English Literature

Ethel Morton and The Christmas Ship by Mabell S. C. Smith

Ethel Morton and The Christmas Ship by Mabell S. C. Smith.jpg

CHAPTER I

THE UNITED SERVICE CLUB AT HOME
“IT’S up to Roger Morton to admit that there’s real, true romance in the world after all,” decided Margaret Hancock as she sat on the Mortons’ porch one afternoon a few days after school had opened in the September following the summer when the Mortons and Hancocks had met for the first time at Chautauqua. James and Margaret had trolleyed over to see Roger and Helen from Glen Point, about three quarters of an hour’s ride from Rosemont where the Mortons lived.

“Roger’s ready to admit it,” confessed that young man. “When you have an aunt drop right down on your door mat, so to speak, after your family has been hunting her for twenty years, and when you find that you’ve been knowing her daughter, your own cousin, pretty well for two months it does make the regular go-to-school life that you and I used to lead look quite prosy.”

“How did she happen to lose touch so completely with her family?”

“I told you how Grandfather Morton, her father, opposed her marrying Uncle Leonard Smith because[10] he was a musician. Well, she did marry him, and when they got into straits she was too proud to tell her father about it.”

“I suppose Grandfather would have said, ‘I told you so,'” suggested Helen.

“And I believe it takes more courage than it’s worth to face a person who’s given to saying that,” concluded James.

“Aunt Louise evidently thought it wasn’t worth while or else she didn’t have the courage and so she drifted away. Her mother was dead and she had no sisters and Father and Uncle Richard probably didn’t write very often.”

“She thought nobody at home loved her, I suppose,” said Helen. “Father and Uncle Richard did love her tremendously, but they were just young fellows at the time and they didn’t realize what their not writing meant to her.”

“Once in a while they heard of Uncle Leonard through the music papers,” went on Roger, “but after his health failed, Aunt Louise told us the other day, he couldn’t make concert appearances and of course a man merely playing in an orchestra isn’t big enough to command public attention.”

“By the time that Grandfather Morton died about twelve years ago she was completely lost to the family,” Helen continued, “and she says she didn’t know of his death until five years after, when she came accidentally upon some mention of it in a local paper that she picked up somewhere.”

“That was after Uncle Leonard’s death, but it seemed to her that she could not make herself known to her people without being disloyal to his memory,” Roger carried on the story.[11]

“She probably thought that your father and uncle were just as much opposed to him as her father had been,” guessed Margaret.

“As a matter of fact, they have been hunting hard for her through every clue that promised any result ever since Grandfather died because they wanted to give her her share of his property.”

“He didn’t cut her off with a shilling, then?”

“Grandfather seems to have had a change of heart, for he left her more than he did his sons. He said she needed it more.”

“And it has been accumulating all this time.”

“Seven years. That means a very pleasant increase for her and Dorothy.”

“She must think rather sadly of the days when they suffered real privation for the lack of it,” said Helen.

“Anyway, here they are now, with money in their pockets and an affectionate family all ready made for them and they are going to live here in Rosemont near us, and Dorothy is going to school with the Ethels, and I’m willing to admit that it comes nearer to being a romance than anything I ever heard of in real life,” and Roger nodded his head gleefully.

“I’m glad she’s going to live here so we can see her once in a while,” said Margaret. “Mother and Sister and I all loved her at Chautauqua, she was so patient and gentle with the people she taught. And of course we all think Dorothy is a darling.”

“The Ethels are crazy over her. They treat her as if she were some new belonging and they can hardly bear to have her out of their sight.”

“It was Grandfather Emerson who said all summer that she looked like the Ethels,” remarked[12] Roger. “Her hair is fuzzy and her nose is puggy, but I didn’t see much other likeness.”

“When she grows as fat as the Ethels I think she’ll look astonishingly like them. She’s thin and pale, now, poor little dud.”

“I wish she could grow as plump as Della Watkins.”

“I saw Tom Watkins yesterday,” said James.

“What was a haughty New Yorker doing on the Jersey side of the Hudson?”

“It seems he boards Cupid and his family at the Rosemont Kennels—you know they’re half way between here and Glen Point. He was going to call on them.”

“Dear Cupid!” laughed Margaret, recalling the bulldog’s alarming face which ill agreed with his mild name and general behavior. “Let’s go over to the Kennels and see him some day.”

“His wife is named Psyche,” went on James, “and they have two pups named Amor and Amorette.”

“I should think Cupid’s puppy would be the funniest little animal on earth,” roared Roger. “Never, never shall I forget the day old Cupe ran away with his market wagon,” and he kicked his legs with enthusiasm.

“Did Tom say anything about coming to see us?” asked Margaret.

“He said he and Della were coming over on Saturday afternoon and he inquired how far it was from Glen Point to Rosemont and whether they could make two calls in one afternoon.”

“Not if he stays at either place as long as we’d like to have him,” said Roger.

“Why don’t we have a meeting of the United[13] Service Club on Saturday afternoon?” suggested Helen, “and then the Watkinses can come here and you two can come and we can all see each other and at the same time decide on what we are going to do this winter.”

“Great head!” approved Roger. “Can you people be here?”

“We can,” assented Margaret.

“And we will.” James completed the sentence for her.

“Here are the children. They’ve been asking when we were to have the first meeting, so I know they’ll be glad to give Saturday afternoon to it.”

