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´╗┐Title: Tabitha at Ivy Hall
Author: Brown, Ruth Alberta
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Tabitha at Ivy Hall" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



[Illustration: She began her first letter to the father she did not know
or understand. (_Page 296._)]



    TABITHA AT IVY HALL

    BY
    RUTH ALBERTA BROWN

    ILLUSTRATIONS BY
    ALFRED RUSSELL
    c


    THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING COMPANY
    CHICAGO    AKRON, OHIO    NEW YORK

    _MADE IN U. S. A._


    Copyright, 1911
    by
    THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING COMPANY


    To My Mother



CONTENTS


    CHAPTER                                       PAGE

        I. THE HATEFUL NAME                         11

       II. TABITHA CHOOSES A NEW NAME               33

      III. TABITHA ADOPTS HER NEW NAME              45

       IV. THE NEW NAME CAUSES TABITHA TROUBLE      63

        V. TABITHA IS COMFORTED                     81

       VI. A DOG AND A CAT                          93

      VII. THE NEW BOY                             105

     VIII. TABITHA BEGS PARDON                     127

       IX. A BRAVE LITTLE CATT                     137

        X. CARRIE GOES AWAY TO SCHOOL              155

       XI. A FIRE IN THE NIGHT                     171

      XII. DR. VANE HAS A VISITOR                  185

     XIII. AUNT MARIA DECIDES THE QUESTION         201

      XIV. TABITHA'S ROOM-MATE                     221

       XV. THE FIRST NIGHT AT IVY HALL             239

      XVI. MADAME'S ADVICE                         253

     XVII. HOLIDAY PLANS                           269

    XVIII. TABITHA'S CHRISTMAS                     283

      XIX. A STRIKE!                               299

       XX. A HAPPY HOME                            309



TABITHA AT IVY HALL

CHAPTER I

THE HATEFUL NAME


    "She leaned far out on the window-sill,
    And shook it forth with a royal will.

    'Shoot, if you must, this old gray head,
    But spare your country's flag,' she said."

The black eyes of the little speaker burned with fiery indignation as
she hurled these words of defiance at a ten-quart pail of blackberries
standing in the middle of the dusty road where she had set it when the
emotion of her recital had overcome her to such a degree that mere words
were no longer effective and gestures had become absolutely necessary.
She was living it herself. What did it matter that there was no rebel
army confronting her, what did it matter that the town of Frederick lay
hundreds of miles away, what did it matter that she was merely a slip of
a girl living fifty years after the terrible scenes of war which
inspired the words she was reciting?

The whole picture lay as vividly before her as if she had been Dame
Barbara herself, and she entered into the spirit of the production with
such vim that her actual surroundings were forgotten. Her thin, peaked
face, browned by sun and wind, was glorified with patriotism, and her
voice rang sharp with the intensity of feeling. Having no flag to shake
in the face of the approaching enemy, she pulled a mullein stalk growing
among the tall grass and flaunted it so vigorously that in leaning over
her imaginary window-sill she lost her balance and was nearly capsized
into her pail of luscious berries.

A rude laugh interrupted her and she was brought to earth with a
suddenness that left her breathless and crimson with embarrassment
beside the road, digging her bare toes into the gray dust and waiting
for the jeers she knew were to follow.

Then her face changed and the defiance flashed back into the big black
eyes. Her tormentor was not the person she had evidently expected it to
be, and her courage rose accordingly. Again the boy laughed insolently
and the girl's fists clenched involuntarily as she looked up into the
sneering face above her and realized that after all she could do him no
harm for he was perched in the branches of a tree just out of reach over
her head. His bare legs dangled tantalizingly among the green leaves,
and all she could do to show her fierce hatred was to grimace at him.
The effect was most startling. Her tormentor lost his hold on the upper
bough and slid from his seat. There was a lively scratching and clawing
among the branches; while below, the black-eyed girl held her breath in
expectancy. Oh, if only he would tumble! But he did not fall, and her
expression of jubilation changed to disappointment.

Carefully he righted himself on the limb where he had landed, and,
peering down at the child in the road, tauntingly cried,

"Don't we think we are smart, Tabby Catt, Tabby Catt? Don't we think we
are smart?"

The girl's lips curved scornfully, but her hard fists tightened until
her knuckles stood out like white balls.

"How's Thomas Catt today?" continued the boy, swinging his feet
dangerously near the tattered sunbonnet, which half concealed the angry
little face below.

Still she deigned no reply, though her eyes blazed furiously and her
breath came quick and short. She took a step nearer the tree and he
cautiously drew his feet up to the branch on which he sat; but
apparently she did not notice this move, as she stood measuring the
distance from the ground to the limbs above and wondering whether or not
she could reach him and give him the drubbing he deserved before he had
a chance to escape or call for help. She could climb like a squirrel and
run like a deer, but in the pasture beyond this fringe of trees was the
boy's big brother, and she had no desire to meet him, having once had a
taste of his great whip.

Perhaps the boy in the tree guessed her thoughts, for once more he
lowered his feet and kicked viciously at her as he chanted:

    "Tabby Catt, Tabby Catt,
     Drink some milk and make you fat,
     Skinny, scrawny Tabby Catt."

The faded calico bonnet caught on his toes and he tossed it high in the
air, letting it fall far out in the dust of the road. Never pausing to
see what was the fate of her possessions, the child let out one scream
of animal rage, and with a tiger-like spring caught the feet of her
enemy and jerked the coward off his perch.

Taken off his guard, he fell heavily into the road, crushing her beneath
him, and raising such a cloud of dust that both were nearly smothered;
but with a dexterous twist she freed herself, and, unconscious of the
dust, the boy's screams or the sound of answering shouts in the pasture
nearby, she fell to pummelling her helpless victim with relentless
fists, all the while screaming at the top of her voice,

"I am a Tabby Catt, am I? I am scrawny and skinny, am I? Well, you're a
coward, a good-for-nothing coward, and so is your big brother. He
wouldn't dare fight Tom, and you wouldn't dare say such things to me if
Tom was anywhere near. You're a bully, an overgrown baby, a 'fraid-cat!
Yes, that's what you are! _I_ may be a Tabby Catt, but I'm _not_ a
'fraid-cat. I may be skinny and scrawny now, but I reckon you will be,
too, when I get through with you, Joe Pomeroy! You're the sneakin'est
sneak that ever lived--except your brother. 'Fraid-cat, sneak, sneak,
sneak, s-n-e-a-k--"

Words failed her. What could she say mean enough to express her contempt
for the howling coward almost twice her size pinned under her knees,
making no attempt to defend himself against the rain of blows falling
wherever the avenging fists could strike?

Suddenly she felt herself snatched from the back of her victim, held
high in the air so her feet did not touch the ground, and shaken to and
fro as a terrier shakes a rat. She twisted and turned and writhed and
squirmed to free herself, thinking this must be the big brother
punishing her for the drubbing she had given hapless Joe, and expecting
any instant to feel the lash of his heavy herder's whip. But no whip
struck her, and with one great tug she broke loose from the hand that
gripped her shoulder, and confronted--not Sneed Pomeroy, the bully, but
a tall, swarthy-faced man with a long beard and snapping black eyes,
very much like her own, had she taken the time to notice it, who held
her transfixed for a moment with his angry gaze. Amazed to find Joe's
rescuer--for such he appeared to her--some one other than the big
brother Sneed, and angered at the vigorous shaking he had given her, the
child found vent for her outraged feelings in a horrible grimace at the
stalwart man in front of her. With an exclamation of anger the stranger
raised his hand as if to strike the girl, but she dodged the blow, and
screamed in disdainful defiance:

    "Slap, if you dare, you old gray head,
     I'll scratch like a--cat--till you'll wish you were dead."

She hesitated a moment before choosing that word, and as it fell from
her lips, she glanced apprehensively at the blubbering Joe still lying
in the dust, and saw for the first time that this rescuer, whoever he
might be, was evidently unknown to Joe, for the coward's bloody face was
even more scared than when she had been pounding it, and he looked as if
he, too, expected to receive some punishment from the hands of the
mysterious stranger.

"Tabitha Catt!"

She whirled toward the man in frightened silence, and her clenched hands
dropped nerveless at her side. It was her father! What a change the
heavy beard made in his appearance; and then besides, it was almost a
year since she had seen him. No wonder she had failed to recognize him
in her anger. It would have taken more than one glance had she met him
under ordinary circumstances.

"Put on your bonnet and march home. We will settle matters there."

His words sounded so ominous that she hastily did as he bid, wondering
dully whether at last her day of reckoning had come.

"Here, boy, take your berries and be off, but if I ever catch you hec--"

"Those are my berries," Tabitha found courage to say, suddenly
remembering the pail heaped full of the fruit she had toiled all the
morning to pick; and the man, glancing down at her bony hands, scratched
and scarred by blackberry thorns, thrust the heavy pail into her arms
and without a word followed her in the dusty march toward the house a
quarter of a mile distant; nor did he once offer to help her with her
load, though the way was rough, the day intensely hot, and the weight
too much for the slender shoulders of the child. Once she stubbed her
toe, and he pulled her roughly to her feet, but released his hold on her
arm when she fixed her black eyes full of scorn and anger upon his face;
and a grim smile played an instant about his lips, but was gone again
before the child could see it.

The house was reached at last, and with a sigh of relief Tabitha dropped
her burden in the doorway and sank down beside it.

At the sound of steps on the gravel walk, a fussy, fidgety little woman
appeared from the room beyond, and stopped in astonishment at sight of
the giant coming up the steps. Before she had a chance to express her
surprise, however, he spoke, addressing the panting child fanning
herself with her bonnet:

"Close that screen. Can't you see those flies coming in? Go to my room,
I want to have an understanding with you. Maria, Tabitha isn't to have a
taste of those berries. I just found her in the middle of the road down
here fighting with a boy, like the rowdy she is."

Accustomed to obey this stern father, Tabitha had withdrawn into the
house, and started for the room where punishment awaited her. At his
command in regard to the berries, however, she paused; then turned to
where the pail stood just inside the screen, seized it, and before
either of the two spectators understood what she was about, she flung
bucket, berries and all into the dooryard and ground the shining fruit
into the sand with her bare feet.

"There, Manx Catt," she exclaimed, "I reckon you won't have a taste of
them either!"

A gasp of dismay escaped the frightened woman, but again the grim smile
flitted across the face of the father, though he looked like a thunder
cloud as he roared at the child, "Go straight to your room and to bed!
You shall not have a thing to eat today!"

With her feet stained a dirty purple, Tabitha marched into the house and
upstairs, rushed to her little bed in the corner, and threw herself full
length on the counterpane, regardless of the fact that drops of berry
juice still dripped from her brown legs. For fully ten minutes she lay
there, fighting back the angry tears and battling with the fierce rage
against her father.

"I hate him, I hate him!" she told herself over and over again. "It's
bad enough to have him name me Tabitha without his acting so hateful
every time he comes home. I wish he would go off to the mines and stay
forever. He might take Aunt Maria, too, though she ain't so bad. We
could get along with her all right; sometimes she is splendid, even if
she is so fussy. Oh, dear, why can't we have a nice mother like other
children have? I reckon ours wouldn't have died if she had known Aunt
Maria would have to take care of us and Dad would be so horrid."

Her list of woes was fast increasing, and the tears were very near the
bubbling-over point, when she heard heavy steps on the stairs.

"Oh, my sakes! that's Dad. Wonder if he will lick me this time. I 'spect
he will some day, and Tom says he licks awful hard. Wonder if he will
use a whip like sneaky Sneed Pomeroy. Wisht I was as big as Tom; he
don't get licked any more, he's too big. Dad told me to go to bed and I
ain't undressed. Maybe it's just as well if he's going to lick me."

The steps had reached the upper floor now, and she cowered in a
trembling heap in the middle of her bed waiting for the door to open and
let her father enter. But they continued down the hall without so much
as pausing before her door, and now as her heart began to beat normally
again, she heard Aunt Maria's voice saying, "There's a dreadful clutter
to move if we take everything. Some of those boxes we brought from Dover
have never been opened though we've been here two years now. Doesn't
seem as if we had to take all that truck with us wherever we go. There
hasn't been a thing in the stuff that we've needed."

"Then don't take it," cut in the man's heavy voice. "Where is it?"

Cautiously creeping off the bed, Tabitha pressed her ear to the keyhole
to catch the rest of this interesting conversation, but as she listened,
her face paled and a rebellious look came into the expressive black
eyes.

So they were going to move away! Where would they go this time? It
seemed to her that moving was all they ever did. Not that she minded the
moving part of it--that was fun--but--. Here the tears came in earnest.
It was her dreadful name that she minded. It didn't make any difference
where they went, everyone made fun of her name, and folks no sooner got
used to seeing her odd little figure and hearing her still odder name
than they moved to some other town, and the same thing had to be lived
over. Oh, it was too bad!

All the hot afternoon father and aunt busied themselves in the adjoining
rooms, tearing open boxes, sorting, re-packing, and bundling things
around generally, until finally the noise became so great that only an
occasional word of the conversation could be heard by the little
listener at the keyhole. As the day waned, however, and the supper hour
approached, both workers ceased their pounding and went downstairs,
leaving Tabitha alone with her tearful reflections in the gathering
dusk. Here Tom found her, still huddled in a heap beside the door.

"Oh, Tom," she greeted him, "I thought you would never come. What made
you so late? Did you know Dad had come home again? Haven't you something
in your pocket to eat? I'm hungry as a wolf."

"Hush!" he said, slipping inside the door and closing it softly behind
him. "Dad would be awfully mad if he knew I was here. I just got home.
Had an errand across the pond after the store was closed. Here's a
biscuit and some cheese. Why aren't you in bed? Aunt Maria said Dad sent
you there at noon." As he spoke, the boy lifted the little sister to her
feet, brushed out her crumpled dress, smoothed back her tangled hair and
slipped the biscuit saved from his own supper into her eager hands.

"I did go to bed," mumbled Tabitha, with her mouth full of bread.

"You aren't undressed."

"Dad didn't say I had to undress, and he didn't say I had to _stay_ in
bed, either."

Tom grinned at her understanding of the law, but the darkness hid his
face, so his amusement was lost to the small sister eating so
ravenously.

"Did he lick you, Puss?"

"Nope. I thought he was going to, for he looked right mad, but I reckon
I was so mad it wouldn't have hurt much."

"But it does hurt to have him whip. At least, it used to hurt me. Do be
careful, Puss. I don't want him to begin whipping you. How did you make
him so mad?"

The child briefly recounted the story of the morning's tribulations
between bites of biscuit and cheese, growing so angry over her recital
that the flood gates were opened again and she sobbed aloud in her
tempest of grief.

"It's all on account of my horrid name," she told him. "I just can't be
good when folks say such mean things. Joe Pomeroy is a sneak anyway, and
I've been itching to lick him for a long, long time--ever since Sneed
hit me with the whip he uses to drive the cows with."

"Did Sneed hit you with a whip?"

"Yes. Oh, Tom, I never meant to tell you that! Now you'll go and fight
him and he will hurt you, 'cause he's so much bigger than you are, and
then Dad will whale you for fighting. Thrash Joe, but don't tackle
Sneed. Oh, please!"

Tom laughed ironically. "Hm, what satisfaction would it be to me to
thrash someone that _you_ have licked, Puss?" he asked.

"Please, Tom, don't touch Sneed," she begged, crying harder than ever;
and to still her sobs, he promised, though in his heart he vowed
vengeance.

"How did you happen to go blackberrying without me?" he asked to divert
her attention from her anxiety over him. "I thought you wanted me to go
with you."

"Why, you're so busy at the store that we don't have time to get more
than a handful at night when you can go, and the bushes were just loaded
with them just below Pomeroy's pasture. I never thought about Joe's
being there to tease me. I did want the berries so much, for Aunt Maria
said she would make some jelly and some jam if I would pick the berries.
She won't gather 'em 'cause the thorns tear her hands so. I got the pail
full--heaped up so they kept tumbling off--and now they are all spoiled
and I've scratched my hands to pieces all for nothing."

Tom expected a fresh wail would follow this statement, for though
Tabitha was not ordinarily a cry-baby, the day of trials had been too
much for her; but he was surprised when after a moment of silence in
which he was vainly trying to think of something consoling to say, she
remarked, "Well, I don't know's I care much about the berries, 'cause
we're going to move, and I s'pose if we had a lot of jelly put up, Dad
would say it wasn't any use to take it with us, and we would have to
leave it along with the rest of the truck they've been sorting out
today."

"Move?" the boy interrupted, as the realization of what she was saying
dawned upon him. "Who says we're going to move? What do you mean? They
never told me!"

"I heard Dad tell Aunt Maria we would leave the last of the week for the
place where he has just come from, and they have been packing all the
afternoon."

Tom was silent and in the darkness Tabitha could not see his face, but
she seemed to understand how he felt about it, and after a moment she
slipped a thorn-scratched little hand into his, as she said,

"You don't like it, do you, Tommy? I'm sorry, too. I wanted to stay
here. The people who have moved in the big red house by the pond have
two of the nicest children. They are cousins and have the prettiest
names--Rosalie Meywood and Rosslyn Fennimore--and they are almost my
age. I hated to tell them my name, but they didn't laugh a bit, Tom.
They didn't even _look_ queer at each other, and Rosslyn said they had a
kitten they called Tabby and it was the smartest cat they ever saw. They
have taught it tricks and Rosalie invited me over to see it. I met them
down in the blackberry patch. They were picking just for fun and they
helped me a little--not much, 'cause they were so slow. Neither of them
knows how to pick berries and they took only those out in sight, while
the very best ones are most always way in under the vines. We are all in
the same classes in school and we planned such nice times together when
lessons begin again. I never get to knowing any nice people but we move
away. Do you s'pose we will ever have any friends, Tom?"

Tom's thoughts were very busy, and he only half heard the child's lively
chatter. In the dim long ago, when he was only six years old, one
morning a white-aproned woman with a gentle face had called him to her
and led him into a room where lay his own dear mother with a little
white bundle on her arm, and when the covers were turned down he had
looked into a tiny, red, wrinkled face with blinking, black eyes and
was told that this was a baby sister come to be a playmate for him. Then
the nurse went away and left them for a little while and his mother
talked to him in her soft voice that he could remember best in the
little lullaby she used to sing to him:

    "I'm tired now, and sleepy, too,
     Come put me in my little bed."

She had laid the baby's little fisting hands into his and told him that
he must always take good care of little sister. He never saw the mother
again, but after days of hushed voices and light steps in the big house,
Aunt Maria had come to take care of them, and they moved away to another
town.

The baby lived and had grown from year to year until she was now past
eight years old, and he had tried his best to take care of her. But she
had never known a mother's love nor a father's. Oh yes, the father was
living. Tom could remember the tall, dark man having once seized him in
his arms and pressed passionate kisses upon his lips, but he had never
seen him caress the little helpless bundle the mother had left when the
angels carried her away. Sometimes it seemed as if he could faintly
recall having heard the father say bitterly to that unconscious babe,
"You have killed your mother." And then it seemed as if a woman's voice
answered him accusingly, "You killed her yourself when you named the
child Tabitha." Tom was fourteen years old now, but some of these
memories were so dim that he could not be sure they were really memories
and not dreams that had come to him in the night and clung, as so often
such fancies do.

There had been no one to ask, for Aunt Maria had not come until later,
and even then, she did not talk to the children very much, so he had
grown accustomed to thinking of these things just to himself. Tabitha
was too young to be made his confidante in such matters; indeed, he
could never tell her some things. They would only make her hate the
austere father more than ever. So he sighed. This was the fifth time
they had moved from one town to another since the mother had died, and
each place was worse than the last. No sooner were they well established
in one city than the restless spirit seized the father and they moved
again. How would it end?

"Do you, Tom? This is the third time I have asked you that."

"I'm sorry, Puss. I was thinking about something else just then. What is
it?"

"Do you s'pose we will ever have any friends? Rosalie says next week
three of her little friends where they used to live are coming to stay
with her until school begins in September; and when she asked me if I
ever had any friends come to visit me, I had to tell her I never had any
friends. She seemed ever so surprised, and I did want to stay in one
place long enough to have some friends. But I s'pose it is my name that
keeps folks from being friends with me. No one would want to say, 'My
chum's name is Tabitha Catt.' Would they? Everybody would laugh and
maybe they would sing:

    'Tabby Catt, Tabby Catt,
    Drink some milk and make you fat,
    Skinny, scrawny Tabby Catt.'

Wouldn't that make the friend feel awful? Am I very skinny, Tom?"

Poor Tom! How could he answer the avalanche of questions? At fourteen
one is not very wise, but Tom squeezed the rough hand still holding
his, and answered hopefully, "Some day we will have some friends, Pussy.
And some day when I get big and can work for you, we will settle down
and live in one town, and people will come to see us, and they won't
care anything about our names."

Something in his tone made Tabitha say questioningly, "Do you still mind
your name, Tom?"

"Not as much as I used to, Puss. Now you must go to bed. It's getting
late and pretty soon Dad and Aunt Maria will be coming upstairs.
Good-night." With another gentle squeeze of her hand he was gone.



CHAPTER II

TABITHA CHOOSES A NEW NAME


The day was done. The crimson sunset glow still hung over the whole
world, touching the brown, parched hills with a rainbow of colors and
reflecting itself in the cloudbank massed high in the eastern sky. Tom,
hurrying home through the fields from his last errands at the store, was
whistling softly and enjoying the beauty of the early evening, wondering
all the while why the little sister was not running to meet him, and
half expecting to see her jump out at him from behind some clump of
bushes. But Tabitha was nowhere in sight.

"Poor Puss! Wonder if she has been punished again today. Wish I could
keep her with me all the time. She wouldn't get into so much mischief."

He anxiously scanned the house as he approached it for some glimpse of
lively Tabitha, but was disappointed. Suddenly from overhead came a soft
bird trill, followed by a suppressed snicker. He looked up quickly, and
there in the branches of the wide-spreading sycamore tree by the corner
of the house was a flutter of white which, upon closer inspection,
proved to be Tabitha's nightgown, and Tabitha was inside it!

"Tab--"

"Sh!" came the instant command. "Eat supper and come up to my room. I've
got something to show you."

Tom obediently followed her instructions, and some minutes later his
head appeared at the window, and he demanded, "Puss, are you still
working for that licking?"

"Nope," she answered serenely. "We don't have to talk in whispers now,
for Dad has gone up the road and I heard him tell Aunt Maria he wouldn't
be home until late."

"What does this mean? What are you doing out in that tree, and why are
you in your nightgown? It's getting damp and you will catch cold sitting
out there like that."

"I ain't undressed," came the scornful reply. "I poured a cup of coffee
down Dad's collar and burned his neck--oh, I didn't do it on purpose,
Thomas Catt! 'Twas really his fault, for he joggled my elbow just as I
was reaching up to set it on the shelf to cool. Aunt Maria was going to
make coffee cake for supper. But of course he blamed me, and he sent me
up to bed again. Reckon he guessed that I didn't put on my nightgown
yesterday, for he told me that I had to do it this time and to get into
bed. He didn't say I had to undress, though, so I just put on my gown
and crawled into bed for a second. That was all he really told me to do,
now Tom. I _can't_ stay in bed in the daytime, so I came out here to
sit. I've got on all my clothes and my nightgown besides, so I won't
catch cold on this hot night. Goodness! I should hope not. One time I
had a sneezing spell and Aunt Maria made me sit for ages with mullein
leaves dipped in hot vinegar stuck onto my feet. Said she was afraid
maybe I was going to have a bad cold or a fever. We'd been running races
and my face was red and hot."

Tom laughed, though the details of the episode were very fresh in his
mind yet. He had escaped a similar fate only because he was so big that
the fussy little aunt could no longer force him to take her vile doses.

"Well, what is the wonder you have to show me? I confess I am curious.
Have you found another history you didn't know belonged to us, or has
one of that missing bunch turned up?"

"Yes, no; it's a Bible." There was a scraping among the branches and
through the parted leaves Tom saw a huge volume hanging on a bough in
some mysterious manner.

"Goodness gracious, Puss! How did you get that thing out there?"

"I did have quite a time of it," confessed the child, tugging at the
heavy book to keep it from slipping out of her hands to the ground
below, and at the same time trying to balance herself on the smooth
bough. "I guess you will have to pull it in the window again. I have
broken its back getting it out here."

"What will Dad say?"

"It was thrown out among the stuff we are going to leave here, so I
guess he won't care. I'd like to take it, though, Tom, for it has the
loveliest names in it. Just listen here,--'Theodora Marcella
Folwell'--ain't that grand? And here's another, 'Gabrielle Flora
Folwell'--"

"What in the world are you reading?" asked the puzzled boy, craning his
neck out of the window to see what sort of a Bible it could be with such
names as these in it.

"Aunt Maria said it was an old Bible that we've carted around for years
and it is such a nuisance to move that they don't mean to pack it this
time at all. There are a lot of names in the back and some awfully
homely pictures. I rubbed my finger on one and it smooched the nose
clear off and blurred both eyes, but he wasn't good looking anyway. It
isn't much worse now. On one page it says 'Births,' and on another
'Deaths,' and on the third 'Marriages.'"

"Oh!" Tom was suddenly enlightened. "Hold the book fast now and I'll
come down where you are and get it. Don't fall."

His instructions were unnecessary. Tabitha's legs were curled around the
big bough so tightly that it would have taken a cyclone to dislodge her,
and the mammoth Bible hung suspended by its broken back from an adjacent
branch in such a fashion that as long as its heavy binding held it could
not fall. But it took considerable effort to haul it up into the house
again, and this was finally accomplished only after Tabitha had crawled
back through the window to tug at it from above, while Tom pushed at it
from below, swaying and bumping in the sycamore until both children held
their breath for fear boy and Bible would land in a heap on the ground.

"There!" breathed Tabitha with a sigh of relief when at last the volume
lay safe on the wide window-sill. "Now you can see all the names
yourself. I never heard such grand ones before. How do you pronounce
A-m-a-r-i-a-h? And here's a perfectly beautiful one D-i-o-n-y-s-i-u-s
Carpenter. It has him down under the marriages with Pen-e-lope Miranda
Folwell. Don't you think that is pretty? They are all so different from
John and Frank and--and--Thomas and Tabitha. I wish I could pick out a
pretty name for my very own and have folks call me that always. Don't
you?"

Tom was intently studying the records penned in faded ink on the yellow
pages, and now he raised his head and looked into the eager black eyes
upturned to his, as he said slowly,

"Puss, this must be the family Bible that belonged to Mother's folks. I
can remember Dad used to call her Dora, and I have an old letter I found
in a book a long time ago that has the name Folwell on it. Yes, here's
the record. See, Puss? 'Theodora Marcella Folwell and Lynne Maximilian
Catt, married Sept. 10th, 18--,' it's blurred so I can't read the rest
of it. But that must be Dad. His name is Maximilian, you know, though I
never heard the Lynne part of it before."

"Lynne," repeated Tabitha, half to herself. "That might be a pretty name
if it belonged to anyone but a Catt man. Lynne Catt--hm! Lean cat.
That's what everybody would call him. I bet that's why he used his
middle name. I'd rather be nicknamed 'Manx cat' than to be called 'lean
cat,' wouldn't you? 'Skinny, scrawny Tabby Catt'--that's what they call
me, Tom. My name might as well have been 'Lynne.'"

"Never mind, Puss. When we get moved to Silver Bow, people won't know
about that rhyme."

"Maybe they will think up something worse yet. It was bad enough to have
the children of Conroy sing, 'Once there was a little kitty,' and then
the folks at Dover used to say, 'Pussy cat, Pussy cat, where have you
been?' It gets worse every place we go."

Her lip quivered suspiciously, and Tom hastily changed the subject by
asking, "What would you choose for a name if you could take your pick of
all the pretty ones you ever heard?"

Tabitha drew a long breath, shook the black hair out of her eyes, folded
her lean brown arms across the nightgown, which looked considerably the
worse for her climb in the sycamore tree, and hesitated.

"A name could have more than one part, couldn't it?" she finally asked.

"I suppose so; most people have more than one."

"Well, it's rather hard to choose, for I have heard so many names,
though never any as grand as these in the Bible. Even 'Rosalie' isn't so
grand; do you think so? I--believe--I'd--like--to be called"--Tom waited
expectantly as she shifted from foot to foot and tried to make the
important decision.--"Theodora Marcella Gabrielle Julianna Victoria
Emeline. Say, Tom, will you call me that? Just when we're alone, of
course, so Dad wouldn't hear it."

Tom caught his breath as if a dash of cold water had suddenly struck his
face. "Gracious, Puss! I never could remember all that. Say it again,
can you?"

"Of course! That's easy, and _so_ pretty. Theodora Marcella Gabrielle
Julianna Victoria Emeline. Why, it sounds just like a princess, Tom! I
believe I could be good and not get mad all the time if I had a name
like that. I _know_ I could. I wouldn't envy Rosalie Meywood one bit.
Don't you think that is a perfectly grand name, Tom?"

Tom bit his lip to keep from laughing as he soberly answered, "Tip-top,
Puss. I'll call you that sometimes--that is, as much of it as I can
remember, if you want me to; just in play, you know. Won't Dora be
enough?"

"Oh no! Why, that's hardly any of it. Dora is a pretty name, but
Theodora is _grand_. If you forget part of it, remember the Theodora
Gabrielle part. That is the best of it. Wouldn't you like to have me
call you something else besides Tom? There are some awfully nice boys'
names written in that Bible. Which did you think were the grandest?"

"Oh, I like Ulysses first rate. That was Gen. Grant's name, you know,
and he was a trump. He made some regular splendid fights."

Tabitha was evidently disappointed at his selection, and he hastily
asked, "What do you think is the best name for a boy?"

"The _grandest_ name I think is Di--what did you call it? Dionysius?
Wouldn't Dionysius Ulysses Humphrey Llewelyn be splendid? Or would you
like some more? There are six parts to my name--"

"Oh, no," Tom interrupted hastily. "That is long enough for me. Men
don't need as many names as girls, I reckon. You may have to remind me
what my name is to be, for I am afraid I shall always be forgetting it.
Suppose we shorten it to Ulysses. You cut yours down a little, you
know."

"That was just so you could remember it, and as I have to do the
remembering of your name anyway, I reckon I will call you the whole
thing. It's a heap prettier than Thomas Catt."

"Well, all right, Puss; but don't think about it so much that you will
call me that when Dad is around. He won't like it. I think I will keep
this Bible, though. Don't tell. I can put it in the bottom of the old
trunk where I keep my things and no one will ever know but you."

So he marched away with the precious volume under his arm, and Tabitha
crawled happily into bed to dream of grand names and a happy future in
the unknown home where they were going.



CHAPTER III

TABITHA ADOPTS HER NEW NAME


"What's your name?"

Tabitha wheeled with a start, lost her balance, and toppled off the
great rock to the hard ground, where she lay staring up at the
fair-haired stranger bending over her with anxiety and alarm filling the
pretty blue eyes.

"Are you hurt?" inquired the soft voice. "I didn't mean to make you
jump. I'm lonesome and when you moved in the nearest house to ours I was
glad to think there was another girl about my size, for maybe you will
play with me. Will you?"

Still Tabitha made no reply, but lay as she had fallen, not daring to
trust her ears or believe her eyes--it was not unusual for anyone to
make friendly advances toward her, though she had longed all her lonely
little life for a playmate. Why, it couldn't be possible! They were on
the desert now in a forlorn little mining town located in a hollow
between two mountain ranges and straggling over a vast area of barren,
rocky hills, with not a tree in sight anywhere, except the ugly,
uncompromising yuccas, and they could scarcely be dignified by the name
of trees. Nothing but sagebrush, greasewood, mesquite and cactus; not
even a sprill of grass!

To poor homesick Tabitha it seemed as if they had dropped off the earth
into nowhere. She had never seen such a place in all her life, nor even
dreamed that towns like that existed. Wherever they had gone heretofore,
there had always been trees and flowers, which in a measure took the
place of the friends she had never known but always missed. Now there
was not even to be this solace; how could there be any friends?

So she remained silent and the little blue-eyed girl was puzzled, almost
frightened. Then a bright idea came to her.

"Are you an Indian?" she asked timidly, wondering if she had better run,
supposing the black-eyed child should prove to be the daughter of a
redman.

"No, I ain't an Indian!" Tabitha bounced on the ground with a startling
suddenness that froze the other child in her tracks.

Poor Tabitha! Tormented ever since she could remember because of her
unfortunate name, and now to be called an Indian! She had sprung to her
feet with fists clenched and eyes blazing, yet somehow she seemed to
understand that this plump little body was different from the teasing
children who had made the days miserable for her wherever she went, and
she could not strike the avenging blow. But the insult, unintentional as
it evidently was, rankled bitterly nevertheless; and dropping to the
ground again, she hid her face in her faded skirts.

Instantly two soft arms slipped around her and she heard the gentle
voice saying sorrowfully, "Oh, please don't cry, little girl! I didn't
mean to make you mad. Of course you aren't an Indian, 'cause your hair
curls some, and Indians have awful straight, stiff hair, and they are
redder than you are. I guess you've lived on the desert until you are
real brown."

