As Ally came to this conclusion in her thought, she happened to look out of the car window, and there, why, there was her aunt Ann and uncle Tom outside on the platform, standing at another car window farther down, talking and laughing in the liveliest manner with some friends they had met. Uncle Tom didn't seem in the least haste now, and ever so many minutes ago he had said to her, "Well, good-by, Ally!" and rushed off as if there wasn't another minute to spare,—not another minute; and here was a gentleman in front of her, saying to a friend of his at that very instant, "There's plenty of time; it's ten minutes before the cars start;" and then she heard a lady say to another lady, "There's no need of my leaving you yet; we've got oceans of time;" and all about her, Ally now noticed various groups of friends and relations lingering lovingly together until the last moment; and noting all this, a bitter little look came into Miss Ally's face, and a bitter little thought came into her heart,—a thought that said tauntingly, "There, this shows you, Ally Fleming, what kind of relations you've got; this shows you how much they care for you!"
And by and by, as the cars started up and sped along, this bitter little thought also sped along, carrying in its wake all the bitter little thoughts of yesterday and to-day. Ally was quite accustomed to travelling by herself on this trip to and from New York. It was a perfectly simple thing to sit in the car-seat where she had been placed by one uncle, until at the end of the trip she was met by the other uncle, and taken charge of,—a perfectly simple, easy matter, and Ally had heretofore quite enjoyed it; but now, looking about her, and seeing the groups of other people's relations going home to Thanksgiving, she began to think it was a very lonesome thing to be travelling all alone by herself; and just as this occurred to her, what should happen but that one of these groups should turn inquisitively to her and ask, "Are you travelling all by yourself, little girl?" and when Ally had answered, "Yes," this inquisitive person commented upon her being such a little girl to travel all by herself; and then, when Ally told her rather proudly that she was ten years old, the inquisitive person had said, "Well, I don't know what my little ten-year-old girl would think to be sent off to travel all alone. I shall tell her when I get home what a brave little girl I met."
Ally thought all this was said out of pity and wonder, and that the lady thought her very much neglected and forlorn. But instead of that, the lady meant only to praise and compliment her; and thus, in this way and that way, the bitter little thoughts kept growing and growing, as the cars sped on, until long before the end of her journey came, poor Ally felt that there never was a much more friendless girl than she was; and when the cars steamed into the Boston station, she said to herself, "I wonder if Uncle John is dreading the winter on my account, as Aunt Kate is?" and with this thought she stepped out on the platform. But where was Uncle John? She expected to see him at once, coming forward to lift her from the steps. Where was he now? and Ally looked at the faces before her with wondering scrutiny. She jumped down—for people were pressing behind her—and moved on, scanning the face of every gentleman she saw with anxious eyes. No one of them, however, was that of Uncle John. What was the matter? Didn't he know the train she was to take? Of course he did, for Uncle Tom had told her that he had telegraphed that he would meet her at the Boston station at five o'clock. Of course he knew, so he must have forgotten her. Yes, that was it,—he had forgotten all about her! Ally was not a specially timid child; but as she stood in the big station-building, and realized that there was not a soul she knew there to look out for her, a feeling of dismay overtook her. If it were in the morning or at noonday, it wouldn't have seemed so dreadful; but though the electric lights flashed everything into brilliance, it was a November day, and half-past five o'clock was after nightfall. What should she do? There was no sign of Uncle John, and the passengers who had arrived with her were fast disappearing. Very soon the people in the station would begin to notice her, to ask questions, and then perhaps some police-officer would take her to the police-station, as a lost child. She'd heard that that was what they always did. It was just as this thought came into her head that she caught sight of one of those very big burly blue-coated individuals. He had his hand on the collar of a boy about her own age, and she heard him say to him in a big burly voice,—
"What yer hangin' 'round here for? Lost, eh? That's a likely story. Come, off with yer, if yer don't want ter be locked up!"
Poor little Ally didn't stop to reason,—to think of the difference in the outward appearance of herself and the boy,—to see that the policeman knew the boy perfectly well for a mischievous young scamp who was up to no good. She didn't stop to consider anything; but with those words, "If yer don't want ter be locked up," ringing in her ears, she turned and ran from the station-building as fast as her legs could carry her. As she came out upon the sidewalk, she saw the colored lights of a street car. Oh, joy, it was the very up-town car that would take her close to Beacon Street! But oh, horror! She suddenly recollected that Uncle John no longer lived on Beacon Street. He had moved last month into a new house on Marlborough Street, and oh, what was the number? She "had heard Uncle Tom read it from a letter. It had a lot of 9's in it. Nine hundred and—why—99—999, three 9's; yes, yes, that was it;" and with this conviction, Ally gave a hop skip and a jump into the car, just as it was about to start off, for this very car she knew would take her nearer to Marlborough Street than to Beacon Street. Her spirits rose as she felt herself carried along; and in due time she found the three 9's, and tripped up the steps of the house in Marlborough Street bearing that number. Her heart beat very fast with a sense of relief and injury, mixed with a certain elation at her own enterprise, as she rang the bell. Wouldn't they be surprised, and wouldn't Uncle John—But some one opening the door scattered her questioning thoughts; and—why, who was this somebody? It must be a new servant with the new house, and a manservant too. Uncle John must be getting better off,—they had had only two maids before. It never entered Ally's head to ask the strange servant if Mr. Fleming lived there. Why should she ask what she was so sure of? She simply asked, "Where's Uncle John and Aunt Kate and the rest of them?"
The man looked bewildered, and repeated, "Uncle John?"
"Yes, Uncle John and Aunt Kate. I'm Ally, and Uncle John telegraphed that he would meet me at the five-o'clock train, and he wasn't there, and I came up all alone. Where are they? In the parlor?" and Ally stepped in over the threshold.
"I guess there's some mistake," said the man; "I guess your uncle John—"
"No, there wasn't any mistake, for he telegraphed to Uncle Tom. He must have forgotten."
"But your uncle doesn't—"
"What is it, James? What is wanted?" interrupted some one here. The "some one" was a big, tall gentleman coming down the stairs, whom Ally, as she looked up in the rather confusing half light of the lower hall, at once took for her uncle, and rushing forward she ran up to meet him, crying,—
"Oh, Uncle John! Uncle John! I was so scared not to find you at the station, and I came up here all alone on the street car!"
But in the very next instant she started back and gasped: "But—but it isn't—you're not—you're not Uncle John! Where is he, oh, where is he?"
"You've made a mistake, my little girl!" exclaimed the gentleman,—"a mistake in the house. This isn't your uncle John's, but—"
"Not Uncle John's? Why—why—this is 999!" interrupted Ally, tremulously.
"Oh! oh!" cried poor Ally, as a fresh flash of memory overcame her, "that must be the—the—" She was going to say, "the old Beacon Street number," when, confused and dismayed, she gave another step backward, her foot slipped, and she fell headlong to the foot of the stairs, where she lay white and motionless, not a sigh or moan escaping her as she was lifted and carried into the parlor.
The sun was shining brightly into the pretty new dining-room on Marlborough Street where Uncle John lived, and swinging in its beams a great gray parrot named Peter kept calling out, "Ally's come, Ally's come! give her a kiss! give her a kiss!"
The room was empty when the parrot began; but presently Uncle John and Aunt Kate came in. At sight of them the parrot screamed, "Hello! hello!" and then repeated louder than ever, "Ally's come! Ally's come! give her a kiss! give her a kiss!"
"For pity's sake, put the bird out!" exclaimed Uncle John. "I can't stand that now!"
"Yes, put him out, do!" said Aunt Kate to the servant who was just then bringing in the coffee.
In a few moments the three daughters of the family—Laura and Maud and Mary—appeared.
"Have you heard anything about her this morning?" asked the eldest,—Laura,—as she took her seat at table.
Uncle John shook his head.
"And the police haven't got a clew yet?"
"No, nor the detectives."
"What I can't understand is why she didn't wait in the ladies' room until you came, papa. She might have known you would come sometime."
"We don't know yet that she got as far as Boston," said Mrs. Fleming.
"Why, Uncle Tom's telegram in answer to papa's that he saw her off on the 11.30 train proves that."
"It doesn't prove that she came through to Boston."
"'Came through'! Why, upon earth, should she leave the cars before she reached Boston?"
"She might have made the acquaintance of some young people, and stepped off at a restaurant station with them to buy fruit, and so got left."
"But she would have taken a later train then, and papa has been to the later ones."
"Don't—don't wonder and speculate any more why a little girl of ten years didn't do exactly as a grown-up person would have done," burst forth Uncle John. "The whole blame lies with us, or with Tom and me. We should never have allowed such a child to be sent off alone like that."
"But, papa, it isn't an uncommon thing for a child of her age to travel like that."
"It isn't very common, and it ought not to be."
"Maybe she's run away," suddenly exclaimed the youngest of the daughters,—a girl of fourteen.
"Mary!" cried the other two; and "How can you make fun like that now?" said Mrs. Fleming, reprovingly.
"I didn't say it to make fun," protested Mary,—"I didn't, truly; but—but Ally was very queer sometimes. She took up everything so, and got offended, or thought you didn't care for her. One day I asked her why she didn't take things as I did,—spat, and forget it the next minute, and she said, 'Because I'm not like you, I only happened here'! Wasn't that droll?"
"Droll!" exclaimed Uncle John. "I think it's the most pathetic thing I ever heard. What have we all been doing that she should feel like this?"
"But she liked being here better than at Uncle Tom's. Florence was always tormenting her one way and another."
"The trouble with her is that she was an only child, and, transplanted suddenly into two large families, she couldn't fit herself to the new circumstances," said Mrs. Fleming.
"And the trouble with us has been," spoke up Uncle John, "that we didn't take that fact into consideration enough, and try to help her to fit into the new circumstances. Poor little soul, if we ever get her back again—"
"Oh, don't, don't talk like that,—'if we ever get her back again!' as if she were a Charley Ross child that had been kidnapped," burst forth Mary, with a breaking voice. "I meant to be good to Ally, and that's why I taught Peter to say, 'Ally's come, Ally's come! give her a kiss! give her a kiss!' I thought it would be such a pretty welcome, and Ally'd be so pleased, she'd believe we did care for her when she heard that."
"You're a little trump, Mary," declared her father, with a suspicious moisture in his eyes. "I only hope if—when Ally comes back—But, hark, there's the door-bell!" as a sharp peal rang through the house. "It may be one of the detectives."
"A gentleman to see you in the parlor, sir," said the maid a moment later, as she brought in a card.
Uncle John glanced at the card, and then, uttering an exclamation of surprise, passed it over to his wife, and, jumping up hastily, left the room.
"Is it the chief of the detectives?" asked Laura, animatedly.
"It isn't a detective at all; it's Dr. Phillips."
"You don't mean the Dr. Phillips,—Bernard Phillips?"
"How strange, and at this hour in the morning! It must be something about Thanksgiving exercises," interposed Maud.
"But we're not his parishioners. We don't go to his church!"
"Oh, dear!" cried Mary; "I'm so disappointed. I did hope it was the detective bringing Ally back."
"Kate!" called Uncle John's voice here, "will you come into the parlor?" and Mrs. Fleming, obeying this call, found herself a minute after exchanging greetings with the unexpected visitor.
"I want you to tell her, Doctor, just what you've told me exactly," said Uncle John. "It's about Ally, my dear," to his wife. "She's found, and—and—"
"She is at my house," took up the Doctor; and then he told of the little girl who had come to his house the night before, of her grievous disappointment, and the accident that had befallen her,—an accident that had robbed her of consciousness for a time, and from which she had only sufficiently recovered within the last few hours to answer the questions that were put to her in regard to her relations, that steps might be taken to restore her to them.
"And she is seriously hurt,—she couldn't come with you?" broke in Aunt Kate, breathlessly.
"No, she was not seriously hurt," he assured her; and then came that most delicate and difficult part of the Doctor's task,—to tell, in what gentle phrase he could, that this wilful child refused to accompany him; that she had taken a foolish fancy into her head that her relations did not care for her,—a fancy that had been strengthened into positive belief when she failed to find her uncle at the station, and had suggested to her a wild little plan of going away from them altogether, into some orphans' home that she had heard of, where she was sure a place could be found for her. Very gentle, indeed, was the phrasing of all this,—so gentle and full of sweet human consideration for everybody's shortcomings and mistakes that Aunt Kate forgot that the Doctor was a stranger; and with this forgetfulness the sharp pang of humiliation at a stranger's knowledge of such a family difficulty, and the little sting of resentment at Ally's attitude towards them all, was overborne to such an extent that she could frankly admit that her husband was right, and that none of them had had love and patience enough to help the child to fit into the new circumstances of her life.
It was an added pang, but there was no resentment in it, when she saw Ally's sudden shrinking from her as she entered the Doctor's parlor with him a little later.
To think that they had, though unwittingly, hurt and estranged the child like this, was Mrs. Fleming's first thought; and the tears came to her eyes, and her voice broke as she cried impulsively, "Oh, my little girl, my little girl!"
Ally started at the sight of these tears, at the sound of this tenderly breaking voice. And there was Uncle John; and he was crying too, and his voice was breaking as he said something. What was it he was saying?—that it was not forgetfulness, it was not neglect of her, that had made him fail to meet her at the station, but an untoward accident to the streetcar he was in that had delayed him. And what was that Aunt Kate was saying? That they did care for her, that they did want her, and that they had set the telegraphic wires all over the country to hunt for her and bring her back to them.
"But—but—Florence told me," faltered Ally, "that you dreaded the winter on my account,—I was so—so bad-tempered—so hard to live with."
"Dreaded the winter on your account! Florence told you I said that?" cried Mrs. Fleming, in amazement.
"She said she heard you say it to her mother."
A light broke over Mrs. Fleming's face. "Oh, I remember now perfectly. It was just after you were so ill with that bad throat, and I was speaking to your aunt Ann about it, and I said to her, 'I dread the winter on Ally's account.' How could—how could Florence put such a mischievous meaning to my words?"
"Perhaps she only heard just those words," replied Ally, who would never take advantage of anybody.
"But why should she want to tell you what would hurt you like that?"
"We'd been quarrelling," answered Ally, with an honest brevity that was very edifying.
"But, as you see now it was for your bad throat, and not for your bad temper, that I dreaded the winter," said Aunt Kate, with a smile, "you will come back with us, and let us both try again. We meant to be good to you, dear; but we did not think enough that you had been unused to a big family,—that you were a little ewe lamb that had been transplanted into a great crowded fold, and left to find your place with the crowd; and you misunderstood this, and took us too hardly; but we're going to do better. We're going to be more thoughtful of one another, and you'll come home with us now, and we'll have our Thanksgiving dinner together, won't we?"
Childish and ignorant of the world's ways, as her wild idea in regard to her right to a place in an orphans' home proved her, Ally had a great deal of sense in other directions, and she began to perceive that she had not been the wilfully neglected and abused person she had thought herself, and to think, too, that perhaps Aunt Kate might have had something to bear from her. At any rate, her good sense made her see that her aunt had come to her with kind and generous intentions, and that the least she could do was to respond with what grace was in her power; and so with a little smile that had something pathetic in it to those who saw it, it was so tremulous with that pitiful doubt that had been born of the last three unhappy years, she put her hand into Mrs. Fleming's, and signified her readiness to go with her. And then and there, as she met that smile, Kate Fleming vowed to herself that never again through fault of hers should this child suffer for lack of loving care; and with this resolve warm in her heart, she clasped the little hand in hers more closely, and said brightly,—
"You'll see how glad the girls will be to see you, Ally, when we get home."
But Ally had no response to make to this. A great dread had seized her as she felt herself going to meet them. Uncle John's and Aunt Kate's assurance of regard was one thing, but Uncle John and Aunt Kate were not the girls, and poor Ally was quite sure that no one of them had ever cared very much for her, though Mary had alternately petted and laughed at her, and now—why, now, they might dislike her for making such a fuss, for Laura had often said she did dislike people so who made a fuss, and Maud would agree with Laura, and Mary would laugh at her more than ever. Oh, dear! oh, dear! if she could only go back! if she could only get that dear good Doctor to find her a place in—But, "Here we are, Ally!" said Uncle John; and "Here she is!" exclaimed three girlish voices; and there, standing in the doorway, were Laura and Maud and Mary; and at sight of their faces, at sound of their voices, Ally's dread began to vanish. And then, just then, it was that Peter, who had been banished to the hall, called out uproariously, "Ally's come! Ally's come! give her a kiss! give her a kiss!" and Mary called out after him, "I taught him to say that; I taught him more 'n a month ago."
"'More 'n a month ago'! Oh!" breathed Ally under her breath, "she liked me well enough for this more 'n a month ago!"
Uncle John and Aunt Kate and Laura and Maud and Mary were looking on, and they knew what Ally was thinking of,—the very words of it,—by that sudden radiant smile upon her face; and Mary was so pleased thereat, she had to cry out,—
"Oh, what a jolly Thanksgiving this is! Could anything be added to make it jollier?"
But something was added. When they were all at the dinner-table that night,—mother and father and girls and the three boys who had just come up from their boarding-school that very morning,—this telegram was brought in from Uncle Tom,—
"Thanks for word of Ally's safety. All send love. Florence is writing to her."
Ally's eyes opened wide with astonishment at this conclusion. Florence! Aunt Kate read the meaning of that astonished look, and sent a glance to Ally that said as plainly as words could say, "You see, even Florence didn't mean as badly as you thought."
AN APRIL FOOL.
"Have you written it, Nelly?"
"Yes, I have it here in my pocket. I'll show it to you when I get a chance."
"Oh, show it now! There's as good a chance now as you'll have, for the rest of the girls are all on the other side of the room. Come;" and Lizzy Ryder held out her hand coaxingly.
Nelly sent a quick glance around the school-room, and then took from her pocket a small square envelope. The envelope was directed to Miss Angela Jocelyn. Lizzy Ryder gave a little giggle as she read this name; but as she drew forth the note-sheet and read written upon it in a slender pointed handwriting, "Miss Marian Selwyn requests the pleasure of Miss Angela Jocelyn's company on the evening of April 1st," her giggle became a smothered shriek, and she said to her cousin,—
"Oh, Nelly, it's perfect; she'll never suspect. It looks just like Marian Selwyn's writing. Wouldn't it be too good if we could somehow get hold of Angela's acceptance and keep it back, and have her actually go to the party. What do you suppose Marian would say to her when she walked in?"
"She wouldn't say anything, but she'd look so astonished, and she'd be so stiff that Miss Angela would very soon find out she wasn't very welcome. But we can't keep back the note very well, even if we could get hold of it,—it might get us into trouble, for it would be against the law; but there's no law against an April Fool letter of our own, and 'twill be just as good fun in the end, for Marian Selwyn, of course, will set Miss Angela right in double quick time after she receives her note. Oh, I can just imagine the top-lofty style in which she will inform Miss Angela that there must be some mistake."
"And then, of course, they'll both find out that somebody's been April-fooling them."
"Of course. But that isn't going to interfere with our fun. Miss Angela will be set down by that time just where I want her, when she discovers that her invitation is nothing but an April fool on her. I wish—But, hush, somebody's coming this way;" and in an instant Nelly had whisked into her pocket the note she had written, and the cousins were walking down the room, talking in a loud tone about their lessons. The "somebody coming" was a very quiet but a very observing girl, who, as she saw the sudden start of Lizzy and Nelly, also caught sight of the little white missive as it was whisked into Nelly's pocket, and immediately thought,—
"There's some mischief going on. I wonder what it is."
"That sly Mary Marcy, she's always spying 'round," whispered Nelly to her companion, as they passed along. Then in a high voice, thinking to mislead Mary, she cried, "Oh, Lizzy, now I've shown you my composition you must show me yours."
Mary Marcy was a shrewd girl as well as an observant one, and she laughed in her sleeve as she heard this.
"Composition! that was no school composition", she said to herself; and when a few minutes later the bell rang for the close of recess, and she saw Nelly send a significant glance to Lizzy as the two hurried to their seats, this shrewd, observant Mary was surer than ever that there was mischief going on, and when she went home that afternoon she told her mother what she had seen and heard, and how she felt about it,—for Mary was very confidential with her mother, and told her most of her school secrets. Mrs. Marcy listened to this telling with that placid Quaker way of hers, and remarked in her quaint Quaker phrase, "Thee mustn't be too suspicious, my dear; it maybe harmless mischief, after all." And then Mary had replied, "I shouldn't be suspicious of any of the other girls, mother; but Lizzy and Nelly Ryder are always doing and saying the mischievous things that have a sting in them;" and Mrs. Marcy, spite of her Quaker charity, then admitted that she had never quite liked the ways of those girls, and had often been sorry that they were in the Westboro' High School; "but, poor things," she added the moment she had made this admission, "they are more to be pitied than the persons they hurt, for they can get over the hurt, but these poor girls can't get over their own wrong-doing so easily. It makes a black mark on them every time, and black marks are hard to rub off; and thee'll see if they are up to any wrong-doing now, it will leave a mark, and so they'll get the worst of it in the long run."
"But it's always such a long run before a mark of that kind shows," laughed Mary. "Girls of that sort seem to succeed in making everybody but themselves uncomfortable, and these two specially always appear to be so gay and full of good times with their giggle and chatter."
"But the Bible says, Mary, 'for as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool;' and thee can think of this the next time thee hears the chatter, and then thee can say to thyself, 'It may be nothing but foolish folly, after all.'"
"Yes, it may be nothing but that," Mary allowed; but when the next morning she heard it again, her first doubts and suspicions returned in full force, and she said to herself, "I'm perfectly sure that there's something more than mere foolishness in this crackling of thorns. I'm perfectly sure there's mischief with a sting in it. I feel it in the air, and I'm just going to watch out and see if I can't stop it as I did that horrid St. Valentine business last winter."
And while good kind Mary was thus "watching out" for this mischief, there, only two or three seats away from her, sat Angela Jocelyn, about whom all the mischief was gathering as a dark cloud gathers over a fair sky. And Angela's sky was particularly fair to her just then, for she had been made very happy by the invitation she had received that morning,—so happy that she had said to her elder sister, Martha Jocelyn, "To think of Marian Selwyn's inviting me. Isn't it beautiful of her?" and Martha had answered back rather tartly, "I don't see why you should put such an emphasis on 'me,' as if you were so inferior. You're as good as Marian Selwyn."
"Yes, Martha, I know—it isn't that I feel inferior in—in myself," Angela exclaimed; "but the Selwyns have always had money and everything—always, and we are poor and have lived so out of the way that I say it's beautiful and kind of Marian, when she knows me so little. Why, Martha, I never see her anywhere but on the street and at Sunday-school."
"Well, she likes you, I suppose. She's taken a fancy to you, and she's independent enough, I should hope, to invite any girl she likes, if the girl is poor and lives out of the way," was Martha's cool reply.
Liked her! Taken a fancy to her! How Angela's heart jumped at this suggestion! Could it be possible that this lovely fortunate Marian Selwyn, that she had always admired from afar off, had taken a fancy to her,—poor, plain little Angela Jocelyn,—was her thought. And it was with this thought quickening her pulses that she wrote a cordial acceptance to the note of invitation; and it was this thought that sent such a bright look into her face that morning, that Mary Marcy said to her friend and seat-mate, Anna Richards, "Look at Angela Jocelyn, she is really growing pretty;" and a little later at the recess that followed directly after a recitation where Angela had easily led, as usual, Mary, catching sight of the frowning faces of Lizzy and Nelly Ryder, exclaimed: "Anna, if Angela Jocelyn is going to add good looks to her braininess, those Ryder girls will be more jealous of her than ever."
"And they pretend to look down on Angela because she is poor and her mother and sister take in sewing," responded Anna.
"All the same they don't look down on what Angela really is. She is superior to them in brains, and they know it, and that makes them want to pull her down," answered Mary.
"Yes, I heard Nelly Ryder say last week that Angela was altogether too conceited, and ought to be 'taken down'; and it would be just like Nelly Ryder to try to do it sometime."
"Sometime! I believe she is trying to do it now. I believe that that is the mischief she and her cousin Lizzy are planning this moment," cried Mary.
"What do you mean?"
"I'll tell you;" and Mary related, as she had related to her mother, what she had seen and heard.
"Nelly Ryder has never forgiven Angela for getting the history prize; Nelly thought herself sure of it,—she as good as told me so," was Anna's only remark upon this.
"And now she's going to play some trick on Angela to take her down, as she calls it; that's what you think, isn't it? And that's what I think. Oh, Anna, I wish I could ferret out the mischief and stop it. It will be something hateful and mortifying to poor Angela, I know. If I could only get some clew to what it is, so as to warn her."
"Yes; but as we are not sure that there is any mischief, after all, you mustn't say anything to anybody yet."
"No, of course not; but I'll keep a sharp lookout, and I may hear or see something that will give me a hint. What fun it would be to outwit one of the Ryder schemes!"
"Mary! with all your Quaker bringing-up, I do believe you are just pining for what our Jack would call 'a scrimmage.'"
"Well, I am, if that means getting the better of mischief-makers," Mary confessed with a laugh.
"But you won't succeed, if the mischief-makers are Nelly and Lizzy Ryder, Those, girls seem to get the best of everything and everybody. Think now, for one thing, of their being acquaintances of Marian Selwyn's, and invited to her birthday party!"
"Oh, well, that is family acquaintance, Anna. The Ryders have always known the Selwyns, just as we have. The Selwyns and Ryders and Marcys have lived in Westboro', and visited each other for ages."
"I wish I had, and then I might have been invited to this wonderful birthday party," exclaimed Anna, with a certain earnestness of tone that belied her gay little laugh, and made Mary say regretfully,—
"I wish I'd known you felt like this last week, I would have had you and Marian 'round to tea, and then you would have got acquainted, and she'd have been sure to have invited you; but it's too late now, for the party comes off Thursday, you know."
"Thursday! Why, Thursday is the first of April.. How funny that one's birthday should come on the first of April!"
"Why? Because it's April-fool's day."
"Oh, I see; but I'm so used to Marian's birthdays, I don't always stop to think of that."
"But don't some people think of it? Don't they sometimes play—Oh, oh, Mary, Mary, mayn't this be your clew? Don't you believe that Nelly Ryder has been planning an April-fool trick upon Angela in connection with this party?"
Mary, who had been sitting on one of the wide window-seats in the recitation-room, jumped to her feet at this, with a little scream of: "Oh, Anna, you've hit it. I do believe it is the clew. Why didn't I think of April-fool's day,—that it would be just the opportunity Nelly Ryder would take advantage of to play a trick, because she could throw it off from herself as a mere April joke, if her hand was found out in it. Yes, yes, she has planned to drag Angela into some performance or other on the birthday that will make her ridiculous and offensive to Marian,—sending her on some fool's errand to Marian, perhaps the night of the party, as somebody sent poor little Tilly Drake last year with a silly message to Clara Harrington that made Clara furious, and mortified Tilly dreadfully."
"Oh, well, Angela wouldn't be taken in like that; she's brighter than Tilly."
"Angela is just the one to be taken in. She's one of the brightest persons I ever saw about books and things of that kind, but she is very innocent and unsuspecting. Anna, I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to see Marian this noon, and I'm going to tell her what I suspect."
"No, I wouldn't do that; it wouldn't be fair, for it's only our suspicion, and we may be on the wrong track altogether."
"But what am I to do? Sit still and let some horrid thing perhaps go on that I might stop?"
"I'll tell you what you might do. You might say to Marian that you had got an idea that somebody was going to play a trick on her birthday,—upon her and some unsuspecting person; that you didn't know what the trick was to be, and you might be all wrong in your suspicion that there was to be one, but you thought that you ought to put her on her guard. You might say this to her without mentioning a name."
"Oh, Anna, Anna, what a cautious little thing you are with your 'mays' and your 'mights;' but you are right, you are right, and I'll go to Marian this noon, and say just what you've told me to say, and not a word more."
Mary thought it would be a very easy matter to say to Marian what Anna had suggested, but it wasn't so easy as she thought. Marian was a year older than herself, and that meant a good deal to a girl of fifteen,—a year older and more than a year beyond her, with the experience of Washington city life and schools during the winter months. In fact, to Mary, who had not seen her for the past few months, she appeared so experienced and grown-up, as she came into the room to meet her, that that young person felt all at once very young and awkward, and as a consequence made such a boggle of what she had to say, that Marian, entirely misunderstanding, exclaimed in amazement,—
"You want me to get up an April joke on my birthday, Mary? I couldn't think of such a thing; I hate April jokes."
"No, no, you misunderstand," burst forth Mary; and then, forgetting all her awkwardness, she made her little statement over again, and this time succinctly and clearly. And now it was her turn to be amazed; for before she had got entirely to the end of her statement, Marian starting up pulled a note from her pocket and cried, "Read this, Mary! read this!"
It was Angela's cordial note of acceptance.
"And she had no invitation from me. I never invited her, I scarcely knew her," went on Marian.
"She had no invitation from you, but she thought she had. It isn't Angela who is playing a trick upon you. Somebody has played a trick upon her,—has written in your name. Oh, don't you see? She is the innocent person I meant."
"But who—who is the guilty one,—the one who has dared to do this?" cried Marian.
"I can't tell you yet whom I think it is, because I haven't any proof, and it wouldn't be fair to call names unless I had sure proof."
"Well, look here. All my notes were sealed with my monogram seal, but I used a variety of colored wax. Everybody is interested in comparing seals now, and so can't you make an excuse to Angela that you want to compare the seals in the different colors, and borrow her note of invitation, and then bring it to me? If I could see that note, I might know the handwriting, and then I'd know who played this shabby, cruel trick. And I ought to know, that I mayn't suspect an innocent person."
"But the note that Angela received may not be sealed with wax."
"Oh, yes, it will. Whoever sent that note had seen mine, I am certain, and of course would use wax, as I did. Now, won't you do this little service for me, Mary?" urged Marian, entreatingly.
Mary laughed. "Yes, I'll do it," she answered, "though I'm not very clever at playing theatre. I've too much Quaker blood in me for that; but it's a good cause, and I'll do the best I can, and I'll do it now, for Angela's sure to be at home now;" and suiting her action to her word, Mary started off then and there upon her errand.
And so surely and swiftly did she do her best on this errand that Marian gave a little scream of surprise as she saw her coming back, and, "You've not got it already?" she cried, running to meet her.
"Yes, here it is. Angela gave it to me at once."
"Just the size of my paper, and the wax—you see I was right. There is wax, and a seal-stamp that looks like my stamp, but isn't," exclaimed Marian. "Now for the handwriting!" One glance at the address on the envelope; then, pulling out the note, she bent breathlessly over it for a moment. In another moment she was calling out triumphantly: "I know it! I know it! She tried to imitate mine, but I know these M's and r's and A's. They're Nelly Ryder's! they're Nelly Ryder's! Look here;" and running to her desk, the excited girl produced another note, and placed it beside the one that Angela had received. It was Nelly Ryder's acceptance of her invitation; and Mary, looking at the peculiar M's and r's and A's saw as clearly as Marian herself the proof of the same hand in each note.
"And I should know her 'hand' anywhere, for I've had hundreds of notes from her, first and last," Marian went on. "But to think of her playing such a trick as this! I never had any admiration for her, or her cousin either; but I didn't think either one of them could do such a mischievous, vulgar thing. But you did, Mary, for this is the girl you suspected."
"Yes, because I had known more of her than you had,—going to school with her every day;" and then Mary told what she had known, and what she had seen herself, winding up with, "But I didn't like to tell you all this before I had certain proof, for I wanted to be fair, you know."
"And you have been fair, more than fair; and now—"
"Well, go on, what do you stop for—now what?"
"Wait and see;" and Marian nodded her head, and compressed her lips into a firm, resolute line.
"Oh, Marian, are you going to punish Nelly?" cried Mary, a little alarmed at these indications.
Marian nodded again.
"Yes, I'm going to punish her."
"Oh, how, when, where?"
"When? On Thursday night. Where? At the birthday party. How? Wait and see."
It was the evening of the first of April,—a beautiful, still, starry evening, with all the chill and frost of early spring blown out of it by the friendly winds of March, and all the lovely promises of summer buddings and flowerings wafting into it from waiting May and June.
A "just perfect evening," said more than one girl delightedly, as she set out arrayed in all her furbelows for the birthday party. A "just perfect evening." And no one said this more emphatically, and felt it more emphatically, than Mary Marcy and Angela Jocelyn,—Mary in her pretty and becoming if rather plain white gown of China silk, and Angela in her old white cambric that had been 'done over' for the hundredth time, perhaps, and was neither pretty nor becoming, with its skimp skirt and sleeves and shrunken waist. But a new gown had been out of the question just then with the Jocelyns, and Angela had to make the best of the old one; and it did not seem at all hard to make a very good 'best' of it, when she stood in her own little bedroom, with Martha tying the well-worn blue sash around the shrunken waist, and her mother looking on and saying, "It really looks very nice, and that sash does wash so well."
But when she went up into the great brilliantly lighted bedchamber at the Selwyns', and saw Mary Marcy in her perfectly fitting gown drawing on her delicate gloves, and talking with several young ladies beautifully dressed in fresh muslin and silk, the skimp skirt and sleeves, the shrunken waist and washed sash, seemed all at once very mean and shabby to Angela. They seemed still meaner and shabbier when two other girls appeared in yet prettier costumes of fresh daintiness; and when these two dropped their little hooded shoulder-wraps of silk and lace, and she saw that they were the two Ryder cousins, poor Angela suddenly began to feel a strange sense of awkwardness and unfitness. This feeling increased as she noticed the unmistakable start that the cousins gave as they caught sight of her, and heard Nelly's astonished exclamation, "What! you here?"
It was a bitter moment; but a bitterer was yet to come, when Lizzy Ryder, with that innocent little way of hers, said,—
"Oh, if you've come to help take our things off, do help me with this scarf, Angela!"
If Angela could but have known then and there that this was only a petty stab from one petty jealous girl! But she did not know. She heard the words, apparently so innocently spoken, and said to herself, "They think I am here as a servant, not as a guest!" and with a miserable confused feeling that everything was wrong, from her acceptance of the invitation to her shabby gown, she started back with all her confusion merging into one thought to get away out of the sight of these well-dressed happy girls. But as she started back, Mary Marcy, who had heard Lizzy Ryder's speech, started forward and called out: "Oh, Angela, how do you do? I didn't see you when you came in. I—I've been expecting to see you, though; and now shall we go down together?"
Angela couldn't speak. She could only give a little nod of assent, and yield herself to kind Mary's guidance, with a deep breath of relief. It was only a partial relief, however. She had yet to go down into the brilliant parlor with its crowd of Selwyn cousins, yet to face, in that old shrunken gown with its washed sash, all those critical eyes. Oh, what if all those eyes should look at her with a stare of astonishment, such as Lizzy and Nelly Ryder had bestowed upon her? What if Marian herself should give a glance of surprise at the old shabby gown? These were some of the troubled questions that whirled through Angela's head as she went down the stairs with Mary Marcy. And down behind them, following closely, though Angela did not know it, came the two Ryder girls, full of eager curiosity, for they were both of them now quite certain that Marian had received no note of any sort from Angela. "She didn't know enough to write an acceptance. How should she? I don't suppose she's ever had an invitation to a party in her life," whispered Nelly to her cousin in the first shock of surprise at seeing Angela in the dressing-room.
"No, of course not," whispered back Lizzy; and so, confident and secure in this belief, and in the anticipation of "fun," as they called the displeased astonishment they expected to see Marian express at the sight of her uninvited guest, and the guest's mortification thereat, the conspirators stepped softly along down the stairs and across the great hall into the beautiful brilliant parlor.
Marian was standing at the farther end of the parlor facing the doorway, with two of the Selwyn cousins beside her, as the fresh arrivals appeared. She was laughing joyously as they entered; but at her very first glimpse of the approaching group, the laugh ceased, and a look of sudden resolve flashed into her face,—a look that the Selwyn cousins, who had been told the whole story of the fraudulent invitation, understood at once to mean, "Here is my opportunity and I'll make the most of it!" But to the others—to the four who were approaching—this sudden change in their hostess's face was thus variously interpreted: "She has seen Angela," thought the Ryder girls, triumphantly. "She has seen the Ryder girls, and she is going to punish them," thought Mary, nervously. "She is looking at my dreadful old gown," thought Angela, miserably.
And moved thus differently by such different anticipations, the little group came down the room, Mary's nervousness increasing at every step,—for her shyness and the Quaker love of peace rose up within her at the sight of Marian's face, that seemed to her to betoken a plan of punishment for the approaching offenders more in accordance with the fiery Selwyn spirit than any spirit of peace.
Just what Mary feared she could not have told; but she knew something of this Selwyn spirit, and had often heard it said that the Selwyn tongue could cut like a lash when once started. That the Ryders deserved the sharpest cut of this lash she fully believed; but, "Oh, I do hope Marian won't say anything sharp now," she thought to herself. And it was then, just then, at that very moment, that she saw Marian's face change again, as the softest, sweetest, kindest of smiles beamed from lips and eyes, and the softest, sweetest, kindest of voices said,—
"How do you do, Mary? I'm very glad to see you,—you know my cousins, Bertie and Laura;" and in the next breath, "How do you do, Miss Jocelyn? It's very nice to see you here.—Bertie, Laura, this is my friend Angela Jocelyn, who is going to make one of our charade party next month if I can persuade her."
One of that May-day charade party! Mary opened her eyes very wide at this, and Angela wondered if she were awake. But the charming voice was now speaking to some one else,—was saying very politely without a touch of sharpness, but with a world of meaning to those who had the clew, and those only,—
"How do you do, Lizzy? How do you do, Nelly? And, Nelly, I want to thank you for a real service in connection with my birthday invitations. But for you I should have missed a very welcome guest. I shall never forget this, you may be sure."
"I—I—" But for once Nelly Ryder's ready speech failed her. Her cousin tried to take up her words, tried to say something about April fun, tried to smile, to laugh; but the laugh died upon her lips, and she was only too glad to move on with Nelly into the room beyond, and there, out of the range of observation for a moment, the two expressed their astonishment and dismay at Marian's knowledge, and wondered how she came by it.
"But to think of her taking an April joke so seriously as to make much of Angela Jocelyn just to come up with me!" burst out Nelly.
"And to think," burst out Lizzy, with a sly laugh, "that it is you who have introduced Angela to Marian's good graces, and that it is you, after all, who have been made the April fool, and not Angela!"
THE THANKSGIVING GUEST.
"It is such a lovely idea, such a truly Christian idea, Mrs. Lambert. How did you ever happen to think of it?"
"Oh, I did not think of it; it wasn't my idea. Didn't you ever hear how it came about?"
"No; do tell me!"
"Well, my husband, you know, was always looking out for ways of doing good,—lending a helping hand,—and he used to talk with the children a great deal of such things. One day he came across a beautiful little story that he read to them. It was the story of a child who made the acquaintance of a poor, half-starved student and brought him home with her to share her Thanksgiving dinner. It made a deep impression on the children. They talked about it continually, and acted it out in their play. But they were in the habit of doing that with any fresh story that pleased them, so it was nothing new to us, and we hadn't a thought of their carrying it further. But the next week was Thanksgiving week; and when Thanksgiving Day came, what do you think those little things did,—for they were quite little things then,—what do you think they did but bring in just before dinner the half-blind old apple-pedler who had a stand on the corner of the street?
"They were so happy about it, and they thought we should be so happy too, that we couldn't say a word of discouragement in the way of advice then; but later, when we had given the old fellow his dinner, and he had gone, we had a talk with the dear little souls, when we tried to show them that it would be better to let us know when they wanted to invite any one to dinner or to tea,—that that was the way other girls and boys always did. They were rather crestfallen at our suggestions; for, with the keen, sensitive instinct of children, they felt that their beautiful plan, as they thought it, had somewhere failed, and, though they promised readily enough to consult us 'next time,' we could see that they were puzzled and depressed over all this regulation, when we had seemed to have nothing but admiring appreciation for the similar act of the child in the story. My husband, seeing this, was very much troubled to know just what to say or do; for he thought, as I did, that it might be a serious injury to them to say or do anything to chill or check their first independent attempt to lend a helping hand to others. Then all at once out of his perplexity came this idea of allowing the children from that time forward to have the privilege of inviting a guest of their own choosing every Thanksgiving Day, and that this guest should be some one who needed, in some way or other, home-cherishing and kindness. They should have the privilege of choosing, but they must tell us the one they had chosen, that we might send the invitation for them. This plan delighted them; and from this start, five years ago, the thing has gone on until it has grown into the present 'guest day,' where each one of the children may invite his or her particular guest. It has got to be a very pleasant thing now, though at first we had some queer times. But as the children grew older, they learned better how to regulate matters, and to make necessary discriminations, and a year ago we found we could trust them to invite their guests without any older supervision, and they are very proud of this liberty, and very happy in the whole thing; and such an education as it has been. You've no idea how they have learned to think of others, to look about them to find those who are in need not merely of food or clothing but of loving attention and kindness."
"Well, it is beautiful, Mrs. Lambert, and what a Thanksgiving ought to be,—what it was in the old pilgrim days at Plymouth, when those who had more than others invited the less fortunate to share with them. It's beautiful, and I wish everybody who could afford it would go and do likewise."
"Speaking of affording it, I thought, when my husband died last spring, I should have to give up our guest day with most other things, for you know that railroad business that my husband entered into with his half-brother John nearly ruined him. I think the worry and fret of it killed him, anyway, and I told John so, and he has never forgiven me. But I have never forgiven him, and never shall; for if it hadn't been for John's representations, his continual urging, Charles would never have gone into the business. Oh, I shall always hold John responsible for his death, and I told him so."
"You told him so? How did he take that? What did he say?"
"Oh, you know John. He flew into a rage, and said he loved his brother as well as I did. As well as I did! Think of that; and that he had urged him into that business, thinking that it was for his benefit,—that no one could have foreseen what happened, and that if Charles lost, he also had lost, and much more heavily. But, as I was saying, I thought at first I should have to give up our guest day; but when matters came to be settled, I found there were other things I would rather economize on."
"Where is John now, Mrs. Lambert?"
"He is in—" But just at that moment a tall pretty girl of fourteen entered the room. It was Elsie, the eldest of the Lambert children.
"Why, Elsie, how you have grown!" cried Mrs. Mason, who hadn't seen Elsie for some months, "and you've quite lost the look of your mother."
"Yes, Elsie is getting to look like the Lamberts," remarked the mother.
"Everybody says I look just like Uncle John," spoke up Elsie.
"Oh, you were asking me where John was now," said Mrs. Lambert, turning to Mrs. Mason. "He is in New York, dabbling in railroads, as usual, and getting poorer and poorer by this obstinate folly, I heard last week. We don't see him, of course; for, as I told you, we don't forgive each other. Oh!" as her visitor cast a questioning glance toward Elsie, who had suddenly given a little start here, "Elsie knows all about it. Elsie is my big girl now. But what is it, my dear?—you came in to ask me something,—what is it?"
"It's about Tommy. He has told me who he is going to invite for next week,"—next week was Thanksgiving week,—"and I knew you would not like it, and I felt that I ought to tell you; it is that horrid Marchant boy."
"Like it,—I should think not! Why, what in the world has put Tommy up to that?"
"He says that Joe Marchant hasn't any home of his own this Thanksgiving, because his father has gone out West on business, and left Joe all alone with those people that his father and he boarded with just after his mother died; and Tommy pities Joe so, he says he is going to invite him here for next Thursday, and I knew you wouldn't want him."
"Of course not; the boy is ill-mannered and disagreeable, and he is always quarrelling with Tommy."
"I told Tommy that," laughed Elsie, "and he said he guessed he'd done his share of the quarrelling, and that, anyway, Joe Marchant was the under dog now, and he was going to forgive and forget."
"Dear little Tommy!" exclaimed Mrs. Lambert, admiringly.
"And he said, too, mother, that he knew you wouldn't object; that you always told him that Thanksgiving Day was the very day to make up with folks and be good to 'em, but I knew you would object to Joe Marchant, and so—"
"I—I don't know about it, Elsie. If Tommy feels like that, I—I don't believe it would be wise for me to check him. No, I don't believe I can. Tommy is nearer right than I am. He is doing a fine, generous thing, and it is the right thing, and I think we must put up with Joe Marchant, Elsie, after all."
"Oh, I don't mind, if you don't, mamma; but I thought you wouldn't like it, and it would spoil the day."
"No, nothing done in that spirit could spoil the day; and, Elsie, I hope the rest of you will make your choice of guests with as good reason as Tommy has."
Elsie looked at her mother with an odd, eager expression, as if she were about to speak. Then she suddenly lifted up her head with a little air of resolution, and starting forward hurriedly left the room.
Mrs. Lambert laughed as the door closed.
"I think I know what Elsie is going to do," she said smilingly to Mrs. Mason. "There is a young teacher in her school, Miss Matthews, who is seldom invited anywhere, she is so unpopular. I've often asked Elsie to bring her home, and she has always put it off; but I believe that this act of Tommy's and what I've said about it has made such an impression upon her that she has gone now to invite Miss Matthews to be her guest next week. She was going to tell me about it at first, then she thought better of it. They've all had this liberty for the last year—not to tell—it's so much more fun for them; and I can always trust Elsie to look out for things, she has such good sense with her good heart."
"Yes, and you all seem to have such good sense and such good hearts, Mrs. Lambert," said Mrs. Mason, as she rose to go; but as she walked down the street she said to herself, "Such good sense and such good hearts, overflowing with charity and forgiveness for everybody but John Lambert!"
It was Thanksgiving Day, and just three minutes to the dinner-hour at the Lamberts', and all the guests had arrived except the one that Elsie had bidden.
"Don't fret, Elsie," whispered Mrs. Lambert to her, as she noted the two red spots burning in her cheeks and her anxious glances toward the clock,—"don't fret; she's probably going to be fashionably exact on the stroke of the hour."
Elsie gave a little start at this, and, laughing nervously, began to talk to Joe Marchant, while tick, tock, the clock beat out the time.
"We'll wait five minutes for her," thought Mrs. Lambert. "If there hasn't been an accident to detain her, she's very rude, and certainly not fit to be a teacher of manners, and I don't wonder she's unpopular with the girls."
The three minutes, the five minutes sped by, and the awaited guest did not appear. To wait longer would be unfair to the others, and Mrs. Lambert gave orders for the dinner to be served. It was seemingly a very cheerful little company that gathered about the dinner-table; but there was something pathetic in it, when one came to consider that each one of these guests was for the time at least sitting at the stranger's feast instead of with his own kith and kin on this family day. Mrs. Lambert herself felt this pathos, and it brought back, too, the losses and limitations in her home circle; for what with death and absence, her five children had no one now but herself to look to, where once were the dear grandparents, the fond father, and a score or more of other relations. But she must not dwell on these memories with all these guests to serve. She must put her own needs aside to see that little Miss Jenny Carver had a better choice of celery, that Molly Price and that big lonesome-looking Ingalls boy had another help to cranberry sauce, and Joe Marchant a fresh supply of turkey.
It was while she was attending to this latter duty, while she was laughing a little at Joe's clumsy apology for his appetite, and telling him jestingly that she hoped to see him eat enough for two, because one guest was missing,—while she was doing this, there came a great crunch of carriage wheels on the driveway, and a great ring at the door-bell, and, "There she is! there she is!" thinks Mrs. Lambert, with the added thought: "It's rather putting on airs, seems to me, to take a carriage when she is at such a little distance from us,—rather putting on airs, but—What are you jumping up for?" she calls out to Elsie, who has suddenly sprung from her seat. "What are you jumping up for? Ellen will attend Miss Matthews upstairs, and send her into us when she has removed her wraps. Sit down, Elsie; don't be so fidgety. I will—" But the dining-room door was here suddenly flung wide, and Mrs. Lambert saw coming toward her, not, oh, not Miss Matthews, but a tall gentleman with a thin, worn face crowned with snow-white hair; and, catching sight of this snowy crown, Mrs. Lambert did not recognize the face until she felt her hand clasped, and heard a low eager voice say,—
"I am so glad to come to you,—to see you and the children again, Caroline. I was away when Elsie's letter arrived; but as soon as I got into New York yesterday, I started off, and I am so glad to come, so glad to come;" and here Mrs. Lambert heard the eager voice falter, and saw the glisten of tears in the eyes that were regarding her and in the next instant felt them against her cheek as a tender kiss was pressed upon it. It was all in a moment, the strange surprise of look and word and tone and touch, the joyful cries of "It's Uncle John, it's Uncle John!" from some one of the children. Then all in a moment the strangeness seemed to have passed, and John Lambert was taking his place amongst them with the fond belief that he was his sister-in-law's chosen guest. And she, with those warm, manly words of thanks, those joyful cries of childish welcome in her ears, could she undeceive him,—could she say to him: "It was not I who sent for you; I am the same as ever, as full of wild regrets and bitter resentments"? Could she say this to him? How could she, how could she, when over the wild regrets and bitter resentments there kept rising and rising a flood of earlier memories of an earlier time when this guest had been a welcome guest indeed, and she had heard again and again those very words, "I'm so glad to come"? Those very words, but with what a difference of accent, and what a difference in the speaker himself,—only a year and his face so worn, his hair so white, she had not known him! He must have suffered,—yes, and she—she had suffered; but she had her children, and he had no one!
The dinner was over. They had all risen from the table, and were going into the parlor, and Uncle John had his namesake Johnny on one side of him and little Archie on the other. They had taken possession of him from the first, when Elsie, hanging back, clung to her mother and whispered agitatedly,—
"Oh, mamma, mamma, it was what you said last week about Tommy's invitation that made me think of—of inviting Uncle John; but perhaps I ought to have told you—have asked you."
"No, no, it is better as it is. Don't fret, dear, it—it is all right. But there is Ann bringing the coffee into the parlor. Go and light your little teakettle, Elsie, and make your uncle a cup of tea as you used to do; he can't drink coffee, you know."