LITTLE MAID MARIAN
LITTLE MAID MARIAN
BY AMY E. BLANCHARD
Author of "Little Sister Anne," "Mistress May," "Playmate Polly," "Three Little Cousins," etc.
THE PENN PUBLISHING COMPANY PHILADELPHIA
Copyright, 1908, by GEORGE W. JACOBS AND COMPANY Published July, 1908
All rights reserved Printed in U. S. A.
I. A MUSTARD SEED 9
II. THE SCHOOL-TEACHER 27
III. A NEW ROAD 47
IV. COMPANIONS 67
V. BLACKBERRIES 87
VI. THE WHITE APRON 105
VII. PATTY'S LETTER 125
VIII. A TRIP TO TOWN 143
IX. A VISIT TO PATTY 161
X. RUNNING AWAY 179
XI. A LETTER'S REPLY 199
XII. THE CHRISTMAS TREE 217
A Mustard Seed
The cat and kitten were both eating supper and Marian was watching them. Her own supper of bread and milk she had finished, and had taken the remains of it to Tippy and Dippy. Marian did not care very much for bread and milk, but the cat and kitten did, as was plainly shown by the way they hunched themselves down in front of the tin pan into which Marian had poured their supper.
In the next room Grandpa and Grandma Otway were sitting and little bits of their talk came to Marian's ears once in a while when her thoughts ceased to wander in other directions. "If only one could have faith to believe implicitly," Grandma Otway said.
"If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, and should say to that mountain, be ye removed," quoted Grandpa Otway.
Marian sighed. They talked that way very often, she remembered, and she herself had grown to consider it quite as difficult as did her grandmother, to exercise complete faith. She had made numberless mighty efforts, and yet things did not come out as she supposed they ought. She sat gravely watching the cat and kitten lap up the last drop of milk and carefully clean the sides of the pan in a manner quite inelegant for humans, but no doubt entirely a matter of etiquette in cat society, and then when Tippy, having done her duty by the pan, turned her attention to making Dippy tidy, Marian walked slowly away.
The sun was setting behind the hills, and touching the tops of the trees along their base; further away the mountains were very dark against a yellow line of sky. Marian continued her way thoughtfully toward the garden, turned off before she reached the gate and climbed a ladder which leaned against the side of the old brick wall. From the ladder one could reach a long limb of a scraggy apple tree upon which hung early apples nearly ripe. Marian went up the ladder very carefully, taking care not to catch her frock upon a nail or a projecting twig as she crept along the stout limb to settle herself in a crotch of the tree. From this spot she could see the distant sea, pinky purple, and shimmering silver.
Marian did not gaze at this, however, but turned her face toward the mountains. She clasped her hands tightly and repeated firmly: "Be ye removed into the midst of the sea. Be ye removed into the midst of the sea." Then she waited, but the mountain did not budge an inch, though the child kept her eyes fixed upon it. Twice, three times, she repeated the words, but the mountain remained immovable. "I knew it; I just knew it," exclaimed the child when she had made her final effort, "and now I want to know how large a mustard seed is. To-morrow I'll go ask Mrs. Hunt."
It was to Mrs. Hunt that she took all such questions, for she hesitated to talk of very personal things to her grandparents. They would ask her such sharp questions, and sometimes would smile in a superior way when they did not say: "Oh, that is not a subject to discuss with children; run along and play with Tippy." She did not always want to be playing with Tippy when such mighty problems were uppermost. She had many times tested her faith with the mountain, but had always come away humiliated by the thought that her faith must be too weak.
Though she brought her test to bear upon the mountain there was another thing she did not dare to experiment with, though she always intended to do so when the mountain should answer her command to be removed. To be sure it would not make much difference to her if the mountain should remove into the sea; it probably looked quite as well where it was, and Marian supposed that no one would care to have its place changed, but it made a great and mighty difference to her about this other thing. She had never breathed her ardent wish to any one, not even to Mrs. Hunt, and now that this fresh test of faith had failed she would have to gather up a new stock before she could try again.
The purple and pink and gold were fading; the sea looked gray; the distant mountain was hidden under a cloud when Marian climbed down from her perch to answer her grandmother's call: "Marian, Marian, where are you? Come in out of the night air; the dew is falling." Dippy was chasing moths in the garden as Marian took her way toward the house. She watched him leaping up as each soft-winged creature flitted by. When he failed to catch his prize he opened his mouth in a mute meow, and looked at Marian as if asking her to help him.
"You mustn't catch moths, Dippy," said Marian. "They might disagree with you. I should think anyhow, that they would be very dry eating, and besides it is wicked to destroy innocent little creatures. Come, you must go in with me." But this was the time of day when Dippy liked specially to prance and jump and skurry after dusky, shadowy, flitting things, so before Marian could pounce upon him, he was off and away like a streak and could not be found. Then Marian went in obediently at her grandmother's second call to spend the rest of her evening sitting soberly by, while her grandmother knitted and her grandfather read his evening paper.
She had tidied up her room, fed the cat and kitten, and darned her stockings the next morning before she was free to go to Mrs. Hunt's. Grandpa would go for the mail, and there were no errands to do, except to return a plate to Mrs. Parker. It had come with some spicy cakes for grandma, and must be taken back promptly.
The garden did not attract her just then, for it looked much less mysterious by daylight. There was a fine array of poppies, larkspurs, phlox and snapdragons; the oleander in its green tub was all a-bloom, and there were six newly opened buds on the rose-bush. Dippy was fast asleep in the sunshine, as if he, too, realized that the garden was not so alluring by morning light.
It seemed no time to exercise faith upon the mountain, for a haze covered it, and one could not feel even the near presence of a thing one could not see, so why attempt to address a command to it to be removed; to all intents and purposes it was removed when it was out of sight.
Marian thought all this over as she trotted down the village street to Mrs. Hunt's. Hers was one of a line of long low white houses set back among trees. A border gay with nasturtiums, sweet peas, and marigolds flourished each side the front door, but Marian did not pause there; she went around to the kitchen where she knew Mrs. Hunt would be this time of day. There was a strong odor of spices, vinegar and such like filling the air. "Mrs. Hunt is making pickles," said Marian to herself; "that is why she was gathering cucumbers the last time I was here. I would rather it were cookies or doughnuts, but I suppose people can't make those every day."
True enough, Mrs. Hunt was briskly mixing spices, but she turned with a smile to her little visitor. "Well, chickadee," she said, "how goes it to-day?"
"Oh, very well," returned Marian vaguely. "Mrs. Hunt, how big is a mustard seed?"
For answer Mrs. Hunt put her fingers down into a small wooden box, withdrew them, opened Marian's rosy palm, and laid a pinch of seeds upon it. "There you are," she said. "I wish I could get at all the things I want to see as easy as that."
Marian gazed curiously at the little yellow seeds. "They're not very big, are they?" she said.
"Then you wouldn't have to have much faith," Marian went on, following out her thought.
Mrs. Hunt laughed. "Is that the text that's bothering you? What are you, or who are you, trying to have faith in? Tippy? Has she fooled you again by hiding another batch of kittens?"
"No, Mrs. Hunt," Marian shook her head "it isn't Tippy; she is all right, and so is Dippy, but you know if you want a thing very much and don't see anyway of getting it ever, till you are grown up and won't care about it, why it makes you feel as if—as if"—she lowered her voice to a whisper and looked intently at her listener, "as if either you were very wicked or as if—that about the mustard seed—as if"—she hesitated, then blurted out hurriedly, "as if it weren't true."
"Why, Marian Otway, of course it must be true," declared Mrs. Hunt.
"Then I'm very wicked," returned Marian with conviction.
"Why, you poor innocent, of course you are not. We are all more or less imperfect creatures, I suppose, but—well, all is, if I were your grandma, I wouldn't let you bother your head about such things. It is hard enough for the preachers to settle some things for us and themselves, so how do you suppose a baby like you is going to get the gist of it?"
"If you were my grandma what would you do?" asked Marian coming to the point.
"I'd give you interesting story-books to read, and see that you had healthy-minded playfellows. You ought to be going to school; you are enough bigger than my Annie was when she first went." This was a point upon which Mrs. Hunt felt very keenly. She thought Mr. and Mrs. Otway had not the proper ideas about bringing up children and that Marian was too much with older persons. "I would send her off to school quick as a wink," she had more than once said to Mrs. Otway, but her remark had been received with only a smile, and one could not follow out an argument when another would not argue, so kind Mrs. Hunt had been able only to air her opinions to Mrs. Perkins and her other neighbors, and once in a while to let Marian know how she felt about her.
