THE SPECTACLE MAN
Out of a song the story grew; Just how it happened nobody knew, But, song and story, it all came true.
BOOKS BY MARY F. LEONARD.
* * * * *
THE SPECTACLE MAN. A STORY OF THE MISSING BRIDGE. 266 pages. Cloth. $1.00.
MR. PAT'S LITTLE GIRL. A STORY OF THE ARDEN FORESTERS. 322 pages. Cloth. $1.50.
THE PLEASANT STREET PARTNERSHIP. A NEIGHBORHOOD STORY. 269 pages. Cloth. $.75, net.
The Spectacle Man
A Story of the Missing Bridge
* * * * *
By Mary F. Leonard
AUTHOR OF "THE BIG FRONT DOOR"
Illustrated by Frank T. Merrill
W. A. WILDE COMPANY BOSTON AND CHICAGO
Copyright, 1901, BY W. A. WILDE COMPANY. All rights reserved.
TO THE ONE Whose Love has been from Childhood An Unfailing Inspiration Whose Friendship has made Dark Paths Light This Little Book is Dedicated In Memory of "Remembered Hours"
CHAPTER FIRST. Page
Frances meets the Spectacle Man 11
A Certain Person 22
They look at a Flat 40
Some New Acquaintances 50
An Informal Affair 61
A Portrait 77
The Story of the Bridge 86
Finding a Moral 106
The Portrait Again 118
Mrs. Marvin is perplexed 128
At Christmas Time 134
One Sunday Afternoon 151
Three of a Name 164
A Confidence 177
Hard Times 186
At the Loan Exhibit 198
The March Number of The Young People's Journal 207
Caroline's Story 231
Overheard by Peterkin 240
The Little Girl in the Golden Doorway 249
"The Ducks and the Geese they All swim over" 257
"The Spectacle Man, leaning his elbows on the show-case" Frontispiece 11
"'What is your name, baby?'" 54
"'Little girl, I wish I knew you'" 120
"She pointed out a picture, set in diamonds" 200
The Spectacle Man.
* * * * *
FRANCES MEETS THE SPECTACLE MAN.
"The bridge is broke, and I have to mend it, Fol de rol de ri do, fol de rol de ri do—"
sang the Spectacle Man, leaning his elbows on the show-case, with his hands outspread, and the glasses between a thumb and finger, as he nodded merrily at Frances.
Such an odd-looking person as he was! Instead of an ordinary coat he wore a velvet smoking-jacket; the top of his bald head was protected by a Scotch cap, and his fringe of hair, white like his pointed beard, was parted behind and brushed into a tuft over each ear, the ribbon ends of his cap hanging down between in the jauntiest way. It was really difficult to decide whether the back or front view of him was most cheerful.
"Will it take long?" Frances asked, with dignity, although a certain dimple refused to be repressed.
"Well, at least half an hour, if I am not interrupted; but as my clerk is out, I may have to stop to wait on a customer. Perhaps if you have other shopping to do you might call for them on your way home." If there was a twinkle in the eye of the Spectacle Man, nobody saw it except the gray cat who sat near by on the directory.
"Thank you, I think I'd better wait," replied Frances, politely, much pleased to have it supposed she was out shopping.
At this the optician hastened to give her a chair at the window, motioning her to it with a wave of the hand and a funny little bow; then he trotted into the next room and returned with a St. Nicholas, which he presented with another bow, and retired to his table in the corner. As he set to work he hummed his tune, glancing now and then over his shoulder in the direction of his small customer.
Perched on the high-backed chair, in her scarlet coat and cap, her hands clasped over the book, her bright eyes fixed on the busy street, it was as if a stray red bird had fluttered in, bringing a touch of color to the gray-tinted room. From her waving brown locks to the tips of her toes she was a dainty little maid, and carried herself with the air of a person of some importance.
If the Spectacle Man was interested in Frances, she was no less interested in him; neither the street nor the magazine attracted her half so much as the queer shop and its proprietor. It had once been the front parlor of the old dwelling which, with its veranda and grass-plat, still held its own in the midst of the tall business houses that closed it in on either side. Here were the show-cases, queer instruments, and cabalistic looking charts for trying the sight; over the high mantel hung a large clock, and in the grate below a coal fire nickered and purred in a lazy fashion; and through the half-open folding doors Francis had a glimpse into what seemed to be a study or library.
At least a dozen questions were on the tip of her tongue, but didn't get any further. For instance, she longed to ask if those cunning little spectacles on the doll's head in the case near her, were for sale, and if the Spectacle Man had any children who read the St. Nicholas and what the gray cat's name was, for that he had a name she didn't doubt, he was so evidently an important part of the establishment.
He had descended from the directory, which was rather circumscribed for one of his size, and curled himself comfortably on the counter; but instead of going to sleep he gently fanned his nose with the tip of his tail, and kept his yellow eyes fixed on Frances as if he too felt some curiosity about her. She was thinking how much she would like to have him in her lap when the Spectacle Man looked around and said, "The next time your grandmother breaks these frames she will have to have some new ones."
"They aren't my grandmother's, they are Mrs. Gray's. I haven't any grandmother," she answered.
"You haven't? Why, that's a coincidence; neither have I!"
Frances laughed but didn't think of anything else to say, so the conversation dropped, and the optician fell to humming:—
"The bridge is broke."
They might never have become really acquainted if, just as he was giving a final polish to the glasses, it had not begun to rain.
"What shall I do?" Frances exclaimed, rising hurriedly. "I haven't any umbrella."
The Spectacle Man walked to the window, the glasses in one hand, a piece of chamois in the other. "It may be only a shower," he said, peering out; "but it is time for the equinoctial." Then, seeing the little girl was worried, he asked how far she had to go.
"Only two blocks; we are staying at the Wentworth, but mother and father were out when I left and won't know where I am."
"Well, now, don't you worry; Dick will be in presently and I'll send him right over to the hotel to let them know where you are, and get a waterproof for you."
This made Frances feel more comfortable; and when, after putting the glasses in their case and giving her the change from Mrs. Gray's dollar, he lit the gas in the back parlor and invited her in, she almost forgot the storm.
The room was quite different from any she had ever been in, and she at once decided she liked it. Around the walls were low cases, some filled with books and papers, others with china and pottery; from the top of an ancient looking chest in one corner a large stuffed owl gazed solemnly at her; the mantel-shelf was full of books, and above it hung a portrait of Washington. There were some plaster casts and a few engravings, and beside the study table in the middle of the room was an arm-chair which, judging from its worn cover, was a favorite resting-place of the Spectacle Man.
"I have a little writing to do before Dick comes in; can't I give you a book while I am busy? I have a number of story-books," her host asked.
Frances thanked him, but thought she'd rather look about. "You seem to have so many interesting things," she said.
While she walked slowly around the room the optician sat down at the table and wrote rapidly. "How does this sound," he presently asked.
"'WANTED: Occupants for a small, partially furnished flat. All conveniences; rent reasonable. Apply 432 Walnut Street.' You don't happen to know any one who wants a flat, I suppose?"
Frances said she did not.
"The lady who had my second story rooms was called away by her mother's death, and now she is not coming back. With Mark away at school it is really very important to have them rented." The Spectacle Man tapped the end of his nose with his pen and began to hum absent-mindedly:—
"The bridge is broke and I have to mend it."
At this moment a boy with a dripping umbrella appeared at the door. He proved to be Dick, and was at once despatched to the Wentworth with instructions to ask for Mr. John Morrison, and let him know his daughter was safe and only waiting till the storm was over; and on his way back to stop at the newspaper office and leave the advertisement.
"Dear me!" said Frances, after he had gone, "we might have sent Mrs. Gray's glasses; I am afraid she will be tired waiting for them. She can't see to do anything without them, and she is lame too."
"Well, she is fortunate in having a friend to get them mended for her. And now I wonder if you wouldn't like to see old Toby," said the optician, taking down a funny looking jug in the shape of a very fat old gentleman. "When my grandfather died he left me this jug and the song about the bridge. Did you ever hear it before?"
Frances said she never had.
"Grandfather used to sing it to me when I was a little boy, and I find it still a very good song. When I get into a tight place and can't see how I am to get through, why—" here he waved his hands and nodded his head—
"'The bridge is broke, and I have to mend it,'
"and I go to work and try. Sometimes it is for other people, sometimes for myself. Bridges are always getting broken,—'tisn't only spectacles."
Frances smiled, for though she did not quite understand, it sounded interesting; but before she had time to ask any questions a tall young man entered. "Why, Wink! what in the world are you doing here?" he exclaimed.
"Oh, daddy dear, I hope you haven't worried!" she cried, running to him; "Mrs. Gray broke her glasses and couldn't read or sew, and I thought I ought to have them mended for her,—it wasn't far you know—and then it began to rain so I couldn't get back."
"And this is Mr. Clark, I suppose," said Mr. Morrison; "let me thank you for taking care of my little daughter. And now, Wink, put on this coat and your rubbers, and let us hurry before mother quite loses her mind."
When she was enveloped in the waterproof, Frances held out her hand.
"Thank you, Mr. Clark," she said; "I hope you will find some nice person to rent your flat. Good-by."
The Spectacle Man stood in his door and watched the two figures till they disappeared in the misty twilight, then he returned to the shop. "Peterkin," he said, addressing the cat, "I like that little girl, and I suppose I'll never see her again."
Peterkin uncurled himself, stood up on the counter, arched his back, and yawned three times.
A CERTAIN PERSON.
A day or two after her visit to the optician's, Frances lay curled up on the broad window-sill, a thoughtful little pucker between her eyes. About fifteen minutes earlier she had entered the room where her father and mother were talking, just as the former said, "As a certain person is abroad I see no objection to your spending the winter here if you wish."
Before she could ask a single question a caller was announced, and she had taken refuge behind the curtains.
It was quite by accident that they happened to be staying for a few weeks in this pleasant town where the Spectacle Man lived. They were returning from North Carolina, where they had spent the summer, when a slight illness of Mrs. Morrison's made it seem wise to stop for a while on the way; and before she was quite well, Mr. Morrison was summoned to New York on business, so his wife and daughter stayed where they were, waiting for him, and enjoying the lovely fall weather.
