Chapter Sixteen
 

However, on Sunday she forgot to ask him. The circumstances were so unexpectedly pleasant as to banish from her head any pre- arranged plan of procedure. It was a glowing June day, soft, perfumed, and breezy. The Bradleys went to Butler's Hill, which was "our station," as Nancy said, and there the agent met them, with a car. He drove them himself the short mile from the railroad to Marlborough Gardens.

"Isn't it one of those frightfully smart developments?" Nancy asked, smiling uneasily.

"It's considered the finest home development on Long Island," the agent admitted readily, "The place I'm going to show you--I'm going to show you two or three--but the special place I want to show you, was built for a home. There isn't a finer building anywhere. Lansing, the man who built it, was a splendid fellow, with a lovely wife--lovely woman. But her mother lives in California, and she got to worrying--"

"Mr. Bradley told me," Nancy said sympathetically.

"Homes, and home-makers," pursued the agent, "That's what we need. The people we have here are all quiet, home-loving folks, we don't want show, we don't want display--"

"Well, that's our idea!" Bert approved. And he rather vexed his inconsistent wife by adding hardily, "Remember that my top figure is ten thousand, Rogers, will you?"

"Now, you wait and see what I have to show you, and then we'll talk turkey," the other man said goodnaturedly. Anne, sitting on her mother's lap beside him, gave him a sudden smile at the word she recognized.

He wheeled the car smoothly through the great gates of cement, looped with iron chains, that shut off the village herd from the sacred ground. Nancy gave Bert an ecstatic glance; this was wonderful! The scattered homes were all beautiful, all different. Some were actual mansions, with wide-spreading wings and half a dozen chimneys, but some were small and homelike, etched with the stretching fingers of new vines, and surrounded by park-like gardens. Even about the empty plots hedges had been planted, and underbrush raked away, and the effect was indescribably trim and orderly, "like England," said Nancy, who had never seen England.

As they slowly circled about, they caught glimpses of tennis courts, beyond the lawns and trees, glimpses of the blue water of the bay, glimpses of white, curving driveways. Here a shining motor-car stood purring, there men in white paused with arrested rackets, to glance up at the strangers from their tennis. Nancy looked at Bert and Bert at Nancy, and their eyes confessed that never in all the months of hunting had they seen anything like this!

Presently they came to the end of the road, and to a richly wooded plot that formed a corner to the whole tract. A garden had been planted, but it was neglected now, and weeds had pushed up here and there between the bricks of the path. The house was low and spreading, under great locust and elm trees, a shingled brown house, with two red chimneys and cottage casements. Over one hedge the Bradleys looked down at the pebbled beach that belonged to all the residents of Marlborough Gardens.

"Lansing called this place 'Holly Court,'" said the agent, leading them to the front porch door, to which he skillfully fitted a key, "That big holly bush there gave it its name; the bush is probably fifty years old. Step in, Mrs. Bradley!"

"But notice the lovely Dutch door first, Bert, "Nancy said eagerly. "See, Anne! On a hot day you can have it half open and half shut, isn't that cunning?"

"The house is full of charming touches," Mr. Rogers said, "And you may always trust a woman's eye to find them, Mr. Bradley! Women are natural home-makers. My wife'll often surprise me; 'Why, you've not got half enough closets, Paul,' she'll say. There's one open fire-place, Mrs. Bradley, in your reception hall. You see the whole plan of the house is informal. You've got another fire-place in the dining room, and one in the master bedroom upstairs. Here's a room they used as a den--bookshelves, and so on, and then beyond is another tiled porch--very convenient for breakfast, or tea. You see Lansing lived here; never has been rented, or anything like that. He's selling it for practically what it cost him!"

"And what's that?" asked Bert, smiling, but not quite at his ease.

"Now, you wait a few minutes, Mr. Business Man!" Mr. Rogers said, "What you think, and what I think, doesn't count much beside what this little lady thinks. She's got to live in the house, and if she likes it, why I guess you and I can come to terms!"

Nancy threw her husband a glance full of all amused tolerance at this, but in her secret soul she rather liked it.

They went upstairs, where there were hardwood floors, and two bathrooms, and mirrors in the bathroom doors. There was another bathroom in the attic, and a fourth upstairs in the garage, with two small bedrooms in each place. They must expect us to keep four maids, Nancy hastily computed.

There was an upstair porch; "To shake a rug, Mrs. Bradley, or to dry your hair, or for this young lady's supper," said the delightful Mr. Rogers. A back stairway led down to tempting culinary regions; a sharp exclamation burst from Nancy at the sight of the great ice box, and the tiled sinks.

They walked about the plot, a large one. At the back, beside the garage, they could look over a small but healthy hedge to more beach, clustered with unusual shells at low tide, and the straggling outskirts of the village. From the front, they looked straight down a wide tree-shaded street, that lost itself in a peaceful vista of great trees and vine-smothered stone walls. "Holly Court" was quiet, it was naturally isolated, it seemed to Nancy already like home.

Even now, however, Mr. Rogers would not talk terms. He drove them about again, passing other houses, all happily and prosperously occupied. He told Nancy about this family and that.

"What'd that house cost?" Bert would demand.

"Ah well, that. That belongs to Ingram, of the Ingram Thorn Coal people, you know. I suppose Mr. Ingram has invested forty or fifty thousand dollars in that place, in one way and another. The tennis court--"

And so on and on. Presently they passed the pretty, unpretentious club-house, built close to the water. A few light sails were dipping and shaking on the bay, children were gathered in a little knot beside an upturned canoe, on the shore. Several cars were parked on the drive outside the club, and Nancy felt decidedly self-conscious as she and Bert and the children walked onto the awninged porch that was the tea room.

"Now this club belongs to the place," Mr. Rogers said, "You're buying here--and I don't mind telling you, Mr. Bradley, that I want you to buy here," he broke off to admit persuasively-- "because you and your wife are the sort of people we need here. You won't find anything anywhere that is backed by the same interest, you won't. However, about the club. Your buying here makes you a member of this club----"

"Oh, is that so!" Nancy exclaimed, in delighted surprise.

"Oh, yes," said the agent. "The dues are merely nominal--for the upkeep of the place."

"Of course!" said the Bradleys.

"Your dues entitle you to all the privileges of the club--I believe the bathhouses are a little extra, but everything else is yours. You can bring a friend here to tea, give a card party here- -there are dances and dinners all winter long."

"Mother, are we coming here to live?" asked Junior, over his chocolate.

"I don't know," Nancy answered, feeling that she could cry with nervousness. She hardly tasted her tea, she hardly saw the men and women that drifted to and fro. Her heart was choking her with hope and fear, and she knew that Bert was nervous, too.

At last Mr. Rogers returned to the subject of "Holly Court," he wanted to know first what they thought of it. Oh, it was perfect, said Nancy and Bert together. It was just what they wanted, only--

Good, the agent said. He went on to say that he would have bought the house himself, but that his wife's father had an old home in Flushing, and while the old gentleman lived, he wanted them there. But he belonged to the Marlborough Gardens Club, and kept a boat there. Now, he had been authorized to put a special price on this place of Lansings, and he was going to tell them frankly why. They knew as well as he did that a hundred foot square plot, and trees like that, so near the water, cost money. He digressed to tell them just how property had soared in price, during even his own time.

"The truth is," he said, "that Lansing, when he picked that site, picked it for trees, and quiet, and view--it didn't make any difference to him that it was a corner site, and a little out of the main traffic----"

"But I like that about it!" Nancy said eagerly. "I love the isolation and the quiet. Nobody will bother us there----"

Bert saw that she was already moving in. He turned a rather anxious look from her to the agent.