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Chapter 6
Tuesday, January 6.

Oh, dear! I am tired to-night. I have been ironing all day,—and I’m only seventeen.
I stood in the kitchen doorway and listened
Sunday, January 11.

You haven’t any idea how poor we are. It is half funny and half terrible,—trying to keep house for a family of six people on seven dollars a week! Just at first it did not seem impossible. There was a false impetus, so to speak; coal in the cellar, coffee, oatmeal, flour, etc., in the kitchen cupboard. For a while we were even able to keep up a semblance of our usual table, and Miss Brown did not seem to suspect. But she must find out soon. Will she leave us when she knows? What shall we do, if she does? Each meal is a crisis. I grow quite white and shaky before sounding the bell.

Mother still refuses to draw anything from the bank, and we can’t borrow of Uncle George, either; because he was so hateful after the Hancocks left, and said things about father that it will be hard to forgive. If we had Haze’s salary, we might advertise the rooms more often;—but, as things stand, it is impossible, on account of that dreadful dollar.

Why did he have to lose so much money,—dear Haze,—when he had made such sacrifices to earn something, just for us? Why did Mrs. Hudson have to go, and the Hancocks, too? Oh, I do try to be brave; but to-night I feel rebellious,—and worried! I don’t dare go to bed, though Ernie has been asleep this last half-hour. I wish I were more like her,—hopeful and full of expedients.

“The one thing that will do this family any good,” she remarked the other morning, as she stood in the dining-room window waiting for the postman to come down the block,—“is a legacy. I have given up all hope of the Dump-Cart Contract. It simply can’t be found. But why shouldn’t a rich relation, of whom we’ve never heard, die and leave us his wealth? Such things have been known to happen.”

And now, absurdly, we are all expecting it! Even mother starts at the sound of the familiar whistle, and some one of us rushes breathless to the door to glower through the letters that are handed in. Heaven knows why!—for we haven’t any rich relation except Uncle George. I suppose it just shows how desperate we are.

Saturday is pay-day, and we younger ones have acquired the habit of gulping our breakfast on that particular morning, and leaving the table as expeditiously as possible; so as to give Miss Brown, who is very delicate where money matters are concerned, an early opportunity to settle.

“Will she do it? will she say she is going to leave?” we whisper anxiously to one another, as we hang over the basement banisters. And Haze can’t make up his mind to go downtown till he knows.

Yesterday morning we had a dreadful fright. Miss Brown came down a little late. Her expression was troubled, almost severe. When she put her pocket handkerchief into her lap, we made sure that her purse was not concealed, as usual, among the folds.

“May I be excused, mother dear?” piped Ernie,—though she had only just begun her oaten-meal. “I want to go up to the nursery and sit with Robin.”

Haze and I followed as quickly as we could, and then the waiting began. It seemed as if mother and Miss Brown would never be done. We could hear their voices in low, earnest discussion.

“Gosh!” exclaimed Hazard. “The game is up.”

But it wasn’t. Miss Brown had had facial neuralgia during the night. She was asking mother for remedies. She could not make up her mind whether it would be wise to put off the shopping trip that she had planned. Her purse was with her as usual. Saved again!

And the funny thing is, once we get those seven dollars, we feel quite rich for a few hours, mother and I.—

“What shall we have for to-morrow morning’s breakfast?” one asks the other magnificently. “I notice that grape-fruit are selling two for twenty-five cents.”

“Scallops would make a nice change,” comes the cheerful reply. “Grape-fruit, scallops, and corn-muffins!”

Not that we ever commit ourselves to any such extravagance; but the little flight is exhilarating, and the final compromise on oranges and fish-cakes not too abrupt. It is true,—we are fed from day to day like the sparrows. If we can only wait and have patience, I suppose things will come out right in the end. And I said that I wanted to be good this year. Well, I believe I could be on ten dollars more a week.
Friday, January 16.

This afternoon a lady called to look at rooms.

She had a little girl with her, perhaps a couple of years older than Robin. She said that she had been recommended to us,—by Mrs. Hudson!

Ernie let them in, and galloped upstairs to tell mother. You can imagine our excitement.

“Hush!” whispered Ernie, as she and I crouched behind the half-closed nursery door, listening with all our ears. “She told me the location was what she wanted. Oh, Elizabeth! Elizabeth!”

At that moment the lady swept on her way downstairs.

“The terms seem reasonable enough,” we heard her observe, “and the room is sunny and pleasant. I should want a comfortable cot placed in it for Lilian,”—the little girl. “You have children of your own, Mrs. Graham?” Then, stopping in the lower hall,—

“Is that an invalid chair?” she asked, abruptly.

“Yes,” returned mother. “It belongs to my little son;—he is not at all well this winter.”

“And his trouble?” There was no hint of sympathy in the question.

“Hip complaint,” replied mother. “Robin has not been strong since he was a baby.”

“In that case, I am sorry, but it will be impossible to engage the room,” came the unexpected reply. “Lilian is a very sensitive child,—and, naturally, my first consideration. I make it a rule to shield her from every depressing influence. Let me see,—there are three other places on our list. If we hurry, we can make time to visit them this afternoon. Good-day, Mrs. Graham.” The door closed sharply on our prospective boarders.

And this on a Friday,—the bluest day in the week!

Mother’s face was quite white and stern as she came upstairs.

“If you will get dinner, Elizabeth, I’ll stay with Robin,” she said. And she took Bobsie in her arms, and carried him tenderly to the big rocker in the window, while Ernie and I crept, mouse-like, from the room.

“One might have known she was a friend of Mrs. Hudson,” remarked Ernie, vindictively, as we reached the foot of the basement stairs. “Depressing influence, indeed! I’d like to depress her precious Lilian for her!”

“Oh, Ernie,” I sighed. “It would have meant fifteen dollars more each week!”

We were to have beefsteak for dinner. Mother had gone around earlier in the afternoon to a cheap little butcher shop (we can’t afford our old tradesmen any longer), and bought two pounds,—spending our last forty cents. There were four potatoes in the oven, a few beans on the top of the stove,—but no bread.

“Mother shan’t be disturbed,” I cried. “I’ll run around to the baker’s, myself, and get a loaf. I’ll say that I left my purse at home (which will be perfectly true, and, under the circumstances, eminently sensible!) and that they can charge it. Keep an eye on the steak, Ernie, and the fire. I’ve just put on a couple of sticks of wood.”

“All right,” answered Ernie, from where she sat on the table, dejectedly swinging her legs and muttering over an open Geography. “I’ll watch it.”

Yet when I returned from my errand some few moments later it was to find the kitchen full of smoke. In the middle of the floor pranced Ernie, frantically blowing upon a smutty and spluttering gridiron, while the red flames leapt hungrily through the open top of the stove.

“What have you done?” I cried, snatching the gridiron from Ernie’s blackened fingers. “That steak is burned to a cinder! It’s Friday night. There isn’t any more money. Do you realise what this means?”

“Oh dear! oh dear! I was bounding the British Isles!” wailed Ernie. “And the fire didn’t come up,—till all of a sudden everything began to blaze! Of course, I realise, Elizabeth. Can’t we scrape it, or something?”

