Chapter XIII. The Visit
 

The morning after Rod's visit to Miss Arabella's, Mrs. Britt was busy in the kitchen making doughnuts. The scouts were coming that afternoon, and once a week, at least, she had some treat for them, and she knew what they liked. Mrs. Britt's interest in the boys was as keen as her husband's, and it gave her great pleasure to have them about the house. Her home life had been very lonely since Jimmy went away, so the shouting of the scouts and their merry laughter brought back other days.

She had just completed frosting a number of doughnuts, and had them all heaped upon a large plate, when the kitchen door was suddenly thrust open, and Miss Arabella burst into the room. Though the morning was very warm, a thick shawl enwrapped her shoulders, and she wore a heavy winter dress. Her eyes were wide with fright, and she was trembling so violently that she was forced to sink into the nearest chair.

"Why, Miss Arabella!" Mrs. Britt exclaimed, "are you sick? You must lie down at once."

"No, no, I'm not sick," and the visitor flapped her hands in despair. "But your husband, Mrs. Britt, your husband, oh, oh!"

"What's the matter with him?" Mrs. Britt enquired, while her face turned suddenly pale. "Has anything happened to him? Tell me quick."

"Yes, I'm afraid so. It's awful. I didn't know he was that way. Has he been troubled long? You should take him away at once. I always knew he was queer, but I had no idea he was so bad."

"Will you please tell me what is the matter?" Mrs. Britt demanded. "I don't understand you. Joshua was all right a few minutes ago."

"Was he?" and Miss Arabella looked her surprise. "But you should see him now. He's out there in front of the house waving his arms up and down just like this," and the visitor, forgetting her weakness, leaped to her feet and imitated what she had seen the captain doing. "He was looking up at the window," she continued, "and saying things I could not understand. It sounded as if he was going over his letters, and every once in awhile he would clasp his hands before him like this, and cry 'brute.' Oh, it is terrible!"

Mrs. Britt gave a deep sigh of relief, while an amused twinkle shone in her eyes.

"Sit down, Miss Arabella," she ordered. "There is nothing wrong with Joshua. He is practising signalling, that's all. Whyn is helping him from her window. He has to teach the scouts this afternoon, and is brushing up a little. You see, every time he moves his arms he makes a letter. The alphabet is divided into groups, and at the end of each group he stops swinging his arms, and clasps his hands before him before making the next group. That is what Joshua must have been doing which frightened you so much."

"Oh, dear me!" and Miss Arabella began to fan herself with an old newspaper she picked up from off the table. "I never got such a shock in all my life. I don't know what people are coming to these days when an old man like your husband will act in such a way. I came over on purpose to see that girl you have here, and it has nearly cost me my life."

"Have one of these doughnuts, dear," Mrs. Britt soothed. "I shall get you some of my home-made wine, which will make you feel better." And the good woman bustled off to the pantry, from which she shortly emerged with a well-filled glass.

"That does make me feel better," Miss Arabella remarked, after she had drunk the wine and eaten two doughnuts. "That walk has certainly given me an appetite."

"And I guess you'll feel better still when you see Whyn," Mrs. Britt replied, as she led her visitor into the front bedroom.

The invalid girl was sitting by the open window in the big chair the captain had fitted up for her. Her cheeks were flushed with excitement, and her eyes were sparkling with animation. She was holding a small signalling chart in her hands, at the same time giving instructions to the captain outside.

"Try that again," she was saying. "Don't hold your arms so stiff. There, that's better."

Hearing the sound of footsteps, she turned suddenly and her eyes fell upon Miss Arabella's lank form and thin face. For an instant only she hesitated before reaching out her delicate white hand.

"Oh, you're Miss Arabella," she exclaimed. "I'm very glad to see you, and it's so good of you to come. Sit down, please."

"For pity's sake, how do you know who I am?" was the astonished reply.

"A little bird told me," and Whyn gave a merry laugh.

"H'm. I guess it was a bird without any feathers, and a little red head."

"Yes, that's who it was. You see, I know most of the people in this place, though I have met only a few. Rod told me that you were sick, and what you look like."

"He did, did he? And I suppose he told you that I had a long nose which was always poking into other people's business."

"Why, no!" and Whyn's face grew suddenly sober. "He never told me anything like that. He only said that you were thin, with a sad face, and that you were very lonely, with no one to love you."

"So he said that, did he?" and a softer expression came into the woman's grey eyes. "But I suppose he told you a whole lot more, though?"

"Only about how he put the key down your neck," and again Whyn smiled. "Wasn't it a funny way to do a good turn?"

"Not very funny for me, Miss," and the visitor tossed her head. "But tell me, how old are you?"

"Just sixteen," was the reply.

"What's wrong with you, anyway? You don't look very sick."

"It's my back. I am not able to walk, and can sit up only for a little while each day."

"My, it must be hard for you to be that way. I know something about it myself," and Miss Arabella gave a deep sigh.

"I try to forget my troubles, though, by thinking of bright things," Whyn explained. "And now that I have so much to do with the scouts I have scarcely any time left to think about myself. Every night my back aches so much that I cannot sleep for several hours. But last night I was thinking about Rod, and didn't mind the pain hardly at all."

"Why, what's wrong with Rod?" the visitor inquired. "I don't see why you should lie awake thinking about him."

"No, perhaps you don't, and maybe it was foolish of me, but I couldn't help it. You see, it had to do with his scout suit. Each boy must earn the money to buy his own suit, and when the scouts were talking about it, they all told how they were going to raise the money except Rod. He didn't say anything, and I knew by the look on his face that he hadn't the least idea where he was going to get the money for his suit. I felt so sorry for him. When Rod is thinking hard he is very quiet. He was just like that yesterday, and he didn't even say a word to me when he left. Oh, I wish that I could think of some way to help him."

"Who are the other scouts?" Miss Arabella asked.

"Well, there's Jimmy Perkins. He's corporal, and----"

"Old Ezry Perkins' son, eh? I guess I know his pa, a mean old skinflint, if ever there was one. But he dotes on that boy of his, and he'll get him the suit all right. Who else?"

"Then, there's Tommy Bunker, the boy with a face like the full moon."

"Yes, I know the Bunkers only too well. Stuck up people, they are, who think they own the whole parish. You ought to see Mrs. Bunker come into church. She holds her head so high, and steps so big and mighty, that she thinks she's doing the Lord a great service by coming. Tommy'll get his suit, never fear. Mrs. Bunker will see to that."

"Billy Potter comes next," Whyn hastened to explain, "and Joe Martin, and Phil Dexter, and----"

"There, that will do," and Miss Arabella sniffed in a most significant manner. "I know the whole tribe. Nothing but trash, every one of them. Queer scouts, I call them. Yes, they'll all have suits, and my, how they'll strut around."

"I'm afraid Rod will not get his for some time," and Whyn sighed. "He's patrol leader, too, and I am sure he will feel very badly."

"No doubt he will. But, there, I must be off," and Miss Arabella rose suddenly to her feet. "Good-bye. I'll be over to see you again soon," and with that, she whisked out of the room.