WHEN Mrs. Greensleeve first laid eyes on her baby she knew it was different from the other children.
"What is the matter with it?" she asked.
The preoccupied physician replied that there was nothing the matter. In point of fact he had been admiring the newly born little girl when her mother asked the question.
"She's about as perfect as they make 'em," he concluded, placing the baby beside her mother.
The mother said nothing. From moment to moment she turned her head on the pillow and gazed down at her new daughter with a curious, questioning expression. She had never gazed at any of her other children so uneasily. Even after she fell asleep the slightly puzzled expression remained as a faint crease between her brows.
Her husband, who had been wandering about from the bar to the office, from the office to the veranda, and occasionally entirely around the exterior of the road-house, came in on tiptoe and looked rather vacantly at them both.
Then he went out again as though he was not sure where he might be going. He was a little man and mild, and he did not look as though he had been created for anything in particular, not even for the purpose of procreation.
It was one of those early April days when birds make a great fuss over their vocal accomplishments, and the brown earth grows green over night—when the hot spring sun draws vapours from the soil, and the characteristic Long Island odour of manure is far too prevalent to please anybody but a native.
Peter Greensleeve, wandering at hazard around the corner of the tavern, came upon his business partner, Archer B. Ledlie leisurely digging for bait in the barn-yard. The latter was in his shirt-sleeves—always a good sign for continued fair weather.
"Boy?" inquired Ledlie, resting one soil-incrusted boot on his spade.
"Another girl," admitted Greensleeve.
"Gawsh!" After a moment's rumination he picked up a squirming angle-worm from the edge of the shallow excavation and dropped it into the empty tomato can.
"Going fishing?" inquired Greensleeve without interest.
"I dunno. Mebbe. Your boy Jack seen a trout into Spring Pond."
Ledlie, who was a large, heavy, red-faced man with a noticeably small mouth, faded blue eyes, and grey chin whiskers, picked a budding sprig from a bush, nibbled it, and gravely seated himself on the edge of the horse-trough. He was wearing a cigar behind his ear which he presently extracted, gazed at, then reconsidering the extravagance, replaced."'Boy?' inquired Ledlie, resting one soil-incrusted boot on his spade."
"Three gals, Pete—that's your record," he remarked, gazing reproachfully out across the salt meadows beyond the causeway. "They won't bring you in nothin'," he added, shutting his thin lips.
"I kind of like them," said Greensleeve with a sigh.
"They'll eat their heads off," retorted Ledlie; "then they'll git married an' go off some'rs. There ain't nothin' to gals nohow. You oughtn't to have went an' done it."
There seemed to be no further defence for Greensleeve. Ledlie continued to chew a sprig of something green and tender, revolving it and rolling it from one side of his small, thin-lipped mouth to the other. His thin little partner brooded in the sunshine. Once he glanced up at the sign which swung in front of the road-house: "Hotel Greensleeve: Greensleeve and Ledlie, proprietors."
"Needs painting, Archie," he volunteered mildly.
"I dunno," said the other. "Since the gunnin' season closed there ain't been no business except them sports from New York. The bar done good; that's all."
"There were two commercial men Wednesday week."
"Yes, an' they found fault with their vittles. They can go to the other place next time," which was as near as Ledlie ever came to profanity.
After a silence Ledlie said: "Here come your kids, Pete. I guess I'll let 'em dig a little bait for me."
Down the road they came dancing, and across the causeway over Spring Pond—Jack, aged four, Doris, three, and Catharine, two; and they broke into a run when they caught sight of their father, travelling as fast as their fat little legs could carry them.
"Is there a new baby?...