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Title: A Daughter of the Rich
Author: Waller, Mary E. (Mary Ella), 1855-1938
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Daughter of the Rich" ***

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[Illustration: Cover]



[Illustration: Hazel]



                                   A
                          Daughter of the Rich


                                   BY

                              M. E. WALLER

                     AUTHOR OF "THE LITTLE CITIZEN"



                             ILLUSTRATED BY
                         ELLEN BERNARD THOMPSON



                                 BOSTON
                       LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY
                                  1903



                           _Copyright, 1903,_
                     BY LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY.

                         _All rights reserved_


                        Published October, 1903



                            UNIVERSITY PRESS
                          JOHN WILSON AND SON
                          CAMBRIDGE, U. S. A.



                                   To
                                "MARTIE"



                                CONTENTS


      I. Molasses Tea
     II. Mrs. Blossom’s Valentine
    III. A Curious Case
     IV. A Little Millionaire
      V. Transplanted
     VI. Malachi
    VII. The N.B.B.O.O. Society
   VIII. A Lively Correspondence
     IX. The Prize Chicken
      X. An Unexpected Meeting
     XI. Jack
    XII. Results
   XIII. A Social Addition
    XIV. The Lost Nation
     XV. Wishing-Tree Secrets
    XVI. A Christmas Prelude
   XVII. Hunger-Ford
  XVIII. Budd’s Proposal
    XIX. A Year And A Day
     XX. Snow-Bound
    XXI. A Little Daughter of the Rich
   XXII. Rose
  XXIII. "Behold how great a Matter a Little Fire Kindles"
   XXIV. "Old Put"
    XXV. San Juan
   XXVI. Maria-Ann’s Crusade
  XXVII. "--The stars above, Shine ever on Love--"



                         LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.


Hazel . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Frontispiece

"’You can begin to drop that corn this very afternoon’"

"Rose was at the kitchen table, patting out the dough for the rolls"

"Hazel flung both arms around Mrs. Blossom’s neck"

"’I want to tell you why I came up here’"

"The two girls leaned over the box as Hazel took off the wrapper"



                         A DAUGHTER OF THE RICH



                                   I

                              MOLASSES TEA


"Good-night, Martie," called a sweet voice down the stairway.

"Good-night, Rose dear; I thought you were asleep."

"Good-night, Martie," duetted the twins, in the shrillest of treble and
falsetto.

"Good-night, you rogues; go to sleep; you ’ll wake baby."

"Dood-night, mummy," chirped a little voice from the adjoining room.

There was a shout of laughter from the twins.

"Shut up," growled March from the attic over the kitchen.  "Good-night,
mother."  His growl ended in a squeak, for March was at that interesting
period of his life indicated by a change of voice.  At the sound, a
prolonged snicker from somewhere was answered by a corresponding giggle
from another-where.

"Now, children," said Mrs. Blossom, speaking up the stairway, "do be
quiet, or baby will be wide awake."

"Tum tiss me, mummy," piped the little voice a second time, with no
sound of sleep in it.

"Yes, darling, I ’ll come;" as she turned to go into the bedroom
adjoining the kitchen, there was the sound of a jump overhead, a patter
of bare feet, a squabble on the stairs, and Budd and Cherry, the
irrepressible ten-year-old twins, tumbled into the room.

"I ’ll haul those kids back to bed for you, mother," shouted March, and
flung himself out of bed to join the fray, while Rose was not behindhand
in making her appearance.

Mrs. Blossom came in with little May in her arms, and that was the
signal for a wholesale kissing-party in which May was hostess.

"Children, children, you ’ll smother me!" laughed their mother.  "Here,
sit down on the rug and warm your toes,--coming over those bare stairs
this cold night!"  And down they sat, Rose and March, Budd and Cherry
and little May, in thick white and red flannel night-dresses and gray
flannel pajamas.

Budd coughed consumptively, and Cherry followed suit. March shivered and
shook like a small earthquake, and Rose looked up laughingly at her
mother.

"We know what that means, don’t we, Martie," she said.  "Shall I help?"

"No, no, dear,--in your bare feet!"

Mrs. Blossom took a lamp from the shelf over the fireplace, and, leaving
the five with their fifty toes turned and wriggling before the cheering
warmth of the blazing hickory logs, disappeared in the pantry.

"Oh, bully," said Budd, rubbing his flannel pajamas just over his
stomach; "I wish ’t was a cold night every day, then we could have
molasses tea all the time, don’t you, Cherry?"

"Mm," said Cherry, too full of the anticipated treat for articulate
speech.

"There ’s nothing like it to warm up your insides," said March; "mother
’s a brick to let us get up for it.  She would n’t, you know, if father
were at home."

"My tummy’s told," piped May, frantically patting her chest in imitation
of Budd, and all the children shouted to see the wee four-year-old
maiden trying to manufacture a shiver in the glow of the cheerful fire.

Mrs. Blossom had never told her recipe for her "hot molasses tea;" but
it had been famed in the family for more than a generation.  She had it
from her mother. The treat was always reserved for a bitterly cold
night, and the good things in it of which one had a taste--molasses,
white sugar, lemon-peel, butter, peppermint, boiled raisins, and
mysterious unknowns--were compounded with hot water into a
palate-tickling beverage.

When Mrs. Blossom reappeared, with a kettle sending forth a small cloud
of fragrant steam in one hand and a tray filled with tin cups in the
other, the delighted "Ohs" and "Ahs" repaid her for all her extra work
at the close of a busy, weary day.

Budd rolled over on the rug in his ecstasy, and Cherry was about to roll
on top of him, when March interfered, and order was restored.

As they sat there on the big, braided square of woollen rag-carpet,
sipping and ohing and ahing with supreme satisfaction, Mrs. Blossom
broached the subject of valentines.

"It’s the first of February, children, and time to begin to make
valentines.  You ’re not going to forget the Doctor _this_ year, are
you?"

"No, indeed, Martie," said Rose.  "He deserves the prettiest we can
make.  I ’ve been thinking about it, and I ’m going to make him a
shaving-case, heart-shaped, with birch-bark covers, and if March will
decorate it for me, I think it will be lovely; will you, March?"

"Course I will; the Doctor ’s a brick.  I ’ll tell you what, Martie, I
can pen and ink some of those spruces and birches that the Doctor was so
fond of last summer; how ’ll that do?"

"Just the thing," said his mother; "I know it will please him.  What are
you thinking, Cherry?" for the "other half" of Budd was gazing dreamily
into the fire, forgetting her tea in her revery.

"Fudge!" said Cherry, shortly.  March and Rose laughed.

"Keep still making fun of Cherry," said Budd, ruffling at the sound; and
to emphasize his admonishing words, he dug his sharp elbow so suddenly
into March’s ribs that some hot molasses tea flew from the cup which his
brother had just put to his mouth and spattered on his bare feet.

March deliberately set down his tin cup on the hearth near the fire
beside his brother’s, and turned upon Budd.

Budd tried to dodge, but had no room.  In a trice, March had his arms
around him, and was hugging him in a bear-like embrace.  "Say you ’re
sorry!" he demanded.

"Au-ow!"

"Say you ’re sorry!" he roared at him, hugging harder.

"Au-ow-ee-ow!"

"Quick, or I ’ll squeeze you some more!"

Budd was squirming and twisting like an eel.

"O-ee-wau-au-_Au!_"

"There," said March, releasing him and setting him down with a thump on
the rug; "I ’ll teach you to poke me in the ribs that way and scald my
feet.--You ’re game, though, old fellow," he added patronizingly, as he
heard a suspicious sniff from Cherry.  "You and Cherry make a whole team
any day."

Cherry’s sniff changed to a smile, for March did not condescend to
praise either of them very often.

"Well," she said meditatively, "I suppose it did sound funny to say
that, but I was thinking that if Budd would make me a little
heart-shaped box of birch-bark, I ’d make some maple-sugar fudge,--you
know, Martie, the kind with butternuts in it,--and that could be my
valentine for the Doctor."

"Why, that’s a bright idea, Cherry," said Mrs. Blossom; and, "Bully for
you, Cherry," said Budd; "we’ll begin to-morrow and crack the
butternuts."

"What will May do?" asked Mrs. Blossom, lifting the little girl, who was
already showing signs of being overcome with molasses tea and sleep.
May nestled in her mother’s arms, leaned her head, running over with
golden curls, on her mother’s breast, and murmured drowsily,--

"’Ittle tooties--tut with mummy’s heart-tutter--tutter--tooties--tut--"
The blue-veined eyelids closed over the lovely eyes; and Mrs. Blossom,
holding up her finger to hush the children’s mirth at May’s inspired
utterance, carried her back into the bedroom.

One after another the children crept noiselessly upstairs, with a
whispered, "Good-night, Martie," and in ten minutes Mary Blossom knew
they were all in the land of dreams.



                                   II

                        MRS. BLOSSOM’S VALENTINE


It was a bitter night.  Mrs. Blossom refilled the kitchen stove, and
threw on more hickory in the fireplace in anticipation of her husband’s
late return from the village.  She drew her little work-table nearer to
the blaze, and sat down to her sewing.  Then she sighed, and, as she
bent over the large willow basket filled with stockings to be darned and
clothes to be mended, a tear rolled down her cheek and plashed on the
edge.

There was so much she wanted to do for her children--and so little with
which to do it!  There was March, an artist to his finger-tips, who
longed to be an architect; and Rose, lovely in her young girlhood and
giving promise of a lovelier womanhood, who was willing to work her way
through one of the lesser colleges, if only she could be prepared for
entrance.  Mary Blossom saw no prospect of being able to do anything for
either of them.

And the father!  He must be spared first, if he were to be their future
bread-winner.  Mary Blossom could never forget that day, a year ago this
very month, when her husband was brought home on a stretcher, hurt, as
they thought, unto death, by a tree falling the wrong way in the woods
where he was directing the choppers.

What a year it had been!  All they had saved had gone to pay for the
extra help hired to carry on the farm and finish the log-cutting.  A
surgeon had come from the nearest city to give his verdict in the case
and help if he could.

The farm was mortgaged to enable them to pay the heavy bills incident to
months of sickness and medical attendance; still the father lay
helpless, and Mary Blossom’s faith and courage were put to their
severest test, when both doctor and surgeon pronounced the case
hopeless.  He might live for years, they said, but useless, so far as
his limbs were concerned.

This was in June; and then it was that Mary Blossom, leaving Rose in
charge of her father and the children, left her home, and walked
bareheaded rapidly up the slope behind the house, across the upland
pastures and over into the woodlands, from which they had hoped to
derive a sufficient income to provide not only for their necessities,
but for their children’s education and the comforts of life.

Deep into the heart of them she made her way; and there, in the green
silence, broken only by the note of a thrush and the stirring of June
leafage above and about her, she knelt and poured out her sorrow-filled
heart before God, and cast upon Him the intolerable burden that had
rested so long upon her soul.

The shadows were lengthening when at last she turned homewards.  Cherry
and Budd met her in the pasture, for Rose had grown anxious and sent
them to find her.

"Why, where have you been, Martie?" exclaimed the twins.  "We were so
frightened about you, because you didn’t come home."

"You need n’t have been; I ’ve been talking with a Friend."  And more
than that she never said.  The children’s curiosity was roused, but when
they told Rose and asked her what mother meant, Rose’s eyes filled with
tears, and she kept silence; for she alone knew with Whom her mother had
talked that June afternoon.

"Run ahead, Budd, and tell Malachi to harness up Bess. I want him to
take a letter down to the village so that it may go on the night mail."
Budd flew rather than ran; for there was a look in his mother’s face
that he had never seen before, and it awed him.

That night a letter went to Doctor Heath, a famous nerve specialist of
New York City.  It was a letter from Mary Blossom, his old-time friend
and schoolmate in the academy at Barton’s River.  In it she asked him if
he would give her his advice in this case, saying she could not accept
the decision of the physician and surgeon unless it should be confirmed
by him.

"I cannot pay you now," she wrote, "but it was borne in upon me this
afternoon to write to you, although you may have forgotten me in these
many years, and I have no claim of present friendship, even, upon your
time and service; but I must heed the inner command to appeal to you,
whatever you may think of me,--if I disobeyed that, I should be
disobeying God’s voice in my life,"--and signed herself, "Yours in
childhood’s remembrance."

The next day a telegram was brought up from the village; and the day
after the Doctor himself followed it.

It was an anxious week; but the wonderful skill conquered.  The pressure
on a certain nerve was removed, and for the last six months Benjamin
Blossom had been slowly but surely coming back to his old-time health
and strength.  But again this winter the extra help had been necessary,
and it had taxed all Mary Blossom’s ingenuity to make both ends meet;
for there was the interest on the mortgage to be paid every six months,
and the ready money had to go for that.

In the midst of her thoughts, her recollections and plans, she caught
the sound of sleigh-bells.  The tall clock was just striking ten.
Smoothing every line of care and banishing all look of sadness from her
face, she met her husband with a cheery smile and a, "I ’m so glad you
’ve got home, Ben; it’s just twenty below, and the molasses tea is ready
for you and Chi."

"Chi!" called Mr. Blossom towards the barn.

"Whoa!" shouted a voice that sounded frosty in spite of itself.  "Whoa,
Bess!"

"Come into the kitchen before you turn in; there’s some hot molasses tea
waiting for us."

"Be there in a minute," he shouted back, and Bess pranced into the barn.

"Oh, Mary, this is good," said Mr. Blossom, as he slipped out of his
buffalo-robe coat and into his warm house-jacket, dropped his boots
outside in the shed, and put on his carpet-slippers that had been
waiting for him on the hearth.

"It is home, Ben," said his wife, bringing out clean tin cups from the
pantry, and putting them to warm beside the kettle on the hearth.

"Yes, with you in it, Mary," he said with the smile that had won him his
true-love eighteen years before.

"Come in, Chi," he called towards the shed, whence came sounds as if
some one were dancing a double-shuffle in snow-boots.

"’Fraid I ’ll thaw ’n’ make a puddle on the hearth, Mis’ Blossom.  I ’m
as stiff as an icicle: guess I ’ll take my tea perpendic’lar; I ain’t
fit to sit down."

"Sit down, sit down, Chi," said Mrs. Blossom.  "You ’ll enjoy the tea
more; and give yourself a thorough heating before you go to bed.  I ’ve
put the soapstone in it," she added.

"Well, you beat all, Mis’ Blossom; just as if you did n’t find enough to
do for yourself, you go to work ’n’ make work."  He broke off suddenly,
"George Washin’ton!" he exclaimed, "most forgot to give you this letter
that come on to-night’s mail."

He handed Mrs. Blossom the letter, which, with some difficulty, owing to
his stiffened fingers, he extracted from the depths of the tail-pocket
of his old overcoat.  Then he helped himself to a brimming cup of the
tea, and apparently swallowed its contents without once taking breath.

"Why, it’s from Doctor Heath!" exclaimed Mrs. Blossom, recognizing the
handwriting.  "Is it a valentine, I wonder?" she said, feigning to
laugh, for her heart sank within her, fearing it might be the bill,--and
yet, and yet, the Doctor had said--she got no further with these
thoughts, so intent was she on the contents of the letter.

Chi, with an eye to prolonging his stay till he should know the why and
wherefore of a letter from the great Doctor at this season of the year,
took another cup of the tea.

"Ben, oh, Ben!" cried Mrs. Blossom, in a faint, glad voice; and
therewith, to her husband’s amazement, she handed him the letter, put
both arms around his neck, and, dropping her head on his shoulder,
sobbed as if her heart would break.

Chi softly put down his half-emptied cup and tiptoed with creaking boots
from the room.

"Can’t stand that, nohow," he muttered to himself in the shed; and,
forgetting to light his lantern, he felt his way up the backstairs to
his lodging in the room overhead, blinded by some suspicious drops of
water in his eyes, which he cursed for frost melting from his bushy
eyebrows.

"Oh, Ben, think of it!" she cried, when her husband had soothed and
calmed her.  "Twenty-five dollars a week; that makes a little more than
twelve hundred a year.  Why, we can pay off all the mortgage and be free
from that nightmare."

For answer her husband drew her closer to him, and late into the night
they sat before the dying fire, talking and planning for the future.

"Children," she said at breakfast next morning, and her voice sounded so
bright and cheery that the room seemed full of sunshine, although the
sky was a hard, cold gray, "I ’ve had one valentine already; it came
last night from the Doctor."

Chi listened with all his ears.

"Mother!" burst from the children, "where is it?" "Show it to us."  "Why
did n’t you tell us before breakfast?"

"I can’t show it to you yet; it’s a live one."

"A live one!" chorussed the children.

"You ’re fooling us, mother," said March.

"Do I look as if I were?" replied his mother.

And March was obliged to confess that she had never looked more in
earnest.

Rose left her seat and stole to her father’s side.  "What does it mean,
pater?" she whispered.

"Ask your mother," was all the satisfaction she received, and walked,
crestfallen, back to her chair; for when had her father refused her
anything?

"When will you tell us, anyway?" said Budd, a little gruffly.  He hated
a secret.

"I can’t tell you that either," said his mother, "and I don’t know that
I shall tell you until the very last, if you ask in that voice."

Budd screwed his mouth into a smile, and, unbeknown to the rest of the
family, reached under the cloth for his mother’s hand.  He sat next to
her, and that had been his way of saying "Forgive me," ever since he was
a tiny boy.

He had a squeeze in return and felt happier.

"I say, let’s guess," said Cherry.  "If I don’t do something, I shall
burst."

"You express my feelings perfectly, Cherry," said March, gravely, and
the guessing began.

"A St. Bernard puppy?" said Budd, who coveted one.

"A Shetland pony," said Cherry.

"The Doctor’s coming up here, himself."  That was Rose’s guess.

"’T ain’t likely," growled Budd.

"A tunning ’ittle baby," chirped May.

March failed to think of any live thing the Doctor was likely to send
unless it might be a Wyandotte blood-rooster, such as he and the Doctor
had talked about last summer.

"You ’re all cold, cold as ice," laughed their mother, using the words
of the game she had so often played with them when they were younger.

"Oh, mother!" they protested.  They were almost indignant.

Chi rose and left the table.  "Beats me," he muttered, as he took down
his axe from a beam in the woodshed. "What in thunder can it be?  I
ain’t goin’ to ask questions, but I ’ll ferret it out,--by George
Washin’ton;" and that was Chi’s most solemn oath.



                                  III

                             A CURIOUS CASE


"What is it, dear?"

"Bothered--bothered."

"A case?"

"Yes, and I must get it off my mind this evening."

The Doctor set down his after-dinner coffee untasted on the library
table, and rose with a half sigh from his easy chair before the blazing
wood-fire.  His heavy eyebrows were drawn together into a straight line
over the bridge of his nose, and that, his wife knew full well, was an
ominous sign.

"Must you go to-night?  It’s such a fearful storm; just hear it!"

"Yes, I must; just to get it off my mind.  I sha’n’t be gone long, and I
’ll tell you all about it when I get home."  The Doctor stooped and
kissed the detaining hand that his wife had laid lovingly on his arm;
then, turning to the telephone, he bespoke a cab.

As the vehicle made its way up Fifth Avenue in the teeth of a February,
northeast gale that drove the sleet rattling against the windows, Doctor
Heath settled back farther into his corner, growling to himself, "I wish
some people would let me manage their affairs for them; it would show
their common sense to let me show them some of mine."

A few blocks north of the park entrance, the cab turned east into a side
street, and stopped at Number 4.

"Mr. Clyde in, Wilkins?" asked the Doctor of the colored butler, who
opened the door.

"Yes, sah; jes’ up from dinner, sah, to see Miss Hazel."

"Tell him I want to see him in the library."

"Yes, sah."  He took the Doctor’s cloak and hat, hesitating a moment
before leaving, then turning, said: "’Scuse me, sah, but Miss Hazel
ain’t more discomposed?"

"No, no, Wilkins; Miss Hazel is doing fairly well."

"Thank you, sah;" and Wilkins ducked his head and sprang upstairs.

"Why, Dick," said Mr. Clyde, as he entered the library hurriedly,
"what’s wrong?"

"The world in general, Johnny, and your world in particular, old
fellow."

"Is Hazel worse?"  The father’s anxiety could be heard in the tone with
which he put the question.

"I ’m not satisfied, John, and I ’m bothered."

When Doctor Heath called his friend "John," Mr. Clyde knew that the very
soul of him was heavily burdened. The two had been chums at Yale: the
one a rich man’s son; the other a country doctor’s one boy, to whom had
been bequeathed only a name honored in every county of his native state,
a good constitution, and an ambition to follow his father’s profession.
The boy had become one of the leading physicians of the great city in
which he made his home; his friend one of the most sought-after men in
the whirling gayeties of the great metropolis.  As he stood on the
hearth with his back to the mantel waiting for the physician’s next
word, he was typical of the best culture of the city, and the Doctor
looked up into the fine face with a deep affection visible in his eyes.

"Going out, as usual, John?"

"Only to the Pearsells’ reception.  Don’t keep me waiting, old fellow;
speak up."

"How the deuce am I to make things plain to you, John?  Here, draw up
your chair a little nearer mine, as you used in college when you knew I
had a four A.M. lecture awaiting you, after one of your larks."

The two men helped themselves to cigars; and the Doctor, resting his
head on the back of the chair, slowly let forth the smoke in curling
rings, and watched them dissolve and disperse.

"Come, Dick, go ahead; I can stand it if you can."

"Well, then, I ’ve done all I can for Hazel, and shall have to give up
the case unless you do all you can for her."

Now the Doctor had not intended to make his statement in such a blunt
fashion, and he could not blame Mr. Clyde for the touch of resentment
that was so quick to show in his answer.

"I did n’t suppose you went back on your patients in this way, Richard;
much less on a friend.  I have done everything I can for Hazel.  If
there is anything I’ve omitted, just tell me, and I ’ll try to make it
good."

The Doctor nodded penitently.  "I know, John, I ’ve said it badly; and I
don’t know but that I shall make it worse by saying you ’ve done too
much."

"Too much!  That is not possible.  Did n’t you order last year’s trip to
Florida and the summer yachting cruise?"

Doctor Heath groaned.  "I’m getting in deeper and deeper, John; you
can’t understand, because you are you; born and bred as you are--  Look
here, John, did it ever occur to you that Hazel is a little hot-house
plant that needs hardening?"

"No, Richard."

"Well, she is; she needs hardening to make her any kind of a woman
physically and, and--"  The Doctor stopped short.  There were some
things of which he rarely spoke.

"My Hazel needs hardening!" exclaimed the amazed father.  "Why, Richard,
have n’t you impressed upon me again and again that she needs the
greatest care?"

The Doctor groaned again and smote his friend solidly on the knee.

"Oh, you poor rich--you poor rich!  ’Eyes have ye, and ye see not; ears
have ye, and hear not.’  John, the girl must go away from you, who
over-indulge her, from this home-nest of luxury, from this
private-school business and dancing-class dissipation, from her
young-grown-up lunch-parties and matinée-parties, from her violin
lessons and her indoor gymnastics--curse them!"

This was a great deal for the usually self-contained physician, and Mr.
Clyde stared at him, but half comprehending.

"Go away?  Do you mean, Richard, that she must leave me?"

"Yes, I mean just that."

"Well,"--it was a long-drawn, thinking "well,"--"I will ask my sister to
take her this summer.  She returns from Egypt soon and has just written
me she intends to open her place, ’The Wyndes,’ in June."

Again the Doctor groaned: "And kill her with golf and picnics and
coaching among all those fashionable butterflies!  Now, hear to me,
John," he laid his hand on his friend’s shoulder, "send her away into
the country, that is country,--something, by the way, which you know
precious little about.  Let me find her a place up among those
life-giving Green Hills, and do you do without her for one year.  Let me
prescribe for her there; and I ’ll guarantee she returns to you hale and
hearty. Trust her to me, John; you ’ll thank me in the end.  I can do no
more for her here."

"Do you mean, Richard, to put her away into real country conditions?"

"Yes, just that; into a farmer’s family, if possible,--and I know I can
make it possible,--and let her be as one of them, work, play, go
barefoot, eat, sleep, be merry--in fact, be what the Lord intended her
to be; and you ’ll find out that is something very different from what
she is, if only you ’ll hear to me."

The Doctor was pacing the room in his earnestness. He was not accustomed
to beg thus to be allowed to prescribe for his patients.  His one word
was law, and he was not required to explain his motives.

Mr. Clyde’s eyes followed him; then he broke the prolonged silence.

"Richard, you have asked me the one thing to which her mother would
never have consented.  How, then, can I?"

"Think it over, John, and let me know."

The two men clasped hands.

"Let me take you along in my cab to the reception; it’s inhuman to take
out your horses on such a night."

"Thank you, no; I think I ’ll give it up; I ’m not in the mood for it.
Good-night, old fellow."

"Good-night, Johnny."

The next morning, at breakfast, the Doctor took up a note that lay
beside his plate, and after reading it beamed joyously while he stirred
his coffee vigorously without drinking it.  When, finally, he looked up,
his wife elevated her eyebrows over the top of the coffee urn, and the
Doctor laughed.

"To be sure, wifie, read the note."  And this is what she read:--


DEAR RICHARD,--I ’ve had a hard night, trying to look at things from
your point of view and see my own duty towards Hazel.  Things have grown
rather misty, looking both backwards and forwards, and I have concluded
I can’t do better than to take you at your word,--trust her to you, and
accept the guarantee of her return to me with her physical condition
such as it should be.

This decision will, as you well know, raise a storm of protest among the
relations.  The whole swarm will be about my ears in less than no time.
Stand by me.  The whole responsibility rests upon you,--and tell Hazel;
I ’m too much of a coward.  This is a confession, but you will
understand. Let me know the details of your plans so soon as possible. I
have never been able to give you such a proof of friendship. Have you
ever asked another man for such?  I mistrust you, old fellow.

Yours, JOHN.



                                   IV

                          A LITTLE MILLIONAIRE


"Gabrielle."

"Oui, mademoiselle Hazel," came in shrill yet muffled tones from the
depths of the dressing-room closet.

"Bring me my white silk kimono."

"Oui, mademoiselle."

The order, in French, was given in a weak and slightly fretful voice
that issued from the bed at the farther end of a large room from which
the dressing-room opened.  The apartment was, in truth, what Doctor
Heath had called it, "a nest of luxury."

It was a bitter Saint Valentine’s Day which succeeded the Doctor’s
evening visit.  The wood-fire, blazing cheerily in the ample fireplace,
sent its warmth and light far out into the room, flashing red
reflections in the curiously twisted bars of the brass bedstead.  At the
left of the fireplace stood a small round tea-table, and upon it a
little silver tea-kettle on a standard of the same metal.  Dainty cups
and saucers of egg-shell china were grouped about it; a miniature silver
tray held a sugar-dish and a cream-pot and a half-dozen gold-lined
souvenir spoons.

On the richly carved mantel stood an exquisite plate-glass clock, the
chimes of which were just striking nine, and, keeping it company to
right and left, were two dainty figures of a shepherd and shepherdess in
Dresden china. The remaining mantel space was filled with tiny figures
in bisque,--a dachshund, a cat and kittens, a porcelain box,
heart-shaped, the top covered with china forget-me-nots, a silver
drinking-cup, a small oval portrait on ivory of a beautiful young woman,
framed in richly chased gold, the inner rim set round with pearls.  A
blue pitcher of Cloisonné and a tray of filigree silver heaped with
dainty cotillion favors stood on one end; on the other, a crystal vase
filled with white tulips.

Soft blue and white Japanese rugs lay upon the polished floor; delicate
blue and white draperies hung at the windows.  Dressing-case and
writing-desk of white curled maple were each laden with articles for the
toilet and for writing, in solid silver, engraved with the monogram H.C.
A couch, upholstered in blue and white Japanese silk, stood at the right
of the fireplace, and all about the room were dainty wicker chairs
enamelled in white, and cushioned to match the hangings.

The bed was canopied in pale blue covered with white net and edged with
lace, and the coverlet was of silk of the same delicate color,
embroidered with white violets and edged like the canopy, only with a
deeper frill of lace. The occupant of this couch, fit for a princess
royal, was the little mistress of all she surveyed, as well as the
mansion of which the room formed a small part; and a woebegone-looking
little girl she was, who called again, and this time impatiently:--

"Gabrielle, hurry, do."

"Oui, oui, mademoiselle Hazel;" and Gabrielle tripped across the room
with the white kimono in one hand and fresh towels in the other.  She
had just slipped it upon Hazel when there was a knock at the door.
Gabrielle opened it, and Wilkins asked in a voice intended to be low,
but which proved only husky:--

"Nuss say she mus’ jes’ speak wif Marse Clyde ’fo’ she come up, an’
wan’s to know if Miss Hazel will haf her breffus now or wait till she
come up herse’f."

Before Gabrielle could answer, Hazel called out, "You may bring it up
now, Wilkins; and has the postman come yet?"

Wilkins’ broad smile sounded in his voice, as it came out of its
huskiness.

"Yes, Miss Hazel, ben jes’ ’fo’ I come up.  I ain’t seen no hearts, but
dey’s thicker ’n spatter by de feel, an’ a heap o’ boxes by ’spress!"

"Oh, bring them up quick, Wilkins, and tell papa to be sure and come up
directly after breakfast."

"Yes, for sho’, Miss Hazel," said Wilkins, delighted to have a word with
the little daughter of her whom he had carried in his arms thirty-two
years ago up and down the jasmine-covered porch of an old New Orleans
mansion.

In a few minutes, he reappeared with two large silver trays, on one of
which was the tempting breakfast of Hamburg grapes, a dropped egg, a
slice of golden-brown toast, half of a squab broiled to the
melting-point, and a cup of cocoa.  On the other were boxes large and
small, and white envelopes of all sizes.

Gabrielle cut the string and opened the boxes, while Hazel looked on,
pleased to be remembered, but finding nothing unusual in the display;
for Christmas and Easter and birthdays and parties brought just about
the same collection, minus "the hearts," which Wilkins had felt through
the covers.  The only fun, after all, was in the guessing.

Just then Mr. Clyde entered.

"Oh, papa!  I ’m so glad you have come; it’s no fun guessing alone."
She put up her peaked, sallow little face for the good-morning kiss; and
her father, with the thought of his last night’s struggle, took the face
in both hands and kissed brow and mouth with unusual tenderness.

"Why, papa!" she exclaimed, "that kiss is my best valentine; you never
kissed me that way before."

"Well, it’s time I began, Birdie; let’s see what you have for nonsense
here.  What’s this--from Cambridge?"

"Oh, that’s Jack, I ’m sure; he always sends me violets; but what is
that in the middle of the bunch?"  With a smile she drew out a tiny
vignette of her Harvard Sophomore cousin.  It was framed in a little
gold heart, and on a slip of paper was written, "For thee, I ’m all
’art."

"Jack ’s a gay deceiver," laughed her father; "he ’s all ’’art’ for a
good many girls, big and little.  What’s this?--and this?"

One after another he took out the contents of envelopes and
boxes,--candy hearts by the pound in silver bonbon boxes, silk hearts,
paper hearts, a flower heart of real roses ("That’s from you, Papa
Clyde!" she exclaimed, and her father did not deny the pleasant
accusation), hollow gilt hearts stuffed with sentiments, a silver
chatelaine heart for change, and last, but not least, an enormous
envelope, a foot square, containing a white paper heart all written over
with "sentiments" from the girls in her class at school.

"Come now, Birdie," said her father, after the last one had been opened
and guessed over, "eat your breakfast, or nurse will scold us both for
putting play before business."

"I don’t think I want any, papa," said Hazel, languidly, for, after all,
the valentines had proved to be almost too much excitement for the
little girl, who was just recovering from weeks of slow fever; "and,
Gabrielle, take the flowers away, they make my head ache,--and the other
things, too," she added, turning her head wearily on the pillow.

"But you must eat, Hazel dear," said her father, gently but firmly; and
therewith he took a grape and squeezed the pulp between her lips.  Hazel
laughed,--a faint sound.

"Why, papa, if you feed me that way, I shall be a real Birdie.  Yes,"
she nodded, "that’s good; I ’ll take another;" and her father proceeded
to feed her slowly, now coaxing, now urging, then commanding, till a few
grapes and a half egg were disposed of.

"There, now, I won’t play tyrant any longer," he said, "for your real
tyrant of a doctor is coming soon, and I must be out of the way."

"Are you going to be at home for luncheon to-day, papa?"

"No, dear, I ’ve promised to go out to Tuxedo with the Masons, but I
shall be at home before dinner, just to look in upon you.  I dine with
the Pearsells afterwards. Good-bye."  A kiss,--two, three of them; and
the merry, handsome young father, still but thirty-seven, had gone, and
with him much of the brightness of Hazel’s day.

But she was used to this.  Ever since she could remember anything, she
had been petted and kissed and--left with her nurse, her governess, or a
French maid.

Her young mother, a Southern belle, lived more out of her home than in
it, with the round of gayeties in the winter months interrupted and
continued by winter house-parties at Lenox, a yachting cruise in the
Mediterranean, an early spring-flitting to the mountains of North
Carolina, and the later household moving to Newport.

In all these migrations Hazel accompanied her parents; in fact, was
moved about as so much goods and chattels, from New York to the
Berkshires, from the Berkshires to Malta, from Malta to the Great
Smokies, from the mountains to the sea; her appurtenances, the governess
and French maid, went with her; and the routine of her home in New York,
the study, the promenade, the all-alone breakfasts and dinners went on
with the regularity of clockwork, whether on the yacht, in the
mountains, or in the villa on the Cliff.

So now, although she wished her father would stay and entertain her, it
never occurred to her to tell him so; and likewise it never occurred to
the father that his child needed or wished him to stay.  Nor had it ever
occurred to the young mother that she was not doing her whole duty by
her child; for she never omitted to go upstairs and kiss her little
daughter good-night, whether the child was awake or asleep, before going
out to dinner, theatre, or reception.

She died when Hazel was nine, and it was a lovely memory of "mamma" that
Hazel cherished: a vision of loveliness in trailing white silk, or
velvet, or lace,--her mother always wore white, it was her Southern
inheritance,--with a single dark-red rose among the folds of Venetian
point of the bertha; always a gleam of white neck and arms banded with
flashing, many-faceted diamonds, or roped with pearls; always a sense of
delicious white warmth and fragrance, as the vision bent over her and
pressed a light kiss upon her cheek.  And if, in her bliss, she opened
her sleepy eyes, she looked always into laughing brown depths, and
putting up her hand caressed shining masses of brown hair.

But it was always a good-night vision.  In the morning mamma did not
breakfast until ten, and Hazel was off to the little private school at
half-past nine.  At noon mamma was either out at lunch or giving a
lunch-party; and in the afternoon there was the promenade in the Park
with the governess, and sometimes, as a treat, a drive with mamma on her
round of calls, when Hazel and the maid sat among the furs in the
carriage.  Then Hazel played at being grown up, and longed for the time
when she could wear a reception dress like mamma’s, of white broadcloth
and sable, and trip up the steps of the various houses, and trip down
again with a bevy of young girls laughing and chatting so merrily.

All that had ceased when Hazel was nine, and the young father had made
her mistress in her mother’s place. It was such a great house! and there
were so many servants! and the housekeeper was so strict! and it was so
queer to sit at the round table in the big dining-room and try to look
at papa over the silver épergne in the centre!

When she was eleven, she entered one of the large private schools which
many of her little mates attended. Soon it came to be the "girls of our
set" with Hazel; and then there followed music-lessons, and
violin-lessons, and riding-lessons, and dancing-class, and riding-days
in the Park, and lunch-parties with the girls, and
theatre-matinée-parties, and concerts at Carnegie Hall, and birthday
parties, and sales--school and drawing-room affairs--and Lenten
sewing-classes; until gradually her little society life had become an
epitome of her mother’s, and when she began to shoot up like a
bean-sprout, lose her round face and the delicate pink from her cheeks,
uncles and aunt and cousin and friends whispered of her mother’s frail
constitution, and that it was time to take heed.

Then it was that the physician, who had helped to bring her into the
world, was summoned hastily to prevent her early departure from it.
This was the "curious case" that so bothered him; and this pale, languid
girl of thirteen in the blue-canopied bed was the one he intended to
transplant into another soil.

A short, sharp tap announced his arrival.  The nurse opened the door.

"Good-morning, little girl--ah, ah!  Saint Valentine’s Day?  I had
forgotten it; all those came this morning?" he said cheerily, pointing
to a table on which Gabrielle had placed all the remembrances but the
flowers.

"Yes, Doctor Heath; but my best valentine, you know, is papa, and after
him, you."

"Hm, flatterer!" growled the Doctor, feeling her pulse. "Pretty good,
pretty good.  Think we can get you up for half a day.  What do you say,
nurse?"

"I think it will do her good, Doctor Heath; she has no appetite yet, and
a little exercise might help her to it."

"No appetite?"  The two eyebrows drew together in a straight line over
the bridge of his nose, and, from under them, a pair of keen eyes looked
at Hazel.

"Well, I ’ve planned something that will give you a splendid one,
Hazel,--the best kind of a tonic--

"Oh, I don’t want to take any more tonics.  I am so sick of them," said
Hazel, in a despairing tone, for although she adored the Doctor, she
despised his medicines.

"You won’t get sick of this tonic so soon, I ’ll warrant," he said,
unbending his brows and letting the full twinkle of his fine eyes shine
forth,--"at least not after you are used to it.  I won’t say but that it
may cause a certain kind of sickness at first; in fact, I ’m sure of
it."

"Oh, will it nauseate me?" cried Hazel, dreading to suffer any more.

"No, no, it won’t do that, but--"

"But what _do_ you mean, Doctor Heath?  Are you joking?"

"Never was more in earnest in my life," replied the Doctor, rubbing his
hands in glee, much to Hazel’s amazement.  "Hazel," he turned abruptly
to her, "papa is a splendid fellow; did you know that?"

Hazel laughed aloud, a real girl’s laugh,--Doctor Heath was so queer at
times.

"Have you just found that out?" she retorted.

"No, you witch,--don’t be impertinent to your elders,--I have n’t; but
really he is, take it all in all, just about the most common-sense
fellow in New York City."

"What has he done now, that you are praising him so?"

"Just heard to me, my dear, and agreed to do just as I want him to,"
said the Doctor, demurely.

"Why," laughed Hazel, "that’s just when I think he is a most splendid
fellow, when he does just what I want him to.  Is n’t it funny you and I
think just alike!"  And she gave his hand a malicious little pat.  The
Doctor caught the five slender digits and held them fast.

"Now we ’re agreed that you have the most splendid, common-sense father
in the world, I want you to prove to me that your father has the most
splendid, common-sense daughter in it, as well."

Again Hazel laughed.  She was used to her friend’s ways.

"That means that you want me to take that old, new tonic of yours."

"Yes, just that," said the Doctor, emphatically; "and now, as you don’t
appear to care to hear about it, I ’m going to make a long call and tell
you its entire history."

"Have you brought it with you?" asked Hazel, somewhat mystified.

"No, I can’t carry around with me in a cab five children, a hundred
acres of pine woods, a whole mountain-top, and a few Jersey cows."

"What _do_ you mean?  You _are_ joking."

Then the physician clasped the thin hand a little more closely and told
her of the country plan.

At first, Hazel failed to comprehend it.  She gazed at the speaker with
large, serious eyes, as if she half-feared he had taken leave of his
senses.

"Did papa know it this morning?" was her first question.

"Yes, my dear."

"Then that is why he kissed me the way he did," she said thoughtfully.
"But," her lip quivered, "I sha’n’t have him to kiss me up there,
and--and--oh, dear!"  A wail went up from the canopied bed that made the
Doctor turn sick at heart, and even the nurse hurried away into the
dressing-room.

Somehow Doctor Heath could not exhort Hazel, as he had her father, to
use common-sense.  He preferred to use diplomacy.

"You see, Hazel, a year won’t be so very long, and it will give your
hair time to grow; and perhaps you would not mind wearing a cap for a
time up there, while if you were here you certainly would not care about
going to dancing-school or parties in that rig; now would you?"

Hazel sniffed and looked for her handkerchief.  As she failed to find
it, the Doctor applied his own huge square of linen to the dripping,
reddened eyes, and tenderly stroked the smooth-shaven head.

Hazel had her vanities like all girls, and her long dark braids had been
one of them.  After the fever, she had been shorn of what scanty locks
had been left to her, and many a time she had wondered what the girls
would say when they saw her.  After all, the new plan might be endured,
for the sake of the hair and her looks.

She sniffed again, and this time a good many tears were drawn up into
her nose.  The Doctor, taking no notice of the subsiding flood,
proceeded,--

"My patients always look so comical when the fuzz is coming out.  It’s
like chicken-down all over the head--"

"Fuzz!" exclaimed Hazel, with a dismayed, wide-eyed look; "must I have
fuzz for hair?"

"Why, of course, for about five months," was the Doctor’s matter-of-fact
reply.  "Then," he continued, apparently unheeding the look of relief
that crept over Hazel’s face, "you are apt to have the hair come out
curly."

"Oh!"

"Yes, and it really grows very fast--that is," he said, resorting to
wile, "if any one is strong and well; but if the general health is not
good, why--hem!--the hair is n’t apt to grow!"

"Goodness!  I don’t want to be bald all my life!"

"No, I thought not, and for that very reason it did seem the best thing
for you to get into the country where you can get well and strong as
fast as ever you can."

"Shall I have to eat my breakfast and dinner alone up there?" was her
next question.

Doctor Heath laughed.  "What!  With all those five children!  You will
never want for company, I can assure you of that.  And now I ’ll be off;
as it’s Saint Valentine’s Day, which I had forgotten, I ’ll wager I have
five valentines from those very children waiting for me at home."

"Will you show them to me, if you have?"

"To be sure I will.  Now sit up for half a day, and get yourself strong
enough to let me take you up there by the middle of March."

"Oh, are you going to take me?  What fun!  Are they friends of yours?"
she added timidly.

"Every one," said the Doctor, emphatically.  He turned at the door.
"You have n’t said yet whether you will honor me with your company up
there."

"I suppose I must," she said, with something between a sigh and a laugh.
"But I don’t know what Gabrielle will do; she ’ll be so homesick."

"Gabrielle!" cried the Doctor, in a voice loud with amazement; "you
don’t think you are going to take Gabrielle with you, do you?"

Before Hazel had time to recover from her astonishment, Gabrielle,
hearing her name called so loudly, came tripping into the room.

"Oui, oui, monsieur le docteur;" and Doctor Heath beat a hasty retreat
to avoid further misunderstandings.

In the afternoon, Hazel received a box by messenger, with, "Please
return by bearer," on the wrapper.  On opening it, she found the
Doctor’s valentines with the following sentiments appropriately
attached.


    I

    By Rose-pose made, by March adorned,
    ’T is not a Heart that one should scorn:
    For use each day, the whole year through,
    Where find a Valentine so true?


    II

    Cherry Blossom made this fudge
    (Buddie made the box).
    Eat it soon, or you will judge,
    She made it all of rocks.


    III

    Baby May has made this cookie;
    Mother baked it--but, by hookey!
    I can’t find another rhyme
    To match with this your valentine.

      Your loving Valentines,

    ROSE, MARCH, "BUDD AND CHERRY," MAY BLOSSOM.
        (We’re one.)
    MOUNT HUNGER, February 14, 1896.



                                   V

                              TRANSPLANTED


It was the middle of April, yet the drifts still blocked the ravines,
and great patches of snow lay scattered thickly on the northern and
eastern slopes of the mountains.

Not a bud had thought of swelling; not a fern dared to raise its downy
ball above the sodden leaves.  Day after day a keen wind from the north
chased dark clouds across a watery blue sky, and now and then a solitary
crow flapped disconsolately over the upland pastures and into the woods.

But in the farmhouse on the mountain, every Blossom was a-quiver with
excitement, for the "live Valentine" was to arrive that day.

According to what Doctor Heath had written first, Mrs. Blossom had
expected Hazel to come the middle of March. She had told the children
about it a week before that date, and ever since, wild and varied and
continuous had been the speculations concerning the new member of the
family.

Both father and mother were much amused at the different ways in which
each one accepted the fact, and commented upon it.  At the same time
they were slightly anxious as to the outcome of such a combination.

"They ’ll work it out for themselves, Mary," said Mr. Blossom, when his
wife was expressing her fears on account of the attitude of March and
Cherry.

"I hope with all my heart they will, without friction or unpleasantness
for the poor child," replied his wife, thoughtfully, for March’s looks
and words returned to her, and they foreboded trouble.

Her husband smiled.  "Perhaps the ’poor child’ will have her ways of
looking at things up here, which may cause a pretty hard rub now and
then for our children. But let them take it; it will do them good, and
show us what stuff is in them for the future."

Mrs. Blossom tried to think so, but March’s words on that afternoon she
had told the children came back to her.

They were dumb at first through sheer surprise.  Then Rose spoke,
flinging aside her Virgil she had been studying by the failing light at
the window.

"Oh, mother! we ’ve been so happy--just by ourselves."

"Will you be less happy, Rose, in trying to make some one else share our
happiness?"

Rose said nothing, but leaned her forehead against the pane, and the
tears trickled adown it and froze halfway.

Mrs. Blossom proceeded, in the silence that followed, to tell them
something of Hazel’s life.  Then Budd spoke up like a man.

"I ’m awful sorry for her; she ’s a little brick to be willing to come
away from her father and live with folks she don’t know.  I ’d be a
darned coward about leaving my Popsey."

There was no tablecloth handy to hide the squeeze he wanted to give his
mother’s hand, and Mrs. Blossom, knowing how he hated any public
demonstration of affection, reserved her approving kiss for the dark and
bedtime.  But she looked at him in a way that sent Budd whistling, "I
won’t play in your back-yard," over to the kitchen stove, where he
stared inanely at his own reflection in the polished pipe.

For the first time in her life, Cherry did not echo her twin’s
sentiment.  She was already insanely jealous of the new-comer who seemed
to claim so much of her mother’s sympathy and affection.  And she was
n’t even here! What would it be when she was here for good and all?

At this miserable thought, and all that it appeared to involve, Cherry
began to cry.

Now to see Cherry Blossom cry generally afforded great fun for the whole
family; for there never was a girl of ten who could cry in quite such a
unique manner as this same round-faced, pug-nosed, brown-eyed Cherry,
whose red hair curled as tightly as corkscrews all over her head, and
bobbed and danced and quivered and shook with every motion and emotion.

First, her nose grew very red at the tip; then, her small mouth screwed
itself around by her left ear; gradually, her round face wrinkled till
it resembled a withered crabapple; and finally, if one listened intently
and watched closely, one could hear small sniffs and see two
infinitesimal drops of water issue from the nearly closed and wrinkled
eyes.

But to-day no one noticed, and Cherry sat down in her mother’s lap, and
mumbled out her woe between sniffs.

"I can’t help it if Budd does want her; _I_ don’t, Martie. Budd will
play with her, and you ’ll kiss her just as you do us, and it won’t be
comfy any more."

"That does not sound like mother’s Cherry Blossom," said Mrs. Blossom,
smiling in spite of herself.  "I think I ’ll tell you all why it comes
to mother and father as a blessing."

Then Mrs. Blossom told them of the mortgage on the farm; how it had been
made necessary, and what it meant, and how it was her duty to accept
what had been sent to her as a means of paying it off.

Rose came over from the window.  "Oh, why did n’t you tell us before,
Martie," she cried, sobbing outright this time, "and let us help you to
earn something towards it during all this dreadful year?  To think you
have been bearing all this, and just going about the same, smiling and
cheer--oh, dear!"  Rose sat down on the hearth-rug at her mother’s feet,
and her sobs mingled with Cherry’s sniffs.

March, who had listened thus far in silence, rose from the settle where
he had flung himself in disgust, and, going over to his mother, stood
straight and tall before her.  His gray eyes flashed.

"I ’ve been a fool, mother, not to see it all before this. You ought to
have told _me_.  I ’m your eldest son, and come next after father in
’home things.’"  And with this assertion he made a mighty resolve, then
and there to put away boyish things and be more of a man.  His mother,
looking at him, felt the change, and tears of thankfulness filled her
eyes.

"What could you do, children?  You were too young to have your lives
burdened with work."

"I ’d have found something to do, mother, if you had only told me.
About the girl--" he hesitated--"of course I ’ll look at it from the
money side, but it ’ll never be the same after she comes--never!"  And
with that he went off into the barn.

His mother sighed, for March was looking at the matter in the very way
which, to her, was abhorrent.

"Don’t sigh so, Martie," cried Rose; "I ’ll take back what I said, and
do everything I can to help you by making it pleasant for her.  Budd has
made me ashamed of myself."

"That’s my own daughter Rose," said Mrs. Blossom, leaning over to kiss
her parting, for Cherry was awkwardly in the way.

"Did you hear Rose, Cherry?" whispered her mother.

"Ye-es," sniffed Cherry.

"And won’t you try to help mother, and make Hazel happy?"

"N-o," said Cherry, still obdurate.

"Very well; then I must depend on Rose and Budd and little May," replied
her mother, putting her down from her knee.  By which Cherry knew she
was out of favor, and, not having Budd to flee to for sympathy, ran
blindly out into the woodshed and straight into Chi, who was bringing in
two twelve-quart milk pails filled to overflowing with their creamy
contents.

"Hi there!  Cherry Bounce!  Steady, steady--without you want to mop up
this woodshed."

"O Chi!  I ’m just as miser’ble; a new little girl’s coming to live with
us always, and we ’ll have no more good times."

"That’s queer," said Chi, balancing the pails deftly as Cherry fluttered
about, rather uncertain as to where she should betake herself in the
cold.  "I should think it would be the more, the merrier.  When’s she
comin’?"

"This very month," said Cherry, opening her eyes a little wider, and
forgetting to sniff in her delight at telling some news.  "She ’s a rich
little girl, but very poor, too, mother says, and she’s been sick and is
coming here to get well.  I suppose she ’s lost all her flesh while she
’s been sick, like Aunt Tryphosa; don’t you?  That’s why she ’s so
poor."

"Hm!--rich ’n’ poor too; that’s bad for children," said Chi, soberly.

"Why?" asked Cherry, surprised into drying her small tears and
forgetting to sniff.

"Coz ’t is.  You see, all you children are rich ’n’ poor too; so she ’ll
keep you comp’ny, as she ’s poor where you ’re rich as Croesus, ’n’ you
’re poor as Job’s turkey where she’s rich."

"Why, what do you mean, Chi?"

"You wait awhile, ’n’ you ’ll find out."  And with that, Cherry had to
be content.

As the woodshed was too cold to be long comfortably mournful in,--Cherry
decided to go inside and set the table for tea, wondering, meanwhile,
what Chi meant. Ordinarily she would have gone straight to her mother to
find out; but just to-night Cherry felt there was an abyss separating
them, and she hated the very thought of the newcomer having caused this
break between her adored Martie and herself before having stepped foot
in the house.

But Hazel’s arrival had been delayed a whole month: first, on account of
the unusually cold weather of March, and then on account of the Doctor’s
pressing engagements. To-night, however, this long waiting was to be at
an end.

Mr. Blossom had harnessed Bess and Bob into the two-seated wagon, and
driven down three miles for them to the "Mill Settlement;" and there he
was to meet the stage from Barton’s River, the nearest railway station.

As the time approached for the light of the lantern on the wagon to
glimmer on the lower mountain road, which ran in view of the house, the
excitement of Budd and Cherry grew intense.  March intended to be
indifferent, yet tolerant, but even he went twice to the door to listen.
As for Rose, she was thinking almost more of Doctor Heath, with whom she
was a great favorite, than of the coming guest.  Chi had done up the
chores early with March’s help, and sat whistling and whittling in the
shed door with his eye on the lower road.

"They ’re coming; they ’re coming!" screamed the twins, making a wild
dash for the woodshed, that they might have the first glimpse as the
wagon drove up to the kitchen porch.

"Chi, they ’re coming!" they shrieked in his ear, as they flew past him.

"Well, I ain’t deaf, if they are," said Chi, gathering himself together,
and going out to help unload.

"Chi, how are you?" said the Doctor, in a hearty tone, grasping the
horny hand held out to him.

"First-rate, ’n’ glad to see you back on the Mountain."

"Here, lend a hand, will you? and take out a Little somebody who has to
be handled rather gently for a week or two."

"I ain’t much used to handlin’ chiny," he replied, "but I ’ll be
careful."

He reached up his long arms and, gently as a woman, lifted Hazel out of
the wagon on to the porch.

By this time, Budd had found his bearings and had the Doctor by the
hand.

"Halloo, Budd! here you are handy.  Just take Hazel’s bag, and run into
the house with her; she must n’t stand a minute in this keen air."

Budd’s heart was going pretty fast, but he faced the music.

"Come along, Hazel; we ’ve been waiting a month to see you."

"And I’ve been waiting longer than that to see you, Budd."  The gentle
voice made Budd her vassal forever after.

"Here, Martie, here’s Hazel!" he shouted quite unnecessarily, for his
mother had come to the door to welcome her guests.  Cherry, hearing the
shout, disappeared in the pantry, and was invisible until called to
supper.

In the confusion of glad welcome that followed, Hazel was conscious of
stepping into a large, warm, lighted room, of some one’s arms about her,
and of a loving voice, saying:

"Come in, dear; you must be so tired with your long journey and this
cold ride;" and then a kiss that made her half forget the lonely,
strange feeling she had had during the stage and wagon ride, despite the
doctor’s cheerfulness and care of her.

Then some one untied her brown velvet hood and loosened her long
sealskin coat.

"Let me take off your things," said Rose.

Hazel looked up and into the loveliest face she ever remembered to have
seen.

"I ’m Rose, and this is May.  May, this is the valentine Martie told us
of."

"I tiss ’oo," said May, winningly, and held up her rosy bud of a face to
Hazel.  Hazel stooped to give her, not one, but a half-dozen kisses.
There was no resisting such a little blossom.

May put up her hand and stroked the little silk skull-cap.

"What ’oo wear tap for?"

"Sh! baby," said Rose, horrified, putting her hand on May’s mouth.

"Oh, don’t do that," said Hazel, "I ’m so used to it now; I don’t mind
what people say or think.  But I did at first."

May’s lip began to quiver and roll over; Hazel sat down on the settle,
and, drawing May up beside her, said gently:--

"There, there, little May Blossom, don’t you cry, and I ’ll tell you all
about it.  It’s because I have n’t any hair. I lost it all when I was
sick so long.  Sometime I ’ll show you how funny my head looks, all
covered with fuzz. Doctor Heath says it’s like a little chicken’s."  And
May was comforted and won once and for all to the Valentine, who gave
her the tiny chatelaine watch to play with.

Budd had been hanging about to get the first glimpse of Hazel by
lamplight, and now rushed off to the barn and Chi to give vent to his
feelings.

"I say, Chi, where are you?"

"In the harness room," replied Chi.  "What do you want?" as he appeared.

"I say, Chi, she ’s a peach.  She is n’t a bit stuck up, as March said
she would be."

"Good-lookin’?" queried Chi.

"N-o," said Budd, hesitating, "n-o, but I think she will be when she
gets some hair."

"Ain’t got any hair!" exclaimed Chi.  "How does that happen?"

"She said she ’d been sick an’ lost it all, an’ ’t was like chicken
fuzz."

