CONTENTS CHAPTER I. THELETTER II. WEBB III. HAPPYHOUSE IV. AUNTMILLY V. BIRD'S-NEST VI. INTHEORCHARD VII. AUNTMILLY'SSTORY VIII. B'LINDY'STRIUMPH IX. DAVY'SCLUB X. THEHIREDMAN XI. MOONSHINEANDFAIRIES XII. LIZ XIII. THEFOURTHOFJULY XIV. MRS.EATONCALLS XV. GUNSANDSTRINGBEANS XVI. PETERLENDSAHAND XVII. NANCYPLANSAPARTY XVIII. THEPARTY XIX. THEMASTER XX. APICNIC XXI. DAVY'SGIFT XXII. REALLEAVITTSANDOTHERS XXIII. WHATTHECHIMNEYHELD
XXIV. PETER XXV. NANCY'SCONFESSION XXVI. EUGENESTANDBRIDGELEAVITT XXVII. ARCHIEEATONRETURNS XXVIII. ALETTERFROMTHEMASTER
CHAPTERI THELETTER ThroughthestillnessofadrowsyJunedaybroketheintoningofthelibrary bell,chimingthehour. Threeheadsliftedquicklytolisten.Threepairsofeyesmet,thesamethought flashedthroughthreeminds. "Won't we miss that bell, though? I've seen grads when they've come back standperfectlystillandlistentoitwiththeireyesallweepylooking.That'sthe waywe'llfeelbyandby,"oneofthemsaidslowly. "And the chimes used to make me dreadfully homesick! Don't those frosh daysseemagesago?" The third girl slammed the lid of the trunk that occupied the centre of the disorderedroom.Shecrossedtothewindow. Overthestretchofgreenbetweenthedormitoryandthecampusmanypeople wereslowlywalking.Theirfluffydresses,theirgayparasols,theaimlessnessof theirwanderingstepsmarkedthemasvisitors.Thegirlinthewindowfrowned asshewatchedthem. "I always hate it when the campus fills up with gawking, staring people! It oughttobekept—sacred—justforus!" Oneofthethreelaughedmerrilyinanswer. "Howselfishthatsounds,Claire!Haven'tallthosepeoplecometoseeoneof us graduate? This is their day—ours is past." She stopped short. "Did you see
Thelma King's sister at the class-day exercises? She's a peach! She's going to enter next fall. She's a leader in everything at the High where she goes. She'll makeagoodcollegegirl;youcouldseetherightspiritinherface.HowIenvy her! It's dreadful when you think of new ones—coming—taking our places! I wish I was just beginning my Freshman year—I'd even be willing to endure Freshmanmath." Thethirdofthegroupwhohadbeensittingon,thefloorstaringoutoverthe tree tops with the dreamy gravity of one who—as long ago as yesterday— graduatedfromthegreatUniversity,suddenlyinterrupted. "Deargirls,ceaseyourwhining!Whatdothosepiecesofsheepskinreposing somewhereinthemessonyonderbureaustandfor?Rememberwhatthatman said yesterday—how we mustn't think this Commencement is the end of anything—it'sjustthebeginning.Why,thisnewworldthat'sbeenbornoutofthe frightful warisfullofwork forour trained mindsand hands!We mustn'tlook backforaminute—wemustlookahead!"Thrilledbyherownwordssheleveled areproachfulglanceuponhertwocompanions. Clairesighed."Inevercouldgettheinspirationfromthingsthatyoualways seemto,Anne.IguessI'mnotbuiltright!Icouldn'tmakemyselflistentohalf thatmansaid.Ican'tthinkofanythingrightnowbutwhatajobit'sgoingtobe gettingeverythingintothattrunk.Motherwasheartlessnottostayoveranddoit forme!" "Nevermind,Claire,we'llhelpyou.OfcourseyouandIcan'tseethingsin the big, grand way that Anne can because she's found herself and we haven't. Butwhenourworkdoescomewe'lldoit!ItmaynotbeoffinSiberiaorChina or Africa—like Anne's—but, wherever it is, I guess our Alma Mater won't be ashamed of us!" The girl's eyes softened with the passionate tenderness of the newgraduateforherUniversity. Backinthefreshmandaysacuriouschancehaddrawnthesethreetogether. Then,forfouryears,yearsofhopefuleffort,aspirationsandyouthfulproblems, thecurrentsoftheiryoungliveshadintermingledclosely;noweachmustgoits way.Themomentbroughtthepangthatcomestoyouthatsuchaparting.Their bondsweresomethingcloserthanfriendship.Behindthemweremonthsofthe sweetest intimacy that youth can know—ahead were the lives they must live apartoutinaworldthatcarednothingforcollegeidealsandinspirations,where
eachmustfindher"work"anddoit,sothat"herAlmaMatermightbeproud!" Statistics,eveninauniversity,wouldbedullif,nowandthen,Fatedidnot play a trick with them. Upon the roster of the class of Nineteen-nineteen had beenenteredtwonames:"AnneLeavitt,LosAngeles,California;AnneLeavitt, NewYorkCity." When one thinks that in the great world war there was an army of, approximately,seventy-fivethousandSmithsalone,andawholedivisionofJohn Smiths, one need not marvel that two Anne Leavitts came that October day to theoldUniversity.Doubtless,inthosefirsttryingdays,theypassedoneanother often and did not know, but a week later, when Professor Nevin in First Year French,readslowlyfromhislittleleatherbook:"MissAnneLeavitt,"twogirls jumpedtotheirfeetandinastonishment,facedoneanother. "IamAnneLeavitt!"spokethelargerofthetwo. "AndIamAnneLeavitt,too!"laughedthesmaller. Asnickerranaroundtheroom.ProfessorNevinfrownedandstared—firstat hislittlewornbookandthenatthetwooffendingyoungwomen.Ofcoursehe was powerless to undo what had been done years before! And as he scowled, acrosstheclassroomoneAnneLeavittsmiledattheother.Whenthehourended the recitation they walked away arm in arm, laughing over the ridiculous situation. AttheLibrarystepstheywerejoinedbyanothergirlfromtheFrenchclass. Shehadruninhereagernesstoovertakethem. "AreyoureallybothAnneLeavitts?"sheaskedbreathlessly. Theyassuredhersolemnlythattheywereandthattheydidn'tknowjustwhat todoaboutit—oldProfessorNevinhadbeensofunnyandupset.Theyallthree laughed again over it all. And there in the golden warmth of that October day beganthefriendshipofthesethree—forthethirdgirlwasClaireWallace. The students in the University found countless ways of distinguishing betweenthetwoAnneLeavitts.Onewastallandgravewithameditativelookin her deep-set eyes; the other, a head shorter, had a lightness about her like an Aprilday,reddishcurlyhairandanupturnednose.OneAnneLeavitthadnever
