“Bad Medicine”

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 “Bad Medicine”

Author: Andy Adams

The evening before the Cherokee Strip was thrown open for settlement, a number of old timers met in the little town of Hennessey, Oklahoma.

On the next day the Strip would pass from us and our employers, the cowmen. Some of the boys had spent from five to fifteen years on this range. But we realized that we had come to the parting of the ways.

This was not the first time that the government had taken a hand in cattle matters. Some of us in former days had moved cattle at the command of negro soldiers, with wintry winds howling an accompaniment.

The cowman was never a government favorite. If the Indian wards of the nation had a few million acres of idle land, “Let it lie idle,” said the guardian. Some of these civilized tribes maintained a fine system of public schools from the rental of unoccupied lands. Nations, like men, revive the fable of the dog and the ox. But the guardian was supreme–the cowman went. This was not unexpected to most of us. Still, this country was a home to us. It mattered little if our names were on the pay-roll or not, it clothed and fed us.

We were seated around a table in the rear of a saloon talking of the morrow. The place was run by a former cowboy. It therefore became a rendezvous for the craft. Most of us had made up our minds to quit cattle for good and take claims.

“Before I take a claim,” said Tom Roll, “I’ll go to Minnesota and peon myself to some Swede farmer for my keep the balance of my life. Making hay and plowing fire guards the last few years have given me all the taste of farming that I want. I’m going to Montana in the spring.”

“Why don’t you go this winter? Is your underwear too light?” asked Ace Gee. “Now, I’m going to make a farewell play,” continued Ace. “I’m going to take a claim, and before I file on it, sell my rights, go back to old Van Zandt County, Texas, this winter, rear up my feet, and tell it to them scarey. That’s where all my folks live.”

“Well, for a winter’s stake,” chimed in Joe Box, “Ace’s scheme is all right. We can get five hundred dollars out of a claim for simply staking it, and we know some good ones. That sized roll ought to winter a man with modest tastes.”

“You didn’t know that I just came from Montana, did you, Tom?” asked Ace. “I can tell you more about that country than you want to know. I’ve been up the trail this year; delivered our cattle on the Yellowstone, where the outfit I worked for has a northern range. When I remember this summer’s work, I sometimes think that I will burn my saddle and never turn or look a cow in the face again, nor ride anything but a plow mule and that bareback.

“The people I was working for have a range in Tom Green County, Texas, and another one in Montana. They send their young steers north to mature–good idea, too!–but they are not cowmen like the ones we know. They made their money in the East in a patent medicine–got scads of it, too. But that’s no argument that they know anything about a cow. They have a board of directors–it is one of those cattle companies. Looks like they started in the cattle business to give their income a healthy outlet from the medicine branch. They operate on similar principles as those soap factory people did here in the Strip a few years ago. About the time they learn the business they go broke and retire.

“Our boss this summer was some relation to the wife of some of the medicine people Down East. As they had no use for him back there, they sent him out to the ranch, where he would be useful.

“We started north with the grass. Had thirty-three hundred head of twos and threes, with a fair string of saddle stock. They run the same brand on both ranges–the broken arrow. You never saw a cow-boss have so much trouble; a married woman wasn’t a circumstance to him, fretting and sweating continually. This was his first trip over the trail, but the boys were a big improvement on the boss, as we had a good outfit of men along. My idea of a good cow-boss is a man that doesn’t boss any; just hires a first-class outfit of men, and then there is no bossing to do.

“We had to keep well to the west getting out of Texas; kept to the west of Buffalo Gap. From there to Tepee City is a dry, barren country. To get water for a herd the size of ours was some trouble. This new medicine man got badly worried several times. He used his draft book freely, buying water for the cattle while crossing this stretch of desert; the natives all through there considered him the softest snap they had met in years. Several times we were without water for the stock two whole days. That makes cattle hard to hold at night. They want to get up and prowl–it makes them feverish, and then’s when they are ripe for a stampede. We had several bobles crossing that strip of country; nothing bad, just jump and run a mile or so, and then mill until daylight. Then our boss would get great action on himself and ride a horse until the animal would give out–sick, he called it. After the first little run we had, it took him half the next day to count them; then he couldn’t believe his own figures.

“A Val Verde County lad who counted with him said they were all right–not a hoof shy. But the medicine man’s opinion was the reverse. At this the Val Verde boy got on the prod slightly, and expressed himself, saying, ‘Why don’t you have two of the other boys count them? You can’t come within a hundred of me, or yourself either, for that matter. I can pick out two men, and if they differ five head, it’ll be a surprise to me. The way the boys have brought the cattle by us, any man that can’t count this herd and not have his own figures differ more than a hundred had better quit riding, get himself some sandals, and a job herding sheep. Let me give you this pointer: if you are not anxious to have last night’s fun over again, you’d better quit counting and get this herd full of grass and water before night, or you will be cattle shy as sure as hell’s hot.’

“‘When I ask you for an opinion,’ answered the foreman, somewhat indignant, ‘such remarks will be in order. Until then you may keep your remarks to yourself.’

“‘That will suit me all right, old sport,’ retorted Val Verde; ‘and when you want any one to help you count your fat cattle, get some of the other boys–one that’ll let you doubt his count as you have mine, and if he admires you for it, cut my wages in two.’

“After the two had been sparring with each other some little time, another of the boys ventured the advice that it would be easy to count the animals as they came out of the water; so the order went forward to let them hit the trail for the first water. We made a fine stream, watering early in the afternoon. As they grazed out from the creek we fed them through between two of the boys. The count showed no cattle short. In fact, the Val Verde boy’s count was confirmed. It was then that our medicine man played his cards wrong. He still insisted that we were cattle out, thus queering himself with his men. He was gradually getting into a lone minority, though he didn’t have sense enough to realize it. He would even fight with and curse his horses to impress us with his authority. Very little attention was paid to him after this, and as grass and water improved right along nothing of interest happened.

“While crossing ‘No-Man’s-Land’ a month later,–I was on herd myself at the time, a bright moonlight night,–they jumped like a cat shot with No. 8’s, and quit the bed-ground instanter. There were three of us on guard at the time, and before the other boys could get out of their blankets and into their saddles the herd had gotten well under headway. Even when the others came to our assistance, it took us some time to quiet them down. As this scare came during last guard, daylight was on us before they had quit milling, and we were three miles from the wagon. As we drifted them back towards camp, for fear that something might have gotten away, most of the boys scoured the country for miles about, but without reward. When all had returned to camp, had breakfasted, and changed horses, the counting act was ordered by Mr. Medicine. Our foreman naturally felt that he would have to take a hand in this count, evidently forgetting his last experience in that line. He was surprised, when he asked one of the boys to help him, by receiving a flat refusal.

“‘Why won’t you count with me?’ he demanded.

“‘Because you don’t possess common cow sense enough, nor is the crude material in you to make a cow-hand. You found fault with the men the last count we had, and I don’t propose to please you by giving you a chance to find fault with me. That’s why I won’t count with you.’

“‘Don’t you know, sir, that I’m in authority here?’ retorted the foreman.

“‘Well, if you are, no one seems to respect your authority, as you’re pleased to call it, and I don’t know of any reason why I should. You have plenty of men here who can count them correctly. I’ll count them with any man in the outfit but yourself.’

“‘Our company sent me as their representative with this herd,’ replied the foreman, ‘while you have the insolence to disregard my orders. I’ll discharge you the first moment I can get a man to take your place.’

“‘Oh, that’ll be all right,’ answered the lad, as the foreman rode away. He then tackled me, but I acted foolish, ‘fessing up that I couldn’t count a hundred. Finally he rode around to a quiet little fellow, with pox-marks on his face, who always rode on the point, kept his horses fatter than anybody, rode a San Jose saddle, and was called Californy. The boss asked him to help him count the herd.

“‘Now look here, boss,’ said Californy, ‘I’ll pick one of the boys to help me, and we’ll count the cattle to within a few head. Won’t that satisfy you?’

“‘No, sir, it won’t. What’s got into you boys?’ questioned the foreman.

“‘There’s nothing the matter with the boys, but the cattle business has gone to the dogs when a valuable herd like this will be trusted to cross a country for two thousand miles in the hands of a man like yourself. You have men that will pull you through if you’ll only let them,’ said the point-rider, his voice mild and kind as though he were speaking to a child.

“‘You’re just like the rest of them!’ roared the boss. ‘Want to act contrary! Now let me say to you that you’ll help me to count these cattle or I’ll discharge, unhorse, and leave you afoot here in this country! I’ll make an example of you as a warning to others.’

“‘It’s strange that I should be signaled out as an object of your wrath and displeasure,’ said Californy. ‘Besides, if I were you, I wouldn’t make any examples as you were thinking of doing. When you talk of making an example of me as a warning to others,’ said the pox-marked lad, as he reached over, taking the reins of the foreman’s horse firmly in his hand, ‘you’re a simpering idiot for entertaining the idea, and a cowardly bluffer for mentioning it. When you talk of unhorsing and leaving me here afoot in a country a thousand miles from nowhere, you don’t know what that means, but there’s no danger of your doing it. I feel easy on that point. But I’m sorry to see you make such a fool of yourself. Now, you may think for a moment that I’m afraid of that ivory-handled gun you wear, but I’m not. Men wear them on the range, not so much to emphasize their demands with, as you might think. If it were me, I’d throw it in the wagon; it may get you into trouble. One thing certain, if you ever so much as lay your hand on it, when you are making threats as you have done to-day, I’ll build a fire in your face that you can read the San Francisco “Examiner” by at midnight. You’ll have to revise your ideas a trifle; in fact, change your tactics. You’re off your reservation bigger than a wolf, when you try to run things by force. There’s lots better ways. Don’t try and make talk stick for actions, nor use any prelude to the real play you wish to make. Unroll your little game with the real thing. You can’t throw alkaline dust in my eyes and tell me it’s snowing. I’m sorry to have to tell you all this, though I have noticed that you needed it for a long time.’

“As he released his grip on the bridle reins, he continued, ‘Now ride back to the wagon, throw off that gun, tell some of the boys to take a man and count these cattle, and it will be done better than if you helped.’

“‘Must I continue to listen to these insults on every hand?’ hissed the medicine man, livid with rage.

“‘First remove the cause before you apply the remedy; that’s in your line,’ answered Californy. ‘Besides, what are you going to do about it? You don’t seem to be gifted with enough cow-sense to even use a modified amount of policy in your every-day affairs,’ said he, as he rode away to avoid hearing his answer.

“Several of us, who were near enough to hear this dressing-down of the boss at Californy’s hands, rode up to offer our congratulations, when we noticed that old Bad Medicine had gotten a stand on one of the boys called ‘Pink.’ After leaving him, he continued his ride towards the wagon. Pink soon joined us, a broad smile playing over his homely florid countenance.

“‘Some of you boys must have given him a heavy dose for so early in the morning,’ said Pink, ‘for he ordered me to have the cattle counted, and report to him at the wagon. Acted like he didn’t aim to do the trick himself. Now, as I’m foreman,’ continued Pink, ‘I want you two point-men to go up to the first little rise of ground, and we’ll put the cattle through between you. I want a close count, understand. You’re working under a boss now that will shove you through hell itself. So if you miss them over a hundred, I’ll speak to the management, and see if I can’t have your wages raised, or have you made a foreman or something with big wages and nothing to do.’

“The point-men smiled at Pink’s orders, and one asked, ‘Are you ready now?’

“‘All set,’ responded Pink. ‘Let the fiddlers cut loose.’

“Well, we lined them up and got them strung out in shape to count, and our point-men picking out a favorite rise, we lined them through between our counters. We fed them through, and as regularly as a watch you could hear Californy call out to his pardner ‘tally!’ Alternately they would sing out this check on the even hundred head, slipping a knot on their tally string to keep the hundreds. It took a full half hour to put them through, and when the rear guard of crips and dogies passed this impromptu review, we all waited patiently for the verdict. Our counters rode together, and Californy, leaning over on the pommel of his saddle, said to his pardner, ‘What you got?’

“‘Thirty-three six,’ was the answer.

“‘Why, you can’t count a little bit,’ said Californy. ‘I got thirty-three seven. How does the count suit you, boss?’

“‘Easy suited, gents,’ said Pink. ‘But I’m surprised to find such good men with a common cow herd. I must try and have you appointed by the government on this commission that’s to investigate Texas fever. You’re altogether too accomplished for such a common calling as claims you at present.’

“Turning to the rest of us, he said, ‘Throw your cattle on the trail, you vulgar peons, while I ride back to order forward my wagon and saddle stock. By rights, I ought to have one of those centre fire cigars to smoke, to set off my authority properly on this occasion.’

“He jogged back to the wagon and satisfied the dethroned medicine man that the cattle were there to a hoof. We soon saw the saddle horses following, and an hour afterward Pink and the foreman rode by us, big as fat cattle-buyers from Kansas City, not even knowing any one, so absorbed in their conversation were they; rode on by and up the trail, looking out for grass and water.

“It was over two weeks afterward when Pink said to us, ‘When we strike the Santa Fe Railway, I may advise my man to take a needed rest for a few weeks in some of the mountain resorts. I hope you all noticed how worried he looks, and, to my judgment, he seems to be losing flesh. I don’t like to suggest anything, but the day before we reach the railroad, I think a day’s curlew shooting in the sand hills along the Arkansas River might please his highness. In case he’ll go with me, if I don’t lose him, I’ll never come back to this herd. It won’t hurt him any to sleep out one night with the dry cattle.’

“Sure enough, the day before we crossed that road, somewhere near the Colorado state line, Pink and Bad Medicine left camp early in the morning for a curlew hunt in the sand hills. Fortunately it was a foggy morning, and within half an hour the two were out of sight of camp and herd. As Pink had outlined the plans, everything was understood. We were encamped on a nice stream, and instead of trailing along with the herd, lay over for that day. Night came and our hunters failed to return, and the next morning we trailed forward towards the Arkansas River. Just as we went into camp at noon, two horsemen loomed up in sight coming down the trail from above. Every rascal of us knew who they were, and when the two rode up, Pink grew very angry and demanded to know why we had failed to reach the river the day before.

“The horse wrangler, a fellow named Joe George, had been properly coached, and stepping forward, volunteered this excuse: ‘You all didn’t know it when you left camp yesterday morning that we were out the wagon team and nearly half the saddle horses. Well, we were. And what’s more, less than a mile below on the creek was an abandoned Indian camp. I wasn’t going to be left behind with the cook to look for the missing stock, and told the _segundo_ so. We divided into squads of three or four men each and went out and looked up the horses, but it was after six o’clock before we trailed them down and got the missing animals. If anybody thinks I’m going to stay behind to look for missing stock in a country full of lurking Indians–well, they simply don’t know me.’

“The scheme worked all right. On reaching the railroad the next morning, Bad Medicine authorized Pink to take the herd to Ogalalla on the Platte, while he took a train for Denver. Around the camp-fire that night, Pink gave us his experience in losing Mr. Medicine. ‘Oh, I lost him late enough in the day so he couldn’t reach any shelter for the night,’ said Pink. ‘At noon, when the sun was straight overhead, I sounded him as to directions and found that he didn’t know straight up or east from west. After giving him the slip, I kept an eye on him among the sand hills, at the distance of a mile or so, until he gave up and unsaddled at dusk. The next morning when I overtook him, I pretended to be trailing him up, and I threw enough joy into my rapture over finding him, that he never doubted my sincerity.’

“On reaching Ogalalla, a man from Montana put in an appearance in company with poor old Medicine, and as they did business strictly with Pink, we were left out of the grave and owly council of medicine men. Well, the upshot of the whole matter was that Pink was put in charge of the herd, and a better foreman I never worked under. We reached the company’s Yellowstone range early in the fall, counted over and bade our dogies good-by, and rode into headquarters. That night I talked with the regular men on the ranch, and it was there that I found out that a first-class cowhand could get in four months’ haying in the summer and the same feeding it out in the winter. But don’t you forget it, she’s a cow country all right. I always was such a poor hand afoot that I passed up that country, and here I am a ‘boomer.'”

“Well, boom if you want,” said Tom Roll, “but do you all remember what the governor of North Carolina said to the governor of South Carolina?”

“It is quite a long time between drinks,” remarked Joe, rising, “but I didn’t want to interrupt Ace.”

As we lined up at the bar, Ace held up a glass two thirds full, and looking at it in a meditative mood, remarked: “Isn’t it funny how little of this stuff it takes to make a fellow feel rich! Why, four bits’ worth under his belt, and the President of the United States can’t hire him.”

As we strolled out into the street, Joe inquired, “Ace, where will I see you after supper?”

“You will see me, not only after supper, but all during supper, sitting right beside you.”

[The end]
Andy Adams’s short story: “Bad Medicine”

Malleville’s Night Of Adventure

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  Malleville’s Night Of Adventure

Author: Jacob Abbott

I

The Story of Agnes

In a few minutes Beechnut returned with a large rocking-chair, which he placed by the fire, on one side. He then took Malleville in his arms, and carried her to the chair, and sat down. Next he asked Phonny to go out into the entry, and look by the side of the door, and to bring in what he should find there.

‘What is it?’ said Malleville.

‘You will see,’ replied Beechnut. So saying, he placed Malleville in his lap in such a position that she could see the door and the fire. Her head rested upon a small pillow which Beechnut had laid upon his shoulder. By the time that Malleville was thus placed, Phonny came back. He had in his hand a small sheet-iron pan, with three large and rosy apples in it. Beechnut directed Phonny to put this pan down upon the hearth where the apples would roast.

‘Who are they for?’ asked Malleville.

‘One is for you,’ replied Beechnut, ‘one for Phonny, and one for me. But we are not going to eat them till to-morrow morning.’

‘There ought to be one for Hepzibah,’ said Malleville.

‘Why, Hepzibah can get as many apples as she wants,’ said Beechnut, ‘and roast them whenever she pleases. Only,’ he continued, after a moment’s pause, ‘perhaps it would please her to have us remember her, and roast her one together with ours.’

‘Yes,’ said Phonny. ‘I think it would.’

‘Then,’ said Beechnut, ‘you may go, Phonny, and get her an apple. You can make room for one more upon the pan.’

‘Well,’ said Phonny, ‘but you must not begin the story until I come back.’

So Phonny went away to get an apple for Hepzibah. In a short time he returned, bringing with him a very large and beautiful apple, which he put upon the pan with the rest. There was just room for it. He then set the pan down before the fire, and took his own seat in the little rocking-chair, which still stood in its place by the side of the light-stand.

‘Now, Beechnut,’ said he, as soon as he was seated, ‘now for the story.’

‘What sort of story shall I tell you, Malleville?’ asked Beechnut. ‘Shall it be the plain truth, or shall it be embellished?’

‘Embellished,’ said Malleville. ‘I wish you would embellish it as much as ever you can.’

‘Well,’ said Beechnut, ‘I will tell you about Agnes.’

‘Agnes!’ repeated Phonny. ‘Who was she?’

‘You must not speak, Phonny,’ said Malleville. ‘Beechnut is going to tell this story to me.’

‘Yes,’ said Beechnut, ‘it is altogether for Malleville, and you must not say a word about it from beginning to end.’

‘One night,’ continued Beechnut, ‘about three weeks ago, I sat up very late in my room, writing. It was just after I had got well from my hurt, and as I had been kept away from my desk for a long time, I was very glad to get back to it again, and I used to sit up quite late in the evenings, writing and reading. The night that I am now speaking of, I sat up even later than usual. It had been a very warm day, and the evening air, as it came into my open window, was cool and delightful. Besides, there was a bright moon, and it shone very brilliantly upon the garden, and upon the fields and mountains beyond, as I looked upon them from my window.

‘At last I finished my writing just as the clock struck twelve, and as I still did not feel sleepy, notwithstanding that it was so late, and as the night was so magnificent, I thought that I would go out and take a little walk. So I put my books and papers away, took my cap, and put it upon my head, and then stepped out of the window upon the roof of the shed, which, you know, is just below it. I thought it better to go out that way rather than to go down the stairs, as by going down the stairs I might possibly have disturbed somebody in the house.

‘I walked along the roof of the shed, without meeting anybody or seeing anybody except Moma. She was lying down asleep behind one of the chimneys.’

Moma was a large black cat belonging to Malleville.

‘Poor Moma!’ said Malleville. ‘Has not she got any better place to sleep in than that? I mean to make her a bed as soon as I get well.’

‘When I reached the end of the shed,’ continued Beechnut, ‘I climbed down by the great trellis to the fence, and from the fence to the ground. I went along the yard to the steps of the south platform, and sat down there. It looked very pleasant in the garden, and I went in there. I walked through the garden, and out at the back gate into the woods, and so up the glen. I rambled along different glens and valleys for half an hour, until at last I came to a most beautiful place among groves and thickets where there was a large spring boiling out from under some mossy rocks. This spring was in a deep shady place, and was overhung with beautiful trees. In front of the spring was a large basin of water, half as large as this room. The water was very clear, and as the moonlight shone upon it through the interstices of the trees, I could see that the bottom was covered with yellow sands, while beautiful shells and pebbles lined the shore.

‘The water fell down into the basin from the spring in a beautiful cascade. All around there were a great many tall wild flowers growing. It seemed to me the most beautiful place I ever saw. I sat down upon a large round stone which projected out from a grassy bank just below this little dell, where I could see the basin of water and the spring, and the flowers upon its banks, and could hear the sound of the water falling over the cascade.

‘There was a very large oak-tree growing near the basin on the one side. I could only see the lower part of the stem of it. The top was high in the air, and was concealed from view by the foliage of the thickets. The stem of the tree was very large indeed, and it had a very ancient and venerable appearance. There was a hollow place in this tree very near the ground, which had in some degree the appearance of a door, arched above. The sides of this opening were fringed with beautiful green moss, which hung down within like a curtain, and there were a great many beautiful flowers growing upon each side of it. Another thing which attracted my attention and excited my curiosity very strongly, was that there seemed to be a little path leading from this door down to the margin of the water.

‘While I was wondering what this could mean, I suddenly observed that there was a waving motion in the long moss which hung down within the opening in the trunk of the tree, and presently I saw a beautiful little face peeping out. I was, of course, very much astonished, but I determined to sit perfectly still, and see what would happen.

‘I was in such a place that the person to whom the face belonged could not see me, though I could see her perfectly. After looking about for a minute or two timidly, she came out. She was very beautiful indeed, with her dark hair hanging in curls upon her neck and shoulders. Her dress was very simple, and yet it was very rich and beautiful.’

‘What did she have on?’ asked Malleville.

‘Why, I don’t know that I can describe it very well,’ said Beechnut. ‘I am not much accustomed to describe ladies’ dresses. It was, however, the dress of a child. She had in her hand a very long feather, like a peacock’s feather, only, instead of being of many colours, it was white, like silver, and had the lustre of silver. I verily believe it must have been made of silver.’

‘I don’t believe it would be possible,’ said Phonny, ‘to make a feather of silver.’

‘Why not?’ asked Beechnut, ‘as well as to make a tassel of glass? However, it looked like silver, and it was extremely graceful and brilliant as she held it in her hands waving in the moonbeams.

‘After looking about for a minute or two, and seeing nobody, she began to dance down the little path to the brink of the basin, and when she reached it she began to speak. “Now,” said she, “I’ll freeze the fountain, and then I’ll have a dance.”

‘As she said this, she stood upon the pebbles of the shore, and began gently to draw the tip of her long feather over the surface of the water, and I saw, to my amazement, that wherever the feather passed it changed the surface of the water into ice. Long feathery crystals began to shoot in every direction over the basin wherever Agnes moved her wand.’

‘Was her name Agnes?’ asked Malleville.

‘Yes,’ said Beechnut.

‘How do you know?’ asked Malleville.

‘Oh, she told me afterwards,’ replied Beechnut. ‘You will hear how presently. When she had got the surface of the water frozen, she stepped cautiously upon it to see if it would bear.’

‘Would it?’ asked Malleville.

‘Yes,’ replied Beechnut, ‘it bore her perfectly. She advanced to the middle of it, springing up and down upon her feet to try the strength of the ice as she proceeded. She found that it was very strong.

‘”Now,” said she, “for the cascade.”

‘So saying, she began to draw her silver feather down the cascade, and immediately the same effect was produced which I had observed upon the water. The noise of the waterfall was immediately hushed. Beautiful stalactites and icicles were formed in the place of the pouring and foaming water. I should have thought that the cascade had been wholly congealed were it not that I could see in some places by the moonlight that the water was still gurgling down behind the ice, just as it usually does when cascades and waterfalls are frozen by natural cold.’

‘Yes,’ said Phonny, ‘I have watched it very often on the brook.’

‘On what brook?’ asked Malleville.

‘On the pasture brook,’ said Phonny.

Beechnut took no notice of Phonny’s remark, but went on with his narrative as follows:

‘Agnes then walked back and forth upon the ice, and began to draw the tip of her long silver feather over the branches of the trees that overhung the basin, and over the mossy banks and the tall grass and flowers. Everything that she touched turned into the most beautiful frost-work. The branches of the trees were loaded with snow, the banks hung with icicles, and the tall grass and flowers seemed to turn white and transparent, and they glittered in the moonbeams as if they were encrusted with diamonds. I never saw anything so resplendent and beautiful.

‘At last she looked round upon it all and said: “There, that will do. I wonder now if the ice is strong enough.”

‘Then she went into the middle of the ice, and standing upon it on tiptoe, she sprang up into the air, and then came down upon it again, as if she were trying its strength. At the same instant she said or sung in a beautiful silvery voice, like a bird, the word, “Peep!”

‘When she had done this, she stopped for a moment to listen. I sat perfectly still, so as not to let her know that I was near. Presently she leaped up again twice in succession, singing, “Peep! Peep!”

‘Then, after pausing a moment more, she began to dance away with the utmost agility and grace, singing all the time a little song, the music of which kept time with her dancing. This was the song:

‘”Peep! peep! chippeda dee,
Playing in the moonlight–nobody to see;
The boys and girls are gone away,
They’ve had their playtime in the day,
And now the night is left to me.
Peep! peep! chippeda dee!
“‘

‘That’s a pretty song,’ said Malleville.

‘Yes,’ said Beechnut, ‘and you cannot imagine how beautifully she sang it, and how gracefully she danced upon the ice while she was singing. I was so delighted that I could not sit perfectly still, but made some movement that caused a little rustling. Agnes stopped a moment to listen. I was very much afraid that she would see me. She did not see me, however, and so she began the second verse of her song:

‘”Peep! peep! chippeda dee!
The moon is for the mountains, the sun is for the sea!

‘When she had got so far,’ continued Beechnut, ‘she suddenly stopped. She saw me. The fact was, I was trying to move back a little farther, so as to be out of sight, and I made a little rustling, which she heard. The instant she saw me, she ran off the ice, and up her little path to the opening in the oak, and in a moment disappeared. Presently, however, I saw the fringe of moss moving again, and she began to peep out.

‘”Beechnut,” said she, “how came you here?”

‘”Why, I was taking a walk,” said I, “and I came along this path. Don’t you want me to be here?”

‘”No,” said she.

‘”Oh, then I will go away,” said I. “But how came you to know me?”

‘”Oh, I know you very well,” said she. “Your name is Beechnut.”

‘”And do you know Malleville?” said I.

‘”Yes,” said she. “I know her very well. I like Malleville very much. I like her better than I do you.”

‘”Ah,” said I; “I am sorry for that. Why do you like her better than you do me?”

‘”Because she is a girl,” said Agnes.

‘”That is a good reason,” said I, “I confess. I like girls myself better than I do boys. But how came you to know Malleville?”

‘”Oh, I have seen her a great many times,” said she, “peeping into her windows by moonlight, when she was asleep.”

‘”Well,” said I, “I will tell Malleville about you, and she will want to come and see you.”

‘”No,” said Agnes, “she must not come and see me; but she may write me a letter.”

‘”But she is not old enough to write letters,” said I.

‘”Then,” said she, “she must tell you what to write, and you must write it for her.”‘

Beechnut observed that, though Phonny and Malleville neither of them spoke, they were both extremely interested, and somewhat excited by the story, and that he was far from accomplishing the object which he had in view at first in telling a story, namely, lulling Malleville to sleep. He therefore said to Malleville that, though he had a great deal more to tell her about Agnes, he thought it would be better not to tell her any more then; but that he would sing Agnes’s song to her, to the same tune that Agnes herself sung it. He would sing it several times, he said, and she might listen, laying her head upon his shoulder.

Malleville said that she should like very much to hear Beechnut sing the song, but that after he had sung it, she hoped he would tell her a little more about Agnes that night. She liked to hear about her, she said, very much indeed.

So Beechnut changed Malleville’s position, placing her in such a manner that her head reclined upon his shoulder.

‘Shut your eyes now,’ said he, ‘and form in your mind a picture of the little dell and fountain, with the frost-work beaming in the moonlight, and Agnes dancing on the ice while I sing.’

Then Beechnut began to sing the first verse of the song to a very lively and a pretty tune. He could not sing the second verse, he said, because he had not heard it all. But the first verse he sung over and over again.

Peep! peep! chippeda dee!
Playing in the moonlight, nobody to see;
The boys and girls have gone away.
They’ve had their playtime in the day,
And now the night is left for me.
Peep! peep! chippeda dee!

Malleville lay very still, listening to the song for about five minutes, and then Beechnut found that she was fast asleep. He then rose very gently, and carried her to her bed. He laid her in the bed, and Phonny, who stood by, covered her with the clothes. He and Phonny then crept softly out of the room.

II

A Sound Sleeper

About nine o’clock, Hepzibah, having finished her work for the day, covered up the kitchen fire, and fastened the outer doors. Beechnut had gone to bed, and so had Phonny. Hepzibah went into Phonny’s room to see if all was safe, and to get the light. She then went into Malleville’s room.

The room had a very pleasant aspect, although the fire had nearly gone down. The lamp was burning on the stand at the foot of the bed where Phonny had left it. Hepzibah advanced softly to the bedside. Malleville was lying asleep there, with her cheek upon her hand.

‘Poor child!’ said Hepzibah to herself. ‘She has gone to sleep. What a pity that I have got to wake her up by-and-by, and give her some medicine.’

Hepzibah then looked at a clock which stood upon the mantel-shelf, and saw that it was a little past nine. It was an hour or more before it would be time to give Malleville the drops. Hepzibah thought that if she went to bed, she should fall asleep, and not wake up again until morning, for she always slept very soundly. She determined, therefore, that she would sit up until half-past ten, and then, after giving Malleville the medicine, go to bed. She accordingly went and got her knitting-work, intending to keep herself awake while she sat up by knitting. When she came back into the room, she began to look for a comfortable seat. She finally decided on taking the sofa.

Mary Bell, after using the sofa for Malleville while she was making the bed, had put it back into its place by the side of the room. Hepzibah, however, easily brought it forward again, for it trundled very smooth and noiselessly upon its castors. Hepzibah brought the sofa up to the fire, placing one end of it near to the stand, in order that she might have the benefit of the lamp in case of dropping a stitch. She prepared the medicine for Malleville by mixing it properly with water in a little cup, and put it upon the stand, so that it should be all ready to be administered when the time should come, and then sat down upon the sofa, next to the sofa cushions, which were upon the end of the sofa, between herself and the light.

Things went on very well for almost half an hour, but then Hepzibah, being pretty tired in consequence of her long day’s work, and of her want of rest the night before, began to grow sleepy. Twice her knitting-work dropped out of her hands. The dropping of the knitting-work waked her the first and second time that it occurred. But the third time it did not wake her. After falling half over and recovering herself two or three times, she at length sank down upon the cushions, with her head upon the uppermost of them, and there in a short time she was fast asleep.

She remained in this condition for nearly two hours, Malleville in her bed sleeping all the time quietly too. When Malleville went to sleep, she did so resolving not to wake up for her medicine. She did not resolve not to take it, if any one else waked her up for it, but she determined not to wake up for it of her own accord. Whether this had any influence in prolonging her sleep it would be difficult to say. She did, however, sleep very soundly, and without changing her position at all, until a little after eleven o’clock, when she began to move her head and her arms a little, and presently she opened her eyes.

She looked around the room and saw nobody. The light was burning, though rather dimly, and the fire had nearly gone out. She sat up in the bed, and after a few minutes’ pause, she said in a gentle voice, as if speaking to herself:

‘I wish there was somebody here to give me a drink of water.’ Then, after waiting for a moment, she added, ‘but I can just as well get down and find it myself.’

So saying, she climbed down from the bed, and put on her shoes and stockings, singing gently all the time, ‘Peep! peep! chippeda dee!’

This was all of Agnes’s song that she could remember.

She went toward the fire, wondering who had drawn out the sofa and what for, and on passing round before it, her wonder was changed into amazement at finding Hepzibah asleep upon it.

‘Why,’ she exclaimed, in a very low and gentle tone, just above a whisper, ‘here is Hepzibah. I suppose she is sitting up to watch with me. How tired she is.’

She stood looking at Hepzibah a minute or two in silence, and then said, speaking in the same tone and manner as before:

‘She is not comfortable. I mean to put her feet upon the sofa.’

So saying, Malleville stooped down, and clasping Hepzibah’s feet with both her arms, she lifted them up as gently as she could, and put them upon the sofa. Hepzibah’s sound sleep was not at all disturbed by this. In fact, her position being now much more easy than before, she sank away soon into a slumber deeper and more profound than ever.

Malleville, finding that her first attempt to render Hepzibah a service was so successful, immediately began to feel a strong interest in taking care of her, and, observing that her feet were not very well covered as she lay upon the sofa, she thought it would be a good plan to go and find something to cover them up. So she went to a bureau which was standing in the room, and began to open one drawer after another, in search of a small blanket which was sometimes used for such a purpose. She found the blanket at length in the lowermost drawer of the bureau.

‘Ah! here it is,’ said she. ‘I knew it was somewhere in this bureau.’

Saying this, she took out the blanket, and carried it to the sofa, doing everything in as noiseless a manner as possible. She spread the blanket over Hepzibah’s feet, tucking the edges under very gently and carefully all around.

‘Now,’ said Malleville to herself, ‘I will make up the fire a little, so that she shall not catch cold.’

There were two sticks remaining of those which Beechnut had brought up, and they were lying upon the carpet by the side of the fire, near the rocking-chair in which Beechnut had rocked Malleville to sleep. The wood which had been put upon the fire had burned entirely down, nothing being left of them but a few brands in the corners. Malleville took up the two sticks, one after another, and laid them upon the andirons, one for a back-stick and the other for a fore-stick, as she had often seen Phonny do. She then brought up a little cricket in front of the andirons, and sitting down upon it there, she took the tongs and began to pick up the brands and coals, and to put them into the interstice which was left between the two sticks. She did all this in a very noiseless and gentle manner, so as not to disturb Hepzibah; and she stopped very frequently to look round and see if Hepzibah was still sleeping.

The air soon began to draw up through the coals which Malleville had placed between the sticks of wood, and thus fanning them, it brightened them into a glow. The brands began to smoke, and presently there appeared in one part a small flickering flame.

‘There!’ said Malleville, in a tone of great satisfaction, ‘it is burning. Phonny said that I could not make a fire, but I knew that I could.’

Malleville had been very careful all the time not to allow her night-dress to get near the fire, and now, as the fire was beginning to burn, she thought that she must move still further away. She accordingly rose, and moved the cricket back. The fire burned more and more brightly, and Malleville observed that the light of it was flashing upon Hepzibah’s face.

‘I must make a screen for her,’ said she, ‘or the flashes will wake her up.’

So she went to the bureau again, and brought forth a shawl, one which she had often seen her aunt Henry use for this purpose. Then, putting a chair between the sofa and the fire, she spread the shawl upon the back of it, and found that it produced the effect of keeping the flashes of light from Hepzibah’s face entirely to her satisfaction.