"Said that, did she?" exclaimed Chi, laughing; then, with the sudden
change from gayety to absolute solemnity that was peculiar to him, he
said:--

"She ’s no fool, I can tell you that, Budd; ’n’ I ’ll bet my last red
cent she ’ll come out an A Number 1 beauty; ’n’ March Blossom had better
hold his tongue till he cuts all his wisdom teeth."  And with that Chi
went into the shed room to "wash up."

What a supper that was!  And what a room in which to eat it!

But for the Doctor’s cheery voice, Hazel, as she sat in a corner of the
settle, might have thought herself in another world, so unaccustomed
were her city-bred eyes to all that was going on before her.  The room
itself was so queer, and, in a way new to her, delightful.

The farmhouse was an old one, strong of beam and solid of foundation.
It had been divided at first according to the fashion of the other
century in which it was built.  But as his family increased, Mr. Blossom
found the need of a large, general living-room.  It was then that he
took down the wall between the front square room and the kitchen, and
threw them into one.  It was this arrangement that made the apartment
unique.

At one end was the huge fireplace that was originally in the front room.
At the left of the fireplace was the jog into which the front door
opened, formerly the little entry.

This was the sitting-room end of the low forty-foot-long apartment; and
it showed to Hazel the fireplace, the old-fashioned crane, with the
hickory back-log glowing warm welcome, the long red-cushioned settle, a
set of shelves filled with books, a little round work-table, Mrs.
Blossom’s special property, a large round table of cherry that had
turned richly red with age, and wooden armchairs and rockers, with
patchwork cushions.

The middle portion served for dining-room.  In it were the family table
of hard pine, the wooden chairs, and Mrs. Blossom’s grandmother’s tall
pine dresser.

At the kitchen end, next the woodshed, were the sink, the stove, the
kitchen shelves for pots and pans, and the kitchen table with its
bread-trough and pie-board, all of which Rose kept scoured white with
soap and sand.

This living-room, sitting-room, dining-room, and kitchen in one had six
windows facing south and east.  Every window had brackets for plants;
for this evening Rose had turned the blossom-side inwards to the room,
and the walls glowed and gleamed with the velvety crimson of gloxinias,
the red of fuchsias, the pink and white and scarlet of geraniums, the
cream of wax-plant and begonia. Upon all this radiance of color, the
lamplight shone and the fire flashed its crimson shadows.  The kettle
sang on the stove, and the delicious odor of baked potatoes came from
the open oven.

"Why, March!" said the Doctor, coming down from the spare room at the
call for supper, "waiting for an introduction?  I did n’t know you stood
on ceremony in this fashion.  Allow me," he said with mock gravity to
Hazel, and presented March in due form.

Hazel greeted him exactly as she would have greeted a new boy at
dancing-school.  "Little Miss Finicky," was March’s scornful thought of
her, as he bowed rather awkwardly and thrust his hands into his pockets,
racking his brains for something to say.

"What a handsome boy!  As handsome as Jack," was Hazel’s first
impression; then, missing the cordiality with which the other members of
the family had welcomed her, she said in thought, "I ’m sure he does not
want me here by the way he acts; I think he ’s horrid."

Doctor Heath sat down by Hazel.  "I ’m not going to let you sit down to
tea with all these mischiefs, little girl, not to-night, for you can’t
eat baked potatoes and the other good things after that long journey, so
I ’ll ask Rose to give you a bite right here on the settle."

"I ’ll speak to Rose," said March, glad to get away.

"Thank you," said the Doctor, looking after him with a puzzled
expression in his keen eyes.  Just then Mr. Blossom and Chi came in, and
the whole family sat down at the table.

"Why, where ’s Cherry?" exclaimed the Doctor.

"Budd, where ’s Cherry?" said his father.

"I promised her I would n’t tell where she hides till she was twelve,
an’ now she ’s ten, an’ she ’s been so mean about Haz--

"Budd," said his father, sternly, "answer me directly."

"She ’s under the pantry shelf behind the meal-chest," said Budd,
meekly.

There was a shout of laughter that caused Cherry to crawl out pretty
quickly and open the pantry door,--for it was hard to hear the fun and
not be in it.

"Come, Cherry," said her mother, still laughing, and Cherry slipped into
her seat beside Doctor Heath with a murmured, "How do you do?" and her
face bent so low over her plate that nothing was visible to Hazel but a
round head running over with tight red curls that bobbed and trembled in
a peculiarly funny way.

"Well, Cherry," said the Doctor, trying to speak gravely, with only the
red tip of a nose in view, "you seem to be rather low in your mind.  I
shall have to prescribe for you.  Chi, suppose you drive me down to the
Settlement to-morrow morning, and on the way to the train I will send up
a cure-all for low spirits.  I ’ve something for March, too.  I think he
needs it."  He drew his eyebrows together over the bridge of his nose
and cast a sharp glance at the boy, who felt the doctor had read him.

"That means you ’ve got something for us," said Budd, bluntly.

"Guess Budd’s hit the nail on the head this time," said Chi.  "Should
n’t wonder if ’t was some pretty lively stuff."

"You ’re right there, Chi," replied the Doctor, laughing. "There ’s
plenty of good strong bark in it--"

Thereupon there was a shout of joy from Budd which brought Cherry’s head
into position at once.

"I know, I know, it’s a St. Bernard puppy!"

"Oh--ee," squealed Cherry, in her delight, and forthwith put her arm
through the Doctor’s and squeezed it hard against her ribs.

"Guess there’s a good deal of crow-foot in the other, ain’t there?" said
Chi, with a wink at March, who deliberately left his seat after saying,
"Excuse me" most gravely to his mother, and turned a somersault in the
kitchen end just to relieve his feelings.  Then, with his hands in his
pockets, he went up to Doctor Heath, his usually clear, pale face
flushing with excitement.

"Do you mean, Doctor Heath, you ’re going to give me a full-blooded
Wyandotte cock?" he demanded.

"That is just what I mean, March," replied the Doctor, with great
gravity, "and twelve full-blooded wives are at this moment looking in
vain for a roost beside their lord and master in the express office down
at Barton’s River."

"Oh, glory!" cried March, wringing the Doctor’s hand with both his, and
then going off to execute another somersault.  "You ’ve done it now!"

"Done what, March?" asked Doctor Heath, really touched by the boy’s
grateful enthusiasm.

"Made my fortune," he replied, dropping into his seat again, breathless
with excitement; and to the Doctor’s amazement he saw tears, actual
tears, gather in the boy’s eyes, before he looked down in his plate and
busied himself with his baked potato.

Hazel saw them too.  "What a strange boy," she thought, "and how
different this is from eating my dinner all alone!"  Then she slipped up
to the Doctor’s side with her small tray containing nothing but empty
dishes, for the keen air and the sight of so many others eating and
enjoying themselves had given her a good appetite.

"Are you satisfied with me _now_?" she said, presenting her tray.

"I should think so," he exclaimed.  "Two glasses of milk, two slices of
toasted brown bread, one piece of sponge cake, and a baked apple with
cream!  I ’ve gone out of business with you; my last ’tonic’ is going to
work well,--don’t you think so?"

"I ’m sure it is," she said quietly, but there was such a depth of
meaning in the sweet voice and the few words that the Doctor threw his
arm around her as they rose from the table, and kept her beside him
until bedtime.

At nine o’clock, Mrs. Blossom helped her to undress, and then, saying
she would come back soon, left her alone in the little bedroom off the
kitchen.

Hazel looked about her in amazement.  This was her little room!  A small
single bed, looking like a snow drift, so white and feathery and high
was it; one window curtained with a square of starched white cotton
cloth that drew over the panes by means of a white cord on which it was
run at the top; a tiny wash-stand with an old-fashioned bowl and pitcher
of green and white stone-ware, and over it an old-fashioned gilt mirror;
a small splint-bottomed chair and large braided rug of red woollen rags.
That was all, except in one corner, where some cleats had been nailed to
the ceiling and a clothes-press made by hanging from them full curtains
of white cloth.

For the first time in her life, Hazel unpacked her own travelling-bag
and took out the silver toilet articles with the pretty monogram.  But
where should she put them? No bureau, no dressing-case, no
bath-room!--For a few minutes Hazel felt bewildered, then, laughing, she
put them back again into her bag, and, leaving her candle in the tin
candlestick on the wash-stand, she gave one leap into the middle of the
high feather-bed.

Just then Mrs. Blossom returned from saying good-night to her own
children.  She tucked Hazel in snugly, and to the young girl’s surprise,
knelt by the bed saying, "Let us repeat the Lord’s Prayer together,
dear;" and together they said it, Hazel fearing almost the sound of her
own voice.  When they had finished, Mary Blossom, still kneeling, asked
that Father to bless the coming of this one of His little ones into
their home, and asked it in such a loving, trustful way, that Hazel’s
arm stole out from the coverlet and around Mrs. Blossom’s neck; her
head, soft and silky as a new-born baby’s, cuddled to her shoulder: and
when Mrs. Blossom kissed her good-night, she said suddenly, but
half-timidly, "Do you say _this_ with Rose every night?"

"Yes, dear, every night."

"And how old is Rose?"

"She will be seventeen next August."

"Do you with Budd and Cherry, too?"

"Yes, with all my children, even March and May."

"March!" exclaimed Hazel.

"Why not?" laughed his mother.  "I ’m sure he needs it, as you ’ll find
out; now good-night, and don’t get up to our early breakfast to-morrow,
for the Doctor goes on the first morning train, and you ’re not quite
strong enough yet to do just as we do.  Good-night again."

"Good-night," said Hazel, thinking she could never have enough of this
kind of putting to bed.

Meanwhile March and Budd, in their bedroom over the "long-room," were
discussing in half-whispers Wyandotte cocks, St. Bernard puppies, and
the new-comer, for they were too excited to sleep.

Just behind March’s bed, near the head, there was a large knot in the
boards of the flooring, which for four years had served him many a good
turn, when Budd and Cherry were planning, below in the kitchen, how they
could play tricks upon him.  March had carefully removed the knot, and
with his eye, or ear, at the hole, he had been able, entirely to the
mystification of the twins, to overthrow their conspiracies and defeat
their flank movements.  When his espionage was over, he replaced the
knot, and no one in the household was the wiser for his private
detective service.

To-day, late in the afternoon, he had taken out the knot, intending to
have a view of the new arrival, unbeknown to the rest of the household;
but so interested had he become in the general welcome and in the
anticipation of the Doctor’s gifts, that he had forgotten both to look
through the hole and to replace the knot.

Hazel, too, could not sleep at first.  It was all so strange, and yet
she was so happy.  Her thoughts were in New York, and she was already
planning for a visit from her father, when suddenly she remembered that
she had left the little chatelaine watch he had given her on her last
birthday, lying on the settle where May had been playing with it.  She
must wind it regularly, that was her father’s stipulation when he gave
it to her.  She sprang out of bed, tiptoed to the door, listened; all
was still, but not wholly dark.  The embers beneath the ashes in the
fireplace sent a dull glow into the room.  Softly she stole out; found
her watch, then, half-way to her own door, stopped, startled by a voice
issuing apparently from the rafters overhead.  It was March, who,
forgetting his open knot-hole, turned over towards the wall with a
prolonged yawn and said, evidently in answer to Budd:--

"Oh, go to sleep; don’t talk about her.  I think she ’s a perfect guy."



                                   VI

                                MALACHI


It was a month after the eventful day for the Blossoms, and Saturday
morning.  Rose, with her sleeves rolled up above her elbows, was
kneading bread and singing, as she worked:--

    "’Oh, a king would have loved and left thee,
    And away thy sweet love cast:
    But I am thine
    Whilst the stars shall shine,--
    To the--last--’"


Just here, she gave the round mass of dough a toss up to the ceiling and
caught it deftly on her right fist as it came down, finishing her octave
with high C, while again the bread spun aloft and dropped in safety on
her left fist--"to the last!"

Then she proceeded with her kneading and singing:--

    "’I told thee when love was hopeless;
    But now he is wild and sings--
    That the stars above [up went the bread again]--
    Shine ever on Love--’"


A peal of merry laughter close behind her made her jump, and the bread
came down kerchunk into the kneading trough.

"Gracious, Hazel! how you frightened me!  I thought you were off with
Budd and Cherry."

"So I was; but they wanted me to come in and tell you there is to be a
secret meeting of the N.B.B.O.O. Society in the usual place.  They said
you would know where it is."

"Of course I do; do you?"

"No, they would n’t tell.  They said it is against the rules to allow
any one in who hasn’t been initiated.  They said they ’d initiate me, if
I wanted to join."

"Well, do you want to?"

"Of course I do, if you belong," said Hazel, eagerly.

"Tell them I ’ll be out after I ’ve put the bread to rise and cleared
up; but be sure and tell them not to do anything till I come."

"Yes," cried Hazel, joyfully, skipping through the woodshed and
encountering Chi with a bag of seed-beans.

"Where you goin’, Lady-bird?"  (This was Chi’s name for her from the
first day.)  "Seems to me you ’re gettin’ over the ground pretty fast."

"The Buds" (for so Hazel had nicknamed the children) "are going to have
a meeting somewhere of the N.B.B.O.O. Society, and I’m to be initiated,
Chi.  What does that mean?"

"Initiated, hey?  Into a secret society?  Well, that depends.--Sometimes
it means being tossed sky-high in a blanket, and then again you ’re
dropped lower than the bottomless pit; and you can’t most always tell
beforehand which way you ’re goin’."

Hazel’s face fairly lost the rich color she had gained in the past
month.  This was more than she had bargained for.

"Oh, Chi!  They would n’t do such things to me!" she exclaimed in
dismay.

"Well, no--I don’t know as they ’d carry it that far; but those children
mean mischief every time."

"But they would n’t hurt me, Chi.  They would n’t be as mean as that;
besides, Rose wouldn’t let them."

"Well, I don’t know as she would.  But children are children, and Rose
ain’t grown any wings yet."

"Was Rose initiated?" was Hazel’s next rather anxious question.

"Yes, she was," said Chi, taking up a handful of beans and letting them
run through his fingers into the open bag.

"How do you know, Chi?"

"Coz I initiated her myself."

"You, Chi?  Why, do you belong?"

"First member of the N.B.B.O.O. Society."

"Well, that’s funny.  Who initiated you?"

Chi set down the bag of beans, and for a moment shook with laughter;
then, growing perfectly sober, he said solemnly:--

"I initiated myself.  But they was all on hand when I did it."

"What did you do, Chi?"

"Just hear her!" said Chi to himself, but aloud, he said, "I ’ll tell
you this much, if it is a secret society.  They try ’n’ see what stuff
you ’re made of."

    "’Sugar and spice
    And all that’s nice,
    That’s what little girls are made of,’"

Hazel interrupted, singing merrily.

"There was n’t much ’sugar ’n’ spice’ in that Rose Blossom when she put
me to the test.  You ain’t heard a screech-owl yet; but when you do,
you’ll come running home to find out whose bein’ killed in the woods."

Hazel looked at him half in fear, but Chi went on stolidly:--

"’N’ those children told me I ’d got to go up into the woods at twelve
o’clock at night, when the screech-owls was yellin’ bloody murder, to
show I wasn’t scairt of nothin’; ’n’ I went."

"Oh, Chi, was n’t it awful?"

"Kinder scarey; but they gave me the dinner horn ’n’ told me to blow a
blast on that when I was up there, so they ’d hear, ’n’ know I was
_clear_ into the woods; for they was all on hand watchin’ from the back
attic window--what they could in a pitch-black night--to see if I ’d
back down."

"And you did n’t, Chi?" said Hazel, eagerly.

"You bet I did n’t, ’n’ I brought home an old screecher just to prove I
was game."

"How did you catch him, Chi?"

Chi clapped his hands on his knees, and shook with laughter; then he
grew perfectly sober:--

"I took a dark lantern along with me, just to kind of feel my way in the
woods--but the children did n’t know about that--’n’ when an old
screecher gave a blood-curdlin’ yell, just as near my right ear as the
engine down on the track when you ’re standin’ at the depot at Barton’s
River,--just then I turned on the light full tilt, and the feller sat
right still on the branch, kind of dazed like, ’n’ I took him just as
easy as I ’d take a hen off the roost after dark, ’n’ brought him home.
’N’ just as I was goin’ up into the attic in the dark, the shed stairs’
way, ’n’ the children was all listenin’ at the top in the dark, the
dummed bird gave such a screech that the children all tumbled over one
another tryin’ to get back to their beds, ’n’ such screamin’ ’n’
hollerin’ you never heard--the bird was n’t in it."

Again Chi laughed at the recollection, and Hazel joined him.

"Did they make you do anything more, Chi?"

"By George Washin’ton!  I should think they did," said Chi, soberly.
"That last was March’s idea, but Rose went him one more."

"What could Rose think of worse than that?" demanded Hazel.

"Well, she did.  She blindfolded my eyes ’n’ took me by the hand, ’n’
turned me round ’n’ round till I was most dizzy; ’n’ then she gave me a
rope, ’n’ she took one end of it ’n’ made me take the other, ’n’ kept
leadin’ me ’n’ leadin’ me, ’n’ the children all caperin’ round me,
screamin’ ’n’ laughin’.  Pretty soon--I calculated I ’d walked about a
quarter of a mile--the rope grew slack; all of a sudden the laughin’ ’n’
screamin’ stopped, ’n’ I--walked right off the bank into the big pool
down under the pines, ker--splash! ’n’ the children, after they ’d got
me in, was so scairt for fear I ’d lose my breath--I could n’t drown coz
there was n’t more than five feet of water in it--that they hauled on
the rope with all their might, ’n’ pulled me out; ’n’ I let ’em pull,"
said Chi, grimly.

"I hope they were satisfied after that," said Hazel, soberly.

"They appeared to be," said Chi, contentedly, "for they said I should be
president, coz I was so brave.  But there ’s other things harder to do
than that."

"What are they, Chi?"

"You ’ve got to keep the by-laws."

"What are those?"

"Rules of the Society.  One of ’em ’s, you must n’t be afraid to tell
the truth.  ’N’ another is, you must be scairt to tell a lie."

Hazel grew scarlet at her own thoughts.

"Another is, to help other folks all you can; ’n’ the fourth ’n’ last
is, that no boy or girl as lives in this great, free country of ours
ought to be a coward."

Hazel drew a long breath.

"Those must be hard to keep."

"Well, they ain’t always easy, that’s a fact; but they re mighty good to
live by," he added, picking up the bean-bag.  "I lived with Ben
Blossom’s father when I was a little chap as chore boy, ’n’ he gave me
my schoolin’ ’n’ clothes; ’n’ I ’ve lived with his son ever since he was
married, ’n’ he’s been the best friend a man could have, ’n’ I ’ve
always got along with him in peace and lovin’-kindness; ’n’ those four
by-laws his father wrote on my boyhood; ’n’ by those four by-laws I ’ve
kept my manhood; ’n’ so I think it ’ll do anybody good to join the
Society."

"Well," said Hazel, stoutly, "I ’ll show them I ’m not afraid of some
things, if I did run away from the turkey-gobbler."

"That’s right," said Chi, heartily, "’n’ more than that--betwixt you ’n’
me--you ’ve no cause to be scairt _whatever_ they do; now mark my words,
_whatever they do_," repeated Chi, emphatically.

"I don’t care what they do so long as you ’re there, Chi," said Hazel,
looking up into his weather-roughened, deeply-lined face with such utter
trust in her great eyes that Chi caught up the bag over his shoulder and
hurried out to the barn, muttering to himself:--

"George Washin’ton!  How she manages to creep into the softest corner of
a man’s heart, I don’t know; I expect it’s those great eyes of hers, ’n’
that voice just like a brook winnerin’ ’n’ gurglin’ over its stones in
August.--Guess there’s luck come to this house with Lady-bird!"  And he
went about his work.



                                  VII

                         THE N.B.B.O.O. SOCIETY


"Now, Hazel, we ’re ready," said Rose, after the dinner dishes had been
washed and the children’s time was their own.  Hazel submitted meekly to
the blindfolding process.

She had tried in vain to find out something of what the children
intended to do, but they were too clever for her to gain the smallest
hint as to the initiation.  March had been busy in the ice-house, and
Cherry had been ironing the aprons for the family,--that was her
Saturday morning duty.  Budd and the St. Bernard puppy were off with Chi
in the fields.

Rose led her through the woodshed and out of doors--Hazel knew that by
the rush of soft air that met her face--and away, somewhither.  At last
she was helped to climb a ladder; Chi’s hand grasped hers, and she felt
the flooring under her feet.  Then she was left without support of any
kind, not daring to move with Chi’s story in her thoughts.

"Guess we ’ll have the roll-call first," said Chi, solemnly. There was
not a sound to be heard except now and then a rush of wings and the
twitter of swallows.

"Molly Stark."

"Here," said Rose.

"Markis de Lafayette."

"Here," from March.

"Marthy Washin’ton."

"Present," said Cherry, forgetting she was not in school. Budd
snickered, and the president called him to order.

"Fine of two cents for snickerin’ in meetin’."  Budd looked sober.

"Ethan Allen."

"Here," said Budd, in a subdued voice.

"Old Put,--Here," said Chi, addressing and answering himself.  "Now,
Markis, read the by-laws."

"Number One.--We pledge ourselves not to be afraid to tell the truth."

"Number Two.--We pledge ourselves to be afraid to tell a lie.

"Number Three.--We pledge ourselves to try to help others whenever we
can, wherever we can, however we can, as long as ever we can.

"Number Four.--We, as American boys and girls, pledge ourselves never to
play the coward nor to disgrace our country."

"Molly Stark, unfurl the flag," said Chi.

Hazel heard a rustle as Rose unrolled the banner of soft red, white, and
blue cambric.

"Put Old Glory round the candidate’s shoulders," commanded the
president, and Hazel felt the soft folds being draped about her.

"There now, Lady-bird, you ’re dressed as pretty as you ’re ever goin’
to be; it don’t make a mite of difference whether you ’re the Empress of
Rooshy, or just plain every-day folks; ’n’ now you ’ve got that rig on,
we ’re ready to give you the hand of fellowship.  Markis, you have the
floor."

"What name does the candidate wish to be known by?" asked March, with
due gravity; then, forgetting his role, he added, "You must take the
name of some woman who has been just as brave as she could be."

Hazel, feeling the folds of the flag about her, suddenly recalled her
favorite poem of Whittier’s.

"Barbara Frietchie," she said promptly and firmly.

The various members shouted and cheered themselves hoarse before order
was restored.

"What’d I tell you, Budd?" said Chi, triumphantly; then there was
another shout, for Chi had broken the rules in speaking thus.

"Two cents’ fine!" shouted Budd, "for speaking out of order in meeting."

"Sho!  I forgot," said Chi, humbly; "well, proceed."

"Do you, Barbara Frietchie, pledge yourself to try to keep these
by-laws?"

"Yes," said Hazel, but rather tremulously.

"Well, then, we ’ll put you to the test.  Molly Stark will extend the
first hand of fellowship to Barbara Frietchie--No, hold out your hand,
Hazel; way out--don’t you draw it back that way!"

"I did n’t," retorted Hazel.

"Yes, you did, I saw you!"

"You didn’t, either."

"I did."

"You did n’t."

"I did, too."

"He did n’t, did he, Chi?" said Hazel, furious at this charge of
apparent timidity.

"I don’t believe you drew it back even if March does think he saw you,"
said Chi, pouring oil both ways on the troubled waters; "’n’ I never
thought ’t was just the thing for a boy to tell a girl she was a coward
before she’d proved to be one--specially if he belongs to this Society."

The Marquis de Lafayette hung his head at this rebuke; but in the action
his cocked hat of black and gilt paper lurched forward and drew off with
it his white cotton-wool wig.  Budd and Cherry, forgetting all rules,
fines, and sense of propriety, rolled over and over at the sight; Rose
sat down shaking with laughter, and even Chi lost his dignity.

"I wish you would let me _see_, or do something," said Hazel,
plaintively, when she could make herself heard.

"’T ain’t fair to keep Hazel waiting so," declared Budd, and the
president called the meeting to order again.

"Put out your hand, Hazel," said Rose.  "Now shake."

Hazel grasped a hand, cold, deathly cold, and clammy. The chill of the
rigid fingers sent a corresponding shiver down the length of her
backbone, and the goose-flesh rose all over her arms and legs.  She
thought she must shriek; but she recalled Chi’s words, set her teeth
hard, and shook the awful thing with what strength she had, never
uttering a sound.

"Bully for you, Hazel!  I knew you ’d show lots of pluck," cried Budd.

"Got grit every time," said Chi, proudly.  "Now let’s have the other
test and get down to business.  Guess all three of you ’ll have to have
a finger in this pie.  Hurry up, Marthy Washin’ton!"  Cherry scuttled
down the ladder, and in a few minutes labored, panting, up again.

"What did you bring two for?" demanded Budd.

"’Cause March said ’t would balance me better on the ladder," replied
Cherry, innocently.  At which explanation Chi laughed immoderately, much
to Cherry’s discomfiture.

"Now, Hazel, roll up your sleeve and hold out your bare arm," said the
Marquis.  Hazel obeyed, wondering what would come next.

"Here, Budd, you hold it; all ready, Cherry?"

"Ye-es--wait a minute; now it’s all right."

"This we call burning in the Society’s brand,--N.B.B.O.O.;" the voice of
the Marquis was solemn, befitting the occasion.

Hazel drew her breath sharply, uncertain whether to cry out or not.
There was a sharp sting across her arm, as if a hot curling-iron had
been drawn quickly across it; then a sound of sizzling flesh, and the
odor of broiled beefsteak rose up just under her nostrils.

There was a diabolical thud of falling flat-irons; Rose tore the bandage
from Hazel’s eyes, and the bewildered candidate for membership, when her
eyes grew somewhat wonted to the dim light, found herself in a corner of
the loft in the barn, with the elegant figure of the Marquis in cocked
hat, white wig, yellow vest, blue coat, and yellow knee-breeches dancing
frantically around her; Ethan Allen in white woollen shirt, red yarn
suspenders, and red, white, and blue striped trousers, turning back-hand
somersaults on the hay; Chi standing at salute with his
great-great-grandfather’s Revolutionary musket, his old straw hat
decorated with a tricolor cockade, and Cherry in a white cotton-wool
wig, a dark calico dress of her mother’s and a white neckerchief, flat
on the floor beside two six-pound flat-irons.

A piece of raw beef on a tin pan, some bits of ice, and a kid glove
stuffed with ice and sawdust, lay scattered about. They told the tale of
the initiation.

"Three cheers for Barbara Frietchie!" shouted Budd, as he came right
side up.  The barn rang with them.

"Now we ’ll give the right hand of true fellowship," said Chi, rapping
with the butt of his musket for order.

Rose gave Hazel’s hand a squeeze.  "I ’m so glad you ’re to be one of
us," she said heartily; and Hazel squeezed back.

March came forward, bowed low, and said, "I apologize for my distrust of
your pluck," and held out his hand with a look in the flashing gray eyes
that was not one of mockery; indeed, he looked glad, but never a word of
welcome did he speak.

"I could flog that proud feller," muttered Chi to himself.

Hazel hesitated a moment, then put out her hand a little reluctantly.
March caught the gesture and her look.

"Oh, you ’re not obliged to," he said haughtily, and turned on his heel.
But Hazel put her hand on his arm.

"I ’m afraid we are both breaking some of the by-laws, March.  I do want
to shake hands, but I was thinking just then that you did n’t mean the
apology--not really and truly; and if you did mean it, there was
something else you needed to apologize for more than that!"

March flushed to the roots of his hair.  Then his boy’s honor came to
the rescue.

"I do want to now, Hazel--and forgive and forget, won’t you?" he said,
with the winning smile he inherited from his father, but which he kept
for rare occasions.

Hazel put her hand in his, and felt that this had been worth waiting
for.  She knew that at last March had taken her in.

Budd gripped with all his might, Cherry shook with two fingers, and
Chi’s great hand closed over hers as tenderly as a woman’s would have
done.

This was Hazel’s initiation into the Nobody’s Business But Our Own
Society.  It was the second meeting of the year.

"Now, March, I ’ll make you chairman and ask you to state the business
of this meetin’, as you ’ve called it. Must be mighty important?"

"It is," replied March, gravely, all the fun dying out of his face.
"You remember, all of you,--don’t you?--what mother told us that night
she said Hazel was coming?"

"Yes," chorussed the children.

"Well, I ’ve been thinking and thinking ever since how I could help--"

"So ’ve I, March," interrupted Rose.

"And I have, too," said Budd.

"What’s all this mean?" said Chi, somewhat astonished, for he had not
known why the meeting had been called.

"Why, you see, Chi, we never knew till then that the farm had been
mortgaged on account of father’s sickness, and that it had been so awful
hard for mother all this year--"

Chi cleared his throat.

"--And we want to do something to help earn.  If we could earn just our
own clothes and books and enough to pay for our schooling, it would be
something."

"Guess ’t would," said Chi, clearing his throat again. "Kind of workin’
out the third by-law, ain’t you?"

"Trying to," answered March, with such sincerity in his voice that Chi’s
throat troubled him for full a minute. "And what I want to find out,
without mother’s knowing it, or father either, is how we can earn enough
for those things.  If anybody ’s got anything to say, just speak up."

"What you goin’ to do with those Wyandottes?"

"I knew you ’d ask that, Chi.  I ’m going to raise a fine breed and sell
the eggs at a dollar and a half for thirteen; but I can’t get any
chicken-money till next fall, and no egg-money till next spring, and I
want to begin now."

"Hm--" said Chi, taking off his straw hat and slowly scratching his
head.  "Well," he said after a pause in which all were thinking and no
one talking, "why don’t all of you go to work raisin’ chickens for next
Thanksgivin’?"

"By cracky!" said Budd, "we could raise three or four hundred, an’ fat
’em up, an’ make a pile, easy as nothing."

"I don’t know about it’s bein’ so easy; but children have the time to
tend ’em, and I don’t see why it won’t work, seein’ it’s a good time of
year."

"But where ’ll we get the hens to set, Chi?" said March.

"Oh, there ’s enough of ’em settin’ round now on the bare boards," Chi
replied.

"Can I raise some, too?" asked Hazel, rather timidly.

"Don’t know what there is to hinder," said Chi, with a slow smile.

"And can I buy some hens for my very own?"

"Why, of course you can; just say the word, ’n’ you ’n’ I ’ll go
settin’-hen hunting within a day or so."

"Oh, what fun!" cried Hazel, clapping her hands. "But I want some that
will sit and lay too, Chi; then I can sell the eggs."

There was a shout of laughter, at which Hazel felt hurt.

"There now, Lady-bird, we won’t laugh at your city ways of lookin’ at
things any more.  The hens ain’t quite so accommodatin’ as that, but we
’ll get some good setters first, ’n’ then see about the layin’
afterwards."

"But, Chi, it will take such a lot of corn to fatten them. We don’t want
to ask father for anything."

"That’s right, Rose.  Be independent as long as you can; I thought of
that, too.  Now, there ’s a whole acre on the south slope I ploughed
this spring,--nice, hot land, just right for corn-raisin’; ’n’ if you
children ’ll drop ’n’ cover, I ’ll help you with the hoein’ ’n’ cuttin’
’n’ huskin’; ’n’ you ’ll have your corn for nothin’."

"Good for you, Chi; we ’ll do it, won’t we?" cried March.

"You bet," said Budd.

"I can pick berries," said Rose, "and we can always sell them at the
Inn, or at Barton’s River."

"Yes, and we can begin in June," said Cherry; "the pastures are just red
with the wild strawberries, you know, Rose."

"It’s an awful sight of work to pick ’em," said Budd, rather dubiously.

"Well, you can’t get your money without workin’, Budd; ’n’ work don’t
mean ’take it easy.’"

"I ’m sure we can get twenty-five cents a quart for them right in the
village.  I ’ve heard folks say they make the best preserve you can get,
and you can’t buy them for love nor money," said Rose.  "Mother makes
beautiful ones."

"Was n’t that what we had last Sunday night when the minister was here
to tea?" asked Hazel.

"Yes," said Rose.

"I never tasted any strawberries like them at home, and the housekeeper
buys lots of jams and jellies in the fall." Hazel thought hard for a
minute.  Suddenly she jumped to her feet, clapped her hands, and spun
round and round like a top, crying out, "I have it!  I have it!"

The N.B.B.O.O. Society was amazed to see the new member perform in this
lively manner, for Hazel had been rather quiet during the first month.
Now she caught up her skirts with a dainty tilt, and danced the Highland
Fling just to let her spirits out through her feet.  Up and down the
floor of the loft she charged, hands over her head, hands swinging her
skirts, light as a fairy, bending, swaying, and bowing, till, with a big
"cheese," she sat down almost breathless by Chi.  Was this Hazel?  The
members of the N.B.B.O.O. looked at one another in amazement, and
March’s eyes flashed again, as they had done once before during the
afternoon.

"Now all listen to me," she said, as if, after a month of silence, she
had found her tongue.  "I ’ve an idea, and when I have one, papa says
it’s worth listening to,--which is n’t often, I ’m sure.  We ’ll pick
the strawberries, and get Mrs. Blossom to show Rose how to do them up;
and I ’ll write to papa and Doctor Heath’s wife and to our housekeeper
and Cousin Jack, and see if they don’t want some of those delicious
preserves that they can’t get in the city.  I ’ll find out from Mrs.
Scott--that’s the housekeeper--how much she pays for a jar in New York,
and then we ’ll charge a little more for ours because the strawberries
are a little rarer.  Are n’t there any other kinds of berries that grow
around here?"

"Guess you ’d better stop ’n’ take breath, Lady-bird; there ’s a mighty
lot of plannin’ in all that.  What ’d I tell you, Budd?" Chi asked
again.

Budd looked at Hazel in boyish admiration, but said nothing.

"I think that’s splendid, Hazel," said Rose, "if they’ll only want
them."

"I know they will; but are there any other berries?"

"Berries!  I should think so; raspberries and blackberries by the bushel
on the Mountain, and they say they ’re the best anywhere round here,"
said March.

"Oh, dear!" sighed Cherry, "I wish we could go to work right now."

"Well, so you can," said Chi, "only you can’t go berryin’ just yet.  You
can begin to drop that corn this very afternoon: better be inside the
ground pretty soon, with all those four hundred chickens waitin’ to join
the Thanksgivin’ procession."

[Illustration: "’You can begin to drop that corn this very afternoon’"]

"Oh, Chi, you ’re making fun of us," laughed Rose.

"Don’t you believe it, Rose-pose; never was more in earnest in my life.
Come along, ’n’ I ’ll show you."



                                  VIII

                        A LIVELY CORRESPONDENCE


It was a trial of patience to have to wait twenty-one days before the
first of the "four hundred" could be expected to appear.

"You ’ll have to be kind of careful ’bout steppin’ round in the dark,
Mis’ Blossom, ’n’ you, too, Ben," said Chi, "for you ’ll find a settin’
hen most anywheres nowadays."

Mrs. Blossom laughed.  "Oh, Chi, what dear children they are, even if
they aren’t quite perfect."

"Can’t be beat," replied Chi, earnestly.  "Look at them now, will you?"

Mrs. Blossom stepped out on the porch, and looked over to the south
slope and the corn-patch.  "What if her father were to see her now!"
She laughed again, both at her thoughts and the sight.

"’T would give him kind of a shock at first," Chi chuckled, "but he ’d
get over it as soon as he ’d seen that face."

"It is wonderful how she has improved.  I shouldn’t be surprised if he
came up here soon to see Hazel."

"Well, he ’ll find somethin’ worth lookin’ at.  See there, now!"

The girls had been making scarecrows to protect the young corn, stuffing
old shirts and trousers with hay and straw, while March and Budd had
been getting ready the cross-tree frames.  In dropping and covering the
corn that Saturday afternoon after the initiation, the girls had found
their skirts and petticoats not only in the way as they bent over their
work, but greatly soiled by contact with the soft, damp loam.  So they
had begged to wear overalls of blue denim like Chi’s and the boys’.  The
request had been gladly granted.  "It will save no end of washing," said
Mrs. Blossom, and forthwith made up three pairs on the machine.

The girls found it great fun.  They tucked in their petticoats and
buttoned down their shoulder-straps with right good will.  Then Mr.
Blossom presented them with broad, coarse straw hats, such as he and Chi
used, and with these on their heads they rushed off to the corn-patch.
There now they were,--five good-looking boys with hands joined, dancing
and capering around a scarecrow, that looked like a gentleman tramp gone
entirely to seed, and singing at the top of their voices Budd’s
favorite, "I won’t play in your back yard."

At that very hour, when the gentleman scarecrow of the corn-patch was
looking amiably, although slightly squint-eyed, out from under his
tattered straw hat (for March had drawn rude features on the white cloth
bag stuffed with cotton-wool which served for a head, and on it Rose had
sewed skeins of brown yarn to imitate hair) at the antics of the five
pairs of blue overalls, Mr. Clyde, having finished his nine o’clock
breakfast, asked for the mail.

"Yes, Marse John" (so Wilkins always called Mr. Clyde when they were
alone), "’spect dere ’s one from Miss Hazel by de feel an’ de smell."

Mr. Clyde smiled.  "How can you tell by the ’feel and the smell,’
Wilkins?"

"Case it’s bunchy lake in de middle, an’ de vi’lets can’t hide dere
bref."

"Well, we ’ll see," said Mr. Clyde, willing to indulge his faithful
servant’s childish curiosity.  Wilkins busied himself quietly about the
breakfast-room.

As Mr. Clyde opened the envelope, the crushed blue and white violets
fell out.  Suddenly he burst into such a hearty laugh that Wilkins had
hard work to suppress a sympathetic chuckle.

"I shall have to carry this letter over to the Doctor, Wilkins," he
said, still laughing.  "I shall be in time to find him a few minutes
alone before office hours."  He rose from the table.

Wilkins followed him out to give his coat a last touch with the brush;
he was fearful Mr. Clyde might leave without revealing anything of the
contents of the letter from his beloved Miss Hazel.

"’Sense me, Marse John," he said in desperation, as Mr. Clyde went
towards the front door, "but Miss Hazel ain’t no wusser case yo’ goin’
to de Doctah’s?"

"Oh, Wilkins, I forgot; you want to know how Miss Hazel is.  She is
doing finely; as happy as a bird, and sends her love to you in a
postscript.  I think I ’ll run up and see her soon."

Wilkins ducked and beamed.  "’Pears lake dis yere house ain’t de same
place wif de little missus gone."

"You ’re right, Wilkins," said Mr. Clyde, earnestly.  "I shall not open
the Newport cottage this year; it would be too lonesome without her."

"Well, Dick," he said gayly, as he entered the Doctor’s office, "I shall
hold you responsible for some of the lives of the ’Four Hundred.’  Here,
read this letter."


MOUNT HUNGER, MILL SETTLEMENT, BARTON’S
       RIVER, VERMONT, May 19, 1896.

DEAREST PAPA,--Good-morning!  I am answering your long letter a little
sooner than I expected to, because I want you to do something for me in
a business way; that’s the way March says it must be.

I don’t know how to begin to tell you, but I ’ve joined the N.B.B.O.O.
Society and one of the by-laws is that we must help others all we can
and just as much as we can.  I wish you’d been at the initiashun.  (I
don’t know about that spelling, and I ’m in a hurry, or I ’d ask.)  I
had the hand of fellowship from a supposed corpse’s hand first, and then
I was branded on the arm.  And afterwards they all took me in, and now
we ’re raising four hundred chickens to help others; I ’ll tell you all
about it when you come.  Chi, that’s the hired man, but he is really our
friend, took me sitting-hen hunting day before yesterday, for I am to
own some myself; and we drove all over the hills to the farmhouses and
found and bought twelve, or rather Chi did, for I had to borrow the
money of him, as I felt so bad when I kissed you good-bye that I forgot
to tell you my quarterly allowance was all gone, and I know you won’t
like my borrowing of Chi, for you have said so many times never to owe
anybody and I’ve always tried to pay for everything except when I had to
borrow of Gabrielle, or Mrs. Scott, when I forgot my purse.

But truly the hens were in such an awful hurry to sit, that it did seem
too bad to keep them waiting even three days till I could get some money
from you; and then, too, we ’ve all of us, March and Rose and Budd and
Cherry and me, bet on which hen would get the first chicken, and that
chicken is going to be a prize chicken and especially fatted, and of
course, if I waited for the money to come from you, I could n’t stand a
chance of coming out ahead in our four hundred chicken race, so I
borrowed of Chi.  The hens came to just $4 and eighty cents.  I’ll pay
you back when I earn it, and don’t you think it would have been a pity
to lose the chance for the prize chicken just for that borrow?

Please send the money by return mail.  I ’ve other letters to write, so
please excuse my not paragraphing and so little punctuation, but I ’ve
so much to do and this must go at once.

Your loving and devoted daughter,
       HAZEL CLYDE.

P.S. The hens are sitting around everywhere.  Give my love to Wilkins.
H.C.


The Doctor shouted; then he stepped to the dining-room door and called,
"Wifie, come here and bring that letter."

Mrs. Heath came in smiling, with a letter in her hand, which, after
cordially greeting Mr. Clyde, she read to him,--an amazed and outwitted
father.


MOUNT HUNGER, MILL SETTLEMENT, BARTON’S
       RIVER, VERMONT, May 19, 1896.

MY DEAR MRS. HEATH,--Please thank my dear Doctor Heath for the note he
sent me two weeks ago.  I ought to write to him instead of to you, for I
don’t owe you a letter (your last one was so sweet I answered it right
off), but he never allows his patients strawberry preserve and jam, so
it would be no use to ask his help just now, as this is pure business,
March says.

We are trying to help others, and the strawberries--wild ones--are as
thick as spatter--going to be--all over the pastures, and we ’re going
to pick quarts and quarts, and Rose is going to preserve them, and then
we ’re going to sell them.

Do you think of anybody who would like some of this preserve? If you do,
will you kindly let me know by return mail?

I can’t tell just the price, and March says that is a great drawback in
real business, and this _is_ real--but it will not be more than $1 and
twenty-five cents a quart.  They will be fine for luncheon.  _I_ never
tasted any half so good at home.

My dear love to the Doctor and a large share for yourself from

Your loving friend,
       HAZEL CLYDE.

P.S. Rose says it is n’t fair for people to order without knowing the
quality, so we ’ve done up a little of Mrs. Blossom’s in some Homeepatic
(I don’t know where that "h" ought to come in) pellet bottles, and will
send you a half-dozen "for samples," March says, to send to any one to
taste you think would like to order.  H.C.


"The cure is working famously," said Doctor Heath, rubbing his hands in
glee.

"Well," said Mr. Clyde, laughing, "I may as well make the best of it;
but I can’t help wondering whether the wholesale grocers in town have
been asked to place orders with Mount Hunger, or the Washington Market
dealers for prospective chickens!  There ’s your office-bell; I won’t
keep you longer, but if this ’special case’ of yours should develop any
new symptoms, just let me know."

"I ’ll keep you informed," rejoined the Doctor.  "Better run up there
pretty soon, Johnny," he called after him.

"I think it’s high time, Dick.  Good-bye."

At that very moment, a symptom of another sort was developing in Z----
Hall, Number 9, at Harvard.

Jack Sherrill and his chum were discussing the last evening’s Club
theatricals.  "I saw that pretty Maude Seaton in the third or fourth
row, Jack; did she come on for that,--which, of course, means you?"

"Wish I might think so," said Jack, half in earnest, half in jest,
pulling slowly at his corn-cob pipe.

"By Omar Khayyam, Jack! you don’t mean to say you ’re hit, at last!"

"Hit,--yes; but it’s only a flesh-wound at present,--nothing dangerous
about it."

"She ’s got the style, though, and the pull.  I know a half-dozen of the
fellows got dropped on to-night’s cotillion."

"Kept it for me," said Jack, quietly.

"No, really, though--" and his chum fell to thinking rather seriously
for him.

Just then came the morning’s mail,--notes, letters, special delivery
stamps, all the social accessories a popular Harvard man knows so well.
Jack looked over his carelessly,--invitations to dinner, to theatre
parties, "private views," golf parties, etc.  He pushed them aside,
showing little interest.  He, like his Cousin Hazel, was used to it.

The morning’s mail was an old story, for Sherrill was worth a fortune in
his own right, as several hundred mothers and daughters in New York and
Boston and Philadelphia knew full well.

Moreover, if he had not had a penny in prospect, Jack Sherrill would
have attracted by his own manly qualities and his exceptionally good
looks.  His riches, to which he had been born, had not as yet wholly
spoiled him, but they cheated him of that ambition that makes the best
of young manhood, and Life was out of tune at times--how and why, he did
not know, and there was no one to tell him.

He had rather hoped for a note from Maude Seaton, thanking him, in her
own charming way, for the flowers he had sent her on her arrival from
New York the day before. True, she had worn some in her corsage, but,
for all Jack knew, they might have been another man’s; for Maude Seaton
was never known to have less than four or five strings to her bow.  It
was just this uncertainty about her that attracted Jack.

"Hello!  Here ’s a letter for you by mistake in my pile," said his chum.

"Why, this is from my little Cousin Hazel, who is rusticating just now
somewhere in the Green Mountains."  Jack opened it hastily and read,--


MOUNT HUNGER, MILL SETTLEMENT, BARTON’S
       RIVER, VERMONT, May 19, 1896.

DEAREST COUSIN JACK,--It is perfectly lovely up here, and I ’ve been
inishiated into a Secret Society like your Dicky Club, and one of the
by-laws is to help others all we can and wherever we can and as long as
ever we can, and so I ’ve thought of that nice little spread you gave
last year after the foot-ball game, and how nice the table looked and
what good things you had, but I don’t remember any strawberry jam or
preserves, do you?

We ’re hatching four hundred chickens to help others,--I mean we have
set 40 sitting hens on 520 eggs, not all the 40 on the five hundred and
twenty at once, you know; but, I mean, each one of the 40 hens are
sitting on 13 eggs apiece, and March says we must expect to lose 120
eggs--I mean, chickens,--as the hens are very careless and sit
sideways--I ’ve seen them myself--and so an extra egg is apt to get
chilly, and the chickens can’t stand any chilliness, March says.  But
Chi, that’s my new friend, says some eggs have a double yolk, and maybe,
there ’ll be some twins to make up for the loss.

Anyway, we want 400 chickens to sell about Thanksgiving time, and, of
course, we can’t get any money till that time. So now I ’ve got back to
your spread again and the preserves, and while we ’re waiting for the
chickens, we are going to make preserves--_dee_-licious ones!  I mean we
are going to pick them and Rose is going to preserve them.  We ’ve
decided to ask $1 and a quarter a quart for them; Rose--that’s Rose
Blossom--says it is dear, but if you could see my Rose-pose, as Chi
calls her, you ’d think it cheap just to eat them if she made them.  She
’s perfectly lovely--prettier than any of the New York girls, and when
she kneads bread and does up the dishes, she sings like a bird,
something about love.  I’ll write it down for you, sometime.  _I ’m_ in
love with her.

Please ask your college friends if they don’t want some jam and wild
strawberry preserves.  If they do, March says they had better order
soon, as I’ve written to New York to see about some other orders.

Yours devotedly,
       HAZEL.

P.S. I ’ve sent you a sample of the strawberry preserve in a homeepahtic
pellet bottle, to taste; Rose says it is n’t fair to ask people to buy
without their knowing what they buy.  I saw that Miss Seaton just before
I came away; she came to call on me and brought some flowers.  She said
I looked like you--which was an awful whopper because I had my head
shaved, as you know; I asked her if she had heard from you, and she said
she had.  She is n’t half as lovely as Rose-pose.  H.C.



                                   IX

                           THE PRIZE CHICKEN


There was wild excitement, as well as consternation, in the farmhouse on
the Mountain.

On the next day but one after Hazel had sent her letters, Chi had
brought up from the Mill Settlement a telegram which had come on the
stage from Barton’s.  It was addressed to, "Hazel Clyde, Mill
Settlement, Barton’s River, Vermont," and ran thus:--


CAMBRIDGE, May 20, 1 P.M.

Hope to get in our order ahead of New York time.  Seventeen dozen of
each kind.  Letter follows.

JACK.


"Seventeen dozen!" screamed Rose, on hearing the telegram.

"Seventeen dozen of _each kind_!" cried Budd.

"Oh, quick, March, do see what it comes to!" said Hazel.

Then such an arithmetical hubbub broke loose as had never been heard
before on the Mountain.

"Seventeen times twelve," said Rose,--"let me see; seven times two are
fourteen, one to carry--do keep still, March!"  But March went on
with:--

"Twelve times four are forty-eight--seventeen times forty-eight,
hm--seven times eight are fifty-six, five to carry--Shut up, Budd; I
can’t hear myself think."  But Budd gave no heed, and continued his
computation.

"Four times seventeen are--four times seven are twenty-eight, two to
carry; four times one are four and two are--I say, you ’ve put me all
out!" shouted Budd, and, putting his fingers in his ears, he retired to
a corner. Rose continued to mumble with her eyes shut to concentrate her
mind upon her problem, threatening Cherry impatiently when she
interrupted with her peculiar solution, which she had just thought
out:--

"If one quart cost one dollar and twenty-five cents, twelve quarts will
cost twelve times one dollar and twenty-five cents, which is, er--twelve
times one are twelve; twelve times twenty-five!  Oh, gracious, that’s
awful!  What’s twelve times twenty-five, March?"

"Shut up," growled March; "you ’ve put me all off the track."

"Me, too," said Rose, in an aggrieved tone.

Mrs. Blossom had been listening from the bedroom, and now came in,
suppressing her desire to smile at the reddened and perplexed faces.
"Here ’s a pencil, March, suppose you figure it out on paper."

A sigh of relief was audible throughout the room, as March sat down to
work out the result.  "Eight hundred and sixteen quarts at one dollar
twenty-five a quart," said March to himself; then, with a bound that
shook the long-room, he shouted, "One thousand and twenty dollars!" and
therewith broke forth into singing:--

    "Glory, glory, halleluia!
    Glory, glory, halleluia!
    Glory, glory, halleluia,
    For the N.B.B.O.O.!"


The rest joined in the singing with such goodwill that the noise brought
in Chi from the barn.  When he was told the reason for the rejoicing, he
looked thoughtful, then sober, then troubled.

"What’s the matter, Chi?  Cheer up!  You have n’t got to pick them,"
said March.

"’T ain’t that; but I hate to throw cold water on any such
countin’-your-chickens-’fore-they ’re-hatched business," said Chi.

"’T is n’t chickens; it’s preserves, Chi," laughed Rose.

"I know that, too," said Chi, gravely.  "But suppose you do a little
figuring on the hind-side of the blackboard."

"What _do_ you mean, Chi?" asked Hazel.

"Well, I ’ll figure, ’n’ see what you think about it. Seventeen dozen
times four, how much, March?"

"Eight hundred and sixteen."

"Hm! eight hundred and sixteen glass jars at twelve and a half cents
apiece--let me see: eight into eight once; eight into one no times ’n’
one over.  There now, your jars ’ll cost you just one hundred and two
dollars."

There was a universal groan.

"’N’ that ain’t all.  Sugar ’s up to six cents a pound, ’n’ to keep
preserves as they ought to be kept takes about a pound to a quart.  Hm,
eight hundred ’n’ sixteen pounds of sugar at six cents a pound--move up
my point ’n’ multiply by six--forty-eight dollars ’n’ ninety-six cents;
added to the other--"

"Oh, don’t, Chi!" groaned one and all.

"It spoils everything," said Rose, actually ready to cry with
disappointment.

"Well, Molly Stark, you ’ve got to look forwards and backwards before
you _promise_ to do things," said Chi, serenely; and Rose, hearing the
Molly Stark, knew just what Chi meant.

She went straight up to him, and, laying both hands on his shoulders,
looked up smiling into his face.  "I ’ll be brave, Chi; we ’ll make it
work somehow," she said gently; and Chi was not ashamed to take one of
the little hands and rub it softly against his unshaven cheek.

"That’s my Rose-pose," he said.  "Now, don’t let’s cross the bridges
till we get to them; let’s wait till we hear from New York."


They had not long to wait.  The next day’s mail brought three
letters,--from Mrs. Heath, Mr. Clyde, and Jack. Hazel could not read
them fast enough to suit her audience. There was an order from Mrs.
Heath for two dozen of each kind, and the assurance that she would ask
her friends, but she would like her order filled first.

Mr. Clyde wrote that he was coming up very soon and would advance
Hazel’s quarterly allowance; at which Hazel cried, "Oh-ee!" and hugged
first herself, then Mrs. Blossom, but said not a word.  She wanted to
surprise them with the glass jars and the sugar.  Her father had
enclosed five dollars with which to pay Chi, and he and Hazel were
closeted for full a quarter of an hour in the pantry, discussing ways
and means.

Jack wrote enthusiastically of the preserves and chickens, and, like
Hazel, added a postscript as follows:

"Don’t forget you said you would write down for me the song about Love
that Miss Blossom sings when she is kneading bread.  Miss Seaton is just
now visiting in Boston.  I ’m to play in a polo match out at the
Longmeadow grounds next week, and she stays for that."  This, likewise,
Hazel kept to herself.

Meanwhile, the strawberry blossoms were starring the pastures, but only
here and there a tiny green button showed itself.  It was a discouraging
outlook for the other Blossoms to wait five long weeks before they could
begin to earn money; and the thought of the chickens, especially the
prize chicken, proved a source of comfort as well as speculation.

As the twenty-first day after setting the hens drew near, the excitement
of the race was felt to be increasing.  Hazel had tied a narrow strip of
blue flannel about the right leg of each of her twelve hens, that there
might be no mistake; and the others had followed her example, March
choosing yellow; Cherry, white; Rose, red; and Budd, green.

The barn was near the house, only a grass-plat with one big elm in the
centre separated it from the end of the woodshed.  As Chi said, the hens
were sitting all around everywhere; on the nearly empty hay-mow there
were some twenty-five, and the rest were in vacant stalls and
feed-boxes.

It was a warm night in early June.  Hazel was thinking over many things
as she lay wakeful in her wee bedroom. To-morrow was the day; somebody
would get the prize chicken.  Hazel hoped she might be the winner.  Then
she recalled something Chi had said about hens being curious creatures,
set in their ways, and never doing anything just as they were expected
to do it, and that there was n’t any time-table by which chickens could
be hatched to the minute.  What if one were to come out to-night! The
more she thought, the more she longed to assure herself of the condition
of things in the barn.  She tossed and turned, but could not settle to
sleep.  At last she rose softly; the great clock in the long-room had
just struck eleven.  She looked out of her one window and into the face
of a moon that for a moment blinded her.

Then she quietly put on her white bath-robe, and, taking her shoes in
her hand, stepped noiselessly out into the kitchen.

There was not a sound in the house except the ticking of the clock.
Softly she crept to the woodshed door and slipped out.

Chi, who had the ears of an Indian, heard the soft "crush, crush," of
the bark and chips underneath his room. He rose noiselessly, drew on his
trousers, and slipped his suspenders over his shoulders, took his rifle
from the rack, and crept stealthily as an Apache down the stairs.  Chi
thought he was on the track of an enormous woodchuck that had baffled
all his efforts to trap, shoot, and decoy him, as well as his attempts
to smoke and drown him out. But nothing was moving in or about the shed.
He stepped outside, puzzled as to the noise he had heard.

