Chapter VIII
 

"But aren't you glad to see me, Daddy?" asked Gertrude. They were in the library. The trunk had been carried upstairs and the young lady had assured her father over and over again that she really didn't want any dinner, as she had eaten on the dining car during the journey from Boston.

The captain, who had scarcely taken his eyes off her since her arrival at the house, drew a long breath.

"Glad to see you!" he repeated. "I never was more glad to see anybody in my life. How'd you happen to come so soon? We weren't expectin' you for a week."

"I hadn't expected to come, but I changed my mind. Now tell me all about yourself. How are you, and how's Mother? And how are you getting on? Mother has gone to the Chapter meeting, you say. Did she go alone?"

"No, she didn't go alone. That--Cousin Percy went with her."

"Cousin Percy? Oh, you mean Mr. Hungerford. Do you call him Cousin Percy? How funny!"

She seemed much amused. Her father smiled, but it was a rather sheepish smile.

"'Tis kind of funny, I suppose," he admitted. "I don't know as he really is a cousin. Fact is, I guess he ain't any real relation."

"Of course he isn't. He was Aunt Lavinia's second cousin, or something like that, but she was only your aunt by marriage. I don't see why you should speak of him as 'Cousin Percy.' Did he ask you to?"

"No-o; I don't know as he did. But, you see, he always calls your mother Cousin Serena and me Cousin Daniel, and--and--well, I guess we've kind of got into the habit. Your mother began it and, now that he's been here so long, I've caught the disease, I shouldn't wonder."

"Long! Why, he hasn't been here more than a month, has he?"

"Hey? No; no; now that you mention it I don't suppose he has. But it seems a lot longer than that to me."

He sighed. Gertrude regarded him keenly. Unconscious of the regard he sat there, lost in thought, apparently forgetful of her presence. She reminded him by saying:

"Why does it seem longer?"

He started and looked up.

"Hey? Why?" he repeated. "Oh, I don't know. So many things have happened, I guess."

"What kind of things?"

"All kinds. But there--tell me about yourself. How's college? And how's John? Land sakes! I ain't said a word about John, and he's about as important as anything on earth just now, or he ought to be. Guess you think I'm a selfish old pig, not to ask about him before this. How is he?"

"You couldn't be selfish if you tried, Daddy. You never knew how to be. John is well and very busy. He sent his love to you and Mother, and he hopes to run down here before very long and spend a few days with us."

"Does, hey? That's good. I suppose you don't hope he'll come. Ha! ha! no, of course not. He's doin' all the hopin'."

"Well, perhaps not all. But there, Daddy, don't waste time talking of John or me. I want to hear about you and about Mother, and how you like living in Scarford."

"Why, I wrote you all about that."

"Yes, I know you did, but I want to hear more, lots more. And I want to see the house. Just think, I haven't seen it at all. Now, Daddy, you must show me all the rooms right away. We can talk as we go. Come on."

She led the way and Daniel followed. The house was shown from top to bottom. Gertrude asked many questions, the majority of which seemed to have little to do with the new establishment and more with the life which her parents had spent in it. Captain Dan answered these questions in the intervals between rooms, and his answers were less guarded than they might have been under different circumstances. At length the young lady ceased to question, and the tour of inspection was finished in silence on her part.

When they returned to the library, the captain, who had been waiting for some expression of approval from his daughter, suddenly blurted out:

"Well, why don't you say somethin', Gertie? Don't you like it?"

Gertrude, seated in the easy chair, her elbow resting on the chair arm and her chin supported by her hand, answered promptly.

"No," she said, "I don't like it at all."

"What! Don't like it? Don't like this house? Well, for mercy sakes!"

"Oh, not the house; I like that well enough. I liked our old one quite as well--but never mind that now. The house is all right. It is the rest of it that is all wrong. I don't like that."

"The rest of it? What do you mean?"

Gertrude did not answer. Instead she raised her head and looked at him. It was a long look and a steady one, and the captain found it hard to bear. He fidgeted for a moment and then blurted out:

"Well, what is it? Why are you starin' at me like that?"

The stare continued.

