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Title: Elsie Marley, Honey
Author: Gray, Joslyn
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 "Elsie Marley, Honey" ***

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



ELSIE MARLEY

by

JOSLYN GRAY

Author of "Kathleen's Probation"

Illustrated



[Frontispiece: Elsie . . . repeated the performance in a manner that
was only the more captivating.]



New York
Charles Scribner's Sons

Copyright, 1918, by
Charles Scribner's Sons



TO

MARY BULLIONS GRAY ANDERSON



ILLUSTRATIONS


Elsie . . . repeated the performance in a manner that was only the more
captivating . . . . . . _Frontispiece_

"Well, I mustn't stay here and keep you from 'redding' up your kitchen,
as you call it"

"You and I will do better with checks, Elsie, though Aunt Milly will
have none of them," he remarked

"Well, Elsie, we know the whole story now"



ELSIE MARLEY, HONEY


CHAPTER I

Mrs. Bennet, her travelling companion from San Francisco, having proved
to be talkative and uninteresting, Elsie Marley was more than content
to find herself alone after the change had been made and her train
pulled out of Chicago.  It was characteristic of the girl that she did
not even look out of the window to see the last of Mrs. Bennet, who,
having waited on the platform until the train started and waved her
handkerchief in vain, betook herself indignantly to her carriage.
Quite unaware of any remissness on her part, Elsie settled herself
comfortably--Mrs. Bennet had disposed of her luggage--folded her hands
in her lap, and gazed idly out the window opposite.

A pale, colorless girl, the simplicity of her dress was in almost too
great contrast with its elegance--a contrived simplicity that left no
room for any trace of careless youth or girlishness.  Slender and
rather delicate-looking, she had brown eyes, regular features, and
soft, light-brown hair waving loosely about her face and hanging in two
long, demure curls from a shell clasp at her neck.  But her eyes were
of rather a shallow brown, her brows and lashes still lighter; her
features were almost too regular, and her skin, though soft and clear,
was quite colorless.  Even so, she might have been pretty, perhaps
lovely, had she possessed any animation.  But the girl's face and even
her eyes were as nearly expressionless as human features may be.  She
was like a superior sort of doll with white cheeks in lieu of red.

After a little she opened a small leather satchel, took out a letter,
and perused it attentively.  It was the last she had received from her
guardian and only living relative, Cousin Julia Pritchard, and, as she
was to see her soon, it behooved her to prepare herself so far as she
might for that occasion.  For Elsie Marley realized, though dimly, that
she was to encounter a personality unlike any with which she had come
in contact in all her sheltered, luxurious life.

"My dear Elsie," the letter ran, "I find myself very much pleased at
the thought of having you with me.  The heart of a woman of fifty
cannot but rejoice in anticipation of the company of a young girl with
the ideals, the vigor, and buoyancy of sixteen.  And since we are both
alone in the world, you representing all my kith and kin as I believe
myself to represent all yours, it is only fitting that we should be
together instead of being separated by the breadth of our great
American continent.

"You will, I am sure, like this great, busy, restless, humming city,
though the only home I have to offer you, I am truly sorry to say, is
in a boarding-house, comfortable though it is.  Remembering Aunt
Ellen's beautiful home in California, which I visited fifteen years
ago, I fear the change may be difficult, though, for a young person,
not too painfully so, I trust.  A boarding-house is the only home I
have myself known for thirty years, and this particular one is
excellent and full of interesting people, though the youngest among
them are middle-aged.

"I am, I repeat, happy to say that I can give you a home here and
clothe you suitably.  That will release your income, which can be put
to any use which we may decide upon after consultation together.  Your
lawyer tells me that you are through school, and neither you nor he
speak of any desire on your part to go to college.  I suppose, however,
like most young girls, you will wish to take up some study or
occupation to fit yourself to become self-supporting or to be useful to
the world in some definite manner.  I heartily sympathize with such an
aim, having worked since my eighteenth year myself, and shall be
cordially interested in helping you either to plan or to carry out a
future for yourself."

Here Elsie broke off.  Cousin Julia was certainly absurd!  She had
always been regarded, indeed, by the California Pritchards as a
singular, eccentric person, rather wanting in refinement and careless
of social amenities--one from whom they were quite content to be
separated by the "breadth of our great American continent."  She had
taken after her mother, who came from Nebraska--or some such place--and
the family had considered it a pity that she should have been and
remained Pritchard by name, particularly since Elsie herself, Pritchard
of Pritchards, had to go by the name Marley.

Still the girl's smooth brow did not contract.  In any event, she said
to herself, after Cousin Julia had seen her, it wasn't likely that she
would suggest that she go out and earn her living.  And as for her
future, which the letter mentioned--why, her future was of course far
ahead.  Elsie had rather taken it for granted that she should marry
when the proper time came, as girls did in books, as her grandmother
and mother had done, and as Aunt Ellen would have done had she not been
so frail.  Once it had even occurred to her that it would be rather
appropriate if she should marry some one named Pritchard, though she
realized that to be only a remote possibility.  In any event, she
didn't know why going to New York should necessarily make any essential
difference in her future, and she was thankful that she hadn't to
consider it for some years yet.  Meantime, the boarding-house
confronted her.

Very likely, however, she could endure even that.  She knew it would be
comfortable, so far as that went, and she needn't mingle with the other
people.  She could have a piano and continue her lessons, and she might
study vocal music.  She could buy books and attend concerts and perhaps
even the theatre and opera.  She could go alone in a carriage to
matinée performances, and quite likely there would be some reduced
gentlewoman living at the boarding-house who might be glad of the
chance to accompany her as chaperon in the evenings.

For Elsie took it for granted that Cousin Julia wouldn't care for the
sort of things she was accustomed to any more than she herself would be
interested to go about with her.  Somehow the girl felt that Miss
Pritchard would be devoted to vaudeville and even moving pictures--she
might even refer to the latter as "movies"!  Of course, that was the
worst of the whole situation--Cousin Julia herself!  For, no matter how
singular or even coarse she might be, Elsie had to live with her and to
put up with a certain amount of her society.

That would be very difficult; still, even now, the girl seemed to see
wide spaces between.  Except for Sundays and evenings when neither of
them went out, she wouldn't have to see a great deal of the older
woman.  She might have to dine with her every night, but, as she worked
in a business office, she probably wouldn't be home to lunch, and of
course Elsie would have her breakfast in her room.  Sunday might be
long and boring, but, whatever Cousin Julia's ideas might be, Elsie
would always insist upon going to service, and that would occupy a part
of the day.

An hour had passed since Mrs. Bennet had left Elsie Marley.  As she
returned the letter to the satchel she became aware that the train was
at a standstill and not before a station.  Indeed, there was not a
building in sight: only a dreary waste of sunburnt prairie-grass
extended flatly to the glare of the burning horizon.  She looked about
wonderingly, vaguely aware that they must already have waited some time.

Her gaze included the rear of the car and emboldened a young girl who
had been watching her longingly a great part of the way from San
Francisco, to act upon her desire.  Immediately she donned a coquettish
little red hat and linen top-coat, and made her way to the other girl's
seat.

"Don't you want to come out and walk a little?" she asked in a
singularly sweet, eager voice.  "There's a hot-box, or some such thing,
and they say it'll be an hour more before we get away.  It might seem
good to stretch our legs on the prairie yonder?"

Elsie Marley didn't care at all to go.  Indeed, she didn't wish to make
the acquaintance of this conspicuous-looking girl with her dark hair
cut square about her ears who had travelled alone all the way from San
Francisco and seemed to know every one in the car.  If she should give
her any encouragement, no doubt she would hang about her all the rest
of the way.  She excused herself coldly.

"Oh, please do, please come for just a wee turn," urged the other,
smiling and displaying a pair of marvellous dimples.  And Elsie Marley
surprised herself by yielding.  Possibly she was too indolent to hold
out; perhaps she felt something in the stranger that wouldn't take no
for an answer, and didn't care to struggle against it.  Again, she may
have felt, dimly and against her will, something of the real charm of
the other.  However that was, she yielded listlessly, put on her neat
sailor hat reluctantly, drew on the jacket of her severe and elegant
dark-blue suit, and followed the stranger slowly from the car.



CHAPTER II

The stranger, who was dressed in a rather graceful and perhaps rather
flamboyant adaptation of the prevailing fashion, was picturesque and
radiant to the extreme: slender, dark, vivid, with big, dark eyes in a
small pointed face, dark hair "bobbed" and curling sufficiently to turn
under about her ears and neck, a rather large mouth flanked by really
extraordinary dimples, and an expression at once gay and saucy and
sweet and appealing withal.  Her voice was very sweet, her unusually
finished pronunciation and enunciation giving a curious effect to her
slangy speech.  She wore her clothes jauntily, carried herself with
charming grace, and her great dimples made her frank smile irresistible.

"Do you know, I've been simply crazy all the way to come and speak to
you," she confessed as soon as they were outside.  "I spotted you the
very first thing, but I was rather phased by that woman with you.
Wasn't she the--goodness gracious!  I hope she wasn't any
relation--your aunt or mother?"

"Oh, no indeed, scarcely an acquaintance," returned the other,
surprised that any one should even conjecture that Mrs. Bennet might be
connected with her.  Then it occurred to her that Cousin Julia might be
even worse!

"I never met her until a week ago," she went on languidly.  "She
happened to be a friend of my lawyer's wife, and he wished me to come
as far as I could in her company.  I suppose I oughtn't to travel the
rest of the way alone, but he didn't make any other arrangement."

"Oh, it isn't bad.  I've come all the way alone and everything's been
jolly.  I've made awfully good friends, though they're all either
elderly or children.  So your being about my age only made me want to
know you the more.  Well, now that we're acquainted, we'll have to make
the most of what's left of the way.  I am Elsie Moss and I was sixteen
Christmas day.  Aren't you about that age?"

"I am sixteen, Miss Moss," returned Elsie Marley formally.

"But don't call me _Miss_," pleaded the other.  "_Everybody_ calls me
Elsie."

Elsie Marley did not reply.  She disliked the idea that the
unchaperoned stranger should be Elsie, also, and should even have the
same initials.  Her imagination was limited; still it occurred to her
that the situation would have been much worse had the girl happened to
bear the surname Pritchard.

She stifled a sigh.  They seemed to be getting acquainted perforce.
Now that she was out, however, she didn't care to go back at once, even
though the sun beat down upon them fiercely, and the dry grass was full
of dust and cinders.  She glanced about irresolutely.

"Now if this were a scene in a play," remarked Elsie Moss reflectively,
"the engine would have broken down near a grove with immemorial trees,
or there'd be a dell hard by where the hero and heroine could wander by
a stream.  Or else--" she hesitated.  "You don't feel comfy, do you?"

"The sun is so hot, it's hardly safe to be out.  I'd better go in
again," replied the other.

"But the car'll be awfully hot, too, standing right in the sun.  I
know--I'll get an umbrella."

She rushed off at full speed lest the other should
remonstrate--something that Elsie Marley didn't think of doing.  She
accepted the favor as a matter of course, and they walked on slowly,
the one restraining her eager feet with difficulty.

"Oh, dear, I suppose _you're_ going to New York, too?" she asked.
"Everybody seems to be except poor me."

The other returned a spiritless affirmative.

"Of course!  Oh, dear, and I'm simply _perishing_ to go!  But I'm due
in a poky little place in Massachusetts called Enderby.  Isn't that the
limit?  The name alone would queer the place, don't you think so?  It's
fairly near Boston, but they say Boston's slow compared with New York
or even with San Francisco."

She waited a moment, then rattled on.

"Do you know, sometimes it seems my _duty_ to go to New York.  I've got
five hundred dollars all my own.  Dad had a long sickness, and, anyhow,
he never got much ahead; but he left me that clear, and I'm just going
to beg and implore my uncle on bended knee to let me take it and go to
New York to study.  I could get a start with that, I'm sure."

She looked up so eagerly that something strange seemed to stir within
the quiet girl.  It was almost as if she would have liked to express
her sympathy had she known how.  And when the light suddenly died out
of the sparkling eyes and even the shadows of the dimples disappeared,
she felt almost at fault.

The other girl did not resent her want of sympathy, however.

"But he'll never, never consent," she went on mournfully, "because he's
an orthodox minister and I want to be an actress.  Of course he
couldn't approve, and I ought not to blame him.  And yet, if I wait
until I'm of age, I'll be too old.  I'd like to run away right now, but
for the row it would make and for frightening auntie.  Really, you
know, I'd rather join the circus than go to Enderby."

"But I have always understood that to be an actress one must go through
much that--isn't nice," remarked Elsie Marley in her colorless voice.

"Oh, but that's half the fun--the struggle against odds," exclaimed
Miss Moss with the assurance of untried youth.  "Our class motto at the
high school was 'Per aspera ad astra.'  Isn't that fine and inspiring?"

The other assented listlessly,

A breeze had arisen, and now, at a little distance from the track, the
air, though warm, was fresh and sweet.  The yellowed grass extended to
the brilliant blue of the sky as far as the eye could reach.  For the
first time, perhaps, in centuries, the plain was peopled by a throng;
for by now nearly every one in the long train had come out.  Men stood
in groups discussing politics and the Mexican affair; women wandered
sedately about, most of them keeping a watchful eye upon the engine, as
if it might suddenly start and plunge on, dragging an empty train of
cars; children ran and frisked and shouted, making the most of the
occasion, as only children can.  The two Elsies happened to be the only
young girls.

They had gone some little distance beyond the others.  Failing to draw
out her companion, Elsie Moss took it for granted that she was shy, and
chatted on about her own affairs, hoping presently to effect an
exchange of confidences.

"I can't help wondering what my uncle will be like," she said soberly,
thrusting her hand into the pocket of her coat.  "You see, I've never
seen him, though he and my mother were the greatest chums ever when
they were young--almost like twins, though he was heaps older.  But
mother went to California when she married and I was born there, and
though he always meant to, he never got out to see us.  His wife
couldn't stand the journey.  And when mother died, he was way over in
Egypt, so of course he didn't come.  All that I know is that he's
handsome and dignified and lives in a very proper place where they have
everything correct and conventional--musical advantages and oratorios
and lectures on Emerson, and village improvement and associated
charities and all that, but no vaudeville nor movies.  I suppose if
there were a theatre they'd only play Ibsen and Bernard Shaw."

Elsie Marley opened her eyes rather wider than usual.  For it all
sounded attractive to her, particularly in contrast with the
boarding-house and New York.

"He's awfully religious-looking, you know," Elsie Moss continued.  "He
wears the same sort of waistcoats and collars the Episcopalians do,
though he's a Congregationalist, and his picture is more than
dignified, I can tell you.  Well, no doubt he's dreading me just as
much as I am him, or else he's expecting me to be just like mother and
will have the surprise of his life."

She hesitated.  "I suppose I do look like her," she added gently and
quite as if she believed the other girl to be deeply interested.  Then
her voice dropped suddenly and her eyes filled with tears.  "Mother
died--in the earthquake," she added.

Something vaguely uncomfortable just stirred the surface of Elsie
Marley's consciousness, though it wasn't sufficiently acute to be
called a pang.  The earthquake had happened seven or eight years
ago--and this girl's grief seemed fresh to-day.  Her own mother had
been dead less than three years.

She did not acknowledge that her mother was only a memory.  She hardly
realized it, indeed.  Only, conscious of that vague, strange
discomfort, she had an impulse to get away from it.  She put a languid
question.

"What have you done since?"

"I've learned what a difference mothers make," returned the girl
soberly.  Then she darted suddenly outside the range of the umbrella.

"What's that?  A gopher?" she cried.  "Oh, my goodness, it's only one
of those ridiculous Dutch dogs.

"It might have been, you know," she said as she returned to the shade.
Then she resumed the subject she had dropped.  Elsie Marley said to
herself that she needn't listen, but as a matter of fact she heard
every word.

"I was so small I couldn't do much, and we had an awful time for a
year.  Dad was always more or less hard up, but he was worse after the
earthquake, and if we had a servant she wasted things so that he was
wild.  He married again--a schoolteacher, and it wasn't a year, quite,
after--the earthquake.  Most people didn't blame him, but Uncle John
where I'm going did, and wanted me to come right on East and live with
him, but dad wouldn't hear of it.  And, anyhow, she was the nicest
thing.  I loved her dearly at the end of a week.  She wanted to keep me
with her after dad died, but my uncle insisted upon my coming to him,
so here I am."

She looked into the other girl's eyes half appealingly, though her big
dimples were dimly visible.

"She wouldn't stand for my being an actress, either, so there you are.
And I liked her so much I couldn't half urge her.  And that's the worst
of it; if I stay with my uncle the least little while I shall get to
liking him so much I shan't be able to run away.  It's perfectly
terrible to get so fond of people when you want a career.  I suppose
the thing to do would really be to disappear right now.  Oh, not this
moment, but simply never to go to Enderby.  Suppose I should go right
on to New York with you?"

Elsie Marley gazed at her without a word and almost without expression.
But within, she was secretly roused.  She marvelled at the stranger's
audacity.  She was surprised to feel that she was not bored.  She
decided that she would not return to the car until they should be
summoned.

As she was fumbling in her mind for the response the Moss girl
evidently awaited, one of the children whose acquaintance the latter
had made came running up to her and shyly took her hand and kissed it.
Again putting the umbrella into the other girl's hands, Elsie Moss
impulsively caught the little thing into her arms and fondled her.
Then dropping her gently, she took both the little hands in hers and
danced away with her.

They made a charming picture against the long, yellow prairie-grass.
The little girl moved with the grace of a child, but Elsie Moss danced
like a fairy.  Her cheeks glowed, her dark eyes shone, her dimples
twinkled, her feet scarcely seemed to touch the ground.  Her red hat
was like a poppy-cup, and the dark hair tumbling about her little face,
elf-locks.  Elsie Marley gazed spellbound.

But only for a moment; on a sudden she turned and made her way back to
the car, which was almost empty.  She returned not because she wanted
to, not even because she was indifferent as to what she did.  She went
because she didn't want to.  Unconsciously she was struggling against
yielding to the charm of the vivid young creature who threatened to
take her by storm.  In all her life she had never been deeply or warmly
affected by another personality.  Perhaps now she realized this dimly,
and some instinct warned her subtly to avoid any departure from old
habitude, even when avoidance meant the first real struggle she had
ever made against definite inclination.

It seemed long before the other occupants of the car began to stroll
in.  Then the engine whistled sharp warning, the laggards trooped back,
and the train started briskly.  Elsie Moss entered by the rear door, as
Elsie Marley knew, though she did not turn around.  She said to herself
that no doubt she would be upon her directly, that she would have her
company for the rest of the day and the remainder of the journey.  But
she established herself in the middle of the seat lest she seem to give
any invitation.



CHAPTER III

Elsie Marley was not interrupted, as it happened.  Some little time
passed and still she was alone.  The girl could not understand a
certain unrest that was upon her.  She waited a few moments longer,
then she moved close to the window so as to leave more than half the
seat vacant.  Still nothing happened.

At length she turned and looked back.  Elsie Moss, who sat between an
old lady and a little boy, smiled and nodded.  Elsie Marley half
smiled.  Still the other made no move.  Then she looked back, really
smiled, and beckoned her to a place beside her.

Elsie Moss, more than willing to be summoned, had some difficulty in
getting away from her present companions.  But the grandmother
prevailed upon the little boy to spare her, and she presented herself
at Elsie Marley's seat smiling in her irresistible way with the big
dimples indented, and looking as if she would like to hug her as she
had hugged the little girl outside.  And Elsie Marley had a curious
intimation that she shouldn't have minded greatly.

"What do you think," exclaimed Miss Moss as she seated herself, "you
know all my family history and I don't even know your name.  I've been
guessing.  It ought to be either Isabel or Hildegarde.  Is it?  Oh, I
do wish it were, they're both so sort of stately and princess-like that
they'd just suit you."

"It isn't either," responded the other with a curious sense of
disappointment.  "My name is Elsie also."

"Of all things!  But it's rather jolly, after all.  And what's the
rest?"

"Marley, Elsie Pritchard Marley.  But at home they called me Elsie
Pritchard, because I am--all Pritchard."

Unacquainted with the Pritchard distinction, Elsie Moss was not
impressed.  But she exclaimed gleefully over the real surname.

"Elsie Marley!" she cried.  "Why, isn't that funny, and oh, isn't it
dear!  Elsie Marley, honey!"

The other girl looked blank.

"Of course you know the song, or at least the rhyme?"

"Song?  Rhyme?"

"Why, yes.  You must have heard it: 'And Do You Ken Elsie Marley,
Honey?'"

"Is it really and truly Elsie Marley?" queried the pale Elsie speaking
for the first time like a real girl, though she had no girlish
vocabulary from which to draw.

"Sure," asserted the other, delighted to be able to surprise her
seatmate.  And she sang a stanza in the sweetest voice Elsie Marley had
ever heard, though she had heard good music all her life, and famous
singers.

  "Do you ken Elsie Marley, honey?
  The wife who sells the barley, honey?
  She won't get up to serve her swine,
  And do you ken Elsie Marley, honey?"


"Is there--any more?" demanded Elsie Marley almost eagerly.

"One more, and then you just repeat the first.  I've known it all my
life.  Mother used to sing it to me when I was a baby.  Then a few
years ago when I first went to see vaudeville, I 'got it up,' as they
say, with dancing and a little acting.  I used to spring it on people
that came to the house.  Dad liked it, but it made my stepmother feel
bad--dad said because I was too professional."

She sighed deeply.

"Sing the rest, please, Elsie?" asked the other, using her name for the
first time.

"I will if you'll let me call you Elsie-Honey?  You see it really
belongs."

Elsie knew that it was silly, but she found herself quite willing.  She
seemed under a strange spell.

"Only," she added, with a stronger sensation of discomfort, "after
to-morrow it isn't likely we'll ever see one another again."

"Oh, yes we will, sure.  Why, we just _must_--at least if you want to
half as much as I do, Elsie-Honey?"

"I do," Elsie confessed shyly and now with a curiously pleasant
feeling.  "And now, Elsie, please sing the other stanzas."

"It sounds just dear to say _stanzas_," cried the other.  "I should
always say _verses_, even if I didn't forget which was which."

With an absurd little flourish of her hands, she turned slightly in her
seat.  The dimples came out strongly, and though she sat quite still,
there was truly something dramatic in the manner in which the would-be
actress sang the lines.

  "Elsie Marley is grown so fine
  She won't get up to feed the swine,
  But lies in bed till eight or nine,
  And surely she does take her time.

  Do you ken Elsie Marley, honey?
  The wife who sells the barley, honey?
  She won't get up to serve her swine,
  And do you ken Elsie Marley, honey?"


Both girls broke into natural, infectious laughter.  Mr. and Mrs.
Bliss, or any one who had known Elsie Marley, could scarcely have
believed their eyes or credited their hearing.  But Elsie's father, who
had died while she was an infant, had had a warm heart and a keen sense
of humor, and it might well be that his daughter had inherited
something of this that had lain dormant all the while.  For truly, the
wholesome, hardy qualities brought out in others through simple human
association had had little chance to germinate in her hothouse
existence in the Pritchard household.

Despite the rumble of the train, four children in the rear of the car
caught the sound of the singing and came trooping up begging for more.
A pretty nursemaid followed with a fat, smiling infant.  Elsie Moss
made her sit down with it (beside Elsie Marley!) and she herself
perched on the arm of the seat and sang song after song until it was
time to go into the dining-car.  The children, wild with enthusiasm,
were not in reality more appreciative of the lovely voice than Elsie
Marley herself.  The two girls went in to dinner together in happy
companionship.



CHAPTER IV

Elsie Marley lay in her berth that night for some time in a state
between musing and actually dreaming.  She was conscious--partly
conscious, that is--of a new sensation of happiness.  She did not,
however, at all realize how fortunate she was.  She did not know that
for the first time in her life the door of her heart had been opened in
response to another.  It was, perhaps, open only a crack.  Possibly it
had been fast so long that it would not remain open.  None the less, at
the moment it stood ajar.

After dinner the girls had talked late--late for sleeping-car hours,
that is to say.  Elsie Marley herself had talked; had said more in an
hour than she had ever before said in a day.  Questioned in a frank,
sympathetic manner by the other Elsie, she had been led to speak of her
grandmother's household and of her daily life there, going into details
so far as she knew how, as she found the other so generously and
romantically concerned.  Then she had gone on to speak of Cousin Julia
Pritchard and the boarding-house, confessing her apprehension and
dread, which seemed somehow to have become more definite in the
interval.  She even showed the stranger Cousin Julia's letter.

Having perused it, Elsie Moss acknowledged that it wasn't altogether a
pleasant outlook for such a one as Elsie Marley, honey, though she
herself wouldn't mind it.  Indeed, she declared that she should have
liked it immensely.  And finally, as she left to go back to her berth,
she exclaimed with fervor that she only wished that Miss Pritchard were
her cousin, and the Reverend John Middleton Elsie Marley's uncle and
guardian.

As those were Elsie Moss's last spoken words that night, so that
thought was uppermost in her mind as she fell asleep shortly after her
cropped head touched the pillow.  And next morning when she woke early
with a startlingly delightful idea, it almost caused her to bound from
her upper berth as if it had been a bed in the middle of a stationary
floor.  For it came not in embryo, not in the egg, so to speak, but
full-fledged.  It seemed as if she couldn't possibly wait until she was
dressed to divulge it to Elsie Marley.

But Elsie Marley was, like her prototype, late in rising, and the other
Elsie's eagerness grew yet keener as she waited.  Finally, however,
they were alone together in the former's seat, as the train sped
rapidly eastward.

Elsie Marley's countenance seemed almost to have changed overnight.
There was truly something in it that had not been there before.  Of
course it was not animated now; nevertheless, it was not so utterly
wanting in expression as it had been the day before, even in
juxtaposition with the vivid little face beside her.

"Oh, Elsie-Honey, I've got something perfectly gorgeous to tell you,"
cried the dark Elsie.  "Listen--you're not very keen about going to
your cousin's, are you?"

Elsie confessed that she liked the idea less than ever.

"And I just _hate_--the short of it is--I simply _cannot_ go anywhere
but to New York.  You'd ever so much prefer Enderby because it's select
and has culture and advantages, and you'd sooner have a dignified
clergyman uncle than a newspaper cousin.  As for me, I should adore
Cousin Julia."

"It seems a pity, surely," admitted Elsie quietly.

The other looked at her.  "You see what's coming, honey?"

She shook her head, perplexed.

"Oh, Elsie-Honey!  It's plain as pudding.  Presto! change!  That's all.
Aren't we both Elsie, and don't we both want just what's coming to the
other?  All we have to do is to swap surnames.  See?"

Still Elsie Marley did not understand.

"Shake us up in a box, you know," the other explained, her dimples very
conspicuous, "and you come out Elsie Moss and I, Elsie Marley, without
the honey.  You go to live with Reverend John Middleton and I'll go to
New York and try to persuade your Cousin Julia to let her supposed
relative study for the stage.  What could be better?  It's simply
ripping and dead easy.  Neither of them has seen either of us.  Uncle
John would draw a prize instead of me, and--I'd be awfully good to your
cousin, Elsie-Honey."

Really to grasp a conception so daring and revolutionary took Elsie
Marley some time.  But when she had once grasped it, she considered it
seriously.  It did not seem to her, even at first, either unreasonable
or impossible.  Indeed, influenced by the enthusiasm of the other girl,
she began to feel it both reasonable and fitting.  In a way, too, it
was only natural.  For after all, the girl had always had her way made
smooth for her, and this appeared only a continuation of that process.
She certainly _didn't_ want to go to Cousin Julia's, and she liked the
idea of living in the quiet parsonage of the aristocratic country town.

Indeed, she agreed to the proposal more readily and unquestioningly
than a girl of more imagination or experience could have done.  For her
part, Elsie Moss foresaw certain complications, though in truth only
the most obvious ones.  They discussed these gravely, yet with much
confidence.  Indeed, an older person must have been both amused and
amazed at the youthfulness, the inexperience, and the ignorance of life
the girls exhibited, at their utter unconsciousness that they were not
qualified to act as responsible human beings and shuffle blood
relationships about like pawns on a chess-board.

"There's certainly nothing about it that even my stepmother could
object to," Elsie Moss concluded.  "Nobody's being cheated: they are
both going to get what they would really choose if they had a chance,
and to escape what might be very uncomfortable, and so are we.  We're
both Elsies, and about the same age, and have brown eyes: if Uncle John
were to take his pick, wouldn't he take a quiet, dignified, ladylike
Elsie, instead of a harum-scarum one with short hair that was mad for
the stage?  And Aunt Milly being rather frail, I should have driven her
to drink, while you're used to an invalid aunt.  Isn't it just
wonderful?  The more I think of it, the _righter_ it seems.  I almost
feel now as if it would be wrong _not_ to do it, don't you?"

Like one in a dream, Elsie Marley assented.  She was almost giddy at
the swift flight of the other's imagination.  She listened spellbound
while Elsie Moss spun plans, able herself to contribute nothing but
assent and applause.  Under skilful questioning, however, she related
all the Pritchard traditions and family history that Cousin Julia might
be expected to be familiar with, and endeavored in a docile manner to
learn enough of Moss and Middleton annals to take her part in the
Middleton household.

Elsie Moss possessed a certain sort of executive ability which enabled
her to make the practical arrangements for carrying through the plan.
Quite self-reliant, she planned to accompany the other to Boston to
make sure that all went well, going thence herself to New York.  After
consultation with the conductor in regard to time-tables, she sent a
telegram asking Miss Pritchard to meet a later train.  The change in
the destination of their respective luggage was more difficult to
effect, but she accomplished that also, and both girls changed cars for
Boston.

Indeed, presently it seemed as if the only difficult part of the whole
affair would be the parting from each other.  They were to write
frequently, of course, and not only for the sake of mutual information;
but it seemed, particularly to the pale Elsie, who had never had a
friend, cruelly hard to have to be separated so soon from this most
charming companion.  She gazed at her wistfully, unable to express
herself.

The other Elsie, as quick, nearly, to read as to express feeling, and
naturally the more impulsive, answered from her heart.

"Oh, we'll see each other often, we'll just have to, Elsie-Honey," she
cried.  "And anyhow, we'll want to compare notes and brush up on our
parts.  We'll visit back and forth.  You come to New York and I----"

She stopped short.

"My goodness, that'll never do!  I can never come to Enderby.  You'll
have to do all the visiting, honey.  I'm the very image of my mother,
and I'd give it all away."

"Oh," said the other feebly.

"You've noticed that I have dimples, I suppose?" inquired the other
gloomily.

Elsie could not deny it, though denial was evidently what the other
craved.

The latter sighed deeply.  "Then they're just as plain as ever, and
would give me away first thing," she said.  "Dad used to say he had
never seen such big dimples as mother's, and that mine were just like
'em.  He said if I had straight yellow hair and blue eyes, any one that
had seen her would know me.  Oh, dear, aren't you lucky to have nothing
conspicuous about you?  I'm sure you're not the image of any one,
Elsie-Honey, and you'll come to see me often enough to make up, won't
you?"

"Oh, yes, Elsie, unless he--Mr. Middleton--should object to my coming
to New York alone?"

"You'd better begin right away calling him Uncle John, so as to get
used to it as soon as you can," suggested the other.  "And I'm sure he
won't object.  I'm sure from his letters that he's not an old fuss, and
it's a straight trip with no changes from Boston to New York.  And
Cousin Julia and I will meet you at the Grand Central!"

She grinned at her own _cheek_, as she called it, and the other Elsie
smiled happily.

"Just the same, I'm more than sorry not to be able to come to Enderby
to visit," Elsie Moss declared.  "You know it would be simply stunning
practice, playing the stranger in my uncle's house--something like the
real wife in 'East Lynne,' you know."

"I never saw 'East Lynne.'"

"Dear me, I cried quarts and bucketsful over it.  It's the most tragic
play!  If I had time I could show you how it goes.  I always act things
out over and over after I've seen them, making up words where I don't
remember them.  But, alas! we haven't any time to spare with what we've
got ahead of us, have we, honey?  Now we must arrange for meeting
Uncle--no, _I_ must call him _Mr._ Middleton."

On a sudden the girl clasped her hands in apparent distress.

"Oh, I never thought!" she cried.  "It won't even be safe for Uncle
John to see me at the station in Boston.  Well, I shall have to drop
behind and keep perfectly sober.  I'll just watch out to see that
everything's all right with you, and then I'll skidoo.  Dear me, I hope
I don't look so awfully unlike the Marleys as to frighten Cousin Julia?"

Had she said the _Pritchards_, Elsie would have been in a quandary; as
it was, her face brightened.

"She never knew the Marleys, and there aren't any now," she said.  "She
knows only the Pritchards."

"Hooray!  I shall harp on the Marleys morning, noon, and night!"

"She'll like you," observed Elsie wistfully.  "You know she spoke in
her letter of young life."

"I shall adore her, dear old thing!" cried the warm-hearted girl.  "And
Uncle John will adore you.  He adored my mother, who was quiet and deep
like you.  He was always sending her rare things, and pitying her
because she was poor and longing to send her money, though dad wouldn't
have that."

The appearance of an expressman warned them that they were nearing
Boston.

"You're perfectly sure that you're willing to exchange New York for
Enderby?" demanded Elsie Moss suddenly.

"Oh, yes, indeed, Elsie."

"And you don't yearn for Cousin Julia?"

Elsie Marley half smiled.  "Oh, no," she declared.

But the other was determined not to take any undue advantage.

"Now listen," she said; "if after you see Uncle John you don't fancy
him, just say the word or nudge me or wink and I'll swap back without a
word.  I'll simply step up and say, 'Oh, Uncle John, you've kissed the
wrong girl!' though, of course, he may be too dignified to kiss at a
train.  And then I'll introduce you properly."

They sped on.  Soon a trainman entered to say that the next station was
Boston and request them not to leave any articles in the car.  They
said good-by to each other before the train stopped, kissing warmly
like real friends.  Then Elsie Moss tied a large, dark veil over her
hat and well down over her forehead and eyes.  It looked as
inappropriate for the hot day as the scowling expression she assumed to
cloak the dimples was ill suited to her charming little face.

As they alighted, and a handsome, distinguished-looking gentleman in
grey clerical garb advanced to meet them, she fell behind.  Raising his
hat, he took the hand of the girl who was not his niece.

"And this is Elsie?" he said in a fine, kindly voice.

She murmured a weak affirmative.  He kissed her affectionately, took
her portmanteau from the porter, and turned to the girl who had come
from the car with her.

"And this is your friend, Elsie?" he inquired.

Elsie Moss came forward, scowling so fiercely that the other, despite
her blunted sense of humor, could scarcely keep from laughing out.

"My friend, Miss M-Marley," she stammered.