"By George Washin’ton!" he exclaimed under his breath, "what’s up now?"
for he had caught sight of a little figure in white fairly scooting over
the grass-plat under the elm towards the barn.  In a moment she
disappeared in the opening, for on warm nights the great doors were not
shut.

"Guess I ’d better get out of the way; ’t would scare her to death to
see a man ’n’ a gun at this time of night. It’s that prize chicken, I
’ll bet."  And Chi chuckled to himself.  Then he tiptoed as far as the
barn door, looked in cautiously, and, seeing no one, but hearing a creak
overhead, he slipped into a stall and crouched behind a pile of grass he
had cut that afternoon for the cattle.

He heard the feet go "pat, pat, pat," overhead.  He knew by the sound
that Hazel was examining the nests. Then another noise--Cherry’s
familiar giggle--fell upon his ear.  He looked out cautiously from
behind the grass. Sure enough; there were the twins, robed in sheets and
barefooted.  Snickering and giggling, they made for the ladder leading
to the loft.

"The Old Harry ’s to pay to-night," said Chi, grimly, to himself.  "When
those two get together on a spree, things generally hum!  I ’d better
stay where I ’m needed most."

Hazel, too, had caught the sound of the giggle and snicker, and
recognized it at once.

"Goodness!" she thought, "if they should see me, ’t would frighten
Cherry into fits, she ’s so nervous.  I ’d better hide while they ’re
here.  They ’ve come to see about that chicken, just as I have!"  Hazel
had all she could do to keep from laughing out loud.  She lay down upon
a large pile of hay and drew it all over her.  "They can’t see me now,
and I can watch them," she thought, with a good deal of satisfaction.

Surely the proceedings were worth watching.  The moonlight flooded the
flooring of the loft, and every detail could be plainly seen.

"Nobody can hear us here if we do talk," said Budd. "You ’ll have to
hoist them up first, to see if there are any chickens, and be sure and
look at the rag on the legs; when you come to a green one, it’s mine,
you know."

"Oh, Budd!  I can’t hoist them," said Cherry, in a distressed voice.

"They do act kinder queer," replied Budd, who was trying to lift a
sleeping hen off her nest, to which she seemed glued.  "I ’ll tell you
what’s better than that; just put your ear down and listen, and if you
hear a ’peep-peep,’ it’s a chicken."

Cherry, the obedient slave of Budd, crawled about over the flooring on
her hands and knees, listening first at one nest, then at another, for
the expected "peep-peep."

"I don’t hear anything," said Cherry, in an aggrieved tone, "but the old
hens guggling when I poke under them.  Oh! but here ’s a green rag
sticking out, Budd."

"And a speckled hen?" said Budd, eagerly.

"Yes."

"Well, that’s the one I ’ve been looking for; it’s dark over here in
this corner.  Lemme see."

Budd put both hands under the hen and lifted her gently.
"Ak--ok--ork--ach," gasped the hen, as Budd took her firmly around the
throat; but she was too sleepy to care much what became of her, and so
hung limp and silent.

"I ’ll hold the hen, Cherry, and you take up those eggs one at a time
and hold them to my ear."

"What for?" said Cherry.

"Now don’t be a loony, but do as I tell you," said Budd, impatiently.
Cherry did as she was bidden; Budd listened intently.

"By cracky! there ’s one!" he exclaimed.  "Here, help me set this hen
back again, and keep that one out."

"What for?" queried Cherry, forgetting her former lesson.

"Oh, you ninny!--here, listen, will you?"  Budd put the egg to her ear.

"Why, that’s a chicken peeping inside.  I can _hear_ him," said Cherry,
in an awed voice.

"Yes, and I ’m going to let him out," said Budd, triumphantly.

"But then you’ll have the prize chicken, Budd," said Cherry, rather
dubiously, for she had wanted it herself.

"Of course, you goosey, what do you suppose I came out here for?"
demanded Budd.

"But, Budd, will it be fair?" said Cherry, timidly.

"Fair!" muttered Budd; "it’s fair enough if it’s out first.  It’s their
own fault if they don’t know enough to get ahead of us."

"Did you think it all out yourself, Budd?" queried Cherry, admiringly,
watching Budd’s proceeding with wide-open eyes.

"Yup," said Budd, shortly.

They were not far from Hazel’s hiding-place, and, by raising her head a
few inches, she could see the whole process.

First Budd listened intently at one end of the egg, then at the other.
He drew out a large pin from his pajamas and began very carefully to
pick the shell.

"Oh, gracious, Budd! what are you doing?" cried Cherry.

"What you see," said Budd, a little crossly, for his conscience was not
wholly at ease.

He picked and picked, and finally made an opening.  He examined it
carefully.

"Oh, thunder!" he exclaimed under his breath, "I ’ve picked the wrong
end."

"What do you mean?" persisted Cherry.

"I wanted to open the ’peep-peep’ end first, so he could breathe,"
replied Budd, intent upon his work.  Cherry watched breathlessly.  At
last the other end was opened, and Budd began to detach the shell from
something which might have been a worm, a fish, a pollywog, or a baby
white mouse, for all it looked like a chicken.  It lay in Budd’s hand.

"Oh, Budd, you ’ve killed it!" cried Cherry, beginning to sniff.

"Shut up, Cherry Blossom, or I’ll leave you," threatened Budd.  Just
then the moon was obscured by a passing cloud, and the loft became
suddenly dark and shadowy. Cherry screamed under her breath.

"Oh, Budd, don’t leave me; I can’t see you!"

There was a soft rapid stride over the flooring; and before Budd well
knew what had happened, he was seized by the binding of his pajamas,
lifted, and shaken with such vigor that his teeth struck together and he
felt the jar in the top of his head.

As the form loomed so unexpectedly before her, Cherry screamed with
fright.

"I ’ll teach you to play a business trick like this on us, you mean
sneaking little rascal!" roared March.  "Do you think I did n’t see you
creeping out of the room along the side of my bed on all fours?  You did
n’t dare to walk out like a man, and I might have known you were up to
no good!"  Another shake followed that for a moment dazed Budd.  Then,
as he felt the flooring beneath his feet, he turned in a towering
passion of guilt and rage on March.

"You ’re a darned sneak yourself," he howled rather than cried.  "Take
that for your trouble!"  Raising his doubled fist, he aimed a quick,
hard blow at March’s stomach.  But, somehow, before it struck, one
strong hand--not March’s--held his as in a vice, and another, stronger,
hoisted him by the waist-band of his pajamas and held him, squirming and
howling, suspended for a moment; then he felt himself tossed somewhere.
He fell upon the hay under which Hazel had taken refuge, and landed upon
her with almost force enough to knock the breath from her body.  Cherry,
meanwhile, had not ceased screaming under her breath, and, as Budd
descended so unexpectedly upon Hazel, a great groan and a sharp wail
came forth from the hay, to the mortal terror of all but Chi, who grew
white at the thought of what might have happened to his Lady-bird, and,
unintentionally, through him.

That awful groan proved too much for the children. Gathering themselves
together in less time than it takes to tell it, they fled as well as
they could in the dark,--down the ladder, out through the barn, over the
grass-plat, into the house, and dove into bed, trembling in every limb.

"What on earth is the matter, children?" said Mrs. Blossom, appearing at
the foot of the stairs.  "Did one of you fall out of bed?"

Budd’s head was under the bedclothes, his teeth chattering through fear;
likewise Cherry.  March assumed as firm a tone as he could.

"Budd had a sort of nightmare, mother, but he ’s all right now."  March
felt sick at the deception.

"Well, settle down now and go to sleep; it’s just twelve."  And Mrs.
Blossom went back into the bedroom where Mr. Blossom was still soundly
sleeping.

Meanwhile, Chi was testing Hazel to see that no harm had been done.

"Oh, I ’m all right," said Hazel, rather breathlessly. "But it really
knocked the breath out of my body."  She laughed.  "I never thought of
your catching up Budd that way and plumping him down on top of me!"

"Guess my wits had gone wool-gatherin’, when I never thought of your
hidin’ there," said Chi, recovering from his fright.  "But that boy made
me so pesky mad, tryin’ to play such a game on all of us, that I kind of
lost my temper ’n’ did n’t see straight.  Well--" he heaved a sigh of
relief, "he ’s got his come-uppance!"

"Where do you suppose that poor little chicken is?"

"We ’ll look him up; the moon ’s comin’ out again."

There, close by the nest, lay the queer something on the floor.  "I ’ll
tuck it in right under the old hen’s breast, ’n’ then, if there ’s any
life in it, it ’ll come to by mornin’."  He examined it closely.  "I ’ll
come out ’n’ see.  Come, we ’d better be gettin’ in ’fore ’t is dark
again--"

He put the poor mite of a would-be chicken carefully under the old hen,
where it was warm and downy, and as he did so, he caught sight of the
rag hanging over the edge of the nest.  He looked at it closely; then
slapping his thigh, he burst into a roar of laughter.

"What is it, Chi?" said Hazel, laughing, too, at Chi’s mirth.

"Look here, Lady-bird! you ’ve got the Prize Chicken, after all.  That
boy could n’t tell green from blue in the moonlight, ’n’ he ’s hatched
out one of yours.  By George Washin’ton! that’s a good one,--serves him
right," he said, wiping the tears of mirth from his eyes.

The chicken lived, but never seemed to belong to any one in particular;
and as Chi said solemnly the next morning, "The less said on this
Mountain about prize chickens, the better it ’ll be for us all."



                                   X

                         AN UNEXPECTED MEETING


It was a busy summer in and about the farmhouse on Mount Hunger.  What
with tending the chickens--there were four hundred and two in all--and
strawberry-picking and preserving, and in due season a repetition of the
process with raspberries and blackberries, the days seemed hardly long
enough to accomplish all the young people had planned.

Mr. Clyde came up for two days in June, and upon his return told Doctor
Heath that he, too, felt as if he needed that kind of a cure.

Hazel was the picture of health and fast becoming what Chi had
predicted, "an A Number 1" beauty.  Her dark eyes sparkled with the joy
of life; on her rounded cheeks there was the red of the rose; the
skull-cap had been discarded, and a fine crop of soft, silky rings of
dark brown hair had taken its place.

"Never, no, never, have I had such good times," she wrote to her Cousin
Jack at Newport.  "We eat on the porch, and make believe camp out in the
woods, and we ride on Bess and Bob all over the Mountain.  We’ve about
finished the preserves and jams, and Rose has only burnt herself twice.
The chickens, Chi says, are going to be prime ones; it ’s awfully funny
to see them come flying and hopping and running towards us the minute
they see us--March says it’s the ’Charge of the Light Brigade.’

"I wish you could be up here and have some of the fun,--but I ’m afraid
you ’re too old.  I enclose the song Rose sings which you asked me for.
I don’t understand it, but it’s perfectly beautiful when she sings it."

Hazel had asked Rose for the words of the song, telling her that her
Cousin Jack at Harvard would like to have them.  Rose looked surprised
for a moment.

"What can he want of them?" she asked in a rather dignified manner; and
Hazel, thinking she was giving the explanation the most reasonable as
well as agreeable, replied:--

"I don’t know for sure, but I think--you won’t tell, will you, Rose?"

"Of course I won’t.  I don’t even know your cousin, to begin with."

"I think he is going to be engaged, or is, to Miss Seaton of New York.
All his friends think she is awfully pretty, and papa says she is
fascinating.  I think Jack wanted them to give to her."

"Oh," said Rose, in a cool voice with a circumflex inflection, then
added in a decidedly toploftical tone, "I’ve no objection to his making
use of them.  I ’ll copy them for you."

"Thank you, Rose," said Hazel, rather puzzled and a little hurt at
Rose’s new manner.

This conversation took place the first week in August, and the verses
were duly forwarded to Jack, who read them over twice, and then,
thrusting them into his breast-pocket, went over to the Casino,
whistling softly to himself on the way.  There, meeting his chum and
some other friends, he proposed a riding-trip through the Green Mountain
region for the latter part of August.

"The Colonel and his wife will go with us, I ’m sure, and any of the
girls who can ride well will jump at the chance," said his chum.  "It’s
a novelty after so much coaching."

"I ’ll go over and see Miss Seaton about it," said Jack, and walked off
singing to himself,--

    "’--the stars above
    Shine ever on Love’--"


His friend turned to the others.  "That’s a go; I ’ve never seen
Sherrill so hard hit before."  Then he fell to discussing the new plan
with the rest.

Jack was wily enough, as he laid the plan before Maude Seaton, to
attempt to kill two birds with one stone.  He had had a desire, ever
since the first letter of Hazel’s, to see his little cousin in her new
surroundings, and this desire was immeasurably strengthened by his
curiosity to see a girl who sang Barry Cornwall’s love-lyrics on Mount
Hunger.  Consequently, in planning the high-roads to be followed through
the Green Mountains, he had not omitted to include Barton’s River, as it
boasted a good inn.

"Here ’s Woodstock,--just here," he explained to pretty Maude Seaton, as
they sat on the broad morning-porch of the palatial Newport cottage,
with a map of Vermont on the table between them.  "We can stop there a
day or two, and make our next stop at Barton’s River; I ’ve heard it’s a
beautiful place, with glorious mountain rides within easy distance.
Suppose we arrange to stop three or four days there and take it all in?
I ’ve been told it’s the finest river-valley in New England."

"Oh, do let’s!  The whole thing is going to be delightful. I ’m so tired
of coaching; I believe nobody enjoys it now, unless it’s the one who
holds the reins, and then all the others are bored.  But with fine
horses this will be no end of fun.  We can send on our trunks ahead,
can’t we?"

"Oh, yes, that’s easily arranged.  By the way, what horse will you take?
Remember," he said, looking her squarely in the eyes with a flattering
concern, "it’s a mountain country, and we can’t afford to have anything
happen to you."

"No danger for me," laughed Maude, meeting his look as squarely.  "And I
can’t worry about you after seeing the polo game you played yesterday,"
she added with frank admiration.

"It was a good one, was n’t it?" said Jack, his eyes kindling at the
remembrance.  "It was my mascot did the business--see?"  He put his hand
in his breast-pocket, expecting to draw forth a ribbon bow of Maude’s
that she had given him for "colors;" but, to his amazement, and to Miss
Seaton’s private chagrin, he drew forth only the slip of paper with
Barry Cornwall’s love-song in Rose Blossom’s handwriting.

Where the dickens was that bow?  Jack felt the absurdity of hunting in
all his pockets for something he had intended should express one phase,
at least, of his sentiments.  He felt the blood mounting to the roots of
his hair, and, laughing, put a bold face on it.

He held out the slip of paper.  "It looks innocent, doesn’t it?" he said
mischievously, and enjoyed to the full Maude’s look of discomfiture,
which, only for a second, she could not help showing.  "She ’ll know now
how a fellow feels when he has sent her flowers and sees her wearing
another man’s offering," he thought.  He turned to the map again.

"Well, what horse will you ride?"

"I ’ll take Old Jo; he ’s safe, and splendid for fences. Of course you
’ll take Little Shaver?"

"Yes, he and I don’t part company very often.  So it’s settled, is it?"
he asked, feeling cooler than he did.

"So far as I am concerned, it is; and I know the Colonel and Mrs.
Fenlick will go; it’s just the thing they like."

"Well, I ’ll leave you to speak to the other girls, and I ’ll go over
and see Mrs. Fenlick.  Good-bye."  He held out his hand, but Miss Seaton
chose to be looking down the avenue at that moment.

"Oh, there are the Graysons beckoning to me!" she exclaimed eagerly.
"Excuse me, and good-bye--I must run down to see them."  As she walked
swiftly and gracefully over the lawn, she knew Jack Sherrill was
watching her.  "Yes, it’s settled," she thought, as she hurried on; "and
something else is settled, too, Mr. Sherrill!  You ’ve been hanging fire
long enough--and the idea of his forgetting that bow!"

The Graysons thought they had never seen Maude Seaton quite so pretty as
she was that morning, when she stood chatting and laughing with all in
general, and fascinating each in particular.  The result was, the
Graysons joined the riding-party in a body, and Sam Grayson vowed he
would cut Jack Sherrill out if he had to fight for it.

It was a glorious first of September when the riding-party, ten in
number, cantered up to the inn at Barton’s River, and it was a merry
group in fresh toilets that gathered after dinner and a rest of an hour
or two in their rooms, on the long, narrow, vine-covered veranda of the
inn.  It had been a warm day, and the afternoon shadows were gratefully
cooling.

"Will you look at that load coming down the street?" said Mrs. Fenlick.
"I never saw anything so funny!"

The whole party burst out laughing, as the vehicle, an old apple-green
cart, apparently filled with bobbing calico sunbonnets and straw hats,
shackled and rattled up to the side door of the inn.

"I shall call them the Antediluvians," laughed Maude Seaton.  "Do you
know where they come from?" she said, speaking in at the open
office-window to the boy.

"I guess they come to sell berries from a place the folks round here
call ’The Lost Nation,’" he replied, grinning.

"’The Lost Nation!’ Do you hear that?" said Sam Grayson.  "Let’s have a
nearer view of the natives."  They all went to the end of the veranda
nearest the cart.  Sam Grayson and Jack went out to investigate.

Two boys in faded blue overalls and almost brimless straw hats jumped
down before the wagon stopped, and began lifting out six-quart pails of
shining blackberries from beneath an old buffalo robe.  Jack, with his
hands in his pockets, sauntered up to the tail of the cart.

"Buy them all, do--do!" cried Miss Seaton, clapping her hands.  "We need
them to-morrow for our picnic; and pay a good price," she added, "for
the sake of the looks.  I wouldn’t have missed it for anything?"

"How do you sell them?" said Jack to the tall boy who stood with his
back to him, busied with the berries.

The boy turned at the sound of the pleasant voice, and lifted his
brimless hat by the crown with an air a Harvard freshman might have
envied.  Jack, seeing it, was sorry he was bareheaded, for he hated to
be outdone in such courtesy.

"Ten cents a quart, sir."

"What a handsome fellow!" whispered Mrs. Fenlick. "You rarely see such a
face; and where did he get such manners?"

"How many quarts have--halloo, Little Sunbonnet! Look out!" said Jack,
laughing, as he caught the owner of the yellow sunbonnet, who, perched
on the side of the wagon, suddenly lost her balance because of Bess’s
uneasy movements in fly-time.

"Well, you are an armful," he laughed as he set her down and tried in
vain to peer up under the drooping bonnet and discover a face.

"Whoa--ah, Bess!" shouted the driver, as Bess reared and snorted and
shuddered and finally rid herself of the tormenting horse-fly.  "All
right, Cherry Bounce?" he said, turning at last when the horse was
quieted.

But Cherry was dumb with embarrassment, and Jack answered for her.

"Little Sunbonnet’s all safe, but what--"  He got no further with that
sentence.  To the amazement of the group on the veranda and Jack’s
overwhelming astonishment, a wild, gleeful "Oh-ee!" issued from the
depths of another sunbonnet in the cart, and the owner thereof
precipitated herself recklessly over the side, and cast herself upon
Jack’s neck, hugging and "oh-eeing" with all her might.

"Why, Hazel!  Hazel!"  Except for that, Jack was dumb like Cherry, but
not with embarrassment.  Was this Hazel?  Her sunbonnet had fallen off,
and the dark blue gingham dress set off the wonderful richness of
coloring that helped to make Hazel what she had become, "a perfect
beauty."

"Oh, Jack, you old darling, why did n’t you let us know you were coming?
Chi, Chi!"  Hazel was fairly wild with joy at seeing a dearly loved
home-face.  "This is my Cousin Jack we ’ve talked about.  Jack, this is
my friend, Chi."

Chi put out his horny brown hand, and Jack grasped it.

"Guess she ’s givin’ you away pretty smart, ain’t she?" said Chi, with a
twist of his mouth and a motion of his thumb backwards to the veranda.

"Well, rather," said Jack, laughing, for he felt that Chi’s keen eyes
had taken in the whole situation at a glance.  "I meant to surprise her,
but she has succeeded in surprising me."  He stood with his arm about
Hazel. "And these are your friends, Hazel?" he inquired; he felt he must
make the best of it now.

"Oh, Jack, I ’m ashamed of myself; I ’m so glad to see you I ’ve
forgotten my manners.  Rose," she spoke up to the other sunbonnet that
had kept its position straight towards the horse and never moved during
this surprise party.  Then Rose turned.  "Rose, this is Cousin Jack."

The sunbonnet bowed stiffly, and Jack heard a low laugh behind him.  It
was Maude Seaton’s.  Rose heard it, too; so did Chi and March.  It
affected each in the same way. As Chi said afterwards, he "b’iled" when
he heard it. Then Rose spoke:--

"I ’m very glad to see you, Mr. Sherrill, we ’ve heard so much of you."
Her voice rang sweet and clear; every word was heard on the veranda.
"And these berries are n’t to be preserved; but evidently you are going
to buy them just the same,--as well as your friends," she added, looking
towards the veranda.

Jack bit his lip.  "I should like to introduce all my friends to you,"
he said, without much enthusiasm, however.  "I know this is March;" he
turned pleasantly to him, but dared not offer his hand, for the look on
the boy’s face warned him that March had resented the laugh. "Will you
come?"  He held up his hand to Rose to help her down.

"Thank you."  Rose sprang down, ignoring the proffered help.

She knew just how she looked, and her face burned at the thought.  Her
old green and white calico dress was shrunken and warped with many
washings; her shoes were heavy and patched; fortunately her sunbonnet
with its green calico cape was of a depth to hide her burning face.  But
that laugh had been like a challenge to her pride.

"Drive up to the front veranda, Chi," she commanded rather brusquely;
and Chi, muttering to himself, "She’s game, though; I would n’t thought
it of Rose-pose; but I glory in her spunk!" drew up to the front door in
a truly rattling style.

Then Rose and Hazel were introduced to them all; but in vain did Maude
Seaton try to get a look into her face. It was only a ceremony, and Rose
felt it as such; nevertheless she said very pleasantly, "Hazel, wouldn’t
you like to invite your friends up to tea on the porch to-morrow? that
is, if you are to be here?" she added, addressing Mrs. Fenlick.

"Oh, Rose, that would be lovely.  Then they can see the chickens!" said
Hazel.  There was a general laugh.

"I fear it will be too much trouble, Miss Blossom," said Mrs. Fenlick,
courteously, for she felt like apologizing for that laugh of Maude
Seaton’s; "there are so many of us."

"Oh, no, my mother will be glad to meet you," Rose replied with serene
voice; "won’t she, Chi?"

"Sure," said Chi, addressing the general assembly; "the more the
merrier; ’n’ if you come along about four, you ’ll get a view you don’t
get round here, ’n’ a wholesale piazzy to eat it on.  How many do you
count up?"  Jack winced at the burst of merriment that followed the
question.

"We’ll line up, and you can count," said Sam Grayson, the fun getting
the better of him.  "Here, Miss Seaton, stand at the head."

"Miss Blossom, there are ten of us; are you going to retract your
invitation?" said Mrs. Fenlick, shaking her head at Sam.

"Not if you wish to come," said Rose, pleasantly.  "We will have tea at
five.  Come, Hazel, we must be going: there are the berries to sell--or
shall we leave you here with your cousin till we come back?"

"No, I won’t leave you even for Jack," said Hazel, earnestly; "besides,
I ’ve never had the fun of selling berries."

"I ’m thinkin’ you ’ve lost your fun, anyway," said Chi, "for Budd says
the tavern-keeper has taken all; guess _he ’s_ goin’ into the jam
business, too."

"I ’ll pick some more, then, to-morrow, and you ’ll have to buy some of
them, Jack," said Hazel, "for I ’m bound to sell some berries this
summer."

"We ’ll take all you can pick, Hazel," said Maude Seaton, sweetly.
Then, as the cart rattled away with the three sunbonnets held rigid and
erect, she turned to Mrs. Fenlick and the other girls: "What an idea
that was of Doctor Heath’s to put Hazel away up here in such a family--a
girl in her position!"

"She seems to have thriven wonderfully on it," remarked Mrs. Fenlick;
"she will be the prettiest of her set when they come out.  I am
delighted to have a chance to see Doctor Heath’s mountain sanatorium."

"Oh, I ’m sure it will be amusing," replied Maude, dryly. Then she shook
out her light draperies, pulled down her belt, and went down the road a
bit to meet Jack and Sam Grayson, who had accompanied the cart for a few
rods along the village street.

When they had turned back to the inn, the storm in the apple-green cart
burst forth.

"Did you hear that girl laugh?" demanded March, with suppressed wrath in
his voice.

"Just as plain as I hear that crow caw," said Chi.

"I can’t bear her," said Hazel; "telling me she would buy my berries
when I only meant Jack."

"Kinder sweet on him, ain’t she?" asked Chi, carelessly.

"I should think so!" was Hazel’s indignant answer. "I heard Aunt Carrie
tell papa she was always sending him invitations to everything.  But is
n’t Cousin Jack splendid, Rose?"

Rose’s sunbonnet was still very rigid, and Chi knew that sign; so he
spoke up promptly, knowing that she did not care to answer just then:--

"He ’s about as handsome as they make ’em, Lady-bird; if he wears well,
I sha’n’t have nothin’ against him."

Hazel felt rather depressed without knowing exactly why.  March returned
to the charge.

"Did you hear that laugh, Rose?"

"Yes, I did," said Rose, shortly.  March looked at her in surprise, but
Chi managed to give him a nudge, which March understood, and the subject
was dropped on the homeward way.

That the berry-sellers were under a cloud was evident to Mrs. Blossom as
soon as they drove up to the woodshed.

"Did you have good luck, children?" she called to them cheerily.

"We ’ve sold all our berries," said Budd.

"But March and Rose are cross, Martie," added Cherry.

"Tired ’n’ hungry, too, Mis’ Blossom," Chi hastened to say, trying to
shield Hazel and the other two.  "I wish you ’d just step out to the
barn with a spoonful of your good lard.  Bess has rubbed her shin a
little mite, ’n’ I want to grease it good to save the hair."  Mrs.
Blossom, reading his face, took the hint.

He made his confession in the barn.

"I don’t know what we ’ve done, Mis’ Blossom; but Rose has invited ’em
all up here to-morrow to supper,--they ’re regular high-flyers, girls
’n’ fellers, ’n’ the Colonel and his wife.  There ’s ten of ’em; ’n’
it’s a-goin’ to make you an awful sight of work, but, by George
Washin’ton! that pesky girl--Miss Seaver, or somethin’ like it--riled me
so, that I ain’t got over it yet, ’n’ I ’d backed up Rose if she ’d
offered to take the whole of ’em to board for a week.  I just b’iled
when I heard her laugh, ’n’ she can’t hold a candle to our Rose; ’n’
she’s that sassy--although you can’t put your finger on anything
special--that you can’t sass back; the worst kind every time; ’n’ she ’s
set her cap for the straightest sort of chap--that’s Hazel’s
cousin--there is goin’, ’n’, by George Washin’ton! I ’m afraid he ’s
fool enough to catch at that bait.

"There!" said Chi, stopping to draw breath, "I ’ve had my blow-out ’n’ I
feel better.  Now, what are we goin’ to do about it?"

"We ’ll manage it, Chi," said Mrs. Blossom, smiling in spite of herself
at Chi’s wrath.  "After all, the children have been carefully guarded in
our home up here, and, sometimes, I think too much,--it won’t hurt them
to take a prick now and then.  Besides, Chi," she added, laughing
outright as she turned to go into the house, "the children did look
perfectly ridiculous in those old berry-picking rigs.  I laughed myself
when I saw you drive off with them."

But she left Chi grumbling.

That night, after the children were in bed, and Mrs. Blossom was sure
they were all asleep except Rose, she went upstairs a second time and
spoke softly at the door:

"Rose."

"Yes, Martie; oh, you ’re coming!  I ’m so glad."  And as Mrs. Blossom
knelt by the bed, whispering, "Now tell me all about it," Rose threw one
arm over her mother’s shoulder and whispered her confession.

"They were n’t rude to you, dear, were they?"

"No, Martie," whispered Rose, "it was n’t that, but I just _hated_ them
far a minute,--Hazel’s cousin and all."

"That is n’t like you, Rose dear, to hate anyone without reason."

"Oh, Martie, I ’m ashamed to tell you--" the arm came close about her
mother’s neck, "I ’m too old to have such feelings, but I could n’t bear
them because I looked as I did.  I was ashamed of my looks and the
children’s; and I was ashamed even of Chi--dear, old Chi!--" there was a
smothered sob and an effort to go on.  "And they were all dressed so
beautifully, and Hazel’s cousin had on a lovely white flannel suit, and
I was just a little rude to him; but it was nothing but my dreadful
pride!  I did n’t know I had it till to-day,--oh, dear!"  The head went
under the counterpane to smother the sound of the sobs.

"But, my dear little girl--" (When Rose cried, which was seldom, Mrs.
Blossom called her daughter who was as tall as herself, "little girl,"
and nothing comforted Rose more than that.)  So now, hearing the loving
words, the head emerged from the bedclothes, and a tear-wet face was
meekly held over the side of the bed for a kiss.

"But, my dear little girl," Mrs. Blossom went on after the interruption,
"surely you were courteous and thoughtful of Hazel’s happiness, at
least, to ask them all up here to tea.  You have n’t that to regret."

There was a fresh burst, smothered quickly under the sheet.  "Oh,
Martie, that’s the worst part of it!  I did n’t ask them for Hazel’s
sake, but just for myself, because I knew--I knew--"  Rose smothered the
rising sob; "that if they came, I could have on my one pretty dress, and
they ’d see that I--that I--"  Rose was unable to finish.

"Could look as well as they did?" said Mrs. Blossom, completing the
sentence.

"Yes," sighed Rose, "and I feel like a perfect hypocrite towards every
one of them;--and, oh, Martie! the truth is, I was ashamed of being poor
and selling berries--" again the head went under the coverlet, and Mrs.
Blossom caught only broken phrases:--

"I am so proud of--of you and Popsey--poor Chi made it worse--they
laughed--March was mad, too,--and Miss Seaton ’s so
pretty--clothes--Hazel’s cousin tried to be polite--Hazel--just her dear
own self--but she ’s rich--and Cherry f-fell into his arms--and I
know--and I know--I know he wanted to be out of the whole thing--oh
dear!"

Mrs. Blossom patted the bunch under the clothes whence came the
smothered, broken sentences, and smiled while a tear rolled down her
cheek.  After all, this was real grief, and she wished she might have
shielded her Rose from just this kind of contact with the world.  But
she was wise enough not to say so.

"Well, Rose dear, let’s look on the other side now the invitation has
been given.  I, for my part, shall be glad to see what they are like.  I
know you looked queer in those old clothes, but, after all, would n’t it
have been just as queer to have been all dressed up selling berries?"

"Yes, I think it would, Martie," said Rose, emerging from her retreat.
"I ’m not such a goose as not to realize we must have looked perfectly
comical."

"Well, now comfort yourself with the thought, that to-morrow you need
only look just as nice as you can in honor of our guests.  I ’m sure I
shall," said Mrs. Blossom, laughing softly.  "I ’m not going to be
outdone by all those ’high-flyers,’ as dear, old Chi calls them.  We ’ll
put on our prettiest--and there is n’t much choice, you know, for we
have just one apiece--and we ’ll set the table with grandmother’s old
china out on the porch, and we ’ll give them of our best, and queens,
Rose-pose, can do no more.  That’s _our_ duty; we’ll let the others look
out for theirs.  Now, what will be nice for tea?"

"Not preserves, Martie, for Chi said--"  Her mother interrupted her,--

"Never mind what Chi said now, dear, but plan for the tea.  We shall
have to work as hard as we can jump to-morrow forenoon to get ready.  I
’m sorry father can’t be at home."

"Could n’t we have blackberries and those late garden raspberries Chi
has been saving?" said Rose.

"Yes, those will look pretty and taste good; and then hot rolls, and
fresh sponge and plum cake, and tea, and cold chicken moulded in its
jelly, the way we tried it last month--"

"Oh, that will be lovely, Martie," whispered Rose, eagerly.

"And if Chi and March have the time," went on Mrs. Blossom, entering
heart and soul into the hospitable plan, "I ’ll ask them to go
trout-fishing and bring us home two strings of the speckled beauties,
and if those served hot don’t make them respect old clothes--then
nothing on earth will," concluded Mrs. Blossom, with mock solemnity.

"Oh, Martie Blossom, you’re an angel!" cried Rose, softly, rising in bed
and throwing both arms about her mother’s neck--"there!"--a squeeze,
"and there--" another squeeze and a kiss, "and now you won’t have to
complain of me to-morrow."

"That’s mother’s own daughter Rose," said Mrs. Blossom, smoothing the
sheet under the round chin.  "Now, good-night--sleep well, for I depend
upon you to make those rolls to-morrow forenoon."



                                   XI

                                  JACK


Jack Sherrill had always had a particularly warm interest in his Cousin
Hazel.  He, too, was motherless. The fifteen-year-old lad had gone into
one of the great preparatory schools with the terrible mother-want in
his heart and life.  Like Hazel, he, too, was an only child, and
consequently without the guidance and help of an elder brother or
sister.  His father was all that a man, absorbed in large business
interests, could be to the son whom he saw in vacation time only.

"You are born a gentleman, Jack," he had said to him when he was about
to enter Harvard; "remember to conduct yourself as such.  You ’ll not
find it an easy matter at times--I did n’t--but you will find it pays;
and--and remember your mother."  Then Mr. Sherrill had wrung his boy’s
hand, and hurried away.

It was the only time in the three years since she had been lost to him,
that his father had borne to mention the lad’s mother to him.  To Jack
it was like a last will and testament, and he wrote it not only in his
memory, but on his heart.

He had tried, yes, honestly, amid the manifold temptations of his life
and his "set," to live up to a certain ideal of his own, but it had been
slow work; and the last three months of his sophomore year had been far
from satisfactory to himself.

He was thinking this over as he rode slowly up the steep road to Mount
Hunger.  He had come up that morning to call on Mrs. Blossom, for he
knew that the social law of hospitality demanded that he should pay his
respects to Rose Blossom’s mother and Hazel’s guardian before his
friends should break bread in the house.

That tall girl in the sunbonnet was a disappointment--but then, he had
been a fool to expect anything else just because she happened to sing
one of Barry Cornwall’s love-songs.  He rode out of the leafy
woods’-road, and came unexpectedly upon the farmhouse.  Chi saw him from
the barn, and came out to meet him.

"Is Mrs. Blossom at home?" asked Jack, lifting his cap.

Chi patted Little Shaver’s neck, shining like polished mahogany.  "Yes,
she ’s home, ’n’ she ’ll be glad to see you.  You ’ll find her right in
the kitchen, ’n’ I ’ll tend to this little chap--what’s his name?"

"Little Shaver, he ’s my polo pony."

"George Washington!  He knows a thing or two. He most winked at me,"
laughed Chi.

"Oh, he knows a stable when he sees it," said Jack, smiling; "but where
’s the kitchen?"

"Right off the porch.--There ’s Rose singing now; guess that ’ll be as
good a guide-post as you could have. Come along, Little Shaver,--a good
name for you."

Jack went up on the porch, but stopped short at the open door.  Rose was
at the kitchen table, patting out the dough for the rolls.  Her sleeves
were turned up above the elbows, and the round, yet delicate, white arms
and the pretty hands were working energetically with the rolling-pin.
She was singing from pure lightheartedness, and she emphasized the
rhythm by substantial thumps with the culinary utensil.

[Illustration: "Rose was at the kitchen table, patting out the dough for
the rolls"]

"’I told thee when love was hopeless; (thump)
But now he is wild and sings--(thump)
That the stars above (thump! thump!!)
Shine ever on Love--(thump--)’"


Jack knocked rather loudly, and Rose turned with a little "Oh!" and an
attitude that made Jack long for a button-hole kodak.

"Come in, Mr. Sherrill," she said, cordially, but thinking to herself,
"Caught again! well, I don’t care."

"I hope I have n’t come too early this morning to be received," said
Jack, extending his hand.

"I can’t shake, Mr. Sherrill," laughed Rose, "and if I stop to wash
them, you won’t have any rolls for tea."

"Do go on then," said Jack, eagerly, "only don’t let me be a bother.  I
was afraid it might be too early and inconvenience you, but--"

"Not a bit," said Rose as she turned to the kneading-board again.  "If
you don’t mind, I ’m sure I don’t; only these rolls must be attended
to."

"You ’re very good to let me stay and watch the process," said Jack,
humbly, deferentially taking his stand by the table.  "I hope I shall
not interfere so much with Mrs. Blossom; I forgot that--that--"  Jack
grew red and confused.

"That we did our own work?"  Rose supplied the rest of his thought with
such winning frankness, that Jack succumbed then and there to the
delight of a novel experience.

"I ’ll be out in a few minutes, Mr. Sherrill," called a cheery voice
from the pantry behind him.  Jack started,--then laughed.

"Am I interrupting you, too, Mrs. Blossom?" he said, addressing a crack
in the pantry door.

"I don’t mean to let you, or you will have no sponge cakes for tea; I ’m
beating eggs and can’t leave them or they ’ll go down."

"Can’t I help, Mrs. Blossom?  I ’ve no end of unused muscle," said Jack,
entering into the fun of the situation.

"No, thank you, I shall be but a few minutes.  Rose dear, just feel the
oven, will you?"

Jack began to think himself a nonentity in all this domesticity.  "’Feel
the oven,’" he said to himself.  "Do girls do that often, I wonder."  He
watched Rose’s every movement.

"Now, confess, Mr. Sherrill, have you ever seen anyone make biscuit
before?" said Rose, cutting off a piece of dough, flouring it, patting
it, cuddling it in both hands, folding it over with a little slap to
hold a bit of butter, and tucking it into the large, shallow pan.

"No--"  Jack drew a long breath, "I never have.  You see I have always
thought it a kind of drudgery, but this--"  Jack sought for a word that
should express his feelings in regard to the process as performed by
Rose--"this is, why--it’s poetry!" he exclaimed with a flashing smile
that became his expressive face wonderfully, and caused Rose to fail
absolutely in making a shapely poem of the next roll.

She laughed merrily.  "There now, they ’ll soon be done--in good shape
too, if you don’t compliment them too much."

"I ’ll eat a dozen of them, I warn you now."  Jack was waxing dangerous,
for he was already possessed with an insane desire to become a piece of
dough for the sake of having those pretty hands pat him into shape.

"Do you hear that, Martie?" cried Rose, flushing with pleasure.

"Yes.  That’s the best compliment you can pay them, Mr. Sherrill.  I
hope my cakes will fare as well," she said, coming from the pantry with
extended hand.

It was strange!  But when Jack Sherrill returned the cordial pressure of
that same hand, small, shapely, but worn and hardened with toil, his
eyes suddenly filled with tears. This, truly, was a home, with what
makes the home--a mother in it.

Mrs. Blossom saw the tears, the struggle for composure, and, knowing
from Hazel he was motherless, read his thought;--then all her sweet
motherhood came to the surface.

"My dear boy," she said with quivering lip, "it is very thoughtful of
you to come up and pioneer the way over the Mountain for all your city
friends."

Jack found his voice.  "Mrs. Fenlick wanted to come, too, Mrs. Blossom,
but I managed to put it so she thought it would be better to wait until
afternoon.  They are all looking forward to it."

"I ’m sorry Hazel is n’t here; she is out picking berries with the
children.  If Rose had n’t so much to do, I ’d send her to hunt them
up."

Jack protested.  He had come to call on Mrs. Blossom and had detained
them altogether too long.

"I don’t want to go," he said laughingly, "but I know I ought.  It seems
almost an imposition for so many of us to come up here and put you to
all this trouble.  Why did you ask us, Miss Blossom?"  At which
question, Rose did not belie her name, for a sudden wave of color surged
into her face, and she looked helplessly and appealingly at her mother.

"I ’ve put my foot into it now," was Jack’s thought, as Mrs. Blossom
responded quickly, "For more reasons than one, Mr. Sherrill."

They were out on the porch; Chi was bringing up Little Shaver.

"It will be a regular stampede this afternoon," said Jack, gayly, as he
vaulted into the saddle.  "Have you room enough for so many horses?"  He
turned to Chi.

"Plenty ’n’ to spare, ’n’ I ’m goin’ to give ’em a piazzy tea of their
own.  Little Shaver knows all about it: I ’ve told him.  I never saw but
one horse before that could most talk, ’n’ that’s Fleet."

Little Shaver whinnied, and with a downward thrust and twist of his head
tried to get it under Chi’s arm.

"Did n’t I tell you?" said Chi, delightedly.

"Can I get on to the main road by going over the Mountain?" Jack asked
him.

"Yes, you can get over, if you ain’t particular how you get," said Chi.

"No road?"

"Kind of a trail;--over the pasture ’n’ through the woods, an acre or
two of brush, ’n’ then some pretty steep slidin’ down the other side,
’n’ a dozen rods of swimmin’, ’n’ a tough old clamber up the bank--’n’
there you are on the river road as neat as a pin."

Jack laughed.  "Just what Little Shaver glories in; I ’ll try it, and
much obliged to you, Mr.--" he hesitated.

"Call me, Chi."

"Chi," said Jack, in such a tone of good comradeship that it brought the
horny hand up to his in a second’s time.

Jack grasped it; "Good-bye till this afternoon."  He spoke to Little
Shaver, who ducked his head and fairly scuttled across the mowing,
scrambled up the pasture, took the three-rail fence at the top in a sort
of double bow-knot of a jump, and then disappeared in the woods, leaving
the three gazing after him in admiration.

"That feller’s got the right ring," said Chi, emphatically; "but if he
had n’t come up here this mornin’, first thing, after that invite of
Rose-pose’s, I ’d have set him down alongside of that Miss Seaver--’n’ a
pretty low seat that would be!"

"I ’ll put up some lunch, Chi, for you and March, and, if you can find
him, you would do well to start now for the trout."

Mrs. Blossom turned to Rose.  "Come, dear, we ’ve a hundred and one
things to do to be ready in time.  You may set the table on the porch,
and we ’ll all picnic for dinner to-day; I ’ve no time to get a regular
one, and father is n’t at home."

It was a perfect afternoon on that second of September. At a quarter of
five Mrs. Blossom and Rose and Hazel were on the porch, looking down
upon the lower road for the first glimpse of the party.

The table was set on the huge rough veranda that Mr. Blossom and Chi had
built just off the kitchen long-room. Clematis and maiden-hair ferns,
which abounded on the Mountain, were the decorations, and set off to
good advantage Mrs. Blossom’s mother’s old-fashioned tea-set of delicate
green and white china.

On one end was a large china bowl heaped with blackberries, on the other
stood a common glass one filled with luscious, red raspberries.  The
sponge cakes gleamed, appetizingly golden, from plates covered with
grape-vine leaves for doilies.

The chicken quivered in its own jelly on a platter wreathed with
clematis.  The delicious odor of fried trout floated out from the
long-room, and the rolls were steaming hot in snow-white napkins.

"Oh, dear!" moaned Rose.  "Everything will get cold, it’s so late."

Just then there was a shout from the advance-guard of the twins, and the
cavalcade came into view; Jack on Little Shaver, who, after his
thirty-mile morning ride, was as fresh as a pastured colt--riding beside
Maude Seaton on Old Jo.

There was a general dismounting, assisted by Chi; a gathering and
looping up of riding habits; a bit of general brushing down among the
men; then, with one accord they turned to the broad step of the porch.

Mrs. Fenlick, telling of it afterwards, said that, for a moment, she did
nothing but look with all her eyes; for there on the porch step stood a
woman still in the prime of life and beautiful.  She was dressed in an
India mull of the fashion of a quarter of a century ago, with a lace
kerchief folded in a V about the open neck, and fastened with an
old-fashioned brooch.

"At her side," said Mrs. Fenlick, "stood one of the loveliest girls off
of canvas I have ever seen.  She had on a gown of old-fashioned
lawn--pale blue with a rose-bud border.  She was tall and straight, and
the skirt was a little skimpy, and so plain that had she designed it to
set off the grace of her figure she could n’t have succeeded better.
And the face and head!"  Mrs. Fenlick used to wax eloquent at this
point--"were simply ideal.  Hazel, of course, looked as handsome as a
picture in her full, dark blue frock of wash silk trimmed with Irish
lace, and with that rich color in her cheeks--but that girl’s face was
simply divine!  Just imagine a complexion of pure white, and dark blue
eyes--real violet color--black almost in her pretty excitement of
welcoming us, and the loveliest golden brown hair just plaited and
puffed a little at the temples, and a braid, that big--"  Mrs. Fenlick
generally put her two delicate wrists together at this point,--"that
fell below her waist fully half a yard!  I never saw such hair!"

Mrs. Fenlick used to pause for breath at this point, and then add,
"Well, the whole thing was too lovely to be described.  Of course, we
ate--lots; for that ride and the air were enough to make a saint hungry
in Lent, but I was only dimly conscious of ever so many good things I
was eating, for that face fascinated me.  And manners!  Just as if those
two women had had nothing to do all their lives but entertain royalty!

"I had sense enough, however, to notice that Jack Sherrill said very
little and ate a great deal.  I counted twelve rolls--of course they
were small--for one thing; and I don’t blame him,--I wanted more.  Well,
the whole thing was perfect--the valley and the great mountains were
just in front of the porch, and everything harmonized. Even that lovely
girl had a bunch of purple-blue pansies at her belt and a few in the bit
of cotton lace at her throat; and the sunset and the mountains matched
them--as if she had had the whole thing made to order."

Mrs. Fenlick always ended with, "I ’ve got one bone to pick with that
dear Doctor Heath--a mountain sanatorium!  I ’d be willing, almost, to
get nervous prostration to be sent up there.

"But oh! you should have seen Maude Seaton!"  And thereupon, Mrs.
Fenlick would go off into a fit of laughter at the remembrance.  "She
was looking about for the ’rigid sunbonnet,’ as she called it, of the
day before, and did n’t hear when Rose Blossom spoke to her; and when
she did realize that the two were one and the same, her look was the
kind ’Life’ likes to get hold of, you know.

"As for Jack Sherrill," Mrs. Fenlick concluded in her most serious
manner, "I have my own thoughts about some things."  More than that she
would not say, for fear it might get back to Maude Seaton’s ears.

Jack, too, had his own thoughts about some things--and kept them to
himself.



                                  XII

                                RESULTS


It was the middle of November.  A wild, cold wind was sweeping over the
Mountain, and driving black clouds in quick succession across the tops
of the woodlands.  It howled around the farmhouse and, as now and again
a more furious blast hurled itself against doors and windows, the
children drew nearer together on the rug before the huge fireplace with
a delightful sense of safety and cosiness.

A kettle of molasses was simmering on the stove, and Chi was wielding
the corn-popper with truly professional skill before the open fire.

It was such fun to see the hurry, and scurry, and hustle, and rattle,
and pop, and sudden white transformation of the heated kernels!  A huge,
wooden bowl received the contents of the popper, and March salted them.
Oh, how good it smelt!  And Rose was going to make molasses corn-balls
to put aside for the next evening.

"It’s just like having a party every night, there are so many of us,"
said Hazel, clapping her hands in delight.

"I should think you ’d miss some of your real parties, Hazel," said
Rose, thoughtfully.

"Miss them!  Not a bit; why, they are n’t half so nice as this, and at
home it’s so lonesome when papa isn’t there.  Is n’t it lovely to think
he ’s coming up Christmas? Even up here, you know, it would n’t be quite
Christmas for me without him.  That makes me think, I must write him
very soon about some things."  Hazel looked mysterious.

"We hung up our stockings last year, but we did n’t get what we wanted,"
said Cherry rather mournfully.

"Why not?" asked Hazel.

"Coz Popsey was so sick he could n’t go out to the Wishing-Tree, and so
he did n’t know."

"What is the Wishing-Tree?" said Hazel, consumed with curiosity.

Cherry’s mouth was full of corn, so Budd carried on the conversation
between mouthfuls.

"I ’ll show you to-morrow.  It’s a big butternut up in the corner of the
pasture, an’ there ’s a little hollow in the trunk where the squirrels
used to hide beech-nuts, but March has made a door to it with a hinge
and put a little padlock on it--that’s the key hanging up on the clock."

Hazel saw a tiny key suspended by a string from one of the pointed knobs
that ornamented the tall clock.

"’N’ nobody touches it till All-hallow-e’en," said Cherry, when the
sound of her munching had somewhat diminished, although her articulation
was by no means clear. "’N’ then Chi goes up with us in the dark, ’n’ we
put in our wishes, ’n’--"

"Let me tell Hazel," said Budd.  "You ’ve begun at the wrong end.  You
see, we write what we want for Christmas down on paper, an’ seal it with
beeswax, an’ then don’t tell anybody what we ’ve written; an’ then Chi
goes up there with us after dark, an’ we ’re all dressed up like
Injuns--"

"Indians, Budd," corrected March.

"Well, Old Pertic’lar, Indians, then," said Budd, a little crossly, "an’
then--

"Oh, you ’ve forgot the dish-pan and the little tub," Cherry’s voice
came muffled through the corn.  "We take the dish-pan, Hazel, ’n’ the
little wash-tub, me ’n’ Budd between us, ’n’ beat on them with the iron
spoon ’n’ the dish-mop handle, ’n’ play ’tom-toms’--"

"Yes, an’ March gives an awful war-whoop--"  Budd, in his earnestness,
had risen and gone over to Chi’s side, and now sat down by the big bowl,
but, unfortunately, on the popper which Chi had just emptied.  There was
a smell of scorched wool, and, simultaneously, a wild, "Oh, gee-whiz!!"
from Budd, who leaped as if shot, and stood ruefully rubbing the seat of
his well-patched knicker-bockers, while the rest rolled over on the rug
in their merriment.

"Oh, do go on, Budd!" cried Hazel, wiping the tears of mirth from her
eyes.  Cherry had laughed so hard that she was hiccoughing with
outrageous rapidity; and March--forgetting May--chose that opportune
moment to give forth a specimen of his best war-whoop, for the purpose,
as he explained afterwards, of frightening her out of them.

By the time order had been restored, Cherry was able to take up the
thread of the story;

"’N’ we join hands--Chi ’n’ all of us--’n’ sing as loud as we can sing:

    "’Intery, mintery, cutery corn,
    Apple seed, apple thorn;
    Wire, briar, limber lock,
    Five geese in a flock--
    Sit and sing by the spring;
    You are OUT.’

Then we all give a great shout and grunt like In-di-ans--," said Cherry,
emphatically, looking at March; and March nodded approval.

"How’s that?" asked Hazel, who was listening with all her ears.

"A hánnah--a hánnah--a hánnah," grunted the children as well as they
could, hampered by mouths full of corn.  "An’ then," went on Budd, "we
drop the wishes into the hollow in the tree-trunk, an’ Chi locks the
door an’ keeps it, an’--"

"’N’ each of us ties two feathers from a rooster’s tail to different
colored strings, ’n’ fastens them on to a branch of the tree, ’n’ that
brings us good luck; March calls it ’winging the wishes.’  That’s the
way we get our presents."

"Oh, what fun!" cried Hazel.  "May I do it this year?"

"Course," replied Budd, "but how will your father know anything about
it?"

"I never thought of that," said Hazel, all her Christmas castles
toppling over suddenly.

"We ’ll fix it somehow, Lady-bird," said Chi, who, having finished his
labors, had seated himself in a chair behind the children and provided
himself with a private bowl of his own.

"But now, speakin’ of roosters, I ’d like to know how you ’re comin’ out
about chicken money.  I sold the last lot but one down in Barton’s
to-day.  There ’s been a lot of express to pay, ’n’ I thought I ’d
better pay dividends to-night, ’n’ get it off my mind, seein’ it’s most
Wishin’-Tree time."

Rose took her little account book from her pocket. "We cleared one
hundred and ten dollars on our preserves and jams after we ’d paid Hazel
what we had borrowed for the jars and sugar, and paid for the express
and boxes. I ’m awfully sorry we could n’t fill all the orders, but we
’ll try to next year.  I ’ll go and get the money.  I like to look at
it, knowing it means so much to us all."

She ran upstairs and came back with a little wooden box that Chi had
made for her years ago.  The children crowded about her.  "There," said
Rose, proudly, as she took out the money and smoothed it, one crisp bill
after another, on her knees; "they ’re all in ones, so it will seem as
if we had more when we divide.  Now we ’ve agreed to divide this
equally, so that ’ll make just twenty-two apiece."

"Let’s play ’Hold-fast-all-I-give-you’ in earnest," said Cherry, sitting
down again on the rug and holding out her hands.  "That ’ll be
twenty-two times round and make it seem a lot more."

"Good for you, Cherry," said March, approvingly, and they all followed
her example.  With a gravity befitting the occasion, the "truly-bruly"
game, as Budd called it, went on to the supreme satisfaction of those
interested as well as the enjoyment of father and mother and Chi; for to
the two former the money-making had long been, of necessity, an open
secret.

Chi, after watching them a little while, left the room. When he
reappeared a few minutes later, he was greeted with a prolonged "Ah!" of
satisfaction; for in one hand he held his old account-book, and in the
other a long, dark blue woollen stocking which bulged fearfully from the
toe halfway up the leg, where it was tied with a stout piece of leather
whip-lash.

The whole business of disposing of the chickens had been intrusted to
Chi, and the members of the N.B.B.O.O. Society had pledged themselves
not to ask him any questions in regard to the sale of them until he
should tell them of his own accord.  This pledge they had kept, and now
they were to have their rewards.

"If this is going to be a meeting of the N.B.B.O.O. Society, I move we
ask those who aren’t members to adjourn to the bedroom," said March,
looking significantly at his mother and father.  Mr. and Mrs. Blossom
took the hint, and, without waiting for anyone to "second the motion,"
betook themselves, laughing, into the other room.

"Guess we ’ll sit up to the table ’n’ count it out," said Chi, "coz we
don’t want any of it to fly up chimney.  We should never find it again
in this gale."

He emptied the stocking of its contents--bills, pennies, and silver
pieces of all denominations--upon the table, and the children drew up
their chairs.

"Now we ’ll sort," said Chi.  "You take the bills, Rose, ’n’ the rest
take the other pieces, ’n’ make little piles before you of a dollar
each.  Then we can reckon up easy.  I ’ll take the pennies and the
nickels."

"I choose the ten-cent pieces," said Cherry, "an’ you take the quarters,
Budd."  March and Hazel took the rest.

"This is a kind of stockholders’ meetin’," said Chi, as the piles were
completed.  "We ’ll divide the proceeds accordin’ the number of hens
each set; coz I could n’t keep run of so many chicks after they’d struck
out for themselves."

He opened his book.

"Here ’s some items you better hear, before you find any fault with the
management:

"Mem.  July.  15 chicks killed by hen-hawks.

"Mem.  August.  21 chicks died of the pip.

"Mem.  September.  Skunks stole ten.

"Mem.  October.  2 can’t find.

"There ’s a dead loss to all the stockholders, share ’n’ share alike.
Now for expenses:

"Mem.  Corn for feed till October--7 bushels.

"Mem.  November.  Express, $5.50.  Crates expressin’--$1.10.  Now for
the profits!" said Chi, with a ring of triumph in his voice.  "Count up
your piles."

How the cheeks flushed and the eyes grew dark with excitement as the
counting proceeded: "One hundred--one hundred and thirty-two--one
hundred and seventy-seven--two hundred!"

"Oh-ee!" cried Hazel, as March fairly thundered "Two hundred!"  "There
’s more, there ’s more!"

