"Well it was little Annie Dun Vorlees!" he said.
"Was it indeed?" said my Father.
"Hasn't changed a mite!" said the Old Doctor. "Not a mite!—Oh of course she's wearing silks now instead of gingham.—And her hair?—Well perhaps it's just a little bit gray but——"
"Gray hair's very pretty," said my Mother.
"Humph!" said the Old Doctor. "I expected of course that she'd think me changed a good deal. I've grown stout. 'Healthy' she called it.—She thought I looked 'very healthy'!" The Old Doctor shifted his feet. He twitched at a newspaper on the table. "That Austrian gentlemen with her isn't her Husband," he said. "She's a—she's a widow now.—It's her Husband's brother."
"Really?" said my Father.
"Oh Thunder!" said the Old Doctor. "I guess perhaps I spoke a little bit hastily when I was here before—about their ruining the Village!—I've been talking a bit with Annie and—" His face turned quite red suddenly. He laughed a little. "There won't be any changes made at present in the old Dun Vorlees place—I imagine.—Not at present anyhow."
He looked over at us. We scrunched our eyes perfectly tight.
"Asleep," he said. He picked up our Book. He tucked it under his arm. He looked at my Father and Mother. "It's quite time," he said, "that you started a Bank Account for these children's college education.—It costs a great deal to send children to college nowadays. Carol will surely want a lot of baseball bats.—And girls I know are forever needing bonnets!" He took two Big Gold Pieces from his pocket and put them down on the table where our Book had been. They looked very shining.
My Father gave a little gasp. He jumped up! He started to argue!
My Mother hushed him with her hand. "S—sh——not to-night!" she whispered. "Not to-night!"
She looked at the Old Doctor. She looked at our Book all hugged up tight under his arm. Her eyes looked as though they were going to cry. But her mouth looked as though it was going to laugh.
"Oh of course—if it's in the Cause of Science," she said. "If it's in the Cause of Science."
THE LITTLE DOG WHO COULDN'T SLEEP
It was our Uncle Peter who sent us the little piece of paper.
It was a piece of paper torn out of that part of a newspaper where people tell what they want if they've got money enough to pay for it.
This is what it said:
"WANTED a little dog who can't sleep to be night companion for a little boy who can't sleep. Will pay fifty dollars."
Our Uncle Peter sent it to my Father and told him to give it to us.
"Your children know so many dogs," he said.
"Not—fifty dollars' worth," said my Father. He said it with points in his eyes.
"Oh—I'm not so sure," said my Mother. She said it with just a little smile in her voice.
It was my Mother who gave us the big sheet of brown paper to make our sign. My brother Carol mixed the paint. I mixed the letters. It was a nice sign. We nailed it on the barn where everybody who went by could see it. It said:
"Carol and Ruthy. Dealers in Dogs who Can't Sleep."
Nobody dealt with us. We were pretty discouraged.
We asked the Grocer if he had a little dog who couldn't sleep. We asked the Postman. We asked the Butcher. They hadn't.
We asked the old whiskery man who came every Spring to buy old bottles and papers. HE HAD!
He brought the dog on a dungeon chain. He said if we'd give him fifty cents for the dungeon chain we could have the dog for nothing.
It seemed like a very good bargain.
Our Father lent us the fifty cents.
He was a nice dog. We named him Tiger Lily. His hair was red and smooth as Sunday all except his paws and ears. His paws and ears were sort of rumpled. His eyes were gold and very sweet like keepsakes you must never spend. He had a sad tail. He was a setter dog. He was meant to hunt. But he couldn't hunt because he was so shy. It was guns that he was so shy about.
Our Mother invited us to wash him. He washed very nicely.
We wrote our triumph to our Uncle Peter and asked him to send us the fifty dollars.
Our Uncle Peter came instead in an automobile and took Tiger Lily and Carol and me to the city.
"Of course he isn't exactly a 'little dog,'" we admitted. "But at least he's a dog! And at least he 'can't sleep'!"
"Well—I wonder," said our Uncle Peter. He seemed very pleased to wonder about it. He twisted his head on one side and looked at Tiger Lily. "What do you mean,—'doesn't sleep'?" he said.
Because my brother Carol is dumb and never talks I always have to do the explaining. It was easy to explain about Tiger Lily.
"Why when you're in bed and fast asleep," I explained, "he comes and puts his nose in your neck! It feels wet! It's full of sighs and a cool breeze! It makes you jump and want your Mother!—All the rest of the time at night he's roaming! And prowling! And s'ploring!—Up the front stairs and down the back—and up the front and down the back!—Every window he comes to he stops and listens! And listens!—His toe-nails have never been cut!—It sounds lonely!"
"What does he seem to be listening for?" said our Uncle Peter.
"Listening for gun-bangs," I explained.
"O—h," said our Uncle Peter.
The city was full of noises like gun-bangs. It made Tiger Lily very nervous. He tried to get under everything. It took us most all the afternoon to get him out.
