KRISTY'S RAINY DAY PICNIC
KRISTY'S RAINY DAY PICNIC
BY OLIVE THORNE MILLER
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY ETHEL N. FARNSWORTH
BOSTON AND NEW YORK HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN CO.
COPYRIGHT 1906 BY H. M. MILLER ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Published October 1906
I. THE RAINY DAY 1
II. PLAYING DOCTOR; AND WHAT CAME OF IT 5
III. A SCHOOLGIRL'S JOKE 20
IV. ALL NIGHT IN THE SCHOOLHOUSE 27
V. MOLLY'S SECRET ROOM 45
VI. HOW MAMMA RAN AWAY 61
VII. HOW AUNT BETTY MADE HER CHOICE 73
VIII. NORA'S GOOD LUCK 91
IX. ONE LITTLE CANDLE 106
X. THE LOCKET TOLD 123
XI. HOW A DOG SAVED MY LIFE 145
XII. LOTTIE'S CHRISTMAS TREE 156
XIII. CHRISTMAS IN A BAGGAGE-CAR 172
XIV. HOW A BEAR CAME TO SCHOOL 189
XV. HOW LETTIE HAD HER OWN WAY 202
XVI. HOW KATE FOUND A BABY 223
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
THEY WERE PLAYING THAT THE WAX DOLL WAS SICK (page 6) Frontispiece
KRISTY STOOD PEERING INTO A WORLD OF DRIZZLING RAIN 2
SHE HAD TO PASS A COTTAGE ALMOST HIDDEN WITH FLOWERS 124
IN THE PARK I FOUND A BABY ... AND I SAT DOWN BESIDE IT 226
KRISTY'S RAINY DAY PICNIC
THE RAINY DAY
"I think it's just horrid!" said Kristy, standing before the window, peering out into a world of drizzling rain. "Every single thing is ready and every girl promised to come, and now it has to go and rain; 'n' I believe it'll rain a week, anyway!" she added as a stronger gust dashed the drops against the glass.
Kristy's mother, who was sitting at her sewing-table at work, did not speak at once, and Kristy burst out again:—
"I wish it would never rain another drop; it's always spoiling things!"
"Kristy," said her mother quietly, "you remind me of a girl I knew when I was young."
"What about her?" asked Kristy rather sulkily.
"Why, she had a disappointment something like yours, only it wasn't the weather, but her own carelessness, that caused it. She cried and made a great fuss about it, but before night she was very glad it had happened."
"She must have been a very queer girl," said Kristy.
"She was much such a girl as you, Kristy; and the reason she was glad was because her loss was the cause of her having a far greater pleasure."
"Tell me about it," said Kristy, interested at once, and leaving the window.
"Well, she was dressed for a party at the house of one of her friends, and as she ran down the walk to join the girls in the hay-wagon that was to take them all there, her dress caught on something and tore a great rent clear across the front breadth."
"Well; couldn't she put on another?" asked Kristy.
"Girls didn't have many dresses in those days, and that was a new one made on purpose for the occasion. She had no other that she would wear."
"What did she do?" asked Kristy.
"She turned and ran back into the house, held up her ruined dress for her mother to see, and then flung herself on the lounge with a burst of tears. Her mother had to go out and tell the girls that Bessie could not go."
"That was horrid!" said Kristy earnestly; "but why was she glad, for you said she was?"
"She was, indeed; for an hour later her father drove up to the door and said that he was obliged to go to the city on business, and if Bessie could be ready in fifteen minutes, he would take her and let her spend a few days with her cousin Helen, who had been urging her to visit her. This was a great treat, for Bessie had never been to a large city, and there was nothing she wanted so much to do. You see, if she had been away at the party, she would have missed this pleasure, for her father could not wait longer. She forgot her disappointment in a moment, and hurried to get ready, while her mother packed a satchel with things she would need."
By this time Kristy was seated close by her mother, eagerly interested in the story.
Mrs. Crawford paused.
"Do go on, mamma," said Kristy; "tell me more about her. Did she have a nice time in the city?"
"She did," went on Mrs. Crawford; "so nice that her father was persuaded to leave her there, and she stayed more than a week. There was one scrape, however, that the girls got into that was not so very nice."
"Tell me about it," said Kristy eagerly.
"Well," said her mother, "this is the way it happened."
PLAYING DOCTOR; AND WHAT CAME OF IT
One rainy Saturday afternoon when they were not allowed to go out, Bessie and Helen were playing with their dolls in the nursery.
Helen had a large family of dolls of many kinds: stiff kid-bodied dolls with heads made of some sort of composition that broke very easily, and legs and feet from the knees down of wood, with slippers of pink or blue painted on; others all wood, with jointed legs and arms, that could sit down; whole families of paper dolls cut from cardboard, with large wardrobes of garments of gilt and colored paper which the girls made themselves. Then there was a grand wax doll with real hair which hung in curls, and lips slightly open showing four tiny white teeth. This lovely creature was dressed in pink gauze, and was far too fine for every day. It lived in the lower bureau drawer in Helen's room, and was brought out only on special occasions.
Dearest of all was a doll her mother made for her, of white cloth with a face painted on it, and head of hair made of what used to be called a "false front." This delightful doll was quite a wonder in those days. It had a wardrobe as well made as Helen's own, including stockings and shoes, and could be dressed and undressed and combed and brushed to her heart's content.
Well, one morning,—a rainy Saturday, as I said,—the two girls were very busy with the big family of dolls. They were playing that the wax doll was sick and they were Doctor and Nurse. Many tiny beads—called pills—and several drops from a bottle out of the family medicine case had been thrust between the teeth of this unlucky creature, when the thought struck Helen that a living patient would be more fun than a doll. So she hunted up a half-grown kitten that belonged to her little brother Robbie.
The kitten was dressed for her part in a white towel pinned around her and a pointed cap of paper on her head. Very droll she looked, but she was not so easy to manage as the doll. Beads she refused to swallow, but thrust them out on her small pink tongue, and she struggled violently when a drop of the medicine was given to her. In fact, her struggles made Helen's arm joggle, and sent more down her throat than she meant to give her.
Finally, the kitten struggled and fought so violently that they let her go, when she ran quickly down the stairs, and hid where they could not find her.
The next morning the kitten was missing, to Robbie's great grief. The house was searched in vain, and the two girls began to fear that medicine was not good for her.
Feeling very guilty, they hunted everywhere on the place, and at last found the poor little dead body behind a box in the cellar, where she had crept to die.
The girls were horrified to think their play had killed her. They felt like murderers, and stole out into the arbor to think and plan what they should do. They dared not confess; they feared some sort of punishment for their crime, and they knew it would make Robbie very unhappy.
After much talk, they decided to dispose of the body secretly and not tell any one of their part in the sad business. But how to do it was the question that troubled them. They dared not bury it, for fresh digging in that small city yard would arouse suspicion at once. Bessie suggested that they should carry it far off in the night and throw it away. This plan seemed the best they could think of, till Helen said they would not be allowed to go out in the city after dark.
"I'll tell you," said Bessie at last. "I can do up a nice package,—Uncle Tom taught me,—and I'll do it up, and we can take it away in the daytime; no one will know what it is, and then we can lose it somewhere."
This plan was adopted. Helen got paper and string, and when everybody had gone to church that evening, they brought up the poor kitten, and Bessie made a very neat package which no one could suspect. This they hid away till they could get it out of the house.
After school the next day they got leave to visit a schoolmate who lived far up town, and Helen's mother gave them money to ride in the omnibus—or stage, as they called it—which would take them there. There were no street cars then.
Hiding the small bundle under her cape, Bessie slipped out at the door, feeling now not only like a murderer, but like a thief besides.
They took the stage and rode up town, the package lying openly on Helen's lap. When the stage reached Nineteenth Street it stopped, and to Helen's horror one of her schoolmates came in. She was delighted to see the girls, and seated herself beside Helen.
"Where you going?" she asked.
"We're going to see Lottie Hart," answered Helen.
"Why, so am I!" she exclaimed; "ain't it fun that we met so?"
"Yes," said Helen, but she was filled with dismay. How could she get rid of her package!
"What are you taking up to Lottie?" was the next question, as the unfortunate bundle was noticed.
"Oh, nothing!" said Helen, trying to speak carelessly; "it's something of mine."
Julia looked as if she did not believe her but said no more, though she looked sharply at it.
Meanwhile Helen was trying to plan some way of getting out of the unpleasant scrape, and at last she said hurriedly, pulling the strap at the same moment to stop the stage, "We're going to stop here to do an errand; we'll come on soon. Tell Lottie we're coming," she added, as she saw the look of surprise on her friend's face.
"Why, I'll stop too—and we'll all go on together," she began, half rising, but Helen interrupted rather shortly: "No; you go on and tell her we're coming; we might be detained, you know." And without another word the two conspirators hurried out and turned down a side street.
"Wasn't it horrid that Jule should get in?" said Helen, as soon as the stage had moved on. "She's the greatest tattler in school; she'll make a great talk about it. She was very curious about that package."
