Maida's Little Shop By Inez Haynes Irwin
Author of MAIDA'S LITTLE HOUSE, MAIDA'S LITTLE SCHOOL, ETC.
Grosset & Dunlap, Publishers New York
Copyright, 1909, by B. W. HUEBSCH
TO LITTLE P. D. FROM BIG P. D.
Chapter I: The Ride Chapter II: Cleaning Up Chapter III: The First Day Chapter IV: The Second Day Chapter V: Primrose Court Chapter VI: Two Calls Chapter VII: Trouble Chapter VIII: A Rainy Day Chapter IX: Work Chapter X: Play Chapter XI: Halloween Chapter XII: The First Snow Chapter XIII: The Fair Chapter XIV: Christmas Happenings
MAIDA'S LITTLE SHOP
CHAPTER I: THE RIDE
Four people sat in the big, shining automobile. Three of them were men. The fourth was a little girl. The little girl's name was Maida Westabrook. The three men were "Buffalo" Westabrook, her father, Dr. Pierce, her physician, and Billy Potter, her friend. They were coming from Marblehead to Boston.
Maida sat in one corner of the back seat gazing dreamily out at the whirling country. She found it very beautiful and very curious. They were going so fast that all the reds and greens and yellows of the autumn trees melted into one variegated band. A moment later they came out on the ocean. And now on the water side were two other streaks of color, one a spongy blue that was sky, another a clear shining blue that was sea. Maida half-shut her eyes and the whole world seemed to flash by in ribbons.
"May I get out for a moment, papa?" she asked suddenly in a thin little voice. "I'd like to watch the waves."
"All right," her father answered briskly. To the chauffeur he said, "Stop here, Henri." To Maida, "Stay as long as you want, Posie."
"Posie" was Mr. Westabrook's pet-name for Maida.
Billy Potter jumped out and helped Maida to the ground. The three men watched her limp to the sea-wall.
She was a child whom you would have noticed anywhere because of her luminous, strangely-quiet, gray eyes and because of the ethereal look given to her face by a floating mass of hair, pale-gold and tendrilly. And yet I think you would have known that she was a sick little girl at the first glance. When she moved, it was with a great slowness as if everything tired her. She was so thin that her hands were like claws and her cheeks scooped in instead of out. She was pale, too, and somehow her eyes looked too big. Perhaps this was because her little heart-shaped face seemed too small.
"You've got to find something that will take up her mind, Jerome," Dr. Pierce said, lowering his voice, "and you've got to be quick about it. Just what Greinschmidt feared has come—that languor—that lack of interest in everything. You've got to find something for her to do."
Dr. Pierce spoke seriously. He was a round, short man, just exactly as long any one way as any other. He had springy gray curls all over his head and a nose like a button. Maida thought that he looked like a very old but a very jolly and lovable baby. When he laughed—and he was always laughing with Maida—he shook all over like jelly that has been turned out of a jar. His very curls bobbed. But it seemed to Maida that no matter how hard he chuckled, his eyes were always serious when they rested on her.
Maida was very fond of Dr. Pierce. She had known him all her life. He had gone to college with her father. He had taken care of her health ever since Dr. Greinschmidt left. Dr. Greinschmidt was the great physician who had come all the way across the ocean from Germany to make Maida well. Before the operation Maida could not walk. Now she could walk easily. Ever since she could remember she had always added to her prayers at night a special request that she might some day be like other little girls. Now she was like other little girls, except that she limped. And yet now that she could do all the things that other little girls did, she no longer cared to do them—not even hopping and skipping, which she had always expected would be the greatest fun in the world. Maida herself thought this very strange.
"But what can I find for her to do?" "Buffalo" Westabrook said.
You could tell from the way he asked this question that he was not accustomed to take advice from other people. Indeed, he did not look it. But he looked his name. You would know at once why the cartoonists always represented him with the head of a buffalo; why, gradually, people had forgotten that his first name was Jerome and referred to him always as "Buffalo" Westabrook.
Like the buffalo, his head was big and powerful and emerged from the midst of a shaggy mane. But it was the way in which it was set on his tremendous shoulders that gave him his nickname. When he spoke to you, he looked as if he were about to charge. And the glance of his eyes, set far back of a huge nose, cut through you like a pair of knives.
It surprised Maida very much when she found that people stood in awe of her father. It had never occurred to her to be afraid of him.
"I've racked my brains to entertain her," "Buffalo" Westabrook went on. "I've bought her every gimcrack that's made for children—her nursery looks like a toy factory. I've bought her prize ponies, prize dogs and prize cats—rabbits, guinea-pigs, dancing mice, talking parrots, marmosets—there's a young menagerie at the place in the Adirondacks. I've had a doll-house and a little theater built for her at Pride's. She has her own carriage, her own automobile, her own railroad car. She can have her own flying-machine if she wants it. I've taken her off on trips. I've taken her to the theater and the circus. I've had all kinds of nurses and governesses and companions, but they've been mostly failures. Granny Flynn's the best of the hired people, but of course Granny's old. I've had other children come to stay with her. Selfish little brutes they all turned out to be! They'd play with her toys and ignore her completely. And this fall I brought her to Boston, hoping her cousins would rouse her. But the Fairfaxes decided suddenly to go abroad this winter. If she'd only express a desire for something, I'd get it for her—if it were one of the moons of Jupiter."
"It isn't anything you can give her," Dr. Pierce said impatiently; "you must find something for her to do."
"Say, Billy, you're an observant little duck. Can't you tell us what's the matter?" "Buffalo" Westabrook smiled down at the third man of the party.
"The trouble with the child," Billy Potter said promptly, "is that everything she's had has been 'prize.' Not that it's spoiled her at all. Petronilla is as simple as a princess in a fairy-tale."
"Petronilla" was Billy Potter's pet-name for Maida.
"Yes, she's wonderfully simple," Dr. Pierce agreed. "Poor little thing, she's lived in a world of bottles and splints and bandages. She's never had a chance to realize either the value or the worthlessness of things."
"And then," Billy went on, "nobody's ever used an ounce of imagination in entertaining the poor child."
"Imagination!" "Buffalo" Westabrook growled. "What has imagination to do with it?"
Next to her father and Granny Flynn, Maida loved Billy Potter better than anybody in the world. He was so little that she could never decide whether he was a boy or a man. His chubby, dimply face was the pinkest she had ever seen. From it twinkled a pair of blue eyes the merriest she had ever seen. And falling continually down into his eyes was a great mass of flaxen hair, the most tousled she had ever seen.
Billy Potter lived in New York. He earned his living by writing for newspapers and magazines. Whenever there was a fuss in Wall Street—and the papers always blamed "Buffalo" Westabrook if this happened—Billy Potter would have a talk with Maida's father. Then he wrote up what Mr. Westabrook said and it was printed somewhere. Men who wrote for the newspapers were always trying to talk with Mr. Westabrook. Few of them ever got the chance. But "Buffalo" Westabrook never refused to talk with Billy Potter. Indeed, the two men were great friends.
"He's one of the few reporters who can turn out a good story and tell it straight as I give it to him," Maida had once heard her father say. Maida knew that Billy could turn out good stories—he had turned out a great many for her.
"What has imagination to do with it?" Mr. Westabrook repeated.
"It would have a great deal to do with it, I fancy," Billy Potter answered, "if somebody would only imagine the right thing."
"Well, imagine it yourself," Mr. Westabrook snarled. "Imagination seems to be the chief stock-in-trade of you newspaper men."
Billy grinned. When Billy smiled, two things happened—one to you and the other to him. Your spirits went up and his eyes seemed to disappear. Maida said that Billy's eyes "skrinkled up." The effect was so comic that she always laughed—not with him but at him.
"All right," Billy agreed pleasantly; "I'll put the greatest creative mind of the century to work on the job."
"You put it to work at once, young man," Dr. Pierce said. "The thing I'm trying to impress on you both is that you can't wait too long."
"Buffalo" Westabrook stirred uneasily. His fierce, blue eyes retreated behind the frown in his thick brows until all you could see were two shining points. He watched Maida closely as she limped back to the car. "What are you thinking of, Posie?" he asked.
"Oh, nothing, father," Maida said, smiling faintly. This was the answer she gave most often to her father's questions. "Is there anything you want, Posie?" he was sure to ask every morning, or, "What would you like me to get you to-day, little daughter?" The answer was invariable, given always in the same soft, thin little voice: "Nothing, father—thank you."
"Where are we now, Jerome?" Dr. Pierce asked suddenly.
Mr. Westabrook looked about him. "Getting towards Revere."
"Let's go home through Charlestown," Dr. Pierce suggested. "How would you like to see the house where I was born, Maida—that old place on Warrington Street I told you about yesterday. I think you'd like it, Pinkwink."
"Pinkwink" was Dr. Pierce's pet-name for Maida.
"Oh, I'd love to see it." A little thrill of pleasure sparkled in Maida's flat tones. "I'd just love to."
