SUZANNA STIRS THE FIRE
Suzanna Stirs the Fire
Emily Calvin Blake
Author of "Marcia of the Little Home," etc.
Illustrations by F. V. Poole
A. C. McCLURG & CO.
A. C. McClurg & Co. 1915
Published September, 1915
Copyrighted in Great Britain
W. F. HALL PRINTING COMPANY, CHICAGO
I The Tucked-In Day 3
II The Only Child 27
III With Father in the Attic 40
IV The New Dress 55
V Suzanna Comes to a Decision 69
VI Suzanna Makes her Entry 82
VII Regrets 88
VIII Suzanna Meets a Character 99
IX A Leaf Missing from the Bible 119
X A Picnic in the Woods 132
XI The Indian Drill 161
XII Drusilla's Reminiscences 172
XIII Mrs. Graham Woods Bartlett 185
XIV The Stray Dog 197
XV A Lent Mother 215
XVI Suzanna Aids Cupid 221
XVII A Simple Wedding 236
XVIII The Eagle Man Visits the Attic 253
XIX Suzanna Puts a Request 265
XX Drusilla Sets Out on a Journey 278
XXI Mr. Bartlett Sees the Machine 292
XXII Happy Days 307
XXIII To the Seashore 320
XXIV The Seashore 329
XXV Last Days 341
XXVI Suzanna and her Father 345
"I've come to you, Mrs. Reynolds, to stay. I've adopted myself out to you" Frontispiece
The prettiest old lady she had ever seen 14
Very carefully he looked at the mended place 116
"We thought you might like a dog," began Suzanna 206
SUZANNA STIRS THE FIRE
THE TUCKED-IN DAY
Maizie wanted to sleep a little longer, but though the clock had but just chimed six Suzanna was up and had drawn the window curtain letting in a flood of sunshine. Maizie lay watching her sister, her gray eyes still blurred with sleep; not wide and interested as a little later they would be. Her soft little features expressing her naive personality seemed unsubtle, yet of contours so lovely in this period just after babyhood that one longed to cuddle her.
Suzanna stood a long time at the window, so long indeed that Maizie feared she was lost to all materialities. Suzanna, wonderful one, who could strike from dull stuff magic dreams; who could vivify and gloriously color the little things of life; who could into the simplest happenings read thrilling interpretations! What bliss to accompany her upon her wanderings, and what sadness to be forgotten!
Indeed Suzanna seemed oblivious. Certainly in spirit she was absent and at last Maizie could bear the silence no longer.
"Suzanna!" she cried.
Then Suzanna turned. She did not speak, however, but placed a warning finger upon her lips. Then she went swiftly to the closet and took down her best white dress. She laid it tenderly on the back of a chair till she had found in the lowest bureau drawer her white stockings and slippers, then she brushed and combed her hair, confined it lightly with a length of ribbon, washed her hands and face in the little bowl which stood in one corner near the window and leisurely donned the white dress.
Maizie sat straight up in bed watching in amazement. At last Suzanna glanced over at her little wistful sister, then in stately fashion advanced toward the bed, till close to Maizie she paused. Tall and slender she stood, with eyes amber-colored, eyes which turned to black in moments of deep emotion. Her brown hair touched with copper sprang back from her brow in waving grace; her delicate features called for small attention, excepting her mouth which was softly curved, eager of speech, grave, mutinous, the most expressive part of an expressive face.
Suzanna danced through life, sang her way to the hearts of others, left her touch wherever she went; yet, beneath the lightness, philosophies of life formed themselves intuitively, one after another, truer perhaps in their findings than those which filtered through the pure intellect of the grown-up.
At length she spoke to Maizie. "You mustn't say anything to me, Maizie, unless I ask you a question," she commanded, "because I'm a princess who lives in a crystal palace in a wonderful country with oceans and mountains."
Maizie did not reply; what could she say? Simply she stared as Suzanna moved gracefully about the room with the slow movements she considered fitting a princess.
At last she returned to the bed. She began: "Maizie, I wish you to rise, dress thyself, then go into thy parents' room and if the baby is awake, dress him as Suzanna, thy sister, did when she was here and not a princess."
Maizie rose and obediently dressed herself, ever watchful of Suzanna and thrilled by the new personality which seemed to have entered with the princess. When she was quite dressed, even to her little enshrouding gingham apron, she asked:
"Are you going to school today, Suzanna?"
Suzanna fixed her eyes in the distance.
"I'm here, Princess," corrected Maizie, "right in front of you. You can touch me with your hand. And besides, I had to ask that question. It was burning on my tongue."
Suzanna did not stir. At last: "I'm not going to school today," she half chanted. "A princess does not go to school. She wanders through the fields and over the mountains and when she returns to her palace she eats roses smothered in cream."
"Oh," cried Maizie. "Rose petals are bitter and beside we only have cream on Sundays."
Suzanna turned away. Sometimes she found it a trifle difficult to play with Maizie. She went slowly, majestically down the stairs and into the little parlor. She regretted she had no train, since she might switch it about as she walked. But she could think she had a train, and ever and anon glance behind to see that it had not curled up.
In the parlor she stood and looked about her. Her physical eyes saw the worn spots in the carpet, the picture of her father's mother, faded and dim, her own "crayon," the old horsehair sofa and chair, and the piano with its yellow keys and its scratched case. But with her inner eyes she beheld a lovely rose-colored room, heaped with soft rugs and satin-lined chairs; fine, soft-grained woods, and a harp studded with rare jewels.
At first she stood alone. Then by a slight wave of her hand she commanded the appearance of many ladies and gentlemen who came and bowed low before her. While she was still living in her vision, her father descended the stairs and entered the parlor. He started at sight of Suzanna all dressed in her best.
"I'm a princess, father," said Suzanna.
"A princess?" he repeated.
Her father wore his store clothes, shiny and grown tight for him. Above his winged collar his sensitive face showed pale and thin in the early morning light. His eyes, brown, soft, were like Suzanna's—they had vision. He smiled now, half whimsically and wholly lovingly at her.
"An eight-year-old princess," he said. Then the smile faded, and he half turned to the door. "Well, that's all right, your Majesty," he said. "Continue with your play. I'm going up into the attic just for ten minutes."
"You'll be late for the store, won't you, daddy?" she asked, anxiously, forgetting for the moment her role.
He turned upon her quickly. "Late for the store!" he cried, "late to weigh nails, sell wash boards, and mops. What does that matter, my dear, when by my invention the world will some day be better." Suddenly the passion died from his voice. He stood again the tall shabby figure, somewhat stooped, with long fine hands that moved restlessly. "Ah, well, Suzanna," he went on, "weighing nails brings us our livelihood."
Suzanna went and stood close to him. She put her small hand out and touched his arm. "Daddy," she said, earnestly, "this is my tucked-in day. I'm going to have two of them. Perhaps you can have a tucked-in day sometime when you can work for hours at your invention."
Again he smiled at her. "Where did you get your tucked-in day, Suzanna," he asked.
"Why, it's a great beautiful white space that comes between last week and this. It's all empty, that big space, and so I have filled it in with a day of my own. If mother will let me, I'm going to have two tucked-in days. On the first I'm a princess, and on the second, I shall be an Only Child."
"Very well, little girl," said Suzanna's father. "And now I hear others moving about upstairs. Will you stay to breakfast with us, Princess?"
"Oh, yes," said Suzanna, who began to feel the healthy pangs of hunger. "I suppose perhaps I had better set the table."
A half-hour later the house was in a bustle. The baby was crying, Peter, the five-year-old, was sliding in his usual exuberant manner down the banisters, and at the stove in the kitchen, Mrs. Procter, the mother, was filling pans and opening and closing the oven door with quick, somewhat noisy movements.
When in time all were gathered about the dining table, they were an interesting looking family. Mrs. Procter, young, despite her four children, wore a little worried frown strangely at conflict with her palpable desire to make the best of things. She darted here and there, soothing the baby with a practiced hand, pouring her husband's coffee, helping voracious Peter, her busy mind anticipating all the day's tasks. Suzanna loved and admired her mother. She loved the way the luxuriant dark hair was wound round and round the small head. She loved the rare smile, the soft blue eyes fringed in black lashes. She liked to meet those eyes when they were filled with understanding, when they seemed to speak as plainly as the tender lips made just for lullabies—and encouragements when the inventor-father stumbled, lost his belief in himself and in his Machine.
Maizie, younger than Suzanna by only a year, looked like her mother—sweet, very practical, always in a wide-eyed condition of surprise at Suzanna's wonderful imagination; a dependable little body who rarely fell from grace by reason of naughtiness.
Peter, a strange composite of his dreamy father and practical mother, sat near the baby. Peter had had a twin, a little girl, who died when she was three years old. Sometimes, even now, Peter cried himself to sleep for Helen.
The baby, now crowing in his armchair beside his mother, was a bright little chap of not quite a year. Too plump to even try his sturdy legs, he was oftentimes very much of a burden to his devoted sisters.
Mrs. Procter's eyes had taken in at once Suzanna's finery, but Mrs. Procter knew Suzanna; besides she did not always ask a direct question. Suzanna's mind worked clearly, but it worked by its own laws. So now the mother waited and toward the end of the meal she was rewarded for her patience. Suzanna put down her fork and began:
"Mother, this is my first tucked-in day to do as I please in. I know Monday's supposed to be wash day, but you said it wasn't a big wash and I did all the sorting Saturday night. I am all fixed up for a princess, and something inside me tells me I must wander about my palace and perhaps find paths leading to far-off snow countries."
It was Maizie who looked now questioningly at her mother. Could it be that Suzanna would be given her own way? In truth the entire table awaited breathlessly Mrs. Procter's answer. It came at last:
"Very well, Princess, you may have your tucked-in day."
There followed a short silence. At last:
"Mother, I must be honest with you," said Suzanna, "there are to be two tucked-in days. In my next space I want to be an Only Child."
Again her mother agreed. Rarely could she deny Suzanna her jaunts into the land of dreams.
So after breakfast, quite free, Suzanna left the house. The little town lay quiet, except for the rhythmic noises coming from the big Massey Steel Mills. Suzanna looked in their direction and stood a moment watching the sparks coming from the big round chimneys. Over across fields were the tumble-down cottages occupied by the employees of the Massey Steel Mills. Suzanna did not often go in their direction. The squalor made her unhappy and set in train so many questions she was quite unable to answer.
