Strawberry Acres by Grace S. Richmond
Part II. The Lanes and the Acres.
Chapter XVI. Time-Tables
"If ever I felt weepy over seeing people off, it's this minute!"
"We feel just as weepy over going, Sally Lunn. But cheer up. We shall come out every other minute, Jarvis and I, and mother will be planning all winter, I know, how early she can get back in the spring."
Josephine gave Sally a tremendous hug as she spoke, and Mrs. Burnside, in her turn, took the girl into her motherly embrace.
"I shouldn't have believed," she said warmly, "how reluctant I should be to go back to town in the fall, after this charming summer--nor how willing I should be to promise to return in the spring. Sally, dear--do make use of our rooms all you care to--though they're not half as cheery as your own, for the winter."
"It has been a lovely summer, hasn't it?" cried Sally, as the Burnside carriage, fine bay horses and liveried coachman, appeared upon the driveway, looking suggestively like city life again. "A successful one too, don't you think, for the boys? They're confident they have improved the ground so much that their first real crops, next year-will begin to show what crops ought to be."
"Yes, it has all been a success," agreed Mrs. Burnside, "in spite of the mistakes they own to and laugh over. Jarvis himself has received a world of good from his out-door life. I'm hoping that all your brothers will make the most of next season--especially Max."
"Oh, Max will come round in time," declared Josephine confidently. "I caught him feeling enviously of Jarvis's arms the other day. When Jarvis said he felt like a giant, Max said he thought he'd have to begin giant culture, whether he succeeded in making any squashes grow or not."
This thought cheered Sally through the trying moment of watching her friends drive away. Their going took place at rather an unfortunate time for her. Uncle Timothy was off on a visit to his old New Hampshire home; Constance Carew had departed the week before--though under promise to return for a long visit the following summer; and Janet was away for a wedding in which she was to play the part of bridesmaid. Sally's one consolation was that Joanna was to take the place of Mary Ann Flinders in the kitchen.
This arrangement had been made by Mrs. Burnside. On just what terms it had been effected Sally was not permitted to inquire. She had protested against it, but the argument had ended by the elder woman's saying gently, "Sally dear, I shall spend a happier winter if I know you have my good Joanna here. She likes the place, it is a pleasant change for her from the responsibilities of my entertaining, and her sister is eager to take her place with me. So let me have my way--at least for this winter." It was a way of putting the matter which could not be set aside.
When the carriage had disappeared, Sally wandered out to the kitchen to console herself with the sight of Joanna. There was no doubt that the presence of that capable, comfortable person, possessed as she was of intelligence and common sense, would be a real support to the young mistress of the house. But at this moment even Joanna failed her, for she had gone to her room, the hour being that of mid-afternoon. Sally wandered back again into the living-room, feeling too disconsolate even to make the effort to cheer herself by going for a brisk walk in the keen late October air, a measure which usually had a prompt effect upon her spirits.
From the living-room window she saw a messenger boy approaching, and hurried to the porch door to meet him, hoping he brought no ill news. Two minutes later she was reading the message, alone in the living-room, while the boy waited in the hall. Its purport banished all thought of present circumstances, except to bring the wish that it had arrived a half-hour earlier. "Mr. Rudd seriously ill anxious to have you come at once" it read, and was signed by the name of one of Mr. Rudd's old New Hampshire friends.
After a minute's deliberation, Sally wrote her reply "Will come at once. Leave to-night if possible," and sent the boy off with it. As he departed Jarvis came into the hall from the door at the rear. Sally turned with an exclamation of surprise and relief.
"Oh, I thought you had gone."
"Without saying good-by? You ought to know better. But I'd have been off when the others went if I hadn't had some unexpected magneto trouble. All right now, and I'm going at once. What's that?" as he caught sight of the yellow envelope in her hand. "No bad news, I hope?"
"Uncle Timmy's very sick--up in New Hampshire. I'm going to him as fast as I can get off."
