AN INCIDENTAL EXPLOSION

Even the most difficult tasks are finally accomplished, and now Nancy
was actually riding towards Boston. The details of closing up their
little home had been rather confusing, especially as each member of the
small family was starting out in a different direction, but it was all
done at last, and soon Nancy would cross Boston and take the Maine line
out toward New Hampshire.

It seemed so unnecessary for any one to meet her at the South Station
and taxi with her over to the North Station, but there was Miss
Newton, a friend who had visited the Brandons and who lived almost in
Boston. With her, Nancy’s mother had arranged, both for crossing the
big city and having lunch, so that there could be no possible danger
in her daughter’s journey. Also, after lunch in the upstairs station
restaurant, Miss Newton, a lively young woman who seemed just like a
girl to Nancy, insisted upon making up a little box of fruit for the
train journey.

“Never can tell about these long afternoon rides,” said Miss Newton,
when she bought five more blue plums. “They may side-track you and
you’ll be glad to have a fruity supper along with you.”

Nancy expressed her gratitude, of course, and as the Boston and Maine
afternoon train steamed out, she didn’t feel quite so lonely without
her mother, because of Miss Newton’s jolly waving and pleasant little
send-off.

The train was crowded. Many mothers and children seemed to have been on
shopping tours. Naturally Nancy was concerned with the prospect before
her, for since Rosalind’s letters were so effusively pre-welcoming and
so hysterically anxious about what she termed, “the troubles and trials
at Fernlode,” Nancy could form no opinion of the strange household. She
knew she was going to be shy of that important new, stylish, beautiful
Aunt Betty, for the reputation she had obtained was enough to strike
awe into the heart of any girl visitor. Of Uncle Frederic she knew
positively that she just loved him, for he had visited her own home
late last fall, and he was “a king” as Ted expressed it. Rosalind had
been away at boarding school all the time, it seemed to Nancy, so
the young cousins had never met, for even Rosalind’s vacations had
been usually spent abroad. This year, however, she had insisted upon
remaining at home, although her father and step-mother were to sail
shortly.

But now Nancy’s train sped on, and the flying landscape, though novel
after the big factories and the bridges were passed, held small
interest for the young summer tourist. She noticed that a woman with
two small boys had bought those silly little boxes of ice-cream with
the foolish tin spoons, and their delight in lapping up the stuff was
rather amusing. It was funny, too, to see the people spill water cups
along the aisle, and when a very stout man dozed off, and let his bald
head tap a lady on her bead-bedecked shoulder, Nancy indulged in an
audible titter while the ice-cream boys shouted loud enough to wake up
the indecorous gentleman.

Such trifling incidents helped to while away the time, and after the
big mill dam was passed, which according to the timetable indicated the
state line of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, with somehow touching on
a corner of Maine, then Nancy knew the journey was almost over.

The afternoon was cool and pleasant, for early June was still behaving
beautifully, and Nancy was not sorry that she had taken her mother’s
advice and worn her school suit of blue serge.

“I suppose,” she ruminated, “Rosalind’s clothes will be gor-gee-ous.”
This visioned her own limited outfit. “But being so fat it must be hard
getting clothes. They all have to be made to order, of course.”

It was at this juncture that the little old-fashioned woman, in the
seat opposite Nancy, spread her ginghamed self out in the aisle, in
order to cope more freely with the over-crowded bag she was struggling
to close. Her efforts were so violent, and her groans so audible,
that everybody around took frank notice of her. First, she would get
between the two seats, backing to that in front, and trudge away at the
helpless, hopeless carry-all. Then, she would put the bag on the floor
and work from the aisle. Finally, she literally threw up her hands and
looked comically at Nancy.

“Ain’t it the mischief, sissy?” she said suddenly. “I got to get off
with that bag bulged wide open.”

Nancy laughed outright. “Sissy” was such an old-fashioned name to be
called. Then she looked critically at the recalcitrant bag.

“Maybe I could do it,” she suggested, although she instinctively felt
like calling the car man to help. Yet the funny little country woman,
with her checked gingham dress, her bronzed skin and her perfectly
useless hat, that merely rested on the top of her frowsy head, was
smiling so friendly, that Nancy felt impelled to offer personal aid.