"Where shall we go now?" asked Bessie. "Shall we really go to Lottie's after we lose the bundle?"
"No indeed! They'd tease us to death about it. I don't know where we'll go," she added, for she was getting rather cross. "I wish we'd left the old cat in the cellar anyway; it was a silly plan to do this."
"I think you're real mean to talk so," said Bessie indignantly, for it was her plan, you remember. "I don't care if the whole town knows it! it wasn't my fault anyway—'n' I'm going home tomorrow—so there!"
This brought Helen to her senses, for she didn't want Bessie to go home, and she remembered that she was the one who had spilled the medicine.
"I didn't mean that"—she said quickly; "I meant going in the stage 'n' all that."
During this little talk the girls had walked a block or two. "But where shall we go now?" asked Bessie anxiously, for she felt lost among so many streets all looking just alike.
"There's a ferry at the end of the street," said Helen, brightening up; "I didn't think of that. We might cross it and lose the bundle in the river."
"That'll be easy," said Bessie, and with fresh courage they walked on.
It was a long way to the ferry, and two rather tired girls went on to the boat, having paid their fare with the last penny they had, for they had expected to walk home from Lottie's. They forgot until they had started that they had no money to get back, and that thought so frightened Helen that she almost forgot about the first pressing business of getting rid of her package.
There seemed to be as much trouble about that as ever, for the boat was full of passengers and somebody was all the time looking at them. They dared not drop it in when any one was looking, for fear they would think it very queer, and perhaps try to get it for them. Helen had heard of such things.
They walked to the front end of the boat, but could not find a chance when no one was looking; and indeed no doubt their manner was so strange that they aroused the curiosity of everybody.
One of the deck-hands, too, kept close watch of them, and when they went to the front of the boat, hoping to get where they would not be noticed, he came up to them and said to Helen:
"Look out, Miss! you might slip and fall overboard," and kept near them as if he suspected that she meant to jump into the river.
"We can't do it here," Helen whispered; "we'll have to go back—and I haven't another cent; have you any money, Bessie?"
"No!" answered Bessie in horror; "oh, what can we do!"
Helen thought very hard for a few minutes, and then remembering that they had paid their fare in the ferry-house, she thought perhaps if they stayed on the boat and did not go through the ferry-house, they might go back without paying. She whispered all this to Bessie, who by this time was frightened half out of her wits, wondering if they would ever get back over the river, and thinking of all the terrible things she had heard in stories about being lost. She looked so scared that Helen, who was used to the city and was sure she could find some way, had to seem more brave than she really felt.
"We better go back into the cabin," she whispered, "so that man won't see that we don't get off." So they took seats in one corner of the cabin, as the people began to hurry off, hoping with all their hearts that no one would notice them.
But that deck-hand did not lose sight of them, and when the cabin was empty he came in. "It's time to get off, Miss," he said; "we don't go any farther."
"We don't want to get off," said Helen; "we're going back."
"But you haven't paid your fare," he said gruffly.
On this Bessie really began to cry, and Helen, though she tried to brave it out, trembled.
"Can't we go back without, if we don't go to the ferry-house?" she said, with trembling lips. "We haven't any more money and we want to go home."
On this the man was softened and probably ashamed of his suspicions, for he turned and said as he went out of the door, "Well, if the capt'n don't object, I don't care."
Then the people began to come in, and the two girls sat trembling, dreading that every man who entered was the captain to demand their fare.
In this new trouble they forgot the bundle, and did not attempt to get rid of it on the river.
When they were safely away from the ferry-boat and on the street on the home side, they felt better, and began to think again of what they wanted now more than ever to do. They both felt that if they ever got safely home and out of this scrape they would never—never—get into another one again.
As they trudged wearily along, full of these good resolutions, they came to a row of houses set back a little in the yards with grass and shrubs growing.
Bessie whispered, "Couldn't you drop it under one of these bushes, Helen? See; there's a lilac very thick and down to the ground."
Sure enough; there was a most convenient bush close to the fence.
"Is anybody looking?" whispered Helen, glancing around fearfully.
"No; I don't see anybody," answered Bessie. "Do it! do it! quick!" eagerly.
No sooner said than done; the package that had made them so much trouble was hastily thrust far under a broad-spreading lilac bush, and with a gasp, Helen started on a mad run down the street followed closely by Bessie. Not until they had turned a corner and passed into another street, did the two culprits dare to take a long breath and begin to walk.
As they got farther and farther away, and no one followed them, they grew less frightened, and then they found themselves very, very tired, with still a long way to go to reach home.
It was almost dark when two tired and hungry girls reached the steps of their own home and safety.
"I'm half starved!" said Helen, as they dragged themselves up the stairs.
"So 'm I," said Bessie.
"You go onto my room," whispered Helen, "and I'll go down and see if I can get something to eat—it isn't near supper time."
In a few minutes she came up with some cakes which they eagerly devoured, and felt that their troubles were over. They had, however, one more ordeal.
At the supper table Helen's mother asked: "How did you find Lottie? Did you have a pleasant time?"
Helen hesitated a moment and then said hastily:—
"We didn't go there; we met Jule Dayton going there, so we got out at S—— Street and walked down to the river."
Helen's mother eyed the girls sharply. "You must have had a long walk."
"We did," answered Helen, "and we're awful hungry;" adding quickly as she saw another question on her mother's lips, "I'll tell you all about it after supper."
And she did. Alone with her mother the two girls confessed—told the whole story and promised never, never again to try to deceive.
* * * * *
"That was a good story," said Kristy, as her mother ended. "You never told me anything about that Bessie before. Do you know anything more about her?"
Kristy's manner was rather suspicious and Mrs. Crawford smiled as she answered:—
"Yes; I know a good deal about her and I'll tell you more some day."
"Tell me now!" begged Kristy; "I believe I know who she was. Was her name really Bessie?"
"No matter about that," answered Mrs. Crawford; "if I told you her real name, perhaps I shouldn't like to tell you so much about her."
"Oh, well! then you needn't; but I guess I can guess."
"I guess you can guess all you like," said mamma, smiling again.
"One thing more I remember now that happened during that famous visit, which was not quite so tragical as the death of the poor kitten."
A SCHOOLGIRL'S JOKE
The school to which Helen went—and where Bessie went with her—was not like the great schoolhouses they have now. It had but two rooms, one for girls and the other for boys. Some of the school windows opened on the street, and one morning when all was quiet in the schoolroom an organ-grinder suddenly began to play under the open windows.
The girls looked up from their books and listened, the teacher looked annoyed, but thinking he would soon go on, she waited. The girls began to get restless; study was at an end; and at last when the grinder had played all his airs and begun again, the teacher went to the door to ask him to go. In the hall she met the teacher of the boys, who was on the same errand, for the boys were all excited and getting very noisy. In fact school work was stopped in both rooms.
The man refused to move on, and at last gave as his excuse, that he had been hired by one of the scholars to play there an hour.
The teachers tried to make him tell who had hired him, and finally he said it was a small boy with red hair. Finding him determined to earn his money by playing the whole hour, the teachers went back to their rooms, sure that they knew the culprit and that he should be punished.
There was only one small boy with red hair in the school, and he was called up and accused of the prank. He declared that he knew nothing about it,—that he never did it,—and began to cry when the teacher brought from his desk a long ruler which the boys knew too well, for when one broke the rules he was punished by being first lectured before the whole school, and then ordered to hold out his hand and receive several blows from it.
The poor little red-haired boy cried harder than ever when this appeared, and again protested that he did not do it. Then a voice from the back of the room spoke timidly: "Perhaps the girls know something about it."
This was a new idea; it had not occurred to the master that the man might have told a falsehood to shield the real culprit, and he laid down the ruler, telling the sobbing boy that he might go to his seat while he inquired into it. Meanwhile the organ-grinder went on with his work and the whole school was in an uproar.
When the girls' teacher heard the suggestion that perhaps some of her pupils might be guilty, she was very much vexed. But ordering all books put aside, she gave them a serious lecture on the trouble that had been made by that mischief, and then called upon the guilty one, if she were there, to rise and receive her sentence, and save the small boy sobbing in the next room from a punishment that he did not deserve.
Upon this, sixty girls—the whole room full—rose together as one girl.
The teacher was amazed—almost in consternation. She first made one of them tell the story, when it came out that it was the prank of one of their number—whose name she would not give.
* * * * *
"Who was it?" interrupted Kristy eagerly; "was it Bessie?"
"No," answered her mother, "not alone; but it was her cousin Helen who was full of such foolish jokes, seconded by Bessie. She had asked the organ-grinder how much he would charge to play under the school windows an hour, and when he said sixty cents, she had gone around among the girls and got a penny from each so that all should be guilty."
* * * * *
The teacher's next thought was how to punish sixty girls, but she was quick-witted, and bidding them resume their seats, she gave them another lecture, and then said: "Since you are all guilty, you shall all be punished."
