
she wasn't doing well. The baby was so frightened. She knows me. Of
course I must go. Think what mother would do for Annie--after all the
years Annie was such a faithful maid."

That brought Jeff round at once. In ten minutes he and Charlotte had
quietly left the house. A rapid walk through the crisp January night
brought them to the poorer quarter of the town and the Donohue cottage.
A woman with a shawl over her head met them just outside.

"Annie's gone," she said, at sight of Charlotte. "Took a turn for the
worse an hour ago. I never thought she'd get well, she's had too hard a
life with that brute of a man of hers."

Charlotte stood still on the door-step when the woman had gone on. She
was thinking hard. Jeff remained quiet beside her. Charlotte had known
more of Annie than he; Annie had been Charlotte's nurse.

All at once Charlotte turned and laid a hand on his arm. "Jeff," she
said, very softly and close to his ear, "we must take little Ellen home
with us to-night."


"Yes, we must. She's such a shy little thing. Every time I've been here
I've found her frightened half to death. It worried Annie dreadfully."

"Well--but, Charlotte--some of these women can take care of her--Annie's

"They are not Annie's friends; they're just her neighbours. Not Annie's
kind at all. They're good-hearted enough, but it distressed Annie all
the time to have any of them take care of Ellen. They give her all sorts
of things to eat. She's only a baby. She was half-sick when I was here
Thursday. Oh, don't make a fuss, Jeff! Please, dear!"

"But you don't know anything about babies."

"I know enough not to give them pork and cabbage. I can put the little
thing to sleep in Just's crib. It's up in the attic. You can get it
down. Jeff, we must!"

But Jeff still held her firmly by the arm. "Girl, you're crazy! If you
once take her, you've got her on your hands. Annie has no relations. You
told me that yourself. The child'll have to go to an asylum. It's a good
thing that husband of hers is dead. If he wasn't, you'd have some cause
to be worried."

"Jeff," said Charlotte, pleadingly, "you must let me do what I think is
right. I couldn't sleep, thinking of little Ellen to-night. Besides,
when Annie was worrying about her Thursday, I as much as promised we'd
see that no harm came to the baby."

Jeff relaxed his hold. "I never saw such a girl!" he grumbled. "As if
you hadn't things enough on your shoulders already, without adopting
other people's kids!"

* * * * *

Dr. Andrew Churchill opened the door which led from the room of one of
his patients into the small, slenderly furnished living-room of the tiny
house which had been her home. It was her home no longer. Doctor
Churchill had just lost his first patient in private practice.

In the room were several women, gathered about a baby not yet two years
old. Over the child a subdued but excited discussion was being held, as
to who should take home and, for the present, care for poor Annie
Donohue's orphan baby.

Doctor Churchill closed the door behind him and stood for a moment,
looking down at the baby, a pretty little girl with a pair of big
frightened blue eyes.

"Well, I guess I'll have to be the one," said the youngest woman of the
company, with a sigh. "You're all worse fixed than I am, and I guess we
can make room for her somehow, till it's decided what to do with her.
Poor Mis' Donohue's child has got to stay somewhere to-night besides
here, that I do say."

"Well, that's kind of you, Mary, and we'll all lend a hand to help you
out. I'll bring over some extra milk I can spare and----"

A sudden draft of January air made everybody turn. A girlish figure, in
a big dark cape with a scarlet lining which seemed to reflect the colour
from a face brilliant with frost-bloom, stood in the outer door. The
next instant Charlotte Birch, closing the door softly behind her, had
crossed the room and was addressing the women, in low quick tones. The
doctor she did not seem to notice.

"I've come for the baby," she said, with a gentle imperiousness. "I've
just heard about poor Annie. Of course we are the ones to see to little
Ellen. If mother were here she would insist upon it. Where are her
wraps, please? And has one of you an extra shawl she can lend me? It's a
sharp night."

As she spoke, Charlotte knelt before the child and held out her arms.
Baby Ellen stared at her for an instant, then seemed to recognise a
friend and lifted two little arms, her tiny lips quivering. Charlotte
drew her gently up, and rising, walked away across the room with her,
the small golden head nestling in her neck. The women looked after her
rather resentfully.

"I suppose the child wouldn't be sufferin' with such as us," said one,
"if we ain't got no silk quilts to put over her."

"Neither have I," said Charlotte, with a smile, as she caught the words.
"But I'm so fond of her. Annie was my nurse, you know."

"May I carry her home for you?" asked the doctor, at her elbow.

"Jeff is here," she answered.

But it was the doctor who carried the baby, after all, for she cried at
sight of Jeff. She was ready to cry at sight of any strange face, poor
little frightened child! But Doctor Churchill held her so tenderly and
spoke so soothingly that she grew quiet at once.

It was a silent walk, and it was only as they reached the house that the
doctor said softly to Charlotte, "If you need advice or help, don't
hesitate to call on Mrs. Fields. She's a wise woman, and her heart is
warm, you know."

"Yes, I know, thank you! And thank you, doctor, for--not scolding me
about this!"

"Scold you?" he said, as Charlotte took the baby from him at the door.
"Why should I do that?"

"Jeff did, and I didn't dare tell Lanse."

"If you hadn't brought the baby home," whispered the doctor, "I should
have." And Charlotte, looking quickly up at him as Jeff opened the door
and the light streamed out upon them, surprised upon his face, as his
eyes rested upon the baby's pink cheek, an expression which could hardly
have been more tender if he had been Ellen's father.

"Now, Jeffy, get the crib down, please, as softly as you can," begged
Charlotte, when she had laid the baby on her own white bed and
noiselessly closed the door. Jeff tried hard to do her bidding, but the
crib did not get down-stairs without a few scrapings and bumpings, which
made Charlotte hold her breath lest they rouse a sleeping household.

"Now go down and warm some milk for her in the blue basin. Don't get it
hot--just lukewarm. Put the tiniest pinch of sugar in it."

"You seem to know a lot about babies," Jeff murmured, pausing an instant
to watch his sister gently pulling off the baby's clothes.

"I do. Didn't I have the care of you?" answered Charlotte, with a
mischievous smile.

"Two years younger than yourself? Oh, of course, I forgot that," and
Jeff crept away down-stairs after the milk. It took him some time, and
when he came tiptoeing back he found the baby in her little coarse
flannel nightgown, her round blue eyes wide-awake again.

"She seems to accept you for a mother all right," he commented, as
Charlotte held the cup to the baby's lips, cuddling her in a blanket
meanwhile. But the girl's eyes filled at this, remembering poor Annie,
and Jeff added hastily, "What'll happen if she wakes up and cries in the
night? Babies usually do, don't they?"

"Annie has always said Ellen didn't, much, and she's getting to sleep so
late I hope she won't to-night. I don't feel equal to telling the others
what I've done till morning," and Charlotte smiled rather faintly. Now
that she had the baby at home she was beginning to wonder what Lanse and
Celia would say.

"Never mind. I'll stand by you. You're all right, whatever you do--if I
did think you were rather off your head at first," promised Jeff,
sturdily. He was never known to fail Charlotte in an emergency.

Whether it was the strange surroundings or something wrong about the
last meal of the day cannot be stated, but Baby Ellen did wake up. It
was at three o'clock in the morning that Charlotte, who, excited by the
strangeness of the situation, had but just fallen asleep, was roused by
a small wail.

The baby seemed not to know her in the trailing blue kimono, with her
two long curly braids swinging over her shoulders, and in spite of all
that Charlotte could do, the infantile anguish of spirit soon filled the

Charlotte walked the floor with her, alternately murmuring consolation
and singing the lullabies of her own childhood; but the uproar
continued. It is astonishing what an amount of disturbance one small
pair of lungs can produce. It was not long before the anxious nurse,
listening with both ears for evidences that the family were aroused,
heard the tap of Celia's crutches, which the invalid had just learned to
use. And almost at the same moment Lanse's door opened and shut with a

"Here they come!" murmured Charlotte, trying distractedly to hush the
baby by means which were never known to have that effect upon a startled
infant in a strange house.

Her door swung open. Celia stood on the threshold, her eyes wide with
alarm. Lanse, lightly costumed in pink-and-white pajamas, gazed over her

"Charlotte Birch!" cried Celia, and words failed her. But Lanse was
ready of speech.

"What the dickens does this mean?" he inquired, wrathfully. "Have we
become an orphanage? I thought I heard singular sounds just after I got
to bed. Is there any good reason why the family shouldn't be informed of
what strange intentions you may have in your brain before you carry them
out? Whose youngster is it, and what are you doing with it here?"

Charlotte's lips were seen to move, but the baby's fright had received
such an accession from the appearance of two more unknown beings in the
room that nothing could be distinguished. What Charlotte said was,
"Please go away! I'll tell you in the morning." But the visitors,
failing to catch the appeal, not only did not go away, but moved nearer.

"Why, it's Annie Donohue's baby!" cried Celia, and shrieked the
information into Lanse's ear. His expression of disfavour relaxed a
degree, but he still looked preternaturally severe. Celia hobbled over
to the baby, and sitting down in a rocking-chair, held out her arms. But
Charlotte shook her head and motioned imperatively toward the door.

At this instant Jeff, in a red bathrobe, appeared in the doorway,
grasped the situation, nodded assurance to Charlotte, and hauled his
elder brother across the hall into his own room, where he closed the
door and explained in a few terse sentences:

"Annie died last night--to-night. We heard of it late, and Charlotte
thought she wouldn't disturb anybody. The doctor was there. He carried
the baby home. We couldn't leave her there. She was scared to death. She
knows Fiddle, and she'll grow quiet now if you people don't stand round
and insist on explanations being roared at you."

