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great love he has for her, criticize Roxanne's shabbiness. They don't
any of them know what a heroine she is, and about the great cause.

"Course she looks good, 'cause she is the pretty child; but I always
feel like carrying a needle and thread and a card of pins when Roxy is
along. And let me tell you the bug-doctor is about to burst out into
the cold world from his aprons. I know old Doug makes enough to rag
the family, but Roxy is just behindhand getting rabbit skins to wrap
the buntings in. Lots of girls are poky about doing around."

If Tony Luttrell had known how cruel that sounded, it would have broken
his heart. But I couldn't tell him what a heroine Roxanne is and I just
had to shudder in my soul to see her so misunderstood - Roxanne, whose
every day is just one big patch on life.

"It is lovely of Miss Priscilla to go with us," I said, to change the

"It would be a dry hay ride if the Miss Bubble wasn't sitting in the
very midst of the crowd and the wagon, with the Colonel prancing along
beside on old White. Your father is going to ride out with the Colonel
and - but that's the surprise. Being with your gingham gang so much, I
am about to get the talks." And Tony put his hand over his mouth and
moved away from me as if I had the scarlet fever.

I laughed at Tony and from sheer happiness at thinking that my father
was going with us in the fine company of the Colonel and Miss
Priscilla. I wonder what we would do, if we had to have somebody go to
places with us who thought they had to chaperon us? Miss Prissy is
just one of us and would go if we had to ask somebody like Belle's
mother, for instance, who is always talking about chaperons, to go

As I have remarked before, Byrdsville is a very different place from
most of the world, and I thank God that he led me to it and "made me
to lie down in its green pastures, beside its still waters." I found
that in the Bible the other night, and it fitted me and Byrdsville.
Good-night, Louise!

Of course when I grow up I shall have many things happen to me, like
graduating from Byrdsville Academy, marrying, and being president of
clubs, and going to balls and theaters in the city, if I have to; but
there will never be a night like this one of my sixteenth birthday,
April twenty-second.

Miss Priscilla Talbot was the first slice out of the happiness
birthday cake when we met down at her house to get into the wagon. I
can never have things here at my home like that, because of the
precious sick thing upstairs that cannot be disturbed, but who is the
core of my heart, anyway, even if she doesn't know it.

But of all astonishing things, this is what Miss Priscilla did as we
were all lined up for Father and the Colonel to help us into the wagon
on the great mound of hay, to the front of which four horses were

"And now to start off the birthday we must each give Phyllis a kiss,
as we would do if we were blowing out the candies on the cake that is
packed in the basket; and each one whisper a wish to her, as they give
her a kiss. I will be first and the Colonel next," she said and she
bent down and kissed me and whispered: "A happy sixteenth year."

I never had been kissed - even Father never did it to me, because I
have been more like a son than a daughter, and he hasn't thought of
it. To get a whole wagonload of them at one time, and unaccustomed to
them, was enough to paralyze any girl, and I stood dumb and took
it - them, I mean. The blow-out-the-candle-with-a-kiss-wish is one of
the first family birthday customs in Byrdsville, and I felt that it
was right to subscribe to it. I didn't mind when I saw the boys were
going to refuse firmly to do it and just shake hands instead.

"Bully for you, Bubble, and a pound or two to cover your elbows," Tony
exploded while he nearly pumped my arm out of the socket. Everybody
laughed, because I _am_ getting thin with so much growing.

The Colonel's kiss was a ceremonial, like you have in church or at
graduation day, and his wish took five minutes to say, but the tall
Willis choked up my throat with the lump by whispering a hope for my
mother, which can never be, I know.

Next the Idol kissed my hand with grace like is in a story-book and
which made my whole arm act like a poker. Father hugged me with all
the energy he hadn't been using on me all my life. It hurt me happily.

Roxanne came last and she saved hers until the Colonel had packed us
down together in a nest of hay at Miss Priscilla's feet like two
kittens in a basket, with Lovelace Peyton squirming around as a third.

"You never encouraged me to kiss you before, Phyllis," she whispered,
with her arm around my neck; "but I'm going to whenever I want to
after this, and here's a wish that we will never get separated farther
than kissing distance, now that we have found each other."

