E-text prepared by Al Haines
LYDIA OF THE PINES
"The Heart of the Desert," "Still Jim," etc.
With Frontispiece in Colors by Eric Papse
[Transcriber's note: frontispiece missing from book.]
A. L. Burt Company Publishers———New York Published by arrangement with Frederick A. Stokes Company
I THE TOY BALLOON II THE HEROIC DAY III THE COTTAGE IV THE RAVISHED NEST V ADAM VI THE COOKING CLASS VII THE REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE VIII THE NOTE IX THE ELECTION X THE CAMP XI LYDIA GIGGLES XII THE HIGH SCHOOL SENIOR XIII THE INDIAN CELEBRATION XIV THE HARVARD INSTRUCTOR XV THE INVESTIGATION BEGINS XVI DUCIT AMOR PATRIAE XVII THE MILITARY HOP XVIII THE END OF A GREAT SEARCH XIX CAP AND GOWN XX THE YOUNGEST SCHOLAR
LYDIA OF THE PINES
THE TOY BALLOON
"I am the last of my kind. This is the very peak of loneliness."—The Murmuring Pine.
There is a State in the North Mississippi Valley unexcelled for its quiet beauty. To the casual traveler there may be a certain monotony in the unending miles of rolling green hills, stretching on and on into distant, pale skies. But the native of the State knows that the monotony is only seeming.
He knows that the green hills shelter in their gentle valleys many placid lakes. Some of them are shallow and bordered with wild rice. Some are couched deep in the hollow of curving bluffs. Some are carefully secreted in virgin pine woods. From the train these pines are little suspected. Fire and the ax have long since destroyed any trace of their growth along the railway.
Yet if the traveler but knew, those distant purple shadows against the sky-line are primeval pine woods, strange to find in a State so highly cultivated, so dotted with thriving towns.
In summer the whole great State is a wonderland of color. Wide wheat lands of a delicate yellowish green sweep mile on mile till brought to pause by the black green of the woods. Mighty acres of corn land, blue-green, march on the heels of the wheat. Great pastures riotous with early goldenrod are thick dotted with milk herds. White farmhouses with red barns and little towns with gray roofs and green shaded streets dot the State like flower beds.
An old State, as we measure things out of New England, settled by New Englanders during the first great emigration after the War of 1812. Its capital, Lake City, lays claim to almost a century of existence. Lying among the hills in the northern part of the State, it contains both the state capitol and the state university. Of its thirty thousand inhabitants, five thousand are students and another five thousand are state legislators and state employees.
The town is one of quiet loveliness. It lies in the curving shore of one of the most beautiful of the little inland lakes. The university campus lies at the northern end of the curve. The dome of the capitol rises from the trees at the southern end. Between, deep lawns stretch to the water's edge with fine old houses capping the gentle slope of the shore. Inland lies the business section of the town, with the less pretentious of the dwellings. The whole city is dotted with great elms and maples, planted three quarters of a century ago.
A quiet town, Lake City, with an atmosphere that might well belong to New England,—beauty, culture, leisure, are its hallmarks.
Fifteen years ago half a mile inland from the lake was an empty block that once had been a farm pasture. Three fine old oaks stood with tops together in the center of the block. The grass was still firm and green and thick in the ancient pasture except for narrow trails worn by children's feet. To the initiated each trail told its own story. There was a hollow square that formed the baseball diamond. There was a straight, short cut that led to the little cress-grown spring. There were the parallel lines for "Come-Come Pull Away," and there were numerous bald spots, the center of little radiating trails where, in the fall, each group of children had its complicated roasting oven in which potatoes and "weenies" were cooked.
On one August afternoon the pasture seemed deserted. It was circus day and the children of the surrounding blocks had all by one method or another won admission to the big tent on the hill east of the town.
Yet not quite all the children. For under one of the oak trees was a baby carriage in which a little girl of two lay fast asleep. And far above her, perched lightly but firmly in a swaying fork of the oak, was a long-legged little girl of twelve. She sat where she could peer easily down on her small sleeping sister, yet high enough to be completely hidden from casual view. She was a thin youngster, with short curling hair of a dusty yellow. The curly hair did not hide the fine square head, a noble head for so small a girl, set well on the little square shoulders. Her eyes were blue and black lashed, her nose nondescript, her mouth large, her chin square and her little jaw line long and pronounced. She wore a soiled sailor suit of blue galatea. Caught in the crotch of two opposite branches was a doll almost as large as the sleeping child below. It was a queer old-fashioned doll, with a huge china head, that displayed brilliant black hair and eyes as blue as those of her little mistress. The doll wore a clumsily made sailor suit of blue calico, which evidently had been washed recently, but not ironed. It is necessary to meet the doll properly, for she was an intimate and important member of the little girl's family. Her name was Florence Dombey.
A battered red book lay in Florence Dombey's lap. It was called, "With Clive in India." It was written by G. A. Henty and told of the marvelous and hair-breadth adventures of an English lad in an Indian campaign.
Florence Dombey's attention, however, was not on the book. It was riveted, hectically, on her mistress, who with her tongue caught between her lips was deftly whittling a cigar box cover into doll furniture, of a scale so tiny that even had Florence Dombey had a doll of her own, it could not have hoped to use the furniture.
It was very quiet in the oak tree. The little furniture-maker spoke softly to Florence Dombey occasionally, but otherwise crickets and locusts made the only sounds on the summer air.
Suddenly she closed the knife sharply. "Darn it! I've cut myself again," she said. She dropped the knife down the neck of her blouse and began to suck her finger. "Here, let me have Henty, Florence Dombey. Don't try to pig it, all the time. You know I don't get hardly any time to read."
The furniture and the remains of the cigar-box cover followed the knife into her blouse and she opened the book. But before she had begun to read there was a sleepy little call from below.
"Yes, baby!" called the child. "Here's Lydia, up in the tree! Watch me, dearie! See me come down. Here comes Florence Dombey first."
With some difficulty the book followed the knife and the furniture into the blouse. Florence Dombey, being hastily inverted, showed a length of light martin cord wrapped about her cotton legs.
"Here she comes, baby! Catch now for Lydia."
The baby below, a tiny plump replica of Lydia, sat up with a gurgle of delight and held up her arms as Florence Dombey, dangling unhappily, upside down, on the end of the marlin cord, was lowered carefully into the perambulator.
"And here I come. Watch me, baby!"
With a swing light and agile as a young monkey, Lydia let herself down, landing with a spring of which an acrobat might have boasted, beside the perambulator.
"There, sweetness!"—kissing the baby—"first we'll fix Florence Dombey, then we'll start for home."
"Florence, home wiv baby."
"Yes, it's getting near supper time." Lydia tucked the still hectically staring doll in beside her small sister, turned the perambulator around and ran it along one of the little paths to the sidewalk. She hoisted it to the sidewalk with some puffing and several "darn its," then started toward the block of houses, north of the pasture.
At the crossing she met a small girl of her own age, who carried a toy balloon, and a popcorn ball.
"Hello, Lydia!" she cried. "It was a perfectly lovely circus!"
"Was it?" said Lydia, with an indifferent voice that something in her blue eyes denied. "Well, I had to take care of little Patience!"
"Huh!" shrilled the little girl, "old Lizzie would have done that! I think your father's mean not to give you the money."
Lydia's red cheeks went still redder. "My father's got plenty of money," she began fiercely. Here the baby interrupted.
"Baby love pritty—Baby love—" she held out two beseeching dimpled hands toward the red balloon.
"Patience, you can't have it," cried Lydia. "It—it'll make your tummy ache. I'll buy you one when you're older."
The black-eyed child, holding the red balloon, suddenly kissed little Patience, who was the pet of all the children in the neighborhood, and put the string of her balloon into the dimpled hand. "I had the circus—you can have the balloon," she said.
Lydia jerked the string away and held it out to the owner.
"We're no cheerity charities, Margery," she said. "I'll get Patience a balloon."
"You're an awful liar and a cruel beast, Lydia!" cried Margery. She snatched the string and tied it about the baby's wrist. "You know you can't buy her one and you know she'll cry herself sick for one, now she's seen mine, and I guess I love her as much as you do."
Lydia looked from the cherub in the perambulator, crowing ecstatically over the red bubble that tugged at her wrist, to the defiant Margery.
"I'll let her have it, Margery," she said reluctantly. "I'll make you a doll's high chair."
"All right," said Margery, nonchalantly. "Face tag! So long!"
Lydia ran the perambulator along the board walk. The street was macadamized and bordered with thrifty maple trees. Back of the maple trees were frame houses, of cheap and stupid construction. Before one of these Lydia paused. It was a dingy brown house, of the type known as "story and a half." There was a dormer window at the top and a bow window in the ground floor and a tiny entry porch at the front.
Lydia opened the gate in the picket fence and tugged the perambulator through and up to the porch.
"There, baby mine, shall Lydia take you in for your supper?"
"Supper," cooed little Patience, lifting her arms.
Lydia lifted her to the porch with surprising ease. The little two year old should have been no light weight for the little mother of twelve. She stood on the porch, watching Lydia arrange Florence Dombey in her place in the perambulator. Her resemblance to Lydia was marked. The same dusty gold hair though lighter, the square little shoulders, and fine set of the head. The red balloon tugging at her wrist, her soiled little white dress blowing in the summer breeze, she finally grew impatient of Lydia's attentions to Florence Dombey.
"Baby eat now," she cried with a stamp of her small foot.
Lydia laughed. She ran up the steps, took the baby's hand and led her through the entry into a square little room, evidently the parlor of the home. It was dusty and disorderly. The center-table of fine old mahogany was littered with pipes and newspapers. A patent rocker was doing duty as a clothes rack for hats and coats. A mahogany desk was almost indistinguishable under a clutter of doll's furniture. The sunset glow pouring through the window disclosed rolls of dust on the faded red Brussels carpet.
Lydia disgorged the contents of her blouse upon the desk, then followed little Patience into the next room. This was larger than the first and was evidently the dining-room and sitting-room. A huge old mahogany table and sideboard, ill kept and dusty, filled the bow window end of the room. Opposite the sideboard was a couch, draped with a red and green chenille spread. The floor was covered with oil cloth.
A short, stout old woman was setting the table. She had iron gray hair. Her face was a broad wreath of wrinkles, surrounding bespectacled black eyes and a thin mouth that never quite concealed a very white and handsome set of false teeth.
"See! Liz! See!" cried little Patience, pattering up to the old woman with the tugging balloon.
"Ain't that grand!" said Lizzie. "Where'd you git the money, Lydia? Baby's milk's in the tin cup on the kitchen table. Your father's home. You'd better fry the steak. He complains so about it when I do it."
