JUST A LITTLE LOVE

They both were carefully folding garments–Nancy sort of caressed the
few dainty little silk things while her mother placed tissue paper
between the folds of her tan tailored skirt, and then laid it gently in
the steamer trunk.

“I can’t help feeling a little guilty, Nancy dear,” she murmured.
“To go all the way over there without my darling daughter.” The next
garment was laid down, and two loving eyes encompassed the girlish
figure before her.

“You know I wouldn’t go, anyway,” Nancy bravely answered. “I’m going to
save my trip to Europe, until–until–later,” she faltered.

“You shall have it,” declared her mother firmly, “and only the
importance of this trip to my business–”

“Of course I know that, Mums,” and Nancy forgot the packing long enough
to fold two prompt arms about her mother’s neck. “You’ll come back so
wise with all your foreign cataloging, that you’ll be made chief of the
reference department. Then I’ll go to college–maybe; although I would
so much rather go to art school.”

The young mother smiled indulgently. “College will not interfere with
your art ambitions, dear,” she explained. “But there’s time enough to
decide all that. What’s worrying me now, is leaving you for this long,
unknown summer.”

“That’s just it,” Nancy hurried to add. “It is unknown. It seems to
me everything happens in summer. Winter is just one school-day after
another, but summer! What can’t happen in summer?”

Dancing around with a wild pretense of gaiety, Nancy was dropping
this article and picking up that, in her efforts to assist with the
European packing; but even the most uninformed stranger would easily
have guessed that the impending separation was disquieting, if not
actually alarming to her, as well as to her mother.

Mrs. Brandon, Nancy’s mother, was being sent abroad in the interest of
an educational quest, being carried on by the library which employed
her; and besides Nancy there was Ted. Ted the small brother, so
important and so loving a member of the little group. But summer for a
boy like Ted merely meant the selection of the best camp, with the most
trustworthy counsellor and the best established reputation. That, with
his little trunk, his brown suits and his endless wood’s-tools, made
up Ted’s schedule and outfit, without a possible flaw in the simple
arrangements.

Not that he didn’t sniffle, as Nancy whispered to Miss Manners, because
he did, every single time he looked at the last picture he, Nancy, and
his mother stood against the old tree for, while Manny snapped it.
More than that, Nancy had seen him take Nero, his dog, down to the pond
twice in one day, the day before he left for camp, although Nero could
not have needed two baths, with soap and a rub down, in one day.

But Ted was gone now, and there remained but one more night and two
hours of the next day before Mrs. Brandon also should be gone.

The thought was appalling. Gone for two whole months while Nancy would
be visiting her rich but unknown cousin Rosalind.

The day before any important event is usually a time of anxiety or of
joyous expectation, for the joy, or even the fear of anticipation, is
a well known preliminary condition. So it was this which Nancy and her
mother were experiencing.

The daughter was by no means an unusual girl, for all girls are
remarkable in their own peculiar way. Nancy was dark, her eyes having
the same tint as her hair–when one regarded their mere color, but
looking into them or having Nancy throw out their full powers upon
another, gave the quiet little pools such glints and flashes, that
their color scheme became quite secondary in actual valuation. Laughter
seemed to wait in one corner while concern was hidden just opposite,
for Nancy Brandon was a girl of many moods, original to the point of
recklessness, defiant of detail where that might interfere with some
new and novel idea, but always sincere.

It was this last saving quality that endeared Nancy to her many
friends, for who can resist a perfectly honest girl, unselfish, and
unspoiled? Her prettiness was a matter of peculiar complement, for
being tall she was correspondingly thin and supple, being dark she
had a lovely olive skin with little patches of rose color, and her
hair–well, her hair had been long, curly, and her mother’s pride, but
Nancy was now determined to have it bobbed–some day soon!

“It is not only old fashioned,” she had argued with her mother, “but
barbaric. American girls are not going to be ape-ish any longer. You’ll
see.”

To which the mother had listened reasonably and had given Nancy
permission to get her hair cut if she chose–after she reached the
summer home of her cousin Rosalind. This qualification of the much
argued plan was so fixed because Rosalind had wonderful hair and, said
Mrs. Brandon, Nancy might not like to be without any, or much, in
contrast.

“I suppose it will be queer in the big house,” Nancy interposed without
need of elucidation. “Big houses always are queer and–spooky.”

Mrs. Brandon laughed lightly at that. “I’m glad you’re not timid,
Nance,” she said, “for the old place must seem rather uncanny by this
time. But it was beautiful, very beautiful when your Aunt Katherine
lived. Of course, Aunt Betty is so much younger–”

“And a step-wife to Uncle Fred,” jerked Nancy. “I always think that
step-wives are up-ish and put on a lot of airs. I’m sure Rosalind
thinks so too.”

“You mean second wife to Uncle Fred and stepmother to Rosalind,”
corrected Mrs. Brandon. “Rosa is just about the age to be rebellious–”

“And she’s so–awfully fat.”

All this was merely the going over of well known details, concerning
the big house and its occupants, forming the background of Nancy’s
prospective summer. For she was to visit Rosalind Fernell at Fernlode,
in the New Hampshire mountains, and Rosalind was best known as being
“awfully fat.” True, she was also step-daughter to Mrs. Frederic
Fernell, the lovely little and very young wife of Mr. Fernell of the
famous woolen mill company. But to Nancy, Rosalind seemed unfortunate
because of both these conditions; being fat and being a step-daughter
were inescapable hardships, thought she.

Letter after letter had poured out Rosalind’s miseries, in fact it
was because her troubles were presented by the cousin as being really
acute, that Mrs. Brandon hesitated long before deciding to let Nancy
visit her. But the big hearted Uncle Frederic, in his letters pointed
out what appeared to be the real truth of the situation, namely: that
Rosalind was rather spoiled from being alone so much, and, of course,
Betty, his young wife, couldn’t possibly make a companion of a little
spoiled child, so–

“I’m sure to love Rosalind,” Nancy again reflected, “because she seems
so frank and honest. Being fat isn’t a crime. She can’t help that.”
This decision, merely a repetition of her usual conclusion, was being
reached as a sequel to Uncle Frederic’s last letter.

“Mother,” Nancy began, bravely attempting to banish the loneliness
that even now seemed to foreshadow herself and her charming young
mother, “do tell me once more, just _once_ more, about Orilla. Is she
Rosalind’s cousin?”

“No. Orilla is really the daughter of a nurse who was with Uncle Fred’s
first wife, your Aunt Katherine, during her long illness. Orilla lived
at Fernlode, and naturally felt it should always be her home. In fact,
she even felt that she should have been the proverbial Cinderella, but
there was no such idea in the minds of Uncle Fred or Aunt Katherine.
Mrs. Rigney, Orilla’s mother, had been very generously paid for her
services, and Orilla’s education was also provided for; but the girl
seems to hold a bitter grudge against your new Aunt Betty–quite as if
uncle Fred’s marriage to her had cut off Orilla’s hopes, you know.”

“Oh, yes,” murmured Nancy. “I can understand that. But I don’t see why
Rosa bothers with her.”

“She is, I believe, a rather persistent young lady and it is she who
bothers Rosa. However, dear, don’t you worry about that angle of Uncle
Fred’s affairs. Just make up your mind to have a wonderful time and so
soothe my conscience for leaving you.”

Followed moments, minutes, little hours of tender endearments. The
mother cautioning, telling, advising, reminding Nancy of so many and
such various possibilities; the daughter questioning–just that, and
only with the loving look from the soft, dark eyes, the appeal from
her trembling lips, the protection begged by her eager young arms; for
Nancy was now quite conscious of the fact that her mother, the great,
the wonderful fortress against every possible and every impossible
evil, was about to be withdrawn from her life for a time. But time
didn’t seem to matter. Two months or two years; it was just the fact,
the unavoidable disaster that confronted her.

“Your hat box holds as much as a suitcase,” said Nancy, laying very
tenderly into the round, black box, one more pair of nice, white silk
stockings, Nancy’s extra gift. “Be sure to wear your black and white
felt on the steamer, Mums. You look stunning in that hat.”

“All right, sweet-heart, I’ll remember,” promised the mother, who
herself was busy with Nancy’s things. “I’m glad your trunk goes today.
Somehow it is easier to attend to mine–”

“Oh, yes. Hum-m-m-hum. You want _me_ out of the way first. But, really,
I think it cheating not to let me see you off,” grumbled Nancy in
pretty pretense.

“Now, you know, dear–”

“’Course I do. I’m just teasing you, Mumsey. I wouldn’t really want
to get mixed up with your party. They might sweep me away and put
goggles on me, to match me up with the library high-brow folks. When a
girl’s mother is made a librarian delegate, I suppose,” sighed Nancy
affectedly, “she ought to wear goggles anyway.”

“Don’t go making fun of my–peers,” cautioned Mrs. Brandon in the same
bantering manner. “I tell you, my dear, if it were not for the library
we wouldn’t any of us be taking a vacation. There’s the postman now.
And I can see Ted’s postcard coming!”

“Four of them!” shouted Nancy, who had already made hold the bright
pictured messages. “Why four, all at once?”

“Laid over,” laconically answered the postman. “Those camps let their
mail pile up, I’ll tell you.”

But Nancy was deciphering the boy’s scrawl which, when classed as
handwriting, was never model, but now, classed as his first message
home from his first week at camp, amounted to perfectly ideal
“broad-casting.”

They read and re-read, Nancy finding little secret words sticking on
the canoe sails and peeping out of, what might have been a cloudburst,
if the postcard had not carried with it the other explanation. This
read “Beautiful Lake Tuketo by Moonlight” and it was the moonlight
effect that was so apt to be misleading.

“He’s all right, at any rate,” remarked the mother, thus betraying
her anxieties. “And he seems to be having a good time,” she sighed
relievedly.

“Trust Ted for that,” Nancy reminded her. “But what an awful looking
lot of boys! Just see my card! They look like a comedy parade.”

“Why Nancy! They’re fine looking little chaps, I’m sure,” defended Mrs.
Brandon. “But I suppose that picture was taken to show the raising of
Old Glory, not as a beauty contest illustration.”

“’S’cuse me,” murmured Nancy. “Of course, they’re–darlings, every one
of them, but I wouldn’t swap our Ted for–the whole bunch!”

“Nancy–Brandon!!”

“Yes-sum!” confessed Nancy, glorifying in her pretended ungrammatic
freedom.

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