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Reggie Turns Up






If Joe had counted upon producing a surprise, his success surpassed his
wildest expectations.

At first there was a second of paralyzed silence. Then there was a wild
hubbub of delighted cries, as four figures started up from the table
and launched themselves upon the stalwart figure that stood framed in
the doorway.

"Joe!" "Mabel!" "Clara!" "Momsey!" "Dad!" "Jim!" The names were repeated
in quick succession and were punctuated with hugs and kisses.

In a moment Joe had his right arm around Mabel, his left about his
mother, while Clara had thrown her arms about his neck and his father
was attempting to get hold of one of his hands. There was no doubt of
the warmth of that welcome.



Nor was Jim left out in the cold. Joe naturally had the center of the
stage, but after the first rapturous greeting had passed, they all made
Jim feel how delighted they were that he had come along with Joe. In
Clara's eyes especially there was a look that Jim hoped he read aright.
Her flushed and sparkling face was alive with happiness that might not
be due altogether to the return of her brother, dearly as she loved him.

For a few minutes questions and answers followed close on each other's
heels, and it was Mrs. Matson at last who suggested that probably the
boys were hungry. They agreed with her emphatically that they were. The
girls flew about, and in a short time fresh coffee and hot biscuits and
bacon and eggs were set before them in tempting profusion. Then while
they ate like famished wolves, the others, who had been just finishing
breakfast when they burst in upon them, sat about the table and talked
and laughed and beamed to their hearts' content. Perhaps in all the
broad land there was no happier group than was gathered about that
table in the little town of Riverside.

"You ought to have telegraphed that you were coming, Joe," said Mrs.
Matson. "Then we could have had a good breakfast ready for you."

"What do you call this?" laughed Joe, as he helped himself to another
biscuit, watching at the same time the bewitching way in which Mabel
was pouring him another cup of coffee. "There couldn't be anything
better than this this side of kingdom come."

"You're right there, old man," observed Jim, his own appetite keeping
pace with that of his chum.

"Seems to me, Joe, that your clothes look a little seedy this morning,"
Clara remarked, with a sister's frankness, during a moment's pause
in the conversation. "The last time you came home you looked like a
fashion plate. But now your shirt front is wrinkled, your collar is
wilted, and the colors in your necktie have run together. Looks as
though you'd got wet through and hadn't dried out yet."

"Perhaps they've been in the river," laughed Mabel gaily, little
thinking how near she came to hitting the nail on the head.

Mrs. Matson's motherly heart was quick to take alarm.

"What's that?" she asked. "Nothing really has happened to you, has it,
Joe?" she inquired, looking anxiously at her son, who after one glare
at the sister who had precipitated the topic, was trying to assume an
air of nonchalance.

But this direct inquiry from his mother left him no recourse except to
tell her a part of the truth, though not necessarily the whole truth.

"We did have a little spill this morning," he returned indifferently.
"I turned the car a little too much to the right and we went through
a fence and into a little stream at the side of the road. Jim and I
got wet, but after we got over being mad we had a good laugh over it.
Neither one of us was a bit hurt, and it's only our clothes that got
the worst of it."

"Oh, but you might have been killed!" exclaimed Mrs. Matson, clasping
her hands together nervously. "You must be more careful, Joe. It would
break my heart if anything happened to you."

"Don't worry a bit, Momsey," replied Joe, placing his hand affectionately
over hers. "Only the good die young, you know, and that makes me safe."

They all pressed him for the details of the accident, and he and Jim
both made light of it, making a joke out of their plight and their
visit to the tailor, so that apprehension vanished, and after a while
the matter was dropped.

Joe was eager for a chance to get alone with Mabel, and Jim was quite
as keen for a tete-a-tete with Clara. The girls were quite as eager,
but as there was no servant in the simple little household the girls
flew around to clear the table, while Joe had a chance for a quiet talk
with his mother, and Jim beguiled his impatience by going out on the
porch with Mr. Matson for a smoke before the latter had to go downtown
to business.

"How have you been feeling, Momsey?" Joe asked when they had settled
down in a cosy corner of the living room. "It seems to me that you're
a little thinner than you were."

"I'm not feeling any too well," replied Mrs. Matson. "I have trouble
with my breathing whenever I go up or down stairs. But I'll be all
right pretty soon," she added, with an attempt at brightness.

"I'm afraid you've been working too hard, Momsey," replied Joe, patting
her hand. "Why don't you let me get you a maid to help out with the
work? The money doesn't matter, and you know how glad I'd be to bear
the expense."

"I don't want any regular servant, Joe," replied Mrs. Matson. "I
haven't been used to one, and she'd be more bother than help. We have a
wash woman. There isn't much to be done in this little house, and Clara
is the dearest girl. If I did what she wanted, I'd just fold my hands
and sit around in the living room. And Mabel, too, has spoiled me since
she's been here. She's already like a second daughter to me."

"She'll be really your daughter before long, if I have anything to say
about it," replied Joe. "I'm going to put it right up to her to marry
me while I'm here this time."

Mrs. Matson was both delighted and flustered at the boldness of this
announcement.

