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Blacksheep! Blacksheep!

Blacksheep! Blacksheep!

Meredith Nicholson

Update: 2020-04-22

Chapter 1

  • ### I
  • Mrs. Howard Featherstone spent much time thinking up things for her brothe_rchibald Bennett to do, and as Archie was the ideal bachelor brother, alway_emembering the children's birthdays and turning up dutifully for Christma_inners, he accepted her commissions in the most amiable spirit and hi_ervices were unfailingly satisfactory. He knew perfectly well that most o_he jobs she imposed upon him had been politely but firmly declined by he_usy husband, but this made no difference to Archie, who had all the time i_he world, and infinite patience, and he rather enjoyed tracing expres_ackages and matching ribbons.
  • "The agent who's been looking up a summer house for us says this is an unusua_pportunity, as there are few places to let at Bailey Harbor and this one i_nexpectedly on the market. The owner is obliged to leave just after settlin_n it, so it's all in perfect condition and if it meets our needs we can g_ight up. Howard's simply swamped with work—he's conducting some sort o_nvestigation with night meetings and that sort of thing—and we'd al_ppreciate it if you could run up there for us."
  • The many preoccupations of his brother-in-law, who held a seat in Congress an_ook his job seriously, were well known to Archie. Featherstone was a_mportant cog in the governmental machinery while Archie had nothing on eart_o do, so it was eminently fitting that he, as an unattached and unemploye_rother-in-law, should assume some of Featherstone's domestic burdens. Archi_ad planned to leave for the Canadian Rockies two days later, but as no urgen_usiness called him in that direction, he obligingly agreed to take a look a_he Bailey Harbor house that had been placed so providentially within reach o_is sister.
  • "The owner belongs to that old New England Congdon family," Mrs. Featherston_xplained; "they date from the beginning of time, and some of them are _rifle eccentric. You remember one of them—he must be the father or an uncl_f the owner of this house—Eliphalet Congdon, who lives in Boston and i_orribly rich but is always doing weird things. There was a perfectly killin_rticle in the paper just the other day telling of his latest exploit, whic_as getting arrested for refusing to allow them to check his umbrella at th_etropolitan Museum. They thought, of course, that he was a crank who wante_o poke holes through the pictures, and he made such a fuss that they had t_rrest him and he wouldn't give bail but had his lawyer get him out on a wri_f habeas corpus."
  • "The same philanthropist who had a bus built just like the Fifth Avenue busse_nd wanted to run it himself to pick up women and children the regular busse_ouldn't stop for," laughed Archie. "If you're renting a house from tha_amily it's just as well to look into it carefully. All right, May; I'l_nspect the premises for you."
  • In spite of his good-natured assent she continued to pile up excuses for he_usband and explained in great detail the rundown condition of the childre_hich made it necessary to get them out of Washington as quickly as possible.
  • Archie was already mentally planning the details of his trip with hi_ustomary exactness. As he traveled constantly in the interest of his health, which had been a cause of solicitude to himself and all his relatives as fa_ack as any one could remember, he knew train schedules by heart, and b_atching the Federal Express the next night he would be able to connect with _rain at Boston that would land him at Bailey Harbor at two o'clock the sam_ay.
  • With any sort of luck he could escape from the Harbor, reach New York th_ollowing morning and proceed immediately westward. A few telegrams woul_eadjust matters so that he would lose only a day in setting out for Banff, which his newest doctor had told him was an ideal spot for him. Many othe_octors had posted him off to numerous other places in pursuit of the calm o_timulus or whatever it was he needed to make him a sound man capable o_aking some part in the world's affairs. Archie's condition was always _rateful topic of conversation and now that his sister had told him how man_edrooms her menage required, and warned him particularly to be sure tha_here was a sleeping porch and a garage, and not to forget to look carefull_nto the drainage system of the entire Maine coast; having watched him mak_otes of these matters, Mrs. Featherstone, in her most sisterly tone, broache_he subject of his health.
  • "Your troubles, Archie, are all due to the scarlet fever you had when you wer_ child. I've thought that if you could ever get into some active work i_ould cure you. These sanatoriums you live in most of the time never do yo_ny good. They just keep you thinking about yourself. What you need is _omplete upsetting,—something that would give a new turn to your life. And, you know," she went on softly, "I'd hoped, Archie, that the right girl woul_urn up one of these days and that that would prove the panacea. But the girl_'ve picked out never pleased you, and here you are, the finest brother in th_orld, and the most conscientious man alive, always doing generous things fo_eople—you know you do, Archie—with nothing ahead of you but just on_anatorium after another. I haven't much faith in this idea of your going t_he Rockies; you know you tried the Alps five years ago and the altitud_early killed you."
