Strawberry Acres by Grace S. Richmond
Part I.--Five Miles Out
Chapter V. Telephones and Tents
"Hello, Jarve! This you?"
Over the telephone Jarvis Burnside recognized Max Lane's voice, eager and cheerful. The last time he had heard it, it had been so despondent that his own anxiety had been heavily increased. He answered eagerly:
"Yes. What is it?"
"There's a break in her temperature."
"A break! You mean--"
"A drop--a landslide--during the last twelve hours. She's sleeping quietly. She's--"
But something suddenly interfered with the speaker's articulation. Although Jarvis continued to listen with strained attention, a silence succeeded. His imagination filled the gap. He essayed to offer congratulations, but found something the matter with his own powers of speech. After a moment's struggle, however, he was able to say, "I'll be round as quick as I can get there."
Mrs. Burnside, passing the telephone closet at the back of the hall, heard a rush therefrom, and found herself suddenly embraced by a pair of long arms. Although blue goggles concealed her son's eyes from her look of sympathetic inquiry, the smile which transformed his face was not to be mistaken.
"Jarvis, dear--you've had good news!"
"Max couldn't say much, but his voice told. The fever's down--she's sleeping!"
"Oh, I am glad--so glad! The dear child! I couldn't sleep last night, after the discouraging news."
Her son did not say that he had not slept, but he looked it. His finely cut features showed plainly that for more than one night he had been suffering severe and increasing strain.
"We must tell Josephine," said his mother happily, proceeding on her way with Jarvis's arm about her shoulders.
"You look her up, please. I'm going to bolt down to see Max and the rest. Uncle Timothy was about all in last night when I met him. These last five days--"
Jarvis released his mother, seized his hat from a tree they were passing, and escaped out of a side door. Mrs. Burnside hurried away upstairs to find her daughter. If the Burnside family had been bound to the Lanes by ties of blood, each member of it could hardly have been more intimately concerned with the issue of Sally's illness.
Away down town, at the Winona flats, Jarvis's ring brought an instant response, and a minute later Bob was shaking his hand off at the half-way landing. Then Alec was rushing to the top of the stairs, and Max was shouting from the bath-room, where he was shaving. Uncle Timothy alone remained quiet in his chair, but his worn face was bright.
"It's great news, Mr. Rudd, great news!" cried Jarvis, wringing Uncle Timothy's out-stretched hand of welcome.
"Yes, Jarvis--yes. But--I must warn you all to make haste slowly in the matter of assurance. It looks favourable, certainly, but the child has been through a hard fight, and she is not out of danger yet. You know I don't want to dampen your happiness, boys--" and Uncle Timothy looked tenderly from one face to another, out of the wisdom of his greater experience.
Their faces had sobered. "I understand, sir, of course," Jarvis agreed. "But the drop in the fever and the quiet sleep surely mean a promising change?"
"Very promising--no doubt of it. And we are thankful--thankful. It is a wonderful relief after the reports we have been getting." He took off his spectacles and wiped them. Then he wiped his eyes. "With care, now--" he began again, cheerfully.
But Bob could not help interrupting. "She's getting splendid care," he cried. He could not endure the thought that it was still necessary to exercise caution lest they rejoice prematurely. He had taken the leap from boyish despair to boyish confidence at a bound, and he had no mind to drop back to a half-way point of doubt and depression.
"I suppose we ought to wait a few days before we run up any flags," Max admitted, and the others reluctantly agreed.
During the following week they learned the reasons for respecting Mr. Rudd's advice. Though Sally's bark had certainly rounded the most threatening danger point, there yet remained seas by no means smooth to be traversed, and more than once wind and waves rose again sufficiently to cause a return of anxiety to those who watched but could not go to the rescue. But, in due time, recovery became assured, convalescence was established, and finally the great day was at hand, when she should come home from the hospital. She looked still very pale and weak, as they saw her lying in her high white bed in the long ward--how they had mourned that they could not afford to give her a private room!--But she was Sally herself once more, and looking so eagerly forward to being at home again that it was a joy to see her smile at the thought of it.
"I wish it were not so excessively hot," said Uncle Timothy, regretfully.
He stood in the doorway of Sally's room. It had been put in order by Mary Ann Flinders--or, to be more exact, Mary Ann Flinders had attempted to put it in order for Sally's reception the next day.
Max looked in over his uncle's shoulder. "I don't know that it's any hotter in here than anywhere else!" he demurred, irritably. He was in his shirt-sleeves, and he had that moment removed his collar and neck-tie. Uncle Timothy had got as far as taking off his waistcoat and donning an old alpaca coat, in which he had been striving to imagine himself comfortable.
"I think it must be several degrees warmer in this small room than in the dining-room," asserted Uncle Timothy. "And it is ninety-two there. It is unfortunate that the poor child should have to come back to such an oven as this. At the hospital a breeze circulates through the wards. Here there seems to be none."
"She could sleep on the couch in the living-room." suggested Max. "Whew! It is hot! What possesses the weather to start in like this, before June's half over? I believe it was one hundred and twelve in the office to-day."
He threw himself on the couch. After a moment of reclining upon it, during which he mopped his brow and drew his handkerchief about his neck, he rose and jerked the couch toward one of the two open windows. When he had lain in this new situation for the space of two minutes more, he got up again and sought the tiny kitchen, where he could be heard drawing water from the tap. "Ugh--warm as dish water!" Uncle Timothy could hear his distant splutter.
Bob and Alec were out somewhere--presumably cooling off in one of the city parks or on the river front. Also, they were getting impatiently through the hours before Sally's return. The entire Lane household had reached the point where her coming home seemed a thing never to be attained. To a man, they felt that one week more without her would be unendurable.
But the next day--it was Sunday again--she came home. Josephine and Max, with the Burnside carriage and horses, brought her to the door. Max and Alec, making a "chair" of hands and wrists, carried the pitifully light figure up the four flights of stairs, and Josephine hovered over the convalescent as she was established upon the couch, among many pillows. The rest of them stood about in a smiling circle.
"Oh, but it's good to be home!" sighed Sally, happily, looking from one to another with eyes which seemed to them all as big as saucers, so deep were the hollows about them and so thin her cheeks. "But how pale and tired you all look! What in the world is the matter with you?"
"The truth is, I think, dear," explained Josephine, glancing from Max to Uncle Timothy, "your family have been having typhoid." Then, at Sally's startled expression, she added, gently, "It's almost as wearing, you know, to have a fever of anxiety over somebody you love as to have the real thing in the hospital."
"Oh!" exclaimed Sally, softly, and her eyes fell. Then she drooped limply against her pillows. "It's--just a little hot to-day, isn't it?" she murmured.
Alec consulted the thermometer. "It's ninety here now," he announced. "At ten o'clock in the morning! About three this afternoon, Sally, you'll see what we can do here. And no let-up promised by the weather man."
Bob brought a palm-leaf fan, and perching himself at the head of Sally's couch, began to fan her. "I'll produce 'breezes from the north and east,'" he promised. "Al, why don't you get her some ice-water? We began to take ice yesterday."
"Only yesterday?" questioned Sally, with her eyes closed. But she forbore to ask why they had delayed so long. Well she knew that illnesses are expensive affairs.
"If you only had let us take you to our house!" cried Josephine, for the tenth time since she had first proposed that plan. "We could have made you so much more comfortable."
Sally opened her eyes again. "No, you couldn't, Joey," she said, "unless you had taken all the rest of them. I couldn't spare my family another day!"
"May we come in?"
It was Jarvis Burnside, bringing his mother to see Sally. Neither of them had yet set eyes upon her since her illness. Sally had been at home for two days now, two intemperately hot days. During this entire period she had lain on the couch, which was drawn as close to the window as it could be placed. Uncle Timothy had remained at hand with fans and iced lemonade and every other expedient he could think of for mitigating the perfervid temperature of the flat. Just now, at five o'clock in the afternoon, with no breeze whatever entering at the window, the small living-room was at its worst.
"Oh, I'm so glad to see you!" Sally held out a languid hand, but her face lighted up with pleasure.
While his mother bent over Sally, Jarvis pushed up his goggles, then pulled them off. The room was shaded, but even so, the daylight made him blink painfully for a minute. But by the time he got his chance at greeting the invalid, he was able to see clearly for himself just how Sally was looking. He stared hard at her, noting with a contraction of the heart all the evidences of the fight for life she had been through. There was no doubt about it, it was as Josephine had said: she looked as if a breath might blow her away.
"I look like a little boy now, don't I?" suggested Sally, smiling up at him as his hand closed over hers. She put up her other hand to her head, where the heavy masses of fair hair had given way to a short, curly crop most childish in its clustering framing of her now delicate face. "It's a blow to my vanity, but it's growing fast, and by the time I can hold my head up good and strong, like a six-months-old baby, it will be long enough to tie with a bow at my neck."
"You can't hold your head up yet?" questioned Jarvis anxiously.
"Oh, yes, I can," declared Sally, cheerfully. "I just don't seem to want to--not when there's a convenient pillow to lay it on. But I shall get strong pretty soon now. When the weather changes--why, even to-day, if I were lying down on the bank of a brook somewhere, or in the woods--or almost anywhere out-doors--I believe I'd feel quite a lot stiffer in my backbone."
"And still you won't come to us and let us make you comfortable?" Mrs. Burnside looked as if she would enjoy doing it.
But Sally looked over at Uncle Timothy, and her shake of the head was as decided as ever. "Not while Uncle Timmy and the boys stay here. Have you seen Max and Alec lately, Mrs. Burnside? I don't believe I'm a bit paler than they are, working in those hot offices in the artificial light. I shall grow strong fast enough--the nurse told me people always feel like this after typhoid. And when I do get strong I shall be a Trojan--just wait."
"We don't like to wait," said Jarvis, still watching Sally, although his eyes were feeling the adverse influences of the white daylight which beat into the room underneath the shades. He put up his hand for an instant to shield them, and Sally was quick to notice.
"I thought you were wearing goggles, Jarvis," she said. Mrs. Burnside turned with a reproachful expression, and with a laugh Jarvis drew the goggles out of his pocket and replaced them.
"A fellow gets tired of viewing life through these things," he explained. "And I've been seeing you in imagination through blue spectacles, so to speak, for five weeks now. I thought I'd like a glimpse of your true complexion."
Sally put up two thin hands and pinched her cheeks fiercely. "I believe I must resemble a tallow candle," she complained. "What can you people expect of a patient just out of the hospital?"
"We'd like to get you where nature would attend to putting on the rouge--eh, mother?" and Jarvis thought of his friend Max with a strong desire to take that refractory young man by the collar and argue with him with his fists. If it had not been for Max's stubbornness, Sally would not now be suffering the discomfort of this unspeakable apartment.
When he and his mother had reached the outer air again and were driving away, Jarvis burst out: "Something must be done! If Sally won't let you and Jo have her--and that wouldn't be getting her out of the city, only into a more bearable in-door atmosphere--she must be taken into the country. Jo's plan is perfectly feasible. A tent in that pine grove would do the business. Mother, I'm going to put one there. If Max doesn't like it, he can stay away."
"Jarvis, dear, how can you do that? Max would resent that high-handed way of managing his affairs."
"I dare say he would. What of that? If ever a frail child needed to get out-doors, Sally does. Aren't we old friends enough to take things into our own hands?"
"Max won't accept a tent from you--or Sally, either."
"Won't they? They won't have to. It'll be my tent; I'll lend it to them." Jarvis grinned, his white teeth making a striking contrast to the sombre effect of his big goggles.
"Hold on, Cheney," he said to the coachman. "Let me out at the corner of Seventeenth. I will look up the tent business right here and now."
His mother looked after his tall figure as he hurried away through the down town crowds, his straw hat a little pushed back, as it was wont to be in moments of excitement. She herself felt like heartily aiding and abetting his friendly schemes, for Sally was very dear to her motherly heart, and it had seemed to her impossible that the girl should recover her strength while shut up in the little flat. If the heat lasted--and there were no indications of any near break in the high temperature--it would certainly be a severe test on the young convalescent, and might seriously retard her in the important business of getting back her old vigour.
Within an hour Jarvis was at home again, in time for dinner. He came to the table with a catalogue in his hand. Determination was written large upon his face. Josephine had heard from her mother of his expressed intention, and she eyed the catalogue eagerly.
"Are you really going to do it, Jarve?" she cried.
"Of course I'm going to do it--with your help."
"Help! I'll do any thing. Have you told Max?"
"I'll tell him nothing till the tent's up--and furnished. Here, look at this list, and advise me as to size. Would an eighteen by twenty-four wall-tent--of the heaviest duck--be about right?"
"Eighteen by twenty-four! Why, that's--how big would that be?"
"About the size of this dining-room. I could get an eighteen by thirty-four--"
Josephine interrupted him with a burst of delighted laughter.
"You might get Sally a circus tent," she cried. "As big as this dining-room! Why, Jarve--"
"She wants the whole family with her," explained Jarvis, with composure. "That means the tent must be divided off into rooms. And she must have one section for a living-room. I'm going to have a floor made--the carpenter will go out in the morning, if he keeps his word. By quick work we ought to be able to take her out there to-morrow night, but allowing for delays, the next evening will have to do. Mother, have we any cots?"
"I'm afraid we have no cots. There are two single-width white iron beds in the attic--"
"All the better. May I have them?"
"I wonder you stop to ask permission of anybody for anything," observed Josephine. "Mother, have you seen Jarvis look so waked up since he put on goggles?"
Mrs. Burnside smiled. She was very glad to see her son so interested, although she felt decidedly doubtful as to the way in which the Lanes would take his interference in their affairs. Still, as Jarvis had urged, people who have been friends from childhood, with an old family friendship of fathers and grandfathers behind them, should have some rights when it comes to matters so important. And if anybody could manage Max's proud and intolerant temper, Jarvis, with his quiet firmness, should be the one. Josephine, also, was of the make-up which can fight for that which seems right. Between them, if they could not put the thing through, it would be rather remarkable.
"Joey, will you and mother drive out with me this evening and decide on where to put the tent?" Jarvis rose from the table, after having made a hasty meal which did not include any superfluous courses.
"Of course I will." Josephine pushed aside her dessert.
"I will stay at home and look up blankets and bedding," announced Mrs. Burnside. "Have you thought of the cooking question? Shall we try to supply the utensils?"
"If you can spare them, mother. I'll buy what you can't contribute. I've bargained for a little gasolene stove and a small tent for a kitchen. As for the cooking, is that specimen they have in the flat now good enough to import to the camp?"
"She's pretty poor. I had luncheon there yesterday with Sally." Josephine's face spoke louder than her words.
"Mother, could you spare Joanna for a week or two, till they can find somebody? She can cook almost as well as Sarah, you know. She cooked for me last fall, when you were away and Sarah was taken ill."
Jarvis's mother looked at him doubtfully. "I think you had better not go as far as that. Be content with supplying the tent and its equipment, and see how Max and Alec take it. The young girl they have now will do for a time, surely."
"All right--if you think that's the better plan. Ready, Sis?"
Jarvis put the gray mare through her paces, and there was still an hour of daylight left when he and Josephine reached the pine grove.
"It's ten degrees cooler out here than it is in town at this hour," declared Jarvis, with satisfaction. He pushed up the goggles and lowered them again quickly. Even the subdued light in the grove, at a point where the setting sun did not penetrate, was too much for his eyes. "Confound the things!" he exploded. "Shall I ever be anything again but an owl in daylight? Well, where shall the tent go?"
"Over there," replied Josephine, promptly. "There's just one perfect spot for it--on the top of that little rise, looking toward the south, and away from the grove."
"Right you are. But the trees are too thick."
He pulled out a foot-rule and began to measure. Presently he announced the result: "One tree, this little fellow, will have to come down."
"Do you dare?"
"Of course I dare. Where can I get an axe?"
Josephine glanced toward the house. Then she thought of the Ferry cottage. "The little house beyond the hedge--I know the people--at least, I've met one of them. Shall we go and ask?"
Jarvis was already hurrying toward a distant gap in the hedge. "I'll go!" he called back.
In two minutes he reappeared. With him was a sturdy figure. Josephine recognized the broad shoulders, the thick reddish-brown hair, the gleam of the hazel eyes. She nodded at Donald Ferry, noting that he was not now clad in a gray flannel shirt, but in one of white, with a low collar and silk neck-tie, similar to Jarvis's--hot-weather dress with an urban air about it. He carried an axe.
"Thank you," said Jarvis, when they had reached the spot which Josephine had designated. He held out his hand for the axe.
Ferry shook his head, smiling. "Which is the tree?" he inquired.
"Give me the axe, please," repeated Jarvis. "There's no reason why you should chop down trees for us on a sweltering night like this."
"It won't make me swelter as much as it will you," asserted Ferry retaining his hold on the axe. "I'm an old woodman. Come, show me the tree, or I'll chop at a venture. Miss Burnside?"
Josephine pointed out the tree. Ferry lifted the axe and swung it, and it sank deeply into the trunk. Another blow; it struck the same spot. Another and another, with an unerring aim. "You are a woodman," admitted Jarvis, admiringly, watching the powerful swing and the telling blows.
Ferry laughed, without abating the vigour of his work. "There's no better out-door fun that I know of," said he, "than chopping down a tree. I couldn't think of missing this chance."