"But we can't keep a baby here," began Lanse, who had come home late,
unusually tired, and was feeling the customary masculine displeasure at
having his hard-earned rest broken--a sensation which at the moment took
precedence over any more humanitarian emotions.

"We don't have to settle that to-night, do we?" demanded Jeff, with
scorn. "Hasn't the poor girl got enough on her hands without having you
scowl at her for trying to do the good Samaritan act--at three o'clock
in the morning?"

Jeff next turned his attention to Celia. He went into Charlotte's room,
picked up his elder sister without saying "by your leave," and carried
her off to her own bed.

"But, Jeff, I could help Charlotte," Celia remonstrated. "The poor baby
may be sick."

"Don't believe it. She's simply scared stiff at kimonos and pajamas and
bathrobes stalking round her in a strange house. Charlotte can cool her
down if anybody can. If she can't, I'll call the doctor. Now go to
sleep. Charlotte and I will man the ship to-night, and in the morning
you can go to work making duds for the baby. It didn't have anything to
wear round it but a summer cape and Mrs. O'Neill's plaid shawl."

This artful allusion touched Celia's tender heart and set her mind at
work, as Jeff had meant it should; so putting out her light, he slipped
away to Charlotte, exulting in having so promptly fixed things for her.

But Charlotte met him with anxious eyes. The baby was still screaming.

"See how she stiffens every now and then, and holds her breath till I
think she'll never breathe again!" she called in his ear. "I do really
think you'd better call Mrs. Fields. You can wake her with a knock on
her window. She sleeps in the little wing down-stairs."

As he hurried down the hall, the door of Captain Rayburn's room opened,
and Jeff met the quiet question, "What's up, lad?"

He stopped an instant to explain, encountered prompt sympathy, and laid
a hasty injunction upon his uncle not to attempt to assist Charlotte in
her dilemma. That gentleman hobbled back to bed, smiling tenderly to
himself in the dark--why, if he had seen him, Jeff never would have been
able to guess.

* * * * *


"I've got a sewing-machine that I know the kinks of," said Mrs. Fields
to Celia and Charlotte and the baby, who regarded her with interest from
the couch, where they were grouped. "The doctor's going to be away all
day to-morrow, and if you'll all come over, we can get through a lot of
little clothes for the baby. Land knows she ain't anyway fixed for going
outdoors in all kinds of weather, the way the doctor wants her to."

This was so true that it carried weight in spite of the difficulties in
the way. So before he went off to school on a certain February morning,
Jeff had carried Celia across to Mrs. Field's sitting-room, and by ten
o'clock three busy people were at work. Captain Rayburn had begged to be
of the party, and although Mrs. Fields received with skepticism his
declaration that he could do various sorts of sewing with a sufficient
degree of skill, she allowed him to come, on condition that he look
after the baby.

"Well, for the land's sake!" cried the forewoman of the sewing brigade,
as she opened the big bundle Captain Rayburn had brought with him. "I
should say you haven't left much for us to do!"

The captain regarded with complacency the finished garments she was
holding up.

"Yes," said he, "I telephoned the big children's supply shop to send me
what Miss Ellen would need for out-of-doors. It seemed a pity to have
her stay in another day, waiting to be sewed up. Aren't they right? I
thought the making of her indoor clothes would be enough."

Celia and Charlotte were exclaiming with delight over the pretty, wadded
white coat which Mrs. Fields held aloft. There was a little furry hood
to match, mittens, and a pair of leggings of the sort desirable for
small travellers.

"If he hasn't remembered everything!" cried Mrs. Fields, when this last
article of apparel came to view. "Well, sir, I won't say you haven't
saved us quite a chore. I've got the little flannel petticoats all cut
out. Doctor Churchill bought flannel enough to keep her covered from now
till she's five years old. Talk about economy--when a man goes

Mrs. Fields plunged into business with a will. The sewing-machine hummed
ceaselessly. Celia, with rapid, skillful fingers, kept pace with her in
basting and putting together, and Charlotte--well, Charlotte did her
best. Meanwhile Captain Rayburn and the baby explored together
mysterious realms of pockets and picture-books.

"For the land's sake, Miss Charlotte!" cried Mrs. Fields, suddenly, in
the middle of the morning. "If you ain't made five left sleeves and only
one right!"

Charlotte looked up, crimsoning. "How could I have done it?"

"Easy enough." Mrs. Field's expression softened instantly at sight of
the girl's dismay. "I've done it a good many times. Something about
it--sleeves act bewitched. They seem bound to hang together and be all
one kind or all the other, anything but pairs."

"Why don't you rest a little, and take baby outdoors in her new coat?"
Celia suggested. "Sewing is such wearisome work, if one isn't used to

So Charlotte and her charge gladly went out. A neighbour had lent an old
baby sled, and in it Miss Ellen Donohue, snuggled to the chin in the
warmest of garments and wrappings, took her first airing since the
night, a week before, when she had been brought home in Doctor
Churchill's arms.

She was a shy but happy baby, and had already won all hearts. Nobody was
willing to begin the steps necessary to place her in any of the
institutions designed for cases like hers. Charlotte, indeed, would not
hear of it; and even the practical John Lansing, who had learned to
figure the family finances pretty closely since he himself had become
the wage-earner, succumbed to the touch of baby fingers on his face and
the glance of a pair of eyes like forget-me-nots.

As for Captain Rayburn, he was the baby's devoted slave at all times,
his most jealous rival being Dr. Andrew Churchill, who was constantly
inventing excuses for coming in for a frolic with Baby Ellen.

"If the doctor could look in on us now," observed Mrs. Fields, suddenly,
in the middle of the afternoon, when Charlotte was again bravely trying
to distinguish herself at tasks in which she was by no means an adept,
"he'd be put out with me for having this party a day when he was away.
He sets great store by anything that looks like a lot of people at

"Is he one of a large family?" Celia asked.

"He was two years ago. Since then he's lost a brother and a sister and
his mother. His father died five years ago. He has a married brother in
Japan, and an unmarried one in South Africa. There ain't anybody in the
old home now. It broke up when his mother died, two years ago. He hasn't
got over that--not a bit. She was going to come and live with him here.
It was a town where she used to visit a good deal, and since he couldn't
settle near the old home, because it wasn't a good field for young
doctors, she was willing to come here with him. That's why he's here
now, though I suppose it don't begin to be as advantageous a place for
him as it would be in the city itself. He thought a terrible lot of his
mother, Andy did. Seems as if he wanted to please her now as much as
ever. And he has some pretty homesick times, now and then, though he
doesn't show it much."

It was the first time the doctor's housekeeper had been so
communicative, and her three hearers listened with deep interest,
although they asked few questions, made only one or two kindly comments,
and did not express half the sympathy they felt. Only Captain Rayburn,
thoughtfully staring out of the window, gave voice to a sentiment for
which both his nieces, although they said nothing in reply, inwardly
thanked him.

"Doctor Churchill is a rare sort of fellow," he said. "Doctor Forester
considers him most promising, I know. But better than that, he is one
whose personality alone will always be the strongest part of his
influence over his patients, winning them from despair to courage--how,
they can't tell. And the man who can add to the sum total of the courage
of the human race has done for it what it very much needs."

A few minutes after this little speech the subject of it quite
unexpectedly came dashing in, bringing with him a great breath of
February air. He stopped in astonishment upon the threshold.

"If this isn't the unkindest trick I ever heard of!" he cried, his
brilliant eyes flashing from one to another. "I suppose that
arch-traitor of a Fieldsy planned to have you all safely away before I
came home. I'm thankful I got here two hours before she expected me. See
here, you've got to make this up to me somehow."

"Sit down!" invited Captain Rayburn. "You may hem steadily for two hours
on flannel petticoats. If that won't make it up to you I don't know what

"No, it won't," retorted the doctor. "Sewing's all right in its way, but
I've just put up my needle-case, thank you, and no more stitching for me
to-day. I want--a lark! I want to go skating. Who'll go with me?"

"By the process of elimination I should say you would soon get at the
answer to that," remarked the captain. "There seems to be just one
candidate for active service in this company--unless Mrs. Fields--I've
no doubt now that Mrs. Fields----"

"Will you go?" Doctor Churchill turned to Mrs. Fields. She glanced up
into his laughing eyes.

"Run along and don't bother me," she said to him. "Take that child
there. She's about got her stent done, I guess."

Doctor Churchill looked at the curly black head bent closely over the
last of the little sleeves.

"You don't deceive me, Miss Charlotte," said he. "You're not as wedded
to that task as you look. Please come with me. There's time for a
magnificent hour before you have to put the kettle on. Miss Birch, I
wish we could take you, too. Next winter--well, that knee is doing so
well I dare to promise you all the skating you want."

Celia looked up at him, smiling, but her eyes were wistful.

"Doctor," cried Captain Rayburn, "telephone to the stables for a
comfortable old horse and sleigh, will you? Celia, girl, we'll go, too."

"And I'll look after Ellen," said Mrs. Fields, before anybody could
mention the baby. "Go on, all of you."

"May we all come back to supper with you?" asked Doctor Churchill,
giving her a glance with which she was familiar of old.

"If you'll send for some oysters I'll give you all hot stew," she said,
and received such a chorus of applause that she mentally added several
items to the treat.

"Now I can enjoy my fun," whispered Charlotte to Celia, as she brought
her sister's wraps, and pulled on her own rough brown coat. "Such a
jolly uncle, isn't he?"

"The best in the world. Wear your white tam, dear, and the white
mittens. They look so well with your brown suit. Tie the white silk
scarf about your neck--that's it. Now run. I'm so afraid somebody will
call the doctor out and spoil it all."

Charlotte ran, and found the doctor waiting impatiently, two pairs of
skates on his arm. He hurried her away down the street.

