YOUNG LUCRETIA AND OTHER STORIES
MARY E. WILKINS
Author of "A New England Nun, and Other Stories" "A Humble Romance, and Other Stories" Etc.
New York Harper & Brothers, Franklin Square 1893 Copyright, 1892, by HARPER & BROTHERS. All rights reserved.
YOUNG LUCRETIA HOW FIDELIA WENT TO THE STORE ANN MARY; HER TWO THANKSGIVINGS ANN LIZY'S PATCHWORK THE LITTLE PERSIAN PRINCESS WHERE THE CHRISTMAS-TREE GREW WHERE SARAH JANE'S DOLL WENT SEVENTOES' GHOST LITTLE MIRANDY, AND HOW SHE EARNED HER SHOES A PARSNIP STEW THE DICKEY BOY A SWEET-GRASS BASKET MEHITABLE LAMB
"'LUCRETIA RAYMOND, WHAT DO YOU MEAN, PUTTING YOUR DRESS ON THIS WAY?'" "'WHOSE LITTLE GAL AIR YOU?'" MR. LITTLE SELECTS THE THANKSGIVING TURKEY "THIS LITTLE GIRL SOON CAME FLYING OUT WITH HER CONTRIBUTION; THEN THERE WERE MORE" "SARAH JANE SAT DOWN BESIDE THE ROAD AND WEPT" "HE THRUST OUT HIS RIGHT HAND AND GAVE SEVENTOES A PUSH" THE VISIT TO CAP'N MOSEBY'S "'EAT 'EM!' ORDERED CAP'N MOSEBY" "A PARSNIP STEW" "THERE, AMONG THE BLOSSOMING BRANCHES, CLUNG THE DICKEY BOY" "SHE WAS A REAL INDIAN PRINCESS"
"Who's that little gal goin' by?" said old Mrs. Emmons.
"That—why, that's young Lucretia, mother," replied her daughter Ann, peering out of the window over her mother's shoulder. There was a fringe of flowering geraniums in the window; the two women had to stretch their heads over them.
"Poor little soul!" old Mrs. Emmons remarked further. "I pity that child."
"I don't see much to pity her for," Ann returned, in a voice high-pitched and sharply sweet; she was the soprano singer in the village choir. "I don't see why she isn't taken care of as well as most children."
"Well, I don't know but she's took care of, but I guess she don't get much coddlin'. Lucretia an' Maria ain't that kind—never was. I heerd the other day they was goin' to have a Christmas-tree down to the school-house. Now I'd be will-in' to ventur' consider'ble that child don't have a thing on't."
"Well, if she's kept clean an' whole, an' made to behave, it amounts to a good deal more'n Christmas presents, I suppose." Ann sat down and turned a hem with vigor: she was a dress-maker.
"Well, I s'pose it does, but it kinder seems as if that little gal ought to have somethin'. Do you remember them little rag babies I used to make for you, Ann? I s'pose she'd be terrible tickled with one. Some of that blue thibet would be jest the thing to make it a dress of."
"Now, mother, you ain't goin' to fussing. She won't think anything of it."
"Yes, she would, too. You used to take sights of comfort with 'em." Old Mrs. Emmons, tall and tremulous, rose up and went out of the room.
"She's gone after the linen pieces," thought her daughter Ann. "She is dreadfully silly." Ann began smoothing out some remnants of blue thibet on her lap. She selected one piece that she thought would do for the dress.
Meanwhile young Lucretia went to school. It was quite a cold day, but she was warmly dressed. She wore her aunt Lucretia's red and green plaid shawl, which Aunt Lucretia had worn to meeting when she was herself a little girl, over her aunt Maria's black ladies' cloth coat. The coat was very large and roomy—indeed, it had not been altered at all—but the cloth was thick and good. Young Lucretia wore also her aunt Maria's black alpaca dress, which had been somewhat decreased in size to fit her, and her aunt Lucretia's purple hood with a nubia tied over it. She had mittens, a black quilted petticoat, and her aunt Maria's old drab stockings drawn over her shoes to keep the snow from her ankles. If young Lucretia caught cold, it would not be her aunts' fault. She went along rather clumsily, but quite merrily, holding her tin dinner-pail very steady. Her aunts had charged her not to swing it, and "get the dinner in a mess."
Young Lucretia's face, with very pink cheeks, and smooth lines of red hair over the temples, looked gayly and honestly out of the hood and nubia. Here and there along the road were sprigs of evergreen and ground-pine and hemlock. Lucretia glanced a trifle soberly at them. She was nearly in sight of the school-house when she reached Alma Ford's house, and Alma came out and joined her. Alma was trim and pretty in her fur-bordered winter coat and her scarlet hood.
"Hullo, Lucretia!" said Alma.
"Hullo!" responded Lucretia. Then the two little girls trotted on together: the evergreen sprigs were growing thicker. "Did you go?" asked Lucretia, looking down at them.
"Yes; we went way up to the cross-roads. They wouldn't let you go, would they?"
"No," said Lucretia, smiling broadly.
"I think it was mean," said Alma.
"They said they didn't approve of it," said Lucretia, in a serious voice, which seemed like an echo of some one else's.
When they got to the school-house it took her a long time to unroll herself from her many wrappings. When at last she emerged there was not another child there who was dressed quite after her fashion. Seen from behind, she looked like a small, tightly-built old lady. Her little basque, cut after her aunt's own pattern, rigorously whaleboned, with long straight seams, opened in front; she wore a dimity ruffle, a square blue bow to fasten it, and a brown gingham apron. Her sandy hair was parted rigorously in the middle, brought over her temples in two smooth streaky scallops, and braided behind in two tight tails, fastened by a green bow. Young Lucretia was a homely little girl, although her face was always radiantly good-humored. She was a good scholar, too, and could spell and add sums as fast as anybody in the school.
In the entry, where she took off her things, there was a great litter of evergreen and hemlock; in the farthest corner, lopped pitifully over on its side, was a fine hemlock-tree. Lucretia looked at it, and her smiling face grew a little serious.
"That the Christmas-tree out there?" she said to the other girls when she went into the school-room. The teacher had not come, and there was such an uproar and jubilation that she could hardly make herself heard. She had to poke one of the girls two or three times before she could get her question answered.
"What did you say, Lucretia Raymond?" she asked.
"That the Christmas-tree out there?"
"Course 'tis. Say, Lucretia, can't you come this evening and help trim? the boys are a-going to set up the tree, and we're going to trim. Say, can't you come?"
Then the other girls joined in: "Can't you come, Lucretia?—say, can't you?"
Lucretia looked at them all, with her honest smile. "I don't believe I can," said she.
"Won't they let you?—won't your aunts let you?"
"Don't believe they will."
Alma Ford stood back on her heels and threw back her chin. "Well, I don't care," said she. "I think your aunts are awful mean—so there!"
Lucretia's face got pinker, and the laugh died out of it. She opened her lips, but before she had a chance to speak, Lois Green, who was one of the older girls, and an authority in the school, added her testimony. "They are two mean, stingy old maids," she proclaimed; "that's what they are."
"They're not neither," said Lucretia, unexpectedly. "You sha'n't say such things about my aunts, Lois Green."
"Oh, you can stick up for 'em if you want to," returned Lois, with cool aggravation. "If you want to be such a little gump, you can, an' nobody'll pity you. You know you won't get a single thing on this Christmas-tree."
"I will, too," cried Lucretia, who was fiery, with all her sweetness.
"You see if I don't, Lois Green."
All through the day it seemed to her, the more she thought of it, that she must go with the others to trim the school-house, and she must have something on the Christmas-tree. A keen sense of shame for her aunts and herself was over her; she felt as if she must keep up the family credit.
"I wish I could go to trim this evening," she said to Alma, as they were going home after school.
"Don't you believe they'll let you?"
"I don't believe they'll 'prove of it," Lucretia answered, with dignity.
"Say, Lucretia, do you s'pose it would make any difference if my mother should go up to your house an' ask your aunts?"
Lucretia gave her a startled look: a vision of her aunt's indignation at such interference shot before her eyes. "Oh, I don't believe it would do a mite of good," said she, fervently. "But I tell you what 'tis, Alma, you might come home with me while I ask."
"I will," said Alma, eagerly. "Just wait a minute till I ask mother if I can."
But it was all useless. Alma's pretty, pleading little face as a supplement to Lucretia's, and her timorous, "Please let Lucretia go," had no effect whatever.
"I don't approve of children being out nights," said Aunt Lucretia, and Aunt Maria supported her. "There's no use talking," said she; "you can't go, Lucretia. Not another word. Take your things off, and sit down and sew your square of patchwork before supper. Almy, you'd better run right home; I guess your mother'll be wanting you to help her." And Alma went.
"What made you bring that Ford girl in here to ask me?" Aunt Lucretia, who had seen straight through her namesake's artifice, asked of young Lucretia.
"I don't know," stammered Lucretia, over her patchwork.
"You'll never go anywhere any quicker for taking such means as that," said Aunt Lucretia.
"It would serve you right if we didn't let you go to the Christmas-tree," declared Aunt Maria, severely, and young Lucretia quaked. She had had the promise of going to the Christmas-tree for a long time. It would be awful if she should lose that. She sewed very diligently on her patchwork. A square a day was her stent, and she had held up before her the rapture and glory of a whole quilt made all by herself before she was ten years old.
