FAIRY PRINCE AND OTHER STORIES
BY THE SAME AUTHOR
OLD-DAD PEACE ON EARTH, GOOD-WILL TO DOGS RAINY WEEK
E. P. DUTTON & COMPANY
AND OTHER STORIES
ELEANOR HALLOWELL ABBOTT
AUTHOR OF "MOLLY MAKE-BELIEVE," "RAINY WEEK," ETC.
NEW YORK E. P. DUTTON & COMPANY 681 FIFTH AVENUE
Copyright, 1922, By E. P. Dutton & Company
All Rights Reserved
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
FAIRY PRINCE 1
THE GAME OF THE BE-WITCHMENTS 59
THE BLINDED LADY 111
THE GIFT OF THE PROBABLE PLACES 155
THE BOOK OF THE FUNNY SMELLS—AND EVERYTHING 195
THE LITTLE DOG WHO COULDN'T SLEEP 245
In my father's house were many fancies. Always, for instance, on every Thanksgiving Day it was the custom in our family to bud the Christmas tree.
Young Derry Willard came from Cuba. His father and our father had been chums together at college. None of us had ever seen him before. We were very much excited to have a strange young man invited for Thanksgiving dinner. My sister Rosalee was seventeen. My brother Carol was eleven. I myself was only nine, but with very tall legs.
Young Derry Willard was certainly excited when he saw the Christmas tree. Excited enough, I mean, to shift his eyes for at least three minutes from my sister Rosalee's face. Lovely as my sister Rosalee was, it had never yet occurred to any of us, I think, until just that moment that she was old enough to have perfectly strange young men stare at her so hard. It made my father rather nervous. He cut his hand on the carving-knife. Nothing ever made my mother nervous.
Except for father cutting his hand it seemed to be a very nourishing dinner. The tomato soup was pink with cream. The roast turkey didn't look a single sad bit like any one you'd seen before. There was plenty of hard-boiled egg with the spinach. The baked potatoes were frosted with red pepper. There was mince pie. There was apple pie. There was pumpkin pie. There were nuts and raisins. There were gay gold-paper bonbons. And everywhere all through the house the funny blunt smell of black coffee.
It was my brother Carol's duty always to bring in the Christmas tree. By some strange mix-up of what is and what isn't my brother Carol was dumb—stark dumb, I mean, and from birth. But tho he had never found his voice he had at least never lost his shining face. Even now at eleven in the twilightly end of a rainy Sunday, or most any day when he had an earache, he still let mother call him "Shining Face." But if any children called him "Shining Face" he kicked them. Even when he kicked people, tho, he couldn't stop his face shining. It was very cheerful. Everything about Carol was very cheerful. No matter, indeed, how much we might play and whisper about gifts and tinsels and jolly-colored candles, Christmas never, I think, seemed really probable to any of us until that one jumpy moment, just at the end of the Thanksgiving dinner, when, heralded by a slam in the wood-shed, a hoppytyskip in the hall, the dining-room door flung widely open on Carol's eyes twinkling like a whole skyful of stars through the shaggy, dark branches of a young spruce-tree. It made young Derry Willard laugh right out loud.
"Why, of all funny things!" he said. "On Thanksgiving Day! Why, it looks like a Christmas tree!"
"It is a Christmas tree," explained my sister Rosalee very patiently. My sister Rosalee was almost always very patient. But I had never seen her patient with a young man before. It made her cheeks very pink. "It is a Christmas tree," she explained. "That is, it's going to be a Christmas tree! Just the very first second we get it 'budded' it'll start right in to be a Christmas tree!"
"Budded?" puzzled young Derry Willard. Really for a person who looked so much like the picture of the Fairy Prince in my best story-book, he seemed just a little bit slow.
"Why, of course, it's got to be budded!" I cried. "That's what it's for! That's——"
Instead of just being pink patient my sister Rosalee started in suddenly to be dimply patient too.
"It's from mother's Christmas-tree garden, you know," she went right on explaining. "Mother's got a Winter garden—a Christmas-tree garden!"
"Father's got a garden, too!" I maintained stoutly. "Father's is a Spring garden! Reds, blues, yellows, greens, whites! From France! And Holland! And California! And Asia Minor! Tulips, you know. Buster's! Oh, father's garden is a glory!" I boasted.
"And mother's garden," said my mother very softly, "is only a story."
"It's an awfully nice story," said Rosalee.
Young Derry Willard seemed to like stories.
"Tell it!" he begged.
It was Rosalee who told it. "Why, it was when Carol was born," she said. "It was on a Christmas eve, you know. That's why mother named him Carol!"
"We didn't know then, you see"—interrupted my mother very softly—"that Carol had been given the gift of silence rather than the gift of speech."
"And father was so happy to have a boy," dimpled Rosalee, "that he said to mother, 'Well, now, I guess you've got everything in the world that you want!' And mother said, 'Everything—except a spruce forest!' So father bought her a spruce forest," said Rosalee. "That's the story!"
"Oh, my dear!" laughed my mother. "That isn't a 'story' at all! All you've told is the facts! It's the feeling of the facts that makes a story, you know! It was on my birthday," glowed mother, "that the presentation was to be made! My birthday was in March! I was very much excited and came down to breakfast with my hat and coat on! 'Where are you going?' said my husband."
"Oh—Mother!" protested Rosalee. "'Whither away?' was what you've always told us he said!"
"'Whither away?' of course was what he said!" laughed my mother. "'Why, I'm going to find my spruce forest!' I told him. 'And I can't wait a moment longer! Is it the big one over beyond the mountain?' I implored him. 'Or the little grove that the deacon tried to sell you last year?'"