Only Lovelace Peyton kept me from crying out loud like a baby from
happiness. He burrowed between Roxanne and me in a search for some
peppermint he smelled in the hay, and stuck one knee right into my
mouth to stop the sob, which was a laugh when I removed the knee for
it to get out. My first hug around Roxanne's waist was mighty awkward,
but I know she understood.

After that the picnic unfolded its minutes in such a cloud of
moonlight and rosy happiness, accompanied by song, that I don't know
very well what really did happen. For once I felt that I was looking
on life from the same exalted point of view that Roxanne always has,
and I hope it will become a habit with me. Only I know it won't.

Tony's surprise, that he had got Father to help him about, was a
hot-air balloon that the Scout book tells them how to make, and they
sent one up from the place we stopped at, out on Providence Road, with
"Phyllis," cut out in great big letters and lighted with a candle
inside, which wobbled and set the whole thing on fire before it got
much higher than the trees. Still, it did go up and it had my name on
it! When I got off the train in Byrdsville two months ago I couldn't
have believed in that balloon, if it had been revealed to me in a
vision. Do I deserve it all?

One of the reasons of my rosy view was that the Idol rode upon the
front seat of the wagon, with the farmer who drove, and smoked one of
Father's cigars and led all the songs in the most marvelously
beautiful voice I ever heard. He was on the Glee Club at Princeton,
and of course to have him come to the party at all was a compliment.
He helped Miss Priscilla and me unpack the suppers out on Tilting
Rock, and acted only a little more grown-up than Tony and Pink, I
don't know whether I quite liked to have him unbend so far as to throw
a biscuit back at Tony. He is too great a man for that, and I was
relieved when he took the Colonel's horse and started back to town,
because he said he had something to attend to. It is more comfortable
for me to have him on the pedestal I keep for him, than down in the
ordinary walks of life with me and the rest of my friends - fine and
unusual people as they all are. Also I am afraid I might betray in
some way my great affection and veneration for him if we got too
familiar over a pickle jar, and he might not like it. How do I know he
wants to be enthroned and "idolized" in my heart?

Yes, I was glad to see him go home early before I got so light-headed
with happiness as to squabble over pie with Pink and put a
lightning-bug into Tony's lemonade glass. Father went with him, and
how good it did seem to see them ride away together through the
moonlight down Providence Road to Byrdsville, which lay in the dim
distance with its lights making it my huge birthday cake, decorated
with all the lilacs and roses and redbud abloom in the Harpeth Valley.
Some people are so accustomed to happiness that they don't even notice
it. I'm glad I haven't had that much.

One of the nice things about Miss Priscilla and the Colonel is that
they go off and sit by themselves and entirely forget to ever say go
home, until we have all had our fill of fun; then they begin to hurry
at a terrible rate that gets up a pleasant excitement. They seem to
know just the minute when we might begin to get tired, and they never
let it come. Some people are geniuses about good times, and the
Colonel and Miss Priscilla are two of that kind.

The ride home was almost the best of all. The boys sang and gave
Raccoon calls and practised different kinds of wood signals and ate
the things we had saved from supper, with Mamie Sue to keep them
company, also Lovelace Peyton, who slept part of the time with his
head on Tony's knees, but waked up if any stray refreshments
threatened to get past him. We all hushed at the edge of town, for the
Colonel said it was after midnight, and he unpacked each one at his or
her own front door so softly that not even a dog barked. He put me out
at the cottage because he didn't want to stop the wagon in front of
our house on account of disturbing Mother, and I went in to unfasten
Roxanne's dress and to get mine done likewise, then I could slip home
through the garden, which is always so lovely with the moonlight
making ghost flowers of Roxanne's ancestral blossoms.

I wish I didn't have to write you, leather Louise, what happened next,
at the same time as the birthday, but I can't sleep unless I do. Would
God be so cruel to me as to let me get just this one little taste of
being happy and then take it away from me? I won't believe it!

This is what happened, set down in black and white, and I can draw no
conclusions from it. I refuse! As Roxanne and I stood in the living
hall, under the stern old Byrd grandmother, giggling and having a
good, girl time like I have just been learning to do, suddenly the
door opened and the Idol stood in the light we had lighted, with his
face so pale I thought he was going to faint.