"What is it?" demanded Daniel. "What does ail you, Gertie? Or is it me?"

His daughter nodded. "Yes," she said, "it is you. Why don't you tell me all about it, Daddy? I have a right to know. Why don't you tell me?"

"Tell you? Tell you what?"

"You know. Why don't you tell me? You have told me so much already that you may as well make a clean breast of it. Why, you silly old Dad, what do you suppose brought me here a week ahead of my vacation? Why do you think I came?"

"Why do I think--? Why--why, you came because you wanted to see your mother and me, I suppose. That's reason enough--or I flattered myself that 'twas. I thought you was as anxious to see us as we was to see you."

"So I was; but that wasn't reason sufficient to make me leave my work at college before the term was over, leave it for good, very likely. I came because I was sure you needed me. And your letters made me sure."

Daniel gasped. His letters had been triumphs of diplomatic evasion, so he considered. He had been so careful to write nothing of his troubles, to leave out everything which should hint at his disturbed state of mind. He had taken pains to express, in each epistle, his contentment and happiness, had emphasized them. And now--

"My letters!" he exclaimed. "My letters made you think--made you sure--"

"Yes; your letters and mother's. Hers were full of all sorts of things, the very things that you never mentioned. She didn't say she was having a good time here, but it was plain enough that she was. You said it in every letter--that you were having the good time, I mean--but it was perfectly plain that you weren't. And her last letter was so short--she was so busy with the Atterbury preparations that she could not write more, she said--and yours was so very, very long, and so full of lonesomeness--"

Her father interrupted. Lonesomeness was the very thing he had tried to keep out of that letter.

"Gertrude Atwell Dott!" he shouted. "How you talk! I never wrote a word--"

"Yes, you did. It was all there, between the lines. I could read it, for you and I have been acquainted a good many years. As soon as I received that letter I made up my mind to come at once. Since I have been here I have asked a good many questions, and you have answered them. But I didn't need the answers. Just to look at you was enough. You are miserable, Daddy dear, and, because you are you, you won't admit it. But you've got to; you've got to tell me the whole story. I want to know all about everything."

The wind was taken completely out of Daniel's sails. He could only sit there, guilt written plainly upon his face, and stammer frantic protestations.

"No, no," he declared. "It ain't so. You're all wrong, Gertie. You're way off the course. The idea of you sayin' your mother was neglectin' me."

"I didn't say it. You have said it a dozen times, but I haven't."

"I said it? I never. Your mother is a fine woman, Gertie; as good a woman as ever was."

"I know that. And she would not neglect you wilfully for the world. But she has not had experience. She takes people and things at their face value. She doesn't understand--Why are you smiling? Is it so funny?"

Captain Dan rubbed the smile from his lips. In spite of his perturbation he had been amused for the moment.

"Why," he observed, "I don't know as 'tis, but--but--well, I couldn't help wonderin' how old you'd got to be in the last couple of months, Gertie. You talk as if you was the grandmother and your ma and I were young ones just out of school. About how much experience have you had, young lady? now that we're speakin' of it."

Gertrude's earnestness was too real to be shaken by this pertinent inquiry.

"I have had a good deal," she declared. "One can get a lot of experience in college. There are as many kinds of character there, on a small scale, as anywhere I know. I have seen girls--but there! this is all irrelevant, away from the subject. You are neglected, Daddy; you are lonely and miserable. Now, I want you to tell me all about it."

But her father had, in a measure, recovered his composure, and he declined to tell. He had been longing for a confidant, and here was the one he had longed for most; but his sense of loyalty to Serena kept him silent.

"There's nothin' to tell," he vowed stoutly. "I'm all right. You're dreamin', Gertie."

"Nonsense! I shall lose patience with you pretty soon, and I don't want to. Judging by what I have seen and learned so far, I am likely to need a great deal of patience in this house, and I can't waste any. Mother has gone head over heels into this precious Ladies of Honor work of hers, hasn't she?"

"We-ll, she's terrible interested in it, of course; but she's so smart anyhow, and here in Scarford she's got the chance she's been lookin' for."

"And she is very much in society here, isn't she?"