She then ordered text-books to be laid aside and slates and pencils to be brought out—for this happened before quiet paper had taken the place of noisy slates.
Each girl produced from her desk a large slate, and waited further orders. Then the teacher wrote in large letters on the blackboard these words:—
I LOVE TO HEAR THE ORGAN-GRINDER PLAY
and ordered each girl to write that upon her slate over and over and over again for one hour.
This seemed like a very easy punishment, and then began a vigorous scratching of pencils, with shy laughing glances between the culprits, while the teacher took a book and began to read, keeping, however, a sharp eye on the pupils to see that no one shirked her work. When one announced that her slate was full, she was told to sponge it off and begin again.
Never was an hour so long! The lively scratching of pencils soon began to lag, and the teacher had to spur them on again, and now and then she walked down between the desks and looked at the slates to see that no one failed to obey orders.
Many eager glances were turned upon the clock; recess-time came—and went; the boys were let out and their shouts and calls came in at the window, but the silence in the room of the girls was broken only by the scratching of slate-pencils and the sighs of weary girls,—for it had long ceased to be funny.
When at last that tiresome old clock struck the hour, they were made to put away their slates and resume their lessons, and no recess at all did they have that morning.
* * * * *
"That was an awful funny prank," said Kristy; "and wasn't it a cute punishment!" she added, getting up to look out of the window again. "Rain! rain! rain!" she said, in a vexed tone, "nothing but rain to-day."
"There are worse storms than rain, Kristy," said her mother.
"I don't see what can be worse," said Kristy, returning to her seat.
"What would you say to a blizzard?" asked mamma.
"What's a blizzard?" said Kristy.
"It's a kind of storm they have out on the western prairies; let me tell you about one."
ALL NIGHT IN THE SCHOOLHOUSE
It was very quiet one winter day in the little schoolhouse out on the prairie near the village of B——.
The afternoon was wearing away, and thoughts of home and the warm supper awaiting them began to stir in the children's thoughts, and many glances were turned to the clock which was busily ticking the minutes away.
Suddenly, without the least warning, a severe blast of wind struck the little schoolhouse and shook it to its foundations, while at the same moment a great darkness fell upon the world, as if the sun had been stricken out of the heavens.
"A blizzard!" came trembling from the lips of the older scholars, who well knew the enemy which had suddenly descended upon them.
Miss Grey, the teacher, left her seat and hurried to the window. Nothing was to be seen but snow. Not the soft, feathery flakes of eastern storms, but sharp ice-like particles that cut and stung when it beat against the flesh, like needles.
Here was a situation! Though new to the country, Miss Grey had been warned of the terrible storms which sometimes descended upon it, obliterating every landmark, and so blinding and bewildering one that even the sense of direction was lost, while the icy wind that came with it, seemed to freeze the very vitals, and left many lost and frozen in its path.
Though it was her first sight of the monster, she recognized it in a moment, and her instant thought was, "O God! what can I do with these children?" And a faintness, almost a feeling of despair, came over her. Then seeing that all order was at an end, and the children were huddled about her, some crying and all terrified, she pulled herself together, realizing that to avert a real panic she must arouse herself. She returned to her seat, and in as calm a voice as she could command, she ordered the children back to their seats, to give her time to consider what she could do.
"Please may I go home?" came anxiously from small lips of the younger children. Older ones knew well that one step beyond the door they would be lost, for years of experience with blizzards and the stern directions of parents never to venture out in one was thoroughly impressed on their minds.
"Wait till I think!" was the answer of the teacher to these requests; and for a few moments she did try to think, but all the time she knew in her heart that she should have to keep them all, and make them as comfortable as she could.
At length she spoke. "You know, children, that it will not be safe to go out in the storm. You could not find your way; you would be lost and perhaps perish in the snow. We must just be patient and make ourselves as comfortable as we can. You may put away your books,"—for she saw that study or school work would be impossible in their state of excitement. With sudden inspiration she went on: "We will have a recess, and I will tell you a story, but first we must have some more wood. Harry, will you bring some?"
Harry Field was her oldest scholar and gave her the most trouble. He was in fact full-grown and seventeen years old. He did the work of a man on the farm all summer, but being anxious to get more of an education, he went to school in winter.
That was commendable, and Miss Grey was glad to help him; but though a man in size, he had not outgrown the boy in him, and he sometimes gave her a great deal of trouble by putting the younger ones up to mischief or teasing them past endurance.
With Harry, Miss Grey dreaded the most trouble, but real danger brought out his manly side and he at once ranged himself on her side to stand by her and help.
On her request, he went to the passageway where wood was kept and returned with a small armful and a white face. He whispered to Miss Grey: "This is the last stick!"
A new horror was thus added to the situation, but Miss Grey assumed a confidence she by no means felt. "Then we must burn up the wood-box," she said calmly.
"I will split it up," said Harry; "I know where the axe is kept."
This was some relief. Permission was granted, and in a few minutes the vigorous blows of the axe were heard, and soon he returned with a glowing face and a big armful of wood. Miss Grey called for quiet and began to tell her story.
Never was story-telling so hard; she could not collect her thoughts; she could not think of a single thing that would interest that frightened crowd. The blizzard—the horror of it—the dread of what it might bring to these children under her charge—then the terrors of hunger and cold, and panic of fear, which seemed impossible to prevent, almost deprived her of her reason. She felt a strong impulse to run away, to fling herself into the very thick of the storm and perish.
Then a glance at the intelligent and fearless face of Harry gave her new courage. "Harry," she said, in a low tone, "you are the oldest here—you must help me. Can't you tell a story while I try to think?"
"I don't know," hesitated Harry.
"Do think!" she said earnestly; "these children will work themselves into a panic, and then how can we manage them!"
"Well perhaps I can," said Harry, pleased to be her helper; then after a moment, "I guess I can; I'll tell them about a bear I saw once in the woods."
"Oh, do!" said Miss Grey, sinking back in her chair.
In a moment Harry began, and as the story was really a thrilling one and he told it with enthusiasm, the children quieted down and listened.
Meanwhile Miss Grey had somewhat recovered herself and made some definite plans for the rest of the day.
When the story ended with the sensational end of the bear, the details of which Harry enlarged upon till they became very exciting, Miss Grey was calm again.
Thanking Harry, she then proposed to tell a story herself, when a faint little voice spoke up, "Oh, I'm so hungry," and was echoed by many more, "So 'm I."
This was the most pressing trouble, as Miss Grey well knew. With Harry at the axe, they could be kept warm; but how to satisfy their hunger! She had a plan, however.
"Did any of you have any dinner left in your baskets?" she asked.
Two or three said that they had, when she ordered all baskets and pails to be brought to her.
Even when all were emptied there was a very meagre supply for a dozen hearty, country appetites, and her heart sank; but, telling those who had anything that of course what there was must be divided between all, she portioned it out as well as she could, leaving none for herself.
"But you have nothing yourself!" said Harry, who was distributing the small supply.
"Oh, I don't want anything," said Miss Grey.
"Nor I either," said Harry; "I'll give up my share."
"You'd better not, Harry," said Miss Grey, with a smile of thanks; "you are young."
"Yes, and strong," said Harry, adding his small portion to the others. "I guess I can stand it if you can."
"Thank you, Harry; I don't know what I should do without you."
Then Miss Grey began her story, hoping to make the children forget their hunger. She took her cue from Harry's bear story and added harrowing incidents and thrilling experiences, as many as she could think of, trying to remember some of the stories of adventure she had read.
When the children got tired and began to be restless, she brought out her next resource: she proposed a game, and in a few minutes the whole school was romping and shouting and enjoying the novelty of a real play in the schoolroom.
When at last they sat down warm and breathless, she began again. This time she sang them some songs; some that she remembered her mother singing to her in the nursery. But she found this a rather dangerous experiment, for the thought of that happy time contrasted with the anxieties of this, with a dozen frightened children on her hands, cut off from all the world, nearly overcame her. But she rallied again, and this time proposed a song that all could sing.
After that she told another story, making it as long and as stirring as she possibly could.
By this time it was quite dark so that the stove-door was left open to give a little light, and the younger ones began to cry quietly with sleepiness.
All the children were sent to the hall to bring their wraps, and then beginning with the smallest, they were all put to bed on the benches. These benches, fortunately, had backs, and by putting two of them face to face they made a bed, which, if hard and cheerless, would certainly keep them from falling out.
When the last one had been made as comfortable as could be done under the circumstances, Miss Grey sang several rather sleepy verses, and when long breathing announced the sleep of some, she sank back in her chair exhausted.
"I'll keep the fire going, Miss Grey," said her gallant helper, Harry. "You try to sleep, or at least to rest."
"Indeed, Harry, I couldn't sleep if I tried. You know about these storms—how long do they usually last? Do you suppose some one will come for us?"
"Why, Miss Grey," said Harry, "I suppose every man in the village is out now trying to get to us—surely every man who has a child in school."
"I suppose every mother is half crazy," said Miss Grey.