beencalledanythingbutAnne,theother,sinceherbabydays,hadbeenNancy. The more intimate of the college girls called them Big Anne and Little Anne. The professors, dignified perforce, read from their rolls, "Miss Anne Leavitt, California—MissAnneLeavitt,NewYork." Innameonlywerethetwogirlsalike.Annehadbeenbornwiththelegendary "silver spoon" and its mythical fortune. When her father and mother died a friend ofherfather's, asguardian,hadcontinuedthewell-regulatedindulgence that had marked her childhood. Because she possessed an iron will and early acquiredaseriousnessanddignitybeyondheryears,shewasalwaysaleaderin eachoftheboardingschoolstowhichsheprogressed.WhateverAnnewantedto do she always did, and yet, in spite of it, she had reached her college days unspoiled, setting her strong will only for the best and obsessed with a passionatelongingforaservicethatwouldmeanself-sacrifice. Shethoughtnowshehadfoundit!Twoweeksfromthisverydayshe,would sailforafar-offvillageinSiberiatoteachthepeasantchildrenthereandbringto thepitifulcaptivityofRussianignorancetheenlightenmentofAmericanideals. So big and wonderful seemed the adventure that, girl-like, she had paid little heedtothesmalldetails.NancyandClaireWallaceworriedmorethanshe! "You'll never get enough to eat and how will you ever keep your clothes clean,"sighedClaire,wholovedprettyfrocks. "Andwecan'tsendyouthings,either,forthey'dneverreachyou—someof thoseawfulBolshevistswouldbesuretostealthem!" MadameBreshkovsky,thelittleGrandmotheroftheRussianRevolution,had made several visits to the University, and Anne, with the others, had listened over and over to her vivid, heartrending stories of the suffering needs of the children of the real Russia. It had been after such an evening that Anne had givenherselftothecause.Sothat,whenNancyandClairefrettedexcitedlyover thehardshipsanddangersoftheundertaking,shehadonlylookedatthemwith the question in her grave, dark eyes: "What matters it if perhaps Anne Leavitt doeslackafewclothesandfoodandsomesillyluxuriesifsheisdoingalittle, littlebittohelpherfellowmen?" NancyLeavitt,likethebelovedTopsy,hadjust"growedup."Toherchums, in her own spirited way, she had once described how: "Ever since I can
remembertherewerealwaysjustDadandI.Whenhewantedtogoanywherehe used to pick me up like a piece of baggage and off we went. Half the time I didn'tgotothesameschooltwoyearsinsuccession.Andheusedtoteachme, too. Oh, how homesick I was when I came here—without him. We're just like pals!" Nancy's physical well-being had been watched over by nurses of almost everyraceandcolor.SheknewalittleHindooandfromtheoldHindoo"ayah" she had caught bits of Hindoo mysticism. She had romped and rolled with Japanese babies; she had lived on a ranch in Mexico until bandits had driven themaway;shehadtrudgedalongbehindherfatherovermilesoftrailinAlaska. And the only place she had ever called "home" was a tiny flat in New York, whereherfatherkepttheprettyfurniturethatNancy'smotherhadboughtwhena bride.Backtothistheywouldcomeafterlongintervals,foralittlerespitefrom their wanderings, and for Nancy the homecoming was always an excitingly happyonefromthemomentsherandowntoMrs.Finnegan'sdoorforthekeyto theluggingoutagainofthetwolittletrunks,whichmeantasuddendeparturefor somedistantland. College had brought a great change into this gypsy life and a grief at the separationfromher"Dad."Butastheweekshadpassedherletterstohimread less andless likeawailofhomesickness,andwerefilledmoreand morewith thecollegehappeningsandwholepassagesdevotedtogirlishdescriptionsofher newfriends. For the last two years her father had been overseas as senior newspaper correspondent with the American Expeditionary Force, and it would be weeks before he could return. That thought added now to the lonely ache in Nancy's heartasshestaredatherchumsandwonderedwhatitwouldseemliketolive dayafterdaywithoutseeingthem! These three had trod together up the Paths of Learning until they were passing now the Gateway of Life; and yet, right at that moment, all of them, evenAnne,feltchildishlylonelyandhomesickfortheshelteroftheUniversity theywereleaving. ThatwaswhythechimingoftheLibraryclock,thathadmarkedthepassage ofhappytimeformorethanonegenerationofyouth,broughtashadowacross eachofthethreeyoungfaces.