“No,” I answered, transferring the hopelessly charred bit of steak to the big blue platter. “It is burned quite through,—and to-morrow is Saturday. How can we expect Miss Brown to keep on paying seven dollars a week,—once she finds out that we are unable to feed her?”

“Then chop off my head and boil it for her old dinner,” sobbed Ernie, entirely overcome by this last, unlooked-for disaster, for which she could not but hold herself responsible. “Nobody’d miss it,—about the house, I mean,—and they used to eat such things once,—in the British Isles!”

“What is the matter?” asked mother, entering the kitchen at this moment with Robin’s tray, and looking from one tragic-faced daughter to the other. “Has anything new happened?”

“The steak is burned,” I explained, briefly. “There are only beans and four potatoes left for dinner.”

“Chop off my head,” reiterated poor little Ernie. “I deserve it. I was bounding the British Isles,—and forgot to watch. I wish, I wish that I’d never been born!”

And then it was that mother “rose,” buoyantly, unexpectedly, as she can always be depended upon doing, if only the situation is desperate enough.

“Never mind, darlings,” she cried, with an airy little laugh. “Why,—it’s nothing but a beefsteak, after all. We’ll buy another!”

“Another!” I gasped, as if mother were contemplating the purchase of a diamond tiara.

“Another!” wondered Ernie.

“Certainly,” returned mother, quite as though it were the most natural thing in the world she was proposing. “And some pickles, because Miss Brown enjoys them,—and perhaps some chocolate creams!”

“But, mother,” I remonstrated. “It’s Friday night! We have spent our last penny. You surely are not going to borrow of Uncle George,—after the things he’s said!”

“No,” denied mother, succinctly. “There can be no compromise on that score. On the contrary, we’ll reap a little belated benefit from one of dear father’s follies.”

And she led the way to the library (Ernie and I following in a state of stunned but admiring bewilderment), and selected a large, handsomely bound volume from the lowest shelf of the old mahogany bookcase:—

“It is Picturesque Europe,” mother explained. “And your father paid six dollars for it, because the agent was a young widow with pathetic blue eyes, who assured him it would be of invaluable assistance in broadening Hazard’s mind. Haze was two years old at the time, and nobody has read it since;—but it is going to be of some use, at last, and help us to another dinner!”

So she and Ernie hustled into their things, and hurried around the block to the little second-hand bookshop where father used to snoop in happy by-gone days;—and when they returned Ernie was quite beaming and rosy again; for they brought three pounds of steak with them, instead of two, as well as a jar of pickles, and a pound of chocolate creams,—which last was nothing more nor less than a blatant extravagance, and put us all into uproarious spirits for the rest of the evening. And though Mrs. Hudson’s friend was certainly horrid, and it is hard to be so poor that the singeing of a beefsteak threatens dire calamity,—just think how splendid it is to have such a wonder of a mother!

Yes, Haze and I are agreed, there are compensations in every lot.
Wednesday, January 21.

We have formed ourselves into a secret society,—Haze, Ernie, and I. It is called “The Magnanimous Do-Withouts,” and this is the way it happened:

There is never enough to go round at our table any more, though the lowest shelf of the old mahogany bookcase is beginning to show some quite distressing gaps, and naturally Miss Brown has to be helped first and most liberally to everything. What she does not get is just about enough for three,—and, unfortunately, there are five of us.

“It wouldn’t make so much difference,” complained Ernie the other evening, “if only things could be managed with a little more fairness and system. I look fat, I know; but that does not prevent my growing hungry, and I’m tired of pretending that I have no appetite, and being threatened with Robin’s tonic! Good gracious,—I’d like to know what would happen if mother did give it to me! I only refused macaroni this evening because I knew Haze wouldn’t; and if we both took it, there would be nothing left for you. Was it very good, Elizabeth?”

“Yes,” I admitted. “It was nice, dear.”

“And filling?” questioned Ernie. “Of course, I’m sure Haze doesn’t intend to be mean. He has a cough, and a habit of looking sort of pathetic, which takes awfully well with mother; but, all the same, it wouldn’t hurt him to notice, and deny himself something once a week,—now would it?”

“You must remember the wretched luncheons he has, Ernie,” I said.

“But he eats them in St. Paul’s churchyard,” retorted Ernie. “A very pleasant spot. And reads the old epitaphs, and goes in to look at the windows afterward.” Then she poured a little of Robin’s milk into a saucer for Rosebud, and set it down on the hearth.

“No,” she soliloquised. “It isn’t fair, and I’m not going to stand it.”

The following day it happened that we were to have lamb stew with barley for dinner. It set on the back of the stove and simmered gently all the afternoon, while every now and again an appetising whiff would be wafted to the dull cold nursery, where Ernie, Mary Hobart, and Robin were gathered about the sewing table in the window playing “Old Maid” and “Tommy-Come-Tickle-Me.” The tip of poor little Ernie’s nose was quite red, her hands were numb and chilly as she dealt the cards. She did not feel in the least convivial. Indeed, she confessed to me later, that, judging from the symptoms going on inside her, she supposed she must be starving, and had only a few hours more to live.

Robin also was restless and inattentive; but Mary Hobart, having lunched comfortably at home, thoroughly enjoyed the game.

“Let’s have another deal,” she cried. “I’ve been Old Maid three times! It’s a shameful slander, and I shan’t go home till my luck changes. Cut, Ernie!”

“It’s getting pretty dark,” hinted Ernie, glancing through the window at the beaconing streetlights. “Won’t your mother worry?”

“Oh, no,” returned Mary, disappointingly. “She knows where I am, and expects me to be late.”

So Robin and Ernie played politely and hungrily on (that stew did smell so good,—um-m!) till at last the gong sounded, and Mary was obliged to go. But even then Ernie must help her into coat and hat, before she could scamper down to join the family in the dining-room.

“Will you have a little stew, Hazard dear?” mother was asking, as Ernie slipped with watchful eyes into her belated place. I had already been served. There were probably three spoonfuls left in the platter. The case was desperate. Ernie, realising this, leaned tragically over, and gave one swift, violent kick beneath the table.

There resounded a smothered shriek from Miss Brown. The warning had miscarried!

“Oh, I beg your pardon!” cries Ernie. “It was Hazard I meant to kick!”

“What in thunder!” retorted Haze. Then, in a sudden burst of hurt enlightenment,—“Ernie, you are a pig! I wasn’t going to take any of your old stew.”

Mother quietly helped the two combatants, apologised to Miss Brown for Ernie’s “awkwardness,” and dined upon dry bread herself. It was later in the kitchen that we gave Haze a talking to,—Ernie and I. He was very repentant, said he really had not noticed the scarcity before (!), and thought Ernie’s idea of a “system” excellent. So the society was organised. We are to take turns saying we do not care for things:—meat, vegetables, or pudding, as the case may be. But,—would you believe it?—this noon at luncheon Miss Brown actually refused a fishcake, remarking that she believed she was suffering from “a slight plethora”!