Malleville then began to wonder whether it was not time for her to take her medicine. She looked at the clock, to see if she could tell what o’clock it was. She could not, of course, for she had never learned to tell the time by the clock. Accordingly, after looking at the hands and figures a few minutes in silence, and listening to the ticking, she said:

‘I cannot tell what o’clock it is, but it looks pretty late. I have a great mind to take my medicine myself.’

She then turned to the table, where the lamp and the medicines were standing. The cup was there in which Hepzibah had prepared Malleville’s medicine. Malleville took it up, looked at it, and stirred it a little with the spoon.

‘I wonder if this is my medicine,’ said she. ‘I have a great mind to take it. But, then perhaps, it is not my medicine. Perhaps it is poison.’

So she put the cup down upon the table again, glad, in fact, of a plausible excuse for not taking the draught.

‘I’ll sit down in this rocking-chair,’ he said, ‘and wait till Hepzibah wakes up. She will wake up pretty soon.’

So she went to the rocking-chair and sat down. She began to rock herself to and fro, watching the little flames and the curling smoke that were ascending from the fire. She remained thus for nearly a quarter of an hour, and then she began to be a little tired.

‘What a long night!’ said she. ‘I did not know that nights were so long. I wish that Hepzibah would wake up. But I suppose she is very tired. I mean to go and look out of the window, and see if the morning is not coming. Beechnut said that we could always see it coming in the east, at the end of the night.’

Malleville did not know which the east was, but she thought she would at any rate go and look out of the window. She accordingly went to the window, and pushing the curtains aside and opening the shutters, she looked out. She saw the moon in the sky, and several stars, but there were no appearances of morning.

There was a bronze ink-stand upon the table near the window, and some pens upon it. The idea occurred to Malleville that perhaps she might write a little while, to occupy the time till Hepzibah should wake up.

‘If I only had some paper,’ said she, ‘I would write a letter to Agnes.’

Malleville carried the lamp now to the table by the window, and taking great care to put it down in a place where it would not be at all in danger of setting fire to the curtain, she took the pen and began her writing. She worked patiently upon the task for half an hour. The letter was then completed. Of course, it is impossible to give any idea in a printed book of the appearance of the writing, but the letter itself, as Malleville intended to express it, was as follows:

Wednesday, midnight.

‘DEAR AGNES,

‘I like you because Beechnut says you like me. Please to answer this letter.

‘Your affectionate friend,

M.

Malleville only wrote M. instead of her whole name, Malleville, at the bottom of her letter, because, just as she was finishing her work, the lamp began to burn very dim. She was afraid that it was going out. So she stopped with the M., saying to herself that Agnes would know who it was from, and, besides, if she did not, Beechnut could tell her when he gave it to her. She folded the note and slipped it into the envelope, and then, hastily wetting a wafer, which she found in a small compartment in the centre of the bronze ink-stand, she put it in its place, and pressed down the flap of the envelope upon it. She then took the lamp and went to find a pin to prick up the wick a little, to keep it from going out.

She could not find any pin, and the lamp burned more and more dimly.

‘I must go downstairs and find another lamp,’ said Malleville, ‘or else Hepzibah will be left all in the dark.’

She turned and looked towards Hepzibah a moment as she said this, and then added, ‘Poor Hepzibah! How tired she must be to sleep so long.’

She then took the lamp and walked softly out of the room. The stairs creaked a little as she descended, though she stepped as carefully as she could. When she reached the kitchen door, she found it shut. She opened it and went in.

The kitchen was pretty warm, as there had been a fire in it all the day, although the fire was now all covered up in the ashes. The andirons were standing one across the other upon the hearth, idle and useless. Malleville looked about the room for a lamp, but she did not see any. The kitchen was in perfect order, everything being put properly away in its place.

‘I will look into the closets,’ said Malleville.

So she opened a closet door and looked in. There were various articles on the shelves, but no lamps. She then shut this door, and opened another closet door at the back of the room. Here Malleville found four lamps standing in a row upon the second shelf. She was very much pleased to see them. She took one of them down and carried it to the kitchen table, and then lighted it by means of a lamp-lighter, which she obtained from a lamp-lighter case hanging up by the side of the fireplace. She then blew out her own lamp, and carrying it into the closet, she put it up upon the shelf in the place of the one which she had taken away.

On the lower shelf Malleville saw, much to her satisfaction, a plate of bread with some butter by the side of it. There was a little pitcher near, too, and Malleville, on looking into it, found that it was half full of milk.

‘I am very glad that I have found this,’ said she, ‘for now I can have some supper. I wanted something, and I could not tell what. I know now. I was hungry.’

She brought out the bread and butter and the milk to the kitchen table, and then drawing up a chair, she began to eat her supper, feeling a most excellent appetite.

She went on very prosperously for a time, having eaten two slices of bread and drank nearly all the milk, when suddenly her attention was arrested by a movement at the head of the kitchen stairs. These stairs ascended from very near the door where Malleville had entered the kitchen, and as Malleville had left the door open, the light from her lamp shone out into the entry, and she could also, while in the kitchen, hear any sound upon the stairs. The sound which attracted her attention was like that of a person opening a door and coming out. Malleville immediately stopped drinking from her pitcher and listened.

‘Who is that down in the kitchen?’ said a voice. Malleville immediately recognised the voice as that of Beechnut.

‘I,’ said Malleville.

‘I?’ repeated Beechnut. ‘Who do you mean? Is it Malleville.’

‘Yes,’ replied Malleville.

‘Why, Malleville,’ exclaimed Beechnut, in a tone of profound astonishment, ‘what are you doing in the kitchen?’

‘I am eating some supper,’ said Malleville.

‘But, Malleville,’ exclaimed Beechnut, ‘you ought not to be down there eating supper at this time of night. How came you to go down?’

‘Oh, I came down,’ replied Malleville, ‘to get a lamp for Hepzibah.’

‘For Hepzibah!’ repeated Beechnut. ‘Did she send you down there for a lamp?’

‘Oh, no,’ said Malleville, ‘I came myself.’

‘Where is Hepzibah?’ asked Beechnut.

‘She is asleep,’ said Malleville, ‘and you must not speak so loud or you will wake her up.’

Malleville could now hear Beechnut laughing most immoderately, though evidently making great efforts to suppress the sound of his laughter. Presently he regained his composure in a sufficient degree to speak, and Malleville heard his voice again, calling:

‘Malleville!’

‘What?’ said Malleville.

‘Have you nearly finished your supper?’ asked Beechnut.

‘Yes,’ replied Malleville. ‘I have only got a little more milk to drink.’

‘Well,’ said Beechnut, ‘when you have drank your milk, you had better go directly back to your room again, and get into bed and go to sleep.’

‘And what shall I do with Hepzibah?’ said Malleville.

‘Where is Hepzibah?’ asked Beechnut. ‘Is she asleep in your room?’

‘Yes,’ replied Malleville.

‘On the sofa?’ asked Beechnut.

‘Yes,’ replied Malleville.

‘Then leave her where she is,’ replied Beechnut, ‘and go to bed and go to sleep. If you do not get to sleep in half an hour, ring your bell, and I will dress myself, and come and see what to do.’

‘Well,’ said Malleville, ‘I will.’ So, taking her new lamp, she went upstairs again to her room. Hepzibah was sleeping as soundly as ever.

Malleville, in obedience to Beechnut’s directions, after putting her lamp upon the stand, went directly to her bed and lay down. She shut her eyes to try to go to sleep, thinking of Beechnut’s injunction to ring the bell if she did not get to sleep in half an hour, and wondering how she was to determine when the half hour would be ended. Long, however, before she had decided this perplexing question, she was fast asleep.

The next morning Hepzibah awoke at half-past five, which was her usual time of rising. She started up, amazed to find that it was morning, and that she had been asleep all night upon the sofa in Malleville’s room. Her amazement was increased at finding her feet enveloped in a blanket, and a screen placed carefully between her face and the remains of the fire. She went hastily to Malleville’s bedside, and finding that the little patient was there safe and well, she ran off to her own room, hoping that Phonny and Beechnut would never hear the story of her watching, and tell it to the men; for if they did, the men, she said to herself, would tease her almost to death about it.

When the doctor came the next morning, and they told him about Malleville’s supper, he laughed very heartily, and said that food was better for convalescents than physic after all, and that, though patients often made very sad mistakes in taking their case into their own hands, yet he must admit that it proved sometimes that they could prescribe for themselves better than the doctor.

[The end]
Jacob Abbott’s short story: Malleville’s Night Of Adventure

Peace on Earth, Good-will to Dogs

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Peace on Earth, Good-will to Dogs

Author: Eleanor Hallowell Abbott

PART I

If you don’t like Christmas stories, don’t read this one!

And if you don’t like dogs I don’t know just what to advise you to do!

For I warn you perfectly frankly that I am distinctly pro-dog and distinctly pro-Christmas, and would like to bring to this little story whatever whiff of fir-balsam I can cajole from the make-believe forest in my typewriter, and every glitter of tinsel, smudge of toy candle, crackle of wrapping paper, that my particular brand of brain and ink can conjure up on a single keyboard! And very large-sized dogs shall romp through every page! And the mercury shiver perpetually in the vicinity of zero! And every foot of earth be crusty-brown and bare with no white snow at all till the very last moment when you’d just about given up hope! And all the heart of the story is very,–oh _very_ young!

For purposes of propriety and general historical authenticity there are of course parents in the story. And one or two other oldish persons. But they all go away just as early in the narrative as I can manage it.–Are obliged to go away!

Yet lest you find in this general combination of circumstances some sinister threat of audacity, let me conventionalize the story at once by opening it at that most conventional of all conventional Christmas-story hours,–the Twilight of Christmas Eve.

Nuff said?–Christmas Eve, you remember? Twilight? Awfully cold weather? And somebody very young?

Now for the story itself!

After five blustering, wintry weeks of village speculation and gossip there was of course considerable satisfaction in being the first to solve the mysterious holiday tenancy of the Rattle-Pane House.

Breathless with excitement Flame Nourice telephoned the news from the village post-office. From a pedestal of boxes fairly bulging with red-wheeled go-carts, one keen young elbow rammed for balance into a gay glassy shelf of stick-candy, green tissue garlands tickling across her cheek, she sped the message to her mother.

“O Mother-Funny!” triumphed Flame. “I’ve found out who’s Christmasing at the Rattle-Pane House!–It’s a red-haired setter dog with one black ear! And he’s sitting at the front gate this moment! Superintending the unpacking of the furniture van! And I’ve named him Lopsy!”

“Why, Flame; how–absurd!” gasped her mother. In consideration of the fact that Flame’s mother had run all the way from the icy-footed chicken yard to answer the telephone it shows distinctly what stuff she was made of that she gasped nothing else.

And that Flame herself re-telephoned within the half hour to acknowledge her absurdity shows equally distinctly what stuff _she_ was made of! It was from the summit of a crate of holly-wreaths that she telephoned this time.

“Oh Mother-Funny,” apologized Flame, “you were perfectly right. No lone dog in the world could possibly manage a great spooky place like the Rattle-Pane House. There are two other dogs with him! A great long, narrow sofa-shaped dog upholstered in lemon and white,–something terribly ferocious like ‘Russian Wolf Hound’ I think he is! But I’ve named him Beautiful-Lovely! And there’s the neatest looking paper-white coach dog just perfectly ruined with ink-spots! Blunder-Blot, I think, will make a good name for him! And–“

“Oh–Fl–ame!” panted her Mother. “Dogs–do–not–take houses!” It was not from the chicken-yard that she had come running this time but only from her Husband’s Sermon-Writing-Room in the attic.

“Oh don’t they though?” gloated Flame. “Well, they’ve taken this one, anyway! Taken it by storm, I mean! Scratched all the green paint off the front door! Torn a hole big as a cavern in the Barberry Hedge! Pushed the sun-dial through a bulkhead!–If it snows to-night the cellar’ll be a Glacier! And–“

“Dogs–do–not–take–houses,” persisted Flame’s mother. She was still persisting it indeed when she returned to her husband’s study.

Her husband, it seemed, had not noticed her absence. Still poring over the tomes and commentaries incidental to the preparation of his next Sunday’s sermon his fine face glowed half frown, half ecstasy, in the December twilight, while close at his elbow all unnoticed a smoking kerosine lamp went smudging its acrid path to the ceiling. Dusky lock for dusky lock, dreamy eye for dreamy eye, smoking lamp for smoking lamp, it might have been a short-haired replica of Flame herself.

“Oh if Flame had only been ‘set’ like the maternal side of the house!” reasoned Flame’s Mother. “Or merely dreamy like her Father! Her Father being only dreamy could sometimes be diverted from his dreams! But to be ‘set’ and ‘dreamy’ both? Absolutely ‘set’ on being absolutely ‘dreamy’? That was Flame!” With renewed tenacity Flame’s Mother reverted to Truth as Truth. “Dogs do _not_ take houses!” she affirmed with unmistakable emphasis.

“Eh? What?” jumped her husband. “Dogs? Dogs? Who said anything about dogs?” With a fretted pucker between his brows he bent to his work again. “You interrupted me,” he reproached her. “My sermon is about Hell-Fire.–I had all but smelled it.–It was very disagreeable.” With a gesture of impatience he snatched up his notes and tore them in two. “I think I will write about the Garden of Eden instead!” he rallied. “The Garden of Eden in Iris time! Florentina Alba everywhere! Whiteness! Sweetness!–Now let me see,–orris root I believe is deducted from the Florentina Alba–.”

“U–m–m–m,” sniffed Flame’s Mother. With an impulse purely practical she started for the kitchen. “The season happens to be Christmas time,” she suggested bluntly. “Now if you could see your way to make a sermon that smelt like doughnuts and plum-pudding–“

“Doughnuts?” queried her Husband and hurried after her. Supplementing the far, remote Glory-of-God expression in his face, the glory-of-doughnuts shone suddenly very warmly.

Flame at least did not have to be reminded about the Seasons.

“Oh _mother_!” telephoned Flame almost at once, “It’s–so much nearer Christmas than it was half an hour ago! Are you sure everything will keep? All those big packages that came yesterday? That humpy one especially? Don’t you think you ought to peep? Or poke? Just the teeniest, tiniest little peep or poke? It would be a shame if anything spoiled! A–turkey–or a–or a fur coat–or anything.”

“I am–making doughnuts,” confided her Mother with the faintest possible taint of asperity.

“O–h,” conceded Flame. “And Father’s watching them? Then I’ll hurry! M–Mother?” deprecated the excited young voice. “You are always so horridly right! Lopsy and Beautiful-Lovely and Blunder-Blot are _not_ Christmasing all alone in the Rattle-Pane House! There is a man with them! Don’t tell Father,–he’s so nervous about men!”

“A–man?” stammered her Mother. “Oh I hope not a young man! Where did he come from?”

“Oh I don’t think he came at all,” confided Flame. It was Flame who was perplexed this time. “He looks to me more like a person who had always been there! Like something I mean that the dogs found in the attic! Quite crumpled he is! And with a red waistcoat!–A–A butler perhaps?–A–A sort of a second hand butler? Oh Mother!–I wish we had a butler!”

“Flame–?” interrupted her Mother quite abruptly. “Where are you doing all this telephoning from? I only gave you eighteen cents and it was to buy cereal with.”

“Cereal?” considered Flame. “Oh that’s all right,” she glowed suddenly. “I’ve paid cash for the telephoning and charged the cereal.”

With a swallow faintly guttural Flame’s Mother hung up the receiver. “Dogs–do–not–have–butlers,” she persisted unshakenly.

She was perfectly right. They did not, it seemed.

No one was quicker than Flame to acknowledge a mistake. Before five o’clock Flame had added a telephone item to the cereal bill.

“Oh–Mother,” questioned Flame. “The little red sweater and Tam that I have on?–Would they be all right, do you think, for me to make a call in? Not a formal call, of course,–just a–a neighborly greeting at the door? It being Christmas Eve and everything!–And as long as I have to pass right by the house anyway?–There is a lady at the Rattle-Pane House! A–A–what Father would call a Lady Maiden!–Miss–“

“Oh not a real lady, I think,” protested her Mother. “Not with all those dogs. No real lady I think would have so many dogs.–It–It isn’t sanitary.”

“Isn’t–sanitary?” cried Flame. “Why Mother, they are the most absolutely–perfectly sanitary dogs you ever saw in your life!” Into her eager young voice an expression of ineffable dignity shot suddenly. “Well–really, Mother,” she said, “In whatever concerns men or crocheting–I’m perfectly willing to take Father’s advice or yours. But after all, I’m eighteen,” stiffened the young voice. “And when it comes to dogs–I must use my own judgment!”

“And just what is the lady’s name?” questioned her Mother a bit weakly.

“Her name is ‘Miss Flora’!” brightened Flame. “The Butler has just gone to the Station to meet her! I heard him telephoning quite frenziedly! I think she must have missed her train or something! It seemed to make everybody very nervous! Maybe _she’s_ nervous! Maybe she’s a nervous invalid! With a lost Lover somewhere! And all sorts of pressed flowers!–Somebody ought to call anyway! Call right away, I mean, before she gets any more nervous!–So many people’s first impressions of a place–I’ve heard–are spoiled for lack of some perfectly silly little thing like a nutmeg grater or a hot water bottle! And oh, Mother, it’s been so long since any one lived in the Rattle-Pane House! Not for years and years and years! Not dogs, anyway! Not a lemon and white wolf hound! Not setters! Not spotty dogs!–Oh Mother, just one little wee single minute at the door? Just long enough to say ‘The Rev. and Mrs. Flamande Nourice, and Miss Nourice, present their compliments!’–And are you by any chance short a marrow-bone? Or would you possibly care to borrow an extra quilt to rug-up under the kitchen table?… Blunder-Blot doesn’t look very thick. Or–Oh Mother, _p-l-e-a-s-e!_”

When Flame said “Please” like that the word was no more, no less, than the fabled bundle of rags or haunch of venison hurled back from a wolf-pursued sleigh to divert the pursuer even temporarily from the main issue. While Flame’s Mother paused to consider the particularly flavorous sweetness of that entreaty,–to picture the flashing eye, the pulsing throat, the absurdly crinkled nostril that invariably accompanied all Flame’s entreaties, Flame herself was escaping!

Taken all in all, escaping was one of the best things that Flame did…. As well as the most becoming! Whipped into scarlet by the sudden plunge from a stove-heated store into the frosty night her young cheeks fairly blazed their bright reaction. Frost and speed quickened her breath. Glint for glint her shining eyes challenged the moon. Fearful even yet that some tardy admonition might overtake her she sped like a deer through the darkness.

It was a dull-smelling night. Pretty, but very dull-smelling. Disdainfully her nostrils crinkled their disappointment.

“Christmas Time adventures ought to smell like Christmas!” she scolded. “Maybe if I’m ever President,” she argued, “I won’t do so awfully well with the Tariff or things like that! But Christmas shall smell of Christmas! Not just of frozen mud! And camphor balls!… I’ll have great vats of Fir Balsam essence at every street corner! And gigantic atomizers! And every passerby shall be sprayed! And stores! And churches! And–And everybody who doesn’t like Christmas shall be _dipped_!”

Under her feet the smoothish village road turned suddenly into the harsh and hobbly ruts of a country lane. With fluctuant blackness against immutable blackness great sweeping pine trees swished weirdly into the horizon. Where the hobbly lane curved darkly into a meadow through a snarl of winter-stricken willows the rattle of a loose window-pane smote quite distinctly on the ear. It was a horrid, deserted sound. And with the instinctive habit of years Flame’s little hand clutched at her heart. Then quite abruptly she laughed aloud.

“Oh you can’t scare me any more, you gloomy old Rattle-Pane House!” she laughed. “You’re not deserted now! People are Christmasing in you! Whether you like it or not you’re being Christmased!”

Very tentatively she puckered her lips to a whistle. Almost instantly from the darkness ahead a dog’s bark rang out, deep, sonorous, faintly suspicious. With a little chuckle of joy she crawled through the Barberry hedge and emerged for a single instant only at her full height before three furry shapes came hurtling out of the darkness and toppled her over backwards.

“Stop, Beautiful-Lovely!” she gasped. “Stop, Lopsy! Behave yourself, Blunder-Blot! _Sillies_! Don’t you know I’m the lady that was talking to you this morning through the picket fence? Don’t you know I’m the lady that fed you the box of cereal?–Oh dear–Oh dear–Oh dear,” she struggled. “I knew, of course, that there were three dogs–but who ever in the world would have guessed that three could be so many?”

As expeditiously as possible she picked herself up and bolted for the house with two furry shapes leaping largely on either side of her and one cold nose sniffing interrogatively at her heels. Her heart was very light,–her pulses jumping with excitement,–an occasional furry head doming into the palm of her hand warmed the whole bleak night with its sense of mute companionship. But the back of her heels felt certainly very queer. Even the warm yellow lights of the Rattle-Pane House did not altogether dispel her uneasiness.

“Maybe I’d better not plan to make my call so–so very informal,” she decided suddenly. “Not at a house where there are quite so many dogs! Not at a house where there is a butler … anyway!”

Crowding and pushing and yelping and fawning around her, it was the dogs who announced her ultimate arrival. Like a drift of snow the huge wolf-hound whirled his white shagginess into the vestibule. Shrill as a banging blind the impetuous coach-dog lurched his sleek weight against the door. Sucking at a crack of light the red setter’s kindled nose glowed and snorted with dragonlike ferocity. Without knock or ring the door-handle creaked and turned, three ecstatic shapes went hurtling through a yellow glare into the hall beyond, and Flame found herself staring up into the blinking, astonished eyes of the crumpled old man with the red waistcoat.

“G–Good evening,–Butler!” she rallied.

“Good evening, Miss!” stammered the Butler.

“I’ve–I’ve come to call,” confided Flame.

“To–call?” stammered the Butler.

“Yes,” conceded Flame. “I–I don’t happen to have an engraved card with me.” Before the continued imperturbability of the old Butler all subterfuge seemed suddenly quite useless. “I _never_ have had an engraved card,” she confided quite abruptly. “But you might tell Miss Flora if you please–” … Would nothing crack the Butler’s imperturbability?… Well maybe she could prove just a little bit imperturbable herself! “Oh! Butlers don’t ‘tell’ people things, do they?… They always ‘announce’ things, don’t they?… Well, kindly announce to Miss Flora that the–the Minister’s Daughter is–at the door!… Oh, _no_! It isn’t asking for a subscription or anything!” she hastened quite suddenly to explain. “It’s just a Christian call!… B–Being so nervous and lost on the train and everything … we thought Miss Flora might be glad to know that there were neighbors…. We live so near and everything…. And can run like the wind! Oh, not Mother, of course!… She’s a bit stout! And Father starts all right but usually gets thinking of something else! But I…? Kindly announce to Miss Flora,” she repeated with palpable crispness, “that the Minister’s Daughter is at the door!”

Fixedly old, fixedly crumpled, fixedly imperturbable, the Butler stepped back a single jerky pace and bowed her towards the parlor.

“Now,” thrilled Flame, “the adventure really begins.”

It certainly was a sad and romantic looking parlor, and strangely furnished, Flame thought, for even “moving times.” Through a maze of bulging packing boxes and barrels she picked her way to a faded rose-colored chair that flanked the fire-place. That the chair was already half occupied by a pile of ancient books and four dusty garden trowels only served to intensify the general air of gloom. Presiding over all, two dreadful bouquets of long-dead grasses flared wanly on the mantle-piece. And from the tattered old landscape paper on the walls Civil War heroes stared regretfully down through pale and tarnished frames.

“Dear me … dear me,” shivered Flame. “They’re not going to Christmas at all … evidently! Not a sprig of holly anywhere! Not a ravel of tinsel! Not a jingle bell!… Oh she must have lost a lot of lovers,” thrilled Flame. “I can bring her flowers, anyway! My very first Paper White Narcissus! My–.”

With a scrape of the foot the Butler made known his return.

“Miss Flora!” he announced.

With a catch of her breath Flame jumped to her feet and turned to greet the biggest, ugliest, most brindled, most wizened Bull Dog she had ever seen in her life.

“_Miss Flora!_” repeated the old Butler succinctly.

“Miss Flora?” gasped Flame. “Why…. Why, I thought Miss Flora was a Lady! Why–“

“Miss Flora is indeed a very grand lady, Miss!” affirmed the Butler without a flicker of expression. “Of a pedigree so famous … so distinguished … so …” Numerically on his fingers he began to count the distinctions. “Five prizes this year! And three last! Do you mind the chop?” he gloated. “The breadth! The depth!… Did you never hear of alauntes?” he demanded. “Them bull-baiting dogs that was invented by the second Duke of York or thereabouts in the year 1406?”

“Oh my Glory!” thrilled Flame. “Is Miss Flora as old as _that_?”

“Miss Flora,” said the old Butler with some dignity, “is young–hardly two in fact–so young that she seems to me but just weaned.”

With her great eyes goggled to a particularly disconcerting sort of scrutiny Miss Flora sprang suddenly forward to investigate the visitor.

As though by a preconcerted signal a chair crashed over in the hall and the wolf hound and the setter and the coach dog came hurtling back in a furiously cordial onslaught. With wags and growls and yelps of joy all four dogs met in Flame’s lap.

“They seem to like me, don’t they?” triumphed Flame. Intermittently through the melee of flapping ears,–shoving shoulders,–waving paws, her beaming little face proved the absolute sincerity of that triumph. “Mother’s never let me have any dogs,” she confided. “Mother thinks they’re not–Oh, of course, I realize that four dogs is a–a good many,” she hastened diplomatically to concede to a certain sudden droop around the old Butler’s mouth corners.

From his slow, stooping poke of the sulky fire the old Butler glanced up with a certain plaintive intentness.

“All dogs is too many,” he affirmed.

“Come Christmas time I wishes I was dead.”

“Wish you were dead … at Christmas Time?” cried Flame. Acute shock was in her protest.

“It’s the feedin’,” sighed the old Butler. “It ain’t that I mind eatin’ with them on All Saints’ Day or Fourth of July or even Sundays. But come Christmas Time it seems like I craves to eat with More Humans…. I got a nephew less’n twenty miles away. He’s got cider in his cellar. And plum puddings. His woman she raises guinea chickens. And mince pies there is. And tasty gravies.–But me I mixes dog bread and milk–dog bread and milk–till I can’t see nothing–think nothing but mush. And him with cider in his cellar!… It ain’t as though Mr. Delcote ever came himself to prove anything,” he argued. “Not he! Not Christmas Time! It’s travelling he is…. He’s had … misfortunes,” he confided darkly. “He travels for ’em same as some folks travels for their healths. Most especially at Christmas Time he travels for his misfortunes! He …”

“_Mr. Delcote_?” quickened Flame. “Mr. Delcote?” (Now at last was the mysterious tenancy about to be divulged?)

“All he says,” persisted the old Butler. “All he says is ‘Now Barret,’–that’s me, ‘Now Barret I trust your honor to see that the dogs ain’t neglected just because it’s Christmas. There ain’t no reason, Barret’, he says, ‘why innocent dogs should suffer Christmas just because everybody else does. They ain’t done nothing…. It won’t do now Barret’, he says, ‘for you to give ’em their dinner at dawn when they ain’t accustomed to it, and a pail of water, and shut ’em up while you go off for the day with any barrel of cider. You know what dogs is, Barret’, he says. ‘And what they isn’t. They’ve got to be fed regular’, he says, ‘and with discipline. Else there’s deaths.–Some natural. Some unnatural. And some just plain spectacular from furniture falling on their arguments. So if there’s any fatalities come this Christmas Time, Barret’, he says, ‘or any undue gains in weight or losses in weight, I shall infer, Barret’, he says, ‘that you was absent without leave.’ … It don’t look like a very wholesome Christmas for me,” sighed the old Butler. “Not either way. Not what you’d call wholesome.”

“But this Mr. Delcote?” puzzled Flame. “What a perfectly horrid man he must be to give such heavenly dogs nothing but dog-bread and milk for their Christmas dinner!… Is he young? Is he old? Is he thin? Is he fat? However in the world did he happen to come to a queer, battered old place like the Rattle-Pane House? But once come why didn’t he stay? And–And–And–?”

“Yes’m,” sighed the old Butler.

In a ferment of curiosity, Flame edged jerkily forward, and subsided as jerkily again.

“Oh, if this only was a Parish Call,” she deprecated, “I could ask questions right out loud. ‘How? Where? Why? When?’ … But being just a social call–I suppose–I suppose…?” Appealingly her eager eyes searched the old Butler’s inscrutable face.

“Yes’m,” repeated the old Butler dully. Through the quavering fingers that he swept suddenly across his brow two very genuine tears glistened.

With characteristic precipitousness Flame jumped to her feet.

“Oh, darn Mr. Delcote!” she cried. “I’ll feed your dogs, Christmas Day! It won’t take a minute after my own dinner or before! I’ll run like the wind! No one need ever know!”

So it was that when Flame arrived at her own home fifteen minutes later, and found her parents madly engaged in packing suit-cases, searching time-tables, and rushing generally to and fro from attic to cellar, no very mutual exchange of confidences ensued.

“It’s your Uncle Wally!” panted her Mother.

“Another shock!” confided her Father.

“Not such a bad one, either,” explained her Mother. “But of course we’ll have to go! The very first thing in the morning! Christmas Day, too! And leave you all alone! It’s a perfect shame! But I’ve planned it all out for everybody! Father’s Lay Reader, of course, will take the Christmas service! We’ll just have to omit the Christmas Tree surprise for the children!… It’s lucky we didn’t even unpack the trimmings! Or tell a soul about it.” In a hectic effort to pack both a thick coat and a thin coat and a thick dress and a thin dress and thick boots and thin boots in the same suit-case she began very palpably to pant again. “Yes! Every detail is all planned out!” she asserted with a breathy sort of pride. “You and your Father are both so flighty I don’t know whatever in the world you’d do if I didn’t plan out everything for you!”

With more manners than efficiency Flame and her Father dropped at once every helpful thing they were doing and sat down in rocking chairs to listen to the plan.

“Flame, of course, can’t stay here all alone. Flame’s Mother turned and confided _sotto voce_ to her husband. Young men might call. The Lay Reader is almost sure to call…. He’s a dear delightful soul of course, but I’m afraid he has an amorous eye.”

“All Lay Readers have amorous eyes,” reflected her husband. “Taken all in all it is a great asset.”

“Don’t be flippant!” admonished Flame’s Mother. “There are reasons … why I prefer that Flame’s first offer of marriage should not be from a Lay Reader.”

“Why?” brightened Flame.

“S–sh–,” cautioned her Father.

“Very good reasons,” repeated her Mother. From the conglomerate packing under her hand a puff of spilled tooth-powder whiffed fragrantly into the air.

“Yes?” prodded her husband’s blandly impatient voice.

“Flame shall go to her Aunt Minna’s” announced the dominant maternal voice. “By driving with us to the station, she’ll have only two hours to wait for her train, and that will save one bus fare! Aunt Minna is a vegetarian and doesn’t believe in sweets either, so that will be quite a unique and profitable experience for Flame to add to her general culinary education! It’s a wonderful house!… A bit dark of course! But if the day should prove at all bright,–not so bright of course that Aunt Minna wouldn’t be willing to have the shades up, but–Oh and Flame,” she admonished still breathlessly, “I think you’d better be careful to wear one of your rather longish skirts! And oh do be sure to wipe your feet every time you come in! And don’t chatter! Whatever you do, don’t chatter! Your Aunt Minna, you know, is just a little bit peculiar! But such a worthy woman! So methodical! So….”

To Flame’s inner vision appeared quite suddenly the pale, inscrutable face of the old Butler who asked nothing,–answered nothing,–welcomed nothing,–evaded nothing.

“… Yes’m,” said Flame.

But it was a very frankly disconsolate little girl who stole late that night to her Father’s study, and perched herself high on the arm of his chair with her cheek snuggled close to his.

“Of Father-Funny,” whispered Flame, “I’ve got such a queer little pain.”

“A pain?” jerked her Father. “Oh dear me! Where is it? Go and find your Mother at once!”

“Mother?” frowned Flame. “Oh it isn’t that kind of a pain.–It’s in my Christmas. I’ve got such a sad little pain in my Christmas.”

“Oh dear me–dear me!” sighed her Father. Like two people most precipitously smitten with shyness they sat for a moment staring blankly around the room at every conceivable object except each other. Then quite suddenly they looked back at each other and smiled.

“Father,” said Flame. “You’re not of course a very old man…. But still you are pretty old, aren’t you? You’ve seen a whole lot of Christmasses, I mean?”

“Yes,” conceded her Father.

From the great clumsy rolling collar of her blanket wrapper Flame’s little face loomed suddenly very pink and earnest.

“But Father,” urged Flame. “Did you ever in your whole life spend a Christmas just exactly the way you wanted to? Honest-to-Santa Claus now,–did you _ever_?”

“Why–Why, no,” admitted her Father after a second’s hesitation. “Why no, I don’t believe I ever did.” Quite frankly between his brows there puckered a very black frown. “Now take to-morrow, for instance,” he complained. “I had planned to go fishing through the ice…. After the morning service, of course,–after we’d had our Christmas dinner,–and gotten tired of our presents,–every intention in the world I had of going fishing through the ice…. And now your Uncle Wally has to go and have a shock! I don’t believe it was necessary. He should have taken extra precautions. The least that delicate relatives can do is to take extra precautions at holiday time…. Oh, of course your Uncle Wally has books in his library,” he brightened, “very interesting old books that wouldn’t be perfectly seemly for a minister of the Gospel to have in his own library…. But still it’s very disappointing,” he wilted again.

“I agree with you … utterly, Father-Funny!” said Flame. “But … Father,” she persisted, “Of all the people you know in the world,–millions would it be?”

“No, call it thousands” corrected her Father.

“Well, thousands,” accepted Flame. “Old people, young people, fat people, skinnys, cross people, jolly people?… Did you ever in your life know _any one_ who had ever spent Christmas just the way he wanted to?”

“Why … no, I don’t know that I ever did,” considered her Father. With his elbows on the arms of his chair, his slender fingers forked to a lovely Gothic arch above the bridge of his nose, he yielded himself instantly to the reflection. “Why … no, … I don’t know that I ever did,” he repeated with an increasing air of conviction…. “When you’re young enough to enjoy the day as a ‘holler’ day there’s usually some blighting person who prefers to have it observed as a holy day…. And by the time you reach an age where you really rather appreciate its being a holy day the chances are that you’ve got a houseful of racketty youngsters who fairly insist on reverting to the ‘holler’ day idea again.”

“U–m–m,” encouraged Flame.

–“When you’re little, of course,” mused her Father, “you have to spend the day the way your elders want you to!… You crave a Christmas Tree but they prefer stockings! You yearn to skate but they consider the weather better for corn-popping! You ask for a bicycle but they had already found a very nice bargain in flannels! You beg to dine the gay-kerchiefed Scissor-Grinder’s child, but they invite the Minister’s toothless mother-in-law!… And when you’re old enough to go courting,” he sighed, “your lady-love’s sentiments are outraged if you don’t spend the day with her and your own family are perfectly furious if you don’t spend the day with them!… And after you’re married?” With a gesture of ultimate despair he sank back into his cushions. “N–o, no one, I suppose, in the whole world, has ever spent Christmas just exactly the way he wanted to!”

