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Undertow (Chapter13)

2006-08-22 21:10

  Chapter Thirteen

  For a year or two the Bradleys kept up these Sunday expeditions without accomplishing anything definite. But they accomplished a great amount of indirect happiness, ate a hundred picnic lunches, and accumulated ten times that many amusing, and inspiring, and pleasant, recollections. Bert carried the lovely Anne; Nancy had the thermos bottle and Anne's requirements in a small suit-case; and the boys had a neat cardboard box of lunch apiece.

  And then some months after their seventh anniversary, Bert sold the Witcher Place.

  This was the most important financial event of their lives. The Witcher Place had been so long in the hands of Bert's firm for sale that it had become a household word in the Bradley family, and in other families. Nobody ever expected to pocket the handsome commission that the owner and the firm between them had placed upon the deal, and to Nancy the thing was only a myth until a certain autumn Sunday, when she and Bert and the children were roaming about the Jersey hills, and stumbled upon the place.

  There it was; the decaying mansion, the neglected avenue and garden, the acres and acres of idle orchard and field. The faded signposts identified it, “Apply to the Estate of Eliot Witcher.”

  “Bert, this isn't the Witcher Place!” exclaimed his wife.

  Bert was as interested as she. They pushed open the old gate, and ate their luncheon that day sitting on the lawn, under the elms that the first Eliot Witcher had planted a hundred years ago. The children ran wild over the garden, Anne took her nap on the leaf- strewn side porch.

  “Bert——they never want two hundred thousand dollars for just this!”

  Bert threw away his cigar, and flung himself luxuriously down for a nap.

  “They'll get it, Nance. Somebody'll develop a real estate deal here some day. They must have a hundred acres here. You'll see it- -'Witcher Park' or 'Witcher Manor.' The old chap who inherited it is as rich as Croesus, he was in the office the other day, he wants to sell.——Hello! I was in the office——garden——and so I said- -if you please——”

  Bert was going to sleep. His wife laughed sympathetically as the staggering words stopped, and deep and regular breathing took their place. She sat on in the afternoon sunlight, looking dreamily about her, and trying to picture life here a hundred years ago; the gracious young mistress of the new mansion, the ringlets and pantalettes, the Revloutionary[sic] War still well remembered, and the last George on the throne. And now the house was cold and dead, and strange little boys, in sandals and sturdy galatea, were shouting in the stable.

  Perhaps she was drowsy herself; she started awake, and touched Bert. An old man and a young man had come in the opened gate, and were speaking to her.

  “I beg your pardon!” It was the young man. “But——but do you own this place?”

  “No——just picnicking!” said Bert, wide awake.

  “But it is for sale?” asked the old man. Bert got up, and brushed the leaves from his clothes, and the three men walked down the drive together. Nancy, half-comprehending, all-hoping looked after them. She saw Bert give the young man his card, and glance at the same time at the faded sign, as if he appealed to it to confirm his claim.

  She hardly dared speak when he came back. Anne awoke, and the boys must be summoned for the home trip. Bert moved dreamily, he seemed dazed. Only once did he speak of the Witcher Place that night, and then it was to say:

  “Perry——that's that old chap's name——said that he would be in this week, at the office. I'll bet he doesn't come.”

  “No, I don't suppose he will,” Nancy said.

  “I impressed it on his son that it meant——something, to me, to have him ask for me, if he did come,” said Bert, then.

  “Bert, you'd better skip lunches, this week,” Nancy suggested thoughtfully.

  “I will——that's a good idea,” he said. She noticed that he was more than usually gentle and helpful with the children, that night. Nancy felt his strain, and her own, and went through Monday sick with suspense.

  “Nothing doing!” said Bert cheerfully, coming in on Monday evening. Tuesday went by——Wednesday went by. On Thursday Nancy had an especially nice dinner, because Bert's mother had come down, for a few days' visit. The two women were good friends, and Nancy was never so capable, brisk, and busy as when these sharp but approving eyes were upon her.

  The elder Mrs. Bradley approved of the children heartily, and boasted about them and their clever mother when she went home. Bert's wife was so careful as to manners, so sensible about food and clothes, such a wonderful manager.

  To-night Anne was in her grandmother's lap, commandingly directing the reading of a fairy-story. Whenever the plot seemed thin to Anne she threw in a casual demand for additional lions, dragons or giants, as her fancy dictated. Mrs. Bradley giving Nancy a tremendously amused and sympathetic smile, supplied these horrors duly, and the boys, supposedly eating their suppers at one end of the dining-room table, alternately laughed at Anne and agonized with her.

  Nancy was superintending the boys, the elderly woman had a comfortable chair by the fire, and Hannah was slowly and ponderously setting the table. It was a pretty scene for Bert's eyes to find, as he came in, and he gave his mother and his wife a more than usually affectionate greeting.

  Nancy followed him into their room, taking Anne. She was pleased that the children had been so sweet with their grandmother, pleased that her deep dish pie had come out so well, happy to be cosy and safe at home while the last heavy rains of October battened at the windows.

  She had lowered Anne, already undressed, into her crib when Bert suddenly drew her away, and tipped up her face with his hand under her chin, and stared into her surprised eyes.

  “Well, old girl, I got it! It was all settled inside of twenty minutes, at five o'clock!”

  “The——? But Bert——I don't understand——” Nancy stammered. And then suddenly, with a rush of awed delight, “Bert Bradley! Not the Witcher Place!”

  “Yep!” Bert answered briefly. “He took it. It's all settled.”

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