"Yes. That's natural, too, with her smartness and all."

"What kind of society is it?"

"Hey? What kind? Why, it's the genuine gilt-edged kind, I should say. I never saw such clothes, nor such dinners, nor dances. It--"

"Hush! Yes, I can believe all that. You wouldn't be likely to see them--in Trumet. And I can believe in the gilt; the genuine part is what I am most doubtful of. Mrs. Black is as influential with Mother as ever, isn't she?"

"Yes. She and Serena bein' such close friends, it--"

"I know. Tell me, Daddy, are the rest of Mother's friends like the Blacks?"

"Pretty much. They're all the same tribe--that is, I mean they're all brilliant, fashionable folks."

"I see. What sort of friends have you made?"

This was straight from the shoulder and the captain was somewhat staggered.

"Well," he admitted, after a slight pause, "I--I ain't made so dreadful many friends, Gertie. Most of the men here are--are kind of different from me, seems so. They belong to clubs and such, and they're out a lot nights. I don't care for goin' out much; I've always been a great home body--you know that, Gertie. I don't doubt, if I joined the club and went to 'stag' dinners and so on, I'd have more friends. It ain't their fault, you know, it's me."

"Yes, it always is you, isn't it, Daddy? No one else is to blame, of course. Well, I'm very glad I came when I did. How many evenings have you spent alone, as you were spending this one?"

"Not a great many. I just--"

"Why didn't you go to the Chapter to-night? It must have been an open meeting, otherwise Mr. Hungerford couldn't have gone. Why didn't you go with Mother?"

Here was the one question Daniel had dreaded most. To answer it truthfully meant telling of the quarrel between Serena and himself. He could not tell that, not even to his daughter.

"I--I didn't feel like goin', somehow," he faltered.

"That's strange. I knew that you were not particularly interested in the Chapter--at least you never were in Trumet--but I never knew you to stay at home when Mother asked you to go with her. Did she ask you?"

"Now--now, Gertie, 'tain't likely I--I--"

"Never mind; you needn't answer. Tell me more about this new relative of ours, 'Cousin Percy.' Do you like him, now that you really know him?"

"Why--why, yes, I like him all right enough, I guess. Course he and I are different, in some ways; but, then, he's younger by a good many years."

Gertrude nodded slowly. "I see," she said. "You've made up your mind not to tell me anything, haven't you, Daddy? You wouldn't hurt anyone's feelings for the world, and you are afraid I may blame Mother. Well, I am not going to blame anyone yet. And I am not going to quiz you any longer. But I came home to find out things, and I am going to find out. If you won't help me, I must help myself."

Her father leaned forward and patted her hand.

"Now--now, Gertie," he pleaded nervously, "don't be foolish. Everything's all right, I tell you. Don't go stirrin' up any trouble. I am so tickled to have you here I don't know what to do. Let's be contented with that. Let's just be happy together. Don't--Hello! here comes the Chapter folks now, I guess. Maybe your mother won't be glad to see you! Oh, Serena, who do you think is here? I'll bet you'll be some surprised!"

There was no doubt of the surprise; neither was there any doubt as to Serena's joy at seeing her daughter. An outburst of greetings and questions and explanations followed. Gertrude explained that she had had an opportunity to leave college a week earlier than the end of the term and had availed herself of it.

"I just had to see you and father," she declared. "I couldn't wait any longer. I've been telling father so; haven't I, Daddy?"

She accompanied this question with a glance which Captain Dan recognized as a warning. He nodded.

"Yes," he said.

Serena suddenly remembered that the family was not alone.

"Oh!" she exclaimed. "What have I been thinking of? Your coming home like this, Gertie, has made me forget everything else. Cousin Percy--Why, where is Cousin Percy?"

Mr. Hungerford, who, from motives of delicacy or other reasons, had stepped back into the hall, where he could see and hear without being too conspicuous, now made his appearance.

"Gertrude," said Mrs. Dott, "this is our cousin, Mr. Percy Hungerford. You've heard him spoken of. Oh, yes--why, you and he have met. I remember now, so you have."

Mr. Hungerford bowed.

