Chapter VII. In the Moonlight

The Wing home was an old-fashioned mansion also, and though not nearly so old or so interesting as Carver House, being very modernly furnished, it still had that unmistakable atmosphere of a house that has sheltered one of the "first families" of a town for three generations. It was also of brick, and covered almost entirely by a creeping vine; its wide verandas were embowered in clematis and honeysuckle, its smooth, velvety lawn was shaded by giant elms.

Agony's grandmother was a sprightly, up-to-date old lady, as witty and wide awake as her son, and she fairly amazed the girls by her knowledge of men and affairs and by her shrewd comments on present day happenings. And she was just as much interested in the affairs of the Winnebagos as she was in the affairs of state which interested Mr. Wing, laughed heartily at the tales of their adventures and pranks and declared to Nyoda that she envied her from the bottom of her heart because she was their Guardian.

Mr. Wing too took a lively interest in the girls and drew them out in conversation, listening respectfully to their remarks and often nodding approval of their ideas.

Mr. Prince, the artist, was there too; he and Mr. Wing were like old friends already. He had come to Oakwood to make a series of sketches of the hills and the river for a certain outdoor-life magazine; he had taken quarters in the drowsy hotel, where he found life very dull, and he was very happy to have met Mr. Wing and the Winnebagos. He hoped they would let him accompany them on some of their hikes through the woods. The Winnebagos were charmed and agreed they had never met such a delightful man. They couldn't agree as to whether he was young or old and finally came to the decision that he was middle-aged, for to eighteen anything above thirty is middle-aged. Eugene Prince was thirty-five.

As the dinner progressed Nyoda noticed that Mr. Wing often looked long and keenly at Veronica, and she wondered just what was in his mind. Veronica's looks, her accent and her expressions set her conspicuously apart from the other girls. She also noticed that Mr. Prince was watching Veronica closely. Mr. Wing's curiosity concerning her was plainly written on his face, and finally he asked, "You are not an American, are you?"

"Indeed I am!" replied Veronica emphatically.

Mr. Wing looked surprised. "But you were not born in America?" he amended.

"No," replied Veronica with a sigh. "I was born in Hungary. But," she added brightly, "I'm here now, and that's enough. My uncle is an American citizen, and I'm going to be one when the war is over, but I'm an American girl already. I won't be more of one when I'm a real citizen than I am now."

Mr. Wing smiled at her ardor and remarked, "I wish everybody who came to these shores from other countries was as anxious to be a real American as you are."

Sahwah happened to be looking at Mr. Prince while Veronica was speaking and it seemed to her that he smiled very skeptically at her words. "He doesn't believe her!" said Sahwah hotly to herself and filled up with angry resentment at him as he continued to watch Veronica narrowly.

The conversation passed on to other subjects and Nyoda breathed an inward sigh of relief. It always made her uneasy when people began to wonder about Veronica.

Agony was talking animatedly about the coming drill contest and Mr. Wing was listening with smiling approval. "Good for you!" he exclaimed to the Winnebagos. "So the honor of Oakwood is to be vindicated at last! Camp Fire Girls to the rescue! Hurrah! I tell you, girls," he said enthusiastically, "if you can put it over and beat Hillsdale I'll give you each----" Here he paused and cast about in his mind for a suitable reward for such a distinguished service--"I'll give you each--no, I'll take you all on a trip to Washington, and personally conduct you into all the places where you never could get in by yourselves!"

"Oh!" shrieked Agony and Oh-Pshaw simultaneously, and "Oh!" echoed the Winnebagos in rapture.

"Sing a cheer to Mr. Wing!" cried Sahwah, and the others complied with a vigor that made the dishes ring:

  "You're the B-E-S-T, best,
  Of all the R-E-S-T, rest,
  Oh, I love you, I love you all the T-I-M-E, time!
  If you'll be M-I-N-E, mine,
  I'll be T-H-I-N-E, thine,
  Oh, I love you, I love you all the T-I-M-E, time!"

Mr. Wing bowed in acknowledgment of the cheer and his smile showed how much it had pleased him.

"Great time you'll have drilling, with those heels of yours," he said teasingly. "I wish I could be there to see."

"Father!" exclaimed Agony reproachfully, "do you think for a minute we'd do military drill with these shoes on?"