AlittlewistfulnesscreptintoNancy'svoice."Yourlife'sallcutoutforyou, Anne.It'spositivelythrilling!ThoughI'dmakeanawfulmessoutofanysuch undertaking.AndClairehasherfamily.I'lljustgotoNewYorkandgetthekey from Mother Finnegan and work like mad on the 'Child.' I want to finish it beforeDadcomeshome.Ishallsendit,then,toTheodoreHoffmanhimself—I mightaswellhitchmywagontothetiptoppeststar—orwhateveritisyoudo! Ofcourseitisn'tasgrandasgoingtoRussia,butI'mgoingtowork,andsome day,maybe,I'llbefamousallovertheworld!" "LittleAnneLeavitt,thegreatdramatist!"murmuredBigAnnefondly. Claire Wallace, confronting nothing more serious than the squeezing of her belongingsintothehugetrunk,wasstirredwithenvy.Nancyhadher"Child"— notayoungsterbutagrowingpileofmanuscript,Annehadher"crusade"among theunfortunatechildrenofSiberia—shehadnothingaheadbuttojoinherfamily attheirsummerhome,anestatethatcoveredhundredsofacresonLongIsland. "Iwishyou'dcomehomewithme,first,Nancy!Youheardmothersayhow muchshewantedyoutocomeandwewillhaveabeautifultimeandthenyou canseeBarry." Nancyfrownedsternly.Shehadseveralreasonsforfrowning—shethought. Of course she would really like to go to Merrycliffe with Claire; she loved to frolic, and the last term had been a pretty hard grind, but her whole future dependeduponherfinishingherplayandClairesimplymustnotcoaxher!Then the other reason was Barry. Barry was Claire's brother recently returned from long service in France, decorated by each of the allied countries. Toward him Nancy and Anne, quite secretly, felt an unreasonable and growing dislike. Neitherofthemhadeverlaideyesonhimbut,ignoringtheinjustice,basedtheir antipathysolelyonthefactthat"ClairetalksofnothingbutBarryuntilyoufeel likeshuttingyourears!" Nancy had, more than once, declared that "she could just see him strutting aroundwithallhismedals,lettingeveryonemakealionofhim,andsheloathed handsomemen,anyway—theylackedcharacter"andAnnesaid"herheartwent outtothoseboyswhoseeveryminuteinthetrencheshadbeenanunrecognized and unrecorded act of heroism." Of course they both carefully kept their real feelingsfromlittleClaire,whowastoodeartothemtoeverhurtinanyway,so that,whenshetalked"Barry,"iftheywereonlypolitelyattentive,inherproud
enthusiasm,shenevernoticed. NowNancy,insteadofsayingtruthfullythat"shewasn'tgoingtospendher summerhelpingmakeaparlorpetoutofthe'lion,'"simplyshookherheadand frowned. "Claire,don'tteaseme!OfcourseIknowhowniceitwouldbetoswimand danceandplaytennisandallsortsofthings,butImustwork!"andshefinished withthedecidedtonethatwaslikeAnne's. Claire looked unhappy. "I don't want to go and dance and swim and play around, though it is nice, but I can't write and I can't go to Russia, so I'll just havetogoanddowhattheothersinmycrowdalldo,andIsupposeyou'llthink I'mabutterflywhenI'mreallyperfectlymiserable!" Nancycontrolledasmile."Blessyou,wewon'tthinkyou'reanythingbutjust theappleofoureyes.Theworldneedsbutterfliestokeepitbeautifulandgay. Youradventure,Claire,iswaitingforyou,maybe,aroundthecorner.That'swhat MotherFinneganisalwayssaying!Andaftermy'Child'isfinishedIpromiseI'll comeandplaywithyou!" Clairewasonlyalittlecheered. "But Barry may not be there, then. Mother says he's dreadfully restless. He maybegonenow!" AknockatthedoorsavedNancyfromananswer. ItwasoldNoah,theporter.Heheldaletterinhishand. "It'sferMis'AnneLeavittandI'mblessedifIknowwhichoneofyezso,I sez,I'lljes'takeittothetwoofyezandletyoutossupferit!" It was not unusual for the two girls to find their mail confused. They generallydistinguishedbythehandwritingorthepostmarks.Butnowtheyboth staredatthelettertheytookfromNoah'shand. Itwasaddressedinafine,old-fashionedhandwriting. "Ican'trecognizeit,"exclaimedoneAnneLeavitt.