Mr. Middleton shook hands with his sister's daughter, took her satchel,
and asked how he could serve her.  The girl replied in a thin falsetto
voice, which she realized immediately didn't go with the scowl so well
as a gruff tone would have done, that she had only twenty-five minutes
to get the train for New York and must say good-by at once and take a
cab for the other station.

However, he didn't let her go so easily.  Assuming charge in a simple,
offhand manner, he found a taxicab which took them to the South
Station, led her to the ticket-office, secured a chair, and put her on
the train.

She kissed Elsie Marley again, squeezing her hand meaningly.  And she
nearly forgot and showed her dimples, looking out of the window as her
train pulled out, to see them together, her uncle with his hat in his
hand, Elsie waving her pocket-handkerchief.

"He's a darling," she said to herself as they moved toward the Trinity
Place Station, "and it's mighty lucky for my career that I didn't see
more of him.  But he'll be far happier with that lovely honey-princess,
and I'm glad she's drawn a prize.  As for me, hooray for Cousin Julia
and the footlights!"



CHAPTER V

"I hope, Elsie, your friend wasn't in pain?" Mr. Middleton inquired
with concern shortly after they were established in the train for
Enderby.

"Oh, no," the girl assured him, trying, but vainly, to add "Uncle John."

"I thought she might be suffering from toothache or neuralgia, wearing
that scarf about her face on such a warm day--particularly as she
frowned and screwed her mouth in a rather distressed way," he explained.

Elsie smiled.  Indeed she almost laughed, partly because she was
herself struck by the humor of it, partly because it would so amuse
Elsie Moss when she wrote her about it.

"Oh, no," she repeated.  "Oh, no, Uncle John"--resolutely--"she was
just--well--she was acting, I suppose.  She wants very much to go on
the stage."

"And doesn't lose any opportunity for practice?" He smiled, but rather
ruefully.  "Poor child!  Somehow, of all ambitions, there seems to be
more tragedy, more pitifulness, underlying that than any other.  Where
one succeeds, so many fail--go down into darkness and obscurity.  Your
mother had the fever at one time as a very young girl, Elsie.  As a
matter of fact, she had some little talent in that direction, but
fortunately we were able to persuade her to give up the idea entirely."
He sighed.  "She was so tender-hearted and affectionate that she could
have been induced to give up far more precious things than an ambition
of that sort."

Elsie was gazing out of the window.  He pointed out a country club and
several fine estates at a distance, then asked:

"What is your friend going in for, Elsie, comedy or tragedy?"

Elsie didn't know.  She explained that while Miss M-Marley seemed like
an old friend, she had only met her on the train as they had left
Chicago.

"Ah, that's just like your mother!" he exclaimed.  "She was just that
way, quick to make friends, and yet as loyal and true as any slower and
more cautious person could be."

Again he sighed; then added in a lighter tone: "_She_ wanted to play
tragic parts--youth is apt to--but of course with those dimples she
would have been doomed to comedy, if not farce."

He gazed reminiscently at her.

"Your baby pictures had her dimples in small, but I see that as you
have grown thin you have lost them.  You scarcely resemble her at all,
and yet already I see how very like her you are."

Elsie could think of no response, and fearing that he was awaking
painful feelings, Mr. Middleton changed the subject by inquiring kindly
after her stepmother.  Elsie replied according to instructions that she
was quite well and much gratified to have secured her former position
in one of the San Francisco high schools for the coming year.

As he went on to ask about her journey and to exhibit points of
interest along the way, he was so chivalrous and thoughtful that the
girl realized that she would be considered and cared for as she never
would have been with Cousin Julia, and was genuinely relieved.  Then
her thoughts flew back to those hours with Elsie Moss between Chicago
and Boston, which seemed to her the happiest she had ever known.  It
came to her that if she could have the other girl's companionship,
could see her every day, she didn't know that she would greatly care
where she was.  Perhaps she could even endure hardship.  How serious
Elsie Moss had been about her motto, "Per aspera ad astra."  For all
her gayety, she felt she could go through hardship bravely.  Ah, she
was a rare person!  For the first time in her life Elsie Marley was
homesick--and for a stranger!

Happily, there was that about Mr. Middleton which reminded her of his
niece.  She glanced at him from under her long, pale lashes.  A man of
fifty, he was tall and thin, with a fine florid face set off by a mass
of thick, white hair.  His eyes were brown and youthful, full of
serenity and kindliness, with a shadow of the idealism that
characterized his whole face.  His voice was good, his speech elegant,
appealing particularly to one accustomed to the tones and inflections
of the West.  Looking forward to meeting his wife, who would probably
be equally pleasing, Elsie felt that in any event she should be as
happy between visits as it would be possible to be anywhere without
Elsie Moss.

A short drive through the quiet, shady streets of what seemed to be an
old, historic town brought them to the parsonage, one of a group of
handsome, rather stately buildings near and about a green common.  Of
colonial style, built of brick, it had a portico with great Corinthian
pillars, window-frames and cornices of wood painted white, and stood
far back from the street with a beautiful lawn studded by great elms
and a glimpse of a garden in the rear.

The driveway led to a side entrance under a porte-cochère.  As the
carriage drew up, Mr. Middleton glanced eagerly toward the door.  His
face fell.

"Your Aunt Milly will be here directly," he said and ushered her in.
As she entered the beautiful hall, Elsie couldn't help feeling how
fortunate she was to escape the boarding-house.

There was no one in sight.  Mr. Middleton looked about, then led her
into one of the great front rooms on either side of the wide hall and
asked her to make herself comfortable while he went to see if her aunt
were ill.

"She is not very strong, as you know, Elsie, and the excitement may
have been too much for her," he explained.  "She has looked forward so
eagerly to your arrival."

Fortunately he did not await any reply.  Elsie felt suddenly stunned as
by a blow.  Left alone, she gazed about her in amazement that was
almost horror.  The large, square, corner room lighted by four great
windows that reached from the floor to the heavy cornice was
comfortably, even luxuriously, furnished, but--the girl could scarcely
believe her eyes--it was the most untidy-looking place she had ever
been in!  The heavy crimson hangings, faded by the strong summer
sunlight, lost further color by their layer of dust, quite visible even
at this distance and at first sight.  There were ashes on the hearth,
though the heap of waste-paper, dust, and miscellaneous rubbish in the
fireplace showed that it hadn't been used for some time.  The piano, a
baby-grand, stood open, with dust on its dingy keys and more dust on
its shining case.  The centre-table held a handsome reading-lamp and
some books, but was littered with piles of old newspapers and magazines
without covers.  A kitchen-apron was flung across an armchair; a dirty,
paper-covered book lay on a little table with a plate beside it covered
with cake-crumbs, and there were crumbs on the richly colored Turkish
rug and on the arm of the tapestry-covered chair on the edge of which
Elsie perched.

Surely there was some mistake, some monstrous mistake!  She had somehow
been brought to the wrong house.  It wasn't possible that a gentleman
like Mr. Middleton could belong to a household such as this, she was
saying incredulously to herself, when a shadow fell athwart the
threshold and she looked up to see Mrs. Middleton entering on her
husband's arm.

Mrs. Middleton was the key to the enigma, though Elsie's mind wasn't
sufficiently alert to grasp the fact at the moment.  She stood beside
her tall, immaculate husband, a short, rather stout, flabby-looking
woman with a sallow face wherein keener eyes than Elsie's might have
detected traces of former prettiness, and frowsy, ginger-colored hair
that had been curled on an iron.  She wore a dingy pink tea-gown
bordered with swan's-down, cut rather low and revealing a yellow,
scrawny neck.  A large cameo brooch took the place of a missing frog,
and a pin in the hem disclosed missing stitches.  Her hands were
covered with rings, her feet thrust into shapeless knitted boots.

She smiled, cried, "Elsie!" in a weak, sentimental manner, and opened
her arms wide as if expecting the girl to fly into them.

Elsie, who had risen, advanced stiffly and reached out her hand in
gingerly fashion.  But Mrs. Middleton gathered her, willy-nilly, into a
warm embrace, holding her close against the dingy pink flannel.

Elsie could not struggle against it, as she was moved to do; she could
not burst into tears at the indignity; she could not rush out of the
house and back to the train, as she longed to do, with the sense of
outrage goading her.  She was forced to sit down weakly with the others.

Mrs. Middleton gazed at her fondly.

"Dear child!  Little orphan stranger!" she cried.  "How I have longed
for this hour!  Indeed, I so longed for it that at the last moment my
strength failed me, and when the train whistled I had to drop on my bed
in exhaustion.  But enough of that.  Welcome to our home and hearts!"

Murmuring some chill, indistinct monosyllable, Elsie glanced dumbly at
Mr. Middleton, who was looking at his wife as tenderly as if she had
been all that Elsie had expected her to be.  Were they both mad?

"Jack, dear, you have never asked Elsie to take off her things--your
own niece!" exclaimed Mrs. Middleton reproachfully.  And she turned to
Elsie with her sentimental smile.

"These men, my dear!" she said, and coming to her side begged the girl
to let her have her wraps.

Elsie wanted to cry out that she wasn't going to stay, that she was no
kin of theirs, and was going away on the next train.  But she couldn't
utter a word.  She removed her hat and jacket dumbly, wondering which
dusty surface they would occupy.  As Mr. Middleton carried them into
the hall, she could only guess.

On his return, he noticed the kitchen-apron, picked it up and held it a
moment irresolutely.  Then opening a door in the wainscot near the
fireplace he flung it in.  Before the door went to, Elsie had a glimpse
of worse disorder--of the sort that is supposed to pertain to a
junk-shop.

"That's Katy's apron," remarked Mrs. Middleton plaintively.  "Do you
know, Jack, I feel sure she sits in here when there's no one around.
Now that book on the table by the window must be hers."

"It's no harm for her to sit here when the room is not in use,"
returned Mr. Middleton kindly, "but when she goes, I wish she would
take her things along."  And he picked up the novel and was about to
consign it to the same dump when his wife held out her hand for it.

"What mush!" she cried as she fingered the greasy pages, while Elsie
flinched inwardly.  And unobservant as the girl naturally was, she
could not help noticing that Mrs. Middleton retained the book.

"Don't think, dear Elsie, that we're unkind to our poor but worthy
Kate," the latter remarked, sitting down next to Elsie and taking the
girl's limp hand in hers.  "As a matter of fact, she has a sitting-room
of her own.  This house, you know, is very old.  It matches the other,
newer buildings only because they were built to suit its style.  The
original owners, the Enderbys, for whom the town was renamed, had many
servants and provided a parlor for them.  Of course your uncle and I
can afford to keep only one, but we gave her the parlor, hoping she
would appreciate it.  But it doesn't look out front, so she doesn't
care for it and uses it as a sort of store-room."

"I wonder if Elsie wouldn't like to go to her chamber now," Mr.
Middleton suggested, remarking suddenly how tired the girl looked.  He
had thought her surprisingly fresh after the long journey, but
apparently only excitement had kept her up.

Elsie looked at him gratefully.  She was longing to be by herself in
order to determine what she was to do.

"Yes, Jack, that's exactly what the poor dear wants; I've been trying
to get a word in to ask her," agreed Mrs. Middleton plaintively.  Elsie
rose.

"Where did you decide to put her, Milly?  In the blue room?"

"Yes, dear, but I'm not perfectly sure whether Katy got it ready.  Do
you mind calling her?"

He fetched the handsome, slatternly maid servant, who drew up the lower
corner of her apron crosswise to disguise its dirt, but openly and
unashamed, and only to uncover a dress underneath that was quite as
untidy.

"Katy, this is our niece, Miss Moss, who has come to live with us,"
Mrs. Middleton announced.  "Have you got the blue room ready for her?"

Katy bowed low to Elsie before she replied.

"No'm, not yet," she said.

"Oh, Katy, when I told you to be sure?"

"No'm, you didn't," responded the woman pleasantly.

"Dear me!  Well, I meant to; I suppose it slipped my mind."

She turned to Elsie.  "I've been particularly wretched all day,
scarcely able, with all my will-power at full strain, to hold up my
head."

"It seems to me," she addressed Kate reproachfully, "you might have
done it anyhow.  You knew what Mr. Middleton was going in town for."

"I'll get a place ready for her right now in no time, ma'am," Katy
assured her cheerfully.  As she was leaving the room with an admiring
look at Elsie, she glanced suspiciously at Mrs. Middleton, whose hand
was hidden in a fold of her wrapper.

"Is that my story-book you've got, ma'am?" she inquired.

Mrs. Middleton drew forth the book, looked at it as if in great
surprise, and gave it to Kate, who disappeared at once.  Mr. Middleton
followed with Elsie's luggage.

Elsie, who did not resume her seat, walked to the window and gazed out,
without, however, seeing anything.  Mrs. Middleton began to rhapsodize
over the elms and oaks and some rooks in the distance that were really
crows.  But before she had gone far, Katy appeared to say that the room
was ready.  If she had not done it in no time, as she had proposed, she
had certainly spent as little time as one could and accomplish
anything.  Mrs. Middleton led Elsie up-stairs, threw open the door of
the room with a dramatic gesture, kissed and fondled her, and finally
left her to get a good rest.

Elsie closed the door after her, dropped into a chair and, burying her
face in her hands, sat motionless.



CHAPTER VI

For some time Elsie could not think.  She could only sit there in a
sort of dumb horror.  Presently she raised her head, opened her eyes,
and deliberately surveyed the room.

Like the others she had seen, it was large and handsomely furnished.
There was a great brass bed and heavy mahogany furniture.  The walls
were hung with blue, the large rug was blue-and-gold, and the chintz
hangings and covers blue-and-white.  There was a great pier-glass, a
writing-desk, and a bookcase.  In spite of the fact that everything
bore the appearance of having been hastily dusted, it was fairly neat
and very attractive.

Still confused, with a stunned sensation that precluded decisive
action, Elsie decided that she might as well remove the dust of travel,
and rising, slipped off her blouse.

As she turned on both faucets in the bowl in the small dressing-room
adjoining, a thick scum rose to the surface of the water, and she
realized the bowl had not been washed for some time.  At first she
gazed at the dust helplessly.  Utterly unused to doing anything for
herself, she looked about anxiously.  Two towels, clean but not ironed,
lay on the rack.  She hesitated, then grasping one of them as if it
were the proverbial nettle, she attacked the bowl, gingerly at first,
then with some vigor; and presently, with the aid of some dirty
fragments of soap she found in the receptacle, using the second towel
to dry it, she had the enamelled surface clean and shining.  With an
odd sense of satisfaction, she threw the towels to the floor, opened
her portmanteau, took out her own toilet-case, and proceeded to wash.

Refreshed physically and even a trifle in spirit, she slipped on her
dressing-gown and sat down by the window to consider.  She knew now
that she should have spoken immediately upon seeing Mrs. Middleton,
thus avoiding more unpleasantness than the caresses.  Having delayed
her explanation of the masquerade, she had made it the more difficult.
Even now she dreaded shocking or even hurting Mr. Middleton.

She rose and moved about irresolutely.  The dress she had taken off lay
on the couch against the foot of the bed, and though she had never been
accustomed to caring for her clothes, she started instinctively to hang
it away.  Opening the door into the clothes-press, she shrank back.

A commodious closet with shelves and drawers, it was as much worse in
its confusion and disorder than the cupboard down-stairs as it was
larger.  Each hook bulged and overflowed with clothing: tawdry finery,
evening-gowns, old skirts, wrappers, sacks, bath-robes, knitted jackets
and shawls and miscellaneous underclothes.  The drawers were so crammed
that none would shut.  The shelves were piled high with blankets,
comfortables, old hats, a pair of snow-shoes, pasteboard boxes, and
bottles without number; while on the floor were boots, shoes, and
slippers in all stages of wear, overshoes, a broken umbrella, a
walking-stick, a folding-table, and more boxes.  And everywhere the
dust lay thick.

Shutting the door hastily, Elsie flung herself upon the couch, covering
her face and pressing her fingers upon her closed eyes.  What
a--_heathenish_ place!  She really didn't possess the sort of
vocabulary to express the enormity of it.  How should she get away?
Suppose there were no train to-night?  Suppose she should have to
remain until morning?

If only it were a hotel!  If only Mr. Middleton weren't so fine, or if
Mrs. Middleton had gone into Boston!  One look at her would have been
enough: she would have known she could never endure her.  Better Cousin
Julia with all her oddities.  She would have made the sign agreed upon
and gone straight on to New York.  And then--poor Elsie Moss!  After
all, Mrs. Middleton wasn't any real relative of hers, either.  She only
hoped that the other girl might find Cousin Julia so very disagreeable
that she wouldn't too painfully mind being dragged back here.

Some one knocked at the door.  Feeling that she couldn't possibly
encounter Mrs. Middleton at this juncture, the girl remained silent.

"It's only Katy," said a pleasant voice, and Elsie bade her come in.

The warm-hearted Irishwoman knew in an instant that something was
wrong, and suspected homesickness.  She spoke fondly, as to a child,
saying that tea was nearly ready, and added: "Have you got everything
that you want, miss?"

Elsie could have laughed at the unconscious irony.

"The clothes-press is full of mussy things, and the wash-bowl was
dirty, and there weren't any clean towels," the girl almost wailed.

"Bless my soul, I guess that wash-bowl was forgot for a matter of a few
days!" Katy exclaimed.  "Dear me, I'm so sorry.  But them towels was
clean, only not ironed.  I hadn't got round to 'em yet, and I didn't
know where to lay my hands on any that was put away.  There's a lot
somewheres, for we keep a-buyin' and a-buyin'.  And I'll just go at
this room the first thing after breakfast in the mornin' and make
everything clean and shinin'.  I meant to 'a' done it to-day, but I
didn't get a minute, and I thought one night wouldn't make much matter."

While Elsie was endeavoring to frame some sentence to inform Katy that
she needn't take the trouble, the latter suddenly remembered something
in the oven and disappeared.  Elsie rose and dressed.  She couldn't eat
in such a place, but she couldn't get away without explaining and,
perhaps, the tea-table would be a suitable occasion for that.

Mr. Middleton met her at the foot of the stair and led her to the
dining-room.  Another surprise!  The room was not only large, pleasant,
and airy, overlooking a beautiful garden, but it was neat and tidy, and
the table was spotless, with fine damask, delicate china, and beautiful
silver.  The food was delicious--Elsie had taken her place
perforce--and was particularly appetizing after five days on the train.

Mrs. Middleton still wore the pink wrapper, but she had little to say,
and her husband was so elegant and attractive, was in such good spirits
and talked so entertainingly, that Elsie almost forgot.  In any event,
before the meal was over she had decided to remain overnight, and to
postpone her confession until morning.

The evening passed pleasantly.  Mrs. Middleton excused herself directly
after tea, and Mr. Middleton took Elsie out to show her the garden,
which he tended himself, an old-fashioned garden with formal beds
radiating from a sun-dial.  Thence they went to his study, an
attractive room lined with books, which, though untidy, was not
startlingly so, not, perhaps, far beyond that peculiar limit of
disorder allowed to a student's sanctum.

Here the Reverend John Middleton, unmistakably and infectiously happy,
talked with his supposed niece for an hour.  Full of enthusiasm,
quieter but almost as youthful as that of Elsie Moss, of ideas and
ideals, he had not realized his want of companionship and sympathy, nor
understood why he had looked forward so eagerly to the coming of the
daughter of the sister who had been the companion and intimate friend
of his youth and young manhood.  Believing he saw already much of the
mother in the girl, he seemed to feel no need of preliminaries, of
getting acquainted.  He strove only to make her feel at home, hoping
there might be no strangeness even on the first night.

His powers being by no means inconsiderable, he succeeded so well that
Elsie Marley went to her room in a state of real exhilaration that was
almost tumult.  The door of her inner nature, set ajar by Elsie Moss,
had opened wide.  She had never in all her sixteen years been really
roused out of herself until she met the former; and she had never come
in contact with a nature so rich and fine as that of the clergyman.
Further than this, something else stirred in the girl's
heart--something better than the desire to hold this friend for her
own.  Unawares, dimly, she felt his reaching out for sympathy, realized
dimly that there was something that even a young girl could do for him.
And suddenly a feeling of depression that was like regret or even
remorse took possession of her.  The confession she had to make would
hurt him deeply, even now.

Her trunk had been brought in and the straps unfastened.  For an
instant Elsie wavered.  Finally she got her key from her pocketbook.
But even as she crossed the room, she thought of Mrs. Middleton, the
dingy swan's-down and the caresses, and decided not to unlock the trunk.

She stood by the window looking out absently over the soft, starlit
landscape.  She felt sorry for Mr. Middleton and sorry for Elsie Moss;
and curiously enough those two were the two persons in the world in
whom she had any real interest!  Perhaps the latter wouldn't mind her
aunt as she did; and of course she would be, to use her own expression,
"crazy over" her uncle.  Then, too, with all her charm and vivacity,
she could do much more to brighten the monotony and squalor of his
life.  And yet, her heart was set upon becoming an actress, and it
would be much harder now to give it up than if she hadn't seemed to
have a fair chance to pursue her studies.  Elsie remembered dimly tales
she had heard of people dying from broken hearts.  Somehow, it seemed
almost as if that vivid, sparkling Elsie Moss would be of the sort to
take things so hard that----

She broke off, turned from the window, and began to undress.  So far as
Mr. Middleton was concerned, it occurred to her that possibly some one
who hadn't any ambition might learn to do even better toward helping
him than one whose heart was divided.  She said to herself that she
wouldn't decide definitely against opening her trunk until morning.  If
she should find, for instance, that Mrs. Middleton kept her room the
greater part of the time, it might make some difference.

Ready to put out the light, she noticed that the covers of the bed had
not been turned down--an omission unparalleled in her experience.  With
a sigh, she drew down the counterpane, only to discover, with actual
horror, the bare mattress underneath.  The bed had not been made!

Such was Elsie Marley's consternation that had she been a person of
resource, she would have dressed and left the house at once; but if she
possessed any such quality, it was wholly undeveloped.  As it was,
however, she said to herself she could not even stay for breakfast.
She would go at daybreak!



CHAPTER VII

Kate came to the door next morning just as Elsie had finished dressing,
and, being admitted, asked if Miss Moss wouldn't come down and pour her
uncle's coffee and eat breakfast with him.

"He's sort o' hangin' off as if, perhaps, he was hopin' you might," she
added, eying the girl admiringly.

Elsie's purpose to go immediately had been with her as she awoke, but
it didn't seem worth while to hold out at the moment: possibly she
might have a favorable opportunity to explain at the table.

But she resented Kate's beaming face, and looked reproachfully toward
the bed, which told its own shocking story of having no linen nor
blankets.  Still Kate was oblivious.  Elsie really hardly knew how to
complain, but perhaps to learn that is easier than to learn to praise;
and there was a certain amount of indignation in her voice as she told
how she had been obliged to sleep on the couch in her dressing-gown.

Kate was quite as shocked as the mistress of a well-regulated household
would have been.  As she accompanied Elsie down-stairs she was voluble
in her sympathy, and promised all sorts of improvements for a future
Elsie knew was not to be hers.  And yet the girl, who had always been
on the most distant terms with her grandmother's servants who had been
in the house for years, found herself confessing to this good-natured
slattern that she had nevertheless slept soundly and felt refreshed.

Breakfast was so pleasant as to cause visions of an unlocked trunk to
float through Elsie's mind.  The dining-room was yet more attractive
with the morning sun on the garden.  Mrs. Middleton did not appear.
The girl found a curious pleasure in pouring out the coffee, which was
curiously intensified when Mr. Middleton asked for three lumps of
sugar.  And when he passed his cup the second time she was elated.

While he seemed fully to appreciate the novelty of her company, he
seemed also to take it for granted, as if they were to go on so,
breakfasting together, indefinitely.  He chatted in his easy way,
glanced at the paper, reading bits of it to her, commenting on the
situation here and across the border.  Fortunately, her mind had seemed
to quicken with her sensibility, so that she grasped, or partly
grasped, ideas that might well have meant nothing to her.

He proposed to take her out to see the town after he had spent an hour
in his study.  Though it would again postpone her explanation, Elsie
decided she might as well go a step further and get a better idea of
the place for which Elsie Moss was to exchange New York and her
ambition.  The day promised heat; the girl was so tired of her
travelling-suit that she was tempted to open her trunk and get out a
linen frock and her Panama hat, but she wouldn't allow herself to yield.

They were out nearly two hours, strolling leisurely through the quiet
old streets.  The church and parish-house and a large hall were across
the common, the library and museum nearer the centre of the town--all
dignified, rather stately, very attractive buildings in harmonizing
styles of architecture, whose low and rambling character, with the ivy
that well-nigh covered them, and the wonderful green of their lawns,
gave them an air of age, particularly appealing to one whose home had
been in the West.  Handsome houses and charming cottages bespoke their
attention as they walked through the wide avenue with double rows of
elms on either side, and grass-plots separating the walks from the
highway.  Just to wander under that leafy arch of a June morning, with
glimpses of blue sky and white cloud, was a sensation that made the
thought of New York appalling.  Cousin Julia had, indeed, spoken once
of going to the shore; but who wanted to go to the shore!  For herself,
nothing seemed so attractive as tall old trees, abundance of green
turf, New England, and--_Enderby_!

And all the while she became more aware of the unconscious appeal on
the part of Mr. Middleton.  As they went on, more and more the girl
felt how eagerly he had looked forward to the coming of his niece, how
he had anticipated her companionship.  And she understood dimly that
his eagerness to show her the finer points of everything was not only
the desire to make her share his enthusiasm, but a desire to begin at
once--to start out friends and companions.

She returned only the more oppressed by the sense of remissness--of
remorse.  Kate met her at the door of the chamber she had occupied and
proudly ushered her in.  A real transformation had taken place.  Kate
could accomplish wonders when she set out, and the great handsome room
had been so thoroughly swept and garnished that everything was like
new, only with the sense of the dignity of age.  The clothes-press,
too, had been cleared out (at the expense of the corresponding one in
the chamber opposite!); the little wash-room shone; there was abundance
of towels and fresh bed-linen, and a vase of sweet peas stood on the
freshly laundered cover of the dresser.

Elsie turned gratefully to Kate, but spoke regretfully.

"Oh, Katy, thank you, but I'm sorry you have taken so much trouble.
I----"

"Oh, Miss Moss, dear, I love to do it, and I'll keep it so all the time
if you'll only stay," urged Kate.  "Now don't tell _me_, I've seen it
in your eyes that you're homesick and don't like the look o' things,
and then you ain't opened your trunk, and your dresses all packed in
wrinkles like as not.  Do try it a bit longer, please, miss.  I promise
you things'll be better all over the house.  You know there'd be more
satisfaction keepin' things up for a pretty girl like you as would
appreciate than for a woman as lays round all the time and don't take
no interest, though believe _me_, she eats as good as any one, and I
can't keep my story-books long enough to find out how they come out at
the end if she gets her eye on 'em.  All she does is to throw things
round for me to pick up, though I will say for her she's pleasant and
good-natured, and always a born lady.  And Mr. Middleton don't hardly
know whether things is upside down or right side up; but he's good as
gold and lonesome, though he don't never let on.  You can be such a
comfort to him; all he hears at home now is about her aches and pains.
You couldn't guess how he's blossomed out since you come.  He ain't
talked so much for years, and he was a-singin' to hisself this mornin'
as he hung round wonderin' if you was coming to breakfast--_she_ never
does.  Now Miss Elsie, you jest stand by him.  Let me tell you, you'll
run up against lots worse things if you set out to earn your own
livin'."

Elsie was tempted, but again the thought of Mrs. Middleton arrested
her.  And by the time Kate shouted inelegantly up the stair that lunch
was ready, the girl had decided to explain everything directly
afterward and go to Boston to catch the same train Elsie Moss had taken
yesterday.  And if Mrs. Middleton should appear and attempt to embrace
her, she would say: "Wait, please, I have something to tell you that
will change everything!"

That lady stood at the newel-post awaiting her.  She wore a wrapper of
lavender cassimere to-day, elaborately trimmed with lace and knots of
pink ribbon.  Somewhat fresher than the pink one, it was not
conspicuously so, and her hair was truly a "sight."  Elsie was dumb:
she couldn't make the prepared speech nor any other.  She tried to keep
at a distance by reaching out her hand formally.  But it proved
useless, and again she was gathered to her hostess's heart.

The strangest feature was Mr. Middleton's behavior.  He seemed as
surprised and delighted to see his wife appear at lunch, as fearful
lest she overtax herself, as if she were her own very opposite.  The
girl couldn't comprehend how one so intelligent, so refined, of such
exquisite taste, apparently, could be so blunt in this one particular.
She couldn't understand how he could endure, much less care for, this
ugly, withered, yellow, untidy woman.  However, it made her own
position somewhat easier.  If he were really aware how impossibly
vulgar she was, and took it seriously to heart, Elsie wasn't sure if
even thus early she should be able to leave him to bear such misery
alone.  His unconscious loneliness was appealing enough; conscious
unhappiness might have proved more than she could have withstood.

He was called from the table to the telephone.  Elsie hoped he wouldn't
make any engagement for directly after lunch.  If he should, she
couldn't risk missing her train.  She would speak out at once.  She
would say: "Oh, Mr. Middleton, I'll say good-by, for I shan't be here
when you return."  And then she would explain briefly and he wouldn't
have time to take it hard while she was there to witness.



CHAPTER VIII

Returning to the table, Mr. Middleton announced with troubled face that
Miss Stewart, the librarian, was ill, and he must find some one before
three o'clock to take her place.  He glanced at Elsie hesitatingly.

"I suppose you are tired, Elsie, dear?"

"Oh, no," she returned and added, almost unconsciously, "Uncle John."

"Then I wonder if I can't work you in at the library for a day or so?
It isn't at all taxing, indeed, it's really very pleasant.  It's open
every day from three to six, and except on Saturday, when there's apt
to be a crowd, people drop in in a leisurely way.  I could go over with
you and get you started and stay until nearly four, when I have a
committee meeting.  Would you be willing to try, dear?"

"Oh, I'd like it ever so much," she returned, really captivated by the
idea.  He looked relieved and smiled gratefully.

"There, Jack, it's just as I told you it would be," exclaimed Mrs.
Middleton, patting a pink satin bow complacently.  "I said to your
uncle, Elsie love, that a girl of sixteen is almost a woman--I was only
seventeen when I was married--and that he could make an assistant of
you right away."

Her smile faded and her hand went to her heart in an affected way.

"My being such a sad invalid is a terrible drag on your uncle, though
he won't confess it," she added feebly.  "I often and often drop a
secret tear over it, I own; but now that there'll be some one to help
with the little services that would naturally fall to a pastor's wife,
I shall be quite content.  You know how the poet says that others shall
sing the song and right the wrong?  'What matter I or they?'  That is
how it seems to me."

Mr. Middleton gazed at his wife tenderly, but Elsie's youthful scorn
increased.  She was not sufficiently mature to understand that it shows
something of character to look on kindly while another younger, fairer
person steps in to fulfil duties that should have been one's own, even
though one may have repudiated them.

Directly lunch was over, Elsie ran up-stairs--something she seldom had
done--unfastened her trunk, took out an embroidered white linen suit
and dressed quickly.  She could scarcely wait until time to go to the
library.  She was ready to lose the train to-day, and even to-morrow if
need be.

At the library, she found the procedure simple and easily acquired.  It
was fascinating, also, as was the great airy room; and she wandered
about through the stacks, and gazed at the books, magazines, pictures,
maps and bulletin-board in a sort of dream.  It was a warm day and no
one came in during the first half-hour.

Mr. Middleton had scarcely left, however, when a little girl in a
scant, faded frock that was clean, however, and freshly starched, came
shyly in with a book--a child of nine or ten with an anxious expression
on her old, refined little face which hadn't yet lost all its baby
curves.

"Why, where's Miss Rachel?" she asked, the look of anxiety fading and a
shy little smile appearing in its stead.

Elsie explained.

"Well, I think you're ever 'n' ever so much nicer, and so pretty!" said
the child.  Then her face clouded again as she opened the book that she
held in thin little hands that were like claws.

"The baby did it," she said sorrowfully as she exhibited a picture torn
across.  "He isn't a year old yet and don't understand.  He isn't the
least naughty, only _mischeevious_, you know.  Ma says I ought not to
have been reading it while I was minding him, but you see I'm _always_
minding him except when he's asleep--and then he wakes right up,
mostly."

She sighed.  "Do you s'pose you can mend it?" she inquired.

"Yes, indeed," returned Elsie promptly, and smiled involuntarily.

The child fingered her frock.  "Miss Rachel would scold," she faltered,

Elsie didn't know what to say.  Neither did she understand why tears
should come to her eyes, except that the little girl was so small, so
thin, so clean and sweet, and so very childish in spite of her
responsibility.

She found some gummed paper, cut a strip, brought the torn edges
carefully together and mended the picture as neatly as if she had not
been a week ago as helpless an able-bodied girl of her age as there was
anywhere to be found.  Her sense of satisfaction was certainly
commensurate, perhaps extravagant.

"There!  Miss Stewart will never know," she said.  "Do you want another
book now?"

"Yes, please; but--is it right for Miss Rachel not to know?"

Elsie considered.  "Perhaps not," she admitted, "but at any rate she
won't mind since it looks as well as before."

"And I'll be very careful after this," added the child.

She selected another volume from the children's shelf, and having had
it charged, turned to go.  But somehow Elsie was loath to have her.

"Why don't you sit down at the table and look at the picture papers?"
she suggested.

"Oh, I've got to mind the baby," said Mattie--Mattie Howe was the name
on her card.  "I must be home when he wakes up.  Good-by."

She started--came back--stood irresolute.

"Thank you for mending the book so good--so _goodly_," she said shyly,
"and--I'd like to kiss you."

With a curious sensation that had no admixture of reluctance, Elsie
bent over and received the kiss.

"You're prettier than the princess," the little girl declared, and ran
away with her book.

Elsie Marley hardly knew what would have happened if an elderly lady
hadn't come in at that moment and asked for "Cruden's Concordance."
She had some difficulty in finding it, but the lady was very pleasant
and grateful, and after that there was a constant succession of
visitors.  Many children came in, all attractive, to Elsie's surprise,
though none so appealing as Mattie Howe; and older people in surprising
numbers, considering Mr. Middleton's prophecy.

But word had somehow gone round that the minister's niece was "tending
library," and things being rather dull in the midsummer pause of most
of the activities of the place, no doubt more than one came out of
curiosity.

It was a very friendly curiosity, however, expressed in the pleasantest
manner, and Elsie found herself responding to their advances without
knowing how.  She wondered at herself.  The girl did not realize that
being in the library made a difference.  It was her first experience of
work, or of doing anything whatever for any one else, so that even the
service of getting out books for another established a sort of
relationship between them.  At the close of the afternoon, though
tired, she was strangely happy.

But she couldn't understand it--didn't know herself.  She found herself
wondering who the stranger was who had worn her frock and occupied the
chair of the librarian that afternoon.  Grandmother Pritchard wouldn't
have recognized her, nor Aunt Ellen.  Had she, in assuming another
name, changed her nature also?