“Well, I,” triumphed Flame, “have got a chance to spend Christmas just exactly the way I want to!… The one chance perhaps in a life-time, it would seem!… No heart aches involved, no hurt feelings, no disappointments for anybody! Nobody left out! Nobody dragged in! Why Father-Funny,” she cried. “It’s an experience that might distinguish me all my life long! Even when I’m very old and crumpled people would point me out on the street and say ‘_There’s_ some one who once spent Christmas just exactly the way she wanted to’!” To a limpness almost unbelievable the eager little figure wilted down within its blanket-wrapper swathings. “And now …” deprecated Flame, “Mother has gone and wished me on Aunt Minna instead!” With a sudden revival of enthusiasm two small hands crept out of their big cuffs and clutched her Father by the ears. “Oh Father-Funny!” pleaded Flame. “If you were too old to want it for a ‘holler’ day and not quite old enough to need it for a holy day … so that all you asked in the world was just to have it a _holly_ day! Something all bright! Red and green! And tinsel! and jingle-bells!… How would you like to have Aunt Minna wished on you?… It isn’t you know as though Aunt Minna was a–a pleasant person,” she argued with perfectly indisputable logic. “You couldn’t wish one ‘A Merry Aunt Minna’ any more than you could wish ’em a ‘Merry Good Friday’!” From the clutch on his ears the small hands crept to a point at the back of his neck where they encompassed him suddenly in a crunching hug. “Oh Father-Funny!” implored Flame, “You were a Lay Reader once! You must have had _very_ amorous eyes! Couldn’t you _please_ persuade Mother that…”

With a crisp flutter of skirts Flame’s Mother, herself, appeared abruptly in the door. Her manner was very excited.

“Why wherever in the world have you people been?” she cried. “Are you stone deaf? Didn’t you hear the telephone? Couldn’t you even hear me calling? Your Uncle Wally is worse! That is he’s better but he thinks he’s worse! And they want us to come at once! It’s something about a new will! The Lawyer telephoned! He advises us to come at once! They’ve sent an automobile for us! It will be here any minute!… But whatever in the world shall we do about Flame?” she cried distractedly. “You know how Uncle Wally feels about having young people in the house! And she can’t possibly go to Aunt Minna’s till to-morrow! And….”

“But you see I’m not going to Aunt Minna’s!” announced Flame quite serenely. Slipping down from her Father’s lap she stood with a round, roly-poly flannel sort of dignity confronting both her parents. “Father says I don’t have to!”

“Why, Flame!” protested her Father.

“No, of course, you didn’t say it with your mouth,” admitted Flame. “But you said it with your skin and bones!–I could feel it working.”

“Not go to your Aunt Minna’s?” gasped her Mother. “What do you want to do?… Stay at home and spend Christmas with the Lay Reader?”

“When you and Father talk like that,” murmured Flame with some hauteur, “I don’t know whether you’re trying to run him down … or run him up.”

“Well, how do you feel about him yourself?” veered her Father quite irrelevantly.

“Oh, I like him–some,” conceded Flame. In her bright cheeks suddenly an even brighter color glowed. “I like him when he leaves out the Litany,” she said. “I’ve told him I like him when he leaves out the Litany.–He’s leaving it out more and more I notice.–Yes, I like him very much.”

“But this Aunt Minna business,” veered back her Father suddenly. “What _do_ you want to do? That’s just the question. What _do_ you want to do?”

“Yes, what do you want to do?” panted her Mother.

“I want to make a Christmas for myself!” said Flame. “Oh, of course, I know perfectly well,” she agreed, “that I could go to a dozen places in the Parish and be cry-babied over for my presumable loneliness. And probably I _should_ cry a little,” she wavered, “towards the dessert–when the plum pudding came in and it wasn’t like Mother’s.–But if I made a Christmas of my own–” she rallied instantly. “Everything about it would be brand-new and unassociated! I tell you I _want_ to make a Christmas of my own! It’s the chance of a life-time! Even Father sees that it’s the chance of a life-time!”

“Do you?” demanded his wife a bit pointedly.

“_Honk-honk!_” screamed the motor at the door.

“Oh, dear me, whatever in the world shall I do?” cried Flame’s Mother. “I’m almost distracted! I’m–“

“When in Doubt do as the Doubters do,” suggested Flame’s Father quite genially. “Choose the most doubtful doubt on the docket and–Flame’s got a pretty level head,” he interrupted himself very characteristically.

“No young girl has a level heart,” asserted Flame’s Mother. “I’m so worried about the Lay Reader.”

“Lay Reader?” murmured her Father. Already he had crossed the threshold into the hall and was rummaging through an over-loaded hat rack for his fur coat. “Why, yes,” he called back, “I quite forgot to ask. Just what kind of a Christmas is it, Flame, that you want to make?” With unprecedented accuracy he turned at the moment to force his wife’s arms into the sleeves of her own fur coat.

Twice Flame rolled up her cuffs and rolled them down again before she answered.

“I–I want to make a Surprise for Miss Flora,” she confided.

“_Honk-honk!_” urged the automobile.

“For Miss Flora?” gasped her Mother.

“Miss Flora?” echoed her Father.

“Why, at the Rattle-Pane House, you know!” rallied Flame. “Don’t you remember that I called there this afternoon? It–it looked rather lonely there.–I–think I could fix it.”

“Honk-honk-honk!” implored the automobile.

“But who _is_ this Miss Flora?” cried her Mother. “I never heard anything so ridiculous in my life! How do we know she’s respectable?”

“Oh, my dear,” deprecated Flame’s Father. “Just as though the owners of the Rattle-Pane House would rent it to any one who wasn’t respectable!”

“Oh, she’s _very_ respectable,” insisted Flame. “Of a lineage so distinguished–“

“How old might this paragon be?” queried her Father.

“Old?” puzzled Flame. To her startled mind two answers only presented themselves…. Should she say “Oh, she’s only just weaned,” or “Well,–she was invented about 1406?” Between these two dilemmas a single compromise suggested itself. “She’s _awfully_ wrinkled,” said Flame; “that is–her face is. All wizened up, I mean.”

“Oh, then of course she _must_ be respectable,” twinkled Flame’s Father.

“And is related in some way,” persisted Flame, “to Edward the 2nd–Duke of York.”

“Of that guarantee of respectability I am, of course, not quite so sure,” said her Father.

With a temperish stamping of feet, an infuriate yank of the door-bell, Uncle Wally’s chauffeur announced that the limit of his endurance had been reached.

Blankly Flame’s Mother stared at Flame’s Father. Blankly Flame’s Father returned the stare.

“Oh, _p-l-e-a-s-e_!” implored Flame. Her face was crinkled like fine crepe.

“Smooth out your nose!” ordered her Mother. On the verge of capitulation the same familiar fear assailed her. “Will you promise not to see the Lay Reader?” she bargained.

“–Yes’m,” said Flame.

PART II

It’s a dull person who doesn’t wake up Christmas Morning with a curiously ticklish sense of Tinsel in the pit of his stomach!–A sort of a Shine! A kind of a Pain!

“Glisten and Tears, Pang of the years.”

That’s Christmas!

So much was born on Christmas Day! So much has died! So much is yet to come! Balsam-Scented, with the pulse of bells, how the senses sing! Memories that wouldn’t have batted an eye for all the Gabriel Trumpets in Eternity leaping to life at the sound of a twopenny horn! Merry Folk who were with us once and are no more! Dream Folk who have never been with us yet but will be some time! Ache of old carols! Zest of new-fangled games! Flavor of puddings! Shine of silver and glass! The pleasant frosty smell of the Express-man! The Gift Beautiful! The Gift Dutiful! The Gift that Didn’t Come! _Heigho_! Manger and Toy-Shop,–Miracle and Mirth,–

“Glisten and Tears,
LAUGH at the years!”

_That’s_ Christmas!

Flame Nourice certainly was willing to laugh at the years. Eighteen usually is!

Waking at Dawn two single thoughts consumed her,–the Lay Reader, and the humpiest of the express packages downstairs.

The Lay Reader’s name was Bertrand. “Bertrand the Lay Reader,” Flame always called him. The rest of the Parish called him Mr. Laurello.

It was the thought of Bertrand the Lay Reader that made Flame laugh the most.

“As long as I’ve promised most faithfully not to see him,” she laughed, “how can I possibly go to church? For the first Christmas in my life,” she laughed, “I won’t have to go to church!”

With this obligation so cheerfully canceled, the exploration of the humpiest express package loomed definitely as the next task on the horizon.

Hoping for a fur coat from her Father, fearing for a set of encyclopedias from her Mother, she tore back the wrappings with eager hands only to find,–all-astonished, and half a-scream,–a gay, gauzy layer of animal masks nosing interrogatively up at her. Less practical surely than the fur coat,–more amusing, certainly, than encyclopedias,–the funny “false faces” grinned up at her with a curiously excitative audacity. Where from?–No identifying card! What for? No conceivable clew!–Unless perhaps just on general principles a donation for the Sunday School Christmas Tree?–But there wasn’t going to be any tree! Tentatively she reached into the box and touched the fiercely striped face of a tiger, the fantastically exaggerated beak of a red and green parrot. “U-m-m-m,” mused Flame. “Whatever in the world shall I do with them?” Then quite abruptly she sank back on her heels and began to laugh and laugh and laugh. Even the Lay Reader had not received such a laughing But even to herself she did not say just what she was laughing at. It was a time for deeds, it would seem, and not for words.

Certainly the morning was very full of deeds!

There was, of course, a present from her Mother to be opened,–warm, woolly stockings and things like that. But no one was ever swerved from an original purpose by trying on warm, woolly stockings. And from her Father there was the most absurd little box no bigger than your nose marked, “For a week in New York,” and stuffed to the brim with the sweetest bright green dollar bills. But, of course, you couldn’t try those on. And half the Parish sent presents. But no Parish ever sent presents that needed to be tried on. No gay, fluffy scarfs,–no lacey, frivolous pettiskirts,–no bright delaying hat-ribbons! Just books,–illustrated poems usually, very wholesome pickles,–and always a huge motto to recommend, “Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men.”–To “Men”?–Why not to Women?–Why not at least to “_Dogs_?” questioned Flame quite abruptly.

Taken all in all it was not a Christmas Morning of sentiment but a Christmas morning of _works_! Kitchen works, mostly! Useful, flavorous adventures with a turkey! A somewhat nervous sally with an apple pie! Intermittently, of course, a few experiments with flour paste! A flaire or two with a paint brush! An errand to the attic! Interminable giggles!

Surely it was four o’clock before she was even ready to start for the Rattle-Pane House. And “starting” is by no means the same as arriving. Dragging a sledful of miscellaneous Christmas goods an eighth of a mile over bare ground is not an easy task. She had to make three tugging trips. And each start was delayed by her big gray pussy cat stealing out to try to follow her. And each arrival complicated by the yelpings and leapings and general cavortings of four dogs who didn’t see any reason in the world why they shouldn’t escape from their forced imprisonment in the shed-yard and prance home with her. Even with the third start and the third arrival finally accomplished, the crafty cat stood waiting for her on the steps of the Rattle-Pane House,–back arched, fur bristled, spitting like some new kind of weather-cock at the storm in the shed-yard, and had to be thrust quite unceremoniously into a much too small covered basket and lashed down with yards and yards of tinsel that was needed quite definitely for something else.–It isn’t just the way of the Transgressor that’s hard.–Nobody’s way is any too easy!

The door-key, though, was exactly where the old Butler had said it would be,–under the door mat, and the key itself turned astonishingly cordially in the rusty old lock. Never in her whole little life having owned a door-key to her own house it seemed quite an adventure in itself to be walking thus possessively through an unfamiliar hall into an absolutely unknown kitchen and goodness knew what on either side and beyond.

Perfectly simply too as the old Butler had promised, the four dog dishes, heaping to the brim, loomed in prim line upon the kitchen table waiting for distribution.

“U-m-m,” sniffed Flame. “Nothing but mush! _Mush_!–All over the world to-day I suppose–while their masters are feasting at other people’s houses on puddings and–and cigarettes! How the poor darlings must suffer! Locked in sheds! Tied in yards! Stuffed down cellar!”

“Me-o-w,” twinged a plaintive hint from the hallway just outside.

“Oh, but cats are different,” argued Flame. “So soft, so plushy, so spineless! Cats were _meant_ to be stuffed into things.”

Without further parleying she doffed her red tam and sweater, donned a huge white all-enveloping pinafore, and started to ameliorate as best she could the Christmas sufferings of the “poor darlings” immediately at hand.

It was at least a yellow kitchen,–or had been once. In all that gray, dank, neglected house, the one suggestion of old sunshine.

“We shall have our dinner here,” chuckled Flame. “After the carols–we shall have our dinner here.”

Very boisterously in the yard just outside the window the four dogs scuffled and raced for sheer excitement and joy at this most unexpected advent of human companionship. Intermittently from time to time by the aid of old boxes or barrels they clawed their way up to the cobwebby window-sill to peer at the strange proceedings. Intermittently from time to time they fell back into the frozen yard in a chaos of fur and yelps.

By five o’clock certainly the faded yellow kitchen must have looked very strange, even to a dog!

Straight down its dingy, wobbly-floored center stretched a long table cheerfully spread with “the Rev. Mrs. Flamande Nourice’s” second best table cloth. Quaint high-backed chairs dragged in from the shadowy parlor circled the table. A pleasant china plate gleamed like a hand-painted moon before each chair. At one end of the table loomed a big brown turkey; at the other, the appropriate vegetables. Pies, cakes, and doughnuts, interspersed themselves between. Green wreaths streaming with scarlet ribbons hung nonchalantly across every chair-top. Tinsel garlands shone on the walls. In the doorway reared a hastily constructed mimicry of a railroad crossing sign.

[Illustration]

Directly opposite and conspicuously placed above the rusty stove-pipe stretched the Parish’s Gift Motto–duly re-adjusted.

“_Peace_ on _Earth_, Good Will to _Dogs_.”

“Fatuously silly,” admitted Flame even to herself. “But yet it does add something to the Gayety of Rations!”

Stepping aside for a single thrilling moment to study the full effect of her handiwork, the first psychological puzzle of her life smote sharply across her senses. Namely, that you never really get the whole fun out of anything unless you are absolutely alone.–But the very first instant you find yourself absolutely alone with a Really-Good-Time you begin to twist and turn and hunt about for somebody Very Special to share it with you!

The only “Very Special” person that Flame could think of was “Bertrand the Lay Reader.”

All a-blush with the sheer mental surprise of it she fled to the shed door to summon the dogs.

“Maybe even the dogs won’t come!” she reasoned hectically. “Maybe nothing will come! Maybe that’s always the way things happen when you get your own way about something else!”

Like a blast from the Arctic the Christmas twilight swept in on her. It crisped her cheeks,–crinkled her hair! Turned her spine to a wisp of tinsel! All outdoors seemed suddenly creaking with frost! All indoors, with _unknownness_!

“Come, Beautiful-Lovely!” she implored. “Come, Lopsy! Miss Flora! Come, Blunder-Blot!'”

But there was really no need of entreaty. A turn of the door-knob would have brought them! Leaping, loping, four abreast, they came plunging like so many North Winds to their party! Streak of Snow,–Glow of Fire,–Frozen Mud–Sun-Spot!–Yelping-mouthed–slapping-tailed! Backs bristling! Legs stiffening! Wolf Hound, Setter, Bull Dog, Dalmatian,–each according to his kind, hurtling, crowding!

“Oh, dear me, dear me,” struggled Flame. “Maybe a carol would calm them.”

To a certain extent a carol surely did. The hair-cloth parlor of the Rattle-Pane House would have calmed anything. And the mousey smell of the old piano fairly jerked the dogs to its senile old ivory keyboard. Cocking their ears to its quavering treble notes,–snorting their nostrils through its gritty guttural basses, they watched Flame’s facile fingers sweep from sound to sound.

“Oh, what a–glorious lark!” quivered Flame. “What a–a _lonely_ glorious lark!”

Timidly at first but with an increasing abandon, half laughter and half tears, the clear young soprano voice took up its playful paraphrase,

“God rest you merrie–animals!
Let nothing you dismay!”

caroled Flame.

“For–“

It was just at this moment that Beautiful-Lovely, the Wolf Hound,–muzzled lifted, eyes rolling, jabbed his shrill nose into space and harmony with a carol of his own,–octaves of agony,–Heaven knows what of ecstasy,–that would have hurried an owl to its nest, a ghoul to a moving picture show!

“Wow-Wow–_Wow_!” caroled Beautiful-Lovely.
“Ww–ow–Ww–ow–_Ww–Oo–Wwwww_!”

As Flame’s hands dropped from the piano the unmistakable creak of red wheels sounded on the frozen driveway just outside.

No one but “Bertrand the Lay Reader” drove a buggy with red wheels! To the infinite scandalization of the Parish–no one but “Bertrand the Lay Reader” drove a buggy with red wheels!–Fleet steps sounded suddenly on the path! Startled fists beat furiously on the door!

“What is it? What is it?” shouted a familiar voice. “Whatever in the world is happening? Is it _murder_? Let me in! _Let me in!_”

“Sil–ly!” hissed Flame through a crack in the door. “It’s nothing but a party! Don’t you know a–a party when you hear it?”

For an instant only, blank silence greeted her confidence. Then “Bertrand the Lay Reader” relaxed in an indisputably genuine gasp of astonishment.

“Why! Why, is that you, Miss Flame?” he gasped. “Why, I thought it was a murder! Why–Why, whatever in the world are you doing here?”

“I–I’m having a party,” hissed Flame through the key-hole.

“A–a–party?” stammered the Lay Reader. “Open the door!”

“No, I–can’t,” said Flame.

“Why not?” demanded the Lay Reader.

Helplessly in the darkness of the vestibule Flame looked up,–and down,–and sideways,–but met always in every direction the memory of her promise.

“I–I just can’t,” she admitted a bit weakly. “It wouldn’t be convenient.–I–I’ve got trouble with my eyes.”

“Trouble with your eyes?” questioned the Lay Reader.

“I didn’t go away with my Father and Mother,” confided Flame.

“No,–so I notice,” observed the Lay Reader. “_Please_ open the door!”

“Why?” parried Flame.

“I’ve been looking for you everywhere,” urged the Lay Reader. “At the Senior Warden’s! At all the Vestrymen’s houses! Even at the Sexton’s! I knew you didn’t go away! The Garage Man told me there were only two!–I thought surely I’d find you at your own house.–But I only found sled tracks.”

“That was me,–I,” mumbled Flame.

“And then I heard these awful screams,” shuddered the Lay Reader.

“That was a Carol,” said Flame.

“A Carol?” scoffed the Lay Reader. “Open the door!”

“Well–just a crack,” conceded Flame.

It was astonishing how a man as broad-shouldered as the Lay Reader could pass so easily through a crack.

Conscience-stricken Flame fled before him with her elbow crooked across her forehead.

“Oh, my eyes! My eyes!” she cried.

“Well, really,” puzzled the Lay Reader. “Though I claim, of course, to be ordinarily bright–I had never suspected myself of being actually dazzling.”

“Oh, you’re not bright at all,” protested Flame. “It’s just my promise.–I promised Mother not to see you!”

“Not to see _me_?” questioned the Lay Reader. It was astonishing how almost instantaneously a man as purely theoretical as the Lay Reader was supposed to be, thought of a perfectly practical solution to the difficulty. “Why–why we might tie my big handkerchief across your eyes,” he suggested. “Just till we get this mystery straightened out.–Surely there is nothing more or less than just plain righteousness in–that!”

“What a splendid idea!” capitulated Flame. “But, of course, if I’m absolutely blindfolded,” she wavered for a second only, “you’ll have to lead me by the hand.”

“I could do that,” admitted the Lay Reader.

With the big white handkerchief once tied firmly across her eyes, Flame’s last scruple vanished.

“Well, you see,” she began quite precipitously, “I _did_ think it would be such fun to have a party!–A party all my own, I mean!–A party just exactly as I wanted it! No Parish in it at all! Or good works! Or anything! Just _fun_!–And as long as Mother and Father had to go away anyway–” Even though the blinding bandage the young eyes seemed to lift in a half wistful sort of appeal. “You see there’s some sort of property involved,” she confided quite impulsively. “Uncle Wally’s making a new will. There’s a corn-barn and a private chapel and a collection of Chinese lanterns and a piebald pony principally under dispute.–Mother, of course thinks we ought to have the corn-barn. But Father can’t decide between the Chinese lanterns and the private chapel.–Personally,” she sighed, “I’m hoping for the piebald pony.”

“Yes, but this–party?” prodded the Lay Reader.

“Oh, yes,–the party–” quickened Flame.

“Why have it in a deserted house?” questioned the Lay Reader with some incisiveness.

Even with her eyes closely bandaged Flame could see perfectly clearly that the Lay Reader was really quite troubled.

“Oh, but you see it isn’t exactly a deserted house,” she explained.

“Who lives here?” demanded the Lay Reader.

“I don’t know–exactly,” admitted Flame. “But the Butler is a friend of mine and–“

“The–Butler is a friend of yours?” gasped the Lay Reader. Already, if Flame could only have seen it, his head was cocked with sudden intentness towards the parlor door. “There is certainly something very strange about all this,” he whispered a bit hectically. “I could almost have sworn that I heard a faint scuffle,–the horrid sound of a person–strangling.”

“Strangling?” giggled Flame. “Oh, that is just the sound of Miss Flora’s ‘girlish glee’! If she’d only be content to chew the corner of the piano cover! But when she insists on inhaling it, too!”

“Miss Flora?” gasped the Lay Reader. “Is this a Mad House?”

“Miss Flora is a–a dog,” confided Flame a bit coolly. “I neglected–it seems–to state that this is a dog-party that I’m having.”

“_Dogs_?” winced the Lay Reader. “Will they bite?”

“Only if you don’t trust them,” confided Flame.

“But it’s so hard to trust a dog that will bite you if you don’t trust him,” frowned the Lay Reader. “It makes such a sort of a–a vicious circle, as it were.”

“Vicious Circe?” mused Flame, a bit absent-mindedly. “No, I don’t think it’s nice at all to call Miss Flora a ‘Vicious Circe.'” It was Flame’s turn now to wince back a little. “I–I hate people who hate dogs!” she cried out quite abruptly.

“Oh, I don’t hate them,” lied the Lay Reader like a gentleman, “it’s only that–that–. You see a dog bit me once!” he confided with significant emphasis.

“I–bit a dentist–once,” mused Flame without any emphasis at all.

“Oh, but I say, Miss Flame,” deprecated the Lay Reader. “That’s different! When a dog bites you, you know, there’s always more or less question whether he was mad or not.”

“There doesn’t seem to have been any question at all,” mused Flame, “that _you_ were mad! Did you have _your_ head sent off to be investigated or anything?”

“Oh, I say, Miss Flame,” implored the Lay Reader, “I tell you I _like_ dogs,–good dogs! I assure you I’m very–oh, very much interested in this dog party of yours! Such a quaint idea! So–so–! If I could be of any possible assistance?” he implored.

“Maybe you could be,” relaxed Flame ever so faintly. “But if you’re really coming to my party,” she stiffened again, “you’ve got to behave like my party!”

“Why, of course I’ll behave like your party!” laughed the Lay Reader.

“There _is_ a problem,” admitted Flame. “Five problems, to be perfectly accurate.–Four dogs, and a cat in the wood-shed.”

“And a cat in the wood-shed?” echoed the Lay Reader quite idiotically.

“The table is set,” affirmed Flame. “The places, all ready!–But I don’t know how to get the dogs into their chairs!–They run around so! They yelp! They jump!–They haven’t had a mouthful to eat, you see, since last night, this time!–And when they once see the turkey I’m–I’m afraid they’ll stampede it.”

“Turkey?” quizzed the Lay Reader who had dined that day on corned beef.

“Oh, of course, mush was what they were intended to have,” admitted Flame. “Piles and piles of mush! Extra piles and piles of mush I should judge because it was Christmas Day!… But don’t you think mush does seem a bit dull?” she questioned appealingly. “For Christmas Day? Oh, I did think a turkey would taste so good!”

“It certainly would,” conceded the Lay Reader.

“So if you’d help me–” wheedled Flame, “it would be well-worth staying blindfolded for…. For, of course, I shall have to stay blindfolded. But I can see a little of the floor,” she admitted, “though I couldn’t of course break my promise to my Mother by seeing you.”

“No, certainly not,” admitted the Lay Reader.

“Otherwise–” murmured Flame with a faint gesture towards the door.

“I will help you,” said the Lay Reader.

“Where is your hand?” fumbled Flame.

“_Here_!” attested the Lay Reader.

“Lead us to the dogs!” commanded Flame.

Now the Captain of a ship feels genuinely obligated, it would seem, to go down with his ship if tragic circumstances so insist. But he never,–so far as I’ve ever heard, felt the slightest obligation whatsoever to go down with another captain’s ship,–to be martyred in short for any job not distinctly his own. So Bertrand Lorello,–who for the cause he served, wouldn’t have hesitated an instant probably, to be torn by Hindoo lions,–devoured by South Sea cannibals,–fallen upon by a chapel spire,–trampled to death even at a church rummage sale,–saw no conceivable reason at the moment for being eaten by dogs at a purely social function.

Even groping through a balsam-scented darkness with one hand clasping the thrilly fingers of a lovely young girl, this distaste did not altogether leave him.

“This–this mush that you speak of?” he questioned quite abruptly. “With the dogs as–as nervous as you say,–so unfortunately liable to stampede? Don’t you think that perhaps a little mush served first,–a good deal of mush I would say, served first,–might act as a–as a sort of anesthetic?… Somewhere in the past I am almost sure I have read that mush in sufficient quantities, you understand, is really quite a–quite an anesthetic.”

Very palpably in the darkness he heard a single throaty swallow.

“Lead us to the–mush,” said Flame.

In another instant the door-knob turned in his hand, and the cheerful kitchen lamp-light,–glitter of tinsel,–flare of red ribbons,–savor of foods, smote sharply on him.

“Oh, I say, how _jolly_!” cried the Lay Reader.

“Don’t let me bump into anything!” begged the blindfolded Flame, still holding tight to his hand.

“Oh, I say, Miss Flame,” kindled the entranced Lay Reader, “it’s _you_ that look the jolliest! All in white that way! I’ve never seen you wear _that_ to church, have I?”

“This is a pinafore,” confided Flame coolly. “A bungalow apron, the fashion papers call it…. No, you’ve never seen me wear–this to church.”

“O–h,” said the Lay Reader.

“Get the mush,” said Flame.

“The what?” asked the Lay Reader.

“It’s there on the table by the window,” gestured Flame. “Please set all four dishes on the floor,–each dish, of course, in a separate corner,” ordered Flame. “There is a reason…. And then open the parlor door.”

“Open the parlor door?” questioned the Lay Reader. It was no mere grammatical form of speech but a real query in the Lay Reader’s mind.

“Well, maybe I’d better,” conceded Flame. “Lead me to it.”

Roused into frenzy by the sound of a stranger’s step, a stranger’s voice, the four dogs fumed and seethed on the other side of the panel.

“Sniff–Sniff–_Snort_!” the Red Setter sucked at the crack in the door.

“Woof! Woof! _Woof_!” roared the big Wolf Hound.

“Slam! Bang! Slash!” slapped the Dalmatian’s crisp weight.

“Yi! Yi! Yi!” sang the Bull Dog.

“Hush! _Hush_, Dogs!” implored Flame. “This is Father’s Lay Reader!”

“Your–Lay Reader!” contradicted the young man gallantly. It _was_ pretty gallant of him, wasn’t it? Considering everything?

In another instant four _shapes_ with teeth in them came hurtling through!

If Flame had never in her life admired the Lay Reader she certainly would have admired him now for the sheer cold-blooded foresight which had presaged the inevitable reaction of the dogs upon the mush and the mush upon the dogs. With a single sniff at his heels, a prod of paws in his stomach, the onslaught swerved–and passed. Guzzlingly from four separate corners of the room issued sounds of joy and fulfillment.

With an impulse quite surprising even to herself Flame thrust both hands into the Lay Reader’s clasp.

“You _are_ nice, aren’t you?” she quickened. In an instant of weakness one hand crept up to the blinding bandage, and recovered its honor as instantly. “Oh, I do wish I _could_ see you,” sighed Flame. “You’re so good-looking! Even Mother thinks you’re _so_ good-looking!… Though she does get awfully worked up, of course, about your ‘amorous eyes’!”

“Does your Mother think I’ve got … ‘amorous eyes’?” asked the Lay Reader a bit tersely. Behind his spectacles as he spoke the orbs in question softened and glowed like some rare exotic bloom under glass. “Does your Mother … think I’ve got amorous eyes?”

“Oh, yes!” said Flame.

“And your Father?” drawled the Lay Reader.

“Why, Father says _of course_ you’ve got ‘amorous eyes’!” confided Flame with the faintest possible tinge of surprise at even being asked such a question. “That’s the funny thing about Mother and Father,” chuckled Flame. “They’re always saying the same thing and meaning something entirely different by it. Why, when Mother says with her mouth all pursed up, ‘I have every reason to believe that Mr. Lorello is engaged to the daughter of the Rector in his former Parish,’ Father just puts back his head and howls, and says, ‘Why, _of course_, Mr. Lorello is engaged to the daughter of the Rector in his former Parish! All Lay Readers….”

In the sudden hush that ensued a faint sense of uneasiness flickered through Flame’s shoulders.

“Is it you that have hushed? Or the dogs?” she asked.

“The dogs,” said the Lay Reader.

Very cautiously, absolutely honorably, Flame turned her back to the Lay Reader, and lifted the bandage just far enough to prove the Lay Reader’s assertion.

Bulging with mush the four dogs lay at rest on rounding sides with limp legs straggling, or crouched like lions’ heads on paws, with limpid eyes blinking above yawny mouths.

“O–h,” crooned Flame. “How sweet! Only, of course, with what’s to follow,” she regretted thriftily, “it’s an awful waste of mush…. Excelsior warmed in the oven would have served just as well.”

At the threat of a shadow across her eyeball she jerked the bandage back into place.

“Now, Mr. Lorello,” she suggested blithely, “if you’ll get the Bibles….”

“Bibles?” stiffened the Lay Reader. “Bibles? Why, really, Miss Flame, I couldn’t countenance any sort of mock service! Even just for–for quaintness,–even for Christmas quaintness!”

“Mock service?” puzzled Flame. “Bibles?… Oh, I don’t want you to preach out of ’em,” she hastened perfectly amiably to explain. “All I want them for is to plump-up the chairs…. The seats you see are too low for the dogs…. Oh, I suppose dictionaries would do,” she compromised reluctantly. “Only dictionaries are always so scarce.”

Obediently the Lay Reader raked the parlor book-cases for “plump-upable” books. With real dexterity he built Chemistries on Sermons and Ancient Poems on Cook Books till the desired heights were reached.

For a single minute more Flame took another peep at the table.

“Set a chair for yourself directly opposite me!” she ordered. For sheer hilarious satisfaction her feet began to dance and her hands to clap. “And whenever I really feel obliged to look,” she sparkled, “you’ll just have to leave the table, that’s all!… And now…?” Appraisingly her muffled eye swept the shining vista. “Perfect!” she triumphed. “Perfect!” Then quite abruptly the eager mouth wilted. “Why … Why I’ve forgotten the carving knife and fork!” she cried out in real distress. “Oh, how stupid of me!” Arduously, but without avail, she searched through all the drawers and cupboards of the Rattle-Pane kitchen. A single alternative occurred to her. “You’ll have to go over to my house and get them,–Mr. Lorello!” she said. “Were you ever in my kitchen? Or my pantry?”

“No,” admitted the Lay Reader.

“Well, you’ll have to climb in through the window–someway,” worried Flame. “I’ve mislaid my key somewhere here among all these dishes and boxes. And the pantry,” she explained very explicitly, “is the third door on the right as you enter…. You’ll see a chest of drawers. Open the second of ’em…. Or maybe you’d better look through all of them…. Only please … please hurry!” Imploringly the little head lifted.

“If I hurry enough,” said the Lay Reader quite impulsively, “may I have a kiss when I get back?”

“A kiss?” hooted Flame. In the curve of her cheek a dimple opened suddenly. “Well … maybe,” said Flame.

As though the word were wings the Lay Reader snatched his hat and sped out into the night.

It was astonishing how all the warm housey air seemed to rush out with him, and all the shivery frost rush back.

A little bit listlessly Flame dragged down the bandage from her eyes.

“It must be the creaks on the stairs that make it so awfully lonely all of a sudden,” argued Flame. “It must be because the dogs snore so…. No mere man could make it so empty.” With a precipitous nudge of the memory she dashed to the door and helloed to the fast retreating figure. “Oh, Bertrand! Bertrand!” she called, “I got sort of mixed up. It’s the second door on the left! And if you don’t find ’em there you’d better go up in Mother’s room and turn out the silver chest! _Hurry_!”

Rallying back to the bright Christmas kitchen for the real business at hand, an accusing blush rose to the young spot where the dimple had been.

“Oh, Shucks!” parried Flame. “I kissed a Bishop before I was five!–What’s a Lay Reader?” As one humanely willing to condone the future as well as the past she rolled up her white sleeves without further introspection, and dragged out from the protecting shadow of the sink the “humpiest box” which had so excited her emotions at home in an earlier hour of the day. Cracklingly under her eager fingers the clumsy cover slid off, exposing once more to her enraptured gaze the gay-colored muslin layer of animal masks leering fatuously up at her.

Only with her hand across her mouth did she keep from crying out. Very swiftly her glance traveled from the grinning muslin faces before her to the solemn fur faces on the other side of the room. The hand across her mouth tightened.

“Why, it’s something like Creation,” she giggled. “This having to decide which face to give to which animal!”

As expeditiously as possible she made her selection.

“Poor Miss Flora must be so tired of being so plain,” she thought. “I’ll give her the first choice of everything! Something really lovely! It can’t help resting her!”

With this kind idea in mind she selected for Miss Flora a canary’s face.–Softly yellow! Bland as treacle! Its swelling, tender muslin throat fairly reeking with the suggestion of innocent song! No one gazing once upon such ornithological purity would ever speak a harsh word again, even to a sparrow!

Nudging Miss Flora cautiously from her sonorous nap, Flame beguiled her with half a doughnut to her appointed chair, boosted her still cautiously to her pinnacle of books, and with various swift adjustments of fasteners, knotting of tie-strings,–an extra breathing hole jabbed through the beak, slipped the canary’s beautiful blond countenance over Miss Flora’s frankly grizzled mug.

For a single terrifying instant Miss Flora’s crinkled sides tightened,–a snarl like ripped silk slipped through her straining lungs. Then once convinced that the mask was not a gas-box she accepted the liberty with reasonable _sang-froid_ and sat blinking beadily out through the canary’s yellow-rimmed eye-sockets with frank curiosity towards such proceedings as were about to follow. It was easy to see she was accustomed to sitting in chairs.

For the Wolf Hound Flame chose a Giraffe’s head. Certain anatomical similarities seemed to make the choice wise. With a long vividly striped stockinet neck wrinkling like a mousquetaire glove, the neat small head that so closely fitted his own neat small head, the tweaked, interrogative ears,–Beautiful-Lovely, the Wolf Hound, reared up majestically in his own chair. He also, once convinced that the mask was not a gas-box, resigned himself to the inevitable, and corporeally independent of such vain props as Chemistries or Sermons, lolled his fine height against the mahogany chair-back.

To Blunder-Blot, the trim Dalmatian, Flame assigned the Parrot’s head, arrogantly beaked, gorgeously variegated, altogether querulous.

For Lopsy, the crafty Setter, she selected a White Rabbit’s artless, pink-eared visage.

Yet out of the whole box of masks it had been the Bengal Tiger’s fiercely bewhiskered visage that had fascinated Flame the most. Regretfully from its more or less nondescript companions, she picked up the Bengal Tiger now and pulled at its real, bristle-whiskers. In one of the chairs a dog stirred quite irrelevantly. Cocking her own head towards the wood-shed Flame could not be perfectly sure whether she heard a twinge of cat or a twinge of conscience. The unflinching glare of the Bengal Tiger only served to increase her self-reproach.