"We must get all there is of this," he said. "I feel as if I could skate
fifty miles and back again. Do you?"

"Indeed I do. I've wanted to get up and run round the block between
every two stitches all day."

"They say the river is good for three miles up. That will give us just
what we want--a sensation of running away from the earth and all its
cares. And when we get back we'll be ready for Fieldsy's stew."

They found everybody on the river; Charlotte was busy nodding to her
friends while the doctor put on her skates. In a few moments the two
were flying up the course.

"Oh, this is great!" exulted Doctor Churchill. "And this is the first
time you've been on the ice this winter--in February!"

"This is fine enough to make up. I do love it. It takes out all the

"Doesn't it? I thought you'd been cultivating puckers to-day the minute
I saw you--or else I interpreted your mood by my own. Talk about
puckers--and nerves! Miss Charlotte, I've done my first big operation in
a certain line to-day. I mean, in a new line--an experiment. It was--a

She looked up at him, her face full of sympathy. "Oh, I'm so glad!" she

"Are you? Thank you! I wanted somebody to be glad--and I hadn't anybody.
I had to tell you. It's too soon to be absolutely sure, but it promises
so well I'm daring to be happy. It's the sort of operation in which the
worst danger is practically over if the patient gets through the
operation itself. She's rallied beautifully. And whatever happens, I've
proved my point--that the experiment is feasible. Some of the men
doubted that--all thought it a big risk. But I had to take it, and
now--Ah, come on, Miss Charlotte! Let's fly!"

Away they went, faster and faster--long, swinging strokes in perfect
unison; two accomplished skaters with one object in view; working off
healthy young spirits at a tension. They did not talk; they saved their
breath; they went like the wind itself.

At the farthest extremity of the smooth ice, which ended at a little
frost-bound waterfall, they came to a stop. Churchill looked down at a
face like a rose, black eyes that were all alight, and lips that smiled
with the fresh happiness of the fine sport.

"I've skated at Copenhagen and at St. Petersburg," he said gaily, "to
say nothing of Fresh Pond and Lake Superior and other such home grounds.
But it's safe to say I never enjoyed a mile of them like that last one.
You--you were really glad, weren't you, that it went so well with me

"How could I help it, Doctor Churchill?" she answered, earnestly. Ever
since coming out she had been remembering the little revelation his
housekeeper had made of his life, and it had touched her deeply to know
why he had come to settle in the suburban town instead of in the much
more promising city field--a question which had occurred to her many
times since she had known him.

"I always expected," he went on, in a more quiet way, "to be able to
come home and tell my mother about my first triumphs. She would have
been so proud and happy over the smallest thing. Her father was a
distinguished surgeon--Marchmont of Baltimore. He died only four years
ago--his books are an authority on certain subjects. My other
grandfather was Dr. Andrew Churchill of Glasgow--an old-school physician
and a good one. So you see I come honestly by my love for it all. And
mother--how we used to talk it all over--"

He stopped abruptly, with a tightening of the lips, and stood staring
off over the frozen fields, his eyes growing sombre. Charlotte's own
eyes fell; her heart beat fast with sympathy. She laid the lightest of
touches on his arm.

"I know," she said, softly. "Fieldsy told me--a little bit. I'm so

He drew a long breath and looked down at her, his eyes searching her
face. "You _are_ a little comrade," he said, and his voice was low and
moved. Then with a quick motion he seized her hands again and they were
off, back down the river. Not so fast as before, and silently, the two
skaters covered the miles, and only as they came within sight of the
crowd of people at the beginning of the course did Doctor Churchill

"This has been a fine hour, hasn't it?" he said. "Your face looks as if
you had lost all the puckers. Have you?"

"Indeed I have! Haven't you?"

"It has done me a world of good. I was wrought up to a high pitch--now
I'm cool again. I have to go back to the hospital as soon as supper is
over. I shall stay all night."

"When you get back," said Charlotte, "will you telephone me how the case
is doing?"

"May I?" he answered, eagerly.

"Of course you may. I shall be anxious till I know."

"I have no business to add one smallest item of anxiety to your list of
worries," he admitted. "But it seems so good to me to have somebody
care, just now. Fieldsy's a dear soul--I couldn't get on without her,
but--Never mind, that's enough of Andrew Churchill for one afternoon.
Shall we make a big spurt to the finish? Let's show them what skating
is--no little cutting of geometrical spider-webs in a forty-foot

They drew in with swift, graceful strokes, threaded their course through
the crowd of skaters, and were soon on their way home. Captain Rayburn
and Celia passed them, called back that it was a great day for invalids
and children, and reached home just in time for the doctor to carry
Celia into the little brick house. Charlotte ran to summon her three
brothers, for it was after six o'clock.

Never had an oyster stew such enthusiastic praise. Not an appetite was
lacking, not a spoon flagged. Mrs. Fields, moved to lavish hospitality,
in which she was upheld by the doctor, produced a chicken pie, which had
been originally intended for his dinner alone, and which she had at
first designed, when she proposed the oysters, to keep over until the
morrow. This was flanked by various dishes, impromptu but delectable,
and followed by a round of winter fruit and spongecake--the latter the
pride of the housekeeper's heart, and dear to her master from old

"If you live like this all the time, Doctor Churchill," said John
Lansing Birch, leaning back in his chair at last with the air of a man
who asks no more of the gods, "I advise you to keep up a bachelor
establishment to the end of your days."

"How would that suit you, Mrs. Fields?" asked the doctor, laughing.

Mrs. Fields, from her place at the end of the table--they had insisted
on having her sit down with them--answered deliberately:

"As long as a man's a man I suppose nothing on earth ever will make him
feel so satisfied with himself and all creation as being set down in
front of a lot of eatables. Now what gives me most peace of mind
to-night is knowing that that little Ellen Donohue, asleep on my bed,
has got enough new clothes, by this day's work, to make a very good
beginning of an outfit."

"Now, how do you old bachelors feel?" cried Celia, amidst laughter, and
the party broke up.

At ten o'clock that evening, when Charlotte had seen her sister
comfortably in bed--for Celia still needed help in undressing--had
tucked in Just and warned Jeff that it was bedtime, the telephone-bell

Lanse and Captain Rayburn sat reading in the living-room, where the
telephone stood upon a desk, and Lanse, who was near it, moved lazily to
answer it. But before he could lift the receiver to his ear Charlotte
had run into the room and was taking it from him, murmuring, "It's for
me--I'm sure it is."

"Well, I could have called you," said Lanse, looking curiously at her
as, with cheeks like poppies, she sat down at the desk and answered.
With ears wide open, although he had again taken up the magazine he had
laid down, he listened to Charlotte's side of the conversation. It was
brief, and no more remarkable than such performances are apt to be, but
Lanse easily appreciated the fact that it was giving his sister immense

"Hullo--yes--yes!" she called. "Yes--oh, _is_ she? Yes--yes, I'm so
glad! Yes--of course you are. I'm _so_ glad! Thank you. Yes--Good
night!" Charlotte hung up the receiver and swung round from the desk,
her face radiant, her eyes like stars.

"Is she, indeed?" interrogated Lanse, lifting brotherly, penetrating
eyes to her face. "Engagement just announced? When is she to be married?
I'm glad you're glad--you might so easily have been jealous."

Charlotte laughed--a ripple of merriment which was contagious, for
Captain Rayburn smiled over the evening paper, and Lanse himself grinned

"Mind telling us the occasion of such heartfelt joy?" he inquired. But
Charlotte came up behind him, laid a warm velvet cheek against his for a
moment, patted her uncle on the shoulder, cried, "Good night to you,
gentlemen dear!" and ran away to bed.

* * * * *


Charlotte let little Ellen slide down from her lap, washed and brushed.

"Now, Ellen, be a good girl," she said as she set about picking up the
various articles she had been using in the baby's bath and dressing.
"Charlotte's in a hurry."

The door-bell rang. Celia was in the kitchen, stirring up a pudding. It
was April now, and Celia's knee was so far mended that she could be
about the house without her crutches, with certain restrictions as to
standing, or using the knee in any way likely to strain it.

It was Charlotte who did the running about, and it was she who started
for the door now, after casting one hasty look around the bath-room to
make sure that the baby could do herself no harm.

Left to herself, Ellen investigated the resources of the bath-room and
found them wanting. After she had thrown two towels, the soap and her
own small tooth brush back into the tub from which she had lately
emerged, and which Charlotte had not yet emptied, she found her means of
entertainment at an end. The other toilet articles were all beyond her
reach. She gazed out of the window; there was nothing moving to be seen
but a row of Mrs. Fields's dish-towels waving in the wind.

She turned to the door. Charlotte had meant to latch it, but it was a
door with a peculiar trick of swinging slowly open an inch after it had
apparently been closed, and it had not been latched. Ellen pushed one
small hand into the crack and pulled it open.

Charlotte was nowhere to be seen or heard Across the hall was the door
of her room, ajar; and since doors ajar have somehow a singular charm
for babies, this one crossed to it and swung it wide.

Here was richness. This was Charlotte's workshop. She slept in a smaller
room adjoining, the baby in the crib by her side; and with that smaller
room little Ellen was familiar, but not with this. The tiny feet
travelled eagerly about, from one desirable object to another. And
presently she remembered the big, porcelain-lined bath-tub, There was
nothing Ellen liked so well as to throw things into that tub and see
them splash.

Two books crossed the hall and made the plunge, one after the other,
into the soapy water. Ellen gurgled with delight. Two more journeys
deposited a shoe, a hair-brush and a small box, contents unknown, in the
watery receptacle. Then Ellen made a discovery which filled her small
soul with joy.

