The greater part of the afternoon was pa.s.sed in this engrossing work.
That night Aunt Selina again sought her bed with a great sense of grat.i.tude that she could enjoy the rest without any pain. She slept all through the night and awoke in the morning feeling strong and energetic.
Almost every trace of her lameness had disappeared.
The mail lay upon a silver tray beside her plate, and she smiled as she handed two letters to Ruth.
"May I read them, Flutey?" asked Ruth, as soon as she had peeped at the post marks.
Aunt Selina nodded, and Ruth tore open the one from the Blue Birds first, saying in an explanatory tone, "I like to leave the best for the last."
The Blue Birds had written her because they promised to do so, but there had not been time for anything of importance to happen, so Ruth laid aside their short note and took up her mother's letter. The first sentence made her gasp, and at the second, she giggled outright. Aunt Selina waited patiently to hear the news.
"Just think, Flutey, I didn't miss father, anyway--and just see all we have accomplished by my coming here to you! Mother writes that she had a telegram from father late Sat.u.r.day night, saying the steamer was detained at quarantine on account of some suspects in the steerage who seemed to have symptoms of yellow fever. He is not sure when they will get off, but he will wire mother each day they are detained."
Aunt Selina nodded understandingly, and Ruth continued: "Wish you and I could be there to welcome father when he comes! Flutey, you are so well this morning, _don't_ you think you could go with me in our automobile, if we traveled very carefully?"
Her aunt was so aghast at the proposition that she failed to answer, and Ruth continued, believing that she was thinking it over.
"You see, Flutey, we really need to get to the Blue Birds and mother to talk over this fine farm plan, and I am sure the visit will do you a heap of good, for I have heard folks say that a change is a great thing when you have been sick and tired of the same things about you."
Still Aunt Selina said not a word, so Ruth returned to her letter to read it aloud. As she did so, her aunt sent a covert glance at Sally's direction to see what effect Ruth's invitation had had upon the old servant. But Sally, the wise, appeared not to have overheard a word.
Later, as Ruth stood beside her aunt's rocker on the veranda, she again broached the subject.
"Flutey, the air is so warm and balmy like it always is in Indian summer, and our car is so comfy, you wouldn't know but what you were in an easy chair. I don't see why you can't come home with me."
"Fluff, do you know, that I could almost say 'Yes, I will go,' for I think I would like to see all of your little friends, but I really wouldn't know what to do with the house if I went away on a visit," said Aunt Selina.
"Goodness me! The house won't run away. What does it do when you are sick in bed and can't walk about to look after it? It can go on just the same when you are in Oakdale as when you are in bed," replied practical Ruth.
Never before had Aunt Selina been brought face to face with the fact that Sally was the actual manager. She began to feel a certain resentment against her faithful old servant, and then she thought what a relief it was to have someone upon whom she could depend.
"I never did ride in one of those machines, dearie. I have said that I never would. I always use my victoria, or coupe," she observed.
"You never rode in an automobile! Why, Flutey, you have the treat of your life waiting, then," exclaimed Ruth, surprised. "It only goes to show how careful we should be about saying things we are not sure of; now, you see, you are going to ride in an auto and so prove to yourself that you were wrong."
Ruth took for granted that the visit and method of traveling had been decided upon, and, after some more futile excuses, Aunt Selina was won over to considering going the next day if it were clear.
"But the sky looks cloudy, Fluff, and your mother may not spare the car to-morrow," she objected, making a last brave stand against the persistent little girl.
"Oh, no, those clouds are not rain clouds--they are wind and mother would borrow Mrs. Catlin's car if she had to go anywhere rather than disappoint me by not sending Ike with ours," replied Ruth, very certain of her mother's loving cooperation.
"Well, I shall have to break the news to Sally and see if she can spare me for a few days," sighed her aunt, tingling with antic.i.p.ation at the unusual event, but loath to forego the hope that her presence was necessary at home.
"I'll run and ask her to come here at once, so we can telegraph mother about the car," said Ruth, as she ran to call Sally.
One never had to go far to find Sally, for wherever Miss Selina was, there would Sally be found hovering about, also. Ruth caught hold of the plump brown hand and dragged her out to the piazza.
When the important question was put before her, Sally was diplomatic enough to stand considering whether the household could possibly be managed without the mistress. After some time, she said, "If it t'want dat dis wisit is jus' what you need to put you on yer feet, I would say, 'I don' see how we'all kin manage.' But, seein' dat all de fruit is dun up an' de fall house-cleanin' not yet due, I adwise you to be sh.o.r.e an' go an' fin' healin' in de change of air."
Aunt Selina was so pleased at Sally's answer that she told her to help Ruth telegraph at once for the car. Sally bowed and hurried away to the telephone where the message was sent to Greenfields to be wired to Mrs.
The rest of the day was spent in pleasant excitement, with Ruth and her aunt wondering what to pack in the small steamer trunk, while the whole household felt the unusual stir of their mistress' going away for a visit.
That evening an answering telegram came saying that Ike would leave Oakdale at dawn in the morning so as to get to Happy Hills by noon. If they were ready to start back at once they could arrive at Mossy Glen before night set in.
Ruth was so joyous over the happy termination of her visit that she could hardly stand still long enough for Sally to tie her hair ribbon.
As for Aunt Selina, she looked from her bedroom windows before retiring, anxiously scanning the sky for any possible rain clouds. She felt as excited as a child over its first journey away from home. Seeing the sky a deep blue with myriads of stars gleaming down at her, she smiled and turned out the light.
Ike arrived earlier than expected, for he made record time from Oakdale.
"Ike, do the Blue Birds know I'm coming?" she asked.
"Sure thing, Miss Ruth," replied Ike.
"And Ned--did he miss me?" queried the little girl.
"Master Ned, he went 'round like a bear wid a sore head. He was just lost without the head of the Blue Birds," grinned Ike.
"And mother--and Ike, father? Did father wonder why I left without seeing him," half-whispered Ruth.
Ike dropped his wrench and stood up.
"Why, Miss Ruth, I forgot to tell you! Mr. Ta'mage ain't home yet. A wire came late last night saying he expected to get off the boat to-day, so they are looking for him this noon."
"Oh, oh, Ike! how could you keep such grand news from me all this time!"
exclaimed Ruth, racing indoors to tell her aunt.
When Ike said he was ready to start, Aunt Selina and Ruth were helped to the comfortable seat and robes were tucked in about them, while the servants stood in a semi-circle about the car, smiling and nodding good-byes.
Ike honked the siren for the benefit of the servants, then started the easy-running machine.
Aunt Selina felt so very comfortable that she admitted the fact to Ruth.
"I never knew these cars were so easy-riding."
After pa.s.sing a stretch of bad road Ike put on more speed and Aunt Selina leaned forward to admonish him.
"Don't go fast enough to be dangerous! Are we going about eight miles an hour?"
Ike smiled to himself as he heard the question.
"We're travelin' a bit more than eight, ma'am. I s'pose you are 'customed to that speed from drivin' horses?"
"Yes, that's it. I never like to go faster than that rate, but you are not going too fast, yet. Be sure to slow up going around corners--we might run into someone," she returned, settling herself comfortably back in the robes.
Ike promised to be most careful, but dared not hint at the actual speed they were traveling, and would have to keep up, to enable them to reach Oakdale before night.
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