The day was early July with a spicy breeze that promised its delight for many hours. Suzanna walked out into the road, and turned to gaze at the little home in which she had been born. She loved it with its many memories. She fancied it held its head high because it sheltered her father's great Machine. At length she turned south toward the country. She breathed deeply as she went, feeling how wonderful it was to be a princess and to wander about as she pleased.
Throbbing with life and the beauty of it, the marvel of it, she began to dance. Strange thoughts flowed through her, strange understandings, that, little child as she was, she could find no words for. Only it seemed color lay within her, rich color for a thought of love; a wistful rose shade for a passing desire, a brilliant orange for the uplifting knowledge that just to be alive was great. She stopped to gather a passion flower because with its deep purple, its hidden heart that she could very gently discover and gaze into, it fitted into her mood.
Oh, to be big, grown up! All these brightly winged thoughts uplifting her, some of which puzzled her, some that frightened her, she would quite understand then! In those far-off years of absolute knowledge there would be no limitations; no commonplaces, only miracles. You could make what you wished then of all your days.
She came at last upon a little house lying far back from the road. It was like a toy house, and had stood open for years. The Procter children had often played in the rooms of the small house, and once when Peter was a baby he had fallen down the stairs, and his twin Helen, anguished because he was hurt, had cried piteously until they were home again.
Now Suzanna opened the gate, mended, she noticed, and hanging straight, and started down the garden path. Lovely old-fashioned flowers—pansies and phlox and pinks and balsam were all in their happiest bloom. Suzanna wondered who watered and tended them. As she lingered beside a pansy bed, the door of the little house opened and a rather frail little old lady came out, followed by a maid who carried a chair that was filled with pillows. She set the chair under a tree midway in the garden between the house and the road. The old lady sank into it and the maid deftly covered her with a large woolen shawl; then saying some word, and placing a small silver bell on the grass within easy reach of the lady in the chair the maid left.
Suzanna stood, unable to run. Someone then had moved into the tiny house. And who? Suzanna knew everyone in the village of Anchorville, and the old lady was a stranger. Suzanna gave up the question and started back toward the gate when the old lady suddenly turned and saw the child.
"Come here," she called, and Suzanna perforce obeyed. When she stood near the small figure in the chair she waited, while she decided that this was quite the prettiest old lady she had ever seen. The wavy silver hair lying under a white lace cap, with two little curls falling on either side made the blue eyes seems like a very little baby's at the stage when they're deciding just what color they shall be. Like Suzanna, the lady was dressed in white, flowing as to skirt, and trimmed with quantities of fine old lace. On her hand was one ring, a lovely moonstone. Suzanna at once loved that ring, not because it was a piece of jewelry, but because it did look like a stray moonbeam that the rain had fallen on.
"And who may you be?" asked the old lady at once.
Now something about her hostess called out all of Suzanna's colorful imagination. She felt an instant response to this personality.
"I am a princess, the Princess Cecilia," she answered promptly.
"Ah," the old lady straightened up and a sudden, vivid change became at once manifest in her manner. "Draw closer to me."
Suzanna obeyed, moving till she touched the old lady's hand that rested on the wings of the old-fashioned chair.
"You should be a princess," said the old lady, "for I am a queen!"
Suzanna gazed without at first speaking. "A real one?" she whispered at last.
"A real queen," returned the old lady. "It's not generally known by those who serve me, nor even suspected by my own son who lives yonder in the big house on the hill. But I'm the real queen of Spain, deposed from the hearts of her people, from the hearts of her own nearest."
Suzanna nodded. She looked over toward the hill. "That's Bartlett Villa," she said; "the people only live there part of the year. I know Mrs. Bartlett, she's the richest lady in Anchorville, but I didn't know her mother was a queen."
The old lady didn't appear to be particularly interested. She went on: "It's not generally known, I believe, that I am a queen." After another pause: "Over yonder is a camp chair. Bring it hither."
Suzanna found the chair at one end of the garden. Quickly she brought it and sank herself upon it gracefully as became a princess of the blood, but she was surprised a moment later to meet reproval in the eyes of the queen.
"It's not permissible to seat yourself in the presence of royalty," said the queen, rather sternly.
"But, I, too, am royalty and you told me to get the chair," said Suzanna. "Of course, I thought it was to sit on."
"You are merely a princess," returned the old lady. "I am your queen, and you must await my permission to recline."
"Ask permission," said the queen, "and perhaps I shall allow you to seat yourself."
"May I sit down?" asked Suzanna.
The queen inclined her head graciously. "You may," she returned. So once more the little visitor resumed her seat. Then for a long time the old lady sat with folded hands and looking off into the distance. She was very, very still. Only the lace on her bosom moved gently to show that she breathed. Suzanna thought perhaps she had better go. But she feared to rise lest she again meet with reproof.
At last the queen remembered her guest.
"I wish to traverse my garden and in the absence of my lady-in-waiting I request your arm, Princess Cecilia," she said.
Suzanna rose quickly and bending her small arm, she offered its support to the old lady, who though now standing very straight and slender, still was scarce two heads taller than her visitor. She slipped her blue-veined hand within Suzanna's arm and they began a friendly walk up and down the path.
"Once," began the queen, "when I lived beyond the snow-capped mountains within my own palace, I was not so lonely as I now am. There was one who afterwards became my king, with whom I walked by the sea. We saw together the sapphire sparkle of the water, the golden yellow of the sands; but in reality we beheld only one another's face."
By this time they had reached the gate and both stopped and stood looking down the quiet road. But the little old lady still clung to Suzanna's arm and her eyes had a far-away look.
"And after a time," went on the queen, "we were wedded and lived together in my palace and we were happy as the birds; happy and less care free. And always we found our greatest happiness in walking by the sea or in climbing the mountains; I sometimes clinging to his ready hand or skipping before him. And once we ran away from all the pomp and ceremony that was merely surface and we found a little house right at the edge of town, and there together for some months we lived. There, too, our little prince came to us, and from there he went away.
"And one day my king, too, left, and my little prince forgot me, and I am alone. Queen as I am, I am alone!"
Suzanna was silent. Indeed, she was at a loss just how to offer comfort. When Helen, Peter's twin, went away her heart had ached, and when a little baby, soft and cuddly had gone away forever, Suzanna had wept for days and far into the nights. This queen, she found was very sad, and very longing, and very lonely, three things she thought queenhood exempt from, sadness, and longing and loneliness.
Once more they turned, and walked down the garden path till they reached the chairs under the tree. The queen sank again among her pillows and Suzanna was about to use her camp chair when the queen spoke in her old commanding manner:
"I am hungry, serf," she cried. "Go, prepare my food! All the dainties that you can find. I wish cream beaten to a froth and peaches, halved and stoned. I wish strawberries still wet with dew and reposing in their green leaves."
"But," began Suzanna, "I can't get strawberries for you."
The old lady rose to her full height. "Wilt begone, serf?" in stern accents she cried. "Wilt begone and prepare what I demand?"
Now Suzanna had a very firm idea of her own standing as a princess. Had she not earlier in the day impressed Maizie? And now, was this stranger, even though she were a queen, to demand menial service of one of royal blood? Suzanna thought not. So she said firmly, though gently:
"I am not a serf, if that means a slave! I am a visiting princess, the Princess Cecilia. I will not go into your kitchen and prepare food." And then forgetting her role, she assumed her ordinary voice. "Why, this morning I didn't even warm the baby's bottle, because mother said I needn't seeing that I was a princess and living in my own tucked-in day."
"'Tucked-in day!'" responded the queen. "What do you mean by that?"
"Why, it's my very own day, a day tucked in between last week and this week," said Suzanna.
The old lady's eyes wandered away again looking into distant countries, Suzanna had no doubt, and she hoped the strawberries were forgotten. But alas, she was wrong, for in a few moments the queen, bringing her eyes back to Suzanna's face recalled her desire:
"I will have my strawberries," she began peremptorily. And then with a complete change of voice; one with some satire in its tone she concluded: "Dost think because thou art a princess thou art exempt from all service in the world?"
"A princess does not work," said Suzanna wisely.
"I would have you know," said the queen, "that all those of the world must give service in one way or another. Dost think that when in my palace I reigned a queen I gave no service? There were those who loved me and needed me. As their queen did I not owe them something in return for their love? And could I leave their needs unrelieved?"
"But," faltered Suzanna, "you were a queen!"
The old lady's eyes lit with a sudden fire. "And 'twas because I reigned a queen," she answered, "that I must do more than those of less exalted station. In my kingdom there were little children, there were the old, and there were the feeble, and there were the poor. Could I go about unconcerned as to their welfare?" Her voice suddenly softened. She put out her hand, now trembling with her emotion, and drew Suzanna close to her. "My sweet little princess," she said, "no one in all the world stands alone. A little silver chain binds each one of us to his fellow. You may break that chain and you may feel yourself free, but you will be a greater slave than ever."
"I think I understand," said Suzanna, and indeed she had a fair meaning of the other's words. "The chain runs from wrist to wrist and is rubber plated."
With a sudden change of manner the old lady spoke again, going back to her former imperious manner: "Am I thus to starve because no slave springs forth to do my bidding?"
At this important moment the maid reappeared. She came swiftly down the garden to the old lady. She paused when she saw Suzanna. She had a very gentle face, Suzanna decided, and when she spoke to the old lady it was tenderly as one would speak to a child. Suzanna decided that she liked her.
Said Suzanna: "The queen wants her strawberries wet with dew and buried in their own green leaves."
"The queen," returned the maid, "shall have her luncheon."
"And the Princess Cecilia," said the queen, "shall eat with me, Letty."
Suzanna was very glad to hear this since for a long time past she had been hungry, and had been thinking rather longingly of the midday dinner at home.
The maid left, but in a very short time she came into the garden again and announced that lunch was ready in the dining-room.
"Walk behind me," said the old lady, and Suzanna took her place behind the queen. In that sequence they went down the path, up the four steps leading to the little house, through the open door, and paused in a short, narrow hall, through which Suzanna and her sister and brother had often walked.
"Place your coat here," said the old lady, indicating a black walnut hall-tree.
Suzanna did as she was bid and then followed her hostess into the dining-room, to the left of the small hall, where a table flower-decked, stood set for two.
Suzanna sat down at the place the queen indicated and waited interestedly. In time the maid brought on a silver tray with little cups of cream soup, and then cold chicken buried in pink jelly, a most delicious concoction. Finally there was cocoa with whipped cream and marshmallows and melting angel food cake.
The old lady ate daintily, and long before Suzanna's appetite was satisfied she announced that she was finished and demanded that the princess rise from the table with her. She did not mention the strawberries. With a little sigh Suzanna obeyed. And now, instead of returning to the garden, the old lady led the way into the parlor, which lay to the right of the hall. She went straight to the picture that hung above a marble mantel. Below the picture in the center of the mantel rested a crystal vase containing sprays of lilies of the valley.
"This was my king," murmured the old lady, and Suzanna looked up into the pictured face. "I like him," she said immediately; "has he gone far away?"
At these words the old lady suddenly sank down into a chair and covered her face with her hands. She began to cry softly, but in a way that hurt Suzanna inexpressibly. She stood for a moment hesitant. The sobs still continued and then Suzanna, deciding on her course, went to the little shaking figure and put her hands softly on the drooping shoulders.
"Can I help you," she asked. "Just tell me what to do for you."
"Nothing," came the muffled tones, "there is no one to do for me; no one to do for me in love. I am alone, forgotten."
"Haven't you a brother or a sister?" in a moment she asked softly.
"No one," said the little lady.
"Oh, then," said Suzanna pityingly, as a dire thought came to her, "there's no one to call you by your first name!"
And then the old lady lowered her hands and looked into Suzanna's face. "No one," she said sadly, "and it's such a pretty name, Drusilla. It's many long years since I was called that."
"I'd hate to come to a time when no one would call me Suzanna," Suzanna said, and she leaned forward and touched the blue-veined hands. "May I call you Drusilla?" she asked.
"That would be sweet of you," said the little old lady. She seemed less of the queen now than before, just a fluttering, little creature to be tenderly protected and cared for.
The maid came in at this moment. She went straight to the old lady.
"I think," she said gently, "that you must take your nap now. This is the day for Mrs. Bartlett's call."
The queen rose quite obediently. Suzanna said at once: "Well, I must be going. But I'll come again. Good-bye, Drusilla."
"Good-bye, dear," returned "Drusilla" sweetly. "I'd like to have you kiss me."
Suzanna lifted her young face and kissed Drusilla's withered cheek.
* * * * *
Once out in the road and going swiftly toward home, Suzanna pondered many things. She thought of what the old lady had said about the little silver chain binding one to another; that no one really stood alone—no one with a family, at least, Suzanna decided. It was a big thought; you could go on and on in your heart and find many places for it to fit—and then she reached her own gate and felt as always a sense of happiness. No matter how happily she had spent the day, there was always a little throb which stirred her heart when she went up the steps leading to the rather battered front door of the place she called home.
Maizie opened the door. She was as happy in beholding Suzanna returned as though weeks had parted them, for she knew Suzanna's aptitude for great adventures. Always they came to her, while another might walk forever and meet no Heralds of Romance.
"Did something happen, Suzanna?" she began eagerly.
"Yes, I found a queen and we had lunch together," Suzanna responded. "I'll tell you all about it when we're in bed."
"Are you going to play at something tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow I shall be an Only Child," said Suzanna. "Don't you remember?"
"And not my sister?" asked Maizie.
Suzanna caught the yearning in Maizie's voice.
"Well," she said, "I'll be your closest friend, Maizie."
THE ONLY CHILD
Breakfast the next morning was nearly concluded when Suzanna made her appearance, but she met with no reproof. She had anticipated none, for surely an Only Child was entitled to many privileges; no rules should be made to bind her.
Her father was gone. It was a day of stock-taking at the hardware store, and his early presence had been requested by his employer, Job Doane. Suzanna's mother and the children still lingered at the table.
"Good morning, Suzanna," said Mrs. Procter, while the other children gazed with interest at their tardy sister.
"Good morning," Suzanna returned as she took her place; then, "Will you remind Maizie that I am an Only Child today?"
"You hear, Maizie," said Mrs. Procter smiling.
"Mustn't any of us speak to her?" asked Peter.
"No one but her mother," said Suzanna addressing the ceiling.
She went on with her breakfast, eating daintily with the small finger on her right hand cocked outward. Maizie stared, fascinated. Countless words rushed to her lips, but she had been bidden to silence, and she feared, should she speak to Suzanna, dire results would follow. Suzanna might even go away by herself in pursuit of some wonderful dream, and leave Maizie out of her scheme of things entirely.
So Maizie waited patiently.
"Since you sent Bridget away on an errand of mercy, Mother," Suzanna began later, "I'll help you with the dishes."
In Suzanna's estimation the family boasting an Only Child boasted also servants.
"I'll be glad of your help," said Mrs. Procter, "and since Bridget is away, perhaps you will be kind enough to make your own bed and dust your own room."
Suzanna's face fell. Maizie put out a small hand and touched her sister. "I'll help you," she said, "if you want me to."
"Very well," said Suzanna, and together the children went upstairs.
In the little room shared by the sisters, Suzanna went to work. Ardently she shook pillows and carefully she smoothed sheets, while Maizie, with a reflective eye ever upon Suzanna, dusted the dresser and hung up the clothes.
"Is your mother well this morning?" asked Suzanna politely.
"Why, you saw her," Maizie cried off guard. "She didn't have a headache this morning, did she?"
"I'm speaking of your mother," said Suzanna. "You belong to an entirely different family from me."
"Well," said Maizie after a time, "she's not suffering, thank you."
"Have you any brothers and sisters?" pursued Suzanna in an interested though rather aloof tone.
"Oh, yes," said Maizie, trying hard to fill her role satisfactorily. "We have a very large family, and once we had twins."
Suzanna looked her pity. "I'm so glad," she said, "that I'm an Only Child. This morning I was very joyous when I had whipped cream and oatmeal."
"You just had syrup, Suzanna Procter!" cried Maizie.
Suzanna cast a scathing look at her sister: "I had whipped cream!" she cried, "because I am an Only Child!" Then falling into her natural tone: "If you forget again, Maizie, I can't even be a friend of yours." She continued after a pause, reassuming her Only-Child voice, "That's why I wear this beautiful satin dress and diamond bracelets and shining buckles on my shoes."
Now Maizie saw only Suzanna's lawn dress, rather worn Sunday shoes with patent leather tips; she saw Suzanna's bare arms.
"Maybe you'd like, really, to wear a white satin dress and bracelets and buckles, but you know you haven't got them, don't you, Suzanna?" she asked.
Suzanna did not answer, plainly ignoring Maizie's conciliatory tone, and so finding the silence continuing unbroken, Maizie changed the subject.
"Will you play school with me this afternoon, Suzanna?"
Suzanna thought a moment: "I don't just know. I may go and play with some of the other girls today, and, remember, if I do that a friend can't get mad like a sister can."
Maizie began to whimper.
"All right, if you're going to act that way, I am going off to see Drusilla," with which statement Suzanna turned and went downstairs.
Maizie came running down after her. "Mother, mother," she called loudly, "I don't like Suzanna when she's the Only Child."
Mrs. Procter, busy with the baby, looked up. She was a little cross now. "I wish, Suzanna," she said, "that you would learn to be sensible and not always be acting in plays you make up."
Suzanna, who a moment before had bounded joyfully into her mother's presence, now paused, the light dying from her eyes. She looked at her mother and her mother, uncomfortable beneath the steady gaze, spoke again with an irritation partially assumed.
"I mean just that, Suzanna," she said. "Maizie can't easily follow all your imaginings; and I have enough to do without always trying to keep the peace between you."
Suzanna stood perfectly still. The color rose to her temples, while the dark eyes flashed. Waves of emotion swept through her. Emotions she could not express. At last in a tense voice she spoke: "I wish I wasn't your child, Mother."
"Go at once to your room," said Mrs. Procter, "and stay there till I tell you you may come down again."
With no word Suzanna turned, went slowly up the stairs again, drew a chair to the window and sat down. She was flaming under a bitter sense of injustice. With all the intensity of her nature for the moment she hated the entire world.
Time passed. She heard sounds downstairs, Maizie going out to play in the yard with Peter; her mother singing the baby to sleep, and still Suzanna sat near the window, and still her small heart beat resentfully.
Later, she heard her father's voice. Perhaps he cared for her. But even of this she was not sure. Then she sat up very straight. Someone was coming up the stairs.
It was Maizie. The little girl slowly opened the bedroom door, peeped cautiously in, and then on tiptoes approached Suzanna. "Mother says," she began, "that you're to come down to lunch."
"I don't want any lunch," said Suzanna. The bright color still stained her cheek. "You can just go downstairs and eat up everything in the house, and be sure and tell mother I said so."
Maizie looked her awe at this defiant sister. Downstairs she returned to deliver verbatim Suzanna's message.
Suzanna sat on. From bitter disillusion felt against everything in her world her mind chilled to analysis. Her mother loved her, she believed, and yet—she did not complete her swift thought; indeed, she looked quickly about in fear of her disloyalty. She had once thought that mothers were perfect, rare beings removed worlds from other mere mortals. Hadn't she, when a very small girl of four, been quite unable to comprehend that mother was a mere human being? "Mother is just mother," she had said in her baby way, and that sentence spelled all the devotion and admiration of a pure little heart for one enshrined within it.
And now mother had fallen short. Mother had disappointed that desperately loving, intense soul. The tears started to her eyes. It was as though on this second tucked-in day an epoch had come marking the day for all time, placing it by itself as containing an experience never to be forgotten.
After a time she realized she was hungry. So she went quietly to the top of the stairs, but no sound came up from below.
Some clock struck one, and then Suzanna heard running footsteps mounting the stairs. She sat straight and gazed out of the window. She knew the moment her mother entered the room, but she did not turn her head.
Mrs. Procter approached until she stood close to Suzanna. She looked down into the mutinous little face. She had come intending to scold, but something electric about the child kept hasty words back.
At length: "Aren't you going to speak to me, Suzanna?" she said.
Suzanna did not answer immediately. That strange, awful thought that her very own mother had been unjustly irritable held her tongue-tied. At length words, short, curt, came:
"You weren't all right to me this morning, Mother," she said, raising her stormy eyes. "Yesterday you were nice to me when I was a princess. Today you were cross because Maizie couldn't understand, and she never understands. You never were cross about that before." She gazed straight back into her mother's face—"I'm mad at the whole world."
What perfection the child expects of the mother! No human deviations! Mrs. Procter sighed. How could she live out her child's exalted ideal of her! She looked helplessly at Suzanna. The eyes lifted to hers lacked the wonted expression of perfect belief, of passionate admiration. That this first little daughter, so close to her heart fibers, should in any degree turn from her, pierced the mother. She put her arms about the unyielding small figure.
"Suzanna, little daughter," she whispered. "Mother is sometimes tired, but always, always she loves you."
The response was immediate. With a little cry Suzanna pressed her lips to her mother's. All her reticence was gone. This mother who enfolded her stood once more the unwavering star that guided Suzanna's life.
"You see, little girl," Mrs. Procter said after a few moments, "mother sometimes has a great deal to think about—and baby was cross."
"Oh, mother, dear, I'll help you," cried Suzanna. "I'll always be good to you and when I'm grown up I'll buy you silk dresses and pretty hats and take you to hear beautiful music."
Later they went downstairs together. In the kitchen Maizie was amusing the baby as he sat in his high chair. She looked around as Suzanna entered: "Are you going to see Drusilla now," asked Maizie.
"Who's Drusilla?" asked Mrs. Procter with interest.
Now Suzanna had not told her mother of her new friend. She had wished to keep in character, and a princess, she felt, was rather secretive and aloof. But now the renewed closeness she felt to her mother opened her heart.
"Yesterday when I was a princess, living my very own first tucked-in day, I walked and walked, and at last came to a little house with a garden," she said, "and there was an old lady with no one to call her by her first name—and so I'm going to call her Drusilla."
"Is she a little old lady with white hair, and curls on each side of her face?" asked Mrs. Procter.
"Yes," said Suzanna.
"Why, she's Mr. Graham Woods Bartlett's mother, and she's a little—" Mrs. Procter hesitated believing it wiser to leave her sentence unfinished.
"A little what, mother?" asked Suzanna anxiously.
"Oh, she has fancies," evaded Mrs. Procter. "For instance, there are times when she thinks herself a queen."
"What was the word you were going to use, mother?" persisted Suzanna.
"Well, then, Suzanna, such a person is called a little strange."
"Then I'm a little strange, too," said Suzanna.
"But you're a child, Suzanna," said Mrs. Procter, "and Mrs. Bartlett is a very old lady."
"Does that make the difference?" asked Suzanna. "If it does, I can't understand why. I think that an old lady, especially if she's lonely and if she grieves for her king who went far away from her, has just as much right to have fancies as a little girl has."
"Well, I don't know," said Mrs. Procter, turning a soft look upon Suzanna.
Maizie, who had been standing near listening intently, now spoke: "A girl I know had a grandfather who thought he was a cat and every once in awhile he meowed, and he liked to sit in the sun. He thought he was a nice, gentle, Maltese cat, and when he wasn't busy meowing he was awful sweet to the children, and played with them and took care of the little ones; but the big people thought they'd better send him far away, because it wasn't right that he should think himself a cat."
Suzanna's eyes flamed in anger. "I think they were cruel," she cried, "not to let him stay at home. I know the girl whose grandfather he was. Her name's Mary Holmes, and she cried because they sent her grandfather away. But she didn't tell me why."
"I'm her special friend on Wednesday recess day," said Maizie bashfully, "that's why she told me."
"I like old people," Suzanna continued. "I like Drusilla, and I like Mrs. Reynold's mother that once came to see her, and I like old Joe, the vegetable man, who made whistles for us last summer. They all seem to understand you when you talk to them, and they can see things just like you can."
"Well, I've heard it said," said Mrs. Procter musingly, "that old people are very much like the young in their fancies. Maybe that's why you enjoy them, Suzanna."
"Well, mother," Suzanna was very much in earnest now, "can't you always tell everybody who has an old lady or an old gentleman living with them that if they're not loving to old ladies and gentlemen, their silver chain will break?"
"Silver chain?" cried Maizie, puzzled. "I don't know what you mean, Suzanna."
"Why, every one of us," Suzanna explained carefully, "carries a little silver chain which binds him to everyone else, but especially, I suppose, to our very own father and mother and brothers and sisters."
"Where is the chain?" asked Maizie.
"It runs from your wrist to mine. It stretches as you move, and it's given to everybody as soon as he's born. Sometimes it's broken."
"Well, Suzanna," said Maizie solemnly, "then you've broken the silver chain that ties you to me and to Peter and the baby and to daddy and mother. You don't belong to us any more—you're an Only Child."
* * * * *
Maizie's literalness drew a new vivid picture for Suzanna. She had cut herself from those she loved. She looked through a mist into Maizie's face, the little face with the gray eyes and straight fine hair that would lie flat to the little head, and a big love flooded her. She went swiftly to the little sister and lifted her hand. She made a feint of clasping something at her wrist. "Maizie," she said, "I put the chain on again. You are once more my little sister."
"Not just your closest friend, but your little sister, with a silver chain holding us together?" Maizie asked.
"Always," said Suzanna. "I don't think after all that it's any fun to be an Only Child."
WITH FATHER IN THE ATTIC
A special Saturday in the Procter home, since father expected to spend the afternoon in the attic working at his invention! Once a month he had this half-day vacation from the hardware store. True, to make up he returned to work in the evening after supper, and remained sometimes till midnight, but that was the bargain he had made with Job Doane, the owner of the shop, and he stuck bravely by it.
The house was in beautiful order when father arrived at noon. He went at once to the dining-room. Suzanna and Maizie, putting the last touches to the table, greeted him cordially.
"We have carrots and turnips chopped up for lunch," announced Maizie immediately.
"And baked apples, with the tiniest drop of cream for each one," completed Suzanna.
"And the baby has a clean dress on, too," Maizie added, like an anticlimax.
Mr. Procter exclaimed in appropriate manner. He seemed younger today, charged with a high spirit. His step was light, he held his head high; his eyes, too, were full of fire. The children knew some vital flame energized him, some great hope vivified him.
"Sold a scythe to old Farmer Hawkes this morning," he began, when they were all seated around the table, the smoking dishes before them. He smiled at his wife and the subtle understanding went around the board that it was ridiculous for father, the great man, to waste his time selling a scythe to close old Farmer Hawkes; also the perfect belief that Farmer Hawkes was highly favored in being able to make a purchase through such a rare agency.
Luncheon concluded, father rose. The children pushed back their chairs and stood in a little group, all regarding him with longing eyes.
"Well, children," he said at last, "if things go well with me upstairs and I can spare an hour, I'll call you. But don't let me keep you from your work, or your play. Ball for you, I suppose, Peter, since it is Saturday afternoon," he finished facetiously. Well he knew the fascination of the attic and its wonder Machine.
And Peter didn't answer. Let father have his joke; they both understood.
Father went singing joyfully up the stairs. The children listened till they heard the attic door close, then all was silent.
Suzanna found a book, and at Maizie's earnest request read a chapter from it aloud, while Peter descended into the cellar on business of his own.
"I'd rather you'd tell me a story of your own, Suzanna," said Maizie, when the chapter was concluded.
"Well, I can't make up stories today," said Suzanna. "Today is father's day, and I'm thinking every minute of The Machine."
"It's going to be a great thing, isn't it, Suzanna?" said Maizie, in an awed voice.
"Yes, and nobody in the world could have made it but our father," said Suzanna solemnly. "Father was made to do that work, and the whole world will be better because of his invention."
"The whole outside world?" asked Maizie, "or just Anchorville?"
"Oh, the whole world," said Suzanna, and then as Peter once more made his appearance: "Peter, take your tie out of your mouth. Father may call us upstairs at any moment, and you must look as nice as nice can be."
Peter obediently removed his tie from between his teeth, and just then the awaited summons came.
"Children! You may come up and bring mother."
Suzanna ran out into the kitchen. Mother had her hands in a pan of dough and was kneading vigorously. She looked up at Suzanna's message and replied: "You children run up to father; I'll come when I can. Go quietly by the bedroom door, the baby's asleep."
Upstairs then the children flew. At the top they paused and looked in. Father was standing close to The Machine; he turned as they appeared, and with a princely gesture (Suzanna's private term), invited them in.
The attic was dimly lit. Shadows seemed to lurk in its corners. It was an attic in name only, since it held no stored treasures of former days. It stood consecrated to a great endeavor. The children knew that, and instinctively paused at the threshold. They got the sense that big thoughts filled this room, big ambitions for Man.
They approached and paused before The Machine. It stood high, cabinet-shaped, of brilliantly polished wood whose surface seemed to catch and hold soft, rosy lights from out the shadows. Above The Machine rose a nickel-plated flexible arm, at the end of which hung a sort of helmet. Some distance back of the arm, and extending about a foot above the cabinet, were two tubes connected by a glass plate; and beneath the plate, a telescope arrangement into which was set a gleaming lens.
Mr. Procter opened a door at the side of the cabinet. The children, peering in, beheld interesting looking springs, coils, and batteries. He shut the door, walked around to the front of the cabinet and opened another and smaller door. Here the children, following, saw a number of small black discs. The inventor reached in, touched a lever, and immediately a rhythmic, clicking sound ensued.
Next he drew down dark shades over the low windows. The filmed glass plate above the cabinet alone showed clear in the eclipse, as though waiting.
"Now, Suzanna, come!"
Suzanna, at some new electric quality in her father's voice, sprang forward. He procured a chair, placed it directly before the cabinet, drew the flexible arm till the helmet rested perhaps four inches above the child's head but did not touch it, pulled forward the telescope and focused its lens upon her expectant face.
"Watch the plate glass," he said in a tense whisper, and Suzanna kept her eyes as directed.
A moment passed. No sound came but the rhythmic ticking. The inventor's face was white. His eyes, dark, held a gleam and a prayer. Another space, and then very slowly a shadowy line of color played upon the glass set between the two tubes; color so faint, so delicate, that Suzanna wondered if she saw clearly.
But the color strengthened, and at last all saw plainly a line of rich deep purple touched with gold. It remained there triumphant upon the glass, a royal bar.
Silent moments breathed themselves away, for the test had come and it had not failed. Suzanna, at last moving her gaze from the color registered, turned to her father. She saw, with a leap of the heart, that his eyes were wet. He seemed to have turned to an immovable image, and yet never did life seem to flow out so richly from him.
Peter broke the quiet. "What does it mean, daddy, that color?" he asked.
Suddenly galvanized, Mr. Procter ran to the stairs outside. His voice rang out like a bell.
"Jane, come, come!"
Mrs. Procter, in the kitchen, caught the exultant note in his voice. She was stirring batter for a cake, but she flung down the spoon and ran up the stairs.
"Oh, Richard, what is it," she cried, as she reached him. His eyes, half frightened, half elated, looked into hers.
"I will show you," he cried. He took her hand and led her to The Machine before which Suzanna still sat.
The wave of color still persisted on the glass. "See," he said, "registered color, for which I have worked and worked, died a thousand deaths of despair, and been resurrected to hope. This afternoon the color seemed promised, and so in fear and trembling I placed Suzanna before the machine."
"Oh, my dear, my dear, after all these years!" She lifted her face and kissed him solemnly.
And then Peter repeated his question, to which before there had been no answer.
"What does the color mean, daddy?" he asked.
"Two colors recording in that manner means great versatility; purple means the artist, probably a writer."
Peter looked his bewilderment. His mother, smiling a little, reduced the explanation to simpler form. Even then Peter was befogged.
The inventor went to a remote corner and brought forth a large book containing many pages. This he placed upon a small table, and the children and their mother crowded about him, eager to see and to hear.
Mr. Procter lit a side lamp so the light fell upon the book, then he turned the pages slowly. Blocks of color lay upon each, some in squares alone, some merging into others like a disjointed rainbow. Above each block, or merged block, were writings, interpretations of color meaning, word above word; many erasures, as though fresh thought thrust out the integrity of early ones.
Mr. Procter spoke to his wife. "Till the machine showed the possibilities of ultimate success, I have said nothing even to you of its inception. Now, however, I may speak.
"It may sound strange, but from the time I was a very young boy, I've seen others in color. That is, a vivid personality never failed to translate itself in purple to me; a pale one in blue. It was out of that spiritual sight that I built my theory of color. It took me years, but time after time have I proved to my own complete satisfaction that each individual has a keynote of color; a color explaining his purpose."
A thousand questions of details, of practicalities that his theory did not seem in the rough to touch, rushed to Mrs. Procter's lips; but she could not voice one, she could not quench his uplifted expression and, indeed, so great was her belief in him that she had faith that he would overcome all obstacles.
He went on: "After I had my system of color worked out, I began to plan my machine, then to build it, and now—" He covered his face with his hands. Suddenly he took them down, turned to his children and with eyes alight, cried:
"For the progress of humanity have I worked, my children. To read men's meanings, the purposes for which they live, have I created this machine."
The children, deeply stirred with him, gazed back into his kindled face. His magnetism lifted them. For humanity he had worked, should always work, and with him they understood that this was the greatest service. With him they rose on the wings of creative imagination. Desire ran deep in each small heart to do something for the benefit of man. Not money, not position, but love for one's fellows, work for one's fellows! Never in all their lives were they to forget this moving hour in the attic. Its influence would be with them for always.
After a moment Maizie spoke: "How does The Machine know your color, daddy?"
The inventor smiled. "It has an eye, see?" He pointed to the lens in the telescope. Then he opened the small door. "In this place it has sensitized plates; this helmet, too, is highly sensitized." He paused and then laughed at himself as he saw the mystified expressions of his children. "Well, let us try Maizie. I know her color, but let's see what the machine says." He turned out the lamp. "Come, Maizie," he said.
So Maizie seated herself before the machine and watched to see what the glass plate should say of her. The plate remained for a moment clear, then slowly there grew a feather of color. Smoke color, a sort of dove gray, it was and so remained, despite its neutrality, quite plainly visible.
Mr. Procter lifted the helmet, hushed the machine. He went to his book, took it to the window, raised the shade a trifle and peered down. "As I knew," he said. Then closing the book and turning to his small daughter, he went on: "My little Maizie will some day nurse back to health those who are weary and worn; she will be patient, full of understanding, and she will be greatly beloved."
Maizie's face grew luminous. "And so I'll do good too, just like you," she said, with a beautiful faith.
"You will do good, too, my daughter," he answered, with exquisite egotism in his inclusion.
Peter, eager-eyed, looked up at his father.
"Do you think I have a color, too, daddy?" he asked.
"Yes, Peter. Take your place."
Peter did so.
For him there grew a tongue of sturdy bronze. In the dim light it waved across the surface of the glass plate.
And Mr. Procter said: "In time our little boy Peter will build great bridges."
"That four horses can walk across, daddy?" Peter cried in ecstasy.
"That a hundred horses can walk across, and a big engine pull safely its train of cars."
Then again into the inventor's eyes leaped a radiance. He placed his hand lovingly upon the machine as though it were alive, and indeed so it seemed to be, for into it he had put his finest ideals, his deepest hopes for the development of man.
"A few months more of work," he cried. "And then it will be ready to give to the world."
Someone came lightly up the stairs. A head appeared, then a body, then a hearty voice: "May I come in?" it asked.
Mrs. Procter swung the door wide to Mr. Reynolds, neighbor across the way. He entered with a little hesitation. He was a large man with a heavy brick-colored face, yet with eyes that had preserved some spirit of youth. Mr. Reynolds was as great an idealist as his friend, the inventor, though his idealism gave out in totally different directions. He read all sorts of books, but reacted to them with originality. His imagination only grasped their meanings, not his intellect. He worked in another town, several miles from Anchorville, in a large chair factory, and several times a week in the evening he stood upon a soap box on a street corner, and amused a mixed audience by his picturesque setting forth of what he thought was wrong with the world; also what methods he believed would, if employed, straighten out the tangles.
Since he spoke "straight from the shoulder," as he put it, touching dramatically upon the hand of wealth as causing the tangles, he had called down upon himself the wrath of the town's richest man, old John Massey, owner of the Massey Steel Mills. Twice Mr. Massey had threatened the eloquent and fearless orator with arrest, and twice for some unknown reason he had refrained from carrying out his threat, and the authorities of the town complacently allowed Mr. Reynolds to continue his pastime.
"I knew you were at home today," said Mr. Reynolds, "and I must see the machine." He looked at the joyous face of the inventor.
"Why, have you been trying it out?" he cried.
"Yes, and with a fair degree of success. Of course, I realize it may not always work as it did today. Indeed, the colors are not so strong as I expect eventually to get them."
"A great piece of work," said Mr. Reynolds, advancing to the middle of the room and falling into the orator's attitude. "I've thought of it every day since you told me of it. When I see men in the factory working at jobs they fair hate, because they and theirs need bread—and breaking under the bondage—Oh, I say, Procter, I wish you could bring the machine to perfection soon and get others to believe in it."
Mr. Procter's eyes lost their light. "That's it, to make others believe!"
Mrs. Procter went to her husband. She put her hand on his arm and looked up into his face with a gaze of perfect faith. "A big purposeful idea like yours, that's going to make humanity happier, can't fail but some day to be brought to the world's attention. Never lose faith, my man."
The shadow of discouragement fell swiftly from him.
"And, now," she continued before he could speak, "all wait here a little while. The baby's still asleep," she flung over her shoulder as she left the room.
Shortly she returned bearing a large tray which she set down on the table. Then she lit the side lamp; it cast a soft glow over the room. "Now all draw close," Mrs. Procter invited.
So they drew chairs near the table. There was milk for the children, little seed cakes, thin bread and butter, and cups of strong tea for the inventor and the visitor.
The children, sipping their milk and eating the little sweet cakes, listening to the talk of their father and Mr. Reynolds, their expressed hopes for the success of the machine and its effect upon humanity, gazed at the invention. The sense of a community of interest filled them. They felt that they, each and all, had put something of everlasting worth into The Machine, just as it had put some enduring understanding into them.
"I feel," whispered Suzanna to Maizie, "as though we were in church."
Mr. Reynolds caught the whisper. "And well you may, little lassie," he returned. "Your father is a fine, good man with no thought at all of himself, and some day," finished Mr. Reynolds, grandly, "his name will go rolling down the ages as a benefactor to all mankind."
A tribute and a prophecy! The children were glad that Mr. Reynolds had such clear vision.
THE NEW DRESS
An influence vaguely felt by all the Procter family lingered for days after father's Saturday afternoon at home. And then ordinary hours intruded and filled the small lives with their duties and their pleasures. Still shadowy, deeply hidden, the influence of the visionary father lay. Even small Maizie awoke to tiny dreams, her literalness for moments drowned out.
At school, Maizie and Suzanna were perhaps the least extravagantly dressed little girls. Exquisitely clean, often quaintly adorned with ribbons placed according to Suzanna's fancies, it still could be seen that they came from an humble home.
Still, in their attitude there was toward their companions an unconscious patronage, felt but hardly resented by the others, since Suzanna and Maizie gave love and warmth besides.
And this unconscious feeling of superiority sprang from "belonging" to a father who worked in his free hours that others out in the big world might some day be glad he had lived! This idealism lent luster even to his calling of weighing nails and selling washboards to the town of Anchorville.
Jenny Bryson, in Suzanna's class, bragged of her father's financial condition, and indeed she was a resplendent advertisement of his success.
Suzanna listened interestedly. She gazed with admiration at the velvet dress, the gold ring, and the pearl neck beads. She loved them all—the smoothness of the velvet, the sparkle of the gold, the soft luster of the pearls. But she felt no envy. She loved the adornments with her imagination, not with desire. And though she could not say so to Jenny, she rather pitied her for not having a father to whom a future generation would bow in great gratitude.
Then too, as mother said, if you merely bought clothes, you lost the joy of creating. Witness the ingenious way, following Suzanna's suggestion, that mother had draped a lace curtain over a worn blue dress, and behold, a result wonderful.
It was fun then to "make the best of your material," as mother again said. Mother, who, when not too tired from many tasks, could paint rare word pictures, build for eager little listeners castles of hope; build, especially for Suzanna, colorful palaces with flaming jewels, crystal lamps, scented draperies.
Joys sometimes come close together. Father's day, then Sunday with an hour spent in the Massey pew with gentle Miss Massey, old John Massey's only child, setting forth the lesson from the Bible, and then the thrilling announcement by the Superintendent that a festival was to be given by the primary teachers some time in August, the exact date to be told later.
Miss Massey, taking up the subject when the Superintendent had finished, thought it might add to the brilliance of the affair if Suzanna were to recite. So she gave Suzanna a sheet of paper printed in blue ink, with a title in red. "The Little Martyr of Smyrna," Suzanna spelled out.
"You are to learn the poem by heart, of course, Suzanna," said Miss Massey, "and if you need any help as to emphasis or gesture, you may come to me on any afternoon."
Suzanna flushed exalted. "I don't believe I'll need any help, thank you, Miss Massey," she said. She could scarcely wait then till she reached home to tell her mother the great news.
"You'll have to study hard," said Mrs. Procter after she had read over the verses, "but Suzanna, you have nothing suitable to wear."
"The lace curtain dress, mother?" asked Suzanna, hopefully.
"Beyond repair," returned Mrs. Procter.
Father, sitting near, looked around at his small daughter. "I have two dollars that I couldn't possibly use. Take them for a dress, Suzanna."
"But, dear—" began mother, and went on haltingly about a pair of new shoes she believed father had been saving for.
But father did not hear, and so behold Suzanna and her mother the next day at four o'clock in the afternoon in Bryson's drygoods store deciding upon a pink lawn and a soft valenciennes lace. And later, green cambric for a petticoat. And then on Wednesday the cutting out of the dress with suggestions and help from Mrs. Reynolds, the very kind neighbor across the way. On Thursday, baking day, mother put in every waking moment between the oven in the kitchen and the sewing machine in the dining-room.
"Mother dear, don't work so hard," Suzanna begged once. She held the fretful baby in her arms and tried to soothe him. He was always fretful, it seemed, when mother was very busy.
"The dress must be finished this week," said Mrs. Procter, basting away furiously.
"But there's two weeks yet to the festival, mother," said Suzanna, as she hushed the baby against her shoulder.
"Next week, Suzanna, the bedrooms must be thoroughly cleaned, the carpets taken up. O, please take the baby out into the yard and keep him amused."
Two red spots burned on Mrs. Procter's cheeks. Suzanna saw them. Ardently she wished mother would stop and rest. Such driving haste, such tenacity, meant later a nervous headache with mother put aside in a darkened room. Suzanna sighed as she took the baby out into the yard.
She put him into his carriage and wheeled him about till he fell asleep. Then she called Maizie to watch him, while she tiptoed back into the dining-room. Her mother still sat, dress in hand. Now she was drawing out the bastings. The red spots still burned.
"The baby's asleep, mother," whispered Suzanna. She longed ardently for the return of the loved one who could laugh and say something funny about sleep claiming the baby when he had made up his small mind to remain exasperatingly wide awake.
But instead—"Take out the stockings, Suzanna, and darn them. I'll call you when I need your help for supper. Keep your eye on Peter."
That was all. Suzanna lingered, but no further word came.
Suzanna dragged a low rocking chair into the yard, emptied the bag of freshly washed stockings on the ground beside her, selected a pair of Peter's, slipped the egg down, threaded her needle and began the task of filling in the huge holes. Then she called Maizie from beside the still sleeping baby.
"Maizie," she began, "listen to me say two verses of 'The Little Martyr of Smyrna.'"
Maizie sank down at her sister's feet. She listened in awe as Suzanna dramatically repeated the first part of the poem. Her gestures were remarkable, her voice charged with feeling.
"It's beautiful, Suzanna," said Maizie. "Everybody will listen and look at you in your new dress."
"O, it isn't a dress, Maizie," cried Suzanna, the while her small fingers dexterously wove the needle in and out. "It's a rose blossom. And when I recite in it on the last day of school my heart will be a butterfly sipping honey from the flower."
"I thought it was only a pale pink lawn at ten cents a yard," said Maizie. She spoke somewhat timidly now, fearful of Suzanna's scorn.
"You think everything is just what it is," answered Suzanna reproachfully. "Go see if the baby is still asleep, and look down the road for Peter."
Maizie went off obediently, but she returned in a moment with the news that the baby still slept and Peter was playing near Mr. Reynolds' gate. She seated herself as before. She wanted to hear more of Suzanna's fancies, but Suzanna remained silent, having been chilled a little by Maizie's practicality. So Maizie put out her hand and touched her sister. "Will the petticoat be a petticoat?" she asked, and wondered excitedly into what beauty Suzanna's imagination would transmute this ordinary piece of cambric.
Suzanna's spirits rose again. "It'll be a green satin cup for the rose," she answered, gazing dreamily before her. She let Peter's stocking fall to the ground while she clasped her hands ecstatically. "O, Maizie, it's almost too much joy! To wear a flower dress and to recite something that makes you so happy and yet you want to cry too."
Maizie nestled a little closer. "Do you think, Suzanna, when the green petticoat's nearly worn, that it'll come down to me?"
Suzanna pondered this for a moment. "Yes, it'll go down to you, Maizie, but not for years and years," she answered, finally. "Things do last so in this family."
Maizie, by a sad little shake of the head, agreed with this statement, and the sisters were silent. In different manner, however, for Maizie simply accepted an unpleasant fact, while Suzanna worked mentally to a solution of any situation. She found the solution at last.
"I'll tell you what I'll do, Maizie," she said. "Once a month, when we love each other madly, I'll let you wear my petticoat."
"I hope it'll come on Sunday when we love each other that way," said Maizie, wistfully; "I'm sure mother wouldn't let you lend the petticoat to me for an every-day."
"We can fix that, too," said ready Suzanna. "Some Friday you can begin to fuss about washing Peter. I'll have to wash him myself if you're too mean. And Saturday morning you can peel the potatoes so thick that mother'll say: 'Maizie, do you think we're made of money! Here, let Suzanna show you how to peel those potatoes thin.' And then I'll be so mad I'll give you a push, and I won't speak to you for the rest of the day."
"Yes, go on," said Maizie, her eyes shining.
"And then on Sunday morning, just before breakfast, you'll come to me and put your arms around my neck and say: 'Dear, sweet, lovely Suzanna, I'm so sorry I've been so hateful. I'll go down on my knees for your forgiveness. And I'll sew on all the buttons this week!'"
Maizie drew away a little then. Suzanna went on, however. "And I'll say: 'Yes, dear sinner, I forgive you freely. You may wear my green petticoat today.'"
There fell an hour of a never-to-be-forgotten day when the pink dress lay on the dining-room table, full length, finished, marvelous to little eyes with its yards and yards of valenciennes lace that graduated in width from very narrow to one broad band around the bottom of the skirt. Suzanna, Maizie, Peter, and even the baby bowed before the miracle of beauty.
"How many yards of lace are on it, mother?" asked Suzanna, for the sixth time, and for the sixth time Mrs. Procter looked up from her sewing machine at which she was busy with the green petticoat and answered: "A whole bolt, Suzanna."
The children at this information stared rounder-eyed and then turned to gaze with uncovered awe at Suzanna, the owner.
"Do you think, mother," asked Maizie, "that when I'm older I can have a pink dress with no trimming of yours on it?"
"We'll see," said Mrs. Procter, who knew how strictly to the letter she was held to her promises.
Now Suzanna reluctantly left the dress and went to her mother. "Mother," she cried, softly, "when I recite 'The Little Martyr of Smyrna' up on the big platform, I'm afraid I won't be humble in spirit. It's too much to be humble, isn't it, when you've got a whole bolt of lace on your dress?"
Mrs. Procter, quite used to Suzanna's intensities, answered, running the machine deftly as she spoke: "Oh, you'll be all right, Suzanna. The minister means something else when he preaches of being humble. What bothers me now is how to manage a pair of shoes for you. Yours are so shabby."
"Can't I wear my patent leather slippers?"
"You've outgrown them, Suzanna. They're too short even for Maizie, you remember."
"I could stand them for that one time, mother."
"No," said Mrs. Procter decidedly; "I should be distressed seeing you in shoes too small for you."
"Mother, you could open the end of my patent leather slipper so my toes can push through and then put a puff of black, ribbon over the hole!" The idea was an inspiration, and Suzanna's eyes shone.
Mrs. Procter saw immediately possibilities in the idea. Years of working and scheming and praying to raise her ever increasing family on the inadequate and varying income of her inventor husband had ultimated in keen sensibilities for opportunities. "Why, I think I can do that," she said. "I'll make a sort of shirred bag into which your toes will fit and so lengthen the slipper and cover the stitching with a bow. I hope I can find a needle strong enough to go through the leather." Her face was bright, her voice clear. She was all at once quite different from the weary, dragged mother of the past few days, determined against all odds to finish the dress so the cleaning might be started the following week.
Suzanna gazed delightedly. With the fine intuition of an imaginative child she understood the reason for the metamorphosis. It was the quickening of the senses that rallied themselves to meet and solve a problem that brought a high glow; stimulated, and uplifted. She herself was no stranger to that glow.
She put her arms about her mother's shoulder.
"Isn't it nice, mother, to have to think out things?"
A little puzzled, Mrs. Procter looked at Suzanna. Then her face cleared.
"O, I understand. It is—can you understand the word, Suzanna—'exhilarating' sometimes."
"I feel what the word means, mother—like catching in your breath when you touch cold water."
"Exactly. Now please get the slippers."
Suzanna ran upstairs. Returning, slippers in hand, she found the other children had left.
"Has Maizie got the baby?" Suzanna asked anxiously.
Her mother smiled. "Yes, I carried him out to the yard. He's kicking about, happy on his blanket."
Suzanna, relieved, handed the slippers to her mother.
"And I brought my old black hair ribbon. That will do for the shirring, won't it, mother?"
Together they evolved, worked, tried on, completed.
"It's more fun doing this than going to Bryson's and buying a new pair, isn't it, mother?"
"Well, I believe it is, daughter."
"I feel so warm here—" Suzanna touched her heart—"because we're doing something harder than just going out to the store and buying what we'd like."
Mrs. Procter gazed at her handiwork reflectively. "Well, it does make you feel that you've accomplished a great deal when you've created something out of nothing."
Mrs. Procter rose then, touched the new dress lovingly, and said: "So, we can put it away now, Suzanna; it's quite finished. The petticoat needs just a button and buttonhole."
Suzanna stood quite still. At last she looked up into her mother's face and put her question: "When will you begin to cut the goods out from under the lace, mother?"
Mrs. Procter, her thoughts now supperward, spoke abstractedly: "Oh, we'll not do that."
There was a silence, while the room suddenly whirled for Suzanna. Recovering from the dizziness, with eyes large and black and her face very pale, Suzanna gazed unbelievingly at her mother. For a moment she was quite unable to speak. Then in a tiny voice which she endeavored to keep steady, she asked: "Not even from under the wide row round the bottom, mother?"
"No, Suzanna," Mrs. Procter answered, quite unconscious of the storm in the child's breast. She moved towards the door.
"But, mother, listen, please." Suzanna's hands were locked till they showed white at the knuckles. "If you don't cut the goods away the green petticoat won't gleam through the lace! You see, it's a rose dress and a rose has shining green leaves, just showing."
The plea was ardent, but Mrs. Procter was firm. Indeed she did not glance at Suzanna. The reaction from her days of hard and continuous work was setting in. She merely said: "Suzanna, we must make that dress last a long time. I made it so that it can be lengthened five inches. We can't weaken it by cutting the goods away from under the lace. Now, dear, go and see that the children aren't in mischief. I must start supper."
SUZANNA COMES TO A DECISION
The children were playing contentedly in the road, Suzanna assured herself. And finding them so, she wandered disconsolately back to the front porch, where seated in a little rocking chair she stared straight before her. She felt as one thrown suddenly from a great height. One moment she had been thrillingly happy, the next, the bitter fruit of disappointment touched her lips. So events occur lightningly quick in this world. The day itself was as beautiful as it had been an hour before, yet its sun had ceased to shine for little Suzanna, since the crowning touch of The Dress, the poetic completeness of it, was denied her.
Years ago it seemed she had wakened in the morning after dreaming of a rose gown with its glimpses of cool green flickering through rows of open lace; but no more could she dream, since that lace was now condemned to blindness, unable even to hint at concealed beauties, and this because Economy, the stern god of the Procter home, so ordained.
Two tears at last found their slow way down her cheek. Not the least of her woe was caused by the realization that now the dress was ingloriously what Maizie had termed it, a pale pink lawn at ten cents a yard, bearing no appeal to her imagination, fulfilling no place in Suzanna's great Scheme of Things.
Suzanna's distress, as the days passed, did not abate. She never spoke of the dress, nor did she go to look at it as it hung shrouded in cheese cloth in the hall closet upstairs. No longer did she look forward with delight to the day when feelingly she should recite the troubles and the heroism of "The Little Martyr of Smyrna."
Instead she went quietly about performing her customary duties, finding for the time no real zest in life.
Mrs. Procter, innocent of the cause of Suzanna's listlessness, spoke no word. She wondered why the child had lost interest in the festival, indeed in all things pertaining to the occasion. It was difficult, she finally decided, to know how to cope with a child so complex, so changeable. She determined to treat the new mood with indifference, as being the most potent method. So she asked of Suzanna the performance of daily duties just as usual. When she discovered Suzanna gazing at her, Maizie close beside her with the same degree of reflection in her gray eyes, Mrs. Procter grew uncomfortable, then a trifle irritable. Both children seemed to regard her as an alien, one, for the time, quite outside their pale.
Suzanna, then, had taken Maizie into her confidence.
"One needs be clairvoyant," Mrs. Procter told her husband one evening, "to know what passes through small minds."
"Clairvoyant and full of patience," he answered, looking up from his color book. "I can remember even now my own sensations when at times my mother failed to go with me into my land of dreams."
Mrs. Procter cast her memory back over the events of several days.
"I can't think what has so changed Suzanna," she said at last; "I've disappointed her, I fear, about something or other. Dear me, what insight versatile children do demand in a mother. And Suzanna takes everything so very seriously. And Maizie stares at me too, with a little bewildered expression. It's strange that Maizie, with all her literalness, can understand at times Suzanna's disappointments when her fancies are not given due value. For, of course, it is some fancy of Suzanna's that I've either not noticed, or perhaps laughed at." She paused to smile at her husband.
"Such children come of giving them an inventor father, an 'impractical genius,' as I've heard myself in satire called."
She flushed up angrily at this.
"You've done wonderfully well," she said, and believed the assertion; just as though at forty to weigh nails correctly and to sell so many yards of garden hose a week was a fine measure of success. "And your name will go ringing down the ages." She would never let him lose confidence in his own powers. Circumstances alone had thrown him into a mediocre position in a small town, but they should never hold him down.
He grew beneath her look; beneath her belief in him. And so the conversation ended on the personal note; ended with hands clasped and fond eyes seeing each the other's charm after many years.
Suzanna, arranging the pantry the next morning, sought her mother upstairs with a domestic announcement.
"The vinegar bottle is empty," she said.
"And the gherkins all ready," cried Mrs. Procter. "Will you run over to Mrs. Reynolds and ask her for some vinegar, Suzanna?"
Listlessly, Suzanna returned downstairs, and from the pantry procured a cup. Slowly she left the house, walked down the front path and across the road to Mrs. Reynolds' home. Arrived there, she went round to the back door and knocked with slack knuckles.
Mrs. Reynolds, a white cloth tied about her forehead, opened the door. She gave out redolently the pungent odor of the commodity Suzanna sought to borrow.
Mrs. Reynolds was stout and comfortable looking ordinarily. A quaint and interesting personality, sprung from Welsh parentage, she fitted into the life of Anchorville only because of a certain natural adaptability. She seemed to belong to a wilder, more passionate people than those plain lives which surrounded her.
Suzanna knew her tenderness, her tragic depressions. She loved her deep voice, her resonant tones, all her quick changes of mood, and her occasional strange ways of expression, revealing her understanding of men and women's vagaries.
Mrs. Reynolds adored Suzanna. She had said often there was one thing she coveted from her neighbor, and that was her neighbor's child.
Mrs. Reynolds had no children and in that deplorable fact lay her keenest unhappiness.
She greeted Suzanna cordially.
"Come in, Suzanna, come in," she said. "I've been using vinegar and red pepper all morning," she continued, as she went her way to the pantry with Suzanna's cup. "I've one of my old headaches."
"Oh, I'm so sorry," said Suzanna, with immediate sympathy. "Have you been worrying?"
"Not more than usual, Suzanna," said Mrs. Reynolds with a sigh. "Here's your vinegar. Hold it steady. Vinegar's a bad thing to spill."
"Thank you," said Suzanna, politely, as she received the cup. And then: "I don't see why you should worry. You have no children. It's mother's many children that sometimes give her worry."
"Your mother'd have worries even without you all," returned Mrs. Reynolds. "Won't you sit down a spell, Suzanna?"
"No, I can't, mother's waiting." Suzanna walked toward the door, pausing on her way to glance about her. "My, but you're very clean here," she said, appreciatively. "Your cleanness is different from ours. Ours doesn't show so."
"There's no little hands to clutter things up," said Mrs. Reynolds, but her voice wasn't glad.
Suzanna, intuitively sensing the real trouble, said: "Reynolds slammed the door this morning, Mrs. Reynolds. We heard the slam in our dining-room and my mother jumped." Suzanna quite innocently borrowed Mrs. Reynolds' way of referring to her husband.
Mrs. Reynolds' face darkened. "Yes, I know he did. That man is getting more like a bear every day."
"He liked our twin that went away, Mrs. Reynolds. He wasn't like a bear when he played with her."
At this statement Mrs. Reynolds suddenly threw her apron over her head and sobbed: "That's just it, Suzanna, that's just it; there aren't any little cluttering fingers about."
Suzanna set the vinegar cup carefully down on the table, the while her keenly sensitive mind worked rapidly. Those gifts which by dint of their frequency in her own home seemed rather overdone were actually missed here! A strong, deep sympathy for Mrs. Reynolds' disappointment grew within her, but did not entirely crowd out the thought that through this very disappointment her own burning desire might be brought to pass. She now went swiftly and touched the weeping woman.
"Mrs. Reynolds," she began, "will you tell me how you feel about cutting pink goods away from under lace. Can you afford to do that?"
Mrs. Reynolds' apron came down with a jerk, and for a second she stared her perplexity at the upturned, earnest little face. Then with quick understanding which revealed her real mother-spirit, she answered: "Why land, Honey-Girl, Reynolds makes pretty good money at times. I guess we can do about as we please in most simple ways."
"Well, then, keep your apron down," advised Suzanna; "and just think this thought over and over: 'Reynolds is not going to be cross any more!' Thank you again for the vinegar, I must be going now."
It was not without misgiving that Suzanna started immediately to put her secret plan into execution. And her judicious side urged the completion of all details before she said anything to those most nearly concerned in her new move. Only to Maizie, whose constant attendance she skillfully managed to elude while she made her simple preparations, did she at last give any confidence, and it was in this manner she spoke:
"There's going to be a great change, Maizie; and tonight you must manage to stay awake to do something for me."
Maizie, at once interested, grew wildly expectant. Though she could send up no airships of her own, she loved to contemplate Suzanna's daring flights.
"I'll do anything, Suzanna," she promised.
So Suzanna gave Maizie her news. Hearing it, Maizie's lips quivered, but she kept back the tears by the exercise of great control. They were upstairs in their own room. It was late afternoon. Peter was out playing. Mrs. Procter, the baby with her, was downtown ordering groceries.
"Now, you mustn't cry, Maizie," said Suzanna; "it all had to be, and what is to be is for the best." Suzanna quoted from Mrs. Reynolds. "Go downstairs and get father's dictionary."
Maizie obeyed, returning quickly with the desired book.
"And now stand at the window so as to tell me when you see mother coming."
So Maizie took her stand while Suzanna labored hard with the pen. An hour passed. Once Suzanna flew downstairs to the kitchen, then returned to her work. At last, Maizie in excited tones announced that her mother and the baby had turned the corner. Suzanna laid down her pen.
"Well, it's all finished," she said.
Maizie looked at her sister. Now the tears came, blurring the big gray eyes.
"You mustn't cry, Maizie," said Suzanna, trying to subdue her own emotions.
"Couldn't you just wear the dress as it is?" asked Maizie in a small voice, touching the crux of the whole matter, the cause of the great change.
"I just couldn't," Suzanna returned. "It wouldn't be a rose blossom, you see, Maizie, when it could just as well be one."
Maizie nodded. Perhaps she understood Suzanna's sense of waste. Undoubtedly her grief at Suzanna's contemplated step had sharpened her sensibilities. Vague stirrings told her that the artist in Suzanna had been desperately hurt; and for the once her imagination thrilled as did her sister's to the dress as a Rose Blossom. She knew with passion that it could not remain simply pink lawn cut and slashed into a mere garment.
So she went softly to Suzanna and touched her gently.
"I'll help you all I can, sister," she said.
So it was that just as the clock was striking nine, little Maizie stole from her room—shared as long as she remembered with Suzanna—crept down the stairs and into the parlor where her father sat studying, as always, a formidable book, the while her mother sat sewing, her chair drawn close to his. Maizie went straight to the quiet figure.
"Mother," she said, "Suzanna told me to stay awake till the clock struck nine and then to give you this."
"This" was a note folded into the shape of a cocked hat, which Suzanna thought very elegant. Mrs. Procter, accustomed to Suzanna's ways, unfolded the note, smiled at the large printed letters, sighed a little at the thought of the great effort put into their forming, read once, twice, then sat up very straight. The note thus told its own story:
My Loving Mother:
I have given myself to the Reynolds for there own. Mrs. Reynolds is not happy with Reynolds' slams of doors and crossness be cause they have no child. They will be pretty sprised to see me to night and glad with my big shiny bag witch I have borrowed from my once very loved father. I have my pink dress witch will soon be a rose in it and my other things. I wore my hat and coat even if it is warm. You will not miss me much because the last baby went away and a baby always makes more work. And anyway one little girl out of a big family wont make any difrunce. But if you want any fine errands ran, you can borrow Mrs. Reynolds new child. Tell father I am loving my naybor as myself. It hurt me till something stopped inside to see Mrs. Reynolds put her apron over her head at Reynolds slams. Perhaps the mother angel that stops at our house all the time will pause at Mrs. Reynolds' next time and leave a bundle, thinking when I'm there a family don't have to be started which is always hard, I suppose. Mother, please don't forget about borrowing. It is not polite to come 2 often even to borrow me for some thing big. It took me an hour and twenty minutes to write this while you were at the butshers and grosers and Maizie at the window. I had to stop too, to watch the beans on the stove. I have labored over some of the big spelling with fathers dicsionary on my knee, remembering to make all my i's big I's.
Farewell forever, Suzanna Reynolds.
P. S. Mrs. Reynolds can afford to cut away the goods from under all lace, which makes my heart jump! Perhaps tho even tho I'm sorry for her, if she hadn't promised to cut away the goods from under the lace in my pink dress, I wouldn't have adopted myself out to her. So I shall see you when I recite "The Little Martyr of Smyrna" with the green showing through the windows of my many yards of lace. O, Mother, I couldn't bare to ware that dress which is just a dress when it could be a rose.
"What's the matter?" asked Mr. Procter, attracted by the strange, almost solemn silence. "What's the trouble, Jane?"
She handed the note to him, waited while he read it through not once, but many times, as she had.
He passed it back to her. "Shall we go for her?" he asked.
But she shook her head. "Sometimes I don't know just how to act where Suzanna's concerned," she said. She folded the note. "No, sometimes I feel just helpless."
SUZANNA MAKES HER ENTRY
Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds were in the kitchen, she belatedly washing the supper dishes, he smoking his pipe near the window. She lent, through her vivid personality, color to him. Big, hearty, he was not picturesque. He seemed to take note of realities more than she did. Perhaps springing from emotional folk, she stood with a quality of rich background denied to him by a line of unimaginative ancestors.
He read his big books, she found truths in her own heart. She found a quick, tender language springing from her understanding. He used his words like bludgeons.
Still they loved one another, and her deepest hurt was that he wanted that which she could not give him. So she placed his longing before hers and grieved most for his lack.
The front door-bell rang. They looked at one another wonderingly, then Mr. Reynolds slowly withdrew his feet from the window sill and went as slowly down the hall. He opened the door to Suzanna, who stood waiting, conventionally attired in hat and cloak, pale, and with eyes wide and dark.
"Good evening, Reynolds," said Suzanna.
"O! good evening, come in, come in," urged Mr. Reynolds hospitably, but totally at a loss as he looked at the little figure. "Come right out to the kitchen."
Suzanna followed him. When once in the kitchen, she stood for a moment blinking in the light streaming from the hanging lamp under which Mrs. Reynolds stood; then she said:
"I've come to you, Mrs. Reynolds, to stay. I've adopted myself out to you."
"Well, I never, dear love!" was all Mrs. Reynolds could say as she wiped her hands on a convenient roller towel.
Mr. Reynolds laughed. "Oh, you think you'd like a change of homes, Suzanna?"
Suzanna turned to him then. She spoke quietly, but decisively so he might perfectly understand. "No, that's not it, Reynolds. I love my little home; but first I don't want Mrs. Reynolds to throw her apron over her head at your slams. And second it's for myself I come, because you can afford to do something for me my own mother thinks she can't on account of little money."
But Mr. Reynolds caught only the first reason. "What do you mean, young lady, about slammin'; that's what I want to know." His tone was belligerent. Mrs. Reynolds threw him a withering look. "Here, Suzanna," she said; "give me the bag, and you sit down. Take your hat off, my brave little lass. 'Twas but you and you alone could think of this sweet thought."
"I'd rather have things settled before I take my hat off," said Suzanna. She relinquished the bag, however, and seated herself in the chair Mrs. Reynolds pulled forward. Then she went on: "You know, Reynolds, you do slam doors and make Mrs. Reynolds cry. And you know, anyway, you oughtn't to blame Mrs. Reynolds because you get no visits. It may be just as much your fault because the mother angel don't like your ways."
She paused a moment before continuing. "And, anyway, my father never blames mother for anything, only when she's tired and cries he remembers to love her even if he's on the way upstairs to the attic to his wonderful Machine, and he puts his arm about her waist, though mother says it's much larger now than it was years ago. That's what my father that used to be, does."
"Why bless my soul!" blustered Mr. Reynolds, his face a fine glowing color; "bless my soul!" he repeated, removing his shoes and slamming them down, as he always did under stress. "Women, my dear, will make up all sorts of stories. If I did give the door a bit of a slam, it was because the bacon didn't set right, perhaps. And a woman's always fancying things."
"But you don't put your arm about her, you know that, Reynolds. I was born in this town and I've never seen you put your arm about her."
Mrs. Reynolds' apron was over her head again, but she made no sound. Her husband knocked the ashes from his pipe, and ran his fingers through his thick hair. Then he stared helplessly at Suzanna. She rose valiantly to the occasion.
"If you say, 'There, there, don't cry, you should have married a better man,' she'll say: 'There couldn't be a better' and take her apron down." Thus innocently Suzanna exposed a tender home method of salving hurts, and her listener, as near as his nature could, appropriated the method. He rose from his chair and went softly to his wife. At her side he hesitated in sheer embarrassment, but as she began to sob, he hurriedly repeated Suzanna's formula: "There, there, dear, don't cry. I'm a bad 'un, I am—"
Mrs. Reynolds lowered her shield. "You know better than that, Reynolds," she denied, almost indignantly. "You're a good provider, with a bit of a temper."
"Well, out with it then. What is the trouble? I'm willing to do what I can, even occasionally to doing what the little lass suggests." And with the words, his big arm went clumsily about his wife, the while he looked at Suzanna for approval. She nodded vigorously, her eyes shining.
"It's just this, then, Reynolds," the words were now a whisper, and the big red-faced man had to stoop to hear. "It's that I'm achin' all the time to hold one in my arms; and always to you I've let on that I didn't care. An'—an'—I know the hunger in your own fine heart, my lad."
Mr. Reynolds' face grew wonderfully soft; indeed, tender in a new understanding. "I didn't know, Margie, that you grieved. Come, look up. You and me are together anyway."
"And you have me, now, too," broke in Suzanna, eager to help. "I'm going to stay with you forever'n forever, only except when my mother that used to be wants to borrow me back. Now, I'll go to bed, if you please."
And then one swift, cuddling memory of little Maizie alone in bed across the street brought the hot tears to Suzanna's eyes, but she winked them resolutely back as she lifted the black, shiny bag.
"Tomorrow," she said to Mrs. Reynolds, "you can cut the goods away from under the lace on my pink dress, can't you?" She went on, not waiting for an answer. "Shall I go right along upstairs?"
Mrs. Reynolds spoke gently: "Yes, Suzanna. Did you tell your mother you were coming to me to be my own lass?"
"I wrote her a letter."
Suzanna on her way upstairs waited a moment while Mrs. Reynolds whispered directions to her husband: "You run across to the little home while I put her to bed." Then looking wistfully up into his face: "Do you think she'll let me undress her?"
"That young'un will do anything to make you happy, Margie."
From the top of the stairs the words floated down: "Are you coming—mother—"
Suzanna's voice choked on the word, but Mrs. Reynolds heard only the exquisite title. She lifted her face, glowing like a heaven of stars.
"I'm coming, Suzanna," she called. And she went swiftly up the stairs to the little girl. "This night you sleep under the silk coverlet—and more I couldn't do for royalty!"
Suzanna woke the next morning to a realization that she was in a strange place. She occupied a large bed, too large, it seemed to her, for one small girl. And even the silken coverlet failed to assuage the sudden wave of homesickness which threatened to engulf her.