JANET: A TWIN, by Dorothy Whitehill
CHAPTER ONE: A GLIMPSE OF JANET
It was an every-day sort of a looking road, broad and dusty and flat. It ran straight across the landscape and ended abruptly in a merger of blue sky and sparkling sea. On either side of it sandy soil dotted with clusters of dwarfed scrub oaks stretched out into limitless space. There was an uninteresting sameness about its sunny dustiness that discouraged all hope of adventure.
But on a late September afternoon it was the setting of a little scene that marked the turning place in the life of Janet Page.
The drowsy quiet was broken first by the short, excited bark of a dog, a crackle of leaves and a snapping of twigs in the scrub oak, and then several things happened in quick succession.
A long snake settled into the road, a wiry little Irish terrier bounded after it, followed by a whirling fury of starched petticoats, long slender legs and an immense red bow.
This was Janet.
A tiny cloud of dust curtained them all for a minute; when it settled, it disclosed a rigid tableau. Janet held the dog's collar in one strong little brown hand, and with the other and the aid of one foot she grasped the snake.
"Do something!" she demanded excitedly, as she turned angry eyes toward a fat, roly-poly figure that still remained partially hidden by the scrub oak, watching the scene with an expression of fear and distaste in his pale blue eyes.
This was Harry Waters.
"What do you want me to do?" he asked sulkily.
Janet was too much occupied to look at him, but her voice expressed the contempt she felt.
"You might take Boru," she suggested.
Harry made a wide detour and, snatching the dog, retreated hurriedly back to the side of the road.
"You're not going to kill him," he said nervously, and he pointed a trembling finger at the wriggling snake.
For answer, Janet picked up a large stone. Harry turned his face away. He wanted to put his fingers in his ears so that he would not hear the soft thud that followed, but the frantic dog made that impossible.
"Come on back," Janet said at last; "he's quite dead, and I've thrown him in the bushes so you won't even have to look at him." Her voice sounded very grown up and patronizing, and Harry justly resented it.
"Now look here, Janet Page," he exploded; "you needn't put on airs. It's not such a big thing to kill a snake anyway," he finished lamely. "I could have done it only I didn't see any sense in it; even if it had bitten Boru, it wouldn't have hurt him any." Harry was trying hard to justify an act that he hardly understood himself. He was a nice boy, two years Janet's senior, and until to-day he had never let her forget his advantage.
He tried to assert it now.
"You see, I'm older than you are and I've got lots more sense. I knew a snake like that couldn't really hurt a dog and so I just --" He paused, and under Janet's cool gaze he blushed very slowly, right up to the roots of his hair.
"Why don't you tell the truth?" she asked quietly. "You know you are afraid of snakes."
"Well, what if I am?" Harry shifted his feet uncomfortably. "I can't help it, can I? Anyway, your grandmother says -- "
"Never mind what my grandmother says," Janet interrupted angrily. "I know it all by heart. She says you are a very mannerly little boy; that's because you never forget to take off your hat when you go into her room. And she says you're respectful; that's because you always say 'yes, ma'm; no, ma'm; thank you, ma'm,' and she says you always look tidy, and that's because you never climb trees and always wear shoes and stockings, no matter how hot it is, and -- "
"Can't help it if my mother makes me, can I?" Harry blazed out.
Janet paused to consider.
"No, I don't suppose you can," she said at last; "only somehow I wish you were different." Her gaze traveled slowly from his round-toed boots to his neatly brushed hair; a dr4eamy look came into her eyes, and the little flecks of gold in the soft-brown iris caught the sun's rays and glistened. She sighed profoundly.
"But if you couldn't kill a snake," she said, speaking more to herself than to him, "why, you couldn't ever kill a dragon, you see; nor ride a coal-black charger, nor fight for your lady's favor -- " Her brow wrinkled in a puzzled frown, but it cleared almost at once. "I was forgetting," she laughed; "you wouldn't want to anyway, so it doesn't matter; that is, not so very much."
She looked around for her Boru; he was busily investigating the remains of the snake in the bushes, but at her whistle he trotted obediently to her heel, and together they walked off down the road.
Harry, after a miserable minute of indecision, followed.
They walked in silence, Janet a little ahead, until they reached the road that ran along the waterfront and passed the white gate of the old Page house.
"Aren't you going to go with me anymore?" Harry asked forlornly.
Janet stopped and looked at him.
"Well, I don't care if you don't; you're just a girl anyway." Harry's lip trembled ever so slightly and he turned on his heel and hurried off, trying to hold his head high.
Janet swung on the gate for a few minutes and watched him until a bend in the road hid him from view, then she went up the long flight of stone steps.
The Page house crowned the terrace above. It was big, somber and very old. To Janet it seemed to be very tired, too, as though it had waited and waited a long time for the sea, whose waves beat incessantly on the shore below, to yield some secret now long-forgotten by the living world.
Four stern columns guarded the square porch and the old-fashioned, ivory-white door with its leaded fan lights and heavy knocker. Janet slipped noiselessly into the wide hall that reflected the glow of polished mahogany and soft afternoon sunlight. Just as she tiptoed across the thick rag rugs and was half way up the stairs, the big grandfather clock boomed three, and as if in echo to it a voice, quavering but still clear and penetrating, called:
"Is that you, Janet?"
Janet had a sudden and unheard of wish not to answer, but she conquered it and replied at once:
"Yes, grandmother, it's me." Before the words had had time to float down the stairs she was conscious of her mistake. "Drat the personal pronoun anyway," she said to herself; "now I will catch it."
"Janet, I called you," the voice came again, and Janet started guiltily.
"I'm coming, grandmother," she answered, and walked primly back downstairs.
Mrs. Page's room was on the first floor at the back of the house away from the sea and overlooking a trim little garden. And old-fashioned sleigh bed stood between the windows, and in the very middle of it a little old lady, wearing an immense cap, sat propped up against half a dozen pillows.
This was Mrs. Page, Janet's grandmother. She was perhaps the most feared and certainly the most respected woman in Old Chester, and although she had been bedridden for as many years as Janet could remember she took a lively interest in the affairs of the community, and no important step was ever taken until Cap'n Page's widow was consulted. Her advice had a way of sounding very much like a command.
Janet knew the room by heart. She could have told the location of everything in it with her eyes blindfolded, so she wasted no time in looking about her but went straight up to the bed and sat down on the low chair, where all Mrs. Page's callers sat. It was placed so that she could see them without twisting her neck; a thing she particularly disliked having to do.
"You called me, grandmother?'
Two steely blue eyes opened slowly, and seemed to bore into the soft depth of Janet's brown ones.
"I did, there can be no doubt of that; nor, I may add, of your reply."
For perhaps the first time in her life Janet interrupted her.
"I know I said me instead of I, but I was thinking of something else and I forgot," she exclaimed impatiently.
"And may I ask what you were thinking of?" Mrs. Page inquired in surprise.
Janet frowned and shook her head. "It's not the slightest use to, for you'd never, never, understand. You see, it was something entirely different from all this." She looked around the immaculate room and shook her head again, this time in despair.
Mrs. Page lifted herself on one elbow and looked at her grand-daughter carefully for a full minute.
"Janet," she said severely, "what has come over you?"
There was a long pause, for Janet did not reply. She was watching a butterfly out in the garden and trying to decide what it was he was whispering to that big floppy rose.
Mrs. Page settled back into her pillows and pulled the coverlet well up under her chin.
"You may go," she said, pointing a bony finger toward the door. "I am about to write to your brother. I regret that I will have to tell him that you are not only careless but rude."
"Yes, grandmother." Janet stood up, and after she had carefully straightened the chair upon which she had been sitting she walked quietly out of the room.
Once in the hall, with the door closed, a tiny sigh escaped her. She leaned up against the old clock and stared at a patch of sunlight on the rug. Two big round tears rolled down her cheeks unnoticed.
Boru came over inquisitively from his place by the stairs and licked her hand. She dropped to her knees beside him and hugged him impulsively.
"Come along, old fellow," she whispered. "Let's go up to the 'widows' walk' and think it all out. I guess grandmother is right; something has come over me."
CHAPTER TWO: ON THE WIDOWS' WALK
"But just what is it?" she mused a few minutes later, as she settled herself comfortably and pulled Boru's shaggy head down to her knee.
The "widows' walk" was Janet's favorite place in which to think things out, for it was on the flat roof of the house, away from any possible interruptions. Martha, the old servant, had long ago given up attempting the rickety stairs that led to it. It was in itself a rather dangerous spot. Many of the boards that went to make the platform were broken or badly rotted from long exposure to wind and rain. The railing that ran around it was in the last stage of decay. But there was something about it, perhaps the feeling of being up among the tree tops, that made Janet disregard its dangers.
As a rule, she was content to sit and gaze out to sea and "pretend." The name, "widows' walk," opened up so many avenues of imaginings. She often saw the ghosts of the poor distracted women of long ago, pacing up and down, their eyes always turned toward the sea, searching for a familiar masthead. Old Chester had once been a famous fishing village, and the roof of every house along the shore was topped by some sort of observatory. Sometimes it was a square glass cupola, but more often it was a wooden walk, such as crowned the Page house, and because in so many, many cases the looked-for boats never did return to harbor, these walks unhappily came to be known as "widows' walks."
To-day, however, Janet had no time for fancy. Something inside her head and her heart was demanding to be put into words.
"I wonder what is the matter with me?" she said again. "I feel awfully different. I suppose I'm unhappy. Am I, do you think?"
If anyone had accused Janet of talking to herself she would have resented it hotly, but it was characteristic of her to pour out her troubles to the ever-patient and understanding Boru.
"I'm lonely, for one thing," she confided as she pulled one velvety soft ear. "Of course any one but you would say that was silly, for I have Harry to play with, and then there are the Blake children." Two well-behaved, very clean and very shiny girls filled her imagination for an instant, but she dismissed them with a frown. "They don't count, because they simply won't play the way I want to. Harry is a boy, and I do -- no, I did like him a little better, but you know, old fellow, after the way he acted to-day about the snake, I just -- well, he is a scare-cat and that's all there is about it."
Boru's eyes, almost as brown as his mistress's, looked up in solemn confirmation of her last remark.
Her thoughts wandered for a minute and then came back to the original idea.
"I guess lonely isn't just exactly the word, but it's something a lot like it. I want someone to be with who is more like me -- " She broke off suddenly, "I wish I had a sister," she whispered softly. Her arm tightened around Boru's neck, and she buried her head in his shaggy coat. Then quite suddenly she sat upright, and her eyes flashed. "I'm mad. too; mad all the way through at everything and everybody except you," -- Boru acknowledged the exception with an affectionate lick -- "and I think the person I'm the very maddest at is my big brother Thomas. He's not a bit the kid of brother to have." She jumped up suddenly, and the breeze coming in from the water took the skirt of her gingham dress and flapped it as it would a sail.
"Boru, do you know what I am going to do?" she demanded very seriously.
Boru was a little surprised and disturbed at being so unceremoniously upset but he cocked one ear expectantly.
"I'm going to write and tell him so," she announced defiantly.
Her determination did not leave her even when she was seated at her big desk, where everything was arranged in perfect order for letter writing. Janet had written her brother at stated intervals during her thirteen years, but each and every letter had always been carefully read and corrected by her grandmother. Stiff and formal noted were the result. As for answers, she had never received any, as far back as she could remember, but a brief typewritten note reached her grandmother twice a year and stated, rather than said, that Thomas was well and that the ranch in far-away Arizona was as successful as could be expected under the conditions of the present year. True, he never forgot to send his love to Janet, but Janet, from early childhood, had had a very decided idea about that sort of love. To-day she meant to make that idea known.