Perhaps she has suspected all along?—perhaps we need not worry as we do each Saturday morning? Oh, if this is true, what a trump she has been! For she talks politics and the latest novel in the most natural manner in the world, neither complains nor criticises, and seems quite oblivious to our many and obvious shortcomings,—the prim, generous, tactful darling!
Saturday, January 24.

We have had to give Rosebud away, and Ernie and Robin are quite heartbroken. It was because he drank so much of Robin’s milk.

“It seems pretty hard to have to regard a kitten as an extravagance!” muttered Ernie, rebelliously, as she sat in the coal-scuttle this morning, clasping Rosebud to an indignant brown gingham bosom. “Who’s going to tell Bobs, I’d like to know? It’s all very well for mother to say we can’t afford it. There are some things that people ought to afford.”

“He’ll be very happy with Mary Hobart, dear,” I coaxed. “And you know he is growing up, and has an enormous appetite; and he won’t even try to catch mice,—except Robin’s white ones,—and milk is eight cents a quart! Don’t make it any harder for mother. She feels it as much as any of us.”

“Of course, Mary will be delighted,” continued Ernie, bitterly; “and I’ll have to lie, and say it is because we want to make her a handsome present. Chums are pretty disappointing, sometimes,—and I can’t understand Geof, Elizabeth! A boy who has three dollars a week pocket-money could certainly afford to offer to buy a little cat-meat once in a while. Not that we’d let Geoffrey do it, of course; but it would be nice to feel that he wanted to. He used to be so sweet and sympathetic when I was in trouble; and he hardly seems to notice, any more. Why,—he’s not been in to see me for over a week!”

“Perhaps he is busy at school,” I answered. “I’d be glad to think Geof was really studying in earnest.”

“Oh, it isn’t that,” returned Ernie. “He has extra tutoring, I know; but he shirks it whenever he gets the chance, and slips off to keep some appointment with that horrid Jim Hollister and Sam Jacobs. They are not the kind of fellows he ought to go with.” Then, with a swift return to the more immediate and poignant woe,—“Dear Rosebud! dear pussy! It’s too ridiculous,—being so poor one can’t afford to keep a kitten!”

That was the part we found next to impossible to explain to Robin.

“I don’t know what you mean,” he sobbed, after the first outburst of violent grief was over. “I like Rosebud to drink my milk, Elizabeth. It’s good for him.”

“But it’s good for you, too, Bobsie dear,” I said. “And you are sick, and Rosebud isn’t. Mother can’t afford to buy more than one quart a day,—you know that.”

“What’s ‘afford’?” questioned Robin.

“It means that we haven’t the money. We are poor, dear.”

Robin looked at me out of wondering tear-wet eyes. “Poor?” he echoed;—“like the people in stories? Oh, Ellie!”

Then he sighed, and soothed my hand, and was very sweet and patient all the rest of the afternoon. He even bade good-bye to Rosebud with fond stoical precision, patting the kitten on the head, and remarking: “It is best that we should part!” Dear, loving, little fellow! I really believe the information came to him as quite a shock. But fancy his having to be told!

When Haze came up from tending the furnace to-night his face was even more care-lined and anxious than usual.

“How much is there left?” I asked,—the inevitable question.

“If we’re careful it may last till the middle of next week,” returned Hazard, grimly. “Then, I suppose, we’ll begin pawning the spoons. Odd world,—hey?”

Certainly, it is hard for Hazey. One can’t blame him for occasional bitterness. He is working faithfully and well in uncongenial surroundings, and has not had a cent of pay for weeks; while Geof, who is showered with the very advantages for which Haze so ardently longs, seems sullenly determined to make no use of them. Oh, the contrast is cruel! But mother says the struggle is bringing out a new manliness and self-reliance in Haze that are a daily surprise and joy to her. Roses again,—dear mother!

But something had better hurry up and happen soon!
Wednesday, January 28.
He thought he saw a Banker’s Clerk
  Descending from the ’bus;
He looked again, and found it was
  A Hippopotamus.
“If this should stay to dine,” he said,
  “There won’t be much for us!”

We did not think it was a Banker’s Clerk, but a Boarder! Robin, sitting in the wicker rocker in the window, spied him first.

“Hurrah!” he piped in his shrill little treble. “I just know that big fat man is coming here! He is going to ring our door-bell, and engage all the empty rooms! See, if he doesn’t.”—

And the prophecy came true! It was almost like the relief of Lucknow.
“All on a sudden the garrison utter a jubilant shout!”

For, oh! I don’t know how much longer we could have held out.

It was day before yesterday that it happened. I had wakened with a start in the early, chill, grey morning, trying dully to remember how many potatoes still remained in the bottom of the vegetable box, and whether there was coffee enough to tide us through the week. It was certain that the coal would not last. Should we begin pawning the spoons then,—as Haze predicted,—or, maybe, mother’s watch?

And, suddenly, it seemed as if life were not worth living any longer. I did not feel as if I could get up and make my way, candle in hand, down the narrow kitchen stairs to an arctic basement, and a sordid round of housework. It was Monday, too! The very thought made my back ache and my head swim;—but mother must not suspect, because I had persuaded her that the washing was not too much for me; in fact, that I rather enjoyed it!

And, to be sure, at the very beginning it had not seemed so bad. Novelty lent spice. With the optimism of ignorance I determined that mind as well as muscles should be exercised. While scrubbing I would learn French poetry.

So, with sleeves rolled above the elbow, the soap-suds splashing in my hot face, I rubbed, rinsed, and wringered, murmuring the while:—
  O Richard! ? mon roi!
  L’univers t’abandonne;
Sur la terre il n’est donc que moi
Qui s’intéresse à ta personne!

or in more romantic vein,—
L’aube nait et ta porte est close!
Ma belle, pourquoi sommeiller?
A l’heure où s’éveille la rose
Ne vas-tu pas te réveiller?

But this particular morning there was no enthusiasm left. My brain was dull, my tongue stumbled and tripped over the most familiar lines, I could not control my thoughts. Haze had a cough, and nothing but a sweet potato sandwich for luncheon,—the struggle was too unfair, too hopeless!—till, actually, I caught myself weeping into the washtub, bedewing the family linen with splashing tears.

Certainly, things did look black. It was over a month since the Hancocks had left us, nearly two since we bade farewell to Mrs. Hudson. Even mother was beginning to show the strain. She looked worn and worried. As for me, I was tired of the dish-washing, the sweeping, the dusting; everything to be done afresh each day. I had not touched my mandolin for weeks. My hands, then puffed and scarlet, would be stiff and cracked on the morrow. I held them up and looked at them.

Which brought the thought of Meta, and the old inevitable contrast. That very evening she was going to a party;—a pretty, informal affair, consisting of charades, a supper, and a dance. How care-free her life was! How happily exempt from sordid considerations! She was surrounded by attention, gayety, admiration,—I would love such things, too!

A great fat tear rolled off the tip of my nose, and splashed down on Robin’s little striped pajamas.

“Come, come,” I told myself. “This is ridiculous! Cheer up, child, and repeat Horatius, if you can’t remember any French.”