"I never lived on the desert before, and I hate it, hate it, hate it!
Almost as bad as I do Dad! I ain't crying, and I ain't mad--at you."
Tabitha lifted her head and the other child saw two very bright, black,
beautiful eyes in the thin tanned face, but the tears she expected to
see were not there.

They sat and stared at each other in silence a moment and then the
strange girl said, "My name is Carrie Carson. What's yours?"

"Theodora Marcella Gabrielle Julianna Victoria Emeline Catt."

Carrie gasped. So did Tabitha, but for a different reason. Carrie was
amazed at the length of the name and the ease with which its owner spoke
it. Tabitha was astonished to think the idea of dropping her own
obnoxious name and adopting a new one had never occurred to her before.
No thought of deception ever entered her mind; she merely hated
"Tabitha" with all the strength of her passionate nature; she had found
a name that filled her with delight; she had adopted it at first in
play, but it had become very real to her, and now as she spoke the words
that were so beautiful to her, it seemed as if they belonged to her.

"How do you ever remember them all?" asked Carrie. "Must people use that
whole long name when they speak to you?"

"Not unless they want to," answered Tabitha with restored composure.
"Theodora Gabrielle is enough."

"Well, Theodora Gabrielle, have you got any sisters?"

"No, only one brother, To-- Dionysius Ulysses Humphrey Llewelyn."

"My! what long names you do have in your family! Will you say it again,
please? I couldn't quite make it out."

So Tabitha repeated the words slowly, adding, "_I_ always call him all
of them, but he would just as soon folks would call him Ulysses. He was
named after General Grant who fought in the Civil War. To-- Dionysius
Ulysses Humphrey Llewelyn taught me how to read, 'cause we move so much
that sometimes we miss a lot of school, and I've gone clear through the
United States history. Have you?"

"Mercy, no!" ejaculated Carrie in astonishment. "I'm not through with
geography yet."

"Oh, I don't s'pose I am, either, but we have three histories and no
geographies at our house, so I couldn't read up geography. To-- Dionysius
Ulysses Humphrey Llewelyn explains when I don't understand, and he
draws maps to show how the battles were fought. We learn poetry about
fights, too. To-- my brother is going to be a soldier when he gets big."

The name with which she had so generously supplied her brother was
becoming very hard to manage, and she sat silently eyeing her bare feet
while she tried in vain to think of some way out of the dilemma. She had
told Carrie that she always called her brother his full name. What could
she do but prove it?

Carrie's voice interrupted her meditations. "Don't you hate to speak
before people--I mean, speak pieces? It always scares me so I forget
half of my verses and then papa is so disappointed. Mamma always says,
'Never mind, dearie,

    'If at first you don't succeed,
           Try, try again.'

So I keep on trying and maybe some day I can remember them all right."

"Oh, I just love to speak!" Tabitha cried. "I've just learned _Barbara
Fritchie_, and it is _grand_!

    "'who touches a hair in yon gray head
     Dies like a dog! March on!' he said."

Carrie clapped her hands. "Oh, say the whole of it, Theodora Gabrielle,
please!"

So Tabitha flew to the top of the rock from which she had been surveying
the waste of desert when Carrie had first put in appearance, and with
ringing voice declaimed the stirring words to her admiring audience.

That was the beginning of the first real friendship poor Tabitha had
ever known, and the world that opened before her was a beautiful
fairyland. The Carson home was so unlike her own that unconsciously she
held her breath whenever she entered the big house where the
superintendent of the Silver Legion Mines lived, fearing that she might
wake up and find it after all only a dream--the sweet-faced mother who
kissed little Carrie every day, the smiling, genial father who always
had some pretty gift in his pocket for his only child, the dainty
furnishings of the big house which seemed so gorgeously splendid to the
neglected girl, and particularly the wonderful toys and story-books that
belonged to the flaxen-haired fairy who opened the door of this
wonderland for her to enter.

Having never known a mother's love herself, Tabitha regarded dainty
Mrs. Carson with a feeling of awe which deepened into worship as the
acquaintance progressed, but proved to be a great barrier between them
for a long time. She spoke of her in a hushed voice, treasured every
smile as if it had been some precious gem, and hungered for the caresses
so freely bestowed upon little Carrie, but feared to approach near
enough this beautiful goddess to receive them herself.

Mr. Carson she could understand better. He was another Tom grown up,
only where Tom was silent and shy, this man was jolly and friendly. He
laughed a great deal, said funny things, never teased little girls
except in a playful way that made one like to meet him, and was always
very, very kind. She never heard him say a cross word to anyone, and
once when she asked Carrie if he ever got mad and punished her, the
blue-eyed girl was very indignant.

"My papa is _never_ mad," she stoutly declared. "When I do naughty
things, he just looks so disappointed and says, 'I am so sorry,' in such
a way that it makes me sorry, too."

To Tabitha this seemed a very queer way for a father to act, but for big
brother Tom it was perfectly natural; so in her scale of relationship,
Mr. Carson slipped down a peg and became a brother, bringing him much
closer to her than he would otherwise have been, and making his
influence over her much greater.

At first the Carsons did not much favor the friendship that had sprung
up between the two girls, for Tabitha seemed so wild and passionate they
feared her association with their little daughter might not be for the
best; but by chance the superintendent met Tom one day in the surveyor's
office, where the boy had found employment running errands and doing
other odd jobs, and he was delighted with the unusual intelligence of
the lad, as well as with the ambition Tom had for an education.

Like Tabitha, Tom craved fellowship with understanding people, and his
appreciation of real kindness was as touching as it was keen. Mr. Carson
made inquiry concerning the boy, learned the unfortunate circumstances
of his starved life, and became his fast friend. So the two girls were
allowed to play together unrestricted, each helping the other
unconsciously in the building of character,--Carrie being taught
reliance and self-confidence, while Tabitha was learning to subdue the
fierceness of her untamed nature and to overcome her extreme
sensitiveness.

Though Mr. Carson knew the truth about the unhappy names of brother and
sister, he never so much as smiled, nor did he betray Tabitha's secret;
and while he never called Tom by the name she thought so grand, he
always addressed her as Theodora Gabrielle; and she was happy.

So for many precious weeks the world looked very bright to the
black-eyed girl. The father was miles away most of the time, prospecting
among the mountains; Aunt Maria seldom called her anything but Child;
Tom's pet name, when he forgot her grand title, was Puss; and she began
to think the hateful Tabitha was forever laid aside and forgotten.

The dreariness of the desert which had so oppressed her when they first
arrived in Silver Bow slipped from her; she forgot the lack of trees and
grass; the yuccas and Spanish bayonets lost their grimness; she grew to
like the queer place with its queer vegetation; and the sunrises and
sunsets were a source of intense delight to her, as they are to many
another soul--for where in all the world are there such beautiful cloud
pictures as on the desert with the mountains beyond, mysterious and
wonderful in their purple haze or in the glistening white of the snow?

The Catts arrived at Silver Bow only a few weeks before school began,
and owing to the fact that the cottage they had rented stood half hidden
from the rest of the town by one of the many hills, with only the Carson
house and a vacant bungalow for neighbors, Tabitha made the acquaintance
of none of the other children in town until the commencement of the fall
term. Usually this was an event to be dreaded by the sensitive girl, but
it was with a feeling almost of pleasure that Tabitha accompanied pretty
Carrie to the old weather-beaten schoolhouse of the mining camp the
first Monday of September for the opening session.

Tom was too far advanced for the branches taught in the little school,
so he was to remain with the surveyor and study in the evening under Mr.
Carson's direction; but he knew from former experience what a scene
Tabitha usually created before she could be persuaded to begin school
each year, and dreaded the ordeal almost as much as did the passionate
little sister.

Tabitha had confessed to Tom that Carrie called her by the wonderful
name, Theodora Gabrielle, but he thought it was just in play and
rejoiced that the superintendent's charming little daughter was so
friendly and kind. He was unusually busy with his own thoughts and
plans, for Mr. Carson had laid out a course of study for him by which he
might prepare himself for college, the goal of his ambitions; and the
world was looking very bright to him as well as to Tabitha, so perhaps
he was excusable if he day-dreamed a little. But he never forgave
himself for relaxing his vigilance over the small sister even in this
slight measure, for it cost her many hours of bitter anguish. If only he
had inquired about the name Tabitha had adopted, and discovered how real
it had become! But intent upon his own thoughts, he missed this part of
Tabitha's confession, and watched her set out for school hand in hand
with Carrie, serene in the belief that all was well, and happy at her
unexpected behavior in regard to school.

"Well, I'm beat!" Aunt Maria exclaimed as the two girls skipped joyously
up the path and disappeared over the summit of the hill. "I thought sure
she'd raise a fuss, but she never said a word."

"She is so wrapped up in Carrie that she has forgotten all about her
name," answered Tom in his ignorance.

The aunt sighed, "Well, it's a shame she has to answer to it when she
despises it so; though I can't see that it is much worse than Maria. I
never paid much attention to my name that I remember. But if I'd had my
way about it, I should have called you Peter Augustus, and her Aurora
Isadena," (she pronounced them "A-roo-rie Isi-deen-ie") "but your pa had
different notions. Said he'd suffered torment all his days being called
Manx Cat and he was going to get even with folks for once; though I
can't see how naming innocent children such names would help him any in
his grouch against the world."

Neither could Tom, but it was seldom that Aunt Maria volunteered any
information of this sort, and he made the most of his opportunity by
asking, "Is Dad's other name Lynne?"

"Yes, but the boys plagued him when he was little calling him 'lean
cat,' so he took to going by his middle name, Maximilian, but folks
nicknamed that, too, and he got sulky." Then as if fearing she had said
too much, she added, "That assaying man will be looking for you if you
don't get up to the office pretty quick."

So though Tom had any quantity of questions he wanted to ask, he put on
his cap and left the house. The school-bell was ringing its final
summons when he reached the top of the hill, and he paused to look down
the steep slope into the yard where the children were marching in double
file into the building, smiling as he saw Tabitha's long, lean legs
keeping step behind the short, plump ones of little Carrie, and mentally
hoping that the day would go well with the little spitfire sister.

It did. A bright-faced woman stood at her desk and received the children
as they entered, shook hands with them and gave them their seats,
smiling all the while until Tabitha thought she had never seen anyone so
pretty, except Mrs. Carson.

"Now children, my name is Miss Brooks," the new teacher began with an
important air which would have told an older observer that this was her
first experience in teaching. "I shall expect you always to address me
in that manner. If I ask you a question, you must say, 'Yes, Miss
Brooks,' or 'No, Miss Brooks,' for that is polite. Now, the first thing
I intend to do this morning is to take down your names and get you
classified. This little girl in the front seat of the outside row, what
is your name?"

"Theodora Marcella Gabrielle Julianna Victoria Emeline Catt, Miss
Brooks." Tabitha responded in one breath without a break, her voice
ringing clearly through the silence of the room, for everyone was
craning to see the new scholar and listening to catch her name.

The teacher gasped, the children tittered, and Tabitha crimsoned
angrily, but before she had even time to clench the little fists that
were accustomed to fight her battles, Carrie saved the day. "That's her
whole name, Miss Brooks, but we call her just Theodora Gabrielle. She is
a lovely speaker."

The flush of annoyance on the teacher's face died instantly, and she
smiled down into the beautiful eyes of the child before her as she said,
"That is a very pretty name, I am sure. Now tell me where you are in
your studies."

An answering smile came to Tabitha's face, and she replied with more
confidence, "I've finished United States history, which is grand,
'specially Grant; I've reached Europe in geography, which isn't bad;
I've got to 'emotion' in language, which is horrid; and in 'rithmetic I
am stuck in decimal fractions, which is the worst yet. My brother,
Dionysius Ulysses Humphrey Llewelyn, taught me history when he was
studying it. I hain't had it in school yet."

This time the scholars as well as the teacher were silent in
astonishment, but no one laughed; and seeing the surprised faces all
around her, Tabitha again assumed a belligerent attitude, thinking they
did not believe her.

"Well, that's so," she exclaimed defiantly, glaring at the strange
children.

"Yes," added Carrie, "and she has read through the Fourth Reader and
knows lots of pieces. You ought to hear her speak _Barbara Fritchie_."

"But I'm an awful speller," admitted the mollified Tabitha.

At this the teacher smiled again, and laying her hand on the black head
she said, "You are a little girl to be so far along in your lessons. I
am afraid I can't classify you just now. We will have to wait until I
get the other girls and boys arranged according to studies, and then we
will see where to put you. Now, children, I hope you will follow
Theodora Gabrielle's example and study hard."

"Teacher's pet," whispered the boy across the aisle, but Tabitha was
soaring in the realms of bliss and the teacher's smile, so she did not
hear or care what the others might say. The world was growing very
bright and she was finding how sweet the days could be.



CHAPTER IV

THE NAME CAUSES TABITHA TROUBLE


"Tabitha!"

The child was curled in a forlorn heap on the little front stoop which
took the place of piazza to their cottage, staring with gloomy eyes
toward the radiant sunset, but for once unaware of the glorious beauty
of the skies. Her heart was very heavy. In two days more the school was
to give their first exhibition--that was what Miss Brooks called it--in
the town hall; and all the parents and friends were invited to come and
hear them speak the pieces and sing the songs they had been learning
ever since school had commenced, six weeks before. Miss Brooks thought
it helped the scholars to have public exercises occasionally, for it
brought the parents in closer touch with their boys and girls and
encouraged the children to do better work; so she had planned to have
these exhibitions every six weeks or two months in the _town hall_. The
school house was too small to seat many visitors if all the scholars
were present.

Tabitha was to recite a long selection all by herself, and she had taken
great pride in learning it with appropriate gestures, conscious of the
fact that she was the best speaker in the room, and happy in the
teacher's unstinted praise and her playmates' envious admiration.

But now! Miss Brooks had asked the girls to wear white dresses, and
Tabitha had none! What a calamity! She had expected to wear her new
green gingham. It wasn't a very pretty color, to be sure, or very
becoming, but she had coaxed Aunt Maria to make it after the fashion of
Carrie's dainty dresses and was delighted with the result. Now the rest
of the girls would be in white, and it would look dreadful to have one
green dress in the splendid array on the platform. What could she do?

It was useless to ask for a white gown, and even if there were any
possibility of getting the new material it was too late to make it up in
time for the exhibition, for Aunt Maria wasn't a great success as a
seamstress, and it took her a long time to make a dress. Why, she had
worked more than a week on the green gingham, and that was just tucked!
If there could be a white dress it would have to have ruffles on it; all
the other girls' white dresses had ruffles on them somewhere. Carrie's
had two ruffles on the skirt, and Mamie Cole's had _three_. Bertha
Dean's had only one ruffle around the shoulders and the skirt was
tucked, but it was very pretty; and if Tabitha could not have ruffles on
the skirt, she would want at least a shoulder ruffle with lace around
it. Well, there was no use in planning, she could not have a white
dress. But how could she face all those people in a green gingham and be
the only odd girl there?

"Tabitha Catt!" The voice was sharp and insistent, and at the sound of
the hateful name almost forgotten now, the child came suddenly out of
her unhappy reverie.

"What is it, Aunt Maria?"

"Where in the world have you been? I've called you half a dozen times
already. Go to my trunk and bring me that box of odd pieces just under
the tray. I want to mend this dress before dark. Mind you are careful
now. The tray is broken; lift it carefully."

Tabitha rose slowly to do her bidding, still thinking of the dress she
did not have. Under ordinary circumstances she considered it a great
honor to be allowed even to lift the cover of the big, old trunk in the
corner, for it contained many wonderful relics for childish eyes, and
sometimes Aunt Maria would let her look at some of the treasures, and
even tell her a little about them on rare occasions. Today, however,
even this prospect was not alluring, and with listless hands Tabitha
pulled the rickety tray out of its place and bent over the trunk in
search of the box in question. There were several boxes under the tray,
but Aunt Maria never remembered this, and it was always necessary to
open them to discover which was the one wanted. So the child seized the
nearest and pulled off the cover. No pieces in that. But in the act of
replacing the cover she noticed something shining in a mass of white,
and paused to investigate. It was a string of glistening beads, and as
she lifted them from their crushed tissue wrappings there lay disclosed
the shimmering folds of a white silk dress, carefully laid away with
dried "Sweet Mary" leaves.

"Child, are you making those pieces?" The girl started guiltily, dropped
the cover over the box and pulled open its neighbor. There were the
scraps Aunt Maria wanted, and with these in her hands she scurried out
into the kitchen where the fussy old lady sat sewing in the waning
light.

"There are seven boxes just under the tray, Aunt Maria," she announced.
"I opened the wrong one by mistake, and there was a silk dress inside."
She hesitated, not knowing how to ask for the information she desired,
for the aunt, like the father, never encouraged the asking of questions.

"That was my first silk dress," the woman said reminiscently. "My
grandfather gave it to me when I was a little girl so I could go to my
favorite aunt's wedding. I never wore it but twice, for my mother did
not believe in finery for children, and this being white, she was afraid
it would get soiled. Did you close that trunk?"

Tabitha went back to put things in order again, but could not resist one
more peep at the enticing box. How beautiful the silk looked, and how
daintily it was made! To be sure, there were no ruffles adorning the
soft folds, but the bottom of the skirt was beautifully scalloped, so
even and nice, and each scallop bound with a narrow strip of the same
material.

She lifted the dress out of its box and looked at it with shining eyes.
How rich one must be to own a silk dress! How she wished it belonged to
her! If it had been hers, she should have worn it more than twice--such
a dainty, pretty thing as that--and it was white. White? Yes. And she
wanted a white dress so much.

"Tabitha!"

"Yes, Aunt Maria."

"What are you doing? I want you to set the table. It is almost supper
time and Thomas will soon be here."

Tabitha dropped the dress hastily on the rug beside the trunk, put the
cover on the empty box and slipped it back in its place with the other
six. Down went the tray on top of them, the lid of the trunk fell with a
snap, and the white silk dress was no longer inside. With beating heart
and red face she carried the garment into her own tiny room and hung it
in the very darkest corner of the closet. Then she ran to set the
table.

How the next day ever passed she never knew, for before her eyes
wherever she looked danced that lovely, quaint old gown of shimmering
silk, and she could think of nothing else. It hid the map of Europe when
she opened her geography, it played leap-frog among common fractions
when she tried to do her sums, it waved at the head of the Continental
Army while she led those brave men to victory, and when it came to
spelling class she could think of nothing but "s-i-l-k."

But Exhibition Day came at last. Aunt Maria was not going, as Tabitha
well knew, so would not see her in the borrowed gown until too late to
raise any objections. She had no intention of wearing the dress without
Aunt Maria's knowledge, but she did intend to wear it first, and tell
about it afterwards, accepting whatever punishment the woman saw fit to
give her for the transgression. So she smuggled the gown out of the
house in her school-bag, and up among the tall boulders beyond the
Carson place, where there was no possibility of anyone finding her. Here
she dressed, and under one great rock hid the once admired but now
despised green gingham. Then with her long cape covering her quaintly
gowned figure, she hurried up to Carrie's door to call for her playmate,
having waited until the last minute in the hope that her friends would
be gone. Nor was she disappointed. The doors were locked and no one came
to answer her knock; so with flying feet she sped toward the hall,
noting that only a few people were bound in that direction, and knowing
that most of the expected visitors were already seated within.

"Oh, Theodora Gabrielle!" exclaimed the teacher as the child flew up the
aisle to her place on the platform, "I was so afraid something had
happened to keep you away. It would never do to have our best speaker
absent, you know;" and she smiled into the shining black eyes of the
breathless Tabitha; but the next instant the smile faded. Tabitha had
loosened her cape, and Miss Brooks caught sight of the quaint, queer old
gown underneath. "Child!" she cried involuntarily. "Whatever possessed
you to put on that rig?"

The beloved silk dress called a "rig!" Tabitha was dismayed, and the
tears came welling into the bright eyes, as with quivering lip she
confessed, "It was the only _white_ dress I could get, Miss Brooks. I
thought it would be very 'propriate, for I am to speak a war piece, you
know. Aunt Maria had this when she was a little girl, and she must be
pretty much older than the war."

"I meant that the silk was too good for common wear, dear," fibbed the
teacher, seeing the sorrow in the thin, brown, wistful face. "It is a
pretty idea to wear a dress that was made in war times, and I never
would have thought of it myself. But we must take off the ribbons from
your hair, Theodora, and fix it in the old-fashioned way to go with your
gown. I remember a picture of my mother with her hair done in the
queerest braids. Come, we will have to hurry."

As this inspiration flashed through the young teacher's mind, she saw a
way out of the dilemma so that neither child nor school should be
ridiculed because of Tabitha's mistake; and she hurriedly completed the
small girl's "war times toilette" so that when Tabitha emerged from
under her skillful hands she was the admiration and envy of all her
mates. And truly she presented a pretty picture as she stood before the
none too critical audience and recited _Sheridan's Ride_ with such vim
and spirit that every heart was fired with patriotism and the applause
was so prolonged that Miss Brooks told her she must speak another piece,
even though it was not on the program. Purposely the teacher had left
Tabitha's part in the exercises well toward the last, knowing that she
could be depended upon to make a fitting climax for the afternoon's
program, nor was she disappointed; and she fairly beamed upon the little
girl as she gently pushed her toward the front of the platform to
respond to her encore.

Having done so well with one war piece, Tabitha decided that _Barbara
Fritchie_ was a most appropriate selection to recite this second time,
besides being quite in keeping with her old-fashioned dress. So she
began the familiar lines:

    Up from the meadow rich with corn
    Clear in the cool September morn,

    The clustered spires of Frederick stand
    Green-walled by the hills of Maryland.

How she loved that poem, how vividly the whole scene seemed to lie
before her, and how her very soul thrilled as she gave life to the
stirring words!

    Quick, as it fell, from the broken staff
    Dame Barbara snatched the silken scarf.

    She leaned far out on the window-sill,
    And shook it forth with a royal will.

Suddenly from among the audience one face seemed to leap before her
eyes,--white, set, terrified. Tom! And beside him, leaning forward as he
stood near the door, his face grim and threatening, was her father! Her
surroundings were forgotten; she seemed to be standing beside the dusty
road again with a pail of blackberries at her feet; and with gaze
rivetted upon those two figures in the back of the hall, she recited:

    Slap, if you dare, you old gray head,
    I'll scratch like a--cat--till you'll wish you were dead.

Was there a titter behind her, were the faces in the audience smiling?
Was Miss Brooks speaking her name, were someone's arms around her
trying to drag her to her seat? It seemed an age that she stood there,
words frozen on her lips, heart that seemed to have ceased its beating,
and eyes that looked without seeing. Then, pausing for neither hat nor
cape, she plunged down from the platform, fled blindly through the aisle
and rushed out of the open door.

Up the rocky path she stumbled, but stopped on the summit of the first
rise. What was the use of running away? He would find her and the
punishment would come sooner or later. It might as well come now and be
over with. Up on the nearest boulder she crept and waited, a heap of
frozen misery. Would he remain until the exercises were over? How would
he punish her?

The waiting was short, although to her it seemed hours before the
parents and children came out of the hall and dispersed to their various
homes. A few passed her on the trail, but she did not see them--not even
Carrie, sobbing aloud as she stumbled along beside her mother.

When they were all gone, her father suddenly stood before her. When he
came, or how he got there, she did not know.

"Tabitha Catt," she heard his even tones saying, "get down from there."

She slid to the ground beside him.

"Come with me."

She turned and followed him, not down the hill to the cottage as she had
expected, but back towards town. The day was warm, but she was shivering
violently, and even her teeth chattered until it seemed as if the silent
man at her side could not fail to hear them.

"What have you told these people your name was?" the same even tones
demanded.

"Theodora Marcella Gabrielle Julianna Victoria Emeline. I never told
anyone but Carrie and Miss Brooks."

A glimmer of a smile played around the man's stern mouth, hidden by his
moustache.

"And Tom's? What name did you give Tom?"

"Dionysius Ulysses Humphrey Llewelyn."

"Hm, not as long as yours."

"He thought it would do. I had some more he might have had."

"So he called himself that jargon, did he?"

"Oh, no! He couldn't remember them. That was just my name for him."

"Well, Miss Tabitha Catt, you have told these people a lie."

Lie? Tabitha was startled. Lie? Was it a lie to change one's name--just
one's first name? It had not appealed to her in that light before. But
the relentless voice was still speaking. What was it saying?

"You have stolen your aunt's dress--"

"I--"

"Not a word yet, Tabitha Catt. When I have finished, you will have a
chance to explain. You are to go to every store and hotel in this town
and say--listen now, so you will get it straight, 'I told you a lie. My
name is Tabitha Catt and not Theodora Marcella Gabrielle Julianna
Victoria Emeline; and my brother's name is Thomas Catt and not Dionysius
Ulysses Humphrey Llewelyn.' Now go, and don't you miss a single store."

The child's black eyes flashed dangerously, but she obediently started
down the main street of the town, counting on her fingers, "Two drug
stores, three grocery stores--no, four--one butcher shop, two dry goods
stores, one millinery shop, three hotels and the bakery."

The first in line was a hotel, Silver Bow Hotel, the largest in town,
and the office was crowded when she entered. Every head was lifted and
every pair of eyes looked curiously at the odd little figure in its
quaintly scalloped dress and shining black braids. She hesitated, looked
about her in desperation, saw no familiar face in all the crowd, and
haltingly began her dreadful speech:

"I told you a lie. My name is Tabitha Catt--" Someone interrupted with a
mocking laugh. She wheeled toward him, shook her tightly clenched fist,
and with blazing eyes continued, "and not Theodora Marcella Gabrielle
Julianna Victoria Emeline; and my brother's name is Thomas Catt and not
Dionysius Ulysses Humphrey Llewelyn. My father's name is Lynne
Maximilian Catt, but you can call him 'lean Manx Catt;' he doesn't like
it, but it ain't any worse than ours. I have an Aunt Maria." She turned
as if to go, but paused to throw back over her shoulder, "My mother's
name was Theodora Marcella. She was a decent woman. The good die young."
With a profound bow she was gone before the spell-bound group had
recovered their breath The next place was a grocery store, and though
near the supper hour, it chanced to be empty, except for the proprietor,
whom she knew, and with him for her audience she spoke her little piece
again, omitting none of it, and leaving him in a state of utter
bewilderment. On down the long street she went, into every store and
shop. Sometimes the people laughed at her, but more often absolute
silence greeted her speech, for her eyes burned like live coals and her
thin face was pale as death, except for a scarlet spot high on either
cheek. In one shop she saw Miss Brooks, but though the teacher pitied
the child with all her heart, and longed to comfort her, she knew this
was no time to say anything, and was silent with the rest.

So at last the terrible ordeal was over and Tabitha dragged her feet
wearily up the last slope toward home. Her father met her where she had
left him, and greeted her with the remark, "Now, what have you to say
for yourself, Tabitha Catt?"

She lifted her eyes full of scorching scorn and looked straight into his
face so like her own, as she replied with passionate emphasis, "That
you're a beast, lean Manx Catt, and I'm ashamed of you!"

"She's right," he said to himself, and in silence followed the fleeing
form through the sunset glow toward home.



CHAPTER V

TABITHA IS COMFORTED


Tom had preceded her to the house and evidently had told Aunt Maria, for
when the child burst into the kitchen trailing the green gingham which
she had picked up on her way, the worthy woman said never a word of
reproach, but with trembling fingers helped her out of the queer little
rig and laid it away herself among its crumpled wrappings, while down
her withered cheek stole two tears of pity for the unhappy Tabitha.

"Supper is all ready. Come and have something to eat. I opened a jar of
jam just for you."

Tabitha shook her head, but gave her aunt a grateful look as she rushed
away to her room, slammed the door and crawled into bed, where she lay
trembling with anger and humiliation too great for tears. The beauty of
the day was gone, her pride in her school achievements was ruthlessly
swept away, happiness in these new surroundings was dead.

Her father had said she lied, he had made her tell everyone so, they
would hate her now and have nothing to do with her, or else they would
make the days miserable by rude taunts and hateful jeers as the children
in other towns had done. Miss Brooks would be disappointed in her and
give her only cold looks and maybe cross words. Probably even Carrie
would no longer care to be her friend. At this thought the tears came,
hot, passionate and bitter, and she sobbed convulsively under the pillow
where she hid her head that no one might hear. It seemed as if her heart
would break. Poor little Tabitha!

Outside the sunset colors faded, the twilight deepened and night came
on. The birds twittered sleepily in their nests, a night-hawk screeched
across the sky, in the distance the coyotes howled dismally, and the
ceaseless throbbing of the mines filled the desert quiet.

In the kitchen Aunt Maria clattered nervously around, upset dishes,
spilled the tea, burned the toast and forgot the potatoes entirely, for
her perplexed thoughts were with the sobbing child in bed; and the
minute the remnants of the evening meal were cleared away, the woman
vanished into her room for the night.

Tom tried to eat his supper, but the food choked him, and finding rest
impossible at the house, he went out of doors and up the slope to the
office, hopeful of finding work there to take his attention; but the
door was locked. He turned toward town with its dim, scattered lights,
but they mocked him, and everywhere he looked he saw only the strained
face of terrified Tabitha, seeming to reproach him for his relaxed
vigilance, and he blamed himself bitterly for the calamity the day had
brought upon her. At last he crept home again and went to bed, where in
the anguish of his spirit, boy though he was, he dampened the pillow
with a few salty tears.

But strange as it may seem, Mr. Catt had the worst time of all. For the
first time in all his selfish life he seemed to see things as they
really were and to realize, in a measure, what a failure he had made of
his fatherhood. His slumbering conscience was roused and for a few hours
he had an uncomfortable struggle with himself; but though he regretted
his harshness, the habits of a lifetime are not laid aside in a moment,
and in the end he regarded himself as more sinned against than sinning.

If only Fortune had favored him as it had some other people--if only his
wife had been spared him--if only friends had been true to him, it might
have been different. Maybe he had been too severe with the girl, but she
must be taught obedience. She was too much of a spitfire already, and
there was no telling what she might do if some restraint was not put
upon her. Still, perhaps a lighter punishment would have served the
purpose just as well. She was a bright child; yes, he would admit that.
Maybe if she had looked a little more like the angel mother--and yet
sometimes he could scarcely bear to look at the boy because in Tom's
face he saw so often the warm tenderness that had endeared the mother to
all who knew her, and the deep, soft brown eyes that always looked
straight in one's face seemed to reproach him for his sternness and
neglect. He had mourned because the boy had not inherited the black hair
and eyes and the disposition of the Catts, and now he was sorry because
the girl had. He sighed; if only--

From the next room came a deep, heavy, sobbing sigh, as if an echo of
his. Tabitha had at last fallen asleep and in her slumber had tossed
aside the suffocating pillow from her hot, throbbing head. He sat
looking at the closed door for some minutes; then, hardly knowing why he
did so, he rose and entered her room.

She was still lying in a huddled heap, face down upon the mattress, but
her head was turned to one side, exposing the flushed, tear-stained
cheek and swollen lids where the tears were scarcely dry. One thin arm
was still curved beneath her head, but the other had slipped away from
her face and lay stretched across the covers, the hand still loosely
clutching a damp ball of handkerchief. The pathetic little figure, still
quivering convulsively with every breath, touched the heart of the
selfish man, and drawing a five-dollar gold piece from his pocket he
slipped it inside the moist, brown fist. Then, as if realizing what a
paltry thing gold is in comparison with love, he stooped over the
flushed face and kissed it gently,--the first kiss he had ever given his
little daughter. She stirred, and the coin slipped from her hand, but
in his hasty retreat from the room he did not hear it fall to the floor,
roll across the light matting and lodge in a crack out of sight. So he
stilled the small, inner voice, and going to his room sought his couch
almost satisfied with himself.

The next morning when Tabitha awoke he was gone again, back to the mines
and their alluring gold, little realizing what a sore heart he had left
behind him in the cottage on the desert. At first she could not think
what had happened to leave such a heavy weight on her heart that the
very atmosphere seemed charged with grief, but as she rubbed the sleep
from her eyes, still hot and stinging from her cry, she remembered the
whole dreadful story, and in the sympathetic pillow she again buried her
face, too humiliated to meet the world, too discouraged to care.

She heard the clock on the mantel strike seven and lay dreading the call
to get up. In the kitchen Aunt Maria was busy bustling about the morning
work, getting breakfast, washing the dishes and sweeping. Once she heard
Tom's voice, but though she strained her ears, she could catch the sound
of no answering tones.

The clock struck eight. Aunt Maria never let her stay in bed that late,
even on Sundays, when they all slept a little longer than usual. There
was a knock at the kitchen door. Could it be Carrie on her way to
school? Not very likely, as the Carson house was nearer town than their
cottage, and it was always her place to call for Carrie. Besides, Carrie
was never ready on time, and they always had to hurry to reach school
before the last bell rang. Still, she held her breath expectantly when
steps approached her door, and her heart sank when they stopped and no
one entered.

Carrie? What could she be thinking of--she, who had told a lie, deceived
people? Could she expect Carrie to call for her? Could she expect Carrie
to be her friend after all that had happened? Down went her head into
the pillow again and the hot tears flowed in a bitter flood.

The screen door banged, Tom had gone to work. The clock struck nine.
There came another knock at the door, louder than the previous one, and
for a long time she could hear Aunt Maria's voice speaking in low tones
to someone who evidently stood on the steps outside.