With a great deal of care and precision she selected an especially clean sheet of paper and a square and very businesslike envelope, put a new gold pen in her penholder and set to work. The first words she wrote were "Dear Thomas," then she stopped. There were so many things she wanted to say. She looked to Boru for inspiration. He was gazing thoughtfully at a fly that was crawling across the floor; the instant it started to fly he pounced on it. Janet laughed. "Thanks, Boru; that is just what I'll do myself; I'll gobble Thomas up all at once." She turned back to her desk and wrote under the "Dear Thomas:"
"I have been meaning to write to you for ever so long and to say just what I wanted to, and so I might as well tell you right away that grandmother is not going to see this letter at all. It's just from me to you, and I'm not going to be particular about grammar or blots. The most 'special things I have to say are all questions, and then some other things that are not very nice. Perhaps I'd better start with those. The first on is that I think you would be a lot nicer if you called yourself Tom or Tommy, instead of Thomas. Of course, I don't know what you look like, for the only picture I have of you is a baby one that I know you would perfectly hate, but I think you are short and frown a lot, and I hope you haven't a beard but I'm afraid you have. I just told Boru, that's my dog, but you probably wouldn't like him, that you are not a bit what a big brother ought to be, and I really don't think you are, and I might as well say that you would have been much more of a comfort to me if you'd been a sister.
"The questions I want to ask you are: What do you do in Arizona, and are you ever coming home, and do you ride horseback, and don't you like to be with lots of people instead of just a few that someone else chooses for you, and what would you think of a boy who was afraid of snakes? If you say that he's a sensible boy -- that's what grandmother would say -- I'll never like you, never.
"If I only knew you and you were nice like the boys in the books I read, how many things we could talk over! I could ask you about all the things that really matter -- the things that grandmother won't even let me mention. Thomas, I'm really not too young to be told things. I'd grow up all in a minute if I could be with girls my own age. But I don't expect you'll understand, so I won't write any more. I've said some of the things that I wanted to and that makes me feel a little bit better."
She hesitated over the ending, and finally decided just to sign her name. Then without reading over what she had written, lest her resolve weaken, she folded up the paper and put it into its envelope.
Boru's tail thumping on the floor made her conscious of steps outside her door, and she hastily finished writing the address and slipped the letter into her pocket just as Martha opened the door.
"Now, Miss Janet, not dressed for your tea, and it's almost six o'clock, and Miss Waters with our grandmother and wanting to see you! Tut, tut!" Martha shook her gray head in real despair. She was a kindly old woman, who had served faithfully all her life, but because it was so simple for her to do what was expected of her always she had never understood how hard it was sometimes for others; but she was never cross and usually contented herself with saying "Tut, tut!" in her mild old voice at all of Janet's failings.
"What does Mrs. Waters want me for?" Janet asked. A vision of Harry's mother retailing the afternoon's adventure with the snake made her heart sink.
"I couldn't say, my dear," Martha replied placidly. "Your grandmother sent me to get you. Here now, brush up your hair a little bit. Are your hands clean?"
Janet submitted to being tidied up, and then hurried downstairs to her grandmother's room.
Mrs. Waters was seated in the visitor's chair, her back to the door, but she turned around when Janet entered and smiled a welcome. Mrs. Page spoke:
"Janet, what is all this I hear about your knowing how to take care of sick dogs?" she inquired crossly.
Janet hesitated. She did know a good deal about the care of all animals, but she was at a loss as to how to explain her knowledge to her grandmother.
"Well, do you or don't you know anything about them?" Mrs. Page insisted impatiently.
"Yes, I do know about them." Janet's reply came so quickly that it surprised herself.
Her grandmother looked at her for a long minute and then nodded her head. "Very well; go with Mrs. Waters and do what you can for her dog," she said sharply, and then to indicate that the interview was at an end she turned her back on her visitors.
Mrs. Waters took Janet's arm and hurried out of the room. She was a timid little woman, very easily silenced, and she still spoke in a half whisper when they were out of the house.
"It's Roy, my dear, our English setter; he has hurt his paw, and the veterinary is away," she explained.
Janet gave a mighty sigh of relief. Harry had not told tales. She smiled at his mother reassuringly.
"Poor old fellow. I hope I can do something to help him."
"Oh, I'm sure you can. Harry says you are wonderful with animals," Mrs. Waters replied. "Roy is such a valuable dog," she added.
They reached the Waters' cottage, just off the main street of the little village, and Janet followed Mrs. Waters around to the barn. Before the door was opened, she could hear the low moan of an animal in pain. Once inside, she knelt down beside Roy and patted him. He gave her the affectionate welcome, always awarded a true dig lover.
She examined his paw and found the trouble to be a deeply embedded splinter.
"May I have a darning needle?" she asked. Mrs. Waters hurried to the house to get it. Janet busied herself filling a basin with clear spring water, and she took the towel from its roller on the kitchen porch.
"Here it is, my dear," Mrs. Waters said, "and a bottle of peroxide. You don't mind if I don't stay, do you? I'd be sure to faint."
Janet smiled. "No indeed. I can get along quite well alone," she said, and knelt to her task.
For the next few minutes she was absorbed in her work. The splinter was in deep, and it was hard to make Roy lie still. She was about to give up in despair when a voice, almost at her elbow, said:
"Here, let me help."
She turned quickly, startled, and saw a boy about fifteen, very shabbily dressed in old blue overalls and a torn straw hat. His hair, burnt by the sun, was almost red, and his eyes were a clear gray. Janet was too astonished to speak, but with a nod she accepted his offer to help, and they worked in silence until the splinter was out and the wound carefully bathed.
"I guess I'll let him lick it," Janet said, putting aside the bandage Mrs. Waters had given her. The boy nodded.
"Best way," he said. "Do you know horses as well as dogs?" he inquired slowly.
"No, we haven't any, you see," Janet replied, as she gathered up her things and started for the house.
"Too bad." The boy spoke with a drawl that had nothing of laziness in it but a good deal of dreamy calculation. He leaned over and patted Roy. "Good night, old fellow," he said, and without a word more to Janet he disappeared as quickly as he had come.
Janet went on into the house, wondering who he could be, but for some reason she did not ask Mrs. Waters, perhaps because that good lady was too busy thanking her.
"I think you are so clever, dearie," she said warmly. "I wonder where Harry can be. It's dark, and he ought to see you home."
"Oh, don't bother Harry," Janet protested. "I'll run all the way and I'll be there in no time. I'll be down to see Roy to-morrow."
As soon as she was out of sight of the cottage she did run. It was quite chilly, and the salt wind in her face made her blood tingle, and all the worries of the day faded away with the last glow of the sunset. It was not until she was undressing for bed, several hours later, that she remembered her letter. Her time had been taken up thinking about the strange boy who had come so quickly to her aid. When she went to the pocket of her dress to look for it, it was not there.
CHAPTER THREE: MRS. TODD INTERVENES
"What are you in such a hurry with your breakfast for, child?" Martha, her hands on her big hips, stood in the doorway between the dining-room and the kitchen, and looked at Janet with mild curiosity.
It was a gray, misty morning, with a salty taste and feel to everything. Janet looked up from her place where, with the assistance of Boru, she was finishing the last strip of bacon on her plate.
"I want to go over to the Waters' to see how Roy is," she explained only half truthfully, for her thoughts were almost entirely centered on the hope of finding the letter she had lost the night before.
"Well, dearie me, that's no reason for bolting your food," Martha protested, but she let the matter drop and went back into her kitchen.
Without waiting to stop at her grandmother's room, Janet hurried out of the house and started for the village. She kept her eyes on the road, but the Waters' cottage was reached without a sign of the missing white envelope.
Harry was lurking in the doorway of the barn, and Janet called a cheery greeting to him. There was no sign of the boy with the torn straw hat.
"How's my patient?" she asked.
"Ah, he's all right." Harry was a little resentful, for he was thinking of the snake. Janet had completely forgotten it.
Roy, at the sound of her voice, got up from his place in the hay and wagged his tail. Janet knelt and inspected the paw.
"It's a whole lot better, isn't it, old fellow?" she asked as she patted him. "Keep it clean and don't walk on it," she advised seriously.
Harry, watching her, laughed.
"You'd think Roy was a human being to hear you go on. He doesn't know what you're talking about," he said.
Janet did not reply, but she smiled into the dog's eyes, and Harry had an uncomfortable feeling that they were both laughing at him.
As she talked, Janet made a careful search for the letter, but it was nowhere to be seen, and with a sinking feeling at her heart she realized that someone must have found it. But whom? She knelt on the floor beside Roy, and the thought worried her brain. If Mrs. Waters had it she would, of course, take it to Mrs. Page and then -- she shrugged her shoulders. It was foolish to worry over it anyway, until something happened. It would be a simple matter to write another, but somehow the spirit that had prompted her to revolt the day before was gone.
"What are you doing, anyway?" -- Harry interrupted her musings. She gave a characteristic little shrug and jumped up.
"Nothing much," she replied, laughing.
Harry had been doing some thinking himself for the last few minutes, and he had come to the decision that it never paid to get mad at Janet, for no matter how cross you acted she never even bothered to notice you. So it was with a very different tone of voice that he asked as she started for home:
"Do you care if I go along with you?"
"No, come on if you want to," Janet replied, and together they walked down the path.
"Let's stop at the post office," Janet suggested, her thoughts, in spite of her determination to forget it, still on the letter.
As they neared the little, low, red-brick building almost covered by dark green ivy that served as post office and general store for Old Chester, they noticed a horse and cart with bright yellow wheels drawn up at the curb. The harness was new and shining, and the horse, a beautiful sorrel with slender legs, tossed his head impatiently.
"Why, who does he belong to?" Janet exclaimed.
"Dunno," Harry was not particularly interested. "Guess it's Mrs. Todd's. I heard mother talking about her last night. She is visiting at the rectory, 'cause she's a cousin or something of Mrs. Blake's." The door of the post office opened and he lowered his voice. "Here she comes now."
Janet looked up and saw a tall, mannish-looking woman, dressed in a rough serge suit and heavy boots, coming toward them. She had on a soft gray felt hat without any trimming, and she carried a market basket over her arm. Her eyes were small but they were so very blue and penetrating that Janet felt they must be making holes in the back of her head.
"Hello, whose children are you?" she demanded rather than asked as she put her basket into the cart. She turned to Harry. "You're Harry Waters. I know but you." She scrutinized Janet, and suddenly her face softened and she put one big hand on her slender shoulder.
"You're a Page," she said. "The Pages all have straight short noses. Wait a minute and let me think. Haven't you a sister?"
Janet shook her head and smiled. It was a merry smile, for she suddenly realized that she liked this queer, outspoken woman very much.
"No, I haven't a sister," she replied. "I wish I had. I have a brother and a grandmother, and I think that's all, except Boru." She looked down at the dog, who was sniffing at the stranger's skirts. "Your horse is a beauty," she added shyly.
"Like him? So do I. Suppose you drive me home; that is, to the rectory. I am staying there, and my name is Ann Todd. Here you are! Jump in, Harry. If you can wind up those fat legs of yours you will just fit in the back.
Janet had hard work not to show her surprise, for it was even greater than her delight. She had never, in all her short life, met any one who cut off their sentences as though they were clipping threads and who made up their minds so quickly.
They reached the rectory before she could think of anything to say, and then all she could stammer was, "Oh, thank you ever so much; it was simply thrilling."