"And they never budged an inch from the house!" interrupted Rosalee. "It was the funniest——"
Over in the corner of the room my father laughed out suddenly. My father had left the table. He and Carol were trying very hard to make the spruce-tree stand upright in a huge pot of wet earth. The spruce-tree didn't want to stand upright. My father laughed all over again. But it wasn't at the spruce-tree. "Well, now, wouldn't it have been a pity," he said, "to have made a perfectly good lady fare forth on a cold March morning to find her own birthday present?"
My mother began to clap her hands. It was a very little noise. But jolly.
"It came by mail!" she cried. "My whole spruce forest! In a package no bigger than my head!"
"Than your rather fluffy head!" corrected my father.
"Three hundred spruce seedlings!" cried my mother. "Each one no bigger than a wisp of grass! Like little green ferns they were! So tender! So fluffing! So helpless!"
"Heigh-O!" said young Derry Willard. "Well, I guess you laughed—then!"
When grown-up people are trying to remember things outside themselves I've noticed they always open their eyes very wide. But when they are remembering things inside themselves they shut their eyes very tight. My mother shut her eyes very tight.
"No—I didn't exactly laugh," said my mother. "And I didn't exactly cry."
"You wouldn't eat!" cried Rosalee. "Not all day, I mean! Father had to feed you with a spoon! It was in the wing-chair! You held the box on your knees! You just shone—and shone—and shone!"
"It would have been pretty hard," said my mother, "not to have shone a—little! To brood a baby forest in one's arms—if only for a single day—? Think of the experience!" Even at the very thought of it she began to shine all over again! "Funny little fluff o' green," she laughed, "no fatter than a fern!" Her voice went suddenly all wabbly like a preacher's. "But, oh, the glory of it!" she said. "The potential majesty! Great sweeping branches—! Nests for birds, shade for lovers, masts for ships to plow the great world's waters—timbers perhaps for cathedrals! O—h," shivered my mother. "It certainly gave one a very queer feeling! No woman surely in the whole wide world—except the Mother of the Little Christ—ever felt so astonished to think what she had in her lap!"
Young Derry Willard looked just a little bit nervous.
"Oh, but of course mother couldn't begin all at once to raise cathedrals!" I hastened to explain. "So she started in raising Christmas presents instead. We raise all our own Christmas presents! And just as soon as Rosalee and I are married we're going to begin right away to raise our children's Christmas presents too! Heaps for everybody, even if there is a hundred! Carol, of course, won't marry because he can't propose! Ladies don't like written proposals, father says! Ladies——"
Young Derry Willard asked if he might smoke. He smoked cigarets. He took them from a gold-looking case. They smelled very romantic. Everything about him smelled very romantic. His hair was black. His eyes were black. He looked as tho he could cut your throat without flinching if you were faithless to him. It was beautiful.
I left the table as soon as I could. I went and got my best story-book. I was perfectly right. He looked exactly like the picture of the Fairy Prince on the front page of the book. There were heaps of other pictures, of course. But only one picture of a Fairy Prince. I looked in the glass. I looked just exactly the way I did before dinner. It made me feel queer. Rosalee didn't look at all the way she looked before dinner. It made me feel very queer.
When I got back to the dining-room everybody was looking at the little spruce-tree—except young Derry Willard and Rosalee. Young Derry Willard was still looking at Rosalee. Rosalee was looking at the toes of her slippers. The fringe of her eyelashes seemed to be an inch long. Her cheeks were so pink I thought she had a fever. No one else came to bud the Christmas tree except Carol's tame coon and the tame crow. Carol is very unselfish. He always buds one wish for the coon. And one for the crow. The tame coon looked rather jolly and gold-powdered in the firelight. The crow never looked jolly. I have heard of white crows. But Carol's crow was a very dark black. Wherever you put him he looked like a sorrow. He sat on the arm of Rosalee's chair and nibbed at her pink sleeve. Young Derry Willard pushed him away. Young Derry Willard and Rosalee tried to whisper. I heard them.
"How old are you?" whispered Rosalee.
"I'm twenty-two," whispered young Derry Willard.
"O—h," said Rosalee.
"How young are you?" whispered Derry Willard.
"I'm seventeen," whispered Rosalee.
"O—h," said Derry Willard.
My mother started in very suddenly to explain about the Christmas tree. There were lots of little pencils on the table. And blocks of paper. And nice cold, shining sheets of tin-foil. There was violet-colored tin-foil, and red-colored tin-foil—and green and blue and silver and gold.
"Why, it's just a little family custom of ours, Mr. Willard," explained my mother. "After the Thanksgiving dinner is over and we're all, I trust, feeling reasonably plump and contented, and there's nothing special to do except just to dream and think—why, we just list out the various things that we'd like for Christmas and——"
"Most people end Thanksgiving, of course," explained my father, "by trying to feel thankful for the things they've already had. But this seems to be more like a scheme for expressing thanks for the things that we'd like to have!"
"The violet tin-foil is Rosalee's!" I explained. "The green is mine! The red is mother's! The blue is father's! The silver is Carol's! Mother takes each separate wish just as soon as it's written, and twists it all up in a bud of tin-foil! And takes wire! And wires the bud on the tree! Gold buds! Silver buds! Red! Green! Everything! All bursty! And shining! Like Spring! It looks as tho rainbows had rained on it! It looks as tho sun and moon had warmed it at the same time! And then we all go and get our little iron banks—all the Christmas money, I mean, that we've been saving and saving for a whole year! And dump it all out round the base of the tree! Nickels! Dimes! Quarters! Pennies! Everything! And——"
"Dump them all out—round the base of the tree?" puzzled young Derry Willard.
Carol did something suddenly that I never saw him do before with a stranger. He wrote a conversation on a sheet of paper and waved it at young Derry Willard. It was a short conversation. But it was written very tall.
"Phertalizer!" explained Carol.