CHAPTER IX

Shortly before the death of her aunt in California, Miss Julia
Pritchard had made up her mind to give up her position at the city desk
on her fiftieth birthday, and retire to some pleasant country town to
pass the remainder of her life quietly, in friendly intercourse with
her neighbors.  She felt that she had more than enough to "see her
through," as the phrase is, very comfortably.  She had worked for over
thirty years, her responsibilities and salary increasing periodically;
and though she had lived and dressed well and given liberally, she had
added each year to a small inheritance that had come to her through her
grandfather, and had gained further by judicious investment.

But when both her aunt and cousin died, and she was left guardian of
the sixteen-year-old Elsie Marley, whose inheritance was small, Miss
Pritchard decided to remain where she was a few years longer.  It
wasn't imperative, indeed, yet she felt that the last little Pritchard
should have the best chance she could give her, and until she should
have put her on her feet, the woman of fifty, who was strong and well
and at the height of her powers, would gladly remain in harness.  Her
announcement to this effect was hailed with delight at the office, and
another increase made in her salary so substantial that she declared
she ought to adopt a whole family.

Though the sacrifice was greater than any one dreamed, nevertheless she
made it quietly and cheerfully, expecting no reward nor desiring any.
She didn't expect much of Elsie Marley, indeed, recollecting the
atmosphere of the household in which the girl had been reared, which
she had herself found impossibly stifling during a short visit there
fifteen years before.

At that time her Cousin Augusta had been living with her husband and
baby in Portland, Oregon.  What with her knowledge of the Pritchards in
general, however, her observation of that stereotyped family after a
long interval of years, and their intense anxiety lest the one
descendant of that branch become in any way a Marley rather than a
Pritchard, she was able to gather a very fair idea of what Elsie's
upbringing must have been.  Unless she might have inherited a sense of
humor from the Marley side (which was unlikely, since no one possessing
a sense of humor would have married Augusta Pritchard), the girl could
hardly have escaped becoming a prig at the mildest.  Cold, colorless,
correct, self-sufficient, Elsie Pritchard would doubtless make her
mother's cousin feel keenly her fifty years, her lack of grace, and her
general and utter lack of claim to the royal name she bore.

On the other hand, she was also, willy-nilly, Elsie _Marley_, and she
was only sixteen.  She couldn't have, at that age, completely compassed
the woodenness of her adult relations.  She might still be amenable to
change, to development.  In any event, as Miss Pritchard remarked to a
friend in the office, any sort of young female connection cannot but be
welcome to the heart of a lonely spinster who reaches her half-century
milestone on midsummer's day.

Miss Pritchard occupied two large, handsome rooms on the second floor
of a boarding-house near Fifth Avenue, a few blocks from the lower end
of Central Park.  In preparation for the young girl, she had the large
alcove of the parlor shut off by curtains and her bed and
dressing-table moved into it, and gave over her bedroom to Elsie.  She
spent much time and thought and not a little money in making it an
inviting and attractive place for a girl, and would have felt quite
satisfied had it not been for her remembrance of the rather heavy but
stately elegance of the mansion in San Francisco.

On the June day on which Elsie was expected, Miss Pritchard confessed
to the friend at the office to whom she had spoken before, that she was
beginning to feel nervous.

"I almost wish she weren't coming until a week later," she said.  "Do
you know, I think if I had actually passed my fiftieth birthday, I
might feel somehow more solid and fortified.  It's really an ordeal for
an old-fashioned woman like myself to encounter the modern girl of
sixteen.  Fifty might pull through, but oh, dear, what of forty-nine
plus?"

She was interrupted by the telephone.  A telegram which had come to the
boarding-house for her was read to her.  She was smiling as she hung up
the receiver.

"Well, what do you think!" she cried.  "My young relative has decided
for some reason to take a later train and has telegraphed me to that
effect.  Now there's something rather alert and self-reliant about
that.  That girl must have something in her, after all.  I can no more
imagine her mother or any of the family getting off at any stage of a
through journey than I could fancy myself not getting off for a fire or
an earthquake or, perhaps, for a wild West show.  At the very least,
there's a sort of suppleness of mind indicated."

She stood that evening in the station watching the throng emerging from
the coaches of the train her cousin had given as hers.  A tall,
straight woman, large without being stout, her plain face, with large,
irregular features, framed in plainly parted iron-grey hair, was
singularly strong and fine, and her grey eyes betokened experience
bravely met.  As she scanned the face of every young girl in the
procession, there was something so staunch and true in her appearance
as to make it almost striking.

Then on a sudden, right in the midst of it, for a moment she forgot all
about Elsie Marley, and what she was standing there for, in the vision
that confronted her and surprisingly and instantaneously took her
romantic heart by storm.  A young girl came straight toward her--such a
piquant, sparkling, buoyant young thing as she had never seen before--a
small, slender, dark-eyed creature with short brown hair cut square
like a little boy's and a charming mouth flanked by dimples that were
almost like pockets.

So much she took in in that one long glance.  Then, recovering herself,
fearful lest she had been lost to all else about her longer than she
knew, she glanced anxiously about for the fair, pale little Pritchard.
But the radiant child stopped short before her and looked up into her
face.

"Cousin Julia?" she asked in the sweetest voice Miss Pritchard had ever
heard.  She smiled half-shyly and the dimples deepened.

For a single instant, Miss Pritchard stood still and stared at the
girl, not so much incredulous as stunned.  Then she cried out:

"Elsie--Elsie Marley?"

"Sure," said the smiling child, holding out her hand.  Miss Pritchard
gathered her to her heart.



CHAPTER X

From that moment, all idea of sacrifice vanished forever.  Miss
Pritchard felt suddenly, amazingly, and incomparably blessed.  Her
realization that the girl's charming face and figure were matched by a
most lovable personality came so quickly as to seem instantaneous.  In
very truth, Elsie's bubbling gayety and sweetness of disposition were
as natural and inseparable as her very dimples.

At once, Miss Pritchard's life took on new color, new meaning.  The
change for her was far greater than if she had carried out her former
intention and gone from work in the city to leisure in the country.
She was in a new, strange, wonderful country where life was
interesting, even thrilling, beyond anything she had ever known.  She
had not dreamed that youth could be at once so gay and blithe and yet
so simple and generous, so spontaneous, so affectionately considerate
of the older and the less richly endowed.

For her part, the eager, warm-hearted girl adored Miss Pritchard almost
at sight.  The strength and sincerity of the woman, her utter
unselfishness, her wisdom, her humor, and her keen intelligence
combined to make her the most impressive personality the sensitive
young girl had ever encountered.  Quite untroubled by the ethical
aspect of the situation, she gave herself up to it wholly, only
troubled lest she had gotten the better part of the exchange she had
made with the real Elsie Marley; lest she be cheating the other out of
companionship with this wonderful Cousin Julia.

No difficulty offered itself.  Keen as she was, Miss Pritchard was
without shadow of suspicion.  Stare as she would, she couldn't discover
any slightest resemblance to the Pritchards in the girl, yet she drew
only the one conclusion.

"Elsie, you must be altogether a Marley," she said to her as they sat
happily together on the third evening after the girl's arrival.  And
her voice indicated that she was quite satisfied to have it so.

"I'm certainly no Pritchard," returned Elsie coolly, and not without
enjoyment, "begging your pardon, Cousin Julia."

"Well, of course, I ought to regret it, you being the last of the
family; but I'm afraid I don't," returned Miss Pritchard.  "You see I
rather dreaded your coming as that of a double-dyed Pritchard.  The
Pritchards of my father's generation were pretty stiff, I confess,
heavy and solemn and rather pompous.  My mother who was a Moore, as no
doubt you have heard, had a strong sense of humor, and didn't bring me
up in very great awe of the family.  She was thankful I didn't take
after them, and so have I always been.  I often think, what a
misfortune had I had to have a Pritchard as a bedfellow and roommate
all these years, as I must have had if I had taken after my father--who
was, I believe, however, the mildest of the Pritchards, and very much
altered by my mother's influence.  And girls are usually like papa--as
you are--and boys like mamma, they say.  Surely, no girl could be less
like her mother than you, dear."

Elsie sobered.  One of the facts she most cherished was the knowledge
that she resembled her adored mother in nature as well as in manner and
personal appearance.  It would be hard, nay, impossible, to give over
that solace.  But she told herself she must think _Augusta Pritchard_
(what a name!) whenever Cousin Julia said _mother_ to her.

"Of course, you don't remember your father, Elsie, but do you remember
any other of the Marleys or know anything of them?"

"Just one member of the family," said Elsie, getting down from the
window-seat.  "I've heard about her ever since I can remember."  And
bowing low, she began to sing:

  "Do you ken Elsie Marley, honey?
  The wife who sells the barley, honey?
  She won't get up to serve her swine,
  And do you ken Elsie Marley, honey?

  Elsie Marley has grown so fine
  She won't get up to serve the swine,
  But lies in bed till eight or nine,
  And surely she does take her time.

  Do you ken Elsie Marley, honey?
  The wife who sells the barley, honey?
  She won't get up to serve her swine,
  And do you ken Elsie Marley, honey?"


The wonder and admiration in Miss Pritchard's eyes couldn't be hidden.
Elsie threw herself down on the settee by her side.

"That's the only Marley I've ever known, Cousin Julia, but she's rather
a dear old body," she said and squeezed Miss Pritchard's arm
affectionately.



CHAPTER XI

"How very difficult it's going to be to explain now," Elsie Marley said
to herself as she dressed on Friday morning.  "How I wish I had done it
that very first hour.  Mr. Middleton would have understood, then, for I
had just told him Elsie liked to act; and he wouldn't have cared.  He
couldn't have been really hurt as I am afraid he will be now.  And yet,
how can I help feeling glad I was here to take the library for him?
And I did so enjoy doing it, too."

She decided that if Miss Stewart were able to go back this afternoon,
she would leave directly after lunch and get the only train for New
York that she knew--the one Elsie Moss had taken.  And if she couldn't
possibly explain in any other manner, she would have to write a note
and steal quietly away.  It wasn't a nice thing to do; yet she couldn't
afford to let the difficulty of explaining the situation keep her here
until Elsie Moss should have become so firmly established that it would
be cruel to drag her back to Enderby.

On the other hand, as long as she had started in with the library work,
if Miss Stewart wasn't well enough to attend this afternoon, she would
remain one day more.  And if she found that that was to be the case,
she would spend her morning writing the note to Mr. Middleton to fall
back upon in case of need, and a letter to Elsie Moss warning her of
the change.

When she went down to the dining-room, Mr. Middleton had that same air
of eagerness mingled with what seemed to Elsie assurance of the
permanency of their relationship.  After a little he inquired whether
her unfamiliar work of the day before had tired her overmuch.

"Oh, no--Uncle John, not at all," she replied, consciously hampered by
lack of vocabulary or of tone to express enthusiasm that was new to her.

"Well, then, what should you say to giving Miss Rachel another day of
rest?" he suggested.  "I have been afraid for some time that she's
rather letting people get on her nerves, and possibly a few days off
would be a benefit for all concerned.  She has lived alone for years,
and, good as she is, has grown narrow and notional as one inevitably
will who hasn't other personalities in a household to rub against.  I
dare say if she had her way she wouldn't allow a boy under fifteen in
the library."

"She's afraid they'll soil the books?" Elsie remarked lamely, striving
to be adequate to the occasion.  But somehow, he seemed rich enough to
lend her something unawares.

"Yes, dear, that's it, of course, and perfectly natural and legitimate
in its place such caution is.  But the trouble is, she puts it first
and foremost.  We want certainly to keep the books as neat as is
consistent with constant use, and it's always safe to ask to see a
lad's hands; but there are different ways of going about the business.
The main thing about a library is, of course, its usefulness to the
people; perhaps, most of all to the younger among them.  You agree with
me, dear, that that consideration comes before everything?"

"Yes, indeed, Uncle John," she said primly.

He smiled suddenly and very charmingly.

"Elsie dear, if I hadn't known that your step-mother was a
schoolmistress, I should have guessed it," he declared.  "Externally,
her influence upon you has almost blotted out your mother's.  I'm
thankful you didn't stay with her long enough for it to go deeper,
excellent woman as I know her to be.  As it is, your speech and manner
conceal rather than reveal your likeness to your mother, but it
struggles through for all that."

He paused and his face grew grave.

"I hope--I trust, dear, you didn't feel--_repressed_?" he asked
anxiously.  "You are so quiet and reserved and docile for a young
girl--especially for your mother's daughter.  Your stepmother was--kind
to you, surely?"

"Oh, yes, sir," she faltered, distressed at the dilemma.  Vaguely aware
that she had an opening for her confession, she made no attempt to use
it.  "I know I am--everything is"--she faltered.

"You're just right, Elsie dear," he said kindly.  "Just be yourself.
And if you have learned not to be spontaneous, try to forget it.  In
any event, never repress any desire for gayety or romping or what-not
in this house.  You don't at all need to be quiet oh your Aunt Milly's
account.  She isn't strong and she is excitable, and yet she isn't
somehow what is called nervous at all.  She doesn't mind noise or even
tumult; indeed, she likes to feel that things are going on in the house
even if she cannot share them."

Even now, Elsie understood that this was quite true in regard to Mrs.
Middleton.  There was, in spite of what the girl called her falsity,
something generous about her.  Elsie wasn't herself any the more drawn
to her--or any the less repelled--but now she first had a slight
inkling of any foundation for Mr. Middleton's strange infatuation.
There was, somehow, in the midst of all that sentimentality, some
genuine feeling which for him transmuted the whole into pure gold.

Well, for her part, she could stand it another day for the sake of
going to the library.

"What are you going to do this morning, Elsie?" Mr. Middleton inquired
as they returned to the house after a few minutes spent in the garden.

Elsie colored faintly.

"Write some letters," she said.

Indeed, she spent the whole morning in the attempt, though she
accomplished nothing.  She made half a dozen beginnings of the letter
which was to set forth the scheme Elsie Moss had concocted and she had
entered into; but none went further than three sentences, and it began
to seem that that expedient were the more difficult.  In any event,
before she made a seventh trial she turned to the note that was to
acquaint Elsie Moss with the situation.  Here, she only failed the more
dismally.  When it was time to dress for lunch, she seemed to be forced
to explain to Mr. Middleton just as she was leaving, and to come upon
poor Elsie Moss quite unexpectedly.  It seemed as if it would almost
kill her to do either.

Mrs. Middleton did not appear at lunch and everything was so pleasant
that Elsie's spirits rose until she was almost gay.  She talked more
than she had done since she came--almost more than she had ever done
before until she met Elsie Moss--and she was at once gratified and
appalled to perceive that she was reminding Mr. Middleton of his
sister.  Of course, his real niece would remind him still more, but
Elsie knew that the wrench to his feelings before she should be
established in the parsonage would be severe, even terrible.  If only
Mrs. Middleton kept her room continually!  And yet, he might not like
that.

The library was only the more engaging that day.  Mattie Howe came in
early and they went through a number of shelves in the children's
department together in selecting her book.  Then Elsie took the little
girl in her lap--in a curiously easy fashion--and they looked at the
colored pictures in a large book that did not circulate until some one
else came in and claimed the librarian's attention.

A roguish-looking boy with a tousled head entered, stared at Elsie in
amazement, and went abruptly out.  Returning a little later with
shining face and wet, parted hair, as he asked at the desk for a book,
he spread out a pair of very clean hands in a manner intended to be
nonchalant.  He was ready and eager to talk and very amusing.  Before
Elsie got through with him, she had assured him that she meant to read
"Robinson Crusoe" within the next fortnight.

Then a lad apparently of about her own age, a high-school boy, shy, but
with very gentle manners, who started as if to retreat as he saw her,
gathered his courage, returned his book, and stood there undecided.

"Do you want another book?" Elsie asked.

"Have you got anything about Edison?" he asked.  "I've got to write a
composition about electricity, and I thought I might start with him."

Elsie consulted the catalogue, but greatly to her disappointment was
unable to find anything.  The boy had such nice manners and such
honest, deep-set eyes that she wanted to help him.

"You might start with Benjamin Franklin," she suggested, not very
confidently.

"Sure!" he returned, smiling frankly.  She got him a biography of
Franklin, and he sat down at one of the tables with note-book and
pencil and was soon deep in it.

There were a number of references to Franklin in the catalogue, and as
Elsie went back to it to see if she might have made a better choice,
she saw that one referred to the proper volume of a "Dictionary of
American Scientists."  It came to her that she might discover Edison in
the same place.  She was pleased to find several pages of a recent
volume of the work devoted to that inventor.  She carried it to the boy
and pointed out the pages with a feeling of satisfaction almost like
triumph.

The afternoon flew.  She closed the library regretfully, for she never
expected to enter it again.  For to-morrow was Saturday, and if she
should stay beyond the afternoon, it would mean she could not get away
until Monday.  And that she could never stand.  For she had gathered
somehow that Mrs. Middleton made a special effort to sit up all Sunday
except during the time her husband was at church.  If it was mostly a
case of nerves, Miss Stewart might as well come back one day as another.

But again at dinner Mrs. Middleton was absent from her place.  She sent
a special request to Elsie to occupy it, and Elsie spent a very happy
half-hour telling Mr. Middleton about the happenings of the afternoon,
hearing his explanatory comment on persons and things, and serving the
pudding.  And when he told her he had seen Miss Stewart, who thought
she would hardly feel like coming back until Monday, and had assured
her that his niece would be glad to take her place another day, Elsie
was quite undisturbed.



CHAPTER XII

Elsie Marley was very tired as she locked the door of the library
Saturday night and started for _home_, as she caught herself calling
the parsonage.  She had been there the greater part of the day.  She
had spoken to Mr. Middleton at breakfast of going over to familiarize
herself somewhat with the encyclopaedias and reference-books, and he
had asked her to look up certain passages and verify one or two
quotations for him.  The latter proved a more difficult task for the
girl than the clergyman would have dreamed; but she was very happy in
doing it, gratified, too, to realize that her handwriting was very
clear as well as pretty.  And the single cause of her dismay when he
thanked and praised her and referred to her mother--or his sister--was
that she should not be on hand to help him another Saturday.

The afternoon had been a very busy one, every one in town, seemingly,
old, young, and middle-aged, desiring a book for Sunday.  A goodly
number of girls of near her age came in, sweet-faced girls who, though
they couldn't compare with Elsie Moss (who was, however, in a class by
herself), seemed more attractive than those she had seen at home.  The
tall boy who was interested in electricity came again and greeted her
shyly, though rather as if they were old friends.  Later, older girls
and young men who worked in Boston during the week dropped into the
library to inquire for the latest novel or to spend part of their
half-holiday looking over the picture papers and magazines.  All were
extremely cordial and friendly.  Without actually overhearing anything,
Elsie, who wasn't at all quick in regard to matters of that sort,
understood, somehow, that there was more or less comparison between
herself and the regular librarian, which was not altogether
complimentary to Miss Stewart.

As she went up the walk shortly after six o'clock, the girl saw some
one gazing out of the window of the room she had first entered four
days ago, and recalled her first view, which seemed now far back in the
past.  There was no one there when she went in, however, and as she
realized that the place had not been touched since her arrival,
suddenly the glow of satisfaction that had cloaked her weariness
changed to wrath.  She flew to her room for refuge.

And now real wrath descended upon her.  For she found it as she had
left it that morning.  The bed was not made; her nightgown was on the
floor, and the clothes she had worn yesterday scattered about on the
chairs.  Her brown eyes looked darker and there was a hint of color in
her cheeks as she ran down to the kitchen and confronted Kate amid the
chaos and confusion of her own domain.

"Katy, my bed hasn't been made, nor my room done to-day," she cried.

"Bless my soul, I clean forgot it," said Kate in real consternation.
"I'll go right up this very minute as soon as I've cast my eyes on the
oven, though, to tell you the truth, my feet ache like the toothache."

Elsie's feet ached, too, for the first time in her life.  Wherefore she
partly understood.  Her indignation died out.

"Oh, don't bother then, Katy," she said kindly, "I can sleep on the
couch to-night.  And to-morrow, perhaps, you'll do it early before your
feet get tired?"

Kate insisted upon going.  "No, you don't sleep on no sofy; not while I
can crawl about," she declared, and Elsie followed her up-stairs.

Watching her from her chair by the window, the girl saw that she looked
tired, indeed.

"I could have slept on the couch, Katy," she protested.

Kate looked at her--frowned--then smiled.

"Oh, Miss Elsie, a body'd know you lost your mother young.  Now if I'd
'a' forgot your uncle's bed, he'd 'a' made it hisself and said nothing.
There's many young ladies as makes their own beds, and does all but the
heavy sweepin'.  I don't suppose you ever did such a thing in your
life?"

Elsie confessed that she hadn't.  She didn't say that it seemed a
burden to turn down the covers.  Again Kate frowned and smiled.
Clearly Miss Moss wasn't one to take a hint.

"How would you like to _learn_?" she inquired.

"Oh, I never thought," said Elsie.  "Why, yes, of course, if you'll
teach me some time, I'll do it every day after I get so that I can."

For the moment she had forgotten her stay was to be so limited.

"Bless you, you'll learn in no time; it's nothing to do," Kate assured
her beamingly.  "Come here, right now."

Somewhat taken aback, Elsie complied.  She was surprised to find that
it wasn't difficult nor even unpleasant.

"You see, Miss Elsie, I can't never go about my work and finish one
thing before I take up another," Kate explained.  "I'm up and down
these stairs, up and down, up and down, from mornin' till night,
a-waitin' on the missus.  When it ain't eggnog, it's beef-tea or gruel,
and then again it'll be frosted cake, icing that thick, upon my word
and honor!  And once she gets hold of me, I have to stay and tell her
all the news I get from the grocer and the butcher's boy, and who goes
by and what they has on.  Not that I don't admire bein' sociable, and I
can't help havin' a motherly feelin' for one old enough to be my
mother; but I don't get no chance to redd up nowhere except the
dinin'-room and his study.  And then you know, I ain't no general
housework girl, anyways, I've always cooked before; but here I have to
do everything, besides waitin' on a woman as isn't any sicker than what
I be.  If you knew the money she spends on choc'late creams and
headache powders and the trashy novels she reads, you'd wonder she
ain't even yellower than what she is."

The next morning Elsie set about trying to do her own room.  Before she
had reached the point of attacking the bed, she had decided that she
could save herself a great deal of work by putting things away when she
took them off or used them, instead of dropping them, as she had always
done, for some one else to pick up.  Kate came in and insisted upon
helping with the bed.

"But, Katy, don't you want to get ready for church?" Elsie suddenly
thought to inquire.

"I went to early mass this mornin', miss.  I declare to goodness, I'm
that shabby that I don't like to appear out in broad daylight."

"Why, Katy, what do you do with all your money?  Do you have parents to
support?"

"No'm, I'm an orphan.  But I don't have any ready money, and I don't
like to take what little I have out of the savings-bank.  I ain't been
paid my wages sence Christmas."

Elsie was aghast.  "But why don't you ask for them?" she cried.

"I do.  And she keeps a-promisin', but money slips right through her
fingers.  I don't like to go to himself about it, because I hate to
upset him, and then she's good to me, and I know them headache powders
makes her forgetful.  I don't know where the money goes: she has a
fistful the first of every month, but she owes bills to everybody in
town except the undertaker.  What I'm afraid of is as some of 'em'll go
to himself.  The ice man is gettin' as sassy as he can live."

Elsie was shocked beyond expression.  The situation would have seemed
inconceivable except that anything was conceivable in connection with
Mrs. Middleton.  The girl had almost forgotten that she was departing
shortly, but realizing it, she was the more relieved.  Only it would be
all the harder for Elsie Moss.

Still, even so, she found she couldn't dismiss the matter thus.
Somehow her heart went out to that careless, slipshod, kindly, Irish
Kate.  Before she went to church, she slipped into the kitchen and
insisted upon her accepting fifteen dollars to get herself some clothes
before the next Sunday.  And when Kate flatly refused to take the
money, she developed a curious resourcefulness.  She declared that
unless she took it, she should go to her uncle and ask him to inquire
into the question of her unpaid wages.  And Kate succumbed.

After service, Elsie sat down to write to Elsie Moss.  She didn't say
anything she had meant to say.  She knew she ought at least to give her
some intimation of the situation, lest the other should be wholly
unprepared and enter perhaps upon some course that must be rudely
interrupted by the end of another week.  But she wasn't clever enough
for that.

She spoke of the place and the people and how much she liked them.  She
told of the three afternoons in the library, and remembering how the
other had taken to the children on the train, tried, in her stiff,
constrained way, to describe little Mattie Howe, who minded the baby
all his waking hours and read a Prudy book a day.

She couldn't even mention Mrs. Middleton.  She spoke freely of Elsie's
uncle--almost enthusiastically, indeed--told how he had asked if she
had toothache, and signed herself, rather abruptly, "Your loving
friend, Elsie M----."

The following morning she found a letter on her plate.  She had gone by
the name of Moss nearly a week, yet it gave her a start to see the
address and to break open the envelope.

It was a bright, amusing letter, as informal as her own had been stiff.
Elsie Moss found Cousin Julia no end jolly, a perfect brick.  The
boarding-house was the most interesting place she had ever known, and
the people just right; and though New York was stifling she loved it,
and wasn't the least in a hurry to get to the shore.  She expected very
soon to confide her ambition to Miss Pritchard--honestly, she was so
dear and splendid, that it was the greatest wonder that she hadn't told
her she wanted to be an actress before they left the Grand Central
Station. . . .

"I'm simply perishing to hear from you, Elsie-Honey," the letter
concluded.  "Uncle's a darling saint, I know, but you must tell me
about Aunt Milly so I can describe her to my stepmother.  I sort of
glossed her over in this letter I enclose for you to forward so that it
will have the Enderby postmark.  I came out strong on Uncle John and
the station at Boston, however.  And tell me about the servants.  I
know there's a servants' hall like in English books, so I suppose they
have a lot.  If there's a butler, I almost envy you, for that would be
good practice for me, because most plays have a butler and a French
maid.  I shall probably be French-maided to the limit if I ever get a
start, though I'd rather be a slavey or a chimney-sweep!

"Do you leave your shoes outside the door at night?  I should never
remember.  The first day I was here I made my own bed!  The chambermaid
nearly fell over.

"Do tell me a lot to write to auntie (that's my stepmother); I have
always told her everything I'm thinking about, and now it will be
rather difficult for I only think now about the stage and Cousin Julia
and you, Elsie-Honey.  I hope you think of me?"



CHAPTER XIII

"Oh, Miss Moss, I think I can come earlier to-morrow afternoon and stay
longer," said little Mattie Howe eagerly.  "It's been such a good week
for drying clothes that mother's way ahead on her work, and she'll mind
the baby herself.  Charles Augustus is going to take back the last load
this afternoon with his cart."

"That's nice for you, Mattie, but I shan't be here.  Miss Stewart's
coming back to-morrow," replied Elsie.

The child's bright, thin little face clouded.

"Oh, dear, oh, dear, these changes are most too much for me, I
declare!" she cried.  "I mean changes-_back_ is.  The change that
brought you here, Miss Moss, was just sweet.  Only I wish it had turned
into a _stay_."

Elsie drew the little thing close to her.  At the moment she herself
almost wished it had been a _stay_.

"I wonder if that's my _hard_," prattled the child.  "Mother says
everybody, even rich people, have hard things to bear.  Do you bleeve
so, Miss Moss?"

Elsie looked startled.

"Why, Mattie, I hardly know," she faltered.  "Ye-es, I suppose every
one does, really."

"Even you, Miss Moss?"

Elsie couldn't answer.  On a sudden that first day she and Elsie Moss
had been together came back to her.  She recalled Elsie's fresh grief
for the death of her mother and her own sense of remissness, and the
class motto that signified through hardships to the stars.  Since she
had been at Enderby, things had been disagreeable enough almost to make
up for her former immunity.  And yet, she hadn't been here ten days,
and she didn't really have to endure it.  Furthermore, she was to
escape from it very shortly.

"No, Mattie, I don't believe I have had so much that is hard as most
people have," she owned.

"You are like the princess, you see," murmured the child.  "But I
s'pose you feel awfully sorry about your auntie being so poorly?  When
mother was sick once I felt as bad _here_ as if I had the stomachache
hard."

Elsie evaded the issue by hoping politely that the little girl's mother
was quite well now.

"Oh, yes, Miss Moss, and does four peopleses' washings besides our
own," Mattie declared.  "Father works steady most of the time, but
there's five of us, counting the baby, and--sometimes he gets drunk.
Not so very often, he doesn't, but nobody can ever tell when he will
and when he won't, so mother has to help out.  Well, I must go now.
When will I see you?"

Elsie didn't know what to say.  Miss Stewart's return had been delayed
from day to day and she had postponed making her decision as to her
course until that matter was settled.  Only to-day had she learned that
the librarian would resume her work to-morrow, Saturday, and she
expected to give up her evening to forming her own plans.  Until this
moment, she hadn't thought of Mattie as a complication.  It didn't seem
possible that one could become so attached to a child of ten years
in--it wasn't yet ten days--that one not only hated to leave her, but
even felt remiss, almost conscience-stricken, in so doing.

"Won't you come to see us, mother and me and the baby--you'll just love
him, Miss Moss, he can pat-a-cake and by-by and almost talk and lots
else, too.  Won't you please come?" the child begged.

Even with her arm about the child's shoulders, the incongruity of
calling upon a woman who took in washing came to Elsie Marley--likewise
the fact that she wasn't likely to be in Enderby beyond Monday at the
latest.  But she surprised herself and delighted Mattie by suddenly
agreeing to come the next day.

When she spoke of it to Mr. Middleton that night at dinner, expecting
him to be surprised and, perhaps, to protest, she found him interested
and eager.

"Oh, Elsie, that's capital!" he exclaimed.  "She's the nicest sort of
woman, Mrs. Howe is.  She's hardly more than a girl in spite of that
little brood of five.  She gets out very little, and if you would go
around once in a while it would mean a lot to her.  Besides, I'm sure
you'll enjoy her."

As Elsie sat in her room by the window that evening, she wondered
whether one visit from a person one is never to see again would mean
anything to Mattie's mother?  Well, for that matter, whether it would
or not, she had promised to make it and must keep her word.  And she
mustn't allow her thoughts to be diverted by that.

For the opportunity she had sought to complete her plans was hers.  Mr.
Middleton had gone out to attend a committee meeting directly after
dinner.  Mrs. Middleton she hadn't seen all day.  The matter of the
library had settled itself, and her way was clear.

But somehow her thoughts didn't proceed as she had expected them to do.
She had rather looked for marshalled ranks of reasons standing at
either hand--those saying _go_, of course, largely predominating--which
she would only have to review.  Instead her mind wandered, roving back
to the conversation with Mattie, and the little girl's quoting her
mother that every one has a hard to bear.

Was it really true?  She supposed it must be.  Mr. Middleton, despite
his serenity, looked as if he had undergone all sorts of things.  So
had Elsie Moss.  Even poor old Kate had had her share.  On the other
hand, there was Mrs. Middleton, there was Elsie's own grandmother and
her mother.  And there was Elsie herself.  She had never had anything
hard in her life until within a fortnight.

How curious it was that Mattie should have put her finger upon Mrs.
Middleton as being her particular difficulty, mistaken though her sense
of the situation was.  Mrs. Middleton was truly the only _hard_ Elsie
had ever known.  Undergoing a certain amount of her society and
submitting to her caresses, sometimes once a day, often less
frequently, was the only ordeal she had ever undergone.  And severe
though it was, there were wide spaces between, and those spaces were
the happiest moments she had ever known.

Now she was planning to throw away all the happiness, the delight,
because of the discomfort.  It came to her rather vaguely that perhaps
that was the way with people who seemed never to have had hardships.
They evaded them somehow.  And she wondered if some one else had to
shoulder them as so much extra burden?  It almost seemed so.

And yet, why should she remain and endure that dreadful Mrs. Middleton?
What good would it do?  Mightn't it, on the contrary, do real harm?
The girl couldn't imagine it as being any easier as the days went by,
but in case it should, what would it mean but that she herself was
becoming coarse--even vulgar?

In a sense, there wasn't any one now to care whether she was coarse or
not.  Elsie Moss might, and Mr. Middleton.  He liked her as she was.
He wouldn't like her to be different.  And yet, he not only endured
Mrs. Middleton but actually cared for her, and he was as refined as any
one she had ever known, besides being so much more interesting than any
one except Elsie Moss.  Possibly he would rather have her altered
somewhat than have the shock of learning the truth of the matter, and
of having a reluctant, and perhaps unwilling, Elsie Moss in the house.

Elsie Moss, too, liked her as she was.  She had called her a princess.
Surely she wouldn't endure any change.  And yet again--what if enduring
Mrs. Middleton would mean actually doing something for the other Elsie?
What if not enduring her--flying from difficulty--would mean
disappointment--breaking her ardent heart?

The clock struck nine, and immediately she heard Mr. Middleton enter
the house.  He called to her and Elsie went down.

He wanted to tell her of a plan they had been discussing at the meeting
in regard to a course of lectures for the coming winter.  All
eagerness, he reviewed the whole situation for her benefit, then went
on to tell her of the lectures they had had in other years, and to
compare those in prospect.  Elsie, who was already learning to talk, to
express some of the interest she felt, enjoyed it the more that she was
able to respond in a measure--quite enough to satisfy him completely.

When she went to her room again, it was only to postpone the decision.
To-morrow she would go to see Mattie Howe without knowing whether it
was a farewell call or not.  The next day, Sunday, she would decide.
She promised herself solemnly that she would do so.  She would shut
herself up in her room directly after dinner, and would not emerge
until she had made up her mind.



CHAPTER XIV

Had Elsie Marley been possessed of more imagination, or had she been
accustomed to use what she had, she might have been better prepared to
meet little Mattie's mother.  The child was unusual and showed the
influence of careful upbringing.  Further, Mr. Middleton had spoken of
her as looking like a girl and as worth seeking out; and already Elsie
had had a chance to discern that, broad and tolerant as he was, he saw
things as they were (except in the case of his wife), never misstated
and rarely overstated.  For all that, she set out on Saturday afternoon
prepared to meet the typical washerwoman of fiction--worn, bedraggled,
shapeless, and forlorn.  She was prepared to go into a steaming kitchen
with puddles on the floor and dirty children all about, and have this
red-faced personage take a scarlet hand out of the tub, dry it on a
dirty apron, and hold it out to her.  And for her part she was prepared
to take it, damp or clammy as it might be, without a squirm.

Wherefore, when Mattie ushered her proudly into a pretty, tidy
living-room with a square piano in the corner, and she saw a tall,
slender person with a plain, sweet, girlish face advancing to meet her,
in spite of her resemblance to Mattie, Elsie had no idea who she might
be.  She had a confused sense of some neighbor having been brought in
to receive her, and a vague idea of asking to be taken into the kitchen.

"Oh, mother, here's Miss Moss!" cried Mattie, then dropped her hand and
exclaiming, "My goodness, there's that baby already!" fled into the
entry.

"I'm so pleased to see you, Miss Moss," said Mrs. Howe quietly.  "Sit
there by the window where you get a view of the hill.  It's more than
good of you to come.  I hope Mattie didn't tease you too much?"

"No, indeed, she asked me very prettily," said Elsie.  "She's a sweet
child."

"She's good as gold," said her mother.  "And she's perfectly wild about
you.  She calls you the Princess Moss-rose and makes up stories about
you after she goes to bed."

Elsie smiled and colored.

"Don't tell her I told you," warned Mrs. Howe, "she'll be right back.
She had the baby's clean dress ready to pop over his head the moment he
woke up."

Elsie looked up quickly as if she were about to speak.  But though she
said nothing, Mrs. Howe seemed to reply.

"She takes most all the care of him when she isn't in school," she
admitted.  "Some people think she's too young and that it's too hard
for her.  But I hardly think so.  She's naturally thin, just as I am,
but she's never sick, and she likes it, though, of course, like any
child, she'd like more time to herself.  But she's a born mother.  And
she really seems to make better use of her spare time than most of the
little girls she plays with.  And though I suppose I ought not to say
it, she and Charles Augustus are ever so much better-behaved and
better-mannered than most children who have nothing to do but play--and
sometimes it seems they're happier.  You see I taught school three
years up in the State of Maine, which is my home, and I understand
children pretty well, by and large."

Mattie came in at that moment with the baby, a fair, rosy, fat little
fellow in a starched white dress and petticoats.  She put him through
all his tricks to please the visitor, and then asked Elsie if she
wished to hold him.  Elsie accepted the honor, though she felt rather
apprehensive.  It wasn't bad, however; indeed, the confidence with
which the baby nestled into the arms that didn't know how to enfold him
was rather sweet to the girl.  And when he made a sudden dash for the
pink rose in her leghorn hat, she didn't mind it at all.

Watchful little Mattie minded, however, and took him away quickly lest
he injure any of the princess's royal finery.  Then the mother took him
from her, that the little girl might have the major part of Miss Moss's
attention.  For the same reason she forbore to call in the other two
children, little girls of five and seven, who were playing with dolls
in the yard.

But when Charles Augustus came home, his mother proudly summoned him
into the parlor.  Elsie had seen him at the library--a solemn, big-eyed
little fellow with a prominent forehead and spectacles.

When he had shaken hands, his mother told Elsie how much she relied
upon his help.  He fetched and carried all the clothes she laundered,
and had recently made a new body for his old cart which would carry a
good-sized clothes-basket.

"I don't see how you do it--other people's washing," said Elsie
suddenly.

"I couldn't if Mattie and Charles Augustus didn't help me so much,"
replied Mrs. Howe.

The girl glanced about the pretty room, at the attractive mother in her
neat, faded muslin gown, at the thoughtful children, and the rosy baby.
How dreadful it seemed to wash soiled clothing for four strange
families!

"Don't you hate it?" she asked with a directness rare to her.

"Oh, no," said Mrs. Howe quietly.  "I love to iron, especially pretty
things, and I don't mind washing, now that I've got set tubs.  You
wouldn't believe, would you, that your uncle is responsible for my
having them?  He thought of it himself.  The first I knew of it was
that the men came to put them in.  Isn't that just like him?"

Elsie agreed.

"But don't you get awfully tired?" she demanded.

"Well, yes, Miss Moss, I do.  But so does almost every mother of a
little family.  You come to take it for granted, you know.  A mother
rather sinks her life in that of her children, and--after all, she
doesn't lose half so much as she gains.  And getting tired--why, I know
just from what Mattie has told me about the way you do at the library
that you understand the satisfaction of doing for others, and that
getting tired's a part of it."


Reaching the parsonage, Elsie didn't go in, but sat on a bench in the
garden for an hour, not thinking, hardly musing, but in a sort of spell
as it were.  As she rose at the stroke of six, she was saying to
herself: "I never knew life was like that!"  And she repeated it as she
entered the house.

On the hall-table was a letter from the Elsie in New York.  Taking it
to her room, she perused it eagerly.  One paragraph she read over
twice, and yet twice again at bedtime.

"Oh, Elsie-Honey," the passage ran, "I was so relieved and thankful to
get your letter and feel convinced that you like Uncle John and Aunt
Milly just as well as I do Cousin Julia--though I don't see how you
can--quite.  It came to me the night before I got your letter--suppose
you should want to swap back?  The cold shivers chased one another up
and down my spine and nearly splintered it.  Of course, I should have
done it without a word, but oh, Elsie-Honey, I don't mind telling you
now that it would have broken my heart for sure.  For I'm simply mad
about Cousin Julia--so dotty over her that I believe if she'd told me I
couldn't on any account study for the stage, I should have kissed her
hand like a meek lamb.  Instead of which she knows and approves--that
is, she is willing.  Only an angel from heaven would really
approve--and I suppose he (or she) wouldn't.  At any rate, my present
job is trying to keep from bursting with happiness."



CHAPTER XV

"Elsie, I rather want to hear that Elsie-Marley-Honey-thing again,"
remarked Miss Pritchard.  "Would you mind doing it now?"

The two sat alone on the veranda of the hotel at an hour when other
guests were resting after the midday meal.  Before them, beyond a
stretch of mosslike lawn and a broad sandy beach, rolled the sea,
brilliantly blue, with the waves curling dazzlingly white.  Miss
Pritchard, comfortably dressed in a plain pongee-silk suit with a long
jacket, was ensconced on a willow settee with some recent English
reviews.  Elsie, perched on the railing, her back against a pillar,
gazed at the far-away sky-line.  She wore a pale-pink linen frock.  Her
small face with its dark eyes and big dimples, her bobbed hair, and her
exceeding slenderness of form gave her such an appearance of
youthfulness that she seemed a very tall child, rather than the small
girl she was.

"I like your manner of speaking of my specialty, Cousin Julia," she
remarked.  "Pray tell me why you want to hear it again, if you have
such scant respect for it?"

Miss Pritchard smiled.  "If you must know, child, I want to listen more
critically this time.  I'm quite sure I must have praised it far above
its deserts.  And now that I understand the situation I ought to be a
better judge."

Despite her lightness of tone, Miss Pritchard was really desirous of
applying the test.  Less than a fortnight after the girl's arrival, she
had learned of Elsie's desire to be an actress.  The knowledge came
like a blow, it must be confessed.  Broad as she was, she couldn't help
regretting that the girl's desires--and apparently her talent--seemed
to lie in the direction of the stage.  Though she had declared she had
no patience with Pritchard notions and pretensions, she couldn't help
feeling that it was hardly decorous for the last of the Pritchards to
become an actress.  Moreover, she feared that Elsie's capability did
not point to what is called the legitimate drama; it looked from the
first as if she would make straight for vaudeville and, perhaps, never
go further.  After her training she might fill a soubrette's part
acceptably for a few years, but Miss Pritchard sighed when she tried to
look beyond that.  To her it seemed like a limited outlook with a
closed door blocking the way at a point long before the age when one's
career should have reached the apex.

But Elsie's heart was set on it, and Miss Pritchard, despite her
misgivings, was full of sympathy and entered cordially into plans and
ways and means.  Her newspaper work had given her friends among
critics, managers, and various theatrical people, and she helped Elsie
select a school wherein to begin her studies.  That accomplished, Elsie
reluctantly agreed to accompany Miss Pritchard to the shore to spend
her six weeks' vacation.

"What I cannot understand," said Miss Pritchard at this time, repeating
very much what she had said before, "is, how you ever did it--how you
could possibly get any such idea into your head with your bringing-up.
For the life of me, I can't imagine your family countenancing any such
thing!"

"They didn't take to the idea with any enthusiasm," Elsie replied truly.

"You certainly are the strangest Pritchard ever.  You're less Pritchard
than I, and that's saying a great deal," said Miss Pritchard with a
sigh.  "Dear me, when I was at Aunt Ellen's when you were a baby, they
were so worried for fear you should have any Marley traits whatever, so
anxious for you to be all Pritchard!"

"Are you siding with them now?" the girl asked soberly.  "Are you
disappointed in me, Cousin Julia?"

"Bless your heart, dear, I'm so satisfied that I'm frightened, and I
think I'll throw my precious ruby ring into the sea.  I wish I could
say that I'd like you to be just so far Pritchard as not to have any
desire for the stage; but I somehow don't dare even say that.  You see,
I couldn't risk losing any particle of Marley other than the
stage-madness."

Elsie came to her side and kissed her warmly.

"Then suppose we chuck the Pritchards for good," she proposed.

Miss Pritchard fairly gasped.  Such temerity took her breath.  But she
didn't give expression to her amazement.  Already she had come to the
conclusion that Elsie had not been happy at home; she who was so frank
in all else was so brief and guarded in all her references to the
family or her home life.  Now it seemed as if she must have been
exceedingly unhappy, to be ready to renounce the Pritchards in that
wholesale way.  And yet, how could any girl whose life had not been
happy--nay, brimming with sunshine--be so gay and blithe and girlish
and care-free as she?  Could the reaction from strict repression
possibly have that effect?  Could the opportunity to realize her
ambition work such a miracle?  Miss Pritchard shook her head.  It was
beyond her, she confessed.

"Now you're down, you may as well do your stunt and have it over,
Elsie," she remarked.  And Elsie, standing back a little, repeated the
performance in a manner that was only the more captivating.

Then, resuming her seat on the railing, she looked eagerly toward Miss
Pritchard.  The face of the latter was a study.  With every line, every
word, indeed, of the simple song, the actress in the girl had come out
strongly.  Admiration of the grace and skill and charm of it all, and
wonder at the extraordinary sweetness of the girl's voice, mingled with
regret at the significance of it.

"Do you know what you look like, Cousin Julia?" Elsie asked.

"No, my saucy Marley, I do not."

"Like 'Heaven only knows'"--the girl heaved a tremendous
sigh--"'whatever will become of the naughty Brier-Rose.'"

"My dear, if you exhibit that sort of keenness," said Miss Pritchard,
laughing, "I'll make a newspaper reporter of you, willy-nilly.  Then
you'll be sorry for poking fun at your elderly relative."

"It's only that I'm so used to discouragement from my elders and
betters that I'm familiar with the signs," returned Elsie.  "Like as
not, if any one were to say, 'Hooray!  Bully for you!  Go in and win!'
I shouldn't understand.  I should think they were kidding me."

"Poor child!" laughed Miss Pritchard, but she was really secretly
touched.

At this moment an artist Miss Pritchard had known for years, who always
spent his summers at this hotel, appeared before them.  A man between
fifty and sixty, it was said of him that he had never succeeded;
younger, struggling artists said it was because of his handicap of a
fortune.

"Oh, Miss Marley, I wish I could persuade you to sing that again," he
said.  "I caught a bit and a glimpse at a distance--just enough to
tantalize me."

Elsie, who admired Mr. Graham immensely, was seized with sudden
diffidence.  He was a connoisseur in all matters of art.  Suppose he
should say right before Miss Pritchard, that she was only a silly
tomboy, or whatever such a gentleman would say to express that idea?
She glanced irresolutely at Miss Pritchard.

"Go ahead, dear," said Miss Pritchard cheerfully, and turning to her
friend: "My little cousin thought I was scolding her, Mr. Graham.  The
truth is, I'm the one who should be scolded.  I chose the work I cared
for at about Elsie's age and went in for it; and yet when she chooses
hers, which happens to be the stage, I act the hen-with-the-duckling."

"Oh, Cousin Julia, you're the only one that has ever let me even speak
of it!" cried Elsie.  Tears suddenly filled her eyes, and smiling
through them, she stepped back and began the song.  And this time she
put in all the _frills_, as she expressed it.  She danced and acted and
sang, and, as always, she was quite irresistible.  The artist was
charmed.

"It's good enough for the vaudeville stage just as it is," he declared.
"There's only one fault."

"Oh, what is that?" the girl cried eagerly, with the artist's desire
for criticism, even though destructive.

"Your voice is too good--altogether too good.  You could do it as well
and perhaps better with a voice far inferior to yours in range,
sweetness, and tone."

The girl gazed at him reproachfully.  She had always had that to
contend with.  People had always tried to "buy her off," as she
expressed it, by proposing that she become a singer instead of an
actress.  Now, as always, she rebelled at the idea, and again her
vision of a public singer came to her--a very stout blonde lady in a
very low-cut gown with a very small waist (the picture had not adapted
itself to more modern fashions), placing a fat, squat hand on her
capacious bosom, and uttering meaningless syllables that rose to
shrieks.  Anything but that, she said to herself!

Mr. Graham had fallen into a reverie.  His hand shaded his brow.  He
frowned as he endeavored to recollect something.

"Just where did you get hold of that song?" he inquired.

"My mother used to sing it," replied Elsie, and Miss Pritchard
wondered.  So far as she had known, none of the Pritchards had sung,
and it was difficult to fancy Elsie's mother warbling a ditty of that
sort.  The birth of her child must have altered Augusta greatly.

"It's an old nursery rhyme, I believe," the artist went on, still half
in his perplexity.  "Isn't it singular about the name--or perhaps you
were named for it?"

"I was named _after_ it," responded Elsie demurely.

He smiled, but he was only half attending.  He was reaching for
something in the depths of his mind which he did not find, and
presently he sauntered on with bent head.  Miss Pritchard took up the
_Spectator_, and Elsie produced the "First Violin," and presently was
lost in that.



CHAPTER XVI

The next day as the artist met Elsie on the beach on her way to the
bath-house, his face lighted up.

"Oh, Miss Marley, it all came back to me, after twenty years," he
exclaimed.  "Something about you has haunted my memory ever since I
first saw you last week, and the song yesterday made it more definite
and more perplexing.  I woke in the night and it all came back.  I
heard that very same song on the train going South as a young
man--comparatively young, though you wouldn't call it so.  Do you want
to sit down a moment and let me tell you?

"I haven't even thought of it for a dozen years," he said when they had
found a convenient bench.  "As I said, we were bound southward, and it
was toward night.  The seat in front of me was occupied by an
exceedingly pretty young lady and a gentleman who must have been her
brother or her husband--girls married younger in those days--for their
name, which escapes me, was the same.  Farther ahead, on the opposite
side of the car, was a woman with an infant in her arms and a boy baby
of under two years at her side.  As it grew late, the older baby grew
tired and cross.  He wanted his mother, was jealous of the tiny one,
and finally he just howled.  The young lady before me said a word to
her companion and went directly over.

"That kid, Miss Marley, was dirty and sticky beyond words, and she was
the daintiest, freshest, sweetest girl imaginable.  But she smiled and
held out her arms and he just tumbled into them.  She hugged the little
beggar close, never minding her pretty gown, and brought him back to
her seat.  She seemed to know just what to do--took off his shoes,
loosened the neck of his dress and all that, then cuddled him down and
sang to him until he went to sleep and after.  Her voice was as sweet
as yours, and she sang the very same thing, 'And Do You Ken Elsie
Marley'--I think she sang it twice or thrice."

Perhaps it was Elsie's fondness for children; perhaps it was because he
told the story so well; in any event, the girl was touched.  And as
usual, to cover her feeling, she tried to smile, her dimples rather at
variance with the tears in her eyes.

He gazed at her curiously.  "Wait, Miss Marley, that isn't all," he
exclaimed.  "As I recalled the young lady, I saw her face only dimly.
Now do you know it suddenly comes to me that she had the largest,
deepest dimples I had ever seen, one in either cheek.  And I remember
vowing then and there, in my youthful enthusiasm, that if ever I
attempted to paint Madonna she should have just such dimples; they
struck me as somehow significant, perhaps symbolic."

Elsie's heart was beating wildly.

"I wonder--could that have been your mother, Miss Marley?"

The girl could not speak for the tumult within her.

"It seems as if their name began with M, though it couldn't have been
Marley, else I should have noticed on account of the song," he went on
kindly, realizing her emotion.  "May I ask what was your mother's
maiden name, Miss Marley?"

Quite upset, Elsie started to tell the truth; said Mi--and stopped
short.

"Middleton!" he exclaimed triumphantly.

"Pritchard," she said as quickly as she could get it out.

"_Pritchard?_" he repeated as if he must have heard wrong.

"Augusta Pritchard," the girl reiterated, her heart like a stone.

The artist was puzzled.  But realizing that the loss of her mother
might have been so recent as to be still a painful subject, he
tactfully spoke of other things, cloaking his disappointment at not
being able to work out his problem to final solution.  He feared lest
he might somehow have blundered upon some sad family secret.  Even with
twenty years between them, he couldn't believe that his senses had so
deceived him, couldn't but feel that that young girl had been connected
with this girl of the big dimples.  And he couldn't but believe that
the girl knew it.  Only there was something that prevented her
acknowledging it.  It might be tragedy; perhaps it was disgrace?
Though, somehow, he couldn't think it.  Poor little thing!  He let her
go on her way to her bath.

But Elsie returned to the hotel and went straight to her room.  She
knew she would be undisturbed there, for Miss Pritchard had gone
driving with old friends while she was to have had her swim.  The girl
flung herself upon her bed and, burying her face in her pillow, shed
the bitterest tears of her life.

She had denied her mother--that darling, adorable mother who had taken
the sticky baby to her heart, and sung "Elsie Marley" to him, just as
she had later sung it to her own little girl.  She had cast off her
mother and taken on--_Augusta Pritchard_!  What a name to exchange for
Elizabeth Middleton!  For even though the former were the mother of the
lovely Elsie Marley who had gone to Enderby, she couldn't be compared
with her beautiful mother.  And, of course, her denial was far worse in
that she was dead.

How proud, how happy, how humble, she should have been to say: "Why, of
course, that was my mother!  I knew it without the dimples!"  What a
wretch she must be!  To have had such a mother as to have so impressed
a chance stranger that he should wish to paint the Madonna in her
likeness, and should have remembered her twenty years, and to have
repudiated her utterly!

She felt that she could not bear it, could not endure such a weight on
her heart.  But what could she do?  Say to Mr. Graham that it _was_ her
mother and her name _was_ Middleton?  Then she would have to tell
Cousin Julia everything, and she would send her away, send her off to
poke and fret in Enderby, and serve tea in a conventional parsonage
drawing-room.  And she would never be an actress, and the true Elsie
Marley would be dragged on to New York.

It would be hard on Elsie-Honey, for already she seemed just to love
that poky parsonage, and was apparently quite as attached to Uncle John
as she herself was to Cousin Julia.  And even Cousin Julia--already
Elsie couldn't but realize that Cousin Julia had given her her whole
heart; she wouldn't have liked the other girl so well in the first
place, and now any such overturn would--it would just break her heart!

No, that couldn't be.  After all, she couldn't have done otherwise.
She _had_ to say what she did on account of the game.  Being cast for a
part, she had to play it, even though it might be disagreeable at
times.  And it _wasn't_ worse because her mother was dead; being in
heaven, her mother would understand and condone.  How did that hymn go?

She sat erect and sang, very sweetly, the stanza that applied:

  "There is no place where earth's sorrows
    Are so felt as up in heaven,
  There is no place where earth's failings
    Have such kindly judgment given."


That comforted her strangely.  "Uncle John couldn't have administered
first aid himself more successfully," she said to herself humorously as
she dried her eyes.

She bathed her face and, standing before the mirror, addressed the
charming reflection in the pink frock.  She mustn't expect plain
sailing all the time she warned her.  She must expect to be _up against
it_ frequently.  She must keep her class motto in mind and not expect
everything to be dead easy.  It was hard not to be able to claim one's
beautiful mother; but she was playing a part; she was on the stage in
costume, and the part-she-was-playing's mother's name wasn't Middleton
nor Moss and was Augusta Pritchard.  She must keep her motto in mind
and say continually to herself: "Act well your part, there all the
honor lies."

That very evening at dinner some one asked her where she got her
dimples--whether they were inherited?

"Or, perhaps, Miss Marley's a freak like the white peacock at the
gardens?" broke in a callow youth whom Elsie disliked.

"From my mother," she said quickly, and Miss Pritchard, sensitive to
the least sound of hurt in Elsie's voice, introduced another subject.

Nevertheless, she wondered.  She hadn't seen Augusta Pritchard since
the latter was a girl of nineteen, but she couldn't recollect that she
had any dimples or shadows of dimples.  She couldn't even imagine the
combination of dimples with her white, cold, rather expressionless
face, nor reconcile them with the true Pritchard temperament.  It
seemed inconceivable that Elsie could have inherited them except
through the Marleys; and yet, of course, Elsie remembered her mother
who had died only three years ago.

She had to consider that the girl didn't like that fresh Jerrold boy
and had been nettled by his remark.  Possibly in her indignation she
had said what first came into her mind, though it didn't seem like her.
Miss Pritchard sighed, for she had worshipped at the shrine of truth
all her life, and strive as she would, she couldn't but feel a
deviation from Elsie's wonted frankness here.

She pondered much upon the subject and later in the summer--on the
evening preceding their return to New York, it was--as they were
talking about Elsie's studying, Miss Pritchard suddenly became serious.

"Elsie, there's something I want to say to you as an older woman to a
young girl," she began.  "You will have one difficulty to contend with
that I had in newspaper work, only in your case the temptation will be
greater, and your task correspondingly harder.  There's a poem of a
child-actor of Queen Elizabeth's time, little Salathiel Pavy, who
constantly played the part of an old man.  The verses relate that he
acted the part so naturally that the fates mistook him for an old man
and cut off his thread of life in his tender years.  Now you, Elsie
dear, concerned with make-believe--fiction--as you will constantly be
in your study for the stage, eager, of course, to use every moment and
occasion, with one subject dominating your thoughts, will need to be
very, very careful with regard to your separate, personal life.  In
other words, in good old-fashioned terms, you'll have to guard your
soul.  Keep that good and pure and true.  Keep that sacred, above and
apart from your work, and then whether you are ever a great actress or
not, you will be a good woman."

And then half shyly, but beautifully, she repeated Matthew Arnold's
"Palladium":

  "Set where the upper streams of Simois flow,
  Was the Palladium, high 'mid rock and wood;
  And Hector was in Ilium far below,
  And fought and saw it not, but there it stood.

  It stood and sun and moonshine rained their light
  On the pure columns of its glen-built hall.
  Backward and forward rolled the waves of fight
  Round Troy; but while this stood, Troy could not fall.

  So in its lovely moonlight lives the soul.
  Mountains surround it and sweet virgin air;
  Cold plashing, past it, crystal waters roll:
  We visit it by moments, ah, too rare!

  Men will renew the battle on the plain
  To-morrow; red with blood will Xanthus be;
  Hector and Ajax will be there again,
  Helen will come upon the wall to see.

  Then we shall rust in shade or shine in strife,
  And fluctuate 'twixt blind hopes and blind despairs,
  And fancy that we put forth all our life,
  And never know how with the soul it fares.

  Still doth the soul from its lone fastness high,
  Upon our life a ruling effluence send:
  And when it fails, fight as we will, we die;
  And, while it lasts, we cannot wholly end."



CHAPTER XVII

"I suppose," observed the real Elsie Marley thoughtfully, drawing one
of her long curls over her shoulder, "that if I'm going to be at the
library regularly, I'd better put up my hair?"

She addressed Mr. Middleton, but his wife, who had of late fallen into
the habit of sitting downstairs in the evening, replied.  She had
conceived a strong fancy to the girl, who secretly shrank from her, and
bore herself toward her in a cold and distant manner.

"Oh, Elsie, love, it would be sweet to do it sort of _Grecian_," she
cried in her sentimental fashion, "with a classic knot at the nape of
your neck, and little curls hanging down behind your ears."

"Let her leave it as it is a little longer, Milly," her husband
pleaded, "for it's just as her mother wore hers."

This was not the fact, even though Elsie had been truly his niece.  His
sister had worn her hair in curls, but they had been many and riotous,
and caught at the top of her head with a ribbon; while Elsie's two were
fastened at her neck by a neat clasp, and hung as demurely as a braid
would have done.

"Of course," assented Mrs. Middleton.  "Elsie's the picture of her
mother, I suppose?"

"She reminds me of her mother more and more every day," he said, "but
she doesn't look like her at all.  You remember I told you that
Elizabeth had enormous dimples?  They were so large that I'm not sure
that they wouldn't have disfigured another face; but they added the
last touch to hers--made it irresistible."

He gazed at the fire.  It was late September and a chill rain beat
against the windows.

"I suppose if Elizabeth had had a son, _he_ would have inherited the
dimples," he remarked.  "I believe they say girls take traits from
their fathers and sons from the mother.  Curious, isn't it?"

"Well, my dear, if Elsie had had dimples when she came, she would have
lost them ere this," said Mrs. Middleton with unusual energy.  "She's
been put right into a treadmill, Jack.  Only sixteen, sweet sixteen,
and she hasn't had any of the gayety a young girl wants and needs, but
has just slaved from morning until night ever since she came to us.  At
her age, she ought to be going to dances and lying late in the morning
to make up sleep, and shopping and having beaux and all that sort of
thing, just as her Aunt Milly did."

She sighed deeply, clasping her ringed hands.  Elsie was indignant,
even angry; but before she could protest, Mrs. Middleton went on.

"Instead of which, she started work at the library the first thing and
has been off and on ever since, and is now going to do it permanently,
besides teaching a class in the Sunday-school, looking after the
choir-boys, running errands for you, and what not."

"My dear Milly!" cried her husband, really distressed; and went on to
explain that when they decided to open the library in the evening as
well as the afternoon, some one had to relieve Miss Stewart for two of
the afternoon hours, and every one had clamored for Elsie.

"And I love to do it," added Elsie, "and I'm so pleased that I am to
have the hours when the children are out of school."

"Of course," agreed Mrs. Middleton, smiling; "dear lambs!  I should
have felt just the same.  Indeed, you're so like I was at your age,
Elsie, dearest, that I feel as if it were to _me_ that you are really
related."

Elsie murmured a silent word of deprecation, forgetting, as she often
did, that she wasn't related to Mr. Middleton, either.

The rain beat furiously.  The minister rose and put another stick on
the fire.  He did not return to his seat but stood with his elbow on
the mantel gazing at his wife.  Though thin, John Middleton looked
strong and well, in part, perhaps, because of his florid complexion,
partly because of his serenity.  But in moments of stress he had a way
of seeming to grow worn and older under one's very eyes.

He felt the cogency of his wife's words.  He had, indeed, he said to
himself, taken possession of his sister's orphan child immediately upon
her arrival, and had made a sort of drudge of her: he kept her
constantly occupied, performing miscellaneous services for him--he
wasn't sure that he could have demanded so much of a paid secretary.
And she, like her mother, unselfish and devoted, had made no complaint.

He spoke before Elsie, who was slow of speech and was regretting that
she didn't share the real Elsie Moss's gift of expression, was able to
put her feeling into words that would convince him.

"No wonder you felt like putting up your curls and saying farewell to
youth, Elsie," he said whimsically yet ruefully.  "Your aunt is just
right, dear, and we'll make a change at once.  What should you say to
going on to New York to make your little actress friend a visit, and
then starting anew after you come back?"

Now the color flew to Elsie's cheeks and words came.

"Oh, Uncle John, I wouldn't go now for the world!" she cried in genuine
dismay.  "I'm just longing to go to the library every day--I think it's
just--splendid!  And I like it all--everything--so very much.  It isn't
the least a treadmill, and I'm so happy doing it.  Please, please,
don't take anything away; only give me more."

He felt the sincerity of her words, and again said to himself that the
girl was her mother over again.  His wife went over to Elsie, and
stroking back her hair, kissed her brow fondly.  And the color died out
of the girl's cheeks and the glow from her heart as she shuddered
within herself.  And presently when Mr. Middleton went to his study to
work, she bade Mrs. Middleton a cool good night and fled to her room.

She sat by the window some time, then went to bed; but though the sound
of the rain was soothing, she could not get to sleep.  It came to her
that it was very thoughtful of Uncle John to wish to send her to visit
Elsie; and how she would have liked to go if it didn't entail leaving
the library and all the fascinating round of her daily life, and
leaving him to his wife's cold comfort.  How she would like to see
Elsie Moss at this moment, to confide her troubles and her happiness to
that sympathetic ear.  If they could talk together, she could make the
other understand that even with Mrs. Middleton as a drawback, she was
more content, happier, than she had ever been before.  And she couldn't
help feeling that she was useful, too, in a measure--that she would be
missed if she were to go to New York.

Still she could not sleep, and presently she found herself puzzling
over a problem that had been growing upon her and now bulked big.  The
truth was that already the weight of the top-heavy household had fallen
upon the girl's shoulders.  Utterly unprepared and ignorant, she had
been thrust into a tangled labyrinth of domestic affairs.  The more
familiar she had become with the internal working of the household, the
more was she baffled and daunted.  And presently it seemed to her
youthful inexperience as if it stood upon the brink of ruin.

Though the minister was unaware that the bills were not paid promptly
at the beginning of each month, Mrs. Middleton owed practically every
establishment in the place accounts that dated far back.  At this time
the small sums she could pay on account when her funds came in were
insufficient to satisfy any one, and one and another began to threaten
Kate with going to Mr. Middleton and demanding a settlement.  They
declared it wasn't respectable for him to be giving away so much money
when he owed probably more than a year's salary.

Kate's only recourse was to her mistress, who would be temporarily
depressed, now and then to the point of tears.  But shortly she either
forgot all about it or postponed consideration until another month; and
meantime she never parted with her last penny: she always kept enough
on hand for an ample supply of novels, chocolate drops, and
headache-powders, the latter being especially expensive, according to
Kate.

Ignorant as Elsie was, it did not take her long to understand that the
household was managed--or allowed to run on--with the utmost
extravagance and waste.  She had prevailed upon Kate to set the greater
part of the big house in order and to keep it tidy, and she tried to
induce her to be less wasteful and reckless.  But the girl was
developing a certain sense of justice, and she rather doubted her right
to insist.  Devoted as Kate was to Mr. Middleton, and attached, in an
apologetic, shame-faced way, to her mistress, overworked and unpaid,
save for the sums Elsie forced upon her, how could she demand that Kate
be more scrupulous about details?  It would seem that she had all she
could carry without that.

The girl fell asleep at last, and woke next morning with the pleasant
reflection that she was to begin to-day at the library as a regular
salaried assistant.  Second thought was still more cheering.  As soon
as the minister was out of the house, and she heard Kate go down-stairs
from Mrs. Middleton's room, she betook herself to the disorderly
kitchen.  At her entrance Kate rose suddenly and went and peered
anxiously into the oven--which was empty.  Elsie would have liked to
tell her that she didn't begrudge her those stolen moments for resting
her tired feet, but she hadn't yet learned to express her new
sensations.  It was sufficiently difficult to explain her errand.

"Katy, here are your wages for last week," she said rather brusquely,
trying to press the money into her hands.  "Mrs. Middleton will--I hope
she'll pay you in full very soon, but at any rate she--that is, you're
going to get your wages regularly every week, and I'm going to see to
it so that it shan't be neglected.  And always come to me if there's
anything to ask.  Please don't go to her unless about the back pay."

"Oh, Miss Elsie, you're so good!" cried Kate warmly, believing she had
arranged it with Mr. Middleton.  "I'm sorry I complained.  You must 'a'
known I didn't mean half what I said.  I wouldn't really 'a' gone to
himself about it.  But honest, I ain't got a whole pair o' stockin's,
and can't wear them pumps I got last summer on account o' the holes,
and her a-growin' yellower every day and a-layin' round and eatin'
chocolate drops and headache-powders that cost good money and ain't no
benefit."

She stuffed the money into a drawer of the table with a miscellaneous
assortment of less valuable things.  While Elsie was wondering if she
could speak about the condition of the kitchen, which Elsie Moss would
have pronounced unspeakable, Kate drew near to her with real appeal in
her blue eyes.

"And, Miss Elsie, I wish you hadn't let what I've confided to you sort
o' set you against your aunt.  Everybody has their failin's, they do
say, and after all if she don't do worse than eat choc'late-creams and
munch headache-tablets, why, she's pretty harmless as ladies go.  Mis'
Jonathan Metcalf as goes to his church is just as yellow and I don't
know but what yellower, and bedizened as well, and a regular shrew in
her own house."

"Katy, I don't know what you mean," Elsie returned with dignity.

"Well, you call her Mis' Middleton, when you speak of her, with your
voice like a buzz-saw, and it ain't because you're high and mighty with
me, 'cause you ain't.  You're like a sister to me, and I ain't once
thought of up and leavin' sence you come as I did frequent before.  And
besides, when you talk of himself, you always say Uncle John.  And
she's good at heart, Miss Elsie; honest, she is.  She'd be just as good
as himself if she knew as much.  Her heart's in the right place, and
she takes to you and don't mistrust you don't to her."

"Well, I mustn't stay here and keep you from 'redding' up your kitchen,
as you call it," said Elsie, rather neatly as she believed.

[Illustration: "Well, I mustn't stay here and keep you from 'redding'
up your kitchen, as you call it."]

"Oh, there's plenty of time for that," Kate assured her cheerfully; "if
not to-day, why there's another comin'."



CHAPTER XVIII

The kitchen wasn't _redd up_ that day nor the next.  It remained,
indeed, a sight to make a good housekeeper weep, and closets,
cupboards, clothes-presses, and the celebrated servants' parlor
remained untidy conglomerations of rubbish; but the general appearance
of the place continued to improve.  Kate's gratitude for the regular
receipt of her wages was continual and practical.  A chance visitor now
could enter any room in the front of the house at any hour, and there
was much comment among the people upon the change.

It was generally agreed that Elsie Moss must have been very carefully
trained by her stepmother to bring about such a marvel.  And presently
some of the creditors of the household began to wonder if her influence
couldn't be extended.  One and another began to drop hints to Elsie
which became so broad that even one quite unaccustomed to any such
thing could not fail to understand.  The butcher's wife, the grocer's
sister, and the draper's head bookkeeper had all but informed her in so
many words that unless their respective relatives or patrons were paid
in full by the 1st of November, they would present their bills to Mr.
Middleton, if they had to do so in the vestibule of the church.

And they were only three out of a number that seemed legion.  Others
spoke more plainly to Kate, and Elsie began to dread seeing certain
people enter the library during her hours there.  The days being
shorter, the Howe baby went to bed at five o'clock, and little Mattie,
who had taken a violent fancy to Elsie, used to run to the library the
moment he was off her hands, remaining until six to walk home with her.
And Elsie, who was devoted to the child and never tired of her company,
was also relieved because her presence protected her from any but
veiled hints.

The situation wore upon her, and finally she decided to have a frank
talk with Mrs. Middleton.  She wasn't, it is true, on terms of
frankness with her, and in a sense it wasn't her place to interfere.
But she knew that Mrs. Middleton wouldn't want the bills presented to
her husband any more than Kate did--nor, indeed, than Elsie herself.
Not that she would have cared, except for Mr. Middleton's sake.  It
would serve Mrs. Middleton right to be brought up short, but she
dreaded the thought of his being so distressed; she didn't want him to
give up the few little comforts he allowed himself, and she knew it
would hurt him cruelly to have to retrench in his giving.

She wrote to Mr. Bliss, her lawyer, asking him to send her five hundred
dollars, mailing the letter to the other Elsie to be forwarded from New
York.  That seemed to her inexperience a large sum and able to work
wonders.  But before her letter had reached New York she began to feel
as if it wouldn't be sufficient to make everything straight for a new
start; and before there was time for an answer from San Francisco, she
was sadly convinced that it would be only a drop in the bucket.
Whereupon she decided that if Mr. Bliss sent it to her without comment,
and didn't evidently consider it a very large sum, she would ask him to
duplicate it.

With a certain relief, she put off the frank talk with Mrs. Middleton
until she should have received the money.  It did not arrive so soon as
she expected it, and she was still waiting when Kate came to her in
excitement one morning saying that the iceman wouldn't leave any ice
unless he were paid cash.  Elsie produced her portemonnaie.

"Oh, Miss Elsie, I hate to take your money," protested Kate with tears
in her eyes.  "I wouldn't 'a' come to you only I'm strapped myself,
what with buyin' the hat with all them plumes, and the missus after
borrowin' my last five-dollar bill."

"Katy Flanagan, what made you let her have it?" cried the girl almost
fiercely.

"Well, Miss Elsie, the truth is, I couldn't resist her.  There's
something about her, you know--a-askin' so airy like, and forgettin'
how--goodness, the man'll clear out with his ice if I don't fly."

Thereafter, Elsie paid also for the ice and the milk, leaving, out of
her allowance and the money she received for the library work, barely
enough for postage.  But she didn't mind that; it was really a slight
sacrifice.  She cared so much for the work at the library that she
would have paid for the privilege of doing it; and she had come so well
provided with all the accessories of clothing that she hadn't even to
buy gloves for another year.

Looking forward, she began to speculate on the possibility of starting
anew after finances were once straightened out.  It appeared doubtful,
she being herself more ignorant than Kate, but presently a happy
suggestion presents itself to her.  One afternoon she asked Mrs. King,
a kind, motherly, grey-haired lady who taught domestic science at the
high school and came to the library frequently, whether there were any
book to teach one how much to spend each week on different articles for
a household.

"Oh, Miss Moss, I'm so glad you spoke, for I've been wanting to tell
you about our seniors in domestic science this year at the high school.
I think I have the nicest class I've ever had.  We meet three times a
week at eleven o'clock, and I have wondered if you might not like to
join?  Knowing that your aunt is an invalid, I thought you might want
to take the care off her shoulders, and I feel sure our course would
help you.  You know all the girls, I think, and I should be more than
pleased to help you make up what they have been over already."

Elsie could scarcely express her delight.  She spoke to Mr. Middleton
that evening.  He had no idea of her ultimate purpose; indeed, he did
not realize the confusion in which he lived, and was rather amused at
the idea, but considered it an excellent method of getting better
acquainted with the young people, and was pleased at her eagerness.

She entered the class at once, found the study delightful and very
helpful, and the days fairly flew by.  She was, after all, only
sixteen, and extraordinarily immature in many ways; and it was not
perhaps remarkable that after a few lessons, with extra help from Mrs.
King, she began to feel quite capable of shouldering the housekeeping
at the parsonage.  But the more ready she felt, the less did she desire
to propose it to Mrs. Middleton.

Such a step was not made easier by the fact that the latter took a keen
interest in her lessons at the school.  She endeavored, not always
successfully, to draw the girl out upon the subject, questioning her
with some felicity, praising her ambition, and taking it for granted
that she was an unusual pupil and a great addition to the class.  And
she constantly bemoaned the fact that it had been necessary for Elsie
to go outside for the instruction that she would herself have delighted
to give her, had her strength permitted.  Nothing could have gratified
her more, she declared, clasping her hands and raising her eyes to the
ceiling, but she didn't even dare allow herself to dwell upon it.  For
she had just enough strength to manage her own household (as every lady
should do), and she hadn't the moral right to use it for other purposes.

Meantime, three weeks had passed since Elsie had written to ask her
lawyer for the five hundred dollars, and she began to feel troubled.
Of course, she had to allow for letter and answer going through Elsie
Moss's hands, but three weeks should have covered that.  She watched
the mails anxiously.  As she returned from the library on the
twenty-fourth day since she had sent her request, she decided that
unless she should hear that night, she would have Elsie Moss telegraph
from New York.  For the end of October approached, and she felt she
couldn't face the crisis of the 1st of November, without the aid and
the moral support of the money.

She was surprised to see the doctor's motor-car standing at the door,
and startled when Kate, wild-eyed and dishevelled, met her at the
threshold.

"Uncle John?  Has anything happened?" she faltered.

"No, it ain't him.  He's in the city, pore lamb, and it's myself is
thankful you'll be here to tell him.  It's her.  Riggs was here
a-dunnin' me for his money soon after you left, and nothin' would do
but that I should go up to her whiles he waits in the kitchen.  And a
lucky thing it was, too, for there he was to go for the doctor--we both
forgot clean about the telephone."

"But what is it?" cried Elsie.

"I found her on the floor like a log, Miss Elsie.  She ain't dead at
all, but she ain't come to, and maybe won't from taking of too many of
them headache-powders as I knew was no good but didn't think no harm
of."

On a sudden, without warning, Kate dropped her head upon Elsie's
shoulder and began to sob wildly.

"Oh, Katy, don't," begged Elsie, truly distressed.  "You and I must
keep up for the sake of----"

"Of himself, miss, I know," sobbed Kate, "but, oh, I feel as if it was
my own mother--or my own baby, I don't know which."



CHAPTER XIX

Elsie Moss's school was quite unlike her expectations, and her
companions not at all like those of her eager dreams.  Just as at art
school one begins, she knew, with the study and copying of the antique,
so the girl had supposed that in studying for the stage, one would
approach it through the masterpieces of the drama.  On the contrary,
she didn't so much as hear the name of Shakespeare or of any other dead
or classic dramatist during the first two months; and though she had to
work as hard as she had expected to do, it sometimes seemed as if it
were practice that didn't really count.  The drill seemed to be all in
the way of suppleness of limb and facility of facial expression without
intellectual stimulus; indeed, it almost seemed as if the whole
tendency of the school was rather narcotic than stimulating.

Further, the girls with whom she came in contact shared her ideals as
little as their pasts had anything in common with hers.  Many of them
were not older in years, but one and all were incomparably older in
other ways and painfully sophisticated.  Pretty in a coarse way,
painted and powdered, bold and often vulgar, they were almost without
exception girls whose whole lives had been spent in the atmosphere of
the stage, and that in its cheaper and poorer aspects.  One or both
parents, brother, sister, aunt, or uncle had figured in shows or
exhibitions of some sort, and they had fallen into the profession in
that manner.  None had, like Elsie, chosen it as a calling.

Disappointed as she was, disheartened utterly at moments, the girl
hugged her class motto to her breast and struggled on.  So deep was her
purpose, so strong her interest, that she not only pressed doggedly on,
but forced a certain amount of satisfaction out of the struggle.  How
it might have been had she not possessed in Miss Pritchard a solace and
refuge, it would be difficult to say.  Elsie herself hardly knew how
much courage and strength she gained during the evenings and other
fragments of time spent with her.  Looking forward to that
companionship gave her patience to endure many a difficult hour which
perchance she had not endured otherwise.  But with that always before
her, despite the hardships that were so different from those for which
she had been prepared, she was nevertheless wonderfully happy--perhaps,
happier than she had ever been before.

Sometimes, when the day had been unusually trying, she would greet Miss
Pritchard at night with a warmth that almost frightened the latter,
clinging to her as if she would never let her go.  But she never
confessed any of her troubles connected with the school.  She talked
much of it, but it was always of the most interesting occurrences and
of amusing incidents.  For her heart was in the matter as much as ever,
and Miss Pritchard wasn't so favorably inclined toward it as to make it
prudent to let her know of the disadvantages.

But it was terribly hard for one of her nature to have no one in whom
to confide, and she longed for Elsie Marley.  If she could have talked
things over with Elsie Marley it would have made it easier.  Simply to
unburden her heart would mean much.  Ever since she had been in New
York she had longed to see Elsie again; and with this added reason, and
a desire to learn more of her life in Enderby than she could gather
from her stiff and rather non-committal letters, she began to feel,
about the time that she forwarded a letter to Elsie's lawyer in San
Francisco, that she must induce her to come to New York for a visit.

A letter from her stepmother seemed to render it almost imperative.
Mrs. Moss, who was devoted to Elsie and missed her sadly, was greatly
troubled by the irregularity of the girl's letters and hurt by their
want of frankness.  Knowing that John Middleton had not approved of
Elsie's father marrying her, she began to fear lest he be trying to
turn his niece against her.  Now she had written to protest against the
perfunctory letters, which, instead of allowing her to share in any way
in Elsie's life, shut her out.

Elsie was deeply moved and full of compunction.  She loved her
stepmother dearly and thought of her constantly, faithful soul that she
really was.  She was always wondering how _auntie_ would take this or
view that; but the very topics she was moved to enlarge upon in her
letters were those which circumstances forbade her to mention.  All her
interests were connected with Miss Pritchard, of whose very existence
Mrs. Moss was unaware, with the school, and less directly with Elsie
Marley, whose name she was masquerading under.  Leaving all these out
of consideration, and depending almost wholly upon the fragments she
received concerning life in the parsonage at Enderby, a brief letter
once in three or four weeks was the utmost the girl could compass.

Immediately upon receipt of her stepmother's letter, she determined to
ask Miss Pritchard if she might invite her friend Elsie Moss to come on
for a week or a fortnight.  As she waited for Miss Pritchard to come
from the office that night, however, it suddenly occurred to her to
wonder if it would be quite safe.  Despite her enthusiastic admiration
of Elsie Marley, which had not in the least abated, and despite the
unfavorable impression she had of the Pritchards, which only deepened
as the days passed, she had come to feel that in personal appearance
and somewhat in manner her friend must resemble her kinsfolk.

In which case it would be as dangerous for the well-being of the one as
of the other for her to be brought in contact with Miss Pritchard.
For, stiff as were her letters and non-committal, Elsie knew that there
was little difference in the strength of attachment that held the wrong
Elsie to the place she had usurped in either instance.  Whatever she
might do, therefore, she mustn't bungle or err in that respect.

The Pritchard estate was not yet settled.  The house had been sold and
such personal effects and heirlooms as were to be kept for Elsie Marley
put in storage for the time in San Francisco.  Elsie Moss understood
this, and knew that Miss Pritchard did so; but she felt that the latter
wondered that she had no relics or keepsakes with her.  She had had to
confess one day that she had no photographs of her family she would be
willing to show, leaving Miss Pritchard to make such inference as she
would.

That evening at the dinner-table--she felt it would be easier to
approach the matter in semi-public--Elsie asked her if she happened to
have any old Pritchard photographs.

"Yes, dear, I have an old album in the chest by the window that has
pictures of Aunt Ellen, Cousin Ellen, and Cousin Augusta.  There are
half a dozen, I think, of Cousin Ellen, and three or four of your
mother, but no baby picture of you, nor any other, if that's what
you're looking for.  After my father died we began to lose connection
with one another, and after that visit I made when you were a baby, all
communication ceased.  So I got no photographs after that."

"No, I wasn't thinking of my kid pictures, Cousin Julia.  I was
just--wondering," the girl returned.  "Would it be an awful bother to
get out the album?"

"No bother at all, child.  To tell the truth, I love to get it out, for
there are a lot of other pictures besides the Pritchards that I like to
look over.  There's a picture of my Cousin Arthur Moore, who fell in
the battle of Lookout Mountain, that I'd like you to see."

When the old-fashioned, velvet-bound, nickel-clasped book was produced,
Elsie almost forgot her immediate purpose in her interest in the
likenesses.  But one of Ellen Pritchard at fourteen, Miss Pritchard's
cousin and supposedly _her_ aunt, brought her up sharply.  For Elsie
Marley was the very image of it.  Rearrange her hair, put her into the
beruffled skirt and polonaise, and she might have sat for it.  Or part
this girl's hair and gather it loosely back, dress her in a tailored
suit and correct blouse, and she would be Elsie Marley.  What a
frightful thing this family resemblance was!  Elsie stifled a sigh.
Her cake was dough, sure enough!

Partly to ease her dismay and postpone considering her problem until
she should be alone, the girl gave herself up to the study of the other
pictures.  It wasn't difficult to lose herself, for she found them of
absorbing interest.

Among the Pritchards, Elsie's grandmother was the most striking
personage.  The strength and sagacity of her handsome face, which the
expression of pride could not conceal, related her to Miss Pritchard
unmistakably.  Pride, mingled with frailty and general lack of other
expression, characterized the invalid daughter; and pride that was
arrogance, the bored face of Augusta Pritchard, who was supposed to be
her mother.

It was late when the girl finally closed the album.

"Many thanks, Cousin Julia," she murmured rather absently, a far-away
look in her dark eyes.

After a little she rose and began to wander about the room.

"Cousin Julia," she said presently, "I can't help wondering--honestly,
don't you ever wish I looked more--I mean that I looked any like them?
They're mighty aristocratic-looking guys after all."

"My dear, when you talk like that you know as well as I that you're
fishing," insisted Miss Pritchard.  "I have told you that I'm too
well-satisfied.  I have to watch out for flaws."

"Well, don't you ever think, anyhow, that such _whopping_ dimples
are--almost vulgar?"

"I adore them," responded Miss Pritchard calmly.  "But anyhow, you
know, they are supposed to be Pritchard.  Didn't you tell that
what's-his-name boy you got them from your mother?"

Elsie colored.

"I loathed that gump," she said.

Miss Pritchard did not press the matter, though she wished very much
Elsie had explained or made other amends.



CHAPTER XX

"Oh, Cousin Julia, how perfectly gorgeous!" cried Elsie, "but oh, I
don't need it, and--oh, please take it back.  You just shower things on
me, and I feel so wicked to have you spend so much on me."

"Elsie, child, don't you understand yet how happy I am to have you to
spend it on?" returned Miss Pritchard.

It was quite true that the latter was constantly bestowing not only
small, but rich and costly gifts upon the girl who had come to live
with her and for whom she had come to live.  In this instance it was an
opera-cloak of rose-colored broadcloth, wadded, and lined with white
brocaded satin, soft and light and warm.  The two went often to the
theatre, and it would be useful, though Miss Pritchard herself had
never owned such a garment, and it was certainly rather elegant for a
girl of sixteen.

"Now, Elsie," Miss Pritchard went on, "I want to ask you something--I
have more money than I know what to do with.  Whom should I spend it on
if not on you?"

Elsie winced.  Her little face grew wistful.  "Then it's because I'm a
Pritchard you do it?" she demanded.

Miss Pritchard laughed.  "My dear, how you pin one to cold facts.  If
you must know, then, it's because you aren't a Pritchard.  It's because
you're yourself, through and through, and haven't a trace nor a look of
the Pritchards that I love you so and long to have you happy here with
me, who am not a Pritchard either.  No doubt your family rubbed that
fact in sufficiently, so you didn't expect me to be.  To tell the
truth, I could never abide the Pritchards.  I was such a misfit when I
visited Aunt Ellen's years ago, that I rather dreaded your coming,
though I did feel that being so young you might not be inveterate, and
that we might manage to hit it off, as they say."

Immensely cheered, Elsie kissed her warmly.  Miss Pritchard threw the
cloak over her shoulders, produced a rosy silk scarf to tie over her
bobbed hair, and they were off.

The conversation came back to Miss Pritchard next day as she sat at her
desk near a great window whence the streets below were like canyons.

"Dear me, how little Elsie must have had in her life to be so absurdly
grateful as she is," she said to herself.  "And what a life those women
must have led her to make her so ready to refuse what meant so much to
her if it came to her as to a Pritchard."

Which suddenly reminded her of the Pritchard family lawyer and a letter
she had found on her plate that morning with the name of the firm Bliss
& Waterman on the envelope.  Not caring to open it before Elsie, she
had brought it to the office.

Breaking the seal, she was amazed to learn that the lawyer wished to
consult her in regard to a request for five hundred dollars Elsie
Marley had recently made.  He would not, of course, hand over a
comparatively large sum like that without her guardian's sanction, and
he felt constrained to add that certain outstanding obligations against
the residue of the property had recently come to light which might
curtail the income for a year.  He still felt that if Miss Pritchard
remained willing to pay Elsie's general expenses, that the allowance
which they had agreed upon and which he had sent regularly ought to
cover pin-money and something more.  Elsie had made no explanations.
Of course, if the money were for educational purposes, he would arrange
to send it.  If Miss Pritchard would kindly make the situation clear to
him, he would follow her instructions, but he awaited her reply before
acting upon her ward's request.

Miss Pritchard felt absolutely at sea.  She was as puzzled as she was
troubled.  Elsie had seemed so frank and open, and, despite her
generous nature, had seemed so frugal in her expenditure, making a
little go much further than Miss Pritchard herself could do, that she
couldn't imagine her demanding this sum without consulting her in
regard to it.  She knew exactly what Elsie paid at the school--she had
insisted upon paying her own expenses out of five hundred dollars she
had brought with her and deposited.  She knew, too, practically every
penny she spent in other ways, the total of which was always far below
the amount of her allowance; she knew her associates, and could have
accounted for every hour of her time.  She could almost believe that
Mr. Bliss had made a blunder.

After pondering upon the subject all day, she telegraphed him not to
send the money, and decided to question Elsie that night.

She had no opportunity that evening, however.  A certain Madame
Valentini, a former prima donna who had been a famous soprano in the
early days of "Pinafore," and who came to Miss Peacock's each year for
opera, had arrived during the day, and she and Miss Pritchard being old
friends, the evening was devoted to her.  Madame Valentini was
white-haired now, and very stout, with chin upon chin; and the real
Elsie Marley would have thought her vulgar, for she rouged her cheeks,
laughed out heartily and frequently, and wore colors and fashions
ill-suited to her age and size, with jewels enough for a court-ball.
But she was full of life and spirit, warm-hearted, invariably cheerful,
an amusing and fluent talker, and musical to the ends of her be-ringed
fingers and the satin tips of her shoes.

Like every one else at Miss Peacock's, she took to Elsie at once.  She
understood that the girl was studying for the stage, but recognized in
a twinkling that she had a singing voice, and finally prevailed upon
her to try it.  She herself played the accompaniment with a skill that
was a revelation to Elsie, who had never enjoyed singing as she enjoyed
it that night.

When she had done, the prima donna threw her arms about the girl and
drew her to her bosom.  Elsie Marley must have shuddered, but her
namesake, thrilled with singing to the sympathetic accompaniment,
kissed her warmly on her unnaturally pink cheek.

"Oh, my angel, what a voice, what a voice!" cried madame.  "Entrancing!
marvellous!  It's simply perfect in tone and quality, and correct
practice would increase its range.  And when you put on a little more
flesh (here, even Elsie Moss groaned silently) you'll get volume, too.
Stop everything, child, and cultivate it.  It's worth millions."

Elsie flushed.  She couldn't help being pleased by the extravagant
praise, but she couldn't bear to be advised to give up the dramatic
stage.

The older singer turned to Miss Pritchard.  "My dear Miss Pritchard,
why do you let this charming child waste her time learning to do
vaudeville stunts that any limber-jointed, pretty-faced chit could do,
with a glorious voice like that?"

"It seemed wonderful to me, and Charley Graham confirmed me in the
belief," Miss Pritchard owned, "and Elsie herself confesses that people
have always advised her to study singing rather than acting."

"Only because they thought it was more respectable," protested Elsie,
pouting.

"But, foolish child, wouldn't you far and away rather be a singer--a
famous singer?" demanded madame.  "You'd get into grand opera, you
know.  You'd be lovely as Juliet or Butterfly even now."

"I'd rather be an actress," pleaded the girl so sweetly deprecating
that Madame Valentini hardly wondered that Julia Pritchard should give
her her way.

So long as she remained at Miss Peacock's, madame devoted much time,
very happily, to Elsie's musical education.  She made the girl sing for
her every day, giving her assistance that was really invaluable.  She
took her to the opera twice a week, where she was a wonderful
companion, calling attention to fine points that all but a connoisseur
must have missed, and discussing all sorts of pertinent musical topics
between the acts.  And she rejoiced with Miss Pritchard because of
Elsie's obvious enjoyment.

Meantime, Miss Pritchard found occasion to speak to Elsie on the
subject of Mr. Bliss's letter.  She handed it to her; the girl read it
quietly and passed it back without speaking, yet meeting her eyes
frankly.

"I confess, Elsie, I can't conceive how you should want so large a sum
at this time," Miss Pritchard began.  "I trust you so thoroughly that I
believe it must be for something worth while--at least you think it is,
child.  And I feel that you so trust me that you will explain to me if
you can.  In any event, I have decided to give it to you out of my own
pocket.  I know that you are careful and economical and think it must
be for your education in some manner, and don't feel that I am foolish
in doing it.  How will you have it, check or cash?"

Elsie had been growing weak after the first surprise.  She had already
cashed three huge checks (as they seemed to her), and sent them in
money-orders to Enderby: and she had forwarded a letter some time
before that Elsie had explained to be a request for money.  But she was
aghast at the sum.  She couldn't imagine what the other girl could want
it for.

The tradition had always been in her family, who were always poor, that
Uncle John was rich; and though she had learned with some surprise that
he had only one servant, she had heard nothing to indicate that he did
not live in the "style" she had always imagined.  She felt troubled if
it was in order to keep up with that style that Elsie Marley wanted the
money; but though she was reluctant to take it from Miss Pritchard, she
by no means hesitated as she had in the case of the opera-cloak.  For
this was a legitimate case of Pritchard to Pritchard.

"A check?" repeated Miss Pritchard.

"Cash, please, Cousin Julia," returned the girl, her dimples almost
visible.  Then she looked straight into Miss Pritchard's eyes.

"Please tell me--are you doing this, too, because I'm not a Pritchard,
or as my guardian?"

And whether it was because the girl's heart was so set upon that
particular answer, or because Julia Pritchard was so staunch and true,
with such a keen instinct for the real and right--in any event she
returned promptly: "As your guardian, Elsie, Pritchard to Pritchard."

Elsie embraced her warmly, whispering that she couldn't explain, but it
was truly all right.  The next day she got a post-office order and sent
the money to Elsie Marley without saying that it hadn't come from the
lawyer in California as the other sums she had forwarded had done.
Consequently, when a letter came from Mr. Bliss saying that he couldn't
let Elsie Marley have the five hundred dollars she had asked for
without an order from her guardian, she felt obliged to withhold it
entirely.

It troubled her to do so, and weighed upon her mind afterward.  She
told herself that she would, of course, explain when she saw Elsie
Marley, and meantime--it was, after all, nothing but a formal business
communication, not a real letter, and of no account in that the
business itself had gone through.  Still, it seemed a great pity that
there should be any concealment between herself and the other Elsie.
As things stood, she was sufficiently involved in concealment, to give
it no worse name, without that.  It had been understood that she should
read all the letters that came before sending them on to Enderby; but
to keep one and never mention it, necessary though it was, and demanded
by circumstances, seemed somehow almost like stealing.

And the worst was that circumstances might go on making demands, and
she might have to do yet more reprehensible things--things that weren't
merely _almost_ like wrong-doing.  Some day she might have to lie right
out.

Well, as to that, what had it been when she said that her mother's name
was Pritchard?  That had been acting--a part of her rôle.  And then, of
course she constantly deceived Miss Pritchard, in a way, though not
dishonestly.  That was acting, too.  She and Elsie Marley had entered
into a contract, indeed, each to act the part of the other.  They
weren't hurting any one: each fitted into the wrong place as she
couldn't have into the right.  And yet in very truth it was very much
like plain lying!

Elsie Moss flinched.  Then she recollected how once at home some of the
girls of her class at school had been discussing a subject given in the
rhetoric they studied under "Argumentation"--"Is a lie ever
justifiable?"  These girls of the "Per aspera ad astra" motto had
decided the question in the affirmative.  They had agreed that lying to
a burglar wasn't wrong--it might prevent him from robbing a widow or
one's own mother--the same with regard to a murderer, an insane person,
or one sick unto death.  And one and all had declared with spirit that
if they lived in England and a hunting-party should come along with
their cruel hounds and ask which way the fox or hare had gone, they
would point in exactly the wrong direction.  Elsie herself had declared
that she would have said that the little creature hadn't come this way
at all.

Not that that was exactly similar.  The girl owned that however she
might please Miss Pritchard, and Elsie Marley might gratify Uncle John,
in each case it was the girl herself who benefited chiefly by the
scheme, and for whom it had been arranged and carried through.
Pleasing Uncle John and Cousin Julia was what is called in chemistry a
by-product.

Furthermore, there was the question as to whether Cousin Julia, in any
event, would value satisfaction secured thus by indirection?
Absolutely straight-forward, as she was, mightn't she judge their
action severely, label it plain deceit, and--oh, no! she couldn't
refuse to have anything further to do with her!  It began to seem as if
even failure in what she had always considered her life-work wouldn't
be so terrible as that.  The girl didn't put it into so many words, but
as the days passed she seemed to have a vague sense of another
life-work which might consist in growing up toward Miss Pritchard's
standards of what is fine and good and worth while.  But Elsie wouldn't
dwell upon it, for she couldn't, of course, begin to approach any such
goal--she couldn't even make a start--without confession.  And
confession wouldn't mean only the loss of her chance to realize her
ambition; it would mean the loss of Cousin Julia herself.



CHAPTER XXI

Meantime, when the sum of money reached Enderby, Mrs. Middleton still
lay unconscious--at death's door, it was said.  And one whispered to
another that it was, perhaps, better so, that it would be a blessing to
the minister if she were to be taken away.  She had been worse than a
drag upon him all these years.  Foolish, idle, lazy, extravagant, she
had exaggerated her physical delicacy and given herself up to indolence
and self-indulgence, running the household into debt until it was a
disgrace to the minister and to the church.  Mr. Middleton, dear saint,
hadn't known order nor comfort nor companionship for years until his
niece had come.  And when all was said, she could do better for him
without her aunt.

However that might be, the minister himself took his wife's sudden and
terrifying illness sadly to heart.  He hung over her bed and haunted
her room, watching and praying for the return of consciousness and
life.  Not, perhaps, his peer in the first place, Mildred Middleton had
not grown, had not kept pace with her husband, and she had truly of
late fallen into deplorable habits for the head of a household.
Nevertheless, he believed in her; loved her for her real warmth of
heart, which her veil of sentimentality did not in any degree alter for
him, for her optimism, her absolutely unfailing good nature, and for an
intuitive womanliness he believed to be eminently her gift.

And presently when she rallied, his heart grew light, indeed.  The
doctor said it might be long before she would get her strength back,
but he believed it possible that when she had regained it, she would be
better than she had been for years.  He told the minister quietly that
it was fortunate she had been stricken as she had.  The
headache-powders she had been taking constantly contained a drug that
had been slowly poisoning her.  A little longer and her heart would
have been permanently affected.

Meantime, before this, while she lay unconscious, the bills had begun
to pour in.  Along with the domestic science, Elsie had taken up
bookkeeping at the high school, and fortified by that knowledge and the
possession of the five hundred dollars, she summoned her courage, went
to Mr. Middleton and asked if she might take the accounts in hand this
month in Aunt Milly's place.

Pleased by her thoughtfulness, he proposed that they should do them
together.  Elsie begged to be allowed to try them alone, just for once,
but he insisted upon sharing the task, though he confessed that she
would find him very rusty about such things, his wife having taken them
off his hands for so many years.

Elsie's heart sank.  She knew that practically every tradesman had sent
a bill in full, and apprehended that the totals would be appalling.
She feared, too, that it would be awkward about the five hundred
dollars.  But there was nothing to do but to comply with his desire.

At his bidding, she brought the collection into the study that evening.
He got out a check-book and they sat down, Elsie at the desk, and he by
the side with one of the sliding shelves drawn out.

"You and I will do better with checks, Elsie, though Aunt Milly will
have none of them," he remarked, and took up the pile of envelopes.

[Illustration: "You and I will do better with checks, Elsie, though
Aunt Milly will have none of them," he remarked.]

"We'll begin with the top one--Mason," he said.  "Fill in the date and
name--James S.--and now, let's see the sum."

He drew out the bill, glanced at it, then looked sharply as if it were
hard to decipher.

"A hundred and seventy-five dollars!" he exclaimed.  "Of course that
can't be.  It should be a dollar and seventy-five cents, I suppose, and
yet--it's quite plain--see--one hundred seventy-five and two ciphers.
There's some mistake.  I'll just put it aside and telephone in the
morning.  Leave that and start another, dear.  Andrew White's the
next--no middle letter."

He opened the next with the same confidence.  Eighty-six dollars was
large for a milk bill.  He glanced at it doubtfully.  _Bill rendered_
indicated that it wasn't all for this month.  It must have slipped by,
somehow.  And of course Mrs. Middleton had to have egg-nog and cream
and all that.  He bade Elsie draw the check, feeling that they must
have paid the largest first.  But Elsie's heart sank as he took up the
next envelope with Berry's name in the corner.  Berry was the grocer.

"Four hundred ninety-two dollars!" he gasped.  "Wait, Elsie, we'll look
them all through before we do any more.  There's something wrong.  Now
this goes back--let me see.  Bill rendered--bill rendered--it seems to
go back a year or more.  I wonder if perhaps your aunt has asked for
statements for a year in order to see what her expenditures amount
to?"--He shook his head--"No, here's a credit.  And this is plain
enough 'Amount due November 1.'"

He opened the others one by one.  None was so large as the grocery
bill, though that of the market was above four hundred dollars, and the
others large, the sum total being, as Elsie had foreseen, appalling.
It did not take long to discover that Mrs. Middleton was behind in her
accounts for a year or more.

It must have been hard for her husband to understand what had become of
the monthly household allowance she had had in cash regularly.  Credit
was given here and there, indeed, but always in small sums.  It must,
too, have been hard for John Middleton to face the facts, but he stood
the test.  He looked weary and worn--he certainly grew haggard and
seemed to grow old; but no word of impatience escaped him.  Indeed, he
did not appear to have an impatient thought.

"This has all been too much for your aunt, Elsie," he said finally.
"She wanted to spare me, and when the task got beyond her strength she
wouldn't give in.  She has been a greater sufferer than any of us
dreamed.  Apparently she has had those terrible headaches almost
constantly, hiding the pain from every one and trying to get relief by
taking those strong tablets.  And no doubt these accounts gave her no
end of pain and worry, and got into confusion in spite of her."

He bowed his head in his hand and sat thus some little time, aware of
Elsie's silent sympathy.  He smiled wearily when he raised it.

"We'll give it over for to-night, Elsie.  I'll see what I can do
to-morrow and then we'll tackle them again.  I think I shall be able to
do something, but we may have to go carefully for a time."

He hesitated.

"Kate's the most faithful soul in the world, but I doubt if she gives
her orders carefully," he remarked.

"I've started in giving them since Aunt Milly's illness," said Elsie
shyly.  "Katy doesn't mind.  I learned how at school, and I keep them
in a little book so as to compare them with the bills at the end of the
month."

"Elsie Moss, you are certainly a trump!" he cried.  "Do let me see your
book, dear."

She produced it and he examined the neat items with interest, praising
her warmly and seeming greatly cheered already.  And then the girl made
an effort and mentioned a sum of five hundred dollars which she had on
hand and wished he would use.

"My dear child!" he cried, smiling tenderly, "I wouldn't touch your
money for the world.  The truth is, I ought to pay you a salary as
housekeeper and pastor's assistant, though I couldn't begin to
compensate you for the better part.  You have been like the daughter of
the household, or such a sister as your mother was."

The following day Mrs. Middleton regained consciousness, and the next
day the minister went into Boston and made arrangements to secure the
money to meet his obligations by reducing his life-insurance policy
one-half and disposing of some bonds.  That evening they drew checks
and settled everything in full.  Thereafter Elsie gave the orders,
checked the accounts at the end of the month, and made out the checks
for Mr. Middleton to sign.  On the whole she did remarkably well and
reduced the general expenses considerably.  She made mistakes, but they
were few; for her mind was of the type that takes to figures and
details, and she was naturally methodical and accurate.  Mr. Middleton
smiled at the neat little packets of receipted bills, docketed and
filed, but he was extravagantly grateful to her for all that.

Mrs. Middleton gained slowly.  One day, a fortnight or more after she
was convalescent, the minister came to Elsie with a good-sized check in
his hand made out to her.  The girl looked at him in amazement, filled
with vague dismay.

"For your winter clothes, Elsie," he explained.  "Aunt Milly reminded
me.  In fact, she rather scolded me for not thinking of it earlier.
And she suggests that you get one of the schoolgirls and go into Boston
for a day's shopping on Saturday."

Elsie paled--she had begun to show a pretty color of late.  This was
her first realization of the discomfort of a false position.  Long
since, Mr. Middleton had come to seem her real uncle, and her affection
for him was as deep as if he had truly been; indeed, nowadays she
seldom realized that the relationship was not real.  But to accept
money from him--from that she shrank instinctively.  And that proved
the difference.  For though not in the least drawn toward Cousin Julia,
for all the other Elsie's enthusiasm, she could have accepted a larger
sum from her without a qualm.

"Oh, Uncle John, I really don't need a thing!" she cried beseechingly,
and he had to smile.

"Nonsense, my dear, I have the word of your aunt that you will need
everything.  Kate has told her that during the summer all the fashions
have flopped completely over, so that last year's clothes wouldn't even
keep one warm.  Biases and bulges that formerly came at the top of the
gown now come at the bottom; sleeves are big where they were little,
and vice versa, and collars the same.  As for hats--there the
transformation is so great that I pause before it."

Elsie laughed.  "Well, if it's so bad as that, I'll spend my five
hundred dollars--blow it in, as--as my friend in New York would say."

"Ah, Elsie, I see through you now!" he exclaimed.  "You think I can't
afford it, because of those big bills.  As a matter of fact, I could do
it easily even if you weren't managing things so economically.  And,
besides, Aunt Milly has set her heart on it.  And oh, Elsie, I'm so
thankful to keep her with us that I should like to do something
extraordinary, something really rash and extravagant.  Please head me
off by letting me do this simple, natural thing which is less than
just, and which will please Aunt Milly more than anything I could do
for her.  Why, my dear Elsie, pray why shouldn't I do it?  Wasn't your
mother my only sister and dearest friend?"

On a sudden Elsie buried her face and wept--the only tears she had shed
since her coming to Enderby.



CHAPTER XXII

Touched and perplexed, Mr. Middleton gave over for the moment; but
presently he had his opportunity to be extravagant.  As soon as his
wife was able to leave her room, the doctor ordered her to pass a
portion of every day out-of-doors.  This was partly to strengthen her
lungs and partly for the moral effect.  Doctor Fenwick feared that if
she should revert to the long days upon her couch or bed with the
novels and chocolates, the headache-powders or a substitute would
follow, soon or late, with more perilous results.  She submitted to his
dictum with resignation, being, indeed, rather captivated by the idea.

Her husband and Elsie went into Boston and selected a rich and warm fur
coat, fur-lined gloves and overshoes, and three warm, dark-colored
serge dresses which were a great improvement upon the wrappers.  On the
day after she received them, Mrs. Middleton spent two hours on the
porch with ill-concealed delight.  And, thereafter, rising and
breakfasting with the others, she passed the whole of every forenoon
out-of-doors, not only with beneficial results but with continued
enjoyment.

The sentimental aspect, of course, appealed to her strongly.  Sometimes
she pleased herself by fancying that the doctor had discovered that one
of her lungs was quite gone and the other a mere fragment, and feared
to tell her.  On such days her voice was feeble but breathed the same
sweet patience that her face wore.  Again, it was her heart "outwearing
its sheath," as she put it.  Always, however, she felt herself an
interesting and picturesque invalid, and her martyr-like expression
scarcely disguised her enjoyment of the rôle.

Unconsciously, her somewhat torpid mental powers quickened.  The house
being on the main highway, there was always something to look at
against the background of the beautiful common, and she conceived a
vivid interest in the passing show.  An active in lieu of a passive
mind did its part in the improvement of her health.  The tables were
turned.  Now it was she who told Kate that the Berrys had a fine new
motor-truck, and had apparently disposed of their dappled greys to the
grain-man--she only wished _they_ traded with the grain-man--couldn't
one buy oatmeal of him?  And Rachel Stewart actually had a new dress in
which she looked very trim, though it was too long right in the back.
Perhaps Elsie could speak to her about it at the library?  Little
Robbie Caldwell had begun to go to school alone since the new baby had
come.  And they had a new perambulator and had given the old one to the
Howes, which would make it easier for little Mattie.

People passing began to run up and ask the minister's wife how she did.
She was never very well; but she was so sweetly patient and so truly
grateful that they lingered and their visits became frequent; children
came on Saturdays and made children's long flattering stays; and
presently there was never a morning when she did not have some one, and
often she was not alone at all.  And thus it came about that for the
first time she came to know many of her husband's parishioners with
some familiarity.

More than one reversed their judgment, and almost every one revised it.
Mrs. Middleton was sentimental--there was no gainsaying that; she was
rather gushing.  Yet she was truly kind-hearted, generous to a fault,
thoughtful in many ways, with really keen intuition in certain
directions.  As people came again and again, she guessed many a hidden
trouble or vexation, and her sympathy was warm and very grateful; while
now and again she had a flash of inspiration that was marvellously
helpful.

No one's revision of judgment was more sweeping, perhaps, than that of
Elsie Marley.  Somehow her former shrinking had quite disappeared
during the long illness, and the change in Mrs. Middleton's appearance
helped bridge the way to a better understanding.  The old wrappers and
tea-gowns had gone to the ragman.  The new afternoon gowns Elsie had
selected were yet prettier than the morning ones and very becoming.
The out-of-door air had already almost made over her complexion: her
skin looked healthy, her color was good; and with the new fashion of
wearing her hair, she began to look attractive and almost pretty.

She had not curled her hair since her illness, and now it was soft and
smooth and seemed warmer in color.  The nurse having parted it one day
when Mrs. Middleton was convalescent, and coiled it upon her head
simply, had declared it made her look like a Raphael madonna.  The
allusion was far-fetched, but it touched Mrs. Middleton's sentimental
fancy, and she adopted that style of hair-dressing permanently.

In the morning, Elsie attended to her household duties and helped the
minister.  She fell now into the habit of spending the early part of
the afternoon with Mrs. Middleton, going over to the library just
before four.  Doctor Fenwick having suggested knitting as a soothing
indoor occupation, his patient sent for an immense quantity of
wool--enough to keep half a dozen pairs of hands busy all winter--and
began to make red-white-and-blue afghans for the Labrador Mission.
Whereupon Elsie proposed reading to her while she worked.  Mrs.
Middleton was delighted, but when Elsie got "Adam Bede" from the
shelves, she confessed that it tired her head.  "Henry Esmond" was
likewise too heavy, and Elsie groaned inwardly, expecting to be asked
to read some of the paper-covered novels she was addicted to.  She said
to herself she simply couldn't: she had never in her life read any such
trash and she would have to excuse herself.  Then, looking up,
something made her change her mind and decide to be a martyr.  But
before she could speak Mrs. Middleton herself had a happy inspiration.

"Oh, Elsie, I know what I'd just love to hear," she cried, "and what my
poor head could take in as it couldn't Thackeray to-day, though when
I'm strong I dote on him--I always took naturally to the classics.  But
now I feel like one of Miss Alcott's books.  I suppose you have read
them over and over?" she asked rather wistfully.

Elsie confessed that she had never done so, but would be glad to make
their acquaintance.

Mrs. Middleton was truly amazed--as was the minister, indeed; for his
sister had known them almost by heart.  They had the whole set in the
house, and Elsie began with "Little Women" that afternoon.

For the first time she was reluctant to go to the library when the hour
approached.  It was hard to stop reading.  And they laughed together in
an easy, natural way that was quite new to their intercourse as each
exacted a promise from the other not to look at the story again until
they should go on with it together.

They went through the whole set that winter and sighed when they had
come to the last volume.  Perhaps no single thing had influenced Elsie
Marley more than the reading those sweet, wholesome stories at that
time and in that manner.  She had already changed much, and was perhaps
just ready for the influence.  Reading them with Mrs. Middleton, she
was drawn to her as she would never have believed it to be possible, as
they laughed and cried together over the pranks and trials, joys and
sorrows of those New England boys and girls of a singularly happy
generation.  And, unawares, she was strengthened for the hour of trial
that was to come to her as it comes to every one that tampers with the
laws that are inherent in the structure of the universe.

Meantime, circumstances were leading on toward that hour.



CHAPTER XXIII

Late one afternoon early in December, Miss Pritchard telephoned to
Elsie to say that she would not be home to dinner as she was going
directly from the office to see a friend who had been taken suddenly to
a hospital.  She was to dine in town on her way back and would be late
home.  Mr. Graham, whom Elsie would remember, had spoken of calling in
the evening, and Miss Pritchard asked her to explain the circumstance
to him and keep him until her return.

As she turned away from the telephone, Elsie sighed deeply.  Mr.
Graham's name stirred up uncomfortable recollections.  In any case,
much as she had admired and liked him, she would have dreaded meeting
him again; and to entertain him alone for an indefinite period, with
his undivided attention focussed upon her, seemed an ordeal not only to
be dreaded but truly to be shunned.

Suppose he should refer again to her darling mother--as he surely
would!  Acting or no acting, the girl felt that she couldn't deny her
again.  Should she do so, it would be like the Palladium ceasing to
stand and Troy falling.  And yet, what was she to do?  If she didn't
hold to her statement of the summer, wouldn't she hazard spoiling
everything, not only for herself, but for the Elsie at Enderby?

Too wretched to allow herself the comfort of the window-seat in the
bow, Elsie dropped down on the floor before one of the long, low
windows of the adjacent side of the room, and gazing drearily out into
the dusky street, tried to prepare herself for an impromptu scene with
the coming guest wherein the matter of extraordinary dimples or sticky
babies might come up at any moment and be skilfully parried.  But
stage-fright, confusion, and tears threatened imminently, like an ugly
nightmare, and she said to herself there was no use, she simply dared
not face it.

The temptation came to her to avoid the whole encounter by going to bed
at once.  She certainly felt queer--almost faint; and when she should
be missed at the dinner-table and some one came up to see what had
happened, she could truly say she didn't feel able to see Mr. Graham,
and send word that he was to wait for Miss Pritchard.

As she considered the suggestion, reaching the point where Cousin Julia
came in, the girl's heart smote her.  Cousin Julia would be
startled--yes, frightened.  What a wretch she was deliberately to plan
to cause her utterly gratuitous anxiety!  And how practised, how
_grounded_, in deceit she had grown, to turn thereto so readily for
help out of difficulty!  How very far she was getting from her class
motto, "Per aspera ad astra"!  And she recollected a word, strange
hitherto to her, which Cousin Julia had used in the summer.  She had
mentioned her hope, as she had looked forward to the coming of the real
Elsie Marley, that she shouldn't have, at sixteen, become _inveterate_
in the ways of the Pritchard family.  Well, wasn't she fast becoming
_inveterate_ in the ways of deceit?  Wasn't she, perhaps, already
inveterate?  Truly, she must be perilously near it.  And oh, wasn't
this a far, far worse sort of _inveterateness_ than the Pritchard sort?
And if Cousin Julia had dreaded that, how, pray, would she feel in
regard to this?

Rising suddenly, Elsie rushed into her own room as if she were running
away from the visions she had conjured.  As she made herself tidy for
dinner, her desperation grasped at a third expedient, a middle way.
Couldn't she get around the difficulty by preventing or forestalling
the introduction of any doubtful topic into the conversation?  During
the time that would elapse between Mr. Graham's arrival and Cousin
Julia's return--three-quarters of an hour at the longest, she
supposed--she would keep him from bringing up any matter of
resemblances, of big dimples, of madonnas, or sticky babies.  She would
monopolize the conversation, so far as she could, and direct it all the
time.  At the risk of utterly losing the good opinion of one of Cousin
Julia's most valued friends, of appearing forward, conceited, tiresome,
she would rattle on like the empty-headed society girl in certain
modern plays.  She would introduce utterly impersonal subjects, such
as--at the moment she couldn't think of anything but prohibition, which
would last about two minutes--and chatter foolishly and fast upon them,
one after another.  Then, if she exhausted them and all else failed,
she would make such pointed and brazen references to her own singing
that he would be obliged to ask her to sing--and once going, she could
easily keep that up until Cousin Julia came to the rescue.  And she
certainly wouldn't sing "Elsie Marley" nor anything that would in any
way remind Mr. Graham of it.  Either she would shock that elegant
gentleman's taste with the ugliest of ragtime, or she would inflict him
with a succession of the operatic selections she had taken up with
Madame Valentini.  The latter choice would probably, upon Miss
Pritchard's arrival, serve to bring up the unhappy matter of her
abandoning the stage for music, but that would be a minor evil.

Mr. Graham appeared promptly at the hour Miss Pritchard had predicted,
and Elsie greeted him in the rôle she had chosen and proceeded to give
him a gushing account of their journey back to New York at the end of
the summer.  The artist, who had looked forward to seeing again the
charming little creature who had been such a vision of grace and
loveliness as she had sung and danced on the hotel veranda that summer
day, was surprised and dismayed at the change, the almost distressing
change, that had come upon the girl meantime.  At first he took it for
granted that it was the coarsening effect of studying for the stage,
but very shortly he had decided otherwise.  Whatever his skill in
reproduction, Charles Graham had the eye, the mind, and the heart of
the portrait-painter; and now he read the little actress's behavior
with a good measure of precision.  Her restlessness, her chattering,
the high, unpleasing pitch of her naturally lovely low voice, her
assumption of the manner and speech of the blasé young person of the
stage, he saw to be primarily the cover of nervousness.  He understood
that the girl was troubled about something, was perhaps suffering, and
tried to conceal it in this way.  Moreover, he felt that, whatever it
was, she was bearing it altogether alone, hiding it from everybody.

So far, so good.  But presently he jumped to a false conclusion.  As he
referred casually to Miss Pritchard as an _inveterate_ optimist,
suddenly all the color died out of the girl's face, the shadow in her
eyes became momentarily genuine distress, and the bravado dropped from
her manner.  It struck him that there was some misunderstanding between
his friend and her young cousin.  And the pain this realization brought
him was curiously acute.

"But, my dear child," he exclaimed earnestly, "hers is no cheap
optimism.  Miss Pritchard's wise, sane outlook upon life is the
courageous, positive optimism of the seasoned soldier.  She has known
hardship and suffering, and it is victory over them that makes her
serenity and strength so impressive."

As the artist paused, he glanced with searching kindness at the girl
who was such a mere child, after all.  But he seemed to feel a touch of
hardness or of obstinacy in the way she set her lips.  He couldn't bear
the idea of her misunderstanding Miss Pritchard.

"I wonder, Miss Marley, if you ever heard about Miss Pritchard's
love-story?" he asked rather hesitatingly.  "It all happened of course
before you were born; but your family may have spoken of it to you?"

Elsie raised her eyes quickly, regardless of the fact that there were
tears in them.

"Oh, no, Mr. Graham, I never knew--anything about it," she almost
gasped.

"Then I believe I will tell you," he said gravely.  "If ever you
should--well, it makes one understand why Miss Pritchard so impresses
even a chance stranger with the strength of her personality."

He sighed.  "It was years ago.  Miss Pritchard was a newspaper woman at
the time--the most brilliant reporter, man or woman, in the city, we
thought her, in the little coterie of journalists and artists to which
we both belonged.  More than one of us would have given all he had to
win her love.  I don't mind saying to you, Miss Marley, that it was
because I could not win it that I have never married.  She bestowed it,
however, upon an older man and a more brilliant than any of us.  At
that time he was city editor of one of the big dailies; he had invested
a moderate inheritance wisely, and was worth millions when he died.
Miss Pritchard was in her late twenties, and though she was called
plain, possessed rare beauty of expression that is of course the
highest beauty of all; and it was no mere girl's heart that she gave
that man.  She loved him with the intensity and maturity of a generous,
noble woman.  He returned the love and he appreciated her fineness; and
yet he was unworthy of her.  In the course of his business life, at a
certain stage of his career, he did something which, while it wasn't
dishonorable, wasn't strictly honorable.  By means of this action,
which no one else of the few who knew it deemed reprehensible, he
gained prestige for his paper as well as for himself; but he lost Julia
Pritchard.  Had he yielded in a moment of temptation, though it would
still have hurt her cruelly, I believe she would have overlooked his
fault.  But the act was deliberate; and though he regretted it bitterly
and to his dying day, it was only because Miss Pritchard looked at it
as she did.  Of the act itself, he never repented."


When Miss Pritchard came in, she noticed at once that Elsie looked very
pale--almost ill.  After greeting her old friend warmly, she turned
anxiously to the girl.

"Has it been a hard day, honey?" she asked tenderly.

"Oh, yes, Cousin Julia," Elsie returned mournfully.  And Mr. Graham
felt not only that his suspicion had been correct but that his relating
the story had truly had the desired effect.

"I think I'll go now, and--write a letter," the girl faltered.

"Go by all means, dear," Miss Pritchard bade her, "but don't write the
letter to-night unless it's imperative.  I have tickets for 'The
Good-Natured Man' for to-morrow night, so if you can put off the
letter, hop right into bed and get a good rest in order to be fresh for
it."



CHAPTER XXIV

It was Sunday afternoon, nearly a week later.  Elsie sat alone by the
window with a writing-tablet in her lap, gazing out at the row of
houses across the street.  But though the new-fallen snow on roof,
cornice, and iron grating transformed the familiar scene, and though
snow in such profusion and splendor was a new and wonderful experience
to her, the girl wasn't really seeing the landscape any more than she
was writing a letter.  Realizing the fact after half an hour of stony
silence, she rose, dropped her writing materials, and crossing the
room, threw herself down on the hearth-rug with a gesture of despair.

It wasn't merely because she couldn't write the letter--which, by the
way, was that which she had given as an excuse for withdrawing on the
evening of Mr. Graham's call.  It was true that writing to her
stepmother--something that had been growing increasingly difficult for
some time--had become practically impossible since that evening.  But
that was, in a way, a minor detail.  For everything, _everything_ had
become impossible since the hour she had heard his recital of that
experience of Cousin Julia's youth.

"There's no use," the girl cried out within herself, "I simply cannot
stand it.  I can't go on so.  Cousin Julia's gone to a funeral.  I'll
have one while she's gone and bury everything deep down.  There's
nothing else to do.  Now that I know for deadly certain that Cousin
Julia would hate me if she knew, I can't go on being--as I am.  Why,
what _he_ did wasn't dishonest.  It was only, as Mr. Graham said, less
than honest.  And look at me!"

It was true that Cousin Julia hadn't _hated_ him, even when he wasn't
sorry about the wrong itself, Elsie repeated; for this was by no means
the first or second time she had gone over the matter since that night;
indeed, she had scarcely thought of anything else since.  Still, she
wouldn't have anything more to do with him, and must have despised him,
which was worse.  And it was also true that she would even have
forgiven him utterly if he had sinned in a moment of temptation.  And
again the girl lamented bitterly that she hadn't done something even
worse if it could have been committed in hot blood, and therefore
followed by repentance, confession, and forgiveness.  Only last evening
Cousin Julia had read some verses from Browning which had filled her
heart with a longing that was like remorse--something about a "certain
moment" which "cuts the deed off, calls the glory from the grey."  Were
her wrong-doing only of the sort to be neatly cut off in that manner,
how gladly would she own up.  How certain would she be of obtaining
full forgiveness, and how blissfully could she go on thence-forward!

But hers wasn't that sort.  Hers was the sort that goes on and on and
on.  After making the beginning, there was no hope, any more than there
was of stopping a ball when one starts it to rolling down a steep,
smooth hill.  And besides, it was of the very nature of that which had
hurt Cousin Julia so cruelly in the case of her lover of twenty-odd
years ago.  For it was for Elsie's own advantage that she had entered
upon the course of deceit, and it was she that was profiting by it,
daily and hourly.  She had imposed herself upon one whom she had no
claim whatever upon for the sake of making things easier and pleasanter
for herself--of gaining her own way.  And wasn't she continuing the
imposition largely for the same reason?

No, she wasn't doing that--at least not now.  Absolutely selfish as her
motive may have been in the first place, these last days had shown her
that another element was now involved.  Her longing to be an actress
remained the same.  Her distaste for the idea of life at the parsonage
in Enderby had been increased almost to horror by the glimpses she had
had through her friend's letters of what seemed to her its dreary and
complacent domesticity.  Nevertheless, at this moment she felt that she
would give up the former and accept the latter without a murmur if she
could thereby measure up to Cousin Julia's standard, and yet, in the
process, hurt neither her nor Elsie Marley.

But there was no blinking the fact that Cousin Julia's heart was so
bound up in her that the discovery of her duplicity would wound her
cruelly; indeed, Elsie couldn't bear to contemplate what it would mean
to her.  As for Elsie Marley--she was apparently, for her part, equally
bound up in the Middletons, and the shock and change would be terribly
painful to her.  Moreover, she was, in a way, almost as innocent as
Cousin Julia herself.  Her masquerading was only masquerading.  She had
only accepted, in her sweet, docile manner, her part in the plan that
Elsie had made to further her own interests.  The wrong was all her
own, truly; but any attempt to undo it would hurt the innocent Elsie at
least equally.

What could she do?  Was she really, as it seemed, bound hand and foot?
The girl wrung her hands, and there was no thought of the dramatic in
the gesture.  Must her punishment be to keep on and on with her
wrong-doing, with the consciousness, increasingly more painful, of
deceiving Cousin Julia, of being, not only _not_ the person she
believed her to be, but exactly the sort of person she most despised?
Could that be her fate?

Looking ahead, Elsie said to herself she couldn't stand it--not now.
Before, she had had her uncomfortable moments; but since that talk with
Mr. Graham she had had no moment that wasn't agony.  He had roused her
out of her dream of making things right by calling them so.  And yet,
less than ever since that knowledge had come to her, was she ready to
hurt Cousin Julia, as confession or discovery would hurt her.  Could it
be that it was impossible for her to straighten out her own conscience
without wounding the hearts of others?  Was there no way whereby she
could make things right without involving Elsie Marley and Cousin Julia
in misery?

Staring wretchedly into the fire, the girl was unaware that she was
grappling with a big moral problem: that her personal perplexity was a
part of the old problem of evil: that what daunted her was the old
paradox that has confronted mankind since before the time of Job.  She
understood dimly that the lines between good and ill do not converge
any more than unmoral geometrical parallels; but she still felt that it
must be possible to limit the consequences of wrong-doing to the
evil-doer so that the innocent should wholly escape.

But what, short of her own death, would bring that about?  In that
event, indeed, Cousin Julia's natural grief would not be bitterly
painful; and Elsie Marley would simply go on as she was.  But she
wasn't likely to die, and besides, wretched as she was, she didn't want
to.  And even if she did, she wouldn't be so wicked or so cowardly as
to do anything to hasten her end.

But her consideration of that solution of her problem made way for
another.  On a sudden a substitute solution presented itself to her
mind.  Having gone so far, it was but natural that the girl's dramatic
instinct and her familiarity with romance and melodrama should suggest
something that would answer the purpose of death without occasioning
the same measure of pain--namely, her own disappearance.  And the
suggestion no sooner appeared than it was accepted.  Before Miss
Pritchard returned the idea was already so familiar as to seem to be of
long standing.

Her mind was quick and her invention fertile, and before she slept that
night her plans were well along.  She was to lose herself
utterly--where and how she would determine later.  She would, at the
proper moment, disappear absolutely and mysteriously, yet not without
leaving behind her satisfactory and reassuring explanation for the two
persons to whom it would mean most--nay, three--she mustn't forget her
stepmother.  She would write to Elsie Marley that she had felt obliged
to take the step for the sake of her own future, and would entreat her
to go on as she was and never to let any one know what had happened.
And she would leave a long letter for Cousin Julia to discover on her
return from the office the day of her departure.  She would tell her
how she loved her--better than any one else she had ever known except
her mother--and how she had never been so happy in her life as with
her.  Then she would make the same enigmatical but satisfactory
reference to her future and how it made the step imperative, adding
that if Cousin Julia could understand, she would agree that she
couldn't have done otherwise.

When she had reached this point, Elsie's heart sank.  Disappearance
might be preferable to death, but it seemed as if it were going to be
quite as painful.  But only for her, and after all, that was where the
pain belonged.  The girl cried herself to sleep that night, but she
woke next morning with a sense of relief so active and positive that it
seemed like refreshment and almost like joy.  She realized why it was:
her mind hadn't been wholly at ease before since the day in the summer
when she had first seen Mr. Graham, and for the past days she had lived
in torture.  The removal of the burden was almost like unsnapping the
cover of a Jack-in-the-box.  She was going to be good and straight and
honest again.  She was going to make amends, so far as in her lay, for
the wrong she had done.  She was going--_away_!

Here Elsie faltered.  But she sprang from bed before depression could
swoop down upon her.  And while she was dressing a suggestion came to
her that sent her to the breakfast-table with a serene and even joyful
face.  It had come to her that she would better not attempt to carry
out her resolve until after Christmas, lest she mar Cousin Julia's or
Elsie Marley's enjoyment of the day.  She would act immediately after
Christmas, beginning the New Year with a clean slate.  And meantime she
would devote herself to making every one she knew as happy as possible,
particularly Cousin Julia.

And she would be happy herself.  There would be sufficient unhappiness
coming to her later to pay her in full for all the mischief she had
done; and she saw no harm in putting the matter from her thoughts for
the interim, and making the most of the eighteen days.  Then, Christmas
being over, one day, or two at most, would suffice her to decide where
to go and to make her preparations.  Another day would give her time to
write the letters with due deliberation, and on the third she would be
off.

Wherefore, her resolve being fixed and her conscience accordingly
clear, she adventured the first precious day with a light heart.



CHAPTER XXV

Elsie Marley had never been happier than as she prepared for her first
Christmas at Enderby.  But that festival seemed the high-water mark of
her happiness.  The close of the day found her strangely depressed and
thereafter she had more frequent periods of being ill at ease.

She had learned to knit and had spent most of her leisure time for
several weeks in making a soft white woollen shawl for Mrs. Middleton,
into which went a rather surprising amount of affection.  She went into
Boston with one of the high-school girls and bought a charming little
plaid woollen frock for Mattie Howe and a beautiful doll to fill the
little mother's arms when they were not occupied with a real baby.  For
Charles Augustus, she selected an harmonicon, and toys for the other
three Howes.  She wanted to get a warm winter coat for her staunch ally
Kate, the jacket she wore being short and so thin as to require an
undergarment that spoiled what little shape it had.  On the day before
she was to go into town, she consulted Mrs. Middleton.

Thus far Elsie hadn't accepted a penny of pocket-money, and the
Middletons were filled with dismay to have her spend her own money so
lavishly.  But Mr. Middleton had told his wife that he meant to give
Elsie a check for Christmas, which being also her birthday, made a
large one legitimate.  Consequently, at this time Mrs. Middleton did
not remonstrate.  She only called herself heartless for not noticing
poor Katy's need and so forestalling Elsie.

After she had sufficiently exclaimed over it, she asked what the girl
meant to get.

"I thought of black broadcloth, rather plain.  Should you think that
would be right, Aunt Milly?"

"Quite right, dear.  It would be, of course, the proper thing," Mrs.
Middleton returned, "but I can't help wondering whether Katy herself
wouldn't fancy something not so plain and rather more stylish.  After
all, we can hardly expect her to share our quiet tastes."

Elsie didn't resent the _our_ nor question the fact.  She was only very
grateful.

"Oh, Aunt Milly, I'm so glad I spoke to you!" the girl cried with
unwonted warmth, for she felt immediately the cogency of Mrs.
Middleton's remark.  "What do you think she would like?  I might have
her go in with me and pick it out herself, only----"

"Only half the fun would be lost not to have her surprised on Christmas
morning?  I don't know what she would like, I'm sure, but leave it to
me and I'll find out from Katy herself and without letting her mistrust
anything.  Leave it to your Aunt Milly, dear.  She is of so little use
that she has to seize upon whatever she can discover."

And truly she learned the desire of Katy's heart and reported to Elsie
that night.  Green was Kate's first choice for color and blue next, and
she admired especially a long, loose garment with "one of them fur
collars that folds up like an accordion or a gentleman's opera-hat."
And Elsie succeeded in finding the very thing--not a difficult task,
Kate's choice being the latest fashion and very common.

Though her gifts gave extraordinary pleasure in every instance, the
reaction upon Elsie herself was yet greater.  Her satisfaction was
increased by the fact that Mr. Middleton told her it was the happiest
Christmas he remembered, and that her being with them was largely what
made it so.

"Besides which," he added, "I realize that most of the other factors
and changes that contribute are really due to you and to your
influence, Elsie dear."

That was very precious to Elsie, but it couldn't ward off the reaction
that was to follow.  The lavishness of the Middletons' gifts to her,
which they justified by reminding her that it was her birthday (she had
quite forgotten that Elsie Moss celebrated hers on Christmas!), quite
weighed down her spirits.  On a sudden she seemed to herself to be
accepting what didn't belong to her, what wasn't meant for her.
Despite the placid way in which she had gone on acting the part of the
real niece, she pulled up and shied, so to speak, at this instance of
extravagant giving and a false birthday.  It seemed as if she could not
bear it, could not accept the money, the jewelry, furs, books, and
other gifts showered upon her.

But there was no way out.  She had to accept everything, and she had to
keep everything but the money.  That she sent directly to Elsie Moss,
explaining that she couldn't possibly accept it, as it was especially
for her Christmas birthday.  But Elsie Moss, probably with her friend's
recent request for the five hundred dollars in mind, sent it directly
back.  Whereupon she wrote again, saying that she had more money than
she knew what to do with, and that she would be broken-hearted if Elsie
returned it a second time.


The letter in which Elsie Moss returned the money was written on the
very day when the girl had planned to write the letter announcing her
disappearance.  It was only a short note, however, and contained
nothing of that nature.  Her next letter, in which she reluctantly
agreed to accept half of the Christmas-birthday gift, was long and
surprising, but delightfully so rather than mysteriously or painfully.

Her Christmas had been quite as happy as that of the other Elsie.
Indeed, her greater capacity for blissful and ecstatic joy would have
rendered it even happier but for the valedictory character all its
details held secretly for her.  Her youth and temperament, however,
which had carried her through the days following her momentous
decision, upheld her spirits even when she approached the brink of the
crisis.  Her determination to right the wrong she had done at what she
believed the first possible moment had cleared her conscience so
completely that in the interim she had been able to enjoy the fruits of
that wrong-doing as never before since the very first.

She had herself made her gift for Cousin Julia and little things for
Miss Peacock and nearly everybody in the house.  On Christmas Eve she
sang in the parlor for Miss Peacock, the servants, and those remaining
in the boarding-house over the holidays.  First she went through the
carols.  Then she sang the favorite song or songs of every one present,
including several of Miss Pritchard's.  And though the programme was
haphazard it wasn't motley--only simple and old-fashioned and full of
sweetness and melody.  The girl must have been dull indeed not to have
guessed something of the exquisite and genuine pleasure she gave.

In truth she lay long awake, thrilled by the remembrance.  It had been
her swan-song, she told herself, half-tremulously, half-buoyed by the
excitement of it all.  For she was passing out of their lives, in very
truth--even out of Cousin Julia's, and--forever.  And Cousin Julia,
who, Elsie knew had basked in the enjoyment of the others, would have
it for a happy memory, when----

But she mustn't go further now.  It was hardly safe.  To-morrow was
Christmas Day.  Until the day after, she wasn't going to think ahead.
Only on the 26th of December would she begin to make definite, final
preparations.  She wouldn't spoil tomorrow by looking beyond it.

Christmas was a wonderful day.  Elsie did not realize how delirious her
enjoyment was nor how painfully she was keyed up because of her
underlying apprehension of coming agony.  Neither did she understand it
when she waked suddenly from sleep the following morning, feeling so
exhausted as to be almost ill, and with a terrible sinking at heart
which settled into depression the like of which she had never
experienced before.

It might have seemed that she was in no condition to complete the
proposed plans.  But as a matter of fact, there was little to do.
Though the girl hadn't deliberately or consciously looked ahead, the
matter had been in her mind; and now when she came to consider the
question as to where she should go, she found it practically settled.
When she brought up the idea of going to California and trying to get a
chance as a moving-picture actress, she was ready with the objection
that the films were most likely to reach New York and that her dimples
would give her away at once.  Her wisest move would be to take refuge
in some place equally distant from her stepmother in San Francisco and
from New York.  Which, of course, was no other than Chicago.  She had
enough money to take her thither and take care of her until she should
get a start--in some vaudeville house as she hoped.  And then she would
be truly lost--forever, in all probability, and perhaps in more senses
than one.


Miss Pritchard was struck by the change in Elsie that morning at the
breakfast-table.  The child looked almost ill.  She said nothing to
her, however, feeling that it was the reaction from the excitement of
Christmas, and believing she would be better for the distraction of the
school.  But she couldn't dismiss the matter from her mind all day, and
the more she thought of it the more serious it seemed.  She realized
that Elsie hadn't looked merely tired or even exhausted.  It was worse
than that.  For the first time since she had come East, Miss Pritchard
thought she saw in the child indication of genuine, positive suffering.

She decided that she herself had been gravely remiss.  The strain of
giving herself so generously and whole-heartedly had worn upon the girl
disastrously, and--she had had warning and hadn't heeded.  Until
recently, it is true, Elsie's blithe buoyancy had seemed always the
normal, unconscious, almost effortless efflorescence of a lovely
nature, as natural as playful grace to a kitten, as simple as
breathing.  But once or twice back in the fall, Miss Pritchard had been
startled into wondering if the sweet instrument wasn't in danger of
being strained through constant playing upon it, and to be fearful that
Elsie might truly be rarely sensitive in a personal, as she seemed to
be in an artistic, way.

The first time when this had presented itself to her mind had been a
matter of a month or six weeks previous.  At that time she had seemed
to discover a shadow in the sparkling eyes and a transient pensive
droop of the lips.  Then on the night of Charley Graham's visit, she
had been frightened by the worn look upon the beloved little face, and
had feared some definite trouble.

It was not long after the affair of the five hundred dollars, and Miss
Pritchard had wondered if the difficulty might not be somehow connected
with that.  She had just reached the decision to question the girl when
suddenly the weariness, the sadness, the pensiveness, the shadow,
vanished utterly, leaving Elsie not only herself again, but even more
glowingly and infectiously happy and buoyant than before.  And from
that moment until this morning at the breakfast-table she had remained
so.

It was natural that now Miss Pritchard's mind should hark back to those
former suspicions.  All day she vacillated between the fear that Elsie
was beset by some secret trouble or by the solicitations of some
unscrupulous person, and the apprehension that she was on the verge of
nervous exhaustion.  Her face was anxious indeed as she left the office
that night.

She opened the door of her sitting-room with strange sinking of heart.
Then she almost gasped.  Her breath was almost taken away by sheer
amazement.  Elsie was waiting for her--yet another Elsie.  For, radiant
and sparkling as the girl had been, she had never before been like
this.  She was fairly dazzling.  If Miss Pritchard hadn't been almost
stunned, she would have made some feeble remark about getting out her
smoked glasses.



CHAPTER XXVI

"My dear child, what has happened?" Miss Pritchard cried as Elsie
relieved her of her wraps and bag, and she dropped weakly into a chair.
"I believe your dimples have actually doubled in size since morning.
It's positively uncanny, you know, anything like that.  Suppose it
should go further?"

"Like the Cheshire cat's grin?  Well--we should worry, Cousin Julia,
dearest.  But--what do you think has happened, truly?"

"Your friend from Enderby hasn't appeared?"

"No, this is another sort of bliss.  This is--well, dearest darling,
it's just that Mr. Coates has started me on something that--that I
could go on the stage with!"

Miss Pritchard's face fell.  "Oh, Elsie, child, what do you mean?" she
asked anxiously.  The dimples disappeared but though Elsie spoke
quietly, still there was that wonderful lilt in her voice.

"Just this.  He called me into his office this morning and spoke to me
about--my specialty, you know, 'Elsie Marley, Honey.'  One day back in
the fall I was showing off with that to some of the girls that were
eating their luncheon together, and he happened by and made me repeat
it.  To-day he said he had had it in mind ever since, and had found
that he could adapt it and change the music and make it into a regular
vaudeville feature.  He thinks it's a real crackerjack.  He's going to
begin right away to give me training in it."

For a moment Miss Pritchard couldn't speak.  Then she had to stifle
what started to be a groan.  "Oh, my dear child!" she exclaimed.

"It seemed such a lovely ending to a lovely Christmas," said Elsie
wistfully.  The girl was absolutely carried away by the excitement of
it.  It didn't even occur to her--until she was in bed that night--what
the "ending" of the lovely Christmas was to have been--the ending that
alone was to justify her enjoyment of the holiday and of the days since
she had weighed her action in the balance and found it wanting.

"Oh, Cousin Julia, really when you understand, it's simply wonderful,"
she went on eagerly.  "I'm the only one picked out thus far, and you
know most of the others are related to the profession, too.  And even
if that thing is so old, I can't help liking it.  Most of the things
_are_ rather awful, I must confess."

"But the first year--the first six months!  I never dreamed of such a
thing!" Miss Pritchard cried.

"Neither did I, darling dear; that's what makes me so wild with joy,"
said the girl softly.

Touched and almost remorseful, Miss Pritchard kissed her fondly.  But
she couldn't restrain a sigh.

"Surely it doesn't mean--going on the stage?" she inquired.

"Oh, no indeed, Cousin Julia, at least not right off.  Only--well, just
being ready if anything should happen, you know."

Then suddenly at the thought of that wonderful eventuality, the girl's
dimples came out and her eyes so shone that Miss Pritchard felt as if
she should burst into tears.  It seemed as if she couldn't bear it!
Again she lamented inwardly.  Why should the child have had that crazy
desire for the stage?  Why shouldn't it have been a passion for
music--for opera, indeed?  Nearly every one who had heard Elsie sing on
Christmas Eve had spoken to Miss Pritchard of the girl's wonderful
voice, and the question of her cultivating that instead of working for
the stage; and Miss Pritchard had yesterday decided to make a fresh
plea to Elsie to that effect.  What joy would it not be to share the
child's enthusiasm, had it been a matter of music!

However, it would be worse than futile to drag in any such thing at
this moment, she saw clearly.  Carried away by her delight, Elsie would
have no ears and no heart for anything else.  Miss Pritchard told
herself she must wait for the infatuation to cool--and when that might
be, she couldn't in the least foresee.  Would it ever happen in truth?

As she couldn't possibly force herself to rejoice with Elsie, and
couldn't bear not to share in her joy, as they had come to share
everything, she suddenly proposed attending a concert that evening to
be given by a visiting orchestra from the Middle West.  Elsie entered
into the plan with spirit, and they went off gayly together.  Miss
Pritchard knew that Elsie was dreaming dreams to the strains of Bach
and Schumann, and wished with all her heart they were another sort of
vision; still, it was a happy evening for both where it had threatened
to be uncomfortable.  But on the night when Elsie Moss had expected to
lie awake in agony because of the imminence of her parting with all she
loved most, she had only a brief moment of compunction, which she
dismissed easily, falling asleep in the midst of radiant and enchanting
visions of life on the stage.  It was Miss Pritchard whose rest was
troubled.



CHAPTER XXVII

The answer of the real Elsie Marley to the letter in which her friend
enthusiastically related her advance toward the stage might have
indicated how far she had gone since the day on the train when she had
opined that the girl who thinks of becoming an actress has to undergo
much that isn't nice.  It so sympathized and rejoiced with the other in
her happiness that it was solace and inspiration at once to Elsie Moss,
who was living at a high and unhealthy pitch of excitement, and
welcomed, indeed craved greedily, anything in the way of approval or
sympathy.  For the girl feared that if ever she should stop to
consider, she should find her heart a black well of wickedness.  But
that she wouldn't do.  She _would not_ stop to consider.  She had her
chance now, the chance she had waited for all her life, and she wasn't
going to hazard it.  She was going to make the most of it, let her
conscience go hang!


For her part, the real Elsie Marley was led at this time to consider,
and the more seriously.  To her inexperience, it looked as if Elsie
Moss were very near the stage, as if another year might find her a
fixed star in that firmament.  And what then?  She would be independent
of Cousin Julia and the boarding-house, and might she not want to
resume her own name and make herself known to her own relations?  Or
would she, out of her abounding affection for Cousin Julia, suffer the
present state of affairs to continue?

The girl pondered long and rather sadly over the dilemma, but always
inclined to the belief that the latter was really the only possible
sequel.  It wasn't that the question of what would become of her in the
former instance was all-important; it wasn't that Elsie Moss would
probably not think of any other course of action.  It was the fact that
some one very much like herself was needed here at Enderby.  Mr.
Middleton depended upon her.  Mrs. Middleton would hardly know how to
get along without her.  Katy counted strongly upon her sympathy and
co-operation.  And even Mattie Howe and Dick Clinton would miss her.

And, after all, didn't the fact of Elsie Moss's securing her heart's
desire almost immediately, together with the working out of her own
presence at Enderby to the satisfaction of a few very dear people,
quite justify the exchange they had made?  Hadn't it really proved a
beneficent idea?

Arrived at this point, the girl was reassured.  The only difficulty was
that the question didn't stay settled.  It came up again and yet again
and the whole argument had to be redebated.  And finally she came to
the conclusion that her wisest plan was to ward it off.  Like the other
Elsie, she decided to avoid meditation and plunge into action.  And
though the sort and amount of action to which she was limited wouldn't
have seemed action at all to the other girl, it answered her purpose,
nevertheless.  Elsie Marley threw herself into the performance of the
various duties she had assumed with more fervor than ever, and
presently had recovered a good measure of her former serenity.

But it seemed only to have been regained to be threatened.

One night early in February, when Miss Stewart relieved her and she
left the library, she found Dick Clinton waiting outside.  He often did
this, for he and Elsie had become good friends since the day he had
first appeared at the library and asked for help.  She had seen him at
all the parties of the high-school pupils which she had attended, and
had gone coasting on his double-runner with other girls a number of
times.  And no Sunday passed that he didn't seek her after service and
walk home with her.

He was strangely silent to-night.  His first shyness having worn off,
he had since always had plenty to say.  Elsie was always quiet, and not
a word was spoken until they were next door to the parsonage.

"Oh, Miss Moss, would you just as lief walk back a little way?" he
asked suddenly.  "I had something I wanted to say to you, and there's
the parsonage and I haven't begun.  I won't make you late for your
supper--or dinner, whatever it is."

Rather surprised, Elsie complied willingly, and they had no sooner
turned than he began.

"It's something I've done," he blurted out.  "I feel sort of--like
thirty cents, you know.  I should sort of like to know--what you think
of it."

"Whatever it is, I don't believe you need to feel that way about it,
Dick," she said gently.

"I do, just the same, though I'm not sure I should have before I knew
you, Miss Moss, you're so awfully sort of square, you see," he owned.
"I'm glad anyhow it ain't so bad but what I can tell you.  This is what
it is: one of the other fellows that's about my height and build wanted
to go to the motor-show in Boston last week and his dad wouldn't let
him.  He's simply wild over aeroplanes, and there was a model there,
and when the last night came, he got me to help him out.  He pretended
to go to bed about a quarter of nine.  Instead, he sneaked me up the
back-stairs and left me in his room, and he caught the nine o'clock for
Boston.  I went to bed and put out the light.  After a while his mother
put her head in the door and asked if I was asleep, and then came in
and kissed me.  About two o'clock he came back, climbed in the window,
and I vamoosed.  It seemed all right, and I couldn't have refused him,
and yet I felt queer."

"I should think you were innocent enough.  It seems to me the other boy
had all the responsibility of it," Elsie observed.

"That's just what I thought.  And I'm dead sure it would only have
seemed fun last winter.  And I'd have to do it again if he asked me.
But--you know that little Howe kid that's trying to stretch himself out
to get big enough to be a boy scout?"

"Yes, indeed, Charles Augustus Howe."

"Well, he's always asking me things, and taking my answers so solemnly,
and yesterday he wanted to know if I thought it was wrong to tell a lie
to yourself in the dark.  I tried to reason out the thing with him
and--great snakes, but it made me feel queer all over!  Talking to that
kid about truth and honor and George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, I
sort of hypnotized myself; but afterward it made me feel cheap.
And--and there you are!"

"But you didn't get anything out of it for yourself, Dick," said Elsie.

"Nothing but feeling cheap before that kid."

"Then I don't believe it's wrong for you--only for the other boy," she
averred.

They turned.  Nothing more was said until they reached the parsonage.

"Much obliged, Miss Moss," the boy said quietly.  "And that's good to
remember--not getting anything out of it for yourself.  Good night."

She heard him whistling cheerily as he went on his way.  But her own
heart was heavy.  Not to get anything out of it for oneself!  Oh, what
would Dick Clinton think, what would every one think, to know that she
wasn't Elsie Moss at all!  He had been sadly troubled because he had
played the part of another one night--a silent part that required no
spoken words.  What would he think to learn that she was an interloper
at the parsonage?  It was in part, it is true, for the sake of another.
But it was also in part--in large part, now--for her own sake.



CHAPTER XXVIII

One evening in the early spring, during the interval between the films
in a motion-picture theatre on lower Broadway, a thrill of excitement
went through the audience, which was of the sort that desires to live
on thrills.

Perhaps to-night, however, there was reasonable excuse for genuine
anticipation.  For the song-dance specialty that was about to take
place was of a different order from anything that had been known in
that theatre heretofore.  There was real grace and beauty in the
dancing, genuine melody in the voice of the singer, and something sweet
and wholesome about the whole performance.

The act was entitled "And Do You Ken Elsie Marley, Honey?"  And one
whispered to another that the best of it was, that that was her real
name--honestly it was--at least it had always been her stage name, so
that probably the song had been written especially for her--and she
that young--and it wasn't real ragtime either.  And her dimples were
real too; possibly they were enlarged and deepened by the make-up, but
she had them off the stage.

Heavy applause greeted the entrance of the actress.

She was only a slip of a girl--a mere child she looked, partly, they
said, because of her hair--the "Castle bob," you know.  She tripped
lightly before the footlights, smiled charmingly as she put the
question of the first line, and sang the song through with dancing
between the stanzas and dramatic rendering of the lines.  She smiled
and sparkled and dimpled; but though she was so pretty and piquant and
coquettish, so graceful and vivacious, so completely the actress, there
was a look of youth and innocence about her that pleased the blasé
audience, and touched one alien member of it to tears.

Once and again was Elsie Marley recalled to repeat the act.  The young
actress had other things prepared, but though they might be well
received, they were followed by clamor for "Elsie Marley, Honey," until
only the forcible resumption of the pictures availed to quiet it.

And on Saturday night at the end of the second week, even that did not
avail.  The last appearance of that bill having been announced, the
audience could not let Elsie Marley go.  Finally, the manager came out
and announced that Miss Marley had been engaged for another week.  And
again, while there was intense satisfaction elsewhere, to one person
the statement was like a blow.

In truth, on the day when Elsie had announced the opportunity that had
been offered her of appearing in a "specialty" on the stage of a
second-class cinema theatre, Miss Pritchard had been aghast.  The
chance had come through the school in the person of Mr. Coates, who had
first seen possibilities in the song the girl had known since
childhood, and who had developed it to its limit, and trained her in a
more artificial though still charming rendering, the music having been
adapted more nearly to music-hall ragtime.  When he had announced to
her what he had known from the first--that she was to go upon the stage
with it--Elsie had been so elated that Miss Pritchard had been
powerless before her.  She couldn't be a wet blanket; neither, however,
could she force herself to express any gratification.

And when first she had seen this last member of her family before the
footlights of the cheap little theatre, with the bad air, the mixed
audience, and the poor pictures, she felt she couldn't endure it.  The
image of the stately, aristocratic Aunt Ellen Pritchard rose before her
vision, overwhelmingly severe and reproachful.  It would actually have
killed her to witness once what Julia Pritchard had to witness every
night for two weeks--or so she thought at first.

On this Saturday night when the engagement was extended, they were
later than usual in getting to their carriage.  Elsie was wrapped
snugly in the rose-colored opera-cloak.  Her eyes were very bright, her
cheeks flushed.  She had not really required any make-up, but they had
insisted upon deepening the color of her lips and darkening the lower
eye-lids.  Miss Pritchard, too depressed to force any semblance of
cheerfulness, saw her dimples appear and disappear in happy reverie.
She sighed.  Through it all, the child was absolutely enchanting to her.

Elsie, catching the sigh, snuggled up to her.

"Oh, Cousin Julia, I'm so happy, so happy I'm afraid I'll just burst
like a circus balloon.  Oh, dear darling, you're so good to me.  And I
suppose you're sick to death of the same old thing, and dread the
thought of another week of it."

As a matter of fact, Miss Pritchard was as captivated by the song
specialty as any of the audience.  She confessed that it wore well.
"But, oh, Elsie," she couldn't forbear adding, "I do wish you weren't
going to have another week in that cheap place."

"Oh, but Cousin Julia, one can't begin at the top," remonstrated the
girl.  "Why, I'm the luckiest guy ever was.  How much do you suppose
I'm going to get for this next week?"

Miss Pritchard had no heart for guessing.  The sum the girl mentioned
was indeed surprising, but it only seemed to remove her further from
her and from the family they both represented.

"I should be only too glad to do it for the experience alone," Elsie
rattled on, "and of course what I get is only what is over and above
what they pay the school.  And I shall get other chances, Mr. Coates
says, and--oh, Cousin Julia, I don't dare tell you--you don't"--there
was a catch in her voice--"you don't sympathize.  You were so
different!  And now you're just like--well, almost as bad as the
others."

Miss Pritchard drew the little rose-colored figure close.

"Yes, I do sympathize, dear little cousin," she said, "only----"

She could not go on.  And they went the rest of the way in silence.  It
was the first time that anything, recognized by both of them, had come
between them.  As the excitement that had buoyed her up for the evening
began to die away, Elsie's heart was like a stone.  Later it would
ache.  She wondered rather drearily how it would be after she was in
bed.  Even now she recognized something that would have been absurd if
it weren't so terribly serious.  To think of her demanding sympathy
from Cousin Julia--of appearing almost aggrieved not to receive it--she
who should be cowering beneath her scorn!  How was it that she should
so forget, should feel and act as if everything were true--and square?

It was being on the stage, she supposed, a real actress at last.  At
last!  Why, it was almost _at first_.  Who had ever been so fortunate
as she!  To be on the stage in New York well within a year of her first
entering the city!  And only to think that this might have been the
last night of her engagement!  How terrible that seemed now!  How would
she ever live without the evening to look forward to?  How blissful to
have another week before her--six more appearances before that vast,
applauding throng!  How happily would she go to sleep tonight to the
music of the lullaby of the thought: "Another week at the Merry Nickel,
another week at the Merry Nickel!  Bliss!  Bliss!  Bliss!"

And yet it wasn't at all a blissful face which Miss Pritchard bore in
memory to her own room that night after she had kissed Elsie, put out
the light, and opened the windows.  Since the girl had been at the
theatre, Miss Pritchard had dropped into the habit of going in to her
the last thing every night and tucking her in as if she had been a
child.  For somehow she had seemed, since striking out into
professional life, only the more a child, more innocent, more
appealingly youthful, more than ever to be sheltered and guarded.  She
had tried her wings, it is true; she believed she had proved them (and
perchance she had!); but more than ever was she a precious and tender
nestling.

As she sat by her window in the darkness, Miss Pritchard shook her head
sadly.  She said to herself this couldn't go on--this state of things
couldn't continue.  Despite Elsie's elation over the fact that she was
booked for another week at the theatre, she looked more mournful and
wistful and worn than ever.  Some strain was wearing the child out.  It
wasn't the work, nor yet the excitement, for she lived on them, and not
altogether unhealthily.  There was no other possible explanation: it
was nothing less than the strain of combating her own disapproval,
tacit or expressed.  Elsie was too warm-hearted to enjoy her legitimate
happiness alone, too sensitive not to suffer from want of sympathy.

The change in the girl had begun to be apparent directly after
Christmas.  Elsie hadn't been herself since that time, which proved
beyond peradventure that Miss Pritchard's suspicion was correct.  The
joyous, sparkling little creature whom she had found in her room on the
day after Christmas, bubbling over with excitement, eager to share her
good news, had become thin and wan.  Her charmingly brilliant little
face was not only peaked, but in repose was generally wistful or
plaintive.  Many a time one could have looked on it without suspecting
the existence of dimples.  Only in the evening did she resemble her
real self.  From dinner until the moment she lay in her bed, she was
the Elsie Marley she had been (with negligible interruptions) since the
night when she had walked straight into Miss Pritchard's heart before
she had known who she was.  At other times she was a pale shadow, the
little ghost of the girl she had been or should be.

Miss Pritchard sighed deeply.  If it were for want of
sympathy--approving sympathy--the child drooped and pined, must she not
have it, willy-nilly?  But again she sighed, and yet more deeply.
Whatever her effort, was such a thing possible?

As for Elsie herself, the lullaby didn't prove a lullaby at all, and,
as usual these days, the girl cried herself to sleep.  Every night, of
late, the reaction came.  Every morning she awoke with a sense of a
heavy burden weighing her down.  All day her heart ached, though dully
and vaguely for the most part; for if the pain threatened to become
acute, she could still drug it with anticipation of the excitement of
the evening.

In the weeks that had passed, Elsie hadn't once faced her conscience.
She had never squarely confronted the situation which was now so much
further complicated.  When the unexpected and thrilling opportunity had
come to her the day after Christmas--the very day that was to
consummate her renunciation--the girl had been completely carried away
by it.  She hadn't repudiated the decision she had come to so
painfully, she had simply disregarded it--ignored it utterly as if
there had been no such thing.  And she had gone on ignoring it.  In the
very first of it, the excitement of working directly for the stage had
rendered her oblivious of everything else.  Then when certain faint
murmurings of conscience began to be audible, came the actual prospect
of the Merry Nickel to stifle them, and then there was the stage itself
and the actual footlights.  Nevertheless, avoid the issue as she would,
more and more had her daylight hours come to be haunted with
misgivings, and now her heart was never light except in the evenings.
And combat any such direct thought as she might, she felt dimly that in
giving over her purpose to square her conduct with the right, she had
doubled and trebled the original wrong.  Unvowing a vow must be
equivalent to signing a covenant with the powers of darkness.  Now and
again lines from the poem Cousin Julia had repeated to her so
impressively that she could never forget it, came to her suddenly in
uncanny fashion.  At such times, if questioned, Elsie would have
acknowledged that her Palladium had indeed fallen, with all the awful
consequences.

Lines from another and more familiar poem came to the girl the next day
as she sat in the afternoon with Miss Pritchard in their sitting-room,
the snow falling outside as if it were December.  As she gazed at the
steadily falling, restful, soothing curtain of flakes which deadened
all sound and veiled all save its own beauty, unconsciously she was
repeating verses of a poem she had learned as a child.  But as she came
to the words, "I thought of a mound in sweet Auburn," she recollected
herself.  And somehow her mind turned instinctively to Miss Pritchard's
lover.  It was because he, too, was dead, she supposed, and this snow
was rounding above his grave.  But before she made the natural
application or drew the familiar comparison between his failure and her
own, Elsie clapped the lid down on her thoughts with a thud.  Turning
resolutely to Miss Pritchard, she asked her, with strange intonation,
if she thought the snow would continue all night.

"I rather hope so," Miss Pritchard returned in a quiet voice that was
like a part of the silent storm, "for it's so late that we can't expect
another snowfall, and it seems really a privilege to have it now--like
plucking violets at Thanksgiving."

For a little, her gaze, too, lost itself outside.  Then she turned and
looked at Elsie with a kindness in which there was something wistful.

"I know what you have been thinking, dear," she said.  "You're thinking
that I'm not consistent nor fair--and you're right.  I am neither.  I
agree with you absolutely.  Having in the first place consented to your
studying for the stage, I should have looked ahead and faced just this.
As you say, one can't begin at the tip-top--nor yet at the top.  One
must make use of humble stepping-stones."

But it seemed that the struggle she had been through to bring herself
to this attitude had been in vain.  On a sudden she lost all that she
had gained.  Her heart sank as Elsie's face brightened eagerly--became
transformed, indeed.

"The trouble is," she went on sadly, "that the stepping-stones--oh,
Elsie, I'm so afraid the stepping-stones will only lead on and on and
on--never higher.  They'll be and remain on a dead level, and you will
step from one to another, one to another, year after year, over the
same dreary waste.  I hate awfully to say all this, dear, but when
those people refuse to allow you to do anything but the Elsie-Honey
business over and over, it comes to me what a fate it would be to be
doomed forever to that one stunt."

"Oh, Cousin Julia!" Elsie cried deprecatingly.

"Yes, dear, that's what I am exactly, an old killjoy; but truly I
cannot help it, though I have tried.  I have struggled hard against my
prejudice.  Elsie, last night you stopped yourself as you were about to
tell me something, but I fear I can guess what it was like.  Some one
suggested your going on the road, as they say, with that one thing as
your repertoire--making a tour of the cheap moving-picture houses of a
certain section?"

Elsie grew very pale; her lips trembled.  One interested wholly in her
dramatic career, seeing her at that moment, might have concluded that
the girl had it in her to develop a capacity for tragedy as well as
comedy.

"Cousin Julia," she said with tremulous dignity, "I don't want you to
come with me this week.  I can go back and forth in a carriage by
myself.  I've got to go through it, for I promised and they will have
made arrangements, but--please don't come with me any more."

She gazed at Miss Pritchard through reproachful tears, but when she saw
tears streaming down Miss Pritchard's plain, staunch face, she ran to
her arms.

"My dear, it's only because I love you so, because you are the very
apple of my eye, that I talk so," the latter declared, and the warm
words went straight to the girl's sore heart.  "I know I'm not just,
but dear, we won't let anything come between us--ever.  I'll do my best
to see your side of it, and you must be patient with me.  It's hard, I
know, for youth to bear with age, for inexperience to hear the ugly
words of experience; but now we'll just go through the week together
and await what comes."

What came demanded further patience on her part and increased Elsie's
infatuation.  Before the end of the week the young actress had an offer
from a rival establishment which would take her to the edge of summer
at a salary that fairly made her gasp.  The second theatre was perhaps
a shade better, but not sufficiently so to reconcile Miss Pritchard to
it.  But she held her peace.  Whereupon the first manager increased the
sum offered by his rival, and, Miss Pritchard still tolerant, Elsie
agreed to remain there until June.



CHAPTER XXIX

Miss Pritchard acknowledged to herself that Elsie Marley had the right
stuff in her.  She did not grow careless, never let herself down.  The
audience was uncritical and wildly demonstrative, but the girl did her
level best at every performance.  Up to a certain point, she even
improved.  The possibility of so doing in this case was limited, but
having reached that point she held it.  Further, her wonderfully sweet
voice seemed to grow sweeter every day.

Therein lay Miss Pritchard's one hope.  Presently, she sought out an
old friend who had been a musician of note and later a teacher and
musical critic on an evening paper, and confided her difficulty to him.
Hearing her story, he was interested and very sympathetic.  He advised
her to drop the concert idea and dwell wholly upon the possibility of
opera as a lure: only the dramatic form and setting could compete
successfully in a case of stage-fever like that.  And where Miss
Pritchard had hoped only to be allowed to bring Elsie to him, he being
an old man, he agreed to go to the theatre and hear the girl when she
would be off her guard.

"I'll go any night you say, Miss Pritchard," he proposed.

"Don't make _me_ choose, Mr. Francis," she begged.  "There's so much at
stake that if I knew when you were to be there, I should be so nervous
I couldn't sit still."

"You _nervous_, Miss Pritchard!" he exclaimed incredulously.

"Alas, yes, Mr. Francis," she acknowledged, laughing.  "These young
people with their careers are too stimulating for spinster cousins who
have never had anything more exciting than night-work on a city paper.
Well, I dare say I have only my come-uppings.  You see, I was afraid
Elsie wouldn't be lively enough!  I had visions of an extremely proper,
blasé young person moping about, and rather dreaded her.  Getting Elsie
was like finding a changeling."

"Rather too much of a good thing?  Well, we're all that way, Miss
Pritchard.  If we're looking for a quiet person, we want a peculiar
sort of quietude; and the lively ones must be just so lively and no
more.  Do you remember in one of the old novels, where a sister
enumerates in a letter to her brother the charms of the young lady she
wishes him to marry?  At the end of the list she adds that the lady has
'just as much religion as my William likes.'  Now isn't that human
nature and you and I all over?"


As she left the house, a suggestion came to Miss Pritchard in regard to
a lesser matter she had had in mind.  Elsie having agreed to drop
everything for July and August and go into the country with her, she
had been studying prospectuses and consulting friends as to the
whither.  Seeing Mr. Francis, suddenly recalled a summer twenty years
before when he and his sister had passed a month at a place called
Green River in eastern Massachusetts, and she had driven over a number
of times from a neighboring town to dine with them.  It came to her
suddenly that Green River was exactly the place she had been looking
for, and she believed it must be near Enderby, where Elsie's friend
lived.  And now she couldn't understand why she hadn't thought before
of going where the friends might meet.

Making inquiries, she discovered that the name Green River had been
changed to Enderby, and that Enderby Inn was considered quite as good a
hostelry as the Green River Hotel had been.  She wrote at once to the
proprietor to see if she could engage rooms, saying nothing to Elsie
lest the plan miscarry.

So eager was she, that when she found a telegram on her plate next
morning (almost before her letter had left New York) she opened it
anxiously, uncertain whether such promptness meant success or failure
for her.  But it was from Mr. Francis, asking her to lunch with him.
She got through the morning in almost a fever of suspense.

He had gone to hear Elsie that very night of Miss Pritchard's call, and
told her without preface that the girl had a marvellous voice.

"Now, Miss Pritchard, can't you shut down at once on that vaudeville
business and set her to studying under a first-rate teacher?" he
demanded.  "She ought not to lose a minute.  Of course she is rather
small--too bad she isn't taller--but for all that I believe such a
voice will carry her anywhere.  I shouldn't wonder if she should turn
out a star of the first magnitude."

He named a teacher with a studio in Boston who could take her as far as
she could go in this country.  He usually went to Naples in the late
spring with a pupil or two, but would be at his home near Boston all
summer this year.

Of course the fact that Enderby was within easy reach of Boston added
to Miss Pritchard's excitement.  That night she received word that she
could have accommodations at the inn, and a letter following next day
offered her a choice of rooms.  She engaged a suite of three with a
bath, though aware that the single rooms would be satisfactory.  And
she smiled at herself for assuming airs already, as guardian of an
operatic star, engaging royal apartments for her.

Filled with enthusiasm, she announced to Elsie that night that she had
secured quarters for them at Enderby for the two months.  At the first
breath the girl was quite as surprised and delighted as she was
expected to be.  The delight was, it is true, but momentary, though it
sufficed to irradiate her face and fill Miss Pritchard's heart with
generous joy--also, to hide from the latter the fact that it was
succeeded by profound dismay.

Those dimples!  Those awful dimples!  As she thought of them, Elsie
Moss was overwhelmed by consternation.  Of course she couldn't go to
Enderby.  She couldn't let Uncle John get even a second glimpse of her
face.  She fled from the room in a panic which Miss Pritchard believed
to be excited eagerness to impart the good news to her friend at once.

Though, as the days had passed, Elsie had persisted in her refusal to
face her conscience or look into the future, she had been vaguely aware
of a day of reckoning ahead.  She had dimly taken it for granted that
when she stopped she would have to consider--there would be nothing
else to do.  When she should be out from under the influence of this
powerful stimulant, she foresaw herself meeting perforce the questions
she had evaded.  But also she had foreseen herself with two clear
months before her and with Cousin Julia beside her.

Now, on a sudden, all was changed.  She seemed to have no choice.  She
had no control over her future.  She had delayed so long that the
choice was no longer hers.  Her path was sharply defined.  There was
nothing she could do except to disappear on the eve of Miss Pritchard's
departure for Enderby.  And at that time there would be nothing to
sustain her, no moral or redeeming force about an act that was
compulsory.  It was like being shown a precipice and realizing that at
an appointed time one must walk straight over its verge.



CHAPTER XXX

Mrs. Moss, who had loved her brilliant, impulsive little stepdaughter
like her own child, had given her up unwillingly.  But it had been her
husband's wish that Elsie should go to her uncle; the latter could give
her advantages her stepmother could not afford; and she supposed it was
right and natural for the girl to be with her own people, even though
they had been strangers to her up to her sixteenth year.

At first her loneliness found some solace in Elsie's letters.  They
were short, but seemed brimming over with happiness.  Mrs. Moss didn't
get any dear idea of the household at Enderby, but it was apparently
all that the girl desired.  Then gradually the letters began to fall
off, and before Christmas-time she felt a decided change in them.  They
had become unsatisfactory, perfunctory; the girl seemed to be slipping
away from her.  She began to wonder if Elsie were not concealing
something, and soon after Christmas was forced to the conclusion that
she was unhappy and would not acknowledge it.

She endeavored to regain the confidence that had been fully hers; she
tried in her own letters to prepare the way, to make confession easy,
but she received no response.  In such circumstances letters are at
best unsatisfactory, and it was maddening to Mrs. Moss that she was at
such a distance that her warm words must grow cold in the five or six
days that elapsed between the writing and the reading.

Christmas passed, and the winter, and she was unrelieved.  She was busy
with her teaching, but except when engrossed by that, was haunted by
anxiety and apprehension.  She had finally decided to go East during
the long summer vacation, ill as she could afford to make the journey,
to investigate for herself, when one night after school she dropped in
to see a friend, and while waiting picked up a New York paper.

Some one in the house had that day returned from a journey East, and
the paper was dated five days earlier.  It happened to be folded with
the page given over to amusements uppermost.  Glancing carelessly over
columns that devoted a paragraph each to an amazing number of cinema
theatres, her eye suddenly caught the familiar name, _Elsie Marley_.

With a vision of her stepdaughter as she had sung the old rhyme, she
mechanically followed the words until the word "dimples" arrested her
attention.  Then she read the paragraph with beating heart.  She read
it twice before she fully comprehended--understood that Elsie Marley
had completed her sixth week at the Merry Nickel in her song-dance
specialty, "And Do You Ken Elsie Marley, Honey?"  Miss Marley was
declared to be more popular than ever; managers were clamoring for her
and she had engagements a year ahead.  The notice added that despite
the fact that her voice was so wonderful, her dancing and acting
inimitable, some people declared that it was her dimples that wrought
the spell--that she might stand dumb and motionless before the
footlights if she would only smile.

Mrs. Moss's first clear sensation was indignation toward Mr. Middleton.
She felt she could never forgive him for allowing this situation to
come about without warning her.  Then she realized that this was the
key to the whole situation.  She had not heard from the girl for six
weeks--just the length of time she must now have been at the theatre.
Excusing herself before her friend appeared, she hastened home in a
tumult of emotion.

She did not know which way to turn.  She couldn't bear the idea of
Elsie being on the stage of a motion-picture theatre; it seemed as if
it would break her heart.  And still worse was the knowledge that the
girl had deceived her; that she had written empty, non-committal notes
calculated to make her believe she was staying quietly with her uncle,
when she was all the time preparing for this.  And she had always been
so frank and upright, so easy to appeal to and to persuade!  It seemed
to Mrs. Moss that she must have come under unfortunate influence.

Her first impulse was to write to Elsie; her second, to Mr. Middleton;
but she did neither.  The situation was now too critical to be handled
from a distance.  There were only two weeks more of school.  She
secured accommodations on the railway for the evening of the last day
of the term.

On the sixth day after, she appeared without warning at the parsonage
at Enderby.  A pleasant-faced woman who might be Mrs. Middleton, though
she did not look like an invalid, sat on the veranda entertaining a
little girl with a big baby in a perambulator.  She asked at the door
for Mr. Middleton and was shown into his study.

He came in directly, and the sight of his handsome, refined, strong and
serene face, with a vague resemblance to Elsie's, revived her drooping
spirits.  Suddenly she felt that whatever he sanctioned must be right.
She inquired falteringly for Elsie before she announced her name or her
errand.

She learned that the girl was well, and, to her surprise, would be in
presently.  Then the season was over, she decided, and recollecting
herself, gave her name.

He smiled.  "I thought as much from the way you spoke her name," he
said.  "Elsie will be delighted.  May I call Mrs. Middleton?"

"Just a moment, please.  I felt troubled about Elsie, Mr. Middleton,
and came on without writing or sending word.  I'm impulsive too, like
Elsie, though only her stepmother."

He had never felt that Elsie was impulsive, and as he looked up in some
surprise, she wondered if he minded her comparing herself to Elsie, and
so to his sister.

"Perhaps I should have sent word," she went on.  "But I hesitated.  I
knew you didn't approve of Elsie's father marrying me."

"Oh, Mrs. Moss, if I had any such feeling, it has long since
disappeared," he assured her earnestly.  "From the moment I saw Elsie
and realized what you have made of her, I have felt only the gratitude
I am sure my sister would have felt for your devotion to her motherless
child."

"Thank you," she said.  "Now about Elsie----"

But she couldn't go on.  A sudden wave of indignation swept over her.
If he had felt kindly toward her, why hadn't he warned her?

He glanced at her with some concern.  She seemed so fatigued and
overwrought after the long journey that he begged her to let him call
Mrs. Middleton that she might have a cup of tea and go to her room
before Elsie's return.  The latter had gone into town but would be back
very soon, for she went into the library at four.

Mrs. Moss stared at him, and he asked if Elsie hadn't told her that she
had been assistant librarian since September.

She shook her head.  He wondered, and when she had again refused
refreshment or rest, explained.  As he did so, it came out that she
knew little or nothing of Elsie's activities, and he launched into
glowing descriptions.  And the further he went, the more she marvelled.
She couldn't understand how Elsie had become the sedate, dutiful girl
he portrayed unless some great blow had fallen upon her.  Then she
recollected what had brought her hither.

"Elsie has been away lately?" she asked.

"Oh, no, Mrs. Moss, she only went into Boston to do some shopping."

"But she was in New York in May?"

"Why, no," he returned with some surprise.  "I'm sorry to say she
hasn't been away overnight since she came.  But we have made up our
minds she shall have a change this summer, and now that you are here,
we shall surely be able to put it through.  Perhaps you will go to the
shore with her?  Of course you will spend the summer with us?  Mrs.
Middleton will insist."

Mrs. Moss was too dazed to reply.  Indeed, the only statement she had
taken in was that Elsie had not been away since she came.  For an
instant she wondered if she could have mistaken.  But that could not
be.  Surely there were no two girls in the country who would have
selected that particular song and have had peculiar dimples into the
bargain.  On the other hand, Elsie couldn't have been in two places at
once.  Neither could she have been away without his knowledge.  It
wasn't conceivable that he----

It struck her coldly that he was not in his right mind--that this
handsome, courteous gentleman was mildly insane.  In spite of his fine
manner and bearing, his every word had been irrational.  She hazarded
one last question.

"Has Elsie said anything--shown any interest in the stage?"

As she spoke, there was a curious expression on her face--it seemed to
him so watchful as to be almost furtive.  He began to suspect that
something was wrong.  She was certainly overwrought and almost
hysterical--beyond anything the journey would bring about.  Possibly
that was the explanation of the mystery.  Elsie had rarely spoken of
her stepmother.  Perhaps her husband's death had unbalanced her mind?

Whereupon he murmured something soothingly and courteously evasive that
confirmed Mrs. Moss in her suspicion with regard to him, his mind was
wandering now; he had illusions, without doubt.  Quite likely Elsie was
now in New York, and he constantly believed her to be in Boston for the
day, coming back in time for the library.  And Mrs. Moss wondered how
she could get the ear of the lady on the porch.

She could see her through the window.  Now she saw that she had a mass
of wool, red, white, and blue, in her lap and was knitting a
curious-looking article, and it came to her that perhaps she, too, was
out of her mind?  Perhaps this was a mental sanitarium?  True, she had
inquired for the _parsonage_.  Could it be that in the cultured East
that was a new euphemism for insane asylum?

But that idea was too ludicrous, and suddenly struck by the absurdity,
she laughed out.  Her laugh was so merry and infectious as to lay his
suspicion at once, and he couldn't help joining her.  And then,
somehow, each understood the misapprehension of the other, and they
laughed the harder.

Even as they laughed, there was a light step on the veranda outside,
and some one cried _Elsie_ in a tone of warm welcome.

Mr. Middleton had risen.  "Shall I tell her who it is, or just send her
in, saying that it's an old friend?" he asked in a low voice.

Her heart was beating violently.  "Don't tell her who it is," she
begged weakly and shrank back as he opened the door.

He closed it behind him and she waited breathlessly.  She forgot
everything except that she was to see Elsie.  At the first sound she
sprang to her feet, and as the door opened--not with Elsie's
characteristic fling--she held out her arms.

"Elsie!" she cried, then started violently.

A total stranger stood before her, a pretty girl with a sweet face and
long light-brown curls hanging from her neck.

"And who are you?" she cried wildly.  "Am I mad or is this a lunatic
asylum?"

For a moment the girl stared at her with sweet perplexed face.  Was she
another patient, then? thought the distressed woman.

"I am Mrs. Moss," she said in a sort of desperation.  "Pray tell me who
you are and where I am?"

All the pretty color left the girl's face.  She stepped back and leaned
against the door.

"This is the parsonage," she faltered.  "I am Elsie Pritchard Marley.
Your Elsie is in New York with my cousin.  We exchanged."



CHAPTER XXXI

On the Saturday afternoon following the arrival of Mrs. Moss at
Enderby, Miss Pritchard and Elsie had just seated themselves in the
former's cool, pleasant room for the purpose of discussing summer
clothes for the latter.  A maid came to the door and brought in a card.

"Mrs. Richard Moss!  I'm sure I don't know any such person; do you,
Elsie?" Miss Pritchard exclaimed, frowning as she attempted to
recollect whether that could be the married name of any one who had
formerly been at Miss Peacock's.  As she looked up she saw that Elsie
was almost ghastly white.

She sprang from her chair and went to her.

"Elsie, darling, are you ill?" she cried.

Elsie almost gasped.

"No, Cousin Julia, only--startled, _scared_," she said in a strange
voice that frightened Miss Pritchard still further.

But the maid waited.  About to ask her to excuse her to Mrs. Moss, she
looked again at Elsie.

"You don't know her, dear?" she said gently, putting the card before
her.

"Yes--I do.  That's what--fazed me," gasped Elsie.  "It's
my--stepmother.  I'm afraid something awful has happened."

Now Miss Pritchard was white, too.

"My child, are you out of your head?" she exclaimed.  "What are you
talking about?  You never had a stepmother.  You couldn't have."

Then she half smiled.

"Oh, Elsie!" she cried reproachfully, "it's some of your stage friends
come to see you.  How you startled me!  I'll settle with you later for
that and give you a good scolding, but I won't stop now.  Will you have
her up here or down in the parlor?"

"Please, let's have her up here," said the white-faced girl in the same
strained tone.  "There's nothing to do now but go through with it.  It
serves me just right.  But----"

Without understanding, her heart beating strangely, Miss Pritchard
asked that Mrs. Moss be brought up.

They waited in silence.  Presently the caller was ushered in, a slender
woman clad in black, with a young-looking, sad face.  Seeing Elsie, she
too became very white.  But the girl rushed upon her, flung her arms
about her, and hid her face on her shoulder.  And the stranger clasped
her close.

Miss Pritchard stared in amazement.  She hadn't known of any warm
friend of Elsie's except the young girl in Enderby; but this was
unmistakably an affection of long standing.  For a moment she stood
stock-still.  Then somehow she got them both over to the sofa, relieved
Mrs. Moss of her wraps, and sat down near.

"I don't understand," she said finally.  "You are evidently an old
friend of my little cousin's.  Perhaps you are the lady she stayed with
while she was finishing her school after Mrs. Pritchard's death?"

Mrs. Moss looked hard at Elsie, reproachfully yet lovingly.  It was so
good to see the girl that the plans she had laid as she came on from
Massachusetts escaped her.  She spoke at random, and might have
imparted the same impression of mental irresponsibility that she had
given Mr. Middleton.

"She hasn't any grandmother.  She never had one.  And she isn't----"

"Oh, _Moss_, I have it!" exclaimed Miss Pritchard.  "You're the mother
of Elsie's friend at Enderby--though I believed her to be an orphan all
this time."

"I am Elsie's stepmother, and she isn't your cousin at all," declared
Mrs. Moss sadly.  "She's only a very naughty girl playing a trick on
you."

Then for the first time Miss Pritchard spoke sternly to Elsie.

"If this is a trick, a part of your stage business, won't you please
bring it to a close right here!" she demanded.  "It has gone too far
already."

"My dear Miss Pritchard, will you allow me to explain?" said Mrs. Moss.
Then she turned to the girl.  "Or will you do it, Elsie?  I went to
Enderby to see you and found that other girl and learned the truth from
her."

Elsie drew away a little.

"You tell her, please, auntie, I couldn't," she faltered.  She clasped
her hands tightly.  Her face was whiter than before.

"Miss Pritchard, if you will have patience and bear with me for a
little, I hope I can make things plain, though I can't make them
right," said Mrs. Moss rather appealingly.  "I have just come from
Enderby, Massachusetts, where Elsie's uncle and guardian lives.  I got
worried and went there to see about Elsie.  I came all the way from
California."

Miss Pritchard stared at her in amazement.

"Oh, auntie!" cried Elsie in distress.  Then she went to Miss Pritchard.

"Kiss me just once, Cousin Julia, kiss me hard," she entreated.  And
Miss Pritchard clasped her to her heart.

The girl resumed her place on the sofa and sat motionless, her eyes
upon her clasped hands.  Mrs. Moss endeavored to get the main fact out.

"I found there instead of this Elsie, instead of Mr. Middleton's own
niece, a strange girl who has lived there since last June as Elsie
Moss.  Her first name happened to be Elsie, too, but her last name is
Pritchard--Marley, I should say."

"Oh, Mrs. Moss, I must be stupid, but I cannot understand what you
mean!" cried Miss Pritchard.  And Elsie choked.

"I'll begin again," said Mrs. Moss with mournful patience.  "A year ago
this Elsie, _my_ Elsie, Elsie Moss, started East to live with her
uncle, John Middleton, in Enderby, Massachusetts.  On the train she
fell in with this Marley girl who was coming on to New York to live
with her cousin, Miss Pritchard.  Elsie was badly stage-struck and wild
over New York, and the other girl didn't mind a quiet country town, and
they calmly changed places--and names.  Elsie Moss came to you--with no
claim in the world upon your hospitality; and your relative, Elsie
Marley, imposed upon the Middletons in the same fashion.  And they have
gone on with the imposture for practically a year."

As she continued, one detail after another fitted into the framework
she made, and Miss Pritchard grasped the situation fully.  Stunned and
wholly at a loss, she glanced at Elsie.  The girl sat like a statue,
white with downcast eyes.  Miss Pritchard went to the window and stood
gazing out for some moments.

When she returned to her place, her expression was composed, but her
face looked suddenly strangely worn and older.  She looked into Mrs.
Moss's eyes as who should say "How could she!"  But she spoke to the
girl.

"Well, Elsie?" she asked quietly.

"That was why I hedged about going to Enderby," said Elsie
incoherently, "I didn't dare let Uncle John see my dimples.  They would
give me away, you see, Cousin Julia."

Then she suddenly bethought herself.

"Oh, but you're not my Cousin Julia any more!" she cried, and burst
into a tumult of weeping.

Her stepmother gathered the girl to her, and Elsie sobbed wildly on her
breast.  Mrs. Moss, who had been more severe with Elsie Marley at
Enderby than she had ever been with any one before, was now disposed to
be very gentle--perhaps over-lenient--with the real culprit.

"Yes, Elsie, I am your Cousin Julia--to the end of things," Miss
Pritchard assured her.  And she spoke almost solemnly.  "But tell me,
dear--you didn't know what you were doing?  Oh, Elsie, you didn't
realize that it wasn't--that it was--wrong?"

"Not at first--not when I did it," sobbed Elsie.  Then she uncovered
her face.  "But I knew afterward.  It came to me then, and I knew it
was the sort of wrong you think worst of all.  And so do I, honestly,
Cousin Julia."

Again Miss Pritchard walked to the window.  Elsie's eyes followed her
in agonized appeal.

"Cousin Julia!" she cried desperately.  And Miss Pritchard was at her
side in a moment.  But though her face was all tenderness and sympathy,
the pain that shone through it would have been severe retribution even
had Elsie been altogether impenitent.

"Oh, Cousin Julia, I was sorry!" the girl cried, "I was terribly sorry.
But it only came on me when everything was--sort of--_fixed_, you know.
I couldn't bear to break up Elsie Marley's happiness at Enderby, and--I
couldn't bear to have it--hurt you--though I know this is a lot worse.
So I was going to disappear.  I had my mind all made up.  I was going
to leave a letter so that you wouldn't feel troubled.  And I thought
that would sort of make up for everything, because I never would have
been happy again.  And then--oh, Cousin Julia, then came that chance
that I knew led straight to the stage, and I lost my head.  I chose to
be wicked, and I suppose I lost my soul as well as my head,
only--there's something that hurts as if I still had one."

Again the girl wept wildly.  But now Miss Pritchard's arm was enfolding
her.

"No, precious child, you haven't lost it.  And if you were sorry--but
we won't talk more about it now.  I'll hold that in my heart as comfort
until to-morrow and then we'll see what we can do to straighten it all
out.  At this moment we must consider that there's the evening
performance to go through, and being the last, it will be very taxing.
Somehow, we'll make things right, among us all.  You go to your room
now and lie down.  If you think of this, only say to yourself that it's
over, and be thankful for that.  And we two women who love you so that
we're all but jealous of one another already will plan the next--or
rather, the first move.  Come, child."

At the door Elsie turned.  "Is the other Elsie all right, auntie?" she
asked anxiously.

"Yes, dear," returned Mrs. Moss rather doubtfully.  "At least--well, as
a matter of fact the poor child is just--waiting.  I made her promise
not to say a word to the Middletons until I came on here and returned.
I am afraid--dear me, I am sure I don't know _what_ I said to the girl.
I am afraid I must have been rather hard on her."

"Oh, auntie!  And it wasn't her fault in the least!  I just dragged her
into it.  It was all for me.  And she's the sweetest, gentlest thing!
And not the least little bit her fault!  Oh, dear!  Oh, dear!"

The girl wrung her hands in genuine distress.  Mrs. Moss shook her head
mournfully.

"I might have known," she acknowledged regretfully.  "But, oh, Miss
Pritchard, I was nearly distracted.  It all came upon me so
suddenly--not a whisper of warning."

Miss Pritchard could understand what that meant.  She led Elsie into
her room and established her upon the bed.  Elsie talked incoherently
and at random, until Miss Pritchard had to declare that she must go
back to Mrs. Moss.  Kissing the girl again, she bade her forget
everything for the time being and rest.  And though she stifled the
deep sigh that rose involuntarily, Miss Pritchard felt as if she was
staggering as she left the room.



CHAPTER XXXII

For some time Miss Pritchard and Mrs. Moss discussed, not as they had
purposed, the way out of it, but the affair itself: the change of names
and destinations and the year of masquerading.  They marvelled equally at
the audacity and the success of the scheme, and the various circumstances
that had favored it.  Miss Pritchard reviewed the year aloud in the light
of the discovery, with eager comment from the other.

"How Elsie could have accepted so much from you, knowing all the while
she was deceiving you, I cannot understand!" cried Mrs. Moss, shaking her
head sadly.

"Accepted!  Oh, Mrs. Moss, if you could only know half the girl gave, you
wouldn't speak of accepting!" protested Miss Pritchard.  "She has made
this year the happiest of my life, that captivating, lovely child has.
As for deceiving--she didn't mean any such thing, and it wasn't real
deceit in her case.  She said just now she always felt as if I were
really her cousin.  When she swapped, she did it in such a whole-hearted
way that she was herself almost as deluded as I.  And later, when she
began to realize, she suffered--looking back, I begin to understand that
she has suffered torture."

Mrs. Moss suddenly bethought herself.

"The question is, what is to be done?" she repeated.  "You see, I have
left that girl in Enderby in a most uncomfortable position.  The
Middletons as yet know nothing.  I shall have to break it to them, but
before I do so, I want to come to some sort of an understanding with you."

"I confess, I don't see any way out of it at this moment," returned Miss
Pritchard.  "Dear me, I can't yet really realize we're in it."

"The simple thing would seem to be to just----"

"Swap back?  Oh, it wouldn't be possible after all this time, my dear
Mrs. Moss!" cried Miss Pritchard, really aghast.

"We shall have to see how the Middletons feel, of course," admitted Mrs.
Moss.  "Oh, Miss Pritchard, couldn't you go back with me to-night and
then all of us talk it over together?  I don't believe we'll ever come to
any understanding unless you do.  My flying back and forth between you
like a shuttlecock isn't going to amount to anything."

"Yes, I will go on to Enderby--there's no other way," agreed Miss
Pritchard, "but I can't go tonight, because Elsie has an engagement.
It's her last appearance at that wretched place, I'm thankful to say.
She and I will follow you to-morrow.  Meantime, you can give them the
plain facts to digest."

She smiled half grimly.  "As a matter of fact, I have a suite of rooms
engaged at the inn at Enderby for the last two weeks in June and for July
and August, though I never dreamed of any such complication, as you know.
Like as not we all--you and Elsie and I--can occupy them now--I can
telegraph presently.  Dear me, dear me! what a pair of thoughtless scamps
these children were.  And yet--what hasn't it meant to me to know Elsie?
Oh, Mrs. Moss, I can't face giving her up.  I simply cannot face it."

"Of course, Mr. Middleton is her guardian," remarked Mrs. Moss, who
sympathized with Miss Pritchard, but felt she might remember that she had
had to part with Elsie a year ago, after having had her from a child.
"He seems like one who would do the right thing," she added, "but of
course he was devoted to Elsie's mother."

"No doubt he'll be glad to hand over little Pritchard to me?"

"Well, he seemed attached to her.  But of course being a clergyman he may
judge her very severely."

"I wish we could all go to Enderby this very moment," cried Miss
Pritchard impatiently.  "If it weren't for that old movie-show!"

Then the other forgot Enderby.  "Oh, Miss Pritchard, tell me, is Elsie
very deeply concerned?" she asked anxiously.

Miss Pritchard related the matter in detail.  Mrs. Moss was distressed
beyond words, though she was cheered when the other repeated Madame
Valentini's dictum in regard to the girl's voice, and the yet more
authoritative word of Mr. Francis.  And then and there the two women who
cared deeply for one little girl decided that that night should close her
theatrical career, not only for the season but forever.  And they added
that whatever be the outcome of the conference at Enderby, Elsie must
begin in the late summer or early autumn to study with the teacher in
Boston recommended by Mr. Francis.

"The child has actually grown rich overnight," observed Miss Pritchard.
"She has saved all she has earned and if need be could pay for her own
lessons for a time at least.  But I should like nothing better than to
retire and take her to live in some quiet place near Boston, and then go
abroad with her when the time comes.  I've got enough to do that and yet
do something for that girl at Enderby."

She paused in her pacing, sat down suddenly and frowned deeply.

"There's no use," she groaned.  "That Mr. Middleton will take her away
from me, mark my word.  What sort of a man is he, anyhow?"

Mrs. Moss didn't confess that she had taken him for a lunatic; but her
description was colorless.

"Of course, I should be only too glad to take Elsie back with me," she
added wistfully, "though I couldn't give her advantages."

Miss Pritchard gave her a look of sympathy, though she couldn't conceive
of her wanting Elsie as she herself did.

"Neither you nor I will have any chance," she returned gloomily.  "He'll
snap her up--that minister.  And I shall be desolate in my old age--for I
shall grow old in a night if I lose Elsie."

"But there's the other Elsie," rejoined Mrs. Moss plaintively.  "There
seems to be one apiece for every one except me."

"Oh, _Elsie Pritchard_!  Good heavens!"  Miss Pritchard began her pacing
again.  "I shall have her on my hands.  I never thought of that!"

"I suppose you'd hardly expect to have them both," remarked the other
mildly.

"I certainly won't have Elsie Pritchard by herself!" Miss Pritchard
retorted.  Then she laughed at herself, though ruefully.

"Ah, that accounts for the five hundred dollars!" she exclaimed suddenly.

"I don't understand what you mean," murmured Mrs. Moss plaintively.  Now
even Miss Pritchard had begun to talk like Alice in Wonderland.

Miss Pritchard paused in her walk and explained rapidly and in great
detail, leaving Mrs. Moss as much in the dark as before.  Again she went
the length of the room, pausing before Mrs. Moss to demand: "What sort of
a girl is this Elsie Pritchard?"

"To tell the truth, I was so taken aback, I scarcely noticed.  She's a
pretty girl and ladylike."

Miss Pritchard groaned.

"Well, I think she looks as if she had character," Mrs. Moss added.

"Any ginger?"

"Well, perhaps not," the other admitted.  "But you should have heard Mr.
Middleton talk about her--er--work in the parish."

"Good heavens!  Visiting the sick and distributing tracts?"

"Not exactly," Mrs. Moss smiled.  "He spoke about the library and--well,
I'm afraid I didn't take in the rest."

"Never mind, I can guess.  And I see my finish when she gets hold of me.
She'll endeavor to reform me.  A year ago, now, I was prepared for a
superior person.  But after Elsie----"

"What mischief they made!  And yet, Miss Pritchard, it was all done
thoughtlessly."

"I know.  And poor Elsie--I'm afraid we came down pretty hard on her.  I
think I'll just go and see how she is."

Mrs. Moss followed.  Miss Pritchard tapped lightly at Elsie's door.
There was no response and she opened it softly.  Then she beckoned the
other with a look on her plain face that made it very sweet.

Together they stood over the little figure on the big bed.  Elsie had
cried herself to sleep.  She looked young and sweet and innocent, her
brown head with its short locks against the pillow, her lips parted, her
hand under one cheek, and the shadow of a dimple visible.

They turned away, the eyes of both being filled with tears.  And when
they were back in Miss Pritchard's sitting-room they seemed somehow
nearer one another, almost like old friends.

"She's too sweet and good for the stage," cried Mrs. Moss.  "Do you
suppose we can get her away?  Do you think she'll be willing to give up
and cultivate her voice instead?"

"_Willing_?  Not Elsie!  The child's more crazy about the stage than
ever.  And as for easily persuading her to settle down to daily drudgery
with no excitement in view for years--"  She shrugged her shoulders.

"She doesn't look now as if she had a will of her own, does she, with her
hand under her cheek and her darling baby lips parted?" cried her
step-mother.

Miss Pritchard's eyes filled a second time.  Then suddenly an idea
flashed into her mind.

"Oh, Mrs. Moss, you'll be awfully shocked, but do you know what your
words have put into my head?  I feel like a wicked conspirator collecting
his pals, but--listen--you and I must attack Elsie at once and get her to
forswear the stage and take up music."

Mrs. Moss couldn't see any difference in this proposition from anything
previously proposed.

"What I mean is, we must do it this very day," the other went on.  "We've
got to strike while the iron is hot.  The child is in a chastened state;
she's sorry and ashamed and unusually meek.  We've got to be wolves and
prey upon the poor lamb in her moment of defenselessness.  She'll agree
to anything to-day.  Oh, Mrs. Moss, it sounds cruel and hateful, but it's
really for her good.  If you'll stand by me, I'll attempt it."



CHAPTER XXXIII

Elsie Marley had let Mrs. Moss out by the side-door, and half an hour
later she passed out that way herself.  She had promised not to say
anything until she returned, and so couldn't even leave a note to explain
her own going.  She would write one to-night to bid them wait for Mrs.
Moss's explanation.  And afterward she could tell them that she couldn't
bear to see them again.  And by that time they would have their own Elsie
with the dimples.

And she would be with Miss Pritchard?  She supposed so, but she couldn't
go there to-night.  Eventually, she must; she wasn't sufficiently clever
or self-reliant to take care of herself; but she wouldn't go to New York
while Mrs. Moss--that terrible Mrs. Moss--was there.  What she had said
was quite true, but oh, it had been hard and cruel, and Elsie could never
forget it!

She had made up her mind to go into Boston to a hotel where she had
lunched several times, write Cousin Julia from there, and wait until she
should hear from her.  She was anxious to get away before Mr. Middleton,
who had gone to the library in her place, should return.  And yet she
took a wide detour that doubled the way to the station; for she could not
bear to go near the street on which the library stood.

Forgetting her haste, before she had gone far, she turned and looked back
at the parsonage.  It was like home to her.  Leaving it forever, she
realized dimly that it was home to her, the only real home her life had
known.  And Aunt Milly?  Once, not so long ago, Elsie couldn't have
imagined herself wanting to go back and throw her arms about her and tell
her she wished she had understood and loved her long before.  And
Katy--dear old Katy!----

Turning away, she almost ran.  She met no one in the out-of-the-way path
she chose, and she was to take the six-two train for Boston, which
Enderby people rarely used.

The station stood on a hill.  As she climbed it, Elsie decided to ask the
agent, whom she knew slightly, to telephone to the parsonage after the
train had gone to say that something had called her away, and that Mrs.
Moss would explain.  Fearing lest he might forget the latter clause, she
stopped and wrote the message out.  As she did so, it came to her that
they might think she had gone away with her stepmother, and wouldn't be
disturbed.

As she took up her satchel again, she heard some one behind her on the
wooden walk.  Kate had come by the direct way, but she had stopped to put
a skirt and jacket over her kitchen-dress and to squeeze her feet into
boots to hide the holes in her stockings.  Warm with the extra clothing
and the unusual effort, Kate actually panted as she caught up to Elsie
and seized hold of her as if she were rescuing her from drowning.

"Why, Katy, has anything happened?" the girl inquired anxiously.

"Anything happened?  Well, I like that!" ejaculated Kate between her
gasps.  "No, nothin's happened yet, but I suspicioned something was
a-goin' to and so I hiked along after you.  What are you a-doin' up here
and himself gettin' all tired out at that library?"

Elsie's heart sank yet lower.  "There won't be many in to-day, Katy," she
said meekly.  "And anyhow--but don't keep me, Katy, I must----"

"No, you mustn't, Miss Elsie, no such thing.  You're a-comin' straight
home with your own Katy.  Do you want your aunt a-fallin' down in one of
her heart-spells, and her so well and happy for the first time sence I
come?  She'll have one sure's you're born if you ain't there for your
supper--and me after makin' shepherd's pie!"

Elsie paled.  "Oh, Katy, I can't go back, honestly I can't, but you'll
make it right with them, won't you?  Tell them I _had_ to go and
she--Mrs. Moss--will explain when she comes back."

"You just come back yourself and wait for her, Miss Elsie.  The missus
will have one of them flop-overs the first thing if you don't, and then
for himself to come home tired from the library and find her in that
state and you not by to break it to him, and him not so young as he was
once, you know!"

Tears streamed down the girl's distressed face.  Kate took her satchel
while she got out her pocket-handkerchief, and then would not loose her
hold on it.  Elsie started on, Kate by her side.

"If you're bound to go, then, you might as well get two tickets, for I'm
goin' with you," the latter said stoutly.

Elsie looked at her in amazement.

"Sure thing.  If you go, I go," Kate insisted.

"But, Katy, you wouldn't do such a thing?  You wouldn't leave--them?"

"Indeed I would," Kate returned exultantly, feeling that she had scored.
"I'll go by the same train.  I've got some money in my stocking.  I
couldn't face the music with her in a dead faint, and himself like as not
havin' a shock."

Elsie stopped short.  "Katy, why will you say such dreadful things?" she
cried.  "Honestly, it's only a question of a day or two.  I've got to go
away, and why can't you let me do it quietly now instead of waiting and
having it still harder."

"You don't mind the easiest way for you bein' the hardest for them?"

"Yes, I do.  But I can't go back.  I cannot--act another day."

"Oh, yes you can," replied Kate soothingly.  "And, besides, it'll all
come right if you just hang on.  I knew something was strange--I've
suspicioned it ever sence you come.  Wasn't it me as went around and took
all your baby pictures out o' the old albums and others with big round
dimples out o' velvet photograph-frames, and himself lookin' everywhere
for 'em and me never lettin' on?  I says to myself you wasn't really
yourself, but like enough a cousin or foster-sister, and just as good and
perhaps more satisfactory.  Come, we'll just race around home and go in
by the back-door so as to be there for supper as if nothin'd happened."

Just before they reached the kitchen door, Elsie spoke.

"Oh, Katy, couldn't I stay in my room until she--Mrs. Moss comes?  My
head does ache--terribly."

"Well, child, you go up there now, anyhow, and Katy'll see what her big
head can do."

The quick-witted woman got out of her suit and into her slipshod shoes
and went straight to Mrs. Middleton.

"That Mis' Moss flew right off, ma'am--forgot somethin' she had to do in
New York, it seems, and off she goes.  Them Westerners, you know, is
reg'lar globe-trotters.  She's comin' back to accept our hospitality on
Sunday, it seems, but here I am with a company supper fit for the Empress
of Injy and plans for meals all day to-morrow and a bed made up.  I
suppose you wouldn't want to ask Miss Dunham to make her visit now and
help eat things up?  The pineys are all in blossom, too."

Miss Dunham was an elderly, crippled parishioner who lived a little out
of town and came each year to the parsonage for a day or two.  Mrs.
Middleton threw her arms about Kate.

"Oh, Katy, what a dear you are to think of it!  It's just the thing.  Day
after to-morrow is children's Sunday and she'll enjoy that, and I'm going
to church myself and surprise Mr. Middleton.  That is why Elsie went into
Boston to-day--to get me some gloves and a dove-colored sunshade.  Do you
think you can get her here to-night, Katy?"

"I'll telephone to himself at the library," said patient Kate, who hated
the telephone.  "And we'll wait supper."

The plan worked perfectly.  The minister fetched Miss Dunham in a
motor-car in time for a late tea.  Only Kate and Elsie knew what her
visit meant to the latter, and Kate didn't understand fully.  Mrs. Moss
arrived on Sunday shortly after the guest had gone.

But at best Elsie had suffered keenly, and when Mrs. Moss found her pale
and hollow-eyed, she felt conscience-stricken.  But she had no
opportunity to give her any of Elsie Moss's cheering messages, for she
went into immediate conference with the Middletons.

They talked for an hour.  The waiting was agony for the girl, and she was
at once relieved and desperate when at length she was summoned down to
the study.  Mrs. Middleton beckoned her to a place beside her on the
couch, and Elsie dropped gratefully into it.  She could not raise her
eyes; she sat with her hands clasped tightly, very pale, yet aware
somehow, at the very first, of the kindness, the sheltering kindness, as
it were, of the woman at her side.  And while she had steeled herself to
endure the coldness of Mr. Middleton's voice, it had never been more
gentle.

"Well, Elsie, we know the whole story, now.  It seemed a sad mix-up at
first--what a friend of mine up-State would call a 'pretty kettle of
fish'; but with Aunt Milly's assistance we managed to get at the crux of
the affair and see things more clearly.  Aunt Milly declares it was just
child's play: that you girls had no more idea of doing anything wrong, of
deceiving, than she had last winter when her new hat came from the
milliner's and she decided to wear it back foremost and never told any
one what she was doing."

[Illustration: "Well, Elsie, we know the whole story now."]

Elsie knew from his voice that he was smiling.  She wanted to thank him
for his kindness; she longed to raise her eyes gratefully to Aunt Milly,
but she was powerless to do even that.  He went on:

"Mrs. Moss brings word that Miss Pritchard has become deeply attached
to--er--the other Elsie.  Now that isn't a circumstance to our case.  For
my part, I couldn't possibly have cared more for my dear sister's
daughter than I have come to care for you, Elsie, and Aunt Milly is
convinced she couldn't have cared for her nearly so much.  In any event,
we cannot give you up.  Somehow we shall have to come to an agreement
with your guardian, Miss Pritchard--that is, if you are willing?"

Elsie knew she should burst into tears if she attempted to answer.

"I'll speak for her.  Elsie won't leave us," Mrs. Middleton declared.

"Not if--if you----"

The bell rang violently.

"That sounds like Miss Pritchard now," remarked Mrs. Moss, thankful to
have the tenseness relieved.  And, in truth, Kate, who was suspiciously
near the front door, ushered that lady in at once.

Introductions were gone through hastily.  The Middletons felt their
prejudice vanish at sight of her kind, worn, genuine face, and she was
deeply impressed by the minister.  Of his wife, she reserved judgment.

She kissed her young relative with more warmth than she had expected to
feel, for there were tears on the girl's white cheeks, and she looked
sweet and sorry and appealing.  She was indeed a Pritchard, though not so
typically so as she had anticipated.

The minister mentioned the point at which they had arrived in the
discussion, and for a little they talked all round the matter.  Then Miss
Pritchard presented her conclusions.

"Those babes took things into their own hands in great style a year ago,"
she declared.  "They got hold of a deck of cards and shuffled them to
suit themselves, not realizing that isn't the way to play the game.  They
shouldn't have touched the cards and they shouldn't have shuffled them;
but somehow they happened to make a good deal all round.  As the game has
come out, we all like it.  We shouldn't, indeed, be willing to go back
and deal out fresh hands.  Am I wrong?"

The rejoinder indicated that she was wholly in the right.

"Now, for my part, I'm used to Elsie Moss and I want to keep her, but I
wouldn't take her out of reach of her own kin--at least not for some
time.  There's a man in Boston I want her to study with--she's going to
be an opera-singer--and we're to be here at the inn all summer so that we
can get respectively acquainted with our shuffled kith and kin--I want a
chance to know my little Pritchard cousin, too."

It seemed easier to speak beside the point than to the question.
Thereupon the minister suggested that Miss Pritchard should remain
permanently at Enderby.  That might well have waited, but Miss Pritchard
declared she had already thought of taking a house in the fall.

"I thought if you insisted upon trading back, we'd all be in sight of one
another that way, even though we elders might be mutually hating each
other," she added.

Whereupon they began to mention particular houses, and would have gone on
indefinitely but for Mrs. Moss.  It was she, the outsider, for whom,
whatever the sequel, there would be no place in the plans, who called
them back to the real matter at issue.

"Apparently, then," she said, "you're going to let things remain largely
in the _status quo_.  But one difficulty comes to my mind.  When all is
said, my Elsie was wholly at fault in all this.  She's sorry now, but for
all that, I'm afraid she hasn't taken it so hard as this Elsie here, and
what's more--this is what I'm getting at: Elsie Moss can drop the name
she assumed falsely and, going elsewhere, resume her own as a matter of
course.  But this Elsie, who has become well acquainted here and entered
into the life of the place, cannot suddenly change from Moss to Marley
without a great deal of pain to herself."

Quite true.  No one had thought of that.  It seemed appalling!

"Of course," Mrs. Moss went on rather doubtfully, "she could keep on with
the name.  It's perfectly possible to have two Elsie Mosses in one
family.  People would only take them for cousins."

"It's possible," the minister acknowledged, "but it wouldn't be right.
It wouldn't be honorable for Elsie to continue to use the name now."

"Ah, but Jack, it would be cruelly hard for her to change back to
Marley!" cried his wife; and he sadly agreed.

"Do you think you could go through it, dear?" he asked, turning to Elsie.

"I ought to bear something a great deal harder," cried Elsie suddenly.

"No, you ought not, my dear," rejoined Mrs. Middleton.  "No, Jack, it
would be too hard on Elsie--on any young girl; and, besides, it would
hurt her influence at the library and with the schoolgirls.  If people
could understand everything clearly, it would be another matter, but they
couldn't.  Elsie's best friends know it.  For my part, I don't believe
she deserves any punishment for doing wrong unconsciously--especially
since she's been such an angel of mercy to this house.  But even if she
had, she's suffered enough already to atone--with plenary grace."

"She's got to go by some name," Miss Pritchard remarked palpably, but
that gave Mrs. Middleton a suggestion.

"I know," she cried.  "Oh, Jack!  Oh, Elsie!" and her face was quite
irradiated with love and good-will.  "I know exactly what we'll do!
Elsie is just seventeen.  We'll adopt her, Jack, for our own daughter,
and she shall wear our name henceforth.  She shall be Elsie Middleton,
and Elsie Moss shall remain Elsie Moss, and they'll really be cousins."

She held out her arms, and Elsie nestled into them.

"My dearest Mildred!" cried her husband, going over to them in his
enthusiasm.  "Isn't she wonderful?" he demanded, and almost in the same
breath asked Miss Pritchard's consent to legalize the adoption.

"Of course, only after suitable arrangements and provision were made,
Miss Pritchard.  All we want now is your general or conditional approval."

Miss Pritchard smiled as she sighed.  "I'm sure I don't know what the
Pritchards would say, but if Elsie's willing I confess I don't see any
objection."

Elsie's expression made any questioning of her unnecessary.

"My own Elsie, my darling daughter," murmured Mrs. Middleton in her
sentimental way, stroking Elsie's hair.  But, strange to say, Elsie found
it all very grateful.

"As to Elsie M--" Miss Pritchard began, when she was interrupted by a
knock on the door, which she had left ajar (greatly to Kate's approval),
and Elsie Moss burst in.

In the excitement of the moment, she seemed her old self again--though
Miss Pritchard knew it to be a lovelier self.  She stood a moment in the
doorway, a charming little figure in a smart rose-colored linen suit with
a large drooping hat perched coquettishly upon her short locks, her
dimples very conspicuous.  Then she rushed upon Elsie Marley, who had
come forward shyly, and flung her arms about her.

Then she turned, her arm still about the other girl, to Miss Pritchard.

"I couldn't wait any longer, Cousin Julia," she said sweetly.  "I just
had to see Elsie-Honey."

"We're to be real cousins," the other whispered, and the quick-witted
girl understood at once.

"How perfectly ripping!" she cried.  "Oh, everybody's so dear and darling
that I should simply die of shame and remorse if I didn't just have to
stay alive to worship Cousin Julia and get acquainted with Uncle John and
Aunt Milly and--love my honey!"





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This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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