Alice and Mildred Blake were sitting in the tiny little flower garden, both busy with yards of green bunting which they were sewing together in long strips. They looked up in surprise as they saw Janet and Harry.
"Oh, Janet, will your grandmother really let you; isn't that wonderful!" they exclaimed.
Janet was utterly bewildered. "What are you talking about?" she demanded. "Will my grandmother let me do what?"
Alice and Mildred looked at each other in confusion, and then at Mrs. Todd.
"We though --" Alice began.
"Cousin Ann and mother said --" finished Mildred.
Mrs. Todd laughed heartily at their embarrassment and put her arm around Janet.
"Perhaps I can explain," she said. "The girls are talking about the church fair. Their mother said something last night about your grandmother's never letting you take any part in it, and I said that I would undertake to see that you came this year, and so I will." Her jaw snapped with such decision as she said these words that Janet almost jumped.
"That's awfully nice of you," she replied politely, "but grandmother's mind is rather hard to change. I never try."
"Why won't she let you?" Alice asked timidly.
"I hardly remember," -- Janet laughed. "It's so long since I teased to come. I was ten then and I thought that it would be such fun, but -- well, I didn't, and I've never asked since. I think being out late was one of the reasons."
"Humph!" was all Mrs. Todd had to say, but a few minutes later she offered to drive Janet home.
"And I'll just stop in and say 'how do you do,' too, while I'm there," she decided.
On the way, as they bowled along the soft sandy road, Janet worried a little. It was luncheon time, and her grandmother never saw visitors until after three o'clock, but it would be quite useless even to try to explain this to Mrs. Todd, for in her own way she was just as positive and determined as the eccentric Mrs. Page.
"Grim as ever," -- Mrs. Todd laughed as the house came into view. "It's twenty years since I opened that front door but, bless my soul, I know that everything is going to be just the same."
"Why, did you ever live here?" Janet looked at her companion in surprise.
"I did, and I was in this house almost as much as I was in my own. Your father and I were the best of friends."
"Oh!" was all Janet had time to say, before Martha appeared at the door.
Mrs. Todd nodded to her and tied the horse to the garden gate and walked slowly up the narrow, moss-grown walk, a whimsical smile on her thin face.
Martha was speechless, and Janet had to laugh as she watched her curl one end of her apron into a hard little knot.
"Well, Martha," -- Mrs. Todd held out her hand -- "Don't look as though you had seen a ghost."
Martha managed to say something, but she was quite powerless to stop the visitor from striding into the house and walking unannounced into Mrs. Page's room.
Janet sat down on the stone seat in the garden and waited. Boru stretched out on the path at her feet and panted after his run. Not a sound came from the house.
Janet did not try to imagine what was going on in her grandmother's room. She was conscious that a big change had come into her life, and she dimly realized that in the future she would spend more time in thinking than she ever had before. It seemed as though she was conscious of the world around her, and instead of just accepting it she felt that she was a part of it.
"Janet Page," she said aloud, and she stared hard at the old sun-dial. Suddenly Boru barked, and she jumped as though she had been wakened from a dream. The dog rushed to the corner of the garden, and Janet looked up just in time to see the rim of a torn straw hat disappear over the wall.
CHAPTER FOUR: JANET'S KINGDOM
Janet did not have time to investigate further, for at that moment Martha beckoned her mysteriously into the house. It was plain to be seen that the old servant was greatly disturbed.
"What's the matter?" Janet inquired in a whisper, for she caught some of the suspense.
"Oh, Miss Janet, whatever shall we do?" Martha exclaimed. "Mrs. Todd walked into your grandmother's room, and they have been arguing ever since. Your grandmother will have a turn I know, and yet I don't dare interrupt them. What shall I do?"
It was a proof of the Great Change to be consulted, and Janet smiled with something like pride.
"I shouldn't do anything if I were you," she replied quietly. "Perhaps they are not arguing any more. They may just be talking; they're old friends, you know."
Martha shot a quick glance toward the closed door. "Old friends," she said, and then, thinking better of it, she did not finish the sentence, but said instead, "Sit down to your luncheon, child, do; it's getting cold and there's no reason to wait."
Janet nodded and went into the dining-room. She took a long time over her chops and sweet potatoes, but she finished without hearing the door to her grandmother's room open.
Martha was almost in tears. "Your grandmother has had no luncheon," she protested. "Dearie me, what shall I do?"
"Take my advice and wait until she calls you," Janet advised. "You know she doesn't like to be disturbed. I'm going out," she added. "No, Boru, you can't come to-day; stay home, like a good dog."
Boru buried his head in his paws and with a very mournful expression watched her leave. He knew there was one mysterious place to which he was never allowed to accompany his mistress and he resented it. He was right in guessing that she was going there to-day.
Janet left the house by the door that led to the steps and down to the sea road. The water looked sparkling blue and inviting, and she hurried along until she came to a small dock, very much the worse for age. She untied a row boat and found two broken oars that were hidden in the tall grass beside the road. There was no one in sight as she pushed off, and only a few sails were flapping smartly out beyond the harbor.
Her cheeks were flushed as she sent the old boat skimming over the water, for she was on her way to her secret kingdom. Though she had sailed to it many times there was always the chance of discovery, and that added zest to the adventure.
The point of land toward which she was heading was quite a distance off, and looked to be a rather desolate island. It was, in reality, however, a part of the mainland, for the bay came in, and the land around it was shaped like a big hook. There were a few fishing huts along the shore, and farther inland low farms nestled into the hills.
Janet chose a certain cove to land in and pulled her boat safely up on shore, and then she started off at a brisk walk. At this particular point of the beach the sand dunes were very high, and she was screened from sight except from the water front. She walked for about a quarter of a mile and then began to climb. Up above her on a rising knoll of ground a little way beyond the sand dunes was an old gray house. It was large and very rambling, but it was tumbling down. The roof sagged at one end, and the two big chimneys were crumbling to ruin. There was not a sign of life anywhere about it or in the many ramshackle farm buildings that evidently belonged to it. All the windows were boarded up but one, a very small one that led into the cellar. Janet pushed it open gently and slid down as far as she could and then dropped. It was very dark and very musty. She groped her way to the rickety stairs as quickly as she could. The door at the top opened with a groan as she pushed, and she was in a long, low-ceilinged kitchen. Rain had come down through the leaky roof and rusted the stove, the furniture was covered with dust, and a forlorn china cup with its handle broken lay dejectedly on one corner of the table.
Janet glanced hurriedly about her, to make sure that no one had been in the room since she had, and then hurried into the front hall. Some heavy pieces of furniture were partly covered by torn and dirty sheets; they looked like ghosts in the dim light that filtered in through the boarded windows. Janet, in spite of the many times that she had passed them, could not repress a shiver. and she gave a sigh of relief as she closed the door of another room behind her. She was in her kingdom at last, and she surveyed it with sparkling eyes. It was a long room with a low ceiling that ran the length of the house. In the center along one side was a huge fireplace. Each one of the six windows had a broad window seat. There was very little furniture, and none of it was covered by dust sheets. In consequence, the stuffing was coming out of several of the chairs and a puddle of water had sopped into the big horsehair sofa. The only human looking thing was a pair of gloves on one end of the table. They were badly mildewed and they looked very limp and lifeless, but they had belonged to some one of the mysterious owners of the house, and Janet always nodded to them with mock respect. It was the books that made the room a kingdom. Rows and rows of them lined the walls from floor to ceiling. Some were damp and moldy but they were all readable, and that was all that mattered to Janet, though she sometimes cried over a broken binding, and patted it quite as she would have stroked a hurt puppy.
"Well, my darlings, I have come back to you," she said as she slipped to her knees before a corner bookcase, "and I want you to be very kind to me and take me far, far away to --" She let her hand wander over the backs of the books until it rested on one, "Greece," she finished, as she read the title.
She made herself as comfortable as possible in one o f the window seats, and for an hour she was so engrossed in the old fables and the stirring tales of the gods that she forgot the time. It was only when the light through the chinks of the boarding grew too dim to see that she realized with a start that it was getting late.
"And I never looked up about Roy's paw in that animal book!" she exclaimed. Had Mrs. Page heard her, she might have understood where she had learned so much about the care of dogs.
Janet hurriedly put her book back and went to the bookcase across the room to find what she wanted.
"That's funny," she said. "I thought I left it -- why, I did; here's the place where it belongs." An empty hole on the bottom shelf confronted her, and looked exactly as if the smiling row had lost a tooth.
Without knowing exactly why, Janet was frightened. She had looked upon this room as so particularly hers for so long that there was something uncanny in the thought that someone else had dared to trespass.
"Perhaps I put it back somewhere else." She tried to comfort herself with this thought, but she could not get rid of the queer feeling that some other hands were touching her loves, and that other eyes were seeing into her enchanted pages,
She puzzled over it as she rowed home, but it was impossible to come to any conclusion.
Martha was waiting for her in the hall; her face was even whiter than it had been earlier in the day."Miss Janet, you're back, thank goodness; your grandmother has been calling for you all afternoon."
"When did Mrs. Todd leave?" Janet enquired.
"She hasn't left at all," Martha gasped. "She's sat in there the whole blessed day. Only an hour ago she came into my kitchen as smiling as you please, and said that she and Mrs.. Page would have a cup of tea and some toast and jam. I took it in, and, well, Miss Janet, it's beyond me; indeed it is!"
"But, Martha, why shouldn't they have tea? Grandmother always has it for her guests." Janet laughed.
Martha sighed profoundly.
"If you knew all that I know of those two and then to see them smiling and laughing together," Martha shook her head, unable to give vent to her feelings in mere words.
Janet raced upstairs and changed her dress, and in a very few minutes she was knocking at her grandmother's door.
"Oh, it's you, is it, dear child?" Mrs. Todd called as she entered. "I was hoping you would get back in time to drive me home."
"Ann, don't presume too far," Mrs. Page said tartly. "Janet, where have you been?"
Janet decided that the change in her grandmother was not so great as Martha had led her to suppose, so she answered as she always did.
"I have been out most of the time."
"To whom are you speaking?" Mrs. Page inquired.
Janet sighed and blushed a little; it was not like her grandmother to find fault before people.
"I'm sorry, 'I have been out most of the time, grandmother,'" she corrected, but a second later she almost laughed aloud for she was sure she had heard Mrs. Todd say "fiddlesticks" under her breath.
"I have wanted you all afternoon," Mrs. Page went on. "However, we will let that pass. Mrs. Todd wishes you to help this year at the church fair and I have given my consent under one condition -- that you are home here by nine o'clock."
"Ten," corrected Mrs. Todd crisply.
"What did you say?" Mrs. Page's eyes flashed.
"I said ten," Mrs. Todd repeated. "Then was the hour we agreed on. And now I must be going, as my eyes are not what they used to be and these new roads puzzle me. I must ask you to let Janet drive me home."
For a long minute there was silence, and then Mrs. Page did something she was rarely ever seen to do; she smiled.
"You are a very smart woman, Ann Todd, and I'm a very old one. Have your own way, but remember your promise," she said.
The drive through the twilight was wonderful, for Mrs. Todd let Janet do the driving while she sat back and talked.
"You're a funny youngster," she said when they were half way to the village. "You haven't asked me a single question."
"About grandmother, do you mean?" Janet laughed. "I didn't have to. You see, you made her let me go and that's all that matters."
"But aren't you curious to know how?"
Janet shook her head.
"Well, I'll tell you. I bullied her
"Your grandmother is a very remarkable woman," she added after a silence that lasted until they were turning into the driveway of the rectory grounds.
"I think she is too," Janet said loyally, "and every one is sure to like her when they know and understand her."
