HotFreeBooks.com
Teddy: Her Book - A Story of Sweet Sixteen
by Anna Chapin Ray
1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

TEDDY: HER BOOK A Story of Sweet Sixteen

BY ANNA CHAPIN RAY

ILLUSTRATED BY VESPER L. GEORGE



BOSTON LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY 1901

Copyright, 1898, BY LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY.

University Press: JOHN WILSON AND SON, CAMBRIDGE, U.S.A.



"Spring's hands are always full of rosy flowers, Unopened buds to deck each field and tree. We love and watch them through the long, sweet hours, Not for the buds, but what the buds will be.

"Life's hands are full of buds. She comes on singing, With radiant eyes, across Youth's golden gate; We smile to see the burden she is bringing, And for the Summer are content to wait."



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

THEODORA'S FACE, ROSY WITH BLUSHES, APPEARED IN THE OPENING. 31

THEODORA WENT FLYING ACROSS THE ROAD. 69

"'WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THIS?' SHE DEMANDED." 100

"TEDDY, DEAR, THIS IS MY BROTHER ARCHIE, COME AT LAST." 129

"'GIVE ME MY FAN AND GLOVES, HU,' SHE SAID." 256

SOMETHING IN THE EXPRESSION OF THE BLUE EYES ABOVE HER MADE HER OWN EYES DROOP. 272



CHAPTER ONE

The five McAlisters were gathered in the dining-room, one rainy night in late August. In view of the respective dimensions of the family circle and the family income, servants were few in the McAlister household, and division of labor was the order of the day. Old Susan had cleared away the table and brought in the lamp; then she retired to the kitchen, leaving the young people to themselves.

Hope was darning stockings. She had one of Hubert's socks drawn on over her hand, which showed, white and dainty, through the great, ragged hole. Hubert sat near her with little Allyn on his knee, tiding over a crisis in the young man's temper by showing him pictures in the dilapidated Mother Goose which had done duty for successive McAlisters, from seventeen-year-old Hope down.

"Stop kicking brother," he commanded, as Allyn lifted up his voice and his heels in vigorous protest against things in general, and the approach of the sandman in particular. "Listen, Allyn,—

'There was a little man, And he had a little gun, And his bullets were made of lead, lead, lead.'"

Theodora appeared on the threshold of the great china closet, where she was washing the cups and plates. She had a dish-cloth in one hand and three or four spoons in the other.

"You don't put enough emphasis into it, Hu," she said mockingly. "This is the way it should sound, like this,—

'There was a little cow, And it had a little calf, And it wouldn't ever go to bed, bed, bed.'

Never mind, Allyn, sister will come in a few minutes and put your nightie on. Oh, Babe, I wish you'd hurry and put away these dishes."

But Babe, baptismally known as Phebe, was engaged in tickling Allyn's toes, with the praiseworthy intention of making him kick the harder. Accordingly, she was deaf to the voice of Theodora, who was forced to put away the cups herself. She did it with a bumping impatience, grumbling the while.

"I do wish that everlasting old Susan would wash these things. The idea of my being tied to a dish-pan, all my days, and Babe never will help a bit! It's not fair." She set down a cup with a protesting whack which threatened to wreck its handle.

"Oh, Teddy?" Hubert called, from the next room.

"Well?" Her face cleared, as it always did at the voice of her twin brother.

"Drop something?"

"No. Wish I had. I'd like to throw this dish-pan into the street."

"'Most through?"

"Never shall be. Do put Allyn down and come to help me."

He settled the child, book and all, in a corner of the old haircloth sofa which ran across the end of the room, and, with his hands in his pockets, he sauntered into the china closet and sat down on the little step-ladder that stood there, ready to lead to an ascent to the upper shelves.

"What's the matter, to-night, Teddy?" he asked, sympathetically tweaking the end of her long brown pigtail.

"The weather, I think," she replied, as she threw a dish-towel at him. "I don't like to wash dishes, and I don't like rainy days, and I don't like—"

"Nothin' nor nobody. Never mind filling up the list. You've a crick in your temper, that's all. It will be gone in the morning. Here, give me a towel, and I'll help wipe."

It was a service he had often performed before. The twins were close friends, and some of their most confidential talks had been held over the steaming dish-water. They finished their task together; then Hubert linked his arm in that of his sister and came out into the dining-room, where Hope, with the stocking still drawn on over her hand, was vainly trying to rescue Allyn from the torments imposed on him by Phebe.

"Don't, Babe," she urged. "Don't you see how it makes him cry? Why can't you let him alone? He is always cross at bedtime."

"So are you," Phebe retorted defiantly. "When she comes, Hope McAlister, I do hope she'll give it to you good."

Hope flushed, and her sensitive chin quivered a little.

"Let's hope not," she said gently. "Do be quiet, there's a dear Babe. It is almost your bedtime."

"But I sha'n't go to bed," proclaimed Phebe rebelliously.

"Phebe!"

Experience had taught her that Sister Hope, gentle as she was, must be obeyed when she spoke in that tone, and Phebe sullenly yielded to the inevitable and became quiet.

Meanwhile, Theodora had pounced upon Allyn, caught him up in her strong young arms, cuddled his fluffy yellow head against her cheek, and gone away upstairs, whither Phebe followed them with a crushing dignity which sought for no good-night kiss. Hubert cast himself down on the old sofa and fell to rummaging his sister's basket. He smiled a little, as she showed him the vast hole in the toe of his sock; but it was some minutes before he spoke. Then he said slowly,—

"Never mind, Hope. It's in the air, and we all feel it."

He was silent again. Upstairs, they could hear the tap, tap of Teddy's energetic heels, as she moved to and fro, settling the two children for the night. Then she was still, while Allyn's shrill, childish treble rose in his evening petition,—

"Now I lay me down a shleep, I tray a Lo' la tol a teep, I ta die afo' I wake, Tray a Lo' la tol a take. It I at a Jedu' shlake. A-nen!"

Ten minutes later, she came back to the dining-room and threw herself down on the sofa, with her head on Hubert's knee and her elbow in the orderly work-basket.

"Do you know," she said abruptly; "I think our venerable father is a goose."

"Teddy!" Hope's tone was remonstrant.

"I can't help it, if it isn't respectful; I do. He's lived long enough to know better, and he ought to be put to bed without his supper, even if it is his wedding day." She started up, to add emphasis to her words; but Hubert seized her two long braids of hair and drew her head down on his knee again.

"Calm yourself, Teddy," he said, bending forward to peer into her face. "You are worse than the children. I told Hope that it was in the air, to-night."

"Why shouldn't it be?" she demanded. "Here are we, three grown-up children, sitting in a row at home and knowing that, this very evening, our own father is being married to a stranger. It's horrid."

"It may not be so bad, Teddy," Hope said consolingly, as she rolled up Hubert's socks in a ball and tossed them at her brother. "You know we saw her once and we all liked her."

"That was before we knew what was going on. You may think a person is pretty and nice and all that; but that doesn't mean you want her for a mother."

"I don't believe she'll be so bad," Hubert observed judicially. "She's been to college and she knows a good deal, and she's pretty and not easily shocked. Don't you remember how she laughed at Babe's awful speeches?"

"I remember just how she looked," Hope said. "She must have been amused at our innocence. I don't see why the reason never struck us that we were all dragged over to the hotel to see her."

"Because we had some respect for papa," Theodora said tartly. "I don't see why he needs to go and get married again, and I won't say I'm glad to see her, when she comes. There!"

"Ted is afraid that Madame will make her toe the mark," Hubert said teasingly. "You've had your own way too long, Miss Teddy, and now you will have to come to terms. Isn't that about the truth of it?"

The clock struck eight, and Hope raised her head.

"Listen," she said. "Isn't it a strange feeling that now, in the middle of the lights and the music and the wedding march, papa, our own father, is being married, while we sit here just as we always do?"

The three young faces grew grave at the thought, Hope's with the sweet romance of her years, Hubert's with interest, and Theodora's with open rebellion. For some time they sat there, silent. Then Hope spoke, with the evident design of changing the subject.

"Does anybody know about the new people on the corner?"

"Only what papa said, that it's a woman and her son. She's a widow, her husband was killed in the Massawan bridge accident, and the son terribly hurt."

"Have they come?"

"Yes, I saw them yesterday," Hubert said.

"What are they like?" Hope and Theodora asked in a breath.

"They were driving past the post-office, when I went after the noon mail. They went by so fast I couldn't see much, though."

"How did you know who it was?" Theodora inquired, rolling over till she could look up into her brother's face.

"Mr. Saunders asked me if I knew they were our new neighbors. They came Tuesday, but they stayed at the hotel till yesterday morning, while the house was being put in order."

"What did they look like?" Teddy demanded.

"Like all the rest of the world, as far as I could see."

"Stop teasing, Hu, and tell us," Hope urged.

"Really, I don't know much about them," Hubert returned, with an air of lazy indifference. "Look out, Ted, you're tipping over Hope's basket. One would think we'd never had any new neighbors before, from the way you act."

"We haven't, for ages. Tell us, Hu, there's a dear, what are they like?"

"I honestly didn't have a chance to see them, Ted. She's tall and pretty, and has a lot of fuzzy light red hair."

"Of course she was in mourning," Hope said.

"Yes, I suppose so. At least, she had a pile of black stuff hanging down her back. I don't see why women should pin a black shawl over their heads, when somebody dies; but then—"

"How old is the son?" Theodora interrupted.

"About our ages, I should say."

"Did he look ill?" Hope asked pitifully.

"No; only pale."

"What's the matter with him, anyway?" Theodora inquired, as she reached out for her brother's hand and fell to playing with his slender brown fingers.

"Papa told me he was jammed into a corner, with a lot of stuff on top of him, and his back is hurt so he can't walk."