"I'msureIneversawitbefore!"criedtheother. "Isn'tthisexciting?Letmeseethepostmark.F-r-e-e-d-o-m!"spelledNancy. "Ineverheardofit,"shedeclared. "I believe it's mine! I have some relatives—or did have—a great aunt or something, who lived near a place like that way up on North Hero Island. I'd forgottenallaboutthem.Openit,Claire,andlet'sseewhatitis."' "YounevertoldusaboutanyauntonanyNorthHeroIsland!Itsoundslikea romance, Anne," accused Nancy, who thought she knew everything about her friend. Anne laughed. "I don't wonder you think so. I just barely remember father speakingofher.Readit,Claire!" Clairehadseizedtheletterandopenedit."Itissigned'Yourlovingaunt.'Isn't it the most ridiculous mystery? Why couldn't it have been something else besidesanaunt!" "Well, I'm awfully afraid it is for me. We never could both have aunts on NorthHeroIsland.Goon,blessedchild—I'mpreparedfortheworst!" Clairerosedramatically.
"My dear Niece," she read, adding: "I want you to know, Anne, that she honorsyoubyspellingthatwithacapital.""Oflateryearsithasbeenamatterof deep regret to me that though the same blood runs in our veins we are like strangers, and that you have been allowed to grow to womanhood without knowingthehomeofyourforefathersonthishistoricisland.Itisforthatreason thatnow,afterconsiderabledebatewithmyconscience,Iamwritingtoyouat your college address which I have obtained through a chance article in an Albany newspaper ('that was the Senior Play write-up,' interrupted Nancy, excitedly)tourgeyoutoavailyourselfoftheearliestopportunitytovisitmein theoldhome. "Ifeeltheburdenandresponsibilityofmyincreasingyears,andIknowthat soonIwillbecalledtothatlandwhereourforefathershavegonebeforeus.You
are,Ibelieve,mynearestofkin—thefamily,asyoumustknow,isdyingoutand Iwouldhavepreferredthatyouhadbeenaboy—IwilltellyoufranklythatIam consideringchangingmywillandthatuponyourvisitdependswhetherornot you will be my beneficiary. I would wish to leave the home and my worldly wealth—thewealthofthepastLeavitts,toaLeavitt,butbeforeIcandosotothe satisfactionofmyownconscience,ImustknowthatyouareaLeavittandthat youhavebeenbroughtupwithatrueknowledgeand respectforwhatbeinga Leavittdemandsofyou, "Iawaityourreplywithanxiety.YourvisitwillgivemepleasureandIassure youthatyouwilllearntolovethespotonwhich,forsomanygenerations,your ancestorshavelived." "YourLovingAunt, "SABRINALEAVITT."
"Well,I'llbe——"InallhercollegevocabularyAnnecouldnotfindtheword toexpressherfeelings. "Isn'tthatrapturous?Agreat-auntandafortune!Andwillyoupleasetellme whyshehadtodebatewithherconscience?"criedClaire. NancywasgleefuloverAnne'swrath. "I'mgladshe'syours,Anniedarling!Dadalwayssaidthewholeworldwas myonlykin,butIneverranagainstanyonewhowantedtolookmeoverbefore she left me a fortune! Who ever heard of North Hero Island and where in goodnessisit?" "Iremember,now,thathernamewasawfullyqueer—AuntSa-somethingor other, and North Hero Island isn't utterly unknown, Nancy, to the can't even remember!IwishithadhappenedtoLakeChamplain.Isawitonceonaroadmap when I was touring last fall with Professor and Mrs. Scott, and Professor Scottsaiditwasalocalitypicturesquelyhistoric—Iremember." Claireturnedtheletteroverandover. "Ithinkit'sallawfullythrilling!Anauntyoucan'tevenremember!Iwishit
hadhappenedtome!Itwouldbesomethingsodifferent.It'sjustlikeastory.But whatalotshedoesthinkofherforefathers!" "Well,theLeavittsareaveryoldfamilyandtheyareaNewEnglandfamily, too, although I was born in California," interrupted Anne with a dignity that wouldhavegladdenedthegreat-aunt'sheart. Nancywasagainprovokedtomerriment. "DadalwayssaidthattheonlyotherLeavittheknewwasacow-puncher!He couldlickanyoneontheplains." Anneignoredthis.Shewasfrowningindeepthought. "Thetiresomepartisthat—ifIdon'tgo—ifItellheraboutgoingtoRussia— shemaywritetomyguardian!" All three were struck dumb at the thought. Anne had not consulted her guardian before she had impulsively enlisted her services in Madame Breshkovsky'scause.Becauseshewasthreemonthspasttwenty-one,legallyhe could not interfere, but being so newly of age she had not had the courage to meethisprotest.Soshehadsimplywrittenthatshewasplanningalongtripwith friendsandwouldtellhimofthedetailswhentheyhadbeencompleted.Aletter lay now in her desk which she intended to mail the day before she sailed. It wouldbetoolate,then,forhimtointerfere.Ifherconsciencetroubledheralittle aboutthisplan,shetoldherselfthatthecausejustifiedheraction. AndnowthisAuntSa-somethingmightupseteverything! "I wish I could remember more about those relatives up there—father and motherusedtolaughwhenevertheymentionedtheoldplace.Ialwaysimagined theyweredreadfullypoor!Shemustbeaterribleoldlady—youcansortoftell bythetoneofherletter.Oh,dear!" "What will you do?" echoed Claire, still thinking it a much more attractive adventurethanRussia. "Ihaveit!"criedAnne."Youshallgoinmyplace,Nancy!" "I!Ishouldsaynot!Areyoustarkcrazy,AnneLeavitt?"
Anne seized her excitedly by the shoulder. "You could do it as easy as anythingintheworld,Nancy.She'sneverlaideyesonmeandIknowmyfather neverwrotetoher.You'llonlyhavetogothereforthreeorfourweeks——" "AndposeasarealLeavittwhenI'maLeavittthatjustbelongstoDad!Well, Iwon'tdoit!"repliedNancy,stubbornly. "Nan-cy, please listen! You wouldn't have to do or say a thing—she'd just takeitforgranted.Andyoucouldalwaysmakesomeexcusetogoawayif——" "IfitlookedasthoughIwasgoingtobefoundout!Why,it'dbelikelivingon avolcano.AndI'dbesuretoalwayssaythewrongthing!" "Butyoucouldtryit,"imploredAnne."Itwouldmakeeverythingsimpleand you'dbedoingyourbit,then,forMadameBreshkovsky!Thinkofallshetoldus ofthesufferinginRussia.Surelyyoucoulddoalittlethingnowtohelp!Andif Auntdidlikeyouandleftmehermoney,itwouldreallybeyouandwe'dgiveit tothecause!" "It'dbeactingalie,"brokeinNancy. "Oh,notexactly,Nancy,foryoureallyareAnneLeavittand,anyway,it'sjust asthoughyouweremyotherhalf.WaybackIknowwearerelated.Ifyoudon't love me well enough to help me out now—well, I'm disappointed. I'll never forgetit!" PoorNancy,mindfulofthelongseparationthatlaybeforeherandherfriend, criedoutinprotest. "Oh,Anne,don'tsaythat!" Claire,hereyesbrilliantwithexcitement,chimedin: "Nancy, it's a hope-to-die adventure. Maybe you could make up no end of storiesandplaysoutofthethingsthathappenupthere!And,anyway,youcan finishthe'Child'andcometoMerrycliffethatmuchsooner!" Claire had advanced the most appealing argument. North Hero Island certainly sounded more inspiring than a stuffy flat in Harlem with six small Finnegans one floor below. And it was an adventure. Anne hastened to take
advantageoftheyieldingshesawinNancy'sface. "YoucanstayherewithmeuntilIhavetogotoNewYork,andwecanlook uptrainsandIcantellyouallaboutmyforefathers,thoughIreallydon'tknowa singlething.Butshewon'texpectyoutoknow—don'tyouremembershewrote that she regretted my being brought up without knowing the home of my forefathers.Andifyoujustactasthoughyouwantedmorethananythingelsein the world to learn all about the Leavitts, she'll just love it and she'll tell you everythingyouhavetoknow!" "It'sthemostthrillingromance,"sighedClaire,enviously. "Sounds more to me like a conspiracy, and can't they put people in jail for doingthingslikethat?"demandedNancy. "Oh,Nancy,you'resoliteral—asifshewould,wayupthereonanislandnext tonowhere!Andanyway,thinkoftheboyswhoperjuredthemselvestogetinto theservice.Wasn'tthatjustified?" Nancy,beinginanunpleasantmood,startedtoaskwhatthathadtodowith herpretendingtobeanAnneLeavittwhoshewasn't,whenBigAnnewentonin ahurttone: "Well,wewon'ttalkaboutitanymore!I'llhavetogiveupgoingtoRussia and my whole life will be spoiled. And I am disappointed—I thought our friendshipmeantsomethingtoyou,Nancy." "Anne!Thereisn'tathingIwouldn'tdoforyou!You'renextdearesttoDad. ForyouI'llgoto—Freedomoranyoldplace.I'lldomybesttobeyoutothedot andI'llpayhomagetoyourforefathersandwillasknotapennyofthelegacy— ifyougetit!Itshallallbeforthecause!" Annereadnoironyinhertone.Herdignityflown,shecaughtherfriendina strangling hug. "Oh, Nancy, you darling, will you? I'll never forget it! We'll write to her right away—or you will. From this very minute you are Anne Leavitt!" "IwishIcouldgo,too,"putinClaire."PerhapsIcancoaxBarrytomotorup thatway."
"Don't you dare!" cried Nancy in consternation. "It would spoil it all. I'll writetoyoueverydayeverythingthathappens.Goodness,ifI'masscaredwhen I face your Aunt Sa-something as I am right now when I think about it, she'll know at a glance that I'm just an everyday Leavitt and not the child of her forefathers!" "Hark!"Claireliftedasilencingfinger."Theseniorsaresinging." Thelinestheyloveddriftedtothem. "Liftthechorus,speeditonward, Loudherpraisestell!"
"Let'sjointhem."SuddenlyClairecaughtahandofeach."Girls,thinkofit— whatitmeans—it'sthelasttime—it'sallover!"Herprettyfacewastragic. BigAnne,withavisionofRussiainherheart,setherlipsresolutely. "Don'tlookback—lookahead!"shecried,grandly. ButinNancy'smindas,herarmslinkedwithherchums',shehurriedoffto join the other Seniors in their last sing, the troubling question echoed: "To what?"
CHAPTERII WEBB Aclatterofdepartinghoofs,aswirlofdust—andNancywasleftaloneonthe hot railroad platform of North Hero. Her heart had seemed to fix itself in one painfullumpinherthroat.Shewassovery,veryclosetofacingheradventure! "If you please, can you tell me in what way I can reach Freedom?" Her
falteringvoicehaltedthetelegraphoperatorashewasabouttoturnthecornerof thestation. "Freedom? Well, now, old Webb had ought 'a been here for the train. Isn't oftenWebbmissesseein'theenginecomein!Justyougoinandsitdown,Miss, he'llcomealong,"andscarcelyhadtheencouragingwordspassedtheman'slips than a rickety, three-seated, canopied-topped wagon, marked "Freedom Stage" turnedthecorner. "Hey,Webb,here'saladypassengergoin'alongwithyoutoFreedom!And didyouthinktheexpresswouldwaitferyou?" Webb and his dusty, rusty and rickety wagon was a welcome sight to poor Nancy. It had already seemed to her that her journey was endless and that Freedommustbeinthefarthestcorneroftheworld.Forthefirstfewhoursshe hadbeenabsorbedbyhergriefatpartingwithAnne.Butanightinafunnylittle hotelinBurlingtonhadgivenhertimetoreflectuponherundertakingandithad assumed terrible proportions in her eyes. The courage and confidence she had feltwithherchums,backintheroominthedormitory,desertedhernow. "Goin'toFreedomyousay,Miss?"themanWebbasked,agreatcuriosityin hiseyes."Wal,youjes'comealongwithme!HadanorderforTobiasesanditset melate,butwe'llgitthar.Climbuphere,Miss,"andwithaflourishingasideof hisreinshemaderoomforheronthedustyseatheoccupied. Nancy handed him her big bag and climbed easily over the wheel into the seathehadindicated.Thenwithaloud"get-ap"andaflourishofhiswhipthey rumbledoffonthelastlegofNancy'sjourney. "Ain'teverbeentoFreedombefore?"heaskedastheyturnedthecornerof the maple-shaded street of the little town, and the horses settled down into a steadytrot."ReckonnotoroldWebb'udhaveknownye—ain'tanyfolkscome andgoonthishereislandthetIdon'tknow,"headdedwithpride,droppinghis reinsforabetterstudyofhispassenger. The air was fragrant with spring odors, the great trees met in a quivery archway overhead, the meadow lands they passed were richly green; Nancy's failingspiritsbegantosoar!Shethrewalittlesmiletowardtheoldman. "I'veneverbeeninFreedombefore—thoughI'maLeavitt,"sheventured.
Herwordshadthedesiredeffect.Themanstraightenedwithinterest. "Wal, bless me, are ye one o' Miss Sabriny's folks? And a-goin' to Happy Housewhenyeain'teverseenit?" Nancy nodded. "I'm Anne Leavitt," she answered carefully. "And I have neverseenmyAuntSabrina.SoIhavecomeupfromcollegeforalittlevisit. AndIthinkeverythingislovely,"shefinished,drawingalongbreath,"though, goodnessknows,IthoughtI'dnevergethere!" She was uncomfortably conscious that the old man was regarding her with openconcern. "Funny, no one ain't heard a word about it! So ye're Miss Sabriny's greatnieceanda-comin'toHappyHousefromyourschoolferavisit!" "Why,yes,whynot?" "Wal, I was jes' thinkin' you'd never seen Happy House. And I guess most folks in Freedom's forgotten Miss Sabriny hed any folks much—count of the trouble!" "Oh,whattrouble,please,Mr.Webb?" Theoldmanshookhisreinsvigorouslyagainstthehorses'backs. "Webb,you'reanoldfool—anold,dodderin'fool!Ofcoursethisheretrouble wasalongspellago,Miss,anddon'tbelongtoLeavittsyounglikeyou.Is'pose itwantmuch,anyways,andIguessMissSabrinyherself'sforgottenitelseyou wouldn'tbeacomin'toHappyHouse!I'manoldman,missy,andtharain'tbeen muchinFreedomasIdon'tknowabout,butanoldun'dought'aknow'noughto keephistongueinhishead.Only—youcometoWebbifanythingbothersyou and you needn't call me Mr. Webb, either, for though I'm one of Freedom's leadin' cit-zuns and they'd never be a Memorial Day or any kind of Fourth of Julydoin'sinFreedomwithoutme—nobodycallsmeMisterWebbandyoujus' cometome——" Nancy,forgetfulnowofthepleasantthingsabouther,frowned. "You'reverynicetome,Webb,andI'mgladtohavemadeafriendsosoon!I
think the trouble has been forgotten. Anyway, I'm only going to stay a little while." "Andagoodthingit'llbefurMissMilly,too." "MissMilly——"askedNancy. "It ain't no easy life fur her livin' with Miss Sabriny holdin' the sword of wrathoverherpoorhead,andthere'slotsoffolksthinkMissMilly'dbeaheap happierintheoldgraveyardthaninHappyHouse,'lowin'ashowbothfeetarein thegraveanyway.Butthisain'tnocheerfultalktohandouttoyou,Miss,onlyI cal'lateyou'llmakeMissMillyaheaphappier—shutupthewaysheis." "HowfararewefromFreedom?"askedNancy,abruptly,thinkingasshedid so that, if they were a very long way, she would have an opportunity to learn fromhergarrulousfriendallsheneededtoknow! "Twomilefromtheturnyonderbytheoak,"theoldmananswered. Forafewmomentsbothmaintainedadeepsilence.Nancy,herthoughtsina tumult, was wondering what question she would ask first—there was so much she wanted to know—the "trouble," "Miss Milly and the sword of wrath" or whathemeantby"HappyHouse."Thelastpoststirredhercuriosity;then,too,it didnotseemjustnicetopryfromthisoldman. "WhydotheycalltheLeavittplace'HappyHouse'?" "Wal,Iguessitain'tbecauseit'sexactlyhappy,andsomesezmebbeashow it's been a curse! Folks comes here to Freedom and looks at the old place and there'ssomethin'printedaboutitinalittlebooktheysellupatTobiasesinNor' Hero,onlyIain'tmuchonthereadin'.B'lindyGuestknowsthestorybyheart, andshecantellyoumore'nIcan." "Oh, please, Webb, I can't make head or tail out of what you are saying," laughedNancypleadingly."WhocalleditHappyHousefirst?" "B'lindysezthebooksezthatitwasthefirstAnneLeavittascometoNor' HerocalleditHappyHouseandtheyhedoneoftheseheremantelsmadeouto' marble over in London and fetched across with the letters right in it spellin' HappyHouse!Andshehelpedfixitupwithherownhandsshe'dkindo'setsuch
storebytheidee,righttharinthesettin'roomandtheverynextdaysheslipped off sudden like and died like a poor little flower. And there ain't been much happinessinHappyHousefromthemdayssince!B'lindyknowsthehulstory; jes''sitswritten." "Oh, how thrilling!" cried Nancy, breathing very fast. She had an uncontrollable desire to halt Webb and the Freedom stage right on the spot in ordertowritetoClaireWallace.Butatthatmoment,aroundtheturnbytheold oakgallopedahorseandrider.BecauseitwasthefirstlivingcreatureNancyhad seensinceleavingNorthHero,shewasstartled. "Heythere,Webb,"theridercried,whirlingoutofthepathoftheoldwagon. AndWebbcalledbackincheerygreeting:"Hey,Pete!" Through the cloud of dust Nancy had caught a glimpse of a pair of merry eyes set deep in a face as brown as the dark shirt the man wore. Turning impulsivelyinherseatshenoticed,withanunexplainablesenseofpleasure,that thebareheadoftheriderwasexceptionallywellshapedandcoveredwithshort curly hair. Then, to her sudden discomfiture, the rider wheeled directly in the roadandpulledhishorseupshort. Itwas,ofcourse,becausehewasthefirstrealpersonshehadseenonthisbig lonelyIslandthatpromptedhertonodeversoslightlyinresponsetohisfriendly wave!ThensheturneddiscreetlybacktoWebb. "Whoishe?"sheasked,inwhatshetriedtomakeanindifferenttone. "PeterHydean'asniceayoungfellarasevercometoFreedom!Ain'tbeen here much more'n a week and knows everybody. He's old man Judson's hired manandhe'sgoin'tomakesomethin'ofthatten-acrestripofJudson'ssomeday ormynameain'tCyrenusWebb!" "Judson'shiredman!"criedNancy,chagrined.WhatwouldAnnethinkofher —to have recognized, even in the slightest degree, the impertinence of this fellow!Herfaceburnedatthethought. "Seems to have a lot of learnin' but he's awful simple like and a hustler. Nobody knows whereabouts he come from—jes' dropped by out of some advertisementoldJudsonputinthepapersupBurlingtonway."
"TellmemoreaboutFreedom,"brokeinNancywithdignity."Isitaveryold place?" "Wal, it's jest as old as this Island, though I ain't much on readin' or dates. FolksonNor'Hero'sprettyproudofthehulIslandandB'lindysezashowit's printedthatfolkssettledherelong'foreanyone,exceptin'theIndians,everheard ofManhattanIslandwharNewYorkis.UsedtobeFrenchfirstroundherebut theydidn'tstaylong,andthentheEnglishcomedown'foretheRevolutionand theLeavittswiththem,I guess.ThishereIsland's named furEthanAllen, you know,andfolkssezoldJonathan,thetworksupatHappyHouse,isaconnection ofhis.Allthefolksroundhere'srelatedsomewayorothertothempi'neersandI guess if we hed to put up a fight now we'd do it jest as brave as them Green MountainBoys!Theoldsmithy'sbeenstandin'onthefourcornersfornighonto one hundred years and the meetin' house facin' the commons, B'lindy sez, is older than the smithy. And up the Leavitt road thar's a tablet these here Daughters of somethin' or other from Montpelier put up for some pi'neers that died fightin' the Indians while their women folks set off in boats for the mainland.IheardB'lindytellthatatthelastsocialdownatthemeetin'house.I cal'latesomeofthempi'neerswereLeavitts,atthat,furitwantlongbeforethat theprettyladycamewhohedthenamebuiltinthemantel.B'lindyknows—she cantelljes'whatdaytheprettyladycomeandtheveryroomshediedin.B'lindy was born in the old house and she and Miss Sabriny growed up like sisters thoughB'lindy'sagoodsightyoungerandspryerlikethanMissSabriny!" From the warmth of his tone Nancy guessed that there was a weak spot in Webb'sheartforB'lindy. "TellmemoreaboutB'lindy,"sheasked,softly. "Wal, if you jus' take a bit of advice from an old man you be purty nice to B'lindy!FolkssezthatMissSabriny'shighandmightierthantheworstLeavitt, andthey'reamightyproudlot,butIjus'gotanotionthattheonlypersonwho runsMissSabrinyisB'lindyandIsorto'thinksherunsthehulofHappyHouse! AndnowhereIamagossipin'sowithaprettypassengerthatIcleanfurgotto leaveoffthatchickenwireforJenkins.Whoa,there,whoa,Isay!" Nancy guessed that the cluster of housetops she glimpsed ahead, almost hidden by the great elms and maples, was Freedom. She stared at them reflectively.ThroughWebbsheseemedsuddenlytofeelthatshehadknownthe
littletragediesandjoysofFreedomallherlife.Shewasnotabitafraidnowto meetAuntSabrinaorthisMissMillyorB'lindy.Andshewaseagertoseethe old,oldhouseandthespotwhereLeavittshadbeenmassacredastheyprotected theirwomen!Afterall,itwasgoingtobeverypleasant—thisplayingatbeing oneoftheoldLeavitts!ShewishedWebbwouldhurry. When Farmer Jenkins followed Webb to the wheel of the wagon, Nancy knew that Webb had lingered to tell of her coming. She met the farmer's open stare with a pleasant little smile so that, an hour later, he "opined" to the thin, bent-shoulderedwomanwhosharedhisnameandlabors,that"ifthatyounggal wouldn'tsetthingsstirrin'prettylivelyupatHappyHouse,he'dmisshisguess!" As they approached the outlying houses of the village Webb assumed an importantair."Thishere'sFreedom,Missy,andI'mproudtodothehonorsfor MissSabriny'sniece!It'snotbigasplacesgobutitsrecordcan'tbebeatsence EthanAllen'sday.Webbknows,ferImarchedawaywiththeboysinblueback in'61,thoughIwasabare-footedyoungster,long'boutfourteen,andcouldn'tdo nothin' more useful than beat a drum. And thar's our service flag, Missy, and every last one of the six of 'em's come through hul—thanks be to God! And thar's the hotel by the post-office and cross here's the school house which I helpedbuildthewintertheywa'n'tnocallfurthestage.ThisistheCommonand thet'sthemeetin'house,asanyonecouldsee,furitain'talinedifferentfromthe meetin'housesoveratBendandCliffsdaleandNor'HeroandalloverVermont, I guess. Funny how they never wanted only one kind o' meetin' houses! And here's the old smithy lookin' like it was older than B'lindy 'lowed, and here's whar we turn to go up the Leavitt road. Seein' how you're sort of a special passengerI'llgorightalonguptoHappyHouse,thoughitain'tmycustum!" Nancywastremendouslyexcited.Shestaredtorightandleftatthelittleold frameandstonehousessetsquarelyingrass-grownyardsflankedbyflowerbeds, allabloom,andeachwearing,becauseoftightlyclosedblinds,anappearanceof utter desertion. On the wooden "stoop" of the place Webb had dignified by callinga"hotel"wereloungingafewmenwhohadscarcelystirredwhenWebb insalutationhadflourishedhiswhipatthem.TheCommons,hotintheJunesun, was deserted save for a few chickens pecking around in the long grass. The green shutters of the meeting house were tightly closed, too. From the gaping door of the smithy came not a sound. Even the great branches of the trees scarcelystirred.Overeverythingbroodedapeacefulquiet.