"I had the pleasure of meeting Miss Dott one evening a year or two ago," he observed politely. "No doubt she has forgotten me, however, by this time."

Gertrude shook her head.

"Oh, no," she said. "I remember you very well, indeed. How do you do, Mr. Hungerford?"

The young gentleman announced that he was quite well. He made a move as if to shake hands, but as there was no corresponding move on Miss Dott's part, he put his hand in his pocket instead.

"That evening--the evening of the college dance--is one of my pleasantest recollections," he observed. "I made some delightful acquaintances there. I am ashamed to say that I have forgotten the names of the young ladies, but forgetfulness is one of my failings."

"He meets so many people," cut in Serena, by way of apology.

Gertrude smiled. There was a mischievous twinkle in her eye.

"I'm sure he hasn't forgotten us all," she declared. "He could not be so ungallant as that."

"He didn't forget you, anyway," declared Daniel. "He knew your photograph just as soon as he laid eyes on it."

"Oh, thank you, Daddy. You've saved my self-respect. But I was not referring to myself. There are others whom I am sure Mr. Hungerford has not forgotten. Isn't that true, Mr. Hungerford?"

Cousin Percy appeared somewhat disconcerted.

"Why," he stammered, "I don't understand. I can't recollect--"

"Can't you! Oh, that is dreadful! Do you correspond with so many young ladies that you can't remember their identity? Oh! oh! and Margaret was so proud of those letters! Really, Mr. Hungerford!"

She shook her head. Her eyes were brimming over with fun. Cousin Percy's cheeks had lost something of their aristocratic pallor. Margaret Babcock, the daughter of a well known glass manufacturer, had been one of the list of feminine acquaintances whom he had honored with long distance familiarity. She was an impressionable young person and her papa was very wealthy. The correspondence had broken off when her mother discovered one of the letters. Mrs. Babcock had definite views concerning her daughter's future, and Mr. Hungerford was not included in the perspective. The latter had forgotten, for the moment, that he met Miss Babcock at the college dance; therefore he was confused.

But the confusion was short-lived. He recovered quickly.

"I beg your pardon, Miss Dott," he said with a laugh. "I had forgotten Miss Babcock. Poor Margaret! She was of an age when letters, especially masculine letters, are delightfully wicked. Forbidden fruit, you know. She asked me to write, and I was foolish enough to do so. I presume my humble epistles furnished harmless amusement for the class. Very glad to have contributed, I'm sure."

"You did contribute. We all enjoyed them so much--especially Margaret. She is a year older than I, Mr. Hungerford."

Serena, who, like the captain, did not understand a great deal of all this, decided to change the subject. She did not address her husband--she had not spoken to him since the scene in the room upstairs--but the exaltation and triumph which the evening just passed had brought to her soul now burst forth. She began to describe the Chapter's meeting and to tell of her great success at Atterbury, and the enthusiastic reception by the Scarford members of her report. Mr. Hungerford seized the opportunity to deprive the family of his society. He was rather tired, he explained, had a bit of writing to do before retiring, and, if they would excuse him, would go to his room. Being excused, with reluctance on Mrs. Dott's part and silence on the part of Gertrude and her father, he said good-night and withdrew.

"And now, Mother," said Gertrude, "tell me more about yourself, and about the Chapter, and the friends you have made, and everything. Father has told me a little, and your letters and his have told me more, but I want to know it all. I am very much interested."

Serena did not need to be asked twice. She told a great deal, warming to her subject as she proceeded. She told of their arrival in Scarford, of the kindness shown by the Blacks and Mrs. Lake and the rest. "Wonderful women, Gertie! brilliant, intellectual, advanced thinkers, every one of them. Not much like Abigail Mayo and the rest at Trumet."

She told of their adventures in society, of the Blacks' dinner, of the reception, of her bridge lessons. Gertrude listened, saying nothing, but watching both her parents intently as the narrative proceeded.

Daniel, fidgeting in his chair, waited, nervously expectant, for the protest which he felt sure his daughter might make at any moment. But no protest came. Only once did the young lady interrupt, and then it was to ask a question.

