At the Bay Shore Farm by L. Frank Baum
The Newburys were agog with excitement over the Governor's picnic. As they talked it over on the verandah at sunset, they felt that life could not be worth living to those unfortunate people who had not been invited to it. Not that there were many of the latter in Claymont, for it was the Governor's native village, and the Claymonters were getting up the picnic for him during his political visit to the city fifteen miles away.
Each of the Newburys had a special reason for wishing to attend the Governor's picnic. Ralph and Elliott wanted to see the Governor himself. He was a pet hero of theirs. Had he not once been a Claymont lad just like themselves? Had he not risen to the highest office in the state by dint of sheer hard work and persistency? Had he not won a national reputation by his prompt and decisive measures during the big strike at Campden? And was he not a man, personally and politically, whom any boy might be proud to imitate? Yes, to all of these questions. Hence to the Newbury boys the interest of the picnic centred in the Governor.
"I shall feel two inches taller just to get a look at him," said Ralph enthusiastically.
"He isn't much to look at," said Frances, rather patronizingly. "I saw him once at Campden--he came to the school when his daughter was graduated. He is bald and fat. Oh, of course, he is famous and all that! But I want to go to the picnic to see Sara Beaumont. She's to be there with the Chandlers from Campden, and Mary Spearman, who knows her by sight, is going to point her out to me. I suppose it would be too much to expect to be introduced to her. I shall probably have to content myself with just looking at her."
Ralph resented hearing the Governor called bald and fat. Somehow it seemed as if his hero were being reduced to the level of common clay.
"That's like a girl," he said loftily; "thinking more about a woman who writes books than about a man like the Governor!"
"I'd rather see Sara Beaumont than forty governors," retorted Frances. "Why, she's famous--and her books are perfect! If I could ever hope to write anything like them! It's been the dream of my life just to see her ever since I read The Story of Idlewild. And now to think that it is to be fulfilled! It seems too good to be true that tomorrow--tomorrow, Newburys,--I shall see Sara Beaumont!"
"Well," said Cecilia gently--Cecilia was always gentle even in her enthusiasm--"I shall like to see the Governor and Sara Beaumont too. But I'm going to the picnic more for the sake of seeing Nan Harris than anything else. It's three years since she went away, you know, and I've never had another chum whom I love so dearly. I'm just looking forward to meeting her and talking over all our dear, good old times. I do wonder if she has changed much. But I am sure I shall know her."
"By her red hair and her freckles?" questioned Elliott teasingly. "They'll be the same as ever, I'll be bound."
Cecilia flushed and looked as angry as she could--which isn't saying much, after all. She didn't mind when Elliott teased her about her pug nose and her big mouth, but it always hurt her when he made fun of Nan.
Nan's family had once lived across the street from the Newburys. Nan and Cecilia had been playmates all through childhood, but when both girls were fourteen the Harrises had moved out west. Cecilia had never seen Nan since. But now the latter had come east for a visit, and was with her relatives in Campden. She was to be at the picnic, and Cecilia's cup of delight brimmed over.
Mrs. Newbury came briskly into the middle of their sunset plans. She had been down to the post office, and she carried an open letter in her hand.
"Mother," said Frances, straightening up anxiously, "you have a pitying expression on your face. Which of us is it for--speak out--don't keep us in suspense. Has Mary Spearman told you that Sara Beaumont isn't going to be at the picnic?"
"Or that the Governor isn't going to be there?"
"Or that Nan Harris isn't coming?"
"Or that something's happened to put off the affair altogether?" cried Ralph and Cecilia and Elliott all at once.
Mrs. Newbury laughed. "No, it's none of those things. And I don't know just whom I do pity, but it is one of you girls. This is a letter from Grandmother Newbury. Tomorrow is her birthday, and she wants either Frances or Cecilia to go out to Ashland on the early morning train and spend the day at the Bay Shore Farm."
There was silence on the verandah of the Newburys for the space of ten seconds. Then Frances burst out with: "Mother, you know neither of us can go tomorrow. If it were any other day! But the day of the picnic!"
"I'm sorry, but one of you must go," said Mrs. Newbury firmly. "Your father said so when I called at the store to show him the letter. Grandmother Newbury would be very much hurt and displeased if her invitation were disregarded--you know that. But we leave it to yourselves to decide which one shall go."
"Don't do that," implored Frances miserably. "Pick one of us yourself--pull straws--anything to shorten the agony."
"No; you must settle it for yourselves," said Mrs. Newbury. But in spite of herself she looked at Cecilia. Cecilia was apt to be looked at, someway, when things were to be given up. Mostly it was Cecilia who gave them up. The family had come to expect it of her; they all said that Cecilia was very unselfish.
Cecilia knew that her mother looked at her, but did not turn her face. She couldn't, just then; she looked away out over the hills and tried to swallow something that came up in her throat.