Somewhere a sharp whistle sounded, and she flew up in bed startled to
hear the clock on the mantel counting off the hour of twelve. She must
have been asleep. Yes, she surely had been, for on the chair beside her
bed stood a tray heaped high with bread and butter, cake and jam. A
glass of milk was there also, and she drank it eagerly, for she was
thirsty; but she could not touch the food.

So the long day passed. Once Tom slipped in and bent over her, but her
eyes were closed, and thinking her asleep, he left a golden orange
beside her and went away. Once Aunt Maria asked her if she didn't feel
able to dress and go out of doors for the fresh air, but she turned
wearily away and hid her face in the pillow, her only refuge.

The second morning someone had left her door ajar, and she heard Aunt
Maria say to Tom, "I don't know what in the world to do with her. She
will be sick if she stays that way much longer."

And in Tabitha's heart sprang the fierce longing to be sick, very sick,
so sick that they would have to take her away from this horrible desert
town. She had heard of such things happening; perhaps--

Tom's voice interrupted her thoughts.

"It is all my fault, Aunt Maria. She told me about the name, but I
didn't pay enough attention to know that she had really taken it in
place of her own. _I_ ought to be thrashed instead of her being
punished. Now she won't look at me or listen to me any more."

Tom took all the blame! Why, she had never for a moment thought of such
a thing! It _wasn't_ his fault, she would tell him so.

"Tom!"

The scraping of his chair as he pushed it back from the table drowned
the sound of her voice, and before she could call again he was gone. She
jumped out of bed, threw on her clothes, and stopping only long enough
to brush back her tangled hair, she rushed out of the house and up the
hill toward the office of the surveyor.

Tom was standing by the big draughting table lettering a map, the
surveyor was busy with some blueprints in the window, and Mr. Carson sat
near by with a notebook in hand which he was searching industriously.
All this Tabitha saw as she stumbled over the threshold, but without
heeding either of the two men, she cast herself into Tom's arms with the
wail, "O, Tom, you ain't to blame, and you don't deserve to be thrashed!
I told a lie and I stole the white silk dress with those lovely
scallops. But those were such grand names--yours 'specially, though mine
was longer--and oh, I hate being a cat all my life! I said more'n Dad
gave me to say and I told folks that his name was 'lean Manx Catt,' and
I told 'em Aunt Maria's name. Miss Brooks won't like me any more, and I
expect Carrie will hate me, too."

There was a stifled exclamation--she thought from Tom--then two strong
arms closed around her, and she found herself crying into someone's vest
pocket, but it wasn't Tom's. He had not yet attained the dignity of
vests. Surprised, she hushed her sobs, though she still clung to the
protecting arms, and in a moment she heard Tom say, "She will be all
right now, sir. I will take her home."

But the big arms only held her closer and Mr. Carson's voice, trembling
a little and husky with emotion, replied, "I want her for a little
while, Tom. Leave her with me."

Laying aside the notebook with its fascinating rows of figures, the man
led the amazed child out of the building and down the steep rocky path
toward the Carson home, holding her hand fast in his own, and speaking
gently, cheerily as they walked.

"It was all a mistake, little girl, and everyone makes mistakes. It
wasn't a lie and it wasn't stealing. You ought to have asked someone
about it and everything would have been all right, but you mustn't cry
about it any more. Carrie loves you just the same and so does Mother
Carson and so do I. I don't think Tabitha is a horrid name--"

"But Tabitha _Catt_!" quavered the tearful little voice. "Folks make fun
of me and say hateful things and call me Tabby Catt--"

"Tabby cats are such nice pets," the man interrupted, "so gentle and
nice and pretty."

"But I'm homely. If I was pretty maybe they wouldn't call me names."

"No, dear, it isn't that. When they plague you, you scratch; and so they
like to tease. If you paid no attention to the thoughtless things they
said, they would soon stop teasing."

"Do you really think they would? I thought it was because of the name.
No one teased me much when my name was Theodora Marcella Gabrielle
Julianna Victoria Emeline."

He smiled. The name sounded so perfectly incongruous for that slender
slip of girl, more so than the despised Tabitha; but he understood what
a charm the long, rhythmic words held for the child who had missed so
much happiness in her short life, so he gravely answered,

"I am sure if you try to laugh with those who make fun of you, and won't
get mad no matter what they say, they will soon forget all about the odd
little name and will love you for what you are."

"That will be awfully hard to do," sighed Tabitha, thinking of the many
times she had been tormented because of that name, "but if--you think it
will work,--I'll try."

Before he had a chance to say anything further, the door of the Carson
house flew open and happy-faced Carrie flew up the path to meet them,
crying joyously, "Miss Brooks is here, and she wants to see you, 'cause
we've missed you dreadfully at school."



CHAPTER VI

A DOG AND A CAT


"Oh, Tabitha, Tabitha, come over to my house and see what papa has
brought me!"

Carrie's voice was shrill with joy; and hastily setting the last cup on
the pantry shelf, Tabitha seized her sunbonnet and rushed away to join
her excited playmate. "It's out here on the back porch, and oh, it's a
perfect darling! Tell me what to call him. Isn't he a beauty?"

Talking and laughing and capering in delight, Carrie led the way to the
rear of the house, and there in a box on the steps was a beautiful,
black, shaggy pup, with the longest, silkiest hair and the prettiest
brown eyes.

"Oh, Carrie Carson, aren't you the luckiest girl!" cried Tabitha,
looking enviously at the treasure as she bent over it to smooth the
soft, shaggy coat. "Just see what beau-ti-ful ears he has! And what a
cunning nose! See him lick my hand!"

"He's kissing you. Isn't he cute? One of papa's men at the mine owned
four of these little pups, and he sold this one for five dollars. He is
to be my very own and I am going to teach him tricks when he is old
enough. Isn't he a darling?"

"I should say he is! I wish he belonged to me." The black eyes grew very
wistful and the brown face unusually sober as she examined this new toy,
this live toy that could really play with its little mistress and
understand, at least in a measure, whatever was said to it.

Carrie saw the longing glance and promptly said, "You can play with him,
too, Puss, and help me teach him things,--to speak when he wants
something to eat, and to bring us sticks or stones when we throw them
for him to chase, and to jump through barrel hoops, and to shake hands,
and to walk on his hind legs like Jimmy's dog, Sport, does, and to play
sleep, and to stand on his hind legs--"

"That will be ever so nice, but it isn't the same as if he was mine,
Carrie," interrupted the mournful Tabitha, completely wrapped up in this
tiny specimen of puppyhood.

"No--that's so," answered the other child thoughtfully, watching the
precious possession with jealous eyes as it curled up in Tabitha's arms
and shut its eyes for a nap.

"He likes me already, doesn't he? I've always wanted a pet, but we've
never stayed long enough in one place to have anything of this kind. I
had a rabbit once, but a dog caught it, and I cried so hard Aunt Maria
said I never should have another."

"I'll tell you what! Part of this dog can be yours," said Carrie
generously, though it cost her an effort to speak those words.

"Oh, Carrie, you don't mean that?" cried the astonished Tabitha. "Really
own part of your beautiful pup? What will your father and mother say?"

"They won't care a bit. The dog is all mine to do what I like with, and
I like to give you a share of him. Course he will live here, and I will
feed him, so papa can tell me what to give him, as pups are very hard to
raise properly and it takes someone that knows how to do it. But you can
really, truly own half of him."

"What a good girl you are, Carrie!" exclaimed the other part owner, much
impressed at Carrie's grand air of knowledge. "If I had a dog all my
own, I'm afraid I'd never want to share him with anyone else, except to
play with. I'd want to keep all the ownership myself."

"Well, it would be different with you. All the pets you ever have had
was a bunny, while I've had a Shetland pony until we came up here on the
desert where there isn't anything for him to eat, and a little lamb out
on grandma's farm, and two brown hens, and a pair of doves, and three
kitties, and this makes the second dog."

"Oh!"

"That's a lot of pets to have one person own, isn't it? But they didn't
all belong to me at the same time, and this dog is the best of them
all--except the pony. Dear little Arrow is at grandma's house now and
when I go back to town to live, if I'm not too big I am to have her
again."

"What a cute name for a pony! What are you going to call this pup?"

"I had thought of Ponto, but papa says he will grow up into a big dog,
and he thought General would be a nice name."

"I like Ponto best, I believe. It has a grander sound to it than
General. And yet--can I name my half of the dog, too?" as a sudden
inspiration came to her mind.

"Why--yes--if it fits in with General," a little doubtfully, for
Carrie's ideas of beautiful names differed materially from Tabitha's.

"It will go with it splendidly--Sheridan Sherman Grant McClellan."

"Which one?"

"All of them. That ain't too many, is it? I do like all those generals
so much, and I should hate to have to drop any of them."

"It's an awfully long name to say when you want to call a dog," said the
first little mistress reflectively, yet afraid to suggest the curtailing
of it for fear of wounding her playmate.

"But you can shorten it up like--like I did once with--" The unhappy
episode was still very fresh in her mind, and her heart still very sore;
so she hesitated, unwilling to recall it further.

"I know," interrupted sympathetic Carrie hastily. "We can shorten it to
General Sheridan or General--what would you shorten it to?"

"General McClellan is the grandest sounding name, but General Grant is
the easiest to say, and I suppose a dog ought to be called the easiest
name so he can remember it. We'll call him General Grant."

The dog was named.

That evening Tabitha was sitting on the steps studying her geography
when Tom came home late for supper, but every moment or two she would
look up from her books toward the Carson house, and stare intently at
something he could not see, while she seemed to be listening for
something he could not hear. From his seat at the table he could watch
her unobserved, and when at last he had satisfied his appetite, he
joined her on the steps, asking curiously, "What's the matter, Puss?
Geography doesn't seem to be interesting you."

"Oh, Tom, it's the pup! Carrie has the dearest little shaggy dog. She
said I might be part owner of it, and we've named him General Sheridan
Sherman Grant McClellan. General is her name for him, and the rest is
mine. It's most too long to say the whole of it every time we want him
to come, so we are going to call him General Grant for short. Isn't
that a nice name?"

"Well, I should say so. The General no doubt would be flattered if he
could know."

"He's an awfully pretty pup and will make a great big dog when he's
grown up. His feet are dreadfully big, but Mr. Carson says he will need
them some day, and all big dogs have big feet when they are little.
Carrie wanted to name him Ponto, but her father thought General sounded
more dignified for such a big dog. Ponto is a pretty name, though, and
if I had a pup all of my own I'd call him-- Say, Tom, do you suppose Dad
would let me have a dog for my very own self? It's nice to own part of
one, but think how much better it would be if I had a whole one. Then
Carrie wouldn't have to share hers, and I really think she would rather
own all of General Grant herself. If I asked Dad, do you suppose he
would say yes?"

"I'm sure I don't know, Puss, but I am afraid not. We had a pup once
when I was small, and it chewed up everything it could get hold of. I
had a little suit of black velvet--I remember it was the first I ever
had with pockets in it--and one day the pup got hold of it and tore it
all to pieces. Dad gave him away at last because he did so much damage."

"What was its name?"

"Pinto."

"Why, isn't that funny--almost the name Carrie wanted! If I had a dog,
Tom, I should name him Pinto Ponto Poco Pronto. Wouldn't that be grand?
I never heard anything called that, and it has such a pretty jingle
about it when you say them all together. It's a--what do you call
it?--'literation? It means where a whole string of words begin with the
same letter. Don't you think that would make a splendid name for a dog?"

"Capital," answered loyal Tom, and Tabitha again took up the study of
her geography lesson, for while she had been talking, Mr. Carson had
opened the door of the big house and carried General Grant, box and all,
inside.

Tom was not the only one who had heard Tabitha's raptures over the new
possession, however. Sitting by the open window behind his newspaper,
Mr. Catt had caught every word of the conversation, unknown to his small
daughter, who did not realize his close proximity while she was
unburdening her heart to the big brother; and he smiled derisively at
the narrative; so when the child found courage to ask him for a pet dog
he answered curtly, "No, Miss Tabitha, we don't want any pups around
here. Dogs and cats fight, you know."

Without another word, the small supplicant went mournfully away to gaze
with longing eyes at the joint possession and wish more fervently than
ever that it might be hers.

But Mr. Catt was not really heartless. A few days later on his way home
from a short trip to his claims, he found a half-starved cat tied to a
lonely yucca far up on the mountain trail, where it had been abandoned
by its inhuman owners and left to this terrible fate. Indignation burned
within the man as he realized the plight of the unhappy animal, and
remembering Tabitha's plea for a pet, he carried the scrawny feline home
to the child, feeling assured of its welcome there. But unfortunately
the cat was as black as a coal, without a white hair on its body; its
tail had a very perceptible crook in it which refused to be straightened
out; its ears had been closely cropped, and altogether it was so gaunt
and hideous that involuntarily one shuddered to look at it.

"A cat!" exclaimed disappointed Tabitha when she had been called to see
the gift. "I never asked for a cat; I don't want a cat; I hate cats!
There are enough cats in this house already without this horrible
skeleton. I suppose you will want me to call it Tabby. Oh, dear, what a
time I do have living!"

With a wail of woe Tabitha fled up the trail to her hidden chamber among
the boulders and threw herself on the ground to sob out her grief and
anger over this unexpected and wholly unwelcome pet. That she would
regard the gift as an insult when he had presented it with the best of
intentions had never occurred to the father, and not understanding her
antipathy for all of the feline tribe, he was naturally somewhat angry
at her attitude; so he insisted that the cat had come to stay. And
indeed it looked as if she had, for no one wanted the homely, starved
creature, and though three times Tabitha surreptitiously pushed her down
the shaft of an abandoned mine on the other side of the mountain, the
animal always appeared serenely at meal time with a more ravenous
appetite than ever, and Tabitha began to think that the "nine lives of
a cat" was no joke, but a dreadful reality.

"I wish the owners of that thing had kept her. It was cruel to tie her
to the yucca and leave her to starve to death, but I 'most wish she'd
been dead when Dad found her. I hate the sight of her." She was sitting
on the lower step, elbows on her knees and chin resting in her hands as
she somberly surveyed the greedy animal lapping up the milk she had just
set before it, and vainly wished she had no pet at all.

The kitchen door opened behind her and the father stepped out on the
porch. His quick glance took in the whole situation in an instant, and
recalling the conversation concerning the dog a few nights previously,
he asked with some curiosity, "What have you named your cat, Tabitha?"

Without lifting her eyes or manifesting any interest in the subject she
answered briefly, "Lynne Maximilian."

The man started as if he could not believe his ears, and then with an
almost audible chuckle of amusement, he descended the steps and strode
rapidly up the path toward the town.



CHAPTER VII

THE NEW BOY


There was a new boy at school.

In this little town with its ever changing population of miners and
fortune seekers, the advent of a stranger as a usual thing caused little
if any excitement. But with this boy it was different, though the
children could not have explained wherein he was unlike themselves. It
could not be his clothes, for Jimmy Gates, the hotel-keeper's son, was
the best-dressed boy in town; it could not be his appearance, for though
he was undoubtedly good-looking, he did not begin to be as handsome as
Herman Richards; it could not be the place where he lived, for the
Carson house was the largest and most attractive in town. And yet there
was something about him that won him a ready welcome wherever he went.

Tabitha was fairly hypnotized. She could not keep her eyes off him
whenever the opportunity to look in his direction came to her, which
fortunately was not often, as she sat in the front seat of the outside
row, while his desk was towards the rear of the room in the same row,
and they were both in nearly all the same classes, though he was
obviously some two or three years older than she. However, he was
further advanced in arithmetic, and recited in a different class, so she
could watch him during that lesson while he was working at the
blackboard, or sitting on the recitation bench in front of the whole
school. He had the loveliest red-brown curls and big, red-brown eyes
with long, heavy lashes! To be sure, his face was freckled, but he was
always laughing and one forgot the freckles in watching his flashing
white teeth or the dimples that came and went in his round cheeks.

Tabitha did not know that he hated these dimples almost as badly as she
did her name, and that his beautiful curls were a great trial to him, as
such things are to all boys of that tender age; but she did know that he
was different from any boy she had ever seen, and so she worshipped him
from afar.

Besides, he had the _grandest_ name! Why had she never heard of Jerome
when she gave Tom the name of Dionysius Ulysses Humphrey Llewelyn?
Maybe it wasn't too late yet. Oh, she had forgotten--how could she ever
forget! And the crimson blood mounted her cheeks as she remembered that
unhappy day in the long ago when she had marched up one side of the
street and down the other and told the people that her name was Tabitha
Catt. Tom and the Carsons and Miss Brooks had been very kind to her
after that dreadful affair, and when she had gone back to school the
children never once referred to the beautiful name that had been so
ruthlessly snatched away from her, but they played with her just as if
nothing had happened and even spoke the hateful word, Tabitha, with such
a gentleness that it lost some of its sting. Carrie adopted Tom's pet
name for her, so in time others of the children had taken it up and she
was more frequently Puss than Tabitha; for all of which she was deeply
grateful. Still, she could not help wishing that Tom's name could have
been Jerome. That did sound so splendid! But Tom in her eyes was just as
nice as Jerome Vane, even if he was solemn and shy while Jerome was
laughing and debonair.

The new scholar had been in school just one week when one rainy day at
recess while the children were playing quietly inside the building, as
the weather was too forbidding to permit the usual games in the yard,
Tabitha's sharp ears caught a snatch of conversation among the boys busy
drawing horrible cartoons on the blackboard, and one of the speakers was
her idol, Jerome Vane.

"Who's that black-haired kid that signs her name as 'T. C.' in the
arithmetic class?" the new boy asked.

"Oh, that's Tabitha Catt."

"Tabitha Catt! What a funny name!" Jerome exclaimed; and Tabitha,
darting a swift glance at him from the corner of her eye, saw that he
was looking at her with an amused smile on his lips.


"Ain't it, though? She don't like it a bit, and took a different one;
but her father made her take it all back. She's teacher's pet, so we
daren't tease her."

"Huh!" declared the other with a swagger of bravado, "'twould take more
than that to make me stop teasing her if I wanted to."

"Guess you don't know Miss Brooks very well."

"I don't care a hang about Miss Brooks. I'd tease if I wanted to."

"I dare you!"

"Taken!"

Tabitha was almost too shocked to move, but at this opportune moment,
Carrie came running up to her desk with the news, "Sam Giles has just
brought in a bucket of water. Don't you want a drink before recess is
over?"

Glad to escape further observation, Tabitha followed blue-eyed Carrie
over to the corner of the room where the bucket stood, surrounded by the
thirsty boys and girls, all clamoring for a turn.

"Hurry up, Jack Leavitt, it's almost time for the bell and I want a
drink!"

"Give me that dipper, you Jim Gates; I want another swig!"

"Wait your turn, stingy!"

At last Tabitha stood beside the pail with the dipper in her hand, but
just as she lifted the big cup brimming over, someone behind her tweaked
her long braid, and she heard Jerome's laughing voice saying,

    "'Tabby Catt, Tabby Catt, where have you been?'
     'I've been to London to see the queen.'
     'Tabby Catt, Tabby Catt, what saw you there?'--"

"I saw a sneaking boy with a shock of red hair," finished the enraged
Tabitha whirling toward him with the dripping dipper, and before he had
a chance to divine her intentions or dodge to one side, she let its
contents fly straight into his face.

"Tabitha Catt!"

An ominous hush had fallen over the room while this little scene was
transpiring, but the angry child had not noticed the unusual silence,
nor perceived that Miss Brooks had entered in time to see the deluge.

"Tabitha Catt!" repeated the astonished teacher. "I am surprised at you.
Ask Jerome's pardon for being so rude."

Tabitha still stood beside the water bucket, quivering in every limb,
eyes blazing, nostrils flaring, and clutching the empty dipper fiercely
in her hand.

"I will not!"

The teacher was shocked; no one had ever defied her in this manner
before, and the angry blood mounted to her forehead. She would have
obedience at whatever cost.

"Tabitha, I insist that you beg Jerome's forgiveness."

"I was to blame some, too, Miss Brooks," interrupted the boy
shamefacedly. "I'm sorry."

"I'm not," declared the little rebel, more hurt and grieved at finding
her idol shattered than angry at his teasing words.

Plainly Miss Brooks was puzzled. She could not ignore such open
defiance; it must be punished in some way. What should she do? A bright
thought occurred to her.

"Jerome, take your seat. Tabitha, come here."

The girl walked over to the teacher's desk, still gripping the dipper in
one grimy fist, and wondering what was to befall her now. This was the
first time Miss Brooks had ever punished her, and in spite of her anger,
sorrowful tears gathered in her eyes. She didn't mind being hurt, but to
have Miss Brooks punish her seemed more than she could bear. The teacher
carefully drew her chair out on the platform in front of the whole
school, and sitting down in it, took Tabitha on her knee.

"Now, Tabitha, you must sit in my lap until you will tell Jerome that
you are sorry. He has begged your pardon like a man, and it is worse
than impolite to refuse to do the same to him; it is wicked."

The scholars giggled. Instantly the tears were dried, the brown face
grew white and tense, the whole slender body rigid with passion, and
with unseeing eyes Tabitha stared straight ahead of her, refusing to
speak.

Thinking the child would see fit to do as she was told after a few
moments of meditation, the teacher rapped for order, took up her book
and called the next class for geography. But Tabitha's anger had
swallowed up every other emotion, and all that afternoon she sat on Miss
Brooks' knee, taking satisfaction in making herself as heavy as possible
and in stepping on the teacher's toes as often as they came within
reach.

It was an uncomfortable session for the whole school; Carrie took the
punishment as keenly as if she had been the culprit and grieved herself
sick over her friend's unhappiness; and the teacher was almost as
sorrowful. The reproachful look in the black eyes haunted her until
several times she was on the point of allowing the girl to take her
seat, but each time came the thought, "If I let this offense go
unpunished, I will soon have the whole school defying me. No, she must
obey, even if it is little Tabitha, and Jerome to blame." So she held
the furious rebel until the clock pointed to the hour of closing, and
then with the cold words, "You may go, now," she dismissed her, half
expecting the girl would linger and penitently ask her forgiveness; when
she meant to be very firm and make her see the error of her ways, but at
last to accept her apology and let the matter drop. To her hurt
surprise, however, Tabitha bundled into her wraps and bounced out of the
building without waiting even for Carrie, the loyal; and with heavy
heart the woman turned back to the little duties which must be attended
to before she could go to her home.

The rain had ceased, but little puddles stood in every hollow, and as
the schoolhouse was at the foot of the hill, it was almost surrounded by
a chain of these miniature lakes. As Tabitha rushed out of the door in
her mad flight, she found herself confronted by a huge puddle which she
could not cross without wetting her feet, and ever mindful of Aunt
Maria's heroic treatments for colds, she paused to choose a better path.
This gave Carrie a chance to overtake her, but before the little
peacemaker could say a word of comfort to the wounded heart, Jerome's
laughing tones rose clearly above the rest of the clamoring voices,

"Oh, Tabitha, wait a minute."

She hesitated, half turned as if to heed his entreaty, and then--then it
happened.

"Susie's reader has a new poem in it; one that I never saw before,
Tabitha," the teasing voice continued. "It says:

    'My little black Tabby is perched on my knee;
     As fierce as a lion or tiger is she;
     She wakes--'"

Tabitha's books fell unheeded to the ground, she leaped toward her
tormentor with fury in her heart, and dealt him a staggering blow full
on the nose, screaming in rage,

"I would rather be a Tabby Catt than a cross-eyed, red-headed
chimpanzee."

Pushing him violently from her, she turned and fled through the wide
puddle and up the slope toward home, never hearing the loud splash
behind her and the mingled screams and laughter, and not aware that the
debonair Jerome with the blood spurting from his nose had lost his
balance and toppled into the muddy water.

Indignant Carrie faced him as he rose to his feet, and stamping her foot
in her extreme vexation, she boldly cried,

"You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Jerome Vane. Teacher said we
mustn't tease her, and I'm glad you're hurt. You deserve to be." And she
sped tearfully away in pursuit of her fleeing mate before the
discomfited boy could find breath to tell her that he was ashamed of
himself--thoroughly ashamed.

Miss Brooks had witnessed the fray from the window, but she wasn't the
only grown-up spectator. A tall, dark man loaded down with a huge
watermelon had come up the road just in time to hear and see the whole
performance, and a smile of satisfaction lit his face when the girl came
off victorious.

"Poor kid," he said under his breath. "She is a regular Catt all right.
How will she come out of it?"

He found himself hoping that life might have much more sweetness in it
for her than it had had for him. And he had named her Tabitha!

With wild rebellion in her heart and a keen sense of the injustice done
her, Tabitha had rushed heedlessly up the hill and down through the
pathless tangle of wet greasewood and sagebrush, splashing through mud
and water with reckless abandon, and arriving home in a deplorably
bespattered state, with feet wet and dress dripping. Aunt Maria saw her
coming and met her at the door with an exclamation of horror: "Tabitha
Catt! What do you think you are about? The very idea of running through
puddles in that manner! Get off those wet shoes this minute and put your
feet in the oven. If I just had some mullein leaves now to make
compresses with! Look at your dress, and this is the second this week.
Lucky this is Friday or you would have to wear a dirty gown to school
tomorrow."

The door opened again and Mr. Catt came in just in time to hear the last
words of the scolding. Laying the watermelon on the table, he turned to
the child huddled in the corner close to the hot stove, and demanded,
"How did you get so muddy?"

"Coming home from school."

"Say 'sir' when you address me. What were you doing to get so wet?"

"Running."

"_What?_"

"Running, sir."

"What were you running for?" He was trying to make her confess what had
happened at the schoolhouse, but she had her own method of answering
questions, and that was seldom very satisfactory to the questioner so
far as the amount of information was concerned.

"For exercise," she snapped, forgetting her fear of him in her
exasperation at these other unhappy events.

"You were fighting," he said sternly, and she started in surprise, but
made no answer. "Weren't you?"

"No."

"_What?_"

"No, sir."

"Tabitha Catt!" he exclaimed in astonishment. "Go to your room. No melon
tonight for a girl who will tell such a deliberate lie."

Tabitha rose instantly, seized her draggled belongings and started for
her door, but paused on the threshold to say, "I hit him only once. That
ain't fighting, is it? I wanted to trounce him good; he deserved it."

Her door shut with an emphatic bang, and the weary, perplexed,
belligerent little girl crept into bed to sob herself to sleep.

Breakfast was over, the dishes all cleared away and the kitchen deserted
when she awoke the next morning; but on the table stood a tray on which
her lunch was set forth, and beside it lay a note from Aunt Maria saying
that a sick neighbor had sent for her and she would be gone for some
time.

Tabitha took a survey of the premises. Tom was at the office, the father
nowhere in sight. Where was the watermelon? Surely three people couldn't
have eaten all of it in one meal! Oh, there it was in the cooler and not
even cut. She stood contemplating it for a moment, then with a deft
motion rolled it out on the floor. It was so heavy she could scarcely
lift it. She looked around for something to assist her, and her eye fell
upon an empty flour-sack which Aunt Maria had left on top of the barrel,
evidently intending to wash it out. Seizing this, she spread it open
beside the melon, rolled the great green ball inside, and dragged the
trophy out of doors up the rocky path to the road and out of sight among
the boulders. There she stood and surveyed the bag while she wrestled
with herself.

"He said I lied, and I didn't. It wasn't a fight, for Jerome never hit
me at all. It takes two to make a fight. Miss Brooks says so. He's
always telling me I lie. He never said I couldn't have some melon today.
Maybe if I had left it alone he would have given me some. Perhaps I'd
better take it back."

She stooped over, grabbed the end of the bag and started back down the
trail again, but at the first step she stopped. It was the wrong end of
the sack she had clutched, and the melon had rolled out into the sand.

"Oh, gracious! However did that happen?" she exclaimed aloud in horror,
gazing with fascinated eyes at the battered, hopelessly scarred ball
which had once been so smooth and round and green. Scarcely a bit of the
skin remained on its sides, and a great, jagged crack almost split the
thing in halves.

"Now, I've done it! What will Dad say? Guess I'll get a licking this
time sure. Well, he needn't have said I lied. Serves him right that his
old melon is spoiled. It's a pity to waste it, though. Guess I better
eat it. If I am going to get licked, I may as well have the melon first;
maybe it won't hurt so bad. It looks perfectly beautiful inside."

Down beside the shattered fruit she sat and began munching the red,
sweet, juicy pulp which smelled oh, so good! But somehow the taste was
bitter in her mouth, and the tempting morsels choked her when she tried
to swallow them. She reviewed the previous day's happenings and began to
wonder if she were entirely blameless. She had promised Mr. Carson not
to get mad when folks teased her, and here she had not only got mad but
had hurt Jerome, defied the teacher and stepped on her toes, wounded
faithful Carrie by running away from her, angered her father and stolen
his melon.

There was the sound of horse's hoofs and the rumbling of wheels on the
hard roadbed, and around the rocky hillside appeared a light carriage
driven by a portly, middle-aged man of professional appearance, who
drew rein at sight of the child sitting there so disconsolately with the
broken watermelon between her knees.

"Hello, sis," he said pleasantly, "can--"

"If you will follow the road you will reach Silver Bow in just a few
seconds. It's right around that next curve," recited Tabitha rapidly, as
if well accustomed to directing travelers.

The man smiled in amusement, and Tabitha wondered vaguely where she had
seen him before, for he certainly looked familiar. "I happen to be
staying at Silver Bow just at present, so I know where to go," he
answered genially, removing his hat to fan himself, and exposing to view
a head of wavy red-brown hair streaked liberally with gray. "I was going
to ask you if you could tell me what you were doing up there and where
you got that watermelon."

"Yes?"

He waited expectantly, but no further explanation was forthcoming, and
he gently reminded her, "I am listening."

"Well, I don't intend to tell you," she burst forth hotly, "for it is
none of your business!"

Instantly the kindly face became grave and he bowed politely as he
gathered up the reins, saying, "Oh, I beg your pardon, little girl; it
was rude of me to ask such a question. I forgot my manners."

She felt his unspoken reproof keenly and her face flushed with shame,
but before he could drive on she cried impetuously, "It wasn't your
manners that were forgot, it was mine. I have to be so polite to Dad and
Miss Brooks that I don't have any manners left, I reckon. I am sorry I
was rude. I stole this melon and drug it up here to plague Dad 'cause he
said I couldn't have any, but it got smashed all into bits coming up, so
I thought I better eat it so's to save it. Aunt Maria doesn't like
anything to go to waste. But the melon is sour, I reckon, and I'm sorry
I took it. I'd have lugged it back again but it was a sight to be seen
and wouldn't have held together till I could have got it there. Now I
s'pose I'd better go home and get ready to be licked. It will surely
come this time."

As this torrent of words tumbled from her lips she rose from her seat
and slid down the rocky incline to the road where the stranger sat
staring at her in absolute amazement.

"Are you Tabitha Catt?" he asked at last.

"Yes, sir. How did you know me?" and a look of intense bitterness crept
into her eyes as the hateful name sounded in her ears.

"My boy is in school here, and he told me--"

"Is your boy Jerome Vane?" she interrupted, suddenly recognizing the
great similarity between man and boy.

"Yes, I am Dr. Vane--"

"Well, I must say you've got the impolitest boy I ever saw! I threw
'most a bucket of water in his face yesterday and punched his nose good.
Dad saw me and that's why he said I couldn't have any watermelon."

The doctor's face was a study, his lips twitched and his eyes grew
suspiciously bright. Leaning over the side of the carriage, he held out
his hand to the barefooted girl among the rocks and said tenderly,

"Come home with me, Tabitha. The little mother wants to see you. Jerome
is sorry and he will never torment you again. He didn't understand."

Tabitha eyed the doctor doubtfully. Maybe he wanted to lick her for the
blow she had given Jerome; but one look at the sympathetic face
dispelled her fear, and she started as if to accept his invitation, then
drew back.

"Thank you, Dr. Vane. I should be pleased to accompany you," she said
with all the politeness and formality she could muster, "but I reckon
I'd better be going home now. Dad is probably looking for me by this
time. He'll want his melon."

The doctor surveyed the shattered fruit on the mountainside, and then
looked down into the small brown face with its pathetically drooping
mouth.

"We'll drive around by the store and get another melon, Tabitha, and
everything will be all right. Won't that do?"

"Why didn't I think of that before?" she exclaimed in visible relief.
"How much will it cost? Four bits?"

"Yes, maybe a little more. Such things cost more here on the desert than
they do where they use raised."

Her face fell. "I've got only forty-two cents in my bank. I reckon I'll
have to take the licking after all."

"I'll give you the rest--" he began.

"No, I mustn't take money from people unless I've done something to earn
it. But--if you will lend me eight cents, I'll pay it back as soon as I
can earn it,--that is, if you can wait for it. Maybe it will be quite a
while before I get any more. There ain't many things a girl can do on
the desert to earn money fast. In Ferndale I used to pick berries. Do
you think you can wait?"

"Yes, indeed, Tabitha. Climb in and we'll hurry that melon home before
anyone knows it is gone."

Up into the carriage she scrambled and away they drove towards town.