"I suppose Daddy enjoys all this as much as you do, Mother?" she said. "Doesn't he?"

Mrs. Dott's expression changed. The radiant joy, which had illumined her face as she described her progress at bridge, faded, and she seemed on the verge of tears.

"Don't, Gertie," she begged. "Don't ask me about your father, please. Enjoy it? No, he doesn't enjoy it at all. He has no sympathy for my aims and ambitions. He takes no pride in my advancement. To-night--only this very night, he said to me--Oh, I can't tell you what he said! Don't ask me, please."

Captain Dan almost slipped from his chair in the agony of justification.

"I never meant it, Gertie," he declared. "It just happened, I don't know how. I'll leave it to you; I'll leave it to anybody, if--"

For the first time his wife noticed his presence.

"Leave it to anybody!" she repeated wildly. "You'll leave it to anybody! I wish you would! I wish you could hear what people think of it. Why, Cousin Percy said--"

For the second time since lunch the captain forgot to be prudent.

"Cousin Percy said!" he shouted. "He said! Do you mean to say you told him--that? What business was it of his, I'd like to know? What did he say? If he says it to me, I'll--I'll--"

Gertrude motioned him to stop.

"There! there!" she commanded. "Daddy, be quiet. Mother, you're tired out. You must go to bed. I'll go up with you, and we can talk while you are getting ready. Daddy will wait here. Come, Mother, come."

She led the sobbing Serena from the room. Captain Dan, his feelings divided between deep contrition at his own behavior and anger at Mr. Hungerford's interference in the affairs of himself and wife, obeyed orders and remained where he was.

It was a long wait. He smoked a cigar half through, lighting it three times in the process. When it went out for the fourth time he dashed the stump into the fireplace and took to pacing up and down the room. This reminded him of other days, days when he had paced the deck of his three-master, counting the hours which separated him from his wife and his home. He thought of the welcome he had always received when he reached that home. Oh, why--why had he ever retired from the sea? That was where he belonged; he was of some use in the world there. With a groan he stopped pacing and went out into the hall to listen for sounds from above. He heard the low murmurs of voices, the voices of his wife and daughter, but he could not distinguish words. Back he went to the library and lit another cigar. These cigars cost three times what his old Trumet brand had cost, but he got not a hundredth of the enjoyment from them.

Twelve o'clock struck before Gertrude re-entered the library. She entered quietly and, walking over to her father's chair, laid a hand on his shoulder. He looked up at her in mute appeal.

"It's all right, Daddy," she said. "You can go up now."

"But--but she--is she--"

"She has forgiven you, I think. You must be very kind to her."

"Kind to her? Kind! Why, Gertie, I never meant to be anything else. I wouldn't have--"

"Of course you wouldn't. Oh, Daddy, if you weren't the very worst diplomat in all this world this wouldn't have happened. Why didn't you tell me all about it? Why didn't you write me the truth long, long ago? If I had only come sooner! If I had only known! Oh, why did you let things reach this state? Why didn't you stop it?"

"Stop it? Stop what?"

"Oh, everything. Don't you remember that I told you to send for me if you needed me? To send at any time and I would come? And don't you remember that I wrote you if you felt this moving to Scarford was wrong to say no and stick to it? Why didn't you do that?"

"Why, I--I--Serena, she was so set on comin' and all that, that--"

"I know. You needn't tell me. And yet, in a way, it seems strange. I remember some things Laban Ginn, Azuba's husband, told me about you and your ways aboard ship; he said your crews obeyed every order you gave as if it was what he called 'Gospel.' You, and no one else, was master there. However, that is not pertinent just now. Run along to bed, there's a dear."

Daniel obediently rose.

"But what are you goin' to do, Gertie?" he asked.

"I don't know what I am going to do. First of all I am going to see and find out for myself. Then I shall decide. One thing seems certain: I shall not go back to college."

"Not go back! Not go back to college? Why, it's your last term! What'll your mother say? What'll John say?"

Gertrude's lips closed tightly and she gave a determined toss of her head.