"You take my breath away, talking like that," she replied. "But I'm
afraid Mabel won't let herself be carried off her feet in that way. A
girl wants to get her trousseau ready. And then, too, she'll want to be
married in her father's house. You're a dear boy, Joe, but you've got a
lot to learn about women."

"Mabel will agree all right," replied Joe confidently, though his
masculine assurance had been slightly dashed by his mother's prediction.

The opportunity to make sure about that important matter came a few
minutes later, when Mabel came into the room looking more lovely, Joe
thought, than he had ever seen her before. Mrs. Matson lingered only a
moment longer, and then made an excuse to leave the room. The door had
hardly closed behind her before Mabel was in Joe's arms.

It was a long time before they were able to talk coherently, and when
at last Mabel told Joe that he was too greedy and laughingly bade him
be sensible, she was more rosy and beautiful than ever, and Joe was
deeper in love than before, if that could be possible.

Joe was not long in putting his mother's prediction to the test.

"Do you remember what Jim said when we said good-by to McRae after the
World Tour was over?" he asked, with a twinkle in his eye.

The flush in Mabel's cheeks deepened.

"Jim talks so much nonsense," she countered.

"Think a minute." Joe was jogging her memory. "Wasn't it something
about bells?"

"How should I remember?" asked Mabel, though she did remember perfectly.

"Well, I remember," said Joe. "He said I'd soon be hearing wedding
bells. Now do you remember?"

"Y-yes," admitted Mabel at last, hiding her face on Joe's shoulder,
which was very close to her.

"I want to hear those wedding bells, very soon, dearest," said Joe
tenderly. "Next week--this week--to-morrow----"

Mabel sat up with a little scream.

"Next week--this week--to-morrow!" she repeated. "Why, Joe dear, we
can't!"

"Why can't we?" asked Joe with masculine directness.

"Why--why--we just can't," replied Mabel. "I haven't got my wedding
clothes ready. And I'll have to be married in my own home. What would
my family think? What would my friends think? It would look like a
runaway affair. People would talk. Oh, Joe dear, I'd love to, but I
just can't. Don't you see I can't?"

Joe did not see at all, and he renewed his importunities with all his
powers of persuasion. But Mabel, though she softened her refusal with
lover-like endearments, was set in her convictions, and Joe at last
was forced to confess in his heart with a groan that his mother was
right, and that he had a lot to learn about women.

He suggested in desperation that they go on at once to her home in
Goldsboro and be married there, but although that would have taken away
one of her arguments, the others still continued in full force, and she
added another for good measure.

"You see, Joe, dear, your mother isn't well enough just now to travel
so far, and it would break her heart if she weren't present at our
marriage. By fall she may be better."

"By fall!" echoed Joe in dismay. "Have I got to wait that long?"

"I think it would be better, dear," said Mabel gently. "You see if we
got married any time after the baseball season had commenced, you would
find it hard to get away from your club. In any case, our honeymoon
trip would have to be very short. Then, too, if I traveled about the
circuit with you, you'd have me on your mind, and it might affect your
playing. But I promise you that we shall get married in the fall, just
as soon as the baseball season is over."

And as she sealed this promise in the way that Joe liked best, he was
forced to be content.

The days passed by, as though on wings, with Joe grudging every minute
as it passed that brought him nearer to the day when he would have to
rejoin his team. The hours were precious and he spent every one of them
that he could with Mabel.

Jim, too, was finding his vacation delightful. He was getting on
famously with Clara, and the latter's heart was learning to beat very
fast when she heard the step and saw the face of the handsome young
athlete. The prospects were very good that two weddings would be
celebrated in the fall, and that Baseball Joe would gain not only a
wife but a brother-in-law.

During that week the moon was at its full, and almost every night
saw the two couples out for a stroll. They would start out from the
house together and walk down the village street, with only a few yards
separating them. However, they usually lost sight of each other before
they had gone far.

Joe was happy, supremely happy. Mabel had never been so dear, so
affectionate. He knew that he possessed her heart utterly. Yet there
was a faint something, a mysterious impression to which he could
scarcely give a name, that at times marred his happiness and caused him
to feel depressed. He chased the feeling away, and yet it returned.

There were moments when Mabel grew quiet and seemed as though brooding
over something. Her face would become sad, and only brighten with a
gayety that seemed a little forced, when she saw that he was studying
her and seeking to learn what troubled her. At times she would cling to
him as though she feared he was to be taken from her. Once or twice he
questioned her, but she laughed his fears away and declared that there
was nothing the matter. Despite her denials, he remained vaguely uneasy.

The day before his brief vacation came to an end there was a ring at
the bell of the Matson home. Mabel, who happened to be in the hall at
the time, opened the door. There was an exclamation of surprise and
delight as the newcomer threw his arms about her.

"Reggie!"

"Mabel!"

There was a fond embrace, and then Mabel came into the living room
where the family were assembled, while close behind her came Reggie
Varley, her brother, the same old Reggie, monocle, cane, lisp, English
clothes, English accent, fancy waistcoat, fitted in topcoat, spats and
all--a vision of sartorial splendor!





Next: The Anonymous Letter

Previous: A Surprise



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