“After all,” reasoned Flame, “it would be easy enough to set another place! And pile a few extra books!… I’m almost sure I saw a black plush bag in the parlor…. If the cat could be put in something like a black plush bag,–something perfectly enveloping like that? So that not a single line of its–its figure could be observed?… And it had a new head given it? A perfectly sufficient head–like a Bengal Tiger?–I see no reason why–“

In five minutes the deed was accomplished. Its lovely sinuous “figure” reduced to the stolid contour of a black plush work-bag, its small uneasy head thrust into the roomy muslin cranium of the Bengal Tiger, the astonished Cat found herself slumping soggily on a great teetering pile of books, staring down as best she might through the Bengal Tiger’s ear at the weirdest assemblage of animals which any domestic cat of her acquaintance had ever been forced to contemplate.

Coincidental with the appearance of the Cat a faint thrill passed through the rest of the company…. Nothing very much! No more, no less indeed, than passes through any company at the introduction of purely extraneous matter. From the empty plate which she had commandeered as a temporary pillow the Yellow Canary lifted an interrogative beak…. That was all! At Flame’s left, the White-Haired Rabbit emitted an incongruous bark…. Scarcely worth reporting! Across the table the Giraffe thumped a white, plumy tail. Thoughtfully the Parrot’s hooked nose slanted slightly to one side.

“Oh, I wish Bertrand would come!” fretted Flame. “Maybe this time he’ll notice my ‘Christmas Crossing’ sign!” she chuckled with sudden triumph. “Talk about surprises!” Very diplomatically as she spoke she broke another doughnut in two and drew all the dogs’ attention to herself. Almost hysterical with amusement she surveyed the scene before her. “Well, at least we can have ‘grace’ before the Preacher comes!” she laughed. A step on the gravel walk startled her suddenly. In a flash she had jerked down the blind-folding handkerchief across her eyes again, and folding her hands and the doughnut before her burst softly into paraphrase.

‘Now we–sit us down to eat
Thrice our share of Flesh and Sweet.
If we should burst before we’re through,
Oh what in–Dogdom shall we do?’

Thus it was that the Master of the House, returning unexpectedly to his unfamiliar domicile, stumbled upon a scene that might have shaken the reason of a less sober young man.

Startled first by the unwonted illumination from his kitchen windows, and second by the unprecedented aroma of Fir Balsam that greeted him even through the key-hole of his new front door, his feelings may well be imagined when groping through the dingy hall he first beheld the gallows-like structure reared in the kitchen doorway.

“My God!” he ejaculated, “Barrett is getting ready to hang himself! Gone mad probably–or something!”

Curdled with horror he forced himself to the object, only to note with convulsive relief but increasing bewilderment the cheerful phrasing and ultimate intent of the structure itself. “‘Christmas Crossing’?” he repeated blankly. “‘Look out for Surprises’?–‘Shop, Cook, and Glisten’?” With his hand across his eyes he reeled back slightly against the wall. “It is I that have gone mad!” he gasped.

A little uncertain whether he was afraid of What-He-Was-About-to-See, or whether What-He-Was-About-to-See ought to be afraid of him, he craned his neck as best he could round the corner of the huge buffet that blocked the kitchen vista. A fresh bewilderment met his eyes. Where he had once seen cobwebs flapping grayly across the chimney-breast loomed now the gay worsted recommendation that _dogs specially_, should be considered in the Christmas Season. Throwing all caution aside he passed the buffet and plunged into the kitchen.

“Oh, _do_ hurry!” cried an eager young voice. “I thought my hair would be white before you came!”

Like a man paralyzed he stopped short in his tracks to stare at the scene before him! The long, bright table! The absolutely formal food! A blindfolded girl! A perfectly strange blindfolded girl … with her dark hair forty years this side of white–_begging him to hurry_!… A Black Velvet Bag surmounted by a Tiger’s head stirring strangely in a chair piled high with books!… Seated next to the Black Velvet Bag a Canary as big as a Turkey Gobbler!… A Giraffe stepping suddenly forward with–with dog-paws thrust into his soup plate!… A White Rabbit heavily wreathed in holly rousing cautiously from his cushions!… A Parrot with a twitching black and white short-haired tail!… An empty chair facing the Girl! _An empty chair facing the Girl._

“If this is _madness_,” thought Delcote quite precipitously, “I am at least the Master of the Asylum!”

In another instant, with a prodigious stride he had slipped into the vacant seat.

“… So sorry to have kept you waiting,” he murmured.

At the first sound of that unfamiliar voice, Flame yanked the handkerchief from her eyes, took one blank glance at the Stranger, and burst forth into a muffled, but altogether blood-curdling scream.

“Oh … Oh … Owwwwwwww!” said the scream.

As though waiting only for that one signal to break the spell of their enchantment, the Canary leaped upward and grabbed the Bengal Tiger by his muslin nose,–the White Rabbit sprang to “point” on the cooling turkey, and the Red and Green Parrot fell to the floor in a desperate effort to settle once and for all with the black spot that itched so impulsively on his left shoulder!

For a moment only, in comparative quiet, the Concerned struggled with the Concerned. Then true to all Dog Psychology,–absolutely indisputable, absolutely unalterable, the Non-Concerned leaped in upon the Non-Concerned! Half on his guard, but wholely on his itch, the jostled Parrot shot like a catapult across the floor! Lost to all sense of honor or table-manners the benign-faced Giraffe with his benign face still towering blandly in the air, burst through his own neck with a most curious anatomical effect,–locked his teeth in the Parrot’s gay throat and rolled with him under the table in mortal combat!

Round and round the room spun the Yellow Canary and the Black Plush Bag!

Retreating as best she could from her muslin nose,–the Bengal Tiger or rather that which was within the Bengal Tiger, waged her war for Freedom! Ripping like a chicken through its shell she succeeded at last in hatching one front paw and one hind paw into action. Wallowing,–stumbling,–rolling,–yowling,–she humped from mantle-piece to chair-top, and from box to table.

Loyally the rabbit-eared Setter took up the chase. Mauled in the scuffle he ran with his meek face upside down! Lost to all reason, defiant of all morale, he proceeded to flush the game!

Dish-pans clattered, stools tipped over, pictures banged on the walls!

From her terrorized perch on the back of her chair Flame watched the fracas with dilated eyes.

Hunched in the hug of his own arms the Stranger sat rocking himself to and fro in uncontrollable, choking mirth,–“ribald mirth” was what Flame called it.

“Stop!” she begged. “Stop it! Somebody _stop_ it!”

It was not until the Black Plush Bag at bay had ripped a red streak down Miss Flora’s avid nose that the Stranger rose to interfere.

Very definitely then, with quick deeds, incisive words, he separated the immediate combatants, and ordered the other dogs into submission.

“Here you, Demon Direful!” he addressed the white Wolf Hound. “Drop that, Orion!” he shouted to the Irish Setter. “Cut it out, John!” he thundered at the Coach Dog.

“Their names are ‘Beautiful-Lovely’!” cried Flame. “And ‘Lopsy!’ and ‘Blunder-Blot!'”

With his hand on the Wolf Hound’s collar, the Stranger stopped and stared up with frank astonishment, not to say resentment, at the girl’s interference.

“Their names are _what_?” he said.

Something in the special intonation of the question infuriated Flame…. Maybe she thought his mouth scornful,–his narrowing eyes…? Goodness knows what she thought of his suddenly narrowing eyes!

In an instant she had jumped from her retreat to the floor.

“Who are you, anyway?” she demanded. “How dare you come here like this? Butting into my party!… And–and spoiling my discipline with the dogs! Who are you, I say?”

With Demon Direful, alias Beautiful-Lovely tugging wildly at his restraint, the Stranger’s scornful mouth turned precipitously up, instead of down.

“Who am I?” he said. “Why, no one special at all except just–the Master of the House!”

“_What_?” gasped Flame.

“Earle Delcote,” bowed the Stranger.

With a little hand that trembled perfectly palpably Flame reached back to the arm of the big carved chair for support.

“Why–why, but Mr. Delcote is an old man,” she gasped. “I’m almost sure he’s an old man.”

The smile on Delcote’s mouth spread suddenly to his eyes.

“Not yet,–Thank God!” he bowed.

With a panic-stricken glance at doors, windows, cracks, the chimney pipe itself, Flame sank limply down in her seat again and gestured towards the empty place opposite her.

“Have a–have a chair,” she stammered. Great tears welled suddenly to her eyes. “Oh, I–I know I oughtn’t to be here,” she struggled. “It’s perfectly … awful! I haven’t the slightest right! Not the slightest! It’s the–the cheekiest thing that any girl in the world ever did!… But your Butler said…! And he did so want to go away and–And I did so love your dogs! And I did so want to make _one_ Christmas in the world just–exactly the way I wanted it! And–and–Mother and Father will be crazy!… And–and–“

Without a single glance at anything except herself, the Master of the House slipped back into his chair.

“Have a heart!” he said.

Flame did _not_ accept this suggestion. With a very severe frown and downcast eyes she sat staring at the table. It seemed a very cheerless table suddenly, with all the dogs in various stages of disheveled finery grouped blatantly around their Master’s chair.

“I can at least have my cat,” she thought, “my–faithful cat!” In another instant she had slipped from the table, extracted poor Puss from a clutter of pans in the back of a cupboard, stripped the last shred of masquerade from her outraged form, and brought her back growling and bristling to perch on one arm of the high-backed chair. “Th–ere!” said Flame.

Glancing up from this innocent triumph, she encountered the eyes of the Master of the House fixed speculatively on the big turkey.

“I’m afraid everything is very cold,” she confided with distinctly formal regret.

“Not for anything,” laughed Delcote quite suddenly, “would I have kept you waiting–if I had only known.”

Two spots of color glowed hotly in the girl’s cheeks.

“It was not for you I was waiting,” she said coldly.

“N–o?” teased Delcote. “You astonish me. For whom, then? Some incredible wight who, worse than late–isn’t going to show up at all?… Heaven sent, I consider myself…. How else could so little a girl have managed so big a turkey?”

“There … isn’t any … carving knife,” whispered Flame.

The tears were glistening on her cheeks now instead of just in her eyes. A less observing man than Delcote might have thought the tears were really for the carving knife.

“What? No carving knife?” he roared imperiously. “And the house guaranteed ‘furnished’?” Very furiously he began to hunt all around the kitchen in the most impossible places.

“Oh, it’s furnished all right,” quivered Flame. “It’s just chock-full of dead things! Pressed flowers! And old plush bags! And pressed flowers! And–and pressed flowers!”

“Great Heavens!” groaned Delcote. “And I came here to forget ‘dead things’!”

“Your–your Butler said you’d had misfortunes,” murmured Flame.

“Misfortunes?” rallied Delcote. “I should think I had! In a single year I’ve lost health,–money,–most everything I own in the world except my man and my dogs!”

“They’re … good dogs,” testified Flame.

“And the Doctor’s sent me here for six months,” persisted Delcote, “before he’ll even hear of my plunging into things again!”

“Six months is a–a good long time,” said Flame. “If you’d turn the hems we could make yellow curtains for the parlor in no time at all!”

“W–we?” stammered Delcote.

“M–Mother,” said Flame. “… It’s a long time since any dogs lived in the Rattle-Pane House.”

“Rattle-_Brain_ house?” bridled Delcote.

“Rattle-_Pane_ House,” corrected Flame.

A little bit worriedly Delcote returned to his seat.

“I shall have to rend the turkey, instead of carve it,” he said.

“Rend it,” acquiesced Flame.

In the midst of the rending a dark frown appeared between Delcote’s eyes.

“These–these guests that you were expecting–?” he questioned.

“Oh, _stop_!” cried Flame. “Dreadful as I am I never–never would have dreamed of inviting ‘guests’!”

“This ‘guest’ then,” frowned Delcote. “Was he…?”

“Oh, you mean … Bertrand?” flushed Flame. “Oh, truly, I didn’t invite him! He just butted in … same as you!”

“Same as … I?” stammered Delcote.

“Well…” floundered Flame. “Well … you know what I mean and …”

With peculiar intentness the Master of the House fixed his eyes on the knotted white handkerchief which Flame had thrown across the corner of her chair.

“And is this ‘Bertrand’ person so … so dazzling,” he questioned, “that human eye may not look safely upon his countenance?”

“Bertrand … dazzling?” protested Flame. “Oh, no! He’s really quite dull…. It was only,” she explained with sudden friendliness, “It was only that I had promised Mother not to ‘see’ him…. So, of course, when he butted in I….”

“O–h,” relaxed the Master of the House. With a precipitous flippancy of manners which did not conform at all to the somewhat tragic austerity of his face he snatched up his knife and fork and thumped joyously on the table with the handles of them. “And some people talk about a country village being dull in the Winter Time!” he chuckled. “With a Dog’s Masquerade and a Robbery at the Rectory all happening the same evening!” Grabbing her cat in her arms, Flame jerked her chair back from the table.

“A–a robbery at the Rectory?” she gasped. “Why–why, I’m the Rectory! I must go home at once!”

“Oh, Shucks!” shrugged the Master of the House. “It’s all over now. But the people at the railroad station were certainly buzzing about it as I came through.”

“B–buzzing about it?” articulated Flame with some difficulty.

Expeditiously the Master of the House resumed his rending of the turkey.

“Are you really from the Rectory?” he questioned. “How amusing…. Well, there’s nothing really you could do about it now…. The constable and his prisoner are already on their way to the County Seat–wherever that may be. And a freshly ‘burgled’ house is rather a creepy place for a young girl to return to all alone…. Your parents are away, I believe?”

“Con–stable … constable,” babbled Flame quite idiotically.

“Yes, the regular constable was off Christmasing somewhere it seems, so he put a substitute on his job, a stranger from somewhere. Some substitute that! No mulling over hot toddies on Christmas night for him! He _saw_ the marauder crawling in through the Rectory window! He _saw_ him fumbling now to the left, now to the right, all through the front hall! He followed him up the stairs to a closet where the silver was evidently kept! He caught the man red-handed as it were! Or rather–white-handed,” flushed the Master of the House for some quite unaccountable reason. “To be perfectly accurate,” he explained conscientiously, “he was caught with a pair of–of–” Delicately he spelt out the word. “With a pair of–c-o-r-s-e-t-s rolled up in his hand. But inside the roll it seemed there was a solid silver–very elaborate carving set which the Parish had recently presented. The wretch was just unrolling it,–them, when he was caught.”

“That was Bertrand!” said Flame. “My Father’s Lay Reader.”

It was the man’s turn now to jump to his feet.

“_What_?” he cried.

“I sent him for the carving knife,” said Flame.

“_What_?” repeated the man. Consternation versus Hilarity went racing suddenly like a cat-and-dog combat across his eyes.

“Yes,” said Flame.

From the outside door the sound of furious knocking occurred suddenly.

“That sounds to me like–like parents’ knocking,” shivered Flame.

“It sounds to me like an escaped Lay Reader,” said her Host.

With a single impulse they both started for the door.

“Don’t worry, Little Girl,” whispered the young Stranger in the dark hall.

“I’ll try not to,” quivered Flame.

They were both right, it seemed.

It was Parents _and_ the Lay Reader.

All three breathless, all three excited, all three reproachful,–they swept into the warm, balsam-scented Rattle-Pane House with a gust of frost, a threat of disaster.

“F–lame,” sighed her Father.

“Flame!” scolded her Mother.

“Flame?” implored the Lay Reader.

“What a pretty name,” beamed the Master of the House. “Pray be seated, everybody,” he gestured graciously to left and right,–shoving one dog expeditiously under the table with his foot, while he yanked another out of a chair with his least gesticulating hand. “This is certainly a very great pleasure, I assure you,” he affirmed distinctly to Miss Flamande Nourice. “Returning quite unexpectedly to my new house this lonely Christmas evening,” he explained very definitely to the Rev. Flamande Nourice, “I can’t express to you what it means to me to find this pleasant gathering of neighbors waiting here to welcome me! And when I think of the effort _you_ must have made to get here, Mr. Bertrand,” he beamed. “A young man of all your obligations and–complications–“

“Pleasant … gathering of neighbors?” questioned Mrs. Nourice with some emotion.

“Oh, I forgot,” deprecated the Master of the House with real concern. “Your Christmas season is not, of course, as inherently ‘pleasant’ as one might wish…. I was told at the railroad station how you and Mr. Nourice had been called away by the illness of a relative.”

“We were called away,” confided Mrs. Nourice with increasing asperity, “called away at considerable inconvenience–by a very sick relative–to receive the present of a Piebald pony.”

“Oh, goody!” quickened Flame and collapsed again under the weight of her Mother’s glance.

“And then came this terrible telephone message,” shuddered her Mother. “The implied dishonor of one of your Father’s most trusted–most trusted associates!”

“I was right in the midst of such an interesting book,” deplored her Father. “And Uncle Wally wouldn’t lend it.”

“So we borrowed Uncle Wally’s new automobile and started right for home!” explained her Mother. “It was at the Junction that we made connections with the Constable and his prisoner.”

“His–victim,” intercepted the Lay Reader coldly.

At this interception everybody turned suddenly and looked at the Lay Reader. His mouth was twisted very slightly to one side. It gave him a rather unpleasant snarling expression. If this expression had been vocal instead of muscular it would have shocked his hearers.

“Your Father had to go on board the train and identify him,” persisted Flame’s Mother. “It was very distressing…. The Constable was most unwilling to release him. Your Father had to use every kind of an argument.”

“Every … kind,” mused her Father. “He doesn’t even deny being in the house,” continued her Mother, “being in my closet, … being caught with a–a–“

“With a silver carving knife and fork in his hand,” intercepted the Lay Reader hastily.

“Yet all the time he persists,” frowned Flame’s Mother, “that there is some one in the world who can give a perfectly good explanation if only,–he won’t even say ‘he or she’ but ‘it’, if only ‘it’ would.”

Something in the stricken expression of her daughter’s face brought a sudden flicker of suspicion to the Mother’s eyes.

“_You_ don’t know anything about this, do you, Flame?” she demanded. “Is it remotely possible that after your promise to me,–your sacred promise to me–?” The whole structure of the home,–of mutual confidence,–of all the Future itself, crackled and toppled in her voice.

To the Lay Reader’s face, and right _through_ the Lay Reader’s face, to the face of the Master of the House, Flame’s glance went homing with an unaccountable impulse.

With one elbow leaning casually on the mantle-piece, his narrowed eyes faintly inscrutable, faintly smiling, it seemed suddenly to the young Master of the House that he had been waiting all his discouraged years for just that glance. His heart gave the queerest jump.

Flame’s face turned suddenly very pink.

Like a person in a dream, she turned back to her Mother. There was a smile on her face, but even the smile was the smile of a dreaming person.

“No–Mother,” she said, “I haven’t seen Bertrand … to-day.”

“Why, you’re looking right at him now!” protested her exasperated Mother.

With a gentle murmur of dissent, Flame’s Father stepped forward and laid his arm across the young girl’s shoulder. “She–she may be looking at him,” he said. “But I’m almost perfectly sure that she doesn’t … see him.”

“Why, whatever in the world do you mean?” demanded his wife. “Whatever in the world does anybody mean? If there was only another woman here! A mature … sane woman! A—-” With a flare of accusation she turned from Flame to the Master of the House. “This Miss Flora that my daughter spoke of,–where is she? I insist on seeing her! Please summon her instantly!”

Crossing genially to the table the Master of the House reached down and dragged out the Bull Dog by the brindled scuff of her neck. The scratch on her nose was still bleeding slightly. And one eye was closed.

“This is–Miss Flora!” he said.

Indignantly Flame’s Mother glanced at the dog, and then from her daughter’s face to the face of the young man again.

“And you call _that_–a lady?” she demanded.

“N–not technically,” admitted the young man.

For an instant a perfectly tense silence reigned. Then from under a shadowy basket the Cat crept out, shining, sinuous, with extended paw, and began to pat a sprig of holly cautiously along the floor.

Yielding to the reaction Flame bent down suddenly and hugging the Wolf Hound’s head to her breast buried her face in the soft, sweet shagginess.

“Not sanitary, Mother?” she protested. “Why, they’re as sanitary as–as violets!”

As though dreaming he were late to church and had forgotten his vestments, Flame’s Father reached out nervously and draped a great string of ground-pine stole-like about his neck.

“We all,” broke in the Master of the House quite irrelevantly, “seem to have experienced a slight twinge of irritability–the past few minutes. Hunger, I’ve no doubt!… So suppose we all sit down together to this sumptuous–if somewhat chilled repast? After the soup certainly, even after very cold soup, all explanations I’m sure will be–cheerfully and satisfactorily exchanged. Miss–Flame I know has a most amusing story to tell and–“

“Oh, yes!” rallied Flame. “And it’s almost all about being blindfolded and sending poor Mr. Lorello–“

“So if by any chance, Mr.–Mr. Bertrand,” interrupted the Master of the House a bit abruptly, “you happen to have the carving knife and fork still on your person … I thought I saw a white string hanging–“

“I have!” said the Lay Reader with his first real grin.

With great formality the Master of the House drew back a chair and bowed Flame’s Mother to it.

Then suddenly the Red Setter lifted his sensitive nose in the air, and the spotted Dalmatian bristled faintly across the ridge of his back. Through the whole room, it seemed, swept a curious cottony sense of Something-About-to-Happen! Was it that a sound hushed? Or that a hush decided suddenly to be a sound?

With a little sharp catch of her breath Flame dashed to the window, and swung the sash upward! Where once had breathed the drab, dusty smell of frozen grass and mud quickened suddenly a curious metallic dampness like the smell of new pennies.

“Mr. … Delcote!” she called.

In an instant his slender form silhouetted darkly with hers in the open window against the eternal mystery and majesty of a Christmas night.

“And _then_ the snow came!”

[The end]
Eleanor Hallowell Abbott’s short story: Peace on Earth, Good-will to Dogs

The Little Dog Who Couldn’t Sleep

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The Little Dog Who Couldn’t Sleep

Author: Eleanor Hallowell Abbott

It was our Uncle Peter who sent us the little piece of paper.

It was a piece of paper torn out of that part of a newspaper where people tell what they want if they’ve got money enough to pay for it.

This is what it said:

“WANTED a little dog who can’t sleep to be night companion
for a little boy who can’t sleep. Will pay fifty dollars.”

Our Uncle Peter sent it to my Father and told him to give it to us.

“Your children know so many dogs,” he said.

“Not–fifty dollars’ worth,” said my Father. He said it with points in his eyes.

“Oh–I’m not so sure,” said my Mother. She said it with just a little smile in her voice.

It was my Mother who gave us the big sheet of brown paper to make our sign. My brother Carol mixed the paint. I mixed the letters. It was a nice sign. We nailed it on the barn where everybody who went by could see it. It said:

“Carol and Ruthy.
Dealers in Dogs who
Can’t Sleep.”

Nobody dealt with us. We were pretty discouraged.

We asked the Grocer if he had a little dog who couldn’t sleep. We asked the Postman. We asked the Butcher. They hadn’t.

We asked the old whiskery man who came every Spring to buy old bottles and papers. HE HAD!

He brought the dog on a dungeon chain. He said if we’d give him fifty cents for the dungeon chain we could have the dog for nothing.

It seemed like a very good bargain.

Our Father lent us the fifty cents.

He was a nice dog. We named him Tiger Lily. His hair was red and smooth as Sunday all except his paws and ears. His paws and ears were sort of rumpled. His eyes were gold and very sweet like keepsakes you must never spend. He had a sad tail. He was a setter dog. He was meant to hunt. But he couldn’t hunt because he was so shy. It was guns that he was so shy about.

Our Mother invited us to wash him. He washed very nicely.

We wrote our triumph to our Uncle Peter and asked him to send us the fifty dollars.

Our Uncle Peter came instead in an automobile and took Tiger Lily and Carol and me to the city.

“Of course he isn’t exactly a ‘little dog,'” we admitted. “But at least he’s a dog! And at least he ‘can’t sleep’!”

“Well–I wonder,” said our Uncle Peter. He seemed very pleased to wonder about it. He twisted his head on one side and looked at Tiger Lily. “What do you mean,–‘doesn’t sleep’?” he said.

Because my brother Carol is dumb and never talks I always have to do the explaining. It was easy to explain about Tiger Lily.

“Why when you’re in bed and fast asleep,” I explained, “he comes and puts his nose in your neck! It feels wet! It’s full of sighs and a cool breeze! It makes you jump and want your Mother!–All the rest of the time at night he’s roaming! And prowling! And s’ploring!–Up the front stairs and down the back–and up the front and down the back!–Every window he comes to he stops and listens! And listens!–His toe-nails have never been cut!–It sounds lonely!”

“What does he seem to be listening for?” said our Uncle Peter.

“Listening for gun-bangs,” I explained.

“O–h,” said our Uncle Peter.

The city was full of noises like gun-bangs. It made Tiger Lily very nervous. He tried to get under everything. It took us most all the afternoon to get him out.

The little boy’s name was Dicky. He wasn’t at home. “Come again,” said the man at the door. We came again about eight o’clock at night. It seemed as late as Christmas Eve and sort of lonely without our Parents or any other presents. We had to climb a lot of stairs. It made Tiger Lily puff a little and look very glad. It made our Uncle Peter puff some too. It made the little boy’s Mother puff a good deal. There wasn’t any Father. The Mother was all in black about it. Her clothes looked very sorrowful. But her face was just sort of surprised. She had white hands. She carried them all curved up like pond-lilies. She was pretty. Even if you’d never seen her but once in a train window you’d always have remembered.

The little boy’s room was very large and full of lights. There were tinkly glass things hanging everywhere. There was a music-box playing. There was a tin railroad train running round and round the room all by itself making a bangy noise. There was a wound-up bird in a toy cage crying “Hi! Hi!” There was a crackling fire. Everything was tinkling or playing or singing or banging or crackling. It sounded busy. You had to talk very loud to make any one hear you.

The little boy sat on top of a table in a big bay window looking out at the night. His knees were all cuddled up into the curve of his arms. He had on a little red wrapper and bare legs and fur slippers. He was lots littler than us. He looked cunning.

We stamped our feet on the rug.

“Here’s your dog!” I said.

When the little boy saw Tiger Lilly he jumped right down from the table and screamed. It was with joy that he screamed. He threw his arms right around Tiger Lily’s neck and screamed all over again. Tiger Lily liked it very much.

“What makes his paws so fluffy?” he screamed. “How soft his face is! He’s got sweet eyes! He’s got a sad tail! What’s his name? Where did you get him? Is he for me? Do I have to pay money for him? What does he eat? Will he drink coffee?” Just as though he was mad about something he began suddenly to jump up and down and cry tears. “Why doesn’t somebody answer me?” he screamed. “Why doesn’t somebody tell me?”

He got so excited about it that he hit Carol on the nose and blooded him quite a good deal.

The little boy’s mother came running.

“Oh hush–hush, Dicky!” she cried. “Don’t be in such a hurry! The boy will tell you all about it in time! Give him time I say! Give him time!”

“No he won’t,” I explained. “My brother Carol never tells anything. He can’t.”

“He’s–dumb,” said our Uncle Peter.

The Lady looked sort of queer.

“Oh dear–Oh dear–Oh dear,” she said. “What a misfortune!”

Our Uncle Peter sort of sniffed his expression.

“Misfortune?” he said. “I call it the greatest blessing in the world!” He glared at little Dicky. “Yes the greatest blessing in the world!” he said. “A child who doesn’t babble or fuss!–Or SCREAM!”

The Lady looked more and more surprised. She turned to the little boy.

“‘Dumb,’ Dicky,” she said. “You understand? Doesn’t speak?”

Dicky looked at his Mother. He looked at Carol. A little pucker came and blacked itself between his eyebrows. As though to toss the pucker away he tossed back his whole head and ran to Tiger Lily and threw his arms around Tiger Lily’s neck.

“Doesn’t—-EVER?” he said.

“Doesn’t ever–what?” said our Uncle Peter.

“Sleep?” said Dicky.

“It was the boy we were talking about,” laughed his Mother. “Not the doggie.” She tried to put her arms around him.

He wiggled right out of them and ran back to Tiger Lily.

“Is it his adenoids?” he cried. “Have you had his eyes tested? How do you know but what it’s his teeth?”

“Whose teeth?” frowned our Uncle Peter.

“Tiger Lily’s!” cried Dicky.

His Mother made a sorry sound in her throat.

“Poor Dicky,” she said. “He’s had most everything done to him!–Tonsils,–spine,–eyes,–ears,–teeth!–Why the last Doctor I saw was almost positive that the Insomnia was due entirely to–” In the very middle of what it was due to she turned to our Uncle Peter. Her voice got very private. Our Uncle Peter had to stoop his head to hear it. He had a proud head. It didn’t stoop very easily.

“He isn’t my own little boy,” she whispered.

As though his ears were magic the little boy looked up and grinned. His eyes looked naughty.

“Nobody’s own little boy,” he said. “Nobody’s own little boy!” As though it was a song without any tune he began to sing it. “Nobody’s–Nobody’s own little boy!”

The Lady tried to stop him. He struck at her with his feet. It made a hurt on her arm. He snatched Tiger Lily by the collar and started for the door.

“Going to find Cook and get a bone!” he said. He said it like a boast. He slammed the door behind him. It made a rude noise. He came running back and looked a little sorry, but mostly bashful. He pointed at Tiger Lily. “What–What’s HE afraid of?” he said.

“Noises,” I explained.

“Noises?” cried the little boy. He cried it with a sort of a hoot. It sounded scornful.

“Oh pshaw!” he said. “There isn’t a noise in the world that I’m afraid of! Not thunder! Not guns! Not ANYTHING! Noises are my friends! In the night I take torpedoes and crack ’em on the hearth just to hear them sputter! I’ve got three tin pans tied on a string! I’ve got a pop-gun!”

He ran back to the table to get the gun. It was a nice gun. It was painted bright blue. It looked loud.

When Tiger Lily saw it he dove under the bed. It was hard to get him out. The little boy looked very astonished.

“It’s gun-bangs–specially–that Tiger Lily is afraid of,” I explained.

“Gun-bangs?” said the little boy.

“That’s why he can’t ever hunt,” I explained.

“Hunt?” said the little boy. “Not–ever you mean?” He looked at Tiger Lily. He looked at the blue pop-gun. “Not ever? Ever? Ever?” Way down in his little fur slippers it was as though a little sigh started and shivered itself up-up-up–up till it reached his smile. It made his smile sort of wobbly. “Oh all right!” he said and ran away as fast as he could to hide the blue pop-gun in the bottom of the closet. A velocipede he piled on top of it and two pillows and a Noah’s Ark and a stuffed squirrel. When the piling was all done he looked back at our Uncle Peter. It was across one shoulder that he looked back. It made his little smile look twisty as well as wobbly. One of his eyebrows had crooked itself. “It’s–It’s SILENCES that I’m afraid of,” he said.

He grabbed Tiger Lily by the collar again and started for the door. As though he was playing a Game he reached out one finger and tagged everybody as he passed them. Everybody except Carol. When he started to tag Carol he snatched back his finger and screamed instead. “He’s a Silence!” he screamed. “He’s a Silence!” Still holding tight to Tiger Lily’s collar he ran for the stairs.

Flop-Flop-Flop his little fur slippers thudded on the hard wood floor. Tick-Tick-Tick Lily’s toe-nails clicked along beside him. It sounded cool. And slippery.

His Mother wrung her hands. It seemed to be with despair that she wrung them.

“Yes that’s just it,” she despaired. “It’s ‘Silences’ that he’s afraid of! That’s what keeps him awake all night banging at things! That’s what worries him so!”

“But he gave up the noisy pop-gun,” said our Uncle Peter. “Gave it up of his own accord when he saw that it frightened the dog.”

“Why so he did!” said the Mother. She seemed very much surprised. “Why so he did!–Why I don’t know that I ever knew him to give up anything before. He’s been so delicate–and–and the only child and everything–I’m afraid we’ve spoiled him.”

“U–m–m,” said our Uncle Peter.

“And all the circumstances of the case are so bewildering,” despaired the lady.

Like white pond-lilies floating in a black gloom her sad hands curled in her lap. It seemed to be at our Uncle Peter that they curled.

“Are they indeed?” said our Uncle Peter. It was the “circumstances” that he meant.

“Very bewildering,” said the Lady. Her cheeks got a little pink. She jumped up and went to the door and listened a minute at the head of the stairs. When she came back to her chair she shut the door behind her.

“As I told you,” she whispered, “the little boy isn’t my own little boy.”

“So I understood,” said our Uncle Peter.

“His Mother died when he was born,” said the Lady.

“Very sad indeed,” said our Uncle Peter.

“Dicky is six years old,” said the Lady. “I married his Father a year and a half ago. His Father was killed in an accident a year ago–“

“Oh dear–Oh dear,” said our Uncle Peter.

The Lady began all over again as though it was a lesson.

“Dicky is six years old,” she said. “I married his Father a year and a half ago. He was killed in an accident a year ago. It was all so sudden,–the marriage,–the accident,–everything–!” She began to cry a little. It made her clothes look sorrowfuller and sorrowfuller and her face more and more surprised. Once again she curled up her white pond-lily hands at our Uncle Peter. It was as though she thought that our Uncle Peter could help her perhaps with some of her surprises. “I–I didn’t know his Father very long,” she cried. “I never knew his Mother at all!—-It’s–It’s pretty bewildering,” she said, “to be left all alone–for life–with a perfectly, strange little boy–who isn’t any relation at all!–All his funny little suits to worry about–and his mumps and his measles–and–and whether he ought to play marbles ‘for keeps’–and shall I send him to college or not? And suppose he turns out a burglar or something dreadful like that?–And how in the world am I going to tackle his first love affair? Or his choice of a profession?–Merciful Heavens!–Perhaps he’ll want to fly!”

“Why–you’re just like a Hen,” said our Uncle Peter.

The Lady didn’t like to be called a Hen.

It ruffled her all up.

Our Uncle Peter had to talk about Base Ball to soothe her.

The Lady didn’t know anything about Base Ball but it seemed to soothe her considerably to hear about it.

When our Uncle Peter was all through soothing her she looked up as pleasant as pleasant could be.

“WHY?” she said.

“Why–what?” said our Uncle Peter. He seemed a little perplexed.

“Why–am I like a Hen?” said the Lady.

“O–h,” said our Uncle Peter. He acted very much relieved. “O–h,” he said. “I was afraid it was something you were going to ask me about Base Ball. But a Hen—-?” He looked with smiles at the Lady. “Oh but a Hen–?–Why even a Hen, my dear Madam,” he smiled, “a real professional true-enough hen doesn’t take any too easily to the actual chick itself until she’s served a certain sit-tightly, go-lightly, egg-shell sort of apprenticeship as it were to the IDEA.–Thrust a bunch of chicks under her before she’s served this apprenticeship and—-“

I jumped up and down and clapped my hands. I just couldn’t help it.

“Oh, I know what happens!” I cried. “She sits too heavy! And squashes ’em perfectly flat!–There was a hen,” I cried. “Her name was Lizzie! She was a good hen! But childless! The Grocer gave us some day-old chicks to put under her! But when we went out to the nest the next morning to see ’em–they couldn’t have been flatter if they’d been pressed in the Bible!–My Brother Carol cried,–I cried,–my Mother—-“

“I don’t care at all who cried,” said the Lady. It was true. She didn’t. All she cared was to look at our Uncle Peter. The look was a stern look.

“And are you trying to imply, Mr.–Mr.–?”

“Merredith,” said our Uncle Peter. “Percival Merredith.–‘Uncle Peter’ for short.”

“Mr. Merredith,” repeated the Lady coldly. “Are you trying to imply that my—-step-son looks as though he had been pressed in a–a–Bible?”

I shook in my boots. Carol shook in his boots. You could hear us.

Our Uncle Peter never shook a bit. He just twinkled.

“Well–hardly,” he said.

The Lady looked pretty surprised. When she wasn’t looking surprised she looked thoughtful.

Her voice sounded little when she got it started again.

“Maybe–Maybe I DO take my responsibilities too heavily,” she said. “But it’s this–this sleeping business that worries me so.”

“I should think it would,” said our Uncle Peter.

“No Nurse Maid will stay with me,” said the Lady. “They say it gives them the creeps.–It’s enough to give anyone the creeps.–A grown person of course expects a certain amount of wakefulness, but a child,–a little care-free–heedless child–? Just when you think you’ve got him safely to sleep–all cuddled up in your own bed or even in his own bed–and are just drowsing off into the first real sleep you’ve had for a week–?–Patter–Patter–Patter in the hall! Creak–Creak–Creak on the stairs! A chair bumped over in the Library!–Bumped over on purpose you understand! Just to make a noise! ‘Noises are his friends,’ he says. Why once–once–” The Lady’s mouth smiled a little. “Once when I woke and missed him and hunted everywhere–I found him at last in the Pantry–on the floor–with his ear cuddled close up to a mouse-hole! Mouse-Nibble Noises he says are his special friends in the middle of the night when there isn’t anything else.–ANYTHING to break the silence it seems to be!–Why in the world should he be afraid of a Silence? Nobody can account for it!”

“Possibly not,” said our Uncle Peter. “Yet the fact remains that either within or just outside the borders of his consciousness the only two people responsible for his Being have disappeared unaccountably into a Silence—-from which they have not returned.”

“Oh dear,” said the Lady. “I never thought of that! You mean–You mean–that perhaps he thinks that a Silence is a Hole that you might fall into if you don’t fill it up with a Noise? Why the poor little fellow!–How in the world is one ever to tell?–Oh dear–Oh dear—-” She sank back in her chair and floated her hands in her lap. Her eyes looked as though she was going to cry again. But she didn’t cry. That is, not much. Mostly she just sighed. “It isn’t as though he was an easy child to understand,” she sighed. “He catches cold so easily, and mumps and everything.–And he’s so irritable.–He kicks,–he bites,–he scratches!”

“So I have seen demonstrated,” said our Uncle Peter.

“Oh, it’s quite evident,” cried the Lady, “that you think I’m harsh with him!–But whatever in the world would YOU do?” She threw out her hands toward the pretty room,–the rugs,–the pictures,–the fire,–the toys. “Perhaps you can tell me what he NEEDS?” she said.

“A good spanking,” said our Uncle Peter.

The Lady gave a little gasp.

“Oh, not for punishment,” said our Uncle Peter. “But just for exercise.–It’s the only exercise that a lot of pampered, sedentary children ever get!”

“P–Pampered?” gasped the Lady. “S–Sed–entary?” As though her head was bursting with the noises all around the room she clapped her hands over her ears.

Our Uncle Peter jumped up from his chair and began to chase the little tin railroad train. It looked funny to see so large a man running after so small a train. When he caught it it was having a railroad accident in the tunnel under the table where a book had fallen on the track. Like a beetle with no paint on its stomach he left it lying on its back with its little wheels kicking in the air.

“If only all the racket was as easily disposed of!” said the Lady.

“It IS!” said our Uncle Peter.

Like turning off faucets of water he turned off the noises one by one,–the window-breeze that made the glass dangles tinkle,–the funny jiggly spring that kept the toy bird screaming “Hi-Hi” in its wicker cake,–the music box that tooted horns and beat drums right in the middle of its best tunes! He looked like a giant stalking through the Noah’s Ark animals! His foot was longer than the village store!

“If only I figured as largely in a less miniature world!” he said.

He looked at the Lady very hard when he said it as though he was saying something very important.

The Lady didn’t seem to consider it important at all. She looked at her skirts instead and smoothed them very tidily.

“It’s a–It’s a pleasant day–isn’t it?” said our Uncle Peter.

“V–very,” said the Lady. Quite suddenly she looked up at him. Her cheeks were pink. She seemed to want to speak but didn’t know quite how. She looked more surprised than ever. She bent forward very suddenly and stared and stared at him.

“Why–Why you’re the gentleman,” she said, “who was in the Fruit Store the day I bought the Alligator pears and dropped my pocket-book down behind the trash-barrel?”

“Also the day you bought the Red Mackintosh Apples,” said our Uncle Peter. “The Grocer cheated you outrageously on them.–Also the day you wore the bunch of white violets and pricked your finger so brutally,–also the day on the ferry when there was a slight collision with a tug-boat and I had the privilege of–of—-.”

The Lady looked very haughty.

“It was the day of the Alligator Pears–that I referred to,” she said. “The only day in my recollection!” Very positively she said it,–“the only day in my recollection.” But all the time that she said it her cheeks got pinker and pinker. It was when she looked in the glass and saw how mistaken her positiveness looked that her cheeks got so pink. Tap–Tap–Tap her foot stamped on the rug. “Did–Did you know who it was going to be—-when you brought the dog?” she said. “That is,–did you know when you first saw the advertisement in the paper.” Her white forehead got all black and frowny. “How in the world did you know–my name?” she said.

Our Uncle Peter made an expression on his face. It was the expression that our Mother calls his “Third-Helping-of-Apple-Pie Expression,”–bold and unashamed.

“I asked the Grocer,” he said.

“It was a–a great liberty,” said the Lady.

“Was it?” said our Uncle Peter. He didn’t seem as sorry as you’d have expected.

The Lady looked at Carol. The Lady looked at me.

“How many children have you?” she said.

“None of my own,” said our Uncle Peter. “But three of my brother Philip’s,–Carol and Ruthy as here observed, and Rosalee aet. eighteen who is at present in Cuba engaging herself to be married.”

“O–h,” said the Lady.

“I am in short,” said our Uncle Peter, “that object of Romance and Pity popularly known as a ‘Bachelor Uncle.'”

“O–h,” said the Lady. She seemed more relieved than you’d have supposed.

“But in my own case, of course–” said our Uncle Peter.

In the very midst of his own case he stopped right off short to look all around the room again as though he was counting how heavy the toys were and how heavy the money was that had bought the toys. All the twinkle came back to his eyes.

“But in my own case,” he said, “I’ve always known ahead–of course–for a very long time–that I was going to have ’em.–Learned to sit lightly on the idea,–re-balance my prejudices,–re-adjust my–“

“Have–what?” gasped the Lady.

“Nephews and nieces,” said our Uncle Peter.

“O–h,” said the Lady.

“Had their names all selected I mean,” explained our Uncle Peter. “Their virtues, their vices, their avocations, all decided upon.—-Ruthy of course might have done with less freckles, and Carol here doesn’t quite come up to specifications yet concerning muscle and brawn–and it was never my original intention of course that any young whipper-snapper niece of mine should engage herself to the first boy she fell in love with.–But taken all in all,–all in all I say–“

“I think,” frowned the Lady, “you are perfectly—-absurd.”

The word “absurd” didn’t seem to be at all the word she meant to say. She tried to bite it back but got it all mixed up with a little giggle. She bit the giggle instead. It twisted her mouth like a bitter taste.

Our Uncle Peter looked very sympathetic.

“You ought to get away somewhere on a journey,” he said. “There’s nothing like it as a tonic for the mind. Even if it’s a place you don’t like very much it clarifies the vision so,–dissipates all one’s minor worries.”

“–Minor worries?” said the Lady.

“Travel! Yes that’s the thing!” said our Uncle Peter quite positively. All in a minute he seemed to rustle with time tables and maps and smell of cinders and railroad tickets. “Now there’s Bermuda for instance!” he suggested. “Just a month of blue waters and white sand would put the roses back in your cheeks.–And Dicky–“

“Impossible,” said the Lady.

“Or if Bermuda’s too far,” insisted our Uncle Peter. “What about Atlantic City? Think how Dicky would enjoy romping on the board walk–while you followed more sedately of course in a luxurious wheel chair!–The most diverting place in the world!–Yes quite surely you must go to Atlantic City!”

The Lady made a little gasp as though her Patience was bursted.

“You don’t seem to understand,” she said. “I tell you it’s quite impossible!”

“W-H-Y?” said our Uncle Peter. He said it sharply like a Teacher. It HAD to be answered.

The Lady looked up. She looked down. She looked sideways. She wrung her hands in her lap. Her face got sort of white.

“It isn’t very kind of you,” she said, “to force me so to a confession of poverty.”

“‘Poverty’?” laughed our Uncle Peter. He looked around at the furniture,–at the toys,–at the pictures. It was at most everything that he looked around. He seemed to be very cheerful about it.

The Lady didn’t like his cheerfulness.

“Oh I’ve always had a little for myself,” she explained. “Enough for one person to live very simply on. But NOW—-? With this strange little boy on my hands,–I–I intend to go to work!”

“Go to—-work?” said our Uncle Peter. “WORK?” He said it with a sort of a hoot. “Work? Work? Why, what in the world could YOU do?”

“I can crochet,” said the Lady proudly. “And embroider. I can mend. I can play the piano. And really you know I can make the most beautiful pies.”

“Apple pies,” said our Uncle Peter.

“Apple pies,” said the Lady. Like a handful of black tissue paper she crumpled up suddenly in her chair. Her shoulders shook and shook. The sound she made was like a sob going down and a laugh coming up. “I’m not crying,” she said, “because it’s so hard–but b–because the idea is so f–funny.”

“F–F–Funny?” said our Uncle Peter. “It’s preposterous! It’s gro–tesque! It’s–it’s fantastic!”

He began to walk very fast from the book-case to the window and from the window back to the book-case again. It wasn’t till he’d stubbed his toe twice on a toy Ferris Wheel that the twinkle came back to his eyes.

“Carol!” he said. “Ruthy!–In consideration of the reduced circumstances in which this very pleasant Lady finds herself don’t you think that you could afford to offer her a reduced price on the dog,–your original profit on the deal being as noted $49.50?”

The Lady jumped to her feet.

“Oh no–no–no!” she said. “Not for a moment! Fifty dollars is what I offered! And fifty dollars it shall be! All dogs I’m sure are worth fifty dollars. Especially if they don’t sleep! Why all the other dogs that people brought me did nothing except sleep! On my sofas! In my chairs! Under my tables! Night or day you couldn’t drop even so much as a handkerchief on the floor that one or the other of them didn’t camp right down and go to sleep on it! Oh, no–no–no,” protested the Lady, “whatever my faults, a bargain is a bargain and—-“

“Whatever your faults, my dear Madam,” said our Uncle Peter, “they are essentially feminine and therefore enchanting! It is only when ladies ape the faults of men that men resent the same!–Your extravagant indulgency–” he bowed towards the toys–“your absolute innocence of all business guile–” he bowed towards Tiger Lily–“nerves strung so exquisitely that the slightest–the slightest–“

The Lady shivered her clothes like a black frost.

“It was advice that I was looking for, not compliments,” she said.

“Oh ho!” said Uncle Peter. “I’m infinitely more adept with advice than I am with compliments!”

The Lady looked a little bit surprised. She frowned.

“It’s my little boy that I want advice about,” she said. “What IS the best thing I can do for him?”

Our Uncle Peter looked at the ceiling. He looked at the rug. He looked at the pictures on the wall. But it seemed to satisfy him most to look at the Lady’s face.

“U–m–m,” he said. “U–m–mmmm.–That isn’t an easy question to answer unless you’re willing first to answer a question of mine.”

“Ask any question you want to,” said the Lady.

“U–m–m,” said our Uncle Peter all over again. “U–m–m–Um–m–m–U–m–m. It takes a great deal of patience,” said our Uncle Peter, “to bring up a little boy.–Unless every time he’s naughty you can say to yourself ‘Well, even so–think what a good man his Father grew to be!’—-Or every time he’s good you’re fair enough to admit that ‘Even his naughty Father was once as nice as this!'”—-All the twinkle went suddenly out of our Uncle Peter’s eyes. It left them looking narrow. He made a quick glance at Carol. He made a quick glance at me. He seemed very pleased that we were so busy looking at a map of Bermuda. He stepped a little nearer to the Lady. His voice sounded funny. “Were you–were you very fond of the little boy’s Father?” he said.

The Lady’s face went blazing like a flame out of her black clothes. It was like a white flame that it went blazing. Her eyes looked screaming.

“How dare you?” she said. “You have no business!–What if I was?–What if I wasn’t?” All the scream in her eyes fell down her throat into a whisper. “Suppose–Suppose–I–WASN’T?” she whispered.

“Then indeed I CAN give you advice,” said our Uncle Peter.

The Lady reached out a hand to the book-case to make herself more steady.

“What–what is it?” she said.

Our Uncle Peter looked funnier and funnier. It wasn’t like Christmas that he looked. Nor Fourth of July. Nor even like when we’ve got the mumps or the measles. It was like Easter Sunday that he looked! There was no twinkle in it. Nor any smoke. Nor even paper dolls. But just SHININGNESS! His voice was all SHININGNESS too!–If it hadn’t been you never could have heard it ’cause he made his words so little.

“It’s almost a year now,” he said, “since our eyes first met.–You’ve tried your best to hide from me–but you couldn’t do it.–Fate had other ideas in mind.–A chance encounter on the street,–that day on the ferry boat,–your funny little dog-advertisement in the paper?”

Quite suddenly our Uncle Peter straightened up like a soldier and spoke right out loud again.

“About your little boy,” he said, “my advice about your little boy?–It being indeed so well-nigh impossible, Madam, for a woman to bring up a little boy very successfully unless–she did love his Father,–my advice to you is that without the slightest unnecessary delay you proceed to get him a Father whom you COULD love!”

Whereupon, as people always say in books, our Uncle Peter turned upon his heel and started for the door.

The Lady swooned into her chair.

Our Uncle Peter had to get a glass of water to un-swoon her.

I ran for a fan. It bursted my garter. When our Uncle Peter tried to mend it he swore instead.

The Lady came out of her swoon without an instant’s hesitation.

“Here at least,” she said, “is something that I know enough to do.”

Her mouth was full of scorn and pins. It was with pins that she knew enough to do it.

Our Uncle Peter looked very humble.

The Lady patted my knees.

“Little girls are so much easier to manage than little boys,” she said. “I don’t seem to understand little boys.”

“Nor big boys either!” said our Uncle Peter. He said it with gruffness. It sounded cross.

“Perhaps I–don’t want to understand them,” said the Lady.

Our Uncle Peter’s cheeks got sort of red.

“Suit yourself, my dear Madam,” he said and started for the door. He picked up my hat and put it on Carol’s head.–Carol’s head looked pretty astonished. He took Carol’s cap and put it on my head. He handed us our coats upside down.–All our pennies and treasures fell out on the floor. He snatched up the little boy’s gloves by mistake and thrust them into his own pockets.

The Lady collected everything again and re-distributed them. She seemed to think it was funny. Not very funny but just a little. She looked at Carol sort of specially.

“Oh my dear Child,” she said. “I hope you didn’t mind because Dicky called you a ‘Silence’?”

Carol did mind. He minded very much. I could tell by the way he carried his ears. They looked very stately. Our Uncle Peter whirled round in the door-way. His ears looked pretty stately too.

“All the men in our family,” he said, “aim to meet the exigencies of life–sensibly.”

The Lady seemed to consider the fact quite a long time before she smiled again.

“Oh very well,” she said. “If the Uncle really is as sensible as the nephew perhaps he will consent to leave the children here with me to-night–instead of bearing them off to the confusion and general mis-button-ness of hotels.”

Our Uncle Peter’s face fairly burst into relief.

“Oh, do you really mean that?” he cried. “It IS their infernal buttons that makes most of the worry!–And their prayers?–What IS the difference anyway between a morning and an evening prayer?–And this awful responsibility about cereals? And how in the world do you make sure about their necks?”

“Oh those are the things I know perfectly,” said the Lady. “All the nice gentle in-door things.”

Our Uncle Peter began to strut again.

“Oh pshaw!” he said. “It’s only the outdoor things that are really important,–how to climb mountains, how to stop a runaway horse,–how to smother a grass fire!”

It put the Lady all in a flutter.

“Oh pshaw!” said our Uncle Peter. “That’s nothing!–The very first instant you hear the maddened hoofs on the pavement you place yourself thus! And THUS!–And—-“

The Lady tried to explain to him the difference between a morning and an evening prayer. “Now at night, of course,” she explained, “everything is so very lonely that–“

Our Uncle Peter didn’t seem to care at all how lonely it was.

“The instant you see the horses’s blood-red nostrils,–JUMP!” cried our Uncle Peter.

It sounded pretty muddled to me.

“Personally,” insisted the Lady, “I consider a rather soft sponge best for the neck.”

“So that with your hands clutched like a vise on either side of the mouth,” cried our Uncle Peter, “you can saw up and down with all the violence at your command! Now in fighting a grass fire, it’s craft, not might, that you need. In that case of course–“

“Two hours if you’re using a double boiler,” explained the Lady, “but many people consider a rapider action more digestible, I suppose.”

“My dear Lady—-let me finish my explanation!” said our Uncle Peter.

“But I want to finish mine!” said the Lady.

Our legs got pretty tired waiting for all the explanations to get un-mixed up again.

It was nine o’clock before the Lady gave our Uncle Peter a cup of hot chocolate and turned him out doors.

“Just like a dog,” said our Uncle Peter. We heard him say it across his shoulder as he went down the steps.

It made the Lady laugh a little.

It was warm milk in two great blue bowls that she gave us. “Just like kittens,” we thought it was!

We heard the little boy’s feet come thud-thud-thudding up the stairs. We heard Tiger Lily’s toe-nails click-click-click along behind him.

The little boy looked very full of chicken and joyfulness. So did Tiger Lily.

“Cook says I’ve got to romp him!” he said. “Every day!–Twice every day!–More’n a hundred times some days! Out doors too! Not just in parks,–parks are good enough for cats,–but in real fields! Else he’ll DIE!” Almost as though he was frightened he stooped down suddenly and laid his little ear on Tiger Lily’s soft breast. “He’s alive now!” he boasted. “You can hear his heart nibbling!” He threw back his little head and laughed and laughed and clapped his hands. He took Tiger Lily by the collar and led him over to the table by the window. He climbed up on the table and pulled Tiger Lily after him.

Tiger Lily was frightened, but not too much. He felt proud. His ears looked fluffy. His back was shining silk. His tail hung down across the edge of the table like a plume.

Far off in the city streets somewhere there was a noise that trolly cars make when they’re climbing up a hill and the switch is too hard for them. It was a sour sound.

Tiger Lily started to make a little quiver in his back. The little boy threw his arm around him. A mouse nibbled in the wall. Tiger Lily cocked his head to listen but kissed the little boy’s cheek instead. It was a nice kiss. But wet. The little boy laughed right out loud. Way down on the very tip end of Tiger Lily’s plumey tail about two hairs wagged. When the little boy saw it his face went all shining. He threw both arms around Tiger Lily’s neck. “T–Tiger Lily’s–little boy!” he said. “T–T–” Something funny happened to his mouth. It was a teeny-weeny yawn that didn’t seem to know just what to do about it. Nothing in all the world felt lonely any more.

Except me.

The Lady put me to bed.

Carol put himself to bed all except the knots in his shoestrings.

We went to sleep.

Pretty soon it was morning. And we went home.

Our Uncle Peter changed a lot of our dog-money into nickles so it would jingle. We sounded like cow-bells. It felt rich. Our Uncle Peter held us very tight by the hands all the way. He said he was afraid we might step into something wet and sink.

It had been Wednesday when we went away. It was only Thursday when we got home. It seemed later than that.

Our Mother was very glad to see us. So was our Father.

The Tame Crow flew down out of the Maple Tree and sat on Carol’s head.

Our Tame Coon came out of the hole under the piazza and sniffed at our heels.

The posie bed in front of the house was blue with violets. The white Spirea bush foamed like a wave against the wood-shed window.

In spite of our absence nothing seemed changed.

We gave our Father a dollar of our money to buy some Tulips. We gave our Mother a dollar to spend any way she wanted to. We put the rest of it in a book. It was a Savings Bank Book that we put it into.

“For your old age,” our Father said.

Our Father’s eyes had twinkles in them.

“I hope you’ve thanked your Uncle Peter properly!” he said.

“For what?” said our Uncle Peter.

Our Father jingled the twenty nickles in his hand. “For all favors,” he said.

Our Uncle Peter said he was perfectly repaid. He made a frown at my Father.

When bed-time came I climbed up into my Mother’s lap and told her all about it,–the house,–the cocoa,–the toy Ferris Wheel,–the blue daisies on the stair carpet,–the pigeon that lit on my window-sill in the morning,–the splashy way Tiger Lily lapped his milk.

“It will be interesting,” said my Mother, “to see what we hear from Tiger Lily as Time goes on.”

Time went on pretty quickly. Pansies happened and yellow poppies and ducks and two kittens and August.

It wasn’t till almost Autumn that we ever heard from Tiger Lily or the little boy again.

When the letter came it was from the little boy. But it was the Lady who wrote it.

We thought her writing would be all black and sorrowful. But it was violet-colored instead, with all the ends of her letters quirked up with surprise like her face, only prancier.

“My dear little friends,” wrote the Lady, “Dicky wishes me
to tell you how much we enjoyed your delightful visit, and
to say that Tiger Lily is a sweet dog. He thinks you are
mistaken about Tiger Lily not hunting. Tiger Lily hunts very
well he says,–‘only different.’ It’s mice, he wants me to
tell you, that Tiger Lily is very fierce about. And bugs of
any sort. All in-door hunting in fact. Certainly our
wood-boxes and our fire-places have been kept absolutely
free of mice this entire season. And Cook says that not a
June Bug has survived. Truly it’s very gratifying. Also
Dicky wants me to tell you that there’s a field. It’s got a
brook in it where you can sail boats and everything. It’s
most a mile. This is all for this time Dicky says.

“With affectionate regards, I am, etc.—-“

Our Mother looked up across the top of the letter. It was at my Father that she looked.

“Poor dear Lady,” she said. “I hope she’s happier now. It’s that Mrs. Harnon, you know. Her marriage was so unfortunate to that dreadful Harnon man.”

“U–m–m,” said my Father.

We read the letter over and over waiting for the next one and wondering about Tiger Lily.

There wasn’t any next one till most Thanksgiving. When it came at last it was Dicky’s letter just the same, but it was written in our Uncle Peter’s handwriting this time. It seemed funny. But perhaps the Lady’s hand was lame and she advertised for help.–Our Uncle Peter reads all the newspapers.

The letter was awful short. And there weren’t any quirks in it or anything. Just ink. This is what it said:

“Mutts:

Tiger Lily’s got nine puppies. We’re sleeping fine.

Dicky.”

Our Mother looked at our Father. Our Father looked at our Mother. They both looked at the letter again.

“My brother Peter’s handwriting just as sure as you’re born!” said my Father.

“Of course it’s Peter’s writing,” said our Mother. Her cheeks were quite pink. “Well of all the unexpected romances–” she said.

“Whose?” I said.

“Tiger Lily’s,” said my Father. He seemed to be in an awful hurry to say it.

I looked at my Mother. Her eyes were shining.

“Is a–Is a ‘Romance’ a something that you make a story out of?” I said.

“Yes it is,” said my Mother.

I thought of my gold pencil.

“Oh, all right,” I said, “when I get tall enough and more spelly I’ll make a little story about it.”

“You already have!” said my Mother.

[The end]
Eleanor Hallowell Abbott’s short story: The Little Dog Who Couldn’t Sleep

The Indiscreet Letter

Standard

The Indiscreet Letter

Author: Eleanor Hallowell Abbott

The Railroad Journey was very long and slow. The Traveling Salesman was rather short and quick. And the Young Electrician who lolled across the car aisle was neither one length nor another, but most inordinately flexible, like a suit of chain armor.

More than being short and quick, the Traveling Salesman was distinctly fat and unmistakably dressy in an ostentatiously new and pure-looking buff-colored suit, and across the top of the shiny black sample-case that spanned his knees he sorted and re-sorted with infinite earnestness a large and varied consignment of “Ladies’ Pink and Blue Ribbed Undervests.” Surely no other man in the whole southward-bound Canadian train could have been at once so ingenuous and so nonchalant.

There was nothing dressy, however, about the Young Electrician. From his huge cowhide boots to the lead smouch that ran from his rough, square chin to the very edge of his astonishingly blond curls, he was one delicious mess of toil and old clothes and smiling, blue-eyed indifference. And every time that he shrugged his shoulders or crossed his knees he jingled and jangled incongruously among his coil-boxes and insulators, like some splendid young Viking of old, half blacked up for a modern minstrel show.

More than being absurdly blond and absurdly messy, the Young Electrician had one of those extraordinarily sweet, extraordinarily vital, strangely mysterious, utterly unexplainable masculine faces that fill your senses with an odd, impersonal disquietude, an itching unrest, like the hazy, teasing reminder of some previous existence in a prehistoric cave, or, more tormenting still, with the tingling, psychic prophecy of some amazing emotional experience yet to come. The sort of face, in fact, that almost inevitably flares up into a woman’s startled vision at the one crucial moment in her life when she is not supposed to be considering alien features.

Out from the servient shoulders of some smooth-tongued Waiter it stares, into the scared dilating pupils of the White Satin Bride with her pledged hand clutching her Bridegroom’s sleeve. Up from the gravelly, pick-and-shovel labor of the new-made grave it lifts its weirdly magnetic eyes to the Widow’s tears. Down from some petted Princeling’s silver-trimmed saddle horse it smiles its electrifying, wistful smile into the Peasant’s sodden weariness. Across the slender white rail of an always _out-going_ steamer it stings back into your gray, land-locked consciousness like the tang of a scarlet spray. And the secret of the face, of course, is “Lure”; but to save your soul you could not decide in any specific case whether the lure is the lure of personality, or the lure of physiognomy–a mere accidental, coincidental, haphazard harmony of forehead and cheek-bone and twittering facial muscles.

Something, indeed, in the peculiar set of the Young Electrician’s jaw warned you quite definitely that if you should ever even so much as hint the small, sentimental word “lure” to him he would most certainly “swat” you on first impulse for a maniac, and on second impulse for a liar–smiling at you all the while in the strange little wrinkly tissue round his eyes.

The voice of the Railroad Journey was a dull, vague, conglomerate, cinder-scented babble of grinding wheels and shuddering window frames; but the voices of the Traveling Salesman and the Young Electrician were shrill, gruff, poignant, inert, eternally variant, after the manner of human voices which are discussing the affairs of the universe.

“Every man,” affirmed the Traveling Salesman sententiously–“every man has written one indiscreet letter during his lifetime!”

“Only one?” scoffed the Young Electrician with startling distinctness above even the loudest roar and rumble of the train.

With a rather faint, rather gaspy chuckle of amusement the Youngish Girl in the seat just behind the Traveling Salesman reached forward then and touched him very gently on the shoulder.

“Oh, please, may I listen?” she asked quite frankly.

With a smile as benevolent as it was surprised, the Traveling Salesman turned half-way around in his seat and eyed her quizzically across the gold rim of his spectacles.

“Why, sure you can listen!” he said.

The Traveling Salesman was no fool. People as well as lisle thread were a specialty of his. Even in his very first smiling estimate of the Youngish Girl’s face, neither vivid blond hair nor luxuriantly ornate furs misled him for an instant. Just as a Preacher’s high waistcoat passes him, like an official badge of dignity and honor, into any conceivable kind of a situation, so also does a woman’s high forehead usher her with delicious impunity into many conversational experiences that would hardly be wise for her lower-browed sister.

With an extra touch of manners the Salesman took off his neat brown derby hat and placed it carefully on the vacant seat in front of him. Then, shifting his sample-case adroitly to suit his new twisted position, he began to stick cruel little prickly price marks through alternate meshes of pink and blue lisle.

“Why, sure you can listen!” he repeated benignly. “Traveling alone’s awful stupid, ain’t it? I reckon you were glad when the busted heating apparatus in the sleeper gave you a chance to come in here and size up a few new faces. Sure you can listen! Though, bless your heart, we weren’t talking about anything so very specially interesting,” he explained conscientiously. “You see, I was merely arguing with my young friend here that if a woman really loves you, she’ll follow you through any kind of blame or disgrace–follow you anywheres, I said–anywheres!”

“Not anywheres,” protested the Young Electrician with a grin. “‘Not up a telegraph pole!'” he requoted sheepishly.

“Y-e-s–I heard that,” acknowledged the Youngish Girl with blithe shamelessness.

“Follow you ‘_anywheres_,’ was what I said,” persisted the Traveling Salesman almost irritably. “Follow you ‘_anywheres_’! Run! Walk! Crawl on her hands and knees if it’s really necessary. And yet–” Like a shaggy brown line drawn across the bottom of a column of figures, his eyebrows narrowed to their final calculation. “And yet–” he estimated cautiously, “and yet–there’s times when I ain’t so almighty sure that her following you is any more specially flattering to you than if you was a burglar. She don’t follow you so much, I reckon, because you _are_ her love as because you’ve _got_ her love. God knows it ain’t just you, yourself, she’s afraid of losing. It’s what she’s already invested in you that’s worrying her! All her pinky-posy, cunning kid-dreams about loving and marrying, maybe; and the pretty-much grown-up winter she fought out the whisky question with you, perhaps; and the summer you had the typhoid, likelier than not; and the spring the youngster was born–oh, sure, the spring the youngster was born! Gee! If by swallowing just one more yarn you tell her, she can only keep on holding down all the old yarns you ever told her–if, by forgiving you just one more forgive-you, she can only hang on, as it were, to the original worth-whileness of the whole darned business–if by–“

“Oh, that’s what you meant by the ‘whole darned business,’ was it?” cried the Youngish Girl suddenly, edging away out to the front of her seat. Along the curve of her cheeks an almost mischievous smile began to quicken. “Oh, yes! I heard that, too!” she confessed cheerfully. “But what was the beginning of it all? The very beginning? What was the first thing you said? What started you talking about it? Oh, please, excuse me for hearing anything at all,” she finished abruptly; “but I’ve been traveling alone now for five dreadful days, all the way down from British Columbia, and–if–you–will–persist–in–saying interesting things–in trains–you must take the consequences!”

There was no possible tinge of patronage or condescension in her voice, but rather, instead, a bumpy, naive sort of friendliness, as lonesome Royalty sliding temporarily down from its throne might reasonably contend with each bump, “A King may look at a cat! He may! He may!”

Along the edge of the Young Electrician’s cheek-bones the red began to flush furiously. He seemed to have a funny little way of blushing just before he spoke, and the physical mannerism gave an absurdly italicized sort of emphasis to even the most trivial thing that he said.

“I guess you’ll have to go ahead and tell her about ‘Rosie,'” he suggested grinningly to the Traveling Salesman.

“Yes! Oh, do tell me about ‘Rosie,'” begged the Youngish Girl with whimsical eagerness. “Who in creation was ‘Rosie’?” she persisted laughingly. “I’ve been utterly mad about ‘Rosie’ for the last half-hour!”

“Why, ‘Rosie’ is nobody at all–probably,” said the Traveling Salesman a trifle wryly.

“Oh, pshaw!” flushed the Young Electrician, crinkling up all the little smile-tissue around his blue eyes. “Oh, pshaw! Go ahead and tell her about ‘Rosie.'”

“Why, I tell you it wasn’t anything so specially interesting,” protested the Traveling Salesman diffidently. “We simply got jollying a bit in the first place about the amount of perfectly senseless, no-account truck that’ll collect in a fellow’s pockets; and then some sort of a scorched piece of paper he had, or something, got him telling me about a nasty, sizzling close call he had to-day with a live wire; and then I got telling him here about a friend of mine–and a mighty good fellow, too–who dropped dead on the street one day last summer with an unaddressed, typewritten letter in his pocket that began ‘Dearest Little Rosie,’ called her a ‘Honey’ and a ‘Dolly Girl’ and a ‘Pink-Fingered Precious,’ made a rather foolish dinner appointment for Thursday in New Haven, and was signed–in the Lord’s own time–at the end of four pages, ‘Yours forever, and then some. TOM.’–Now the wife of the deceased was named–Martha.”

Quite against all intention, the Youngish Girl’s laughter rippled out explosively and caught up the latent amusement in the Young Electrician’s face. Then, just as unexpectedly, she wilted back a little into her seat.

“I don’t call that an ‘indiscreet letter’!” she protested almost resentfully. “You might call it a knavish letter. Or a foolish letter. Because either a knave or a fool surely wrote it! But ‘indiscreet’? U-m-m, No!”

“Well, for heaven’s sake!” said the Traveling Salesman. “If–you–don’t–call–that–an–indiscreet letter, what would you call one?”

“Yes, sure,” gasped the Young Electrician, “what would you call one?” The way his lips mouthed the question gave an almost tragical purport to it.

“What would I call an ‘indiscreet letter’?” mused the Youngish Girl slowly. “Why–why–I think I’d call an ‘indiscreet letter’ a letter that was pretty much–of a gamble perhaps, but a letter that was perfectly, absolutely legitimate for you to send, because it would be your own interests and your own life that you were gambling with, not the happiness of your wife or the honor of your husband. A letter, perhaps, that might be a trifle risky–but a letter, I mean, that is absolutely on the square!”

“But if it’s absolutely ‘on the square,'” protested the Traveling Salesman, worriedly, “then where in creation does the ‘indiscreet’ come in?”

The Youngish Girl’s jaw dropped. “Why, the ‘indiscreet’ part comes in,” she argued, “because you’re not able to prove in advance, you know, that the stakes you’re gambling for are absolutely ‘on the square.’ I don’t know exactly how to express it, but it seems somehow as though only the very little things of Life are offered in open packages–that all the big things come sealed very tight. You can poke them a little and make a guess at the shape, and you can rattle them a little and make a guess at the size, but you can’t ever open them and prove them–until the money is paid down and gone forever from your hands. But goodness me!” she cried, brightening perceptibly; “if you were to put an advertisement in the biggest newspaper in the biggest city in the world, saying: ‘Every person who has ever written an indiscreet letter in his life is hereby invited to attend a mass-meeting’–and if people would really go–you’d see the most distinguished public gathering that you ever saw in your life! Bishops and Judges and Statesmen and Beautiful Society Women and Little Old White-Haired Mothers–everybody, in fact, who had ever had red blood enough at least once in his life to write down in cold black and white the one vital, quivering, questioning fact that happened to mean the most to him at that moment! But your ‘Honey’ and your ‘Dolly Girl’ and your ‘Pink-Fingered Precious’ nonsense! Why, it isn’t real! Why, it doesn’t even _make sense_!”

Again the Youngish Girl’s laughter rang out in light, joyous, utterly superficial appreciation.

Even the serious Traveling Salesman succumbed at last.

“Oh, yes, I know it sounds comic,” he acknowledged wryly. “Sounds like something out of a summer vaudeville show or a cheap Sunday supplement. But I don’t suppose it sounded so specially blamed comic to the widow. I reckon she found it plenty-heap indiscreet enough to suit her. Oh, of course,” he added hastily, “I know, and Martha knows that Thomkins wasn’t at all that kind of a fool. And yet, after all–when you really settle right down to think about it, Thomkins’ name was easily ‘Tommy,’ and Thursday sure enough was his day in New Haven, and it was a yard of red flannel that Martha had asked him to bring home to her–not the scarlet automobile veil that they found in his pocket. But ‘Martha,’ I says, of course, ‘Martha, it sure does beat all how we fellows that travel round so much in cars and trains are always and forever picking up automobile veils–dozens of them, _dozens_–red, blue, pink, yellow–why, I wouldn’t wonder if my wife had as many as thirty-four tucked away in her top bureau drawer!’–‘I wouldn’t wonder,’ says Martha, stooping lower and lower over Thomkins’s blue cotton shirt that she’s trying to cut down into rompers for the baby. ‘And, Martha,’ I says, ‘that letter is just a joke. One of the boys sure put it up on him!’–‘Why, of course,’ says Martha, with her mouth all puckered up crooked, as though a kid had stitched it on the machine. ‘Why, of course! How dared you think–‘”

Forking one bushy eyebrow, the Salesman turned and stared quizzically off into space.

“But all the samey, just between you and I,” he continued judicially, “all the samey, I’ll wager you anything you name that it ain’t just death that’s pulling Martha down day by day, and night by night, limper and lanker and clumsier-footed. Martha’s got a sore thought. That’s what ails her. And God help the crittur with a sore thought! God help anybody who’s got any one single, solitary sick idea that keeps thinking on top of itself, over and over and over, boring into the past, bumping into the future, fussing, fretting, eternally festering. Gee! Compared to it, a tight shoe is easy slippers, and water dropping on your head is perfect peace!–Look close at Martha, I say. Every night when the blowsy old moon shines like courting time, every day when the butcher’s bill comes home as big as a swollen elephant, when the crippled stepson tries to cut his throat again, when the youngest kid sneezes funny like his father–‘WHO WAS ROSIE? WHO WAS ROSIE?'”

“Well, who was Rosie?” persisted the Youngish Girl absent-mindedly.

“Why, Rosie was _nothing_!” snapped the Traveling Salesman; “nothing at all–probably.” Altogether in spite of himself, his voice trailed off into a suspiciously minor key. “But all the same,” he continued more vehemently, “all the same–it’s just that little darned word ‘probably’ that’s making all the mess and bother of it–because, as far as I can reckon, a woman can stand absolutely anything under God’s heaven that she knows; but she just up and can’t stand the littlest, teeniest, no-account sort of thing that she ain’t sure of. Answers may kill ’em dead enough, but it’s questions that eats ’em alive.”

For a long, speculative moment the Salesman’s gold-rimmed eyes went frowning off across the snow-covered landscape. Then he ripped off his glasses and fogged them very gently with his breath.

“Now–I–ain’t–any–saint,” mused the Traveling Salesman meditatively, “and I–ain’t very much to look at, and being on the road ain’t a business that would exactly enhance my valuation in the eyes of a lady who was actually looking out for some safe place to bank her affections; but I’ve never yet reckoned on running with any firm that didn’t keep up to its advertising promises, and if a man’s courtship ain’t his own particular, personal advertising proposition–then I don’t know anything about–_anything_! So if I should croak sudden any time in a railroad accident or a hotel fire or a scrap in a saloon, I ain’t calculating on leaving my wife any very large amount of ‘sore thoughts.’ When a man wants his memory kept green, he don’t mean–gangrene!

“Oh, of course,” the Salesman continued more cheerfully, “a sudden croaking leaves any fellow’s affairs at pretty raw ends–lots of queer, bitter-tasting things that would probably have been all right enough if they’d only had time to get ripe. Lots of things, I haven’t a doubt, that would make my wife kind of mad, but nothing, I’m calculating, that she wouldn’t understand. There’d be no questions coming in from the office, I mean, and no fresh talk from the road that she ain’t got the information on hand to meet. Life insurance ain’t by any means, in my mind, the only kind of protection that a man owes his widow. Provide for her Future–if you can!–That’s my motto!–But a man’s just a plain bum who don’t provide for his own Past! She may have plenty of trouble in the years to come settling her own bills, but she ain’t going to have any worry settling any of mine. I tell you, there’ll be no ladies swelling round in crape at my funeral that my wife don’t know by their first names!”

With a sudden startling guffaw the Traveling Salesman’s mirth rang joyously out above the roar of the car.

“Tell me about your wife,” said the Youngish Girl a little wistfully.

Around the Traveling Salesman’s generous mouth the loud laugh flickered down to a schoolboy’s bashful grin.

“My wife?” he repeated. “Tell you about my wife? Why, there isn’t much to tell. She’s little. And young. And was a school-teacher. And I married her four years ago.”

“And were happy–ever–after,” mused the Youngish Girl teasingly.

“No!” contradicted the Traveling Salesman quite frankly. “No! We didn’t find out how to be happy at all until the last three years!”

Again his laughter rang out through the car.

“Heavens! Look at me!” he said at last. “And then think of her!–Little, young, a school-teacher, too, and taking poetry to read on the train same as you or I would take a newspaper! Gee! What would you expect?” Again his mouth began to twitch a little. “And I thought it was her fault–‘most all of the first year,” he confessed delightedly. “And then, all of a sudden,” he continued eagerly, “all of a sudden, one day, more mischievous-spiteful than anything else, I says to her, ‘We don’t seem to be getting on so very well, do we?’ And she shakes her head kind of slow. ‘No, we don’t!’ she says.–‘Maybe you think I don’t treat you quite right?’ I quizzed, just a bit mad.–‘No, you don’t! That is, not–exactly right,’ she says, and came burrowing her head in my shoulder as cozy as could be.–‘Maybe you could show me how to treat you–righter,’ I says, a little bit pleasanter.–‘I’m perfectly sure I could!’ she says, half laughing and half crying. ‘All you’ll have to do,’ she says, ‘is just to watch me!’–‘Just watch what _you_ do?’ I said, bristling just a bit again.–‘No,’ she says, all pretty and soft-like; ‘all I want you to do is to watch what I _don’t_ do!'”

With slightly nervous fingers the Traveling Salesman reached up and tugged at his necktie as though his collar were choking him suddenly.

“So that’s how I learned my table manners,” he grinned, “and that’s how I learned to quit cussing when I was mad round the house, and that’s how I learned–oh, a great many things–and that’s how I learned–” grinning broader and broader–“that’s how I learned not to come home and talk all the time about the ‘peach’ whom I saw on the train or the street. My wife, you see, she’s got a little scar on her face–it don’t show any, but she’s awful sensitive about it, and ‘Johnny,’ she says, ‘don’t you never notice that I don’t ever rush home and tell _you_ about the wonderful _slim_ fellow who sat next to me at the theater, or the simply elegant _grammar_ that I heard at the lecture? I can recognize a slim fellow when I see him, Johnny,’ she says, ‘and I like nice grammar as well as the next one, but praising ’em to you, dear, don’t seem to me so awfully polite. Bragging about handsome women to a plain wife, Johnny,’ she says, ‘is just about as raw as bragging about rich men to a husband who’s broke.’

“Oh, I tell you a fellow’s a fool,” mused the Traveling Salesman judicially, “a fellow’s a fool when he marries who don’t go to work deliberately to study and understand his wife. Women are awfully understandable if you only go at it right. Why, the only thing that riles them in the whole wide world is the fear that the man they’ve married ain’t quite bright. Why, when I was first married I used to think that my wife was awful snippety about other women. But, Lord! when you point a girl out in the car and say, ‘Well, ain’t that girl got the most gorgeous head of hair you ever saw in your life?’ and your wife says: ‘Yes–Jordan is selling them puffs six for a dollar seventy-five this winter,’ she ain’t intending to be snippety at all. No!–It’s only, I tell you, that it makes a woman feel just plain silly to think that her husband don’t even know as much as she does. Why, Lord! she don’t care how much you praise the grocer’s daughter’s style, or your stenographer’s spelling, as long as you’ll only show that you’re _equally wise_ to the fact that the grocer’s daughter sure has a nasty temper, and that the stenographer’s spelling is mighty near the best thing about her.

“Why, a man will go out and pay every cent he’s got for a good hunting dog–and then snub his wife for being the finest untrained retriever in the world. Yes, sir, that’s what she is–a retriever; faithful, clever, absolutely unscarable, with no other object in life except to track down and fetch to her husband every possible interesting fact in the world that he don’t already know. And then she’s so excited and pleased with what she’s got in her mouth that it ‘most breaks her heart if her man don’t seem to care about it. Now, the secret of training her lies in the fact that she won’t never trouble to hunt out and fetch you any news that she sees you already know. And just as soon as a man once appreciates all this–then Joy is come to the Home!

“Now there’s Ella, for instance,” continued the Traveling Salesman thoughtfully. “Ella’s a traveling man, too. Sells shotguns up through the Aroostook. Yes, shotguns! Funny, ain’t it, and me selling undervests? Ella’s an awful smart girl. Good as gold. But cheeky? Oh, my!–Well, once I would have brought her down to the house for Sunday, and advertised her as a ‘peach,’ and a ‘dandy good fellow,’ and praised her eyes, and bragged about her cleverness, and generally done my best to smooth over all her little deficiencies with as much palaver as I could. And that little retriever of mine would have gone straight to work and ferreted out every single, solitary, uncomplimentary thing about Ella that she could find, and ‘a’ fetched ’em to me as pleased and proud as a puppy, expecting, for all the world, to be petted and patted for her astonishing shrewdness. And there would sure have been gloom in the Sabbath.

“But now–now–what I say now is: ‘Wife, I’m going to bring Ella down for Sunday. You’ve never seen her, and you sure will hate her. She’s big, and showy, and just a little bit rough sometimes, and she rouges her cheeks too much, and she’s likelier than not to chuck me under the chin. But it would help your old man a lot in a business way if you’d be pretty nice to her. And I’m going to send her down here Friday, a day ahead of me.’–And oh, gee!–I ain’t any more than jumped off the car Saturday night when there’s my little wife out on the street corner with her sweater tied over her head, prancing up and down first on one foot and then on the other–she’s so excited, to slip her hand in mine and tell me all about it. ‘And Johnny,’ she says–even before I’ve got my glove off–‘Johnny,’ she says, ‘really, do you know, I think you’ve done Ella an injustice. Yes, truly I do. Why, she’s _just as kind_! And she’s shown me how to cut my last year’s coat over into the nicest sort of a little spring jacket! And she’s made us a chocolate cake as big as a dish-pan. Yes, she has! And Johnny, don’t you dare tell her that I told you–but do you know she’s putting her brother’s boy through Dartmouth? And you old Johnny Clifford, I don’t care a darn whether she rouges a little bit or not–and you oughtn’t to care–either! So there!'”

With sudden tardy contrition the Salesman’s amused eyes wandered to the open book on the Youngish Girl’s lap.

“I sure talk too much,” he muttered. “I guess maybe you’d like half a chance to read your story.”

The expression on the Youngish Girl’s face was a curious mixture of humor and seriousness. “There’s no special object in reading,” she said, “when you can hear a bright man talk!”

As unappreciatingly as a duck might shake champagne from its back, the Traveling Salesman shrugged the compliment from his shoulders.

“Oh, I’m bright enough,” he grumbled, “but I ain’t refined.” Slowly to the tips of his ears mounted a dark red flush of real mortification.

“Now, there’s some traveling men,” he mourned, “who are as slick and fine as any college president you ever saw. But me? I’d look coarse sipping warm milk out of a gold-lined spoon. I haven’t had any education. And I’m fat, besides!” Almost plaintively he turned and stared for a second from the Young Electrician’s embarrassed grin to the Youngish Girl’s more subtle smile. “Why, I’m nearly fifty years old,” he said, “and since I was fifteen the only learning I’ve ever got was what I picked up in trains talking to whoever sits nearest to me. Sometimes it’s hens I learn about. Sometimes it’s national politics. Once a young Canuck farmer sitting up all night with me coming down from St. John learned me all about the French Revolution. And now and then high school kids will give me a point or two on astronomy. And in this very seat I’m sitting in now, I guess, a red-kerchiefed Dago woman, who worked on a pansy farm just outside of Boston, used to ride in town with me every night for a month, and she coached me quite a bit on Dago talk, and I paid her five dollars for that.”

“Oh, dear me!” said the Youngish Girl, with unmistakable sincerity. “I’m afraid you haven’t learned anything at all from me!”

“Oh, yes, I have too!” cried the Traveling Salesman, his whole round face lighting up suddenly with real pleasure. “I’ve learned about an entirely new kind of lady to go home and tell my wife about. And I’ll bet you a hundred dollars that you’re a good deal more of a ‘lady’ than you’d even be willing to tell us. There ain’t any provincial– ‘Don’t-you-dare-speak-to-me–this-is-the-first-time-I-ever-was-on-a-train air about you! I’ll bet you’ve traveled a lot–all round the world–froze your eyes on icebergs and scorched ’em some on tropics.”

“Y-e-s,” laughed the Youngish Girl.

“And I’ll bet you’ve met the Governor-General at least once in your life.”

“Yes,” said the Girl, still laughing. “He dined at my house with me a week ago yesterday.”

“And I’ll bet you, most of anything,” said the Traveling Salesman shrewdly, “that you’re haughtier than haughty with folks of your own kind. But with people like us–me and the Electrician, or the soldier’s widow from South Africa who does your washing, or the Eskimo man at the circus–you’re as simple as a kitten. All your own kind of folks are nothing but grown-up people to you, and you treat ’em like grown-ups all right–a hundred cents to the dollar–but all our kind of folks are _playmates_ to you, and you take us as easy and pleasant as you’d slide down on the floor and play with any other kind of a kid. Oh, you can tackle the other proposition all right–dances and balls and general gold lace glories; but it ain’t fine loafers sitting round in parlors talking about the weather that’s going to hold you very long, when all the time your heart’s up and over the back fence with the kids who are playing the games. And, oh, say!” he broke off abruptly–“would you think it awfully impertinent of me if I asked you how you do your hair like that? ‘Cause, surer than smoke, after I get home and supper is over and the dishes are washed and I’ve just got to sleep, that little wife of mine will wake me up and say: ‘Oh, just one thing more. How did that lady in the train do her hair?'”

With her chin lifting suddenly in a burst of softly uproarious delight, the Youngish Girl turned her head half-way around and raised her narrow, black-gloved hands to push a tortoise-shell pin into place.

“Why, it’s perfectly simple,” she explained. “It’s just three puffs, and two curls, and then a twist.”

“And then a twist?” quizzed the Traveling Salesman earnestly, jotting down the memorandum very carefully on the shiny black surface of his sample-case. “Oh, I hope I ain’t been too familiar,” he added, with sudden contriteness. “Maybe I ought to have introduced myself first. My name’s Clifford. I’m a drummer for Sayles & Sayles. Maine and the Maritime Provinces–that’s my route. Boston’s the home office. Ever been in Halifax?” he quizzed a trifle proudly. “Do an awful big business in Halifax! Happen to know the Emporium store? The London, Liverpool, and Halifax Emporium?”

The Youngish Girl bit her lip for a second before she answered. Then, very quietly, “Y-e-s,” she said, “I know the Emporium–slightly. That is–I–own the block that the Emporium is in.”

“Gee!” said the Traveling Salesman. “Oh, gee! Now I _know_ I talk too much!”

In nervously apologetic acquiescence the Young Electrician reached up a lean, clever, mechanical hand and smouched one more streak of black across his forehead in a desperate effort to reduce his tousled yellow hair to the particular smoothness that befitted the presence of a lady who owned a business block in any city whatsoever.

“My father owned a store in Malden, once,” he stammered, just a trifle wistfully, “but it burnt down, and there wasn’t any insurance. We always were a powerfully unlucky family. Nothing much ever came our way!”

Even as he spoke, a toddling youngster from an overcrowded seat at the front end of the car came adventuring along the aisle after the swaying, clutching manner of tired, fretty children on trains. Hesitating a moment, she stared up utterly unsmilingly into the Salesman’s beaming face, ignored the Youngish Girl’s inviting hand, and with a sudden little chuckling sigh of contentment, climbed up clumsily into the empty place beside the Young Electrician, rummaged bustlingly around with its hands and feet for an instant, in a petulant effort to make a comfortable nest for itself, and then snuggled down at last, lolling half-way across the Young Electrician’s perfectly strange knees, and drowsed off to sleep with all the delicious, friendly, unconcerned sang-froid of a tired puppy. Almost unconsciously the Young Electrician reached out and unfastened the choky collar of the heavy, sweltering little overcoat; yet not a glance from his face had either lured or caressed the strange child for a single second. Just for a moment, then, his smiling eyes reassured the jaded, jabbering French-Canadian mother, who turned round with craning neck from the front of the car.

“She’s all right here. Let her alone!” he signaled gesticulatingly from child to mother.

Then, turning to the Traveling Salesman, he mused reminiscently: “Talking’s–all–right. But where in creation do you get the time to _think_? Got any kids?” he asked abruptly.

“N-o,” said the Traveling Salesman. “My wife, I guess, is kid enough for me.”

Around the Young Electrician’s eyes the whimsical smile-wrinkles deepened with amazing vividness. “Huh!” he said. “I’ve got six.”

“Gee!” chuckled the Salesman. “Boys?”

The Young Electrician’s eyebrows lifted in astonishment. “Sure they’re boys!” he said. “Why, of course!”

The Traveling Salesman looked out far away through the window and whistled a long, breathy whistle. “How in the deuce are you ever going to take care of ’em?” he asked. Then his face sobered suddenly. “There was only two of us fellows at home–just Daniel and me–and even so–there weren’t ever quite enough of anything to go all the way round.”

For just an instant the Youngish Girl gazed a bit skeptically at the Traveling Salesman’s general rotund air of prosperity.

“You don’t look–exactly like a man who’s never had enough,” she said smilingly.

“Food?” said the Traveling Salesman. “Oh, shucks! It wasn’t food I was thinking of. It was education. Oh, of course,” he added conscientiously, “of course, when the crops weren’t either too heavy or too blooming light, Pa usually managed some way or other to get Daniel and me to school. And schooling was just nuts to me, and not a single nut so hard or so green that I wouldn’t have chawed and bitten my way clear into it. But Daniel–Daniel somehow couldn’t seem to see just how to enter a mushy Bartlett pear without a knife or a fork–in some other person’s fingers. He was all right, you know–but he just couldn’t seem to find his own way alone into anything. So when the time came–” the grin on the Traveling Salesman’s mouth grew just a little bit wry at one corner–“and so when the time came–it was an awful nice, sweet-smelling June night, I remember, and I’d come home early–I walked into the kitchen as nice as pie, where Pa was sitting dozing in the cat’s rocking-chair, in his gray stocking feet, and I threw down before him my full year’s school report. It was pink, I remember, which was supposed to be the rosy color of success in our school; and I says: ‘Pa! There’s my report! And Pa,’ I says, as bold and stuck-up as a brass weathercock on a new church, ‘Pa! Teacher says that one of your boys has got to go to college!’ And I was grinning all the while, I remember, worse than any Chessy cat.

“And Pa he took my report in both his horny old hands and he spelt it all out real careful and slow and respectful, like as though it had been a lace valentine, and ‘Good boy!’ he says, and ‘Bully boy!’ and ‘So Teacher says that one of my boys has got to go to college? One of my boys? Well, which one? Go fetch me Daniel’s report.’ So I went and fetched him Daniel’s report. It was gray, I remember–the supposed color of failure in our school–and I stood with the grin still half frozen on my face while Pa spelt out the dingy record of poor Daniel’s year. And then, ‘Oh, gorry!’ says Pa. ‘Run away and g’long to bed. I’ve got to think. But first,’ he says, all suddenly cautious and thrifty, ‘how much does it cost to go to college?’ And just about as delicate and casual as a missionary hinting for a new chapel, I blurted out loud as a bull: ‘Well, if I go up state to our own college, and get a chance to work for part of my board, it will cost me just $255 a year, or maybe–maybe,’ I stammered, ‘maybe, if I’m extra careful, only $245.50, say. For four years that’s only $982,’ I finished triumphantly.

“‘_G-a-w-d!_’ says Pa. Nothing at all except just, ‘_G-a-w-d!_’

“When I came down to breakfast the next morning, he was still sitting there in the cat’s rocking-chair, with his face as gray as his socks, and all the rest of him–blue jeans. And my pink school report, I remember, had slipped down under the stove, and the tortoise-shell cat was lashing it with her tail; but Daniel’s report, gray as his face, was still clutched up in Pa’s horny old hand. For just a second we eyed each other sort of dumb-like, and then for the first time, I tell you, I seen tears in his eyes.

“‘Johnny,’ he says, ‘it’s Daniel that’ll have to go to college. Bright men,’ he says, ‘don’t need no education.'”

Even after thirty years the Traveling Salesman’s hand shook slightly with the memory, and his joggled mind drove him with unwonted carelessness to pin price mark after price mark in the same soft, flimsy mesh of pink lisle. But the grin on his lips did not altogether falter.

“I’d had pains before in my stomach,” he acknowledged good-naturedly, “but that morning with Pa was the first time in my life that I ever had any pain in my plans!–So we mortgaged the house and the cow-barn and the maple-sugar trees,” he continued, more and more cheerfully, “and Daniel finished his schooling–in the Lord’s own time–and went to college.”

With another sudden, loud guffaw of mirth all the color came flushing back again into his heavy face.

“Well, Daniel has sure needed all the education he could get,” he affirmed heartily. “He’s a Methodist minister now somewhere down in Georgia–and, educated ‘way up to the top notch, he don’t make no more than $650 a year. $650!–oh, glory! Why, Daniel’s piazza on his new house cost him $175, and his wife’s last hospital bill was $250, and just one dentist alone gaffed him sixty-five dollars for straightening his oldest girl’s teeth!”

“Not sixty-five?” gasped the Young Electrician in acute dismay. “Why, two of my kids have got to have it done! Oh, come now–you’re joshing!”

“I’m not either joshing,” cried the Traveling Salesman. “Sure it was sixty-five dollars. Here’s the receipted bill for it right here in my pocket.” Brusquely he reached out and snatched the paper back again. “Oh, no, I beg your pardon. That’s the receipt for the piazza.–What? It isn’t? For the hospital bill then?–Oh, hang! Well, never mind. It _was_ sixty-five dollars. I tell you I’ve got it somewhere.”

“Oh–you–paid–for–them–all, did you?” quizzed the Youngish Girl before she had time to think.

“No, indeed!” lied the Traveling Salesman loyally. “But $650 a year? What can a family man do with that? Why, I earned that much before I was twenty-one! Why, there wasn’t a moment after I quit school and went to work that I wasn’t earning real money! From the first night I stood on a street corner with a gasoline torch, hawking rasin-seeders, up to last night when I got an eight-hundred-dollar raise in my salary, there ain’t been a single moment in my life when I couldn’t have sold you my boots; and if you’d buncoed my boots away from me I’d have sold you my stockings; and if you’d buncoed my stockings away from me I’d have rented you the privilege of jumping on my bare toes. And I ain’t never missed a meal yet–though once in my life I was forty-eight hours late for one!–Oh, I’m bright enough,” he mourned, “but I tell you I ain’t refined.”

With the sudden stopping of the train the little child in the Young Electrician’s lap woke fretfully. Then, as the bumpy cars switched laboriously into a siding, and the engine went puffing off alone on some noncommittal errand of its own, the Young Electrician rose and stretched himself and peered out of the window into the acres and acres of snow, and bent down suddenly and swung the child to his shoulder, then, sauntering down the aisle to the door, jumped off into the snow and started to explore the edge of a little, snow-smothered pond which a score of red-mittened children were trying frantically to clear with huge yellow brooms. Out from the crowd of loafers that hung about the station a lean yellow hound came nosing aimlessly forward, and then suddenly, with much fawning and many capers, annexed itself to the Young Electrician’s heels like a dog that has just rediscovered its long-lost master. Halfway up the car the French Canadian mother and her brood of children crowded their faces close to the window–and thought they were watching the snow.

And suddenly the car seemed very empty. The Youngish Girl thought it was her book that had grown so astonishingly devoid of interest. Only the Traveling Salesman seemed to know just exactly what was the matter. Craning his neck till his ears reddened, he surveyed and resurveyed the car, complaining: “What’s become of all the folks?”

A little nervously the Youngish Girl began to laugh. “Nobody has gone,” she said, “except–the Young Electrician.”

With a grunt of disbelief the Traveling Salesman edged over to the window and peered out through the deepening frost on the pane. Inquisitively the Youngish Girl followed his gaze. Already across the cold, white, monotonous, snow-smothered landscape the pale afternoon light was beginning to wane, and against the lowering red and purple streaks of the wintry sunset the Young Electrician’s figure, with the little huddling pack on its shoulder, was silhouetted vaguely, with an almost startling mysticism, like the figure of an unearthly Traveler starting forth upon an unearthly journey into an unearthly West.

“Ain’t he the nice boy!” exclaimed the Traveling Salesman with almost passionate vehemence.

“Why, I’m sure I don’t know!” said the Youngish Girl a trifle coldly. “Why–it would take me quite a long time–to decide just how–nice he was. But–” with a quick softening of her voice–“but he certainly makes one think of–nice things–Blue Mountains, and Green Forests, and Brown Pine Needles, and a Long, Hard Trail, shoulder to shoulder–with a chance to warm one’s heart at last at a hearth-fire–bigger than a sunset!”

Altogether unconsciously her small hands went gripping out to the edge of her seat, as though just a grip on plush could hold her imagination back from soaring into a miraculous, unfamiliar world where women did not idle all day long on carpets waiting for men who came on–pavements.

“Oh, my God!” she cried out with sudden passion. “I wish I could have lived just one day when the world was new. I wish–I wish I could have reaped just one single, solitary, big Emotion before the world had caught it and–appraised it–and taxed it–and licensed it–and _staled_ it!”

“Oh-ho!” said the Traveling Salesman with a little sharp indrawing of his breath. “Oh-ho!–So that’s what the–Young Electrician makes you think of, is it?”

For just an instant the Traveling Salesman thought that the Youngish Girl was going to strike him.

“I wasn’t thinking of the Young Electrician at all!” she asserted angrily. “I was thinking of something altogether–different.”

“Yes. That’s just it,” murmured the Traveling Salesman placidly. “Something–altogether–different. Every time I look at him it’s the darnedest thing! Every time I look at him I–forget all about him. My head begins to wag and my foot begins to tap–and I find myself trying to–_hum_ him–as though he was the words of a tune I used to know.”

When the Traveling Salesman looked round again, there were tears in the Youngish Girl’s eyes, and an instant after that her shoulders went plunging forward till her forehead rested on the back of the Traveling Salesman’s seat.

But it was not until the Young Electrician had come striding back to his seat, and wrapped himself up in the fold of a big newspaper, and not until the train had started on again and had ground out another noisy mile or so, that the Traveling Salesman spoke again–and this time it was just a little bit surreptitiously.

“What–you–crying–for?” he asked with incredible gentleness.

“I don’t know, I’m sure,” confessed the Youngish Girl, snuffingly. “I guess I must be tired.”

“U-m-m,” said the Traveling Salesman.

After a moment or two he heard the sharp little click of a watch.

“Oh, dear me!” fretted the Youngish Girl’s somewhat smothered voice. “I didn’t realize we were almost two hours late. Why, it will be dark, won’t it, when we get into Boston?”

“Yes, sure it will be dark,” said the Traveling Salesman.

After another moment the Youngish Girl raised her forehead just the merest trifle from the back of the Traveling Salesman’s seat, so that her voice sounded distinctly more definite and cheerful. “I’ve–never–been–to–Boston–before,” she drawled a little casually.

“What!” exclaimed the Traveling Salesman. “Been all around the world–and never been to Boston?–Oh, I see,” he added hurriedly, “you’re afraid your friends won’t meet you!”

Out of the Youngish Girl’s erstwhile disconsolate mouth a most surprising laugh issued. “No! I’m afraid they _will_ meet me,” she said dryly.

Just as a soldier’s foot turns from his heel alone, so the Traveling Salesman’s whole face seemed to swing out suddenly from his chin, till his surprised eyes stared direct into the Girl’s surprised eyes.

“My heavens!” he said. “You don’t mean that _you’ve_–been writing an–‘indiscreet letter’?”

“Y-e-s–I’m afraid that I have,” said the Youngish Girl quite blandly. She sat up very straight now and narrowed her eyes just a trifle stubbornly toward the Traveling Salesman’s very visible astonishment. “And what’s more,” she continued, clicking at her watch-case again–“and what’s more, I’m on my way now to meet the consequences of said indiscreet letter.'”

“Alone?” gasped the Traveling Salesman.

The twinkle in the Youngish Girl’s eyes brightened perceptibly, but the firmness did not falter from her mouth.

“Are people apt to go in–crowds to–meet consequences?” she asked, perfectly pleasantly.

“Oh–come, now!” said the Traveling Salesman’s most persuasive voice. “You don’t want to go and get mixed up in any sensational nonsense and have your picture stuck in the Sunday paper, do you?”

The Youngish Girl’s manner stiffened a little. “Do I look like a person who gets mixed up in sensational nonsense?” she demanded rather sternly.

“N-o-o,” acknowledged the Traveling Salesman conscientiously. “N-o-o; but then there’s never any telling what you calm, quiet-looking, still-waters sort of people will go ahead and do–once you get started.” Anxiously he took out his watch, and then began hurriedly to pack his samples back into his case. “It’s only twenty-five minutes more,” he argued earnestly. “Oh, I say now, don’t you go off and do anything foolish! My wife will be down at the station to meet me. You’d like my wife. You’d like her fine!–Oh, I say now, you come home with us for Sunday, and think things over a bit.”

As delightedly as when the Traveling Salesman had asked her how she fixed her hair, the Youngish Girl’s hectic nervousness broke into genuine laughter. “Yes,” she teased, “I can see just how pleased your wife would be to have you bring home a perfectly strange lady for Sunday!”

“My wife is only a kid,” said the Traveling Salesman gravely, “but she likes what I like–all right–and she’d give you the shrewdest, eagerest little ‘helping hand’ that you ever got in your life–if you’d only give her a chance to help you out–with whatever your trouble is.”

“But I haven’t any ‘trouble,'” persisted the Youngish Girl with brisk cheerfulness. “Why, I haven’t any trouble at all! Why, I don’t know but what I’d just as soon tell you all about it. Maybe I really ought to tell somebody about it. Maybe–anyway, it’s a good deal easier to tell a stranger than a friend. Maybe it would really do me good to hear how it sounds out loud. You see, I’ve never done anything but whisper it–just to myself–before. Do you remember the wreck on the Canadian Pacific Road last year? Do you? Well–I was in it!”

“Gee!” said the Traveling Salesman. “‘Twas up on just the edge of Canada, wasn’t it? And three of the passenger coaches went off the track? And the sleeper went clear over the bridge? And fell into an awful gully? And caught fire besides?”

“Yes,” said the Youngish Girl. “I was in the sleeper.”

Even without seeming to look at her at all, the Traveling Salesman could see quite distinctly that the Youngish Girl’s knees were fairly knocking together and that the flesh around her mouth was suddenly gray and drawn, like an old person’s. But the little persistent desire to laugh off everything still flickered about the corners of her lips.

“Yes,” she said, “I was in the sleeper, and the two people right in front of me were killed; and it took almost three hours, I think, before they got any of us out. And while I was lying there in the darkness and mess and everything, I cried–and cried–and cried. It wasn’t nice of me, I know, nor brave, nor anything, but I couldn’t seem to help it–underneath all that pile of broken seats and racks and beams and things.

“And pretty soon a man’s voice–just a voice, no face or anything, you know, but just a voice from somewhere quite near me, spoke right out and said: ‘What in creation are you crying so about? Are you awfully hurt?’ And I said–though I didn’t mean to say it at all, but it came right out–‘N-o, I don’t think I’m hurt, but I don’t like having all these seats and windows piled on top of me,’ and I began crying all over again. ‘But no one else is crying,’ reproached the Voice.–‘And there’s a perfectly good reason why not,’ I said. ‘They’re all dead!’–‘O–h,’ said the Voice, and then I began to cry harder than ever, and principally this time, I think, I cried because the horrid, old red plush cushions smelt so stale and dusty, jammed against my nose.

“And then after a long time the Voice spoke again and it said, ‘If I’ll sing you a little song, will you stop crying?’ And I said, ‘N-o, I don’t think I could!’ And after a long time the Voice spoke again, and it said, ‘Well, if I’ll tell you a story will you stop crying?’ And I considered it a long time, and finally I said, ‘Well, if you’ll tell me a perfectly true story–a story that’s never, never been told to any one before–_I’ll try and stop!_’

“So the Voice gave a funny little laugh almost like a woman’s hysterics, and I stopped crying right off short, and the Voice said, just a little bit mockingly: ‘But the only perfectly true story that I know–the only story that’s never–never been told to anybody before is the story of my life.’ ‘Very well, then,’ I said, ‘tell me that! Of course I was planning to live to be very old and learn a little about a great many things; but as long as apparently I’m not going to live to even reach my twenty-ninth birthday–to-morrow–you don’t know how unutterably it would comfort me to think that at least I knew _everything_ about some one thing!’

“And then the Voice choked again, just a little bit, and said: ‘Well–here goes, then. Once upon a time–but first, can you move your right hand? Turn it just a little bit more this way. There! Cuddle it down! Now, you see, I’ve made a little home for it in mine. Ouch! Don’t press down too hard! I think my wrist is broken. All ready, then? You won’t cry another cry? Promise? All right then. Here goes. Once upon a time–‘

“Never mind about the story,” said the Youngish Girl tersely. “It began about the first thing in all his life that he remembered seeing–something funny about a grandmother’s brown wig hung over the edge of a white piazza railing–and he told me his name and address, and all about his people, and all about his business, and what banks his money was in, and something about some land down in the Panhandle, and all the bad things that he’d ever done in his life, and all the good things, that he wished there’d been more of, and all the things that no one would dream of telling you if he ever, ever expected to see Daylight again–things so intimate–things so–

“But it wasn’t, of course, about his story that I wanted to tell you. It was about the ‘home,’ as he called it, that his broken hand made for my–frightened one. I don’t know how to express it; I can’t exactly think, even, of any words to explain it. Why, I’ve been all over the world, I tell you, and fairly loafed and lolled in every conceivable sort of ease and luxury, but the Soul of me–the wild, restless, breathless, discontented _soul_ of me–_never sat down before in all its life_–I say, until my frightened hand cuddled into his broken one. I tell you I don’t pretend to explain it, I don’t pretend to account for it; all I know is–that smothering there under all that horrible wreckage and everything–the instant my hand went home to his, the most absolute sense of serenity and contentment went over me. Did you ever see young white horses straying through a white-birch wood in the springtime? Well, it felt the way that _looks_!–Did you ever hear an alto voice singing in the candle-light? Well, it felt the way that _sounds_! The last vision you would like to glut your eyes on before blindness smote you! The last sound you would like to glut your ears on before deafness dulled you! The last touch–before Intangibility! Something final, complete, supreme–ineffably satisfying!

“And then people came along and rescued us, and I was sick in the hospital for several weeks. And then after that I went to Persia. I know it sounds silly, but it seemed to me as though just the smell of Persia would be able to drive away even the memory of red plush dust and scorching woodwork. And there was a man on the steamer whom I used to know at home–a man who’s almost always wanted to marry me. And there was a man who joined our party at Teheran–who liked me a little. And the land was like silk and silver and attar of roses. But all the time I couldn’t seem to think about anything except how perfectly awful it was that a _stranger_ like me should be running round loose in the world, carrying all the big, scary secrets of a man who didn’t even know where I was. And then it came to me all of a sudden, one rather worrisome day, that no woman who knew as much about a man as I did was exactly a ‘stranger’ to him. And then, twice as suddenly, to great, grown-up, cool-blooded, money-staled, book-tamed _me_–it swept over me like a cyclone that I should never be able to decide anything more in all my life–not the width of a tinsel ribbon, not the goal of a journey, not the worth of a lover–until I’d seen the Face that belonged to the Voice in the railroad wreck.

“And I sat down–and wrote the man a letter–I had his name and address, you know. And there–in a rather maddening moonlight night on the Caspian Sea–all the horrors and terrors of that other–Canadian night came back to me and swamped completely all the arid timidity and sleek conventionality that women like me are hidebound with all their lives, and I wrote him–that unknown, unvisualized, unimagined–MAN–the utterly free, utterly frank, utterly honest sort of letter that any brave soul would write any other brave soul–every day of the world–if there wasn’t any flesh. It wasn’t a love letter. It wasn’t even a sentimental letter. Never mind what I told him. Never mind anything except that there, in that tropical night on a moonlit sea, I asked him to meet me here, in Boston, eight months afterward–on the same Boston-bound Canadian train–on this–the anniversary of our other tragic meeting.”

“And you think he’ll be at the station?” gasped the Traveling Salesman.

The Youngish Girl’s answer was astonishingly tranquil. “I don’t know, I’m sure,” she said. “That part of it isn’t my business. All I know is that I wrote the letter–and mailed it. It’s Fate’s move next.”