Lydia left the baby clinging to Lizzie's skirts and went on into the kitchen. Her father was washing his hands at the sink.
"Hello, Dad!" she said. The child had a peculiar thread of richness in her voice when she spoke to little Patience and it was apparent again as she greeted the man at the sink. He turned toward her.
"Well, young woman, it's about time you got home," he said. "Baby all right?"
Lydia nodded and turned toward the litter of dishes and paper parcels on the kitchen table. Amos Dudley at this time was about forty years old,—a thin man of medium weight, his brown hair already gray at the temples. Lydia evidently got from him the blue of her eyes and the white of her teeth. He began to peel off a pair of brown overalls.
"What's for supper?" he asked.
"Round steak," said Lydia.
"For heaven's sake, don't let Liz touch it."
"I won't," said the child, piling up dishes deftly. "I'm going to give baby her cup of milk, and then I'll fix it in my patent way."
Amos nodded. "You're a natural cook, like your mother." He paused, one leg of his overalls off, disclosing his shiny black trousers. Lydia carried the cup of milk toward the dining-room. From where he sat he could see her kneel before little Patience, and hold the cup, while the baby drank thirstily. Little motes of the sunset light danced on the two curly golden heads. He looked from the children toward the dusty kitchen table.
"What a hell of a mess Liz does keep going," he muttered. "Patience would break her heart, if she knew. Oh! Patience, Patience!—"
Lydia came back with the empty cup. "Now for the steak," she exclaimed. "Gosh, what a fire—"
She attacked the greasy stove with enthusiasm and in a short time a savory smell of steak filled the house. Amos went into the dining-room and sat in a rocking chair with little Patience and the balloon in his lap. Old Lizzie hummed as she finished setting the table and Lydia whistled as she seasoned the potatoes Lizzie had set to frying.
"Where'd she get the balloon?" asked Amos as Lydia brought in the platter of meat.
"Margery gave it to her," answered the child. "Supper's ready."
"Got it at the circus, I suppose. I wish I could 'a' let you go, Lydia, but at a dollar and a half a day, I swan I—"
"I didn't want to go," returned Lydia, sitting the baby in her high chair. "I'm getting too big for circuses."
"Too big for a circus!" Her father looked at her with understanding eyes. "I guess heaven is paved with lies like yours, Lydia. John Levine will be over to-night. Get some of the mess dug out of the parlor, will you, Lizzie?"
"Sure," said Lizzie, good-naturedly. Lydia sat opposite her father and poured tea. The ancient maid of all work sat beside Patience and dispensed the currant sauce and the cake.
The baby was half asleep before the meal was ended. "She didn't finish her nap this afternoon," said Lydia. "I'll take her up to bed now and finish my cake afterward."
She tugged the baby out of the high chair that was becoming too close a fit and toiled with her up the narrow stairs that led from the entry.
The little sisters slept together in a slant-ceilinged bedroom. Here again was dust and disorder, the floor covered with clothing and toys, the bed unmade, the old fashioned mahogany bureau piled high with books, brushes, and soiled teacups that had held the baby's milk.
There was still light enough to see by. Lydia stood Patience on the bed and got her into her nightdress after gently persuading the baby to let her fasten the balloon to the foot of the bed. Then she carried her to the little rocker by the window and with a look that was the very essence of motherhood began to rock the two year old to sleep. Presently there floated down to Amos, smoking his pipe on the front step, Lydia's childish, throaty contralto:
"I've reached the land of corn and wine With all its riches surely mine, I've reached that beauteous shining shore, My heaven, my home, for ever more."
A little pause, during which crickets shrilled, then, in a softer voice:
"Blow him again to me While my little one, while my pretty one sleeps."
Another pause—and still more softly:
"Wreathe me no gaudy chaplet; Make it from simple flowers Plucked from the lowly valley After the summer showers."
The coolness of the August wind touched Amos' face, "Oh! Patience, Patience—" he murmured.
Lydia sat for a moment or two with the sleeping baby in her arms, looking down on her with a curious gentle intentness. Then she rose carefully, and as carefully deposited little Patience on the bed. This done, she untied the balloon and carried it out with her to the little landing. There was a window here into which the August moon was beginning to shine. Lydia sat down with the balloon and felt of it carefully.
"Aren't balloons the most wonderful things, almost as wonderful as bubbles," she murmured. "I love the smell of them. Think what they can do, how they can float, better than birds! How you want to squeeze them but you don't dast! I'd rather have gone to the circus than to heaven."
In a moment she heard steps and greetings and her father leading his friend into the house. Then she slipped down the stairs and into the night. A dozen times she ran up and down the yard, the balloon like a fettered bird tugging at her wrist.
"I love it as much as little Patience does," she murmured. "Oh, I wish it was mine."
Finally, she ran out of the gate and up the street to the one fine house of which the street boasted. She stole up to the door and fastened the string of the balloon to the door bell, gave the bell a jerk and fled.
As she ran down the street, a boy, leaning against the gate-post next her own, cried, "What's the rush, Lydia?"
"Oh, hello, Kent! Did you like the circus?"
"The best ever! You should have taken that ticket I wanted you to. Didn't cost me anything but carrying water to the elephants."
"I can't take anything I don't pay for. I promised mother. You know how it is, Kent."
"I guess your mother fixed it so you'd miss lots of good times, all right—— Now, don't fly off the handle—look, I got a trick. I've rubbed my baseball with match heads, so's I can play catch at night. Try it?"
"Gosh, isn't that wonderful!" exclaimed Lydia. The boy, who was a little taller than Lydia, led the way to the open space between his home and Lydia's. Then he spun Lydia a brisk ball.
"It's like a shooting star," she cried, spinning back a quick overhand shot, "but it makes your hands smell like anything."
"Lydia," called her father from the bow window, "it's time to come in."
"All right!" Then aside to Kent, "I'll wait till he calls me twice more, Kent. Keep them coming."
"Yes, Dad. Not so hard, Kent. Don't throw curves, just because I can't."
"Lydia! I shan't call again."
"Coming, Dad! Good night, Kent. Face tag!"
"Face tag yourself, smarty. Maybe I'll be over, to-morrow, if I ain't got anything better to do."
Lydia sauntered slowly up to the kitchen steps. "Well, I haven't anything pleasant at all to look forward to now," she thought. "The circus parade is over and I've returned the balloon. Gee, yes, there is too! I didn't eat my cake yet!"
She turned up the lamp in the kitchen and foraged in the cake box, bringing out the cake Lizzie had saved for her. With this in her hand she entered the dining-room. An extraordinarily long, thin man was stretched out in one arm chair, Amos in the other.
"You ought to sit in the parlor, Dad," said Lydia, reproachfully.
"It's too stuffy," said Amos.
"Oh, hello, young Lydia!" said the tall man. "Come here and let me look at you."
Levine drew the child to his knee. She looked with a clear affectionate gaze on his thin smooth-shaven face, and into his tired black eyes.
"Why do you always say 'young' Lydia?" asked the child.
"That's what I want to know, too," agreed Amos.
"Because, by heck! she's so young to be such an old lady." He smoothed the short curly hair with a gesture that was indescribably gentle. "I tell you what, young Lydia, if you were ten years older and I were ten years younger—"
Lydia leaned against his knee and took a large bite of cake. "You'd take me traveling, wouldn't you, Mr. Levine?" she said, comfortably.
"You bet I would, and you should have your heart's desire, whatever that might be. If any one deserves it you do, young Lydia."
Amos nodded and Lydia looked at them both with a sort of puzzled content as she munched her cake.
"I brought a newly illustrated copy of 'Tom Sawyer' for you to see, Lydia," said Levine. "Keep it as long as you want to. It's over on the couch there."
Lydia threw herself headlong on the book and the two men returned to the conversation she had interrupted.
"My loan from Marshall comes due in January," said Amos. "My lord, I've got to do something."
"What made you get so much?" asked Levine.
"A thousand dollars? I told you at the time, I sorta lumped all my outstanding debts with the doctor's bill and funeral expenses and borrowed enough to cover."
"He's a skin, Marshall is. Why does he live on this street except to save money?"
Lydia looked up from "Tom Sawyer." There were two little lines of worry between her eyes and the little sick sense in the pit of her stomach that always came when she heard money matters discussed. Her earliest recollection was of her mother frantically striving to devise some method of meeting their latest loan.
"I'd like to get enough ahead to buy a little farm. All my folks were farmers back in New Hampshire and I was a fool ever to have quit it. It looked like a mechanic could eat a farmer up, though, when I was a young fellow. Now a little farm looks good enough to me. But on a dollar and a half a day, I swan—" Amos sighed.
"Land's high around here," said Levine. "I understand Marshall sold Eagle Farm for a hundred dollars an acre. Takes a sharp farmer to make interest on a hundred an acre. Lord—when you think of the land on the reservation twenty miles from here, just yelling for men to farm it and nothing but a bunch of dirty Indians to take advantage of it."
"Look here, John," said Amos with sudden energy. "It's time that bunch of Indians moved on and gave white men a chance. I wouldn't say a word if they farmed the land, but such a lazy, lousy outfit!"
"There are more than you feel that way, Amos," replied Levine. "But it would take an Act of Congress to do anything."
"Well, why not an Act of Congress, then? What's that bunch we sent down to Washington doing?"
"Poor brutes of Indians," said John Levine, refilling his pipe. "I get ugly about the reservation, yet I realize they've got first right to the land."
"The man that can make best use of the land's got first right to it," insisted Amos. "That's what my ancestors believed two hundred and fifty years ago when they settled in New Hampshire and put loopholes under the eaves of their houses. Our farmhouse had loopholes like that. Snow used to sift in through 'em on my bed when I was a kid."
Lydia, lying on her stomach on the couch, turning the leaves of "Tom Sawyer," looked up with sudden interest.
"Daddy, let's go back there to live. I'd love to live in a house with loopholes."
The two men laughed. "You should have been a boy, Lydia," said Amos.
"A boy," sniffed Levine, "and who'd have mothered little Patience if she'd been a boy?"
"That's right—yet, look at that litter on the desk in the parlor."
Both the men smiled while Lydia blushed.
"What are you going to do with that doll furniture, Lydia?" asked John Levine.
"I'm going to make a doll house for little Patience, for Christmas." Lydia gave an uncomfortable wriggle. "Don't talk about me so much."
"You're working a long way ahead," commented Amos. "That was your mother's trait. I wish I'd had it. Though how I could look ahead on a dollar and a half a day—Lydia, it's bedtime."
Lydia rose reluctantly, her book under her arm.
"Don't read upstairs, child," Amos went on; "go to bed and to sleep, directly."
Lydia looked around for a safe place for the book and finally climbed up on a chair and laid it on the top shelf of the sideboard. Then she came back to her father's side and lifted her face for her good night kiss.
"Good night, my child," said Amos.
"How about me," asked Levine. "Haven't you one to spare for a lonely bachelor?"
He pulled Lydia to him and kissed her gently on the cheek. "If you were ten years older and I were ten years younger—"
"Then we'd travel," said the child, with a happy giggle as she ran out of the room.
There was silence for a moment, then John Levine said, "Too bad old Lizzie is such a slob."
"I know it," replied Amos, "but she gets no wages, just stayed on after nursing my wife. I can't afford to pay for decent help. And after all, she does the rough work, and she's honest and fond of the children."
"Still Lydia ought to have a better chance. I wish you'd let me—" he hesitated.
"Let you what?" asked Amos.
"Nothing. She'd better work out things her own way. She'll be getting to notice things around the house as she grows older."
"It is the devil's own mess here," admitted Amos. "I'm going to move next month. This place has got on my nerves."
"No, Daddy, no!" exclaimed Lydia.
Both men started as the little girl appeared in the kitchen door. "I came down to put Florence Dombey to bed," she explained. "Oh, Daddy, don't let's move again! Why, we've only been here two years."
"I've got to get into a place where I can have a garden," insisted Amos. "If we go further out of town we can get more land for less rent."
"Oh, I don't want to move," wailed Lydia. "Seems to me we've always been moving. Last time you said 'twas because you couldn't bear to stay in the house where mother died. I don't see what excuse you've got this time."
"Lydia, go to bed!" cried Amos.
Lydia retreated hastily into the kitchen and in a moment they heard her footsteps on the back stairs.
"It's a good idea to have a garden," said John Levine. "I tell you, take that cottage of mine out near the lake. I'll let you have it for what you pay for this. It'll be empty the first of September."
"I'll go you," said Amos. "It's as pretty a place as I know of."
Again silence fell. Then Amos said, "John, why don't you go to Congress? Not to-day, or to-morrow, but maybe four or five years from now."
Levine looked at Amos curiously. The two men were about the same age. Levine's brown face had a foreign look about it, the gift of a Canadian French grandfather. Amos was typically Yankee, with the slightly aquiline nose, the high forehead and the thin hair, usually associated with portraits of Daniel Webster.
"Nice question for one poor man to put to another," said Levine, with a short laugh.
"No reason you should always be poor," replied Amos. "There's rich land lying twenty miles north of here, owned by nothing but Indians."
Levine scratched his head.
"You could run for sheriff," said Amos, "as a starter. You're an Elk."
"By heck!" exploded John Levine. "I'll try for it. No reason why a real estate man shouldn't go into politics as well as some of the shyster lawyers you and I know, huh, Amos?"
Upstairs, Lydia stood in a path of moonlight pulling off her clothes slowly and stifling her sobs for the sake of the little figure in the bed. Having jerked herself into her nightdress, she knelt by the bedside.
"O God," she prayed in a whisper, "don't let there be any more deaths in our family and help me to bring little Patience up right." This was her regular formula. To-night she added a plea and a threat. "And O God, don't let us move again. Seems though I can't stand being jerked around so much. If you do, God, I don't know what I'll say to you—Amen."
Softly as a shadow she crept in beside her baby sister and the moonlight slowly edged across the room and rested for a long time on the two curly heads, motionless in childhood's slumber.
THE HEROIC DAY
"Where the roots strike deepest, the fruitage is best."—The Murmuring Pine.
Little Patience had forgotten the red balloon, overnight. Lydia had known that she would. Nevertheless, with the feeling that something was owing to the baby, she decided to turn this Saturday into an extra season of delight for her little charge.
"Do you care, Dad," asked Lydia, at breakfast, "if baby and I have lunch over at the lake shore?"
"Not if you're careful," answered Amos. "By the way," he added, "that cottage of John Levine's is right on the shore." He spoke with studied carelessness. Lydia had a passion for the water.
She stared at him now, with the curiously pellucid gaze that belongs to some blue eyed children and Amos had a vague sense of discomfort, as if somehow, he were not playing the game quite fairly. He dug into his coat pocket and brought up a handful of tobacco from which he disinterred two pennies.
"Here," he said, "one for each of you. Don't be late for supper, chickens."
He kissed the two children, picked up his dinner pail and was off. Lydia, her red cheeks redder than usual, smiled at Lizzie, as she dropped the pennies into the pocket of her blouse and stuffed a gray and frowsy little handkerchief on top of them.
"Isn't he the best old Daddy!" she exclaimed.
"Sure," said Lizzie absentmindedly, as she poured out her third cup of coffee. "Lydia, that dress of yours is real dirty. You get into something else and I'll wash it out to-day."
"I haven't got much of anything else to get into, have I, Lizzie?—except my Sunday dress."
"You are dreadful short of clothes, child, what with the way you grow and the way you climb trees. I'm trying to save enough out of the grocery money to get you a couple more of them galatea dresses for when school opens, but land—your poor mother was such a hand with the needle, you used to look a perfect picture. There," warned by the sudden droop of Lydia's mouth, "I tell you, you'll be in and out of the water all day, anyhow. Both of you get into the bathing suits your Aunt Emily sent you. They're wool and it's going to be a dreadful hot day."
"Jefful hot day," said little Patience, gulping the last of her oatmeal.
"All right," answered Lydia, soberly. "Wouldn't you think Aunt Emily would have had more sense than to send all those grown up clothes? Who did she think's going to make 'em over, now?"
"I don't know, child. The poor thing is dead now, anyhow. Folks is always thoughtless about charity. Why I wasn't taught to sew, I don't know. Anyhow, the bathing suits she got special for you two."
"You bet your life, I'm going to learn how to sew," said Lydia, rising to untie the baby's bib. "I'm practising on Florence Dombey. Mother had taught me straight seams and had just begun me on over and over, when—"
"Over and over," repeated the baby, softly.
Lizzie put out a plump, toil-scarred hand and drew Lydia to her. "There, dearie! Think about other things. What shall poor old Liz fix you for lunch?"
The child rubbed her bright cheek against the old woman's faded one. "You are a solid comfort to me, Lizzie," she said with a sigh. Then after a moment she exclaimed, eagerly, "Oh! Lizzie, do you think we could have a deviled egg? Is it too expensive?"
"You shall have a deviled egg if I have to steal it. But maybe you might dust up the parlor a bit while I get things ready."
Lydia established little Patience on the dining-room floor with a linen picture book, brought in a broom and dustpan from the kitchen and began furiously to sweep the parlor. When the dust cleared somewhat she emerged with the dustpan heaped with sweepings and the corners of the room still untouched. She hung the coats and hats in the entry and rubbed off the top of the table with her winter Tam o' Shanter, from which the moths flew as she worked. She gazed thoughtfully at the litter on the desk and decided against touching it. Then with a sense of duty well done, she lifted little Patience and carried her up into the little bedroom.
The bathing suits were pretty blue woolen things, and when the two presented themselves to Lizzie in the kitchen the old woman exclaimed, "Well, if ever I seen two fairies!"
"A thin one and a fat one," chuckled Lydia. "Push the baby carriage down over the steps for me, Lizzie, and I'll prepare for our long, hard voyage."
Patience was established in her perambulator with her linen picture book. Florence Dombey was settled at her feet, with "Men of Iron." The bits of cigar box and the knife packed in a pasteboard box were tied to one edge of the carriage. Patience's milk, packed in a tin pail of ice, was laid on top of "Men of Iron." The paper bag of lunch dangled from the handle-bar and Lydia announced the preparations complete.
The way to the lake shore led under the maple trees for several blocks. Then the board walk turned abruptly to cross a marsh, high-grown now with ripening cat-tails. Having safely crossed the marsh, the walk ended in a grass-grown path. Lydia trundled the heavy perambulator with some difficulty along the path. The August sun was hot.
"'A life on the ocean wave—'"
she panted. "You are getting fat, baby!
'A home on the rolling deep. Where the scattered waters rave And the winds their revels keep.'
Darn it, I wish I had a bicycle!"
"Ahoy there! Hard aport with your helm, mate!" came a shout from behind her. A boy in a bright red bathing suit jumped off a bicycle.
"Hello, Kent!" said Lydia.
"Hello, yourself!" returned Kent. "Wait and I'll hitch to the front axle."
He untied a stout cord from his handle-bars and proceeded to fasten it from his saddle post to the perambulator. Lydia watched him with a glowing face. She was devoted to Kent, although they quarreled a great deal. He was a handsome boy, two years Lydia's senior; not tall for his years, but already broad and sturdy, with crinkly black hair and clear, black-lashed brown eyes. His face was round and ruddy under its summer tan. His lips were full and strong—an aggressive, jolly boy, with a quick temper and a generous heart. He and Lydia had been friends since kindergarten days.
"I'm going to stay in the Willows all day," said Lydia. "Don't go too fast, Kent."
"Dit-up! Dit-up, horsy!" screamed little Patience.
"Toot! Toot! Express for the Willows!" shouted Kent, mounting his wheel, and the procession was off, the perambulator bounding madly after the bicycle, while Patience shouted with delight and Lydia clung desperately to the handle-bars.
The path, after a few moments, shifted to the lake shore. The water there lapped quietly on a sandy beach, deep shaded by willows. Kent dismounted.
"Discharge your cargo!" he cried.
"Don't be so bossy," said Lydia. "This is my party."
"All right, then I won't play with you."
"Nobody asked you to, smarty. I was going to give you my deviled egg for lunch."
"Gosh," said Kent, "did you bring your lunch? Say, I guess I'll go home and get mother to give me some. But let's play pirates, first."
"All right! I choose to be chief first," agreed Lydia.
"And I'm the cannibal and baby's the stolen princess," said Kent.
The three children plunged into the game which is the common property of childhood. For a time, bloody captures, savage orgies, escape, pursuit, looting of great ships and burial of treasure, transformed the quiet shore to a theater of high crime. At last, as the August noon waxed high, and the hostage princess fell fast asleep in her perambulator cave, the cannibal, who had shifted to captured duke, bowed before the pirate.
"Sir," he said in a deep voice, "I have bethought myself of still further treasure which if you will allow me to go after in my trusty boat, I will get and bring to you—if you will allow me to say farewell at that time to my wife and babes."
"Ha!" returned the pirate. "How do I know you'll come back?"
The duke folded his arms. "You have my word of honor which never has, and never will, be broken."
"Go, duke—but return ere sundown." The pirate made a magnificent gesture toward the bicycle, "and, say Kent, bring plenty to fill yourself up, for I'm awful hungry and I'll need all we've got."
As Kent shot out of sight, Lydia turned to arrange the mosquito bar over little Patience, then she stood looking out over the lake. The morning wind had died and the water lay as motionless and perfect a blue as the sky above. Faint and far down the curving shore the white dome of the Capitol building rose above soft billows of green tree tops. Up the shore, woods crowned the gentle slopes of the hills. Across the lake lay a dim green shore-line of fields. Lydia gave a deep sigh. The beauty of the lake shore always stirred in her a wordless ecstasy. She waded slowly to her waist into the water, then turned gently on her back and floated with her eyes on the sky. Its depth of color was no deeper nor more crystal clear than the depths of her own blue gaze. The tender brooding wonder of the lake was a part and parcel of her own little face, so tiny in the wide expanse of water.
After some moments of drifting, she turned on her side and began to swim along the shore. She swam with a power and a precision of stroke that a man twice her size would have envied. But it must be noted that she did not get out of eye and ear shot of the perambulator beneath the willows; and she had not been swimming long before a curious agitation of the mosquito netting brought her ashore.
She wrung the water from her short skirt and was giving little Patience her bread and milk, when Kent returned with a paper bag.
"Ma was cross at me for pestering her, but I managed to get some sandwiches and doughnuts. Come on, let's begin. Gee, there's a squaw!"
Coming toward the three children seated in the sand by the perambulator was a thin bent old woman, leaning on a stick.
"Dirty old beggar," said Kent, beginning to devour his sandwiches.
"Isn't she awful!" exclaimed Lydia. Begging Indians were no novelty to Lake City children, but this one was so old and thin that Lydia was horrified. Toothless, her black hair streaked with gray, her calico dress unspeakably dirty, her hands like birds' claws clasping her stick, the squaw stopped in front of the children.
"Eat!" she said, pointing to her mouth, while her sunken black eyes were fixed on Kent's sandwiches.
Little Patience looked up and began to whimper with fear.
"Get out, you old rip!" said Kent.
"Eat! Eat!" insisted the squaw, a certain ferocity in her manner.
"Did you walk clear in from the reservation?" asked Lydia.
The squaw nodded, and held out her scrawny hand for the children's inspection. "No eats, all time no eats! You give eats—poor old woman."
"Oh, Kent, she's half starved! Let's give her some of our lunch," exclaimed Lydia.
"Not on your life," returned Kent. "Dirty, lazy lot! Why don't they work?"
"If we'd go halves, we'd have enough," insisted Lydia.
"You told me you'd only enough for yourself. Get out of here, you old she-devil."
The squaw did not so much as glance at Kent. Her eyes were fastened on Lydia, with the look of a hungry, expectant dog. Lydia ran her fingers through her damp curls, and sighed. Then she gave little Patience her share of the bread and butter and a cooky. She laid the precious deviled egg in its twist of paper on top of the remainder of the bread and cookies and handed them to the Indian.
"You can't have any of mine, if you give yours up!" warned Kent.
"I don't want any, pig!" returned Lydia.
The old squaw received the food with trembling fingers and broke into sobs, that tore at her old throat painfully. She said something to Lydia in Indian, and then to the children's surprise, she bundled the food up in her skirt and started as rapidly as possible back in the direction whence she had come.
"She's taking it back to some one," said Kent.
"Poor thing," said Lydia.
"Poor thing!" sniffed Kent. "It would be a good thing if they were all dead. My father says so."
"Well, I guess your father don't know everything," snapped Lydia.
"Evyfing," said Patience, who had finished her lunch and was digging in the sand.
Kent paused in the beginning of his attack on his last sandwich to look Lydia over. She was as thin as a half-grown chicken in her wet bathing suit. Her damp curls, clinging to her head and her eyes a little heavy with heat and weariness after her morning of play, made her look scarcely older than Patience. Kent wouldn't confess, even to himself, how fond he was of Lydia.
"Here," he said gruffly. "I can't eat this sandwich. Mother made me too many. And here's a doughnut."
"Thanks, Kent," said Lydia meekly. "What do you want to play, after lunch?"
"Robinson Crusoe," replied Kent promptly. "You'll have to be Friday."
As recipient of his bounty, Lydia recognized Kent's advantage and conceded the point without protest.
She held Patience's abbreviated bathing suit skirt with one hand. "Where are you heading for, baby?" she asked.
"Mardy! Mardy!" screamed Patience, tugging at her leash.
"Oh, rats, it's Margery Marshall. Look at the duds on her. She makes me sick," groaned Kent.
"She's crazy about little Patience," answered Lydia, "so I put up with a lot from her."
She loosed her hold on Patience. The baby trundled along the sand to meet the little girl in an immaculate white sailor suit, who approached pushing a doll buggy large enough to hold Patience. She ran to meet the baby and kissed her, then allowed her to help push the doll carriage.
"Mardy tum! Mardy tum!" chanted Patience.
Margery's black hair was in a long braid, tied with a wide white ribbon. Margery's hands were clean and so were her white stockings and shoes. She brought the doll's carriage to pause before Lydia and Kent and gazed at them appraisingly out of bright black eyes—beautiful eyes, large and heavily lashed. Kent's face was dirty and sweat streaked. His red bathing suit was gray with sand and green with grass stain. On his head he wore his favorite headgear, a disreputable white cotton cap with the words "Goldenrod Flour Mills" across the front.
"Well," he said belligerently, to Margery, "do you see anything green?"
Margery shrugged her shoulders. "Watcha playing?"
"Nothing! Want to play it?" replied Lydia.
"Thanks," answered Margery. "I'll watch you two while I sit with the baby. Isn't she just ducky in that bathing suit?"
Lydia melted visibly and showed a flash of white teeth. "You bet! How's Gwendolyn?" nodding toward the great bisque doll seated in the wonderful doll carriage. "I wish I had a doll like that."
"She isn't in it with Florence Dombey," said Kent. "Florence is some old sport, she is. Guess I'd better cut her down."
It was remarkable that while on most occasions Lydia was the tenderest of mothers to Florence Dombey, she was, when the fever of "play and pretend" was on her, capable of the most astonishing cruelties. During the game of pirates, Florence Dombey had been hung from a willow branch, in lieu of a yardarm, and had remained dangling there in the wind, forgotten by her mother.
Kent placed her in Patience's carriage. "I'll tell you what I'll do," he said. "I'll go up the shore and get Smith's flat boat. We'll anchor it out from the shore, and that'll be the wreck. We'll swim out to her and bring stuff in. And up under the bank there we'll build the cave and the barricade."
"Gee," exclaimed Lydia, "that's the best we've thought of yet. I'll be collecting stuff to put in the wreck."
All during the golden August afternoon the game waxed joyfully. For a long time, Margery sat aloof, playing with the baby. But when the excavating of the cave began, she succumbed, and began to grovel in the sand with the other two. She was allowed to come in as Friday's father, and baby Patience, panting at her work of scratching the sand with a crooked stick, was entered as the Parrot. Constant small avalanches of sand and soil from the bank powdered the children's hair and clothes with gray-black dust.
"Gosh, this is too much like work," groaned Kent, at last. "I'll tell you, let's play the finding of Friday's father."
"I don't want to be tied up in a boat," protested, Margery, at once.
"Mardy not in boat," chorused little Patience, toddling to the water's edge and throwing in a handful of sand.
"Isn't she a love!" sighed Margery.
"Huh, you girls make me sick," snorted Kent. "We won't tie you in the boat. We'll bring the boat in and get you, then we'll anchor it out where it is now, and—and—I'll go get Smith's rowboat, and Friday and I'll come out and rescue you."
Margery hesitated. "Aw, come on!" urged Kent. "Don't be such a 'fraid cat. That's why us kids don't like you, you're such a silly, dressed-up doll."
The banker's daughter flushed. Though she loved the pretty clothes and though the sense of superiority to other children, carefully cultivated by her mother, was the very breath of her nostrils, she had never been quite so happy as this afternoon when grubbing on an equality with these three inferior children.
"I'm not afraid at all and I'm just as dirty as Lydia is. Go ahead with your old boat."
They tethered Patience with Kent's cord to one of the willow trees and Margery was paddled out several boat lengths from the shore and the great stone that served for anchor was dropped over. Kent took a clean dive overboard, swam ashore and disappeared along the willow path. Little Patience set up a wail.
"Baby turn too. Baby turn, too," she wept.
"I'll go stay with her till Kent comes," said Lydia, diving into the water as casually as if she were rising from a chair.
"I won't stay in this awful boat alone!" shrieked Margery.
Lydia swam steadily to the shore, then turned. Margery was standing up in the boat.
"Sit down! Sit down!" cried Lydia.
Margery, beside herself with fear, tossed her arms, "I won't stay in this old—"
There was a great splash and a choking cry as Margery's black braid disappeared beneath the water.
"And she can't swim," gasped Lydia. "Kent!" she screamed, and made a flying leap into the water. Her slender, childish arms seemed suddenly steel. Her thin little legs took a racing stroke like tiny propellers. Margery came up on the far side of the boat and uttered another choking cry before she went down again. Lydia dived, caught the long black braid and brought the frenzied little face to the surface. Margery immediately threw an arm around Lydia's neck, and Lydia hit her in the face with a clenched small fist and all the strength she could muster.
"Let go, or I'll let you drown. Turn over on your back. There isn't a thing to be afraid of."
Margery, with a sob, obeyed and Lydia towed her the short distance to the boat. "There, catch hold," she said.
Both the children clung to the gunwale, Margery choking and sobbing.
"I can't lift you into the boat," panted Lydia. "But quit your crying. You're safe. There's Kent."
The whole episode had taken but a few minutes. Kent had heard the call and some note of need in it registered, after a moment, in his mind. He ran back and leaped into the water.
He clambered into the flat boat and reaching over pulled Margery bodily over the gunwale. The child, sick and hysterical, huddled into the bottom of the boat.
"Are you all right, Lyd?" he asked.
"Sure," replied Lydia, who was beginning to recover her breath.
It was the work of a minute to ground the boat. Then unheeding little Patience's lamentations, the two children looked at each other and at Margery.
"I'll run for her mother," said Kent.
"And scare her to death! She isn't hurt a bit," insisted Lydia. "Margery, stop crying. You're all right, I tell you."
"I'll tell you," said Kent, "let's put her in Patience's carriage, and carry her home. The water she swallowed makes her awful sick at her stomach, I guess."
The fright over, the old spirit of adventure, with an added sense of heroism, animated Kent and Lydia.
Margery was teased out of the boat and assisted into the perambulator, with her dripping white legs dangling helplessly over the end. Little Patience's tears were assuaged when she was placed in the doll buggy, with Margery's doll in her arms. Florence Dombey was tied papoose fashion to Lydia's back. The bicycle was hidden in the cave and with Kent wheeling Margery and Lydia, Patience, the procession started wildly for home.
By the time they had turned into the home street, Margery was beginning to recover, but she was still shivering and inclined to sob. Other children followed them and it was quite an imposing group that turned in at the Marshall gate, just as Mrs. Marshall came to the door to bid a guest good-by.
The scene that followed was difficult for either Lydia or Kent to describe afterward. There was a hullabaloo that brought half the mothers of the neighborhood into the yard. The doctor was sent for. Margery was put to bed and Kent and Lydia were mentioned as murderers, low-down brats and coarse little brutes by Mrs. Marshall, who ended by threatening them with the police.
Old Lizzie appeared on the scene in time to take Lydia's part and Kent disappeared after Mrs. Marshall had told him that Margery's father would be around to see his father that evening.
"Is the child dead?" demanded old Lizzie, holding Patience on one arm while Lydia clung to the other.
"She was able to walk upstairs," said a neighbor. "It's just Mrs. Marshall's way, you know."
"I'll way her," snorted Lizzie. "Fine thanks to Lydia for saving the child. Come home with your old Liz, dearie, and get into the nice clean dress I've got for you."
Lydia told the story to Amos at suppertime. He was much disturbed.
"I've told you often and often, Lydia, never to endanger a child that can't swim. You and Kent should have had more sense."
The quick tears sprang to the child's eyes. She was still much shaken.
"Is this lesson enough for you, or must I forbid your playing in the water? I thought I could trust you absolutely."
"Stop your scolding her, Amos Dudley," exclaimed old Lizzie. "I won't have it. She's too nervous a child."
Amos was saved a reply by a ring at the doorbell. Lizzie let Margery's father in. He was a short, red-faced man with black hair and eyes. He was too much excited now to stand on ceremony, and he followed Lizzie into the dining-room.
"This won't do, Dudley. These wild young ones of yours—"
"Wait a minute, Marshall," interrupted Amos, with a dignity that he had brought with him from New England. "Margery is all right, so we can go over this thing calmly. Sit down and listen to Lydia's story. Tell him, Lydia."
Lydia left her place and crowded up against her father's side. Old Lizzie was holding the baby.
"It was like this," Lydia began. "Baby and me were going to play by ourselves under the willows. Then Kent, he came and he played pirates with us."
"Why wasn't Kent out playing with the boys?" interrupted Marshall.
Lydia's eyes widened. "Why, I'm as good as a boy to play with, any day! Mostly he does play with other boys, but when they aren't round, he and I play pirates. And then, right after we'd had our lunch, Margery she came along and Kent and I were mad—"
The child paused uncomfortably and rubbed her curly yellow head with her thin little hand in an embarrassed way.
"Why were you mad, Lydia?" In spite of himself, Marshall's voice was softening, as Amos had known it would. Lydia made a deep appeal somehow to the tenderness of men.
"Tell Mr. Marshall all you told me, Lydia," said Amos.
"Well—well, you see, it's like this. Margery's always so clean and she has lovely clothes and—and she—she looks down on us other kids so we won't generally let her play with us—and she's an awful 'fraid cat and—and a tattle-tale. But when we got to playing Robinson Crusoe, and were digging the cave she helped and got terrible dirty, just like us, and then she wanted to be Friday's father, and then—well—now—I guess the rest of it was Kent's and my fault. We forgot she couldn't swim and we forgot what a cry-baby she was. 'Cause you see, water's almost like land to Kent and me and we'd been swimming 'most all day, and Margery's the only kid around here that can't swim."
"Why can't she swim?" demanded Marshall. "How'd all the rest of you learn? Don't you think you were mean not to let her learn?"
Again Lydia's pellucid eyes widened. "Why her mother won't let her play with common kids like us! And us kids never learned. We've just played in the water ever since we was as big as baby. She'll be swimming by the time she's five," added Lydia, looking at the sleeping Patience and speaking with the curious note of richness in her voice.
David Marshall scowled and stirred uncomfortably. He did not look at Amos, who sat with his arm about Lydia, his thin face a lesser replica of the old engraving of Daniel Webster hanging on the wall above.
"Well, go on! How'd she come to fall overboard?"
"She and I was sitting in the boat, and baby, she was tied to a tree by a long string and she began to cry to come too, and I jumped over to go quiet her. Kent he'd gone to get another boat. And Margery she jumped up and began to yell and wave her arms and fell overboard. Then I remembered she couldn't swim and I went back and got her and Kent came and pulled us in shore. It wasn't anything, but Margery's such a cry-baby. Lizzie, she's terrible uncomfortable."
Lydia's attention had returned to little Patience. "I'll take her up to bed," she said, "it won't take but a few minutes."
"I'll carry her," said Lizzie.
The baby opened her eyes. "No, no one cally but Lyd."
"Let Daddy carry you," begged Amos.
Patience's little voice rose to a wail. "No one cally but Lyd."
"You don't have to be so polite," sniffed Lydia, "I carry her all the time."
She lifted the sleepy baby easily and Patience dropped her soft cheek against Lydia's and closed her eyes again. Lydia turned to Marshall. Her face was very serious.
"I know I was awful bad, Mr. Marshall, and maybe you feel as if you ought to lick me."
"Put your little sister to bed," said Marshall gravely, "and then we'll see."
There was silence in the room for a moment after Lydia left it, then Amos said, "I'll be glad to do anything I can, Marshall."
"Neither of you'll lay a finger on Lydia," interrupted Lizzie. "If you want to lick any one, go lick Elviry Marshall, the fool! Why, I knew her when she was my niece's hired girl and you, Dave Marshall, was selling cans of tomatoes over a counter. And she's bringing that young one up to be a silly little fool. Mark my words, she'll be the prey of the first fortune-hunter that comes along."
To Amos's surprise, Marshall only scowled at Lizzie, who now began to remove the supper dishes, talking in a whisper to herself. She paused once in front of Marshall with the teapot in one hand and the milk pitcher in the other.
"Coming and going with your nose in the air, Dave, I suppose you never notice Lydia, but you've had a good look at her to-night, and mind well what I mean when I say you know as well as I that children like Lydia are rare and that your young one ought to consider it a privilege to be pulled out of the water by her."
Old Lizzie pounded out of the room and there was a clatter of dishes that ably expressed her frame of mind. Above the clatter and down from the children's bedroom floated Lydia's little contralto lilt:
"Wreathe me no gaudy chaplet; Make it from simple flowers Plucked from the lowly valley After the summer showers."
Neither Amos nor his caller spoke. In a few minutes Lydia's step sounded on the stairs. The last of the sunset glow caught her hair, and the fine set of her head on her square little shoulders was never more pronounced than as she walked slowly toward Dave Marshall.
"I never had a licking," she said, "but I guess I deserve one and so you'd better do it and get it done, Mr. Marshall."
"The young pine knows the secrets of the ground. The old pine knows the stars."—The Murmuring Pine.
Marshall cleared his throat and reaching out, took Lydia by the arm and pulled her toward him. He could feel her muscles stiffen under his touch. The bright red color left her cheeks.
"I wouldn't think much of your father, my child," he said, huskily, "if he let me whip you, even if I wanted to."
Lydia took a quick look up into his face. Then she gave a little gasping sigh, her lips quivered and she leaned against his knee.
"Look here, Lydia," said Dave Marshall, "this is to be your punishment. I want you and Kent to teach Margery how to swim and how to get dirty, see? Let her play with you 'common kids,' will you?"
"Will her mother let her?" asked Lydia.
"Yes," answered Dave, grimly.
"All right," said Lydia, with a little sigh.
"I know it'll be a hard job," Marshall interpreted the sigh quickly; "that's where the punishment comes in."
"Lydia'll do it. I'll see to it," said Amos.
"You keep out, Dudley. This is between Lydia and me. How about it, Lydia?"
"If you'll boss her mother, I'll boss Margery and Kent," said Lydia, with a sudden laugh.
"It's a bargain." Marshall rose. "Good night, Dudley."
"Good night, Marshall."
Amos followed his caller to the door. As he did so Lydia heard Kent's whistle in the back yard. She joined him and the two withdrew to a bench behind the woodshed.
"I saw him through the window," said Kent, in a low voice. "What's he going to do to us? Dad's licked me, so that much is done."
Lydia told of their punishment. "Darn it," groaned Kent, "I'd rather had another licking. I certainly do hate that girl."
"So do I," agreed Lydia.
The two sat staring into the summer twilight. "Anyhow," said Lydia, "I hit her an awful smack in the face to-day. Of course, I had to, but that's why her nose bled so."
"I wish you'd busted her old snoot," grumbled Kent. "She's always turning it up at everybody. We saved somebody's life to-day, by golly, and you'd think we'd committed a crime."
Lydia sighed. "Nothing to look forward to but worry now. O gee, Kent, I've got two pennies! One's Patience's. But let's go spend the other at Spence's!"
"Gum or all day sucker?" asked Kent, who, in spite of the fact that he owned a second-hand bicycle, was not above sharing a penny.
"Gum lasts longer," suggested Lydia.
"What kinda gum, spruce or white or tutti-frutti?"
"You can choose."
"Spruce then. It makes the most juice. Come on, Lyd, before you're called in."
And thus ended the heroic day.
No one ever knew what Dave Marshall said to Elviry, his wife, but a day or so after, little Margery, in a fine white flannel bathing suit, appeared on the sand, about a quarter of a mile below the Willows. Here any bright day from the last of June to the first week in September, a dozen children might be found at play in and out of the water. There was usually a mother or an older sister somewhere about, but it was to be noted that Mrs. Marshall never appeared. Margery came and went with Lydia.
Kent was a quitter! After the rescue he decided to eschew the society of girls forever and he struck a bargain with Lydia that she could have the use of his bicycle one day a week till snow came if she would undertake the disciplining of the banker's daughter alone. For such a bribe Lydia would have undertaken to teach Elviry Marshall, herself, to swim—and so the bargain was struck.
Margery, it was quickly discovered, sousing in the water with the other children was quite "a common kid" herself and though there seemed to be an inherent snobbishness in the little girl that returned to her as soon as she was dried and clothed, in her bathing suit she mucked about and screamed and quarreled as did the rest.
Lydia's method of teaching was one employed by most of the children of Lake City when a new child moved into the town. She forced Margery to float face downward in the water, again and again, while she counted ten. After one afternoon of this, the banker's daughter had forever lost her fear of the water and the rest was easy.
In spite of the relationship Dave Marshall had established between the two children, Margery and Lydia did not like each other. One Saturday afternoon, after banking hours, Marshall was seated on his front porch, with Elviry and Margery, when Lydia appeared. She stood on the steps in her bathing suit, her bare feet in a pair of ragged "sneakers." Her face and hands and ankles were dirty but her eyes and the pink of her cheeks were clear.
"Come on, Marg," said Lydia, "and, Mr. Marshall, please, won't you come too and see how well she does it?"
"Run and get into your bathing suit, daughter," said Marshall. "Elviry, want to come?"
"No," snapped Elviry. "Lydia, how do you manage to get so dirty, when to my positive knowledge, you're in the water an hour every day?"
Lydia blushed and tried to hide one ankle behind the other. "I think you're terrible impolite," she murmured.
Dave roared with laughter. "Right you are, Lydia! I guess I'll have to hitch up and drive us all over."
They drove to the Willows and Margery went through her paces, while her father watched and applauded from the shore. When they had finished and had run up and down to warm up and dry off and were driving home, Dave said,
"You'd better come in to supper with us, Lydia."
"No, thank you," answered the child. "Mr. Levine's coming to supper at our house and I have to cook it."
"Hum! What does John Levine do at your house, so much?"
"Oh, he's going into politics," answered Lydia, innocently, "and Dad advises him."
"Well, tell them you've done a fine job as a swimming teacher," Dave spoke carelessly. "I don't see why Levine wants to get into politics. He's doing well in real estate."
"Oh!" exclaimed Lydia, with a child's importance at having real news to impart, "he's going into politics so's to get some Indian land."
"Like hell he is!" exclaimed Marshall.
"Oh, Daddy!" Margery's voice was exactly like her mother's.
They were turning into the Marshall driveway and Marshall's face was a curious mixture of amusement and irritation. He kissed his little daughter when he lifted her from the buggy and bade her run to the house. Before he lifted Lydia down he paused and as he stood on the ground and she sat in the surrey, she looked levelly into his black eyes.
"I wish I had another little daughter like you, Lydia," he said. "I don't see why—but God, you can't get swans from barnyard fowl." He continued to study Lydia's face. "Some day, my child, you'll make some man's heart break, or lift him up to heaven."
"Well, Margery's taught now," she said hastily, "so I don't have to be punished any more, do I?"
Marshall scowled slightly. "What do you mean? Don't you want Margery to play with you?"
"Oh, sure, she can play, if she wants to, but I mean I don't have to go get her and bring her into our games."
"No," said Dave slowly, "but I think it would be nice of you to sort of keep an eye on her and get her dirty once in a while. There! Run home, child, you're shivering."
With puzzled eyes, Lydia obeyed.
The most important result, as far as Lydia was interested, of the talk between her father and Levine that night was that Amos decided definitely to move the following week. Lydia cried a little over it, reproached God in her prayers and then with a child's resignation to the inevitability of grown up decision, she began to say good-by to the neighborhood children and to help old Lizzie to pack.
Lydia did not see the new home until she rode out with the first dray-load of furniture. She sat in the high seat beside the driver, baby Patience in her lap, her thin, long little legs dangling, her cheeks scarlet with excitement and the warmth of a hot September morning. The cottage was a mile from the old home. They drove along the maple shaded street for the first half of the distance, then turned into a dirt road that led toward the lake shore. The dirt road emerged on the shore a half mile above the Willows and wound along a high embankment, crowned with oaks.
"Whoa!" shouted the driver.
"Oh, isn't it pretty!" exclaimed Lydia.
An old-fashioned white cottage, with green blinds and a tiny front porch, stood beside the road, its back to the lake. There were five acres or so of ground around the house, set off by a white picket fence. At the gate a pine tree stood. There were oaks and lilac bushes in the front yard. Through the leaves, Lydia saw the blue of the lake.
"Our yard runs right down to the water!" she cried, as the driver lifted the baby down and she followed after. "Gee! I'm glad we moved!"
"It is a nice little spot," said the driver, "but kinda lonely." He set the perambulator inside the fence, then balanced the dining-room table on his head and started up the path to the door.
Lydia looked along the road, where an occasional house was to be seen.
"I hope kids live in those houses," she said, "but if they don't, baby and the lake are company enough for me, and Kent can come out on his wheel."
She strapped Patience into the perambulator, then ran up to the house. The front door gave directly into a living-room of good proportions. Out of this folding doors led into a small dining-room and beyond this a kitchen of generous size with a wonderful view of the glimmering lake from its rear windows. A comfortable-sized bedroom opened off each of these rooms. Lydia ran through the little house eagerly. It was full of windows and being all on one floor, gave a fine effect of spaciousness. It was an old house but in excellent repair as was all John Levine's property.
"I'm going to have the bedroom off the kitchen, 'cause you can see the lake from it," she told the driver.
"It'll be colder'n charity in the winter. Better take the middle one," he remarked, setting the kitchen stove down with a bang.
"No, old Lizzie'll want to have that. Well, I'll begin to get things settled."
Lizzie arrived on the third and final load. She brought with her a lunch that they shared with the driver. He good-naturedly set up the kitchen stove and the three beds for them and departed with the hope that they would not be too lonesome.
Lydia and old Lizzie put in an afternoon of gigantic effort. By six o'clock, the beds were made, dishes unpacked and in the china closet, the table was set for supper and an Irish stew of Lydia's make was simmering on the stove.
When Amos came up the path at a half after six, his dinner pail in his hand, he found Lydia flat on her back on the little front porch. Her curly head was wet with perspiration; face, hands and blouse were black. The baby sat beside her, trying to get Florence Dombey to sleep.
"Well," said Amos, looking down on his family, "how do you like it, Lydia?"
"It's great! My back's broken! Supper's ready."
"You shouldn't lift heavy things, child! How often have I told you? Wait until I get home."
"I want to get things done," replied Lydia, "so's I can do a little playing before school opens. Come on in and see all we've done, Daddy."
She forget her aching back and led the way into the house. Amos was as excited and pleased as the children and Lizzie, so tired that her old hands shook, was as elated as the others.
"It's much more roomy than the old house and all on one floor. 'Twill save me the stairs. And the garden'll be fine," she said, failing to call attention to the fact that the water was far from the house and that there was no kitchen sink.
"We've got to try to keep this place cleaner than we did the other," said Amos. "Lydia, better wash up for supper."
"Oh, Daddy," said Lydia, "I'm too tired! Don't make me!"
"All right," answered Amos, "but your mother was always clean and so am I. I don't see where you get it."
"Maybe one of my ancestors was a garbage man," suggested Lydia, sliding into her place at the table.
She allowed Lizzie to carry Patience into their bedroom after supper and Amos, smoking in the yard and planning the garden for next year, waited in vain to hear "Beulah Land" and "Wreathe me no gaudy chaplet" float to him from the open window.
"Where's Lydia, Lizzie?" he asked as the old lady came out to empty the dish water.
"She ain't come out yet. Maybe she's fell asleep too."
The two tip-toed to the window. On the bed under the covers was little Patience, fast asleep, and beside her, on top of the covers, fully dressed, lay Lydia, an arm across her little sister, in the sleep of utter exhaustion.
"I'll just take her shoes off and cover her and leave her till morning," said Lizzie.
But Amos, gazing at his two ill-kempt little daughters, at the chaotic room, did not answer except to murmur to himself, "Oh, Patience! Patience!"
The cottage was somewhat isolated. Amos was three quarters of a mile from his work. The schoolhouse was a mile away and the nearest trolley, which Lizzie must take to do the family shopping, was half a mile back along the dirt road.
Nevertheless, all the family felt that they had taken a distinct step upward in moving into lake shore property and nobody complained of distances. Amos began putting in his Sundays in cleaning up the bramble-grown acres he intended to turn into a garden in the spring. He could not afford to have it plowed so he spaded it all himself, during the wonderful bright fall Sabbaths. Nor was this a hardship for Amos. Only the farm bred can realize the reminiscent joy he took in wrestling with the sod, which gave up the smell that is more deeply familiar to man than any other in the range of human experience.
A dairy farmer named Norton, up the road, gave him manure in exchange for the promise of early vegetables for his table. After his spading was done in late September, Amos, with his wheelbarrow, followed by the two children, began his trips between the dairy farm and his garden patch and he kept these up until the garden was deep with fertilizer.
There never had been a more beautiful autumn than this. There was enough rain to wet down the soil for the winter, yet the Sundays were almost always clear. Fields and woods stretched away before the cottage, crimson and green as the frosts came on. Back of the cottage, forever gleaming through the scarlet of the autumn oaks, lay the lake, where duck and teal were beginning to lodge o' nights, in the rice-fringed nooks along the shore.
Lydia was happier than she had been since her mother's death. She took the long tramps to and from school, lunch box and school bag slung at her back, in a sort of ecstasy. She was inherently a child of the woods and fields. Their beauty thrilled her while it tranquilized her. Some of the weight of worry and responsibility that she had carried since her baby sister of two weeks had been turned over to her care left her.
Kent was enchanted with the new home. Football was very engrossing, yet he managed to get out for at least one visit a week. He and Lydia discovered a tiny spring in the bank above the lake and they began at once to dam it in and planned a great series of ditches and canals.
The doll's furniture was finished by October and Lydia began work on the doll's house.
One Saturday afternoon early in October she was established on the front steps with her carpentry when a surrey stopped at the gate. Little Patience, in a red coat, rolled to her feet. She had been collecting pebbles from the gravel walk.
"Mardy!" she screamed. "Baby's Mardy!" and started down the walk to meet Margery and her father.
"Darn it," said Lydia to herself. "Hello, Marg! How de do, Mr. Marshall."
"Well! Well!" Dave Marshall lifted the tails of his light overcoat and sat down on the steps. "Gone into house building, eh, Lydia? Did you do it all yourself? Gee! that's not such a bad job."
Lydia had the aptitude of a boy for tools. On one end of the cracker box was a V-shaped roof. There were two shelves within, making three floors, and Lydia was now hard at work with a chisel and jackknife hacking out two windows for each floor.
She stood, chisel in hand, her red coat sleeves rolled to her elbows, her curly hair wind-tossed, staring at Marshall half proudly, half defiantly.
Dave laughed delightedly. "Lydia, any time your father wants to sell you, I'm in the market." He looked at the nails hammered in without a crack or bruise in the wood, then laughed again.
"Get your and the baby's hats, Lydia. We stopped to take you for a ride."
Lydia's eyes danced, then she shook her head. "I can't! The bread's in baking and I'm watching it."
"She went in town to do the marketing! Darn it! Don't I have awful luck?"
Lydia sighed and looked from baby Patience and Margery, walking up and down the path, to Mrs. Marshall, holding the reins.
"Well, anyhow," she said, with sudden cheerfulness, "Mrs. Marshall'll be glad I'm not coming, and some day, maybe you'll take me when she isn't with you."
Dave started to protest, then the polite lie faded on his lips. Lydia turned her pellucid gaze to his with such a look of mature understanding, that he ended by nodding as if she had indeed been grown up, and rising, said, "Perhaps you're right. Good-by, my dear. Come, Margery."
Lydia stood with the baby clinging to her skirts. There were tears in her eyes. Sometimes she looked on the world that other children lived in, with the wonder and longing of a little beggar snub-nosed against the window of a French pastry shop.
John Levine came home with Amos that night to supper. Amos felt safe about an unexpected guest on Saturday nights for there was always a pot of baked beans, at the baking of which Lizzie was a master hand, and there were always biscuits. Lydia was expert at making these. She had taken of late to practising with her mother's old cook book and Amos felt as if he were getting a new lease of gastronomic life.
"Well," said Levine, after supper was finished, the baby was asleep and Lydia was established with a copy of "The Water Babies" he had brought her, "I had an interesting trip, this week."
Amos tossed the bag of tobacco to Levine. "Where?"
"I put in most of the week on horseback up on the reservation. Amos, the pine land up in there is something to dream of. Why, there's nothing like it left in the Mississippi Valley, nor hasn't been for twenty years. Have you ever been up there?"
Amos shook his head. "I've just never had time. It's a God-awful trip. No railroad, twenty-mile drive—"
Levine nodded. "The Indians are in awful bad shape up there. Agent's in it for what he can get, I guess. Don't know as I blame him. The sooner the Indians are gone the better it'll be for us and all concerned."
"What's the matter with 'em?" asked Lydia.
"Consumption—some kind of eye disease—starvation—"
The child shivered and her eyes widened.
"You'd better go on with the 'Water Babies,'" said John. "Has Tom fallen into the river yet?"
"No, he's just seen himself in the mirror," answered Lydia, burying her nose in the delectable tale again.
"It's a wonderful story," said Levine, his black eyes reminiscent.
"'Clear and cool, clear and cool, By laughing shallow and dreaming pool;
* * * * * *
Undefiled, for the undefiled; Play by me, bathe in me, mother and child.'
It has some unforgettable verse in it. Well, as I was saying, Amos, that timber isn't going to stay up there and rot—because, I'm going to get it out of there!"
"How?" asked Amos.
"Act of Congress, maybe. Maybe a railroad will get a permit to go through, eh? There are several ways. We'll die rich, yet, Amos."
Amos pulled at his pipe and shook his head. "You will but I won't. It isn't in our blood."
"Shucks, Amos. Where's your nerve?"
Amos looked at Levine silently for a moment. Then he said huskily,
"My nerve is gone with Patience. And if she isn't in heaven, there isn't one, that's all."
Lydia looked up from her story with a quick flash of tragedy in her eyes.
"Well," said John, smiling at her gently, "if you don't want to be rich, Amos, Lydia does. I'll give her the cottage here, the first fifty thousand I make off of Indian pine lands."
"I swan," exclaimed Amos, "if you do that, I'll buy a cow and a pig and some chickens and I can pretty near make a living right here."
"You're foolish, Amos. This isn't New England. This is the West. All you've got to do is to keep your nerve, and any one with sense can make a killing. Opportunity screams at you."
"I guess she's always on my deaf side," said Amos.
"When I grow up," said Lydia, suddenly, "I'm going to buy a ship and sail to Africa and explore the jungles."
"I'll go with you, Lydia,", exclaimed Levine, "hanged if I don't sell my Indian lands for real money, and go right along with you."
"Mr. Marshall says 'like Hell you'll get some Indian lands,'" mused the child.
Both men exclaimed together, "What!"
Lydia was confused but repeated her conversation with Marshall.
"So that's the way the wind blows," said Levine.
"You don't think for a minute there's a banker in town without one hand on the reservation," said Amos. "Lydia, you're old enough now not to repeat conversations you hear at home. Don't you ever tell anybody the things you hear me and Mr. Levine talk over. Understand?" sharply.
"Yes, Daddy," murmured Lydia, flushing painfully.
"You don't have to jaw the child that way, Amos." Levine's voice was impatient. "Just explain things to her. Why do you want to humiliate her?"
Amos gave a short laugh. "Takes a bachelor to bring up kids. Run along to bed, Lydia."
"Lydia's not a kid. She's a grown-up lady in disguise," said Levine, catching her hand as she passed and drawing her to him. "Good night, young Lydia! If you were ten years older and I were ten years younger—"
Lydia smiled through tear-dimmed eyes. "We'd travel!" she said.
Cold weather set in early this year. Before Thanksgiving the lake was ice-locked for the winter. The garden was flinty, and on Thanksgiving Day, three inches of snow fell. The family rose in the dark. Amos, with his dinner pail, left the house an hour before Lydia and the sun was just flushing the brown tree tops when she waved good-by to little Patience, whose lovely little face against the window was the last thing she saw in the morning, the first thing she saw watching for her return in the dusk of the early winter evening.
Amos, always a little moody and a little restless, since the children's mother had gone to her last sleep, grew more so as the end of the year approached. It was perhaps a week before Christmas on a Sunday afternoon that he called Lydia to him. Patience was having her nap and Lizzie had gone to call on Mrs. Norton.
Lydia, who was re-reading "The Water Babies," put it down reluctantly and came to her father's side. Her heart thumped heavily. Her father's depressed voice meant just one thing—money trouble.
He was very gentle. He put his hand on the dusty yellow of her hair. He was very careful of the children's hair. Like many New England farm lads he was a jack of all trades. He clipped Lydia's hair every month himself.
"Your hair will be thick enough in another year, so's I won't have to cut it any more, Lydia. It's coming along thick as felt. Wouldn't think it was once thin, now."
Lydia eyed her father's care-lined face uneasily. Amos still hesitated.
"Where'd you get that dress, my dear?" he asked.
"Lizzie and I made it of that one of mother's," answered the child. "It isn't made so awful good, but I like to wear it, because it was hers."
"Yes, yes," said Amos absently.
The dress was a green serge, clumsily put together as a sailor suit, and the color fought desperately with the transparent blue of the little girl's eyes.
"Lydia," said her father abruptly. "You're a big girl now. You asked for skates and a sled for Christmas. My child, I don't see how you children are going to have anything extra for Christmas, except perhaps a little candy and an orange. That note with Marshall comes due in January. By standing Levine off on the rent, I can rake and scrape the interest together. It's hopeless for me even to consider meeting the note. What Marshall will do, I don't know. If I could ever get on my feet—with the garden. But on a dollar and a half a day, I swan—"
"No Christmas at all?" quavered Lydia. "Won't we even hang up our stockings?"
"If you'll be contented just to put a little candy in them. Come, Lydia, you're too big to hang up your stocking, anyhow."
Lydia left her father and walked over to the window. She pressed her face against the pane and looked back to the lake. The sun was sinking in a gray rift of clouds. The lake was a desolate plain of silvery gold touched with great shadows of purple where snow drifts were high. As she looked, the weight on her chest lifted. The trembling in her hands that always came with the mention of money lessened. The child, even as early as this, had the greatest gift that life bestows, the power of deriving solace from sky and hill and sweep of water.
"Anyhow," she said to her father, "I've still got something to look forward to. I've got the doll house to give baby, and Mr. Levine always gives me a book for Christmas."
"That's a good girl!" Amos gave a relieved sigh, then went on with his brooding over his unlighted pipe.
And after all, this Christmas proved to be one of the high spots of Lydia's life. She had a joyous 24th. All the morning she spent in the woods on the Norton farm with her sled, cutting pine boughs. As she trudged back through the farmyard, Billy Norton called to her.
Lydia stopped her sled against a drift and waited for Billy to cross the farmyard. He was a large, awkward boy several years older than Lydia. He seemed a very homely sort of person to her, yet she liked his face. He was as fair as Kent was dark. Kent's features were regular and clean-cut. Billy's were rough hewn and irregular, and his hair and lashes were straight and blond.
What Lydia could not at this time appreciate was the fact that Billy's gray eyes were remarkable in the clarity and steadiness of their gaze, that his square jaw and mobile mouth were full of fine promise for his manhood and that even at sixteen the framework of his great body was magnificent.
He never had paid any attention to Lydia before and she was bashful toward the older boys.
"Say, Lydia, want a brace of duck? A lot of them settled at Warm Springs last night and I've got more than I can use."
He leaned his gun against the fence and began to separate two birds from the bunch hanging over his shoulder.
Lydia began to breathe quickly. The Dudleys could not afford a special Christmas dinner.
"I—I don't know how I could pay you, Bill—"
"Who wants pay?" asked Bill, indignantly.
"I dasn't take anything without paying for it," returned Lydia, her eyes still on the ducks. "But I'd—I'd rather have those than a ship."
Billy's clear gaze wandered from Lydia's thin little face to her patched mittens and back again.
"Won't your father let you?" he asked.
"I won't let myself," replied the little girl.
"Oh!" said Billy, his gray eyes deepening. "Well, let me have the evergreens and you go back for some more. It'll save me getting Ma hers."
With one thrust of her foot Lydia shoved the fragrant pile of boughs into the snow. She tied the brace of duck to the sled and started back toward the wood, then paused and looked back at Billy.
"Thank you a hundred times," she called.
"It was a business deal. No thanks needed," he replied.
Lydia nodded and trudged off. The boy stood for a moment looking at the little figure, then he started after her.
"Lydia, I'll get that load of pines for you."
She tossed a vivid smile over her shoulder. "You will not. It's a business deal."
And Billy turned back reluctantly toward the barn.
In an hour Lydia was panting up the steps into the kitchen. Lizzie's joy was even more extreme than Lydia's. She thawed the ducks out and dressed them, after dinner, with the two children standing so close as at times seriously to impede progress.
"I'm lucky," said Lydia. "There isn't anybody luckier than I am or has better things happen to 'em than I do. I'd rather be me than a water baby."
"Baby not a water baby. Baby a duck," commented Patience, her hands full of bright feathers.
"Baby is a duck," laughed Lydia. "Won't Daddy be glad!"
Amos was glad. Plodding sadly home, he was greeted by three glowing faces in the open door as soon as his foot sounded on the porch. The base burner in the living-room was clear and glowing. The dining-room was fragrant with pine. He was not allowed to take off his overcoat, but was towed to the kitchen where the two birds, trussed and stuffed for the baking, were set forth on the table.
"I got 'em!" shouted Lydia. "I got 'em off Billy Norton for a load of pine. Christmas present for you, Daddy, from yours truly, Lydia!" She seized the baby's hands and the two did a dance round Amos, shouting, "Christmas present! Christmas present!" at the top of their lungs.
"Well! Well!" exclaimed Amos. "Isn't that fine! If Levine comes out to-morrow we can ask him to dinner, after all. Can't we, Lizzie?"
"You bet we can!" said Lizzie. "And look at this. I was going to keep it for a surprise. I made it by your wife's recipe."
She held an open Mason jar under Amos' nose.
"Mince meat!" he exclaimed. "Why, Lizzie, where'd you get the makings?"
"Oh, a bit here and a bit there for the last two months. Ain't it grand?" offering a smell to each of the children, who sniffed ecstatically.
When the baby was safely asleep, Lydia appeared with two stockings which she hung on chair backs by the stove in the living-room.
"I'm putting them up to hold the candy," she explained to her father, suggestively.
He rose obediently and produced half a dozen oranges and a bag of candy.
"Oh, that's gorgeous," cried Lydia, whose spirits to-night were not to be quenched. She brought in the doll house.
"See, Daddy," she said, with the pride of the master builder. "I colored it with walnut juice. And I found the wall paper in the attic."
Amos got down on his knees and examined the tiny rooms and the cigar box furniture. He chuckled delightedly. "I swan," he said, "if Patience doesn't want it you can give it to me!"
"I'm going to let Lizzie put the candy in the stockings," mused Lydia, "then I'll have that to look forward to. I'm going to bed right now, so morning will come sooner."
Alone with the stockings, into which Lizzie put the candy and oranges, Amos sat long staring at the base burner. Without, the moon sailed high. Wood snapping in the intense cold was the only sound on the wonder of the night. Something of the urgent joy and beauty of the Eve touched Amos, for he finally rose and said,
"Well, I've got two fine children, anyhow." Then he filled up the stoves for the night and went to bed.
THE RAVISHED NEST
"The young pine bends to the storm. The old pine breaks."—The Murmuring Pine.
It would be difficult to say which enjoyed the doll house more, Lydia or Patience. It would be difficult to say which one was the more touched, Lizzie or Amos by the package each found on the breakfast table. Amos unwrapped his to find therein a pipe tray fashioned from cigar box wood and stained with Lydia's walnut dye. Lizzie's gift was a flat black pin-cushion, with "Lizzie, with love from Lydia," embroidered crazily on it in red. Florence Dombey showed no emotion over her gift, a string of red beads that had a curious resemblance to asparagus seed-pods, but she wore them gracefully and stared round-eyed at all the festivities. Lydia and Patience each wore pinned to her dress a cotton handkerchief, Lizzie's gift.
John Levine appeared at noon, laden like a pack horse. This was his great opportunity during the year to do things for the Dudley children and he took full advantage of the moment. Books for Lydia, little toys for the baby, a pipe for Amos, a woolen dress pattern for Lizzie, a blue sailor suit for Lydia, a fur hood for Patience.
John's thin, sallow face glowed, his black eyes gleamed as he watched the children unwrap the packages. In the midst of the excitement, Lydia shrieked.
"My ducks! My ducks!" and bolted for the kitchen.
"The pie!" cried Lizzie, panting after her.
"Don't tell me they're spoiled!" groaned Amos, as with John and the baby, he followed into the kitchen.
"Safe!" shouted Lydia, on her knees before the oven. "Just the pope's nose is scorched! The pie is perfect."
"Let's eat before anything else happens," said Amos, nervously.
"Lord!" said John Levine, "who'd miss spending Christmas where there are children? I'd a gotten out here to-day if I'd had to come barefooted."
The dinner was eaten and pronounced perfect. The gifts were re-examined and re-admired. John Levine, with Lydia and Florence Dombey on his lap, Amos with the drowsy little Patience in his arms, and Lizzie, her tired hands folded across her comfortable stomach, sat round the base burner while the wind rose outside and the boom of the ice-locked lake filled the room from time to time.
"Fearful cold when the ice cracks that way," said Amos.
"'The owl, for all his feathers was a-cold,'" murmured Lydia.
"Where'd you get that and what's the rest of it?" asked Levine.
"Selected Gems," replied Lydia. "It's a book at school.
"'St. Agnes Eve—Ah, bitter chill it was! The owl for all his feathers was a-cold; The hare limp'd trembling through the frozen grass And silent was the flock in woolly fold.'
I forget the rest."
The grown-ups glanced at each other over the children's heads.
"Say your pretty Christmas poem you spoke at school, Lydia," suggested old Lizzie.
Lydia rested her head back comfortably on John's shoulder and rambled on in her childish contralto.
"Sing low, indeed: and softly bleat, You lambing ewes about her feet, Lest you should wake the child from sleep! No other hour so still and sweet Shall fall for Mary's heart to keep Until her death hour on her creep, Sing soft, the Eve of Mary."
There was silence for a moment.
"Why did you choose that one, young Lydia?" asked Levine.
"I don't know. I seemed to like it," answered Lydia. "It's a girl's poem. Gosh, I've been happy to-day! Daddy, you thought we'd have an awful poor Christmas, didn't you? Poor old Daddy! Why, I've just felt all day as if my heart was on tip-toes."
It had indeed been a high day for the child. Perhaps she remembered it for years after as one of her perfect days, because of the heart breaking days that followed.
For little Patience for the first time in her tiny life was taken ill. For three or four days after Christmas she was feverish and cross with a hoarse cold. When Amos came home the fourth night, he thought she had the croup and sent Lydia pelting through the darkness for the dairy farmer's wife. Mrs. Norton, the mother of Billy, was not long in coming to a decision.
"'Tain't regular croup. You go after the doctor, Mr. Dudley."
Patience, frightened by her difficult breathing, would let no one but Lydia touch her. Under Mrs. Norton's supervision, she packed the baby in hot water bottles while Lizzie heated water and stoked the fires till the stove doors glowed red.
Amos came back with the doctor about nine o'clock. Patience was in a stupor. The doctor sent Lydia away while he made his examination. The child clenched her fists and walked up and down the livingroom, cheeks scarlet, eyes blazing. Suddenly she dropped on her knees by the window and lifted her clasped hands to the stars.
"God! God, up there!" she called. "If you let her die, I'll never pray to you again! Never! I warned You when You let mother die!"
She remained a moment on her knees, staring at the stars while fragments of Sunday School lore flashed through her mind. "Our Father who art in heaven," she said. "No, that won't do. Suffer little children to come unto me. Oh, no, no."
The door opened and Lizzie came out, tears-running down her cheeks. Lydia flew to her.
"They say I got to tell you. Diphtheritic croup—her lungs is full—no hope."
Lydia struck the kind old hand from her shoulder and dashed out of the house. She ran through the snow to a giant pine by the gate and beat her fists against it for how long she did not know. Pain in her bruised hands and the intense cold finally brought her to her senses. A self-control that was partly inherent and partly the result of too early knowledge of grief and of responsibility came to her rescue. With a long sigh, she walked steadily into the house and into the room where the baby sister lay in a stupor, breathing stertorously.
The doctor and Amos were there. Mrs. Norton was now soothing Lizzie in the kitchen, now obeying the doctor's orders. Amos did not stir from his chair by the bed, nor speak a word, all that night. The doctor was in his shirt sleeves, prepared to fight as best he could.
"Go out, Lydia," said Dr. Fulton, quietly.
"She'll want me," replied the child.
The doctor looked at Lydia keenly. He knew her well. He had ushered her as well as Patience into the world. He pulled her to him, with one hand, not relinquishing his hold on the baby's pulse with the other.
"She's in a stupor and won't miss you, Lydia. She is not suffering at all. Now, I want you to go to bed like a good girl."
"I won't," said Lydia, quietly.
"Lydia," the doctor went on, as if he were talking to a grown person, "all your life you will be grateful to me, if I make you obey me now. I know those wild nerves of yours, too much and too early controlled. Lydia, go to bed!"
Not because she feared him but because some knowledge beyond her years told her of his wisdom, Lydia turned, found Florence Dombey in the living-room and with her and a blanket, crept under her father's bed, into the farthest corner where she lay wide-eyed until dawn. Some one closed the door into the room then, and shortly, she fell asleep.
In three days, the like of which are the longest, the shortest days of life, the house had returned to the remnant of its old routine. The place had been fumigated. Lydia had placed in her bedroom everything that had belonged to the baby, had locked the door and had moved herself into Lizzie's room. Amos departed before dawn as usual with his dinner pail, stumbling like an old man, over the road.
The quarantine sign was on the house and no one but the undertaker, the doctor, Mrs. Norton and John Levine had been allowed to come to see the stricken little family, excepting the minister. He, poor man, had babies of his own, and had been nervous during the few short minutes of the service.
Lydia and Lizzie put in the morning cleaning the cottage. Never since they had lived in it had the little house been so spic and span. At noon, they sat down to lunch in a splendor of cleanliness that made the place seem stranger than ever to them both. Neither talked much. At intervals, tears ran down old Lizzie's wrinkled cheeks and Lydia looked at her wonderingly. Lydia had not shed a tear. But all the time her cheeks were scarlet, her hands were cold and trembled and her stomach ached.
"You must eat, childie. You haven't eat enough to keep a bird alive since—since—"
There was a bang on the door, and Lizzie trundled over to open it.
"For the Lord's sake, Kent!"
Kent it was, big and rosy with his skates over his shoulders. He walked into the living-room deliberately.
"Hello, Lydia," he said, "I came out to see your Christmas presents."
Lydia clasped her hands. "Oh, Kent, I'm so glad! But you can't stay! We're quarantined."
"What the seventeen thunder-bugs do I care," returned Kent, gruffly, looking away from Lydia's appealing eyes.
Lydia laughed, as she always did at Kent's astonishing oaths. At the sound of the laughter, old Lizzie gave a sigh as though some of her own tense nerves had relaxed.
"Now see here," growled Kent, "they've got no business to shut you up this way. You come out and skate for a while. The wind's blown the snow till there's lots of clear places. I got up here without much trouble. We won't meet anybody at this end of the lake."
"Just the thing, quarantine or not!" exclaimed, Lizzie, briskly. "And I'll cook a surprise for the two of you. Keep her out an hour, Kent."
Lydia silently got into overcoat and leggings and pulled on her Tam o' Shanter. She brought her skates from the kitchen and the two children made their way to the lake shore.
It was a brilliant afternoon. The vast white expanse of the lake was dotted with the flash of opals wherever the wind had exposed the ice to the winter sun. Far down the lake toward the college shore, the flitting sails of ice-boats gleamed, and faint and far up the wind came the clear "cling-pling" of their steel runners. The mercury was hovering around ten or twelve above zero as the fierce booming of the expanding ice attested.
With unwonted consideration, Kent helped Lydia strap on her skates. Then the two started, hand in hand, up the lake. They skated well, as did most of the children of the community. The wind in their faces was bitter cold, making conversation difficult. Whether or not Kent was grateful for this, one could not say. He watched Lydia out of the tail of his eye and as the wind whipped the old red into her cheeks, he began to whistle. They had been going perhaps fifteen minutes when the little girl stumbled several times.