"Ugh!" Theodora wriggled. "How horrid! Won't he get over it?"

"Sometime; but it will take a good while."

"How did they happen to come here?" Hope said.

"They wanted to move into the country. Dr. Parker is their regular doctor, and he advised them to try papa, so they came here to be near him. Papa told me, on the way to the station, the day he went. He had a great, thick letter from Dr. Parker all about it."

"And so they are really in the house. It has been empty so long that I can't realize it," Hope observed thoughtfully. "Of course, if he were a girl, it would make more difference to us."

"I don't see why," Theodora said, as she pulled off the ribbon from one of her braids, and untied the bow.

"Why, because—Don't you see? He can't come to us, and we can't go there; that is, none of us but Hu."

"I don't see why," Theodora said again.

"It wouldn't be proper," Hope said primly. "You can't go to call on a boy, Teddy. Hu will go over, in a day or two, though."

"Not if he knows himself," Hubert returned. "I don't like freaks. They make me squirmy, and I never know what to say to them."

"Then you're a pig," Theodora answered, with Saxon frankness. "It won't be decent, if we don't try to make it pleasant for him. He's a stranger to everybody, and shut up so he can't have any fun."

"I really think you ought to go, Hu," Hope said gently.

"I don't hanker to," he returned laughingly. "Let Ted go, if she wants to."

"But she is a girl—" Hope began.

"Not more than half," Hubert interrupted, with a laughing grimace at his twin sister, who stood by the sofa, looking scornfully down at them.

"You can do as you like, you two," she said. "It isn't a question of whether it's proper or not; it is simple human kindness, and as soon as I can, Hope McAlister, I intend to get acquainted with him. You've got to go over there, Hu, and take me with you, just as soon as papa comes home." She tied her ribbon with a defiant jerk.

Rather to her surprise, Hubert came to her support.

"You're all right, Teddy; go ahead. If papa is willing, Hope, I don't see why she can't go to see him whenever she feels like it. It isn't in my line. I always feel as if people smashed up in that way ought to sing hymns all the time, and talk about Heaven. That's the way they do in Sunday-school books, you know, and they never have tempers and things. I shouldn't know what to say to that kind of a fellow, and I should only make a mess of it; but if Ted wants to play the good Samaritan to him, let her. For my part, I like whole people, or none at all." He squared his shoulders and took a deep, full breath, as he spoke, in all the pride of his boyish strength.

"We're bound to see a good deal of him anyway," Theodora urged, a shade less hotly. "Right next door and a patient of papa's, it would be queer not to pay any attention to him. He's all alone, too, and there are such a lot of us. I don't want to do anything out-of-the-way, Hope, but I do wish we could get acquainted with him."

"Wait till papa comes home, dear," Hope said, with the gentleness which had gained her so many victories over her tempestuous young sisters. "That will only be two or three weeks, and he will know what is the best thing to do."

"Maybe, unless the new Madame is a prig," Theodora said restively. "She may be worse than you are, Hope; but I doubt it. Never mind," she added sagely to herself, as she left the room; "it is two weeks till then, and there's plenty of chance for things to happen, before they get home."



CHAPTER TWO

Lying far at the side of the little suburban town, the McAlisters' grounds were of a size and beauty which entitled them to be ranked as one of the few so-called "places" that dominated the closely-built streets of the town. The land ran all up and down hill, here coaxed into a smooth-cropped lawn, there carpeted with the moss and partridge vines which had been left to grow over the rocks in undisturbed possession. Here and there, too, were outcrops of the rock, ragged, jutting ledges full of the nooks and crannies which delight the souls of children from one generation to another. The grounds had been, for the most part, left as nature had made them, full of little curves and hillocks and dimples; but the great glory of the place lay in its trees. No conventional elms and maples were they, but the native trees of the forest, huge-bodied chestnuts, tall, straight-limbed oaks, jagged hickories which blazed bright gold in the autumn and shot back the sunlight from every leafy twig, and an occasional cedar or two, from which came the name of the place, The Savins.

Less than a year after his first marriage, Dr. McAlister had bought the place, going far out of the town for the purpose. At that time, he was regarded as little short of a maniac, to prefer land on the ridge to the smooth, conventional little lawns of the middle of the town, where one house was so like another that the inhabitants might have followed the example of the Mad Tea Party and moved up a place, without suffering any inconvenience from the change. It was years before the townspeople dropped the story of Mrs. McAlister's first attempt to choose a site for the house, of her patiently sitting on top of the rail fence, while her husband borrowed a hatchet and manfully whacked away at the underbrush, to clear a path to admit her to her new domain.

It was not till several years later that the house was built, and the McAlisters actually took possession of their new home. Phebe was a baby then, and the twins were so young that Theodora formed an abiding impression that Indians were prone to lurk behind a certain trio of great chestnut-trees at the far side of the grounds. The house was not impressive. It stood on one of the three hills, and originally it had been small, to match the income of the young doctor. Only a year later, he had built on a new wing; and, from that time onward, the spirit of reconstruction had entered into his soul. Hope was wont to describe the house as a species of crazy patchwork, a patch for each year, and each patch of a different style. From the outside point of view, the result was not a success, and the large red house, low and rambling, had grown beyond the limits of the hill and sprawled over the edge on a pile of supporting piazzas and pillars. Inside, it was altogether delightful, with odd windows and corners and lounging places, sunshine everywhere, and the indescribable air of half-shabby, well-used cosiness which is so dear to every one but the owners thereof. Strangers felt the charm as soon as they crossed the threshold; the whole atmosphere of the place was hospitable and unconventional and homelike.

Taken all in all, it was an ideal spot for growing children, and the young McAlisters had made the most of it. On rainy days, they adjourned to the attic, where they bumped their heads against the low rafters of the gables, or ventured on long, perilous expeditions upon the beams of the unfloored extension over one of the wings. They were gifted with good imaginations, these three older children, and this carefully-trodden territory did service alternately as Africa, Fort Ticonderoga, and a runaway locomotive.

But that was only during stormy weather. The rest of the time they lived out-of-doors, in winter coasting down the hills on sleds or on shingles, according to the state of the crust; and in summer running riot among the green things, like the very daisies which refused to be rooted out of the lawn. A neighborhood had grown up around them; but they cared little for other children. A wealth of imagination, and plenty of room to let it work itself out had developed plays of long standing which were as charming to them as they were incomprehensible to their young neighbors.

Then the change had come, and a cloud had fallen on the home. Baby Allyn had been born, and on the same day the bright, happy young mother, boon companion of her children in work and in play, had fallen asleep. The shock had come so suddenly and unexpectedly that there had been no time to plan for a reconstruction. Almost before they realized what had occurred, they had settled back into their former routine, only with Hope as the nominal, and old Susan, the American "help," as the actual, head of things. In a larger community, such an arrangement would have been out of the question; but Hope was a womanly child, and Susan had been in the family for years, in a relation which unfortunately is fast dying out. Accordingly, the doctor had been content to let the situation go on from day to day, until the hour of his second marriage, two or three years later.

Back in a far corner of the grounds, close to the division fence towards the garden of the long-unoccupied corner house, was an early apple-tree, old and gnarly, which for years had been known as "Teddy's tree." No one had ever been able to trace the beginning of her proprietorship in it; but she had assumed it as her own and viewed with disfavor any encroachments on the part of the others. It might have been a case of squatter sovereignty; but it was a sovereignty which Theodora stoutly maintained. Her scarlet hammock hung from the lower branches, and the tree was full of comfortable crooks and crotches which she knew to the least detail. Thither she was wont to retire to recover her lost temper, to grieve over her girlish sorrows, to dream dreams of future glory, and, often and often, to lie passive and watch the white clouds drift this way and that in the great blue arch above her. No human being, not even Hubert himself, could have told so much of Theodora's inner life as this old apple-tree, if only the power of speech had been granted it.

Three days later, Theodora was curled up in a fork of one of the topmost branches of her tree. The apples were beginning to ripen, and she had eaten until even her hearty young appetite was satisfied. Then she crossed her feet, coiled one arm around the branch beside her, and fell to planning, as she had so often done before, how she could fulfil her two great ambitions, to go to college in the first place, and then to become a famous author. It was always an absorbing subject and, losing herself in it, she became totally oblivious of her surroundings. Nearly an hour later, she was roused by the sound of approaching voices, and she straightened herself and peered down through the branches.

Just below her, on the other side of the fence, so close to it that it had escaped her notice, was a light bamboo lounge, covered with a pile of bright cushions. Across the garden, evidently towards it, came a wheeled chair pushed by a sedate-looking person in green livery, and occupied by a slight figure covered with a gay rug. Theodora gave a little gasp of sheer delight.

"It's the boy!" she exclaimed to herself. "Now is my chance to get a look at him."

Beside the lounge, the chair came to a halt, and the man, bending down, lifted the boy from the chair. With pitiful eyes, Theodora noted the limp helplessness of all the lower part of his body; but she also saw that the boyish face was bright and manly, and that his blue eyes flashed with a spirit equal to Hubert's own. She watched approvingly the handy way in which the man settled the cushions. Then he turned to go away. Half way across the garden, he was arrested by a call from the lounge.

"Hi, Patrick!"

"Well, sir?"

"Where's my book?"

"What book?"

"The one I was reading, the blue one."

"I think you left it in the house."

"But didn't I tell you to bring it along? Go and get it, and hurry up about it." And a pillow flew after Patrick's retreating form with a strength and an accuracy of aim which called forth an ill-suppressed giggle from Theodora.

Presently the man reappeared, book in hand, and the boy hailed him jovially with an utter disregard of his passing ill-humor. Then the man went away, and silence fell. The boy below was absorbed in his reading; Theodora above in watching him and building up a detailed romance about him, upon the slight foundation of her present impression.

"I wonder what his name is," she said to herself. "I hope it's something nice and interesting, like Valentine, or Geoffrey, or something."