"Go on, go on!" she cried again, almost beside herself with excitement.

"Two hundred and seven--TWO HUNDRED AND SEVENTEEN!!"

"Chi!" exclaimed Rose, almost breathless, "How _did_ you make all that?"
and thereupon, without waiting for his answer, she sprang up from her
chair, and, to Chi’s amazement, took his weather-worn face between her
two hands, and popped a kiss upon his forehead.

Chi cleared his throat and attempted to make his explanation, but was
interrupted by March, who got hold of his right hand and wrung it
without speaking.  Chi saw the boy turn a little white about the mouth
and his gray eyes flash through tears; words were not needed.

Budd and Cherry did not realize all this meant to the elder brother and
sister, but they did not wish to be outdone by the others in expressing
their appreciation of Chi. So Budd thumped him unmercifully on the back,
saying, "You ’re a trump, Chi; tell us how you did it," in a most
patronizing tone, and Cherry danced around the table, singing; "I love
my Love with a big, big C!"

Hazel looked on, rejoicing in their joy, but wondering why such a little
sum, less than her yearly allowance, should create all that happiness.

"But tell us how you did it, Chi," said Rose again.

"Well, I sold most of them for broilers, they bring a pretty good price;
’n’ then I sold the feathers; ’n’ you forget all those forty hens have
been layin’ the last two months, ’n’ I sold the eggs.  Then, too,--" a
slow smile wrinkled Chi’s eyes--"I was n’t interfered with, ’n’ that
made a great difference in the business.  How much have you got
altogether?"

"Three hundred and twenty-seven dollars," said March.

"What you goin’ to do with it? that’s the next question. You can’t let
your money lay round in wooden boxes ’n’ old stockin’s.  It ought to be
bringing you in interest."

"I ’m going to give my share to Rose, to prepare for college with," said
Hazel.

"Indeed, I sha’n’t take your money, Hazel; you ’ve earned it fairly for
yourself.  I should be ashamed to accept it, but it’s lovely of you to
think of it--  Why, Hazel!" she cried, throwing her arm around her, for
the tears were rolling down Hazel’s cheeks, and her chest heaving with a
bona fide sob.

But Hazel flung off the encircling arm and threw herself full length
upon the settle in an abandonment of woe.

"I don’t care anything about your old money," she sobbed.  "I did n’t
want it for myself, and I ’ve worked so hard picking berries and
all--and you said you ’d keep the by-law--and I ’ve been so happy
working to help others, and I never would have believed it of you, Rose
Blossom, that you ’d go back on your word--you promised--you promised to
help others--a regular solemn pl-pledge, Chi says, and now--and the only
way you could help me--was to let--to let me help y-ou-oo-oo!"

March and Rose looked at each other aghast at this unwonted outburst
from Hazel, and Mrs. Blossom, hearing the wail, made her appearance from
the bedroom.

"Why, Hazel dear, what is the matter?" she said.

"They ’ve spoiled all my good times," sobbed Hazel, refusing to be
comforted even when Mrs. Blossom, sitting down by her, stroked her head
and begged her to sit up and tell her all about it.

"Oh, mother!" cried Rose, holding back the tears as well as she could,
"it’s all my fault.  It’s my old pride that keeps coming up at every
little thing, somehow, and I know it ’ll be the death of me!  March has
it, too; and between us we have made it just horrid for Hazel."

"Why, Rose, what do you mean?" asked her mother, gravely.

"Things that we ’ve kept from you, Martie.  Hazel wanted to give us the
jars and the sugar, and we would n’t let her; and she wanted to give me
a blue wash silk like hers, because I said I wished I could afford one
like it,--and I--and I was a little angry, and showed it; and March
spoke up and said we would n’t be patronized if we were poor--"

"Why, March Blossom!" was all his mother said.

"Yes," broke in Budd, ready to place himself on the side of
righteousness, "an’ Cherry told her that March called her ’a perfect
guy,’ an’ that meant she was homely; an’ that Chi said she was awful
poor, an’ we were a great deal richer than she was, an’ that you would
n’t have had her here if you had n’t pitied her--"

"Children!"  Not one of them ever remembered to have heard their mother
speak with such stern anger in her voice.  "I ’m ashamed of you; you
have disgraced your parents’ name."  Then she turned to Hazel, drew her
up into her arms, and said, tenderly:

"Hazel, my dear little girl, why did n’t you come to me with this
trouble?"

"Because--because you were n’t _my mother_, you were theirs; but, oh!  I
wish you were mine!  I love you so--"  Hazel flung both arms around Mrs.
Blossom’s neck and sobbed out,--"I ’ve wanted to call you Mother Blossom
and hug and kiss you like the rest--but Cherry was so jealous--the first
time I did it--that she--she stuck burrs in my bed and led me through
the nettle-patch when we were raspberrying, because she knew I did n’t
know nettles; and Chi told me we ’d got to be brave if we joined the
N.B.B.O.O., and I knew I ought to bear it--for I _do_ love to be
here--and I love them all, for most of the time they ’re lovely to
me;--and I don’t think you ’ve been horrid, Rose, only you did hurt my
feelings when you would n’t let me give you the blue silk--and--and it
is n’t my fault if I _am_ rich, and it is n’t fair not to like me for
it!"

[Illustration: "Hazel flung both arms around Mrs. Blossom’s neck"]

"No more it ain’t, Lady-bird," said Chi, who, after drawing the back of
his hand across his eyes, was apparently the only dry-eyed one in the
room.  March had flung himself on the other end of the settle and buried
his face deep among the patch-work cushions.  Rose was sobbing outright
with her head on her arms as she sat at the dining-room table.

Cherry, in her shame and misery--for she had come to love Hazel dearly
without wholly conquering her jealousy--softly opened the pantry door
and slipped inside where she sniffed to her heart’s content.  As for
Budd, he stood over the wood-box, repiling its contents while the tears
ran off his nose so fast that he saw all the sticks double through them.

"You may go to bed, children," said Mrs. Blossom, still holding Hazel in
her arms.  At this fiat, there was a general increase in the humidity of
the atmosphere; and, knowing perfectly well when their mother spoke in
that tone, that words, tears, or prayers would not avail, they, one and
all,--for Cherry had been listening at the pantry door,--made a rush for
the stairs and stumbled up, blinded by their tears.

Mrs. Blossom led Hazel still sobbing into her own little bedroom, and
shut the door.

Chi, president of the vanished N.B.B.O.O. Society, was left alone.  He
gazed meditatively awhile at the little piles of money and the vacant
chairs opposite each.  Then he gathered them up carefully and placed
them in orderly rows in the wooden box.  His next move was to the shed
door.  As he opened it, a gust of wind extinguished the lamp on the
table.

"Guess I ’ll go to bed, too," said Chi to himself, coming back for the
box, which the firelight showed plainly enough.  "The barometer’s
dropped, ’n’ it always makes me feel low in my mind."

He heaved a prodigious sigh and went out into the shed and up the back
stairs.  The wooden box he put under the head of the mattress; he
barricaded the door and placed his rifle beside it against the wall.
Then he turned in and drew the coverlet up over his head with another
sigh, so long, so profound, that it mingled with the wind as it swept
through the cracks of the shed beneath, and made a part of the dismality
of the night.

Mrs. Blossom returned to the long-room, and, sitting down in her low
rocker before the fire, waited.  She knew her children.

Soon, it might have been within half an hour, she heard Rose call softly
at the top of the stairs:--

"Martie."

"Yes, Rose."

"May I come?"

"Yes, dear."

"O Martie! may I, too?" wailed Cherry.

"Yes."

"I ’m coming, mother," said March, speaking in a low, determined voice
through the knot-hole.

"Very well, March."

"Come along, Budd," said March, and Budd was only too glad to grip his
brother’s pajamas and follow after.

Down they came, tiptoeing in their bare feet, Rose heading the
penitential procession.  She knelt by her mother’s side, and March and
Budd and Cherry knelt, too.

Then, to their mother’s, "Are you _truly_ ready, children?" they
answered heartily, "Yes, Martie."

Together they said in subdued but earnest tones, "Our Father;" together
they prayed, "’Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who
trespass against us’"--and after the heart-felt, "Amen," each received a
kiss by way of absolution; and together, until the clock struck ten,
they talked the whole matter over and resolved to fight their Apollyons
daily and hourly, and, with God’s grace, conquer them.

These were the rare hours, the memory of which held March Blossom in the
way of right and honor when he went out to battle for himself in the
world.  These were the hours, the memory of which kept him in his
college days unspotted from the world.  It was such an hour that ripened
Rose Blossom into a thinking, feeling woman, and made Budd into a knight
of the Twentieth Century.

It was for such an hour that Jack Sherrill would have given his entire
fortune.



                                  XIII

                           A SOCIAL ADDITION


It was a chastened household that gathered about the breakfast table the
next morning; and for a week afterwards, every one was so thoughtful and
considerate of everybody else that Mrs. Blossom said, laughing, to her
husband; "They ’re so angelic, Ben, I ’m afraid they are all going to be
ill.  I declare, I miss their little naughtinesses."

Several things had been settled during the week and, apparently, to
everyone’s satisfaction.  At a very serious-minded meeting of the
N.B.B.O.O., it had been decided to keep the larger part of the money in
order to start March on his career.  Not without protest, however, on
March’s part.  But he was overruled.  Rose argued that if he were going
to college, he must begin to prepare that very winter, and if their
earnings were divided among the five, no one would reap any special
benefit from them, least of all, March.

"I can wait well enough another year, perhaps two," she said; "and,
meanwhile, we ’ll be earning more.  But you, March, ought to be in the
academy at Barton’s this very minute."

"I know it," said March, dejectedly; "but I do hate to take girls’
money; somehow, it does not seem quite--quite manly."

"Better remember what your mother talked to you ’bout last Sunday, ’bout
its bein’ more of a blessin’ to give than to get," said Chi,
sententiously.

"I do remember, and there ’s nobody in the world I ’d be more willing to
take it from than from you, all of you, but--"

"Me, too?" interrupted Hazel, leaning nearer with great, eager,
questioning eyes.

"Yes, you, too, Hazel," March replied gently, with such unwonted
humility of spirit shining through his rare, sweet smile, that Hazel
bounced up from her seat at the table, and, going behind March’s chair,
clasped both arms tightly around his neck, laid the dark, curly head
down upon the top of his golden one, exclaiming delightedly:

"Oh, March, you are the dearest fellow in the world. I never thought you
’d give in so--and I love you for it! There now,"--with a big squeeze of
the golden head--"you ’ve made me superfluously happy."  Hazel took her
seat, flushed rosy red in pleasurable anticipation of being allowed, at
last, to give to those she loved, and wholly unmindful of her slip of
the tongue.

"Now that’s settled, I move that each of you keep three dollars of that
money ’gainst the Wishin’-Tree business. Chris’mus ’ll be here ’fore you
can say ’Jack Robinson.’"

"Second the motion," said Budd and Cherry in the same breath.

It was a unanimous vote.

"There is just one thing I want to say," said March, who, in a
bewilderment of happy emotions, had been unable to reply one word to
Hazel, "and that is, that I want you to consider that you have lent it
to me and let me have the pleasure of paying back, sometime, when I am a
man."

"That’s fair enough," said Chi.  "I glory in your independence, Markis.
That’s the right kind to have. Put it to vote."

Again there was a unanimous vote of approval, for they all knew that to
one of March’s proud spirit it meant much to accept the money, from the
girls especially; and they felt it would make him happier if he were to
accept it as a loan.

"I can save a lot by not boarding down at Barton’s, and by working for
my board at the tavern, or in some family," said March, thoughtfully.

"No you don’t," said Chi, emphatically.  "’T ain’t no way for a boy to
be doin’ chores before he goes to school in the mornin’ ’n’ tendin’
horses after he gets out in the afternoon.  If you ’re goin’ to try for
college in two years, you ’ve got to buckle right down to it--’n’ not
waste time workin’ for other folks that ain’t your own.  Here comes Mis’
Blossom, we ’ll ask her what she has to say about it."

"Why, Martie, where have you been all this afternoon? I saw you and
father driving off in such a sly sort of way, I knew you did n’t want us
to know where you were going.  Now, ’fess!" laughed Rose.

"’Fess, ’fess, Martie!" cried Budd and Cherry, hilariously breaking up
the meeting.  "We ’ve got you now!"  And without more ado they anchored
her to the settle, each linked to an arm, while Hazel took off her hood,
March drew off her rubbers, and Rose unpinned her shawl.

Mrs. Blossom laughed.  "No, you guess," she replied.

"Down to the Mill Settlement?"

"Wrong."

"Over to Aunt Tryphosa’s?"

"No."

"Down to see the Spillkinses?"

"Wrong again."

"Over eastwards to the Morris farm," said Chi.

"Right," said Mrs. Blossom, smiling.  "How did you know, Chi?"

"I didn’t, just guessed it; coz I knew the new folks was goin’ to move
in this week."

"What new folks?" chorussed the children in surprise.

"An addition to the Lost Nation," replied their mother, "and a very
charming one.  Now there are five families on our Mountain."

"Who are they, Martie?"--"Are you going to ask them to Thanksgiving,
too?"--"What’s their name?"--"How many are there of them?"--"Any boys?"
They were all talking together.

"One at a time, please," laughed Mrs. Blossom, putting her hands over
her ears.  "I never heard such mill-clappers!"

"_Do_ hurry up, mother," said March, appealingly.

"A young man from New Haven has taken the lease of the farm for three
years.  He has his mother and sister with him.  He was in the law school
at Yale until last spring; then his father died, and his sister, a
little older than you, Rose, was injured in some accident--I don’t know
what it was--and now she is very delicate.  The doctor says if she can
live in this mountain country for a few years, she may recover her
health.  The brother and mother are perfectly devoted to her.  She calls
herself a ’Shut-in’--"

"Then she can’t come over for Thanksgiving dinner," said Rose,
interrupting.

"Not this year, but I hope she may next."

"Did he give up college for his sister’s sake?" asked March.

"He gave up the last year of his law course; they could not afford to
travel so many years for the benefit of her health, so they came up
here.  I do pity them; it must be such a change.  But, oh, March! how
you will enjoy that house!  They have been there only a week, yet it
looks as if they had lived there always.  They have such beautiful
framed photographs of places they visited when they were in Europe with
their father, and cases of books, and a grand piano--I don’t see how
they ever got it up the Mountain.  The young man and his mother both
play, and he plays the violin, too."

The children and Chi were listening open-eyed as Mrs. Blossom went on
enthusiastically:--

"It’s just like a fairy story, only it’s all true.  Just two weeks ago,
when your father and I drove by there, that long, rambling house looked
so bleak and bare and desolate--your father and I always call it the
’House of the Seven Gables,’ for there are just seven--and the spruce
woods behind it looked fairly black, and the wind drew through the pines
by the south door with such an eerie sound, that I shivered.  And
to-day, what a change! All the shutters were open, and muslin curtains
at the windows, and the sun was streaming into the four windows of the
great south room that they have made their living-room. There was a
roaring big fire in the hall fireplace, and plants--oh, Rose, you should
see them! palms and rubber trees and sword ferns,--and lovely rugs,
and--I can’t begin to tell you about it; you must go and see for
yourselves."  Mrs. Blossom paused for breath, with a glad light in her
eyes.

"It sounds too good to be true," said Rose, "and you look as if you had
been to a real party, Martie."

"Well, I have, my dear.  Just to see such people and such a house is a
party for me."

"And you can keep having it, too, can’t you, Martie? because they ’re
going to be neighbors," cried Cherry, every individual curl dancing and
bobbing with excitement.

"Is the young man good-looking?" asked Hazel, earnestly.

"Very," replied Mrs. Blossom, smiling.

"As handsome as Jack?" said Hazel.

"Very different looking, Hazel; quiet and grave, but genial.  Not so
tall as Mr. Sherrill, I should say; talks but little, but what he says
is well worth listening to--and when he smiled!  I did n’t hear him
laugh, but I know he can enjoy fun.  He has a fine saddle horse, Chi,
and he wants you to come and give him some advice about selecting
stock."

"’Fraid he ’s too high-toned for me," said Chi, modestly; "but if I can
help him anyway, I ’d like to.  Seems a likely young man from all you
say."

"He ’s more than ’likely,’ Chi," returned Mrs. Blossom, with a twinkle
in her eye that only Chi caught.

"Speakin’ of horses, Mis’ Blossom, we ’ve decided to send March to the
Academy at Barton’s, ’n’ if I let him have Fleet, he could come ’n’ go,
a matter of sixteen miles a day, without bein’ from home nights.  I
don’t approve of that for boys."

"No, indeed, neither his father nor I would think of such a thing for a
moment.  But how kind of you, Chi, to let March have Fleet."

"I want to help on the college education all I can; ’n’ if our boy wants
to go, he ’s goin’ to have the best to get him there so far as I ’m
concerned."

"I don’t know how to thank you, Chi," said March, "but I ’ll treat Fleet
like a lady and I ’ll study like a--like a house on fire.  I don’t envy
that other fellow his saddle horse if I can have Fleet.  What’s his
name, mother? you haven’t told us yet."

"Why, so I have n’t--Ford, Alan Ford, and his sister’s name is Ruth."

"When can we go over and see them, Martie?" said Rose.

"I thought two or three days after Thanksgiving, and then you can take a
little neighborly thank-offering with you."

"What can we take?" queried Cherry.

"Oh, a mince pie or two, some raspberry preserves, a comb of last
summer’s honey, a pat of butter, a nice bunch of our white-plume celery,
and, perhaps, Chi could find a brace of partridges."

"M-m--does n’t that sound good-tasting!" said Cherry, patting her chest
ecstatically.

"Who ’s coming for Thanksgiving, Martie?" asked Budd.

"All the Lost Nation--the Spillkinses and Aunt Tryphosa and Maria-Ann,
Lemuel and his wife and--who else?  Guess."

"Why, that’s all."

"Not this year, you forget your new teacher, Budd. She boards around,
and it’s the Mountain’s year, so she is at Lemuel’s now."

"Oh, good!" cried Budd enthusiastically.  "She ’s a daisy.  I know you
’ll like her, Hazel.  All the fellows are awfully soft on her,
though--bring her butternut candy, an’ sharpen her pencils, an’ black
the stove, an’ wash off the black-board; an’ I saw Billy Nye sneak out
the other day and wipe the mud off her rubbers with his paper lunch-bag!
Catch me doing it, though," he added, his chest swelling rather
pompously as he straightened himself and thrust his hands deep into the
pockets of his knickerbockers.

"Why not?" his mother asked with an amused smile.

"Oh, coz," was Budd’s rather sheepish reply, and thereupon he followed
Chi out to the barn, whistling "Dixie" with might and main.



                                  XIV

                            THE LOST NATION


The four families on Mount Hunger were known to the towns about as The
Lost Nation.  Two of them, the Blossoms and the Spillkinses, were, in
reality, lumber-dealers rather than farmers.  The third, Lemuel Wood,
had a sheep farm, and Aunt Tryphosa Little with her granddaughter,
Maria-Ann, was the fourth.  The two women owned a spruce wood-lot and
let it out to men who cut the bark.  They cultivated a small
garden-patch of corn, beans, and squash, kept a cow and a few hens, and
eked out their scanty income with a day’s work here and there in fine
weather.

Every two weeks they did the washing and ironing for the Blossom family,
as Mrs. Blossom’s cares were too heavy for her, and she felt that not
only could she afford it this year, but that in putting it out she was
giving a little help to her poorer neighbors.

Chi or March took the huge basket of linen over on the wagon or sledge,
and always left with it a neighborly gift--a peck of fine russets or
greenings, a bunch of celery, a pound or two of salt pork, a bunch of
delicious parsnips, or a dozen eggs when the old dame’s hens were
moulting. Aunt Tryphosa and Maria-Ann were not to be outdone in
neighborly kindnesses, and, regularly, the willow basket, full to
overflowing with snow-white clothes, was returned with something tucked
away under the square covering of oil-cloth--a tiny bunch of sage or
summer savory, an ironing-holder made of bits of bright calico or
woollen rags, a little paper-bag of spruce gum, a pair of woollen
wristers for Mr. Blossom or Chi, a new recipe for spring bitters with a
sample of the herbs--sassafras, dockroot, thoroughwort, wintergreen, and
dandelion--gathered by Aunt Tryphosa herself.

They had one cow which they regarded as the third member of their
family.  She had been named Dorcas, after Aunt Tryphosa’s mother, and
proved a model animal of her kind.  She gave a more than ordinary amount
of creamy milk; presented her mistress with a sturdy calf each year;
never hooked or kicked; never, during the bitter winter weather, grew
restless in her small shed which adjoined the woodshed, and never broke
from pasture in the sweet-smelling summer-time.

Aunt Tryphosa and Maria-Ann vied with each other in petting her.  They
brushed her coat as regularly as they did up their own back hair.  They
gave her a weekly scrubbing as conscientiously as they took their
Saturday bath.  For cold nights Aunt Tryphosa had made for her a
nightdress of red flannel (although she had never heard of "Cranford"),
which she and Maria-Ann had planned to fit the cow-anatomy, and it had
proved a great success.

For the midsummer fly-time they had contrived a wonderfully fashioned
garment of coarse fish-netting, into which they had knotted a cotton
fringe.  They claimed, and rightly, that freedom from chill and
irritation, incident upon zero weather and August dog-days, affected the
milk most favorably, both in quantity and quality; and, as it all went
to make delicious small cheeses, which sold at Barton’s River for
twenty-five cents apiece and were renowned throughout the county, people
had ceased to laugh at the cow’s appearance.

It had become one of Hazel’s great treats to be permitted to go with
March or Chi to the little house--not much more than a cabin--on the
east side of the Mountain; and when she knew that the two were to be
guests for Thanksgiving, but not for Christmas, she began to lay plans
accordingly.

The Spillkinses were an aged set, not one was under seventy.

There were the Captain and his wife, who had celebrated their Golden
Wedding, and his wife’s two maiden sisters, Melissa and Elvira, of whom
he always spoke as the "girls."  They were funny old maidens of seventy
one and two, who did up their hair in curl-papers, precisely as they did
a half a century ago; wore black cotton mitts when they went to church,
and white silk ones when they went out to tea; called each other "Lissy"
and "Elly," and were still sensitive in regard to their ages.

In addition to these, the old, gray-shingled, vine-covered farmhouse on
the lower mountain-road, sheltered the Captain’s elder brother, Israel,
who was just turned ninety-three, hale and hearty, and Israel’s eldest
son, Reuben, a youth of seventy, who in our North Country parlance "was
not all there," but harmless, kindly, and generally helpful.

All these, together with Lemuel Wood and his wife, and the new teacher,
were to be Thanksgiving guests, and wonderful preparations went on for
days beforehand.

Such a sorting and paring and chopping of apples! Such a seeding of
raisins, and whipping of eggs, and compounding of cakes!  Such a tucking
away of chickens beneath the flaky crust of the huge pie!  Such a
moulding of cranberry jelly, so deeply, darkly, richly red!  Such a
cracking of butternuts, and a melting of maple sugar! Such a stuffing of
an eighteen-pound turkey, and such a trussing of thin-linked sausages!
Such a making of goodly pies, pumpkin, mince, and apple!  Such a
quartering of small cheeses contributed by Aunt Tryphosa!  Such an
unbottling of sweet pickles, and unbarrelling of sweet cider;--and, on
the final day, such a general boiling, and baking, and roasting, and
basting, and mashing, and grinding, and seasoning, and whipping, and
cutting, and kneading, and rolling, as can occur only once a year in an
old-fashioned, New England farmhouse.

Hazel was in her glory.  Arrayed in a checked gingham apron, which she
had made herself, she beat eggs, whipped cream, helped Rose set the
table, wiped the dishes and baking-pans, basted the noble Thanksgiving
bird once, as a great privilege, although in so doing, she burned her
fingers with the sputtering fat, scorched her apron, and parboiled her
already flushed face with the escaping steam. But she was happy!


"Oh, papa!" she wrote the day after the party, "I never had such a good
time in my life!  If only you could see the things we made!--apple and
lemon tarts, and mince and cranberry ’turnovers,’ and doughnuts all
twisted into a sort of French bow-knot such as Gabrielle used to make of
her back hair, and a queer kind of cake they call ’marble,’ all streaky
with chocolate and white, and butternut candy made with maple sugar, and
an _Indian_ pudding, and little bits of nut-cakes with a small piece of
currant jelly inside and all powdered sugar out; and--oh, I can’t begin
to tell you, for this is only a part of the dessert.

"I ’ll try to paragraph this letter in the right places so you ’ll
understand about the party.

"All the Lost Nation was invited; Captain and Mrs. Spillkins, Miss
Melissa and Miss Elvira, Uncle Israel and Poor Reub, Mr. Lemuel Wood and
his wife, and Aunt Tryphosa and Maria-Ann, and--  Oh, I forgot Miss
Alton.  She ’s awfully sweet; she is Budd and Cherry’s teacher in the
district school at the Mill Settlement.  She’s more like a city person
than the others. I wish you ’d been here! for I can’t tell it half as
nice as it was; but I ’ll do my best because you wrote you wanted me to
tell you everything.

"We were already for the party at eleven o’clock--in the morning, I
mean--(I can’t remember the sign for forenoon). We don’t have any lunch
up here, as you know, but the dinner comes between 12 and 1, so
everything was ready then.  I got up at five o’clock! and worked hard
till it was time to change my gown.

"It was awfully cold.  Chi said the thermometer was shivering when he
looked at it just after breakfast; he means by that, it’s below zero--a
good deal; and I couldn’t help thinking how cosy and warm and
deliciously smelly it would be for the Lost Nation when they came in out
of the cold into the long-room and saw the table (it looked beautiful,
with baskets of red apples, and nuts and raisins, and a big centre-piece
of red geranium) just loaded with goodies.

"March had driven over for Aunt Tryphosa and Maria-Ann, and they arrived
first--Mrs. Blossom says they always do. (I want you to go over and call
on them when you are up here Christmas; it’s just like a story in Hans
Andersen; they keep a cow, Dorcas, who wears a kimono on very cold
nights.)

"March helped Aunt Tryphosa out just as if she had been Queen Victoria.
(I forgot to tell you she and Maria-Ann do our laundry work.)  March is
perfectly splendid about such things--and Maria-Ann sort of bounced out,
although Chi held out his hand to help her.  It’s so funny to see them
together! Aunt Tryphosa is so small and wrinkled and thin that,
sometimes, Chi says he has known a good wind to knock her right over;
and Maria-Ann is almost as tall as Chi, and stout and rosy-cheeked, with
nice brown eyes that talk to you.

"And, oh, papa!--I’ll tell you, but it’s a confidence--I saw Aunt
Tryphosa shiver hard when she came into the house, and I ’m afraid she
did not have enough warm things on.  I know her shawl was n’t _very_
thick, for I went into the bedroom afterwards and felt of it; and she
had no furs at all!  Think of that with the thermometer way down below
zero, papa! I ’ll tell you all about it when you come.

"Well, after Mrs. Blossom had given the old lady a cup of hot tea, she
felt better and began to talk; and, honestly, papa, she never stopped
talking all day long!  March said he timed her.  She lives away over on
the east side of the Mountain away from everybody, and yet she knows
everything that is going on, on the Mountain, and at the Mill
Settlement, and at Barton’s River, and that, as you know, is quite a
large place.

"She told us all about the new neighbors in the seven-gabled-house; how
they had their dinner at bed-time, and what ’help’ they have, and whom
they are going to have for hired man, and how they have music every
night after dinner, and how the lights were n’t put out in the
north-east chamber till one o’clock. She even knew the pattern of lace
on the underclothes that were hung out to dry! and Maria-Ann was trying
to crochet some in imitation; I saw it myself.

"And she said that one of the chambers was all lined with books, and
another just covered, floor and walls, with pictures--what can she mean,
papa? and that down stairs off the living-room in what used to be old
Mrs. Morris’s milk-room, there were ropes, and weights, and pulleys, and
a stretcher, and iron balls, and that every one said it did n’t have the
right look.  But she said she meant to stand up for them, because the
young man had come over to call just two or three days ago and said, as
she was his nearest neighbor, they ought to become acquainted before
winter set in; and he ordered a half a dozen cheeses and brought word
from his mother that she would like them to come over and see her
daughter, for she thought Maria-Ann might be able to do something for
her. Now, what do you suppose it all means?

"Of course, it makes us all wild to go over there, and I hope we shall
go soon.

"But, oh! if you could see the Spillkinses!  I had to go off up stairs
and bury my face in Rose’s feather bed so I could laugh without being
heard.  They ’re the funniest lot of people I ever saw.  They all came
over in a big wagon filled with straw, and before they came in sight,
Chi said, ’They ’re coming, I know by the cackle;’ and, papa, that is
just what it was.

"They are all awfully aged, but they act just like young people, and
Mrs. Blossom says it’s their young hearts that keep them so young.

"Uncle Israel, he’s ninety-three, but he wears a dark brown wig and
looks younger than his son, Poor Reub, who is seventy and has snow-white
hair.  Mrs. Spillkins wears what they call up here a ’false front;’ it’s
just the color of Uncle Israel’s, so she looks more like his sister.
But her two sisters, Miss Melissa and Miss Elvira, are perfectly
comical.  They’re just as small as Aunt Tryphosa, but they don’t talk;
only nod and smile and bow as if they were talking.  They have little
corkscrew curls, three on each temple, and they bob and shake when they
nod and smile and sort of chirrup; it’s the Captain and his wife and
Uncle Israel who cackle so when they laugh. Poor Reuben does n’t say
much either, only he looks perfectly happy, and always sits by his
father when he can get a chance. Chi was just lovely to him all the
afternoon.

"Well, after Mr. Wood and his wife and the new teacher came, we all sat
down to dinner, and Mr. Blossom said ’grace,’ and all the Spillkinses
said ’Amen,’ which surprised us all very much.

"We don’t have courses up here, because there is nobody to serve us; so
everything is put on your plate at once, except, of course, dessert, and
papa!--I would n’t say it to any one but you, but I never saw any one
eat so much as Aunt Tryphosa for all she is so small and thin.  Mr.
Blossom piled her plate up twice with turkey, and squash, and onion, and
potato, and turnip, and then she helped herself to cranberry jelly and
sweet pickles three times; and yet she managed to talk all the time; and
the queer part of it was that she did n’t cut herself once, they all eat
with their knives--except, of course, our family and Miss Alton.

"Rose and Cherry and I removed the dinner plates, and that was all the
waiting there was.

"We sat till half-past three at the table; then Uncle Israel said
another ’grace’--’after-grace,’ he called it,--and Mr. Blossom and Chi
took the--the gentlemen part out to see the horses and cows, and all the
rest went to work to clear off the table and do up the dishes.  There
were so many of us it did n’t take long, and then we lighted the lamps,
and all the--the ladies took out their knitting and began to work as
fast as they could.

"Then in a little while all the--the gentlemen came in, and the ladies
put up their work, and they all sat round the room and sang Auld Lang
Syne.  Rose led, and Miss Alton sang a lovely alto.  It was lovely, and
I longed to have you with me. Then Captain Spillkins said it was time to
hitch up, and Chi said it was time to be going as it was very dark and
cold.  He drove Aunt Tryphosa and Maria-Ann home, and Mrs. Blossom
filled a large basket with all sorts of goodies, and Mr. Blossom set it
in behind in the apple-green cart without their knowing it; so now they
can have a surprise party of their own and Thanksgiving for a whole
week.

"There!  This is the longest letter I ever wrote in all my life.  I ’ve
written it at different times during the day.  I ate so much yesterday,
that I don’t feel very bright to-day, so you must excuse any mistakes,
although I’ve used the dictionery as you wanted me to.

"Always your loving, and now your dreadfully sleepy
       "DAUGHTER HAZEL.

"P.S. I think I shall feel better, if I tell you that we all had a very
unhappy time two weeks ago.  I had a really dreadful heartache, papa,
and, for the first time, was homesick for you.

"You see, March and Rose are very proud of spirit, and I don’t think
they liked it in me because we are rich--but you and I understand each
other, don’t we? and know that being rich does n’t mean anything to us,
does it? and then, too, Chi says we ’re poor because we have n’t so much
family to love as the Blossoms have, and that’s true, too, is n’t
it?--and I think that kind of poorness ought to balance our riches,
don’t you? And--well, I can’t explain how it all came about, but now
they are willing to let me give them things when I want to, and that
makes me very happy, and we are all a great deal happier than we were
before, and I’m going to call Mrs. Blossom, ’Mother Blossom,’ after
this, she says she wants me to, and she takes me in her arms just as she
does Rose and Cherry, and we talk things over together; so everything is
all right now.

"Please send up my violin by express when you receive this. There is a
very good-looking young man, the new neighbor at the seven-gabled-house,
and he plays the violin, too, and his mother the piano.  Love to Wilkins
and Minna-Lu.  I ’ll send him a present from here--Oh, I forgot! don’t
forget to write Chi within a week sure, to inform you about the
Wishing-Tree, and don’t buy any presents for anybody till you hear from
him.  H.C."


When Mr. Clyde read this long letter at the breakfast table, his face
was the despair of Wilkins, who hovered about, seeking, ineffectually,
for an excuse to ask about Miss Hazel.

"Doan know what kin’ er news Marse John get from little Missy," he told
Minna-Lu, the cook; "but he laffed pow’ful part de time, an’ den he grow
pow’ful sober, an’ de fust ting I know, de tears come splashin’ onto de
paper, an’ he speak up rale sharp, ’Wha’ fo’ yo’ hyar, Wilkins?’ an’
sayin’ nuffin’, I jes’ makes tracks, case I see he wan’s nobuddy see dem
tears.--  Fo’ Gawd, I ’se be glad when little Missy come home."

Mr. Clyde took this manuscript, as he called it, over to the Doctor.

"There, Dick, read that," was all he said.

After the Doctor had read it, he whisked out his handkerchief in a
remarkably suspicious manner, and Mr. Clyde busied himself with a
medical journal without reading one word, till the Doctor spoke:

"I say, Johnny, let’s get up a theatre party of us two for the Old
Homestead to-night; it’s the nearest thing we can get to this of
Hazel’s."

"You always hit the right thing, Dick, I ’ll call for you at eight."



                                   XV

                          WISHING-TREE SECRETS


All-hallow-e’en had come.

The exercises about the tree had been carried out with great
success--tom-toms, war-whoop, song and dance. After supper, the apples
had been roasted, and the whole family "bobbed" for them in the
wash-tub; father, mother, Chi, and even little May joining heartily in
the fun.  Then they had melted lead, sailed nutshells freighted with
wishes, and finally "loved their Loves" with all the letters of the
alphabet.

When all were off to bed and sound asleep, Chi took his lantern, and
went up again to the old butternut tree in the corner of the pasture.

It was preparing to snow.  A chill wind drew through the bare branches,
and caused a wild commotion among the roosters’ tail feathers that
dangled from one of the lower ones.

Chi unlocked the little door, and from the hollow took out a handful of
notes.  He thrust them into the side pocket of his coat, relocked the
door, and went back to his room over the shed.  There, by the light of
the lantern, he read them and rejoiced over them; re-read them and cried
a little over them, nor was he ashamed of his tears; for in the precious
missives, Rose and Hazel, March and Budd and Cherry, had shown, as in a
mirror, the workings of their loving hearts.


All-hallo w-e’en.

MY DEAR MOTHER,--I have a great favor to ask of you and father.  Will
you hang up _your_ stockings this year and let us children fill them
instead of your filling ours?  I don’t want you to take one cent of the
money you are earning by having Hazel here to buy me anything.  I want
every penny of it to go to pay off that mortgage you told us of--for I
feel just as you do about it, and only wish I had known it last
Hallow-e’en when I asked for the paints and brushes.  It makes me sick
just to think of all we asked for, and you not having any money to buy
them with--and never telling us!  Oh, mother!

Your devoted son,
       MARCH BLOSSOM.


All-hallow-e’en.

MY DEAR POPSEY,--Me and Cherry want to help you and Martie pay off that
morgige she told us about.  March says it is a dreadfull thing that we
must get rid of just as soon as we can.  So Cherry and me are going to
give you 2 dollars apeace out of our $3 we saved for ourselves out of
the jam and the chickens as we voted in the N.B.B.O.O.  That will make
four dollars and March says it will be just 1/300 of what you owe and
will help a great deal.  I think the other $1 we have left will be
enough to buy presents for the rest of the famly, don’t you?

Your Son,
       BUDD BLOSSOM.

P.S. I meant to say I don’t expect anything this year ’cause last year I
asked for a double-runner and a bat and a new cap with fir on the edges
like the boys at Barton’s and 20 cents to buy marbles with and I didn’t
get them ’cause you were sick and I ’m sorry I asked for so much to
bother you when you were sick.  B.B.


DEAR FRIEND CHI,--Do you think you can find out in some way what March
and Budd would like for Christmas?  And if you know anything special
that Rose wants very _specially_, please let me know at your earliest
convenience so I can send to New York for it.  I should like to consult
you about some gifts for Aunt Tryphosa and Maria-Ann, and if you could
get a chance to take me down to the Barton’s River shops all alone by
myself, I should esteem it a great favor.

Your true friend,
       HAZEL CLYDE.

All-hallow-e’en.

P. S. I ’m rather anxious about the note I put in the Wishing-Tree for
papa.


All-hallow-e’en.

DARLING PATER NOSTER,--When I think of last year, my heart aches for you
and my precious Martie.  Oh, why did n’t she tell us before!  I never
should have asked for that dress and the French grammar and dictionary
and the cheap set of Dickens’, if I had only known.

_Do_, Pater dear, let us know in the future if you are in trouble, and
let us help share it.  Would n’t that make it easier for you?

Now a favor; I want you and Martie to play boy and girl again this year
and hang up _your_ stockings for a change; and please, _please_, father
dear, don’t give us anything this year--we don’t want anything but you
and Martie, and besides, we have money of our _own_!  Chi calls us
"bloated bond-holders," and says we have formed a "combine."

Your loving daughter,
       ROSE BLOSSOM.


DEAREST COUSIN JACK,--I have n’t answered your letter because I ’ve been
having too good a time.  This is only a Wishing-Tree note; I want you to
do me a favor, please; find out what I can buy nice for papa with a
dollar.  I ’ve earned it myself (and a great deal more, Jack, you would
be surprised if you knew how much the preserves and chickens came to)
and want him to have a present out of it.  Then, I would like to buy
something for Doctor Heath, about fifty cents’ worth, and another fifty
cents’ worth for Mrs. Heath.  I want to give Aunt Carrie a little
something, too, _out of my own earnings_; (I’ve all my two quarterly
allowances besides,) I can afford fifty cents for her; and then I would
like to remember Wilkins with a little gift out of _my earnings_ for
mamma’s sake as well as my own, and then I shall have twenty-five cents
left of the money I worked for.  The rest we all voted to put aside for
March to help him through college.  He wants to be an architect, you
know, and he draws beautifully.  I shall be glad of your advice.

In haste, yours devotedly,
       HAZEL.


All-hallow-e’en, MOUNT HUNGER.

DEAR CHI,--May wants a doll the kind she saw last summer down at
Barton’s River.  I ve got only a doller to spend for all the famly, so
will you plese ask the pris for me as I am afrade it will be to high.
There is a big french one in the right hand window at Smith’s store with
a libel on it 7$, and I play it’s mine when I am down there and you are
buying horse-feed. I have named her Emilie Angelique.  Rose spelt it for
me.

Your loving CHERRY BOUNCE.


DEAR OLD CHI,--If you can find out what Hazel would like specially for
Christmas, just let me know.

MARCH.


DEAR CHI,--Can you manage to get us all down to Barton’s some Saturday
to do some Christmas shopping?

Your ROSE-POSE.


All-hallow-e’en.

DEAREST PAPA,--Will you please ask Aunt Carrie to please help you buy
these Christmas things?  I enclose fifty dollars; (your check.)

A white serge dress pattern, like mine.

A book of lovely foreign photographs of buildings and pictures for
March.

2 pairs of white kid gloves, number 6.

2 pairs of tan kid gloves, number 6-¼.

1 pair fur-lined gloves for March.

1 pair ditto for Mr. Blossom.

A year’s subscription for the Woman’s Hearthstone Journal for Maria-Ann.

A small shirt waist ironing-board for Aunt Tryphosa.

1 pair brown woolen gloves and one pair of those fleece-lined beaver
gauntlet driving gloves like those of yours, for Chi.

1 blue Kardigan jacket for Chi.

The other things I think I can get at Barton’s River.

Your devoted daughter,
       HAZEL CLYDE.


"Well," said Chi, thoughtfully, as he finished reading them a second
time, "I ’ve got more than one string to my bow this year.  Beats all,
how Chris’mus limbers up a man’s feelin’s!  Guess ’t was meant for all
of us children of a lovin’ Father."  So saying, Chi knelt beside his
bed, and, dropping his face in his hands, remained there motionless for
a few minutes, while his loving, gentle, manly "soul was on its knees."



                                  XVI

                          A CHRISTMAS PRELUDE


"It ’s goin’ to be an awful cold night, grandmarm," said Maria-Ann as
she stepped to the door just after sunset on Christmas eve.  The old
dame followed her and looked out over her shoulder.

"I know ’t is; my fingers stuck to the latch when I went out to see
after Dorcas.  While your gettin’ supper, I ’m goin’ to bundle up the
rooster and the hens, or they ’ll freeze their combs, sure’s your name’s
Maria-Ann; looks kinder Chris’musy, don’t it?"

"I was just thinkin’ of that, grandmarm; just look at that star in the
east!"  She pointed to a shoulder of the Mountain, where a serene planet
was ascending the dark blue heavens.  "An’ there ’s been just enough
snow to make all the spruces look like the Sunday School tree, all roped
over with pop-corn.  Do you remember that last one, grandmarm?"

"I ain’t never forgot it, Maria-Ann; that’s ten year ago, an’ I sha’n’t
never see another?"  She shivered, and drew back out of the keen air.

"Nor I," said Maria-Ann, shutting the door.

"I don’t know why not," snapped Aunt Tryphosa, who always contradicted
Maria-Ann when she could.  "I guess we can have a Chris’mus tree same’s
other folks; we ’ve got trees enough."

"That’s so," replied Maria-Ann, laughing.  "Let’s have one to-morrow,
grandmarm.  I don’t see why we can’t have a tree just as well as we can
have wreaths--see what beauties I ’ve made!  I ’ve saved the four
handsomest for Mis’ Blossom an’ Mis’ Ford."

"You do beat all, Maria-Ann, making wreaths with them greens and
bitter-sweet; I wish you ’d hang ’em up to-night; ’twould make the room
seem kinder Chris’musy."

"To be sure I will."  And Maria-Ann bustled about, hanging the beautiful
rounds of green and red in each of the kitchen windows, on the panes of
which the frost was already sparkling; then, throwing her shawl over her
head, she stepped out into the night and hung one on the outside of the
narrow, weather-blackened door.  Again within, she set the small, square
kitchen table with two plates, two cups and saucers of brown and white
crockery, the pewter spoons and horn-handled knives and forks that her
grandmother had had when she was first married.  Finally, she put on one
of the pots of red geranium in the centre and stood back to admire the
effect.

"Guess we ’ll have a treat to-night, seein’ it’s night before
Chris’mus--fried apples an’ pork, an’ some toast; an’ I ’ll cut a cheese
to-night, I declare I will, even if grandmarm does scold; she ’ll eat it
fast enough if I don’t say nothin’ about it beforehand."

Maria-Ann had formed the habit of thinking aloud, for she had been much
alone, and, as she said, "she was a good deal of company for herself."

"Oh, hum!" she sighed, as she cut the pork and sliced the apples, "a cup
of tea would be about the right thing this cold night, but there ain’t a
mite in the house."  Then she laughed: "What you talkin’ ’bout luxuries
for, Maria-Ann Simmons?  You be thankful you ’ve got a livin’.  I can
make some good cambric-tea, and put a little spearmint in it; that ’ll
be warmin’ as anything."  She began to sing in a shrill soprano as she
busied herself with the preparations for the supper, while the kettle
sang, too, and the pork sizzled in the spider:

    "’Must I be carried to the skies
      On flowery beds of ease,
    While others fought to win the prize
      And sailed through bloody seas?’"


Meanwhile, Aunt Tryphosa, with her lantern in one hand and a bundle of
red something in the other, had repaired to the hen-house which was
partitioned off from the woodshed.

Had either one of them happened to look out down the Mountain-road just
at this time, they would have seen a strange sight.

Along the white roadway, sparkling in the light of the rising moon, came
six silent forms in Indian file.  Two were harnessed to small loaded
sledges.  Sometimes, all six gesticulated wildly; at others, the two who
brought up the rear of the file silently danced and capered back and
forth across the narrow way.  They drew near the house on the woodshed
side; the first two freed themselves from the sledges, and left them
under one of the unlighted windows.  Then all six, attracted by the
glimmer of the lantern shining from the one small aperture of the
hen-house, stole up noiselessly and looked in.

What they saw proved too much for their risibles, and suppressed giggles
and snickers and choking laughter nearly betrayed their presence to the
old dame within.

On the low roost sat Aunt Tryphosa’s noble Plymouth Rock rooster, and
beside him, in an orderly row, her ten hens.  Every hen had on her head
a tiny flannel hood--some were red, some were white--the strings knotted
firmly under their bills by Aunt Tryphosa’s old fingers trembling with
the cold.

She was just blanketing the rooster, who submitted with a meekness which
proved undeniably that he was under petticoat government, for all the
airs he gave himself with his wives.  The funny, little, hooded heads
twisting and turning, the "aks" and "oks" which accompanied Aunt
Tryphosa in her labor of love, the wild stretching and flapping of
wings, all furnished a scene never to be forgotten by the six pairs of
laughing eyes that beheld it.

The moment the old dame took up her lantern, the spectators sped around
the corner.  Under the dark windows they noiselessly unloaded the
wood-sleds, and silently carried bundles, baskets, and burlap-bags
around to the front door.

At last they had fairly barricaded it, and the tallest of the party,
after fastening a piece of paper in the Christmas wreath that Maria-Ann
had hung up only a half-hour before, motioned to the others to step up
to the kitchen window.

Just one glimpse they had through the thickening frost and the wreathing
green: a glimpse of the kitchen table, the steaming apples, the pot of
red geranium, the two cups of smoking spearmint tea, and of two
heads--the one white, the other brown--bent low over folded, toil-worn
hands in the reverent attitude for the evening "grace."

"For what we are now about to receive, may the Lord make us truly
thankful," said Aunt Tryphosa, in a quavering voice.

"Amen," said Maria-Ann, heartily--"Land sakes, grandmarm! how you scairt
me, looking up so sudden!" she exclaimed, almost in the same breath.

"Thought I heerd somethin’," said the old dame, holding her head in a
listening attitude--"Hark!"

"I don’t hear nothin’, grandmarm.  Now, just eat your apples while they
’re hot.  What did you think you heard?" she continued, dishing the
apples.

"I thought I heerd it when I was out in the shed, too."

"I should n’t wonder if ’t was a deer.  I saw one come into the clearing
this afternoon, an’ seein’ ’t was Christmas evening, I put a good bundle
of hay out to the south door of the cow-shed."

"Guess ’t was that, then," said Aunt Tryphosa.  "You clear up,
Maria-Ann, an’ I ’ll keep up a good fire, for I want to finish off them
stockings for Ben Blossom an’ Chi. I s’pose you ’ve got your things
ready in case we see a team go by to-morrow?"

"Yes, they ’re all ready," said her granddaughter, rather absently, and
set about washing the few dishes.

When all was done, neatly and quickly as Maria-Ann so well knew how, she
flung on her shawl, saying:

"I ’m goin’ out a minute to see if the bundle of hay is gone, and
besides, I want to look at the moon on the snow; it’s the first time I
’ve seen it so this year."  She opened the door--

"Oh, Luddy!" she screamed, as bundle, and basket, and bag toppled over
into the room.

"Land sakes alive!" quavered Aunt Tryphosa, hurrying to the rescue.
"Did n’t I tell you I heerd somethin’? What be they?"

"Presents!" cried Maria-Ann, pulling, and hauling, and gathering up, and
finally getting the door shut.

"Seems to me I see somethin’ white catched onto the door ’fore you shut
it," said Aunt Tryphosa.  "Better look an’ see."  Again her
granddaughter opened the door, and found the strip of paper on which was
written;

"Merry Christmas! with best wishes of
Benjamin and Mary Blossom and May,
Malachi Graham and Rose Eleanor Blossom,
March Blossom and Hazel Clyde,
Benjamin Budd Blossom and Cherry Elizabeth Blossom of
the N.B.B.O.O., and of
John Curtis Clyde of New York; U.S.A.; N.A.; W.H."


"Oh, grandmarm!  It’s just like a romantic novel!" cried Maria-Ann, who
was as full of sentiment as an egg is full of yolk.  "It makes me feel
kinder queer, comin’ just now right after we was talkin’ ’bout our tree.
You open first, an’ then we ’ll take turns."  Aunt Tryphosa, who was
winking very hard behind her spectacles, was not loath to begin.

"Let’s haul ’em up to the stove; it’s so awful cold," she said,
shivering.

"Why, you ’ve let the fire go down; that’s the reason. Don’t you
remember you was goin’ to put on the wood just as the things fell in?"

"So I was," said her grandmother, making good her forgetfulness; in a
few minutes there was a roaring fire, and the room was filled with a
genial warmth.  Then they sat down to their delightful task, Maria-Ann
kneeling on the square of rag carpet before the stove.

"My land!" cried Aunt Tryphosa, clapping her hands together as she
opened the largest burlap bag; "if that boy ain’t stuffed this
two-bushel bag chock full of birch bark!  Look a-here, Maria-Ann, you
read this slip of paper for me; my specs get so dim come night-time."

The truth was, the tears were running down Aunt Tryphosa’s wrinkled
cheeks and filming her eyes to such an extent that she saw the birch
bark through all the colors of the rainbow.

"’For Aunt Tryphosa from Budd Blossom to make her fires quick with cold
mornings.’  Did you ever?" said Maria-Ann, untying another large burlap
bundle--"What’s this?  ’Made by Rose Blossom and Hazel Clyde to keep
Aunt Tryphosa snug and warm o’ nights when the mercury is below zero.’
O grandmarm, look at this!"

Maria-Ann unrolled a coverlet made of silk patch-work (bright bits and
pieces that Hazel had begged of Aunt Carrie and Mrs. Heath and others of
her New York friends) lined with thin flannel and filled with feathers.

But Aunt Tryphosa was speechless for the first time in her life; and,
seeing this, Maria-Ann took advantage of it to do a little talking on
her own account.

"She don’t seem like a city girl in her ways; she ain’t a bit stuck
up--Oh, what’s _this_!"  She poked, and fingered, and pinched, but
failed to guess.  Aunt Tryphosa grew impatient.

"Let me _see_, you ’ve done nothin’ but feel," she said, reaching for
the package, and Maria-Ann handed it over to her.

Again Mrs. Tryphosa Little was nearly dumb, as the miscellaneous
contents of the queer, knobby parcel were brought to light.

"These are for you, Maria-Ann," she said in an awed voice, laying them
on the kitchen table one after the other:--A copy of the Woman’s
Hearthstone Journal, with the receipt for a year’s subscription pinned
to it;--A small shirt waist ironing-board;--A pair of fleece-lined
Arctics that buttoned half-way up Maria-Ann’s sturdy legs when, an hour
later, she tried them on;--Six paper-covered novels of the Chimney
Corner Library including Lorna Doone (Hazel had discovered in her
frequent visits, that Aunt Tryphosa’s granddaughter at twenty-nine was
as romantic as a girl of seventeen);--A box of preserved ginger;--Two
pounds of Old Hyson Tea;--(upon which Maria-Ann bounced up from the
floor, and without more ado made two cups, much to her grandmother’s
amazement);--Six pounds of lump sugar;---A dozen lemons;--A dozen
oranges;--A white Liberty-silk scarf tucked into an envelope;--Six
ounces of scarlet knitting-wool;--All for "Miss Maria-Ann Simmons, with
Hazel Clyde’s best wishes."

Then it was Maria-Ann Simmons’s turn to break down and weep, at which
Aunt Tryphosa fidgeted, for she had not seen her granddaughter cry since
she was a little girl.

"Don’t act like a fool, Maria-Ann," she said, crustily, to hide her own
feelings; "take your things an’ enjoy ’em. I ’ve seen tears enough for
night before Chris’mus," she added, ignoring the fact that she had
established a precedent.

"Well, I won’t, grandmarm," said her granddaughter, laughing and crying
at the same time; "but I ’m goin’ to have that cup of tea first to kind
of strengthen me ’fore I open the rest," she added decidedly.  "Besides,
I don’t want to see everything at once; I want it to last."

"I don’t mind if I have mine, too.  Guess you may put in two lumps,
seein’ as we did n’t have to pay for it," and the old dame sipped her
Hyson with supreme satisfaction, as did likewise her granddaughter.

As the latter pushed back her chair from the table, her grandmother
cautioned her:--"Look out! you ’re settin’ it on another bag!"  But it
was too late.  To Aunt Tryphosa’s amazement and Maria-Ann’s horror, the
bag suddenly flopped up and down on the floor, the motion being
accompanied with such an unearthly,
"A--ee--eetsch--ok--ak--ache--eetsch!" that the two women’s faces grew
pale, and they jumped as if they had been shot.

Then Maria-Ann, with her hand on her thumping heart, burst into a shrill
laugh, and Aunt Tryphosa quavered a thin accompaniment.  How they
laughed! till again the tears rolled down their cheeks.

"Scairt of hens!" chuckled the old dame as she undid the strings of the
bag--"at my time of life!  Oh, my stars and garters, Maria-Ann! ain’t
they beauties?"

She drew out by the legs two snow-white Wyandotte pullets, and held them
up admiringly.  "They ’re from March, I know; but just to think of this,
Maria-Ann!"  Again words and, curiously enough, eyes, too, failed her,
and her granddaughter read the slip of paper tied around the leg of one
of the hens:--"’One for Aunt Tryphosa, and one for Maria-Ann; have laid
three times; last time day before yesterday; I hope they ’ll lay two
Christmas-morning eggs for your breakfast.  March Blossom.’"

"I ’m goin’ to put ’em on some hay in the clothes-basket, Maria-Ann, an’
keep ’em right under my bed where it’s good an’ warm," said Aunt
Tryphosa, decidedly. "They ’re kinder quality folks and can’t be turned
in among common fowl.  Besides, I ain’t got another hood, an’ if they
_should_ freeze their combs, I ’d never forgive myself."

"Well, I would, grandmarm," said Maria-Ann, still laughing, as she
untied the last two bundles.  "Laws!" she exclaimed, "Here ’s New York
style for you."  She read the visiting card:

"To Mrs. Tryphosa Little, with the Season’s compliments from John Curtis
Clyde.  4 East ----th Street."

"Well, I ’m dumbfoundered," sighed Mrs. Tryphosa Little, and more she
could not say as she took out of the large pasteboard box, a white silk
neckerchief, a cap of black net and lace with a "chou" of purple satin
lutestring, a black fur collar and a muff to match, in all of which she
proceeded to array herself with the utmost despatch, forgetful of the
two hens, which, after wandering aimlessly about the kitchen, had
roosted finally on the back of her wooden rocking-chair, where they
balanced themselves with some difficulty.

