DOROTHY DAINTY'S GAY TIMES
Author of Dorothy Dainty Series, The Randy Books, and A Jolly Cat Tale
With Illustrations by the Author
I. THE FIRST DAY AT SCHOOL.
II. ARABELLA AT SCHOOL
III. THE DIALOGUE
IV. AN ENTERTAINMENT
V. THE RETURN OF PATRICIA
VI. WHAT FLOSSIE DID
VII. PATRICIA'S PROMISE
VIII. THE PARTY
IX. TWO SLEIGHRIDES
X. THE PUNG RIDE
XI. AN UNEXPECTED TRIP
XII. THE NECKLACE
Down the path came a lovely little girl swinging a skipping-rope
She was reaching down as if to get something
"Put your left paw on do, and your right paw on mi; now sing"
"There! that's another fountain"
"I'll go if you'll promise to bring me back"
Nancy clasped her hands together and gasped, "Oh-o-o!"
THE FIRST DAY AT SCHOOL
The great gateway stood wide open, and through it one could see the fine stone house with its vine-covered balconies, its rare flowers and stately trees.
A light breeze swayed the roses, sending out their perfume in little gusts of sweetness, while across the path the merry sunbeams flickered, like little dancing elves.
Down the path came a lovely little girl, swinging a skipping-rope, and dancing over and under it in perfect time with the song which she was singing.
The sunlight touched her bright curls, making her look like a fairy, and now she skipped backward, and forward, around the circular garden, and back again, only pausing to rest when another little girl ran across the lawn to meet her. She was Dorothy Dainty, the lovely little daughter of the house, and the sprightly, dark-eyed child who now joined her was Nancy Ferris, her dearest playmate.
"I was just wishing you'd come out, for I've something to tell you," Dorothy said. "You know Aunt Charlotte has all her plans ready for opening her private school next week, and you heard her tell mamma that the class was very full."
"Oh, I know it's to be a big class," said Nancy, "for besides all the girls that used to be in it, there's to be one new one, and one boy, Katie Dean's cousin, Reginald, and,—oh, did you know that Arabella is to join the class?"
"Why, Nancy, are you sure?" asked Dorothy; "only yesterday we looked over toward her house, and there seemed to be no one at home." Nancy's eyes were merry.
"Come and look now!" she said, clasping Dorothy's hand, and running with her down to the gate.
"There!" said Nancy, "see all those windows open, and somebody out there behind the house beating a rug; you see they are at home, and that's her queer little old Aunt Matilda."
Dorothy looked at the resolute little figure, and wondered how the thin arm could wield the rug-beater with so much energy. She remembered that Arabella had said that her father always did as Aunt Matilda directed, and truly the small woman appeared able to marshal an army of men, if she chose.
"Perhaps Arabella will go over to the public school," said Dorothy; "she doesn't have to enter Aunt Charlotte's private class."
"Oh, but she will, I just know she will," Nancy replied, "and Aunt Charlotte'll have to let her. You know Mr. Corryville was in your papa's class at college, and if he says he wishes Arabella to join the class, your papa will surely say 'yes.'"
"He certainly will," said Dorothy, "but there's one thing to think of," she said, with a bright smile, "There are nice girls in the class, and if Arabella is queer, we mustn't mind it."
"We'll try not to," Nancy said, and then, as Dorothy again swung her rope, Nancy "ran in," and the two skipped around the house together, the rope whipping the gravel walk in time with the dancing feet.
It was cool and shady near the wall, and they sat down upon a low seat where the soft breeze fanned their flushed cheeks.
"I'd almost forgotten something that I meant to tell you," Dorothy said. "You know Aunt Charlotte says that the pupils are to give a little entertainment each month, when we are to have dialogues, songs, solo dances, pieces to be spoken, and chorus music. Well, mamma has arranged to have a fine little stage and curtain. You didn't know that, did you?"
"Indeed I didn't," said Nancy, "and I guess the others will be surprised. You haven't told them yet, have you?"
"I only knew it this morning myself, but I'm eager to tell them," said Dorothy.
"Here's Mollie Merton and Flossie Barnet now," cried Nancy, and, turning, Dorothy saw the two playmates running up the driveway. "Mollie was over at my house," said Flossie, "and we saw you and Nancy just as you ran around the house, and we thought we'd come over."
"We were wild to know if our private school is truly to commence next week. Mamma said it would if enough pupils were ready to join it," said Mollie, "and we knew Katie Dean's cousin was a new one, and won't it be funny to have one boy in the class?"
"Oh, but he is just a little boy," said Nancy.
"And he must begin to go to school this year, and he says he likes girls ever so much better than boys, so he asked if he might go to our school," Dorothy said.
"He always says he likes girls best," said Flossie; "isn't he a queer little fellow?" "I don't know," Mollie said, so drolly that they all laughed.
"And there is a new pupil, who has just come here to live, and she is very nice, Jeanette Earl says," and as she spoke Dorothy looked up at her friends, a soft pleading in her blue eyes.
She intended to give a kindly welcome to the new pupil, and she hoped that the others would be friendly.
"How does Jeanette know?" asked Mollie, bluntly.
"Oh, Jeanette ought to know," said Nancy, "for the new little girl is her cousin, I mean her third cousin."
"Well, Nina is Jeanette's sister," said Mollie, "so what does she say?"
"She didn't say anything," said Nancy, "she just looked."
"Arabella Corryville is to be in our class," said Flossie, "and when I told Uncle Harry he laughed, and asked me if her Aunt Matilda was coming to school with her."
Of course they laughed, and it was Mollie who first spoke.
"Your Uncle Harry is always joking," she said, "and sometimes I can't tell whether he is in earnest, or only saying things just for fun."
"Well, I guess you'll laugh when I tell you what he said next! He said that although he had graduated from college, and now was in business, he would urge Aunt Charlotte to let him attend a few sessions of our school, if Arabella's Aunt Matilda was to be there. He said it would be a great pleasure which he really could not miss." How they laughed at the idea of Flossie's handsome young uncle in the little private school, while Arabella's prim little aunt was also a pupil.
"I asked him what he meant," said Flossie, who looked completely puzzled, "and he said that sometimes a man's wits needed sharpening, and that Aunt Matilda would be a regular file. Papa laughed, but mamma said: 'Harry, Harry, you really mustn't,' and he ran up to the music-room whistling 'O dear, what can the matter be?' I can't help laughing even when I don't understand his teasing jokes, he says things in such a funny way, while his eyes just dance."
"He looked very handsome the day he wore his uniform, with the gold lace on it," said Dorothy; "don't you remember, Flossie? Your aunt was on the piazza, and she stooped and pinned a rose in his buttonhole. Do you think he knew how fine he looked, when he sprang into the saddle, and rode away?"
"I don't know," Flossie said, her blue eyes very thoughtful, "he never seems to think about it, and one thing I don't at all understand, he's big, and brave, and manly, yet he plays with me so gently, and he's as full of fun as a boy."
"That's why we all like him," said Nancy, "and he never acts as if we were just little girls, and so not worth noticing."
"Do you remember the day that the tramp came into our kitchen, and frightened the cook? Uncle Harry was just strolling along the driveway. He walked into the kitchen, took the dirty tramp by the collar and marched him right out to the street," and Flossie's cheeks glowed with pride for her dear Uncle Harry.
"Yes, and a moment after, he saw little Reginald fall off his bicycle, and you ought to have seen how tenderly he picked him up, and brushed off the dust, and he was quite as gentle as mamma would have been."
"Oh, he's just fine," said Mollie, "and I do wish he would visit our school on a day when Arabella's aunt would be there! I love to see him when he looks at her. Someway he seems so very respectful, and yet his eyes laugh."
"Well, it's just a few days now before school begins, and what fun we'll have," said Flossie, "and perhaps Arabella will invite her aunt to one of our entertainments; if she does, I'm just sure Uncle Harry would go."
"Oh, come here this minute, every one of you," called a cheery voice, and Nina Earl stepped through an opening in the hedge.
"Why, how surprised you look! I've been over to the stone cottage to call for you, Nancy, and Aunt Charlotte said that you were with Dorothy, so I ran across the lawn. I could hear you all talking, and I was wild to tell you something."
"Oh, tell it, tell it, Nina!" cried Mollie.
Nina looked back through the opening in the hedge.
"She's just saying 'good-morning' to Aunt Charlotte," she said, "and let me tell you something; she's been all over the stone cottage, looking into this thing and peeping into that, till I'd think Aunt Charlotte would be wild. It's Arabella's aunt, and she says she came to learn if the house was a healthy one to be in, and to see if the plumbing was all right."
Dorothy's sweet eyes suddenly flashed.
"Doesn't she think my papa would keep Aunt Charlotte's house as comfortable as ours?" she said.
"Oh, 'tisn't that!" laughed Nina, "she said she felt obliged to find out if the cottage was a healthy place for a private school to be in, before she could say that Arabella might belong to the class! Did you ever hear anything like that?"
"Well, what makes her let Arabella come to our school?" queried blunt little Mollie; "she could go to the public school. I guess we wouldn't mind."