So she stepped over and tackled the bag. It was too full, much too
full, of course, and the articles in it were the non-crushable kind,
hard and firm. Surely the biggest opponent to the catch and its clasp
meeting was a bottle, for it bulged out in one place as fast as Nancy
tried to push it in at another.

“I’m afraid I can’t close it,” Nancy admitted reluctantly. “Couldn’t
you take anything out?”

The woman pulled her face into such funny crinkles, it looked as if
she was winking all over it. Then she made queer noises, but they
could not be called words, and at last a man who had been watching the
performance, over his reading glasses, dropped his paper and silently
offered his services.

He was a very dignified gentleman, and he readily acknowledged Nancy’s
presence, although he did not directly address her. The little woman
was being regarded as very much out of order, and truth to tell she was
very generally disturbing the peace in that end of the car.

But now the man, with his strong hands and white shirt-cuffs, undertook
to conquer the rebel bag. He would plainly have no nonsense, would
make short work of it, for his face was set with a look of active
determination.

Once, twice, he tried to snap it shut. Then–there was something like
an explosion!

Splash! A perfect fountain of red liquid shot straight up in the air!

“Oh, mercy!” yelled the owner of the bag. “There goes Martha’s grape
juice!”

And go it did, apparently as far and farther than even good home-made
grape juice is supposed to travel, for it covered the face and shirt
front of the determined man, it all but shampooed the blonde head in
the next seat front, it managed, somehow, to include Nancy in its area,
for across the aisle shot a thin but virulent little stream, and while
one party was trying to dodge it another would fall into its furious
path.

“A bomb! A bomb!” yelled one of the ice cream boys joyfully.

“Maybe it’s a bandit’s hold-up,” yelped the other boy, hopefully.

“It’s my lovely grape juice and it’s working–” moaned the woman in
the gingham dress. But what she meant by “working” was not what the
spectators were thinking of. She meant effervescing, while they simply
saw liquid fireworks shooting around the car.

It was all over in a few moments, but the well intentioned man could
not erase the stains from his expansive shirt front–it was hard enough
to get the grape juice out of his eyes.

The blonde woman, whose bobbed head had been caught in the shower,
seemed the one most injured, and she took no trouble to restrain her
indignation!

“The idea! Carrying that stuff around!” she argued. “Just imagine!
Black and blue grape juice,” and she swabbed her head frantically with
all the handkerchiefs she could resurrect from pockets and hand bags.
Blonde hair dyed wine color did look odd.

“I’m awfully sorry,” the gingham woman admitted. “It was just a present
from my cousin Martha–”

“Then, why didn’t you hire a truck instead of buying a railway ticket,”
fired back the crimson-spotted blonde. “Seems to me–” But her further
arguments were lost in the sudden stopping of the train and the hurried
getting off of the unfortunate grape juice owner.

She made opportunity for a smile to Nancy, however, as she edged her
way out, and as she left the train it was the boy who had shouted
“bomb” at the accident who pegged her the cork of that bottle. Strange
to say, the woman caught the stopper, and bravely took the almost empty
bottle from the rebellious bag, banged the cork in firmly, and was then
on her way–with the bottle in one hand and the famous bag in the other.

Everyone’s face seemed to betray amusement, for during the entire
episode the little woman had shown real good nature. First, she
was patient, as well as determined, in attempting to close the
obstreperous bag; next, when the mighty all-knowing man went to her
assistance and caused the grape juice explosion, she only smiled and
herself took the blame for his mistake.

All of this wavered in Nancy’s mind, and with it came one of those
unaccountable little flickering thoughts, unbidden and unreasonable. It
suggested a future meeting of Nancy and the gingham woman.

“But wherever would I and why ever should I meet her again?” Nancy
deliberated. “She’s probably just some farmer lady, and this station is
miles from Craggy Bluff.”