“But maybe he never got the letter!” protested the Traveling Salesman, buckling frantically at the straps of his sample-case.

“Very likely,” the Youngish Girl answered calmly. “And if he never got it, then Fate has surely settled everything perfectly definitely for me–that way. The only trouble with that would be,” she added whimsically, “that an unanswered letter is always pretty much like an unhooked hook. Any kind of a gap is apt to be awkward, and the hook that doesn’t catch in its own intended tissue is mighty apt to tear later at something you didn’t want torn.”

“I don’t know anything about that,” persisted the Traveling Salesman, brushing nervously at the cinders on his hat. “All I say is–maybe he’s married.”

“Well, that’s all right,” smiled the Youngish Girl. “Then Fate would have settled it all for me perfectly satisfactorily _that_ way. I wouldn’t mind at all his not being at the station. And I wouldn’t mind at all his being married. And I wouldn’t mind at all his turning out to be very, very old. None of those things, you see, would interfere in the slightest with the memory of the–Voice or the–chivalry of the broken hand. THE ONLY THING I’D MIND, I TELL YOU, WOULD BE TO THINK THAT HE REALLY AND TRULY WAS THE MAN WHO WAS MADE FOR ME–AND I MISSED FINDING IT OUT!–Oh, of course, I’ve worried myself sick these past few months thinking of the audacity of what I’ve done. I’ve got such a ‘Sore Thought,’ as you call it, that I’m almost ready to scream if anybody mentions the word ‘indiscreet’ in my presence. And yet, and yet–after all, it isn’t as though I were reaching out into the darkness after an indefinite object. What I’m reaching out for is a _light_, so that I can tell exactly just what object is there. And, anyway,” she quoted a little waveringly:

“He either fears his fate too much,
Or his, deserts are small,
Who dares not put it to the touch
To gain or lose it all!”

“Ain’t you scared just a little bit?” probed the Traveling Salesman.

All around them the people began bustling suddenly with their coats and bags. With a gesture of impatience the Youngish Girl jumped up and started to fasten her furs. The eyes that turned to answer the Traveling Salesman’s question were brimming wet with tears.

“Yes–I’m–scared to death!” she smiled incongruously.

Almost authoritatively the Salesman reached out his empty hand for her traveling-bag. “What you going to do if he ain’t there?” he asked.

The Girl’s eyebrows lifted. “Why, just what I’m going to do if he _is_ there,” she answered quite definitely. “I’m going right back to Montreal to-night. There’s a train out again, I think, at eight-thirty. Even late as we are, that will give me an hour and a half at the station.”

“Gee!” said the Traveling Salesman. “And you’ve traveled five days just to see what a man looks like–for an hour and a half?”

“I’d have traveled twice five days,” she whispered, “just to see what he looked like–for a–second and a half!”

“But how in thunder are you going to recognize him?” fussed the Traveling Salesman. “And how in thunder is he going to recognize you?”

“Maybe I won’t recognize him,” acknowledged the Youngish Girl, “and likelier than not he won’t recognize me; but don’t you see?–can’t you understand?–that all the audacity of it, all the worry of it–is absolutely nothing compared to the one little chance in ten thousand that we _will_ recognize each other?”

“Well, anyway,” said the Traveling Salesman stubbornly, “I’m going to walk out slow behind you and see you through this thing all right.”

“Oh, no, you’re not!” exclaimed the Youngish Girl. “Oh, no, you’re not! Can’t you see that if he’s there, I wouldn’t mind you so much; but if he doesn’t come, can’t you understand that maybe I’d just as soon you didn’t know about it?”

“O-h,” said the Traveling Salesman.

A little impatiently he turned and routed the Young Electrician out of his sprawling nap. “Don’t you know Boston when you see it?” he cried a trifle testily.

For an instant the Young Electrician’s sleepy eyes stared dully into the Girl’s excited face. Then he stumbled up a bit awkwardly and reached out for all his coil-boxes and insulators.

“Good-night to you. Much obliged to you,” he nodded amiably.

A moment later he and the Traveling Salesman were forging their way ahead through the crowded aisle. Like the transient, impersonal, altogether mysterious stimulant of a strain of martial music, the Young Electrician vanished into space. But just at the edge of the car steps the Traveling Salesman dallied a second to wait for the Youngish Girl.

“Say,” he said, “say, can I tell my wife what you’ve told me?”

“Y-e-s,” nodded the Youngish Girl soberly.

“And say,” said the Traveling Salesman, “say, I don’t exactly like to go off this way and never know at all how it all came out.” Casually his eyes fell on the big lynx muff in the Youngish Girl’s hand. “Say,” he said, “if I promise, honest-Injun, to go ‘way off to the other end of the station, couldn’t you just lift your muff up high, once, if everything comes out the way you want it?”

“Y-e-s,” whispered the Youngish Girl almost inaudibly.

Then the Traveling Salesman went hurrying on to join the Young Electrician, and the Youngish Girl lagged along on the rear edge of the crowd like a bashful child dragging on the skirts of its mother.

Out of the groups of impatient people that flanked the track she saw a dozen little pecking reunions, where some one dashed wildly into the long, narrow stream of travelers and yanked out his special friend or relative, like a good-natured bird of prey. She saw a tired, worn, patient-looking woman step forward with four noisy little boys, and then stand dully waiting while the Young Electrician gathered his riotous offspring to his breast. She saw the Traveling Salesman grin like a bashful school-boy, just as a red-cloaked girl came running to him and bore him off triumphantly toward the street.

And then suddenly, out of the blur, and the dust, and the dizziness, and the half-blinding glare of lights, the figure of a Man loomed up directly and indomitably across the Youngish Girl’s path–a Man standing bare-headed and faintly smiling as one who welcomes a much-reverenced guest–a Man tall, stalwart, sober-eyed, with a touch of gray at his temples, a Man whom any woman would be proud to have waiting for her at the end of any journey. And right there before all that hurrying, scurrying, self-centered, unseeing crowd, he reached out his hands to her and gathered her frightened fingers close into his.

“You’ve–kept–me–waiting–a–long–time,” he reproached her.

“Yes!” she stammered. “Yes! Yes! The train was two hours late!”

“It wasn’t the hours that I was thinking about,” said the Man very quietly. “It was the–_year_!”

And then, just as suddenly, the Youngish Girl felt a tug at her coat, and, turning round quickly, found herself staring with dazed eyes into the eager, childish face of the Traveling Salesman’s red-cloaked wife. Not thirty feet away from her the Traveling Salesman’s shameless, stolid-looking back seemed to be blocking up the main exit to the street.

“Oh, are you the lady from British Columbia?” queried the excited little voice. Perplexity, amusement, yet a divine sort of marital confidence were in the question.

“Yes, surely I am,” said the Youngish Girl softly.

Across the little wife’s face a great rushing, flushing wave of tenderness blocked out for a second all trace of the cruel, slim scar that marred the perfect contour of one cheek.

“Oh, I don’t know at all what it’s all about,” laughed the little wife, “but my husband asked me to come back and kiss you!”

[The end]
Eleanor Hallowell Abbott’s short story: The Indiscreet Letter

The Gift of The Probable Places

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 The Gift of The Probable Places

Author: Eleanor Hallowell Abbott

My Mother says that everybody in the world has got some special Gift. Some people have one kind and some have another.

I got my skates and dictionary-book last Spring when I was nine. I’ve always had my freckles.

My brother Carol’s Gift is Being Dumb. No matter what anybody says to him he doesn’t have to answer ’em.

There was an old man in our town named Old Man Smith.

Old Man Smith had a wonderful Gift.

It wasn’t a Christmas Gift like toys and games. It wasn’t a Birthday Gift all stockings and handkerchiefs.

It was the _Gift of Finding Things_!

He called it “The Gift of the Probable Places.”

Most any time when you lost anything he could find it for you. He didn’t find it by floating a few tea-leaves in a cup. Or by trying to match cards. Or by fooling with silly things like ghosts. He didn’t even find it with his legs. He found it with his head. He found it by thinking very hard with his head.

People came from miles around to borrow his head. He always charged everybody just the same no matter what it was that they’d lost. One dollar was what he charged. It was just as much trouble to him he said to think about a thimble that was lost as it was to think about an elephant that was lost.–I never knew anybody who lost an elephant.

When the Post Master’s Wife lost her diamond ring she hunted more than a hundred places for it! She was most distracted! She thought somebody had stolen it from her! She hunted it in all the Newspapers! She hunted it in all the stores! She hunted it all up and down the Village streets! She hunted it in the Depot carriage! She hunted it in the Hired Girl’s trunk! Miles and miles and miles she must have hunted it with her hands and with her feet!

But Old Man Smith found it for her without budging an inch from his wheel-chair! Just with his head alone he found it! Just by asking her a question that made her mad he found it! The question that made her mad was about her Baptismal name.–Her Baptismal name was Mehetabelle Euphemia.

“However in the world,” said Old Man Smith, “did you get such a perfectly hideous name as Mehetabelle Euphemia?”

The Post Master’s wife was madder than Scat! She wrung her hands. She snapped her thumbs! She crackled her finger-joints!

“Never–_Never_,” she said had she been “so insulted!”

“U-m-m-m–exactly what I thought,” said Old Man Smith. “Now just when–if you can remember, was the last time that you felt you’d never been so insulted before?”

“Insulted?” screamed the Post Master’s Wife. “Why, I haven’t been so insulted as this since two weeks ago last Saturday when I was out in my back yard under the Mulberry Tree dyeing my old white dress peach-pink! And the Druggist’s Wife came along and asked me if I didn’t think I was just a little bit too old to be wearing peach-pink?–_Me_–_Too Old? Me?_” screamed the Post Master’s Wife.

“U-m-m,” said Old Man Smith. “Pink, you say? Pink?–A little powdered Cochineal, I suppose? And a bit of Cream o’ Tartar? And more than a bit of Alum? It’s a pretty likely combination to make the fingers slippery.–And a lady what crackles her finger-joints so every time she’s mad,–and snaps her thumbs–and?–Yes! Under the Mulberry Tree is a _very Probable Place_!–One dollar, please!” said Old Man Smith.

And when the Grocer’s Nephew got suspended from college for sitting up too late at night and getting headaches, and came to spend a month with his Uncle and couldn’t find his green plaid overcoat when it was time to go home he was perfectly positive that somebody had borrowed it from the store! Or that he’d dropped it out of the delivery wagon working over-time! Or that he’d left it at the High School Social!

But Old Man Smith found it for him just by glancing at his purple socks! And his plaid necktie. And his plush waistcoat.

“Oh, yes, of course, it’s perfectly possible,” said Old Man Smith, “that you dropped it from the basket of a balloon on your way to a Missionary Meeting.–But have you looked in the Young Widow Gayette’s back hall? ‘Bout three pegs from the door?–Where the shadows are fairly private?–One dollar, please!” said Old Man Smith.

And when the Old Preacher lost the Hymn Book that George Washington had given his grandfather, everybody started to take up the floor of the church to see if it had fallen down through a crack in the pulpit!

But Old Man Smith sent a boy running to beg ’em not to tear down the church till they’d looked in the Old Lawyer’s pantry,–’bout the second shelf between the ice chest and the cheese crock. Sunday evening after meeting was rather a lean time with Old Preachers he said he’d always noticed.–And Old Lawyers was noted for their fat larders.–And there were certain things about cheese somehow that seemed to be soothin’ to the memory.

“Why, how perfectly extraordinary!” said everybody.

“One dollar, please!” said Old Man Smith again.

And when Little Tommy Bent ran away to the city his Mother hunted all the hospitals for him! And made ’em drag the river! And wore a long black veil all the time! And howled!

But Old Man Smith said, “Oh Shucks! It ain’t at all probable, is it, that he was aimin’ at hospitals or rivers when he went away?–What’s the use of worryin’ over the things he _weren’t_ aimin’ at till you’ve investigated the things he _was_?”

“Aimin’ at?” sobbed Mrs. Bent. “Aimin’ at?–Who in the world could ever tell what any little boy was aimin’ at?”

“And there’s something in that, too!” said Old Man Smith. “What did he look like?”

“Like his father,” said Mrs. Bent.

“U-m-m. Plain, you mean?” said Old Man Smith.

“He was only nine years old,” sobbed Mrs. Bent. “But he did love Meetings so! No matter what they was about he was always hunting for some new Meetings to go to! He just seemed naturally to dote hisself on any crowd of people that was all facing the other way looking at somebody else! He had a little cowlick at the back of his neck!” sobbed Mrs. Bent. “It was a comical little cowlick! People used to laugh at it! He never liked to sit any place where there was anybody sitting behind him!”

“Now you’re talking!” said Old Man Smith. “Will he answer to the name of ‘Little Tommy Bent?'”

“He will not!” said Mrs. Bent “He’s that stubborn! He’s exactly like his Father!”

Old Man Smith wrote an entirely new advertisement to put in the papers. It didn’t say anything about Rivers! Or Hospitals! Or ‘Dead or Alive!’ It just said:

LOST: In the back seat of Most Any Meeting,
a Very Plain Little Boy. Will _not_
answer to the name of “Little Tommy
Bent.” Stubborn, like his Father.

“We’ll put that in about being ‘stubborn,'” said Old Man Smith, “because it sounds quaint and will interest people.”

“It won’t interest Mr. Bent!” sobbed Mrs. Bent. “And it seems awful cruel to make it so public about the child’s being plain!”

Old Man Smith spoke coldly to her.

“Would you rather lose him–handsome,” he said. “Or find him–_plain_?”

Mrs. Bent seemed to think that she’d rather find him plain.

She found him within two days! He was awful plain. His shoes were all worn out. And his stomach was flat. He was at a meeting of men who sell bicycles to China. The men were feeling pretty sick. They’d sent hundreds and hundreds of he-bicycles to China and the Chinamen couldn’t ride ’em on account of their skirts!–It was the smell of an apple in a man’s pocket that made Tommy Bent follow the man to the meeting.–And he answered to every name except ‘Tommy Bent’ so they knew it was he!

“Mercy! What this experience has cost me!” sobbed Mrs. Bent.

“One dollar, please!” said Old Man Smith.

“It’s a perfect miracle!” said everybody.

“It ’tain’t neither!” said Old Man Smith. “It’s plain Hoss Sense! There’s laws about findin’ things same as there is about losin’ ’em! Things has got regular habits and haunts same as Folks! And Folks has got regular haunts and habits same as birds and beasts! It ain’t the Possible Places that I’m arguin’ about!–The world is full of ’em! But the _Probable Places_ can be reckoned most any time on the fingers of one hand!–That’s the trouble with folks! They’re always wearin’ themselves out on the Possible Places and never gettin’ round at all to the _Probable_ ones!–Now, it’s perfectly possible, of course,” said Old Man Smith, “that you might find a trout in a dust-pan or a hummin’ bird in an Aquarium–or meet a panther in your Mother’s parlor!–But the chances are,” said Old Man Smith, “that if you really set out to organize a troutin’ expedition or a hummin’ bird collection or a panther hunt–you wouldn’t look in the dust pan or the Aquarium or your Mother’s parlor _first_!–When you lose something that _ain’t got_ no _Probable Place_–then I sure _am_ stumped!” said Old Man Smith.

But when Annie Halliway lost her _mind_, everybody in the village was stumped about it. And everything was all mixed up. It was Annie Halliway’s mother and Annie Halliway’s father and Annie Halliway’s uncles and aunts and cousins and friends who did all the worrying about it! While Annie Halliway herself didn’t seem to care at all! But just sat braiding things into her hair!

Some people said it was a railroad accident that she lost her mind in. Some said it was because she’d studied too hard in Europe. Some said it was an earthquake. Everybody said something.

Annie Halliway’s father and mother were awful rich. They brought her home in a great big ship! And gave her twelve new dresses and the front parlor and a brown piano! But she wouldn’t stay in any of them! All she’d stay in was a little old blue silk dress she’d had before she went away!

Carol and I got excused from school one day because we were afraid our heads might ache, and went to see what it was all about.

It seemed to be about a great many things.

But after we’d walked all around Annie Halliway twice and looked at her all we could and asked how old she was and found out that she was nineteen, we felt suddenly very glad about something.–We felt suddenly very glad that if she really was obliged to lose anything out of her face, it was her _mind_ that she lost! Instead of her eyes! Or her nose! Or her red, red mouth! Or her cunning little ears! _She was so pretty!_

She seemed to like us very much too. She asked us to come again.

We said we would.

We did.

We went every Saturday afternoon.

They let us take her to walk if we were careful. We didn’t walk her in the village because her hair looked so funny. We walked her in the pleasant fields. We gathered flowers. We gathered ferns. We explored birds. We built little gurgling harbors in the corners of the brook. Sometimes we climbed hills and looked off. Annie Halliway seemed to like to climb hills and look off.

It was the day we climbed the Sumac Hill that we got our Idea!

It was a nice day!

Annie Halliway wore her blue dress! And her blue scarf! Her hair hung down like two long, loose black ropes across her shoulders! Blue Larkspur was braided into her hair! And a little tin trumpet tied with blue ribbon! And a blue Japanese fan! And a blue lead pencil! And a blue silk stocking! And a blue-handled basket! She looked like a Summer Christmas Tree. It was pretty.

There were lots of clouds in the sky. They seemed very near. It sort of puckered your nose.

“Smell the clouds!” said Annie Halliway.

Somebody had cut down a tree that used to be there. It made a lonely hole in the edge of the hill and the sky. Through the lonely hole in the edge of the hill and the sky you could see miles and miles. Way down in the valley a bright light glinted. It was as though the whole sun was trying to bore a hole in a tiny bit of glass and couldn’t do it.

Annie Halliway stretched out her arms towards the glint. And started for it.

I looked at Carol. Carol looked at me. We knew where the glint was. It was Old Man Smith’s house. Old Man Smith’s house was built of tea cups! And broken tumblers! And bits of plates! First of all, of course, it was built of clay or mud or something soft and loose like that! And while it was still soft he had stuck it all full of people’s broken dishes! So that wherever you went most all day long the sun was trying to bore a hole in it!–And couldn’t do it!

It seemed to be the glint that Annie Halliway wanted. She thought it was something new to braid in her hair, I guess. She kept right on walking towards it with her arms stretched out.

Carol kept right on looking at me. His mouth was all turned white. Sometimes when people _talk_ to me I can’t understand at all what they mean. But when Carol looks at me with his mouth all turned white, I always know just exactly what he means! It made my own mouth feel pretty white!

“We shall be punished!” I said. “We’ll surely be punished if we do it!”

My brother Carol smiled. It was quite a white smile. He put out his hand. I took it. We ran down the hill after young Annie Halliway! And led her to the glint!

Old Man Smith was pretty surprised to see us. He was riding round the door-yard in his wheel chair. He rolled his chair to the gate to meet us. The chair squeaked a good deal. But even if he’d wanted to walk he couldn’t. The reason why he couldn’t is because he’s dumb in his legs.

“What in the world do you want?” he asked.

I looked at Carol. Carol looked at me. He kicked me in the shins. My thoughts came very quickly.

“We’ve brought you a young lady that’s lost her mind!” I said. “What can you do about it?”

Something happened all at once that made our legs feel queer. What happened was that Old Man Smith didn’t seem pleased at all about it. He snatched his long white beard in his hands.

“Lost her mind?” he said. “Her _mind_? Her _mind_? How dar’st you mock me?” he cried.

“We _darsn’t_ at all!” I explained. “On account of the bears! We’ve read all about the mocking bears in a book!”

He seemed to feel better.

“You mean in the good book?” he said. “The Elijah bears, you mean?”

“Well, it was _quite_ a good book,” I admitted. “Though my Father’s got lots of books on Tulips that have heap prettier covers!”

“U–m–m–m,” said Old Man Smith. “U–m–m–m—-. U–m—-m—-m.”

And all the time that he was saying “U–m—-m—-m–U–m—-m—-m,” young Annie Halliway was knocking down his house. With a big chunk of rock she was chipping it off. It was a piece of blue china cup with the handle still on it that she chipped off first.

When Old Man Smith saw it he screamed.

“Woman! What are you doing?” he screamed.

“Her name is Young Annie Halliway,” I explained.

“Young Annie Halliway–_Come Here!_” screamed Old Man Smith.

Young Annie Halliway came here. She was perfectly gentle about it. All her ways were gentle. She sat down on the ground at Old Man Smith’s feet. She lifted her eyes to Old Man Smith’s eyes. She looked holy. But all the time that she looked so holy she kept right on braiding the handle of the blue china cup into her hair. It cranked against the tin trumpet. It sounded a little like the 4th of July.

Old Man Smith reached down and took her chin in his hands.

“Oh my Lord–what a beautiful face!” he said. “What a beautiful face!–And you say she’s lost her mind?” he said. “You say she’s lost her mind?” He turned to Carol. “And what do _you_ say?” he asked.

“Oh, please, Sir, Carol doesn’t say anything!” I explained. “He can’t! He’s dumb!”

“_Dumb?_” cried Old Man Smith. “So this is the Dumb Child, is it?” He looked at Carol. He looked at himself. He looked at my freckles. He rocked his hands on his stomach. “Merciful God!” he said. “How are we all afflicted!”

“Oh, please, Sir,” I said, “my brother Carol isn’t afflicted at all!–It’s a great _gift_ my Mother says to be born with the Gift of Silence instead of the Gift of Speech!”

He made a little chuckle in his throat. He began to look at Young Annie Halliway all over again.

“And what does your Mother say about _her_?” he pointed.

“My Mother says,” I explained, “that she only hopes that the person who finds her mind will be honest enough to return it!”

“What?” said Old Man Smith. “To return it?–Honest enough to return it?”

He began to do everything all over again!–To chuckle! To rock! To take Young Annie Halliway’s chin in his hand!

“And what did you say your name was, my pretty darling?” he asked.

Young Annie Halliway looked a little surprised.

“My name is Robin,” she said. “Dearest–Robin–I think.”

“You think wrong!” said Old Man Smith. He frowned with ferocity.

It made us pretty nervous all of a sudden.

Carol went off to look at the bee-hive to calm himself. Young Annie Halliway picked up the end of one of her long braids and looked at that. There was still about a foot of it that didn’t have anything braided into it. I didn’t know where to look so I looked at the house. It was very glistening. Blue it glistened. And green it glistened! And red it glistened! And pink! And purple! And yellow!

“Oh, see!” I pointed. “There’s old Mrs. Beckett’s rose-vase with the gold edge!–She dropped it on the brick garden-walk the day her son who’d been lost at sea for eleven years walked through the gate all alive and perfectly dry!–And that chunky white nozzle with the blue stripe on it?–I know what that is!–It’s the nose of Deacon Perry’s first wife’s best tea pot!–I’ve seen it there! In a glass cupboard! On the top shelf!–She never used it ‘cept when the Preacher came!”

“The Deacon’s second wife broke it–feeding chickens out of it,” said Old Man Smith.

“And that little scrap of saucer,” I cried, “with the pansy petal on it?–Why–Why _that’s_ little Hallie Bent’s doll-dishes!–We played with ’em down in the orchard! She died!” I cried. “She had the whooping-measles!”

“That little scrap of saucer,” said Old Man Smith, “was the only thing they found in Mr. Bent’s bank box.–What the widow was lookin’ for was gold!”

“And that green glass stopper!” I cried. “Oh, Goodie—-Goodie—-_Goodie_!–Why, that—-“

“Hush your noise!” said Old Man Smith. “History is solemn!–The whole history of the village is written on the outer walls of my house!–When the Sun strikes here,–strikes there,–on that bit of glass,–on this bit of crockles–the edge of a plate,–the rim of a tumbler,–I read about folk’s minds!–What they loved!–What they hated!–What they was thinking of instead when it broke!–” He snatched his long white beard in his hands. He wagged his head at me. “There’s a law about breakin’ things,” he said, “same as there’s a law about losin’ them! My house is a sample-book,” he said. “On them there walls–all stuck up like that–I’ve got a sample of most every mind in the village!–People give ’em to me themselves,” he said. “They let me rake out their trash barrels every now and then. They don’t know what they’re givin.’–Now, that little pewter rosette there—-“

“It would be nice–wouldn’t it,” I said, “if you could find a sample of Young Annie Halliway’s mind? Then maybe you could match it!”

“_Eh?_” said Old Man Smith. “A sample of her mind?” He looked jerky. He growled in his throat. “A–hem—-A–hem,” he said. He closed his eyes. I thought he’d decided to die. I screamed for Carol. He came running. He’d only been bee-stung twice. Old Man Smith opened his eyes. His voice sounded queer. “Where do they _think_ she lost her mind?” he whispered.

“In Europe,” I said. “Maybe in a train! Maybe on a boat! They don’t know! She can’t remember anything about it.”

“U–m–m,” said Old Man Smith. He looked at Young Annie Halliway. “And where do _you_ think you lost it?” he said.

Young Annie Halliway seemed very much pleased to be asked. She laughed right out.

“In a March wind!” she said.

“_Eh?_” said Old Man Smith. He turned to me again. “What did you say her name was?” he asked.

I felt a little cross.

“Halliway!” I said. “Halliway–Halliway–_Halliway_! They live in the big house out by the Chestnut Trees! They only come here in the Summers! Except now! The Doctors say it’s Mysteria!”

“The Doctors say _what_ is Mysteria?” said Old Man Smith.

“What Annie’s got!” I explained. “What made her lose her mind! Mysteria is what they call it.”

“U–m–m,” said Old Man Smith. He reached way down into his pocket. He pulled out a box. He opened the box. It was full of pieces of colored glass! And of china! He juggled them in his hands. They looked gay. Red they were! And green! And white! And yellow! And blue! He snatched out all the blue ones and hid ’em quick in his pocket. “She seems sort of partial to blue,” he said.

There was one funny big piece of glass that was awful shiny. When he held it up to the light it glinted and glowed all sorts of colors. It made your eyes feel very calm.

Annie Halliway reached out her hand for it. She didn’t say a word. She just stared at it with her hand all reached out.

But Old Man Smith didn’t give it to her. He just sat and stared at her eyes.

Her eyes never moved from the shining bit of glass. They looked awful funny. Bigger and bigger they got! And rounder and rounder! And stiller and stiller!

It was like a puppy-dog pointing a little bird in the grass. It made you feel queer. It made you feel all sort of hollow inside. It made your legs wobble.

Carol’s mouth was wide open.

So was Old Man Smith’s.

Old Man Smith reached out suddenly and put the shining bit of glass right into Annie Halliway’s hand. It fell through her fingers. But her hand stayed just where it was, reaching out into the air.

“Put down your arm!” said Old Man Smith.

Annie Halliway put it down. Her eyes were still staring very wide.

“Look!” said Old Man Smith. “Look!” He dropped several pieces of colored glass china into her lap.

She chose the handle of a red tea cup and a little chunk of yellow crockery. She stared and stared at them. But all the time it was as though her eyes didn’t see them. All the time it was as though she was looking at something very far away. Then all of a sudden she began to jingle them together in her hand,–the little piece of red china and the chunk of yellow bowl! And swing her shoulders! And stamp her foot! It looked like dancing. It sounded like clappers.

“Oh, Ho! _This_ is Spain!” she laughed.

Old Man Smith snatched all the blue pieces of china and glass out of his pocket again and tossed them into her lap. He looked sort of mad.

“Spain?” he said. “Spain? What in the Old Harry has a handful of glass and china got to do with Spain?”

“Harry?” said Annie Halliway. “Old–Harry?” Her eyes looked wider and blinder every minute. It was as though everything in her was wide awake except the thing she was thinking about. “Har–ry?” she puzzled. “Harry?” she dropped the red and yellow china from her hand and picked up a piece of blue glass and offered it to Old Man Smith. “Why, _that_ is Harry!” she said. She reached for the pig-tail that had the blue Larkspur braided into it. She pointed to the pig-tail that had the blue fan braided into it. “Why, _that_ is Harry!” she said. She made a little sob in her throat.

Old Man Smith jingled his hands at her.

“There–There–There, my Pretty!” he said. “Never mind–Never mind!”

He opened his hands. There were some little teeny-tiny pieces of plain glass in his hands. Little round knobs like beads they were. Very shining. They made a nice jingle.

When Annie Halliway saw them she screamed! And snatched them in her hand! And threw them away just as far as she could! All over the grass she threw them!

“I will not!” she screamed. “_I will not! I will not!_” Her tears were awful.

When she got through screaming her face looked like a wet cloth that had everything else wrung out of it except shadows.

“Where–is–Harry?” said Old Man Smith. He said it very slowly. And then all over again. “Where–is–Harry?–You wouldn’t have dar’st not tell him if you’d known.”

Annie Halliway started to pick up some blue glass again. Then she stopped and looked all around her. It was a jerky stop. Her jaw sort of dropped.

“Harry–is–in–prison!” she said. Even though she’d said it herself she seemed to be awfully surprised at the news. She shook and shook her head as though she was trying to wake up the idea that was asleep. Her eyes were all scrunched up now with trying to remember about it. She dragged the back of her hands across her forehead. First one hand and then the other. She opened her eyes very wide again and looked at Old Man Smith.

“Where–is–Harry?” said Old Man Smith.

Annie Halliway never took her eyes from Old Man Smith’s face.

“It–It was the night we crossed the border from France to Spain,” she said. Her voice sounded very funny and far away. It sounded like reciting a lesson too. “There were seven of us and a teacher from the Paris art school,” she recited. “It–It was the March holiday.—-There–There–was a woman—-a strange woman in the next compartment who made friends with me.–She seemed to be crazy over my hair.–She asked if she might braid it for the night.”

Without any tears at all Annie Halliway began to sob again.

“When they waked us up at the Customs,” she sobbed, “Harry came running! His face was awful! ‘She’s braided diamonds in your hair!’ he cried. ‘I heard her talking with her accomplice! A hundred thousand dollars’ worth of diamonds! Smugglers and murderers both they are!–Everybody will be searched!’–He tore at my braids! I tore at my braids! The diamonds rattled out! Harry tried to catch them!–He pushed me back into the train! I saw soldiers running!–I thought they were going to shoot him! He thought they were going to shoot him!–I saw his eyes!–He looked so–so surprised!–I’d never noticed before how blue his eyes were!–I tell you I saw his eyes!–I couldn’t speak!–There wasn’t anybody to explain just why he had his hands full of diamonds!–I _saw_ his eyes! I tell you I couldn’t speak!–I tell you I _never_ spoke!–My tongue went dead in my mouth! For months I never spoke!–I’ve only just begun to speak again!–I’ve only just—-“

She started to jump up from the ground where she was sitting! She couldn’t!–She had braided Old Man Smith and his wheel chair into her hair! When she saw what she had done she toppled right over on her face! And fainted all out!

Over behind the lilac bush somebody screamed.

It was Annie Halliway’s Mother! With her was a strange gentleman who had come all the way from New York to try and cure Annie Halliway. The strange gentleman was some special kind of a doctor.

“Hush–Hush!” the Special Doctor kept saying to everybody. “This is a very crucial moment! Can’t you see that this a very crucial moment?” He pointed to Annie Halliway on the grass. Her Mother knelt beside her trying very hard to comb Old Man Smith and his wheel-chair out of her pig-tail. “Speak to her!” said the Doctor. “Speak to her very gently!”

“Annie?” cried her Mother. “Annie?–Annie–_Annie?_”

Annie Halliway opened her eyes very slowly and looked up. It was a brand new kind of a look. It had a bottom to it instead of being just through and through and through. There was a little smile in it too. It was a pretty look.

“Why, Mother,” said Annie Halliway. “Where am I?”

The Special Man from New York made a queer little sound in his throat.

“Thank God!” he said. “She’s all right _now_!”

It seemed pretty quick to me.

“You mean–” I said, “that her Mysteria is all cured–now?”

“Not _Mys_teria,” said the Special Man from New York, _”Hys_teria!”

“No!–_Her_steria!” corrected Old Man Smith.

The Special Man from New York began to laugh.

But Annie Halliway’s Mother began to cry.

“Oh, just suppose we’d never found her?” she cried. She looked at Carol. She looked at me. She glared a little. But not so awfully much. “When you naughty children ran away with her?” she cried. “And we couldn’t find her anywhere?–And the Doctor came? And there was only an hour to spare?–And we got a horse and drove round anywhere? And–And—-“

“I wouldn’t have missed it for anything!” said the Special Man from New York.

“And all your appointments waiting?” cried Annie Halliway’s Mother.

“Darn the appointments!” said the Special Man from New York. He slanted his head and looked at Old Man Smith. “We arrived,” he said, “just at the moment when the young lady was gazing so–so intently at the piece of shiny glass.” He made a funny grunt in his throat. “Let me congratulate you, Mr.–Mr. Smith!” he said. “Your treatment was most efficient!–Your hypnosis was perfect! Your—-“

“Hip _nothing_!” said Old Man Smith.

“Of course, in a case like this,” said the Special Man from New York, “the Power of Suggestion is always—-“

“All young folks,” said Old Man Smith, “are cases of one kind or another–and the most powerful suggestion that I can make is that somebody find ‘Harry!'”

“‘Harry?'” said Annie Halliway’s Mother. “‘_Harry?_’–Why, I’ve got four letters at home for Annie in my desk now–from some im–impetuous young man who signs himself ‘Harry!’–He seems to be in an Architect’s office in Paris! ‘Robin’ is what he calls Annie!–‘_Dearest_ Robin’—-“

“Eh?” said Annie Halliway. “What? _Where?_” She sat bolt upright! She scrambled to her feet! She started for the carriage!

Her Mother had to run to catch her.

The Special Man from New York followed them just as fast as he could.

Old Man Smith wheeled his chair to the gate to say “Good-bye.”

Everything seemed all mixed up.

Annie Halliway’s Mother never stopped talking a single second.

“Oh, my Pet!” she cried. “My Precious. My Treasure!”

With one foot on the carriage step the Special Man from New York turned round and looked at Old Man Smith. He smiled a funny little smile.

“Seek–and ye shall find!” he said. “That is–if you only know _How_ and _Where_ to seek.”

Old Man Smith began to chuckle in his beard.

“Yes, I admit that’s quite a help,” he said, “the knowing _How_ and _Where!_–But before you set out seekin’ very hard for anything that’s lost it’s a pretty good idea to find out first just exactly what it is that you’re seekin’ for!–When a young lady’s lost her _mind,_ for instance, that’s one thing!–But if it’s her _heart_ that’s lost, why, that, of course, is quite another!”

Annie Halliway’s face wasn’t white any more. It was as red as roses. She had it in her Mother’s shoulder.

The horses began to prance. The carriage began to creak.

Annie Halliway’s Mother looked all around.

“Oh, dear–oh, dear–oh, dear, Mr.–Mr. Smith,” she said. “How shall I ever repay you?”

Old Man Smith reached out his hand across the fence. There was sort of a twinkle in his eye.

“One dollar, please,” said Old Man Smith.

[The end]
Eleanor Hallowell Abbott’s short story: The Gift of The Probable Places

The Game Of The Be-Witchments

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The Game Of The Be-Witchments

Author: Eleanor Hallowell Abbott

We like our Aunt Esta very much because she doesn’t like us.

That is–she doesn’t like us specially. _Toys_ are what our Aunt Esta likes specially. Our Aunt Esta invents toys. She invents them for a store in New York. Our Aunt Esta is thirty years old with very serious hair. I don’t know how old our other relatives are–except Rosalee! And Carol! And myself!

My sister Rosalee is seventeen years old. And a Betrothess. Her Betrother lives in Cuba. He eats bananas. My brother Carol is eleven. He has no voice in his throat. But he eats anything. I myself am only nine. But with very long legs. Our Father and Mother have no age. They are just tall.

There was a man. He was very rich. He had a little girl with sick bones. She had to sit in a wheel chair all day long and be pushed around by a Black Woman. He asked our Aunt Esta to invent a Game for her. The little girl’s name was Posie.