Dr. Pierce gave some directions to the chauffeur.
For fifteen minutes or more the men talked business. They had come away from the sea and the streams of yellow and red and green trees. Maida pillowed her head on the cushions and stared fixedly at the passing streets. But her little face wore a dreamy, withdrawn look as if she were seeing something very far away. Whenever "Buffalo" Westabrook's glance shot her way, his thick brows pulled together into the frown that most people dreaded to face.
"Now down the hill and then to the left," Dr. Pierce instructed Henri.
Warrington Street was wide and old-fashioned. Big elms marching in a double file between the fine old houses, met in an arch above their roofs. At intervals along the curbstones were hitching-posts of iron, most of them supporting the head of a horse with a ring in his nose. One, the statue of a negro boy with his arms lifted above his head, seemed to beg the honor of holding the reins. Beside these hitching-posts were rectangular blocks of granite—stepping-stones for horseback riders and carriage folk.
"There, Pinkwink," Dr. Pierce said; "that old house on the corner—stop here, Henri, please—that's where I was brought up. The old swing used to hang from that tree and it was from that big bough stretching over the fence that I fell and broke my arm."
Maida's eyes brightened. "And there's the garret window where the squirrels used to come in," she exclaimed.
"The same!" Dr. Pierce laughed. "You don't forget anything, do you? My goodness me! How small the house looks and how narrow the street has grown! Even the trees aren't as tall as they should be."
Maida stared. The trees looked very high indeed to her. And she thought the street quite wide enough for anybody, the houses very stately.
"Now show me the school," she begged.
"Just a block or two, Henri," Dr. Pierce directed.
The car stopped in front of a low, rambling wooden building with a yard in front.
"That's where you covered the ceiling with spit-balls," Maida asked.
"The same!" Dr. Pierce laughed heartily at the remembrance. It seemed to Maida that she had never seen his curls bob quite so furiously before.
"It's one of the few wooden, primary buildings left in the city," he explained to the two men. "It can't last many years now. It's nothing but a rat-trap but how I shall hate to see it go!"
Opposite the school was a big, wide court. Shaded with beautiful trees—maples beginning to flame, horse-chestnuts a little browned, it was lined with wooden toy houses, set back of fenced-in yards and veiled by climbing vines. Pigeons were flying about, alighting now and then to peck at the ground or to preen their green and purple necks. Boys were spinning tops. Girls were jumping rope. The dust they kicked up had a sweet, earthy smell in Maida's nostrils. As she stared, charmed with the picture, a little girl in a scarlet cape and a scarlet hat came climbing up over one of the fences. Quick, active as a squirrel, she disappeared into the next yard.
"Primrose Court!" Dr. Pierce exclaimed. "Well, well, well!"
"Primrose Court," Maida repeated. "Do primroses grow there?"
"Bless your heart, no," Dr. Pierce laughed; "it was named after a man called Primrose who used to own a great deal of the neighborhood."
But Maida was scarcely listening. "Oh, what a cunning little shop!" she exclaimed. "There, opposite the court. What a perfectly darling little place!"
"Good Lord! that's Connors'," Dr. Pierce explained. "Many a reckless penny I've squandered there, my dear. Connors was the funniest, old, bent, dried-up man. I wonder who keeps it now."
As if in answer to his question, a wrinkled old lady came to the window to take a paper-doll from the dusty display there.
"What are those yellow things in that glass jar?" Maida asked.
"Pickled limes," Dr. Pierce responded promptly. "How I used to love them!"
"Oh, father, buy me a pickled lime," Maida pleaded. "I never had one in my life and I've been crazy to taste one ever since I read 'Little Women.'"
"All right," Mr. Westabrook said. "Let's come in and treat Maida to a pickled lime."
A bell rang discordantly as they opened the door. Its prolonged clangor finally brought the old lady from the room at the back. She looked in surprise at the three men in their automobile coats and at the little lame girl.
Coming in from the bright sunshine, the shop seemed unpleasantly dark to Maida. After a while she saw that its two windows gave it light enough but that it was very confused, cluttery and dusty.
Mr. Westabrook bought four pickled limes and everybody ate—three of them with enjoyment, Billy with many wry faces and a decided, "Stung!" after the first taste.
"I like pickled limes," Maida said after they had started for Boston. "What a funny little place that was! Oh, how I would like to keep a little shop just like it."
Billy Potter started. For a moment it seemed as if he were about to speak. But instead, he stared hard at Maida, falling gradually into a brown study. From time to time he came out of it long enough to look sharply at her. The sparkle had all gone out of her face. She was pale and dream-absorbed again.
Her father studied her with increasing anxiety as they neared the big house on Beacon Street. Dr. Pierce's face was shadowed too.
"Eureka! I've found it!" Billy exclaimed as they swept past the State House. "I've got it, Mr. Westabrook."
Billy did not answer at once. The automobile had stopped in front of a big red-brick house. Over the beautifully fluted columns that held up the porch hung a brilliant red vine. Lavender-colored glass, here and there in the windows, made purple patches on the lace of the curtains.
"Got what?" Mr. Westabrook repeated impatiently.
"That little job of the imagination that you put me on a few moments ago," Billy answered mysteriously. "In a moment," he added with a significant look at Maida. "You stay too, Dr. Pierce. I want your approval."
The door of the beautiful old house had opened and a man in livery came out to assist Maida. On the threshold stood an old silver-haired woman in a black-silk gown, a white cap and apron, a little black shawl pinned about her shoulders.
"How's my lamb?" she asked tenderly of Maida.
"Oh, pretty well," Maida said dully. "Oh, Granny," she added with a sudden flare of enthusiasm, "I saw the cunningest little shop. I think I'd rather tend shop than do anything else in the world."
Billy Potter smiled all over his pink face. He followed Mr. Westabrook and Dr. Pierce into the drawing-room.
Maida went upstairs with Granny Flynn.
Granny Flynn had come straight to the Westabrook house from the boat that brought her from Ireland years ago. She had come to America in search of a runaway daughter but she had never found her. She had helped to nurse Maida's mother in the illness of which she died and she had always taken such care of Maida herself that Maida loved her dearly. Sometimes when they were alone, Maida would call her "Dame," because, she said, "Granny looks just like the 'Dame' who comes into fairy-tales."
Granny Flynn was very little, very bent, very old. "A t'ousand and noine, sure," she always answered when Maida asked her how old. Her skin had cracked into a hundred wrinkles and her long sharp nose and her short sharp chin almost met. But the wrinkles surrounded a pair of eyes that were a twinkling, youthful blue. And her down-turned nose and up-growing chin could not conceal or mar the lovely sweetness of her smile.
Just before Maida went to bed that night, she was surprised by a visit from her father.
"Posie," he said, sitting down on her bed, "did you really mean it to-day when you said you would like to keep a little shop?"
"Oh, yes, father! I've been thinking it over ever since I came home from our ride this afternoon. A little shop, you know, just like the one we saw to-day."
"Very well, dear, you shall keep a shop. You shall keep that very one. I'm going to buy out the business for you and put you in charge there. I've got to be in New York pretty steadily for the next three months and I've decided that I'll send you and Granny to live in the rooms over the shop. I'll fix the place all up for you, give you plenty of money to stock it and then I expect you to run it and make it pay."
Maida sat up in bed with a vigor that surprised her father. She shook her hands—a gesture that, with her, meant great delight. She laughed. It was the first time in months that a happy note had pealed in her laughter. "Oh, father, dear, how good you are to me! I'm just crazy to try it and I know I can make it pay—if hard work helps."
"All right. That's settled. But listen carefully to what I'm going to say, Posie. I can't have this getting into the papers, you know. To prevent that, you're to play a game while you're working in the shop—just as princesses in fairy-tales had to play games sometimes. You're going in disguise. Do you understand?"
"Yes, father, I understand."
"You're to pretend that you belong to Granny Flynn, that you're her grandchild. You won't have to tell any lies about it. When the children in the neighborhood hear you call her 'Granny,' they'll simply take it for granted that you're her son's child.
"Or I can pretend I'm poor Granny's lost daughter's little girl," Maida suggested.
"If you wish. Billy Potter's going to stay here in Boston and help you. You're to call on him, Posie, if you get into any snarl. But I hope you'll try to settle all your own difficulties before turning to anybody else. Do you understand?"
"Yes, father. Father, dear, I'm so happy. Does Granny know?"
Maida heaved an ecstatic sigh. "I'm afraid I shan't get to sleep to-night—just thinking of it."
But she did sleep and very hard—the best sleep she had known since her operation. And she dreamed that she opened a shop—a big shop this was—on the top of a huge white cloud. She dreamed that her customers were all little boy and girl angels with floating, golden curls and shining rainbow-colored wings. She dreamed that she sold nothing but cake. She used to cut generous slices from an angel-cake as big as the golden dome of the Boston state house. It was very delicious—all honey and jelly and ice cream on the inside, and all frosting, stuck with candies and nuts and fruits, on the outside.
