VOL. V. JULY, 1878. No. 9.
[Copyright, 1878, by Scribner & Co.]
THE GIRL WHO SAVED THE GENERAL.
BY CHARLES H. WOODMAN.
Far down the Carolina coast lies the lovely island of St. John, where stood, one hundred years ago, a noble brick-built mansion, with lofty portico and broad piazza. Ancient live-oaks, trembling aspens, and great sycamores, lifted a bower over it to keep off the sun. Threading their way through orange-trees and beds of flowers, spacious walks played hide-and-seek around the house, coming suddenly full upon the river, or running out of sight in the deep woods.
The owner of this place was Robert Gibbes. With his beautiful young wife he kept an open hall, and drew to its doors many of the great and noble people of the times; for he was wealthy and cultured, and she had such charming manners that people loved her very presence. The great house was full at all seasons. Eight children had already come to this good couple, and seven little adopted cousins were their playmates—the orphan children of Mrs. Fenwick, sister to Mr. Gibbes. He himself was a cripple, and could not walk. In a chair which ran on wheels he was drawn daily over the pleasant paths, sometimes by the faithful black servants, sometimes by the still more devoted children, who tugged at the rope like so many frisky colts. In their careless joy he forgot his own sufferings, and would laugh heartily when they deserted him and hid, with shouts, behind the great trunks, until every tree in the park seemed to cry out "Papa!" and "Uncle Robert!" The loveliness of the spot, and the happiness of its dwellers, suited well its name of "Peaceful Retreat," by which it was known through all the country.
But in those troublous times it could not always remain "peaceful." In the spring of 1779, the British took possession of all the sea-board. General Prevost marched up from Savannah and laid siege to Charleston. The beautiful city was about to fall into the enemy's hands; all night the men had toiled in the trenches, the women had prayed on their knees in their chambers, expecting every moment to hear the besieging cannon roar through the darkness. At daylight the next morning the housetops were thronged with anxious watchers; but as the sun came gloriously out of the sea, it shone upon deserted fields; not a tent was to be seen. Hearing that General Lincoln was hastening on with his army, Prevost had struck his tents in the night, and was retreating rapidly toward Savannah. He crossed the Stone Ferry, and fortified himself on John's Island, as the island of St. John's was often called.
For weeks now the noise of musketry and heavy guns destroyed the quiet joy at "Peaceful Retreat." The children, in the midst of play, would hear the dreadful booming, and suddenly grow still and pale. The eldest daughter, Mary Anna, was a sprightly, courageous girl of thirteen. She had the care of all the little ones, for her mother's hands were full, in managing the great estate and caring for her husband. The children never played now in the park, unless Mary was with them; and when the frightful noise came through the trees, they ran to her as chickens to a mother's wing.
After a time, the enemy determined to take possession of this beautiful place. A body of British and Hessians quietly captured the landing one midnight, and, creeping stealthily onward, filled the park and surrounded the house. At day-break, the inmates found themselves prisoners.
Then came trying days for the family. The officers took up their quarters in the mansion, allowing the family to occupy the upper story. They may have been brave soldiers, but they certainly were not gentlemen, for they did everything to annoy Mrs. Gibbes, who bore all her trouble nobly and patiently. Little Mary had entire charge of the smaller children, which was no easy task, for they were continually getting into some sort of trouble with the troops.
John's Island was less than thirty miles from Charleston, and when the American officers in the city heard that "Peaceful Retreat" had been captured by the British, they determined to rescue it from the enemy. Two large galleys were immediately manned and equipped and sent to the plantation, with strict orders not to fire upon the mansion.
Sailing noiselessly up the Stono River, at dead of night, the vessels anchored abreast the plantation. Suddenly, out of the thick darkness burst a flame and roar, and the shot came crashing through the British encampment. The whole place was instantly in uproar. The officers in the house sprang from bed, and hastily dressed and armed. The family, rudely awakened, rushed to the windows. A cold rain was falling, and the soldiers, half-clad, were running wildly hither and thither, while the officers were frantically calling them to arms. Mary woke at the first terrible roar and fled to her mother's room. The excitable negro servants uttered most piercing shrieks. The poor little children were too frightened to scream, but clung, trembling, to Mary.
Mrs. Gibbes was in great distress. She knew not, at first, whether it was an attack by friends on the camp, or an assault on the house by the enemy. She ordered the servants to cease their wailing and dress themselves. Then her husband and the children were prepared; and, while the cannon bellowed in quick succession and the noise around the house grew louder, the father and mother consulted what was best to do. It was now evident that the attack was by their own friends, and its object was to dislodge the enemy. But Mr. Gibbes did not know that the house would not be fired on, and he advised instant flight. He was carried to his chair, and the whole household sallied forth from a back door.
The scene was terrific. The night was pitchy dark, and when, just as they stepped out, a sheet of flame belched forth from the vessels, it seemed to be almost against their faces. The roar shook the ground. The troops were too busy saving themselves to notice the fugitives, and they pushed on as rapidly as possible.
No one was sufficiently protected from the rain. Little Mary had the hardest part, for nearly all the children were in her care. The mud was deep. Some of the little ones could walk but a short distance at a time, and had to be carried—Mary having always one, sometimes two, in her arms. Several of the servants were near her, but none of them seemed to notice her or her burdens. The last horse had been carried off that very day; there was no escape but on foot.
Suddenly, a ball came crashing by them through the trees! Then a charge of grape-shot cut the boughs overhead. They were exactly in the range of the guns! It was evident they had taken the worst direction, but there was no help for it now—it was too late to turn back. In her agony, the mother cried aloud on God to protect her family. Mary hugged closer the child in her arms, and trembled so she could hardly keep up. Another crash! The shot shrieked past them, striking the trees in every direction. The assault was fierce, the roar was incessant. The frightened family rushed on as swiftly as possible toward a friend's plantation, far back from the shore; but it was soon seen that they would not have strength to reach it, even if they were not struck down by the flying shot. The Americans were pouring their fire into these woods, thinking the enemy would seek refuge there. The wretched fugitives expected every moment to be the last. On they pushed through mud and rain and screaming shot.
Soon they found they were getting more out of range of the guns. They began to hope; yet now and then a ball tore up the trees around them, or rolled fearfully across their path. They reached one of the houses where their field-hands lived, with no one hurt; they were over a mile from the mansion, and out of range. The negroes said no shot had come that way. Unable to flee further, the family determined to stop here. As soon as they entered, Mrs. Gibbes felt her strength leaving her, and sank upon a low bed. Chilled to the bone, drenched, trembling with terror and exhaustion, the family gathered around her. She opened her eyes and looked about. She sprang up wildly.
"Oh, Mary!" she cried, "where is John?"
The little girl turned pale, and moaned: "Oh, mother! mother! he's left!" She broke into crying. The negroes, quickly sympathetic, began to wring their hands and wail.
"Silence!" said Mr. Gibbes, with stern but trembling voice. The tears were in his own eyes. The little child now missing was very dear to them all, and, moreover, was deemed a sacred charge, as he was one of the orphan children of Mr. Gibbes's sister, intrusted to him on her death-bed.
The wailing ceased; there was silence, broken only by sobs, and the master asked:
"Who is willing to go back for the child?"
No one spoke. Mr. Gibbes turned to his wife for counsel. As the two talked in low tones, Mrs. Gibbes called her husband's attention to Mary, who was kneeling with clasped hands, in prayer, at the foot of the bed. In a moment, the little maid rose and came to them, saying, calmly:
"Mother, I must go back after baby."
"Oh, my child," cried the mother, in agony, "I cannot let you!"
"But, mother, I must," pleaded Mary. "God will care for me."
It was a fearful responsibility. The guns yet roared constantly through the darkness; the house might now be in flames; it might be filled with carnage and blood. Mrs. Gibbes turned to her husband. His face was buried in his hands. Plainly, she must decide it herself. With streaming eyes, she looked at Mary.
"Come here, my child," she called through her sobs. Mary fell upon her mother's neck. One long, passionate embrace, in which all a mother's love and devotion were poured out, and the clinging arms were opened without a word. Mary sprang up, kissed her father's forehead, and sped forth on her dangerous mission of love.
The rain had now ceased, but the night was still dark and full of terrors, for through the trees she saw the frequent flashes of the great guns. The woods were filled with the booming echoes, so that cannon seemed to be on every hand. She flew on with all speed. Soon she heard the crashing trees ahead, and knew that in a moment she would be once more face to face with death. She did not falter. Now she was again in the fierce whirlwind! All around her the shot howled and shrieked. On every side branches fell crashing to the earth. A cannon-ball plunged into the ground close beside her, cast over her a heap of mud, and threw her down. She sprang up and pressed on with redoubled vigor. Not even that ball could make her turn back.