Just two days before, Charlotte had completed the set of colour drawings
which delineated the wall decoration of four rooms--a "den," a
dining-room and two bedrooms. They represented the work of the winter,
pursued under the exceeding difficulties of managing a household, and,
for the last three months, caring in part for a little child.

But Charlotte had toiled faithfully, with the ardour of one who, having
only a small portion of time to give to a beloved pursuit, works at it
all the more zealously. And she had gone on from one room to another, in
her designing, with the hope that if in one she failed to please those
upon whom her success depended, some one of the series might appeal to
them, and give her the desired place in their interest.

It was her intention on this very day, after luncheon should be over and
she should be free for a few hours, to make the much-dreaded,
wholly-longed-for visit to the great manufacturing house where she was
to show her wares.

The drawings lay in a pile upon Charlotte's table, ready to be wrapped.
Baby Ellen, spying the pile of drawings, with an edge or two of
brilliant colour showing, trotted gaily over to the table. She stood on
tiptoe and pulled at the corner nearest her. The drawings fell from the
table in a disordered heap on the floor.

The sight of them pleased Ellen immensely. She held one up and shook it
in her small fists, slowly and carefully tore a corner off it, and cast
the sheet down in favour of the next in order. This she tore cleanly in
two in the middle. The paper was tough, to be sure, but the little fists
were strong.

Then she remembered that seductive bath-tub. A patter of little feet, a
laugh of pleasure--"Da!" cried Ellen, gleefully---and the first sheet
was in.

Seven trips, pursued with vigour and growing hilarity, and Charlotte's
work had received its initial plunge into a new state of being. Four of
the drawings had been torn in two. The bath-tub was a mass of softly
blending colours.

Charlotte came running back up the stairs, her mind, which had been held
captive by a young caller, reverting with some anxiety to the small
person whom she had left, as she thought, shut up in the safe bath-room.
She expected to hear Ellen crying, as was likely to be the case when
left alone without sufficient means of amusement; but the silence, as
she flew up-stairs, alarmed her. Silence was almost sure to mean

The bath-room door was ajar. Charlotte pushed it open and looked in. One
glance showed her he havoc which had been wrought. She stopped short,
staring with wild eyes into the bath-tub; then she caught her treasures
out of it, held them dripping before her for an instant, and let them
drop on the floor. She turned and ran out of the room to look for Ellen.

The baby sat calmly on a rug, in the middle of Charlotte's room, engaged
in pulling the leaves, one by one, out of a small sketch-book which had
been on the table with the drawings. She looked up, a most engaging and
innocent expression on her round face, and smiled at Charlotte. But she
met no smile in return.

"You little wretch!" breathed Charlotte, between her teeth, as she
seized the sketch-book and whirled the baby to her feet. "_Oh!_ Is this
the way you pay me for all I've done for you? You

It was the explosion of a blind wrath which made the girl shake the tiny
form until Baby Ellen roared lustily. Charlotte set her upon the floor
again, and stood looking down at her with blazing eyes. The small head
was clasped in two little fists, as the child tore at her yellow curls,
her infant soul stirred to indignation and fright at this most
unexpected treatment. Suddenly Charlotte seized her again and bore her
swiftly away to Captain Rayburn's room.

"Take care of her for an hour? Surely. But what's the matter?"

It was small wonder he asked, for Charlotte's face was white, her eyes
brilliant, and her lips quivering as she spoke:

"It's nothing--only baby has spoiled something of mine, and I'm so angry
I don't dare trust myself with her."

She dropped little Ellen in his arms and fled, leaving her uncle to
think what he might. He looked grave as he soothed the baby, whose small
breast still heaved convulsively.

"Are you conscientiously trying to do your full share in developing our
little second fiddle's capacity to play first?" he asked the baby, with
his face against hers. "Never mind, little one, never mind. Baby doesn't
know--but John Rayburn does--that this being a means of education to
other people is a thankless task sometimes. Don't cry. Aunty Charlotte
will kiss her hard and fast by and by, to make up for losing her temper
with the little maid. I suspect you were very, very trying, to make
Aunty Charlotte look like that."

Charlotte came down-stairs after a time and attended to the luncheon,
her lips pressed tight together, her eyes heavy--although not with
tears. She would not let herself cry.

Celia had a headache and did not notice, being herself disinclined to
talk, and Captain Rayburn forbore to look at Charlotte. But Jeff, when
he came in, observed at once that something was amiss. As soon as the
meal was over he drew Charlotte into a corner.

"You haven't been to Murdock with the pictures and been--turned down?"
he asked.


"Going this afternoon, aren't you?"


"Why not? Thought that was the plan."

Charlotte turned away, fighting hard for self-control. Jeff caught her

"See here, Fiddle, you've got to tell me. You look like a ghost. No bad
news--from New Mexico?"

"Oh, no--no! Please go away."

"I won't till you tell me what's up. You're not sick?"

Charlotte ran off up-stairs, Jeff following. "Charlotte," he cried, as
he pursued her into her room before she could turn and close the door,
"what's the use of acting like this? Something's happened, and I'm going
to know what it is."

Charlotte sat down in a despairing heap on the floor and hid her face in
her hands. Jeff glanced helplessly from her to the table in the corner.
Then he observed that it was bare of the pile of drawings.

"Nothing's happened to the wall-paper?" he asked, eagerly.

Charlotte nodded.


"Go look up in the attic, if you must know."

Jeff dashed up-stairs, and surveyed the havoc. He came back breathless
with dismay.

"How did it happen?"


"The little--_imp_! Are they spoiled?"

"You saw."

"Yes; colours run together a bit on some, others torn in two. Yet they
show what they were, Fiddle--I vow they do. I'd take them just as they
are, explain the whole thing, and see what comes of it."

Charlotte raised her head to shake it vigorously. "Offer work in such
shape as that? I'm not such a goose."

"Got to do them all over?"

Her head sank again. "If I can get the courage."

"Of course you can," declared Jeff, more cheerfully. "You never lack
pluck. Poor girl, I'm mighty sorry, though. It's simply tough to have it
happen at the last minute. You're all tired out, too--I know you are;
you ought never to have to do it all over again."

"If I could just have shown them to Mr. Murdock," said Charlotte,
heavily, "and have found out that it was the sort of thing they would
like, it wouldn't seem so hard to do them all over again. But to work
for weeks more--and then perhaps have it a failure, after all----"

"I know. Well, I've got to be off, or I'll be late. Mid-term exams this
week. Cheer up, Fiddle, maybe you can fix 'em up easier than you think."

Late in the afternoon Charlotte came to her uncle for the baby. He had
cared for her all day.

"She's safe with you now?" he asked, with a keen look up into her quiet

"I hope so." Charlotte's cheek was against the little head; she held the
baby tenderly.

"When she is in bed to-night will you come and tell me what she did?"

Charlotte shook her head, with a faint smile. "She wasn't to blame. I
left her alone for ten minutes."

"But I should like to know about it," he said, coaxingly. "I have had
rather a busy day with Ellen-baby--why not reward me with your

But she would not promise; neither did she come. This was exceedingly
characteristic of the girl, but Captain Rayburn, his sharp eyes
observing in her aspect the signs of misery in spite of a brave attempt
to seem cheerful, made up his mind to find out for himself. Twice he
encountered her coming down from the attic, and each time she avoided
speaking to him.

That night, after everybody was in bed, Captain Rayburn, his canes held
under his arm, crept slowly up-stairs, a little electric candle of his
own in his pocket. By means of this he soon discovered Charlotte's
ruined work, which she had not yet found heart to remove from the place
where she had first laid it, trusting to the privacy of a place which
was seldom invaded by anybody.

He sat down on a convenient box and studied the coloured plates and
sketches. As he looked, his lips drew into a whistle of surprise and
admiration, followed by a long breath of pity for what he was sure he

Jeff, having just dropped off into the sound sleep of the healthy boy,
found himself gently punched into wakefulness.

"Come to, Jeff, and tell me what I want to know," said Captain Rayburn,
smiling at his nephew in the dim white light from the candle. Jeff
raised himself on his pillow.

"Wh-what's up?" he grunted, blinking like an owl.

"Nothing serious. What was Charlotte going to do with her colour
drawings? Show them to some wall-paper manufacturers?"

"What--er--yes--no. What do you know about it?" Jeff was up on his elbow
now, staring at his uncle.

"All about it--except that."

"Charlotte tell you? I didn't think she----"

"She didn't. I guessed--and found out. You may as well tell me the

"Isn't it a shame? Poor girl's worked months on those things; just got
'em done. You ought to have seen them; they were great. I told her she
could take them as they were, but she wouldn't hear of it."

"But where were they going?"

"To Mr. Murdock, at Chrystler & Company's office. He saw something of
Charlotte's once by chance, through a niece of his who's Charlotte's
friend, and he sent word to Fiddle that she ought to cultivate that
colour sense, or whatever it was, I forget what he called it--for she
had it to an unusual degree. Charlotte has cultivated it for two years
since then, and now--oh, confound that baby! That's what you get for
trying to be a missionary. I wish we'd sent her to an orphanage right
off. What's the use?"

"You don't feel that 'sweet are the uses of adversity'? Sometimes they
are, though, son. The little second violin hasn't given in and wailed
about it; I saw no traces of tears."

"No, you're right you haven't," agreed Jeff, proudly. "She's not that
sort. She's all broken up, though, inside, and I don't blame her."

"No. Jeff, to-morrow--it's Saturday, isn't it? You must get those
drawings early in the morning, while Charlotte is busy with her Saturday
baking. We'll have a livery outfit, and you shall drive me down to

"Uncle Ray! You're a trump! It's just what I said should be done. The
work shows perfectly well what she intended, and if a chap like you
explains it----"

Captain Rayburn limped away, laughing, his hand red with the tremendous
grip his nephew had just given it. It gave him great pleasure to see the
way the boy invariably stood by his sister. It was a characteristic of
the Birch family, as a whole, which, it may be said, was worth more both
to themselves and to the world at large than the possession of almost
any other trait.