"Mamma says we must be kind to Arabella," said Dorothy, "so I think we mustn't speak like that." "I'll be kind to her when she comes," said Mollie, "because your mamma wishes it, but now, before school begins, I'm going to say that I just wish Arabella was going to the other school."
The others felt, as Mollie did, that the class would be quite as pleasant if Arabella attended the public school, but they did not like to say so.
* * * * *
The few days of waiting were past, and now the first day of school had come. The door of the pretty stone cottage stood wide open, as if assuring a welcome to the little pupils who would soon arrive, while the sunlight streamed in across the hall, giving a cheery greeting.
On the rug sat Pompey, the cat, his fine coat sleek and glossy, and his white bosom as pure as much washing could make it. His paws were snugly tucked in, and he purred softly to himself as if he knew that it was nearly time for the pupils to arrive, and remembered that the little girls had been very fond of him.
In the cheery sitting-room, which was used as a schoolroom, sat Aunt Charlotte Grayson, looking over some books which lay upon the table.
Her soft gray gown and broad lace collar were most becoming, and she looked every inch the gentlewoman that she really was. She had once been Mrs. Dainty's governess, and now, as mistress of a thriving private school, she was independent and happy. The class was not a large one, but the little pupils belonged to families who were well able to pay generously for fine instruction, and her home at the stone cottage was a loving gift from Mr. and Mrs. Dainty. Mrs. Grayson had permitted Dorothy and Nancy to call her "Aunt Charlotte," and now it had become the loving title by which all her pupils addressed her.
She was eager to have her little class assemble, and, wondering if they were late, she looked at her watch.
"Quarter of nine," she said, and as if he understood what she had said, Pompey blinked up at the tall clock, yawned, and looked at the door.
The sound of merry voices made him prick up his ears. A moment more, and Dorothy and Nancy, Mollie and Flossie, Nina and Jeanette Earl ran up the steps and in at the open door. Pompey received his usual number of love-pats, and then the girls, having hung their hats and coats in the hall, walked quietly in to greet Aunt Charlotte. It was a fixed rule at the private school that there should never be any haste in reaching places in the schoolroom.
"It matters not that you are little girls, or that you are at school," Mrs. Grayson would say; "let me always have the pleasure of seeing you enter the class-room in as gentle a manner as you would enter a drawing-room," and her pupils took pleasure in doing as she wished.
The broad window-seats were banked with flowering plants, and as the children took their places they thought it the brightest, cheeriest schoolroom in the world.
As if to show that he also had a place in Aunt Charlotte's class, Pompey ran across the floor and sprang up into a space on one window-seat between two large flowerpots, where he could enjoy a sun-bath.
Katie Dean, with her little Cousin Reginald, now entered, just in time to avoid being late.
"I thought you said your cousin was coming," whispered Mollie, but Aunt Charlotte had opened her Testament, and was commencing to read, so Nina only shook her head, and Mollie saw that she must wait until recess to know what Nina would say.
"'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God,'" read Aunt Charlotte, and every girl looked towards Flossie Barnet, who was always trying to say a pleasant word of an absent friend, or to coax two playmates, who had become estranged, to be fast friends again. Often they had heard her Uncle Harry say: "Flossie, you're a peacemaker." Her hands were clasped, and her blue eyes were full of interest in the verse which Aunt Charlotte was reading. Her red lips moved.
"'They shall be called the children of God,'" she whispered, and in her gentle little heart she determined to be, if possible, more kind and loving than ever before, toward her playmates.
Little Reginald had failed to understand the verse, and sat staring at Aunt Charlotte with round eyes. He was a handsome little fellow, with soft flaxen curls, and a smart, sturdy figure, and as he looked up into Aunt Charlotte's face, he seemed like a pudgy cupid whom some one had dressed in a sailor suit.
Singing followed the reading, and all through the two merry songs which they sang, Reginald watched Aunt Charlotte, and wondered over the verse which she had read. When the arithmetic lesson was over, Aunt Charlotte asked if any one had a question to ask.
Katie Dean wished to hear an example explained, and when it had been made clear to her, Reginald held up his hand.
"What is your question?"
"What's 'peacemakers'?" he asked.
Aunt Charlotte explained the verse, and Reginald listened, but it was easy to see that he was disappointed.
"Do you understand now what the peacemakers are?" Aunt Charlotte asked.
"Yes'm," said Reginald, "but I wish I didn't."
"And why?" questioned Aunt Charlotte.
"'Cause I thought grandma was a peacemaker," Reginald said, "for she's piecin' a silk patchwork quilt, an' papa said she'd be blessed glad when it's done."
Aunt Charlotte was the only one who did not laugh, but the small boy was not at all vexed.
"You needn't laugh," he said to Katie, "for you've seen her makin' pieces out of silk, an' what's the difference between makin' pieces an' peacemakin'?"
ARABELLA AT SCHOOL
When recess time came Mollie had forgotten to ask Nina if her cousin was to be a pupil, and it happened that neither of the others questioned her.
They were in the midst of a game of hide-and-seek, when Mollie, who, with Nina, was hiding behind a large rosebush, looked up just in time to see the garden gate open.
"Look!" she whispered.
"Why, that's Arabella!" said Nina, "but why has she brought her Aunt Matilda with her?"
"I guess she didn't," whispered Mollie, "it's likely her Aunt Matilda's bringing her."
Nina stifled a laugh, and they saw the two go along the walk, and enter the cottage.
Flossie, who had been "it," ran quite around the house, and the others "ran in," Reginald loudly shouting, "All in, all in!"
Flossie returned, laughing gaily to think that they had all got in free. Then they commenced to talk of the new pupil, and quite forgot their game.
The schoolroom windows were open, and Aunt Matilda's shrill, piping voice could be plainly heard, but the children were not near enough to know what she was saying.
They saw her turn to go, and then, when she reached the door, she drew something from her bag, and placed it in Arabella's hand.
"What do you s'pose she's giving her?" whispered Nina.
"Peppermints!" said Mollie, but although she had whispered it, she felt that Dorothy had heard it, and knew that both she and Nina had been laughing at Arabella and her aunt. Mollie's cheeks flushed, and she looked down at her shoes. She knew that Dorothy's sweet eyes were looking at her, not angrily, but with a tender grieving.
Dorothy was full of fun, and ready for merriment at any time, but she saw nothing amusing in laughing at a playmate, or friend, and she had asked them all to be kind to Arabella.
Aunt Charlotte turned to the window, and set the little silver bell tinkling, and the pupils at once filed into the schoolroom.
They found Arabella Corryville sitting primly in her place. Her small, thin hands were clasped upon her desk, and she looked at the pupils as they filed in, peeping first over her glasses, and then through them, as if she were hunting for little faults which she really hoped to find.
Aunt Charlotte had told her that on this, her first day of school, she might listen to the recitations, and on the next day come with her lessons prepared, and then recite with the class.
She sat very still, only moving her round eyes to watch the pupils, and as she did not smile, one could not guess if she were pleased with the school or not.
The little girls busied themselves with their books, but Reginald kept his blue eyes fixed upon Arabella, as if he could think of nothing else.
At first she seemed not to notice him, but after a time she moved restlessly on her seat, and wriggled about in a way that delighted the small boy.
Arabella was not used to being stared at. She always stared boldly at other people, but here was some one who looked at her without so much as blinking. She glanced at the clock, and then, as if just remembering something, took a small bottle from her pocket, shook some pills into her hand, swallowed them, and turned to see if Reginald were looking. He was, and Arabella was provoked.
"What you staring at?" she whispered rudely.
"You!" he whispered, not a bit abashed.
"Well, you just needn't," said Arabella.
"I know I needn't," replied the small boy, "but I like to."
"Why?" she asked.
"'Cause you're funny," Reginald said. It was not strange that Arabella was angry. Would any girl be pleased to have a small boy watching her, and declaring that she was "funny?"
And now Aunt Charlotte was calling the youngest class in reading, and Reginald hastily snatched his book, and began to hunt for the lesson.
"The third page, Reginald," said Aunt Charlotte; "you may read the first paragraph."
He found the place, and read the lines without a mistake. It was his first term at school, but his mother had found pleasure in teaching him, and he read quite as well as some of the younger pupils.
"Read the next paragraph, Reginald," said Aunt Charlotte.
"'When the king rode over the highway, the sun glistened upon his,—on his,—'"
It was a word which Reginald had never seen, and he frowned until an odd little pucker appeared on his forehead.
"'When the king rode over the highway, the sun glistened upon his,'"—again he paused. The word looked no easier this time than when he had first read the lines.
"I can't pronounce that word," he said.
"Read the lines again, and when you come to the word that puzzles you, pronounce it as you think it should be," said Aunt Charlotte.
The other pupils were interested, but when Reginald glanced toward Arabella, he saw that she was smiling in evident delight at his discomfiture. He resolved to rush through the reading in a way that would tell her that he could read anything. He drew a long breath, and then, as fast as possible, he read:
"'When the king rode over the highway, the sun glistened upon his carrot wheels!'"
Even Aunt Charlotte smiled at the droll error, but Arabella laughed long and loud.
"Order, order!" said Aunt Charlotte.
"The word is chariot," she said.
The others read in turn, until they had finished the charming story, and each of the girls wondered why Arabella was not reproved for rudeness. The arithmetic lesson completed the morning's work, and as they walked home, they talked of the new pupil.