The people on Warrington Street were surprised to learn in the course of a few days that old Mrs. Murdock had sold out her business in the little corner store. For over a week, the little place was shut up. The school children, pouring into the street twice a day, had to go to Main Street for their candy and lead pencils. For a long time all the curtains were kept down. Something was going on inside, but what, could not be guessed from the outside. Wagons deposited all kinds of things at the door, rolls of paper, tins of paint, furniture, big wooden boxes whose contents nobody could guess. Every day brought more and more workmen and the more there were, the harder they worked. Then, as suddenly as it had begun, all the work stopped.
The next morning when the neighborhood waked up, a freshly-painted sign had taken the place over the door of the dingy old black and white one. The lettering was gilt, the background a skyey blue. It read:
MAIDA'S LITTLE SHOP
CHAPTER II: CLEANING UP
The next two weeks were the busiest Maida ever knew.
In the first place she must see Mrs. Murdock and talk things over. In the second place, she must examine all the stock that Mrs. Murdock left. In the third place, she must order new stock from the wholesale places. And in the fourth place, the rooms must be made ready for her and Granny to live in. It was hard work, but it was great fun.
First, Mrs. Murdock called, at Billy's request, at his rooms on Mount Vernon Street. Granny and Maida were there to meet her.
Mrs. Murdock was a tall, thin, erect old lady. Her bright black eyes were piercing enough, but it seemed to Maida that the round-glassed spectacles, through which she examined them all, were even more so.
"I've made out a list of things for the shop that I'm all out of," she began briskly. "You'll know what the rest is from what's left on the shelves. Now about buying—there's a wagon comes round once a month and I've told them to keep right on a-coming even though I ain't there. They'll sell you your candy, pickles, pickled limes and all sich stuff. You'll have to buy your toys in Boston—your paper, pens, pencils, rubbers and the like also, but not at the same places where you git the toys. I've put all the addresses down on the list. I don't see how you can make any mistakes."
"How long will it take you to get out of the shop?" Billy asked.
Maida knew that Billy enjoyed Mrs. Murdock, for often, when he looked at that lady, his eyes "skrinkled up," although there was not a smile on his face.
"A week is all I need," Mrs. Murdock declared. "If it worn't for other folks who are keeping me waiting, I'd have that hull place fixed as clean as a whistle in two shakes of a lamb's tail. Now I'll put a price on everything, so's you won't be bothered what to charge. There's some things I don't ever git, because folks buy too many of them and it's sich an everlasting bother keeping them in stock. But you're young and spry, and maybe you won't mind jumping about for every Tom, Dick and Harry. But, remember," she added in parting, "don't git expensive things. Folks in that neighborhood ain't got no money to fool away. Git as many things as you can for a cent a-piece. Git some for five and less for ten and nothing for over a quarter. But you must allus callulate to buy some things to lose money on. I mean the truck you put in the window jess to make folks look in. It gits dusty and fly-specked before you know it and there's an end on it. I allus send them to the Home for Little Wanderers at Christmas time."
Early one morning, a week later, a party of three—Granny Flynn, Billy and Maida—walked up Beacon Street and across the common to the subway. Maida had never walked so far in her life. But her father had told her that if she wanted to keep the shop, she must give up her carriage and her automobile. That was not hard. She was willing to give up anything that she owned for the little shop.
They left the car at City Square in Charlestown and walked the rest of the way. It was Saturday, a brilliant morning in a beautiful autumn. All the children in the neighborhood were out playing. Maida looked at each one of them as she passed. They seemed as wonderful as fairy beings to her—for would they not all be her customers soon? And yet, such was her excitement, she could not remember one face after she had passed it. A single picture remained in her mind—a picture of a little girl standing alone in the middle of the court. Black-haired, black-eyed, a vivid spot of color in a scarlet cape and a scarlet hat, the child was scattering bread-crumbs to a flock of pigeons. The pigeons did not seem afraid of her. They flew close to her feet. One even alighted on her shoulder.
"It makes me think of St. Mark's in Venice," Maida said to Billy.
But, little girl—scarlet cape—flocks of doves—St. Mark's, all went out of her head entirely when she unlocked the door of the little shop.
"Oh, oh, oh!" she cried, "how nice and clean it looks!"
The shop seemed even larger than she remembered it. The confused, dusty, cluttery look had gone. But with its dull paint and its blackened ceiling, it still seemed dark and dingy.
Maida ran behind the counter, peeped into the show cases, poked her head into the window, drew out the drawers that lined the wall, pulled covers from the boxes on the shelves. There is no knowing where her investigations would have ended if Billy had not said:
"See here, Miss Curiosity, we can't put in the whole morning on the shop. This is a preliminary tour of investigation. Come and see the rest of it. This way to the living-room!"
The living-room led from the shop—a big square room, empty now, of course. Maida limped over to the window. "Oh, oh, oh!" she cried; "did you ever see such a darling little yard?"
"It surely is little," Billy agreed, "not much bigger than a pocket handkerchief, is it?"
And yet, scrap of a place as the yard was, it had an air of completeness, a pretty quaintness. Two tiny brick walks curved from the door to the gate. On either side of these spread out microscopic flower-beds, crowded tight with plants. Late-blooming dahlias and asters made spots of starry color in the green. A vine, running over the door to the second story, waved like a crimson banner dropped from the window.
"The old lady must have been fond of flowers," Billy Potter said. He squinted his near-sighted blue eyes and studied the bunches of green. "Syringa bush in one corner. Lilac bush in the other. Nasturtiums at the edges. Morning-glories running up the fence. Sunflowers in between. My, won't it be fun to see them all racing up in the spring!"
Maida jumped up and down at the thought. She could not jump like other children. Indeed, this was the first time that she had ever tried. It was as if her feet were like flat-irons. Granny Flynn turned quickly away and Billy bit his lips.
"I know just how I'm going to fix this room up for you, Petronilla," Billy said, nodding his head mysteriously. "Now let's go into the kitchen."
The kitchen led from the living-room. Billy exclaimed when he saw it and Maida shook her hands, but it was Granny who actually screamed with delight.
Much bigger than the living-room, it had four windows with sunshine pouring in through every one of them. But it was not the four windows nor yet the sunshine that made the sensation—it was the stone floor.
"We'll put a carpet on it if you think it's too cold, Granny," Billy suggested immediately.
"Oh, lave it be, Misther Billy," Granny begged. "'Tis loike me ould home in Oireland. Sure 'tis homesick Oi am this very minut looking at ut."
"All right," Billy agreed cheerfully. "What you say goes, Granny. Now upstairs to the sleeping-rooms."
To get to the second floor they climbed a little stairway not more than three feet wide, with steps very high, most of them triangular in shape because the stairway had to turn so often. And upstairs—after they got there—consisted of three rooms, two big and square and light, and one smaller and darker.
"The small room is to be made into a bathroom," Billy explained, "and these two big ones are to be your bedrooms. Which one will you have, Maida?"
Maida examined both rooms carefully. "Well, I don't care for myself which I have," she said. "But it does seem as if there were a teeny-weeny more sun in this one. I think Granny ought to have it, for she loves the sunshine on her old bones. You know, Billy, Granny and I have the greatest fun about our bones. Hers are all wrong because they're so old, and mine are all wrong because they're so young."
"All right," Billy agreed. "Sunshiny one for Granny, shady one for you. That's settled! I hope you realize, Miss Maida, Elizabeth, Fairfax, Petronilla, Pinkwink, Posie Westabrook what perfectly bully rooms these are! They're as old as Noah."
"I'm glad they're old," Maida said. "But of course they must be. This house was here when Dr. Pierce was a little boy. And that must have been a long, long, long time ago."
"Just look at the floors," Billy went on admiringly. "See how uneven they are. You'll have to walk straight here, Petronilla, to keep from falling down. That old wooden wainscoting is simply charming. That's a nice old fireplace too. And these old doors are perfect."
Granny Flynn was working the latch of one of the old doors with her wrinkled hands. "Manny's the toime Oi've snibbed a latch loike that in Oireland," she said, and she smiled so hard that her very wrinkles seemed to twinkle.
"And look at the windows, Granny," Billy said. "Sixteen panes of glass each. I hope you'll make Petronilla wash them."
"Oh, Granny, will you let me wash the windows?" Maida asked ecstatically.
"When you're grand and sthrong," Granny promised.
"I know just how I'll furnish the room," Billy said half to himself.
"Oh, Billy, tell me!" Maida begged.
"Can't," he protested mischievously. "You've got to wait till it's all finished before you see hide or hair of it."
"I know I'll die of curiosity," Maida protested. "But then of course I shall be very busy with my own business."
"Ah, yes," Billy replied. "Now that you've embarked on a mercantile career, Miss Westabrook, I think you'll find that you'll have less and less time for the decorative side of life."
Billy spoke so seriously that most little girls would have been awed by his manner. But Maida recognized the tone that he always employed when he was joking her. Beside, his eyes were all "skrinkled up." She did not quite understand what the joke was, but she smiled back at him.