CHAPTER VIII

TABITHA BEGS PARDON


With the melon resting securely in the cooler at home, Tabitha felt
better, but the weight of her sins was not wholly lifted yet, and she
dreaded to meet the doctor's wife after the encounter she had had with
Jerome the previous day; so the ride through town to the little brown
cottage high on the mountainside overlooking the "flat" was very silent,
and when the doctor lifted her from the carriage at his door, her eyes
wore their frightened look, so pathetic in one so young. He noted the
unchildlike expression on the thin face and felt her trembling in his
arms, but before he could think of anything cheerful to say, Jerome
bounded out of the house and met her half way up the steps with the
impulsive words,

"I was very rude to you yesterday, Tabitha, and I am truly sorry. I was
_all_ to blame and I should have told Miss Brooks so. Won't you be
friends with me now?"

Sincerity rang in his voice and his face was full of contrition.
Tabitha's resentment was wholly conquered and her last fear vanished.
She gravely extended her hand to meet his and the hatchet was buried in
that handclasp.

"Come now and see Mamma. She's lying down because she has been awfully
sick. That's what we came here for, and she is anxious to see you."

The next instant Tabitha stood in the presence of a tiny, white-faced
woman with the most wonderful eyes she had ever seen. They shone like
stars but held the warmth of the sun in their glance, and instinctively
the child recognized in this frail invalid a friend. Without waiting for
the formality of an introduction, without stopping to think of
consequences, Tabitha flew to the couch and dropped down beside it,
crying remorsefully,

"I hit him an awful whack right on the nose, and I _meant_ to. I just
itched to thrash him good. If I'd been a boy I reckon I would have
pitched into him. I nearly drowned him in the water-bucket and wouldn't
say I was sorry. I wasn't then, but I am now. Will--will--will you be
friends with me after all that?"

"Poor little girl, poor little girl," said the weak voice, as the thin
arms clasped her gently around. "Of course I'll be your friend. I am
sorry Jerome teased you. I am afraid he likes to plague folks whenever
he can, but he doesn't mean to be bad. You mustn't pay any attention to
what he says and he will soon get tired of tormenting."

"That's just what Mr. Carson said, and I promised I would try not to get
mad, but I forgot. I've got a perfectly terrible temper, and when it
boils up inside of me it just sizzles all over everything before I can
stop it. Why, I even sassed Dad! I thought sure he'd lick me, but he
didn't."

"Tell me all about it," urged the tender-hearted woman, and Tabitha
poured out her pent-up griefs and longings into those sympathetic ears
with a passion that astonished her listeners.

"I don't know what I'd do without Tom. He's my 'Guardian Angel.' Did you
ever read the book called _The Guardian Angel_? The surveyor let me take
it. It's about a girl who had almost as ugly a temper as mine. She
didn't have any mother or father. I've got Dad, but he hates us. I
reckon it must be a job to move us everywhere he wants to go, and it is
particularly bad now, 'cause Aunt Maria doesn't like it and she keeps
saying she won't stay. Tom's most grown up now though, and when he gets
through college and has a surveying office of his own, I'm going to keep
house for him. In two more years now he'll be ready to go to Reno to
college. Mr. Carson and the surveyor are helping him with his lessons,
so he doesn't have very much time to teach me any more; but I am way
ahead of Carrie and Nettie and the other girls of my age and I'm going
to learn all I can so's I can help Tom. If I only had a pretty name, I
think I could stand Dad, but it's awfully trying to have two such things
to bother you all the time. There, now, I didn't mean to say that! Miss
Brooks says it is wicked to talk so, and I made up my mind to forever
quit saying mean things. I guess I am pretty bad, for I do forget so
awfully often--so very often. 'Awfully' isn't a nice word to use, Miss
Brooks says. Do you know, her first name is Stella and it means 'star.'
Isn't that a pretty name? My first name is Tabitha and it means cat; so
I am a double cat, for you see my last name is Catt, too."

"But, my dear," interrupted the woman gently, "nobody is going to care
what your name is if you are sweet and happy and sunny. They will like
you without ever thinking what the name means."

"Now isn't it funny that two people should think the same way? Mr.
Carson told me all that, but I was afraid he didn't know for certain,
because he isn't a Catt. But then, you aren't a Catt, either."

"Other people can have bad tempers, dear. I used to get just terribly
angry when I was a little girl--"

"You don't look like it now. How did you get over it?" The black eyes
glistened with eagerness and the little face was full of wistfulness.

"My mother used to talk to me and--"

"I might be better if I had a mother. Aunt Maria doesn't know how to
mother anything."

"I didn't have my mother always, dear, but long after she was gone, I
remembered the things she used to tell me, and they helped me so much to
control my temper."

"What did she say?" she asked curiously.

"Many, many things, Tabitha; too many to think of now. But she gave me a
rule to help me from getting mad, which I have never forgotten. She told
me to count ten when I was angry before I spoke a word to anyone; and by
the time I had counted ten I had hold of my temper, so it couldn't get
away. Sometimes, of course, I made mistakes and said things I regretted
afterwards, and then my mother taught me to go to the people I had hurt
and ask their forgiveness. It was often very hard to do, but I felt so
much happier afterward, and I have never been sorry for begging a
person's pardon."

"Even if they weren't nice to you?"

"Yes, dear, even if they were horrid. I knew I had done my part and
could forget all about the trouble; but if I hadn't told them I was
sorry, then I was unhappy all the time."

Tabitha looked thoughtfully out of the window far across the desert to
the mountains beyond, and finally answered slowly, "Well, that's worth
trying, though being a Catt seems to make everything different for me.
Maybe--" The noon whistle blew, and the child leaped to her feet with a
startled exclamation. "I must be going now. Aunt Maria wasn't at home
when we took the melon down, and no one knows where I've gone. Good-by!"

Away she rushed down the mountain path and up the main street of the
town toward home. As she neared the schoolhouse, she saw through the
open window the teacher correcting papers at her desk, her head bowed
low over her work and one hand shading her eyes.

"I was real wicked to her," said Tabitha to herself. "I ought to tell
her how sorry I am--for I am sorry now."

Impulsively she ran across the yard, threw open the door and burst into
the room.

"Teacher--Miss Brooks, I was real ugly and wicked yesterday. He did make
me awfully mad when he said such horrid things about my name, but I
oughtn't to have thrown water in his face nor dumped him in that puddle.
He said I did--but I never saw that part of it. He says he's sorry and
I'll believe him now. Will--will you be friends with me again? I forgot
my manners when I sassed you. I didn't mean to. It was real hateful of
me to tromp on your toes and bear down hard on your knee, and I'm ever
so sorry. Can you--forgive me?"

Oh, but it was hard to say that, and the culprit stood shifting from one
foot to the other in embarrassment and shame with eyes down-cast and
cheeks aflame. There was a quick step on the rough floor, a strong arm
encircled her gently, and for a brief moment she was held in a close
embrace while Miss Brooks whispered tenderly in her ear. Then they had a
long talk--Tabitha had forgotten all about the dinner hour--and when
they parted it was with a better understanding of each other.

"She kissed me," breathed the child in ecstasy as she hurried up the
hill. "That's the first time a lady ever kissed me, except Mrs. Carson.
It is so nice to have friends! And Mrs. Vane is right, it does feel good
when you've told folks you are sorry. I wonder--there's Dad--I sassed
him and stole his watermelon. But he's hated me ever since I was born. I
wonder if it would be worth while to tell him I'm sorry. I wonder if I
would be lying if I said that to him. I wish he was like Carrie's father
or Dr. Vane; I could tell them I was sorry and really feel sorry.
Perhaps if I told him I knew how wicked I was, the sorriness would come
later. I'll try it this time, and if it doesn't work--well, I needn't do
it again."

With fluttering heart and breathing quickly, she boldly entered the
small kitchen where the rest of the family were just rising from dinner.
The father scowled disapprovingly at her tardiness, but before he could
utter a word of reproof, Tabitha marched up to him and rapidly began,

"I was real mad at your saying I had been fighting when I hadn't hit
Jerome but once and he had never hit me at all, and I was madder still
when you said I couldn't have any watermelon; so I stole the whole thing
out of the cooler and hid it up among the rocks, but it got smashed when
I dragged it over the stones, so it wasn't fit to bring back when I
began to think it was a licking this time sure.

"The doctor came along just then and told me maybe if I bought another
melon it would be all right, so I did, borrowing eight cents of him, for
which I must work until I get it paid back. I think this melon is better
than the one you got anyhow, but if you still think it's got to be a
licking, why, I'm ready."

She paused for breath, while he, speechless with astonishment at this
lengthy confession, stared at her with uncomprehending eyes. Was this
Tabitha? What could have happened to bring about this state of affairs?

"Teacher and Mrs. Vane say it is wicked to get mad and we always ought
to beg folks'--" she could not say 'forgiveness' to him--"folks' pardon
when we say or do things we ought not to. I ought not to have toted that
melon off. What are you going to do about it?"

She was trembling from head to foot with excitement and nervous dread,
and it seemed to her that he had never looked so formidable before; but
though her heart quaked, she courageously stood her ground, and waited
for him to name her sentence.

"You better eat your dinner and help your aunt clear away the dishes and
do up the other work instead of gadding all over the neighborhood," he
said gruffly to hide his feelings, and taking his hat, he passed out of
the door, leaving a surprised but much relieved little girl to enjoy a
huge slice of watermelon which she found on her plate.



CHAPTER IX

A BRAVE LITTLE CATT


Miss Brooks was going away. This was her last week of school and next
September when the children gathered again in the familiar old building,
there would be a new teacher in her stead. The children were
disconsolate, for in the three years that she had instructed them in the
mysterious ways of knowledge, they had come to love her very dearly and
to consider her one of their possessions. So it was a great shock to
learn of her intentions, and particularly was this true with Tabitha
whose grief at the impending loss was too deep for words. She could only
stare and stare at the beloved face as the days slipped by lessening the
teacher's stay with them, until Miss Brooks was so haunted by those
pathetically appealing black eyes that she could scarcely sleep and
began to wonder why it was that she should feel so much like a criminal
every time she looked at the child.

At last a happy thought occurred to her. She interviewed Mr. Carson, Dr.
Vane and other prominent men of the town, with the result that the last
Monday of the term she faced the scholars with a happy smile on her lips
and hope in her heart, as she announced, "Children, I have some good
news to tell you--"

"You're not going away after all!" breathed Tabitha ecstatically, but
the next instant her face fell, for the teacher gently shook her head to
signify that this guess was wrong.

"No, it isn't that, for I really cannot come back here next fall,
children, or I would. But as long as I am going away, I thought we would
celebrate it by having a farewell picnic. In the city where I live if
any of our friends go away to live somewhere else, we always give them a
little party as a sort of good-by to them, and we have a jolly time
which they can remember always. Instead of having a party here, I
thought it would be nice if we could go down to the river for a picnic,
so I asked some of the gentlemen here in town about it and they told me
that we can get wagons enough to take us all down there a week from
tomorrow. It is such a long, long way we couldn't walk. It is a pretty
place, too, and many of you haven't been there before. We will take our
lunch and stay all day, coming home before it gets dark. Some of the
parents are willing to accompany us, and we will have a fine time. How
many of you would like to go?"

Up went every hand in the room and the faces of the children beamed in
happy anticipation, for picnics were almost unknown here on the barren
desert, and any novelty was gladly welcomed. So the scholars began happy
plans for this unusual gala day, and all that long week little else was
thought of. This was just what Miss Brooks had hoped for, because in
their looking forward to this extraordinary pleasure in their humdrum
lives, they ceased to harass their teacher with mournful laments and
direful prophecies, and even Tabitha's face lost some of its reproachful
look.

The picnic day dawned at last, clear, cloudless and warm but not too
hot, for the desert summer was not fairly upon them yet; and with
lunch-baskets and buckets on their arms, and faces wreathed with
expectant smiles, the thirty children gathered around the low
schoolhouse impatiently waiting for the teams.

Both of Carrie's parents, Susie's mother, Dr. Vane and Herman's aunt
were to help Miss Brooks take care of her restless charges and make the
day a success; so no wonder everyone was happy in their anticipation of
a good time. Then, too, some of the miners who had heard the great event
talked up, got together in the dead of night and decorated the several
rigs with gay bunting, fastening two small flags to the front of each
wagon and even trimming up the horses' harnesses until the results were
quite dazzling to childish eyes. What did it matter to them that some of
the bunting had been watersoaked and that the flags were faded almost
white? The effect was gay and festive and the whole town's population
turned out to see the procession start up the mountain road lustily
singing _My Country_, while they waved their handkerchiefs and caps in
the early morning sunshine in proud acknowledgment of the cheers which
greeted them on every side. Oh, it was a happy day for Tabitha, and
under cover of the music she confidingly whispered to Carrie that this
was the first picnic she had ever been allowed to attend, which fact
surprised that little miss exceedingly.

It was a long drive to the river, up hill and down, over rocky roads,
through sandy soil, among the ugly Spanish bayonets and cacti
resplendent with scarlet blossoms, and over the desert, now a mass of
gorgeous colors, for the summer suns had not yet burned out the little
life which the winter rains had coaxed into blooming. How beautiful the
gold and crimson flowers looked dotted over the hills and the flat like
a brilliant carpet with its sage-green background and occasional dash of
deeper green where patches of "filaree" covered the sandy soil!

How glorious it was to watch the gayly plumed birds as they swung from
bush to bush among the yuccas and greasewood, pouring out their very
souls in their joyous morning lay, seemingly with no fear of the noisy,
happy picnickers rumbling along the roadway! Cottontails and jackrabbits
darted across the path and into hiding, an occasional harmless snake
lifted its head to survey them and then glided away among the rocks, and
twice a startled covey of quail rose from the underbrush and vanished in
the blue mountain air. Oh, it was grand! How could she ever have
thought the desert lonely and barren and hideous!

Then the river came into view and she held her breath in delight, for
the purple haze of the mountains beyond hung low in the valley, and lent
an indescribable charm to the whole surrounding country, as if it were
not a reality, but some great, grand picture hung before them which they
could gaze upon but never reach, for, as they approached the enchanted
spot, the beautiful mountains as slowly receded, still clad in their
purple veil and still mysteriously alluring.

Under a clump of low, glistening cottonwoods among the tall, rank
swale-grass and rough-leaved yellow-weed, the picnic party came to a
halt and the merry children swarmed down over the wagon wheels, eager to
begin their day's frolic beside the sluggish river.

"Now, if someone will just take care of the baby," suggested Susie's
mother as they unloaded the lunch baskets, "I'll help the other ladies
get dinner ready and you can have lunch just that much sooner."

"Oh, let me, Mrs. McKittrick," cried Tabitha, who had wished all the
morning that she had been in the rig with the McKittrick family so she
might hold the little dimpled, laughing mite, who made friends with
everyone and was worshipped by all the children, but remained unspoiled
in spite of the attentions showered upon him by this admiring court.

"Well, all right, Tabitha. Watch him and see that he doesn't roll down
the bank or put anything in his mouth. He's into everything."

"What's his name?"

"He hasn't any yet. We can't find one pretty enough for him."

"And he is 'most a year old!"

"Yes, he will be a year next month, but he is the first boy in a family
of four girls, and we can't decide what to call him, so he has no name
yet. You might think up some pretty ones to suggest. We've exhausted
everyone else's lists."

She laughed as she spoke, but Tabitha thought she was thoroughly in
earnest, and seizing the baby, she ran away to ponder over the vital
question of pretty names, confident of finding one that would suit the
over-particular parents.

"I'd like to call him Dionysius if he was mine," she confided to
Carrie, who soon joined her in her self-appointed task of nursemaid, for
the two girls were seldom apart; "but--after--that time--well, he might
not like it when he grew up. I am afraid it might be unlucky."

"Frederick is a pretty name," ventured Carrie. "That's papa's."

"Yes, that's not bad, but I reckon Mrs. McKittrick has heard of it
already, for I know lots of people called that. She wants something real
pretty. I know how it is, for my name is so perfectly horrid that
sometimes it seems as if I can't endure it. I wouldn't want to pick out
a name that this darling baby would hate when he grew up. It must be
something _awfully_ nice. How do you think she would like Rosslyn? I
have liked that name ever since I heard it and was always sorry I could
not stay in Ferndale and get acquainted with the boy it belonged to, and
his cousin Rosalie."

"If you had stayed there I never would have known you, Pussy," suggested
Carrie, for Tabitha was her idol and she shuddered when she thought how
lonely it would be if Tabitha should move away now and leave her there.

"That's so; I forgot it just for a minute. I'm sure Rosalie could never
have been any nicer than you are, and I don't believe Rosslyn was nicer
than Jerome, though Jerome does tease me dreadfully sometimes. He
doesn't mean to, and he always tells me he is sorry. I like the name
Jerome, but Mrs. McKittrick says she hates it, so it would never do to
suggest that."

"Don't they use last names sometimes for first names? Mrs. McKittrick
thinks Dr. Vane is splendid. I heard her tell mamma so. He saved the
baby when it was so terribly sick and the other doctor said it could not
get well."

"Maybe it would do for part of the name, though I wouldn't want to call
him Vane every day. That would sound as if he was a peacock. See him
pull that flower to pieces just as if he was trying to study how it is
put together. Maybe he will grow up to be a big botany man. I would like
to be one myself if I didn't intend to keep house for Tom. Oh, the baby
has started for the river!"

Both girls sprang up and gave chase and Carrie straightway forgot all
about the name problem, but Tabitha's busy brain puzzled over it all
that happy day, even while she romped and played with her mates in
lively games of "Farmer in the Dell," "Old Mother Witch," "Drop the
Handkerchief," and all the other childhood favorites. Once she almost
forgot it. They were playing "Blind Man's Buff," when Jerome, who was
"it," succeeded in catching her by her hair after an animated scrimmage.
Her braid promptly gave away her identity, for no other girl in school
possessed such long tresses; and Jerome was elated at having so readily
discovered who his prisoner was, all the more so because this was the
first time Tabitha had been caught; so he teasingly cried, "Aha, this is
Miss Me-a-ow!"

How the children shouted, and for a moment Tabitha's face was crimson
with passion and she lifted a doubled-up fist threateningly; but before
the expected blow fell, Tabitha's lips curved suddenly into a smile, her
arm dropped to her side, and she gayly answered, "Yes, Mr.
Ki-yip-ki-yi-yi, put on my blinders."

Only Miss Brooks of the grown people had witnessed the child's struggle,
and as they were sitting down to the generous lunch spread under the
cottonwoods, she drew the flushed face down beside her and said very
softly, "That was well done, dear. I am proud of you."

"You needn't be," was the candid reply. "I was all ready to scratch for
all I was worth when I saw the baby and I knew I wasn't a fit person to
name such a little darling if I couldn't stand a little teasing. Jerome
didn't mean anything by it and was sorry as soon as he had said it. He
came to me afterwards and told me so, and then I was doubly glad I had
kept still. But it was really the baby who made me. I even forgot Mrs.
Vane's rule of counting ten."

"It will be easier to remember the next time," Miss Brooks told her,
feeling devoutly thankful that the day had not been marred by a display
of that fierce, uncontrollable temper, and in her gratitude she heaped
Tabitha's plate with sandwiches and all the other good things.

"Now the baby must have his nap," said Mrs. McKittrick when the last
crumb of cake had disappeared and the last drop of lemonade vanished.
"I'm going to lay him under the wagons where it is coolest, and you
children play down there by that other clump of trees, or else he won't
sleep a wink."

"We're going to tell stories and listen to Mr. Carson's talking machine
for awhile," volunteered Susie, "so we won't make much noise. Come on,
ma, baby will be all right there."

The mother made the tiny boy comfortable in a shady nook and then joined
the group of children gathered under the cottonwoods a little further
down the river, laughing over the queer songs the machine was grinding
out; and in this exciting sport all thought of the baby was swallowed
up, except by Tabitha, who was still busily engaged in fitting together
all the possible and impossible names she had ever heard, in the hope of
finding some combination which would suit the beautiful boy and please
his adoring family.

"Rosslyn Lyle--no, that won't do; it is too hard to pronounce. Rosslyn
Leander--that is almost as bad. Rosslyn simply won't go with any name
beginning with 'L.' Rosslyn Thomas so he will be named after Tom; but
then probably Mrs. McKittrick doesn't like Thomas for a name. Few people
do, though I think it is rather pretty when it belongs to someone else
but a Catt. Rosslyn Brooks after teacher. Why didn't I think of that
before! Mrs. McKittrick thinks Miss Brooks is the loveliest teacher she
ever knew; I'm sure she would like the Brooks part of it, and I don't
see how anyone can help liking the name of Rosslyn. It isn't as grand
sounding as Dionysius, but it is prettier for a baby. Two names are so
short, though; and anyway Carrie thinks Mrs. McKittrick would like part
of it to be Vane after the doctor. Mr. McKittrick works in the Silver
Legion Mines, so I suppose he wouldn't mind if part of the name was Mr.
Carson's. I don't like Frederick very well, so it would have to be
Carson. Well, Rosslyn Brooks Carson Vane sounds quite pretty--very
pretty--I like it ever so much. I wonder what Mrs. McKittrick will think
of it."

She looked around to see what had become of the mother, and beheld a
sight that froze the blood in her veins. Close beside the wagon under
which the sleeping baby lay was a huge snake coiled as if ready to
spring, and her heart stood still with terror as she realized that one
move of those little unconscious hands might mean death for the precious
darling. She tried to scream, but her voice stuck in her throat. She
looked wildly about her for help, but the children were wandering on
the river bank gathering flowers and Mr. Carson was busy with the
talking machine which was evidently out of order. Dr. Vane was nowhere
in sight nor were any of the women within call.

She must rescue the baby herself. She had often seen Tom kill snakes
since they had come to live on the desert, and once he had dispatched a
large rattler not far from their cottage, though poisonous reptiles were
not often found so close to town. Oh, if Tom were only there!

Then her glance fell upon a smooth rock at her feet. She was a good
shot, but could she risk it with that little life hanging in the
balance? There was another stone, and another. She clutched them with
trembling hands, crept cautiously forward and, taking careful aim,
hurled the rock at the head of the coiled serpent. She missed, the snake
coiled, more tightly, sounded its warning and sprung straight towards
her. This was what she had hoped for; and leaping nimbly aside, before
he could coil for another spring, she struck him squarely on the head,
following that blow up with a perfect rain of rocks, carefully keeping
out of range lest he should coil again, and hurling each missile with
all her fierce strength, losing her fear of her opponent as her anger
grew.

Suddenly a shot rang sharply through the air, there was a sound of
excited voices, the children came running toward her with the baby's
white-faced mother in advance; and Tabitha, dropping weakly to the
ground, burst into wild, hysterical sobs. With his smoking pistol still
covering the shattered reptile, Dr. Vane, almost as white as the frantic
mother, gathered the trembling girl in his arms and tried to soothe her
fright, saying, "There, there, my little Puss; it is all over! The snake
is dead and the baby isn't harmed at all. Don't cry like that! You did a
very brave thing. Look up and see the old fellow."

Mr. Carson and the boys had clustered around the snake, examining it
curiously, and now the man lifted his head and looked down at the
doctor, still bending over the girl.

"I believe she had killed it, Vane, without your bullet. What splendid
nerve! The fellow's got eight rattles. Do you want them for a souvenir,
Tabitha?" But she shook her head and clung to the doctor, quivering
with nervous dread.

After a long time the children were quieted, and as the day drew to a
close, they clambered back into the wagons, and set out on their
homeward drive, rather subdued, but happy that everyone was safe, and
proud of their mate whose prompt action had perhaps saved a life so dear
to them all. Tabitha was a heroine! Poor Tabitha, such an unexpected
honor was almost as hard to bear as the teasing she so bitterly
resented, and she hid her head in embarrassment and confusion, refusing
at first to look up or say a word, except to the baby, who cooed and
crowed in delight in her arms.

"Do you know," said the mother, whose face was still white and drawn
from her fright, "I am going to let you name the baby. It is a very
little thing to do for a girl who has saved his life, but I'm not rich
and can't pay a big reward like rich folks do."

"Oh, Mrs. McKittrick, can I really name him? I don't want any reward for
trying to save him. Even if you had lots of money I wouldn't take it. He
is worth more than money and the happiest thing you could do for me is
to let me name him. I've got a splendid one already picked out for him.
I was just going to ask you what you thought of it when I saw the snake.
It is Rosslyn Brooks Carson Vane. Isn't that splendid?"

So the McKittrick baby was named at last.



CHAPTER X

CARRIE GOES AWAY TO SCHOOL


Tabitha stood at the open window of Carrie's pretty room and looked out
over the scorched landscape burning under the pitiless sun of late
summer. But she did not see the scanty, shrivelled vegetation of the
parched mountains, nor was she aware of the terrible heat of the day
that seemed to have burned away the ambition of every living creature.
On the floor beside the little white bed with its pink draperies sat
Carrie, panting in the sultry atmosphere, and anxiously watching the
figure beside the window, as she fanned herself with all the energy she
could command.

"You aren't a bit glad, Puss," she said at last, trying to keep the
disappointment out of her voice. But if Tabitha heard she gave no sign
and the tears rose in the gentle blue eyes of the speaker. "I thought
you would think it was nice." Still Tabitha made no reply, but kept her
gaze fixed on the hot sands of the sizzling desert. "We have planned it
out so often, and now when w--I can go, you don't like it."

Gulping back the lump that rose in her throat, the black-eyed girl by
the window wheeled toward her playmate, now lying prostrate on the
floor, and dropping on her knees beside her she exclaimed penitently,

"I am mean, Carrie! I am glad because _you_ are going away to school,
but--it is so hard to have you leave here--when I can't go, too. Ain't I
selfish? It isn't as if it would be only for a week or even a month, but
for whole years with only a few days here in the winter! And you're the
only friend I ever had so near my own age!"

Tabitha was crying now and Carrie forgot her own disappointment in
soothing the greater sorrow of her mate.

"Don't feel so bad, Puss; maybe you can go, too."

"No, I can't! There isn't any use of thinking that, Carrie Carson! It
takes money to go to boarding school and Dad never has any any more. His
claims take all he gets. I wish he would let the Cat Group go to Guinea
and work for the Silver Legion like Mr. McKittrick does. Mercedes
McKittrick is going next year. I want to go _so_ much. I'm almost as far
as I can get in this little mite of a school and I can't bear to think
of growing up a know-nothing."

"You won't be a know-nothing, Puss, even if you never went to school
another day. Papa says it is ambition that wins, and you're the most
ambitious girl I ever knew. I'd like to go to boarding school for the
fun of it, but I do hate to study. Papa thinks maybe--"

She hesitated, remembering that she had been cautioned not to tell his
plans, for fear they might not be successful, but it was hard for Carrie
to keep such a beautiful secret, when she felt so confident that this
kind, big-hearted father would succeed in overcoming even Mr. Catt's
prejudices in regard to a boarding-school education for his one small
daughter.

"Maybe what?"

"Maybe--just _may_be--he can get your father to let you go."

Tabitha was silent for a moment and the black eyes shone wistfully; then
she answered with a heavy sigh, "There isn't the _least_ chance of
Dad's letting me go, Carrie. I know Dad. Didn't he tell Tom that if Tom
wanted to go to college he would have to earn his own money, for he had
no sympathy for 'higher education'? No, he won't let me go, I know; and
besides, he hasn't the money."

"Papa will p--" began Carrie, and then stopped. She had intended to say,
"pay all expenses," but before the words were spoken that might raise
Tabitha's hopes again, she remembered that she must not tell this part
of her father's plans, and was silent. But apparently Tabitha had not
heard, for she was saying,

"Tom has worked hard and earned his money for the first year and now he
is to go to Reno and live at Lincoln Hall maybe, while he studies.
Perhaps he can go clear through college without stopping. He says he
means to finish his course if it takes eight years to get through--but
it means a heap of money for him to earn, and it will be a long time
before he could help me any, and I can't draw maps for the surveyor or
weigh those little gold buttons like Tom does to earn money. There
aren't any berries around here to pick, and Dad won't let me hunt
centipedes and scorpions to sell for specimens, like the boys do. Jack
Leavitt has earned more than ten dollars that way. Jimmy Gates kills
rattlesnakes for pay, but I'm afraid to do that, and I suppose Dad would
object to that, too. There is really nothing on the desert that a girl
can do to earn money."

Still Carrie was hopeful and tried to impart her optimism to her
heavy-hearted companion.

"I believe something will happen yet, Puss, so you can go. I don't care
about boarding school at all if you can't go too. Why, Puss, what would
I do with no one to help me with my lessons? Papa and mamma won't be
there to tell me how the horrid examples must be worked, and I might
just as well stay at home if you don't go. I will never be able to see
any sense in the lessons. You always make everything so clear."

Tabitha smiled in appreciation of the compliment, but was not comforted,
for to her the hopelessness of the situation was very evident, and she
changed the conversation by observing, "I think you have the sweetest
dresses to wear there. Six new ones! Just think of it! I never in all
my life had so many at one time, and I never had any so pretty. Two
white ones, a pink, two blues and a brown--aren't they dear? And three
real hats! You ought to be the happiest girl on earth, Carrie."

She bent over the bed where the new wardrobe was displayed, pretending
to examine the dainty apparel, but in reality to hide the tears which
would persist in gathering in her eyes at thought of separation from
this playmate who had helped make life so happy for her since she had
come to Silver Bow.

"Tabitha!"

How welcome that voice from across the road sounded just then when she
wanted to get away and be alone for a time with her thoughts, and with a
hasty hug of the rosy-cheeked girl still on the floor by the bed, she
rushed out of the house to answer her aunt's call.

In the cool of the evening Tom found her sitting among the rocks high up
on the mountainside, gazing with somber eyes into the golden west, for
the ocean lay in that direction, and it was close to the seashore that
Carrie was going away to school.

"What's the matter, Puss?" he asked gently, reading tragedy in her
mournful attitude, and secretly wondering who would champion the little
sister's cause when he had gone away to college.

"Nothing much, Tom," she answered, and then amended her statement; "that
is, nothing that can be helped."

He sat down on the rock beside her and waited for her confession, but
she was silent, and for a long time they sat staring off across the flat
to the mountains beyond, where the afterglow of the brilliant sunset
still hung and radiated from each peak. Then he spoke, "Puss, in two
weeks I leave for the University. Did you know it?"

She nodded her head.

"Mr. Carson has just come home from Reno and he brought me all sorts of
booklets and views of the place and particularly of the college
buildings. Do you want to see them?"

"Yes!" She was all eagerness, for Tom's joys were hers, and his
achievements the pride of her heart. So he laid a bundle of papers and
pictures in her lap and drew nearer that he might make explanations and
answer the questions she was sure to ask.

"There is a High School there, too, Puss, and if I have success in
earning more than enough money to put me through college, I will send
for you and you will keep house for me and go to High School there. Then
when you graduate from that department, you will be ready to go to
college, and I will be earning a salary, or maybe have an office all my
own, so I can help you through the University."

"That would be nice, Tom, ever so nice, but I am afraid you will never
earn the money. It will take a heap. Carrie is going away to boarding
school now, and I want to go with her, but Dad won't let me."

"So you know?" The relief in Tom's voice made Tabitha look up.

"Know what?"

"Have you seen Dad yet?"

"No, but then I know he never would let me go and there is no use in
asking."

"Oh!"

"Tom, has he said anything to you about it?" asked Tabitha, for she
could read this brother's face like a book, and understood now that
there was more behind his words than he had told her.

"No, Puss, not a word," he declared.

But she wasn't deceived, and after a moment of silence said, "Then Mr.
Carson has."

"No, Mr. Carson hasn't mentioned it--to me."

The pause was hardly perceptible, but Tabitha's quick ears discerned it,
and she triumphantly confronted Tom with the declaration, "You heard him
ask Dad!"

"What a mind-reader you are!" he laughed.

"Now, didn't you?"

"Yes."

"And Dad said I couldn't go?"

"Yes."

"I told Carrie that was what would happen." Her voice was very quiet,
her face very calm, and the fierce outbreak he had expected did not
come. He was amazed but he understood the struggle going on within that
tempestuous heart, and was touched by her silent despair.

"Puss," he ventured after another long pause, "would you rather have me
stay here with you instead of going to Reno?"

He held his breath for her answer and his heart beat wildly. How could
he renounce his ambitions or even postpone their fulfilment when they
meant so much to him? But his mother had left the little sister in his
care, and he was all she had to love and help her over the rough path
her feet had been treading all her short life. What would she do without
him, particularly if Carrie was to go away, too? Miss Brooks had already
gone and the Vanes might at any time return to their city home from
their long sojourn in this little desert town. Tabitha would be bereft
indeed if he went to college. These thoughts flashed through his mind as
he asked that vital question and waited for her reply.

"Why, Tom!" she cried in utter surprise, "do you suppose I'd want you to
stay here with me when you've got the chance to get a 'higher
education'?" (Those words seemed to fascinate her.) "That's better than
if I could go. You're a boy--a man, I mean--and you _have_ to know lots
to be a mining engineer like the surveyor. I'm just a little girl, and
it doesn't matter whether I know anything or not. You must go to the
University while you have the chance, Tom. I wish I could help you earn
the money so you would be sure of the whole course--"

"You precious little Puss!" he cried with a voice that would tremble in
spite of his efforts to hold it steady, and slipping his arm around her
he gave her a big, boyish hug. "Some day everything will come out all
right and I am sure it won't be too late for boarding school and college
either."