"But, Father," said Oh-Pshaw eagerly, "don't you really wish you could be there to see? I wish you could stay home awhile and play with us as you used to. Can't you? Do you have to go back to Philadelphia?"

Mr. Wing looked a little wistful, but he answered chafingly, "Wouldn't that be a great thing to do just now in the middle of one of the greatest cases in my career?"

"Oh, tell us about it," cried Agony eagerly. Agony was perfectly well aware of the fact that her father would never tell anything at home that was not also given out to the newspapers, but she liked to hear him tell that little in his own way.

"It's the Arnold Atterbury case,--you've read about it in the newspapers--the man who has been organizing strikes in the big munition plants," replied Mr. Wing. "We know he was only a tool in the hands of some powerful German agency, but who or what it is we do not know. But we mean to find out!" he added in a tone which gave a hint of the stern determination of his character. "We will track down those enemy influences like foxes to their holes!" His voice thundered out like the voice of judgment.

"Amen to that!" exclaimed the artist fervently, and, seizing his water glass from beside his plate, he sprang to his feet and raised it high in the air.

"Let's have a toast!" he cried. "Drink success to our cause and defeat to the enemy!"

The rest were on their feet in an instant, clinking Grandmother Wing's etched tumblers across the table and drinking the toast with all their hearts. That little incident put patriotic fervor into all of them and the evening was filled with animated discussions and hearty singing of war songs.

Migwan declared on the way home that Mr. Wing was the most charming man she had ever met. Hinpoha thought the artist was even more charming and hoped they would meet him often. Sahwah said nothing. She could not forget that the artist had seemed to doubt Veronica's sincerity, and it made her angry and she refused to acknowledge his fascinations. She walked close beside Veronica and linked arms with her as she walked.

Sahwah's feelings toward Veronica were crystallizing daily into a deep affection. In the old days she had not been moved by any great feeling of affection for her; she pitied her along with the rest and enjoyed her society after a fashion, but she stood not a little in awe of her mercurial temperament and her aristocratic ways, and much preferred the friendship of the simple, dispassionate Winnebagos. But now that she and Veronica had met after a year's separation, Sahwah suddenly realized that the dark-eyed, temperamental little Hungarian girl had an irresistible fascination for her; that her heart had gone out to her completely. Sahwah was by nature cool and unemotional, and not given to those sudden flares of friendship with which so many girls are constantly being consumed, which burn brilliantly for a short season and them go out of their own accord; it usually took a long time to kindle a friendship with her. Sahwah herself could not understand her sudden, fierce, almost motherly love for Veronica. It had not been of gradual growth like her other friendships; it had been born all in an instant that first night of her arrival at Carver House, when Veronica had played and through Sahwah's heart there had gone a strange thrill of sadness, a yearning for something which she could not understand.

From that time on Sahwah could hardly bear to have Veronica out of her sight; she wanted to be with her all day long; she was filled with a desire to protect her, to mother her, to caress her, to make her great dark eyes light with laughter, to go off alone with her, to discuss with her in private confidences the momentous affairs of girlhood.

Sahwah's soul was being strangely stirred in many ways these last few days. A queer restlessness had taken possession of her, totally foreign to her old tranquil, composed state of mind. Unexplainedly she found herself growing moody and dreamy; at times she had a curious feeling of having just experienced something, but what it was she could not remember; her mind went groping in its subconscious self for something which constantly eluded it, her heart--

  "Went crooning a low song it could not learn,
  But wandered over it, as one who gropes
  For a forgotten chord upon a lyre."

At times she was filled with a great sadness, a poignant world-sorrow; at times with an indescribable exaltation, a longing to burst forth into triumphant song and tell the whole world of her gladness. Without knowing why or wherefore, she was vaguely conscious that in some way she was different from what she was before she came to Carver House, and she also knew that things would never be just as they were before. Somehow or other the focus had changed, a corner had been turned.

Equally unexplainable was the way in which these strange moods, these dim flashes, were subtly bound up with Veronica. It was Veronica that seemed to inspire these feelings, and similarly, it was these feelings that seemed to draw her to Veronica. Sahwah had never bothered her head about Destiny, that strange power that moves us about at will, like chessmen, and who, laying her hand upon us, makes our ways cross and intertwine themselves to work out her purposes; she only knew that in some way she was changing, and that her heart had gone out in a great flood of affection for Veronica Lehar.

Her very dreams, too, were filled with this strange new unrest, and she was continually wakeful at night--she who in former days fell asleep the instant her head touched the pillow, and enjoyed eight hours' dreamless slumber as regularly as clock-work.

It was the same again to-night. After several hours of fitful dreaming, Sahwah wakened, and in her half-consciousness there lingered an impression of eyes staring intently at her and a dream of being back in the railway train on the way to Nyoda's. The spell of the dream left her and she lay awake a long time, unaccountably happy, mysteriously sad, and with no desire to sleep.

Through the wide open window the moon poured in the fullness of its late glory and by and by Sahwah slipped from her bed and went over to the window, and, leaning her arms on the sill, sat looking out on the magic world. Below her the garden lay bathed in silver, with intense velvety black shadows, with only the faintest sigh of a breeze stirring the leaves. Far across in the valley she could see the roofs of the town shining white in the moonlight, and they seemed to be part of a magic city in which she now dwelt, far more real than the daytime town of familiar things. For a long time she leaned out over the sill, rapt and dreaming, unconscious of time, forgetful of the companions of her days, intoxicated by the moonlight until her blood raced madly through her veins and she was filled with an intense desire to go out and dance in the garden and flit in and out among the trees like a moon sprite.

Then, without warning, the strange, whimsical mood passed, and Sahwah was her old self again, the old alert, wide-awake self of former days, staring with concentrated attention at a figure which was moving rapidly through the garden. It had come from around the side of the house and was going toward the stable. Fully wide awake, Sahwah leaned farther over the sill and watched. The figure emerged from the great shadows of the elm trees into the glaring moonlight. With a start of surprise Sahwah saw that it was Veronica, fully dressed and with a cloak thrown about her shoulders. Before Sahwah had recovered herself sufficiently to call to her, Veronica had passed through the gate into the stable yard and was lost in the shadows of the high barn.

"Whatever can she want out there?" thought Sahwah, with visions of Kaiser Bill loose and on a rampage. But there were no disturbing sounds anywhere; Kaiser Bill was not out. Veronica did not go into the barn; she went around behind it and struck into the path that led down the hill to the carriage road below. The path was bathed in moonlight for a good part of its length; Veronica was plainly visible as she ran lightly along, and Sahwah watched wonderingly. Sahwah was very far sighted, and constant practice in focusing on distant objects enabled her to distinguish plainly things quite far away. Down at the bottom of the hill, where the path met the road, Sahwah saw Veronica come to a standstill and look about her for a few moments; then a man appeared in the road and together he and Veronica moved forward and vanished into the shadows that lay beyond.

Wondering, Sahwah stared after them, and as she looked a great, nameless dread took possession of her, and she experienced exactly the same peculiar sensation she had felt in the train coming down, a feeling of prescience and foreboding, of brooding evil. It gripped her heart with cold hands and she changed her intention of going to Nyoda's room and asking what was the matter with Veronica. Suddenly she felt that Nyoda would not know. All her heart cried out in love and loyalty to Veronica. The others must not find out what she had seen to-night. Veronica had simply gone out to take a walk in the moonlight; possibly she had a headache or was unable to sleep. It was a trick of the eyes that she had thought someone had been with her in the road; the distance and the waving shadows had deceived her. Why shouldn't Veronica steal out quietly and go for a walk if she wanted to? What time was it, anyway, eleven? Twelve? Sahwah switched on the light and looked at her watch. It was half past two.

She shivered as the freshening breeze came in through the window and became conscious that her bare feet were cold on the polished floor. She jumped into bed to get warm, intending to get up again and watch until Veronica returned, but the warmth of the bed sent a delicious languor through her limbs; she yawned once, twice; her eyes began to ache in the moonlight and she closed them to shut it out.

Presently she opened them again and there was the sun shining in on the bed. Moonlight and all its spells had fled. Had she dreamed that about Veronica last night? Resolutely she sprang from bed and tiptoed down the hall to Veronica's door. The tall clock on the stair landing showed a quarter to six. The door was half ajar and she peeped in. Veronica was in bed, sound asleep, her long lashes sweeping her ruddy cheek, her lips curved in a smile, like a baby's. Her clothes were on the chair beside the bed, and they did not look as if they had been disturbed in the night.

Sahwah laughed in relief and the fear went out of her heart.

"I dreamed it," she said to herself, and went back to bed for another nap before six o'clock, which was the official rising hour at Carver House.