  • "I seem doomed to sit on the sidelines and watch the game," Archie agree_loomily.
  • "But sometimes, I think you yield too easily to discouragement. Please don'_hink I mean to be unkind or unjust, but if at some turn of the road you wer_bliged to put your back to the wall and fight for your life! Really, dear, _hink you would win the battle and be a very different man afterward."
  • Archie smiled wanly. He had the lively imagination of the neurasthenic an_ery often he had dreamed of vanquishing single-handed a dozen enemies, o_lunging into a burning house and staggering out half dead bearing a helples_hild in his arms. To look at him no one would believe that he had a nerve i_is tall frame. Once a friend carried him off to a farm where an autocrati_thletic trainer rejuvenated tired business men; and Archie survived th_eroic treatment and reappeared bronzed and hardened and feeling better tha_e had ever felt in his life. But a winter spent in an office and leisure t_hink of himself as an invalid brought back the old apprehensions, and ther_eing no one at hand to drag him again to the trainer's, he renewed hi_cquaintance with the waiting-rooms of specialists.
  • "There will be a few people in for dinner tonight," remarked Mrs. Featherston_s he rose to go; "very simple, you know; and Howard just telephoned that h_an't possibly come, so if you can arrange it, Archie—"
  • "All right, May. Weld and Coburn are in town and I was going to have dinne_ith them at the Army and Navy, but if you really want me—"
  • "Oh, that's perfectly fine of you, Archie! You are splendid to break you_ngagement with them when you three don't meet very often; but it will be _eal help to me to have you. It's so late now that I can't ask any one else i_oward's place. And Isabel Perry will be here; you know she's the deares_irl, and I always thought you really did like Isabel. Her father lost all hi_oney before he died and she's had a position as gymnasium teacher in Mis_ordon's school. This summer she's to run a girls' camp up in Michigan and sh_an't help making a splendid success of it."
  • Archie did not at once detach Miss Perry from the innumerable host of youn_omen his sister had introduced him to; they were a hazy composite in hi_emory, but when Mrs. Featherstone insisted that he couldn't have forgotte_iss Perry's smile and merry laugh, he promptly declared that he remembere_er perfectly. When he found himself sitting beside her later at Mrs.
  • Featherstone's table, with a lady on his right who was undoubtedly mos_istinguished in spite of the fact that he failed to catch her name an_nderstood very little of her rapid French, he was very grateful for Mis_erry's propinquity. The smile and the laugh were both better even than Mrs.
  • Featherstone's specifications, and her English had a refreshing Western tan_nd raciness that pleased him.
  • "I passed you on the street the other day and made frantic efforts to attrac_our attention but you were in a trance and failed to see my signals."
  • "I was taking my walk," he stammered.
  • "' _My_ walk!'" she repeated. "You speak as though you had a monopoly of tha_orm of exercise. I must say you didn't appear to be enjoying yourself. You_spect was wholly funereal and your demeanor that of a man with a certai_umber of miles wished on him."
  • "Four a day," Archie confessed with an air of resignation; "two in the mornin_nd two before dinner."
  • "Then you were doing your morning lap when I passed you. Only four miles _ay?"
  • "By the doctor's orders," he assented with the wistful smile that usuall_voked sympathetic murmurs in feminine auditors.
  • "Oh, the doctors!" remarked the girl as though she had no great opinion o_octors in general or of Mr. Bennett's medical advisers in particular. He wa_sed to a great deal of sympathy and he was convinced that Miss Perry was a_tterly unsympathetic person.
  • "What would you call a good walk?" he asked a little tartly.
  • "Oh, ten, twenty, thirty! I've done fifteen and gone to a dance at the end o_he tramp."
  • "But you haven't my handicap," he protested defensively. "You can't be ver_ay about walking when you're warned that excessive fatigue may hav_isastrous consequences!"
  • She was not wholly without feeling for her face grew grave for a moment an_he met his eyes searchingly, with something of the professional scrutiny t_hich he had long been accustomed.
  • "Eyes clear; color very good; voice a trifle weak and suggesting timidity an_eeble initiative. Introspective; a little self-conscious, and unimportan_ervous symptoms indicated by the rolling of bread crumbs."
  • "I've paid doctors large fees for telling me the same things," he said, hastily hiding the bread crumbs under the edge of his plate. "I wish you'_rite those items down for me. I'm in earnest about that."
  • "When did you say you were leaving town?"
  • "Tomorrow evening. If you'll write out your diagnosis and any suggestions yo_ay have as to my habits, diet and general course of life, I promise to pu_hem into practice."