She had just reached the point in her romance where one of them, she was not quite sure which, should rescue the other from a runaway horse, when the boy suddenly called her back to the present by throwing his open book on the ground, with a vigorous yawn.

"Ha-um!" he remarked, and, turning his head slightly, he stared aimlessly up into the tree above him.

Theodora, high up among the branches, was screened from his view by the light leafage, and the pale greenish tones of her cotton gown helped her to escape notice. Accordingly, she bent forward and peeped through the leaves, laughing to herself as she saw his eyes turned upward, quite unconscious of her scrutiny.

Yes, he was interesting, she told herself. He did not look in the least like a pensive invalid as he lay there, and she nodded to herself in girlish approval, as she took in every detail of his appearance. Unfortunately that nod cost her her hiding-place. Without in the least realizing it, she had leaned too far forward, and she slipped from her perch. She saved herself by catching at a branch before her; but the sudden jar sent a ripe apple crashing down through the leaves, and it landed plump in one of the cushions, not two inches from the boy's head.

"Oh, I say!" he exclaimed.



The words were addressed to empty space, merely as an expression of surprise. The surprise was increased, as he saw the leaves pushed apart, and Theodora's face, rosy with blushes, appear in the opening.

"I'm so sorry! Did it hurt you?"

"Not a bit. Besides, I was just getting hungry."

As a proof of his statement, his teeth met in the apple.

"Don't you want another?" Theodora inquired generously.

"Thank you; not in that same way. You might aim better, next time."

"Honestly, I didn't mean to do it. I slipped and jiggled it down. Wait a minute, and I'll throw down some more, better ones."

She scrambled about in the branches, tossing down the bright apples till they lay thick on the ground about the lounge. The boy watched her, half amused, half envious as he saw her lithe, agile motions.

"You'll have to come down and pick them up now," he said composedly, when the shower had ceased. "I can't reach them, you see."

"Oh!" Theodora gave a little groan of annoyance. "How stupid I am!"

"I don't see why. But come along down and talk to a fellow for a while."

Glimpses of a rosy face, a pale green gown and a pair of tan-colored shoes were beginning to whet his curiosity. He wanted to see what the stranger was like, at shorter range.

With a rustle and a slide and a bump, Theodora dropped lightly at his side. She caught the placket of her skirt, on the way; but the sound of rending garments was too common an occurrence in her career to call for more than a passing attention. Strange to say, it had been much easier to talk when she had been half-hidden in the apple-tree. A sudden shyness came upon them both, as they looked in each other's eyes. There was an interval of silence. Then Theodora dropped down on the turf by the lounge, and held up a handful of apples.

"Take one of these. They're ever so much better than the first one."

"This is good enough, thank you." He took another from her outstretched hand, however. "Do you usually inhabit trees like this? I didn't hear you come."

"I've been there all the morning," Theodora answered, while she told herself that his bright blue eyes were almost as fine as Hubert's brown ones. "That tree is my city of refuge. The others call it 'Teddy's tree.'"

"And you are—" he hesitated.

She laughed, while she chose one of the apples that lay beside her, and plunged her strong young teeth into it.

"Yes, I'm Teddy," she said, with her mouth somewhat too full for elegance. "My real name is Theodora," she added, speaking rather more distinctly.

"I think I like the other best," the boy replied, laughing in his turn.

"I don't. Teddy is like a boy; but Theodora is stately and dignified. I want to be called Theodora; but in a family like ours, there are bound to be nicknames."

"You aren't the only one, then?"

"Mercy, no! There are five of us."

"How jolly it must be! I'm the only one." The boy's tone was a bit wishful. "Are they all like you?"

"I hope not." Theodora's laugh rang out a second time, hearty and infectious. "There are two good ones, and two bad ones, and a baby."

"Which are you?" the boy asked mischievously.

"What a question! I'm bad, of course, that is, in comparison with Hope. She's the oldest, and we get worse as we go down the line. I shudder to think what the baby may develop into."

The boy nestled down contentedly among his cushions and watched her with merry eyes.

"Go on and tell about them," he urged. "It's such fun to hear about a large family."

Theodora's quick eye saw that one of the cushions was slipping to one side. She replaced it with a deftness of touch natural to her, yet seemingly incongruous with her harum-scarum ways. Then she settled herself with her back against a tree, facing her new friend.

"Hope is past seventeen and an angel," she said; "one of the good, quiet kind with yellow hair and not any temper. She's had all the care of us, since my mother died. Then there's Hubert, my twin brother. He's my boy, and a splendid one. You'll like Hu. Phebe is ten, and a terror. Nobody ever knows what she'll do or say next. We call her Babe, but Allyn is the real baby. He's cunning and funny, except when Babe teases him, and then he rages like a little monster. That's all there are of us."

"And you live just over the fence?"

"Yes, we've lived there always, grown up with the place. People used to call it McAlister's Folly; but they're more respectful now."

"McAlister?"

"Yes. I'm Dr. McAlister's daughter. Didn't you know it?"

"How should I? Remember, you came down out of a tree."

They both laughed.

"That's just like me," Theodora returned. "I never do the thing I ought. Hu was coming over here in a few days; but Hope said I must wait to see what papa said."

"What for?"

"Because you're a boy. She said girls don't go to see boys. I told her I would wait, and here I am. I couldn't help it; but Hope will be horrified. She never went to see a boy in her life; but then, she's used to being horrified at me." Theodora appeared to be arguing out the situation, much to her own frank amusement.

"But don't you see it's different in this case?" the boy suggested. "I'm only about half a boy, just now. Besides, Miss Teddy, if you'll only come over again, I promise to make up for it, as soon as I'm able to go to see you."

Theodora's face brightened.

"Do you honestly want me to come again?"

"Of course. Else I shouldn't ask you. Come over the fence again. I shall be up here, 'most every pleasant morning, and everybody else is busy, fixing up the house. Come to-morrow," he urged.

"I will, if I can. Sometimes I'm busy."

"By the way," the boy added abruptly; "maybe I ought to tell you my name. Probably you know it, though."

"No." Theodora looked up expectantly. She had an appetite for high-sounding names, and she had decided that Valentine Mortimer would just suit the present instance.

"Well, I'm Will Farrington; but everybody calls me Billy."

"Oh." Then Theodora unexpectedly began to laugh. "We ought to be good friends," she said; "for our names are about equally imposing. Billy and Teddy! Could anything be more prosaic? Good-by," she added, as she rose. "Truly, I must go home now."

Billy held out his hand. It looked rather white and thin, as Theodora's brown, strong fingers closed over it.

"Good-by," he said reluctantly. "Do come again whenever you can. Remember there are five of you and only one of me, and be as neighborly as you can."

Theodora mounted the fence. At the top, she paused and looked back.

"I will come," she said. "I'll get round Hope in some way or other. Good-by till to-morrow." She nodded brightly, and jumped down out of sight, on the other side of the fence.



CHAPTER THREE

It was the first of September, and the sunshine lay yellow on the fields. Phebe McAlister and her chief friend and crony, Isabel St. John, sat side by side on a rough board fence, not far from the McAlister grounds, feasting upon turnips. The turnips were unripe and raw, and nothing but an innate spirit of perversity could have induced the girls to eat them. Moreover, each had an abundant supply of exactly similar vegetables in her own home garden, yet they had wandered away, to prey upon the turnip patch of Mr. Elnathan Rogers.

"Good, aren't they?" Phebe asked, as the corky, hard root cracked under her jaws.

"Fine." Isabel rolled her morsel under her tongue; then, when Phebe's attention was distracted, she furtively threw it down back of the fence. "I believe I like 'em better this way than I do cooked." This addition was strictly true, for Isabel never touched turnips at home.

"I want another." Phebe jumped down and helped herself to two more turnips, carefully choosing the largest and best, and ruthlessly sacrificing a half-dozen more in the process. "Here, Isabel, take your pick."

Isabel held out her hand, hesitated, then, with a radiant smile of generosity, ostentatiously helped herself to the smaller. But Phebe held firmly to its bunch of green leaves.

"No, take the other, Isabel," she urged.

"I'd rather leave it for you."

"But I want you to have it."

"And I want you to take it."

"I've got ever so many more at home."

"So've I."

Reluctantly Phebe yielded her hold, and Isabel took the smaller one and rubbed the earth away, before biting it.

"It's not fair for me to take it, Phebe," she observed; "when you were the one to get it."

Phebe giggled.

"Just s'pose Mr. Rogers should catch us here, Isabel St. John! What would you do?"

"I'd run," Isabel returned tersely.

"I wouldn't; I'd tell him."

Isabel stared at her friend in admiration.

"Tell him what?"

"Oh—things," Phebe answered, with sudden vagueness. "My papa and mamma are coming home this afternoon."

"Your stepmother," Isabel corrected.

"Well, what's the difference?"

"Lots."

"What?"

"Oh, stepmothers are always mean to you and abuse you."

"How do you know? You haven't got any."

"No; but I knew a girl that had." Isabel took advantage of Phebe's interest in the subject, to slip the half-eaten turnip into her pocket.

"What happened?" Phebe demanded.

"Oh, everything. The stepmother used to take tucks in her dresses, and whip her, and send her to bed, and even when there was company. And her own mother used to stand by the bed and say,—

'How is my baby and how is my fawn? Once more will I come, and then vanish at dawn.'"

Phebe turned around sharply.

"What a fib! That's in a book of fairy stories, and you said you knew the girl, Isabel St. John."

"So I did. Her name was Eugenia Martha Smith."

But Phebe refused to be convinced.

"I don't believe one word of it, Isabel; and you needn't feel so smart, even if you do have a mother of your own. I used to have; and I know my stepmother will be nicer than your mother."

"How do you know?"