Unaccustomed to such demonstration even from the gentle-hearted boy who
loved her so dearly, Tabitha sat looking shyly up at the tender brown
eyes above her, thinking how nice it felt to have his protecting arm
holding her close, when without warning, he stooped and kissed her full
on the lips.

"Oh, Tom, you are the dearest brother! I am so glad you are going to
college. Then you will grow up to be like Mr. Carson instead of like
a--Catt."

"Dad went to college."

Tabitha was startled. "Why, Tom!"

"Yes, he did; but he was expelled for something another boy did, and
then after he started to earn his own living, his partner cheated him
out of his share in a valuable mine and--that's what makes him what he
is now."

"How do you know this?"

"Oh, I've remembered things I heard him or Aunt Maria say, and then
today he told Mr. Carson some of the events of his life. He _has_ been
rather unfortunate right straight along. Only last New Year's someone
'jumped' one of his claims that he had somehow neglected to prove up
on."

"I don't see why that should make him so--so--I'm glad you are
different, Tom. Do you suppose he will keep on until he is like the
hermit of the hills?"

"Who is the hermit of the hills? I never heard of him before."

"Why, yes, you have! He lives in that little shack over there;" pointing
to a rough, dilapidated hut far down on the mountain side, built of odds
and ends of lumber and pieced out with empty oil cans, rusted red with
the rains of many winters. Made without windows or openings of any sort,
except a narrow door on one side, it must have presented a very dreary,
uninviting appearance to its one occupant, who was the only person who
had ever seen its interior, for owing to his peculiar habits, people
regarded him as crazy and left him severely alone. He had never been
known to molest anyone, but sought rather to avoid meeting human
beings, so he was suffered to remain there in his lonely hut on the
mountain with no one but a stray cur for company.

"Oh, Surly Sim! I never heard him called such a fancy name before, Puss.
How did you suppose I would recognize him?"

"'The hermit of the hills' is a much grander sounding name than 'Surly
Sim,' and he does look so lonely off there by himself. I should hate to
think of Dad shutting himself up like that and having folks say he was
crazy. He is kind to animals."

"How do you know, Puss?" asked the boy, quickly, surveying his sister
with apprehensive eyes. "You don't go over there, do you?"

"No, indeed. I'm scared of him. Besides, he runs if he sees anyone
coming. Carrie and I were picking flowers the first time I ever knew he
lived there, or that there was even a house over there. He saw us just
as he climbed out of a hole--a prospect hole, I suppose--and he ran as
tight as he could for the house and shut the door. We were scared and we
ran the other way and never stopped until we got home. Mr. Carson told
us about him then and said he had never hurt anyone, but he would
rather we didn't go over there, for he thought the man was really crazy.
Since then I have often sat up here and watched him when it wasn't too
hot. He just thinks lots of the little dog he has, and it is awfully
homely; hasn't any tail or ears and is the worst-looking color I ever
saw."

Tom laughed at her earnestness. "Poor dog!"

"Well, you needn't laugh; it _is_ homely, and so is the cat. He has my
cat. I couldn't bear to keep it, Tom. Please don't look at me like that.
I was awfully hateful to it, I know, but Dad would call it 'Pussy' and I
couldn't bear the sight of it. When I made sure the man was kind to the
dog, I chased the cat down there. I was afraid it would come back, like
it always did when I shoved it into the prospect holes; but it must have
liked him right away, for it stayed. Now he has an earless cat to go
with the dog. That was long ago, Tom, before the Vanes ever came here to
live. I wouldn't be so mean again, but I did hate that cat terribly
then. I've never tried to coax it back because it was happier there, but
I am truly sorry that I was ugly to it. I don't want people to hate me
because I have such a horrid temper and name. I can't change the name,
but I can hold on to my temper sometimes, though it is hard work and I
don't get along very well."

"You are getting along a great deal better than you think, Puss, and
people don't hate you. They like you more every day, which is better
than going to boarding school, isn't it?"

"Y-e-s," hesitatingly, "but I would like mighty well to go with Carrie."

"Well, I think some day maybe you can. Come home now, it is getting dark
and pretty soon we won't be able to see our way down through the
mesquite."



CHAPTER XI

A FIRE IN THE NIGHT


"Aunt Maria, will you let me make some molasses taffy? Monday is
Carrie's birthday and I haven't anything else to send her. She always
gives me something on my birthday. I will be real careful and clean up
everything when I am through."

"Well, I suppose you can try it, though I hate to have you messing
around while I am getting your father's things ready for his trip."

"I won't mess, truly, Aunt Maria," and thankful at receiving even this
grudging permission, she flew out into the tiny kitchen to the pleasant
task of candy-making, reciting, as she rattled among the pots and pans:

    "Lars Porsena of Clusium,
      By the Nine Gods he swore
    That the great house of Tarquin
      Should suffer wrong no more.

One cup of molasses, one cup of sugar--that molasses looks awfully
black; I wonder if the taffy will be dark. I like the light-colored
best.

    'Hew down the bridge, Sir Consul,
      With all the speed ye may;
    I, with two more to help me,
      Will hold the foe in play.'

A lump of butter and a tablespoon of vinegar. How pretty the stuff looks
boiling up higher and higher every minute. Hm, but it's hot work bending
over this stove.

    Four hundred trumpets sounded
      A peal of warlike glee,
    As that great host, with measured tread,
    And spears advanced, and ensigns spread,
    Rolled slowly toward the bridge's head,
      Where stood the dauntless Three.

My! I would like to have been there and watched them. Isn't Horatius a
splendid name! And Herminius--isn't it grand! But they are like
Dionysius, no one ever uses them nowadays. I believe that candy is
almost done. It is brittle when I put it into water.

    Round turned he, as not deigning
      Those craven ranks to see;
    Naught spake he to Lars Porsena,
      To Sextus naught spake he."

She seized the kettle of boiling syrup and lifted it off the stove,
still speaking the impassioned lines of that stirring poem, and
gesticulating wildly, heedless of the utensils in her hands.

    "So he spake, and speaking sheathed
       The good sword by his side,
     And with his harness on his back,
       Plunged headlong in the tide."

Bang! went the kettle against a chair-back, and the seething, bubbling
mess of sticky brown syrup poured in a flood over furniture, girl and
floor, and trickled in a rivulet around the brim of her father's hat
carelessly laid on the table while he wrestled with a refractory buckle
on his grip, packed ready for his departure. A gasp of dismay escaped
her lips, and Tabitha stood aghast in the midst of the ruin.

"Tabitha Catt!" exclaimed the aunt, appearing that moment in the
doorway.

"Tabitha Catt!" echoed the father, looking up at the sound of the crash.
"I never saw such carelessness in my life. Look at that hat! My best,
too!"

"You needn't have left it on the table; that's no place for your
wardrobe," burst out the indignant Tabitha, sucking one blistered
finger, and frantically shaking her foot where the hot drops of syrup
had clung and burned.

Her unfortunate words were like oil to a flame.

"I'll have none of your impertinence, young lady," cried the irate
father, seizing her by the shoulder none too gently and giving her a
shake. "You deserve to be trounced."

Tabitha's heart stood still. The day of the licking had come at last! He
looked around for a stick, but the woodbox contained nothing but heavy
billets, and her sentence might have been suspended had his eyes not
rested upon his house slippers still lying in the middle of the floor
where he had thrown them upon discovering that fussy Aunt Maria had
packed them among his belongings for his journey to the east. Grabbing
one of these, he struck the trembling girl half a dozen light blows
across the shoulders, and then dropped it, ashamed of himself and
startled at the frightened, pleading look in the black eyes raised to
his in mute appeal. As the first blow descended, the terror in the thin
face gave way to anger, intense, unreasoning; but she stood like a
statue, silent and dry-eyed, until the slipper fell from her father's
hands and he pushed her from him, saying sternly,

"What have you to say for yourself?"

She wheeled and looked at him with scornful eyes; then without a word of
reply, gathered up both slippers from the floor, walked deliberately to
the stove and threw them into the bed of live coals before either father
or aunt could prevent.

"There, Lynne Maximilian Catt!" she exclaimed in a voice tense with
passion, "you will never use that pair to larrup me with again."

He looked at her in silent amazement, and the rage died in his heart.
She was the image of him. How could he blame her for displaying the
passions that he himself had not learned to control? He turned back to
his satchel on the floor and she, surprised that no further punishment
followed her open rebellion, rushed away to her room, dribbling taffy as
she ran.

"Oh, dear, Mrs. Vane's rule doesn't work at all," she moaned, nursing
her blistered fingers and smarting foot, heedless of the molasses
trickling down the front of her dress. "I never remember to count ten,
and I suppose if I did get that far, I would let the hateful words fly
after them. It is just like me. That is what comes of being a Catt! If I
only had a different name maybe it would be easier; but with a whole cat
name, how is anyone going to keep from scratching?"

The hot tears came, and for a long time she lay sobbing into the fat
pillow which had seen so many floods of this kind that it had grown very
much accustomed to it.

She heard the door open and shut and her father's footsteps died away in
the distance. He had gone without another word to her; but then this was
nothing unusual. He never said good-by to anyone when he left home--that
is, he had never done so but once. When he had started on his last trip,
he had waved his hand to her, and called, "Good-by, Tabitha. Be a good
girl." She had been startled at the unexpected words, and little thrills
of joy had crept through her heart every time she thought of them. They
were one of the hoarded treasures in her memory book, and she had hoped
he would always remember to wave a farewell when he went away again. Now
she had made him angry. Well, he had made her angry, too. She didn't
intend to spill the candy; he ought to know that; but he had struck her.
She was twelve years old now and this was the first licking. She had
dreaded it all her life; and was just beginning to think she had grown
beyond the age of whippings when the dreadful punishment had befallen
her. No, it didn't hurt much, the blows were not heavy enough for that,
but the ignominy of it!

Why couldn't her father be like Carrie's? When he had waved his hand at
her, she had thought maybe in time he might become like Mr. Carson, and
now he had punished her with the licking that had threatened her ever
since she could remember. She hated him!

"But I was impudent," she told herself as her fierce anger abated
somewhat. "I needn't have said anything about his hat. Maybe then he
wouldn't have struck me at all. Perhaps if I had said I was sorry and
had cleaned up his hat again, he would have waved good-by to me.
Perhaps--_just_ perhaps he might have kissed me as Carrie's father does.
But I suppose it would be too soon to expect kisses."

"Tabitha, have you gone to bed?" It was Aunt Maria's voice nervous and
shaking.

"Not yet. What's the matter?" she asked.

"I thought maybe you would just as soon sleep in Tom's room tonight.
There's a band of gypsies camping a little way up the road, and I don't
like the idea of us two women folks being left alone all night. I tried
to get Max to stay until morning, but he said he couldn't make
connections if he did. I don't suppose there is anything to be afraid
of, but this is our first night without a man in the house, and I am as
nervous as a witch." This was a long speech for Aunt Maria, but she had
a bad attack of the fidgets, and found relief in words.

Tabitha had forgotten that her father's departure would mean she and
Aunt Maria must stay alone on the desert, for Tom had gone away to
college ten days before; and now at her aunt's words she felt a little
tremor of fear pass over her. She had never quite outgrown the feeling
of oppression these black nights on the desert gave her, for the hills
shut out the lights of town, and Carson's house was the only tenanted
one near them. Somewhere she had heard that a man had died in the other
little cottage in their neighborhood which had stood vacant ever since
their arrival at Silver Bow, and it was even hinted that his ghost had
come back to haunt it. True, she had never seen anything to warrant her
believing these stories, but she stood in awful dread of that house
beyond them; so she was only too glad for her aunt's suggestion that she
sleep in Tom's bed.

Trying to put these things out of her mind and to think of more cheerful
subjects, she gathered up her belongings, and crept into the little
box-like room, hardly big enough to turn around in, saying in reassuring
tones to Aunt Maria,

"Of course there is nothing to be afraid of. Those campers aren't
gypsies, but a lot of prospectors, and I think they moved on after they
had cooked supper. At least, I saw them going towards town, horses and
all. I reckon they had to lay in some more supplies and so camped near
the stores to get an early start in the morning."

"Well, I wish there was a man in the house. I never did like to stay
alone at night, and this desert is the blackest place I ever got into. I
don't believe I shall ever get used to it."

"You aren't alone. I'm here, and I'm past twelve. There isn't anything
to hurt us, and we haven't anything that robbers would want if they
should come along. Thieves would know better than to visit a desert
town, Aunt Maria."

Nevertheless, the woman's nervous terror found an echo in Tabitha's
heart, and instead of undressing, she exchanged her soiled dress for a
fresh one, removed her shoes, and climbed into bed with her clothes on.
For a long time she lay tossing on the unfamiliar couch, listening to
the night sounds without, and the hideous brays of the wandering burros;
but at last she fell into an uneasy slumber, and dreamed that she had
gone away to boarding school, but instead of having Carrie for a
playmate, her companions were two blazing shoes who kept offering her
molasses taffy out of her father's hat. She awoke with a start,
trembling in every limb, and frightened at her strange surroundings.
Then she remembered how she came to be there, and lay down again on her
pillow; but she could not sleep.

In the distance she heard the sound of a dog's insistent barking, and
was annoyed by the plaintive howls. She stopped her ears but could not
shut out the sound, and in desperation she sat up and looked out of the
window, wishing that morning would dawn.

The night was very dark, but the starlight seemed to break the heavy
blackness that hung like a pall over the landscape. Off toward the
horizon, in the direction of the dog's barking was a faint glimmer of
wavering light, and Tabitha watched it idly for a moment, wondering if
there were campers in that little hollow, too. Then the light grew
brighter and more flickering, the barking more frantic, and Tabitha
started up in terror.

"It's the hermit's house on fire! What can I do? Neither Tom nor Dad is
here to give the alarm, and town is so far away."

She flew out of bed and to the dresser where her father's pistol was
kept, lifted the ugly weapon from its case and mechanically cocked it.
Tom had taught her to use a rifle, but she had never been allowed to
handle a revolver, though she had watched him so often that she was
familiar with its mechanism, and had no thought of fear as she sped
fleetly out of the house, pausing only long enough to slip on her sticky
shoes.

Bang, bang, bang! went the gun in rapid succession; bang, bang, bang!
Six times the report rang sharply through the still night air,--the
signal of fire in this little desert town. Then tossing the empty pistol
aside, she ran down the road as fast as her feet would carry her, all
her terror of the night swept away in the one idea that the townspeople
might be too late to help the old man if he should happen to be in the
burning house. She never stopped to wonder what aid she, a child of
twelve, could render, she never thought of arousing Mr. Carson, but
stumbled breathlessly on in the darkness toward the shack now burning
merrily.

Somewhere behind her she heard a second revolver alarm; then someone
passed her in the road, and a man's voice called, "Go home, Tabitha.
This is no place for you." But still she kept on, having scarcely heard
the words, and hardly aware that other help than her own feeble strength
was at hand.

That was a night she never forgot. In these desert mining towns where
water costs a dollar a barrel and the system of piping it into the
houses is yet in its infancy, fire is not an easy thing to fight, and
many a time the whole camp has been destroyed before the conflagration
could be checked or would burn itself out. The hermit's hut, however,
was so isolated that the town was in no danger, even from the flying
sparks, but there was not a drop of water to throw on the flames, and
the roads were too steep and rough for the volunteer fire department to
drag their chemicals to the rescue.

So the little shack burned to the ground, but Mr. Carson and Tabitha
arrived in time to pull the lone occupant to safety, though it was a
close call for the old miner, for he was almost suffocated with the
smoke and his head and hands were badly burned.

Mr. Carson, too, suffered from his buffeting with the flames, but
Tabitha came out unscathed, and when the men from town arrived, hatless
and anxious, they found the child helping the brave superintendent in
his efforts to revive the unconscious hermit, while the little yellow
cur whined in terror at their feet, and the blaze of the burning house
mounted high in the heavens.

Dr. Vane was among the crowd, and he quietly took charge of the patient,
easing his suffering and binding up his wounds as best he could while
someone went for a rig that the injured man might be carried back to
town more easily.

"Now, put some of that stuff on Mr. Carson's hands," commanded Tabitha,
who had watched the proceedings with interest, holding bandages and
passing ointments under the physician's directions. "His are all
scorched, too."

"How are your own?" someone asked her, noticing how drawn and white her
face was in the lurid glare.

"I did that making candy last evening," she answered, displaying her
blistered fingers, now raw and sore. "I forgot all about them."

Overcome by excitement, weariness and pain, she let the doctor gather
her in his strong arms, and the proud citizens of Silver Bow bore their
little heroine triumphantly home.



CHAPTER XII

DR. VANE HAS A VISITOR


By the next morning Tabitha had fully recovered from her terrible
night's experience, but it was days before the old hermit awoke to
consciousness to find himself lying in a white bed in the Miners'
Hospital of Silver Bow with Dr. Vane bending over him and a motherly
woman in white cap and apron moving about the room.

"Where am I?" he asked faintly.

"In the Silver Bow Hospital," answered the doctor.

"How came I here?"

"You were hurt. You mustn't talk now. When you are stronger you can ask
questions."

"But I must know how I got here. Who found me? I was sick, I remember,
and I think I tried to send Bobs for help, but he wouldn't leave me."

"You upset a lamp or something and set the house afire. Catt's little
girl Discovered the blaze, gave the alarm and helped Carson haul you
out. It was a tight pull, my man, but you will soon be all right now."

"Catt's girl? Carson?"

"Yes. No more questions at present. Save your strength and get well."

So the bandaged man lay quiet among the pillows and waited for health to
return to him again; nor did he ask for further information until one
day the doctor told him that on the morrow he might go for a walk in the
open air if he wished.

"Could you bring that little girl to see me?" he asked, and the
physician, surprised because the patient had never before manifested any
interest in his rescuers, replied that he would see about it. So that
afternoon when school had closed, Tabitha was met at the door by Dr.
Vane and went with him to see the hermit of the hills, Surly Sim.

She found him sitting by the window, looking out toward the flaming west
where the sun was already sinking behind the mountain tops, and he did
not turn when she entered the room, or give any sign that he saw or
heard her. She waited in silence for some moments beside his chair, and
then, thinking he had not heard her enter, she said timidly,

"How do you do, Mr. Hermit? Dr. Vane said you would like to see me."

The man started at the sound of her voice and turning in his chair
stared so fixedly at her that she was frightened and wished Dr. Vane had
stayed with her. "Is there something--can I do anything for you? Would
you like to have me speak some pieces for you?" Poor Tabitha had not the
faintest idea what to say to this man, whose scarred face shocked and
disconcerted her, and there was no one in the room to help her.

"What's your name?" finally asked the hermit.

"Tabitha Catt."

"Pretty name!" He laughed mirthlessly and the girl shrank as if she had
been struck. She had not expected him to make fun of her and was
undecided whether to be hurt or angry. He was kind to animals; she had
hoped to meet that same kindness toward herself.

"It's a horrid name, but I can't help it, for I didn't name myself," she
answered with dignity, resolved to hold firmly to the fiery temper that
caused her so much unhappiness.

"Why don't you drop it and take some other?" he asked curiously, aware
that she was making an effort to control herself.

"I did once," replied the girl with a dejected air, in such contrast to
her former haughty tearing that he was amused. "But it didn't pay."

"Why not?"

"Dad made me take it all back."

"Tell me about it."

"That's all there is to tell. I let folks believe my name was something
else and he made me tell them what it really was."

"What was the name you adopted?"

"Theodora Marcella Gabrielle Julianna Victoria Emeline."

"Whew! How could they ever remember it all? That's a long handle for a
little girl."

"They called me Theodora Gabrielle for short."

He smiled in spite of himself. "And do you really wish your name was
that whole string?"

"I did wish so once. That was when I was a little bit of a girl. I am
twelve now. In next April I will be thirteen. Girls are young ladies
when they get into their teens, Aunt Maria says. If I could change my
name now, I would rather it would be Theodora Eugenia Louise. That is
shorter, and long names are not the style any more. Theodora was my
mother's name and I should want that for mine always."

"Do you look like your mother?"

"I reckon not. She died when I was too little to know anything, but if
either of us looks like her it must be Tom. I am afraid I resemble Dad."

"Afraid?"

He spoke this word with a peculiar rising inflection, but she did not
catch the significance of the question, and replied, "Yes. He is tall
and thin and black and slab-sided. That's me, too, except I am short
yet; but I expect I will grow. Besides, I've got the Catt inside of me.
I scratch like fury when I am mad. Now Tom doesn't get mad, though his
name is almost, or just, as bad as mine."

"What do you get mad at?"

"Lots of things, but 'specially my name. Folks make such fun of it and
say the hatefullest rhymes, and when they do that I just light into them
with my fists."

"And you a girl!"

"I am always sorry afterwards, but then it is too late to help it. I've
got to learn to let them tease without getting mad at all and then they
won't torment me, but it is a mighty hard thing to do, I think. I've
been trying for twelve years now and it is almost as bad as ever. Tom
says I am doing splendidly, but he doesn't know how often I get mad."

"Where is Tom?"

"Going to college at Reno."

"College, eh? He's a smart boy, is he?"

"Yes, indeed! We're both smart." He laughed at her naive reply, and her
face flushed, but she continued convincingly, "I am almost as far as I
can get in school here. I am ready for Latin. Mrs. Carson says if I
can't go to boarding school next fall, she will teach me herself, so I
can keep up with Carrie."

"Why didn't you go this year?"

"There wasn't any money."

"Would you like to go?"

"Wouldn't I!" was the emphatic exclamation, as she clasped her hands in
rapturous longing.

"If you could have one wish granted what would it be?"

"What do you mean?"

"If you were told that you could have any one thing you wanted, what
would you choose?"

"Only one?"

"Yes."

"Well, it would be pretty hard to choose. I want to go to boarding
school awfully bad, but--I believe--I would choose a home like Carrie
Carson's."

"Carrie Carson's! What is the matter with your own? Isn't your house as
big as theirs or as nice?"

"No, but I wasn't thinking of houses just now. A house isn't a home
always. Our house isn't. Tom and I are the home part of our house. Aunt
Maria is housekeeper and Dad just stops there once in a while. They
don't care about having a home, I reckon."

The man was silent with astonishment at her keen observations, and
mistaking his silence for disapproval at her criticisms, she hastily
resumed, "The kind of a home I mean is where all the folks in it like
each other and are always nice like the Carsons."

"So your father isn't like Mr. Carson?"

"Not a bit--yet."

"Is he mean to you?"

"N-o, not exactly. He is a Catt, that's all. I reckon it is me--I, who
is mean. I get mad and sass him when he shakes me, and once when he
whipped me I burned up his slippers."

"Does he whip you often?"

"No, this was the only time--so far. I spilled candy on his best hat,
which is enough to make any man mad; but being a Catt, he was _very_
mad. I haven't seen him since, because he is away on a trip, but when he
comes back I am going to tell him I am sorry I burned up his shoes. I
was just beginning to think maybe there was hopes of his being like Mr.
Carson yet when I made him mad. Now I suppose I will have to begin all
over again."

"Then you think your father is improving?"

"Why, you see, Dad has had a hard time of it. There have been so many
things to make him feel bad. When he was in college he got expelled
because of something dreadful another boy did, and then a man who was
working with him in the mines cheated him out of all his share, and
mamma died, and money has been hard to get and--well, he got cross."

"So he took his spite out on his children, eh? Who was the man who
cheated him?"

"I don't know, but Dad doesn't believe in friends any more. He says
there is no such thing as a true friend. Mr. Carson says that is because
the man he trusted 'betrayed his confidence'--those are his very words."

The bandaged figure in the invalid chair moved uneasily, and a silence
fell over the hospital room while he stared gloomily out into the fading
light, and she sat lost in her own thoughts. Suddenly he roused, and his
voice sounded sharp and curt as he said, "It is nearly night. Time you
were going home."

Tabitha's face crimsoned at his peremptory dismissal, and she bounced
out of her chair indignantly.

"You sent for me. I didn't come because I wanted to. Good-by."

She was gone before he recovered his breath, and never a word had passed
between them concerning the fire which had so nearly cost him his life,
though his purpose in sending for her was that he might thank her for
her bravery. He called after her, but she did not hear his voice, and
the door closed with an emphatic bang which told him plainer than words
how angry she was.

For a long time after she left him he lay quietly by the window in the
twilight, thinking over what she had told him and battling with himself;
but in the end his better nature conquered. The next day he went for his
walk, as Dr. Vane had suggested, and that was the last Silver Bow saw of
him for some time. Some folks thought he had met with foul play, others
that he had wandered too far for his strength and had either perished or
been taken care of by some prospector, while still others held the
opinion that he had taken French leave. Speculation as to his
disappearance soon died down, however, and Surly Sim, Tabitha's hermit
of the hills, was forgotten.

The holidays came, bringing Carrie home for a brief vacation, and she
was bubbling over with such enthusiastic reports of life at boarding
school that Tabitha found it harder than ever to let her go back to
enjoy the privileges which were denied her. So great was her grief that
after seeing her flaxen-haired playmate on board the train to return to
her school, she rushed away to pour out her despair to sympathetic Mrs.
Vane.

"I don't see why it is that some people have everything and others
nothing," she sobbed bitterly. "I can't help envying Carrie. She has the
nicest mother and father and the prettiest house and the loveliest books
and clothes and all the money she wants. And so has Jerome. They both go
away to school and have splendid times and see the world, and I can't
have any of it."

"Poor little girlie!" murmured the woman to herself. "How unjust it does
seem, even from a grown-up's standpoint!" So she stroked the heavy black
hair and cuddled tearful Tabitha until the storm was spent; then she
spoke tenderly, "That is one of the problems that has puzzled the world
all these years, dear, and has caused all sorts of trouble. But it is
something that we can overcome, every one of us, if we want to."

"What do you mean?"

"Just this, Puss; don't sulk and be cross because you can't have
everything you want. Be happy where you were put. Did you ever hear the
little poem called _The Discontented Buttercup_? It is the story of a
buttercup who mourned because she couldn't be a daisy with white frills
like her neighbor flowers, and she didn't see the loveliness of the day
nor feel the softness of the breezes because she spent all her time in
vain wishes. So she asked a robin who had paused to rest near her if he
wouldn't try to find her a nice white frill some time when he was
flying. And then these verses follow:

    'You silly thing,' the robin said,
      'I think you must be crazy;
    I'd rather be my honest self,
      Than any made-up daisy.

    You're nicer in your own bright gown;
      The little children love you;
    Be the best buttercup you can,
      And think no flower above you.

    Look bravely up into the sky,
      And be content with knowing
    That God wished for a buttercup
      Just here, where you are growing.'

Take this little lesson to heart, dear, and make sunshine where you
are, instead of being sorrowful because you can't have what Carrie has.
Maybe when you have learned the lesson thoroughly, these other things
will come to you; but if they don't, then keep on making sunshine.
Everyone loves a happy heart, and every smile or kind word spoken cheers
the old world a little. Life is like a stairway, but because all of us
can't reach the top of the flight, we should not sit down on the first
step and mourn because we can't have what those on the last stair are
enjoying. We must climb as fast and as far as we can if we want to make
the most of our lives; but when we have done our very best, that is all
we can do. If there are others who can do better than we can, we must
try not to envy them, but be glad of their success. It is a question,
dear, that you will understand better as you grow older. But if you will
remember the buttercup verses and make the most of what you are and
have, I am sure you will be happier."

"Teach me the verses, Mrs. Vane, and I will try to remember them when I
get to envying again; though I still wish I could have nice dresses and
go to boarding school."

Mrs. Vane smiled at her candor, but found the little poem for Tabitha,
and when she skipped out into the dusk for home, she was saying over and
over,

    "Look bravely up into the sky,
       And be content with knowing
     That God wished for a buttercup
       Just here, where you are growing."

She had hardly disappeared over the hill when another visitor climbed
the steep path to the Vane cottage and knocked. The doctor himself
opened the door and was confronted by a tall stranger muffled to his
ears in a heavy ulster.

"Come right in, sir," said the doctor, motioning his visitor into the
cosy office, and waiting for him to state his errand.

"You don't remember me?" asked the man, as he sat down and threw open
his coat. The voice sounded very familiar, but at first the doctor could
place neither face nor figure. Then he remembered--it was Surly Sim.

"Well, well, where did you come from? I have often wondered what became
of you. This country is a bad place for a sick man to get lost in."

The hermit laughed. "I had some business that had to be attended to and
I was afraid you wouldn't let me go so soon. Can you keep a secret?"

The doctor was startled at the abrupt question, but replied gravely,
"That is part of a physician's life."

"Yes, but I have no reference to your professional duties. I mean
this--I want you to take this money and see that Tabitha Catt is
educated--boarding school, college, whatever she likes. I think that sum
will cover--"

"Why don't you take it to her yourself?"

The doctor was more than puzzled at this unusual request from such a
person as Surly Sim, the supposed crazy man, the hermit of the hills.

Startled at the unexpectedness of the question, the man stammered
confusedly, "I--no--I can't--not yet. I have reasons for preferring to
handle the matter in this manner at present. You need have no scruples.
I earned every cent of _this_ money; it is my very own. The child saved
my life, and I owe her whatever help I can give her. This is a little
sum, but it is the best I can do just now. Will you take it and do as I
ask?" Still the doctor hesitated. "Then see here, perhaps I can convince
you of the truth of what I say. Read this." He laid on the table before
the doctor a written document which the physician carefully perused, and
laid back on the table. "Do you believe me now?"

"Yes."

"And will you take the money for the little girl?"

"Yes, but I wish I could convince you that it would be better for you to
go to Mr. Catt--"

"Not yet, not yet! I can't meet him yet. He mustn't know who I am yet.
When I have righted the wrong, then I will come back; but for the
present I would ask you to keep my secret and see that the little girl
is sent to school. You will do this?"

"To the best of my ability."

They shook hands and out into the darkness the hermit went.



CHAPTER XIII

AUNT MARIA DECIDES THE QUESTION


    "Behind him lay the gray Azores,
       Behind the gates of Hercules;
     Before him not the ghost of shores,
       Before him only shoreless seas.
     The good mate said: 'Now must we pray,
       For lo! the very stars are gone;
     Speak, Admiral, what shall I say?'
       'Why say, sail on! and on!'

There goes another cup. I am always forgetting and letting my hands fly
when I speak. Yes, Aunt Maria, I am coming."

"Hurry up with those dishes, Tabitha, I want you to run down to the
McKittrick's and get me that pattern she promised to loan me. Child,
what have you done? I don't know what we will eat out of when you get
all these dishes broken. How did you smash that?"

"It banged against the door when I opened it."

"I'll warrant you were haranguing around with another new piece. Why
don't you pay attention to what you are doing until it is finished, and
then do your reciting?"

"I just hate to wash dishes and dust and sweep, Aunt Maria, but I forget
all about it when I am speaking and get through with them lots quicker."

"Yes, but see how many dishes you break, and the things you spill
because you will flap your arms about like a Dutch windmill instead of
keeping them in the dishpan where they belong. I do wish you would learn
to do one thing at a time."

"It is of no use, Aunt Maria. My thoughts won't stay on dishes, try as
hard as I will to keep them there. There isn't anything splendid or
inspiring in a pile of dirty dishes or those dusty chairs, is there? But
those poems are simply grand! I am the best speaker at school, but I
have to practice all I can to keep ahead. Just listen to this:

    Then, pale and worn, he kept his deck,
      And through the darkness peered that night.
    Ah, darkest night! and then a speck--
      A light! a light! a light! a light!
    It grew--a star-lit flag unfurled!
      It grew to be Time's burst of dawn;
    He gained a world! he gave that world
      It's watch-word: 'On! and on!'

Isn't that perfectly grand?" The black eyes glowed, the face lighted
with enthusiasm and her whole form swayed with the stirring inspiration
of the lines.

Aunt Maria was visibly impressed. "Yes, it is fine and you certainly do
put life into anything you say; but that's just it, you put too much
life in it and smash up everything you touch. Hurry now and get that
pattern, for I want it as soon as possible."

"All right, I will be back in a jiffy." Tabitha snatched up her
sunbonnet and disappeared up the path toward town, still reciting,

    "Sail on! sail on! and on!"

And silence descended upon the cottage that bright Saturday morning, for
Aunt Maria was too much absorbed in some very important sewing to pay
any attention to the housework and cooking still waiting to be done. In
the midst of her thoughts as she sat puzzling over a fashion book, came
the sound of an incessant buzzing or hissing, so unlike any noise she
had ever heard that she paused in surprise to listen.

"Now, what in creation has that child done this time?" she exclaimed
after a moment. "It doesn't sound like the teakettle or as if she had
left the water running. What can it be? I have to follow her around like
I would a baby--she is that careless!"

With an impatient sigh the woman dropped her work in the nearest chair
and shuffled out to the kitchen to investigate the peculiar sound,
formulating in her mind a lecture to be delivered to the erring Tabitha
upon her return from McKittrick's.

But the lecture was straightway forgotten in the sight that met her gaze
as she stepped into the room; and she stopped, paralyzed with horror. In
the middle of the floor, coiled as if ready to strike, lay a long,
hideous snake, its head raised, forked tongue darting, and hissing that
ceaseless buzzing note that had attracted her attention in the first
place; while around and around the reptile circling nearer and ever
nearer, walked the hermit's crooked-tailed, cropped-eared cat, its back
arched, tail erect, fur standing stiff all over its body, and round
yellow eyes glued in fascination to the enemy luring her to death. Not a
sound did the poor cat make, but continued her march with a spasmodic
rhythm that would have seemed ludicrous had it not been so pathetically
fearful. Even Aunt Maria's arrival upon the scene did not break the
charm, and the horrified woman stood still in the doorway too frightened
to move, too terrified to call, too shocked to think. It was almost as
if the snake had cast its horrible spell over her, also.

    "Hurrah! the foes are moving. Hark to the mingled din
     Of fife, and steed, and trump, and drum, and roaring culverin."

The sound of Tabitha's hurrying steps outside, and the fresh young voice
thrilling over those familiar words brought the woman to her senses, and
with a cry of desperation, Aunt Maria caught up the heavy ironing board
in the corner and banged it with all her strength full upon the hissing
coil on the floor, regardless of the fate of the cat. But the hysterical
scream of the woman had broken the charm, and the frightened feline made
a frantic dash for the screen door, spitting and clawing in its frenzy
to escape; while Aunt Maria, trembling and unnerved, sank into a sobbing
heap on the floor, too much shaken to think of escape.

Such was the scene that confronted Tabitha, as she rushed up to the
door, terrified by her aunt's cry and the wild scratching of the
imprisoned cat. As she flung open the screen there was a flash of black,
a quavering meow and pussy, crazed by her terrible experience, streaked
out of sight up the mountainside. But Tabitha did not pause to watch her
flight, so amazed was she at the sight of Aunt Maria in tears huddled in
the corner and shaking as if with ague.

"Why, Aunt Maria, what is the matter?" she cried in scared tones,
pausing just inside the door. "Are you hurt? Did the cat go mad? Were
you ironing and the board tipped over?" She stooped to lift the heavy
piece off the floor, and the woman suddenly found her tongue: "Don't
touch it, don't touch it! There's a snake under it! Oh, oh, oh!"

"Are you bitten, Aunt Maria? Tell me, are you bitten?"

"Oh, that snake!"

"Shall I get the doctor?"

"Oh, that snake!"

Leaping across the board still pinning the reptile to the floor--dead or
alive she did not know--Tabitha clutched the hysterical woman by the
shoulder and shook her, demanding, "Tell me this minute if you are
hurt!"

But Aunt Maria continued her incoherent cries, still rocking back and
forth in her corner, too dazed to make any further explanations. Tabitha
surveyed the scene in perplexity. What should she do? The Carsons were
away from home and no one else near enough to summon to her aid. If the
snake had bitten her aunt, something must be done at once. All the
remedies for poisonous bites that she had ever heard of seemed to have
slipped from her memory. It might be too late by the time a doctor could
be called. Precious seconds were rapidly passing. Supposing the snake
were not dead yet. She glanced at the board in the middle of the floor
and fancied it moved. In desperation she seized the teakettle from the
stove and let its scalding contents fly over the spot where the snake
might be.

At that instant her eyes fell upon the flask her father carried on his
trips among the mountains, and she remembered in a flash that whiskey is
a good antidote for rattlesnake bites. This might not be a rattlesnake
and it might not even be a poisonous one, but she would take no chances.
Snatching off the cap, she poured a stream of the fiery liquid into the
woman's open mouth, nearly strangling her. Choking and spluttering, Aunt
Maria tried to scream, but could only gasp for breath, and to Tabitha's
frightened eyes her face took on a dying look. A pail of water stood on
the stand under the faucet, and catching up this, the child deluged the
convulsed form in the corner.

There was a sharp in-drawing of breath, a sound of mingled surprise and
wrath, and the irate aunt towered above the astonished girl, her eyes
blazing as Tabitha had never seen them before.

"Tabitha Catt!" she managed to articulate, "of all outrageous things I
ever heard tell of in my life! What do you think you are doing? Trying
to murder me? Haven't I had enough scares this morning without your
burning the skin all off my mouth and throat and choking me half to
death and then trying to drown me? What do you mean by it, I say?"

"Oh, Aunt Maria, are you bit?"

"Bit, bit, bit, did you say? Yes, bit by that fire you poured into me.
What did you think bit me?" She had forgotten all about the snake! And
Tabitha had difficulty in explaining the situation to her.

But that decided matters for Aunt Maria. She had hated the desert ever
since she had come there nearly four years ago, and this was the last
straw. What did she care if the snake did prove to be a harmless thing?
If she couldn't live in a house without being in danger of a snake
invasion at any time, she simply would not live there at all. Her temper
was thoroughly aroused, and when Mr. Catt arrived home that night she
made known her decision in no gentle terms to him.

"I have lived in this forsaken hole just as long as I am going to, Max
Catt! I've routed out centipedes and scorpions and poison bugs of all
kinds until I am tired of it. Tabitha caught a baby tarantula under her
bed the other morning, and we found something in the wood-pile last week
that the folks at the hotel called a Gila monster. Why, one can't stir
around here in the spring and summer without running the risk of getting
killed by some of your varmints, and I've had enough of it. I am going
back to civilization."

"Now, Maria, be sensible. That snake couldn't have got into the house if
the screen had been shut the way it should have been."

"I suppose the spiders and centipedes come in through the open screen,
too, don't they, and roost in the dishpan hanging on the wall! That is
where I found one not long ago, and I caught another stowed away in my
clothes when I went to dress yesterday. I don't dare go to sleep nights
any more for fear they will bite me. Life is a perfect nightmare. It is
bad enough to have to stay here nine-tenths of the time with nobody in
the house but Tabitha, without being in constant fear of one's life all
the time."

"How many people do you ever hear of being killed here on the desert by
centipedes or scorpions or tarantulas, or even snakes? I tell you they
aren't half as bad as they are made out to be."

"Well, I ain't going to risk my life to find out how poisonous they
are, Maximilian, and you needn't think it."

"But Maria, what will become of Tabitha? She can't stay here alone and
keep house," he argued.

"There ain't any need of her staying here alone. She can go to boarding
school in Los Angeles with Carrie Carson. If you weren't so thoroughly
selfish you would have sent her there long ago with your own money; but
even now when that hermit she saved from being burned up has given her
enough money to put her clear through college, you won't let her touch a
penny of it."

"Maria Catt, how am I to know that money was honestly his? I believe he
stole it, and I don't care to get mixed up in any robbery case. There is
something underhanded about the deal or he would have come to me with
the money. I may be selfish but I am not dishonest," he ended, hotly.

"Dr. Vane is satisfied, and he is a shrewd enough man to know what is
what. That hermit wasn't a robber and you know that without any proof.
He has mining claims here that prove where he got his money."

"Then why didn't he turn it over to me, instead of to the doctor? He has
virtually made Dr. Vane trustee of those funds."

"That only shows he has some sense," his sister interrupted with energy.
"You don't know how to look after a child properly. But you know well
enough why he didn't come to you. How could he, with you off chasing up
syndicates and other fools to buy up your claims--"

"Those claims are worth money, Maria Catt, and some day I will prove it
to you. I wouldn't think of parting with one of them if I had the money
to work them the way they ought to be worked. The 'Tom Cat' is
particularly promising."

"That may be, but it is a sin and shame to pay more attention to those
old mines than you do to your children. Here is Tom working his way
through college when it is your duty to put him through--"

"I told Tom long ago that if his wanted a college education he would
have to earn it. I can't see that University courses make any better men
of the boys that get them than experience does of the boys that are not
as well educated. In fact, I think--and always did--that experience is
the best teacher."

"You've got a grouch against the world because you think it hasn't
treated you right, and you're spitting your spite out on your children.
Here is Tabitha, now,--as bright a child as I ever laid eyes on--"

"And as ugly a one."

"Whose fault is that, Maximilian Catt? If she had been brought up
differently she would compare favorably with any child in the country.
She _does_ compare favorably in spite of her bringing up. The teacher
says she never had such a bright scholar in all her school experience.
She learns surprisingly quick."

"I don't see anything surprising about that. The Catts are not
ignoramuses, none of them."

"I know that all right. I'm a Catt myself, and while I never set myself
up to be overly quick-witted, I think I have my share of brains, and
might have amounted to something if I had some more education."

"Shucks! What are you always harping on that string for? Education isn't
everything in the world. Tabitha can get all the learning a woman needs
right here in this town."

"Because the girl hankers for knowledge, you are just determined to make
her as miserable as you can, and if she was half as much Catt as you
are, she would grow up just as spiteful and selfish; but thank goodness,
she has some of her mother's traits. If she was a little mite and needed
my care, I would stay, even if I did get killed for my trouble; but she
is big enough now so I can leave without any qualms of conscience, and I
am going to leave. You can do just whatever you like with her, but I
will not stay here for love or money. Find a housekeeper if you can, but
whether or not you do, I am going back East just as soon as I can get my
things packed. I am absolutely unnerved over that snake. I can't turn
around without seeing the thing coiled ready to spring, and that poor
cat chasing around like a thing crazy; and when I shut my eyes there are
whole strings of 'em dancing up and down like all possessed until I am
half wild. That cat never came back and I believe that is a warning. I
am going to follow its example."

No arguments could prevail to change her mind, and she immediately began
packing for her departure.

Poor Mr. Catt, what was he to do? The possibility of Aunt Maria's
leaving them had never occurred to him, in spite of her oft repeated
threats; and now that she had suddenly determined to return to her own
home he was facing anything but an agreeable situation.

It was out of the question for Tabitha to take charge of the
housekeeping and stay there alone much of the time as she would have to
do when he was away. It was equally out of the question to secure a
reliable housekeeper in this little desert town. But the idea of
accepting the hermit's money and sending her away to school was very
repugnant to him and he was at a loss to know what to do.

Aunt Maria's fright had given her unusual courage and she had told him
some unpleasant truths, things she would never have dared say under
ordinary circumstances; but after his surprise at her daring had died
down he faced her accusations, fought them out one by one, recognized
the truth of them and capitulated. Tabitha could go away to boarding
school. Words are inadequate to express Tabitha's joy when told this
delightful news; she was literally entranced with the prospect.

The night that Aunt Maria had departed for her eastern home, Tabitha sat
disconsolately on the back steps, alternately patting General Grant's
head resting on her knee, and trying to study her grammar lesson, but
the nouns and verbs would become hopelessly mixed, and the adjectives
and adverbs fought scandalously with each other. Mr. Catt, tilted back
in his chair beside the window, tried to read the city paper, but found
his glance wandering constantly to the lonely figure on the steps.

"I am a beast," he said to himself, as the brown hand swept a tear off
the page she was supposed to be studying. "This is no place for a child
like that. She has the making of a fine woman in her, and I haven't done
right by her. She _is_ bright, and Maria is right. Tabitha!"

She started violently. "Yes, sir."

"Come here."

Closing her book but keeping it clasped in her hands she went inside the
house and stood waiting to know his pleasure, surprise--almost
apprehension at this unexpected summons--showing plainly in her face.
"You were reciting some gabble on the steps a little bit ago. Say it
again."

"Gabble?" said the puzzled girl questioningly.

"Yes, something about Ghent."

"Oh, that wasn't gabble! That is a masterpiece, teacher says. Why,
Robert Browning wrote that!"

"Um-hm. I'm not interested in Robert Browning. All I want is that piece.
Speak it."

Astonished and not comprehending this demand in the least, Tabitha began
falteringly, somewhat indifferently:

    "I sprang to the stirrup, and Joris, and he;
     I galloped, Dirck galloped, we galloped all three;"

But as the familiar words slipped from her tongue, the spirit of the
piece came over her. Her voice grew tense with feeling and the hands
that never could stay still lent their aid to the difficult art of
expression.

    "So, we were left galloping, Joris and I,
     Past Looz and past Tongres, no cloud in the sky;
     The broad sun above laughed a pitiless laugh,
     'Neath our feet broke the brittle bright stubble like chaff;
     Till over by Dalhem a dome-spire sprang white,
     And 'Gallop,' gasped Joris, 'for Aix is in sight!'"

Her hand shot out toward the imaginary Aix, the ill-fated grammar was
forgotten, it slipped from her loosened clasp, flew through the air and
struck the elder Catt a heavy blow in the stomach.

"Uh!" grunted the startled man, the tilted chair tipped uncertainly, he
clutched wildly at the smooth wall, and landed in an undignified heap in
the middle of the kitchen floor, rapping his head smartly against the
pantry door.

"Tabitha Catt!" She held her breath in dismay and waited for the
punishment she was sure would follow. "Go on with that piece!"

Nothing could have surprised her more than that command, and for a brief
moment speech forsook her. Then gathering up her scattered wits, she
finished her recitation with all the vim she could muster, and waited.
Though possessing a keen sense of the ludicrous, Tabitha's own troubles
never appealed to her in this light, and as she stood looking down at
the tall form sprawling on the floor, the amusing side of the situation
never occurred to her. She was too busy wondering what would come next.

"Hm!" was the unexpected comment after a thrilling silence. "You did
well in the first part, but toward the end where the excitement should
increase, you let it fall. How would you like to go to boarding school
with Carrie in September?"

"Oh, Dad, if I only could!" The voice and face expressed all the pent-up
longings of the little heart, and Mr. Catt felt a great lump rise in his
throat as he watched this one small daughter and realized his own
shortcomings; but he swallowed it back and said briefly, "If you are a
good girl, I reckon maybe you can go."

A long sigh of rapture burst from her, and seizing her father's black
head in her arms, she gave it a quick, impetuous hug. Then, disconcerted
by this unusual display of affection, she fled out of the house and up
to her seat on the mountainside, overlooking the ruins of the hermit's
hut, where she held an ecstatic thanksgiving service all by herself.



CHAPTER XIV

TABITHA'S ROOM-MATE


The long, hot summer weeks came to an end at last, the dainty dresses
were finished, the trunk packed, the short journey completed, and
Tabitha stood breathless and quaking on the great stone steps before the
goal of her ambitions, with the confident Carrie and timid Mercedes
beside her, waiting to be admitted to the imposing edifice.

"I can't believe yet that I am really here," she sighed.

"Oh, that feeling will soon wear off," answered Carrie, and then the
heavy door swung noiselessly open and Carrie motioned the two girls into
the cool shadows of a wide hall, which to Tabitha seemed more like a
beautiful garden than the interior of a house, for ropes of
glossy-leaved ivy festooned the long, French windows, and palms and tall
vases filled with flowers occupied every available nook and corner.

"Isn't it grand?" she breathed in ecstasy. "I shall love it here, I
know. I do hope I can room with you, Carrie."

"Sh! I am afraid you can't, Puss, but maybe you and Mercedes will be put
together. Here comes Miss Pomeroy, the principal."

A stately, silvery-haired lady in shining black was approaching them
through the great doors at the end of the hall, and Tabitha eyed her
with sudden disfavor.

"I don't see how I can hope to like her when I shall always think of
that sneaking Joe and Sneed Pomeroy in Ferndale every time I hear her
name." But the moment the woman spoke, she forgot everything else in
listening to the sweet, musical voice that somehow made one instantly
feel at home and welcome.

"My dear Carrie," the lady was saying, as she kissed the rosy cheek of
the flaxen-haired child. "I am so glad you have come back looking so
well. And these are your little friends of the desert! Which is Tabitha,
and which Mercedes? We are delighted to have two more Silver Bows with
us this year. Carrie and I are great friends, and I am sure we all shall
be."

"Has Cassandra come yet?" asked Carrie eagerly, and her face fell when
Miss Pomeroy smilingly nodded her head.

"Why, Carrie Carson, are you sorry?"

"N-o, but if she is here I suppose I can't have Tabitha for a
room-mate."

"You precious little girlie! No, I have made other arrangements for
Tabitha and Mercedes. Cassandra's mother wrote and asked me particularly
if her daughter might not have 'dear little Carrie Carson' for room-mate
again this year, for the child adores her and will do anything in the
world to please such a lovable child. Now surely after that plea you
aren't going to desert poor Cassandra?"

"Oh, Miss Pomeroy, I do like Cassandra ever so much, but--I would like
to have Tabitha better."

"And how about Mercedes?"

"She is almost Cassandra's age, and they are sure to be friends."

"Aha! had it all planned out, did you, little sly-boots?" laughed the
woman, gently pinching the flushing cheek of the embarrassed Carrie.
"There, dear, I was just teasing. I want to please all my girls, but
sometimes I have to disappoint them a little. Mercedes will room with
Bertha Peck who was here last year, and Tabitha we will try with
Chrystobel Clayton. Come now, and I will show you your rooms. Bertha is
here already, but Chrystobel has not arrived. Carrie, you have the same
room you had last year, and little Cassandra is busy decorating it
now--a labor of love, dear."

Up the wide, polished stairs she led them, and along the corridor, on
either side of which were several doors, most of them closed, but
through the two or three standing ajar Tabitha's bright eyes caught
glimpses of merry-faced girls in the midst of an interesting clutter of
open trunks, over-loaded beds and bureau drawers, and her quick ears
heard snatches of rollicking music or the buzz of gay conversation.

"This is your room, Tabitha. Mercedes is your next-door neighbor, and
Carrie is just across the hall. Go in and make yourself at home. Bertha,
come welcome your room-mate."

A tall, fair-haired girl rose from the low rocker by the window, and
came quickly forward, saying cordially, "Mercedes, I am glad you have
come. I have been here three days and am beginning to be homesick. Isn't
that a state of affairs? You don't look a bit as I thought you would.
Has your trunk arrived yet? And this is Tabitha, our little kitty? You
certainly must be our mascot. Your room-mate isn't here yet, so you can
help yourself to whichever bed and closet hooks and bureau drawers you
want. There really isn't any difference in the size of them, but it is
supposed to be a great thing to have first choice."

While the older girl talked she drew Mercedes inside the room, divested
her of hat and satchel, jerked out the empty drawers of the dresser, and
threw open the tiny closet door with such a hospitable air that the
homesick child of the desert felt cheered and comforted at once, and
Tabitha found herself wishing it had been her lot to share Bertha's
room.

It was lonely all by herself in the room that seemed bare in spite of
its pretty furnishings, for nothing familiar greeted her eyes, and its
unadorned walls looked quite depressing in their spotless creamy white.
Carrie had disappeared, and Miss Pomeroy's steps were descending the
stairway; so she closed her door quietly, observing that two or three
curious faces were peering at her from across the hall; and with a
feeling half homesick, half exultant, Tabitha hung up her hat and turned
for a more studied survey of her surroundings.

"Twenty-eight hooks in the closet, fourteen for me and fourteen for
Chrystobel. Isn't that the loveliest name? I never heard of it before. I
wonder if she will be as nice as she sounds! But of course she will.
Carrie says the girls are all nice. Four drawers in the dresser, two
little ones and two big ones. I will take the bottom big drawer and the
little one nearest the window. Bertha says the drawers are the same
size, but the bottom one _looks_ a little deeper. Here is a string, I
will measure.--They are exactly the same. That's where you got fooled,
Tabitha Catt! See what comes from being stingy?--I would like the bed
nearest the window, but maybe I better leave that for Chrystobel.--Clear
as crystal and sweet as a bell. I wonder if that is what her mother and
father thought when they named her that. These rockers are
i-den-ti-cally the same. That's fortunate. It won't be any temptation
to choose the prettiest. We will have to tell them apart by putting bows
on them. I will tie one of my red hair-ribbons on mine; there are four
new ones in my box of ribbons. I wish they would bring up my trunk. I
would like to unpack while I have nothing else to do. Wonder where
Carrie is. Wish she would come in and talk to me, it seems so strange
here all alone."

There was a bold knock at the door, and thinking it might be her trunk,
she flung it wide open with the words, "Bring it right in, please, and
set it in--oh, I thought--"

"You thought it was your trunk," giggled the lisping midget who faced
her in the doorway, "but it ain't. I am Cassandra Hertford. Carrie is my
room-mate. Isn't she a darling? She told me you and Mercedes McKittrick
had come, and I had to run in to see you. Carrie has gone to see about
the trunks. She said she would introduce you when she came back, but I
couldn't wait. Where's Mercedes? Oh, she is to be with Bertha Peck,
isn't she? Let's go see her."

Clutching astonished Tabitha by the hand, she dragged her out of the
room and before any remonstrance could be offered, pushed open the door
of the next apartment and announced her arrival with the shout, heard
all over the hall, "Hello, Bertha and Mercedes! Here I am with our Tabby
Catt!"

Tabitha's sensitive face flushed crimson and the angry light sprang to
her eyes, but Bertha rose to the occasion with the ready tact which had
made her one of the most popular girls.

"Cassandra, dear, this is our Kitty, the mascot of this floor. Come and
meet her, girls;" and before Tabitha realized what had happened, six or
seven laughing girls emerged from the various rooms along the hall, and
surrounded her, all chattering gayly and apparently not noticing
Tabitha's awkward, embarrassed manner. Carrie joined them shortly, and
received an enthusiastic greeting, for it was evident that she, too, was
a general favorite. And such a laughing and chattering as followed! And
how the time flew! In the midst of their merrymaking a gong sounded.

"Goodness gracious, girls! is it so late? I haven't finished unpacking
yet. Half an hour to get ready for tea, Tabitha;" and they dispersed to
their rooms.

Tabitha followed their example and flung open the door at the end of the
hall for the final touches to her toilette, but stopped on the threshold
in surprise. Standing in front of the mirror, arranging her long, smooth
curls, was a girl about her own age, clad in an over-trimmed gown of
thin white stuff, and wearing an immense bow of white at either side of
her head. At the sound of Tabitha's entrance she turned languidly and
surveyed the intruder with cold, disapproving eyes. Tabitha returned the
stare with one of undisguised admiration, for never had she seen anyone
so beautiful. "Oh, are you Chrystobel?" she cried in rapture. "I've been
wondering if you would fit your name."

"I am Chrystobel Clayton," answered the stranger in a frigid tone which
was entirely lost on the other. "Do I fit?"

"Oh, yes, you are the handsomest girl I ever saw. Carrie Carson is
pretty, but you are beautiful!"

"What is _your_ name?" asked Chrystobel, still with a haughty air, but
considerably pleased with the open admiration of her companion.

"Tabitha Catt," came the slow answer.

"What an exceedingly queer cognomen!"

Tabitha caught her breath, then said slowly, "It isn't very pretty,
perhaps; but--one gets used to their name so they don't mind it."

"Well, I must say if I had such an odd name as that I would change it.
_I_ never could get used to it; but then, some people haven't as
sensitive natures as others."

Tabitha made no reply, but with a queer sense of rage in her heart she
walked across to the dresser and bent to open the lower drawer where she
had carefully laid the few things her small grip had contained.

"Here," exclaimed Chrystobel sharply, "don't touch that drawer! That is
mine. How dare you!" For Tabitha in her start of surprise had jerked the
drawer free from the dresser and it fell with a bang in the middle of
the floor, disclosing to view a disorderly array of garments which did
not belong to Tabitha.

"What have you done with my things that were in there?" demanded the
black-eyed girl indignantly. "I was here first and had the right to make
first choice. It makes no difference to me, though; the drawers are
just the same size and I would as soon have the other."

Without waiting for a reply, she reached for the upper drawer, but
before she had a chance to open it, Chrystobel caught and held it shut
as she cried angrily, "My things are in there, too. What did you
expect--to keep the whole dresser for yourself?"

"That seems to be what you want," retorted Tabitha, thoroughly enraged.
"What have you done with my things?"

"They are in the top drawers. You aren't entitled to more than two."

"I'm entitled to a big one and a little one, Chrystobel Clayton, just
the same as you are, and I intend to have them, what's more!"

"Miss Pomeroy said it didn't make any difference which two drawers I
took for my own--"

"She didn't say you could have both the big ones, and you aren't going
to have them, so now!"

Snatching up the drawer on the floor, she emptied its contents on the
nearest bed and turned to restore it to its place in the dresser, but
the angry Chrystobel stopped her and tried to take it from her hands,
declaring, "That belongs to me, and you shall not have it, I say!"

Tabitha promptly inverted the disputed piece of property and sat down
upon it, saying quietly, though her eyes flashed dangerously, "Get it if
you can!"

But her companion dared not make the venture, for the clenched hands
looked too formidable, and the spoiled Chrystobel was an arrant coward;
so she stood beside the dresser glowering at the triumphant girl astride
the drawer, and at last finding vent for her anger in the spiteful
remark, "Your name fits you exactly. All cats scratch!"

"Well, your name doesn't fit you at all," was the ready reply, "and I
was mistaken when I said you were the prettiest girl I had ever seen. I
take it all back. You're as ugly as sin!"

"Are you going to give up that drawer?"

"No, not if I have to sit on it all night. You can't be a pig if you are
going to room with me. I took only what was my right. You have no
business to claim both big drawers."

"I didn't want to room with you anyway--"

"Neither did I want you!"

"I shall tell Miss Pomeroy!" threateningly.

"I wish you would!"

"There goes the gong for tea!"

"I am willing. I'll go without supper before I will give up this drawer,
and you may as well understand that first as last."

"You are perfectly hateful! You aren't even decently polite."

"I can't see that _you_ have more than your share of manners."

"You are as horrid as your name."

"You are a great deal worse than yours!"

"Girls, girls! What is the reason that you are not down in the dining
hall?" Miss Pomeroy, stately, majestic and stern, stood unannounced in
the doorway.

"She won't let me have a drawer to put my things in," began the girl
with curly hair and the handsome face.

"That's a lie!" screamed Tabitha, bouncing to her feet and dancing up
and down in furious passion.

"Tabitha Catt! I am surprised at you!" exclaimed the principal, looking
sorrowfully at the angry child. "Chrystobel, what is all this racket
about?"

"I put my things in the dresser, and she said I had taken her drawer and
couldn't have it."

"She did take my drawer--"

"Tabitha, I am talking to Chrystobel now."

"She took both big drawers and--"

"Tabitha!"

"Expected me to have just those two little ones in the top--"

"Tabitha!"

"She said you said she could have her choice and--"

"Will you listen to me?"

"She dumped my things out of the drawer--the bottom one--and poked them
in those little mites of ones. It isn't fair--"

"Tabitha Catt!"

"For her to have two big ones and me two little ones, but--"

"Tabitha, leave the room until I call you again!"

"She wouldn't give up either one," and in a perfect storm of grief and
anger, Tabitha swept out of the room, her expostulations still pouring
in a torrent from her quivering lips; and throwing herself flat on the
hall floor, she buried her face in her arms.

For some minutes Miss Pomeroy's low, even voice could be heard in the
little room at the end of the corridor, interrupted occasionally by
Chrystobel's sullen tones; then Tabitha was summoned again, and with
reddened eyes she entered the door to learn her fate.

"Tabitha, Chrystobel is sorry she took your belongings out of the bottom
drawer without asking your leave, and she has put them back as she found
them--"

"She has opened every blessed thing and peeked at it," was Tabitha's
indignant comment as she saw the mussed-up contents of the lower drawer,
now restored to its place in the dresser.

"Tabitha!" Miss Pomeroy's lips twitched, but her voice was very stern,
and the maid from Silver Bow flushed redder than ever, and contritely
cried,

"That was very hateful of me, but really, Miss Pomeroy, she never put
those things back as she found them, because I had that drawer looking
very neat and now see the muddle it is in!"

"We will discuss that later. I am shocked to think any of my girls would
act in such an unladylike manner as you have. Whenever any dispute
arises over your possessions, you are to come straight to me, or to
Madame DuBois, who has charge of this floor. Don't ever let me hear of
such actions again. Now, in order to prevent any further dissension, we
will decide which bed and chairs each of you is to have and which hooks
in the closet."

Tabitha's eyes sought the open closet as Miss Pomeroy spoke, and now she
burst out angrily, "She has taken all the hooks but seven on one end! I
should have fourteen because there are twenty-eight in all."

"Tabitha, if I have to speak to you again for interrupting, I shall send
you to the office to stay until bedtime. Chrystobel, take your clothes
off seven of those hooks and give them to Tabitha. Now, Tabitha, which
bed do you want?"

"I can't sleep near the window; mamma never allows it," spoke up the
haughty Chrystobel.

"That suits me all right," thought Tabitha, but aloud she merely said,
"It makes no difference to me."

"Then you may have the bed by the window. As for the chairs, they are
exactly alike--"

"I want this rocker," interrupted Chrystobel again, "the other squeaks,
and I can't bear that."

"Perhaps," observed Miss Pomeroy sarcastically, "it would be advisable
to mark your chairs with strings or ribbons, or something so there will
be no possibility of a recurrence of this dispute. Come now to the
dining hall and have your tea. I won't punish you this time, but if such
a disgraceful scene occurs again, I shall not be lenient with either
one."

"I don't care where my things are put," said irrepressible Tabitha, "and
I'm not trying to be a pig, either, even if I was here first; but I do
want what belongs to me by rights!"

Miss Pomeroy smiled in the dimness of the stairway, as she replied with
emphasis, "I expect all my girls to obey the rules laid down for them,
and if they won't do that, then they can't stay here."

Tabitha's indignation subsided suddenly. What a dreadful thing it would
be if she should be sent home! She ought to have thought of that
possibility before. Now Miss Pomeroy was angry with her and she had
made a miserable beginning of the delightful boarding school life she
had dreamed so much about. Two hot tears gathered in her eyes again, but
just at that minute she heard Chrystobel mutter between her teeth so the
principal could not hear, "I hate you!"

"It's mutual!" was Tabitha's vindictive reply, and with head up, she
stalked stiffly down the stairs behind Miss Pomeroy.



CHAPTER XV

THE FIRST NIGHT AT IVY HALL


That first night at Ivy Hall--for this was the name of the boarding
school--was long remembered by Tabitha. Fifty bright-eyed, rosy-cheeked
girls gathered with the little staff of instructors around the long
tables in the breezy dining hall, laughing and chattering merrily about
their happy vacations, greeting friends of the previous year with
girlish enthusiasm, and welcoming the strangers among their number with
a cordiality that made them feel as if they had always belonged there.
It was such a wonderful experience to our little maid from the desert
that she could scarcely touch the tempting meal spread before her, but
sat like a statue, drinking in the happy scene with a hungry heart.

"See that little dark-eyed lady at the end of our table?" said a
winsome-faced girl at Tabitha's right, who answered to the name of
Jessie Wayne. "She is Madame DuBois, the French teacher, who is in
charge of our floor. Your room is across from Carrie's, isn't it?"

"Yes," answered Tabitha, shyly. "She looks as if she might be lovely."

"Oh, she is! Next to Miss Pomeroy, she is the most popular teacher here.
The red-headed, cross-looking, fat woman at the second table is Miss
White, who has classes in music and drawing. She is lots better than she
looks. Miss Summers is the next teacher. People often mistake her for a
pupil here. Isn't that a joke? She does look awfully young, but this is
her fourth year at Ivy Hall. She is a darling, too."

"Who teaches Latin?" ventured Tabitha, as her talkative companion lapsed
into silence long enough to take a bite of bread. "Carrie said there was
to be a change this year."

"Yes, we have a new Latin instructor. Her name is Miss Cornwall. She is
the one sitting in the corner, wearing glasses. She looks mighty severe,
but I'll bet she can be jolly. Miss Pomeroy never has a cross teacher
here. I heard her tell Madame that Miss Cornwall is to be on our floor,
too. I suppose she will have the room next to Carrie's, as that is the
only vacant one at that end of the corridor."

"Who is the tall lady at Miss Pomeroy's table?" asked inquisitive
Tabitha, eager to make the acquaintance of all the staff of teachers.

"Miss King, of the domestic science department. Oh, you will like her!
She is splendid!"

"That's what you've said about them all," laughed the black-eyed girl,
privately thinking she had found the Garden of Eden.

"Well, they are! Really, I believe Ivy Hall is the loveliest boarding
school there is in the world. We are just like one great, big family
here. Miss Pomeroy makes the _dearest_ mother."

"What are the other teachers, then? Aunts?" Tabitha asked.

Jessie shouted. "I never thought of it before, but that is surely what
they are, and they do give us the loveliest times, and make the lessons
so interesting that it doesn't seem like study at all. But they are
awfully particular. They won't take _any_ kind of a girl here. She has
to be well recommended and even then there are always about twice as
many girls who want to enter as there is room for. This year there were
forty who couldn't get in."

"Oh!" breathed Tabitha, recalling with alarm Miss Pomeroy's words on
the stairs. "Do they ever send them away after they have begun school
here?"

"I--don't--know. Why, yes, sometimes. There was a girl here last year
who cheated and took things that didn't belong to her and was real saucy
to the teachers; and when she went home at Christmas time she never came
back. She told us that she didn't want to, but I think Miss Pomeroy
wouldn't let her. There goes the signal for assembly. We always meet
just after tea each evening for chapel services."

"Chapel services?"

"Yes. We sing a hymn or two and listen to a short talk from one of the
teachers before going up to our rooms for study. Likely Miss Pomeroy
will speak tonight, as this is the first evening. Sit anywhere you wish.
Here's a hymn-book."

Tabitha accepted the book, slipped into a vacant seat in the corner, and
marvelled at the sudden hush that fell over the noisy throng as the
silvery-haired principal arose to address them. This wise lady was not
given to sermonizing, but talked in a confidential, motherly fashion,
telling them of her hopes and expectations for the school year lying
before them, explaining the few rules it had been found necessary to lay
down for the governing of so many active little bodies, and filling each
girlish heart with inspiration and a desire to win this dear woman's
approval.