"Uncle Timmy? Oh, I'm mighty sorry! You're going, you say?"
"Of course. He asked me to come. I was just going to telephone to find out about trains."
"I'll see to all that--if you must go. But, Sally--have you let Max know?"
"Have you sent an answer saying you will come, on your own responsibility?"
Sally's slight figure drew itself up. "Why not? There's nothing else to do but go--and if there were, I wouldn't do it."
"It will take you at least twenty-four hours to get there."
"Yes. What has that to do with it?"
Jarvis's face looked as if he thought it had a good deal to do with it. He knew that, dress as quietly as she would--and Sally's dressing for the street meant always the plainest and simplest of attire--there was that about her which invariably attracted attention. He understood with just what a barrier of youthful reserve she would be likely to surround herself upon such a journey, but he understood also that barriers of reserve are not all the defences sometimes necessary for a girl who travels alone. For one moment he felt as if he must go along to take care of her, in the next that nothing could be more out of the question.
"I'm glad it's no farther, anyhow," he replied to Sally's quick question. "But hadn't you better let the boys know, before you go at your preparations? Max wouldn't be pleased at not being consulted, you know."
"Will you tell him, please? But first find out what train I must take, so you can be definite with him."
"But, Sally--really--shouldn't you ask old Maxy's consent?"
"Well--it's the diplomatic thing to do."
"I don't care one bit about diplomacy. Uncle Timmy's sick and wants me. I'm going up to get ready. You can telephone what you like." With something in her voice which sounded suspiciously like a sob, she ran away up the stairs.
Knitting his brows, Jarvis went into the west wing to the telephone, that instrument having been promptly installed upon the Burnside family's arrival for the summer. After considering a minute he called up a railway ticket-office and learned that the best through train Sally could take would leave at 5.30 that afternoon. His watch told him that it was then nearly half after three. There must be rapid work if Sally was to catch that train. Then he had Max on the wire. Statement, question, and answer now came back and forth in quick succession.
"What, start to-night?" Max's tone was incredulous.
"So she wants to do--with your permission. I suppose you'll give it. By the despatch we judge he's pretty ill."
"Well, but--look here. I must say that's asking a good deal for her to go off up there. Why not wire whoever sent the thing to keep us informed, and if he gets much worse--"
"Won't do, she's already answered she'll go."
"Well, of all the--see here--but we can't really afford--"
"I'll see to that--don't mention it." Jarvis's tone was curt. He was beginning to sympathize with Sally's reluctance to consult her elder brother. He wondered if Max would ever outgrow his habit of objecting to everything first and unwillingly taking it into consideration afterward.
"I'm awfully busy here--can't do a thing to get her off--can't get away from the bank before five."
"Don't try. Meet us at the train. I'll engage a berth for her--mustn't lose more time about it," and Jarvis hang-up his receiver without waiting to hear anything further. Then he had a wrestle with the Pullman ticket-office, in the attempt to secure a full sleeping-car section for Sally.
"Can't do it," came back the answer.
"No, but we don't give a section to one passenger."
"Not if it's paid for?"
"Not on one ticket."
"On two tickets, then?"
"Why, of course, if you want to pay for two full-fare tickets."
Jarvis considered rapidly. If he secured the section on two tickets, Sally would be forced to show them both, so she couldn't be kept from knowing about it--unless he--yes, he could hunt up the Pullman conductor and give him one ticket. Wait--why not engage a state-room--if he could get it at this late hour?--though the train was a fast and popular one, and he knew this was doubtful. But a moment's reflection negatived this idea. Sally would certainly resent his taking the liberty of paying all the difference between one ordinary berth and a luxuriously private state-room. He realized, with a sense of irritation, that it was of no use. He could not send Sally up into New Hampshire packed in jewellers' cotton, marked "Fragile and Valuable," a registered package conveyed by special messenger. But he could make sure that nobody else shared the section either by night or day, and this he did, and double-tied his reservation until he could get to town to see about it personally.