"I don't see why Aunt Charlotte didn't speak to Arabella," said Nina Earl, "she was horridly rude."
"And how queer she is," said Mollie Merton; "just the minute school was out she ran down the path, and across the street to get home before any of us could talk with her. And I do wonder Aunt Charlotte didn't speak to her about laughing so loudly, just because Reginald made a mistake. I don't believe she could read any better."
"I guess perhaps Arabella didn't mean to be disagreeable," said Flossie Barnet.
She disliked Arabella, but she never could bear to hear any one spoken of unkindly.
"Now, Flossie Barnet, you might just know that Arabella likes to be unpleasant," said Jeanette, and Flossie could not deny it.
Dorothy and Nancy had heard what they were saying, and they thought that it was not at all nice of the girls to speak as if Aunt Charlotte had allowed Arabella to be rude.
"Perhaps Aunt Charlotte thought she wouldn't correct her the very first day," Nancy said, and Nina and Mollie wished that what they had said had not been heard.
Little Reginald seemed, for once, to have nothing to say.
He was skipping along between his cousin Katie Dean and Jeanette Earl, and tightly grasping their hands.
There had been a light shower early in the morning, and here and there a little puddle reflected the blue sky and floating clouds. Reginald saw one just ahead, and laughed softly. Katie and Jeanette were talking with Dorothy, and paying little heed to the small boy who walked between them.
"I thought your cousin was coming to school this morning," said Dorothy.
"She's coming the first of next week," said Jeanette.
"And what is her name?" asked Katie.
They were close to a fine large puddle now, and Reginald with a hop landed both feet in the middle of it.
"Why, Reginald Merton Dean! You naughty boy!" said Katie; "just look at my new shoes! See the dirty water you've splashed on Jeanette's dress!"
"And look at the puddle," exclaimed Reginald, "I didn't spoil the puddle; it looks just same's it did before I jumped in it."
Katie forgot that her question had not been answered, but Jeanette remembered it.
"You asked what my cousin's name is," said Jeanette; "her name is Lola Blessington."
"Is she a peacemaker?" asked Reginald, who still remembered the morning's verse. "Well,—no, I mean not exactly," said Nina, who hastened to reply before Jeanette could do so.
"What's she like?" asked Reginald.
"Oh, you'll know when you see her," said Jeanette.
"And we shall see her next week," Katie said.
The sunny days slipped by, and nothing unusual happened at the little school.
In that first week the other pupils learned that there was but one way to get on peaceably with Arabella.
At first they followed Dorothy's example, and urged Arabella to join them in their games, but games which they chose never pleased her, and when Friday came, Reginald spoke his mind. They were walking home from school, and Arabella, as usual, had turned from her playmates, preferring to go home alone.
Reginald looked after her frowning.
"She's just an old fussbudget!" he said.
"Oh, hush!" said Katie, "don't you know that we all promised Dorothy we'd be kind to Arabella?"
"Well, I didn't say it to her," said Reginald, "but I'd like to."
"Now, Reginald," said Katie, "you know mamma said that you were always to be a gentleman, and that you must be 'specially polite and gentle if you were to be in a class of girls."
"Well, what did I do?" he asked with wide open eyes. "I haven't touched Arabella; if she'd been a boy I would have shaken her this morning, when she sneered and called me a pretty boy. Boys aren't ever pretty; only girls are pretty, and any boy would hate Arabella for saying it."
They tried not to laugh, but the handsome little fellow was so angry, and all because Arabella had called him pretty. Reginald, who never could be angry long, joined in the general laugh which could not be controlled.
Early Monday morning Dorothy and Nancy were skipping along the avenue on their way to school.
Every day of the first week had been sunny, and here was Monday with the bright blue sky overhead, and the little sunbeams dancing on the road.
"We had every lesson perfect last week," said Dorothy, "and I mean to get 'perfect' this week, too."
"So do I," said Nancy, "and I can, if Arabella doesn't make me do half her examples!"
"I don't think she ought to," Dorothy said.
"She doesn't really ask me to," said Nancy, "but it's almost the same. She says she can't do them, and says she could if some one was kind enough to just show her how. Then I can't seem to be unkind, and the minute I say I'll help her, she pushes her slate and pencil towards me. 'You can do 'em easier than I can,' she says, and instead of helping her, I do them all."
"Does Aunt Charlotte like to have you?" asked Dorothy.
"I don't know; I haven't told her about it yet. I don't want to be a telltale," Nancy said.
"Of course you don't," agreed Dorothy, "but you know Aunt Charlotte says that we are to be independent, and Arabella's anything but independent when she doesn't do her examples herself. It's puzzling, though; mamma says we mustn't notice her queer ways, and that we must be kind to her, and it doesn't seem kind to refuse to help her with her lessons."
"Wait for us!" called a merry voice, and turning, they saw Nina and Jeanette running toward them. A third girl clasped their hands, and Dorothy knew that she must be their cousin, Lola Blessington.
She was very pretty, and she seemed so friendly that Dorothy was really glad that she was to join the class, and Nancy was quite as pleased. It was early for school, and Nina proposed that they sit on the wall, and wait for Katie and Reginald.
They seated themselves upon the stone wall, and like a row of sparrows, they chattered gaily.
Lola seemed full of fun, and she told of some fine games which she had played at the school where she had been a pupil, and they were all very glad that she was to be a member of the private class.
And now a thin little figure made its way across the street, just a little way from where they were sitting.
Nina reached behind Lola, and touched her sister's sleeve; Jeanette nodded, and looked toward the girl who walked along, looking down upon the ground.
Dorothy saw her, and called to her kindly:
"Arabella! Arabella! Won't you come and meet our new playmate?"
Arabella turned, paused just a second to stare at the new pupil. Then turning toward the stone cottage, she said:
"I can't stop to talk; I've got to go to school."
"Why, how—" Nancy would not finish the sentence.
She was grieved that Arabella should be so rude to Dorothy, and vexed that their new friend should be unkindly treated.
"Who is she?" Lola asked.
"She's Arabella Corryville," said Nina, "and she's in our class, and I wish—" she stopped as short as Nancy had a few moments before.
Lola turned to look at Nina.
"What were you going to say?" she whispered.
"I was going to say that I wished she wasn't."
Lola received a cordial greeting from Aunt Charlotte, and at recess time she declared that she was now in the nicest school that she had ever attended.
"Why, how many have you been in?" asked Mollie; "this is the only one I've ever been to, and you aren't any older than I am."
"I've been in three schools," she said. "Last year I commenced in one school, but we moved, and I had to go to another one. This makes the third, and I know I shall like it best of all."
Every one liked Lola. She seemed to be tireless. She knew many games, and as soon as they wearied of one, she chose another.
"She's as much fun to play with as a boy," said Reginald, at which Arabella laughed.
"You like any girls better'n boys; you said so the other day," she said.
"I like some girls," said the small boy, and he might have said more, but his cousin Katie stood behind Arabella, shaking her head, and frowning at him. Reginald looked at Katie, and decided to be silent.
There were ever so many things which he would have liked to say, but Katie might tell at home if he were too naughty.
When Arabella found that Lola was liked by all the other pupils, she decided to be just a bit friendly toward her, and Lola seemed pleased that Arabella was no longer odd and silent.
And so it happened that Arabella now seemed really to be a member of the class. She no longer refused to join in their games at recess, and took more interest in her lessons than she had before.
Aunt Charlotte was delighted, and hoped that Arabella's pleasant mood would last.
There was great excitement one morning when the little class was told that plans had been made for the first entertainment, and that rehearsals would commence that afternoon. A little murmur of delight passed over the class, and Aunt Charlotte smiled at their pleasure.
"I shall ask Dorothy to sing two songs for us; Nancy, I know, will be willing to do a fancy dance; Nina and Jeanette are learning a new duet for the piano, and I should be pleased to have that for another number on our programme. I have chosen a fine dialogue which will give a part to every girl, and also a boy's role for Reginald."
When Aunt Charlotte had finished speaking, there was another little murmur of delight, and then the lessons for the day commenced.
At recess they could not spare a moment for games! They talked, and talked of the entertainment which they were to give, and of the fine times which they would have at the afternoon rehearsals, and after school, when they walked along the avenue, they still were talking of the solo numbers, and of the dialogue.
"There's eight girls in it, and one boy, that's Reginald," said Mollie, "and I know—oh, wait till I tie my shoe."
She rested her foot on a stone, and tied the ribbons with a smart little twitch.
"And now what were you going to say?" asked Jeanette.
"I said how many were to be in the dialogue, and I was going to say that I know I'm just wild to hear Aunt Charlotte read it to us this afternoon."
"Then you won't have to be wild long," Jeanette said, "for we are to come back at two to have our parts given to us."
* * * * *
At two o'clock they were again at the cottage, eagerly watching Aunt Charlotte, as she opened her desk, and took from it a book with a scarlet cover.
"There are nine girls in my class, just the number required for this dialogue," she said. "Eight of the characters are school girls, one is a fairy, and the boy in the little play is an elfin messenger."
"That'll be me, for I'm the only boy here," said Reginald; "you girls don't know who'll be which!" Aunt Charlotte laughed at this speech as heartily as did the girls.
"We'll soon know who'll be which," said Nancy.
"Yes, because Aunt Charlotte will tell us," laughed Dorothy.
"The directions for producing the play, speaks of the fairy queen as being taller than the school girls, so I will give that part to you, Jeanette, as you are a trifle taller than the others."
"Oh, I'll love to be the queen," Jeanette said quickly, and she glanced at her playmates with flashing eyes.
"I guess Dorothy expected to be the queen," whispered Nina to Lola. Nina felt almost as proud as if she herself had been honored.
It was true that Dorothy had usually been given leading parts, but evidently she was not at all vexed.
"You'll make a fine queen, Jeanette," she was saying, "and oh, Aunt Charlotte, do tell her to let her hair hang loose; it's 'most below her waist."
"Surely Jeanette must have her hair unbraided," Aunt Charlotte agreed, "and we must make a tiny gold crown for her."
"How lovely!" said Nancy, and Jeanette was delighted.
Of course Reginald was to be the little page, and the other parts were assigned, Aunt Charlotte choosing for each of the girls the part which best fitted her.
At first Arabella had seemed greatly interested, but as soon as Jeanette had been chosen for the fairy queen, she left the group, and turning toward the window, looked out into the garden.
Flossie called to her. "Come, Arabella!" she cried. "We're going to read our dialogue now."
The others took their places, and Arabella turned, and slowly joined them.
"We will pass the book from one to another, and thus read the little play through," said Aunt Charlotte, "and I will copy each part carefully, that each can memorize all that she has to say. When you have learned your lines, we will have our first rehearsal."
"Hooray!" said Reginald, and although the girls laughed, they were quite as eagerly delighted as he.
They left the cottage, and as they walked down the avenue they talked of the pretty dialogue, each insisting that she liked her part best.
"But mine's the best," said Reginald, "for I'm the only boy in it." "Mine's the best, for I'm the queen," said Jeanette, and she held her head very high, as she looked toward her playmates.
"All the parts are nice," Nancy said, "and we'll have a fine entertainment."
Arabella had stopped to arrange her books in her desk, and was the last to leave the cottage.
"I like to see that you are orderly," Aunt Charlotte said, as Arabella passed her on her way to the door.
She made no reply, but hurried down the walk.
"An odd child, truly," Aunt Charlotte said, as she looked after the slender little figure.
The next day each girl received a copy of her lines, and Wednesday of the next week was set for the first rehearsal.
* * * * *
"I know every word I have to say," said Jeanette, as she walked along toward the cottage with Katie Dean.
It was Wednesday morning, and the first rehearsal was set for the afternoon.
"I guess I know mine, but I'm not sure. Aunt Charlotte will have the book and she can prompt me," Katie said.
"I know mine," boasted Reginald; "I have to run in right after the fairy, and say, 'Here is your magic wand, oh, queen,'"
"I guess you can't say it that way," laughed Jeanette, "for Aunt Charlotte wouldn't let you. You said it just as if you'd said, 'Here is a great, big sandwich, oh, queen!'"
"Well, I didn't say that, and you needn't laugh. It makes you feel big to be queen!" "Reginald!"
"Well, it does," declared the small boy, "an' Arabella said so yesterday."
"Arabella likes to say mean things," said Jeanette, "but it doesn't prove that they're so because she says so."
Everything went smoothly at the afternoon rehearsal, until Dorothy said that Nancy was to do a lovely fancy dance for one number on the programme, when Arabella felt moved to make one of her unpleasant remarks.
"My Aunt Matilda doesn't 'prove of dancing," she said, looking sharply at Nancy.
"Well, your Aunt Matilda doesn't have to dance," said Mollie, pertly.
Mollie knew that she was naughty, but truly Arabella was trying.
"Perhaps your aunt likes music," said Nina; "Dorothy is going to sing."
"I don't know whether she likes singing or not," Arabella replied, "but she doesn't like dancing, I know, for she said she wouldn't ever let me learn to dance."
"P'r'aps your father'd let you learn," said Reginald.
"He wouldn't unless Aunt Matilda said I could."
"Why does folks have Aunt Matildas?" muttered Reginald.
Mollie Merton laughed. She had heard what he said, although he had spoken almost in a whisper.
They left the cottage, promising to study their parts very carefully, and as they walked down the avenue they repeated some of the pleasing lines which they remembered.
Suddenly Reginald spoke.
"I've got to go back; I've left my ball on my desk," he said.
"Don't go back," Katie said, "you won't want it to-night."
"P'raps I will, and anyway I'm going after it," said Reginald, stoutly; "you wait for me."
"Oh, we can't, Reginald," Katie said, "but you can overtake us if you hurry."
Reginald was already running toward the cottage, so he did not hear what Katie said. He pushed open the little gate and ran in, and up the steps on to the piazza.
"I left my ball on my desk," he said to Aunt Charlotte, who was standing in the hall.
"The schoolroom is open," she said with a smile, and Reginald rushed past her, and hurried to his desk. The ball was not on it, nor was it in the desk, as careful hunting proved.
"I left it right on top of my desk," he declared to Aunt Charlotte, who had followed, and now stood beside him.
"Are you quite sure of that?" she asked gently.
"Oh, yes, I know I left it there, and I came back on purpose to get it," he said, his blue eyes wide with surprise, "and now it is getting late to hunt for it, 'sides, I don't know where to hunt."
His lip quivered, and there was something very like tears in his eyes, although he blinked very hard to hide them.
"I will search for the ball, and keep it for you to-morrow morning," Aunt Charlotte said; "it may have dropped to the floor, and rolled away into some shadowy corner, or behind the draperies. It is almost twilight now, but the lamplight to-night or the bright daylight to-morrow will help me to find it for you."
Thus comforted, Reginald left the cottage, but although he ran nearly all the way home, he saw neither of his schoolmates. He had hunted so long for the coveted ball that they had reached their homes before he was even in sight.
"We can't wait for him," Katie had said, as she looked down the road to see if he were coming, and then they had become so interested in talking of their dialogue that they forgot all about him.
Usually Reginald called for his cousin Katie, but the next morning he was so eager to learn if his ball had been found, that he started early, intending to be the first at school, and hurried past Katie's house lest she might call to him to wait. He had almost reached the cottage when he remembered that he had left both his spelling-book and reader at home.
It was really provoking, and for just a moment he paused, wondering if he might borrow books, or if indeed he ought to return for his own.
It was only a few days before that Aunt Charlotte had spoken of promptness at school, and at the same time said that only a careless pupil would be obliged to borrow.
He would not be the first to be thought careless; he would run back to the house, but he must hurry, or be late.
There was a field that he could cross, and thus save a little time, he thought, but when half-way across it he found that he was losing, instead of gaining time. The uneven ground and coarse grass were much harder to run over than the fine, hard surface of the avenue, and in his haste he stumbled along over sticks and rough places, reaching the house flushed and tired.
He found his books just where he had left them and hurried past the maid, who was surprised to see him.
"Why, Master Reginald, I thought I see yer go out to school some time ago," she said.
"I had to come back after my books," he replied, looking over his shoulder as he ran down the walk.
"I won't go across that little old field," he said in disgust. "It must have taken twice as long to go that way."
So he ran along the avenue, and soon neared the bend of the road where, between trees and shrubbery, he could see a bit of the cottage.
"I'll be the only one that's late," he thought, when at that moment he noticed some one farther along the avenue.
It was Arabella Corryville, but what was she doing?
He drew back, and stood behind a bush which overhung the sidewalk and partly hid him.
Arabella was looking over the low wall,—ah, now she was reaching down as if trying to get something that was hard to reach, or was she dropping something over?
Reginald could not guess which she was doing, and he knew that if he asked her, she would not tell him.
Now Arabella was running; Reginald ran, too. He knew that he must be quite late, for none of the other pupils were in sight.
He was a swift runner, and he entered the door just as Arabella was about to close it.
"You're late, too," she whispered.
The little pupils were singing, and the two went softly to their seats.
After the singing, Aunt Charlotte questioned Reginald.
"I started early, but I forgot my books, and going back for them made me late. I ran 'most all the way; I meant to be here early."
"Being late for such a reason as that is excusable," said Aunt Charlotte.
"You, also, were late, Arabella."
"I had to help my Aunt Matilda," said Arabella, as glibly as if it had been true.
"Oh, oo! That's a fib!" whispered Reginald, but Arabella did not hear him.
Aunt Charlotte said nothing, but she thought it strange that Arabella's aunt should have detained her. Surely the maid could have given all necessary assistance, rather than force the little daughter of the house to be late at school.
Reginald had longed to peep over that wall, but he dared not linger. What had Arabella been doing? He determined to wait until he had a fine chance, and then he would look over that wall. He believed that she had hidden something there. He would not tell the other girls, for they might tell Arabella.
At recess time he asked Aunt Charlotte if she had found his ball.
No, the ball was not in the room.
"I think you must have been mistaken," she said, "the ball must be at your home."
"Truly I had it here," the boy insisted, "I left it on my desk."
"It must have gone to find my red book which had our dialogue in it, for that has disappeared, and hunt as I will, I cannot find it. You have your parts carefully copied, and can be learning them, but I need the book to prompt you."
Reginald knew that the ball had been on his desk when he had left the schoolroom, and he could not think how it could have disappeared unless some one had helped it to do so.
Again he searched in his desk, but the ball was not there. He put away the books which he had taken out, and closed his desk, looking up just in time to see that Arabella was closely watching him. How queer she looked! She was not laughing, but she seemed to be amused.
"I b'lieve I know where my ball is," he whispered; "I just know Arabella took it, and p'r'aps that was what she dropped over the wall."
"What are you saying?" whispered Arabella, but Reginald only shook his head. "I guess I won't tell her," he thought, "but right after school I'll look."
When school was out he lingered, hoping that the girls would hurry off, and thus leave him free to search behind the wall where he believed Arabella had hidden his ball.
It was useless to wait. The girls sat upon the wall talking until Reginald was out of patience, and when at last they started for home, Katie insisted that he must go with her.
"You know mamma said that we were to hurry home from school," she said.
"You weren't hurrying when you were sitting on this wall," said Reginald.
"But I forgot, so I'm hurrying now," Katie replied, and grasping his hand, she commenced to run very fast, laughing because he looked so unwilling.
That night there was a heavy shower that drenched the trees and left clear little puddles in the road.
Reginald reached the cottage just in time to avoid being late.
The lessons went smoothly until the readers were opened. It was a charming story, but there were many long words which puzzled the pupils.
"The water nymphs paused in the moonlight to watch the fountain spray," was the opening sentence of the paragraph which Reginald was to read, but the letters were spaced so that the s and p were not close together in "spray." Reginald read it as it appeared:
"'The water nymphs paused in the moonlight to watch the fountains pray.'"
"Why, how could they?" he asked, "how could fountains pray?"
The class was amused, but Arabella laughed long and loudly, and Aunt Charlotte was obliged to speak forcibly to her to check her merriment. The small boy was angry.
"I'll get even with her; see 'f I don't," he thought.
Indeed he could hardly wait to punish Arabella for her rudeness.
"May I leave the yard?" he asked at recess time, "I've thought of one place I'd like to hunt for my ball."
He was off like a flash, and the girls returned to their game.
"It's your turn, Dorothy," Nancy said, and Dorothy entered the ring.
"From this ring that has no end You may choose a little friend,"
sang the merry voices, and Dorothy looked from one to another. She would have liked to choose Nancy, but she thought how few of the girls ever chose Arabella, and she held out her hand to the playmate who seldom was favored.
If Arabella was pleased she did not show it. She took her place in the ring, however, and looked at the merry faces that circled around her.
"You are next the favored guest, Choose the friend you love the best."
"Choose?" How could she choose? She never liked to do a pleasant thing for any one, and whomever she called into the ring would feel favored.
"Hurry, and choose some one, Arabella," called Mollie Merton, but still Arabella stood sullenly staring at her shoes.
Mollie was ready again to urge Arabella to choose, when the gate flew open, and Reginald, breathless and excited, rushed in. Aunt Charlotte was standing in the walk, watching the pretty game. Reginald ran to her, holding out something very wet and dripping.
"I didn't find my ball, but I guess this is the di'logue book you couldn't find," he said.
The red and gold cover was blistered, and its fine color had almost disappeared.
Aunt Charlotte looked her surprise.
"Where did you find it?" she asked.
"Down behind the wall, where I saw somebody drop it," he said, looking sharply at Arabella.
Of course they all looked at Arabella, who hesitated for a moment, then pushing past the girls, she ran down the walk to the gate, looking over her shoulder to call to Aunt Charlotte:
"I've got to go home, 'cause my head aches."
"I wonder what Aunt Charlotte will do about the book?" whispered Mollie.
"Why, what could she do?" Flossie asked in surprise.
"Why, Flossie Barnet! You saw the cover all spoiled. Don't you s'pose she'll—"
But Mollie's question was hushed by the silvery tinkle of the bell which told that recess was over.
Arabella did not return for the afternoon rehearsal, but she entered the class-room on the next morning as calmly as if nothing had happened, and she seemed very eager to show her interest in the dialogue by appearing at all the other rehearsals.
* * * * *
Exhibition day had arrived, and parents and friends were seated before the tiny stage, waiting for the curtain to rise.
Dorothy had sung two songs very sweetly, Nancy had danced for them, and had charmed them with her grace, Nina and Jeanette had played a duet, and now, yes, the curtain was rising!
Every one leaned forward to catch the first glimpse of the stage-setting, and in the midst of the excitement, a small, prim figure entered the room, and made its way toward the only seat which was still unoccupied. It was beside Flossie's Uncle Harry, and as the woman took the seat he turned, and then moved to make extra room for her.
"That must be Arabella's Aunt Matilda!" he whispered to his wife.
"Hush-sh-sh!" she whispered.
"It not only must be, but it is!" he declared, and he offered her his programme.
Aunt Matilda was not wholly pleased with his courtesy, and had half a mind to refuse it, but few could resist his winning smile, and reluctantly she kept it.
"Aunt Matilda looks as if she were angry because she is not included in the dialogue," whispered Uncle Harry, to which his lovely young wife replied:
"She'll hear you, if you aren't careful; now do give your attention to the stage."
"I'm simply all ears," he whispered, and at that moment, the children ran on, entering from either side.
The pretty scene represented a little grove, in which the school girls had gathered to summon the queen of the fairies, who might grant the dearest wish of each.
The first fairy to appear was Green Feather, an elfin page or messenger, and Reginald made a perfect sprite, in his green suit, and cap with a long, green quill.
He took the message which the girls wished to send to the queen, and then hurried away to summon her, while the school girls chanted a magic verse which should aid her to appear quickly.
"Fairy queen, we wait for thee, Willing subjects we will be. Come! Thou'lt find us at thy feet, We would beg, ay, and entreat That our wishes thou wilt hear, When thou dost indeed appear. Now we draw a magic ring, 'Come, fair queen,' we gaily sing."
With a silver-tipped wand they drew a circle upon the ground, and scarcely was it finished when Jeanette ran out from between the mimic trees, and sprang into the circle, a dazzling figure, all white and silver, and blue. Upon her long, dark hair rested a tiny gold crown, and in her hand she carried a gold wand which was wound with strings of pearls.
"Thou, with voice so silvery clear, I your dearest wish will hear."
As Jeanette spoke the lines she held her wand above Dorothy's head.
"Song! Ah, let me always sing For the peasant, or the king, For the ones I hold most dear, For all hearts that I may cheer,"
sang Dorothy, in her clear, light little treble, and very winning she looked, as she extended her hand toward the fairy whom she implored to grant her wish.
"Sing you shall, in tones so clear That the very birds shall hear, And, in envy, cease their lay While your melody holds sway."
As Jeanette chanted the verse, she waved her wand, and Dorothy, entering the circle beside her, sang a fairy song which delighted all who listened.
The woman beside Uncle Harry seemed ill at ease, crumpling her programme, and moving restlessly upon her seat as if the little play bored her.
Uncle Harry stooped, and picked up the fan which had dropped from her lap. She looked at him as if she thought that he had intended to steal it, then, relenting, she screwed her thin lips into something like a smile.
"Thank ye," she said, as she took the fan, and glanced at his pleasant face.
Uncle Harry wished that she would speak again.
"I wish she'd give us some of her 'views,'" he whispered to his wife, "Arabella says she has plenty of them."
"Oh, Harry, hush, unless you want her to hear you."
"I wouldn't mind," he whispered, his blue eyes twinkling with merriment.
Just at that moment, the fairy queen seated herself upon her woodland throne, and as the girls knelt before her, the red curtain rolled slowly down, hiding the little stage.
The first act was finished, and now, in the few moments before the curtain would rise, the buzz of voices whispered approval of the pretty play.
Arabella's prim little aunt looked furtively toward her neighbor. He smiled encouragingly, and she ventured to speak.
She was a little old lady and he was tall and stalwart; his handsome face was youthful, and she wished him to know that she thought him a mere boy.
"Young man, do you approve of this play-acting?" she asked.
"Oh, surely," he replied. "Who would care to see professionals, if he might, instead, see children trying to act?"
She eyed him sharply to learn if he were joking, but his manner was so dignified that she did not dream that he was amused.
"Well, I think if we had these exhibitions often the children would grow to be just too pert for anything. I have my views about play-acting, and as my niece is a pupil here, I'm just a little anxious about how this school is run. Have you any small sisters here?" she asked.
His eyes were dancing.
"I've no small sisters," he said, "and as my little daughter is but nine months old, I've not yet sent her to school."
"Your daughter? Well, I declare! Why, I thought you were an overgrown boy!" she said, bluntly.
"Alas! That's what my wife frequently calls me," he said, and from his manner one might have thought that he deeply regretted the fact.
"If your wife is here, young man, I should think she'd see you talking to that pretty girl beside you," said the little woman, sharply.
"Oh, she rather likes it," he said, with a soft laugh, "you see that pretty girl is my wife." Aunt Matilda stared.
"Wouldn't you like to meet her?" he asked; "this is such a very informal gathering that I might venture to present her, if only I knew your name."
"I'm Arabella Corryville's aunt," she said, without realizing that that was not telling her name.
"Vera," he said, "allow me to present you to Arabella's aunt; madam, this is my wife!"
The ladies bowed, and the younger woman spoke very cordially, then the curtain went up and every eye turned toward the stage.
It was in the last act that Arabella entered from the right, and all were surprised when in a clear voice, and with appropriate gestures, she spoke her lines, making quite as good an impression as any of her schoolmates.
During the early part of the dialogue Arabella had not been on the little stage, and her doting aunt felt injured, because she believed that the other children had been given the most important parts. She had expressed her disapproval of "play-acting" to Uncle Harry.
Now all was different; Arabella had appeared, had spoken well, and the applause which she received completely changed Aunt Matilda's mind.
"Granted our wishes, Happy hearts have we; True to our fairy queen Ever we'll be,"
sang the children, and then once more the red curtain hid the tiny stage.
"On second thoughts, I guess play-acting is rather a fine thing if it's well done," Aunt Matilda said, "an' I guess my Arabella did 'bout as well as any of 'em. I shouldn't wonder if she could be a great actress if she chose. Not that I'd want her to be one; no indeed, but it's pleasant to think that she could."
"Oh, certainly," said Uncle Harry. "It would be most delightful if we could be sure that, at ten minutes' notice, Arabella could become the world's greatest actress; that by gently beckoning to him, the most obdurate theatrical manager would bow abjectly before her."
"Well, I guess so," the prim little woman said, not quite understanding his meaning, but thinking the speech, as a whole, rather grand.
The little entertainment had been a success, and Aunt Charlotte received very warm congratulations for the fine work which her little pupils had done.
As they strolled homeward, the guests talked of the numbers which had most delighted them.
Uncle Harry, wag that he was, had found Aunt Matilda quite as amusing as the music, the pretty dance which Nancy had contributed, or the fairy dialogue. He was expecting every moment that his young wife would gently upbraid him for his raillery, and he had not long to wait. As they turned in at their own gateway, she looked up at him.
"Harry," she said, "you have a merry heart, and I would not for the world have you more quiet, but sometimes you carry your jokes too far. Dear, will you tell me why you did not mention that strange woman's name? You introduced her as Arabella's aunt."
"My dear, that's who she said she was; she didn't tell me her name, so how could I tell you?"
"But you did not tell her my name; you introduced me as your wife."
"Well, surely you are my wife; as she omitted to state what her name was, I wouldn't tell her yours. Simply evening things up, that's all."
"What an idea!" she said, but she could not help laughing at his little joke.
THE RETURN OF PATRICIA
Of course they talked and talked of their entertainment, of their fine audience, of the applause, and the delight of their friends.
They were on their way to school one morning, Nina, Jeanette, and their cousin, Lola Blessington.
"Nancy Ferris danced just beautifully," said Lola, "I wonder where she learned."
"I don't know," Jeanette said, sullenly.
She had envied the applause which Nancy's graceful dancing had evoked.
"Why, Jeanette," exclaimed Nina, "you do know that Nancy learned to dance in New York."
"Well, I don't know who taught her, and that's probably what Lola meant," Jeanette retorted sharply.
"New York!" said Lola. "Why, I remember a little girl I saw once at the theatre, who danced so gracefully that I thought she must be a fairy. She seemed ever so much like Nancy, but she had—"
"Come here, Nancy," called Jeanette, sharply, "Lola says she saw a girl once, at a theatre in New York, who danced and looked like you. What do you think of that?"
"Jeanette!" cried Nina, surprised that her sister should be so eager to tease Nancy, but Nancy did not seem annoyed.
She looked straight into Jeanette's flashing eyes, as she said, quietly:
"Perhaps Lola did see me dance; I was in New York."
"Oh, I didn't say it was you who danced at the theatre. I said the little girl was like you, but I remember now her hair was yellow," Lola said.
"I wore a wig of long yellow curls," Nancy said, "and I had to dance whether I wished to or not; Uncle Steve made me. Oh, I was not happy there. I was never so happy as when I've been with dear Aunt Charlotte, and Dorothy. Let's talk about something else."
Jeanette felt a bit ashamed. Nina wished that her sister had not been so rude, and for a few moments neither could think of anything to say, but just at that moment Dorothy joined them, and soon they were talking as gaily as before.
Then Katie and Reginald came hurrying along the avenue, and a moment later Mollie Merton and Flossie Barnet, and soon they were all chattering like a flock of sparrows.
"Say! Just listen to me a minute," shouted Reginald, "I've got something great to tell you, but I can't until you'll hark."
"What is it? What is it?" cried the eager voices.
"It's just this," he said with much importance: "My mamma called on Aunt Charlotte yesterday, and while they were talking 'bout our school Aunt Charlotte said that the big girls would begin to study history this week, and my brother Bob says it'll be all 'bout cutting folks' heads off. I guess it'll scare girls to study that. 'Twould scare me, and I'm a boy!"
"Why, Reginald Dean!" cried Katie.
"My middle name's Merton," said the small boy, coolly.
"Well, Reginald Merton Dean, then," Katie said, "and whatever your name is, you ought not to tell things like that!"
"Like what? Like learning 'bout folks choppin' off other folks' heads? Well, I guess it's so if my big brother says so," Reginald replied.
The girls did not believe it, but they could not deny it. They knew that Reginald thought what he said was true, but they believed that, in some way, the facts had become twisted.
They were at the cottage door now, and as they entered Reginald whispered:
"You just see, Katie Dean! I tell you Bob knows!"
The early morning lessons were the same as usual, and the girls soon forgot what Reginald had said, and at recess there were so many games to be played that there was little time for talking.
It was after recess that the surprise came. The reading lesson had been unusually interesting, and instead of twenty minutes, it had occupied a half-hour.
When the readers were put aside, Aunt Charlotte said:
"Commencing to-morrow, we shall devote a half-hour to studying history. You are all much younger than the pupils in the public schools who begin to study history, but we shall take it up in an easy, enjoyable way. I shall read to you from a finely written volume which I own, while you will try to write, from memory, what I have read."
"What did I tell you?" whispered Reginald. "Now I guess you'll hear 'bout folks with their heads off!"
Katie put her hands over her ears, but Reginald's eyes were twinkling with delight. The girls would have to admit that his scrap of news was true!
As they hastened down the long avenue after school, he again asked his question:
"Say, girls! What did I say?"
"You said we'd got to learn horrid things, and Aunt Charlotte didn't say so," said Mollie.
"I know she didn't, but Bob did, and you wait," was the quick reply.
"I'll tell you something that you'd hardly believe, but it's true," said Mollie; "it's somebody that's coming right here to Merrivale to live."
"Is it somebody you know?" Dorothy asked.
"Somebody we all know," she said.
"Is she nice? Do we like her?" Nina questioned.
"I'll tell you who it is, and then you'll know whether you're glad or not," said Mollie. She had been walking backward, and in front of her playmates, and thus she could watch their faces. She looked at them an instant, then she said:
The little group stood stock still, and it was quite evident that not one of the party was delighted.
Nancy was the first to speak.
"Are you sure, Mollie?" she asked.
"She said so," Mollie replied. "I was running across the lawn to call for Flossie, when I heard some one call:
"'Mollie! Mollie! Mollie Merton!'
"I turned, and there was Patricia running up the walk. You know she was always in a rush, and she's just the same now.
"'I can't stop but a minute,' she said, 'but I've just time to tell you that we've been hunting houses, and we're coming here to live. We've got a house right next to the big schoolhouse, and that's nice, for I wouldn't want to go to private school.'
"Then she ran off, just looking over her shoulder to say:
"'I've got to hurry, for I've an engagement, but I'll be over to see you all soon.'"
"I wish she wouldn't," said Reginald, stoutly.
"Perhaps she's pleasanter than when she lived here before," ventured Flossie, looking up into the faces of her playmates.
Dear little girl, the youngest of the group, she was ever ready to say a kind word for an absent playmate.
"She looked just the same," said Mollie.
"If she said she was to live next to the big schoolhouse, that is just miles from here," Jeanette said, "so she wouldn't be likely to come over here very often."
"'Tisn't any farther than where she lived before," said Nina, "and she came often enough then."
* * * * *
Aunt Charlotte had chosen wisely, when she had decided to interest her young pupils in history, by reading aloud from a volume in which the facts were set forth in story form, and there was one pupil who listened more intently than any of the others.
One glance at Reginald's earnest little face would have convinced any one that he was wildly interested.
His round, blue eyes never left Aunt Charlotte's face while she was reading. The story of Ponce de Leon's search for the fountain of youth was more exciting than any fairy tale that he had ever heard. He saw no pathos in the old Spaniard's useless search. The picture which the history painted for him showed only the little band of swarthy men following their handsome, white-haired leader through the wild, unexplored South, their picturesque, gaily colored costumes gleaming in the sunlight.
How brilliant the pageant! How brave, how valiant they must have appeared! Even the gorgeous wild flowers paled with chagrin as the bold, venturesome Spaniards trampled them underfoot as they marched steadily onward, hoping yet to find the crystal fountain which should grant to them eternal youth.
When Aunt Charlotte ceased reading, she said: "Now, take your pencils, and write all that you remember of what I have read."
How their pencils flew! In a short time their papers were ready, and the little pupils proved that they had been attentive, many of the sketches giving the story almost word for word. Of course the older girls had written most accurately, but a few lines which little Flossie Barnet had written showed her tender, loving heart.
"I'm sorry for the poor old Spanyard, for a fountane like that wouldn't be anywhere, so I wish he and his brave men had sailed across the sea and land to hunt for something that he could truly find."
Some faulty spelling, but no error in the loving, tender heart. The pathos of the story had touched her.
Reginald was but a few months older than Flossie, but he was not sensitive, and only the adventure, the beauty described appealed to him. He looked at Flossie in surprise when she had finished reading her little sketch, and wondered that she could see anything pathetic in the tale.
Then he rose to read his own effort at story-telling.
"They tramped and tramped for miles through the trees and swamps, and I'd like to have worn a red velvet coat and hunt for that fountane, for if we hadn't found it we'd have had a jolly hunt. I'd like to have worn a red velvet coat and a big hat with fethers on it, and a pare of boots with big tops to them. We could have tramped better with those big boots and all those fine things on."
A droll idea, truly. No wonder that the girls laughed at the vanity which Reginald had so innocently betrayed. "Where did you get your description of his costume?" Aunt Charlotte asked. She could not help smiling.
"From a painting in my uncle's hall," said Reginald, promptly, "and when I told him that I wished that men wore clothes like that now, he just laughed, and said he thought those huge, long-plumed hats would be an awful nuisance."
The older girls were soon to study English history, and they felt very important indeed.
"We're bigger than Flossie and Katie and Reginald," said Jeanette, "so we are to have an extra study."
"We wouldn't want what you're going to have," Reginald said, "for it's just horrid. I told you my brother Bob said it was all full of chopping folks' heads off, and you didn't believe it, Jeanette Earl, but you'll find out it's so; you see 'f you don't."
Flossie slipped her hand into Reginald's, as if for protection.
"We wouldn't like to study it," she said, "and we won't like to hear it, but we'll have to when they say their lessons."
Dorothy and Nancy had been obliged to hurry home from school. They were to drive with Mrs. Dainty and Aunt Charlotte, and Mrs. Dainty had told them to be prompt.
Flossie and Reginald lingered after the others had gone. He gathered some blossoming weeds which grew near the cottage, thinking thus to cheer her, and to turn her mind from the hated English history.
She took the flowers, and for a time she laughed and talked so brightly that she seemed her sunny self.
He was just thinking how happy she looked when suddenly she leaned toward him, and said earnestly:
"Do you s'pose Bob was mistaken?"
Reginald hesitated. He ardently admired Bob, but he also cared for dear little Flossie, and longed to please her, so after a pause he said:
"My big brother knows 'most everything, but just p'r'aps he might have been mistaken."
It was not much comfort, but it was better than if Reginald had insisted that Bob's knowledge was absolute.
As Mrs. Dainty's carriage bowled along the avenue, the trees seemed ablaze with autumn splendor, for the leaves that danced in the sunlight were scarlet and gold, and the sunbeams flickered and shimmered like merry elves. The light breeze tossed the plumes on Dorothy's hat, and blew her golden curls about her lovely little face.
She leaned back in the carriage and laid her hand in Nancy's. Nancy's fingers were quick to clasp Dorothy's, and for a time they sat listening to what Mrs. Dainty and Aunt Charlotte Grayson were saying.
Then something made Nancy turn. A little figure was mincing along the avenue; its shoes had very high heels, its stockings were pink, and its dress a bright green. A showy hat with many-colored flowers crowned its head, and as the carriage passed it waved a lace handkerchief, thus setting her many bangles tinkling.
"That was Patricia Lavine," said Nancy; "Mollie Merton said she saw her just a few days ago."
"O dear!" said Dorothy, "and it's not nice to say that when Patricia has just come back here to live, but truly she wasn't pleasant."
"I don't wonder you said, 'O dear,' for wherever she was, she made somebody uncomfortable," Nancy said, which was indeed true.
Patricia was not wholly at fault. She dearly loved anything that was showy, and her mother, who was a very ignorant woman, was quite as fond of display.
She had never taught her little daughter to be kind or courteous, but instead had laughed at her pert ways, and thought them amusing.
Patricia hastened along the avenue as fast as her little steeple heels would permit, and when she saw Flossie and Reginald, she rushed toward them, assuring them that she never had been so glad to see any one before.
Neither Flossie nor Reginald could say that they were quite as pleased, but Patricia did not wait for them to speak.
"We've been living in N' York," she said, "but we're going to live here now, an' we've got a el'gant house right next the schoolhouse. Ma says it's one of the finest houses in Merrivale, an' I guess—"
"If it's next to the schoolhouse it's the one where our cook's brother lives," remarked Reginald. "He lives on the first floor, and the man that drives the water-cart lives just over him."
Patricia was annoyed. She had wished them to think that the entire house had been engaged for her own small family. Her cheeks were flushed, but she made the best of the situation, and at once commenced to tell of the beauties of the flat.
"We lived in a great big hotel in N' York," she said, "but ma says this flat is handsomer than the one what we had at the hotel. Ma says I can give a party this winter, if I want to. Of course I'll invite all my N' York friends, but I shall only ask the girls here that have been nice to me, and I don't think I shall ask any boys at all."
She cast a withering glance at Reginald, who whistled softly. Then he made a naughty reply.
"P'r'aps the boys wouldn't come if you asked them," he said.
"Oh, Reginald!" said Flossie.
"Well, she said a mean thing 'bout not inviting boys, else I wouldn't have said it. I wouldn't speak like that to you or Dorothy, or any of the nice girls I know."
"There were nice boys in N' York," snapped Patricia. "I didn't see a boy while I was there who wasn't very nice."
WHAT FLOSSIE DID
In the great hall, at the Barnet house, the butler stood puzzling over the letters which the postman had left.
He dared not meddle with them, but he paused for a moment to study them as they lay upon his salver, while he wondered if the handwriting upon either envelope were in the least familiar.
The little French maid, peering over the baluster, laughed softly.
"M'sieur is curious, but he should not delay. The lettairs, it may be, of importance are, and the madam already waiting is."
With a soft, yet merry laugh, the maid returned to dress her mistress's hair, and the burly butler stalked up the stairway, angry that Marie should have seen him studying the letters, and annoyed by her saucy laugh. "That girl is always 'round," he muttered.
It was Saturday morning, and although it was October, it was as warm as a June day.
Mrs. Barnet was in the hands of the French maid, and could not be disturbed while her hair was being dressed.
Flossie wondered what she could find to play with.
She wished that Saturday had been a schoolday.
Usually she found the baby amusing, but Uncle Harry's little daughter was out for an airing.
The kitten skurried down the hall and Flossie caught her, and ran off to the music-room. She managed to clamber up on to the stool with pussy in her arms, and reached for the music, which she opened.
"Now that's a very nice song, kitty," she said, "but you needn't sing it; you can just practise the 'comfrement. Now one, two, three, begin!"
She held the kitten's paws, and forced them to press the keys.
"Me-u! Me-u!" squeaked wee pussy.
"You going to sing and play, too? Why, that's fine," said Flossie, "only you don't get the tune right."
"Me-u! Me-u!" wailed the white kitten.
"Now pussy darling, you're real sweet to try, but you don't sing the tune right; it didn't sound like that when Uncle Harry sang it last night. We'll sing it together, and maybe you'll learn it. Put your left paw on do, and your right paw on mi; now sing."
What a droll duet it was! Franz Abt's beautiful song was never before thus rendered.
"I love thee, dearest, thee alone, Love thee, and only thee!"
sang Flossie, while little pussy, regardless of time or sentiment, sang "me-u! me-ow! me-u! me-u!"
"Our voices don't har-mer-lize, pussy, I know they don't. You'll just have to practise alone. That's what Mollie Merton's mamma said last night when Uncle Harry and Aunt Vera sang together. She said: 'Oh, how beautifully their voices har-mer-lize.' Now that's just what our voices don't do, so I'll put you right on to the keys, and you can practise the 'comfrement alone."
Flossie ran to the window to see if any of her playmates were in sight, while the kitten, left to amuse herself, walked slowly across the keyboard, and sat down upon the lower bass notes.
The French maid paused in the doorway.
"Ah, it is the petite beast that the bad music makes. I will the feline terrible remove, before she more mischief does do."
"Don't take the kitten out, Marie," cried Flossie, "I'm making her practise her lesson."
"Eh, bien! In this great mansion where all do so much learning have, even the petite cat must an education get! What more astounding could one behold?"
"I want to make her learn the song Uncle Harry sang last night. Did you hear him sing, Marie? Wasn't his voice sweet?"
"Ah, well did I the music hear. The sweet sounds did up the stairway float, and I did say: 'He is one beau gallant! His voice the rock would melt! Many hearts he must broken have before he loved Madame Vera who now his wife is.'"
"I don't know what you mean, Marie," Flossie said, "but I do know I love him, and I love to hear him sing."
"Oh, I could listen the day and the night when he music makes," the maid replied, and Flossie was satisfied.
A moment later Mollie, in great excitement, ran over to call for Flossie.
"Oh, do you know, Dorothy's mamma told my mamma that there's to be a great party at the stone house, and all of Dorothy's friends are to be invited. Now aren't you glad I came over to tell you?"
"When is it to be? I guess I am glad, Mollie Merton, and so will everybody be. When is the party to be?" she repeated, her blue eyes shining, and her little feet restlessly dancing.
"I don't know just when, but I guess it's pretty soon, and it's to be different from any party we ever went to. I don't know just how different; that part is a secret, but we are to know as soon as the invitations are ready."
"Oh, we 'most can't wait," said Flossie.
Of course the delightful news travelled, and by Monday morning every child in town knew that there was to be a grand party at the great stone house, but no one could find out just what sort of party it was to be. Even Dorothy could not enlighten them. "It's to be fine," she said, "and different from any party I ever had, but mamma doesn't wish me to tell anything about it."
"Won't she let you tell Nancy?" questioned Katie Dean.
"Nancy knows now!" declared Reginald; "just look at her!"
Indeed Nancy's dark eyes were merry, and her voice rippled with laughter, as she said:
"I do know, and I'm going to keep the secret, but it's the hardest one I ever tried to keep."
At recess they walked arm-in-arm, talking of the party instead of playing games. They were chattering so gaily that they heard no one approach, and when suddenly Patricia Lavine peeped over the wall, they were startled, and wondered how she could have appeared without any one having seen her coming.
"Why, Patricia! Where'd you come from?" said Mollie.
"Oh, I was walking along and came over because I heard you talking. Whose party is it going to be?" she asked.
"Dorothy is to have the party," said Jeanette, "but why aren't you in school?"
"Why aren't you?" Patricia asked with a saucy laugh.
"It's recess time at our school," said Nina.
"Well, it's recess time at ours, too," Patricia replied.
"But you're a long way from your school," Reginald said.
"Am I?" queried Patricia, "well, I don't have to go to school every single day, as some folks do," she retorted.
"I know 'most all the tables now, and I know a little geog-er-fry, and 'most half of the history, 'cause some of it I learned when I was in N' York. We had a el'gant school there, and ma says I learned so much that I needn't go to school every day now."
Little Flossie looked quite impressed, but the older girls were not so sure that Patricia had gained so much knowledge.
No one spoke, and Patricia thought that they were all much surprised at what she had said.
"There's to be visitors at our school to-day, and teacher said she was going to let them ask questions," she continued.
"Guess you stayed away so as not to tell all you know," said Reginald. Katie nudged him sharply, but he only twitched away, laughing because Patricia looked angry.
The little silver bell tinkled, and they turned to enter the cottage.
"Good-by," they called to Patricia, who stood at the gate.
"Good-by," she replied, then looking over her shoulder, she said:
"I'm glad I don't have to go to private school; it's too stupid."
"The horrid, rude girl," whispered Nina Earl, but Arabella surprised them all by saying:
"I think I'd like that Patricia What's-her-name; she isn't like everybody else."
Reginald heard what Arabella said, and in a loud whisper informed her that he wouldn't go to school if all the girls were like Patricia.
Arabella would have answered him sharply, but they were entering the schoolroom, so she was obliged to be silent.
Later, when they were asked to write upon the little blackboard, Arabella looked for a chance to tease Reginald.
"If he does anything that I can laugh at, I'll laugh till he's mad as a hornet," she whispered.
It happened that Reginald was the first to go to the board.
Aunt Charlotte asked for a sentence which should contain but five words, and yet tell a bit of news.
Every hand was raised.
Dorothy intended to write: "Nancy is a true friend," while Nancy thought that this would be interesting: "Dorothy will have a party," but Reginald felt sure that he had thought of the smartest sentence, and his face beamed with delight when he was told that he might write it.
He glanced toward Arabella as he strutted to the blackboard, and boldly he wrote:
"Phido has a new collar."
It was funny, and Reginald wondered why even Aunt Charlotte looked amused. Every one knew Fido, and only that morning the little dog had followed Reginald and Katie half-way to school, the bell on his new collar tinkling all the way.
That Reginald should have spelled the name "Phido" made them laugh, but Arabella was not contented with laughing; she fairly shouted.
"Well, I don't care if you do laugh," he said, his eyes blazing as he looked at her; "you spell photo, just p-h-o, and why can't Fido be spelt P-h-i?"
When the room was again quiet Aunt Charlotte told Reginald and Arabella to remain for a few moments after school.
When the other pupils had gone, Aunt Charlotte turned toward the two who still kept their seats, and very gently she told Arabella how rude it was to laugh at another's error, and how equally rude for Reginald to reply in so saucy a manner.
"A little girl should be a little lady," she said, "and a small boy should surely be a little gentleman."
Then Reginald spoke.
Looking straight into Arabella's eyes, he said:
"I guess I'm a gentleman, so I'll 'pol'gize; if I was just a boy I wouldn't, though." Arabella was fully equal to a reply.
"I'm as much a lady as you are a gentleman, so I'll say I oughtn't to have laughed, but I won't say I'm sorry."
It was late afternoon, and Flossie, on the piazza, waved her hand to her playmates as they ran down the walk to the gate.
They had played delightful games, they had talked of the fine party which they would soon enjoy, they had guessed and guessed what sort of party it was to be, and Dorothy, who knew all about it, had laughed merrily because their countless guesses were nowhere near right.
"I wish playmates didn't ever have to go home," said Flossie, as she ran into the house.
There was no one in the hall save the baby, who sat in her carriage. The maid had just brought her in from a long ride, and had left her for a moment while she chatted with the butler and the cook. Flossie loved the baby, and she ran to the carriage to kiss the sunny little face that smiled at her.
"Oh, you lovely, lovely baby," she cried, "are you glad to see me?"
For answer the little one cooed sweetly, and snatched at Flossie's curling hair.
"Mustn't pull so hard, baby," pleaded Flossie, and just at that moment the maid returned, and rescued Flossie's ringlets from the little dimpled hands.
"You give her to me," said Flossie.
"I'll sit on this rug and hold her. Uncle Harry said I could take this baby any time I want to, and I want to now."
The maid waited for no urging. Here was a chance for a few more moments of gossip. If Miss Flossie wished to take care of the baby, why not permit her to? Her Uncle Harry had given his permission, and as it was his baby, who could object?
For a few moments Flossie and the baby played upon the great hall rug. The bright-colored ball which Flossie had taken from her pocket was a pretty plaything, and the baby crowed with delight.
The butler and the maids were in the butler's pantry at the rear of the hall, but while their voices could be plainly heard, Flossie noticed nothing which they said until the maid spoke of the baby.
"She ees well, the petite belle, but upon her cheek the, what ees eet the doctaire did say?"
"Sure, Marie, 'tis a ould-fashioned rash, an' manny's the toime Oive seen ut on a babby's face, an' whoile the docthor makes a fuss about it, it's just nothin' at all, at all," responded Bridget.
"I'm thinkin' it don't pay to let it go an' not have the doctor see about it," growled the butler in a deep bass voice.
"An' ain't they seein' about it wid all their eyes, the ould docthor a-peekin' at the swate little thing t'rough his goggles, an' puttin' a wee bit t'ermom'ter into her mouth what for I do' 'no' unless 'tis ter foind out if it's near toime fer her ter be a-talkin'."
"He's very ugly, le m'sieur doctaire; if he was fine to behold it would be well. And what said he of the child? That at home she could not remain? If they do away take her M'sieur Harry will weep his fine eyes out."
"Oh, you little Frenchie!" exclaimed the butler with a jolly laugh, "you get things mixed. If it's nothing but a rash, as Bridget says, she'll stay here, but if it's measles she'll be hurried off up-stairs, and—"
"An' be quarantained, Oim tould," interrupted Bridget.
"Oh, Breejhay, what ees that?" cried the little French maid, and Flossie waited to hear no more.
Quarantined! Oh, what a big word, and what did it mean? Who was going to do that to dear Uncle Harry's baby?
No one! She would not let them!
Quickly she gathered the wee mite in her arms, wrapped the warm little cloak around her, and walking softly to the door, slipped out, the baby nestled close in her arms.
Across the lawn she trudged, past the summer-house, and on to the little clump of trees and shrubs which the children called the grove.
In a little nook between the tall hedge and the shrubbery she sat down, and took the baby on her lap. Fortunately it had no idea of crying; she loved Flossie, and she cooed contentedly.
And now the shadows were long, and the light breeze, growing stronger, swept in little chilly gusts across the treetops, and searching lower, tossed the small shrubs as if trying to discover Flossie's hiding-place.
She drew the baby's cloak closer around it, and bending lower, kissed it, and whispered lovingly:
"You're all safe with me, for I won't let that old doctor quantine you. You're Uncle Harry's own baby, and I won't let anybody hurt you."
At the Barnet house all was excitement. Servants were rushing this way and that, searching for Flossie and the baby.
Again and again the maid insisted that she had left them in the hall but a few moments, and the cook and the butler declared that she had spoken truly, yet it seemed strange that in so short a time the two could have so completely disappeared.
In the midst of the excitement Uncle Harry came home, and he looked very grave when he learned the cause of their alarm.