She reached the house. She ran to the room where the little child usually slept. The bed was empty! Distracted, she flew from chamber to chamber. Suddenly she remembered that this night he had been given to another nurse. Up into the third story she hurried, and, as she pushed open the door, the little fellow, sitting up in bed, cooed to her and put out his hands.
With the tears raining down her cheeks, Mary wrapped the babe warmly and started down the stairs. Out into the darkness once more; onward with her precious burden, through cannon-roar, through shot and shell! Three times she passed through this iron storm. The balls still swept the forest; the terrific booming filled the air.
With the child pressed tightly to her brave young heart, she fled on. She neither stumbled nor fell. The shot threw the dirt in her face, and showered the twigs down upon her head. But she was not struck. In safety she reached the hut, and fell exhausted across the threshold.
And the little boy thus saved by a girl's brave devotion, afterward became General Fenwick, famous in the war of 1812.
BY JAMES RICHARDSON.
Over by the tangled thicket, Where the level meets the hill, Where the mealy alder-bushes Crowd around the ruined mill, Where the thrushes whistle early, Where the midges love to play, Where the nettles, tall and stinging, Guard the vine-obstructed way, Where the tired brooklet lingers; In a quiet little pool, Mistress Salmo Fontinalis[A] Keeps a very private school.
Forty little speckled beauties Come to learn of her, each day, How to climb the foaming rapids, Where the flashing sunbeams play,— How to navigate the eddies, How to sink and how to rise, How to watch for passing perils, How to leap for passing flies,— When to play upon the surface, When beneath the stones to hide,— All the secrets of the water, All brook learning, true and tried;—
"That's a good-for-nothing skipper;" "That's a harmless yellow-bird;" "That's the flicker of the sunshine, When the alder-leaves are stirred;" "That's the shadow of a cloudlet;" "That's a squirrel come to drink;" "That—look out for him, my darlings!— He's a fierce and hungry mink;" "That's the ripple on the water, When the winds the wavelets stir;" "That—snap quick, my little hearties!— That's a luscious grasshopper."
So the clever Mistress Salmo Gives her counsel, day by day,— Teaching all the troutly virtues, All life's lessons, grave and gay. Well she knows the flashing terror Of King Fisher's sudden fall! Well she knows the lurking danger Of the barb'd hook, keen and small! Well she tries to warn her pupils Of all evils, low and high! But, alas! the vain young triflers Sometimes disobey—and die!
What was that which passed so quickly, With a slender shade behind? What is that which stirs the alders When no ripple tells of wind? What sends Mistress Salmo darting Underneath the stones in fear?— Crying, "Hide yourselves, my darlings! Our worst enemy is near!" "I am bound to understand it," Says one self-proud speckle-side; "When I see the danger's real, Then, if need be, I can hide."
So he waits alone and watches, Sees the shadow pass again, Sees a fly drop on the water,— Dashes at it, might and main. "Missed it! Well," he says, "I never! That's the worst jump made to-day! Here another comes—now for it!" Splash! He's in the air—to stay! When the alders cease to tremble, Silence comes and sun-glints shine, Mistress Salmo Fontinalis Calls the roll,—just thirty-nine!
[Footnote A: Brook-trout.]
HOW THE WEATHER IS FORETOLD.
BY JAMES H. FLINT.
In former times, the chief herald of the weather was the almanac, which ambitiously prophesied a whole year of cold and heat, wet and dry, dividing up the kinds of weather quite impartially, if not always correctly.
But the almanac, good as it was now and then, and the weather-wise farmers, correct as sometimes they might have been, were not always able to impart exact information to the country; and they have been thrown quite into the shade of late, by one who is popularly known under the somewhat disrespectful title of "Old Prob," or "Old Probabilities." He has become the Herald of the Weather to the sailor, near the rocky, dangerous coasts; to the farmer, watching his crops, and waiting for good days to store them; to the traveler, anxious to pursue his journey under fair skies; and to the girls and boys who want to know, before they start to the woods for a picnic, what are the "probabilities" as to rain.
Every one who reads the daily paper is familiar with the "Weather Record," issued from the "War Department, office of the Chief Signal Officer," at Washington. These reports give, first, a general statement of what the weather has been, for the past twenty-four hours, all over the country, from Maine to California, and from the Lakes to the South Atlantic States; and then the "Probabilities," or "Indications," for the next twenty-four hours, over this same broad territory. The annual reports of the Chief Signal Officer show that in only comparatively few instances do these daily predictions fail of fulfillment.
The reason these prophecies are so true is a simple and yet a wonderful one. The weather itself tells the observer what it is going to do, some time in advance, and the telegraph sends the news all over the country, from the central signal office at Washington.
We shall see, presently, how the weather interprets itself to "Old Probabilities." Although it has proved such a fruitful subject of discourse in all ages, yet I am afraid many people who pass remarks upon it do not really think what the weather is made of. Let us examine its different elements.
The atmosphere has weight, just as water or any other fluid, although it seems to be perfectly bodiless. We must comprehend that the transparent, invisible air is pressing inward toward the center of the earth. This pressure varies according to the state of the weather, and the changes are indicated by an instrument called a barometer. Generally speaking, the falling of the mercury in the tube of the barometer indicates rain, and its rise heralds clear weather. Sometimes the rise is followed by cold winds, frost and ice. What these changes really indicate, however, can be determined only by comparing the barometric changes, at certain hours, in a number of places very far apart. This is done by the Signal Service. Observations are made at about one hundred and forty stations, in different portions of the country, at given hours, and the results are telegraphed at once to Washington, where our faithful "weather clerk" receives them, reasoning out from them the "probabilities" which he publishes three times in every twenty-four hours.
But the atmosphere varies not only in weight, but also in temperature. The thermometer tells us of such changes.
Besides this, the air contains a great amount of moisture, and it shows as much variation in this characteristic as in the others. For the purpose of making known the changes in the moisture of the atmosphere, an instrument has been invented called a "wet-bulb" thermometer.
We are thus enabled to ascertain the weight or pressure, the temperature, and the wetness of the air, and now it only remains for us to measure the force, and point out the direction, of the wind. This is done by the familiar weather-vane and the anemometer. The vane shows the direction, and the anemometer is an instrument which indicates the velocity of the wind.
It is by a right understanding of all these instruments that the signal service officer is enabled to tell what the weather says of itself; for they are the pens with which the weather writes out the facts from which the officer makes up his reports for the benefit of all concerned. Thus, however wildly and blindly the storm may seem to come, it sends messengers telling just where it arose, what course it will take, and how far it will extend. But it tells its secrets to those only who pay strict attention.
The system of danger signals, adopted by the United States Government, has proved of great benefit to shipping. All along the coasts are stations, at which plainly visible signals are displayed, to warn ship-captains of approaching storms. The reports of observers at the stations are required to give all instances in which vessels have remained in port on account of official warnings given. In these cases danger was avoided, and statistics show that disasters to shipping have been considerably fewer since the introduction of the cautionary signals.
The agricultural interests of the country also have been greatly benefited by the daily bulletins sent to every farming district in the land by the Weather Department. These bulletins are made from telegraphic reports received at appointed centers of distribution, where they are at once printed, placed in envelopes, and addressed to designated post-offices in the district to be supplied. Each postmaster receiving a bulletin has the order of the Postmaster-General to display it instantly in a frame furnished for the purpose.
The bulletins reach the different offices, and are displayed in the frames, on the average, at eleven o'clock in the morning, making about ten hours from the time the report first left the chief signal officer until it appeared placarded at every center of the farming populations, and became accessible to all classes even in the most distant parts of the country.
The information given on these bulletins has been found especially valuable to those farmers who take an interest in the study of meteorology, or the science of weather, and the facts announced are so plain, that any intelligent person may profit by them. For instance, each bulletin now announces, for its particular district, what winds in each month have been found most likely, and what least likely, to be followed by rain. Attention given to this one simple piece of information will result in increasing the gains and reducing the losses of harvesting.
Warnings of expected rises or falls in the great rivers are made with equal regularity, telegraphed, bulletined in frames, and also published by the newspapers, at the different river cities. These daily reports give the depths of water at different points in the rivers' courses, and thus make it easy for river shipping to be moored safely in anticipation of low water, when ignorance might lead to the grounding of the boats on sand-bars or mud-banks. The notices of the probable heights which freshets may reach, are followed by preparations upon the "levees" and river-banks, to guard against overflows.
The United States Signal Service is a branch of the army. No one is admitted to it who is under twenty-one years of age. Every candidate has to undergo before enlistment an examination, the chief subjects of which are spelling, legible hand-writing, proficiency in arithmetic, and the geography of the United States, physical and political.
Successful candidates are regularly enlisted in the army, as non-commissioned officers, and go through a course of very systematic instruction in military signaling and telegraphy. They are assigned afterward to different posts, where they are required to make observations and report the same by wire three times a day, to the commanding officer at Washington. These observations are made by means of the instruments I have described, and include the different appearances in the sky; and at all the stations they are made at the same hour, according to Washington time. The telegraph gives to the Herald of the Weather and his aids the advantage of hearing from all the hundred and forty-odd observers almost at the same time; and when all this information has been gathered up, studied out, and re-arranged, the same swift servant takes all over the country, again almost at one time, the ripe results of the care and watching of more than seven score persons separated by hundreds and even thousands of miles from the central office.
I should like to describe the instruments fully, but must content myself with telling you what remarkable things some of them do. The self-registering barometer, for instance, is made to actually photograph a storm; another is made to draw with a pencil, every hour, figures that show the height of the column of mercury and the condition of the atmosphere. Even the vane, or weather-cock, marks down the direction and force of the wind.
The report of the chief signal officer for the year 1876 gives some idea of the vast amount of labor performed by the service. The Herald of the Weather never rests. As he says, "The duties of this office permit little rest and less hesitation. Its action must be prompt. * * * Its orders must issue, its signals of warning be given, and its record thus made, sometimes when wisdom would delay, if possible, and subsequent information show it had delayed rightly. It is the simple duty of the office to act at each present moment as well as it can with the information at that time before it. The reports to come after can only give bases for future action, while exhibiting the right and wrong of the past." These points should be borne in mind by those who are disposed to find fault with some of the daily predictions about the weather. If these predictions do not always come true, it is for the reason given above. Each report must be made at a given hour. Sudden changes may occur immediately after a report has been issued. These changes cannot be waited for, and cannot always be foreseen. But the general accuracy of the daily reports cannot be questioned, as about eighty per cent of their predictions are known to have been verified, and the average of failure grows less.
The method of arranging, comparing, and studying out the meaning of all the different records of observations made at all the weather stations, cannot be explained in a short article. But I may add that the weather is, after all, not quite so capricious as its accusers have asserted. And it has been found that all storms have certain "habits, movements, and tracks." It is by applying these laws, and drawing conclusions from them, that the prophet of the weather is able to tell so nearly what kind of a day we shall have, and just about where and when the storm will come.
Nearly all great storms have a rotary, or cyclonical character. The little whirlwinds we often see on windy days, when the dust is caught up and whirled around, are miniature examples of great storms which sweep around immense circles. Almost all great rain, hail, and snow storms revolve in this manner around a calm center where the mercury is low in the tube of the barometer. Sometimes two or more cyclones meet, and interfere with one another's rotary motions; and "when interferences of this description take place, we have squalls, calms (often accompanied by heavy rains), thunder-storms, great variations in the direction and force of the wind," and irregular movements of the barometer.
So then, considering all that the Herald of the Weather has to do, the care and quickness with which it must be done, and the excellent results he obtains, everybody who is at all interested in the changes of the weather ought to be grateful to him for his faithfulness and devoted attention to duty.
But why should the Government of the United States—that is to say, the people as a whole—take the trouble and bear the cost of keeping a small army of men to watch the weather all over the country, and to telegraph their observations three times a day to Washington? Why should the officials there take the trouble to compare these observations and telegraph back to each locality what weather it may expect, and what the weather will be elsewhere, so that you and I may know when to stay at home, or when to take our umbrellas with us if we go out?
Hardly. There are more important matters at stake. Most of you are old enough to know that it is unexpected weather that causes most of the trouble that the weather occasions. The farmer expects fair weather, cuts his hay or grain, and a storm comes and spoils it. He looks for rain, and lets his crop stand; the bright sun injures it, or he loses a good chance to harvest it. The ship-master expects fair weather, puts out from port, and his ship is driven back upon the shore, a wreck. He expects a storm, stays in port, and misses the fair wind that would have carried him far to sea.
Now, a very large part of these disappointments and losses may be prevented, if one only knows with reasonable certainty what sort of weather it is likely to be to-day and to-morrow; and that is just the information the Weather Herald furnishes. The great storms usually come slowly driving across the country—so slowly that the telegraph may send word of their coming two or three days ahead. Thus the farmers may know just what they may safely undertake to do; and so may the ship-masters.
Since the farmers and seamen have learned to value the weather warnings rightly, this service saves the country every year millions and millions of dollars' worth of property, and, it may be, hundreds of lives. Often a single timely warning has prevented losses that would have amounted to more than the entire cost of the weather service from the beginning until now. And possibly the yearly saving effected by warnings of ordinary "changeable" weather, may together amount to more than those in connection with great storms.
TOO MANY BIRTHDAYS.
BY FANNY M. OSBORNE.
The king of the island was the father, and the queen the mother, of the little princess about whom this story is told. For many generations there had been but one child born to the royal family; but goodness and beauty being hereditary, these only children were beloved by all the subjects of the realm; and although they ran a great danger of being spoiled, they never were, but remained all through their lives as simple, gentle, and unpretentious as though born to the humblest lot.
Of course, the event of the birth of one of these children had been, from time immemorial, the occasion of the greatest and most sincere rejoicing, and the enthusiasm of the people seemed even greater at each repetition of these blessed anniversaries.
In this happy island crimes were almost unknown; and so generous and confiding were the people, that they imagined all the world were as good as themselves. It is not surprising, therefore, that when the great physician Aigew came from a far distant land to attend the grandfather of the little princess on his death-bed, no one in all the island suspected that he was anything else than the best and kindest of doctors. It is true that the former court physician, now displaced by Aigew, had his doubts about his successor. But it is best not to trouble ourselves with what we cannot understand; and whether or not Aigew was as good as he pretended to be, the king and queen were altogether pleased with their new doctor. Knowing him to be wise and of great book-learning, they admitted him to the closest intimacy in their private life, consulted him upon all questions of state, and accepted his guidance and counsel as that of a superior being. It was to his influence that the islanders owed their great birthday law, by which it was enacted that, on each recurrence of the princess's anniversary, every child in the kingdom was to be allowed his or her way, without restraint, from sunrise until sunset; and, during the day, the use of the word "no" was forbidden to all fathers and mothers and nursery-maids, from one end of the island to the other.
Everybody thought this one of the best enactments of the reign. "What a beautiful thought!" said they. "All the children in the land rejoicing with their princess! When they are grown men and women, they will always think of her with pleasure, for she will be associated with the most delightful memories of their childhood."
It certainly did seem very charming at first. But the day after was harvest-time for the great physician and his assistants, who kept flying hither and thither post-haste.
Still, every one said it was a good law. It was true the children were not quite so well next day; but then, what a fine moral effect! and what a pleasant sight it was to see them all thoroughly happy for at least one day in every year!
Now, just after the fourteenth birthday had been celebrated, Aigew was called in to see to the princess. He gave her a little medicine, which she took in the prettiest way, without jelly.
"That's a nice, good girl," said the grave doctor. "I have offered you no birthday gift as yet; but it is in my power to give you anything you wish. Say—what shall it be, sweet princess?"
"It is enough to give me your kind care," answered the princess. "Everything else I have. The best part of all to me was the enjoyment of the other children. Ah! how I wish I could have a birthday whenever I choose!"
"Even that," said the doctor, "is possible," as he took something from his bosom, smiling curiously to himself as he did so. "I give you this little casket upon two conditions," said he. "One is that you are never to mention the circumstance to a living soul; you are not even to speak of it to me. The other I will tell you after I have explained the nature of the gift. Inside this box are eighty crystal figures; each one represents a birthday, and lies, as you see, in a separate compartment. Begin at the right hand, and whenever you wish to have a birthday, you have only to place one of these in your little mouth, and it is here."
The princess, trembling and faint from a strange perfume in the air, took the box in her hand.
"But the other condition?"
"It is merely this: that no one but yourself ever tastes the contents of the magical box. If any one should, the worst consequences would follow; and, among others, all these birthdays, with all that they have occasioned and all the presents that have been given in their honor, will pass away and become as nothing. Remember this." And he was gone.
The princess examined her singular present with the most intense interest. It looked wonderfully like a pill-box; but inside, lying in the tiniest compartments, were marvelously small and beautiful figures exactly like herself in miniature, except that, beginning at the right, each one was a little older in appearance than the one preceding.
The next morning, before the rising of the sun, the little princess lay awake, with the casket in her hand.
"Shall I? or shall I not?" said she. "I think I shall."
And the first figure from the right melted on her lips. The taste was sweet; but that was soon forgotten in her surprise at the unusual bustle which sprang up immediately in the city. Cannons were firing; the populace was shouting, "Long live the princess!" and great vans came thundering up to the entrance, laden with gifts. Yes, it was all true; she might have a birthday whenever she chose. It passed off like the fourteen that had gone before. On the morrow, another was celebrated; another, after the interval of one day; and another in a week from that; so that the whole kingdom was kept in a continual uproar of festivity.
Dr. Aigew sent to his own country for many more learned doctors and chemists. He built great laboratories, where, all day and all night, pills and draughts and mixtures (of which I hope never even to know the names) were zealously compounded. The huge chimneys sent forth black clouds of physic-laden smoke, which began to hang like a pall over the city. The fields, once yellow with corn, were now only cultivated for the production of rhubarb and senna and camomile. The children of the nation grew as yellow and bilious as Aigew himself. All the wealth of the island was pouring into the coffers of the doctor. There were no shops open but those of chemists and confectioners. No other trade had an opportunity to flourish. The country was plainly going to ruin.
The old king saw but one way to save his people. He must send his daughter away. This made him very sad, for he loved her dearly, and could not bear to have her know the truth.
"What shall I do?" he asked the queen.
"It is quite plain," answered she. "Marry her."
This was easily done. The fame of her beauty and gentleness had reached other lands; and a marriage was soon arranged between the little princess and a handsome young prince, who was the son and heir of a neighboring king.
In due time, the prince with his retinue started, in much pomp and magnificence, to visit the bride; and he made such good speed, in his impatience, that he arrived in the island several days before the time appointed. Within the city gates, the cavalcade halted for a moment that the prince might rest.
"I am very weary," said he to the chamberlain. "Call the first gentleman-in-waiting, and ask him to tell the page to tell the butler to send a servant with some wine. Or, stay! I'd like to taste the national beverage, whatever it may be."
So the chamberlain told the first gentleman-in-waiting to tell the page to tell the butler to tell a servant to ask some one for the national beverage. The servant returned from a confectioner's shop, and told the butler, who told the page, who told the first gentleman-in-waiting, who told the chamberlain, that the people generally drank lemonade, but, on account of the celebration of the princess's birthday, none was to be had.
"There is some mistake!" cried the prince, who was tired and a little cross, and very thirsty; "there is some mistake! The princess's birthday will be the day after to-morrow, the date for which we were invited. Go and find out the meaning of this riddle."
Soon the chamberlain returned, bringing the confectioner with him.
"My lord," says he, "this man tells so strange a story, that I have brought him here lest you should suspect me of falsehood. He declares that he has furnished confections, creams, and fruits for the princess's birthday, forty-one distinct individual times."
"It is the truth, my lord," said the confectioner.
"It cannot be!" gasped the prince. "Make further inquiries. Tell the chamberlain to tell the gentleman-in-waiting to tell the page to tell the—ah! I am deathly faint. Forty-one, and I but twenty last month!"
Voices were heard and approaching footsteps. The chamberlain had brought six reverend men, dignitaries of the town, all of whom testified that on forty-one several occasions the birthday of the princess had been celebrated.
"It is enough! In fact, too much!" cried the prince. "We return immediately. This insult shall not pass unavenged."
So all the horses turned their heads where their tails had been; the musicians changed their tune from "See, the conquering hero comes" to "Take me home to die;" and the prince returned whence he came.
The king, his father, was not so wroth as the prince had expected.
"I have been wrong," said he. "The prince is 'O'er young to marry yet,' while I have been a widower for many years, and perhaps should marry first and set him an example. If the match proves unfortunate, I shall not have so long to endure it, from the difference in our ages. From my experience, he may learn wisdom. Yes, like a true father, I will sacrifice myself. It is I who shall marry the lady. You say she is fair and gentle, and only forty-one? I will sacrifice myself."
The other king and his court were much surprised when the news came that the prince repudiated all thoughts of the marriage, and that the father proposed to take his place as bridegroom. They were at first disposed to be indignant; but then something had to be done, or the kingdom would soon be ruined. And besides, the king was already on his way; he was known to be of a fiery temper; he had at his command a large and powerful standing army; and if he chose to make war, there was no possibility of resisting him, for the soldiers of the island had turned their swords into plowshares, and were engaged in raising senna.
The princess, as you may imagine, was not pleased with this change of bridegrooms; but, used to obedience, she acquiesced in everything, and told no one of the bitter tears she nightly shed upon her pillow. She tried to be as cheerful as possible in presence of her parents, and diverted her mind by having continual birthdays.
The bridegroom king halted at the gates of the town, with great dignity. He, too, arrived on a different day from the one appointed. It was a week later, at least. Age (the king was sixty, if he was a day) travels with more care and deliberation than hot-headed youth.
While waiting for the gates to be opened, the king could not forbear smiling at the horror of the young man when told of his bride's age.
"Forty-one is not so old," thought he. "Perhaps this is the very confectioner's where they furnished the information, but could not furnish any refreshment."
Turning to an attendant, he gave the order:
"Bring me from yonder house a draught of whatever is mostly used in the city."
It was not the confectioner's house, as he supposed, to which he pointed, but one of Aigew's laboratories. His majesty's commands were carried thither; and the chemist, gray and wizen, came forth, bearing a goblet filled with a dark liquid of peculiar odor. He bowed his knee, and held it toward the king, who took it in his hand, sniffed his royal nose suspiciously, and said:
"It has a disagreeable smell! What is it called?"
"Rhubarb and senna, your majesty; it is the only drink taken the day after the princess's birthday. Merry-making and feasting, when indulged in too freely, are necessarily followed by physic and fasting."
"I'll none of it," cried the king. "The princess's birthday! I thought her birthday had passed weeks ago."
"Of that I know nothing," replied the chemist. "I only know that yesterday we celebrated her seventy-second birthday. I am an old man, as your majesty sees, and not likely to tell that which is false."
The king was purple with rage. He said but the one word "Home!" In a few moments, he and his retinue had turned their backs, and they speedily disappeared behind the hills. There was only left a cloud of dust, and an occasional strain of "The girl I left behind me," borne back upon the wind from the distance.
This last blow fell heavily on the father of the princess. He flew into a rage; he had had too much of birthdays and bridegrooms, and determined he would be a party to no more of either.
"Get you gone to a convent!" he cried to his weeping, frightened daughter. "Don apparel suitable to your years, and offend my sight no more!"
They placed upon the princess's yellow curls a beldame's cap, robed her in a plain gown of black, and made ready to take her away.
"I cannot understand," thought she, "the cause of the misfortunes that have befallen me and all the world. Can it be Dr. Aigew's casket?" She took it from her bosom.
"I fear me I shall want no birthdays in the convent," said she, sadly. "So there, little birds, take what is left."
As she strewed the sugary mites, the little birds caught them up and flew away.
A sudden earthquake convulsed the land, a violent hurricane swept over it. During these changes of nature, everything that had been affected by the unnatural birthdays returned to its former state. All remembrance even, connected with them ever so remotely, was wiped from the memory of man.
I am not sure, but I think the prince did afterward visit the island, and was much impressed by its quiet, sylvan life and the incomparable beauty of the princess; and they do say——
UNDER THE LILACS
BY LOUISA M. ALCOTT.
A few days later, Miss Celia was able to go about with her arm in a sling, pale still, and rather stiff, but so much better than any one had expected, that all agreed Mr. Paine was right in pronouncing Dr. Mills "a master hand with broken bones." Two devoted little maids waited on her, two eager pages stood ready to run her errands, and friendly neighbors sent in delicacies enough to keep these four young persons busily employed in disposing of them.
Every afternoon the great bamboo lounging chair was brought out and the interesting invalid conducted to it by stout Randa, who was head nurse, and followed by a train of shawl, cushion, foot-stool, and book bearers, who buzzed about like swarming bees round a new queen. When all were settled, the little maids sewed and the pages read aloud, with much conversation by the way; for one of the rules was, that all should listen attentively, and if any one did not understand what was read, he or she should ask to have it explained on the spot. Whoever could answer these questions was invited to do so, and at the end of the reading Miss Celia could ask any she liked, or add any explanations which seemed necessary. In this way much pleasure and profit was extracted from the tales Ben and Thorny read, and much unexpected knowledge as well as ignorance displayed, not to mention piles of neatly hemmed towels for which Bab and Betty were paid like regular sewing-women.
So vacation was not all play, and the little girls found their picnics, berry parties, and "goin' a visitin'," all the more agreeable for the quiet hour spent with Miss Celia. Thorny had improved wonderfully, and was getting to be quite energetic, especially since his sister's accident; for while she was laid up he was the head of the house, and much enjoyed his promotion. But Ben did not seem to flourish as he had done at first. The loss of Sancho preyed upon him sadly, and the longing to go and find his dog grew into such a strong temptation that he could hardly resist it. He said little about it; but now and then a word escaped him which might have enlightened any one who chanced to be watching him. No one was, just then, so he brooded over this fancy, day by day, in silence and solitude, for there was no riding and driving now. Thorny was busy with his sister trying to show her that he remembered how good she had been to him when he was ill, and the little girls had their own affairs.
Miss Celia was the first to observe the change, having nothing to do but lie on a sofa and amuse herself by seeing others work or play. Ben was bright enough at the readings, because then he forgot his troubles; but when they were over and his various duties done, he went to his own room or sought consolation with Lita, being sober and quiet, and quite unlike the merry monkey all knew and liked so well.
"Thorny, what is the matter with Ben?" asked Miss Celia, one day, when she and her brother were alone in the "green parlor," as they called the lilac-tree walk.
"Fretting about Sanch, I suppose. I declare I wish that dog had never been born! Losing him has just spoilt Ben. Not a bit of fun left in him, and he wont have anything I offer to cheer him up."
Thorny spoke impatiently, and knit his brows over the pressed flowers he was neatly gumming into his herbal.
"I wonder if he has anything on his mind? He acts as if he was hiding a trouble he didn't dare to tell. Have you talked with him about it?" asked Miss Celia, looking as if she was hiding a trouble she did not like to tell.
"Oh, yes, I poke him up now and then, but he gets peppery, so I let him alone. May be he's longing for his old circus again. Shouldn't blame him much if he was; it isn't very lively here, and he's used to excitement, you know."
"I hope it isn't that. Do you think he would slip away without telling us, and go back to the old life again?"
"Don't believe he would. Ben isn't a bit of a sneak, that's why I like him."
"Have you ever found him sly or untrue in any way?" asked Miss Celia, lowering her voice.
"No; he's as fair and square a fellow as I ever saw. Little bit low, now and then, but he doesn't mean it, and wants to be a gentleman, only he never lived with one before, and it's all new to him. I'll get him polished up after a while."
"Oh, Thorny, there are three peacocks on the place, and you are the finest!" laughed Miss Celia, as her brother spoke in his most condescending way with a lift of the eyebrows very droll to see.
"And two donkeys, and Ben's the biggest, not to know when he is well off and be happy!" retorted the "gentleman," slapping a dried specimen on the page as if he were pounding discontented Ben.
"Come here and let me tell you something which worries me. I would not breathe it to another soul, but I feel rather helpless, and I dare say you can manage the matter better than I."
Looking much mystified, Thorny went and sat on the stool at his sister's feet, while she whispered confidentially in his ear: "I've lost some money out of my drawer, and I'm so afraid Ben took it."
"But it's always locked up and you keep the keys of the drawer and the little room?"
"It is gone, nevertheless, and I've had my keys safe all the time."
"But why think it is he any more than Randa, or Katy, or me?"
"Because I trust you three as I do myself. I've known the girls for years, and you have no object in taking it since all I have is yours, dear."
"And all mine is yours, of course. But, Celia, how could he do it? He can't pick locks, I know, for we fussed over my desk together, and had to break it after all."
"I never really thought it possible till to-day when you were playing ball and it went in at the upper window, and Ben climbed up the porch after it; you remember you said, 'If it had gone in at the garret gable you couldn't have done that so well;' and he answered, 'Yes, I could, there isn't a spout I can't shin up, or a bit of this roof I haven't been over.'"
"So he did; but there is no spout near the little room window."
"There is a tree, and such an agile boy as Ben could swing in and out easily. Now, Thorny, I hate to think this of him, but it has happened twice, and for his own sake I must stop it. If he is planning to run away, money is a good thing to have. And he may feel that it is his own; for you know he asked me to put his wages in the bank, and I did. He may not like to come to me for that, because he can give no good reason for wanting it. I'm so troubled I really don't know what to do."
She looked troubled, and Thorny put his arms about her as if to keep all worries but his own away from her.
"Don't you fret, Cely, dear; you leave it to me. I'll fix him—ungrateful little scamp!"
"That is not the way to begin. I'm afraid you will make him angry and hurt his feelings, and then we can do nothing."
"Bother his feelings! I shall just say, calmly and coolly: 'Now, look here, Ben, hand over the money you took out of my sister's drawer, and we'll let you off easy,' or something like that."
"It wouldn't do, Thorny; his temper would be up in a minute, and away he would go before we could find out whether he was guilty or not. I wish I knew how to manage."
"Let me think," and Thorny leaned his chin on the arm of the chair, staring hard at the knocker as if he expected the lion's mouth to open with words of counsel then and there.
"By Jove, I do believe Ben took it!" he broke out suddenly; "for when I went to his room this morning to see why he didn't come and do my boots, he shut the drawer in his bureau as quick as a flash, and looked red and queer, for I didn't knock, and sort of startled him."
"He wouldn't be likely to put stolen money there. Ben is too wise for that."
"He wouldn't keep it there, but he might be looking at it and pitch it in when I called. He's hardly spoken to me since, and when I asked him what his flag was at half-mast for, he wouldn't answer. Besides, you know in the reading this afternoon he didn't listen, and when you asked what he was thinking about, he colored up and muttered something about Sanch. I tell you, Celia, it looks bad—very bad," and Thorny shook his head with a wise air.
"It does, and yet we may be all wrong. Let us wait a little and give the poor boy a chance to clear himself before we speak. I'd rather lose my money than suspect him falsely."
"How much was it?"
"Eleven dollars; a one went first, and I supposed I'd miscalculated somewhere when I took some out; but when I missed a ten, I felt that I ought not to let it pass."
"Look here, sister, you just put the case into my hands and let me work it up. I wont say anything to Ben till you give the word; but I'll watch him, and now my eyes are open, it wont be easy to deceive me."
Thorny was evidently pleased with the new play of detective, and intended to distinguish himself in that line; but when Miss Celia asked how he meant to begin, he could only respond with a blank expression: "Don't know! You give me the keys and leave a bill or two in the drawer, and may be I can find him out somehow."
So the keys were given, and the little dressing-room where the old secretary stood was closely watched for a day or two. Ben cheered up a trifle, which looked as if he knew an eye was upon him, but otherwise he went on as usual, and Miss Celia, feeling a little guilty at even harboring a suspicion of him, was kind and patient with his moods.
Thorny was very funny in the unnecessary mystery and fuss he made; his affectation of careless indifference to Ben's movements and his clumsy attempts to watch every one of them; his dodgings up and down stairs, ostentatious clanking of keys, and the elaborate traps he set to catch his thief, such as throwing his ball in at the dressing-room window and sending Ben up the tree to get it, which he did, thereby proving beyond a doubt that he alone could have taken the money, Thorny thought. Another deep discovery was, that the old drawer was so shrunken that the lock could be pressed down by slipping a knife-blade between the hasp and socket.
"Now it is as clear as day, and you'd better let me speak," he said, full of pride as well as regret, at this triumphant success of his first attempt as a detective.
"Not yet, and you need do nothing more. I'm afraid it was a mistake of mine to let you do this; and if it has spoiled your friendship with Ben, I shall be very sorry; for I do not think he is guilty," answered Miss Celia.
"Why not?" and Thorny looked annoyed.
"I've watched also, and he doesn't act like a deceitful boy. To-day I asked him if he wanted any money, or should I put what I owe him with the rest, and he looked me straight in the face with such honest, grateful eyes, I could not doubt him when he said: 'Keep it, please, I don't need anything here, you are all so good to me.'"
"Now, Celia, don't you be soft-hearted. He's a sly little dog, and knows my eye is on him. When I asked him what he saw in the dressing-room, after he brought out the ball, and looked sharply at him, he laughed, and said: 'Only a mouse,' as saucy as you please."
"Do set the trap there, I heard the mouse nibbling last night, and it kept me awake. We must have a cat or we shall be overrun."
"Well, shall I give Ben a good blowing up, or will you?" asked Thorny, scorning such poor prey as mice, and bound to prove that he was in the right.
"I'll let you know what I have decided in the morning. Be kind to Ben, meantime, or I shall feel as if I had done you harm in letting you watch him."
So it was left for that day, and by the next, Miss Celia had made up her mind to speak to Ben. She was just going down to breakfast when the sound of loud voices made her pause and listen. It came from Ben's room, where the two boys seemed to be disputing about something.
"I hope Thorny has kept his promise," she thought, and hurried through the back entry, fearing a general explosion.
Ben's chamber was at the end, and she could see and hear what was going on before she was near enough to interfere. Ben stood against his closet door looking as fierce and red as a turkey-cock; Thorny sternly confronted him, saying in an excited tone, and with a threatening gesture: "You are hiding something in there, and you can't deny it."
"Better not; I insist on seeing it."
"Well, you wont."
"What have you been stealing now?"
"Didn't steal it,—used to be mine,—I only took it when I wanted it."
"I know what that means. You'd better give it back or I'll make you."
"Stop!" cried a third voice, as Thorny put out his arm to clutch Ben, who looked ready to defend himself to the last gasp. "Boys, I will settle this affair. Is there anything hidden in the closet, Ben?" and Miss Celia came between the belligerent parties with her one hand up to part them.
Thorny fell back at once, looking half ashamed of his heat, and Ben briefly answered, with a gulp as if shame or anger made it hard to speak steadily:
"Yes'm, there is."
"Does it belong to you?"
"Yes'm, it does."
"Where did you get it?"
"Up to Squire's."
"That's a lie!" muttered Thorny to himself.
Ben's eye flashed, and his fist doubled up in spite of him, but he restrained himself out of respect to Miss Celia, who looked puzzled, as she asked another question, not quite sure how to proceed with the investigation: "Is it money, Ben?"
"No'm, it isn't."
"Then what can it be?"
"Meow!" answered a fourth voice from the closet, and as Ben flung open the door a gray kitten walked out, purring with satisfaction at her release.
Miss Celia fell into a chair and laughed till her eyes were full; Thorny looked foolish, and Ben folded his arms, curled up his nose, and regarded his accuser with calm defiance, while pussy sat down to wash her face as if her morning toilette had been interrupted by her sudden abduction.
"That's all very well, but it doesn't mend matters much, so you needn't laugh, Celia," began Thorny, recovering himself, and stubbornly bent on sifting the case to the bottom, now he had begun.
"Well, it would, if you'd let a feller alone. She said she wanted a cat, so I went and got the one they gave me when I was at the Squire's. I went early and took her without asking, and I had a right to," explained Ben, much aggrieved by having his surprise spoiled.
"It was very kind of you, and I'm glad to have this nice kitty. Give her some breakfast, and then we will shut her up in my room to catch the mice that plague me," said Miss Celia, picking up the little cat, and wondering how she would get her two angry boys safely down-stairs.
"The dressing-room, she means; you know the way, and you don't need keys to get in," added Thorny, with such sarcastic emphasis that Ben felt some insult was intended, and promptly resented it.
"You wont get me to climb any more trees after your balls, and my cat wont catch any of your mice, so you needn't ask me."
"Cats don't catch thieves, and they are what I'm after!"
"What do you mean by that?" fiercely demanded Ben.
"Celia has lost some money out of her drawer, and you wont let me see what's in yours; so I thought, perhaps, you'd got it!" blurted out Thorny, finding it hard to say the words, angry as he was, for the face opposite did not look like a guilty one.
For a minute, Ben did not seem to understand him, plainly as he spoke; then he turned an angry scarlet, and, with a reproachful glance at his mistress, opened the little drawer so that both could see all that it contained.
"They aint anything; but I'm fond of 'em—they are all I've got—I was afraid he'd laugh at me that time, so I wouldn't let him look—it was father's birthday, and I felt bad about him and Sanch—"
Ben's indignant voice got more and more indistinct as he stumbled on, and broke down over the last words. He did not cry, however, but threw back his little treasures as if half their sacredness was gone; and, making a strong effort at self-control, faced around, asking of Miss Celia, with a grieved look:
"Did you think I'd steal anything of yours?"
"I tried not to, Ben, but what could I do? It was gone, and you the only stranger about the place."
"Wasn't there any one to think bad of but me?" he said, so sorrowfully that Miss Celia made up her mind on the spot that he was as innocent of the theft as the kitten now biting her buttons, no other refreshment being offered.
"Nobody, for I know my girls well. Yet, eleven dollars are gone, and I cannot imagine where or how; for both drawer and door are always locked, because my papers and valuables are in that room."
"What a lot! But how could I get it if it was locked up?" and Ben looked as if that question was unanswerable.
"Folks that can climb in at windows for a ball, can go the same way for money, and get it easy enough when they've only to pry open an old lock!"
Thorny's look and tone seemed to make plain to Ben all that they had been suspecting, and, being innocent, he was too perplexed and unhappy to defend himself. His eye went from one to the other, and, seeing doubt in both faces, his boyish heart sunk within him; for he could prove nothing, and his first impulse was to go away at once.
"I can't say anything, only that I didn't take the money. You wont believe it, so I'd better go back where I come from. They weren't so kind, but they trusted me, and knew I wouldn't steal a cent. You may keep my money, and the kitty, too; I don't want 'em," and, snatching up his hat, Ben would have gone straight away, if Thorny had not barred his passage.
"Come, now, don't be mad. Let's talk it over, and if I'm wrong I'll take it all back and ask your pardon," he said, in a friendly tone, rather scared at the consequences of his first attempt, though as sure as ever that he was right.
"It would break my heart to have you go in that way, Ben. Stay at least till your innocence is proved, then no one can doubt what you say now."
"Don't see how it can be proved," answered Ben, appeased by her evident desire to trust him.
"We'll try as well as we know how, and the first thing we will do is to give that old secretary a good rummage from top to bottom. I've done it once, but it is just possible that the bills may have slipped out of sight. Come, now, I can't rest till I've done all I can to comfort you and convince Thorny."
Miss Celia rose as she spoke, and led the way to the dressing-room, which had no outlet except through her chamber. Still holding his hat, Ben followed with a troubled face, and Thorny brought up the rear, doggedly determined to keep his eye on "the little scamp" till the matter was satisfactorily cleared up. Miss Celia had made her proposal more to soothe the feelings of one boy and to employ the superfluous energies of the other, than in the expectation of throwing any light upon the mystery; for she was sadly puzzled by Ben's manner, and much regretted that she had let her brother meddle in the matter.
"There," she said, unlocking the door with the key Thorny reluctantly gave up to her, "this is the room and that is the drawer on the right. The lower ones have seldom been opened since we came, and hold only some of papa's old books. Those upper ones you may turn out and investigate as much as you——Bless me! here's something in your trap, Thorny!" and Miss Celia gave a little skip as she nearly trod on a long, gray tail, which hung out of the hole now filled by a plump mouse.
But her brother was intent on more serious things, and merely pushed the trap aside as he pulled out the drawer with an excited gesture, which sent it and all its contents clattering to the floor.
"Confound the old thing! It always stuck so I had to give a jerk. Now, there it is, topsy-turvy!" and Thorny looked much disgusted at his own awkwardness.
"No harm done; I left nothing of value in it. Look back there, Ben, and see if there is room for a paper to get worked over the top of the drawer. I felt quite a crack, but I don't believe it is possible for things to slip out; the place was never full enough to overflow in any way."
Miss Celia spoke to Ben, who was kneeling down to pick up the scattered papers, among which were two marked dollar bills,—Thorny's bait for the thief. Ben looked into the dusty recess, and then put in his hand, saying carelessly:
"There's nothing but a bit of red stuff."
"My old pen-wiper—Why, what's the matter?" asked Miss Celia, as Ben dropped the handful of what looked like rubbish.
"Something warm and wiggly inside of it," answered Ben, stooping to examine the contents of the little scarlet bundle. "Baby mice! Aint they funny? Look just like mites of young pigs. We'll have to kill 'em if you've caught their mammy," he said, forgetting his own trials in boyish curiosity about his "find."
Miss Celia stooped also, and gently poked the red cradle with her finger; for the tiny mice were nestling deeper into the fluff with small squeaks of alarm. Suddenly she cried out: "Boys, boys, I've found the thief! Look here, pull out these bits and see if they wont make up my lost bills."
Down went the motherless babies as four ruthless hands pulled apart their cosey nest, and there, among the nibbled fragments, appeared enough finely printed, greenish paper, to piece out parts of two bank bills. A large cypher and part of a figure one were visible, and that accounted for the ten; but though there were other bits, no figures could be found, and they were willing to take the other bill on trust.
"Now, then, am I a thief and a liar?" demanded Ben, pointing proudly to the tell-tale letters spread forth on the table, over which all three had been eagerly bending.
"No; I beg your pardon, and I'm very sorry that we didn't look more carefully before we spoke, then we all should have been spared this pain."
"All right, old fellow, forgive and forget. I'll never think hard of you again,—on my honor I wont."
As they spoke, Miss Celia and her brother held out their hands frankly and heartily. Ben shook both, but with a difference; for he pressed the soft one gratefully, remembering that its owner had always been good to him; but the brown paw he gripped with a vengeful squeeze that made Thorny pull it away in a hurry, exclaiming, good-naturedly, in spite of both physical and mental discomfort:
"Come, Ben, don't you bear malice; for you've got the laugh on your side, and we feel pretty small. I do, anyway; for, after my fidgets, all I've caught is a mouse!"
"And her family. I'm so relieved I'm almost sorry the poor little mother is dead—she and her babies were so happy in the old pen-wiper," said Miss Celia, hastening to speak merrily, for Ben still looked indignant, and she was much grieved at what had happened.
"A pretty expensive house," began Thorny, looking about for the interesting orphans, who had been left on the floor while their paper-hangings were examined.
No further anxiety need be felt for them, however, Kitty had come upon the scene; and as judge, jury, and prisoner, turned to find the little witnesses, they beheld the last pink mite going down Pussy's throat in one mouthful.
"I call that summary justice,—the whole family executed on the spot! Give Kit the mouse also, and let us go to breakfast. I feel as if I had found my appetite, now this worry is off my mind," said Miss Celia, laughing so infectiously that Ben had to join in spite of himself, as she took his arm and led him away with a look which mutely asked his pardon over again.
"Rather lively for a funeral procession," said Thorny, following with the trap in his hand and Puss at his heels, adding, to comfort his pride as a detective: "Well, I said I'd catch the thief, and I have, though it is rather a small one!"
"Celia, I've notion that we ought to give Ben something. A sort of peace-offering, you know; for he feels dreadfully hurt about our suspecting him," said Thorny, at dinner that day.
"I see he does, though he tries to seem as bright and pleasant as ever. I do not wonder, and I've been thinking what I could do to soothe his feelings. Can you suggest anything?"
"Cuff-buttons. I saw some jolly ones over at Berryville,—oxidized silver, with dogs' heads on them, yellow eyes, and all as natural as could be. Those, now, would just suit him for his go-to-meeting white shirts,—neat, appropriate, and in memoriam."
Miss Celia could not help laughing, it was such a boyish suggestion; but she agreed to it, thinking Thorny knew best, and hoping the yellow-eyed dogs would be as balm to Ben's wounds.
"Well, dear, you may give those, and Lita shall give the little whip with a horse's foot for a handle, if it is not gone. I saw it at the harness shop in town, and Ben admired it so much that I planned to give it to him on his birthday."
"That will tickle him immensely; and if you'd just let him put brown tops to my old boots and stick a cockade in his hat when he sits up behind the phaeton, he'd be a happy fellow!" laughed Thorny, who had discovered that one of Ben's ambitions was to be a "tip-top groom."
"No, thank you; those things are out of place in America, and would be absurd in a small country place like this. His blue suit and straw hat please me better for a boy, though a nicer little groom, in livery or out, no one could desire, and you may tell him I said so."
"I will, and he'll look as proud as Punch; for he thinks every word you say worth a dozen from any one else. But wont you give him something? Just some little trifle, to show that we are both eating humble pie, feeling sorry about the mouse money."
"I shall give him a set of school-books, and try to get him ready to begin when vacation is over. An education is the best present we can make him, and I want you to help me fit him to enter as well as we can. Bab and Betty, began, little dears,—lent him their books and taught all they knew; so Ben got a taste, and, with the right encouragement, would like to go on, I am sure."
"That's so like you, Celia. Always thinking of the best thing and doing it handsomely. I'll help like a house a-fire, if he will let me; but, all day, he's been as stiff as a poker, so I don't believe he forgives me a bit."
"He will in time, and if you are kind and patient he will be glad to have you help him; I shall make it a sort of favor to me on his part, to let you see to his lessons, now and then. It will be quite true, for I don't want you to touch your Latin or algebra till cool weather; teaching him will be play to you."
Miss Celia's last words made her brother unbend his brows, for he longed to get at his books again, and the idea of being tutor to his "man-servant" did not altogether suit him.
"I'll tool him along at a great pace, if he will only go. Geography and arithmetic shall be my share, and you may have the writing and spelling; it gives me the fidgets to set copies and hear children make a mess of words. Shall I get the books when I buy the other things? Can I go this afternoon?"
"Yes, here is the list, Bab gave it to me. You can go if you will come home early and have your tooth filled."
Gloom fell at once upon Thorny's beaming face, and he gave such a shrill whistle that his sister jumped in her chair, as she added, persuasively:
"It wont hurt a bit, now, and the longer you leave it the worse it will be. Dr. Mann is ready at any time, and once over you will be at peace for months. Come, my hero, give your orders, and take one of the girls to support you in the trying hour. Have Bab, she will enjoy it and amuse you with her chatter."
"As if I needed girls around for such a trifle as that!" returned Thorny, with a shrug, though he groaned inwardly at the prospect before him, as most of us do on such occasions. "I wouldn't take Bab at any price; she'd only get into some scrape and upset the whole plan. Betty is the chicken for me,—a real little lady, and as nice and purry as a kitten."
"Very well; ask her mother, and take good care of her. Let her tuck her dolly in, and she will be contented anywhere. There's a fine air, and the awning is on the phaeton, so you wont feel the sun. Start about three, and drive carefully."
Betty was charmed to go, for Thorny was a sort of prince in her eyes, and to be invited to such a grand expedition was an overwhelming honor. Bab was not surprised, for, since Sancho's loss, she had felt herself in disgrace and been unusually meek; Ben let her "severely alone," which much afflicted her, for he was her great admiration, and had been pleased to express his approbation of her agility and courage so often that she was ready to attempt any fool-hardy feat to recover his regard. But vainly did she risk her neck jumping off the highest beams in the barn, trying to keep her balance standing on the donkey's back, and leaping the lodge gate at a bound; Ben vouchsafed no reward by a look, a smile, a word of commendation, and Bab felt that nothing but Sancho's return would ever restore the broken friendship.
Into faithful Betty's bosom did she pour forth her remorseful lamentations, often bursting out with the passionate exclamation, "If I could only find Sanch and give him back to Ben, I wouldn't care if I tumbled down and broke all my legs right away!" Such abandonment of woe made a deep impression on Betty, and she fell into the way of consoling her sister by cheerful prophecies and a firm belief that the organ-man would yet appear with the lost darling.
"I've got five cents of my berry money, and I'll buy you a orange if I see any," promised Betty, stopping to kiss Bab, as the phaeton came to the door, and Thorny handed in a young lady whose white frock was so stiff with starch that it crackled like paper.
"Lemons will do if oranges are gone. I like 'em to suck with lots of sugar," answered Bab, feeling that the sour sadly predominated in her cup just now.
"Don't she look sweet, the dear!" murmured Mrs. Moss, proudly surveying her youngest.
She certainly did, sitting under the fringed canopy with "Belinda," all in her best, upon her lap, as she turned to smile and nod, with a face so bright and winsome under the little blue hat, that it was no wonder mother and sister thought there never was such a perfect child as "our Betty."
Dr. Mann was busy when they arrived, but would be ready in an hour, so they did their shopping at once, having made sure of the whip as they came along. Thorny added some candy to Bab's lemon, and Belinda had a cake, which her mamma obligingly ate for her. Betty thought that Aladdin's palace could not have been more splendid than the jeweler's shop where the canine cuff-buttons were bought; but when they came to the book-store she forgot gold, silver, and precious stones, to revel in picture-books, while Thorny selected Ben's modest school outfit. Seeing her delight, and feeling particularly lavish with plenty of money in his pocket, the young gentleman completed the child's bliss by telling her to choose whichever one she liked best out of the pile of Walter Crane's toy-books lying in bewildering colors before her.
"This one; Bab always wanted to see the dreadful cupboard, and there's a picture of it here," answered Betty, clasping a gorgeous copy of "Blue-beard" to the little bosom, which still heaved with the rapture of looking at that delicious mixture of lovely Fatimas in pale azure gowns, pink Sister Annes on the turret top, crimson tyrants, and yellow brothers with forests of plumage blowing wildly from their mushroom-shaped caps.
"Very good; there you are, then. Now, come on, for the fun is over and the grind begins," said Thorny, marching away to his doom, with his tongue in his tooth and trepidation in his manly breast.
"Shall I shut my eyes and hold your head?" quavered devoted Betty, as they went up the steps so many reluctant feet had mounted before them.
"Nonsense, child, never mind me! You look out of window and amuse yourself; we shall not be long, I guess," and in went Thorny, silently hoping that the dentist had been suddenly called away, or some person with an excruciating toothache would be waiting to take ether, and so give our young man an excuse for postponing his job.
But no; Dr. Mann was quite at leisure, and, full of smiling interest, awaited his victim, laying forth his unpleasant little tools with the exasperating alacrity of his kind. Glad to be released from any share in the operation, Betty retired to the back window to be as far away as possible, and for half an hour was so absorbed in her book that poor Thorny might have groaned dismally without disturbing her.
"Done now, directly; only a trifle of polishing off and a look round," said Dr. Mann, at last, and Thorny, with a yawn that nearly rent him asunder, called out:
"Thank goodness! Pack up, Bettykin."
"I'm all ready," and, shutting her book with a start, she slipped down from the easy-chair in a great hurry.
But "looking round" took time, and before the circuit of Thorny's mouth was satisfactorily made, Betty had become absorbed by a more interesting tale than even the immortal "Blue-beard." A noise of children's voices in the narrow alley-way behind the house attracted her attention; the long window opened directly on the yard, and the gate swung in the wind. Curious as Fatima, Betty went to look; but all she saw was a group of excited boys peeping between the bars of another gate further down.
"What's the matter?" she asked of two small girls, who stood close by her, longing but not daring to approach the scene of action.
"Boys chasing a great black cat, I believe," answered one child.
"Want to come and see?" added the other, politely extending the invitation to the stranger.
The thought of a cat in trouble would have nerved Betty to face a dozen boys, so she followed at once, meeting several lads hurrying away on some important errand, to judge from their anxious countenances.
"Hold tight, Jimmy, and let 'em peek, if they want to. He can't hurt anybody now," said one of the dusty huntsmen, who sat on the wide coping of the wall, while two others held the gate, as if a cat could only escape that way.
"You peek first, Susy, and see if it looks nice," said one little girl, boosting her friend so that she could look through the bars in the upper part of the gate.
"No; it's only an ugly old dog!" responded Susy, losing all interest at once, and descending with a bounce.
"He's mad, and Jud's gone to get his gun so we can shoot him," called out one mischievous boy, resenting the contempt expressed for their capture.
"Aint, neither!" howled another lad from his perch. "Mad dogs wont drink, and this one is lapping out of a tub of water!"
"Well, he may be, and we don't know him, and he hasn't got any muzzle on, and the police will kill him if Jud don't," answered the sanguinary youth who had first started the chase after the poor animal, which had come limping into town, so evidently a lost dog that no one felt any hesitation in stoning him.
"We must go right home; my mother is dreadful 'fraid of mad dogs, and so is yours," said Susy; and, having satisfied their curiosity, the young ladies prudently retired.
But Betty had not had her "peep," and could not resist one look; for she had heard of these unhappy animals, and thought Bab would like to know how they looked. So she stood on tip-toe and got a good view of a dusty, brownish dog, lying on the grass close by, with his tongue hanging out while he panted, as if exhausted by fatigue and fear, for he still cast apprehensive glances at the wall which divided him from his tormentors.
"His eyes are just like Sanch's," said Betty to herself, unconscious that she spoke aloud, till she saw the creature prick up his ears and half rise, as if he had been called.
"He looks as if he knew me, but it isn't our Sancho; he was a lovely dog." Betty said that to the little boy peeping in beside her; but before he could make any reply, the brown beast stood straight up with an inquiring bark, while his eyes shone like topaz, and the short tail wagged excitedly.
"Why, that's just the way Sanch used to do!" cried Betty, bewildered by the familiar ways of this unfamiliar-looking dog.
As if the repetition of his name settled his own doubts, he leaped toward the gate and thrust a pink nose between the bars, with a howl of recognition as Betty's face was more clearly seen. The boys tumbled precipitately from their perches, and the little girl fell back alarmed, yet could not bear to run away and leave those imploring eyes pleading to her through the bars so eloquently.
"He acts just like our dog, but I don't see how it can be him. Sancho, Sancho, is it truly you?" called Betty, at her wits' end what to do.
"Bow, wow, wow!" answered the well-known bark, and the little tail did all it could to emphasize the sound, while the eyes were so full of dumb love and joy, the child could not refuse to believe that this ugly stray was their own Sancho strangely transformed.
All of a sudden, the thought rushed into her mind, "How glad Ben would be!—and Bab would feel all happy again. I must carry him home."
Never stopping to think of danger, and forgetting all her doubts, Betty caught the gate handle out of Jimmy's grasp, exclaiming eagerly: "He is our dog! Let me go in; I aint afraid."
"Not till Jud comes back; he told us we mustn't," answered the astonished Jimmy, thinking the little girl as mad as the dog.
With a confused idea that the unknown Jud had gone for a gun to shoot Sanch, Betty gave a desperate pull at the latch and ran into the yard, bent on saving her friend. That it was a friend there could be no further question; for, though the creature rushed at her as if about to devour her at a mouthful, it was only to roll ecstatically at her feet, lick her hands, and gaze into her face, trying to pant out the welcome which he could not utter. An older and more prudent person would have waited to make sure before venturing in; but confiding Betty knew little of the danger which she might have run; her heart spoke more quickly than her head, and, not stopping to have the truth proved, she took the brown dog on trust, and found it was indeed dear Sanch.
Sitting on the grass, she hugged him close, careless of tumbled hat, dusty paws on her clean frock, or a row of strange boys staring from the wall.
"Darling doggy, where have you been so long?" she cried, the great thing sprawling across her lap, as if he could not get near enough to his brave little protector. "Did they make you black and beat you, dear? Oh, Sanch, where is your tail—your pretty tail?"
A plaintive growl and a pathetic wag was all the answer he could make to these tender inquiries; for never would the story of his wrongs be known, and never could the glory of his doggish beauty be restored. Betty was trying to comfort him with pats and praises, when a new face appeared at the gate, and Thorny's authoritative voice called out:
"Betty Moss, what on earth are you doing in there with that dirty beast?"
"It's Sanch, it's Sanch! Oh, come and see!" shrieked Betty, flying up to lead forth her prize.
But the gate was held fast, for some one said the words, "Mad dog," and Thorny was very naturally alarmed, because he had already seen one. "Don't stay there another minute. Get up on that bench and I'll pull you over," directed Thorny, mounting the wall to rescue his charge in hot haste; for the dog did certainly behave queerly, limping hurriedly to and fro, as if anxious to escape. No wonder, when Sancho heard a voice he knew, and recognized another face, yet did not meet as kind a welcome as before.
"No, I'm not coming out till he does. It is Sanch, and I'm going to take him home to Ben," answered Betty, decidedly, as she wet her handkerchief in the rain water to bind up the swollen paw that had traveled many miles to rest in her little hand again.
"You're crazy, child! That is no more Ben's dog than I am."
"See if it isn't!" cried Betty, perfectly unshaken in her faith; and, recalling the words of command as well as she could, she tried to put Sancho through his little performance, as the surest proof that she was right. The poor fellow did his best, weary and footsore though he was; but when it came to taking his tail in his mouth to waltz, he gave it up, and, dropping down, hid his face in his paws, as he always did when any of his tricks failed. The act was almost pathetic now, for one of the paws was bandaged, and his whole attitude expressed the humiliation of a broken spirit.
That touched Thorny, and, quite convinced both of the dog's sanity and identity, he sprung down from the wall with Ben's own whistle, which gladdened Sancho's longing ear as much as the boy's rough caresses comforted his homesick heart.
"Now, let's carry him right home, and surprise Ben. Wont he be pleased?" said Betty, so in earnest that she tried to lift the big brute in spite of his protesting yelps.
"You are a little trump to find him out in spite of all the horrid things that have been done to him. We must have a rope to lead him, for he's got no collar and no muzzle. He has got friends though, and I'd like to see any one touch him now. Out of the way, there, boys!" Looking as commanding as a drum-major, Thorny cleared a passage, and with one arm about his neck, Betty proudly led her treasure forth, magnanimously ignoring his late foes, and keeping his eye fixed on the faithful friend whose tender little heart had known him in spite of all disguises.
"I found him, sir," and the lad who had been most eager for the shooting, stepped forward to claim any reward that might be offered for the now valuable victim.
"I kept him safe till she came," added the jailer Jimmy, speaking for himself.
"I said he wasn't mad," cried a third, feeling that his discrimination deserved approval.
"Jud aint my brother," said the fourth, eager to clear his skirts from all offense.
"But all of you chased and stoned him, I suppose? You'd better look out or you'll get reported to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals."
With this awful and mysterious threat, Thorny slammed the doctor's gate in the faces of the mercenary youths, nipping their hopes in the bud, and teaching them a good lesson.
After one astonished stare, Lita accepted Sancho without demur, and they greeted one another cordially, nose to nose, instead of shaking hands. Then the dog nestled into his old place under the linen duster with a grunt of intense content, and soon fell fast asleep, quite worn out with fatigue.
No Roman conqueror bearing untold treasures with him, ever approached the Eternal City feeling richer or prouder than did Miss Betty as she rolled rapidly toward the little brown house with the captive won by her own arms. Poor Belinda was forgotten in a corner, "Blue-beard" was thrust under the cushion, and the lovely lemon was squeezed before its time by being sat upon; for all the child could think of, was Ben's delight, Bab's remorseful burden lifted off, "Ma's" surprise, and Miss Celia's pleasure. She could hardly realize the happy fact, and kept peeping under the cover to be sure that the dear dingy bunch at her feet was truly there.
"I'll tell you how we'll do it," said Thorny, breaking a long silence as Betty composed herself with an irrepressible wriggle of delight after one of these refreshing peeps. "We'll keep Sanch hidden, and smuggle him into Ben's old room at your house. Then I'll drive on to the barn, and not say a word, but send Ben to get something out of that room. You just let him in, to see what he'll do. I'll bet you a dollar he wont know his own dog."