The incident served admirably to brighten the last hour of her journey,
and even the wonderful capers of a late afternoon sun, gyrating over
the New England hills, failed to hold interest now, as a long train
trip wound up the miles, like a boy’s fish line after a long waiting
and a poor catch.

Nancy’s bag and hat box were made hold of even before the trainman
called out the station, and now that she had actually arrived at
Rosalind’s summer place, Nancy caught her breath, apprehensively.

“With mother in Europe and Manny far off, I’ll have to like it,” she
reflected, “but then, why shouldn’t I?” Her question poised itself
boldly before her, for somehow even the lure of luxury was not
altogether reassuring.

It was now almost seven o’clock, and the young tourist noticed no one
preparing to leave the train at the approaching station. True, there
were so few passengers left, there might be individual stations for
each one of them; but Craggy Bluff was sure to be exclusive.

The very word as she thought of it, rather terrified Nancy, for, after
all, she enjoyed folks, loved companionship and appreciated girlhood’s
privileges.

“But Rosalind and–Orilla,” she was forced to reflect, “they will be
good company–I hope.” It was Orilla’s personality that puzzled her,
for the accounts of that queer girl had been anything but flattering.

“Craggy Bluff!” called out the trainman, who promptly approached Nancy
and took up her bag. This had been arranged for by the thoughtful Miss
Newton, when the train was leaving Boston, so that there was no danger
of Nancy mistaking her destination, or being inconvenienced by her
baggage.

She stepped from the train, thanked the trainman and took her bag, just
as a smiling girl ran up to her.

It was Rosalind! Fat and rosy, jolly and rollicking.

“Nancy!” she cried happily.

“Rosalind!” responded the traveller.

“Oh, how ducky! I just couldn’t wait. Over here. Chet!” called Rosalind
to the chauffeur, who promptly hurried along for the bags. Rosalind
continued to puff and putter. “Nancy! Isn’t it too darling to have you
come?” Her arm was wound around Nancy’s waist. “Do you like the woods?
And the water? And the hills? We even have wild beasts out here, but I
never have hunted alone. Here’s our car. Jump right in. Chet, I must
call at the post office.” Thus rattled on the exuberant Rosalind, as
Nancy formed her first pleasant opinion of the important cousin.

Following these preliminaries, Nancy did manage to say a few words.
But they didn’t mean anything, much, other than being pleasant words
happily spoken.

The cousins were at last becoming acquainted, and while Nancy knew she
was sure to love the impulsive Rosalind, Rosalind felt she was simply
“dead in love” with Nancy, all of which favored the hopeful summertime
ahead.

Winding in and out of wooded drives and tree tunneled roads, as they
went from the station, Nancy sensed something of the luxury she had so
wondered about.

Yes, it was wonderful to cover distance that way, and the distance
itself was wonderful, because Craggy Bluff was one of those works of
Nature varied in detail from the finest ferns to the shaggiest giant
oaks, and the very craggiest gray granite rocks to the daintiest pearl
pebbles that studded the silvery beach.

“Oh, such glorious trees!” Nancy would exclaim as the car tore holes in
the sunset’s shadows.

“Trees! If you like trees, Nance, just wait until daylight, and I
show you huge black forests,” declared Rosalind, kindling merrily to
Nancy’s enthusiasm.

“And when Uncle Frederic and Aunt–his wife,” Nancy corrected herself,
“go away, will you be here all alone?”

“All alone! I wish I could be,” replied Rosalind, “then we could have
sport; just you and I and, of course, a few servants. But, Nance, I
never can get away from Margot, my old nurse, you know. Darling mother,
my own mother, trusted her always, because she herself had been ill
so long, so, of course, Margot’s sort of bossy yet. She’s as good as
gold, but one doesn’t want gold bands around one’s neck all the time,”
laughed Rosalind, as the car drew up to the broad veranda.

Even in the dusk, for it was now quite dark under the heavy foliage,
Nancy could easily discern the massive outline of the big country
house. She knew its story; how her Uncle Frederic had bought it from
some old New England family just because it offered a seeming refuge
for the first Mrs. Fernell, Rosalind’s mother, whose early invalidism
had ended in leaving the girl so much alone among servants and wealth.
Aunt Katherine had loved the big house which she had called Fernlode,
because the ferns grew in paths and veins almost unbroken in their
lines, and also because Fern was a part of their old family name.