She had lost a little girl about Marian's age and made a point of being especially good to the old-fashioned child who lived in the brick house at the end of the street. The other houses were all white or gray or brown, built plainly, and were either shingled or clap-boarded affairs so that the brick house was a thing apart and its occupants were usually considered the aristocracy of the place. The older men called Grandpa Otway, "Professor," and the younger ones said, "Good-morning, doctor," when they met him.
At the college where he had taught for many years he was still remembered as an absent-minded, gentle but decided person, strong in his opinions, proud and reticent, good as gold, but finding it hard to forgive the only son who left home and married against the wishes of his parents. When baby Marian's mother died her father had written home, asking that his motherless baby might be taken in and reared in the American land which he still loved. So one day Marian arrived in charge of a plain German couple, but her father had not seen her since and he still lived in far off Berlin. Once a year he wrote to his little daughter and she answered the letter through her grandmother. The letter always came the first of the year and the latest one had given an account of a German Christmas. It had enclosed some money for Marian to provide trinkets for her own tree the next year.
Yet, alas,—and here came the tragedy—Marian had never been allowed to have a tree; her grandparents did not approve of such things; the money must go to the missions in foreign lands, and when the next missionary box was sent Marian's Christmas money was sent with it in one form or another. Even if Grandpa and Grandma Otway had known what rebellious tears Marian shed and how she told Tippy that she hated the heathen, and that she didn't see why they couldn't go barefoot in a country as hot as China, and why they couldn't eat rice as well as she, and why missionaries had to have all sorts of things she didn't have, even if her grandparents had known that, they would have said that it showed a wrong spirit and that a little girl bid fair to become a hardened sinner, so she ought to be made to sacrifice her own pleasures to so good a cause.
That would have been the least of it, for there would also have been a long lecture from both grandfather and grandmother with a longer prayer following and there would probably have been an order that Marian must go without butter for a week that she might be taught to practice self-denial. So Marian had thought it wise to say nothing but to accept with as good a grace as possible the bitter necessity of giving up her Christmas tree.
With the mustard seeds folded in her hand she stood watching Mrs. Hunt tie up her spices, but the seeds were forgotten when Mrs. Hunt said: "What will you do with a teacher living in your house and you not going to school, I'd like to know. Mr. Hunt says he rather guesses you'll not stay at home, but Mrs. Perkins says like as not your grandma will have her teach you out of hours and pay her board that way. As long as she is the daughter of a friend your grandpa would want to make it easy for her and they'll fix it up some way."
Marian could scarcely believe her ears. "Coming to our house? Who is she? What is her name, Mrs. Hunt? When is she coming? Who told you?"
"Dear bless me, what a lot of questions. Take care and don't get your sleeve in that vinegar; it'll take all the color out. I'll wipe it up and then you can lean on the table all you want to. There. Well, you see it was Mrs. Leach told me. It seems this Miss Robbins is the daughter of one of the professors at the college where your grandpa was for so many years. He was one of the younger men, Mr. Robbins was, being a student under your grandpa when he first knew him. Now he is one of the professors with a big family and none too well off, so his girl is coming to teach our school and Mr. Robbins asked your grandpa if he wouldn't let her board at his house. She's the eldest, but she hasn't been away from home much because she's had to look after her younger brothers and sisters since her mother died. Professor Robbins feels sort of anxious about her; he is afraid of the wicked wiles of a big city like Greenville."
"Why, Mrs. Hunt, it isn't a big city, is it?" said Marian innocently.
"Ain't it?" laughed Mrs. Hunt. "At all events he didn't want her cast loose on it, and so he wrote to your grandpa, appealingly, I should say, for it's fixed up that she is to come to the brick house when the fall term begins and that's not far off."
"Oh!" Marian slipped down from the wooden chair upon which she had seated herself, "I'd better go home and ask about it," she remarked. "I'd much rather have some one beside grandpa teach me; he uses such terribly long words and talks so long about things I don't understand. Sometimes I can't make out whether I'm very stupid or whether the lessons are extra hard."
"I guess you're no more stupid than the usual run of children," said Mrs. Hunt stirring her pickles, "and I guess you will learn as much about Miss Robbins and her affairs from me as you will at home. But there, go 'long if you want to. Come in to-morrow; I'll be baking cookies," she called after the child.
Marian answered with a nod as she looked back. Between the door and the steps she halted once to open her hand and look for the mustard seeds, but in her interest in Mrs. Hunt's news she had let them fall to the floor and but one clung to her moist fingers. She tasted it and found it strong and biting. "It can't be the bigness," she murmured; "it must mean the hotness and strongness." This view of the matter gave her a better understanding, according to her own ideas, and she was glad she had tasted the small seed. After all, there were pleasant things opening up. What if she could not move mountains, there would be fresh cookies to-morrow and out of somewhere a beautiful young lady was advancing toward her, not exactly a playfellow, maybe, but some one much younger than Grandpa and Grandma Otway.
The brick house had not the cheerful air of Mrs. Hunt's white-boarded, green-shuttered abode. It was set back a few feet from the side-walk, but a brick wall on each side shut out any glimpse of the flower garden, and the iron railing leading up from the flight of steps gave the place an air unlike the rest of the village houses. Upon the top step Dorothy Robbins stood a few moments before she rang the bell. She cast an upward glance at the windows first; the shutters were all bowed and silence reigned everywhere. She wondered what was behind the brick wall, and if the inmates of the house would look as forbidding and inhospitable as the house itself. She knew the Otways had a little granddaughter and half looked to see the child hanging on the gate or skipping down the path as she approached the house. The door-bell clanged solemnly and presently a sedate, middle-aged woman came to the door.
"Is Mrs. Otway at home?" asked Miss Dorothy.
"No, ma'am, she ain't," was the reply given most ungraciously. "She's to a missionary society or a temperance meeting or something, and he's gone with her."
"Is no one at home?"
"I'm here, and Marian's somewhere about, I guess. Was you calculatin' to show goods or solicit anythin'? We hain't no call for dress-makers' charts, and we don't want to subscribe to no cook-books, I'm cook-book enough myself."
Dorothy smiled. "Oh, no. I don't make my living that way," she answered cheerfully. "Perhaps I'd better see the little girl, Miss——" she added after a few moments' thought.
"Hepzibah Toothacre is my name," remarked the gaunt woman as she turned away leaving the young lady standing on the step.
Dorothy made a wry face. "Toothacre or some kind of acher I should think," she said to herself. "She looked sour enough to be several kinds of ache rolled in one. I hope the rest of the family are not like that."
She did not have to wait long before a little girl came along the dim entry toward her. She was brown-haired, brown-eyed, dark-skinned and rather pale. She wore a plain blue gingham frock, and her hair was tied in two pig-tails with a narrow black ribbon. She paused timidly at sight of a stranger, but at Miss Dorothy's smile she came forward eagerly. "Oh, are you—are you——" she began.
"The new teacher?" interrupted Miss Dorothy. "Yes, dear, I am. May I come in? The ogress that guards your castle looked as if she might make a meal of me and I was afraid to come any further."
Marian looked puzzled for a moment, then her face broke into a smile. "Oh, you mean Heppy. She is rather cross sometimes. She was not very polite not to ask you in, but she is in a bad humor to-day; there were two peddlers here this morning and she can't bear peddlers."
"She thought I was one, and that was why she was so grouchy, I see."
"I will go and ask her to show you to your room," returned Marian; "it is all ready."
"Can't you show me?" asked Miss Dorothy with whimsical anxiety in her tones.
Marian laughed; she knew that Miss Dorothy was only pretending to be afraid of Heppy, and the pretense made her seem more like a little girl. "Of course I can show you up," she made answer. "Grandma didn't expect you till the late train and she had to go to her missionary society; she's president of the board, you see."
"Oh, yes, I quite understand. I didn't suppose, myself, that I could get here till the late train, but I was able to make better connections than I expected and here I am. My trunk will be along after awhile. You are Maid Marian, I know, but I do not see the greenwood and where are Robin Hood and his merry men?" Then seeing that Marian hadn't a notion of what she meant, she said, "You don't know them, do you? I'll have to tell you some time, you and the rest of my scholars, for of course you are coming to my school."
"Oh, am I?" Marian's face was radiant.
"Why, yes, I imagine so. Don't you go to school?"
"I haven't been yet. Grandpa has always taught me at home, you know."
"Oh, that's it." Miss Dorothy was taking off her hat, standing before the mirror to puff out her soft ripples of hair. "What a lovely big room this is," she remarked. "I never had such a big room all to myself. We are such a large family that we always have to double up, I don't mean like a jack-knife," she added with a little laugh. "I wonder if I shall have to hunt for myself in that big bed; if I do you will have to come and find me, for I might get hopelessly lost if you didn't."
Marian laughed. This merry talk was very delightful; even Mrs. Hunt was never quite so fascinatingly entertaining. She stood gazing at Miss Dorothy with admiring eyes as she put a few touches to her dress. Surely it would mean great things to have a young lady in the house.
Miss Dorothy gave a final survey of the room as she turned from the mirror. "I like it," she said nodding to Marian, "and when I get down those solemn-looking pictures, hang up my own favorites, put a cheerful cover on that table and a couple of bright sofa pillows on that lounge, and have some plants in that south window, it will be very cozy."
"Oh, will you dare?" began Marian and then stopped short. There were probably no lengths to which a teacher might not be allowed to go, even by so particular a person as Grandma Otway.
"Why, what is there so very daring about that?" asked Miss Dorothy. "It isn't like walking a tight-rope, or shooting Niagara Falls in a canoe." There was a saucy look in her eyes as she spoke, and a dimple came and went as she strove to keep her face grave.
"It isn't like that, of course," said Marian feebly. "It will be your own room, and you are a grown-up lady who can do as you please. I suppose it is only children who don't dare to do things like moving pictures and putting flower-pots on the window-sills when they are freshly painted."
Miss Dorothy's merry laugh rang out. "Oh, you dear, transparent baby. You've spoken volumes in that speech. Now I'm ready to go down. What shall we do? My trunk will not be here till after the next train is in, they informed me at the station. I'd like to see the schoolhouse, but perhaps we'd best wait till morning, then it can be shown me officially. Could we dare to walk in the garden if I promise not to race over the borders and recklessly pull the flowers? Does one dare to leave the house to do that?" There was a little mocking look in her eyes as she spoke.
"Oh, yes, of course we can go anywhere we like in the garden," returned Marian. "Do come, and I will show you my apple tree. If you are not afraid to climb you can see the ocean from my seat in the crotch,—and the mountain, too," she added more soberly.
"Don't suggest mountains yet," said Miss Dorothy, becoming sober too. "But there, I won't think about mountains; I've always managed them and I always intend to."
Marian gazed at her with new intentness and drew nearer. "Can you manage mountains?" she asked wonderingly.
"Why, yes; if you don't make them out of mole-hills it is easy enough."
Marian pondered over this answer all the way down-stairs, but could not make head or tail of it. She would ask further when she knew Miss Dorothy better. She felt quite assured that she would not be long in feeling as much at home with her as with Mrs. Hunt.
As they passed the kitchen door near which the grim Hepzibah stood, Miss Dorothy drew her skirts aside and fled down the garden walk, giving a pretended scared look over her shoulder as she caught Marian's hand. "Don't let her get me, will you?" she said. Marian fell in with her mood and promised that she should not be delivered to the ogress, though in her heart of hearts she felt that a person who would dare to take liberties with Grandma Otway's best room surely could not be a very scary individual, and by the time they had reached the apple tree, she had decided that Miss Dorothy would probably have no fear of climbing to the very top, if she cared to.
"The Garden of Hesperides and the Golden Apples!" exclaimed Miss Dorothy, settling down into the crotch and giving Marian a hand to help her to a seat by her side. "Isn't this too lovely for anything? It will be the finest place in the world to come and read fairy-tales. Do you know many? I have brought a lot with me, and we'll have a lovely time here before it gets too cold to stay out."
"I don't know many fairy-tales," Marian answered doubtfully. "Grandma doesn't exactly approve of them; at least she never tells me any. She says that Bible stories are entertaining enough for any one, and she lets me read those 'simplified for the understanding of a child.'" She spoke with perfect gravity, though Miss Dorothy turned her head to hide the smile she could not prevent.
"I suppose, then," said Miss Dorothy, "that you have a book of those."
"Yes; it belonged to grandpa when he was small, and it is called 'Tales from the Bible, simplified for the understanding of a child'; I read it generally on Sundays. Mrs. Hunt knows about Cinderella and the Glass Slipper and about the Pig that huffed and puffed till he blew the house down."
"Oh, I don't know that last one," said Miss Dorothy; "you will have to tell me, and I'll tell you about the Golden Apples. Don't the apples smell good? Do we dare have any of them when they are ripe?"
"Oh, yes, we can have two a day; one in the morning and one at noon; grandma says they are lead at night."
"Goodness me! I believe I have heard that saying before," said Miss Dorothy, mentally determining to carry apples to her room to eat when she felt inclined. Mrs. Otway should not decide such matters for her. She sat with her chin in her hand looking off at the ocean, blue in the distance. Marian, watching her, decided that although the new teacher did not exactly fill her expectations in some respects, in others she far exceeded them. She had very blue eyes that could be merry or soft as her mood was, her hair was wavy and of a light brown color; she was fair of skin, had rather a large mouth and not a specially beautiful nose, but she was good to look upon and the more one looked the more charming one thought her. She was dressed very simply in a gray traveling gown with no jewelry but a silver pin fastening her collar. Her face in repose was serious and Marian could see that she was not one to be trifled with, in spite of her fun-loving spirit.
"There are many things I want to know," said Miss Dorothy after a while, "but I will wait till I absolutely have to ask questions."
"If you want to know one thing," returned Marian, "I can tell you. If you would like me to tell you when grandpa and grandma will be here I can say in about five minutes." She was looking off down the street and Miss Dorothy saw two figures approaching.
"Then we'd better go in," she said. "I should not like them to meet me in an apple tree; they might think me very undignified."
Marian was rather inclined to think they might, but she glossed over the fact by saying, "Well, you see it has been such a long, long time since they were young they must forget how it feels."
Miss Dorothy smiled and began to climb down the ladder, Marian following. In a few minutes they were walking soberly up the path and reached the front door just as Mr. and Mrs. Otway were there.
"Miss Robbins has come," announced Marian with a little nod of her head in the direction of the young lady in the background.
"Ah-h," responded her grandfather, "then I was right, my dear," he turned to his wife, "I said it was probable that she would get the first train. We should have told Hepzibah or else you should have remained at home."
"I never remain at home from the quarterly meeting upon any pretext," returned Mrs. Otway firmly; "it was a most important one."
But Mr. Otway had hastened forward and was holding out his hand in welcome to Miss Dorothy. "I am glad to receive my old friend's daughter," he said with a stately bow. "This is Miss—ah, yes, Miss Dorothy. I may have met you when you were less of a young lady, but I cannot separate you, as a memory, from your sisters."
"I think I remember Professor Otway," returned Dorothy smiling up into the near-sighted eyes which were peering down at her. Mr. Otway was tall, spare, a little stoop-shouldered. His hair was quite gray and grew sparsely around his temples; his face was clean shaven. Mrs. Otway was below medium height, plump and keen-eyed. She wore an old-fashioned gown and a plain bonnet. Winter or summer she never went out without a small cape over her shoulders. Upon this occasion it was of black silk trimmed with a fold of the same. She looked approvingly at Dorothy's neat frock, but a little disapprovingly at the arrangement of her hair.
"I am sorry not to have been here to welcome you," she said, "but there are certain matters of business which cannot be set aside for uncertainties. I hope Hepzibah or Marian showed you to your room."
"Marian did, and has been a very kind hostess," returned Miss Dorothy. "I am very glad you did not give up an important matter for anything so indefinite as my arrival. You must never let my presence allow of any change in your arrangements, Mrs. Otway. I am exceedingly grateful to you for taking me in, and I should be very uncomfortable if I were to interfere with your usual routine."
Mrs. Otway nodded approval. "We shall consider you one of the family, my dear Miss Robbins," she told her. "Marian, take my things up-stairs." She gave her bonnet and cape to her granddaughter and led the way to the semi-darkened parlor where she established herself in a haircloth rocking-chair while Miss Dorothy seated herself upon the sofa.
Marian laid the bonnet and cape carefully upon her grandmother's smooth bed and went down to tell Hepzibah that it was the teacher, who had arrived. She had not wanted to leave Miss Dorothy, in order to give the old servant this piece of information, but now that her chance had come she went straight to the kitchen.
Hepzibah was stalking about preparing supper. She looked up sharply as Marian entered. "Well," she said, "what's wanting?"
"It's Miss Robbins, the teacher, Heppy," Marian told her. "You saw us go by down the garden, didn't you?"
"Why didn't she say so?" returned Heppy in an aggrieved voice. "How's I to know she wasn't a book-agent or a body selling home-made laces and embroidered shirt waists. She was carrying a bag and it might have been full of wares for all I knew."
"But she doesn't look like a peddler."
"Looks belie folks sometimes. Some of 'em is dressed as good as the best, in hats with feathers and kid gloves. She might have been that or anything, for all I could tell. I'll do just the same next time. She'd oughter have told her business right out, instead of hemming and hawing and asking was Mrs. Otway to home. That's the way they all do; get the name next door and come as brazen as you please asking for Mrs. this and that. I'd like to know who's to tell the sheep from the goats."
"I would know in a minute that Miss Dorothy wasn't a goat," said Marian.
"Oh, you know a heap, don't you," replied Heppy scornfully. "If you knew so much why didn't you tell me who it was first off?"
"I didn't know exactly who it was but I could easily guess, for I knew the teacher was coming some time soon."
"I don't see why your grandma didn't say I was to look out for her," Heppy went on with a new grievance.
"Maybe she thought you would know, because you helped get her room ready, and knew she was expected," Marian made excuse.
"As if I could remember anything on a Saturday, when I'd been pestered to death, answering the door a dozen times, while I was cleaning my kitchen. She might have chose some other day to come."
"She has to begin school on Monday, and besides that would be just as bad, for it would be wash-day and you are cross always then, Heppy, you know you are."
Heppy turned on her. "You just go out of here," she said. "I don't want you 'round underfoot, pestering me at meal-time nohow. I guess I can get a meal for four just as easy as for three and I don't need your help neither."
At this Marian was fain to depart, seeing that Heppy was in one of her worst moods, when everything was a grievance. It was a pleasant contrast when the little girl was met by Miss Dorothy's smile as she returned to the parlor, so she settled herself by the side of this new friend, folded her hands and let her feet dangle over the edge of the sofa. It was rather a slippery seat and in time it might be that she would have to wriggle back to a firmer place, but its nearness to Miss Dorothy was its attraction and she felt well satisfied and entirely secure when the teacher's arm encircled her and drew her closer. "I am to have one new pupil anyhow," said Miss Dorothy, smiling down. "Won't it be nice for us to be going to school together every day, Marian?"
"Oh, am I going?" Marian looked from one grandparent to another.
Mrs. Otway nodded sedately. "We have concluded that it is best," she said. "Your grandfather has many affairs to attend to, and it is a tax upon his time to teach you, therefore, since you will not need to go to school unattended, we think it best. We shall see how it works, at all events, and if it seems wise to withdraw you later, we can do so."
Marian gave a long sigh of satisfaction, but said nothing. She was constantly told that little children should be seen and not heard, and moreover she thought it might hurt her grandfather's feelings if she showed too much pleasure at the change. Yet when she gave the new teacher a glad smile, Miss Dorothy realized that the prospect of school was a pleasant one to at least one of her pupils.
A New Road
Instead of sitting in a straight-backed chair in her grandfather's study, conning over dry lessons while Mr. Otway wrote or read, it was quite a different experience for Marian to go to school to Miss Dorothy in a cheerful little schoolhouse where twenty other girls were seated each before her particular desk. Lessons with Grandpa Otway had been very stupid, for he required literal, word-for-word, gotten-by-heart pages, had no mercy upon faulty spelling, and frowned down mistakes in arithmetic examples. He did not make much of a point of writing, for he wrote a queer, scratchy hand himself, and so Marian could scarcely form her letters legibly, a fact of which she was made ashamed when she saw how well Ruth Deering wrote, and discovered that Marjorie Stone sent a letter every week to her brother at college.
However, the rest of it was such an improvement upon other years, that every morning Marian started out very happily, book bag on arm, and Miss Dorothy by her side. The first day was the most eventful, of course, and the child was in a quiver of excitement. Her teacher was perhaps not less nervous, though she did not show it except by the two red spots upon her cheeks. It was her first day as teacher as well as Marian's, as one of a class in school. But all passed off well, the twenty little girls with shining faces and fresh frocks were expectant and the new teacher quite came up to their hopes. Marian already knew Ruth Deering and Marjorie Stone, for they were in her Sunday-school class, and some of the others she had seen at church. Alice Evans sat with her parents just in front of the Otways' pew, so her flaxen pig-tails were a familiar sight, while Minnie Keating's big brown bow of ribbon appeared further along on Sunday mornings.
Marian felt that she did quite as well as the other girls in most things, and was beginning to congratulate herself upon knowing as much as any one of her age, when she was called to the blackboard to write out a sentence. At her feeble effort which resulted in a crooked scrawl, there was a subdued titter from the others. For one moment the new scholar stood, her cheeks flaming, then with defiant face she turned to Miss Dorothy. "I can spell it every word," she said, "if I can't write it."
Miss Dorothy smiled encouragingly, for she understood the situation. "That is more than many little girls of your age can do," she said. "Suppose you spell it for us, then."
With clenched hands Marian faced her schoolmates. "Separate syllables, and enunciate with distinct emphasis," she finished triumphantly, without looking at the book.
"That is a very good test," said Miss Dorothy; "you may take your seat. Now, Alice, I will give out the next sentence, and you may spell it without the board," and the day was saved for Marian.
After this she triumphantly gave the boundaries of several countries, told without hesitation the dates of three important events in history, carried to a correct finish a difficult example in long division, and when the hour came for school to close she had won her place. Yet the matter of writing was uppermost in her mind as she walked home, and she said shamefacedly to Miss Dorothy, "Isn't it dreadful for a girl of my age not to know how to write?"
"It isn't as if it were a thing that couldn't be learned," Miss Dorothy told her for her encouragement, "but you must hurry up and conquer it. You might practice at home between times, and you will be surprised to find how you improve. Have you never written letters to your father?"
Marian shook her head. "Not really myself. Grandma always writes them for me," then she added, "so of course she says just what she pleases; I'd like to say what I please, I think."
"I am sure your father would like it better if you did. I know when my father was away from home the letter that most pleased him was written by my little sister Patty when she was younger than you."
"How old is she now?" asked Marian.
"Just about your age. She can write very well, but you can distance her in spelling and arithmetic."
"I'll catch up with her in writing," decided Marian, "and maybe she will catch up with me in the other things."
"I'll tell her what you say," said Miss Dorothy; "that will be an incentive to you both. I should like you to know our Patty. She is our baby, and is a darling."
"I should like to know her," returned Marian warmly.
"I'll tell her to write to you," promised Miss Dorothy.
"Oh, good! I never have letters from any one but papa, and he writes only once a year. I wish he would write oftener, for his letters are so nice, and I do love him, though I haven't seen him since I was a baby."
"Perhaps if he knew you really cared so much to hear, he would write. Why don't you send him a letter and tell him?"
"Oh, but just see what a fist I make at writing. I will tell him as soon as I can write better, although," she added with a sigh, "that seems a long time to wait."
Miss Dorothy was thoughtfully silent for a few minutes. "I will tell you what," she said presently. "I have a small typewriting machine which I will teach you how to use. It is very simple, and you spell so nicely that it will be no time before you could manage a perfectly legible letter to your father."
"Oh, Miss Dorothy, I do love you," cried Marian. "That is such a delightful idea. What an angelic sister Patty has."
Miss Dorothy laughed. "What a funny little girl you are. I am glad, however, that you didn't say: How awfully nice! I am afraid that is what Patty would have said, but she hasn't had the advantage of associating with only scholarly people like your grandparents, and so she talks as her brothers and sisters do."
"I should think she would be awfully happy to have so many brothers and sisters," remarked Marian.
"Oh, dear, see what example does," exclaimed Miss Dorothy. "You said awfully happy and I never heard you say awfully anything before. I'll tell you what we'll do; whenever you hear me saying awfully nice or awfully horrid you tell me, and I'll do the same by you. Is it a bargain?"
"Oh, yes, thank you, Miss Dorothy, but I'm afraid I should feel queer to correct you."
"I am not perfect, my dear," said Miss Dorothy gravely, "not any more than the rest of humanity. I shouldn't expect you to correct me ordinarily, but this is a habit I want to get out of, and that I do not want you to get into, so we shall be a mutual help, you see, and you will be doing me a favor by reminding me."
"Then I'll try to do it. How shall I tell you when other people are around? It would sound queer if I said: Oh, Miss Dorothy, you said awfully."
"So it would, you little wiseacre. You can touch me on the elbow and then put your finger on your lip, and I will understand, and I will do the same when you say it."
Marian was perfectly satisfied at this. "I am so glad you are here," she sighed. "I feel lots more faith growing. I shall soon be very—is it faithful I ought to say?"
"Well, not exactly in the sense you mean, though really it ought to be that faithful means full of faith; as it is it means trustworthy and devoted to the performance of duties and things. I think the old meaning when one wanted to say that a person was full of faith was faithful, but the original sense of many words has been lost."
"When shall I begin with the typewriter?" asked Marian, changing the subject.
"We can begin this afternoon. I have unpacked and oiled it, so it is all ready to use."
"How soon do you think I can send a letter to papa?"
"If you are industrious and painstaking I should say you could do it in a week."
"Oh, that's not long, and he will get it long before Christmas, won't he?"
"Yes, indeed! I should think in ten days or two weeks at the furthest."
"I should like to send him something for Christmas. I never did send him anything. Don't you think it would be nice to do it?"
"I think it would be awfully nice."
Marian gave her teacher's arm a gentle shake and put her finger to her lip.
Miss Dorothy looked at her a little puzzled, then she understood. "Oh, I said awfully, didn't I? Thank you, dearie, for reminding me. What should you like to send your father?"
"I don't know. I'll have to think. You'll help me to think, won't you?"
"Indeed I will, if you want me to. I should think almost anything you could send would please him, for, after all, it is the thought that counts, not the thing itself."
"Oh, but I do think things count, and—Miss Dorothy, you won't tell if I ask him not to send me money."
"Not money? I think that it's rather a nice thing to have, for then you can buy whatever you like."
"You couldn't if you were I."
"Because. You won't say anything about it to the grans?" Marian's voice dropped to a whisper. "When papa sends me money it always goes to the missions; it is my sacrifice, Grandma says. As long as I don't have the money really in my hands, it doesn't so much matter, but it would matter if I had to go without butter or perhaps sweet things, like dessert or cake for a whole month. That is what would happen if I said I would rather have the money myself than let the missionaries have it. Oh, I suppose it is all right," she added quickly, "and no doubt I am a hardened sinner, but I would like a real Christmas gift."
"Did you never have one?" asked Miss Dorothy, with pity and surprise in her voice.
"Not a really one, except from Mrs. Hunt; she gave me a sweet little pincushion last year, and a whole bag full of cakes and goodies. I enjoyed them very much."
"Did your grandparents give you nothing at all?"
"Oh, yes. I had a new hat, and gloves and handkerchiefs. I was pleased to have them of course, but I would like something real Christmassy and—and—foolish."
"You blessed child, of course you would," and Miss Dorothy mentally determined that the next Christmas should provide something real Christmassy for her little companion.
Marian was silent for a while then she asked, "Do you have a Christmas tree at your house?"
"Why, yes, always, and we all hang up our stocking from father down to Patty. Don't you?"
"No, I never did, and I never had a tree."
"Why, you poor dear child," exclaimed Miss Dorothy surprised out of discretion.
"There doesn't any one know how much I want it," said Marian in part excuse, "but I do. That is what I meant about moving mountains and faith. Do you believe if I had a great deal of faith, as sharp and strong as a mustard seed that the Lord would send me a tree? I never told any one before about it, but you understand better than Mrs. Hunt. I thought once or twice I would ask her, but she might laugh and I don't want any one to laugh, for it is very solemn." She peered anxiously up into Miss Dorothy's face to see if there were a suspicion of amusement there, but Miss Dorothy looked as grave as any one could wish.
"I think faith can do a great deal, my dear little girl," she said gently.
"It can move mountains, the Bible says. I heard grandpa and grandma talking about it, and Mrs. Hunt showed me some mustard seed. I tasted one and it was very strong, so I know now it doesn't mean the bigness but the strongness."
Miss Dorothy looked down with a smile. "You little theologian," she exclaimed. Then to herself she said: This comes of shutting up a child with staid old people. The dear thing needs a whole lot of frivolity mixed up in her life; Christmas trees and things. She shall have them if I can do any of the mixing. "Well, dear," she said aloud, "I think we will hold on to all the faith we can muster, and see what will come of it, but you must realize that just sitting still and believing isn't all of it. We must work, too, for the Bible says faith and works, not faith or works. So now you work hard over your writing, and send letters to your father so he will know what his little girl likes and longs for, then you will be doing your part in that direction, and at the same time put your trust in his love for you, and no doubt something beautiful will come of it all. You can come up to my room as soon as you want to, and we will start the little typewriter."
Marian's satisfaction was too deep for words, but she gave her teacher's arm a little squeeze and laid her cheek against it.
It was not long before she was tapping at the door of Miss Dorothy's room, but before she began the work she was so eager for, she asked, "Do you think I ought to ask grandma's permission?"
"I don't see why you need to, for there is nothing wrong about it," Miss Dorothy replied. "But if you feel as if you should, you can run down and tell your grandmother what you are going to do. You can say that I am going to teach you to use my little machine, and surely she will not object."
But Mrs. Otway was off upon some charity bent, and Marian returned feeling that she had done her duty in making the attempt to tell. Then she and Miss Dorothy had great fun over the little machine which seemed so complicated at first, but which gradually grew more and more familiar, so that at the end of an hour under Miss Dorothy, Marian was able to write out several lines quite creditably. These she took down and proudly showed to her grandfather.
"First-rate," he exclaimed. "Keep on, my child, and after a while you will be able to copy out my papers for me; a great assistance that would be. I shouldn't wonder but in time you would make me an excellent secretary." Under this praise Marian's qualms of conscience were eased. If grandpa approved, that was enough. Her next impulse was to run to Mrs. Hunt's to show off her new accomplishment, but she decided to wait till she could manage the typewriter entirely alone, so would the credit be greater.
She sought out Tippy and Dippy to tell her secret to. They were her confidants always, and to-day she had almost forgotten them in the novelty of having so sympathetic a friend as Miss Dorothy. It would never do to forsake old and tried comrades, and so Tippy was roused from her nap, and Dippy was captured in the act of catching a grasshopper, then the two were borne to the end of the garden to a sheltered spot where Marian always had her "thinks." She took the two in her lap. Tippy settled down at once, but Dippy had to have his head rubbed for some minutes before he began to purr contentedly.
"You see, my dears," began Marian, "I am going to have a great deal to do, almost as much as grandma has with her clubs and societies and meetings. First there is school. I think I like Alice Evans the best of the girls, for she has such pretty hair, but I am not quite sure about it. She was not quite as nice to me at recess as Ruth was, so maybe I shall like Ruth best. I am sure I shall love Patty. I wish she had come here with her sister. It must be lovely, Tippy, to have a sister, though I suppose you don't think as I do, for you had a sister once and now you don't care anything about her, for you fizzed at her the other day when she came in our garden. I saw you and heard you, too, and I was very much shocked. What was I talking about? Oh, yes, about so much to do. I'll have lessons to study at home after this, I suppose. We didn't have any real lessons to-day, just trial things, and I did such awful—I mean really awful writing on the blackboard that the girls all giggled. I just hated that, and I felt like crying or like running away and never going back, but I realized that it wouldn't do to do either, so that is another thing I must do.
"I must practice writing at home. I wonder where I shall get paper and things to do it on. I'll have to ask Miss Dorothy about that. She is such a dear, Tippy, and she likes cats; she said so. I never used to think that any one could be as nice as Mrs. Hunt, but Miss Dorothy is nicer in some ways, for she understands just how you feel about everything, and Mrs. Hunt doesn't always. She is as kind as can be, but she thinks that when you ask questions if she answers with a cookie or a doughnut you will be satisfied. It does satisfy your mouth, of course, but it doesn't satisfy the thinking part of you. Sometimes I go down there just bursting with things I want to know, and when I ask her, she says: 'Oh, don't bother your little head about such things; there is a plate of cakes in the pantry; go help yourself.' Now, Miss Dorothy isn't that way at all. She just reaches her thinks down to yours and they go along together till you come out all clear and straight like coming out of the woods into an open sunshiny place where there is a good path.
"Now, Tippy, we've got to think of something to send papa for a present. I don't suppose you are interested in such things, but I think every one ought to be. Maybe Patty can help me out. She must be a very bright child; Miss Dorothy says she is. There! I hear Heppy clattering the milk-pan; it is time to see about your supper." So saying, Marian put down the two cats and started for the house, her pets following at her heels, knowing the sound of a milk-pan as well as she.
The first week of school passed very rapidly, and by the time Friday afternoon came, Marian felt quite at home with her schoolmates. She had finally decided that Ruth would be her best friend next to Patty, whom she always held in reserve as filling her needs exactly, when they should meet. Miss Dorothy had written to her little sister and Marian was daily expecting a letter herself from Patty, a letter which should mark the beginning of their friendship. She was rather shy of the girls at first, for she had scarcely known childish comrades, and her old-fashioned ideas and mature way of speaking often brought a laugh from the others, but her shyness soon wore off and she quickly acquired a style of speech at which her grandparents sometimes frowned, for it included some bits of slang which had never found their way into the brick house before.
It was Miss Dorothy's doing which made the way easier for the little girl, for she argued nobly in behalf of Marian's needing young companions to keep her like a normal child. She even appealed to the family doctor who promptly sided with her, and maintained that Marian would be better bodily, if she lived a more rough and tumble life. So, because her grandparents really did care for her, absorbed as they were in their grown-up affairs, Marian was allowed more freedom than ever before and was ready to take advantage of it.
Miss Dorothy had gone up to town to do some shopping this first Saturday of the term, and Marian bethought herself of its being baking day at Mrs. Hunt's, so, as this was always one place she could always go without asking permission, she simply stopped at the sitting-room door and announced: "I am going down to Mrs. Hunt's, grandma."
Mrs. Otway, at work upon a financial report, did not look up from her columns of figures, but merely nodded in reply and Marian ran on down the street between the double rows of trees, till she came to Mrs. Hunt's. This time it was the odor of baking which greeted her as she advanced toward the kitchen, and Mrs. Hunt was in the act of taking a pan of nicely browned cookies from the oven as her visitor appeared.
"Well, well, well," she exclaimed. "Just in time. Seems to me school keeps some folks amazingly busy. I've not seen you for a week, have I? But there, I'm glad enough you're turned out at last. Let me see how you look. School agrees with you; I can see that. Sit down there on the step and eat a cookie; it's warm inside the kitchen with the fire going. Now tell me all about it. How do you like Miss Robbins? I hear she's liable to be as popular as any teacher we've had. How do the grans take to her?" Marian and Mrs. Hunt always spoke of Mr. and Mrs. Otway as the grans.
"They like her," returned Marian between bites of cookie. "She is perfectly fine, Mrs. Hunt, and she's got a little sister just my age; her name's Martha, but they call her Patty, and she's going to write to me, and, oh, Mrs. Hunt, I have a secret to tell you, but you mustn't breathe it. Cross your heart you won't."
"Cross your heart," repeated Mrs. Hunt. "Where did you get that? I never heard you say that before."
"All the girls say it."
"Of course they do, and you're getting to be one of the girls, I see. Well, I'm glad of it. And what's the mighty secret?"
"You won't tell?"
"Not I." Mrs. Hunt emphasized her promise by bringing down her cake-cutter firmly on the dough she had spread on the board before her.
"Well, it's this: I'm learning to write on the typewriter, and I'm going to write a letter to papa myself."
"Well, I vow to man! Isn't that a trick worth knowing? Won't he be pleased?"
"Do you think he really will? I didn't know, for you see he has written to me only once a year just as he does to grandpa and grandma, and I have never been sure that he really cared very much about me."
"Listen to the child," exclaimed Mrs. Hunt, shaking her head. "Who'd have thought she gave it any thought one way or the other. Don't you believe that he doesn't care. I knew Ralph Otway before you were born, and I can tell you that when he gets to knowing that you've thought enough about him to want to write to him he will write to you often enough. He's got it into his head that you are as well off not hearing from him oftener, and besides he feels that as a lone widower he can't take as good care of you as his mother, a woman, can do, and he's just steeled his heart to endure what he thinks is best for you without thinking of what he would like for himself. Don't you suppose he would a thousand times rather have you with him than to live off there by himself?"
"No, I didn't think so," replied Marian, with the idea that somehow she had said something she ought not. "But, Mrs. Hunt, if he does care, why doesn't he come over and get me?"
"Just as I told you; because he thinks you are better off here with your kith and kin. What would you do all day alone, with him off at his business and you by yourself in lodgings or a boarding-house, I'd like to know. He wouldn't want to send you to boarding-school, for then you'd not be so well off as where you are. Oh, no, don't you be getting it into your head that your father doesn't care for you." Mrs. Hunt made decided plunges at the yellow dough at each attack leaving behind a scalloped circle. "How I talk," she said as she deftly lifted the cookies into a pan, "but my tongue runs away with me sometimes. When do you think you'll be smart enough to get that letter off?"
"Oh, in another week, perhaps. Miss Dorothy thinks I will."
"Humph! that's quick enough work. Here, don't you want to go down into the garden and get me a few tomatoes? I thought I'd stew some for dinner, and I can't leave my baking very well."
This was something Marian always liked to do, so she took the little round basket Mrs. Hunt handed her and was soon very busy among the tomato vines. She was watching a big yellow butterfly bury itself in an opening flower when she heard a voice on the other side of the fence, say: "Hello!" and looking up she saw Marjorie Stone and Alice Evans smiling at her.
"What are you doing?" asked Marjorie. "I didn't know you lived here."
"I don't," said Marian going toward her. "I just came to see Mrs. Hunt and I am getting some tomatoes for her. Most everything else has gone. There used to be lovely currants and raspberries over there, and there were a few blackberries."
"We know where there are some blackberries still, don't we, Alice?" said Marjorie.
"Yes, they have ripened late; they're not so very big, but we are going to get them. We're going to take our lunch with us and gather all we can find."
"If you bring some lunch you can go too," said Marjorie amiably to Marian.
"Oh, is it a picnic?"
"Just a little one. Three or four of us were going, but two of the girls can't go. One has to stay at home and take care of the baby, and the other has gone to town with her mother, but maybe Alice's big sister, Stella, will go with us."
"Is it very far?"
"Not so very. We've often been there. You go get your lunch and put it in a tin bucket, or a basket, so you will have something to carry your blackberries home in. We'll wait here for you if you hurry."
Much excited, Marian ran back to the house. This came of having schoolmates. A picnic this very first Saturday, and the blackberrying thrown in. She set down the little basket on the kitchen table and exclaimed, "Oh, Mrs. Hunt, what do you think? Marjorie Stone and Alice Evans want me to go on a picnic with them. They're going blackberrying and it isn't very far, but I'll have to take my lunch in something to gather the blackberries in, and——" She paused for breath.
"Just those two going?"
"No, Alice's big sister, Stella, is going."
"Oh!" Mrs. Hunt nodded her head in a satisfied way.
"Do you think I would have time to go home?" Marian asked anxiously. "They said they were in a great hurry."
"What is the use of your going home? I can put you up a little lunch easy as not. Here's these cookies, and I've baked turnovers, too. There's a basket of nice good apples in the pantry; you can have one of those, and I'll whisk together some sandwiches in the shake of a sheep's tail."
"Oh, that would be perfectly fine. Do you think grandma would mind?"
"She oughtn't to. She's done the same thing lots of times herself."
"Oh!" This fact certainly set things all right, for surely no grown person could be so absolutely unjust and inconsistent as to blame a child for doing what she had done, not once, but often herself. So Marian was quite assured, and smilingly watched Mrs. Hunt's kind hands pack a lunch for her.
"There now," said the good woman when she had tucked a red napkin over the top of the basket. "Run along and have a good time. I guess all the quarts of blackberries you get won't make many jars of jam, but you'll have just as much fun. If I get the chance I'll run up to your grandma's or send word that you won't be home to dinner. Maybe I'll see your grandpa as he comes back from the post-office."
And so, well content, Marian sped forth to join the girls who were waiting.
"Are you going?" they asked. "You didn't have to go home, did you?"
"No, Mrs. Hunt put up a lunch for me. She is always so very kind."
"What have you got?" asked Marjorie eagerly.
"Three sandwiches, ham ones, and six cookies, two turnovers and an apple." Marian enumerated the articles with pride.
"I guess that will be enough," said Marjorie, condescendingly. "But you will have to cut the turnovers in two so they will go around; we haven't any, you know."
Marian felt somewhat abashed, and thought that Marjorie was not very polite. She would not have inquired into the contents of their lunch baskets for the world. However, she trotted along very contentedly till they reached Alice's home where Stella was to join them. "I found some crackers and cheese, and there are two slices of bread and jam," announced this older girl as she came out. "I think perhaps we can find an apple tree along the way. Did you bring anything, Marjorie?"
"Yes, I have something in here." Marjorie swung her tin bucket in air.
"Then we'd better start," continued Stella. "Who is that with you? Oh, I see, it is Marian Otway. Hello, Marian."
"How do you do?" said Marian. She had never seen Stella except from across the church. She considered her quite a young lady, although she was only fourteen, but she was tall for her age and had an assured air.
The weather was warm, as it often is in early September, and as they trudged along the dusty road with the noonday sun beating down upon them, Marian thought it was anything but fun. Stella, however, kept encouraging them all by telling them it was only a little further, and that when they came to a certain big tree they would sit down and eat their lunch. The tree seemed a long way off, but at length it was reached, and the four sat down to rest under its shade.
"Oh, I do wish I had a drink," sighed Alice. "I am so thirsty."
"So am I," exclaimed the others.
"Maybe there is a spring near," said Stella. "There is a house over yonder; perhaps they could let us have some milk."
"But we haven't any money to pay for it," said Alice.
"So we haven't. Well, we'll have to ask for water. It was very stupid to think of only being hungry and not of being thirsty. We could have brought some milk as well as not. Let us have your tin bucket, Marjorie, and you and Alice go over and ask for some water."
"I'm too tired," complained Marjorie. "If I lend you my bucket I think some one else ought to go for the water."
"Oh, all right," said Stella with a disdainful smile. "I am sure Marian will be accommodating enough to go with Alice, although you have walked no further than they did. You will go, won't you, Marian?"
At this direct appeal, Marian could not refuse to go, and arose with alacrity to do Stella's bidding.
"Empty your bucket into my basket," said Stella to Marjorie, at the same time taking off the lid. Marjorie made a dive into the bucket and hastily secured a small package wrapped in paper, consenting to Stella's putting the two biscuits and the one banana that remained, into her basket.
"Don't begin to eat till we come back," called Alice as she and Marian started off.
"We won't," promised her sister.
The way through the open field was quite as hot, if not as dusty as the road, and Marian agreed with Alice that it was harder to walk through the stubble than the dust, so they were glad enough to reach the shade of the trees surrounding the little farmhouse. A woman was scouring tins on the back porch.
"Could we have some water from your pump?" asked Alice timidly.
The woman looked up. "Why, yes, and welcome. Where did you drop from? I ain't seen any carriage come up the road."
"We walked from Greenville," Alice told her.
"All the way this warm day? Well, I should think you would want water. You two didn't come by yourselves, did you?"
"No, my sister and another girl are over there by that big chestnut tree."
"Lands! then why didn't you go to the spring? 'T ain't but a step, just a ways beyond the tree down in that little hollow. I think the water's better and colder than the pump water, but you can have either you like. Perhaps, though, you'd like a glass of milk. But there, you just wait, I know something better than that. Just set down and cool off while I fetch something for you to take back. Don't take a drink till you set awhile; you're all overheated."
"What do you suppose she's going to give us?" whispered Alice.
Marian shook her head. "I'd like water better than anything, but she said we'd best wait and I'm going to."
"Then I will," said Alice, not to be outdone.
Presently the woman returned with a pitcher upon which stood cool beads of moisture, while the clinking sound of ice from within suggested deliciousness to the thirsty. Setting down a glass the woman poured something into it, and then handed the glass to Marian who politely offered it to Alice. It was quickly accepted and Alice took a satisfying draught. "It is lemonade," she said, "and it is, oh, so good. I never tasted anything so good."
The woman laughed. "You never were more thirsty, maybe. Take your time; I'll get another glass." She stepped inside to supply Marian with the same treat. "I'll pour the rest into your pail," she said; "it will go good with your lunch. I made a whole bucketful this morning thinking maybe my husband's folks might come over for Sunday and would be thirsty after their long drive, but it's too late for 'em now. They always start by sunup and get here before dinner. They won't be here this week, so you come in for what they don't."
"I'm glad they didn't come," said Alice setting down her glass.
The woman laughed. "It's an ill wind that blows nobody good, they say. Here's your pail; there's ice enough to keep it cool for some time."
"Thank you so very, very much," said Marian earnestly. "If I get enough blackberries I'll surely bring you some."
"Bless the child! You needn't, for I have had all I need, and have put 'em up till I'm sick of the sight of 'em. Keep all you get and I'm sure you're welcome; their time is about over and what you get won't be worth much. I'm sure you're welcome to your drink." She fell to scouring again, and the girls departed bearing the bucket carefully.
"Wasn't she kind?" said Marian, in grateful remembrance, "and isn't it nice to know about the spring?"
"Be careful," cried Alice in alarm, for just here Marian struck her foot against a stubbly growth and came near falling, but recovered her footing.
"Let me take it," said Alice, grasping the handle of the bucket.
"I'm sure I shall be glad if you will," replied Marian in a relieved tone, "it would be too dreadful to spill any of that delicious stuff."
However it was borne safely the rest of the way, and it is needless to say that it was appreciated by the waiting pair, though Marjorie complained that they had been such a long, long time in getting it.
"I should think it was worth being long to get what we did," said Alice severely.
"Well, anyhow, I think Stella and I ought to have the most," said Marjorie, "for you each had a glassful up at the house and we haven't had any."
"That was to pay us for going, wasn't it?" and Alice appealed to her sister.
"Certainly it was," returned Stella. "If you couldn't have that much after your doing the errand I should think it was a pity."
Then they fell to eating their lunch, although the division of this did not turn out as Marjorie intended, for Stella declared it was only fair that each should eat what she brought for herself, and maintained that Marjorie's biscuits and banana must be her share. Marian protested, however, for she felt that she had the lion's share, and that she would be uncomfortable if she ate her good things without giving so much as a taste to the others. At last it was decided that each child should contribute to the general supply one article from her lunch, so a turnover went from Marian's basket, a biscuit from Marjorie's pail, while Alice and Stella contributed some crackers and cheese and a slice of their bread and jam. No one caring for Marjorie's biscuit it was left untouched while its owner fell upon the turnover without a question. Marian chose the crackers and cheese, but insisted upon exchanging some of her cookies for the slice of bread and jam, and later gave Alice half her apple. The lemonade was quaffed to the last drop, and then Marjorie volunteered to go to the spring for water. She was gone some time, and as they all started forth to find the blackberry patch, Alice whispered to Marian, "She had candy in that package; that's why she wanted to go to the spring alone. I saw her take out the candy and eat it." Then Marian began to realize that her eyes were being opened to other than pleasant things in that outside world of companionship.
Fortunately the blackberry patch was not much further on, and after being refreshed by their luncheon the children did not mind crossing a field and climbing a fence or two. But what a thicket it was! Such thorns and briars as Marian had never imagined. There was a story in verse, in one of the books which had belonged to her grandmother when she was a little girl; this story was about Phebe, the Blackberry Girl, and it was one in which Marian delighted, but never before had she realized to the full extent Phebe's trials; yet, like her, she
"Scratched her face and tore her hair, But still did not complain,"
and furthermore, like Phebe, when she came to a promising bush, she "picked with all her might," and really had a creditable amount to show when Stella said time was up. But alas, she had other things to show besides blackberries and scratches, for she had worn a frock of light material, and by the time they were ready to leave the thicket, it was in slits and tears all over. Marian had been so excited over her novel employment that she had not seen what damage the briars were doing till Marjorie laughed out: "Oh, what a rag-bag you are!"
Then Marian looked down at the fringe of muslin which hung from her waist, at the stained waist itself, from which the trimming fell in festoons, and she was aghast. "Oh, what shall I do?" she breathed helplessly.
"You certainly do look a sight," said Stella, none too comfortingly, "but I wouldn't mind my clothes so much as my hands; just see how they are all scratched up, and your face isn't much better. You were too reckless; you ought not to have plunged in so far that you got caught in the worst of the brambles; we didn't any of us plunge around so as to get all mixed up that way."
"I know," returned Marian meekly, "I got too excited."
"I should think you did."
"I can't go into town this way," said Marian miserably. "I look like a beggar girl."
"Anybody could see that you had been picking blackberries," said Alice consolingly.
"But with such a looking frock they will laugh at me," said Marian tearfully. "Oh, dear, I wish I had worn something that didn't tear."
"As the rest of us did," remarked Marjorie complacently.
"If you had only been careful and had kept on the edge of the thicket," Stella said, then seeing how distressed Marian really was, she went on: "You might take off your frock; I really think you would look better without than with it."
"Oh!" Marian's cheeks flamed. To appear before the world half-dressed was not to be thought of.
Stella looked her over critically. The frock she wore was a white muslin spotted with pink, too frail a garment for such an expedition.
"The waist isn't so terrible," said Alice examining it. "If we had some pins we could fasten the trimming on so it wouldn't show the tears much."
"Take off your frock, Marian," decided Stella; "I know what we can do."
Marian obeyed the assured voice, and presently Stella was tearing the ragged skirt from the waist, afterward pinning the trimming of the waist in place. "Now come here," she said to Marian.
"What are you going to do?" the others asked in chorus.
"I am going to match your petticoat to your waist," said Stella, addressing Marian. "I will dot it with pink, and it will never be observed. You can wear the waist as it is, and have a skirt to match."
"What are you going to spot it with?" asked Alice curiously.
"You'll see," answered her sister, taking a blackberry from her basket and squeezing a little of the juice on Marian's petticoat. "It isn't exactly the color, but it is near enough, and will never be noticed unless you were very near. Now stand quite still, Marian."
The little girl obeyed and after some time Stella finished her work. "There!" she exclaimed with her head to one side to notice the effect; "that is not bad at all. Walk off, Marian, and let me see; the spots aren't quite even, but then, as Mrs. Hunt says, 'they will never be seen on a galloping horse.'"
"I am sure they look very well," remarked Alice admiringly, "and I think you were very clever to think of it, Stella." And Marian, though still a little shamefaced, felt more at ease.
"We'd better start back," said Stella, "for the afternoons are not so very long now, and we have quite a distance to go."
"If we didn't have blackberries in the two buckets we might get some of that nice cold water from the spring and carry it with us," said Alice, "and then if we were thirsty we should have something to drink."
"It wouldn't be a bad plan," agreed Stella. "I'll tell you what we can do: Marjorie can pour her berries in our bucket and we can use hers for the water. Our bucket is so big that it will easily hold ours and hers, too."
"I'd like to see me do it," spoke up Marjorie. "I'd be sure not to get back as many as I put in."
Stella curled her lip and lifted her eyebrows scornfully. "You needn't be afraid," she said; "nobody wants one of your old berries. If you are so particular, it is very easy to separate them by putting a layer of leaves on top of ours, and yours on top of that, and then there will be no mixing, and we shall be sure to get all that belongs to us."
Marjorie agreed to this arrangement, being quite ready to have a supply of water on hand, and so Stella carefully arranged the berries and said she would carry the bucket herself and that Marjorie and Alice could take turns in carrying the water. So, after everything was adjusted, they set off toward the town, following the dusty road by which they had come.
The way home did not seem as long as the morning's walk, and not a great deal of time had passed when the spires of the village churches appeared in the distance, then they reached the outlying houses, and finally the main street. "I'd just kite up the back way if I were you," said Stella to Marian; "it is a little bit shorter and you won't be likely to meet so many people. Good-bye. We turn off here, you know. I hope you won't get a scolding."
The fear of this, or worse, had been in Marian's heart all along, though she had not mentioned it, and as she stole in the back gate and up the garden walk she hoped she would meet neither her grandmother nor Heppy. The little bucket of blackberries no longer seemed worth while, and she set it down near the apple tree, ran in the side door, past her grandfather's study, and on up-stairs, hoping she could get by the sitting-room without being seen.
But her hopes were in vain, for on the landing appeared her grandmother. "Is that you, Marian?" she asked. "Where have you been all day? Come in here and give an account of yourself."
For a second it was in Marian's thought to say that her nose was bleeding and to make her escape to her room, change her frock and then reappear, but she knew it was only putting off the evil day, for the frock's condition would be discovered sooner or later; and then she was a truthful child, and could not have brought herself to make a false excuse, even though the outcome might have been better for her. So she entered the sitting-room timidly and stood with drooping head before her grandmother.
"Where have you been all day?" repeated her grandmother.
"Oh, didn't Mrs. Hunt tell you?" said Marian in a weak voice. "She said she would. I've been blackberrying."
"Some of the girls."
"Who gave you permission?"
"Why—why—Mrs. Hunt didn't think you would mind, and—and——"
"Blackberrying! I should think so," exclaimed Mrs. Otway. "What a sight you are, all stained and scratched up. Go, wash your face and hands."
"I did try to get it off at the spring," returned Marian more cheerfully, hoping she was to be let off rather easily after all.
But she had not reached the door before her grandmother called her back. "What in the world have you done to your frock?" she asked, examining her costume in surprise.
"It got torn so and I was so ragged that Stella tore off the skirt," said Marian in faint explanation, "and—" she went on, "she thought she would try to make my petticoat look like a frock; the spots are blackberry juice; they aren't quite the same color, but we all thought they looked pretty well, better than slits and snags."
"Then you have ruined not only your frock but your petticoat. Go to your room and do not come out till I tell you. I will speak to your grandfather and we will see what is to be done about this," said her grandmother in such a severe tone that Marian felt like the worst of criminals and crept to her room in dread distress.
She had not often been seriously punished, but those few times stood out very clearly just now. Once she had been compelled to receive ten sharp strokes from a ruler on her outstretched hand. At another time she had been shut up in a dark closet, and again she had been tied in a chair for some hours. Any of these was bad enough. The first was soonest over, but was the most humiliating, the second was terrifying and nerve racking, while the third tediously long and hard to bear. For some time the child sat tremblingly listening for her grandmother's footsteps, but evidently Mrs. Otway did not intend to use undue haste in the matter. After a while the whistle of the evening train announced that those who had gone up to the city for a day's shopping were now returning, and not long after Miss Dorothy's door opened and Marian could hear the teacher singing softly to herself in the next room.
A new humiliation filled the child's breast. They would tell Miss Dorothy, and she would think of her little friend as some one desperately wicked, too wicked, no doubt, to associate with Patty. The tears stood in Marian's eyes at this possibility. It was very, very wrong, of course, to go off without asking leave, and it was worse to spoil her clothes. She well knew her grandmother's views upon this subject, and that of all things she disapproved of wastefulness. She would say that the clothes might have done good to the poor; they might have been sent in a missionary box to some needy child, and it was wicked and selfish to deprive the poor of something that could be of use.
Oh, yes, Marian knew very well all about the probable lecture in store for her.
She sat dolefully, with clasped hands and tearful eyes. But presently a happier thought came to her. She would tell Miss Dorothy before her grandmother had a chance to do so, and perhaps Miss Dorothy would understand that she had not meant to do wrong in the first place, and that what came after was carelessness and not wilful wickedness. She had been ordered not to leave her room, and this she need not do to carry out her plan. So she softly crossed the floor and timidly knocked at the door between Miss Dorothy's room and her own. It was opened in a moment by her friend, who viewed the forlorn little figure first with a smile, and then with anxious interest. "Why, my dearie," she exclaimed, "what is the matter? Come into my room and tell me what is wrong."
"I can't come in," said Marian in a low tone, "for I mustn't leave my room till grandma bids me. But you can come in mine, can't you?" she added wistfully.
"To be sure I can," and suiting the action to the word, Miss Dorothy entered and sat down by the window, drawing Marian to her side and saying, "Now tell me all about it."
Marian poured forth her doleful tale, beginning with the visit to Mrs. Hunt and ending with the interview with her grandmother. "She wouldn't have minded so much except for the frock and petticoat," she said in conclusion, "but when she found out about those, I could see that she was very, very much put out."
"That was the worst part of it, of course," said Miss Dorothy. "Of course you told her how sorry you were, and that you were so excited over getting the biggest berries that you forgot about the briars. You are not the only one who has done that," she added with a half smile. "You never had been blackberrying before, had you?"
"No, Miss Dorothy, and it was very exciting. We really had a lovely time, only the walk was rather a hot one. Mrs. Hunt was so good; she gave me such a fine lunch. She didn't think grandma would mind, for she said she often used to go blackberrying when she was a little girl."
"She said that, did she?"
"Yes, Miss Dorothy. I ought to return the basket, but I can't go now, and I left the berries down under the apple tree."
"I will go out and bring them in, and I was thinking of going to Mrs. Hunt's to make a call. I may as well go this evening, and then I can return the basket for you. Mr. Hunt is one of our trustees, you know, and I want to see him on a little matter about the school."
"Oh, thank you, Miss Dorothy. I know she uses that little basket for all sorts of things, and she might want it."
"She shall have it," said Miss Dorothy. "Well, dear, I hope your grandmother will not be very hard on you. The only point I can see that needs blame, is your wearing that flimsy delicate frock, but as you had never been blackberrying before, you couldn't know the unkindness of briars."
"There wasn't time to change the frock."
"Yes, I know."
"And you won't think I am very, very, wicked, even if they punish me? You will let Patty be friends with me?"
"I understand all about it, my dearie, and it shall not make the slightest difference so far as Patty is concerned. I only wish I could take your punishment for you."
At this extreme kindness, Marian flung herself upon the floor at Miss Dorothy's feet and sobbed aloud, "You are so dear! you are so dear!"
Miss Dorothy lifted her to her lap, smoothed back her hair and kissed her flushed cheeks. "Cheer up, dear," she said. "One need not be unhappy forever, and I hope this will soon be all over. Now, I must go down and get those berries, or it will be too dark to find them. Don't cry any more," and with a smile Miss Dorothy left her.
It was quite dark when Mrs. Otway at last appeared. "I have talked it over with your grandfather," she began without preface, "and we have decided to punish you by having you wear to school all next week the costume you came home in. That is all we shall do. It will teach you to be more careful next time. You may come down to supper now," and Marian meekly followed.