Our Aunt Esta invented a Game. She called it the Game of the Be-Witchments. It cost two hundred dollars and forty-three cents. The Rich Man didn’t seem to mind the two hundred dollars. But he couldn’t bear the forty-three cents. He’d bear even that, though, he said, if it would only be sure to work!

“_Work?_” said our Aunt Esta. “Why _of course_ it will work!” So just the first minute she got it invented she jammed it into her trunk and dashed up to our house to see if it would!

It worked very well. Our Aunt Esta never wastes any time. Not even kissing. Either coming or going. We went right up to her room with her. It was a big trunk. The Expressman swore a little. My Father tore his trouser-knee. My Mother began right away to re-varnish the scratches on the bureau.

It took us most all the morning to carry the Game down-stairs. We carried it to the Dining Room. It covered the table. It covered the chairs. It strewed the sideboard. It spilled over on the floor. There was a pair of white muslin angel wings all spangled over with silver and gold! There was a fairy wand! There was a shining crown! There was a blue satin clock! There was a yellow plush suit and swishy-tail all painted sideways in stripes like a tiger! There was a most furious tiger head with whisk-broom whiskers! There was a green frog’s head! And a green frog’s suit! There was a witch’s hat and cape! And a hump on the back! There were bows and arrows! There were boxes and boxes of milliner’s flowers! There were strings of beads! And yards and yards of dungeon chains made out of silver paper! And a real bugle! And red Chinese lanterns! And–and everything!

The Rich Man came in a gold-colored car to see it work. When he saw the Dining Room he sickened. He bit his cigar.

“My daughter Posie is ten years old,” he said. “What I ordered for her was a Game!–not a Trousseau!”

Our Aunt Esta shivered her hands. She shrugged her shoulders.

“You don’t understand,” she said. “This is no paltry Toy to be exhausted and sickened of in a single hour! This is a real Game! Eth-ical! Psycho-psycho–logical! Unendingly diverting! Hour after hour! Day after day!–Once begun, you understand, it’s never over!”

The Rich Man looked at his watch.

“I have to be in Chicago a week from tomorrow!” he said.

Somebody giggled. It couldn’t have been Rosalee, of course. Because Rosalee is seventeen. And, of course, it wasn’t Carol. So it must have been me.

The Rich Man gave an awful glare.

“Who are these children?” he demanded.

Our Aunt Esta swallowed.

“They are my–my Demonstrators,” she said.

“‘Demonstrators?'” sniffed the Rich Man. He glared at Carol. “Why don’t you speak?” he demanded.

My mother made a rustle to the door-way.

“He can’t,” she said. “Our son Carol is dumb.”

The Rich Man looked very queer.

“Oh, I say,” he fumbled and stuttered. “Oh, I say–! After all there’s no such great harm in a giggle. My little girl Posie cries all the time. _All_ the time, I mean! _Cries_ and _cries_ and _cries_!–It’s a fright!”

“She wouldn’t,” said our Aunt Esta, “if she had a game like this to play with.”

“Eh?” said the Rich Man.

“She could wear the Witch’s hideous cape!” said our Aunt Esta. “And the queer pointed black hat! And the scraggly gray wig! And the great horn-rimmed spectacles! And the hump on her back! And—-“

“My daughter Posie has Ti–Titian red curls,” said the Rich Man coldly. “And the most beautiful brown eyes that mortal man has ever seen! And a skin so fair that—-“

“That’s why I think it would rest her so,” said our Aunt Esta, “to be ugly outside–instead of inside for a while.”

“_Eh?_” said the Rich Man.

He glared at our Aunt Esta.

Our Aunt Esta glared at him.

Out in the kitchen suddenly the most beautiful smell happened. The smell was soup! Spiced Tomato Soup! It was as though the whole stove had bloomed! My Father came to the door. “What’s it all about?” he said. He saw the Rich Man. The Rich Man saw him. “Why, how do you do?” said my Father. “Why, how do you do?” said the Rich Man. They bowed. There was no room on the Dining Room table to put the dishes. There was no room anywhere for anything. We had to eat in the kitchen. My Mother made griddle cakes. The Rich Man stirred the batter. He seemed to think it was funny. Carol had to sit on a soap-box. Our Aunt Esta sat on the edge of a barrel with her stockings swinging. It made her look not so strict. “All the same,” worried the Rich Man, “I don’t see just why you fixed the price at two hundred dollars and forty-three cents?–Why not two hundred dollars and forty-five cents? Or even the round sum two hundred and one dollars?”

Our Aunt Esta looked pretty mad. “I will be very glad–I’m sure,” she said, “to submit an itemized bill.”

“Oh, nonsense!” said the Rich Man. “It was just your mental processes I was wondering about.–The thing, of course, is worth any money–if it works!”

“If it works?” cried our Aunt Esta.

The Rich Man jumped up and strode fiercely to the Dining Room door.

Our Aunt Esta strode fiercely after him, only littler. Our Aunt Esta is _very_ little.

The Rich Man waved his arms at everything,–the boxes,–the bundles,–the angel-wings,–the cloaks,–the suits,–the Chinese Lanterns.

“All the same, the thing is perfectly outrageous!–The size of it!–The extent! No house would hold it!”

“It isn’t meant,” said our Aunt Esta, “to be played just in the house.–It’s meant to be played on a sunny porch opening out on a green lawn–so that there’s plenty of room for all Posie’s little playmates to go swarming in and out.”

The Rich Man looked queer. He gave a little shiver.

“My little daughter Posie hasn’t got any playmates,” he said. “She’s too cross.”

Our Aunt Esta stood up very straight. Two red spots flamed in her cheeks.

“You won’t be able to keep the children away from her,” she said, “after they once begin to play this game!”

“You really think so?” cried the Rich Man.__

Out in the kitchen my Father looked at my Mother. My Mother looked at my Father. They both looked at us. My Father made a little chuckle.

“It would seem,” said my Father, “as though it was the honor of the whole family that was involved!” He made a whisper in Carol’s ear. “Go to it, Son!” he whispered.

Rosalee jumped to her feet. Carol jumped to his feet. I jumped to my feet. We snatched hands. We ran right into the Dining Room. Carol’s face was shining.

“Who’s going to be Posie-with-the-Sick-Bones?” I cried.

“S–s–h!” said everybody except our Aunt Esta.

Our Aunt Esta suddenly seemed very much encouraged. She didn’t wait a minute. She snatched a little book from her pocket. It was a little book that she had made herself all full of typewriter directions about the Game.

“_Someone_, of course,” she said, “will have to be the Witch,–someone who knows the Game, I mean, so perhaps I–?”

We rushed to help her drag the old battered tricycle to the Porch! We helped her open up every porch door till all the green lawn and gay petunia blossoms came right up and fringed with the old porch rug! We helped her tie on the Witch’s funny hat! And the scraggly gray wig! And the great horn-rimmed spectacles! We helped her climb into the tricycle seat! We were too excited to stay on the porch! We wheeled her right out on the green lawn itself! The green lilac hedge reared all up around her like a magic wall!

We screamed with joy! The Rich Man jumped when we screamed. The Rich Man’s name was Mr. Trent.

“And Mr. Trent shall be the Black Woman who pushes you all about!” we screamed.

“I will not!” said Mr. Trent.

But Carol had already tied a black velvet ribbon on the Rich Man’s leg to _show_ that he was!

Our Aunt Esta seemed more encouraged every minute. She stood us all up in front of her. Even Father. She read from her book. It was a poem. The poem said:

Now come ye all to the Witch’s Ball,
Ye Great, ye Small,
Ye Short, ye Tall,
Come one, Come all!

“I will not!” said the Rich Man.

He sweated.

“Oh Shucks! Be a Sport!” said my Father.

“I will _not_!” said the Rich Man.

He glared.

Our Aunt Esta tried to read from her book and wave her wand at the same time. It waved the Rich Man in the nose.

“Foul Menial!” waved our Aunt Esta. “Bring in the Captives!”

“Who?” demanded the Rich Man.

_”You_!” said our Aunt Esta.

The Rich Man brought us in! Especially Father! He bound us all up in silver paper chains! He put a silver paper ring through my Father’s beautiful nose!

“Oh, I say,” protested my Father. “It was ‘guests’ that I understood we were to be! Not captives!”

“Ha!” sniffed the Rich Man. “Be a Sport!”

They both glared.

Our Aunt Esta had cakes in a box. They seemed to be very good cakes. “Now in about ten minutes,” read our Aunt Esta from her book, “you will all begin to feel very queer.”

“Oh–Lordy!” said my Father.

“I knew it!” said the Rich Man. “I knew it all the time! From the very first mouthful–my stomach—-“

“Is there no antidote?” cried my Mother.

Our Aunt Esta took off her horn-rimmed spectacles. She sniffed.

“Sillies!” she said. “This is just a Game, you know!”

“Nevertheless,” said the Rich Man, “I certainly feel very queer.”

“When you all feel equally queer,” said our Aunt Esta coldly, “we will proceed with the Game.”

We all felt equally queer just as soon as we could.

Our Aunt Esta made a speech. She made it from her little book.

“Poor helpless Captives (said the Speech). You are now entirely in my power! Yet fear not! If everybody does just exactly as I say, all may yet be well!”

“Hear! Hear!” said my Father.

The Rich Man suddenly seemed to like my Father very much. He reached over and nudged him in the ribs.

“Shut up!” he whispered. “The less you say the sooner it will be over!”

My Father said less at once. He seemed very glad to know about it.

Our Aunt Esta pointed to a boxful of little envelopes.

“Foul Menial,” she said. “Bring the little envelopes!”

The Rich Man brought them. But not very cheerfully.

“Oh, of course, it’s all right to call _me_ that,” he said. “But I tell you quite frankly that my daughter Posie’s maid will never stand for it! _Her_ name is Elizabeth Lou!–Mrs. Jane–Frank–Elizabeth Lou–even!”

Our Aunt Esta looked at the Rich Man. Her look was scornfuller and scornfuller.

“_All_ Witch’s servants,” she said, “are called ‘Foul Menial!’–From the earliest classical records of fairy tale and legend down to—-“

“Not in our times,” insisted the Rich Man. “I defy you in any Intelligence Office in New York to find a–a—-“

Our Aunt Esta brushed the contradiction aside. She frowned. Not just at the Rich Man. But at everybody. “We will proceed with the Rehearsal–as written!” she said. She gruffed her voice. She thumped her wand on the floor. “Each captive,” she said, “will now step forward and draw a little envelope from the box.”

Each captive stepped forward and drew a little envelope from the box.

Inside each envelope was a little card. Very black ink words were written on each card.

“Captives, stand up very straight!” ordered our Aunt Esta.

Every captive stood very straight.

“Knock your knees together with fear!” ordered our Aunt Esta.

Every captive knocked his knees together with fear.

“Strain at your chains!” ordered our Aunt Esta. “But not too hard! Remembering they are paper!”

Every captive strained at his chains but not too hard! Remembering they were paper!

Our Aunt Esta seemed very much pleased. She read another poem from her book. The poem said:

Imprisoned thus in my Witchy Wiles,
Robbed of all hope, all food, all smiles,
A Fearful Doom o’er-hangs thy Rest,
Unless thou meet my Dread Behest!

“Oh, dear–oh, dear–oh, dear–oh, dear!” cried our Mother. “Can nothing save us?”

My Father burst his nose-ring!

Rosalee giggled!

Carol and I jumped up and down! We clapped our hands!

The Rich Man cocked his head on one side. He looked at our Aunt Esta. At her funny black pointed hat. At her scraggly gray wig. At her great horn-rimmed spectacles. At the hump on her back. “U-m-m,” he said. “What do you mean,–‘witch-y wiles?'”

“_Silence!_” said our Aunt Esta. “Read your cards!”

We read our cards.

Carol’s card said “PINK BREEZE” on it. And “SLIMY FROG.”

Our Aunt Esta poked Carol twice with her wand. “Pitiful Wretch!” said our Aunt Esta. “It is now two o’clock.–Unless you are back here exactly at three o’clock–bearing a _Pink Breeze_ in your hands–you shall be turned for all time and eternity into a _Slimy Green Frog_!–Go hence!”

Carol went hence. He henced as far as the Mulberry Tree on the front lawn. He sat down on the grass with the card in his hand. He read the card. And read it. And read it. It puzzled him very much.

“Pitiful Wretch, go _hence_!” cried our Aunt Esta.

He henced as far as the Larch Tree this time. And sat down all over again. And puzzled. And puzzled.

“Go _hence_, I say, Pitiful Wretch!” insisted our Aunt Esta.

My Mother didn’t like Carol to be called a “Pitiful Wretch.”–It was because he was dumb, I suppose. When my Mother doesn’t like anything it spots her cheek-bones quite red. Her cheek-bones were spotted very red.

“Stop your fussing!” said our Aunt Esta. “And attend to your own business!”

My Mother attended to her own business. The business of her card said “SILVER BIRD” and “HORSE’S HOOF.”

Even our Aunt Esta looked a bit flabbergasted.

“Oh, dear–oh, dear,” said our Aunt Esta. “I certainly am sorry that it was you who happened to draw that one!–And all dressed up in white too as you are! But after all–” she jerked with a great toss of her scraggly wig, “a Game is a Game! And there can be no concessions!”

“No, of course not!” said my Mother. “Lead me to the Slaughter!”

“There is not necessarily any slaughter connected with it,” said our Aunt Esta very haughtily. But she hit my Mother only once with her wand.

“Frail Creature,” she said. “On the topmost branch of the tallest tree in the world there is a silver bird with a song in his throat that has never been sung! Unless you bring me this bird _singing_ you are hereby doomed to walk with the clatter of a Horse’s Hoof!”

“Horse’s Hoof?” gasped my Mother. “With the clatter of a Horse’s Hoof?”

My Father was pretty mad. “Why, it’s impossible!” he said. “She’s as light as Thistle-Down! Even in her boots it’s like a Fairy passing!”

“Nevertheless,” insisted our Aunt Esta. “She shall walk with the clatter of a Horse’s Hoof–unless she brings me the Silver Bird.”

My Mother started at once for the Little Woods. “I can at least search the Tallest Tree in _my_ world!” she said.

It made my Father nervouser and nervouser. “Now don’t you _dare_,” he called after her, “climb _anything_ until I come!”

“Base Interloper!” said our Aunt Esta. “Keep Still!”

“Who?” said my Father.

“_You!_” said our Aunt Esta.

I giggled. Our Aunt Esta was very mad. She turned me into a White Rabbit. I was made of white canton flannel. I was very soft. I had long ears. They were lop-ears. They were lined with pink velvet. They hung way down over my shoulders so I could stroke them. I liked them very much. But my legs looked like white night-drawers. “Ruthy-the-Rabbit” was my name. Our Aunt Esta scolded it at me.

“Because of your impudence, Ruthy-the-Rabbit,” she said, “you shall not be allowed to roam the woods and fields at will. But shall stay here in captivity close by my side and help the Foul Menial do the chores!”

The Rich Man seemed very much pleased. He winked an eye. He pulled one of my lop-ears. It was nice to have somebody pleased with me.

Everybody was pleased with Rosalee’s bewitchment. It sounded so restful. All Rosalee had to do was to be very pretty,–just exactly as she was! And seventeen years old,–just exactly as she was! And sit on the big gray rock by the side of the brook just exactly as it was! And see whether it was a Bright Green Celluloid Fish or a Bright Red Celluloid Fish that came down the brook first! And if it was a Bright Green Celluloid Fish she was to catch it! And slit open its stomach! And take out all its Directions! And follow ’em! And if it was a Bright Red Celluloid Fish she was to catch _it_! And take out all its Directions and follow _them_!–In either case her card said she would need rubbers and a trowel.–It sounded like Buried Treasure to me! Or else Iris Roots! Our Aunt Esta is very much interested in Iris Roots.

It was my Father’s Bewitchment that made the only real trouble. Nothing at all was postponed about my Father’s Bewitchment. It happened all at once. It was because my Father knew too much. It was about the Alphabet that he knew too much. The words on my Father’s card said “ALPHABET.” And “BACKWARDS.” And “PINK SILK FAIRY.” And “TIN LOCOMOTIVE HEAD.” And “THREE MINUTES.” Our Aunt Esta turned my Father into a Pink Silk Fairy with White Tarlatan Wings because he was able to say the Alphabet backwards in three minutes! My Father refused to turn! He wouldn’t! He wouldn’t! He swore he wouldn’t! He said it was a “cruel and unnecessary punishment!” Our Aunt Esta said it wasn’t a Punishment! It was a Reward! It was the Tin Locomotive Head that was the punishment! My Father said he wouldn’t have cared a rap if it had been the Tin Locomotive Head!–He could have smoked through that! But he _wouldn’t_ be a Pink Silk Fairy with White Tarlatan Wings!

The Rich Man began right away to untie the black velvet ribbon on his leg, and go home! He looked very cheated! He scorned my Father with ribald glances! “Work?” he gloated. “_Of course_ it won’t work! I knew all the time it wouldn’t work!–Two hundred dollars! And forty-three cents?” he gloated. “_H-a!_”

Our Aunt Esta cried! She put her hand on my Father’s arm. It was a very small hand. It didn’t look a bit like a Witch’s hand. Except for having no lovingness in it, it looked a good deal like my Mother’s hand.

My Father consented to be turned a little! But not much! He consented to wear the white tarlatan wings! And the gold paper crown! But not the garland of roses! He would carry the pink silk dress on his arm, he said. But he would _not_ wear it!

The Rich Man seemed very much encouraged. He stopped untying the black velvet ribbon from his leg. He grinned a little.

My Father told him what he thought of him. The Rich Man acknowledged that very likely it was so. But he didn’t seem to mind. He kept right on grinning.

My Father stalked away in his gold paper crown with the pink dress over his arm. He looked very proud and noble. He looked as though even if dogs were sniffing at his heels he wouldn’t turn. His white wings flapped as he walked. The spangles shone. It looked very holy.

The Rich Man made a funny noise. It sounded like snorting.

My Father turned round quicker than _scat_. He glared right through the Rich Man at our Aunt Esta. He told our Aunt Esta just what he thought of _her_!

The Rich Man said it wasn’t so at all! That the Game undoubtedly was perfectly practical if—-

“If _nothing_!” said my Father. “It’s you yourself that are spoiling the whole effect by running around playing you’re a Black Slave with nothing on but a velvet ribbon round one knee! The very _least_ you could do,” said my Father, “is to have your face blacked! And wear a plaid skirt!”

“_Eh?_” said the Rich Man.

Our Aunt Esta was perfectly delighted with the suggestion.

The Rich Man took her delight coldly.

He glared at my Father. “I don’t think I need any outside help,” he said, “in the management of my affairs.–As the Owner indeed of one of the largest stores in the world I—-“

“That’s all right,” said my Father. “But you never yet have tried to manage the children’s Aunt Esta.–Nothing can stop her!”

Nothing could! She pinned an old plaid shawl around the Rich Man’s waist! She blacked his face! He had to kneel at her feet while it was being blacked! He seemed to sweat easily! But our Aunt Esta blacked very easily too! He looked lovely! Even my Father thought he looked lovely! When he was done he wanted to look in a mirror. My Father advised him not to. But he insisted. My Father got up from making suggestions and came and stood behind him while he looked. They looked only once. Something seemed to hit them. They doubled right up. It was laughter that hit them. They slapped each other on the back. They laughed! And laughed! And laughed! They made such a noise that my Mother came running!

It seemed to make our Aunt Esta a little bit nervous to have my Mother come running. She pointed her wand. She roared her voice.

“Where is the Silver Bird?” she roared.

My Mother looked just as swoone-y as she could. She fell on her knees. She clasped her hands.

“Oh, Cruel Witch,” she said. “I _saw_ the bird! But I couldn’t reach him! He was in the Poplar Tree!–However in the world did you put him there?–Was that what you were bribing the Butcher’s Boy about this morning? Was that—-?”

“Hush!” roared our Aunt Esta. “Your Doom has overtaken you! Go hence with the clatter of a Horse’s Hoof until such time as your Incompetent Head may—-“

“Oh, it wasn’t my head that was incompetent,” said my Mother. “It was my legs. The Poplar Tree was so very tall! So very fluffy and undecided to climb! So—-“

“With the clatter of a Horse’s Hoof!” insisted our Aunt Esta. “There can be no mercy!”

“None?” implored my Mother.

“None!” said our Aunt Esta.

She gave my Mother two funny little wooden cups. They were something like clappers. You could hold them in your hand so they scarcely showed at all and make a noise like a horse galloping across a bridge! Or trotting! Or anything! It made quite a loud noise! It was wonderful! My Mother started right away for the village. She had on white shoes. Her feet were very small. She sounded like a great team horse stumbling up the plank of a ferry-boat. “I think I’ll go get the mail!” she said.

“Like that?” screamed my Father.

My Mother turned around. Her hair was all curly. There were laughs in her eyes.

“I _have_ to!” she said. “I’m bewitched!”

“I’ll go with you!” said my Father.

My Mother turned around again. She looked at my Father! At his golden crown! At his white spangled wings! At the pink silk skirt over his arm!

“Like–that?” said my Mother.

My Father decided not to go.

The Rich Man said he considered the decision very wise.

They glared.

Way over on the other side of the green lilac hedge we heard my Mother trotting down the driveway. _Clack_-clack–_clack_–clack sounded the hoof-beats!

“My Lord–she’s pacing!” groaned my Father.

“Clever work!” said the Rich Man. “Was she ever in a Band? In a Jazz Band, you know, with Bantam Rooster whistles? And drums that bark like dogs?”

“In a _what_?” cried my Father. He was awful mad.

Our Aunt Esta tried to soothe him with something worse. She turned to me.

“Now, Ruthy-the-Rabbit,” she said. “Let us see what _you_ can do to redeem the ignominy of your impudent giggling!” She handed me the Bright Green and the Bright Red Celluloid fishes. She poked her wand at me. “Hopping all the way,” she said. “Every step of the way, you understand,–bear these two fish to the Head-Waters of the Magic Brook,–the little pool under the apple tree will do,–and start them ex–ex–peditiously down the Brook towards Rosalee!”

“Yes’m,” I said.

Our Aunt Esta turned to the Rich Man.

“Foul Menial,” she said. “Push my chariot a little further down the Lawn into the shade!”

The Foul Menial pushed it.

My Father pushed a little too.

I hopped along beside them flopping my long ears. Our Aunt Esta looked _ex_-actly like a Witch! The Rich Man’s black face was leaking a little but not much! It would have been easier if he hadn’t tripped so often on his plaid shawl skirt! My Father’s white wings flapped as he pushed! He looked like an angel who wasn’t quite hatched! It was handsome!

When we got to the thickest shade there was a man’s black felt hat bobbing along the top of the Japonica Hedge. It was rather a soft-boiled looking hat. It was bobbing just as fast as it could towards the house.

When our Aunt Esta saw the hat she screamed! She jumped from her chariot as though it had been flames! She tore the scraggly gray wig from her head! She tore the hump from her back! She kicked off her wooden shoes! Her feet were silk! She ran like the wind for the back door!

My Father ran for the Wood-Shed!

The Rich Man dove into the Lilac Bush!

When the Rich Man was all through diving into the Lilac Bush he seemed to think that he was the only one present who hadn’t done anything!

“What you so scared about, Ruthy?” he said. “What’s the matter with everybody? Who’s the Bloke?”

“It’s the New Minister,” I said.

“Has he got the Cholera or anything?” said the Rich Man.

“No, not exactly,” I explained. “He’s just our Aunt Esta’s Suitor!”

“Your Aunt Esta’s _Suitor_?” cried the Rich Man. “_Suitor?_” He clapped his hand over his mouth. He burst a safety-pin that helped lash the plaid shawl around him. “What do you mean,–_’Suitor?’_” he said.

It seemed queer he was so stupid.

“Why a Suitor,” I explained, “is a Person Who Doesn’t Suit–so he keeps right on coming most every day to see if he does! As soon as he suits, of course, he’s your husband and doesn’t come any more at all–because he’s already there! The New Minister,” I explained very patiently, “is a Suitor for our Aunt Esta’s hand!”

We crawled through the Lilac Bush. We peeped out.

Our Aunt Esta hadn’t reached the back door at all. She sat all huddled up in a little heap on the embankment trying to keep the New Minister from seeing that she was in her stocking-feet. But the New Minister didn’t seem to see anything at all except her hands. Being a Suitor for her hands it was natural, I suppose, that he wasn’t interested in anything except her hands. Her hands were on her hair. The scraggly gray wig had rumpled all the seriousness out of her hair. It looked quite jolly. The New Minister stared! And stared! And stared! Except for having no lovingness in them, her hands looked _very_ much like my Mother’s.

“Our Aunt Esta’s got–nice hands,” I said.

The Rich Man burst another safety pin.

“Yes, by Jove,” he said. “And nice feet, too!” He seemed quite surprised. “How long’s this minister fellow been coming here?” he said.

“Oh, I don’t know,” I said. “He comes whenever our Aunt Esta comes.”

The Rich Man made a grunt. He looked at the Minister’s hat.

“Think of courting a woman,” he said, “in a hat like that!”

“Oh, our Aunt Esta doesn’t care anything at all about hats,” I said.

“It’s time she did!” said the Rich Man.

“We’ll go out if you say so,” I suggested, “and help them have a pleasant time.”

The Rich Man was awful mad. He pointed at his plaid shawl! He pointed at his black face!

“_What?_” he said. “Go out like _this_? And make a fool of myself before that Ninny-Hat?”

“Why, he’d love it!” I said.

The Rich Man choked.

“That’s quite enough reason!” he said.

There was a noise in the wood-shed. We could see the noise through the window. It was my Father trying to untie his wings. He couldn’t.

The Rich Man seemed to feel better suddenly. He began to mop his face.

“It’s a great Game, all right,” he said, “if you don’t weaken!” He pulled my ears. “But why in the world, Ruthy—-” he worried, “did she have to go and tuck that forty-three cents on to the end of the bill?”

“Why, that’s her profit!” I explained.

“Her–profit?” gasped the Rich Man. “Her _Profit_?”

“Why, she had to have something!” I explained. “She was planning to have more, of course! She was planning to go to Atlantic City! But everything costs so big! Even toys! It’s—-“

“Her _Profit_?” gasped the Rich Man. “Forty-three cents on a two hundred dollar deal?” He began to laugh! And laugh! “And she calls herself a Business Woman?” he said. “Why, she ought to be in an Asylum!–All women, in fact, ought to be in Asylums–or else in homes of their own!” Quite furiously he began to pull my ears all over again. “_Business Woman_,” he said. “And both her feet would go at once in the hollow of my hand! _Business Woman!_”

Out in the roadway suddenly somebody sneezed.

It made the Rich Man jump awfully.

“Ruthy, stay where you are!” he ordered.

“I can’t!” I called back. “I’m already hopped out!”

From my hop-out I could see the Person Who Sneezed! Anybody would have known that it was Posie-with-the-Sick-Bones! She was sitting in an automobile peering through the hedge! There was a black woman with her!

The Rich Man crackled in the bushes. He reached out and grabbed my foot. He pulled me back. His face looked pretty queer.

“Yes, she’s been there all the time,” he whispered. “But not a soul knows it!–I wanted her to see it work!–I wanted to be sure that she liked it–But I was afraid to bring her in! She catches everything so! And I knew there were children here! And I was afraid there might be something contagious!”

He peered out through the Lilac Branches. There was quite a good deal to peer at.

Down in the meadow Rosalee was still running up and down the soft banks of the brook trying to catch the Celluloid Fish. She had on a green dress. It was a slim dress like a willow wand. She had her shoes and stockings in one hand. And a great bunch of wild blue Forget-me-Nots in the other. Her hair was like a gold wave across her face. She looked pretty. The Springtime looked pretty too.–Out in the wood-shed my Father was still wrestling with his wings.

Up on the green mound by the house our Aunt Esta was still patting her hair while the New Minister stared at her hands.

The Rich Man turned very suddenly and stared at me.

“_Contagious?_” he gasped out suddenly. “Why, upon my soul, Ruthie–it’s just about the most contagious place that I ever was in–in my life!”

He gave a funny little laugh. He glanced back over his shoulder towards the road. He groaned.

“But I shall certainly be ruined, Ruthie,” he said, “if my little daughter Posie or my little daughter Posie’s Black Woman ever see me at close range–in these clothes!” He took my chin in his hands. He looked very deep into my eyes. “Ruthie,” he said, “you seem to be a _very_ intelligent child.–If you can think of any way–_any_ way, I say–by which I can slink off undetected into the house–and be washed—-“

“Oh Shucks! That’s easy!” I said. “We’ll _make_ Posie be the Witch!”

When I hopped out this time I stayed hopped! I hopped right up on the wall! And stroked my ears!

When Posie-with-the-Sick-Bones saw me she began to laugh! And clap her hands! And kick the Black Woman with her toes!

“Oh, I want to be the Witch!” she cried. “I want to be the Witch for ever and ever! And change everybody into everything! I’m going to wear it home in the automobile! And scare the Cook to Death! I’m going to change the Cook into a cup of Beef Tea! And throw her down the sink! I’m going to change my Poodle Dog into a New Moon!” she giggled. “I’m going to change my Doctor into a Balloon! And cut the string!”

The Rich Man seemed perfectly delighted. I could see his face in the bushes. He kept rubbing his hands! And nodding to me to go ahead!

I went ahead just as fast as I could.

The Black Woman began to giggle a little. She giggled and opened the automobile door. She giggled and lifted Posie out. She giggled and carried Posie to the Witch’s chariot. She giggled and tied the Witch’s hat under Posie’s chin. She giggled and tied the humped-back cape around Posie’s neck.

Posie never stopped clapping her hands except when the Witch’s Wig itched her nose.

It was when the Witch’s Wig itched her nose that the Rich Man slunk away on all fours to be washed. He giggled as he slunk. It looked friendly.

Carol came. He was pretty tired. But he had the Pink Breeze in his hands. It was Phlox! It was very pink! It was in a big flower pot! He puffed out his cheeks as he carried it and blew it into Breezes! It was pretty! It was very heavy! He knelt at the Witch’s feet to offer it to her! When he looked up and saw the Strange Child in the Witch’s Chair he dropped it! It broke and lay on the ground all crushed and spoiled! His mouth quivered! All the shine went out of his face!

It scared Posie to see all the shine go out of his face.

“Oh, Boy–Boy, put back your smile!” she said.

Carol just stood and shook his head.

Posie began to scream.

“Why doesn’t he speak?” she screamed.

“He can’t,” I said. “He hasn’t any speech!”

“Why doesn’t he cry?” screamed Posie.

“He can’t,” I said. “He hasn’t any cry!”

Posie stopped screaming.

“Can’t he even swear?” she said.

“No, he can’t,” I said. “He hasn’t any swear!”

Posie looked pretty surprised.

“I can speak!” she said. “I can cry! I can swear!”

“You sure can, Little Missy!” said the Black Woman.

Posie looked at Carol. She looked a long time. A little tear rolled down her cheek.

“Never mind, Boy,” she said. “I will help you make a new Pink Breeze!”

“Oh Lor, Little Missy,” said the Black Woman. “You never helped no one do nothin’ in your life!”

“I will if I want to!” said Posie. “And we’ll make a Larkspur-Colored Breeze too, if we want to!” she said. “And I’ll have it on my window-sill all blue-y and frilly and fluttery when everything else in the room is horrid and hushed and smothery!–And we’ll make a Green Breeze—-” She gave a little cry. She looked at the Waving Meadow where all the long silver-tipped grasses ducked and dipped in the wind. She stretched out her arms. Her arms were no bigger than the handles of our croquet mallets. “We’ll dig up _all_ the Waving Meadow,” she cried. “And pot it into Window-Sill Breezes for the hot people in the cities!”

“You can’t!” I said. “It would take mor’n an hour! And you’ve got to be the Witch!”

“I will _not_ be the Witch!” said Posie. She began to scream! “It’s my Game!” she screamed. “And I’ll do anything I like with it!” She tore off her black pointed hat! She kicked off her stubby wooden shoes! She screamed to the Black Woman to come and bear her away!

While the Black Woman bore her away Carol walked beside them. He seemed very much interested that any one could make so much noise.

When Posie saw how _much_ interested Carol was in the noise, she stopped en–tirely screaming to the Black Woman and screamed to Carol instead.

While Carol walked beside the Noise, I saw the New Minister come down the Road and go away. His face looked red.

Our Aunt Esta came running. She was very business-like. She snatched up her wooden shoes and put them on! She crammed on the scraggly gray wig and the humped-back cape!

“Foul Menial!” she called. “Come at once and resume the Game!”

The Black Woman stepped out of the bushes. She looked very much surprised. But not half as surprised as our Aunt Esta.

Our Aunt Esta rubbed her eyes! She rubbed them again! And again! She looked at the Black Woman’s face. It was a _real_ black face. She looked at the Black Woman’s woolly hair.–It was _real_ woolly hair! Her jaw dropped!

“Ruthy-the-Rabbit, hop here!” she gasped.

I hopped.

She put her lips close to my ear.

“Ruthy-the-Rabbit,” she gasped. “Do I see what I think I see?”

“Yes, you do!” I said.

She put her head down in her hands! She began to laugh! And laugh! And laugh! It was a queer laugh as though she couldn’t stop! The tears ran out between her fingers!

“Well–I certainly _am_ a Witch!” she laughed. Her shoulders shook like sobs.

The Rich Man came running! He had his watch in his hand! He was all clean and shining! He saw the Black Woman standing by the Witch’s chair! He saw the Witch in the chair! He thought the Witch was Posie! He grabbed her right up in his arms and _hugged_ her!

“Though I’m late for a dozen Directors’ Meetings,” he cried, “it’s worth it, my Precious, to see you laugh!”

“I’m not your Precious!” cried our Aunt Esta. She bit! She tore! She scratched! She shook her scraggly gray wig-curls all over her face! It was like a mask! But all the time she kept right on laughing! She couldn’t seem to stop!

The Rich Man kissed her. And kissed her! Right through her scraggly gray wig-curls he kissed her! He couldn’t seem to stop!

“Now, at last, my Precious,” he said. “We’ve learned how to live! We’ll play more! We’ll laugh more!”

Our Aunt Esta tore off her wig! She tore off her hump! She shook her fist at the Rich Man! But she couldn’t stop laughing!

The Rich Man gave one awful gasp! He turned red! He turned white! He looked at the wood-shed window to see if my Father had seen him.

My Father had seen him!

The Rich Man said things under his breath. That is, most of them were under his breath. He stalked to his car. He ordered the Black Woman to pick up the Real Posie and stalk to his car! He looked madder than Pirates!

But when he had climbed into his car, and had started his engine, and was all ready to go, he stood up on the seat instead, and peered over the hedge-top at our Aunt Esta! And grinned!

Our Aunt Esta was standing just where he had left her. All the laughter was gone from her. But her eyes looked very astonished. Her cheeks were blazing red. Her hair was all gay and rumpled like a sky-terrier’s. It seemed somehow to be rather becoming to our Aunt Esta to be kissed by mistake.

The Rich Man made a little noise in his throat. Our Aunt Esta looked up. She jumped. The Rich Man fixed his eyes right on her. His eyes were full of twinkles.

“Talk about Be-Witchments!” he said. “Talk about–_Be-Witchments_!–I’ll be back on Tuesday! What for?–Great Jumping Jehosophats!” he said. “It’s enough that I’ll be back!”

My Father stuck his head and the tip of one battered wing out the wood-shed window. He started to say something. And cocked his ear instead.

It was towards the village that he cocked his ear.

We all stopped and cocked our ears.

It was a funny sound: Clack-Clack-_Clack_! Clack-Clack-_Clack_! Clack-Clack–_Clack_!

It was my Mother cantering home across the wooden bridge.

It sounded glad.

My Father thought of a new way suddenly to escape from his wings! And ran to meet her!

[The end]
Eleanor Hallowell Abbott’s short story: The Game Of The Be-Witchments