Chapter V. A Little Brown Wren
 

The girls were awestricken.

Daisy, Maud, Hazel and Ray seemed to shrink closer together on the old mahogany sofa. Cora and the Robinson girls with Cecilia were grouped closely about the sick child.

"It's all about grandfather," she began. "I had the dearest, darlingest grandfather, and since he went away I am so lonely. Only for mother," she added, with something like an apology. "Of course, I am never really lonely with mother."

Mrs. Salvey shook her head. Then she picked up the discarded sewing.

"You see," went on Wren, "we used to live with grandfather in a beautiful cottage right near the river. He was a sea captain, and couldn't live away from the waves. Then I was strong enough to play on the sands."

Wren stopped. At the mention of her infirmity a cloud covered her young face. Presently she brightened up and resumed:

"But I am going to be strong again. When I find - "

She tossed her head back and seemed to see something beyond. For a moment no one spoke. The silence was, akin to reverence.

"Then," sighed the child, "when we lived by the ocean grandfather went out in a terrible storm - he said he had to go. And he never came back."

"Oh!" gasped Cora involuntarily.

Cecilia bent so close to Wren that her breath stirred the brown ringlets over the child's ears.

"But, of course," declared the child vehemently, "he will come back. If not here - in some other world."

"Dear," said Mrs. Salvey, "you had better make your story a little short. I am sure the young ladies will want to get over the roads before nightfall."

"Oh, it is quite early yet," declared Cecilia falsely, for the mantel clock pointed to six.

"I'll hurry," promised Wren. "You see, this is the important part of it all. When we lived with grandpa he made a beautiful table - I even helped him to make it. There were tiny pieces of wood all inlaid with anchors, oars and sea emblems. I used to dip them in the hot glue for grandpa. Well, there were some secret drawers in that table, and grandpa told me that if anything should happen to him we must explore the table. Well, we went away - it was the time of my own father's death - and when we came back the table was gone."

"Who took it?" demanded Cecilia sharply.

"Everything was sold - at auction - and no one could tell us anything about the table."

"You see," said Mrs. Salvey, "Wren thinks if we can find that table we will come into our own. Father was very fond of daughter, and the other relatives were so numerous that when the estate was equally divided it left very little for us. We thought the table might contain a will - "

"I know it did," declared Wren. "Didn't grandpa show it to me once? And now I want you each to sign the promise in my book. I shall read it over for you."

The child drew herself up straight, and held the book high between her hands. Then she read

"`I, the undersigned, promise most sacredly to do all in my power to help discover the whereabouts of an antique inlaid table that has on either side carved a large anchor, and which has the initials cut on each end, W. S. and R. S.'

These were mine and grandpa's initials," she explained. "I was called Wren because his name was Renton." She resumed reading the promise:

"`If ever I do discover this table I also promise to notify Wren Salvey immediately.' Then you sign," she said. "There are pen and ink. Mother always keeps them in the sitting-room for me."

Belle took the book. Pages were already filled with signatures.

"You must have a great many callers," she remarked, taking up the pen to sign.

"Oh, I take my book with me every time I go out," said Wren. "Sometimes mother takes me where there are a lot of people. I love to talk to folks."

"Of course you do," said Cora, filled with admiration for the mother who so humored the sick child. "And with all those promises, as you say, they must some day become a great, grand call, and so be answered."

"I hope you will hear the voice," said Wren fervently, and the day came when Cora remembered the child's prayer.

The girls added their names to the long list. Wren required that they repeat the promise individually, and, indeed, it became a most solemn proceeding.

The storm had entirely subsided. It was time to be on the road again, and Cora stood up first to take her leave.

"We really must go," she said. "We have had a most delightful hour. We shall never forget Wren, and, perhaps, some day we may return to fulfil our promise."

"I really feel that you will," declared the child. "I have never before met such - nice young ladies," and she blushed consciously. "I shall repeat your names many times - so that they will echo when I sleep."

Cecilia put her lips to the child's forehead. She did not dare trust herself to speak.

"I am sure you will dream about us - we are such an army," said Daisy with a laugh. "Try to forget that we are just girls - "

"She's an angel," interrupted Cecilia. "Don't get her mixed up with mere girls."

Wren laughed - such a dainty little laugh. She looked at Daisy.

"You are all - lovely," she declared, "and I always like blue eyes!"

Mrs. Salvey added her felicitations to those of her little daughter. "This has indeed been a most enjoyable visit," she said, "and I hope you will all try to keep your strange promise. I believe where one is so serious as is Wren something good is sure to result. If we could find that table - "

"Perhaps you will," said Cora pleasantly. "We are about to start on a long trip. We will make numbers of stops, and I assure you we will never forget to look for the table. I am sure it will give us a very pleasant duty to keep our eyes open."

"Indeed, it will," declared Cecilia warmly. "I only hope I shall be the lucky one - for I feel a sort of premonition that some one in this party really will be the means of bringing little Wren the good news. I have a mental picture of the table. I shall know it instantly."

"It would be very easy to recognize it," said Mrs. Salvey, opening the door as her visitors filed out. "The inlaid anchors are most conspicuous on the leaves."

Outside Cecilia renewed her antics. "Stick a hatpin in me - somebody do!" she exclaimed. "But not yours, Ray. I never could stand for that college, even in a stick."

Ray smiled and hurried into her car. The fair chauffeurs cranked up quickly, for it was almost dusk, and there was considerable road to cover between the place and Chelton.

"We must make speed now," called Bess. "I have a dinner date, be it known."

"I'm in a hurry, too," shouted Maud. "I have an engagement to be tried on - my new auto cloak. I have to have that on time."

The machines were speeding along merrily. It was pleasant after the rain, and the twilight lent enchantment to the delights of motoring.

"Why do you suppose Hazel was so anxious about Paul?" Bess asked Belle. "She could talk of nothing else, even when we were at the cottage."

"Well," replied the prudent Belle, "Hazel knows. There must be some danger or she would not talk of it. Perhaps Paul has had some warning."