The little boy's name was Dicky. He wasn't at home. "Come again," said the man at the door. We came again about eight o'clock at night. It seemed as late as Christmas Eve and sort of lonely without our Parents or any other presents. We had to climb a lot of stairs. It made Tiger Lily puff a little and look very glad. It made our Uncle Peter puff some too. It made the little boy's Mother puff a good deal. There wasn't any Father. The Mother was all in black about it. Her clothes looked very sorrowful. But her face was just sort of surprised. She had white hands. She carried them all curved up like pond-lilies. She was pretty. Even if you'd never seen her but once in a train window you'd always have remembered.
The little boy's room was very large and full of lights. There were tinkly glass things hanging everywhere. There was a music-box playing. There was a tin railroad train running round and round the room all by itself making a bangy noise. There was a wound-up bird in a toy cage crying "Hi! Hi!" There was a crackling fire. Everything was tinkling or playing or singing or banging or crackling. It sounded busy. You had to talk very loud to make any one hear you.
The little boy sat on top of a table in a big bay window looking out at the night. His knees were all cuddled up into the curve of his arms. He had on a little red wrapper and bare legs and fur slippers. He was lots littler than us. He looked cunning.
We stamped our feet on the rug.
"Here's your dog!" I said.
When the little boy saw Tiger Lilly he jumped right down from the table and screamed. It was with joy that he screamed. He threw his arms right around Tiger Lily's neck and screamed all over again. Tiger Lily liked it very much.
"What makes his paws so fluffy?" he screamed. "How soft his face is! He's got sweet eyes! He's got a sad tail! What's his name? Where did you get him? Is he for me? Do I have to pay money for him? What does he eat? Will he drink coffee?" Just as though he was mad about something he began suddenly to jump up and down and cry tears. "Why doesn't somebody answer me?" he screamed. "Why doesn't somebody tell me?"
He got so excited about it that he hit Carol on the nose and blooded him quite a good deal.
The little boy's mother came running.
"Oh hush—hush, Dicky!" she cried. "Don't be in such a hurry! The boy will tell you all about it in time! Give him time I say! Give him time!"
"No he won't," I explained. "My brother Carol never tells anything. He can't."
"He's—dumb," said our Uncle Peter.
The Lady looked sort of queer.
"Oh dear—Oh dear—Oh dear," she said. "What a misfortune!"
Our Uncle Peter sort of sniffed his expression.
"Misfortune?" he said. "I call it the greatest blessing in the world!" He glared at little Dicky. "Yes the greatest blessing in the world!" he said. "A child who doesn't babble or fuss!—Or SCREAM!"
The Lady looked more and more surprised. She turned to the little boy.
"'Dumb,' Dicky," she said. "You understand? Doesn't speak?"
Dicky looked at his Mother. He looked at Carol. A little pucker came and blacked itself between his eyebrows. As though to toss the pucker away he tossed back his whole head and ran to Tiger Lily and threw his arms around Tiger Lily's neck.
"Doesn't——EVER?" he said.
"Doesn't ever—what?" said our Uncle Peter.
"Sleep?" said Dicky.
"It was the boy we were talking about," laughed his Mother. "Not the doggie." She tried to put her arms around him.
He wiggled right out of them and ran back to Tiger Lily.
"Is it his adenoids?" he cried. "Have you had his eyes tested? How do you know but what it's his teeth?"
"Whose teeth?" frowned our Uncle Peter.
"Tiger Lily's!" cried Dicky.
His Mother made a sorry sound in her throat.
"Poor Dicky," she said. "He's had most everything done to him!—Tonsils,—spine,—eyes,—ears,—teeth!—Why the last Doctor I saw was almost positive that the Insomnia was due entirely to—" In the very middle of what it was due to she turned to our Uncle Peter. Her voice got very private. Our Uncle Peter had to stoop his head to hear it. He had a proud head. It didn't stoop very easily.
"He isn't my own little boy," she whispered.
As though his ears were magic the little boy looked up and grinned. His eyes looked naughty.
"Nobody's own little boy," he said. "Nobody's own little boy!" As though it was a song without any tune he began to sing it. "Nobody's—Nobody's own little boy!"
The Lady tried to stop him. He struck at her with his feet. It made a hurt on her arm. He snatched Tiger Lily by the collar and started for the door.
"Going to find Cook and get a bone!" he said. He said it like a boast. He slammed the door behind him. It made a rude noise. He came running back and looked a little sorry, but mostly bashful. He pointed at Tiger Lily. "What—What's HE afraid of?" he said.
"Noises," I explained.
"Noises?" cried the little boy. He cried it with a sort of a hoot. It sounded scornful.
"Oh pshaw!" he said. "There isn't a noise in the world that I'm afraid of! Not thunder! Not guns! Not ANYTHING! Noises are my friends! In the night I take torpedoes and crack 'em on the hearth just to hear them sputter! I've got three tin pans tied on a string! I've got a pop-gun!"