“Here we are, Margot!” called out Rosalind, as a big woman came up
smiling to that call.

She greeted Nancy happily, and at once the visitor understood why she
was considered bossy, for she directed the man to take the bags and to
do several other things all at the same time.

“Rosalind dear, you should have worn a sweater. See how cool it is–”

“A blessing, Margot dear. Haven’t we been roasting for days? Sweater!
I just want to feel comfortable for a little while. Come on, Nance, I
always run upstairs. Helps me reduce–”

And the puffing Rosalind executed a series of jumps, in lieu of
running, which seemed too much to expect of her, and this bore out the
fat girl’s good intentions.

“I do every earthly thing I can, you know,” confessed Rosalind, as they
stood before an open door, “but I can’t see that it does one bit of
good. I’m–hoping–you may have–a secret–recipe–” Breath giving out,
Rosalind gave in, and sank down on a big chintz covered chair.

“I don’t see why you worry about being fat, Rosa,” said Nancy with real
sincerity. “Here I’m too thin and mother keeps worrying about that all
the time–”

“Oh, what an idea!” chuckled Rosalind. “We can be the Before and
After sign–fat and thin, you know. Wouldn’t that be great?” and as
she laughed Nancy remembered another familiar sign. It was to do with
laughing and growing fat!

“Shall I change for dinner?” Nancy asked when the gale of mirth
subsided and Rosalind stood before a mirror patting her turbulent hair.

“No-o-o!” drawled Rosa. “Just put a ribbon around your head and that’ll
be all you need to do. Dad won’t be home tonight–he’s in Boston, and
Betty” (she whispered this) “is never home when Dad’s away. So a ribbon
will fool Margot, and after dinner–” A queerly pulled face, that made
a pincushion out of Rosa’s features, finished the sentence. Evidently
she had some important plans for after dinner.

As they “fussed up” Nancy noticed how really pretty Rosalind was. Her
eyes were always laughing and they were blue, her mouth was always
smiling and it was scalloped, and her hair was “gorgeous,” being a
perfect mop of brown curls rather short but not bobbed. It was this
head of hair that from baby hood had distinguished Rosalind, for her
“lovely curls” were a matter of family pride to all but herself.

Her weight, however, could not be denied, even by one so favorably
prejudiced as Nancy, for Rosalind Fernell was decidedly fat, as
has been said before. She wore just now a one-piece dress of very
brightly colored summer goods, with the figures so mixed up that Nancy
remembered her brother Ted’s calling this style “circus clothes.”

Nancy, disregarding Rosalind’s suggestion for a ribbon around her
head to make up a dinner costume, had managed to slip into the simple
white voile that her mother was so solicitous about having exactly on
top of her bag, so that she could slip into it quickly, and this with
the yellow ribbon band around her dark hair completed, rather than
composed, the costume.

“You look perfectly duckie,” declared Rosalind, giving her cousin a
frankly admiring glance. “And I’m glad you did dress up, for maybe Gar
will be over.”

“Who’s Gar?” asked Nancy.

“He’s my–lifeguard; I’d perish without Garfield Durand. He lives on
the next pile of rocks and he’s more fun than a troop. You’ll love Gar,
I’m sure. There’s Baldy calling dinner. Baldy is the butler, you know,
and he’s the most perfect baldy you ever gazed at. Has a head like the
crystal ball in the back yard.”

For a camp, which was really what this summer home was supposed to be,
Nancy thought everything about her most elaborate. The house was as
heavily built as any city house might be, and the big beamed ceiling
in the long dining room, made her think of an old English picture. The
butler, Thomas, called Baldy, by the irrepressible Rosalind, rather
awed Nancy at first, but, unlike the butlers in fiction, he could
smile, and he could bend and he was human, so that after her chair
had been adjusted and her water poured, Nancy presently felt quite at
ease and enjoyed, rather than feared, her surroundings. Margot sat at
Rosalind’s side and Nancy was placed opposite. After all, she thought,
one’s simple meals at home were no different from that being served,
except that at home things came more promptly and–yes–perhaps they
did taste a little better mother’s way. However, the soup was good and
the chicken easy to eat, while the dessert was piled high with cream
and Nancy ate it–to make her fat.

“Rosalind, you had better have–” Margot was objecting.

“Nop-ee, I’m going to have _this_,” interrupted Rosalind, who took the
overly rich dessert in defiance of ounces more of the much detested
fat, which were bound to follow.

“Mrs. Fred phoned that she was detained in the city and so could not be
here to greet you, Nancy,” Margot said, as Thomas pulled out her chair,
“but I’m sure Rosalind wants you all to herself, so Mrs. Fred need not
be anxious.” This little pleasantry was followed up by an effusive
reply from Rosalind, who couldn’t really seem to get close enough to
Nancy for her own affectionate satisfaction.

“Oh, we’ll be all right, Margot,” she assured the tall woman with the
unavoidable horn-rimmed glasses. “We’ve got oodles of things to talk
about, and piles of things to do. You won’t mind if I let up on the
exercise to-night, will you?”

“But you know, Rosie–”

“’Course I do, Margy,” and Rosalind coaxed prettily. “But I want to
entertain Cousin Nancy–”

The smiling assent from Margot seemed unnecessary, for Rosalind was
trooping off, with her arm around Nancy’s waist, and her laughter
bubbling like the soap-suds Ted loved to blow out of his old corn-cob
pipe.

Nancy couldn’t help thinking of her brother Ted, the boy now far away
at camp, for, somehow, she was missing him in spite of all this strange
adventure. He was always such a jolly little fellow. What a lark he
would have had in this big place and how he would contrive to turn
every little incident into a laugh or a chuckle? While Rosalind was
speaking to the butler, and while she gave some message to Margot,
Nancy had just a little time for ruminating. She wondered what her
mother was doing. And how the long summer ahead would turn out for each
of her small, intimate family.

“Come into my room,” said Rosalind at her elbow, as they once again
had mounted the broad stairs. “It’s right next to yours–I thought you
might be scary if I put you over in the guest room,” said the cousin,
considerately.

“I should much rather be near you, thanks Rosa,” replied Nancy, meaning
exactly what she said, for with real night settling down upon the
mountains, a queer loneliness amounting almost to foreboding seemed to
seize upon her.

“And you are never lonely out here?” she could not resist remarking,
for it seemed to her Rosalind’s spirits were mounting higher each
moment. She laughed at the slightest excuse, and appeared to Nancy
somewhat over excited.

“Well, of course, sometimes I have been. But not since Gar came. He was
abroad last summer, but now–why, he drives me every place when Margot
and Chet think I’m–doing something else.”

This last piece of information was almost whispered to Nancy, and it
was not difficult for her to guess that Rosalind indulged in pranks as
well as in bubbling laughter.

“But you don’t really go out without your daddy’s knowing?” Nancy
timidly asked.

“Bless the infant!” cooed Rosalind, “I do believe she’s a regular
little darling, country coz,” and another demonstration accompanied
that. “But I won’t shock you to death. I’m really quite harmless,
and you see,” her face sobered for a moment, “all that I do concerns
myself. I think I should have the privilege of enjoying myself, don’t
you?”

“Why, yes, of course. That is–” Already Nancy found herself perplexed.
What if Rosalind was as risky as she pretended to be; and if she,
Nancy, would find it difficult to keep free from responsibility?

“You know Orilla, she’s the girl who used to live here, is too smart
for words,” imparted Rosalind, as the two girls delayed in Rosalind’s
beautiful golden room. “She believes she can help me to–to get thin”
(there was wistfulness in this remark), “but Betty just can’t bear her.
So, of course, I have to do lots of things on the sly.”

Instantly there flashed before Nancy’s mind the suggestion her mother
had made concerning this girl, Orilla. And a suspicious, jealous girl
is not less dangerous just because she happens to be young. In fact,
thought Nancy, that would only make her less wise and more foolish.

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