"Now can we look at the things downstairs?" she pleaded.
"Yes," Billy assented. "To-day is a very important day. Behind locked doors and sealed windows, we're going to take account of stock."
Granny Flynn remained in the bedrooms to make all kinds of mysterious measurements, to open and shut doors, to examine closets, to try window-sashes, even to poke her head up the chimney.
Downstairs, Billy and Maida opened boxes and boxes and boxes and drawers and drawers and drawers. Every one of these had been carefully gone over by the conscientious Mrs. Murdock. Two boxes bulged with toys, too broken or soiled to be of any use. These they threw into the ash-barrel at once. What was left they dumped on the floor. Maida and Billy sat down beside the heap and examined the things, one by one. Maida had never seen such toys in her life—so cheap and yet so amusing.
It was hard work to keep to business with such enchanting temptation to play all about them. Billy insisted on spinning every top—he got five going at once—on blowing every balloon—he produced such dreadful wails of agony that Granny came running downstairs in great alarm—on jumping with every jump-rope—the short ones tripped him up and once he sprawled headlong—on playing jackstones—Maida beat him easily at this—on playing marbles—with a piece of crayon he drew a ring on the floor—on looking through all the books—he declared that he was going to buy some little penny-pamphlet fairy-tales as soon as he could save the money. But in spite of all this fooling, they really accomplished a great deal.
They found very few eatables—candy, fruit, or the like. Mrs. Murdock had wisely sold out this perishable stock. One glass jar, however, was crammed full of what Billy recognized to be "bulls-eyes"—round lumps of candy as big as plums and as hard as stones. Billy said that he loved bulls-eyes better than terrapin or broiled live lobster, that he had not tasted one since he was "half-past ten." For the rest of the day, one of his cheeks stuck out as if he had the toothache.
They came across all kinds of odds and ends—lead pencils, blank-books, an old slate pencil wrapped in gold paper which Billy insisted on using to draw pictures on a slate—he made this squeak so that Maida clapped her hands over her ears. They found single pieces from sets of miniature furniture, a great many dolls, rag-dolls, china dolls, celluloid dolls, the latest bisque beauties, and two old-fashioned waxen darlings whose features had all run together from being left in too great a heat.
They went through all these things, sorting them into heaps which they afterwards placed in boxes. At noon, Billy went out and bought lunch. Still squatting on the floor, the three of them ate sandwiches and drank milk. Granny said that Maida had never eaten so much at one meal.
All this happened on Saturday. Maida did not see the little shop again until it was finished.
By Monday the place was as busy as a beehive. Men were putting in a furnace, putting in a telephone, putting in a bathroom, whitening the plaster, painting the woodwork.
Finally came two days of waiting for the paint to dry. "Will it ever, ever, EVER dry?" Maida used to ask Billy in the most despairing of voices.
By Thursday, the rooms were ready for their second coat of paint.
"Oh, Billy, do tell me what color it is—I can't wait to see it," Maida begged.
But, "Sky-blue-pink" was all she got from Billy.
Saturday the furniture came.
In the meantime, Maida had been going to all the principal wholesale places in Boston picking out new stock. Granny Flynn accompanied her or stayed at home, according to the way she felt, but Billy never missed a trip.
Maida enjoyed this tremendously, although often she had to go to bed before dark. She said it was the responsibility that tired her.
To Maida, these big wholesale places seemed like the storehouses of Santa Claus. In reality they were great halls, lined with parallel rows of counters. The counters were covered with boxes and the boxes were filled with toys. Along the aisles between the counters moved crowds of buyers, busily examining the display.
It was particularly hard for Maida to choose, because she was limited by price. She kept recalling Mrs. Murdock's advice, "Get as many things as you can for a cent a-piece." The expensive toys tempted her, but although she often stopped and looked them wistfully over, she always ended by going to the cheaper counters.
"You ought to be thinking how you'll decorate the windows for your first day's sale," Billy advised her. "You must make it look as tempting as possible. I think, myself, it's always a good plan to display the toys that go with the season."
Maida thought of this a great deal after she went to bed at night. By the end of the week, she could see in imagination just how her windows were going to look.
Saturday night, Billy told her that everything was ready, that she should see the completed house Monday morning. It seemed to Maida that the Sunday coming in between was the longest day that she had ever known.
When she unlocked the door to the shop, the next morning, she let out a little squeal of joy. "Oh, I would never know it," she declared. "How much bigger it looks, and lighter and prettier!"
Indeed, you would never have known the place yourself. The ceiling had been whitened. The faded drab woodwork had been painted white. The walls had been colored a beautiful soft yellow. Back of the counter a series of shelves, glassed in by sliding doors, ran the whole length of the wall and nearly to the ceiling. Behind the show case stood a comfortable, cushioned swivel-chair.
"The stuff you've been buying, Petronilla," Billy said, pointing to a big pile of boxes in the corner. "Now, while Granny and I are putting some last touches to the rooms upstairs, you might be arranging the window."
"That's just what I planned to do," Maida said, bubbling with importance. "But you promise not to interrupt me till it's all done."
"All right," Billy agreed, smiling peculiarly. He continued to smile as he opened the boxes.
It did not occur to Maida to ask them what they were going to do upstairs. It did not occur to her even to go up there. From time to time, she heard Granny and Billy laughing. "One of Billy's jokes," she said to herself. Once she thought she heard the chirp of a bird, but she would not leave her work to find out what it was.
When the twelve o'clock whistle blew, she called to Granny and to Billy to come to see the results of her morning's labor.
"I say!" Billy emitted a long loud whistle.
"Oh, do you like it?" Maida asked anxiously.
"It's a grand piece of work, Petronilla," Billy said heartily.
The window certainly struck the key-note of the season. Tops of all sizes and colors were arranged in pretty patterns in the middle. Marbles of all kinds from the ten-for-a-cent "peeweezers" up to the most beautiful, colored "agates" were displayed at the sides. Jump-ropes of variegated colors with handles, brilliantly painted, were festooned at the back. One of the window shelves had been furnished like a tiny room. A whole family of dolls sat about on the tiny sofas and chairs. On the other shelf lay neat piles of blank-books and paper-blocks, with files of pens, pencils, and rubbers arranged in a decorative pattern surrounding them all.
In the show case, fresh candies had been laid out carefully on saucers and platters of glass. On the counter was a big, flowered bowl.
"To-morrow, I'm going to fill that bowl with asters," Maida explained.
"OI'm sure the choild has done foine," Granny Flynn said, "Oi cudn't have done betther mesilf."
"Now come and look at your rooms, Petronilla," Billy begged, his eyes dancing.
Maida opened the door leading into the living-room. Then she squealed her delight, not once, but continuously, like a very happy little pig.
The room was as changed as if some good fairy had waved a magic wand there. All the woodwork had turned a glistening white. The wall paper blossomed with garlands of red roses, tied with snoods of red ribbons. At each of the three windows waved sash curtains of a snowy muslin. At each of the three sashes hung a golden cage with a pair of golden canaries in it. Along each of the three sills marched pots of brilliantly-blooming scarlet geraniums. A fire spluttered and sparkled in the fireplace, and drawn up in front of it was a big easy chair for Granny, and a small easy one for Maida. Familiar things lay about, too. In one corner gleamed the cheerful face of the tall old clock which marked the hours with so silvery a voice and the moon-changes by such pretty pictures. In another corner shone the polished surface of a spidery-legged little spinet. Maida loved both these things almost as much as if they had been human beings, for her mother and her grandmother and her great-grandmother had loved them before her. Needed things caught her eyes everywhere. Here was a little bookcase with all her favorite books. There was a desk, stocked with business-like-looking blank-books. Even the familiar table with Granny's "Book of Saints" stood near the easy chair. Granny's spectacles lay on an open page, familiarly marking the place.
In the center of the room stood a table set for three.
"It's just the dearest place," Maida said. "Billy, you've remembered everything. I thought I heard a bird peep once, but I was too busy to think about it."
"Want to go upstairs?" Billy asked.
"I'd forgotten all about bedrooms." Maida flew up the stairs as if she had never known a crutch.
The two bedrooms were very simple, all white—woodwork, furniture, beds, even the fur rugs on the floor. But they were wonderfully gay from the beautiful paper that Billy had selected. In Granny's room, the walls imitated a flowered chintz. But in Maida's room every panel was different. And they all helped to tell the same happy story of a day's hunting in the time when men wore long feathered hats on their curls, when ladies dressed like pictures and all carried falcons on their wrists.
"Granny, Granny," Maida called down to them, "Did you ever see any place in all your life that felt so homey?"
"I guess it will do," Billy said in an undertone.
That night, for the first time, Maida slept in the room over the little shop.
CHAPTER III: THE FIRST DAY
If you had gone into the little shop the next day, you would have seen a very pretty picture.