But even Macaulay’s stirring lines, with which Haze and I have heartened each other since nursery days, seemed to have lost their magic.
“Lars Porsena of Clusium,——”

I began; and ended on a sob. Till, quite unexpectedly, without the least premeditation, I found myself murmuring instead:—

“O Lord, raise up, we pray Thee, Thy power, and come among us, and with great might succour us; that whereas, through our sins and wickedness, we are sore let and hindered in running the race that is set before us, Thy bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us;...”

It was the beautiful collect for the Fourth Sunday in Advent. There seemed nothing incongruous in repeating it above a washtub, either! Instantly I dried my tears. “Whereas, through our sins and wickedness, we are sore let and hindered in running the race that is set before us!” That was the whole trouble! Parties, indeed! attention! What did they matter to a girl blessed with the dearest family in the world to love and work for? My back stopped aching. I thought of little patient Robin upstairs in the big rocker, “pertending” to play with his “friends,”—how his pale cheeks would flush with pleasure if I could manage to hang out the clothes in time to sit with him a few moments before lunch. It was worth trying for! And so I did;—and it was that very morning, if you please, that Bobsie, looking down the street, uttered his jubilant shout:—

“A Boarder! A Boarder!”

His name is Mr. Lysle. He has a square, bland face, a portly presence, and a heavy artillery voice. It was Ernie who dubbed him “the Hippopotamus.” He has rented our three empty rooms at the biggest price we have yet received for them; and he and his wife and his sister will move in on Saturday! Oh, how beautiful!—that we should have been so “speedily helped and delivered.”

“My brave little Elizabeth,” said mother to me late this evening, “you have been such a comfort, such a support! But it is over now, dear. We will send to-morrow for Rose to come back. We will order furnace coal, and—we haven’t drawn on our bank account!”

Then she kissed me, and I blushed for very shame. For I have not been brave,—you know that, old diary,—at least not inside. How I wish that I might look back, and honestly feel that I have earned mother’s precious praise!
Friday, February 6.

School politics have been exciting these last few weeks, though in the stress and strain of home affairs I have had no time to report them. But Ernie has taken them very seriously, and for her sake we are glad the end has come. Yesterday the Sixth Grammar Grade was promoted, and the prize-winner’s name read aloud from the platform. Can you guess who it was?

Let me take the matter up where I dropped it. Though naturally much discouraged and depressed by her sudden fall from grace that fatal composition day, Ernie bravely determined to retrieve her shattered fortunes. In this resolve she was supported by Mary Hobart, Hatty Walker, and a host of other friends.

“It was nothing but a ghastly accident,” they urged, “helped along by Lulu Jennings; and, though, of course, a couple of failures will pull down your per cent., they need not entirely ruin it. You are cleverer than Lulu. Look at arithmetic alone, and the Visiting Board’s problems! She hasn’t solved one of them.”

“We can’t hold her entirely responsible for that,” returned Ernie, quaintly. “I am quite sure he never intended they should be solved.”

“But you have worked out answers to them,” retorted Mary.

“Yes,” Ernie admitted: “a different answer every day.”

The problems in question were certainly difficult. There were ten of them,—ingeniously composed by “the Visiting Board”; and it was rumoured among the girls that even Miss Horton, herself, could not obtain a correct solution. They were intended for practice-work during the term, on the express understanding that one of the set, no one could predict which, should be included in the final examinations.

Naturally, they were the subject of much and anxious discussion. Lulu Jennings, in particular, suffered agonies of apprehensive doubt. Arithmetic is not her strong point.

“I don’t think it’s fair,” she declared. “He just meant to muddle us. The idea of making up such stuff out of his own head! There isn’t any key, or any way to prove ’em, and the answers are not even in the back of Miss Horton’s teacher’s book. I know, because——”

“Because?” questioned Mary Hobart. And Lulu dropped her eyes, and coloured uncomfortably.

It was after her public disgrace that Ernie wrote out the entire set of problems in a blank-book purchased for the purpose, so that she might study them quietly at home. And how the child did wrestle!—shutting herself in the workshop Saturday after Saturday, till finally she discovered the correct solution! There could be no doubt. Worked out along certain intricate lines the problems could be proved!

The next morning, which happened to be the very day before examination, Ernie carried her precious book down to school.

“Coo-ee!” she yodeled to Mary Hobart, who formed one of a group of chattering girls on the second landing. “I have the answers!”

“Not to the Visiting Board’s problems?” returned Mary, excitedly.

“Yes,” Ernie replied, unable to repress her glee. “They are here!” tapping the book as she spoke. “And they are right, too. They prove!—all those I’ve had time for!”

At that moment Lulu Jennings brushed past the excited pair. Apparently she was deep in conversation with a friend, and noticed nothing.

“If only she guessed!” chuckled Ernestine.

“Well, for goodness’ sake don’t tell her!” warned Mary, the cautious. “I wouldn’t trust that girl with her own grandmother’s plated spoons.”

“Do you take me for a goose?” asked Ernie. “Let’s put our books up, and perhaps we’ll have time to eat an apple before the bell rings. I have a beauty in my blouse!”

So the two girls ran up to the classroom, where they found that Lulu had preceded them, slipped their books into their respective desks, and, returning to the schoolyard, divided the apple.

“I wish I could explain the problems to you, Mary dear,” Ernie said. “But, of course, it wouldn’t be fair. It was quite by chance I hit on the right way. You can imagine my joy! I have only had time to prove the first six, but the others must be right. I’ll work on them at noon.”

However, long before noon, Ernie slipped her hand into her desk to take out the beloved book, and reassure herself by a hasty glance through its pages. She owns several blank-books; one for spelling, a second for “home-work,” and a third for English. These were successively dragged out, and hastily thrust back again. With a queer little shock it became certain that the book containing the solution to the all-important problems was missing!

Ernie was puzzled, startled, but, just at first, she felt no suspicion.

Perhaps she had not put the book into her desk, after all. Perhaps she had dropped it on the landing in the hall. It was impossible to communicate her loss to Mary Hobart, who had been sent to the blackboard to demonstrate a proposition. So Ernie raised her hand and asked Miss Horton’s permission to leave the room to look for something. The request was granted.

Yet a hurried search of the stairways revealed nothing; and the more Ernie reflected, the more anxious she became. She returned to the classroom thoroughly puzzled and distressed.—When what was her amazement to discover the missing book lying in plain view on her desk!

Ernie took it up incredulously,—and was instantly conscious of a faint scent of musk.

She turned to Mary Hobart, who was just about to resume her seat, having finished her work at the board, and fairly hissed:—

“Smell of Lulu, Mary. Smell her! quick!!!”

Mary looked at Ernie in bewilderment. “I don’t want to,” she whispered back. “Why should I, I’d like to know?”

“Go on,” commanded Ernie, too excited to explain. “Smell her! You must!”

So Mary, with a puzzled and somewhat resentful air, inclined her head stiffly toward Lulu Jennings and began to sniff.

“Well?” questioned Ernie, with dilating eyes.

“Well,” returned Mary, crossly; “she smells of cheap perfume, as usual. It’s musk to-day. I hope you’re satisfied.”

“Yes,” returned Ernie, quietly. “And so, I haven’t a doubt, is Lulu. She has copied my problems! I’ll tell you after school.”

Certainly the evidence seemed conclusive enough, and Mary added still other links to the chain.

“Don’t you remember?” she said. “Lulu was at her desk when we put our things away this morning. While we were eating that apple, she must have taken the book; and no sooner did you leave the room to look for it, than she asked permission to put some stuff in the wastepaper-basket. I noticed, from the blackboard, that she paused at your desk on her way back. She must certainly have returned it then.”

Yet what was to be done? The affair was entirely too complicated to take to Miss Horton, even if Ernie could have made up her mind to that course.

“No,” she returned to Mary’s suggestion. “I just won’t. I’m no tell-tale. I’d rather give up all thought of the prize, even if I have worked so hard for it. If Lulu Jennings can enjoy the books earned this way, she’s welcome to ’em!” And Ernie thrust the fatal blank-book into the very bottom of her school-satchel, and snapped to the catch with a click!

The next morning examinations began, with arithmetic first as usual. Every girl in the class surveyed her paper anxiously, in search of the famous problem. It was there,—the ninth,—one of the four which Ernie had neglected to prove. At first this was rather a disappointment; but, having given up all hope of winning the prize, Ernie quickly dismissed the matter and set quietly to work, merely determining to pass as creditably as she could.

The moments flew quickly by. Absorbed in her calculations, Ernie forgot all feeling of pique or disappointment; nor did she again think of Lulu Jennings till, having finished her paper, she passed it under final review, when something struck her eye!

She gave a little bounce in her seat, and caught her breath sharply. The answer obtained to the all-important problem was different to-day from that which she had written out before!

She remembered distinctly what that other answer was, and went hastily over the work before her to see where the mistake lay. But it was right. It proved! Figure by figure Ernie followed the intricate proposition, to which, without a doubt, she had at last obtained the correct solution! What had been wrong before she did not know, nor did she much care.

Instinctively her glance sought Lulu Jennings, who sat with head bent low above her desk. At the same moment Lulu raised her eyes. She did not look at Ernie, but cautiously toward Miss Horton, who was standing at the blackboard with her back toward the class. Lulu, seeing this, darted a stealthy hand into her desk, and brought out a little roll of paper which she placed in her lap, at the same moment throwing her handkerchief over it.

Ernie did not wait for anything further, but, rising from her seat, carried her paper to Miss Horton’s desk. No one paid any attention, as it is customary for the girls to put up their papers when finished. On her way back Ernie stopped beside Lulu just long enough to whisper,—

“I wouldn’t bother to copy that. It’s wrong.”

Lulu turned first white, then red. She clutched the paper in her lap. Whether she heeded Ernie’s warning makes little difference. The mark she received was not especially creditable; and Ernie, who passed a nearly perfect examination, came out head, and was awarded the prize, after all.

“Just think, Elizabeth!” she chortled. “Five dollars’ worth of books! We’ll fill up the bottom shelf of the mahogany bookcase, again. I have my list all made out:—Water Babies, for Robin; The Conquest of Granada, for Hazard; Longfellow’s poems for you, dear,—and The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, for mother. The Visiting Board read the titles aloud from the platform, and said it was ‘a remarkably comprehensive selection.’”

“But, Ernie,” I expostulated, “what have you for yourself?”

“Pshaw!” says Ernie—“I told you I was going to use them for birthday presents. My birthday is past; and besides I wanted nice editions, and I really think I’ve made the money go as far as anybody could!”

“It is very sweet of you, honey,” I said; “but we will share that Longfellow. Aren’t Mary and the other girls delighted?”

“Indeed they are,” admitted Ernie, with an ingenuous little skip. “I’m quite the Heroine of their young hearts! It’s lots of fun, Elizabeth. Only, I’m sorry for Lulu. It must be horrid for her to look back and think how mean she has been,—and all for nothing, too!”
Wednesday, February 11.

Our precious Robin has been far from well, lately. For some time now he has almost given up trying to walk. His crutches seemed to tire him more and more, and his left side has become so helpless that when he did attempt to get about it reminded one of a little lame bird trailing a broken wing.

The greater part of the day he has passed propped up with pillows in the big rocker in the window, or lying in his little crib, because he was “too tired” to sit up. And the deepening shadows beneath his eyes have quite wrung our hearts.

Dr. Porter has been very kind and attentive, but far from satisfied; and last week the stern edict went forth. Robin was to go to bed and stay there for no less a period than six weeks, with a heavy weight attached to his little thin leg.

Well, there is one comfort. Our darling baby seems more like himself since he has been forced at last to give up. He has lost some of the languor and gentle indifference that seemed to be growing on him. His merry grin flashes forth with reassuring frequency, followed by the deep dimple high in his cheek.

“He is resting,” said the doctor, “and he needs it. That boy is grit clear through,—a quality of which I don’t approve in patients, Miss Elizabeth.”

“Would you rather have them whine?” I asked.

“Yes,” returned the doctor, uncompromisingly. “I would.”

But Robin will never do that. In the first place, everybody is too good to him;—Mrs. Burroughs, Miss Brown, and the three Lysles. Indeed, Mr. Lysle is kind as kind can be. He has brought fruit for Bobsie several times, and seems quite distressed because “the little invalid” has not a better appetite. To-day he declared that he really did not see “how the child managed to survive on such a small amount of sustenance.” Whereat Ernie giggled, and I had some difficulty controlling my countenance, for it was at the table the observation was rumbled forth, just as the kind “Hippopotamus” was finishing his third helping of turkey.

Yes, turkey! if you please; though certainly it did seem some weeks ago as if the little Grahams could never again claim even so much as a bowing acquaintance with that royal bird. And after the turkey came ice cream and mince pie, served by Rose in a spotless cap and apron, while Rosebud purred upon the warm hearth in the kitchen, waiting his turn to lick the plates! For no sooner did plenty begin to smile again upon our household than Ernie (naughty Indian-giver!), demanded back her pet. “Mary would just as soon have one of the grocer’s new kittens,” she affirmed. “I’ve asked him about it, and he says we may take our pick.” So the compromise was effected. Rosebud, sleek and debonair as ever, returned to grace our home,—and such a welcome as the children gave him! Indeed, we were all glad. Things have not been so comfortable for months,—which reminds me of Robin’s poem.

It was this morning, while I was washing his face, that Bobs repeated it to me. A little soap got into his eyes. He screwed them up, and then remarked,—

“You must be more careful, Elizabeth, when you wash me, else my poem won’t stay true.”

“Your poem, Bobsie?” I repeated. Though, certainly, by this time I should be accustomed to the family weakness.

“Yes,” answered Robin, shyly. “Ernie wrote one, you know, and Haze, too,—so I thought I would. Shall I say it?”

And, without waiting to be pressed, he graciously began:—
“Oh, what a lucky child am I,
As here upon my bed I lie
With all my needs and wants supplied,
My food, and everything beside;—
Clams, and white mice, and kittens, all!
And when I’m cold my mother’s shawl.”

“Isn’t that pretty?”

“Indeed it is, honey,” I answered. “How did you come to think of it?”

“Well,” confessed Robin, “I’d been crying just a little yesterday, Ellie, because I wanted to pertend to play tag and I couldn’t see out the window, and so I had to blow my nose; and I felt for my hankersniff under the pillow, and there it was! I didn’t have to ring or anything! And that made me think how lucky I am, and so I made up the poem. Is it nice enough to be written down?”

“It certainly is,” I answered. “I will put it in my diary, and some day when you are a big fat man Ellie will read it aloud to you, and we will both laugh.”

“Why will we laugh, Ellie dear?” asked Robin, innocently.

“Because we will be so glad that the little sick boy who composed it grew up strong and well,” I answered.

And so I have written “the poem” here, that I may be able to fulfil my part of the prophecy.

But now I want to talk a little of Geoffrey, for we are really anxious about him. There is no doubt the boy is very much changed.

Yesterday afternoon he dropped in to see Ernie nearly an hour before school was out.

“Why, Geof,” I said, “what are you doing here so early? It is scarcely two o’clock. Ernie isn’t home yet. Did you have a half-holiday?”

Geoffrey looked confused. “’Guess your clocks are wrong,” he answered. “Can you give a fellow a bit of lunch, Elizabeth?”

“I thought you got your lunch at school,” I returned. “But, of course,—if you are hungry. Rose has just finished baking. Isn’t that luck?” And I ran down to the kitchen, where a glass of milk, a couple of bananas, and a plate of hot ginger-bread were quickly collected.

Geof ate in silence, crumbling his ginger-bread over the tray cloth on the library table.

“Geoffrey!” I remonstrated. “That’s too good to waste. What you don’t want I am going to take up to Robin.”

“All right,” answered Geof, pushing his plate indifferently toward me. “How is the kid?” Then he broke into a short chuckle. “I say, Elizabeth,” he remarked, “there’s a trained bear out at the zoo that would tickle Bobs most to death. I’ve been feeding it peanuts all the morning. It’s gentle as a kitten, the keeper says,—jolly good sort he seems, too,—and——”

“Geoffrey!” I accused, in sudden shocked enlightenment. “You have been playing hookey.”

Geof flushed angrily, and bit his lip. “Well, and if I have?” he blustered. “It’s nobody’s business but my own, I suppose!”

“It certainly is somebody’s business,” I answered, decidedly. “And you ought to be ashamed of yourself. After all the trouble you were in last term over hockey and athletics, I should think you would have learned that such foolishness doesn’t pay.”

Geof sprang to his feet. “Now see here, Elizabeth,” he said, “I’m not going to be jawed by you. I get enough of that sort of talk at home. If you can’t be pleasant, I’ll go somewhere else. There are plenty of other places where a chap can spend the afternoon, and Hollister and Sam Jacobs are glad enough to show ’em to me.”

“Very well, Geoffrey,” I answered. “If you choose to treat the matter so! Only, I warn you frankly, in that case I shall go directly upstairs and tell mother,—I shan’t feel that I have any choice,—and she will tell Uncle George, I know.”

Geof turned on me incredulously. “You sneak!” he cried. “If that doesn’t sound exactly like Meta!”

“Oh, Geof dear!” I expostulated, hurt and shocked by his violence. “Don’t let’s quarrel, or misunderstand each other. You know very well I don’t want to get you into trouble. But Sam Jacobs and Jim Hollister are not the sort of fellows you ought to associate with. I don’t believe you really enjoy the places they take you to, either,—and in the end it can’t help but be found out. You are doing yourself an injustice, Geoffrey,—truly you are! Come, let’s sit down and talk things over quietly.”

I laid my hand on his arm. He tried to shake it off,—but the next instant his face changed.

“Hang it all, Elizabeth!” he blurted out. “If I had sisters like you and Ernie,—or a mother!”

And the first thing I knew big, strong, manly Geof had broken down, and was sobbing like a baby, his head buried in his arms on the library table.

And presently the whole wretched story came out. It seems that things have been going from bad to worse ever since last September. It was only by unusual pressure brought to bear by Aunt Adelaide, and equally unusual acquiescence on the part of the school authorities, that Geof managed to be promoted with his class this year, and he entered the new grade heavily conditioned in nearly all his studies. This, in itself, was bad; but what made the matter still harder was that in his case a weekly report has been substituted for the customary monthly one; he tutors three afternoons a week; and his progress is kept under rigid supervision.

“So if I’m not nagged about French, I am about Latin,” said poor Geoffrey; “and I tell you, Elizabeth, the schedule I’m carrying this year is enough to daze a Solomon.”

“But do you really try to study, Geof?” I asked. “Have you made one honest effort to set things right?”

Geof flushed. “Yes; I have,” he answered, sullenly. “But nobody believes it. And recently I’ve had so many headaches, and I don’t sleep well nights, and——”

“If Aunt Adelaide knew that?” I suggested.

“She’d think I was faking,” concluded Geof, hardily. “And I don’t know that I blame her much,” he admitted, the next minute. “You see, we never have gotten along. I was seven when my own mother died, and nine when the governor remarried,—just old enough to resent it. I remember for three weeks I wouldn’t call her ‘mamma,’ till finally the matter was taken to headquarters, and I had to. And then Meta didn’t make things any easier. We fought from the very start. And they’ve managed to set the governor against me, till now—Well, the latest threat is, if my March reports don’t show ‘marked improvement’ I’m to be packed off to the Catskills for the summer to a little tin soldier camp, where the fellows wear toy uniforms and tutor all through vacation. Pleasant prospect!”

“Then, Geoffrey, why in the world play hookey,” I asked, “and throw away your last possible chance of avoiding it?”

Geof was silent.

“Come, be sensible,” I urged. “Things do look black, I admit, but if for the next few weeks you learn the lessons set each day, and look neither forward nor back——”

“That’s just it,” interrupted Geof. “You’ve hit the nail on the head. There’s too much behind me, Elizabeth. I can’t learn what we are having now, because I didn’t last term, or the year before. And,—and, you haven’t any idea how hard it is when everybody is down on a chap. Now that I’m out of athletics the fellows I used to go with have no further use for me; I never did get along with the grinds; and Hollister, Jacobs, and their set are always cordial and pleasant, at least. I’ve got to associate with somebody, I suppose? You don’t know what you are talking about,—that’s all.”

“Yes, I do, Geoffrey,” I replied. “It won’t be easy to turn round, I know;—but what is the use of complicating matters still further? Right is right, and wrong wrong; and hookey never paid yet. Will you give me your word that you will go to school to-morrow?”

Again Geof was silent, and I waited. It seemed hard, unsympathetic,—yet what was I to do? “Will you give me your word, Geof?” I reiterated.

“All right,” he muttered, sullenly, at last. “You have the whip-hand. I’ll go to school to-morrow and the day after. I won’t promise more than that. And Saturday, if I haven’t seen the governor myself, you are welcome to go and tell him anything you please. Does that satisfy you?”

It did not, entirely; but in Geof’s stubborn mood it was the best I could hope for, and at least he will have time to think things over till the end of the week. Poor, foolish fellow! I hope I shan’t be obliged to tell!
Saturday, February 14.

Geoffrey has run away! So that was what he meant by promising to go to school till Saturday! Oh, I feel as if I were partly responsible;—and yet, how could I have suspected?

He was over here late yesterday afternoon. I did not have a chance to see him, as mother was out, and Robin rather feverish and fretful; but Ernie and he talked together in the workshop for nearly a couple of hours, and after he went Ernie came down to dinner with such red eyes.

“What is it, dear?” I asked, at last, when she and I were undressing together in our little room. “Was Geof in one of his moods again?” For Ernie had been on the verge of tears all the evening.

She dropped upon the bed then, with a little wail, and buried her face in the pillows. “I should say he was,” she sobbed. “I couldn’t do a thing with him. That hateful military camp! It’s enough to drive anybody to desperation!”

“Is it settled?” I asked. “Must Geof really go?”

“Oh, don’t bother, Elizabeth,” returned Ernie, almost crossly. “He’s going to talk to Uncle George to-night. He gets his allowance Fridays, you know; and to-morrow we’ll hear.”

Then she turned her face to the wall and pretended to go to sleep; but she was restless for hours, and once she cried out wildly in her dreams:

“Geoffrey! you mustn’t! You mustn’t, I tell you!”

No wonder she was anxious, poor child; for it seems that Geoffrey, after having first obtained a promise of secrecy, confided his plans to her yesterday afternoon. She is the only person who knows where he is now, and entreaties and arguments are equally of no avail. We simply cannot get her to tell.

The first alarm reached us this morning, just as we had risen from the breakfast table. There was a sharp ring at the door-bell; and Rose, answering the summons, found Maria, one of Aunt Adelaide’s maids, outside.

“Is Master Geoffrey here?” asked Maria, rather breathlessly. And, upon receiving Rose’s denial, she cried out:

“Then Lord-a-mercy knows what’s become of him! For he ain’t been home all the morning, not even to his breakfast, and missis and the boss, too, are in a great taking!”

Mother and I, who were on our way upstairs, overheard the exclamation and turned back.

“What is it, Maria?” asked mother, after having sent Rose down to the kitchen again. “Master Geoffrey has not been here since yesterday. You say he was not home to breakfast?”

“No, ma’am,” answered Maria; and proceeded to pour forth her tale. It seems that Geoffrey has been in the habit of over-sleeping recently, which indulgence greatly irritated Aunt Adelaide.

“Mrs. Graham thinks it’s only manners for the family to sit down to meals together,” Maria explained. “So this morning when Master Geoffrey did not come, she sent Jennie up to knock at his door, and Jennie, she knocked, and knocked again, and got no answer. So after a bit she came down, and said she could not make Master Geoffrey hear, and Mr. Graham jumped up.

“‘I’ll wake him myself,’ he says. ‘We’ve had enough of this sort of nonsense.’ And he went and called very angry-like at the foot of the stairs; but still there was no reply;—and I was rather sorry for Master Geoffrey when his pa snatched off one of his slippers and ran upstairs and threw open the bedroom door.

“‘He’s going to catch it, sure enough, like any babby,’ I thought; but he didn’t, because the room was empty. The bed had not even been slept in.

“‘Hello!’ says Mr. Graham, in a disturbed sort of way. And he put on his slipper and came downstairs again; and directly breakfast was over they sent me here.”

“Can Ernie know anything of this?” asked mother, turning to me. “She is Geoffrey’s usual confidante. Run upstairs and get her, Elizabeth. I believe she has taken Robin his tray.”

All the colour died out of Ernie’s face when she saw me enter the nursery; but it flooded back again in a crimson wave as she listened to mother’s message. However, she settled Bobsie to his breakfast, and quietly followed me downstairs.

“Have you any idea where Geoffrey is, Ernie?” asked mother, gravely.

Ernie’s long lashes swept her cheeks. “Isn’t he at home?” she returned, in a tone that was intended to sound innocent.

Mother smiled, just a little. “Don’t be foolish, dear,” she replied. “If you know anything about Geoffrey it is only right for you to tell us. We are not his enemies.”

For a moment Ernie stood silent; then she said, very low, “I know, but I can’t tell. I’ve promised.”

At that instant there sounded a second peal at the bell. This time it was Uncle George. Never before in my life have I seen him so upset, though it was evident he tried to appear indifferent.

His first words were addressed to Maria.

“Go home to your mistress, my good girl,” he said.

Then, turning to mother,—“It does not answer to send servants on such errands. They simply stand and gossip.”

Mother flushed a little. “Maria is quite blameless,” she replied. “I desired to hear all she knew in regard to Geoffrey. Have you any further news?”

Uncle George laid his hat carefully upon a chair, and felt in his coat pocket.

“It seems the young scamp left a note,” he said, in a voice that was husky, despite his assumption of unconcern. “It was not in his room, or we would have found it earlier. He gave it to Georgie last night, telling him to give it to me this morning as soon as he had finished breakfast in the nursery.” And Uncle George handed mother a folded sheet of paper.

“Dear father,” we read,—I was looking over her shoulder,—

“I find that I shall have to go away for I ment what I said wen you gave me my money tonight. It would be beastly to go to that miletary-camp and I cant studdy and keep things up in the way that is expected it makes my headache. Perhaps there is something the matter with that part of my bran wich I have inherited from you. But dont worry this will not keep me from being a good bizness man wich has always been the fate I have most wished for. I am sorry to have made so much trubble and Ill come back some day. Dont let Georgie forget me and dont you forget me either
“Your loving son
“Geoffrey Meadows Graham.”

I wanted to cry as I read it. Poor, blundering, affectionate Geof, with his atrocious spelling and his “inherited bran.”

Mother handed the note to Uncle George again, without a word.

“Well?” he asked, shortly.

“It is very like Geoffrey,” she said; “though I never could have supposed he would run away. What are you going to do?”

“I, myself,” returned Uncle George, “would prefer to wait and give the young beggar a chance to grow tired of his experiment. That’s the medicine he needs. A chap who can throw over a good home such as Geoffrey has, ought to be made to rough it a bit. But the women folk won’t hear of it. Meta and her mother are in a great taking. They imagine all sorts of foolishness, and it’s on account of them, more especially, that I have come over to interview your Ernie. Come, young woman! What have you got to say for yourself? Do you know anything of Geoffrey’s whereabouts?”

Again Ernie flushed crimson, lowered her eyelids, and remained silent.

“I have already questioned Ernestine,” said mother. “She undoubtedly knows certain facts which would be very useful. I hope that I shall be able to convince her it is her duty to tell us.”

Uncle George looked from mother to Ernie in blank amazement. “Do you mean to say she won’t tell?” he demanded. “Then there is only one way out of it. She must be made to.”

