Scanned by Aaron Cannon
Janice Day, The Young Homemaker
by Helen Beecher Long
CHAPTER I. WHEN MOTHER WAS A GIRL
“Why, that is Arlo Junior. What can he be doing out of doors so early? And look at those cats following him. Did you ever!” Janice Day stared wonderingly from her front bedroom window at the boy crossing the street in the dim pre-dawn light, with a cat and three half-grown kittens gamboling about him. Occasionally Arlo Junior would shake something out of a paper to the ground and the cats would immediately roll and frolic and slap playfully at one another, acting as the girl had never seen cats act before.
The pleasantly situated cottage belonging to Mr. Broxton Day stood almost directly across the way from the Arlo Weeks’ place on Knight Street. Therefore Janice often said that, “the days and nights and weeks are very close together!”
Knight Street, as level as the palm of one’s hand, led straight into Greensboro, where it crossed Market and Hammond Streets, making the Six Corners–actually the heart of the business district of this thriving mid-western town.
The Day cottage was a mile and a half from the Six Corners and the Farmers & Merchants Bank in which Mr. Broxton Day held an important salaried position. Besides his house and his situation in the bank, Mr. Day considered another of his possessions very important indeed, although he did not list it when he made out his tax return.
This that he so highly valued possessed the very brightest hazel eyes in the world, wore a wealth of free brown hair in two plaits over her shoulders, and was of a slender figure without bordering upon that unfortunate “skinniness” which nature abhors as she does a vacuum.
Janice possessed, also, even teeth that flashed when she smiled (and she smiled often), a pink and white complexion that the sun was bound to freckle if she was not careful, and a cheerful, demure expression of countenance that went a long way toward making her good to look upon, if not actually good looking.
In a spick and span blue-checked bungalow apron, she stood at her window just as Dawn swept a brush of partially-hued color across the eastern horizon. Having had it in her mind when she went to bed the night before to arise early, she had of course awakened long before it was really time to get up to make sure that daddy, for once, got a proper breakfast.
For the Days, father and daughter, were dependent on hired service, and such service in the form of Olga Cedarstrom was about as incapable and stupid as fate had yet produced.
Having caught the first glimpse of that mischievous youngster, Arlo Weeks, Junior, with the cats, Janice raised her window softly as far as the lower sash would go, to peer out at the strange procession. The boy and the cats entered the Day’s side gate and disappeared around the comer of the kitchen ell.
“Now! what can that rascal be about? If he does anything to bother Olga there will be trouble. And everything here goes crossways enough now, without Arlo Junior adding to it, I declare!”
Janice could very clearly remember when the cottage had been a real home instead of “just a place to stay”; for her mother had been dead only a year. The experiences of that year had been trying, both for the sorrowing widower and the girl who had been her mother’s close companion and confidant.
Janice was old enough and well trained enough in domestic affairs to have kept house very nicely for her father. But she had to go to school, of course; an education was the most important thing in the world for her. And the kind of help that came into the Days’ kitchen often balked at being “bossed by a slip of a gur-r-rl,” as one recent incumbent of the position had said.
Olga Cedarstrom was stupid and often cross in the morning; and she was careless and slatternly in her ways. But she did not object when Janice came down early to get her father’s breakfast, and serve it daintily, as her mother had taught her.
Only, Olga could not be taught to do these things. She did not want to learn. She said she had a “fella” and would be married soon; and under the circumstances she did not consider that she needed to learn anything more about domestic work!
Janice did not wish to go down into the kitchen so early, for that would awaken Olga who would come from her room, bleary-eyed with sleep and with her temper at a saw-tooth edge, to ask, “why she bane get oop in de middle of de night?”
Janice had washed and dressed and read her morning Bible chapter, which she always managed to find time for, even when she did not get up as early as on this occasion. For her age, and perhaps because of her mother’s death, which still seemed recent to Janice, she was rather serious-minded. Yet she was no prig, and she loved fun and was as alert for good times as any girl of her age in Greensboro.
The talk she had had overnight with daddy had perhaps put her in a rather more serious mood than usual. The talk had been all about her mother and the hopes the mother and father had had and the plans they had made for their little girl’s future.
To carry through those plans necessitated the proper schooling of Janice Day. She was already in the upper grade of the grammar school. Even if the household affairs were all “at sixes and at sevens,” she must stick to her books, for she had ambitions. She was quite sure she wanted to teach when she grew up.
There was another reason that spurred Janice Day to the point of early rising, although daddy had not even hinted that he missed the comfortable, daintily served breakfasts which he used to enjoy when Mrs. Day was alive. It was something he had said about an entirely different matter that started this serious train of thought in the girl’s mind.
She had expressed herself as so many of us do when we are in difficulties, or when we see conditions we would like to have changed: “Oh, if things were only different!”
Broxton Day had looked at her with his head held sideways and a quizzical smile in his eyes as well as on his lips.
“Different? Do you want to know how to bring about a change? Do something. Don’t just talk, or think, or wonder, or wish, or hope; but do! It is all right to say that good things become a reality because somebody has a good thought. Actually, thinking does not bring things about. It is doing. Do something in the world, my dear. Don’t wait for somebody else to set the example, or to lead. Do what you can yourself while you are waiting for a leader. Do something.
“Of course thought must precede action, and, furthermore, must accompany action if action is not to run wild. But in the end thought must become action and we must all of us–little girls, as well as adults–do something if the conditions we do not like are to be changed.”
That was really what had got Janice Day out of bed so early on this morning. Poor daddy! He sometimes had most awful meals served to him. And the house was usually in a state of confusion if it was not actually dirty.
Olga had come straight from a peasant cottage in her
country, and her idea of scrubbing the kitchen floor was to dash pails of water over it and then sweep the water out of the back door with a broom.
There was a Swedish colony established around the pickle factories on the northern edge of the town, and Olga went over there with her “fella” to a dance or downtown or to a picture show almost every evening. No wonder she was not fit for work in the morning.
When Janice had come up to bed the previous evening she had brought with her the “treasure-box” which daddy usually kept in the wall safe in the living room. It contained certain heirlooms and trinkets that had been her mother’s, and were now Janice’s most sacred possessions.
She had had to beg daddy for the treasure-box, for he, too, prized its contents beyond words. But Janice was a careful girl, and daddy trusted her, and he knew, too, that the mementoes of her dead mother seemed to bring the woman closer to the little daughter; and so, in the end, he had allowed Janice to carry the treasure-box to her room to be kept for the night, but to be returned to its usual place after the girl had had it by her and looked at its contents for a while.
There were a few pieces of jewelry–more valuable for their associations than for their intrinsic worth, the gold framed photographs of Grandfather and Grandmother Avion, which clasped like a little book, and the miniature of Janice’s mother painted on ivory when she was a girl by a painter who had since become very famous.
This last was the girl’s dearest possession–the memento of her mother which she cared for above everything else. Daddy had put it into her keeping with a reverence that could not fail to impress Janice Day, young as she was. Broxton Day had worshipped his wife for her higher qualities as well as having loved her for her human attributes.
Something of this attitude toward his dead wife Janice, young as she was, understood. She knew, for instance, that there was no other woman in the world as a mate for Broxton Day now that her mother was gone. All the more must she try, therefore, to fill her mother’s place in his life.
She had taken the miniature out of the treasure-box and was looking with dimming eyes at it by the window when, shifting her glance, she had seen Arlo Weeks, Junior, crossing the street. This was her mother when she was a girl! What a sweet, demure face it was. Janice did not realize that much of the expression of the countenance in this miniature was visualized in the flesh in her own face.
No wonder daddy had fallen in love with such a pretty, pretty girl! So thought Janice Day. And–
What was Arlo Junior, the mischievous torment of the neighborhood, doing with those cats? This sudden query shattered her dream completely. She returned the miniature to the treasure-box, and closed and latched the cover.
“Goodness knows,” murmured Janice Day, “there are cats enough around this house without Arlo Junior bringing any more upon the premises. Sometimes I hear them squalling and fighting when I wake up in the night.”
With the treasure-box in her hand, she opened her bedroom door and crossed the hall to the storeroom. The window of this room was over the back porch. She heard a step on the porch flooring. The door of the summer kitchen was seldom locked. Was Arlo Junior down there?
That boy was constantly getting into trouble with the neighbors. There was a regular feud between Olga Cedarstrom and Arlo Junior. Olga had chased him half a block only the other day, threatening him with a broom.
And the cats! Here they came from all directions–over the back yard fences and from the barn. Fat cats, lean cats, shabby “ash-barrel” cats, and pet cats with ribbons and collars. Amazedly, Janice Day owned to herself that she had never seen so many cats gathered in a more or less harmonious group before.
