"And there are, I infer," said the Blinded Lady, "one or two freckles on either side of the nose?"
"Your estimate," said my Father, "is conservative."
"And the hair?" said the Blinded Lady. "It hasn't exactly the texture of gold."
"'Penny-colored' we call it!" said my Mother.
"And not exactly a new penny at that, is it?" said the Blinded Lady.
"N—o," said my Mother. "But rather jolly all the same like a penny that's just bought two sticks of candy instead of one!"
"And the nose turns up a little?" said the Blinded Lady.
"Well maybe just a—trifle," admitted my Mother.
The Blinded Lady stroked my face all over again. "U-m-m-m," she said. "Well at least it's something to be thankful for that everything is perfectly normal!" She put her hands on my shoulders. She shook me a little. "Never, never, Ruthie," she said, "be so foolish as to complain because you're not pretty!"
"No'm!" I promised.
"Put all the Beauty you can inside your head!" said the Blinded Lady.
"Yes'm!" I promised. "And I've just thought of another one that I know! It's about
You must wake and call me early, call me early, mother dear, For I'm to be Queen o' the May, mother, I'm to be——"
"Foolish!" said the Blinded Lady. "It wasn't sounds I was thinking of this time, but sights!" She pushed me away. She sighed and sighed. It puffed her all out. "O—h," she sighed. "O—h! Three pairs of Young Eyes and all the World waiting to be looked at!"
She rocked her chair. She rocked it very slowly. It was like a little pain.
"I never saw anything after I was seventeen!" she said. "And God himself knows that I hadn't seen anywheres near enough before that! Just the little grass road to the village now and then on a Saturday afternoon to buy the rice and the meat and the matches and the soap! Just the wood-lot beyond the hill-side where the Arbutus always blossomed so early! Just old Neighbor Nora's new patch-work quilt!—Just a young man's face that looked in once at the window to ask where the trout brook was! But even these pictures," said the Blinded Lady, "They're fading! Fading! Sometimes I can't remember at all whether old Nora's quilt was patterned in diamond shapes or squares. Sometimes I'm not so powerful sure whether the young man's eye were blue or brown! After all, it's more'n fifty years ago. It's new pictures that I need now," she said. "New pictures!"
She took a peppermint from a box. She didn't pass 'em. She rocked her chair. And rocked. And rocked. She smiled a little. It wasn't a real smile. It was just a smile to save her dress. It was just a little gutter to catch her tears.
"Oh dear me—Oh dear me—Oh dear me!" said my Mother.
"Stop your babbling!" said the Blinded Lady. She sniffed. And sniffed. "But I'll tell you what I'll do," she said. "These children can come back here next Saturday afternoon and——."
"Why there's no reason in the world," said my Mother, "why they shouldn't come every day!"
The Blinded Lady stopped rocking. She almost screamed.
"Every day?" she said. "Mercy no! Their feet are muddy! And besides it's tiresome! But they can come next Saturday I tell you! And I'll give you a prize! Yes, I'll give two prizes—for the two best new pictures that they bring me to think about! And the first prize shall be a Peacock Feather Fan!" said the Blinded Lady. "And the second prize shall be a Choice of Cats!"
"A Choice of Cats?" gasped my Father.
The Blinded Lady thumped her cane. She thumped it pretty hard. It made you glad your toes weren't under it.
"Now mind you, Children!" she said.
"It's got to be a new picture! It's got to be something you've seen yourself! The most beautifulest! The most darlingest thing that you've ever seen! Go out in the field I say! Go out in the woods! Go up on the mountain top! And look around! Nobody I tell you can ever make another person see anything that he hasn't seen himself! Now be gone!" said the Blinded Lady. "I'm all tuckered out!"
"Why I'm sure," said my Father, "we never would have come at all if we hadn't supposed that——."
The Blinded Lady shook her cane right at my Father.
"Don't be stuffy!" she said. "But get out!"
We got out.
Old Mary who washed and ironed and cooked for the Blinded Lady showed us the shortest way out. The shortest way out was through the wood-shed. There were twenty-seven little white bowls of milk on the wood-shed floor. There was a cat at each bowl. It sounded lappy! Some of the cats were black. Some of the cats were gray. Some of the cats were white.
There was an old tortoise-shell cat. He had a crumpled ear. He had a great scar across his nose. He had a broken leg that had mended crooked.
Most of the cats were tortoise-shell and black and gray and white! It looked pretty! It looked something the way a rainbow would look if it was fur! And splashed with milk instead of water!
"How many quarts does it take?" said my Mother.
"Quarts?" said Old Mary. She sniffed. "Quarts? It takes a whole Jersey cow!"
The Blinded Lady called Rosalee to come back. I went with her. I held her hand very hard for fear we would be frightened.
There was a White Kitten in the Blinded Lady's Lap. It was a white Angora. It wasn't any bigger than a baby rabbit. It had a blue ribbon on its neck. It looked very pure. Its face said "Ruthy, I'd like very much to be your kitten!"
But the Blinded Lady's face didn't know I was there at all.
"Young Lassie," said the Blinded Lady. "What is the color of your Derry's eyes?"
"Why—why—black!" said Rosalee.
"U-m-mmm," said the Blinded Lady. "Black?" She began to munch a peppermint. "U-m-m-m," she said. She jerked her head. Her nose looked pretty sharp. "That's right, Young Lassie!" she cried. "Love early! Never mind what the old folks say! Sometimes there isn't any late! Love all you can! Love——!" She stopped suddenly. She sank back in her skirts again. And rocked! Her nose didn't look sharp any more. Her voice was all whispers. "Lassie," she whispered, "when you choose your Peacock Feather Fan—choose the one on the top shelf! It's the best one! It's sandal wood! It's——"
My boots made a creak.
The Blinded Lady gave an awful jump!
"There's someone else in this room besides the Young Lassie!" she cried.
I was frightened. I told a lie.
"You're en—tirely mistaken!" I said. I perked Rosalee's hand. We ran for our lives. We ran as fast as we could. It was pretty fast!
When we got out to the Road our Father and Mother were waiting for us. They looked pleasant. We liked their looks very much.
Carol was waiting too. He had his eyes shut. His mouth looked very surprised.
"Carol's trying to figure out how it would feel to be blind," said my Mother.
"Oh!" said Rosalee.
"O—h!" said I.
Carol clapped his hands.
Rosalee clapped her hands.
I clapped my hands.
It was wonderful! We all thought of it at the same moment! We shut our eyes perfectly tight and played we were blinded all the way home!
Our Father and Mother had to lead us. It was pretty bumpy! I peeped some! Rosalee walked with her hands stretched way out in front of her as though she was reaching for something. She looked like a picture. It was like a picture of something very gentle and wishful that she looked like. It made me feel queer. Carol walked with his nose all puckered up as though he was afraid something smelly was going to hit him. It didn't make me feel queer at all. It made me laugh.
It didn't make my Father laugh.
"Now see here, you young Lunatics," said my Father. "If you think your Mother and I are going to drag you up the main village street—acting like this?"
We were sorry, we explained! But it had to be!
When we got to the village street we bumped right into the Old Doctor. We bumped him pretty hard! He had to sit down! I climbed into his lap.
"Of course I don't know that it's you," I said. "But I think it is!"
The Old Doctor seemed pretty astonished. He snatched at my Father and my Mother.
"Great Zounds, Good People!" he cried. "What fearful calamity has overtaken your offspring?"
"Absolutely nothing at all," said my Father, "compared to what is going to overtake them as soon as I get them home!"
"We're playing blinded," said Rosalee.
"We've been to see the Blinded Lady!" I explained.
"We're going to get prizes," said Rosalee. "Real prizes! A Peacock Feather Fan!"
"And the Choice of Cats!" I explained.
"For telling the Blinded Lady next Saturday," cried Rosalee, "the prettiest thing that we've ever seen!"
"Not just the prettiest!" I explained. "But the most preciousest!"
"So we thought we'd shut our eyes!" said Rosalee. "All the way home! And find out what Sight it was that we missed the most!—Sunshine I think it is!" said Rosalee. "Sunshine and all the pretty flickering little shadows! And the way the slender white church spire flares through the Poplar Trees! Oh I shall make up a picture about sunshine!" said Rosalee.
"Oh, Sh—h!" said my Mother. "You mustn't tell each other what you decide. That would take half the fun and the surprise out of the competition!"
"Would—it?" said Rosalee. "Would it?" She turned to the Old Doctor. She slipped into the curve of his arm. The curve of his arm seemed to be all ready for her. She reached up and patted his face. "You Old Darling," she said. "In all the world what is the most beautiful—est sight that you have ever seen?"
The Old Doctor gave an awful swallow.
"Youth!" he said.
"Oh, youth Fiddle-sticks!" said my Father. "How ever would one make a picture of that? All arms and legs! And wild ideas! Believe me that if I ever once get these wild ideas and legs and arms home to-day there will be——"
We never heard what there would be! 'Cause we bumped into the Store-Keeping Man instead! And had to tell him all about it!
Nobody kissed the Store-Keeping Man. He smelt of mice and crackers. We talked to him just as we would have talked to Sugar or Potatoes.
"Mr. Store-Keeping Man," we said. "You are very wise! You have a store! And a wagon! And a big iron safe! And fly-papers besides!—In all the world—what is the most beautifulest thing that you have ever seen?"
The Store-Keeping Man didn't have to worry about it at all. He never even swallowed. The instant he crossed his hands on his white linen stomach he knew!
"My Bank Book!" he said.
My Father laughed. "Now you naughty children," said my Father, "I trust you'll be satisfied to proceed home with your eyes open!"
But my Mother said no matter how naughty we were we couldn't go home without buying pop-corn at the pop-corn stand!
So we had to tell the Pop-Corn Man all about it too! The Pop-Corn Man was very little. He looked like a Pirate. He had black eyes. He had gold rings through his ears. We loved him a good deal!
"In all the world—" we asked the Pop-Corn Man, "what is the most beautiful—est sight that you have ever seen?"
It took the Pop-Corn Man an awful long time to think! It took him so long that while he was thinking he filled our paper bags till they busted! It was a nice bustedness!
"The most beautifulest thing—in all zee world?" said the Pop-Corn Man. "In all zee world? It was in my Italy! In such time as I was no more than one bambino I did see zee peacock, zee great blue peacock stride out through zee snow-storm of apple-blossoms! And dance to zee sun!"
"O—h," said Rosalee. "How pretty!"
"Pretty?" said the Pop-Corn Man. "It was to zee eyes one miracle of remembrances! Zee blue! Zee gold! Zee dazzle! Zee soft fall of zee apple-blossoms!—Though I live to be zee hundred! Though I go blind! Though I go prison! Though my pop-corn all burn up! It fade not! Not never! That peacock! That apple-blossom! That shiver!"