"It is not our aim to make our school a prison," said the sweet voice to
the attentive throng, drinking in every word. "We want our girls to be
happy and light-hearted and gay; we hope to fill every hour with
sunshine and music and laughter. We are anxious that each one of you
shall love Ivy Hall with your whole heart--not merely because of the
merry days you enjoyed inside its walls, but because of the lasting help
you shall have gained here, for we are gathered under this roof to
study, you know, and not to idle away the golden hours, but you will
find there are many lessons to be learned in boarding school that are
not contained in books. You are all away from home and its influences,
many of you for the first time in all your lives; and it is the duty of
this little band of teachers to train and instruct the minds and bodies
intrusted to our care. This is a pleasant task for us, and we shall do
our best for each individual girl, but in return we shall expect you to
do your best for us.

"Our lives are like gardens; our faults are the weeds, our good traits
the flowers, and we are the gardeners. If we are careless and do not try
to overcome the faults, they flourish and grow stronger each year, and
in the end will choke out all the flowers. While if we honestly seek to
cultivate the good qualities we all possess, and to weed out the
unworthy acts and thoughts, our gardens will grow beautiful and will be
a pleasure to all our friends, as well as to ourselves. I hope my girls
will all try to root out the weeds in your lives--the hot
tempers"--Tabitha thought the kindly eyes looked straight at her as
these words were spoken--"thoughtless words, selfish habits, envy,
jealousy, and the countless other things that make so many lives
unhappy. Cultivate kind thoughts, gentle words, good deeds,
unselfishness and sunny dispositions. Don't let bickerings or harsh
speeches or unkind acts mar the spirit of harmony we want in our school.
Take for your motto the Golden Rule, and treat all your companions as
you would like them to treat you. Be the best girl you know how to be."

From her corner of the room Tabitha sat glowering at Chrystobel
opposite, trying to absorb the teacher's helpful words, while in her
heart she was blaming her room-mate for the scene of the previous hour,
and wondering how she could get even with the enemy. Chrystobel returned
the sour looks with interest, even making a wry face occasionally behind
her hand when Miss Pomeroy chanced to be looking in the other direction,
for this spoiled maid was equally as sure that Tabitha was the sole
cause of the disturbance.

But when the girls were all in bed that night, the lights turned out and
the great building silent, Tabitha's anger abated, Miss Pomeroy's words
kept repeating themselves in her mind, Jessie's unconscious warning
filled her with uneasiness, gentle Mrs. Vane's motherly lectures came
back to haunt her, and Mr. Carson's advice of long ago suddenly sprang
into memory and would not let her rest. When she closed her eyes they
rose before her inner vision in such a provoking fashion that sleep
refused to come to soothe the tired, aching body.

"I have been hateful and horrid," sighed the weary girl at last, giving
up the struggle and facing the accusing conscience. "No one will like
me if I behave like that. I promised Mrs. Vane to be good and just see
what a beginning I have made! A scolding already and I haven't been here
a day. Oh, dear! Chrystobel _was_ selfish, but maybe if I had been good,
she would have given up that drawer and the hooks without any fuss. I
acted like a perfect--cat! Because she was selfish and--mean, yes, I
think she was mean--that was no reason for my being hateful. Oh, it is
such hard work to be good! I wonder if it will ever be any easier.
Carrie doesn't seem to have any trouble that way at all, and her
room-mate is a spoiled darling, too. If she can put up with Cassandra, I
ought to be able to deal with Chrystobel. I suppose--I--ought to--tell
her I am sorry. I hate to think of doing such a thing, for maybe she
will be a--cat. Perhaps I needn't tell her, but just explain to Miss
Pomeroy how bad I feel to think I made such a scene--no, I didn't fight
with Miss Pomeroy, and apologizing to her won't make Chrystobel feel any
better toward me. Oh, dear, I suppose I must do it! Well, here
goes--I've got the shivers clear to my toe-tips already, thinking of
what she may say. Chrystobel!"

She spoke the name softly, but the occupant of the other bed heard, and
slowly turned over facing the window, surprised, wondering whether or
not her ears could have deceived her.

"Chrystobel!"

There was no mistaking that sound. Should she answer? Chrystobel, too,
had passed a very uncomfortable evening, and found bed far from
agreeable. Away from her mother for the first time, she was battling
with pangs of homesickness as well as with her conscience, for she had
suddenly come to realize just how selfish her acts must have seemed not
only to the queer little girl, who was to share this room with her, but
also to the white-haired principal, whom she wanted to love her. But
fear that Tabitha would only say something to make matters worse held
her silent when she heard the whispered name from the bed by the window.

"Chrystobel!"

The voice was not only insistent, but pleading, and the elder girl
lifted herself somewhat impatiently on her elbow, as she muttered
ungraciously, "Well?"

"I was afraid you would be asleep," came the relieved reply. "Say,
Chrystobel, I'm sorry I got mad this afternoon. Maybe if I had had more
patience I could have shown you just how selfish you were without all
that fuss and squabble. Will you forget the hateful things I said and be
friends with me? You can have both big drawers and twenty-one hooks in
the closet if you want them."

Chrystobel gasped, overcome by mingled emotions. Surprise, anger, regret
in turn filled her heart, and for a moment she was silent because the
lump in her throat choked her.

Tabitha, misconstruing the deep pause, began again anxiously, "I've got
the worst temper in seven counties. I reckon it's my name; I have always
hated it, but that doesn't help matters any. I am always sorry after I
get mad like that, but it is awfully hard to say so. I never know how to
say it so the other person will believe me. But I really mean it,
Chrystobel. I am sorry I was so horrid to you. We ought to be friends,
and then you could help me keep from getting mad, and I could help you
not to be such a pig. Will you, Chrystobel?"

"Well," breathed her astounded room-mate, "you are the queerest girl I
ever saw, and you say the oddest things. I--I don't know what to think."

"I don't mean to say odd things. I am truly sorry, and I wish you would
believe me."

The plaintive voice was too much for the haughty Chrystobel, and with a
quick spring she scrambled out of bed and groped her way to where
Tabitha lay curled under the covers, saying with more real feeling than
her companion had given her credit for, "I do believe you, and I am just
as sorry as you are for my actions--sorrier, for I was to blame for the
whole fuss. I _am_ a selfish pig, but no one ever dared to tell me that
before, so I have gone on being thoughtless and unkind and horrid. I
have no brothers or sisters at home to share things with, and I have
always had my own way until I've come to expect it from everybody, I am
afraid. Forgive me, Tabitha, I never knew before how really selfish I
was."

Chrystobel's arms had encircled Tabitha in an impulsive embrace, and
before the astonished girl had recovered her breath sufficiently for a
reply, there was a quick kiss pressed upon her lips, and Chrystobel had
slipped away in the dark to her own bed.

For a moment Tabitha lay motionless on her pillow, almost too surprised
for utterance at this turn of affairs; then she smiled happily in the
dark and whispered shyly, "I don't hate you, Chrystobel. I didn't mean
all those hateful things I said to you. I was mad and that's why I spoke
that way. I--I--love you."

"Then I'm glad," came the joyful answer through the blackness of the
room, "I take back all the mean things I said about you, too, Tabitha. I
am sure we are going to be splendid friends."

"So am I. Good-night, Chrystobel!"

"Good-night, Tabitha!"

A great peace descended upon both hearts, and the two girls drifted away
to happy dreams, their differences forgiven and forgotten.

Oh, no, they did not become saints on the spot; they were only human
beings like the rest of us, and many and frequent were the girlish
squabbles that marred the serenity of those happy school days, but they
honestly tried to do better, and that is half the battle. Chrystobel
_was_ selfish and Tabitha _was_ a pepperpot, and neither of those faults
is easily overcome, but thanks to the common sense of the kindly
principal and her staff of teachers, the battle was not unsuccessfully
waged.

Tabitha soon became a favorite among her mates, who were quick to
discover the sweet spirit under the fierce, hot temper, and quick to
feel the lonely girl's craving for affection. Understanding that her
home life had never been as glad and joyous as theirs, they one and all
strove to make the new surroundings bright and beautiful, succeeding so
well that gradually Tabitha forgot her old griefs and vexations, and
blossomed into a serene loveliness that captivated both teachers and
mates.

The name which Bertha had given her the day of her arrival clung, and
Kitty she became to the whole school,--the mascot of the second floor.
At one time this title would have been an added affliction to her
over-sensitive nature, but Tabitha was growing wise, and was learning
that people do not care how ugly one's name may be, if the heart is good
and beautiful. True, she had not ceased to mourn because other girls
were blessed with the pretty names which had been denied her, but she
was beginning to understand the sentiment:

    "Laugh, and the world laughs with you,
       Weep, and you weep alone;
     For the poor old earth has to borrow its mirth,
       It has troubles enough of its own."



CHAPTER XVI

MADAME'S ADVICE


One bright, warm, November day--for such days are the usual order in
sunny California--Tabitha stood at the little window in one end of the
long corridor, looking disconsolately down into the garden, shimmering
in its rain-washed greenness, and thinking of the approaching holidays
and her own slender purse. The other girls were making such elaborate
gifts for each other, to say nothing of the beautiful things laid by for
the home folks and friends, and she felt keenly the fact that she would
have so little to offer. To be sure, there were few to remember outside
the school circle of girls and teachers, but she longed as never before
to do as the others did and have what they had.

"Oh, dear," she sighed, "it's hard to be pinched _all_ the time! I wish
I could have as much money to spend as even Mercedes has, and that isn't
a great deal, either. Here I have only five dollars for Christmas, and
there are about twenty girls, who, I know, are going to give me
something, besides the other people I want to remember--Tom and the
Vanes and Carrie's mother and father. They are always giving me
something beautiful, and I never have anything for them but home-made
candy. There is Aunt Maria, too. I would like to send her a little
something so she won't think I have forgotten her; and then--Dad--but he
won't expect anything or care. I don't suppose he will even remember
that it is Christmas. Oh, hum! I wish there wasn't such a a day!"

"Such a day as what?" asked a soft, sweet voice behind her, and an arm
crept gently, almost shyly around her waist.

"Oh, Madame DuBois!" cried the startled girl, looking up into the
winning brown eyes of the little French teacher. "Did you hear what I
said? I was wishing there was no Christmas Day."

"No Christmas Day!" echoed the scandalized woman with charming accent,
"Ah, zat is ze Christ's birthday!"

"I was very wicked," murmured Tabitha, humbly. "I didn't stop to think
how we happen to have that holiday. I was mourning because I have not as
much to spend for pretty things as the other girls have."

"Oh, but zat is very wrong!" protested her companion, shaking her head
in a disapproving fashion. "You Americans sink only of how much money
you spend for Christmas and if your gift to your friend cost as much as
ze one she give you. Zat isn't _gift_! Zat is exchange. One should give
only from ze happiness of ze heart. If ze pocketbook is flat, zen pick a
little flower, write a little letter, give a merry smile. All true
friends like zat better zan silk dresses or gold watches. Do you forget
one of your great poets has said:

    'Not what we give but what we share,
     For ze gift without ze giver is bare.'"

"I see what you mean, Madame," said Tabitha slowly. "Folks think too
much about the cost of their gifts, instead of the spirit in which they
are given. But wouldn't you feel badly if you knew that fifteen or
twenty girls were planning splendid things for you and there was only
five dollars to buy remembrances for all of them, besides the other
friends? Cassandra told me yesterday that Bertha Peck is embroidering a
silk scarf for me, and here I haven't a thing for her!"

Madame smiled indulgently at the tragic tones, and gently shook the
slender maid, as she answered, "Wie, I understand some how you feel,
Tabitha; but it isn't worth fretting about. A little handkerchief, a
card maybe--"

"One can't get a really nice handkerchief for even two bits, and it
would take my whole five dollars for just the girls alone. I would have
nothing left for Tom or the rest."

The little French woman was silent for a moment, and a deep frown
wrinkled her usually placid brow; then she impulsively caught Tabitha's
brown hands in her own and skipped joyfully as if she, too, were a girl
in her teens, exclaiming excitedly, "I have it--zat what you say? You
crochet. I have seen you sometimes when you study and I wonder how you
count ze stitches and learn, too, but you always have your lessons
well."

Tabitha's face flushed with pleasure at this unexpected praise, and she
laughingly replied, "Oh, I can't always. It is just when I am
memorizing something or learning French conjugations. Now with algebra,
I have to use my hands as well as my brains."

"Sly-boots! But you make pretty sings with your crochet hook--ze lace on
Carrie's collar, n'est pas?"

"Yes, I made that for her birthday. Mrs. Vane taught me how last year in
Silver Bow so I wouldn't be so lonely."

"It takes only a little time?"

"Not very long now. I have made so much of it I can almost do it in my
sleep, and I can pick up new patterns from magazines by myself."

"Good! I, too, crochet--many sings once. I show you how if you wish."

"Oh, thank you, Madame DuBois! I shall be glad to learn."

"It is six, seven weeks before Christmas Day, and in zat time lots can
be done. Come now to my room and we plan out zat five dollars--if you
like--spend it on paper." She hurried the amazed girl down the long hall
to her cozy room and was soon deeply absorbed in making out lists and
figuring the cost of material.

"There are twenty-one girls I should like in particular to remember,"
said Tabitha, curiously watching every movement of her companion. "I
wish I had something for each scholar. And five people in Silver Bow,
and Tom in Reno, and--I wish Miss Pomeroy didn't limit us to such a
little bit for the teachers."

"Ah, but she is wise!" laughed Madame, rapidly turning the pages in a
fancy-work book. "See, here is what I mean. Twenty ties like zat take so
little time and are so pretty and very acceptable. Every girl this day
likes such sings. One spool of cotton thread, very fine, makes four or
five, maybe more; a little scrap of linen to mount it on, and voila! a
beautiful little gift that cost much at the store. Watch me now, how I
do it." She caught up her crochet hook and thread, and deftly, swiftly,
traced the delicate little pattern that Tabitha might see how it was
done.

"That looks so easy," murmured the girl, watching the flying fingers
with fascinated eyes. "I believe I could do it already."

"Yes? But you take the book to be sure. The directions are easy. That
settles the girls except maybe the little friend, Carrie. How would she
like some slippers? I make them very pretty and they cost so little; two
or three skeins of yarn for one pair and the soles are cheap, too."

"That would be fine for Carrie--and for Chrystobel. Cassandra says she
has something beautiful for me, but Chrystie threatened to give her
nothing for Christmas if she told; so she has managed to keep it secret
so far."

"Cassandra has a lively tongue," laughed Madame, "and she finds it hard
to control. Now for the rest of your friends, how would calendars do?
You make beautiful water-coloring. Miss White shows me her pretty work,
and always zere is one of your drawings. Cardboard is easy to get; a
little bunch of flowers or some ozer design in colors, maybe a picture
of yourself, and zat makes a nice gift."

"I had thought of pictures at first, but good ones cost so much that I
couldn't get enough to go around."

"Pictures? Photographs, you mean. But maybe some friend has a camera and
will take a--what you call it?--snap-shot? I know such a boy. He does
excellent work and I am sure Miss Pomeroy will let you go there some
day with me. He charges very low. I sink one dollar would be all. Zen
see! You have still one dollar and a half left out of your five dollars
to buy ribbon, tissue paper, Christmas cards, postals or what you will,
and all your friends are planned for."

Tabitha stared at the neat list with unbelieving eyes, then with a
little jump of delight, she threw both arms around Madame's neck, crying
happily, "Oh, you darling, you witch! I have been wondering and puzzling
for a week to know how I could possibly get thirty-three presents out of
five dollars, but it looks as easy as _a, b, c_, now. Thank you a
thousand times! I am going to begin right away on my gifts, so
everything will surely be finished in time."

"But you must attend to the lessons first," warned the teacher, shaking
her finger playfully at the excited girl.

"Oh, I will, I surely will," she promised, gathering up book and papers.
"I am so glad this is Saturday, for I can commence work at once. All my
Monday's lessons are learned, Chrystobel and Cassandra have gone home
for Sunday, and there is nothing to interfere."

"Then mind you don't work too hard, or I shall be sorry I helped you
stretch your little gold mine."

"I will be very careful, but I _must_ hurry, for there are only seven
weeks before Christmas."

With a parting smile she slipped out of the door and rushed away to her
own room, eager to make with her own hands the pretty lace Madame had
begun for her; and from that moment all her leisure time was devoted to
crocheting ties or painting calendars for her loved ones' Christmas Day.
With the first gleam of dawn she was up in the morning, busy with brush
or hook long before the breakfast bell called them to the day's routine;
at recess and during the noon hour, she was hidden away with Bertha or
Carrie in some nook of the great gardens, making frantic use of every
opportunity; and when the lessons were learned in the evening, back to
back with Chrystobel, she toiled with patient fingers, sighing with
relief as each dainty tie was laid in state beside its finished mates in
her big hat box.

Madame's young friend was glad to take some kodak pictures of the eager
girl, the prints were splendidly clear-cut, and Tabitha was delighted
with the result. So when her busy brush had painted all the cardboard
squares in soft colors, and the carefully trimmed snapshots were
mounted, Tabitha's calendars were really works of art; and her heart was
filled with happiness over what she had achieved.

Just a week before Christmas she slipped the last gift into the hat box
and sat down before it to gloat over her treasures with loving eyes.

"All done--everything! I didn't suppose I could do it when I began. Now,
I shan't be ashamed to receive gifts from the girls. It isn't right to
feel that way, I know, but really I hated to think of not being able to
give them something nice when they are so good to me. It isn't that I am
exchanging, as Madame calls it; for I shall appreciate whatever gifts I
get--silk dresses, Christmas cards, or just a friendly word; but this is
the very first time I ever made things myself to give away at such a
time, and I guess it has gone to my head. I like to receive presents,
but _I_ think it is lots more fun to give them. I have enjoyed making
every single one of those.

"There are twenty-two ties, nineteen for the girls, and one each for
Mrs. Vane, Carrie's mother and Aunt Maria; there's a silk tie for
Rosslyn McKittrick--I never would have thought of using up that bias
piece for such a thing if I hadn't seen Jessie making her little brother
one. I don't know which I like best, Carrie's blue slippers or
Chrystobel's pink ones--they are both so dear. But my calendars are my
darlings! When Madame suggested them, I was afraid they would be awfully
cheap-looking, but Miss White says the coloring is the best I ever did,
and those splendid pictures just finish them. I had no idea I was so
good-looking. There is one apiece for each teacher, one for Tom, one for
Dr. Vane, and one for Mr. Carson. That leaves me three over; and there
may be someone I have forgotten in my list, so these will probably come
in handy yet. And that prying Cassandra hasn't found out about a thing
that I have made!

"Now I must get my hat and coat if I go with Madame for the tissue
paper. How glad I am that I can get a pretty postcard for each of the
other girls! Even then, I will have more than half a dollar left.
Perhaps I can find a piece of linen and make Tom a handkerchief or two.
I'll ask--"

"Puss, Puss!" called an excited voice in the corridor, and an impatient
fist pounded loudly on the door. Tabitha started nervously, dropped the
cover down over her treasures and pushed the box hurriedly into the
closet, calling cheerily, "Come in, Carrie!"

"I can't; you have locked the door!"

The black-eyed girl flew to turn the key, and rosy, excited Carrie burst
into the room, crying, "See what I got for papa! It just came from the
store. Miss Pomeroy helped me choose it. I wanted to show it to you
first. Isn't it splendid? And won't he like it?" She laid a beautifully
carved box on the table and danced gleefully about the room while
Tabitha examined the purchase.

"Well, I should think he would," she said enthusiastically in answer to
Carrie's question. "What is it for?"

"It's a sort of a writing-desk for him to carry around in his grip when
he goes away, so he can write any time he wants to. See the paper,
business size, letter and note paper. Here is a box for stamps, and
there is a place for pen and pencils. I wanted to get him a fountain
pen, too, but mamma said she would attend to that, to be sure it was a
nice one. I can just see him now when he opens it. Oh, I wish Christmas
would hurry! What are you going to give your father, Puss?"

Tabitha's face flushed scarlet, and she murmured in embarrassment, "I
don't believe he cares anything about Christmas. He never has observed
it since I can remember."

"Oh!" said Carrie. "Well, I must take my box back and wrap it up. Where
are you going?"

"It is nearly time for our walk and Miss Pomeroy has promised some of us
a tramp to town for tissue paper, ribbon, cards and such little things
that won't take long to get. Didn't you know? Ask her if you can't go. I
think there are only six or seven of us so far. One more will only make
it the jollier."

"I would like to," answered Carrie wistfully, "but this is my hour to
practice for the cantata. Bye-bye!"

Carrie whisked across the hall to her room and Tabitha, haunted by that
careless question, descended the stairs to wait for the group of
shoppers to gather.

The day was bright and warm, the winter rains had washed the dusty
foliage clean, and it seemed as if spring had already begun in this
California city; but there was no answering note of joy in Tabitha's
heart. Why had Carrie shown her the pretty writing-desk? What had
prompted her to speak such disquieting words? Ought she to send
something to the stern father who did not care?

"One should give only from ze happiness of ze heart, Madeline."

Madame's gentle voice floated back to Tabitha, speaking the same
sentiment she had voiced to the black-haired girl a few weeks before. "A
gift from a sense of duty is no gift at all."

"Then," thought Tabitha, "that settles my difficulty. I could give only
from a sense of duty. I should like to love him, but he won't let me."

"But sink how lonely he may be, ze cross old uncle you talk about!
Doesn't it make you sorry?" came another snatch of conversation.
"Perhaps he loves you more zan you sink. Oh, yes, I should get him
somesing--a calendar or a card or maybe write a letter; but don't do it
because you sink you ought. If he feels zat you really want to cheer
him, it will make him happy even if he is cross."

The sunshine grew suddenly brighter to Tabitha, her heart grew
wonderfully lighter, her lips unconsciously hummed a little tune and the
walk the rest of the way to town was beautiful. But the first thing she
did when Ivy Hall was reached, was to run up to her room, select the
prettiest of the three left-over calendars, wrap it daintily in tissue
paper and gold cord and address it to her father at Silver Bow. Then
with a happy sigh she dropped it back into the box to await the proper
time for mailing, and skipped off to tell Madame that her Christmas work
was all done.



CHAPTER XVII

HOLIDAY PLANS


"Girls, girls!" cried Jessie Wayne, bursting unannounced into Bertha
Peck's room where ten or twelve of her mates were feverishly at work on
Christmas mysteries, anxious to have everything complete before the
morrow saw them scattered in their many homes for their holiday
vacation. "Just listen to this. Mamma is going to give me a party
Christmas Eve, and there are a hundred invitations sent out. Isn't that
gorgeous? The parties mamma gives are simply fine; almost everyone we
invite comes. I wish we lived here in this city so I could have all of
you. And New Years Day she is going to take six of us over to Pasadena
in the auto to see the Tournament of the Roses and the chariot races. I
have often been there, we go every year, but it is lots more fun with a
crowd of people your own age. One day we are going up Mt. Lowe, and
another day if it is warm enough she has promised to take us to one of
the beaches for bathing, I just love the ocean. Isn't my vacation going
to be dandy?"

"I should think it is," exclaimed Chrystobel. "That's what I
like--plenty of excitement. I tried to coax mamma to let me spend the
holidays with my cousins in San Francisco, but she said to wait until
next summer when she and papa could go, too. I don't know what they are
planning for this Christmas, but I expect to have a jolly time."

"So do I," piped up the spoiled Cassandra, who could not be bribed or
forced to stay away from these secret sewing bees, though she never
pretended to do anything but pry. "We are going to San Diego to
grandma's house for Christmas, and there is to be a real evergreen tree
and loads of presents. I'm going to get a gold watch. I know, 'cause I
teased mamma until she said she would buy me one."

"We have a family reunion at Redlands," said active Julia Moore. "There
will be forty of us in all. Won't we have a merry time? I have two
cousins whose birthdays are in the same week with mine, and folks call
us the triplets, though Jack is a year older than I and Fred is a year
younger. They are the greatest teases, always playing jokes on me; so I
have fixed up these two turkey wishbones to get even with them this
year. Do you suppose they can find anything worse-looking to give me?"
She held up two grotesque figures of wishbone and wax, dressed like
Dutch boys in baggy trousers and queer caps, and the girls shouted
derisively.

"If only I had seen them in time to plan one for Uncle Tim!" sighed
mischievous Grace Tilton. "I owe him a philopena, and that would have
been a splendid way to pay it."

"But it takes only a few minutes to make one," answered Julia. "I will
show you how. Cousin Minnie cut the pattern for the trousers."

"I haven't the wishbone, though," returned Grace. "But never mind;
Carrie is going home with me for Christmas, and we will think up
something ridiculous."

"Why, Carrie!" cried Mercedes. "I thought you and Kitty were going home
to Silver Bow."

"That is what we had expected to do, but just yesterday I got a letter
from mamma telling me I might accept Grace's invitation, because papa
has to go East right away on business and she is going with him."

"Then what are you going to do, Kitty?"

"Stay here at school," answered Tabitha briefly, stitching busily away
on Tom's handkerchief, trying hard not to betray her keen disappointment
at this unexpected change of plan.

"Oh, are you?" cried Bertha, dropping a dainty apron she was frilling
with lace, and clapping her hands softly. "I am so glad! I was afraid I
was to be the only girl left at school. I have to spend my vacations
here, because I could hardly get home to Canada and back again before
lessons would begin once more. Last year at Christmas there were three
of us left-overs, besides Miss Pomeroy and Miss Summers; but during our
spring vacation I was the only girl in the building, and perhaps I
wasn't lonely, even though Miss Pomeroy was lovely. She always does
everything she can think of to make the hours pleasant, and we had some
grand visits together."

Tabitha's face had grown visibly brighter during this recital, but the
shadow of bitter disappointment still lingered in the somber black eyes,
for she had counted much on having Carrie to herself for this brief
fortnight and it was hard to give up such fond hopes. Ever since
boarding school life had begun these two bosom friends had seen little
of each other, as Tabitha had now far outstripped Carrie in her classes,
and Cassandra skilfully managed to monopolize her good-natured, loving
little room-mate most of their leisure hours. Grace's invitation had
included Tabitha, to be sure, but there was no money in the little purse
for railroad fare, and of course it was now too late for her father to
send her any, even if she had dared to ask him. So she stifled back her
longings and tried to look happy as she said saucily, "Well, 'two is
company, three is a crowd, four in the schoolhouse are not allowed'."

"Oh," cried Cassandra, "you changed that--"

"Just to fit the occasion, my child," interrupted Bertha with a
patronizing air which usually made the meddling infant grit her teeth
and hold her tongue.

But in spite of Tabitha's efforts to be brave, Carrie saw the look in
the black eyes and understood; and Chrystobel, detecting the slight
quiver in the voice meant to be merry, understood also; and a sudden
silence fell over the room of busy workers. The waning afternoon
deepened into dusk, Bertha rose and turned on the lights, the girls
moved their positions so the bright rays would fall to best advantage on
their work, but for many minutes not a sound was heard in the crowded
room save the rustle of linen and lawn, and the snip, snip of glittering
scissors. Then the tea-bell pealed out its summons, and the toilers
sprang to their feet in dismay.

"So late! And my collar isn't done yet!"

"I have only the belt to put on my apron."

"All but about an inch of hemstitching done on this handkerchief."

"The initials are a little crooked on this glove-case, but I have
finished. Thank goodness!"

Chrystobel said never a word, but gathering up her work with unusual
haste, she flew to her room, switched on the lights, gave her beautiful
curls a brush or two, jerked her collar over a fraction of an inch, and
disappeared down the stairway before Tabitha had reached the door of
Bertha's room. Straight to the principal's office she ran, knocked
lightly, and almost before she heard the gentle summons from within,
she burst into the room with the breathless question, "Oh, Miss Pomeroy,
can I stay here at school for the holidays? _May_ I, I mean?"

"Why, my dear," smiled the white-haired lady, "my girls are always
welcome here."

"But I thought during vacations you let only those who had nowhere else
to go stay here."

"That is just because the girls who have homes to go to prefer to spend
their holidays there, Chrystobel. It is unusual for a pupil to _elect_
to stay here on such occasions, particularly at Christmas time. What is
the trouble, dear? Have your parents--"

"Oh, no, it isn't that. They expect me, but can't I telegraph them that
I want to stay here? They won't object. They always let me have my own
way, Miss Pomeroy."

"But still I cannot understand your sudden decision, Chrystobel."

"It's on account of Kitty--Tabitha. She can't go home, and now that the
Carsons have to leave for the East, she can't spend her vacation with
Carrie, and she does feel so sorry!"

"What makes you think that?" asked the principal with a curious
tightening of her throat.

"Just her mouth, and because I know her. She laughs and pretends she
doesn't mind, but I couldn't help seeing her lips; and she has never had
the good times I have, and I--I thought maybe if I stayed here with her
and Bertha, it would make them both feel happier."

Miss Pomeroy looked down into the eager, flushed face and wondered how
she had ever called Chrystobel selfish; then she asked, "Have you
counted the cost? If you stay here to make Tabitha's Christmas happy,
she must never suspect any regrets you may feel because your own plans
have been laid aside."

"I have thought about all that, Miss Pomeroy. She has been so good and
patient with me that I should feel terribly mean to go home for a jolly
vacation and leave her here."

"Very well, if you are sure you want to stay, you may telegraph your
people for permission. Living so close to the city, you ought to get a
reply in the morning before time to start for your home, if that is
their wish in the matter."

"Oh, thank you, Miss Pomeroy!" cried the girl in genuine gladness.
"Mamma will let me stay, I know she will!" And as the second summons for
the evening meal pealed through the building, she danced happily away to
her place in the dining-room.

Hardly was the chapel service over when Carrie and Grace appeared at the
door of the principal's domain, and the flaxen-haired girl began
hesitatingly, "Miss Pomeroy, do you let girls stay here at school during
the holidays if they can go somewhere else just as well as not?"

"Yes, my dear. _Any_ of the girls are welcome to stay, though it is
seldom one chooses to do so if she can possibly go home."

"Then may we stay? I had expected to go home, and then when Mamma wrote
that they wouldn't be in Silver Bow themselves, I expected to go with
Grace; but Tabitha can't and I don't want to leave her here alone."

"And if neither one of them will spend the vacation with me, I would
rather stay here, too," said Grace. "I can telegraph to see if mamma
will let me, but I know she will say yes."

"Bertha and Chrystobel expect to be here, you know," suggested Miss
Pomeroy, watching to see what effect these words would have on the two
supplicants.

"Chrystobel, too?" they cried in unison.

"Yes, she has just sent a telegram to her family."

"Then what a nice time we can give Tabitha!" exclaimed Carrie.

"She is always doing something for us," added Grace, "and it will be
lovely to get even with her that way."

"Then you still wish to remain here for Christmas?"

"Yes, indeed," they answered, "if we may."

"I shall be glad to have so many of my girlies with me during the
holidays, and I am sure Tabitha and Bertha will appreciate every effort
you make to give them a happy time. Good-night, dears."

They scurried gleefully away, much delighted with the principal's
decision, and already planning what they might do to fill the vacation
days for Tabitha. As they pranced up the stairway, they met roguish Vera
Foss hurrying toward the lower floor, and in answer to Carrie's laughing
demand, "Where are you going, my pretty maid?" she said seriously, "To
ask Miss Pomeroy's permission to stay here over Christmas."

"Why?" cried the amazed conspirators in one breath.

"Oh, I just got to thinking how badly I would feel if I _had_ to stay
here for the holidays like Kitty and Bertha must, when everyone else is
going home to parties and tournaments and gay times generally, and I
thought it would be lots more fun for them _if_ there were others here
to keep them company. So when Aunt Lyda came for me, I asked her about
it and she said I might stay if Miss Pomeroy would let me."

"Goody! She will. She said we might. When your aunt goes, come up to
Grace's room and let's make our plans right away. We will get Chrystobel
if she isn't with Puss."

The next morning when the bevy of bright-faced, light-hearted girls came
to wish their teachers and two lone mates a merry Christmas before
scattering for the holiday season, the four plotters, Chrystobel,
Carrie, Grace and Vera, were foremost in the ranks, laughing and
chattering the gayest of them all, as they jerked on coats and strapped
up suitcases ready for departure.

"Here comes the bus," called someone. "Grace, Carrie, where are you?"

"Where are the Monrovia girls? Oh, Vera, you are wanted."

"Chrystie, your turn next. Is this your grip? Good-by all! Merry
Christmas!"

With a few final, hasty hugs, the quartette sprang down the steps, climbed
into the waiting vehicles, and departed--to all appearances--amid a great
waving of handkerchiefs and pennants.

At length the last good-by had been spoken, the last merry girl was
gone, four of the teachers, too, had deserted their posts for holiday
fun, and as the chug-chug of the last machine died away in the distance,
Miss Pomeroy dropped her arms over the shoulders of the two drooping
figures on the steps, and said cheerily, "And is this all I have left of
my big flock? Well, we are going to have some joyous celebrating this
year, I can promise you; but no doubt you have some Christmas work you
would like to complete this morning, so I will not detain you now to
discuss our plans. Run up to your rooms if you wish; we can do our
talking at luncheon."