My father made a little laugh. "In all my experience with horticulture," he said, "I know of no fertilizer for a Christmas tree that equals a judicious application of nickels, dimes, and quarters—well stirred in."
"Our uncle Charlie was here once for Thanksgiving," I cried. "He stirred in a twenty-dollar gold piece. Our Christmas tree bloomed everything that year! It bloomed tinsel pompons on every branch! And gold-ribbon bow-knots! It bloomed a blackboard for Carol! And an ice-cream freezer for mother! And——"
"And then we take the tree," explained my mother, "and carry it into the parlor. And shut the door."
"And lock the door," said my father.
"And no one ever sees," puzzled young Derry Willard, "what was written in the wishes?"
"No one," I said.
"Some one—must see," said Rosalee. "'Cause just about a week before Christmas father and mother always go up to town and——"
"Oh, of course mother has to see!" I admitted. "Mother is such friends with Christmas!"
"And father," laughed Rosalee, "is such friends with mother!"
"Usually," I said.
"Eh?" said father.
"And then," explained mother, "on Christmas morning we all go to the parlor!"
"And there's a fire in the parlor!" I explained. "A great hollow Yule log all stuffed full of crackly pine-cones and sputtering sparkers and funny-colored blazes that father buys at a fireworks shop! And the candles are lighted! And—and——"
"And all the tin-foil buds have bloomed into presents!" laughed Derry Willard.
"Oh, no, of course—not all of them," said mother.
"No tree ever fulfills every bud," said my father.
"There's Carol's camel, of course," laughed Rosalee. "Ever since Carol was big enough to wish, he's always wished for a camel!"
"But mostly, of course," I insisted, "he wishes for kites! He got nine kites last Christmas."
"Kites?" murmured young Derry Willard.
"Kites!" I said. "I have to talk a good deal. Once always for myself. And all over again for Carol." It seemed a good time to talk for Carol. Perhaps a person who came all the way from Cuba could tell us the thing we wanted to know. "Oh, Carol's very much interested in kites!" I confided. "And in relationships! In Christmas relationships especially! When he grows up he's going to be some sort of a jenny something—I think it's an ologist! Or else keep a kite-shop!"
"Yes?" murmured young Derry Willard.
There are two ways I've noticed to make one listen to you. One is to shout. The other is to whisper. I decided to whisper.
"You don't seem to understand," I whispered. "It's Christmas relationships that are worrying Carol and me so! It worries us dreadfully! Oh, of course we understand all about the Little Baby Christ! And the camels! And the wise men! And the frankincense! That's easy! But who is Santa Claus? Unless—unless—?" It was Carol himself who signaled me to go on. "Unless—he's the Baby Christ's grandfather?" I thought Derry Willard looked a little bit startled. Carol's ears turned bright red. "Oh, of course—we meant on his mother's side!" I hastened to assure him.
"It is, I admit, a new idea to me," said young Derry Willard. "But I seem to have gotten several new ideas to-day."
He looked at mother. Mother's mouth looked very funny. He looked at father. Father seemed to be sneezing. He looked at Rosalee. They laughed together. His whole face suddenly was very laughing. "And what becomes," he asked, "of all the Christmas-tree buds that don't bloom?" It was a funny question. It didn't have a thing in the world to do with Santa Claus being a grandfather.
"Oh, mother never throws away any of the buds," laughed Rosalee. "She just keeps them year after year and wires them on all over again."
"All unfulfilled wishes," said my mother. "Still waiting—still wishing! Maybe they'll bloom some time! Even Carol's—camel," she laughed out suddenly. "Who knows, sonny-boy—but what if you keep on wishing you'll actually travel some day to the Land-Where-Camels-Live? Maybe—maybe you'll own a—a dozen camels?"
"With purple velvet blankets?" I cried. "All trimmed with scarlet silk tassels? And smelling of sandalwood?"
"I have never understood," said my father, "that camels smelt of sandalwood."
Young Derry Willard didn't seem exactly nervous any more. But he jumped up very suddenly. And went and stood by the fire.
"It's the finest Christmas idea I ever heard of!" he said. "And if nobody has any objections I'd like to take a little turn myself at budding the Christmas tree!"
"Oh, but you won't be here for Christmas!" cried everybody all at once.
"No, I certainly sha'n't be," admitted Derry Willard, "unless I am invited!"
"Why, of course, you're invited!" cried everybody. Father seemed to have swallowed something. So mother invited him twice. Father kept right on choking. Everybody was frightened but mother.
Young Derry Willard had to run like everything to catch his train. It was lucky that he knew what he wanted. With only one wish to make and only half a minute to make it in, it was wonderful that he could decide so quickly! He snatched a pencil! He scribbled something on a piece of paper! He crumpled the "something" all up tight and tossed it to mother! Carol and mother wadded it into a tin-foil bud! They took the gold-colored tin-foil! Rosalee and I wired it to a branch! We chose the highest branch we could reach! Father held his overcoat for him! Father handed him his bag! Father opened the door for him! He ran as fast as he could! He waved his hand to everybody! His laugh was all sparkly with white teeth!
The room seemed a little bit dark after he had gone. The firelight flickered on the tame coon's collar. Sometimes it flickered on the single gold bud. We cracked more nuts and munched more raisins. It made a pleasant noise. The tame crow climbed up on the window-sill and tapped and tapped against the glass. It was not a pleasant noise. The tame coon prowled about under the table looking for crumbs. He walked very flat and swaying and slow, as tho he were stuffed with wet sand. It gave him a very captive look. His eyes were very bright.
Father got his violin and played some quivery tunes to us. Mother sang a little. It was nice. Carol put fifteen "wishes" on the tree. Seven of them, of course, were old ones about the camel. But all the rest were new. He wished a salt mackerel for his coon. And a gold anklet for his crow. He wouldn't tell what his other wishes were. They looked very pretty! Fifteen silver buds as big as cones scattered all through the green branches! Rosalee made seven violet-colored wishes! I made seven! Mine were green! Father made three! His were blue! Mother's were red! She made three, too! The tree looked more and more as tho rainbows had rained on it! It was beautiful! We thanked mother very much for having a Christmas-tree garden! We felt very thankful toward everybody! We got sleepier and sleepier! We went to bed!
I woke in the night. It was very lonely. I crept down-stairs to get my best story-book. There was a light in the parlor. There were voices. I peeped in. It was my father and my mother. They were looking at the Christmas tree. I got an awful shock. They were having what books call "words" with each other. Only it was "sentences!"
"Impudent young cub!" said my father. "How dared he stuff a hundred-dollar bill into our Christmas tree?"
"Oh, I'm sure he didn't mean to be impudent," said my mother. Her voice was very soft. "He heard the children telling about Uncle Charlie's gold piece. He—he wanted to do something—I suppose. It was too much, of course. He oughtn't to have done it. But——"
"A hundred-dollar bill!" said my father. Every time he said it he seemed madder.
"And yet," said my mother, "if what you say about his father's sugar plantations is correct, a hundred-dollar bill probably didn't look any larger to him than a—than a two-dollar bill looks to us—this year. We'll simply return it to him very politely—as soon as we know his address. He was going West somewhere, wasn't he? We shall hear, I suppose."
"Hear nothing!" said my father. "I won't have it! Did you see how he stared at Rosalee? It was outrageous! Absolutely outrageous! And Rosalee? I was ashamed of Rosalee! Positively ashamed!"
"But you see—it was really the first young man that Rosalee has ever had a chance to observe," said my mother. "If you had ever been willing to let boys come to the house—maybe she wouldn't have considered this one such a—such a thrilling curiosity."
"Stuff and nonsense!" said my father. "She's only a child! There'll be no boys come to this house for years and years!"
"She's seventeen," said my mother. "You and I were married when I was seventeen."
"That's different!" said my father. He tried to smile. He couldn't. Mother smiled quite a good deal. He jumped up and began to pace the room. He demanded things. "Do you mean to say," he demanded, "that you want your daughter to marry this strange young man?"
"Not at all," said mother.
Father turned at the edge of the rug and looked back. His face was all frowned. "And I don't like him anyway," he said. "He's too dark!"
"His father roomed with you at college, you say?" asked my mother very softly. "Do you remember him—specially?"
"Do I remember him?" cried my father. He looked astonished. "Do I remember him? Why, he was the best friend I ever had in the world! Do I remember him?"
"And he was—very fair?" asked my mother.
"Fair?" cried my father. "He was as dark as a Spaniard!"
"And yet—reasonably—respectable?" asked my mother.
"Respectable?" cried my father. "Why, he was the highest-minded man I ever knew in my life!"
"And so—dark?" said my mother. She began to laugh. It was what we call her cut-finger laugh, her bandage laugh. It rolled all around father's angriness and made it feel better almost at once.
"Well, I can't help it," said father. He shook his head just the way Carol does sometimes when he's planning to be pleasant as soon as it's convenient. "Well, I can't help it! Exceptions, of course, are exceptions! But Cuba? A climate all mushy with warmth and sunshine! What possible stamina can a young man have who's grown up on sugar-cane sirup and—and bananas?"
"He seemed to have teeth," said my mother. "He ate two helpings of turkey!"
"He had a gold cigaret-case!" said my father. "Gold!"
My mother began to laugh all over again.
"Maybe his Sunday-school class gave it to him," she said. It seemed to be a joke. Once father's Sunday-school class gave him a high silk hat. Father laughed a little.
Mother looked very beautiful. She ruffled her hair a little on father's shoulder. She pinked her cheeks from the inside some way. She glanced up at the topmost branch of the Christmas tree. The gold bud showed quite plainly.
"I—I wonder—what he wished," she said. "We'll have to look—some time."
I made a little creak in my bones. I didn't mean to. My father and mother both turned round. They started to explore!
I ran like everything!
I think it was very kind of God to make December have the very shortest days in the year!
Summer, of course, is nice! The long, sunny light! Lying awake till 'most nine o'clock every night to hear the blackness come rustling! Such a lot of early mornings everywhere and birds singing! Sizzling-hot noons with cool milk to drink! The pleasant nap before it's time to play again!
But if December should feel long, what would children do? About Christmas, I mean! Even the best way you look at it, Christmas is always the furthest-off day that I ever heard about!
My mother was always very kind about making Christmas come just as soon as it could. There wasn't much daylight. Not in December. Not in the North. Not where we lived. Except for the snow, each day was like a little jet-black jewel-box with a single gold coin in the center. The gold coin in the center was noon. It was very bright. It was really the only bright light in the day. We spent it for Christmas. Every minute of it. We popped corn and strung it into lovely loops. We threaded cranberries. We stuffed three Yule logs with crackly cones and colored fires. We made little candies. All round the edges of the bright noon-time, of course, there was morning and night. And lamplight. It wasn't convenient to burn a great many lamps. At night father and mother sat in the lamplight and taught us our lessons. Or read stories to us. We children sat in the shadows and stared into the light. The light made us blink. The tame crow and the tame coon sat in the shadows with us. We played we were all jungle-animals together waiting outside a man's camp to be Christianized. It was pleasant. Mother read to us about a woman who didn't like Christmas specially. She was going to petition Congress to have the Christ Child born in leap-year so that Christmas couldn't come oftener than once in four years. It worried us a little. Father laughed. Mother had only one worry in the world. She had it every year.
"Oh, my darling, darling Winter garden!" worried my mother. "Wouldn't it be awful if I ever had to die just as my best Christmas tree was coming into bloom?"
It frightened us a little. But not too much. Father had the same worry every Spring about his Spring garden. Every Maytime when the tulip-buds were so fat and tight you could fairly hear them splitting, father worried.
"Oh, wouldn't it be perfectly terrible if I should die before I find out whether those new 'Rembrandts' are everything that the catalogue promised? Or whether the 'Bizards' are really finer than the 'Byblooms'? Now, if it was in phlox-time," worried my father. "Especially if the phlox turned out magenta, one could slip away with scarcely a pang. But in tulip-time——?"
We promised our mother she should never die at Christmas-time. We promised our father he should never die at tulip-time. We brought them rubbers. And kneeling-cushions. We carried their coats. We found their trowels. We kept them just as well as we could.
But, most of all, of course, we were busy wondering about our presents.
It hurries Christmas a lot to have a Christmas tree growing in your parlor for a whole month. Even if the parlor door is locked.
Lots of children have a Christmas tree for a whole month. But it's a going tree. Its going is very sad. Just one little wee day of perfect splendor it has. And then it begins to die. Every day it dies more. It tarnishes. Its presents are all gathered. Its pop-corn gets stale. The cranberries smell. It looks scragglier and scragglier. It gets brittle. Its needles begin to fall. Pretty soon it's nothing but a clutter. It must be dreadful to start as a Christmas tree and end by being nothing but a clutter.
But mother's Christmas tree is a coming tree. Every day for a month it's growing beautifuler and beautifuler! The parlor is cool. It lives in a nice box of earth. It has water every day like a dog. It never dies. It just disappears. When we come down to breakfast the day after Christmas it simply isn't there. That's all. It's immortal. Always when you remember it, it's absolutely perfect.
We liked very much to see the Christmas tree come. Every Sunday afternoon my mother unlocked the parlor door. We were not allowed to go in. But we could peep all we wanted to. It made your heart crinkle up like a handful of tinsel to watch the tin-foil buds change into presents.
Two of Carol's silver buds had bloomed. One of them had bloomed into a white-paper package that looked like a book. The other one had strange humps. Only one of Rosalee's violet buds had bloomed. But it was a very large box tied with red ribbon. It looked like a best hat. One of father's blue buds had bloomed. One of mother's red buds. They bloomed very small. Small enough to be diamonds. Or collar-buttons. 'Way back on the further side of the tree I could see that one of my green buds had bloomed. It was a long little box. It was a narrow little box. I can most always tell when there's a doll in a box. Young Derry Willard's golden bud hadn't bloomed at all. Maybe it was a late bloomer. Some things are. The tame coon's salt fish, I've noticed, never blooms at all until just the very last moment before we go into the parlor Christmas morning. Mother says there's a reason. We didn't bother much about reasons. The parlor was very cold. It smelt very cold and mysterious. We didn't see how we could wait!
Carol helped us to wait. Not being able to talk, Carol has plenty of time to think. He can write, of course. But spelling is very hard. So he doesn't often waste his spelling on just facts. He waits till he gets enough facts to make a philosophy before he tries to spell it: He made a philosophy about Christmas coming so slow. He made it on the blackboard in the kitchen. He wrote it very tall.
"Christmas has got to come," he wrote. "It's part of time. Everything that's part of time has got to come. Nothing can stop it. It runs like a river. It runs down-hill. It can't help itself. I should worry."
Young Derry Willard never wrote at all. He telegraphed his "manners" instead. "Thank you for Thanksgiving Day," he telegraphed. "It was very wonderful." He didn't say anything else. He never even mentioned his address.
"U—m—m," said my father.
"It's because of the hundred-dollar bill," said my mother. "He doesn't want to give us any chance to return it."
"Humph!" said my father. "Do we look poor?"
My mother glanced at the worn spot in the dining-room rug. She glanced at my father's coat.
"We certainly do!" she laughed. "But young Derry Willard didn't leave us a hundred-dollar bill to try and make us look any richer. All young Derry Willard was trying to do was to make us look more Christmassy!"
"Well, we can't accept it!" said my father.
"Of course we can't accept it!" said my mother. "It was a mistake. But at least it was a very kind mistake."
"Kind?" said my father.
"Very kind," said my mother. "No matter how dark a young man may be or how much cane-sirup and bananas he has consumed, he can't be absolutely depraved as long as he goes about the world trying to make things look more Christmassy!"
My father looked up rather sharply.
My mother gave a funny little gasp.
"Oh, it's all right," she said. "We'll manage some way! But who ever heard of a chicken-bone hung on a Christmas tree? Or a slice of roast beef?"
"Some children don't get—anything," said my father. He looked solemn. "Money is very scarce," he said.
"It always is," said my mother. "But that's no reason why presents ought to be scarce."
My father jumped up.
My father laughed.
"Great Heavens, woman!" he said. "Can't anything dull your courage?"
"Not my—Christmas courage!" said my mother.
My father reached out suddenly and patted her hand.
"Oh, all right," he said. "I suppose we'll manage somehow."
"Of course we'll manage somehow," said my mother.
I ran back as fast as I could to Carol and Rosalee.
We thought a good deal about young Derry Willard coming. We talked about it among ourselves. We never talked about it to my father or my mother. I don't know why. I went and got my best story-book and showed the Fairy Prince to Carol. Carol stared and stared. There were palms and bananas in the picture. There was a lace-paper castle. There was a moat. There was a fiery charger. There were dragons. The Fairy Prince was all in white armor, with a white plume in his hat. It grasped your heart, it was so beautiful. I showed the picture to Rosalee. She was surprised. She turned as white as the plume in the Fairy Prince's hat. She put the book in her top bureau-drawer with her ribbons. We wondered and wondered whether young Derry Willard would come. Carol thought he wouldn't. I thought he would. Rosalee wouldn't say. Carol thought it would be too cold. Carol insisted that he was a tropic. And that tropics couldn't stand the cold. That if a single breath of cold air struck a tropic he blew up and froze. Rosalee didn't want young Derry Willard to blow up and freeze. Anybody could see that she didn't. I comforted her. I said he would come in a huge fur coat. Carol insisted that tropics didn't have huge fur coats. "All right, then," I said. "He will come in a huge feather coat! Blue-bird feathers it will be made of! With a soft brown breast! When he fluffs himself he will look like the god of all the birds and of next Spring! Hawks and all evil things will scuttle away!"
There certainly was something the matter with the Christmas tree that year.
It grew. But it didn't grow very fast.
My father said that perhaps the fertilizer hadn't been rich enough.
My mother said that maybe all Christmas trees were blooming rather late this year. Seasons changed so.
My father and mother didn't go away to town at all. Not for a single day.
Late at night after we'd gone to bed we heard them hammering things and running the sewing-machine.
Carol thought it smelt like kites.
Rosalee said it sounded to her like a blue silk waist.
It looked like a worry to me.
It got colder and colder. It snowed and snowed.
Christmas eve it snowed some more. It was beautiful. We were very much excited. We clapped our hands. We stood at the window to see how white the world was. I thought about the wise men's camels. I wondered if they could carry snow in their stomachs as well as rain. Mother said camels were tropics and didn't know anything about snow. It seemed queer.
A sleigh drove up to the door. There were three men in it. Two of them got out. The first one was young Derry Willard. It was a fur coat that he had on. He was full of bundles. My father gave one gasp.
"The—the impudent young—" gasped my father.
We ran to the door. The second man looked just exactly like young Derry Willard except that he had on a gray beard and a gray slouch hat. He looked like the picture of "a planter" in "Uncle Tom's Cabin." My father and he took just one look at each other. And then suddenly they began to pound each other on the back and to hug each other. "Hello, old top!" they shouted. "Hello—hello—hello!" Derry Willard's father cried a little. Everybody cried a little or shouted or pounded somebody on the back except young Derry Willard and Rosalee. Young Derry Willard and Rosalee just stood and looked at each other.
"Well—well—well!" said Derry Willard's father over and over and over. "Twenty years! Twenty years!" The front hall was full of bundles! We fell on them when we stepped. And we fell on new ones when we tried to get up. Whenever Derry Willard's father wasn't crying he was laughing! "So this is the wife?" he said. "And these are the children? Which is Rosalee? Ah! A very pretty girl! But not as pretty as your wife!" he laughed. "Twenty years! Twenty years!" he began all over again. "A bit informal, eh? Descending on you like this? But I couldn't resist the temptation after I'd seen Derry. We Southerners, you know! Our impulses are romantic! Tuck us away anywhere! Or turn us out—if you must!"
My father was like a wild man for joy! He forgot all about everything except "twenty years ago."
We had to put the two Mr. Derry Willards to bed in the parlor. There was no other room. They insisted on sleeping with the Christmas tree. They had camped under every kind of branch and twig in the world, they said. But never had they camped under a Christmas tree.
Father talked and talked and talked! Derry Willard's father talked and talked and talked! It was about college! It was about girls! It was about boys! It was about all sorts of pranks! Not any of it was about studies! Mother sat and laughed at them!
Rosalee and young Derry Willard sat and looked at each other. Carol and I played checkers. Everybody forgot us. I don't know who put me to bed.
When we came down-stairs the next morning and went into the parlor to see the Christmas tree we screamed!
Every single weeney-teeny branch of it had sprouted tinsel tassels! There were tinsel stars all over it! Red candles were blazing! Glass icicles glistened! There were candy canes! There were tin trumpets! Little white-paper presents stuck out everywhere through the branches! Big white presents piled like a snowdrift all around the base of the tree!
Young Derry Willard's father seemed to be still laughing. He rubbed his hands together.
"Excuse me, good people," he laughed, "for taking such liberties with your tree! But it's twenty years since I've had a chance to take a real whack at a Christmas tree! Palms, of course, are all right, and banana groves aren't half bad! But when it comes to real landscape effect—give me a Christmas tree in a New England parlor!"
"Palms?" we gasped. "Banana-trees?"
Young Derry Willard distributed the presents.
For my father there were boxes and boxes of cigars! And an order on some Dutch importing house for five hundred green tulips! Father almost sw—ooned.
For mother there was a little gold chain with a single pearl in it! And a box of oranges as big as a chicken-coop!
I got four dolls! And a paint-box! One of the dolls was jet-black. She was funny. When you squeaked her stomach she grinned her mouth and said, "Oh, lor', child!"
Rosalee had a white crepe shawl all fringes and gay-colored birds of paradise! Rosalee had a fan made out of ivory and gold. Rosalee had a gold basket full of candied violets. Rosalee had a silver hand-mirror carved all round the edge with grasses and lilies like the edges of a little pool.
Carol had a big, big box that looked like a magic lantern. And on every branch where he had hung his seven wishes for a camel there was a white card instead with the one word "Palestine" written on it.
Everybody looked very much perplexed.
Young Derry Willard's father laughed.
"If the youngster wants camels," he said, "he must have camels! I'm going to Palestine one of these days before so very long. I'll take him with me. There must be heaps of camels still in Palestine."
"Going to Palestine before—long," gasped my mother. "How wonderful!"
Everybody turned and looked at Carol.
"Want to go, son, eh?" laughed Derry Willard's father.
Carol's mouth quivered. He looked at my mother.
My mother's mouth quivered. A little red came into her checks.
"He wants me to thank you very much, Mr. Willard," she said. "But he thinks perhaps you wouldn't want to take him to Palestine—if you knew that he can't—talk."
"Can't talk?" cried Mr. Derry Willard. "Can't talk?" He looked at mother! He looked at Carol! He swallowed very hard! Then suddenly he began to laugh again!
"Good enough!" he cried. "He's the very boy I'm looking for! We'll rear him for a diplomat!"
Carol got a hammer and opened his big box. It was a magic lantern! He was wild with joy! He beat his fists on the top of the box! He stamped his feet! He came and burrowed his head in mother's shoulder. When Carol burrows his head in my mother's shoulder it means, "Call me anything you want to!"
Mother called him anything she wanted to. Right out loud before everybody. "Shining Face!" said my mother.
There were lots of other presents besides.
My father had made a giant kite for Carol. It looked nine feet tall. My father had made the dearest little wooden work-box for my mother. There was a blue silk waist for Rosalee. My mother had knitted me a doll! Its body was knitted! Its cheeks were knitted! Its nose was knitted! It was wonderful!
We ate the peppermint-candy canes. All the pink stripes. All the white stripes. We sang carols. We sang,
O, the foxes have holes! And the birds build their nests In the crotch of the sycamore-tree! But the Little Son of God had no place for His head When He cameth to earth for me!
Rosalee's voice was like a lark in the sky. Carol's face looked like two larks in the sky.
The tame crow stayed in the kitchen. He was afraid of so many strangers. The tame coon wasn't afraid of anything. He crawled in and out of all the wrapping-papers, sniffing and sniffing. It made a lovely crackling sound.
Everything smelt like fir balsam. It was more beautiful every minute. Even after every last present was picked from the tree, the tree was still so fat and fluffy with tinsel and glass balls that it didn't look robbed at all.
We just sat back and stared at it.
Young Derry Willard stared only at the topmost branch.
Father looked suddenly at mother. Mother looked suddenly at Rosalee. Rosalee looked suddenly at Carol. Carol looked suddenly at me. I looked suddenly at the tame coon. The tame coon kept right on crackling through the wrapping-papers.
Young Derry Willard made a funny little face. There seemed to be dust in his throat. His voice was very dry. He laughed.
"My wish," said young Derry Willard, "seems to have been the only one that—didn't bloom."
I almost died with shame. Carol almost died with shame. In all that splendiferousness, in all that generosity, poor Derry Willard's gold-budded wish was the only one that hadn't at least bloomed into something!
Rosalee jumped up very suddenly and ran into the dining-room. She looked as tho she was going to cry.
Young Derry Willard followed her. He didn't run. He walked very slowly. He looked a little troubled.
Carol and I began at once to fold the wrapping-papers very usefully.
Young Derry Willard's father looked at my father. All of a sudden he wasn't laughing at all. Or rubbing his hands.
"I'm sorry, Dick," he said. "I've always rather calculated somehow on having my boy's wishes come true."
My father spoke a little sharply.
"You must have a lot of confidence," he said, "in your boy's wishes!"
"I have!" said young Derry Willard's father, quite simply. "He's a good boy! Not only clever, I mean, but good! Never yet have I known him to wish for anything that wasn't the best!"
"They're too young," said my father.
"Youth," said Derry Willard's father, "is the one defect I know of that is incontestably remedial."
"How can they possibly know their own minds?" demanded my father.
"No person," said Derry Willard's father, "knows his own mind until he's ready to die. But the sooner he knows his own heart the sooner he's ready to begin to live."
My father stirred in his chair. He lit a cigar. It went out. He lit it again. It went out again. He jerked his shoulders. He looked nervous. He talked about things that nobody was talking about at all.
"The young rascal dropped a hundred-dollar bill—when he was here before!" he said. He said it as tho it was something very wicked.
Young Derry Willard's father seemed perfectly cheerful.
"Did he really?" he said.
"It's a wonder the crow didn't eat it!" snapped my father.
"But even the crow wouldn't eat it, eh?" said Derry Willard's father. Quite suddenly he began to laugh again. He looked at my mother. He stopped laughing. His voice was very gentle. "Don't be—proud," he said. "Don't ever be proud." He threw out his hand as tho he was asking something. "What difference does anything make—in the whole world," he said, "except just young love—and old friendship?"
"Oh, pshaw," said father. "Oh, pshaw!"
Rosalee came and stood in the door. She looked only at mother. She had on a red coat. And a red hat. And red mittens.
"Derry Willard wants to see the Christmas-tree garden," she said. "May I go?"
Derry Willard stood just behind her. He had on his fur coat. He looked very hard at father. When he spoke he spoke only to father.
"Is it all right?" he said. "May I go?"
My father looked up. And then he looked down. He looked at Derry Willard's father. He threw out his hands as tho there was no place left to look. A little smile crept into one corner of his mouth. He tried to bite it. He couldn't.
"Oh—pshaw!" he said.
Carol and I went out to play. We thought we'd like to see the Christmas-tree garden too. The snow was almost as deep as our heads. All the evergreen trees were weighed down with snow. Their branches dragged on the ground. It was like walking through white plumes.
We found mother's Christmas-tree garden. We found Rosalee and young Derry Willard standing right in the middle of it. It was all caves and castles! It was like a whole magic little city all made out of white plumes! The sun came out and shone on it! Blue sky opened overhead! Everything crackled! It was more beautiful even than the Christmas tree in the parlor.
They didn't hear us.
Rosalee gave a funny little cry. It was like a sob. Only happy.
"I love Christmas!" she said.
"I love you!" said Derry Willard.
He snatched her in his arms and kissed her.
A great pine-tree shivered all its snow down on them like a veil.
We heard them laugh.
We ran back to the house. We ran just as fast as we could. It almost burst our lungs. We ran into the parlor. I didn't tell. Carol couldn't tell.
My father and young Derry Willard's father were talking and talking behind great clouds of smoke. The Yule log was blazing and sputtering all sorts of fireworks and colors. Only mother was watching it. She was paring apples as she watched. A little smile was in her eyes.
"What a wonderful—wonderful day to have it happen!" she said.
I couldn't stand it any longer. I ran upstairs and got my best story-book. I brought it down and opened it at the picture of the Fairy Prince. I laid it open like that in Mr. Willard's lap. I pointed at the picture.
"There!" I said.
Derry Willard's father put on his glasses and looked at the picture.
"Well, upon my soul," he said, "where did you get that?"
"It's my book," I said. "It's always been my book."
My father looked at the picture.
"Why, of all things," he said.
"Why, it looks exactly like Derry!" said my mother.
"It is Derry!" said Derry's father. "But don't ever let Derry know that you know that it is! It seems to tease him a little. It seems to tease him a very great deal in fact. Being all rigged out like that. The illustrator is a friend of mine. He spent the Winter in Cuba three or four years ago. And he painted the picture there."
I looked at Carol. Carol looked at me. It was an absolutely perfect Christmas! If this were true, then everything beautiful that there was in the world was true, too! Carol nudged me to speak.
"Then Derry really is a Fairy Prince?" I said.
Father started to speak.
Mother stopped him.
"Yes! Rosalee's Fairy Prince!" she said.
THE GAME OF THE BE-WITCHMENTS
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.
"Oh Shucks! Be a Sport!" said my Father.
"I will not!" said the Rich Man.
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!
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.
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.
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 BLINDED LADY
The Blinded Lady lived in a little white cottage by the Mill Dam.
She had twenty-seven cats! And a braided rug! And a Chinese cabinet all full of peacock-feather fans!
Our Father and Mother took us to see them.
It smelt furry.
Carol wore his blue suit. Rosalee wore an almost grown-up dress. I wore my new middy blouse.
We looked nice.
The Blinded Lady looked nice too.
She sat in a very little chair in the middle of a very large room. Her skirts were silk and very fat. They fluffed all around her like a pen-wiper. She had on a white lace cap. There were violets in the cap. Her eyes didn't look blinded.
We sat on the edge of our chairs. And stared at her. And stared. She didn't mind.
All the cats came and purred their sides against our legs. It felt soft and sort of bubbly.
The Blinded Lady recited poetry to us. She recited "Gray's Elegy in a Country Churchyard." She recited "The Charge of the Light Brigade." She recited "Bingen on the Rhine."
When she got all through reciting poetry she asked us if we knew any.
We knew "Onward Christian Soldiers," and "Hey Diddle, Diddle, the Cat and the Fiddle." And Rosalee knew two verses about
It was many and many a year ago In a kingdom by the sea, That a maiden lived whom you may know By the name of Annabel Lee.
We hoped the Blinded Lady would be pleased.
The Blinded Lady said it wasn't nearly enough just to know the first two verses of anything! That you ought to know all the verses of everything! The Blinded Lady said that every baby just as soon as it was born ought to learn every poem that it possibly could so that if it ever grew up and was blinded it would have something to amuse itself with!
We promised we would!
We asked the Blinded Lady what made her blinded.
She said it was because she made all her father's shirts when she was six years old!
We promised we wouldn't!
"And now," said the Blinded Lady, "I'd like to have the Little Dumb Boy come forward and stand at my knee so I can touch his face!"
Carol didn't exactly like to be called the Little Dumb Boy, but he came forward very politely and stood at the Blinded Lady's knee. The Blinded Lady ran her fingers all up and down his face. It tickled his nose. He looked puckered.
"It's a pleasant face!" said the Blinded Lady.
"We like it!" said my Father.
"Oh very much!" said my Mother.
"Has he always been dumb?" said the Blinded Lady.
"Always," said my Mother. "But never deaf!"
"Oh Tush!" said the Blinded Lady. "Don't be stuffy! Afflictions were meant to talk about!"
"But Carol, you see," said my Mother, "can't talk about his! So we don't!"
"Oh—Tush!" said the Blinded Lady.
She pushed Carol away. She thumped her cane on the braided rug.
"There's one here, isn't there," she said, "that hasn't got anything to be sensitive about? Let the Young Lassie come forward," she said, "so I can touch her face!"
It made Rosalee very pink to have her face explored.
The Blinded Lady laughed as she explored it.
"Ha!" she said. "Age about seventeen? Gold hair? Sky-blue eyes? Complexion like peaches and cream?—Not much cause here," laughed the Blinded Lady, "for this Young Lassie ever to worry when she looks in the glass!"
"Oh but she does!" I cried. "She worries herself most to death every time she looks!—She's afraid her hair will turn gray before Derry comes!"
"S-s-h!" said everybody.
The Blinded Lady cocked her head. She ruffled herself. It looked like feathers.
"Derry?" said the Blinded Lady. "Who's Derry?—A beau?"
My Father gruffed his throat.
"Oh Derry's just a young friend of ours," he said.
"He lives in Cuba," said my Mother.
"Cuba's an island!" I said. "It floats in water! They eat bananas! They have fights! It's very hot! There's lots of moonlight! Derry's father says that when Rosalee's married he'll build a——."
"Hush, Ruthy!" said my Father. "You've talked quite enough already!"
The Blinded Lady patted her skirts. They billowed all around her like black silk waves. It looked funny.
"H-m-m-mmm!" she said. "Let the Child-Who's-Talked-Too-Much-Already come forward now so that I can feel her face!"
I went forward just as fast as I could.
The Blinded Lady touched my forehead.
She smoothed my nose,—my cheeks,—my chin.
"U-m-mmm," she said. "And 'Ruthy' you say is what you call her?"
My Father twinkled his eyes.
"We have to call her something!" he said politely.
"And is this bump on the forehead a natural one?" said the Blinded Lady. "Or an accidental one?"
"Both!" said my Father. "That is, it's pre-em-i-nently natural for our daughter Ruthy to have an accidental bump on her forehead."