Instead of fighting or “mauling,” they approached the back porch of the Day house as though on pleasure bent. Was that Arlo Junior giggling down there?
She put down the treasure-box and tried to open the window. But the sash stuck. She distinctly heard the door below close and footsteps receding from the porch.
Wishing to make sure that it was Arlo Junior who had been below, the girl ran back to her bedroom. Yes! there he was scuttling across the street in evident haste to get under cover.
“Now, isn’t that odd?” murmured Janice. Suddenly a sound floated up from below–an echoing wail that seemed wrenched from the very soul of a tortured cat. The cry reverberated through the house in a most eerie fashion.
Fortunately her father slept in the front of the house and there was a closed door between the front and the back halls on both floors. But Janice heard Olga’s big, flat feet land upon the floor almost instantly. That feline wail had evidently brought the Swedish girl out of her dreams, all standing.
That sound sent Janice out of the room on a run. She must reach the seat of trouble before Olga got to the place! Otherwise, the trouble was bound to increase and become–what? Even Janice’s imagination, trained, as it was, by the succession of incompetent and unwilling kitchen helpers, could not picture that.
Before Janice Day could reach the hall, Olga was padding down the stairs to the kitchen. From the rear arose increasing howls. The cats may have mysteriously gathered in apparent amity; but so many of them shut up in that outer kitchen with no escape could not possibly dwell for long in harmony.
There certainly was no harmony in these mounting wails. The principle motif seemed to be furnished by the cat that had first voiced his complaint. But now, as Janice plunged down the stairs after Olga, the thin, high scream of the initial feline chorister was crossed, in warp and woof, by basset strains.
The sounds rose and fell, as though proceeding from cats in torment–an agonizing oratorio like nothing Janice had ever heard before. She screamed to the Swedish girl, but her voice was drowned by the caterwauling in the back kitchen. Olga wrenched open the door. Janice, arriving to look over her shoulder at the very moment she did so, saw the back kitchen practically filled with cats.
When one cat loses its temper it seems as though every other cat within hearing gets excited. In the corners, out of the way of the battlefield, kittens and tabbies were rolling and playing upon the dried twigs and leaves that Janice knew must be catnip that Arlo Junior had flung upon the floor to bait the cats into the kitchen. But the cats in the middle of the room were preparing for the representation of a busy day at Donnebrook Fair.
“Them cats! In de clean kitchen what I scrubbed last night only I bane kill them cats!” And there was not a cat in the lot as mad as Olga Cedarstrom.
There was a hod of coal beside her. Olga seized the good-sized lumps of stove coal, one after another, and began volleying with a strong overhand throw at the excited animals.
Olga proved to be an excellent shot. She hit a cat with almost every lump of coal she threw. But she could not, after all, have easily failed to do this, there were so many cats in the kitchen.
“Oh, don’t! Don’t, Olga! Stop!” shrieked Janice. “You will hurt them”
“Hurt them?” repeated the girl. “I bane mean to hurt dem” and, slam! went another lump of coal.
“But they can’t get out!” gasped Janice.
“Den how dey get in, huh?” demanded Olga, and threw another lump with terrific force.
There was a howl, higher and more blood-curdling than any that had heretofore assailed their ears. One big cat scrambled up the wall, and up the window panes, seeking an exit. One of the creature’s legs dragged limply.
“Olga Cedarstrom!” shrieked Janice, “you have broken that poor cat’s leg.”
“I bane break all his legs!” rejoined this quite ferocious girl. “How dese cats coom here? I bane sure you know!”
She turned to glare at Janice Day so savagely, a lump of coal poised in her smutted hand, that the girl was really frightened. She backed away from the angry woman.
Then she thought of something she might do to save the cats and the back kitchen from complete wreck. Janice darted out of the room to the porch. In a moment she had unlatched the summer-kitchen door and flung it wide open.
Instantly there boiled out of the room cats big and cats little, cats of all colors and every degree of fright. One of the last to escape was the poor cat with the broken leg. There was nothing Janice Day could do for it. She did not dare to try to touch it.
She ventured back into the house to find Olga Cedarstrom still breathing out threatenings and slaughter. Olga was in her nightgown and a wrapper. She had not even stopped for slippers when she came from her bed. Now she padded to the back stairs, turning to shake her clenched fist at Janice and cry:
“I leave! I leave! I bane going to pack my troonk. The man pay me oop to last night, and I leave!”
“I am glad of it!” gasped Janice, finding her voice again. “It wasn’t my fault, and it wasn’t the poor cats’ fault. I am glad you are going, so there!”
But she became more serious as she prepared the nice breakfast she had promised herself the night before her father should have. She heard Olga go to the telephone in the hall. She called a number and then talked in Swedish for several minutes to whoever answered.
Janice’s father came into the dining room just as his little daughter brought in the breakfast. When he saw the steaming coffee pot and the covered dishes and toast-rack his face brightened. But he had to be told of the domestic catastrophe impending.
“Well,” he said cheerfully, “we couldn’t get anybody any worse than Olga, that is sure. I will see what they have at the intelligence office, and I may send a woman up after you get home from school this afternoon. I’ll ‘phone you first, daughter. I don’t have to see Olga, do I? She was paid last night.”
No, Janice told him, he need not bother about a servant who was on the point of going. Before it was time for Janice to leave for school, a taxicab appeared, driven by a man of Olga’s own nationality. He went upstairs for the girl’s trunk.
This he shouldered and carried out to the cab. Olga followed him, wearing the red hat with the green plume which had so amused Janice when the Swedish girl had arrived. She drove away in the cab without even looking back at Janice Day.
The latter had tidied up the kitchen and dining room. The back kitchen would have to remain as it was until later. And Janice felt that she would like to get hold of Arlo Weeks, Junior, and make him clean up that kitchen!
She changed to her school dress, strapped together the books she had studied the night before, put on her hat, and stood a moment in the hall, wondering if all would be right until she should return at three o’clock.
And then for the first time, and suddenly, Janice remembered the treasure-box.
She darted upstairs to her bedroom. How careless of her to have left it there! She knew the simple combination of the wall safe in the living room, and She determined to open the safe and put the box away.
But when she entered her bedroom she found that the treasure-box was not there. Instantly she remembered having taken it with her when she ran into the storeroom to see what Arlo Junior was doing with the cats.
In trying to open the window in the storeroom she had set the box down on a trunk–on Olga’s trunk.
Startled, indeed alarmed and shaking, Janice Day went as fast as she could to, the storeroom. Olga’s trunk was gone. She did not see the treasure-box anywhere in the room.
She searched the room diligently. She ran from room to room–Olga’s, her own, even the other bedrooms. She halted at last in her own room, sobbing and alarmed.
The treasure-box was gone. Olga’s trunk had gone. Olga herself had gone.
And the photographs of Grandfather and Grandmother Avion, the old-fashioned jewelry, the diary her mother had kept as a little girl, the miniature Janice thought so much of–all, all the keepsakes her father had entrusted her with the night before, seemed to have gone With Olga and the trunk.
CHAPTER II. THE HUNT FOR THE TREASURE-BOX
This was a very tragic happening in Janice Day’s life. She had never been regardless of important matters; that was why daddy had not even warned her to be careful of the treasure-box.
He assumed that she would consider its precious contents and guard it accordingly. Why! He had not even mentioned it this morning, he had been so confident of her good sense.
And because of Arlo Junior and a bunch of cats she had forgotten all about her mother’s miniature and all the other heirlooms in the treasure-box! Her tears were those of anger at herself as well as sorrow because of the disappearance of the heirlooms. Yet at the moment she did not fully appreciate the full weight of the happening.
Janice could not stand and cry about it. She had assured herself that the treasure-box was not where she had left it–was not in the storeroom at all, as far as she could see. Olga certainly had not picked it up and placed it in any of the rooms on this second floor, or anywhere else where it could be easily seen.
Janice could only believe that the Swedish girl, either by intention or in some involuntary way, had carried the treasure-box off with her. Yet it did not seem as though Olga Cedarstrom, bad temper and all, could be a thief! That was an awful thought.
“Maybe she has done it to plague me,” Janice thought. “She is awfully mad at me. She thought it was my fault that the cats got into the back kitchen. And now she means to pay me back. She means to return it.”
“But where has she gone? And what shall I do?” were the final queries formed in Janice Day’s mind.
She must not stand idle. It was nearing school time. Nor could she neglect the matter until she came home from school at three o’clock. If Olga Cedarstrom were really dishonest, she might be getting farther and farther away from Greensboro while Janice remained inactive!
She must do something.
Janice went slowly downstairs. First Of all it was her duty to communicate with her father at the bank. She hated to tell him of this happening, for she realized keenly her fault in the matter. But not for a moment did the girl consider hiding the unfortunate affair from Broxton Day.