"Roxy," he said, not seeming to notice me, "you haven't been in my
shed working with my bottles, have you? Or could Lovey have got in? I
have the key and the window is barred, as I always keep it."

"Oh, no, Douglass, I haven't been near the shed this week. My key is
here on the hook in the left-hand bookcase," and she reached behind
her, took it, and showed it to him. "I know Lovey hasn't been there
either, because we can trust him on honor. Oh, what is the matter?" As
Roxanne asked the question she was trembling all over, but not in the
deadly cold way I was, I felt sure. She couldn't have stood it and

"Some one has been in the shed, taken samples of all my material,
including the steel shavings that came from the last melting, and my
notebook is gone. The process is stolen, Roxy, and all the sacrifices
gone for nothing. I don't care for myself - but - you." His head was up
in the same old portrait pose, but his arms trembled as he held them
out to Roxanne.

I stood still and cold and never said one word, but a pain hit into my
heart that I didn't know I was strong enough to stand and still live.

"When did you find it out?" I asked; and I was surprised at the cool
note that sounded in my voice and made it like Father's when he talks

"Just now," he answered me over Roxanne's head that was buried on his
shoulder. "I stopped down-town to help Judge Luttrell with a brief
that he was writing and came home only a few minutes ago. The thief
was in the shed between the time I went on the hay ride and now. I was
in the shed just before I started."

I don't know how I said good-night to them; but I did the best I
could, and came home through the moonlight with a great heaviness of
heart and feet. I dreaded to see Father, and yet longed for him in a
way I never did before in all my life. If anything awful is true, then
he is more mine than ever. But it can't be! And when I looked for him
I found him - in a way I never had before. He was standing at my
mother's door and the great big man was crying just like a girl, with
his shoulders shaking and big sobs coming.

"Bess, Bess," he sobbed Mother's name under his breath, "she's going
to be a grown woman and I don't know what to do without you. Ten long
years. Oh, Bess!"

Yes, I suppose I'm nearer a grown woman than most girls of my age, and
I'm tall enough to take a big man in my arms, which are so long and
thin as to be a joke, and hold him close enough to make the sobs stop

"Now, Phil, I leave it to you if you are not enough to upset any man,
with your moonlight picnics and folderols," Father said, in just a few
seconds from the time I hugged him up. He was both laughing and
sniffling into his handkerchief at the same time, and I had a lovely
Lovelace Peyton feeling about him, because he looked so young and
ashamed of himself for being caught crying.

"I'm just as much your son as I ever was, Father," I said with a gulp
and a lump in my own throat. "I'm never going to be a daughter, if you
don't want one."

"I do, Phyllis, I do; but I want the son-girl sometimes, too. You go
to bed." And with a sound hug that nearly broke my ribs, as neither he
nor I were used to them, he went into his room and shut his door


A serious disposition can make more trouble for itself by its own
seriousness than all the misfortunes that come can make for it. If I
had just a little touch of Roxanne Byrd's foamy spirits, I would be a
much more comfortable companion for myself. All night I lay awake,
anchored in the middle of the huge old Byrd bedstead, and sorrowed
over the misfortune that had come to Roxanne and the Idol. Over and
over I went in my mind to see where I could clear Mr. Rogers of my
suspicions until my thoughts were so pale in color that I could hardly
make them out, and at last I fell asleep in despair.

In the morning I dressed so slowly that it was nine o'clock before I
was buttoned into my dress and felt that I could go over and help
Roxanne bear the calamity. It was Saturday, so I knew she would need
help in doing all the things she leaves undone until this blessed day
of relief from school cares and responsibilities comes.

It is strange how ignorant one can be of the disposition of the very
person she loves best on earth. Did I find Roxanne Byrd dissolved in
an indigo sea on the day after she had lost a huge fortune? Not at
all! She was floating still higher on a still more rosy cloud and
eating a large slice of the most delicious nut cake, while Lovelace
Peyton did likewise.

