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- The Spanish Chest - 3/39 -
FRAN ENGAGES LODGINGS
"I positively refuse," said Mrs. Thayne, "to go out again to-day. And I wish you wouldn't go either, Wingate," she added to her older son. "That steamer trip was frightful. What a night we did have! As for you two," she went on to Frances and Roger, "I suppose you won't be happy until you are off for an exploring expedition, but I don't see how you can feel like it."
"Why, Mother, I wasn't seasick," said Roger, a handsome, mischievous-looking boy about twelve. "I slept like a log till I heard Win being--hmm--unhappy. That woke me but I turned over and didn't know anything more till daylight."
"I shouldn't have been sick if you hadn't begun it, Mother," observed Frances, turning from the window overlooking the esplanade. "I feel all right now. Mayn't Roger and I go down on the beach or take a car ride?" she asked, eagerly.
"I don't imagine there are any electric cars on the island," said Mrs. Thayne.
"But out here is a funny little steam tram marked St. Aubin's," interposed Frances. "It's going somewhere. Look at the dinky cars with a kind of balcony and that speck of an engine."
"That's a pony engine for sure," drawled Win, joining his sister at the window. Except that he was thin and fragile no one could have known from Win's clever, merry dark face, how greatly he was handicapped by a serious heart trouble. But the contrast between his tall, loosely-knit figure and Fran's compact little person brought a wistful expression into Mrs. Thayne's observant eyes. Win was seventeen and had never been able to play as other boys did. Probably all his life would be different, yet he was so plucky and brave over his limitations.
"There's the _Lydia_ down in the harbor," exclaimed Frances. "My, didn't she wiggle around last night!"
"Lydia, Lydia, why dost thou tremble? Answer me true. Traveler, traveler, I'll not dissemble, 'Tis but the screw.
Lydia, Lydia, why this commotion? Answer me quick. Traveler, traveler, 'tis but a notion. You must be sick!"
drawled Win, following the direction of his sister's glance.
"Win, how bright of you!" she exclaimed. "I wish I could think of things like that. But, Mother, mayn't we go out and take that little train wherever it's going?"
"Yes, I suppose so," agreed Mrs. Thayne. "Take care of Fran, Roger, and don't get separated. You might notice any attractive places offering lodgings. We don't want to stay in this hotel all winter and the sooner we are settled the better."
"Come along, Fran," exclaimed Roger. "That infant train is getting a move on."
The two tore impetuously from the sitting-room. "Such energy!" Mrs. Thayne remarked with a sigh. "Will you lie down here, Win?"
"No, I think I'll write a bit," replied her son. "I'm not so done up as you are, Mother."
"Why Roger wasn't ill after the strange combination of food he ate at Winchester last evening is a miracle," remarked Mrs. Thayne. "Were you planning to write to Father?"
"I will," replied her son. "Mother, do go and rest. You look like the latter end of a wasted life. But I hope the kids will light on some lodgings. I've had enough of hotels. Nothing on earth is so deadly dull and so deadly respectable as a first-class English hotel."
"Why, of course it is respectable," said Mrs. Thayne, looking rather puzzled.
"Thunder, yes! But it's so _fearfully_ proper! That head-waiter down-stairs, with his side-whiskers and his velvet tread and his confidential voice--why, when he came to take my order, I wanted to pull his hair or do something to turn him into a human being."
Mrs. Thayne smiled. Much as she loved Win, she did not always understand him. Shut out from active sports, Win had early taken refuge in the world of books and his quick perceptions were often those of a mature mind.
When his mother had gone into her room, Win settled himself by the west window overlooking the bay where Castle Elizabeth rose on its rock in the middle distance. Win looked at it approvingly, promising himself later the fun of finding out its history and present use. Just now, he would devote himself to getting the family journal up to date for Father, on duty with the _Philadelphia_, somewhere near Constantinople. It was to be on the same side of the Atlantic that the Thaynes had come to England and a slight attack of bronchitis on Win's part had resulted in this additional trip. Jersey was reported to possess a mild climate as well as good schools where Roger and Frances might have new and probably interesting experiences. Win himself was not equal to school routine, but there would doubtless be some tutor available to give him an hour or two every day, a pleasant and easy task for some young man, for Win was always eager to study when health permitted.
Deep in his heart was the ever-present regret that he could not enter Annapolis nor follow in the footsteps of his father, but if an elder brother had any influence, Roger was going into the naval service. At present, Roger showed no inclination to such a future, and was but mildly interested in his father's career, but Captain Thayne and Win shared an unspoken hope that a change would come with the passing years.
For some time after finishing his letter, Win sat with eyes on Castle Elizabeth, idly speculating about the coming winter. This old-world island, with its differing customs and ancient traditions seemed a place where most interesting things might happen, a land of romance and fairy gold, offering possibilities of strange adventure. Just because Win was debarred from most boyish fun, his mind turned eagerly to deeds of daring. Visions of pirates, smugglers, and buried hoards often danced through his brain, and the least suggestion of any mystery was enough to excite his keen interest. That hoary old castle on its island proved a source of many romantic ideas to Win, who presently fell into a day-dream.
The sun set in crimson splendor behind the castle towers and Win's reverie changed to genuine slumber from which he was roused by the reappearance of Mrs. Thayne.
"I'm sorry I waked you," she said. "I didn't notice that you were asleep."
"Why, I didn't know I was," said Win lazily. "I must have been dreaming and yet I thought I was awake. It was such an odd dream about a young man or rather a boy, in queer clothes ornamented with silver buttons and wearing his hair in curls over his shoulders. I was following him somewhere through a passage, very dark and narrow. Then suddenly we were in a room with a big fireplace and books around the walls. It was a beautiful old room but I never remember seeing a place like it. Some other people came, all men, also in queer clothes and very quiet and serious. On a table was food of some kind and this boy I had been following began to eat but the others stood about, apparently consulting over something. Then I woke. Wasn't it a crazy dream? Oh, the reason we were in that passage was because something was lost. I don't know what it was nor how I knew it was lost but we were trying to find it."
"That was odd. You must have read something that suggested it," Mrs. Thayne began, just as Fran and Roger came into the room, bursting with suppressed excitement. For a few moments they talked in a duet.
"Mother, it's lovely over at St. Aubin's, ever so much nicer than here," Fran began breathlessly, her brown eyes sparkling. "And such a funny little train running along the esplanade!"
"You couldn't believe there was such a beach," put in Roger. "Why, the tide goes out forever, clear to the horizon! Fellows were playing football down there, two games. How much does this tide rise, Win?"
"This book I've been reading says forty feet," replied his brother.
"And the houses!" Fran went on breathlessly, "all colors, cream and brown and blue and pink."
"Oh, draw it mild, Sis," interrupted Win. "I should admire a pink house."
"It's out there," said Frances, "and what's more, it's very pretty!"
"That's right," corroborated Roger. "Wouldn't a pink house look something fierce at home? But here it's swell and kind of--of appropriate," he ended lamely.
"And flowers, Mother," Frances took up the tale. "_Hedges_ of fuchsia, real live tall hedges, not measly little potted plants. Geraniums as tall as I am, and ever so many roses and violets. Oh, and we've found some lodgings. You're to see them to-morrow."
"Frances!" exclaimed her horrified mother. "You haven't been in strange houses, inspecting rooms?"
"Why, you told us to look for them, didn't you, Mother?" replied her astonished and literal daughter. "Roger was with me. It was perfectly all right."
"I simply meant you to notice from the outside any attractive
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