They liked it so well they were beginning to think with regret of the time when they must leave, for though really a city in size, the place had many of the attractions of a village. The gardens around the houses, the flowers and vines, the wide shady streets, combined to make an atmosphere of homelikeness; but to Frances' mind its greatest charm lay in the fact that once, long ago, her father had lived here. At least she felt sure it must have been long ago, for it was in that strange time before there was any Frances Morrison.
She had never heard as much as she wanted to hear about these years, although she had heard a good deal. There were some things her father evidently did not care to talk about, and one of these was a mysterious individual known as a Certain Person. The first time she had heard this Certain Person mentioned she had questioned her mother, who had replied, "It is some one who was once a friend of father's, but is not now. I think he does not care to mention the name, dear."
After this Frances asked no more questions, but she thought a great deal, and her imagination began to picture a tall, fierce looking man who lurked in dark corners ready to spring out at her. Sometimes when she was on the street at night she would see him skulking along in the shadows, and would clasp her father's hand more closely. Altogether this person had grown and flourished in her mind in a wonderful way.
And, she couldn't tell how, a Certain Person was connected in her thoughts with "The Girl in the Golden Doorway." This was a story in her very own story-book, a collection of tales known only to her father and herself, which had all been told in the firelight on winter evenings and afterward written out in Mr. Morrison's clear hand in a book bought for the purpose, so that not even a printer knew anything about them.
This particular story, which she had heard many times, was of a boy who lived in a great old-fashioned house in the country, where there were beautiful things all about, both indoors and out. The only other child in the house was a little girl who looked down from a heavy gilt frame above the library mantel. The boy, who was just six years old, used to lie on the hearth rug, gazing up at her, and sometimes she would smile and beckon to him as if she wanted to be friends.
This happened only at nightfall when the shadows lay dark in the corners of the room and the fire blazed brightly; at such times things that had before been a puzzle to him became quite clear. For instance, he discovered one evening that what looked like the frame of a picture was really a doorway belonging to the house where the little girl lived, and it was plain that if he could only get up there he could find out all about her. Once there, he felt sure she would take him by the hand and together they would go away—away—somewhere! But the mantel was very high, and polished like glass.
One afternoon when he had come in from a long drive, and feeling tired was lying very still in his usual place, looking up at the little girl and the long passage that seemed to stretch away behind her, a strange thing happened. So unexpectedly it sent his heart into his mouth, the girl stepped out of the doorway; and then, wonder of wonders! he saw a stairway at one side of the chimney-piece where he had never noticed one before.
Daintily holding up her silken skirt, the little maid descended and stood beside him. Astonished and bewildered, he put out his hand to touch her, but with a laugh she flitted across the room.
Seized with the fear that she would escape him altogether, the boy started in pursuit. In and out among the massive chairs and tables they ran, the girl always just out of reach, the boy breathless with anxiety. His heart quite failed him when she darted toward the mantel. Then he remembered he could follow; and indeed she seemed to expect it, for she stood still at the top of what had grown to be a very long flight of steps, and beckoned. He hurried on, but the steps were very steep and slippery, and try as he would he could not reach the top.
Suddenly some one opened the library door, there was a crash and a clatter, the girl disappeared, and the boy heard his mother's voice asking, "Jack, what in the world are you doing?"
"I fell down the steps," he replied, picking himself up from among the fire irons that had tumbled in a heap on the hearth.
"What steps?" asked his mother.
He rubbed his eyes: they were not to be seen, and the little girl—yes, there she was, looking out of the golden doorway, and he was sure she shook her finger and laughed. He gave up trying to explain—grown people are hopelessly stupid at times—but he always felt certain that if the library door had not opened just when it did, he could have caught the little girl.
"Wasn't it a pity!" Frances always exclaimed at this point.
"Yes," her father would reply, "the little boy lost the chance of a lifetime, for there is no knowing what he might not have discovered in the house of the golden doorway."
"And she never came down again?"
"No, for the boy went away to live not long after this, and everything was changed."
"And is the little girl still over the library mantel?"
"No, Wink, she was taken away long ago."
When the caller left, Frances came out of her hiding-place behind the curtains. "Are we going to stay here all winter?" she asked.
Mrs. Morrison drew her daughter down beside her on the couch where she sat. It was hard to believe such a small person the mother of this great girl. "You shall hear all about it, dearie, and then help us to decide," she said. "Father has had an offer from the Eastern Review. They want him to go to Hawaii, and besides paying him well it will be an advantage to him in other ways."
"But can't we go with you, father?"
"No, Wink, I am afraid not, for several reasons."
"Of course it will be hard for us all, but if it seems to be the best thing I am sure you and I will be brave and let him go;" Mrs. Morrison's voice trembled a little, and for a moment she hid her face on Frances' shoulder.
"Will you be gone very long?" asked the little girl.
"Several months, if I go. The matter is not decided by any means. I do not see how I can leave you," answered Mr. Morrison.
"You must go, Jack; it will be the very thing for you. It isn't only the money, dear, or even the opportunity for getting on in your work, but you need a change, for you haven't been yourself lately. Frances and I will stay here and be very comfortable, and when you come home we'll have a jubilee."
"And not go back to Chicago?" Frances asked.
"The winters there are too cold for you. No, I think we'd better stay here, but not in this house," said her mother.
"It will be difficult to find the kind of place I shall be willing to leave you in," replied Mr. Morrison. "What is it you are always singing, Frances?" he added, for as she turned the leaves of a magazine she was humming softly to herself.
"I don't know," she answered laughing, then—"Why, yes, I do—it is the song of the Spectacle Man,
"'The bridge is broke, and I have to mend it,'
"that is all I know of it. He was telling me about it when you came for me. I wish I could go to see him again."
While they were still talking matters over, Gladys Bowen, a little girl who lived in the house, came to ask if Frances might play with her; and Frances, who had not had a playmate of her own age for some time, was very ready to go. They had once or twice spoken rather shyly to each other, and she thought Gladys's golden curls perfectly beautiful.
"Would you like to come upstairs and see my dolls, or shall we go down to the reception room?" Gladys asked, adding, "My Uncle Jo owns this house, and he lets me go where I please."
"I'd like to see the dolls," Frances said, much impressed by the uncle who owned a hotel.
Her companion led the way to a room where a lady in an elaborate house-gown sat in an arm-chair reading. "Mamma, I have brought Frances to see my dolls," she announced.
"How do you do, Frances.— Very well, Gladys, but I don't want you to worry me. You must play in the other room." Mrs. Bowen spoke in a languid tone, and returned to her book, but she looked up again to say, "That is a pretty dress you have on, Frances."
The child looked down at the red challis she wore, not knowing what reply to make.
"But you are stylish, as Gladys is, I am thankful to say," the lady continued. "You look well together, you are dark and she so fair."
"Come on," Gladys called impatiently from the door, and Frances followed, feeling that she ought to have said something to Mrs. Bowen.
"I'll show you Marguerite first; she's my handsomest doll. Uncle Jo gave her to me, and she cost twenty-five dollars."
Frances caught her breath at the idea of such a doll, but was a little disappointed when her hostess took from a drawer a fine lady, whose hair was done up in a French twist, and whose silk gown was made with a train. She was certainly very elegant, however, and her muff and collar were sure enough sealskin, as Gladys explained.
"She is beautiful, but I believe I like little girl dolls best," Frances said.
Gladys brought out others of all varieties and sizes, and while her visitor examined them, she herself talked on without a pause.
"Where did you get your name?" she asked.
Frances, who was adjusting a baby's cap, replied that she was named for her great-grandmother.
"Are you? How funny! Mamma named me for a lady in a book—Gladys Isabel. She doesn't like common names."
Frances wondered if Gladys thought her name common, and for a moment she wished she had been called something more romantic.
"There is a girl who lives here in the winter," continued the chatterbox, "whose name is Mathilde. Isn't that funny? It's French—and she has the loveliest clothes! I wish you could see her—she hasn't come yet. And just think! she has diamond earrings. Have you any diamonds?"
Frances shook her head, feeling very insignificant beside a girl with a French name and diamond earrings.
"I have a diamond ring, but mamma won't let me wear it all the time for fear I'll lose it," said Gladys. "Haven't you any rings?" and she glanced at the plump little hands of her guest.
"I have one, but it is too small for me now. I don't care very much for rings," was the reply.
"Don't you? I do. Mamma has ever so many. If you won't tell I'll tell you something," Gladys went on; "Uncle Jo is going to give me a party at Christmas, and if you are here I'll invite you. It is to be just like a grown-up party."
"Do you go to school?" Frances asked.
"Everyday school? Yes; but I don't like it. I haven't started yet."
"I think I'll have to go now," said Frances, rising; "I hope you will come to see me, Gladys. I have only one doll with me, but I have some games and books."
"I don't care for books, but I'll come; and if Mathilde is here maybe I'll bring her."
Frances went downstairs with a sober face. She had intended to tell Gladys the story of The Golden Doorway, and about the Spectacle Man, but she had not had a chance, and now she felt that these things would probably seem tame and uninteresting to a young person of such varied experience.
"Has my little girl had a good time?" Mrs. Morrison asked.
"Y-es, mother, Gladys has some of the prettiest dolls you ever saw, but they are too dressed up to have much fun with, and she didn't seem to want to play."
"Perhaps she doesn't know how to have a really good time, Wink; some persons don't."
"I know one thing; she hasn't a darling mother like you!" and Frances emphasized her words with an ardent hug.
"Very few have, Wink," remarked her father, coming in with his hands full of papers.
"Thank you both for your kind appreciation," said Mrs. Morrison, laughing. "What do you expect to find in those papers, Jack?"
"I am going to look up advertisements."
"What for, daddy?" Frances asked, dancing about on tiptoe.
"A place for you and mother while I run off and leave you. Listen to this: 'Wanted: Occupants for a small, partially furnished flat. All conveniences, terms reasonable. Apply at 432 Walnut Street.'"
"The Spectacle Man's! the Spectacle Man's!" cried Frances, clapping her hands. "Let's go there, it's lovely!"
"How do you know?" asked her father and mother in the same breath, and then she explained how he had written the advertisement while she was waiting for the storm to be over.
"Partially furnished—it might do. I mean, of course, if it is nice," said Mrs. Morrison.
"It is too far down town," objected her husband.
"Oh, father, no, it isn't! It is just a beautiful place, and the Spectacle Man will show me his Toby jugs and things, and there's the cat,—please let's go!"
"Of course if there is a Toby jug and a cat, there's nothing else to be desired," said Mr. Morrison, gravely, pinching the cheek of his enthusiastic daughter. However, he promised that bright and early next day they would go to look at this flat.
THEY LOOK AT A FLAT.
The house occupied by Mr. Clark the optician was old-fashioned and roomy; built in the days when ground was cheap and space need not be economized. It belonged to his nephew, whose guardian he was, and some day, when the hard times were over, it was likely to be a valuable piece of property. At present it could be rented for little or nothing as a residence, and for this reason he had decided to live in it himself, taking the first floor and turning the second and third into flats.
The dignified old mansion had the air of having stepped back in disdain from the hurry and bustle of the street, preserving in its seclusion between the tall buildings on either side something of the leisurely atmosphere of other days.
The optician himself was quite in keeping with the house. He loved old things and old ways; his business methods were those of thirty years ago, and so perhaps were most of his patrons. There were still many persons who could remember the time when he had been joint proprietor of the largest jewellery store in the city, but times had changed. In some way he had been crowded out and half forgotten, much as the old house had been.
He kept the place in the best of order; the bit of lawn that lay between the house and the street was as thrifty and green as care could make it, and was a pleasant surprise when one came upon it unexpectedly, an oasis in the desert of brick pavement.
Frances' bright eyes had noticed, in passing, the mammoth pair of spectacles swinging above the veranda, and so when she found Mrs. Gray, an old lady who had a room near theirs in the hotel, lamenting over her broken glasses, she had known where to take them.
The clock struck eleven as the Morrisons entered the shop next morning. The sun shone cheerily in on the Spectacle Man, who was waiting upon a customer; and Peterkin, who had selected the brightest spot to be found, was making his toilet in an absorbed manner.
Mr. Clark bowed and smiled and asked them to be seated for a few minutes; but Frances, all impatience, could not think of keeping still, and, seeing the cat, was presently down on the floor beside him.
"Do you know, puss," she whispered, stroking him gently, "that maybe we are coming here to live?"
The news evidently tickled him, so much so that he sneezed and shook his head vigorously; then, as if fearing to be misunderstood, he began to purr softly.
"Come, Frances, Mr. Clark is ready to show us the rooms," her father called; and it is to be hoped Peterkin was not hurt by the sudden manner in which he was dropped.
"This is a nice old place, Jack," whispered Mrs. Morrison as they followed Frances and the Spectacle Man up the stairs. The former was explaining with great animation how they had seen the advertisement in the paper and she had recognized it. "You see, father is going away and can't take us, and mother and I think we'd like to come here, perhaps," she said.
"Well, I had a presentiment I was going to find a good tenant, but I did not think it would be you," was his reply.
The rooms proved to be large and light; the paper and paint were fresh and clean, and what furniture there was was simple and new.
"I believe it is the very place for us," Mrs. Morrison said, her housewifely eyes taking in all the possibilities of cosey comfort. "It will be a new and charming experience; and as for the Spectacle Man, he is simply delightful!"
After showing them through, Mr. Clark had left them, and they could hear him singing as he went,
"The bridge is broke, and I have to mend it."
"Yes, this will be a nice sitting room, with its windows where,—to quote Frances—'The little sun comes peeping in at morn!'" said Mr. Morrison.
"And this bedchamber is lovely, and the little kitchen—"
"We can make candy sometimes, can't we, mother?" Frances interrupted, dancing wildly about.
"O Jack! if only you were going to be here;" Mrs. Morrison turned suddenly to the sunny window.
"You know I'll not go one step unless you are willing, Kate," her husband said, coming to her side.
"Don't be a goose, dear, of course you are going." Her face was hidden against his shoulder for a moment, then she turned brightly to Frances, who was anxiously inquiring where she was to sleep.
"And mother," she exclaimed, "such a pretty young lady passed through the hall just now."
"That is something we must ask about,—what other persons are in the house," said her father.
Frances was not a little surprised and indignant when, after carrying on what seemed to her a long conversation with Mr. Clark upon various unimportant subjects, her father left with nothing more definite than that they were pleased with the rooms and would let him know their decision next day.
"Aren't we going to take them? I thought it was all settled; I don't understand," she said when they were on the street.
"Now, Wink, let me ask you something. Don't you honestly think that two persons who have lived more than thirty years ought to have a little better judgment about some things than one who has lived only ten?"
"But I'll be eleven in February, and—well, father, I suppose so, but grown people do take so long to think!"
"It is an interesting old house, and do you know, I think that is a Gilbert Stuart over the mantel in the back room," remarked Mr. Morrison.
"Why, father, it is a George Washington! I'm sure it is," cried Frances, and couldn't understand why they laughed, till her mother explained that they were probably both right, as Gilbert Stuart had painted a number of portraits of Washington.
It spoke well for the Spectacle Man's flat that they looked no farther that day, but there were many things to be taken into consideration that Frances did not dream of. After she was snugly tucked in bed that night, her father and mother sat long talking over their plans.
"I do not like the idea of leaving you here without looking up any of my old friends," said Mr. Morrison.
"But that is just what we want to avoid. I don't care to meet your friends till you are with me. We shall be perfectly comfortable, and shall enjoy the experience, and Mr. Clark, I know, will be kindness itself," replied his wife.
"You are as infatuated as Frances; you are just two little girls with a new playhouse. But if anything should happen—I don't know what—it might be awkward."
"I suppose I know what you mean, Jack; but we could not be suspected of any motive in coming here, a certain person being abroad, and nothing is going to happen. Who is likely to find us out? Morrison is a sufficiently common name, and the Spectacle Man's apartment house is, to say the least, not conspicuous. You forget we are not so important to other people as we are to you. The months will soon pass, and we shall be together again in some delightful place, and you will write your novel and become famous, and then—"
Her husband lifted to his lips the hand he held, just as he used to do when he was her gallant young lover, a dozen years ago. "For your sake I wish I might. If only I had half your cheerful courage," he said, adding, "I hope Frances will grow up to be exactly like you."
"She is exactly like you, Jack, I am happy to say."
As they sat in silence the song of the Spectacle Man kept repeating itself in Mrs. Morrison's mind, and it suggested to her the broken bridge which separated Jack from so much that might have been his. Would it ever be mended?
SOME NEW ACQUAINTANCES.
"I am as sorry as I can be that you are going away, I shall miss you so much;" said Mrs. Gray to Frances and her mother when they came in to tell her about their plans for the winter.
Their rooms were across the hall from hers, and the acquaintance had begun in the elevator, where they often met on the way to the dining room. The old lady was somewhat crippled with rheumatism and moved about with difficulty, so her life was rather a lonely one; and it had given her a great deal of pleasure to have Mrs. Morrison and her little girl drop in every now and then to chat with her and bring her books and papers. Then she could never sufficiently express her gratitude to Frances for taking her glasses to be mended.
"If I hadn't, I might never have known the Spectacle Man, and we shouldn't have found our flat, so I am much obliged to you," Frances said, laughing, when Mrs. Gray went over it all for the tenth time, more or less.
"Then perhaps you would have stayed here for the winter. I am sorry I let you go," was her answer.
"We'll often run in to see you, Mrs. Gray, and sometime you may be able to come to see us," said Mrs. Morrison; adding, "we haven't many friends, you know."
Mrs. Gray shook her head. "I can't get out any more; but as for friends, you'll find them wherever you go."
Gladys did not approve of the move, and frankly expressed her opinion. "It is such a funny old house, in between the stores. I shouldn't think you would want to live there," she said.
"But you don't know how nice it is inside," Frances urged. "It is going to be such fun; and Mr. Clark has some lovely things and the dearest cat!"
"It seems to me you like very funny things," Gladys remarked. She announced, however, that she intended to call.
What with getting the traveller ready to start and moving into their new quarters, those were busy days. They were all three very cheerful indeed, making a great many jokes and talking about next summer, when they should be together again, saying nothing of the long winter that stretched between.
It was a mistake to think of Hawaii as so far away. Had it not been annexed? Two thousand miles from California was simply no distance at all in these days. When it came to saying good-by it was hard indeed to remember all this, but it was gone through with somehow, and one bright October day Frances and her mother found themselves alone in their new sitting room.
"Oh, mother, I wish you wouldn't cry!" sobbed Frances.
"But you are crying yourself," said Mrs. Morrison, half laughing. At this tearful moment there came a knock at the door, and a long heavy package was handed in.
"There must be some mistake," Mrs. Morrison said, drying her eyes and reading the address, which was, however, unmistakable.
They made haste to cut the twine, and behold, a beautiful rug! "Isn't this like that dear, extravagant Jack?" she cried. "Isn't it pretty, Wink? He thought we'd need cheering up!"
Chairs and tables must be pushed aside at once and the rug put in place. Frances had just sat down in the middle of it with great satisfaction, when through the half-open door walked the fattest, rosiest baby imaginable, wearing a very clean blue check apron and an affable smile.
"Why, where did you come from?" they both exclaimed.
This was evidently something he did not care to reveal, for, although he continued to smile and gaze about him with interest, he made no reply.
"What is your name, baby?" Frances asked, holding out her hands. "Dennyleebon,"—or so it sounded.
"Do you suppose that is intended for English?" said Mrs. Morrison.
"I don't know. Make him say something else. Baby, can you talk?"
"Tock," repeated the infant, pointing to the mantel.
"Yes," cried Frances, delighted, "it is a clock. You see, mother, he thought I said clock. That is English."
"You don't mean it! But let him alone, Wink, and see what he will do."
The visitor showed plainly that he had a mind of his own. He did not wish to be petted and kissed, but preferred to walk around the room on a tour of investigation. Presently he paused before a table and remarked earnestly, "Book."
"Can't you find a picture-book for him?" asked Mrs. Morrison.
There happened to be an old animal book in the box they were unpacking, and, getting it out, Frances and the baby sat together on the new rug and turned the leaves, the latter never failing to say, "ion," "effunt," "tiger," as the case might be, with unvarying correctness and great enthusiasm.
In the midst of this there came a modest little tap at the door, and when Mrs. Morrison opened it, there stood a girl of about Frances' age. Her red calico dress was very fresh, her cheeks as rosy as the infant's, and her flaxen hair was drawn tightly back and braided in a long tail.
"Is the baby here?" she asked.
"No, no," came in decided tones from the visitor.
This made them all laugh, even the baby himself seeming to think it a good joke.
"Can't he stay for a while? He is good, and we like to have him," said Mrs. Morrison.
The girl hesitated; plainly the baby had no thought of leaving. "The lady who used to have these rooms made a pet of him, and he is always running off up here," she explained.
"I am glad he came, for my daughter and I were feeling lonely. Won't you come in and sit down? Do you live in the house?"
The newcomer accepted Mrs. Morrison's invitation rather shyly, looking as if she had a mind to carry the baby off by main force. Her name, she said, was Emma Bond, and she and her two-year-old brother lived in the back part of the house with their mother, who took care of Mr. Clark's rooms. The baby's name was Robert Lee, but he was commonly known as the General, a nickname given him by the Spectacle Man, and evidently well bestowed.
After the picture-book had been examined from beginning to end twice over, the General was, with the aid of some candy and much diplomacy, induced to accompany his sister downstairs, calling "By-by," and kissing his hand with great affability to Frances.
"Aren't they the cleanest looking children you ever saw?" said the latter, coming back from the hall, where she had gone with their guests.
"Aren't they! I think I shall like Emma, she is a nice, sensible, old-fashioned little girl, and the General is great fun. I hope they will come again," replied Mrs. Morrison.
In the course of the next few days they began to feel at home in their new quarters, and they also made the acquaintance of Mrs. Bond, a small woman with a pleasant but firm face, and such an air of energy that no lazy person could exist comfortably in her presence.
She was never known to waste any time. With the assistance of a colored boy,—a theological student,—who came in twice a day and in the time he could spare from his Latin and Greek cleaned for her, she kept Mr. Clark's rooms and the halls in beautiful order. Her children were always as neat as wax, and her busy fingers found time for a little fine sewing occasionally, which, as a girl, she had learned in the convent school where she was educated.
Mrs. Bond was trying to train her daughter in the same industrious ways, and one Saturday morning Frances discovered Emma dusting the show-cases in the shop. Stopping to speak to her, she learned that this was her daily task, and that on Saturdays she dusted the study also. It must be very interesting work, Frances thought, and the two children found so much to talk about that Mrs. Bond presently came in search of Emma and reproved her for idling. She did not positively object to play after lessons were learned and other duties attended to, but she conveyed the impression to Frances that in her opinion a really exemplary little girl would care more for her tasks than for amusement.
"I am so sorry, but I have to go," Emma whispered, as her mother left the room.
"Won't your mother let you come to see me some time?" Frances asked.
"I guess so, when I haven't anything to do," answered Emma, who thought Frances the most charming little girl she had ever seen.
AN INFORMAL AFFAIR.
It was not long before the Morrisons' apartment blossomed into a charmingly homelike place. Even Mrs. Bond, who on one of her tours of inspection in the wake of Wilson Barnes, the student, had been enticed in for a moment, agreed that the rooms were very fine, though she herself would not care to have so many things to keep clean.
Their sitting room was the greatest achievement. There was the new rug, which really was a beauty, and the couch, with its plump cushions all covered in a marvellous fifteen-cent stuff that looked like a costly Oriental fabric, together with the books and pictures, which had been left packed and ready to be sent to them whenever they should settle down, and last of all, in the sunniest corner was a beautiful sword fern, a rubber plant, and a jar of ivy.
"Transients can't afford many plants, but a little greenness is essential to happiness," Mrs. Morrison declared.
The cosey kitchen was presided over by Zenobia Jackson, who exactly suited her surroundings, being small and neat and quick, combining in a most satisfactory way the duties of a parlor maid and cook.
She was a friend of Wilson's, to whom Mrs. Morrison had applied. When asked if he knew any one she could get to do the work of their small flat, he replied, "Yes, ma'm; I know a young girl who would suit you, but she is going to school at present."
"If that is the case, she wouldn't suit at all," said Mrs. Morrison.
"Well, she's thinking of leaving school. Her ma she's sick, and her pa's out of work, and their insurance is getting in the rear, so Zenobia 'lows she'll have to get a place."
"Can she cook?" asked Mrs. Morrison.
"Yes, ma'm; her ma's one of the best cooks in town."
"Her mother has taught her, then, I suppose."
"No, ma'm; the best ones ain't taught. It comes by nature, and Zenobia is a naturalist." Wilson spoke with ministerial gravity.
Mrs. Morrison smiled. "I'd like to have her come to see me," she said.
Wilson promised to let her know, and added, "If you take her, Mrs. Morrison, she'll do her best, and angels can't do any better."
The result was that a few days later Zenobia was installed and proved herself worthy of her recommendation.
"She does beautifully," Mrs. Morrison wrote to her husband, "and while I am not in a position to assert that angels couldn't do better, I am inclined to believe it."
"Frances, I wish we knew those girls upstairs. I meet them so often in the hall. One of them—Miss Moore, I think she is—is exceedingly pretty." Mrs. Morrison was washing the glossy leaves of the rubber plant.
"I know them," her daughter replied, as she carefully measured the long bud that was about to open. "The pretty one is Miss Sherwin," she added. "I know, because when Emma and I went up to their room with a package that had been left downstairs by mistake, Miss Moore opened the door, and I heard her say, 'Here is your dress, Lillian.'"
"I can't see how that proves anything. How did you know that the one who opened the door was Miss Moore?"
Frances thought for a moment, "I know now! The package had Miss Sherwin's name on it. Doesn't that prove it?"
"Perhaps it does, Wink, though it seems something of a puzzle," replied her mother. "At any rate, I wish I knew them. I must remember to ask Mr. Clark about them; they look lonely."
"Let's go to see them," Frances suggested.
"They were here before we came; they may not wish to know us."
"I should think they would," Frances exclaimed, so earnestly her mother laughed.
"So should I, Winkie, but we don't know. Perhaps something will happen to make us acquainted."
Something did happen, and it was the General who brought it to pass.
Mrs. Bond often remarked that Emma's head never saved her heels, and it was quite true; for, although she went about her tasks willingly enough, her thoughts had a way of travelling off into a world of their own. She had long ago discovered this way of escape from the rather dull routine of her daily life, but her mother declared since the Morrisons came she had been worse than ever. And, indeed, the life upstairs in those bright rooms seemed very strange and delightful to Emma, so much so that in thinking about it she would forget the sugar bowl, or the tea-cups when she set the table, and do all sorts of absent-minded things.
One afternoon, soon after Frances and her mother had the conversation about their neighbors overhead, the former went down to see Emma.
She found her in the kitchen that was as usual tidy to the last degree; the General, however, true to the influence of his environment, was busy with a tiny broom and dustpan. Emma sat in the window reading, and on the stove something simmered and bubbled gently.
"This is a very nice kitchen," Frances remarked, as she walked in.
Emma closed her book. "Do you think so? I don't like kitchens, but your sitting room is beautiful. It reminds me of a house where I go sometimes for mother; oh, such a lovely place!"
"Don't get down; let me sit beside you," Frances begged, and quickly established herself in the other corner of the window-sill.
"Mother doesn't care for pretty things; she says she is thankful if she can be clean," Emma continued, with a sigh.
"I think you are very clean," said the visitor, looking around her; "but tell me about that beautiful house, won't you?"
Emma obediently began an animated description of it. It was just like a palace, she said, with a beautiful garden and conservatory, and rooms and rooms full of lovely things. "Mother sews sometimes for the lady who lives there, and I take the work home. I wonder, Frances, if you couldn't go with me next time."
"Look at the General!" cried Frances, suddenly, jumping down.
All unnoticed by the girls he had contrived to set his broom on fire and was now waving it aloft in great delight. He had no mind to give it up either, and frightened by the excited manner in which they rushed upon him, he clung to it for dear life, filling the house with his shrieks. In the struggle a roller towel caught fire and some damage might have been done, but for the appearance of Miss Moore and Miss Sherwin.
The former seized the baby with a practised hand while her companion unfastened the roller and let the towel fall to the floor, where the fire was easily put out. It was all over when Mrs. Morrison, who had heard the screams as she was dressing, came hurrying in, followed by Mr. Clark. The General sat quiet in Miss Moore's lap, a finger in his mouth, tears still on his cheek; Emma with a dazed expression was holding on to all that remained of the broom; and Frances danced around excitedly trying to explain how it happened.
When Mrs. Bond walked in, everything quieted down as if by magic. Explanations were needless, her quick eyes took it all in: "Emma wasn't minding what she was about," she said decidedly.
The Spectacle Man chuckled to himself as they all filed out, leaving her restoring order. "The General is too much for Emma," he remarked; "it is odd to see how like his mother that baby is already—as alert and determined in the pursuit of mischief as she is in her more important affairs."
"I have a dozen erratic infants not more than a year older than the General, at my table in kindergarten, so I know something about it," said Miss Moore.
The excitement had broken the ice, and the Morrisons and their third-floor neighbors went upstairs together chatting sociably. Miss Sherwin, indeed, had not much to say; but her companion made up for her silence, and accepted without hesitation Mrs. Morrison's invitation to come in and make her and Frances a call.
"I have been wanting to come, but Lillian wouldn't let me," she said.
"It is not fair to say that without giving my reason," put in Miss Sherwin, coloring in a way that was most becoming.
"I believe she thought you wouldn't care to know us," said Miss Moore, laughing.
"That was a great mistake," answered Mrs. Morrison. "Frances and I are sociable persons, and besides, we are strangers here."
"So are we, and we came here because Mr. Clark is an old friend of my father's." As she spoke, Miss Moore looked about her with frankly admiring eyes. "I am taking the kindergarten course; and my friend is keeping house and amusing herself, and keeping me from dying of home-sickness."
Mrs. Morrison thought Miss Sherwin, with her rather melancholy dark eyes, looked much more like a subject for home-sickness than her merry companion. In the course of the conversation she discovered that their home was in a Southern town, and that Miss Moore, who was the oldest daughter in a large family, was studying kindergarten in order to support herself. What Miss Sherwin was doing was not so clear. She had no home ties and was free to go where she pleased, and it was evident that her friend looked up to her with deep admiration.
While Mrs. Morrison and Miss Moore were talking, Frances and Miss Sherwin were making friends over their favorite story-books, and before the call was over they all had the pleasant feeling of being old acquaintances; and the acquaintance was not allowed to languish.
The very next evening Frances and Emma in great glee knocked at the door of what Miss Moore called their sky parlor, with an invitation to a candy pulling. It was just the night for a little fun, being Friday and stormy, and the young ladies promptly accepted.
Delicious odors were finding their way into the sitting room when the guests entered, Miss Sherwin looking pretty and pensive in her big apron, Miss Moore as flyaway and merry as usual.
Mrs. Morrison met them at the door and led the way to the kitchen, where the children were watching the kettle that gave forth the pleasant fragrance. "Frances wanted something to do, and as Friday evening is a sort of holiday, I thought perhaps our neighbors would join us in pulling candy," she said.
They made molasses candy first, and while this was being pulled Mrs. Morrison made some chocolate caramels; and even Miss Sherwin was unable to resist the laughing and nonsense that went on, and was presently taking part in it as merrily as anybody.
They were sitting around the fire in a sociable group enjoying the fruits of their labor, when the Spectacle Man knocked at the door. He had to come to see Mrs. Morrison on business, but when Frances invited him in to have some candy he did not decline.
"This looks very pleasant," he said, surveying the company, a piece of chocolate in his hand.
"Sit down, Mr. Clark; I want to ask you something," said Mrs. Morrison. "It is about the song Frances is always singing,—
"'The bridge is broke—'"
"What is the rest of it?"
"I will tell you all I know, but that isn't much," he replied, crossing his legs and looking into the fire. "I used to like to hear it from my grandfather when I was a child, and I found it interested Mark, my nephew, when he was a little chap. This is the way it goes.
"A man was once taking a long journey on foot. After walking several hours he came to a deep, swift stream over which there had once been a bridge, but now it was not to be seen. On the opposite side of the river a man was chopping wood, and the traveller called to him to know what had become of the bridge. The reply—and this is always sung—was:—
"'The bridge is broke and I have to mend it, Fol de rol de ri do, fol de rol de ri do, The bridge is broke and I have to mend it, Fol de rol de ri.'
"'How deep is the river?' the traveller then asked.
"'Throw in a stone, 'twill sink to the bottom, Fol de rol de ri do, fol de rol de ri—' etc.
"'How can I get across?' was the next question.
"'The ducks and the geese they all swim over, Fol de rol de ri do—' etc.
"And that is all."
"Doesn't the poor man ever get across?" asked Mrs. Morrison.
"I have told you all I know, madam," the Spectacle Man answered, with a little wave of his hand.
"I think there is a story hidden in it, and that is perhaps why children enjoy it; it is like having a picture to look at." It was Miss Sherwin who spoke.
"That is a bright idea," said Mr. Clark; "but who will find the hidden story for us?"
"I believe Miss Sherwin herself can find it," suggested Mrs. Morrison. "Suppose we give her two weeks to hunt for it, and then have a meeting to hear it."
"Oh, please—" began Miss Sherwin.
"Don't say a word, Lil, you know you can," urged Miss Moore, as her friend tried to make herself heard above the chorus of approval.
"The meeting to be held in my study," added the Spectacle Man.
"But suppose I can't do it," cried Miss Sherwin.
"Father could, if he were here," put in Frances; "he is splendid for stories!"
"Is he the John Chauncey Morrison who writes so charmingly?" asked Miss Sherwin.
"Why, do you know him?" exclaimed Frances.
"No, but I have read his stories."
"I think he writes the nicest ones in the world," said the little girl.
"But we don't expect everybody else to think so, Wink," her mother added, laughing.
One pleasant afternoon Emma came to ask if Frances might go with her to carry home some sewing her mother had finished.
Mrs. Morrison looked a little doubtful, but, before she could speak, Frances exclaimed: "Do please say yes, mother. It is a great lovely house, and I do so want to see it."
"What do you know about it?" asked her mother.
"Emma has told me. May I go? It is such a lovely day."
"I am not sure that it is quite the thing for two little girls to go so far alone."
"But we'll take care of each other, and—it seems to me that what you want to do is never the thing!" Frances said impatiently.
Her mother laughed; "I have known other persons who thought that. Who lives in this wonderful house?" she asked.
"Mrs. Marvin, but she is not at home now; there is no one there but the housekeeper," replied Emma.
"If I let you go you must promise not to stay any longer than is necessary for Emma's errand."
They both agreed eagerly to this, and Emma ran down to get ready.
"You mustn't turn into a little Bohemian, Wink," Mrs. Morrison said, kissing the rosy face under the big hat.
"I don't know what it is, so I guess I couldn't turn into it," laughed Frances, as she followed Emma.
The two children were in a gale of delight over their expedition, and, although they meant to be very dignified, found it impossible to walk more than a few steps without breaking into a skip.
"I wish my hair was like yours," Emma said, looking admiringly at her companion's waving brown locks.
"But braids aren't half so much bother. I have to wear mine this way because daddy likes it; and if you want to, you know, you can put your hair up on kids. That is what Gladys Bowen does; hers doesn't curl one bit."
"Gladys goes to our school, and I don't like her," remarked Emma.
"Why not? Don't you think she is pretty?"
"Yes; but she is so proud of herself. She doesn't like to go with me because my clothes aren't as nice as hers,—I know."
"She gets that from her mother," Frances said sagely. "Whenever I go there Mrs. Bowen asks me who made my dress or something."
"I know I don't have very pretty dresses, but my mother hasn't time," said Emma, rather sorrowfully.
"I think you always look nice, Emma, and I like you better than I do Gladys."
"Oh, Frances! do you really? Then I shan't mind," cried Emma.
She was supremely happy at having Frances for a companion on her walk, and at the prospect of showing her this wonderful house; but when at length they paused before the tall iron gate, she was seized with the fear that it might not seem very grand to one who had seen so much of the world.
Frances' critical eye was pleased, however; "I really think it does look like a palace," she said, with the air of having lived among palaces.
It was a somewhat imposing mansion, with a row of graceful columns across the front, and a broad flight of steps leading to the entrance. It stood in the midst of a beautiful green lawn on which were a few fine old trees and shrubs.
"Just wait till you see the inside," said Emma, delightedly, as they stood before the stately door; but alas! when it was opened the hall was seen all dismantled; evidently house-cleaning was going on.
After some hesitation the servant showed them into a room which was, like the hall, in disorder. It seemed to be a library, but the furniture was all covered, the floor was bare, and the sun streamed in through uncurtained windows. The most prominent object in the room was a picture which hung over the mantel, and this at once caught Frances' attention.
It was the portrait of a girl apparently about her own age, whose sunny eyes smiled down in the friendliest way. Her brown hair curled loosely over her shoulders; her dress, of some soft, silken brocade of warm, rich colors, was quaintly made and fell almost to her feet; her neck and arms were bare, and her dimpled hands clasped lightly before her. There was a grace and buoyancy in the pose which was very charming; Frances was enchanted.
"Isn't she lovely! Who is she, do you suppose?" she asked; but Emma could tell her nothing about it, she had never been in this room before.
"I believe she is like you, Frances," she said, looking critically at the picture.
"I am sure I am not half so pretty as that! She makes me think of something— I don't know exactly what," and Frances wrinkled her brow in a puzzled way. She was completely fascinated, and continued to gaze at the portrait all the while Emma was talking to the woman who came to see her about the work, hearing nothing till her own name caught her ear.
"It is some relative of Miss Frances," was what she heard, evidently in reply to a question from Emma.
As soon as they were on the street she inquired who Miss Frances was, and Emma said she thought she was Mrs. Marvin, the lady who owned the house. "She is coming home before long, and they are getting ready for her," she added.
"I should like to have that picture," said Frances, with a sigh. "Emma, do you know what a Bohemian is?"
"I know what the 'Bohemian Girl' is; it is music."
"It can't be that, for mother said father wouldn't like it if I turned into one."
As Frances was unbuttoning her shoes that night she suddenly exclaimed, "Why, it is the little girl in the golden doorway!
"What is?" her mother asked.
"I mean that is what the portrait reminded me of. It has just come into my head. Isn't it funny?"
"Almost any portrait of a little girl might suggest it, I should think," said Mrs. Morrison.
"I wish you could see her, mother. Do you think I can go again with Emma sometime? I do want to see her once more."
"I don't know, dear."
"Mother, is it being a Bohemian to want to go?"
Mrs. Morrison laughed. "Not exactly, Wink. It is difficult to explain, but a Bohemian is perhaps a person who habitually does what is not 'the thing.'"
"That must be fun," said Frances.
There was silence for a long time, then she asked, "Mother, aren't you glad a certain person is abroad?"
Mrs. Morrison looked at her in surprise. "What do you mean?" she said.
"Oh, I was just thinking!"
"But what put it into your head to think of a certain person?"
"Well, the girl in the golden doorway always makes me think of him; and you know, mother, father said he didn't mind leaving us here because he was abroad."
"You have been drawing on your imagination, Wink, you can't have understood father; but now you must go to bed and not talk any more."
THE STORY OF THE BRIDGE.
An atmosphere of great sociability pervaded the quaint room that the Spectacle Man called his study, when on Friday evening, two weeks after the candy pulling, his expected guests arrived.
He had closed his shop an hour earlier than usual, and spent the time in getting out certain treasures of china and silver, and placing them where they could be seen to the best advantage. When the lamps were lighted, the hearth brushed, and the big Japanese bowl heaped up with apples and grapes, he paused and looked around him with satisfaction.
He was reflecting how pleasant it was to be giving a party, when the hall door opened to let in Peterkin and closed again in what might have seemed a mysterious manner but for the sound of stifled laughter on the outside. On the inside Peterkin stood looking cross-eyed in a vain endeavor to see the frill that adorned his neck.
"So they have dressed you for the occasion, my friend," remarked his master; "it must recall the days when Mark was at home."
A few minutes later Emma and Frances appeared, looking very demure and bringing with them Gladys, who, happening in in the afternoon, had been invited to stay and hear the story. The rest of the party soon followed, and Mr. Clark's face beamed with pleasure as he stepped briskly about getting every one seated. The children chose the sofa at the side of the fireplace, where they sat, three in a row with Frances in the middle, until Miss Moore begged to know if there was not room for her, and of course there was.
"I am afraid you are trying to excite our envy, Mr. Clark," Mrs. Morrison said, touching a little dish of old Wedgwood.
"I have a few odds and ends of things," was his reply; "but most of what you see belongs to my nephew, Mark Osborne. A great-aunt left him her property when she died, this house, and a good deal of what Mark himself disrespectfully calls plunder."
"You have never told us about the Toby jug," put in Frances. "Does that belong to Mark?"
"No, that is my own, and sometime I'll tell you all I know about it; but now we want to hear Miss Sherwin's story. That is the first business of the evening;" and, his guests being seated to his satisfaction, the Spectacle Man crossed his knees and prepared to listen.
"I am not sure that it is at all interesting," said the young lady, as all eyes turned toward her. "Shall I read it or tell it?"
"Tell it, please," cried the children in a chorus.
So she began, at first a little timidly, and with a glance now and then at her paper, but gaining courage as she went on.
"I have called it," she said, "'The Story of the Missing Bridge.'
"Once upon a time a young man set out on a journey. The tender beauty of the springtime was upon the grass and trees, the wheat fields were turning from gold to rose, and the sky was a soft, deep blue.
"He was a sturdy young fellow and carried a light heart, as one could tell from the smile in his eyes and the merry tune he whistled as he strode along. And he had reason to be happy, for on the next day at sunset he was to be married to the fairest girl in all the country round.
"After a time the path he followed left the open fields and entered the cool, dim forest, where all was so still and peaceful that involuntarily he changed his tune to one more grave.
"A truly happy heart is certain to be a kind one, and, eager though he was to reach his journey's end, he paused once and again to lend a helping hand. Now it was to a peddler who was vainly trying to piece together the broken strap that had held his pack, again to restore a young bird to its nest, and then to release a white rabbit which had caught its foot in a trap and was moaning piteously.
"These incidents delayed him somewhat, and it was late in the afternoon when he reached the river several miles beyond which lay his destination. It was a wild and treacherous stream that rushed down from the hills, boiling and bubbling over rocks and between high, precipitous banks. Many years before a strong bridge had been thrown across it at the point where the path emerged from the forest, but to-day, to his utter surprise and bewilderment, there was no bridge to be seen. His journey was brought to a sudden stop.
"He looked about him; could he have missed his way? This was impossible, he had travelled it too often. On the other side of the river he saw a man chopping wood, and presently called to him to know what had become of the bridge.
"'The bridge is broke and I have to mend it, Fol de rol de ri do, fol de rol de ri do, The bridge is broke and I have to mend it, Fol de rol de ri.'
"This was the man's reply, sung in a merry rollicking tune as he continued his work.
"'How deep is the stream?' asked the traveller.
"'Throw in a stone, 'twill sink to the bottom, Fol de rol de ri do, fol de rol de ri do—'
"'How can I get across?'
"'The ducks and the geese they all swim over, Fol de rol de ri do, fol de rol de ri do—'
"came across the stream in the same mocking tune.
"Angry and almost in despair, the young farmer sat down beneath a tree to consider what was to be done.
"The secret of all his trouble was this. In an old red stone castle, the turrets of which were just visible above the trees on the other side of the stream, there lived a magician who had long had his eye upon the beautiful maiden who was the young man's promised bride. To win her he appeared as a wealthy middle-aged suitor, ready to lay all his riches at her feet, his real character being carefully concealed; but all his arts had been plied in vain; no gold or gems or promises of future splendor could turn her heart from her young lover. Her parents, however, were inclined to look with favor upon the magician's suit, and their daughter was made most unhappy by their reproaches.
"The last resort of the magician was to insinuate doubts of her lover's faithfulness; and after long and careful scheming, with her father and mother as allies, a promise was wrung from the maiden that, if the bridegroom failed by so much as an hour to appear at the appointed time, she would wed his rival. So sure was she of her lover, so ignorant of the magician's power.
"It now only remained to hinder the coming of the bridegroom. This the magician wished to contrive in such a way that the young farmer should arrive upon the scene just too late, and that he himself might have the exquisite pleasure of witnessing his despair. This was not without its difficulties, for the forest that extended almost to the water's edge was inhabited by fairies who were well disposed toward mortals, and took frequent delight in frustrating the schemes of the evil-minded magician.
"He therefore set himself to work to win their good will, and after establishing friendly relations went to the queen with what seemed an innocent request. An enemy of his was about to pass through the wood, and it was all-important that he should be hindered from crossing the river until after a certain hour. All he asked of the fairies was the promise that they would not reveal the plan by which he meant to accomplish this. The promise was readily given, for what possible harm could come to any one through being detained on the bank of the river for a few hours?
"The fairies often amused themselves by trying the temper of those who passed through the forest, and the peddler, the bird, and the rabbit had all been contrived to test the kindliness of the chance traveller; and by his quick response to these calls for help the young farmer had won their favor. So now, as he sat at the foot of the oak tree almost ready to weep in his despair, he heard a tiny voice singing:—
"'The bridge is broke and you'll have to mend it, Fol de rol de ri do, fol de rol de ri do.'
"'If some kind friend would only tell me how!' he exclaimed.
"'Is it then so necessary to your happiness?' asked the voice; and looking all about, he at length discovered a little creature sitting on a toadstool just at his feet. In her hand she held a large leaf which till now had served to hide her from his view.
"Having heard that the wood was the abode of fairies, he was not surprised; and in the hope that they would be able and willing to help him, he told his story. The fairy listened intently, marvelling at the magician's craftiness.
"'And when must you be there?' she asked.
"'Not one minute later than sunset to-morrow. I set out a day sooner than needful because of a mysteriously worded message I received, warning me to make all haste lest I lose my bride,' was the reply.
"'You have an enemy,' said the fairy, 'but we may be able to help you. You must wait the hour of audience, which is on the stroke of midnight;' with this she disappeared.
"The young man, left alone, seemed to hear all about him mocking voices singing:—
"'The ducks and the geese they all swim over—'
"and again and again he went to the water's edge, resolved to attempt to cross on the rocks, but the sight of the wild torrent told him it would be certain death.
"As night came on he at length fell into a troubled sleep with his head against the trunk of the oak tree. He was aroused by soft music and twinkling lights, and beheld before him, ranged in a semicircle, the fairy queen and her attendants. The queen addressed him:—
"'Mortal, we have heard your story from Sadonia, one of our ladies, and, as you have proved yourself kind and true-hearted, we would help you; but we are bound by a sacred vow not to reveal the secret of the bridge until sunset to-morrow.'
"'Ah, then it will be too late!' cried the young man.
"One of the attendant fairies now stepped out and knelt before the queen. It was the one called Sadonia, with whom he had spoken.
"'Your Majesty remembers,' she said, 'that for a certain fault I was condemned to take the form of a white rabbit, and with my foot in a trap wait to be released by some kind traveller. When I was in despair, this mortal freed me, and I ask that I may show my gratitude now by aiding him.'
"'Can this be done without breaking the vow which binds us all?' asked the queen.
"'Your Majesty, I promise neither by word or sign to reveal the secret of the bridge. I shall only ask him to obey me in a single command. The result rests with himself.'
"The queen was silent for a moment, then she said, 'Is this mortal courageous enough, is his love deep enough, to keep him unfaltering in the face of death?'
"'Death met in trying to reach the one I love will be far better than life without her!' cried the young man.
"'Then,' said the queen, 'Sadonia is permitted to use all her powers to aid you, but without revealing by word or sign the secret of the bridge.' She waved her wand, and in a breath lights and fairies disappeared and he was left alone. Not alone, for he heard Sadonia singing:—
"'The ducks and the geese they all swim over—'
"and there, dimly seen in the moonlight, she sat on a toadstool, wrapped in a mantle of green.
"'It is time, mortal, for you to be up and away. In yonder red castle lives a magician; it was he you saw cutting wood—this is the hour when he sleeps. Is your courage strong? Are you ready to do the impossible?' While she spoke the young man sprang to his feet.
"'Do you see the star straight before us in the heavens?' she asked. 'Keep your eyes fixed upon it, and think of her who is now dreaming of you; then if you obey me, all will be well.'
"She led him to the edge of the cliff, below him was the rushing stream; 'Look at the star and go on,' she cried.
"For one instant he hesitated. Go on? Where would the next step take him? Beneath were the rocks and the foaming torrent, but above him was the glowing star. He stepped bravely out. Louder and louder roared the torrent, brighter and brighter burned the star, firm and solid was the mysterious path. Confidence grew as he went on, his heart full of a great joy, and presently he felt the turf under his feet; the stream was crossed!
"As he paused to look back the truth flashed upon him: the bridge was where it had always been, but some strange spell had made it invisible!
"He went on his way, and all around him he seemed to hear fairy voices singing:—
"'The ducks and the geese they all swim over, Fol de rol de ri do, fol de ri do—'
"He stopped and, lifting his hat, said softly, 'Thank you, Sadonia!' and hoped she heard.
"On the next day the maiden and her lover had a joyous wedding, and the evil-minded magician slunk away in a rage to his castle, having discovered that love is stronger than magic; for no evil power can destroy the bridge between true and loving hearts, and faith and courage can always find the way."
* * * * *
"Well!" exclaimed Mr. Clark, as Miss Sherwin paused, with a very becoming color in her cheeks, "who would have thought there was such a story hidden away in my old song."
"I am so pleased that we asked her to do it," said Mrs. Morrison, smiling across the table at the story-teller. "I had my suspicions before, and now they are confirmed," she added.
"I am just proud of you, Lil," said Miss Moore, beaming on her friend.
"I think it is a lovely story, but couldn't you have more about the fairies, Miss Sherwin?" Frances asked.
"And about the wedding and what the bride had on," suggested Gladys.
"But did you really make it all up?" inquired Emma.
The young lady laughed. "No, I only found it between the lines of the song, and I certainly think it can be improved."
"The moral is such a fine one," remarked Mrs. Morrison.
"That faith and courage can always find a way—yes, isn't it, if one could only live up to it," said Miss Moore.
"It has given me a great deal to think about," added the Spectacle Man. "The bridge is broke—but faith and courage will find the way; yes, I like it," and he nodded his head emphatically.
"I thought morals weren't interesting," said Frances, at which they all laughed, and Miss Sherwin said she hoped she had not made hers too prominent. "I feel very grateful to you for liking it," she added.
"I want you to elaborate it a little and send it to The Young People's Journal," Mrs. Morrison said.
Miss Sherwin shook her head, but Miss Moore declared she would see that it was done.
Peterkin, who had been completely forgotten in the interest of the story, created a sensation just here by catching one of his sharp lower teeth in his frill, thereby causing temporary lockjaw. He was promptly released by Miss Moore, who declared he should not be dressed up again.
After he had gone into seclusion under the sofa, and the rest of the company were eating grapes and apples, Mr. Clark took down the Toby jug from the mantel shelf.
"It seems hardly right to tell another story to-night after the beautiful one we have listened to," he said, "but this is a very short one, and I promised Frances. This brown ware is called Rockingham, and you see how the likeness of a very fat old gentleman is embossed upon it. It is said that there once lived a jolly toper named Toby Fillpot. In the course of time he died and was buried, and then, according to an old drinking song:—
"'His body when long in the ground it had lain, And time into clay had resolved it again, A potter found out in its covert so snug, And from part of fat Toby he formed this brown jug.'
"In fact, I believe he made a number of them, and dedicated them to friendship, mirth, and mild ale."
"It seems to suggest Dickens; doesn't he somewhere mention a Toby jug?" asked Mrs. Morrison.
"I don't remember, but it is likely," answered Mr. Clark.
"Was your grandfather an Englishman?" Miss Sherwin asked.
"Yes, he was English and my mother was French."
"I was sure there was French somewhere," said Mrs. Morrison.
The children thought the jug very funny and interesting, but Frances did not want to touch it after she had heard the story.
"It might really be true," she said, putting her hands behind her.
"Is this supposed to be one of the originals?" asked Miss Moore.
"Well, that is as you choose to believe. It is over one hundred years old, at any rate," was Mr. Clark's reply.
FINDING A MORAL.
In spite of her disapproval of the place where the Morrisons had gone to live, Gladys was very often there. She liked Frances, and at the house of the Spectacle Man there seemed never to be any lack of something to do. There were glorious games of "I spy" in the halls when Emma was off duty, or visits to the studio where Miss Sherwin illustrated her stories and was delighted to have them pose for her, or if it were a rainy afternoon Mr. Clark did not object to their coming into the shop. He kept some glasses especially to lend to them on these occasions, and if business happened to be very dull he would entertain them with stories of his childhood, of which they never tired. Any chance customer must have been amused at the sight of three little girls in spectacles, seated in a row listening to the old man.
Gladys tyrannized over Emma and patronized her by turns, the latter being too timid to resent it openly; and Frances enjoyed playing the part of protector and defender. Naturally this state of affairs sometimes led to war, for Frances was quick-tempered and impulsive, and Gladys very stubborn.
One afternoon Mrs. Morrison went out, leaving the three children deeply interested in a new game. Everything went smoothly until Emma, who was sometimes rather slow in understanding things, made a wrong play that resulted in Gladys's defeat. When this was discovered Gladys in the excitement of the moment accused her of cheating, whereupon Emma began to cry and Frances became very angry.
"She didn't cheat, Gladys Bowen, you know she didn't; and you haven't any right to say so!" she exclaimed, with blazing eyes.
"She did," asserted Gladys, with a dogged conviction in her tone that infuriated Frances, and sweeping the dominoes from the table she cried:—
"I'll never play with you again, never!"
"No, you will never have a chance," was the cool reply. "I won't play with either of you; and I'd be ashamed of myself if I were you, Frances."
"Oh, never mind!" urged Emma, aghast at the scene.
"I will mind. She knows it is a story—and—" Frances could get no further, her tears choked her, and rushing from the room she shut the door behind her.
Mrs. Morrison, coming in, found Gladys putting on her things with an air of injured innocence quite impressive, while Emma stood helplessly looking at her. The dominoes lay scattered on the floor.
"Where is Frances?" she asked.
"In the other room; she's mad," Gladys explained briefly.
Mrs. Morrison knew it would be useless to ask questions at this stage, so she only said she was sorry, and waited till Gladys left, then went to find her daughter.
Frances was lying on the bed crying convulsively.
"What is the matter?" her mother asked gently.
The child sat up, exclaiming between her sobs, "Gladys is so hateful. She said Emma cheated—and it's a story—and I'll never play with her again!"
"Oh, my little girl! I am so sorry," was all Mrs. Morrison said, as she left the room.
Sorry about what? Frances wondered as her anger cooled. Because Gladys had been so hateful? or was it because she had been in a passion?—but then she had a right to be angry. As she lay quiet for a while, feeling languid, now the storm had passed, a sense of shame stole over her.
Presently she went softly into the sitting room. It was growing dark, and her mother sat alone among the cushions of the couch; Frances nestled down beside her, and there in the firelight and the stillness she couldn't help feeling sorry, even though she still felt sure she had a right to be angry.
She wished her mother would speak, but as she did not, Frances asked, "Don't you think Gladys was very unkind?"
"She ought to have been very certain of the truth of what she said, before she accused any one of cheating."
"I think so too; and I had a right to be angry." She began to feel quite certain of this.
"I have been talking it over with Emma," said Mrs. Morrison, "and I find she did not understand the game. She really played as Gladys said, but she did it by mistake."
"Did she? But Gladys ought to have known Emma wouldn't cheat."
"And of course there was nothing for you to do, but throw down the dominoes and accuse Gladys of telling a story?"
"But, mother—" Frances hesitated.
"Suppose you had told Gladys that there must be some mistake, and then had tried to find out what it was."
"But I was so provoked."
"Yes, and you lost your self-control. You let yourself be ruled by your temper. It is sometimes right to be angry, but it is never right to be in a passion."
"Don't you think I am getting better of my temper?" Frances asked meekly.
"Yes, dear; I have thought so lately, and it was right for you to want to defend Emma; but to throw the dominoes on the floor, to be in such a fury—my darling, it makes me afraid for you! You might sometime do something that all your life would be a sorrow to you. God meant you to rule your feelings and passions, not be ruled by them. You are like a soldier who has surrendered to the enemy he might have conquered."
"I'll ask him to forgive me," Frances whispered.
"You know father and I want our little girl to grow into a sweet, gracious woman—"
"Just like you," Frances interrupted, with her arms around her mother's neck.
"No, not just like me," answered Mrs. Morrison, smiling; "you must be your own self, Wink. I have tried not to spoil you, but of course I have made mistakes, and now you are getting old enough to share the responsibility with me."
"Do you think you ought to punish me, mother?"
"Dear, I think the punishment will be the trying to set things right again."
Nothing more was said on the subject that evening, but the next day Frances came to her mother with a bright face; "I have found out what it means," she said.
"What what means?" Mrs. Morrison asked.
"The story of the bridge. You know Gladys is mad with me and won't come here any more— Emma says she said she would never speak to me again—and that is a broken bridge and I have to mend it; but I don't know how," she added.
"Perhaps you can find a way if you try," replied her mother, thinking it best to let her solve her own problems.
All day Frances' thoughts kept going back to the unfortunate quarrel, and even when she was not thinking about it she was not happy. The storm clouds hung low and made the atmosphere heavy.
At twilight she slipped downstairs and peeped into the study where Dick had just lit the lamp and Peterkin lay stretched at his ease before the bright fire. She stole in and sat beside him on the rug and stroked him softly. He purred gently, looking up in her face with so much wisdom in his yellow eyes she felt like telling him about the trouble.
Presently the Spectacle Man came with the evening paper, and was surprised and pleased to see her.
"Mr. Clark," she began, "I have a broken bridge to mend."
"Is that so? I hope it will not give you much trouble."
Frances sighed and put her face down on Peterkin's soft coat for a moment. "I am afraid it will," she said, and then she told the story.
The Spectacle Man listened gravely. "I don't believe the bridge is really broken," he said; "it is only invisible beneath the clouds of anger and unkindness."
Frances drew a very deep breath. "Then what can I do?" she asked.
"How was it in the story?"
"But the young man had a fairy to help him.
"I don't think you need one; love and courage can find a way," said Mr. Clark.
Frances went upstairs very soberly. "Mother, I believe I'll write to Gladys," she said, going at once to her desk. It took a good deal of time and thought, but it was finished at last, and she felt a weight lifted from her heart as she put it in the envelope. This is what she wrote:—
"DEAR GLADYS: I am sorry I behaved so the other day. I was mad because you said Emma cheated, and I thought I had a right to be; but I know now I ought not to have been in a passion. It was a mistake; Emma did play wrong, but she didn't know any better. Gladys, I have found the moral of the story. The bridge between you and me is invisible because of the clouds of anger. I want to find it again, don't you?
"Your friend, "FRANCES MORRISON."
This note was despatched by Wilson, and bright and early next day Gladys answered it in person. She went to Frances and kissed her. "I am not mad with you any more," she said; "it was nice of you to write that note, and I am sorry I said Emma cheated."
After this, Frances was as merry as a cricket, and went about singing:—
"The bridge is broke and I have to mend it,"
till her mother was forced to beg for a little variety.
Meanwhile the story of "The Missing Bridge," with some changes and additions, and accompanied by two charming illustrations, had gone to seek its fortune in the office of The Young People's Journal, and it was no longer a secret that Miss Sherwin was in the habit of writing stories and had already met with considerable success.
Frances thought this a strong bond between them, "For father writes stories too, you know," she would often say.
It was about this time that the first letters, so long waited for, arrived from Honolulu, giving such glowing accounts of the voyage and the climate, and written in such evident good spirits, and so full of love for the two left behind, that they had to be read at least once a day for a week.
THE PORTRAIT AGAIN.
Frances wished very much to go to school, but for several reasons her mother did not think it wise, so she studied at home every morning, going upstairs at twelve o'clock to Miss Sherwin for a drawing lesson.
Emma thought this a delightful arrangement, but Frances looked with envy upon the children who passed, swinging their school bags. "It is because I wasn't strong last winter and mother thinks it wouldn't be good for me to be shut up in a schoolroom, but I shall go next year," she explained.
As the fall weather was beautiful they spent a great deal of time out of doors, and when Mrs. Morrison did not care to go herself she would send Frances with Zenobia for a walk or a ride on the cars, to the delight of the latter, who adored her young charge.
These two were returning from a long walk one cold day, when they met Emma Bond, who said she was going to Mrs. Marvin's with some work, and asked them to go back with her.
"I don't know whether mother would like me to; do you think she would care, Zenobia?" Frances asked.
It was only a short distance, and Zenobia couldn't see any harm in stopping a moment; so they went in with Emma and sat in the hall while she ran upstairs to speak to the housekeeper.
Everything was in perfect order to-day, and Frances gave a little sigh of satisfaction as she looked about her; it was all so warm and beautiful, with a stately sort of beauty that was very impressive. She sat as still as a mouse, listening to the ticking of some unseen clock.
Emma stayed a long time, and presently Frances whispered, "Zenobia, there is a picture I want to see, and I am just going to peep in that door; I'll be back in a minute;" and she stole softly across the hall as if afraid she might break the stillness.
The room she entered was a library, spacious and beautiful; but Frances thought of nothing but the portrait, which in the softened light that came from the curtained windows was more charming than ever.
"Little girl, I wish I knew you," she said half aloud, standing before it, her eyes bright from her walk in the keen air, her cheeks the deepest rose.
On the hearth a wood fire smouldered, breaking into little gleams of flame now and then.
"If you would only come down and talk to me, and tell me who you are," Frances continued under her breath, unconsciously taking the attitude of the picture girl who smiled down on her so brightly.
The fire purred softly, and there was added to this sound after a little a gentle rustle which, though she heard it, seemed so a part of the quiet that she gave it no thought. Then, suddenly, as if she had been awakened from a dream, she became conscious of the presence of some one near her.
Turning, her eyes met those of a very stately person who stood only a few feet away leaning on the back of a chair. She had silvery hair and a proud, handsome face, and for a second or two Frances continued to gaze at her, the two pairs of eyes holding each other as if by some magnetic power.
Then it flashed into Frances' mind that this must be Mrs. Marvin, and the spell was broken. She had come home—and what must she think of a girl who roamed about her house without leave! The child wanted to explain, but words were not easy to find, and the lady did not speak.
"I did not know—" she began, then hesitated and tried again; "I thought—" her throat felt very dry, and she wondered if she had spoken at all. It was so strange and uncomfortable that tears rose to her eyes.
"I wish you would tell me who you are;" the lady spoke in a strange, cold voice.
The feeling that she was not being fairly treated, together with her determination not to cry, made Frances intensely dignified, and it was with a haughtiness almost equal to the lady's own that she replied, "My name is Frances Morrison," and with a movement of her head which seemed to add, "it is useless to try to explain," she turned away.
A singular expression came into the stranger's face; she sat down in the nearest chair. "I wish you would not go," she said; "I am afraid I startled you as much as you did me. Come and tell me how you happen to be here." Her tone was no longer cold, and she held out her hands appealingly.
The smile transformed her face, which was all sweetness and graciousness now, and impulsive little Frances was instantly won. She went quickly to the lady's side, saying in a breathless way she had when excited, "I thought perhaps you did not like it,—but I didn't know any one was here, and I wanted to see the picture again, so while Emma was upstairs I thought I'd just peep in, but I'm sorry—" she paused; evidently her words had not been heard. This strange person held her hands and gazed at her in the oddest way.
"And so you are a real little girl!" she said at length.
The child smiled uneasily, and seeing it, the lady put her arm around her and drew her closer. "Forgive me, dear, for not listening," she said. "You came with—whom?"
Again Frances explained, but perhaps she did not make it very clear, for her companion still looked puzzled.
"Do you live here?" she asked.
"No, we are spending the winter here, mother and I."
"Your mother and you—" the questioner repeated.
"Yes, while father is away; he has gone to Honolulu. We stopped here because mother was ill, and then the Eastern Review wanted father to go to Hawaii, so we thought we'd just stay. We have a flat at the Spectacle Man's—I mean Mr. Clark's—and it is very nice."
"Is it?" The stranger's eyes travelled over the dainty figure. "You will think I am asking a great many questions, but where did you get your name?" she added.
"It was my great-grandmother's. Mother wanted to put Chauncey in. That is father's name, John Chauncey Morrison. Perhaps you have read his stories." Again Frances saw that strange expression in the face before her.
"Do you know who I am?" the lady asked.
"I suppose you are Mrs. Marvin. Emma said you had not come home yet, but that you were coming very soon, and when I saw you I knew who it must be, and— I hope you'll excuse me," she added, remembering she had offered no apology.
Emma and Zenobia, who had been standing in the door for several minutes, now succeeded in catching Frances' eye. "I must go," she said, "they are waiting for me."
Mrs. Marvin glanced in their direction. "Will you come to see me again?" she asked.
"I don't know whether mother will let me," Frances replied doubtfully.
The lady suddenly took the child's face in her hands and kissed her lips,—such a strange, passionate kiss it was; and then Frances felt herself almost pushed away.
She had hardly any answer for Emma's excited questions, which began as soon as they were outside the door, but walked along with an absent expression that was rather provoking.
"I can't see what makes you so funny, Frances," said her friend.
"Why, Wink, how late you are!" Mrs. Morrison exclaimed, meeting them at the head of the steps, having spent the last half hour at the window.
Frances put her arms around her mother's neck. "Oh, mother, I have seen such a beautiful lady, and she kissed me, and it made me feel like crying!"
By degrees Mrs. Morrison had the whole story, and looked rather grave over it. "I am sorry you went in at all, dear, and it was very wrong to go wandering about the house, even though you thought the owner was away."
"But I don't think she minded; at least she asked me to come again, so I think she must have liked me."
Mrs. Morrison smiled as she kissed her little daughter; she saw nothing improbable in this.
"I think I won't tell Jack about it," she said to herself, "For it would only worry him; but I'll be careful to have it understood that Frances is not to go into any house unless I am with her or have given my permission. It can't happen again. Marvin is not a name I ever heard Jack mention, I am quite sure of that."
MRS. MARVIN IS PERPLEXED.
"Jack's little girl! can it be? It is the strangest thing that ever happened to me. I do not understand it." Mrs. Marvin paced restlessly back and forth, an expression of pain and perplexity on her handsome face.
"Why should I care?" she thought; "what is it to me? I gave it all up long ago.— And yet—that dear little girl—those eyes—a Morrison every inch of her! There can be no mistake, but it is all a mystery how she happened to come here. How weak I am! why should it torture me so? Oh, Jack, Jack!" She hid her face in her hands.
It showed, however, no trace of emotion when half an hour later she encountered her housekeeper in the upper hall.
"Caroline, who is the little girl who came to see you this afternoon?" she asked.
"I suppose it was Emma Bond, Miss Frances; her mother has been hemstitching some pillow cases."
"Do you know anything about the child who was with her? I think she said she lived in the same house."
"I don't know who she is, Miss Frances. She is a pretty child, but I don't remember her name if I ever heard it."
"I saw her and was rather attracted to her. She seemed not quite the sort of child you would expect to find in a tenement house. There was a very respectable looking maid with her."
Caroline smiled. She was a bright-faced Swiss woman who had lived with her mistress for nearly thirty years, knew her thoroughly, and loved her devotedly. She was not deceived by the air of indifference with which the lady moved away; she understood that for some reason her mistress wished to find out all she knew about this little girl.
"It isn't what you'd call a tenement house," she said; "the man who owns it has made it into flats. He lives there himself, and has his shop, and Mrs. Bond keeps house for him. It is a real nice place."
"I fail to see the difference," was the reply; "but, Caroline, why did she think I was Mrs. Marvin? She called me so."
"I don't know, Miss Frances, unless it was Emma Bond's mistake. Her mother did some sewing for Mrs. Marvin when she was staying here."
"Well, Caroline, if you see Mrs. Bond you need not say anything about the mistake. You understand? I have a reason for wishing them to think I am Mrs. Marvin, as in fact I am."
"I should like to know what it means," Caroline said to herself as her mistress walked away.
"This is all very melodramatic and absurd, but I must have time to consider," the lady was thinking as she entered her own room, and closed the door behind her. "I must contrive to see her again."
Going to a cabinet, she took from an inner compartment a box, then she had a long search for the key, and after it was found she sat with the box on her lap gazing absently before her.
It was thirteen—almost fourteen years since she had lifted that lid. She had thought never to open it, unless—well, unless the impossible happened, and now a pair of brown eyes had aroused an irresistible longing to look once more on something that lay hidden there. In vain she told herself it was foolish, idle, worse than childish. She recalled the burning anger and resentment with which she had put the box away so long ago. Yes, and had she not just cause? But the touch of those young lips was still fresh upon her own, and whether she would or not, was carrying her back, back to the dear old days.
There was really very little in it, she reflected, as she began to look over the contents; but a few trifles can mean so much sometimes. There was a light brown curl, some photographs that showed how a certain chubby, dimpled baby had developed into a manly boy of sixteen, a bundle of letters in a schoolboy hand, and down at the very bottom, the thing she was so anxious to see again, a lovely miniature of a boy of seven.
She gazed at it long and earnestly. Such a dear little face! and this afternoon she had seen the same smile, had looked into the same eyes! Jack's daughter! was it possible?
He had called her Frances, too; he had not quite forgotten. It was, of course, a family name, and with all his independence Jack had a great deal of family pride. And the air with which she had said, "Perhaps you have read his stories,"—she could have laughed, but for the pain of the thought that she who had once been first had now no part in his life. Others had the right to be proud of him, but not she.
She closed the lid and put the box away: the past could not be recalled, she must try to forget, as she had tried all these years; but even as she made the resolve her heart was saying, "I must see that child again,—I must, must!"