She went to the telephone and called the bank When she asked for Mr. Day. She could almost see him taking the receiver from the hook when the bell on his telephone rang.
“Yes?” Daddy’s voice sounded clearly and courteously over the wire. “This is Day.”
“Often when he said this over the telephone Janice would respond, giggling: “And this is Knight–Street! Number eight-forty-five.”
But she did not feel at all like joking on this occasion. All in a rush she told him of the tragic happening.
“And I don’t know what to do, Daddy,” was the way in which she ended her story.
Even over the telephone the girl realized that her father was more startled than she expected him to be, His voice did not sound at all natural as he asked:
“Do you mean to tell me that everything that was in that box is lost, Janice? Everything?”
“Oh, Daddy!” choked the girl, “I put everything back before I closed the box–mamma’s picture, and her diary, and all.”
“There were other things–“
“Oh, yes! The jewelry and the photographs,” said Janice.
“More than those,” her father’s hoarse voice said quickly. “I cannot explain to you now, my child. Didn’t you know there was a false bottom in that box?”
“A false bottom to the treasure-box, Daddy?” she cried wonderingly. “A secret compartment.”
“Oh! I didn’t know–“
“No, of course not. I blame myself, my dear,” he added, and she knew that he was striving to control his voice. “Do not cry any more. I will explain when come home.”
“Are you sure you have looked carefully for the box?” and he now spoke more moderately.
“Oh, yes, Daddy.”
“Indeed I have.”
“Then, daughter, by the face of the clock in front of me, I advise you to hurry away to school. I will see what can be done. You say Olga went away in a taxicab?”
“Of course, you did not notice the number of the car?”
“Oh, no, sir. But the man was a Swede like Olga. And he came in and carried down her trunk.” ‘
“I will see what can be done. Go to school like a good girl and do not let anxiety spoil your recitations. Good-bye.”
He hung up the receiver and Janice followed his example. There seemed nothing else she could do.
She would have been late for school had not Stella Latham driven by the Day cottage in her father’s car just as Janice came out. Stella lived some distance out of town, her father being a well-to-do farmer, and she was driven in daily by either her brother or one of the farm hands.
Janice saw the automobile coming in the distance and soon recognized the Latham car.
“Dear me!” she sighed, “I hope Stella will not turn down Hester Street. If she comes this far she’ll be sure to ask me to ride, and then I can get to school on time”
With rather anxious eyes Janice watched the oncoming car. Yes, it passed Hester Street and came on down Knight Street to make a later turn off toward the schoolhouse. The car almost shot past Janice before the girl inside saw her on the sidewalk. Then the girl suddenly leaned out of the swiftly moving car.
“Oh, Janice Day!” screamed Stella, warning her driver to stop with one hand while she beckoned to Janice with the other. “Hurry! You’ll be late. Get in here.”
Janice ran after the car, glad of the lift. Stella was a buxom girl, a year or two older than Janice, but in the latter’s grade at school. “Ever so nice” Janice thought her. But, Janice thought most of her school friends were “nice.” She was friendly toward them, so they had no reason to be otherwise than kind to her.
Not that Janice Day was either namby-pamby or stupid. She had opinions, and expressed them frankly; and she possessed a strong will of her own. But she not to hurt other people’s feelings; and if she stood up for her opinions, she usually did so without antagonizing anybody.
“You’re just the girl I wanted to see, anyway, Janice, before school,” Stella said, as the younger girl hopped into the tonneau and the chauffeur let in the clutch again.
“Now you see–all of me!” said Janice brightly, trying to put the trouble of the lost treasure-box behind her.
Her eyelids were just a little red, and she took one more long, sobbing breath. But Stella was so very much interested in her own affairs that she noticed nothing at all strange about her friend.
“Oh, Janice!” Stella said, “I’m to have a birthday party. You know, I told you all about it before.” “Yes, Stella, you told me,” agreed Janice.
“Of course I did. And I want you to come. I couldn’t really have a party without you, Janice. But I am not so sure about some of the girls.”
“Oh, dear me!” murmured Janice. “If I was going to have a regular party I’d invite all the girls in our class–or else none at all.”
“Now, that’s just like you! You always are so quick. How did you know I didn’t want to invite her?” complained Stella, pouting.
“I didn’t know. Whom do you mean to leave out?” Janice asked, smiling.
“There! That’s what my mother says! You are always so shrewd and sly.”
“Oh!” cried Janice not at all pleased, “does your mother think I am sly?”
“We-ell, she said you were shrewd,” admitted Stella, changing color. “Now, don’t get mad, Janice Day. I want you to help me.”
“You go about it in a funny way,” said Janice, rather piqued. “I am not sly enough to be of any use to you, I guess.”
“Now, don’t be angry!” wailed the other girl. “What I mean is, that you always see through things and can get out of difficulties.”
“I didn’t know I got into difficulties–not many anyway,” Janice added, with a little sigh.
“Dear me, Janice! don’t split hairs–please,” said the very selfish and self-centered Stella. “I want your help. Do tell me how to get out of asking that girl to my party without offending her friends–for she has got friends, curiously enough.”
“For goodness’ sake!” gasped Janice. “What girl do you wish to snub, Stella?”
“There you go with your nasty insinuations!” exclaimed Stella, whiningly. “I don’t want to snub anybody. But some people are impossible!”
“Meaning me?” Janice asked with twinkling eyes.
“Of course not. Why will you so misunderstand me? I wouldn’t snub you, Janice Day. I am speaking of Amy Carringford.”
“Oh! It is Amy you wish to snub, is it?” Janice said, with a change of tone.
Even Stella noted the change. She seized Janice’s arm.
“Now, don’t! You made me say that. I don’t really want to snub her. I don’t want to hurt her feelings. But, of course, I can’t have those pauper children at my party–Amy and Gummy. ‘Gummy!’ What a frightful name! And his pants are patched at the knees. They wouldn’t–either of them–have a decent thing to wear, of course.”
Janice said nothing for a long minute. Stella’s blue eyes, which were actually more staring than pretty, began to cloud ominously. Instinctively she sensed that Janice was not with her in this.
“Amy Carringford is a nice girl, I think,” Janice Day said mildly. “And perhaps she has a party dress, Stella.”
“There you go! Always standing up for anything mean or common,” stormed Stella. “I might have known you wouldn’t help me.”
“Why did you ask me then?” Janice inquired with some rising spirit.
“Because you’re always so sharp about things; and you can help me if you want to.”
Stella Latham was certainly much more frankly spoken than politic. Janice Day excused her schoolmate to a degree. She usually found excuses for every one but herself.
“I was only trying to help you,” Janice said slowly. you haven’t really anything against Amy, have you?”
“She’s a pauper–a regular pauper.”
“Why, that’s not so,” interrupted Janice. “A pauper must be one who is supported at the public expense. We had that word only the other day in our lesson, you know, Stella. And Amy Carringford–or her folks– aren’t like that.”
“Nobody knows what or who they are. They’ve only just come here and from goodness knows where. And they live in that little tumble-down house in Mullen Lane, and–“
“Oh, dear me, Stella!” interrupted Janice, with a sudden laugh. “That list of crimes will never send anybody to jail. You are awfully critical. Amy has awfully pretty manners, and just wonderful hair. She sings and dances well, too. And Gummy–‘Gumswith’ is his full name–“
“‘Gumswith!’ Fancy!” ejaculated the farmers critical
“Yes, isn’t it awful?” returned Janice. “Anybody would be sorry for a boy with such a name. And he hasn’t even a middle one they can call him by. You know it isn’t his fault, Stella, that he has such a horrid name.”
“No, I don’t suppose it is. But–“
“And Amy is so nice. She is just about my size, Stella, and if you promise never to tell–“
“What is it? A secret?” eagerly demanded Stella, as Janice hesitated.
“Yes. Or it will be a secret if you promise.”
“Cross my heart, Janice,” declared Stella, who loved secrets.
“Well–now,” said Janice Day, most seriously, “if you invite Amy, and she can’t come because she hasn’t any party dress, I’ll lend her one of mine that was made for me just before my mother died. I am wearing only black and white. I’ve outgrown those new dresses that were made for me then, I guess. And Amy is just a weeny bit smaller than I am.”
“But Janice Day! you–you’re helping Amy Carringford. You’re not helping me at all!”
“Why, yes I am helping you,” said Janice warmly. “At least, I am trying to. If you will invite Amy with the rest of us girls, I’ll see that she has a party dress. I should think that was helping you a whole lot, Stella Latham. You said you didn’t want to hurt her feelings.”
The car reached the schoolhouse. Janice was out of it like a flash with her schoolbooks and lunch. The bell was tolling.
“Now, isn’t that just like Janice Day?” grumbled Stella, following her from the automobile. “She is a sly little thing!”
Mr. Broxton Day felt much more troubled than Janice possibly could feel about the disappearance of the treasure-box and the keepsakes it contained. Intrinsically, the value of the articles that she named was not very great, although nothing could replace the diary or the miniature of his dead wife. But as he had intimated to Janice over the telephone there was something else. There was that lost with the so-called treasure-box that meant more to him than the mementoes his daughter had known about.
During this lonely year that had passed since his wife’s death, Mr. Day’s experiences with domestic help had been disheartening as well as varied.
Olga Cedarstrom had been with them two months. She had come rather better recommended than some of her predecessors. Instead of obtaining her services through an agency, Mr. Day had found her in “Pickletown,” as the hamlet at the pickle works was called.
There Olga, recently arrived in Greensboro, had been living with friends. Mr. Day went over there first of all to search for the girl.
But her whilom friends knew nothing about Olga since the previous evening. They did not know that she contemplated leaving Mr. Day. And she had not appeared at Pickletown after she had departed from eight hundred and forty-five Knight Street that morning.
Mr. Day did not wish to put the police on the trail of the absent Olga. In the first place there was no real evidence that the Swedish girl had stolen the box of mementoes.
If she had taken them at all, she must have done so just to pique Janice, not understanding how really valuable the contents of the box were. If possible, Mr. Day wished to recover the lost box without the publicity of going to the police, both for Olga’s sake and for his own.
And then as Janice had told him, the taxicab driver had been in the house. He had gone upstairs to the storeroom for Olga’s trunk–to the very room in which Janice had last seen the treasure-box.
It might be that the driver was the person guilty of taking the box. Olga might know nothing about it. Yet her disappearance without informing her friends of her intention to leave Greensboro looked suspicious.
Mr. Day had to search further. He had two other persons to discover. One was Olga’s “fella”; the other was the Swedish taxicab driver.
From people who knew Olga around the pickle factories it was easy to learn that Olga’s friend was a hard working and estimable young man named Willie Sangreen. Just at this time Willie was away from home. They could tell Mr. Day nothing about Willie’s absence either at his boarding-house, or where he was employed. But in both instances they were sure Willie would be back.
In hunting for the Swedish taxicab driver Mr. Day had even less good fortune. There were two taxicab companies in Greensboro and less than a dozen independent owners of cabs. Before noon he had learned, beyond peradventure, that there was not a cab driver in town of Swedish nationality.
He presumed that the cab must have come from out of town. Where it had come from, and where it had gone with Olga, and Olga’s trunk, and, possibly, with the treasure-box, seemed a mystery insolvable.
If Olga or the cab driver had stolen the box of heirlooms it seemed that all trace of their whereabouts had been skillfully covered.
CHAPTER III. DELIA
In spite of her anxiety Janice fixed her mind upon her recitations with her usual success. During the past few months so many, many things had happened to trouble the home pool that the girl was pretty well used to seeing it ruffled.
“Help” came and went at the Day cottage on Knight Street in a procession of incompetents. Some incumbents of the domestic situation remained but a week. Olga Cedarstrom had been longer than any in Mr. Day’s employ.
Often, when they were without a girl, Janice had spent her Saturday holiday trying to clean house and set things to rights, and when daddy had come home from the bank he had donned a kitchen apron and helped.
The house was by no means kept as it had been when Mrs. Day was alive. For she had been a trained housewife, and she knew how to make the domestic help do the work properly.
Now there was dust under the furniture and in the corners. Pots and pans were grimy. Because of the rough methods of cleaning pursued by Olga, the baseboards of the kitchen were streaked with a “high-tide” mark of soapy water.
The stove and the gas range were smeared with grease. Scarcely a cooking utensil but was sticky. The silver went unpolished. The yolk of egg (“the very stickingest thing there was” Janice declared,) could be found on the edges of plates and spoons.
And the laundry! The “wet wash,” the “flat work” laundry, and the complete service laundry were all only a little worse than the attempts of the hired help to wash clothes properly.
Bed and table linen wore out twice as fast as it should, Janice knew. Nobody would wash and turn socks and stockings as they should be washed and turned. Fruit stains were never removed.
Either the girls used kerosene in boiling the clothes and the odor of it clung to them even after they were laid away in the bureau drawers, or she threw chloride of lime into the water which ate holes in the various fabrics. Mother used to make Javelle water to whiten the clothes, but Janice did not know how it was made, nor had she time to make it.
Indeed, with school-closing in the offing and lessons and examinations getting harder and harder, the girl scarcely had time to keep her own clothing neat and mended. She knew that right now daddy was wearing socks with holes in them.
So, when her mind was not fixed upon her lessons, it was not likely that even Stella Latham’s birthday party occupied much of Janice’s thought. She started home from school as soon as she was released, considering if she could get the back kitchen cleaned up before it was time to get supper for daddy. The lumps of soft coal Olga Cedarstrom had thrown at the cats had made an awful mess of the place, Janice very well knew.
As she turned the corner into Knight Street there was Arlo Weeks, Junior, just ahead of her. Arlo Junior, the cause of the morning’s trouble! Arlo Junior, the cause of Olga’s leaving the Days in the lurch! More, Arlo Junior, who was the spring of Janice Day’s deeper trouble, for if it had not been for that mischievous wight, Olga Cedarstrom could not have run off with the treasure-box!
Arlo Junior had black, curly hair like his father. He had snapping brown eyes, too, and was quick and nervous in his movements. Of all the Weeks’ children (Daddy said there was a “raft” of them!) Arlo Junior was the worst behaved. He was forever in trouble.
To report him to his parents was just like shooting cannon balls into a stack of feathers. His mother, tall, cadaverous, and of complaining voice and manner, only declared:
“He’s too much for me. I tell Arlo that Junior ought to be locked up, or handcuffed, or something. And that’s all the good it does.”
To complain to Mr. Weeks of his namesake was quite as unsatisfactory.
“What? The young rascal!” Mr. Weeks would emphatically say. “Arlo did that? Well, I tell you what. If you catch him at any of his tricks, you thrash him. That’s what you do–thrash him! You have my full permission to punish him as though he were your own boy. That’s the only way to deal with a rascal like him.”
So, you see, both parents shed responsibility, both for Arlo Junior’s mischief and punishment, just as easily as a duck sheds rainwater. Under these circumstances
Arlo Junior usually went without punishment, no matter what he did.
And here he was, swaggering along the walk with some of his mates, hilariously telling them, perhaps, of how he had tolled all the cats of the neighborhood into the Days’ back kitchen.
Janice Day was a very human girl indeed. The thought of Junior’s trick and all it had brought about made her very, very angry. She rushed right into the group of boys, all fully as big as she was, soundly boxed Arlo Weeks’ ears, and just as many times as she could do so before he outran her and left her, panting and still wrathful, on the curb.
The other boys backed away, leaving Arlo Junior to fight his own battle–or run, if that seemed to him the part of wisdom, as evidently it had.
“I hope that will teach you to bring cats into our kitchen, Arlo Junior!” Janice cried after him.
“No, ‘twon’t,” declared the boy, rubbing the ear that had received the greater number of her blows. “I knew how to do it before, didn’t I? My, Janice Day! but you can slam a fella.”
“I wish I could hurt you more,” declared the girl. “You’ve made me enough trouble.”
She marched on, leaving the scattered crowd of urchins to gather again about Arlo Junior, but now in a scoffing rather than in an admiring crowd. The bubble of Arlo Junior’s conceit had been punctured. He had been whipped by a girl!
“Now,” thought Janice, as she went along home, “I would not want Daddy to know I did that. Fighting a boy on the street! I guess Miss Peckham, who is always peering through her blinds at what I do, if she had seen me would be sure to say I was misbehaving because I had no mother to make me mind. As though I wouldn’t behave just as well for Daddy as I used to for dear mother!
“Only I haven’t really behaved very well to-day,” she went on, reviewing the matter to herself. “I don’t care! Yes, I do too! No matter what Arlo Weeks, Junior, did, I oughtn’t to have fought him on the street like that. Oh, dear!” mused the girl, “I don’t know whether I am sorry I hit Arlo Junior or am sorry that I’m not sorry. It’s awfully confusing.”
She choked back a sob, dashed the tears from her eyes, and suddenly saw that the hazy object she had been looking at for the past minute was really a human figure squatting on the side porch steps of the Day’s cottage.
“Why! who can that be?” thought Janice Day, staring with all her might at the odd-looking creature perched thus on the steps, with a bulging old-fashioned black oilcloth bag beside her.
It was a woman in a cheap, homemade calico dress, and with rows upon rows of flounces on the skirt. She sat on the next-to-the-top step of the porch while her shoes were planted flat-footed on the walk. She was very short-waisted, while her limbs, accentuated by the model of the flounced skirt seemed enormously long.
Indeed, she looked like the halves of two people mysteriously glued together. Her nether limbs without doubt belonged to a giantess; her body although broad and sturdy, was almost dwarflike. Her arms were very short.
Above this strange figure was a fat, baby-like face, with staring, light-blue eyes and whisps of straw-colored hair laid flat to her, head under a close fitting hat.
“It’s another one,” groaned Janice, her heart sinking. “I know she must be from the intelligence office, because–well–she looks so unintelligent, I
Janice opened the gate and approached the ungainly woman doubtfully. Surely daddy could not have seen her before hiring this very peculiar-looking person. He must have accepted her services over the telephone, and “sight, unseen.”
The newly hired girl wreathed her flabby face in a vacuous smile. She bobbed up from her seat, bringing the oilcloth bag with her, and towering over Janice Day in a most startling manner.
“How-de-do! I guess you are after bein’ Mr. Day’s little girl, heh?”
The voice from the giantess made Janice jump. It was high and squealing, like a bat’s voice; and some people’s ears are not attuned to the bat’s cry and cannot hear it at all.
“Ye-es. I am Janice Day,” admitted the girl.
“Well,” squealed the newcomer, “I’m the lady your paw sent up to do the work. You’re a right pretty little girl, ain’t you?”
Janice ignored this bit of flattery as she mounted the steps and drew forth the door key.
“What is your name, please?” she asked the woman.
“Why, I’ll tell you,” said the other in a most confidential tone, blundering up the steps after Janice and stooping to get her lips near the girl’s ear. “My real name is Mrs. Bridget Burns; but my friends all call me Delia. I don’t like ‘Bridget.’ Would you mind callin’ me Delia, or else Mrs. Burns, heh?”
“I think father would prefer to call you by your first name,” Janice said, trying not to show her surprise and amusement. “We will call you Delia if that pleases you.”
“You’re a real nice little girl, I can see that,” said Delia, with a huge sigh of satisfaction, following Janice, bag and all, into the house.
Janice led the way up the back stairs to the girl’s room. It was just as Olga had left it–as untidy and “mussed up” as ever a room was.
Delia uttered a high, nasal ejaculation. “I guess your last girl wasn’t very clean,” she said. “Who was she?”
“She was a Swede,” Janice replied wearily.
“Heh! Them Swedes!” sniffed Delia, voicing a pronounced national prejudice.
“She left in a hurry,” Janice explained. “She–she got mad. One of the neighbor’s boys played a trick on her and she left.”
“Ye don’t be tellin’ me? Couldn’t she spank the boy? Sure, ’tis no sinse them foreigners has.”
“I hope you will not take offense so easily,” Janice rejoined. “Here is clean linen for your bed. We send the flat work to the laundry. There is a broom and carpet sweeper in the storeroom, and plenty of dust cloths. You would better put your own room in order first. Then you can come down and I will show you about getting dinner.”
“Sure, you is very young to be so knowin’ about housework. Is your mother dead?”
“I didn’t know but she’d gone off and left you and your
paw,” observed this strange creature, “So many of them be’s doin’ that now.”
“Oh!” gasped the girl.
“So that’s why your paw did the hirin’ through Murphy’s Agency! Well, I like to work where there’s no lady boss,” said Delia. “You and me is goin’ to get on fine.”
Janice wondered if that were so. In no very enthusiastic frame of mind, she descended the stairs to put away her hat and coat and to place her books on the table in the living room.
CHAPTER IV. MORE TROUBLES THAN ONE
Janice dreaded to have this new houseworker look into that back kitchen and see its condition. What Olga had done with the soft coal ammunition was enough to make Delia depart before she had even taken up her new duties.
Yet Janice shrank from cleaning the room herself. She had a lot of home work to do for school, and she would have to show the new girl, too, just where everything was kept and what was expected of her.
Fortunately the dinner-getting would be a simple matter. There was a roast already prepared for the oven, potatoes and another vegetable, and a salad. The latter were in the house. Olga had been no dessert maker, but there were canned pears in the refrigerator and some baker’s cake (Daddy called it “sweetened sawdust”) in the cupboard.
The girl would have to be told about these things. Fortunately they had not begun to use the summer kitchen as yet. It was true that Olga had only the day before cleaned the place, as well as she knew how, in preparation for the approaching warm weather.
But to put things to rights in that room again, and to remove all traces of the bombardment of the cats, would take half a day or more. And Janice Day shrank from the use of the scrubbing brush and strong soda-water.
She decided that the back kitchen could not be cleaned this afternoon. She put on her bungalow apron and took the salad from the icebox where it had lain on the ice in a cheesecloth bag. She usually prepared the salad herself, for daddy was fond of it and most of the itinerant help they had had considered “grass only fit for horses and cows.”
She was decanting the oil, drop by drop, into the salad dressing when Delia appeared in the kitchen. There was one good point about the giantess; her face and hands looked as though they were familiar with soap and water. She had removed the ruffled monstrosity and had put on a more simple frock. It did not serve to make her look less ungainly; but nevertheless it, likewise, was clean.
“Are you doing the cooking?” asked the new incumbent, her weak, squeaky voice quite above high C. “An’ do I help you?”
“I am fixing the salad because my father likes it prepared in a certain way. I will show you what, else there is to do, Delia.”
Janice spoke in rather a grown-up way because she had had so much experience with a class of houseworkers only too willing to take advantage of her youth and inexperience.
“Isn’t that nice!” sighed Delia, with her rather, foolish smile.
Janice wondered whether the woman was making fun of her, or if she was quite as silly as she appeared. But if Delia would only do the work and do it half-way right, Janice told herself she did not care if Delia was actually an idiot. At least the new girl seemed good-natured.
And she was not all thumbs! But Janice stuffed the end of a kitchen towel into her mouth more than once to stifle her giggles when she chanced to think Of how daddy would look when he caught his first glimpse of the gigantic Delia.
When the vegetables were peeled and on the stove, and the roast was cooking in the covered roaster, Janice led Delia through the lower part of the house. She tried to explain what there was to do on the morrow when Delia would be alone all day, with daddy at business and herself at school.
“Yes, ma’am,” said Delia, after each item was explained. “And then what do I do?”
Her vacant face advertised to all beholders that she promptly forgot what she was told. One particular formula for work drove the previously explained item immediately out of Delia’s head.
“Isn’t it a nice house?” was her final whistling comment as they came back to the kitchen. “And where does this door lead?”
She opened the back kitchen door. She stared at the coal-littered floor, at the streaked and smutted walls, at the overturned chairs and a broken flower-pot or two that had come to ruin during the bombardment.
“Sure! whativer struck the place?” asked Delia in her high, squeaking voice. “What happened?”
Janice told her. Delia shook her head and slowly closed the door–slowly but firmly. “If folks will hire them Swedes, ’tis all they can expect,” was her comment.
There was a finality to this that was uncanny. Janice became sure, right then and there, that Mrs. Bridget Burns would never clear up the wreck Olga Cedarstrom had made of the back kitchen. The girl wished with all her heart that she had boxed Arlo Junior’s ears harder.
Miss Peckham, her sharp chin hung upon the top rail of the boundary fence, called Janice just before daddy came home. As the Day house was on the corner of Love Street, Miss Peckham was the nearest neighbor.
She was a weazened little woman, with very sharp black eyes, who had assumed the censorship of the neighborhood years before. Living alone with her cats and Ambrose, her parrot, Miss Peckham rigidly adhered to the harshest precepts of spinsterhood.
Even Janice could understand that Miss Peckham considered daddy not at all fit to bring up, or have the sole care of, a daughter, and that Mr. Broxton Day was not to be altogether trusted.
Miss Peckham’s nature overflowed with tenderness toward animals, and it was regarding one of her pets she now called to Janice about.
“You haven’t seen him, have you, Janice? You haven’t seen my Sam?”
“Your Sam?” murmured Janice, rather non-plussed for the moment. “You don’t mean the dog you bought of the butcher, do you, Miss Peckham?”
“No, indeed. That’s Cicero. But Sam, the cat. He’s got black and yellow on him, Janice. You’ve seen him, I know.”
And suddenly Janice remembered that she had seen him. He had been one of those cats tolled into the back kitchen by Arlo Junior. Worse than all, Sam was the cat Olga Cedarstrom had hurt with a lump of coal. She remembered that he was the last to escape when she opened the kitchen door, dragging his injured leg behind him.
How could Janice tell her of this awful thing that had happened to Sam? The poor cat had probably dragged himself off into some secret place to lick his wounds –to die, perhaps.
“You’ve seen him! I know you have, Janice Day,” cried the shrewd maiden lady. “What have you done to poor Sam?”
“Why, Miss Peckham! I haven’t done a thing to him,” declared Janice
Miss Peckham, however, had read the girl’s face aright. She saw that Janice knew something about the missing cat.
“You tell me what you know!” she stormed, her clawlike hands shaking the top rail of the fence. “I wouldn’t trust none of you young ones in this neighborhood. You are always up to some capers.”
“But really, honestly, I haven’t done a thing to your Sam,” Janice said, shrinking from telling all she knew about the injured animal.
“You know where he is?” Miss Peckham accused.
“Oh, I don’t, either.”
“When did you see him last?” probed the other, sharply.
“What time this morning?”
“Before breakfast. Early,” gasped Janice, wondering what she would say next.
“Humph! Something funny about the way you answer,” said the suspicious spinster. “where was Sam when you saw him that early?”
“Running across our back yard,” Janice gasped, telling the exact truth–but no more.
“Ha!” exploded the other, “What made him run?”
After all, Janice Day did not want to “tell on” Arlo Junior. Arlo Junior was the child of all others in the neighborhood whom Miss Peckham carried on guerrilla warfare with. She had threatened to go to the police station and have Arlo Junior locked up the very next time he crossed her path in a mischievous way.
Janice knew that Miss Peckham was a very active member of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and if she knew that Arlo Junior had been in any way connected with Sam’s injury, she would be all the more bitter toward the young rascal.
And really, after all, it was Olga Cedarstrom who had hurt the cat. But to tell Miss Peckham that, and how it all came about, would do little to pacify the spinster. So Janice kept silent. It seemed to her that she had gone about as far in the path of deceit as she could go.
“You saw him running; what made him run?” repeated Miss Peckham.
“He–he was frightened, I guess, Miss Peckham. There were other cats. It was early this morning before anybody else was up around here. The cats all ran out of our yard.”
“And I warrant you’d done something to make ’em run,” declared the tart-tongued neighbor. “Oh, I know all you young ones around here. You ain’t no better than the rest of ’em, Janice Day.”
“Oh, Miss Peckham!” murmured the girl.
“And if I find out that you done something outrageous to those cats–to my Sam, ‘specially–it’ll be the sorriest day of your life. Now, you see if ’tisn’t!”
She turned and flounced into her house. Janice came slowly back to the kitchen door where she found the new houseworker frankly listening.
“Guess she’s a sharper, ain’t she?” squeaked the woman. “Well, I won’t tell her ’bout the cats in the back kitchen. But o’ course, if folks will hire them Swede–“
CHAPTER V. FATHER AND DAUGHTER
It did seem to Janice Day at this time as though trouble after trouble was being heaped upon her young shoulders. Miss Peckham and her search for her Sam was, of course, a small matter compared to the loss of the treasure-box and the heirlooms in it.
Janice waited eagerly for daddy to come home and report on this matter; and his report, when he did come, sunk Janice’s heart fathoms deep in an ocean of despair.
“Oh, Daddy, it can’t be!” she cried, sobbing against his coat sleeve in the hall. “Olga wouldn’t be so wicked! How could she?”
“It is pretty sure that she has left town and has left no address behind her. It looks as though she had deliberately tried to efface herself from the community,” said Mr. Broxton Day slowly. “Are you sure, Janice, that the box cannot be found?”
“Oh, Daddy! I’ve looked everywhere. Dear Mamma’s picture that I loved so much! And her, diary I”
“More than that, daughter, more than that,” said her father, his own voice breaking. “I should have been more careful about allowing you to take the box. There was something else–“
“Oh, Daddy! what? I didn’t know there was a secret compartment in the treasure-box,” she added wonderingly.
“You would scarcely understand, my dear,” he told her with a heavy sigh. “It was but a shallow place. There were letters in it–letters which I treasured above everything else in the box. Letters your Mamma wrote me before you were born, when I was away from home and she thought she might never see me again. We were young, then, my dear; and we loved each other very much.”
His voice trailed away into silence. The girl, young as she was, was awed by his grief. She suddenly realized that her own sorrow over the lost treasure-box was shallow indeed beside her father’s despair.
It was some time later that she told him just how well she had searched for the missing box. She narrated, too, all the particulars of the early morning cat episode and the trouble brought about by the mischief-loving Arlo Junior, which she had been unable to tell him earlier in the day.
“It would seem, then,” Mr. Day observed, not unamused by the account of the neighbors’ boy’s practical joke, “that if Olga took the box it was on the spur of the moment. She certainly had not planned to leave us, but lost her temper and went because she was in a rage.”
“Yes, sir. I suppose so,” admitted Janice. “And she was mad at me, too. I could see she thought I had shut the cats in the back kitchen.”
“Yet Olga’s going,” said Mr. Broxton Day, still thoughtfully, “was skillfully planned–just as though she had everything arranged for it before the row this morning. Don’t just understand that.”
“Oh, Daddy! You don’t suppose Olga was one of those awful crooks we read of in the papers?”
Mr. Broxton threw back his head and laughed in his very heartiest fashion.
“Whatever else she was,” he said, finally, “I don’t think she was a lady buccaneer. Olga Cedarstrom appeared to be almost as stupid a person as I ever saw. But she was bad tempered–no doubt of that.”
“Yes, Daddy, her disposition was not very sweet,”
admitted Janice, with a sigh.
“But it looks queer,” her father pursued. “Sending for an out-of-town taxi, and all I say, daughter which way did it drive?”
“Toward town, Daddy. Right along Knight Street.”
“Humph! might have gone right through town and taken the Napsburg pike. Yet, they could have turned off at Joyce Street and got into the Dover pike. Or gone to Clewitt, or Preston. Oh, well,” finished Broxton Day, “that cab could have come from, and returned to, any one of a dozen places within a few miles of Greensboro.”
“But how do you know she was not driven right to the railroad station, as long as you are sure she did not go to Pickletown?”
“I found out,” said Mr. Day, quietly, that there isn’t a Swede in town who drives a taxi. And you say the driver was a Swede, and that it was a regular taxicab.”
“Oh, yes, Daddy. He was one of her own kind of folks. I heard them talking together when he went up for her trunk. I wish I had taken the number of that cab!” cried Janice woefully.
“Never mind. Don’t blame yourself too harshly, girly.”
“But I do blame myself, Daddy,” she cried, wiping her eyes. “Those dear pictures and the diary! And most of all mother’s miniature! Why, Daddy Day! I’d give a million dollars rather than have lost the treasure-box.”
“No use crying over the spilled milk,” he said, reflectively. “It does seem to me as though Olga was not just the sort of person who would steal–I say! You told me she telephoned for the taxi?’
“Yes. At least, she telephoned and talked to somebody over the ‘phone in Swedish.”
“You don’t say!” repeated Mr. Day thoughtfully using a Yankeeism that betrayed his birthplace if nothing else did, although he had long since come from New England to the Middle West. “Then in all probability she telephoned to a friend, and the friend sent the taxicab. I wonder if that Willie Sangreen is in this?
“I tell you!” he exclaimed finally. “In the morning I will go and see the superintendent of our telephone exchange personally. Perhaps, when I explain the case, he will tell me the number Olga called up.”
“Oh, Daddy! can you do that?”
“There is a record made of every call,” he told her. “Now don’t worry more than you can help, Janice. We’ll do something about it. Never fear.”
His encouraging “do something” was bound to cheer his little daughter. She hurried away to see if dinner was not ready, and caught Delia frankly listening at the door.
“Why, Delia, why didn’t you knock or speak?” Janice asked.
But Delia was absolutely unruffled. She drawled:
“I didn’t know but you wanted to talk to your Paw some more, and the dinner could wait.”
When, a little later, they were seated at table and Delia appeared with the first hot dishes, it must be confessed that her appearance somewhat startled Mr. Broxton Day.
Their anxiety about the lost treasure-box had precluded his having asked any questions regarding the new houseworker; her appearance was as startling as though she had come straight from a sideshow.
Janice put her napkin to her lips to hide their trembling. But her eyes danced. Daddy’s amazement was quickly smothered. He was silent, however, until Delia was out of the room again.
“What do you think of her, Daddy?” giggled the little girl.
“I certainly did not see her before hiring her. In fact, I did my business over the phone with the manager of the intelligence office. I gathered from him that
she was a woman of middle age, and “settled,” whatever that may mean. If it means that she can work and stay settled here– But what a queer looking creature! How does she seem to take hold, Janice? Does she seem intelligent?”
“I haven’t made up my mind yet,” murmured his little daughter. “She doesn’t look as though she knew anything at all. But maybe she does. You said yourself that we couldn’t have anybody worse than Olga.”
“I don’t know about that,” he retorted. “I may have to take that back. Sh! Here she comes again.”
Aside from the fact that she served cold plates for the roast and vegetables, and hot ones for the salad; that from her great height she was almost certain to spill food on the table before she got a dish set down before them; and that she kept bouncing in and out of the dining room to ask them if they were ready for dessert; she managed to get through the meal without making Mr. Day and Janice any great discomfort.
In the living room, later, when Mr. Day was in his comfortable chair and Janice had her school books spread out upon the table under the reading lamp, the father said softly:
“Well, my dear, it is not the sort of life I hoped we would lead when we built this house. Your dear mother was such a wonderful housekeeper, and could manage so well. I never had a thought or a care about the housekeeping affairs. But now–“
“I know, Daddy,” broke in Janice earnestly. “If only I didn’t have to go to school!”
“That is something that cannot even be discussed,” he rejoined, smiling at her gravely. “As I told you last night, my dear, what your mother and I planned regarding your education must be carried through if possible.”
“But college is a long way ahead,” said Janice wistfully. “And meanwhile you are not comfortable and the house is going to rack and ruin, just as Miss Peckham says.”
“Did the old girl say that?” he wanted to know, with rather a rueful smile on his lips.
“Yes. She was in here the other day and she is so nosey. She was bound to go all through house, although I did not want her to. I know it doesn’t look spick and span as it should–“
“That is not your fault, Janice,” her father said quickly. “Don’t let it worry you. You must stick to your books. And if we can get nobody better than this woman–or Olga–to help, we must expect things to be in rather bad shape about the house.
“I suppose there are good housekeepers for hire–somewhere. They certainly do not seem to be in Greensboro. And, then, I cannot afford to pay a very high wage. You see, my dear, we are not rich.”
“No, Daddy,” Janice agreed. “I quite know that. But we have enough, and to spare, I am sure.”
“So far we have managed to pull along,” he said smiling at her quizzically. “And perhaps we shall be even better off in time. I am up to my neck, as the boys say, in an investment in Mexican mines. I was able to get into it before your dear mother died, and she quite approved. Several Greensboro men have invested in the same string of mines and there is ore being got out–ore of good quality.
“But thus far there have been no dividends. Rather, we have had to put in more money for improvements. But when once we get started producing, you and I may have something like riches.”
“Oh, won’t that be nice, Daddy!” she exclaimed, wide-eyed and red-cheeked in her excitement. “To be really rich!”
“Well, we shall be able to engage somebody better fitted perhaps for the position of housekeeper,” sighed Mr. Day, turning to his newspaper again.
“That’s all right, Daddy,” she said. “But meanwhile I am going to do all I can to make things go smoother. Just as you said last night, it can only be brought about by somebody’s doing something. I’ll do something, you see if I don’t.”
She made this declaration cheerfully. But when she closed her books, kissed daddy, and went up to bed, her countenance was overcast with an expression far from cheerful.
Only the evening before she had sat here and looked her treasures over. The diary which mother had kept when she was a little girl–all the innocent little secrets she had written on the pages which Janice so delighted to read!
And the lovely miniature, with mother in the very dress she wore the evening she and Broxton Day were betrothed. Janice knew all about that. Her mother had talked freely of her courtship and of what a splendid young man daddy had appeared to be in her eyes.
Her mother’s frequently expressed admiration for the young man who came from New England to win his fortune in the Middle West was doubtless the foundation of Janice Day’s unusual fondness for her father.
That by her carelessness she should have brought about the loss of the treasure-box and those things which both she and daddy considered of such personal value, was the thought that weighed most heavily on the girl’s heart.
Without turning on her light, she went to the window and looked out into the soft spring darkness! Daddy’s letters! Mother’s miniature! The treasured old diary that Janice so loved!
Her troubled little heart overflowed. She flung herself down with her face hidden in her arms folded upon the window sill, while ungovernable sobs shook her body.
The loss of the treasure-box was a disaster for, which she could not easily forgive herself.
CHAPTER VI. THE CARRINGFORDS
Janice Day was a friendly little soul; but she was not a girl who made those close friendships that so many girls make during their schooldays. There was no one girl from whom she was almost inseparable.
Janice was just as good friends with Amy Carringford as she was with Stella Latham; only Amy had been attending the grammar school a much shorter time than had the farmer’s daughter.
Now circumstances attending Stella’s proposed birthday party caused Janice to become much better acquainted with Amy Carringford. In seeking to do something for Stella, Janice was determined to do something for Amy.
The Carringford family had taken up their residence during the winter in Mullen Lane; and it must be confessed that Mullen Lane was not considered an aristocratic part of the town. Of course, poor people have to live where living is cheap; but it was said that Mrs. Carringford, who was a widow, had bought the little cottage–not much better than a hut–in which she and her little family had taken up their dwelling.
Why people like the Carringford, manifestly well bred and intelligent, had chosen Mullen Lane to live in puzzled not only the busybodies, like Miss Peckham, of this part of Greensboro, but amazed other people as well.
Wherever Mrs. Carringford appeared–at church, Or in the neighborhood stores on Knight and Cassandra Streets–people saw that she was a well bred woman, though plainly, even shabbily, dressed.
There were several children besides Amy and the Unfortunately-named Gumswith, and they dressed poorly, too. But even if Gummy’s trousers were patched at the knees, as Stella Latham had pointed out, they were patched neatly, and his linen was fresh.
Of course, nobody called on Mrs. Carringford; at least, almost nobody. The rickety little cottage in Mullen Lane did not attract callers by its outward appearance, that was sure. That it was a shelter for a family that had been sorely tried by fate, none of the neighbors knew.
It was Janice Day, when she made a frank attempt to know Amy Carringford better, who began first to learn particulars about the Carringford family. There was not much queer or mysterious about them; merely they were people who failed to advertise their private affairs to the community at large.
Janice had gained Stella Latham’s promise that she would not tell the secret of the party dress, if Amy should consent to borrow it, before she sounded Amy as to whether she was going to accept the invitation to
the party or not. According to Stella, who was really very silly about such things, the birthday party was to be a very “dressy” affair. Stella talked about this phase of it in season and out.
First of all, Janice demanded that one of the highly ornate invitations Stella’s mother had had printed in the Greensboro Bugle printing office should be sent to Amy. There should be no hedging, Janice determined, after that. Amy was to be asked like the other girls and boys of their grade.
“But if she hasn’t got a decent dress?” murmured Stella, when she was mailing the invitation to Amy.
“I told you I’d see that she did have a party dress,” Janice said sharply. “I can’t agree to find whole trousers for Gummy,” and she giggled; “so you needn’t invite him if you don’t want to. But Amy will be all right.”
“Maybe she will be too proud to wear your dress, Janice Day!” exclaimed Stella.
“Then she won’t come,” rejoined Janice. “But you are not to tell a soul that the dress is mine, if she does wear it.”
“We-ell,” sighed Stella, somewhat relieved.
The farmer’s daughter knew that there would be much comment if she left Amy off the invitation list. She was glad to leave the matter in Janice Day’s hands. And she did not remark again, at least, not openly, upon Janice being “so sly.”
Without being at all sly, Janice did go about doing something for Amy Carringford with considerable shrewdness. She had never walked home with Amy from school. She did not like the purlieus of Mullen Lane. But this afternoon she attached herself to Amy with all the power of adherence of a mollusk, and they were chattering too fast to stop abruptly when they came to the comer of Knight Street, where usually Janice turned off.
Mullen Lane touched Love Street at its upper end, so Janice could go all the way to the Carringford house without going much out of her way. She went on with Amy, swinging her books; and at first Amy did not seem to notice that Janice was keeping with her right into the muddy, littered lane on which she lived.
“Why, Janice!” said Amy, finally, “you are away out of your way.”
“Oh, I can go up the lane to Love Street,” returned Janice carelessly, and just as though she were used to doing that.
Amy, who was a pretty, blonde girl, gazed at her companion rather curiously; but Janice was quite calm.
“That is the house where I live,” said Amy, in a changed tone, as they came in sight of the cottage.
“Oh, yes,” replied Janice.
Aside from the fact that the house needed paint and new window shutters, and a new roof, and new planks for the piazza, and numerous other things, it was not such a bad looking house. Janice noticed something at first glance: it was only things that poor people could not get or that a boy could not tinker that was needed about the Carringford house to make it neat and comfortable.
The fences were on the line, had been braced, and there were no pickets missing. The gates hung true. The walks were neatly kept and there were brilliant flower beds in front, for flower seeds cost little. What the Carringford could do to make the place homelike without spending money, had certainly been done.
“It’s an awful place to live,” ventured Amy, still gazing sidewise at Janice.
“Oh,” said the latter brightly, “you don’t mean that! You are all together and are all well.”
“Yes, there are a lot of us.” And Amy said it with a sigh. “It seems as though there were an awful lot of children, now that father’s dead.”