First of all, I think you would have noticed the little girl who sat behind the counter—a little girl in a simple blue-serge dress and a fresh white "tire"—a little girl with shining excited eyes and masses of pale-gold hair, clinging in tendrilly rings about a thin, heart-shaped face—a little girl who kept saying as she turned round and round in her swivel-chair:
"Oh, Granny, do you think anybody's going to buy anything to-day?"
Next I think you would have noticed an old woman who kept coming to the living-room door—an old woman in a black gown and a white apron so stiffly starched that it rattled when it touched anything—an old woman with twinkling blue eyes and hair, enclosing, as in a silver frame, a little carved nut of a face—an old woman who kept soothing the little girl with a cheery:
"Now joost you be patient, my lamb, sure somebody'll be here soon."
The shop was unchanged since yesterday, except for a big bowl of asters, red, white and blue.
"Three cheers for the red, white and blue," Maida sang when she arranged them. She had been singing at intervals ever since. Suddenly the latch slipped. The bell rang.
Maida jumped. Then she sat so still in her high chair that you would have thought she had turned to stone. But her eyes, glued to the moving door, had a look as if she did not know what to expect.
The door swung wide. A young man entered. It was Billy Potter.
He walked over to the show case, his hat in his hand. And all the time he looked Maida straight in the eye. But you would have thought he had never seen her before.
"Please, mum," he asked humbly, "do you sell fairy-tales here?"
Maida saw at once that it was one of Billy's games. She had to bite her lips to keep from laughing. "Yes," she said, when she had made her mouth quite firm. "How much do you want to pay for them?"
"Not more than a penny each, mum," he replied.
Maida took out of a drawer the pamphlet-tales that Billy had liked so much.
"Are these what you want?" she asked. But before he could answer, she added in a condescending tone, "Do you know how to read, little boy?"
Billy's face twitched suddenly and his eyes "skrinkled up." Maida saw with a mischievous delight that he, in his turn, was trying to keep the laughter back.
"Yes, mum," he said, making his face quite serious again. "My teacher says I'm the best reader in the room."
He took up the little books and looked them over. "'The Three Boars'—no,'Bears,'" he corrected himself. "'Puss-in-Boats'—no, 'Boots'; 'Jack-and-the-Bean-Scalp'—no,'Stalk'; 'Jack the Joint-Cooler'—no, 'Giant-Killer'; 'Cinderella,' 'Bluebird'—no, 'Bluebeard'; 'Little Toody-Goo-Shoes'—no, 'Little Goody-Two-Shoes'; 'Tom Thumb,' 'The Sweeping Beauty,'—no, 'The Sleeping Beauty,' 'The Babes in the Wood.' I guess I'll take these ten, mum."
He felt in all his pockets, one after another. After a long time, he brought out some pennies, "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten," he counted slowly.
He took the books, turned and left the shop. Maida watched him in astonishment. Was he really going for good?
In a few minutes the little bell tinkled a second time and there stood Billy again.
"Good morning, Petronilla," he said pleasantly, as if he had not seen her before that morning, "How's business?"
"Fine!" Maida responded promptly. "I've just sold ten fairy books to the funniest little boy you ever saw."
"My stars and garters!" Billy exclaimed. "Business surely is brisk. Keep that up and you can afford to have a cat. I've brought you something."
He opened the bag he carried and took a box out from it. "Hold out your two hands,—it's heavy," he warned.
In spite of his preparation, the box nearly fell to the floor—it was so much heavier than Maida expected. "What can be in it?" she cried excitedly. She pulled the cover off—then murmured a little "oh!" of delight.
The box was full—cram-jam full—of pennies; pennies so new that they looked like gold—pennies so many that they looked like a fortune.
"Gracious, what pretty money!" Maida exclaimed. "There must be a million here."
"Five hundred," Billy corrected her.
He put some tiny cylindrical rolls of paper on the counter. Maida handled them curiously—they, too, were heavy.
"Open them," Billy commanded.
Maida pulled the papers away from the tops. Bright new dimes fell out of one, bright new nickels came from the other.
"Oh, I'm so glad to have nice clean money," Maida said in a satisfied tone. She emptied the money drawer and filled its pockets with the shining coins. "It was very kind of you to think of it, Billy. I know it will please the children." The thought made her eyes sparkle.
The bell rang again. Billy went out to talk with Granny, leaving Maida alone to cope with her first strange customer.
Again her heart began to jump into her throat. Her mouth felt dry on the inside. She watched the door, fascinated.
On the threshold two little girls were standing. They were exactly of the same size, they were dressed in exactly the same way, their faces were as alike as two peas in a pod. Maida saw at once that they were twins. They had little round, chubby bodies, bulging out of red sweaters; little round, chubby faces, emerging from tall, peaky, red-worsted caps. They had big round eyes as expressionless as glass beads and big round golden curls as stiff as candles. They stared so hard at Maida that she began to wonder nervously if her face were dirty.
"Come in, little girls," she called.
The little girls pattered over to the show case and looked in. But their big round eyes, instead of examining the candy, kept peering up through the glass top at Maida. And Maida kept peering down through it at them.
"I want to buy some candy for a cent," one of them whispered in a timid little voice.
"I want to buy some candy for a cent, too," the other whispered in a voice, even more timid.
"All the cent candy is in this case," Maida explained, smiling.
"What are you going to have, Dorothy?" one of them asked.
"I don't know. What are you going to have, Mabel?" the other answered. They discussed everything in the one-cent case. Always they talked in whispers. And they continued to look more often at Maida than at the candy.
"Have you anything two-for-a-cent?" Mabel whispered finally.
"Oh, yes—all the candy in this corner."
The two little girls studied the corner Maida indicated. For two or three moments they whispered together. At one point, it looked as if they would each buy a long stick of peppermint, at another, a paper of lozenges. But they changed their minds a great many times. And in the end, Dorothy bought two large pickles and Mabel bought two large chocolates. Maida saw them swapping their purchases as they went out.
The two pennies which the twins handed her were still moist from the hot little hands that had held them. Maida dropped them into an empty pocket in the money drawer. She felt as if she wanted to keep her first earnings forever. It seemed to her that she had never seen such precious-looking money. The gold eagles which her father had given her at Christmas and on her birthday did not seem half so valuable.
But she did not have much time to think of all this. The bell rang again. This time it was a boy—a big fellow of about fourteen, she guessed, an untidy-looking boy with large, intent black eyes. A mass of black hair, which surely had not been combed, fell about a face that as certainly had not been washed that morning.
"Give me one of those blue tops in the window," he said gruffly. He did not add these words but his manner seemed to say, "And be quick about it!" He threw his money down on the counter so hard that one of the pennies spun off into a corner.
He did not offer to pick the penny up. He did not even apologize. And he looked very carefully at the top Maida handed him as if he expected her to cheat him. Then he walked out.
It was getting towards school-time. Children seemed to spring up everywhere as if they grew out of the ground. The quiet streets began to ring with the cries of boys playing tag, leap frog and prisoners' base. The little girls, much more quiet, squatted in groups on doorsteps or walked slowly up and down, arm-in-arm. But Maida had little time to watch this picture. The bell was ringing every minute now. Once there were six children in the little shop together.
"Do you need any help?" Granny called.
"No, Granny, not yet," Maida answered cheerfully.
But just the same, she did have to hurry. The children asked her for all kinds of things and sometimes she could not remember where she had put them. When in answer to the school bell the long lines began to form at the big doorways, two round red spots were glowing in Maida's cheeks. She drew an involuntary sigh of relief when she realized that she was going to have a chance to rest. But first she counted the money she had taken in. Thirty-seven cents! It seemed a great deal to her.
For an hour or more, nobody entered the shop. Billy left in a little while for Boston. Granny, crooning an old Irish song, busied herself upstairs in her bedroom. Maida sat back in her chair, dreaming happily of her work. Suddenly the bell tinkled, rousing her with a start.
It seemed a long time after the bell rang before the door opened. But at last Maida saw the reason of the delay. The little boy who stood on the threshold was lame. Maida would have known that he was sick even if she had not seen the crutches that held him up, or the iron cage that confined one leg.
His face was as colorless as if it had been made of melted wax. His forehead was lined almost as if he were old. A tired expression in his eyes showed that he did not sleep like other children. He must often suffer, too—his mouth had a drawn look that Maida knew well.
The little boy moved slowly over to the counter. It could hardly be said that he walked. He seemed to swing between his crutches exactly as a pendulum swings in a tall clock. Perhaps he saw the sympathy that ran from Maida's warm heart to her pale face, for before he spoke he smiled. And when he smiled you could not possibly think of him as sick or sad. The corners of his mouth and the corners of his eyes seemed to fly up together. It made your spirits leap just to look at him.
"I'd like a sheet of red tissue paper," he said briskly.
Maida's happy expression changed. It was the first time that anybody had asked her for anything which she did not have.
"I'm afraid I haven't any," she said regretfully.
The boy looked disappointed. He started to go away. Then he turned hopefully. "Mrs. Murdock always kept her tissue paper in that drawer there," he said, pointing.
