Susy was not willing; indeed, she was very much frightened, and begged her mother to excuse her in some way to Mrs. Lovejoy, or, if that would not do, to go herself and explain the matter for her.
But, as it was Susy's own affair, Mrs. Parlin wished to have as little to do with it as possible. Besides, she considered it a good opportunity to teach Susy a lesson in moral courage.
Susy started very reluctantly.
"I'm afraid Mrs. Lovejoy will scold real sharp," said she. "What shall I do? O, mother, I didn't see Annie eat all the cake; I didn't watch. How do I know but she gave some crumbs to the cat? Can't I—can't I say, I guess the cat ate it?"
"Susy!" said Mrs. Parlin, sternly, "are you more afraid of displeasing Mrs. Lovejoy than you are of displeasing God? All that is required of you is the simple truth. Merely say to Annie's mother just what you have said to me; that you saw Annie eating cake several times, though there was no harm in it, and you did not call her either a thief or a liar. Speak respectfully, but decidedly; and when you have said all that is necessary, leave her politely, and come home."
Susy called up all her courage when she entered Mrs. Lovejoy's house, and saw that lady sitting very erect on a sofa, with a bleak face, which looked somehow as if a north-east wind had blown over it, and frozen it.
"Well, little girl," said she, without waiting for ceremony, "so you call my Annie all the bad names you can think of, it seems. Is that the way you are brought up?"
"I didn't call her names, ma'am; she ate the cake, but I was willing," replied Susy, calmly and respectfully, though she trembled from head to foot. There was one thought which sustained Susy; she was telling the truth, and that was just what God wanted her to do.
"Well," said Mrs. Lovejoy, "I must say you're a dignified little piece! Do you know you've done the same thing as to tell me I lie?"
This was just the way Annie had spoken; warping innocent words, and making them the occasion of a quarrel.
Susy could think of nothing which seemed exactly right to say to Mrs. Lovejoy in reply; so she wisely held her peace.
"Yes, miss, you've insulted my child, and, as if that were not enough, you come over here, deliberately, and insult me, in my own house!"
Tears sprang to Susy's eyes, but she resolutely crushed them back. There was, in her childish mind, a certain sense of self-respect, which made her unwilling to cry in the presence of such a person as Mrs. Lovejoy. She felt instinctively that the woman was not a lady. Susy was too young to reason about the matter; but she was quite sure her own mother was a model of good manners; and never, never had she known her mother to raise her voice to such a high key, or speak such angry words!
Mrs. Lovejoy said a great many things which were both severe and unjust; but Susy managed to keep up a respectful manner, as her mother had directed. Mrs. Lovejoy was disappointed. She had expected Susy would quail before her presence and make the most humble confessions.
"I always knew," cried Mrs. Lovejoy, becoming more and more exasperated,—"I always knew Mrs. Parlin held her head pretty high! She is a proud, stuck-up woman, your mother is; she has taught you to look down on my little girl! O, yes, I understand the whole story! You're a beautiful family for neighbors!"
Poor Susy was fairly bewildered.
"Now you may go home as straight as you can go! But remember one thing: never, while we live in this city, shall my daughter Annie darken your doors again!"
Susy walked home with downcast head and overflowing eyes. Her heart was very heavy, for she felt she had been disgraced for life, and could never be respected any more. Here was a trial so terrible that it caused the death of little Dandy to seem almost a trifle by comparison.
It was strange, Susy thought, how people could live through such severe troubles as had fallen to her lot to-day. She was a little girl of quick and sensitive feelings, and a sharp word always wounded her more than a blow. How that angry woman had talked about her mother!
Susy decided, upon the whole, that this was the sting—this was the "pin in the lash," which had hurt her more than the lash. How dared Mrs. Lovejoy say a word about her own mother, who was certainly the best woman that ever lived, always excepting the good people in the Bible!
By the time she entered the house, her indignation had risen like a blaze, and burned away all her tears. But should she tell her mother what Mrs. Lovejoy had said about her ownself, about her being "stuck up," and holding her head pretty high? Susy could not decide whether she ought to tell her, and risk the danger of almost breaking her heart! But before she had time to decide, she had poured out the whole story in a torrent.
Strange to say, Mrs. Parlin listened with perfect calmness, and even said, when Susy had finished,—
"Very well, my dear; now you may go and hang up your hood and cloak."
"But, mother," said Susy, rushing up stairs again, quite out of breath, "now I've taken care of my things; but did you understand what I said, mother? Annie will never come into this house, never again! Her mother forbids it!"
"That is quite fortunate for me, Susy, as it saves me the trouble of forbidding it myself!"
"Why, mother, you wouldn't do such a thing as that! Why, mother, I never heard of your doing such a thing in my life!"
"I should regret the necessity very much, my child; but wouldn't it be better, on the whole, to have a little moral courage, and put an end to all intercourse between the two families, than to live in a constant broil?"
"Why, yes, mother, I suppose so."
Susy was beginning to feel more composed. She saw that her mother understood the whole story, yet her heart was far from being broken!
"What is moral courage, mother?"
"The courage to do right."
"Did I have moral courage when I told Mrs. Lovejoy the truth?"
"Yes, dear. It was hard for you, wasn't it? If it had been easy, there would have been no moral courage about it."
"I am glad I had moral courage!" said Susy with animation. "I knew I did something right, but I didn't know what you called it."
"Now," continued Mrs. Parlin, "I have this very day been talking with a lady, who once lived next door to Mrs. Lovejoy; and she tells me enough about her to convince me that she is not a person I wish for a neighbor. And I have heard enough about Annie, too, to feel very sure she is not a safe companion for my little daughter."
"But, mother," said Susy, "you are not—you don't feel 'stuck up' above Mrs. Lovejoy?"
Mrs. Parlin smiled.
"That is not a very proper expression, Susy; but I think I do not feel stuck-up above her in the least. I am only anxious that my little daughter may not be injured by bad examples. I don't know what sort of a little girl Annie might be with proper influences, but—"
"Now, mamma, I don't want to say anything improper," said Susy, earnestly; "but wouldn't it be the piousest for me to play with Annie, and try to make her go to Sabbath school, and be better?"
Mrs. Parlin did not answer at once. She was thinking of what she had said to Susy about people who are "home missionaries," and do a great deal of good by a beautiful example.
"If you were older, dear, it would be quite different. But, instead of improving Annie, who is a self-willed child, I fear you would only grow worse yourself. She is bold, and you are rather timid. She wants to lead, and not to follow. I fear she will set you bad examples."
"I didn't know, mamma; but I thought I was almost old enough to set my own examples! I'm the oldest of the family."
Susy said no more about becoming a home-missionary to Annie; for, although she could not quite see the force of her mother's reasoning, she believed her mother was always right.
"But what does she mean by calling me timid? She has blamed me a great deal for being bold."
Yes, bold Susy certainly was, when there was a fence to climb, a pony to ride, or a storm to be faced; but she was, nevertheless, a little faint-hearted when people laughed at her. But Susy was learning every day, and this time it had been a lesson in moral courage. She did not fully understand her mother, however, as you will see by and by.
"The darkest day, Wait till to-morrow, will have passed away."
The next morning, Susy woke with a faint recollection that something unpleasant had occurred, though she could not at first remember what it was.
"But I didn't do anything wrong," was her second thought. "Now, after I say my prayers, the next thing I'll feed—O, Dandy is dead!"
"See here, Susy," said Percy, coming into the dining-room, just after breakfast; "did you ever see this cage before?"
"Now, Percy! When you know I want it out of my sight!"
Then, in the next breath, "Why, Percy Eastman, if here isn't your beautiful mocking-bird in the cage!"
"Yes, Susy; and if you'll keep him, and be good to him, you'll do me a great favor."
It was a long while before Susy could be persuaded that this rare bird was to be her "ownest own." It was a wonderfully gifted little creature. Susy could but own that he was just as good as a canary, only a great deal better. "The greater included the less." He had as sweet a voice, and a vast deal more compass. His powers of mimicry were very amusing to poor little Prudy, who was never tired of hearing him mew like a kitten, quack like a duck, or whistle like a schoolboy.
Susy was still more delighted than Prudy. It was so comforting, too, to know that she was doing Percy "a great favor," by accepting his beautiful present. She wondered in her own mind how he could be tired of such an interesting pet, and asked her to take it, just to get rid of it!
About this time, Mr. Parlin bought for Prudy a little armed-chair, which rolled about the floor on wheels. This Prudy herself could propel with only the outlay of a very little strength; but there were days when she did not care to sit in it at all. Prudy seemed to grow worse. The doctor was hopeful, very hopeful; but Mrs. Parlin was not.
Prudy's dimpled hands had grown so thin, that you could trace the winding path of every blue vein quite distinctly. Her eyes were large and mournful, and seemed to be always asking for pity. She grew quiet and patient—"painfully patient," her father said. Indeed, Mr. Parlin, as well as his wife, feared the little sufferer was ripening for heaven.
"Mamma," said she, one day, "mamma, you never snip my fingers any nowadays do you? When I'm just as naughty, you never snip my fingers!"
Mrs. Parlin turned her face away. There were tears in her eyes, and she did not like to look at those little white fingers, which she was almost afraid would never have the natural, childish naughtiness in them any more.
"I think sick and patient little girls don't need punishing," said she, after a while. "Do you remember how you used to think I snipped your hands to 'get the naughty out?' You thought the naughty was all in your little hands!"
"But it wasn't, mamma," said Prudy, slowly and solemnly. "I know where it was: it was in my heart."
"Who can take the naughty out of our hearts, dear? Do you ever think?"
"Our Father in heaven. No one else can. He knows how to snip our hearts, and get the naughty out. Sometimes he sends the earache and the toothache to Susy, and the—the—lameness to me. O, he has a great many ways of snipping!"
Prudy was showing the angel-side of her nature now. Suffering was "making her perfect." She had a firm belief that God knew all about it, and that somehow or other it was "all right." Her mother took a great deal of pains to teach her this. She knew that no one can bear affliction with real cheerfulness who does not trust in God.
But there was now and then a bright day when Prudy felt quite buoyant, and wanted to play. Susy left everything then, and tried to amuse her. If this lameness was refining little Prudy, it was also making Susy more patient. She could not look at her little sister's pale face, and not be touched with pity.
One afternoon, Flossy Eastman and Ruthie Turner came to see Susy; and, as it was one of Prudy's best days, Mrs. Parlin said they might play in Prudy's sitting-room. Ruthie was what Susy called an "old-fashioned little girl." She lived with a widowed mother, and had no brothers and sisters, so that she appeared much older than she really was. She liked to talk with grown people upon wise subjects, as if she were at least twenty-five years old. Susy knew that this was not good manners, and she longed to say so to Ruthie.
Aunt Madge was in Prudy's sitting-room when Ruthie entered. Ruthie went up to her and shook hands at once.
"I suppose it is Susy's aunt Madge," said she. "I am delighted to see you, for Susy says you love little girls, and know lots of games."
There was such a quiet composure in Ruth's manner, and she seemed to feel so perfectly at home in addressing a young lady she had never seen before, that Miss Parlin was quite astonished, as well as a little inclined to smile.
Then Ruthie went on to talk about the war. Susy listened in mute despair, for she did not know anything about politics. Aunt Madge looked at Susy's face, and felt amused, for Ruthie knew nothing about politics either: she was as ignorant as Susy. She had only heard her mother and other ladies talking together. Ruthie answered all the purpose of a parrot hung up in a cage, for she caught and echoed everything that was said, not having much idea what it meant.
When aunt Madge heard Ruth laboring away at long sentences, with hard words in them, she thought of little Dotty, as she had seen her, that morning, trying to tug Percy's huge dog up stairs in her arms.
"It is too much for her," thought aunt Madge: "the dog got the upper-hand of Dotty, and I think the big words are more than a match for Ruth."
But Ruth did not seem to know it, for she persevered. She gravely asked aunt Madge if she approved of the "Mancimation of Proclapation." Then she said she and her mamma were very much "perplexed" when news came of the last defeat. She would have said "surprised" only surprised was an every-day word, and not up to standard of elegant English.
Ruth was not so very silly, after all. It was only when she tried to talk of matters too old for her that she made herself ridiculous. She was very quiet and industrious, and had knit several pairs of socks for the soldiers.
As soon as Miss Parlin could disentangle herself from her conversation with Ruthie, she left the children to themselves.
"Let's keep school," said Prudy. "I'll be teacher, if you want me to."
"Very well," replied Susy, "we'll let her; won't we, girls? she is such a darling."
"Well," said Prudy, with a look of immense satisfaction, "please go, Susy, and ask grandma if I may have one of those shiny, white handkerchiefs she wears on her neck, and a cap, and play Quaker."
Grandma was very glad that Prudy felt well enough to play Quaker, and lent her as much "costume" as she needed, as well as a pair of spectacles without eyes, which the children often borrowed for their plays, fancying that they added to the dignity of the wearer.
When Prudy was fairly equipped, she was a droll little Quakeress, surely, and grandma had to be called up from the kitchen to behold her with her own eyes. The little soft face, almost lost in the folds of the expansive cap, was every bit as solemn as if she had been, as aunt Madge said, "a hundred years old, and very old for her age."
She was really a sweet little likeness of grandma Read in miniature.
"And their names are alike, too," said Susy: "grandma's name is Prudence, and so is Prudy's."
"Used to be," said Prudy, gravely.
"Rosy Frances" was now lifted most carefully into her little wheeled chair and no queen ever held a court with more dignity than she assumed as she smoothed into place the folds of her grandma's snowy kerchief, which she wore about her neck.
"What shall we do first?" said Flossy and Susy.
"Thee? thee?" Prudy considered "thee" the most important word of all. "Why, thee may behave; I mean, behave thyselves."
The new teacher had not collected her ideas yet.
"Let's get our books together," said Susy, "and then we'll all sit on the sofa and study."
"Me, me," chimed in Dotty Dimple, dropping the little carriage in which she was wheeling her kitty; "me, too!"
"Well, if you must, you must; snuggle in here between Flossy and me," said Susy, who was determined that to-day everything should go on pleasantly.
"Sixteenth class in joggerphy," said Miss Rosy Frances, peeping severely over her spectacles. "Be spry quick!"
The three pupils stood up in a row, holding their books close to their faces.
"Thee may hold out your hands now, and I shall ferule thee—the whole school," was the stern remark of the young teacher, as she took off her spectacles to wipe the holes.
"Why, we haven't been doing anything," said Ruthie, affecting to cry.
"No, I know it; but thee'd ought to have been doing something; thee'd ought to have studied thy lessons."
"But, teacher, we didn't have time," pleaded Flossy; "you called us out so quick! Won't you forgive us!"
"Yes, I will," said Rosy Frances, gently; "I will, if thee'll speak up 'xtremely loud, and fix thine eyes on thy teacher."
The pupils replied, "Yes, ma'am," at the top of their voices.
"Now," said Rosy Frances, appearing to read from the book, "where is the Isthmus of Susy?"
The scholars all laughed, and answered at random. They did not know that their teacher was trying to say the "Isthmus of Suez."
The next question took them by surprise:—
"Is there any man in the moon?"
"What a queer idea, Rosy," said Susy; "what made you ask that?"
"'Cause I wanted to know," replied the Quaker damsel. "They said he came down when the other man was eatin' porridge. I should think, if he went back up there, and didn't have any wife and children, he'd be real lonesome!"
This idea of Prudy's set the whole school to romancing, although it was in the midst of a recitation. Flossy said if there was a man in the moon, he must be a giant, or he never could get round over the mountains, which she had heard were very steep.
Ruthie asked if there was anything said about his wife! Susy, who had read considerable poetry was sure she had heard something of a woman up there, named "Cynthia;" but she supposed it was all "moonshine," or "made up," as she expressed it. She said she meant to ask her aunt Madge to write a fairy story about it.
Here their progress in useful knowledge was cut short by the disappearance of Dotty. Looking out of the window, they saw the little rogue driving ducks with a broomstick. These ducks had a home not far from Mrs. Parlin's, and if Dotty Dimple had one temptation stronger than all others, it was the sight of those waddling fowls, with their velvet heads, beads of eyes, and spotted feathers. When she saw them "marshin' along," she was instantly seized with a desire either to head the company or to march in the rear, and set them to quacking. She was bareheaded, and Susy ran down stairs to bring her into the house; and that was an end of the school for that day. Dotty Dimple was something like the kettle of molasses which Norah was boiling, very sweet, but very apt to boil over: she needed watching.
When Norah's candy was brought up stairs, the little girls pronounced it excellent.
"O, dear," said Flossy, "I wish our girl was half as good as Norah! I don't see why Electa and Norah ain't more alike when they are own sisters!"
"What dreadful girls your mother always has!" said Susy; "it's too bad?"
"I know of a girl," said Prudy, "one you'd like ever'n, ever so much, Flossy; only you can't have her."
"Why not?" said Flossy; "my mother would go hundreds of leagues to get a good girl. Why can't she have her?"
"O, 'cause, she's dead! It's Norah's cousin over to Ireland."
They next played the little game of guessing "something in this room," that begins with a certain letter. Ruthie puzzled them a long while on the initial S. At last she said she meant "scrutau" (escritoire or scrutoire), pointing towards the article with her finger.
"Why, that's a writing-desk," said Susy. "I don't see where you learn so many big worns, Ruthie."
"O, I take notice, and remember them," replied Ruthie, looking quite pleased. She thought Susy was praising her.
"Now let me tell some letters," said Prudy.
"L.R. She lives at your house, Flossy."
Nobody could guess.
"Why, I should think that was easy enough," said Prudy: "it's that girl that lives there; she takes off the covers of your stove with a clothes-pin: it's 'Lecta Rosbornd.'"
The little girls explained to Prudy that the true initials of Electa Osborne would be E.O., instead of L.R. But Prudy did not know much about spelling. She had known most of her letters; but it was some time ago, and they had nearly all slipped out of her head.
She said, often, she wished she could "only, only read;" and Susy offered to teach her, but Mrs. Parlin said it would never do till Prudy felt stronger.
I will tell you now why I think Susy did not understand her mother when she said Annie was not a suitable playmate. In the evening, after Ruthie and Flossy were gone, Susy said to her mother,—
"I feel real cross with Ruthie, mamma: I think she puts herself forward. She goes into a room, and no matter how old the people are that are talking, she speaks up, and says, 'O, yes, I know all about it.' I never saw such an old-fashioned little girl."
"Very well," said Mrs. Parlin; "if she is rude, take care that the same fault does not appear in yourself, Susy."
"But, mother," said Susy, suddenly veering about and speaking in Ruth's favor, "I don't know but it's proper to do as Ruthy does. If you know something, and other people don't, ain't it right to speak up and say it?"
"It is never right for little girls to monopolize conversation, Susy; that is, to take the lead in it, and so prevent older people from talking. Neither is it proper to pretend to know more than we do, and talk of things beyond our knowledge."
"I knew you would say so, mother. I just asked to hear what you would say. I know Ruthie is ill-mannered: do you think I ought to play with her any more?"
Mrs. Parlin looked at Susy in surprise.
"Why, you know, mother, you wouldn't let me play with Annie Lovejoy. You said, 'evil communications corrupted good manners.'"
"But can't you see any difference in the cases, Susy? What a muddy little head you must wear on your shoulders!"
"Not much of any," said Susy, trying to think; "they're both bold; that's what you don't like."
"Anything else, Susy?"
"O, yes, mother; Ruthie's good, and Annie isn't. It was queer for me to forget that!"
"I should think it was, Susy, since it is the only thing of much importance, after all. Now, it seems to me you are very ready to cast off your friends when their manners offend you. How would you like it to be treated in the same way? Suppose Mrs. Turner and Ruthie should be talking together this very minute. Ruthie says, 'That Susy Parlin keeps her drawers in a perfect tumble; she isn't orderly a bit. Susy Parlin never knit a stitch for the soldiers in her life. Mother, mayn't I stop playing with Susy Parlin?'"
Susy laughed, and looked a little ashamed.
"Well, mother," said she, twisting the corner of her handkerchief, "I guess I can't say anything about Ruthie Turner; she's a great deal better girl than I am, any way."
Days and weeks passed. The snowflakes, which had fallen from time to time, and kept themselves busy making a patchwork quilt for mother Earth, now melted away, and the white quilt was torn into shreds. The bare ground was all there was to be seen, except now and then a dot of the white coverlet. It was Spring, and everything began to wake up. The sun wasn't half so sleepy, and didn't walk off over the western hills in the middle of the afternoon to take a nap.
The sleighing was gone long ago. The roads were dismal swamps. "Wings" would have a rest till "settled going." Susy's skates were hung up in a green baize bag, to dream away the summer.