It was not until dinner was over that Captain Rayburn and his nephew
returned, begging pardon for their tardiness, and explaining that they
had taken luncheon in the city.

"Fiddle," Jeff said, with a face of preternatural gravity, "come up to
Uncle Ray's room when the dishes are done, will you?"

He vanished before his sister could ask why, and before she could see
the grin which overspread his ruddy countenance as he turned away. But
something he could not keep out of his voice roused her curiosity, and
she made quick work of the dishes.

"Come in, come in!" invited Captain Rayburn, and Jeff rose from the
couch, where his nose had been buried among some of his uncle's

There were always books and magazines by the Score wherever Captain
Rayburn settled himself for any length of time.

The ex-soldier and the schoolboy eyed each other doubtfully for an
instant as Charlotte dropped into a chair. Her usually bright face was
still very sober, and her eyelashes swept her cheek as she waited.

Captain Rayburn nodded at Jeff. The boy stood on one foot, then on the
other, pushed his hands deep into his pockets, pulled them out again,
cleared his throat, laughed nervously, and strode suddenly across the
room to his sister. He thrust out his hand as he came to a halt before
her. "Congratulations to the distinguished decorator!" he cried, and
came to the end, temporarily, of his eloquence.

Charlotte looked up in amazement. Jeff seized her hand and pumped it up
and down. She glanced in bewilderment at her uncle, and met his smile of

"Mine, too," he said.

"What--" she began, and her voice stuck in her throat. Her heart began
to thump wildly. Then Jeff told it all in one burst:

"Uncle Ray found your stuff in the attic--thought it great--woke me up
and ground it out of me what you meant to do with it. He was sure, as I
was, it was fit to show, and you ought not to do it all over first. Got
a horse, drove into Chrystler's, saw Murdock. He would look at anything,
listened to the story about the baby, looked at the stuff. Face
changed--didn't it, Uncle Ray?--from politeness to interest, and all the
rest of it. Said the work had faults, of course--you expected that,
Fiddle--but it showed promise--'great promise,' that's just what he
said. He wants to see everything you do. He wants you to come and see
him. He thinks he can use at least two of your rooms, after you've made
them over. Oh, he was great! You've done it, Fiddle, you've done it!"

But he was not prepared for the way his sister took the good news. She
sat looking solemnly at him for a minute; then she jumped up, turned
toward Captain Rayburn with a face on fire with conflicting and
uncontrollable emotions, then whirled about and was out of the room like
a flash.

"Well, if I ever!" declared Jeff, in intense displeasure, staring at his
uncle. But Captain Rayburn's face was the picture of satisfaction.

"It's all right, Jeff," said his uncle. "You never can tell what a woman
will do, but you can count on one thing--it won't be what you expect."

"You don't suppose she was angry, do you?"

The captain smiled. "No, I don't think she was angry," he said

The door flew open again. Two impetuous arms were around Jeff's neck
from behind, nearly strangling him. A breezy swirl of skirts, and
Captain Rayburn feared for the integrity of his head upon his shoulders.
And then the two were alone again.

"Christopher Columbus!--discovered America in 1492!" ejaculated
Jefferson, an expression of great delight irradiating his countenance.
Then he looked at his uncle with an air of superior wisdom. "_Now_
she'll cry," he said.

"I shouldn't wonder if she did," agreed the captain, nodding.

* * * * *


Lanse stood in the kitchen door, lunch-pail in hand. It lacked ten
minutes of seven of a June morning; therefore he wore his working
clothes. He glanced down at them now with an expression of extreme
distaste, then from Celia to Charlotte, both of whom wore fresh print
dresses covered with the trim pinafore aprons which were Celia's pride.

"When this siege is over," he remarked, "maybe I won't appreciate the
privilege of wearing clean linen from morning till night every day in
the week."

"Poor old Lanse!" said Celia, with compassion. "That's been the part
that has tried your soul, hasn't it! You haven't minded the work, but
the dirt----"

"I hope I'm not a Nancy, either," Lanse went on. "I'm sure I don't feel
that my wonderful dignity is compromised by my occupation. Better men
than I soil their hands to more purpose every day, but--well, I must be

He departed abruptly, leaving Celia standing in the door to wave a hand
to him as he turned the corner.

"John Lansing is tired," she said to Charlotte, sisterly sympathy in her
voice. "I don't think we've half appreciated what all these months in
the shops have meant to him. It isn't as if he were training for one of
the engineering specialties, and were interested in his work as
practical education in his own line. He'll never have the least use for
anything he's learning now."

"He may," Charlotte suggested. "He may marry a girl who will want him to
do odd jobs about the house. A mechanic in the family is an awfully
desirable thing. Mrs. Fields says there's nothing Doctor Churchill can't
do in the way of repairing; and when I told that to Uncle Ray he said
that all good surgeons needed to be born mechanics, and usually were.
And even though Lanse makes a lawyer, like father, he may need to get
out of the automobile he'll have some day, and crawl under it and make
it over inside before he can go on."

Celia laughed, and went to call the rest of the family from their beds,
early hours having now perforce become the habit of the Birch family.

It was some three hours later that Charlotte sat down for a moment to
rest on the little vine-covered back porch. The breakfast work and the
bed-making were over, the kitchen was in order, and there was time to
draw breath before plunging into the next set of duties.

Celia had gone up-stairs to some summer sewing she had on hand; Captain
Rayburn had taken the baby around the corner to a pretty park, where the
two spent long hours now, in the perfect June weather; the boys were at
school, and the house was very still.

Charlotte stretched her arms above her head, drawing a long breath.

"How long ago it seems that I was free after breakfast to do what I
wanted to!" she said to herself. "And how little I realised all the
cares that were always on mother! Oh, if it were only time for them to
come back--this day--this hour--this minute! I wouldn't mind the work
now, if they were only here."

The girl's gaze, fixed wistfully on the leafy treetops above her,
suddenly dropped to earth. A man's figure was stumbling along the little
path which led diagonally from the back of the Birch premises through a
gateway and off toward a back street, the route by which Lanse was
accustomed to take an inconspicuous short cut toward the locomotive
shops, by the river.

For an instant, only the similarity of the figure to Lanse's struck her,
for the wavering walk and bandaged head, with hand pressed to the
forehead, did not suggest her brother. At the next instant the man
lifted a white face, and Charlotte gave a startled cry as she saw that
it was John Lansing himself, in a sorry plight.

She ran to him. His head was clumsily tied up in a soiled cloth, which
the blood was beginning to stain. As she put her arm about him he smiled
wanly down at her, murmuring, "Thought I couldn't make it--glad I have.
No--not the house--Doctor's office. Don't want to scare Celia. It's

It might be nothing, but he was leaning heavily on his sister's strong
young shoulder as they crossed the threshold of Doctor Churchill's
little office, Charlotte having flung open the door without waiting to
ring. Nobody was there.

"No, don't try to sit up in a chair. Here, lie down on the couch," she
insisted, and Lanse yielded, none too soon. His face had lost all colour
by the time he had stretched his tall form on the wide leather couch
which stood ready for just such occupants.

Charlotte went back to the door and rang the bell; then, as nobody
appeared, she explored the lower part of the house for Mrs. Fields in

Returning, she caught sight for the first time of a little memorandum on
the doctor's desk: "_Out. Return 10:30 A.M._" She glanced at the clock.
It was exactly quarter past ten.

She studied her brother's face anxiously. The stain upon the cloth was
rapidly growing larger. She was sure he ought not to lie there with the
bleeding unchecked. She went to the door of the small private office;
her eyes fell upon a package labeled "Absorbent Cotton." She opened it,
pulled out a handful, and went back to her brother.

She lifted the cloth from his head, and saw a long, uneven gash, from
which the blood was freely oozing. Taking two rolls of cotton, she laid
one on each side of the wound, forcing the edges together. After a
little experimenting she found that by holding her cotton very firmly
and pressing in a certain way, the flow of the blood was almost
completely checked.

"Does that hurt?" she asked Lanse. He nodded without speaking, but she
did not lighten her pressure. She saw that he was very faint.

"I'm sorry it hurts you, dear," she said, "but it stops the blood when I
press this way, and I'm sure that's better for you. The doctor will be
here soon, and I think I'd better hold it till he comes."

Lanse nodded again, his brows contracting with pain, not only from the
pressure upon the wound, but from the reaction from the blow which had
caused it.

Charlotte's eyes watched the clock, her hands never relinquishing their

"What next?" she was thinking. "Will the time ever be up and father and
mother come back to find us all safe? Three more months--three more

Dr. Andrew Churchill came whistling softly across the lawn, glancing at
his watch, and noting that he was fifteen minutes later than he had
expected to be. In the doorway of his office he came to a surprised

"Miss Charlotte! What's happened?"

Lanse spoke faintly for himself: "Got hit at the shop--wrench slipped
out of man's hands above me--nothing much----"

"No--I see," the doctor answered, surveying the situation.

He lifted Charlotte's cotton rolls, noted the character and extent of
the injury, and lost no time in getting at work.

"Keep up that pressure just as you were doing, please, Miss Charlotte,
while I make things ready. We'll have you all right in a jiffy, Birch."

Two minutes later the doctor had Lanse stretched on a narrow white table
in an inner office. "I've got to hurt you quite a bit," he said to his
patient. "I don't want to give you an anesthetic, but somebody must hold
your head. Shall I call Mrs. Fields?"

He glanced at Charlotte, and met what he had counted on--her help. "No,
I can manage," she said quietly.