Mrs. Todd got out at the carriage block. "Bless the child," she said almost tenderly, but a second later, as she was going up the steps, she said in her usual brisk manner, "Come 'round to-morrow and see me; we'll have a chat."
Janet gave the horse over to the hired man and walked slowly home. She was so absorbed in her thoughts that she reached the end of the garden wall before she knew it.
The sound of an automobile made her hurry to the side of the road. Motors were not very common in Old Chester, for it was away from the beaten track and the roads were very bad. Janet was a little ashamed of her interest in them, but she could never resist staring at them. The one that was approaching now had powerful search-lights, and she watched them, fascinated. It looked as though they were sweeping right on to her very feet. Suddenly they fell across the corner of the garden wall. It was only for a minute, but it was long enough to illuminate a patch of ground and to bring out into sharp relief a torn straw hat and a thick book bound in dull blue, embossed with a gold dog.
CHAPTER FIVE: NOT LIKE OTHER GIRLS
"My dear, you look tired out!" Mrs.. Blake exclaimed the next morning, when Janet, very flushed and blown, presented herself in the rectory. "What have you been doing?"
"Oh, it's an awfully windy morning, but I'm not really tired," Janet replied.
"Yes, it's blowing a gale and it must be hard to walk," Mrs. Blake agreed. "It's bad enough down here, but it must be dreadful up at your house. I can't be glad enough that we are not on the shore; the sound of waves would depress me," she added as she gave a little shudder and held the door open for Janet to come in.
Janet did not bother to tell her that she had battled with those same waves in a leaky boat not half an hour ago, for she knew Mrs. Blake would not understand the importance of replacing a certain book in a certain shelf, nor would she see anything funny in the sight of a torn straw hat lying beside a pair of old gloves. But Janet had a very vivid imagination, and she had rowed over that morning to the Kingdom in order to replace the animal book and further to confuse the mysterious boy, she had left his hat on the library table. Her only regret was that she would not be there to see his expression when he found it. There could be no doubt now that her knew the secrets of the deserted house -- the hat and book proved it. But Janet, remembering the look in his gray eyes and the way he had patted Roy, could not find it in her heart to be angry.
A bright fire burned in the Rectory living room, and Alice and Mildred were sitting beside it. They were still working over the green bunting.
Janet's heart sank. She hated to sew, for her fingers, in spite of Martha's patient teachings, insisted on acting like thumbs.
"What would you like to do, my dear?" Mrs. Blake inquired sweetly. "Will you help the girls or would you rather do something else?"
"I'll do whatever you like, Janet said hesitatingly, "but I think perhaps I could do something else better than I could sew. I'm not very good at sewing, you see."
Alice and Mildred looked up in shocked surprise.
"Don't you like to sew?" Mildred said incredulously.
Janet flushed. "No, I don't," she said bluntly.
"How odd!" Mildred and Alice exclaimed together. "We love it."
"Daughters!" Mrs. Blake warned, for she had caught the suggestion of scorn in their voices, and she was quick to notice Janet's flush.
At that moment the door from the dining-room opened, and Mrs. Todd entered. Her cheeks were flushed, and her narrow little eyes seemed brighter than ever.
"Morning, everybody," she greeted, smiling at Janet. "You look very cozy in here, but you also look very stuffy. What's the matter, Janet?"
"Nothing, only I'm afraid I'm not going to be much of a help," Janet confessed. "I don't like sewing, you see." Janet always said "you see" when she was embarrassed.
"Neither do I," -- Mrs. Todd laughed. "Had to do too much of it when I was a child."
"Perhaps we can find something else for Janet to do," Mrs. Blake interposed.
"Why, of course, we can. Come with me, Janet. We'll rig up the fishing pond."
Janet waited until she was well away from the library before she asked what a fishing pond was. She was used to doing all the explaining and all of the leading when it came to playing with other girls, she had played so seldom with them, and this new and scornful attitude of the Blake girls made her unreasonable angry. She knew if she were competing in climbing trees or rowing -- anything that took courage -- she would be their superior. But when it was a question of sewing, she had to admit herself beaten. The thought made her very unhappy, for above everything else in the world Janet wanted to be like other girls. Not the Blake girls, but the girl heroines she had read of or dreamed of as friends in her Kingdom.
Mrs. Todd noticed the worried expression on her face and did her best to dispell it by giving her something else to think about.
"A fish pond," she explained in answer to her question, "is a very easy way of making people spend money. You put up a screen and sell little wooden fish poles for ten cents. The buyer goes fishing over the screen and some on ties a present to the end of the line."
Mrs. Todd watched Janet closely, and laughed with delight as the frown deepened on her face.
"Well?" she inquired, "What do you think of it?"
"Not very much," Janet answered truthfully. "Isn't there a better way?"
"I should think there would be," -- Mrs. Todd chuckled. "If you can suggest one we'll change to it and surprise them all."
"Why not let them really fish?"
"In water? What would you have them catch? Pincushions and tidies wouldn't be improved by a ducking."
Janet thought for a minute. They were in the Sunday-school rooms, and she was sitting perched up on the high platform.
"Why can't they catch things that come from the sea?" she suggested.
"What, for instance?"
"Oh, shells and coral and fishes and stones. They are every bit as sensible as pincushions and so much prettier."
"No doubt about that," -- Mrs. Todd laughed -- "but where shall we get them?"
"Oh, we have just loads of them up in the attic; queer old shells from all over the world that my great-grandfather, I think it was, brought home with him."
"But, my child, you can't give those away," Mrs. Todd protested.
"Your grandmother -- "
"Oh, she wouldn't mind; she can't bear them. You know, she hates anything that reminds her of the water." Janet looked at her companion wonderingly.
"Queer, isn't it?" she asked.
Mrs. Todd looked at her with a peculiar light in her steely eyes. "Not under the circumstances," she said softly, but though Janet waited she did not say any more.
"I asked grandmother once, oh, long ago, of I might play with those shells," -- Janet returned to the subject in hand -- "and she said I might do anything I liked with them as long as I kept them out of her sight."
Mrs. Todd seemed to consider the idea. Finally, she said,
"Well, bring them along with you this afternoon, and if they are of no value, we'll use them and surprise the neighborhood.
"They certainly are beauties," she said, when after luncheon Janet had returned with a box full of queer old shells and rough bits of coral.
"They must have come a long way, to judge by the looks of them"
"Well, I think my great-grandfather used to sail all the way 'round the world," Janet replied. "Do you think they will do?"
Mrs. Todd looked at her. "Do, child? Why, they will cause so much excitement that our booth will be by far the most popular. The only reason I hesitate is that I am afraid that some day you will be sorry you were so generous."
"But how silly," -- Janet laughed. "These are only a few of what we have. There are heaps left in the attic."
"Settled," -- Mrs. Todd laughed. "And now, Miss Original, will you please tell me what other ideas you have lurking in the back of your brain?"
"Now you're teasing," -- Janet laughed. "There's nothing else to think of, except the pond itself, and that ought to be easy. A big tub of real sea water with pebbles and sand banked around it, and perhaps we could borrow some of Mrs. Blake's palms. She has so many, and, oh, well, we can make it look -- now, you're laughing at me."
"Not a bit of it," Mrs. Todd denied emphatically. "I am laughing with you, and there's all the difference in the world between the two. But I would like to know just where you got all your imagination."
For a minute Janet was tempted to tell the secret of the Kingdom, but with a start she realized that it was no longer just her secret alone and that in telling it she would almost be guilty of betraying a confidence.
The Sunday-school room was gradually filling up with people. Janet knew them all and bowed politely to each in turn. For the most part the women from the farms, who were bringing in their donations of pies and cakes, stared at her with ill-concealed curiosity. Although she did not know it, Janet was often the topic of conversation and gossip at sewing bees. Women with daughters often spoke of her as "that poor lonely child," and thought of her as different from other girls. It was a decided shock to see her in eager consultation with Mrs. Todd -- a most important person -- her cheeks ablaze and her eyes sparkling, and having quite as good a time as any ordinary girl; and acting for the most part with far less affectation than their own children.
But though Janet did not show it, she was conscious of the eyes upon her, and it did make her uncomfortable. She was very much relieved when Mrs. Todd stopped in the middle of a sentence and said:
"Stuffy; let's go out and see about finding our landscape."
Once outside, Janet drew a breath of relief. Harry Waters was passing, and she hailed him with so much enthusiasm that he decided he was forgiven and he responded joyfully.
"Want to help me this afternoon?" Janet inquired. "I want a big box of sand, and Mrs. Todd says we may drive her cart and horse to the shore. You get a box," she directed in her old manner.
Harry was too delighted to be back into favor again to make any objections and dashed off at once.
Mrs. Todd nodded her head slowly and laughed. "Boys are better fun than girls, eh?" she inquired.
"Heaps," Janet replied as she disappeared into the barn to assist in the harnessing of Durward, Mrs. Todd's horse.
CHAPTER 6: THE FAIR
The Sunday-school room was packed with people, but to an observant eye it was noticeable that the greatest number were in the corner under a silk shelter that looked like an Arab's shelter. Hanging beside it on the wall was a sign, printed in orange and blue, that read,
COME AND FISH
Beyond the tent a group of high palms pointed the way to the beach, where a huge tub filled with water and reflecting myriads of little pebbles was surrounded by a stretch of sand. Sticks with strings and hooks attached stood readym and to one side a mysterious mound covered by a silk scarf invited the curiosity of the passerby.
Mrs. Todd stood a little to one side and kept looking at her watch. Mrs. Blake came over to her, and it was plain to see that they were both worried.
"What do you suppose is keeping her?" Mrs. Blake exclaimed. "It is after four o'clock, and we must begin with the pond. Really, I think it is most inconsiderate of her to keep us waiting. Of course, if Mrs. Page has changed her mind --"
"Mercy Page never changed her mind in her life," Mrs. Todd snapped. "It is something very different than that, and I have a strong suspicion what it is." She looked at a group of giggling girls who were whispering to each other in one corner, and had one of them turned at just that moment they would have wanted to run away, for Mrs. Todd looked very stern and forbidding.
"Let someone else start it," she said. "I'll help them; she may come after all; who knows."
But Janet at that particular moment was rowing with all her might, and she was rowing in the opposite direction from the church fair. Something glistened in both of her eyes and she stopped every now and then to brush it away. Nothing in the world could have induced her to turn around.
She was hurt and very angry, and the one thought in her confused little mind was to forget there ever was such a thing as a church fair.
This is what had happened. Harry and she had been busy in the early part of the afternoon putting the finishing touches to their work, when Janet found she wanted a pair of scissors. A number of girls were decorating a booth across the room and she went to borrow theirs. She was hidden from them by a curtain of bunting. Just as she was about to speak, she heard one of them say,
"I don't care if she is Janet Page, I don't like her. She's not a bit like other girls." And another voice answered, "I don't like her either; she's so bossy." "Plain stuck up," a third voice added.
Janet flushed crimson and fled. Harry remembered that she looked awfully queer, he said, when he told Mrs. TOdd later, "She said she was going and not another word." he finished.
Janet had indeed gone. She felt as though the world was falling about her ears. Try as she could, she could not keep the hot tears from coming.
The brisk row did her good, and she started up the sand dunes with her usual expectant step. By the time she was in sight of the house, she was laughing at herself.
"I may be different, but I'm not as bad as all that, and besides I don't like those girls any better than they like me, so we're even."
She decided to read about Mr. Micawber in "David Copperfield." He always cheered her up when she was downhearted.
The quiet of the old house soothed her feelings. She walked slowly around to the cellar window and opened it softly. Just as she was about to slip through it, a piece of tin hit her sharply on the nose.
She jumped and looked up and directly into the gray eyes of the mysterious boy He was sitting on the edge of the sloping roof not fifteen feet above her.
"Hurt you?" he called down.
"Not much," Janet answered, rubbing her nose, which smarted.
"Yes, it did; it's bleeding. Say, I'm awfully sorry. Wait a jiffy and I'll be down."
He slid near the edge and jumped to the ground almost beside her.
They looked at each other and then burst out laughing. Janet held her handkerchief up to her face and regarded him over the corner of it.
"What were you doing up there?" she inquired. "You nearly scared me to death."
"Well, I was kind of scared myself," the mysterious boy admitted. "I was fixing the roof up a bit. It leaks on to the books now you know, and I just happened to look down at you, I was so surprised that I let the tin drop.
"I found my hat," he added after a minute, and grinned sheepishly.
"Whatever made you leave it by our fence?" Janet inquired.
"Did you see me jump over your wall the other day?"
"Well, I was bringing it to you then --"
"And my dog barked at you."
"No. -- that is, he did, but that isn't what scared me. Your dog and I are great friends. It was the woman that came out of the house. I couldn't explain before her so I bolted."
"I wanted to show you something about taking a splinter out of a dog's paw and a way to put on a bandage so it won't come off."
Janet laughed, and he joined in.
"I was after the same book the other day and I couldn't imagine who had taken it and then I found it beside your hat and I knew you must come here too."
"Have you been coming long?"
"Oh, I've been here six months, but I found it the first week I was here."
"Where do you live?" Janet inquired.
The boy pointed down the hill. "At Vicker's farm," he answered. "I'm staying there all this winter." He laughed self-consciously. "I'm supposed to be weak or something, so Doc sent me here."
"Who's Doc?" Janet inquired.
"He was Dad's best friend, and now I guess he's mine. He sort of looked out for me after Dad -- after Dad went."
Janet looked up at him quickly, for his voice had trembled.
"I'm sorry," she said softly. "Let's go in and look up that part in the animal book."
She started to slide into the cellar, but he stopped her.
"I know a better way than that. Come around here." He led her to the old porch and took down two boards from one of the windows. Janet crawled through and found herself in the Kingdom.
"Oh, that is a lot better. Wonder why I never thought of it. It saves going through the spooky kitchen, and I just perfectly hate that ghostly hall."
They sat down together on the floor and were soon engrossed by the book before them. From discussing dogs and horses they turned to other subjects, and before she realized it Janet was telling him why she had not gone to the fair.
She looked at him after she finished. He was frowning.
"It was rough, I'll grant you," he drawled slowly, "but you should have stayed and faced the guns. There's never any sense in running away."
Janet felt very much ashamed of herself all at once, and a dozen reasons why she should have stayed rushed into her mind.
"It was cowardly of me," she exclaimed, :and I'm going back this very minute."
"Good for you; it won't be much fun, but you'll be glad you did it, I guess. Say," he added after a pause, "will you be back to-morrow?"
"Will, if I can."
"And, say, you don't mind about my coming here, do you?"
Janet had crawled through the window, but she looked back over her shoulder, "No, I'm glad." A red head appeared in the opening.
"My names Peter Gibbs," he called.
"Mine's Janet Page."
"Good night, Janet."
"Good night, Peter."
As the people came back to the Sunday-school room after the supper that had been served in the gymnasium, many of them were astonished to see Janet with Harry by the tent. Mrs. Blake was particularly so.
"Why, Janet, where have you been? We were so worried about you!" she exclaimed. "And what have you done to your nose?"
"I cut it, Mrs. Blake," Janet answered, "and I am sorry to be late."
"Why, you poor child; what a pity. It doesn't matter at all about your being late."
"Well, Janet, we thought you were lost, but I see you've found yourself," -- Mrs. Todd came up and interrupted her cousin. Janet looked at her blue eyes and knew she understood something of what she had gone through.
"Yes, Mrs. Todd," she replied gravely. "I think I have."
CHAPTER SEVEN: A STRANGER IN THE KINGDOM
"What are you reading?" she inquired a minute
"Nothing, anyway you'd laugh at me if I told
"Well -- "
"Oh, it's just a crazy notion of mine, but I like to think sometimes that I own this place, and then I plan what I'd do with it, and one of the plans is to turn it into a sheep farm, "' -- he laughed nervously-- " I guess I'd better stop dreaming though and get to real work now."
Janet noticed that he laid stress on the word "now," and she looked at him inquiringly. He pretended not to notice her.
"Peter," she said finally, "it isn't nice to be mysterious. What is the matter with you?"
Peter ran his fingers through his red hair but he did not reply. Instead, he put the big book back on its shelf and went over to the window.
"It's awfully dark in here, don't you think? And it's so bully out of doors. Let's go fishing," he suggested.
"All right; we won't catch anything but it will be fun anyway. Come ahead."
Peter led the way toward the shore and up to a dark green canoe. Janet was properly excited; she had never been in a canoe before. None of the girls she know were at all interested in boating except to go off in sailing parties for picnics, and because the bay was very often rough and always dangerous none of the boys were allowed to have them. She smiled as she remembered Mrs. Waters' terror when Harry, the summer before, had screwed up his courage to ask for one. Yet here was Peter acting as though the most ordinary thing in the world was to go fishing in one.
"What a beauty!" she exclaimed. "Is it yours?"
Peter shook his head. "No, I found it over in our barn and I asked Mr. Blunt if I could use it. He didn't think much of the idea, but he said if I could make it watertight I could have it and welcome. A summer boarder left it here a couple of years ago. Here you go; let me help you in. Sorry I haven't any pillows," he apologized.
Janet looked up at him and laughed.
"I What under the sun would I do with a pillow?" she exclaimed.
"Stick it behind your back, of course. It makes it lots easier. That is, most girls tuck 'em in all around, and they seem to like it." Peter sometimes gave Janet a feeling that he was years and years older than she by the way he talked of things, people and places.
"How do you know?" she inquired as she settled herself gingerly on the floor of the canoe.
"Seen them, by the dozens."
"Any place where there are canoes and girls," -- Peter grinned. "Dad and I always paddled wherever and whenever we could, and we used to laugh sometimes."
"What at?" Janet was making no effort to hide her curiosity.
Peter was busy turning the canoe around and did not answer at once. Janet watched him, fascinated. He paddled so softly and yet with so much strength that they skimmed along over the water as though they were flying. Once out into the bay and headed for the mouth of a small creek, where Peter decided was the place to fish, he returned to the subject.
"When I said just now we laughed," he explained, "I was thinking of last summer. Dad and I took a trip up the Delaware River and of course we passed lots of summer places on the way, and we'd see fellows, about eighteen, out with girls all dressed up and sitting all packed in with pillows. They looked all right, but I would hate to have had them with us in some of the storms we pulled through and some of the rocks we had to pass.
"I see," -- Janet laughed, then she said hurriedly, "Peter, what an exciting life you have had. I wish you'd tell me some more about it."
Peter shrugged his shoulders.
"Not so very," he said; "you see there was only Dad and me, and Dad was a civil engineer and he had to be on the go most of the time. Wherever there was a bridge being built or a railroad put through or a dam built he was always there, and so naturally I was too. That is., I shouldn't say naturally, because lots of people, especially women, thought it was very strange, but Dad said I was all he had left and he wasn't going to have me shut up in a school where he could never see me, so along I went, and I tell you I had some grand old times. But it's all over now and I guess I'll go to work."
"Where?" Janet asked softly.
"Out West, I guess. I like it out there, and Dad knew a lot of ranch men that would give me a job. Dad always wanted me to be an engineer, but that was before --" In spite of himself his voice broke a little, and he paddled with extra zeal.
"Oh, Peter, I'm sorry." Two big tears stood in Janet's eyes. "I wish I hadn't asked you so many questions and started you remembering."
"Oh, I'm always doing that anyway," -- Peter tried to laugh. "And I wanted to tell you about Dad anyway. Do you still feel like fishing?" he inquired, abruptly changing the subject.
"Not 'specially," Janet admitted, "I'd rather just paddle."
"Want me to teach you how?"
"Oh, would you?"
"Of course. Here, wait a minute and we'll land and change places. I wish I had another paddle, then you could paddle bow."
The exchange of seats was made and the lessons began. Janet was an apt pupil, and Peter, remembering his father's instructions of long ago, did as well as instructor. Black clouds rolled up in the west without their noticing them, and it was not until a faint peal of thunder sounded that they realized that a storm was coming up.
"Queer at this time of year, isn't it?" Peter asked, as Janet made for the bank and he took the paddle again.
Janet shook her head.
"We have pretty bad ones sometimes in the fall; sort of breaking up of summer, the fishermen say, and to-day has been hot, you know."
"Well, there's no time to lose for it's coming fast. That creek's a bad place; the trees hide the sky." Peter took long firm strokes, and they were soon out into the bay.
It was not long before the storm broke. A zig-zag of lightning and a sharp growl of thunder, and then the rain -- great drops of it. The canoe bobbed up and down, but Peter managed to send it forward with every stroke. Janet, though she would never have admitted it, was thoroughly frightened, and Peter, kneeling in the stern, very calm and even smiling, began to assume in her eyes the guise of a hero.
After several strenuous minutes that seemed like as many hours they landed just below the deserted house.
"Let's go up and wait until it stops," Peter suggested as her turned the canoe over. "You can't possibly row home in this."
Janet nodded, and they trudged up the hill. They were laughing when they reached the window. Once in the Kingdom with the rain shut out, they felt very secure. Peter pointed up to the ceiling.
"It doesn't leak any more, thank goodness."
Janet felt her nose and smiled. "Then I don't suppose I ought to mind this," she said. "It's still black and blue, and nobody can understand how I ever managed to cut it just there."
"Well, you can't expect me to say I'm sorry." Peter laughed.
"You might say that you wished we had met under different conditions," Janet suggested, but Peter wouldn't agree.
"It was just right the way it was," he insisted.
"I suppose so; anyway we'd never have had such fun together if we had been introduced. Just imagine, 'Janet, I want you to meet Mr. Peter Gibbs'; how silly it sounds."
"Instead of 'Your royal highness, Princess of the Enchanted Kingdom, allow me to introduce myself, Lord Carrot Tops. My calling-card is a piece of tin, Bingo! Of course I didn't say all that but I thought most of it."
Peter laughed and Janet joined in.
"Anyway the tin calling-card part is true, she said.
They both laughed on heartily and then stopped short, their eyes on the doorway of the room.
A short fat little man, wearing a heavy gold watch chain and an old fashioned soft black hat, stood frowning at them.
CHAPTER EIGHT: UNDER ARREST
Neither Peter nor Janet made any attempt to tell him anything. They were both too startled. They stood frozen to the spot on which they stood.
"Nothing to say, eh? " the old man went on in his excited, squeeky little voice. "Well, that's just as well. You'll come along with me now, both of you."
"Are you the owner of this house?" Peter was himself again, and Janet marveled at the quiet manner in which he spoke.
"Never you mind about that; you'll soon enough know." The old man bustled toward them. Peter stepped in front of Janet.
"Are you the owner of this house?" he demanded again.
"Now look here, young fellow, don't give me any of your impertinence, but come along quick." The quieter Peter's voice got the more excited grew the little man. "What are your names, eh? Tell me that," he squeaked.
"We will do nothing of the kind," Peter said firmly.
"What, what, what! You tell me at once and no more nonsense," the old man fairly spluttered.
"We refuse to tell our names to any one but the owner of this house. " By now, Peter was thoroughly enjoying himself, and he winked ever so slightly at Janet.
The old man was getting very angry at Peter; he even stamped his foot and his big gold chain jingled.
"You come straight along and tell the owner then" he exploded, "and you'll be sorry you didn't tell me first. I can promise you. I'm a sheriff, and you are both under arrest. Now then, what have you got to say?"
Peter and Janet looked at each other, and Peter laughed.
"We have nothing to say until we see the owner," he said.
The sheriff turned on his heel. They followed him through the hall and out of the back door, of which he had the key. A buggy was standing in the woodshed, and they all got in. The rain had stopped and soft mud spattered them as they drove along.
"I'm awfully glad he isn't the owner," Peter whispered in Janet's ear.
"Oh, so am I," she agreed, "but of course I knew he couldn't be and look like that."
The sheriff did not notice them in any way. His ridiculous little fat face tried to look grim, but only succeeded in looking funny. He was thinking very hard and wondering if the owner would approve of his actions. He had not bothered to explain, when he said he was a sheriff, that he was a retired one, without the slightest right in the world to make an arrest.
"Where does the owner live?" Peter inquired, breaking a silence that had lasted a mile.
"Never you mind where," the sheriff retorted; "all that concerns you is that you will find the owner at my house to-day."
Peter and Janet exchanged glances.
"We're in for it," Peter whispered, "but it can't be very bad, and anyway we will see him at last."
"I'm almost sorry," Janet sighed. "He was always such a thrilling mystery to me. Do you suppose those are his gloves on the library table?"
Peter did not have time to reply, for they were turning in at the gate of a big farm, and the sheriff whipped up his horse to make a gallant approach.
Once on his own land he regained his assurance, and he opened the door of the tool house as though it were a dungeon cell.
"You'll wait in here," he directed.
There was nothing else to do, so in they went, and Janet heard the key grate in the rusty lock with a queer sinking feeling. But a look at Peter's face made her swallow her fears and manage a little laugh.
"What do you suppose will happen next?" she asked.
"Nothing very terrible," Peter assured her. "You see, we never did any harm to anything, and if we explain about the books, it ought to be all right."
"That will depend on the owner, "-- Janet's voice sounded frightened in spite of herself. "If he is nice, he will understand, and I suppose he is if he owns the Kingdom; still, why doesn't he live in it?"
"Why, that's the mystery, " -- Peter laughed. "We will find out soon enough. Mr. Sheriff is probably telling all about us now, and I guess he is not saying anything to help our case much."
Janet was silent for a minute, then she drew a long heartfelt sigh.
"Oh, Peter, do you realize that we can never go to the Kingdom again? It isn't enchanted any more; it's just a house that belongs to a man that probably has a bald head and whiskers."
"I hadn't thought of that," Peter said gravely.
The door opened, and the little man stood before them again.
"Come with me," he said, and led the way to the house.
"He's not nearly so starchy, " Janet whispered; "maybe he is nice after all."
"Of course he is," Peter assured her.
They passed through a big clean kitchen full of shiny pots and pans, and then into a dark little hall.
"Wait here," their guide directed, as he shoved them into a little room that looked like an office.
They waited, and a minute or two later the door opened.
It would be hard to say just what either Peter or Janet imagined the owner of the deserted house to resemble. Janet, when she thought of the place as belonging to any one but herself, usually pictured a modern King Arthur who would admit her claims as princess without hesitation. Peter knew that it was a house that his father would have loved, and he thought of the owner as a quiet gray-haired man in consequence. They were neither of them prepared to see a woman.
"Mrs. Todd!" Janet after a stupefied second fairly shouted the name, and it was Peter's turn to be astonished. He looked from one to the other and blushed a little; he realized it might be difficult to explain to a woman, for Peter knew nothing about women.
Mrs. Todd did not say anything. She stood in the doorway and laughed and laughed.
"Is it really your house?" Janet stammered, and she nodded.
"Yes, it's my house, and perhaps you can tell me, for Mr. Simpson's benefit, what you two were doing in it."
Peter looked at Janet, and she started the explanation.
"We weren't doing anything just when he found us," she said, "except waiting for the rain to stop, but this wasn't the only time we've been there. You see, I found it first, oh, ages ago, and I used to row over and read in the Kingdom -- I mean the library --"
"What did you call it?" Mrs. Todd interrupted.
"Oh, that was just my name for it. I always thought of it as 'The Enchanted Kingdom' because of all the wonderful books first and then because it was so old and deserted and spooky." Janet looked at Peter and he nodded encouragement.
"I only met Peter the other day; it was the very day of the fair. I came over because -- "
"I know; go on about Peter," Mrs. Todd put in.
"He was fixing the roof, and he dropped a piece of tin down on my nose, and then, well, of course we began to talk, and he said he had found the books, too, and so we went into the Kingdom, and it was Peter that made me go back to the fair in spite of --" Janet stopped, confused.
Mrs. Todd surveyed the two before her. There was nothing left of her laughter but the tiniest twinkle in her bright blue eyes. She snapped open her old-fashioned watch, looked at the time, and snapped it shut again.
"It's late," she said. "Janet, I'll drive you home. Where do you live?"-- she turned to Peter.
"At Blunt's farm. I work there,'' he answered her.
"Humm, well, you won't have far to go. Good-by. I'll see you again, and thanks for mending my roof," she added, as Peter hurried to the door.
He smiled at her over his shoulder. Janet went with him as far as the gate.
"It's funny, isn't it?" she laughed; "and of course she understands."
"Guess she does," Peter admitted. "Good-by.
"Until next time," Janet added.
"Maybe," Peter hesitated and then finished, "Do you remember asking me what the matter was this morning? Well, it's this. Doe is going to Europe, and I won't let him leave me any money 'cause I know he needs it all himself, so I've got to get work, and I think I'll be starting soon."
"But, Peter, I'll see you before you go," Janet exclaimed in dismay.
"Maybe, " Peter drawled as he had done the first time she had ever seen him. "Anyway good-by for now."
Janet watched him walk down the road until the twilight shadows swallowed him up. There was something that felt like a lump in her throat.
CHAPTER NINE: THE MYSTERIOUS OWNER
And now, you amazing child, toll me all you know about Peter." Mrs. Todd let her horse trot along unguided through the dusk and settled back in her seat, with a look of amused expectation on her face.
Janet plunged into a recital of Peter's life, or at least that portion of it that she knew, and before very long the amusement changed to interest and then to pity. Mrs. Todd was a splendid listener and a very understanding woman.
"What kinds of books does he like to read?" she asked, when Janet paused for breath.
"Everything in the library," Janet told her. "He laughs just as hard at 'Alice in Wonderland' as he does over 'Robinhood and his Merrymen,' but of course he likes Robinhood best, especially the part about Little John. He likes the 'Idyls of the King' too, and he just eats up history. Today I found him reading a stuffy old book about sheep. I think he would like to raise, or do whatever it is you do to, sheep, but of course he can't now because of Doc."
"And who is Doc? " Mrs. Todd inquired.
Again Janet explained as best she could, and this time it was Mrs. Todd's eyes that were wet.
"Hum, " she said after a little pause, "perhaps sheep would be a good idea, I never thought of it myself. I'll talk to Peter about it."
Janet sighed a long, happy sigh.
"It's the most perfect fairy tale that ever came true," she said. "Of all the people in the world that I would have chosen to be the mysterious owner of the Enchanted Kingdom, you would be the first, only I simply can't understand why I never knew or why you never lived in it."
Mrs. Todd sighed too, but hers was not a happy sigh.
"My dear child," she said, "that is a very long and a very disagreeable story, but perhaps I can tell you enough of it for you to understand why I left my home and Old Chester.
"When I was not so very many years older than you, say about eighteen, your grandmother decided that I was to marry your father Tom, and my parents thoroughly agreed to the plan. Your father and I, however, did not. In fact I might say that we thoroughly disapproved. We were the very best of friends, but we were both in love with other people; Tom with your beautiful mother and I with Mr. Todd. You know quite well how your grandmother acts when anybody goes against her wishes, so I need only say that my father was just about as stubborn and they had both determined on the match. Now then! to make a very long story short, I ran away with Mr. Todd, and that made them both, your grandmother and my father -- my mother, bless her dear heart, understood -- very angry. Your grandmother said that I was never to enter her house again. I never did until the other day when I went with you. My father was just as severe and told me that I could never come home with my husband. Well, of course, there was never any idea of my returning without him, and so we stayed away and traveled in every country under the sun and had the happiest three years imaginable, and then he died." There was a long pause before Mrs. Todd continued her story.
"I went home after that with my baby boy and -- oh, my dear child, you will think this a very dismal tale, but it's best to finish it. My baby died the next year, and I left the house, I thought, forever. It was mine for my father had died the year after my marriage and left it to me, but for so many years I had been unhappy there that I determined never to come near it again. That was thirty years ago and I have just come back.
"To-day I determined to go and see how the old place looked, I was afraid it would be in ruins. On my way I stopped in at the Simpsons and there my courage failed. So, I sent Mr. Simpson up to look at it and see if there was any chance of repairing it, I thought perhaps if it were patched up and swept out and tidied a bit it would not be as hard to return. Now I know -- I was a very silly and sentimental old lady, and I will go myself to-morrow morning and see about hurrying up the work of repairs. With two caretakers I am sure it has not suffered too much." Mrs. Todd stopped as shortly as she had begun and picked up the reins and chirruped to the horse, as though to say the conversation was finished now and forever.
Janet knew it was and without quite understanding it she realized the effort it had taken to tell it. She wanted to say something to Mrs. Todd, but she knew there was nothing that could be put into words, so she sat silent for the rest of the drive. This was the second "story" she bad heard that day, and the combination of the two opened up a world beyond Old Chester and gave her a sudden glimpse of life, its sorrows, its struggles, its joys and, above all, its victories. The knowledge made her restless, but it made her happy and above all expectant.
If big things happened to the Mrs. Todds and the Peters in the world, surely big things would come to her.
Mrs. Todd stopped at the garden gate of the Pages and held out her hand.
Janet held the big firm hand tight, but all she could find to say was "thank you." There were a hundred questions that she wanted to ask, and she finally found the words for the most important of them all.
Mrs. Todd," she asked softly, "did you know my mother?"
Mrs. Todd looked at her intently for a long time and then she looked at the light that always burned in Mrs. Page's room.
"Yes, my child, I did, and I loved her; but then everybody did with the exception of --" she hesitated; "no, that's not quite fair, so I won't finish. Some day, with your grandmother's permission, I will tell you all I can about her, and now hurry in and eat your dinner or Martha will be having one of her nervous spells."
Janet laughed, and squeezed Mrs. Todd's hand a little harder before she let it go.
"All right," she promised, "I just suddenly realized that I am as hungry as a bear."
Then Mrs. Todd did something that would have surprised her friends. She leaned out of the carriage and kissed Janet.
Martha was on the verge of a nervous spell, Janet found her looking out of the front hall window. She tiptoed up behind her and said "boo."
"Miss Janet, you're home at last; wherever have you been?" Martha exclaimed. "I have, been worried to death over you out in that storm."
"Oh, but I wasn't out in all of it," -- Janet laughed. "I've been driving with Mrs. Todd."
"I might have known that," Martha said, exasperation written large on her face. "Ann Hitchens was always one to upset things. Here we've been living in peace for years and the minute she comes back, oh, deary me, everything's a-flutter and topsy-turvy, I wish she'd go away again, I do indeed."
"But she won't," Janet replied happily. "She is never going away again, and I am so glad I could dance."
Martha sniffed, and when Martha sniffed it was never necessary for her to put her meaning into words.
"Well, don't dance into your grandmother's room," she advised. "'Walk like a little lady and go at once. She has been worrying about you all afternoon."
Contrary to all expectations, Mrs. Page had nothing to say about the lateness of the hour. She greeted Janet as usual, told her to wash her hands and eat her dinner; then she turned her face to the wall, her way of saying good night.
Janet was about to leave the room, but something made her pause at the foot of the bed.
" Grandmother," she said slowly.
"Well?" Mrs. Page sat up and looked at her.
"Grandmother," Janet began again, "I am sorry if I worried you by being out late."
"Who told you I was worried?" Mrs. Page demanded.
"Martha," Janet said.
"Martha talks too much," Mrs. Page snapped. "I was worried, but you are back now so don't talk any more about it."
Janet left the room, closing the door very softly behind her. In the hall she studied the grandfather's clock with apparent interest, but it is a question whether she saw it at all. She was realizing for the first time in her life that her grandmother was a very old lady.
Martha called her, and she went in to her dinner.
CHAPTER TEN: PETER
Martha was cleaning house; rugs were hanging in the kitchen yard and clouds of dust testified to the strength of her arm. Indoors all the chairs were turned over, and white sheets covered the rest of the furniture. Janet and Boru fled to the "widow's walk" to escape.
"I hate house cleaning," Janet complained; "if I ever have a house of my own I will go away on a trip and not come back until there's enough dust to make things look comfy again." Boru, who had a marked respect for Martha's broom, folded his paws over his nose and looked sympathetic.
"I wonder what will happen to-day," Janet went
on; "everything has been so exciting for the last few weeks that I
love to wake up in the morning. I wonder if it wasn't all a dream about
Mrs. Todd and that absurd little man and Peter. I
A whistle interrupted her musings, and she leaned over the railing and saw Harry Waters at the garden gate.
"What do you want? she called.
It was a little time before Harry could locate her, but when he did he beckoned.
"Come on down."
"All right, wait a minute," -- Janet sighed. Harry was not the form of excitement she would have chosen for the day, but he was better than talking to Boru or listening to Martha's beating the rugs.
"Hello," she greeted when she had joined him in the garden. "How's Roy?"
"Oh, he's all right. He caught a rabbit the other day." Harry bragged as though the credit were his.
"I think that was horrid of him. That's just the trouble with those hunting dogs," -- Janet flared up-" they are always catching some poor little animal that never did anybody any harm. If Boru ever did such a thing I would whip him good and hard, I can tell you." Boru hung his head; no doubt the memory of countless innocent rabbits weighed heavily on his doggish conscience.
"Ah, shucks," Harry grumbled; "that's just like a girl. They make a fuss and even kiss a dog if it gets a splinter in its paw, but the minute one does something worth while they want to whip it."
"Well, I don't like to think of a little dead bunny. They're so soft and snuggly," -- Janet defended herself; "and I don't care who knows it."
"Scared!" The word was hardly out of Harry's mouth before he regretted it.
Janet eyed him with so much scorn that words were unnecessary.
"If I were you, Harry," she said at length, but Harry interrupted her.
" Oh, I know what you're thinking of, but that's different," he protested; "my mother says so. Anyway, I didn't come over here to argue," he finished crossly.
Janet wanted to ask him what he had come over for, but she was just a little ashamed of the way she had been acting. After all, Harry was an old friend of hers, and it wasn't his fault that he was fat and always complaining. She gave herself a little shake and smiled.
"It is silly to scrap; let's go for a walk," she suggested.
"All right, if you want to, " Harry agreed, "but I came over to tell you that there's a letter for you at the post office, and Miss Clark says you haven't been for mail for over a week, and there are some letters for your grandmother and a newspaper. I'd have brought them to you but the old crosspatch wouldn't lot me. She said I'd lose them on the way, and she was responsible for the U. S. mail. I don't think much of Miss Clark any --" Harry stopped rambling, and stared at Janet. "Now what have I done?" he demanded.
Janet marched off down the road, and he followed.
"Gee, but you're queer lately!" he grumbled.
Janet stopped to look at him. Her cheeks were bright red, and her eyes danced with excitement.
"Harry Waters," she said, "if I were a dog I think I'd bite you."
The rest of the way to the village Harry had hard work keeping up with her.
At the post office, Miss Clark insisted on asking innumerable questions about Mrs. Page.
"You didn't come for the mail for such a long time that I said to my sister last night, 'I wonder if Mrs. Page has had a turn,' so this morning I told the Waters' boy to tell you that there were several letters in your box --"
"May I have them, please, " -- Janet tried politely to stem the tide, but Miss Clark did not even notice the interruption.
"Time was when one letter a week was all most folks looked for, but, lands sakes, nowadays with all these advertisements and picture postcards, your box is full before you know it. Did you say your grandmother was sick?"
"No, she is quite well, thank you. Er -- may I --?" Janet tried again, and Miss Clark did walk over to the box.
Well, that's a blessing," she said over her shoulder. "I do think that when a body must lie abed all day that they ought to have good health except for that. Now when my aunt Lucy -- Why, I do declare -- " Miss Clark interrupted herself this time -- "I clean forgot to tell you there was a letter for you. It's from your brother. Now that seems odd; he always writes to your grandmother, but this certainly is for you. I can't imagine why it slipped my mind. I've been thinking about it all week."
"May I have it, please?" Janet held out her hand, and with apparent reluctance Miss Clark gave her the little bundle of letters. She took them, said a hasty thank you, and escaped from the post office before there was time for any more conversation.
She studied the envelope with its Arizona postmark and made sure that it was directed to her. Then she tore it open to find a penciled note inside that read:
Harry watched her and shook his he had no doubts now that Janet was anything but an ordinary, and by ordinary he meant queer and unreasonable, girl.
Now, what's the matter? " he asked again, this time very forlornly.
"Matter?" Janet's laugh rang out happily. "Not a single thing in all this wide wide world, Harry! " she exclaimed.
"Then what are you crying about?" he demanded.
Janet brushed away the two big tears that had filled her eyes, and jumped up.
"I'm not crying, silly," she denied hotly. "Anyway you wouldn't understand. I'm going home. Good-by."
"Well, I'm darn glad I can't," was Harry's parting, and he walked off in the opposite direction.
Janet read her letter all the way home. It was such a surprise, f or she had quite given up all hopes of ever finding the letter she had written a month before. She had never entertained the idea of receiving an answer, and such an answer, full of every sort of promise. And he was coming, and coming soon. She consulted the postmark and found that the letter had been in the post office six days.
The sight of Martha still patiently beating rugs was unbearable. She hurried into the house and took the rest of the mail to her grandmother. As she handed them to her, she saw to her surprise that one of them was from her brother. Perhaps he was writing to tell her that he was coming home, and that would make it unnecessary for her to mention her letter.
"A letter from your brother," Mrs. Page said solemnly. "Please wait, Janet, and I will read you what he says." She opened the letter with her customary precision and read it first to herself. Apparently she thought better of her promise to read it aloud, for she folded it up and put it back into its envelope.
"Your brother is well," she said at last, "and he is coming home. This letter is a week old so that I imagine he will be here before long. Please tell Martha not to make so much noise in the hall and don't say anything to any one about Thomas's proposed visit."
"But, grandmother, why in the world not?" Janet could not help saying.
"Because I dislike gossip," Mrs. Page snapped. "When he comes all the village will know it; that will be soon enough."
"Yes, grandmother." Janet left the room, but she forgot to tell Martha not to make so much noise. The house was unbearable, and she decided that even if she could not share her secret with Mrs. Todd, it would be a comfort to go and see her and talk about the Enchanted Kingdom.
She was hardly on her way with the idea fixed in her mind when she heard horse's hoofs coming toward, and after a minute she saw Mrs. Todd in her carriage. She stopped her horse at sight of Janet, and beckoned to her.
Janet jumped in beside her.
"I was just coming to see you," she said. "Have you been over to your house this morning?"
Mrs. Todd was plainly upset about something. She was frowning, and there was not a spark of fun in her eyes.
"No, child, I haven't," she answered. "I went over to find Peter early this morning, and the Blunts told me he had gone away. They said he had told them that he was going west and that he could not leave any address, but he left a letter addressed to Dr. Peabody in Boston. Now I happen to know Jack Peabody. He was a very dear friend of my husband. Of course I haven't seen him in years but I am going up to Boston this afternoon and give him Peter's letter, and between us we ought to be able to find the boy. It's dreadful to think of his hunting for work and with no money."
"I think it's splendid," Janet said shyly.
That's because you are a silly, romantic child with your head full of story-book nonsense, Mrs. Todd said briskly. "What I wanted to see you about was to ask you if that foolish boy gave you any hint as to where he was going."
"No, indeed he didn't, " Janet said. " I didn't even dream he was going. Oh, Mrs. Todd, do you think you really can find him?" she asked suddenly.
"There, there, child, don't worry your head about it," Mrs. Todd comforted. "Of course we can. Peter's hair is too red to allow him to run away unnoticed."
Janet tried to smile, but it was difficult. The more she thought of Peter's going, the more she realized how much she would miss him, and half the joy in her brother's return was lost when she realized that she could not introduce him to Peter.
"Do you think you could manage Clinker," -- Mrs. Todd was speaking -- "if you do I wish you would drive over to Simpsons' this afternoon and give him a letter for me."
"Why, I think I could drive him," Janet replied. "I'll just let him walk and I'll be awfully careful of him."
"Very well, then, that's settled." Mrs. Todd spoke with her usual briskness, and a little of the laughter returned to her eyes as she added, "It will be a sorry dose for our friend the ex-sheriff, but I think it will do him good. "
CHAPTER ELEVEN: ANOTHER LETTER
At two o'clock Janet was waiting in front of the rectory. She was to drive Mrs. Todd to the station and then go on to Simpsons' and deliver the letter. Alice and Mildred came out on the steps to see them off, and their faces mirrored their thoughts. Mrs. Todd had never let them drive Clinker, and they could not understand why Janet should be allowed the privilege. There was an air of mystery about their cousin's sudden departure, and Janet holding the reins and watching Clinker's ears importantly added to it.
"When are you going to bring the carriage back?" Alice inquired.
"Oh, I won't be late," Janet answered evasively.
Mrs. Todd's "Hurry along now, child, or we'll miss the train," put a stop to further questions.
"I do hope you won't be away very long," Janet said softly when they were on their way. "Something exciting, that I can't tell you about, is going to happen, and I think I will simply die if you are not here."
"Mercy, child, you sound mysterious" -- Mrs. Todd laughed. "Why can't you tell me about it?"
Janet did not reply; it would sound so rude to say, "Grandmother won't let me."
Mrs. Todd understood her silence and laughed again.
"Well, I can see that I'll have to come back and find out for myself then," she said; "when is it going to happen?"
"Soon, I hope," Janet told her. "It can't happen too soon for me."
Mrs. Todd considered for a moment. "Of course I haven't the slightest idea when I will come back. It all depends on when we find that boy. Oh, but I shall give him such a talking to when I find him. Why couldn't he have waited until to-morrow and saved all this fuss?"
"It was really to save fuss that he ran away," Janet reminded her. "Poor Peter! I just hate to think that maybe he's hungry, but just the same it was a splendid thing for him to do."
"Splendid, fiddlesticks!" Mrs. Todd ejaculated, as they drew up to the station platform.
She said good-by very briskly, and Janet watched her, preceded by a porter carrying her bags, get into the parlor car. Clinker did not approve of the noisy engine, and she turned his head and started off before the train pulled out.
Mr. Simpson came out of the barn at the sound of Clinker's hoofs, and was as startled as Janet could have wished.
"How do you do, Mr. Simpson?" she said in her sweetest manner. "I have a letter for you here from Mrs. Todd. She asked me to deliver it to you." She held out the envelope, and Mr. Simpson, after carefully wiping his hands on his
"Where's Mrs. Todd herself ? " he asked sulkily.
"She had to go to Boston, so she won't be able to come over to the house to-day," Janet explained.
Mr. Simpson eyed her suspiciously, then he read the letter. Janet watched his face, and at the sudden change of expression, she could not repress a smile.
"Are you Widow Page's granddaughter?" he inquired at last.
Janet nodded and tried to look solemn.
"Did you and that boy from Blunts' know all the time that the owner of that house was Mrs. Todd?"
This time Janet shook her head.
"Did you have permission to go there when you liked?"
"Did you know I weren't no real sheriff?"
"Weren't you seared?" The question was asked with so much anxiety, that Janet could not find it in her heart to disappoint the little man before her.
"Indeed I was," she said. "I was frightened to death. You see, you looked so very severe that I thought at first you were the owner. It was lucky for us, wasn't it, that Mrs. Todd did own it, for of course she didn't mind a bit."
Mr. Simpson stroked his chin slowly and tried to hide the smile of satisfaction on his round face.
"Waal," he said condescendingly, "I'm sorry I seared you, though I must say neither of you looked very frightened; but, you see, I had to do my duty as a one-time officer of the State."
"Of course," Janet agreed.
"I hope you'll tell Mrs. Page that I am sorry my duty lay in the direction it did," he continued. "I wouldn't like to have her put out with me."
"I'll tell her," Janet laughed, and added, as she turned Clinker around "I am going to the house on the hill now, so please, if you happen in as you did yesterday, ring the bell and let me know you're coming. I'd hate to be frightened that way ever again."
Mr. Simpson was now thoroughly sure that he was not the object of ridicule, and he beamed upon Janet and all the autumn landscape.
"Don't you worry, little lady," he chuckled; "now that I know who you are I won't never question your right to be any place in this county, and any time I can do you a service you just call on me and you'll find I'm your man."
Janet thanked him graciously and drove off, without giving herself away by even a smile. Once on the road and out of earshot, however, she laughed so heartily that Clinker pricked up his ears and started to run.
"There, there, old fellow, I didn't mean to frighten you," -- she quieted him -- "take your time and do stop frisking. It would be too awful for words if you ran away and dumped me anywhere. Think what Alice and Mildred would say."
Clinker obligingly settled into a trot, and they were soon at the entrance to the Enchanted Kingdom. Janet had never before approached it from the land side, and she was surprised at the broad sweep of driveway before her. The house and barns looked more imposing from this side too.
"It is truly a fairy castle," she said aloud.
Clinker submitted to being tied under one of the sheds, and Janet hurried around to the front porch. Mrs. Todd had offered her the key Mr. Simpson had, but she had said she would rather go in the old way.
Everything was very still, and somehow she felt the loneliness of it all more than ever. The roof seemed to sag dejectedly, and a few dead autumn leaves swishing in the wind against the front door added to the unnatural dreariness.
Once in the library, she went straight to the books and ran her hand over them as if to find consultation in their worn backs. She finally selected a little book bound in red. It opened readily, more readily than usual, at a little poem. Janet sat down on the floor and started to read aloud to herself. There was something in the rhythm that always comforted her when she was lonely. Surely Mrs. Browning had understood much when she wrote "Little Ellie." Janet read it idly:
Many and many an afternoon Janet had read the beginning of the little poem and then chosen the sweetest pleasure for herself and lost the rest of the day in dreams.
She looked up from the pages with a sigh, then her eyes fell on a folded piece of paper, lying on the floor beside her. She picked it up and opened it. Idle curiosity gave place to excited interest as she read:
She stood up and looked about the room forlornly; the old gloves were gone from their accustomed place on the table.
CHAPTER TWELVE: JANET'S PASSENGER
Janet left the house by the cellar window instead of the easier way. It would be hard to explain her reasons, but it was noticeable that when she had safely climbed out and stood on the ground by the window, she leaned over and picked up something and put it away hastily in the pocket of her dress. A great many years were to pass before she showed it to another soul.
"Come along, Clinker," she said briskly, as she went to the shed. "It's high time we were starting." She jumped into the cart, and Clinker, only too delighted to start for home, set off at a brisk pace.
It was a long way by road back to the village, and it was dusk before they neared it. As they came within sight of the railroad station Janet heard a train pulling in, and remembering Clinker's dislike for locomotives she slowed up to wait until it left the station.
It was the train from Boston, and she could not help wishing that Mrs. Todd and Peter were on it.
When the last puff of the engine was lost in the distance, she drove past the station very slowly. Of course there was no sign of Mrs. Todd or Peter, and she drove on, disappointed in spite of herself. A short stretch of wood made the road quite dark ahead of her for a way. Clinker pricked up his ears as they entered it but Janet did not pay any attention to him and was therefore thoroughly startled when a voice, coming apparently from nowhere, called:
"Wait a minute there, will you?"
She pulled Clinker to a sudden stop and waited. A man walked out of the shadows and came up to the cart.
"I beg your pardon," he said, taking off his hat. "I didn't see it was a lady driving."
"Well, what difference does that make?" Janet answered awkwardly. "Won't I do?"
The man laughed and showed a set of the whitest teeth Janet had ever seen.
"Well, as a matter of fact," he explained in his low voice, " I was going to ask for a lift.
Janet looked at him for a minute and decided she liked him, and therefore it would not be necessary to treat him the way she usually treated strangers.
"Why can I give you one?" she asked, laughing too.
"Well, now, that's mighty nice of you, and I'm very much obliged," he said. "My bag is a little too heavy to make walking any fun." He got in with surprising quickness, and Janet started Clinker by a word.
"That's a mighty fine horse you've got there," he said quietly.
"Yes, isn't he a beauty? His name Is Clinker," Janet replied. "He doesn't belong to me, though. I only wish he did."
They were out of the wood by now, and she turned to look at her passenger. He was, to judge from the way he had to pull his knees up, a very tall man and certainly he was handsome. His face was burned a dark tan, and his eyes were set far apart and deep in his head. His hat covered most of his hair, but Janet knew it was brown like his eyes. There were lines at his temples that proved, if proof were necessary, that he laughed a good deal. He had big broad shoulders and nice long lean hands, that looked as though he could do almost anything with them.
"Well?" he asked, laughing, and Janet realized she had been staring.
"I really couldn't help it, you see," she apologized, very much confused. "Why, I've forgotten to ask you where you wanted to go? " she added.
"To a hotel if there is one," the man replied.
''Oh, but there isn't," Janet laughed. "We have a boarding house where most every one stays. The post mistress keeps it, but I'm afraid you won't like it very much."
The man considered for a minute or so, and then smiled and shrugged.
"Then I must take the chance of being mistaken for a tramp in these dusty clothes and go straight home."
"Where's home?" Janet inquired. "I don't like to be inquisitive, but we are almost to Main Street now."
"Not at all. I didn't realize I hadn't introduced myself. I'm Tom Page; perhaps you know my little sister Janet."
Whatever Janet did no one will ever know, but Clinker, and he showed his disapproval of it by almost jumping over the shafts. If Tom had not caught the reins and made him come to order he might have succeeded in running away.
"I -- I did it," Janet gasped. "Can't you see! I'm Janet, and you -- oh, I know I'm dreaming."
"You!" It was Tom's turn to be surprised. "Why, you can't be. Janet is just a youngster and you are a very grown up young person."
"But I'm Janet just the same, and, well -- how do you do, Tom; I'm very glad to see you." She held out her hand.
"Bless your heart!" Tom put his arm around her and in spite of Clinker gave her a hearty kiss. "What luck for us to meet like this! " -- he laughed -- "and I had pictured it so differently, and you are just about fifty times as nice as I thought you were going to be."
"Well," Janet sighed happily, "you certainly are heaps nicer than I thought you were going to be."
They turned the corner by the rectory, and Clinker, without asking any one's permission, turned in at the gate.
"We will have to leave the horse here," Janet explained. "He belongs to Mrs. Todd. I was just doing an errand for her."
"Mrs. Todd." Tom was thoughtful. "I seem to remember her -- oh, yes," -- and he laughed. "I'd like to meet her."
"But she's in Boston," Janet replied. "She's only visiting at the rectory."
"Well, you'd better let me out anyway," Tom suggested. "I don't want to meet anybody tonight. You rustle along, and I'll wait here." He jumped out, and Janet hurried to the barn, where the hired man was waiting to unhitch Clinker.
Mrs. Blake came out on to the back porch.
"Is that you, Janet?" she called.
"Yes, Mrs. Blake, I was a little delayed in getting home. I hope you haven't been worried," Janet replied.
"Only a little uneasy," Mrs. Blake confessed; won't you come in and see the girls?"
"Oh, not to-night, thank you. I must really hurry home." Janet spoke with so much concern that Mrs. Blake did not urge her, and after a hurried good night she was able to join Tom.
"It's quite a long walk home," she apologized. "I wish I could have driven all the way. Won't you let me help you with that bag?"
Tom laughed his hearty, good-natured laugh, and caught his little sister by the arm.
"You little featherweight! I could carry you and the bag and never know you were there. But we'll take it easy, and that will give us more time to talk. First of all, how is grandmother?"
"Oh, she's well; that is, of course, she is in bed always, but I think she feels all right otherwise," Janet replied.
"Yes, of course. I was forgetting. Let me see, who else is in the house?"
"Why, just Martha and me; that's all."
"Any friends,? Your letter sounded as though you were lonely."
"I am sometimes," Janet confessed; "that is, I used to be. Lately I haven't had time because there's been Peter and Mrs. Todd."
"Who's Peter?" Tom inquired. "The boy that was afraid of snakes?"
"Certainly not, " Janet denied hotly; "that was Harry Waters."
Tom started to ask a question, thought better of it, and said instead:
" How about girls?"
Janet did not reply at once. Her own mind was far from made up on the subject, and it was difficult to answer Tom.
"I don't know any girls, really," she replied slowly. "The ones I have met didn't like me much, and I didn't like them. When I wrote that letter to you I thought I wanted a girl friend more than anything else in the world, but now I guess boys are better; anyway, they don't say mean things behind your back."
"All girls are not alike, little sister of mine. There are lots of girls in the world that are just like you and you'd like them, even better than you like boys."
There was a long pause, and finally Janet said:
"Tom, do you remember what I said in my letter about wishing you were a sister instead of a brother?"
"Even to the exact words," -- Tom laughed. "You said that I would be much more of a comfort to you as a sister. That's what made me come on at once. I wanted to prove that brothers are some use in the world."
"Don't tease," Janet begged. "I only reminded you of it so that I could say I was sorry."
"But you would like to have a sister too, wouldn't you?" Tom asked anxiously.
"Oh, of course, " -- Janet laughed. "I'd like to have one too, but not in place of you."
"Then that's all right," -- Tom gave her arm a tight squeeze. "Isn't that our house?" he inquired, as the light from Mrs. Page's room twinkled in the distance.
"Why, yes, but how did you know?" Janet asked, surprised.
"Oh, I was ten years old before I left f or school," Tom explained. "You were a tiny baby then."
Janet lapsed into another thoughtful silence.
"Tom," she said seriously, "why didn't you ever come back?"
Tom's voice was very gentle as he answered her: