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Chapter 2
Sunday, December 7.

Mrs. Hudson’s room is not yet rented. We have not even had any answers to our advertisement. The strain is beginning to tell on us all more or less, I think; and yesterday morning Hazard carried out his intention of calling at Uncle George’s office and applying for a position. I wish he hadn’t. Mother agrees with me that it was a mistake. Indeed, she was quite shocked and hurt at what she considered his lack of confidence in her. She told him very gravely that he had no right to take a step of so much consequence without her consent, and that the little he can make will in no way compensate for the loss of his education. Poor Hazey! he was so disappointed. He had expected the news would be received very differently. He did not say much, but thrust his hands deep into his trouser pockets, threw back his head, and strolled whistling from the room. I followed up to the workshop as soon as I was able, and I think he had been crying.

“Well, tell me about your position, Haze,” I began, in as sprightly tones as I could muster; for we had not heard any of the details yet.

“There’s nothing to tell,” answered Hazard, gruffly. “I’m to run errands, post letters, and that sort of thing, at three dollars a week.”

“Oh, Hazey!” I gasped, for it was a shock. Hazard is certainly clever, and we had always expected such different things for him.

“Yes,” says Haze, bitterly. “It’s Uncle George’s idea, and I suppose he knows what he is about. I gave him every opportunity, and put the matter to him squarely. There was no use in false modesty; so I told him, first thing, that I had had a year of Greek, and two years of Latin, and led my geometry class; but that we needed money at home, and so I had determined to sacrifice my future, and rent my brains at their highest market value.”

“Did you really say all that?” I asked.

“Yes, I did,” answered Hazard, a little defiantly. “Perhaps it was a mistake, but I wanted to make things plain. Uncle George didn’t answer just at first. He looked me up and down in that way he has, and then he said,—‘Young fellow, you’ve got a lot to learn yet. If any other cockerel came crowing to me in my office, I’d show him the door. Understand one thing. I haven’t any use for talent in my business’ (though I had been most particular, Elizabeth, to use the word brains). ‘Can you remember what’s told you? Can you sweep out a room, and not forget the corners? Can you jump when sent on errands? Then apply to Mr. Bridges in the outside office. I believe we’re losing a boy to-day. Perhaps you are bright enough to fill his place,—though you don’t look it.’

“Well, I applied, and got the position,” concluded Haze, “and that’s all there is to it.”

There did not seem much for me to say, since Haze was not in a mood to be grateful for platitudes. Uncle George was certainly severe, but maybe he meant it for a lesson; and from something that happened this afternoon I am tempted to think it was not entirely wasted.

We were all gathered in the workshop after dinner, Geoffrey, Ernie, and myself, wrapped in golf-cloaks and overcoats, disputing about our favourite apostles, when Haze, who had been rather subdued and “broodful” the greater part of the day, entered the room. He had a notebook under his arm.

“Going to study, Hazey?” I asked him, for he intends to keep up his Latin, and mother has promised to help.

“No,” he answered, with really appalling solemnity. “I have written my first Poem.”

“Your first What?” roars Geof.

“Poem,” admitted Haze, blushing a bit.

“My hat!” murmurs Geof. “This is so sudden! But go on, old chap. Let’s have it,—don’t mind me.”

“If you treat the matter with respect,” says Haze, suddenly on his dignity, “I’ll read it to you. Otherwise I won’t.”

“Fire ahead,” urged Geoffrey, who was simply on the qui vive to hear. “We’re as respectful as you please. We’ll listen, and then criticise.”

“No larks, mind,” warned Hazard. “According to my own ideas this is the real stuff.”

And, as we settled ourselves to attention in the flying-machine, he began, in what I can only call an “uplifted” sort of voice,—
THE YOUNG MAN AND THE WORLD.
The young man faces the stern, cold world,—
“Oyster!” he says, “O oyster!——”

There was an hysterical gurgle from Geof, and a fierce “Keep quiet, can’t you!” from Ernestine.

“I’ve told you,” says Hazard, interrupting himself to look severely over his glasses, “that it is perfectly indifferent to me whether you hear this thing or not. I don’t care a hang for your literary opinions,—and I’ll not be guyed about it.”

“Go on,” pleaded Geoffrey, with a watery, sidelong look at me. “Who’s guying you?”

So Haze began afresh,—
THE YOUNG MAN AND THE WORLD.
The young man faces the stern, cold world,—
“Oyster!” he says, “O oyster!
Open thy shell, and show me thy pearl,
Like the hidden wealth of a cloister.”
The cold world answers never a word.
The youth is bound, if he can,
To take up his pickaxe and work for himself,
Till he prove that he is a man!

“Ho! ho!” exploded Geof, unable to restrain himself a moment longer. “Pickaxe is good! That’s the way to get after ’em! Bully for you, old boy!”

“What do you think, Elizabeth?” says Hazard, haughtily ignoring this demonstration, and turning somewhat coldly to me.

“I’m not sure that you could say hidden wealth of a ‘cloister,’” I answered. “Somehow it doesn’t sound exactly historical.”

“‘Oyster!’ he says, ‘O oyster!’” murmured Geof.

Whereat Ernie, who had controlled herself beautifully up to that moment, gave vent to one enthusiastic whoop, and disappeared backward into the flying-machine.

“I see,” says Hazey, with really magnificent aplomb, “that I have made a mistake. You are not in the proper mood to appreciate the thing. But whatever other criticisms you may make, at least you’ll be bound to admit that it Sums the Situation.” With which remark he stalked from the room.

Dear, precious fellow! Evidently he has been thinking,—but, why, oh why, will he always take himself so seriously?
Monday, December 8.

This afternoon mother let Robin up in the big wicker rocking-chair in the nursery window. He was so glad, poor darling;—for he has spent the last three days in bed.

The street was full of snow; and the boys were having a fine time with their shovels, their sleds, and a small black-and-tan terrier which pranced here and there, yapping excitedly. Two of the taller fellows were busy making a path in front of their house; a little chap with glowing cheeks and a red cap had improvised a slide on the half-cleared pavement; while others were engaged in a brisk snowball fight.

Bobsie, pale but delighted, watched everything with eager approbation.

“That’s the smartest dog!” he cried. “His name is Buster. Come and see, Elizabeth. If he thinks they’re going to hit him with a snowball, he’ll run away,—but, if he thinks they’re going to hit somebody else, he’ll just stand and bark and wag his tail. You can’t fool Buster!”

“How do you know his name?” I asked.

“Pooh!” boasted Bobs, “that’s easy;—for a person who looks out of windows as much as me. I know all the boys’ names, too, and where they live, and whether they have sisters. I pertend that they are my friends, and that I’m out there playing with them. You can hardly tell the difference, sometimes! We have such fun.”

“I’m glad you do, darling,” I answered. “Which game do you like best to play?”

“Oh, that depends on the time of year,” answered Robin, judicially. “I’ve watched, until I know all about it. In summer there is Cat and Prisoner’s Base; when fall comes we have football in the corner lot, and some of us wear noseguards; then there’s snowballing and sliding all winter; and in the spring, marbles, again. Only, John an’ me don’t play for keeps, because our mothers wouldn’t like it.”

“Which is John?” I asked.

“He’s the little one with the red cap, who’s sliding,” answered Robin. “I like him best, because he is such a kind boy. Why, one day, Ellie, when my legs ached so I couldn’t pertend to go out, even for a few minutes, John was the only one who missed me! The others kept right on playing:—but he stopped all of a sudden, and looked up at the window, and smiled. So now I’ve taken him for my chum:—wouldn’t you?”

“Yes, honey,” I answered. “I think he must be a very nice little boy.”

“He is,” agreed Robin, proudly. “The day we broke the baker’s window, an’ the cop chased us, John ran faster than anybody. Of course, it was easy for me. All I had to do was to pertend to dodge in here and slam the door quick!... But watch! we’re going to give Buster a ride, now. Isn’t that fun?”

The black-and-tan terrier seemed to think it was. He kept his place well in the middle of the sled, tail up, tongue lolling, while two of the boys seized the rope and, followed by the others, made madly off,—the gay cavalcade disappearing noisily around the corner.

Robin dropped back among his pillows with a disappointed little sigh.

“I’m sorry they’ve gone so soon,” he said; “because, you see, I can’t pertend to play, ’cepting only on this block.” Then he laid his cheek up against my arm. “Sometimes those little boys must be sick, too, mustn’t they?” he asked. “And I guess it’s pretty hard then, for they aren’t used to it like me. There’s a lot in being used to a thing, isn’t there, Ellie dear?”

Oh, if we could only feel that Robin was growing stronger! I pray for it every night, and so do mother, and Haze, and Ernie, I know;—and we “pertend” to think that he is, and tell each other that it is because of the cold weather he feels wretched so much of the time:—but, in our secret hearts—— Well, the doctor has ordered a new kind of cod-liver oil. It is very nasty, and costs eighty-five cents a bottle. Perhaps it will do Robin good!
Wednesday, December 10.

Ernie has distinguished herself again. How can she be so naughty, and never mean any harm! This time Geoffrey is implicated, too, but I can only do justice to the affair by constructing it from the beginning, piecing together the details as we learned them in yesterday evening’s soul-thrilling confessional.

It seems that the two children were bitterly disappointed a week ago Tuesday when they searched the cuckoo-clock for the lost contract, and found nothing more exciting than a deserted mouse’s nest.

“I call it a giddy sell,” remarked Ernie, so near to tears that Geof was honestly concerned. “No matter how good you try to be, nor how much you try to help, everything turns against you.”

“Oh, cheer up,” said Geoffrey. Ernie never looks more bewitching than when her blue eyes swim behind a veil of suspended woe. “What’s the good of worrying, Bunnie?”

“I guess you’d worry,” returned Ernie, dolefully, “if Georgie were sick, and your family were poor, and you were responsible for making them more so! It’s all very well to say ‘cheer up,’ Geoffrey Graham, and I’m sure I do most of the time, but this afternoon I want to do something really useful.”

“Well then, see here,” says Geof, a bright idea striking him all of a sudden. “I’ve got a plan. Come up to the workshop again, where we won’t be interrupted, and I’ll tell you.”

“Is it something in which I can help?” asked Ernie, doubtfully.

“It’s a pretty big undertaking,” answered Geof, closing the workshop door mysteriously. “I don’t believe a girl has ever been concerned in such an affair before;—but, see here, why shouldn’t you and I together perfect Uncle Dudley’s flying-machine?”

“Geoffrey!” cried Ernie, with sparkling eyes. “Could we? truly, do you think?”

“I don’t see why we shouldn’t,” answered Geof, seriously. “I’ve thought a lot about the matter, without supposing I’d ever have the chance to put it to the test. I’ve taken the motor out, and examined it. It is certainly a stunner; and the steering apparatus seems simple enough. You say Uncle Dudley really made one ascension?”

“Not exactly,” qualified Ernie. “The machine didn’t rise any distance at all. Father was dreadfully disappointed. But later he cheered up and said there was just one little detail that stood between him and ‘a complete solution of the problem of a?rial navigation.’ I remember his very words, and how excited we all were.”

“That is what I have always understood,” answered Geof. “Uncle would have perfected the thing if he had lived long enough. It’s magnificent to contemplate,—and a beastly shame to think of the fruits of his genius lying up here rusting in a totally unknown attic! Why can’t you and I take the matter up where he left it, find out the root of the trouble,—just one little detail, you say,—and let Mr. Perry and his old dump-carts go hang?” It isn’t often that Geof waxes eloquent. When he does he is worth listening to.

“We can! we can!” jubilated Ernie, clapping her hands. “Oh, Geof, it’s a splendid scheme! Why has no one thought of it before?”

“I have thought of it, often,” answered Geoffrey; “but somehow, up to to-day, it seemed impossible. What you’ve just told me throws an entirely new light on the matter, and I think we are justified at least in trying.”

“And if we don’t succeed,” says Ernie, “nobody need know anything about it.”

“That’s so,” answered Geof. “We’ll have to do a lot of hard studying and thinking, and we’ll keep the thing a deadly secret;—but I tell you, if we do make it go, it will be worth while!”

And so the conspirators set to work. For a week they ransacked father’s library, reading up on a?ronautics generally, studying every pamphlet and authority they could lay their hands on. There was one thing that especially confused them. Each man supported a “totally different theory,” as Ernie plaintively complained. It was extremely trying, especially as dear father had worked almost entirely in his head, leaving very few directions or specifications to guide them to the right trail. At last Geof declared that he thought they would never get anywhere through books; that their one hope lay in practical experiment. Ernie quite agreed with him, and after that they spent hours in the airship, mastering as they supposed the intricate details of motor, steering apparatus, and machinery. Geoffrey even discovered what he considered a slight error in the automatic system of shifting weights. Finally, last Saturday morning, behind closed doors, the motor was taken out and started up. It ran like a dream. They came to the bold conclusion that nothing remained to hinder an experimental ascension!
And so the conspirators set to work

All this time it must be understood mother and I had not the faintest suspicion as to what was going on. We knew that there was “a secret” in the workshop, “a beautiful surprise for the family.” Just how great a surprise, however, we neither of us dreamed.

Yesterday afternoon was the time set for the ascension. How the two children managed alone to raise the heavy machine from the workshop floor to the roof by means of the trap-door and pulleys father had used in the previous experiment will always remain a mystery. But they did! At last it stood among the chimney-pots, with rakish sails and scarred sides, looking for all the world like “a tipsy eagle-bird,” as Ernie enthusiastically declared. Even by this time neither of the little idiots seems to have had the least realisation of what it was they were attempting. On the contrary, they were quite wild with the frolic and excitement of the thing.

Geof straightened out the sails, and opened the man?uvre valve. Tick-tock, sounded the motor. The framework quivered response.

“Hold on there,” shouted Geoffrey, as he ran to attach the short length of anchor line to a hook in the stone coping at the front of the roof. “Don’t get in yet, Ernie. The place in the middle belongs to me. I’ve got to manage the steering gear.”

“All right,” Ernie answered, climbing over the side, nevertheless. “I’m just looking to see which of these levers starts her.”

And then,—no one will ever know how it happened, Geoffrey had his back turned, Ernie can’t explain,—there was a whiz, a whirr, deep in the interior regions of the old airship, a sudden tug on the mooring-line that sent Geof sprawling into the tin gutter, and with a swoop, entirely unprecedented, I believe, in the whole history of a?rial ascensions, the apparatus had risen, perhaps some twenty feet! The voyage was begun. Ernie, alone in the flying-machine, circled and jibed above the chimney-pots!

Geof, regaining his feet, made one desperate grab for the safety-line. It slipped through his fingers, and swung to the left,—just out of reach beyond the stone coping.

“Aunt Peggy! Aunt Peggy!” he then bawled with such a panic of woe in his voice that mother, who had been sewing on Ernie’s new school-dress in the nursery while I read aloud to her and Robin from Tanglewood Tales, dropped her work to the floor and fled up the attic stairs.

I followed at top speed. Geof’s face, thrust on a long neck through the trap-door in the roof, stared whitely down upon us. His eyes and mouth were wide. He looked for all the world like a terror-stricken gargoyle.

“Ernie!” he gasped. “She got away from me. She’s flying!”

“Geoffrey!” says mother, stern as any Spartan, “are you mad?”

“No! no!” protested Geof. “Put your head out the window. You’ll see her! I tried to hold her down, but——”

“The flying-machine!” I cried, with one distraught, comprehensive look about the dismantled workshop.

At that moment a clamour rose to us from the street below.

“Have yez got er license?” bawled an infuriated Irish voice. “Come down out ov thot. I arr-rest yez!”

“It’s only a kid girl,” sang a shrill chorus of gamins. “I seen her petticoats!”

In another instant mother and I were on the roof, straining over the stone coping. Some fifteen feet below us, about on a level with the nursery window now, sailed Ernie. She sat quite rigid in the car, which laboured and beat a curiously straight course between the two rows of houses directly down the middle of the street. We could hear the tick-tock of the motor and the excited comments of the crowd.

“Ernie!” I cried. “Oh, Ernie!”

Ernie’s pallid countenance was raised to us.

“Good-bye, mother dear!” she wailed in plaintive crescendo. “Give my pinky ring to Mary Hobart, and——”

Mother turned. For a moment I thought she was going to jump off the roof. But instead she sped, Geof and I at her heels,—it wasn’t running, it wasn’t flying,—down the ladder through the workshop, down two flights of stairs to the second story, where, throwing up a window, she reached out in a vain attempt to grasp the short length of dangling anchor-line. But already it was too late. The car and the crowd had passed by.

“This is terrible!” we gasped, and fled for the street.

Here high comedy reigned rampant, if any one had been in a mood to appreciate the fact. Two policemen, one stout and red-faced, the other tall and thin, beat down the block, their eyes aloft, bawling impossible directions. A butcher’s boy, followed by a gang of enthusiastic street urchins, had clambered to the roof of his cart, and moving slowly along directly beneath the labouring machine, rose ever and again in a series of ungainly but agile leaps, clutching hopefully at the surrounding atmosphere. In the area-ways, and gathered on the neighbouring stoops, were groups of excited people. Rose, escaped from the kitchen, had climbed the hydrant in front of our house, where, supported by Mrs. Hancock, she maintained a perilous equilibrium, the while she waved a red cotton lunch cloth and bellowed,—

“Whar yer boun’ fer, Miss Ernie? Fer de Law’s sake tell us whar yer boun’ fer?”

While Miss Brown, her head wrapped in her pink knitted shawl, ran back and forth, clucking like a distraught hen.

“Is she any relation to you, mum?” the red-faced policeman demanded of mother, jerking his thumb severely skyward as he spoke.

“My daughter,” came the distracted response.

“Then call her down,” commanded the minion of the law. “Oi can’t have such goin’s-on on my beat!”

“She doesn’t know how to manage the machine,” mother said. “At any moment it may fall with her. What is to be done?”

“Hi, Bill! ring in an al-lar-rum,—fer the hook-an’-ladder comp’ny, and an amberlance!” shouted the policeman to his mate at the corner.

At the same moment the airship, as if instinct with demoniacal life, ceased for an appreciable instant its laboured progress, began to nose the air uncertainly, and then in a short series of jerky swoops rose, again and again, to an altitude of some hundred feet or so. There it poised, came about in its sweep, rose once more, and finally began to settle with steadily increasing velocity.

We stood spellbound. One could literally hear the breathing of the crowd. The suspense was too horrible. Ernie—our darling Ernie! Could nothing be done to save her?

“’Ware below there!” shouted the taller of the two policemen.

And just then the bow of the ship grazed the roof of the corner house past which it was dropping. There sounded a familiar tick-tock. The machine started off in a new direction, bumping along the house-fronts, till finally with a shock of tearing wood and a crash of splintered glass it succeeded in bunting its way half through a second-story window, midway of the block. Where it lodged!

A distinct gasp of relief escaped from the crowd,—followed by a feebly started cheer, which rose and swelled in volume as with clang of bell and clatter of flying hoofs the hook-and-ladder company swung round the corner of the street and bore down upon us.

The next few moments passed for me in a confused sort of dream. When I finally came to myself I found that I was sitting on the lowest step leading up to the house in the window of which the airship was lodged. Miss Brown sat beside me, firmly clasping her own hand, the while she murmured,—

“We mustn’t faint, my love. We mustn’t! If your dear mother can stand the strain, everybody else should gladly!”

The firemen and policemen were gathered in an official group in the gutter, and around them sported and pranced a delighted bunch of street-boys. Mother had disappeared.

In another moment the house door opened, and a whitecapped maid came down the stairs to say to me,—

“Your mamma wishes you to go home to your little brother now, miss. The young lady is quite safe inside. They will follow when the crowd has gone. My! what a fright we’ve had. That there flying-airship-machine not only broke the window, but tore out the sash! I thought it was Judgment Day.”

Well, somehow I managed to get home, where I clasped trembling little Robin in my arms.

“What has happened, Ellie?” he sobbed.

“Ernie went flying, honey,” I answered, and looked at the clock. The whole incident had passed in exactly thirteen minutes! If I had not the evidence of my own eyes I should never believe it.

Finally the excitement subsided. The crowd gradually dispersed. Ernie, in a quelled and chastened frame of mind, her hand clasped tight in mother’s, returned.

They brought sad news of the flying-machine. It seems that while the policemen and hook-and-ladder crew still stood discussing the best method of bringing it down,—perhaps some three minutes after my departure from the scene,—the motor again started up, the car took a last fatal leap backward, and fell two stories to the street,—where it was shattered into so much kindling wood. Which goes to show just how much we have to be thankful for!

“Oh dear!” grieved Ernie, plaintively. “Who could have suspected our surprise would turn out so! Where’s Geoffrey? Has anybody seen him?”

It appeared upon investigation that Geof had been to the basement-door to inquire “if all were well within.” He was very white and wild-looking, Rose said, and seemed ashamed to come in.

I should have liked it better if he had come and faced mother on the spot; but instead he sneaked off home,—Geof is certainly a queer fellow in some ways,—and that evening confessed the whole affair to Uncle George, asking for money to pay whatever damages we are responsible for, and legal protection for himself and Ernie. For he imagined that they were in some way publicly liable, and might be arrested at any moment.

Uncle George was very angry, the more so since any display of inventive activity on Geoffrey’s part is extremely distasteful to him. He called upon mother this morning to acquire further details, and remarked with a flourish of his cane that he had “thrashed Geof soundly.”

Uncle George is always primitive, and generally mother disapproves of his methods; but this time she returned, with a flash of her maternal eye, that “it was just what Geoffrey needed.” Nevertheless, she herself believes in what might be called “reformatory” punishments. So Ernie took her dinner in bed last night, where she would have plenty of time to think, while we answered the questions of the boarders, and Haze interviewed quite a string of enterprising reporters on her behalf! He really managed rather well, I fancy, and finally convinced them that there was not much of a “story.”

The matter, however, did not end there for Ernie; for this afternoon when she came home from school mother called her into the nursery, and pointing to the pretty plaid dress on which she had been working when the excitement began, remarked,—

“My dear, since you are so anxious to be helpful I shall let you finish your dress yourself. The material is cut, and the lining basted. I will give whatever directions you may need, but dressmaking is not nearly so difficult an art as the construction of flying-machines. Besides, if you are busy with your needle, I shall not worry about you.”

Poor Ernie! her face was a study. She simply hates sewing. “It makes her toes prick,” she says. Also, it will mean giving up all her playtime for weeks to come, and she must be careful and not botch, since she will have to wear the result of her labours.

On the whole, I think her punishment was even more severe than Geoffrey’s. But neither of the culprits complains. Rather they glide about the house in such a beatific state of Christian humility that one knows it cannot last.

“I don’t believe in hitting a fellow when he’s down,” remarked Haze to me this evening. “But I’m glad they realise what they’ve done. Apart from the frightful publicity of the thing, I miss the flying-machine. There is nothing to keep the draughts off my head at night, and the workshop is not what it was!”


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