The Twenty-Fourth of June by Grace S. Richmond
Chapter III. While it Rains
The advanced age of the Honourable Calvin Gray, and the precarious state of his eyesight, made it possible for him to work at his beloved self-appointed task for only a scant number of hours daily. His new assistant, therefore, found his own working hours not only limited but variable. Beginning at ten in the morning, by four in the afternoon Judge Gray was usually too weary to proceed farther; sometimes by the luncheon hour he was ready to lay aside his papers and dismiss his assistant. On other days he would waken with a severe headache, the result of the overstrain he was constantly tempted to give his eyes, in spite of all the aid that was offered him. On such days Richard could not always find enough to do to occupy his time, and would be obliged to leave the house so early that many hours were on his hands. When this happened, he would take the opportunity to drop in at one or two of his clubs, and so convey the impression that only caprice kept him away on other days. Curiously enough, this still seemed to him an object; he might have found it difficult to explain just why, for he assuredly was not ashamed of his new occupation.
Rather unexplainably to Richard, nearly the first fortnight of his new experience went by without his meeting any members of the family except the heads thereof and the younger son, Edgar, familiarly called by every one "Ted." With this youthful scion of the house he was destined to form the first real acquaintance. It came about upon a particularly rainy November day. Richard had found Judge Gray suffering from one of his frequent headaches, as a result of the overwork he had not been able wholly to avoid. Therefore a long day's work of research in various ancient volumes had been turned over to his assistant by an employer who left him to return to a seclusion he should not have forsaken.
Richard was accustomed to run down to an excellent hotel for his luncheon, and was preparing to leave the house for this purpose when Ted leaped at him from the stairs, tumbling down them in great haste.
"Mr. Kendrick, won't you stay and have lunch with me? It's pouring 'great horn spoons' and I'm all alone."
"Alone, Ted? Nobody here at all?"
"Not a soul. Uncle Cal's going to have his upstairs and he says I may ask you. Please stay. I don't go to school in the afternoon and maybe I can help you, if you'll show me how."
Richard smiled at the notion, but accepted the eager invitation, and presently found himself sitting alone with the lad at a big, old-fashioned mahogany table, being served with a particularly tempting meal.
"You see," Ted explained, spooning out grapefruit with an energetic hand, "father and mother and Steve and Rosy have gone to the country to a funeral--a cousin of ours. Louis and Rob aren't home till night except Saturdays and Sundays, and Ruth is at school till Friday nights. It makes it sort of lonesome for me. Wednesdays, though, every other week, Rob's home all day. When she's here I don't mind who else is away."
"I was just going to ask if you had three brothers," observed Richard. "Do I understand 'Rob' is a girl?"
"Sure, Rob's a girl all right, and I'm mighty glad of it. I wouldn't be a girl myself, not much; but I wouldn't have Rob anything else--I should say not. Name's Roberta, you know, after father. She's a peach of a sister, I tell you. Ruth's all right, too, of course, but she's different. She's a girl all through. But Rob's half boy, or--I should say there's just enough boy about her to make her exactly right, if you know what I mean."
He looked inquiringly at Richard, who nodded gravely. "I think I get something of your idea," he agreed. "It makes a fine combination, does it?"
"I should say it did. You know a girl that's all girl is too much girl. But one that likes some of the things boys like--well, it helps out a lot. Through with the grapefruit, Mary," he added, over his shoulder, to the maid. "Have you any brothers or sisters, Mr. Kendrick?" he inquired interestedly, when he had assured himself that the clam broth with which he was now served was unquestionably good to eat.
"Not one--living. I had a brother, but he died when I was a little chap."
"That was too bad," said Ted with ready sympathy. He looked straight across the table at Richard out of sea-blue eyes shaded by very heavy black lashes, which, it struck Richard quite suddenly, were much like another pair which he had had one very limited opportunity of observing. The boy also possessed a heavy thatch of coal-black hair, a lock of which was continually falling over his forehead and having to be thrust back. "Because father says," Ted went, on, "it's a whole lot better for children to be brought up together, so they will learn to be polite to each other. I'm the youngest, so I'm most like an only child. But, you see," he added hurriedly, "the older ones weren't allowed to give up to me, and I had to be polite to them, so perhaps"--he looked so in earnest about it that Richard could not possibly laugh at him--"I won't turn out as badly as some youngest ones do."
There was really nothing priggish about this statement, however it may sound. And the next minute the boy had turned to a subject less suggestive of parental counsels. He launched into an account of his elder brother Louis's prowess on the football fields of past years, where, it seemed, that young man had been a remarkable right tackle. He gave rather a vivid account of a game he had witnessed last year, talking, as Richard recognized, less because he was eager to talk than from a sense of responsibility as to the entertainment of his guest.
"But he won't play any more," he added mournfully. "He took his degree last year and he's in father's office now, learning everything from the beginning. He's just a common clerk, but he won't be long," he asserted confidently.
"No, not long," agreed Richard. "The son of the chief won't be a common clerk long, of course."
"I mean," explained Ted, buttering a hot roll with hurried fingers, "he'll work his way up. He won't be promoted until he earns it; he doesn't want to be."
Richard smiled. The boy's ideals had evidently been given a start by some person or persons of high moral character. He was considering the subject in some further detail with the lad when the dining-room door suddenly opened and the owner of the black-lashed blue eyes, which in a way matched Ted's, came most unexpectedly in upon them. She was in street dress of dark blue, and her eyes looked out at them from under the wide gray brim of a sombrero-shaped hat with a long quill in it, the whole effect of which was to give her the breezy look of having literally blown in on the November wind which was shaking the trees outside. Her cheeks had been stung into a brilliant rose colour. Two books were tucked under her arm.
"Why, Rob!" cried her younger brother. "What luck! What brought you home?"
Rising from his chair Richard observed that Ted had risen also, and he now heard Ted's voice presenting him to his sister with the ease of the well-bred youngster.
From this moment Richard owed the boy a debt of gratitude. He had been waiting impatiently for a fortnight for this presentation and had begun to think it would never come.
Roberta Gray came forward to give the guest her hand with a ready courtesy which Richard met with the explanation of his presence.
"I was asked to keep your brother company in the absence of the family. I can't help being glad that you didn't come in time to forestall me."
"I'm sure Ted's hospitality might have covered us both," she said, pulling off her gloves. He recognized the voice. At close range it was even more delightful than he had remembered.
"I doubt it, since he tells me that when you're here he doesn't mind who else is away."
"Did you say that, Teddy?" she asked, smiling at the boy. "Then you'll surely give me lunch, though it isn't my day at home. I'm so hungry, walking in this wind. But the air is glorious."
She went away to remove her hat and coat, and came back quickly, her masses of black hair suggesting but not confirming the impression that the wind had lately had its way with them. Her eyes scanned the table eagerly like those of a hungry boy.
"Some of your scholars sick?" inquired Ted.
"Two--and one away. So I'm to have a whole beautiful afternoon, though I may have to see them Wednesday to make up. I am a teacher in Miss Copeland's private school," she explained to Richard as simply as one of the young women he knew would have explained. "I have singing lessons of Servensky."
This gave the young man food for thought, in which he indulged while Miss Roberta Gray told Ted of an encounter she had had that morning with a special friend of his own. This daughter of a distinguished man--of a family not so rich as his own, but still of considerable wealth and unquestionably high social position--was a teacher in a school for girls; a most exclusive school, of course--he knew the one very well--but still in a school and for a salary. To Richard the thing was strange enough. She must surely do it from choice, not from necessity; but why from choice? With her face and her charm--he felt the charm already; it radiated from her--why should she want to tie herself down to a dull round of duty like that instead of giving her thoughts to the things girls of her position usually cared for? Taking into consideration the statement Ted had lately made about his elder brother, it struck Richard Kendrick that this must be a family of rather eccentric notions. Somewhat to his surprise he discovered that the idea interested him. He had found people of his own acquaintance tiresomely alike; he congratulated himself on having met somebody who seemed likely to prove different.
"So you rejoice in your half-holiday, Miss Gray," Richard observed when he had the chance. "I suppose you know exactly what you are going to do with it?"
"Why do you think I do?" she asked with an odd little twist of the lip. "Do you always plan even unexpected holidays so carefully?"
It occurred to Richard that up to the last fortnight his days since he left college had been all holidays, and there had been plenty of them throughout college life itself. But he answered seriously: "I don't believe I do. But I had the idea that teachers were so in the habit of living on schedules scientifically made out that even their holidays were conscientiously lived up to, with the purpose of getting the full value out of them."
Even as he said it he could have laughed aloud at the thought of these straitlaced principles being applicable to the young person who sat at the table with himself and Ted. She a teacher? Never! He had known no women teachers since his first governess had been exchanged for a tutor, the sturdy youngster having rebelled, at an extraordinarily early age, against petticoat government. His acquaintance included but one woman of that profession--and she was a college president. He and she had not got on well together, either, during the brief period in which they had been thrown together--on an ocean voyage. But he had seen plenty of teachers, crossing the Atlantic in large parties, surveying cathedrals, taking coach drives, inspecting art galleries--all with that conscientious air of making the most of it. Miss Roberta Gray one of that serious company? It was incredible!
"Dear me," laughed Roberta, "what a keen observer you are! I am almost afraid to admit that I have no conscientiously thought-out plan--but one. I am going to put myself in Ted's hands and let him personally conduct my afternoon."
Blue eyes met blue eyes at that and flashed happy fire. Lucky Ted!
"Oh, jolly!" exclaimed that delighted youth. "Will you play basket-ball in the attic?"
"Of course I will. Just the thing for a rainy day."
"Take a cross-country tramp?" His eyes were sparkling.
Roberta glanced out of the window. The rain was dashing hard against the pane. "If you won't go through the West Wood marshes," she stipulated.
"Sure I won't. They'd be pretty wet even for me on a day like this. Is there anything you'd specially like to do yourself?" he bethought himself at this stage to inquire.
Roberta shrugged her shoulders. "Of course it seems tame to propose settling down by the living-room fire and popping corn, after we get back and have got into our dry clothes," said she, "but--"
Ted grinned. "That's the stuff," he acknowledged. "I knew you'd think of the right thing to end up the lark with." He looked across at Richard with a proud and happy face. "Didn't I tell you she was a peach of a sister?" he challenged his guest.
Richard nodded. "You certainly did," he said. "And I see no occasion to question the statement."
His eyes met Roberta's. Never in his life had the thought of a cross-country walk in the rain so appealed to him. At the moment he would have given his eagerly planned trip to the Far East for the chance to march by her side to-day, even though the course should lie through the marshes of West Wood, unquestionably the wettest place in the country on that particular wet afternoon. But nobody would think of inviting him to go--of course not. And while Roberta and Ted were dashing along country lanes--he could imagine how her cheeks would look, stung with rain, drops clinging to those bewildering lashes of hers--he himself would be looking up references in dry and dusty State Supreme Court records, and making notes with a fountain pen--a fountain pen--symbol of the student. What abominable luck!
Roberta was laughing as his eyes met hers. The gay curve of her lips recalled to him one of the things Ted had said about her, concerning a certain boyish quality in her makeup, and he was strongly tempted to tell her of it. But he resisted.
"I can see you two are great chums," said he. "I envy you both your afternoon, clear through to the corn-popping."
"If you are still at work when we reach that stage we will--send you in some of it," she promised, and laughed again at the way his face fell.
"I thought perhaps you were going to invite me in to help pop," he suggested boldly.
"I understand you are engaged in the serious labour of collecting material for a book on a most serious subject," she replied. "We shouldn't dare to divert your mind; and besides I am told that Uncle Calvin intends to introduce you formally to the family by inviting you to dinner some evening next week. Do you think you ought to steal in by coming to a corn-popping beforehand? You see now I can quite truthfully say to Uncle Calvin that I don't yet know you, but after I had popped corn with you--"
She paused, and he eagerly filled out the sentence: "You would know me? I hope you would! Because, to tell the honest truth, literary research is a bit new and difficult to me as yet, and any diversion--"
But she would not ask him to the corn-popping. And he was obliged to finish his luncheon in short order because Roberta and Ted, plainly anxious to begin the afternoon's program, made such short work of it themselves. They bade him farewell at the door of the dining-room like a pair of lads who could hardly wait to be ceremonious in their eagerness to be off, and the last he saw of them they were running up the staircase hand in hand like the comrades they were.