"No doubt she is," said Harry.
Now when all was quiet inside the room, Miss Grey had leisure to listen to the rage of the elements outside. How the savage wind roared and beat upon the lonely little building as if it would tear it to pieces and scatter its ruins over the pitiless prairie; how the icy storm beat against the staring great windows as if in its fury it would crash them in and bury them all. It was fearful, and Miss Grey, unused to storms of such violence, shuddered as she listened.
"Harry," she whispered with white lips, "isn't this the worst storm you ever knew? It seems as if it must blow the house down."
"No," said Harry, "I think they're all about alike. I was caught out in one once."
"Were you? Did you get lost?"
"Oh, yes indeed; my father was with me and we wandered around, it seemed for hours, till we saw a light and got to a farmhouse, miles away from where we thought we were. I was so stiff with cold I couldn't walk. I was a kid then"—he hastily added, "and my father had to carry me to the house. He froze his ears and his nose that time."
"Well, this is the most awful storm I ever knew," said Miss Grey. "I feel now as if I should run away from this place as soon as my term is up."
"Don't," said Harry earnestly; "you're the best teacher we ever had—don't go away!"
For some time not much was said between the two watchers. The children—most of them—slept.
"Harry," said Miss Grey, after a while, "you didn't answer my question of how long these storms usually last."
Harry looked a little confused, for he had purposely not answered it, fearing to discourage her.
"Sometimes," he said, hesitatingly, "it is over in a few hours, but sometimes," he added more slowly, "one has lasted two or three days."
"Oh!" cried Miss Grey in horror, "what can I do with the children! They'll be hungry as bears when they wake!"
"Oh, they'll surely find us as soon as morning comes," said Harry. "I wish we could show a light now; they might be right on us and not see us."
"That's true—but there's no possible way of making one. We ought to have candles and matches, and I'll see that we have—if we ever get out of this," she added, in a lower tone.
After what seemed interminable hours, daylight began to creep through the windows. It gave little hope, for the wind was strong as ever, and nothing could be seen but a world of whirling, rushing, blinding snow. And before it was fully light the children began to wake; soon they were all awake and most of them crying with hunger and fright.
Then the scenes of the afternoon were repeated. The worn-out teacher sang and told stories, and led in games till she was ready to drop with exhaustion.
About noon a shout startled them, and Harry rushed to the door; indeed all started for it in a mad rush, but Miss Grey ordered them back so sternly that they obeyed.
In a moment the room was full of men—or were they some strange snow-monsters?—clad in white from head to foot, and so disguised by the snow that no child could know his own father.
With joy and relief, Miss Grey almost fainted, while the men, after assuring themselves that all the children were safe, listened to Harry's animated story of the terrible night, and then applauded Miss Grey for her heroic labors.
She did not look heroic now, for she had sunk back in her chair almost as white as the world outside the windows. When the weary men had rested a little and warmed themselves, the children were wrapped up in extra wraps the men had brought, and Miss Grey rallied and prepared to set out on her fight for life, through the still raging storm.
They had made some sort of a path through the drifts as they came, and though little signs of it were left, there was enough to guide these hardy men used to such storms. Every man took his child in his arms and all started out, Miss Grey under the care of her faithful Harry.
At first she clung to his arm, but the snow was everywhere; it filled her eyes and took away her breath, the wind blew her skirts and impeded her steps, and in her state of nervous exhaustion she was very soon overcome. A dull stupor came over her, and, letting go her hold on the arm of her protector, she sank down into the snow unconscious.
From that state she would never have roused but for the efforts of Harry. There was not a moment to lose; the rest of the party were almost out of sight, and to lose them would be to be without a guide in this wilderness of snow.
It was no time for ceremony. With a hasty "You must excuse me, then," Harry took her light form up in his arms and trudged on as well as he could, striving only to keep the men in sight.
When, after efforts that tried his strength to its limits, he reached the farmhouse where Miss Grey boarded, he staggered up the steps, burst open the door, and almost fell on the floor with his unconscious burden.
The family rushed to his aid; took Miss Grey's limp form, laid it on a lounge, and some set to work to restore her, while others helped Harry to free himself from snow and thaw himself out.
When, after some time, Miss Grey was fully recovered, and both she and Harry had eaten a very welcome breakfast, he rose to go to his own home not far away, she rose, too, and said earnestly:—
"Harry, I don't know what to say! I believe you have saved my life—what can I say—what can I ever do"—
"Promise that you won't give up the school and go away!" burst eagerly from Harry's lips.
"Do you really care so much to have me stay?" she asked, somewhat surprised, for she had sometimes been obliged to assert her authority very sternly.
"Yes, I do!" he said, bluntly. "I—I"—he went on embarrassed, "I've been a donkey and given you trouble—I'd like to kick myself—but you're a brick and I'll behave myself—if you'll stay."
"I will," said Miss Grey cordially, "and I depend on you to be the help you were last night. I might never"—here she broke down.
"You'll see," said Harry bluntly, as he opened the door to go.
She did. He was better than his word, for he seemed to have shaken off all his boyishness from that terrible day. He not only attended to his studies, but he became her aid and assistant on all occasions, and his example as well as his influence made the little school far different from what it had been. Before spring, Miss Grey had become so attached to her scholars and the little town that she had no wish to leave them. She, however, learned to see in time the coming of a storm and she provided herself with the means of getting help, so that she was never again made prisoner with a roomful of children by a blizzard.
* * * * *
"Mamma," said Kristy, after a few moments' silence, "why did you never tell me anything about that Bessie before?"
Mamma smiled. "I didn't want to tell you everything at once; I wanted to save some till you were a little older."
"I guess there's another reason, too," said Kristy, looking very wise; "I guess they are about some one I know." Mamma smiled again, but said nothing for a moment till Kristy began again.
"Tell me another."
"Well; let me see," said Mrs. Crawford. "I don't think of anything else interesting that happened to Bessie while she was in the city, and soon after the affair of the dead kitten she went home. But I remember another thing that happened about that time which I will tell you after lunch."
"Oh, tell it now!" demanded Kristy, looking at the clock which pointed to ten minutes after twelve.
"Well; perhaps there is time," said her mother.
MOLLY'S SECRET ROOM
When Molly was a little girl eight or ten years old, she was living in the city with her two sisters who took care of her.
They had no father or mother, and the sisters were clerks in a store, for they had to support themselves. They lived in one room, high up in a business block, so as to be near their work, which was indeed in the very next building.
They had to go to work early in the morning and leave Molly alone. They had lived in the country, and it was very hard for the child to be shut up in one room all day, with no one to play with, and only back windows to look out of.
Once or twice Molly had left the room and wandered into the street, and the sisters were so afraid she would be lost that finally they locked the door and took away the key so that she could not get out.
Playing all alone with her dolls became very tiresome after a while, and looking out of the window was not very exciting; there was nothing to be seen but back yards of stores where nothing ever happened.
Now Molly noticed that the next building, which was lower than the one they were in, was a little deeper than theirs, and stuck out a foot or so beyond it. One of their windows was quite near this roof which was flat, and Molly often looked longingly at it, wishing she could get out upon it and be out of doors.
One day when she was very tired and warm, she stood at the window looking at the tempting roof so near, when suddenly the thought came to her that she could almost step from the window on to it. This was an enticing thought, and without thinking of the danger of falling, or of anything except the longing to get out, she pushed the window as high as it would go, climbed up on the sill, and holding fast to the casing inside, thrust one foot carefully out. Oh, joy! she touched the roof, and with one fearful step was safely on it, though her heart beat a little hard.
The sun shone brightly, and she was almost too happy to look about to see her new possessions. The roof was flat, as large as a big room; on one side was a tall brick chimney and in the middle a queer-looking structure which she at once went over to examine. It was shaped like a tent, and all made of windows which she could not see through because they were of colored glass.
Both sides of this roof-room were tall, brick walls of neighboring buildings, and in the front a lower one, which was, however, too high for her to look over. Only the back was open.
It was not a very attractive place, but to Molly it was a new world. She was a strange child always, full of imagination, and she at once decided that the brick chimney was a castle in which some children were shut up, and the window tent looked into a garden where they were allowed to play.
She resolved to bring her doll out here, and she thought she should never be lonely again if she could only find a peep-hole in that glass roof and look down into the garden; so she was always looking for one.
After that day she spent all her time—when it did not rain—on the delightful roof. She carried her treasures out, her whole family of dolls with their furniture and things, her sisters keeping her well supplied so that she should not be lonely. She found a small box which she could leave out there, and made her a nice seat, and soon she began to get rosy and happy again, to the great delight of her sisters.
Every day, as soon as she was left alone, she pushed up the window, took that fearful step on which, if she had slipped or lost her hold, she would have been dashed to pieces on the pavement below, and then spent the day happily with her dolls and toys, making stories for herself.
It was not long before she found the peep-hole she was always looking for into the room under the glass tent—for it was a room, and not a garden, as she hoped. This peep-hole was a small three-cornered piece of clear glass among the colored, and through it she could see everything in the room below.
The room was not particularly interesting, but she made up a story about it as she always did. It seemed to be a gentleman's office, for an elderly gentleman nearly always sat at a table under the roof-window and had papers about him.
To him came many callers; sometimes other men, sometimes shop-boys, now and then a shop-girl on some errand, and once a week a charwoman who cleaned, and swept, and dusted, and piled the papers neatly up on the table.
All this was of deepest interest to Molly, who passed hours every day looking into this room, her only outlook into the world, and making up stories about the people who came.
Sometimes—not very often—there came a beautiful lady to the room, who had long talks with the old gentleman, and seemed to be unhappy about something. She would cry, and appeared to be begging him to do something which he never did, though he seemed to be sorry for her. Molly had made up a story about her: that she was the daughter of the old gentleman and wanted to go to live in the country where there were trees, and birds, and gardens, and her father always refused to let her, but kept her shut up in a big brick house in the city.
One day while peering down into the room, Molly saw the beautiful lady, after much talk, take out of her bag a small leather case and open it. There was something very glittering inside, which flashed bright colors as she turned it. Molly was so interested that she could not take her eyes off her. After a while she gave it to the old gentleman, who unlocked a drawer in the table, put into it the case with its wonderful treasure, and then took from the same drawer a small bag, out of which he counted what Molly thought were bright, new pennies, such big pennies, too, as the pennies were at that time, so shining and beautiful that Molly wished she had a handful to play with. These he gathered up and gave to the lady who put them carefully into her bag and then went away.
Now for many days the lady did not come again, and Molly saw only the errand-boys and occasionally a shop-girl, and the men who came to talk, and always the old gentleman, till one day something else happened.
The old gentleman was away all day and the charwoman was cleaning the room. One or two persons came, apparently to see the old gentleman, and among the rest one of the shop-girls Molly had often seen there. She talked with the cleaning-woman a few minutes, and then, the work being done, they went out together.
While Molly still looked, hoping they would come back, she saw a boy steal in very quietly. She knew him for one she had often seen there; he seemed to belong to the store below. But he acted very strangely. He looked all around the room carefully, opened a door at the back, then locked the door he had come in at.
Then he went to the table—all the time listening and acting as if afraid. He acted so strangely that Molly was so much interested she couldn't look away. She wondered what he was going to do. She soon saw, for he took from his pocket a bunch of keys and began trying them in the drawer of the table.
He tried several, and at last found one that fitted and he pulled the drawer open. He tumbled over the things in the drawer, took out the little bag which had held the bright pennies, put it in his pocket, and then pulled out the small leather case Molly remembered so well, and she saw—as he opened it—the same flashing colors she had seen before. This he hastily closed and slipped into another pocket. Then snatching his keys, he hurried out of the room, leaving the drawer open, but shutting the door very quietly.
Meanwhile Molly was breathless with excitement over this new mystery and could hardly tear herself away from her peep-hole, hoping always to see what would happen next.
She soon saw unusual things. The next day policemen came to the room, examined the drawer carefully, looked at doors and windows, as if seeking something. The old gentleman seemed distressed, and the lady came and cried and wrung her hands; plainly there was something very serious the matter.
One evening—not long after this—she heard her sisters talking about a mysterious robbery that had taken place in the store. The proprietors of the store had lost money and a valuable piece of diamond jewelry, and one of the shop-girls had been arrested. She was the only one who had been in the room that day, it was said by the charwoman who was first suspected. The sisters were very indignant over the arrest; they did not believe the girl was guilty.
While listening to this story, Molly understood that her show-room was the private office of the old gentleman and that she knew who had stolen the diamonds. But if she told, it would reveal the secret of her play-room, and she knew her sisters would never let her go there again.
The lonely child felt that she could not give up her only pleasure; so she sat listening but saying nothing, till one of her sisters told about the poor shop-girl, how she was in great distress, and her mother, who was almost helpless, had come to the store to plead with the old gentleman.
This was too much for kind-hearted Molly, and on one of her sisters saying she did not believe the girl stole it, Molly exclaimed, before she thought:—
"She didn't! the shop-boy took it!"
"How do you know?" demanded her sister in amazement.
"I saw him; I know all about it," said Molly excitedly.
"You saw it?" said her sister. "What do you mean? How could you see it?"
Surprised as they were, Molly was a truthful child, and she was so earnest that her sisters could not doubt she did know something, though they could not imagine how. A little questioning, however, brought the facts to light, and Molly's long-treasured secret was out. She showed her sisters how she got on to the roof, and they were forced to believe her.
After talking it over, they decided it was too serious a matter for them to manage, and the next morning, asking to see the store manager, they quietly told him Molly's story.
He poohed at it, said it was impossible; but upon their insisting, he at last brought them before the old gentleman.
He was struck with their straightforward story, and impossible as it seemed, was resolved to test it. Molly was sent for and told so straight a story of the beautiful lady and the shining jewel, of the bright pennies he gave her, and of other things she had seen, that a visit was made to the attic room.
Molly took her fearful step on to the roof in an easy way that showed it was perfectly familiar, followed by the manager, who was a slight man. She showed him the peep-hole and how she could see everything in the room below, and he returned in almost speechless amazement.
The next thing was to pick out the boy who had done it, and this Molly had to do, though she would not have consented except for her pity for the shop-girl now shut up in jail.
All the boys of the store were made to stand up in line, and Molly was told to pick out the boy. It did not need her word, however, for the guilty boy turned red and white, and at last fell at the feet of the old gentleman and confessed all.
That was a time of triumph for the sisters: first they received—to their amazement—the five hundred dollars reward which had been offered, and then they were given better places in the store at much higher wages, and Molly was adopted by the beautiful lady whose valuable jewels she had been the means of recovering.
The sisters hated to give Molly up, but seeing the great benefit it would be for her, they consented. With the money they bought a tiny home in a country suburb, and came every day to their work on the cars. There they live nicely now, and Molly often goes to see them. They have been advanced to fine positions and are prosperous and happy.
* * * * *
When the story was ended, Kristy drew a long sigh. "That was splendid! was it true? How I should like to see Molly's play-room."
"Yes, it is true; but you can never see it," said her mother, "for the next year the store was built up a story or two higher, and the play-house on the roof was no more."
"There's the lunch bell," said Kristy, "will you tell me some more after lunch?"
"Dear me, Kristy," said her mother, with a sigh, "you are certainly incorrigible; don't you ever get tired of stories?"
"Never!" said Kristy emphatically; "I could listen to stories all day and all night too, I guess."
Mrs. Crawford hesitated; Kristy went on.
"Won't you tell me stories as long as it rains?"
"Well, yes," began Mrs. Crawford, who had noted signs of clearing. But Kristy interrupted, shouting, "It's a bargain! it's a bargain! you said yes! Now let's go to lunch; I'm in a hurry to begin the next story."
"Well," said Mrs. Crawford, when they returned to the sitting-room after lunch, "if I'm to tell stories all day, you certainly should do something, too; it isn't fair for me to do all the work."
"I will," said Kristy laughing; "I'll listen."
"Do you call that work?" asked her mother.
"N—o!" said Kristy, thinking a moment. "Well, I'll tell you! I'll get my knitting;" and she ran out of the room and in a minute or two came back with some wool and needles with a very little strip of knitting, all done up in a clean towel. She had set out to knit a carriage-blanket for a baby she was fond of, but she found it slow work, for as soon as she became interested in anything else the knitting was forgotten. Now she took her seat in a low chair and began to knit. "Now begin," she said, as her mother took up her sewing.
"Did I ever tell you, Kristy, how I learned to knit?"
"No," said Kristy; "I suppose your mother taught you."
"She did not. I was taught by my grandmother, my father's mother, one winter that I spent with her, when my mother was ill."
"Wasn't your grandmother very queer?" asked Kristy. "Did she look like that picture in your room?"
"Yes; that's a good likeness, but she wasn't exactly queer. She was a very fine woman, but she had decided notions about the way girls should be brought up, and she thought my mother was too easy. So when she had the whole care of me, she set herself to give me some good, wholesome training."
"Poor little mamma!" said Kristy. "What did she do? It seems so funny to think of you as a little girl being trained!"
"Well, it was not at all funny, I assure you. I thought I was terribly abused, and I used to make plans to run away some night and go home. But every night I was so sleepy that I put it off till another night; and indeed I had a bit of common sense left, and realized that I had no money and did not know the way home, and couldn't walk so far anyway; though I did run away once"—
"Oh, tell me about that"—cried Kristy, laughing; "you run away! how funny! tell me!"
"I'll tell you the story of my naughty runaway, but first I must tell you about my grandmother and why I wanted to run away."
HOW MAMMA RAN AWAY
My mother was not a very strong woman, while I was a healthy strong girl, so when she tried to teach me to knit and sew, I always managed to get out of it, and she was too weak to insist. So when I went to my grandmother's to spend the winter, and her first question was, "What sewing have you on hand now?" I was struck with horror.
"Why none"—I stammered, and seeing the look of surprise in her face, I hastened to add, "I never have any on hand."
"Do you never sew?" she asked, in her sternest tone.
"Why—not very often," I faltered. "I don't like to sew."
"Hm!" said my grandmother, "I shall have to teach you then; I am surprised! ten years old and not know how to sew! At your age, your Aunt Emily was almost an expert needlewoman; she could do overhand, hemming, felling, backstitching, hemstitching, running, catstitching, buttonholes, and a little embroidery."
I was aghast. Had I got to learn all these mysteries of the needle! My grandmother went on.
"We'll begin at the beginning then; I'll prepare some patchwork for you."
My heart sank; patchwork was the thing my mother had tried to have me do, and I hated it. I remember now some mussed up, dirty-looking blocks, stuffed behind a bureau at home—to have them lost.
True to her word, my grandmother brought out her "piece-bag" and selected a great pile of bits of colored calico and new white cotton cloth, which she cut into neat blocks about four inches square, and piled up on the table, the white pieces by themselves, the pink and the blue in separate piles, and the gray and dull colored also by themselves.
Then taking needle and thread, she began basting them for sewing, a white and colored one together. Oh, what a pile there was of basted pieces, ready for me to learn overhand, or "over 'n over" as I used to call it. I thought there was enough for a quilt. Should I have to sew it all? I was in despair. But my grandmother was much pleased with the show. "There!" she said, "when you finish those, I shall prepare some more, and if you are industrious, you will have enough for a quilt by spring, and then I will have a quilting and you can take home to your mother a sample of the work you have done."
Somehow this picture did not allure me. I thought only of the weary, weary hours of sewing I should have to do.
Well, that very day she sent to the store and had a thimble bought for me, and that afternoon after school I began my quilt under her eye. I must have a regular "stint," she said, and it was to be—at first—one of those dreadful blocks, at least four inches of over-and-over stitches! This was to be done the first thing after school, before I could go out to play.
I won't tell you of the tears I shed over those blocks, of the bad stitches I had to pick out and do over, of the many times I had to go and wash my hands because of dirty thread. I thought my grandmother the most cruel taskmaster in the world.
And the patchwork was not all. When she found that I could not even knit, and that I was accustomed at home to read all the long winter evenings before my bedtime at eight, she said at once that so much reading was not good for me, and I must have some knitting. So she had some red yarn bought, and some steel needles, and "set up" a stocking big enough for my little brother, cheering me, as she thought, by telling me that if I paid proper attention to it, I could knit a pair of stockings for him before spring. My evening "stint" was six times around the stocking-leg.
These two tasks, which my grandmother never failed to exact from me, made life a burden to me. How I hated them! how naughty I was! How I used to break my needles and lose my spool of thread, and ravel my knitting to make a diversion in the dreary round, forgetting that all these hindrances only prolonged my hours of labor, for every stitch of my task must be finished before she would release me.
I brooded over my hardships till I became really desperate, and so was in a fit state to agree to a plan proposed by a schoolmate—to run away. She too had troubles at home; her mother made her help in the housework; she had to wash dishes when she wanted to play out of doors.
We compared notes and made up our minds that we were persecuted and abused, and we wouldn't stand it any longer. We were not quite so silly as to think of a serious runaway, but we wanted to get rid of our tasks for one day at least; and besides it was spring now and the woods were full of flowers, which I loved, next to books, best of anything in the world.
So after school one day we started for the woods instead of for home. We felt very brave and grown-up when we turned into the path that led into the woods, but before the afternoon was over our feelings changed, and we began to feel very wicked, and to dread going home. I thought of my grandmother's sharp eyes fixed on me, and dreaded what punishment she might inflict, for I knew she believed in punishments that terrified me, such as doubling my daily task, shutting up in a dark closet, and even, I feared, the rod.
Moreover my fault was made worse by the fact that I had lost my schoolbooks which I was taking home for the study-hour in the morning. I had laid them down on a log and was unable to find them again, though we spent hours—it seemed to me—in looking for them.
We did not enjoy our freedom after all, for the sense of guilt and dread took all the pleasure out of everything; besides, we had one great fright. We heard some great animal rustling among the bushes and were sure it was a bear. We turned and fled, running as hard as we could, looking fearfully back to see if we were pursued, stumbling over logs, and tearing our clothes on bushes. I lost one shoe in a muddy place, and Jenny lost her sunbonnet.
We picked flowers, and when the frail things wilted in our hot hands, we threw them away, and not till it began to grow dark did we get up courage to turn towards the village.
The piece of woods was not large, and we did not really get lost, and before it was quite dark, two very tired, shamefaced girls, with torn dresses and generally disreputable looks, stole into the back doors of their respective homes.
I never knew what happened to Jenny—she never would tell me; but I met the stern face of my grandmother the moment I stepped into the kitchen. I had tried to slip in and go to my room to wash and brush myself, and try to mend my dress before she saw me, but the moment I entered, her eye was upon me.
After one look of utter horror, she seized me by the shoulders, and walked me into the sitting-room, where the family were gathered,—my uncle who lived with my grandmother, and my three cousins, all older, and not playmates for me.
She left me standing in the middle of the room, while all eyes were turned in reproof upon me.
"There!" said my grandmother, in her most severe voice, "there's the child who runs away! Look at her."
Then my uncle began to question me. Where had I been? where was my shoe? how did I tear my dress? what did I do it for? what did I think I deserved? and various other questions. Before long, I was weeping bitterly, and feeling that imprisonment for life would be a fitting punishment for my crimes.
Then came my sentence in the stern voice of my grandmother: "I think a suitable punishment for a naughty girl will be to go to bed without her supper." This was assented to by my uncle, and I was sent off in disgrace, to go to bed.
Now I had a healthy young appetite, and the long tramp had made me very hungry, so that the punishment—though very mild for my offense—seemed to me almost worse than anything.
I was tired enough, however, to fall asleep, but after some hours I awoke, ravenous with hunger. All was still in the house, and I knew the family must have gone to bed. A long time I lay tossing and tumbling and getting more restless and hungry every minute.
At last I could stand it no longer, and I crept out of bed and carefully opened the door—my room was off the kitchen. The last flickering remains of the fire on the hearth made it light enough to see my way about.
Softly I crept to the pantry, hoping to find something left from supper; but my grandmother's maid was well trained, and I found nothing; the cookie jar, too, was empty, for tomorrow was baking-day. I was about turning back in despair when my eyes fell on a row of milk pans, which I knew were full of milk.
The shelf was too high for me to reach comfortably, but I thought I could draw a pan down enough to drink a little from it, and not disturb anything. So I raised myself on tiptoe and carefully drew it towards me.
You can guess what happened; and if I had known more I should have expected it. As soon as I got the pan over the edge the milk swayed towards me, the pan escaped from my hands, and fell with terrific clatter on the floor, deluging me with milk from head to foot.
Terrified out of my wits, I fled to my room, jumped into bed, covered my head with the bedclothes, and lay there panting. There was a moment's silence, and then my grandmother's voice,—
"What was that? What has happened?" and my uncle's answer, "I'll bring a light and see."
Alas! a light revealed wet milk tracks across the kitchen, leading to my room. In a minute it was opened by my grandmother, who drew me out into the kitchen, and stood me up on the hearth—uttering not a word.
I was utterly crushed; I expected I knew not what, but something more than I could guess, and to my uncle's "Why did you do it, child?" I could only gasp out with bursts of frantic tears, "I was so hungry!"
My grandmother, still silent, hastened to get me dry clothes, then left me standing on the warm hearth, sobbing violently, and feeling more and more guilty, as I saw what trouble I had made.
Then she got clean sheets and made up my bed afresh. While she was doing this, my uncle went in and spoke to her very low. But I think I must have heard or guessed that he said my sentence had been too severe, and I was not so much to blame for trying to get a simple drink of milk, for when my grandmother came out, went into the pantry and brought me a slice of bread and butter, I was not surprised, but fell upon it like a half-starved creature.
Then I was sent to bed again, and it being nearly morning, the maid was called up, and I heard her scrubbing the floor and reducing the kitchen to its usual condition of shining neatness.
I never tried to run away again; my grandmother never scolded me, but my shame as I put on the new shoes and took the new schoolbooks was punishment enough. I tried harder after that to please my grandmother, and really learned a good deal of sewing, and could knit beautifully before I went home.
* * * * *
"Poor little mamma!" said Kristy, as her mother paused, "you didn't have much fun, did you? I can just fancy how you looked, all dripping with milk. Tell me another."
"Well, I'll tell you something that happened to Jenny soon after that. Jenny had often told me about an old aunt she had, whom she and her two cousins used to go to see very often. She wanted me to go with her sometimes, but I didn't know her aunt, and I was shy, and didn't like to visit strangers, so I never went."
HOW AUNT BETTY MADE HER CHOICE
One morning three cousins were walking slowly down the village street towards the house of their Aunt Betty, where they had been invited to dine. They were eager and excited, for there was something peculiar about the invitation, though none but Jenny knew exactly what it was. Jenny began:—
"Well, I do wonder who'll get it!"
"Get what?" asked Grace.
"Why, don't you know? Didn't your mother tell you?" said Jenny, in surprise. "Aunt Betty didn't mean to have us know, but mamma told me."
"I don't know what you mean," said Grace.
"Nor I," put in Ruth.
"Why," said Jenny eagerly, "you know Aunt Betty has not been so well lately, and her doctor says she must have some one to live with her besides old Sam, and she's made up her mind—mamma says—to take one of us three and give her all the advantages she can while she lives, and leave her something when she dies. Mamma says, probably her whole fortune, or at any rate a big share. It's a grand chance! I do hope she'll take me!"
"But," said Ruth, "I don't understand; why should she leave everything to one, after spending so much on her?"
"Oh, to make up to her for giving up so much," said Jenny. "She's so cranky, you know!"
"It won't be much fun to live with her," said Grace thoughtfully. "But think of the advantages! I'd have all the music lessons I want, and I'm sure she'd let me go to concerts and operas. Oh! Oh!"
"I'm not so sure of that," said Jenny. "She wouldn't want you going out much; for my part I'd coax her to travel; I'd love to go all over the world—and I'm just dying to go to Europe, anyway."
"What would you choose, Ruth?" asked Grace.
"I don't know," answered Ruth slowly, "and it's no use to wish, for of course she won't choose me. I don't think she ever cared much for me, and I do make such stupid blunders. It seems as if I was bound to break something or knock over something, or do something she particularly dislikes every time I go there. You know the last time I went there I stumbled over a stool and fell flat on the floor, making her nearly jump out of her skin—as she said—and getting a big, horrid-looking bump on my forehead."
The girls laughed. "You do seem to be awfully unlucky, Ruth," said Jenny magnanimously, "and I guess the choice will be one of us two."
"Well, here we are!" said Grace, in a low tone, as they reached the gate of the pretty cottage where Aunt Betty lived. "Now for it! Put on your best manners, Ruthie, and try not to upset the old lady's nerves, whatever you do!"
"I shall be sure to do it," said Ruth sadly, "I'm so awkward."
Grace and Jenny laughed, not displeased with the thought that the choice would be only between two.
These three girls, so eager to leave their parents and live with Aunt Betty, had comfortable homes, all of them; but in each case there were brothers and sisters and a family purse not full enough to gratify all their desires. Aunt Betty had always been ready to help them out of any difficulty; to give a new dress or a new hat when need became imperative, or a little journey when school work had tired them. So she had come to be the source of many of their comforts and all their luxuries. To live with Aunt Betty, so near their own homes that they would scarcely be separated from them, seemed to them the greatest happiness they could hope for.
Old Sam, the colored servant who had lived with Miss Betty, as he called her, since she was a young woman, and was devoted to her, opened the door for them, a broad grin on his comely face.
"Miss Betty, she's a-lookin' fur you-all," he said; "you're to take off your things in the hall."
"Why! Can't we go into the bedroom as usual?" asked Grace, who liked a mirror and a brush to make sure that every curl was in place.
"No, Miss Grace," said Sam, "y'r aunt said fur you to take 'em off here."
Rather sulkily, Grace did as she was bid, and then, bethinking herself of the importance of the occasion, she called up her usual smile, and the three entered the sitting-room where their aunt awaited them.
Aunt Betty was a pleasant-faced lady of perhaps sixty years, but though rather infirm so that she walked with a cane, she was bright and cheery-looking. She was dressed in her usual thick black satin gown and lace mitts, with a fine lace kerchief around her neck and crossed on her breast, and a string of fine gold beads around her throat.
The few moments before Sam opened the door of the dining-room, clad in snowy apron and white gloves, and announced in his most dignified butler's manner, "Dinner is served!" were passed by Aunt Betty in asking about the three families of her guests, and soon all were seated at the pretty round table, set out with the very best old china, of which every piece was more precious than gold, with exquisite cut glass and abundance of silver. This was an unusual honor, and the girls were surprised.
"You see, nieces," said Aunt Betty, "this is a special occasion, and I give you my very best."
"This china's almost too lovely to use," said Grace warmly. "I don't know as I shall dare to touch it!"
"It's all beautiful!" said Jenny eagerly; "I do love to eat off dainty dishes. Did Sam arrange the table?"
"Yes," said Aunt Betty, "Sam did everything."
"Well, he's just a wonder!" said Grace. "I wish we could ever have a table like this in our house—but then we haven't any such things to put on it," she added, with a sigh.
"I only hope," said Ruth ruefully, "that I shall not break anything. Auntie, you ought to have set me in a corner by myself with kitchen dishes to use; I deserve it for my clumsiness."
"Well, niece!" said Aunt Betty, with a rather anxious look, "I hope you'll be on your good behavior to-day, for I value every piece above gold."
"I know you do," said Ruth anxiously, "and that's what scares me."
While they were talking, Sam had served each one with a plate on which lay a small slice of fish, browned to perfection and temptingly hot. Each girl took a small taste, and then began picking at the food daintily with her fork, but not eating. Grace raised her napkin to her lips, and surreptitiously removed from her mouth the morsel she had taken. Jenny heroically swallowed, and then hastily drank from her glass, while Ruth quietly took the morsel from her mouth, deposited it on her plate, and took no more.
Aunt Betty apparently did not observe all this, but in a moment, seeing that they were toying with the food on their plates, asked quietly, "What's the matter? Why do you not eat?"
"I don't care much for fish," said Grace, in her most polite manner, and, "I beg your pardon, aunt," said Jenny, in apparent confusion, "but I must confess to having had some candy this morning, and I'm afraid I haven't much appetite; the fish is fine, I'm sure."
"And you, Ruth?" asked her aunt.
"I want the truth, niece," Aunt Betty went on; "you know I always want the honest truth."
"Indeed, Aunt Betty," began Grace, "I'm sure"—She paused, and Jenny broke in, "I'm awfully sorry, Aunt Betty"—But Ruth, while a deep blush rose to her honest face, said in a low tone, "Auntie—I'm sorry to have to tell you—but I think the fish had been kept a little too long."
Jenny and Grace looked at her in amazement, expecting some burst of indignation from Aunt Betty.
But she only said quietly, though a queer look stole over her face, "Then we'll have it removed," touching a bell as she spoke.
Sam appeared instantly, his broad, black face shining, and a grin he could not wholly repress displaying his white teeth.
In a moment he removed the fish and replaced it with the next course, which was turkey, roasted in Sam's superb way, which no one in the village could equal. This was all right, and received full justice from the youthful appetites, even Jenny forgetting that candy had spoiled hers.
After this the dinner progressed smoothly till ice cream was served with dessert. Again something seemed to be out of joint. Aunt Betty noticed that her young guests did not show their usual fondness for this dish. Again she asked, "Is anything wrong with the cream?" and again she was answered with bland apologies, though some confusion.
"I've eaten so much," said Grace, with a sigh.
"It's so cold it makes me shiver," said Jenny, laying down her spoon.
"And what ails you, Ruth?" asked Aunt Betty, with a grave look on her face.
"I'm afraid"—said Ruth timidly, "I'm really afraid Sam spilled some salt in it, auntie;" and so embarrassed was she at being obliged to say what she was sure would be a mortal offense, that in her confusion she knocked a delicate glass off the table, and it was shattered to pieces on the floor.
"Oh, dear!" she cried, "I've done it now! Auntie, you'll never forgive me! I don't know what ails me when I get among your precious things."
"I know," said her aunt grimly. "I believe you are a little afraid of me, my dear, and that makes you awkward. Never mind the glass," as Ruth was picking up the pieces, tears rolling down her face, "that can be replaced; it is only the china that is precious; don't cry, child."
Ruth tried to dry her tears, but she was really much grieved, and her cousins exchanged a look which said plainly as words, "That settles her chance!"
If Aunt Betty saw the look, she did not mention it, but she soon made the move to leave the table, and all gladly followed her into the other room.
"Nieces," she said, before they had seated themselves, "did you wonder why I had you leave your wraps in the hall today?"
"It was, of course, unusual," said Grace, "for we have always gone into the bedroom, but it did not matter in the least."
"It did not make any difference," murmured Jenny.
"I will show you what I have been doing to the bedroom," said Aunt Betty, throwing open the door to that room.
It had been entirely transformed. In place of the old-fashioned set of furniture, the gorgeous flowered carpet, the dark walls and thick curtains that had been in the room ever since they could remember, were light-tinted walls, hard wood floors, with several rugs, a modern light set of furniture, pictures on the walls, lace curtains at the windows, all the latest style and very elegant. One thing only made a discord: over the dainty bed was spread a gay-colored cover. It disfigured the whole effect, but the girls apparently saw nothing out of the way.
"Oh, how lovely!" cried Jenny.
"It's so dainty and sweet!" put in Grace. "Auntie, you have exquisite taste."
Ruth looked her appreciation till her glance fell upon the bedspread; then she hesitated.
"Nieces, do you like it? Could you suggest any change in it?"
"It is simply perfect as it is," said Grace warmly, while not to be outdone by Grace, Jenny added with a sigh, "Nothing could improve it, I'm sure."
Aunt Betty looked at Ruth, who was covered with confusion, but she stammered, "I seem to be the only one to find fault to-day, but indeed, auntie—if you want my honest opinion"—
"I do," said Aunt Betty, with a smile.
"Well then—couldn't you—couldn't you put on a white spread instead of that gay one? That doesn't seem to suit the beautiful room."
Aunt Betty smiled again. "Take it off, then, and let's see!"
Ruth pulled off the spread, and there under it was a dainty lace one as exquisite as the rest of the room.
"I guess we'll keep it off," said Aunt Betty, "though Jenny and Grace seem to like it well enough; it certainly is an improvement."
Aunt Betty's manner was so peculiar as she said this, that the two girls who had sacrificed truthfulness to please her, began to suspect that there was more in it than they had thought; they were both rather silent when they returned to the sitting-room and Aunt Betty began:—
"Nieces, I have a little plan to tell you about, though possibly you may have suspected it"—with a sharp look at the two guilty ones. "Perhaps you have heard that I have decided, by the advice of my physician, to take one of you to live with me—provided you and your parents are willing, of course. I shall ask a good deal of the one I select, but I shall try to make it up to her. I shall formally adopt her as my own, and, of course, make a distinction in her favor in my will. I shall ask a good deal of her time and attention; but I shall not live forever, and when I am gone, she will be independent, and able to make her own life."
The three girls were breathless with attention, and Aunt Betty went on.
"I want the one I shall choose to ponder these conditions well; there will be a few years—probably—of partial seclusion from society, and of devotion to her old auntie, and then freedom, with the consciousness of having made happy the declining years of one who buried the last of her own children many years ago."
She paused—but not a word was spoken—and in a moment she went on.
"I did not know how to choose between you, for you are all so sweet to me, so I made a plan to find out—with Sam's help—a little about your characteristics. The virtue I prize almost above all others, is—truthfulness, honest, outspoken truth. The bad fish, the salted cream, and the odious spread were tests, and only one of you stood the test and spoke the honest truth. I am glad that one did, for otherwise I should not have found, in my own family, one I could adopt and depend upon."
She paused; not a word was said.
"Ruth," she began again, turning to that confused, and blushing, and utterly amazed girl, "Ruth, will you come to live with me, take the place of a daughter, and occupy that room?"
"You ask me?" cried Ruth, "clumsy and awkward as I am! I never dreamed you could want me!"
"I know you did not," said Aunt Betty; "but your habit of truthfulness is far more valuable to me than the deftest fingers or the most finished manners. Will you come?"
"Oh, yes, indeed!" cried Ruth, falling on her knees and burying her face in Aunt Betty's lap, while happy tears fell from her eyes, and Aunt Betty gently stroked her hair.
"Well, well," said Jenny, with a sigh, as the two girls walked slowly home, "I always knew Aunt Betty was the crankiest woman in the world, and if Ruth wasn't so perfectly sincere I should almost think that she"—
She paused, and Grace broke in.
"Yes; I'm perfectly sure Ruth is not capable of putting on; besides, we always knew she couldn't deceive to save her life."
* * * * *
"Hush," said mamma, as Kristy was about to speak. "Here comes Mrs. Wilson."
Mrs. Wilson, the next door neighbor, walked in, explaining that she had come in the rain because she was all alone in her house and was lonely, and seeing Mrs. Crawford sewing by the window, thought she would bring her work and join her.
Mrs. Crawford welcomed her, but Kristy was disturbed. "Mrs. Wilson," she began, "don't you think a person ought to keep her promise?"
"Why, certainly," said Mrs. Wilson.
"Kristy! Kristy!" said her mother warningly.
"I'm just going to ask Mrs. Wilson," said Kristy, with a twinkle in her eye, "if she doesn't think you ought to go on telling me stories, when you promised to do it as long as it rained. She likes to hear stories, too, I'm sure."
Mrs. Wilson laughed. "Of course I do, and I shall be delighted, I'm sure. Your mother must be a master hand at the business, for I never knew such a story-lover as you, Kristy."
"I've about told myself out," said Mrs. Crawford. "Kristy, I think you really ought to excuse me now."
"How will it do if I tell you one to rest mamma?" asked Mrs. Wilson. "I happen to be much interested just now in a story that is still going on in town."
"Do tell it!" said Kristy. "I can get mamma to keep her promise this evening."
Mrs. Wilson laughed, and first taking her sewing out of a bag she carried, she began:—
"It's about the Home we see on the cars, going to the city."
"Oh, yes! where we always see girls in the yard as we go by?" said Kristy.
"Yes; I'll tell you how it began."
Kristy settled herself more comfortably on the lounge, and the story began.
NORA'S GOOD LUCK
It does not seem very good in the beginning—but you shall see. One cold winter night a man in the city came home crazy with drink. I will not tell you what he did to his trembling daughter who was all the family left, except one thing: he put her out of the house and told her never to come back. It was a very poor house, hardly any comforts in it, but it was the only home the child knew and she was twelve years old. When she was turned out of it, her only thought was to hide herself away where no one could find her.
This was in the edge of the city, and she wandered about a little till she came to a new barn where there was an opening in the foundations big enough for her to crawl in. When she saw this, by the light of the street lamp, she crept into the hole and far back in one corner where she thought no one would ever find her—and there she lay.
The house to which that barn belonged held two boys and a dog, and the next day, when the three were playing together, as they generally were, the dog began to act strangely. He smelled around that hole, then ran in, and barked and growled and seemed much excited.
"I guess there's a cat in there," said one of the boys, calling the dog out. He came, but in a minute rushed back, and barked more and seemed to be pulling at something.
This aroused the curiosity of the boys, who got down by the opening and peered in. It was so dark that they could see nothing, but the dog refusing to come out, they went into the house and brought out a candle, and by the light of that, saw what looked like a bundle of rags, which, however, stirred a little as the dog tugged at it.
Then the boys called to her to come out; they threw sticks to see if she were alive; they tried all ways they could think of, and at last they went away. But soon they came back and men with them. Nora, through half-shut eyes, could see them. She knew their blue coats and bright stars—they were policemen.
They called, they coaxed, they commanded, but she did not move. They found a boy small enough to crawl under the barn, and he went in. He found that she was alive, but she would not speak. Never a wish or a hope crossed the child's mind, except a wish to be let alone.
At last the boy, by the directions of the policemen, pulled her towards the opening. She did not resist—she did not know how to resist; her whole life had been a crushing submission to everything.
Finally the men could reach her, and the poor, little, half-dead figure was brought to the light.
"Poor soul!" said one of the men, almost tenderly. "She's near dead with cold and hunger."
She could not walk. Kind though rough hands carried her to the station house, where a warm fire and a few spoonfuls of broth—hastily procured from a restaurant—brought her wholly back to life, and she sat up in her chair and faced a row of pitying faces with all her young misery.
Little by little her story was drawn from her.
But what to do with her—that was the question. She was not an offender against the law, and this institution was not for the protection of misfortune, but for the punishment of crime. They did the best they could. They fed her, made her a comfortable bed on a bench in the station house, and the next morning the whole story went into the papers.
This story was read by a lady of wealth over her morning coffee. She had lately been reading an account of the poor in our large cities, and had begun to think it was her duty to do something to help. With more money than she could use, and not a relative in the world, there was no reason why she should not make at least one child happy, and educate it for a useful life.
On reading the story of Nora, with the added statement that her father had been arrested and placed in a retreat where he would not soon get out, the thought struck her that here was her chance to make the experiment.
After her breakfast, Miss Barnes ordered her carriage and went out. After driving about a little, she ordered her coachman to drive to the B—— Street police station. He looked astonished, but of course obeyed, and in a short time, the dingy station house received an unusual visitor.
The moment Miss Barnes entered the room, she saw the child, and knew she was the one she had come to see. As for Nora, she had never seen a beautiful, happy-looking woman, and she could not take her eyes off her face.
Miss Barnes asked a few questions. Who was going to take her? Who were her friends? She learned that she had none, that her father had been arrested for vagrancy, and would be sent to the bridewell.
"Where is the child to go?" at last she asked.
"Indeed, ma'am, I don't know, unless she goes into the streets," said the policeman.
"I'll take her," said Miss Barnes.
"It'll be a heavenly charity if you do, ma'am," replied the man.
Miss Barnes turned to the girl.
"Nora, will you go with me?"
"Yes 'm," gasped Nora, with hungry soul looking out of her eyes.
"Come, then," said the lady shortly, leading the way out.
Thomas, holding the door of the carriage, was struck dumb with horror to see the apparition, but the timid little figure kept close to his mistress, and she wore such a look that the old servant dared not speak.