Chapter VII
 

These were busy days in the once quiet and sleepy office of the Santa Paloma Morning Mail. A wave of energy and vigor swept over the place, affecting everybody from the fat, spoiled office cat, who found himself pushed out of chairs, and bounced off of folded coats with small courtesy, to the new editor-manager and the lady whose timely investment had brought this pleasant change about. Old Kelly, the proof-reader, night clerk, Associated Press manager, and assistant editor, shouted and swore with a vim unknown of late years; Miss Watson, who "covered" social events, clubs, public dinners, "dramatic," and "hotels," cleaned out her desk, and took her fancy-work home, and "Fergy," a freckled youth who delighted in calling himself a "cub," although he did little more than run errands and carry copy to the press-room, might even be seen batting madly at an unused typewriter when actual duties failed, so inspiring was the new atmosphere.

Mrs. Burgoyne had a desk and a corner of her own, where her trim figure might be seen daily for an hour or two, from ten o'clock until the small girls came in to pick her up on their way home from school for luncheon. Barry found her brimming with ideas. She instituted the "Women's Page," the old familiar page of answered questions, and formulas for ginger-bread, and brief romances, and scraps of poetry, and she offered through its columns a weekly cash prize for contributions on household topics. An exquisite doll appeared in the window of the Mail office, a doll with a flower- wreathed hat, and a ruffled dress, and a little parasol to match the dress, and loitering little girls, drawn from all over the village to study this dream of beauty, learned that they had only to enter a loaf of bread of their own making in the Mail contest, to stand a chance of carrying the little lady home. Beside the doll stood a rifle, no toy, but a genuine twenty-two Marlin. for the boy whose plans for a vegetable garden seemed the best and most practical, Mrs. Burgoyne herself talked to the children when they came shyly in to investigate. "She seems to want to know every child in the county, the darling!" said Miss Watson to Fergy.

The Valentines, father and son, came into the Mail office one warm June morning, to find the editor of the "Women's Page" busy at her desk, with the sunlight lying in a bright bar across her uncovered hair, and a vista of waving green boughs showing through the open window behind her.

"What are you two doing here at this hour?" said Sidney, laying down her pen and leaning back in her chair as if glad of a moment's rest. "Why, Billy!" she added in admiring tones, "let me see you! How very, very nice you look!"

For the little fellow was dressed in a new sailor suit that was a full size too large for him, his wild mop had been cut far too close, and a large new hat and new shoes were much in evidence.

"D'you think he looks all right?" said Barry with an anxious wistfulness that went straight to her heart. "He looks better, doesn't he? I've been fixing him up."

"And free sailor waists, and stockings, and nighties," supplemented Billy, also anxious for her approval.

"He looks lovely!" said Sidney, enthusiastically, even while she was mentally raising the collar of his waist, and taking an inch or two off the trousers. She lifted the child up to sit on his father's desk, and kissed the top of his little cropped head.

"We may not express ourselves very fluently," said Barry, who was seated in his own revolving chair and busily opening and shutting the drawers of his desk, "but we appreciate the interest beautiful ladies take in our manners and morals, and the new tooth-brushes they buy us--"

"My dear!" protested Mrs. Burgoyne, between laughter and tears, "Ellen used his old one up, cleaning out their paint-boxes!" And she put her warm hand on his shoulder, and said, "Don't be a goose, Barry!" as unselfconsciously as a sister might. "Where are you two boys going, Billy?" she asked, going back to her own desk.

"'Cool," Billy said.

"He's going over to the kindergarten. I've got some work I ought to finish here," Barry supplemented." I'll take you across the street, Infant, I'll be right back, Sidney."

"But, Barry, why are you working now?" asked the lady a few minutes later when he took his place at his desk.

"Oh, don't you worry," he answered, smiling; "I love it. The thought of old Rogers' face when he opens his paper every morning does me good, I'm writing this appeal for the new reservoir now, and I've got to play up the Flower Festival."

"I'm not interested in the Flower Festival," said Mrs. Burgoyne good-naturedly, "and the minute it's over I'm going to start a crusade for a girls' clubhouse in Old Paloma. Conditions over there for the girls are something hideous. But I suppose we'll have to go on with the Festival for the present. It's a great occasion, I suppose?"

"Oh, tremendous! The Governor's coming, and thousands of visitors always pour into town. We'll have nearly a hundred carriages in the parade, simply covered with flowers, you know. It's lovely! You wait until things get fairly started!"

"That'll be Fourth of July," Sidney said thoughtfully, turning back to her exchanges, "I'll begin my clubhouse crusade on the fifth!" she added firmly.

For a long time there was silence in the office, except for the rustling of paper and the scratch of pens. From the sunny world out- of-doors came a pleasant blending of many noises, passing wagons, the low talk of chickens, the slamming of gates, and now and then the not unmusical note of a fish-horn. Footsteps and laughing voices went by, and died into silence. The clock from Town Hall Square struck eleven slowly.

"This is darned pleasant," said Barry presently, over his work.

"Isn't it?" said the editor of the "Women's Page," and again there was silence.

After a while Barry said "Finished!" with a great breath, and, leaning back in his chair, wheeled about to find the lady quietly watching him.

"Barry, are you working too hard?" said she, quite unembarrassed.

