It was a quiet August afternoon; the house was still, but from the shady lawn on the water side, Nancy could hear Priscilla crooning like a dove, and hear Agnes’s low voice, and Anne’s high-pitched little treble. For a long while she sat staring into space, her brows knit. Ten thousand dollars—when they could have lived luxuriously for five! The figures actually frightened her. Why, they should have cleared off half the mortgage now, they might easily have cleared it all. And if anything happened to Bert, what of herself and the four children left absolutely penniless, with a mortgaged home?
“This is wicked,” Nancy decided soberly. “It isn’t conscientious. We both must be going crazy, to go on as we do. I am going to have a long talk with Bert to-night. This can’t go on!”
“Interrupting?” smiled pretty Mrs. Seward Smith, from the Dutch doorway.
Nancy jumped up, full of hospitality.
“Oh, come in, Mrs. Smith. I was just going over my accounts—”
“You are the cleverest creature; fancy doing that with everything else you do!” the caller said, dropping into a chair. “I’m only here for one second—and I’m bringing two messages from my husband. The first is, that he has your tickets for the tennis tournament with ours, we’ll all be together; so tell Mr. Bradley that he mustn’t get them. And then, what did you decide about the hospital? You see Mr. Ingram promised fifty dollars if we could find nine other men to promise that, and make it an even thousand from the Gardens, and Mr. Bradley said that even if he only gave twenty-five himself he would find someone else to give the other twenty-five. Tell him there’s no hurry, but Ward wants to know sometime before the first. I didn’t know whether he remembered it or not.”
“I’ll remind him!” Nancy promised brightly. She walked with her guest to the car, and stood in the bright warm clear sunlight smiling good-byes. “So many thanks for the tickets—and I’ll tell Bert about the hospital to-night!”
But when the car was gone she went slowly back. She eyed the cool porchway sombrely, the opened casement windows, the blazing geraniums in their boxes. Pauline was hanging checked glass towels on the line, Nancy caught a glimpse of her big bare arms, over the brick wall that shielded the kitchen yard. It was a lovely home, it was a most successful establishment; surely, surely, things would improve, it would never be necessary to go away from Holly Court.
Bert was very late, that night. The children were all asleep, and Nancy had dined, and was dreaming over her black coffee when, at nine o’clock, he came in. He was not hungry—just hot and tired— he wanted something cool. He had lunched late, in town, with both the Pearsalls, had not left the table until four o’clock. And he had news for her. He was leaving Pearsall and Pearsall.