"But to think that you've never had a Christmas present!" exclaimed Molly again, as Wallula's laugh rippled out. "If I'd only known you the first year we came! But I'll make it up this year, you'll see; and oh! oh!" clapping her hands at a sudden thought, "I know—I know what I'll do! Tell you?" as Wallula clapped her hands and cried, "Oh, tell me, tell me!" "Of course I sha'n't tell you; that would spoil the whole. Why, that's part of the fun that we don't tell what we are going to do. It is all a secret until Christmas eve or Christmas morning."
"Yes, I know,—Metalka told me; but I forgot."
"Of course your sister must have known all about Christmas after she came back from school. Why didn't she make you a Christmas present, then, Lula?"
"Metalka?" A cloud came over the little bright face. "Metalka didn't stay long after she came back. She didn't stay till Christmas; she went 'way—to—to heaven."
"If Metalka had stayed, I might have gone to school this year."
"I thought you had been to school, Lula."
"Oh, no! only to little school out here summers,—little school some ladies made; and Metalka tole me—taught me—showed me ev'ry day after she came back—ev'ry day, till—til she—went 'way. I can read and write and talk, talk, talk, all day in English,"—smiling roguishly, then more seriously and anxiously. "Is it pretty fair English,—white English,—Major Molly?"
"'White English'!" laughed back Major Molly. "You are such fun, Lula. Yes, it's pretty fair—white English."
Lula dimpled with pleasure, then sighed as she said, "If I could go 'way off East to Metalka's school, two, three, four, five year, as Metalka did, then I could talk splen'id English, and I could make heap—no, all sort things, and help keep house nice, and cook like Metalka."
"But why don't you go, Lula?"
"Why don't I? Listen!" and Wallula bent forward eagerly. "I don't go because my father won't have me go. Metalka went. When she first came back, she was so happy, so strong. She was going to have everything white way, civ—I can't say it, Maje Molly."
"Do you mean civilized?"
"Yes, yes; civ'lized—white way. And she worked, she talked, she tried, and nobody'd pay much 'tention but my father. The girls, some o' them, wanted to be like her; but the fathers and mothers would n' help, and some, good many, were set hard 'gainst it; and then there was no money to buy white people's clothes, they said. It took all the money was earned to pay big 'counts up at agency store, where Indians bought things,—things to eat, you know; so what's the use, they said, to try to live white ways when everything was 'gainst them, and they stopped trying; and Metalka was so dis'pointed, for she was going do so much,—going help civ-civ'lize. She was so dis'pointed, she by-'n'-by got sick—homesick, and just after the first snow came, she—she went 'way to heaven. And that's why my father won't have me go to the school. He say it killed Metalka. He say if she'd stayed home, she'd been happy Indian and lived long time. He say Indian got hurt; spoiled going off into white man's country."
"How came he to let your sister go, Lula?"
"Metalka wanted to go so bad. She'd heard so much 'bout the 'way-off schools from some white ladies up at the fort one summer, and my father heard too. A white off'cer tole him if Indian wanted to know how to have plenty to eat, plenty ev'rything like white peoples, they must learn to do bus'ness white ways, be edg'cated. So he let Metalka go; he could n' go, he too old; but Metalka could go and learn to read all the books and the papers and keep 'counts for him, so 't he'd know how to deal with white men. When Metalka first took 'count for him, after she came back, my father so pleased. He'd worked hard all winter hauling wood, and killing elk and deer for the skins; and my mother 'n' I had made bewt'ful moccasins and gloves out o' the skins, all worked with beads; and so he'd earned good deal money, and he 'd kept 'count of it all,—his way, and 't was honest way; and kept 'count, too, what he'd had out of agency store; and Metalka understood and reckoned it all up, and said he 'd have good lot money left after he'd paid what he owed at the store. But, Maje Molly, he didn't! he didn't! They tole him he owed all his money, and when he said they'd made mistake, and showed 'em Metalka's 'counts, they laughed at him, and showed him big book of their 'counts, and tole him Metalka didn't know 'bout prices o' things. Then he came home and said: 'What's the use going to white people's schools to learn white people's ways, when white people can come out to Indian country and tell lies 'bout prices o' things?' And that's the way 't is ev'ry time, my father say; the way 't was before Metalka went to school. The bad white trader comes out to Indian country to cheat Indians. He knows white prices, but he don't tell Indian white prices; he tell Indian two, three time more price. That's what my father say. And Metalka, when she see it all, she so disjointed, she never get over it, and my father say it killed her, like arrow shot at her."
"But your father doesn't think all white people bad; he doesn't dislike all their ways?"
"No; it's only white traders he thinks bad, and the white big chiefs who break promises 'bout lands. He like white ways that Metalka brought back, and he built nice log house to live in instead of tepee, 'cause Metalka wanted it; and he like all you here, Maje Molly, 'cause you good to me. But, Maje Molly"—and here the little bright face clouded over—"my mother say all white peoples forget, and break promises to Indians."
"No, no, they don't, Lula; they don't, you'll see. I sha'n't forget; I sha'n't break my promise, you'll see,—you'll see, Lula. On Christmas eve I shall send you a Christmas present, sure,—now remember!" answered Molly, vehemently.
It was the day before Christmas,—a beautiful, mild day, very unlike the usual winter weather in the far West. At the Ellistons' windows hung wreaths of pine, and all about on tables and chairs tempting-looking packages were lying. Some of these were from their military friends, and most of them were directed to "Major Molly," the name that had been given to Molly when she was a little tot of a thing, and the pet of the fort where she lived. On this Christmas day, as she watched her mother fold up the pretty bright tartan dress that was to be her Christmas present to Wallula, she said gleefully,—
"Don't forget, mamma, to write on the box, 'Wallula's Christmas present from Major Molly.'"
It had been Molly's intention to have Wallula to tea on Christmas eve, and then and there to bestow upon her the pretty gift. But invitations to dine at the fort had frustrated this plan, and so it was arranged that Barney McGuire, one of the ranchmen, should come up and carry the box over to the reservation late that afternoon; and as the short winter day progressed, and Molly found that she must have a little more time to finish off the table-cover she wanted to take up to the Colonel's wife, she said to her mother,—
"Instead of going on with you and papa at five o'clock, let Barney escort me to the fort after he leaves Wallula's present; that will give me plenty of time to finish the cover, and plenty of time to get to the dinner in season."
"Very well," answered Mrs. Elliston; "but you must promise me to start with Barney as soon as he comes back for you, whether the cover is finished or not. You mustn't be late."
At five o'clock, when Captain Elliston and his wife rode off, Molly was working away at her cover with the greatest industry. Now and then, as she worked on, she glanced up at the clock. If everything went smoothly,—if the silk didn't knot or the lace didn't pucker,—she would be through long before Barney came back for her. But presently she thought, where was Barney. He ought to be there for the box by this time. She worked on a little longer, her ear alert for the sound of Barney's horse. At last she went to an upper window and looked out. She could see, even in the gathering dusk, a great distance from that window, away across toward the sheep-corrals and cattle-pens; but nobody was in sight. What did it mean? Barney was punctuality itself.
Five, ten, fifteen, twenty minutes more she worked with flying fingers, and still there was no sight or sound of Barney; but her work was finished, and now—now, what then?
There was only Hannah and John, the two house-servants, at hand. Hannah couldn't go, and John had strict orders never to leave the premises in Captain Elliston's absence. She looked at the clock; every second seemed an age. If Barney didn't come, if no one was sent in his place, her promise to Wallula would be broken, and Molly remembered Wallula's words, "My mother say all white peoples forget, and break promises to Indians;" and her own vehement reply, "I sha'n't forget; I sha'n't break my promise, you'll see, you'll see, Lula!" Break her promise after that! Never, never! Her father himself would say she must not,—would say that somebody must go in Barney's place, and there was nobody,—nobody to go but—herself!
"Yer goin' alone, yer mean, over to the Injuns!" demanded John, as Molly told him to bring her pony, Tam o' Shanter, to the door.
"Yes, yes, and right away, John; so hurry as fast as you can."
"Do yer think yer'd orter, Major Molly? Do yer think the Cap'n would like it?" asked John, disapprovingly.
"John, if you don't bring Tam 'round this minute, I'll go for him myself."
"'T ain't safe fur yer to go over there alone!" cried Hannah.
"Safe! I know the way, every inch of it, with my eyes shut, and so does Tam; and I know the Indians, and Wallula is my friend; and I told her she should have her present Christmas eve, sure, and I'm going to keep my promise. Now bring Tam 'round just as quick as you can."
John obeyed, though with evident reluctance, and Hannah showed her disapproval by scolding and protesting; but they had both of them lived on the frontier for years, and their disapproval therefore was not what it might have been under different circumstances. Molly, they knew, could ride as well as a little Indian, and was familiar with every inch of the way, as she had said, and Wallula was her friend.
"And 't wouldn't 'a' done the least bit o' good to hev set myself any more against her. If I had, just as like as not the Cap'n would 'a' sided with her and been mad at me, for he thinks the Major's ekal to 'most anything," John confided to Hannah, as he brought the pony round.