“Did you lose your father recently–just as I did my mother?” asked Janice softly.
“Year and a half ago. That is why we came here, There was some insurance money. Somebody persuaded mother to buy a home for us with it. I don’t know whether it was good advice or not; but she bought this place because it was cheap. And she could not pay for it all, at that; so I don’t know but we’re likely to lose the money she put into it, and the old shack, too.”
Amy spoke rather bitterly. Janice, with natural tact, thought this was no time to probe deeper into the financial affairs of the Carringfords. She saw Gummy, who was a year older than Amy, in the yard. He had got home from school first, and he stared when he saw Janice.
“Hullo, Gummy!” the latter called to the boy with the patched trousers. “What are you doing there? Are you laying sod for a border to that garden-bed?”
“No. I’m trimming an opera cloak with green ermine,” said the boy, but grinning. “What are you doing around here in Dirty-face Lane?”
“Oh, Gummy!” exclaimed Amy.
“What a name to call the street!” objected Janice.
“Well, that’s what it is,” returned the boy, continuing to pound the sod into place. “Nobody in this street ever washes his face.”
“Why Gummy Carringford!” exclaimed his sister again.
“I’m sure Amy washes her face whether you do or not,” chuckled Janice.
“Oh, me!” sniffed the boy, but his eyes still twinkling. “I’m always ‘gummy’!”
Janice’s laughter was a silver peal that brought three or four younger Carringfords, including the twins, to the side door. They peered out at their sister and the girl with her, but were bashful.
“What a jolly lot of little ones!” sighed Janice. “You know, Amy, I’m all alone. I haven’t any brothers or sisters.”
“Don’t you want to adopt me?” asked Gummy, who overheard her.
“I certainly would have to change your name,” declared Janice.
“No,” and he shook his head, his freckled face becoming grave. “Got to stick to the old name–just like gum sticks.”
“Oh, my dear, is that you?” cried Mrs. Carringford, coming to the door, her brown face flushing pink. “And one of your schoolmates?”
She came out on the porch. She had a very pleasant smile, Janice thought, and her brown eyes were as bright as a woodpecker’s.
“This is Janice Day. She’s in my class, Mother,” said Amy, rather hesitatingly, it must be confessed.
“Yes, I know her name,” said Mrs. Carringford, and now Janice was near enough to take the hand of Amy’s mother. “How do you do, my dear? I have seen you before. I am always glad to meet Amy’s school friends.”
Had it not been for the warmth of the good woman’s greeting Janice would have felt that she was unwelcome at the little cottage on Mullen Lane. Amy seemed to hang back, and not invite her schoolmate into the house.
“Here is something the postman brought you, Amy,” her mother went on briskly.
She reached inside the door to a shelf and brought forth an object that Janice recognized. It was the big white envelope containing the invitation to Stella Latham’s party.
“Hi! I know what that is,” cried Gummy, rising to look at the envelope. “Lots of the fellows got ’em. That Latham girl that lives out on the Dover pike is going to have a party. Crickey! I didn’t suppose she would invite us.”
“She hasn’t invited you I guess,” his mother told him. “It is addressed to your sister.”
“Oh! I see.”
Amy had flushed brightly, and her eyes sparkled. She was tearing open the envelope eagerly.
“Oh!” she sighed, “I didn’t expect this. Did you get yours, Janice?”
“Yes, Stella asked me. But she didn’t send out: all the invitations at once,” said Janice slowly,
“You’ll go of course, won’t you?”
Then suddenly Amy’s voice stopped. She looked at her mother. The glow went out of her face. She let one of the smaller children take the invitation out of her hand.
“I don’t know,” she said slowly. “I’ll have to see.”
“Won’t you come in, Janice?” asked Mrs. Carringford, seeking to cover her daughter’s embarrassment.
“I will for a minute, thank you,” was Janice Day’s smiling reply. “You know, I like Amy, Mrs. Carringford, and I have never been to her house before, and she has never been to mine.”
Her speech helped to cover her friend’s hesitation. Amy tripped in behind Janice and suddenly gave her a hearty squeeze.
“She’s an awfully nice girl, Mumsy!” she said to her mother.
Janice laughed. But her bright eyes were taking in much besides the smiling expression on her friends’ faces. The Carringford kitchen was like wax. Mrs. Carringford had been washing in one comer of the room, and there was a boiler drying behind the stove. But there was nothing sloppy or sudsy about the room. The woman had whisked off the big apron she had worn when Janice entered, and now the latter saw that her work dress was spotless.
“Oh, dear me!” thought Janice, “how nice it would be if our kitchen–and our whole house–were like this. How delighted Daddy would be.”
But there was something else she did not at first see. She had to get acquainted with all the younger Carringfords. She must talk with Mrs. Carringford. Gummy came in after washing his hands and rubbing his shoes clean on the doormat to talk to the caller. Then Amy carried Janice off upstairs to her own tiny room under the eaves.
There was no carpet on the stairs. The matting on the floor of Amy’s room was much worn. There was nothing really pretty in the room. Janice suddenly realized that this spelled “poverty.”
Yet it was cheerful and speckless, and there were pictures of a kind, and little home-made ornaments and a few books.
The window curtains were of the cheapest, but they were looped back gracefully. There was a workbox and stand that Gummy had made for Amy, for the brother was handy with tools.
Altogether there was something about the room, and about the ugly little house as well, that Janice Day realized she did not have at home. She had had it once; but it was not present now in the Day house. In the Carringford dwelling the magic wand of a true homemaker had touched it all.
The two girls chatted for almost an hour. It was mostly about school matters and their friends and the teachers. Amy talked, too, about friends in Napsburg, where the Carringfords had lived before moving to Greensboro. Janice was adroit in keeping the conversation on rather general topics, and did not allow the question of Stella’s party to come to the fore and never once did she speak of what any of the girls would wear on that occasion.
The time to leave came, and then Janice felt she should enter the wedge which would afterwards gain for her the desired end.
“You’ll go to Stella’s party, won’t you?” asked Janice as she prepared to go home.
“Oh, I don’t know. I’ll see,” Amy hurriedly said.
“Of course you will go,” Janice declared firmly. “I want you to go with me. I sha’n’t feel like going at all if you stay away, Amy.”
They kissed each other on the stairway, and then Janice ran home, swinging her books. She thought the Carringford were very pleasant people. But there were several mysteries about them. First of all she wanted to know how Gummy came to have such an awful, awful name!
CHAPTER VII. ARLO JUNIOR AGAIN
Just as Janice was running in at the Love Street gate she was halted by Arlo Junior. Junior kept well out of the way at first, but his tone was confident well as ameliorating.
“Aw, I say, Janice?’ he begged, “you ain’t mad at me, are you?”
“Why shouldn’t I be?” she demanded, her face flushing and the hazel eyes sparking in an indignant way.
“Well, I mean– Well, I hope you ain’t,” stammered Arlo Junior, unable entirely to smother a grin, and yet plainly anxious to pacify Janice. “You see, Janice, my mother was coming up from downtown and she Saw you whacking me the other day.”
“Yes, she saw you,” said Junior, nodding. “So I had to tell her something of what made you do it.”
“Indeed?” demanded Janice scornfully. “And what did you tell her?”
“I told her about the cats. Anyway, I told her left your back kitchen door open and that the cats got in there and fought. Oh, Je-mi-ma, how they did fight! didn’t they? I heard ’em after I got back into the house that morning,” and Junior began to giggle.
“They didn’t fight,” said Janice shortly. “What you heard was Olga pitching coal at ’em. And then she up and left us. We had to get another girl. And this new girl won’t clean up the mess in the back kitchen. That’s what you did Arlo Weeks and I’ve got to clean up that room because of you.”
“Oh, Je-mi-ma!” gasped Junior, giggling no more now. “Is that how Miss Peckham’s Sam-cat got hurt?”
“What do you know about that?” demanded Janice quickly.
“Miss Peckham’s been all over the neighborhood talking about it. She found the cat with a broken leg. Got a veterinary. Put it in a plaster cast. Did you ever?”
“Well!” murmured Janice.
“I tell you what; don’t let’s say anything about it,” begged Junior eagerly. “I tell you what I’ll do. I’ll come over Saturday and help you clean up all the mess the cats and the girl made. But don’t say a word.”
“Well,” said Janice again.
“Now you promise, Janice,” wheedled Junior. “If my mother learns all about the cat business, there will be a big row. And all I did–really–was to open that back kitchen door and then shut it again after the cats got inside.”
“They would never have gone in if you hadn’t thrown the catnip in there,” declared Janice warmly. “You know that very well, Junior.”
“Well, you won’t say anything about it, will you, Janice, if I come and clean up the kitchen?”
“Well,” said Janice for a third time, “let’s see you do it. I