But suddenly, as she was thrusting her hands into the new muff, she
paused, laid it down on the table, and said, rather querulously, "Help
me off with these things, Maria-Ann; I ’m all tuckered out.  I can stan’
a day’s washin’ as well as anybody, if I am eighty-one come next June,
but I can’t stan’ no such night ’fore Chris’mus as this, an’ I ’m goin’
to bed, an’ take the hens."

"I would, grandmarm," said her granddaughter, gently, taking off the
unwonted finery and kissing the wrinkled face.  "You go to bed; I put
the soap-stone in two hours ago, so it’s nice an’ warm.  I ’ll clear up,
an’ don’t you mind me--here, let me take one of those hens."

"No, I can take care of hens anytime," snapped Aunt Tryphosa, for she
was tired out with happiness, "but I can’t stan’ so many presents, an’ I
’m too old to begin."  She disappeared in the bed-room, the two
Wyandotte hens hanging limply, heads downward, from each hand.

Maria-Ann picked up the paper and the wraps, and made all tidy again in
the kitchen.  She put her hand on the last bag that was so heavy she had
not moved it from the door.  "It’s a bag of cracked corn--hen-feed," she
said to herself, "an’ it’s from Chi, I know as well as if I’d been
told."

Then she sat down in the rocker before the stove and put her feet in the
oven to warm.  She blew out the light and sat awhile in silence,
thinking happy thoughts.

The fire crackled in the stove, and dancing lights, reflected from the
open grate, played on the wall.  The moon shone full upon the frosted
window panes, and the Christmas wreaths were set in masses of encrusted
brilliants.  The kettle began to sing, and so did Maria-Ann--but softly,
for fear of waking Aunt Tryphosa:

    "’My soul, be on thy guard;
      Ten thousand foes arise;
    The hosts of sin are pressing hard
      To draw thee from the skies.’"



                                  XVII

                              HUNGER-FORD


Such a line of communication as was soon established between Mount
Hunger and New York, Mount Hunger and Cambridge, the Lost Nation and
Barton’s River, Hunger-ford--the Fords’ new name for the old Morris
farm--and the Blossom homestead on the Mountain!

Uncle Sam’s post, the Western Union Telegraph Company, the American
Express, a line of freight, saddle horses, sleds, and the old
apple-green cart on runners were all pressed into service; in all the
United States of America there were no busier young people than those
belonging to the Lost Nation.

They wrote notes to one another with an air of great mystery; they drove
singly, in couples, or all together to Barton’s River with Chi; they
smuggled in bundles and express packages of all sorts and sizes; looked
guilty if caught whispering together in the pantry; took many a
sled-ride over to Hunger-ford, and audaciously remained there three
hours at a time without giving Mrs. Blossom any good reason either for
their going or remaining.

The acquaintance formed between the Blossoms and the Fords just after
Thanksgiving, was fast ripening into friendship.  March, usually shy
with strangers, fairly adored the tall, quiet son with the wonderful
smile, and expanded at once in his genial presence.  With Ruth Ford he
had much in common; and regularly once a week since Thanksgiving he had
drawn and painted with her in her studio, the room that Aunt Tryphosa
had so graphically described.  His gift was far more in that direction
than hers; and Ruth, recognizing it, encouraged him, spurred his
ambition, and placed all her materials at his disposal.

Rose’s sweet voice had proved a delight to them all, and Hazel’s violin
was being taught to play a gentle accompaniment to Alan Ford’s, that
sang, or wept, or rejoiced according to the player’s mood.

"I am so thankful, Ben, that our Rose can have the advantage of such
companions just at this time of her life," said Mrs. Blossom, on the
afternoon before Christmas when the two eldest, with Hazel, had gone
over to Hunger-ford with joyful secrets written all over their happy
faces.

"So am I, Mary.  When I see young men like Ford, I realize what I lost
in being obliged to give up college on father’s account," said Mr.
Blossom, with a sigh.

"I do, too, Ben; and what I ’ve lost in opportunity when I see that
gifted woman, Mrs. Ford.  She has travelled extensively, she reads and
speaks both German and French, she is a really wonderful musician, and
keeps up with every interest of the day, besides being a splendid
housekeeper and devoted to her children."

"Do you regret it, Mary?" said her husband, looking straight before him
into the fire.

"Not with you, Ben," was Mary Blossom’s answer. Taking her husband’s
face in both her hands and turning it towards her, she looked into his
eyes, and received the smile and kiss that were always ready for her.

"If we did n’t have all this when we were young people, Mary, we ’ll
hope that we may have it in our children," he said, earnestly.

Just then Chi came in, and gave a loud preliminary, "Hem!" for to him,
Ben and Mary Blossom would always be lovers.  "Guess ’t is ’bout time to
hitch up, if you ’re goin’ clear down to Barton’s to meet the train,
Ben; I ’ve got to go over eastwards with the children."

"All right, Chi, I ’d rather drive down to the station to-night; it’s
good sleighing and our Mountain is a fine sight by moonlight."

"Can’t be beat," said Chi, emphatically.  "S’pose you ’ll be back by
seven, sharp?  I kind of want to time myself, on account of the
s’prise."

"We ’ll say seven, and I ’ll make it earlier if I can. You ’re off for
Aunt Tryphosa’s now?"

"Just finished loadin’ up--There they are!" and in rushed the whole
troop, hooded and mittened and jacketed and leggined, ready for their
after-sunset raid.

"Good-bye, Martie!" screamed Cherry, wild with excitement, and made a
dash for the door; then she turned back with another dash that nearly
upset May, and, throwing her arms around her mother’s neck, nearly
squeezed the breath from her body.  "O Mumpsey, Dumpsey, dear!  I ’m
having such an awfully good time; it’s so much happier than last
Christmas!"

"And, O Popsey, Dopsey, dear!" laughed Rose, mimicking her, but with a
voice full of love, and both mittens caressing his face, "it’s so good
to have you well enough to celebrate this year!"

Hazel slipped her hand into Chi’s, and whispered, "Oh, Chi, I wish I had
a lot of brothers and sisters like Rose. Anyway, papa’s coming to-night,
so I ’ll have one of my own," she added proudly.

"Guess we ’d better be gettin’ along," said Chi, still holding Hazel’s
hand.  "It’s goin’ to be a stinger, ’n’ it’s a mile ’n’ a half over
there."

"Come on all!" cried March; "we ’ll be back before you are, father."

"We ’ll see about that," laughed his father, as he caught the merry
twinkle in his wife’s eye.

But March was right by the margin of only a minute or two; for just as
the merry crowd entered the house on their return from their errand of
"goodwill," they heard Mr. Blossom drive the sleigh into the barn.  In
another moment Hazel had flung wide the door and was caught up into her
father’s arms.

In the midst of their cordial greetings there was a loud knock at the
door.  They all started at the sound, and Budd, who was nearest, opened
it.

"Please, Budd, may I come in, too?" said a voice everyone recognized as
the Doctor’s.

Then the whole Blossom household lost their heads where they had lost
their hearts the year before.  Rose and Hazel and Cherry fairly
smothered him with kisses; Budd wrung one hand, March gripped another;
May clung to one leg, and the monster of a puppy contrived to get under
foot, although he stood two feet ten.

Jack Sherrill, looking in at the window upon all this loving hominess,
felt, somehow, physically and spiritually left out in the cold.  "What a
fool I was to come!" he said to himself.  Nevertheless he carried out
his part of the program by stepping up to the door and knocking. This
time Mrs. Blossom opened it.

"Have you room for one more, Mrs. Blossom?" he said with an attempt at a
smile, but looking sadly wistful, so wistful and lonely that Mary
Blossom put out both hands without a word, and, somehow,--Jack, in
thinking it over afterwards, never could tell how it happened so
naturally--he was giving her a son’s greeting, and receiving a mother’s
kiss in return.

In a moment Hazel’s arms were around his neck;--"Oh, Jack, Jack!  I ’ve
got three of my own now; I ’m almost as rich as Rose!"

Rose, hearing her name, came forward with frank, cordial greeting, and
May transferred her demonstrations of affection from the Doctor’s
trousers to Jack’s; Cherry’s curls bobbed and quivered with excitement
when Jack claimed a kiss from "Little Sunbonnet," and received two
hearty smacks in return; March took his travelling bag; Budd kept close
beside him, and the puppy, who had been christened Tell, nosed his hand,
and, sitting down on his haunches, pawed the air frantically until Jack
shook hands with him, too.

By this time the wistful look had disappeared from Jack’s eyes, and his
handsome face was filled with such a glad light that the Doctor noticed
it at once.  He shook his head dubiously, with his eyebrows drawn
together in a straight line over the bridge of his nose, and, from
underneath, his keen eyes glanced from Jack to Rose and from Rose back
again to Jack.  Then his face cleared, and explanations were in order.

"Why, you see," the Doctor said to Mrs. Blossom, "my wife had to go
South with her sister, and could not be at home for Christmas--the first
we ’ve missed celebrating together since we were married--and when I
found John was coming up to spend it with you, I couldn’t resist giving
myself this one good time.  But Jack here has failed to give any
satisfactory account of how or why he came to intrude his long person
just at this festive time. I thought you were off at a Lenox house-party
with the Seatons?" he said, quizzically.

Jack laughed good-naturedly.  "I don’t blame you for wondering at my
being here; but I’ve been here before," he said, willing to pay back the
Doctor in his own coin.

"The deuce you have!" exclaimed the Doctor.  "I say, Johnny, are we
growing old that these young people get ahead of us so easily?"

"I don’t know how you feel, Dick, but I ’m as young as Jack to-night."

"That ’s right, Papa Clyde," said Hazel, approvingly, softly patting her
father on the head; "and, Jack, you ’re a dear to come up here to see
us, for you ’ve just as much right as the Doctor."

The Doctor pretended to grumble:--"Come to see you, indeed, you superior
young woman--_you_ indeed!  As if there weren’t any other girls in the
world or on Mount Hunger but you and Rose--much you know about it."

"Well, I ’d like to know who you came to see, if not us?" laughed Hazel,
sure of her ultimate triumph.

"Why, my dear Ruth Ford, to be sure."

"Ruth Ford!" they exclaimed in amazement.

"Why not Ruth Ford?  You did n’t suppose I would come away up here into
the wilds of Vermont in the dead of winter, did you?  just to see--"
But Hazel laid her hand on his mouth.

"Stop teasing, do," she pleaded, "and tell us how you knew our Ruth."

"_Our_ Ruth!  Ye men of York, hear her!" said the Doctor, appealing to
Mr. Clyde and Jack.  "The next thing will be ’our Alan Ford,’ I suppose.
How will you like that, Jack?"

"I feel like saying ’confound him,’ only it would n’t be polite.  You
see, Doctor, I thought I had preëmpted the whole Mountain, and was
prepared to make a conquest of Miss Maria-Ann Simmons even; but if Mr.
Ford has stepped in"--Jack assumed a tragic air--"there is nothing left
for me in honor, but to throw down the gauntlet and challenge him to
single combat--hockey-sticks and hot lemonade--for her fair hand."

At the mention of Maria-Ann, Rose and Hazel, Budd and Cherry and March
went off into fits of laughter. They laughed so immoderately that it
proved infectious for their elders, and when Chi entered the room Budd
cried out, "Oh, Chi, you tell about the--we can’t--the rooster and the
hoods, and--Oh my eye!--"  Budd was apparently on the verge of
convulsions.

"I stuffed snow into my mouth and made my teeth ache so as not to laugh
out loud," said Cherry; at which there was another shout, and still
another outburst at the table when Chi described the scene in the
hen-house.

"Now, children," said Mrs. Blossom, after the somewhat hilarious evening
meal was over, the table cleared, the dishes were wiped and put away,
"we ’re going to do just for this once as you want us to--hang up our
stockings; but I want all of you to hang up yours, too.  If you don’t, I
shall miss the sixes and sevens and eights so, that it will spoil my
Christmas."

"We will, Martie," they assented, joyfully; for, as March said, it would
not seem like night before Christmas if they did not hang up their
stockings.

"Yes, and papa, and you," said Hazel, turning to the Doctor, "must hang
up yours, and you, too, Jack."

"Why, of course," said Mrs. Blossom, "everybody is to hang up a stocking
to-night, even Tell."

"Oh, Martie, how funny!" cried Cherry, "but he has n’t a truly
stocking."

"No, but one of Budd’s will do for his huge paw--won’t it, old fellow?"
she said, patting his great head.

Then Budd must needs bring out a pair of his pedal coverings and try one
brown woollen one on Tell, much to his majesty’s surprise; for Tell was
a most dignified youth of a dog, as became his nine months and his
famous breed.

Early in the evening the stockings were hung up over the fireplace, all
sizes and all colors:--May’s little red one and Chi’s coarse blue one;
Mr. Clyde’s of thick silk, and Budd’s and Tell’s of woollen; Hazel’s of
black cashmere beside Jack’s striped Balbriggan.  What an array!

Then Mrs. Blossom and May went off into the bedroom, and Mr. Blossom and
his guests were forced to smoke their after-tea cigars in the guest
bedroom upstairs, while the young people brought out their treasures and
stuffed the grown-up stockings till they were painfully distorted.

"Don’t they look lovely!" whispered Hazel, ecstatically to March, who
begged Rose to get another of their mother’s stockings, for the one
proved insufficient for the fascinating little packages that were
labelled for her.

"Let’s go right to bed now," suggested Budd, "then mother ’ll fill
ours--Oh, I forgot," he added, ruefully, "we are n’t going to have
presents this year--"

"Why, yes, we are, too, Budd," said Rose, "we ’re going to give one
another out of our own money."

"Cracky!  I forgot all about that--"  Budd tore upstairs in the dark,
and tore down again and into the bedroom, crying:--"Now all shut your
eyes while I ’m going through!" which they did most conscientiously.

Soon they, too, were invited laughingly to retire, and by half-past ten
the house was quiet.

    "’TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS, AND ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE,
    NOT A CREATURE WAS STIRRING, NOT EVEN A MOUSE;"
    Stretched out on the hearth-rug lay Tell snoring loudly,
    And above from the mantel the stockings hung proudly;
    When down from the stairway there came such a patter
    Of stockingless feet--’t was no laughing matter!
    As the good Doctor thought, for he sprang out of bed
    To see if ’t were real, or a dream iii its stead.

    But no! with his eye at a crack of the door
    He discovered the truth--’t was the Blossoms, all four,
    With Hazel to aid them, tiptoeing about
    Like a party of ghosts grown a little too stout.
    They pinched and they fingered; they poked and they squeezed
    Each plump Christmas stocking--then somebody sneezed!
    Consternation and terror!!  The tall clock struck one
    As the ghosts disappeared on the double-quick run!

    "’T WAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS, AND ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE,
    NOT A CREATURE WAS STIRRING, NOT EVEN A MOUSE;"
    Without in the moonlight, the snow sparkled bright;
    The Mountain stood wrapped in a mantle of white,
    With a crown of dark firs on his noble old crest
    And ermine and diamonds adorning his breast;
    And the stars that above him swung true into line
    Once shone o’er a manger in far Palestine.


What a Christmas morning that was!

Chi was up at five o’clock, building roaring fires, for it was ten
degrees below zero.

With the first glint of the sun on the frosted panes the household was
astir.  At precisely seven the order was given to take down the thirteen
stockings.  But bless you!  You ’re not to think the stockings could
hold all the gifts.  In front of each wide jamb were piled the bundles
and packages, three feet high!

Rose hesitated a moment when the children sat down on the rug with their
stockings, as was their custom every Christmas morn; then she plumped
down among them, saying, laughingly:

"I don’t care if I _am_ growing up, Martie--it’s Christmas."

Upon which Jack, hugging his striped Balbriggan, sat down beside her.

Such "Ohs" and "Ahs"!  Such thankings and squeezings! Such somersaults
as were turned by March and Budd at the kitchen end of the long-room!
Such rapturous gurgles from May!  Such hand-shakes and kisses! Such
silent bliss on the part of Chi, who, though suffering as if in a
Turkish bath, had donned his new, blue woollen sweater, drawn on his
gauntleted beaver gloves, and proceeded to investigate his stocking with
the air of a man who has nothing more to wish for.  And through all the
chaotic happiness a sentence could be distinguished now and then.

"Chi, these corn-cob pipes are just what I shall want after Christmas
when I give my Junior Smoker."

"Oh, Martie, it can’t be for me!" as the lovely white serge dress, ready
made and trimmed with lace, was held up to Rose’s admiring eyes.

Budd was caressing with approving fingers a regular "base-ball-nine" bat
and admiring the white leather balls.

"I say, it’s a stunner, Mr. Sherrill; but how did you know I wanted it?"

Mr. Clyde, who was touched to his very heart’s core by Hazel’s gift of a
dollar pair of suspenders which she had earned by her own labor, felt a
small hand slipped into his, and found Cherry Bounce looking up at him
with wide, adoring, brown eyes, which, for the first time, she had taken
from her beautiful Émilie Angélique, whom she held pressed to her
heart:--

"I want to whisper to you," she said, shyly.  Mr. Clyde bent down to
her;--"After I said my prayers to Martie, I asked God to give me Émilie
Angélique--every night," she nodded--"but I only told Budd, so how _did_
you know?"

March was lost to the world in his volume of foreign photographs, in his
boxes of paints and brushes, and a whole set of drawing materials.  He
had not as yet thanked Hazel for them.

Everybody was happy and satisfied.  Everybody said he or she had
received just exactly the thing.  Tell alone could not express his
gratification in words.  He had been given his woollen stocking, and
nosed about till he had brought forth three fat dog-biscuit, a
deliciously juicy-greasy beef bone, wrapped in white waxed paper and
tied at one end with a blue ribbon, a fine nickelplated dog collar with
a bell attached, and last, from the brown woollen toe, three lumps of
sugar.

One by one he took the gifts and laid them down at Mrs. Blossom’s feet;
putting one huge paw firmly on the waxed-paper package, he waved the
other wildly until she took it and spoke a loving word to him.  Then,
taking up his beloved bone, he retired with it to the farthest end of
the long-room, under the kitchen sink, and licked it in peace and joy.

Jack and Chi in the joyful confusion had slipped from the room.

Soon there was a commotion in the woodshed, and the two made their
appearance dragging after them a brand-new double-runner and a real
Canadian toboggan, which Jack had ordered from Montreal for March.

Breakfast proved to be a short meal, for the whole family was wild to
try the new toboggan with Jack to engineer it.  Then it was up and
down--down and up the steep mountain road; Jack and Doctor Heath, Mr.
Clyde, Mr. Blossom and Chi, all on together--clinging for dear life,
laughing, whooping, panting, hurrahing like boys let out from school,
while March and Budd and Rose and Hazel and Cherry flew after them on
the double-runner, the keen air biting rose-red cheeks, and bringing the
stinging water to the eyes.

But what sport it was!

"Now, this is something like," panted Jack, drawing up the hill with
Chi, his handsome face aglow with life and joy.

"By George Washin’ton! it’s the nearest thing to shootin’ Niagary that I
ever come," puffed Chi.

"Didn’t we take that water-bar neatly?" laughed Jack.

"’N inch higher, ’n’ we ’d all been goners;--I had n’t a minute to think
of it, goin’ to the rate of a mile a minute; but if I had--I ’d have
dusted!  Guess I ’ll make it level before I try it with the
children,--’n’ I want you to know there ’s no coward about me, but I ’m
just speakin’ six for myself this time."

So the morning sped.  Even Mrs. Blossom and May were taken down once,
and the Doctor stopped only because he wanted to make a morning call on
his patient, Ruth Ford; for it was by his advice the family had come to
live for three years in this mountain region.

The horn for the mid-day meal sounded down the Mountain before they had
thought of finishing the exciting sport, and one and all brought such
keen appetites to the Christmas dinner, that Mrs. Blossom declared
laughingly that she would give them no supper, for they had eaten the
pantry shelves bare.

Such roast goose and barberry jam!  Such a noble plum-pudding set in the
midst of Maria-Ann’s best wreath, for she and Aunt Tryphosa had sent
over their simple gifts by an early teamster.  Such red Northern Spies
and winter russet pears!  And such mirth and shouts and jests and quips
to accompany each course!

It was genuine New England Christmas cheer, and the healths were drunk
in the wine of the apple amid great applause, especially Doctor Heath’s:

"Health, peace, and long life to the Lost Nation--May its tribe
increase!"

And how they laughed at Chi, when he proposed the health of the Prize
Chicken (which, by the way, he had kept for the next season’s mascot,)
and recounted the episode in the barn.

What shouts greeted Budd, who, rising with great gravity, his mouth
puckered into real, not mock, seriousness--and that was the comical part
of it all--said earnestly:

"To my first wife!" and sat down rather red, but gratified not only by
the prolonged applause, but by the enthusiasm with which they drank to
this unexpected toast from his unsentimental self.

Directly after dinner Mr. Clyde declared that a seven-mile walk was an
actual necessity for him in his present condition, and invited all who
would to accompany him to call in state on Mrs. Tryphosa Little and Miss
Maria-Ann Simmons.  Only Doctor Heath and Jack went with him, for Mr.
Blossom and Chi had matters to attend to at home, and Rose and Cherry
and Hazel were needed to help Mrs. Blossom.  Even March and Budd turned
to and wiped dishes.

"I ’ll set the table now, Martie," said Rose, "then there will be no
confusion to-night--there are so many of us."

"No need for that to-night, children," replied Mrs. Blossom, with a
merry smile.  "’The last is the best of all the rest,’ for we were all
invited a week ago to take tea and spend Christmas evening at
Hunger-ford."

"Oh, Martie!"  A joyful shout went up from the six, that was followed by
jigs and double-shuffles, pas-seuls and fancy steps, in which
dish-towels were waved wildly, and tin pans were pounded instead of
wiped.

When the din had somewhat subsided there were numberless questions
asked; by the time they were all answered, and Rose and Hazel had donned
their white serge dresses, the gentlemen had returned from their walk,
and it was time to go.

"That’s why Mrs. Ford had us learn all those songs," said Rose to Hazel.
"Don’t forget to take your violin."

A merrier Christmas party never set forth on a straw-ride. Mr. and Mrs.
Blossom and May went over in the sleigh, but the rest piled into the
apple-green pung, and when they came in sight of the seven-gabled-house,
a rousing three times three, mingling with the sound of the
sleigh-bells, greeted the pretty sight.

Every window was illumined, and adorned with a Christmas wreath.  In the
light of the rising moon, then at the full, the snow that covered the
roof sparkled like frosted silver.  The house, with its background of
sharply sloping hill wooded with spruce and pine, its twinkling lights
and the surrounding white expanse, looked like an illuminated Christmas
card.

Within, the hall was festooned with ground hemlock and holly; a roaring
fire of hickory logs furnished light and to spare.  In the living-room
and dining-room, Mr. Clyde and Jack Sherrill found, to their amazement,
all the elegance and refinement of a city home combined with country
simplicity.  The tea-table shone with the service of silver and sparkled
with the many-faceted crystal of glass and carafe.  For decoration, the
rich red of the holly berries gleamed among the dark green gloss of
their leaves.

At first, the younger members of the Blossom family felt constrained and
a little awed in such surroundings; for although they had been several
times in the house, they had never taken tea there.  But the Fords and
the other city people soon put them at their ease, and, as Cherry
declared afterwards, "It was like eating in a fairy story."  There was a
real pigeon pie at one end and a Virginia ham at the other, as well as
cold, roast duck with gooseberry jam.  There were sparkling jellies, and
the whole family of tea-cakes--orange, cocoanut, sponge, and chocolate;
and, oh, bliss!--strawberry ice-cream in a nest of spun cinnamon candy,
followed by Malaga grapes and hot chocolate topped with a whip of cream.

After tea there was the surprise of a beautiful Christmas Tree in the
library.  Ruth Ford had occupied many a weary hour in making the
decorations--roses and lilies fashioned from tissue paper to closely
copy nature; gilded walnuts; painted paper butterflies; pink sugar
hearts, and cornucopias of gilt and silver paper, in each of which was a
bunch of real flowers--roses, violets, carnations, and daisies, ordered
by Jack Sherrill from New York.  On the topmost branch, there was a
waxen Christ-child.  The tree was lighted by dozens of tiny colored
candles.  When the door was opened from the living-room, and the
children caught sight of the wonderful tree, they held their breath and
whispered to one another.

But more lovely than the tree in the eyes of the older people were the
radiant faces of the young people and the children.  Rose, with clasped
hands, stood gazing up at the Christ-child that crowned the glowing,
glittering mass of dark green.  She was wholly unconscious of the many
pairs of eyes that rested upon her in love and admiration. There was
nothing so beautiful in the whole room as the young girl standing there
with earnest blue eyes, raised reverently to the little waxen figure.
Her lips were parted in a half smile; a flush of excitement was on her
cheeks; the white dress set off the exquisite fairness of her skin; the
shining crown of golden-brown hair, that hung in a heavy braid to within
a foot of the hem of her gown, caught the soft lights above her and
formed almost a halo about the face.

Suddenly there was a burst of admiration from the children, and, under
cover of it, Doctor Heath turned to Mr. Clyde, who was standing beside
him:--

"By heavens, John!  That girl is too beautiful; she will make some
hearts ache before she is many years older, as well as your own
Hazel--look at _her_ now!"

The father’s eyes rested lovingly, but thoughtfully, on the graceful
little figure that was busy distributing the cornucopias with their
fragrant contents.  Yes, she, too, was beautiful, giving promise of
still greater beauty.  He turned to the Doctor and held out his hand:--

"Richard, I have to thank you for this transformation."

"No--not me," said the Doctor, earnestly, "but," pointing to Mrs.
Blossom, "that woman there, John.  Hazel needed the mother-love, just as
much as Jack does at this moment."

Jack had turned away when the Doctor began to speak of Rose, and,
joining her, said, "Won’t you wear one of my roses just to-night, Miss
Blossom?"

"Your roses!  Why, did you give us all those lovely flowers?"

"Yes, I wanted to contribute my share, and flowers seemed the most
appropriate offering just for to-night."

"They ’re lovely," said Rose, caressing the exquisite petals of a La
France beauty.  "Of course I ’ll wear one--" she tucked one into her
belt; "but why--why!--has n’t anyone else roses?" She looked about
inquiringly.

"No,--the roses were for their namesake," said Jack, quietly.

Rose laughed merrily,--a pleased, girlish laugh. "Then won’t the giver
of the roses call their namesake, ’Rose’?--for the sake of the roses?"
she added mischievously.

Now Jack Sherrill had seen many girls--silly girls, flirty girls,
sensible girls, charming girls, smart girls, nice girls, and horrid
girls, and flattered himself he knew every species of the genus, but
just this once he was puzzled. If Rose Blossom had been an arrant flirt,
she could not have answered him more effectively; yet Jack had decided
that she had too earnest a nature to descend to flirting. Somehow, that
word could never be applied to Rose Blossom--"My Rose," he said to
himself, and knew with a kind of a shock when he said it, that he was
very far gone.  But in the next breath, he had to confess to himself
that he had "been very far gone" many a time in his twenty-one years, so
perhaps it did not signify.

Indeed, in the next minute, he was sure it did not signify, for, before
he could gather his wits sufficiently to reply to her, Rose had slipped
away to the other side of the room, where she was busying herself in
fastening one of Jack’s roses into the buttonhole of Alan Ford’s Tuxedo.
In consequence of which, Jack turned his batteries upon Ruth Ford with
such effect, that she declared afterwards to her mother he was one of
the most fascinating _young_ men--for Ruth was twenty-one!--she had ever
met.

Mrs. Ford and Hazel and Mr. Ford had done their best to persuade Chi to
remain with them for the tree.  Even Rose urged--but in vain.  True, the
girls had insisted upon his taking one look, then he had begged off,
saying, as he patted Hazel’s hand that lay on his arm:

"Not to-night, Lady-bird.  I don’t feel to home in there. I ’ll sit out
here and hear the music, then I can beat time with my foot if I want
to."  He remained in the hall, just outside the living-room door,
enjoying all he heard.

First there was a lovely piano duet, an Hungarian waltz by Brahms, Mrs.
Ford and the grave, quiet son playing with such a perfect understanding
of each other, as well as of the music, that it proved a delight to all
present.  Then there was a carol by all the children, Rose leading, and
Mrs. Ford playing the accompaniment:

    "’Cheery old Winter! merry old Winter!
    Laugh, while with yule-wreath thy temples are bound;
    Drain the spiced bowl now, cheer thy old soul now,
    "Christmas _waes hael_!" pledge the holy toast round.
    Broach butt and barrel, with dance and with carol
    Crown we old Winter of revels the king;
    And when he is weary of living so merry,
    He ’ll lie down and die on the green lap of Spring.
    Cheery old Winter! merry old Winter!
    He ’ll lie down and die on the green lap of Spring!’"


This won great applause, and a loud thumping could be heard in the hall.
Jack went out to try his powers of persuasion with Chi, and found him
sitting close to the door with one knee over the other and a La France
rose (!) in his buttonhole.

"Come in, Chi, do."

"Ruther ’d sit here."

"Oh, come on."

"Nope."

Jack laughed at the decided tone.  "Where did you get this?" he asked,
touching the boutonniere.

"Rose-pose," answered Chi, laconically, but with a happy smile.

"Out of her bunch?"

"Nope--took it out of her belt," said Chi, with a curious twist of his
mouth.

Jack went back crestfallen, and Chi smiled.

"I ’m afraid I cut him out, just for once; kind of rough on him, but ’t
won’t hurt him any to have a change.  He ’s had his own way a little too
much," said Chi to himself.

Again there was music, a Schubert serenade, with the two violins, and
after that, the children begged Hazel to dance the Highland Fling as she
did once in the barn. Hazel, nothing loath, borrowed a blue Liberty-silk
scarf from Ruth Ford; the rugs being removed and Alan Ford tuning his
violin, she made her curtsy, and, entering heart and body into the
spirit of the thing, danced like thistle-down shod with joyousness.

It was a pretty sight! and Chi edged into the room, while the company
made believe ignore him in order to induce him to remain there; but when
the singing began, he slipped out again.  Such singing!  Everybody
joined in it.  They sang everything;--"Oh, where, tell me where, is your
Highland laddie gone?";--"Star-spangled Banner";--"Marching
Along";--"John Anderson, my Jo";--"Ye banks and braes o’ Bonnie
Doon";--"Twinkle, twinkle, little star";--"Annie Laurie";--"A
grasshopper sat on a sweet-potato vine";--"Ben Bolt";--"Fair Harvard"
and, finally, "Old Hundred."

It had been arranged that Mr. Blossom should take his wife and the
younger children home in the pung; the rest were to walk.  Chi,
meanwhile, had driven home in the single sleigh.

On the walk home Jack tried what he had been apt to term--of course, to
himself--his "confidential scheme" with Rose.  He had tried it before
with many another, and it had never failed to work.  The thought of one
of his roses in Alan Ford’s buttonhole still rankled, and the best side
of Jack’s manhood was not on the surface when he entered upon the
homeward walk.

"Miss Blossom,"--somehow Jack had not quite the courage to say "Rose,"
although he had been so frankly invited to--"I want to tell you why I
came up here; it must have seemed almost an intrusion."

[Illustration: "’I want to tell you why I came up here’"]

"Oh, no, indeed," said Rose, earnestly, "and I know why you came; Hazel
told me."

"Oh, she did," said Jack, rather inanely, and a little uncertain as to
his footing, figuratively speaking; for he had given her the chance to
ask "Why?"--and she had n’t taken it; in which she proved herself
different from all those other girls of his acquaintance.  To himself he
thought, "Well, for all the cordial indifference, commend me to this
girl."

"Yes, I ’m sure it would have seemed like anything but Christmas to you
in New York with your father in Europe; you must miss him so."

Jack felt himself blush in the moonlight at the remembrance that he had
seen his father but little in the last three years, and did not know
what it was in reality to miss him.  He never remembered to have missed
anything or anybody but his mother, and that indefinite something in his
life which he had not yet put himself earnestly to seek.

"I suppose you ’ll be shocked, Miss Blossom, but I don’t really miss my
father.  I ’m only awfully glad to see him when I get the chance--which
is n’t often.  He ’s such a busy man with railroads and syndicates and
real estate interests.  I wonder often how he can find time to write me
even twice a month, which he has done regularly ever since--" he stopped
abruptly.

"Since what?" asked Rose, innocently.

"Since my mother died," said Jack, in a hard, dry voice that served to
cover his feeling.

"Yes," Rose nodded sympathetically, "Hazel told me."  Then--for Rose’s
love for her own mother was something bordering on adoration--she said
softly, under her breath, but with her whole heart in her voice; "Oh, I
don’t see how you could bear it--how you can live without her!"

"I don’t," Jack replied with a break in his voice, "not really live, you
know.  I’ve always felt it, but never realized it until last night, when
I stood out on the veranda and looked in at the window at you--all.
Then I knew I ’d been hungry for that sort of thing for the last seven
years--"

Now Rose’s heart was swelling with pity for the loneliness of the tall,
young fellow swinging along beside her, and at once her inner eyes were
opened to see a, to her, startling fact.  She turned suddenly towards
him.

"Is that why you kissed Martie last night, and came up here to us?" she
demanded rather breathlessly.

"Yes;" Jack had forgotten his scheme, and was in dead earnest now.

"Then," cried Rose, impulsively--but at the same time thinking, "I don’t
care if he is engaged to that Miss Seaton"--"I hope you ’ll come to us
whenever you feel like it; for," she added earnestly, "I ’m beginning to
understand what Chi means when he talks about Hazel’s being poor and our
being rich, and--and I ’d love to share mine with you."

"You ’re awfully good," said Jack, rather awkwardly for him; for,
suddenly, in the presence of this young girl, as yet unspoiled by the
world, he realized that Life was dependent upon something other than
polo and club theatricals, railroad syndicates and Newport casinos,
stocks and bonds and marketable real estate.

Jack was young, and the moonlight was transfiguring the face that,
framed in a white, knitted hood, was turned towards him full of a frank,
loving sympathy for him in his "poverty."---And, seeing it, Jack
suddenly braced himself as if to meet some shock, thinking, as he strode
along in silence, "Oh, I ’m gone!--for good and all this time."

Rose, a little surprised at the prolonged silence, welcomed the sound of
sleigh-bells behind them.

"Why, that’s Chi!" she exclaimed.  "I thought he was at home long before
this.  I ’m sure he left long before we did.  Where have you been, Chi?"
she called so soon as the sleigh was within hailing distance.

"I ’ve been Chris’musin’," said Chi.  "It ain’t often you get just such
a night on the Mountain as this, and I ’ve made the most of it.  Can I
give you a lift?"

"No, thank you, Chi, we ’re almost home," said Rose.

"Well, then I ’d better be gettin’ along--it’s pretty near
midnight--chk, Bob--"  And Chi drove away down the Mountain, chuckling
to himself:

"Ain’t a-goin’ to give myself away before no city chap that has cut me
out as he has.  George Washin’ton! When I peeked into the window ’n’ saw
Marier-Ann sittin’ there in front of that kitchen table with all those
presents on it, ’n’ the little spruce set up so perky in the middle of
’em, ’n’ she a-wearin’ a great handful of those red, spice pinks in her
bosom, ’n’ her cheeks to match ’em, ’n’ her eyes a-shinin’--I knew he ’d
come it over me; he ’d made the first call, ’n’ given her the first
posies.  Guess I won’t crow over him after this."  Chi undid his
greatcoat, and bent his face until his nose rested upon Jack’s rose:--

"It ain’t touched yet, but it’s a stinger; must be twenty below, now."
Suddenly Chi gave a loud exclamation: "I must be a fool!--I ’ve broken
one of the N.B.B.O.O. rules not to be afraid of anything, and did n’t
dare to give my posy to Marier-Ann!--Anyhow, she don’t know I was goin’
to give it to her, so I need n’t feel so cheap about it--Go-long, Bob!"



                                 XVIII

                            BUDD’S PROPOSAL


Before Mr. Clyde and Jack left the next day, Budd sought an opportunity
to interview the latter on a subject, that, for a few weeks past, had
been occupying many of his thoughts.  The applause, with which his
Christmas-day toast had been greeted, had encouraged him to seek an
occasion for acquiring more definite knowledge on a subject which lay
near his heart.  It came when Jack was packing his dress-suit case in
the guest chamber.

There was a knock on the half-opened door.

"Come in," said Jack, and Budd made his appearance.

"Halloo, Budd!  What can I do for you?  Any commissions in New York, or
Boston?"

"Don’t know what you mean by commissions," replied Budd, cautiously,
thrusting both hands deep into the pockets of his knickerbockers, and
spreading his sturdy legs to a wide V.

"Anything I can buy with that hen-and-jam money you helped to earn?--you
did well, Budd, on that.  I congratulate you."

"I have n’t any of that money left.  You see, we voted to give it to
March to go to college with.  But I ’ve got two quarters an’ a
dollar--Christmas presents, you know; an’ that ’ll do, won’t it?" he
asked rather anxiously.

"Well, that depends on what you buy," said Jack, with due seriousness.

"You ’ll keep mum, Mr. Sherrill, if I tell you?" said Budd, inquiringly.

"Mum’s the word, if you say so, Budd; out with it."

"Well, I want two things; one thing to make me feel grown up, an’ I ’ve
wanted it for a year."

"What’s that, Budd?" asked Jack, immensely amused at Budd’s swelling
manhood--"A pair of long trousers?"

"No--" Budd hesitated for a moment, then went on in rather an aggrieved
tone; "I hate to wear waists with buttons; it’s just like a baby, an’ a
fellow can’t feel grown up when he has to button everything on.  I want
to hitch things up the way March an’ Chi do, an’ I want you to buy me a
shirt like that one you ’re rolling up--only not flannel,--with a flap,
you know, to tuck in."

"Oh, that’s it, is it?" said Jack, endeavoring to keep his face and
voice from betraying his inward amusement. "Well, I think you can get
one for seventy-five cents--plain or striped?"

"I like those narrow blue striped ones like yours best," he replied,
pointing to one of Jack’s.

"Like mine it shall be, Budd; but you ’ll want a pair of suspenders, or
there ’ll be too much hitching to be agreeable to you."

"March has an old pair, an’ I ’m going to borrow them."

"That’s an idea; now, what’s the second thing?"

"A ring."

"A ring?" Jack looked amazed.

Budd nodded.

"For yourself?" Jack questioned further.

"No--for somebody else."

"Do you mean a finger ring?"

Budd nodded again emphatically.

"Engagement?" laughed Jack, at last, the fun getting the better of him.

Budd’s mouth puckered into solemnity; "No--wedding."

Jack gave up the packing, and sat down, shaken with laughter, on the
first convenient chair.

"Pardon me for laughing, Budd, but I can’t help it. What do you want of
a wedding ring?  Is it for that ’first wife’ of yours you toasted
yesterday at dinner?"

Budd nodded again.  "I don’t see anything to laugh at," he said, with a
reproachful glance.  "You would n’t if you was me."

"No, I don’t think I should; you ’re right there, Budd," he replied,
sobering suddenly after his outburst of laughter. "When is the wedding
to be?"

Budd looked thoughtful.  "I have n’t proposed yet," was his
matter-of-fact answer.

"Well, why don’t you?" Jack, sinner that he was, scented some fun at
Budd’s expense.

"I ’m going to when I know how," said Budd, humbly.

"Why don’t you take lessons?" suggested Jack.

"I have."

"Of whom?"

"Chi."

Jack shouted.  "What did Chi say?" he demanded when he had regained his
breath.

"He said if he wanted to marry a girl, he ’d say what he wanted to--tell
’em he was fond of ’em."

"’Fond of them’--hm," repeated Jack, thoughtfully.

"What do _you_ say?" questioned Budd, turning the tables rather suddenly
on Jack.

"I don’t say--never said," replied Jack, shortly.

"That’s what Chi said.  He said if I begun early I ’d find out how."

"You seem to be on the right road for it."

"Would you say ’fond of her’?" persisted Budd.

"Yes, I think I should," Jack replied with a peculiar smile; "but, of
course, it would depend on the girl."

"Why, that’s just what Chi said!"

"He did, did he!" Jack laughed; "Chi knows a thing or two."

"But I thought you ’d know more."  Budd’s face began to wear a puzzled
look.

Just then Jack heard Rose’s voice in the long-room asking where Mr.
Sherrill was, and the sound brought home to him a realizing sense of the
fact that there was but an hour before they left for the station, and
every moment too precious to be wasted on Budd.  Rising, and proceeding
with his packing, he said with perfect seriousness:--

"Well, Budd, all I can say is, that if I were going to ask a girl to
marry me, I should ask her if she thought enough of me to take me with
all my imperfections and--"

"Where are you, Jack?" called Hazel, at the foot of the stairs; "Chi has
to go an hour earlier than he said, and the sleigh is at the door."

In the hurry of Jack’s good-byes and departure, the sentence was never
finished, and the ring forgotten by him. But Budd remembered.

He was a sturdy little chap, broad of shoulder, strong of limb.  His
sandy red hair bristled straight up from his full forehead.  His pale
blue eyes, with thick reddish-brown lashes, were round and serious.  His
nose was a freckled pug, and his small mouth puckered, when he was very
much in earnest, to the size of a buttonhole.  From the time he had
championed Hazel’s coming to them, nearly a year ago, he had never
wavered in his allegiance to her, and in his small-boy way showed her
his entire devotion. Hazel had been so grateful to him for his
whole-souled welcome of her, that she took pains to make his boy’s heart
happy in every way she could.

For Hazel, Budd was never in the way; never asked too many questions for
her patience; never teased her beyond endurance.  He found in her a
ready listener, a good sympathizer, a capital playmate, and a loving
girl-friend, who reproved him sometimes and, at others, praised him.
What wonder that his ten-year-old heart had warmed towards her with its
first boy-love? and that in his manly, practical way, he made of her an
ideal?

"I love Hazel, and when I am big enough, I shall marry her," was what he
said to himself whenever he stopped his play long enough to think about
it at all.  Naturally it seemed the wisest thing to tell her this when
he should find the opportunity, and at the same time recall the fact.

Fortified by the testimony of Chi and Jack, he bided his time.

One Saturday afternoon in January, Rose said suddenly to Hazel: "I wish
I could do some of the things that you do, Hazel."  Hazel looked up from
her book in surprise.

"What can I do that you can’t do, Rose?"

"You dance so beautifully, and I ’ve always wanted to know how.  I feel
so awkward when I see you dance the Highland Fling."

"Is that all?" Hazel laughed a happy laugh.  "I can teach you to dance
as easy as anything, if you ’ll let me."

"Let you!" Rose exclaimed, flushing with pleasure; "just you try me and
see.  But where can we practise?"

"Oh, out in the barn," cried Hazel.  "It’ll be lots of fun; of course,
it’s awfully cold, but the skipping about will keep us warm.  I ’ll tell
you what--I ’ll play on the violin, and you and March and Budd and
Cherry can learn square dances first."

"What fun!" said Rose.

"What’s the joke?" asked March, coming in at that moment with Budd and
Cherry.

"We ’re going to have a dance in the barn; Hazel’s going to teach us.
She says she can do it easy enough."

"Oh, bully!"  Budd threw up his tam-o’-shanter, and Cherry, attempting
to charge up and down the long-room as she had seen Hazel at the Fords’,
tripped on the rug and fell her length.  When March had picked her up
she rubbed her nose, which was growing decidedly pink, and sniffed a
little, then asked suddenly:--

"Who ’s going to be my partner?  They always have partners in the story
books."

"Sure enough," Rose laughed.  "Whatever will we do, Hazel?"

"I never thought of that," said Hazel, ruefully.  "Of course, it takes
eight."

"Why can’t we have chairs for partners?" said Cherry. "We can bow to
them just as if they were alive, and make them move round, can’t we?"

They all laughed at Cherry’s inspiration.

"You ’re a brick, Cherry Bounce?" said March, approvingly. "All choose
your partners!"  And, thereupon, he seized one of the kitchen chairs,
and the rest followed his example.  Hazel took her violin, and hooded
and mittened and coated and mufflered, they trooped out to the barn,
each lugging a wooden chair.

"Now I ’ll give you the first four changes," said Hazel, illustrating,
as well as she could in trying to be two couples at once, the first
movements.  "Form your square and get ready."

They obeyed with alacrity, and Hazel drew her bow across the strings.

"All curtsy to your partners!" she shouted, and the chair-partners
received a bow, and, in turn, were made to thump the floor by being laid
over on their backs, and righted suddenly.

"First couple forward and back!" shouted Hazel, and away went Rose
dragging her chair after her to meet March and his
chair--thumpity-thump--thumpity-thump.

They were in dead earnest, and the chairs were made to behave in a most
human way.

All went well until they came to the Grand Right and Left; then there
arose such a medley of shrieks of laughter, wild wails from the violin,
thumps from sixteen chair-legs, and stampings from eight human ones as
was never heard before.  In a few minutes all was inextricable
confusion, and the noise might have been best compared to a Medicine
Dance among the Sioux Indians.

Upon this scene Mr. Blossom and Chi, on their return from the wood,
looked with amazement.

"They seem to be havin’ a regular pow-wow," Chi remarked dryly, as the
exhausted dancers and musician sat down, panting for breath, on their
wooden partners. "Rose-pose is about as young as any of ’em--but it
beats all, how she’s shootin’ up into womanhood."

"She ’s no longer my little Rosebud Blossom," said her father, rather
sadly.  "I dread the time when the birds begin to fly from the nest, and
I see it coming with March and Rose."

Just then Rose caught sight of her father, and ran to him linking her
arm in his.  "We ’ve had such fun, father! We ’re learning to dance; you
must be my partner sometime, for Hazel’s going to teach us the
schottische next."

Rose never forgot the look of love her father gave her, nor the feel of
his hand as he laid it on her hooded head: "Be my little Rose-pose, as
long as you can, dear; you ’re growing up too fast."

She recalled afterwards that this first dance in the barn marked the
last time that she abandoned herself to the children’s fun with a girl’s
careless heart.

The winter twilight was fast closing about the Mountain and the children
just returning to the house, when Chi went out to milk.  Leaving his
lantern, stool, and pails in the first stall, he entered the third one
to tie one of the cows to a shorter stanchion.  Before he had finished
he heard Budd’s voice, and, looking over the partition, saw him standing
with Hazel in the circle of light about the lantern.  In another minute
he began to feel like an eavesdropper.

"What did you want me to come here for, Budd?" said Hazel, dancing on
the barn floor to warm her feet.

"I want to tell you something," said Budd, blowing on his cold fingers.

"Well, hurry up and tell; it’s simply freezing here. Is it a secret?"

"Kinder," replied Budd, blowing harder; then, suddenly ceasing the
bellows movement, he drew a step nearer to Hazel, and, putting the tips
of his pudgy fingers together to make a triangle, he puckered his mouth
solemnly and said, looking up at her with earnest eyes:--

"I ’m very fond of you."

Hazel laughed merrily.  "Why, of course you are, you funny boy; you ’ve
always been fond of me, have n’t you? I ’m sure I ’ve always been fond
of you.  Is _that_ what you kept me out here in the cold to say?"

"Not all;" Budd nodded seriously.  "I ’m very fond of you, an’--an’ if
you ’ll take me with all my perfections--I think that’s the way it
goes--if I have n’t got the ring yet, it will be just the same, you
know."  He paused, and in the circle of light Chi could see the entire
earnestness of his attitude.

"Goodness me, Budd!  What do you mean about rings and things?"

"I want to marry you when I ’m big--an’ I thought I ’d speak ’fore
anyone else did to get ahead of ’em."  Budd hastened to explain, as
Hazel showed signs of impatience.

"Oh, is that all!" Hazel breathed a sigh of relief.  "I thought
something was the matter with you.  Why, of course you ’re fond of me,
Budd; but I could n’t marry you, for I ’m older than you, you know."

"I never thought of that," said Budd, beginning to blink rather
suspiciously, "I thought--"

"Now, look here, Budd," said Hazel, in a business-like way; "I think
everything of you, too, and I ’ll tell you what you can be--"

"What?" interrupted Budd, eagerly, balancing himself on the tips of his
toes.

"My knight!" said Hazel, triumphantly, "and wear my colors.  I ’ll give
you a bow of crimson ribbon--I ’m Harvard, you know--and you must wear
it till you die. And I have a white kid party glove I ’ll give you, too,
and that will mean I ’m your lady-love, and it will be just like the
days of chivalry, you know we were reading about them the other day."

"And you won’t mind about the ring?" queried Budd, rather wistfully.

"Not a bit--a glove is much nicer than a ring, and--"

"Moo--oo--oo--" came from the next stall.

"Oh, goodness gracious!  How that made me jump. I ’m not going to stay
out here another minute; so come along if you ’re coming"--and the
knight meekly followed his lady-love into the house.



                                  XIX

                            A YEAR AND A DAY


"It seems queer to settle down the way we have, ever since Christmas.
We had such fun up to that time."  Hazel heaved a long sigh as she
wrestled with her Latin and the Third Conjugation.

Rose looked up from her Cicero and smiled at the bored expression on
Hazel’s face.  "I know, Latin is awfully dull at first, but when you can
read it, you ’ll like it.  If only you could hear Cicero give this
horrid Catiline--the old traitor--’Hail Columbia’ as March says, you
could n’t help liking Latin.  Then, too, if we had n’t settled down,
where would my French have been?"

But Hazel still pouted a little.  "I wish papa had n’t wanted me to
study at all this winter--I don’t see why, when Doctor Heath is always
talking about its ’effect on my health--’"

She was interrupted by a merry laugh.  Rose threw down her Cicero,
caught away the grammar from Hazel, and, seizing her by the hand, drew
her into the little bedroom.  Then, taking her by the shoulders, she
whirled her about until she faced the small looking-glass.

"There!" she exclaimed, still laughing, "look at that face before you
talk about any ’effect on your health.’"

Hazel looked at the reflection in the mirror, and smiled in spite of
herself.  What a contrast to what she was a year ago!  For to-morrow
would be St. Valentine’s day. There were real American Beauty roses on
her cheeks; the dark eyes were full of sparkling life; the
chestnut-brown hair fell in heavy curls upon her shoulders.  She had
grown tall, too, but rounded in the process, and the healthful, bodily
exercise had given her grace of carriage--she was straight as an arrow,
and as lithe as a willow wand.

"Perhaps I shall feel more interest when Miss Alton is here, for she is
a regular teacher.  When is she coming, Rose?"

"The very last of the month, when the spring term opens.  It’s our turn
to have the district-school teacher board with us, and I ’ve never liked
it before.  But now I can’t wait for Miss Alton to come.  I think she ’s
lovely."

"She is n’t half as lovely as you are, Rose," said Hazel, turning
suddenly from the glass, in which she had been scrutinizing her
reflection, and giving Rose an unexpected squeeze and a hearty kiss.  "I
think you are the most beautiful girl I have ever seen, I heard Doctor
Heath say so; and--I told Jack so on Christmas night."

"I ’ll warrant he did n’t agree with you," said Rose, with a pleased
smile.  "You forget Miss Seaton."

"I know."  Hazel shook her head dubiously.  "He did n’t say a word to me
about you--I don’t care if he did n’t, Rose-pose, you ’re worth all the
Maude Seatons in the world, and I ’d give anything to have you for my
real cousin instead of her, if only Jack--"

"I don’t know what you are talking about, Hazel," said Rose,
interrupting her shortly and sharply.

"And I don’t know why you are speaking to me in that tone, Rose
Blossom," retorted Hazel, both angry and hurt. "I ’ve said nothing I ’m
ashamed of, and I shall say it whenever I choose and to whomever I
please, so now."  She flung out of the room, but not before Rose had
laid a firm hand upon her shoulder.

"Hazel Clyde, if ever you speak of that again to anyone, I ’ll break
friendship with you, see if I don’t."

"Break then," Hazel twitched her shoulder from under the detaining hand.
"I ’ll speak whenever I choose.  I only said I thought you were the most
beautiful girl I had ever seen, and I wished that you were going to be
my real cousin, instead of Miss Seaton, and you need n’t get mad just
because Jack does n’t happen to think as I do--"

"Hazel Clyde!"  Rose stamped her foot, "don’t you speak another word to
me; I ’ll not hear it."  Rose stuffed both fingers into her ears, and
beat an ignominious retreat to her own room, where she shut herself in,
and was invisible until tea-time.

The family were late in sitting down to the table, for Mrs. Blossom
wanted to wait for Chi, who had driven down to Barton’s River to take
Mr. Blossom to the train, and had arranged to bring March home with him.

It was seven already.  "We won’t wait any longer, children," said Mrs.
Blossom.  "Something must have detained Chi.  Budd, you may say ’grace’
to-night?" she added as she took her seat.

Budd looked up in amazement.  "Why, Martie, Rose is here and you
always--"

"That will do, Budd," said his mother, quietly, ignoring the flame that
shot up to the roots of Rose’s hair, and the cool look of indifference
on Hazel’s face.  Budd folded his pudgy hands and repeated reverently
the words he had heard father, or mother, or sister say ever since he
could remember.  Scarcely had he finished when Tell’s deep note of
welcome sounded somewhere from the road, and the sleigh-bells rang out
on the still air.

"There they are!" cried Cherry.  "May I go to meet them?"

"Yes--but put your cape over you, it’s so chilly to-night."

In a minute Cherry was back again, every single curl bobbing with
excitement.

"Oh, Martie!  Chi’s bringing in something all done up in the buffalo
robe, and March won’t tell me what it is."

She was followed by March, who walked up to his mother, put both arms
about her and gave her a quiet kiss.

"There, little Mother Blossom, is my valentine for you," he said
half-shyly, half-proudly, and placed in her hands his first term’s
report and a set of books.

"Oh, March, my dear boy!" said his mother, rising from the table and
placing both hands on the broad, square shoulders of her six foot
specimen of youth, "I ’m afraid I ’m getting too proud of you.  _Did_
you get the first Latin prize?"

"You bet I did, Martie."  March’s rare smile illumined his face.  "There
is n’t another fellow at Barton’s, who can boast of such a mother as I
have, and I was n’t going to let any second-class mothers read those
books before you did. By Cicky!" (which was March’s favorite name for
the famous orator)--"But I ’ve worked like a Turk, and I ’m hungry as a
Russian bear.  Why, Rose, what’s the matter with you?  You look awfully
glum, and Hazel, too.  Here comes Chi; he’s bringing something that will
cheer you up.  The truth is, mother, these girls miss _me_."

"Indeed, I do, March?" said Hazel, looking straight up into his eyes and
showing the amazed lad tears trembling in her own.

"Guess there ’ll be some breakin’ of hearts, this year, Mis’ Blossom."
Chi’s cheery voice was welcome to them all for some unknown reason.  He
came in loaded with huge pasteboard boxes.

"Your arms will break first, Chi," said Mrs. Blossom, hastening with
March to relieve him.

"It ain’t the heft of ’em, it’s the bulk.  Valentines are generally
pretty light weight.  Romancin’ ’n’ sentiment don’t count for much,
nowadays, though they take up considerable room."  He deposited the last
box on the settle.  "’N’ there’s a whole parcel of things come by mail.
I ain’t looked at the superscribin’s--you read ’em out, Rose-pose."

Rose read the addresses; there was more than one missive for each member
of the family.

"Let’s have supper, first, mother," said March, "then, after the table
is cleared, we can sit round and guess who they ’re from."