Then he ran over to the Ferry cottage, thinking that Sally might be glad, in the absence of the girls, to have Mrs. Ferry come over and help her with her hurried preparations. But he found the place locked and silent, and understood that the mistress of it had probably gone into town for the day, as she frequently did. So he dashed back and upstairs to Joanna's room, where he routed her from her sewing with the request: "Go see if you can be mother, sister, and friend to Miss Sally, Joanna--there's an angel!" Which intimate form of address may be comprehended if it is added that Joanna had been in the Burnside family since Jarvis himself was a small lad in knickerbockers--and the good woman's especial pride--and that therefore a warm friendship existed between them.
Joanna made all haste to Sally's room, ready to do her best, but she found her charge already clad in travelling dress, pinning a veil about her hat, her gloves and purse laid out, and a bag packed with necessaries. The mind of the young mistress of the house was concerned less with her own preparations than with the comfort of those she was to leave behind.
"You'll take good care of them, won't you, Joanna?" begged Sally. "Give them the things they like best--all the time. And you'll see that the living-room looks the way I like to have it when they come home, won't you?--the fire blazing, and the couch pillows plumped up. And you know they like a nice lot of shiny red apples brought up to eat before they go to bed!"
"Yes, Miss Sally, I'll remember all the things. Don't you fret yourself. I can't take your place, but I'll see that the young gentlemen have their buttons sewed on, and plenty of good food. But I'm hoping you won't be gone long. Most likely you'll find your uncle better--I hope that, indeed I do, Miss Sally."
"Thank you, Joanna--indeed I do, too. And--Joanna--I'm so glad you're here. I don't think I could go away and leave my brothers with just little Mary Ann to look after them!"
Sally held the big hand tight a minute, looked into the plump, kind face with eyes which were suddenly like drenched violets--then dashed away the tears, smiled at Joanna, caught up her belongings, and ran downstairs, followed by the woman, who felt relieved when she saw Mr. Jarvis waiting in the hall below. It had suddenly seemed to Joanna as if she must go with the girl herself. It must not be supposed that Sally did not possess plenty of the air of capable independence. It was only that--well--the fair, curly hair, the dark-lashed blue eyes, the flower-like bloom of the young face, appealed to her, as they did to Jarvis, as needing protection from the eyes sure to follow her wherever she went. Looking up at her from below it also occurred to Jarvis that the plain and unrelieved dark blue of Sally's whole attire somehow served only to heighten the probable effect of her upon the observant public, and he longed fiercely himself to double the thickness of that veil and tie it tight about her head, requesting her not to untie it till she was safe in Uncle Timothy's presence!
But all he said was: "Ready? You're a quick one--wouldn't have thought any girl could make such time. This all your baggage? Come on--the car's at the door."
Outside he spoke hurriedly: "Sally, you haven't given me a chance to ask you about funds for this trip. One can't always lay one's hand on just the amount--and Max is busy, so--"
But Sally answered with assurance. "It's all right, thank you, Jarvis. I've a little fund of my own. There isn't any need to bother Max. I'm so glad of that. How lucky for me you hadn't gone with the car! I should have been so flurried, trying to catch the trolley with my bag and umbrella."
She took her place and in a minute they were off. And there had been nobody but Joanna on the big porch to wave good-by at Sally Lane!
Then came a fast drive to town, during which neither of them talked much.
"I wish there were time to take you up to the house to see mother and Jo," Jarvis said, as they came into the down-town streets. "But Jo may be at the station. I telephoned the house, but they'd evidently driven somewhere else before going home. I left word, so I'm hoping Jo will get it. She'll be heart-broken if you get off without her seeing you."
But Josephine was not at the station. Alec and Bob were there, however, and they told Sally that Max would come in time to see her off. Personally they were much upset at the outlook.
"I don't see why you have to be the one," protested Alec. "Uncle Timothy must have some ancient sister or cousin or aunt to see to him, without sending for a girl like you."