  • "Your case interests me and I'll consider this matter of advising you."
  • "I shall expect the document tomorrow afternoon!"
  • "I should want to be very sure," she laughed, "that you were really leavin_own and that I shouldn't see you for a long time—perhaps never again!"
  • "That has an ominous sound, as though you were going to give me a deat_entence! Is my case as bad as that?"
  • "Not at all; but it calls for that disagreeable frankness we all dislike i_ur friends and very properly resent in mere acquaintances. I should b_normously embarrassed to meet you until after—"
  • She paused and surveyed him once more, questioningly. The French lady wa_elling a story to the whole company, and they were obliged to give heed t_t; and as Archie failed to catch the point of it Miss Perry very kindly gav_im the clue. The talk was general for a few minutes and then he begged her t_inish the sentence that had been left in the air.
  • "Oh, it doesn't matter! I think I was going to say that it would b_mbarrassing to see you until after you had given my little hints a trial.
  • I'll say now that just the orderly course of your life, with four miles a day, no more, no less, isn't a bit likely to get you anywhere. My treatment fo_uch a case as yours would be very drastic. I'd set you some real stunts to d_f you were my patient. May tells me that they won't have you in the army, th_avy, or the flying corps, but I believe I could find some excitement fo_ou," she ended musingly.
  • "As, for example—?" he asked, finding the French lady conspiring with a_ttaché of the Italian embassy. "To meet the competition of the nerv_pecialists, you'll have to be very explicit and tell me exactly what to do."
  • "Right there is one of your troubles—living by fixed schedules. You've neve_elt the world's rough hand; you don't know life! Clubs and sanatoriums an_eek-ends in comfortable houses don't count. You're a tremendously forma_erson, Mr. Bennett! What you really need is a good hard jar! Every mornin_ou know exactly what you're going to do every hour of the day. It's routin_hat kills! Now just suppose when you're out on one of your walks you were t_verpower the chauffeur of, we will say, the British ambassador, and drive th_ar bearing his Excellency into some lonely fastness of the Virginia hills, and hold him for a ransom, and collect the money in twenty-dollar gold piece_nd escape with it and then come back to Washington and spend it all on a bi_arty with the ambassador as the guest of honor. There would be a rea_chievement—something that would make you famous in two hemispheres."
  • "And incidentally lock me up for life if I escaped being shot! Such a_scapade would very likely spoil our cordial relations with England and caus_o end of trouble."
  • "There you are!" she exclaimed, "thinking always of the cost, never of th_un! Of course you would never do any such thing. Let me try again! Suppos_ou were to hold up a bank messenger in Wall Street and skip with a satchelfu_f negotiable securities and then, after the papers were through ragging th_olice for their inefficiency, you would drive up to the bank in a taxi, wal_n and return the money, saying you had found it in the old family pew a_rinity when you went in to say your prayers! Here would be an opportunity t_reak the force of habit and awaken your self-confidence."
  • "Am I to understand that you practice what you preach? I don't mean to b_mpertinent, but really,—"
  • "Oh, I'm perfectly capable of doing anything I've suggested. I'm merely bidin_y time. Parents are pardonably fussy about the sort of person they turn thei_hildren over to, so I must have a care. I mean to dig for buried treasur_his summer, realizing the dream of a lifetime."
  • "That appeals to me strongly. Perhaps you'd let me assist in tha_ndertaking?"
  • "Impossible! I want all the glory and eke the gold if I find the hidde_hests. Talk about romance being dead! My grandfather was a planter i_ississippi before the Civil War. In about 1860 he saw trouble ahead, and a_e was opposed to secession he turned everything he had into gold, bough_everal tracts of land in Michigan and New York and secretly planted hi_oney. His wife and children refused to share his lonely exile and he sen_hem to England but clung to America himself, and died suddenly and alone th_econd year of the war on the very acres my father inherited in Michigan.
  • That's where I'm opening my camp."
  • "And the gold hasn't been found?" asked Archie deeply interested.
  • "Not a coin so far! You see grandfather made his will in war time and onl_ivided the land, being afraid to mention the buried treasure in a documen_hat would become a public record when he died."
  • "This is most exciting. It's only unfortunate that it's not pirate gold t_ive zest to your enterprise."
  • "Oh, the pirate in the story is a cousin of mine, who inherited the land u_ear the St. Lawrence and has dug all over it without results. My father gav_he Michigan scenery to me, but this cousin has been digging on my land, mos_nwarrantably! He's rather a dashing young person!"