"Oh, Phyllis, I was just going to call you to get a piece of Uncle
Pompey's nut cake before it gets cold. It is famous in Byrdsville, and
I've been dying to have one made to give you ever since you came; only
I couldn't get the materials. It takes every good thing in a grocery,
from ginger to preserved cherries, to go in it, and it is best hot.
Uncle Pompey said for me to wait until the second pan came out of the
stove to call you, because it is always best. He has out the Sheffield
tray with the old point cover on it and one of great-grandmother
Byrd's willow plates to put it on for you. I'll let him bring it to
you and see you taste it. Poor Uncle Pompey is a famous cook, and
economy has been agony to him. I'm going to let him make every good
thing he wants to this week. He has been held down so long." Roxanne
bubbled along like a lovely mountain torrent of cheerfulness, while I
stood rooted to the spot in an astonishment that I could not conceal.

"Oh, Roxanne," I said weakly, as I sank into a chair.

"Yes, Phyllis, I suppose it is funny to see me enjoying the cake like
this after what happened last night; but the Byrds always make other
plans as soon as anything happens to the first one. Douglass and I
decided to rest from the steel invention by having things we want for
two or three months, and then he knows something greater to invent
than steel could ever be. He hasn't told me yet, but I'll tell you
when he does. Oh, there's Uncle Pompey with the cake. It's lovely,
isn't it, Phyllis?"

If a person went to a funeral and met the dead friend at the door
handing her a piece of cake, I suppose she would feel about like I did
when that funny old black man handed me that lovely and elegant tray
with a grin on his face so wide that it is a wonder it didn't meet
itself at the back of his head. I wonder to this moment where I got
the enthusiasm with which I accepted it.

"Eat all you want to, Phyllis, 'cause I've got a good plaster to put
on the place when the ache comes," Lovelace Peyton advised from his
seat on the floor where he was alternately eating his piece of cake
and rolling black pills from the crumbs that he caught in a pasteboard

And as I sat and munched that piece of historic Byrd cookery my brain
turned over in my head and settled itself in a new way. My whole
nature underwent a revolution. I saw that a person can either accept
life as a piece of fluffy cake when it is handed to her or look on it
all as - soggy. I'm going to follow Roxanne's example after this and
see the fluffiness of the cake determinedly.

"And, Phyllis, I'll tell you what else I'm going to do," continued
Roxanne, rocking and nibbling and smiling so that I would like to have
eaten her up, from shabby shoes to the curl down the back of the neck.
"When I went down to the grocery before breakfast to get the things to
console Uncle Pompey after we had told him about the robbery, I saw
the loveliest blue muslin in the window at Mr. Hadley's store, and I
'in going to buy it to-day and make me a dress for commencement. I had
expected to wear the family linen, but Douglass says let's spend all
his salary this month in having things we want; so the blue muslin
will be my part. Do you think blue will be prettier than pink, or
would you have - ?"

But just here we were interrupted by Tony's appearance at the door,
and the expression on his face matched the one I had had of condolence
as I came over through the garden; but he has known Roxanne longer
than I have and boys' minds are supposed to be stronger than
girls' - privately I don't think they are - so he accepted the situation
and the cake with more grace than I had.

However he was cruelly insistent about questioning and talking about
the robbery. The Idol had told him about it as Tony walked out to the
furnace with him, which is a Saturday habit with Tony as the Jonathan
to Mr. Douglass. Tony had known all along about the steel, but was
surprised to know that I had been able to keep it to myself. I suppose
it is best never to notice an unconscious insult, and boys are often
that way with girls.

"Doug and I both think that this is not the first time the robber has
been in or around the shed," Tony said thoughtfully. "Do you remember
that shadow we saw dodge through the yard the evening we came from the
Raccoon outing, Phyllis?"

"Yes," I answered; and the uneasy feeling I had about Mr. Rogers that
night so I couldn't sleep slightly tipped the rosy cloud I had decided
to climb upon and stay upon forever. "But it may have been Uncle
Pompey, like I thought it was," I added hopefully.

"Well, Doug told me to come and nose around and see what I could find
in the way of clues. Want to come out and have a look with me? You two
Palefaces might as well learn something about gumshoeing a villain now
as ever."

Lots of boys, and grown-up people for that matter, like to keep
interesting things and doings to themselves; but Tony Luttrell is as
generous in disposition as he is in mouth.