The doctor was soon ready, with arms, surgically clean, bared to the

It was rather a bad ten minutes for Lanse that followed, although he
bore it bravely, without a sound. The strong, steady support of his
sister's hands on the sides of his head never varied, and her eyes
watched the doctor's rapid movements with absorbed attention. Doctor
Churchill glanced at her two or three times, but met only quiet resolve
in her face, which, although pale, showed no sign of weakness.

The injury was a severe one, being no clean cut, but a jagged gash
several inches in length, caused by a heavy blow with a rough tool.
Charlotte observed that the worker seemed never at a loss what to do,
that his touch was as light as it was practised, and that his eyes were
full of keen interest in his work. At length Doctor Churchill finished
his manipulations and put on the smooth bandages, which, he remarked
with a laugh, were to turn Lanse into the image of the Terrible Turk.

"You show all the Spartan attributes of the real martyr," declared the
doctor, as he helped his patient back to a couch. "It took pluck to get
home here alone. How was it they sent no man with you?"

"Everybody busy. A man was coming with me if I'd let him, but I didn't
care for his company so I slipped out. It was farther home than I
thought," Lanse explained. "How long will this lay me up? I can go back
to-morrow, can't I?"

"Suppose we say the day after. That hammock on your front porch behind
the vines strikes me as a restful place for you. A bit of vacation won't
hurt you."

By afternoon the ache in John Lansing's head had reached a point where
he gladly lay quietly in the hammock and submitted to be waited on by
two devoted feminine slaves. The doctor came over to see him after
supper, and found him in a high state of restlessness. He got him to
bed, stayed with him until he fell into an uneasy slumber, then left him
in charge of Celia, and came so quietly down to the front porch again
that he startled Charlotte, who lay in the hammock Lanse had lately

"Do you need me?" she asked eagerly. "I thought Lanse would rather have
Celia with him, and I was sure she wanted to take care of him, so I
stayed. But I'm ready, if I'm wanted."

"You're wanted," returned Doctor Churchill, gently, "but not up-stairs
just now. Lie still in that hammock; let me fix the pillows a bit. Yes,
do, please. Do you know it's positively the first time I've seen you
appearing to rest since I've known you?"

"Why, Doctor Churchill!"

"It's absolutely so. You're growing thin under the cares you've assumed.
And I suspect, besides the cares, you keep yourself busy when you ought
to be resting. Am I right?"

Charlotte coloured in the twilight of the porch, which the thick vines
of the wisteria screened from the electric light on the corner, except
for a few feet at the end nearest the door. She had been working harder
than ever all the spring over her designs for Chrystler & Company, and
her cheeks were of a truth somewhat less round and her colour less vivid
of hue. She was tired, although she had not owned it, even to herself.

"You see, Doctor Churchill," she said, slowly, "until father and mother
went away I had been the lazy one of the family, the
good-for-nothing--the drone--and I've not yet learned to work in the
quiet way my sister does, which accomplishes so much without any fuss.
Now that she can get about again she does twice as much as I do, but she
doesn't make such a clatter of tools, and doesn't get the credit for
being as busy as I."

"I see. Of course I had a feeling all along that this dish-washing and
dinner-getting and baby-tending were mere pretense, and I'm relieved to
have you own up to it!"

Charlotte laughed. "After all, one doesn't like to be taken at one's own
estimate," she admitted. "I confess I feel a pang to have you agree with
me, even in jest."

"Do you know," he said, abruptly, after an instant's silence, "you gave
me great pleasure this morning?"

"I? How?"

"By the way you stood by your brother."

"Oh!" said Charlotte, astonished. "But I didn't do anything.

"Nothing at all, except keep cool and hold steady. Those are the hardest
things a surgeon can set a novice at, you know."

"But you needed me; and Mrs. Fields was out. You didn't know that, but I
did. And I don't think I'm one of the fainting-away kind."

"No, you can stand fire. I think sometimes--do you know what I think?"

Charlotte waited, her cheeks warm in the darkness. Praise is always
sweet when one has earned it.

"I believe you would stand by a friend--to the last ditch."

Charlotte was silent for a minute; then she answered, low and honestly,
"If he were a friend at all worth having I should try."

"And expect the same loyalty in return?"

"Indeed I should."

"I should like," said Doctor Churchill's steady voice, "to try a
friendship like that--an acknowledged one. I always was a fellow who
liked things definite. I don't like to say to myself, 'I think that man
is my friend--I'm sure he is--he shows it.' No, I want him to say so--to
shake hands on it. I had such a friend once--the only one. When he died
I felt I had lost--I can't tell you what, Miss Charlotte. I never had

There was a long silence this time. The figure in the hammock lay still.
But Charlotte's heart was beating hard. She knew already that Doctor
Churchill was the warm friend of the family. Could he mean to single her
out as the special object of his regard--her, Charlotte--when people
like Lanse and Celia were within reach?

Charlotte rose to her feet, the doctor rising with her. She held out her
hand, and he could see that she was looking steadily up at him. He gazed
back at her, and a bright smile broke over his face.

"Do you mean it?" he said, eagerly. "Oh, thank you!"

He grasped the firm young hand as Charlotte fancied he might have
grasped that of the comrade he had lost.

"Can't we take a little walk in this glorious moonlight?" he asked,
happily. "Just up and down the block once or twice? Or are you too

Charlotte was not too tired; her weariness had vanished as if by magic.
The two strolled slowly up and down the quiet street, talking earnestly.
The doctor told his companion about several interesting cases he had
among the children, and of one little crippled boy upon whom he had
recently operated. The girl listened with an unaffected interest and
sympathy very grateful to the man who had long missed companionship of
that sort. An hour went by as if on wings.

Celia came to the door as the two young people were saying good-night at
the foot of the steps. The doctor looked up at her with a smile.

"Is the patient quiet?" he asked.

"Yes, only he mutters in his sleep."

"That's not strange. He's bound to be a bit feverish after that blow;
but I don't anticipate serious trouble. Let Jeff sleep on the couch in
his room; that will be all that's necessary."

Celia stood looking down at the doctor as her sister came up the steps.
"It's strange," she said, "for I know Lanse isn't badly hurt, but all I
can think of to-night is how I wish father and mother were here."

"That's been in my head all day," said Charlotte, with her arm around
Celia's shoulder.

"I can understand," Doctor Churchill answered them both, and they knew
he could. "But just remember that though they were on the other side of
the world to stay for years, they can still come back to you. Just to
know that seems to me enough."

They understood him. Celia would have made warm-hearted answer, but at
that instant the sound of heavy carriage-wheels rapidly rounding the
corner and coming toward them made all three turn to look. The carriage
came on at a great pace, swerved toward them, and drew in to the curb,
the driver pulling in his horses at their door.

"Who can it be?" breathed Celia. "Nobody has written. It must be a

Charlotte gasped. "It couldn't be--Celia--it _couldn't_ be----"

The driver leaped from the box and flung open the door. A tall figure
stepped out, turned toward them as if trying to make sure who they were,
then waved its arm. The familiar gesture brought two cries of rapture as
Charlotte rushed and Celia hurried down the steps.

The doctor stood still and watched, his pulse quickening in sympathy. He
saw the tall figure grasp in turn both the slender ones, heard two eager
cries of "_Mother!"_ and beheld the second occupant of the carriage
fairly dragged out, to be smothered in two pairs of impetuous young
arms. Then he went quietly away over the lawn to his own house, feeling
that he had as yet no right to be one of the group about the

In his room, an hour later, he stood before the portrait of a woman, no
longer young, but beautiful with the beauty which never grows old. He
stood looking up at it, then spoke gently to it.

"She's just your sort, dear," he said, his keen eyes soft and bright.
"It's only friendship now, for she's not much more than a child, and I
wouldn't ask too much too soon. But some day--give me your blessing,
mother, for I've been lonely without you as long as I can bear it."

* * * * *


"The gentle art of cooking in a chafing-dish," discoursed Captain John
Rayburn, lightly stirring in a silver basin the ingredients of the cream
sauce he was making for the chopped chicken which stood at hand in a
bowl, "is one particularly adapted to the really intelligent masculine
mind. No noise, no fuss, no worry, no smoke, everything
systematic,"--with a practised hand he added the cream little by little
to the melted butter and flour--"business-like and practical. It is a
pleasure to contemplate the delicate growth of such a dish as this which
I am preparing. It is----"

"You _may_ have thickening enough for all that cream," Celia
interrupted, doubtfully, watching her uncle's cookery with an anxious

"And you _may_ have sufficient mental poise to be able to lecture on
cookery and do the trick at the same time," supplemented Doctor
Churchill, his eyes also on the chafing-dish. In fact, everybody's eyes
were on the chafing-dish.

The entire Birch family, Doctor Churchill, Lanse's friend, Mary
Atkinson; Jeff's comrade, Carolyn Houghton; and Just's inseparable,
Norman Carter--Just scorned girls, and when asked to choose whom he
would have as a guest for Captain Rayburn's picnic, mentioned Norman
with an air of finality--sat about a large rustic table upon a charming
spot of greensward among the trees of a little island four miles down
the river.

A great bowl of pond-lilies decorated the centre of the table; and
bunches of the same flowers, tied with long yellow ribbons, lay at each

When Captain Rayburn entertained he always did it in style. And since
this picnic had been especially designed to celebrate the home-coming of
the travellers, a week after their arrival, no pains had been spared to
make the festival one to be remembered.

Mrs. Birch was in the seat of honour, a position which she graced. In a
summer gown of white, her face round and glowing as it had not been in
years, she seemed the central flower of a most attractive bouquet. Mr.
Birch looked about him with appreciative eyes.

"I don't think _I_ could attend to the chafing-dish with any certainty
of result," he remarked. "I am too much occupied in observing the
guests. It strikes me that nowhere, either in New Mexico or Colorado,
did I see any people approaching those before me in interest and
attractiveness. Except one," he amended, as a general laugh greeted this
extraordinary statement, "and even she never seemed to me quite so----"
He hesitated.

"Say it, sir!" cried Lanse. "We're with you whatever it is. I think
'beautiful' is the word you want."

Mr. Birch's face lighted with a smile. "Thank you, that is the word," he

The captain stirred his chopped chicken into his cream sauce with the
air of a chef. "Now here you are," he said.

The captain would not allow everything upon the table at once, picnic
fashion, but kept the viands behind a screen a few feet away, and with
Jeff's and Just's assistance, served them according to his ideas of the
fitness of things.

Toward the end of the feast a particularly fine strawberry shortcake
appeared, which was followed by ice-cream. Altogether, the captain's
guests declared no picnic had ever been so satisfactory.

"Isn't the captain great?" said Doctor Churchill, enthusiastically, to
Celia, when they had all left the table and were beginning to stroll
about. "Cut off from the sort of thing he would like best to do--that he
aches to do--he occupies himself with what comes in his way. He would
deceive any one into thinking him completely satisfied."

"I'm so glad you understand him," Celia answered. "Everybody doesn't.
Just the other day a caller said to me, 'Isn't it lovely that Captain
Rayburn is so contented with his quiet life? Whenever I see him sitting
in the park with the baby and a book, I think what a mercy it is that he
isn't like some men, or he never could take it so calmly.' Calmly! Uncle
Ray would give his life to-morrow night if he could have a day at the
head of his company over there in the Philippines."

"I don't doubt it for an instant. Since I've known him I've learned more
admiration for the way he keeps himself in hand than I ever had for any
single quality in any human being. I'm mighty sorry he's going away.
It's for a year in France and Italy, he tells me."

"Yes. He's very fond of travel, and I imagine he's a little restless
after the winter here. Do you know what I suspect? That he came just so
that mother might feel somebody was keeping an eye on us."

"That would be like him. He's immensely fond of you all."

Celia caught sight of her uncle beckoning to her, and went to him.
Doctor Churchill saw Mrs. Birch, lying among the gay striped pillows in
a hammock which had been brought along for her special use, and went
over to her. His eyes noted the direction in which Charlotte was
vanishing, but he sat down on a log by the hammock as if he had no other
thought than for the gracious lady who looked up at him with a smile.

And indeed he had thought for her. It was impossible to be with her and
not give oneself up to her charm.

"I have been wanting to see you alone for a minute, Doctor Churchill,"
she said. "It has been such a busy week I haven't had half a chance to
express to you how I appreciate your care for my little family. And
especially I am grateful to you for the perfect recovery of Celia's
knee. Doctor Forester has assured me that the knee might easily have
been a bad case."

"I am very thankful that the results were good, Mrs. Birch," Doctor
Churchill answered.

Nobody interrupted the two for a long half-hour. At the end of it Doctor
Churchill rose, his eyes kindling.

"Thank you!" he said fervently. "Thank you! More than that I won't
ask--yet. But if you will trust me--I promise you may trust me, little
as you know me--you may be sure I shall keep my word, not only to you,
but to my mother I know her ideals, and if I can be fit to be the friend
of one who fills them----"

Mrs. Birch held out her hand.

"I do trust you, Doctor Churchill," she said. "Not only from what Doctor
Forester has told me of your family, but from what I have seen and heard
for myself."

With a light heart the doctor went away over the hill to the path which
descended to the river. Far down the bank, near the pond-lilies, he had
caught a glimpse of a blue linen gown.

Captain Rayburn and Celia came over to establish themselves upon rugs
and cushions by the side of the hammock. Mr. Birch, who had been out
with Just and Norman in a boat, appeared, sunburned and warm, and joined
the party.

"I've been wanting to get just this quartet together," remarked the
captain, when his brother-in-law had cooled off and was lying
comfortably stretched along a mossy knoll.

"Go ahead, Jack, we are ready to listen. Your plans are always
interesting," Mr. Birch replied. "What now?"

"In the first place," began the captain, "I want you people to
understand that the person who has had least fun out of this absence of
yours is the young woman before you."

"O Uncle Ray!" protested Celia, instantly. "Haven't I had as much fun as

"Hardly. Between Mrs. Fields and Miss Ellen Donohue I don't know when
I've been so enlivened. I hardly know which of the two has afforded me
more downright amusement, each in her way. But Celia, I tell you,
Roderick and Helen, has been one brave girl, and that's all there is of

"You'll find no dissenting voice here," Celia's father declared, and her
mother added:

"Nobody who knows her could expect her to be anything else."

Celia looked away, her cheeks flushing.

"So now I want her to have her reward," said Captain Rayburn. "Let me
take her with me for the year abroad."

Celia started, glancing quickly from her father to her mother, neither
of whom looked so surprised as she would have expected. Both returned
her gaze thoughtfully.

"How about the going to college?" Mr. Birch questioned. "I thought that
was the great ambition."

"She shall have a four year's course in one if she comes with me. I
shall spend much time in the libraries and art collections. My friends
in several cities are people it is worth a long journey to meet.
Undoubtedly such a year would be valuable at the end of a college
course, and it may appear to you that the studies within the scholastic
walls in this country had better come first. The point is that I am
going now. I may not be, at the moment Celia takes her diploma. And the
question of her health seems to me also one to be considered. Months of
enforced quiet haven't been any too good for her."

"There's not much need to ask Celia what she would like," Mr. Birch

The girl studied his face anxiously. "But could you spare me?" she
asked. "If it means that mother would have to take my place again----"

"It won't mean that," said Captain Rayburn, stoutly. "My plans cover two
maids in the Birch household, the most capable to be obtained."

"See here Jack," said Mr. Roderick Birch, quickly, "you can't play good
fairy for the whole family--and it's not necessary. As soon as I am at
work in the office again this close figuring will be over."

"I want my niece Charlotte to go to her school of design," the captain
went on, imperturbably.

"We mean that she shall."

"I wish you people would let me alone!" he cried. "Here I am, your only
brother, without a chick or a child of my own. Am I to be denied what is
the greatest delight I can have? By a lucky accident my money was safe
in the panic that swept away yours. Pure luck or providence, or whatever
you choose to call it--certainly not because my business sagacity was
any greater than yours. You wouldn't take a cent from me at the time,
but you've got to let me have my way now. Celia goes with me--if you
agree. Charlotte goes to her art school, and if you refuse me the fun of
assuming both expenses, I'll be tremendously offended--no joke, I

He looked so fierce that everybody laughed--somewhat tremulously. There
could be no doubt that he meant all he said. Celia's cheeks were pink
with excitement; Mrs. Birch's were of a similar hue, in sympathy with
her daughter's joy.

"I tell you, that girl Charlotte," began the captain again, "deserves
all anybody can do for her. She has developed three years in one. Fond
as I've always been of her, I hadn't the least idea what was in the
child. She's going to make a woman of a rare sort. Look here!" A new
idea flashed into his mind.

He considered it for the space of a half-minute, then brought it forth:

"Let me take her, too. Not for the year--don't look as if I'd hit you,
Helen--just till October. I mean to sail in ten days, you know. I've
engaged plenty of room. There'll be no trouble about a berth----"

"O Uncle Ray!" Celia interrupted him. There could be no question about
her unselfish soul. If she had been happy before, she was rapturous now.

"Three months will give her quite a journey," the captain hurried on,
leaving nobody any time for objections. "I'll see that she gets art
enough out of it to fill her to the brim with inspiration. And there
will surely be somebody she can come back with. May I have her?"

"What shall we do with you?" his sister said, softly. "I can't deny
you--or her. If her father agrees----"

"If I didn't know your big heart so well, Jack," said Roderick Birch,
slowly, "I should be too proud to accept so much, even from my wife's
brother. But I believe it would be unworthy of me--or of you--to let
false pride stand in my girls' way."

From the distance two figures were approaching, one in blue linen, the
other in white flannel--Charlotte and Doctor Churchill.

They were talking gaily, laughing like a pair of very happy children,
and carrying between them a great bunch of daisies and buttercups that
would have hid a church pulpit from view.

"Let's tell her now," proposed Celia. "I can't wait to have her know."

"Go ahead," agreed her uncle. "And let the doctor hear it, too. If he
isn't a brother of the family, it's because the family doesn't know one
of the finest fellows on the face of the earth when it sees him."

"You're a most discerning chap, Jack Rayburn," said his brother-in-law,
heartily, "but there are other people with discernment. I have liked
young Churchill from the moment I saw him first. All that Forester says
of him confirms my opinion."

"How excited you people all look!" called Charlotte, merrily, as she
drew near. "Tell us why."

Captain Rayburn nodded to Celia. She shook her head vigorously in
return. He glanced at Mr. and Mrs. Birch, both of whom smilingly refused
to speak. So he looked up at Charlotte, and put his question as he might
have fired a shot.

"Will you sail for Europe with Celia and me week after next, to stay
till October? Celia will stay the year with me; you I shall ship home as
useless baggage in the fall."

Charlotte stood still, her arms tightening about the daisies and
buttercups, as if they represented a baby whom she must not let fall. A
rich wave of colour swept over her face. She looked from one to another
of the group as if she could not believe her good fortune. Then suddenly
she dropped her flowers in an abandoned heap, clasped her hands tightly
together, and drew one long breath of delight.

"Can you spare me?" she murmured, her eyes upon her mother.

Mrs. Birch nodded, smiling. "I surely can," she said.

"Turn about is fair play," said Mr. Birch, "and your uncle seems to
consider himself a person of authority."