He ran back to the table to get the gun. It was a nice gun. It was painted bright blue. It looked loud.
When Tiger Lily saw it he dove under the bed. It was hard to get him out. The little boy looked very astonished.
"It's gun-bangs—specially—that Tiger Lily is afraid of," I explained.
"Gun-bangs?" said the little boy.
"That's why he can't ever hunt," I explained.
"Hunt?" said the little boy. "Not—ever you mean?" He looked at Tiger Lily. He looked at the blue pop-gun. "Not ever? Ever? Ever?" Way down in his little fur slippers it was as though a little sigh started and shivered itself up-up-up—up till it reached his smile. It made his smile sort of wobbly. "Oh all right!" he said and ran away as fast as he could to hide the blue pop-gun in the bottom of the closet. A velocipede he piled on top of it and two pillows and a Noah's Ark and a stuffed squirrel. When the piling was all done he looked back at our Uncle Peter. It was across one shoulder that he looked back. It made his little smile look twisty as well as wobbly. One of his eyebrows had crooked itself. "It's—It's SILENCES that I'm afraid of," he said.
He grabbed Tiger Lily by the collar again and started for the door. As though he was playing a Game he reached out one finger and tagged everybody as he passed them. Everybody except Carol. When he started to tag Carol he snatched back his finger and screamed instead. "He's a Silence!" he screamed. "He's a Silence!" Still holding tight to Tiger Lily's collar he ran for the stairs.
Flop-Flop-Flop his little fur slippers thudded on the hard wood floor. Tick-Tick-Tick Lily's toe-nails clicked along beside him. It sounded cool. And slippery.
His Mother wrung her hands. It seemed to be with despair that she wrung them.
"Yes that's just it," she despaired. "It's 'Silences' that he's afraid of! That's what keeps him awake all night banging at things! That's what worries him so!"
"But he gave up the noisy pop-gun," said our Uncle Peter. "Gave it up of his own accord when he saw that it frightened the dog."
"Why so he did!" said the Mother. She seemed very much surprised. "Why so he did!—Why I don't know that I ever knew him to give up anything before. He's been so delicate—and—and the only child and everything—I'm afraid we've spoiled him."
"U—m—m," said our Uncle Peter.
"And all the circumstances of the case are so bewildering," despaired the lady.
Like white pond-lilies floating in a black gloom her sad hands curled in her lap. It seemed to be at our Uncle Peter that they curled.
"Are they indeed?" said our Uncle Peter. It was the "circumstances" that he meant.
"Very bewildering," said the Lady. Her cheeks got a little pink. She jumped up and went to the door and listened a minute at the head of the stairs. When she came back to her chair she shut the door behind her.
"As I told you," she whispered, "the little boy isn't my own little boy."
"So I understood," said our Uncle Peter.
"His Mother died when he was born," said the Lady.
"Very sad indeed," said our Uncle Peter.
"Dicky is six years old," said the Lady. "I married his Father a year and a half ago. His Father was killed in an accident a year ago—"
"Oh dear—Oh dear," said our Uncle Peter.
The Lady began all over again as though it was a lesson.
"Dicky is six years old," she said. "I married his Father a year and a half ago. He was killed in an accident a year ago. It was all so sudden,—the marriage,—the accident,—everything—!" She began to cry a little. It made her clothes look sorrowfuller and sorrowfuller and her face more and more surprised. Once again she curled up her white pond-lily hands at our Uncle Peter. It was as though she thought that our Uncle Peter could help her perhaps with some of her surprises. "I—I didn't know his Father very long," she cried. "I never knew his Mother at all!——It's—It's pretty bewildering," she said, "to be left all alone—for life—with a perfectly, strange little boy—who isn't any relation at all!—All his funny little suits to worry about—and his mumps and his measles—and—and whether he ought to play marbles 'for keeps'—and shall I send him to college or not? And suppose he turns out a burglar or something dreadful like that?—And how in the world am I going to tackle his first love affair? Or his choice of a profession?—Merciful Heavens!—Perhaps he'll want to fly!"
"Why—you're just like a Hen," said our Uncle Peter.
The Lady didn't like to be called a Hen.
It ruffled her all up.
Our Uncle Peter had to talk about Base Ball to soothe her.
The Lady didn't know anything about Base Ball but it seemed to soothe her considerably to hear about it.
When our Uncle Peter was all through soothing her she looked up as pleasant as pleasant could be.
"WHY?" she said.
"Why—what?" said our Uncle Peter. He seemed a little perplexed.
"Why—am I like a Hen?" said the Lady.
"O—h," said our Uncle Peter. He acted very much relieved. "O—h," he said. "I was afraid it was something you were going to ask me about Base Ball. But a Hen——?" He looked with smiles at the Lady. "Oh but a Hen—?—Why even a Hen, my dear Madam," he smiled, "a real professional true-enough hen doesn't take any too easily to the actual chick itself until she's served a certain sit-tightly, go-lightly, egg-shell sort of apprenticeship as it were to the IDEA.—Thrust a bunch of chicks under her before she's served this apprenticeship and——"
I jumped up and down and clapped my hands. I just couldn't help it.