Half an hour after tea she had the square all done. "I've got it done," said she, and she carried it over to her aunt Lucretia that it might be inspected.
Aunt Lucretia put on her spectacles and looked closely at it. "You've sewed it very well," she said, finally, in a tone of severe commendation.
"You can sew well enough if you put your mind to it."
"That's what I've always told her," chimed in Aunt Maria. "There's no sense in her slighting her work so, and taking the kind of stitches she does sometimes. Now, Lucretia, it's time for you to go to bed."
Lucretia went lingeringly across the wide old sitting-room, then across the old wide dining-room, into the kitchen. It was quite a time before she got her candle lighted and came back, and then she stood about hesitatingly.
"What are you waiting for?" Aunt Lucretia asked, sharply. "Take care; you're tipping your candle over; you'll get the grease on the carpet."
"Why don't you mind what you're doing?" said Aunt Maria.
Young Lucretia had scant encouragement to open upon the subject in her mind, but she did. "They're going to have lots of presents on the Christmas-tree," she remarked, tipping her candle again.
"Are you going to hold that candle straight or not?" cried Aunt Lucretia. "Who is going to have lots of presents?"
"All the other girls."
When the aunts got very much in earnest about anything they spoke with such vehement unison that it had the effect of a duet; it was difficult to tell which was uppermost. "Well, the other girls can have lots of presents; if their folks want to get presents for 'em they can," said they. "There's one thing about it, you won't get anything, and you needn't expect anything. I never approved of this giving presents Christmas, anyway. It's an awful tax an' a foolish piece of business."
Young Lucretia's lips quivered so she could hardly speak. "They'll think it's—so—funny if—I don't have—anything," she said.
"Let 'em think it's funny if they want to. You take your candle an' go to bed, an' don't say any more about it. Mind you hold that candle straight."
Young Lucretia tried to hold the candle straight as she went up-stairs, but it was hard work, her eyes were so misty with tears. Her little face was all puckered up with her silent crying as she trudged wearily up the stairs. It was a long time before she got to sleep that night. She cried first, then she meditated. Young Lucretia was too small and innocent to be artful, but she had a keen imagination, and was fertile of resources in emergencies. In the midst of her grief and disappointment she devolved a plan for keeping up the family honor, hers and her aunts', before the eyes of the school.
The next day everything favored the plan. School did not keep; in the afternoon both the aunts went to the sewing society. They had been gone about an hour when young Lucretia trudged down the road with her arms full of parcels. She stole so quietly and softly into the school-house, where they were arranging the tree, that no one thought about it. She laid the parcels on a settee with some others, and stole out and flew home.
The festivities at the school-house began at seven o'clock. There were to be some exercises, some recitations and singing, then the distribution of the presents. Directly after tea young Lucretia went up to her own little chamber to get ready. She came down in a surprisingly short time all dressed.
"Are you all ready?" said Aunt Lucretia.
"Yes, ma'am," replied young Lucretia. She had her hand on the door-latch.
"I don't believe you are half dressed," said Aunt Maria. "Did you get your bow on straight?"
"I think she'd better take her things off, an' let us be sure," said Aunt Lucretia. "I'm not goin' to have her down there with her clothes on any which way, an' everybody making remarks. Take your sacque off, Lucretia."
"Oh, I got the bow on straight; it's real straight, it is, honest," pleaded young Lucretia, piteously. She clutched the plaid shawl tightly together, but it was of no use—off the things had to come. And young Lucretia had put on the prim whaleboned basque of her best dress wrong side before; she had buttoned it in the back. There she stood, very much askew and uncomfortable about the shoulder seams and sleeves, and hung her head before her aunts.
"Lucretia Raymond, what do you mean, putting your dress on this way?"
"All—the other—girls—wear—theirs buttoned in—the back."
"All the other girls! Well, you're not going to have yours buttoned in the back, and wear holes through that nice ladies' cloth coat every time you lean back against a chair. I should think you were crazy. I've a good mind not to let you go out at all. Stand round here!"
Young Lucretia's basque was sharply unbuttoned, she was jerked out of it, and it was turned around and fastened as it was meant to be. When she was finally started, with her aunts' parting admonition echoing after her, she felt sad and doubtful, but soon her merry disposition asserted itself.
There was no jollier and more radiant little soul than she all through the opening exercises. She listened to the speaking and the singing with the greatest appreciation and delight. She sat up perfectly straight in her prim and stiff basque; she folded her small red hands before her; her two tight braids inclined stiffly towards her ears, and her face was all aglow with smiles.
When the distribution of presents began her name was among the first called. She arose with alacrity, and went with a gay little prance down the aisle. She took the parcel that the teacher handed to her; she commenced her journey back, when she suddenly encountered the eyes of her aunt Lucretia and her aunt Maria. Then her terror and remorse began. She had never dreamed of such a thing as her aunts coming—indeed, they had not themselves. A neighbor had come in and persuaded them, and they had taken a sudden start against their resolutions and their principles.
Young Lucretia's name was called again and again. Every time she slunk more reluctantly and fearfully down to the tree; she knew that her aunts' eyes were surveying her with more and more amazement.
After the presents were all distributed she sat perfectly still with hers around her. They lay on her desk, and the last one was in her lap. She had not taken off a single wrapping. They were done up neatly in brown paper, and Lucretia's name was written on them.
Lucretia sat there. The other girls were in a hubbub of delight all around her, comparing their presents, but she sat perfectly still and watched her aunts coming. They came slowly; they stopped to speak to the teacher. Aunt Lucretia reached young Lucretia first.
"What have you got there?" she asked. She did not look cross, but a good deal surprised. Young Lucretia just gazed miserably up at her. "Why don't you undo them?" asked Aunt Lucretia. Young Lucretia shook her head helplessly. "Why, what makes you act so, child?" cried Aunt Lucretia, getting alarmed. Then Aunt Maria came up, and there was quite a little group around young Lucretia. She began to cry. "What on earth ails the child?" said Aunt Lucretia. She caught up one of the parcels and opened it; it was a book bound in red and gold. She held it close to her eyes; she turned it this way and that; she examined the fly-leaf. "Why," said she, "it's the old gift-book Aunt Susan gave me when I was eighteen years old! What in the world!"
Aunt Maria had undone another. "This is the Floral Album," she said, tremulously; "we always keep it in the north parlor on the table. Here's my name in it. I don't see—"
Aunt Lucretia speechlessly unmuffled a clove apple and a nautilus shell that had graced the parlor shelf; then a little daintily dressed rag doll with cheeks stained pink with cranberry juice appeared. When young Lucretia spied this last she made a little grab at it.
"Oh," she sobbed, "somebody did hang this on for me! They did—they did! It's mine!"
It never seemed to young Lucretia that she walked going home that night; she had a feeling that only her tiptoes occasionally brushed the earth; she went on rapidly, with a tall aunt on either side. Not much was said. Once in a lonely place in the road there was a volley of severe questions from her aunts, and young Lucretia burst out in a desperate wail. "Oh!" she cried, "I was going to put 'em right back again, I was! I've not hurt 'em any. I was real careful. I didn't s'pose you'd know it. Oh, they said you were cross an' stingy, an' wouldn't hang me anything on the tree, an' I didn't want 'em to think you were. I wanted to make 'em think I had things, I did."
"What made you think of such a thing?"
"I don't know."
"I shouldn't think you would know. I never heard of such doings in my life!"
After they got home not much was said to young Lucretia; the aunts were still too much bewildered for many words. Lucretia was bidden to light her candle and go to bed, and then came a new grief, which was the last drop in the bucket for her. They confiscated her rag doll, and put it away in the parlor with the clove apple, the nautilus shell, and the gift-book. Then the little girl's heart failed her, remorse for she hardly knew what, terror, and the loss of the sole comfort that had come to her on this pitiful Christmas Eve were too much.
"Oh," she wailed, "my rag baby! my rag baby! I—want my—rag baby. Oh! oh! oh! I want her, I want her."
Scolding had no effect. Young Lucretia sobbed out her complaint all the way up-stairs, and her aunts could distinguish the pitiful little wail of, "my rag baby, I want my rag baby," after she was in her chamber.
The two women looked at each other. They had sat uneasily down by the sitting-room fire.
"I must say that I think you're rather hard on her, Lucretia," said Maria, finally.
"I don't know as I've been any harder on her than you have," returned Lucretia. "I shouldn't have said to take away that rag baby if I'd said just what I thought."
"I think you'd better take it up to her, then, and stop that crying," said Maria.
Lucretia hastened into the north parlor without another word. She carried the rag baby up-stairs to young Lucretia; then she came down to the pantry and got a seed-cake for her. "I thought the child had better have a little bite of something; she didn't eat scarcely a mite of supper," she explained to Maria. She had given young Lucretia's head a hard pat when she bestowed the seed-cake, and bade her eat it and go right to sleep. The little girl hugged her rag baby and ate her cooky in bliss.
The aunts sat a while longer by the sitting-room fire. Just before they left it for the night Lucretia looked hesitatingly at Maria, and said, "I s'pose you have noticed that wax doll down to White's store, 'ain't you?"
"That big wax one with the pink dress?" asked Maria, faintly and consciously.
"Yes. There was a doll's bedstead there, too. I don't know as you noticed."
"Yes, I think I did, now you speak of it. I noticed it the day I went in for the calico. There was a doll baby's carriage there, too."
The aunts looked at each other. "I s'pose it would be dreadful foolish," said Lucretia.
"She'd be 'most too tickled to live," remarked Maria.
"Well, we can't buy 'em to-night anyway," said Lucretia. "I must light the candles an' lock up."
The next day was Christmas. It was about three o'clock in the afternoon when old Mrs. Emmons went up the road to the Raymond house. She had a little parcel. When she came into the sitting-room there was young Lucretia in a corner, so that the room should not get in a mess, with her wealth around her. She looked forth, a radiant little mother of dolls, from the midst of her pretty miniature house-keeping.
"My sakes!" cried old Mrs. Emmons, "isn't that complete? She's got a big wax doll, an' a bedstead, an' a baby-carriage, an' a table an' bureau. I declare! Well, I don't know what I should have thought when I was a little gal. An' I've brought some pieces for you to make some more dresses for the rag baby, if you want to."
Young Lucretia's eyes shone.
"You were real kind to think of it," said Aunt Lucretia; "an' she'll take real comfort making the dresses. I'm real glad you came in, Mis' Emmons. I've been going down to see you for a long time. I want to see Ann, too; I thought I'd see if she hadn't got a pattern of a dress that buttons up in the back for Lucretia."
Young Lucretia's eyes shone more than ever, and she smiled out of her corner like a little star.
HOW FIDELIA WENT TO THE STORE
"I don't know what we're goin' to do," said Aunt Maria Crooker. She sat in a large arm-chair, and held in her lap a bowl of sugar and butter that she was creaming. Aunt Maria filled up the chair from arm to arm, for she was very portly; she had a large, rosy, handsome face, and she creamed with such energy that she panted for breath.
"Well, I don't know, either," rejoined her sister, Mrs. Lennox. "I can't go to the store with my lame foot, that's certain."
"Well, I know I can't," said Aunt Maria, with additional emphasis. "I haven't walked two mile for ten year, an' I don't believe I could get to that store and back to save my life."
"I don't believe you could, either. I don't know what is goin' to be done. We can't make the cake without raisins, anyhow. It's the queerest thing how father happened to forget them. Now here he is gone over to East Dighton after the new cow, and Cynthy gone to Keene to buy her bonnet, an' me with a scalt foot, an' you not able to walk, an' not one raisin in the house to put into that weddin'-cake."
Mrs. Lennox stated the case in full, with a despairing eloquence, and Aunt Maria sighed and wrinkled her forehead.
"If there were only any neighbors you could borrow from," she observed.
"Well, there ain't any neighbors 'twixt here and the store except the Allens and the Simmonses, and the Allens are so tight they never put raisins into their Thanksgivin' pies. Mis' Allen told me they didn't. She said she thought most folks made their pies too rich, an' her folks liked them just as well without raisins. An' as for the Simmonses, I don't believe they see a raisin from one year's end to the other. They're lucky if they can get enough common things to eat for all those children. I don't know what's goin' to be done. Here's the dress-maker comin' to-morrow, an' Cynthy goin' to be married in two weeks, and the cake ought to be made to-day if it's ever goin' to be."
"Yes, it had," assented Aunt Maria. "We've put it off full long enough, anyway. Weddin'-cake ain't near so good unless it stands a little while."
"I know it."
Just then there was a shrill, prolonged squeak. It came from the yard. The doors and windows were open; it was a very warm day.
"What's that?" cried Aunt Maria.
"Oh, it's nothin' but Fidelia's little wagon. She's draggin' it round the yard."
The two women looked at each other; it was as if a simultaneous idea had come suddenly to them.
Aunt Maria gave expression to it first. "Fidelia couldn't go, could she?"
"Maria Crooker, that little thing! She ain't six years old, an' she's never been anywhere alone. Do you s'pose I'm goin' to send her a mile to that store?" Mrs. Lennox's tone was full of vehement indignation, but her eyes still met Aunt Maria's with that doubtful and reflective expression.
"I don't see a mite of harm in it," Aunt Maria maintained, sturdily. She set her bowl of sugar and butter on the table, and leaned forward with a hand on each aproned knee. "I know Fidelia ain't but five year old, but she's brighter than some children of seven. It's just a straight road to the store, an' she can't get lost, to save her life. And she knows where 'tis. You took her down to Mis' Rose's three or four weeks ago, didn't you?"
"Yes; that day father went down for grain. I s'pose she would remember."
"Of course she'd remember. I don't see one thing, as far as I'm concerned, to hinder that child's goin' down to the store an' bringin' home some raisins. I used to go on errands before I was as old as she is. Folks didn't fuss over their children so much in my day."
"Well," said Mrs. Lennox, finally, with a great sigh, "I don't know but I may as well send her."
Mrs. Lennox was much smaller than her sister, and she had a rather sickly but pleasant face. She had to push a chair before her as she walked, for she had scalded her foot quite badly the week before, and it was now all swathed in bandages. It had been a very unfortunate accident in more ways than one, for Cynthia, her elder daughter, was going to be married soon, and the family were busily engaged in the wedding preparations. It was very hard for poor Mrs. Lennox to have to limp about with one knee in a chair, while she made wedding-cake and arranged for the bridal festivities, but she made the best of it.
Now she pushed over to the door, and called, "Fidelia! Fidelia!"
Directly the squeak increased to an agonizing degree, the rattle of small wheels accompanied it, and Fidelia came trudging around the corner of the house. She was a chubby little girl, and her blue tier seemed rather tight for her. She had a round, rosy face, and innocent and honest black eyes. She wore a small Shaker bonnet with a green cape, and she stubbed her toes into the grass every step she took.
"Don't stub your toes so," said her mother, admonishingly. "You'll wear your shoes all out."
Fidelia immediately advanced with soft pats like a kitten. When she got into the kitchen her mother took off her Shaker bonnet and looked at her critically. "You'll have to have your hair brushed," said she. "Fidelia, do you remember how you went with mother down to Mis' Rose's three or four weeks ago?"
Fidelia nodded and winked.
"There was a big pussy cat there, do you remember? and Mis' Rose gave you a cooky."
Fidelia's affirmative wink seemed to give out sparkles.
"Well, you remember how we went to the side door and knocked—the door with some roses over the top of it—and Mis' Rose came—the side door?"
Fidelia, intensely attentive, standing before her mother and Aunt Maria, remembered about the side door.
"Well, you remember how there was a piazza across the front of the house, don't you? Father hitched the horse to a post there. Well, there's another door there opening on the piazza, don't you remember—a door with panes of glass in it like a window?"
"Well, now, Fidelia, do you suppose you can go down to the store and buy some raisins for mother to put in sister Cynthy's weddin'-cake, all yourself?"
"An' be a real smart little girl," put in Aunt Maria.
Fidelia gave one ecstatic roll of her black eyes at them, then she broke into a shout, "Lemme go! lemme go!" She oscillated on her small stubbed toes like a bird preparing to fly, and she tugged energetically at her mother's apron.
"I'll give you a penny, an' you can buy you a nice stick of red-and-white twisted candy," added her mother.
Fidelia actually made a little dash for the door then, but her mother caught her. "Stop!" she said, in an admonitory voice which was quieting to Fidelia, and made her realize that the red-and-white candy was still in the future. "Now you just wait a minute, an' not be in such a pucker. You ain't goin' this way, with your apron just as dirty as poison, and your hair all in a snarl. You've got to have on your clean apron, and have your hair brushed and your face washed."
So Fidelia climbed obediently into her high chair, and sat with her eyes screwed up and her fists clinched, while her mother polished her face faithfully with a wet, soapy end of a towel, and combed the snarls out of her hair. When it was all done, her cheeks being very red and shiny, and her hair very damp and smooth, when she was arrayed in her clean starched white tier, and had her Shaker tied on with an emphatic square bow, she stood in the door and drank in the parting instructions. Her eyes were wide and intent, and her mouth drooped soberly at the corners. The importance of the occasion had begun to impress her. She held a penny tight in her hand; the raisins were to be charged, it not being judged advisable to trust Fidelia with so much money.
"I don't believe that little thing can carry three pounds of raisins," Mrs. Lennox said to Aunt Maria. She was becoming more and more uneasy about Fidelia's going.
"Let her take her little wagon an' drag 'em; that'll be just the thing," said Aunt Maria, complacently.
So Fidelia started down the road, trundling behind her the little squeaking cart. It was a warm July day, and it was very dusty. Directly Fidelia started she forgot her mother's injunctions about stubbing her toes; she disappeared in a small cloud of dust, for she walked in the middle of the road, and flirted it up with great delight.
In the course of the mile Fidelia met one team. It was an old rocking chaise and a white horse, and an old farmer was driving. He drove slower when he came alongside of Fidelia. When he had fairly passed her he stopped entirely, twisted about in his seat, and raised his voice.
"Whose little gal air you?" he asked.
Fidelia was a little frightened. Instead of giving her father's name, she gave her own with shy precision—"Fidelia Ames Lennox," she said, retiring into her Shaker bonnet.
"You ain't runnin' away, be you?"
Fidelia's pride was touched. "I'm going to the store for my mother," she announced, in quite a shrill tone. Then she took to her heels, and the little wagon trundled after, with a wilder squeak than ever.
Fidelia kept saying over to herself, "Three pounds of your best raisins, and Mr. Lennox will come in and pay you." Her mother and Aunt Maria wished after she had gone that they had written it out on a piece of paper; they had not thought of that. But Aunt Maria said she knew that such a bright child as Fidelia would remember three pounds of raisins when she had been told over and over, and charged not to come home without them.
Fidelia had started about ten o'clock in the morning, and her mother and Aunt Maria had agreed that they would not worry if she should not return until one o'clock in the afternoon. That would allow more than an hour for the mile walk each way, and give plenty of time for a rest between; for Fidelia had been instructed to go into the store and sit down on a stool and rest a while before starting upon her return trip. "Likely as not Mis' Rose will give her a cooky or something," Aunt Maria had whispered to Mrs. Lennox.
So when noon came the two women pictured Fidelia sitting perched upon a stool in the store, being fed with candy and cookies, and made much of, or even eating dinner with the Rose family. "Mis' Rose made so much of her when you took her there before that I shouldn't wonder a mite if she'd kept her to dinner," said Aunt Maria. She promulgated this theory the more strenuously when one o'clock came and Fidelia had not appeared. "Of course that's what 'tis," she kept repeating. "It would take 'em a good hour to eat dinner. I shouldn't be a bit surprised if she didn't get here before two o'clock. I think you're dreadful silly to worry, Jane."
For poor Mrs. Lennox was pushing her chair every few minutes over to the door, where she would stand, her face all one anxious frown, straining her eyes for a glimpse of the small figure trudging up the road. She had made the blueberry dumpling that Fidelia loved for dinner, and it was keeping warm on the back of the stove. Neither she nor Aunt Maria had eaten a mouthful.
When two o'clock came Mrs. Lennox broke down entirely. "Oh dear!" she wailed; "oh dear! I ought to have known better than to let her go."
Aunt Maria was now pacing heavily between her chair and the door, but she still maintained a brave front. "For goodness' sake, Jane, don't give up so," said she. "I don't see anything to worry about, for my part; they're keepin' her."
At half-past two Mrs. Lennox stood up with a determined air. "I ain't goin' to wait here another minute," said she. "I'm goin' to find her. I don't know but she's fell into the brook, or got run over." Mrs. Lennox's face was all drawn with anxiety.
"I'd like to know how you're goin'," said Aunt Maria.
"I guess I can push this chair along the road just as well as in a room."
"Pretty-lookin' sight you'd be goin' a mile with one knee in a wooden chair."
"I guess I don't care much how I look if I only find—her." Mrs. Lennox's voice broke into a wail.
"You just sit down and keep calm," said Aunt Maria. "If anybody's goin', I am."
"Oh, you can't."
"Yes, I can, too. I ain't quite so far gone that I can't walk a mile. You ain't goin' a step on that scalt foot an' get laid up, with that weddin' comin' off, not if I know it. I'm just goin' to slip on my gaiter-shoes an' my sun-bonnet, an' take the big green umbrella to keep the sun off."
When Aunt Maria was equipped and started, Mrs. Lennox watched her progress down the road with frantic impatience. It seemed to her that she could have gone faster with her chair. Truth was, that poor Aunt Maria, plodding heavily along in her gaiter-shoes, holding the green umbrella over her flaming face, made but slow and painful progress, and it was well that Mr. Lennox and Cynthia Lennox came home two hours before they were expected. It was three o'clock when Mr. Lennox came driving into the yard in the open buggy. Cynthia, erect and blooming, with her big bandbox in her lap, sat beside him, and the new Jersey cow, fastened by a rope to the tail of the buggy, came on behind with melancholy moos. Cynthia had bought her wedding-bonnet sooner than she had expected, so she had come home on the three o'clock train instead of the five; and her father had bought the cow sooner than he had expected, and had come to the railroad crossing just about the time that Cynthia's train arrived. So he had stopped and taken in her and her bandbox, and they had all ridden home together.
Mrs. Lennox stood in the kitchen door when they drove in.
"Oh, mother," Cynthia cried out, "I've had splendid luck! I've got the handsomest bonnet!"
"I guess you won't care much about bonnets," answered her mother; "Fidelia's lost." She spoke quite slowly and calmly, then she began to weep wildly and lament. It was quite a time before she could make the case plain to them, and Cynthia and her bandbox, and Mr. Lennox and the horse and buggy and cow, all remained before her in a petrified halt.
As soon as Mr. Lennox fairly understood, he sprang out of the buggy, untied the cow, led her into the barn, turned the team around, with a sharp grate of the wheels, jumped in again, and gathered up the reins. Cynthia, her rosy cheeks quite pale, still sat in her place, and the tears splashed on her new bandbox cover. Mrs. Lennox had set her chair outside the door, and followed it, with a painful effort. "Stop, father!" she cried; "I'm goin' too!"
"Oh, mother, you can't!" said Mr. Lennox and Cynthia, together.
"I'm goin'. You needn't say a word. Father, you get out an' help me in."
Mr. Lennox got out and lifted, while Cynthia pulled. Mrs. Lennox's injured foot suffered, but she set her mouth hard, and said nothing. They started at a good pace, three on a seat, with Mr. Lennox in the middle, driving.
They had got about half-way to the store when they overtook Aunt Maria. Aunt Maria, with the green umbrella overhead, was proceeding steadily, with a sideways motion that seemed more effective than the forward one.
"I'll get out, and let her get in," said Cynthia.
"No," said her father; "it won't do; it 'ill break the springs. We can't ride three on a seat with Aunt Maria, anyhow, and I've got to drive."
So they passed Aunt Maria.
"Don't go any farther, Aunt Maria," Cynthia called, sobbingly, back to her. "You sit down on the wall and rest."
But Aunt Maria shook her head, she could not speak, and kept on.
It was quarter-past three when they reached the Rose house and the store. The store was in the front of the house, and the Rose family occupied the rear portion. The house stood on a street corner, so a good deal of it was visible, and the whole establishment had a shut-up air; not a single farmer's wagon stood before the store. However, as Mr. Lennox drove up, a woman's head appeared at a window; then a side door opened, and she stood there. She had on a big apron, and her face was flushed as if she had been over the stove; she held a great wooden spoon, too. She began talking to the Lennoxes, but they paid no attention to her—their eyes were riveted upon the store door. There was a speck of white against its dark front, and suddenly it moved. It was Fidelia's white tier.
"Why, there's Fidelia!" gasped Cynthia. She jumped out, not waiting for her father to turn the wheel, and ran to the store door. The bandbox rolled out and the lid came off, and there was her wedding-bonnet in the dust, but she did not mind that. She caught Fidelia. "Oh, you naughty little girl, where have you been all this time?" cried she.
Fidelia's eyes took on a bewildered stare, her mouth puckered more and more. She clung to her sister, and sobbed something that was quite inaudible. It was quite a time before her father and mother and Cynthia and Mrs. Rose, surrounding her with attention, could gather that the import of it all was that she had knocked and knocked and nobody had come to the door.
"Knocked!" gasped Mrs. Rose; "why, the poor little lamb! Here Mr. Rose and Sam have been away all day, an' I've been makin' currant-jell' out in the kitchen. An' there's the bell on the counter, that customers always ring when there ain't anybody round. I've been listenin' for that all day. It's been so hot, an' everybody hayin', that I don't suppose a soul but her has been near the store since nine o'clock this mornin', and there she's stood an' knocked. I never heard anything like it in my life. See here, Pussy, haven't you been asleep?"
Fidelia shook her head in a sulky and down-cast manner, but there was a suspiciously flushed and creasy look about her, and they agreed that it was more than probable that a nap on the store steps had softened and shortened her vigil.
Mrs. Lennox had her up in the wagon on her lap. She took her Shaker bonnet off, and smoothed her hair and kissed her. "She thought she'd got to knock, I s'pose," said she. "I ought to have told her she didn't have to when she went to a store. Poor little soul! mother won't send her to the store again till she's bigger."
"I knocked an' knocked," wailed Fidelia, piteously.
She looked cross and worn out. Mrs. Rose ran into the house, and brought out a plate of cookies and a mug of milk, and then Fidelia sat in her mother's lap and ate and drank and felt comforted. But after the raisins had been finally purchased, Cynthia's bonnet picked up out of the dust and shaken, the little squeaking wagon stowed under the seat of the buggy, and the team turned around, Fidelia set up a grievous and injured cry: "My candy! my candy! I 'ain't—got my candy!" And she held up to view the copper cent still clutched in her moist little fist.
"Poor little lamb, she shall have her candy!" cried Mrs. Rose. Fidelia had never seen such a handful of candy as Mrs. Rose brought out from the store. There was a twisted red-and-white stick of peppermint, pink checkerberry, clear barley—a stick of every kind in the glass jars in Mr. Rose's store window. And Mrs. Rose would not take Fidelia's one penny at all; she bade her keep it until she came to the store again.
Aunt Maria was almost up to the store when they left it, and it was decided that she should remain and make a call upon Mrs. Rose while Mr. Lennox carried the others home, then he would return for her. Aunt Maria folded her green umbrella and sank down on the door-step, and Mrs. Rose brought her a palm-leaf fan and a glass of ginger water. "I 'ain't walked a mile before for ten year," gasped Aunt Maria; "but I'm so thankful that child's safe that I can't think of anything else." There were tears in her eyes as she watched the wagon-load disappearing under the green branches of the elm-trees. And Fidelia, in her mother's lap, rode along and sucked a stick of barley candy in silent bliss. Griefs in childhood soon turn to memories; straightway, as she sucked her barley candy, Fidelia's long and painful vigil at the store door became a thing of the past.
ANN MARY HER TWO THANKSGIVINGS
"What is it, child?"
"You goin' to put that cup-cake into the pan to bake it now, grandma?"
"Yes; I guess so. It's beat 'bout enough."
"You ain't put in a mite of nutmeg, grandma."
The grandmother turned around to Ann Mary. "Don't you be quite so anxious," said she, with sarcastic emphasis. "I allers put the nutmeg in cup-cake the very last thing. I ruther guess I shouldn't have put this cake into the oven without nutmeg!"
The old woman beat fiercely on the cake. She used her hand instead of a spoon, and she held the yellow mixing-bowl poised on her hip under her arm. She was stout and rosy-faced. She had crinkly white hair, and she always wore a string of gold beads around her creasy neck. She never took off the gold beads except to put them under her pillow at night, she was so afraid of their being stolen. Old Mrs. Little had always been nervous about thieves, although none had ever troubled her.
"You may go into the pantry, an' bring out the nutmeg now, Ann Mary," said she presently, with dignity.
Ann Mary soberly slipped down from her chair and went. She realized that she had made a mistake. It was quite an understood thing for Ann Mary to have an eye upon her grandmother while she was cooking, to be sure that she put in everything that she should, and nothing that she should not, for the old woman was absent-minded. But it had to be managed with great delicacy, and the corrections had to be quite irrefutable, or Ann Mary was reprimanded for her pains.
When Ann Mary had deposited the nutmeg-box and the grater at her grandmother's elbow, she took up her station again. She sat at a corner of the table in one of the high kitchen-chairs. Her feet could not touch the floor, and they dangled uneasily in their stout leather shoes, but she never rested them on the chair round, nor even swung them by way of solace. Ann Mary's grandmother did not like to have her chair rounds all marked up by shoes, and swinging feet disturbed her while she was cooking. Ann Mary sat up, grave and straight. She was a delicate, slender little girl, but she never stooped. She had an odd resemblance to her grandmother; a resemblance more of manner than of feature. She held back her narrow shoulders in the same determined way in which the old woman held her broad ones; she walked as she did, and spoke as she did.
Mrs. Little was very proud of Ann Mary Evans; Ann Mary was her only daughter's child, and had lived with her grandmother ever since she was a baby. The child could not remember either her father or mother, she was so little when they died.
Ann Mary was delicate, so she did not go to the village to the public school. Miss Loretta Adams, a young lady who lived in the neighborhood, gave her lessons. Loretta had graduated in a beautiful white muslin dress at the high-school over in the village, and Ann Mary had a great respect and admiration for her. Loretta had a parlor-organ, and could play on it, and she was going to give Ann Mary lessons after Thanksgiving. Just now there was a vacation. Loretta had gone to Boston to spend two weeks with her cousin.
Ann Mary was all in brown, a brown calico dress and a brown calico, long-sleeved apron; and her brown hair was braided in two tight little tails that were tied with some old brown bonnet-strings of Mrs. Little's, and flared out stiffly behind the ears. Once, when Ann Mary was at her house, Loretta Adams had taken it upon herself to comb out the tight braids and set the hair flowing in a fluffy mass over the shoulders; but when Ann Mary came home her grandmother was properly indignant. She seized her and re-braided the tails with stout and painful jerks. "I ain't goin' to have Loretty Adams meddlin' with your hair," said she, "an' she can jest understand it. If she wants to have her own hair all in a frowzle, an' look like a wild Injun, she can; you sha'n't!"
And Ann Mary, standing before her grandmother with head meekly bent and watery eyes, decided that she would have to tell Loretta that she mustn't touch the braids, if she proposed it again.
That morning, while Mrs. Little was making the pies, and the cake, and the pudding, Ann Mary was sitting idle, for her part of the Thanksgiving cooking was done. She had worked so fast the day before and early that morning that she had the raisins all picked over and seeded, and the apples pared and sliced; and that was about all that her grandmother thought she could do. Ann Mary herself was of a different opinion; she was twelve years old, if she was small for her age, and she considered herself quite capable of making pies and cup-cake.
However, it was something to sit there at the table and have that covert sense of superintending her grandmother, and to be reasonably sure that some of the food would have a strange flavor were it not for her vigilance.
Mrs. Little's mince-pies had all been baked the day before; to-day, as she said, she was "making apple and squash." While the apple-pies were in progress, Ann Mary watched her narrowly. Her small folded hands twitched and her little neck seemed to elongate above her apron; but she waited until her grandmother took up an upper crust, and was just about to lay it over a pie. Then she spoke up suddenly. Her voice had a timid yet assertive chirp like a bird's.
"Well, what is it, child?"
"You goin' to put that crust on that pie now, grandma?"
Mrs. Little stood uneasily reflective. She eyed the pie sharply. "Yes, I be. Why?" she returned, in a doubtful yet defiant manner.
"You haven't put one bit of sugar in."
"For the land sakes!" Mrs. Little did not take correction of this kind happily, but when she was made to fairly acknowledge the need of it, she showed no resentment. She laid the upper crust back on the board and sweetened the pie. Ann Mary watched her gravely, but she was inwardly complacent. After she had rescued the pudding from being baked without the plums, and it was nearly dinner-time, her grandfather came home. He had been over to the village to buy the Thanksgiving turkey. Ann Mary looked out with delight when he drove past the windows on his way to the barn.
"Grandpa's got home," said she.
It was snowing quite hard, and she saw the old man and the steadily tramping white horse and the tilting wagon through a thick mist of falling snow-flakes.
Before Mr. Little came into the kitchen, his wife warned him to be sure to wipe all the snow from his feet, and not to track in any, so he stamped vigorously out in the shed. Then he entered with an air of pride. "There!" said he, "what do ye think of that for a turkey?" Mr. Little was generally slow and gentle in his ways, but to-day he was quite excited over the turkey. He held it up with considerable difficulty. He was a small old man, and the cords on his lean hands knotted. "It weighs a good fifteen pound'," said he, "an' there wasn't a better one in the store. Adkins didn't have a very big lot on hand."
"I should think that was queer, the day before Thanksgivin'," said Mrs. Little. She was examining the turkey critically. "I guess it'll do," she declared finally. That was her highest expression of approbation. "Well, I rayther thought you'd think so," rejoined the old man, beaming. "I guess it's about as good a one as can be got—they said 'twas, down there. Sam White he was in there, and he said 'twas; he said I was goin' to get it in pretty good season for Thanksgivin', he thought."
"I don't think it's such very extra season, the day before Thanksgivin'," said Mrs. Little.
"Well, I don't think 'twas, nuther. I didn't see jest what Sam meant by it."
Ann Mary was dumb with admiration. When the turkey was laid on the broad shelf in the pantry, she went and gazed upon it. In the afternoon there was great enjoyment seeing it stuffed and made ready for the oven. Indeed, this day was throughout one of great enjoyment, being full of the very aroma of festivity and good cheer and gala times, and even sweeter than the occasion which it preceded. Ann Mary had only one damper all day, and that was the non-arrival of a letter. Mrs. Little had invited her son and his family to spend Thanksgiving, but now they probably were not coming, since not a word in reply had been received. When Mr. Little said there was no letter in the post-office, Ann Mary's face fell. "Oh, dear," said she, "don't you suppose Lucy will come, grandma?"
"No," replied her grandmother, "I don't. Edward never did such a thing as not to send me word when he was comin', in his life, nor Maria neither. I ain't no idee they'll come."
"Oh, dear!" said Ann Mary again.
"Well, you'll have to make up your mind to it," returned her grandmother. She was sore over her own disappointment, and so was irascible towards Ann Mary's. "It's no worse for you than for the rest of us. I guess you can keep one Thanksgivin' without Lucy."
For a while it almost seemed to Ann Mary that she could not. Lucy was her only cousin. She loved Lucy dearly, and she was lonesome for another little girl; nobody knew how she had counted upon seeing her cousin. Ann Mary herself had a forlorn hope that Lucy still might come, even if Uncle Edward was always so particular about sending word, and no word had been received. On Thanksgiving morning she kept running to the window and looking down the road. But when the stage from the village came, it passed right by the house without slackening its speed.
Then there was no hope left at all.
"You might jest as well be easy," said her grandmother. "I guess you can have a good Thanksgivin' if Lucy ain't here. This evenin' you can ask Loretty to come over a little while, if you want to, an' you can make some nut-candy."
"Loretta ain't at home."
"She'll come home for Thanksgivin', I guess. It ain't very likely she's stayed away over that. When I get the dinner ready to take up, you can carry a plateful down to Sarah Bean's, an' that'll be somethin' for you to do, too. I guess you can manage."
Thanksgiving Day was a very pleasant day, although there was considerable snow on the ground, for it had snowed all the day before. Mr. Little and Ann Mary did not go to church as usual, on that account.
The old man did not like to drive to the village before the roads were beaten out. Mrs. Little lamented not a little over it. It was the custom for her husband and granddaughter to attend church Thanksgiving morning, while she stayed at home and cooked the dinner. "It does seem dreadful heathenish for nobody to go to meetin' Thanksgivin' Day," said she; "an' we ain't even heard the proclamation read, neither. It rained so hard last Sabbath that we couldn't go."
The season was unusually wintry and severe, and lately the family had been prevented from church-going. It was two Sundays since any of the family had gone. The village was three miles away, and the road was rough. Mr. Little was too old to drive over it in very bad weather.
When Ann Mary went to carry the plate of Thanksgiving dinner to Sarah Bean, she wore a pair of her grandfather's blue woollen socks drawn over her shoes to keep out the snow. The snow was rather deep for easy walking, but she did not mind that. She carried the dinner with great care; there was a large plate well filled, and a tin dish was turned over it to keep it warm. Sarah Bean was an old woman who lived alone. Her house was about a quarter of a mile from the Littles'.
When Ann Mary reached the house, she found the old woman making a cup of tea. There did not seem to be much of anything but tea and bread-and-butter for her dinner. She was very deaf and infirm, all her joints shook when she tried to use them, and her voice quavered when she talked. She took the plate, and her hands trembled so that the tin dish played on the plate like a clapper. "Why," said she, overjoyed, "this looks just like Thanksgiving Day, tell your grandma!"
"Why, it is Thanksgiving Day," declared Ann Mary, with some wonder.
"What?" asked Sarah Bean.
"It is Thanksgiving Day, you know." But it was of no use, the old woman could not hear a word. Ann Mary's voice was too low.
Ann Mary could not walk very fast on account of the snow. She was absent some three-quarters of an hour; her grandmother had told her that dinner would be all on the table when she returned. She was enjoying the nice things in anticipation all the way; when she came near the house, she could smell roasted turkey, and there was also a sweet spicy odor in the air.
She noticed with surprise that a sleigh had been in the yard. "I wonder who's come," she said to herself. She thought of Lucy, and whether they could have driven over from the village. She ran in. "Why, who's come?" she cried out.
Her voice sounded like a shout in her own ears; it seemed to awaken echoes. She fairly startled herself, for there was no one in the room. There was absolute quiet through all the house. There was even no sizzling from the kettles on the stove, for everything had been dished up. The vegetables, all salted and peppered and buttered, were on the table—but the turkey was not there. In the great vacant place where the turkey should have been was a piece of white paper. Ann Mary spied it in a moment. She caught it up and looked at it. It was a note from her grandmother:
We have had word that Aunt Betsey has had a bad turn. Lizz wants us to come. The dinner is all ready for you. If we ain't home to-night, you can get Loretty to stay with you. Be a good girl. GRANDMA.
Ann Mary read the note and stood reflecting, her mouth drooping at the corners. Aunt Betsey was Mrs. Little's sister; Lizz was her daughter who lived with her and took care of her. They lived in Derby, and Derby was fourteen miles away. It seemed a long distance to Ann Mary, and she felt sure that her grandparents could not come home that night. She looked around the empty room and sighed. After a while she sat down and pulled off the snowy socks; she thought she might as well eat her dinner, although she did not feel so hungry as she had expected. Everything was on the table but the turkey and plum-pudding. Ann Mary supposed these were in the oven keeping warm; the door was ajar. But, when she looked, they were not there. She went into the pantry; they were not there either. It was very strange; there was the dripping-pan in which the turkey had been baked, on the back of the stove, with some gravy in it; and there was the empty pudding-dish on the hearth.
"What has grandma done with the turkey and the plum-pudding?" said Ann Mary, aloud.
She looked again in the pantry; then she went down to the cellar—there seemed to be so few places in the house in which it was reasonable to search for a turkey and a plum-pudding!
Finally she gave it up, and sat down to dinner. There was plenty of squash and potatoes and turnips and onions and beets and cranberry-sauce and pies; but it was no Thanksgiving dinner without turkey and plum-pudding. It was like a great flourish of accompaniment without any song.
Ann Mary did as well as she could; she put some turkey-gravy on her potato and filled up her plate with vegetables; but she did not enjoy the dinner. She felt more and more lonely, too. She resolved that after she had washed up the dinner dishes and changed her dress, she would go over to Loretta Adams's. It was quite a piece of work, washing the dinner dishes, there were so many pans and kettles; it was the middle of the afternoon when she finished. Then Ann Mary put on her best plaid dress, and tied her best red ribbons on her braids, and it was four o'clock before she started for Loretta's.
Loretta lived in a white cottage about half a mile away towards the village. The front yard had many bushes in it, and the front path was bordered with box; the bushes were now mounds of snow, and the box was indicated by two snowy ridges.
The house had a shut-up look; the sitting-room curtains were down. Ann Mary went around to the side door; but it was locked. Then she went up the front walk between the snowy ridges of box, and tried the front door; that also was locked. The Adamses had gone away. Ann Mary did not know what to do. The tears stood in her eyes, and she choked a little. She went back and forth between the two doors, and shook and pounded; she peeked around the corner of the curtain into the sitting-room. She could see Loretta's organ, with the music-book, and all the familiar furniture, but the room wore an utterly deserted air.
Finally, Ann Mary sat down on the front door-step, after she had brushed off the snow a little. She had made up her mind to wait a little while, and see if the folks would not come home. She had on her red hood, and her grandmother's old plaid shawl. She pulled the shawl tightly around her, and muffled her face in it; it was extremely cold weather for sitting on a door-step. Just across the road was a low clump of birches; through and above the birches the sky showed red and clear where the sun was setting. Everything looked cold and bare and desolate to the little girl who was trying to keep Thanksgiving. Suddenly she heard a little cry, and Loretta's white cat came around the corner of the house.
"Kitty, kitty, kitty," called Ann Mary. She was very fond of Loretta's cat; she had none of her own.
The cat came close and brushed around Ann Mary so she took it up in her lap; and wrapped the shawl around it, and felt a little comforted.
She sat there on the door-step and held the cat until it was quite dusky, and she was very stiff with the cold. Then she put down the cat and prepared to go home. But she had not gone far along the road when she found out that the cat was following her. The little white creature floundered through the snow at her heels, and mewed constantly. Sometimes it darted ahead and waited until she came up, but it did not seem willing to be carried in her arms.
When Ann Mary reached her own house the lonesome look of it sent a chill all over her; she was afraid to go in. She made up her mind to go down to Sarah Bean's and ask whether she could not stay all night there.
So she kept on, and Loretta's white cat still followed her. There was no light in Sarah Bean's house. Ann Mary knocked and pounded, but it was of no use; the old woman had gone to bed, and she could not make her hear.
Ann Mary turned about and went home; the tears were running down her cold red cheeks. The cat mewed louder than ever. When she got home she took the cat up and carried it into the house. She determined to keep it for company, anyway. She was sure, now, that she would have to stay alone all night; the Adamses and Sarah Bean were the only neighbors, and it was so late now that she had no hope of her grandparents' return. Ann Mary was timid and nervous, but she had a vein of philosophy, and she generally grasped the situation with all the strength she had, when she became convinced that she must. She had laid her plans while walking home through the keen winter air, even as the tears were streaming over her cheeks, and she proceeded to carry them into execution. She gave Loretta's cat its supper, and she ate a piece of mince-pie herself; then she fixed the kitchen and the sitting-room fires, and locked up the house very thoroughly. Next, she took the cat and the lamp and went into the dark bedroom and locked the door; then she and the cat were as safe as she knew how to make them. The dark bedroom was in the very middle of the house, the centre of a nest of rooms. It was small and square, had no windows, and only one door. It was a sort of fastness. Ann Mary made up her mind that she would not undress herself, and that she would keep the lamp burning all night. She climbed into the big yellow-posted bedstead, and the cat cuddled up to her and purred.
Ann Mary lay in bed and stared at the white satin scrolls on the wall-paper, and listened for noises. She heard a great many, but they were all mysterious and indefinable, till about ten o'clock. Then she sat straight up in bed and her heart beat fast. She certainly heard sleigh-bells; the sound penetrated even to the dark bedroom. Then came a jarring pounding on the side door. Ann Mary got up, unfastened the bedroom door, took the lamp, and stepped out into the sitting-room. The pounding came again. "Ann Mary, Ann Mary!" cried a voice. It was her grandmother's.
"I'm comin', I'm comin', grandma!" shouted Ann Mary. She had never felt so happy in her life. She pushed back the bolt of the side door with trembling haste. There stood her grandmother all muffled up, with a shawl over her head; and out in the yard were her grandfather and another man, with a horse and sleigh. The men were turning the sleigh around.
"Put the lamp in the window, Ann Mary," called Mr. Little, and Ann Mary obeyed. Her grandmother sank into a chair. "I'm jest about tuckered out," she groaned. "If I don't ketch my death with this day's work, I'm lucky. There ain't any more feelin' in my feet than as if they was lumps of stone."
Ann Mary stood at her grandmother's elbow, and her face was all beaming. "I thought you weren't coming," said she.
"Well, I shouldn't have come a step to-night, if it hadn't been for you—and the cow," said her grandmother, in an indignant voice. "I was kind of uneasy about you, an' we knew the cow wouldn't be milked unless you got Mr. Adams to come over."
"Was Aunt Betsey very sick?" inquired Ann Mary.
Her grandmother gave her head a toss. "Sick! No, there wa'n't a thing the matter with her, except she ate some sassage-meat, an' had a little faint turn. Lizz was scart to death, the way she always is. She didn't act as if she knew whether her head was on, all the time we were there. She didn't act as if she knew 'twas Thanksgivin' Day; an' she didn't have no turkey that I could see. Aunt Betsey bein' took sick seemed to put everythin' out of her head. I never saw such a nervous thing as she is. I was all out of patience when I got there. Betsey didn't seem to be very bad off, an' there we'd hurried enough to break our necks. We didn't dare to drive around to Sarah Bean's to let you know about it, for we was afraid we'd miss the train. We jest got in with the man that brought the word, an' he driv as fast as he could over to the village, an' then we lost the train, an' had to sit there in the depot two mortal hours. An' now we've come fourteen mile' in an open sleigh. The man that lives next door to Betsey said he'd bring us home, an' I thought we'd better come. He's goin' over to the village to-night; he's got folks there. I told him he'd a good deal better stay here, but he won't. He's as deaf as an adder, an' you can't make him hear anythin', anyway. We ain't spoke a word all the way home. Where's Loretty? She came over to stay with you, didn't she?"
Ann Mary explained that Loretta was not at home.
"That's queer, seems to me, Thanksgivin' Day," said her grandmother. "Massy sakes, what cat's that? She came out of the settin'-room!"
Ann Mary explained about Loretta's cat. Then she burst forth with the question that had been uppermost in her mind ever since her grandmother came in. "Grandma," said she, "what did you do with the turkey and the plum-pudding?"
"What did you do with the turkey and the plum-pudding?"
"The turkey an' the plum-puddin'?"
"Yes; I couldn't find 'em anywhere."
Mrs. Little, who had removed her wraps, and was crouching over the kitchen stove with her feet in the oven, looked at Ann Mary with a dazed expression.
"I dunno what you mean, child," said she.
Mr. Little had helped the man with the sleigh to start, and had now come in. He was pulling off his boots.
"Don't you remember, mother," said he, "how you run back in the house, an' said you was goin' to set that turkey an' plum-pudding away, for you was afraid to leave 'em settin' right out in plain sight on the table, for fear that somebody might come in?"
"Yes; I do remember," said Mrs. Little. "I thought they looked 'most too temptin'. I set 'em in the pantry. I thought Ann Mary could get 'em when she came in."
"They ain't in the pantry," said Ann Mary.
Her grandmother arose and went into the pantry with a masterful air. "Ain't in the pantry?" she repeated. "I don't s'pose you more'n gave one look."
Ann Mary followed her grandmother. She fairly expected to see the turkey and pudding before her eyes on the shelf and to admit that she had been mistaken. Mr. Little also followed, and they all stood in the pantry and looked about.
"I guess they ain't here, mother," said Mr. Little. "Can't you think where you set 'em?"
The old woman took up the lamp and stepped out of the pantry with dignity. "I've set 'em somewhere," said she, in a curt voice, "an' I'll find 'em in the mornin'. You don't want any turkey or plum-puddin' to-night, neither of you!"
But Mrs. Little did not find the turkey and the plum-pudding in the morning. Some days went by, and their whereabouts was as much a mystery as ever. Mrs. Little could not remember where she had put them; but it had been in some secure hiding-place, since her own wit which had placed them there could not find it out. She was so mortified and worried over it that she was nearly ill. She tried to propound the theory, and believe in it herself, that she had really set the turkey and the pudding in the pantry, and that they had been stolen; but she was too honest. "I've heerd of folks puttin' things in such safe places that they couldn't find 'em, before now," said she; "but I never heerd of losin' a turkey an' a plum-puddin' that way. I dunno but I'm losin' what little wits I ever did have." She went about with a humble and resentful air. She promised Ann Mary that she would cook another turkey and pudding the first of the week, if the missing ones were not found.
Sunday came and they were not discovered. It was a pleasant day, and the Littles went to the village church. Ann Mary looked over across the church after they were seated and saw Loretta, with the pretty brown frizzes over her forehead, sitting between her father and mother, and she wondered when Loretta had come home.
The choir sang and the minister prayed. Suddenly Ann Mary saw him, standing there in the pulpit, unfold a paper. Then the minister began to read the Thanksgiving Proclamation. Ann Mary cast one queer glance at her grandmother, who returned it with one of inexpressible dignity and severity.
As soon as meeting was done, her grandmother clutched her by the arm. "Don't you say a word about it to anybody," she whispered. "You mind!"
When they were in the sleigh going home she charged her husband. "You mind, you keep still, father," said she. "It'll be town-talk if you don't."
The old man chuckled. "Don't you know, I said once that I had kind of an idee that Thanksgivin' weren't quite so early, and you shut me up, mother," he remarked. He looked good-naturedly malicious.
"Well, I dunno as it's anything so very queer," said Mrs. Little. "It comes a whole week later than it did last year, and I s'posed we'd missed hearin' the proclamation."
The next day a letter arrived saying that Lucy and her father and mother were coming to spend Thanksgiving. "I feel jest about beat," Mrs. Little said, when she read the letter.
Really, she did feel about at her wit's end. The turkey and pudding were not yet found, and she had made up her mind that she would not dare wait much longer without providing more. She knew that another turkey must be procured, at all events. However, she waited until the last minute Wednesday afternoon, then she went to work mixing a pudding. Mr. Little had gone to the store for the turkey. "Sam White was over there, an' he said he thought we was goin' right into turkeys this year," he reported when he got home.
That night the guests arrived. Thanksgiving morning Lucy and Ann Mary and their grandfather and Lucy's father and mother were all going to meeting. Mrs. Little was to stay at home and cook the dinner.
Thanksgiving morning Mr. Little made a fire in the best parlor air-tight stove, and just before they started for meeting Lucy and Ann Mary were in the room. Lucy, in the big rocking-chair that was opposite the sofa, was rocking to and fro and talking. Ann Mary sat near the window. Each of the little girls had on her coat and hat.
Suddenly Lucy stopped rocking and looked intently over towards the sofa.
"What you lookin' at, Lucy?" asked Ann Mary, curiously.
Lucy still looked. "Why—I was wondering what was under that sofa," said she, slowly. Then she turned to Ann Mary, and her face was quite pale and startled—she had heard the turkey and pudding story. "Oh, Ann Mary, it does look—like—oh—"
Both little girls rushed to the sofa, and threw themselves on the floor. "Oh, oh, oh!" they shrieked. "Grandma—mother! Come quick, come quick!"
When the others came in, there sat Ann Mary and Lucy on the floor, and between them were the turkey and the plum-pudding, each carefully covered with a snow-white napkin.
Mrs. Little was quite pale and trembling. "I remember now," said she, faintly, "I run in here with 'em."
She was so overcome that the others tried to take it quietly and not to laugh much. But every little while, after Lucy and Ann Mary were seated in church, they would look at each other and have to put their handkerchiefs to their faces. However, Ann Mary tried hard to listen to the sermon, and to behave well. In the depths of her childish heart she felt grateful and happy. There, by her side, sat her dear Lucy, whose sweet little face peeped out from a furry winter hat. Just across the aisle was Loretta, who was coming in the evening, and then they would pop corn and make nut-candy. At home there was the beautiful new turkey and unlimited pudding and good cheer, and all disappointment and mystery were done away with.
Ann Mary felt as if all her troubles would be followed by thanksgivings.
ANN LIZY'S PATCHWORK
Ann Lizy was invited to spend the afternoon and take tea with her friend Jane Baxter, and she was ready to set forth about one o'clock. That was the fashionable hour for children and their elders to start when they were invited out to spend the afternoon.
Ann Lizy had on her best muslin delaine dress, her best embroidered pantalets, her black silk apron, and her flat straw hat with long blue ribbon streamers. She stood in the south room—the sitting-room—before her grandmother, who was putting some squares of patchwork, with needle, thread, and scissors, into a green silk bag embroidered with roses in bead-work.
"There, Ann Lizy," said her grandmother, "you may take my bag if you are real careful of it, and won't lose it. When you get to Jane's you lay it on the table, and don't have it round when you're playin' out-doors."
"Yes, ma'am," said Ann Lizy. She was looking with radiant, admiring eyes at the bag—its cluster of cunningly wrought pink roses upon the glossy green field of silk. Still there was a serious droop to her mouth; she knew there was a bitter to this sweet.
"Now," said her grandmother, "I've put four squares of patchwork in the bag; they're all cut and basted nice, and you must sew 'em all, over and over, before you play any. Sew 'em real fine and even, or you'll have to pick the stitches out when you get home."
Ann Lizy's radiant eyes faded; she hung her head. She calculated swiftly that she could not finish the patchwork before four o'clock, and that would leave her only an hour and a half to eat supper and play with Jane, for she would have to come home at half-past five. "Can't I take two, and do the other two to-morrow, grandma?" said she.
Her grandmother straightened herself disapprovingly. She was a tall, wiry old woman with strong, handsome features showing through her wrinkles. She had been so energetic all her life, and done so much work, that her estimation of it was worn, like scales. Four squares of patchwork sewed with very fine even stitches had, to her, no weight at all; it did not seem like work.
"Well, if a great girl like you can't sew four squares of patchwork in an arternoon, I wouldn't tell of it, Ann Lizy," said she. "I don't know what you'd say if you had to work the way I did at your age. If you can't have time enough to play and do a little thing like that, you'd better stay at home. I ain't goin' to have you idle a whole arternoon, if I know it. Time's worth too much to be wasted that way."
"I'd sew the others to-morrow," pleaded Ann Lizy, faintly.
"Oh, you wouldn't do it half so easy to-morrow; you've got to pick the currants for the jell' to-morrow. Besides, that doesn't make any difference. To-day's work is to-day's work, and it hasn't anything to do with to-morrow's. It's no excuse for idlin' one day, because you do work the next. You take that patchwork, and sit right down and sew it as soon as you get there—don't put it off—and sew it nice, too, or you can stay at home—just which you like."
Ann Lizy sighed, but reached out her hand for the bag. "Now be careful and not lose it," said her grandmother, "and be a good girl."
"Don't run too hard, nor go to climbin' walls, and get your best dress torn."
"And only one piece of cake at tea-time."
"And start for home at half-past five."
Little Ann Lizy Jennings, as she went down the walk between the rows of pinks, had a bewildered feeling that she had been to Jane Baxter's to tea, and was home again.
Her parents were dead, and she lived with her Grandmother Jennings, who made her childhood comfortable and happy, except that at times she seemed taken off her childish feet by the energy and strong mind of the old woman, and so swung a little way through the world in her wake. But Ann Lizy received no harm by it.
Ann Lizy went down the road with the bead bag on her arm. She toed out primly, for she had on her best shoes. A little girl, whom she knew, stood at the gate in every-day clothes, and Ann Lizy bowed to her in the way she had seen the parson's wife bow, when out making calls in her best black silk and worked lace veil. The parson's wife was young and pretty, and Ann Lizy admired her. It was quite a long walk to Jane Baxter's, but it was a beautiful afternoon, and the road was pleasant, although there were not many houses. There were green fields and flowering bushes at the sides, and, some of the way, elm-trees arching over it. Ann Lizy would have been very happy had it not been for the patchwork. She had already pieced one patchwork quilt, and her grandmother displayed it to people with pride, saying, "Ann Lizy pieced that before she was eight years old."
Ann Lizy had not as much ambition as her grandmother, now she was engaged upon her second quilt, and it looked to her like a checked and besprigged calico mountain. She kept dwelling upon those four squares, over and over, until she felt as if each side were as long as the Green Mountains. She calculated again and again how little time she would have to play with Jane—only about an hour, for she must allow a half-hour for tea. She was not a swift sewer when she sewed fine and even stitches, and she knew she could not finish those squares before four o'clock. One hour!—and she and Jane wanted to play dolls, and make wreaths out of oak-leaves, and go down in the lane after thimbleberries, and in the garden for gooseberries—there would be no time for anything!
Ann Lizy's delicate little face under the straw flat grew more and more sulky and distressed, her forehead wrinkled, and her mouth pouted. She forgot to swing her muslin delaine skirts gracefully, and flounced along hitting the dusty meadowsweet bushes.
Ann Lizy was about half-way to Jane Baxter's house, in a lonely part of the road, when she opened her bead bag and drew out her pocket-handkerchief—her grandmother had tucked that in with the patchwork—and wiped her eyes. When she replaced the handkerchief she put it under the patchwork, and did not draw up the bag again, but went on, swinging it violently by one string.
When Ann Lizy reached Jane Baxter's gate she gave a quick, scared glance at the bag. It looked very flat and limp. She did not open it, and she said nothing about it to Jane. They went out to play in the garden. There were so many hollyhocks there that it seemed like a real flower-grove, and the gooseberries were ripe.
Shortly after Ann Lizy entered Jane Baxter's house a white horse and a chaise passed down the road in the direction from which she had just come. There were three persons in the chaise—a gentleman, lady, and little girl. The lady wore a green silk pelerine, and a green bonnet with pink strings, and the gentleman a blue coat and bell hat. The little girl had pretty long, light curls, and wore a white dress and blue sash. She sat on a little footstool down in front of the seat. They were the parson's wife's sister, her husband, and her little girl, and had been to visit at the parsonage. The gentleman drove the white horse down the road, and the little girl looked sharply and happily at everything by the way. All at once she gave a little cry—"Oh, father, what's that in the road?"
She saw Ann Lizy's patchwork, all four squares nicely pinned together, lying beside the meadowsweet bushes. Her father stopped the horse, got out, and picked up the patchwork.
"Why," said the parson's wife's sister, "some little girl has lost her patchwork; look, Sally!"
"She'll be sorry, won't she?" said the little girl, whose name was Sally.
The gentleman got back into the chaise, and the three rode off with the patchwork. There seemed to be nothing else to do; there were no houses near and no people of whom to inquire. Besides, four squares of calico patchwork were not especially valuable.
"If we don't find out who lost it, I'll put it into my quilt," said Sally. She studied the patterns of the calico very happily, as they rode along; she thought them prettier than anything she had. One had pink roses on a green ground, and she thought that especially charming.
Meantime, while Sally and her father and mother rode away in the chaise with the patchwork to Whitefield, ten miles distant, where their house was, Ann Lizy and Jane played as fast as they could. It was four o'clock before they went into the house. Ann Lizy opened her bag, which she had laid on the parlor table with the Young Lady's Annuals and Mrs. Hemans's Poems. "I s'pose I must sew my patchwork," said she, in a miserable, guilty little voice. Then she exclaimed. It was strange that, well as she knew there was no patchwork there, the actual discovery of nothing at all gave her a shock.
"What's the matter?" asked Jane.
"I've—lost my patchwork," said Ann Lizy.
Jane called her mother, and they condoled with Ann Lizy. Ann Lizy sat in one of Mrs. Baxter's rush-bottomed chairs and began to cry.
"Where did you lose it?" Mrs. Baxter asked. "Don't cry, Ann Lizy, maybe we can find it."
"I s'pose I—lost it comin'," sobbed Ann Lizy.
"Well, I'll tell you what 't is," said Mrs. Baxter; "you and Jane had better run up the road a piece, and likely as not you'll find it; and I'll have tea all ready when you come home. Don't feel so bad, child, you'll find it, right where you dropped it."
But Ann Lizy and Jane, searching carefully along the road, did not find the patchwork where it had been dropped. "Maybe it's blown away," suggested Jane, although there was hardly wind enough that afternoon to stir a feather. And the two little girls climbed over the stone-walls and searched in the fields, but they did not find the patchwork. Then another mishap befell Ann Lizy. She tore a three-cornered place in her best muslin delaine, getting over the wall. When she saw that she felt as if she were in a dreadful dream. "Oh, what will grandma say!" she wailed.
"Maybe she won't scold," said Jane, consolingly.
"Yes, she will. Oh dear!"
The two little girls went dolefully home to tea. There were hot biscuits and honey and tarts and short gingerbread and custards, but Ann Lizy did not feel hungry. Mrs. Baxter tried to comfort her; she really saw not much to mourn over, except the rent in the best dress, as four squares of patchwork could easily be replaced; she did not see the true inwardness of the case.
At half-past five, Ann Lizy, miserable and tear-stained, the three-cornered rent in her best dress pinned up, started for home, and then—her grandmother's beautiful bead bag was not to be found. Ann Lizy and Jane both remembered that it had been carried when they set out to find the patchwork. Ann Lizy had meditated bringing the patchwork home in it.
"Aunt Cynthy made that bag for grandma," said Ann Lizy, in a tone of dull despair; this was beyond tears.
"Well, Jane shall go with you, and help find it," said Mrs. Baxter, "and I'll leave the tea-dishes and go too. Don't feel so bad, Ann Lizy, I know I can find it."
But Mrs. Baxter and Jane and Ann Lizy, all searching, could not find the bead bag. "My best handkerchief was in it," said Ann Lizy. It seemed to her as if all her best things were gone. She and Mrs. Baxter and Jane made a doleful little group in the road. The frogs were peeping, and the cows were coming home. Mrs. Baxter asked the boy who drove the cows if he had seen a green bead bag, or four squares of patchwork; he stared and shook his head.
Ann Lizy looked like a wilted meadow reed, the blue streamers on her hat drooped dejectedly, her best shoes were all dusty, and the three-cornered rent was the feature of her best muslin delaine dress that one saw first. Then her little delicate face was all tear-stains and downward curves. She stood there in the road as if she had not courage to stir.
"Now, Ann Lizy," said Mrs. Baxter, "you'd better run right home and not worry. I don't believe your grandma 'll scold you when you tell her just how 't was."
Ann Lizy shook her head. "Yes, she will."
"Well, she'll be worrying about you if you ain't home before long, and I guess you'd better go," said Mrs. Baxter.
Ann Lizy said not another word; she began to move dejectedly towards home. Jane and her mother called many kindly words after her, but she did not heed them. She kept straight on, walking slowly until she was home. Her grandmother stood in the doorway watching for her. She had a blue-yarn stocking in her hands, and she was knitting fast as she watched.
"Ann Lizy, where have you been, late as this?" she called out, as Ann Lizy came up the walk. "It's arter six o'clock."
Ann Lizy continued to drag herself slowly forward, but she made no reply.
"Why don't you speak?"
Ann Lizy crooked her arm around her face and began to cry. Her grandmother reached down, took her by the shoulder, and led her into the house. "What on airth is the matter, child?" said she; "have you fell down?"
"What does ail you, then? Ann Lizy Jennings, how come that great three-cornered tear in your best dress?"