We went out to the shed with him, and Lovelace Peyton went too, but
refused to come in the shed door because he said he was still on honor
to the Idol, no matter what Roxanne said, not to come nearer than one
yard, which was marked with sticks all around the shed. It was funny
to see the snake-doctor lean across the dead-line and crane his sweet
little neck to try to hear and see Tony inside the shed. And after
Tony had squinted at and touched and nosed almost every inch of the
shed, he came out with his hands in his pockets.

"Any clue?" asked Roxanne, as anxiously as Roxanne could ask about
anything from the cloud.

"N - o," he said in a hesitating sort of way that seemed just as
professional as the way the detectives talk in the wonderful stories
in the magazines that my governess always reproved me for reading.
"That was a slick artist who got away on greased heels, but there is
a - smell in there that I've never felt before in the shed. And yet I
have met it somewhere, I feel certain. It seems to my nose somewhat
like the bug-doctor at his worst."

"No, Tony," said Lovelace Peyton, positively but perfectly calmly, "I
ain't been in that shed and my bottles ain't got legs."

We all laughed and came to the house - but I had got a whiff of that
odor and I knew where I had met it before. It was raw onion and tar,
and it was the mixture that Lovelace Peyton had given Father in the
bottle he wrapped in his handkerchief and put in his pocket. I felt
weak all over for a second, but I immediately remembered my duty to
respect my father even in my thoughts. I had decided that in the
watches of last night, after I had found his heart and hugged it up
outside of Mother's door.

In the first place, I had no business to read those magazines that my
governess told me not to, even if she did have so little sense that
her brain must have been made of tatting work originally, which she
was always doing by the yard. And while the explanation of what an
evil it is to get millions and millions of dollars together when the
poor have so little, and that no man who has a human heart in his
breast would want to do it is perfectly true, still that man who wrote
the article might not have known about my father. I can see how a man
might go on for years and do a great wrong to his brother man and
really not realize what a monster it makes of him. I believe my father
is just blind on that side of things like some people are in one eye.
I pray God that he may wake up sometime, and die happy but poor! Of
course, I know he had nothing to do with taking the steel secret, and
I am going to get on the cloud again and not worry over Roxanne's
troubles until she needs something; and then I will come down and get
it for her while she stays in the air, - if I can.

[Illustration: Tony ... nosed almost every inch of the shed]

The really important things in a person's life underlie the daily
occurrence like the sand that is at the bottom of the rose-bushes.
School is the sand-bank of a girl's life, rather heavy, but supporting
the roses of debates and picnics and commencement and expression
impersonations like the one Friday night is to be.

Of course Byrd Academy graduated Judge Luttrell and the Colonel and
Roxanne's Father as well as Miss Prissy, and all the other learned
ladies in the Browning Society; but for all its historical antiquity,
it is one of the most advanced places of learning in the South, and
mostly on account of the progressiveness of the Junior Class, which is
Tony and Roxanne and the rest of us.

The Senior Class this year is a great failure, because all are girls
but the Petway boy, who is terribly feminine, and crochets his own
silk ties, Tony says. I don't approve of the seniors at all, and both
Roxanne and I are worried over the way Helena Kirby, Belle's sister,
will insist on talking to the Idol when we come out of church. We both
know how important it is for a great man to have lady friends that are
great enough to appreciate him. Of course, Helena can only admire his
wonderful eyes, which makes no difference to us at all, for she could
never gauge his high soul and genius. Roxanne says she trusts to the
patches on his trousers to keep him from going to walk with her and
from sitting on her front steps. Oh, if we just can keep him pure from
prosperity in the shape of new clothes until he makes this second
great invention, we will be so thankful, I encourage Roxanne to spend
the money on food and her own clothes, so he will not be able to buy a
new suit. We feel so safe with him mortifyingly shabby.

"Oh, Douglass is never going to be in love or marry anybody," said
Roxanne when we were speculating on why Helena would flirt her eyes so
at him. "I feel perfectly sure we'll have him always."

I felt relieved that Roxanne felt that way, but I had to remind myself
often of her rose-cloud disposition and watch carefully to see that no
troubles that I can avert - like Helena Kirby - shall come to her or the

But I started on the subject of the impersonations that the Expression
Class of Juniors is to give the last day of April, before the whole
academy is turned over to the affairs of the Seniors, like graduation

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Online LibraryMaria Thompson DaviessPhyllis → online text (page 5 of 11)