Chapter XIII. The Party
 

Dinner hour was over in Oakwood and the evening life of the stately old town was beginning to stir when Mr. Wing stepped off the train and walked briskly through the softly falling twilight toward his home. Not far from the station he met the artist, Eugene Prince, strolling about admiring the landscape, and hailed him cordially. "I've just come home on a flying trip over night," he explained. "Have to go to Washington in the morning. I wonder if the folks are at home; I should have telephoned them I was coming, I suppose." Mr. Wing seemed very much elated about something.

"How's the big case coming?" asked the artist. He had always been such a ready listener while Mr. Wing expressed his various theories About the matter and showed such a lively interest that Mr. Wing had gotten into the habit of talking about it to him by the hour and listening to him express his theories.

Now when the artist mentioned the big case Mr. Wing could not conceal his triumph, for his theory had been right after all, and the artist's had been wrong. "It's exactly what I expected," he said jubilantly, and spoke in a low, confidential tone for some minutes.

The artist whistled in blank surprise.

The two men passed up the street, talking in low tones. "Come up to the house with me," said Mr. Wing presently, "and I'll show you--Hello, what's this?"

A creaking rumble behind them made them start and turn around, and a singular sight greeted their eyes. Down the street puffed an immensely fat negro woman clad in a calico wrapper and a bright red turban, pushing a wheelbarrow in which sat a negro baby somewhat larger than its mammy. In the wheelbarrow beside the baby stood a feeding bottle of gigantic proportions, being in very truth a three-gallon flask designed to hold a solution to spray trees with; six feet of garden hose constituted the tube, and a black rubber diving cap at the upper end of it completed the feeding apparatus.

"Pour l'amour de Mique!" laughed Mr. Wing, as the unique outfit rumbled by. "What on earth do you suppose that is?" They followed the progress of the billowing mother and her husky infant with amused eyes, and at the corner of the street she attempted to turn the barrow, ran into a stone, upset the barrow and spilled the infant on the ground. The infant immediately sprang up, clutching the Gargantuan feeding bottle, and berated his mother in emphatic terms, delivered in a deep bass voice, addressing her as "Captain." "Look out, you'll break the bottle, dumping the wheelbarrow over like that," he remarked warningly. The old mammy stooped over to readjust him in the barrow and as she did so several feet of masculine garments became visible under her short skirt.

"Minstrel show in town," remarked Mr. Wing with another laugh of amusement. His amusement turned to surprise when the picturesque pair preceded him up the street and turned in at his own yard. The house was lighted from one end to the other; groups of young people were visible everywhere, on the porches, on the lawn, in the doorways.

"Seems to be a party going on here," remarked Mr. Wing.

"Father!" exclaimed a voice from the crowd, and Agony darted forward to embrace him. "Why didn't you tell us you were coming? You're just in time for the party."

Mr. Wing greeted the guests affably and after a short interval escaped with the artist to his study on the second floor, where they spent an hour in close consultation behind a locked door.

"Now let's go down and look in on the party," said Mr. Wing, locking a package of letters carefully into a small drawer in his desk. Before going down he went to his own room and changed to a suit of white flannels in honor of the occasion.

As he was finally making for the stairway he met Veronica Lehar in the upstairs hall. "May I use the telephone in the study?" she asked.

"Certainly," he replied, and went in and turned the light on for her and then went on downstairs.

Shouts of laughter filled the air; the negro mammy and the gigantic infant, together with the wheelbarrow and the feeding bottle, were holding the stage at the end of the spacious sitting room. Slim was being given his birthday presents and was surrounded with nonsensical articles of every kind--toys, rattles, all-day suckers, and so forth, and was convulsing the crowd with his antics.

The merriment went on until somebody called for Veronica to play on her violin and she came downstairs with her violin in her hands. Then a hush fell on the crowd, and the merrymakers listened, spellbound and dreamy-eyed, to the strains which the passionate-eyed little Hungarian girl drew from the fiddle resting so caressingly in the hollow of her shoulder.

It was a plaintive, melancholy melody she played first, throbbing with unsatisfied longing and quivering with pain and heartbreak. Sahwah shivered and thought of ice cold rain drops falling on long dead leaves, and the restless unhappiness seized upon her again. The melody wandered on, and in its weird minor thirds there seemed to be all the anguish of an oppressed people, hopeless of release from bondage; condemned to toil in darkness forever.

Then a new note crept into the music, a note of protest, of rebellion. Fury took the place of hopelessness; dumb resignation gave way to angry stirrings. Fiercely the storm raged for a moment, and then subsided into feeble murmurs, and flickered out into hopelessness again, blacker and deeper than before. Then came flight, sudden and headlong, hurried and confused; and days of wandering by land and sea, hours of loneliness and homesickness, of mingled hope and fear, of faith and perplexity, ending in a magnificent hymn of thanksgiving and praise for deliverance. It made Sahwah think of the persecuted Jews in Russia, fleeing from a massacre and coming to America for refuge.

But now the music had taken a gayer, brighter turn. Everywhere there was the hum of industry, a contented sound like the buzzing of bees intent upon gathering honey. Songs of happiness rose on every side, mingled with the sound of joyful feet passing in a gay dance. The music took on an irresistible lilt; the feet of the listeners itched to join in the measure and tapped out the time involuntarily.

Suddenly the dance turned into marching, the earth resounded with the tramp, tramp of advancing feet, the music became a martial strain; it stirred the blood to fever heat and set the pulses leaping madly. Louder and more triumphant swelled the strain, louder came the tramp of the victorious armies following in the wake of trumpets, until the whole earth seemed to mingle its voice in one great shout of victory.

Without knowing it the listeners were on their feet, clutching each other with tense fingers, their eyes blurred with tears, their throats aching with emotion, their hearts burning to perform deeds of valor for their country, to fight to the last ditch, to die as heroes for their native land.

They hardly realized when Veronica had stopped playing and slipped quietly out of the room.

"God, what playing!" breathed Mr. Wing to the artist. "Music like that would turn cowards into heroes and heroes into demi-gods; would inspire a wooden dummy to fight to the last ditch for freedom and native land. Daggers and Dirks! What a red-hot little American she is! Why, if a dead man heard her play the 'Star Spangled Banner' the way she just played it, he'd rise up to protect his country. Yes, and his very monument would shoulder a gun and get into the ranks against the foe!"

Refreshments were brought in and the babel of tongues broke loose again. Everyone asked for Veronica, wanted to sit beside her and tell her what a wonderful genius she was, but she was nowhere to be found. Grandmother Wing came in presently and said that Veronica had slipped out and gone home because she had a sick headache and wanted to be alone.

"She has those headaches so often," said Migwan in a tone of concern. "I wonder if I hadn't better go home after her."

"She said she wanted to be alone," said Nyoda thoughtfully. "She always does, you know, when she has a headache. I don't believe I'd go after her. She'll go right to bed and be all right in the morning."

With many expressions of regret at Veronica's indisposition the boys and girls resumed their frolic.

Slim and the Captain, still in their roles of mammy and pickaninny, walked home with the Winnebagos when the party finally broke up, the pickaninny trundling his own one-wheeled chariot, which was so full of presents there was no room for him.

Nyoda broke the news to them of their appointment as executioners of Kaiser Bill and they accepted the commission gravely. "'Horatius,' quoth the consul, 'as thou sayst, so let it be,'" quoted Slim with a dramatic flourish. "We'll execute your orders and the goat at the same time. But does it take two to speed the fatal ball? Why am I honored thus when here beside me stands the world's champion crack shot, even the great Cicero St. John?"

The Captain suddenly flushed and glared at Slim, but said nothing.

"'Herminius beat his bosom, but never a word he spake,'" quoted Slim, grinning. "You see," he continued, turning to the girls, "the Captain and I were practising shooting at a target once, out in the country, and the Captain came so near the bull's eye that he shot the perch out from under a parrot in a cage fifty feet away. O Mother dear, Jerusalem! You never saw such a surprised bird in all your life!" Slim was overcome by the remembrance, and the Captain grinned feebly at the laughter which the tale invoked.

"Don't you worry, I guess I can shoot a goat all right," said the Captain with some asperity.

"Uttered like a man, Captain," grinned Slim. "'Then out spoke brave Horatius, the Captain of the gate--'"

His flow of nonsense was interrupted by an exclamation of surprise from Nyoda as they reached the front gate. A messenger boy was running up the steps of Carver House just ahead of them.