This proposition was welcomed by Budd and Cherry. Rose and Hazel gave a
cordial assent, but there was a frigidity in the atmosphere which the
outside temperature did not warrant.  Chi and March were aware of this
so soon as they entered the room, and Mrs. Blossom had known it the
moment she saw the girls’ faces at the table. She thought it not wise to
interfere, but let matters straighten themselves in good time.  She felt
she could trust them both to see things in their right light, without
the aid of her mental glasses.

"Now let’s begin," said Chi, rubbing his hands in glee as, directly
after supper, he piled the boxes on the table while March laid the
envelopes in their proper places before each member of the family.
"This top one says ’Miss Hazel Clyde.’  Show us your valentine,
Ladybird."

"They ’re violets--from Jack, I know.  He always sends them.  What’s
yours, Rose?"  She spoke rather indifferently.

"Oh, roses!" Rose was having the first look all to herself.  "The
loveliest things I have ever seen.  Look, Martie!"  Rose held up the
mass of exquisite bloom, and the children oh’ed and ah’ed at the sight.

"They ’re from Mr. Sherrill," said Rose, trying to speak in a most
common-place tone, but, in her excitement, failing signally.

"They are lovely," Hazel remarked, shooting an indignant glance at Rose.
"They’re just like the ones he sent Miss Seaton last year, only they
were formed into a great heart.  Papa gave me one just like it; he got
his idea from Jack."

Rose suddenly put down the flowers, in which she had buried her face to
inhale their fragrance, as if something had stung her.

"Mr. Sherrill is very impartial with his favors," she said in a tone
that increased the pervading chill of the domestic atmosphere.

"Why, Rose!" exclaimed Mrs. Blossom.  "It is not like you to receive a
favor so ungraciously; you ’ve never had flowers sent you before, and I
’m sure you would never have them again if the donor could witness your
reception of them."

"I don’t care for them again, thank you."  Rose retorted with flaming
cheeks; "I ’d give more for this of yours, Chi--" she opened a huge
yellow envelope, and took from it a scarlet cardboard heart, with a
small, white, artificial rose glued to the centre and a gilt paper arrow
transfixing both rose and heart.

Chi hemmed rather awkwardly, thinking: "Beats the Dutch what’s got into
Rose-pose to-night.  I ain’t ever known her to treat a livin’ soul so
shabby as that in all her life.  Beats all what gets into women ’n’
girls, sometimes; when a feller thinks he’s doin’ ’em just the best turn
he knows how, they up ’n’ get mad with him, ’n’ turn the cold shoulder,
’n’ upset things generally."  But aloud he said:

"I ’m glad it pleases you, Rose.  Can’t most always tell when it’s goin’
to please a girl or not.  I suppose Jack, now, thought you ’d be tickled
to get those posies just in the dead of winter.  They don’t grow round
here on our bushes.  What’s in the other box?"

"Why!" Hazel exclaimed, laughing rather half-heartedly, "it’s addressed
to ’Miss Maria-Ann Simmons’--and just look, Mother Blossom!  See what
that dear old Jack has sent her!  He’s just too dear for anything."  She
added emphatically;--"I ’d like to give him a kiss for thinking of that
poor girl all alone over there on the Mountain.  I don’t believe she
ever had a valentine before. Look!  Oh, look!"

She took out of the many layers of wadding a mass of yellow tulips,
their closed golden cups shining in the lamp-light as if gilded by
sunbeams.

"Sho!" was all Chi said, leaning nearer to examine the beautiful
blossoms.

"You ’ll take them over in the morning, early, won’t you, Chi?" said
Hazel, replacing them.

"First thing, Lady-bird; guess you ’re right, Rose, about that young
feller’s bein’ ’n all-round man with his favors.  Don’t seem to be much
choice between you and Marier-Ann, ’n’ that Miss Seaver.  Kind of a
toss-up, hey, Rose-pose?"

But Rose was too busy with another package to answer Chi.  She grew
wildly enthusiastic over the calla lilies that Alan Ford had sent her,
and caressed their white envelopes, and praised their pure loveliness,
until Hazel, growing jealous for poor Jack and his discarded gift, rose
to put the neglected beauties in water, saying as she did so:

"I ’m sure, Rose, if Jack had known you cared so much for lilies, he
would have sent you some Easter ones, they ’re out now.  I ’ll tell him
to next time."

"Hazel!" Rose burst forth indignantly, "do you mean to tell me you told
Mr. Sherrill to send me these flowers for a valentine?"

Then Hazel, stung by the tone and the words, yielded to temptation--for
it had been the last straw.  "What if I did?" she said with irritating
calm, "he ’s my cousin. I suppose I can say what I choose to him."

Rose answered never a word; but, rising, took the La France roses from
the pitcher in which Hazel had just placed them, and, going over to the
fireplace, deliberately cast the mass of delicate pink bloom into the
fire.

Mrs. Blossom looked both puzzled and shocked; this was wholly unlike
Rose.  What could it mean?  The children were too awed by the proceeding
to speak or exclaim. March looked gravely at Hazel, who burst into
tears--it was such an insult to Jack!--and rushed into her bedroom and
shut the door.

"I ’m going to bed; good-night, Martie," said Rose, quietly, after she
had watched the last leaf shrivel in the flame, and, kissing her mother,
she lighted her candle and went upstairs.  Mrs. Blossom, following her
with her eyes, felt that she had lost her "little Rose" in that hour.

March looked grave, complained of feeling tired, and said he would go to
bed, too, as to-morrow was the last day of school and there were two
more examinations to take.  Budd and Cherry kissed their mother twice,
bade her good-night in suppressed tones and crept upstairs. "It’s just
as if somebody was sick in the house," said Cherry, in an awed voice.
Budd’s was sepulchral:--

"It’s just as if somebody was dead and all the flowers had come for the
funeral."

Across the dining-room table, loaded with boxes and brilliant with
valentines, Chi looked at Mrs. Blossom, and Mrs. Blossom looked at Chi.
The whole affair was so incomprehensible, and the result so painfully
disagreeable, that, for a while, they found no words with which to give
expression to their feelings.  Chi broke the silence:--

"Well!  I wish I was one of those clairivoyants they tell about, ’n’
could kind of see into the meanin’ of this flare-up of Rose-pose’s.
Don’t seem natural for Rose to go flyin’ off at a tangent that way.
What’s she got against him, anyway?  He ’s about as likely as you ’ll
find.  Beats me!"  Chi leaned both elbows on the table, unmindful that
he was crushing some of the flowers, sank his chin in the palms of his
hands and thought hard for full a minute.

"I know Hazel and Rose have had some little trouble this afternoon--the
first quarrel they have had--but Rose is too old to allow herself to
lose her control in that way.  I can’t imagine what made her--"  Mrs.
Blossom broke off suddenly, for Chi had raised his head and sent such a
look of intelligence across the table, handing her, as he did so, Jack
Sherrill’s card, which Rose in her confusion had neglected to read,
that, in a flash, something of the truth was revealed to Mrs. Blossom.

She took the card.  On the back was written, enclosed in quotation
marks:--

    "For I am thine
    Whilst the stars shall shine,
    To the last--to the last."


"O Chi!" was all Mary Blossom said; but the tears filled her eyes, and,
reaching across the table, her hand was clasped in Chi’s strong one.

"I wish Ben was to home," sighed Chi, so lugubriously that Mrs. Blossom
laughed through her tears.

"Oh, it is n’t so bad as that, Chi.  Girls will be girls, and grow up,
and hearts will ache even when we ’re young. We won’t make too much of
it.  I don’t understand the ins and outs of it, but I do know Hazel has
said her family thought he was engaged to Miss Seaton.  I ’m sure I ’ve
thought so all along, and it never occurred to me there could be any
danger for Rose under the circumstances. The mere fact of his name being
connected so closely with Miss Seaton’s would be a safeguard.  Then,
too, I fear he is spoiled by women on account of his riches."

"I don’t know about that Miss Seaver,--but if it’s as you say, I kind of
wish Rose could cut her out."

"Sh-sh, Chi!" said Mrs. Blossom, reprovingly.

"Well, I do," Chi retorted with some warmth.  "She ain’t fit to tie
Rose’s old berryin’ shoes, ’n’ I saw her lookin’ at her feet that day we
was sellin’ berries down to Barton’s to the tavern, ’n’ snickerin’ so
mean like, ’n’ Rose just showed her grit--’n’ I wish she’d show it again
’n’ cut her out.  I _do_, by George Washin’ton!"  Chi rose up in his
wrath, lighted his lantern, and started for the shed.  At the door he
turned:--

"I wish Ben was to home," he said again.  "There ’s goin’ to be the
biggest kind of a snow-down before long, ’n’ he ’ll get blocked on the
road, sure as blazes."

"He ’ll be back in two days, at the most, Chi; I would n’t worry."

"I ain’t worryin’; I ’m just sayin’ I wish he was to home," repeated
Chi, doggedly, and shut the door.

Mrs. Blossom smiled.  She knew Chi’s crotchets. When there was any
disturbance of the family peace, Chi was apt to be depressed, and
sometimes despondent.  She put away the flowers in the cold pantry,
smiling as she tied up Maria-Ann’s box:

"He _is_ universal," she said to herself.  "I know it irritated Rose to
be classed with her and Miss Seaton; but things will work around right
with time.  I can trust to Rose’s common-sense.--Not a prayer to-night!"
she added thoughtfully.  "Well, we ’ll make it up to-morrow."  She took
up the prize books.  "That dear March!  What a manly fellow he is
getting to be--and so handsome.  I wonder--" here Mary Blossom checked
herself, laughing softly.  "Goodness! if Ben were here what a goose he
would think me--a regular old Mother Goose--"  And again she laughed as
she put out the light.



                                   XX

                               SNOW-BOUND


They were all on the porch the next morning to see March off.  It was
not so very cold, but there was a marked chill in the air and the sky
was leaden.

"It’s my last day, mother, then vacation for two weeks. Hooray!" He
leaped into the saddle, and Fleet reared gently to show her approval.

"Don’t you get out a little earlier to-day, March?" said his mother,
looking up at the leaden sky.  "I ’m afraid it’s going to snow heavily.
Promise me not to start from Barton’s if the storm is a hard one; you
can stay at the inn or at the principal’s.  I would rather you remained
away from home two days, or over Sunday, than to have you attempt the
Mountain in too severe a storm."

"I ’ll be careful, mother."

"Better give your promise to your mother, March; she ’ll feel better
’bout you ’re not startin’ out," said Chi.

"I promise, little Mother Blossom."  He threw himself off the horse, and
gave her another kiss; "I would n’t go to-day except for the exams.--I
can’t miss them."

"Good luck, dear," said his mother, and her eyes followed the horse and
rider down the Mountain.

"I ’ll go over the first thing ’n’ give them posies to Marier-Ann, ’n’
then I ’ll make tracks for home, ’n’ get my snow-shed up before it
begins to come down."

"Do you think we shall need it?"

"Sure ’s fate," replied Chi, laconically, and went into the barn to
harness Bess.

It was noon before Chi had set up his snow-shed, a long, low, wooden
tunnel, which he had manufactured to connect the woodshed door with a
side door of the barn.  By means of this he was enabled, in unusually
heavy storms, to communicate with the barn and attend to the stock
without "shovelling out."

It was about three in the afternoon when the first flakes began to fall,
or rather to "spit," as Chi expressed it, and the snow fell
intermittently and lightly until four, when there was a sudden change of
wind.  It veered to the north-east, and blast after blast, charged with
icy particles, hurled itself against the Mountain.  Within half an hour
it was almost as dark as at midnight, and the snow swept in drifting
clouds over woodlands and pasture.  When the wind ceased for a moment,
white, soft avalanches descended upon farmhouse, barn, and
mountain-road, until, by six o’clock, the road was impassable and the
drifts at the back of the house a foot above the bedroom windows.  Chi
had made all snug for the night.

"This beats anything I ever saw, Mis’ Blossom.  I ’m mighty glad Ben
ain’t comin’ home to-day, ’n’ that March gave you the promise to stay at
Barton’s if it stormed hard."

"You don’t think he would venture to start, do you, Chi?" asked Mrs.
Blossom, trying not to appear anxious for the sake of the others.

"Bless you, no;" was Chi’s hearty response.  "March has got too level a
head to risk himself ’n’ Fleet in such a storm--it’s a regular howler of
a blizzard.  If he did start," he added, "he ’d go in somewheres on the
road--he couldn’t get far."

After tea there was no settling down to the cosey evening pastimes or
employments.  If such a thing could be, the storm seemed to increase in
severity.  The wind struck the house at times with terrific force; the
intermittent drift of snow and ice against the window panes startled the
inmates of the long-room like the rattle of small shot.  Chi had put out
the fire in the fireplace before supper, for the wind drove flame and
ashes out into the room.

Again and again Mrs. Blossom went to the windows--first one then
another, and pressed her face close to the pane; but they were plastered
so thick with snow that her efforts to see into the night were
fruitless.  Chi sat by the kitchen stove, which he had filled with wood.
His boots rested on the fender, and, apparently, he was indifferent to
the storm.  But, in reality, not the creak of a beam, not the springing
of a board, not an unwonted sound within or without the house escaped
his notice.

In marked contrast to Chi’s apparent apathy was Tell’s restlessness.
Since six o’clock he had shown signs of uneasiness.  With strides, heavy
and long, the huge beast paced up and down the long-room.  Sometimes he
followed Mrs. Blossom to the window, and, sitting down on his haunches
beside her, rested his nose on the window sill and gazed at the whitened
panes.  At others he took his stand beside Chi and looked into his face,
their eyes meeting on a level as the man sat and the dog stood.  The dog
looked as if he were questioning him dumbly.

As the evening wore on the dog’s pace grew more rapid, more uneven; his
tail waved in a jerky, excited manner. At last he lay down by the shed
door, and, placing his nose on the threshold, gave vent to a long, low,
half-stifled moan.  At the sound Chi brought down his heels and the
tipped chair-legs with a thump, and started to his feet. Mrs. Blossom
turned to him with a white face, and Rose cried out:--

"Oh, Chi!  What is the matter with Tell?  He never acted this way
before."

"Don’t know," said Chi, shortly; "dumb beasts are curious creatures.
Guess he don’t like the storm.  I ’ll go out, Mis’ Blossom, ’n’ see if
the stock ’s all right.  Kind of looks as if Tell was givin’ us a
warnin’."

"Oh, Chi, don’t go through the tunnel now," cried Mrs. Blossom, all the
pent-up anxiety finding expression in her voice.

Chi manufactured a laugh: "That’s all safe, Mis’ Blossom.  I chained it
and roped it down, both--it can’t get away, ’n’ the snow can’t crush it.
Don’t you worry about me.  I ’ll be back inside of fifteen minutes."  He
took his lantern from the shelf over the sink:--"Get up, Tell."  The dog
rose, but, as Chi opened the door, he tried to push past him.  Chi
crowded him with his leg:--"No you don’t, old feller! there ain’t room
only for just one of us to-night.  Lay down!"

And Tell lay down, with his nose on his paws, and both nose and paws
pressed close to the crack on the threshold. Another long crescendo
moan, that, at the last, sounded like a sharp wail, filled the
long-room, and Budd and Cherry clung to their mother in terror.

"You must go to bed, children," said Mrs. Blossom, her face white as the
snow on the window panes, but with a voice of forced calm.  "When you
’re asleep, you won’t hear all this trouble the storm is raising
to-night."

"But I don’t want to sleep upstairs alone without March, Martie,"
protested Budd, trying to be brave, but showing his fear.

"You can sleep in Hazel’s room to-night, Budd, and Cherry can get into
my bed and sleep with me."

The twins looked relieved.  "Oh, that’s different, Martie," said Budd,
with a grateful look.  Cherry begged for a little cotton wool to stuff
in her ears:--"Then I can’t hear Tell and this awful noise."  A novel
idea, which Budd at once adopted and put into practice.  Their mother
looked relieved when they were safely bestowed in their new quarters.

About ten minutes afterwards they heard Chi’s steps in the shed.  Then
the door opened slowly, as he shoved Tell aside.  When he entered the
room Mrs. Blossom gave one look at his face.

"Oh, Chi, what has happened!"  She cried out as if hurt.

Chi’s face showed grayish white and drawn in the lamplight. His hand
shook a little as he reached for a second lantern, turning his back on
the three terrified faces.

"Horse stalled, that’s all.  Had a tough tussle to get him round, but he
’s all right now."  His voice sounded hoarse.

"Was it Bob or Bess?" asked Rose.

Chi, without answering, turned quickly to Tell, who was pressing him
nearly off his feet, and at the same time, lashing his tail as if in
fury.

"What ails you, anyway?" said Chi, roughly.  "D’ you want to get out?"

For answer the dog rushed to the front door that opened on the porch,
rose on his hind legs, stemmed his powerful forepaws against the panels
and, throwing back his massive head, sent forth from his deep throat a
roar that seemed to shake the rafters.

"Mis’ Blossom," Chi’s voice shook and his hand trembled till the glass
globe of the lantern tinkled in the wire frame, "I ’m goin’ to let him
out, ’n’ I ’m goin’ to follow on--there ’s trouble somewhere on the
Mountain, ’n’ I ’m goin’ to find out where ’t is."

All three cried out, protesting, entreating, praying him to desist.  But
Chi shook his head.

"I tell you I ’ve _got_ to go, Mary Blossom"--Chi had never called her
that but once before, and Mrs. Blossom, recalling the time, felt her
heart as lead within her--"you’re brave,--brave as a woman can be; don’t
say nothin’, but let me go.  Have plenty of hot water ’n’ flannels, ’n’
some spirits ready ’gainst I come back--"

"Lady-bird, give me the dog collar with the bell you gave Tell last
Chris’mus; ’n’ Molly Stark, fill your mother’s hot water-bag--’n’ hurry
up; ’n’ Mis’ Blossom, give me Ben’s brandy flask, he didn’t take it with
him."

Chi, while issuing these orders, was strapping down his trousers over
his long boots; then he poured out a brimming cup of hot water, and
mixed with it some of the brandy from the flask.  He put the collar on
Tell, the bell ringing loud and clear with every movement.  He opened
the door; the dog bounded out into the night.  Chi followed him, a coil
of rope around his neck, a shovel over one shoulder with a lantern
suspended from the handle, and in his hand a second lantern.  The
hot-water bag he had put beneath his sweater, and a leathern belt girded
him.

So equipped he went out into the drifting snows and the night of storm.
The terrified women were left alone.

"Mother, oh, mother!" cried Rose, wringing her hands, "I know it’s
something dreadful; Chi would never look that way."

Mary Blossom could not answer.  Her silence was prayer.  It was all of
which she was capable at that time.

"I don’t know what the matter was in the barn, mother," again cried
Rose, in an agony of fear.  "Chi did n’t tell us all, I ’m sure.  Let me
go through the tunnel and find out, do, mother!"

"Oh, Rose, I can’t--I can’t!"  Mrs. Blossom spoke under her breath.

"Please, mother.  It ’s all safe, and the wind has gone down a little
since Chi went; let me go--I can’t rest till I do.  You can hold the
light at the shed door end and I won’t be gone but a minute or two.  I
’ll take the dark lantern with me--Oh, mother! do, do--!"

"Well, Rose, perhaps it’s for the best.  I ’ll watch you through."

"May I watch, too?" asked Hazel, eagerly.

"No, dear, I want you to stay here in case the children should wake.
Come, Rose."

They were gone but a few minutes; then Mrs. Blossom came in followed by
her daughter.  The girl’s teeth were chattering; she looked blue and
pinched.

"What did you find, Rose?"  Her mother’s voice was scarce above a
whisper.

"_I found Fleet!_"

The two women sat down on the settle, holding each other close; and the
wind rose again in its fury.

Wrapping a heavy shawl about her Hazel crept away upstairs to the back
garret and the window overlooking the woods’-road, which formed the
approach to the house. There was a little snow-drift beneath it where
the flakes had sifted through; but the wind was felt less severely on
that side of the house.  She opened the window a few inches, propping it
on a corn cob she had stepped upon; then, kneeling, she put her ear to
the opening and strained her hearing in every lull of the storm.

At last--she knew not how long she had listened--she heard Tell’s deep
roar.  It came muffled, but distinct. She scarce trusted her ears; but
again she heard it, and, this time, in a dead silence, she caught the
sound of the bell.  Surely Tell was nearing the house.  She ran
downstairs.

"They ’re coming!" she cried, hardly realizing what she said in her
excitement.  Mrs. Blossom and Rose leaped to their feet.  They threw
open the door.

"Chi!  Chi!" they called out into the night.  There was a joyous bark
for answer---then a groan, and Chi staggered across the snow-laden porch
and fell with his heavy burden on the threshold.


At midnight the wind went down, but the snow continued to fall.  All the
next day it fell steadily, but at sunset it ceased, and a young moon
looked over the shoulder of Mount Hunger upon an unbroken white coverlet
that, in some places, was drifted to the depth of twenty feet.

There was twilight in Aunt Tryphosa’s little cabin "over eastwards," for
the snow was piled to the eaves, and the tulips furnished their only
sunshine for two days.

There was consternation at Hunger-ford, for the family were cut off from
their neighbors and the outside world of letters and papers.

There were councils at Lemuel’s and the Spillkinses’--for how could they
gather their forces to break out the Mountain?

There were heavy hearts and reddened eyelids in the farmhouse, for
March, rescued by Chi and revived by vigorous treatment, had succumbed
to the exposure and chill, and lay unconscious in fever--and no help at
hand.

Chi, spent to exhaustion, had rallied at midnight, but knew that it was
beyond human powers to attempt to reach Barton’s or even Lemuel Wood’s,
their next neighbor, through the drifts.

So they waited, helpless--one day, two days.  On the second day the
white expanse showed no tracks.  Then March began to wander, and clutch
his breast, where his mother had found the telegram, which his father
had sent to him from Ogdensburg:--

"Heavy blizzard.  Roads blocked.  Tell mother at once. Don’t worry."

Chi walked the house night and day in his misery of helplessness.  At
last, on the third day, looking eastwards he descried a black blotch on
the white,--it was a four-ox team breaking out from the Fords’.  Later
in the day, when the men were within two hundred yards of the house, he
saw another black spot on the lower road.  It was the Mill Settlement
road-team, with a full equipment of men and tools, to cut a way through
the drifts.

Soon there was help and to spare.  Alan Ford was riding down the narrow
way between high walls of glittering white to Barton’s for aid, and
bringing back telegrams of anxious inquiry from Mr. Blossom and Mr.
Clyde.  On the fourth day, the blockade was raised, and the south-bound
express to Barton’s River brought Mr. Blossom from the north, and
another train brought Mr. Clyde from the south.  Two days after all the
Lost Nation knew that March would live.



                                  XXI

                     A LITTLE DAUGHTER OF THE RICH


It was days before March himself was aware of that fact.

Budd and Cherry were at the Fords’.  May was with Aunt Tryphosa and Miss
Alton at Lemuel Wood’s. Maria-Ann had come over to help Mrs. Blossom
with the work, and Chi had taken care of the stock.  Rose and her mother
watched and waited in the sick room, relieved on alternate nights by Mr.
Blossom and Chi.

The great storm was a thing of the past.  The sun shone in a deep blue
heaven, and the white world of the Mountain showed daily life and
movement.  The teamsters were at work loading the sledges with logs, and
the ponderous drags squeaked and grated as they slid down the crisping
highway.

A crow cawed loudly on the first of March, and the hens came out to find
a warm nook in the south-east corner of the barn-yard, where a heap of
sodden straw was thawing.

All in the farmhouse were rejoicing, for March had spoken in his
weakness--a few words, but clear, coherent, for the frost and fever,
both, had left his brain.  When he spoke the second time it was to ask
for Chi; and Chi had tiptoed into the room in his stocking-feet and laid
his hand on March’s thin, white one, gulped down the tears and the
rising sob that was choking him, and--spoke of the weather!


The next day March turned to his mother, who was sitting by the bed,
brooding him with her great love, and asked suddenly, but in a clear and
much stronger voice:

"Where ’s Hazel?"

Mrs. Blossom hesitated for a moment, then spoke quietly:--"Hazel is at
home with her father for a few weeks."

March turned his face to the wall and was silent for several hours.

When he was stronger Mrs. Blossom gave him the little note Hazel had
left for him, and, with mother-tact, knowing March’s reserve of nature,
went out of the room while he read it.  She saw no signs of it when she
returned and asked no questions, but March’s gray eyes spoke a language
for which there was but one interpretation.  With his rare smile, he
held out his hand for his mother’s, and clasped it closely.

Soon he was able to be up and about, and the children were again at
home.  Life in the farmhouse resumed its old course--but with a
difference.  Just what it was no one attempted to define.  But each felt
it in his own way. March was more gentle with Budd and Cherry, more
often with his mother and Chi, more companionable for his father.  Rose
was quieter, but, if possible, more loving towards all.  Budd was at
times wholly disconsolate, and wasted sheets of his best Christmas
note-paper in writing letters to Hazel which were never sent.

Chi went oftener to the small house "over eastwards," where he was sure
of willing ears and sympathetic hearts when he unburdened himself in
regard to his "Lady-bird."

"Fact is," he said to Maria-Ann, as she stood with her apron over her
head watching him plough their garden plot (that was his annual
neighborly offering), "she ’s left a great hole in that house, ’n’ there
is n’t one of us that don’t know it ’n’ feel it;--kind of empty like in
your heart, you know, just as your stomach feels when you ’ve ploughed
an acre of sidlin’ ground, before breakfast--Get up, Bess,
whoa--back!--you don’t hear that laugh of hers in the barn, nor out in
the field, nor up in the pasture; ’n’ you don’t see those great eyes
lookin’ up at you when you ’re harnessin’, nor peekin’ round the corner
of the stall to see if you ’re most through milkin’.  ’N’ you don’t hear
a fiddle makin’ it lively after supper, ’n’ the children ain’t danced
once in the barn this spring."  Chi sighed heavily.

"Don’t Mr. Ford go over there pretty often?" queried Maria-Ann.  "I see
him gallopin’ by two or three times a week."

"Well, what if you do?" Chi answered grumpily, much to Maria-Ann’s
surprise.  "He can’t fiddle the way Ladybird does, ’n’ they all sit ’n’
jabber some kind of lingo--French, they call it, but I call it, good,
straight Canuck--’n’ act as if they were at a party,--Rose, ’n’ Miss
Alton, ’n’ the whole of ’em.  ’T ain’t much company for me.  I get off
to bed about dark.  ’N’ the worst of it is, when he isn’t to our house,
they’re all to his--Come around!"  Chi jerked the reins, to Bess’s
resentful surprise.

"They say he’s payin’ attention to Rose," ventured Maria-Ann, her eyes
following the furrow, which was running not quite true.

"They ’re a parcel of fools," growled Chi, eyeing the furrow with a
dissatisfied air, "Rose need n’t look Alan Ford’s way for attention.
She can have all she wants most anywheres.--Get up, Bess! what you
backin’ that way for!--’n’ folks tongues can be measured by the furlong
’twixt here and Barton’s."

"Well, there ain’t any harm in Rose’s havin’ attention, Chi," said
Maria-Ann with some spirit, and ready to stand up for her sex.

"Did n’t say there was," retorted Chi, in mollified tones. "There ain’t
no more harm in Rose’s havin’ attention than in your havin’ it."

"Me!" exclaimed Maria-Ann, pleasantly surprised out of her momentary
resentment.  "I ain’t had any chance to have any."

"Ain’t you?" said Chi, busying himself with the plough preparatory to
leaving.  "Well, that ain’t any sign you won’t have--Get along, Bess!--I
’ll leave this plough here till to-morrow; I ain’t drawn those last two
furrers straight, ’n’ I ’ve got too much pride to have any man see
that--Malachi Graham, his mark.--No, sir-ee," said Chi, emphatically,
"straight or starve is my motto every time, just you remember that,
Marier-Ann Simmons."

"I will, Chi," laughed Maria-Ann, and went back to her washing, singing
joyfully to her rubbing accompaniment:--

    "Come, sinners all, repent in time,
      The Judgment Day is dawning;
    Sun, moon, and stars to earth incline,
      The trumpet sounds a warning."


Meanwhile letters were coming to every member of the family from Hazel.
As March regained his strength there came as special gifts to him, books
and magazines, and from time to time a beautiful photograph of an
old-world cathedral--Canterbury, or York; a stately castle like Warwick,
or Heidelberg; a peasant’s chalet, or an English cottage to gladden his
artist soul and eye, and transform the walls of his room into
dwelling-places for his ideals.

"Mother," he said rather wistfully to Mrs. Blossom, on the first May day
as they sat together under the old Wishing-Tree, talking over the plans
for his future, "how can I go to work to make it all come true?"

He held in his hand a large photograph of the interior of Cologne
Cathedral, which Hazel had given him.

"There are many ways, dear, which are most unexpectedly opened at times.
No boy with health and perseverance has much to fear."

"But, mother, father had both, and he was n’t able to go through
college.  He told me all about it the other day, and how he had missed
it all through his life."

"I know, March, father failed in attaining to that which was his great
desire, but he succeeded so immeasurably in another direction, that I
think, sometimes, it must have been all for the best."

"Why, mother, father is poor now--how do you mean he has succeeded?"

"My dear boy, you are only in your seventeenth year, and I don’t know
that I can make it plain to you because you _are_ young; but when your
father conquered every selfish tendency in him, put aside what he had
striven so hard for and what was just within his reach, and turned about
and did the duty that the time demanded of him;--when he took his dead
father’s place as provider for the family, and, by his own exertions,
placed his mother and sisters beyond want, before he even allowed
himself to tell me he loved me, he proved himself a successful man; for
he developed, in such hard circumstances, such nobility of character,
that he is rich in love and esteem,--and that, March, and only _that_,
is true wealth."

"I see what you mean, mother, but it does n’t help me to see how I ’m to
get through college, and get the training I need in my profession."
March uttered the last word with pride.  "There is so much a man has to
have for that.  Look at that now," he continued, holding up the
photograph; "I need all that, and that means Europe, and Europe means
money and time, and where is it all to come from?"

His mother smiled at the despairing tone.  "As for time, March, you are
only in your seventeenth year.  That means ten years before you can
begin to work in your profession; and as for the means--" she
hesitated--"I think it is time to tell you something I ’ve been keeping
and rejoicing over these last two weeks."  She drew a letter from her
dress-waist and handed it to him.  "Read this, dear, and tell me what
you think of it."  Wondering, March took it and read:--


HAWKING VALLEY, NORTH CAROLINA,
April 15, 1897.

MY DEAR MRS. BLOSSOM,--Just a year ago to-day I sent my one child to
you, trusting the judgment of my dear friend, Doctor Heath, in a matter
which he felt concerned the future welfare of my daughter.  My home has
been very lonely without her.  You, as a parent, can know something of
what this separation has entailed.

It seemed wise to me, and I know you concurred in my opinion, to take
her away from the conditions, in which she has thriven so wonderfully,
while you were burdened, both in heart and hands, by such a critical
illness as your son’s.  The result confirms the wisdom of my action, for
March’s convalescence has been slow and long; I am thankful to be
assured it is sure.  The burden of an extra member in your family at
this time would, in the long run, prove too heavy for you.

I cannot tell you how I appreciate what you have done for Hazel.  I have
no words to express it.  She returns to me full of life and joy, with no
apparent unwillingness to take up her life again with me, which must
seem dull to her in contrast to that which she had with you.  Yet I know
in her loyal little heart she belongs to you, is a part of your family
henceforth--and I am glad to know it is so, for she needs, and will
need, as a young girl, your motherly influence at all times.

I ’m not taking her away from you for good.  Oh, no!  That would be her
loss as well as mine; but I am testing her a little. I have said I had
no words with which adequately to express my gratitude.  I am your
debtor for my child’s physical well-being--for much else which I do not
find it easy to define. Will you allow me to make some compensation for
your year of devotion?  I do not care what form it take, providing you
will permit me to try to discharge something of the debt--the whole can
never be repaid.  Will you not let me send that splendid son of yours
through college? and give him two years of Europe afterwards?  That
future profession of his has always been of great interest to me.  If
the boy is too proud, as I suspect is the case, to accept the necessary
amount other than as a loan, make it plain to him that I will even yield
a point there--a pretty bad state of affairs for me as a debtor to find
myself in.  If he won’t do this for me--won’t Rose help me out by
permitting me to aid her in cultivating that voice of hers?  I know your
magnanimity, and depend upon you to help me in this.

Hazel does not know I am writing to you, or she would send loving
messages.

My kindest regards to Mr. Blossom, with hearty congratulations for
March, and all sorts of neighborly remembrances for all others of the
Lost Nation.

Sincerely your friend,
       JOHN CURTIS CLYDE.

_To Mrs. Benjamin Blossom._


"Oh, mother!"

A wave of crimson surged into March’s pale face, and the sensitive
nostrils quivered; then two big drops plashed down upon the letter which
he handed to his mother.

"Oh, mother! if only I could--but I can’t!"

He rolled over on the soft pasture turf, face downwards, his head
resting on his arms.

"Why, March dear," said his mother, tenderly, "why can’t you?  I think
it ’s beautiful, so does father."

A sob shook the long, thin frame.  His mother laid her hand on the back
of the yellow head.  "What is it, my dear boy?  Can’t you tell me?"

The head shook energetically beneath her hand, and muffled words issued
from the grass.

"But, March, we thought it would please you to have such an opportunity.
You have read what Mr. Clyde says--you can look upon it as a loan.  I
hope you won’t have any false pride in this matter--"

"’Tis n’t false, mother," came forth from the grass, "and I would like
to accept his offer, if only it were n’t just his."

"Why not his, March?  Surely, Hazel has been like one of us--a real
little sister--"  Another vigorous wagging of the yellow head arrested
his mother in the midst of her sentence.

"Hazel is n’t my sister."

"Why, of course, you can’t feel as near to her as to Rose, but then, you
must see how dear she has become to us all--and Mr. Clyde has put it in
such a way, that the most sensitive person could accept it without
injury to any feeling of true pride.  Take time and think it over,
March.  It has come upon you rather suddenly, and I have been thinking
about it for two weeks."

"It’s no use to think it over."  Deep tragedy now made itself audible,
as March rolled over and sat up, displaying eyes bright with excitement,
flushed cheeks, and a generally determined air of having it out with
himself.

"Well, I can’t understand you, March."

"I wish you could."

His mother smiled in spite of the gravity of the situation. "Can’t you
tell me? or give me some clue to this mysterious determination of
yours?"

March cast a despairing glance at his mother.  "Mother, will you promise
never to tell?"

"Not even your father, March?"

"No, father, nor any one--ever, mother."

"Very well; I promise, March, for I trust you."

"Oh, mother, have n’t you seen?--don’t you know, that I--that I love
Hazel!  And how can I take the money from her father, when I ’m going to
try to make her love me and marry me sometime, when I get through
studying, and--and--Oh, don’t you see?"

And Mrs. Blossom did see--at last.

She spoke very gently, after a minute’s silence, in which March’s ears
burned red to their tips, and his fingers were busy digging up a tiny
strawberry-plant by the roots. "My son, I see, and I honor you for
feeling as you do; but, March, have you thought of the difference
between you and Hazel?"

"What difference, mother?"

Now Mary Blossom was not a worldly woman, neither was she a woman of the
world--and she found it difficult to answer.

"You know how Hazel is placed in life, although you do not know with
what luxury she is surrounded in her home.  She has beauty, a large
circle of friends, immense wealth.  There will be many who will seek her
hand in four years’ time, for she has a wonderful charm of her own, for
all who come close to her.--Is it worth while to attempt, even, to win
this little daughter of the rich? You, a poor boy, with his way to
make?"

"But, mother,"--there was strong protest in the voice--"she did n’t have
any beauty till she came up here to us--and if she _was_ a rich girl,
she was n’t a healthy one till she lived up here, and I don’t see the
good of money and a lot of things, if you ’re sick, and homely, too."
March waxed eloquent in his desire to convince his mother of the justice
of his cause.  "And if she hadn’t come up here she would n’t have got
well, and then she would n’t have grown so beautiful--and she _is_
beautiful, mother."  (Mrs. Blossom nodded assent.)  "And I don’t see why
I have n’t just as much right to try to make her love me as any other
fellow.  You ’ve told us children, dozens of times, it’s just character
that counts, and not money, and if I try as hard as I can to keep
straight and be a good man like father, I don’t see why things would n’t
be all right in the end."

Mrs. Blossom was silenced,--"hoist with her own petard."  "How can I
destroy this lovely, young ideal? I dare not," was her thought.  But
aloud, she said:--"You ’re right, March.  Nothing but character counts.
Make yourself worthy of this little love of yours.  We ’ll keep this in
our own hearts, and when you are tempted to wrong-doing--and there are
fearful temptations for every young man to meet, March,--temptations of
which you can form no conception here in the shelter of your home--just
remember this little talk of ours, and keep yourself unspotted by the
world just by the thought of this dear girl whom you hope some day to
win.  There is nothing, March, that will keep a young man in the right
way like his love for just ’the one girl in the world’--if only she be
worthy of his love.  And I think Hazel will be--even of you."

March flung his arms about her neck and kissed her heartily:

"Dear, little Mother Blossom, I ’ll try, and even if I fail, just the
thought of such a glorious-filorious mother that does n’t laugh at a
fellow--I was afraid you would, though,--will keep me straight enough.
Why, Mother Blossom! I ’d be ashamed to look you in the eyes, if I did a
down-right mean thing."

His mother laughed through her tears.  "I wonder if many mothers get
such a compliment?  Come, dear, the dew is beginning to fall--it’s been
such a heavenly day, I had forgotten it is early spring.  Do you feel
chilly?"

"Not I," laughed March, and proceeded to relieve his feelings after his
favorite method--by turning a double-back somersault down the pasture
slope.

As Mrs. Blossom leaned over to kiss tired, sleepy Budd that night, she
thought complacently to herself:--

"Well, thank fortune, here ’s one who is heart-free," and laughed softly
to herself.  Chi had not told her of Budd’s proposal.


"Wilkins, tell Miss Hazel to come down into the library when she is
dressed for dinner."

"Yes, Marse Clyde."  Wilkins sprang upstairs two steps at a time, and,
knocking at Hazel’s door, delivered his message.

"Tell papa I ’m going to dress early, for I ’ve some things to attend to
about the table, Wilkins."

"Fo’ sho’, Miss Hazel," said Wilkins, with a broad smile of delighted
surprise.

"And tell Mrs. Scott I ’ll choose the service, if she will take out the
linen, and I have ordered the flowers.  Papa said I might."

Wilkins skipped downstairs, delivered his message to the amazed
housekeeper, and then flew into the kitchen to impart his news to the
cook, his confidante and co-worker for years in the Clyde household.

Minna-Lu was preparing a confection, and giving her whole soul to the
making, when Wilkins made his appearance.  She looked up grimly, the
ebony of her countenance shining beneath the immaculate white of her
turban:--

"Wa’ fo’ yo’ hyar?"

Wilkins slapped both knees with the palms of his hands, and bent nearly
double with noiseless laughter; then, straightening himself, approached
Minna-Lu with boldness, despite the repelling wave of the cream-whip
that she held suspended over the bowl, and confided to her the change of
régime, to her edification and delight.

She put down the bowl and whip, stemmed her fists on her broad hips, and
gurgled long and low.  "’F little missus done take rale hol’ er de
reins, dere ain’t no kin’ er show fo’ sech po’ trash."  She indicated
with an upward movement of her thumb the upper regions where the
housekeeper was supposed to be.

"When I wan’s a missus, I wan’s quality folks, an’ little missus do take
de cake.  Nebber see sech er chile.  Dem great, shinin’ eyes, lookin’ at
yo’ out o’ all de do’s, an’ dat laff soun’in’ jes’ like de ol’ mocker
dat nebber knowed nuffin’ ’bout bedtime--yo’ recollecks?"  Wilkins
nodded emphatically, but was unprepared for Minna-Lu’s next move:--

"Git out o’ hyar, yo’ good-fo’-nuffin’ niggah.  Huccome yo’ stan’in’
roun’ wif yo’ legs stiffer ’n de whites er dese yer eggs, an’ yo’ jaw
goin’ like de egg-beatah, an’ de comp’ny comin’ at rale sharp eight."
Minna-Lu took up her bowl, and Wilkins beat a hasty retreat.

It was a warm first of May, and just about the hour when March and his
mother were leaving the Wishing-Tree, that Hazel appeared in the
dining-room.  Wilkins gazed at her in a species of adoration.  Her
orders appeared to him revolutionary, but he obeyed them implicitly and
unhesitatingly.

"Take off the candelabra, Wilkins, it is too warm to-night to have them
on; besides, people don’t have a nice time talking when they have to
peek around them to get a glimpse of the people they ’re talking to."
Wilkins whisked off the candelabra as if they had been made of
thistledown.

"Dat’s so, fo’ sho’, Miss Hazel.  I see de folks doan’ talk when dey
ain’ comf’ble; but I nebber tink ob de can’les."

"When it’s dark you can light all the sconces.  I want you to use the
pale green, Bohemian dinner set to-night; and I want just as little
silver as possible."

Wilkins looked blank, and Hazel laughed.  "Oh, we ’ll make it up with
some cut glass, I ’ll manage it.  I want the table to look cool and
simple, just to-night."

Cool and simple.  Wilkins failed to comprehend it, but such was his
faith in "little Missy," that he carried out her orders to the letter,
and the result was, according to Mrs. Fenlick, "a dream of beauty."

When she had made her preparations to her entire satisfaction, as well
as Wilkins’s, and the latter had called Minna-Lu from her culinary
tug-of-war to witness "little Missy’s" triumph, Hazel ran into the
library.

Her father looked at her in amazement.  Could this radiant, young girl
be the same Hazel of a year ago? They had gone directly to North
Carolina when Hazel had left Mount Hunger, and had been at home but two
days. This little dinner wras given to Mr. Clyde’s intimate friends as
an informal celebration and recognition of his daughter’s return to the
New York house.

Now, as she ran into the room and linked her arm in his, her father
looked down upon her with such evident pride and love, that Hazel
laughed joyfully, kid her cheek against his coat-sleeve and patted his
hand.

"Do I look nice, Papa Clyde?"

"Nice! that’s no word for it, Birdie."  And thereupon he took her in his
arms and gave her such a hug and a kiss, that the pretty dress must have
suffered if it had not been made of the softest of white China-silk.

"Oh, my flowers! you ’ll crush them!" she cried, shielding with both
hands a bunch of flowers at her belt.

"Where did you get all this--this style, daughter mine?  It’s--why, you
’re nothing but a little girl, but it’s ’chic.’"

Hazel enjoyed her father’s admiration to the full.  She drew herself up,
straight and tall, graceful and slender--her head was already above his
shoulder--exclaiming:--

"Little girl!  Well, your little girl designed this gown herself.  I
would n’t have any fuss or frills about it; it’s just plain and full and
soft and clingy, and this sash of soft silk--is n’t it a pretty, pale
green?--feel--"  She caught up a handful of the delicate fabric and
crushed it in her hand, then smoothed it again, and it showed no
wrinkles.  "I ’ve put it on to match the dinner.  I ’ve had it all my
own way--Wilkins did just as I said--and it’s all cool and green and
springy.  You ’ll see."

"Where did you get these flowers?"  Mr. Clyde touched the bunch of
arbutus, that showed so delicately pink and white against the white of
her dress and the green of her sash.

A wave of beautiful color shot up to the roots of the little crinkles of
chestnut hair on her temples; she touched the blossoms caressingly.  "I
wrote March about this dinner-party, and how it was the first at which I
had been hostess, and he wrote back and wanted to know what I was going
to wear, and I told him--and this morning these lovely things came by
mail all done up in cotton wool in a tin cracker-box, the kind Chi uses
to put his worm-bait in, when he goes fishing.  Are n’t they lovely? And
was n’t March lovely to think of them, papa?"

"They are n’t half as lovely as you are," said Mr. Clyde, earnestly,
replying to half of her question only.  "You are my unspoiled
Hazel-blossom--"  Then a sudden, intrusive thought caught and arrested
his words.  "Hazel Blossom," he repeated to himself, looking at her
unconscious face as he uttered the last word, "Good heavens! Could such
a thing be?"

"De Cun’le an’ Mrs. Fenlick," announced Wilkins.

And when they were all seated at the table--the Colonel and Mrs.
Fenlick, Doctor and Mrs. Heath, Aunt Carrie and Uncle Jo, the Masons and
the Pearsells--with no candelabra to interfere with the merry speech and
glances, with the light from the candles in the sconces shining softly
on the exquisite napery, on the low bed of white tulips in the centre
and the grace of the pale, green porcelain, with the tall Bohemian
Romer-glasses before the plates--what wonder that Mrs. Fenlick
pronounced it a "dream of beauty"?

When their guests had gone, Mr. Clyde turned to Hazel:--"I shall be glad
to open the Newport cottage again, Birdie, with such a little hostess to
help me entertain."

"The Newport house, papa!" Hazel exclaimed, a distinct note of
disappointment sounding in her voice.

"Why not, dear?  I thought of getting down there by the tenth; in fact,
gave my orders to Mrs. Scott to begin packing to-morrow."

Hazel was evidently struggling with herself.  She fingered the arbutus
nervously; took them out of her belt; inhaled their fragrance.  Then she
looked up with a smile, although the corners of her mouth drooped and
trembled a little:--

"Why, of course, why not, papa?  It’s so much pleasanter there in May,
than when everybody is down for the summer."

Her father sat down in an easy-chair, put an arm around his daughter,
and drew her down to a seat on the arm of the chair.

"Now, Hazel, I want you to tell me all about it.  Don’t you want to go?"

"Yes, if you ’re there, papa, but--" she turned suddenly and her arm
stole around his neck--"don’t leave me there alone, papa, please don’t."

"Leave you--I?  Why what do you mean, dear?"

"Oh, it is so lonesome when you are away, papa, when you go off yachting
with the Colonel--and the house is so big, and there ’s nobody to talk
to and say good-night to--and--and, oh, dear!"  The tears began to come,
but she struggled bravely for a few minutes.

"Why, little girl, you have never told me you were lonesome without me:
indeed, you have never shown any sign of it, or of wanting me around
much.  I never thought--why, Hazel."  Down went the curly head on his
shoulder, and the sobs grew loud and frequent.

"There, there, Birdie," he said soothingly, stroking her head, "you ’re
all tired out; this party has been too much for you--"

An energetic, protesting head-shake was followed by broken
sentences--"It was n’t that--I ’m not tired--you don’t know, papa--I
didn’t know--know I was lonesome, and that I was--I think I was
homesick--dreadfully--but Barbara Frietchie, you know--I had to be
brave--and, I have tried not to show it to make you feel unhappy--and I
love you so! but, oh, dear!  I miss them so dreadfully, and I hoped--I
was a member of the N.B.--B.O.--O., Oh--dear me,--Society, and the
by-law says--I mean March read it--Oh, papa!"

"Well, well, there, there, dear," said the somewhat mystified father,
bending all his efforts to soothe this evidently perturbed spirit, "why
did n’t you tell me before?"

"Because I was Barbara Frietchie."

"Now, Hazel, sit up and look me in the face and tell me what you mean.
I supposed I was holding Hazel Clyde in my arms and not old Barbara
Frietchie.  Please explain."

"I thought I wrote you, papa," Hazel could not help smiling through her
tears, for it did strike her as rather funny about papa’s holding the
patriotic, old lady in his arms.

"Well, you did n’t tell me that."  So Hazel explained.

Mr. Clyde nodded approval.  "Very good, I approve of the N.B.B.O.O.
Society, and of the present Barbara Frietchie’s heroism--but no more of
it is called for.  You see, I fully intended you should pay your
friends--my friends--a visit this summer, but I thought it would be much
better later in the season when Mrs. Blossom would be rested from the
fatigue of March’s illness--"

"Oh, papa!"  A squeeze effectually impeded further utterance.  "I don’t
care how soon we go to Newport, or anywhere--of course, if _you_ are
with me--as long as I can go to Mount Hunger sometime this summer.  And,
besides," she added eagerly, "we planned next winter’s visit from Rose,
didn’t we?"

"I should rather think we did.  We shall be very proud of our beautiful
friend, Rose, and delighted to have our friends meet her, shan’t we?"
Another squeeze precluded, for the moment, articulate speech.

"Yes," Hazel cried, enthusiastically, "we ’ll take her to concerts and
operas--just think, papa, with that lovely voice she has never heard a
concert!--and we ’ll take her to the theatre and--"

"And," her father went on, growing enthusiastic himself at the prospect,
for he was the soul of hospitality, "and we ’ll give her a dainty dinner
or two, and possibly a little dance--few and early, you know--"

"Oh--ee!" cried Hazel, forgetting her woe, "and Mrs. Heath will give a
lunch-party for her, and, perhaps, Aunt Carrie a tea, and Mrs. Fenlick a
reception--"

"Heavens!" interrupted her father, "you ’ll kill her with kindness--that
fresh, wild rose can’t stand all that--"

"Oh, yes, she can, papa; she can stand that just as well as I stood
going up there where everything was so different."

"True," said Mr. Clyde, thoughtfully, "it was different."

"Oh, it was, papa!  I never had to go to bed alone. Mrs. Blossom always
came to say good-night and to kiss me, and to--to--"

"To what?" asked her father.

"You won’t mind if I tell you?" Hazel asked, half-shyly.

"Mind!  I should say not; I should mind if you did n’t tell me."

"--to say ’Our Father’ with me, papa; you know no one ever said it with
me before, and it’s--it’s such a comfy time to feel sorry and talk over
what you ’ve done wrong; and it’s _that_ I miss so."

"I don’t blame you, Birdie," said her father, quietly. "But now see how
late it is!"--he pointed to the clock--"Eleven!  This will never do for
a _débutante_. Good-night, darling.  Sweet dreams of Rose and the
N.B.B.O.O. Society."

"Good-night, Papa Clyde; Doctor Heath says you are the most splendid
fellow in the world--but I know you are the dearest father in the world;
good-night, I ’ve had a lovely party."

She ran upstairs, but, in a moment, her father heard her tripping down
again.  Her head parted the portières.  "I just came back to tell you,
that this kind of a talk we ’ve had is just as good as the Mount Hunger
bedtime-talks. I shan’t be homesick any more."  And away she ran.

Now John Curtis Clyde was a pew-owner--as had been his father and
grandfather before him--in one of the Fifth Avenue churches, and duly
made his appearance in that pew every Sunday morning.  He entered, too,
into the service with hearty voice, and made his responses without, the
while, giving undue thought to the world. But when he had said "Our
Father" with his little daughter by his side, he had supposed his duty
performed to the extent of his needs--of another’s, his child’s, he gave
no thought.

To-night, however, as he sat in the easy-chair where Hazel had left him,
it began to dawn upon him slowly that his little daughter, during her
fourteen years, might have had other needs, for which he had not
provided, nor, perhaps, with all his riches was capable of providing.

The clock chimed twelve,--one,--two--; John Clyde, with a sigh, rose and
went up to bed--a wiser and a better man.



                                  XXII

                                  ROSE


What a summer that was!  Mr. Clyde sent Hazel up to the Blossoms for
July and again for September, when he, the Colonel and Mrs. Fenlick, the
Pearsells and the Masons, Aunt Carrie and Uncle Jo took possession of
the entire inn at Barton’s River, and for a month coached and rode
throughout the "North Country," all in the cool September weather.  Jack
Sherrill joined them for the last three weeks, and, this time, Maude
Seaton was not of the party.

"I just headed her off every time she made a dead set at any one of us
for an invitation," said Mrs. Fenlick one day in confidence to her
intimate, Mrs. Pearsell, as they sat on the vine-covered veranda of the
inn, "but she proved a regular octopus.  She got the Colonel in her
toils one morning at the Casino, and I pretended to be faint--yes, I
did--just to get his attention for a sufficient time to make a fuss, and
get him alone in the carriage; then, of course, I settled it.  Oh, dear!
men are so guileless in spots!"--Mrs. Fenlick gave a weary sigh--"What I
have n’t been through with that girl!  Anyway, she’s been out two
winters, now, and she has n’t caught Jack Sherrill yet.  I don’t think
there is much chance after the first season for a girl to make a really
fine match, do you?"  Then they fell to discussing the pros, and cons,
of the question with evergreen interest.

Jack Sherrill, for one, had no thought of Miss Seaton. He had sent the
valentine-flowers, and the sentiment from Barry Cornwall’s love-song,
with a strange kind of "kill or cure" feeling.

He had communed with himself, at twilight of one February day, as he lay
at full length on the cushioned window-seat of his room from which he
looked down upon the darkening, snow-covered campus and the anatomy of
the elms showing black against it.  His pipe had gone out, but he
derived some satisfaction in pulling away at it mechanically, while he
thought out the situation for himself.

"What’s the use of a man’s hanging fire when he _knows_?" he thought.
"Now, I love her--love her."  (Jack’s hand stole into the breast of his
jacket and crushed a bit of paper there; he smiled.)  "Of course she
does n’t know, and won’t know for a while, but it shan’t be through any
neglect of mine that she does n’t; and when she knows--there ’s the
rub!--will she care for me, Jack Sherrill?  I ’ve never done anything in
my life to make a girl like that care for me.

"But there’s one thing I ’d stake my life on--she would n’t marry a man
for his money.  A man ’s got to be loved for himself--not for what he
can give a woman, or do for her, but just for himself, if it’s going to
be the real thing, and _last_.  And what am I that a girl like that
should love me--"  Jack was growing very humble.  He pulled himself
together: "Anyhow, I’ll send the flowers and the sentiment, _I mean it_;
I don’t care what she thinks!"  Jack’s courage rose as he began to feel
something like defiance of Fate.

Just then his chum came in.

"There’s no use, Sherrill," he said, flinging himself down upon the
cushioned seat Jack had just vacated; "we can’t have the theatricals
unless you take the girl’s part. It won’t put you out any--smooth face
and no scrub. You ’ve been it once, and it will be a dead failure if you
aren’t in it now."

"I don’t see how I can," replied Jack, shortly, for this intrusion on
his mood irritated him.  "I told you, all of you, at the Club last year,
that I would n’t play after I was a Junior."

"Well, what if you did?" rejoined his chum, a little crossly.  "You ’re
not so uncompromisingly steadfast in other things that you can’t afford
to change your mind in such a trifle as this."

"Come, don’t be touchy," said Jack, good-humoredly. "Hit right out from
the shoulder, old man, and tell me what you mean."

Dawns smiled, clasped his hands under his head, and raised his merry
blue eyes to Jack, who was lighting up.

"They say over at the Club that you have thrown Maude Seaton over, but
Grayson took up the Seaton cudgels and made the statement that she had
thrown you over, and you won’t take the girl’s part in the play because
she is coming on for it."

Jack hesitated.  He hated to play at any comedy of love when his heart
was throbbing with the genuine article. But, after all, it might be the
best way to silence the Club’s tongues as well as some others in Boston
and New York.

"I ’ll help you out this once, Dawns, but I tell you plainly I won’t
have anything more to do with the Club theatricals while I ’m in
college," he replied, ignoring both of Dawns’ statements, which
omissions his chum noticed, and made his own thoughts: "Just like
Sherrill.  You can’t get any hold of him to know what he really feels
and thinks."