"John will say what I say, I think," she declared. "As for Mother--well, what she says won't make any difference, not at present. Good-night, Daddy. Now don't worry, and," she repressed a smile, "be very careful and, if you must express your opinion of the Chapter, do it in the back yard or somewhere out of hearing. Good-night."

She kissed him and he went slowly and fearfully upstairs. Serena's attitude of reproachful and self-sacrificing forgiveness he met with meek repentance and promises not to offend again. He got into bed, worn out and troubled, but with a ray of hope in his bosom, nevertheless. Gertie had come home; Gertie was going to do something or other, he did not know and could not guess what. At any rate she was with him, and he could see her every day. Perhaps--perhaps--still wondering perhapses he fell asleep.

Next morning at breakfast the young lady seemed to be in good spirits and, except for Serena's absence--Serena had breakfast in her room, a proceeding which was apparently developing into a habit--the meal was to Daniel quite like one of the happy breakfasts of Trumet days. Mr. Hungerford marred the captain's pleasure somewhat by joining the pair before they left the table, and to him Gertrude was surprisingly cordial and communicative. Cousin Percy, who had been, at first, rather on his guard, soon thawed and became almost loquacious. Gertrude and he found a kindred taste for pictures and art in general, and before the captain's second cup of coffee was disposed of Mr. Hungerford had invited Miss Dott to accompany him to a water-color exhibition at a neighboring studio. Gertrude said she thought she might accept the invitation, if the exhibition was to remain for a few days.

"Is the artist a friend of yours?" she asked casually.

"Oh, no," was the languid answer. "He's a queer old gink--old chap, I mean--whose work is quite the go about here recently. Some very decent people have taken him up, I believe. He's worth meeting, so I'm told, as a curiosity. I've seen only two or three of his paintings, but they're really not bad. Some of the fellows at the club were talking about him the other night. I think you'd enjoy the exhibition, Miss Dott."

"I'm sure I should. I should like to see the pictures and the--er--gink as well. Thank you very much, Cousin Percy."

When they were alone, Captain Dan turned to his daughter in puzzled amazement.

"What did you call him 'Cousin Percy' for?" he demanded. "Thought you thought your mother and I callin' him that was funny; you said you did."

Gertrude laughed. "Did I?" she replied. "Well, perhaps I think so still."

Whatever she may have thought, it did not prevent her continuing to be very cordial to the newly discovered relative. He and she were together a good deal during the day. She seemed to really enjoy his society. The remainder of the time she spent with her mother. Captain Dan scarcely saw her except at luncheon and dinner. Once he found her in the kitchen talking with Azuba, and on another occasion she and Mr. Hapgood were in conversation, but for her father she could spare only odd moments. The captain did not know what to make of it. When, taking advantage of a fleeting opportunity, he asked her she only laughed.

"I am very busy, Daddy," she said. "You mustn't bother."

"Bother! Well, I like that! How long since my company was a bother to you, Gertie? It never used to be."

"It isn't now, and you know it. But, as I say, I am very busy. Business first, pleasure afterwards."

"Humph! I'm glad I'm a pleasure, even if it's the kind that comes after everything else. What have you and your ma been talkin' about upstairs for the last hour?"

"A great many things--society and the Chapter and--oh, all sorts."

"Want to know! What were you and Azuba talkin' about?"

"About household matters and the people in the house."

"People in the house! What people?"

"You and mother and Mr. Hun--that is, Cousin Percy--and Hapgood."

"That's all there is, except yourself. What was you and Hapgood havin' a confab on; more household matters?"

"Yes, in a way. Daddy, have Mr. Hungerford and Hapgood known each other long?"

"I guess so. He was Aunt Laviny's butler for a good many years, and Percy was a regular visitor there. What made you ask that?"

"Feminine curiosity, probably. Has our cousin many friends here in Scarford?"

"Why, he seems to know 'most everybody; everybody that's in what he and your mother call society, that is."

"But has he any intimate friends? Have you met any of them?"

"I met one once. He seemed to be pretty intimate. Anyhow, they called each other by their first names. Ho! ho! that whole thing was kind of funny. I never wrote you about that, did I?"

