THE S. P.’S DISCOVER GRETA

Greta wakened to the sound of rain, beating upon the old roof and
leaking into her attic. The first drops beat a tattoo within the old
tin pan that she kept under the worst leak. What had happened? Oh,
yes. She remembered, though her head had stopped aching. It was sore,
though, under the bandage. She heard the children downstairs only
faintly. Why, they must be up and about, all of the family,–and no one
had called her. What Greta did not know was that the “horse-doctor” had
warned Mrs. Klein in no uncertain words that Greta had had a dangerous
fall and must be allowed to rest for fear of serious consequences. “And
you know that it might be looked into, how she got it,” he had said,
for he thought that he noted suspicious anxiety on her part. Jacob
Klein’s character was not unknown in these parts.

With her foot Greta felt that her precious book was safely there. She
wondered if she could think of a better place. How soon would she be
called? It was so cloudy that she had no way of knowing what time it
was. The old clock downstairs did not strike and half the time it did
not even go.

After a little she heard her mother telling the children to go back and
coming, lumbering, up the attic stairs. Greta’s big eyes were fixed on
her as she came into the low room, complaining in voluble German that
it had to be a rainy day and that the doctor had said Greta could not
work. She would have the washings to start herself. A cup of coffee and
a piece of bread, broken from a loaf, were put down on a chair by the
bed.

Greta expected to be ordered up then, but no, her mother turned to go,
telling her to do what the doctor said about the medicine. “He hit
you?” she asked, and Greta answered that “he” had.

Greta could scarcely believe her good fortune. She was not even to
take care of the children, poor little things, kept in by the rain.
As soon as her mother had gone downstairs, Greta sat up and unpinned
the bandage on her head. She was a little dizzy, but she poured some
water from her old pitcher into the tin basin which was her lavatory
and bathed the cut. She anointed it and tied up her head again, as the
doctor had directed, taking a tablet, too, to swallow down with the
black coffee. A whole day to herself! A book to read.

Something was queer. Oh, yes, what they had said. She was not Jacob
Klein’s daughter. How had she learned to speak English as well as the
summer cottagers did, and better than some of them? Why had her German
been “forgotten,” as they had said, when she was so sick with brain
fever? She tried to remember those first days, four years before, when
she found herself getting strong enough to sit up and then to walk.
Mrs. Klein had been kinder then. “Why, I can, too, remember,” she said
to herself, as a scene rose before her of herself in a dark woods,
frightened and running. Then someone picked her up. Oh, it was coming
back! But she grew dizzy again as she sat up in her desire to remember
and the excitement of it. She would not think till she was better.

Of course it had always seemed funny that she knew English; but Mrs.
Klein had always told her that she went to school with English
children. “Maybe you would ferget one t’ing, maybe another,” Jacob
Klein had said to a frightened little girl. “Dis time it vas German dot
you fergot, und don’t ferget vat ve tells you some more!” Greta could
remember the threatening look and the ugly tone with which he had bent
over her bed and said this.

For another half hour Greta rested and tried not to think at all.
Then she drank the rest of the cold coffee and ate the bread, at last
reaching down under the old quilt for her precious book, in which she
was absorbed immediately.

The book wore a bright cover with pictures of girls about her own age,
but how different they appeared! There were pretty, stylish dresses,
happy faces, and yet some of the pictures found them in a woods like
hers. At first they were in a boarding school and what good times they
had in between lessons. There was one that she liked especially, but
she loved them all. And she had seen things like that. Why, of _course_
she had been to school.

Greta read the book through and began to read it again, though she had
hastily thrust it under the covers when she heard her mother coming
upstairs again. A glass of milk and a hard-boiled egg with a spoonful
of mush made a marvelous meal, for Greta was hungry by the middle of
the afternoon; and her mother explained that as the doctor had said she
was not to eat much, two meals were enough and this was the last. Karl
had almost scalded himself from a kettle on the stove and Minna had
bluing all over her. Greta was to get up early the next morning to do
another washing and to iron. With this cross ultimatum, Mrs. Klein left
the room.

Before night Greta rose, bathed a little to refresh her tired body and
lit a short candle which she kept on her small stand. She read by this
light until she heard the family coming up to bed. Then she blew out
her candle and crept into her bed with her book, happier than she had
been for many a long day. And a little prayer in English came to her
that night.

“Was it being frightened by a storm in the woods that made me sick that
time?” she asked her mother the next day, interested to see Mrs. Klein
look up quickly, as if a little startled.

“Nein, Nein!” she exclaimed, but she told Greta to stop thinking about
that time. She might get sick again. Greta said nothing more, but she
noticed that her mother looked at her from time to time with a frown.
There was _something_ about that time and about those earlier years
of Greta’s that she must know, Greta thought, and she _would_ know!
Another thing. She would not stay in the same room with the man that
she had always thought her father when he was in those ugly moods. No
more waiting on him and dodging his ready hand. Still, if she stayed
in his house,–and it had belonged to his father and grandfather,–how
could she manage it? It did look like a hopeless future until she could
in some way free herself of the family life, and work away from home.
Her mind was busy as she worked.

Life went on as usual, except that Jacob Klein was drinking less
and was working on his little farm, all that was left of his larger
inheritance. They sold eggs and some vegetables from the garden and
even the milk from the one cow to the few families in the cottages. But
when Greta was out in the boat, fishing occasionally, she noticed that
there was more building in different places around the lake. That any
of those cottages would mean anything to her, she had no idea other
than that they might make more work for her to do. There were two more
along the lake where she docked her rowboat to collect and deliver the
clothes. The Wizard shack she could see from the lake; but that of the
girls she had not noticed at all, for her fishing ground was not in
that direction as a rule and a turn in the shore concealed with the
foliage of many trees the little bay on which the new cottage stood.

The fifteenth of June came. Greta had kept her promise firm in regard
to that date. She was doing the larger part of the work as she had
since she was at all able to do it. It would do no harm to run away
from it all for one day. She was sorry for her mother, but it was
becoming a question in her mind whether a real mother could put such
heavy work on a young girl that was her own child. If her leaving for a
day made trouble, she would walk to the village and ask for work. That
was settled.

As she was supposed to get up earlier than the rest, it made little
difference whether the attic boards creaked under her light footsteps
or not. She went quietly down the stairs and heated coffee for her
breakfast. The feeding she did first, though she did not let the dogs
out to follow her. They would go with Jacob Klein, who had said that
he was going to the village. She hesitated about milking the cow, but
finally did so, for fear that the family would sleep too late or it
would not be done at all.

Then away she sped, fleet-footed, feeling that if anyone called her
back it would be a calamity that she could not bear. Her book was under
her arm. The sagging pockets of her old black sweater carried bread and
cheese. But she did not take her usual dive and swim. It was too near
home. Someone might waken and come to find her. On and on she went,
into a part of the woods that she scarcely ever had visited. Sometimes
she went down to the shore, but not till she was far enough away to
prevent her being seen from the shore near home. Squirrels scolded a
little. Nesting birds fluttered past, or sang. She found the nest of a
wood thrush, with its usual bit of cloth interwoven. It was in plain
sight, in the crotch of a tree, with the mother bird upon it. Her mate
sat on the branch of a neighboring tree and sang his “Come to me,”
with variations. Over the lake a great bald eagle flew with a fish.
Swallows skimmed the water. Greta felt as free as the birds, and since
that blow of Jacob Klein’s she had no sense of neglected duty.

Rounding the curve of the east shore, she caught her first glimpse of
the cottage built for the S. P.’s. At first she stepped back behind the
trees and bushes for fear of being seen. Then she saw that there was no
one about. Gradually she drew nearer. She climbed the gentle ascent,
cautiously approached, looked into the windows and went all around the
house. What a pretty, new cottage it was, with its brown and yellowish
trimmings, its golden-brown floor inside and neat, light cots. No one
was living there yet, that was certain, for there was nothing on the
table and the cots were bare. How clean it all was!

Greta sat down on the front step to rest and look about, but she had
been there only a few minutes when she heard voices. Some one was
coming! She flew across the cleared space, where a few evidences of
sawdust and chips remained. To conceal herself from view was easy
enough in the clump of trees and young growths near at hand. Girls,
laughing and talking! And a few boys with them!

“Go easy on that suitcase, Billy. That’s got our ducky breakfast set in
it. Dishes, Billy, the sweetest set, yellow and white, with daisies.
That’s our company set. Our common dishes are in those other baskets.
Here, Jimmy, let me help you with that one.”

She was pretty, that first one with the sparkling brown eyes. Then here
came an older girl, tall, fair and rather pale. “Don’t worry about me,
Fran,” she was saying to a girl as tall behind her, “I’m only tired
with too much going on. I’m perfectly able to carry these blankets.”

Greta counted. There were eight girls, and three boys, all with
blankets across their shoulders and their hands full of packages
or baskets or pails or something in the housekeeping line. It was
interesting. She would stay and watch them a little while. Somewhere
she had learned that it was not nice to be curious. That might be
one of those vivid dreams or memories that came to her now, by night
or day. Nevertheless, she could do no harm, and oh, how full of fun
those girls were. They were like the girls in the book. They were
like,–girls that she had either dreamed of or known.

All of them made several trips back and forth. They had wagons or a
truck in the woods, she supposed. She had noticed the lane, but had
never been to its other end. The younger two boys marched gaily with a
broom and a new mop over their shoulders, a dish pan inverted over each
head, and more blankets under each arm. The one called Billy tried a
dance step, but a blanket became unrolled and all but tripped him.

“Don’t spoil the new mop, Billy!”

“That’s all the sympathy I get, is it Nan?”




“I was just trying to be clever, Billy. I’ll trust you with my camp
trousseau in my suitcase the next trip.”

More boxes and bundles were carried inside. Then came the supplies.
Greta had never seen so much to eat together as this except in stores,
and, to be sure, growing in fields and orchards. But these baskets bore
selected foods for home use, or camp use. There were two large sacks of
flour and large boxes containing cans of all sorts. But Greta tired of
looking at what they were bringing. It was far more interesting to see
the girls themselves and to listen to the gay chatter.

“Please put those cans of coal-oil out on the kitchenette stoop,
Billy. Mother was so afraid that we’d set them near the flour or some
of the other food. Everything else goes in the pantry, everything else
to eat, I mean. We girls will arrange them. Why, yes, if you have to
take the baskets and boxes back, put the stuff anywhere. Leave us the
box with the potatoes, though. Oh, yes, just dump those things into the
dishpan or the washbasin or anything. And thanks so much. You three
get our first invitation to a meal from our new dishes. I don’t know
whether this is camping or going to housekeeping, but we’ll have a
mixture of both, it is likely. Are you all set at your camp?”

“Yes. We can use a few more things, but we can bring back what we
want after we take the truck back to town and come back in our Ford.
Now shan’t we bring up your machine? It’s going to be hard to get it
through till we get the lane widened a little more. You can make it, of
course, but we’ll be over as soon as possible to cut away some of the
stuff. The carpenters zigzagged through and nearly spoiled some of the
young trees.”

“All right, boys. Bring our limousine into its shed, if you please. Did
you say that we could get our supplies nearer the camp than at home?
Oh, yes. I remember that village. We’ve driven through it.”

From her fancied security behind some spruces, Greta looked and wished
that she were a part of the pleasure she saw. Then Jean, whisking back
from the truck and machines by a shorter cut, almost ran into Greta,
who rose, wide-eyed and startled.

“Oh!” exclaimed Jean. “Excuse me! I didn’t know any one was here. Did
you want to see us?”

“I–I happened to come around the lake and I saw your cottage. I didn’t
know any one was building here. Then,–then you all came–and you were
having such a good time–and I just waited to go.”

“Do you live near here?”

“Not very near. It must be two miles around the shore.”

“This bay runs in so that it isn’t any wonder you’ve not seen the
house. Come to see us some time. We’re just getting settled now and
we’re going to be here most of the summer.”

Just then Grace French from the house called, “Jean, Jean!”

“I have to run,” said Jean, smiling at Greta. “Goodbye.”

Greta at once went farther back among the trees, making a wide circle
to avoid the truck and machines; but she found a quiet, grassy spot in
the woods at no great distance from the lane and there she sat down to
read her book, eat her bread and cheese and listen sometimes to distant
laughter.