Jack played his part accordingly, repeating the success of the year
before, and scoring new triumphs.  He was glad when it was over, and he
could go back to his room "dead tired," as he said to himself, but with
the conviction that he had settled matters to his own satisfaction if
not to that of one other.

The room was in such disorder!  Evidently, Dawns had been having a
little spree before Jack’s late return, and the smoke had left the air
heavy.

Jack dropped his paraphernalia in the middle of the floor--peeling
himself as he stood yawning and thanking his lucky star that he was not
born a woman to be handicapped by such things!--_décolleté_ white satin
waist, long-trained satin gown, necklace--Jack gave the string a twitch,
for it had knotted, and the Roman pearls rolled into unreachable places
all over the floor.  Off flew one white satin slipper--number ten, broad
at the toes!--with a fine "drop kick" hitting the ceiling and landing on
the book-shelves; the other followed suit.  White fan with chain, white
elbow gloves, corsage bouquet--all dropped in a promiscuous heap.  A
general stampede loosened silk under-skirt and dainty muslin petticoat,
lace-trimmed.  A wrench,--corset-cover and corsets were torn from their
moorings.  Jack groaned--or something worse--at the flummery, and,
leaving everything as it had dropped, rushed off into his bedroom, only
to find that he had forgotten to take off the blonde wig and wash off
the rouge.

At last, however, he was asleep, and slept the sleep of the justified.

He slept both soundly and late, but when he awoke the next morning his
first thought was of the flowers for Mount Hunger and the appropriate
sentiment.  Accordingly, having reckoned the arrival of train, departure
of stage, etc., to a minute, he selected the flowers, wrote the
sentiment, not without forebodings of the usual kind, and despatched
both to Mount Hunger with high hopes, notwithstanding prescient
feelings.  Then, metaphorically, he sat down to await an answer.  He
waited just two months, and during that time had turned emotionally
black and blue more than once at the thought of his temerity in sending
such a message.

Hazel had written him at once from North Carolina to tell him of March’s
illness, and on the same day she sent a penitent note to Rose,
confessing her shame at her attempt at deception, and explaining that it
was because she loved her cousin so dearly she could not bear to see his
gift slighted.

When March was out of danger, Rose had written to Hazel a frank, loving
letter, blaming herself for her want of self-control, and begging
Hazel’s forgiveness for her harsh words:


"It’s all my old pride, Hazel dear," she wrote, "that I have to fight
very often.  It was most kind of Mr. Sherrill to remember me when he has
so many, many other friends whom he has known longer, and I shall write
and tell him so.  Now that my heart is lighter on account of dear March,
I can write more easily.

"We miss you so! when are you coming back to us?  Chi looks perfectly
disconsolate, and we all feel a great deal more than we care to say.

"I wish you were here to have the fun of the French evenings, three
times a week.  You speak it so beautifully, Mr. Ford says, and I thank
you so much for all the help you gave me in teaching me.  Mr. Ford
speaks it very well, too, so Miss Alton says.  We all meet at our house
once a week on March’s account, and then one evening in the week, Miss
Alton and I (she ’s lovely) go over to the Fords’ for music.  He has
sent for some lovely songs for me--old English ones, and we’re going to
have a little celebration for March’s birthday in May. How I wish you
were to be here!

"March is lying on the settle, dreaming over that exquisite photograph
of Cologne Cathedral you sent him; I’ve just asked him if he had any
messages for you, and he smiled--oh, it’s so good to see his dear smile
again!  You can’t think how tall he’s grown since his illness, and he’s
so thin--and said, ’I sent one to her this morning myself; she can’t
have two a day.’  But you know March’s ways.

"Now I must stop; Mr. Ford is coming over on horseback and I am riding
Bob now.  I wear an old riding-habit of Martie’s--it fits fine!  I have
more to tell you, but will finish after I get back from the ride--there
comes Mr. Ford--"


This letter Hazel duly forwarded to her cousin.  "He ’ll know by what
she says in it that she really was pleased, for all she acted so queer,"
she said to herself as she enclosed it in one to Jack, in which she took
special pains to inform him that he had never told her whether he had
given those verses Rose sang to Miss Seaton.


"I told Rose I was sure they were for Miss Seaton, and Rose said she did
n’t mind copying them herself for you if you wished them.  Do tell me if
you gave them to her.  I told Rose your valentine to her last year was a
rose-heart.  I hope you don’t mind my telling, for, you know, Jack, all
our family think you are engaged to her--"


Jack dropped Hazel’s letter at this point and gave a decided groan.

"What luck!" he muttered.  "It’s all up with the whole thing now.  No
girl of any spirit would stand all that--and Hazel meddling so! thinking
she is doing her level best to explain matters;--What an ass I was to
send that flower-valentine to Maude--and she thinks I gave her those
verses! and there ’s this Ford skulking round and having it all his own
way; he ’s just the kind a girl would care for--those musical cranks are
no end sentimental.  Hang it all!"

Jack thrust his hands deep into his pockets, took several decided turns
up and down the room, squared his shoulders, pursed his lips, cut his
two classroom lectures, ordered up Little Shaver and rode out to the
polo grounds, where, finding himself alone, he put the little fellow
through his best paces, ignoring the fact that snow and ice wore on the
pony’s nerves--and had a game out to himself.

When just two months had passed, he received a note from Rose, his
first, and it was accorded the reception due to first notes in
particular.  After this, Jack developed certain wiles of diplomacy, he
had thus far, in his various experiences, held in abeyance.  He wrote
sympathetic notes to Mrs. Blossom; commissioned Chi to find him another
polo pony--Morgan, if possible--among the Green Hills; sent March a set
of illustrated books on architecture, and complained to Doctor Heath of
a pain that racked his chest; at which the Doctor’s eyes twinkled. He
said he would examine him later, but he was convinced it was heart
trouble, the symptoms were apt to mislead and confuse.  He added
gravely: "Too much hard polo riding, Jack; get away into the
country--mountains if you can, and you ’ll recuperate fast enough.  I
’ll make an examination in the fall."

Jack obeyed to the letter, and what a month of September that was!

There were glorious rides with Rose along the beautiful river valley and
over the mountain roads.  There were delightful evenings at the Fords’,
and silent, beatific walks with Rose homewards beneath the harvest moon.
There were morning rambles with Rose up over the pastures and deep into
the woodlands for late ferns and hooded gentians.  There were adorable
hours of doing nothing but adore, while Rose was busy about her work,
setting the table for tea (Jack paid his board at the inn, but he lived
at the Blossoms’), or laying the cloth for dinner, or on Saturday
morning even making rolls for the tea to which the whole party at the
inn were invited.

Chi was in his glory.  Little Shaver came trotting regularly every day
up through the woods’-road, and whinnied "Good-morning" first to Fleet,
then to Chi. There were general coaching-parties to Woodstock and
Brandon, in which Mrs. Blossom was guest, and a grand tea at the Fords’
for all the guests, with a musicale for a finish, and an informal dance
in the Blossoms’ barn to which all the Lost Nation were invited.

They accepted, one and all.  Captain Spillkins was in his element, so he
said.  He and Mrs. Fenlick danced a two-step in a manner to win the
commendation of the entire assembly.  Miss Elvira and Miss Melissa went
through the square dance escorted by Jack and Uncle Jo.  There were
round dances and contra dances.  Uncle Israel contributed an "1812" jig,
and Mr. Clyde passed round the hat for his sole benefit.  There were
waltzes for those who could waltz, and polkas for those who could polka,
and schottische and minuet.  "There never was such a dance since before
the Deluge!" declared Mrs. Fenlick, when Captain Spillkins escorted her
to a seat on a sap-bucket; and then they all went at it again in a grand
finale, the Virginia Reel--Chi and Hazel, Mr. Clyde and Aunt Tryphosa
for head and foot couple; Maria-Ann with Jack; Alan Ford with Mrs.
Fenlick; the Colonel with Mrs. Blossom whom he admired greatly; March
and Miss Alton--such a double row of them!

Poor Reub sat in one of the empty stalls and watched the fun with slow,
half-understanding smile, and Ruth Ford reclined in a rocking-chair in
the corner, and with merry laughter and sparkling wit soothed the dull
ache in her heart that the knowledge that she was henceforth to be a
"Shut-out" from all that life had at first given her.

The next day after the dance there was a grand dinner given at the inn
by the Newport party to all the Lost Nation; and, later on, private
entertainments for Mr. and Mrs. Blossom and the Fords.  At last, when
the first maple leaves crimsoned and the frost silvered the mullein
leaves in the pasture, Hazel, her father, Jack, and their friends bade
good-bye to the Mountain and all its joys of acquaintance, and in some
cases, friendship, and turned their faces, not without reluctance on the
part of some of them, city-wards.

"Oh, mother! has n’t it been too beautiful for anything?" exclaimed
Rose, turning to her mother, as the last of the riding-party waved his
cap in farewell to those on the porch.  It was Jack.

"We have had a happy summer, Rose;--I think they have, too," her mother
added, shading her eyes from the setting sun.  "You ’ll be very lonely
here at home, dear, after all this gayety."

"Lonely!  Why, Martie Blossom, how can you think of such a thing!" said
Rose, still scanning the lower road for a last glimpse of the riders.
"See, see, they are all waving their handkerchiefs!"

The whole Blossom family laid hold of what they could--napkins, towels,
a table-cloth, and Chi seized his shirt, which he had hung on the line
to dry, and waved frantically until the party was no longer to be seen.

"Lonesome! the idea," said Rose, turning to her mother. "Think of all
the studying March and I have to do, and the French evenings, and the
Fords, and Thanksgiving coming, and then Christmas, and then--

"Then," said Mrs. Blossom, interrupting her, "my Rose takes a little
plunge into that whirlpool of gay life and fashion in New York."

"Yes," said Rose, with a happy smile that spoke volumes to her mother,
"I do look forward to it, Martie dear; but the whirlpool shan’t suck me
under; I shall come home just your old-fashioned Rose-pose."

"I hope so, dear," said her mother, a little wistfully, and called the
children in to supper.

Indeed, they found little opportunity to miss their friends in the
ensuing months; for there came kindly letters, and friendly letters, and
something very nearly resembling love-letters.  The mail brought papers,
books, and magazines.  The express brought to Barton’s River many a box
of lovely flowers.  At Christmas came more than one remembrance for them
all, including Aunt Tryphosa and Maria-Ann, and four special invitations
for Rose to visit in New York directly after the holidays.  One was from
Mr. Clyde--with an urgent request from Hazel to say "yes" by telegram
and "relieve her misery," so she put it--; one from Mrs. Heath; one from
Aunt Carrie, and a gushingly cordial one from Mrs. Fenlick!  Each
claimed her for a month.  But Mrs. Blossom shook her head.

"No, no, dear, you would wear your welcome out.  I shall need you at
home by the last of February.  I think you can accept only Mr. Clyde’s
and Mrs. Heath’s.  You can accept social courtesies from the other four
of course."

"But, mother," Rose’s face was the image of despair, "what shall I wear?
Just hear what Hazel has planned--’lunches, dinners, theatre,
concerts’--why!  I can never go to all those things."

"I ’ve thought of that, too, Rose; but the little colt shan’t go bare
this time--it will take some courage, dear, to wear the same things over
and over again, not to mention the puzzle of planning for it all."

"I ’m not ’Molly Stark’ for nothing," laughed Rose, and the two women
began to plan for what Chi called "Rose’s campaign."  The pretty white
serge was lengthened and made over to appear more grown up, as Cherry
put it; the dark blue wash silk--Hazel’s gift that had never been made
up--was fashioned into a "swell affair"--so March pronounced it; the
old-fashioned blue lawn was cut over into a dainty full waist, and then
Mrs. Blossom added her surprise--a delicate blue taffeta skirt to match
the waist.  Rose went into raptures over it, and sought the best bedroom
regularly three times a day to feast her girl’s eyes on the silken
loveliness as it lay in state on the best bed.  A new dark blue serge
was to do duty for a street suit, with a plain felt hat.  For best,
there was a turban made of dark blue velvet to match the wash silk.

"And four pairs of gloves!  Martie Blossom, you are an angel, to give me
these that Hazel gave you a year ago last Christmas.  Have you been
keeping them for me all this time?"

Mrs. Blossom smiled assent, and was rewarded by a squeeze that
interfered decidedly with her breathing apparatus.

The night before she left, Rose "costumed" for the benefit of the entire
family, who were assembled in the long-room, together with Aunt Tryphosa
and Maria-Ann, to see Rose in her finery.

"I ’ll make it a climax," said Rose, laughing half-shamefacedly, as she
slipped upstairs to change her street suit, which had brought forth
admiring "Ohs" and "Ahs" from the children, and favorable criticism from
their elders.

Down she came in her white serge; there were nods and smiles of
approval.

Her reappearance in the wash silk and velvet turban was the signal, on
March’s part, for a burst of applause, and cries of admiration from Budd
and Cherry.

"Grand transformation scene!" cried March, as Rose tripped down in the
blue taffeta, looking like a very rose herself.

"Beats all!" murmured Chi, who had become nearly speechless with
admiration, "what clothes ’ll do for a good-lookin’ woman; but for a
ravin’, tearin’ beauty like our Rose--George Washin’ton!  She ’ll open
those high-flyers’ eyes."

"Cinderella--fifth act!" shouted March as, after a prolonged wait, he
heard Rose on the stairs.

But was it Rose?

The beautiful India mull of her mother’s had been transformed into a
ball-dress.  She had drawn on her long white gloves and tucked into the
simple, ribbon belt three of Jack’s Christmas roses.

Maria-Ann gasped, and that broke the, to Rose, somewhat embarrassing
silence.

Marshalled by March, the whole family formed a procession, and Rose was
reviewed:--back breadths, front breadths, flounces, waist, gloves; all
were thoroughly inspected.

Chi touched the lower flounce of the half-train gingerly with one
work-roughened forefinger, then, straightening himself suddenly, sighed
heavily.

"What’s the matter, Chi?" Rose laughed at the dubious expression on his
face.

"You ain’t Rose Blossom nor Molly Stark any longer. You ’re just a
regular Empress of Rooshy, ’n’ you don’t look like that girl I took
along to sell berries down to Barton’s last summer, ’n’ I wish you--" he
hesitated.

"What, Chi?" said Rose.

"I wish you was back again, old sunbonnet, old calico gown, patched
shoes ’n’ all--"

"Oh, Chi, no, you don’t," said Rose, laughing merrily; "you forget, I
shall probably see Miss Seaton down there in New York, and you wouldn’t
want me to appear a second time before her in that old rig."

"You ’re right, Rose-pose," replied Chi, his expression brightening
visibly.  He drew close to her and whispered audibly:

"Just sail right in, Molly Stark, ’n’ cut that sassy girl out right ’n’
left.  She never could hold a candle to you."

"Sh-sh, Chi!" said Mrs. Blossom, meaningly, but with a twinkle in her
eye.

"I mean just what I say, Mis’ Blossom.  Folks can’t come up here on this
Mountain to sass us to our faces, ’n’ she _did_;--I’ve stayed riled ever
since, ’n’ I hope she’ll get sassed back in a way that ’ll make her hair
stand just a little more on end than it did, when she gave that mean,
snickerin’ giggle--"

"Chi, Chi," Mrs. Blossom interrupted him in an appeasing tone.

"You need n’t Chi me, Mis’ Blossom.  These children are just as near to
me as if they was my own, ’n’ when they ’re sassed, I ’m sassed too; ’n’
my great-grandfather fought over at Ticonderogy, ’n’ I ain’t bound to
take any more sass than he took--"

By this time the whole family were in fits of laughter over Chi’s
persistent use of so much "sass," and, at last, Chi himself joined in
the laugh at his excessive heat:--

"Over nothin’ but a wind-bag, after all," he concluded.

On the following morning, Mr. Blossom, Chi, March and Budd drove down to
Barton’s to see Rose off.  The old apple-green pung had been fitted with
two broad boards for seats, and covered with buffalo robes and horse
blankets.  There was just room in the tail for Rose’s old-fashioned
trunk and a small strapped box, which held two dozen of new-laid eggs,
six small, round cheeses, and a wreath of ground hemlock and
bitter-sweet--a neighborly gift from Aunt Tryphosa and Maria-Ann to
Hazel and Mr. Clyde.

As the train moved away from the station, Chi watched it with brimming
eyes.

"She’ll never come back the same Rose-pose, livin’ among all those
high-flyers--never," he muttered to himself; but aloud he remarked, with
forced cheerfulness, turning to Mr. Blossom while he dashed the blinding
drops from his eyes with the back of his hand:

"Looks mighty like a thaw, Ben; kind of wets down, don’t it?"

"Yes, Chi," said Mr. Blossom, busy with conquering his own heartache,
"we ’d better be getting on home;" and the masculine contingent of the
Blossom household climbed into the pung and took their way homeward in
silence.

But what a reception that was for the transplanted Rose!

Mr. Clyde met her at the Grand Central Station, and Rose felt how
welcome she was just by the hand-clasp, and his first words:

"We have you at last, Rose; I would n’t let Hazel come because I thought
the train might be late, and there’s a cold rain falling.  Martin, take
this box--"

"Oh, no; I must carry that myself," laughed Rose, looking up at the
liveried footman with something like awe.  "I promised Aunt Tryphosa and
Maria-Ann I would n’t let any one take them till they were safe in the
house; thank you," she bowed courteously to Martin, who confided to the
coachman so soon as they were on the box: "Hi ’ave n’t seen nothink so
’ansome since Hi ’ve bean in the States."

As the brougham whirled into the Avenue, and the electric lights shone
full into the carriage, Rose could see the luxuriously upholstered
interior, and a sudden thought of the old apple-green pung and the
buffalo robes dimmed her eyes.  But it was only for a moment; Mr. Clyde
was telling her of Hazel’s impatience, and how the coachman had had
special orders from her to hurry up so soon as he should be on the
Avenue, and he had hardly finished before the coachman drew rein,
slackening his rapid pace as he turned a corner, Martin was opening the
door, and Hazel’s voice was calling from a wide house entrance flooded
with soft light:

"Oh, Rose, my Rose!  Is it really you, at last?"

"And this, I am sure, is Wilkins," said Rose, when finally Hazel set her
arms free.  "We ’ve heard so much of you, that I feel as if I had known
you a long time." Rose held out her hand with such sincere cordiality
that Wilkins’ speech was suddenly reduced to pantomime, and he could
only extend his other hand rather helplessly towards the box that Rose
still carried.  But Rose refused to yield it up.

"Here, Hazel, I promised Maria-Ann and Aunt Tryphosa I would n’t give it
into any hands but yours.  Oh! be careful--they ’re eggs!"

"Eggs!" repeated Hazel, laughing.  "Here, Wilkins, unstrap it for me,
quick--Oh, papa, look!"  She held out the box to Mr. Clyde, and,
somehow, John Curtis Clyde for a moment thought with Chi, that there was
going to be a "thaw."  Each egg was rolled in white cotton batting and
wrapped in pink tissue paper.  The six little cheeses were enclosed in
tin-foil, and cheeses and eggs were embedded in the Christmas wreath.
On a piece of pasteboard was written in unsteady characters:


To Mr. John Curtis Clyde of New York City, with the season’s
compliments.

MOUNT HUNGER, VERMONT, January 6th, 1898.


"And you ’ve had such lovely flowers come for you, five boxes of them,
Rose, and piles of invitations.  I ’m sure you ’re engaged up to Ash
Wednesday."

"Come, Chatterbox," said her father, smiling at her volubility, "Rose
has just time to dress for dinner; you know Aunt Carrie and Uncle Jo are
coming to-night."

"Oh, I forgot all about them; you ’ll have to hurry, Rose.  Wilkins,
bring up the flowers.  Come on," Hazel ran up the broad flight of
stairs, carpeted with velvety crimson, to the first landing, from which,
through a lofty arch in the hall, Rose caught a glimpse of softly
lighted rooms, the walls enriched with engravings and etchings, with
here and there a landscape or marine in watercolors.  Rose drew a long
breath.  This, then, was what Chi meant when he said "Hazel was rich as
Croesus."

"But, Hazel, my trunk has n’t come," said Rose, as she followed her
hostess into the spacious bedroom, which was separated from Hazel’s only
by a dressing-room.

"It ’ll be here in a few minutes; papa has a special man, who always
delivers them almost as soon as we get here."

Sure enough, the trunk came in time; and Rose, as she unpacked, finding
evidences of the loving mother-care in every fold, cried within her
heart, looking about at the exquisite appointments of her room and
dressing-room:

"Martie, Martie, what would all this be without you!--Oh, I know now,
what dear old Chi meant when he said Hazel was poor where we are
rich--only a housekeeper to see to all Hazel’s things--"

"Rose, what flowers are you going to wear?" called Hazel from her room.

"I have n’t had time to look," Rose called back, surveying her white
serge with great satisfaction in the pier-glass.

"Do look, then, and see who they ’re from."

"Oh, Hazel, do come and see.  How kind everybody has been!  Here are
cards from Mrs. Heath and Doctor Heath, and your Aunt Carrie, and Mr.
Sherrill, and Mrs. Fenlick, and even that Mr. Grayson who was up at our
house to tea a year ago!"

"They are lovely.  Whose are you going to wear?"

"I ’ll make up a bunch of one or two from each, that will show my
appreciation of all their favors."

Hazel looked slightly crestfallen.  "I hoped you ’d wear Jack’s--they
’re the loveliest with white--" she lifted the white lilacs--"and they
’re so rare just now.  I heard Aunt Carrie say that one of the girls had
put off her wedding for six weeks, just because she couldn’t have white
lilacs for it."

"They ’ll last with care three days surely, and I can wear them
to-morrow evening," replied Rose, bending to inhale their delicate
fragrance.

"So you can, for papa is going to give a dinner for you to-morrow night,
and afterwards, he has promised to take you to a dance at Mrs.
Pearsell’s.  I can’t go, you know, for I ’m not grown up; but you can
tell me all about it. We ’re going to have lots of fun this week, for
school does not begin for several days.  Come."

Together they went down to the drawing-room, and Wilkins announced that
dinner was served.

After it was over he sought Minna-Lu in her own domains, and gave vent
to his long pent emotions.

"Minna-Lu," he whispered, mysteriously, "dere ’s an out an’ out angel
ben hubberin’ ’bout de table--"

"Fo’ de Lawd!"  Minna-Lu turned upon him fiercely, for she was
superstitious to the very marrow.  "Wa’ fo’ yo’ come hyar, skeerin’ de
bref out a mah bones wif yo’ sp’r’ts!  Yo’ go long home wha’ yo’
b’long."

But Wilkins was not to be repulsed in this manner. "Nebber see sech
ha’r, an’ jes’ lillum-white--"

"Oh, go ’long!  Lillum-white ha’r," interrupted Minna-Lu, with scathing
sarcasm.  "Huccome yo’ know de angels hab lillum-white ha’r?"

"Huccome I know?--’Case I see de shine, jes’ lake yo’ see in de
dror’n-room."

"De shine ob lillum-white ha’r in de dror’n-room! ’Pears lake yo’ head
struck ile--"

"Yo’ hol’ yo’ tongue, Minna-Lu," retorted Wilkins, irritated at the
continued evidence of disbelief on the part of his coadjutor.  "Jes’ yo’
hide back ob de dumb-waitah to-morrah ebenin’ when de dessert comes on,
an’ see fo’ yo’se’f!"  He departed in high dudgeon, and Minna-Lu gurgled
long and low to herself, but, in her turn, was interrupted by the sound
of tripping steps on the basement flight.

Minna-Lu hastily put her fat hands up to her turban to see if it were on
straight, and smoothed her apron, muttering:

"Clar to goodness, ef it ain’t jes’ mah luck to hab little Missus come
into dis yere hen-roost?" she rapidly surveyed her immaculate kitchen
with anxious eye.

"Minna-Lu, this is my friend, Miss Rose; the one who did up those lovely
preserves, and here are some new-laid eggs and some cheeses that Miss
Maria-Ann Simmons--you know I told you all about her and the hens--has
sent papa."

Minna-Lu gazed at Rose in open admiration.  The faithful colored
retainer had her thorny side and her blossom one.

Rose put out her hand, and Minna-Lu took it in both hers.  "I ’se mighty
glad yo’ come, Miss Rose, dere ain’t no strawberry-blossom nor no
rose-blossom can hol’ a can’le to yo’ own honey se’f.  Dese yere cheeses
is prime."  She examined one with the nose of a connoisseur.  "Jes’ fill
de bill wif de salad-chips to-morrah."  She stemmed her fists on her
hips, and her mellow, contented gurgle caused Rose and Hazel to laugh,
too.

"What is it, Minna-Lu?" said Hazel, reading the signs of the times.

"Dat Wilkins done tol’ me to git back ob de dumb-waitah, to-morrah
ebenin’ to see Missy Rose, but I ’se gwine to ask rale straight to jes’
see her ’fo’ de comp’ny come."

"Of course you may.  Come up to my room about seven, and we ’ll be
ready."

"Fo’ sho’," said Minna-Lu, with beaming face.

"Good-night," said Rose, beaming, too, for she found the black faces and
ways irresistibly amusing.

"De Lawd bress yo’ lily face, Missy Rose."

When the two girls were alone, at last, in Hazel’s room, there was no
thought of bed for an hour.  There were numberless questions on Hazel’s
part concerning all the dear Mount Hunger people, and speechless
astonishment on Rose’s at the number of invitations that were waiting
for her.  They chatted all the time they were undressing, calling back
and forth to each other as one thing or another suggested itself.
Finally, Hazel made her appearance in Rose’s room.  She went up to her,
put her arms about her neck, and, looking up with eyes full of loving
trust, said:

"Rose-pose, won’t you come into my room and say ’Our Father’ with me as
Mother Blossom used to do on Mount Hunger?  You can’t think how I miss
it."

"Why, Hazel darling, of course I will--then I shan’t feel homesick
missing that precious Martie."

She followed Hazel into her room, and after she was in bed, Rose knelt
by her side, and together they said, "Our Father."  Then Rose bent over
to receive Hazel’s loving kiss and whispered, "Oh, Rose, I ’m so happy
to have you here," and whispered back, "And I ’m so happy to be with
you, Hazel--good-night."

"Good-night."

Rose went back to her room.  At last she was alone. She drew one of the
easy-chairs up before the wood-fire that was dying down, put her bare
feet on the warm fender, and, for a while, dreamed waking dreams.  It
was all so strange.  The cathedral clock on the mantel chimed twelve.
They were all asleep in the farmhouse on the Mountain--it was time for
her to be.  She rose, tiptoed softly into the dressing-room, took from
the bowl the spray of white lilacs she had worn with the other flowers
that evening, shook off the water, and drew the stem through a
buttonhole in the yoke of her simple night-dress.  She tiptoed back
again into her room, looked up at the dainty, canopied bed, then laid
herself down within it, and, almost immediately, fell asleep--with her
hand resting on the white fragrance that lay upon her heart.



                                 XXIII

            BEHOLD HOW GREAT A MATTER A LITTLE FIRE KINDLETH


It was so delightful!  The weeks were passing all too quickly, and the
letters to Mount Hunger waxed eloquent in praise of everybody’s
kindness.

Jack had come on to lead a cotillion with Rose at Aunt Carrie’s.  It was
a weighty affair--the selecting of the flowers for her.  White violets
they must be, and white violets were about as rare as white raspberries.
Jack gave the florist his own address.

"I ’ll see them, myself, before I send them up; for I won’t trust
anyone’s eyes but my own," he said to himself as he hurried home to
dress for dinner with a friend.  "I wish I had n’t promised Grayson to
meet him at the Club before seven.  I ’m afraid they won’t come in
time."  He looked at his watch.  "I ’m going to make them a test--and
see what she ’ll do.  She ’s so friendly and frank and all that, I can’t
find out even whether she ’s beginning to care."

Jack’s absorption in the theme was such that he put his latch-key in
wrong-side up, and, in consequence, wrestled with the lock till he had
worked himself into a fever of impatience; finally he touched the button
before he discovered the trouble.

"Any packages come for me, Jason?" he inquired of the butler, whose
dignified manner of locomotion had been rudely shaken by Jack’s
unceasing pressure on the electric-bell.

"Yes, Mr. John.  Just taken a box up to the rooms."

Jack looked relieved, and sprang upstairs two steps at a time.  He
opened the box.  There they were in all their exquisite freshness.
"Like her," he thought, touching his lips to them; then, suddenly
straightening himself, he felt the blood surge into his face.

"I like Dord’s way of putting up his flowers, no tags, nor fol-de-rols.
Jason," he said, as he ran down stairs again, "I shall be back in an
hour; tell Thomas to have everything laid out--I ’m in a hurry.  And
have a messenger-boy here when I come back, and don’t forget to order
the carriage for quarter of eight, sharp."

"Yes, Mr. John."

"Messenger-boy come?" he inquired as Jason opened the door on his
return.

"Yes, sir, waiting in the hall."

Jack raced up stairs.  There was the precious box on his dressing-table.
He hastily took a visiting card, and, writing on it the sentiment that
was uppermost in his heart, slipped it into the envelope, gave it,
together with the box, to the waiting boy, and bade him hand it to the
man, Wilkins, with the request that it be sent up at once to the lady to
whom it was addressed.  Then he made ready for dinner.

An hour later, Rose was dressing for the dance, and Hazel was watching
her, chatting volubly all the while.

"That’s the loveliest dress, Rose, I heard Aunt Carrie say, you couldn’t
buy such, nowadays."

"It was Martie’s wedding-dress.  An uncle of her mother’s, who was a
sea-captain, brought it from India. But if I wear it many more times, it
will be known throughout the length of New York.  This is my sixth
time."

"I should n’t care if it were the hundredth; it’s just lovely.  Besides,
Jack has n’t seen it, you know."

Rose laughed.  "Oh, yes, he has--on Martie; that night of the tea on the
porch."

"Oh, well, that’s different.  What flowers are you going to wear?"

"I thought I wouldn’t wear any, just for a change."  Rose’s face was
veiled by the shining hair, which she was brushing, preparatory to
coiling it high on her head; otherwise, Hazel would have seen the clear
flush that warmed even the roots of the soft waves at the nape of her
neck. Just then there was a knock.  The maid opened the door, and
Wilkins’ voice was distinctly audible:--

"Jes’ come fo’ Miss Rose; dey wuz to come up right smart, so de boy
say."

"Oh, more flowers.  Who from?" cried Hazel, eagerly, while Wilkins
strained his ears to catch the reply.

"From Mr. Sherrill," said Rose, opening the little envelope.

What she read on the card caused the blood to mount higher and higher,
till temples and forehead flushed pink, then as suddenly to recede.

"May I open them, Rose, and won’t you wear some if they ’re from Jack?"

"Yes," said Rose, simply.  The two girls leaned over the box as Hazel
took off the wrapper--then the cover--then the inner tissue
papers--then--

[Illustration: "The two girls leaned over the box as Hazel took off the
wrapper"]

Suddenly a shriek of laughter, followed by another, penetrated to
Wilkins, who was lingering on the stairs; he came softly back again.
Peal after peal of wild merriment issued from Rose’s room.  Within, Rose
in her petticoat and bodice had flung herself on the bed in an ecstasy
of mirth, and Hazel was rolling over on the rug as was the wont of Budd
and Cherry in the old days on Mount Hunger.  The maid looked from one to
the other, and, no longer able to keep from joining in the merriment,
although she did not know the cause, left the room, only to find Wilkins
with perturbed face just outside the door.

"’Pears lake dere wor sumfin’ queah ’bout dat ye re box--" he began; but
the maid only shook with laughter and laid her finger on her lips,
motioning him into the back hall.

"Did you ever?" cried Hazel, when she recovered her breath.

"No, I never," said Rose, wiping away the tears, for she had laughed
till she cried.  "Let’s take another look."

They bent over the box, and took out its contents; then went off again
into fits of seemingly inextinguishable laughter; for, neatly folded
beneath the tissue paper, lay four sets of Jack’s new light-weight,
white silk pajamas, which he had purchased that afternoon, in order to
take back to Cambridge with him.  On the card, which Rose still held in
her hand, was written, "Wear these for my sake."

"What will you say to him, Rose?" said Hazel, sitting up on the rug with
her hands clasped about her knees.

"I don’t know," said Rose, proceeding to dress.  "I can’t _wear_ them,
that’s certain."  And again the absurdity of the situation presented
itself to her.  "And I can’t apologize for not wearing them.  Neither
can I take it for granted that he was going to send me flowers, and
explain that he sent me these instead."

"How awfully careless," said Hazel, interrupting her; "he must have had
something on his mind not to take the pains to look, even."

Rose flushed.  "It will be best to let the matter drop, and say nothing
about it," she replied in a cool, toploftical tone that amazed, as well
as mystified, her little hostess.

"Why, Rose, I think Jack ought to know about it. I ’ll tell him, if you
don’t want to."

"Thank you, Hazel, but I don’t need your good offices in this matter."

Hazel rose from the rug, and going over to Rose, laid both hands on her
shoulders and looked straight up into her eyes.

"Now, Rose Blossom, please don’t speak to me in that way.  You ’re so
queer!  First you ’re nice about Jack, and then you ’re horrid; and when
you ’re that way, you are n’t nice to _me_ a bit--and I don’t like it,
and I don’t blame Jack for not liking it either," she added
emphatically.  "I remember papa said a year ago that Jack was ’all
heart’ for a good many girls, old and young--but I can tell you what, he
won’t have any for you, if you whiff round so."

Hazel in her earnestness gave Rose a little shake.  Rose smiled, and,
bending her head, kissed her, saying, "F. and F. and you know, Hazel."

"Oh, I know all about ’forgiving and forgetting,’ but I don’t like it
just the same.  He’s my cousin and the dearest fellow in the world, and
I don’t like to have him treated so."

"How about his treating me?" said Rose, pointing to the innocent box of
underwear, "forgetting even to look; or not caring enough, to see if I
had the right package?"

"Oh, that’s different--perhaps the florist made a mistake."

"The florist!"  Rose laughed merrily.  "I never knew that gentlemen’s
underwear and roses grew on the same bush.--There ’s Wilkins, and I ’m
not ready."

"De coachman say it’s a pow’f ul col’ night, an’ Miss Rose bettah take
some mo’ wraps."

"Thank you, Wilkins," Hazel flew into the dressing-room for a long fur
cloak of her mother’s which she had used to wear to the dancing-classes.
She wrapped it about Rose, who stooped suddenly and kissed her again,
whispering, "Hazel, you ’ve all spoiled me, that’s what’s the
matter,--but I ’ll be good to Jack, for your sake as well as for my
own."

"Now you ’re what Doctor Heath calls papa, the most splendid fellow in
the world.  There now--I won’t crush your gown--"  A kiss--"Good-night.
You look like an angel!"

Mr. Clyde thought so, too, as he watched her coming downstairs.  She
slipped off the cloak as she stood beneath the soft, but brilliant hall
lights.  "Do I look all right?" she asked earnestly, for she had fallen
into the habit, before going anywhere with him or Hazel, of asking for
their criticism.

"I should say so--but where are the flowers?  I miss them."

"I thought I wouldn’t wear any to-night, just for a change."

"A woman’s whim, Rose.  But I can’t say that you need them--Now, what’s
to pay?" he said to himself, as he helped her into the carriage.  "I saw
Jack at Dord’s this afternoon, and, evidently, something was in the
wind. I hope it has n’t been taken out of his sails."

"Sumfin’ mighty queah ’bout dat yere box," murmured Wilkins to himself,
as he closed the door, "but Miss Rose doan’ need no flow’s.  Nebber see
sech h--Fo’ de good Lawd!  Wha’ fo’ yo’ hyar?  Yo’ Minna-Lu,--skeerin’
mah day-lights out o’ mah, shoolin’ ’roun’ b’hin’ dat por’ chair,--jes’
lake bug’lahs."

Minna-Lu gurgled.  "Yo’ jes’ straight, Wilkins; nebber see sech ha’r.
Huccome I ’se hyar?  Jes’ to see dat lillum-white angel--"

"Yo’ go ’long, wha’ yo’ b’long," growled Wilkins, not yet having
recovered from his fright.  And Minna-Lu went, with the radiant vision
still before her round, black eyes.

Jack felt a queer tightening about his lower jaw, and one heart-throb,
apparently in his throat, as he entered Aunt Carrie’s reception-room.
Then, as with one glance he swept Rose from the crown of her head to the
hem of her dress, a hot, rushing wave of indignant feeling mastered
him--he knew he had staked his all (so a man at twenty-two is apt to
think) and lost.  He braced himself, mentally and physically.  He was
n’t going to show the white-feather--not he.

But Rose--Rose was mystifying, captivating, cordial, merry, and
altogether charming.  She knocked out all Jack’s calculations as to
life, love, women, girls in general, and one girl in particular, at one
fell swoop.  He was brought, necessarily, into unstable equilibrium, so
far as his feelings were concerned--his head he was obliged to keep
level on account of the various figures.  Several other heads were
variously askew, and would have been turned, likewise, for good and all,
had the wearer of her mother’s India-mull wedding-dress been possessed
of a fortune.

Rose developed social powers that evening that furnished food for
conversation for Aunt Carrie and Mr. Clyde, who watched her with pride
and pleasure.  She was evidently enjoying herself thoroughly, and her
enjoyment proved contagious.

"After all," said Jack as, between figures, he found opportunity for a
whispered word or two; "this is n’t half so fine a dance as the one in
the barn, last September."

"Why, that’s just what I was thinking, myself, that very minute!"

"You were?"

"Yes."

The brown eyes and the blue ones met with such evidence of a perfect
understanding, that Jack failed to see Maude Seaton, who had approached
him for the purpose of taking him out in the four-in-hand.

"Oh, I beg your pardon," said Jack, starting to his feet, "it’s the
’four-in-hand.’"

"Yes, and I think you ’ll have to be put into the traces again," she
said, with a meaning smile.

"Not I," retorted Jack, merrily, "I kicked over them nearly a year ago."

"So I heard," replied Miss Seaton, sweetly; and Jack wondered what she
meant.

When Jack found himself again beside Rose, he decided that, flowers or
no flowers, he would ask for an explanation.  But his first attempt was
met with such a bewilderingly merry smile, and such confident assurance
that explanations were not in order, that it proved a successful
failure.

When, at last, in the early morning hours he was seated before the open
fire in his bedroom, pulling away reflectively at his pipe, he had time
to think it over.  He came to the conclusion that it was trivial in him
to have staked his all on her wearing those flowers, for she
certainly--certainly had led him to think that she was anything but
indifferent to him.

"That look now," mused Jack.  "I don’t believe that a girl like Rose
Blossom would look that way if she didn’t mean it--if she did n’t care.
No other girl could look that way."  He reached for his watch on the
dressing-case. "I shall get good two hours’ sleep before that early
train.--What’s that?"  He noticed for the first time, that on the bed
lay a familiar-looking box in a brown paper wrapper.  In a trice he had
broken the string, whisked off the cover, scattered the tissue paper
right and left.--There lay the violets, white, and sweet, and almost as
fresh as when he gave them his virgin kiss nearly twelve hours before.

Jack sat down stupefied on the bed.  _What had he given her, anyway_?
He thought intensely for a full minute.

"Great Scott! the pajamas!"  And then Jack Sherrill rolled over on the
bed, ignoring the damage to dress suit and violets, and, burying his
face in the pillow, gave vent to a smothered yell.

There was a merry exchange of notes between Cambridge and New York
during the next two weeks, and Rose had promised to wear any
flowers--and only his--he might send her for the ball at Mrs. Fenlick’s
the middle of February, and for which Jack was coming on.  It would
occur during the last week of Rose’s visit, and Jack thought that
possibly--possibly,--well, he could n’t define just what "possibly;" but
it proved to be an infinitely absorbing one, and Jack felt it was "now
or never" with him.

Mrs. Heath had claimed Rose as her guest for the last three weeks, and
the days were filled with pleasures.  On the Saturday before the ball,
and a week before Rose was to return to Mount Hunger, two seats in a box
at the opera had been sent in to Mrs. Heath from a friend.

"Look at these, Rose!" Mrs. Heath exclaimed, showing her the note.
"Just exactly what you were wishing to hear, and we thought we could not
arrange it for next week.  That opera has been changed for to-day’s
matinée, and now you can hear both Lohengrin and Siegfried."

Rose clapped her hands.  "I ’ve just longed to hear Lohengrin; Mrs. Ford
and her son have played so much of it to me.  I think it’s perfectly
beautiful."

"I ’m so sorry I can’t go, dear; but I made a positive engagement for
this afternoon and it must not be broken. But I ’ll send round for
Cousin Anna May.  She does n’t care much for the opera, but she will
chaperone you. She ’s not much of a talker either, so you can enjoy the
music in peace.  People chatter so abominably there."

From the moment the orchestra sounded the first notes of that pathetic
and thrillingly appealing fore-word of the overture, Rose was lost to
the world about her.  She was glad of the darkness, glad no one could
see or notice her intense absorption in the opening scene.  Even when
the lights were turned on between the acts, and the subdued murmur in
the house rose to a confusing babble, she was living in the story of
Elsa and her lover Knight.  Elderly Cousin Anna May, seeing this, let
her alone, thinking to herself:--"One has to be young to be so
enthusiastic over this wornout theme."

The curtain fell; the house was brilliant with lights; confusion of
talk, confusion of merry chat and laughter were all about Rose; but she
sat unheeding, wondering if the element of evil would be turned into a
factor of good.  Her heart was aching with the intensity of feeling for
the two lovers.  Suddenly, a few words behind her arrested her
attention.  She sat with her back to the speakers--two girls in the next
box, who had annoyed her more than once by their ceaseless, whispering
gabble.

"I told Maude I did n’t believe it."

"What did she say?"

"She said it was gospel truth."

"Do tell me what it was, I won’t tell."

"Sure?"

"Not a soul."

"Promise?"

"Why, of course.  They say he ’s got oceans of money."

"Piles--.  He ’s got his mother’s fortune and will have his father’s.
Besides, his Uncle Gray is a bachelor, and so Jack will have that, too.
Maude says he ’s the best catch in New York."

"I heard Sam say he was in an awfully fast set in college; but Sam likes
him awfully well.  Have you seen him?"

"Oh, yes, lots.  Maude let me see him one night before dinner at
Newport.  I used to see him playing polo at the grounds.  I think he ’s
fascinating--just like Lohengrin."

"But what was it?  Hurry up, do."

"You ’ll never tell?"

"Never."

The voice was slightly lowered--confused with the munching of Huyler’s;
and Rose, with hypersensitive hearing, could distinguish only a word or
two, or a detached sentence.

"I don’t think that’s so awful.  Sam does that, too, and he ’s just as
nice a brother as I want."

"Oh, I don’t know anything about that; but I know it’s true, for Maude
said so."  In the increasing confusion of talk in the house, the voices
were suddenly raised, and Rose caught every word.

"I ’ll ask Sam--" began the other, dropping her opera glass and stooping
to pick it up.

"If you do, Minna Grayson, I ’ll never speak to you again."

"Oh, I forgot--" laughed the other.  "Tell us some more, it’s awfully
exciting."

"I won’t either," said the other, in a huffy tone. Evidently, they were
school-girls in for the matinée.

"Oh, _do_; what _did_ Maude say?"

"She said, ’No,’" chuckled the other triumphantly.

"But think of his money!’

"She said she did n’t mind; she ’s got money enough of her own, anyway,
if she does skimp me on allowance ever since grandmamma died."

"I heard Sara say last Christmas when I was home for vacation, that he
was perfectly devoted to that new girl the Clydes have taken up."

"Yes.  Maude says it’s one of his fads.  She gives him six months more
to get over it."

"Everybody says she is a perfect beauty.  Sam says that Mrs. Fenlick
says she is the most beautiful creature off of a canvas she has ever
seen."

"Oh, Maude says Mrs. Fenlick raves over everything new.  She, the girl,
I mean, made a dead set at him a year ago when he happened to meet her
up in the mountains. You know they had a riding-party last August.  But
now they say she seems to be setting her cap for Hazel’s father--he has
a million or two more than Jack, and she ’s as poor as a church-mouse."

"I did n’t know that,--poor?"

"Yes, awfully.  Why, Maude says she’s seen her selling berries for a
living somewhere up in the mountains--oh, way back in them.  People call
them the Lost Nation, they ’re so far back; and Maude says she wore
patched shoes and an old calico dress--Sh!--Now we ’re going to have
that bridal march, is n’t it dandy?  It ought to be a part of the
marriage ceremony, Maude says.  I ’m so glad it’s coming;--Tum, tum, ty
tum--tum, tum, ty tum--here ’s just one more candied violet--tum, tum,
ty tum, tum, ty tum, ty ty tum, ty tum--Oh, look!  Is n’t Elsa just
lovely--"

A burst of applause greeted the beautiful prima donna. Upon Rose’s ears
it fell like the thunder of a cataract, like the crash and roll of an
avalanche.  She stared at the exquisite scene before her with strained
eyes.  The music went on with all the troublous-sweet under-tones of
love, and longing, and forever-parting.  Not once did Rose stir until
the curtain fell, then she turned to her companion:--

"Can we get out soon, Mrs. May?  The air is a little close here."

"Certainly, my dear;" but to herself she said, "How intense she is.  I
’m thankful I never was so strung up over music."



                                  XXIV

                               "OLD PUT"


"Where ’s Rose?" said the Doctor as he came in that Saturday evening,
and heard no welcoming voice from the library or the stairs.

"She came home from the opera with a frightful headache and has gone to
bed.  She said she did n’t want any dinner, but I have insisted upon her
having some toast and tea," replied his wife.

"Humph!" growled the Doctor; "Our wild rose can’t stand such hot-house
atmosphere.  When does the Fenlicks’ ball come off?"

"Next Wednesday; it will be a superb affair.  Rose showed me her card
the other day, and if you will believe me, it’s full, although Jack
Sherrill gets the lion’s share."

"How do you think things are coming on there, wifie?"

"Why, he’s devoted to her whenever he can be; you know what Mrs.
Pearsell told us about last summer, but--"

"But what?" said the Doctor, a little impatiently. "Generally, wifie,
you can see prospective wedding-cake if two young people so much as look
twice at each other."

Mrs. Heath laughed and nodded.  "Yes, I know; but in just this case, I
don’t know.  You can’t tell anything by her--and I fear, hubbie, that
Jack Sherrill is n’t quite good enough for her."

"Not quite good enough for her!"  The Doctor almost shouted in his
earnestness.  "Jack Sherrill not quite good enough for--"

"Sh--sh, dear!"  His wife held up her hand in warning. "Someone might
hear."

"Let ’em hear, then," growled the Doctor.  "I say Rose is n’t a bit too
good for him.--Look here, wifie,--" he drew her towards him and down
upon the arm of his easy-chair, "Jack’s all right every time--do you
understand?  _All right!_"

"Ye-es," admitted his wife rather reluctantly.  "I know he ’s a great
favorite of yours.  But Mrs. Grayson says he ’s in a very fast set at
Harvard--

"Now look here, wifie, don’t you let those women with their eternal
hunger for gossip say anything to you about Jack.  I tell you there is
n’t another fellow I know, who, placed as he is, can set up so many
white stones to mark his short life’s pathway as John Sherrill’s only
son.  For heaven’s sake, give him the credit for them.  I know what I
saw on Mount Hunger a year ago, and I know and believe what I see."

"Well, I only hope he won’t flirt with her--" began Mrs. Heath.  Her
husband interrupted her:

"Flirt with her!"  The Doctor chuckled.  "I’ll warrant Jack won’t do any
flirting with her--it ’ll be the other way round sooner than that!  Just
say good-night to Rose for me when you go up stairs, and tell her if she
is n’t down bright and early Sunday morning, I ’ll prescribe for her."

But there was no need for the Doctor’s prescription; for Rose was down
for breakfast, and although white cheeks and heavy eyes caused the
Doctor to draw his eyebrows together in a straight line over the bridge
of his nose, nothing was said of there being any need for a
prescription. But after breakfast he drew her into the library and
placed her in an easy-chair before the blazing fire.

"There now," he said in his own kindliest tones, "sit there and dream
while wifie makes ready for church, and after that you shall go with me
for an official drive.  The air will do you good.  I can’t send such
white roses"--he patted her cheek--"back to Mount Hunger; what would
mother say?"

To his amazement Rose buried her face in both hands; a half-suppressed
sob startled him.

"Why, Rose-pose!  What’s the matter, little girl? Headachey--nerves
unstrung--too much opera?  Here, come into the office where we shan’t be
disturbed, and tell me all about it."

But Rose shook her head, lifted it from her hands, and smiled through
the welling tears.

"I ’m a perfect goose, but--but--I believe I ’m getting just a little
bit homesick for Mount Hunger, and I ’m not going to stay for Mrs.
Fenlick’s ball.  I know mother needs me at home--I can just feel it in
her letters, and I know I want--I want her."

"Don’t blame you a bit, Rose,--but is n’t this rather sudden?  Any
previous attacks?"

"No--and I know it seems dreadfully ungrateful to you and dear Mrs.
Heath to say so, and it is n’t that--I ’d love to be with just you two;
but it’s this dreadful feeling comes over me, and I know I ought to go."

"And go you shall, Rose," said the Doctor, emphatically, but oh! so
kindly and understandingly.  "Go back to all the dear ones there--and
when you come again, don’t give us the tail-end of your visit, will
you?"

"Indeed, I won’t," answered Rose, earnestly, "and if it were only you
and Mrs. Heath, I ’d love to stay, but--but--"

"No need to say anything more, Rose, wifie and I understand it
perfectly--" ("I wish the dickens I did!" was his thought)--"Tell wifie
when she comes down, and meanwhile I ’ll send round for the brougham and
we ’ll take a little drive in the Park before office hours."

Rose patted his hand, and her silence spoke for her.

"Here ’s a pretty kettle of fish!" said the Doctor to himself as he went
to the telephone.  "I wish I could get to the bottom of it."

And thus it came about that a cool, dignified note, not expressive of
any particular regret, was mailed to Cambridge on Sunday afternoon, and
a long letter to Mount Hunger telling them to be sure to meet her on
Tuesday at Barton’s, and filled with wildly enthusiastic expressions of
delight in anticipation of the home-coming.  And on Tuesday afternoon,
as the train sped onwards, following the curves of the frozen
Connecticut, and the snow-covered mountains on the Vermont side began to
crowd its banks, Rose felt a lightening of the heart and an uplifting of
spirits.

The bitterness and shame and shock she had experienced, in consequence
of that one little bite of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of
Good and Evil, seemed to diminish with every mile that increased the
distance between her and the frothing whirlpool of the great city’s
gayeties. All the way up, until the mountains loomed in sight, there had
been hot, indignant protest in her thoughts.  At first, indeed, it had
been hatred.

"I hate it all--hate it, _hate_ it!" she found herself saying over and
over again after the good-byes had been said at the station, and Hazel
and Mr. Clyde and Doctor Heath had supplied her with flowers and
magazines for the long day’s journey.  It was all she could think or
feel at the time; but soon the little pronoun changed, and the thought
grew more bitter:

"I hate him!  How could he--how dared he do as he did!  Because I am
poor, I suppose.  Oh!  I wish I could make him pay for it.  I wish I
could make him love me really and truly, and then just _scorn_ him!  But
what a fool I am--as if he _could_ love after what I heard--oh, why did
I hear it!  I wish I may never see his face again, and I wish I ’d
stayed at home where I belong--I hate him!"--And so on "da capo" hour
after hour, and the incessant chugetty-chug-chug of the express
furnished the rhythmic, basal tone for the bitter motive.

It was long after lunch time, and the train of thought had not changed,
when Rose’s eye fell upon the dainty basket Martin had placed in the
rack.

"This is a pretty state of mind to go home to Martie in!" she said to
herself, rising and taking down the basket. "I have n’t eaten a good
meal since last Saturday at lunch, and I ’m--why, I believe I ’m
hungry!"

She opened the basket, and loving evidence of Minna-Lu’s admiration
tempted her to pick a little here and there--a stuffed olive or two, a
roast quail, a delicate celery sandwich, a quince tart, a bunch of
Hamburg grapes. Soon Rose was feasting on all the good things, and her
harsh thoughts began to soften.  How kind they all were! And _they_
truly loved her--and what had they not done for her comfort and
pleasure!  Rose, setting her pretty teeth deep into a third quince tart,
looked out of the window and almost exclaimed aloud at the sight.  The
vanguard of the Green Mountains closed in the upper end of the
river-valley along which they were speeding.  It was home that was
behind all that!  The thought still further softened her.

What?  Carry her bitterness and disappointed pride back into that dear,
peaceful home?  Not she!  "They shall never know--never!" she said to
herself--"I ’m not Molly Stark for nothing, and there are others in the
world beside Jack Sherrill."  And so she continued to speak cold comfort
to herself for the next four hours until the brakeman called "Barton’s
River!"

There beyond the platform was the old apple-green pung!--and yes! father
and March and Budd and dear old Chi anxiously scanning the coaches.

Home at last! and such a home-coming!  How busy the tongues were for a
week afterwards!  How wildly gay was Rose, who kept them laughing over
the many queer doings of the metropolis, over Wilkins and Minna-Lu and
Martin and Mrs. Scott!  And how lovingly she spoke of Hazel’s charming
hospitality and of Mr. Clyde’s thoughtfulness for her pleasure,
although, as she mentioned his name, a wave of color mounted to the
roots of her hair at the ugly thought that would intrude.  Chi listened
with all his ears, enjoying it with the rest; but once upstairs in his
room over the shed, he would sit down on the side of his bed to ponder a
little the gay doings of his Rose-pose among the "high-flyers," and then
turn in with a sigh and a muttered:

"’T ain’t Rose-pose.  I knew how ’t would be.--There ’s a screw loose
somewhere; but she’s handsome!--handsome as a picture, ’n’ I ’d give a
dollar to know if she ’s cut that other one out."

"Valentines seem kind of scarce this year," he remarked rather grimly, a
few days after her arrival, as late in the afternoon, he returned from
Barton’s with little mail and no boxes of flowers.  "It’s the sixteenth
day of February, but it might be Fast Day for all that handful of mail
would show for it!"  He placed the package on Mrs. Blossom’s work-table
at which Rose was sitting busy with some sewing.  They were alone in the
room.

Rose laughed merrily.  "Goodness, Chi! you want us to have more than our
share.  We had a perfect deluge last year when Hazel was here; you know
it makes a difference without her.  You said yourself that there was a
good deal of bulk, but it was pretty light weight--don’t you remember?"

Chi elevated one bushy eyebrow.  "I ain’t forgot; but I don’t know about
it’s bein’ any _Deluge_--it appeared to me it was a Shadrach, Meshach,
’n’ Abednego kind of a business--"  He gave the back log a kick that
sent the sparks up the chimney in a grand pyrotechnic show. "Seems as if
I could see those posies, now, a-shrivellin’ in the fireplace.  Never
thought you treated those innocent things quite on the square,
Rose-pose!"

Rose’s head was bent low over her work.  Chi went on, bracing himself to
the self-imposed task of enlightening her:--

"I don’t want to meddle, Rose, in anybody’s business, but it ain’t set
well with me ever since--the way you treated those roses; ’n’, after
all, we ’re both members of the Nobody’s Business But Our Own Society,
’n’ if anybody ’s goin’ to meddle, perhaps I ’m the one.  I ’ve thought
a good many times you would n’t have been quite so harsh with ’em, if
you had n’t overlooked this in your flare-up--"  He drew out of his
breast pocket a card--Jack ’s--with the verse on the back.  "Read that,
’n’ see if you ain’t dropped a stitch somewhere that you can pick up in
time."  He handed her the card.

