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Transcriber's Note: Inconsistent hyphenation in the original document has been preserved.
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THE STORY OF THE BIG FRONT DOOR
BY MARY F. LEONARD
"THEY HELPED EVERY ONE HIS NEIGHBOR."
NEW YORK: 46 EAST FOURTEENTH STREET THOMAS Y. CROWELL & COMPANY BOSTON: 100 PURCHASE STREET
COPYRIGHT, 1898, BY THOMAS Y. CROWELL & COMPANY.
I. THE OUTLAWS 1
II. IN THE STAR CHAMBER 12
III. THE LADY OF THE BROWN HOUSE 20
IV. DORA 31
V. UNCLE WILLIAM 51
VI. THE MAGIC DOOR 59
VII. IKEY'S ACCIDENT 65
VIII. THE M.KS. 74
IX. A RIVAL CLUB 84
X. GOOD NEIGHBORS 93
XI. PLANS 103
XII. CEDAR AND HOLLY 112
XIII. THE HARP MAN'S BENEFIT 127
XIV. CLOUDS 140
XV. DORA'S BRIGHT IDEA 156
XVI. SILVER KEYS 165
XVII. A PRISONER 172
XVIII. SOMETHING ELSE HAPPENS 183
XIX. AUNT SUKEY'S STORY 190
XX. THE ORDER OF THE BIG FRONT DOOR 198
XXI. WORK AND PLAY 206
XXII. UNCLE WILLIAM IS SURPRISED 219
XXIII. JIM 230
XXIV. A DISAPPOINTMENT 238
XXV. AUNT ZELIE 246
XXVI. THE BIG FRONT DOOR IS LEFT ALONE 255
THE BIG FRONT DOOR.
"Come listen to me, ye gallants so free, All ye who love mirth for to hear; And I will tell you of a bold outlaw Who lived in Nottinghamshire."
Ikey Ford was the first to make the discovery, and he lost no time in carrying the news to the others.
Great was their consternation!
"Moving into the Brown house? Nonsense, Ikey, you are making it up!" Carl exclaimed.
"What shall we do about the banquet for King Richard?" cried Bess, sitting down on the doorstep despairingly.
"And my racket is over there, and your grandma's fur rug, Ikey Ford!" wailed Louise, shaking her finger at the bringer of evil tidings. He assented meekly, adding, "and Sallie's clothes-pins."
A stranger might have been puzzled to guess what sort of calamity had befallen the little group in the doorway of the pleasant, hospitable-looking house among the maple trees, that warm August morning. Something serious certainly, for Louise's dimples had disappeared, Bess was almost tearful, and the boys, though they affected to take it more lightly, wore plainly depressed.
"Let's go over to Ikey's and look through the fence," suggested Carl, and, as there seemed nothing else to do, the others agreed.
They filed solemnly down the walk and across the street,—Bess with a roll of green cambric under her arm,—and nobody uttered a word till a secluded spot behind Mrs. Ford's syringa bushes was reached, where, through an opening in the division fence, they could look out unobserved upon the adjoining house.
"The side windows are open!" Louise announced in a tragic whisper.
"Didn't I tell you so?" replied Ikey with mournful triumph.
It was a small house with a pointed roof, and it stood in the midst of an old-fashioned garden, where for years and years lilacs and snowballs, peonies and roses, pinks and sweet-william, and dozens of other flowers, had bloomed happily in their season, without any trouble to anybody. In the background sunflowers and hollyhocks grew, and on either side of the front gate two stout little cedars stood like sentinels on guard. The street upon which this gate opened was wide and shady, and the bustle and din of the city had not yet invaded its quiet.
Though in reality a red house grown somewhat rusty, it was called the "Brown house," because as far back as any one in the neighborhood could remember it had been occupied by an old lady of that name. For years before she died she was bed-ridden, and to the children there was something mysterious about this person who was never seen, but on whose account they were cautioned not to be noisy at their play. After her death the house was left closed and unoccupied, but hardly more silent than before. An air of mystery still hung about the place; the children when they passed peeped in at the flowers alone in their glory, and spoke softly as though even yet their owner might be disturbed.
This was in the early spring; as the summer wore on this garden grew more and more irresistible. Other playgrounds lost their charm to the eyes that looked in at the long waving grass and the pleasant shady places under the apple trees.
"Let's play Robin Hood," Bess proposed one morning as they sat in a row on the fence.
Carl and Louise received the idea with enthusiasm, and Ikey listened in silent admiration as the details of the fascinating game were unfolded.
The Hazeltine children had from their babyhood been in the habit of making plays of their favorite stories, but it seemed to Ikey immensely clever; so while the others argued over who should take this part and who that, he joyfully accepted whatever was offered him.
He did not fare so badly either, for being plump and rosy he was allowed to personate the jolly Friar Tuck. Robin Hood fell naturally to Carl as the oldest and the leader, Bess became Little John, Louise appeared by turns as Allan-a-Dale and the sheriff of Nottingham, and little Helen was occasionally pressed into service as Maid Marian. Who first thought of turning the deserted garden into Sherwood forest no one could ever remember, but as they sat on the fence that morning with the waving sea of grass below them, somebody began
"One for the money, Two for the show,..."
and away they all went. Some minutes later, Mrs. Ford, glancing from her window, wondered what had become of the children.
So the fun began and continued through the long summer days, when grown people stayed indoors and wondered what the children found to do out in the heat from morning till night. But in that distant corner of the garden, where, under the shelter of a crooked apple tree, the forest rovers had their trysting place, the weather was never too warm. The unoccupied house became transformed into Nottingham castle, and was never approached without delicious thrills of terror. Excitement ran high on the day when Robin was released from the jail—otherwise a small rustic arbor—by his trusty followers.
There was simply no end to the fun, and the secrecy with which it was carried on helped to deepen the interest. The climax was reached when preparations were begun for King Richard's banquet.
As usual, it originated with Bess, when she heard that a favorite cousin, a boy about Carl's age, was coming to visit them for a few days.
"Aleck will make a very good King Richard," said Louise, when the matter was under discussion, "and we can pretend that he is just back from the Holy Land."
It was decided that this must be a real feast, not merely an occasion of pepper grass and cookies, so their combined funds were carefully laid out at the corner confectionery. Many articles supposed to be necessary to the comfort of the royal guest were smuggled into the garden, and everything was in readiness for his arrival on the next day, when Ikey made his startling discovery.
It had never occurred to them that some one might come to live in the Brown house; they were quite overwhelmed by it, and for more than an hour they sat under the syringa bushes peeping through at their lost domain. No one had much to say. Bess was gazing sadly at her roll of cambric which was to have done duty as suits of Lincoln green for the foresters, and Ikey was thinking of the fur rug and the clothes-pins, when Carl proposed a raid for the recovery of their possessions. "The girls can wait on the fence and take the things as we bring them," he said.
This promised a little excitement, so on the very spot from which they had made their first entrance into Sherwood forest, Bess and Louise waited while the boys dropped down and disappeared behind the bushes. In a few minutes they came rushing back empty handed, to report that not a trace of anything was to be found, and that a man with a scythe was at work on the other side of the garden cutting down the grass.
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It was very quiet in the neighborhood that afternoon. There were no children to be seen anywhere, and on the broad piazza of the house where the Hazeltines lived the chairs and settees, with here and there a gay cushion, appeared to be having a good time all to themselves, gathered in sociable groups. The clematis and honeysuckle swung softly in the breeze, making graceful shadows, and the maple trees stretched out long arms and touched each other gently now and then. At the back of the house on the kitchen steps sat Aunt Sukey, a person of dignity and authority. Her hands were folded over her white apron and her eyes rested with satisfaction on the rows of peach preserves that represented her morning's work.
"Mammy," as the children called her, was a family institution, and could not be spared, though her last nursling was fast outgrowing her.
No preserves tasted like Sukey's, and no one could, on occasion, make such rolls.
"Yes," she remarked, continuing her conversation with Mandy, the cook, who was stepping around inside, "they's mischevious of course, but I can remember when Mr. Frank and Mr. William was a heap worse."
"Law, Aunt Sukey, I wouldn't want to see 'em if they was any worse than that Ikey Ford! It looks like the children has been up to twice as many pranks since he come," replied Mandy.
"He don't take after his pa, then; Mr. Isaac was as nice, quiet-mannered a boy as you ever see, when he used to go with Mr. Frank. But pshaw! all that triflin' is soon over. Look at Miss Zelie: seems like it warn't no time since she was climbin' fences and tearin' her clothes, till I'd get clean discouraged tryin' to keep her nice. Oh! they's fine children, I don't care what you say; and Louise is the flock of the flower. She is like Miss Zelie, with her dark eyes and shinin' hair."
"Miss Zelie herself sets more store by Carl than any of the rest," said Mandy, coming to the door.
"That's cause he favors his ma's family and has a look like his uncle Carl. You know Miss Zelie married Miss Elinor's brother. He used to come here for his holidays when she was a little girl no bigger 'n Bess,—that was after Mr. Frank married Miss Elinor,—and they was always great friends. It looks like it's mighty strange that Miss Elinor and Mr. Carl should be taken, and old Sukey left."
There was silence for a minute; then as Sukey wiped her eyes she continued, "I've nursed 'em all from Mr. William down, and I knows old master's grandchildren is bound to turn out right."
It was almost sunset when Aunt Zelie—tall and fair, like Bess's favorite heroines—came and stood in the front door, wondering where the children were. She was not left long in doubt, for hardly had she settled herself to enjoy the pleasant air when there was a sudden rush from somewhere and she was surrounded by a laughing, breathless little company. The outlaws of the morning were scarcely to be recognized. Little John and the sheriff of Nottingham were attired in the freshest of white dresses, with pink bows on their Gretchen braids, while Robin and the Friar were disguised as a pair of bright-faced modern boys, and with them was little Helen, a dignified person of eight, who carried a doll in her arms.
"Auntie, did you know that somebody is coming to live in the Brown house?" Louise asked, as they drew their chairs as close as possible to hers. At this time in the day she was their own special property, though there were people who complained that they always monopolized her.
"Yes, your father heard that a relative of old Mrs. Brown's was going to take the house, but that is all I know," she answered.
"Carl and Ikey saw a cross-looking woman with a feather duster. I do hope there will be some nice children," said Bess.
"All boys," Carl added briefly.
"Boys? No, indeed! Girls are much nicer, aren't they, Ikey?" and Louise looked at him mischievously over her shoulder.
Ikey's shyness or his politeness, perhaps both, would not allow him to reply.
"They are both nice when they are nice," said Aunt Zelie. "Being a girl myself, of course I like girls, and so does this individual," patting the head against her shoulder.
"Oh, I like some girls!" Carl conceded graciously.
"I wish there would be a little girl for me to play with," remarked Helen plaintively, for it was the trial of her life that she was considered too little to be made a companion of by the other children except on special occasions.
"It is a fortunate thing that the house is to be occupied," said Aunt Zelie, "for Mr. Jackson, the agent, told Frank that it looked as if some one had been camping out in the garden. The grass was trampled down and I don't know what damage done."
If she had not happened to be looking across the street she would have seen some guilty faces. Bess grew red, Louise opened her mouth and shut it again without saying anything, Carl drummed on the back of his chair with an air of extreme indifference which Ikey tried to copy, and Helen looked from one to the other with very big eyes.
The Fords' tea bell, rung at the front door for Ikey's benefit, relieved the strain. Then presently Louise saw her father and baby Carie coming up the street, and the Brown house was not mentioned again.
As Aunt Zelie was on her way upstairs that night she was waylaid in the dimly lighted hall by three ghostly figures.
"What are you doing out of bed?" she exclaimed.
"Oh, auntie, we want to tell you something! It is about the Brown house. We have been playing Robin Hood in the garden."
"It was a lovely place, and we didn't do any harm, really."
Aunt Zelie listened with just a little bit of a smile till she had heard the whole story. It had been great fun, there could be no doubt of that.
"Was it wrong?" asked Bess anxiously.
"We did not hurt anything, not one bit," Carl insisted.
"Why did you keep it such a secret?"
"That was part of the fun; but I wish we had told you," said Louise.
"Yes, it is nicer to have you know things;" and Bess sighed, relieved now that confession was made.
"It is too late to discuss it to-night, but I want you to think about it and decide for yourselves whether or not it was right."
"Did you know it before we told you?" Carl asked suddenly.
"I only guessed it to-day," she replied, smiling.
IN THE STAR CHAMBER.
There never lived a more genial, kindly man than old Judge Hazeltine, and the house he planned and built reflected, as perfectly as a house could, the character of its owner.
"The front door looks like the Judge," people used to say, laughing as they said it, for he was portly and the door was wide. But they meant more than just that, for there were few, even among the unimaginative, who did not feel drawn to that door. Hospitality shone from every panel, the big fanlight was like a genial sun, and the resemblance to his cheery face and cordial manner was not altogether fanciful.
Of the inside of the house perhaps it is enough to say at present that it kept the promise of the outside.
After the judge's death the old home fell to the share of the younger of his two sons, for the William Hazeltines had already built their fine mansion out on Dean avenue, where Aunt Marcia found things more suited to her fastidious taste than on the quiet street which had ceased to be fashionable.
On the other hand, her brother-in-law declared that he much preferred his large garden and home-like neighborhood to the elegant monotony of her surroundings. The children agreed with their father, and so perhaps, for the matter of that, did Uncle William.
At the top of the house there was a long low room, with five windows looking east, west, and south, which was known as the star chamber. This name had originated with Uncle William in the days when he and his brother Frank played and studied there, as Carl and his sisters did now. On rainy days when the garden was out of the question the children were most likely to be found here.
It was a pleasant place and well suited for any sort of indoor game. Except for a rug or two the floor was bare, and the furniture consisted of an old claw-footed sofa on which at least six people could sit comfortably at one time, a wardrobe, some book-shelves, and a hammock swung across one corner. There may have been a chair or two, but the wide window-sills made pleasanter resting-places. Here in the summer time you looked out into the soft greenness of the maple trees, getting glimpses of the quiet street, but when the branches were bare a fine outlook was to be had all over the neighborhood, and you saw how big houses and little houses stood sociably side by side, while an old gray church kept guard at one corner. Here Bess and Louise romanced over an imaginary family known as "The Carletons," or played dolls with Helen, and here Carl arranged his stamp album and made signals to Ikey across the street. Sometimes their father and uncle would drop in and pretend they were boys once more. Then what delight it was to listen to their stories of boyish pranks!
Aunt Zelie was their most frequent visitor. The days when she kept her dolls and "dressing-up things" in the old wardrobe, which was now put to the same use by her little nieces, were not so very far back in the past, and many of her story books were still to be found on the shelves among later favorites.
Going up to the star chamber on the morning after the excitement over the Brown house, she walked in upon an indignation meeting.
"Just when we wanted to play Crokonole!"
"It is too mean!"
"She might let him come, it spoils all our fun!"
This is what she heard, and she asked in surprise, "What in the world is the matter?"
There was silence for a minute, during which the rain made a great pattering outside; then little Helen, who was serenely busy with her paper dolls, replied, "Ikey's grandma won't let him come over, 'cause he took her fur rug and Sallie's clothes-pins."
"What did he want with the clothes-pins and rug?"
"We wanted them to play with, Aunt Zelie. You can do a great many things with clothes-pins," Bess explained.
"Aleck was to have been King Richard—the rug was for him at the banquet; and now he hasn't come and we can't do anything," said Louise mournfully.
Aunt Zelie sat down on the sofa and folded her hands in her lap.
"I should like to know how many of our things have been carried over to the Brown house garden," she said.
"We took some of the straw cushions and two or three cups that Mandy said we might play with," replied Bess, watching her aunt's face anxiously. There was another silence, during which Carl became absorbed in a book and Louise gave her attention to Helen's dolls. Then Aunt Zelie spoke:
"The more I think of this the more uncomfortable I feel about it."
"I can't see why," came from Carl.
"Because it seems to me such a lawless proceeding. Do you know that there are people who say that no children were ever so lawless as American children to-day?"
"That is poetry, auntie; you made a beautiful rhyme," laughed Louise. But her aunt refused to smile.
"It is not poetry, but sad fact, I'm afraid. You may not have done much actual harm, but you have shown no respect for other people's property. You went into the Brown house garden without leave, and you encouraged Ikey to carry off his grandmother's things without permission. I have trusted you all summer—I thought I could; but this makes me afraid that you ought to have someone with more experience to watch over you. You know when I came back to you two years ago I promised to stay so long as I could be a help to you, but—"
"Oh, Aunt Zelie! You do help us—don't go away!" cried Bess, clasping her around the waist; Louise seized one of her hands tightly in both her own, and Carl looked out the window with a flushed face.
"That is not fair, Aunt Zelie," was all he said.
He could never forget—nor could Bess—how she had come to them in their loneliness, and taken the motherless little flock into her arms, comforting them and wrapping them all about with her love and sympathy. How could they ever do without her?
"You aren't going away, are you?" Helen asked, leaving her dolls and coming to her side.
"I hope not, for I can't think what I should do without my children," she answered. And then they all snuggled around her on the old sofa and talked things over. It was astonishing what a difference it made—trying to look at the matter from all sides. Even Mrs. Ford's indignation did not seem so very unreasonable when you stopped to think how inconvenient it was to be without clothes-pins on Monday morning.
"I know it does not seem exactly right as you put it, Aunt Zelie," Carl acknowledged, "but it was such fun, we couldn't have had so good a time anywhere else."
"Suppose you found the Arnold children playing in our garden some day, would you think that because they had found that they couldn't have so good a time anywhere else, it was all right?"
"Why, auntie, those Arnold boys are not nice at all; we couldn't have them in our garden," cried Louise.
"No one was living in the Brown house—it is different," Carl began.
"I know what she means," said Bess. "Just because it is fun isn't a good excuse."
"That is it," answered her aunt. "I believe in fun if only you do not put it first, above thought for the feelings or property of others. I am sure you did not mean to do wrong, but it would not do for me to let you go on being thoughtless, would it?"
"Mrs. Ford isn't a bit like you, Aunt Zelie; she was dreadfully mad at Ikey, and said he must stay in his room all day," remarked Louise.
"I am sorry for Mrs. Ford. I rather think I should be dreadfully mad too, if I were in her place. She is an old lady and is used to having her household affairs move on smoothly, and one day she finds her servants upset and some of her property missing, all because certain naughty children cared more for a little fun than for her comfort."
Aunt Zelie spoke gravely, and her audience looked very much subdued.
In the course of the day Joanna, one of the maids, was sent over to the Brown house to inquire about the things left by the children in the garden. She returned with the missing articles, which had been carried into the house by the man who cut the grass.
"Did you see anybody, Jo? Are there any children?" were the questions she met with. But she had only seen a middle-aged woman who was cleaning the hall, and had learned nothing about the new occupants.
"It is very stupid of Joanna," said Carl as he rolled up the rug and the clothes-pins and marched over to apologize to Mrs. Ford for their share of the mischief. He did this so meekly and with such evident sincerity that the old lady was greatly mollified, and sent him up to tell Ikey he might consider himself released from the day's confinement in his room.
For the rest of the week the children were models of propriety. No one would have dreamed that they had been outlaws so short a time before.
From the star chamber windows Robin and his merry men looked down on the transformation which was taking place in their old domain.
The long grass was cut down, and with it those patches of pepper grass that had seasoned many a feast. The bushes and vines were trimmed, the walk was reddened, the shutters were thrown open. Every day added something to the change, yet, besides the servants, no one had been seen about the house.
Who could their new neighbors be? The subject was discussed morning, noon, and night, till their father said he would have to tell them the story of the man who made a fortune minding his own business. Uncle William, who was there at the time, said that probably the man was too stupid to enjoy his fortune after he made it, and he pretended to be willing to go over and inquire at the door, if Louise would go with him.
"At least we know there can't be any children," said Bess, "for they couldn't stay in the house all the time."
"Please tell us the story about the man, Father," asked little Helen, and couldn't understand why they all laughed.
THE LADY OF THE BROWN HOUSE.
Bang! went the door, and away they rushed, like a small tornado, across the porch, down the walk and over the street.
They seemed to be running away from Helen, for a second after they had vanished behind Mrs. Ford's oleanders she came around the house.
Indignant tears were in her eyes; it was hard not to be wanted, to be thought too little to play with. Bess and Louise had such good times with the boys and she had nothing in the world to do this afternoon. To be sure they had been very gracious all morning, and had even allowed her to listen to a thrilling chapter in the history of the Carletons, but this was too good to last.
At lunch certain signs passed back and forth across the table arousing her curiosity, and afterwards when she found them laughing on the stairs and begged to know what they were going to do, Carl had replied provokingly, "What do you suppose?" and now they had run away with Ikey somewhere. The house was very quiet; Carie was taking her nap, Aunt Zelie dressing to go out. Helen sat down on the top step of the porch and wiped her eyes, saying to herself, "They are just as mean as anything, but I don't care—I'll have a good time too. I think I'll ask Aunt Zelie to let me go with her."
It happened that as the runaways reached the gate Aunt Marcia's coupe turned the corner, and her horrified eyes beheld their flight. When she stepped from her carriage her lips were firmly closed in a manner which indicated that they would be opened presently for somebody's benefit. She was so absorbed that she almost fell over the woebegone little figure on the step.
"You have been crying—what is the matter?" she demanded.
"Oh, Aunt Marcia, I didn't see you—please excuse me," said Helen, whose politeness rarely failed her, rising and putting away her handkerchief. Mrs. Hazeltine saw pretty clearly how matters stood.
"Never mind, my dear," she said; "perhaps you would like to take a drive with me. I am going out to Cousin John's."
Helen was her favorite among the children, because she was quiet and demure, and did not tear and soil her clothes as Bess and Louise did. Helen on her part looked up to Aunt Marcia with deep admiration, and meant to be just like her when she was grown. So she ran off very happily to have her dress changed, while Mrs. Hazeltine waylaid Aunt Zelie as she came downstairs ready for a walk.
"Dear me! the children have been in mischief," was this lady's inward exclamation, for she knew the signs of disapproval, and felt like running away, as she used to do when a child, from Sister Marcia's lectures.
She only sat down on the bottom step, however, and waited.
"How do you do, Zelie? I see you are going out and I shall not detain you for more than a minute. Little Helen is coming to drive with me."
She seated herself in a judicial attitude on one of the high-backed hall chairs.
"I do not wish to interfere," she continued, "But I should like to inquire if you know where the children are this afternoon?"
"I have a general idea," Aunt Zelie replied, slowly putting on her glove and reflecting that it would take more than her sister's powers to be able to say at any given moment exactly where they were.
"I thought you did not know. They are running through the streets, Louise without her hat. It may do for boys, but for little girls I think it disgraceful."
"I told them they might go to the Ford's; they do not play in the street. You must have seen them when they were on their way there, and I do not object to their running."
Mrs. Hazeltine shook her head. "How can you think it proper for Bess and Louise to race with the boys in that fashion? You seem to be conscientious, yet you do not restrain them in the least."
"I own I do not know how to make a difference between girls and boys. Why are they born into the same families if they are not meant to play together? And if they are to be strong and healthy they must be out of doors. I am sorry to seem to set my judgment up against yours, but—"
"You are stubborn, Zelie, like all the Hazeltines. I believe in fresh air as much as you do, but I should send Bess and Louise to walk with Joanna. However, I see it is of no use to talk to you. I should never mention the subject at all if I did not feel a deep interest in the children." Mrs. Hazeltine rose. "Here comes Helen," she said, "so I'll not detain you any longer," and taking her little niece by the hand she sailed away.
Meanwhile the culprits were taking breath on the grass in the Fords' back yard, Ikey hospitably treating his guests to apples and salt.
"I suppose," Bess began, taking a bite of her apple, "that it is rather mean to run away from Helen, but we have been very good to her to-day, haven't we, Louise?"
"Yes, we have; and the more you do for her the more she thinks you ought to do."
"She can't expect to go everywhere we go," said Carl decidedly.
The business on hand this afternoon was nothing more or less than the erection of a telephone which had been constructed by the boys out of fruit cans and pieces of old kid gloves. The main difficulty lay in getting their line across the street, for it was to communicate between Ikey's room and the star chamber. An attempt had been made once before, but the result was such a mortifying failure that their energy and interest flagged for a while.
The trees caused most of the trouble. Their line first caught in one of these at such a distance from the pavement that while they were absorbed in getting it off a gentleman who happened to be passing had his hat suddenly removed. This accident convulsed everybody but Bess, who in great embarrassment tried to explain that it was not intended for a practical joke. Finally it was caught and broken by the angry driver of a market wagon. Carl, who disliked to give anything up, had ever since been trying to think of a plan.
"There must be some way," he said as he lay on his back looking up at the sky.
"I know!" cried Bess, seized with an inspiration; "clothes-props!"
"What about them?" asked Ikey doubtfully.
"It isn't Monday, and any way we can get ours.—Mandy will let us have them," Bess said reassuringly, and then she unfolded her plan.
"Isn't she clever?" exclaimed Louise admiringly.
"We'll try it, it may work," said Carl, with masculine condescension.
"What in the world can those children be doing?" somebody wondered as she looked through the half-closed blinds of one of the Brown house windows a few minutes later.
Mounted on a chair near the Fords' front fence stood Bess holding aloft a clothes-prop, and looking like a small copy of "Liberty Enlightening the World." Through a groove in the top of the pole ran the line, one end of which was safely fastened in Ikey's window. Louise had the rest of it in charge and slowly dealt it out as she crossed the street in front of Carl, who by means of another pole kept it elevated beyond all harm. Once over the street it was easily attached to a cord hanging from the star chamber, then slowly and cautiously Ikey pulled it up. Several times it caught in the trees, but a careful jerk sent it free, and at last it was safe.
"Three cheers for Bess! It was her plan," called Ikey from above.
"It really worked very well," Carl acknowledged.
"I knew all the time it would," added Louise, as they went inside to finish their work.
The watcher in the Brown house window returned reluctantly to the book she had been reading, as though she found the bit of real life more entertaining.
When all was done it was pronounced a success. Even though you could not hear so very distinctly, at least the bells fastened at each end tinkled most realistically when the line was pulled.
As they came out of the side door at the Fords' after inspecting Ikey's end of the telephone, Louise catching sight of a ball which lay on the grass made a spring for it. The others rushed after her, there was a scramble that would have shocked Aunt Marcia beyond expression, and Carl getting possession tossed it with all his might—he did not stop to think where. Alas! it went over into the next yard and a crash of broken glass told the tale. They looked at each other in consternation, and Ikey ran and peeped through the fence.
"You have broken one of the Brown house windows," he reported.
"It wasn't all his fault, it was partly mine," said Louise, who always stood by her friends in trouble.
"Oh, dear!" sighed Bess. "Just when we were going to be so good! What will Aunt Zelie say?"
"I'll have to go and tell them I did it, and that I'll have the glass put in," said Carl.
Louise at once volunteered to go with him, and Bess suggested, "Let's all go."
Ikey did not like the plan exactly, but he would not have objected for the world. Louise tossed back her long braids and put on her hat, and the solemn little party started out.
"Whom shall I ask for?" Carl suddenly demanded, as they marched up the newly reddened walk.
"Dear me! We don't know the name," gasped Bess, feeling inclined to turn and run.
"Never mind, just ask for the lady of the house," said Louise, her courage rising to the occasion. "It sounds beggarish, but you can't help it."
Bess and Ikey retreated a little when the door was opened by a woman who asked somewhat gruffly what they wanted.
Carl hesitated, so Louise in her politest manner inquired for the lady of the house.
"What do you want with her?" said the woman, eying them sharply.
"We want to see her," was the emphatic reply.
"Well, you can't, then," and the door would have been shut in their faces if a voice from inside had not called "Mary!"
She disappeared for a moment, then returning asked them in.
Bess held Ikey's hand tightly as they followed the others along the hall. To think of being inside the Brown house!
Before they had time to consider what they were to do or say, they found themselves in a quaint room with dim old portraits on the wall; but all the children saw was a lady with white hair and bright eyes, seated in an invalid's chair by the window. As Louise advanced timidly, followed by the others, this lady held out her hand, saying:
"You wish to speak to me, Mary says; I am very glad to see you."
They all felt reassured by her pleasant tone, and Louise found her voice.
"We came to tell you that, while we were playing, Carl threw his ball and broke your window. It was partly my fault too, and we thought we would all come and tell you."
"I am very sorry about it, and I will have a new pane put in," Carl added.
"I am sure it was an accident," said the lady, smiling; "you must not feel badly. I shall be glad of it if it helps me to make the acquaintance of some of my new neighbors. Won't you tell me your names?"
Louise's dimples at once began to show themselves, for she was always ready to make friends, and she gave her plump little hand, saying:
"I am Louise Hazeltine, and this is my brother Carl and my sister Bess, and Ikey Ford who lives next door."
"We are much obliged to you for not minding about the window," Bess added, forgetting her shyness.
"Won't you sit down and talk to me for a while? I am Miss Brown."
The children smiled at each other. "We have always called this the Brown house," Carl explained.
"Then you won't have to change. It is much simpler than if I had happened to be named Green or Black, isn't it?" said their new friend, laughing. "And now I am sure you can't guess what I call your house."
Of course they couldn't, so she told them that she had named it the house with the Big Front Door.
This amused them very much, and Louise asked, "How did you know we lived there?"
"Oh, I have seen you going in and out. I can't move about easily, so when I grow tired of reading or sewing I look out of the window."
It was astonishing how much at home they felt. Bess and Louise sat together in a big chair chattering away as if they had known Miss Brown all their lives. When she asked about the telephone, even Ikey had a word to say as they grew merry over the story of their difficulties.
As they were leaving, Bess said demurely, "Miss Brown, I think we ought to tell you that we have been playing in your garden. We didn't mean to do any harm, but Aunt Zelie says it wasn't respecting other people's property."
"My dear children, I wish you would come often and play in my garden," was the hospitable reply.
"I am afraid your Mary wouldn't like it," said Louise; adding quickly, "and we'd rather come inside now and see you."
"Thank you, I hope you will come, and you must excuse poor Mary; she is not so ill-natured as she seems."
"Aunt Zelie," said Carl that evening as they were relating the day's adventures, "Miss Brown is tiptop, she wasn't a bit mad. There is something about her like you."
"Why, Carl! Her hair is white, and she is not nearly so pretty," cried Louise.
"Well, goosie, I didn't say she looked like her, did I?"
"She is very nice at any rate, and has lots of things to show us some time—things she had when she was a little girl. We may go to see her again, mayn't we, Auntie?" Bess asked.
"Do you think she would like me to go to see her?" Helen inquired.
"Probably she wouldn't mind; we will take you sometime," Louise replied graciously.
Helen had returned from her drive in a happy frame of mind, for Aunt Marcia had bought her a charming little card-case, and had ordered some engraved cards to go in it. Her sisters admired it as much as its proud owner could desire, and were quite attentive all the evening.
"Mary," said Miss Brown that night, "those are nice children; and just think! I already know four of my neighbors!"
One afternoon, when the interest in the Brown house was still at its height, and before the children had made the acquaintance of their new neighbor, a little girl came slowly up the street carrying a sun-umbrella.
A hush had fallen upon the neighborhood; nobody was to be seen, and the only sound not made by the birds and insects was the far-away click and whirr of a lawn-mower.
She had had a long walk and was tired; a carriage-block under the maple trees offered a pleasant resting place, so, closing her umbrella, she sat down. She had a pair of frank gray eyes and a smile that made you feel at once that she was a cheery little person, accustomed to make the best of things.
"How still it is!" she said to herself. "I wonder if some wicked fairy has put everybody to sleep? I wish I might go into their houses and break the spell. And here comes an enchanted prince," she continued, laughing at the fancy, as a large black cat came across the street in a leisurely, sleepy way.
The gray eyes seemed to inspire his confidence, for the victim of enchantment stopped to rub against her dress.
"Pretty old kitty, you are somebody's pet," she said, softly touching the glossy head.
He could have told her that some one in the neighborhood was awake. In fact, two individuals had invaded the shady spot where he was taking his nap, and persisted in tickling his ears with grass till he was obliged to leave. He did not mention this, however, only arched his back and purred a little, and then, as if he suddenly remembered important business, trotted off through the bars of the gate and up the walk leading to a large house. The observer on the carriage-block thought it the most attractive house she had ever seen. Everything about it told of pleasant times: the tennis net, the hammock under the trees, the broad piazza, and, most of all, the wide front door which seemed to invite her to come in and see what sort of people lived behind it. "I wonder who lives here. I wish I knew. I believe I'll follow the cat and find out," she thought merrily.
At this moment the door opened and two little girls appeared, all in a flutter of dainty blue ruffles. Each carried a cushion, and one had what looked like an atlas under her arm.
"Shall we sit on the porch, Bess?" asked the one with yellow hair.
"Oh, no, Louise, don't you think it will be pleasanter under the chestnut tree?" the brown-haired maiden said; and then they came across the grass and settled themselves under the horse-chestnut, the branches of which met those of the maple tree that cast its shade over the carriage-block. They were quite unconscious of the wistful eyes that watched them as they bent over the atlas, from which Louise took some large sheets of paper.
"How pretty they are! I wish I knew them," the owner of the eyes said to herself. Then, feeling rather shy in the presence of these charming little persons who might look around presently and wonder what she was doing there, she rose and took up her umbrella.
She couldn't help lingering a little, for she wanted very much to know what they were going to do. Standing where she was shielded front their view by a bush that grew in the fence corner, this is what she heard:
"We haven't played the Carletons for ever so long; do begin," urged Louise.
"I think Lucy ought to be married," said Bess; "she is eighteen, you know, and I suppose people are generally married when they are so old as that. Then a wedding will be such fun!"
"Yes, indeed, and she has been engaged to Edwin Graves a long time."
"Well, her father and mother have at last consented, though they wanted her to marry an English earl, who was madly in love with her."
"I am glad I finished the new house in time," said Louise, holding up a drawing which represented the interior of a lofty mansion. "But go on about the earl."
"She met him at the queen's palace, where all the English young ladies were in love with him, but he thought Lucy the most beautiful of all. She did not care for him, though, because she loved Edwin and had promised to marry him. Even though he hadn't so much money, she said she would rather marry a free-born American than any haughty earl."
"That is very interesting," said Louise, admiring the patriotic sentiment, "but do you suppose if she didn't marry Edwin he would die of a broken heart?"
"But she is going to marry him," said Bess, refusing to consider the question.
"And now we will skip the getting ready part and have the wedding. It is a beautiful cloudless night in June, and there are roses everywhere; the house is filled with them."
"I'll put them in while you are telling it," suggested the artist.
Bess assented to this and continued, "Lucy is dressed now, and she is the most beautiful bride anyone ever saw."
"Do you remember Aunt Zelie's wedding?" asked Louise. "Cousin Helen says she was the prettiest bride she ever saw."
"Not very well. I don't remember how she looked, but I think she is the most beautiful person in the world now."
"Oh, yes, so do I!"
The wedding then went on without interruption for a while.
"Lucy is tall and stately, her eyes are blue as the sky, and her hair is long and golden. She speaks very softly, and has the sweetest smile, and she walks like a queen. Her dress is white silk and beautiful lace, with a long, long train, and she wears diamonds and carries a bunch of roses."
"Now tell about Edwin Graves, Bess."
"Men are a great deal harder to do," said the story-teller with a sigh.
"Let me, then, for I know exactly how he looks," and, clasping her hands around her knees and gazing upwards, Louise began: "He is very tall and grand-looking, his eyes are black, and his voice is very deep."
At this interesting point Bess exclaimed, "Louise, here comes Uncle William, and I know he is going to take us driving!"
The listener, who had forgotten everything but the story, came to herself with a start. "How dreadful of me!" she said, walking away very rapidly, while the story-tellers ran out of the gate to greet a tall gentleman who had just driven up.
"I suppose they are sisters," she thought, looking back once more before she turned the corner.
"How nice it must be to live in a house like that. Bess and Louise; I wonder what their last name is."
Louise was busy with her drawing one morning, comfortably established in a shady corner of the porch, when her aunt called to her:
"I wish you would keep an eye on Carie while Joanna goes on an errand for me."
"I will, Aunt Zelie," she responded promptly.
It was not likely her charge would give her much trouble, for Carie was quite capable of entertaining herself, and was at that moment promenading back and forth with an old parasol over her head, pretending she was going to market.
"Don't go on the grass, baby; it is wet," cautioned Louise, by way of showing her authority, and then returned to the new mansion for the Carletons upon which she was working. She soon became so absorbed in this that she forget to look up now and then.
Meanwhile Carie talked busily to herself, gesticulating with one small forefinger. But after a little she grew tired of filling her basket with grass and leaves, and stood peeping out through the bars of the gate. How much more fun it would be to go to the real market where she had often been with Joanna! She knew perfectly well that she was not allowed outside by herself, but that did not make it seem any less attractive. With a cautious glance over her shoulder she softly pulled the gate open, and in a moment more was flying up the street. When she reached the corner she turned to the right and slackened her pace, feeling very important and grown up as she bobbed merrily along under her parasol.
"Where are you going, little one?" asked a man who passed her.
She gave him a roguish glance as she answered, "To martet."
At the next corner she turned again to the right, safely crossing the street, but here everything was unfamiliar and she began to feel timid. Then she suddenly saw a very large dog coming toward her. He was so large she thought he must be a bear, and, with a frightened scream, she turned to run, but tripped over her parasol, and fell, a forlorn little heap, on the sidewalk.
"What is the matter? Are you hurt? You mustn't be afraid of the dog; he is good, and doesn't bite."
These reassuring words were spoken by a girl of eleven or twelve, who helped her up and brushed off her dress.
"What a darling you are!" she added, as Carie lifted her big blue eyes, all swimming in tears, saying, "I fought it was a bear."
"No, indeed; he is only a nice old dog who lives next door to me, so I know all about him. Now tell me where you are going all alone?"
"I runned away," was the honest answer, "and I dess you better take me home," she added, looking up confidingly into the pleasant face.
"Then you must tell me what your name is and where you live."
Carie could tell her name, but to the other question could only answer, "Over there," pointing in the wrong direction with great assurance. Her companion was puzzled; she felt certain some one was alarmed at the disappearance of this dainty little midget.
"I'll ask Mrs. West if she knows anybody near here named Hazeltine," she said. "Come in and sit on the doorstep till I find out something about you."
She was back in a moment. "I think I know now, you dear little thing! It must be that lovely house I saw the other day."
For some minutes after Carie's flight Louise worked on, then remembering her charge she discovered her absence. She ran to the gate and looked up and down the street, she searched the garden and the house, and finally burst in upon Aunt Zelie crying:
"I have lost her! I have lost her!"
The news spread in a moment; nothing else could be thought of till the lost darling was found.
Carl ran in one direction, Sukey in another, and Bess flew over to ask if by any chance Miss Brown had seen the runaway. Louise stood on the porch, the picture of misery.
"You will never trust me again, never" she sobbed as her aunt came out and stood beside her, looking anxiously up and down.
"I am sure you won't be so careless another time," Aunt Zelie said, pitying her distress.
At this moment who should turn the corner but the small cause of all the excitement, chatting away to her new friend, quite unconscious that she was giving anybody any trouble!
"Why, Carie Hazeltine, where have you been?" cried Louise, drying her eyes and running to meet her.
"I found her on Chestnut street—a dog had frightened her," her companion explained, reluctantly releasing the plump hand she held.
"You are a naughty girl," said her sister, taking possession of her. "You might have been run over, or something dreadful."
"I didn't det run over," Carie insisted indignantly.
"Well, say good-by, and 'thank you for taking care of me.' We are all very much obliged to you," Louise added, turning to the stranger. Carie held up her mouth for a kiss, and then allowed herself to be led away.
"At any rate I know their name is Hazeltine," said Carie's friend to herself.
The culprit was soon in a fair way to think she had done something very funny and interesting, people made such a fuss over her, so Aunt Zelie carried her off to be solemnly reproved.
"I suppose you are going to the party to-morrow, aren't you?" asked Elsie Morris, a neighbor and friend, who had been helping in the search.
"Of course," answered Bess. "I am glad you came home in time, Elsie; Aleck is going to stay in and go with us."
"There are to be fireworks and lanterns and all sorts of things," observed Aleck, who lay at his ease in the hammock.
"Yes, I know," said Elsie, "and everybody is to have a—I don't know what you call it—something to remember the party by. Annie May told me herself."
"How nice! It will be almost like Christmas," said Louise.
"Not like one of Uncle William's parties, though," put in Carl.
"School begins next week, and three months of pegging before Christmas," groaned Aleck.
"Come on, then; let's make the most of the time we have," Carl urged energetically.
It was the afternoon of the next day, and Louise stood before the mirror critically viewing her sash.
"Why, Joanna! You have made Bess's bows ever so much longer than mine."
"I can't see what difference that makes," was the rather sharp reply, for the September day was warm and the task of dressing three restless young ladies for a party was not conducive to coolness.
"It makes a great deal of difference to us, for we wish to look exactly alike," said Louise loftily. "And if you are going to do a thing at all, you ought to do it well; Father says so."
"Dear me! Here comes Ikey, and we are not ready," exclaimed Bess, who stood at the window.
"You might be if you weren't so particular. I never saw the beat of your equal," and Joanna whisked Helen's dress over her head.
"The beat of your equal," Bess repeated. "What does that mean, Jo?"
"My patience!" was the only reply to be had from this much-enduring maid.
"Joanna is cross; I'll get Aunt Zelie to tie my sash," said Louise, running off, followed by Bess.
Their aunt was in the lower hall with Ikey, who was looking dignified, if not a trifle stiff, in a new standing collar. Louise decided that he needed a rose in his buttonhole, and danced away to get one when her sash had been arranged to her satisfaction.
Though there was more than a year's difference in their ages, Bess and Louise were exactly the same height, and were sometimes taken for twins. This delighted them beyond measure, and to help the impression they wished to be dressed alike, down to the smallest detail.
Though Bess's hair curled prettily she insisted on wearing it in two braids, because that was the only comfortable fashion in which her sister's heavy locks could be arranged. Aunt Zelie laughed at them, but let them have their way.
Carl and Aleck were the last to appear, which Bess thought was very strange, considering they had no sashes to be tied, or hair to be curled or braided.
"Now trot along and have the best kind of a time," said Aunt Zelie after she had inspected them, and given some finishing touches to their cravats; "I am proud of my girls and boys."
They were a merry party as they started out, waving their good-bys, Ikey feeling particularly proud to be counted one of her boys. He only half wanted to go, for, though sociably inclined, he was bashful, but the girls had promised not to desert him.
Carl affected to hold parties in disdain. "They never do anything worth while; who cares for 'drop the handkerchief' or dancing?"
When Louise mischievously suggested that he must be going for the supper, he strolled ahead with an air of lofty scorn.
The occasion was a birthday party, an outdoor affair, and the large yard was hung with Japanese lanterns ready to light when the sun went down. As the children came flocking in with their bright faces and gay ribbons, it was a pretty scene.
There were swings and all sorts of games, and soon everybody was busy having a good time. Even Carl forgot that he did not like parties. But there was one person who seemed to be left out of the fun. Stopping to rest after some lively game, Bess noticed a girl sitting on a bench all by herself. She looked lonely, and Bess felt sorry for her.
"I think I ought to go and speak to her; won't you go with me, Elsie?" she asked.
"No; I'd rather not. I think she is funny-looking."
"But I am afraid she does not know anybody."
"Well, it is not our party; why doesn't Annie May take care of her?" And Elsie smoothed her pink ribbons complacently.
Bess was shy, and thought she could not go by herself to speak to a stranger. "I'll wait till I see Louise," she said.
"Who is that girl?" some one asked the little hostess.
"Her name is Dora Warner," was the reply. "Mamma knows her mother. They haven't lived here long. I have tried to introduce her, but nobody wants to talk to her, and she doesn't know a single game. I wish Mamma would come and take care of her."
The stranger sat alone looking on at the merry scene. She felt timid and unhappy, and had to wink very hard now and then to get rid of a troublesome mist that found its way to her eyes.
"I am silly I know; I ought not to expect to get acquainted all at once," she said to herself bravely.
If it had not been for the loneliness she might have enjoyed the fun going on around her, even though she had no part in it. Such dainty dresses, such laughing and dancing about, such airs and graces, she had never before seen! She recognized the charming little girls who had so taken her fancy a week or two before—sisters, she felt sure, of that dear little Carie.
"Oh, dear!" she said at last; "I can't help wishing I had not come!"
Not thinking what she was doing, Dora took up a croquet mallet which had been left on the bench, and began slowly to screw it into the ground. Just then a boy rushed by hotly chased by another. The one in pursuit tripped on the mallet and fell headlong on the grass.
"Are you hurt? I am so sorry; I did not mean to do it!" she exclaimed in dismay.
"No, I am not hurt," he replied, sitting up and rubbing the stains off his hands with his handkerchief. "How did you come to do it anyhow?" and he gave her a glimpse of a pair of merry brown eyes, and then went on polishing his hands.
"I don't know," she answered.
"If it had not been for you I could have caught Aleck."
"I am so sorry," Dora said again, in such a mournful tone that the boy laughed.
"You needn't think I care! Aleck knows I can catch him. Do you like to run?"
"I haven't tried it very often lately. I think you could catch me," she answered.
"I probably could; as a general thing girls aren't much on running, but you should see Louise!"
"Who is she?" asked Dora.
"She is my sister; I thought everybody knew Louise."
"I don't know any one," was the reply in a mournful tone.
"Don't you really?" Carl asked, sitting up very straight; "and is that the reason you are over here by yourself?"
"I know Annie a little, but you see I haven't lived here since I was a baby. We have been travelling about a good deal, so I haven't had a chance to know many people. Mamma wanted me to come this afternoon."
There was something exceedingly pleasant in her straightforward manner.
"I don't care much for parties myself," said Carl, "but if you want to get acquainted you must not stick in a corner."
"What must I do?" Dora asked, smiling.
"Well, to begin with, you make friends with somebody who knows somebody else, and so on. It is very easy."
"Then I have begun with you, though I do not know your name."
"Very well, here goes! My name is Carl Hazeltine, the girl over by the oak tree is my sister Louise, the boy with her is Isaac Ford—the one who is laughing I mean; next to him is Elsie Morris, and that fellow coming this way is Aleck Hazeltine, my cousin, and—"
Dora put out her hand appealingly. "I can't possibly remember so many, and I haven't told you my name. It is Dora Warner."
"We used to have a cat named Dora," Carl remarked gravely, taking a small round glass from his pocket and composedly surveying his necktie, "a nice, white, meek little pussy cat."
"I had a dog once, when we were in London, named Carl—o. He was a curly dog and ever so vain when we tied a ribbon on his collar," was the prompt response. Then they both laughed merrily, and Carl asked with friendly interest, "Were you really in London!"
"Yes, we were there last winter."
"Wasn't it great fun?"
"No, for papa was ill, and mamma always with him, so I was lonely."
Something in Dora's tone made Carl notice that her sash was black.
"So I suppose her father is dead," he thought, but could think of nothing to say, and jumping up suddenly was off like a flash.
Dora thought her new acquaintance a funny one, but his friendly manner had made her feel cheerful again.
She saw him coming back presently, accompanied by a little girl with soft dark eyes and a sweet face which she recognized at once.
"This is my sister Bess," he announced.
Bess sat down beside her, saying gravely, "Carl says you don't know anyone. Wouldn't you like to come and play with us? We are going to begin a new game."
Dora was quite ready. "Only I am afraid I shall not know how," she said.
"That won't make the least difference, for we haven't any of us played it before. It is very easy—just throwing bean-bags," and, taking her hand in a friendly clasp, Bess led her toward a gay group that was all in an uproar over some of Aleck's nonsense.
"Here comes that odd-looking girl," whispered Elsie to Helen. "Just see what a plain dress she has on!"
"Why, you are the girl who brought our Carie home yesterday, aren't you?" cried Louise, as Bess introduced Dora.
"Are you really? She has been talking about you all day. Carl, it was Dora who found Carie," Bess exclaimed delightedly.
From this moment the charmed circle was open to her. Dora could hardly believe she was not dreaming. To be taken into the midst of all the fun under the protection of her new friends—to find herself suddenly popular! What could have seemed more incredible half an hour before? Louise, who was a born leader, and whose bright face and sunny temper made her a general favorite, took her in charge, and Dora entered so heartily into the game, laughing so merrily at her mistakes, that her companions begun at once to like her.
"Come, Elsie, aren't you going to play?" asked Bess.
"I don't know how," was her reply, in a fretful tone.
"It is perfectly easy," said one of the others.
"Never mind; she doesn't know beans," laughed Aleck, tossing a bag to Dora.
"I know you are very rude," pouted Elsie.
"Do play," urged Dora, running to her. "I will show you exactly how," and half reluctantly she yielded, for she really wanted to play. Before they were through the game, supper interrupted, and gave them something else to think about.
Mrs. May, remembering the stranger and coming to look for her, concluded that she was quite able to take care of herself, for she seemed to be having an extremely good time.
A good time truly it was, Dora thought, as she sat among her new friends.
"I am so glad we are acquainted with you," Louise said.
"I am sure I am glad," she answered, "and I do hope I shall see Carie again sometime. There is one thing I must tell you," she continued. "The other day I walked by your house, and I was so tired I sat down on your carriage-block to rest. It was very quiet, and nobody was in sight, and I was sitting there thinking how very big your front door was—"
"How did you know it was our house?" asked Bess.
"I didn't then, but presently the door opened and you two came out. You had on blue dresses, and Louise had a book, and you came and sat under a tree not very far from me."
"Why, we didn't see you!"
"I know you did not, and, of course, I ought to have gone away, but"—here Dora's face flushed—"I couldn't help hearing the beginning of your story, and then I forget what I was doing—it was dreadful; I want you to know about it—I listened to all you said."
"How funny! And we did not see you! Why, Dora, we don't care a bit, do we, Bess?"
"I am very glad if you don't. I was so ashamed of myself. I hoped some day I should know you, but I did not think it would happen so soon," and Dora heaved a sigh of relief.
"But isn't it funny that you should have found Carie?" said Bess.
"And then have tripped me up," added Carl, joining them. "It is really as curious as our getting acquainted with Miss Brown."
"Who is Miss Brown?" asked Elsie.
"She is a person who has lately moved into Nottingham castle," he replied gravely.
"Robin Hood broke one of her windows," added Aleck.
"What does he mean? I don't understand it at all," fretted Elsie, who was so easily teased the boys could never resist the temptation.
"Carl is talking nonsense. I will tell you about her sometime," said Bess.
"Good-by, Dora," said Louise when the happy evening was over and they were starting home. "I think we ought to be friends because you found Carie; don't you, Bess?"
Bess certainly thought so, for she had taken a desperate fancy to this new acquaintance.
"You must come to see me; Helen and all of you," Dora said cordially.
"Mamma, I have had a beautiful time, I am glad I went," she exclaimed, standing beside her mother's couch a few minutes later. "Does your head ache? Then I'll wait till to-morrow to tell you about it;" and she went to bed to dream pleasant dreams.
When the children reached home that evening they found Aunt Marcia and Uncle William in the library.
Carie, too, was there, bent on an investigation of her uncle's pocket, from which she had just brought to light in triumph a chocolate mouse.
"Now, baby dear, you must go to bed, mammy is waiting for you," said Aunt Zelie.
"Let me find one uzzer one," pleaded Carie, depositing her prize on her uncle's knee, and continuing the search.
"Of course you have had a 'perfectly lovely' time," said Uncle William as the party-goers entered.
"Indeed we have," answered Louise, establishing herself on an arm of her father's chair. "And we've found the nicest girl," she added.
"I found her," said Carl.
"She is the girl who brought Carie home yesterday, and we like her very much," explained Bess.
"Annie May hasn't any politeness; she didn't introduce her to more than one or two people. Think of being at a big party like that and not knowing anyone!"
"That is not a proper way in which to speak of your hostess, my son," said Mr. Hazeltine.
"How did you happen to get acquainted with her?" asked Aunt Zelie, smiling at Carl's vehemence.
"Auntie, it was the funniest thing you ever heard of!" Louise exclaimed. "She tripped him up with a croquet mallet!"
"She must have been desperate," remarked her father, pulling one of the long braids that hung over her shoulder.
"She did not mean to do it—it was when I was running after Aleck—and she was very sorry. Then I found she didn't know anybody, so I went for Bess, and she had a good time after that," Carl explained briefly.
"She has lived in London, and different places abroad," Bess added.
"May we go to see her, auntie? We told her we would if you'd let us."
"Louise, you should never promise to visit people till you know something about them," said Aunt Marcia reprovingly.
"Her name is Dora Warner, and she boards with her mother at Mrs. West's on Chestnut street, and her father is dead. I think we know a good deal about her, Aunt Marcia," Bess said demurely.
"I am going to see her, and take her a chocolate mouse," Carie suddenly announced, having been a silent listener while she captured a handful of mice.
"I want to know what it is you like so much about your new friend," said Uncle William.
"What do you think of her, Helen?" his wife asked of the little girl, sitting so quietly beside her.
"Oh, I like her, Aunt Marcia, ever so much. She asked me to come to see her, and she is older than Bess."
"There is no nonsense about her," said Carl.
"I think it is hard to tell why you like people." Bess twisted her handkerchief meditatively. "She isn't exactly pretty, but she is pleasant and polite—"
"Yes, and she is ready to do anything, and doesn't think about her clothes," Carl interposed.
"Boys think about their clothes as well as girls," said Louise. "I know lots of girls who don't think about their clothes."
"So do I—some who have no regard whatever for them," said Aunt Zelie, laughing.
"Do you know I like the description they give of Dora," remarked Mr. William Hazeltine, after the children had left the room.
"I never knew Carl to be so warm in the praise of a new acquaintance," said his brother. "You will have to let them go to see her, Zelie."
"Pray, do not be rash; find out who they are first," begged Mrs. Hazeltine.
"I can't help thinking," said her husband, "that this little girl may be the daughter of my old friend Dick Warner; you remember him, Frank? He died about a year ago, somewhere abroad. As bright and sweet-tempered a fellow as ever lived! I must look into it."
Uncle William usually had his own way about things, for the reason that no other way was so pleasant. No one could resist his bright face and cordial manner. He carried around with him an atmosphere of such hearty goodwill that it was next to impossible to be cross or gloomy in his presence. People sometimes wondered how he happened to marry Mrs. Hazeltine, but the reason was plain enough to him. He regarded her with the greatest admiration, feeling that a harum-scarum fellow like himself was most fortunate in having such a wife to keep him straight. He was very proud and fond of her, and quite blind to what others called her managing propensities. Sometimes, indeed, he wondered how she could be so severe in her judgment of the children, but then someone must be firm. And though she was often annoyed by his friendliness with all sorts of odd people, and wished William would draw the line somewhere, she always ended by saying leniently that he would never be anything but a boy.
He had a warm love for children. No matter how ragged and forlorn they might be, they interested him. The newsboys and bootblacks felt that he was their friend, and many were the treats they received at his hand. By his young relatives and their many friends he was looked upon as a sort of every-day Santa Claus. One of his peculiarities was a love for surprising people. He sent mysterious parcels, left candy about in unexpected places, or took the children out for a walk, and then whisked them off on some delightful excursion.
Promptness was another of Uncle William's good qualities. Having determined to make inquiries about his old friend, he did it at once, and so it happened that Dora and her mother were called down to the parlor one day to see a tall gentleman with kindly dark eyes and iron-gray hair, who won them at once by his simple, cordial manner.
Mrs. Warner was a thoroughly saddened woman since the death of her husband, but even she could not resist his friendliness, and Dora was altogether captivated.
The children were surprised and delighted when they heard that their uncle had been to see the Warners, and that Dora was really the daughter of his old friend.
"So of course we ought to be friends with her," Bess remarked, as though it was a solemn duty rather than a pleasure.
Aunt Zelie allowed them to go to see her at once, and invite her to spend the next day with them.
"Don't things happen beautifully, Mamma?" Dora said gayly, as she dressed that morning. "To think that I really know Bess and Louise, and am going to see them!"
Her mother smiled sadly; she was glad her daughter had found such pleasant friends, for she knew that their quiet life was making her old for her years.
So Dora, in a flutter of delight, found herself following in the footsteps of the black cat, up the walk leading to the Big Front Door. And there on the porch, stretched at his ease, was that gentleman himself, apparently waiting for her, for he rose to meet her, and arched his back, and purred with great friendliness.
Then the door opened and she was inside, but before she could look around her, three little girls came flying down the stairs and laid violent hands upon her. Talking very fast, and quite breathless with laughing, they took her up to the dainty room—all blue and white—which Bess and Louise called theirs, where she took off her hat. Next she had to be presented to Aunt Zelie, from whom she received a welcome which made her feel at home from that minute. And then to the star chamber, where they found Carl, who was very glad indeed to see Dora again. One morning was really too short for all there was to be said and seen.
Dora was interested in everything: stamp albums, photographs, dolls, and most of all in the story books.
"You must take 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' home with you," Carl insisted when he found she had not read it, and then the others began to press their favorites upon her until she was quite overwhelmed.
She must look over at the Brown house garden, and hear about their new neighbor, and about Ikey Ford, and how tiresome his grandmother was. These confidences were interrupted by Carie, who walked in, eager to see the girl who had found her, and other attractions faded before the delight of holding this dainty bit of humanity on her lap. Nothing could be so charming, Dora thought, as she kissed the rosy cheeks and soft hair, and listened to her funny chatter; for Carie, who was not given to showing favors indiscriminately, treated her with unusual graciousness, bestowing chocolate mice with a lavish hand.
"You ought to be the best children in the world, for you have everything," Dora said as they went down to lunch.
"Oh, we are!" modestly replied Carl.
When this was over she was taken into a large room full of books and beautiful things, among them two portraits. One of these was of a white-haired man whose eyes seemed to smile at her as Bess said, "This is Grandfather;" the other face had something about it so like Bess's own that her low-toned explanation, "This is Mamma," was not needed.
After all, they had not quite everything.
When Carl went over to see Ikey about something, they seized the opportunity to play the Carletons, it being a game that the masculine mind scorned. They sat under the same chestnut tree, and the black cat joined them, and was formally introduced to Dora as Mr. Smith. Everything was quiet in the neighborhood, somebody was cutting the grass not far away, and it really might have been mistaken for that afternoon two weeks ago, except that the girl who was then on the carriage-block was now in the garden. To make the resemblance complete, who should drive up but Uncle William, calling to know if anybody wanted to go to the country.
The Carletons were promptly consigned to the seclusion of the atlas, while the romancers ran for their hats.
It was almost dark when Dora was set down at her own door, merry and rosy.
"Good-by! and do ask your mother to let you go to our school," her friends called, waving their handkerchiefs as they turned the corner. That happy day settled it. Dora and the Hazeltines became fast friends. Everybody liked her, the grown people as well as the children. Even Aunt Marcia pronounced her a most well-behaved little girl, and hoped Bess and Louise would profit by her example. Carl claimed the credit of having discovered her, and Carie always referred to her as "My Dora."
THE MAGIC DOOR.
When Miss Brown said of the Big Front Door that it made her cheerful simply to look at it, she had no idea, nor had anyone else, how much was going to grow out of it.
First of all was the story Uncle William told one stormy Sunday evening before the wood fire in the library.
It had been a trying day to the children, with the rain coming steadily down, their father away, and Aunt Zelie sick with a cold. Perhaps it was not to be wondered at that by afternoon they had grown "cantankerous," as Sukey expressed it, and that something very like quarrelling had gone on in the star chamber.
This was all forgotten when the early tea was over, and they gathered around the fire with Uncle William in father's arm-chair.
The shadows were dark in the corners of the room, but the soft wavering light gilded everything within reach, touching Grandfather's portrait with its gentle magic, till he himself seemed to be standing there, smiling and about to speak. The young faces turned to Uncle William were full of quiet content.
"Do you know what Miss Brown has named our house?" Bess asked. "She calls it the house with the Big Front Door."
"That is a very good name and reminds me of a story."
"Oh, please tell it," they all begged, and so without preface Uncle William begun:
"Once upon a time a man built a house. He selected the materials with greatest care, and watched every brick, stone, and beam used in its construction, that everything might be strong and good. But it was to the front door that he gave most thought. This was of oak after a design of his own, and was wide and massive, with hinges of wrought-iron and a dragon's-head knocker. Some of his neighbors admired it, others found fault with it, objecting that it was out of proportion and too large for a dwelling-house. But after a while they discovered that it was more than an ordinary door. There was some magic about it; it shed a radiance over the whole neighborhood. People when they were perplexed would look towards it, and presently their doubts would fade away. Those who were despondent or sorrowful were cheered and comforted by the sight of it. In stormy weather it was like a small neighborhood sun. And no one rejoiced more than its owner in the strange power of the door, for he had a heart full of love and goodwill, and he and his children were constantly doing kindnesses to their neighbors. They were a happy family too among themselves, and the reason seemed to be because they lived in the radiance of the magic door.
"At length, to the sorrow of his friends, this good man died. In his parting instructions to his children he warned them that the door might sometime lose its power, and if its hinges should ever become rusty, or its lock hard to turn, he directed them to a certain iron box where they would find a key which, if used according to the directions attached, would soon restore it. This made little or no impression upon them at the time, for, since the oldest of them could remember, the door had been always the same, and it seemed improbable that it would ever change. They missed their father sadly, but for a time continued to live as they had when he was with them. However, as the months passed, all unconsciously at first they began to neglect their duties; to forget the acts of neighborly kindness they had once been so glad to perform; and saddest of all, they fell to quarrelling among themselves. Then one day they could not open the door, try as they would. Rust was discovered thick upon its hinges, and while they were wondering how this could have happened, some one brought word that complaint was general in the neighborhood that the door had lost its magic power. The children looked at one another in dismay, till one remembered the iron box and went in search of it. When it was found and opened in the midst of the family there was in it simply an ordinary key with a card tied to it, and on the card were written these words: 'They helped every one his neighbor.'
"They were for a time at a loss to understand, when one wiser than the rest spoke: 'Do you not see,' he said, 'that it was the spirit of helpfulness that made our home happy, and gave our door its strange power? We have neglected our father's teaching; have been selfish and unloving, and so are no longer a blessing to ourselves or others.'
"Each felt in his heart that this was true, and with one accord they made up their quarrels; one went to visit a sick neighbor, another carried a coat to a poor man and food to his children, and in various ways they tried to begin over again, and live as their father had lived. Then happiness returned to their home, the key slipped easily into the lock, the door opened wide once more, and gradually regained its old power. So not only were they happy themselves, but they kept alive the memory of their father, whose name was loved and honored by all who came within the radiance of the magic door."
There was silence for a few minutes; then Bess asked, "Was Grandfather the man who built the house?"
Uncle William smiled.
"You must find the moral for yourselves, but I acknowledge that Miss Brown put the idea into my head."
"And you told it because we were cross this afternoon, I know," said Louise wisely.
"Suppose Miss Brown could tell when we are bad just by looking at the door!" Carl suggested, laughing.
"It would be dreadful," said Bess soberly.
"But it isn't true about our door, is it?" Helen asked.
"Of course not, goosie," replied her brother.
"Put it the other way, and suppose that Miss Brown could tell when you are kind and unselfish, that would not be dreadful," said their uncle. "And I forgot to say," he added, "that the key in the story is warranted to work like magic anywhere. It was a favorite text of your grandfather's. When this house was built I was a little boy, hardly as old as Helen, but I remember distinctly the first time I went through it. I was very much delighted, and came running down the steps, calling, 'Oh, father, what a nice house this is!' and he replied, 'I am glad you like it, William. It is only a house now, but we are going to try to make it a home.' I don't think I quite understood what he meant till long afterwards, though he went on to explain that a home is a place where love, obedience, and helpfulness grow, and are stored up as the water is stored in Quarry Hill reservoir, to find its way out into the world after a while, carrying comfort and cheer.
"Your grandfather did all he could to make this house a real home while he lived, and now the responsibility rests upon you."
"I truly mean to remember the key, and try to be a helper," said Bess, finding and marking the text in her own Bible, at Uncle William's suggestion. "I like that part about the radiance of the magic door," she added.
"It is easy enough to talk about it, but it's not so easy to be good," said Carl with emphasis.
"We are not here to do easy things, and, as Bess says, we can all try," Uncle William replied, "and now we have had a sermon, let us have some music before I go."
"Let's tell Dora about the magic door; perhaps she would like to help!" said Louise, as she and Bess went upstairs to bed.
The days grew shorter and cooler, the leaves began to flutter down, and each morning, from her sitting-room window, Miss Brown watched the children start for school.
First the little girls, tossing good-by kisses to Aunt Zelie, ran down the walk to join Dora or Elsie; then a few minutes later Ikey was at the gate whistling for Carl. In the five months since Ikey had come to stay with his grandparents the boys had become almost inseparable.
Dr. Isaac Clinton Ford was a surgeon in the navy, and having been ordered to the Mediterranean, his wife, whose health was not good, followed him, with their little daughter, while young Isaac was sent to his father's old home. Warmly attached to it himself, Dr. Ford could think of no better place for his son, and old Mr. and Mrs. Ford felt that it would be almost like having their boy again, from whom they had had only brief visits for eighteen years.
Unfortunately, neither took into account that young Isaac was totally unlike the quiet, studious boy his father had been. It was a question which suffered most during those first weeks, the elderly people whose lives had moved on like clockwork for so many years, or the mischievous, fun-loving boy suddenly introduced into their household.
The Fords' was a tall, three-story, stone front house, with everything about it inside and out in immaculate order. The stone steps and walk were spotless, the windows shone, and the shades and curtains were arranged in the most exact manner. The only flowers were three oleanders in tubs, and these partook of the general tidiness.
It is easy to see that a boy without any deep regard for spotless stones, who labored under the delusion that windows were made to look out of, and who did not hesitate to push curtains aside and open blinds, who whistled when his grandfather was taking his nap, left his things lying about, and teased the snappish old pug was destined to be a trial. On the other hand, the change from a free and easy home life, with a mother as merry-hearted as himself and a father who was more of a boy at forty than he had been at twelve, to that humdrum routine would have been trying to wiser people than Ikey.
No wonder the first weeks were full of miserable homesickness. Life would have been unendurable if the Hazeltines had not discovered him. Ikey was ready to meet them more than half way, and before long became their boon companion.
Mrs. Howard, the children's aunt, guessed how matters stood, for she had lived across the street from the Fords most of her life; so she went to his grandmother, and asked her to let Ikey play with Carl and the little girls every day.
Mrs. Ford consented, feeling surprised and gratified; and unwilling to be lacking in hospitality, she allowed her grandson and his friends the freedom of the back yard, on condition that they would respect the front. Before the summer was over she had become so used to the sound of the children's voices that she no longer found it necessary to go to the window every five minutes to see what they were doing.
Ikey had a genius for getting hurt. Cuts, bumps, and bruises were matters of every-day occurrence, and were accepted with a heroism born of long familiarity. But one morning when he and Carl were on their way to school he met with an accident which was unusually hard to bear.
As they were passing a high board fence they heard a great barking and growling, as if a lot of dogs were tearing one another to pieces. "What in the world!" exclaimed Carl, trying to find some crack or knothole.
"You can't see in that way," Ikey cried scornfully, and giving a spring he grasped the top of the fence and drew himself up to look over.
Exactly how it happened he could never tell; probably his curiosity was resented, for before he had time to see anything, some sharp teeth made themselves felt, and he dropped down groaning, "My nose! My nose!" Carl was very much alarmed at sight of the blood that streamed down from his face, but had presence of mind to remember a doctor's office in the next block.
"Your nose isn't all gone, is it?" he asked anxiously, as he led the way.
"No, I think there is some of it left," came in muffled tones from the handkerchief Ikey held to his face.
Fortunately the doctor was in and dressed the wound, pronouncing it not serious, but advising his patient not to be in such a hurry to investigate strange dogs another time, or he might lose the whole of his nose instead of only a slice.
Relieved that it was no worse, and not being in the habit of making a fuss over his hurts, Ikey decided to go on to school.
Perhaps if he could have looked in the glass he would not have been so ready, for the yellow plaster did not add to his beauty.
Now all danger was over, Carl could not contain himself, but laughed and laughed till his friend's feelings were somewhat hurt.
They were late of course, and created a sensation when they entered, and the suppressed amusement among the boys became an uproar at recess. It was decidedly trying to be the object of so much school-boy wit; to hear over and over again: "Ikey, what ails your nose?"—"Can't you wear it in a sling?"—"Or put a shade over it?"—or to see on the blackboard lines adapted from Mother Goose:
"It used to be a blackbird, so the story goes, But now it is a puppy dog that nips off his nose."
He stood it bravely till school was over, but on the way home, at sight of the girls on the corner he made a sudden dive across the street.
"Where is Ikey going?" Louise asked, in surprise, of Carl and Aleck.
"He has lost his nose," answered the latter.
"Has he gone to look for it?" laughed Dora.
"Tell us what you mean," said Bess.
With much laughter the boys told the story.
"It is mean of you to make fun. Suppose it was your nose?" and Louise held on to her own.
"Perhaps it won't turn up any more," suggested Bess.
"I am afraid he won't go to the ball-game; that will be too bad," said Carl.
They were all going with Uncle William to see a game of foot-ball that afternoon, and there was only time for a hasty lunch before they started. Carl ran over to beg Ikey to go in spite of his disfigurement, but a melancholy voice from the third-story landing declined so positively that there was nothing left to be said.
From behind the curtains Ikey watched the party start off, and felt very unhappy at not being with them.
That was a miserable afternoon! His grandmother's exclamations and questions had only made matters worse, and he took refuge in his room, declining to eat any lunch.
Before long he succeeded in convincing himself that nobody cared for him, except, perhaps, his father and mother, who were so far away.
Maybe the others would be sorry when he died of hydrophobia. He had heard that people often had it when they were bitten by dogs, and it seemed very probable that this would be his fate.
Absorbed in his misery, he hardly knew how time passed, till some one knocked at his door. He lay on the couch with his face buried in the pillows, and thinking it was the housemaid he said, "Come in," without looking up.
The hand that touched his head, however, was not Katie's, nor the voice that said, "You poor boy!"
It was Mrs. Howard, or Aunt Zelie as he always called her in his thoughts.
Overwhelmed with mingled delight and dismay, he could only struggle to a sitting position, with his handkerchief to his nose and not a word to say.
She did not appear to notice this, but talked on, and in some way it came about that presently his aching head was down on the pillows again, and her soft hand was smoothing back his hair, just as Mamma did, while she told him that Mr. Hazeltine had inquired about the dogs, and found that they were only very large and lively puppies, not at all vicious.
Ikey heaved a sigh of relief, and managed to thank her for her thoughtfulness. Then they talked of other things, and he actually lit the gas—for it was growing dark—that she might see the photographs of his mother and sister.
Before Aunt Zelie left they were even laughing together over his funny accident, and when with a kiss on his forehead she was gone, it was a much happier boy she left on the sofa.
There was sure to be a tonic in her petting, and Ikey got up and washed his face, looking bravely in the glass meanwhile. Then he went meekly downstairs and enjoyed his dinner. Mrs. Ford never petted anyone, she did not know how; but she showed her sympathy by offering her grandson all sorts of good things to eat.
At the most exciting moment of the foot-ball game Louise exclaimed: "We haven't done anything to help Ikey, and he is really and truly our neighbor!"
"We will try to find something to take him," said Uncle William.
There was little to be had in that part of the town, so they turned it into a joke, and it was a most remarkable collection that Carl and Aleck displayed in the Fords' sitting-room that night.
There was a toy balloon, a beetle that ran all over the room in a life-like manner, a jumping jack, and some popcorn balls.
Old Mr. Ford declared he had not laughed so much in twenty years as he did at the antics of the boys and the beetle. His bedtime passed before he knew it.
Ikey went to sleep with the balloon tied to the head of his bed, feeling that after all his friends did care. The next day the doctor replaced the ugly yellow plaster with something white that was more pleasant to look at, and in a short time his nose was as well as ever, except for a slight scar.
Bess had thought of giving a masquerade ball in his honor, to be held in the star chamber, and at which he was to appear as "The Man in the Iron Mask," but owing to his rapid recovery it was given up. She was rather disappointed, for it seemed an interesting way in which to help a neighbor in affliction. She and Louise were very anxious to be helpers, but were not content with small every-day opportunities.
"I can't think of things as Dora does," she complained to Aunt Zelie one evening.
"What has Dora been doing?" her aunt asked.
"Oh, it was at school to-day, when we were reading together at recess in a new story book of Elsie's. There was Elsie and Constance, Dora, Louise and I, and that meek little Mamie Garland kept walking up and down looking at us. Nobody likes her, because she is a telltale. Then before we knew what she was going to do Dora jumped up and ran after Mamie, and asked her if she didn't want to hear the story. You could see she was surprised, but she came, and Louise made room for her."
"And did she spoil the story?"
"No—not really, but it is nicer to have just the people you like. But I suppose it is pretty mean to go on having a nice time when somebody else isn't—even if you don't like them—and not ask them."
Aunt Zelie smiled at this remarkable sentence. "It is easy to be selfish with our good times," she said; "but don't be discouraged, you will be more quick to see an opportunity next time. If I am not mistaken I saw a little girl put away her book to play with her small sister not so very long ago."
"Do you think that would count?" Bess asked earnestly.
"I certainly do," answered her aunt, pinching the rosy cheek.
Bess stood at the window, her brows drawn together in a decided frown. Not that the sunshine was dazzling; quite the contrary. It was what Aunt Sukey called a drizzle-drazzle day. The air was full of a penetrating mist that put outdoor amusements out of the question. Stormy Saturdays were particularly trying, and to-day the rain interfered with an expedition to which the children had been looking forward for a week.
"I wish I were a fairy," said Louise, who sat on the floor building a block house for Carie; "I wouldn't have any rainy days."
"A mighty nice world 't would be, I reckon, if you had the fixin' of it," Sukey remarked sarcastically.
"Oh, well, perhaps I'd have some rain, but only at night."
"Don't you s'pose the good Lord knows what kind of weather is best for us a heap better than a no-account fairy?" Sukey continued, seeing an opportunity for some moral teaching.
"Of course he does, but I shouldn't think one Saturday would make much difference."
"That ain't for us to say. Folks can't have all they wants in this world, and they has to be taught it."
"Louise, I see Miss Brown at her window; don't you think it would be nice to go to see her?" said Bess. "We could wear our waterproofs."
"Yes, indeed; may we, mammy?" asked Louise, jumping up. Though Sukey professed to be a stern disciplinarian she rarely denied the children anything, so after a careful survey of the weather she thought they might go if they would wear their overshoes. Miss Brown saw them as they came out of the door and raised a big umbrella. "Where can they be going?" she wondered as they disappeared from her view. A few minutes later, however, they came in sight again, this time on her side of the street, and stopped at her gate.
"You are a pair of rainy-day fairies!" she exclaimed as they entered. They both laughed at this, and Bess explained that it was just what Louise had been wishing to be.
"Then we each have our wish, for I have been longing for some good fairy to cheer me this gloomy day."
Miss Brown's sitting-room was a pleasant place even on the darkest day. A bright fire burned in the grate behind the high brass fender, some yellow chrysanthemums bloomed in the west window, the mahogany chairs and tables shone with the polish time gives to such things, and behind the glass doors of the corner cupboard stood rows of pretty old china. From above the mantel, old Mrs. Brown—at the age of eighteen, with stiff little curls over each ear and immense leg o' mutton sleeves in her low-necked pink gown—looked down, smiling impartially upon everybody.
"Don't you think rainy days are tiresome?" asked Louise, seating herself in the window beside the flowers.
"Not when I have company," was the smiling reply.
"Aunt Zelie has been staying with Cousin Helen this week, and Carl went home with Aleck yesterday, and we were going out to spend the day to-day and come home with them. But of course we couldn't on account of the rain, and there is nobody at home but Carie and Sukey, for Helen is at Aunt Marcia's." The tone in which Bess spoke was so doleful it was almost tragic.
"Uncle William says there is always a bright spot somewhere, and perhaps there is for us, but we haven't found it," added Louise; then looking across the street she gave a little laugh. "I was just thinking of the Magic Door," she explained.
Miss Brown wanted to hear about it, so Bess told the story, growing quite cheerful as she proceeded.