He told of the meeting in the Rathskeller. Gertrude evinced much interest.

"What was this friend's name?" she asked.

"'Monty,' that's all I heard. Queer name, ain't it--isn't it, I mean. But it ain't any queerer than 'Tacks'; that's what he called Hungerford."

"Has this 'Monty' called here? Has he been here at the house?"

"No-o, no, he hasn't. I caught a glimpse of him at the club, that time when I went there with Barney--Godfreys! it's a good thing Serena didn't hear me say that--with Phelps Black, I mean."

"Daddy, sometime when you have an opportunity, ask Mr. Black about this Monty, will you?"

"Sartin, if you want me to. But what do you care about Percy Hungerford's friends?"

"I don't--about his friends."

With which enigmatical remark she moved away to join Cousin Percy, who had just entered the room.

During the next three days, Daniel's feeling that his daughter was neglecting him grew stronger than ever. Her "business," whatever it might be, occupied practically all her time, and the captain and she were scarcely ever alone. He was disappointed. He had regarded her coming as the life preserver which was to help him through the troubled waters to dry land, and so far he was as helplessly adrift as before. Serena had forgiven his profane expression concerning her beloved Chapter, that was true, but Serena also was "busy" during the days and evenings, and at bedtime she was too tired to talk. Gertrude was with her mother a great deal, and with Cousin Percy almost as much. They visited the water-color exhibition together, and would have gone on other excursions if the cousin had had his way. Daniel did not like Mr. Hungerford. He had grown to tolerate him because Serena liked him so much, and declared him such a help in her literary and political labors, but the captain had found secret comfort in the belief that his daughter did not like him any better than he did. Now it looked as if she was beginning to like him, after all. And there was no doubt whatever that Cousin Percy liked her.

Gertrude's apparent interest in her mother's social and Chapter affairs was another disquieting feature of the situation, as Daniel viewed it. Mrs. Black and Mrs. Lake called one afternoon and to them the young lady was cordiality itself. They talked "Chapter," of course, and to her father's horror Gertrude talked it, too. Being invited to attend the next meeting she announced that she should be delighted to go.

"You didn't mean it, did you, Gertie?" pleaded the captain, when Serena had escorted the guests to the door. "You didn't mean you was figgerin' to go to that devilish--to that Chapter?"

"Hush! Yes, of course I meant it."

"But--but you!"

"Hush! Daddy, don't interfere. I know what I'm about."

Daniel was doubtful. If she had known she surely would not think of going. And yet, on the evening of the meeting, go she did. The meeting was a protracted one, and, on their return, Serena, finding the lower rooms apparently deserted, went upstairs. Gertrude was about to follow, but a figure stepped from the shadows of the library and detained her.

"Why, Daddy!" she exclaimed. "What are you doing up at this hour?"

"Sh-sh!" in an agitated whisper. "Don't let your mother hear you. I--I've been waitin' for you, Gertie. I just had to talk to you. Come in here."

He led the way into the library.

"Don't say anything," he whispered; "that is, don't say very much. Serena'll be wantin' to know where I am in a minute. Gertie, what are you up to? Why did you go to that Chapter?"

"Hush, Daddy, hush! It is all right."

"All right! Yes, I know it's all right so far. That's what your mother used to say, back in Trumet, when she first started in. You begin by sayin' it's all right and pretty soon it is all right. It ain't all right for me--it's all wrong. Why did you go to that meetin'?"

"I went because I wanted to see for myself. And I saw."

"Yes, you saw. And you heard, too, I'll bet you. Well, did you like it?"

"Like it! Daddy, tell me: There is another Woman's Club in Scarford, isn't there? This can't be the only one."

"No, it ain't. I believe there's another. A different one--a sensible one, so I've heard tell. Mrs. Fenholtz--you've heard me speak of her, Gertie; she's a fine woman--she belonged to the other one. She wanted Serena to join, but Annette Black had her innin's first, and after that 'twas all off."

"I see, I see."

"You see; but what are you goin' to do? Are you goin' to any more of them blessed meetin's?"

"I may. I probably shall. Daddy, dear, you must trust me. It is all right, I tell you."

Ordinarily this would have been enough. But to-night it was not. Captain Dan had spent some troubled hours since dinner and his nerves were on the ragged edge.

"All right!" he repeated impatiently. "Don't say that again. Is it all right for you to be gettin' into the same mess your mother is in? Is it all right for you to be talkin' about society and Chapters and--and I don't know what all? I did trust you, Gertie. I said so. I told Serena so this very afternoon. She was talkin' about Cousin Percy, she's always praisin' him up, and she said you liked him just as much as she did. He was a cultivated, superior young man, she said, and you recognized it. I laughed at her. I says, 'That's all right,' I says, 'but I wouldn't take too much stock in that. Gertie knows what she's up to. She's got some plan in her head, she told me so. She may pretend--'"

His daughter interrupted him.

"Father!" she exclaimed indignantly. "Why, Daddy! did you tell Mother that?"

"Course I did! Why not? It's so, ain't it? What is the plan, Gertie? What are you up to? You are pretendin', aren't you? Don't tell me you ain't! Don't tell me--"

"I shan't tell you anything. You don't deserve to be told. I'm out of patience with you, altogether. You deserve to be miserable. You'll spoil--But there! good-night."

"Gertie! Gertie! hold on. Don't--"

Serena's voice sounded at the head of the stairs.

"Gertie!" she called. "Who is it you're talking with? Is your father there? Why doesn't he come to bed?"

"He's coming, Mother, right away. So am I. Good-night, Daddy."

The next forenoon, as Azuba was blacking the stove, Gertrude entered the kitchen.

"Good-morning, Azuba," she said. "Are you alone?"

"Yes, yes, I'm alone."

"Where is Hapgood?"

"Land knows! Upstairs, lookin' out for that Hungerford man's clothes, I guess likely. He waits on that young critter as if he was the Prince of Wales. Well, you went Chapterin' and advancin' last night, I understand. What did you think of it?"

"Think? I thought--Oh, Azuba!"

"Yup. It's 'oh, Azuba,' I guess. That's what I've been sayin' to myself for quite a spell. I'd have said it to your pa, too, if it would have done any good."

"It wouldn't. We mustn't say a word to him, or anyone else."

"I know. And yet, when I think of the way things are goin' at loose ends I have the shakes. Do you know what it's costin' to run this place the way it's run? I know. And I know, too, that nobody else seems to know or care. Your pa trusts everything to his wife, and she trusts everything to that Hapgood. She can't be bothered, she says, and Hapgood's such a capable buyer. Capable! he'll be rich as well as capable if it keeps on, and the rest of us'll be capable of the poorhouse. And there's Serena's health. She's gettin' more nervous all the time, and just wearin' herself out with her papers and conventions and politics and bridge and society. My land! Don't talk to me! And it ain't no use to talk to her. There's got to be somethin' more'n talk."

Gertrude nodded.

"So I think," she affirmed. "Azuba, I have a scheme. It may be the best idea in the world and it may be the worst, but I am going to risk it. And you must help me. Will you?"

"Sartin sure I will!"

"And you won't tell a soul, not a living soul?"

"Not one, livin' or dead. You needn't look at me like that. I swan to mercy, I won't tell anybody."

"Good! Then listen."

Azuba listened, listened in silence. When her young mistress ceased speaking she shook her head slowly.

"Well," she observed, "it looks some like hoppin' out of the fryin' pan into the fire, but, even if it turns out that way, perhaps it's just as well to be roasted as fried. Humph! no, 'twon't do to tell anybody. I shan't, and you mustn't."

"I don't intend to."

"Um! Not even John Doane?"

"Well," doubtfully, "I may tell John later on. But I shall wait to tell him, I shan't write. He'll have to trust me, too."

"So he will. Fur's that goes, it's a good thing for men folks to learn to trust us women. If Labe, my husband, hadn't trusted me all these years, he'd have done some worryin', I cal'late. All right, Gertie, I'm with you till the last plank sinks. But," with a chuckle, "I'm kind of sorry for your pa. The medicine may cure us all in the end, but it'll be a hard dose for him to take, won't it?"