Over The Garden Wall by Louise Hamilton Mabie

The Story of a Vacation

The impression, which floated vaguely as a perfume in the wake of the departing Mr. and Mrs. Jasper Prentiss, adapted itself pleasingly to any point of view. Generally, it was thought that Katrina Prentiss was to remain at home under the eye of Grandfather McBride. Particularly, was this Grandfather McBride's reading of the unspoken word. But Miss Prentiss, herself, thought so otherwise that the situation completely reversed itself. To Miss Prentiss, Grandfather McBride was left absolutely under her eye.

Meanwhile the Jasper Prentisses, characteristically explaining nothing, commanding nothing, leaving events to work themselves out somehow, as events have been known to do, were off for their month's fishing without undue worry.

"Grandfather will smoke his pipe all over the house," remarked Mrs. Prentiss easily, as they drove away.

"Oh, Katrina will manage somehow," returned Mr. Prentiss, as easily. "They'll come to terms. By the way, Kitty, we mustn't forget that marmalade." And, absorbed in their list of supplies, the Jasper Prentisses disappeared from view.

Grandfather McBride, eighty-one, dependent, save in moments of excitement, upon his knotted stick, hard-featured, with a rusty beard and a shabby black hat, departed slowly for his own quarters. Miss Prentiss, twenty-one, hazel-eyed and graceful, with a wonderful creamy skin, under a crown of auburn braids, sank dreamily upon the broad porch step and gazed across the green lawn into the future.

"A whole month," thought Miss Prentiss, "of doing as I please—consulting nobody, ordering things, going to places, and coming home to—freedom." Miss Prentiss spread out her hands with a sigh of content. "Not that I'm interfered with—ever," she added, reproaching herself, "but now—well, I'm it."

She rose swiftly and turned up the steps. In the wide doorway stood Grandfather McBride, stick in hand, hat jammed down, and in his mouth, at a defiant angle, a battered black pipe. A red flag, backed up by a declaration of the rights of man, could not have spoken more plainly. Miss Prentiss drew back; Mr. McBride stepped forward. Their eyes met. Then the old gentleman flung down his challenge. He removed the pipe and held it poised in his hand.

"What you goin' to do to-day, Triny?" he asked, briskly. "When you goin' over to see the Deerings' parrot? There ain't another such bird in America. You go over there this morning and see that parrot. Don't loll about the house. Don't be lazy!" Whereupon, with less profanity, but as much of autocracy as was ever displayed by an Irish boss whipping into shape the lowliest of his Italian gang, Mr. McBride replaced his pipe elaborately, and walked off with the honors. Katrina, utterly astonished, stared after him, then shrugged, then smiled.

"Poor Grandfather," she reached at length, "in minor matters I'll let him have his way."

The next day, Grandfather McBride smoked his pipe on the porch. On the third morning he smoked it in the drawing-room—out of sheer defiance, for he never entered the room save under compulsion. Katrina, reminding herself that peace was to be desired above victory, shrugged once more, smiled, and went for a ride. When she swept in, an hour or so later, Grandfather McBride was in the back garden with John, and the smoke of a huge bonfire obscured the sunlight. This was revolution, simple and straightforward, and Katrina went at once to the back garden.

"John," she said, "what is the meaning of this? Don't you know that Mr. Prentiss never allows bonfires? The rubbish is to be carted away, not set on fire."

John, apologetic, perturbed, nodded toward the old gentleman. "Yes, miss, I know. I told Mr. McBride, miss——"

Grandfather McBride turned coldly upon Katrina. "I ordered this bonfire," he said.

"But, Grandfather, you know the old orders. Father never allows them."

"I allow them," said Mr. McBride. "Your father's away fishing, and I'm in charge. This is my bonfire. I order bonfires when I please. I like 'em. I like the smell of 'em, I like the smoke——" Here an unexpected cough gave Katrina a word.

"But, Grandfather," she began again, only to be cut short.

"When the folks are home, I sit still and mind my own business. Now they're away, I'm goin' to do things. I'm on a vacation myself," said Mr. McBride, "and I'll have a bonfire on the front lawn if I say so. You go back to the house, Katriny, and read Gibson."

"Ibsen," flashed Katrina.

"I don't care what his Dutch name is—read him. Or else"—a grim light of humor in his hard gray eye—"go over and see that parrot."

Katrina almost stamped her foot. "I loathe parrots," she cried, "and I came out to talk about this bonfire."

"I know you did," said Mr. McBride, "but this parrot ain't like other parrots. It's a clown. It would make a rag baby laugh."

Katrina, flushed, angry, at a loss what to say, decided to say nothing. The sight of John, discreetly gazing at the roof of the chicken house, the grimness of Grandfather's face, the discomfort of the choking smoke, urged a dignified retreat. She turned abruptly and left them, overwhelmed at the exhibition furnished by Mr. McBride, confounded at his sudden leap into activity after years of serene floating and absolutely in the dark as to any method of controlling him in the future.

For a week, his pipe and his daily bonfire contented Mr. McBride. Between himself and Katrina, relations were polite but not cordial. Katrina preserved a dignity which deceived neither of them. Both knew that she was awaiting something sensational, and the fact worried the old gentleman, for already he had exhausted his possibilities. He longed for new ideas in this matter of revolution, but none came. He began to be bored by bonfires, and the lack of opposition to them. Even the parrot failed to amuse, and he was sinking into dull monotony, when a walk down the long lane behind the back garden one sunny afternoon changed the horizon of his world.

He was gone for two hours; but Katrina was away from the house herself, and did not notice. The next afternoon he disappeared for three, finally dragging in weary in body, but high in spirit. Twice at dinner he chuckled audibly, and three times he recommended the parrot across the street to Katrina. The next day he vanished after luncheon, and was late for dinner. At this, Katrina decided to take a hand.

"Grandfather," she said abruptly at dessert, after a long interval of silence on both sides, "it's all very well to take a vacation, but there is such a thing as overdoing it. I'm sure you would do nothing that would alarm mother, and I know that if she were at home she would worry over you. For days you have had no nap. Please rest to-morrow. Don't go walking. Let me drive you to the club for luncheon."

The old gentleman glanced up at Katrina quickly. "I declare if I hadn't forgot all about that fellow till this minute," he said. "Speaking of the club, how's Sparks, Katriny?"

Katrina sat suddenly erect and her color deepened. "Do you by any chance mean Mr. Willoughby Park, Grandfather? If so, I know nothing whatever about him. I haven't seen him for a week." This with a jerk.

"Don't you marry that chap, Katriny," went on Mr. McBride, unimpressed, "and don't you let him come around here. He's no good. A fellow that hangs around a country club when he ain't hangin' around a girl, is always no good. You marry a chap with brains, Katriny, even if he ain't so long on the cash. Why, I know a young fellow——" Mr. McBride pulled himself up short. "You dash in for brains, Triny, and I'll take out my pocket book." Here he nodded, as if concluding a bargain, but Katrina was already upon her feet.

"Grandfather McBride, you are growing insufferable," she cried. "Simply because I mention the club, you assume that I am—angling—for a man that—that has been decently polite to me. I have never been invited to marry Mr. Park. And you give me low advice about laying traps for some other sort of a man. And you mention pocket books! And you go off alone for hours and come home worn out. And you smoke your horrible old pipe and build your sickening bonfires, just to spite me! I think you are a wretch, and I've worried over you every day since mother left." Here she stopped suddenly, with a catch in her throat.

The old gentleman looked at her silently. Then he got up and came around the table. Awkwardly, he patted her shoulder. Katrina sat down.

"I'm glad you don't like Sparks, my dear," said Mr. McBride, leaning on his stick. "And don't worry your heart over Grandfather, Triny. Grandfather's no fool. He ain't had so much fun in years." Mr. McBride winked just here, and put on an air of profound mystery.

"I wonder where you do disappear to," said Katrina. "I think I'll go along."

"Don't you do that," spoke up Mr. McBride alertly. "Don't you do that! A man can't stand a woman tagging at his heels. He's got to have room, and air to breathe."

"Smoke, you mean," put in Katrina, with returning spirit, "and I warn you, Grandfather, that if you make fires off our place, you'll be arrested."

