By Mrs. Wiggin.
THE BIRDS' CHRISTMAS CAROL. Illustrated. Square 12mo, boards, 50 cents.
THE STORY OF PATSY, Illustrated. Square 12mo, boards, 60 cents.
A SUMMER IN A CANON. A California Story. Illustrated. New Edition. 16mo, $1.25.
TIMOTHY'S QUEST. A Story for Anybody, Young or Old, who cares to read it. 16mo, $1.00.
THE STORY HOUR. A Book for the Home and Kindergarten. By Mrs. Wiggin and Nora A. Smith. Illustrated. 16mo, $1.00.
CHILDREN'S RIGHTS. A Book of Nursery Logic. 16mo, $1.00.
A CATHEDRAL COURTSHIP, and PENELOPE'S ENGLISH EXPERIENCES. Illustrated. 16mo, $1.00.
POLLY OLIVER'S PROBLEM. Illustrated, 16mo, $1.00.
HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & CO. BOSTON AND NEW YORK.
A STORY FOR ANYBODY, YOUNG OR OLD, WHO CARES TO READ IT
KATE DOUGLAS WIGGIN
AUTHOR OF "BIRDS' CHRISTMAS CAROL," "THE STORY OF PATSY," "A SUMMER IN A CANON," ETC.
BOSTON AND NEW YORK HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND COMPANY The Riverside Press, Cambridge 1894
BY KATE DOUGLAS WIGGIN
All rights reserved.
The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Mass., U.S.A. Electrotyped and Printed by H. O. Houghton & Company.
DEAREST SISTER, STERNEST CRITIC,
SCENE I. PAGE
FLOSSY MORRISON LEARNS THE SECRET OF DEATH WITHOUT EVER HAVING LEARNED THE SECRET OF LIFE 7
LITTLE TIMOTHY JESSUP ASSUMES PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITIES 17
TIMOTHY PLANS A CAMPAIGN, AND PROVIDENCE MATERIALLY ASSISTS IN CARRYING IT OUT, OR VICE VERSA 26
JABE SLOCUM ASSUMES THE ROLE OF GUARDIAN ANGEL 39
TIMOTHY FINDS A HOUSE IN WHICH HE THINKS A BABY IS NEEDED, BUT THE INMATES DO NOT ENTIRELY AGREE WITH HIM 51
TIMOTHY, LADY GAY, AND RAGS PROVE FAITHFUL TO EACH OTHER 63
MISTRESS AND MAID FIND TO THEIR AMAZEMENT THAT A CHILD, MORE THAN ALL OTHER GIFTS, BRINGS HOPE WITH IT, AND FORWARD LOOKING THOUGHTS 74
JABE AND SAMANTHA EXCHANGE HOSTILITIES, AND THE FORMER SAYS A GOOD WORD FOR THE LITTLE WANDERERS 87
"NOW THE END OF THE COMMANDMENT IS CHARITY, OUT OF A PURE HEART" 100
AUNT HITTY COMES TO "MAKE OVER," AND SUPPLIES BACK NUMBERS TO ALL THE VILLAGE HISTORIES 112
MISS VILDA DECIDES THAT TWO IS ONE TOO MANY, AND TIMOTHY BREAKS A HUMMING-BIRD'S EGG 126
LYDDY PETTIGROVE'S FUNERAL 143
PLEASANT RIVER IS BAPTIZED WITH THE SPIRIT OF ADOPTION 152
TIMOTHY JESSUP RUNS AWAY A SECOND TIME, AND, LIKE OTHER BLESSINGS, BRIGHTENS AS HE TAKES HIS FLIGHT 166
LIKE ALL DOGS IN FICTION, THE FAITHFUL RAGS GUIDES MISS VILDA TO HIS LITTLE MASTER 179
TIMOTHY'S QUEST IS ENDED, AND SAMANTHA SAYS, "COME ALONG, DAVE" 189
Number Three, Minerva Court. First floor front.
FLOSSY MORRISON LEARNS THE SECRET OF DEATH WITHOUT EVER HAVING LEARNED THE SECRET OF LIFE.
Minerva Court! Veil thy face, O Goddess of Wisdom, for never, surely, was thy fair name so ill bestowed as when it was applied to this most dreary place!
It was a little less than street, a little more than alley, and its only possible claim to decency came from comparison with the busier thoroughfare out of which it opened. This was so much fouler, with its dirt and noise, its stands of refuse fruit and vegetables, its dingy shops and all the miserable traffic that the place engendered, its rickety doorways blocked with lounging men, its Blowsabellas leaning on the window-sills, that the Court seemed by contrast a most desirable and retired place of residence.
But it was a dismal spot, nevertheless, with not even an air of faded gentility to recommend it. It seemed to have no better days behind it, nor to hold within itself the possibility of any future improvement. It was narrow, and extended only the length of a city block, yet it was by no means wanting in many of those luxuries which mark this era of modern civilization. There were groceries, with commodious sample-rooms attached, at each corner, and a small saloon, called "The Dearest Spot" (which it undoubtedly was in more senses than one), in the basement of a house at the farther end. It was necessary, however, for the bibulous native who dwelt in the middle of the block to waste some valuable minutes in dragging himself to one of these fountains of bliss at either end; but at the time my story opens a wide-awake philanthropist was fitting up a neat and attractive little bar-room, called "The Oasis," at a point equally distant between the other two springs of human joy.
This benefactor of humanity had a vaulting ambition. He desired to slake the thirst of every man in Christendom; but this being impossible from the very nature of things, he determined to settle in some arid spot like Minerva Court, and irrigate it so sweetly and copiously that all men's noses would blossom as the roses. To supply his brothers' wants, and create new ones at the same time, was his purpose in establishing this Oasis in the Desert of Minerva Court; and it might as well be stated here that he was prospered in his undertaking, as any man is sure to be who cherishes lofty ideals and attends to his business industriously.
The Minerva Courtier thus had good reason to hope that the supply of liquid refreshment would bear some relation to the demand; and that the march of modern progress would continue to diminish the distance between his own mouth and that of the bottle, which, as he took it, was the be-all and end-all of existence.
At present, however, as the Oasis was not open to the public, children carrying pitchers of beer were often to be seen hurrying to and fro on their miserable errands. But there were very few children in Minerva Court, thank God!—they were not popular there. There were frowzy, sleepy-looking women hanging out of their windows, gossiping with their equally unkempt and haggard neighbors; apathetic men sitting on the doorsteps, in their shirt-sleeves, smoking; a dull, dirty baby or two sporting itself in the gutter; while the sound of a melancholy accordion (the chosen instrument of poverty and misery) floated from an upper chamber, and added its discordant mite to the general desolation.
The sidewalks had apparently never known the touch of a broom, and the middle of the street looked more like an elongated junk-heap than anything else. Every smell known to the nostrils of man was abroad in the air, and several were floating about waiting modestly to be classified, after which they intended to come to the front and outdo the others if they could.
That was Minerva Court! A little piece of your world, my world, God's world (and the Devil's), lying peacefully fallow, awaiting the services of some inspired Home Missionary Society.
In a front room of Number Three, a dilapidated house next the corner, there lay a still, white shape, with two women watching by it.
A sheet covered it. Candles burned at the head, striving to throw a gleam of light on a dead face that for many a year had never been illuminated from within by the brightness of self-forgetting love or kindly sympathy. If you had raised the sheet, you would have seen no happy smile as of a half-remembered, innocent childhood; the smile—is it of peaceful memory or serene anticipation?—that sometimes shines on the faces of the dead.
Such life-secrets as were exposed by Death, and written on that still countenance in characters that all might read, were painful ones. Flossy Morrison was dead. The name "Flossy" was a relic of what she termed her better days (Heaven save the mark!), for she had been called Mrs. Morrison of late years,—"Mrs. F. Morrison," who took "children to board, and no questions asked"—nor answered. She had lived forty-five years, as men reckon summers and winters; but she had never learned, in all that time, to know her Mother, Nature, her Father, God, nor her brothers and sisters, the children of the world. She had lived friendless and unfriendly, keeping none of the ten commandments, nor yet the eleventh, which is the greatest of all; and now there was no human being to slip a flower into the still hand, to kiss the clay-cold lips at the remembrance of some sweet word that had fallen from them, or drop a tear and say, "I loved her!"
Apparently, the two watchers did not regard Flossy Morrison even in the light of "the dear remains," as they are sometimes called at country funerals. They were in the best of spirits (there was an abundance of beer), and their gruesome task would be over in a few hours; for it was nearly four o'clock in the morning, and the body was to be taken away at ten.
"I tell you one thing, Ettie, Flossy hasn't left any bother for her friends," remarked Mrs. Nancy Simmons, settling herself back in her rocking-chair. "As she didn't own anything but the clothes on her back, there won't be any quarreling over the property!" and she chuckled at her delicate humor.
"No," answered her companion, who, whatever her sponsors in baptism had christened her, called herself Ethel Montmorency. "I s'pose the furniture, poor as it is, will pay the funeral expenses; and if she's got any debts, why, folks will have to whistle for their money, that's all."
"The only thing that worries me is the children," said Mrs. Simmons.
"You must be hard up for something to worry about, to take those young ones on your mind. They ain't yours nor mine, and what's more, nobody knows who they do belong to, and nobody cares. Soon as breakfast's over we'll pack 'em off to some institution or other, and that'll be the end of it. What did Flossy say about 'em, when you spoke to her yesterday?"
"I asked her what she wanted done with the young ones, and she said, 'Do what you like with 'em, drat 'em,—it don't make no odds to me!' and then she turned over and died. Those was the last words she spoke, dear soul; but, Lor', she wasn't more'n half sober, and hadn't been for a week."
"She was sober enough to keep her own counsel, I can tell you that," said the gentle Ethel. "I don't believe there's a living soul that knows where those children came from;—not that anybody cares, now that there ain't any money in 'em."
"Well, as for that, I only know that when Flossy was seeing better days and lived in the upper part of the city, she used to have money come every month for taking care of the boy. Where it come from I don't know; but I kind of surmise it was a long distance off. Then she took to drinking, and got lower and lower down until she came here, six months ago. I don't suppose the boy's folks, or whoever it was sent the money, knew the way she was living, though they couldn't have cared much, for they never came to see how things were; and he was in an asylum before Flossy took him, I found that out; but, anyhow, the money stopped coming three months ago. Flossy wrote twice to the folks, whoever they were, but didn't get no answer to her letters; and she told me that she should turn the boy out in a week or two if some cash didn't turn up in that time. She wouldn't have kept him so long as this if he hadn't been so handy taking care of the baby."
"Well, who does the baby belong to?"
"You ask me too much," replied Nancy, taking another deep draught from the pitcher. "Help yourself, Ettie; there's plenty more where that came from. Flossy never liked the boy, and always wanted to get rid of him, but couldn't afford to. He's a dreadful queer, old-fashioned little kid, and so smart that he's gettin' to be a reg'lar nuisance round the house. But you see he and the baby,—Gabrielle's her name, but they call her Lady Gay, or some such trash, after that actress that comes here so much,—well, they are so in love with one another that wild horses couldn't drag 'em apart; and I think Flossy had a kind of a likin' for Gay, as much as she ever had for anything. I guess she never abused either of 'em; she was too careless for that. And so what was I talkin' about? Oh, yes. Well, I don't know who the baby is, nor who paid for her keep; but she's goin' to be one o' your high-steppers, and no mistake. She might be Queen Victory's daughter by the airs she puts on; I'd like to keep her myself if she was a little older, and I wasn't goin' away from here."
"I s'pose they'll make an awful row at being separated, won't they?" asked the younger woman.
"Oh, like as not; but they'll have to have their row and get over it," said Mrs. Simmons easily. "You can take Timothy to the Orphan Asylum first, and then come back, and I'll carry the baby to the Home of the Ladies' Relief and Protection Society; and if they yell they can yell, and take it out in yellin'; they won't get the best of Nancy Simmons."
"Don't talk so loud, Nancy, for mercy's sake. If the boy hears you, he'll begin to take on, and we sha'n't get a wink of sleep. Don't let 'em know what you're goin' to do with 'em till the last minute, or you'll have trouble as sure as we sit here."
"Oh, they are sound asleep," responded Mrs. Simmons, with an uneasy look at the half-open door. "I went in and dragged a pillow out from under Timothy's head, and he never budged. He was sleepin' like a log, and so was Gay. Now, shut up, Et, and let me get three winks myself. You take the lounge, and I'll stretch out in two chairs. Wake me up at eight o'clock, if I don't wake myself; for I'm clean tired out with all this fussin' and plannin', and I feel stupid enough to sleep till kingdom come."
Number Three, Minerva Court, First floor back.
LITTLE TIMOTHY JESSUP ASSUMES PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITIES.
When the snores of the two watchers fell on the stillness of the death-chamber, with that cheerful regularity that betokens the sleep of the truly good, a little figure crept out of the bed in the adjoining room and closed the door noiselessly, but with trembling fingers; stealing then to the window to look out at the dirty street and the gray sky over which the first faint streaks of dawn were beginning to creep.
It was little Timothy Jessup (God alone knows whether he had any right to that special patronymic), but not the very same Tim Jessup who had kissed the baby Gay in her little crib, and gone to sleep on his own hard bed in that room, a few hours before. As he stood shivering at the window, one thin hand hard pressed upon his heart to still its beating, there was a light of sudden resolve in his eyes, a new-born look of anxiety on his unchildlike face.
"I will not have Gay protectioned and reliefed, and I will not be taken away from her and sent to a 'sylum, where I can never find her again!" and with these defiant words trembling, half spoken, on his lips, he glanced from the unconscious form in the crib to the terrible door, which might open at any moment and divide him from his heart's delight, his darling, his treasure, his only joy, his own, own baby Gay.
But what should he do? Run away: that was the only solution of the matter, and no very difficult one either. The cruel women were asleep; the awful Thing that had been Flossy would never speak again; and no one else in Minerva Court cared enough for them to pursue them very far or very long.
"And so," thought Timothy swiftly, "I will get things ready, take Gay, and steal softly out of the back door, and run away to the 'truly' country, where none of these bad people ever can find us, and where I can get a mother for Gay; somebody to 'dopt her and love her till I grow up a man and take her to live with me."
The moment this thought darted into Timothy's mind, it began to shape itself in definite action.
Gabrielle, or Lady Gay, as Flossy called her, in honor of her favorite stage heroine, had been tumbled into her crib half dressed the night before. The only vehicle kept for her use in the family stables was a clothes-basket, mounted on four wooden wheels and cushioned with a dingy shawl. A yard of clothes-line was tied on to one end, and in this humble conveyance the Princess would have to be transported from the Ogre's castle; for she was scarcely old enough to accompany the Prince on foot, even if he had dared to risk detection by waking her: so the clothes-basket must be her chariot, and Timothy her charioteer, as on many a less fateful expedition.
After he had changed his ragged night-gown for a shabby suit of clothes, he took Gay's one clean apron out of a rickety bureau drawer ("for I can never find a mother for her if she's too dirty," he thought), her Sunday hat from the same receptacle, and last of all a comb, and a faded Japanese parasol that stood in a corner. These he deposited under the old shawl that decorated the floor of the chariot. He next groped his way in the dim light toward a mantelshelf, and took down a savings-bank,—a florid little structure with "Bank of England" stamped over the miniature door, into which the jovial gentleman who frequented the house often slipped pieces of silver for the children, and into which Flossy dipped only when she was in a state of temporary financial embarrassment. Timothy did not dare to jingle it; he could only hope that as Flossy had not been in her usual health of late (though in more than her usual "spirits"), she had not felt obliged to break the bank.
Now for provisions. There were plenty of "funeral baked meats" in the kitchen; and he hastily gathered a dozen cookies into a towel, and stowed them in the coach with the other sinews of war.
So far, well and good; but the worst was to come. With his heart beating in his bosom like a trip-hammer, and his eyes dilated with fear, he stepped to the door between the two rooms, and opened it softly. Two thundering snores, pitched in such different keys that they must have proceeded from two separate sets of nasal organs, reassured the boy. He looked out into the alley. "Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse." The Minerva Courtiers couldn't be owls and hawks too, and there was not even the ghost of a sound to be heard. Satisfied that all was well, Timothy went back to the bedroom, and lifted the battered clothes-basket, trucks and all, in his slender arms, carried it up the alley and down the street a little distance, and deposited it on the pavement beside a vacant lot. This done, he sped back to the house. "How beautifully they snore!" he thought, as he stood again on the threshold. "Shall I leave 'em a letter?... P'raps I better ... and then they won't follow us and bring us back." So he scribbled a line on a bit of torn paper bag, and pinned it on the enemies' door.
"A kind Lady is goin to Adopt us it is a Grate ways off so do not Hunt good by. TIM."
Now all was ready. No; one thing more. Timothy had been met in the street by a pretty young girl a few weeks before. The love of God was smiling in her heart, the love of children shining in her eyes; and she led him, a willing captive, into a mission Sunday-school near by. And so much in earnest was the sweet little teacher, and so hungry for any sort of good tidings was the starved little pupil, that Timothy "got religion" then and there, as simply and naturally as a child takes its mother's milk. He was probably in a state of crass ignorance regarding the Thirty-nine Articles; but it was the "engrafted word," of which the Bible speaks, that had blossomed in Timothy's heart; the living seed had always been there, waiting for some beneficent fostering influence; for he was what dear Charles Lamb would have called a natural "kingdom-of-heavenite." Thinking, therefore, of Miss Dora's injunction to pray over all the extra-ordinary affairs of life and as many of the ordinary ones as possible, he hung his tattered straw hat on the bedpost, and knelt beside Gay's crib with this whispered prayer:—
"Our Father who art in heaven, please help me to find a mother for Gay, one that she can call Mamma, and another one for me, if there's enough, but not unless. Please excuse me for taking away the clothes-basket, which does not exactly belong to us; but if I do not take it, dear heavenly Father, how will I get Gay to the railroad? And if I don't take the Japanese umbrella she will get freckled, and nobody will adopt her. No more at present, as I am in a great hurry. Amen."
He put on his hat, stooped over the sleeping baby, and took her in his faithful arms,—arms that had never failed her yet. She half opened her eyes, and seeing that she was safe on her beloved Timothy's shoulder, clasped her dimpled arms tight about his neck, and with a long sigh drifted off again into the land of dreams. Bending beneath her weight, he stepped for the last time across the threshold, not even daring to close the door behind him.
Up the alley and round the corner he sped, as fast as his trembling legs could carry him. Just as he was within sight of the goal of his ambition, that is, the chariot aforesaid, he fancied he heard the sound of hurrying feet behind him. To his fevered imagination the tread was like that of an avenging army on the track of the foe. He did not dare to look behind. On! for the clothes-basket and liberty! He would relinquish the Japanese umbrella, the cookies, the comb, and the apron,—all the booty, in fact,—as an inducement for the enemy to retreat, but he would never give up the prisoner.
On the feet hurried, faster and faster. He stooped to put Gay in the basket, and turned in despair to meet his pursuers, when a little, grimy, rough-coated, lop-eared, split-tailed thing, like an animated rag-bag, leaped upon his knees; whimpering with joy, and imploring, with every grace that his simple doggish heart could suggest, to be one of the eloping party.
Rags had followed them!
Timothy was so glad to find it no worse that he wasted a moment in embracing the dog, whose delirious joy at the prospect of this probably dinnerless and supperless expedition was ludicrously exaggerated. Then he took up the rope and trundled the chariot gently down a side street leading to the station.
Everything worked to a charm. They met only an occasional milk (and water) man, starting on his matutinal rounds, for it was now after four o'clock, and one or two cavaliers of uncertain gait, just returning to their homes, several hours too late for their own good; but these gentlemen were in no condition of mind to be over-interested, and the little fugitives were troubled with no questions as to their intentions.
And so they went out into the world together, these three: Timothy Jessup (if it was Jessup), brave little knight, nameless nobleman, tracing his descent back to God, the Father of us all, and bearing the Divine likeness more than most of us; the little Lady Gay,—somebody—nobody—anybody,—from nobody knows where,—destination equally uncertain; and Rags, of pedigree most doubtful, scutcheon quite obscured by blots, but a perfect gentleman, true-hearted and loyal to the core,—in fact, an angel in fur. These three, with the clothes-basket as personal property and the Bank of England as security, went out to seek their fortune; and, unlike Lot's wife, without daring to look behind, shook the dust of Minerva Court from off their feet forever and forever.
The Railway Station.
TIMOTHY PLANS A CAMPAIGN, AND PROVIDENCE ASSISTS MATERIALLY IN CARRYING IT OUT, OR VICE VERSA.
By dint of skillful generalship, Timothy gathered his forces on a green bank just behind the railway depot, cleared away a sufficient number of tin cans and oyster-shells to make a flat space for the chariot of war, which had now become simply a cradle, and sat down, with Rags curled up at his feet, to plan the campaign.
He pushed back the ragged hat from his waving hair, and, clasping his knees with his hands, gazed thoughtfully at the towering chimneys in the foreground and the white-winged ships in the distant harbor. There was a glimpse of something like a man's purpose in the sober eyes; and as the morning sunlight fell upon his earnest face, the angel in him came to the surface, and crowded the "boy part" quite out of sight, as it has a way of doing sometimes with children.
How some father-heart would have throbbed with pride to own him, and how gladly lifted the too heavy burden from his childish shoulders!
Timothy Jessup, aged ten or eleven, or thereabouts (the records had not been kept with absolute exactness)—Timothy Jessup, somewhat ragged, all forlorn, and none too clean at the present moment, was a poet, philosopher, and lover of the beautiful. The dwellers in Minerva Court had never discovered the fact; for, although he had lived in that world, he had most emphatically never been of it. He was a boy of strange notions, and the vocabulary in which he expressed them was stranger still; further-more, he had gentle manners, which must have been indigenous, as they had certainly never been cultivated; and, although he had been in the way of handling pitch for many a day, it had been helpless to defile him, such was the essential purity of his nature.
To find a home and a mother for Lady Gay had been Timothy's secret longing ever since he had heard people say that Flossy might die. He had once enjoyed all the comforts of a Home with a capital H; but it was the cosy one with the little "h" that he so much desired for her.
Not that he had any ill treatment to remember in the excellent institution of which he was for several years an inmate. The matron was an amiable and hard-working woman, who wished to do her duty to all the children under her care; but it would be an inspired human being indeed who could give a hundred and fifty motherless or fatherless children all the education and care and training they needed, to say nothing of the love that they missed and craved. What wonder, then, that an occasional hungry little soul, starved for want of something not provided by the management; say, a morning cuddle in father's bed or a ride on father's knee,—in short, the sweet daily jumble of lap-trotting, gentle caressing, endearing words, twilight stories, motherly tucks-in-bed, good-night kisses,—all the dear, simple, every-day accompaniments of the home with the little "h."
Timothy Jessup, bred in such an atmosphere, would have gladdened every life that touched his at any point. Plenty of wistful men and women would have thanked God nightly on their knees for the gift of such a son; and here he was, sitting on a tin can, bowed down with family cares, while thousands of graceless little scalawags were slapping the faces of their French nurse-maids and bullying their parents, in that very city.—Ah me!
As for the tiny Lady Gay, she had all the winsome virtues to recommend her. No one ever feared that she would die young out of sheer goodness. You would not have loved her so much for what she was as because you couldn't help yourself. This feat once accomplished, she blossomed into a thousand graces, each one more bewitching than the last you noted.
Where, in the name of all the sacred laws of heredity, did the child get her sunshiny nature? Born in misery, and probably in sin, nurtured in wretchedness and poverty, she had brought her "radiant morning visions" with her into the world. Like Wordsworth's immortal babe, "with trailing clouds of glory" had she come, from God who was her home; and the heaven that lies about us all in our infancy,—that Garden of Eden into which we are all born, like the first man and the first woman,—that heaven lay about her still, stronger than the touch of earth.
What if the room were desolate and bare? The yellow sunbeams stole through the narrow window, and in the shaft of light they threw across the dirty floor Gay played,—oblivious of everything save the flickering golden rays that surrounded her.
The raindrops chasing each other down the dingy pane, the snowflakes melting softly on the casement, the brown leaf that the wind blew into her lap as she sat on the sidewalk, the chirp of the little beggar-sparrows over the cobblestones, all these brought as eager a light into her baby eyes as the costliest toy. With no earthly father or mother to care for her, she seemed to be God's very own baby, and He amused her in his own good way; first by locking her happiness within her own soul (the only place where it is ever safe for a single moment), and then by putting her under Timothy's paternal ministrations.
Timothy's mind traveled back over the past, as he sat among the tin cans and looked at Rags and Gay. It was a very small story, if he ever found any one who would care to hear it. There was a long journey in a great ship, a wearisome illness of many weeks,—or was it months?—when his curls had been cut off, and all his memories with them; then there was the Home; then there was Flossy, who came to take him away; then—oh, bright, bright spot! oh, blessed time!—there was baby Gay; then, worse than all, there was Minerva Court. But he did not give many minutes to reminiscence. He first broke open the Bank of England, and threw it away, after finding to his joy that their fortune amounted to one dollar and eighty-five cents. This was so much in advance of his expectations that he laughed aloud; and Rags, wagging his tail with such vigor that he nearly broke it in two, jumped into the cradle and woke the baby.
Then there was a happy family circle, you may believe me, and with good reason, too! A trip to the country (meals and lodging uncertain, but that was a trifle), a sight of green meadows, where Tim would hear real birds sing in the trees, and Gay would gather wild flowers, and Rags would chase, and perhaps—who knows?—catch toothsome squirrels and fat little field-mice, of which the country dogs visiting Minerva Court had told the most mouth-watering tales. Gay's transport knew no bounds. Her child-heart felt no regret for the past, no care for the present, no anxiety for the future. The only world she cared for was in her sight; and she had never, in her brief experience, gazed upon it with more radiant anticipation than on this sunny June morning, when she had opened her bright eyes on a pleasant, odorous bank of oyster-shells, instead of on the accustomed surroundings of Minerva Court.
Breakfast was first in order.
There was a pump conveniently near, and the oyster-shells made capital cups. Gay had three cookies, Timothy two, and Rags one; but there was no statute of limitations placed on the water; every one had as much as he could drink.
The little matter of toilets came next. Timothy took the dingy rag which did duty for a handkerchief, and, calling the pump again into requisition, scrubbed Gay's face and hands tenderly, but firmly. Her clothes were then all smoothed down tidily, but the clean apron was kept for the eventful moment when her future mother should first be allowed to behold the form of her adopted child.
The comb was then brought out, and her mop of red-gold hair was assisted to fall in wet spirals all over her lovely head, which always "wiggled" too much for any more formal style of hair-dressing. Her Sunday hat being tied on, as the crowning glory, this lucky little princess, this child of Fortune, so inestimably rich in her own opinion, this daughter of the gods, I say, was returned to the basket, where she endeavored to keep quiet until the next piece of delightful unexpectedness should rise from fairy-land upon her excited gaze.
Timothy and Rags now went to the pump, and Rags was held under the spout. This was a new and bitter experience, and he wished for a few brief moments that he had never joined the noble army of deserters, but had stayed where dirt was fashionable. Being released, the sense of abnormal cleanliness mounted to his brain, and he tore breathlessly round in a circle seventy-seven times without stopping. But this only dried his hair and amused Gay, who was beginning to find the basket confining, and who clamored for "Timfy" to take her to "yide."
Timothy attended to himself last, as usual. He put his own head under the pump, and scrubbed his face and hands heartily; wiping them on his—well, he wiped them, and that is the main thing; besides, his handkerchief had been reduced to a pulp in Gay's service. He combed his hair, pulled up his stockings and tied his shoes neatly, buttoned his jacket closely over his shirt, and was just pinning up the rent in his hat, when Rags considerately brought another suggestion in the shape of an old chicken-wing, with which he brushed every speck of dust from his clothes. This done, and being no respecter of persons, he took the family comb to Rags, who woke the echoes during the operation, and hoped to the Lord that the squirrels would run slowly and that the field-mice would be very tender, to pay him for this.
It was now nearly eight o'clock, and the party descended the hillside and entered the side door of the station.
The day's work had long since begun, and there was the usual din and uproar of railroad traffic. Trucks, laden high with boxes and barrels, were being driven to the wide doors, and porters were thundering and thumping and lurching the freight from one set of cars into another; their primary objects being to make a racket and demolish raw material, thereby increasing manufacture and export, but incidentally to load or unload as much freight as possible in a given time.
Timothy entered, trundling his carriage, where Lady Gay sat enthroned like a Murray Hill belle on a dog-cart, conscious pride of Sunday hat on week-day morning exuding from every feature; and Rags followed close behind, clean, but with a crushed spirit, which he could stimulate only by the most seductive imaginations. No one molested them, for Timothy was very careful not to get in any one's way. Finally, he drew up in front of a high blackboard, on which the names of various way-stations were printed in gold letters:—
CHESTERTOWN. SANDFORD. REEDVILLE. BINGHAM. SKAGGSTOWN. ESBURY. SCRATCH CORNER. HILLSIDE. MOUNTAIN VIEW. EDGEWOOD. PLEASANT RIVER.
"The names get nicer and nicer as you read down the line, and the furtherest one of all is the very prettiest, so I guess we'll go there," thought Timothy, not realizing that his choice was based on most insecure foundations; and that, for aught he knew, the milk of human kindness might have more cream on it at Scratch Corner than at Pleasant River, though the latter name was certainly more attractive.
Gay approved of Pleasant River, and so did Rags; and Timothy moved off down the station to a place on the open platform where a train of cars stood ready for starting, the engine at the head gasping and puffing and breathing as hard as if it had an acute attack of asthma.
"How much does it cost to go to Pleasant River, please?" asked Tim, bravely, of a kind-looking man in a blue coat and brass buttons, who stood by the cars.
"This is a freight train, sonny," replied the man; "takes four hours to get there. Better wait till 10.45; buy your ticket up in the station."
"10.45!" Tim saw visions of Mrs. Simmons speeding down upon him in hot pursuit, kindled by Gay's disappearance into an appreciation of her charms.
The tears stood in his eyes as Gay clambered out of the basket, and danced with impatience, exclaiming, "Gay wants to yide now! yide now! yide now!"
"Did you want to go sooner?" asked the man, who seemed to be entirely too much interested in humanity to succeed in the railroad business. "Well, as you seem to have consid'rable of a family on your hands, I guess we'll take you along. Jim, unlock that car and let these children in, and then lock it up again. It's a car we're taking up to the end of the road for repairs, bubby, so the comp'ny 'll give you and your folks a free ride!"
Timothy thanked the man in his politest manner, and Gay pressed a piece of moist cooky in his hand, and offered him one of her swan's-down kisses, a favor of which she was usually as chary as if it had possessed a market value.
"Are you going to take the dog?" asked the man, as Rags darted up the steps with sniffs and barks of ecstatic delight. "He ain't so handsome but you can get another easy enough!" (Rags held his breath in suspense, and wondered if he had been put under a roaring cataract, and then ploughed in deep furrows with a sharp-toothed instrument of torture, only to be left behind at last!)
"That's just why I take him," said Timothy; "because he isn't handsome and has nobody else to love him."
("Not a very polite reason," thought Rags; "but anything to go!")
"Well, jump in, dog and all, and they'll give you the best free ride to the country you ever had in your life! Tell 'em it's all right, Jim;" and the train steamed out of the depot, while the kind man waved his bandana handkerchief until the children were out of sight.
JABE SLOCUM ASSUMES THE ROLE OF GUARDIAN ANGEL.
Jabe Slocum had been down to Edgewood, and was just returning to the White Farm, by way of the cross-roads and Hard Scrabble school-house. He was in no hurry, though he always had more work on hand than he could leave undone for a month; and Maria also was taking her own time, as usual, even stopping now and then to crop an unusually sweet tuft of grass that grew within smelling distance, and which no mare (with a driver like Jabe) could afford to pass without notice.
Jabe was ostensibly out on an "errant" for Miss Avilda Cummins; but, as he had been in her service for six years, she had no expectations of his accomplishing anything beyond getting to a place and getting back in the same day, the distance covered being no factor at all in the matter.
But one needn't go to Miss Avilda Cummins for a description of Jabe Slocum's peculiarities. They were all so written upon his face and figure and speech that the wayfaring man, though a fool, could not err in his judgment. He was a long, loose, knock-kneed, slack-twisted person, and would have been "longer yit if he hedn't hed so much turned up for feet,"—so Aunt Hitty Tarbox said. (Aunt Hitty went from house to house in Edgewood and Pleasant River, making over boys' clothes; and as her tongue flew as fast as her needle, her sharp speeches were always in circulation in both villages.)
Mr. Slocum had sandy hair, high cheekbones, a pair of kindly light blue eyes, and a most unique nose: I hardly know to what order of architecture it belonged,—perhaps Old Colonial would describe it as well as anything else. It was a wide, flat, well-ventilated, hospitable edifice (so to speak), so peculiarly constructed and applied that Samantha Ann Ripley (of whom more anon) declared that "the reason Jabe Slocum ketched cold so easy was that, if he didn't hold his head jess so, it kep' a-rainin' in!"
His mouth was simply an enormous slit in his face, and served all the purposes for which a mouth is presumably intended, save, perhaps, the trivial one of decoration. In short (a ludicrously inappropriate word for the subject), it was a capital medium for exits and entrances, but no ornament to his countenance. When Rhapsena Crabb, now deceased, was first engaged to Jabez Slocum, Aunt Hitty Tarbox said it beat her "how Rhapseny ever got over Jabe's mouth; though she could 'a' got intew it easy 'nough, or raound it, if she took plenty o' time." But perhaps Rhapsena appreciated a mouth (in a husband) that never was given to "jawin'," and which uttered only kind words during her brief span of married life. And there was precious little leisure for kissing at Pleasant River!
As Jabe had passed the store, a few minutes before, one of the boys had called out, facetiously, "Shet yer mouth when ye go by the deepot, Laigs; the train's comin' in!" But he only smiled placidly, though it was an ancient joke, the flavor of which had just fully penetrated the rustic skull; and the villagers could not resist titillating the sense of humor with it once or twice a month. Neither did Jabez mind being called "Laigs," the local pronunciation of the word "legs;" in fact, his good humor was too deep to be ruffled. His "cistern of wrathfulness was so small, and the supply pipe so unready," that it was next to impossible to "put him out," so the natives said.
He was a man of tolerable education; the only son of his parents, who had endeavored to make great things of him, and might perhaps have succeeded, if he hadn't always had so little time at his disposal,—hadn't been "so drove," as he expressed it. He went to the village school as regularly as he couldn't help, that is, as many days as he couldn't contrive to stay away, until he was fourteen. From there he was sent to the Academy, three miles distant; but his mother soon found that he couldn't make the two trips a day and be "under cover by candlelight;" so the plan of a classical education was abandoned, and he was allowed to speed the home plough,—a profession which he pursued with such moderation that his father, when starting him down a furrow, used to hang his dinner-pail on his arm and, bidding him good-by, beg him, with tears in his eyes, to be back before sun-down.
At the present moment Jabe was enjoying a cud of Old Virginia plug tobacco, and taking in no more of the landscape than he could avoid, when Maria, having wound up to the top of Marm Berry's hill, in spite of herself walked directly out on one side of the road, and stopped short to make room for the passage of an imposing procession, made up of one straw phaeton, one baby, one strange boy, and one strange dog.
Jabe eyed the party with some placid interest, for he loved children, but with no undue excitement. Shifting his huge quid, he inquired in his usual leisurely manner, "Which way yer goin', bub,—t' the Swamp or t' the Falls?"
Timothy thought neither sounded especially inviting, but, rapidly choosing the lesser evil, replied, "To the Falls, sir."
"Thy way happens to be my way, 's Rewth said to Naomi; so 'f gittin' over the road's your objeck, 'n' y' ain't pertickler 'baout the gait ye travel, ye can git in 'n' ride a piece. We don't b'lieve in hurryin', Mariar 'n' me. Slow 'n' easy goes fur in a day, 's our motto. Can ye git your folks aboard withaout spillin' any of 'em?"
No wonder he asked, for Gay was in such a wild state of excitement that she could hardly be held.
"I can lift Gay up, if you'll please take her, sir," said Timothy; "and if you're quite sure the horse will stand still."
"Bless your soul, she'll stan' all right; she likes stan'in' a heap better 'n she doos goin'; runnin' away ain't no temptation to Maria Cummins; let well enough alone 's her motto. Jump in, sissy! There ye be! Now git yer baby-shay in the back of the wagon, bubby, 'n' we'll be 's snug 's a bug in a rug."
Timothy, whose creed was simple and whose beliefs were crystal clear, now felt that his morning prayer had been heard, and that the Lord was on his side; so he abandoned all idea of commanding the situation, and gave himself up to the full ecstasy of the ride, as they jogged peacefully along the river road.
Gay held a piece of a rein that peeped from Jabe's colossal hand (which was said by the villagers to cover most as much territory as the hand of Providence), and was convinced that she was driving Maria, an idea that made her speechless with joy.
Rags' wildest dreams of squirrels came true; and, reconciled at length to cleanliness, he was capering in and out of the woods, thinking what an Arabian Nights' entertainment he would give the Minerva Court dogs when he returned, if return he ever must to that miserable, squirrelless hole.
The meadows on the other side of the river were gorgeous with yellow buttercups, and here and there a patch of blue iris or wild sage. The black cherry trees were masses of snowy bloom; the water at the river's edge held spikes of blue arrowweed in its crystal shallows; while the roadside itself was gay with daisies and feathery grasses.
In the midst of this loveliness flowed Pleasant River,
"Vexed in all its seaward course by bridges, dams, and mills,"
but finding time, during the busy summer months, to flush its fertile banks with beauty.
Suddenly (a word that could seldom be truthfully applied to the description of Jabe Slocum's movements) the reins were ruthlessly drawn from Lady Gay's hands and wound about the whipstock.
"Gorry!" ejaculated Mr. Slocum, "ef I hain't left the widder Foss settin' on Aunt Hitty's hoss-block, 'n' I promised to pick her up when I come along back! That all comes o' my drivin' by the store so fast on account o' the boys hectorin' of me, so 't when I got to the turn I was so kind of het up I jogged right along the straight road. Haste makes waste 's an awful good motto. Pile out, young ones! It's only half a mile from here to the Falls, 'n' you'll have to get there on Shank's mare!"
So saying, he dumped the astonished children into the middle of the road, from whence he had plucked them, turned the docile mare, and with a "Git, Mariar!" went four miles back to relieve Aunt Hitty's horse-block from the weight of the widder Foss (which was no joke!).
This turn of affairs was most unexpected, and Gay seemed on the point of tears; but Timothy gathered her a handful of wild flowers, wiped the dust from her face, put on the clean blue gingham apron, and established her in the basket, where she soon fell asleep, wearied by the excitements of the day.
Timothy's heart began to be a little troubled as he walked on and on through the leafy woods, trundling the basket behind him. Nothing had gone wrong; indeed, everything had been much easier than he could have hoped. Perhaps it was the weariness that had crept into his legs, and the hollowness that began to appear in his stomach; but, somehow, although in the morning he had expected to find Gay's new mothers beckoning from every window, so that he could scarcely choose between them, he now felt as if the whole race of mothers had suddenly become extinct.
Soon the village came in sight, nestled in the laps of the green hills on both sides of the river. Timothy trudged bravely on, scanning all the dwellings, but finding none of them just the thing. At last he turned deliberately off the main road, where the houses seemed too near together and too near the street, for his taste, and trundled his family down a shady sort of avenue, over which the arching elms met and clasped hands.
Rags had by this time lowered his tail to half-mast, and kept strictly to the beaten path, notwithstanding manifold temptations to forsake it. He passed two cats without a single insulting remark, and his entire demeanor was eloquent of nostalgia.
"Oh, dear!" sighed Timothy disconsolately; "there's something wrong with all the places. Either there's no pigeon-house, like in all the pictures, or no flower garden, or no chickens, or no lady at the window, or else there's lots of baby-clothes hanging on the wash-lines. I don't believe I shall ever find"—
At this moment a large, comfortable white house, that had been heretofore hidden by great trees, came into view. Timothy drew nearer to the spotless picket fence, and gazed upon the beauties of the side yard and the front garden,—gazed and gazed, and fell desperately in love at first sight.
The whole thing had been made as if to order; that is all there is to say about it. There was an orchard, and, oh, ecstasy! what hosts of green apples! There was an interesting grindstone under one tree, and a bright blue chair and stool under another; a thicket of currant and gooseberry bushes; and a flock of young turkeys ambling awkwardly through the barn. Timothy stepped gently along in the thick grass, past a pump and a mossy trough, till a side porch came into view, with a woman sitting there sewing bright-colored rags. A row of shining tin pans caught the sun's rays, and threw them back in a thousand glittering prisms of light; the grasshoppers and crickets chirped sleepily in the warm grass, and a score of tiny yellow butterflies hovered over a group of odorous hollyhocks.
Suddenly the person on the porch broke into this cheerful song, which she pitched in so high a key and gave with such emphasis that the crickets and grasshoppers retired by mutual consent from any further competition, and the butterflies suspended operations for several seconds:—
"I'll chase the antelope over the plain, The tiger's cob I'll bind with a chain, And the wild gazelle with the silv'ry feet I'll bring to thee for a playmate sweet."
Timothy listened intently for some moments, but could not understand the words, unless the lady happened to be in the menagerie business, which he thought unlikely, but delightful should it prove true.
His eye then fell on a little marble slab under a tree in a shady corner of the orchard.
"That's a country doorplate," he thought; "yes, it's got the lady's name, 'Martha Cummins,' printed on it. Now I'll know what to call her."
He crept softly on to the front side of the house. There were flower beds, a lovable white cat snoozing on the doorsteps, and—a lady sitting at the open window knitting!
At this vision Timothy's heart beat so hard against his little jacket that he could only stagger back to the basket, where Rags and Lady Gay were snuggled together, fast asleep. He anxiously scanned Gay's face; moistened his rag of a handkerchief at the only available source of supply; scrubbed an atrocious dirt spot from the tip of her spirited nose; and then, dragging the basket along the path leading to the front gate, he opened it and went in, mounted the steps, plied the brass knocker, and waited in childlike faith for a summons to enter and make himself at home.
The White Farm. Afternoon.
TIMOTHY FINDS A HOUSE IN WHICH HE THINKS A BABY IS NEEDED, BUT THE INMATES DO NOT ENTIRELY AGREE WITH HIM.
Meanwhile, Miss Avilda Cummins had left her window and gone into the next room for a skein of yarn. She answered the knock, however; and, opening the door, stood rooted to the threshold in speechless astonishment, very much as if she had seen the shades of her ancestors drawn up in line in the dooryard.
Off went Timothy's hat. He hadn't seen the lady's face very clearly when she was knitting at the window, or he would never have dared to knock; but it was too late to retreat. Looking straight into her cold eyes with his own shining gray ones, he said bravely, but with a trembling voice, "Do you need any babies here, if you please?" (Need any babies! What an inappropriate, nonsensical expression, to be sure; as if a baby were something exquisitely indispensable, like the breath of life, for instance!)
No answer. Miss Vilda was trying to assume command of her scattered faculties and find some clue to the situation. Timothy concluded that she was not, after all, the lady of the house; and, remembering the marble doorplate in the orchard, tried again. "Does Miss Martha Cummins live here, if you please?" (Oh, Timothy! what induced you, in this crucial moment of your life, to touch upon that sorest spot in Miss Vilda's memory?)
"What do you want?" she faltered.
"I want to get somebody to adopt my baby," he said; "if you haven't got any of your own, you couldn't find one half as dear and as pretty as she is; and you needn't have me too, you know, unless you should need me to help take care of her."
"You're very kind," Miss Avilda answered sarcastically, preparing to shut the door upon the strange child; "but I don't think I care to adopt any babies this afternoon, thank you. You'd better run right back home to your mother, if you've got one, and know where 't is, anyhow."
"I—haven't!" cried poor Timothy, with a sudden and unpremeditated burst of tears at the failure of his hopes; for he was half child as well as half hero. At this juncture Gay opened her eyes, and burst into a wild howl at the unwonted sight of Timothy's grief; and Rags, who was full of exquisite sensibility, and quite ready to weep with those who did weep, lifted up his woolly head and added his piteous wails to the concert. It was a tableau vivant.
"Samanthy Ann!" called Miss Vilda excitedly; "Samanthy Ann! Come right here and tell me what to do!"
The person thus adjured flew in from the porch, leaving a serpentine trail of red, yellow, and blue rags in her wake. "Land o' liberty!" she exclaimed, as she surveyed the group. "Where'd they come from, and what air they tryin' to act out?"
"This boy's a baby agent, as near as I can make out; he wants I should adopt this red-headed baby, but says I ain't obliged to take him too, and makes out they haven't got any home. I told him I wa'n't adoptin' any babies just now, and at that he burst out cryin', and the other two followed suit. Now, have the three of 'em just escaped from some asylum, or are they too little to be lunatics?"
Timothy dried his tears, in order that Gay should be comforted and appear at her best, and said penitently: "I cried before I thought, because Gay hasn't had anything but cookies since last night, and she'll have no place to sleep unless you'll let us stay here just till morning. We went by all the other houses, and chose this one because everything was so beautiful."
"Nothin' but cookies sence—Land o' liberty!" ejaculated Samantha Ann, starting for the kitchen.
"Come back here, Samanthy! Don't you leave me alone with 'em, and don't let's have all the neighbors runnin' in; you take 'em into the kitchen and give 'em somethin' to eat, and we'll see about the rest afterwards."
Gay kindled at the first casual mention of food; and, trying to clamber out of the basket, fell over the edge, thumping her head smartly on the stone steps. Miss Vilda covered her face with her hands, and waited shudderingly for another yell, as the child's carnation stocking and terra-cotta head mingled wildly in the air. But Lady Gay disentangled herself, and laughed the merriest burst of laughter that ever woke the echoes. That was a joke; her life was full of them, served fresh every day; for no sort of adversity could long have power over such a nature as hers. "Come get supper," she cooed, putting her hand in Samantha's; adding that the "nasty lady needn't come," a remark that happily escaped detection, as it was rendered in very unintelligible "early English."
Miss Avilda tottered into the darkened sitting-room and sank on to a black haircloth sofa, while Samantha ushered the wanderers into the sunny kitchen, muttering to herself: "Wall, I vow! travelin' over the country all alone, 'n' not knee-high to a toad! They're send in' out awful young tramps this season, but they sha'n't go away hungry, if I know it."
Accordingly, she set out a plentiful supply of bread and butter, gingerbread, pie, and milk, put a tin plate of cold hash in the shed for Rags, and swept him out to it with a corn broom; and, telling the children comfortably to cram their "everlastin' little bread-baskets full," returned to the sitting-room.
"Now, whatever makes you so panicky, Vildy? Didn't you never see a tramp before, for pity's sake? And if you're scar't for fear I can't handle 'em alone, why, Jabe 'll be comin' along soon. The prospeck of gittin' to bed's the only thing that'll make him 'n' Maria hurry; 'n' they'll both be cal'latin' on that by this time!"
"Samanthy Ann, the first question that that boy asked me was, 'If Miss Martha Cummins lived here.' Now, what do you make of that?"
Samantha looked as astonished as anybody could wish. "Asked if Marthy Cummins lived here? How under the canopy did he ever hear Marthy's name? Wall, somebody told him to ask, that's all there is about it; and what harm was there in it, anyhow?"
"Oh, I don't know, I don't know; but the minute that boy looked up at me and asked for Martha Cummins, the old trouble, that I thought was dead and buried years ago, started right up in my heart and begun to ache just as if it all happened yesterday."
"Now keep stiddy, Vildy; what could happen?" urged Samantha.
"Why, it flashed across my mind in a minute," and here Miss Vilda lowered her voice to a whisper, "that perhaps Martha's baby didn't die, as they told her."
"But, land o' liberty, s'posin' it didn't! Poor Marthy died herself more 'n twenty years ago."
"I know; but supposing her baby didn't die; and supposing it grew up and died, and left this little girl to roam round the world afoot and alone?"
"You're cal'latin' dreadful close, 'pears to me; now, don't go s'posin' any more things. You're makin' out one of them yellow-covered books, sech as the summer boarders bring out here to read; always chock full of doin's that never would come to pass in this or any other Christian country. You jest lay down and snuff your camphire, an' I'll go out an' pump that boy drier 'n a sand heap!"
Now, Miss Avilda Cummins was unmarried by every implication of her being, as Henry James would say: but Samantha Ann Ripley was a spinster purely by accident. She had seldom been exposed to the witcheries of children, or she would have known long before this that, so far as she was personally concerned, they would always prove irresistible. She marched into the kitchen like a general resolved upon the extinction of the enemy. She walked out again, half an hour later, with the very teeth of her resolve drawn, but so painlessly that she had not been aware of the operation! She marched in a woman of a single purpose; she came out a double-faced diplomatist, with the seeds of sedition and conspiracy lurking, all unsuspected, in her heart.
The cause? Nothing more than a dozen trifles as "light as air." Timothy had sat upon a little wooden stool at her feet; and, resting his arms on her knees, had looked up into her kind, rosy face with a pair of liquid eyes like gray-blue lakes, eyes which seemed and were the very windows of his soul. He had sat there telling his wee bit of a story; just a vague, shadowy, plaintive, uncomplaining scrap of a story, without beginning, plot, or ending, but every word in it set Samantha Ann Ripley's heart throbbing.
And Gay, who knew a good thing when she saw it, had climbed up into her capacious lap, and, not being denied, had cuddled her head into that "gracious hollow" in Samantha's shoulder, that had somehow missed the pressure of the childish heads that should have lain there. Then Samantha's arm had finally crept round the wheedlesome bit of soft humanity, and before she knew it her chair was swaying gently to and fro, to and fro, to and fro; and the wooden rockers creaked more sweetly than ever they had creaked before, for they were singing their first cradle song!
Then Gay heaved a great sigh of unspeakable satisfaction, and closed her lovely eyes. She had been born with a desire to be cuddled, and had had precious little experience of it. At the sound of this happy sigh and the sight of the child's flower face, with the upward curling lashes on the pink cheeks and the moist tendrils of hair on the white forehead, and the helpless, clinging touch of the baby arm about her neck, I cannot tell you the why or wherefore, but old memories and new desires began to stir in Samantha Ann Ripley's heart. In short, she had met the enemy, and she was theirs!
Presently Gay was laid upon the old-fashioned settle, and Samantha stationed herself where she could keep the flies off her by waving a palm-leaf fan.
"Now, there's one thing more I want you to tell me," said she, after she had possessed herself of Timothy's unhappy past, uncertain present, and still more dubious future; "and that is, what made you ask for Miss Marthy Cummins when you come to the door?"
"Why, I thought it was the lady-of-the-house's name," said Timothy; "I saw it on her doorplate."
"But we ain't got any doorplate, to begin with."
"Not a silver one on your door, like they have in the city; but isn't that white marble piece in the yard a doorplate? It's got 'Martha Cummins, aged 17,' on it. I thought may be in the country they had them in their gardens; only I thought it was queer they put their ages on them, because they'd have to be scratched out every little while, wouldn't they?"
"My grief!" ejaculated Samantha; "for pity's sake, don't you know a tombstun when you see it?"
"No; what is a tombstun?"
"Land sakes! what do you know, any way? Didn't you never see a graveyard where folks is buried?"
"I never went to the graveyard, but I know where it is, and I know about people's being buried. Flossy is going to be buried. And so the white stone shows the places where the people are put, and tells their names, does it? Why, it is a kind of a doorplate, after all, don't you see? Who is Martha Cummins, aged 17?"
"She was Miss Vildy's sister, and she went to the city, and then come home and died here, long years ago. Miss Vildy set great store by her, and can't bear to have her name spoke; so remember what I say. Now, this 'Flossy' you tell me about (of all the fool names I ever hearn tell of, that beats all,—sounds like a wax doll, with her clo'se sewed on!), was she a young woman?"
"I don't know whether she was young or not," said Tim, in a puzzled tone. "She had young yellow hair, and very young shiny teeth, white as china; but her neck was crackled underneath, like Miss Vilda's;—it had no kissing places in it like Gay's."
"Well, you stay here in the kitchen a spell now, 'n' don't let in that rag-dog o' yourn till he stops scratching if he keeps it up till the crack o' doom;—he's got to be learned better manners. Now, I'll go in 'n' talk to Miss Vildy. She may keep you over night, 'n' she may not; I ain't noways sure. You started in wrong foot foremost."
The White Farm. Evening.
TIMOTHY, LADY GAY, AND RAGS PROVE FAITHFUL TO EACH OTHER.
Samantha went into the sitting-room and told the whole story to Miss Avilda; told it simply and plainly, for she was not given to arabesques in language, and then waited for a response.
"Well, what do you advise doin'?" asked Miss Cummins nervously.
"I don't feel comp'tent to advise, Vilda; the house ain't mine, nor yet the beds that's in it, nor the victuals in the butt'ry; but as a professin' Christian and member of the Orthodox Church in good and reg'lar standin' you can't turn 'em ou'doors when it's comin' on dark and they ain't got no place to sleep."
"Plenty of good Orthodox folks turned their backs on Martha when she was in trouble."
"There may be Orthodox hogs, for all I know," replied the blunt Samantha, who frequently called spades shovels in her search after absolute truth of statement, "but that ain't no reason why we should copy after 'em 's I know of."
"I don't propose to take in two strange children and saddle myself with 'em for days, or weeks, perhaps," said Miss Cummins coldly, "but I tell you what I will do. Supposing we send the boy over to Squire Bean's. It's near hayin' time, and he may take him in to help round and do chores. Then we'll tell him before he goes that we'll keep the baby as long as he gets a chance to work anywheres near. That will give us a chance to look round for some place for 'em and find out whether they've told us the truth."
"And if Squire Bean won't take him?" asked Samantha, with as much cold indifference as she could assume.
"Well, I suppose there's nothing for it but he must come back here and sleep. I'll go out and tell him so,—I declare I feel as weak as if I'd had a spell of sickness!"
Timothy bore the news better than Samantha had feared. Squire Bean's farm did not look so very far away; his heart was at rest about Gay and he felt that he could find a shelter for himself somewhere.
"Now, how'll the baby act when she wakes up and finds you're gone?" inquired Miss Vilda anxiously, as Timothy took his hat and bent down to kiss the sleeping child.
"Well, I don't know exactly," answered Timothy, "because she's always had me, you see. But I guess she'll be all right, now that she knows you a little, and if I can see her every day. She never cries except once in a long while when she gets mad; and if you're careful how you behave, she'll hardly ever get mad at you."
"Well I vow!" exclaimed Miss Vilda with a grim glance at Samantha, "I guess she'd better do the behavin'."
So Timothy was shown the way across the fields to Squire Bean's. Samantha accompanied him to the back gate, where she gave him three doughnuts and a sneaking kiss, watching him out of sight under the pretense of taking the towels and napkins off the grass.
It was nearly nine o'clock and quite dark when Timothy stole again to the little gate of the White Farm. The feet that had traveled so courageously over the mile walk to Squire Bean's had come back again slowly and wearily; for it is one thing to be shod with the sandals of hope, and quite another to tread upon the leaden soles of disappointment.
He leaned upon the white picket gate listening to the chirp of the frogs and looking at the fireflies as they hung their gleaming lamps here and there in the tall grass. Then he crept round to the side door, to implore the kind offices of the mediator before he entered the presence of the judge whom he assumed to be sitting in awful state somewhere in the front part of the house. He lifted the latch noiselessly and entered. Oh horror! Miss Avilda herself was sprinkling clothes at the great table on one side of the room. There was a moment of silence.
"He wouldn't have me," said Timothy simply, "he said I wasn't big enough yet. I offered him Gay, too, but he didn't want her either, and if you please, I would rather sleep on the sofa so as not to be any more trouble."
"You won't do any such thing," responded Miss Vilda briskly. "You've got a royal welcome this time sure, and I guess you can earn your lodging fast enough. You hear that?" and she opened the door that led into the upper part of the house.
A piercing shriek floated down into the kitchen, and another on the heels of that, and then another. Every drop of blood in Timothy's spare body rushed to his pale grave face. "Is she being whipped?" he whispered, with set lips.
"No; she needs it bad enough, but we ain't savages. She's only got the pretty temper that matches her hair, just as you said. I guess we haven't been behavin' to suit her."
"Can I go up? She'll stop in a minute when she sees me. She never went to bed without me before, and truly, truly, she's not a cross baby!"
"Come right along and welcome; just so long as she has to stay you're invited to visit with her. Land sakes! the neighbors will think we're killin' pigs!" and Miss Vilda started upstairs to show Timothy the way.
Gay was sitting up in bed and the faithful Samantha Ann was seated beside her with a lapful of useless bribes,—apples, seed-cakes, an illustrated Bible, a thermometer, an ear of red corn, and a large stuffed green bird, the glory of the "keeping room" mantelpiece.
But a whole aviary of highly colored songsters would not have assuaged Gay's woe at that moment. Every effort at conciliation was met with the one plaint: "I want my Timfy! I want my Timfy!"
At the first sight of the beloved form, Gay flung the sacred bird into the furthest corner of the room and burst into a wild sob of delight, as she threw herself into Timothy's loving arms.
Fifteen minutes later peace had descended on the troubled homestead, and Samantha went into the sitting-room and threw herself into the depths of the high-backed rocker. "Land o' liberty! perhaps I ain't het-up!" she ejaculated, as she wiped the sweat of honest toil from her brow and fanned herself vigorously with her apron. "I tell you what, at five o'clock I was dreadful sorry I hadn't took Dave Milliken, but now I'm plaguey glad I didn't! Still" (and here she tried to smooth the green bird's ruffled plumage and restore him to his perch under the revered glass case), "still, children will be children."
"Some of 'em's considerable more like wild cats," said Miss Avilda briefly.
"You just go upstairs now, and see if you find anything that looks like wild cats; but 't any rate, wild cats or tame cats, we would n't dass turn 'em ou'doors this time o' night for fear of flyin' in the face of Providence. If it's a stint He's set us, I don't see but we've got to work it out somehow."
"I'd rather have some other stint."
"To be sure!" retorted Samantha vigorously. "I never see anybody yet that didn't want to pick out her own stint; but mebbe if we got just the one we wanted it wouldn't be no stint! Land o' liberty, what's that!"
There was a crash of falling tin pans, and Samantha flew to investigate the cause. About ten minutes later she returned, more heated than ever, and threw herself for the second time into the high-backed rocker.
"That dog's been givin' me a chase, I can tell you! He clawed and scratched so in the shed that I put him in the wood-house; and he went and clim' up on that carpenter's bench, and pitched out that little winder at the top, and fell on to the milk-pan shelf and scattered every last one of 'em, and then upsot all my cans of termatter plants. But I couldn't find him, high nor low. All to once I see by the dirt on the floor that he'd squirmed himself through the skeeter-nettin' door int' the house, and then I surmised where he was. Sure enough, I crep' upstairs and there he was, layin' between the two children as snug as you please. He was snorin' like a pirate when I found him, but when I stood over the bed with a candle I could see 't his wicked little eyes was wide open, and he was jest makin' b'lieve sleep in hopes I'd leave him where he was. Well, I yanked him out quicker 'n scat, 'n' locked him in the old chicken house, so I guess he'll stay out, now. For folks that claim to be no blood relation, I declare him 'n' the boy 'n' the baby beats anything I ever come across for bein' fond of one 'nother!"
There were dreams at the White Farm that night. Timothy went to sleep with a prayer on his lips; a prayer that God would excuse him for speaking of Martha's doorplate, and a most imploring postscript to the effect that God would please make Miss Vilda into a mother for Gay; thinking as he floated off into the land of Nod, "It'll be awful hard work, but I don't suppose He cares how hard 't is!"
Lady Gay dreamed of driving beautiful white horses beside sparkling waters ... and through flowery meadows ... And great green birds perched on all the trees and flew towards her as if to peck the cherries of her lips ... but when she tried to beat them off they all turned into Timothys and she hugged them close to her heart ...
Rags' visions were gloomy, for he knew not whether the Lady with the Firm Hand would free him from his prison in the morning, or whether he was there for all time ... But there were intervals of bliss when his fancies took a brighter turn ... when Hope smiled ... and he bit the white cat's tail ... and chased the infant turkeys ... and found sweet, juicy, delicious bones in unexpected places ... and even inhaled, in exquisite anticipation, the fragrance of one particularly succulent bone that he had hidden under Miss Vilda's bed.
Sleep carried Samantha so many years back into the past that she heard the blithe din of carpenters hammering and sawing on a little house that was to be hers, his, theirs. ... And as she watched them, with all sorts of maidenly hopes about the home that was to be ... some one stole up behind and caught her at it, and she ran away blushing ... and some one followed her ... and they watched the carpenters together. ... Somebody else lived in the little house now, and Samantha never blushed any more, but that part was mercifully hidden in the dream.
Miss Vilda's slumber was troubled. She seemed to be walking through peaceful meadows, brown with autumn, when all at once there rose in the path steep hills and rocky mountains ... She felt too tired and too old to climb, but there was nothing else to be done ... And just as she began the toilsome ascent, a little child appeared, and catching her helplessly by the skirts implored to be taken with her ... And she refused and went on alone ... but, miracle of miracles, when she reached the crest of the first hill the child was there before her, still beseeching to be carried ... And again she refused, and again she wearily climbed the heights alone, always meeting the child when she reached their summits, and always enacting the same scene.... At last she cried in despair, "Ask me no more, for I have not even strength enough for my own needs!" ... And the child said, "I will help you;" and straightway crept into her arms and nestled there as one who would not be denied ... and she took up her burden and walked.... And as she climbed the weight grew lighter and lighter, till at length the clinging arms seemed to give her peace and strength ... and when she neared the crest of the highest mountain she felt new life throbbing in her veins and new hopes stirring in her heart, and she remembered no more the pain and weariness of her journey.... And all at once a bright angel appeared to her and traced the letters of a word upon her forehead and took the child from her arms and disappeared.... And the angel had the lovely smile and sad eyes of Martha ... and the word she traced on Miss Vilda's forehead was "Inasmuch"!
The Old Homestead.
MISTRESS AND MAID FIND TO THEIR AMAZEMENT THAT A CHILD, MORE THAN ALL OTHER GIFTS, BRINGS HOPE WITH IT AND FORWARD LOOKING THOUGHTS.
It was called the White Farm, not because that was an unusual color in Pleasant River. Nineteen out of every twenty houses in the village were painted white, for it had not then entered the casual mind that any other course was desirable or possible. Occasionally, a man of riotous imagination would substitute two shades of buff, or make the back of his barn red, but the spirit of invention stopped there, and the majority of sane people went on painting white. But Miss Avilda Cummins was blessed with a larger income than most of the inhabitants of Pleasant River, and all her buildings, the great house, the sheds, the carriage and dairy houses, the fences and the barn, were always kept in a state of dazzling purity; "as if," the neighbors declared, "S'manthy Ann Ripley went over 'em every morning with a dust-cloth."
It was merely an accident that the carriage and work horses chanced to be white, and that the original white cats of the family kept on having white kittens to decorate the front doorsteps. It was not accident, however, but design, that caused Jabe Slocum to scour the country for a good white cow and persuade Miss Cummins to swap off the old red one, so that the "critters" in the barn should match.
Miss Avilda had been born at the White Farm; father and mother had been taken from there to the old country churchyard, and "Martha, aged 17," poor, pretty, willful Martha, the greatest pride and greatest sorrow of the family, was lying under the apple trees in the garden.
Here also the little Samantha Ann Ripley had come as a child years ago, to be playmate, nurse, and companion to Martha, and here she had stayed ever since, as friend, adviser, and "company-keeper" to the lonely Miss Cummins. Nobody in Pleasant River would have dared to think of her as anybody's "hired help," though she did receive bed and board, and a certain sum yearly for her services; but she lived with Miss Cummins on equal terms, as was the custom in the good old New England villages, doing the lion's share of the work, and marking her sense of the situation by washing the dishes while Miss Avilda wiped them, and by never suffering her to feed the pig or go down cellar.
Theirs had been a dull sort of life, in which little had happened to make them grow into sympathy with the outside world. All the sweetness of Miss Avilda's nature had turned to bitterness and gall after Martha's disgrace, sad home-coming, and death. There had been much to forgive, and she had not had the grace nor the strength to forgive it until it was too late. The mystery of death had unsealed her eyes, and there had been a moment when the sad and bitter woman might have been drawn closer to the great Father-heart, there to feel the throb of a Divine compassion that would have sweetened the trial and made the burden lighter. But the minister of the parish proved a sorry comforter and adviser in these hours of trial. The Reverend Joshua Beckwith, whose view of God's universe was about as broad as if he had lived on the inside of his own pork-barrel, had cherished certain strong and unrelenting opinions concerning Martha's final destination, which were not shared by Miss Cummins. Martha, therefore, was not laid with the elect, but was put to rest in the orchard, under the kindly, untheological shade of the apple trees; and they scattered their tinted blossoms over her little white headstone, shed their fragrance about her quiet grave, and dropped their ruddy fruit in the high grass that covered it, just as tenderly and respectfully as if they had been regulation willows. The Reverend Joshua thus succeeded in drying up the springs of human sympathy in Miss Avilda's heart when most she needed comfort and gentle teaching; and, distrusting God for the moment, as well as his inexorable priest, she left her place in the old meeting-house where she had "worshiped" ever since she had acquired adhesiveness enough to stick to a pew, and was not seen there again for many years. The Reverend Joshua had died, as all men must and as most men should; and a mild-voiced successor reigned in his place; so the Cummins pew was occupied once more.
Samantha Ann Ripley had had her heart history too,—one of a different kind. She had "kept company" with David Milliken for a little matter of twenty years, off and on, and Miss Avilda had expected at various times to lose her friend and helpmate; but fear of this calamity had at length been quite put to rest by the fourth and final rupture of the bond, five years before.
There had always been a family feud between the Ripleys and the Millikens; and when the young people took it into their heads to fall in love with each other in spite of precedent or prejudice, they found that the course of true love ran in anything but a smooth channel. It was, in fact, a sort of village Montague and Capulet affair; but David and Samantha were no Romeo and Juliet. The climate and general conditions of life at Pleasant River were not favorable to the development of such exotics. The old people interposed barriers between the young ones as long as they lived; and when they died, Dave Milliken's spirit was broken, and he began to annoy the valiant Samantha by what she called his "meechin'" ways. In one of his moments of weakness he took a widowed sister to live with him, a certain Mrs. Pettigrove, of Edgewood, who inherited the Milliken objection to Ripleys, and who widened the breach and brought Samantha to the point of final and decisive rupture. The last straw was the statement, sown broadcast by Mrs. Pettigrove, that "Samanthy Ann Ripley's father never would 'a' died if he'd ever had any doctorin'; but 't was the gospel truth that they never had nobody to 'tend him but a hom'pathy man from Scratch Corner, who, of course, bein' a hom'path, didn't know no more about doctorin' 'n Cooper's cow."
Samantha told David after this that she didn't want to hear him open his mouth again, nor none of his folks; that she was through with the whole lot of 'em forever and ever, 'n' she wished to the Lord she'd had sense enough to put her foot down fifteen years ago, 'n' she hoped he'd enjoy bein' tread underfoot for the rest of his natural life, 'n' she wouldn't speak to him again if she met him in her porridge dish. She then slammed the door and went upstairs to cry as if she were sixteen, as she watched him out of sight. Poor Dave Milliken! just sweet and earnest and strong enough to suffer at being worsted by circumstances, but never quite strong enough to conquer them.
And it was to this household that Timothy had brought his child for adoption.
When Miss Avilda opened her eyes, the morning after the arrival of the children, she tried to remember whether anything had happened to give her such a strange feeling of altered conditions. It was Saturday,—baking day,—that couldn't be it; and she gazed at the little dimity-curtained window and at the picture of the Death-bed of Calvin, and wondered what was the matter.
Just then a child's laugh, bright, merry, tuneful, infectious, rang out from some distant room, and it all came back to her as Samantha Ann opened the door and peered in.
"I've got breakfast 'bout ready," she said; "but I wish, soon 's you're dressed, you'd step down 'n' see to it, 'n' let me wash the baby. I guess water was skerse where she come from!"
"They're awake, are they?"
"Awake? Land o' liberty! As soon as 't was light, and before the boy had opened his eyes, Gay was up 'n' poundin' on all the doors, 'n' hollorin' 'S'manfy' (beats all how she got holt o' my name so quick!), so 't I thought sure she'd disturb your sleep. See here, Vildy, we want those children should look respectable the few days they're here. I don't see how we can rig out the boy, but there's those old things of Marthy's in the attic; seems like it might be a blessin' on 'em if we used 'em this way."
"I thought of it myself in the night," answered Vilda briefly. "You'll find the key of the trunk in the light stand drawer. You see to the children, and I'll get breakfast on the table. Has Jabe come?"
"No; he sent a boy to milk, 'n' said he'd be right along. You know what that means!"
Miss Vilda moved about the immaculate kitchen, frying potatoes and making tea, setting on extra portions of bread and doughnuts and a huge pitcher of milk; while various noises, strange enough in that quiet house, floated down from above.
"This is dreadful hard on Samanthy," she reflected. "I don't know 's I'd ought to have put it on her, knowing how she hates confusion and company, and all that; but she seemed to think we'd got to tough it out for a spell, any way; though I don't expect her temper 'll stand the strain very long."
The fact was, Samantha was banging doors and slatting tin pails about furiously to keep up an ostentatious show of ill humor. She tried her best to grunt with displeasure when Gay, seated in a wash-tub, crowed and beat the water with her dimpled hands, so that it splashed all over the carpet; but all the time there was such a joy tugging at her heart-strings as they had not felt for years.
When the bath was over, clean petticoats and ankle-ties were chosen out of the old leather trunk, and finally a little blue and white lawn dress. It was too long in the skirt, and pending the moment when Samantha should "take a tack in it," it anticipated the present fashion, and made Lady Gay look more like a disguised princess than ever. The gown was low-necked and short-sleeved, in the old style; and Samantha was in despair till she found some little embroidered muslin capes and full undersleeves, with which she covered Gay's pink neck and arms. These things of beauty so wrought upon the child's excitable nature that she could hardly keep still long enough to have her hair curled; and Samantha, as the shining rings dropped off her horny forefinger, was wrestling with the Evil One, in the shape of a little box of jewelry that she had found with the clothing. She knew that the wish was a vicious one, and that such gewgaws were out of place on a little pauper just taken in for the night; but her fingers trembled with a desire to fasten the little gold ears of corn on the shoulders, or tie the strings of coral beads round the child's pretty throat.
When the toilet was completed, and Samantha was emptying the tub, Gay climbed on the bureau and imprinted sloppy kisses of sincere admiration on the radiant reflection of herself in the little looking-glass; then, getting down again, she seized her heap of Minerva Court clothes, and, before the astonished Samantha could interpose, flung them out of the second-story window, where they fell on the top of the lilac bushes.
"Me doesn't like nasty old dress," she explained, with a dazzling smile that was a justification in itself; "me likes pretty new dress!" and then, with one hand reaching up to the door-knob, and the other throwing disarming kisses to Samantha,—"By-by! Lady Gay go circus now! Timfy, come, take Lady Gay to circus!"
There was no time for discipline then, and she was borne to the breakfast-table, where Timothy was already making acquaintance with Miss Vilda.
Samantha entered, and Vilda, glancing at her nervously, perceived with relief that she was "taking things easy." Ah! but it was lucky for poor David Milliken that he couldn't see her at that moment. Her whole face had relaxed; her mouth was no longer a thin, hard line, but had a certain curve and fullness, borrowed perhaps from the warmth of innocent baby-kisses. Embarrassment and stifled joy had brought a rosier color to her cheek; Gay's vandal hand had ruffled the smoothness of her sandy locks, so that a few stray hairs were absolutely curling with amazement that they had escaped from their sleek bondage; in a word, Samantha Ann Ripley was lovely and lovable!
Timothy had no eyes for any one save his beloved Gay, at whom he gazed with unspeakable admiration, thinking it impossible that any human being, with a single eye in its head, could refuse to take such an angel when it was in the market.
Gay, not being used to a regular morning toilet, had fought against it valiantly at first; but the tonic of the bath itself and the exercise of war had brought the color to her cheeks and the brightness to her eyes. She had forgiven Samantha, she was ready to be on good terms with Miss Vilda, she was at peace with all the world. That she was eating the bread of dependence did not trouble her in the least! No royal visitor, conveying honor by her mere presence, could have carried off a delicate situation with more distinguished grace and ease. She was perched on a Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, and immediately began blowing bubbles in her mug of milk in the most reprehensible fashion; and glancing up after each naughty effort with an irrepressible gurgle of laughter, in which she looked so bewitching, even with a milky crescent over her red mouth, that she would have melted the heart of the most predestinate old misogynist in Christendom.
Timothy was not so entirely at his ease. His eyes had looked into life only a few more summers, but their "radiant morning visions" had been dispelled; experience had tempered joy. Gay, however, had not arrived at an age where people's motives can be suspected for an instant. If there had been any possible plummet with which to sound the depths of her unconscious philosophy, she apparently looked upon herself as a guest out of heaven, flung down upon this hospitable planet with the single responsibility of enjoying its treasures.
O happy heart of childhood! Your simple creed is rich in faith, and trust, and hope. You have not learned that the children of a common Father can do aught but love and help each other.
The Old Garden.
JABE AND SAMANTHA EXCHANGE HOSTILITIES, AND THE FORMER SAYS A GOOD WORD FOR THE LITTLE WANDERERS.
"God Almighty first planted a garden, and it is indeed the purest of all human pleasures," said Lord Bacon, and Miss Vilda would have agreed with him. Her garden was not simply the purest of all her pleasures, it was her only one; and the love that other people gave to family, friends, or kindred she lavished on her posies.
It was a dear, old-fashioned, odorous garden, where Dame Nature had never been forced but only assisted to do her duty. Miss Vilda sowed her seeds in the springtime wherever there chanced to be room, and they came up and flourished and went to seed just as they liked, those being the only duties required of them. Two splendid groups of fringed "pinies," the pride of Miss Avilda's heart, grew just inside the gate, and hard by the handsomest dahlias in the village, quilled beauties like carved rosettes of gold and coral and ivory. There was plenty of feathery "sparrowgrass," so handy to fill the black and yawning chasms of summer fireplaces and furnish green for "boquets." There was a stray peach or greengage tree here and there, and if a plain, well-meaning carrot chanced to lift its leaves among the poppies, why, they were all the children of the same mother, and Miss Vilda was not the woman to root out the invader and fling it into the ditch. There was a bed of yellow tomatoes, where, in the season, a hundred tiny golden balls hung among the green leaves; and just beside them, in friendly equality, a tangle of pink sweet-williams, fragrant phlox, delicate bride's-tears, canterbury bells blue as the June sky, none-so-pretties, gay cockscombs, and flaunting marigolds, which would insist on coming up all together, summer after summer, regardless of color harmonies. Last, but not least, there was a patch of sweet peas,
"on tiptoe for a flight, With wings of gentle flush o'er delicate white."
These dispensed their sweet odors so generously that it was a favorite diversion among the village children to stand in rows outside the fence, and, elevating their bucolic noses, simultaneously "sniff Miss Cummins' peas." The garden was large enough to have little hills and dales of its own, and its banks sloped gently down to the river. There was a gnarled apple tree hidden by a luxuriant wild grapevine, a fit bower for a "lov'd Celia" or a "fair Rosamond." There was a spring, whose crystal waters were "cabined, cribbed, confined" within a barrel sunk in the earth; a brook singing its way among the alder bushes, and dripping here and there into pools, over which the blue harebells leaned to see themselves. There was a summer-house, too, on the brink of the hill; a weather-stained affair, with a hundred names carved on its venerable lattices,—names of youths and maidens who had stood there in the moonlight and plighted rustic vows.
If you care to feel a warm glow in the region of your heart, imagine little Timothy Jessup sent to play in that garden,—sent to play for almost the first time in his life! Imagine it, I ask, for there are some things too sweet to prick with a pen-point. Timothy stayed there fifteen minutes, and running back to the house in a state of intoxicated delight went up to Samantha, and laying an insistent hand on hers said excitedly, "Oh, Samanthy, you didn't tell me—there is shining water down in the garden; not so big as the ocean, nor so still as the harbor, but a kind of baby river running along by itself with the sweetest noise. Please, Miss Vilda, may I take Gay to see it, and will it hurt it if I wash Rags in it?"
"Let 'em all go," suggested Samantha; "there's Jabe dawdlin' along the road, and they might as well be out from under foot."
"Don't be too hard on Jabe this morning, Samanthy,—he's been to see the Baptist minister at Edgewood; you know he's going to be baptized some time next month."
"Well, he needs it! But land sakes! you couldn't make them Slocums pious 'f you kep' on baptizin' of 'em till the crack o' doom. I never hearn tell of a Slocum's gittin' baptized in July. They allers take 'em after the freshets in the spring o' the year, 'n' then they have to be turrible careful to douse 'em lengthways of the river. Look at him, will ye? I b'lieve he's grown sence yesterday! If he'd ever stood stiff on his feet when he was a boy, he needn't 'a' been so everlastin' tall; but he was forever roostin' on fences' with his laigs danglin', 'n' the heft of his feet stretched 'em out,—it couldn't do no dif'rent. I ain't got no patience with him."
"Jabe has considerable many good points," said Miss Cummins loyally; "he's faithful,—you always know where to find him."
"Good reason why," retorted Samantha. "You always know where to find him 'cause he gen'ally hain't moved sence you seen him last. Gittin' religion ain't goin' to help him much. If he ever hears tell 'bout the gate of heaven bein' open 't the last day, he won't 'a' begun to begin thinkin' 'bout gittin' in tell he hears the door shet in his face; 'n' then he'll set ri' down's comf'table's if he was inside, 'n' say, 'Wall, better luck next time: slow an' sure 's my motto!' Good-mornin', Jabe,—had your dinner?"