  • Archie was so enthralled that he forgot the typewritten dietary he alway_arried in his pocket and ate most of his portion of beef tenderloin before h_emembered that red meats were denied him. He laid down his fork so abruptl_hat she asked him what was the matter.
  • "Nothing; only you've interested me so much that I've eaten a whole lot o_tuff that's positively forbidden. You've already scored a victory over m_pecialists!"
  • "Splendid!" she cried. "Eat when you're hungry and never think about you_ood. Don't let a mere piece of beef know that you're a coward. Have you eve_ommitted murder? You pale at the suggestion and yet a pleasant little murde_ight be the very thing to set you on your feet again!"
  • From time to time he caught Mrs. Featherstone's eyes fixed upon hi_pprovingly, and he knew that she was thinking that at last he had met a gir_ho interested him. The impression that he was an invalid in imminent peril o_eath caused his friends and acquaintances to talk to him as though he were _ick child, and it was refreshing to find a girl who openly chaffed him abou_is health and went the length of prescribing a career of riotous crime as _ure for his ills. This was enormously amusing for in prep school and colleg_e had been guiltless of the traditional pranks and in the six years that ha_lapsed since he emerged into the world he had walked circumspectly in th_yes of all men.
  • Isabel Perry was not afraid of him and she didn't treat him as girls did wh_ad an idea that if they talked to him very long he might faint or even die o_heir hands. He noted her fine rounded arms and supple fingers that spoke fo_trength, reflecting that very likely she could pick him up and pitch hi_hrough the window. He had always disliked athletic girls, fancying that the_odded to him patronizingly as they passed him on country club verandas al_glow from golf or tennis. This amiable Isabel was quite capable of making hi_ance through a set of tennis and with her high spirits and strong will migh_ven bring him out alive. It was obvious that the sudden sweeping away of he_ather's fortune had not troubled her in the least. He marveled at this, fo_e had a great deal of money that had been conferred upon him in the cradl_nd what he should do if he lost it was a depressing possibility that ha_ontributed not a little to his neurasthenia.
  • When it came time for Isabel to say good-night to her hostess Bennett wa_overing near to offer his services in calling her car.
  • "Nothing like that for me! I brought walking shoes and shall foot it home, thank you. But—" she hesitated and said with mock gravity, "if you're no_fraid of the night air or the excessive fatigue, you might take me home. Tha_ill add a mile to your prescription but you can ride back!"
  • The other guests had gone when she reappeared, wrapped in a long cloak an_earing a party-bag containing her slippers. She spoke of her plans for th_ummer with charming candor as they set off at a brisk pace. Little bits o_utobiography she let fall interested him immensely. She was born in Wyoming, where her father had been a ranchman, and she had first known Mrs.
  • Featherstone in college. She was enthusiastic about the summer camp; if i_ucceeded she meant to conduct an outdoor school for girls, moving it fro_ichigan to Florida with the changing seasons.
  • "People have been so kind to me! And I shall have a wonderful lot o_irls—just think of it,—one hundred dear young beings from all over th_ountry. It's a big responsibility but that land of my grandfather's is _ovely site for the camp. It's on a bay, where the swimming will be perfectl_afe, and there's a wonderful forest, with Indian trails that run back t_arquette's time. We shall have a doctor—a woman, of course—and two traine_urses and some splendid young women to act, as councilors."
  • There was no question of her making a success of it, he said, marveling at he_itality, her exuberance, the confidence with which she viewed the future.
  • "I wish you all good luck," he said when they reached the house of the frien_he was visiting. "The camp will be a great success,—I'm sure of that."
  • "Oh, it's a case of sink or swim—I've got to make it go!" she replied with he_uoyant laugh. "If I don't succeed I can't emerge from the woods next fall an_ace my creditors!"
  • "There's the buried treasure; you mustn't neglect that! I'm greatly you_ebtor for all the interesting things you've told me. This has been th_appiest evening I've spent since——"
  • "Since you began taking everything so hard? Please quit looking on your lif_s a burden; try to get some fun out of it!"
  • The door opened to the key she gave him and the light of the hall lamp fel_pon her face and glinted her brown hair as she put out her hand.
  • "Don't forget me in the rush of things! And particularly don't forget tha_ote of instructions. I'm counting on that!"
  • "Not really?" she exclaimed. "I was just in fun, you know."
  • "If I don't get it before I leave tomorrow evening, I shall be terribl_isappointed. I shall take it as a sign that you don't think me wort_othering about!"
  • There was a pleading in his voice that held her for a moment; she surveyed hi_ravely, then answered lightly,
  • "Oh, very well! You shall have it, sir!"