Strawberry Acres by Grace S. Richmond
Part I.--Five Miles Out
Chapter VIII. Problems and Hearts
The storm had passed almost as abruptly as it had come. The rain ceased as if a trap-door in the heavens had been suddenly closed. The wind had gone when the rain came, so that the moment the downfall was over the whole affair was ended. It had not occupied the space of more than four minutes, but it had managed to make as complete a wreck of the sleeping arrangements in the pine grove as if it had been of an hour's duration.
"The stars are shining!" announced Bob, putting his head under the edge of the canvas the moment the rain had stopped. "The show is over."
"So is the tent--and sleep," added Alec. Crawling along under the wreckage, he had encountered Bob's heel. "This is a nice mess! What on earth are we to do now?"
"Get everybody out under the sky," commanded Jarvis, working his way out. He ran round to the back of the tent and found Sally emerging. He gave her a hand.
"Why, you're wet!" he said, as his hand touched the sleeve of the blue kimono she had been wearing when she sat in the open doorway.
She felt of his sleeve in turn. "I'm not a circumstance to you," she answered. "You must be soaked to the skin, you and Bob."
"That's no matter, this warm night. Mother, Jo, where are you? Max, lend a hand here, and let's lift this canvas so they can get out."
"But it's not a warm night now," declared Mrs. Burnside, when she had reached the open air, and had found out for herself how wet at least three of the party were. "We must manage to dry you all, somehow."
"I hope you people are satisfied," Max reiterated. It was the fourth time he had said it.
"Of course we're satisfied!" cried Sally, with spirit. "Who wants a camping party without any adventures? We can't have bears here in our pine grove, so we have thunderstorms."
"Thunderstorms! That was a cyclone, if it was anything!" growled Max.
"If it was, we're safe from ever having another!" cried Bob. "They never hit the same place twice, I'm told. Hello, there comes a lantern through the hedge. Thought Mr. Ferry'd be looking us up."
"Ship ahoy!" called a hailing voice. "All hands on deck? Shall I man a lifeboat? Well, well," in astonishment, as he came nearer, "where are you, anyhow? Where's the tent?"
"Don't look so high up!" Jarvis called back. "Lower your glass to the horizon line. We're out in the open sea!"
Ferry surveyed the group by the light of his lantern. "Anybody get wet?" he asked. "Yes, I should say you did. See here, you wet ones, don't delay a minute, for the storm has made the air twenty degrees cooler. Run over to our house. Mother's expecting you all."
"We can't all get inside your house!" chuckled Bob.
"Let's go into our own," urged Sally. "Max has the key, and we can carry in the cots--they're not wet--and have a fire in the big fireplace--"
Bob pinched her arm. "Say, Sis, it's a chance for you to get into the house."
"Of course it is," Sally whispered back, her eyes dancing in the light from the lantern.
"I think that is the best plan, don't you, Max?" questioned Jarvis.
Max nodded reluctantly. No matter how hospitably the tiny cottage might be thrown open for their reception, it would certainly be overtaxing its capacity to attempt to make nine extra people comfortable there for the remainder of the night--it was barely one o'clock.
"We'll gladly stretch the walls to take you all in," said Donald Ferry, "but perhaps the big house plan is the better. Suppose you ladies go over and let mother satisfy her longing to be of use by making Miss Sally dry, while we fellows get the cots into the house, and bring over some wood from our pile for the fireplace. It will need open windows and a rousing fire in there to freshen the musty air."
"Jarvis, you must come, too--you and Bob. You're both very wet," urged Mrs. Burnside.
"Yes, go over, Burnside, and ask mother for some dry clothes of mine," said Ferry. "Bob--"
"I've got some dry clothes packed away somewhere in the tent, if I can only find where they've gone to," answered Bob.
"I'll work myself dry," and Jarvis suited the action to the word by beginning to unfasten the guy ropes.
"Jarvis!" It was his mother's voice. At the note in it, he stood up again, laughing. "All right, mother," he agreed, and walked away with her toward the cottage.
"These people who have been so anxious to camp," said Max to Ferry, "I hope they're satisfied now."