“I shall try to show Ernie that it is the only way in which she can be of any help to Geoffrey,” answered mother, quietly.

Uncle George frowned impatiently.

“I’ll tell you what,” he said, after a moment’s thought. “I’ll give her a five-dollar gold piece for the first bit of information she has to give us. What’s more, I’ll make it twenty-five dollars, if it leads to Geoffrey’s capture before night. What do you say to that, my girl?”

It would be impossible to describe the look of horror depicted in Ernie’s features. Betray Geof, her dear chum, her more than brother, for a sordid money reward! If Uncle George had only known it, our last chance of winning Ernie was lost when he uttered those hateful words. But he did not know, and it would have been impossible to make him understand. On the contrary, he picked up his hat with a satisfied expression of having set things on the right track, at last, and after a final injunction “to keep him informed,” left us.

Mother and I looked hopelessly at one another as the front door closed behind him.

“Ernie, dear,” said mother, very gently, “setting aside all thought of Uncle George’s offer, for, of course, it is out of the question that you should accept any money,—I expect you to tell me at once all you know in regard to Geoffrey’s plans. It may be the means of saving him great hardship, and discomfort.”

“Yes, Ernie,” I urged. “And everybody is agreed that it is much better to break a bad promise than to keep it. Doesn’t your own common-sense tell you that?”

But reason, command, entreat as we might, Ernie remained obdurate.

She sat on the top stair leading down to the basement, the big tears welling in her blue eyes and trickling along her nose till they dropped from the tip with a little splash into her lap; listening plaintively to all we said, replying nothing,—a moving picture of stubborn misery.

At last mother desisted.

“Ernie,” she said, “I want you distinctly to understand that I am both disappointed and displeased with you. You are the one person who can be of any help to Geoffrey; but I shall ask you no further questions. When your own good feeling and sense of right prompt you to follow my wishes, I shall be ready to listen to you.”

Then mother dressed and went to see Aunt Adelaide; I ran up to the nursery to Robin; and Ernie locked herself in the workshop, where she set to work painting a gorgeous family of Japanese paper dolls for Mary Hobart’s birthday,—spattering their beflowered kimonos ever and again with a salty drop. She was very forlorn, poor darling;—distressed beyond measure to feel that her family disapproved of her. Yet she had given her word to Geof.

So the morning passed. Lunch time came, and still there was no news. The afternoon dragged even more heavily; and when Hazard came home from the office in the evening he told us that Uncle George had three detectives looking for Geof, but as yet they had found no clue.

Dinner was somewhat of an ordeal. I had the head of the table, as mother did not feel she could leave Aunt Adelaide, who is in a very apprehensive and nervous state. We tried to keep the conversation to general topics, but the anecdotal vein of the boarders was not to be stemmed. It seems that Geoffrey’s escapade reminded everybody of some long-forgotten incident in his or her own family, or the family of a friend, or even a friend’s friend.

Nothing was too far-fetched to be appropriate, every possible climax to the adventure was predicted, and the same heartening conversation continued when we gathered in the parlour after dinner to wait for news. Till, finally, about half-past ten or so, the boarders began to disperse to their rooms;—yet not before Mr. Lysle had made a brief, though painful, effort to win Ernie’s confidence; for she is a favourite with the kind “Hippopotamus,” and it grieved him to know her in disgrace.

Therefore, interrupting his sister, who was condoling with Miss Brown over the sad fate of a nephew of the latter’s mother’s aunt, who eloped with a sea captain’s daughter some sixty years ago, and was finally eaten up by whales off the Cape of Good Hope (I believe it was thus the thrilling story ran), Mr. Lysle, with a sly wink at his wife over the top of his newspaper, began:

“Miss Ernie! ahem!”

Ernie looked up from her “home-work,” and the “Hippopotamus” continued ponderously:

“I suppose you are familiar with the famous anecdote of George Washington and his hatchet? How, when still a young boy, the Father of Our Country found it impossible, even with the fear of stern chastisement before him, to tell a—er—a—lie?”

Ernie cautiously refusing to commit herself to any previous acquaintance with the incident, Mr. Lysle continued blandly:—

“Now, my dear child, a similar opportunity is presented to you,—an opportunity such as you may never meet again—a grand opportunity! a great one! The path of truth is a path of roses, for all that it has its thorns,—even, if I may say so, because of them!”

He paused impressively, and looked Ernie firmly in the eye. We, the audience, waited breathless, but still Mr. Lysle did not speak. So, supposing, at last, the homily must be concluded, we were about to return to our various avocations, when he positively thundered forth:

“Where is your Cousin Geoffrey? Where is that wilful lad? Speak! I command you!”

Everybody in the room jumped, and Miss Lysle, who is nervous, uttered an hysterical little squawk, like a frightened hen.

Ernie alone remained undaunted. The poor “Hippopotamus” continued to gaze at her, triumph fading to chagrin, till, finally, he turned to his wife with such a disappointed air:—

“I thought I could surprise it out of her,” he said; “but, evidently, I—er—couldn’t!” And a few moments later he bade us a subdued “good-night” and was soon followed upstairs by the rest of the boarders.

It seems too strange to be sitting here writing these things, with no idea where Geoffrey may be! If only I did not feel my own responsibility so keenly! I can see now that I should have told mother last Tuesday when first I heard of Geof’s trou——. There is the bell! It may be news....

Yes! and good news, too. Geoffrey is found! He was brought home about eleven o’clock by one of Uncle George’s detectives, who ran across him in a little out-of-the-way cottage in Elizabeth, where he had spent the day with a German woman, who was once a cook at Uncle George’s when Geoffrey’s own mother was alive. She is married now, and has a neat little home of her own, with three fat German babies.

There Geoffrey arrived late last night, and to-morrow morning he had planned to set out again on his travels and beat his way to South Dakota, where Mrs. Prendergast, the German woman, has a brother who works on a cattle ranch! Think of it!

Dear little Ernie broke down completely when she heard of Geoffrey’s capture. She threw herself into mother’s arms, sobbing convulsively:—

“I didn’t mean to be naughty, mother dear! I didn’t! And, of course, you know best—only I had given my word, you see, and then Uncle George might have made me take that hateful money! Oh, what are they going to do to Geoffrey!”

“There! there, dear!” said mother. “Don’t cry so. It is all over now. And as to Geoffrey, you need not worry. Aunt Adelaide and Uncle George are only too anxious to forgive him. He has acted very wrongly, and given us all a great fright; but it has been a lesson to everybody concerned, and I don’t think Uncle George holds Geoffrey entirely responsible.”

And later, after Ernie had snuggled down in bed, where she dropped at once into an exhausted sleep, mother confided to me that she, as well as Aunt Adelaide, fears that Geoffrey is going to be ill.

He seemed quite unlike himself this evening—indifferent and almost dazed, and he still complained of headache. Aunt Adelaide sent him at once to bed, and this morning, if he is not better, he is to see a doctor.

I say this morning, because it is already nearly two o’clock. My eyes are sticky with sleep. I cannot write another word, except to add that even if Geof is to be ill, we are all thankful!


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