"She's prettier and she's younger. She gave me lots and lots of peaches, too, and your mother wouldn't let us have a single one, so there now."

"Do you know the reason why?" Isabel demanded, in hot indignation.

"No, I don't, and I don't believe she does," Phebe answered recklessly.

"She said, after you'd gone, that she'd have been willing to let you have one, but you were so deceitful, you'd have taken a dozen, as soon as her back was turned. Now what do you think?"

Even between the friends, quarrels had been known to occur before now, and one seemed imminent. An unexpected diversion intervened.

"Little girls," a solemn voice sounded in their ears; "do you know you are taking turnips that do not belong to you?"

It was Mr. Elnathan Rogers. Isabel quaked, but Phebe faced him boldly.

"Yes, sir."

"But it is a sin to steal—"

"A pin." Phebe unexpectedly capped his sentence for him. "These aren't worth a pin, anyway, and I don't see the harm of hooking two or three."

"But they are not your own," Mr. Rogers reiterated. He was more accustomed to the phraseology of the prayer-meeting than of the public school.

"Ours aren't ripe yet," she answered, as she scrambled down from the fence. "When they are, I'll bring some of them over, if you want them. Yours aren't very good ones, either."

Isabel also descended from the fence. As she did so, her skirt clung for a moment, and the turnip rolled out from her pocket. Mr. Rogers eyed her sternly.

"Worse and worse," he said. "I would rather feel that you ate them here, where temptation lurks, than that you carried them away to devour at your ease. I shall surely have to speak to your parents, little girls. Who are you?"

Isabel looked to Phebe for support; but Phebe was far down the road, running to meet her brother, who had just come in sight, with Mulvaney, the old Irish setter, at his heels.

"I—I'm Isabel St. John," she confessed.

"Not the minister's girl?"

She nodded.

"Well, I swan!" And Mr. Rogers picked up his hoe, and fell to pondering upon the problem of infant depravity, while Isabel turned and scuttled after her friend.

"What do you want, Hu?" Phebe was calling.

"Hope says it's time for you to come home now, and get dressed."

"Bother! I don't want to. Isabel and I are having fun."

Hubert took her hand and turned it palm upward.

"It must be a queer kind of fun, from the color of you," he observed. "But come, Babe, Hope is waiting."

Isabel had joined them and fallen into step at their side.

"What a queer name Hope is!" she said critically, for she wished to convince Phebe that she and all her family were under the ban of her lasting displeasure.

"It is only short for Hopestill, and it isn't any queerer name than Isabel."

"Hopestill! That's worse. Where did she ever get such a name?"

But Hubert interposed.

"It was mamma's name, Isabel; so we all like it. Let's not talk about it any more."

Towards noon of that day, Theodora, who had taken refuge in her tree, heard Hope's voice calling her. Reluctantly she scrambled down from her perch and presented herself.

"There's so much to be done, Teddy," Hope said; "would you mind dusting the parlor?"

Theodora hated dusting. Her idea of that solemn household rite was to stand in the middle of the room and flap a feather duster in all directions. To-day, however, she took the cloth which Hope offered, without pausing to argue over the need for its use.

Once in the parlor, she moved slowly around the room, diligently wiping the dust from exposed surfaces, without taking the trouble to move so much as a vase. At the piano, she paused and looked up at her mother's picture which hung there above it. It was a life-size crayon portrait, copied from a photograph that had been taken only a few weeks before Mrs. McAlister's death, and the sweet pictured face and the simple, every-day gown were the face and gown which Theodora remembered so well. The girl stood leaning on the piano, quite forgetful of the dusting, as she stared up into the loving eyes above her, and, while she looked, two great tears came into her eyes, and two more, and more yet. Then Theodora suddenly bowed her head on her folded arms, and sobbed with the intensity of such natures as hers.

"Oh, Mamma McAlister," she cried; "come back to us! We do want you, and we don't want her. Your Teddy is so lonely. I won't have that woman here in your place. I won't! I won't!"

She raised her head again to look at the smiling lips and the tender eyes. Then abruptly she dragged forward a chair, climbed to the top of the piano and took down the portrait which had hung there since the day of its first entering the house.

It was late, that afternoon, when the carriage stopped before the house, and Dr. McAlister, with his bride on his arm, came up the walk. The children were waiting to greet them, Phebe perched on the fence, Hope on the steps with Allyn clinging to her hand, and the twins in the doorway, while old Susan stood in the hall, ready to welcome her new mistress.

There was the little flurry of meeting, the swift buzz of talk. Then Hope led the way into the great, airy parlor which she had not entered before, that day.

On the threshold, she paused, aghast. Directly facing her stood a large easel which usually held a fine engraving of the Dolorosa. To-day, however, the Dolorosa was displaced. It stood on the floor by the piano, and in its place was the portrait of Hope's own mother, looking up to greet the woman who had come to take her place in the home. Across the corner of the frame lay a pile of white bride roses, tied with a heavy purple ribbon.

"Don't mind it, Jack," Mrs. McAlister said to her husband, as soon as they were alone together. "I like the child's spirit. Leave it to me, please. I think I can make friends with her before long."

Theodora was standing before the mirror, that night, brush in hand, while the wavy masses of her hair fell about her like a heavy cape. Her eyes looked dull, and the corners of her mouth drooped dejectedly. She started suddenly when an unexpected knock came at her door.

"Come," she responded.

The door swung open, and Mrs. McAlister stood on the threshold. In her trailing blue wrapper with its little lace ruffles at the throat and wrists, she looked younger than she had done in her travelling gown, and the pure, deep color was not one bit deeper and purer than the color of the eyes above it.

"May I come in to say good-night?" she asked, pausing in the doorway, for Theodora's face was slightly forbidding.

"Of course." The girl drew forward a low willow chair.

As she passed, Mrs. McAlister laid a caressing hand on the brown hair.

"What a mass of it you have!" she said, seating herself and looking up at her stepdaughter who stood before her, not knowing how to meet this unexpected invasion.

The remark seemed to call for no reply, and Theodora took up her brush again.

"Did you have a pleasant journey?" she asked, after a pause.

"Very; but the home-coming was pleasantest of all. It was very sweet of you all to be at the door to welcome me."

"That was Hope's doing," Theodora said bluntly. "She told us we ought to be there when you came."

"It was good, whoever thought of it," Mrs. McAlister answered gently. "Remember that it is years since I've known what it meant to come home."

Theodora tossed aside her hair and turned to face her.

"How do you mean?" she asked curiously.

"My father and mother died when I was in college," her stepmother replied. "There were only two of us left, my little brother and I, and we never had a home, a real one, after that. I taught, and he was sent away to school."

"Where is he now?"

"In Montana, a civil engineer. I find it hard to realize that my little brother Archie is twenty-two, and a grown man."

There was another pause. Then Mrs. McAlister suddenly drew a low footstool to her side.

"Theodora, child," she said; "sit down here and let me talk to you. You seem so far off, standing there. Remember, I'm a stranger to you all, and I want somebody to cuddle me a little, this first night."

She had chanced to strike the right chord. Theodora never failed to respond to an appeal to her sympathy and care. All enveloped in her loosened hair, she dropped down at her stepmother's side.

"You aren't homesick, I hope."

"No; I couldn't be, with such a welcome home. But papa is down in the office, and I needed somebody to talk to. I thought you'd understand, dear. And then there were things I wanted to say to you."

"What?" Theodora asked suspiciously.

Mrs. McAlister rested her hand on the girl's shoulder.

"About the flowers, for one thing. I know so well how you felt, Theodora, when you put them there."

"What do you mean?" Theodora faced her sharply.

"My own mother died before I was seventeen, a year before my father did, and I used to wake up in the night and cry, because I was so afraid he would marry again."

"But you married papa," Theodora said slowly.

"I know I did. Since then, Theodora, I have come to see the other side of it all. But I remember the way I used to feel about it; and I know that you think I am an interloper here. Hope doesn't mind it so much, nor Hubert; it is hardest of all for you." She paused and stroked the brown hair again.

Theodora sat silent, her eyes fixed on the floor.

"I sha'n't mean to come between you and your father, Theodora," Mrs. McAlister went on; "and I shall never expect to take your own mother's place. And yet, in time I hope you can care for me a little, too."

Suddenly the girl turned and laid her lithe young arm across her stepmother's knee.

"I think I can—in time," she said. "It takes me a good while to get used to new things, some new things, that is, and I didn't want somebody to come here and drive my own mother farther off. She was different from everybody else, somehow. But your mother died, and you'll understand about it." Her tone was quiet and dispassionate, yet, underneath, it rang true, and Mrs. McAlister was satisfied.

"Thank you, Teddy," she said gently. "Or would you rather I called you Theodora?"

"Theodora, please," the girl answered, flushing a little. "Teddy was my baby name; but I'm not a baby any longer. The others have called me Teddy so long that I can't break them of the habit; but I don't like the name."

"It suits you, though," Mrs. McAlister said, smiling as her eyes rested on the intent young face beside her. "But I'll try to remember. And now I wish you'd tell me a little about the younger ones, Phebe and Allyn. Your father told me that Hope was the housekeeper, but that, in some ways, you were the real mother of them all."

Theodora's face lighted, and she laughed.

"Did he truly say that? Hope has the real care of them, and she never fights with them, as I do."

There was an amusing, off-hand directness in Theodora's tone which pleased her stepmother. Already she felt more at home and on cordial terms with the outspoken girl than with the gentle, courteous Hope; yet she realized that her own course was by no means open before her, that it would be long before Theodora would accept her sway in the home. It would be necessary to proceed slowly, but firmly. Little Allyn and fractious Phebe would be less difficult for her to manage than their older sister. She lingered for half an hour longer, talking with Theodora until she heard Dr. McAlister's step upon the stairs; and when at last she left the room, Theodora's good-night sounded quite as cordial as her own.