During his intensely stupid researches Richard Kendrick could hear faintly in the distance the thud of the basket-ball and the rumble of the bowls. But within the hour these tantalizing sounds ceased, and, in the midst of the fiercest dash of rain against the library window-panes that had yet occurred that day, he suddenly heard the bang of the back-hall entrance-door. He jumped to his feet and ran to reconnoitre, for the library looked out through big French windows upon the lawn behind the house, and he knew that the pair of holiday makers would pass.
There they were! What could the rain matter to them? Clad in high hunting boots and gleaming yellow oilskin coats, and with hunters' caps on their heads, they defied the weather. Anything prettier than Roberta's face under that cap, with the rich yellow beneath her chin, her face alight with laughter and good fellowship, Richard vowed to himself he had never seen. He wanted to wave a farewell to them, but they did not look up at his window, and he would not knock upon the pane--like a sick schoolboy shut up in the nursery enviously watching his playmates go forth to valiant games.
When they had disappeared at a fast walk down the gravelled path to the gate at the back of the grounds, taking by this route a straight course toward the open country which lay in that direction not more than a mile away, the grandson of old Matthew Kendrick went reluctantly back to his work. He hated it, yet--he was tremendously glad he had taken the job. If only there might be many oases in the dull desert such as this had been!
* * * * *
"How do you like him, Rob?" inquired the young brother, splashing along at his sister's side down the country road.
"Like whom?" Roberta answered absently, clearing her eyes of raindrops by the application of a moist handkerchief.
"I think Uncle Cal might have looked a long way and not picked out a less suitable secretary," said she with spirit.
"Is that what he is? What is a seccertary anyway?" demanded Ted.
"Several things Mr. Kendrick is not."
"Oh, I say, Rob! I can't understand--"
"It is a person who has learned how to be eyes, ears, hands, and brain for another," defined Roberta.
"Gee! Hasn't Uncle Cal got all those things himself--except eyes?"
"Yes, but anybody who serves him needs them all, too. I don't believe Mr. Kendrick ever helped anybody before in his life."
"Maybe he has. He's got loads of money, Louis says."
"Oh, money! Anybody can give away money."
"They don't all, I guess," declared Ted, with boyish shrewdness. "Say, Rob, why wouldn't you ask him to the corn-pop frolic?"
Roberta looked round at him. Drenched violets would have been dull and colourless beside the living tint of her eyes, the raindrops clinging to her lashes. "Because he was too busy," she replied, and looked away again.
"I didn't think he seemed so very much in a hurry to get back to the library," observed Ted. "When I went down to the kitchen after the corn I looked in the door and he was sitting at the desk looking out of the window. But then I look out of the window myself at school," he admitted.
"Ted, shall we take this path or the other?" asked his sister, halting where three trails across the meadow diverged.
"This one will be the wettest," said he promptly. "But I like it best."
"Then we'll take it." And she plunged ahead.
"I say, Rob, but you're a true sport!" acknowledged her young brother with admiration. "Any girl I know would have wanted the dry path."
"Dry?" Roberta showed him a laughing profile over her shoulder. "Where all paths are soaking, why be fastidious? The wetter we are the more credit for keeping jolly, as Mark Tapley would say. Lead on, MacDuff!"
"You seem to be leading yourself," shouted Ted, as she unexpectedly broke into a run.
"It's only seeming, Ted," she called back. "Whenever a woman seems to be leading, you may take my word for it she's only following the course pointed out by some man. But--when she seems to be following, look out for her!"
But of this oracular statement Ted could make nothing and wisely did not try. He was quite content to splash along in Rob's wake, thinking complacently how hot and buttery the popped corn would be an hour hence.