The Apple-Tree Girl/Chapter 7

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CHAPTER VII

The Phairs, listening to no excuses, took Charlotte home and installed her in a beautiful room overlooking the Sound—a room and a view each like a scene from fairyland.

"Some day," thought Charlotte after she had done her hair up for the night, "I shall have a house like this—when I have married my millionaire!"

She smiled a little as she said it, but she didn't smile long, because the more she thought about it, the more she felt that her Third Great Sum should be solved now or never. "I've got a chance to meet one here," she mused, meaning, of course, a millionaire; "but if I wait till I get back home——"

For a long time she sat there, dreaming and thinking, even as she dreamed and thought over her other two sums before she had found the answers.

"It's so hard to tell about young men," she told herself. "I might meet someone here to-morrow and think he was all right; but he might be married or he might be engaged, and there's hardly any way of finding out unless you ask. And what would Mrs. Phair think if I went around asking: 'Is he single? Is he engaged? Is he rich?' She'd know right away what I meant."

Thus she sat there dreaming and looking out at the moonlight on the water, as girls have sat and dreamed since time immemorial—and on much the same subject. "Besides," she thought, "if I met him here I might never see him again. If I could only think of some romantic way to make his acquaintance—some way he'd never forget!" Again for a long time she sat and dreamed—and then she suddenly laughed, an irrepressible little laugh. "Wouldn't it be funny?" she chuckled to herself. And even after she had said her prayers and curled herself up for the night, that irrepressible little laugh kept rising in the darkness like so many flights of a midnight lark which had ever such a rollicking story to tell.

The next day was Sunday, a day of rest from sums both great and small. But on Monday afternoon, when Charlotte strolled over to the Golf Club she had an indescribable but imminent manner, as though she were about to embark upon an important enterprise. The verandas were filled, and as soon as she could escape from the congratulations which swept upon her like an admiring tidal wave, she sought Mr. Ogilvie, sent him for their clubs, and took him to the bench near the first tee, where they could watch the players starting over the course.

"I suppose you know everybody here, Mr. Ogilvie," she said.

"Aye, there's not many I miss," he confessed.

"And some are poor, I suppose, and some are rich?"

"Aweel, I'd say that some were rich and some were richer. There's not much poverty in yon crowd."

"Isn't it funny!" said Charlotte with an innocent look. "I never saw a millionaire till I came down here. It's a treat to me just to see them—to find out what they look like. Now take that man who's just starting out—is he a millionaire?"

"N-no," said the judgmatic Mr. Ogilvie, "he's what I'd call just ordinary rich. But if you'll wait a bit I'll point ye out a few who can count it by the million. …

"There now!" he presently continued. "Ye see that stout old gentleman in the white shoes? He's one! And ye see that wiry mon with the brown mustache? He's one!"

For the next five minutes Mr. Ogilvie led Charlotte around the edges of her destiny, and then at last he guided her straight to what she had been all the time hoping she would find.

"Look now!" he said. "Ye see the young mon who's just starting out? It's Perry Graham; ye've heard o' him! Rich? Eh, rich is no name for it!"

"Wasn't his father in steamships or something?" asked Charlotte.

"Aye! Steamships and railroads and banks and trust companies, and nubbody knows what all! But when he died two years ago, mark ye now, he couldn't take a penny of it with him. So his boy Perry come in for it all."

"Was that his wife I met on the veranda?" asked Charlotte.

"Perry's wife? Not likely! He isna married."

"I wonder why."

"Courted to death, I'm thinking," said Mr. Ogilvie dryly.

"Poor thing!" said Charlotte, more dryly than he. "Well, if you're ready now, we'll start."

They caught up to the highly courted Perry Graham at the fourth hole, and Charlotte had a good chance to look at him. "He's really handsome," she thought, her heart beginning to pound as she thought of what she was going to do. "I'd better do it now," she hurriedly added, "or I'll be too nervous."

The fourth hole at New London is a secluded stretch of sward, hidden by a hill from the clubhouse and skirting a grove of yellow pines. Mr. Graham's first shot had only gone about twenty yards, and as he walked toward it Charlotte very carefully began to take aim at him. At home she had often practiced hitting trees in the orchard; but this, you see, was more difficult because the tree was walking away from her.

"I don't want to hit him too hard," she thought, "only just enough to tell him how sorry I am, and make him remember. And then, when Mr. Ogilvie introduces me, and he learns that I'm staying with the Phairs—well, anyhow, he'll be one iron in the fire."

She raised her club for the swing, and just as she was bringing it down, Mr. Graham half turned.

"Look out!" cried Mr. Ogilvie, suddenly seeing the danger.

Whether this shout upset Charlotte she never could tell herself, but when she made her drive she did it as she had always practiced driving. She made it with every ounce of her strength. The ball flew forward with a snarling speed that must have stung the air, and when Mr. Graham instinctively ducked to avoid it, he received it, full brunt, on the side of his forehead.

"Oh!" gasped Charlotte. "I've killed him!"

The next moment she was flying to where her victim lay motionless upon the turf, limp and oblivious to all his earthly cares.