Rose looked up surprised, but with burning cheeks. She took the card,
read the verse, turned it over on the name side, and rose from her
chair.  Every particle of color had left her face.  She went over to the
fireplace, and, bending, dropped the little piece of pasteboard upon the
glowing back-log.

"The sentiment belongs with the roses, Chi; don’t let’s have any more
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego business--I ’m tired of it."  She spoke
iudifferently; then, resuming her seat, called out in a cheery voice:

"Martie, won’t you come here a minute, and see if I have put on this
gore right?"

"I ’ll come, dear."

Chi, nonplussed, irritated, repulsed, set his teeth hard and abruptly
left the room.

Outside in the shed he clenched his fist and shook it vigorously at the
closed door of the long-room: "--By George Washin’ton!" he muttered, "I
’ll make you pay up for that, Rose Blossom.  You can’t come any of your
high-flyers’ games on me--  Just you put that in your pipe and smoke it!
Thunderation! what gets into women and girls, sometimes?"  He seized the
milk-pails from the shelf and hurried to the barn nearly running down
Cherry in his wrathful excitement.

"Look out there, Cherry!  You ’re always getting round under foot!" he
said, harshly, and stumbled on, regaining his balance, only to be met by
Budd in the barn.

"Just clear out now, Budd!  I ain’t goin’ to stand your foolin’.  Let
alone of that stanchion," he roared. "Always worryin’ the cow if she
looks once at you sideways. Get _up_, there--"  His right boot helped
the amazed cow forwards into the stall, and the milk drummed into the
pail as if the poor creature were being milked by a dummy-engine with
more pressure of steam on than it could well stand.

Budd flew into the woodshed and found Cherry still standing, in a
half-dazed condition, where Chi had left her. They compared notes
immediately to the detriment and defamation of Chi’s character.  Then
they carried their budget of woe to their mother.

"Chi is worried, children; you must n’t mind if he is a little cross now
and then.  He feels dreadfully about the prospect of this war, as we all
do, and that’s his way of showing it."

"Well, if he’s going to be so cross at us, I wish he ’d clear out an’ go
to war!" retorted Budd, smarting under the unjust treatment.

"I ’m only afraid he will if we have one," said Mrs. Blossom, sadly.
"But, oh, I hope and pray we may be spared that!"

But Budd continued to grumble, and Cherry to be suspiciously sniffy,
until their father’s return; and then at the supper table they listened
greedily to all the talk of their elders, that had for its absorbing
theme the prospective war.

As the spring days lengthened, and the sun drew northward, the tiny
cloud on the country’s peaceful horizon grew larger and darker, until it
cast its shadow throughout the length and breadth of the land, and men’s
faces grew stern and troubled and women prayed for peace.

With the lengthening days Chi showed signs of increasing restlessness.
"It ain’t any use, Ben," he said, one soft evening in early May, as the
family, with the exception of the younger children, sat on the porch
discussing the latest news, "I ’ve got to go."

"Oh, Chi!" broke from Mrs. Blossom and Rose.  They cried out as if hurt.
Mr. Blossom grasped Chi’s right hand, and March wrung the other.

"I can’t stand it," he went on; "we ’ve been sassed enough as a nation,
’n’ some of us have got to teach those foreigners we ain’t goin’ to turn
the other cheek just coz we’re slapped on one.  When I wasn’t higher
than Budd, my great-grandfather--you remember him, Ben, lived the other
side of the Mountain--put his father’s old Revolution’ry musket (the
one, you know, Rose-pose, as I ’ve used in the N.B.B.O.O.) into my
hands, ’n’ says: ’Don’t you stand no sass, Malachi Graham, from no
foreigners.--Just shoot away, ’n’ holler, "Hands off" every time, ’n’
they ’ll learn their lesson easy and early, ’n’ respect you in the end.’
And I ain’t forgot it."

"Chi," Mrs. Blossom’s voice was tremulous, "you won’t go till you ’re
asked, or needed, will you?"

"I ain’t goin’ to wait to be asked, Mis’ Blossom; I ’d rather be on hand
to be refused.  That’s my way.  So I thought I ’d be gettin’ down along
this week--"

"This week!"  Rose interrupted him with a cry and a half-sob.  "Oh, Chi!
dear old Chi! _must_ you go?  What if--what if--"  Rose’s voice broke,
and Chi gulped down a big lump, but answered, cheerily:

"Well, Rose-pose, _what if_?  Ain’t I Old Put? ’n’ ain’t you Molly
Stark? ’n’ ain’t Lady-bird Barbara Frietchie?--There, just read that--"
he handed a letter to March, who gave it back to him, saying, in a husky
voice, that it was too dark to read.

"Well, then we ’ll adjourn into the house, ’n’ light up.--There now," he
said, as he lighted the lamp and set it on the table beside March,
"here’s your letter, Markis, read ahead."

March read with broken voice:


4 EAST --TH STREET, NEW YORK,
May 5, 1898.

DEAR FRIEND CHI,--I never thought when I joined the N.B.B.O.O. Society,
that I ’d have to be really brave about real war;--and now dear old Jack
is going off to Cuba with Little Shaver and all those cow-boys,--and
it’s dreadful! Uncle John is about sick over it, for, you know, Jack is
all he has.  Papa is going to keep the house open all summer; he says
there is no telling what may happen.

We have made no plans for the summer, for our hearts are so heavy on
Jack’s account--his last year in Harvard, too! He told me to tell you he
would find out if there is a chance for you in the new cavalry regiment
he has joined.  He looked so pleased when I told him; he read your
letter, and I told him how you wanted to go with him, and he said: "Dear
old Chi, I’d like to have him for my bunkie"--and told me what it meant.
He told me to tell you to be prepared for a telegram at any moment.

I must stop now; papa wants me to go out with him.  Give my love to
_all_, and tell Mother Blossom and Rose I will write them more
particulars in a few days.

If you come to New York, you know a room will be ready for you in the
home of your

Loving friend,
       HAZEL CLYDE.


There was silence for a while in the room; then Mr. Blossom spoke:

"How are you going, Chi?"

"I ’m goin’ to jog along down with Fleet, ’n’ take it kind of
easy--thought I ’d cross the Mountain, ’n’ strike in on the old
post-road; ’n’ follow on down by old Ticonderogy,--I ’ve always wanted
to see that,--then across to Saratogy ’n’ Albany, ’n’ foller the river.
You can’t go amiss of New York if you stick to that."

Again there was a prolonged silence.  Chi hemmed, and moved uneasily on
his chair, while he fumbled about in his trousers’ pocket.  He pulled
out a piece of crumpled, yellow paper.

"S’pose I might just as well make a clean breast of it."  He tried to
laugh, but it was a failure.  "Jack’s telegram came along last night,
’n’ I thought, maybe I ’d better be gettin’ my duds together to-night,
Mis’ Blossom, as ’t will be a mighty early start--before any of you are
up," he added, hastily.

The two women broke down then, and Mr. Blossom and March followed Chi
out to the barn.

The household, save for the younger children, was early astir--before
sunrise.  Mrs. Blossom had prepared a hearty breakfast, and Rose was
rolling up a few pairs of her father’s stockings to put in the netted
saddle-bag which Chi was wont to use in hunting.

"Tell March to call Chi, Rose," said her mother.  "His breakfast is
ready, I hear him in the barn."

Rose ran out in the dawning light to find her father and March just
coming towards the house.

"Why, where ’s Chi?" she cried.

For answer, her father pointed to the woodlands.  She looked just in
time to see in the soft gray of the early morn the horse and rider rise
to the three-railed fence that separated the pasture from the woodlands.
He was following the trail he had indicated to Jack--"through the woods
’n’ acre or two of brush, ’n’ then some pretty steep sliding down the
other side, ’n’ a dozen rods or so of swimmin’, ’n’ a tough old clamber
up the bank--"

Some ten days afterward, late on a warm afternoon in May, there rode
into New York City by the way of the Bronx and Harlem, a middle-aged man
on a bright bay horse.  The animal’s gait was a noticeable one, a long,
loping gallop, that covered the ground in a manner that roused the
admiration of the drivers on the speedway. The tall, loose-jointed body
of the rider apparently loped along with the horse--their movements were
identical. The saddle was an old-fashioned cavalry one of the early
sixties.  A netted saddle-bag and a rolled rubber coat were fastened to
the crupper.  A light-weight hunting rifle was slung on a strap over the
man’s shoulder.  At the northern entrance to the Park he drew rein
beside a mounted policeman.

"Can you tell me if I ’m on the right track to this house?"

He took a card from the pocket of his dusty blue flannel shirt and
handed it to the policeman.

The city guardian nodded assent.  "But you can’t take that gun along
with you; you ’re inside city limits and liable to arrest."

"’Gainst the law, hey?  Well, I ’ve come from a pretty law-abiding
state, ’n’ ain’t goin’ to get into rows with you fellers--"  He laid a
brown, knotty, work-roughened finger on the policeman’s immaculate blue
coat--"I ’d trust that color as far as I could see.  Where shall I leave
the rifle?"

The city guard unbent as the kindly voice yielded such undefiant
obedience to his demand.  "You can leave it with me now,--I ’m off my
beat by seven, and live over east of this--" he handed back the
card--"and I ’ll leave it at the house if you ’re going to be there."

"All right, that ’ll suit me.  Yes, I ’m goin’ to put up there for a day
or two, maybe."

"Off on a hunting trip?"

"You bet--goin’ on a big, old, U.S.A. hunt for a lot of darned
foreigners in Cuby."

The policeman held out his hand and grasped the stranger’s.  "You’re one
of them?"

"Yes, I come down to join a cavalry regiment.  Jack Sherrill, he
belongs, too.  Great rider--can’t be beat. Ever seen him round here on
Little Shaver?"

The policeman smiled.  "No, but I ’d like to see you again--"

"Maybe you will; but I ’d better be getting along before
sundown,--’gainst the law to ride this horse a piece through those
woods?"  He pointed into the Park.

"Oh, no, that’s all right.  Keep along till you come to Seventieth
Street, and inquire; and then turn into Fifth Avenue--east--and you’re
there."

"Much obliged.  Like to show you a trail or two up in Vermont when you
come that way.  Get, Fleet."  The animal set forward into a long, loping
gallop.

The brilliant, light green of the May foliage was enhanced by the level
rays of the setting sun, as the man turned his horse into Fifth Avenue
and drew rein to a rapid walk.  Many a one paused to look at him as he
paced over the asphalt.  He was looking up at the mansions of the Upper
East Side.  Soon he halted at the corner of a side street and gazed up
at the first house, the end of which, with the conservatory, was on the
Avenue, but the entrance on the side street.  "That’s the place," he
spoke to himself,--"don’t see a hitchin’-post handy, so I ’ll just have
to tie up to this electric light stand.  Iron, by thunder!--Well, there
ain’t any risk so long as ’t isn’t lit, ’n’ there ain’t a tempest."

Leaving his horse firmly tied to the standard he stepped up on the low,
broad stoop of "Number 4," and looked for the bell.  Not finding any he
knocked forcibly on the carved iron grill that protected the plate-glass
doors.

The great doors flew open, and a face--"blacker ’n thunder"--as the man
said to himself, scowled on the interloper.

"Wha’ fo’ yo’ come hyar, yo’--"  He got no further. A horny hand was
extended, and a cheery voice, that broke into a laugh, spoke the
assuaging words:

"Guess you ’re Wilkins, ain’t you?  I ’ve heard Lady-bird tell ’bout you
till I feel as if we ’d been pretty well acquainted goin’ on nigh two
year now."

By this time Wilkins’ face was one broad beam.  He slapped his free hand
on his knee:

"Yo ’s Mister Chi, for sho’--dere ain’t no need yo’ tellin’.  Yo’ jes’
come straight in, Mister Chi; Marse John an’ little Missy jes’ gone fo’
ah drive in de Park.  Dey ’ll be in any minute.  Yo’ room ’s all ready,
an’ little Missy put de flow’rs in fresh dis yere mornin’--’’Case,’ she
say, ’Wilkins, dere ain’t no tellin’ when Chi’s comin’.’"

"Sho’," Chi interrupted him, brushing the back of his hand hastily
across his eyes.  "I can’t come in now, Wilkins, coz I ’ve got to stay
here ’n’ watch my horse--I ’ll sit here on the steps a spell ’n’ cool
off till Mr. Clyde gets home, ’n’ he ’ll help me see to puttin’ up Fleet
for the night.  His legs are a little mite swollen near the hocks, ’n’ I
’m goin’ to rub him down myself."

"De coachman jes’ tend to yo’ hoss like ’s ef ’t wor yo’se’f, Mister
Chi.  I ’ll jes’ call up de stable bo’, ’n’ he ’ll rub him down wif
sp’r’ts, an’ shine him up till he look jes’ lake new mahog’ny.  Jes’ yo’
come--dere dey come now!"

Chi was at the curbstone to welcome them.

"Chi!  O Chi!"  Hazel rose up in the trap at sight of the well-known
figure, and Chi, laying his hand firmly on Martin’s shoulder, put him
aside as he sprang to open the door and let down the steps, reached up
both arms, and took Hazel out as tenderly as on the night of her first
arrival at the farmhouse on the Mountain.  And then and there Hazel gave
him a kiss, and Mr. Clyde grasped his hands in both his, and the wide
hall doors that Wilkins had thrown open to their fullest extent closed
upon the reunited friends.

"’E ’s a ’ansome ’oss," Martin remarked to the coachman, as he mounted
Fleet to take him to the stable; "Hi ’ave n’t seen a ’ansomer since Hi
’ve bean in the States."

A few days after the hall doors were again flung wide, but not to their
fullest extent, and Wilkins’ face grew strangely tremulous when he heard
Hazel and Mr. Clyde, Jack and Chi coming down the broad hall stairs.
Martin was proudly leading Fleet and Little Shaver up and down in front
of the house.

"Jack!  O Jack!  I can’t bear to have you go--but I _will_ be brave."
Hazel smiled through the raining tears. She clung to him and kissed him.
He put her aside, ran out to Little Shaver, and flung himself on before
Chi had said good-bye.

"Take care of Jack, Chi," she whispered, patting his hand.

"I will, Barbara Frietchie."  He pointed to the flag that, in the east
wind blowing in from the Sound, was waving over the entrance, gripped
Mr. Clyde’s hand, then Wilkins’, and, apparently, stepped into the
saddle.

"Quick, quick, Wilkins! lower the flag, and let me have it."  Wilkins
sprang to obey.  Hazel seized it, and rushed up stairs to the
drawing-room, the windows of which overlooked the Avenue.  One of them
was open; she leaned out; and as Fleet and Little Shaver turned the
corner, their riders, looking up, saw the young girl’s figure in the
opening.  She was waving the symbol of their Country’s life and their
manhood’s loyalty.

They halted, baring their heads for a moment--then without once looking
back, galloped down the Avenue.



                                  XXV

                                SAN JUAN


Notwithstanding it was a hot day in the first week of July, Mrs.
Spillkins had decided to have a "quilting-bee."  Having made up her
mind, after consulting with Miss Melissa and Miss Elvira, she lost no
time in summoning Uncle Israel from the barn, and making known her
plans.  Uncle Israel mildly objected.

"Kinder hot fer er quiltin’-bee, ain’t it, Hannah?"

"’Tis pretty hot," Mrs. Spillkins admitted, wiping the perspiration from
her face with her apron, "but we ’ll have it to-morrow ’long ’bout four.
You get the frames and rollers out, Israel, from the back garret, an’
then I want you to go up to Mis’ Blossom’s an’ ask ’em to come, an’ get
word to the other folks on the Mountain."

"I ’ll go, Hannah, but I dunno ’bout Mis’ Blossom ’n’ Rose comin’ ter er
quiltin’-bee jest ’bout this time. They ’re feelin’ pretty low ’bout Chi
off thar in Cuby; news hez come thet ther ’s ben fightin’--"

"I know that, Israel; I ’ve thought of that, too; but, mebbe, it ’ll do
’em good, just to change the scene a little. Anyway, you ask ’em."

"Jest ez ye say, Hannah."

The sun was setting when Uncle Israel made his appearance on the porch
where the whole family was assembled with Alan Ford.  They had but one
topic for conversation.

Uncle Israel gave his invitation, and added: "Hannah thought ye ’d
better come ’n’ change the scene a leetle--she knowed ye ’d be kinder
low-spereted ’bout now."

Mrs. Blossom held out her hand.  "Thank you, Uncle Israel.  Tell Mrs.
Spillkins we will both come."

"Hannah wants your folks ter come, tew, Alan."

"Much obliged, Uncle Israel.  I ’ll tell mother and Ruth; I ’m sure they
will enjoy it.  Ruth said the other day she wished she might have a
chance to see a quilting-bee while we are here.  Shall I take your
message over to Aunt Tryphosa?"

"Much obleeged, Alan.  Thank ye, Rose,"--as Rose brought out the large
arm-chair and placed it for him; "I ’ll set a spell ’n’ rest me."

It was a typical northern midsummer night.  Across the valley the
mountains loomed, softly luminous, against the pale green translucent
stretch of open sky in the west. There were no clouds; but high above
and around there swept a long trail of motionless mist, flame-colored
over the mountain tops, but darkening, with the coming of the night,
into gray towards the east.  The stars were not yet out. The veeries
were choiring antiphonally in the woodlands.

An hour afterwards Alan Ford rose to go, and Uncle Israel soon followed
his example.

"I ’ll go down the woods’-road a piece with you, Uncle Israel," said
Rose.

As she came back up the Mountain a cool breath drew through the pines,
and the spruces gave forth their resinous fragrance upon the dewless
night.  The stars were brilliant in the dark blue deeps.

A midsummer night among the mountains of New England!  And far away in
the sickening heat and wet, the fever-laden exhalations of the tropics
rose into the nostrils of a man, who sat motionless in the rude
field-hospital, hastily improvised on the slope of San Juan, watching,
with his knees drawn up to his chin and his hands clasping them, for
some faint tremor in the still face on the army blanket spread upon the
ground.

The lantern cast its light full upon that still face. Suddenly the
watcher bent forward; his keen eyes had detected a twitch of an
eyelid--a flutter in the muscles of the throat.  "Don’t move him," the
surgeon had said; "the least movement will cause the final hemorrhage."

There was a catch of the breath--the eyes opened, partly filmed.

"Jack!"  The watcher spoke, bending lower; his ear over the other’s
lips.

"Chi--" it was a mere breath, but the man heard--"I’m--done for."

The watcher’s hand, muscular, toil-hardened, sought the nerveless one
that was lying on the other’s breast, and closed upon it with a brooding
pressure.  There was silence for a few minutes.  Then the horny hand
felt a feeble stirring of the fingers beneath the hardened palm--they
were fumbling weakly at a button.

The strong hand undid the button, gently--very gently, without apparent
movement.  There was a motion of the nerveless fingers towards the
place.  Another breath:--

"Give--love--"

A long silence fell.

Mrs. Spillkins heaved a sigh of satisfaction: "We ’ve done an awful
sight of work," she said, surveying the five quilts "run" and "tacked"
and "knotted" in even rows and mathematically true squares; "but it
seems as if they did n’t eat a mite of supper, an’ that strawberry
shortcake was enough to melt in your mouth."

"What’d I tell ye, Hannah?  They’re worretin’ ’bout Chi," said Uncle
Israel.  "They’ve fit agin; Ben told me while he wuz waitin’ with the
team fer the womin-folks. He hed the mail, ’n’ er telegram thet thet
young feller, we see ridin’ ’roun’ here las’ summer, wuz mortal wounded.
He did n’t want the womin-folks ter know it till he got ’em hum.  They
sot er sight by him."

Mrs. Spillkins threw up her hands: "Dear suz’y me!" she exclaimed in a
distressed voice.  "What ’ll they do! I hope an’ pray Malachi Graham
ain’t hurt none.  I feel as if I ought to go right up there, an’ see if
there ’s anything I can do."

"Better wait till the Cap’n comes hum, Hannah; he ’ll hev the papers."

"I guess ’t would be better," and Mrs. Spillkins proceeded to fold up
her quilts and "clear up" the best room.

The hot July days warmed the breast of the Mountain. Over in the
corn-patch the stalks had spindled and the swelling ears were ready to
tassel.  By word or look Rose had given no sign--and her mother
wondered.  The days wore on; the routine of daily work and life went on;
but the younger children’s voices were subdued when they spoke lovingly
and longingly of Chi, and Rose sang no longer when she kneaded bread.
They were days of suspense and heart misery for them all.

Two weeks had passed since that evening when Mr. Blossom had read to
them the fatal despatch.  No word had come from anyone save Hazel, who
wrote that her father and Uncle John had started at once for Cuba, and
that she hoped to be with the Blossoms the third week in July, for by
that time they would know the whole truth.

They had been making ready Hazel’s little bedroom, for she was expected
in a few days.  Rose was tacking up a white muslin curtain at the small
window, when she heard her father call:

"Rose, come here a minute."

"Yes, father."

She went out on the porch with the hammer in her hand.  "What is it,
Popsey dear?--Why, father, what--oh what--!"

With shaking hand her father held out a letter to her. Rose looked
once--it was from Chi!

"I wish mother were here, daughter--but she’ll be back soon.  Let me
know how it is with them all--."  Mr. Blossom could say no more, for
Malachi Graham was as near to him as a brother, and he was agonizing for
his child.  He went off to the barn, leaving Rose standing on the porch,
staring as if fascinated at the superscription of the letter:


To Miss Rose Blossom,
       Mill Settlement,
              Barton’s River,
                     Vermont.

N.B.B.O.O.--To be opened by nobody but her.


Rose laid down the hammer mechanically, opened the envelope, and
unfolded the piece of brown paper from out of which fluttered to the
floor another and thicker slip, stained almost beyond recognition.  With
staring eyes and face as white as driven snow she read the few words
scrawled in pencil on the brown slip:--


DEAR ROSE-POSE,--I ain’t no wish to meddle with anybody’s business--but
I ’m just obeying orders.  The last words I heard Jack Sherrill speak,
was "Give--love," and he fumbled at his breast to get out this enclosed.
I ain’t read it--but it’s his heart’s blood that’s on it.  Give my love
to all.

Yours forever,
       CHI.


"His heart’s blood!"  For a moment the words conveyed no meaning.  She
picked up the iron-rusty brown slip from the floor; unfolded it;
read--Barry Cornwall’s love-song in her own handwriting!

"His heart’s blood!"  She pressed one hand hard upon her own heart,
crushing with the other the dark-stained slip.  Then, with one wild look
around her as if searching for help, she ran down the steps, across the
mowing, over into the pasture and up into the woodlands.  Deep, deep
into the heart of them she made her way, as her mother, Mary Blossom,
had done before her; but now there was no kneeling, no prayer, no
petition to take from her the intolerable pain.

She was young, and she loved as the young love.  It was not God whom she
wanted; it was "Jack!  Jack! Jack!"  She cast herself face down upon the
ground, and moaned in her agony: "His heart’s blood--his heart’s blood."
She pressed the stained paper to her lips, over and over again.  Then
she opened her blouse and baring her bosom, laid the love-song against
it--"His heart’s blood--his heart’s blood!"

So her mother found her.



                                  XXVI

                          MARIA-ANN’S CRUSADE


Of late Aunt Tryphosa had been growing suspicious of Maria-Ann, and the
latter felt she was being watched; to use her own words, "it nettled
her."

One afternoon, late in August, her grandmother, coming upon her rather
suddenly in the pasture as she sat under the shade of a patriarchal
butternut, ostensibly watching Dorcas, asked her sharply:

"What you doin’, Maria-Ann?"

"’Tendin’ to my own business," retorted Maria-Ann, with an unwonted snap
in her voice, and hurriedly folded something out of sight beneath the
Hearthstone Journal which lay upon her lap.

This was the signal of open revolt on the part of her granddaughter, and
the like had occurred but once before in all the time of her up-bringing
with Aunt Tryphosa. The old dame’s lips drew to a thinner line than
usual, as she fired the second shot into the hostile camp:

"You been cryin’, Maria-Ann."

"What if I be?" demanded her granddaughter, with a flash of indignation
from beneath her reddened eyelids. "S’pose I have a right to have
feelin’s same as other folks."

Suddenly Aunt Tryphosa swooped like a hen-hawk upon a small piece of
bright scarlet flannel, that the breeze had caught away from the
protecting folds of the Hearthstone Journal, and landed in the covert of
sweet fern just at her feet.

"What’s that?"  She held up the glowing bit of color, dangling it before
Maria-Ann’s eyes.

Upon poor Maria-Ann’s inflamed sense of injustice, it had much the same
effect as a red rag waved before the eyes of an infuriated bull.

She sprang to her feet, snatched the bit of cloth from between her
grandmother’s thumb and fore-finger, and thrust it into her dress waist,
crying out shrilly in her unwonted excitement:

"You let that be, Grandmarm Little!  It’s my cross and I ’m going on a
crusade--so now!"

Aunt Tryphosa sat down rather suddenly in the middle of the sweet-fern
patch.  Was Maria-Ann going crazy? Her breath came short and sharp; she
drew her thin lips still more tightly, and, although really alarmed,
braced herself for the combat.

"What ’d you say you was goin’ on, Maria-Ann?"

"I never knew you was growin’ deef before, grandmarm; I said a crusade."
She had raised her voice to a still higher pitch, as she stooped to
gather up the Hearthstone Journal, the bits of red cloth, her scissors,
and thimble which had fallen from her lap as she sprang to her feet.

"Is that the thing you read me about last winter in the Journal, with
the soldiers with crosses on their backs on hosses startin’ out for
Jerusalem?" demanded the old dame, but in a strangely agitated voice.

"Yes," responded Maria-Ann, promptly, but with less acerbity of manner.

"And is that red rag you hid away a _cross_, Maria-Ann Simmons?"  No
words can do justice to the old dame’s tone and its implied impiety of
her granddaughter’s conduct.

Maria-Ann was silent.

"Be you a Christian girl, or an idolater, Maria-Ann?"

Her grandmother’s voice shook pitiably.  Maria-Ann’s conscience gave a
twinge, when she heard it; but she felt the time was ripe, and she must
put in the sickle.

"I hope I ’m a Christian, grandmarm, but I ’m an idolater, too,--"  Aunt
Tryphosa drew in her breath, as if hurt.  "But, anyway, I guess I was an
American ’fore I was a Christian, an’ I jest _idolize_ my Country--"
Maria-Ann’s eyes filled with tears--"an’ I can’t do anything for her,
nor make sacrifices same as other women do who can send their
husbands--," a sob, "an’ lovers--," another sob, "an’ nuss ’em, an’ help
on their Country’s cause livin’ ’way up here in an old back paster with
an old cow--an’ an old wo--Oh, grandmarm!"  Maria-Ann broke down
utterly, laid her head upon her knees, and sobbed unrestrainedly.

It was an unusual sight, and Aunt Tryphosa was troubled.  She felt it
necessary to beat a retreat in the face of such genuine grief, but she
was determined that it should be a dignified one.

"I ain’t never seen you give way so, Maria-Ann, and you ’re thirty-one
year old come next January.  I ’ve done my best to bring you up right,
an’ now you ’re old enough to know your own mind, _I hope_; so, if you
want to leave me, you can go jest as soon as you can get ready.  I come
up for Dorcas, an’ now I ’m goin’ home."  In spite of her effort her old
voice trembled, but her pride sustained her nobly, and Maria-Ann was all
unaware that the tears were rolling down the wrinkled furrows in the old
cheeks as her grandmother drove Dorcas before her down the fern-scented
pasture slope.

Her granddaughter followed her half an hour later, and after a silent
supper, except for Aunt Tryphosa’s murmured "grace," and a faint "amen"
from the other side of the table, Maria-Ann lighted a lamp and shut
herself into her small bedroom.

She placed a chair against the door, lest she might be suddenly raided,
and drew the other splint-bottomed one up to the head of the bed.
Lifting the feather-bed she thrust her hand far under and drew out a
square, white pasteboard box.  It was tied with a narrow, white ribbon.
She undid it carefully, and took out a layer of tissue paper. The
lamp-light shone upon a large, gilt heart, some ten by eight inches,
with a thickness of two inches.

Maria-Ann turned the box this way and that, watching the play of light
on it, for the heart was skewered with a large, silver-gilt arrow, and
the shaft, where it penetrated, held a small, white card with simulated
blood-drops in carmine splashed on in one corner, and the sentiment,
written in the same, straggling diagonally across the other corner:

    "In thy sight
    Is my delight."


Maria-Ann shut her eyes and leaned back in her chair. "Don’t seems as if
he ’d sent me that if he had n’t meant somethin’," she murmured, and
dreamed for a little while. Then she opened her eyes, prepared for new
delights.  Raising the gilt top with tender care, she took out a faded
rose:

"Don’t seem as if he ’d come back that nex’ mornin’ after Chris’mus an’
give me that, ’thout he ’d had some notion."  She laid the rose
carefully upon the tissue paper, and began to lift the leaves of the
heart-shaped book, until she had lifted every one of the three hundred
and sixty-five! She smiled to herself.

"’T ain’t likely he ’d ’a’ sent me jest such a cook-book, ’thout he ’d
been tryin’ to give me a hint."  She began to read the recipes--it was
absorbing: puddings, cakes, preserves.  She was lost to time as she
read; "An’ he took that pair of socks I knit him last Chris’mus ’long
with him, Rose said--"  There was a fumbling at her door. Maria-Arm blew
out the light.

"That you, grandmarm?" she called pleasantly.

There was no answer, and Maria-Ann laughed softly to herself as she
undressed in the dark, and lay down to sweet dreams.

"I ’m goin’ over to Mis’ Blossom’s, grandmarm," she announced the next
afternoon, "to see if they ’ve had any news.  I ain’t heard for two
days."

Her grandmother made no reply, but when her grand-daughter was well on
her way to the Blossoms’, Mrs. Tryphosa Little’s conscience deemed it
prudent to issue a private search-warrant and investigate Maria-Ann’s
premises--even to the under side of the feather-bed.  The results
perfectly justified the search, and upon Maria-Ann’s return just before
tea, she was amazed to have her grandmother offer her a wrinkled cheek
to kiss.

"Why, grandmarm!" exclaimed Maria-Ann, in joyful surprise, "I ’m so glad
you ain’t laid it up against me--

"I can see through a barn-door when ’t is wide open, even at my time of
life, Maria-Ann Simmons," said the old dame, interrupting her.

"What did you hear over to Ben’s?"

"Hazel’s just had a letter from her father, and he says they ’ve got Mr.
Sherrill home to New York, an’ if nothin’ new sets in, he ’ll get over
it, but his lungs ’ll be weak, mebbe, for two years.  He was shot clean
through the lungs."

"What do they hear from Chi?"

Maria-Ann’s face grew suddenly radiant.  "Oh, he ’s been awful sick with
the fever, an’ ain’t left Cuby yet, but he’ll come North jest as soon as
he can be transported. I ’ve been talking over my plans with Mis’
Blossom an’ Rose an’ Hazel, an’ they ’re goin’ to do everything they can
for me."

"So you ’re a-goin’ to Cuby, Maria-Ann?"

"Yes, grandmarm, I ’ve got a call to go an’ nuss our sick an’ wounded; I
’ve been readin’ a lot ’bout the Red Cross misses in the Hearthstone
Journal, an’ I ’m goin’ to wear a cross, an’ Hazel’s goin’ to pay my
fare, an’ I ’m goin’ to stop to Mr. Clyde’s when I get to New York, an’
he ’ll start me all right for Cuby--"

"Them beets are burnin’ on, Maria-Ann; guess you ’d better stop for jest
one more meal on the Mountin, had n’t you?" said her grandmother, dryly.

Maria-Ann laughed merrily.  "I know, grandmarm, it seems kinder queer
and foolish to you, but I feel as if I could go now with nothin’ on my
mind, for you know Mandy’s girl is comin’ to stay all September an’
October, an’ she ’s grand help.  You won’t begin to miss me ’fore I ’ll
be back--an’ I ’ll own up, grandmarm, ever since Rose Blossom went to
New York last winter, I ’ve hankered after seein’ more of the world
’sides Mount Hunger."

"When you goin’ to start?"

"I calc’late ’bout the last of next week, that ’ll be into
September--here, let me pare them beets, grandmarm;" and forthwith she
seized the pan, and began peeling the steaming, deep-red balls, singing
heartily the while:

    "’Must I be carried to the skies
      On flowery beds of ease,
    While others fought to win the prize,
      And sailed through bloody seas?’"


"Now be careful, and change at White River Junction," were Mr. Blossom’s
parting words at the station.  "After that you go right through to New
York."

"I ’ll take good care, don’t you any of you worry ’bout me!"  She waved
her handkerchief from the back platform of the car to the little group
she was leaving,--Mr. and Mrs. Blossom, Rose, March and Hazel, Captain
Spillkins and Susan Wood, with Elvira and Melissa.  She was inflated
with heroic resolve, and felt ennobled to be going forth to do battle,
as she termed it to herself, for her Country’s cause.  Moreover she was
seeing the world, and even at the start she found it most interesting,
for she had been but ten miles at most by train, and here she was
speeding towards White River Junction, distant forty miles from Barton’s
River.

She longed to communicate her enthusiasm to the occupants of the car,
but found only one opportunity.  She offered to hold a baby, one of a
family of five, while the mother fed and watered the other four.  She
continued to dandle it recklessly till the woman protested:

"Guess you ain’t had a fam’ly," she remarked sternly, rescuing her
child; "a woman of your age ought to know better ’n to shake a baby up
so when he ’s teethin’--’t ain’t good for their brains--like enough
bring on chol’ry morbis."  She pulled down the small clothes, turned the
atom over on its stomach, and patted its back with a broad hand and a
dove-like settling motion that bespoke the mater-familias.

Maria-Ann looked out of the window.  True, she had n’t any family--only
Grandmarm Little and Aunt Mandy’s one daughter who had just come to
visit them.  What was Aunt Tryphosa doing now?  She was dreaming again,
and before she could realize it, the brakeman called, "White River
Junction!  Change cars for all points south via Windsor, Springfield,
New York."

Hearing that, Maria-Ann felt as if she had already travelled a thousand
miles, so far away seemed Mount Hunger and its uneventful life.

She found herself on the platform.  She had been so confident of taking
care of herself--and now!  She looked helplessly about.  Trains to the
right of her, trains to the left of her, trains in front of her and
behind her switched, and shifted, and thundered.  Engine-bells,
dinner-bells, train-bells; stentorian voices of baggage-men, brakemen,
call-men; frantic women, screaming babies, hurrying porters, indifferent
travellers, fashionable women and city men; farmers, children, baskets,
shawl-straps, dress-suit cases, golf bags, boys; dogs, yelping and
crying, in arms or in leash; canaries in their wooden cages shrilling
over all; and hither and thither and yon a bustling, and rustling, and
rattling, and roaring, and clanking, and hissing, and shrieking, and
hurrying, and scurrying, and pushing, and hauling, and prodding, and
rushing!  For a minute Maria-Ann was dazed and almost stunned.  Then her
courage rose to the occasion.  _This_ was the famous Junction of which
she had heard so much.  _This_ was the great world.  _This_ was Life!

"I ’ll stand stock-still an’ wait till it clears up a little. I ’ve got
an hour here, an’ mebbe I ’ll see somebody from Barton’s," she said to
herself, and had just put down her valise when a hoarse voice cried in
her ear,--"Hi, there! get out of the way!"

She dodged a baggage truck piled high with toppling trunks, only to be
caught in the surging, living stream, and carried with it up a step into
the restaurant of the station.

To Maria-Ann it was a marvellous sight.  She set down her valise by a
window and, standing guard in front of it, gazed about her with intense
satisfaction.  In truth this was seeing the great world, of which she
had read so much in the Journal and for which she had longed, at first
hand.  Around the counter--a long oval--were perched on the high,
wooden, spring stools "all sorts and conditions of men," with a
sprinkling of women and children. There was perpetual motion of knives,
forks, teaspoons, arms, hands, mouths,--and a noisy conglomerate beyond
description, accented by the shriek and toot of the switch-engines.

Suddenly the clangor of a gong-like bell and a stentorian voice rose
above the chaos of sound;--there was a momentary lull in the confusion
of masticating utensils, followed by a general slipping, sliding, and
jumping off the round wooden perches,--and to Maria-Ann’s amazement, the
room was nearly vacant.

"_Now ’s_ my time," said Maria-Ann, with considerable complacency, and
forthwith proceeded to hoist herself, by means of the foot-rail, upon
one of the seats, at the same time placing her valise on another at her
right.  She looked at the varied assortment of delectables--an
embarrassment of riches: jelly-roll cakes, pickles, squash pie, baked
beans, frosted tea-cakes, sage cheese, ham sandwiches, lemon pie, cold,
spice-speckled custards, doughnuts, great as to their circumference,
startling as to their cubical contents.

"I ’ve heard tell of them," said Maria-Ann to herself, as her eye,
ranging the oval marble slab, encountered a pyramidal pile of New
England’s doughty cruller.  "I ’ll have two of them, I guess," she said
to the indifferent attendant, "an’ a cup of coffee; that ’ll last me for
a spell, and I can keep my lunch for supper."  She expected some
response to her explanation, but there was none forthcoming, save that a
cup of coffee, half-pint size, was shoved over the counter towards her,
and the huge glass dome that protected the doughnuts was removed with a
jerk, and the towering pile set down in front of her.

Maria-Ann helped herself.  It seemed rather tame, after so much
excitement, to be eating a doughnut the size of a small feather-bed,
without company.  She looked around.  There were but three or four at
the entire counter. Farther down to the left, his tall, gaunt figure
silhouetted against the blank of the large window, a man was seated,
bestriding the perch as if it were a horse.  He wore the undress uniform
of the volunteer cavalry.  When Maria-Ann discovered this, she felt for
a moment, to use her own expression, "flustered."  The mere presence of
the uniform brought to her a realizing sense of the importance of her
mission; it seemed to bring her at once into touch with far-away Cuba,
and the feminine knights of the Red Cross; with--her heart gave a joyful
thump--with Chi! She felt in a way ennobled to be eating her doughnut
within speaking distance of a hero (they were all that in Maria-Ann’s
idealizing imagination).

She had bitten only halfway into the periphery of the doughnut, when the
man stepped from his seat.  She watched him as he moved slowly towards
the door; his back was turned to her.  How feebly he moved!  Almost
seeming to drag one foot after the other.

A great flood of patriotic pity engulfed Maria-Ann’s whole being.  She
forgot the doughnuts; she left the coffee; she forgot even her valise;
her one thought was as she slid from the stool: "I ain’t no call to wait
till I get to Cuby; I ’m just as much a Red Cross nuss right here in
White River Junction, Vermont, as if I was a thousand miles away."  The
girl at the counter looked after her in amazement--she hadn’t even paid!
But there was her valise.

She saw Maria-Ann whisk something out of her dress-waist and stop
halfway down the room to pin it on her sleeve, and lo and behold!--it
was a cross of bright red flannel.  She saw her hurry after the man, who
had dragged himself to the doorway, and stood there leaning heavily
against the jamb.

"If you ’re goin’ to take a train, just you let me help you aboard," she
said, speaking just at his elbow.  The man’s head half turned with a
jerk.  "You ain’t fit to stan’ more ’n an eight months baby, an’ I ’m a
Red Cross nuss on my way to Cuby--"

A gaunt, yellow face with haggard eyes was turned slowly full upon her,
and a hand, shaking, as that of a man in drink, was laid on her arm:

"Don’t you know me, Marier-Ann?"

Maria-Ann sat down suddenly on the doorstep at the man’s feet.  There
was no strength left in her.  Then she put her head into her hands, and
began to cry softly; there were few to see her, and had the whole world
been there, she would not have cared.

"Just help me into the waitin’-room, Marier-Ann, where we can talk."

She bounced to her feet, with streaming, tear-blinded eyes, and Chi,
linking his arm in hers, led her into the "Ladies’ Room."

A porter followed them in; he addressed Chi.  "She ain’t paid for what
she ordered, and she ain’t eat it neither, and she ’s left her valise."

Chi pulled out a ten-cent piece and put it into his hand. "Bring ’em all
in," he said, "grub ’n’ all, ’n’ I ’ll pay for ’em.  We ’ll sit here a
spell till train time."  Maria-Ann sobbed afresh.

The porter brought in the plate with the doughnuts, the cup of coffee,
and the valise, and set them down on the wooden settee.  He pointed to
the ten-cent piece that lay within the inner ring of a doughnut:

"I don’t take nothin’ of that kind from you fellers."  He touched the
bit of braid on the cuff of Chi’s coat; Chi smiled, and pocketed the
money.

"Guess you was n’t expectin’ to meet an old friend so soon, was you?"
said Chi, gently, setting the plate in her lap.

Maria-Ann shook her head vigorously, but she could not control the sobs.
Chi crossed one leg over the other, and waited.

The flies buzzed on the smoke-thickened panes, and an empty truck
rattled down the platform.  There were no other sounds.

"When does your train go, Marier-Ann?"

There was another sob, but no answer.

"Did n’t I hear you say you was on your way to Cuby?"

Maria-Ann nodded.

"Bad place for women--’n’ men, too.  What you goin’ for?"

Maria-Ann’s answer was only half audible: "To nuss."

"To nuss?  Ain’t there enough nussin’ you can do nearer home?"

Maria-Ann looked up with tear-reddened eyes.  "I did n’t think so--" a
sob--"till I saw you, Chi.  I did n’t know you--I thought I ’d begin
right now, before I got there--" her hands covered her eyes again.

Chi’s trembling ones, weak from the fever, drew her cold ones down from
her face.

"You did just right, Marier-Ann, to want to begin right now.--The
Barton’s River train is due to start from here in fifteen
minutes;--s’posin’ you give up Cuby, ’n’ come along home, ’n’ try
nussin’ me.  I need it bad enough."

"Oh, Chi, do you mean it?" Maria-Ann caught her breath.

"You bet I do," said Chi, emphatically, "only"--he paused and took up
the plate from her lap, spilling the coffee, for the trembling of his
hand had increased--"if you ’re goin’ to undertake it with me, it’s got
to be a life job, Marier-Ann."

The flies continued to buzz on the smoke-thickened panes.  The train for
Barton’s River steamed in from the siding.  The couple in the
waiting-room boarded it.  The porter watched them with a queer smile.
Then he took up the plate of uneaten doughnuts and the cup of cooled
coffee, and handed them to the girl behind the counter.

"She ain’t eat ’em, after all," she said.  "She acted kinder queer for a
Red Cross nurse."

"He’s the chap I give the telegram to when he got here on the up-train
last night."

"What was it?"

"Twenty-five cent one from Barton’s River--’M.A. starts for Cuba
Thursday stop her at Junction.’"

The girl laughed, and the restaurant filled again.



                                 XXVII

                           "--The stars above
                         Shine ever on Love--"


"I ’m goin’ up into the clearin’, Mis’ Blossom, to see if there ain’t
some late blackberries," said Chi, a few days after his triumphal return
with Maria-Ann.  "Seems as if the smell of the sun on that spruce-bush
up yonder would put new life into me--I feel so kind of shif’less."

"I would, Chi," said Mrs. Blossom; "you have n’t begun to get your
strength back yet, and the more you ’re out in this air, without
overworking, the better it will be for you."

"I ’ll go with you, Chi," said Rose, looking up from her work, as she
sat sewing on the lower step of the porch.

"That’s right, Rose-pose; it ’ll seem like old times."  Chi followed her
with wistful eyes as she turned to go up stairs.

"I ’ll be down in a few minutes, Chi; we ’d better take the two-quart
pails, had n’t we?"

"Maybe we ’ll find enough for one or two messes."

He turned to Mrs. Blossom when Rose had left the room.  "Can’t there
nothin’ be done ’bout it, Mis’ Blossom?"  He spoke almost wistfully.

Mrs. Blossom’s eyes filled with tears.  She hesitated a moment before
she spoke: "I know Rose so well, Chi, that I dare _not_ interfere.  I
doubt if she would accept anything, even from me, her mother."

"It beats me," Chi sighed heavily.  "He ’s just a-pinin’ for a word or
sign, ’n’ there ain’t no use talkin’--_she ’s_ got to give it; I ’d back
him up every time, he ’s done enough--"

"Sh--!"  Mrs. Blossom held up her finger; she heard Rose on the stairs.
Chi looked up--his old Rose-pose stood before him: old, faded, green and
white calico dress, old sunbonnet, patched shoes!  Chi turned away
abruptly to get his pails; and her mother wondered, but said nothing.

They found more than one "patch," where the berries hung in luscious
clusters of shining jet.  Chi pummelled his chest, and drew deep, deep
breaths of the balsamic mountain air.  "This sets a man up, Rose-pose;
there ain’t nothin’ like the air on this Mountain for an all-round
tonic.  Let’s sit here a spell, right by this sweet fern."

She pushed back the sunbonnet as she sat down beside him.  "Tired, Chi?"

"No--rests me clear through just to sit ’n’ look off onto those slopes,
just about as green as in June."

They sat awhile in silence; then Chi turned and picked up the sunbonnet
that had fallen from her head.  He touched it gently.

"Remember the first time you sold berries in that rig, Rose-pose?"

The blood surged into Rose’s face, and receded, leaving it strangely
white.  Chi felt his heart contract at the change, but he went on:

"First time Jack ever saw you was in that rig.--You ain’t changed so
much but he ’d know you again if he saw you in Chiny."

Still there was silence.  Chi moistened his lips.

"Can’t say as much for him; never saw such a change; he ’s all fallen
away to nothin’ but skin and bones.  Doctor Heath told me just before I
left--’n’ he put me aboard the train--that nothin’ could set him up
again but this Mountain air, ’n’ good food, ’n’--"  Chi paused; his
mouth was uncomfortably dry.  Rose’s face was turned from him, but he
saw a contraction of her delicate throat, as if a dry sob were suddenly
suppressed.  Then she spoke in a monotone:

"Why does n’t he come, then?"

"_Why!_--"  Chi fairly startled himself with his thundering "why," and
Rose half started from the ground. The blood leaped to her very temples;
seeing which, Chi took heart--"Coz he ’s every inch a man, Rose Blossom;
’n’ he’s got too much grit of the right sort to ask a girl twice, he ’s
about given his heart’s blood for.

"He ain’t a-goin’ to come crawlin’ up here to ask no favors of you after
he knows that you _know_--’n’ I glory in his spunk.  But I can tell you,
if you don’t look out, you ’ll come nearer to bein’ a real Molly Stark
than you ever thought you could be when you joined the N.B.B.O.O., ’n’
by George Washin’ton! it goes against me to see you breakin’ the by-laws
you pledged yourself to stand by, every minute of your life that you
keep so dumb towards Jack Sherrill;--for you ’re provin’ yourself a
coward in your love, ’n’ you ’ll have a widowed heart to pay for it
mighty soon, if you keep on, that’ll be worse than Molly Stark’s any
day--"  A whisper stopped him:

"Chi, Chi, tell him to come--I want him so; oh, Chi!"

Chi’s hand was laid on the bowed head with its crown of shining,
golden-brown braids: "Rose Blossom, may God Almighty bless you for
proving yourself a true woman, ’n’ worthy of the mother that bore you.
I can’t say any more."

An hour later March Blossom, with a telegram in his hand, was speeding
on Fleet to Barton’s River; and two days afterwards Mr. Blossom and Alan
Ford in the double wagon, and Chi alone in the buggy, drove down to
Barton’s to meet the up-train.  Mrs. Blossom and Rose stood on the porch
straining their eyes in the quickly-falling September twilight to see
any movement on the lower road. The children had been sent over to
Hunger-ford till after tea, for Jack was not strong enough to bear a too
joyful home-coming.

"They ’re coming, Rose," said Mrs. Blossom, in a low tone; then she
turned abruptly, and went into the house, leaving Rose alone on the
step.

"Here we are, safe ’n’ sound," said Chi, in an affectedly cheery voice,
as he drove out of the woods’-road.  "Just wait a minute, Jack, ’n’ I
’ll give you an arm gettin’ out."  He laid the reins on the dasher.
Then he assisted the tall, gaunt figure of the man beside him to alight.
Jack half stumbled, for his eyes were seeking Rose--and Rose?

All her womanhood, all the sacred privileges of wifehood, came to her
aid at that moment.  She sprang to the carriage, and, with one hand, put
Chi aside; with the other, she lifted Jack’s half-nerveless arm and laid
it over her shoulders; then, encircling him with her own slender one,
she said gently, guiding him to the porch step:

"_Lean on me, dearest._"


On the first of November, one of the short-lived Indian Summer days, the
farmhouse on Mount Hunger literally blossomed like a rose.

A week beforehand there had been an animated discussion as to what
should be the wedding decorations of the "long-room."  Hazel, who had
been with them a week already, settled it.

"As if there could be any choice!" she exclaimed. "It’s been great fun
to hear you all suggesting this, that, and the other, from ground
hemlock and bitter-sweet, to everlasting!  But Jack and I settled it
three weeks ago--how could there be anything for Rose, but roses?
Anyway, that’s what Jack wrote, and our florist looked fairly dazed when
I gave him the order--just bushels of them, Rose-pose, lovely La France
ones, like those you threw into the--No, I won’t tease you, Cousin
mine," she said, with a merry laugh, as Rose looked at her appealingly.

And now, on the wedding morning of the first of November, the great box
that Chi had brought up from Barton’s the night before was opened, and
in Hazel’s skilful fingers the exquisite pink blooms lent to the
"long-room" a wonderful grace and beauty.

She was flitting about in her pale pink cashmere dress--"Made specially
to match the roses," she said to March, as she dropped him a curtsy
preparatory to pinning a rose into his buttonhole.  "We must all wear
Rose-pose’s badge to-day.  Where are you, Budd?"

"Here," said her knight, promptly appearing with Cherry from the pantry,
where they had been counting the frosting-roses on the wedding-cake.  He
looked down at the slender fingers as they pulled the stem of the pink
bud through the buttonhole of his jacket, and thought--of the ring!
Then he looked up at the tall, beautiful girl bending over him, and,
somehow, the day of his proposal seemed very far away in the Past.
Hazel was so grown up!--as tall as Rose.  Still, he was n’t going to be
afraid, if she was grown up.  Now was his time;--and "Ethan Allan"
always made the most of his opportunities.  Budd was in United States
History, this term, and he knew this for a fact.

He drew forth from his breeches’ pocket a something that might once have
been white, but, at present, looked more like a shoe-rag, it was so
dingy and soiled.

"I ’ve kept it, you see, Hazel," he said, his small mouth puckering, his
round, light-blue eyes growing rounder, as he looked up at Hazel, with
twelve-year-old earnestness.

"Kept what?" said Hazel, mystified, and holding up the offering gingerly
between thumb and forefinger to examine it.

"Why, don’t you know?--the glove you gave me when you said you ’d be my
Lady-love? don’t you remember,--in the barn?" answered Budd, slightly
crestfallen.

Hazel laughed merrily.  "Oh, you funny boy!" she said, "to keep an old
glove of mine for nearly a year and a half!  Why, it’s nearly black and
blue.  Have you kept it in your best Sunday-go-to-meeting trousers’
pocket all this time?"

Budd nodded, but soberly.  Seeing which, Hazel gave him a pat on the top
of his head, and assured him she would give him one of her cleaned party
gloves once a year till he was twenty-one, if only he would promise not
to keep it in his pocket with spruce-gum, chalk, chestnuts, lead-pencil
sharpenings, top-twine, jack-knives, and ginger cookie crumbs.

"How ’d you know I had all those things in my pocket?" demanded Budd, in
his amazement forgetting his sentiment.

"Oh, a little bird told me," replied Hazel.  "Run and ask Chi to come
in, will you?  I have his rose ready for him, and it’s most time for
them all to come."

It was a quiet wedding.  Only those nearest and dearest were about them;
Mr. Sherrill, Aunt Carrie and Uncle Jo, Mr. Clyde and Hazel, Doctor and
Mrs. Heath, the Blossoms and Chi.

Afterwards all the Lost Nation came in to give their heart-felt
blessings and good wishes.  They were all there--from Maria-Ann, radiant
in the realization of her own romance, to Miss Alton and the Fords, who
were to leave on the night train to remain six weeks in New York, and
had placed Hunger-ford at the disposal of Rose and Jack during the first
weeks of their marriage.  They remained but a little while, for the
excitement was almost more than Jack was able to bear.

The moon rose between six and seven, largely luminous and slightly
reddened through the soft, warm haze of the Indian Summer night.  Rose
had insisted, that, if the night were mild, Jack should ride over to
Hunger-ford at a snail’s pace on Little Shaver, and that she should lead
him.  At first Jack protested, but in the end Rose had her way.  Chi, on
Fleet, was to ride on a little ahead to be within call, if anything
should be needed.  "Kind of scoutin’ to remind us of Cuby, Jack," he
said, laughing, as he helped him into the saddle.

They were all on the porch to see the little cavalcade set forth, the
pony whinnying his delight to find his master on his back.  Rose took
the bridle.  Suddenly she dropped it, turned, and came back to the steps
where Hazel stood between Mrs. Blossom and March.  She put up her arms,
and clasping the young girl about the waist, drew her down to kiss her,
and whisper:

"Oh, Hazel!  What if you had n’t come to us!--All this happiness is
through you."

And Hazel, but dimly perceiving Rose’s meaning, whispered back as she
kissed her:

"And if I had n’t come, Rose-pose, _I_ should never have been rich as I
am now; Chi can’t call me ’poor’ any longer--for you ’re all mine, now
that you are Jack’s; aren’t you?"

March, hearing those whispered words, found his mother’s hand,
somehow,--and Mrs. Blossom understood.

"Good-night, Martie dear," cried Rose, love and tears and laughter
struggling in her voice.

"Good-night, Rose dear."

"Good-night, Rose--Good-night, Jack!" cried the twins.

A white slipper filled with rice flew after Little Shaver, and hit him
on the left hock.  But he was a well-bred polo pony, and a white satin
slipper with a little rice was as nothing to a swift, long-distance polo
ball; so he gave no sign.

Chi stopped at the little house "over eastwards."  Maria-Ann was on the
lookout.

"They ’re comin’ along just by the turn of the road," he spoke low, "can
you see ’em?"

The road lay white in the moonlight.  "Yes, yes," cried Maria-Ann
excitedly, "Oh, Chi, ain’t it beautiful!"

"Sh--sh!" said Chi, "they ’ll hear you.  Hark!  By George Washin’ton!
she ’s singin’--Get, Fleet."  The horse loped along over the moonlit
road, and Maria-Ann went in and shut the door--all but a crack.  To that
she put her ear, to hear what the clear, sweet voice was singing:

    "’I told thee when love was hopeless;
    But now he is wild and sings--
    That the stars above
    Shine ever on Love,
    Though they frown on the fate of kings.’"


Mount Hunger stood bathed in white radiance.  The stars came out, but
faintly;--still, they were shining.



        New Illustrated Editions of Miss Alcott’s Famous Stories



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                 LITTLE, BROWN, & COMPANY, _Publishers_
               254 WASHINGTON ST., BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS





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