"Our supper will all burn up," said my Mother, "if you children don't open your eyes and run home! Already I think I can smell scorched Ginger-bread!"
We children all opened our eyes and ran home!
My Mother laughed to see us fly!
My Father laughed a little!
We thought about the Peacock as we ran! We thought quite a little about the Ginger-bread! We wished we had a Peacock! We hoped we had a Ginger-bread!
Our Home looked nice. It was as though we hadn't seen it for a long while. It was as though we hadn't seen anything for a long while! The Garden didn't look like Just a Garden any more! It looked like a Bower! Carol's tame crow came hopping up the gravel walk! We hadn't remembered that he was so black! The sun through the kitchen window was real gold! There was Ginger-bread!
"Oh dear—Oh dear—Oh dear!" said Rosalee. "In a world so full of beautiful things—however shall we choose what to tell the Blinded Lady?"
Carol ran to the desk. He took a pencil. He took a paper. He slashed the words down. He held it out for us to see.
"I know what I'm going to choose," said the words.
He took his pencil. He ran away.
Rosalee took her pencil. She ran away. Over her shoulder she called back something. What she called back was "Oh Goody! I know what I'm going to choose!"
I took my Father's pencil. I ran away. I didn't run very far. I found a basket instead. It was a pretty basket. I made a nest for the White Kitten in case I should win it! I lined the nest with green moss. There was a lot of sunshine in the moss. And little blue flowers. I forgot to come home for supper. That's how I chose what I was going to write!
When we woke up the next morning we all felt very busy. It made the day seem funny.
It made every day that happened seem funny.
Every day somebody took somebody's pencil and ran away! My Mother couldn't find anything! Not children! Not pencils!
Rosalee took the Dictionary Book besides.
"Anybody'd think," said my Father, "that this was a Graduation Essay you were making instead of just a simple little word-picture for a Blinded Lady!"
"Word-picture?" said Rosalee. "What I'm trying to make is a Peacock Feather Fan!"
"I wish there were three prizes instead of two!" said my Mother.
"Why?" said my Father.
Carol came and kicked his feet on the door. His hands were full of stones. He wanted a drink of water. All day long when he wasn't sitting under the old Larch Tree with a pencil in his mouth he was carrying stones! And kicking his feet on the door! And asking for a drink of water!
"Whatever in the world," said my Mother, "are you doing with all those stones?"
Carol nodded his head that I could tell.
"He's building something," I said. "Out behind the barn!—I don't know what it is!"
Carol dropped his stones. He took a piece of chalk. He knelt down on the kitchen floor. He wrote big white letters on the floor.
"It's an Ar—Rena," is what he wrote.
"An Arena?" said my Mother. "An Arena?" She looked quite sorry. "Oh Laddie!" she said. "I did so want you to win a prize!—Couldn't you have kept your mind on it just a day or two longer?"
It was the longest week I ever knew! It got longer every day! Thursday was twice as long as Wednesday! I don't seem to remember about Friday! But Saturday came so early in the morning I wasn't even awake when my Mother called me!
We went to the Blinded Lady's house right after dinner. We couldn't wait any longer.
The Blinded Lady pretended she was surprised to see us.
"Mercy me!" she said. "What? Have these children come again? Muddy feet? Chatter? And all?" She thumped her cane! She rocked her chair! She billowed her skirts!
We weren't frightened a bit! We sat on the edge of our chairs and laughed! And laughed!
There was a little white table spread with pink-frosted cookies! There were great crackly glasses of raspberry vinegar and ice! Old Mary had on a white apron!—That's why we laughed! We knew we were expected!
My Father explained it to everybody.
"As long as Carol couldn't speak his piece," he said, "It didn't seem fair that any of the children should speak 'em! So the children have all written their pieces to read aloud and——"
"But as long as Carol wasn't able to read his aloud," cried my Mother, "it didn't seem fair that any of 'em should read theirs aloud! So the children's father is going to read 'em. And——"
"Without giving any clue of course," said my Father, "as to which child wrote which. So that you won't be unduly influenced at all—in any way by—gold-colored hair, for instance or—freckles——"
"Or anything!" said my Mother.
"U-m-m-m," said the Blinded Lady.
"Understanding of course," said my Father, "that we ourselves have not seen the papers yet!"
"Nor assisted in any way with the choice of subject," said my Mother. "Nor with the treatment of it!"
"U-m-m," said the Blinded Lady.
"I will now proceed to read," said my Father.
"So do," said the Blinded Lady.
My Father so did.
He took a paper from his pocket. He cleared his throat. He put on his eye-glasses. He looked a little surprised.
"The first one," he said, "seems to be about 'Ginger-bread'!"
"Ginger-bread?" said the Blinded Lady.
"Ginger-bread!" said my Father.
"Read it!" said the Blinded Lady.
"I will!" said my Father.
Ginger-bread is very handsome! It's so brown! And every time you eat a piece you have to have another! That shows its worth as well as its handsomeness! And besides you can smell it a long way off when you're coming home! Especially when you're coming home from school! It has molasses in it too. And that's very instructive! As well as ginger! And other spices! The Geography is full of them! Molasses comes from New Orleans! Spices come from Asia! Except Jamaica Ginger comes from Drug Stores! There are eggs in ginger-bread too! And that's Natural History and very important! They have to be hen's eggs I think! I had some guineas once and they looked like chipmunks when they hatched. You can't make ginger-bread out of anything that looks like chipmunks! It takes three eggs to make ginger-bread! And one cupful of sugar! And some baking soda! And——
"Oh Tush!" said the Blinded Lady. "That isn't a picture! It's a recipe!—Read another!"
"Dear me! Dear me!" said my Mother. "Now some child is suffering!" She looked all around to see which child it was.
Carol kicked Rosalee. Rosalee kicked me. I kicked Carol. We all looked just as queer as we could outside.
"Read on!" thumped the Blinded Lady.
My Father read on.
"This next one," he said, "seems to be about Soldiers!"
"Soldiers?" said the Blinded Lady. "Soldiers?" She sat up very straight. She cocked her head on one side. "Read it!" she said.
"I'm reading it!" said my Father.
The most scrumptious sight I've ever seen in my life is Soldiers Marching! I saw them once in New York! It was glorious! All the reds and the blues and the browns of the Uniforms! And when the Band played all the different instruments it seemed as though it was really gold and silver music they were playing! It makes you feel so brave! And so unselfish! But most of all it makes you wish you were a milk-white pony with diamond hoofs! So that you could sparkle! And prance! And rear! And run away just for fun! And run and run and run down clattery streets and through black woods and across green pastures snorting fire—till you met more Soldiers and more Bands and more Gold and Silver Music! So that you could prance and sparkle and rear and run away all over again,—with flags flying!
"U-m-m," said the Blinded Lady. "That is pretty! And spirited too!—But—But it doesn't exactly warm the heart.—And no one but a boy, anyway, would want to think about soldiers every day.—Read the next one!" said the Blinded Lady.
"Oh all right," said my Father. "Here's the last one."
"Read it!" said the Blinded Lady.
"I'm trying to!" said my Father. He cleared his throat and put on his eye-glasses all over again. "Ahem!" he said.
"The most beautifulest thing I've ever seen in all my life is my Mother's face. It's so——"
"What?" cried my Mother.
My Father looked at her across the top of his glasses. He smiled. "Your face!" he said.
"W—what?" stammered my Mother.
My Father cleared his throat and began all over again.
The most beautifulest thing I've ever seen in all my life is my Mother's face! It's so pleasant! It tries to make everything so pleasant! When you go away it smiles you away! When you come home it smiles you home! When you're sick it smiles you well! When you're bad it smiles you good! It's so pretty too! It has soft hair all full of little curls! It has brown eyes! It has the sweetest ears!—It has a little hat! The jolliest little hat! All trimmed with do-dabs! And teeny pink roses! And there's a silver ribbon on it! And——
"My Mother had a hat like that!" cried the Blinded Lady.
"Did she?" said my Mother. Her face still looked pretty queer and surprised.
The Blinded Lady perked way forward in her chair. She seemed all out of breath. She talked so fast it almost choked her!
"Yes! Just exactly like that!" cried the Blinded Lady. "My Mother bought it in Boston! It cost three dollars! My Father thought it was an awful price!—She wore it with a lavender dress all sprigged with yellow leaves! She looked like an angel in it! She was an angel! Her hair was brown too!—I haven't thought of it for ages!—And all full of little curls! She had the kindest smile! The minister said it was worth any two of his sermons! And when folks were sick she went anywhere to help them! Anywhere!—She went twenty miles once! We drove the old white horse! I can see it all! My brothers' and sisters' faces at the window waving good-bye! My father cautioning us through his long gray beard not to drive too fast!—The dark shady wood's road! The little bright meadows!—A blue bird that flashed across our heads at the watering trough! The gay village streets! A red plaid ribbon in a shop window! The patch on a peddler's shoe! The great hills over beyond!—There was hills all around us!—My sister Amy married a man from way over beyond! He was different from us! His father sailed the seas! He brought us dishes and fans from China! When my sister Amy was married she wore a white crepe shawl. There was a peacock embroidered in one corner of it! It was pretty! We curled her hair! There were yellow roses in bloom! There was a blue larkspur!——"
The Blinded Lady sank back in her chair. She gave a funny little gasp.
"I remember!" she gasped. "The Young Man's eyes were blue! His teeth were like pearls! When he asked the way to the trout brook he laughed and said——"
The Blinded Lady's cheeks got all pink. She clapped her hands. She sank back into her Skirts. Her eyes looked awful queer.
"I see everything!" she cried. "Everything!—Give the Peacock Feather Fan to the Magician!"
Rosalee looked at Carol. Carol looked at me. I looked at Rosalee.
"To the Magician?" said my Father.
"To the Magician?" said my Mother.
"To the Young Darling who wrote about her Mother's Face!" thumped the Blinded Lady.
My Father twisted his mouth.
"Will the 'Young Darling' who wrote about her Mother's Face please come forward—and get the Peacock Feather Fan!" said my Father.
Carol came forward. He looked very ashamed. He stubbed his toe on the braided rug.
"It seems to be our son Carol," said my Father, "who conjured up the picture of—of the blue larkspur!"
"What?" said the Blinded Lady. "What?"
She tapped her foot on the floor. She frowned her brows. "Well—well—well," she said. "It wasn't at all what I intended! Not at all!—Well—well—well!" She began to rock her chair. "But after all," she said, "an agreement is an agreement! And the First Prize is the First Prize!—Let the Little Dumb Boy step forward to the Chinese Cabinet and choose his Peacock Feather Fan!"
Rosalee gave a little cry. It sounded almost like tears. She ran forward. She whispered in Carol's ear.