"Oh, such experiences are a part of the fun of camping," asserted Ferry. "Mr. Rudd certainly looks cheerful," and he held up his lantern so that its rays illumined Uncle Timothy's face.
The elder man smiled. "It seems to me we are fortunate to have had no worse happen," said he. "That was the most violent wind I have ever known."
"It shook our little house to its foundations," replied Ferry. "I think it took down a chimney, but I didn't stop to find out. Mother was certain your camp must be blown over into the next township, and could hardly wait for me to get out and see. Well, shall we go to work? Tent down first--and that will take all hands, for wet canvas is heavy."
They fell to, Jarvis soon returning to join them. It took considerable time to remove the tent from its position, for much care was necessary to prevent its dampening the tent furniture beneath. But after that it was easy to move the cots and bedding to the house, the hallway of which was now lighted by two lamps brought over from the cottage.
"We'll make up the beds!" cried Sally, appearing with Josephine in the big hall, her face radiant. "I can't lose any more time tamely discussing this event over there, when I can be here in the midst of things."
"Good for you! Now, Bob, suppose you and I leave the others to bring over the rest of the stuff, while we haul some wood for the fireplace," and Ferry beckoned Bob away to the next job. He was smiling back at Sally as he went, for her joy, though he did not quite understand its cause, was contagious.
So it was not long before a cheerful blaze was throwing grotesque lights and shadows down the hall, showing up the odd array of cots and beds which had been brought, without regard to final disposition, into the hall. Sally selected the long room on the left of the hall, its doorway directly opposite the fireplace, for the feminine portion of the family, announcing that the others could sleep in the hall itself. Into this room she directed Uncle Timothy and Alec to move four of the cots, and set Mary Ann at work making up the beds in the hall.
"Isn't this more fun than the jolliest picnic you ever went to?" exulted Sally, as she and Josephine spread sheets and blankets upon the beds.
"It's great! I'm so glad it happened to-night, when we were here. Sally, do you suppose they can dry the tent and get it up again by to-morrow night?"
"I hope not! If it would only rain again to-morrow! I'd give worlds to be forced to stay here in the house, much as I've enjoyed sleeping in the tent. If I could only make Max take a little liking to the house--and I could if I just had our things out here from town. But of course he'll never let me. Hasn't he been funny to-night, with his solemn 'hoping we're satisfied'? Oh, if the poor dear only had just a tiny sense of humour!"
"I'm sure he has, if we could wake it up. This scene ought to do it, if anything would," agreed Josephine. "Look at Mr. Rudd, with his hair all rumpled and his sleeping-cap still on. See Mary Ann out there; doesn't she look dazed and serious? Here I am, with my hair in two tails down my back--and it's the first time I've thought of it. As for you, in that red sweater jacket, with your curly mop of hair, you look more like a lively small boy than ever before."
"I'd like to be one. Do you suppose we can ever settle down to slumber again to-night? I'd like to have larks the rest of the time, till morning. We will have them to-morrow night, Joey Burnside, if we can manage to stay in this house."
It certainly was hard to get to sleep under these new conditions. Even after everybody was quiet, there were still sources of amusement for Sally. The sound of a low growl in the hall was enough to set her off, and she leaned over to Josephine's cot to whisper: "That's Max, muttering, 'I hope you're satisfied!'"--at which Josephine began to laugh, and the two shook together for some time thereafter.
The first thing in the morning of which Josephine was conscious was Sally again, breathing joyously in her ear, "Jo, Jo--it's raining!"
So it was. The long dry spell had been broken by the severe storm of the night, and a heavy rain was now falling. As she dressed, Sally gazed out upon it with satisfaction.
"How on earth are we to have any breakfast?" came booming from the hall, as Max, reluctantly getting to his feet, took in the situation.
"Mr. Ferry and I brought all the kitchen tent stuff into the back of this house," said Bob. "He said it was best in time of peace to prepare for war, and we might get another storm before morning. So we're all fixed."
"Very nice for those who can stay here, but not so fine for the ones who have to catch the trolley." Max applied himself discontentedly to the business of dressing.
"Oh, what's that! Who minds a little walk in the rain? I wouldn't be such a granny. You've done nothing but fuss ever since the tent came down. Nobody else has howled a minute. You must enjoy being everlastingly in a grouch."
It was not often that Bob's good humour forsook him to the point of addressing his elder brother in such disrespectful terms, and Max glared at him wrathfully.
"Cut that! I'm a few years older than you are, and you've no business to be impudent. When you work the way I do, you'll earn the right to have your rest undisturbed."
"Yes, grandpa," mocked Bob. Alec, sitting on the edge of his cot, laughed. This was too much for Max. He seized his younger brother by the collar and attempted to shake him. But Bob was more athletic than Max had realized. The sturdy young figure resisted doughtily, and Max, who was by no means muscular, found his hands full. Uncle Timothy and Alec looked on in amusement as the battle raged, and when Bob finally succeeded in depositing Max on the latter's own cot, back downward, the victor's knee on the conquered one's chest, they applauded heartily.
"Take it good-naturedly, nephew," advised Mr. Rudd, catching sight of Max's angry countenance. "It was a fair encounter, and the lad is stronger than you."
"If there was any way of pounding a laugh into Maxwell Lane, I'd tackle him myself," declared Alec.
"Boys, what are you doing?" called Sally. "Are you dressed? May we come through? We want to help Mary Ann about breakfast."
Max rose to his feet, his face red and his collar awry. As the girls appeared he strode away up the stairs affecting not to see them.
"Max, are you going up to find out if any burglars got in overnight?" called Sally after him, "If you are, please see if my jewel case is undisturbed."
To Sally's intense gratification, it rained all day. To be sure, she had invited her friends to a tent party, not to stay in an empty house, but it seemed to be so much more fun for everybody to roam about the house, exploring it from attic to cellar, suggesting what could be done to make it all inviting and attractive, that the hours by no means dragged. Mrs. Burnside, especially, seemed to take deep interest in every detail of the rooms, declaring them to be susceptible to treatment which should easily make them homelike and beautiful.
The rugs from the tent had been laid in the hall, by the fireplace, where a small fire burned, its cheer and warmth grateful to those who gathered round it, for the change in the weather had become more pronounced as the day advanced, and a north-east wind was doing its part in making indoors desirable. Such of the camp furniture as fitted the uses of a sitting-room had also been placed in the hall, and the result was that at least one spot in the big house presented a highly inviting appearance.
"I wish we had some books and magazines now," said Josephine, disposing herself comfortably in a steamer chair, with her back toward the fire. "I've read all those we had in the tent."
"I'll find you some," and Sally disappeared--by way of the kitchen, where Mary Ann was sure to need coaching from time to time. Thence she ran up a back stairway to the floor above, and on to the small flight of steps which led to the door opening on the stairway between the walls, above which was the old library. She meant to make a selection of volumes for Josephine's delectation, more as a joke than as an offer of reading matter, for she did not suppose there was much in the collection which might serve to entertain her friend. To her surprise, she found it unnecessary to use her key, and went on up the stairs, remembering that she had not seen Jarvis for the last hour. If he should be up here reading, it was well that she had come, for the fine print of the old books was the worst thing possible for his eyes.
But Jarvis was not reading. Instead, she found him standing by one of the windows, staring out through the curious old wrought-iron latticework, which, after the fashion in many old houses, made the upper windows impregnable. His hands were in his pockets, his eyes were fixed on the outlook of field and meadow stretching away up the slope of the hillside to the woods beyond. It was a fine prospect, even through the falling rain, and Jarvis appeared to be fascinated by it, so that he did not hear the light fall of Sally's footsteps on the stairs.
She came softly up and stood beside him. "Isn't that lovely off there?" she asked, and Jarvis started. Then he laughed, bringing his gaze back to rest with a look of pleasure upon the girl at his side.
"It certainly is. From this height one gets a better idea of the way the farm lies than from below."
"Do you wonder I want to live here?"
"Not a bit. The idea of it grows more attractive to me every time I come here. If it were any place but yours, I should be strongly tempted to buy it myself--mother and I, of course, I mean. She would jump at the idea, I fancy, of this for a summer home."