CHAPTER FOUR

"I wish I could have all my wishes granted," Theodora said.

She was sitting in her favorite position on the grass beside Billy's lounge, with her elbows on her knees and her chin in her clasped hands. Billy, propped up among his cushions, smiled back at her benignly.

"You'd be most awfully disagreeable to live with," he returned.

"Thank you for the compliment. I'd like to run the risk, though."

"Let me move out of town first," the boy replied teasingly. "But you needn't be greedy; I'd be satisfied to have one wish."

"That's because you don't need so many things as I do."

"It's because I have one thing I want so much more than I do the others," he retorted.

She looked up at him with a sudden flash of tenderness in her eyes.

"I know," she said gently; "but it won't be long."

"Months, though. How would you like it to take a year out of your life?"

Theodora's brows contracted.

"Don't you suppose I ever think about it, Billy Farrington? I should be frantic, if I were in your place, and I don't see how you ever stand it. It makes my wishes seem so small, in comparison. I'd rather be poorer than Job's turkey than spend even one month on my back. Does it hurt; or is it just that you can't do things? Either one is bad enough."

"It hurts sometimes."

"Now?"

He nodded.

"I thought you looked tired, as if something bothered you," Theodora said penitently; "and here I've stayed talking to you, when you'd rather have been by yourself."

"Honestly, no. You make me forget things." He held out his hand in protest, as she started to rise. "Sit down again."

She obeyed him; but she fell silent, as she sat looking up at him. He had more color than usual, she noticed; but there were fine lines between his brows, and his red-gold hair was pushed back from his face, as if its weight irritated him.

"But what are the wishes?" he asked, restive under her scrutiny, and seeking to divert her.

"Oh, I have dozens and dozens; but there are three great big ones which increase in greatness as they go on."

"What are they?" he asked curiously. "You'll get them, if you wait long enough. People always do."

"I don't believe it. These are all impossible, and I never expect to get them; but I want them, all the same. I want—" She hesitated, laughing and blushing a little. "You'll make fun of me."

"No, I won't. Go on and tell."

"I want a bicycle first. Then I want to go to college." She hesitated again and stuck fast.

"And then?"

She raised her head and spoke rapidly.

"Don't laugh; but I want some day to be an author and write books."

She started abruptly, for a white hand suddenly rested on her shoulder.

"Bravo, Miss Teddy!—for it is Miss Teddy; isn't it? Will has told me about you and I'm glad to get a glimpse of you at last. Your wishes are good ones, all of them, and I hope you will get them, and get them soon."

As she spoke, Mrs. Farrington moved across and seated herself on the edge of the lounge.

"How is the pain, Will?" she asked, bending over to settle him more comfortably. "I was sorry to leave you so long; but you were in good hands. Miss Teddy, this boy of mine says that you have been very good to him, since we came here."

Theodora flushed a little. It was the first time she had been face to face with Mrs. Farrington, and she found the slender figure in its unrelieved black gown rather awe-inspiring. She began to wish that she had taken Hope's advice and remained upon her own side of the fence. During the past ten days, her neighborly calls had been frequent; but she had always before now succeeded in making her escape before any one else appeared. Hubert, in the meantime, had dutifully called on his new neighbor; but he had called decorously and by way of the front gate, at a time when Billy was out with his mother for their daily drive, so Mrs. Farrington had caught no glimpse of their young neighbors who had it in their power to make such a difference in her son's life. She had been amused and interested in Billy's account of Theodora's erratic calls, and she had felt an instant liking for the bright-faced, straightforward young girl who was as free from self-consciousness as Billy himself.

"When is your father coming back?" she asked, after a pause, during which she became conscious of Theodora's searching scrutiny.

"Day after to-morrow, I think. We had a letter from him, this morning."

"I am so glad," Mrs. Farrington said. "I want him to see Will as soon as he comes. Dr. Parker spoke so highly of him that I feel it is everything for us to be so near him as we are."

Theodora's color came. She was intensely loyal to her father, and praise of him was sweet to her ears.

"People say that papa is a good doctor," she replied frankly. "I hope he'll be able to help Billy. Anyway, we're all so glad to have somebody living here again. It's ages since the house has been occupied."

Mrs. Farrington smiled.

"I should judge so from the general air of mustiness I find. I rejoice in all this bright, warm weather, so Will can live out of doors. The house feels fairly clammy, and I don't like to have him in it, more than I can help. I hope you are going to be very neighborly, all of you, this coming winter."

Theodora laughed.

"All five of us? Remember, you aren't used to such a horde, and we may overrun you entirely. You'd better arrange to take us on the instalment plan."

"We're not timid," Billy asserted. "Really, I think we can stand it, Miss Teddy."

Theodora shook her head.

"You've not seen Babe yet, and you little realize what she is. In fact, you've hardly seen any of us. I want you to know Hope. You'll adore her; boys always do."

"In the meantime," Mrs. Farrington interposed; "I want to know something about—" she paused for the right word,—"about your new mother. Some one told me she was at Vassar. That is my college, you know. What was her maiden name?"

"Holden. Elizabeth Holden."

"Bess Holden!" Mrs. Farrington started up excitedly. "I wonder if it can be Bess. What does she look like?"

"I've only seen her once."

"Was she tall and dark, with great blue eyes?"

"Yes, I think so, and I remember that her eyebrows weren't just alike; one was bent more than the other."

"It must be Bess." Mrs. Farrington rose and moved to and fro across the lawn. Theodora watched her admiringly, noticing her firm, free step and the faultless lines of her tailor-made gown. She felt suddenly young and crude and rather shabby. Then Mrs. Farrington paused beside her. "If it is Bess Holden, Miss Teddy, your father is a happy man, and I am a happy woman to have stumbled into this neighborhood. She was the baby of our class, and one of the finest girls in it. When she comes, ask her—No, don't ask her anything. It is eighteen years since we met, and I want to see if she'll remember me. Don't tell her anything about me, please."

A week later, the McAlisters were sitting under one of the trees on the hill, a little away from the house. It was a bright golden day, and Theodora had lured them outside, directly after dinner. The doctor had been called away; but the others had strolled across the lawn and up the hill as far as a great bed of green and gray moss, where they had thrown themselves down under one of the great chestnut-trees. At their right, an aged birch drooped nearly to the earth; behind them, a pile of lichen-covered rocks cropped out from the moss, against which the twins were resting in an indiscriminate pile. To Mrs. McAlister's mind, there was something indescribably pleasant in this simple holiday-making, and she gave herself up as unreservedly to the passing hour as did the young people around her.

All at once, Theodora pinched Hubert's arm, and laid her finger on her lip. Her quick ear had caught the familiar sound of Billy's wheeled chair, and, a moment later, Mrs. Farrington came in sight over the low crest of the hill, followed by Patrick, whose face was flushed with the exertion of pushing the chair along the pathless turf.

Absorbed in listening to Hope, Mrs. McAlister heard no sound until Mrs. Farrington paused just behind her. Then she rose abruptly, and turned to face her unexpected guests.

"This is rather an invasion," Mrs. Farrington was saying, with a little air of apology; "but the maid said you were all out here, and she told me to come in search of you."

For an instant, Mrs. McAlister gazed at her guest, at the slender figure and the small oval face crowned with its masses of red-gold hair. Then, to the surprise of every one but Theodora, she gave a joyous outcry,—

"Jessie Everett!"

"Bess!"

Side by side on the moss, a little apart from the others, the two women dropped down and talked incoherently and rapidly, with an interjectional, fragmentary eagerness, trying to tell in detail the story of eighteen years in as many minutes, breaking off, again and again, to exclaim at the strangeness of the chance which had once more brought them together. On one side, the tale was the monotonous record of the successful teacher; on the other was the story of the brilliant marriage, the years of happiness, of seeing the best of life, and the swift tragedy of six months before, which had taken away the husband and left the only son a physical wreck. The years had swept the two friends far apart; their desultory correspondence had dropped; and in this one afternoon of their first meeting, they could only sketch in the bare outlines, and leave time to do the rest.

"And this is my only child," Mrs. Farrington said at last. "You have so many now, Bess, be generous with them, and let Will have as much good of them as he can. Your Teddy has been very kind to him already."

"Teddy?"

"Yes, Theodora as she calls herself. She has been making neighborly calls by way of the fence, and she and Will are excellent friends already. What an unusual girl she is!"

There came a little look of perplexity in Mrs. McAlister's eyes.

"Yes; and yet I find her the hardest one of them all to get at. The fact is, Jessie, I have two or three problems to deal with, and Theodora is not the least of them. Hope and Hubert are conventional enough, and Phebe is openly fractious; but Theodora is more complex. She's the most interesting one to me, but she is decidedly elusive."

"I wish she were mine," Mrs. Farrington said enviously. "I have so longed for a daughter, and she would be so good for Will. He doesn't know anybody here, and he is so handicapped that he can't get acquainted easily. I know he gets horribly tired of me. Women aren't good for boys, either; and now that he is so pitifully helpless, I have to watch myself all the time not to coddle him to death. I hate a prig; you know I always did, Bess, and I am in terror of turning my boy into one. I shall borrow your Teddy, as often as I can, for she is the healthiest companion that he can have."

Billy, meanwhile, had promptly been made to feel at home among the young people. With Theodora to act as mistress of ceremonies and introduce him, it had been impossible for him to feel himself long a stranger. Patrick had retired to a distant seat, and the McAlisters settled themselves in a group around the chair, Theodora close at his side with her hand resting on the wheel, as if to mark her proprietorship. She was quick to see that both Hope and Hubert approved of Billy, and she felt a certain pride in him, as being her discovery. Even Hubert's prejudice against the crippled back and the wheeled chair appeared to have vanished at the sight of the alert face and the sound of the gay laugh. Billy was in one of his most jovial moods, and Theodora knew well enough that at such times he was wellnigh irresistible.

Phebe, awed to silence by the chair and the cushions, eyed the guest in meditative curiosity; but Allyn was not so easily satisfied. From his seat in Hope's lap, he lifted up his piping little voice.

"What for you ride in a baby caej?"

No one heeded him, and he reiterated his query, this time accompanying it with an explanatory forefinger.

"What for you ride in a baby caej?"

"Hush, Allyn," Hope whispered.

"Yes; but what for?" Allyn persisted. "Why doesn't you get up and say, 'Pretty well, fank you'?"

Billy flushed and felt a momentary desire to hurl one of his cushions at the child. For the most part, he was not sensitive about his temporary helplessness; yet among all these strangers who had never seen him in his strength, he was uncomfortably conscious of the difference between himself and Hubert.

Theodora saw the heightened color in his cheeks. Without a word, she rose, picked up Allyn in her arms and bore him away to the house, sternly regardless of the protesting shrieks which floated out behind her. She was absent for some time. When she came back, it was to find that Hope had moved into her old place, and that there was no room for her beside the chair. Billy was talking eagerly to Hope, whose pretty, gentle face was raised towards him. Theodora felt a momentary pleasure in her pretty sister; but this was followed by an acute pang of jealousy to find herself quite unnoticed. For an instant, she hesitated; then she settled herself slightly at one side and back of the chair, in a position where she could be addressed only with an effort.

A little later, Billy turned and called her by name. She was sitting in moody silence, her elbows on her knees, her chin in her hands.

"What?" she asked indifferently.

"Come over here, Teddy," Hope said.

"Thank you, I like it better here."

There was a crushing finality in her tone. For a moment, Billy's eyes met those of Hope, and his lips curled into a smile. It was only for an instant; but Theodora saw the glance, and it kindled all her smouldering jealousy of her sister. For two weeks she had been giving all her odd moments to her new neighbor, and now, because Hope was pretty and dainty and quiet and all things that she was not, Billy had promptly turned his back on her and devoted himself to Hope. In her passing vexation, she quite forgot to take into account that she herself, not Billy, had been the movable quantity, and that the time she had given him had been hours of keen enjoyment to herself. Theodora was no saint. She was humanly tempestuous, superhumanly jealous. She could love her friends to distraction; she could give her time and strength and thought to them unreservedly; but in return she demanded a soleness of affection which should match her own.

"Where are you going, Ted?" Hubert called after her.

"Into the house."

"What for?"

"Because I want to. Besides, I must see to Allyn."

"Coming back?"

She turned her head and looked back. Billy was watching her curiously.

"No; not now."

Two hours later, she was searching her brain for an excuse for going over to the Farringtons'. She felt an imperative need to see Billy before bedtime, to assure herself that they were to meet on the old terms. No excuse came into her mind, however; and she passed a restless evening and a sleepless night.



CHAPTER FIVE

"H'sh!" Phebe said peremptorily.

Isabel giggled again, a little ostentatiously, and covered her mouth with the palm of her hand.

"H'sh!" Phebe whispered. "She'll hear you, Isabel St. John. Wait till she is hearing the first geography, and then we'll do it."

It was at that hour of the afternoon when even the most industrious of grammar-school pupils feels his zeal for learning grow less with every tick of the clock. Isabel and Phebe, however, were never remarkable for their zeal. In fact, their teachers had never been able to decide whether they were more bright or more lazy. Both characteristics were so well developed that the hours they spent in the schoolroom were chiefly devoted to exploits of a most unscholastic nature.

The schoolroom of Number Nine, Union School, was much like all other schoolrooms, save in two essential particulars. The building was old and was heated with stoves, which necessitated the use of two huge zinc screens to keep the direct heat from the pupils near by; and the room boasted, aside from the usual ranks of desks, one extra double desk placed with its back against the window at the side of the room, and in close proximity to the stoves and the sheltering screens. Two months before, when promotion of classes had brought Phebe and Isabel to the room, their quick eyes had taken in the inherent advantages of this position.

"Please, Miss Hulburt, may we sit here?" Phebe had asked.

"What makes you choose that place?" Miss Hulburt had inquired.

"Because the light is so good," Isabel had replied ingenuously.

And Phebe had added,—

"And then, you know, we shall be away from the others, so we sha'n't be able to whisper. Truly, Miss Hulburt, we've turned over a new leaf."

Phebe neglected to state in which direction the leaf had been turned. Miss Hulburt had eyed her distrustfully; then she had granted the favor. Three days later, she had regretted her concession.

The seat was so near the front corner of the room that the schoolmistress was obliged to turn her head to see the children. She was a bloodless, thin-necked, lackadaisical young person, in little-eyed spectacles, who, in her youth, had been compared to a drooping lily. From that time onward, she had given all her thought to the cultivation of slow, graceful, lily-like motions, until it had become second nature for her to ogle and smirk and roll her head gently this way and that. It had not only rendered her intolerable to the unprejudiced observer, but it had made her physically incapable of turning about quickly enough to catch the culprits in the corner. Every disturbance in the room, and they were not few nor slight, appeared to come from the one source; yet by the time Miss Hulburt could focus her little spectacles upon them, Phebe and Isabel were swaying to and fro and whispering their lessons to themselves with an intentness which was almost religious.

It was one of the warm, bright days of late October, and the children had insisted on opening the window behind them, not so much for the sake of the clear, soft air as for the furtherance of their nefarious schemes. In the lap of each child lay a tiny china doll, a long string, and a box of what, at first sight, appeared to be parti-colored rags. A closer inspection, however, showed that the rags were all round and pierced with three holes, one in the middle, the others slightly to one side.

When the first geography lesson was called, the girls propped their open books before them, and abandoned themselves to the task in hand. Selecting a circle of cloth from the box, each one of them proceeded to clothe her doll by the simple process of thrusting the head and arms through the holes and tying a string about the waist. Isabel's doll was a negro and was decked in scarlet. Phebe's was of Caucasian extraction, and preferred blue. The dolls were robed and the long strings were made fast to their necks. Stealthily and slowly the girls poked them through the crack of the open window and let them down, swinging them back and forth until they heard them click against the window of the room below. Then they jerked the strings sharply upward, and Isabel giggled again. Phebe coughed to smother the sound, and then gave her friend a warning pinch.

Miss Hulburt was turning in their direction. Instantly Phebe raised her hand, shaking it slightly and clearing her throat to attract attention.

"Well? What is it, Phebe?"

"Please, how do you pronounce p-h-t-h-i-s-i-c?"

"Phthisic. Where do you find anything about it, Phebe?" Miss Hulburt felt that she was developing in craftiness.

"In my—geography."

Miss Hulburt's smile showed that she believed she had caught the young sinner napping.

"But my book doesn't have any such word."

Isabel raised her hand in support of her friend.

"If you please, Miss Hulburt, we're reading in the back part, about the South Sea Islands. It says it's very common there."

"Phebe," Isabel whispered, a little later; "what is it?"

"What's what?"

"P-h-t-h-You know."

"I d' know, something to eat, I guess. We had it in spelling, last term, and I happened to think of it. Oh, Isabel!" For the door opened, and the teacher of the room below came into the room.

An hour later, Hubert and Theodora sat on the edge of the piazza, discussing a coming entertainment to be given by the pupils of the high school. The piazza came to the side of the driveway, and now they curled up their toes to allow the doctor to pass them, driving his new and favorite horse, Vigil.

"What a beauty she is!" Hubert said, as the carriage passed them.

"Isn't she? I'm dying to ride her."

"Better not," Hubert cautioned her. "She wouldn't stand the things old Prince does, and you wouldn't have any show at all, if you tried to manage her."

"I don't believe it," Theodora returned. "Papa said I was a good horsewoman, and I mean to try Vigil, some day. 'Tisn't strength that counts with a horse, anyway; it's gumption."

"What'll you take for the word?" Hubert asked lazily. He was lounging in the sun with his hands in his pockets and his back against a pillar, and he felt too comfortable to be inclined for a discussion.

"The word's all right." Theodora tossed her book into a chair behind her. "It means exactly what I want. It isn't common sense, nor knowledge, nor reasonableness; it's just gumption and nothing else. It's what Miss Hulburt hasn't," she added, as she glanced up the street. "Here she comes, Hu. How we used to hate her, when we were in her room! Why, she's stopped papa, and he's coming back with her. Babe must be in some fresh scrape."

Hubert rose hastily.

"That settles it. If she's coming here, I'm off."

"Where going?"

"I don't know. Over to the Farringtons', maybe, or else to the library."

"Teddy," the doctor called; "I wish you'd come and see to Vigil. I haven't any halter, and I sha'n't be long. Miss Hulburt wants to see me about Phebe. Just let the reins lie loose on her back, and she'll be all right."

"On Miss Hulburt's back?" Theodora questioned, with a giggle.

The doctor laughed, as he stepped out of the low, open buggy, handed the lines to his daughter, and turned to speak to the teacher who stood simpering at his side.

Within ten minutes, Theodora was heartily tired of her position as amateur groom. Miss Hulburt, always garrulously confidential, was pouring into the doctor's impatient ears all her theory of Phebe's temper and training. She was absorbed in her subject, but to the others the time crept heavily by. Allyn came around the corner of the house, and Theodora hailed him.

"Come, Allyn; want to come and play go to ride with sister?"

With childish clumsiness Allyn clambered into the buggy. For a time, he was content to jounce rapturously on the cushion and snap the buckle of the reins. Then he too wearied for change.

"Make the horsey go, Teddy," he demanded.

"Oh, no, Allyn; sister mustn't. We must wait for papa."

"Make him go," Allyn persisted.

Theodora hesitated. Like the immortal Toddie, Allyn's strength lay in his power of endless iteration. She foresaw a coming crisis in his temper, and, moreover, his wishes coincided with her own to a remarkable degree. Vigil was becoming uneasy, and a belated gadfly was making continued attacks upon her sensitive skin. Why not drive down the street and around the block, and shake off the annoying guest?

"Will you sit quite still, Allyn, if sister will drive just a little, little way?"

Allyn smiled rapturously.

"Ess," he hissed.

Theodora gave a hasty glance at the house, as she tightened the lines.

"I know he'd think it was the best thing to do," she argued with her conscience. "Vigil is so uneasy she wouldn't stand much longer, and this will quiet her down. Besides, I've always been used to driving."

The gadfly went too. Vigil was fretted by standing, and she quickened her pace. Before she quite realized the change, Theodora was being whirled down the street at a round trot.

"Whoa!" she urged. "Whoa, Vigil! Sh-h-h!"

But Vigil refused to sh-h-h. She felt an unfamiliar hand on the lines, and her sensitive mouth assured her that the hand was shaking a little. Accordingly, she dropped her ears back, gave an odd little kick with her hind legs, and swung round a corner with the carriage on two wheels behind her.

"Allyn," Theodora said, when they had gone around another corner in the same uncertain fashion; "now you must mind sister and do just what she says." The girl's face was white to the lips; but her voice was steady and brave. "Climb over the back of the seat, lie down flat in the bottom of the carriage, and then roll out on the ground."

"I don't want to," whined the child. "I wants to ride."

"But you must, or sister won't take you again. You may be thrown out and hurt, if you don't mind sister."

"It hurts to roll out," he argued.

"No; not a bit." Theodora felt herself a heartless liar; but she had lost all control of Vigil, and she knew that this was the best chance of safety for her baby brother. "Now hold on tight. I don't believe you can climb over."

All the boy nature inherent in Allyn responded to the challenge. Lithe as a little monkey, he scrambled over the seat, lay down and took the fateful roll. Vigil shied, just then, and Allyn landed in a ball, in a bed of burdocks. His wails followed the flying horse; but they were wails of temper, more than of physical injury, and Theodora's main anxiety was relieved.



Two blocks farther down the street, the buggy collided with a hay wagon. There was a crash, the horse broke free, and Theodora went flying across the road, landing in an indiscriminate, dusty pile just in front of the Farringtons' carriage.

That evening, the doctor came into the library, where his wife sat alone in the fire-light. He looked tired and worried, as he threw himself down into an easy chair. His wife came forward to his side.

"You poor old boy!" she said tenderly, as she stroked his hair.

He smiled wearily.

"I wouldn't have had it happen for any amount of money, Bess," he said, as he reached up and took her hand. "It's smashed the buggy, and demoralized my favorite horse, and bumped Allyn, and given us all a scare."

"How is Theodora?"

"Badly frightened and very meek. Her bruises don't count; but I don't think she'll do it again. I gave her a plain talk, while I was looking over her wounds, and I think she knows I mean what I say. It is a miracle that both children weren't killed; but Allyn is all right now, and Teddy will be, in a day or two. She will be rather stiff, to-morrow, but I'm not sure that I'm sorry."

"Poor Teddy!" his wife said, laughing.

"Poor me!" he answered. "And poor you! You will think I have brought you into an undisciplined horde of savages, Bess. I feel like Job, myself, for one thing follows another. I shouldn't have left the horse with Teddy, in the first place, if Miss Hulburt hadn't come to me with a tale of woe about Phebe."

"What about Phebe?" In spite of herself, Mrs. McAlister laughed.

"Some school scrape or other. Phebe is naughty as she can be, and, worst of all, she is sly. That's not like Teddy. Ted hasn't a dishonorable pore in her skin. She is headstrong and impetuous; but when she has done wrong, she comes forward and tells the whole story and takes the consequences. She has made me more trouble, one time and another, than all the rest of them put together, and yet—" he hesitated, then he went on; "and yet, I honestly think she's the flower of the flock."

"A climbing rose, not a violet," Mrs. McAlister suggested.

"A snapdragon, if you will. She has character and force and brains enough for a dozen; and if we can provide a safe outlet for her extra vitality, I think she will make us proud of her yet."

"You're right, Jack," Mrs. McAlister answered heartily. "The girl has splendid possibilities. As you say, she only needs some sort of an outlet for her energy. She's a motherly, womanish child, too, as much so as Hope, in her way. She's got to have something to love, and to fuss over, and to fight for. I sometimes think that Will Farrington may supply a certain something that she needs."

The doctor rose and stood on the rug, facing his wife. Little by little, his face had lost its anxiety and now, at her last words, he laughed jovially.

"Will Farrington! Then Heaven help him, Bess! 'Twill be six months at least before the boy can walk to amount to anything, and helpless as he is and energetic as Teddy is, she'll be sure to break his neck. If she is going to devote herself to Will Farrington, I'll send for Dr. Parker and a cord or two of extra splints."



CHAPTER SIX

"But where are you going, Hu?"

"What?"

"Where are you going?"

Hubert crooked his hand at the back of his ear.

"Speak a little louder, please. I'm deef."

Phebe flew at him and caught his arm.

"Hubert McAlister, tell me where you are going."

"Oh, is that what you said?"

"You knew it perfectly well. Where are you going to?"

"Over to Billy's."

"Then I'm going, too."

"No, you aren't."

"But I will. Why not?"

"Because I don't want you. You're so noisy you tire Billy."

"No, I don't. Boys don't get tired so easy. Besides, he asked me to come."

He shook himself free from her hands. She ran around him and danced down the walk before him, laughing like a mocking elf. All at once, she found herself in Hubert's strong arms.

"Now, Babe, you must go back. I don't want you."

"What can I do?" she whined. "Everybody's gone. Mamma has gone to ride with Mrs. Farrington, Hope's away, Teddy's away, and you're going."

"But mamma told you to stay and play with Allyn."

"I don't like Allyn. I want to go with you."

"You can't."

"I will."

She struggled to free herself. Hubert was tall and strong for his years, so that his sister was powerless in his grasp. He stood for a moment, holding her, while he pondered what to do; then a sudden amused light came into his eyes. Turning, he went away to the barn where, still holding Phebe with one hand, with the other he rolled an empty barrel into the middle of the floor and brought out a bushel basket. Then, before his astonished sister could fathom his intention or rebel, he had popped her into the barrel, covered her with the basket which made a firm, close lid, and walked away to the Farringtons' house.

It was the last of the golden Indian summer, and cold weather was at hand. By this time, the two households were living on a most informal, friendly basis. Mrs. Farrington and Mrs. McAlister had dropped back into the old intimacy of their college days, and the young McAlisters were fast finding out that a boy was a boy, in spite of a crippled back and a wheeled chair. Hubert and Billy were good friends, and Hope treated the invalid with a gentle, serious kindness which won his heart as surely as her dainty beauty appealed to his eyes. And yet, after all, it was Teddy for whom he cared the most, Teddy who coddled him and squabbled with him and ordered him about by turns. For the sake of her bright, breezy companionship, of her original, ungirl-like way of looking at things, he endured the ordering and the coddling, and, in spite of the halo of sanctity which should have surrounded his semi-invalidism, it must be confessed that he bore out his own part in the squabbles.

Even the coddling, as time went on, came to be rather enjoyable. There was nothing sentimental about it; it was only the natural result of the strong instinct of motherhood which belongs to such natures as Theodora's. Moreover, there were days and days when the old pain came back to Billy and racked him until he was too weak for the wheeled chair, and he could only lie on the sofa and endure the passing hours as best he might. In those days, Theodora never failed him. She learned to know the flush of his cheeks, the glitter in his eyes, and her brisk step grew gentle, her clear, glad voice grew low. Strange to say, it was on those days that Billy wanted her. He seemed to gain rest from her exuberant strength; and Hope he regarded as the pleasant companion for his better days, when he could laugh and talk with her, and treat her with the chivalry which her delicate prettiness appeared to him to demand. It mattered less about Theodora, he told himself. She was only another fellow, and she could be treated accordingly.

Hubert had made his call upon Billy and departed again, and Phebe had freed herself by tipping over the barrel, turning herself about, and kicking away the basket; and still Theodora sat in the Farringtons' cosy library, beside the open fire. Billy delighted in reading aloud, and he had been reading to her for an hour, while she sat dreamily watching the fire. Then he dropped the book face downward on his knee, and little by little their desultory conversation stopped. All at once, Theodora started up.

"Oh, dear, I forgot. I told papa I'd do an errand for him, and I must go."

Billy yawned.

"Wish I could go, too."

She looked at him suddenly.

"Why don't you?"

"As how?"

"In your chair, of course. You needn't think you can walk yet, even if papa does say you are gaining, every day."

"Really, do you want me to go, too?"

"Of course. Shall I call Patrick to bring the chair?"

"I've my whistle, you know." He played with it irresolutely. "Are you sure I won't be in the way?"

"What nonsense!"

She stood leaning on the mantel while Patrick made ready the chair. Then, moved by some sudden sense of delicacy, she busied herself with her own wraps when the man bent down and lifted his young master in his strong arms. Since the first day of their meeting, she had never seen Billy moved, and she was struck more keenly than at first with the contrast between the utter limpness of his lower limbs and the bright activity of the rest of the boy. For an instant, her heart gave a quick thump, half of pity, half of loyalty and protecting affection. Then she laid her hands on the bar of Billy's chair.

"That's all, Patrick," she said, nodding up at the tall man beside her.

Patrick surveyed her approvingly. He was critical by nature, and his smiles were rare; but he liked Theodora for her kindness to his young master, and he unbent something of his majesty before her, rather to the surprise of Mrs. Farrington, who was quite accustomed to seeing her guests quail before the glance of her serving-man.

"Sha'n't I be going with you, Miss Theodora?" he asked.

"Of course. What do you suppose I am going to do without you?" Billy answered.