Jarvis had rushed away to the ticket-office, and Sally had her brothers to herself for the time. She made the most of it.
"But he hasn't, Alec," she explained. "I simply have to go. But I want you boys not to mind my being away. Joanna will take beautiful care of everything, and you must have your friends out, and crack nuts and pop corn and roast apples in the evenings, and be just as jolly as if--"
"Oh, wow!" cried Bob. "Sally, what do you take us for? What we'll do will be to moon around the fire and wonder what you're doing. We--"
"No, no! It will be winter soon, and you must go tobogganing--"
"Why, you aren't going to stay away all winter, are you?" Alec grew wrathful. "Look here--I won't stand for anything like that--neither will the rest. You've got to--"
"Listen, dear. I may be back in a--well--in a very short time, if Uncle Timothy gets on. But you know how it was a few years ago when he had pneumonia--he was a long time getting about. He's older now, and--"
"Yes, but we've first right to you. Besides, you'll use yourself all up trying to nurse--"
"No--I'm strong and well, Alec--I won't use myself up. But Uncle Timmy is all we have left--and--oh, please don't talk about it!--I'm so anxious lest I can't do anything for him when I get there." She conquered a constriction in her throat, while they waited, for that last phrase had silenced them. They were all fond of Uncle Timothy--they didn't want to lose him. In a minute Sally went on cheerfully: "If you'll only write to me I can stand anything. Tell me all about everything. Oh, here's Max!"
She turned to meet him. He was looking gravely disapproving, as was to have been expected, but something in the sight of his sister's face made him refrain from reproaching her for not having consulted him, as he had intended to do. Besides, the hands of the clock were pointing too nearly to the time of her departure for him to feel like thrusting upon her the weight of his displeasure.
Jarvis came back, tickets in hand, and gave them to Sally with the little purse she had handed him. Announcing that there was no time to lose he then convoyed the whole party through the door to the trains, using some influence which he possessed with the blue-capped official thereat to obtain the favour. So the passengers already in the crowded sleeper were treated to the somewhat unusual spectacle of a particularly charming girl being brought aboard her train by a party of four quietly solicitous young men, even the youngest of them, by virtue of his height and broad shoulders, counting as a male "grown-up."
Jarvis went off for a hasty interview with the Pullman conductor then hunted up the porter of Sally's car, the "Lucatia," and gave him certain instructions, accompanied by a transfer of something which brought a broad grin to that person's dusky face, with the assertion, "Suah, sah--I'll make the young lady comf'able--thank you, sah."
He got back to the "Lucatia" only in time to hear the call of "all aboard," from outside, to see the blue veil surrounded by three leave-taking brothers bestowing hurried but hearty testimonials of their affection and bidding her "Take care of yourself," "Write often," and "Don't kill yourself working," and to push past them as they made for the door, to say his own good-by. It was easy for the interested fellow-travellers to see that this young man evidently was not a brother, for his farewell consisted only of a somewhat prolonged grip of the hand, his hat off, his eyes searching the blue ones lifted to his with the expression of one who cannot quite trust her lips to speak. Then, without a word on either side, Jarvis had dropped Sally's hand and was rushing to the door, for the train was under way.
Remembering suddenly that this happened to be the last car on the train when she came in, Sally hurried through it to the rear. There they were, lined up in a solid row, and as she appeared, their hats came off and were waved in the air. Beneath the bright electric lights of the station she could see their cheerful smiles, and she smiled back, waving her handkerchief as long as she could see them. From their point of view the picture was quite as absorbing as from hers, for her slender figure holding to the brass rail of the platform against the background of the car looked both girlish and solitary, and as they watched it recede into the distance they were all of them hoping that it would not be long before they could welcome her back into that same great dingy station.
"If you have any pity on us, Jarve, come back to the house, and don't go home to stay in town till she comes. We shall be bluer than tombstones."
This was Max's double tribute to the homemaking qualities of his sister and to the partnership qualities of his friend, and Jarvis responded readily, for, truth told, it was the very thing he wanted to do most. It seemed to him that while he should not miss Sally less in the house whose every corner would be eloquent of her absence, there would be a certain consolation in being there. He had a queer feeling that she had not gone for a speedy return, and that more than one moon would change before they should see her again. Meanwhile, it occurred to him that she would like to have him there for her brothers' sake, since they wanted him.
Alec and Bob eagerly echoed Max's plea.
"Bachelors' hall? Well, I don't know that I mind, since my stuff hasn't gone back yet. Mother and Jo have company asked for next week, and will expect me to help entertain, but I can be out at Strawberry Acres more or less. Come up to the house in the car with me, while I explain; then we'll drive out. Al and Bob can ride on the running boards, if they like."
They jumped on, feeling that to stay together was to mind things less. It was odd how low of spirit they all were already. Surely, one would think that four strapping fellows might contemplate getting on for a space without one slim young person who was accustomed not only to humour them, but to make three of them toe certain well-defined marks in the matter of clean linen, fresh cravats, and carefully parted hair. Yet not one of them was really willing to go home till the others should be coming along too.
In front of the fireplace, later, when Joanna had given them so good a dinner that it would seem as if their content could hardly be preyed upon by any contemplation of the future, Bob suddenly voiced the general sentiment. He was lying on his side upon the hearth-rug, his round face fiery from his proximity to the blaze.
"Why does it feel so different when you know people are miles away and getting farther every minute than when you know they've just gone to town for a party?" he queried, thoughtfully. "They're away just the same--they aren't here, I mean. Why isn't being away the same thing as being away?"
At any other time this somewhat involved statement of conditions would have provoked jeers from the company. But no jeers were forthcoming. Max grunted, lying flat on his back on the couch--whose pillows Joanna had carefully plumped up--his heels on the arm at the end. Alec, standing at the window with his hands in his pockets, staring out into the frosty night, turned about and remarked that on a train averaging sixty to seventy miles an hour Sally must already be out of the state.
"Wonder if she's asleep," speculated Bob. "She used to like sleeping on sleepers, when father and mother used to take us around so much. Say, she had a whole section to herself--at least till we left, and nobody was coming aboard then. Hope she has the luck to keep it. Funny! The car was crowded, and so was the next one. I looked in."
"Plenty of people may get on before midnight." reflected Alec.
Jarvis picked up a magazine. "Suppose I read aloud this article on railroading," he proposed. The company consented and he began. He had not read two pages before he ran, so to speak, into a series of frightful railway wrecks. But, wishing he had chosen something else, he kept on till suddenly Bob interrupted with a fierce: "Cut it! I've got her knocked into five thousand pieces now--I'll dream of those confounded smash-ups and Sally in the midst of 'em, if you don't drop that magazine."
The others murmured a somewhat sheepish assent, and Jarvis turned willingly enough to a tale of adventure at sea. A snore from the couch interrupted him in the middle of a most thrilling crisis, and only the appearance of Joanna with a big dish of shiny apples prevented Bob from following suit.
"Jove, Joanna, you're a good one. How did you come to think of it?" asked Alec, selecting a beauty and setting his teeth into it with a sense of refreshment.
"Miss Sally said I was not to forget anything she usually did, Mr. Alec," replied Joanna.
"If you remember everything she usually does you'll be a brick, Joanna," cried Bob, rousing to his opportunity and getting up on his knees to accept his apple.
"There's one thing she does, that nobody can possibly do for her," thought Jarvis as, consuming the crisp, cool specimen Joanna had bestowed upon him with a motherly smile for the boy she had known so long, he paced up and down the room, passing the piano at the end with a vivid recollection of how Sally was accustomed to play what she called "little tunes" upon it in the firelight.
"And that's to fill one small corner of her place in the home she has made here."