It is doubtful if Aggie and I would have known anything about Tish's plan had Aggie not seen the advertisement in the newspaper. She came to my house at once in violent excitement and with her bonnet over her ear, and gave me the newspaper clipping to read. It said:
"Wanted: A small donkey. Must be gentle, female, and if possible answer to the name of Modestine. Address X 27, Morning News."
"Well," I said when I had read it, "did you insert the advertisement or do you propose to answer it?"
Aggie was preparing to take a drink of water, but, the water being cold and the weather warm, she was dabbing a little on her wrists first to avoid colic. She looked up at me in surprise.
"Do you mean to say, Lizzie," she demanded, "that you don't recognize that advertisement?"
"Modestine?" I reflected. "I've heard the name before somewhere. Didn't Tish have a cook once named Modestine?"
But it seemed that that was not it. Aggie sat down opposite me and took off her bonnet. Although it was only the first of May, the weather, as I have said, was very warm.
"To think," she said heavily, "that all the time while I was reading it aloud to her when she was laid up with neuralgia she was scheming and planning and never saying a word to me! Not that I would have gone; but I could have sent her mail to her, and at least have notified the authorities if she had disappeared."
"Reading what aloud to her—her mail?" I asked sharply.
"'Travels with a Donkey,'" Aggie replied. "Stevenson's 'Travels with a Donkey.' It isn't safe to read anything aloud to Tish any more. The older she gets the worse she is. She thinks that what any one else has done she can go and do. If she should read a book on poultry-farming she would think she could teach a young hen to lay an egg."
As Aggie spoke a number of things came back to me. I recalled that the Sunday before, in church, Tish had appeared absorbed and even more devout than usual, and had taken down the headings of the sermon on her missionary envelope; but that, on my leaning over to see if she had them correctly, she had whisked the paper away before I had had more than time to see the first heading. It had said "Rubber Heels."
Aggie was pacing the floor nervously, holding the empty glass.
"She's going on a walking tour with a donkey, that's what, Lizzie," she said, pausing before me. "I could see it sticking out all over her while I read that book. And if we go to her now and tax her with it she'll admit it. But if she says she is doing it to get thin don't you believe it."
That was all Aggie would say. She shut her lips and said she had come for my recipe for caramel custard. But when I put on my wraps and said I was going to Tish's she said she would come along.
Tish lives in an apartment, and she was not at home. Miss Swift, the seamstress, opened the door and stood in the doorway so we could not enter.
"I'm sorry, Miss Aggie and Miss Lizzie," she said, putting out her left elbow as Aggie tried to duck by her; "but she left positive orders to admit nobody. Of course if she had known you were coming—but she didn't."
"What are you making, Miss Letitia?" Aggie asked sweetly. "Summer clothes?"
"Yes. Some little thin things—it's getting so hot!"
"Humph! I see you are making them with an upholsterer's needle!" said Aggie, and marched down the hall with her head up....