"Glad I'm not a girl," said Ralph, when Mrs. Newbury had gone into the house. "Whew! Nothing could induce me to give up that picnic--not if a dozen Grandmother Newburys were offended. Where's your sparkle gone now, Fran?"
"It's too bad of Grandmother Newbury," declared Frances angrily.
"Oh, Fran, she didn't know about the picnic," said Cecilia--but still without turning round.
"Well, she needn't always be so annoyed if we don't go when we are invited. Another day would do just as well," said Frances shortly. Something in her voice sounded choked too. She rose and walked to the other end of the verandah, where she stood and scowled down the road; Ralph and Elliott, feeling uncomfortable, went away.
The verandah was very still for a little while. The sun had quite set, and it was growing dark when Frances came back to the steps.
"Well, what are you going to do about it?" she said shortly. "Which of us is to go to the Bay Shore?"
"I suppose I had better go," said Cecilia slowly--very slowly indeed.
Frances kicked her slippered toe against the fern jardiniere.
"You may see Nan Harris somewhere else before she goes back," she said consolingly.
"Yes, I may," said Cecilia. She knew quite well that she would not. Nan would return to Campden on the special train, and she was going back west in three days.
It was hard to give the picnic up, but Cecilia was used to giving things up. Nobody ever expected Frances to give things up; she was so brilliant and popular that the good things of life came her way naturally. It never seemed to matter so much about quiet Cecilia.
* * * * *
Cecilia cried herself to sleep that night. She felt that it was horribly selfish of her to do so, but she couldn't help it. She awoke in the morning with a confused idea that it was very late. Why hadn't Mary called her, as she had been told to do?
Through the open door between her room and Frances's she could see that the latter's bed was empty. Then she saw a little note, addressed to her, pinned on the pillow.
If by running after Frances Cecilia could have brought her back, Cecilia would have run. But a glance at her watch told her that Frances must already be halfway to Ashland. So she could only accept the situation.
"Well, anyway," she thought, "I'll get Mary to point Sara Beaumont out to me, and I'll store up a description of her in my mind to tell Fran tonight. I must remember to take notice of the colour of her eyes. Fran has always been exercised about that."
It was mid-forenoon when Frances arrived at Ashland station. Grandmother Newbury's man, Hiram, was waiting for her with the pony carriage, and Frances heartily enjoyed the three-mile drive to the Bay Shore Farm.
Grandmother Newbury came to the door to meet her granddaughter. She was a tall, handsome old lady with piercing black eyes and thick white hair. There was no savour of the traditional grandmother of caps and knitting about her. She was like a stately old princess and, much as her grandchildren admired her, they were decidedly in awe of her.
"So it is Frances," she said, bending her head graciously that Frances might kiss her still rosy cheek. "I expected it would be Cecilia. I heard after I had written you that there was to be a gubernatorial picnic in Claymont today, so I was quite sure it would be Cecilia. Why isn't it Cecilia?"
Frances flushed a little. There was a meaning tone in Grandmother Newbury's voice.
"Cecilia was very anxious to go to the picnic today to see an old friend of hers," she answered. "She was willing to come here, but you know, Grandmother, that Cecilia is always willing to do the things somebody else ought to do, so I decided I would stand on my rights as 'Miss Newbury' for once and come to the Bay Shore."
Grandmother Newbury smiled. She understood. Frances had always been her favourite granddaughter, but she had never been blind, clear-sighted old lady that she was, to the little leaven of easy-going selfishness in the girl's nature. She was pleased to see that Frances had conquered it this time.
"I'm glad it is you who have come--principally because you are cleverer than Cecilia," she said brusquely. "Or at least you are the better talker. And I want a clever girl and a good talker to help me entertain a guest today. She's clever herself, and she likes young girls. She is a particular friend of your Uncle Robert's family down south, and that is why I have asked her to spend a few days with me. You'll like her."
Here Grandmother Newbury led Frances into the sitting-room.
"Mrs. Kennedy, this is my granddaughter, Frances Newbury. I told you about her and her ambitions last night. You see, Frances, we have talked you over."
Mrs. Kennedy was a much younger woman than Grandmother Newbury. She was certainly no more than fifty and, in spite of her grey hair, looked almost girlish, so bright were her dark eyes, so clear-cut and fresh her delicate face, and so smart her general appearance. Frances, although not given to sudden likings, took one for Mrs. Kennedy. She thought she had never seen so charming a face.
She found herself enjoying the day immensely. In fact, she forgot the Governor's picnic and Sara Beaumont altogether. Mrs. Kennedy proved to be a delightful companion. She had travelled extensively and was an excellent raconteur. She had seen much of men and women and crystallized her experiences into sparkling little sentences and epigrams which made Frances feel as if she were listening to one of the witty people in clever books. But under all her sparkling wit there was a strongly felt undercurrent of true womanly sympathy and kind-heartedness which won affection as speedily as her brilliance won admiration. Frances listened and laughed and enjoyed. Once she found time to think that she would have missed a great deal if she had not come to Bay Shore Farm that day. Surely talking to a woman like Mrs. Kennedy was better than looking at Sara Beaumont from a distance.
"I've been 'rewarded' in the most approved storybook style," she thought with amusement.
In the afternoon, Grandmother Newbury packed Mrs. Kennedy and Frances off for a walk.
"The old woman wants to have her regular nap," she told them. "Frances, take Mrs. Kennedy to the fern walk and show her the famous 'Newbury Bubble' among the rocks. I want to be rid of you both until tea-time."
Frances and Mrs. Kennedy went to the fern walk and the beautiful "Bubble"--a clear, round spring of amber-hued water set down in a cup of rock overhung with ferns and beeches. It was a spot Frances had always loved. She found herself talking freely to Mrs. Kennedy of her hopes and plans. The older woman drew the girl out with tactful sympathy until she found that Frances's dearest ambition was some day to be a writer of books like Sara Beaumont.
"Not that I expect ever to write books like hers," she said hurriedly, "and I know it must be a long while before I can write anything worth while at all. But do you think--if I try hard and work hard--that I might do something in this line some day?"
"I think so," said Mrs. Kennedy, smiling, "if, as you say, you are willing to work hard and study hard. There will be a great deal of both and many disappointments. Sara Beaumont herself had a hard time at first--and for a very long first too. Her family was poor, you know, and Sara earned enough money to send away her first manuscripts by making a pot of jelly for a neighbour. The manuscripts came back, and Sara made more jelly and wrote more stories. Still they came back. Once she thought she had better give up writing stories and stick to the jelly alone. There did seem some little demand for the one and none at all for the other. But she determined to keep on until she either succeeded or proved to her own satisfaction that she could make better jelly than stories. And you see she did succeed. But it means perseverance and patience and much hard work. Prepare yourself for that, Frances, and one day you will win your place. Then you will look back to the 'Newbury Bubble,' and you will tell me what a good prophetess I was."
They talked longer--an earnest, helpful talk that went far to inspire Frances's hazy ambition with a definite purpose. She understood that she must not write merely to win fame for herself or even for the higher motive of pure pleasure in her work. She must aim, however humbly, to help her readers to higher planes of thought and endeavour. Then and only then would it be worth while.
"Mrs. Kennedy is going to drive you to the station," said Grandmother Newbury after tea. "I am much obliged to you, Frances, for giving up the picnic today and coming to the Bay Shore to gratify an old woman's inconvenient whim. But I shall not burden you with too much gratitude, for I think you have enjoyed yourself."
"Indeed, I have," said Frances heartily. Then she added with a laugh, "I think I would feel much more meritorious if it had not been so pleasant. It has robbed me of all the self-sacrificing complacency I felt this morning. You see, I wanted to go to that picnic to see Sara Beaumont, and I felt quite like a martyr at giving it up."
Grandmother Newbury's eyes twinkled. "You would have been beautifully disappointed had you gone. Sara Beaumont was not there. Mrs. Kennedy, I see you haven't told our secret. Frances, my dear, let me introduce you two over again. This lady is Mrs. Sara Beaumont Kennedy, the writer of The Story of Idlewild and all those other books you so much admire."
* * * * *
The Newburys were sitting on the verandah at dusk, too tired and too happy to talk. Ralph and Elliott had seen the Governor; more than that, they had been introduced to him, and he had shaken hands with them both and told them that their father and he had been chums when just their size. And Cecilia had spent a whole day with Nan Harris, who had not changed at all except to grow taller. But there was one little cloud on her content.
"I wanted to see Sara Beaumont to tell Frances about her, but I couldn't get a glimpse of her. I don't even know if she was there."
"There comes Fran up the station road now," said Ralph. "My eyes, hasn't she a step!"
Frances came smiling over the lawn and up the steps.
"So you are all home safe," she said gaily. "I hope you feasted your eyes on your beloved Governor, boys. I can tell that Cecilia forgathered with Nan by the beatific look on her face."
"Oh, Fran, it was lovely!" cried Cecilia. "But I felt so sorry--why didn't you let me go to Ashland? It was too bad you missed it--and Sara Beaumont."
"Sara Beaumont was at the Bay Shore Farm," said Frances. "I'll tell you all about it when I get my breath--I've been breathless ever since Grandmother Newbury told me of it. There's only one drawback to my supreme bliss--the remembrance of how complacently self-sacrificing I felt this morning. It humiliates me wholesomely to remember it!"