"I want," declared Captain Rayburn, his bright eyes studying each
niece's winsome young face in turn, "in the interest of the family
orchestra, to tune the violins."

* * * * *

"Speaking of violins," said the captain, half an hour later, quite as if
no interval of busy talk and plan-making had occurred, "suppose we see
about how far off the key they are at present. Jeff--Just----"

Everybody stared, then laughed, for Jeff and Just instantly produced,
from behind that same screen, five green-flanneled, familiar shapes. The
entire company had reassembled under the oak-trees, drawn together by a
secret summons from the captain.

"Now see here, Uncle Ray," remonstrated his eldest nephew, "this is
stealing a march on us with a vengeance."

"I'm entirely willing you should let a march steal on me," retorted the
captain, disposing himself comfortably among his rugs and cushions, "or
a waltz, or a lullaby, or anything else you choose. But music of some
sort I must have."

Laughing, they tuned their instruments, and the rest of the company
settled down to listen. Lanse, his eyes mischievous, passed a whispered
word among the musicians, and presently, at the signal, the well-known
notes of "_Hail to the Chief_" were sounding through the woods, played
with great spirit and zest. And as they played, the five Birches marched
to position in front of the captain, then stood still and saluted.

"Off with you, you strolling players!" cried the captain. "The spectacle
of a 'cello player attempting to carry his instrument and perform upon
it at the same time is enough to upset me for a week. Sit down
comfortably, and give us '_The Sweetest Flower That Blows_.'"

So they played, softly now, and with full appreciation of the fact that
the melodious song was one of their mother's favourites.

But suddenly they had a fresh surprise, for as they played, a voice from
the little audience joined them, under his breath at first, then--as the
captain turned and made vigorous signs to the singer to let his voice be
heard--with tunefully swelling notes, which fell upon all their ears
like music of a rare sort:

"The sweetest flower that blows
I give you as we part.
To you it is a rose,
To me it is my heart."

The captain knew, as the voice went on, that those barytone notes were
very fine ones--knew better than the rest, as having a wider
acquaintance with voices in general. But they all understood that it was
to no ordinary singer they were listening.

When the song ended the captain reached over and laid a brotherly arm on
Doctor Churchill's shoulder. "Welcome, friend," he said, with feeling in
his voice. "You've given the countersign."

But the doctor, although he received modestly the words of praise which
fell upon him from all about, would sing no more that day. It had been
the first time for almost three years. And "_The Sweetest Flower That
Blows_" was not only Mrs. Birch's favourite song; it had been Mrs.
Churchill's also.

"See here, Churchill," said Lanse, as the orchestra rested for a moment,
"do you play any instrument?"

"Only as a novice," admitted the doctor, with some reluctance.

"Which one?"

"The fiddle."

"And never owned up!" chided Lanse. "You didn't want to belong to such
an amateurish company?"

"I did--very much," said Churchill, with emphasis. "But you needed no
more violins."

"If I'm to be away all next year," said Celia, quickly, "they will need
you. Will you take my place?"

"No, indeed, Miss Celia," the doctor answered, decidedly. "But if you
would let me play--second."

He looked at Charlotte, smiling. She returned his smile, but shook her
head. "I'm Second Fiddle," she said. "I'll never take Celia's place."

The eyes of the two sisters met, affectionately, comprehendingly.

"I should like to have you, dear," said Celia, softly.

But Charlotte only shook her head again, colouring beneath the glances
which fell on her from all sides. "I'd rather play my old part," she

Jeff caught up and lifted high in the air an imaginary glass.

"Here's to the orchestra!" he called out. "May Doctor Churchill read the
score of the first violin. Here's to the First Violin! May she hear
plenty of fine music in the old country, and come back ready to coach us
all. And here's--"

He paused and looked impressively round upon the company, who regarded
him in turn with interested, sympathetic eyes. "I say we've called her
'Second Fiddle' long enough," he said, and hesitated, beginning to get
stranded in his own eloquence. "Anyhow, if she hasn't proved this year
that she's fit to play anything--dishes or wall-paper or babies--" He
stopped, laughing. "I don't know how to say it, but as sure as my name's
Jefferson Birch she--er--"

"Hear! hear!" the captain encouraged him softly.

"Here's,"--shouted the boy, "here's to the Second Violin!"

Through the friendly laughter and murmurs of appreciation, Charlotte,
dropping shy, happy eyes, read the real love and respect of everybody,
and felt that the year's experiences had brought her a rich reward. But
all she said, as Jeff, exhausted by his effort at oratory, dropped upon
the grass beside her, was in his ear:

"If anybody deserves a toast, Jeffy boy, I think it's you. You've eaten
so many slices of mine--burnt to a cinder--and never winced! If that
isn't heroism, what is?"

* * * * *



* * * * *


"Here's another, Charlotte!"

Young Justin Birch's lusty shout rang through the house from hall to
kitchen, vibrating even as far as the second-story room in the rear,
where Charlotte herself happened at that moment to be. In response
people appeared from everywhere. The bride-elect was the last to put in
an appearance, and when she came, there was a certain reluctance in her

"Hurry up, there!" admonished Just, already busy with chisel and hammer
at the slender, flat box which lay upon the hall floor, in the centre of
an interested group. He paused to glance up at his sister, where she had
stopped upon the landing. "You act as if you didn't want to see what's
in it," he remonstrated, whacking away vigorously.

"Indeed I do," Charlotte declared, coming on down the staircase, smiling
at the faces upturned toward her, which were smiling back, every one.
"But I'm beginning to feel as if I--as if they--as if--"

"It must seem odd to feel like that," John Lansing agreed, quizzically.
Lanse had but just arrived, having come on especially for the wedding,
from the law-school at which he had been for two years.

Celia slipped her arm about her younger sister's shoulders. "I know what
she means," she said, in her gentle way. "It's so unexpected to her,
after sending out no invitations at all, that gifts should keep pouring
in like this. But it's not unexpected to us."

"Oh, I know how many of them come from father's and mother's friends,
and how many from Andy's grateful patients. It's all the more
overwhelming on that account."

"Look out there, Just!" The admonition came from Jeff, and consequently
was delivered from some six feet in the air, where that
nineteen-year-old's head was now carried. "Don't split those pieces;
they'll be fine for the Emerson boys building."

"That's so." Just wielded his tools with more care. Presently he had the
long parcel lying on the floor. At this moment Mr. Roderick Birch opened
the outer hall door.

"As usual," was his smiling comment, as he laid aside hat and overcoat
and joined the circle. "Charlotte's latest?"

Charlotte herself undid the wrappings, wondering what the gift could be.
She disclosed a long piece of dingy-looking metal.

"A new shingle for Andy!" cried Jeff.

Just turned the heavy slab over, and it proved to be of copper. Words
came into view, hammered and beaten into the glinting metal. An
effective conventionalised border surrounded the whole.

"'Ye Ornaments of a House are ye Guests who Frequent it,'" read the
assembled company, in chorus.

"Oh, isn't that beautiful!" cried Charlotte.

Jeff glanced at her suspiciously. "She says that about everything," he
remarked. "Don't think much of it myself. The sentiment may be awfully
true--or otherwise; but what's the thing for? If anybody wanted to hint
at an invitation to visit Andy and Charlotte, he might have done it
without putting himself on record on a slab of copper four feet long.
Who sent it, anyway?"

Celia hunted carefully through the wrappings, and everybody finally
joined in the search, but no card appeared.

"I'm so sorry!" lamented Charlotte. "I shall never know whom to thank."

"It lets you out, anyhow," Jeff said, soothingly. "You won't have to
tell any lies. The thing is of about as much use as a bootjack."

"Why, but it's lovely!" protested Charlotte, with evident sincerity.
"Copper things are very highly valued just now, and the work on that is
artistic. Don't you see it is?"

"Can't see it," murmured Jeff. "But of course my not seeing it doesn't
count. I can't see the value of that idiotic old battered-up copper pail
you cherish so tenderly, but that's because I lack the true, heaven-born
artist's soul. Where are you going to put this, Fiddle?"

Charlotte's eyes grew absent. She was sending them in imagination across
the lawn to the little old brick house next door, which was soon to be
her home, as she had done every time a new gift arrived. There were a
good many puzzles of this sort in connection with her wedding gifts.
Where to put some of them she knew, with a thrill of pleasure, the
instant she set eyes on them; where in the world others could possibly
go was undoubtedly a serious question.

"Hello, here comes Andy!" called Just, from the window. "Give him a
chance at it. Perhaps he can use it somewhere in the surgery--as a
delicate way of cheering the patients when they feel as if perhaps
they'd better not have come."

Charlotte turned as the hall door swung open, admitting Dr. Andrew
Churchill and a fresh breath of October air.

Everybody turned about also. Into everybody's face came a look of
affectionate greeting. Even the eyes of the father and mother--and this,
just now, was the greatest test of all--showed the welcome to which
their own children were happily used.

The figure on the threshold was one to claim attention anywhere. It was
a strong figure with a look of life and intense physical vigour. The
face matched the body: it was fresh-coloured and finely molded; and
nobody who looked at it and into the clear gray eyes of Andrew Churchill
could fail to recognise the man behind.

Lanse, who was nearest, shook hands warmly. "It seems good to see you,
old fellow," he said, heartily. "If this whirl of work they tell me you
are in had kept up much longer, I should have turned patient myself and
sent for you. Going to find time to be married in, think, Andy?"

"I rather expect to be able to manage it," responded Doctor Churchill,
laughing. "How long have you been home, Lanse--two hours? Just promised
to let me know when you came."

"I started, but you were whizzing up the street in the runabout,"
protested Just, picking up the debris of the unpacking and carrying it

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