"Oh, yes, I do remember," Maida exclaimed. She recalled now a few sheets of tissue paper that she had left there, not knowing what to do with them. She pulled the drawer open. There they were, neatly folded, as she had left them.
"What did Mrs. Murdock charge for it?" she inquired.
"A cent a sheet."
Maida thought busily. "I'm selling out all the old stock," she said. "You can have all that's left for a cent if you want it."
"Sure!" the boy exclaimed. "Jiminy crickets! That's a stroke of luck I wasn't expecting."
He spread the half dozen sheets out on the counter and ran through them. He looked up into Maida's face as if he wanted to thank her but did not know how to put it. Instead, he stared about the shop. "Say," he exclaimed, "you've made this store look grand. I'd never know it for the same place. And your sign's a crackajack."
The praise—the first she had had from outside—pleased Maida. It emboldened her to go on with the conversation.
"You don't go to school," she said.
The moment she had spoken, she regretted it. It was plain to be seen, she reproached herself inwardly, why he did not go to school.
"No," the boy said soberly. "I can't go yet. Doc O'Brien says I can go next year, he thinks. I'm wild to go. The other fellows hate school but I love it. I s'pose it's because I can't go that I want to. But, then, I want to learn to read. A fellow can have a good time anywhere if he knows how to read. I can read some," he added in a shamed tone, "but not much. The trouble is I don't have anybody to listen and help with the hard words."
"Oh, let me help you!" Maida cried. "I can read as easy as anything." This was the second thing she regretted saying. For when she came to think of it, she could not see where she was going to have much time to herself.
But the little lame boy shook his head. "Can't," he said decidedly. "You see, I'm busy at home all day long and you'll be busy here. My mother works out and I have to do most of the housework and take care of the baby. Pretty slow work on crutches, you know—although it's easy enough getting round after you get the hang of it. No, I really don't have any time to fool until evenings."
"Evenings!" Maida exclaimed electrically. "Why, that's just the right time! You see I'm pretty busy myself during the daytime—at my business." Her voice grew a little important on that last phrase. "Granny! Granny!" she called.
Granny Flynn appeared in the doorway. Her eyes grew soft with pity when they fell on the little lame boy. "The poor little gossoon!" she murmured.
"Granny," Maida explained, "this little boy can't go to school because his mother works all day and he has to do the housework and take care of the baby, too, and he wants to learn to read because he thinks he won't be half so lonely with books, and you know, Granny, that's perfectly true, for I never suffered half so much with my legs after I learned to read."
It had all poured out in an uninterrupted stream. She had to stop here to get breath.
"Now, Granny, what I want you to do is to let me hear him read evenings until he learns how. You see his mother comes home then and he can leave the baby with her. Oh, do let me do it, Granny! I'm sure I could. And I really think you ought to. For, if you'll excuse me for saying so, Granny, I don't think you can understand as well as I do what a difference it will make." She turned to the boy. "Have you read 'Little Men' and 'Little Women'?"
"No—why, I'm only in the first reader."
"I'll read them to you," Maida said decisively, "and 'Treasure Island' and 'The Princes and the Goblins' and 'The Princess and Curdie.'" She reeled off the long list of her favorites.
In the meantime, Granny was considering the matter. Dr. Pierce had said to her of Maida: "Let her do anything that she wants to do—as long as it doesn't interfere with her eating and sleeping. The main thing to do is to get her to want to do things."
"What's your name, my lad?" she asked.
"Dicky Dore, ma'am," the boy answered respectfully.
"Well, Oi don't see why you shouldn't thry ut, acushla," she said to Maida. "A half an hour iv'ry avening after dinner. Sure, in a wake, 'twill be foine and grand we'll be wid the little store running like a clock."
"We'll begin next week, Monday," Maida said eagerly. "You come over here right after dinner."
"All right." The little lame boy looked very happy but, again, he did not seem to know what to say. "Thank you, ma'am," he brought out finally. "And you, too," turning to Maida.
"My name's Maida."
"Thank you, Maida," the boy said with even a greater display of bashfulness. He settled the crutches under his thin shoulders.
"Oh, don't go, yet," Maida pleaded. "I want to ask you some questions. Tell me the names of those dear little girls—the twins."
Dicky Dore smiled his radiant smile. "Their last name's Clark. Say, ain't they the dead ringers for each other? I can't tell Dorothy from Mabel or Mabel from Dorothy."
"I can't, either," Maida laughed. "It must be fun to be a twin—to have any kind of a sister or brother. Who's that big boy—the one with the hair all hanging down on his face?"
"Oh, that's Arthur Duncan." Dicky's whole face shone. "He's a dandy. He can lick any boy of his size in the neighborhood. I bet he could lick any boy of his size in the world. I bet he could lick his weight in wild-cats."
Maida's brow wrinkled. "I don't like him," she said. "He's not polite."
"Well, I like him," Dicky Dore maintained stoutly. "He's the best friend I've got anywhere. Arthur hasn't any mother, and his father's gone all day. He takes care of himself. He comes over to my place a lot. You'll like him when you know him."
The bell tinkling on his departure did not ring again till noon. But Maida did not mind.
"Granny," she said after Dicky left, "I think I've made a friend. Not a friend somebody's brought to me—but a friend of my very own. Just think of that!"
At twelve, Maida watched the children pour out of the little schoolhouse and disappear in all directions. At two, she watched them reappear from all directions and pour into it again. But between those hours she was so busy that she did not have time to eat her lunch until school began again. After that, she sat undisturbed for an hour.
In the middle of the afternoon, the bell rang with an important-sounding tinkle. Immediately after, the door shut with an important-sounding slam. The footsteps, clattering across the room to the show case, had an important-sounding tap. And the little girl, who looked inquisitively across the counter at Maida, had decidedly an important manner.
She was not a pretty child. Her skin was too pasty, her blue eyes too full and staring. But she had beautiful braids of glossy brown hair that came below her waist. And you would have noticed her at once because of the air with which she wore her clothes and because of a trick of holding her head very high.
Maida could see that she was dressed very much more expensively than the other children in the neighborhood. Her dark, blue coat was elaborate with straps and bright buttons. Her pale-blue beaver hat was covered with pale-blue feathers. She wore a gold ring with a turquoise in it, a silver bracelet with a monogram on it, a little gun-metal watch pinned to her coat with a gun-metal pin, and a long string of blue beads from which dangled a locket.
Maida noticed all this decoration with envy, for she herself was never permitted to wear jewelry. Occasionally, Granny would let her wear one string from a big box of bead necklaces which Maida had bought in Venice.
"How much is that candy?" the girl asked, pointing to one of the trays.
Maida told her.
"Dear me, haven't you anything better than that?"
Maida gave her all her prices.
"I'm afraid there's nothing good enough here," the little girl went on disdainfully. "My mother won't let me eat cheap candy. Generally, she has a box sent over twice a week from Boston. But the one we expected to-day didn't come."
"The little girl likes to make people think that she has nicer things than anybody else," Maida thought. She started to speak. If she had permitted herself to go on, she would have said: "The candy in this shop is quite good enough for any little girl. But I won't sell it to you, anyway." But, instead, she said as quietly as she could: "No, I don't believe there's anything here that you'll care for. But I'm sure you'll find lots of expensive candy on Main Street."
The little girl evidently was not expecting that answer. She lingered, still looking into the show case. "I guess I'll take five cents' worth of peppermints," she said finally. Some of the importance had gone out of her voice.
Maida put the candy into a bag and handed it to her without speaking. The girl bustled towards the door. Half-way, she stopped and came back.
"My name is Laura Lathrop," she said. "What's yours?"
"Maida?" the girl repeated questioningly. "Maida?—oh, yes, I know—Maida Flynn. Where did you live before you came here?"
"Oh, lots of places."
"But where?" Laura persisted.
"Boston, New York, Newport, Pride's Crossing, the Adirondacks, Europe."
"Oh, my! Have you been to Europe?" Laura's tone was a little incredulous.
"I lived abroad a year."
"Can you speak French?"
"Oui, Mademoiselle, je parle Francais un peu."
"Say some more," Laura demanded.
Maida smiled. "Un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq, six, sept, huit, neuf, dix, onze, douze—"
Laura looked impressed. "Do you speak any other language?"
"Italian and German—a very little."
Laura stared hard at her and her look was full of question. But it was evident that she decided to believe Maida.
"I live in Primrose Court," she said, and now there was not a shadow of condescension left in her voice. "That large house at the back with the big lawn about it. I'd like to have you come and play with me some afternoon. I'm very busy most of the time, though. I take music and fancy dancing and elocution. Next winter, I'm going to take up French. I'll send you word some afternoon when I have time to play."
"Thank you," Maida said in her most civil voice. "Come and play with me sometime," she added after a pause.
"Oh, my mother doesn't let me play in other children's houses," Laura said airily. "Good-bye."
"Good-bye," Maida answered.
She waited until Laura had disappeared into the court. "Granny," she called impetuously, "a little girl's been here who I think is the hatefullest, horridest, disagreeablest thing I ever saw in my life."
"Why, what did the choild do?" Granny asked in surprise.
"Do?" Maida repeated. "She did everything. Why, she—she—" She interrupted herself to think hard a moment. "Well, it's the queerest thing. I can't tell you a thing she did, Granny, and yet, all the time she was here I wanted to slap her."
"There's manny folks that-a-way," said Granny. "The woisest way is to take no notuce av ut."
"Take no notice of it!" Maida stormed. "It's just like not taking any notice of a bee when it's stinging you."
Maida was so angry that she walked into the living-room without limping.
At four that afternoon, when the children came out of school, there was another flurry of trade. Towards five, it slackened. Maida sat in her swivel-chair and wistfully watched the scene in the court. Little boys were playing top. Little girls were jumping rope. Once she saw a little girl in a scarlet cape come out of one of the yards. On one shoulder perched a fluffy kitten. Following her, gamboled an Irish setter and a Skye terrier. Presently it grew dark and the children began to go indoors. Maida lighted the gas and lost herself in "Gulliver's Travels."
The sound of voices attracted her attention after awhile. She turned in her chair. Outside, staring into the window, stood a little boy and girl—a ragged, dirty pair. Their noses pressed so hard against the glass that they were flattened into round white circles. They took no notice of Maida. Dropping her eyes to her book, she pretended to read.
"I boneys that red top, first," said the little boy in a piping voice.
He was a round, brown, pop-eyed, big-mouthed little creature. Maida could not decide which he looked most like—a frog or a brownie. She christened him "the Bogle" at once.
"I boneys that little pink doll with the curly hair, first," said the girl.
She was a round, brown little creature, too—but pretty. She had merry brown eyes and a merry little red and white smile. Maida christened her "the Robin."
"I boneys that big agate, second," said the Bogle.
"I boneys that little table, second," said the Robin.
"I boneys that knife, third," said the Bogle.
"I boneys that little chair, third," said the Robin.
Maida could not imagine what kind of game they were playing. She went to the door. "Come in, children," she called.
The children jumped and started to run away. But they stopped a little way off, turned and stood as if they were not certain what to do. Finally the Robin marched over to Maida's side and the Bogle followed.
"Tell me about the game you were playing," Maida said. "I never heard of it before."
"'Tain't any game," the Bogle said.
"We were just boneying," the Robin explained. "Didn't you ever boney anything?"
"Why, you boneys things in store windows," the Robin went on. "You always boney with somebody else. You choose one thing for yours and they choose something else for theirs until everything in the window is all chosen up. But of course they don't really belong to you. You only play they do."
"I see," Maida said.
She went to the window and took out the red top and the little pink doll with curly hair. "Here, these are the things you boneyed first. You may have them."
"Oh, thank you—thank you—thank you," the Robin exclaimed. She kissed the little pink doll ecstatically, stopping now and then to look gratefully at Maida.
"Thank you," the Bogle echoed. He did not look at Maida but he began at once to wind his top.
"What is your name?" Maida asked.
"Molly Doyle," the Robin answered. "And this is my brother, Timmie Doyle."
"My name's Maida. Come and see me again, Molly, and you, too, Timmie."
"Of course I'll come," Molly answered, "and I'm going to name my doll 'Maida.'"
Molly ran all the way home, her doll tightly clutched to her breast. But Timmie stopped to spin his top six times—Maida counted.
No more customers came that evening. At six, Maida closed and locked the shop.
After dinner she thought she would read one of her new books. She settled herself in her little easy chair by the fire and opened to a story with a fascinating picture. But the moment her eyes fell on the page—it was the strangest thing—a drowsiness, as deep as a fairy's enchantment, fell upon her. She struggled with it for awhile, but she could not throw it off. The next thing she knew, Granny was helping her up the stairs, was undressing her, had laid her in her bed. The next thing she was saying dreamily, "I made one dollar and eighty-seven cents to-day. If my papa ever gets into any more trouble in Wall Street, he can borrow from me."
The next thing, she felt the pillow soft and cool under her cheek. The next thing—bright sunlight was pouring through the window—it was morning again.
CHAPTER IV: THE SECOND DAY
It had rained all that night, but the second morning dawned the twinklingest kind of day. It seemed to Maida that Mother Nature had washed a million tiny, fleecy, white clouds and hung them out to dry in the crisp blue air. Everything still dripped but the brilliant sunshine put a sparkle on the whole world. Slates of old roofs glistened, brasses of old doors glittered, silver of old name-plates shone. Curbstones, sidewalks, doorsteps glimmered and gleamed. The wet, ebony-black trunks of the maples smoked as if they were afire, their thick-leaved, golden heads flared like burning torches. Maida stood for a long time at the window listening to a parrot who called at intervals from somewhere in the neighborhood. "Get up, you sleepy-heads! Get up! Get up!"
A huge puddle stretched across Primrose Court. When Maida took her place in the swivel-chair, three children had begun already to float shingles across its muddy expanse. Two of them were Molly and Tim Doyle, the third a little girl whom Maida did not know. For a time she watched them, fascinated. But, presently, the school children crowding into the shop took all her attention. After the bell rang and the neighborhood had become quiet again, she resumed her watch of the mud-puddle fun.
Now they were loading their shingles with leaves, twigs, pebbles, anything that they could find in the gutters. By lashing the water into waves, as they trotted in the wake of their frail craft, they managed to sail them from one end of the puddle to the other. Maida followed the progress of these merchant vessels as breathlessly as their owners. Some capsized utterly. Others started to founder and had to be dragged ashore. A few brought the cruise to a triumphant finish.
But Tim soon put an end to this fun. Unexpectedly, his foot caught somewhere and he sprawled headlong in the tide. "Oh, Tim!" Molly said. But she said it without surprise or anger. And Tim lay flat on his stomach without moving, as if it were a common occurrence with him. Molly waded out to him, picked him up and marched him into the house.
The other little girl had disappeared. Suddenly she came out of one of the yards, clasping a Teddy-bear and a whole family of dolls in her fat arms. She sat down at the puddle's edge and began to undress them. Maida idly watched the busy little fingers—one, two, three, four, five—now there were six shivering babies. What was she going to do with them? Maida wondered.
"Granny," Maida called, "do come and see this little girl! She's—" But Maida did not finish that sentence in words. It ended in a scream. For suddenly the little girl threw the Teddy-bear and all the six dolls into the puddle. Maida ran out the door. Half-way across the court she met Dicky Dore swinging through the water. Between them they fished all the dolls out. One was of celluloid and another of rubber—they had floated into the middle of the pond. Two china babies had sunk to the very bottom—their white faces smiled placidly up through the water at their rescuers. A little rag-doll lay close to the shore, water-logged. A pretty paper-doll had melted to a pulp. And the biggest and prettiest of them, a lovely blonde creature with a shapely-jointed body and a bisque head, covered with golden curls, looked hopelessly bedraggled.
"Oh, Betsy Hale!" Dicky said. "You naughty, naughty girl! How could you drown your own children like that?"
"I were divin' them a baff," Betsy explained.
Betsy was a little, round butterball of a girl with great brown eyes all tangled up in eyelashes and a little pink rosebud of a mouth, folded over two rows of mice-teeth. She smiled deliciously up into Maida's face:
"I aren't naughty, is I?" she asked.
"Naughty? You bunny-duck! Of course you are," Maida said, giving her a bear-hug. "I don't see how anybody can scold her," she whispered to Dicky.
"Scold her! You can't," Dicky said disgustedly. "She's too cute. And then if you did scold her it wouldn't do any good. She's the naughtiest baby in the neighborhood—although," he added with pride, "I think Delia's going to be pretty nearly as naughty when she gets big enough. But Betsy Hale—why, the whole street has to keep an eye on her. Come, pick up your dollies, Betsy," he wheedled, "they'll get cold if you leave them out here."
The thought of danger to her darlings produced immediate activity on Betsy's part. She gathered the dolls under her cape, hugging them close. "Her must put her dollies to bed," she said wisely.
"Calls herself her half the time," Dicky explained. He gathered up the dresses and shooing Betsy ahead of him, followed her into the yard.
"She's the greatest child I ever saw," he said, rejoining Maida a little later. "The things she thinks of to do! Why, the other day, Miss Allison—the sister of the blind lady what sits in the window and knits—the one what owns the parrot—well, Miss Allison painted one of her old chairs red and put it out in the yard to dry. Then she washed a whole lot of lace and put that out to dry. Next thing she knew she looked out and there was Betsy washing all the red paint off the chair with the lace. You'd have thought that would have been enough for one day, wouldn't you? Well, that afternoon she turned the hose on Mr. Flanagan—that's the policeman on the beat."
"What did he say?" Maida asked in alarm. She had a vague imaginary picture of Betsy being dragged to the station-house.
"Roared! But then Mr. Flanagan thinks Betsy's all right. Always calls her 'sophy Sparkles.' Betsy runs away about twice a week. Mr. Flanagan's always finding her and lugging her home. I guess every policeman in Charlestown knows her by this time. There, look at her now! Did you ever see such a kid?"
Betsy had come out of the yard again. She was carrying a huge feather duster over her head as if it were a parasol.
"The darling!" Maida said joyously. "I hope she'll do something naughty every day."
"Queer how you love a naughty child," Dick said musingly. "They're an awful lot of trouble but you can't help liking them. Has Tim Doyle fallen into the puddle yet?"
"Yes, just a little while ago."
"He's always falling in mud puddles. I guess if Molly fishes him out once after a rain, she does a half a dozen times."
"Do come and see me, Dicky, won't you?" Maida asked when they got to the shop door. "You know I shall be lonely when all the children are in school and—then besides—you're the first friend I've made."
At the word friend, Dicky's beautiful smile shone bright. "Sure, I'll come," he said heartily. "I'll come often."
"Granny," Maida exclaimed, bursting into the kitchen, "wait until you hear about Betsy Hale." She told the whole story. "Was I ever a naughty little girl?" she concluded.
"Naughty? Glory be, and what's ailing you? 'Twas the best choild this side of Heaven that you was. Always so sick and yet niver a cross wurrud out of you."
A shadow fell over Maida's face. "Oh, dear, dear," she grieved. "I wish I had been a naughty child—people love naughty children so. Are you quite sure I was always good, Granny?"
"Why, me blessid lamb, 'twas too sick that you was to be naughty. You cud hardly lift one little hand from the bed."
"But, Granny, dear," Maida persisted, "can't you think of one single, naughty thing I did? I'm sure you can if you try hard."
Maida's face was touched with a kind of sad wistfulness. Granny looked down at her, considerably puzzled. Then a light seemed to break in her mind. It shone through her blue eyes and twinkled in her smile.
"Sure and Oi moind wance when Oi was joost afther giving you some medicine and you was that mad for having to take the stuff that you sat oop in bed and knocked iv'ry bottle off the table. Iv'ry wan! Sure, we picked oop glass for a wake afther."
Maida's wistful look vanished in a peal of silvery laughter. "Did I really, Granny?" she asked in delight. "Did I break every bottle? Are you sure? Every one?"
"Iv'ry wan as sure as OI'm a living sinner," said Granny. "Faith and 'twas the bad little gyurl that you was often—now that I sthop to t'ink av ut."
Maida bounded back to the shop in high spirits. Granny heard her say "Every bottle!" again and again in a whispering little voice.
"Just think, Granny," she called after a while. "I've made one, two, three, four, five friends—Dicky, Molly, Tim, Betsy and Laura—though I don't call her quite a friend yet. Pretty good for so soon!"
Maida was to make a sixth friend, although not quite so quickly.
It began that noontime with a strange little scene that acted itself out in front of Maida's window. The children had begun to gather for school, although it was still very quiet. Suddenly around the corner came a wild hullaballoo—the shouts of small boys, the yelp of a dog, the rattle and clang of tin dragged on the brick sidewalk. In another instant appeared a dog, a small, yellow cur, collarless and forlorn-looking, with a string of tin cans tied to his tail, a horde of small boys yelling after him and pelting him with stones.
Maida started up, but before she could get to the door, something flashed like a scarlet comet from across the street. It was the little girl whom Maida had seen twice before—the one who always wore the scarlet cape.
Even in the excitement, Maida noticed how handsome she was. She seemed proud. She carried her slender, erect little body as if she were a princess and her big eyes cast flashing glances about her. Jet-black were her eyes and hair, milk-white were her teeth but in the olive of her cheeks flamed a red such as could be matched only in the deepest roses. Maida christened her Rose-Red at once.
Rose-Red lifted the little dog into her arms with a single swoop of her strong arm. She yanked the cans from its tail with a single indignant jerk. Fondling the trembling creature against her cheek, she talked first to him, then to his abashed persecutors.
"You sweet, little, darling puppy, you! Did they tie the wicked cans to his poor little tail!" and then—"if ever I catch one of you boys treating a poor, helpless animal like this again, I'll shake the breath out of your body—was he the beautifullest dog that ever was? And if that isn't enough, Arthur Duncan will lick you all, won't you, Arthur?" She turned pleadingly to Arthur.
"Nobody's going to hurt helpless creatures while I'm about! He was a sweet little, precious little, pretty little puppy, so he was."
Rose-Red marched into the court with the puppy, opened a gate and dropped him inside.
"That pup belongs to me, now," she said marching back.
The school bell ringing at this moment ended the scene.
"Who's that little girl who wears the scarlet cape?" Maida asked Dorothy and Mabel Clark when they came in together at four.
"Rosie Brine," they answered in chorus.
"She's a dreffle naughty girl," Mabel said in a whisper, and "My mommer won't let me play with her," Dorothy added.
"Why not?" Maida asked.
"She's a tom-boy," Mabel informed her.
"What's a tom-boy?" Maida asked Billy that night at dinner.
"A tom-boy?" Billy repeated. "Why, a tom-boy is a girl who acts like a boy."
"How can a girl be a boy?" Maida queried after a few moments of thought. "Why don't they call her a tom-girl?"
"Why, indeed?" Billy answered, taking up the dictionary.
Certainly Rosie Brine acted like a boy—Maida proved that to herself in the next few days when she watched Rose-Red again and again. But if she were a tom-boy, she was also, Maida decided, the most beautiful and the most wonderful little girl in the world. And, indeed, Rosie was so full of energy that it seemed to spurt out in the continual sparkle of her face and the continual movement of her body. She never walked. She always crossed the street in a series of flying jumps. She never went through a gate if she could go over the fence, never climbed the fence if she could vault it. The scarlet cape was always flashing up trees, over sheds, sometimes to the very roofs of the houses. Her principal diversion seemed to be climbing lamp-posts. Maida watched this proceeding with envy. One athletic leap and Rose-Red was clasping the iron column half-way up—a few more and she was swinging from the bars under the lantern. But she was accomplished in other ways. She could spin tops, play "cat" and "shinney" as well as any of the boys. And as for jumping rope—if two little girls would swing for her, Rosie could actually waltz in the rope.
The strangest thing about Rosie was that she did not always go to school like the other children. The incident of the dog happened on Thursday. Friday morning, when the children filed into the schoolhouse, Rosie did not follow them. Instead, she hid herself in a doorway until after the bell rang. A little later she sneaked out of her hiding place, joined Arthur Duncan at the corner, and disappeared into the distance. Just before twelve they both came back. For a few moments, they kept well concealed on a side street, out of sight of Primrose Court. But, at intervals, Rosie or Arthur would dart out to a spot where, without being seen, they could get a glimpse of the church clock. When the children came out of school at twelve, they joined the crowd and sauntered home.
Monday morning Maida saw them repeat these maneuvers. She was completely mystified by them and yet she had an uncomfortable feeling. They were so stealthy that she could not help guessing that something underhand was going on.
"Do you know Rosie Brine?" Maida asked Dicky Dore one evening when they were reading together.
"Sure!" Dicky's face lighted up. "Isn't she a peach?"
"They say she is a tom-boy," Maida objected. "Is she?"
"Surest thing you know," Dicky said cheerfully. "She won't take a dare. You ought to see her playing stumps. There's nothing a boy can do that she won't do. And have you noticed how she can spin a top—the best I ever saw for a girl."
Then boys liked girls to be tom-boys. This was a great surprise.
"How does it happen that she doesn't go to school often?"
Dicky grinned. "Hooking jack!"
"Hooking jack?" Maida repeated in a puzzled tone.
"Hooking jack—playing hookey—playing truant." Dicky watched Maida's face but her expression was still puzzled. "Pretending to go to school and not going," he said at last.
"Oh," Maida said. "I understand now."
"She just hates school," Dicky went on. "They can't make her go. Old Stoopendale, the truant officer, is always after her. Little she cares for old Stoopy though. She gets fierce beatings for it at home, too. Funny thing about Rosie—she won't tell a lie. And when her mother asks her about it, she always tells the truth. Sometimes her mother will go to the schoolhouse door with her every morning and afternoon for a week. But the moment she stops, Rosie begins to hook jack again."
"Mercy me!" Maida said. In all her short life she had never heard anything like this. She was convinced that Rosie Brine was a very naughty little girl. And yet, underneath this conviction, burned an ardent admiration for her.
"She must be very brave," she said soberly.
"Brave! Well, I guess you'd think so! Arthur Duncan says she's braver than a lot of boys he knows. Arthur and she hook jack together sometimes. And, oh cracky, don't they have the good times! They go down to the Navy Yard and over to the Monument Grounds. Sometimes they go over to Boston Common and the Public Garden. Once they walked all the way to Franklin Park. And in the summer they often walk down to Crescent Beach. They say when I get well, I can go with them."