“The children” of Helen’s patronizing expression came rushing into the yard at the moment. Ethel Brown Morton, tall and rosy, her cheeks flushed with running, led the way; her cousin, Ethel Blue Morton, not quite so tall or quite so rosy, made a fair second, and their newly-found cousin, Dorothy Smith, brought up the rear, panting a trifle harder than the rest, but already looking plumper and sturdier than she had during the summer at Chautauqua.

They greeted Margaret and James gladly, and sat down on the steps of the porch to engage in the conversation.

“Hullo,” a voice came through the screen door. “I’m coming out.”

“That must be my friend Dicky,” declared James. “Come on, old man,” and he arranged his knees in position to serve as a seat for the six-year-old who calmly sat himself down upon them.

“How are you?” questioned James gravely. “All right?”[14]

“Firtht rate,” replied Dicky briefly. “Have a thuck?” and he offered James the moist end of an all-day-sucker, withdrawing it from his own mouth for the purpose.

“Thank you, I’m not eating candy to-day, sir,” responded James seriously. “Much obliged to you, all the same.”

Dicky nodded his recognition of James’s thanks and resumed his occupation.

“It keeps us still though we’re not pretty to look at as we do it,” commented Ethel Brown.

“You’re talking about me,” asserted Dicky suddenly, once more removing his sucker from his increasingly sticky lips and fixing an accusing eye upon his sister.

“She was, Dicky, that’s true,” interposed Helen quickly, “but she loves you just as much as if she were talking about Roger.”

Dicky regarded this as a compliment and subsided against James’s chest.

“We’re going to try and get the Watkinses to come out next Saturday afternoon and the Hancocks will come over and we’ll have a meeting of the United Service,” explained Roger to the new arrivals.

“Good enough!” approved Ethel Brown.

“What are you going to do, Madam President?” inquired Ethel Blue, who felt a lively interest in any future plans because the Club was her idea.

“We’ll all think of things between now and Saturday, and suggest them then.”

“Tell the Watkinses when you write to them, Helen.”

“I’m just boiling over with ideas for the Club[15] to put into execution some time or other,” announced Roger.

“Big ones or little?” asked Dorothy.

“Some of them are pretty big, but I have a feeling in my bones that they’ll go through.”

“Good for old Roger’s bones!” commended James. “May we venture to ask what some of them are?”

“‘Nothing venture, nothing have,'” quoted Roger. “I’m merely saying now, however, that the biggest scheme is one that I told Grandfather Emerson about the other day and he said he’d help by giving us the house for it.”

“What should we do that would need a house?”

“What do you mean—house?”

Roger grinned delightedly at the commotion he had caused.

“This plan I have is so big that we’ll have to get the grown-ups to help us, but we’ll do most of the carrying out ourselves in spite of that.”

“I should think we would have to have their help if your plan calls for a house.”

“You needn’t be sarcastic, young woman. This is a perfectly good scheme—Grandfather said so. He said it was so good that he was willing to back it and to help us by supplying the house we should need.”

“Poor old Roger—gone clean crazy,” sighed James.

“I almost think so,” agreed Helen.

“Let me tell you something, you scoffers——”

“Tell on; that’s what we’re waiting for.”

“Well, on the whole, I guess I won’t tell you a thing about it.”[16]

“If you aren’t the very meanest boy I ever knew in my life,” decided Margaret whole-heartedly. “To work our curiosity all up this way and then not to tell us a thing.”

“I didn’t get the encouragement that the plan deserved.”

“Like all great inventors,” commented James.

“They all come out on top at the end, I notice,” retorted Roger. “You just watch me about next April when the buds begin to swell.”

“Heads begin to swell at any time of year, apparently.”

“Especially bad cases begin in the autumn—about September.”

“Oh, you wait, just wait,” threatened Roger. “When you haven’t an idea what to do to make the Club really useful for another minute then you’ll recall that I promised you a really big plan. Then—”

“If you aren’t going to tell us now I think we’d better talk about something that has some connection with what we’re going to do in September instead of this April Fool thing of yours,” said Helen somewhat sharply.

“Let’s not talk about it until Saturday,” begged Ethel Blue. “Then we can all put our minds on it.”

“I rise to remark, Madam President,” continued James, “that I believe this Club has a great future before it if it does not get involved in wildcat schemes—”

“Now listen to that!” exclaimed Roger. “There speaks the canny Scot that was James’s great-grandfather. Cautious old Hancock! Now you really have got me riled. I vow to you, fellow-clubmen and -women that I won’t be the first to propose this[17] scheme again. You’ll have to come to me. And I’ll prophesy that you will come to me about the first of next April.”

“Why April?”

“Nothing to do with April Fool, I assure you. But about that time we shall have worked off all the ideas that we’ve cooked up to carry us through the winter and we’ll be glad to undertake a service that is a service—the real thing.”

“We’re going to do the real thing all the time.” Ethel Blue defended her idea. “But I dare say we’ll want to do your thing, too.”

“Grandfather’s recommendation doesn’t seem to count with you young know-it-alls.”

“Grandfather’s recommendation is the only reason why our remarks weren’t more severe,” retorted Ethel Brown.

“Each of us must bring in a list next Saturday,” said Helen, as they all walked to the corner to see that the Hancocks took the car safely.

“And I believe that every one will be a perfectly good plan,” said Roger magnanimously.

“There won’t be one that will require a house to hold it anyway,” retorted Margaret.

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