The pony shied a little as Wallula's Christmas present was strapped to his back. But at Molly's whispered, "Tam! Tam! be a good boy. We're going to see Wallula,—to carry her something nice, just as quick as we can go," the little fellow whinnied softly, as if in response; and the next moment, at Molly's "Now, Tam," he started forward at his best pace,—a pace that Molly knew so well, and knew she could trust,—firm and even and assured, and gaining, gaining, gaining at every step.
"Good boy, good boy!" she said to him as he sped along. But as he began to hasten his pace, it occurred to her that it was only about half an hour's easy riding to the reservation, and that after leaving there she could easily reach the fort in another half-hour,—so easily that there was no need of hurrying Tam as she was doing; and she pulled him up with a "Take it easy, Tam dear." As she spoke, Tam flung up his head, pricked up his ears, and made a sudden plunge forward. What was it? What was the matter? What had he heard? He had heard what Molly herself heard in the next instant,—the beat of a horse's hoofs. But the minute it struck upon Molly's ear she said to herself, "It's Barney; for that's old Ranger's step, I know." Ranger was an old troop horse of her father's that Barney often rode. But in vain she tried to rein Tam in. In vain she said to him, "Wait, wait! It's Ranger and Barney, Tam!"
The pony snorted, as if in scorn, and held on his way. What was the matter with him? He was usually such a wise little fellow, and always knew his friends and his enemies. And he knew them now! He was wiser than she was, and he scented on the wind something that spurred him on.
But, hark! What was that whirring, singing sound? Was that a new signal that Barney was trying? Was it—Whirr, s-st! Down like a shot dropped Tam's head, and like an arrow he leaped forward, swerving sideways to escape the danger he had scented,—the danger of a lariat flung by a practised hand.
Oh, Tam, Tam! fly now with all your speed, your mistress understands at last. She is a frontier-bred girl. She knows now that it is no friendly person following her, but some one who means mischief; and that mischief she has no doubt is the proposed capture of Tam, who is well known for miles and miles about the country as a wonderful little racer. Yes, Molly understands at last. She has seen in the starlight the lariat as it missed Tam's head, and she knows perfectly well that only Tam's speed and sure-footedness can save them. Her heart beats like a trip-hammer; but she keeps a firm hold upon the rein, with a watchful eye for any sudden inequalities of the road, while her ears are strained to catch every sound. Tam's leap forward had given him a moment's advantage, and he keeps it up bravely, his dainty feet almost spurning the ground as he goes on, gaining, gaining, gaining at every step. In a few minutes more they will be out of the reach of any lariat, then in another minute safe at Wallula's door.
In a few minutes! As this thought flashes through Molly's mind, wh-irr, s-st! cuts the still air again. Tam drops his head, and plunges forward.
Though the starlight is brighter than ever, Molly does not see the lariat, but there is something, something,—what is it?—that prompts her to fling herself forward face downwards upon Tam's mane; and the lariat that was about to drop over her head once more falls harmless to the ground, and Tam once more seems to know what danger has been escaped, and starts forward again with an exultant bound. They are almost there! Molly sees the smoke from the tepees of the reservation, and a light from a log cabin, and draws a breath of relief. But not yet, O brave little frontier girl, O gallant little steed, is the race won and the danger passed! Not yet, oh, not yet! for just ahead there is a treacherous pitfall which neither Tam nor his mistress sees,—a hollow that some little animal has burrowed out, and into this Tam plunges a forefoot, stumbles, and falls!
"She said, 'I sha'n't forget; I sha'n't break my promise. You'll see, on Christmas eve, I shall send you a Christmas present, sure. Now remember.' On Christmas eve! And to-night is Christmas eve!"
Wallula had said this over and over to herself ever since the sun went down. She had kept count of the days from the day that Molly had made her that vehement promise. That promise meant so much to Wallula. It meant not merely a gift, but keeping faith, holding on, making real friends with an Indian girl. And her mother had said, "She'll forget, like the rest. White peoples always forget what they say to Indians." And her father had nodded his head when her mother said this. But Wallula had shaken her head, and declared with passionate emphasis more than once,—
"Major Molly will never forget,—never! You'll see, you'll see!"
Wallula had awakened very early that morning, and the minute she opened her eyes she thought, "This is the day before Christ's day. To-night, 'bout sundown, Major Molly'll keep her promise." All through the day this happy thought was uppermost. In the afternoon she followed Major Molly's instructions, and hung pine wreaths about the cabin.
The short afternoon sped on, and sundown came, and the gray dusk, and then the stars came out.
"Where's your Major Molly now?" asked the mother. There was a sharp accent in the Indian woman's voice, and a bitter expression on her face. But it was not for Wallula; it was for the white girl,—the Major Molly who, in breaking her promise to Wallula, had brought suffering upon her; for on Wallula's face the mother could see by this time the shadow of disappointment gathering. It made her think of Metalka. Metalka had gone amongst the white people. She had come back full of belief in them, and it was the white people's white traders with their lies and their broken promises that had hurt Metalka to death. There was only little Wallula left now. Was it going the same way with Wallula? These were some of the Indian mother's bitter resentful thoughts as she watched Wallula's face.
Wallula found it very hard to bear this watchfulness. She felt as if her mother were glad that her prophecy had proved true, that the white girl had broken her promise; but Wallula was wrong. Her mother's bitterness and resentment were the outcome of her anxiety. She would have given anything, have done anything, to have saved Wallula this suffering. If something would only happen to rouse Wallula, she thought, as she watched her. There had come a visitor to their cabin the other day,—the chief of a neighboring tribe. When he saw Wallula, he said he would come again and bring his little daughter. If he would only come soon! If he would only—But, hark! what was that? Was it an answer to her wish,—her prayer? Was he coming now—now? And, jumping to her feet, the woman ran to the door and flung it open. Yes, yes, it was in answer to her prayer; for there, over the turf, she could see a horse speeding towards her. It was coming at breakneck speed. "Wallula! Wallula!" she turned and called. An echo seemed to repeat, "Lula, Lula!" At that echo Wallula leaped up, and sped past her mother with the fleetness of a fawn, calling as she did so, "I'm coming, coming!" In the next instant the wondering woman saw her child running, as only an Indian can run, by the side of a jet-black pony whose coat was flecked with foam, and whose breath was well-nigh spent. As they came nearer into the pathway of light that the pine blaze sent forth from the open door, something that looked like a pennon of gold streamed out, and a clear but rather shaken voice cried, "Lula, Lula, I've kept my promise; I've kept my promise!"
The next moment the owner of the voice had slid from the pony's back into Wallula's arms, and Wallula was stroking the streaming golden hair, and crying jubilantly, "She's kept her promise, she's kept her promise!"
"Yes, I've kept my promise. I've brought your Christmas present. There it is in that box strapped across Tam. If somebody'll unstrap it and see to Tam, we'll go into the house, and I'll tell you what a race I've had. I can only stay a few minutes, for I must get to the fort if your father'll go with me. I don't dare to go alone now."
"To the fort?" asked Wallula, wonderingly.
"Yes, I'm going there to dinner; but let's go in. I'm so tired I can hardly stand; and Tam—"
But as a glance showed her that Tam was being cared for, and that Wallula's mother was carrying the box into the house, Major Molly followed on with a sigh of relief, and, doffing the riding-suit that covered her dress, flung herself down before the blazing fire, and began to tell her story. When she came to the point where Tam stumbled and fell forward, she burst out excitedly,—
"Oh, Lula, Lula! I thought then I should never get here, and I don't know how we did it, Tam and I; I don't know how we did it, but I kept my seat, and I gave a great pull. I felt as strong as a man, and I cried, 'Tam! Tam! Tam!' and Tam,—oh, I don't know how he did it,—Tam got to his feet again, and then he flew, flew, flew over the ground. We'd lost a minute, and I expected every second the lariat would catch us sure after that, but it didn't, it didn't, and I'm here safe and sound. I've kept my promise, I've kept my promise, Lula."
"Yes, she kep' her promise, she kep' her promise!" repeated Wallula in glad triumphant accents, glancing at her mother, and at the tall gaunt figure of her father standing in the shadow of the doorway.
Wallula was a young girl, and this mystery of a Christmas-box was full of delight to her; but just then a greater delight—the joy of Major Molly's fidelity—made her forget everything else. But Molly did not forget. The minute she had finished her story she sprang to her feet, and produced the contents of the box. Wallula clapped her hands with delight when the pretty bright dress was held up before her.
"Just like Major Molly's,—just like Major Molly's! See! see!" she called out to her father and mother.
The mother nodded and smiled. The father's eyes lighted with an expression of deep gratification; then he leaned forward eagerly, and said to Molly,—
"Tell 'gain 'bout where you saw—heard—lar'yet."
"Just as we got to the little pine-trees where the old Sioux trail stops," answered Molly, promptly.
"Yah!" ejaculated the Indian, grimly, in a tone of conviction. Then, turning, he took down a Winchester rifle, slung it over his shoulder, and started towards the door, saying to Molly as he did so: "You stay here with Wallula. I go up to fort and tell 'em 'bout you."
"Oh, take me with you, take me with you!" cried Molly, jumping up.
The Indian shook his head. When Molly insisted, he said tersely: "No, not safe for little white girl yet. Maje Molly stay here till I come back."
Molly's face fell. Wallula stole up to her. "I got bewt'ful Chris'mas present for Maje Molly," she said softly. "Maje Molly stay see it with Wallula."
"You dear!" cried Molly, flinging her arm round Wallula.
The Indian father nodded his head vigorously, and his face shone with satisfaction. "Yes, yes!" he said. "Wallula take care you. You stay till I come back."
In looking at and trying on the "bewt'ful Chris'mas present,"—a pair of elaborately embroidered moccasins lined and bordered with rabbit fur,—and in dressing Wallula up in the tartan dress, the time flew so rapidly that long before Molly expected it the cabin door opened again, and the tall gaunt figure reappeared.
Behind it followed another figure. Molly ran forward as she saw it, and, "Papa, papa!" she cried, "I waited and waited for Barney, and he didn't come; and I couldn't bear for Lula not to have her Christmas present to-night, for I'd promised it to her to-night. She told me, when I promised, that white people always broke their promises to Indians, and I said over and over that I wouldn't break my promise; and I couldn't—I couldn't break it, papa."
"You did quite right, my little daughter,—quite right."
There was something in her father's manner as he said this, a seriousness in his voice and in his eyes, that surprised Molly. She was still more surprised when the Indian suddenly said,—
"She little brave; she come all 'way 'lone to keep promise, so she not hurt my Wallula. She make me believe more good in white peoples; so I go to fort,—I keep friends."
"You've been a friend indeed. I sha'n't forget it; we'll none of us forget it, Washo," said Captain Elliston; and he put out his hand as he spoke, and grasped the brown hand of the Indian in a warm friendly clasp.
At the fort everything was literally "up in arms,"—that is, set in order for business, and that meant ready for resistance or attack. Molly had lived most of her fourteen years at some Western military post, and she recognized at once this "order" as she rode in.
"What did it mean?" she asked again, as the Colonel himself met her and hurried her into the dining-room; and the Colonel himself answered her,—
"It means, my dear, that Major Molly has saved us from being surprised by the enemy, and that means that she has saved us from a bloody fight."
"I—I—" faltered Molly. Then like a flash her mind cleared, and she struck her little hand on the table and cried,—
"It was an Indian, an unfriendly Indian, who followed me, and Washo knew it when I told my story!"
"Yes, Washo knew it, and, more than that, he had known for some days that those particular Indians had been planning a raid upon us, and he didn't interfere; he didn't warn us because he had begun to think that we were all bad white traders, and he wouldn't meddle with these braves who proposed to punish us, though he wouldn't go on the war-path with them. But, Major Molly, when he heard your story, when he saw how one of us could be a little white brave in keeping a promise to an Indian, for your sake he relented towards the rest of us."
"And when he asked me to tell him where I first heard the lariat—"
"When he asked you that, he was making sure that it was his Sioux friends,—for he knew they were to send out a scout who would take exactly that direction."
"But why—why did the scout chase me?"
"He was after Tam, no doubt,—for this Sioux band is probably short of ponies, and Tam, you know, is a famous fellow,—and the moment the scout caught sight of him he would give chase."
"Did he get Ranger that way? And where, oh, where is poor Barney?"
"The probability is that the scout visited the corral first, and captured Ranger, who is almost as famous as Tam."
"But, Barney—oh, oh, do you think Barney has been killed?"
"We don't know yet, my dear. Your father has gone off to the ranch with a squad of men. He'll soon find out what's happened to Barney. And don't fret, my dear, about your father," seeing a new anxiety on Molly's face. "The raiders by this time have seen our signals, and have found out we're up and doing, and more than a match for them; so don't fret,—don't fret, any of you," turning to his wife and Mrs. Elliston. "I don't think there'll be so much as a skirmish."
And the Colonel was right. When the Indians saw the signals and the other signs of activity, they knew that their only chance of overcoming the whites by taking them unawares was gone. There were a few shots fired, but no skirmish; and by the time the moon rose, the fort scouts brought in word that the whole band had departed over the mountains. A few minutes after, when Captain Elliston rode in, the satisfaction was complete, for he brought with him the news of Barney's safety. Ranger, however, was gone. The Indian—or Indians, for there were two of them at that point—had succeeded in capturing him just as Barney had started out from the corral. A stealthy step, a skilful use of the lariat, and Barney was bound and gagged, that he might give no alarm; and all this with such quiet Indian alertness that a ranchman farther down the corral heard nothing.
So harmlessly ended this raid, that might have been a bloody battle but for Major Molly's Christmas promise!
Polly was seven years old before she knew anything about valentines. This may seem very strange to most girls, for most girls have heard all about Valentine's Day by the time they are three or four, and have had no end of fun sending and receiving these friendly favors. But Polly didn't know a thing about them until she was seven. I'll tell you why. Polly was one of a number of children who lived in an Orphan's Home, and Polly herself was the youngest of the orphans.
One morning as she looked out of the window, she saw the postman suddenly surrounded by a whole flock of little girls, and heard one of them say, "Oh, haven't you got a valentine for me?" And then the whole flock cried, "And for me? and for me?" And the postman laughed good-naturedly, and, looking through his pack of letters, took out two or three quite big square envelopes, and handed them to one and another of the clamorous little crowd.
Polly, hearing and seeing all this, wondered what a valentine could be. She did not ask anybody the question, however, just then; but when the postman came around at noon, and she saw the same scene repeated, her curiosity could not be restrained any longer, and she started off to find Jane McClane,—for Jane was fourteen years old and knew everything, Polly thought.
Jane was in the linen-room mending a sheet when Polly found her, and being rather lonesome was quite willing to enter into conversation with any one who came along. But Polly's question made her open her eyes with surprise.
"A valentine?" she exclaimed. "You don't mean to say, Polly, you never heard of a valentine before?"
"No, never," answered Polly, feeling very small and ignorant.
"Well, to be sure," said Jane, "you're very little, and ain't 'round much, but I should have thought you'd have heard somebody say something about valentines before this; but you ain't much for listening and asking, I know."
"No," echoed Polly; "but I'm listening now."
Jane laughed. "Yes, I see you are. Well, a valentine is just a piece of poetry, with a picture to it, that anybody sends to a person on Valentine's Day."
"What's Valentine's Day?"
"Why, it's the day you send valentines, to be sure,—the 14th of February."
"Is it like Christmas? Was Valentine very good, and is it his birthday as Christmas is Christ's birthday?"
"Mercy, no! What queer things you do ask when you get going, Polly! Valentine's Day is just Valentine's Day, when folks send these poetry and picture things for fun, and don't sign their own names, only 'Your Valentine,' and that means somebody who has chosen—chosen to be your—well, your beau, maybe."
"What's a beau?" asked innocent Polly.
"Polly, you don't know anything!" cried Jane, in an exasperated tone. "A beau is—is somebody who likes you better 'n anybody else."
"Oh, I wish I had one!"
"Had one—what?" asked Jane.
"A beau to like me like that; to send me a valentine."
"Oh, oh! you are such a baby," laughed Jane.
"I ain't a baby!" cried Polly, indignantly; and then her lip quivered, and she began to cry.
"Hush, hush!" said Jane; "if Mrs. Banks hears you, she'll send you out of here quicker 'n a wink."
But Polly could not "hush" all at once, and continued to sob and sniff behind her apron; Jane trying in the mean time to soothe her, but not succeeding very well, until she thought to say,—
"If you won't cry any more, Polly, I'll get Martha"—Martha was the chambermaid—"to show you her valentine; it's a beauty."
Polly dropped her apron and began to swallow her sobs, while Jane ran to Martha, who was very proud of her valentine, and very glad to show it even to little Polly Price; and the valentine was a beauty, as Jane had said. Polly, looking through the tears that still hung on her lashes at the group of little cherubs that were dancing out of lily-cups and roses, cried, "Angels, angels!" winding up with, "Oh, I wish somebody 'd send me a valentine!"
"She didn't know a thing about valentines; never heard of them till just now," Jane explained to Martha.
"Well, to be sure," said Martha, "she is the greenest little thing; but then she ain't never been to school like the rest of ye, and things is very quiet and out-of-the-way like in the Home here, and she's nothin' but a baby."
"I ain't a baby! I ain't, I ain't!" screamed Polly.
"Polly, Polly!" warned Jane. But Polly only burst out afresh in loud sobs and cries. Jane was a good-natured girl, but she could not stand this, and, reaching forward, she gave Polly a little shake, and said, "Now, Polly Price, you just stop and be a good girl, or I'll never have anything more to do with you."
Polly gasped. Three years ago, when she was first brought to the Home, she had been assigned to a little bed next the one that Jane occupied, and had been more or less under the elder girl's care. Jane had been very good to the child, and with her womanly ways and superior knowledge she stood to Polly for both mother and sister. No wonder, then, that she gasped at Jane's threat. What would she do if that threat were carried out, and Jane had nothing more to do with her? What would life be in the Home without Jane?
Polly did not ask herself these questions in exactly these words, but she felt the desolate possibility that had been suggested to her; and it was so appalling that it quite overpowered her flare of temper, and stopped her sobs and cries as effectually as Jane could have desired. But Jane herself, busy with her darning, did not notice the expression of Polly's face, and had no idea how deeply her words had penetrated the child's mind until hours afterwards, when, as she was preparing to go to bed, Polly's voice called softly,—
"Jane, haven't I been a good girl since?"
Jane started. "What in the world are you awake for now, Polly Price?" she asked. "It's nine o'clock. You ought to have been asleep long ago."
"I couldn't go to sleep, I felt so bad," answered Polly.
"You felt so bad; where? Have you got a sore throat?" inquired Jane, remembering that a good many of the children's illnesses began with sore throat.
"No, 'tisn't my throat."
"Where is it, then—your stomach?"
"No, it's—it's my feelin's. I felt bad 'cause—'cause you said if I didn't stop cryin' and be a good girl, you wouldn' ever have anythin' to do with me any more. But I did stop, and I have been a good girl since, haven't I?"
"Yes, oh, yes, you've been good since," bending down to tuck Polly in. As she stooped, Polly flung her arms around Jane's neck, and whispered,—
"Do you love me just the same, Jane?"
"Yes, I guess so," replied Jane, smiling.
"I love you better 'n anybody in the world, Jane."
"And you'd choose me to be your valentine, then, wouldn't you?" laughed Jane.
"Oh, yes, yes; and if I could only send you one of those po'try picture things, I'd send you the most bewt'f'lest I could find. Don't you wish I could, Jane?"
"Yes, of course I do."
"Did you ever have a valentine, Jane?"
"Those girls 'cross the street had 'em, and Martha had one. Why don't you and I have 'em, Jane?"
"You 'n' I? Those girls across the street know girls and boys who have fathers and mothers to give them money to buy valentines with."
"Why don't we know such girls and boys?"
"'Cause we don't. We're poor, and live in an Orphans' Home. Those girls only know folks that live like themselves."
"But Martha lives right here, just where we do, and Martha had a valentine."
"Martha's different. She's only paid for staying here to work. She's got folks outside that she belongs to. It was a cousin of hers sent her that valentine."
"Oh," and Polly gave a soft sigh, "I wish we had folks that we belonged to! Don't you, Jane?"
"Don't I!" and as Jane said this, she dropped down upon Polly's little bed, and covered her face with her hands.
"Oh, Jane, Janey! what's the matter? Has somebody hurted your feelings?"
"No, no," answered Jane, brokenly; "nobody in particular. I—I felt lonesome. I do sometimes when I get to thinking I don't belong to anybody and nobody belongs to me."
"Janey, I belongs to you, don't I?" And around Jane's neck two little arms pressed lovingly.
"You don't belong to me as a relation does. You ain't a sister or a cousin, you know."
"Can't you 'dopt me, Jane?"
Jane laughed through her tears. "What do you know about adopting?" she asked.
"Martha tole me 'bout it. She said folks of'n 'dopted children to be their very own, and that mebbe some time somebody'd 'dopt me; and I tole her then I didn' want anybody to 'dopt me, but—I'd like you to 'dopt me, Jane. Couldn't you?" with great earnestness.
"Of course not, Polly. Folks who adopt children are older 'n I am, and have money to take care of 'em. But I do wish some nice lady would adopt you,—some nice lady with a nice home."
"But I'd rather stay here 'long o' you, Jane. I don't want to go 'way from you; I'd be lonesome. But mebbe they'd 'dopt you too. Would you like to be 'dopted, Jane?"
"I don't know's I would. I'm too old now; I couldn't get to feel as if they were own folks, as if I really belonged to them, as you could. But, Polly," suddenly sitting up and looking very seriously at Polly, "you mustn't think I'm finding fault with the Home here. It's a very comfortable place, and we are treated well. I only feel kind of lonesome sometimes when I see girls like those across the street, who have mother-and-father homes."
"And valentines," cried Polly.
"Oh, Polly, Polly! you'll dream of valentines to-night," laughed Jane; "and mind you send me one in your dream, and the very prettiest you can find."
"I will, I will!" exclaimed Polly, flinging her arms again about Jane's neck, and giving her a good-night hug and kiss. "The very prettiest I can find! the very prettiest I can find!" And saying this over and over, Polly drifted away into the land of sleep.
And sure enough, when it was well on towards morning, she did dream of valentines,—piles and piles of them, and out of them all she was hunting for the prettiest, when she heard a strangely familiar voice, calling,—
"Come, come, Polly! It's time to get up if you want any breakfast."
Polly opened her eyes to see Martha looking down at her. "Oh, Martha, Martha," she cried, "if you hadn't waked me, I should have got it. I'd almost found it, and in a little minute I'd 'a' had it sure."
"Had what?" asked Martha.
"Janey's valentine;" and, sitting up, Polly told her dream.
Martha laughed till the tears came. "You are the funniest young one we ever had here," was her comment, when she caught her breath. "Some time you'll dream you're an heiress, and wake up counting out your money to buy valentines with."
"What's an heiress?" inquired Polly.
"Oh, a girl that has a bankful of money," replied Martha, carelessly.
Polly gave one of her long-drawn "O—hs," then slipped out of bed, and began to dress so slowly that Martha said to her,—
"What are you dreaming about now, Polly?"
But Polly didn't answer. She was too busy pulling on her stockings, and thinking of something else that Martha had said, and this "something" was "a girl with a bankful of money." Martha little suspected what effect her words had had, little thought what a fine scheme she had set going. If she had, the scheme would certainly never have been carried out, or never have been carried out as Polly planned it. And Polly knew this perfectly well, and kept as still as a mouse all through breakfast,—so still that the matron, Mrs. Banks, asked, "Don't you feel well, Polly?" whereat Polly choked over her oatmeal as she confusedly answered, "Yes, 'm."
If it had been any other child, Mrs. Banks would have suspected that there was some mischief brewing behind this stillness; but Polly had never been given to mischief, so she was not further questioned or observed, and thus left to herself she scampered back to the dormitory after the chamber-work was done, and, going straight to a small bureau that stood between Jane's bed and her own, she cautiously pulled out the lower drawer, and took from it a little toy house. This pretty toy house was nothing more nor less than a child's bank that had been given to Polly one Christmas, and into which she had dropped the pennies that had been bestowed upon her from time to time. Polly had long yearned for a paint-box; and whenever she went out, she used to stop at a certain shop-window where these tempting things were displayed, and wonder how much they cost. One day she summoned up courage to go in and ask the price of the smallest.
"Twenty-five cents," the clerk told her. Polly at first was dismayed. Twenty-five cents seemed a vast sum to her. But it was a long time yet to next Christmas, and perhaps by then she might find even as much as that in her bank. This hope had warmed her heart for weeks, so that when she was smarting under the first sense of disappointment about the valentines, she consoled herself with the thought of the little paint-box that might soon be hers. But when Martha had said, "Some time you'll dream you're an heiress, and wake up counting your money out," and had told her an heiress meant a girl with a bankful of money, like a flash of lightning came another thought into Polly's mind,—the thought that then and there from her little bank she might count the money to buy a valentine for her dear Jane; and once this thought had entered Polly's head there was no putting it out. Over and above everything it kept gaining, until it sent her to tugging at that red chimney. Then suddenly the chimney that had stuck so fast gave way.
Polly nearly fell backward, it was so sudden; but righting herself, she shook the treasure into her lap, and fell to counting it. She counted up to ten; that was as far as her knowledge of arithmetic went. Putting aside the ten pennies into a little pile, she began to count the rest. "One, two, three," she went on until—why, there was another pile of ten, and more yet; and the "more yet" counted up to five. Polly couldn't "do sums." She couldn't add these two piles of ten and the "more yet," and she couldn't ask Jane or any one else in the house to do it for her. But what she could do, what she would do, was to slip the whole treasure back into the bank, and take it around to the shop on the corner, the shop where she had seen the paint-boxes, and where she was sure she should also find plenty of valentines. So getting into her little coat and hood, she scampered out and off, unseen and unheard by any of the household. It was rather terrifying to find several other customers in the shop, but she had no time to wait until they had left, and, going bravely forward, she called out, "Please, I want a valentine." But the clerk was busy, and paid no attention to her; so she pressed a little nearer, and piped out again in a louder tone, "Please, I want a valentine."
But even this did not succeed in getting his attention. Oh, what should she do! Perhaps in another minute Jane or Martha or Mrs. Banks would have missed her, and be hunting for her; perhaps they would be sending a policeman after her. Oh dear! oh dear! And summoning up all her courage, she cried out in a voice full of sobs and tears, "Oh, please, please, I want a valentine right off now this minute!"
"Don't you see I'm busy now?" said the clerk, sharply.
But the lady he was waiting upon had turned and looked at Polly as she spoke, and immediately said to the clerk,—
"Oh, do attend to the child now. Her mother has probably told her to make haste."
"She hasn't any mother. She's one of the children at the Orphans' Home," replied the clerk in a lower tone.
"Oh!" And the lady started and looked at Polly with new interest, and then insisted still more earnestly that she should be attended to at once, at the same time beckoning Polly to come forward.
Polly obeyed her; but as she glanced at the cheap little five-cent valentines the clerk put before her, she shook her head disdainfully. "I want a bigger one; I want the bewt'f'lest there is," she informed him.
The young man laughed. "How much money have you got?" he asked.
Polly produced her bank, and triumphantly shook out its contents.
"Oh,"—laughing again,—"all that? How much is it?"
"I don't know jus' exac'ly. I can count up to ten, and there's two ten piles, and—and—five cents more."
"Oh, two tens and five. Yes, I see,"—running his fingers over the little heap,—"that makes twenty-five. You've got twenty-five cents. Here are the twenty-five-cent valentines;" and he uncovered another box, and left her to make her choice.
"Twenty-five cents!" echoed Polly. Why, why, why, that was enough to buy the little paint-box! She glanced down at the twenty-five-cent valentines. They presented a dazzling sight of cherubs' heads and wings and flowery garlands. She lifted her chin a little higher, and there, staring her in the face, was the very little paint-box, with its two brushes and porcelain color plate, and it seemed to say to her: "Come, buy me now; come, buy me now. If you don't, somebody else will get me." And she could buy it now, if only—she gave up the valentine—Jane's valentine; and—why shouldn't she? She hadn't told Jane anything about it; Jane didn't expect it; Jane wouldn't ever know about it. Why shouldn't she? And Polly drew a deep sigh of perplexity as she asked herself this question.
"What is it?" a soft voice said to her here. "What is it that troubles you? Tell me. Perhaps I can help you."
Polly started, and turned to see the lady who had made way for her standing beside her. The lady smiled reassuringly as she met Polly's perplexed glance, and said again,—
"What is it? Tell me."
And Polly, looking up into the kind sweet face, told the whole story,—all about the long saving for the little paint-box, Jane's valentine, and everything, winding up eagerly with the appeal,—"And wouldn't you buy the paint-box now 'stead of the valentine, 'cos the paint-box mebbe'll be gone when I get more money?"
"Wouldn't I? Well, I don't know what I should have done when I was a little girl like you. I dare say, though, that I should have felt just as you do—have done just as you, I see, are going to do now."
"Bought the paint-box!" cried Polly.
"Yes, bought the paint-box," laughed the lady.
Polly beamed with smiles, and gave a rapturous look at the treasure that was so soon to be hers. But presently the rapture faded, and a new expression came into her face. The lady was watching her very attentively.
"Well, what now?" she inquired. "Doesn't the paint-box suit you?"
Polly gave an emphatic nod. Perhaps it was that nod that sent two little tears to her eyes.
"Then, if it suits you, shall I speak to the clerk, and tell him you've changed your mind about the valentine, and will buy the paint-box?"
Polly shook her head, and two more tears followed the first ones.
"You're not going to buy the paint-box?"
"N-o, I—I gu-ess not. I guess I'll buy the valentine. Jane didn't ever get a valentine, and she hasn't got anybody to give her one but me."
The blurring tears made Polly's eyes so dim here, she could scarcely see; but through the dimness she sent one last good-by look at the dear paint-box, and then resolutely turned to the valentines, from which she selected the biggest and "bewt'f'lest" she could find, the lady crowning her kindness by stamping and directing it, and finally mailing it in the letterbox just outside the shop door.
"What yer watchin' for, Polly?"
Polly didn't answer.
"Guess I know," said Martha, laughing; "yer watchin' for the postman to bring yer a valentine."
"I ain't," said Polly.
Just then the postman crossed the street, and ring, ring, went the Home bell.
"I told you so," said Martha, as she ran down to answer it. In a minute she was back again holding out a big square envelope, and saying again, "I told you so."
"'T ain't for me," cried Polly.
"Ain't your name Polly Price?"
"Yes," faltered Polly.
"Well, here 's 'Polly Price' written as plain as print. Just look now!" and Martha held forth the missive.
Polly looked. She could read her own name in writing; and there it was, sure enough, plain as print,—Polly Price, and it was written on an envelope exactly like the one she had chosen to send to Jane. A fearful thought came into Polly's mind. She had told the lady her own name,—Polly Price,—and it was Polly Price she had written on the envelope instead of Jane McClane. Oh! oh! oh! and then Polly burst out,—
"It ain't mine, it ain't mine, it's Jane's. The lady made a mistake."
"The lady in the shop."
And then Polly had to tell the whole story.
"And that's where you were after breakfast, you little monkey, breaking a bank, and running away with it, to buy Jane McClane a valentine. Well, if this isn't the funniest thing I ever heard of. Jane! Jane! come up here and show Polly your valentine!" And up came Jane, her face beaming with smiles, holding in one hand a big square envelope, and in the other an open sheet all covered with lilies and roses and cherubs' faces; that very "bewt'f'lest valentine" that had been chosen for her.
Polly, staring at it in amazement, cried out, "Why, she's got it! she's got it!" And then, pulling open the envelope addressed to Polly Price, she stared in amazement again, and cried out, "Why, this is just like that one,—the one I bought for you, Janey!"
And then it was Jane's turn to cry out in amazement, to say, "You bought it; how did you buy it, Polly?"
"She broke a bank and ran away with the money," laughed Martha.
"I didn't, either. The chimney's made to come out, and the bank's my bank," retorted Polly, indignantly.
"You took your money,—your money you've been saving to buy the paint-box with, to buy this valentine for me?" asked Jane.
"Yes," faltered Polly.
"And gave up the paint-box! Oh, Polly, Polly, you're a dear;" and Jane swooped down upon Polly with a tremendous hug. Polly returned the embrace with ardor, and then, "Who d' you s'pose," she asked, "who d' you s'pose sent me one jus' exactly like yours? It must be somebody that likes me jus' as I like you, Janey."
"Mrs. Banks wants you to go down to the parlor, Polly. There's some one to see you," a voice interrupted here.
"To see me?" cried Polly.
"Yes,—don't stop to bother,—run along." And Polly ran along as fast as her feet could carry her, wondering as she went who had come to see her, who had never in her life had a visitor before. At the foot of the stairs she stopped in shy alarm. Then she tiptoed across the hallway to the parlor threshold, and there she saw the lady who had been so kind to her in the shop.
"Oh, it's you!" exclaimed Polly, joyfully.
The lady laughed, and held out her hand. "Yes, it's I," she said. "Did Jane get the valentine all right, and did she like it?"
Polly nodded, and then burst out with the story of her own valentine,—"Jus' like Janey's!"
"And who d' you s'pose sent it?" she asked confidingly, nestling against the lady's knee.
"I think it must have been one of the good Saint Valentine's messengers," answered the lady.
Polly's eyes opened very wide. "Saint Valentine! Tell me 'bout him," she said.
"A very wise man has told about him,—a man by the name of Wheatley,—and he says that this Valentine was a good bishop who lived long ago, and so famous for his love and charity that after he died he was called Saint Valentine, and a festival was held on his birthday, when all the people would send love tokens to their friends."
Polly's face was radiant. "Oh, I thought Valentine was a somebody very good, and that Valentine's Day was his birthday. I asked Jane if 't wasn't. Oh, Janey, Janey!" running to the foot of the stairs in her excitement, "come down and hear 'bout Saint Valentine!"
"Polly!" said Mrs. Banks, reprovingly.
"Oh, don't stop her," cried the lady. "I like to hear her, and I want to see Janey." After this there was nothing for Mrs. Banks to do but to send for Jane. As the strong, womanly-looking girl entered the room, a new idea entered the lady's mind. "It's the very thing," she said to herself,—"the very thing." At that instant carriage wheels were heard at the door, and the bell was rung sharply and impatiently. "Oh, it must be my Elise," said the lady.
The next instant the door was opened, and in hopped—that is the only word to use—a little lame girl of ten or eleven, lifting herself along by a crutch. She was very pale, and her eyes were sunken with suffering; but she looked about her with a smile, and said in a quick, lively way,—
"I got tired of driving 'round the square waiting for you, mamma; so I thought I'd come in."
"I'm glad you did; I wanted you to see—"
"I know—Polly! Mamma 's told me all about you, Polly, you and Jane and the valentine; and that's Jane. How do you do, Polly? how do you do, Jane?" nodding and laughing at them in a way that made Polly and Jane laugh too, whereupon this odd little girl exclaimed, "That's right, laugh, do! I like laughy folks;" and then, as she said this, her little figure swayed and would have fallen, if Jane, who was very quick of motion, hadn't sprung forward and caught her in her arms. The girl's face was all puckered up into little wrinkles of pain; but as soon as she could speak, she said, "Aren't you strong, though, Jane!"
Jane couldn't say a word, but Polly piped out, "If I let you have my valentine to look at a little while, do you think you'd feel better?"
"Lots, Polly, lots. Mamma told me about you; and when you come to stay with us, you'll be a regular treat."
"Stay with you?" cried Polly, wonderingly.
"Yes; what," turning to her mother, "haven't you asked her yet, mamma?"
"No; I've only talked with Mrs. Banks."
"Well, I'll talk to Polly. Polly, we've been looking for a nice little girl like you to come and stay at our house. I'm lame, and I can't do much. When mamma came home and told me about you and the bank and the paint-box and the valentine, I said, 'That's the girl for me; let's go and ask her to come.' And won't you come, Polly?"
"I—I'd like to if—if Jane can come too."
"Don't. Polly. I can't—I can't!" whispered Jane.
"Oh, mamma, mamma!" cried the lame Elise, entreatingly.
"Mamma" turned to Mrs. Banks. "If she would only come and help us,—come and try us, at least,—I'm sure we could make satisfactory arrangements."
Mrs. Banks nodded, and smiled approval. "Of course Jane can go if she chooses."
"And you will choose,—you will, won't you, Jane?"
"Course she will," cried Polly; and then everybody laughed, and everything was as good as settled from that moment. Then it was that Polly burst out, "I should be puffickly happy now if I only knew jus' who that mess'nger was that sent my valentine."
"Tell her, mamma, tell her!" called out Elise; and "mamma" bent down, and said to Polly,—
"It was somebody who saw what a loving heart a certain little girl had when she chose to give up her paint-box to buy her dear Jane a valentine."
"'Twas you, 'twas you!" cried Polly, joyfully. "Oh, I jus' love Valentine's Day, and I knew it must be Somebody's birfday,—some very good Somebody!"
When Sir William Howe succeeded General Gage as governor and military commander of the New England province, he at once set to work to make himself and the King's cause popular in a social way by giving a series of fine entertainments in the stately Province House.
To these entertainments were bidden all the Boston townsfolk who were loyal to the British crown. Amongst such, none were more prominent or made more welcome than Mr. Jeffrey Merridew and his pretty young niece, Sibyl.
Mr. Merridew was a stanch royalist, though he was by no means a violent hater of the rebels. Many of them were his old friends and neighbors; and his only brother, Dr. Ephraim Merridew,—Sibyl's father,—was a rebel at heart, though in far-away Barbadoes, where he was at that time engaged in business, he could not serve the rebel cause in person, as he would gladly have done. But he left behind him a son who, in full sympathy with his father's views, ranged himself boldly on the rebel side, as part and parcel of the American army.
A rebel relative in Barbadoes was not a matter to trouble oneself about greatly, but a rebel relative on the spot, so to speak,—for young Ephraim was only four miles away at the Cambridge rallying-ground,—was a different thing; and, amiable and easy-going as Mr. Jeffrey Merridew was disposed to be, his nephew's close proximity could not, under the peculiar circumstances, but be embarrassing and disturbing on occasions; for the young man, besides being his nephew, was Sibyl's brother, and Sibyl, as a member of a royalist's family,—for her father on his departure for Barbadoes had left his motherless girl in her uncle's charge,—could not, of course, be allowed free intercourse with one who had placed himself in an attitude of active hostility to the royal cause.
When Sibyl was apprised of this dictum, she at once made passionate protest against it. "What harm do the King's soldiers think poor Eph can do them by now and then paying a visit to his sister?" she asked her uncle scornfully.
"Harm? You are very young, Sibyl, and don't understand these things. Your brother has chosen very foolishly to join the rebel forces, and so has made himself one of our acknowledged enemies; and I never heard of declared enemies in time of war walking in and out of each other's houses like tame cats," answered Mr. Merridew, sarcastically.
"But Eph, such a boy as Eph, only nineteen, only two years older than I! What harm could he do now, more than he has ever done, by coming to his uncle's house as a visitor?" still persisted Sibyl, rather foolishly.
"What harm!" exclaimed Mr. Merridew, impatiently. "What a child you are, Sibyl! Why, his coming here would compromise me fatally with the royal government. I should be suspected of disloyalty, and do you think that he, your brother, could be in any such communication with us and fail to see and hear many things that might bring us disaster if reported to his officers?"
"You think Eph would be so mean as to tell tales?" exclaimed Sibyl, in high indignation.
"Tell tales!" repeated Mr. Merridew, flinging back his head with irrepressible laughter at Sibyl's ignorance. Why, my dear, the reporting of important facts, however gained in times of war, is part of war tactics; it is not called 'telling tales.'"
"And would you—would you, if you were in Ephraim's camp as a visitor,—would you—"
"Tell tales?" laughed Mr. Merridew. "Indeed I would, if I heard anything worth telling,—anything that I thought would save the cause I believed to be a righteous cause." Then, more seriously: "Why, Sibyl, it would be my duty to do it."
"Oh! oh!" cried Sibyl, "it is odious, odious, all this war business."
"Yes, I grant you that; but who is to blame for bringing this odious business upon us? Who but these foolish malcontents, these rebels, like—"
"Like my father and my brother," broke in Sibyl, hotly, as Mr. Merridew hesitated.
"Yes, like your father and your brother, I am sorry to say," concluded her uncle, gravely.
"No, no, no!" cried Sibyl, excitedly. "It is not they who are to blame. They are good and brave and wise. They only want justice and fair play. It is the King's folk who are to blame,—the King's folk who want to oppress the people with unjust taxes, that they may live in greater grandeur."
Mr. Merridew stared in silent astonishment at this unexpected outburst. Then, in a severer tone than his niece had ever heard from his lips, he said,—
"So this is the treasonable talk you have heard from your brother; these are the teachings that he has been instilling into you? Ah, it is none too soon that you are cut off from the influence of that headstrong boy."
"But it was my father who instilled these teachings into my brother. They are his principles, and they are my principles too!"
"Your principles!" and Mr. Merridew, his sense of humor immensely tickled at the sound of this fine word, that rolled off with such an assumption of dignity from those rosy young lips, burst into a great laugh. Yet then and there he said to himself, "That Jackanapes of a boy, to fill her head with this treasonable stuff! But we'll see, we'll see if we can't crowd all such stuff out with livelier things when we have those fine doings at the Province House Sir William is talking of. Her principles! The little parrot!" and he laughed again.
"And you're to dance the last dance with me, remember, Miss Merridew."
"Indeed, Sir Harry, I will not promise you that."
"You will not promise? But you have promised."
"Have promised? What do you mean, sir? I think you are forgetting yourself!" and Miss Sibyl Merridew lifted up her graceful head with a little air of hauteur that was by no means unbecoming to her piquant beauty.
But young Sir Harry Willing was not to be put down by this pretty little provincial,—not he; and so, lifting up his head with an air of hauteur, he said to Miss Sibyl,—
"I crave Miss Merridew's pardon, but perhaps if she will reflect a moment she will recall what she said to me yester morning when I begged her to give me the pleasure of dancing the last minuet with her to-night."
Waving her great plumy feather fan to and fro, Sibyl looked across it at her companion, and answered in a little sweetly impertinent tone,—
"But I never reflect."
"So I should judge, madam," retorted the youth, wrathfully; "but perhaps," he went on, "if Miss Merridew will deign to bestow a glance upon this"—and the young fellow pulled from his pocket a gold-mounted card and letter case, out of which he took a tablet upon which was written: "Met Miss Sibyl Merridew this morning on the mall. She promised to dance the last minuet with me to-morrow night. Mem. Send roses if they are to be had in the town!"
Sibyl blushed as she read this. Then lifting the flowers—Sir Harry's roses—to her face for a moment, she dropped a demure courtesy and said, with a gleam of fun in her eyes,—
"If Sir Harry finds that it is necessary for him to recall his friends and engagements by memorandum notes, he certainly cannot expect an untutored provincial maid, who carries no such orderly appliance about with her, to charge her mind unaided."
"An untutored provincial maid!" exclaimed Sir Harry, all his wrath extinguished by her pretty recognition of his flowers and his admiration of her ready wit,—"an untutored provincial maid! By my faith, Miss Sibyl, you'd put to shame many a court dame. But, hark, what's that? As I live, the musicians are tuning up for the minuet." And smilingly he held out his hand to her.
"A very pretty pair," said more than one of the assembled company, as the two took their places in the beautifully decorated ball-room; and as the dance progressed, Mr. Jeffrey Merridew, watching his niece from his post of observation, said to himself with, a congratulatory smile,—
"Where now are Miss Sibyl's fine rebel principles? I scarcely think they would stand a test."
Almost at that very moment Sir Harry, boy as he was, spite of his one-and-twenty years, was giving vent to a little boastful talk about "our army" and "those undisciplined rebels who would never stand the test against a full regiment of regulars."
"Why," Sir Harry declared at length, led on by Sibyl's air of great interest, "we have positive information that their troops at Cambridge have neither arms nor ammunition to carry on a defence, and they are in a sorry condition every way; it is impossible for them to resist us successfully. We shall literally sweep them off the face of the earth if they attempt it."
"And you—the King's troops?" inquired Sibyl.
"We—well, we have been a little straitened ourselves for the munitions of war," replied the young aide-de-camp, "but by to-morrow night a vessel will arrive for us that will relieve all such necessities. Ah," with a gay smile, "what would not these rebels give to get possession of this information, and put their cruisers on the alert to capture such a prize!"
"But there is no possibility of this?"
"Not the slightest. But you are pale,—don't be alarmed; there is no danger. The rebels have no suspicion of the expected arrival, we are certain."
"But if they had?"
"Well, that might alter the case. Their seamen know their business better than their landsmen."
All this in the pauses of the dance. When they started up again, the music had accelerated its time, and down the great hall they led the way at a fine pace; but in swinging about to return, Sir Harry felt his companion falter.
"What is it?" he asked anxiously.
"My slipper," she replied with a vexed laugh; and, stooping as she spoke, she whisked off a little satin shoe, the high hollow metal heel of which had suddenly given way. Certainly no more dancing that night. For that matter, though, it was near the end of the ball. But could not he do something? Sir Harry asked. He had tinkered gunscrews; why not a slipper? No, no; nothing could be done then and there. A new heel must be hammered and fitted on.
But then and there Sibyl had a sudden inspiration. Something could be done. She was to go to Madame Boutineau's rout the next evening. She needed these very slippers for that occasion. Would Sir Harry—on his way to his quarters that night—would he think it beneath his dignity to leave the slippers at Anthony Styles the shoemaker's? It was just there by the tavern at the sign of the gilded boot. He had only to drop the shoe, with a message she would write to go with it, into the tunnel-box by the door, and Anthony would find it by daylight and set to work upon it at once, that she might not be disappointed, for it was a longish job, she knew.
Beneath his dignity! Sir Harry laughed. He was only too glad to do her bidding.
And would he then give her a bit of paper and pencil and take her to the cloak-room for a moment?
Alone in the cloak-room, Sibyl wrote her message to Anthony Styles. Folding the paper in the slipper, and wrapping the whole in her pocket-handkerchief, she fastened the parcel securely with the silken cord that had held her fan.
"And may I have the last dance to-morrow night?" asked Sir Harry, smilingly, as he took leave of her a few minutes later.
"Perhaps, if I may depend upon you—and Anthony Styles," she answered. Her eyes sparkled like dark jewels as she spoke; her cheeks burned like red twin roses.
Robe of satin and Brussels lace, Knots of flowers and ribbons too, Scattered about in every place, For the revel is through.
And there, in the midst of all this pretty disorder of satin and lace and flowers, sits Sibyl, far into the night, or rather morning, turning over and over in her mind something that effectually banishes sleep.
By and by, as she turns it over for the twentieth time, she says aloud to herself: "To think that it should be given to me to do,—made my duty! Uncle Jeffrey taught me that, as he has taught me many things these past months,—to keep my own counsel, for one thing.
"Ah, Uncle Jeffrey, you have fancied me all these months naught but a vain little puppet who could be led to forget anything in a round of routs and balls. Well, I like the routs and balls dearly, dearly, but I like something else better. I like what my father has taught us, what my dear Eph is going to fight for, and perhaps die for, far, far better. Yet I felt like a cheat to-night as I led Sir Harry on to tell me what he did,—Sir Harry, who thinks me, as all the rest do, a stanch little Tory, for I have kept my counsel indeed, and no one suspects. But oh, it is odious, it is odious, this war business; yet I have been taught how to do my duty, and I have done it. Yes, I have done my duty, for 'the reporting of important facts, however gained, in times of war, is part of war tactics.' Yes, these are your words, Uncle Jeffrey, and oh, how they flashed up to me to-night when Sir Harry told me of the British vessel, and how they fairly rung in my ears like an order, when it suddenly came to me how I could get this important fact that I had gained sent to the right quarter by means of good Anthony Styles and that parcel-box of his, through which so many messages have gone safely.
"Oh, I could laugh, I could laugh, if I didn't shiver so, when I think of it! Sir Harry, Sir Harry of all persons, dropping that message into Anthony Styles's hands,—Anthony Styles, the stanch rebel whom they think a stanch Tory! Oh, I could laugh, I could laugh! And now if everything goes well,—if everything goes well, my dear rebels will not be swept off the earth by British arms quite yet!
"But, hark! that is the clock; it is striking one, and I out of bed and gabbling to myself in this foolish way of mine, 'like a play-acting woman,' as Uncle Jeffrey would say of me. But I will not stay up a minute longer. So good-night, good-night, my dear rebels, g—ood-night!"
* * * * *
The clock was striking four the next afternoon when a weather-beaten man, who had a look as if he had once been a seaman, knocked at the side door of Mr. Jeffrey Merridew's mansion and asked to see young Mistress Merridew.
"It's Shoemaker Styles," the maid informed Sibyl, "and he says you must come down and try on the slipper he has brought; he's not sure about the heel. He's in the hall-room, mem."
It was with a wildly beating heart that Sibyl, obeying this summons, ran down to the little hall-room where Anthony Styles awaited her.
He stood with the slipper in his hand as she entered the room; and before he could close the door behind her, he called out in a frank, loud voice: "I thought you had better try on the shoe, miss; I wasn't sure of the heel."
The moment the door was closed, however, he came forward eagerly, and in a low tone said: "It's all right, little mistress. I heard the click of the tunnel-box last night, for I hadn't turned in, and afore many minutes I was up and off in my boat with the message in my head; I burnt the paper! There was a stiff breeze, and I reached the cutter in the quickest time I ever made, and got back afore daylight with nobody the wiser. Shoemaker Styles understands his old sailor business better than shoemaking," with a grim laugh, "and no Tory knows these waters as I do."
"And it's all right, and the end will be all right?" faltered Sibyl, anxiously.
"All right! You'll know for yourself by nightfall, perhaps; and now God bless you, little mistress. You've done a great service; and if ever Anthony Styles can sarve you, he'll do it with a whole heart,—God bless you, God bless you!" and with these words Shoemaker Styles hurried off, leaving Sibyl with the slipper still in her hand, and both of them quite oblivious of that important trying-on process.
The day after the ball was a busy one for Sir Harry Willing, and it was not until late in the afternoon that he felt himself at liberty to take his accustomed saunter about town.
As he came in sight of the gilded boot, he smilingly thought: "I wonder if Shoemaker Styles has done his duty by the little slipper; if he has, I shall dance with my lady Sibyl at Madame Boutineau's this evening."
But Sir Harry did not dance at Madame Boutineau's that evening, for when at nightfall he returned to his quarters, he was met by the disastrous tidings that the long-looked for, eagerly expected British brig, loaded with supplies for the King's army, had been captured off Lechmere's Point by the Yankee rebels.
It was not many months after this capture that the British evacuated Boston. When Sir Harry Willing took leave of Sibyl Merridew, he pleaded for some token of remembrance.
"You will not promise yourself to me," he said in reproachful accents, "but give me some token of yourself, some gage of amity at least."
"But what—what can I give you, Sir Harry?" asked Sibyl, not a little touched and troubled.
"Give me the little slipper you wore that night we danced together at the Province House."
"That—that slipper?" and Sibyl blushed and paled.
"Yes—ah, you will, you will."
A moment's hesitation; then with a strange smile, half grave, half gay, Sibyl answered, "I will."
A LITTLE BOARDING-SCHOOL SAMARITAN.
It was Saturday afternoon, and Eva Nelson and Alice King were sitting in their little study parlor at the Hill House Seminary poring over their lesson chapter for the next day. It was the tenth chapter of St. Luke, with the story of the good Samaritan. At last Eva flung herself back and exclaimed, "We can't be good as they were in those Bible days, no matter what anybody says; things are different."
"Of course they are," responded Alice. "Who said they weren't?"
Eva turned to the volume before her, and read aloud about the man who had fallen among thieves, and the good Samaritan who came along and bound up his wounds and took care of him.
"Now how can we do things like that?" she said.
"Oh, Eva, I should think you were about five or six years old instead of a girl of thirteen. Nobody means that you are to do just those particular things. What they do mean now is that you are to be good to people who are in trouble,—people who need things done for them."
"Well, I'd be good to them if I had a chance; but what chance do I have now with all my lessons? When I grow up, I shall belong to charitable societies, as mamma does, and give things to poor folks, and go to see them. I can't now; girls of our age can't, of course."
"We can do some things in vacations,—get up fairs and things of that kind, and give the money to the poor."
"Oh, I've done that. I helped in a fair last summer, and we gave the money to the children's hospital. But Miss Vincent said last week that all of us could find ways of doing good every day if we would keep our eyes and ears and hearts open; and I've felt ever since that she was keeping her eyes open on the watch for something she expected me to do."
"Nonsense! She knows as well as we do that we haven't time to do any more now. She means when we grow older. But look at the clock,—five minutes to supper-time, and I've got to 'do' my hair all over, the braid is so frowzely."
"What makes you braid it? Why don't you let it hang in a curl, as you used to?"
"I told you why yesterday,—because that Burr girl has made me sick of curls, with that great black flop of hers stringing down her back. She'd make me sick of anything. I haven't worn my red blouse since she came out with that fiery thing of hers. Isn't it horrid?"
A few minutes after, as Eva and Alice were stirring their cocoa at the supper-table, the girl they had been criticising came hastily into the dining-room and took her place. She was a tall girl for her age, with a heavy ungainly figure, a swarthy skin, and black hair which was tied back in a long curl. She wore a dark plaid skirt, with a blouse of fiery red cashmere, and a hair ribbon of a deep violet shade. Nothing could have been more ill-matched or more unbecoming. The girl who sat beside her, pretty Janey Miller, was a great contrast, with her blond curls, her rosy cheeks, and simple well-fitting dress of blue serge. Her every movement, too, was as full of grace as Cordelia Burr's was exactly the reverse. Everything seemed to go well with Janey; everything seemed to go ill with Cordelia. She spilled her cocoa, she dropped her knife, she crumbled her gingerbread, and she clattered her cup and saucer. Certainly she was not a very pleasant person to sit near. But Janey tried to conceal her annoyance, and succeeded very well, until at the end of the meal Cordelia, in her headlong haste in leaving her seat, tipped over a glass of water upon her neighbor's pretty blue dress. This was too much, for Janey, and it was little wonder that she jumped up with an impatient exclamation, nor that she declared to Eva and Alice a little later that Cordelia ought to be ashamed of herself for being so careless, and that she did wish she didn't have to sit next to her.
"I suppose, though, I shall have to sit there until the end of this term; but there's one thing I'm not going to do any more,—I'm not going to dance with her. She doesn't keep step, and she does dress so!" concluded Janey.
"Yes, she does dress dreadfully; and to think it's her own fault. She chooses her things herself," said Eva.
"No!" exclaimed Janey.
"Yes, she does; her mother is 'way off somewhere, and Cordelia gets what she likes."
"And she doesn't know any better than to like such horrid things! Sometimes she looks as if she'd lived with wild Indians!"
"That's it; that's it, I forgot!" shouted Eva. "She has lived 'way off out in a Territory on an Indian reservation. Her father is an army officer of some kind."
"Young ladies, young ladies, look at your clocks!" suddenly called a voice outside the door.
"Why, goodness, it's bedtime!" whispered Janey. "Good-night, good-night."
The next afternoon, when the Sunday classes were in session in the great hall, Janey, who was not in the same class with Eva and Alice, wondered as she looked across at them what they could be talking about that seemed so interesting. This is what they were talking about: Alice, in her clever exact way, had told Miss Vincent the whole of that little Saturday-night talk concerning the good Samaritan. Miss Vincent smiled when Alice told of Eva's odd simplicity of application; but as Alice went on and presented Eva's perplexity and her plea for girls of her age,—their lack of time and all that, and her own assurance to Eva that Miss Vincent did not mean what Eva fancied that she did,—Miss Vincent, in a quick, decided, almost eager way, started forward and cried,—
"Oh, but I did! I did mean it. Girls of your age can do—oh, so much! You are thinking of only one way of doing,—helping the poor, visiting people in need. I don't think you can do much of that. I think that is mostly for older people; but you live in a little world of your own,—a girls' world, where you can help or hurt one another every day and hour by what you do or say. Oh, I know, I know, for I went through such suffering once,—was so hurt when I might have been helped. But let me tell you about it, and then you'll see what I mean. It was when I was between twelve and thirteen. We had just come to Boston, and I was sent to a strange school. I was very shy, but ashamed to show that I was. So when the girls stared at me, as girls will, and giggled amongst themselves about anything, I thought they were staring in an unfriendly way and laughing at me, and I immediately straightened up and put on a stiff and what I tried to make an indifferent manner. This only prejudiced them against me, and the unfriendliness I had fancied became very soon a reality, and I was snubbed or avoided in the most decided way. I tried to bear this silently, to act as if I didn't care for a while, but I became so lonely at length I thought I would try to conciliate them. I dare say, however, my shy manner was still misunderstood, for I was not encouraged to go on. What I suffered at this time I have never forgotten. The girls were no worse than other girls, but they had started out on a wrong track, and gradually the whole flock of them, one led on by what another would say or do, were down upon me. It was a sort of contagious excitement, and they didn't stop to think it might be unjust or cruel. Things went on from bad to worse, until at last I gave up trying to conciliate, and turned on them like a little wild-cat. I forgot my timidity,—forgot everything but my desire to be even with them, as I expressed it. But it wasn't an even conflict,—thirty girls against one; and at length I did something dreadful. I was going from the school-room to a recitation room with my ink-bottle; that I had been to have filled, when I met in the hall three of 'my enemies,' as I called them. In trying to avoid them I ran against them. They thought I did it purposely, and at once accused me of that, and other sins I happened to be innocent of, in a way that exasperated me. I tried to go on, but they barred my progress; and then it was that I lost all control of myself, and in a sort of frantic fury flung the ink-bottle that I held straight before me. I could never recall the details of anything after that. I only remember the screams, the opening of doors, the teachers hastening up, a voice saying, 'No; only the dresses are injured; but she might have killed somebody!' In the answers to their questions the teachers got at something of the truth, not all of it. They were very much shocked at a state of things they had not even suspected; but my violence prejudiced them against me, as was natural, and they had little sympathy for me. Of course I couldn't remain at the school after that. I was not expelled. My father took me away, yet I always felt that I went in disgrace."
"They were horrid girls,—horrid!" cried Alice, vehemently.
"No; they were like any ordinary girls who don't think. But you see how different everything might have been if only one of them had thought to say a kind word to me; had seen that I might have been suffering, and"—smiling down upon Eva—"been a good Samaritan to me."
"They were horrid, or they would have thought," insisted Alice. "I'm sure I don't know any girls who would have been so stupid."
"Nor I, nor I," chimed in two or three other voices. But Eva Nelson was silent.
"You are the most ridiculous girl for getting fancies into your head, Eva; and you never get things right,—never!"
"I think you are very unkind."
"Well, you can think so. I think—"
"Hush!" in a warning voice; "there's some one knocking at the door;" then, louder, "Come in;" and responsive to this invitation, Janey Miller entered.
"What were you and Eva squabbling about?" she asked, looking at Alice.
"Cordelia Burr!" replied Alice, disdainfully.
"Yes. What do you think? Eva wants to take her up and be intimate with her."
"Now, Alice, I don't," cried Eva. "I only wanted to be kinder to her. When Miss Vincent told us that story yesterday, I couldn't help thinking of Cordelia, and that we might be on the wrong track with her, as those horrid girls were with Miss Vincent."
"'Those horrid girls'! What does she mean, Alice?" asked Janey.
Alice repeated Miss Vincent's story. "And Eva," she went on, "has got it into her head that Cordelia is like what Miss Vincent was, and that we are like those horrid girls."
"Not like them; not as bad as they were, yet; but we might be if we kept on, maybe."
"But it isn't the same thing at all, Eva," struck in Janey. "That sweet, pretty Miss Vincent could never have been anything like Cordelia; and we—I'm sure none of us have been like those horrid girls. I don't like Cordelia, but I don't say anything hateful to her, and none of us girls do."
"But you—we don't want her 'round with us, and we show it. We won't dance with her if we can help it, and we've managed to keep her out of things that we were in, a good many times."
"Well, nobody wants a person 'round with them who makes herself so disagreeable as Cordelia does; and as for dancing with her, she's never in step, and is always treading upon you and bumping against you; and in everything else it's just the same."
"Maybe she's shy, as Miss Vincent was."
"Shy! Cordelia Burr shy!" shouted Alice, in derision.
"No; she's anything but shy," said Janey; "she's as uppish and independent as she can be."
"But maybe she puts that on. Maybe—"
"Maybe she's a princess in disguise!" cried Alice, scornfully.
"Well, I don't care. I think we ought to try and see if perhaps we are not on the wrong track with her; and I—"
"Now, Eva," and Alice looked up very determinedly, "if you begin to take notice of Cordelia, there'll be no getting away from her; she'll be pushing herself in where she isn't wanted, constantly. And there's just one thing more: I'll say, if you do begin this, you'll have to do it alone. I won't have anything to do with it; and, you'll see, the rest of the girls won't; and you'll be left to yourself with Miss Cordelia, and a nice time you'll have of it."
Eva made no answer. Indeed, she would have found it hard to speak, for she was choking with tears,—tears that presently found vent in "a good cry," as Alice and Janey left the room.
What should she do? What could she do with all the girls against her? If she could only tell Miss Vincent, she could advise her. But Miss Vincent had been summoned home by illness that very morning.
Poor Eva! the way before her looked extremely difficult. She was very sensitive, and Miss Vincent's story had made an impression upon her that could not be got rid of. She was astonished to find it had not made the same impression upon Alice,—that Alice had not seen in it, as she had, a clear direction what to do, or what to try to do; and now here was Janey, as entirely out of sympathy, and Alice had said that all the rest of the girls would be the same. If Alice was right, it might—it might make a bad matter worse; it might make the girls dislike Cordelia more, to—to interfere. For a moment Eva felt that this view of the matter would solve her difficulty, by exonerating her from undertaking her task. The next moment there flashed into her mind these words of Miss Vincent's: "If only one of them had thought to say a kind word to me."
About half an hour later Alice and Janey, with three or four of the other girls, were practising in the gymnasium together.
"I wonder where Eva is?" whispered Alice. "She's always here at this time; she is so fond of the gym."
"She didn't like what we said, so perhaps she won't come to-day," whispered Janey.
"Well, I had to say what I did; if I hadn't, Eva would have—But there she is now," as the door opened. Then aloud, "Eva, Eva, come over here and try the bars with us."
Eva 's heart gave a little jump of gladness as she accepted this pleasantly spoken invitation. She hated to be on ill terms with anybody, and especially with Alice, of whom she was fond; and as she went forward and swung herself lightly up beside her, she forgot for the moment everything that was unpleasant.
There was a pretty little running exercise up and down a gently inclined plane that was in great favor at the school; and when the three swung down from the bars, Alice proposed that they should try the race-track, as they called it.
They were just starting off when the door opened, and Cordelia Burr came in. She stared about her in her odd frowning way, and then hurried forward to join the runners. Eva gave a little start of recoil. Alice gave more than a start. She seized Eva and Janey by the wrists, and, pushing them before her, sent a nod and backward to several others who had left the bars to come over to the race-track. She did not say even to herself that she meant to crowd Cordelia out; but the fact was accomplished, nevertheless, for by the time Cordelia reached the track there was no room for her. Eva had seen this same kind of stratagem enacted before, and thought it "fun." Now, with her eyes and ears and heart open, through Miss Vincent's influence, the fun took on a different aspect. But what—what ought she to do? What could she do then? She might slip out and offer her place to Cordelia. But the girls, and Alice—Alice specially—would be so angry. Oh, no, no, she couldn't; it wouldn't do to brave them like that! Looking up as she came to this conclusion, she saw Cordelia standing all alone, her face flushed with anger or mortification, perhaps both.