"Oh, I know what happens!" I cried. "She sits too heavy! And squashes 'em perfectly flat!—There was a hen," I cried. "Her name was Lizzie! She was a good hen! But childless! The Grocer gave us some day-old chicks to put under her! But when we went out to the nest the next morning to see 'em—they couldn't have been flatter if they'd been pressed in the Bible!—My Brother Carol cried,—I cried,—my Mother——"
"I don't care at all who cried," said the Lady. It was true. She didn't. All she cared was to look at our Uncle Peter. The look was a stern look.
"And are you trying to imply, Mr.—Mr.—?"
"Merredith," said our Uncle Peter. "Percival Merredith.—'Uncle Peter' for short."
"Mr. Merredith," repeated the Lady coldly. "Are you trying to imply that my——step-son looks as though he had been pressed in a—a—Bible?"
I shook in my boots. Carol shook in his boots. You could hear us.
Our Uncle Peter never shook a bit. He just twinkled.
"Well—hardly," he said.
The Lady looked pretty surprised. When she wasn't looking surprised she looked thoughtful.
Her voice sounded little when she got it started again.
"Maybe—Maybe I DO take my responsibilities too heavily," she said. "But it's this—this sleeping business that worries me so."
"I should think it would," said our Uncle Peter.
"No Nurse Maid will stay with me," said the Lady. "They say it gives them the creeps.—It's enough to give anyone the creeps.—A grown person of course expects a certain amount of wakefulness, but a child,—a little care-free—heedless child—? Just when you think you've got him safely to sleep—all cuddled up in your own bed or even in his own bed—and are just drowsing off into the first real sleep you've had for a week—?—Patter—Patter—Patter in the hall! Creak—Creak—Creak on the stairs! A chair bumped over in the Library!—Bumped over on purpose you understand! Just to make a noise! 'Noises are his friends,' he says. Why once—once—" The Lady's mouth smiled a little. "Once when I woke and missed him and hunted everywhere—I found him at last in the Pantry—on the floor—with his ear cuddled close up to a mouse-hole! Mouse-Nibble Noises he says are his special friends in the middle of the night when there isn't anything else.—ANYTHING to break the silence it seems to be!—Why in the world should he be afraid of a Silence? Nobody can account for it!"
"Possibly not," said our Uncle Peter. "Yet the fact remains that either within or just outside the borders of his consciousness the only two people responsible for his Being have disappeared unaccountably into a Silence——from which they have not returned."
"Oh dear," said the Lady. "I never thought of that! You mean—You mean—that perhaps he thinks that a Silence is a Hole that you might fall into if you don't fill it up with a Noise? Why the poor little fellow!—How in the world is one ever to tell?—Oh dear—Oh dear——" She sank back in her chair and floated her hands in her lap. Her eyes looked as though she was going to cry again. But she didn't cry. That is, not much. Mostly she just sighed. "It isn't as though he was an easy child to understand," she sighed. "He catches cold so easily, and mumps and everything.—And he's so irritable.—He kicks,—he bites,—he scratches!"
"So I have seen demonstrated," said our Uncle Peter.
"Oh, it's quite evident," cried the Lady, "that you think I'm harsh with him!—But whatever in the world would YOU do?" She threw out her hands toward the pretty room,—the rugs,—the pictures,—the fire,—the toys. "Perhaps you can tell me what he NEEDS?" she said.
"A good spanking," said our Uncle Peter.
The Lady gave a little gasp.
"Oh, not for punishment," said our Uncle Peter. "But just for exercise.—It's the only exercise that a lot of pampered, sedentary children ever get!"
"P—Pampered?" gasped the Lady. "S—Sed—entary?" As though her head was bursting with the noises all around the room she clapped her hands over her ears.
Our Uncle Peter jumped up from his chair and began to chase the little tin railroad train. It looked funny to see so large a man running after so small a train. When he caught it it was having a railroad accident in the tunnel under the table where a book had fallen on the track. Like a beetle with no paint on its stomach he left it lying on its back with its little wheels kicking in the air.
"If only all the racket was as easily disposed of!" said the Lady.
"It IS!" said our Uncle Peter.
Like turning off faucets of water he turned off the noises one by one,—the window-breeze that made the glass dangles tinkle,—the funny jiggly spring that kept the toy bird screaming "Hi-Hi" in its wicker cake,—the music box that tooted horns and beat drums right in the middle of its best tunes! He looked like a giant stalking through the Noah's Ark animals! His foot was longer than the village store!
"If only I figured as largely in a less miniature world!" he said.
He looked at the Lady very hard when he said it as though he was saying something very important.
The Lady didn't seem to consider it important at all. She looked at her skirts instead and smoothed them very tidily.
"It's a—It's a pleasant day—isn't it?" said our Uncle Peter.
"V—very," said the Lady. Quite suddenly she looked up at him. Her cheeks were pink. She seemed to want to speak but didn't know quite how. She looked more surprised than ever. She bent forward very suddenly and stared and stared at him.
"Why—Why you're the gentleman," she said, "who was in the Fruit Store the day I bought the Alligator pears and dropped my pocket-book down behind the trash-barrel?"
"Also the day you bought the Red Mackintosh Apples," said our Uncle Peter. "The Grocer cheated you outrageously on them.—Also the day you wore the bunch of white violets and pricked your finger so brutally,—also the day on the ferry when there was a slight collision with a tug-boat and I had the privilege of—of——."
The Lady looked very haughty.
"It was the day of the Alligator Pears—that I referred to," she said. "The only day in my recollection!" Very positively she said it,—"the only day in my recollection." But all the time that she said it her cheeks got pinker and pinker. It was when she looked in the glass and saw how mistaken her positiveness looked that her cheeks got so pink. Tap—Tap—Tap her foot stamped on the rug. "Did—Did you know who it was going to be——when you brought the dog?" she said. "That is,—did you know when you first saw the advertisement in the paper." Her white forehead got all black and frowny. "How in the world did you know—my name?" she said.
Our Uncle Peter made an expression on his face. It was the expression that our Mother calls his "Third-Helping-of-Apple-Pie Expression,"—bold and unashamed.
"I asked the Grocer," he said.
"It was a—a great liberty," said the Lady.
"Was it?" said our Uncle Peter. He didn't seem as sorry as you'd have expected.
The Lady looked at Carol. The Lady looked at me.
"How many children have you?" she said.
"None of my own," said our Uncle Peter. "But three of my brother Philip's,—Carol and Ruthy as here observed, and Rosalee aet. eighteen who is at present in Cuba engaging herself to be married."
"O—h," said the Lady.
"I am in short," said our Uncle Peter, "that object of Romance and Pity popularly known as a 'Bachelor Uncle.'"
"O—h," said the Lady. She seemed more relieved than you'd have supposed.
"But in my own case, of course—" said our Uncle Peter.
In the very midst of his own case he stopped right off short to look all around the room again as though he was counting how heavy the toys were and how heavy the money was that had bought the toys. All the twinkle came back to his eyes.
"But in my own case," he said, "I've always known ahead—of course—for a very long time—that I was going to have 'em.—Learned to sit lightly on the idea,—re-balance my prejudices,—re-adjust my—"
"Have—what?" gasped the Lady.
"Nephews and nieces," said our Uncle Peter.
"O—h," said the Lady.
"Had their names all selected I mean," explained our Uncle Peter. "Their virtues, their vices, their avocations, all decided upon.——Ruthy of course might have done with less freckles, and Carol here doesn't quite come up to specifications yet concerning muscle and brawn—and it was never my original intention of course that any young whipper-snapper niece of mine should engage herself to the first boy she fell in love with.—But taken all in all,—all in all I say—"
"I think," frowned the Lady, "you are perfectly——absurd."
The word "absurd" didn't seem to be at all the word she meant to say. She tried to bite it back but got it all mixed up with a little giggle. She bit the giggle instead. It twisted her mouth like a bitter taste.
Our Uncle Peter looked very sympathetic.
"You ought to get away somewhere on a journey," he said. "There's nothing like it as a tonic for the mind. Even if it's a place you don't like very much it clarifies the vision so,—dissipates all one's minor worries."
"—Minor worries?" said the Lady.
"Travel! Yes that's the thing!" said our Uncle Peter quite positively. All in a minute he seemed to rustle with time tables and maps and smell of cinders and railroad tickets. "Now there's Bermuda for instance!" he suggested. "Just a month of blue waters and white sand would put the roses back in your cheeks.—And Dicky—"
"Impossible," said the Lady.
"Or if Bermuda's too far," insisted our Uncle Peter. "What about Atlantic City? Think how Dicky would enjoy romping on the board walk—while you followed more sedately of course in a luxurious wheel chair!—The most diverting place in the world!—Yes quite surely you must go to Atlantic City!"
The Lady made a little gasp as though her Patience was bursted.
"You don't seem to understand," she said. "I tell you it's quite impossible!"
"W-H-Y?" said our Uncle Peter. He said it sharply like a Teacher. It HAD to be answered.
The Lady looked up. She looked down. She looked sideways. She wrung her hands in her lap. Her face got sort of white.
"It isn't very kind of you," she said, "to force me so to a confession of poverty."
"'Poverty'?" laughed our Uncle Peter. He looked around at the furniture,—at the toys,—at the pictures. It was at most everything that he looked around. He seemed to be very cheerful about it.
The Lady didn't like his cheerfulness.
"Oh I've always had a little for myself," she explained. "Enough for one person to live very simply on. But NOW——? With this strange little boy on my hands,—I—I intend to go to work!"
"Go to——work?" said our Uncle Peter. "WORK?" He said it with a sort of a hoot. "Work? Work? Why, what in the world could YOU do?"
"I can crochet," said the Lady proudly. "And embroider. I can mend. I can play the piano. And really you know I can make the most beautiful pies."
"Apple pies," said our Uncle Peter.
"Apple pies," said the Lady. Like a handful of black tissue paper she crumpled up suddenly in her chair. Her shoulders shook and shook. The sound she made was like a sob going down and a laugh coming up. "I'm not crying," she said, "because it's so hard—but b—because the idea is so f—funny."
"F—F—Funny?" said our Uncle Peter. "It's preposterous! It's gro—tesque! It's—it's fantastic!"
He began to walk very fast from the book-case to the window and from the window back to the book-case again. It wasn't till he'd stubbed his toe twice on a toy Ferris Wheel that the twinkle came back to his eyes.
"Carol!" he said. "Ruthy!—In consideration of the reduced circumstances in which this very pleasant Lady finds herself don't you think that you could afford to offer her a reduced price on the dog,—your original profit on the deal being as noted $49.50?"
The Lady jumped to her feet.
"Oh no—no—no!" she said. "Not for a moment! Fifty dollars is what I offered! And fifty dollars it shall be! All dogs I'm sure are worth fifty dollars. Especially if they don't sleep! Why all the other dogs that people brought me did nothing except sleep! On my sofas! In my chairs! Under my tables! Night or day you couldn't drop even so much as a handkerchief on the floor that one or the other of them didn't camp right down and go to sleep on it! Oh, no—no—no," protested the Lady, "whatever my faults, a bargain is a bargain and——"
"Whatever your faults, my dear Madam," said our Uncle Peter, "they are essentially feminine and therefore enchanting! It is only when ladies ape the faults of men that men resent the same!—Your extravagant indulgency—" he bowed towards the toys—"your absolute innocence of all business guile—" he bowed towards Tiger Lily—"nerves strung so exquisitely that the slightest—the slightest—"
The Lady shivered her clothes like a black frost.
"It was advice that I was looking for, not compliments," she said.
"Oh ho!" said Uncle Peter. "I'm infinitely more adept with advice than I am with compliments!"
The Lady looked a little bit surprised. She frowned.
"It's my little boy that I want advice about," she said. "What IS the best thing I can do for him?"
Our Uncle Peter looked at the ceiling. He looked at the rug. He looked at the pictures on the wall. But it seemed to satisfy him most to look at the Lady's face.
"U—m—m," he said. "U—m—mmmm.—That isn't an easy question to answer unless you're willing first to answer a question of mine."
"Ask any question you want to," said the Lady.
"U—m—m," said our Uncle Peter all over again. "U—m—m—Um—m—m—U—m—m. It takes a great deal of patience," said our Uncle Peter, "to bring up a little boy.—Unless every time he's naughty you can say to yourself 'Well, even so—think what a good man his Father grew to be!'——Or every time he's good you're fair enough to admit that 'Even his naughty Father was once as nice as this!'"——All the twinkle went suddenly out of our Uncle Peter's eyes. It left them looking narrow. He made a quick glance at Carol. He made a quick glance at me. He seemed very pleased that we were so busy looking at a map of Bermuda. He stepped a little nearer to the Lady. His voice sounded funny. "Were you—were you very fond of the little boy's Father?" he said.
The Lady's face went blazing like a flame out of her black clothes. It was like a white flame that it went blazing. Her eyes looked screaming.
"How dare you?" she said. "You have no business!—What if I was?—What if I wasn't?" All the scream in her eyes fell down her throat into a whisper. "Suppose—Suppose—I—WASN'T?" she whispered.
"Then indeed I CAN give you advice," said our Uncle Peter.
The Lady reached out a hand to the book-case to make herself more steady.
"What—what is it?" she said.
Our Uncle Peter looked funnier and funnier. It wasn't like Christmas that he looked. Nor Fourth of July. Nor even like when we've got the mumps or the measles. It was like Easter Sunday that he looked! There was no twinkle in it. Nor any smoke. Nor even paper dolls. But just SHININGNESS! His voice was all SHININGNESS too!—If it hadn't been you never could have heard it 'cause he made his words so little.
"It's almost a year now," he said, "since our eyes first met.—You've tried your best to hide from me—but you couldn't do it.—Fate had other ideas in mind.—A chance encounter on the street,—that day on the ferry boat,—your funny little dog-advertisement in the paper?"
Quite suddenly our Uncle Peter straightened up like a soldier and spoke right out loud again.
"About your little boy," he said, "my advice about your little boy?—It being indeed so well-nigh impossible, Madam, for a woman to bring up a little boy very successfully unless—she did love his Father,—my advice to you is that without the slightest unnecessary delay you proceed to get him a Father whom you COULD love!"
Whereupon, as people always say in books, our Uncle Peter turned upon his heel and started for the door.
The Lady swooned into her chair.
Our Uncle Peter had to get a glass of water to un-swoon her.
I ran for a fan. It bursted my garter. When our Uncle Peter tried to mend it he swore instead.
The Lady came out of her swoon without an instant's hesitation.
"Here at least," she said, "is something that I know enough to do."
Her mouth was full of scorn and pins. It was with pins that she knew enough to do it.
Our Uncle Peter looked very humble.
The Lady patted my knees.
"Little girls are so much easier to manage than little boys," she said. "I don't seem to understand little boys."
"Nor big boys either!" said our Uncle Peter. He said it with gruffness. It sounded cross.
"Perhaps I—don't want to understand them," said the Lady.
Our Uncle Peter's cheeks got sort of red.
"Suit yourself, my dear Madam," he said and started for the door. He picked up my hat and put it on Carol's head.—Carol's head looked pretty astonished. He took Carol's cap and put it on my head. He handed us our coats upside down.—All our pennies and treasures fell out on the floor. He snatched up the little boy's gloves by mistake and thrust them into his own pockets.
The Lady collected everything again and re-distributed them. She seemed to think it was funny. Not very funny but just a little. She looked at Carol sort of specially.
"Oh my dear Child," she said. "I hope you didn't mind because Dicky called you a 'Silence'?"
Carol did mind. He minded very much. I could tell by the way he carried his ears. They looked very stately. Our Uncle Peter whirled round in the door-way. His ears looked pretty stately too.
"All the men in our family," he said, "aim to meet the exigencies of life—sensibly."
The Lady seemed to consider the fact quite a long time before she smiled again.
"Oh very well," she said. "If the Uncle really is as sensible as the nephew perhaps he will consent to leave the children here with me to-night—instead of bearing them off to the confusion and general mis-button-ness of hotels."
Our Uncle Peter's face fairly burst into relief.
"Oh, do you really mean that?" he cried. "It IS their infernal buttons that makes most of the worry!—And their prayers?—What IS the difference anyway between a morning and an evening prayer?—And this awful responsibility about cereals? And how in the world do you make sure about their necks?"
"Oh those are the things I know perfectly," said the Lady. "All the nice gentle in-door things."
Our Uncle Peter began to strut again.
"Oh pshaw!" he said. "It's only the outdoor things that are really important,—how to climb mountains, how to stop a runaway horse,—how to smother a grass fire!"
It put the Lady all in a flutter.
"Oh pshaw!" said our Uncle Peter. "That's nothing!—The very first instant you hear the maddened hoofs on the pavement you place yourself thus! And THUS!—And——"
The Lady tried to explain to him the difference between a morning and an evening prayer. "Now at night, of course," she explained, "everything is so very lonely that—"
Our Uncle Peter didn't seem to care at all how lonely it was.
"The instant you see the horses's blood-red nostrils,—JUMP!" cried our Uncle Peter.
It sounded pretty muddled to me.
"Personally," insisted the Lady, "I consider a rather soft sponge best for the neck."
"So that with your hands clutched like a vise on either side of the mouth," cried our Uncle Peter, "you can saw up and down with all the violence at your command! Now in fighting a grass fire, it's craft, not might, that you need. In that case of course—"
"Two hours if you're using a double boiler," explained the Lady, "but many people consider a rapider action more digestible, I suppose."
"My dear Lady——let me finish my explanation!" said our Uncle Peter.
"But I want to finish mine!" said the Lady.
Our legs got pretty tired waiting for all the explanations to get un-mixed up again.
It was nine o'clock before the Lady gave our Uncle Peter a cup of hot chocolate and turned him out doors.
"Just like a dog," said our Uncle Peter. We heard him say it across his shoulder as he went down the steps.
It made the Lady laugh a little.
It was warm milk in two great blue bowls that she gave us. "Just like kittens," we thought it was!
We heard the little boy's feet come thud-thud-thudding up the stairs. We heard Tiger Lily's toe-nails click-click-click along behind him.
The little boy looked very full of chicken and joyfulness. So did Tiger Lily.
"Cook says I've got to romp him!" he said. "Every day!—Twice every day!—More'n a hundred times some days! Out doors too! Not just in parks,—parks are good enough for cats,—but in real fields! Else he'll DIE!" Almost as though he was frightened he stooped down suddenly and laid his little ear on Tiger Lily's soft breast. "He's alive now!" he boasted. "You can hear his heart nibbling!" He threw back his little head and laughed and laughed and clapped his hands. He took Tiger Lily by the collar and led him over to the table by the window. He climbed up on the table and pulled Tiger Lily after him.
Tiger Lily was frightened, but not too much. He felt proud. His ears looked fluffy. His back was shining silk. His tail hung down across the edge of the table like a plume.
Far off in the city streets somewhere there was a noise that trolly cars make when they're climbing up a hill and the switch is too hard for them. It was a sour sound.
Tiger Lily started to make a little quiver in his back. The little boy threw his arm around him. A mouse nibbled in the wall. Tiger Lily cocked his head to listen but kissed the little boy's cheek instead. It was a nice kiss. But wet. The little boy laughed right out loud. Way down on the very tip end of Tiger Lily's plumey tail about two hairs wagged. When the little boy saw it his face went all shining. He threw both arms around Tiger Lily's neck. "T—Tiger Lily's—little boy!" he said. "T—T—" Something funny happened to his mouth. It was a teeny-weeny yawn that didn't seem to know just what to do about it. Nothing in all the world felt lonely any more.
The Lady put me to bed.
Carol put himself to bed all except the knots in his shoestrings.
We went to sleep.
Pretty soon it was morning. And we went home.
Our Uncle Peter changed a lot of our dog-money into nickles so it would jingle. We sounded like cow-bells. It felt rich. Our Uncle Peter held us very tight by the hands all the way. He said he was afraid we might step into something wet and sink.
It had been Wednesday when we went away. It was only Thursday when we got home. It seemed later than that.
Our Mother was very glad to see us. So was our Father.
The Tame Crow flew down out of the Maple Tree and sat on Carol's head.
Our Tame Coon came out of the hole under the piazza and sniffed at our heels.
The posie bed in front of the house was blue with violets. The white Spirea bush foamed like a wave against the wood-shed window.
In spite of our absence nothing seemed changed.
We gave our Father a dollar of our money to buy some Tulips. We gave our Mother a dollar to spend any way she wanted to. We put the rest of it in a book. It was a Savings Bank Book that we put it into.
"For your old age," our Father said.
Our Father's eyes had twinkles in them.
"I hope you've thanked your Uncle Peter properly!" he said.
"For what?" said our Uncle Peter.
Our Father jingled the twenty nickles in his hand. "For all favors," he said.
Our Uncle Peter said he was perfectly repaid. He made a frown at my Father.
When bed-time came I climbed up into my Mother's lap and told her all about it,—the house,—the cocoa,—the toy Ferris Wheel,—the blue daisies on the stair carpet,—the pigeon that lit on my window-sill in the morning,—the splashy way Tiger Lily lapped his milk.
"It will be interesting," said my Mother, "to see what we hear from Tiger Lily as Time goes on."
Time went on pretty quickly. Pansies happened and yellow poppies and ducks and two kittens and August.
It wasn't till almost Autumn that we ever heard from Tiger Lily or the little boy again.
When the letter came it was from the little boy. But it was the Lady who wrote it.
We thought her writing would be all black and sorrowful. But it was violet-colored instead, with all the ends of her letters quirked up with surprise like her face, only prancier.
"My dear little friends," wrote the Lady, "Dicky wishes me to tell you how much we enjoyed your delightful visit, and to say that Tiger Lily is a sweet dog. He thinks you are mistaken about Tiger Lily not hunting. Tiger Lily hunts very well he says,—'only different.' It's mice, he wants me to tell you, that Tiger Lily is very fierce about. And bugs of any sort. All in-door hunting in fact. Certainly our wood-boxes and our fire-places have been kept absolutely free of mice this entire season. And Cook says that not a June Bug has survived. Truly it's very gratifying. Also Dicky wants me to tell you that there's a field. It's got a brook in it where you can sail boats and everything. It's most a mile. This is all for this time Dicky says.
"With affectionate regards, I am, etc.——"
Our Mother looked up across the top of the letter. It was at my Father that she looked.
"Poor dear Lady," she said. "I hope she's happier now. It's that Mrs. Harnon, you know. Her marriage was so unfortunate to that dreadful Harnon man."
"U—m—m," said my Father.
We read the letter over and over waiting for the next one and wondering about Tiger Lily.
There wasn't any next one till most Thanksgiving. When it came at last it was Dicky's letter just the same, but it was written in our Uncle Peter's handwriting this time. It seemed funny. But perhaps the Lady's hand was lame and she advertised for help.—Our Uncle Peter reads all the newspapers.
The letter was awful short. And there weren't any quirks in it or anything. Just ink. This is what it said:
Tiger Lily's got nine puppies. We're sleeping fine.
Our Mother looked at our Father. Our Father looked at our Mother. They both looked at the letter again.
"My brother Peter's handwriting just as sure as you're born!" said my Father.
"Of course it's Peter's writing," said our Mother. Her cheeks were quite pink. "Well of all the unexpected romances—" she said.
"Whose?" I said.
"Tiger Lily's," said my Father. He seemed to be in an awful hurry to say it.
I looked at my Mother. Her eyes were shining.
"Is a—Is a 'Romance' a something that you make a story out of?" I said.
"Yes it is," said my Mother.
I thought of my gold pencil.
"Oh, all right," I said, "when I get tall enough and more spelly I'll make a little story about it."
"You already have!" said my Mother.