"Am I? Lord, not I wish the days were twice as long. I"--Barry rumpled his thick hair with a gesture that was familiar to Sidney now--"I guess work agrees with me. By George, I hate to eat, and I hate to sleep; I want to be down here all the time, or else rustling up subscriptions and 'ads.',"

"And I thought you were lazy," said Sidney, finding herself, for the first time in their friendship, curiously inclined to keep the conversation personal, this warm June morning. It was a thing extremely difficult to do, with Barry. "You certainly gave me that impression," she said.

"Yes; but that was two months ago," said Barry, off guard. A second later he changed the topic abruptly by asking, "Did your roses come?"

"All of them," answered Sidney pleasantly. And vaguely conscious of mischief in the air, but led on by some inexplicable whim, she pursued, "Do you mean that it makes such a difference to you, Rogers being gone?"

Barry trimmed the four sides of a clipping with four clips of his shears.

"Exactly," said he briefly. He banged a drawer shut, closed a book and laid it aside, and stuck the brush into his glue-pot. "Getting enough of dinner parties?" he asked then, cheerfully.

"Too much," said Sidney, wondering why she felt like a reprimanded child. "And that reminds me: I am giving two dinners for the Von Praags, you know. I can't manage everybody at once; I hate more than ten people at a dinner. And you are asked to the first."

"I don't go much to dinners," Barry said.

"I know you don't; but I want you to come to this one," said Sidney. "You'll love old Mr. von Praag. And Richard, the son, is a dear! I really want you."

"He's an artist, too, isn't he?" said Barry without enthusiasm.

"Who, Richard?" she asked, something in his manner putting her a little at a loss. "Yes; and he's very clever, and so nice! He's like a brother to me."

Barry did not answer, but after a moment he said, scowling a little, and not looking up:

"A fellow like that has pretty smooth sailing. Rich, the son of a big man, traveling all he wants to, studio in New York, clubs--"

"Oh, Richard has his troubles," Sidney said. "His wife is very delicate, and they lost their little girl... Are you angry with me about anything, Barry?" she broke off, puzzled and distressed, for this unresponsive almost sullen manner was unlike anything she had ever seen in him.

But a moment later he turned toward her with his familiar sunny smile.

"Why didn't you say so before?" he said sheepishly.

"Say--?" she echoed bewilderedly. Then, with a sudden rush of enlightenment, "Why, Barry, you're not jealous?"

A second later she would have given much to have the words unsaid. They faced each other in silence, the color mounting steadily in Sidney's face.

"I didn't mean of me," she stammered uncomfortably; "I meant of everything. I thought--but it was a silly thing to say. It sounded-- I didn't think--"

"I don't know why you shouldn't have thought it, since I was fool enough to show it," said Barry after a moment, coming over to her desk and facing her squarely. Sidney stood up, opposite him, her heart beating wildly. "And I don't know why I shouldn't be jealous," he went on steadily, "at the idea that some old friend might come in here and take you away from Santa Paloma. You asked me if it was old Rogers' going that made a difference to me--"

"I know," interrupted Sidney, scarlet-cheeked. "Please"--

"But you know better than that," Barry went on, his voice rising a little. "You know what you have done for me. If ever I try to speak of it, you say, as you said about the kid just now, 'My dear boy, I like to do it.' But I'm going to say what I mean now, once and for all. You loaned me money, and it was through your lending it that I got credit to borrow more; you gave me a chance to be my own master; you showed you had faith in me; you reminded me of the ambition I had as a kid, before Hetty and all that trouble had crushed it out of me; you came down here to the office and talked and planned, and took it for granted that I was going to pull myself together and stop idling, and kicking, and fooling away my time; and all through these six weeks of rough sailing, you've let me go up there to the Hall and tell you everything--and then you wonder if I could ever be jealous!" His tone, which had risen almost to violence, fell suddenly. He went back to his desk and began to straighten the papers there, not seeing what he did. "I never can say anything more to you, Sidney, I've said too much now," he said a little huskily; "but I'm glad to have you know how I feel."

Sidney stood quite still, her breath coming and going quickly. She was fundamentally too honest a woman to meet the situation with one of the hundred insincerities that suggested themselves to her. She knew she was to blame, and she longed to undo the mischief, and put their friendship back where it had been only an hour ago. But the right words did not suggest themselves, and she could only stand silently watching him. Barry had opened a book, and, holding it in both hands, was apparently absorbed in its contents.

Neither had spoken or moved, and Sidney was meditating a sudden, wordless departure, when Ellen Burgoyne burst noisily into the room. Ellen was a square, splendid child, always conversationally inclined, and never at a loss for a subject.

"You look as if you wanted to cry, Mother," said she. "Perhaps you didn't hear the whistle; school's out. We've been waiting ever so long. Mother, I know you said you hoped Heaven would not send any more dogs our way for a long while, but Jo and Jeanette and I found one by the school fence. Mother, you will say it has the most pathetic face you ever saw when you see it. Its ear was bloody, and it licked Jo's hand so gently, and it's such a lit-tul dog! Jo has it wrapped up in her coat. Mother, may we have it? Please, please--"

Barry wheeled about with his hearty laugh, and Mrs. Burgoyne, laughing too, stopped the eager little mouth with a kiss.

"It sounds as if we must certainly have him, Baby!" said she.