Bertha and Tabitha tried to smile bravely, but the tears were too near
to permit of words, and in silence the lonely duet climbed the wide
stairway to their floor, each intending to have a private little weep
all by herself. But,

    "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
              Gang aft a-gley."

There was a wild rush of feet in the hallway overhead, and a shower of
light parcels filled the air, pelting the sober figures from right and
left, as a chorus of merry voices screamed joyously, "Merry, merry
Christmas!"

"You thought we had gone home, didn't you?"

"But we haven't and we aren't going to! Miss Pomeroy said we might
stay."

"And the other girls left those packages for jokes. The real presents
are all in the principal's office."

"Oh, girls!" gasped Tabitha, with eyes shining like diamonds.

"Oh, girls!" echoed Bertha, her face wreathed in her own sunny smile
again.



CHAPTER XVIII

TABITHA'S CHRISTMAS


Christmas Day dawned bright and clear and with the first peep of dawn
Tabitha was out of bed, shaking Chrystobel vigorously and calling,
"Merry Christmas, lazybones! Wake up; it's day! The rising bell has
rung. Didn't you hear it?"

"Oh, you are dreaming," drowsily murmured the weary girl in the other
bed. "This is vacation time."

"But we have to get up just the same," laughed Tabitha. "I am going to
wake Carrie and the others."

She bounced across the room, flung open the door and stopped abruptly,
for suspended to the transom above her head hung two immense tarlatan
stockings, stuffed to the very brim with bundles of all sorts and sizes.
Across the hall from Carrie's transom swung two more similar socks, and
dangling against Bertha's door was a third set.

Tabitha's wild shriek of surprise and delight brought the other five
girls standing in their beds, and Carrie chattered anxiously, "Oh, what
is the matter? Is the building on fire?"

"No, indeed. Merry Christmas!" shouted the black-eyed girl, tugging at
the stocking marked with her name. "Open the door and see what you find.
Santa Claus surely has been here while we slept."

There was the sound of pattering feet in the three rooms, and
Chrystobel, now thoroughly awake, reached Tabitha's side just as the
door across the hall and the one next to theirs burst open and four
excited girls tumbled out. "Oh-h-h!" came a chorus of long-drawn-out,
rapturous sighs, as five pair of eager arms clasped the bulky socks and
jerked them loose.

"Ow!" shrieked Grace. "There is something awfully hard in mine. It
nearly knocked a hole in my head. It's a handkerchief box, as sure as I
am alive! Isn't it a dear? That is from Esther. Well, Kitty, what are
you doing down there?"

Tabitha, in nightgown and slippers, sat in the middle of the floor, her
huge stocking up-side down in her lap, and gifts scattered all about
her, as with shining eyes and trembling hands she unwrapped each package
in turn and gloated over its contents.

"A bunch of violets from Miss Pomeroy--she never forgets one of us.
There is Bertha's scarf that Cassandra tattled about--thank you, Bertha!
You must have worked like a Trojan on that. I never could embroider
silk. Here is a lovely handkerchief from Edith, a book from June, a
calendar from Estelle, a--a silk waist from Carrie! You darling! Look at
this lovely photo of Jessie and Julia, and isn't the frame cute! A book
of poems from Cassandra--she said her gift ought to make me the happiest
of all because it would give me something new to recite--queer little,
dear little midget! A set of Shakespeare from the Leonard twins, a
bonbon dish from Vera. Here is a kiss in return. An apron from Grace,
three ties, a pair of gloves, chocolates, handkerchiefs,--oh, did ever
anyone see so many pretty things belonging to one person! I am perfectly
crazy with happiness. Here is one weenty package more in the very tiptoe
of my stocking--from Chrystobel--a ring with a real ruby in it. If there
were another thing to open, I should be bawling in earnest. That is the
first ring I ever owned, girls--"

"Oh, there goes the first bell for breakfast," interrupted Bertha,
whisking up her stocking full of packages. "Ten minutes to dress in!
Run, scuttle, hustle! We mustn't be late

    'On Christmas morn, on Christmas morn'."

She vanished abruptly, humming the beautiful carol; and three of her
companions, following her example, swept up their numerous packages and
flew away to dress.

Oh, that was a merry Christmas indeed for Tabitha! So bewildered, so
delighted, so happy was she, that teachers and scholars were kept in a
perfect gale of laughter during the breakfast hour, for the spirit of
the day was upon her, the love of her new friends, manifested even in
this material way, had touched her more deeply than anyone could guess,
and the effervescent gladness in her heart had to bubble over. So they
lingered long over the breakfast table, loath to bring to a close such a
happy hour; but at length Miss Pomeroy rose, and smiling down into the
expectant fares of her six holiday charges, she said,

"I think the first thing on our morning's program is a long walk, say
to the park, and back. It is such a glorious day we mustn't waste a
moment of it, and we have all laughed so much we certainly need some
exercise. Miss Summers looks positively worn out with mirth. By the time
we get back, the postman and expressman may have visited us again, and I
am sure the minutes will pass more quickly for each of us impatient
children if we are busy doing something. My box from home isn't here
yet, and I am as eager as you are to see what my nieces and nephews have
sent me."

"A walk is just what I need to work off my surplus energy," declared
Tabitha enthusiastically. "May we take some crackers to feed the swans?"

"And oh, may I take my kodak, my spandy new Christmas kodak, for some
pictures?" asked Grace eagerly. "I will snap you the very first one if
you will say yes."

"That is quite an inducement," laughed Miss Pomeroy. "Of course you may
take all the crackers you wish and as many kodaks as you possess."

So thus armed, a merry eight left Ivy Hall a few moments later and
tramped gayly away to the park.

Upon their return, as the principal had predicted, they found the
reception hall table loaded down with letters and parcels from the mail,
while several express packages lay piled in a heap on the floor.

"Oh, Miss Pomeroy," shouted Carrie, reaching the bundles first and
eagerly scanning the addresses. "Here is yours all right, and it is
heavy as lead. This one is addressed to Grace; here is mine from
Grandma; that is for Bertha; the big box is Pussy's, and so is this
little fellow, and the other box is addressed to you and me together
from papa. Here's a heap of letters. You can distribute them, Vera; I am
too excited. Where is the hammer?"

"Not so fast, not so fast!" laughed Miss Pomeroy. "John will open these
boxes and carry them up to your rooms where you can unpack them all by
yourselves. Take your mail and scamper!" She shooed the capering girls
up the wide stairway, where they were followed very shortly by the
smiling John, bearing their new cargo of gifts.

"Oh, John, hurry, hurry!" coaxed Carrie, skipping about in a fever of
impatience. "I can't wait. Who is yours from, Puss? Tom?"

"No; it isn't his writing, anyway. There is a little package from him
and a letter--but--the big box is--from Reno, too."

"Why don't you open it and see who sent it?" asked Chrystobel, busy
herself with a big home box.

"I will as soon as I investigate the things Mrs. Vane sent me. Aren't
they pretty? A glove box with two pair of gloves in it. The hair-ribbons
are from Mrs. McKittrick; but this package, I can't make out where it
came from, either. It's a kodak! Grace, a kodak like yours!"

"You will need a detective," said Grace, dropping her own treasures to
examine the mysterious packages of her companion. "What does the tag
say?"

"Just, 'A brand from the burning'. Isn't that queer?"

Carrie paused in her excited unpacking of goodies from home, studied the
little card for a moment and then said, "What will you bet that isn't
from the hermit?"

"Why didn't I think of that before?" murmured Tabitha, dropping back on
the floor, suddenly lost in thought.

"Well, Kitty, if you aren't the craziest!" exclaimed Vera at length.
"Here you sit mooning over that camera when you haven't opened your
brother's packages, or that big box I am dying to see, or even looked at
the things Carrie has dumped into your lap from her folks."

Tabitha roused with a start and immediately tore off the coverings of
the second mysterious box, saying with a smile, "I am keeping the best
for dessert. I like to guess at what is inside each parcel before I open
it. Oh, what a pretty hat!"

"Isn't it a darling! And look at that pretty dress goods! That is all
the rage now."

"Chrystie, see Kitty's new shoes. Aren't they fine?"

"A whole outfit," murmured Grace, half enviously.

"Yes, and here is an envelope, Puss," added Carrie. "That ought to tell
who sent it."

Tabitha mechanically broke the seal of the envelope bearing her name in
the same writing as that on the outside of the box, and a twenty dollar
bill dropped into her lap. "That is all there is in it," she said,
shaking the paper again. "No, it isn't. Here is a little scrap which
reads, 'For dressmaker's bills'. Now isn't that provoking!"

"Provoking!" echoed Chrystobel. "I should call it luck!"

"Oh, I didn't mean the money and things. Those are splendid. But isn't
it a shame not to know where they came from?"

"Why, didn't your brother send them?" asked Bertha in surprise, for she
had been so deeply engrossed with her own gifts that only snatches of
her companions' conversation had reached her.

"No, that isn't a bit like his writing, you see; and besides, he
couldn't afford such things."

"Maybe Tom's letter tells," Carrie ventured. "Why don't you read it and
see?"

"I had forgotten," laughed Tabitha, looking foolish, and hastily tearing
open the letter in her lap. Then the rosy color in her cheeks paled, her
eyes grew big with amazement, and her breath came in quick gasps. "Dad
sent them," was all she said, and as if doubting the truth of her own
statement, she read again the last paragraph of the busy brother's brief
note:

"This is a poor apology for a letter, Puss, but if I get it off in this
next mail I haven't time for anything lengthy. I suppose by this time
you have received the book I mailed you yesterday, and I hope the _big
surprise_ arrives in season to help you enjoy Christmas Day. What do you
think! Dad stopped at Reno on his way back from another trip East, and
he called on me to go shopping with him this morning. He himself
selected the dress, but deferred to my notions in regard to the other
frills, so if they don't suit, blame me. I noticed that most of the
girls in Reno were wearing those fuzzy hats, so at my suggestion Dad got
one to match your dress. I thought you would prefer a brown suit, but he
wanted blue, and blue it is. I showed him around town and took him
through the college buildings, and when he was gone I found fifty
dollars in greenbacks on my dresser--my Christmas gift from him."

Tabitha slowly folded the paper, dropped it down into the box with its
precious gifts, and lifting her shining eyes to the faces of her curious
mates, she whispered softly, "I think I am perfectly happy!"

"And so are we," cried Chrystobel impulsively. "This has been the
loveliest Christmas vacation I can remember. I wouldn't have missed
staying here for anything."

"Nor I!" echoed Grace and Vera in the same breath, while Carrie and
Bertha smiled their happiness.

Then came the grand dinner, and after that the games. They danced, they
sang, they played everything they could think of, they messed in the
kitchen, bribing the cook to surrender her domains to them for a candy
pull, they inveigled the stately principal and shy Miss Summers into
their romps, and how they did enjoy every minute of the gala day! But
like all other days, it came to an end at last, and as the laughing
group of weary merrymakers climbed the wide stairway at the bedtime
hour, Carrie, who had lingered a moment behind the others in the hall
below, bounded up the steps, calling excitedly, "Oh, girls, Miss Pomeroy
says we don't have to sleep in our own rooms tonight, but can pair off
any way we want to, and sleep wherever we choose. Isn't that great fun?
Whom will you take, Puss?"

Tabitha stopped abruptly on the stairs. "Oh, I can have Carrie all to
myself tonight," she thought to herself, but as she opened her lips to
speak, she saw Chrystobel's eyes fixed wistfully upon her own, and
suddenly there rose before her a vision of her room-mate's
self-sacrifice in electing to spend the holidays at school when she knew
what pleasures would have been hers at her own beautiful home. She
hesitated, looked at Carrie's eager face, read the longing in Bertha's
eyes, saw its reflection in Grace and Vera, and answered, "I choose all
of you. What are you going to do about it?"

"Draw lots, you dear little Christmas queen!" cried Bertha promptly.
"You are the most popular girl in school, Kitty Catt. Just see how we
fight over you! Here are some slips of paper from our guessing game.
Take your turn. The two longest, the two middle and the two shortest are
mates."

There on the stairs they drew their fate--Tabitha and Chrystobel, Grace
and Bertha, Carrie and Vera. Then with a merry laugh over the result,
they linked arms and marched up to bed, with one exception a little
disappointed, perhaps, but happy nevertheless.

The lights went out, five pair of sleepy eyes closed in slumber, the
great city grew still, but Tabitha lay awake in her narrow bed looking
up into the star-lit sky with bright, sparkling, happy eyes which held
no trace of sorrow or longing, as she whispered reverently:

    "O little town of Bethlehem,
       How still we see thee lie!
     Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
       The silent hours go by."

She thought of all the joys the day had brought her, such unexpected
pleasures that it seemed as if her heart would burst with gladness; she
thought of the girls who had done so much to give her this beautiful
holiday; she thought of the scene on the stairs, and of Bertha's words,
which, without a particle of conceit, she felt were the truth; she
thought of Tom away at college, and wondered if his holiday had been as
delightful as hers; she thought of the friends at Silver Bow, of Aunt
Maria in the East, of the stern father keeping lonely vigil on the
desert, and here her thoughts lingered. Had he received the calendar she
sent him, and was he glad? What had prompted him to buy her the lovely
gifts the express box had contained? Was he, after all, growing to be
like jolly Mr. Carson? His remembrance had been the crowning touch of
the day. How could she ever thank him? An idea suddenly popped into her
mind as if in answer to her question, but she frowned at it, shook her
head, protested that she could never do such a thing, and then--she did
it.

Creeping carefully, noiselessly out of bed, she threw a kimono over her
nightgown, turned on the electric light, drew out writing materials and
began her first letter to the father whom she did not know or
understand.

"Dear Father," she wrote, "I take my pen in hand to try to express in a
feeble measure my deep and sincere gratitude for the many beautiful
gifts you have sent me--

"Oh, rats!" The pen stopped its deliberate movements, the paper was
roughly crumpled and flung into the waste basket. "That would make him
sick with disgust. What in the world shall I say?

"Dear Father,--The Christmas box arrived this morning and its contents
are greatly appreciated, I can assure you. How am I ever to thank you
enough!--

"Certainly not by such a stilted scribble as that. Sounds as if I might
be addressing the president of the Associated Charities. Oh, dear, it is
such a piece of work to write to one's father! Carrie never has half the
fuss; but then I don't suppose I would either if Dad was like Mr.
Carson--or Tom. That's it. I will just pretend I am writing to Tom; I
can say anything to him. Here goes!

"Dear Dad,--The things arrived this morning, and they are--

"Shall I say 'bully'? Tom would, but that is a boy's word, and it is
slang besides. Miss Pomeroy says a lady doesn't use slang. I will use
'great'. No, that isn't much better. Well, 'splendid' will do."

The busy pen went on scratching until the page was filled, then a
second, a third, and still she had not finished. The clock struck
midnight, then one; and with a flourish, Tabitha wrote at the bottom of
the tenth closely scribbled page, "With love, Tabitha," sighed with
weary satisfaction, folded the sheets neatly, and slipped them into an
envelope just as Chrystobel's eyes opened and the surprised girl
inquired sleepily, "Whatever are you doing, Kitty, up at this time of
night?"

"Writing a letter."

"Couldn't you wait until morning?"

"No, dear, I have waited too long already," answered Tabitha, turning
out the light and scrambling back into bed. "I _had_ to tell him how
good everyone is to me, and how good he is, too."



CHAPTER XIX

A STRIKE!


The weeks vanished all too quickly to suit the black-eyed maid from the
desert, and she often found herself wondering where the time went to,
for before she realized it, winter had slipped away and spring was
nearly gone. Now May was half over, and in another month school would be
closed for the summer. Carrie was to spend her vacation on the Oregon
farm with her grandmother, and Tabitha must return to the desert alone.
She sat swinging idly under the pepper trees, her Latin grammar on her
knees, but with eyes staring off across the smooth lawn and beautiful
shrubbery, thinking mournfully of the long, hot weeks on the burning
desert before September would come again.

"I have hardly had a chance to say a word to Carrie all this year, and
now after counting on three months alone with her in Silver Bow, she is
going away for her vacation. That is always the way things happen with
me. Some people have everything and others nothing." Half unconsciously
she began to hum the tune Mrs. Vane had composed for _The Discontented
Buttercup_; then realizing what she was singing, she laughed.

"Now aren't you ashamed of yourself, Tabitha Catt?" she exclaimed aloud.
"When you have the chance to go to boarding school and get an education,
and make so many beautiful friendships and have everything so perfectly
lovely, here you are envying Carrie because she is going to her
grandmother's for vacation. She isn't well, and it wouldn't be good for
her to go back to the desert for the hot summer months. Besides, you
promised to be good and not to envy people any more. You are a
discontented buttercup.

    'Look bravely up into the sky,
       And be content with knowing
     That God wished for a buttercup
       Just here, where you are growing.'"

"What's that about a buttercup?" asked a merry voice behind her, so
unexpectedly that Tabitha nearly fell out of the hammock. So intent had
she been upon her own thoughts that she had not heard the tiptoeing
footsteps on the soft grass, and was startled when Carrie plumped down
beside her, and three or four other girls ranged themselves in
comfortable positions in the fresh clover at their feet.

"How you frightened me!" cried the absorbed songstress, moving over to
give Carrie more room. "Where have you been? You weren't in your rooms
when I came down, so I slipped out here to study."

"About buttercups?" teased Bertha, tickling her throat with a long
grass. "If you had gone up to the third floor you would have found us
all in Hattie's room, admiring the watch she just got for her birthday.
Have you seen it?"

"No, I was just finishing a letter when she called us, and by the time I
was ready to go, you had all disappeared. I forgot she had changed her
room."

"Oh," cried Carrie abruptly, "here is a letter for you! We stopped at
your room as we came down and you weren't in, so I brought it along. I
got one from papa, too, and what do you think? There has been a strike
on the Tom Cat!"

A burst of laughter from the girls on the grass greeted this remark, and
even Tabitha joined in, though the unusual piece of news made her heart
beat fast and her eyes glow with an eagerness she could not suppress.

"When--how big--" she began, but Cassandra interrupted with the puzzled
question, "What did they strike the tomcat for and who did it?"

"The Tom Cat is the name of a claim Kitty's father owns, and when there
is a strike on a mining claim, it means that gold or silver has been
found," explained Carrie patiently. "Silver Bow is a silver mining camp,
but the Cat Group is about thirty miles from there and it has gold on
it. Papa says the vein they have uncovered is very rich and promises to
be a big one. They have offered your father a fortune for just that one
claim, but he won't sell. He will be a rich man now, Puss. Aren't you
glad?"

Tabitha sat in a daze, hardly daring to believe her ears. Could it be
after all these years her father was to find wealth again, or was it all
a dream?

"Well, you are the queerest girl!" declared Chrystobel, who was
watching her curiously. "If anyone had told me my father had found a
gold mine, I should jump up and down and shout, and then write for some
more money right away. You can have everything you want now, can't you?"

Chrystobel had secretly pitied Tabitha because her monthly allowance of
pocket money was so small, and she did not understand how anyone could
receive the good news with such a calmly disinterested air. But Tabitha
was not disinterested in the least. She was simply too busy with her
thoughts to notice that her companions evidently expected some
demonstration on her part in view of the astonishing news. Carrie was
the only one who understood, and she explained,

"Kitty is so surprised she doesn't know what to say, do you, Puss?
Better open your letter and see what they write you about it. Is it from
Mrs. Vane?"

Tabitha's letter had remained unnoticed in her lap where Carrie had
tossed it, but now she lifted it, and inspected the envelope before
replying, "No, it is from Tom. Why--I--I--think I--won't read it just
now."

Her flushed face had paled, and she caught her breath sharply, for the
letter was post-marked Silver Bow instead of Reno; but without further
comment she slipped it into her Latin Book and joined in the gay chatter
with her companions, a secret fear tugging at her heart.

Sometime later, after successfully eluding the laughing group, she stole
away to her room, locked the door, and tore open the envelope with hands
that trembled so violently she could scarcely control them, whispering
to herself, "What can Tom be doing at home? College doesn't close for a
month yet. I wonder if his money is all gone, and he can't finish the
term. Or has Dad sent for him to help out in the mine? No, he wouldn't
do that, surely."

She spread the rattling paper out on the table, and with difficulty
spelled out the scrawl written with pencil and evidently in much haste.
The message was brief:

    Dear Puss:--I suppose you have already heard the good news of
    the strike on Dad's claims. I meant to have written you about it
    before, but have been too busy. The vein is larger than at first
    appeared, and quite rich; but of course we can't tell yet
    whether it is more than a pocket. We think it is a sure-enough
    vein, however.

    In timbering a shaft which threatened to cave in, Dad was hurt,
    and they sent for me. We have him at the house, for he refused
    to be taken to the Miners' Hospital. I am glad it happened so
    near the end of the college year. If he gets along all right, I
    can take the examinations I must miss now in September, and go
    along with the work of the class next year. When will your
    school be out? I don't think you have ever said. I suppose you
    are busy now getting ready for examinations--or don't you have
    such things there? Don't study _too_ hard, Puss, and don't be
    alarmed about Dad.

    With love,    TOM.

The letter fluttered unheeded to the floor, and Tabitha, having read
anxiety between the lines, sat in a brown study.

Dad hurt, Tom at home, Aunt Maria in the East! She was only a little
girl, but she could help a great deal around the house, and maybe--maybe
she could be of assistance in the sick-room. She shuddered at this
thought, for fear of her father was still strong in her heart. But she
could not shirk her duty; she must go home. She gathered up the letter,
stole out of the room and down to the principal's office, where she
found Miss Pomeroy still at work at her desk.

"What is it, dear?" asked the busy woman, smiling up from her papers at
the sober yet determined black eyes.

"I am going home," answered the girl, laying Tom's message on the desk
and waiting for it to be read.

When Miss Pomeroy had finished, she turned to the child at her side, and
slipping her arm about the slight figure, drew her close, saying, "You
think they need you, dear? He doesn't say anything about wanting you to
come."

"Oh, Tom wouldn't ask me to come, no matter how much he might want me.
But there is no one at home in Silver Bow to take care of Dad, except
Tom, and men don't know much about nursing sick folks. I _ought_ to go."

"I think your decision is the right one, Tabitha," said the sweet voice
after a long pause. "I don't like to see you go, but I am glad for your
sake that school is so nearly done that you will lose only a few weeks.
That can easily be made up during the summer. Your teachers will tell
you how much further to study. I am so sorry, little girl, that this has
happened! I will do anything in my power to help you, and would urge you
to stay and finish the term, only that I would not want to keep you when
you feel that you may be needed there. When do you want to go?"

"Tonight," was the prompt reply, for some way Miss Pomeroy's words gave
her added courage in her hard decision, and she wanted to be gone before
she had a chance to repent. "Don't tell the girls. It is hard to have to
leave just now when the year is so nearly done, though if I must go, I
am glad I shall miss only four weeks more of school. But I really can't
say good-by to anyone. It has been _so_ lovely here, Miss Pomeroy!"

"Dear little Tabitha," murmured the woman tenderly. "It has been lovely
to have you with us, too, and I shall look forward to next autumn to
bring back our precious girl who is not only learning life's great
lessons herself, but is also teaching us the beauty of living. Go now to
your packing. I will send Miss Summers to help you, and will myself
attend to your ticket. As soon as the trunk is ready, John will take it
to the depot and have it checked. Keep a brave heart under the little
jacket, dear, and remember the One who is everywhere."

So a few hours later she was helped aboard the train by the dusky
porter, and was whirled away into the darkness of the night toward home,
cheered but anxious.



CHAPTER XX

A HAPPY HOME


Unknown to Tabitha, Miss Pomeroy had telegraphed her coming, and Tom was
there to meet her at the station when the cars slowed down at the
forsaken-looking desert town. She looked at his white, haggard face and
heavy eyes, and her heart stood still. "Oh, Tom, he isn't--"

"No, dear, not that. He is better this morning, the doctor says; but he
is pretty badly hurt. I am glad you have come, though we didn't think it
was necessary to send for you."

That was all they said until the weather-beaten cottage was reached.
Then just as Tabitha opened the screen to enter the stifling kitchen,
Tom spoke:

"He is in your room. He insisted upon being put there with the bed drawn
up by the window. They probably won't let you see him yet, but there is
a heap of things to be done that I haven't the slightest notion about,
Puss. I can sweep and dust and make beds, and even cook potatoes and
boil coffee, but how in creation do you make broths that a sick man will
eat? And where can a fellow get cool water this kind of weather with no
ice in town? The ice-plant burned last week."

Tabitha's anxiety lifted for the moment, and laying aside her dainty
traveling dress, she donned a big apron and fell to work setting the
little house to rights. Those were hard days that followed, and more
than once the burden seemed almost too great for the slender shoulders.
Two miners were hurt at the Silver Legion, and the nurse was called away
to care for them at the hospital. The hot winds descended suddenly upon
the desert and Silver Bow writhed under the fierce glare of the blazing
sun. All who could get away left the stifling town for the cool breath
of the seashore, and no help could be found for the girl working so
bravely in the lonely little cottage, taking the place of nurse and
housekeeper and facing a situation before which many a stouter heart
would have quailed. Tom did his best, but the sick man became possessed
of a whim that no one should wait upon him but poor, tired Tabitha, and
day and night found her ministering to him in the sweltering heat that
seemed fairly to cook town and people.

Dr. Vane's face grew very grave as he watched the struggle, and one day
he said to Tom as he was leaving on his other calls, "Is it possible for
your aunt to come out here again?"

"I am afraid not, sir," was the discouraged answer. "She is just
recovering from a severe siege of fever herself."

The doctor shook his head. "I ought to have sent your father to Los
Angeles the minute I was called to attend him; but he was so set against
it that I didn't insist, and now--"

"Is there any danger?"

"If this heat would let up a little, I think there would be no doubt but
that we could pull him through. But--Tabitha ought to have some help for
her own sake."

Poor Tom! He could see that the little sister was weakening, and he was
doing all in his power to lighten her load, but he could not help her in
her ceaseless watching which was telling so fearfully on her strength.
In an agony of anguish and despair he slipped out to the back steps and
sat heavily down in the shade of the house, dropping his hot head on
his arms and two stinging tears coursing down his cheeks.

"I beg your pardon, but isn't this where Mr. Catt lives?"

The voice spoke directly at his elbow, and Tom, so much absorbed in his
unhappy thoughts that he had not heard the approaching footsteps, looked
up in surprise to see a tall, well-dressed, refined-looking stranger on
the lower step.

"Yes, sir."

"May I see him?"

"He is very sick--hurt--and doesn't know anyone. We can't allow folks to
see him."

"I understood that he was seriously injured and that you needed someone
to help care for him. I--"

"We are in need of help," Tom interrupted; "but he won't let anyone wait
on him but my sister."

"He will me." The man spoke with such confidence that again Tom looked
his surprise. "The little girl is all tired out. Take me to your father.
Oh, it is all right! I have Dr. Vane's sanction. Besides--well, I may as
well tell you now. I am the 'hermit of the hills' whom Tabitha saved
from burning to death more than a year ago. I was your father's partner
once and his dearest friend; but I proved false to my trust. I cheated
him out of his share in some valuable property--wrecked his whole life.
Take me to him and don't fear the consequences."

Tom rose quickly. "Come inside. Tabitha is with him now."

He led the unexpected guest to the little room where the sick man lay
tossing and muttering in the delirium of fever.

"Why didn't you put ice in that water?" he was saying querulously. "If
you are bound to feed me boiled water, I want it cold."

Patient little Tabitha sighed wearily and turned toward the kitchen with
the rejected glass on the tray, just as the hermit paused on the
threshold.

"Here is a glass of ice-water, Lynne," said the stranger, taking the
tumbler from the girl's hand. "Drink this and go to sleep."

"Why, hello, Decker!" exclaimed the patient, with a gleam of
intelligence lighting his face for the moment. "How did you come here?
Say, that water is fine!"

Dropping back among the pillows, the exhausted man slept; and Tabitha,
relieved of her responsibility, crept away to hold a quiet jubilation
with Tom before she, too, fell asleep, worn out by her tireless vigil.

Meanwhile the stranger busied himself with the neglected housework, and
soon the cottage took on a comfortable appearance again; Tom's spirits
began to rise and hope to sing in his discouraged heart once more.
Perhaps things were not as bad as they had seemed after all. At evening
the busy doctor drove up again, and was rejoiced to find both patient
and nurse still sleeping.

"There is a big storm brewing up in the mountains," he announced
jubilantly, "and we ought to have it a bit cooler here in a few hours.
Let them sleep as long as they will; both need it. Keep up your courage,
Tom; Simmons is a jewel and knows just what to do." He was gone again,
leaving Tom standing on the steps in the blackness of the night, singing
in his heart a hymn of thanksgiving.

The storm broke at length with terrible fury, and all night the heavy
thunder crashed from peak to peak as if threatening total destruction
to everything on the desert below; but when the hurricane had spent its
fury, the fearful heat was broken, and the whole world awoke refreshed
from its bath. In the sweet coolness of the early dawn, Mr. Catt opened
his eyes to consciousness for the first time since the day of the
accident, and his gaze fell upon the face of his strange nurse sitting
beside his bed.

"Decker Simmons!" he exclaimed in a weak, incredulous voice.

"Yes, Lynne. I have come back to face the music, but I have brought with
me every cent of your money and interest. Can you forgive the great
wrong I have done you?" His scarred face worked pathetically, and he
stretched out his hands somewhat hesitatingly, with entreaty in his
whole bearing.

The sick man looked steadily at him for a long moment, then clasped the
proffered hand weakly, and murmured, "I forgive!"

A deep silence fell over the room; then after a few moments of thought
too sacred for words, the invalid asked faintly, "Have you told Thomas
and Tabitha?"

"Yes."

He sighed contentedly, and still holding tightly to the hermit's hand,
drifted away into refreshing, health-giving slumber.

So it happened that a few days later when strength was flowing back into
the injured man's veins, he called his children to him. They went with
something like trepidation in their hearts; but one look into the white
face on the pillow told them that this was not the same man whom they
had known and feared all their lives. It may have been the restored
confidence in his friend, it may have been that the fever had burned out
the austerity and selfishness of his heart and brought the real fatherly
tenderness to the surface. He mutely held out a thin hand to each, and
they awkwardly gave him theirs, not knowing what to say and sitting in
silent embarrassment on either side of the bed, waiting for him to
speak. At last he laid Tabitha's hand on the counterpane, and fumbling
beneath his pillow, drew forth a bright gold piece, which he held out to
her, smiling sadly at the surprise in her face.

"What is this?" she found voice to ask.

"Long ago I punished you severely--too severely--and you called me a
beast. I think that was the first time I ever recognized how thoroughly
beastly I was. I--I wasn't man enough to tell you so, nor to admit how
sorry I was for my severity; so after you were asleep, I put this in
your hand, thinking it might--make up for my harshness. I suppose it
dropped to the floor during the night and rolled into that wide crack in
the corner where the bed used to stand. I saw the glint of it this
morning when a sunbeam chanced to fall upon it, and it brought back the
memory of that other day. Tabitha, I am sorry. Is it too late to forgive
me now?"

Tom surreptitiously drew his free hand across his eyes; and Tabitha,
almost too surprised for reply, squeezed her father's arm in a gentle
caress, as she whispered chokingly, "I forgave that long ago. It did
seem too great a punishment then, but it taught me a lesson I have never
forgotten."

"Poor little daughter! What a selfish brute I have been! And I might
have made you so happy!"

"Don't, Dad!" she pleaded. "I--I--you have made me happy now! The rest
doesn't count!"

He smiled tenderly into the soft black eyes, as he drew her closer to
him and said wistfully, "I wish the rest didn't count, children; but the
fact still remains that I have not done right by my boy and girl. I am
sorry, and when I get up from this bed, I mean to be a better man.

"Decker has come back, we are going into partnership again and work
those claims for all there is in them. Tom shall finish college and
Tabitha shall go back to boarding school or wherever she likes. There is
money enough for whatever you want, and it is all yours. A man with
children like mine is graciously blessed. I have been a fool and wasted
many precious years. I can't bring them back and live them over, but I
can and will live the rest of my life right in God's sight. Can you
still love me in spite of all that is past, children?"

For answer, by common impulse they slipped their arms around him, and he
drew each face down to his and kissed it. The barriers of years were
swept away, and father and children were united by love.

For a long time the little group sat there talking over plans for their
future happiness and drinking in the supremest joy of living.

Then the father spoke abruptly: "There is another matter, children.
When I named you as I did, I thought I was spiting the world. My own
life had been made bitter by just that same thing, and I wanted to get
even; but I only broke your mother's heart and made you both as
miserable as I had been. It isn't too late yet to change that. Drop
those names I gave you and choose for yourselves what you would like to
be called."

They stared at each other, then at him, in dumb amazement. Change their
names! The possibility of having such a privilege granted them had never
occurred to either one before. At length Tabitha spoke:

"If you had told me that once, I would have done it only too quickly;
but now I have learned that if a person is kind and lovable, no one
cares what the name is. Pretty names don't make nice people, and homely
ones don't make them bad, either. I am--beginning--to rather like
'Tabitha' now, and I don't wish to change my name."

"Or I mine," added Tom; and once more the father drew their faces down
to his own and kissed them.


THE END





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