"Pooh! Fires!" said Mr. McBride contemptuously. "Amusement for children. I ain't a-makin' fires these days, Katriny. I've got other things to do." And, with a final pat upon her shoulder, and a last most telling wink, Grandfather McBride dragged himself wearily, but triumphantly, to bed.

When Katrina, on the lookout next afternoon, saw Mr. McBride join John in the back garden, hold with him a whispered consultation broken by many stealthy glances toward the house, and finally disappear with him down the lane, behind a wheelbarrow laden with boards, she gave orders that she was not at home, waited half an hour, and followed.

The lane wound coolly green and deserted from the Prentiss place into the heart of the country. Katrina, walking steadily, passed her own, passed the Graham and the Haskell boundaries, and stopped in surprise. At a branching path hung a new and conspicuous sign. "Private Road! No Trespassing, Under Penalty of the Law."

It was a churlish sign. The people of the neighborhood—a summer settlement of friends and pleasant informalities—were used to no such signs. And Katrina, knowing Grandfather McBride, turned at once into the branching path. At some distance in, she passed a similar sign, with every mark of disdain. Finally, she was brought up short by a wire fence, with a gate, high, wooden, and new, that stretched across the path. She tried the gate, but it did not budge. From the wood beyond came the sound of voices and the strokes of a hammer. With a quick glance behind her, and a determined set to her chin, she began to climb the gate.

She was descending upon the other side in safety, when Grandfather McBride came upon her. His hat was pushed back upon his head, his stick was forgotten. He descended upon her as might a hungry lion upon its prey. He roared—in fact, he bellowed.

"Katrina Prentiss, get back over that fence. Climb back over that gate; you're trespassing. Didn't you see the signs? Are you blind? Can't you read? What do you mean by coming in here where you don't belong? Climb back there and go home at once!"

Katrina, unprepared for battle and aware of being at a disadvantage, swallowed hard and obeyed. She climbed back over the gate. Once upon solid earth, however, and she glared as fiercely at Grandfather McBride as he stared ferociously at her.

"I'm not a child," she said furiously, when he stopped to breathe, "to be ordered about and sent home and insulted. I have never been so treated in my life and I give you fair warning, Grandfather, that I'll stand it no longer. After this I'll do as I please." Whereupon Katrina, having woman-like, in the act of obedience, said her say, retreated with dignity and dispatch. Behind her, Mr. McBride waved his recovered stick over the gate and shouted, but she did not turn nor attempt an answer.

He came home within an hour, slowly, leaning heavily upon his stick. John followed with the empty wheelbarrow. They parted at the barn and Mr. McBride went at once to his room and shut the door. Katrina, sitting at her own window, looked thoughtfully into space and swung a key upon her forefinger. After a time she stood up, smoothed her hair and pinned on her wide, rose-laden hat. Then she went down the hall quietly, stopped before Mr. McBride's door, and listened a moment. A gentle snore proclaimed Mr. McBride's occupation. Katrina fitted the key into the lock and turned it, took it out again and slipped it beneath a corner of the rug, listened a further moment and then walked down the stairs, out through the back garden, and, with a final glance behind her, turned once more into the green and deserted lane.

It must be confessed that Katrina started upon her quest in a spirit far removed from that of your single-minded explorer. She was urged by a variety of causes. Among them was a determination to disobey Grandfather McBride, to serve him with his own medicine, to pay him in his own coin, and to do it as quickly and as frankly as possible. Her rapidly increasing curiosity concerning the region he guarded with so much mystery counted as well, but the paramount force—for Katrina was young enough to take her responsibility seriously—was anxiety over the old gentleman himself. In fact, Katrina departed, as did Lot's wife, with her face and her thought turned backward, a policy not conducive to brilliant success in exploration.

This time, however, she was stopped by no one. She passed the gate safely, penetrated the wood and came at length upon a part of Mr. McBride's secret. It was a rough little flight of steps, made with the help of John, the wheelbarrow, and the boards, which led to the top of a high brick wall. The wall astounded Katrina even more than did the steps, which is saying a good deal. The whole elaborate contrivance for keeping people away, puzzled Katrina. It was some time before she mounted the steps and looked over the wall, but when she finally did so, she ceased to be merely puzzled. She became lost in a maze of wonder.

Stretching before her, was a wide expanse of green. Just opposite stood a long, low building of workmanlike appearance. At the left was a very presentable rose garden. At the right, a rustic summer-house. Surrounding all was the high brick wall. But it was none of these things that amazed Katrina.

Moving toward her, from the door of the long building, came a little procession—men and women, walking slowly, sedately dressed in old-time silks and finery, decked with plumes, jewels, laces, bouquets of flowers. Arrived at a broad space near the summer-house, the company, after a series of low and preliminary bows, launched forth into a stately dance. Katrina, conscious of music, descried an individual in very modern blue overalls, who manipulated a phonograph. A voice from beyond the summer-house, called forth instructions at intervals, with a huskiness vaguely suggestive of old Coney.

"More side-play there, Miss Beals. Just imagine he's a young hobo you're in love with and yer father won't let him up the steps. You're doing the Merry Widow act while the old man's not looking. Don't bow so low you hide your face, Mr. Peters. Your face is worth money to us all. And everybody get a move on! You're too slow! Hit it up a bit, Jim."

The overalls, thus adjured, accelerated the time of his machine, and a new spirit animated the group. Katrina leaned far over the wall in order to miss nothing. At length, the dance, moving toward a finale, reached it with a succession of stirring chords, and a flourish of curtseys, and the group dissolved.

"That'll do for to-day. You can knock off now," began the husky voice, when Jim, glancing up from his phonograph, beheld Katrina in her rose-laden hat, leaning far over the wall. If he had stopped to reflect, he might have ignored the vision, for he was but man, and the vision a guilelessly pretty one, but he did not stop to reflect. With Jim, to see a thing was to proclaim it abroad. Immediately, he yelled:

"Hey! Get on to the lady on the wall! Hey! Mr. Connor, come around here. There's somebody on the wall. Hey!"

At once Katrina, to her utmost discomfort, became the centre of the stage. Everybody turned, saw her, and began to stare. The silken ladies, the velvet gentlemen, delayed their return to modern apparel, and took her in. Jim stared clamorously. Mr. Connor, rounding the summer-house, glared angrily. To Katrina, even the long building blinked its windows at her, and she thought, with sudden longing, of Grandfather McBride. She wished she had not come. Most of all, she wished to go, but she did not quite dare.

At once, Mr. Connor took charge of the situation. "Say, young lady," he demanded, in a truculent manner, "what do you mean by gettin' into these grounds and rubberin' at us over our wall? Don't you know you can be run in for passin' those signs? Didn't you see that gate?"

"Oh, yes," faltered Katrina; "yes—I saw the gate."

"Well, how'd you get past that gate and them signs," Mr. Connor wanted to know.

"I—I climbed the gate," hesitated Katrina.

Clearly this was not what Mr. Connor expected. Such simplicity must cover guile. A suppressed smile glimmered through the group and Mr. Connor became more suspicious of Katrina.

"I don't want no kiddin' now, do you hear?" he burst forth. "You're in a tight place, young woman, and you may as well wake up to the fact at once. The Knickerbocker is doin' things on a plane of high art, and our methods are our own. Now, I want to know who you represent? And freshness don't go, d'you see?"

Katrina hardly heard Mr. Connor. Her mind was occupied with the freedom that lay clear behind her, and the possible patrol-wagons and police stations before her. Perhaps she might conciliate this red-faced man by allowing him to talk, by being mild and meek and polite. Perhaps a chance might come for a desperate attempt at escape. But Mr. Connor, conversing fluently, read her very soul.

"Bring that there light ladder, Jim," he interrupted himself to order, "and if you try to get away, young woman, it'll be the worse for you. Now, I want to know what yellow sheet you represent?"

"Yellow—why do you take me for a newspaper woman?" cried Katrina. "I'm not. I'm nothing of the sort. I've never been inside a newspaper office in my life."

"Of course not," observed Mr. Connor, ironically. "They never have. Always society ladies that can't write their own names. You stand just where you are, miss, till that ladder arrives. Then I'm coming up to confiscate any little sketches and things you may have handy.

"You are a brute," said Katrina, lips trembling but head held high. "I am Miss Prentiss. I live near here, and you will not dare to detain me."

"Oh, won't I?" returned Mr. Connor. "I have a picture of myself letting you go. And where the deuce is Jim?" He turned impatiently toward the building across the lawn, then somewhat relaxed his frown. "Oh, well, I can take an orchestra chair," observed Mr. Connor. "Here comes the boss."

Katrina, with deepening concern, glanced from Mr. Connor toward the long building. A young man was sprinting across the stretch of green—a clean-cut young man in gray flannels. At the first sight of him, Katrina caught her breath sharply and blushed. It was Katrina's despair that she blushed so easily. As the young man neared them the spectators achieved the effect of obliterating themselves from the landscape. They melted into space. There remained the young man, Mr. Connor, and a divinely flushed Katrina.

The young man looked up at her without smiling. He bowed to her gravely. Then he turned to Mr. Connor. With a few low-spoken words, he wilted Mr. Connor. Katrina, gazing at the rose-garden, heard something in spite of herself. She heard her name, and caught Mr. Connor's articulate amazement. She heard mentioned some "old gentleman." She heard a recommendation to Mr. Connor to go more slowly in the future and to mend his manners at all times. After a hint to Mr. Connor to look up Jim and the ladder, she heard that gentleman withdraw much more quietly than he had come, and her eyes finally left the rose-garden and looked straight down into those of warm gray, belonging to the young man below her.

"Will you mind—waiting—just a moment longer?" he asked. "This is more luck than I've had lately."

Katrina smiled tremulously. "It's in my power to go, then," she said.

"No," said the young man, firmly, "it isn't. On second thoughts, you are to stay just where you are till that blockhead brings the ladder. I've a good deal to say. I'm going to walk home with you."

"Oh," said Katrina. "And what will become of your fancy-dress party?"

"My fancy-dress party," returned the young man, "will catch the next trolley for New York. Oh! Here labors the trusty henchman across the green. Right you are, Jim! No, the lady is not to come down. I'm to go up." And go up he did, in the twinkling of an eye, and in less than another the rose-wreathed hat and the young man's gray cap had disappeared from view together.

"Well, what do you know about that?" observed Jim, under his breath, staring at the top of the wall. He whistled softly. Then he grinned. "Hypnotized, by thunder," concluded Jim, returning with the ladder.

Meanwhile, the two lingered homeward through the deepening twilight. The gate opened easily to a key from the young man's pocket; the signs glimmered dimly. They talked lightly, but what they said proved to both simply an airy veil for what they did not say. Katrina spoke of the club and the tennis tournament.

"Of course, we lost," she said. "Our best man," with a sidelong look, "did not enter. The committee said that he was away—on business. I see now that they were misinformed."

"But they weren't," said the young man, eagerly, "if you mean me. I am 'away on business.' Why, do you know it's seven days since I've seen you?"

Katrina regarded her neat brown shoes.

"The fact is," continued the young man, diffidently, "I've been trying a new method with you. I've been endeavoring to be missed. And I'm afraid to hear that I haven't been."

"A little wholesome fear is good for anyone," observed Katrina, judicially, "but I can truthfully say that I rejoiced at the sight of you this afternoon. That red-faced man was about to drag me off the wall by the hair."

"Oh, Connor," said the young man. "Connor's not polished, but in his line, he's a jewel. He used to be a stage manager, and considered in that light, he's really mild."

"Is he?" said Katrina, drily. "Does he stage manage for you?"

"Practically that. Don't scoff—please. You see, there's a big future in this business. My father growled at first, but he's come clean around. The land was mine, and we are using it this way. The American public are going in for this thing. They want amusement and they want it quick. And the thing is to provide them with what they want, when they want it."

"Oh," said Katrina. "And you are providing the American public with what they want—back there?" with a tilt of her head behind her.

"Exactly," he answered. "That's our plant. We are the Knickerbocker Film Manufacturing Company."

"Oh," said Katrina, again. "And the fancy-dress people?"

"We are getting up 'Romeo and Juliet,'" said the young man. "Please don't laugh. It's been proven that the moving picture audiences like Shakespeare canned."

"Moving picture audiences," repeated Katrina in surprise, and then as the light broke, she stopped short and looked at the young man.

"Why, didn't you guess?" he queried. "The summer-house—why, of course, the summer-house must have hidden the camera." He looked at her dejectedly. "I've wanted you so much to know all about it," he said, "and now that you do, it sounds—oh, drivelling."

"But it doesn't," cried Katrina, eyes shining. "It sounds splendid. It sounds thrilling. I'm sure it will be a success. You're bound to make it one. I congratulate you. You've left out a good deal. You've told your story very badly, but I'm good at filling in. The fact is, I'm proud to know you, and you may shake hands with me if you wish to."

"Oh, Katrina," murmured the young man, and they clasped hands. It was just here that Grandfather McBride turned into the lane from the back garden and came upon them. When they became aware of him, leaning heavily upon his stick and frowning at them through the dusk, Katrina braced herself to meet whatever might come. But, suddenly, to her intense surprise, Mr. McBride beamed upon them radiantly.

"Well, well, Katriny," he said, in high good humor, "so you've been over that gate again, eh? Been lookin' over that wall, eh? I knew you would, my dear, I knew you would. There's some of the McBride spirit in you after all, thank God. I meant to take you myself, but you got ahead of me." Here he shook hands with the young man. "Glad to see you again, my boy," said Grandfather McBride. "Brought my little girl home, eh?"

"Well, we were on the way," admitted the young man with enthusiasm. "I see you got the steps up, sir."

"Yes," said Mr. McBride, "oh, yes. I'm much obliged to you for the permission. It's as good as any vaudeville, and it's a sight nearer home. You're bound to make money. I tell my granddaughter," with a triumphant nod to the lady in question, "to bank on brains and energy and American push. I tell her," with a profound wink to Katrina, "to let this old family nonsense and society racket go hang. I'm glad she met you."

"But we mustn't stand here in the lane, Grandfather," put in Katrina, hurriedly. "It's getting damp."

"That's so," agreed Mr. McBride, "and it's getting late." He hooked his cane about the young man's arm. "Come in and have dinner with us," he said.

Katrina stared in amazement at Mr. McBride. The young man looked eagerly at Katrina. "If Miss Prentiss will allow me——" he began.

"Huh! Miss Prentiss," spoke up Mr. McBride. "What's she got to say about it? I allow you." And as Katrina, behind Mr. McBride's back, smiled and nodded, the young man accepted promptly.

Together the three went through the back garden and up to the house. Arrived there, Katrina disappeared. Grandfather McBride, after settling his guest, came straight upstairs and stopped at her door.

"Little cuss," beamed Mr. McBride, "goin' off, locking up her old grandfather and meetin' young chaps. Say, Katriny," he remarked casually, "he's a fine fellow, ain't he?"

Katrina, busy with her hair, nodded.

"Now, if I was a girl," continued Mr. McBride, diplomatically, "and a fellow like that took a shine to me I'd show a glimmer of sense. I'd up and return it."

"Would you?" remarked Katrina. "I'm glad you like him. You see, Grandfather, you are too smart for me. I didn't know until just now that you had even met Mr. Park."

Mr. McBride's smile stiffened, then froze, finally disappeared. He opened his mouth, and shut it. He swallowed hard. At last, he got it out. "Katriny—Katriny, is that Sparks—that fellow downstairs? Is that Sparks?"

"Hush," said Katrina. "Of course, that is Willoughby Park. Why, Grandfather, didn't you ask his name?"

"No," said Mr. McBride, "I didn't. I just saw he was a fine, likely——" He stopped abruptly. "Well, I'll be damned," said Mr. McBride.

Katrina came over to him and put her hand on his shoulder. Mr. McBride looked into space. Standing so, he spoke once more. "Do you—do you really like him, Triny?" he asked, and although he looked into space, Mr. McBride saw Katrina's blush. He patted her hand once, and left her.

On his way downstairs, the grimness of Mr. McBride's face relaxed. In the lower hall, he went so far as to chuckle. When he joined Mr. Park on the porch, he grinned at him amiably.

"I'm a good sport," remarked Mr. McBride, irrelevantly, "but I know when to retire to my corner and stay there. Say," continued Mr. McBride, unconscious of discrepancies between thought and action, "after dinner I'm goin' to take you children across the street to see that parrot."