Carol opened his eyes. He took a chair. He pushed it against the cabinet. He climbed up to the highest shelf. There was a fan as big as the moon! It was sandalwood! It was carved! It was all peacock feathers! Blue! Bronze! It was beautiful! He took it! He went back to his seat! His mouth smiled a little! But he carried the Fan as though it was hot!
"The second prize of course," said the Blinded Lady, "goes to the child who wrote about the soldiers!"
Rosalee stepped forward.
The Blinded Lady took her hand. "It is not exactly as I had wished," said the Blinded Lady. "But a Choice of Cats is a Choice of Cats!—You will find them all in the wood-shed Young Lassie—awaiting your decision! Choose wisely! A good cat is a great comfort!"
We went to the wood-shed to help Rosalee choose her cat.
All the cats purred to be chosen. It was sad. My Father said it wasn't. My Father said one cat was plenty.
The White Persian Kitten lay on a soap box. It looked like Easter Lilies. Rosalee saw it. She forgot all about the fan.
Carol didn't forget about the fan. He stamped his foot. He shook his head. He took Rosalee's hand and led her to the old Tortoise Shell Cat. He put the old Tortoise Shell cat in Rosalee's arms. Rosalee looked pretty surprised. So did the cat.
My sorrow made tears in my eyes. My Mother came running.
"Bless your heart, Ruthy-Girl," she said. "You shall have a Ginger-bread to-night that is a Picture!" She put a little box in my hand. There was a little gold pencil in the box. It was my Mother's best little gold pencil with the agate stone in the end. "Here's Mother's prize, Darling," she said. "The Prize Mother brought for whichever child didn't win the Blinded Lady's prizes! Don't you worry! Mother'll always have a prize for whichever child doesn't win the other prizes!"
My sorrow went away.
We all ran back to the Blinded Lady to thank her for our Beautiful Party. And for the prizes.
My Father made a speech to the Blinded Lady.
"But after all, my dear Madam," he said, "I am afraid you have been cheated!—It was 'new' pictures that you wanted, not old ones!"
The Blinded Lady whacked at him with her cane. She was awful mad.
"How do you know what I want?" she said. "How do you know what I want?"
My Father and my Mother looked at each other. They made little laughs with their eyes.
The Blinded Lady smoothed herself.
"But I certainly am flabbergasted," she said, "about the Old Tom Cat! Whatever in the world made the Young Lassie choose the old battle-scarred Tom?"
Rosalee looked at Carol. Carol looked at me. I looked at the Old Tom.
"Maybe she chose him for—for his historicalness," said my Mother.
"——Maybe," said my Father.
We started for the door. We got as far as the Garden. I remembered something suddenly. I clapped my hands. I laughed right out! "No! She didn't either!" I said. "She chose him for Carol's Ar—Rena—I bet'cher! Carol's going to have him for a Cham—peen! We'll fight him every afternoon! Maybe there'll be tickets!"
"Tickets?" said my Father.
"Oh my dears," said my Mother. "A cat-fight is a dreadful thing!"
My Father looked at the Old Tom! At his battered ears! At his scarred nose! At his twisted eye! The Old Tom looked at my Father! They both smiled!
"Infamous!" said my Father. "How much will the tickets be?"
We went home. We went home through the fields instead of through the village.
Carol held the Peacock Feather Fan as though he was afraid it would bite him.
Rosalee carried the Old Tom as though she knew it would bite her.
When we got to the Willow Tree they changed prizes. It made a difference.
Rosalee carried the Peacock Feather as though it was a magic sail. She tipped it to the breeze. She pranced it. And danced it. It looked fluffy.
Carol carried the Old Tom hugged tight to his breast. The Old Tom looked very historical. Carol looked very shining and pure. He looked like a choir-boy carrying his singing book. He looked as though his voice would be very high.
My Father and Mother carried each other's hands. They laughed very softly to themselves as though they knew pleasant things that no one else knew.
My hand would have felt pretty lonely if I hadn't had the little gold pencil to carry.
I felt pretty tired. I walked pretty far behind.
I decided that when I grew up I'd be a Writer! So that no matter what happened I'd always have a gold pencil in my hand and couldn't be lonely!
THE GIFT OF THE PROBABLE PLACES
My Mother says that everybody in the world has got some special Gift. Some people have one kind and some have another.
I got my skates and dictionary-book last Spring when I was nine. I've always had my freckles.
My brother Carol's Gift is Being Dumb. No matter what anybody says to him he doesn't have to answer 'em.
There was an old man in our town named Old Man Smith.
Old Man Smith had a wonderful Gift.
It wasn't a Christmas Gift like toys and games. It wasn't a Birthday Gift all stockings and handkerchiefs.
It was the Gift of Finding Things!
He called it "The Gift of the Probable Places."
Most any time when you lost anything he could find it for you. He didn't find it by floating a few tea-leaves in a cup. Or by trying to match cards. Or by fooling with silly things like ghosts. He didn't even find it with his legs. He found it with his head. He found it by thinking very hard with his head.
People came from miles around to borrow his head. He always charged everybody just the same no matter what it was that they'd lost. One dollar was what he charged. It was just as much trouble to him he said to think about a thimble that was lost as it was to think about an elephant that was lost.—I never knew anybody who lost an elephant.
When the Post Master's Wife lost her diamond ring she hunted more than a hundred places for it! She was most distracted! She thought somebody had stolen it from her! She hunted it in all the Newspapers! She hunted it in all the stores! She hunted it all up and down the Village streets! She hunted it in the Depot carriage! She hunted it in the Hired Girl's trunk! Miles and miles and miles she must have hunted it with her hands and with her feet!
But Old Man Smith found it for her without budging an inch from his wheel-chair! Just with his head alone he found it! Just by asking her a question that made her mad he found it! The question that made her mad was about her Baptismal name.—Her Baptismal name was Mehetabelle Euphemia.
"However in the world," said Old Man Smith, "did you get such a perfectly hideous name as Mehetabelle Euphemia?"
The Post Master's wife was madder than Scat! She wrung her hands. She snapped her thumbs! She crackled her finger-joints!
"Never—Never," she said had she been "so insulted!"
"U-m-m-m—exactly what I thought," said Old Man Smith. "Now just when—if you can remember, was the last time that you felt you'd never been so insulted before?"
"Insulted?" screamed the Post Master's Wife. "Why, I haven't been so insulted as this since two weeks ago last Saturday when I was out in my back yard under the Mulberry Tree dyeing my old white dress peach-pink! And the Druggist's Wife came along and asked me if I didn't think I was just a little bit too old to be wearing peach-pink?—Me—Too Old? Me?" screamed the Post Master's Wife.
"U-m-m," said Old Man Smith. "Pink, you say? Pink?—A little powdered Cochineal, I suppose? And a bit of Cream o' Tartar? And more than a bit of Alum? It's a pretty likely combination to make the fingers slippery.—And a lady what crackles her finger-joints so every time she's mad,—and snaps her thumbs—and?—Yes! Under the Mulberry Tree is a very Probable Place!—One dollar, please!" said Old Man Smith.
And when the Grocer's Nephew got suspended from college for sitting up too late at night and getting headaches, and came to spend a month with his Uncle and couldn't find his green plaid overcoat when it was time to go home he was perfectly positive that somebody had borrowed it from the store! Or that he'd dropped it out of the delivery wagon working over-time! Or that he'd left it at the High School Social!
But Old Man Smith found it for him just by glancing at his purple socks! And his plaid necktie. And his plush waistcoat.
"Oh, yes, of course, it's perfectly possible," said Old Man Smith, "that you dropped it from the basket of a balloon on your way to a Missionary Meeting.—But have you looked in the Young Widow Gayette's back hall? 'Bout three pegs from the door?—Where the shadows are fairly private?—One dollar, please!" said Old Man Smith.
And when the Old Preacher lost the Hymn Book that George Washington had given his grandfather, everybody started to take up the floor of the church to see if it had fallen down through a crack in the pulpit!
But Old Man Smith sent a boy running to beg 'em not to tear down the church till they'd looked in the Old Lawyer's pantry,—'bout the second shelf between the ice chest and the cheese crock. Sunday evening after meeting was rather a lean time with Old Preachers he said he'd always noticed.—And Old Lawyers was noted for their fat larders.—And there were certain things about cheese somehow that seemed to be soothin' to the memory.
"Why, how perfectly extraordinary!" said everybody.
"One dollar, please!" said Old Man Smith again.
And when Little Tommy Bent ran away to the city his Mother hunted all the hospitals for him! And made 'em drag the river! And wore a long black veil all the time! And howled!
But Old Man Smith said, "Oh Shucks! It ain't at all probable, is it, that he was aimin' at hospitals or rivers when he went away?—What's the use of worryin' over the things he weren't aimin' at till you've investigated the things he was?"
"Aimin' at?" sobbed Mrs. Bent. "Aimin' at?—Who in the world could ever tell what any little boy was aimin' at?"
"And there's something in that, too!" said Old Man Smith. "What did he look like?"
"Like his father," said Mrs. Bent.
"U-m-m. Plain, you mean?" said Old Man Smith.
"He was only nine years old," sobbed Mrs. Bent. "But he did love Meetings so! No matter what they was about he was always hunting for some new Meetings to go to! He just seemed naturally to dote hisself on any crowd of people that was all facing the other way looking at somebody else! He had a little cowlick at the back of his neck!" sobbed Mrs. Bent. "It was a comical little cowlick! People used to laugh at it! He never liked to sit any place where there was anybody sitting behind him!"
"Now you're talking!" said Old Man Smith. "Will he answer to the name of 'Little Tommy Bent?'"
"He will not!" said Mrs. Bent "He's that stubborn! He's exactly like his Father!"
Old Man Smith wrote an entirely new advertisement to put in the papers. It didn't say anything about Rivers! Or Hospitals! Or 'Dead or Alive!' It just said:
LOST: In the back seat of Most Any Meeting, a Very Plain Little Boy. Will not answer to the name of "Little Tommy Bent." Stubborn, like his Father.
"We'll put that in about being 'stubborn,'" said Old Man Smith, "because it sounds quaint and will interest people."
"It won't interest Mr. Bent!" sobbed Mrs. Bent. "And it seems awful cruel to make it so public about the child's being plain!"
Old Man Smith spoke coldly to her.
"Would you rather lose him—handsome," he said. "Or find him—plain?"
Mrs. Bent seemed to think that she'd rather find him plain.
She found him within two days! He was awful plain. His shoes were all worn out. And his stomach was flat. He was at a meeting of men who sell bicycles to China. The men were feeling pretty sick. They'd sent hundreds and hundreds of he-bicycles to China and the Chinamen couldn't ride 'em on account of their skirts!—It was the smell of an apple in a man's pocket that made Tommy Bent follow the man to the meeting.—And he answered to every name except 'Tommy Bent' so they knew it was he!
"Mercy! What this experience has cost me!" sobbed Mrs. Bent.
"One dollar, please!" said Old Man Smith.
"It's a perfect miracle!" said everybody.
"It 'tain't neither!" said Old Man Smith. "It's plain Hoss Sense! There's laws about findin' things same as there is about losin' 'em! Things has got regular habits and haunts same as Folks! And Folks has got regular haunts and habits same as birds and beasts! It ain't the Possible Places that I'm arguin' about!—The world is full of 'em! But the Probable Places can be reckoned most any time on the fingers of one hand!—That's the trouble with folks! They're always wearin' themselves out on the Possible Places and never gettin' round at all to the Probable ones!—Now, it's perfectly possible, of course," said Old Man Smith, "that you might find a trout in a dust-pan or a hummin' bird in an Aquarium—or meet a panther in your Mother's parlor!—But the chances are," said Old Man Smith, "that if you really set out to organize a troutin' expedition or a hummin' bird collection or a panther hunt—you wouldn't look in the dust pan or the Aquarium or your Mother's parlor first!—When you lose something that ain't got no Probable Place—then I sure am stumped!" said Old Man Smith.
But when Annie Halliway lost her mind, everybody in the village was stumped about it. And everything was all mixed up. It was Annie Halliway's mother and Annie Halliway's father and Annie Halliway's uncles and aunts and cousins and friends who did all the worrying about it! While Annie Halliway herself didn't seem to care at all! But just sat braiding things into her hair!
Some people said it was a railroad accident that she lost her mind in. Some said it was because she'd studied too hard in Europe. Some said it was an earthquake. Everybody said something.
Annie Halliway's father and mother were awful rich. They brought her home in a great big ship! And gave her twelve new dresses and the front parlor and a brown piano! But she wouldn't stay in any of them! All she'd stay in was a little old blue silk dress she'd had before she went away!
Carol and I got excused from school one day because we were afraid our heads might ache, and went to see what it was all about.
It seemed to be about a great many things.
But after we'd walked all around Annie Halliway twice and looked at her all we could and asked how old she was and found out that she was nineteen, we felt suddenly very glad about something.—We felt suddenly very glad that if she really was obliged to lose anything out of her face, it was her mind that she lost! Instead of her eyes! Or her nose! Or her red, red mouth! Or her cunning little ears! She was so pretty!
She seemed to like us very much too. She asked us to come again.
We said we would.
We went every Saturday afternoon.
They let us take her to walk if we were careful. We didn't walk her in the village because her hair looked so funny. We walked her in the pleasant fields. We gathered flowers. We gathered ferns. We explored birds. We built little gurgling harbors in the corners of the brook. Sometimes we climbed hills and looked off. Annie Halliway seemed to like to climb hills and look off.
It was the day we climbed the Sumac Hill that we got our Idea!
It was a nice day!
Annie Halliway wore her blue dress! And her blue scarf! Her hair hung down like two long, loose black ropes across her shoulders! Blue Larkspur was braided into her hair! And a little tin trumpet tied with blue ribbon! And a blue Japanese fan! And a blue lead pencil! And a blue silk stocking! And a blue-handled basket! She looked like a Summer Christmas Tree. It was pretty.
There were lots of clouds in the sky. They seemed very near. It sort of puckered your nose.
"Smell the clouds!" said Annie Halliway.
Somebody had cut down a tree that used to be there. It made a lonely hole in the edge of the hill and the sky. Through the lonely hole in the edge of the hill and the sky you could see miles and miles. Way down in the valley a bright light glinted. It was as though the whole sun was trying to bore a hole in a tiny bit of glass and couldn't do it.
Annie Halliway stretched out her arms towards the glint. And started for it.
I looked at Carol. Carol looked at me. We knew where the glint was. It was Old Man Smith's house. Old Man Smith's house was built of tea cups! And broken tumblers! And bits of plates! First of all, of course, it was built of clay or mud or something soft and loose like that! And while it was still soft he had stuck it all full of people's broken dishes! So that wherever you went most all day long the sun was trying to bore a hole in it!—And couldn't do it!
It seemed to be the glint that Annie Halliway wanted. She thought it was something new to braid in her hair, I guess. She kept right on walking towards it with her arms stretched out.
Carol kept right on looking at me. His mouth was all turned white. Sometimes when people talk to me I can't understand at all what they mean. But when Carol looks at me with his mouth all turned white, I always know just exactly what he means! It made my own mouth feel pretty white!
"We shall be punished!" I said. "We'll surely be punished if we do it!"
My brother Carol smiled. It was quite a white smile. He put out his hand. I took it. We ran down the hill after young Annie Halliway! And led her to the glint!
Old Man Smith was pretty surprised to see us. He was riding round the door-yard in his wheel chair. He rolled his chair to the gate to meet us. The chair squeaked a good deal. But even if he'd wanted to walk he couldn't. The reason why he couldn't is because he's dumb in his legs.
"What in the world do you want?" he asked.
I looked at Carol. Carol looked at me. He kicked me in the shins. My thoughts came very quickly.
"We've brought you a young lady that's lost her mind!" I said. "What can you do about it?"
Something happened all at once that made our legs feel queer. What happened was that Old Man Smith didn't seem pleased at all about it. He snatched his long white beard in his hands.
"Lost her mind?" he said. "Her mind? Her mind? How dar'st you mock me?" he cried.
"We darsn't at all!" I explained. "On account of the bears! We've read all about the mocking bears in a book!"
He seemed to feel better.
"You mean in the good book?" he said. "The Elijah bears, you mean?"
"Well, it was quite a good book," I admitted. "Though my Father's got lots of books on Tulips that have heap prettier covers!"
"U—m—m—m," said Old Man Smith. "U—m—m—m——. U—m——m——m."
And all the time that he was saying "U—m——m——m—U—m——m——m," young Annie Halliway was knocking down his house. With a big chunk of rock she was chipping it off. It was a piece of blue china cup with the handle still on it that she chipped off first.
When Old Man Smith saw it he screamed.
"Woman! What are you doing?" he screamed.
"Her name is Young Annie Halliway," I explained.
"Young Annie Halliway—Come Here!" screamed Old Man Smith.
Young Annie Halliway came here. She was perfectly gentle about it. All her ways were gentle. She sat down on the ground at Old Man Smith's feet. She lifted her eyes to Old Man Smith's eyes. She looked holy. But all the time that she looked so holy she kept right on braiding the handle of the blue china cup into her hair. It cranked against the tin trumpet. It sounded a little like the 4th of July.
Old Man Smith reached down and took her chin in his hands.
"Oh my Lord—what a beautiful face!" he said. "What a beautiful face!—And you say she's lost her mind?" he said. "You say she's lost her mind?" He turned to Carol. "And what do you say?" he asked.
"Oh, please, Sir, Carol doesn't say anything!" I explained. "He can't! He's dumb!"
"Dumb?" cried Old Man Smith. "So this is the Dumb Child, is it?" He looked at Carol. He looked at himself. He looked at my freckles. He rocked his hands on his stomach. "Merciful God!" he said. "How are we all afflicted!"
"Oh, please, Sir," I said, "my brother Carol isn't afflicted at all!—It's a great gift my Mother says to be born with the Gift of Silence instead of the Gift of Speech!"
He made a little chuckle in his throat. He began to look at Young Annie Halliway all over again.
"And what does your Mother say about her?" he pointed.
"My Mother says," I explained, "that she only hopes that the person who finds her mind will be honest enough to return it!"
"What?" said Old Man Smith. "To return it?—Honest enough to return it?"
He began to do everything all over again!—To chuckle! To rock! To take Young Annie Halliway's chin in his hand!
"And what did you say your name was, my pretty darling?" he asked.
Young Annie Halliway looked a little surprised.
"My name is Robin," she said. "Dearest—Robin—I think."
"You think wrong!" said Old Man Smith. He frowned with ferocity.
It made us pretty nervous all of a sudden.
Carol went off to look at the bee-hive to calm himself. Young Annie Halliway picked up the end of one of her long braids and looked at that. There was still about a foot of it that didn't have anything braided into it. I didn't know where to look so I looked at the house. It was very glistening. Blue it glistened. And green it glistened! And red it glistened! And pink! And purple! And yellow!
"Oh, see!" I pointed. "There's old Mrs. Beckett's rose-vase with the gold edge!—She dropped it on the brick garden-walk the day her son who'd been lost at sea for eleven years walked through the gate all alive and perfectly dry!—And that chunky white nozzle with the blue stripe on it?—I know what that is!—It's the nose of Deacon Perry's first wife's best tea pot!—I've seen it there! In a glass cupboard! On the top shelf!—She never used it 'cept when the Preacher came!"
"The Deacon's second wife broke it—feeding chickens out of it," said Old Man Smith.
"And that little scrap of saucer," I cried, "with the pansy petal on it?—Why—Why that's little Hallie Bent's doll-dishes!—We played with 'em down in the orchard! She died!" I cried. "She had the whooping-measles!"
"That little scrap of saucer," said Old Man Smith, "was the only thing they found in Mr. Bent's bank box.—What the widow was lookin' for was gold!"
"And that green glass stopper!" I cried. "Oh, Goodie——Goodie——Goodie!—Why, that——"
"Hush your noise!" said Old Man Smith. "History is solemn!—The whole history of the village is written on the outer walls of my house!—When the Sun strikes here,—strikes there,—on that bit of glass,—on this bit of crockles—the edge of a plate,—the rim of a tumbler,—I read about folk's minds!—What they loved!—What they hated!—What they was thinking of instead when it broke!—" He snatched his long white beard in his hands. He wagged his head at me. "There's a law about breakin' things," he said, "same as there's a law about losin' them! My house is a sample-book," he said. "On them there walls—all stuck up like that—I've got a sample of most every mind in the village!—People give 'em to me themselves," he said. "They let me rake out their trash barrels every now and then. They don't know what they're givin.'—Now, that little pewter rosette there——"
"It would be nice—wouldn't it," I said, "if you could find a sample of Young Annie Halliway's mind? Then maybe you could match it!"
"Eh?" said Old Man Smith. "A sample of her mind?" He looked jerky. He growled in his throat. "A—hem——A—hem," he said. He closed his eyes. I thought he'd decided to die. I screamed for Carol. He came running. He'd only been bee-stung twice. Old Man Smith opened his eyes. His voice sounded queer. "Where do they think she lost her mind?" he whispered.
"In Europe," I said. "Maybe in a train! Maybe on a boat! They don't know! She can't remember anything about it."
"U—m—m," said Old Man Smith. He looked at Young Annie Halliway. "And where do you think you lost it?" he said.
Young Annie Halliway seemed very much pleased to be asked. She laughed right out.
"In a March wind!" she said.
"Eh?" said Old Man Smith. He turned to me again. "What did you say her name was?" he asked.
I felt a little cross.
"Halliway!" I said. "Halliway—Halliway—Halliway! They live in the big house out by the Chestnut Trees! They only come here in the Summers! Except now! The Doctors say it's Mysteria!"
"The Doctors say what is Mysteria?" said Old Man Smith.
"What Annie's got!" I explained. "What made her lose her mind! Mysteria is what they call it."
"U—m—m," said Old Man Smith. He reached way down into his pocket. He pulled out a box. He opened the box. It was full of pieces of colored glass! And of china! He juggled them in his hands. They looked gay. Red they were! And green! And white! And yellow! And blue! He snatched out all the blue ones and hid 'em quick in his pocket. "She seems sort of partial to blue," he said.
There was one funny big piece of glass that was awful shiny. When he held it up to the light it glinted and glowed all sorts of colors. It made your eyes feel very calm.
Annie Halliway reached out her hand for it. She didn't say a word. She just stared at it with her hand all reached out.
But Old Man Smith didn't give it to her. He just sat and stared at her eyes.
Her eyes never moved from the shining bit of glass. They looked awful funny. Bigger and bigger they got! And rounder and rounder! And stiller and stiller!
It was like a puppy-dog pointing a little bird in the grass. It made you feel queer. It made you feel all sort of hollow inside. It made your legs wobble.
Carol's mouth was wide open.
So was Old Man Smith's.
Old Man Smith reached out suddenly and put the shining bit of glass right into Annie Halliway's hand. It fell through her fingers. But her hand stayed just where it was, reaching out into the air.
"Put down your arm!" said Old Man Smith.
Annie Halliway put it down. Her eyes were still staring very wide.
"Look!" said Old Man Smith. "Look!" He dropped several pieces of colored glass china into her lap.
She chose the handle of a red tea cup and a little chunk of yellow crockery. She stared and stared at them. But all the time it was as though her eyes didn't see them. All the time it was as though she was looking at something very far away. Then all of a sudden she began to jingle them together in her hand,—the little piece of red china and the chunk of yellow bowl! And swing her shoulders! And stamp her foot! It looked like dancing. It sounded like clappers.
"Oh, Ho! This is Spain!" she laughed.
Old Man Smith snatched all the blue pieces of china and glass out of his pocket again and tossed them into her lap. He looked sort of mad.
"Spain?" he said. "Spain? What in the Old Harry has a handful of glass and china got to do with Spain?"
"Harry?" said Annie Halliway. "Old—Harry?" Her eyes looked wider and blinder every minute. It was as though everything in her was wide awake except the thing she was thinking about. "Har—ry?" she puzzled. "Harry?" she dropped the red and yellow china from her hand and picked up a piece of blue glass and offered it to Old Man Smith. "Why, that is Harry!" she said. She reached for the pig-tail that had the blue Larkspur braided into it. She pointed to the pig-tail that had the blue fan braided into it. "Why, that is Harry!" she said. She made a little sob in her throat.
Old Man Smith jingled his hands at her.
"There—There—There, my Pretty!" he said. "Never mind—Never mind!"
He opened his hands. There were some little teeny-tiny pieces of plain glass in his hands. Little round knobs like beads they were. Very shining. They made a nice jingle.
When Annie Halliway saw them she screamed! And snatched them in her hand! And threw them away just as far as she could! All over the grass she threw them!
"I will not!" she screamed. "I will not! I will not!" Her tears were awful.
When she got through screaming her face looked like a wet cloth that had everything else wrung out of it except shadows.
"Where—is—Harry?" said Old Man Smith. He said it very slowly. And then all over again. "Where—is—Harry?—You wouldn't have dar'st not tell him if you'd known."
Annie Halliway started to pick up some blue glass again. Then she stopped and looked all around her. It was a jerky stop. Her jaw sort of dropped.
"Harry—is—in—prison!" she said. Even though she'd said it herself she seemed to be awfully surprised at the news. She shook and shook her head as though she was trying to wake up the idea that was asleep. Her eyes were all scrunched up now with trying to remember about it. She dragged the back of her hands across her forehead. First one hand and then the other. She opened her eyes very wide again and looked at Old Man Smith.
"Where—is—Harry?" said Old Man Smith.
Annie Halliway never took her eyes from Old Man Smith's face.
"It—It was the night we crossed the border from France to Spain," she said. Her voice sounded very funny and far away. It sounded like reciting a lesson too. "There were seven of us and a teacher from the Paris art school," she recited. "It—It was the March holiday.——There—There—was a woman——a strange woman in the next compartment who made friends with me.—She seemed to be crazy over my hair.—She asked if she might braid it for the night."
Without any tears at all Annie Halliway began to sob again.
"When they waked us up at the Customs," she sobbed, "Harry came running! His face was awful! 'She's braided diamonds in your hair!' he cried. 'I heard her talking with her accomplice! A hundred thousand dollars' worth of diamonds! Smugglers and murderers both they are!—Everybody will be searched!'—He tore at my braids! I tore at my braids! The diamonds rattled out! Harry tried to catch them!—He pushed me back into the train! I saw soldiers running!—I thought they were going to shoot him! He thought they were going to shoot him!—I saw his eyes!—He looked so—so surprised!—I'd never noticed before how blue his eyes were!—I tell you I saw his eyes!—I couldn't speak!—There wasn't anybody to explain just why he had his hands full of diamonds!—I saw his eyes! I tell you I couldn't speak!—I tell you I never spoke!—My tongue went dead in my mouth! For months I never spoke!—I've only just begun to speak again!—I've only just——"
She started to jump up from the ground where she was sitting! She couldn't!—She had braided Old Man Smith and his wheel chair into her hair! When she saw what she had done she toppled right over on her face! And fainted all out!
Over behind the lilac bush somebody screamed.
It was Annie Halliway's Mother! With her was a strange gentleman who had come all the way from New York to try and cure Annie Halliway. The strange gentleman was some special kind of a doctor.
"Hush—Hush!" the Special Doctor kept saying to everybody. "This is a very crucial moment! Can't you see that this a very crucial moment?" He pointed to Annie Halliway on the grass. Her Mother knelt beside her trying very hard to comb Old Man Smith and his wheel-chair out of her pig-tail. "Speak to her!" said the Doctor. "Speak to her very gently!"
"Annie?" cried her Mother. "Annie?—Annie—Annie?"
Annie Halliway opened her eyes very slowly and looked up. It was a brand new kind of a look. It had a bottom to it instead of being just through and through and through. There was a little smile in it too. It was a pretty look.
"Why, Mother," said Annie Halliway. "Where am I?"
The Special Man from New York made a queer little sound in his throat.
"Thank God!" he said. "She's all right now!"
It seemed pretty quick to me.
"You mean—" I said, "that her Mysteria is all cured—now?"
"Not Mysteria," said the Special Man from New York, "Hysteria!"
"No!—Hersteria!" corrected Old Man Smith.
The Special Man from New York began to laugh.
But Annie Halliway's Mother began to cry.
"Oh, just suppose we'd never found her?" she cried. She looked at Carol. She looked at me. She glared a little. But not so awfully much. "When you naughty children ran away with her?" she cried. "And we couldn't find her anywhere?—And the Doctor came? And there was only an hour to spare?—And we got a horse and drove round anywhere? And—And——"
"I wouldn't have missed it for anything!" said the Special Man from New York.
"And all your appointments waiting?" cried Annie Halliway's Mother.
"Darn the appointments!" said the Special Man from New York. He slanted his head and looked at Old Man Smith. "We arrived," he said, "just at the moment when the young lady was gazing so—so intently at the piece of shiny glass." He made a funny grunt in his throat. "Let me congratulate you, Mr.—Mr. Smith!" he said. "Your treatment was most efficient!—Your hypnosis was perfect! Your——"
"Hip nothing!" said Old Man Smith.
"Of course, in a case like this," said the Special Man from New York, "the Power of Suggestion is always——"
"All young folks," said Old Man Smith, "are cases of one kind or another—and the most powerful suggestion that I can make is that somebody find 'Harry!'"
"'Harry?'" said Annie Halliway's Mother. "'Harry?'—Why, I've got four letters at home for Annie in my desk now—from some im—impetuous young man who signs himself 'Harry!'—He seems to be in an Architect's office in Paris! 'Robin' is what he calls Annie!—'Dearest Robin'——"
"Eh?" said Annie Halliway. "What? Where?" She sat bolt upright! She scrambled to her feet! She started for the carriage!
Her Mother had to run to catch her.
The Special Man from New York followed them just as fast as he could.
Old Man Smith wheeled his chair to the gate to say "Good-bye."
Everything seemed all mixed up.
Annie Halliway's Mother never stopped talking a single second.
"Oh, my Pet!" she cried. "My Precious. My Treasure!"
With one foot on the carriage step the Special Man from New York turned round and looked at Old Man Smith. He smiled a funny little smile.
"Seek—and ye shall find!" he said. "That is—if you only know How and Where to seek."
Old Man Smith began to chuckle in his beard.
"Yes, I admit that's quite a help," he said, "the knowing How and Where!—But before you set out seekin' very hard for anything that's lost it's a pretty good idea to find out first just exactly what it is that you're seekin' for!—When a young lady's lost her mind, for instance, that's one thing!—But if it's her heart that's lost, why, that, of course, is quite another!"
Annie Halliway's face wasn't white any more. It was as red as roses. She had it in her Mother's shoulder.
The horses began to prance. The carriage began to creak.
Annie Halliway's Mother looked all around.
"Oh, dear—oh, dear—oh, dear, Mr.—Mr. Smith," she said. "How shall I ever repay you?"
Old Man Smith reached out his hand across the fence. There was sort of a twinkle in his eye.
"One dollar, please," said Old Man Smith.
THE BOOK OF THE FUNNY SMELLS—AND EVERYTHING
It was Carol who invented the Book. He didn't mean any harm.
I helped him.
We called it "The Book of the Funny Smells—and Everything."
It was one Tuesday noon coming home from school that we stopped the Lady on the street.
She was a very interesting looking lady. She looked like all sorts of different-colored silk roses. And a diamond brooch.
"Excuse us, Madam," I said. "But we are making a book! And we have decided to begin it with you! If you were a Beautiful Smell instead of a Beautiful Lady,—what Beautiful Smell in the Whole Wide World would you choose to be?"
The lady reeled back against the wall of the Post Office. And put on a gold eyeglass to support her.
"Merciful Impudences!" she said. "What new kind of census is this?"
We knew what a "census" was.
"No! It isn't that at all!" I explained. "This is something important."
Carol showed her the book. He showed her the pencil he was going to write the book with.
"When it's all done," I explained, "everybody will want to read it!"
"I can well believe it," said the Lady. She looked at Carol. Everybody looks at Carol.
"Who are you children, anyway?" she said.
"My name is Ruthy," I explained. "And this is my brother Carol."
She began to look at Carol all over again. She reached out and shook him by the shoulder.
"Dumbness!" she said. "Why let Sister do all the talking?"
My stomach felt pretty queer.
"My brother Carol can't talk," I explained. "He is dumb!"
The Lady turned very red.
"Oh dear—Oh dear—Oh dear," she said. She opened her purse. She took out a dollar bill. "Surely something could be done about it!" she said.
"We are not looking for money," I explained. "We are perfectly rich. We have warm underalls. And two parents. And an older sister. We have a tame coon. And a tame crow. Our Father could paint the house any Autumn he wanted to if he'd rather do it than plant Tulips."
The Lady looked at her watch. It was a bright blue watch no bigger than a violet is.
"This is all very interesting," she said. "But at the obnoxious hotel which you run in this village dinner is at twelve o'clock and if I'm not there at exactly that moment there will not be another dinner, I suppose, until twelve o'clock the next day. So——"
"Probably not," I said. "So if you don't feel timid at all about walking out with strangers, my brother Carol and I will walk home to the Hotel with you and write our book as we go."
The Lady bit herself. She bit herself in the lip. She began to walk very fast.
Carol walked very fast on one side of her. I walked very fast on the other. Carol carried the book. He carried it wide open so as to be all ready any moment. I carried the pencil.
"Can you tell me," said the Lady, "just why you and your brother have picked upon me as the first victim of your most astonishing interrogations?"
"Because you are the only Lady we ever saw in our lives that we didn't know who she was!" I explained. "And that makes it more interesting!"
"O—h," said the Lady. She gave a queer little gasp. It was the Hotel happening! She ran up the hotel steps. There was a Gentleman waiting for her at the top of the steps. He was a tall Gentleman with a very cross mustache. The Lady whispered something to him. He shook his mustache at us.
"Get out of here, you Young Scamps!" he cried. "Get out of here, I say! Get out!"
No one had ever shaken his mustache at us before. We sat down on the step to think about it.
The Gentleman ran off to call the Hotel Proprietor.
The Lady looked a little sorry. She came running back. She stooped down. She took the book from Carol. And the pencil from me. She laughed a little.
"You funny—funny children," she said. "What is it you want to know? The Most Beautiful Smell in the whole wide world,—is that it?—The Most Beautiful Smell in the whole wide world?" She looked back over her shoulder. She wrote very fast. Her cheeks looked pink. She banged the book together just the first second she had finished. She pulled my ear. "I'm—I'm sorry," she said.
"Oh, that's all right," I assured her. "We'll be round and write the rest of the book some other day!"
The Man with the Cross Mustache kept right on hunting all around.
When the Hotel Proprietor came running and saw who we were he gave us two oranges instead, and a left-over roll of wall-paper with parrots on it, and all the old calendars that were in his desk.
We had to race home across the railroad trestle to get there in time. It wasn't till we reached the Blacksmith Shop that we had a chance to stop and see what the Lady had written in our book. There was a Smoke Tree just outside the Blacksmith Shop. It was all in smoke. We sat down under it and opened our book.
This is what the Lady had written in our book.
The most beautiful smell in the world is the smell of an old tattered baseball glove—that's been lying in the damp grass—by the side of a brook—in June Time.
I looked at Carol. Carol looked at me. We felt surprised. It wasn't exactly what you would have expected. Carol rolled over on his stomach. He clapped his heels in the air. He pounded his fists in the grass.
We forgot all about going home. We went into the Blacksmith's Shop instead. It was a very earthy place. But nothing grew there. Not grass. Not flowers. Not even vines. Just Junk!
The Blacksmith's name was Jason. He looked something like a Stove that could be doubled up in its stomach and carried round to all four corners of a horse for the horse to put his foot on. He was making shoes for a very stout black horse. The horse's name was Ezra. There were a great many sparks around! And iron noises! And flames! And smouches! Ezra's hoofs seemed to be burning! It smelt so funny we didn't think it would be polite to ask Jason what he'd rather smell like instead! So we decided to begin the other way about. But whatever way you decided you had to scream it.
"Jason," I screamed. "If you were a Beautiful Sound instead of a Beautiful Blacksmith, what Beautiful Sound in the whole wide world would you choose to be?"
"Eh?" screamed Jason. He stopped hammering. He stopped thumping. He stopped boiling poor Ezra's hoof with a red hot poker. "Eh?" he said all over again. "Well, that's a new one on me! What's the Big Idea?"
"Well—I want to know," said Jason. He sat down on a great block of wood. He wiped his sleeve on his face. It made his sleeve all black. "If I was a Sound—?" he said. "Instead of a Man?—Instead of a man?" It seemed to puzzle him a good deal. "Not to be a man—any more you mean? No arms? Legs? Stomach? Eyes?—To get all worn out and busted stayin' on forever in one place? And then thrung away?—But to be just a—just a Sound?—Just a Sound? Well, of all the comical ideas! Of all the——" Then quite suddenly he whacked his hand down in a great black smouch on his knee and clanged his feet like dungeon chains across a clutter of horseshoes. "I've got it!" he cried. "I've got it!—If I was a Sound instead of a man I'd choose to be a Song!—Not great loud band-tunes, I mean, that nobody could play unless he was hired! And charged tickets! But some nice—pretty little Song—floatin' round all soft and easy on ladies' lips and in men's hearts. Or tinklin' out as pleasant as you please on moonlight nights from mandolin strings and young folks sparkin'. Or turnin' up just as likely as not in some old guy's whistle on the top of one of these 'ere omnibuses in London Town. Or travellin' even in a phonograph through the wonders of the great Sahara Desert. Something all simple—I mean that you could hum without even botherin' with the words. Something people would know who you was even if there wasn't any words!—Something all sweet and low——'Sweet and Low,' that's it! My Mother used to sing it! I hain't thought of it for forty years! That's the one I mean!"
"Sweet and Low"—he began to sing.
Sweet and low—Sweet and low— Wind of the Western Sea——
His voice was all deep and full of sand like the way a bass drum makes you feel in your stomach. I looked at Carol. Carol looked at me. We felt pretty surprised. Jason the Blacksmith looked more surprised than anyone! But he kept right on singing!
Over the rolling waters go— Come from the—the something—moon and blow— While my little one—while my pretty one—sleeps. Father will come to his babe in the nest— S-silvery—something—all out of the West— Silvery——
When we got to the Smoke Tree and looked back there was no sound at all in the Blacksmith Shop except the sound of Ezra thumping his hoofs. And Jason being a Song instead of a man!
The faster we ran the more surprised we felt.
When you read a book, of course, you expect to be surprised. If you didn't think the person who made the book was going to tell you something that you didn't know before you wouldn't bother to read it. But when you're writing a book it doesn't seem exactly as though so many unexpected things ought to happen to you!
We were pretty glad when we ran right into the Old Minister who preaches sometimes when all the young ministers can't think of anything more to preach about.
The Old Minister was leaning against the Bridge. The Old Lawyer was leaning against the Bridge with him. They were waving their canes. And their long white beards. And arguing about the "Thirty-Nine Articles."—Carol thinks it was the "Fifty-Seven Varieties" they were arguing about. But the "Fifty-Seven Varieties" I'm almost sure is Pickles. It's the "Thirty-Nine Articles" that is Arguments!
The Old Minister laughed when he saw us coming. "Well—Well—Well!" he cried. "See who's here! And carrying such a big book too! And all out of breath!" He put his arm round Carol. I thought he was going to ask us our Catechisms. And there wasn't any breath left in our catechisms.
"Oh, if you were a Beautiful Sound," I gasped, "instead of a Beautiful Preacher—what Beautiful Sound in the whole wide world—would you—would you choose to be?"
"Eh?" said the Old Minister. "Eh?—What's—that? A—A—Sound instead of a Preacher? Well, upon my word!—This minute, you mean? Or any minute? If I was a Beautiful Sound instead of——?" He mopped his forehead. He looked pretty hot. He twinkled his eyes at the Old Lawyer. "Well—just this minute," he said, "I'd rather be the Sound of Foaming Beer than anything else in the world that I can think of!" He thumped his cane on the ground. The Old Lawyer thumped his cane on the ground. They both started off down the road thumping as they walked. We heard them chuckling as they thumped. They weren't arguing any more about the "Thirty-Nine Articles." They were arguing about Cheese.
And that was surprising too!
There wasn't any dinner left when we got home except just knives and forks and spoons. My Mother found us two bowls to go with the spoons. And some milk to go with the bowls. And some crackers to go with the milk. Everything went very well.
We told my Mother we were sorry to be late but that we were writing a book and it was very important.
My Mother said yes,—she knew that writing books was very important and had always noticed that people who wrote 'em were very apt to be late to things. Her only regret, she said, was that Carol and I hadn't had a little more time in which to form habits of promptness before we began on such a chronic career as Literature.
My Father said "Stuff and Nonsense!" My Father said that if we'd kindly condescend to tear ourselves away from the Charms of Literature for one brief afternoon he'd like to have us weed the Tulip Bed.
We said we would.
We forgot all about our book. It isn't that pulling up weeds is any special fun. It's the putting flowers back that you've pulled up by mistake that is such a Game in itself. You have to make little splints for them out of Forsythia twigs. You have to build little collars of pebble-stone all around them to keep marauding beetles from eating up their wiltedness. You have to bring them medicine-water from the brook instead of from the kitchen—so that nobody will scream and say, "Oh, what have you done now?—Oh, what have you done now?"
It was Supper Time before we knew it. There was creamed chicken for supper. And wild strawberry preserve. And a letter from our sister Rosalee. Our sister Rosalee is in Cuba visiting her Betrother. She wrote seven pages about it. She seemed to like her Betrother very much.
My Mother cried a little. My Father said "Oh, Pshaw! Oh, Pshaw! You can't keep 'em babies forever!" My Mother tried not to look at my Father's eyes. She looked at his feet instead. When she looked at his feet instead she saw that there were holes in his slippers. She seemed very glad. She ran and got a big needle. And a big thread. My Father had to sit very still.
It seemed a very good time to remember about the Book.
Carol went and got the Book. He put it down on the Dining Room table. It was a gray book with a red back to it. It said "Lanos Bryant" across the back of it. It was Lanos Bryant who had given us the book. Lanos Bryant was the Butcher. It was an old Account Book. The front of it was all mixed up with figurings. It was in the back of it that we were making Our Book.
My Mother looked up. She smiled at us.
"Why, bless my heart," she said, "we mustn't forget about the children's Book!"
"No such luck," said my Father.
Everybody smiled a little.
"What's the Book about?" said my Mother.
I looked at Carol. Carol looked at me. He nudged me to go on.
"It's about You!" I said. "And about Father! And about Jason the Blacksmith! And about the Old Preacher. And about most anybody I guess that would like to be About-ed!"
"Well—Well—Well," said my Mother. "And what is it for?"
"Oh, it's just for fun," I said. "But it's very important.—Just the first instant anybody reads it he'll know all there is to know about everybody without ever having to go and make calls on them! Everything interesting about them I mean! Everything that really matters! Lots of things that nobody would have guessed!"
"Mercy!" said my Mother. She stopped mending my Father and jumped right up.
My Father jumped right up too!
"Oh, it isn't written yet!" I said. "It's only just begun!"
"O—h," said my Mother. And sat down again.
"We though maybe you and Father would help us," I said.
"O—h," said my Father. And sat down again too.
Carol began to laugh. I don't know why he laughed.
"It's—it's just a set of questions," I explained.
Carol opened the Book and found the questions.
"Just five or six questions," I explained. "All you have to do is to answer the questions—and tell us how to spell it perhaps.—And then that makes the Book!"
"It certainly sounds simple," said my Mother. She began mending my Father very hard. "And what are some of the questions?" she asked.
"Well—the first question," I explained, "is 'What is your name?'"
My Mother gave a little giggle. She hushed my Father with her hand.
"Oh surely," she said, "there couldn't be any objection to telling these pleasant children our names?"
"No—o," admitted my Father.
My Mother looked up. She twinkled her eyes a little as well as her mouth.
"Our names are 'Father' and 'Mother'," she said.
Carol wrote the names in the Book. He wrote them very black and literary looking. "Father" at the top of one page. And "Mother" at the top of the other. They looked nice.
"All right then," said my Father. "Fire away!"
I looked at my Father. I looked at my Mother. I didn't know just which one to begin with. Carol kicked me in the shins for encouragement. I decided to begin with my Mother.
"Oh Mother," I said. "If you were a Beautiful Smell instead of a Beautiful Mother,—what Beautiful Smell in the whole wide world—would you choose to be?"
"Eh? What's that? What?" said my Father. "Well, of all the idiotic foolishness! Of all the—"
"Why no—not at all," said my Mother. "Why—Why I think it's rather interesting! Why—Why—Though I must admit," she laughed out suddenly, "that I never quite thought of things in just that way before!" She looked out the window. She looked in the fire-place. She looked at my Father. She looked at Carol. She looked at me. She began to clap her hands. "I've got it!" she said. "I know what I'd choose! A White Iris! In all the world there's no perfume that can compare with the perfume of a White Iris!—Orris root they call it. Orris—"
"Humph! What's the matter with Tulips?" said my Father.
"Oh but Tulips don't have any smell at all," said my Mother. "Except just the nice earthy smell of Spring winds and Spring rains and Spring sunbeams!—Oh of course they look as though they were going to smell tremendously sweet!" she acknowledged very politely. "But they're just so busy being gay I suppose that—"
"The Tulip Goldfinch," said my Father coldly, "is noted for its fragrance."
"Oh dear—Oh dear—Oh dear," said my Mother. She seemed very sorry. She folded her hands. "Oh very well," she said. "Mondays,—Wednesdays,—Fridays,—and Sundays,—I will be the fragrance of the Tulip Goldfinch. But Tuesdays,—Thursdays and Saturdays I really must insist on being the fragrance of a White Iris!"
"Humph!" said my Father. "There aren't any of them that are worth the nice inky lithograph smell of the first Garden Catalogues that come off the presses 'long about February!"
My Mother clapped her hands again.
"Oh Goodie!" she said. "Write Father down as choosing to smell like 'the nice inky lithograph smell of the first Garden Catalogues that come off the presses 'long about February'!"
My Father had to tell us how to spell "Lithograph." Carol wrote it very carefully. My Mother laughed.
"Well really," said my Mother, "I'm beginning to have a very good time.—What is Question No. 2?"
"Question No. 2," I said, "is:—If you were a Beautiful Sound instead of a Beautiful Father and Mother,—what Beautiful Sound in the whole wide world would you choose to be?"
My Father felt better almost at once.
"Oh Pshaw!" he said. "That's easy. I'd be the Sound of Gold Pieces jingling in the pocket of a man—of a man—" He looked at my Mother. "—Of a man who had a Brown-Eyed Wife who looked something like my Brown-Eyed Wife—and three children whose names—when you spoke 'em quickly sounded very similar—yes, very similar indeed to 'Ruthy' and 'Carol' and 'Rosalee'!"
"Oh what nonsense!" said my Mother.
"What does the jingle of Gold Pieces amount to?—Now if I could be any Sound I wanted to—I'd choose to be the sweet—soft—breathy little stir that a nice little family makes when it wakes up in the morning—so that no matter how much you've worried during the long black night you can feel at once that everything's all right! And that everybody's all there!—In all the world," cried my Mother, "I know of no sweeter sound than the sound of a nice little family—waking up in the morning!"
I turned to Carol's page. I laughed and laughed. "Bubbling Fat is what Carol would like to sound like!" I cried. "The noise that Bubbling Fat makes when you drop doughnuts into it!—But I?—If I could be any lovely Sound I wanted to,—I'd like to be the Sound of Rain on a Tin Roof—at night! All over the world people would be lying awake listening to you! And even if they didn't want to listen they'd have to! Till you were good and ready to stop!"
It took Carol a good while to write down everything about "Gold Pieces" and a "Nice Little Family waking up in the Morning" and "Rain on a Tin Roof."
"The next question is pretty hard," I explained. "Maybe you'd like to be thinking about it.—If you were a Beautiful Sight—that people came miles to see,—what Beautiful Sight in the whole wide world would you choose to be?"
My Father didn't wait a minute. "A Field of Tulips!" he said.
Carol pounded the table with his fists. His face was like an explosion of smiles. He pointed to my Father's page in the Book.
"It's already written!" I said. "We guessed it all the time!"
We turned to my Mother. We saw a little quiver go through my Mother's shoulders.
"I'd choose to be a Storm at Sea!" said my Mother.
"What?" cried my Father.
"A Storm at Sea!" said my Mother.
My Father stopped saying "What?" And made a little gasping sound instead. "You?—You?" he said. "The gentlest soul that ever breathed?—Would like to be a 'Storm at Sea'?"
"It's only the 'mother' side of me that is gentle!" laughed my Mother. She threw back her head suddenly. She thrust out her hands. It jerked her soft, calm hair all fluffy and wild across her forehead. Her eyes danced! Her cheeks turned all pink! "Oh wouldn't it be fun?" she cried. "All the roaring! And the ranting! And the foaming! And the Furying!—Racing up the beaches in great waves! And splashes! Banging against the rocks! Scaring the fishes almost to pieces! Rocking the boats till people fell Bump right out of their berths onto the floor! Ruffling the gulls till——"
"You wouldn't actually—wreck a boat would you?" said my Father.
My Mother stopped tossing her head. And waving her hands. She gave a little sigh. She began mending my Father again very hard.
"Just——pirates," she said.
"O—h," said my Father.
"We intended to make the next one about 'Motions,'" I explained. "But it was too hard. Carol wanted to be an Elevator!—Carol says an Elevator is like quick-silver in a giant thermometer that's gone mad!—He wanted to be the motion it makes when the Elevator's going down and the floor's coming up! But it made me feel queer in my stomach!"
"Merciful Heavens!" said my Father. "What kind of a family have I drawn?—My Wife wants to be a 'Storm at Sea' and my Son aspires to feel like an 'Elevator Gone Mad'!"
Carol looked at my Mother. My Mother looked at Carol. They laughed their eyes together.
"So we made it 'Money' and 'Memory' instead," I explained.
"Made what 'Money' and 'Memory' instead?" said my Father.
"The next two questions," I explained.
"O—h," said my Mother.
"Fire away!" said my Father.
"Question No. 4," I said. "Which do you like best? Times? or Things?"
"Times or Things?" said my Father. "Whatever in the world do you mean?" His eyebrows looked pretty puzzled.
"Why, we mean," I explained, "if somebody gave you five whole dollars for your birthday—how would you rather spend it?—What would you get most fun out of, we mean?—Times? Or Things?—Would you be most apt to spend it for Rabbits, we mean? Or going to a Fair?"
"Oh," said my Father, "I see!—Times or Things?—Times—or things?—Why Things!" he decided almost at once. "Things of course!—When you buy a Thing you've got something really tangible for your money! Something definite! Something really to show!—'Rabbits' I admit would probably not be my choice.—But a book, now! A set of garden tools?—A pair of rubber boots even?"
"N—o," said my Mother very softly, "I'm almost sure I'd rather 'go to the Fair'!—'Times' or 'Things'?—Yes I'm perfectly positive," she cried out, "that Times give me more pleasure than Things do!—Now that I think of it I can see quite plainly that always—always I've preferred to spend my money 'going to the Fair'!"
"Yes, but how foolish," said my Father. "When the Fair's over it's over!—Nothing left to show for it but just a memory."
My Mother laughed right out loud. It was the prettiest laugh.
"Now that's where you're mistaken!" she laughed. "When the Fair's what you call 'over,'—that's the time it's really just begun!—Books get lost—or puppies chew them! Garden tools rust! Even the best rubber boots in the world get the most awful holes poked through their toes!—But a Happy Memory?—A Happy Memory—?" She jumped up suddenly and crept into my Father's arms.
My Father stroked her hair. And stroked it.
Carol kicked me in the shins.
"There's only one more question!" I cried out pretty loud.
"What is it?" said my Mother. It sounded pretty mumbly through my Father's shoulder.
"Oh this one is very important," I said. "It's about colors."
"Colors?" said my Father. He didn't seem to care nearly as much as you'd have thought he would.
"C—Colors," mumbled my Mother.
"Somewhere in a book," I explained, "we read about a man who wanted his memory 'kept green?'—Why green? Why not pink?—Why not blue?—Or even red with a cunning little white line in it?"
"Eh?" said my Father.
"If you were going away," I explained.
My Mother's hands clutched at his coat. She gave a queer little shiver. "Oh not—'away'!" she protested.
"For ever and ever," I explained.
My Mother's face came peering out from the shadow of my Father's shoulder. She started to laugh. And made a little sob instead. "Oh not for——ever——and ever?" she said.
We all sat and looked at each other. I felt awful queer in my stomach.
Carol kicked me in the shins. He wrote something quick on a piece of paper and shoved it across the table at me.
"China was the place that Carol meant!" I explained. "Oh he didn't mean—at all—what you thought he meant!—If you were going away to—to China—for ever and ever—and ever—and gave your Best Friend a whole lot of money like twenty-five dollars to remember you by—what color do you hope he'd keep your memory?"
"Oh—yes—why of course!" said my Father quite quickly. "It's a jolly one after all, isn't it!—Color—Color?—Let me see!—For twenty-five dollars you say? Yes Yes!—The very thing! Yellow of course! I hope my Best Friend would have wit enough to buy a Lamp!—Nothing fancy you know but something absolutely reliable.—Daytimes to be sure your memory wouldn't be much use to him. But nights—the time everybody needs everybody the most,—Nights I say,—looking back from—from China, was it that you designated?—Nights it would be rather pleasant I think to feel that one lived on and on—as a yellow glow in his friend's life."
My Father reached out and pinched my ear.
"How about it, Ruthy?" he asked.
"Oh that's all right," I admitted. "But if I gave my Best Friend twenty-five dollars to remember me by—I hope he'd buy a Blueberry Bush!—Just think of all the colors it would keep your memory!—White in blossom-time! And blue in fruit-season! And red as blood all the Autumn! With brown rabbits hopping through you!—And speckled birds laying—goodness knows what colored eggs! And—"
Somebody banged the front door. Somebody scuffled on the threshold. Somebody shouted "Hello—Hello—Hello—!" It was the Old Doctor.
We ran to see if he had peppermints in his pocket.
After the Old Doctor had given us all the peppermints he thought we ought to have—and seven more besides, he sat down in the big cretonne chair by the window, and fanned his neck with a newspaper. He seemed to be pretty mad at the people who had made his collars.
"W-hew!" he said. "The man who invented a 21-inch collar ought to be forced to suck boiling starch through the neck of a Blueing Bottle!"
We didn't see just why.
The Old Doctor said he didn't care to discuss it.
"Any news to-day?" asked my Father.
"News enough!" said the Old Doctor. He seemed pretty mad about that too!
"Such as what?" asked my Father.
"There's a Prince and Princess in town!" said the Old Doctor. "Or a Duch and Duchess!—Or a Fool and Fooless!—I don't care what you call 'em!—They've got some sort of a claim on the old Dun Voolees estate. Brook,—meadow,—blueberry——hillside,—popple grove,—everything! They've come way from Austria to prove it! Going to build a Tannery! Or a Fertilizer Factory! Or some other equally odoriferous industry! Fill the town with foreign laborers!—String a line of lowsy shacks clear from the Blacksmith Shop to the river!—Hope they choke!"
"Oh my dear—my dear!" said my Mother.
The Old Doctor looked a little funny.
"Oh I admit it's worth something," he said, "to have you call me your 'dear.'—But I'm mad I tell you clear through. And when you've got as much 'through' to you as I have, that's some mad!—W-hew!" he said. "When I think of our village,—our precious, clean, decent, simple little All-American village—turned into a cheap—racketty—crowd-you-off-the-sidewalk Saturday Night Hell Hole...?"
"Oh—Oh—OH!" cried my Mother.
"Quick! Get him some raspberry shrub," cried my Father.
"Maybe he'd like to play the Children's new Game!" cried my Mother.
"It isn't a Game," I explained. "It's a Book!"
My Mother ran to get the Raspberry Shrub. She brought a whole pitcher. It tinkled with ice. It sounded nice. When the Old Doctor had drunken it he seemed cooled quite a little. He put the glass down on the table. He saw the Book. He looked surprised.
"Lanos—Bryant? Accounts?" he read. He looked at the date. He looked at my Father. "What you trying to do, Man?" he said. "Reconstruct a financial picture of our village as it was a generation ago? Or trace your son Carol's very palpable distaste for a brush, back to his grandfather's somewhat avid devotion to pork chops?" He picked up the book. He opened the first pages. He read the names written at the tops of the pages. Some of the names were pretty faded.—"Alden, Hoppin, Weymoth, Dun Vorlees," he read. He put on his glasses. He scrunched his eyes. He grunted his throat. "W-hew!" he said. "A hundred pounds of beans in one month?—Is it any wonder that young Alden ran away to sea—and sunk clear to the bottom in his first shipwreck?—'Roast Beef'?—'Roast Beef'?—'Malt and Hops'?—'Malt and Hops'?—'Roast Beef'?—'Malt and Hops'?—Is that where Old Man Weymoth got his rheumatism?—And Young Weymoth—his blood pressure?—Dun Vorlees?—Dun Vorlees?—What? No meat at all from November to February?—No fruit?—Only three pounds of sugar?—Great Gastronomics! Back of all that arrogance,—that insulting aloofness,—was real Hunger gnawing at the Dun Vorlees vitals?—Was that the reason why—?—Merciful Heavens!" cried the Old Doctor. "This book is worth twenty dollars to me—this very minute in my Practice! The light it sheds on the Village Stomach,—the Village Nerves,—the—"
"Please, Sir," I said. "The Book is Carol's. Mr. Lanos Bryant gave it to him.—And we're planning to get a great deal more than twenty dollars for it when we sell it!"
"Eh?" said the Old Doctor. "What?"
He jerked round in his chair and glared at Carol.
"This I'll have you understand, my Young Man," he said, "is in the cause of Science!"
Carol looked pretty nervous. He began to smooth his hair as well as he could without bristles. It didn't smooth much.
"Oh please, Sir," I explained, "people who write books never have smooth hair!"
"Who's talking about writing books?" roared the Old Doctor.
"Please, Sir, we're trying to talk about it," I said. My voice sounded pretty little. "It's the back part of the book that's the important part," I explained. "It's the back part of the book that we're writing!"
"Eh?" said the Old Doctor.
He slammed the book together. He stood up and began to look for his hat.
There didn't seem a moment to lose if we we're going to get him into our book. I ran and caught him by the hand. Even if his face was busy his hands always had time to be friends with Carol and me.
"Oh please—please—please," I besought him. "If you were a Beautiful Smell instead of a Beautiful Doctor,—what Beautiful Smell in the whole wide world would you choose to be?"
"What?" said the old Doctor. "What? W-h-a-t?" he kept saying over and over. He looked at my Father. He looked at my Mother. My Mother told him about our Book. He made a loud Guffaw. "Guffaw" I think is the noise he made. Carol is sure that it is! He looked at Carol. He looked at me. He began to Guffaw all over again.
"Well really, Young Authorettes," he said, "I hardly know how to answer you or how to choose. Ether or Chloroform and general Disinfectants being the most familiar savors of my daily life,—the only savors indeed that I ever expect to suggest to anybody—" He looked out the window. There was an apple-blossom tree. It made the window look very full of June. His collar seemed to hurt him. It made him pretty serious. It made his voice all solemn.
"But I'll tell you, Kiddies," he said quite suddenly. "I'll tell you the Sweetest Thing that I ever smelled in my life!—It was the first Summer I was back from College.—I was out on the Common playing ball. Somebody brought me word that my Father was dead.—I didn't go home.—I slunk off instead to my favorite trout-brook—and sat down under a big white birch tree—and cursed!—I was very bitter. I needed my Father very much that year. And my step-mother was a harsh woman.—Late that night when I got home,—ugly with sorrow,—I found that I'd left my Catcher's glove. It happened to be one that my Father had given me.—With matches and a tin-can lantern I fumbled my way back to the brook. The old glove lay palm-upward in the moss and leaves. Somebody had filled the palm with wild violets.—I put my face down in it—like a kid—and bawled my heart out.—It was little Annie Dun Vorlees it seemed who had put the violets there. Trailed me clear from the Ball Field. Little kid too. Only fourteen years to my twenty. Why her Mother wouldn't even let me come to the house. Had made Annie promise even not to speak to me.—But when Trouble hit me, little Annie—?" The Old Doctor frowned his eyebrows. "Words!" he said. "It's words after all that have the real fragrance to 'em!—Now take that word 'Loyalty' for instance. I can't even see it in a Newspaper without—" He put back his head suddenly. He gave a queer little chuckle. "Sounds funny, doesn't it, Kiddies," he laughed, "to say that the sweetest thing you ever smelled in your life was an old baseball glove thrown down on the mossy bank of a brook?"
I looked at Carol. Carol looked at me. His eyes were popping. We ran to the Book. We snatched it open. It bumped our heads. We pointed to the writing. I read it out loud.
The most beautiful smell in the world is the smell of an old tattered baseball glove that's been lying in the damp grass—by the side of a brook—in June Time.
My Mother looked funny.
"Good Gracious," she said. "Are my children developing 'Second Sight'?—First it was the 'Field of Tulips' already written down as their Father's choice before he could even get the words out of his mouth!—And now, hours before the Old Doctor ever even dreamed of the Book's existence they've got his distinctly unique taste in perfumes all—"
"But this isn't the Old Doctor!" I cried out. "She wrote it herself. It's the Lady down at the hotel. It's the—the Empress that the Old Doctor was talking about!"
"The—Empress?" gasped the Old Doctor.
"Well maybe you said 'Princess,'" I admitted. "It was some one from Austria anyway—come to fuss about the old Dun Vorlees place! You said it was! You said that's who it was!—It's the only Strange Lady in the village!"
"What?" gasped the Old Doctor. "What?" He looked at the book. He read the Lady's writing. Anybody could have seen that it wasn't our writing. It was too dressy. He put on his glasses. He read it again.
—the smell of an old tattered baseball glove—that's been lying in the damp grass—side of a brook—June Time.
"Good Lord!" he cried out. "Good Lord!"—He couldn't seem to swallow through his collar. "Not anyone else!" he gasped. "In all the world!—There couldn't possibly be anyone else! It must—It must be little Annie Dun Vorlees herself!"
He rushed to the window. There was a grocery boy driving by.
"Hi! Hi there!" he called out. "Don't mind anybody's orders just now! Take me quick to the Hotel!—It's an Emergency I tell you! She may be gone before I get there!"
We sat down on the sofa and curled up our legs. Our legs felt queer.
My Mother and Father sat down on the other sofa. They looked queer all over. They began to talk about the Village. It wasn't exactly the Village that we knew. It was as though they talked about the Village when it was a child. They talked about when the Bridge was first built. They talked about the Spring when the Big Freshet swept the meadow. They talked about the funny color of Jason the Blacksmith's first long trousers. They talked about a tiny mottled Fawn that they had caught once with their own hands at a Sunday School picnic in the Arbutus Woods. They talked about the choir rehearsals in the old white church. They talked about my Father's Graduation Essay in the High School. It was like History that was sweet instead of just true. It made you feel a little lonely in your throat. Our Tame Coon came and curled up on our legs. It made our legs feel better. The clock struck nine. Our Father and Mother forgot all about us. Pretty soon we forgot all about ourselves. When we woke up the Old Doctor had come back. He was standing by the table in the lamplight talking to my Father and my Mother.
He looked just the same—only different—like a portrait in a newspaper that somebody had tried to copy. All around the inner edges of his bigness it was as though someone had sketched the outline of a slimmer man.—It looked nice.