"Oh, Jarvis!" Sally looked so dismayed that he reassured her in haste:
"Of course I'd never mention such a thing unless you yourself wanted to sell. But you can see I'm in sympathy with your longing to live here. I only wish I could see you carry out your plan. If there were anything I could do to bring it about, I certainly would do it. Look here." He paused to consider an idea which had just occurred to him. "Do you suppose if I were seriously to talk of buying the place it might make Max want to keep it? By all the laws of human nature, the thing ought to work that way."
"I don't know. You never know how Max is going to take things. If you offered a good price he might jump at it."
"I wouldn't offer a good price--that is, not the price I would give if I were very anxious to get it."
Sally thought it over. "I don't know," she said again. "You told me you were thinking of offering to rent a few acres of us and try some market gardening."
"I have thought of that. If I could only get 'the leader of the opposition' interested to go in with me, your case would be won."
"You never can. He'll have to see somebody making a success of it before he will think of it for a minute. There's nothing anybody can do before spring, I suppose."
"There's considerable to be done in winter, I understand. And the spring work begins so early it's practically winter then."
"You can't think how I want to stay here this winter!" sighed Sally.
"You really mean it? Snow-drifts and isolation, empty rooms and cold winds, and all?"
"The Ferrys don't think it isolated. When they came, they expected to go back to rooms in town for the winter, but they've fallen so in love with their cottage they're going to stay. This isn't the country; it's only the suburbs, eight minutes' walk from the electrics."
"True enough. It depends upon one's point of view, doesn't it? There's a lot of fun made of the commuters, but they're not by any means to be placed all in the same class. To people who genuinely love the country it's a delight to get out here, no matter how many minutes it takes to make the run. And it really takes only about twenty-five minutes to get into the heart of the city. So you honestly want to stay here, do you, Sally Lunn? From this hour I'm committed to the task of trying to bring that thing about."
"Jarvis! That's lovely of you! You did bring about my getting out here in the tent. Yes, I've heard the whole story from Jo--I know what a strategist you were. You're such a good friend, to take so much trouble."
"Am I? There's nobody I'd rather take trouble for. You know that, don't you?"
If there were more than friendship in his eyes and voice, Sally did not perceive it. She was so accustomed to kindness and consideration from this young man, who had grown up only a few years ahead of her, and who had been her champion so long that she had never thought of him in any other light, that no such declaration of his friendly feeling for her was likely to impress her as at all out of the ordinary. The eyes behind the blue goggles were hidden from her, the voice to her ear had merely its usual warm ring of comradeship, and she did not note the fact that upon the smooth, dark cheek a touch of unwonted colour spoke of feeling deeper than that hinted at in the simple words.
"I know you're my stand-by, and you know I appreciate it. If you can possibly bring such a thing about, I'll bless you forever. Now help me find some books that will entertain Jo and your mother, for I must go down to them."
He pointed out a number of quaint volumes whose contents he thought might prove interesting, and she selected several, with which she departed, taking a gay farewell of him and adjuring him not to use his eyes.
"Thank you, I'll use my brains instead," he answered.
"It will take all you've got!" she called back.
"I wonder if hearts are any help in solving problems?" Jarvis thought, half-smiling to himself when she had gone. "Hers certainly isn't concerned with anybody at present. But I wonder if I'm a wise fellow to be plotting to help her spend the winter next door to the finest chap I know. I wonder! But I'm certainly committed to the endeavour."
Whatever was the result of his use of the brains with which he had been endowed, he lost no time in making his first effort. That evening, as the company finished their dinner and strolled back into the hall, Jarvis challenged Max to a walk up the cartpath toward the timber tract.
"Too wet," objected Max. "The rain stopped only an hour ago; everything's soaking."
"I know it, but we've both been shut up all day in-doors, and need the exercise. Besides, while we were at dinner I saw Ferry making for the woods with his axe over his shoulder. We'll find him there and have a jolly visit. He's great company when he's at work--which is saying a good deal, for better company at any time I don't know of."
Max reluctantly submitted, turned up his trousers widely, shouldered an umbrella, and the two set out. Sally looked after them, her hopes following them, for she had received a meaning look from Jarvis which told her that his schemes were already on foot. She had seen him in conference with his mother that afternoon, and was sure the two were agreed upon whatever suggestion of purchase Jarvis might be about to make. Yet Sally held her breath. What if--what if--Max should, after all, jump at the offer?