Chapter XII
 

So Barry was invited up to the Hall to dinner, and found himself so instantly swept into the plan that he had no time to be self- conscious. Dinner was served on the side porch, and the sunlight filtered across the white cloth, and turned the garden into a place of enchantment. When Billy and the small girls had seized two cookies and two peaches apiece, and retired to the lawn to enjoy them, he and Sidney sat talking on in the pleasant dusk.

"You've asked eight, so far," he said, as she was departing for the office an hour or so after dinner was finished, "but do you think that's all?"

"Oh, it positively must be!" Sidney said virtuously, but there was a wicked gleam in her eye that prepared him for her sudden descent upon the office two days later, with the startling news that now she had positively stopped, but fourteen children had been asked!

Barry, rather to her surprise, remained calm.

"Well, I've got an idea," he said presently, "that will make that all right, fourteen children or twenty, it won't make any difference. Only, it may not appeal to you."

"Oh, it will--and you are an angel!" said the lady fervently.

"I've got a friend up the country here in a lumber-mill," Barry explained, "Joe Painter--he hauls logs down from the forest to the river, with a team of eight oxen. Now, if he'd lend them, and you got a hay-wagon from Old Paloma, you wouldn't have any trouble at all."

"Oh, but Barry," she gasped, her face radiant, "would he lend them?"

"I think he would; he'd have to come too, you know, and drive them. I'll ride up and see, anyway."

"Oxen," mused Mrs. Burgoyne, "how perfectly glorious! The children will go wild with joy. And, you see, my Indian boys--"

"Your what?"

"I didn't mention them," said Sidney serenely, "because they'll walk alongside, and won't count in the load. But, you see, some of those nice little mill-boys who don't go to school heard the girls talking about it, and one of them asked me--so wistfully!--if there was anything they could do. I immediately thought of Indian costumes."

"But how the deuce will you get the costumes made?" said Barry, drawing a sheet of paper toward him, and beginning some calculations, with an anxious eye.

"Why, it's just cheese-cloth for the girls. Mrs. Brown and I have our machines up in the barn, and Mrs. Carew and Mrs. Adams will come up and help, there's not much to that! Barry, if you will really get us this--this ox-man--nothing else will worry me at all."

"You'll have to put the beasts up in your barn."

"Oh, surely! Ask him what they eat. Oh, Barry, we must have them! Think how picturesque they'll be! I've been thinking my entry would be a disgrace to the parade, but I don't believe it will be so bad. Barry, when will we know about it?"

"You can count on it, I guess. Joe won't refuse," Barry said, with his lazy smile.

"Oh, you're an angel! I'm going shopping this instant. Barry, there will be room now for my Ellen, and Billy, and Dicky Carew, won't there? It seems their hearts are bursting with the desire. Bunting," murmured Sidney, beginning a list, "cheese-cloth, pink, blue, and cream, bolts of it; twine, beads, leather, feathers; some big white hats; ice-cream, extra milk--"

"Hold on! What for?"

"Why, they have to have something to eat afterward," she reproached him. "We're going to have a picnic up at the Hall. Then those that can will join their people for the fireworks, and the others will be taken home to Old Paloma. The little Scott girl will stay with Ellen and Jo overnight; Mammy Currey will look after them, and they'll watch the fireworks from my porch. I've written to ask Doctor Young- -he's the best in San Francisco--to come up from the city next day to see what he thinks can be done for Mary Scott."

"You get a lot of fun out of your money, don't you, Sidney?" said Barry, watching her amusedly, as she tucked the list into her purse and arose with a great air of business.

"More than any one woman deserves," she answered soberly.

"Walter," said Anne Pratt to her brother, one evening about this time, as she decorously filled his plate from the silver tureen, "have you heard that Mrs. Burgoyne has gathered up about twenty children in Old Paloma--cripples, and orphans, and I don't know what all!--and is getting up a wagon for the Flower Festival? I was up at the Hall to-day, and they're working like beavers."

"Carew said something about it," said Walter Pratt. "Seems a good idea. Those poor little kids over there don't have much fun."

"You never said so before, Walter," his sister returned almost resentfully.

"I don't know why I shouldn't have," said Walter literally. "It's true."

"If we did anything for any children, it ought to be Lizzie's," said Miss Pratt uncomfortably, after a pause.

"I wish to the Lord we could do something for Lizzie's kids," her brother observed suddenly. "I suppose it would kill you to have 'em up here?"

"Kill me!" Miss Anne echoed with painful eagerness, and with a sudden tremble of her thin, long hand. "I don't know why it should; there never were better behaved children born. I don't like Lizzie's husband, and never shall;" she rushed on, "but seeing those children up at the Hall to-day made me think of Betty, and Hope, and Davy, cooped up down there in town. They'd love the Flower Festival, and I could take them up to the Hall, and Nanny would be wild with joy to have Lizzie's children here; she'd bake cookies and gingerbread--" A flush had come into her faded, cool cheek. "Wouldn't they be in your way? You really wouldn't mind--you won't change your mind about it, Walt?" she said timidly.

"Change my mind! Why, I'll love to have them running round here," he answered warmly. "Write Lizzie to-night, and tell her I've got to go down Tuesday, and I'll bring 'em up,"

"I'll tell her that just the things they have will be quite good enough," said Miss Pratt. "The Burgoyne children just wear play- ginghams--I'll get them anything else they need!"

"It won't interfere with your club work, Anne?"

"Not in the least!" She was sure of that, "And anyway," she went on decidedly, "I'm not going to the club so much this summer. Mary Brown and I went yesterday, and there was--well, I suppose it was a good paper on 'The Mind of the Child,' by Miss Sarah Rich. But it seemed so flat. And Mary Brown said, coming away, 'I think Doctor and I will still come to the monthly receptions, but I believe I won't listen to any more papers like that. They're all very well for people who have no children--'"

"Well, by Tuesday night you'll have three!" said Walter, with what was for him great gaiety of manner.

"Walter," his sister suggested nervously, "you'll be awfully affectionate with Lizzie, won't you? Be sure to tell her that we want them; and tell her that they'll be playing up at the Hall all summer, as we used to. You know, I've been thinking, Walter," went on the poor lady, with her nose suddenly growing red and her eyes watering, "that I've not been a very good sister to Lizzie. She's the youngest, and Mother--Mother wasn't here to advise her about her marriage, and--and now I don't write her; and she wrote me that Betty had a cough, and Davy was so noisy indoors in wet weather--and I just go to the Club to hear papers upon 'Napoleon' and 'The Mind of the Child.'" And Miss Anne, beginning to cry outright, leaned back in her chair, and covered her face with her handkerchief.

"Well, Anne--well, Anne," her brother said huskily, "we'll make it up now. Where are you going to put them?" he presently added, with an inspiration.

Miss Pratt straightened up, blew her nose, wiped her eyes, and rang for the maid.

"Betty and Hope in the big front room--" she began happily.

Another brief conversation, this time between George Carew and his wife, was indicative of a certain change of view-point that was affecting the women of Santa Paloma in these days. Mr. Carew, coming home one evening, found a very demure and charming figure seated on the porch. Mrs. Carew's gown was simplicity itself: a thin, dotted, dark blue silk, with a deep childish lace collar and cuffs.

"You look terribly sweet, Jen," said Mr. Carew; "you look out of sight." And when he came downstairs again, and they were at dinner, he returned to the subject with, "Jen, I haven't seen you look so sweet for a long time. What is that, a new dress? Is that for the reception on the Fourth? Jen, didn't you have a dress like that when we were first married?"

"Sorrel made this, and it only cost sixty dollars," said Mrs. Carew.

"Well, get her to make you another," her husband said approvingly. At which Mrs. Carew laughed a little shakily, and came around the table, and put her arms about him and said:

"Oh, George, you dear old bat! Miss Pomeroy made this, upstairs here, in three days, and the silk cost nine dollars. I did have a dress like this in my trousseau--my first silk--and I thought it was wonderful; and I think you're a darling to remember it; and I am going to wear this on the Fourth. It's nice enough, isn't it?"

"Nice enough! You'll be the prettiest woman there," stated Mr. Carew positively.