But Theodora interposed.

"You needn't come, Patrick. I am going to take Mr. Will, myself."

"Oh, I say, Teddy!" Billy straightened up in his chair.

"That's all right," she said gayly, as she pushed the chair away from the steps. "Let me do it, Billy; it's much nicer to go by ourselves without any Patrick, and I promise not to upset you."

"But you oughtn't to do it; 'tisn't the sort of thing a girl ought to do," he urged. "Truly, Teddy, I don't feel as if I could stand it, somehow."

Looking into his eyes, as he turned to face her, Theodora read his sensitive reluctance to receive a service of this kind from a girl, and a friend of but a few weeks' standing. She let go the handle of his chair and came forward to his side, where she bent over him, under the pretext of settling one of the cushions which had slipped aside.

"I wish you'd let me do it for you, Billy," she said, looking honestly down into his appealing eyes. "I know girls don't usually do this sort of thing for boys; but it isn't for always, you know, and there isn't much that I can do for you. If we're going to be real, true friends, you oughtn't to mind it a bit. You'd do ten times as much for me. Please say I can take you out often, till you are so you can run away from me. You know you'd rather go with me than with Patrick." And she looked down at him with a merry frankness which took away the last shade of sensitiveness which Billy was ever to know in her company.

It was the first of many similar expeditions. The chair was so light, and Theodora was so strong for her years, that it never tired her, while Billy soon discovered that "a walk" with Theodora was quite another thing from the dull and decorous outings when Patrick tooled him along through the town, in a solemnly respectful silence. With Teddy's hand on the bar of his chair and Teddy's chatter in his ears, in a week he learned more of the town than he had done in the past three months, and he came home, hungry and eager as a boy could be, full of blithe gossip and fun, to enliven his mother over the dinner-table.

"Tell you what, it was a good day for us when we came here," he remarked, one night in December, when he and his mother were settled by the open fire in the library.

His mother looked up from her book.

"How do you mean?"

"Everything, especially the Macs. There's Mrs. Mac for you, and Teddy for me. What more can you want?"

"What about Hope?"

"Hope is a stunner, only there's a sort of Sundayfied flavor to her. Theodora is better for every day. Hope goes with my best necktie; 'tisn't always that I am able to live up to her. Ted doesn't care whether I am sick or well, dressed up or rolled in a blanket; she sticks to me just the same. I say, mother?"

"Well?"

"Are we going down to New York, this winter?"

"Not till later, unless you want to go. Aren't you feeling as well, Will?" This time, Mrs. Farrington threw aside her book and came forward to her son's side.

Billy looked up at her with merry eyes which were the duplicate of her own.

"How you do worry about me, mother!" he said. "I'm gaining, every day, and you ought to know it. I shall be walking soon. But you've been saying that we'd go down, some time after Christmas, and I wondered why we couldn't take Teddy along with us. I can't discover that she's ever been anywhere, and it's time she had a chance. Don't you think so?"

Mrs. Farrington looked thoughtful.

"I don't know but you're right, Will. I've been thinking I'd like to give her a little treat, if only because she has been so loyal to you. I had thought of something else; but if you think she'd like this better, we'll see about it. Would you rather have Teddy than Hubert?"

"Yes, I like Ted better, even if she is a girl. Hubert has more variety, too, and wouldn't care so much about it."

"Very well; I will see about it," Mrs. Farrington repeated.

Her son looked up at her gratefully.

"What a trump you are!" he said.



CHAPTER SEVEN

"Well, let's see." Teddy curled one foot under her, in the depths of the great easy-chair. "There must be two heroines, of course, and two,—no, three heroes."

"What'll you do with the odd one?" Billy asked.

"Kill him, to be sure." Theodora smacked her lips. "When the girl, his girl, you know, marries the wrong man, he will—" She paused and meditatively twisted the end of one of her long pigtails.

"Will what?"

"That's what I'm thinking about. It must be something original, not poison nor drowning. I know; I'll have him turn sleepless, and get up—No, he'll be a sleep-walker. He must dream that her house is on fire, and get up to save her, and walk into the barn and be kicked to death by her pet horse. She'll find him there in the morning, when she goes to give him sugar." In the triumph of her lurid ending, Theodora made havoc of her pronouns.

Billy pondered on the situation, clasping his hands under his head and turning to face his friend.

"Um-m. That's not so bad," he said at length. "It might possibly happen, even if it isn't likely. I had an uncle that somnambulated, and he used to hide the sheets in an old carriage in the barn. I suppose he might just as well have gone into a stall. Well?"

"And the other men would marry the girls. This one, the dead one, would be dark and sallow, with high cheek-bones and a thin nose. The others would be more commonplace. I think I'd have them something like Hu and you."

"Thanks."

"Oh, I don't mean you are too common; but you aren't a bit like my ideal hero," Theodora said bluntly. "I like the dead one best. I always do in stories, if he's only hectic enough. I asked papa once what hectic meant, and you ought to have heard him laugh when I told him the reason I wanted to know."

"Great shame I'm not hectic!" Billy commented. "What about the girls?"

"One is light, with yellow hair and very much fun in her. She's the one the dead man likes. The other is tall and still and stately, like a lily, with soft, dark hair that droops and is caught up with rare old combs."

"How many?"

"Oh, one at a time, of course, only she has ever so many, all of them of old silver. Stop interrupting! She sways when she walks."

"Gout or intoxication?"

"Keep still, Billy, or I won't tell." Theodora's tone was impatient. There were liberties which not even Billy was allowed to take, and this story, the outcome of her girlish dreams, was a sacred subject to her. She had pondered over it for months, and now that she felt the time had come to begin the actual work of writing, she was revealing the secret to Billy. Mrs. Farrington was spending a long rainy afternoon in her own room, writing letters, and the two young people had the library to themselves. For the most part, Billy was listening in respectful silence; but his sense of humor would assert itself occasionally, and Theodora, like all budding authors, was sensitive to ridicule.

Her threat was enough.

"I won't any more, Ted," Billy returned meekly; "only, if she wobbles like that, I don't see what keeps her combs from tumbling out. Don't make her too lop-sided, or else don't match her up to the man like me. I want girls that are put together tight. That's one reason I like you."

Theodora was only half appeased by the intended compliment. She had a secret liking for the "sweet disorder in the dress," and, of late, she had vainly attempted to achieve it.

"That's all right," she said rather loftily; "only you know everybody doesn't feel the way you do."

"Of course," Billy assented hastily. "What are their names, Ted?"

"The dark one is Violet Clementina Ascutney, and the little blond one is Marianne—with a final e—Euphrosyne Blackiston. The men are Eugene Vincent and Gerald Mortimer, and the dead one is Alessandro Stanley Farrington."

"Oh, great Caesar, Ted! I can't stand that. Why can't you have a good plain Jack?"

"Jack is fearfully commonplace, and names do count for so much in a story."

Billy groaned.

"Maybe. Anyhow, you've got to leave out the Farrington. I can't go that. Which does Marianne-with-a-final-e take?"

"That's just it. She's left an orphan, rich as can be, and she asks Violet to live with her. Violet is the only daughter of a decayed Southern family, who had to teach for a living until she was rescued from her life of toil by the generosity of Marianne."

"With-a-final-e," Billy supplemented. His eyes were full of mischief, for Theodora's tone matched the pomp of her words.

"Then they live in this beautiful house," Theodora went on, sternly regardless of his flippancy; "with an old housekeeper, and they have beautiful times, parties and everything. One stormy night in summer, when they are sitting by the fire, watching the blaze and seeing pictures in it, the bell rings and a man in livery comes in to tell them that there has been a runaway accident and a man hurt. That's Alessandro, and I mean to get all this part out of papa's books."

"Well?"

"Well, he's there for weeks, and the housekeeper takes care of him and the girls don't see him; they just make him broth and things, and send them up to his room. One day, when he is pale and interesting, he leaves his room and sees Marianne and falls in love with her; but she never knows it. He is poor and too honorable to tell her his love, so he just wastes away, and she never guesses. It's all terribly sad."

"Well, yes, I should say so," Billy observed. "Are the others as forlorn?"

"No. Gerald is a student, and Marianne's cousin, who lives next door. He's jolly, with yellow hair, and means to be a doctor. He loves Violet, even if she is poor. He has a friend, Eugene, that isn't well,—not hectic a bit, but has trouble with his eyes or something, so he can't work, and comes to spend the summer there, and falls in love with Marianne. They all have great times, and poor Alessandro, in bed upstairs, can hear all their fun, when they sit on the piazza in the moonlight, and he buries his head in the pillows and sobs. One night, just in fun, Marianne makes her will and leaves all she has to Violet. Then Marianne and Eugene get engaged. Then Marianne dies of a fever, and they find the will and accuse Violet of killing her, and Eugene is so sorrowful that he goes into a convent."

"I thought men usually took to a monastery."

"What's the difference? Well, they have a trial, and Gerald stops being a doctor and studies law and makes a brilliant plea and saves her. Then, right in the court-room before them all, he presses her hand to his lips and cries, 'Mine! Mine forever!' and the whole room full of people thunders applause."

Theodora paused. Her cheeks were glowing with excitement. Billy had turned away his head and his arm half shielded his face.

"What do you think?" she demanded.

"It's great," he answered, with an odd huskiness in his tone.

"You really like it? You're not laughing at me?" Her tone was eager, yet mistrustful.

Billy's loyalty asserted itself. He took down his arm.

"Honestly, Ted, it's a great thing," he said with perfect gravity. "It's different, too; not just like all the others."

Theodora drew a deep sigh of relief as she nestled back in the chair.

"I'm so glad you like it, Billy, for I did want you to. You're the only living soul I've ever told, and now, if you don't think it's too bad, I'm going right to work on it." There was still a little note of question in her voice.

1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse