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Title: The Chronicles of Rhoda
Author: Cox, Florence Tinsley
Language: English
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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.

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THE CHRONICLES OF RHODA

[Illustration]


THE CHRONICLES OF RHODA

by

FLORENCE TINSLEY COX

Illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith


    "_O the radiant light that girdled
     Field and forest, land and sea,
     When we all were young together,
     And the world was new to me._"



[Illustration]

Boston
Small, Maynard & Company
Publishers

Copyright, 1909
By Small, Maynard & Company
(Incorporated)

Entered at Stationers' Hall

The University Press, Cambridge, U.S.A.



    TO THE MEMORY
    OF

    MY FATHER AND MY MOTHER



CONTENTS

                              PAGE
       I A DETHRONED QUEEN       1
      II LILY-ANN               29
     III THE OLD MAJOR          61
      IV THE FIRESIDE GOD       93
       V THE HOTTENTOT         129
      VI A SOCIAL EVENT        165
     VII AUNTIE MAY            197
    VIII THE GREEN DOOR        229
      IX THE HIDDEN TALENT     257



I

A DETHRONED QUEEN


"YOUR name is Rhoda," grandmother said, with the catechism open in her
hand. "Rhoda. Rhoda. It's quite easy to say."

"Ain't I the little pig that went to market?" I asked, anxiously, gazing
up from her lap into her eyes, over which she wore glass things like
covers. "And ain't I Baby Bunting?" I continued, with the memory of a
famous hunt stealing over me.

"Once you were," grandmother answered, soberly. "Now you are Rhoda."

I liked to sit in grandmother's lap. She had such a soft silk lap, and
in her pocket-hole there was a box which held peppermint drops. She
never gave them to anybody but just me, when I was good, and if her
arms were thin and fragile under the soft silk, she knew how to hold a
little girl in a most comfortable fashion. Her white hair rippled down
low at the sides, concealing her ears, but her ears were there for I had
run my fingers up to see. She wore a lovely lace collar, and a breastpin
with a picture on it, and when she walked the charms on her watch-chain
clinked in a musical way. Grandmother was beautiful, and every one said
that I looked just like grandmother. That was very nice, but puzzling,
for my hair was golden, and my eyes were uncovered, and where
grandmother had her wrinkles I had only a soft pink cheek.

I never sat very long on grandmother's lap. It was a function that meant
catechism or extreme repentance, and then, also, I was too popular for
one person to have me always. The family handed me around very much
like refreshments. Now I would be with mother, and now with father, and
now with Auntie May, who did not live at our house, but would run in on
her way to school to pat my head. They were all so fond of me that it
was quite gratifying.

"Where is Rhoda?" father would ask the very first thing when he came
into the house at night, and I would sit up for him, holding on tightly
to my chair for fear that they would put me to bed before he came.

Then we would have a little talk together, up in a corner by ourselves.
He was my confidant, and was more on a level with me than other people.
I had an idea that he would give me anything, quite irrespective of
goodness or badness, for when I was naughty he never appeared to think
any the worse of me, although the rest of the family might be bowed down
with the sense of my moral shortcomings. He was my champion, and in the
early twilight I had many stories to tell him, not always of the
strictest veracity.

"And so I runned away, far, far away, and I only came home just now," I
invented, in an airy manner.

"Did you see any one on the road?" he asked, with sudden interest.

He was aware of my love of a romance.

"There was a little old woman in a red cloak with a red pepper in her
mouth," I answered, peeping up in his face with wide, truthful eyes.

"Mother Hubbard!" my father cried, clapping his hands like a boy.
"Mother Hubbard! But where was her dog?"

"Her dog was behind, and he had a red pepper in his mouth," I added,
hastily.

"I wonder what they were going to do with them," my father said, luring
me on.

"Don't you know, father?" I cried, delighted.

"No, I can't think."

"Pies! She was going to make pies out of them! Pretty red pepper pies!"

"Sure enough!" my father said, much surprised. "I never thought of that.
How I wish that I'd been along!"

The little old lady in the silk dress used to quake when I said these
things. That was one of the reasons why she was teaching me my catechism
at such an early age, and I could repeat some pretty hymns, too, which
helped to comfort her. Always, no matter how extravagant the tale might
be, she made her protest. She meant that, at least, there should be one
strong hand to guide the child on the right road.

"That is not really so, Rhoda," she declared, in a severe voice. "You
did not see an old woman with a red pepper in her mouth."

I looked at her with a pout.

"Well, I did see an old woman in a red cloak, grandma."

"No, you didn't see an old woman at all. Child, you have not been out of
the house to-day!"

"I saw a dog with a red pepper in his mouth," I said, meekly.

"No, you did not even see a dog."

"Well, I saw my own red pepper!" I cried, breaking into sudden tears,
for this was my last stronghold, and if the pepper was taken away all my
charming fairy tale was gone.

"It's not a question of truth or untruth," my father said, tossing his
head back as if he were displeased. "It was merely a story of adventure.
Pray did you never meet any heroic beasts yourself in your own day?"

I opened one wet eye, and stole a cautious glance at grandmother.

"Never, Robert, never!"

I began to cry again harder than before.

Then my father took me in his arms, and carried me upstairs to my
mother.

"Grandmother has been making her tell the truth," he said, ruefully.
"She hasn't any sympathy with Rhoda's imagination."

So even in those early days I found that I had an imagination, just as I
had a chair with long legs, and a blue plate, and a silver mug. It was a
sleeping imagination as yet, for though I had a beautiful blue plate
with a blue bridge over a blue and white stream, I never imagined until
after years that those tiny figures on the bridge were lovers running
away from a cruel parent. Then the bridge was the spot beyond which the
gravy must not flow. When it swept over the boundary which I marked for
it, I pounded the table with impotent rage, and would eat no more
dinner.

"If she were a child of mine," grandmother said, sternly, "she should
eat her dinner. It is simply preposterous that her temper should be
allowed to go unchecked. What will she be when she grows up!"

"I don't think that Rhoda has a bad temper," my mother replied,
plaintively. "It's only that she's the soul of order."

My mother always discovered an excuse that fitted my case, and that
critical grandparent of mine found the ground swept from beneath her
feet. I was the soul of order. She had seen me herself with my large
basketful of toys wending wearily about the house. It was a large
basket, a beautiful yellow one with a red handle, and when I began to
play my things came out of it, and when I was through playing they went
into the yellow basket again. I had a rag doll of a pleasing
appearance, named Arabella, and a black woolly creature, which to the
eye of affection was a dog, and some of the small bits of carved wood
with which a wooden Noah intended to replenish his earth. I played the
most delightful games with these toys, and my mother played with me like
another small child.

It was with her that I lived most of my life. We were together, not only
during the day, but also at night, for when I woke up hours after I had
been put in my crib, she was always sitting in the lamplight, sewing or
reading, or else quietly watching the fire on the hearth. There was a
cheerful glitter from the brass andirons and fender, and on a shelf
above a silver candle-stick with crystal pendants threw out rosy lights.
I did not know any of these wonderful things by name, but I vaguely
enjoyed their engaging sparkle, and would lie feeling very safe and
warm, with my eyes on the central figure which came and went, now large
and mother-like, now lost in the misty depths of slumber.

Strong as was my feeling of proprietorship in that crib, however, there
came a dreadful night when I awoke to find myself lost. I was in a new
bed. I was in grandmother's big bed, where there was a faint smell of
lavender which I liked without knowing why. Grandmother herself had me
in her arms and was soothing me.

"Hush-a-by, baby," she said, in quite a new tone, somewhat like a
grandmother, but more like an angel. "Hush-a-by, baby, in the treetop."

I sat up and looked about for the shining fender. It was gone! The fire
was gone, and my mother was gone!

"I want my mother," I said, sternly.

"Rhoda can't have mother now. Rhoda must stay with grandma," the dulcet
voice went on. "Grandma's own little Rhoda!"

"But I want my mother," I cried, all the sternness breaking into sobs.

Grandmother was evidently alarmed. She rocked me softly, she gave me
hurried sips of water, and, at last, she emptied the peppermint drops,
not one by one as heretofore, but, lavishly, in dozens, into my hand. I
felt a little more comfortable. The fender was a pretty thing to watch,
but peppermint drops were peppermint drops. I went to sleep in my
grandmother's arms quite calmly, while with tender touches she dried my
eyes and smoothed my hair.

"Bless the child!" I heard her say, in the pause between dreams.

It was rather a shock, perhaps, to wake up in that big bed next morning
and be dressed by grandmother. She was very awkward at it, as if she
had forgotten how small garments were constructed, and how hard it was
for arms to go into sleeves. I was preternaturally good, but even when I
slipped my hand into hers to go downstairs I was meaning to desert her
when mother came into sight.

We went down to breakfast, very clean and neat, with short, sober steps
that suited both our gaits. Father came hurrying to meet us and was
quite overjoyed to see me; but, although I searched in all the closets
and behind the doors, there was no mother in any of the rooms. When no
one was looking at me I started upstairs to hunt for her. Grandmother
called me back in that old tone which must be obeyed, which had the ring
of authority and catechism in it.

"Stay here, Rhoda," she said, decisively. "You are not to go out of this
room."

Then with cautious steps she mounted up herself, passing into the
forbidden regions, and father and I were all that were left of the
circle about the table, which was usually so gay with talk and
merriment. To my eyes father had a look as if he, too, were frightened.

"Never mind, father," I said, eagerly. "Rhoda won't run away."

He took me up with rather an apologetic laugh.

"Little daughter," he said, in a tender way, "did I ever tell you about
the big bird?"

"No, father," I answered, quickly.

"Not about the time when it brought me Rhoda?"

I stared at him with delighted eyes. Evidently I was going to hear
something of great importance, something which concerned me alone.

"Three years ago," my father began, in an easy fashion, "I thought I'd
like a little daughter. So I sent a letter to a beautiful big bird
which lives far away where the blue sky comes down to the ground. The
bird has lots of little babies--girl babies and boy babies--on the shore
of a lake where the sun shines day and night. She's a very good-natured
bird, and sometimes when she hears of a father who's lonely because he
hasn't any children, she'll put a little baby under her wing, and fly on
over the beautiful country until she comes to its father's house. Now
the bird knew that I was very lonely, because I had sent her a letter,
so one day she picked up little Rhoda out of a lily leaf, and came
flying along--flying along--"

"I remember! I remember!" I cried, clapping my hands. "She put me under
her wing, and the feathers did tickle so!"

My father stopped to laugh; but in a moment he continued his narrative.

"She came flying along straight into the garden where I was walking
about. She put you down--"

"And you said, 'Is this my little Rhoda?' and I said, 'Yes, father!'"

"Just so."

"Now tell it all over again, father," I demanded in delight.

My father laughed and hugged me closer. He still had that apologetic
look on his face, and if I had been a little older and a little wiser, I
would have known that my father was trying very hard to break something
to me.

"She has a great many babies," he said at last, in an uneasy tone. "More
than she knows what to do with. Yesterday I wrote her to send me another
Rhoda."

I drew away from him, dumbfounded.

"Another Rhoda!" I exclaimed, with a gasp, frowning at him.

"Wouldn't you like a little sister to play with?" he inquired,
tenderly. "To sleep with you in your crib? And sit by you at the table?"

"No, father."

"Oh, yes, yes, you would, Rhoda!"

"No, no, no!" I screamed, breaking into angry tears.

He tried to comfort me in a blundering, laughing manner, but in the
midst of all my sorrow grandmother's voice called to him from above.

"Robert!"

When the room cleared before my eyes I saw that I was alone.

At that same moment I had decided on my course of action. Very quickly,
very quietly, I collected my plate and mug, my woolly dog and pleasant
faced doll, and the yellow basket with the red handle, and stowed them
all away in a dark corner under the sofa, where they were hidden from
sight. My blue hood which hung in the hall, and was something quite new
and precious, I put on my head, where it would be safest. Then half
terrified, half defiant, I took up my position at the window to watch
for the arrival of that other self which would dispute my realm. Every
second I dreaded to hear the flutter of wings as the bird passed over
the house, and to see another Rhoda standing expectant in the garden, to
see my father, perhaps, hurrying to meet her with outstretched arms. It
was a terrible hour.

In my need, however, I found a new friend, Norah from out the kitchen. I
had known her before, as a person owning unlimited cake, and apt to
display a strong liking for myself, but then she had been only an
outsider, while now she was almost nearer to me than my mother. I threw
myself straight into her willing arms, and told my story.

Norah was evidently astonished, and almost incredulous. She did not
believe that there could be another Rhoda. She had never heard of any
bird, but when I persisted she shared my views, and entered into my
position with great partisanship.

"But, sure, I'd not worrit my mind," Norah said, consolingly. "No burrd
in her sinses would take a baby out in such weather as this."

To be sure it was raining. I had not thought of that before. A fierce
storm was beating against the house, and pools of water stood under the
trees. The raindrops on the window pane ran down in small rivulets, and
splashed against the sill just as my tears had done before.

"She'll get her feathers all wet," I cried, triumphantly.

"And she'll not dry them at my kitchen fire!" Norah declared, with
stupendous daring.

We were out in the kitchen now. It was a very pleasant homely place. A
kettle sang on the stove, and a cat purred on the hearth, and the carpet
had beautiful red stripes that seemed too pretty to walk on. Norah was
very good to me. She had my high-chair ranged at the side of the hearth,
and the cat, under compulsion, sat on my lap, and they all sang,--the
kettle, the cat, and Norah, in their several fashions, as if they were
happy. They acted very much as if they were entertaining royalty.

If it had not been for my sorrow I should have enjoyed myself, but the
thought of that bird would pass across my mind. She had come once when
she was sent for, bearing me from my lily leaf to my own home. The rain
might fall, and the day might be very dark, but who was to know if that
conscientious bird would not still fulfill her mission? Why, there were
five children in the next house, and the bird must have brought them
all! When the bell rang, as it rang many times in the course of the day,
I would creep to the kitchen door to listen, and feel greatly relieved
when I found that it was only men and women who wanted to come in.

"It was no burrd," Norah would say, reporting on each occasion.

"Did you lock the door?" I asked, anxiously.

"I did that. There's no burrd shall make her way into this house
to-day," she answered, with a great show of determination.

Even as she spoke there came a faint strange sound from upstairs, a
wailing cry, as though something very weak was angry and frightened, and
wanted matters arranged to suit its own will and convenience. For one
moment I thought Norah heard the sound, too. She seemed to smile; but on
the instant she broke into a queer, elfish song, and began to dance
before the fire in an irresistible way that brought me capering beside
her in a burst of glee. The bird had passed out of my mind, and I was
Rhoda again, the little queen of the household, to whom all deferred,
even grandmother in her tenderer moments.

It was very late that afternoon when I heard my father calling to me in
an eager, excited manner. He came out into the kitchen where I and the
cat were both in Norah's lap, indistinguishable in the growing darkness.

"Where is Rhoda?" he cried. "Where is my little daughter? I've got
something to show her."

I went to him quickly. It was nice to have him back again, and to be
kissed in the old fond way. He threw me upon his shoulder and started
off; but even as we stepped into the hall he called back to Norah, still
with that boyish eagerness in his voice.

"You can come, too, Norah," he said, generously. "I want you to see what
we've got upstairs."

Norah joined us without comment, and followed behind through the hall
and upstairs into mother's room. There it was very dark, for the
curtains were drawn, and the only light came from the fire on the
hearth, in front of which grandmother was sitting. She sat in a new
majestic style, and on her lap there was something bundled up which she
patted from time to time, and she trotted her feet in a funny seasaw
fashion. When she saw us come in she smiled, and then very slowly she
folded down a covering, and showed us a pillow, and on the pillow there
were two little babies' heads.

"Twins!" Norah cried, and threw up her arms in the air. "Now the saints
be good to us," she said, piously.

"S-s-sh--Not so loud, Norah," grandmother whispered, in rebuke, and
trotted her feet a little harder.

"Let Rhoda see," father exclaimed. "Let Rhoda come quite close."

I went up closer by grandmother's knee and looked at them. It was a new
experience, and for a moment I felt sorry for myself. Those about me
must have shared the feeling, for their eyes grew kinder, and father
patted my back, and Norah muttered under her breath.

"Sure it's a come down in the world," I heard her say, pityingly.

Then, suddenly, those two little creatures half opened their eyes, and
gazed at me. They smiled at me! They knew that I was their big sister!
Oh, the wonder of the two little heads on the pillow, the mystery of the
eyes that looked at me so placidly, with that smile of kinship in their
depths! I forgot the bird, I forgot my jealousy. I was ready to give
them anything, anything, even the woolly dog and the yellow basket with
the red handle, for the simple honor of their acquaintanceship. They
were so young, and they were so weak! They could not walk, and they
could not talk. They had everything to learn. I felt very old beside
them, although I did not know that in that first moment when grandmother
turned the covering down I had become the eldest child.

"Oh, grandma," I cried, radiantly, "you may have one, but the other one
shall belong all to me!"

There was a movement in the bed, and some one called to me. I ran into
the darkness and found my mother. There on the pillow beside her pretty
dark hair she made a place for me, where we could see each other's eyes.
Her arm was about me in a protecting way, as if she knew how hard the
world had become for me.

"Rhoda," she said, with that smile which always seemed so wise,
"mother's heart is a big, big place! There is room in it both for dear
little Rhoda and the dear little babies."

I felt that I was content.



II

LILY-ANN


"THIS is Lily-Ann, Rhoda," my mother said, in an introductory tone. "She
is to be your little nurse, and play with you. Do you know many nice
games, Lily-Ann?"

From the shelter of my mother's chair I stared at the new-comer. I
almost thought at first that it might be a little girl, until I noticed
the shining folds of white apron. Lily-Ann was all white apron, down to
the tops of her large, patched shoes. She was fourteen years old,
perhaps, with the dignity of forty. She had a wide, smiling face, and
appeared to be very agreeable in manner, so when she put out her hand I
slipped mine cordially into it.

"I can play at wild beasts, and puss-in-the-corner, and 'ride a cock
horse to Banbury Cross,'" she told my mother over my head. "I am
experienced. I have helped to raise three children, ma'am."

She looked so small as she ended in this impressive fashion that my
mother laughed, and my grandmother gleamed responsively through her
glasses.

"It must be only quiet games, mind," my mother said. "You mustn't teach
Miss Rhoda to be noisy."

Lily-Ann promised to observe this caution faithfully, and I suppose she
thought that they were only quiet games which we played that morning. We
had all three,--Banbury Cross, then puss-in-the-corner, and, finally,
wild beasts. Lily-Ann crawled under the bed and roared at me, now like a
tiger, now plaintively, like a big pussy cat, and again with a deeper
note that carried menace in its tone.

"That's a lion," she explained, in between great volumes of sound.
"Lions eat people all up. So do wolves. Now I'm a wolf. Hear me crunch
their bones!"

There was a horrible snarl under the bed, and something white and
shining made a snatch at my foot, and then retreated, to return the next
moment in a panting rush, much too real to be pleasant.

"Oh, please, Lily-Ann, I don't want to play wild beasts any more!" I
exclaimed, half afraid; but only half afraid, for she was very obedient
to my whims, and, when I cried loud enough, came out in a crushed state
to be a little girl again.

At first I liked Lily-Ann. She was so companionable, and then she knew
such quantities of strange things. For instance, it was she who showed
me how to make my hair curl. It could be done by eating crusts! There
had always been a great deal of trouble about my crusts. I would never
eat them, not even after I had been reminded of all the poor children in
the world who had not a crust apiece to stay their hunger on, and whom
it seemed that I should benefit in some marvelous way by eating mine.

"They can have these," I replied, generously, to such appeals to my
feelings. "I'll save them for them every day."

That, however, was before Lily-Ann came, and I learned that a crusty
diet was warranted to make the hair curl. To think that little Rhoda
Harcourt might have curly hair! What a nice thing that would be! Of
course it meant months of work, but Lily-Ann, whose hair twisted from
the roots, must surely know. Under her encouragement I ate all my own
crusts, and begged so earnestly for more at the table that I became a
wonder to the family.

"Is the curl coming, Lily-Ann?" I would ask, eagerly, in the mornings
when she stood over me, comb in hand.

"It's coming more and more every day," she asserted, to my great
satisfaction.

"Ouch! How you do hurt, Lily-Ann!"

"That's because it's so curly. See that long, beautiful one. I can't
hardly get my comb through!"

I sighed blissfully with my eyes full of tears, and wondered when my
mother would notice the change in her little girl, for, indeed,
something must have happened to my hair, judging from the jerks.

It was Lily-Ann again who taught me how to catch sparrows by throwing
salt on their tails. I ran about very hot and eager all one morning, and
ended by feeling rather foolish, for not a bird would be caught, though
I crept persistently on their track, always sure that the next time I
should be successful. Still, I did not bear any grudge against Lily-Ann.
It was not her fault that I was unfortunate, and then, too, she was very
sympathetic.

"Why, my cousin caught one only yesterday!" she cried, in astonishment.
"But then she is older than you are. And so smart! She turned a
horsehair into a snake once. Did you ever do that, ma'am?"

"No," I answered, doubtfully; and immediately added, with growing
enthusiasm, "oh, I should so like to do that!"

The end of it was that a faint suspicion which had crept upon me after
the sparrow episode was quenched in the zeal with which I set myself to
the awful task of raising snakes by the wholesale. There was always a
touch of dread in the eagerness with which I visited the snake
incubator,--a rusty pan half-filled with water, and hidden in a secret
space behind the lilac bush. Little by little the horror of the
situation so overcame me that I hurriedly weeded the horsehairs out; but
the six that remained were the finest and longest which I could find,
destined, I could easily expect from their size, to become
boa-constrictors.

I believed everything that Lily-Ann told me. Up to that time there had
never been occasion for me to question any one's truth, nor had there
been anything of which to be afraid. Now I learned of a new world that
lay about me,--the Land of the Dark,--in which familiar furniture played
wild pranks, and shadows came to have a very terrible meaning.

"After you go to bed at night," Lily-Ann said, impressively, holding up
a fat forefinger, "there are Things that come out and run all about the
floor! Under the chairs and under the bed they creep around. Especially
under the bed. If you should let your hand hang down, a Thing would take
it and shake it!"

I peered at her from out the shelter of the bed-clothes, for I was in
bed when this was first related, and she was sitting by me until I
should go to sleep.

"I shall never do that, Lily-Ann," I said, faintly, gluing my arms
closer to my sides.

"You might in your sleep," she returned, with grim significance.

"And that ain't all," she went on, after a short but terrible pause.
"There's a Bear in the garret. He wants something."

"What does he want?" I asked, fearfully, determined to know the worst at
once.

"He wants a bad child. He's hungry!"

Now I was bad, as I had just reason to know. Lily-Ann used to examine my
record every night, and she was the greatest one that I have ever seen
for pointing out flaws in character.

"I don't think I've been _very_ bad to-day, Lily-Ann," I said,
trembling.

"You took your little brother's ball," she answered, shortly.

"But I gave it back to him!" I cried, aghast.

"You slapped your little sister."

"But she slapped me, too!" I pleaded.

"Not until after you slapped her. And you are six years old."

That was one of the unkindest things about Lily-Ann; she was always
trying to make me live up to my station. And it was so hard to be good,
and hardest of all to be good enough for my great age. That night,
however, I made a compact with her.

"Dear Lily-Ann," I said, piteously, "if I go right to sleep by myself,
so you can get your supper, will you chase away the Things and tell the
Bear that there is no bad child in this house?"

I was not prone to criticise my elders and betters; but somehow I had
remarked that Lily-Ann was fond of her supper.

She went away without much urging, and I lay there miserably in the
dark. It seemed to me that there was a stir all through the quiet room,
and out in the hall the garret door creaked in a new manner. The dark
was so much blacker than it had ever been before, and even when I went
down head and all under the covers I could hear the Things pattering
about the floor, and the Bear rattling at the knob. Many a night after
that I huddled myself up into a heap, afraid to sleep lest my hands
should unclasp and slip out of bed, afraid to move lest the Bear on the
prowl for bad children should pounce on me and eat me up, sins and all.
I used to pretend to sleep very loudly and heavily that he might think
me a good child. Still, I felt that it must be hard to deceive a Bear,
and that sooner or later he would make an end of me. As for the Things,
I never had any hope of getting the better of them. All through the long
nights they slipped and slid about, or stood waiting at the edge of the
bed to shake hands, with a friendliness that was truly awful.

Even in my greatest fear, however, I never betrayed Lily-Ann. I was too
much in her power to dare to tell tales about her. I used to marvel when
the family commented on her faithfulness, or devised schemes for
improving the home from which she had come. Many large bundles went out
of our house, and I often heard my mother speaking in a sympathetic
fashion of the little girl whose childhood was passed in the service of
others.

"Poor Lily-Ann, she's never had any childhood of her own," she would
say, regretfully.

Out in the kitchen, too, I had heard our Norah exchanging confidences on
the subject with her cousin, who came in sometimes, when there was
company, to help with the work.

"I give her all the cold things to take home every night," Norah
confided. "The praties and bits of mate; just anything. They are that
starving that they are not particular. Every smithereen of clothes that
she has the mistress gave her, and the old lady has been open-handed,
too. There's many a ten-dollar bill finds its way to that house."

The cousin sniffed.

"The rest of us have to work for our own," she said. "Faith, it's fine
to be reckless sometimes."

"But I'm not trusting her," Norah continued, darkly. "She tells lies.
And she's cross to my child!"

"Who is your child, Norah?" I asked, with sudden eagerness, pressing up
close to her gingham apron.

Norah lifted me upon her capacious lap and patted my back.

"And it's herself that wants to know," she cried, with a rallying laugh.
"See that now! Ain't she growing a big girl, Bridget? See the praties in
her cheeks! Sure, she's purty enough to be Irish."

"But who is your child, Norah?" I persisted, jealously; and it was only
when a burst of laughter broke from the two women that I understood, and
hid my face in the concealing folds of the gingham apron.

I was very good to Lily-Ann after this time. Not that I had ever been
bad to her before; but now I began to join in the work of charity. I
made her a present of the little gold locket which my grandmother
Lawrence gave me on my last birthday, and of my second-best pair of
shoes, which had been red once, and still retained a delightful color. I
wanted to give her my Sunday cloak, also, but she reminded me that there
were other Sundays yet to come. She did take my bank with its one
jingling gold coin in it. Unfortunately, all the money of less value had
been pried out long ago to buy candy, but I told Lily-Ann how sorry I
was that the little red house was not filled to the chimney with
pennies. I promised that I would give her all my money in the future to
take home to her family, so that they might never be hungry again.
Lily-Ann heard me in silence. She did not thank me with her lips, but
when the Things grew too rampant at night she would reprove them
sometimes in a stern manner.

"Go away!" she would cry, stamping her foot energetically. "Rhoda is a
good child."

The Things and the Bear all grunted with the same voice as they
retreated in discontent to their lairs; but I was not critical. It was
enough for me that they went, if only for a time. Always I remembered
that Lily-Ann could summon them at will, and her importance grew greater
day by day.

There were hours, however, when I escaped into the safety of my mother's
room. I was not too small to understand the delights of that cheerful
room,--the glittering objects on the dressing-table, the deep bureau
drawers filled with wonders much too dainty for a child to touch. There
were keepsakes, also, mementos of my mother's childhood and youth; prize
books in foreign tongues, won at school and laid away in tissue paper;
bits of costly lace, and many little worthless, well-beloved
possessions. In the closet there was a box on an upper shelf. Quite an
ordinary box it was on the outside, made of pasteboard and tied with
bands of yellow ribbon which had once been white. My mother lifted the
cover one day, and showed me what was inside. It was the most wonderful
thing, and it had come off her wedding-cake. There was a white platform
surrounded with a wreath of white roses and leaves, and in the center of
the platform there stood under a wreathed arch two little dolls, arm in
arm.

"They are going to be married," my mother said. "They came off the top
of my cake when I was married."

"Oh, isn't it too sweet for anything!" I cried, in an ecstasy. "But,
mother, why does the lady doll wear a veil?"

"All brides do. You shall, too, some day."

"Shall I?" I questioned, doubtfully. "But, mother, dear, suppose I
should grow up, and never get married, won't you give me these little
dolls to play with?"

"If that should happen I suppose I must," my mother said, with a laugh,
and tied the box up tightly again, and put it back on the upper shelf.

I dreamed about that box. I talked of it to Lily-Ann, and described the
enchanting veil at great length; and I even condescended to tell the
twins about the dolls that mother had. Once, with great pain from the
acute rasping of my knees, I climbed up the closet shelves, and peeked
in a loose corner of the box. Then I came down again, perfectly
satisfied, for the dolls were still there, and if I escaped marriage
they were to be my own. I determined that I would never marry. It would
be at too great a cost.

Soon after this there came a day when everything seemed to go wrong.
Lily-Ann was very cross, while my mother looked sad and even frightened.
She went up and down stairs many times. She watched me furtively, and
asked whispered questions of Lily-Ann. I wondered what Lily-Ann could
possibly be telling her. I knew that it was not about me, for I had been
very good that afternoon. To be sure, I had pulled the cat's tail; but
she and I had kissed each other affectionately afterwards, and were
friends again. Nor was Lily-Ann apt to reveal my misdeeds. She liked to
judge me herself in that dread hour when the dark brought repentance.
Still, as the questions went on and on, I was sure that I heard my name,
not once but many times, now from Lily-Ann, and now from my mother, with
a gasp of dismay.

Then my mother took me in her arms and kissed me, and rocked me as if I
were a baby again, and in the middle of it all made me a little
confidence.

"Rhoda, mother always meant to give you those little dolls," she said.

"Oh, did you, mother!" I cried, eagerly.

"But giving is different from taking. Do you know what it means to steal
a thing, Rhoda?"

I nodded solemnly.

"'Thou shalt not steal,' you know the Bible says."

"Yes, mother."

"Did you climb up into my closet one day?"

I hung my head.

"Rhoda, when you knew that you had only to ask for mother to give them
to you, why did you take away my little dolls?"

"But I did not take them," I cried, in surprise. "I only looked at
them. Was I very bad, mother?"

"You didn't take them? Think what you are saying, Rhoda."

"I did not take them," I protested, breaking into tears, for though I
was bad, I knew that I was not that bad.

I could see that she did not believe me. She sighed in a way that I had
never heard my mother sigh before, and set me down on the floor beside
her. Then she took me by the hand, and we made a very solemn pilgrimage
up the stairs, and through her room into the one which was my own,
straight up into the corner where my doll-house stood. She opened the
little door, and motioned me to look in. The bride and groom were
leaning stiffly side by side against the sofa in the parlor! They stared
back at me with scorn on their sugar faces, and there was, also,
something accusing in their expression, as if they were saying, "Little
girl, how do we come here?" Still I would not confess. I had not taken
them. I had wanted them very much, but now I did not want them at all. I
should have liked to smash their sugar heads, for it was their fault.
They had done it themselves, stepping down from their high shelf in the
middle of the night. They were tired of living tied up in a box, and
wanted my doll-house to set up housekeeping in. They had done it
themselves just to plague me. There was no other way to explain it.

"What does she say?" grandmother asked, creeping in behind us.

"Not the truth!" my mother cried. "I should never have suspected my
child of lying and stealing! But Lily-Ann says it is not the first
time!"

I stood and looked at them. It almost seemed as if I did not love them
any more. They knew me so little that they thought I could steal those
sugar dolls.

"Grandma, put her to bed for me," my mother said, still with that
frightened look on her face. "I don't know what to say to her. I must
ask her father."

Grandmother put me to bed, with slow, patient fingers. She tucked me in,
and kissed me in quite a tender way.

"Tell grandma," she urged, in a whisper, bending down until her
spectacles touched my hot cheek.

But still I would not confess.

It was very quiet in my little room after she had gone. I could hear the
dishes rattling down-stairs, as Norah set the table with a bang of the
plates and a thump of the knives. We were going to have honey for supper
and little cakes with frosted tops baked in scolloped patty-pans. I
wondered whether I should have any supper, or must lie there in the
dark, while they talked about me at the supper-table. I did not think
that _I_ could enjoy frosted cake baked in scolloped patty-pans if _my_
little girl were alone up-stairs in the dark. When I grew up and
married, for I might as well marry now, I would never treat any one so.
Never! Never!! Never!!!

"Oh, please, God, let me hurry and grow up," I whispered to the
darkness. "And, oh, please, God, let me have frosted cake for my
supper!"

I waited for the prayer to bear fruit. Sometimes prayers were rather
slow. I heard my father come home with a cheerful rustle of parcels. He
hung up his coat and hat in the hall, and tiptoed upstairs to wash his
hands. He knew that the twins were asleep in their cribs; but he did not
know that I was beyond in the darkness, afraid to speak to him. He did
not miss me, although I was always the first to welcome him at the door.
Nobody seemed to miss me. I heard them draw up their chairs to the
table. Now they were eating honey. Now they were eating frosted cake.
Lily-Ann would have some of the cake. They believed in her. It was only
their own little girl whom they sent to bed without her supper. It was
only Rhoda whom nobody loved. If God would let me grow up quick, I would
go away and not be a trouble to them any more. Perhaps off in the
country I might find somebody who would love me, and believe in me, for
I did not want to be loved unless I was believed in. I should be very
lonely at first, nearly as lonely as I was now. A sore place came in my
throat that made me cry because it hurt so.

The kitchen door opened in the distance, and a whirlwind swept into the
dining-room. There was a pause, punctuated by loud remarks delivered in
a high Irish voice, and then the whirlwind came up the stairs, and
swept me out of my bed. It was Norah. I clung to her, for she was the
only thing which I had left to love in the whole world. My father and
mother had deserted me, but Norah was staunch. She kissed me as she
carried me, big girl as I was, straight down the steps into the dazzling
light of the supper-table. Norah was excited. She had a red spot on each
cheek, and her eyes shone like stars. She held me tightly with one arm
and gesticulated with the other. Against the white panel of the kitchen
door Lily-Ann was crouched in a timid, frightened fashion, with all the
spirit gone out of her wide face, and almost the very curl gone out of
her hair.

"She had them dolls yisterday," Norah cried, accusingly, her finger
pointed straight at the kitchen door. "I saw them in her box. Sure, I
thought that the mistress gave them to her, and it's not for the likes
of me to say what the mistress shall give or not give. Then this morning
when there was questions asked, she crept upstairs and put them in the
doll-house. The sarpent! Is my child to lie in the dark crying her heart
out, and that sarpent set at my kitchen-table drinking her tay, and
telling me wicked tales of my child?"

Nobody answered her. They stared at her in bewilderment. Norah had never
acted like that before.

"If there was questions to be asked, why wasn't I asked?" she went on,
angrily. "If the mistress or the master had said to me, 'Norah, where's
them little dolls?' I would have told them the truth. I would have said,
'Lily-Ann stole them yisterday, ma'am, and to-day she put them in the
doll-house, sur.' But, no, they don't ask honest old Norah. They listen
to that sarpent backbiting my child. The little innocent creatur! The
dear little old-fashioned thing that niver took nought from nobody!"

I put my arms around Norah's neck, and hugged her until I nearly
strangled her.

"Give Rhoda to me, Norah," my mother said, jealously.

"There's only one thing more to be said, ma'am," Norah continued,
obstinately standing her ground, still with my arms about her neck.
"Either old Norah goes or that sarpent goes. I'll have no sarpents in my
kitchen."

They were all looking at Lily-Ann now. There was a ring of truth about
Norah's story which had convinced them at last.

"Have you anything to say, Lily-Ann?" my father asked, sternly.

She had nothing to say. As she drooped a little closer to the door and
wiped her eyes in a miserable fashion, I felt that I could forgive her
all the harm which she had done me. Poor Lily-Ann, who my mother said
had never been a child!

"Oh, please, Norah, let Lily-Ann stay!" I cried, piteously. "I'll be so
good if you'll let Lily-Ann stay!"

Norah might, perhaps, have been softened by my appeal, but my father
would not listen. The words which he used were very stern ones, and his
was the hand that held open the door for Lily-Ann to pass out of the
house. She went slowly, almost regretfully, as though at the last she
felt repentance. I never saw her again.

It was many a long year, however, before I cast off her evil spell. Even
in the illnesses of my maturer years those crawling Things have come
back, passing across the mirror of a pain-racked mind with all the
horror of childish ignorance and fear. Yet I still feel that I have
forgiven Lily-Ann. Coming from the home that she did, and unwatched and
unsuspected as she was, she might easily have destroyed the holy
innocence of a child's life. But she left me as she found me.

I went upstairs very quietly that night. There was a candle burning on
the bedroom table, and something which my prayer had brought, something
frosted, with scolloped edges, was tucked under my pillow. The whole
family came to put me to bed, and made so much of me that I glowed under
their affection.

"She will forget it all in time," my father said, tenderly, unwitting of
my long memory. "Evil dies away quickly from a child's mind."

My mother was more impulsive. She went down on her knees and put her
arms about me.

"Forgive mother," she whispered, with her mouth against my ear. "Mother
knows how true you are, Rhoda!"

After all there was really something for which to thank Lily-Ann.



III

THE OLD MAJOR


ABOUT our house there was a garden, with round beds of blooming plants,
and a shady apple-tree or two to break the glare of the summer sun. In
one corner the hollyhocks grew, and along the path to the gate purple
flags appeared each spring in uneven rows, like isolated bands of
soldiers marching on a common enemy. There were dandelions in the grass,
and a lilac bush near the front door. Here I used to play, in a bright
pink sun-bonnet, and little black slippers which buttoned with a band
about my ankle. Secretly I considered myself rather beautiful, and as
for my conquests, they stretched down the street and around the block.
There was the grocer's boy, and the elderly lady from over the way, who
wore one kind of hair in the morning and another kind in the afternoon,
and ordinary strangers passing through the town, and, last of all, but
first in my estimation, the old major.

Every day at the same hour he passed the house, leaning on a cane. When
the sun was bright he stepped along quickly, with an alert carriage of
the head; but there were cloudy days when his step was slow and feeble,
and even his smile lost some of its usual charm.

"Hello, little girl," he said, in a ponderous fashion, the first time
that he saw me perched on the gate. "Hello! Hello! Hello!"

The hellos reached a long distance, and grew very gruff at the end, but
there was a twinkle in his eye, and he had a beautiful bright star on
his watch-chain, with which I longed to play.

I gravely put out a small hand to him.

"My name is Rhoda," I said, in a burst of confidence. "I live here in
this house. I was six years old yesterday."

"Were you!" he replied, evidently much impressed. "That's very old, very
old."

He went on slowly down the block, but when he turned on his way back, he
stopped again at the gate to discuss my age.

"Six, was it?" he questioned. "Well! Well! Perhaps you can tell me what
time it is."

I shook my head, with a fascinated look at the gleaming star.

"I haven't a watch."

"But you don't need a watch," he answered. "See here."

He stooped down, painfully, grasping the fence for support, and picked
the snowy seed-ball of a dandelion plant. Then he straightened up,
slowly, and blew at the feathery toy.

"One, two, three, four, five! Five o'clock. Time for the old major to go
in out of the damp."

Then he turned away from me, and went on up the street, his cane digging
little holes in the path, and he himself forgetting all about the child
whom he had left still perched on her gate. I had not entirely passed
from his memory, however, for when he came to his own gate far in the
distance, he took off his hat, and gallantly waved it to me before he
went in out of the damp.

"Mother, I love the old major!" I said one day.

"What major?" my mother asked, looking up from her work with a smile.

She was making small ruffled skirts and aprons with pockets. She could
make the most beautiful things, all out of her own head.

"What major? Why, my major. Mother, has the old major any little girls
or boys that I could play with? Oh, I should so like to play with his
little girls and boys!"

"Major Daniel Clark hasn't any little girls or boys. He lost them all,
dear. He is a very lonely man."

"Didn't he ever find them again, mother?"

"No, dear. Never again."

Now, I was very good at finding things. I found grandmother's spectacles
ten times a day, even when they were only lost in her soft, white hair.
And once I found mother's thimble when little brother Dick had it in his
mouth, and it was just going down red lane. Norah said that I had a pair
of bright eyes, and my very father, when he wanted his slippers, could
think of no one so trustworthy to send as I. To find little girls and
boys would be quite easy, for they were much larger things. I had only
to ask all the girls and boys who came past my gate if they belonged to
the major, and, when the right ones came, we would run hand-in-hand up
to that distant door and go in. He would be so pleased, and never lonely
again. And, perhaps--Just suppose that he would be my friend forever and
ever!

I was waiting on my gate the next day when he came by.

"Oh, Major!" I cried, excitedly, nodding my head at him, "I'm going to
find your little girls and boys for you!"

"My little girls and boys?" he asked, perplexed.

"Yes. The ones that you lost so long ago."

He turned quite suddenly on his way, so quickly that I thought that he
was angry, but when he came back he stopped at the gate again. He took
my face softly between his hands, and looked down deep into my eyes,
into the little circles where there were pictures.

"When you grow up, always remember that the old major loved you," he
said, hurriedly, and then went back toward the house from which he had
come out so shortly before.

We were great friends after that. We held long conversations over the
gate, about my dolls, and the hobby-horse which had lately come to live
in the hall. We discussed the best way to raise children, and how
convenient it would be if aprons could only be made to button in front.
We both had original ideas on things, and often differed, but none of my
new clothes ever seemed quite real to me until the major had admired
them, and pinched my cheeks with that air of gallantry which showed
that I was a woman. He brought me presents, very wonderful things;
bright pebbles which he picked up on the street, willow whistles, and a
tiny basket carved from a peach-stone, which I hung on a ribbon about my
neck. I gave him flowers, and once, when no one was looking, I let him
kiss me in the shadow of the pink sunbonnet.

If the major and I met thus on the sunny days, when it rained there came
a blank in my life. Then he could not go out at all, but must stay shut
up in his house until the weather cleared again. There was something the
matter with the major which made this necessary. In some unaccountable
way he was different from other people, and to be different from other
people was sad, and was, moreover, a thing which never happened in our
family.

Now, grandmother had a little red brick house that stood on her
mantel-piece which aided me a great deal in the stormy times. A little
man and woman lived in this house who were never of the same mind, and
carried their lack of sympathy to such an alarming extent that they used
separate doors, and, as far as I could see, had never met in the course
of their lives. For as sure as the man with the umbrella came out of one
door, the little lady with the roses in her bonnet gathered up her
skirts, and scurried in as if she were afraid to meet him. With her went
the sunshine and the blue look to the sky, and the rain came down heavy
and fast. But if the old man went into his house, the old lady sprang
out, with a smile on her face, the rain stopped falling, and the sun
came out. Then, by and by, the major would walk down the street, and
stop to chat awhile.

I used to run into grandmother's room every morning to look at that
house.

"Grandma," I cried, eagerly, "has the little lady come out to-day?"

Then I took my stand soberly in front of the mantelpiece and regarded
the two figures with much attention.

"Grandma," I said once, "do you think that they can be relations?"

Grandmother took up a stitch in her knitting without replying.

"Because, if they are," I went on, indignantly, "I think that they ought
to be ashamed!"

"Ashamed of what, Rhoda?"

"Why, of the way that they act. They don't even look at each other! And,
grandma, I think that he's the worst. He goes in with such a click when
she comes out. He's so afraid that she'll say something to him."

Grandmother looked up over her spectacles.

"Now that I come to think of it," she said, "they've acted that way for
forty years."

"I wonder why he don't like her?" I went on, musingly. "Is it because
she's got flowers in her bonnet, and he hasn't? Look, grandma, she's
coming out very quietly. She's going to catch him this time. Oh, he's
gone in with a click! And he never said a word!"

"We'll have fair weather now, Rhoda."

"And my major will come out, grandma."

"He's my major!" little Dick cried.

"He's my major!" Beatrice asserted.

"No such thing!" I said, turning on them angrily. "He belongs all to me.
Don't he, grandma?"

Grandmother did not answer, but I knew that he did. When the twins came,
hand-in-hand, down the path to see him, he would pat their fat arms
through the spokes of the gate, but it was always I to whom he wished
to talk, for I was more of his own age and not a baby like them.

"Baby yourself!" Dick said, when I mentioned this, and slapped me, but
it made no difference.

Sometimes the lady from across the way would come over to walk with the
major. They were old friends, and had a great deal to talk about. I
remember seeing her shake her finger at him when she found him leaning
on my gate.

"So you're trying to turn another woman's head!" she cried, gayly.

He wheeled upon her with that sudden straightening of his shoulders that
would come so unexpectedly.

"Did I ever turn yours, Kitty?" he asked, with a mischievous smile.

"Dozens of times," she cried. "Dozens of times!"

Then she took his arm, and they went up and down in the bright
sunshine, up and down, while the major would thump his cane upon the
ground with that gruff laugh that always seemed merrier than other
people's. His white hair was smoothly brushed, and his black hat was set
on jauntily, and his kind eyes shone as if he were young again. I
noticed that the lady from over the way always wore a black silk dress
and her best, curly, brown hair whenever she came to walk with the
major, and, also, a battered silver bracelet which looked as if it had
been chewed. The major would glance at it and laugh.

"I took castor-oil to buy that bracelet," he said once, with his
twinkle.

It sounded funny, but I knew just what he meant. I had made dollars and
dollars myself taking castor-oil, except that time when Auntie May mixed
it so cunningly with lemonade that it went down and down to the very
dregs, and I never discovered until then how I had been cheated out of
my just dues.

"So that was it!" the lady from over the way exclaimed, patting the
bracelet. "I always knew that there was something curious about it."

"It was harder than leading a regiment into action," the major answered,
soberly, and then broke into a gleeful laugh. "I wouldn't do it for you
now!" he cried.

First she threatened him with the bracelet. Then she took his arm again,
and they went on in the sunshine, talking of all the many people whom
they had known in their lives. Her touch on his arm was very light,
guiding, and sustaining, rather than dependent, but the old major
thought that she leant upon him.

I was not jealous of the lady from over the way. I felt that we shared
the major between us, and then it was always at my gate that he stopped
first. It was here that he told me about a trip that he was intending to
make.

"I'm going off to the city for a week," he said.

"Are you, Major?" I questioned, sorrowfully, for a week had seven days
in it, and even a day was a long, long time. No wonder that my eyes were
full of tears.

"There, there," he said. "Bear it like a woman."

I was not a woman, but sometimes the major used to forget. I thought
that it was because I looked so tall when I stood on my gate.

He put out his kind old hand and smoothed my hair.

"What shall I bring you from the city?" he asked. "A new doll? What
would you like best of all, Rhoda?"

I considered the question. There were so many things that the major
might bring from the city. There were little doll-babies, or
picture-books, or cups and saucers, or hooples with bells. Then I had an
inspiration. I leaned forward in a glow of excitement.

[Illustration]

"I should like--Oh, Major! Will you really give it to me? I should like
the littlest watch in the world. With a star! With a star, just like
yours!"

"You shall have it," he answered, promptly, as if there was nothing
unusual in such a grand request. "Now, remember, if all goes well, I'll
be at the gate a week from to-day. And I'll have that watch right here
in my pocket."

"And I'll bring flowers!" I cried, joyfully. "All the flowers that you
love best, Major."

"Good-by," he said, with a sudden touch of emotion.

"Good-by," I answered, rather tearfully, for even the watch could not
reconcile me to his absence.

He turned to go, and came back again.

"Pray for the old major," he said, in a husky whisper.

Through my tears I saw him go up the block, a little slower than usual,
as if he did not want to go. At the gate he stopped and waved his hat to
me, as he had done on that first day, and squared his gallant old
shoulders before he passed into the house. I always wished that I had
kissed him before he went.

It was not hard to pray for the major, for I believed in the efficacy of
prayer. When the elastic bands became loosened in the black doll, Topsy,
and she lost her wool and her legs at the same time, I went down,
solemnly, on my knees on the floor, and prayed for them to grow together
again. And they did, in the night. And when I lost my little front
tooth, I prayed to God and He sent me a new one! So it was not hard to
pray for the major. But somehow or other I did not like to do it before
my mother. It seemed such a secret sort of a prayer. I waited until I
was safe under the covers, and she had taken away the light. Then I
climbed out of the bed, in the big darkness, and went down on the floor.
I prayed to God to bless the old major, and bring him back safely to me.
I said it over twice, so that God would not forget.

"So the old major has gone to the city," my father said, at the
breakfast table. "I can remember him when he was in the pride of his
strength, a magnificent figure on horseback. He never rose as high in
the service as he should. He made powerful enemies and slipped into the
background."

"It's twenty years since his wife died," my mother's soft voice added.
"He has lived alone in that big house ever since. Think of it, Robert!"

"Such is the heart's fidelity," father answered, with his face turned
toward hers.

"When he comes back we must make more of him," mother said.

It was a very long week, but even long weeks have a way of slipping by
at last. I played about the house and the garden with the twins, but I
never went near the gate, not until the day dawned which was seven times
from last Friday, and was Friday again, bright and clear, the very day
for the major's home-coming. There were so many flowers in the garden
that morning, such especially large ones. They knew, too, that the major
was coming home, and had put on their prettiest dresses in his honor.

It was quite a puzzle to me what I should put on. I had a closet full
of dresses. There was a beautiful blue silk one, too good for anything
but church, which matched a little blue parasol. And there was a lovely
white one with a lace flounce, which went with my scolloped petticoat.
My third best dress had roses and buttons on it, and the fourth best was
covered with brown spots, like cough drops. I loved my little dresses,
and it was so hard to tell which dress should come out, and which must
stay shut up in the closet, with nobody to admire them.

"Shall it be the cough drop dress, mother?" I asked, uncertainly.

"It's such a wonderful day, and the sun shines so bright, that I think
you might put on the white dress with the lace flounce," my mother said,
with that smile which meant that she was laughing with me, and not at
me.

"And my little black slippers?"

"And your little black slippers."

"And, mother, you remember the time that I was your little flower girl?
And you put roses in my hair so it looked like a crown? I'd like to be
the major's little flower girl."

My mother lent herself to the pretty idea. She crowned my head with
roses. There were roses at my throat, and a big, floating, pink sash
swept down my back, and there were roses in my hand for the major, one
bunch to give him with a kiss when he came, and another to give him with
my love when he went.

Grandmother shook her wise head when she saw that toilet.

"If she were my child," she said, "I should dress her in brown gingham
down to her heels, and tie her hair with shoe-laces."

I gasped, and mother laughed.

"She's vain," grandmother went on, severely. "Suppose she should grow up
a poppet!"

I carried that awful name out with me as I climbed upon the gate, and
stared out, bashfully, at the street. I was afraid to think how
beautiful I might be.

The grocer's boy came by, my own particular grocer's boy. Stricken with
sudden admiration for my charms he put down his basket, and expressed
his sentiments.

"Say, you are a daisy!" he said.

"Go away, Jakie," I answered, with embarrassment. "I haven't time to
play with you now. Go away! I'm busy."

He was quite crushed by my new haughtiness, and lingered about, thinking
that I would relent, but all my smiles and flowers were waiting for that
bent figure which I loved so well.

An hour slipped by, but still the major did not come. My crown grew
heavy on my head, and the flowers wilted in my hot hands. The lady from
over the way came to ask me questions. She had on her ugliest hair, and
there were tears in her eyes.

"What are you doing, Rhoda?" she asked, with an anxious look.

Then she seemed to divine.

"You are not watching for the major!" she exclaimed.

"Yes," I answered, wearily.

"Doesn't your mother know, child?" she cried. "But, then, he never told
any one. They found that there must be an operation, and he was not
strong. There was no one whom he loved there at the end. He died, as he
lived, all alone. Oh, poor old man! Poor old man! Let me go by, child!
Let me go by!"

She thrust herself in the little gate, wheeling me back against the
fence, and went up the path to our house.

Then, in hardly a moment, Norah came out and led me in, and proceeded to
take off all my pretty things and put on a common dress, quite an old
one, with a darn on the sleeve.

"I don't want that dress, Norah," I protested. "I want my white dress. I
want to see my major. I want to be his little flower girl."

I went in where my mother sat with the lady from over the way, and
explained the situation through my tears. Mother was very tender with
me. Somehow I felt that she herself was sorry about something, for she
dropped a tear on the wilted roses which I still held in my hand.
Together we went out into the garden. Together we gathered all the
flowers that there were--the big ones and the little ones--and formed
them into a great bunch. It was for the major. I danced with sheer
delight, knowing only too well how the kind face would light up when he
saw all the flowers which he had admired so often made a present to him.
I added buttercups, and dandelions, and bits of feathery grass, while
mother watched me, with a sad smile, and said never a word.

The lady from over the way cried very hard on our front steps, but
afterwards she dried her eyes and took my flowers to the major.

He did not come the next day or the next, though I watched at the gate,
and then something strange happened. I was told not to go into the
garden.

"Not this morning, Rhoda," my mother said. "Grandma and I are going out,
and you must stay in the house. When we come back you may go out."

She dressed herself very quietly that day, all in dark things, and she
and grandmother did not look joyful, as they always did when they went
out together.

"I'd like to go, too," I said, wistfully.

Then Norah coaxed me.

"Ah, stay and play with your Norah," she cried. "Sure you'll not be
after leaving your Norah alone in this big house!"

I always liked to play with Norah, when her work was done and she had
time to be sociable. That day we played blindman's buff together--she,
and I and the twins. Norah was always the blind man, and she was the
longest time catching us, and when she did she could never tell who it
might be. She would guess quite impossible people,--the grocer's boy,
and the lady from over the way, and her own very mother in Ireland,--and
she never once, by any chance, thought that it was Rhoda or little Dick
or Trixie.

"Sure, you're too big to be Trixie!" she cried, when we told her who it
was.

That day, when the blind man was out of breath, and his feet were sore
from walking hundreds of miles, I climbed up on the window-sill and
watched the people going along the street. There were a great many of
them, much more than usual. Suddenly there was the sound of a fife and
drum in the distance, and a long line of carriages came into sight, and
one was filled with beautiful flowers, and one was draped with a torn
old flag.

"Come quick, Norah!" I cried, eagerly. "It's a procession!"

"It's the old major's funeral," Norah said, coming with the twins in her
arms to look over my shoulder.

I had known, somehow, that it was the major's, for everything nice
belonged to him. I was so proud to think that my major should have all
that big procession, with the lovely flowers and the music in front. I
looked for him in every carriage, that I might wave as he went by. He
was not there, but other people were,--my mother and my grandmother, and
the lady from over the way, and men with gold braid on their coats come
to grace the major's procession.

"Is it all his, Norah?" I asked.

"Sure, dear."

"I am so glad," I cried. "Oh, I'm so glad!"

I clapped my hands in my delight, and was quite angry with Norah when
she dragged me, hurriedly, away from the window.

That night my mother took me in her lap, and told me that the old major
had gone to heaven. I had heard of heaven before. It was where I came
from, and the twins, away back in the early days. Heaven was a nice
place, and now, as the major's home, it acquired a new charm. But there
was one drawback.

"Shan't I ever see him again, mother?" I asked.

"Never again, Rhoda."

"But, mother, it's a children's place," I urged, anxiously. "And the
major is old, quite old. He won't like it there, mother."

"The major has gone to heaven to be a little child again," my mother
said, with a sob.

Then she put a blue velvet box in my hand. Inside there was the littlest
watch in the world, and on the back of the watch there was a star in
blue stones. It was the last thing which the old major bought before he
went to heaven.



IV

THE FIRESIDE GOD

A Christmas Dream that Came True


"ENGLAND is a long way off," grandmother said, softly. "Especially at
Christmas time."

She was not talking to any one in particular, but just to herself. She
had been sitting for quite awhile by the parlor window reading her
Bible. Sometimes her eyes were fastened on the page, and sometimes when
a strange step came down the street, she would glance up hurriedly,
almost in an eager way, as if she were watching for some one. Then, when
she saw who it was, her eyes would drop again on the book in a
disappointed fashion. I knew what she would do next. Very slowly she
would turn the pages right to the middle of the Bible, where a picture
lay between the leaves.

"Isn't that father, grandma?" I asked, anxiously, leaning against her
knee.

"No, Rhoda," she said, in that decisive way of hers.

I hung closer over the picture to make real sure.

It looked so like father when he was a little boy that I thought she
must be mistaken. Yet somehow it was different. This little boy was
fairer. There was a curl of hair on the page, a light-brown curl with
red glints in it, and a tiny wreath made of pressed lilacs which once
upon a time he had joined together, flower by flower, out in our front
garden. I could almost see him doing it, while the wind blew through
those brown curls.

"Oh, I do hope that he isn't grown up!" I cried, quickly.

People had such an astonishing way of growing up fast. Why, even Joseph
in his pretty new coat in the Bible was not a little boy any longer! And
I had always so longed to play with Joseph.

Grandmother did not tell me anything more about the picture. She took it
out of my hand, and put it back on the page beside the curl and the
faded lilac ring. Then she closed the book tightly; but when I ran into
the parlor five minutes later to announce a visitor the picture was out
again on her lap.

"Evelyn is coming, grandma!" I cried.

The tall young lady who followed me into the room was grandmother's
great friend, and, also, in a way she was mine. I loved her because she
was so beautiful; but grandmother loved her because they both liked a
man named Frank. He was engaged to Evelyn. I had heard my mother say
so.

"Is there any news?" grandmother asked, eagerly.

She had risen out of her chair and looked startled.

Evelyn went up to her with a letter in her hand.

"Frank is quite well," she said, "and very busy. Would you like to see
his letter?"

Grandmother hesitated. She almost turned her back upon Evelyn.

"No," she answered, slowly. "No. When he writes a letter to _me_, I will
read it. Not before."

"Oh, you are hard on Frank," Evelyn protested. "How can he write to you?
Didn't you say you would have nothing more to do with him, unless he
gave up his profession?"

"Profession! Has an actor a profession?" grandmother cried. "This is
the first time I ever heard it called by that name. I said he was to
choose between his mother and a child's mad whim, and he made his
choice."

She picked up the picture and looked at it with tears in her eyes.

"I could forgive him anything but acting," she said. "Sometimes I think
I could even forgive him that. I do so long to see him again."

Evelyn slipped her arm about grandmother.

"He will come back," she cried, consolingly.

"Never," grandmother replied, with a despairing glance at the empty
street. "Don't I know him, Evelyn? Man and boy? He is as stubborn as I
am."

"Would the little boy play with me, grandma, if he came back?" I asked,
excitedly.

They both looked at me, but Evelyn was the only one who smiled.

"Perhaps," she said. "He used to be very fond of you."

After that I was always watching for the little boy. Every morning when
I got up I looked out of the window to see if he were not coming in our
gate. And the last thing before I went to bed, I looked out carefully
again. I thought that I should know him by his hair, and I felt how
lovely it would be if he would only come at Christmas time. Christmas
was not going to be so nice that year as usual. I did not think that I
should get anything. There were lots of presents in the house for other
children, even my little brother and sister, but somehow there did not
seem to be any for Rhoda!

"Father," I said, one morning, "there's a very pretty book in your top
drawer. A child's book. I wonder whose it is?"

He was quite busy reading his paper, but he answered me at once.

"That's for a little friend of mine," he declared. "It's a secret."

"Oh! Is she a good girl, father?"

He glanced at me and laughed.

"Sometimes she's awfully good," he answered.

Then it was not for me. Nobody ever seemed to think that I was good, not
even when I was trying my best. It must be grand to be good! Just think
of being born that way, so that you could not help it, but went on
growing better and better until you died! There was a little girl down
the street like that. We played together on sunny days. I found it very
hard to play with any one who was so good.

"And sometimes," my father went on, still with that smile in his eyes,
"sometimes she's so dreadfully bad that I'm really shocked!"

"Oh!" I said again.

I had seen my father shocked. When he was shocked, he always laughed
very hard.

"Has it pictures, father?" I asked, meekly, trying to turn the subject.

"No. My little friend doesn't care about pictures," he answered,
indifferently.

Then it was not for me. I was very fond of pictures. Everybody knew
that. It did seem queer that in all the many packages which he brought
home, night after night,--round ones, and square ones, and even some
with mysterious humpy corners,--there should not be a single thing for
Rhoda! And Christmas was coming faster and faster.

Evelyn, too, had all manner of pretty presents laid by for other little
girls, quite strange little girls, who did not love her at all so far as
I could see, but she never said a word about my present; not even one
day when she called me into her house and opened her parlor door. She
opened it very softly, as if there were company, and she put her finger
on her lip that I should not speak.

There was company. Inside the room was filled with dolls! They sat in
rows on the sofa and on the piano, they lay in careless heaps on the
chairs and tables; blue-eyed dolls and black-eyed dolls, some that went
promptly to sleep when you laid them down, some in Japanese dresses, and
some that wore long clothes and caps like sure enough babies. We went
about solemnly, hand in hand, and looked at them all. They stared back
as if they wanted a mother, and one on the center-table, a queen of a
doll with earrings in her ears, held out her arms to come to me!

"Whom do you think they're all for?" Evelyn asked, gayly. "Guess."

I held her closer by the hand and gazed about me. _I_ was very fond of
dolls. I had never had enough. I believed that once or twice I had
mentioned the fact. I drew a long breath. Just suppose--

"They're for orphans," Evelyn cried, quickly. "You know what orphans
are, don't you, Rhoda? They are poor children who haven't any mothers or
fathers to buy them dolls! It's a very sad thing to be an orphan."

I glanced about me again. The queen was very beautiful.

"Will they be good to them?" I questioned, wistfully.

I had heard of people whipping dolls! And once a little boy had drowned
a doll! His sister's! It was dreadful!

"Oh, I'm sure this doll is going to be spoiled," Evelyn answered, with
her hand on the queen.

I looked from her to the great doll with shy admiration. They both had
the same fair hair, and the same pink cheeks and the same gray eyes.
Their faces were just like flowers.

"I think her name is Evelyn, too," I said.

I had always thought that Evelyn liked me, but that day I was sure of
it. We had a long talk in a big chair about all the things which I
wanted for Christmas. She said that I was surely to come Christmas
morning and see the orphans get their dolls. Somebody named Santa Claus
would be there. I had heard of Santa Claus before, but only in a general
sort of a way. He seemed to be a very kindly sort of person who gave
away dolls by the hundred, sometimes to orphans, and sometimes just to
little girls who needed them. It was a question how much you had to need
them.

At the very last Evelyn gave me a message to deliver.

"Rhoda," she said, earnestly, "tell grandmother that there is good news.
What she was wishing for is really going to happen!"

She hugged me up closer to her.

"Oh, what a Christmas this will be!" she cried. "We are all going to get
what we want, all of us, even Rhoda!"

Afterwards she changed. When I went out of the door she drew me back and
looked at me anxiously, almost coldly.

"Rhoda, don't tell grandmother anything," she said. "It might be a
mistake. I wouldn't have her disappointed for the world!"

I did not want grandmother to be disappointed, but still when I went
back into our house and saw her sitting by the window, I felt that I
should like to tell her some good news. Just that once. She looked so
frail and old, and I had never noticed before how white her hair was.

My mother was very tender with grandmother. Every morning she would send
her three children, the twins and me, to kiss her, and when my father
came home at night she would send him to lean on the back of the big
chair, and look down at the closed Bible. Grandmother never took the
picture out when my father was there. She never even listened to the
people passing by outside. She would talk to him about other things in
which neither of them took much interest, until he would go away, half
sadly, half angrily.

"She is the most absurd woman who ever lived," he told my mother. "Here
is Frank winning laurels by the dozen, and, on account of her stupid
prejudice, she won't listen to his name. Does she expect to keep this
thing up forever?"

"She is thinking of him all the time," my mother said, quietly. "She
loves him."

"I know she loves him!" my father cried. "She loves him better than she
does me. I was always the one who didn't count! Always."

My mother laid her hand upon his arm and stopped him.

"Hush, Robert," she said.

Her eyes wandered over me sitting on my stool by the fireplace, and
passed to little brother Dick playing with his blocks.

"Who can judge a mother's heart?" she questioned, softly, and then
turned upon him with a demand that was almost wrathful. "Have you
nothing to be thankful for," she cried, "that you grudge him a thought
at Christmas time!"

My mother always took grandmother's part. She seemed to understand
grandmother better than my father did. Once I heard her say that the
curl in the Bible was like one of little Dick's. She laid it against his
soft hair, and it matched, color and curl, as if it had been cut from
his head. After that she was even kinder to grandmother than before.

Norah out in the kitchen was the happiest person in the house. Every
night she wrote home to Ireland, and sometimes she laughed and sometimes
she cried. I liked to hear about Ireland. I would climb upon the kitchen
table and watch her write, and listen when she read bits of her letters
to me. I knew all about Norah's people, and could call her brothers and
sisters, and even her cousins, by name. She was sending money in her
letter to buy her mother a new green plaid shawl for Christmas. She was,
also, going to buy the priest a pig. Norah was worried about the priest.
He gave away everything that he had to the poor of the parish, and went
hungry all the time. After much thought she had decided on the present
of a pig, as being a thing which the priest might keep for himself.

"Though they're that owdacious, Rhoda," she cried, in high wrath, "that
I'm thinking they'll take the pig, too!"

"What would they do with the pig, Norah?" I asked, anxiously.

"Sure, they might eat it!" she answered, with a dark frown.

"Norah, what if you were to put a blue ribbon about its neck?" I
suggested.

She went into fits of laughter and hugged me.

"To think that you've niver even seen a pig!" she cried. "To think of it
dressed up! The innocent!"

It was on that same night that with a great parade of secrecy she showed
me something hidden in the knife tray. It was a doll's hat made of blue
velvet, and trimmed with lovely white feathers, such as came out of the
pillows when Norah thumped them in the morning. Right in front there was
a big brass pin that shone like gold. Norah watched me while I examined
the hat, breathlessly. She seemed much pleased with my admiration, and
turned it around and around on one of her big fingers that I might
decide on the prettiest side, which was, of course, the one with the
brass pin.

"But whom is it for, Norah?" I asked.

"It's for a small frind of mine," she explained, with an air of deep
mystery.

It was very strange. The dolls and the picture-book, even the hat, were
all for somebody's little friend, never for me.

"I wonder what I'll get?" I said, weakly.

"Why don't you ask Santa Claus, dear?" Norah inquired.

I looked at her quickly. That was Evelyn's friend.

"Who is he, Norah?" I questioned.

She threw up her arms in the air.

"And have I niver told you about him?" she cried. "The quare ould chap
that lives up in the chimney!"

"Up in the chimney, Norah! Isn't he hot?" I demanded, in astonishment.

"Faith, there's no fire could warm him," Norah answered, lowering her
voice mysteriously.

Then her finger went up in apparent alarm.

"Hush! He's listening! He wants to know which are the good byes and
gurrls. When Christmas morning comes the good ones will get prisents.
For he owns all the prisents in the world! And the bad ones will get
nought, barring switches!"

I crept a little closer to Norah, and took a firm hold on her apron. It
was very sudden news. Had I always been good?

"But the good childer," Norah went on, with a reassuring smile, "and you
are good, Rhoda, have only to ask for whativer they want at the parlor
fireplace!"

I could not keep away from the fireplace after that. Every time that I
went into the parlor I peeped up the black bricks, and though I never
saw anything but the blue sky far, far above, I felt quite sure that he
was there. I made little scenes in my mind of the things which I should
say to him, and the things which he would say to me, after he became
convinced of my goodness. In the meanwhile I was good, oh, so good! and
best of all in the parlor. Later, I meant to ask for the queen doll, and
the pretty book, and the little hat trimmed with the white feathers and
the beautiful brass pin. Even if he could not give me just those ones,
because they were promised, he might give me others. I felt that he
could manage it in some way, if he were pleased with me. It was nice to
know that he was partial to good girls.

Once I went so far as to speak his name.

"Mr. Santa Claus!" I called, politely, for it was best to be polite.
"Oh, please, Mr. Santa Claus!"

A big piece of soot dropped down over the burning wood right at my feet.
That was his way of showing that he heard! Then I was frightened, and
would have run away but for a sudden sound. Somebody was crying! It was
grandmother up in the corner of the sofa with the Bible on her knees.
She did not see me at all. She did not know that I was there. I put my
arms around her neck, and she looked up and talked to me quite as if I
were a grown person.

"I want him so badly, Rhoda!" she said.

"Who is it, grandma?" I whispered.

"My little boy, Rhoda. He went away and he never came back again. I was
not patient enough with him. Always be patient, my dear."

"Don't you cry, grandma," I said. "I'll get him back, dear grandma, if
you won't cry."

She looked at me for a moment as if she almost believed me. I nodded
confidently at her. I knew. There was a way, but only little Rhoda had
thought of it as yet. If Norah had only told me sooner about Santa
Claus!

After she had dried her eyes, and kissed me, and gone to her room, I put
my plan into execution. I told Santa Claus all about it up the black
bricks. He did not answer, but the soot fell softly, so I knew that he
heard and would remember. It was no longer a question of dolls or books
or even hats. I felt that the one thing which I wanted most in the world
was just for grandmother's little boy to come home.

I did not hang up my stocking on Christmas eve. The twins hung up
theirs,--two little podgy stockings side by side at the mantel-piece.
Even quite a small stocking will hold candy, and I have known times when
the very nicest present of all would be away down at the toe. My little
Susan Sunshine, my littlest doll, came in the toe. I found her after I
thought everything was out. I wondered whether Dick or Trixie would find
a little Susan Sunshine.

"Why don't sister hang up her stocking?" Dick asked, anxiously.

"Is she bad?" Trixie inquired.

"I'm not bad," I declared, hastily, from my bed in the next room.

"Why don't you hang up your stocking, dear?" mother questioned.

"I don't want anything," I answered, miserably.

Afterwards I heard her talking to my father.

"I don't know what to make of Rhoda," I heard her say. "She won't hang
up her stocking. I hope that she is not going to be sick. It would be
dreadful to have one of the children sick at Christmas time. Her head is
quite hot."

I felt my head. It was hot.

I lay awake for a long time thinking of things. I considered the twins
and their stockings, and grandmother's delight in the morning. Somehow I
had to think a great deal about grandmother in order to keep myself from
crying. Grandmother did not know what I was doing for her. The little
boy must be getting ready to come right now. Off in the distance I could
hear sleigh-bells, perhaps his sleigh-bells, now near, now far away, and
in the pauses between the soft throb of the organ over in the church,
and a voice singing a hymn, the one that I knew about angels and the
manger with the Child. It was very beautiful. I sighed a little,
sleepily. After all I was happy.

Then in a moment it was day, bright day, and in the next room there was
a confused murmur of voices and a hurried scamper of feet. Dick shouted
excitedly. Somebody beat a drum with a low rumble like soldiers, not as
a little boy would beat a drum, but as my father might if he were
teaching a little boy. Somebody marched pitapat about the room, and
somebody danced by the fireplace.

"Go back to your cribs," my mother cried, uneasily. "You'll get your
death of cold!"

On the chair by the side of my bed there was a stocking, with queer
knobby places, which meant oranges, and square places, which meant
candy. Right on top there was a blue velvet hat trimmed with white
feathers, and against the stocking there leant a picture-book. I looked
at them incredulously. Santa Claus had not understood! Or else he had
thought that I loved my presents better than I did my grandmother! I
kissed the hat and the picture-book twice, and then I put them sternly
back on the chair. I knew what I should do. Santa Claus would find that
I meant what I said.

"Did you like the picture-book, Rhoda?" my father inquired at the
breakfast table.

"Yes," I answered, hurriedly.

Norah smiled at me from the shelter of the kitchen door.

"How did my little frind like the hat?" she asked, in a stage whisper.

It seemed to me that there were some subjects which would not bear
talking about.

They felt my head a great many times that morning, and even looked at my
tongue.

"She acts so unlike herself," my mother said, anxiously. "You don't feel
sick anywhere, do you, Rhoda?"

"No," I replied, huskily.

Grandmother evinced a sudden interest.

"I wouldn't let her go to Evelyn's," she said.

"But I want to go!" I cried, piteously.

"There, there," my father said, in a soothing way. "Of course you may
go."

"Only you must take an iron pill first," my mother pleaded. "Just to
please mother."

She did the pill up very neatly in a raisin, so that it did not look at
all like a pill. My mother could make the most horrible things look
nice,--such as cough syrup, with little specks of jelly floating on it
like a pudding. Afterwards you might know by the taste that there had
been something wrong, but you could never tell beforehand; not even
though you might wonder at dessert being kindly offered for breakfast.

I took my pill meekly, and drank a glass of milk to please my father.
Then after much consultation they put on my cloak, and let me go. I had
the picture-book and the hat hidden under my arm as I went out the door,
but nobody noticed.

Evelyn's house was farther down the street, not quite out of sight from
our front gate, but still at a little distance. There were orphans
going in when I came up,--orphans in decorous rows of twos; each little
girl with a white apron hanging down under her cloak. They went in very
quietly, not at all as if they were excited at the prospect. I felt that
they could not know what was inside. I watched to see them dance when
they passed the parlor door, but they only stared stolidly.

"A merry Christmas to all of you," a sonorous voice cried within.

I peeped in cautiously. There he was! That was Santa Claus. He stood by
a beautiful tree at the top of the room. He had on a white fur coat, and
there was a shaggy cap on his head. He smiled at us. It almost seemed
that he smiled at me, little Rhoda Harcourt, as if he remembered the
chimney! His arms were full of dolls, but I knew at first glance that I
could never really like him. There was something about his face that
made it impossible.

"These dolls are only for good girls," he said again, in a loud voice
that had a muffled sound.

I slipped in closer. The orphans stared back at him unconcernedly. They
were sure that they were good. One, a very sleepy orphan, put her head
on her chair, and went fast to sleep in the most impolite way.

"Here, wake up!" the next orphan said, and slapped her.

She woke up and slapped her neighbor back, and was going to sleep again
when Santa Claus called her name. It was Betsy. He gave Betsy the first
doll. He was evidently quite satisfied with her behavior. I was much
surprised.

The dolls went quickly after that, all except the queen. She sat up high
on the tree, and her eyes had a frightened look, as though she did not
like orphans. Once Santa Claus took her down, but Evelyn put her back
again.

"Not that one, Frank," I heard her cry.

He turned and whispered something to her behind the tree. The branches
were very thick, but for a moment I almost thought that his face grew
different, younger and fairer, and with a gleam of triumphant laughter
about it quite unlike the Santa Claus that he had been before. Then he
changed again, and came out, with his long beard flowing and his fierce
white eyebrows frowning, to give away more dolls.

At the very end of all he picked up the queen, and called gruffly,
"Rhoda!"

I peered out of my corner at the orphans. I could not see any orphan
Rhoda among them. Just suppose that Santa Claus should mean me! He did
mean me! He beckoned with what he thought was a friendly look.

"Rhoda," Evelyn cried. "Why, you're not afraid, are you, dear?"

"No," I answered, hastily.

I do not think that she quite believed me, for she took me by the hand
and led me up to where Santa Claus stood waiting with the queen in his
arms. It was evident that he had forgotten everything, everything that I
had ever told him.

"This is for you," he said in a genial way, holding out the doll.

The queen looked at me with delighted eyes, the dear queen! but I could
not take her. I gave him the hat and the picture-book in a hurry.

"I don't want these," I said. "You know what I want. I told you up the
chimney. And you promised to bring him to me. You know that you did!"

He seemed a little astonished for a moment, and then he laughed.

"Did I?" he questioned. "What chimney was that? You see I go up so many
that sometimes I forget."

"What did you want, Rhoda?" Evelyn asked in surprise, putting her arms
around me. "Tell Evelyn."

"I want grandmother's little boy to come home," I answered, almost
crying. "The little boy who made the lilac ring. All day long she
watches for him. I don't like to see poor grandmother cry!"

There were other things which I might have said, but Evelyn stopped me
with a backward glance at the rows of orphans agog on their chairs, and
a lady or two who had come with them watching in the background. Even
Santa Claus was startled.

"A touch of tragedy," he said. "Who is this child?"

"Can't you guess?" Evelyn whispered. "What was I telling you just now!"

He looked down at me with sudden enlightenment.

"Rhoda!" he cried, uncertainly. "It's not our Rhoda? She was a baby."

"But babies grow in five years," Evelyn replied, in a laughing tone.

He stooped lower and drew me to him.

"Whatever I promised I will do," he said, emphatically. "If you wanted
the whole world I would give it to you to-day!"

He threw off the long yellow cloak that was wrapped about him and did
something to his face. In a moment he was just a man like other men, and
had me upon his shoulder. Somehow it seemed to me that I had been on his
shoulder before when the floor was farther away.

"Almost too big for the old perch," he said, with a laugh that was half
merry and half tremulous.

"Oh, don't forget her doll!" Evelyn cried.

She came a little closer to him so that she could whisper.

"I honor you for this," she said, ardently.

Then she put the queen on his other arm, and gave me the hat and
picture-book to carry. The orphans laughed a little, but Santa Claus did
not mind. He strode out into the sunshine with his heavy load, and
started up the block. The bells were ringing for service as we went
along, and the street was filled with people, but I was the only little
girl in the whole town whom Santa Claus took home. And at our parlor
window grandmother was looking out.



V

THE HOTTENTOT


THERE had been a family council in which my relatives had all sat
around, gravely, and talked about me and my conduct. It was a painful
affair. They had mentioned every bad thing which I had done in the
course of a whole week, some of which I had not thought they knew about,
and then in the middle of it all grandmother Harcourt had made an
announcement.

"Rhoda's behavior grows worse and worse," she had advanced, severely.
"And as for her manners, she's a regular Hottentot!"

"Hottentot, eh?" granddad Lawrence repeated, whimsically.

He had me upon his knee, and as he spoke he turned my face toward his,
and regarded it with much apparent interest. I gazed back at him
wistfully. He was company, and it was very hard that company should hear
me called a Hottentot. I was sure that I did not look like that dreadful
name which had suddenly sprung upon grandmother's lips. It had such an
awful sound!

"She's no worse than other children," my mother urged, in defence.

She might blame me herself, but when grandmother Harcourt looked over
her spectacles and invented names my mother was sure to grow angry.

"It seems to me that I've heard about Hottentots before," granddad
Lawrence went on, nodding his head. "They're very fond of candy,
Hottentots are, and they like their own way. Yes, they like their own
way."

"Not any more than other children," my mother said again. "Rhoda gets
into mischief solely because she has nothing to do."

"Why don't you send her to school?" granddad Lawrence asked. "She is
seven years old."

"Oh, I couldn't send her to school!" my mother cried, anxiously.

"No, not yet," grandmother protested, in her turn.

It was the one subject upon which they agreed.

"Well, let her take lessons in something, then. There's the piano
standing untouched. I've heard of Hottentots who had a very good ear for
music."

He pinched my ear as he spoke, and puffed out his cheeks in a funny way,
as he always did when he wanted to laugh. He had very little hair on his
head, and a round, pink face like a baby's, and a pair of wicked blue
eyes that saw everything, both before and behind him. I had never heard
of granddad Lawrence being cross. He was good to everybody, from the
little newsboy who ran after him every morning in the street to the
stray dogs which selected him for a master on account of his smile. Most
of all he was good to us, his grandchildren, and hardly a day passed by
that granddad Lawrence did not come walking in to hear the news. There
were no children at his own house, for Auntie May was growing into a
young lady, and granddad Lawrence liked children, being a child himself
at heart, with all a child's love of mischief. But to the friends who
trusted in him, he was the soul of loyalty, in thought as well as in
word.

When he went home I walked out to the hall door with him, as I always
did, and then we had what he called a mercantile transaction. He bent
down low, and patted his pocket.

"Don't you want to draw on the bank?" he asked, invitingly.

I ran my hand far into the depths of that jingling pocket. I could have
whatever I liked, but the little brass pennies were the prettiest, and
the cute little silver ten-cent pieces, which seemed especially made for
children.

"Draw again," he said, generously. "Now give the cashier a kiss."

I did not kiss him for pennies. I kissed him for pure love.

"Come again, dear granddad," I said, standing at the door to peep after
him. "Come again to-morrow."

He waved his hand to me.

"Good-bye, Hottentot," he called, mischievously.

"Good-bye," I answered, in rather a plaintive voice.

I did not think that I liked my new name.

That was the first occasion on which I heard of my music lessons, but
not the last. My mother seemed to take wonderfully to the idea. She was
always discussing the things that she meant us to learn, but up to then
we had been too small for any of her plans to be of much importance. To
take music lessons was a very simple matter. It could not be considered
work, but play on a larger scale; and after I had slipped into the
parlor, and touched the piano keys with a timorous finger, I knew that I
should like it. The keys were voices. When grown-up people touched them,
they sang together beautifully. There was one which was a fairy queen,
and one which was a prince, and one away down in the lower bass made me
tremble when it talked. That was an ogre. I thought that he might eat
little children. I ran out of the parlor in a hurry for fear that he
should catch me. Something pattered up the stairs behind me, and chased
me along the hall, but in my mother's room not even an ogre would dare
to come.

"She loves music!" my mother cried. "She is always hanging around the
piano."

Grandmother looked at me curiously.

"There has never been a musician in our family," she remarked, in a
dubious way.

"I played before I was married," my mother answered. "There doesn't seem
to be any time for it now."

She sighed a little as she spoke.

Her lap was full of pretty new cloth which she was making into dresses,
and one of the twins was riding on the rockers of her chair, and one was
whistling, shrilly. My mother rocked slowly that there might not be an
accident. Most people would have thought that she was only a mother, but
at that precise moment she was, also, an express train coming into a
station, and I was a passenger waiting to get aboard.

"I think I'll get Madame Tomaso to give Rhoda lessons," she said. "We
might as well have the best teacher in town. Dad had the best for me
when I was a child. It is the first step which always counts."

The whistle sounded again, and two passengers climbed into the rocker
behind my mother's back. We were a very tight fit for the chair. She sat
a little forward in a meek way, so as to make room for our toes, and
rocked more slowly. The train was going uphill carrying a heavy load.

When she was consulted on the subject, Madame Tomaso proved to be very
glad to give me lessons. For some reason or other it had been a poor
season for her, either because there were only a few little girls
musically inclined in the town, or because, which seems more probable,
she had a name for severity. She appeared very amiable, however, the
first morning that she entered our house. She drew me to her, with quite
a motherly hand, when I came bashfully into the parlor to meet her.

"So this is the small Miss," she said, in a terrifying voice like the
ogre's. "And she loves the music? It is well."

She shook hands with me very hard. She had on a dress trimmed with bits
of black glass,--I always hated jet afterwards,--and a red silk collar
which exactly matched the hearty red in her cheeks. Her hair was black,
and her eyes were black. I did not quite like the way that she looked at
me. I wondered if she ate little children.

"She is so bright," my mother declared, fondly, pushing the hair back
from my forehead. "Stand up straight, Rhoda. You will find that she
learns very quickly, Madame Tomaso."

"So?" the ogress answered, in an absent manner.

She was looking at the piano-stool and at me. She was evidently wild to
begin, and had not much time to spare for motherly confidences.

"I am afraid that she might fall off the stool," my mother said,
hurriedly. "Couldn't you use a chair, Madame Tomaso? Though the chairs
are rather low for such a little girl."

They made a chair higher with a big book and a sofa pillow, and set me
on top in front of the fascinating white keys. The twins were peeping in
the door. I looked back at them grandly. I felt very old and important.
It seemed almost impossible that only that morning we had been playing
express trains together, like children! Still, there was something about
it which frightened me, notwithstanding my pride.

"Go away!" I whispered, warningly, to the figures at the door.

They went quickly in evident alarm. Even Dick did not stop for a second
look.

"Will she hurt sister?" Trixie asked, in a high voice, as they climbed
upstairs.

Dick peered between the banisters.

"If she does, I'll shoot her," he declared, stoutly.

I was glad to see them escape, but I did not like it quite so well when
my mother followed them, and the door was tightly closed. I had such a
trapped feeling. And the pillow was so high that I could not get down
without help. Anything might happen! Madame Tomaso yawned a little as
she settled down by my side, but she was still kind. She put a paper in
front of me which was covered with black scratches.

"Which is 'a'?" she asked, sociably, pointing to a row of things.

"'A' was an Archer who shot at a Frog," I recited, in a timid whisper.

The twins and I had learned that out of a pink book with blue edges. The
archer was dressed in red, and the frog was green with yellow trimmings.
I could, also, say the catechism from cover to cover, if she would like
to hear that, and Who Killed Cock Robin. I had never supposed that
anybody but my mother cared for such things. She loved to have us say
them to her.

"And 'b'?" Madame Tomaso inquired, staring.

"'B' was a Butcher who had a big Dog," I went on, with growing
confidence.

I did not feel nearly so frightened now. She was rather nice. If I were
very good, maybe she would not eat me after all.

"Don't you know your letters?" she demanded, in astonishment. "Don't
you go to school?"

"No," I answered, sadly. "I am not strong."

"Ah! Bah!" she cried, in a rude way.

I was sure, perfectly sure, that even a Hottentot would never have said
that.

Madame Tomaso taught me my letters that morning, at least the first
seven of them, which seemed particularly needed in music. She called for
a bottle of ink, and wrote their names on the white keys. She was very
patient with me, as I afterwards found out when I was no longer a new
pupil to be coaxed along the thorny path. She put each finger where it
belonged, and once, when I played five notes without any trouble, she
went down through a rent in her skirt which was fastened together with
safety-pins, and fished me out a caramel from a hidden pocket. It was
very old and hard, and looked as if it had seen much service, but she
regarded me with a benevolent expression while I ate it, and I felt that
we had made a good beginning. Take it altogether, I thought that I liked
music, and I practiced for hours. It was a great deal of fun when Madame
Tomaso was not there, for then I did it all with one finger, which made
it much easier. As my feet hung in the air, the twins worked the pedals
for me, and my mother would come into the parlor with a pleased smile,
and fix the curtains so that I might have a good light.

"That child will surely be a musician," I heard her tell my father, in
an eager way. "I've promised her a ring the day that she can play the
Träumerei. It may take a long time, but then she practices _so_
faithfully!"

My father groaned. I think my mother slapped him.

Of all the family it was, perhaps, Norah who was the most delighted
with my lessons. She took a very friendly interest in them. She always
dusted the parlor when I was there practicing, and she would sometimes
put down a big finger herself on the piano keys in an experimental way,
and jump when they sounded. There was only one thing about my music
which worried Norah, and that was the fact that I knew no tunes.

"Sure it's time that you were learning something," she would say,
suspiciously. "Ain't she keeping you back? Can't you play 'The Wearing
of the Green' yit?"

"No," I answered, humbly.

"You ought to have an Irish teacher," she said, conclusively. "Madame
Tomaso! It's a cat's name that she has! I never could abide them
foreigners."

"Listen, Norah," I urged.

Very carefully, very slowly, with one finger and infinite pains, I
played "Home, Sweet Home" for her. She burst into tears, and throwing
her arms around my neck, rocked back and forth with grief. For a moment
I thought that I had hurt her feelings, but it was all right. Norah was
only homesick for old Ireland. She was paying me the highest compliment
that I ever received.

Little by little Madame Tomaso came to treat me differently. The coaxing
voice grew gruff, and the black eyes savage. No more caramels came out
of the rent in her skirt, and sometimes I almost fancied that she was
scolding me! I was very little to be scolded. No one had done that
before. I tried harder than ever to please her. I practiced with two
fingers, and, at last, even with three, one very heavy in the bass, and
two very shaky in the treble. I did not tell anybody about the things
which she said, for I was ashamed, but I imagined that granddad
suspected. Granddad was always so sharp. It was a wonderful comfort to
hide my face on his shoulder, and be petted. He was sorry for me without
my saying a single word. He made me draw on the bank every day, and he
confided to me all the troubles which he had had when he was a boy.

Once he told me of an awful thing that he did. He puffed out his cheeks
before he began to talk, so I knew that it was going to be funny.

"I didn't get on well with a maid my mother had," he said. "Her name was
Polly. Did I ever tell you about Polly, Rhoda?"

"No, granddad," I answered, eagerly.

I was leaning against his chair, and we had the parlor quite to
ourselves. It was a time for confidences.

"Polly didn't like boys," granddad went on.

"But she liked you, granddad," I asserted, loyally.

He shook his head.

"Polly liked me least of all. She may have had her reasons, but it was
her fault in the first place, mind you. When I'd bring home a poor stray
dog, she would turn it out to starve! And when I brought home stones,
and I was always fond of stones, she would dump them out in the road. I
felt that I should like to get even."

I nodded at him. I had felt that way myself.

"So I got a lot of pepper, and one day when Polly was going to sweep I
scattered it around the house. I rubbed it well into the carpets."

He scraped his foot over the floor to show me just how he did it. For
the moment he looked about ten years old.

"I rubbed it in quite hard. It didn't show. Nobody could tell that
there was anything wrong until she began to sweep. Well, Rhoda, if you
could have heard her sneeze, it would have done you good. She sneezed
for hours. At first they thought that Polly had a new kind of sickness.
They went flying for the doctor; but my mother had noticed me laugh, and
she pounced on me. She shook the truth out of me."

He trembled with laughter at the recollection.

"But what did they do to you, granddad?" I asked, breathlessly.

Sometimes his story would have an anticlimax.

"They put me down in the big black cellar," he declared, impressively.

I rubbed my head against his shoulder. I felt that I could never have
treated him in that way if I had been his mother.

"Poor granddad," I said, in a consoling whisper. "They were not good to
you!"

He puffed out his cheeks, and his eyes shone.

"That depends," he said, cheerfully. "I didn't mind, bless you. We lived
in the country, and they kept their pies in the cellar."

"Yes?" I questioned, eagerly.

"That night when they took stock they were short three pies."

"Oh!" I gasped.

I gazed at him in indecision. He looked back at me quite gravely, save
for a lurking twinkle in his eye.

"Did you eat them, granddad?" I asked, confidentially.

He nodded.

"And twenty doughnuts," he said.

I regarded him with deep admiration. What a dreadful bad boy dear
granddad had been!

I used often to wish that Madame Tomaso had granddad to deal with. I
did not think that she would be so cross, or, at least, she would not
show it so openly. She had a trick of frowning until her eyebrows grew
together in one thick, black line. She would frown and beat time, and I
would chase after her on the piano, with a blur before my eyes, and my
heart in my mouth. Sometimes we arrived at a bar together, both out of
breath; sometimes she left me far behind, very weak and miserable, with
stumbling fingers which refused to hurry. She always beat time with a
large black fan, and when the chase proved exhaustive, she would open
the fan, and fan herself even in the depth of winter. While she fanned
herself she would say things to me, unkind things.

Once she told me about her other pupils.

"I have ten," she said, "ten little girls. Some of them do not make
good music. _I rap them over the fingers with my fan!_"

She went on for quite awhile relating long stories of raps inflicted
upon helpless little girls, some of whom had actually been saucy to her,
and some of whom had merely played false notes like myself. A much
larger girl than I had been rapped that very morning for false notes,
and had cried! Afterwards she had played a great deal better.

I listened in growing terror. I wondered if she were trying to frighten
me. Then suddenly I glanced up at my great-grandfather's picture.

The parlor walls were hung with the pictures of men who had borne my
name. Most of them had preached, but some had fought; and he, my
great-grandfather, who looked down over the piano, had preached with a
sword in his hand. All the Harcourts had been brave men. They had never
been afraid of anything. And on the other side there was granddad
Lawrence, whose courage no one could possibly question. He would not
have stood this when he was a boy. Just think of Polly!

Something inside of me seemed to awake. I turned and faced her, ogress
though she was.

"You'll never rap mine," I said, steadily. "Never! I am bad! I am a
Hottentot!"

I made a horrid face at her, such as a Hottentot might be supposed to
have.

For the first and only time in the course of our acquaintance she
laughed. She laughed as if she would die, while I sat on my sofa pillow
and watched her. During the rest of the lesson she was remarkably
friendly.

My mother was much pleased with the progress that I made. She often
spoke of Madame Tomaso's method, and of how brilliantly her little
pupils played. My mother had never heard of raps. All the family were
encouraging in their comments, and they, also, set me a shining example.
My mother rubbed up her musical knowledge, and even my grandmother would
steal into the parlor in the early twilight, and play some Old World
melody which held within its tune the hurry of dancing feet. All these I
was to learn some day, when my fingers had grown as strong as my desire.
I played better and better for the admiring circle, until Madame Tomaso
herself would have been astonished if she could have heard me.

"She really does quite well," my father said one night. "It almost
sounds like a tune. Is it 'Yankee Doodle,' or 'Old Dog Tray'?"

"Neither!" my mother cried, warmly. "I don't know exactly what it is
myself, but it is probably something classic. And she is doing it
beautifully!"

"It is 'Yankee Doodle,' mother," I said, in a whisper.

She did not hear me. She was looking at the piano with sad eyes.

"They have taken an awful lot out of it," she said. "It was the first
thing that we bought after we were married!"

"Was it?" my father inquired, briskly. "I thought we bought the
coffee-pot first. Didn't we fry eggs in the coffee-pot?"

My mother gave him a startled glance.

"We did fry eggs in a coffee-pot," she admitted, reluctantly. "At least
_you_ fried them. I did not know how."

"Somehow eggs don't taste as good now-a-days as those did," my father
said, musingly. "I wonder if it was the coffee-pot."

Grandmother leant over my shoulder, and examined the piano cover.

"What made that, Rhoda?" she demanded, pointing to a broad streak which
ran through the plush.

"That is where Madame Tomaso beats time," I answered, meekly.

They looked at one another.

"She is such an excellent teacher," my mother said, apologetically,
"that I suppose I ought not to complain. It's very good of her to take
so much trouble. Just as soon as they are large enough, she shall teach
the twins, too."

"Oh, no, mother!" I cried, quickly.

"Why not, Rhoda?"

I evaded the question.

"Couldn't I teach them, mother?" I asked, anxiously.

They all laughed at me as if I had said something foolish.

It was evident that I should never get rid of Madame Tomaso. She would
come year after year, forever and ever, until I and the twins were quite
grown up. The twins were little and easily frightened. She would make
them cry. I knew that she would. Sometimes, although I was such a big
girl, she almost made me cry, when she beat time and shouted, for she
was beginning to shout. And that last scene, though I had been
victorious, had rankled. I felt that my mother would be highly indignant
if I told her, but somehow I could not tell her. There did not seem to
be any way out. I looked at the piano cover, and thought and thought.

"Granddad," I inquired next day, "what became of Polly?"

"Oh, Polly left," he answered.

"Right away, granddad?" I demanded, eagerly.

"Just as soon as she could get her trunk packed. Why?"

I rubbed my head against his shoulder without replying.

He did not ask any more questions, but he looked at me, keenly. He
slipped his hand under my chin, and forced me to meet his eyes. I could
never hide my thoughts from anybody. And granddad was always so horribly
sharp! He chuckled a little as he gazed at me. When he went away he made
me draw largely on the bank, and he patted me on the head.

"Keep up your courage," he whispered. "You're game!"

Out in the hall I heard him ask my mother a sudden question.

"When does Madame Tomaso come again?" he inquired, suavely.

It was always on Tuesdays that Madame Tomaso came, and it was strange
how Tuesdays raced around. That Tuesday, in particular, arrived almost
in a moment while I was still thinking. But I had made my preparations.

"You are very careless about the casters, Norah," my mother said at
breakfast. "There is actually no pepper on the table."

"But I filled them last night, ma'am!" Norah cried, staring.

It seemed to me that they all turned and looked at me. I slipped from
the room in a hurry. Somehow I felt so queer that morning. I kept
sighing, and when the door-bell rang I would get quite cold all over. It
rang a great many times before Madame Tomaso came, fresh and alert from
her walk, with an air of friendliness which was always sure to disappear
later. She turned cross very early that day, even before she had taken
off her things.

"I have been too lenient with you, little Miss," she told me, in an
awful voice. "We will try a new method."

She seated herself by the piano, and folded her arms. I sat perched on
my cushion, and stared at her in fascination. Oh, how I wished that I
had let the pepper alone! Oh, how I wished that I was good! After all
it was so pleasant to be good.

"Play," she said, in a masterful manner. "I will be an audience. I will
be a great many mens and womens. We will listen to you."

I played. It was very terrible. Her eyebrows grew together. That was the
way she would look when she found me out, only worse, much worse. I
played faster. She watched my notes, and sometimes she would moan,
feebly, as if something hurt her. I played on faster still, one
trembling little hand racing ahead of the other, until musical flesh and
blood could stand it no longer. She began to count with a shout.

"One, two, three, four!" she cried, and brought the fan down on the
piano cover.

Then she sneezed.

"I knew it," she murmured, grimly, to herself. "I felt it coming on
this morning!"

She counted again and sneezed, and I sneezed a little myself in a
hurried, guilty way. She looked at me with sudden suspicion. She was
sharp, almost as sharp as granddad. In a second she had lifted the piano
cover, and found a pile of pepper under that well-worn spot. The things
which she said were awful. She said them in three or four languages, and
she said them in such a high voice that my mother and grandmother came
running in alarm. She pointed at me, with a shaking finger.

"Look at your child," she cried. "She lays traps for me! Pepper traps!"

"Rhoda!" my mother exclaimed.

My grandmother seemed stricken dumb.

I hung my head in shame. I had forgotten how sorry they would be.

She told them all about it. She knew just why I had done it, and how I
had done it. She declared that she would never give me another lesson.
No, never! Her voice grew very loud in her denunciation, and the mild
words of shocked apology which my mother put in from time to time were
swept away in the torrent of her wrath. I saw my grandmother's lip curl,
and my mother look astonished. They were judging her by their own
standards of quiet reticence and womanly dignity. She was almost
justifying me.

Yet before she went she lodged an arrow in my mother's heart.

"As for the child's talent," she cried, and snapped her fingers. "It
would be as easy to teach her the tight-rope!"

I heard somebody laugh in the next room. It sounded just like granddad.

My mother and my grandmother went to the door with Madame Tomaso, and
saw her out quite as if she were company, and then they came back into
the parlor and gazed at me. They did not seem to know just what to say.
It was evident that I had done something dreadful. I began to be
frightened. We had a big black cellar, with dark, cavernous recesses
where cobwebs swayed about, and dwarfs peeped out at you. I wished that
it was night, and I was safe in my bed.

Then somebody shuffled in behind me, and patted my head softly. I looked
up into two merry blue eyes.

"Don't you fret, Rhoda," a sympathizing voice said. "Granddad will stand
by you."

Even now when he is only a memory I can still feel the thrill of
gratitude with which I clung to his protecting hand.



VI

A SOCIAL EVENT


"BUT she hasn't any dress!" my mother cried, in consternation. "Only
that white Sunday one which is much too short!"

"Let down a tuck," my grandmother said, decisively. "That would lengthen
it."

"Oh, do let down a tuck, mother!" I echoed, eagerly.

I had a little pink envelope hugged up close against my apron. On the
outside it had "Miss Rhoda Harcourt" written in very large letters, and
on the inside it invited me to a party! I was not quite sure what people
did at a party; but I knew it must be something delightful, judging from
the commotion the pink envelope made in the family. There was a
whirlwind of talk about white dresses, and new slippers, and blue bows,
and in the midst of the discussion Auntie May caught up her dress and
danced.

"Come here, Rhoda," she called. "This is what they do at a party. Come.
I will teach you how."

I braced my back, stiffly, and let her haul me around. This was a
serious matter, and must be undertaken with a sober mind.

"She hasn't any spring in her," Auntie May exclaimed, ruefully. "Who
would think that she is related to me!"

"She does not come of a dancing family," my grandmother replied, with a
cold smile. "The Harcourts look after their souls, and let their feet
alone."

Auntie May made a wry face. She was my mother's sister.

"Don't shut up like a knife, Rhoda," she said, disconsolately. "Let
yourself go. There, I believe the Lawrence side of the family is waking
up at last!"

She looked so pretty as she danced in the firelight that I tried to be
like her. I copied her courtesies, and followed her steps, and when, at
length, she fell breathlessly into a chair, I leaned against her knee
with my hand on her pink cheek.

"Auntie May, are you going, too?" I asked, confidentially.

Somehow I thought it would be rather nice to have Auntie May there, just
for company.

"Child!" she cried, with a grand air, "it's a children's party. I am
sixteen!"

I felt the rebuke. I was only seven myself, and there were whole
centuries between us. It was strange, though, how sometimes Auntie May
would play with my dolls, and sometimes she would tuck up her hair and
keep me at arm's length. I never knew which she was going to be--little
girl or grown woman.

Auntie May did not live with us, but in another house with a lady who
called herself my frivolous grandmother, and curled her hair every day
of her life. Grandmother Harcourt wore sober black silk dresses, but
this other grandmother liked blue and pink, and even sometimes a gallant
touch of red that made her look almost young again. Whenever she looked
her youngest, she was greatly pleased, and curled her hair triumphantly.
At family meetings the two grandmothers often made those curls the
subject for discussion, and oftener still it was my dress and manners
which never seemed to suit either of them. One wanted me very quiet and
subdued, and dressed in gingham, and the other wanted me very gay and
lively, and dressed in silk. As grandmother Harcourt lived in our
house, she had the advantage, and, save for occasional bursts of
splendor, I went in great meekness of spirit and dress.

I had thought at first that there was going to be trouble about the
party. My frivolous grandmother objected seriously to the idea of that
tuck. She seemed to think that I should look very shabby among the other
little girls. She spoke of her position, and of the great pleasure that
it would give her to buy me a dress.

"Nellie," she urged, almost with tears in her eyes, "let me buy Rhoda a
suitable dress. You surely don't want that unfortunate child to go to
the Otway's with a tuck let down!"

Grandmother Harcourt did not say anything. I fancy that she must have
had it all arranged beforehand, for, after a rather appealing look at
her, my mother declined the offer in a faint, reluctant voice.

I did not care what I wore. I was going to a party. That was enough for
me. All the night before I could not sleep, and when, at last, the hour
drew near, and I stood before my mother while she gave a final touch to
my floating hair, I felt that it was all a dream. It was a dream going
down the stairs while the twins, in their nightgowns, peeped after me,
and it was a dream getting into the carriage which Auntie May had
brought to take me. The very streets were a dream, with little
white-clad girls passing in our direction and little boys, with stiff
white collars and solemn faces, walking along behind them. And most of
all that big house on the hill was a dream, with the lights shining in
all its windows, and the rows of Chinese lanterns in the piazza, and a
nearby violin letting off cheerful notes of preparation.

"Mrs. Otway is giving this party for the two little grandchildren who
are visiting her," Auntie May said, peering out of the carriage window.
"They come from the city. They are cousins. You saw them in church on
Sunday."

So that was who they were! I felt that I had learned something. Only the
Sunday before there had come into the pew before me, first a little boy,
and then a little girl, followed by a party of ladies. The little boy
sat up in the far end of the pew, just as I did, and he had a high silk
hat laid on the cushion beside him, and an elegant cane with a silver
head to which he seemed much attached. I never noticed little boys as a
rule. I divided them into two classes: boys who walked clumsily, in
heavy boots, and glanced sidewise at me, and _bad_ boys who made awful
faces from behind trees. Never to one of them had I said a single word.
That boy, however, was something quite different. I knew that as soon as
I looked at him. He had a light graceful figure, and brave, beautiful
eyes. When he gazed over his shoulder and smiled at me, I felt strangely
pleased. It was as though some one whom I had known a long time ago had
come again.

"Oh, so _he_ is Theodore Otway!" I cried, unguardedly, remembering the
name on my pink invitation.

Auntie May laughed a whole minute, just about nothing at all.

"You get down here, Rhoda," she said. "Now, remember to shake out your
hair the way that I showed you. And don't you get frightened as you
always do. Your dress isn't very fine; but there is one thing that is
nice about it. It has real lace basted in the neck. Mother put it in.
Just fancy, grandmother Harcourt never noticed! Always give your right
hand first in the ladies' chain. You are the only little girl who has
come in a carriage. Oh, dear me, I wish that it wasn't a children's
party! I'd just love to go in! The lovely, lovely music! What shall you
do, Rhoda, if you get very frightened?"

"I'll shut my eyes, and think that I'm in church," I answered, soberly.

"Good heavens!" I heard her cry as the carriage drove away, "there's the
other side of the family coming out after all!"

I went up the steps rather breathlessly. There was a big lump rising in
my throat, as if I had run miles and miles. I wondered if they would let
me in, or if I would have to say what my name was. I was not real sure
in my mind that I knew what my name was. Once, years ago, I had been
called Rhoda, but Rhoda always went to bed at seven o'clock. This was a
new little girl, a fairy child, who walked under globes of fire
straight into fairy-land.

Up, up, I went, past a man with shining buttons who held the door open
very graciously for me, past shrubs and flowers banked along the
staircase, into a room where there was a great hum of voices. Ever so
many little girls, dozens of them, were taking off their hats, and
shaking out their skirts, and doing what grandmother called "prinking"
before a great glass. I prinked a little myself, following out Auntie
May's directions. I thought that I looked rather nice. A woman in a
white cap seemed to think so, too. She took a great deal of pains with
me, and when the other little girls, who knew one another, went down the
stairs in a group, she led me by the hand to the staircase, and showed
me where to go.

It was very hard to walk down the stairs alone. I had such a queer
feeling, and I could not see a thing for a mist before my eyes. I went
quite slowly, step by step. I could hear the people in the parlor
talking.

A lady said, "How pretty!" and a boy's voice cried, "Here she is! Here
she is, at last!"

Then in a moment some one was shaking my hand. Little by little the mist
cleared from before my eyes, and I saw that I was at the party.

The parlor was a long room, running the whole length of the house, but
it looked crowded that night. There were groups of little girls, all
those whom I had seen upstairs, and more besides, and lots and lots of
little boys who stood in corners and laughed among themselves. There
were lights on the walls and flowers everywhere, and the few grown-up
people who moved about seemed just as gay and festive as the children.
By the door were stationed Theodore Otway and his cousin, and she had
on a lovely pink dress with cascades of little bows falling down her
back. All the grown-up ladies seemed to watch her, and when she pranced
and shook her bows I heard a lady say, "Paris!" in an awed tone.

There was such a hubbub everywhere that I did not notice at first that a
boy, whom I had never seen before, was writing his name on my programme.
He was quite a stout boy in tight clothes.

"I'll take this first one, just to make sure," he said. "Maybe, after
awhile, I'll dance with you again. Don't you forget what I look like."

"No," I answered, humbly.

"That's right," he continued, patronizingly. "What's your name?"

I told him in a bashful whisper.

"Well, you want to watch out, and when I holler 'Rhoda' you come where I
am. That will be when the music strikes up. Don't forget."

"No," I said again.

"If you are not there, I might take some other girl," he remarked, as a
final caution.

Theodore Otway was going by, led by a lady. She was arguing seriously
with him.

"Of course you must dance the first dance with your cousin!" I heard her
cry. "I told you yesterday that you must. You can ask the little girl
some other time."

He gave me a miserable glance as he went to the other end of the room.

I hardly noticed him. I was so worried over the stout boy, who roved
about the room, here and there and everywhere. Once he hid behind a
sofa, and once he went out in the hall to get a drink of lemonade. He
unbuttoned his jacket, and tried to make himself look different by
crossing his eyes. I was sure that he did. And, just when the music
struck up, he disappeared altogether! The other little girls all had
partners. I was the only one left out. I felt it very keenly.

Suddenly I heard some one shout, "Rhoda!"

I turned around, and there he was behind my chair, where he had been
standing all the time.

"Come along," he said, just as if it were my fault, although there was a
look of elation about him. "If you don't hurry up, we won't get in the
top set. That's the nicest of all."

I followed him, meekly. I was very glad to find him again, but I felt an
inward conviction that I should never get used to boys.

It was not hard to dance. Somehow it was more fun than it had been at
home with Auntie May. I always remembered to give my right hand first in
the ladies' chain, and when I met my partner I courtesied to him every
time. I did not forget a single thing! The music was very lively, and
everybody was smiling, even the grown-up people at the other end of the
room who danced and romped among themselves. I thought that I should
like to go on forever, back and forth, and in and out in the ladies'
chain. I wished that the music would never stop, but it did, at last,
with a sudden chord, and we were all ready for something else.

It was a game this time, a strange, new game called "Post-office." It
began by a little girl leaving the room, mysteriously, and calling a
little boy out into the hall to receive a letter.

"There's a letter in the post-office for Davie Williams," she cried, in
a shrill, high voice that sounded frightened.

All the other little girls laughed. Davie Williams grew very red in the
face, but he went out for his letter, and closed the door carefully
behind him.

I wondered why he stayed so long, and what they could possibly be doing
behind the door. It was very exciting. Suppose, just suppose, that there
should be a letter for me! More little girls went out, and more little
boys. The girls tossed their heads, and the boys went quickly, as though
to get it over. One boy called out another boy instead of a little girl,
and was laughed at. I did not think that I should like to be laughed at.
Then Theodore Otway went out and I heard my name.

He was waiting for me with his hands in his pockets.

"Hello," he said, in a diffident way.

"Hello," I answered, shyly fingering my hair.

I looked about for the wonderful something which I had come to see.
There was nothing, only the hall and Theodore Otway still with his hands
in his pockets. Strange to say he seemed embarrassed. He fidgeted. He
talked in jerks.

"I saw you in church," he said, suddenly.

I nodded at him.

"I saw you, too," I confessed, with a shamefaced smile.

He came a step nearer, and hesitated.

"Say," he said, "I don't live in this house when I'm home."

"No?" I answered, inquiringly.

"No," he replied, seriously.

We were both silent. There did not seem to be anything more to talk
about. Still it was rather nice out in the hall.

Somebody rattled the knob. Evidently our turn was over.

"Who's going to take you out to supper?" he asked, with sudden interest.

"I don't know," I answered.

"Well, let me take you, won't you? You'd better. There's a boy here who
plays tricks on little girls!"

I shivered. Was it the stout boy?

"Once he made a little girl cry out loud at a party! You'd better. Will
you? Say yes."

He came a little closer. He put out his hand, and touched my hair.

"It's like sunshine!" he cried, with a burst of enthusiasm.

I stole a shy glance at him. Nobody had ever told me that before.

"Say yes!" he begged, in a new tone.

"Yes," I whispered, hiding my face behind my hair.

Somebody rattled the knob again. They were growing impatient.

"Well, good-bye," he said, in a hurried way. His hands were back in his
pockets.

"Good-bye," I answered.

He went toward the door, then turned again, as if he had forgotten
something, and stood thinking.

"Will you give me that?" he asked, pointing to a wee blue bow on my
sleeve.

I unpinned it, and laid it in his hand. He fastened it to the front of
his coat. He strutted a little as he went into the parlor. I could see
by his smile that he was pleased.

It was my turn now, and I must call a little boy, for that was what all
the girls did. I looked in the parlor, undecidedly. There was the stout
boy going by with a cheerful wink, and away in the back of the room a
nice little fairhaired boy named Eddie was watching me, wistfully. I
called Eddie, with sudden fearlessness. He came with a rush, and closed
the door behind him. Then he kissed me before I could say a single word!
I pushed him away, and began to cry. Even through my bitter tears I
could see his astonished face. How was he to know that all my life I had
hated to be kissed by strangers. And now by a boy!

"Why, that's the game!" he cried, eagerly. "What did you call me out
for?"

"I don't know," I answered, sobbing.

He gazed at me with a worried look. Then he pulled out a fat, white
lozenge from his vest pocket, and offered it to me.

"Here, take that," he said, generously.

I examined it through my tears with strong disfavor. It looked like
medicine. Still I did not want to hurt his feelings. I ate it with
misgivings.

"That's right," he said, radiantly. "They are good for sore throat. My
father takes them. Don't you feel better now?"

"Yes," I answered, with a weak smile.

It was evident that in his way he meant to be kind, and, perhaps, after
all the lozenge like the kiss might be a part of the game.

They were dancing in the parlor when we went back, and the fun was
growing loud and furious. One little girl was singing, rapturously, as
she danced, and two little boys were sliding in a corner. There was
talk of supper. Somebody, peeking through a keyhole, had seen pink
ice-cream, and had come away dazzled. The great hour was drawing near,
and little boys were going about looking for their partners. Up at the
end of the room Theodore's mother was talking to him.

He came to me afterwards, with a crest-fallen air:

"Say," he said, "I can't take you out to supper. I have to take my
cousin. She says so."

He looked back over his shoulder, threateningly.

"What she says now, goes. When I'm a man things will be different. Ain't
you sorry I can't take you out?"

"Yes," I confessed, candidly.

He seemed to be glad that I should be sorry.

"He's going to take you out," he continued, with a jealous nod at the
stout boy. "She asked him to."

I did not want to go with the stout boy. Every time that he looked
sidewise at me I felt a sudden fear. Suppose that it should be a trick!
Suppose that he should think of something new to do right now! When the
inspiring march began, however, and we all fell into line, each little
girl on the arm of her partner, I forgot everything in my excitement,
and grew almost reconciled.

We passed solemnly around the parlor three times, and then swept across
the hall into an opposite room. In the center of the room there stood a
beautiful table, and the woman in the white cap, who was the only grown
person in sight, was serving out pink ice-cream. The little girls sat on
chairs about the walls, and the little boys brought them plates full of
goodies from the table. There were lovely things which I had never seen
before, much too pretty to eat, and almost too fragile to touch. And
over the whole room there fell the soft light of candles.

"Do you like ice-cream?" the stout boy asked, when he had seen me
settled in my chair. "I tell you what I'll do. I'll pick out all the
things that I like."

He was a wonderful provider. I could see him heaping up my plate, and he
always seemed to take the best of everything. No other girl was going to
have such mammoth slices of cake as I, and he had a perfect pyramid of
candy in his hand. I knew that I could never eat it all, no, not a half.
Somehow he did not seem able to find me afterwards. I beckoned to him,
but still he turned aside, and went toward a far corner. He was sitting
down! He was going to eat the things himself! Was it a trick? I looked
down hard in my lap. Never, no, never, should he make _me_ cry out loud
at a party!

I heard a sudden sound of wrath. I turned around just in time to see
Theodore Otway tip the stout boy over on the floor, and sit on him. He
seemed to be very angry. He pounded the stout boy. I was almost afraid
to look. The woman in the white cap left off serving pink ice-cream, and
made a dreadful outcry.

"Oh, Master Theodore," she cried, wringing her hands. "Oh, Master
Theodore! You mustn't do that! It's not polite!"

A little boy cheered faintly, and in the next room, where the older
people were having their supper, there was a hurried consultation. Then
Mrs. Otway came in.

"What is all this?" she asked, in astonishment, looking as if she could
not believe her eyes. "Theodore!"

She caught him by the arm, and dragged him up in a hurry.

"For shame!" she cried. "What a way to treat your company! I'm going to
put you right straight to bed."

A shudder ran around the room, and we all looked at one another in
horror. To be put to bed at a party! There was a disgrace.

"I don't care," Theodore retorted, recklessly, with tears in his eyes.
"I'd do it again any day. He's a greedy pig!"

I stole up and slipped my hand in his. Somehow I did not like to see him
cry.

"He was eating that little girl's supper," a chorus of eager little boys
explained. "He was eating it all up!"

"I wasn't either," the stout boy declared, hastily. "I was only
pretending." He dusted off his knees, and looked around the incredulous
circle. "I tell you I was only pretending. I was going to bring it to
her all right afterwards."

Nobody believed him, not even I, for had I not seen him eating the pink
ice-cream?

"You had better come with me," Mrs. Otway said, laughingly. "Come. You
can finish your supper in the next room."

It was very pleasant after she had taken him away. Every one was so good
to me. There were lots of nice things left on the table, and Theodore
filled the largest plate that he could find. Other little boys stood
around to watch me eat, and gave me presents. One gave me his jackknife,
and one gave me a penny which he had brightened to gold by rubbing it on
the carpet. When we went back in the parlor there were dozens and dozens
of little boys who wanted to dance with me. I could not tell whom to
choose. Then, in hardly a moment, Auntie May looked in the door, and I
knew that the party was over, and I must go home.

I told Theodore good-bye last of all.

"Good-bye," he said, slipping a little brass curtain-ring on my left
hand. "I'm coming back when I'm a man. Then we'll get married, and live
in a house. And I'll shoot rabbits for dinner. Would you like that?"

"Yes," I answered, promptly.

He surveyed me for an anxious moment. Our heads were very nearly on a
level.

"Don't you grow too tall," he cautioned.

"No," I promised, and was half-way to the door, when he caught me again
by the hand.

"If anybody makes you cry," he whispered, ardently, "you write to me,
and I'll come back."

I gave him a grateful smile. I knew that he would.

Auntie May said very little as the carriage rolled along, but when, at
last, we reached home, she swept me in before the assembled family.

"There were ten little boys telling her good-night," she cried,
breathlessly, in a voice divided between awe and delight. "Ten little
boys! Just fancy! Our Rhoda! She was a great success. She was the
prettiest one there."

My mother put out a tender hand and drew me to her.

"And did you have a good time at the party, Rhoda?" she asked, eagerly.
"A real good time, little girl?"

I looked around the listening family circle. They were all watching me.
Yes, even my father over his paper.

"I don't know," I answered, bashfully.

"Of course she didn't," grandmother cried, nodding her head
triumphantly. "Of course she didn't. She's a Harcourt all over."

I looked down at my little brass ring. I felt that grandmother was
wrong.



VII

AUNTIE MAY


ALWAYS when I think of Auntie May, I remember sunshine, and the wind
blowing, and a lilac bush in purple bloom by the garden gate. We were
standing there together, very quiet and confidential, she, tall and
slim, and I a little girl who liked to cling to her hand. We had on our
best white dresses, for it was Sunday, and her church service was white
and violet, and mine was white and gold. We had parasols just alike, and
we stood waiting until the first boom rang out from the big bell in the
church tower far down the street.

"Now we will go," Auntie May said.

She opened the garden gate, and we passed out, very demurely.

It was seldom that I went into the big world; but when I did I enjoyed
it so! The parasols cast a pleasant shade, and I had a big five-cent
piece in my right hand that meant church, and another clutched tightly
in my left that meant Sunday school. There were other family parties to
be met on the street, elderly ladies carrying Bibles, and little girls
and boys walking with careful precision, and down near where the big
bell boomed there was another church which commenced after ours did
where Burton Raymond played the violin. I could not remember when I had
not known Burton Raymond and his violin, for they were one person.

"When Burton Raymond goes to bed," I had heard my mother say, "he always
puts the violin to bed, too."

"In a bed, mother?" I demanded.

"No. In a box by his bed, wrapped in his pocket handkerchief, poor
fellow."

It was after this time that Auntie May embroidered an oddly shaped
velvet mat quite secretly. It had forget-me-nots on it, and when it was
finished she tied it up in a beautiful white paper, and slipped it in
the mail box down at the corner. And, once, months afterwards, when
Burton Raymond played one evening at our house, he put his violin to bed
in a velvet jacket just like the one which Auntie May had made.

We were great friends. When we met down by the church steps he would
call to me, cheerfully.

"Good-morning, Rhoda."

"There he is, Auntie May!" I would cry. "Don't you see him? Look, Auntie
May!"

Somehow, or other, although he never called to her, I always wanted her
to see him, too.

He looked very pleasant in the bright sunshine. His hair was nicely
brushed, and his shoes were blacked. There was a patch on his right
elbow; but you could not see it unless you looked closely. There was
something noble in the way in which he carried his dark head. Somebody,
perhaps it was Norah, had told me that one of his ancestors had been a
great lord, back in the days when the lords were crusaders, and I liked
to think of Burton Raymond in chain armor killing people, recklessly.
Little Dick and I used to act it out sometimes in the dark end of the
hall. We killed a number of things there, Saracens, and lions, and
tigers, and the rocking-horse, and little Trixie, and would come in
quite breathless afterwards to the sitting room where the family sat in
the lamplight. Sometimes we found them talking about Burton Raymond.

"Every time that I walk down our block I seem to meet Burton Raymond,"
my father grumbled, one evening. "It's getting to be a nuisance.
Especially since May has been visiting here," he added, after a serious
moment's pause.

"He passed the house fifteen times to-day," my mother said, quietly.

She said it with a blush, and then, suddenly, she made an impulsive dive
at my father's hand and squeezed it.

"We were young ourselves once!" she cried.

"The lad hasn't a cent to bless himself with," grandmother demurred.

"But he has genius!" my mother cried again. "There is a great future
opening before him. And when we were married we had very little, Robert.
There was just one small twenty-five cent piece left after the wedding
trip. Do you remember, Robert? And you spent it in flowers--for me! They
were roses. I have some of them dried yet."

My mother's voice had sunk lower and lower, falling almost into a
whisper, as it always did when she was greatly moved. Sometimes I used
to fancy that my mother was not so clever as my father. He could add up
sums for you, and tell you about the presidents, and who were the
greatest generals in the world; but my mother knew quite different
things, the kind that stay with you forever. To her life was a poem and
a dream. She was her happiest when she could help somebody, so that for
any one to be poor, and very unfortunate, was an open sesame to her
heart.

I heard a good deal about Burton Raymond that night, and when I went to
bed I asked a sudden question, staring with wide open eyes at my mother
over the white coverlet.

"Mother, how poor is Burton Raymond?"

She was taking away the light; but she came back again.

"He is so poor," she said, dramatically, "that he lives in a garret
room at Widow Denton's. It is quite a cold room, without a fire, and the
bed is not soft like yours, Rhoda. He has a few books on the end of the
shelf by his violin box. He plays whenever he can get a chance.
Sometimes, perhaps, he is hungry! Yes, sometimes he is hungry!"

I shivered.

"But it's no sin to be poor, is it, mother?" I demanded, anxiously. "We
can love people who are poor?"

She put down the light on the bureau before she answered me.

"Money never bought the real things of life," she said, slowly. "To be
good and true is the greatest of all. It is sincerity that counts. And
when we see some one very noble, and very poor, we must help them, and
love them always. Yes, love them always!"

She gave me a sudden kiss, and took the lamp away.

I lay staring into the dark. I could see that garret room, and the
violin on the shelf, almost I could see Burton Raymond walking around,
very cold and poor, perhaps; but so lovable, yes, so lovable, that
poverty seemed the very highest distinction. I made up a long story
about him all by myself. He had a great fortune left him, and grew into
a lord again, and married Auntie May long before I went to sleep.

But there was another side to the picture.

"It's the cheek that himself has to be coming after our young lady,"
Norah declared. "A lad out of a butter and eggs shop! Is it fitting for
the likes of him to lift his eyes to her?"

"Who, Norah?" I asked, breathlessly.

She was washing clothes with her sleeves rolled to the elbow. First her
hands went down into the water with a rush, and then they came up again,
and she rubbed something white on a board, amid a snowy froth of suds
that was good to look upon. Norah was an authority on washing, and she
was, also, an authority on love. Sometimes she would toss back the stray
locks from her face, and sing as she scrubbed with a naïve abandon that
would bring grandmother to the scene in a hurry:

    "I'm jist siventeen,
       And I've niver had a beau."

Norah sang at the top of her strong voice accenting each line with great
enjoyment.

    "Is there any gint will have me?
       Ah, don't say no!"

The last phrase was coaxing in the extreme, and I might have been
properly impressed if I had not known that Norah was quite old,
twenty-five almost, and that down in the very bottom of her trunk there
was the picture of a wild Irish lad whom she had loved and left in the
old country. Sometimes I used to dream that he would come to America,
too, and get rich notwithstanding his wildness, and find Norah out, and,
just suppose, he might make a great lady out of her! Life was full of
such glorious possibilities in those days!

But to go back to the story.

"Why it's Burton Raymond," Norah explained, in disconnected jerks. "And
his uncle keeps the shop. A small, dark shop with eggs in the window.
And there's mice under the counter, the freshest mice that I've iver
seen. It's like household pets that they be! And Burton waits on the
customers. And at night he fiddles to himself. But there's no money in
fiddling. Sure I knew a lad in Ireland wance that fiddled for tuppence a
night. And he died of starvation, and wint to glory, rest be to his
sowl."

She stopped to hold up a small wet garment with indignant hands.

"How did you iver git them black stains?" she demanded.

"I don't know, Norah," I answered, meekly.

After that I was divided in spirit about Burton Raymond. There was the
part of me that gloried in the crusader, and even found something
romantic in starvation, and the other part that winced at the butter and
eggs shop.

The lovers were very pretty to watch. Burton Raymond went up and down
our street a great many times every day, and Auntie May always seemed to
be out in the garden looking at the flowers. She was growing tall
herself, like one of the plants. All her soft hair was gathered upon the
top of her head, and she never ran about as she used to do. She had
forgotten how to be a little girl. She changed her dress a great many
times a day, and she bought a band of velvet ribbon to wear around her
throat, and sometimes she would catch me in a dark corner, and hug me,
rapturously.

"The saints preserve me from iver being in love!" Norah cried, shaking
her head. "What will the owld gintlemin say? And the owld lady?"

The old gentleman was my granddad Lawrence, who lived around the corner
in a big house that outshone ours as the sun does the moon. There were
more flowers there and more trees, and a fat horse in the stable that
drew a little dog-cart about the streets of our town, and best of all
there was a fountain in the garden, where two little iron boys stood
under an iron umbrella, and watched the birds that came to take their
baths in the pool at their feet. Just now, however, the house was all
closed up, granddad and grandmother were away, the fountain in the
garden was quite choked and dusty, and the birds had found another place
to bathe.

Grandmother Lawrence was my worldly grandmother, and when she was at
home we tried to live in as good style as possible that she might be
pleased with us. Always it had been a sorrow to her that my mother had
married a poor man, and she was quite resolved that no such catastrophe
should happen to Auntie May.

"I would rather see May dead," I have heard her declare dramatically,
"yes, dead at my feet, than married to a poor man!"

She never said this when my father was around; but he knew as well as
the rest of us that Auntie May was destined for great things.

She was so pretty, Auntie May was. Sometimes she let me stay in her room
when she did her hair before the glass, and I would handle its soft
lengths fondly.

"Auntie May," I asked once, peeping over her shoulder into the mirror,
"may I be your bridesmaid?"

First she flushed up and laughed, and then she leaned back in the chair,
and gazed at me, wretchedly.

"Rhoda," she said, "I am the most miserable girl in the whole world!"

That was the day that grandmother and granddad Lawrence came home, and
there was a stir all through their big house and our little one, and
Auntie May was back in her own room, surrounded by all the pretty things
that were particularly hers. She looked around it, consideringly. There
were roses on the carpet, and roses on the big arm-chairs, and roses
climbed up the walls and fell in festoons about the ceiling. There was a
white fur rug in front of the fire-place, and a silver glitter on the
bureau. Auntie May looked at it all in quite a discontented fashion.

"I like things plainer," she said, plaintively.

Her lip trembled.

"I'd like a garret--and bare floors--and music!" she cried.

"What is that about music?" grandmother Lawrence questioned, coming in
the door.

She had a string of pearls in her hand, and she fastened it around
Auntie May's throat as she spoke. It was a present brought from abroad.

"There, child," she said, not unkindly, "wear your pearls and be happy,
and don't let us have any more of this nonsense."

"Nonsense!" Auntie May exclaimed.

"Yes, nonsense," grandmother Lawrence repeated, coldly.

Auntie May's eyes flashed.

"Do you think you can pay me to give him up?" she asked, in growing
indignation. "Do you think that I care about pearls? Do you think that I
care about anything--but just him?"

She had risen to her feet, and was confronting grandmother.

"Let me be happy in my own way," she pleaded, with soft appeal. "Mother,
let me be happy!"

I thought that for just a moment grandmother weakened; but it was only
for a moment.

"Happy with a beggar!" she retorted. "Never!"

The pearls went down on the floor in a sudden shower.

"Then I'll never be happy in all my life!" Auntie May answered, in a
broken voice.

After that it seemed as if there was a heavy cloud over the whole
family. We were none of us as cheerful as we used to be, not one, and
people spoke in whispers as they do when some one is very sick. And
Auntie May cried! She cried until her pretty eyes were red, and all her
soft hair was tousled and damp from much mourning. And my mother cried
with her. It was a terrible time.

We children had talked the matter over among ourselves, and we all sided
with Auntie May. Every night little Dick prayed an extra clause to his
long prayer. It came right after the place where he prayed for puppies.

"Please, God, let me have two puppies," he asked, in a loud, decided
tone. "One brown one, and one white one with brown spots and a brown
tail. And, please, God, bless Auntie May, and send her a new beau."

One night he made another announcement.

"Please, God, you needn't bother about Auntie May's beau. When I grow up
I'll marry her myself."

"You shan't!" little Trixie cried, in sudden wrath, from the next crib.
"When I grow up I'm going to marry her _myself_."

She bounced in her bed.

Dick answered her from his knees. He looked like an angel as he knelt
there in his nightgown, with his fair curls falling about his flushed
face.

"Girls can't marry girls," he explained, scornfully.

"They can!" Trixie screamed.

"They can't!" Dick roared.

He picked up one of his little shoes by the side of the bed, and threw
it at Trixie. There was an immediate wail from the next crib. Dick was
always a good shot.

"Oh, children, children!" my mother cried, in despair. "Dick, go to
sleep this moment. Trixie, Trixie, dear, you are not really hurt."

"But her feelings are, mother," I protested.

I knew that the littlest things hurt just as much as the big.

My mother settled down, disconsolately, in her rocking chair, with a
small, weeping burden in her arms, and rocked and sang.

"This is a dreadful family," she said, in between verses. "There is
always a fuss."

As for Dick he made one more triumphant discovery before he finally
subsided for the night.

"Girls are soft things," he declared, jealously, from his crib. "They
are! They are!"

"Dick!" my father called from downstairs, "you stop that!"

Which settled the subject for the time being.

There was just one person in the family who was not upset, and that was
my grandmother Harcourt. She read her Bible as usual, and watched us
with grave eyes. She watched grandmother Lawrence buying pretty dresses
by the dozen for Auntie May, and scolding violently, because they were
not worn, and she watched granddad going about, with a perplexed face
and a heavy heart, and even my own father laboriously concocting funny
stories at which nobody laughed. When grandmother spoke her remarks were
oracular.

"Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder," she said,
with dignity.

And one day when things were at their very worst, and Auntie May had
come to our house, "to cry in peace," as she said, grandmother Harcourt
laid a small white note in her hand.

"Go out in the garden, dear," she said, impressively. "Behind the lilac
bush. Quick!"

Away flew Auntie May, and I after her.

Now behind the lilac bush was my own particular domain. It was where I
made my little mudpies in beautiful clam shells, and once I had had a
caterpillar colony there, all pretty brown and yellow ones, and some few
with neat tufted backs and red whiskers. And Jeremiah John, the
wandering turtle, lived there. But no grown-up person ever ventured
behind the lilac bush, so it was a surprise to find Burton Raymond, with
cobwebs on his coat and a pale face, waiting for us.

"You!" Auntie May cried.

She said it almost in a shriek. She put her arms about him and clung to
him.

"You!" she said again, with infinite content.

They didn't appear to mind me in the least, and they nearly killed
Jeremiah John, who had gone to sleep in the sun.

Burton Raymond had seemed frightened at first; but when he saw how
Auntie May cried and clung to him, his head went up, and his eyes grew
dark, and he looked every inch a crusader. They talked together in
whispers. He was persuading her to do something.

"Oh, no, no!" she cried.

She looked down at her clothes.

"What! In this dress!" she exclaimed, hotly.

He whispered again, and little by little she stopped shaking her head,
and grew a trifle rosy and confused, and, at last, it seemed to me that
she said, "yes." It must have been something very terrible to which she
had agreed, for she faltered afterwards, and had to be encouraged some
more. Then she picked a bunch of the lilacs and pinned it in her belt,
and they went on toward the gate together. Her hand was on the latch
before she remembered me.

"Oh, there's Rhoda!" she said.

Her eyes questioned mine, anxiously.

"Will you come, too, Rhoda?" she asked.

Somehow I felt that she would be glad to have one of the family with
her, so I went.

Of course I knew that it was an elopement. Auntie May was running away,
just like a princess in a fairy tale! I knew whole pages and pages of
fairy tales, and I had always liked the ones best where the princess ran
away; but I had never expected to be in a fairy tale myself. The sun was
so bright, and the air was golden with mystery. The gate shut with a
soft click. I felt that it would never betray us. It was very exciting
afterwards. We turned around a corner, and there was a horse and buggy
waiting for us in quite a magical fashion, and in a moment we were in
and off.

"Oh, make him go fast, Burton," Auntie May prayed.

She was frightened again.

"Oh, make him go very fast!" she cried.

The houses whisked past us. The people in the streets looked at us,
strangely, and one old man, a lifelong friend of my grandfather's, ran
out to the curb, and held up his cane, imperatively, for us to stop. On
we went, with a clatter and a bounce, right through the town, and out
into the quiet country beyond, where there were daisies in the fields,
and cows to regard us with astonishment, and dogs to bark as we went
along. We were all quite pale by now, I fancy, and wild-eyed. At least
the prince and the princess were, and they held hands as if they had
been lost and had found each other. And, then, away off in the distance
I saw the steeple of a tiny church. It grew taller and taller.

Always when I had thought of being Auntie May's bridesmaid, I had
expected to wear a white dress and carry flowers, and walk right down
the aisle with all the golden and red and blue ladies in the church
windows watching me; but now when the time came I concluded that I liked
this new way best of all. The minister was out in his front yard when we
drove up, and I thought that he looked at our bridal party rather
pityingly. And I also thought that he considered us a joke. We walked up
to him trembling, and stood about the bed which he was digging.

"We'd like to be married, sir," Burton announced, awkwardly.

The minister regarded us all through big, benevolent, silver-rimmed
spectacles. He left off his digging to smile at us. He had a geranium in
one hand, and a shovel in the other.

"I thought you were a christening party," he said.

He pointed his shovel at me.

"Who's that?" he demanded, beaming.

"I'm the bridesmaid," I told him.

Then I felt a sudden confidence in him. I pulled at his sleeve.

"They're running away," I confided, anxiously. "Won't you marry them? If
you don't poor Auntie May will never be married at all!"

"We've only got a few moments' start, sir," Burton explained,
breathlessly. "There's a carriage after us. Listen!"

Far in the direction of town we could hear the sound of coming wheels.
While we listened they seemed to redouble their speed.

"Oh, if you'd please hurry, sir!" Auntie May begged, in a panic.
"They'll take me home again! I know they will. Oh, what shall I do! What
shall I do!"

She looked about with wild eyes as though for somewhere to hide.

The minister himself seemed to catch fire a bit at that, and he did
hurry. He had us all in the parsonage parlor in a moment, and went off
upstairs calling for "Dora." He was back again immediately in his
surplice, with his wife following him, and there, standing before a
sunny window, the wilted lilacs still pinned in her belt, Auntie May
became Mrs. Burton Raymond.

She looked so pretty! Her eyes were full of tears, and her cheeks were
pink. She trembled a little still from agitation. After it was all over
she turned to Burton, and held out her hands to him in a frightened way.

"You'll be good to me?" she questioned.

"Good!" Burton cried, with his arms about her.

He looked as if he could dare the whole world in her defense.

"If he isn't he'll have to answer to me," the minister declared,
stoutly.

"And to me!" another voice cried, irately, and there was granddad
Lawrence stalking, unexpectedly, into the room.

He was very much out of breath, and very angry. I don't believe that I
ever saw granddad Lawrence so angry before. For one moment I thought
that he was going to shake Burton; but after a bit he calmed down, and
we all went home together, the bridal couple in their buggy in advance,
and granddad and I behind in the dog-cart. Granddad seemed very
sorrowful, and, at last, he unburdened his mind to me.

"This is all very well, Rhoda," he said, in a rueful fashion. "But who's
going to break the news to your grandmother!"

He took off his hat, and rumpled up his gray hair until it stood up
like quills all over his head.

"Who's going to tell _her_?" he asked, blankly.

It worried us both all the way home; but the question was settled in
quite an unexpected manner, for it was grandmother Harcourt who went to
tell grandmother Lawrence. She put on her best black silk, and her lace
veil, and her cameo pin, and she held up her head very high in the air
as she went out of the front gate.

"I shall tell her a few wholesome truths," she said, determinedly. "I
shall speak as woman to woman."

"It is really not so bad after all," my father told my mother. "They
talk of a concert tour for the boy, and he comes of a good old family,
if it _has_ fallen on evil times."

He paused for a moment, his eyes searching the future.

"And if your father runs for mayor--I don't say that he will, but if he
should be persuaded to run--why, that story would bring him in a great
many votes. It's so pretty and romantic. All the world loves a lover you
know."

My mother sighed blissfully, and motioned to him to peep in the parlor
door.

There in the darkest corner sat Auntie May and Burton Raymond on a sofa
together. They sat and looked at each other for hours and hours and
hours.



VIII

THE GREEN DOOR


"OF all the childer I've iver seen he's the worst," Norah cried. "He's
as sharp as tacks, and as bad as a young magpie."

She had come into the sitting room, and stood regarding my mother at her
sewing.

"What is the matter, Norah?" my mother demanded, anxiously.

"It's Dick, ma'am. What else should it be? Ain't I been after making a
grand gingerbread for your lunch? And ain't he under your own bed this
blessèd moment?"

She paused for breath, almost crying, and wringing her hands.

"He's eating the whole of it!" she exclaimed.

"What, a whole gingerbread?" my mother repeated, evidently startled.

"Yes, ma'am. I've been poking at him with a broom; but it's no use."

There was a quick procession up to my mother's room, my mother leading
it, with her head thrown up in wrath, then little Trixie and I
hand-in-hand, and Norah following behind us to see justice done. The
room was dark and orderly; but there was a curious shuffling sound under
the bed.

"Dick!" my mother cried. "Come out of there! Dick! Do you hear what I
say? Richard!"

When my mother said "Richard" things were apt to be pretty serious.

Little Dick crawled out from under the bed very reluctantly. He was red
and sticky; but he had a happy expression as if he had been having
rather a good time. He brought a tin plate with him, and it was quite
empty. There was not even so much as a crumb in it. My mother looked at
him in horror, and grandmother, who had been attracted by the noise,
looked at him, too, over my mother's shoulder, with strong
disapprobation.

"If he were my son," she said, distinctly, "I'd give him a good
thrashing. He richly deserves it."

It was a dreadful moment. Little Trixie and I stared at the scene
fascinated, while my mother wavered between justice and mercy. When she
finally spoke her voice was very cold and severe.

"I don't know what I ever did to have such a son," she said. "After this
I am not going to be his mother any longer. I shall call him Master
Richard, as if he were a stranger, and he shall call me Mrs. Harcourt.
Nothing else."

Trixie and I held each other closer. It was a terrible sentence. To be a
stranger in one's own home! And not to have any mother! Little Dick's
red, childish cheeks paled, and he looked frightened. He made a hurried
movement forward, and caught hold of my mother's dress.

"Oh, mother!" he cried, beseechingly.

"Go away, Master Richard," she commanded. "I am not your mother."

"Oh, please, Mrs. Harcourt," Dick wailed. "Oh, please, Mrs. Harcourt,
let me call you mother!"

But my mother was inexorable. She pushed away his hands, and walked out
of the room, leaving him behind. They all went away, she, and
grandmother, and Norah, and even little Trixie. I was the only one who
remained.

I was very sorry for Dick, and I wanted to hug him badly. But I did not
quite dare. Dick never liked anybody to hug him, and it was very seldom
that he cried. He dug his fists into his eyes for a moment, and then he
took them away, and looked at me, gloomily.

"All right," he said. "If she ain't my mother I ain't her little boy!"

Then he walked into the next room which was his own, and went down into
the bottom bureau drawer, and got out a box with a red lining. In it was
his Waterbury watch. That was the most valuable thing that Dick
possessed. He always took it to bed with him at night, and he wound it
up in the mornings, and sometimes, when he didn't mean to play very
hard, sometimes he wore it. He put it on now, and he put two clean
handkerchiefs in his pocket, and his knife, and a red ball, and the knob
off the machine drawer, and two rubber bands, and a wish-bone, and the
little box out of a doll that makes her cry, and the stopper of a
cologne bottle. And he opened his missionary box, and fished out ten
pennies,--the ones which he was saving to educate a native child in
India. When I saw that I knew that things were very serious. I went up
close to him and touched him.

"Dick," I said. "Dick! What are you going to do? Oh, Dick!"

I said it timidly, for although little brother Dick was only six, and I
was nine, he was nearly as big as I was. And he was always masterful.
But he didn't repulse me this time, so I kissed him on his ear, and
rubbed my head against his shoulder, just to let him know that I loved
him. Somehow I thought that he would like to be loved just then. And
wonder of wonders he rubbed back!

"When I come home--" Dick said. "When I'm a rich man, sister, I'll buy
you some nice things. I'll buy you some candy, and a pretty dress. And
I'll buy you some guinea-pigs! I guess you'd like to have some
guinea-pigs, wouldn't you, sister?"

I didn't care a rap for guinea-pigs, but I nodded at him just to comfort
him. I felt that I should like an elephant if Dick bought it.

"And we'll build a nice house for them in the backyard," Dick went on,
evidently cheering up at the prospect. "Under the walnut-tree. And
there'll be fathers and mothers and sisters and brothers, and little
weany, weany ones, all white and pink!"

"But where are you going, Dick?" I demanded.

His face fell.

"I'm going through the Green Door," he said, doggedly.

"Oh!" I breathed, in alarm.

Now there was a long, high fence behind our house where the
morning-glory vines climbed up and still up, and then fell in beautiful
showers of purple and pink blossoms, and just in the very center of the
fence where the vines were the thinnest there was a door,--a bright,
green door, with a massive lock, and a huge key, and two great iron
hinges. None of us children knew what lay on the other side; but there
was something secret-looking about that door, as if it might lead into
Bluebeard's house, or out into fairy lanes and meadows. Once, a good
while ago, little Dick had climbed up to the top and looked over. Then
he came down again in a scramble.

"What did you see, brother?" I quavered.

"The black people!" he replied, in a whisper.

He caught hold of my apron, and we both stood listening. It seemed to
me that I could hear some one singing in the distance, a queer, elfish
sort of a song, and once a step passed along outside the gate,--a
loitering step.

"Run, sister, run!" Dick cried.

He caught me by the hand in sudden panic, and we both fled back to the
house together, and we never went near the Green Door for whole days and
days.

I remembered all this now, and I felt sorry for Dick. I think that Dick
felt sorry for himself, for he looked around the bedroom almost
wistfully when he went away. And he didn't slide down the banisters as
he usually did, but walked downstairs, step by step, very slowly, and
paused by the sitting room door. My mother was talking inside in quite a
happy fashion. There was the buzz of the sewing-machine, and a murmur of
conversation between her and grandmother, and once when she came to the
end of a seam, once the machine stopped, and my mother laughed. When
Dick heard that he went on down the hall with his head up; but he came
to a halt in the dark corner to hug the hobby-horse, and he cut off a
bit of its white mane, and put the piece carefully away in his pocket.
Dick was always very fond of the hobby-horse.

"Good-bye, old fellow, good-bye," he said. "Don't forget me,
Alcibiades."

Alcibiades pranced a little, but he did not say anything.

I was the one who spoke. I had been feeling pretty bad for sometime; but
now I couldn't stand it any longer. To see dear little brother Dick go
out into the world alone! Never to have any brother any more! I threw my
arms about him from the other side of the hobby-horse.

"Dick," I cried, tearfully. "Oh, please, Dick, don't go away! Take me
with you, won't you, Dick?"

"Will you go, too, sister?" Dick demanded, eagerly.

I nodded at him.

"We won't never come back," he cautioned.

I stole a look down the hall, the dear, familiar hall.

"All right, Dick," I said, with a gulp.

Nobody noticed us as we slipped down the path to the Green Door, not
even Norah, who was singing in the kitchen. The hinges squeaked, and the
gate came open with a rumble. It almost seemed as if my mother must
know! We pulled it to behind us in a hurry, and stepped out into the
world. We held each other tight.

It was very different on the other side of the wall from our side. There
were no flowers there, and no vines. There was a street with small,
mean houses, and great piles of clam shells, and a goat or two running
about at a distance, and some very dirty ducks going home in single
file. Away down the square there was a great red building, with smoke
pouring out of its many chimneys, and here and there walking about the
street, and standing at the doors, were the black people--not black in
any true sense of the word, but grimed with the smut of those who labor
in iron works.

It was a dreadful place. We stood outside the gate, flattened against
the fence, looking into the street, and afraid to venture any farther.

Almost, however, in the first moment we found a friend. She was quite a
small woman, with an anxious expression, and she gazed at us in a hungry
way. She had an old plaid shawl drawn loosely over her head, and a
little bundle of shoe-strings dangled from her hand. She had the
prettiest, brightest red cheeks that I had ever seen, and her hair was a
wonderful yellow color, like a doll's. But somehow there was something
about her that I did not quite like.

She had been walking along the street, but when she saw us she stopped
suddenly.

"How do you do, ma'am?" she said. "And how do you do, master?"

We clung together a little tighter, and answered her politely.

"Pretty well, I thank you," we said in a chorus, just as our mother had
taught us to do to strangers.

"Wouldn't you like to take a little walk with me?" she asked,
pleasantly. "Just a block or two? To see my house? And my little girl?"

We were not dressed to go visiting. I had on a brown gingham apron to
play in, and Dick had on one, too, over his knickerbockers. I began to
tell her about it, but she cut me short.

"As if that mattered!" she cried. "My God! And my baby! Come, dears.
Come! My little girl is sick. It would be a Christian charity to come to
see her."

She looked at us almost beseechingly.

"Oh, what can I say to get them to come!" she exclaimed, in a piteous
fashion.

Dick unclasped my hand and went up to her sturdily.

"I'm not afraid," he said. "I'll go with you. Come, sister."

Of course if Dick went I had to go, too, for he was the smaller. I
started with a reluctant step.

"That's the little lady!" the woman cried, exultingly.

Our way lay down the block, and then straight away to the right through
a network of dirty lanes where the houses were crowded together,
leaning up against one another as though for support. In some places the
rain had dripped from the roofs into sloppy pools on the ground, and the
path was rough with fallen bricks and mortar. The woman was very careful
of us. She showed us the cleanest way, and when the goats came too near
she stood in between them and us, and shooed them off. And, at last, we
came to a house, old and battered, with very rickety front steps and
windows stuffed with rags; that was her home.

There was a stout woman going up the steps with a pail of soapy water in
her hand who stopped to regard us.

"Where did you get them kids, Becky Dean?" she demanded.

"That's my business," our new friend cried, fiercely.

She seemed to bristle with rage.

"Well, I hope there's no harm in it," the other replied, curtly,
continuing on her way.

We went up and up three flights of long, shaky steps to a little room
under the eaves. It was very dark there,--so dark that at first I did
not notice a bed in a dim corner, and a child lying on it looking at us
with a pair of beautiful large eyes. She did not say a word, but just
lay and looked and looked.

The woman sat down on the bed, and gathered the child to her tenderly.

"See what I've brought you," she said, almost in a whisper, her cheek
pressed close against the cheek of the child. "See the nice little lady
and gentleman come to play with you. Come to play with my own little
Amy. Ain't you pleased with your mama, Amy? Ain't they nice?"

The child lay and looked at us, and, at last, very slowly, she smiled.
Dick and I were both very bashful, but we smiled back at her from where
we stood by the side of the bed. The mother seemed greatly relieved. She
hunted about under her faded shawl, and brought out some sticks of
candy, the kind that taste of peppermint, and have beautiful red streaks
that run zigzag around them. She generously gave each of us one, and one
to the child. We all sucked in happy unison. But the child soon tired.
The stick of candy rolled out of her hand, unregarded, and she lay back
upon her mother with a faint, wailing cry.

"Maybe she could play a game, if you know one," the mother urged,
anxiously. "Oh, for the love of heaven, think of a game!"

"I know 'Little Sallie Waters,'" Dick declared, speaking for the first
time.

So Dick and I played "Little Sallie Waters" together. It was hard work,
there being only two of us, but we went around and around in a solemn
circle, and sang the words earnestly, and when we came to the lines,

    "Rise, Sallie, rise,
     Wipe out your eyes,
     Fly to the East,
     Fly to the West,
     Fly to the very one
     That you love best,"

we both kissed little Amy Dean, and she smiled at us again from her
mother's arms, where she had been watching us with her great,
mysterious, melancholy eyes.

"Sure she's better," the woman cried, in a tone between laughter and
tears. "My own darlint! She's better! She's better already! They've done
her more good than the doctor. Sure, she was lonesome for the likes of
her own!"

Her face shone. She looked as if she could hug us both from gratitude.

"I've got a doll at home whose name is Amy," I announced, bashfully,
trying to make conversation.

"That you have," the woman agreed, heartily. "And without doubts you'll
be bringing it for my little girl to see."

"I'll bring her to-morrow," I promised.

"Do you hear that, Amy?" the mother commented, happily.

"And I've got a horse named Alcibiades," Dick added, in his turn. "He's
got red nostrils and a bushy tail. He prances. Like this."

He gave a spirited portrayal of Alcibiades all around the room, ending
with a great whinny of delight.

"Would you let wee Amy take a ride on the pretty horse?" the mother
inquired, persuasively.

"Yes," Dick promised, with eager gallantry. "Dozens and dozens of
rides."

"See there now!" the woman exclaimed. "Won't my Amy have a grand time
playing with the little lady and gentleman!"

The child seemed pleased. She laid one little wasted arm about her
mother's neck in a loving way, and stretched out the other to us. I
almost thought that she tried to speak. Then she settled back again, and
her eyes gazed off far beyond us, through the roof of the mean house,
higher and higher, perhaps at greater joys and glories that were to be
hers forever.

The woman caught the little form to her quickly.

"Sing something else!" she cried, wildly. "Sing--"

She hesitated a moment, rocking herself to and fro on the edge of the
bed with the child in her arms.

"Couldn't you sing a hymn?" she whispered. "Couldn't you, dears?"

Dick and I knew lots and lots of hymns. We always learned them on
Sundays to please our grandmother. We stood closer together, and sang
with full hearts, our voices rising up, clearly, shrilly, with childish
emphasis:

    "There's a Home for little children,
     Above the bright blue sky,
     Where Jesus reigns in glory,
     A Home of peace and joy;
     No home on earth is like it,
     Nor can with it compare,
     For everyone is happy,
     Nor can be happier there."

There was a sound of weeping in the room, but we sang on, earnestly,
line after line, just as we had played.

Suddenly a hand was laid on each of our heads, and we looked up to see
an old priest standing by us. He motioned for us to be silent, and went
on to the corner where the child lay on the bed with the woman on her
knees beside her, her face buried in the tiny dress.

"My daughter?" he said, inquiringly.

The pretty gay head came up with a start. The red cheeks were disfigured
with weeping.

"She's gone, father!" the woman cried.

She dragged herself around, still on her knees, and laid her head
against his hand.

"I've tried so hard to be good, father. Ever since you talked to me I've
tried and I've tried. You know I have. But it's no use. No use.
Everything goes wrong with me. And now my Amy's gone!"

She burst into tears again, her words becoming incoherent from grief,
and sobbed wildly, her head falling back against the bed.

"Where did these children come from?" the priest demanded, sternly.

She explained through her tears.

"I brought them here for Amy to play with. I thought-- You know how they
all look down on her here, father. She never had a playmate. I thought
if she were happier, if there were little friends of her own age about
her, that I might coax her back again, get her to stay with me for
awhile. I saw the two children standing at their gate. I only borrowed
them. Sure, I didn't mean them any harm."

Her voice broke off again into sobs.

It was Dick who created a diversion at this moment. He had been hunting
through his pockets, and now he brought out all his precious
things,--the knob off the machine drawer, the stopper of the cologne
bottle, the ten missionary cents that were to educate the native child
in India, even the Waterbury watch,--and laid them in a little pile on
the bed. He pulled the old priest's hand to attract his attention.

"They're for her," he explained, with a nod at the bed.

He half touched the watch, and drew his hand away again.

"To keep," he persisted, bravely. "Tell her not to cry. Oh, tell her not
to cry!"

But the woman cried only the harder.

The old priest took us home very carefully, down the rickety steps, and
through the dirty courts and lanes, straight to the Green Door. All the
ferocious-looking black men whom we met stopped to speak to him, and he
ordered them about, with an air of authority, like so many small
children. On the way he asked us many questions, and I confided the
whole story to him, of how little brother Dick had been naughty, and had
eaten the gingerbread and had been disowned, and how we had started out
into the wide world together. Somehow I was glad that we hadn't gone any
farther. Somehow home seemed a nicer place now. It was so quiet and so
safe, with pleasant rooms, and a peaceful, sunny garden, and white,
comfortable beds, where we slept through the long nights, and kind faces
to smile on us, and love to surround us always. I cried a little as I
told him about it.

"There is only one home, and one father and mother," the old priest
said, seriously. "Remember that. And be good children. The holy grace of
God be upon you, my dears."

His kind hands hovered over our heads for a moment.

He took us back into the yard, and locked the Green Door himself, and
went into the house to see my mother. He stayed a long, long while.

Afterwards my mother came out into the garden, and kissed us both, with
all her old affection. Her face was very gentle, as if she, too, had
been crying.

"Where is my little son?" she asked, breathlessly.

But she had her arms around me as well as around Dick.



IX

THE HIDDEN TALENT


CLOSE in a sheltered corner in our parlor there stood a bookcase. It had
two glass doors, and a brass key, and rows and rows of books that looked
out invitingly on the world, and seemed to say, "Come, read me." On the
bottom shelf of all there were children's books,--"The Child's History
of England," "Plutarch's Lives" in brown and gold, a green "Ivanhoe," a
red "Alice in Wonderland," and a fat blue book, "The Child's Own Book of
Fairy Tales," with rubbed corners, and loose leaves, and a crooked
signature on the front page that read, painstakingly, "Rhoda Harcourt."
These were my books, my dear, dear books, and with them comes a memory
of hours spent in a window-seat, of dusky evenings when the firelight
lit an absorbing page, and of elderly comment heard over my head.

"How she reads!" my father said, enviously. "I was just like that when I
was a boy."

"The child will have no eyes," my grandmother complained.

"She must know them by heart," my mother added.

I did know them pretty thoroughly, but when I tired of old friends I had
only to climb up a shelf higher to find new ones. "Japheth in Search of
a Father," "The Mill on the Floss," and "Les Miserables," stood just
above my head, and there were stories of children in all of these,--the
most entrancing stories that opened a window into a glorious golden
world of ideality and romance. It was such a wide world! People did
things there. They lived and loved, and when they died the event stamped
itself on my mind with a pathos that made me cry from sheer pity.

"I wish Rhoda wouldn't read so many books," my mother said. "She excites
herself over them. She is so different from other children of her age!"

She said it half complainingly and half exultingly. Somehow I knew that
my mother liked me to read, and that she liked me to be a little
different from other children. Sometimes she bragged about it in a mild
way to chance callers.

"Rhoda reads the oddest things," I heard her tell two ladies. "When I
was a little girl I liked to read 'The Wide, Wide World,' but she likes
novels and histories."

The older visitor glanced at me up in my corner. It was "Les
Miserables" that day, I remember, and their talk played on the surface
of my mind while my heart was busy with Cosette.

"Does she go to school?" she asked.

"No," my mother faltered.

The ladies looked at each other.

"What! At her age! Why, who teaches her?" they demanded, in a shocked
chorus.

"I do myself--sometimes," my mother answered, still falteringly.

"Take my advice," the visitor with the black eyes said, decisively, "and
send that child to school. Why it's a shame! It isn't fair to the
child."

"When she grows up she will regret it," the one with the tight mouth
added.

"She isn't strong," my mother explained. "We have kept her at home on
that account; but I suppose, yes, I suppose, that she ought to go to
school."

She looked at me a moment in a worried fashion, and then brightened, a
trifle of her old pride returning.

"She has the greatest stock of general information," she confided,
whisperingly. "She astonishes me sometimes. She does, indeed."

The two ladies shook their heads.

"I don't approve of children knowing too much," the one with the black
eyes cried.

"And novels!" the other breathed, evidently appalled.

After they were gone my mother took the book out of my hand, and read a
page or two of it in a frightened way. She smoothed my hair, and looked
at me anxiously.

"Why do you like this book, Rhoda?" she asked.

"Because it's about a little girl, mother," I answered.

I crept a little closer to her.

"She hadn't any mother," I explained, eagerly. "And a man gave her a
beautiful doll, and one night, just think, he put a gold coin in her
shoe! She was so surprised! Oh, mother, how I wish I could have been
there! I do! I do!"

"Is that all, Rhoda?"

I nodded.

"I have always been a good mother to you, haven't I, Rhoda?"

I rubbed my head against her arm, and kissed her hand.

"At least I've tried to be!" my mother cried. "And now I am going to do
something that perhaps you won't like; but you may understand some day,
dear. I am going to put this book back into the bookcase, and I am going
to lock the door. It is not to be opened until I give you leave."

"It isn't my fault, is it, mother?" I asked, perplexed.

"No, it is not your fault. It's only that I want to keep my little girl
just the same in heart and mind as she has always been."

She put the book back on the shelf, and she locked the door; but she did
not take away the brass key. She knew and I knew that I would never
touch it.

But, oh, how I longed for my dear books! I used to creep to the door and
look in at them, and it seemed to me that they appeared lonesome. I
finished out the story of Cosette to suit myself, and I made stories
likewise for the books which I did not know. There was one remarkable
thing about my stories, and that was that nobody ever died; but they all
lived happy forever and ever. Even when my mother read the Bible to me
on Sunday nights after I was in bed I used to sit up anxiously, and pray
her to end the stories in my way.

"Oh, don't let the lions eat poor Daniel!" I would cry. "Oh, mother,
mother, don't let them eat him up!"

"Why it happened centuries ago, dear," my mother answered, half
laughing.

"But I can see it," I protested. "I can see it right now!"

It was so hard to see things going wrong, and not to be able to help!

It was about this time that my mother and I did a great many lessons
together, and she would offer me odd bits of useful information at
unexpected moments.

"Rhoda is not very well grounded," she told my father, "but I do think,
Robert, that she knows a great deal for a child of ten."

She was darning stockings as she spoke, and she turned over a very
ragged one of Dick's with a little sigh.

"I would like her to go to school. Not to the public school, but to a
young ladies' seminary as I did. Don't you think, Robert, if I were to
do without a new winter coat, and we made the old carpet on the stairs
last a little longer, that we might send Rhoda to Mrs. Garfield's?"

Her face was brightening as she thought it out.

"And there's the money in her bank," she cried, "her gold pieces that
dad has given her on her birthdays and on Christmas. I don't suppose,
Robert, you'd want dad to pay for it all? He would, willingly."

"No," my father answered.

My mother's face fell, and then lit up again.

"You are a ridiculously proud boy," she declared, fondly. "Well, at any
rate, we can save my coat and the carpet."

I wanted to go to school very badly. Every day at half past ten there
was a procession past our house of thirty little girls walking two and
two. They all looked happy and important, and I thought how wonderful it
might be if I should join their ranks.

Norah, who was always sympathetic, read my fortune in a teacup out in
the kitchen that night to see what might be going to happen.

"There's a change coming to you," she said, mysteriously. "There's a
fair woman, a widdy by the looks of her, and water to cross, and much
money. Sure you'll be gitting so grand that you'll be forgitting your
poor old Norah."

I put my arms around her to reassure her.

"I'll never forget you, Norah," I promised.

"Won't you then?" she cried, much pleased.

"No. And, Norah, listen! All that I learn I shall teach you myself!"

"Sure there's a great day coming for both of us," Norah agreed.

I shall never forget that day, the start in the early sunshine, the
stiff ruffled apron that I wore, and my mother leading me along the
street by the hand. She was just as much excited as I was, and when we
came to the door of a large white house, with a brass plate saying,
"Mrs. Garfield's Select School for Girls and Young Ladies," she stopped
a moment before she rang the bell to rearrange my hair, and give me a
private hug.

"Don't forget your seven times!" she whispered, warningly.

I was too far gone for reply, but I nodded, blindly, at her through a
mist of tears, unexpected tears, for somehow or other I suddenly seemed
to be leaving my old life behind me, and to be going into a strange
country.

It was very quiet in the white house. There were a great many rooms,
and a subdued hum of recitation. A clock in the hall ticked loudly. My
mother and I sat on two lonely chairs in the reception room and waited.
I remember that there was a large piece of white coral on the floor in
front of the pierglass. It had exactly thirty-seven points. And there
was a motto neatly framed on the wall. "The Good Child Makes the Careful
Mother." By and by there was a rustle of silk in the doorway, and Mrs.
Garfield was shaking hands with us. She was a fair, pleasant-looking
lady. She shook hands with my mother first, and then with me. She gazed
at me, very closely and attentively, much as a doctor might gaze, but
she had kind eyes and once in awhile her dignity would break into a
smile.

"I want to enter my little girl," my mother said, falteringly. "She--she
doesn't know a great deal."

"Then there's all the more to learn," Mrs. Garfield encouraged us,
brightly.

It seemed to me that she liked to know that I didn't know anything. It
seemed to me that she liked to think that I was to be built up after her
own plan.

She was busy in a moment asking my age, and getting my school books
together. There was a brief farewell with my mother in the hall, during
which I clung to her, wildly, then the door had shut and I was alone in
the world. It was a dreadful feeling to be alone! And it was still more
dreadful when I had followed Mrs. Garfield into a large room filled with
pupils seated at their desks, and had been introduced to Miss Lucy, the
teacher in charge.

"A little new friend of ours, Miss Lucy," Mrs. Garfield said, in the
hush that followed our arrival.

Then she turned and left me.

An elderly lady shook my hand in welcome. She had a soft hand, and a
worried look as if something had been going wrong, and there was a
little curly-haired girl standing in a far corner, with her face hidden
against the wall, who was sobbing bitterly. Somebody had been drawing a
picture on the blackboard. It showed a stout man with bow-legs, and an
ugly face, and underneath was written "Miss Lucy's Beau."

"You can come out of the corner, Miss Armitage," Miss Lucy said, in an
icy tone.

She pointed an accusing finger at the blackboard.

"As for that dreadful--that distinctly unladylike--performance of yours
on the blackboard I shall allow it to remain until the noon recess."

The little girls all looked at one another.

"Shan't I rub it right off, Miss Lucy?" a small person in a long apron
demanded, eagerly.

"Oh, teacher, teacher, let me rub it off!" another echoed.

She had bright red hair and a plaid dress.

"No, Cebelia, no, Janet," Miss Lucy replied, more in sorrow than in
anger. "We will look at this drawing together. We will consider its
disloyalty, its bad perspective, one foot is larger than the other
notwithstanding all I have taught her! its _unchristian spirit_!"

She paused for a moment, and seemed to discover me.

"Miss Harcourt, you may take the seat next to Miss Armitage," she added,
in haste. "Young ladies, we will go on with the geography lesson."

I followed the little curly-headed girl to a desk, and sat down, and
looked at her. And she looked back at me with drowned eyes. She was
rather pretty. Suddenly, somehow, I felt sorry for her, bad as she
evidently was. I slipped my hand into hers.

"Don't cry!" I whispered, in compassion. "You dear! Don't cry!"

She pushed up the cover of the desk, and kissed me in its shadow.

"I like you," she whispered, ardently.

"And I like you," I whispered back.

"Let's be friends," she suggested.

We kissed again, solemnly, in agreement.

Up in front the geography class was bounding Asia very eagerly and
rapidly. They had all the air of people who had recently escaped from
some great peril. We did not pay them much attention for we were too
much occupied with each other. Oh, the glory of having a friend, the
secrets that we confided that morning behind the desk cover, the
horse-hair rings which we exchanged in token of undying affection, the
dear human delight of finding some one who is your own age, and who
loves you!

School lost its terrors for me in a very short while. With Grace
Armitage beside me I was willing to dare all things, and when half past
ten came I went quite happily hand-in-hand with her in the little
procession down the sunny street. It was so odd to look at my home from
the outside, to see Norah hanging out the wash, the twins playing in the
garden, and even grandmother sewing composedly at a window, just as if
it were an ordinary day, and I had not gone to school for the first
time. But my mother remembered, and when we passed the door she came
running out and waved to me.

After that life resolved itself into a series of school days. Every
morning I went gayly off with my books, feeling a new sense of
importance, and every afternoon I came running home, with a budget of
news to tell my mother. There were many things to puzzle me in the new
world. For instance, I could never understand, why, when the spelling
lesson was particularly hard, Janet McLarin would always show a great
anxiety to hear about Miss Lucy's childhood.

"Oh, Miss Lucy," she would cry, clasping her hands together, "tell us
about when you were a little girl!"

Then there would come a perfect chorus from the whole class.

"Oh, do, Miss Lucy! Do tell us about when you were a little girl!"

"Tell us about the little cloak your mother made out of a shawl,"
Cebelia would say, invitingly.

Even Grace would add her quota.

"Tell about your mother's party dress, and how she first met your
father."

"Yes, yes," the others would clamor. "And tell us about her pink coral
beads, and how they were lost, and _he_ found them!"

Then Miss Lucy would close the green spelling book, with a gratified
smile, and gather us about her in a little hushed circle, and tell us
the tales of a bygone age. I liked Miss Lucy. I liked to sit up close to
her and to Grace, and hear about the party dress, and the pink coral
beads, and when it all ended happily, as stories should, I would give a
great sigh of satisfaction.

"Dear me," Miss Lucy would say, all aglow with enthusiasm, "it's time
for recess! Why, where has the morning gone! Well, girls, you'll have to
take the same lesson over again for to-morrow."

She was very simple minded, Miss Lucy was, and she understood the
situation just as little as I did myself.

Janet McLarin was Scotch, and she was canny. She could do every sum in
the arithmetic; but when the day came for compositions she would put her
bright head down in her lap and groan.

"I wish I was dead," she would say, despairingly. "I do! I do!"

Cebelia was more stoical; but she would fold great pleats in her apron,
and frown at the blackboard. Miss Lucy always wrote the subjects for the
compositions on the blackboard, one under the other, beautifully written
out for our decision.

    The Story of a Nine-pin.
    Thoughts on Spring.
    The Triumph of Columbus.
    My Mother's Flower Garden.
    A Meadow Daisy.
    The Beauty of Truth.

They were lovely, lovely subjects! I would sit and look at them in a
blissful dream.

One day, the very first composition day, I remember Grace gave me a
little shake.

"Which one are you going to take?" she demanded, dolefully.

"I don't know," I answered, with a happy smile.

"Girls," Grace cried, "I believe Rhoda could write them _all_! She likes
to write!"

Miss Lucy was out of the room, and I remember that they all came around
me, and looked at me, as if I had been a strange animal.

"Rhoda," Janet McLarin cried, taking her head out of her lap, "if you'll
write my composition for me I'll give you my best blue hair ribbon. My
Sunday one. Honest."

I didn't want the hair ribbon; but I nodded at her.

"I'll write it," I said.

"Will you write me one, Rhoda, dear?" Grace asked, jealously, with her
face against mine. "You are _my_ friend, not hers."

"I'll write yours, too," I agreed.

"And one for me?"

"And for me?"

I nodded at them, generously.

"I'll write one for everybody," I declared, with a glow of pleasure.

"But don't tell anyone," Janet cautioned.

I couldn't understand why she insisted on making a secret of it. It
seemed so strange. But I promised to tell no one, not even my own
mother.

We always had two days in which to write our compositions. I did ten in
that time. I wrote them out roughly on great sheets of wrapping paper. I
wrote them up in the garret by the window where the wasps lived, and I
had such a grand time that I never noticed the wasps at all; but went on
and on finding something new to say every minute, and loving to say it.
Only it was hard when the sentences happened to come out beautifully not
to be able to show them to my mother. But I had promised. However, the
very best composition of all was to be my own, and that I might show to
her. I remember it was on "The Beauty of Truth."

"It's very nice," my mother said, when it was put in her hand.
"It's--it's almost like a sermon!"

She looked at the composition, with an odd smile of pleasure, and then
she drew me to her and kissed me fondly.

"I think Rhoda would make a fine wife for a minister," I heard her tell
my father, excitedly. "She's got so much natural piety!"

I was very happy that morning as I went to school. I carried my roll of
wrapping paper under my arm, and when I reached Mrs. Garfield's I
divided the compositions among the girls, so that they might each copy
her own. Afterwards they were all handed up to Miss Lucy and school
began.

Miss Lucy took a long time over the compositions. She read them and read
them. She looked astonished, and, also, a trifle pleased. At last she
gathered them all up in a bundle, and went out of the room. It was very
quiet in the room. Every little girl sat at her desk and studied very
busily. All except Janet McLarin. She opened the side window and climbed
out. The last we could see of her was her bright hair vanishing around
the corner with a rush. Then we could hear the sound of Miss Lucy's
stout boots coming along the hall, and a swish of silk beside her.

"She's bringing Mrs. Garfield!" Grace whispered, horror-stricken.

Up to that time I had not been frightened, for there was nothing to be
frightened about; but fear is contagious, and somehow I began to be
scared myself.

Mrs. Garfield stood up in front of us with a roll of papers in her hand.

"Young ladies," she began, "I have something very serious to say to you,
something which it gives me great pain to say. Your compositions have
come in this morning, and your teacher has been surprised at them. She
has referred the matter to me. I in my turn have been surprised."

She paused. The room was very, very still.

"I find myself driven to the conclusion that not one of these
compositions has been written by a member of this class. They have been
written by somebody else. They have been written by an outsider. I
demand to know who has written them."

I felt very funny inside my breast. My eyes were full of tears. I looked
at Mrs. Garfield standing up there, very severe, and somewhat angry,
and at Miss Lucy beside her, with a bewildered expression. I looked at
rows of pale little girls at their desks. I looked at Grace. Oh, it was
cruel, cruel! They had never told me that I was doing wrong. I had loved
them so, and given them my best, and they had all betrayed me! Even
Grace! Then I thought of "The Beauty of Truth." I rose up from my seat.

"I did it, Mrs. Garfield," I confessed, brokenly. "I wrote them myself."

Then I cried, my heart breaking inside of me.

There was a rustle at the next desk.

"It isn't Rhoda's fault," Grace's voice exclaimed. "She wrote them, but
we asked her to. We are all bad, just as bad as she is. And Janet
McLarin who has gone out of the window is the worst of us all!"

If fear is contagious, so is confession. There was a perfect storm of
tearful explanations and excuses. They all told Mrs. Garfield how it had
been done, and they showed her the wrapping paper. One little girl
offered me a piece of chewing gum quite openly to comfort me, and Miss
Lucy dried my eyes on her own pocket-handkerchief.

All that Mrs. Garfield said was, "Well!"

But she said it with an air of astonishment.

Afterwards she called me into her own private sanctum, the place where
people went to be scolded, and felt the bumps on my forehead.

"Child," she said, "you have great originality. The region of sublimity
is large. So is that of humor. I predict a future for you. I do, indeed.
Do you understand what I mean?"

"No, ma'am," I answered, timidly.

"I mean that some day you will write greater things than these wrapping
paper compositions. I mean that with hard work, hard work, mind you, you
may write books. You may become an _authoress_!"

She shook hands with me quite seriously when I went away as though with
an equal. The next moment she called me back, and kissed me, holding me
close to her silk breast.

"You have talent, dear child," she said. "I will develop it. I will
watch over you. Some day there will be books!"

I went home very bewildered, but very happy. I looked at the worn places
on the stair carpet almost tenderly. I laid my cheek against my mother's
old winter coat hanging up in the hall. Suppose the fortune which Norah
had read in the teacup should come true! Suppose that _I_ should be the
one to buy the new things, to make soft the narrow life, to reimburse
the dear ones who gave and gave and never thought of the sacrifice. Just
suppose! It was as if a great white door had opened before me.



       *       *       *       *       *



Transcriber's note:

Obvious punctuation errors have been corrected. Varied hyphenation was
retained.

Repeated chapter titles were removed to avoid repetition.





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