The mocking-bird performed his daily duties of entertaining the family, besides learning a great many new songs. Susy said she tried not to set her heart on that bird.
"I'll not give him a name," she added, "for then he'll be sure to die! My first canary was Bertie, and I named the others Berties, as fast as they died off. The last one was so yellow that I couldn't help calling him Dandelion; but I wish I hadn't, for then, perhaps, he'd have lived."
Susy had caught some whimsical notions about "signs and wonders." It is strange how some intelligent children will believe in superstitious stories! But as soon as Susy's parents discovered that her young head had been stored with such worse than foolish ideas, they were not slow to teach her better.
She had a great fright, about this time, concerning Freddy Jackson. He was one of the few children who were allowed to play in "Prudy's sitting-room." He did not distract the tired nerves of "Rosy Frances," as her cousin Percy and other boys did, by sudden shouts and loud laughing. Prudy had a vague feeling that he was one of the little ones that God thought best to punish by "snipping his heart." She knew what it was to have her heart snipped, and had a sympathy with little Freddy.
Susy loved Freddy, too. Perhaps Percy was right, when he said that Susy loved everything that was dumb; and I am not sure but her tender heart would have warmed to him all the more if he had been stone-blind, as well as deaf.
Freddy had a drunken father, and a sad home; but, for all that, he was not entirely miserable. It is only the wicked who are miserable. The kind Father in heaven has so planned it that there is something pleasant in everybody's life.
Freddy had no more idea what sound is than we have of the angels in heaven; but he could see, and there is so much to be seen! Here is a great, round world, full of beauty and wonder. It stands ready to be looked at. Freddy's ears must be forever shut out from pleasant sound; but his bright eyes were wide open, seeing all that was made to be seen.
He loved to go to Mrs. Parlin's, for there he was sure to be greeted pleasantly; and he understood the language of smiles as well as anybody.
When grandma Read saw him coming she would say,—
"Now, Susan, thee'd better lay aside thy book, for most likely the poor little fellow will want to talk."
And Susy did lay aside her book. She had learned so many lessons this winter in self-denial!
These "silent talks" were quite droll. Little Dotty almost understood something about them; that is, when they used the signs: the alphabet was more than she could manage. When Freddy wanted to talk about Dotty, he made a sign for a dimple in each cheek. He smoothed his hair when he meant Susy, and made a waving motion over his head for Prudy, whose hair was full of ripples.
Prudy said she had wrinkled hair, and she knew it; but the wrinkles "wouldn't come out."
Grandma Read sat one evening by the coal-grate, holding a letter in her hand, and looking into the glowing fire with a thoughtful expression. Susy came and sat near her, resting one arm on her grandma's lap, and trying in various ways to attract her attention.
"Why, grandma," said she, "I've spoken to you three times; but I can't get you to answer or look at me."
"What does thee want, my dear? I will try to attend to thee."
"O, grandma, there are ever so many things I want to say, now mother is out of the room, and father hasn't got home. I must tell somebody, or my heart will break; and you know, grandma dear, I can talk to you so easy."
"Can thee? Then go on, Susy; what would thee like to say?"
"O, two or three things. Have you noticed, grandma, that I've been just as sober as can be?"
"For how long, Susan?"
"O, all day; I've felt as if I couldn't but just live!"
Grandma Read did not smile at this. She knew very well that such a child as Susy is capable of intense suffering.
"Well, Susan, is it about thy sister Prudence?"
"O, no, grandma! she's getting; better; isn't she?"
"Are thy lessons at school too hard for thee, Susan?"
Mrs. Read saw that Susy was very reluctant about opening her heart, although she had said she could talk to her grandmother "so easy."
"No, indeed, grandma; my lessons are not too hard. I'm a real good scholar—one of the best in school for my age."
This was a fact. Some people would have chidden Susy for it; but Mrs. Read reflected that the child was only telling the simple truth, and had no idea of boasting. She was not a little girl who would intrude such remarks about herself upon strangers. But when she and her grandma were talking together confidentially, she thought it made all the difference in the world; as indeed it did.
"I have a great deal to trouble me," said Susy, and the "evening-blue" of her eyes clouded over, till there were signs of a shower. "I thought my pony would make me happy as long as I lived; but it hasn't. One thing that I feel bad about is—well, it's turning over a new leaf. When New Year's comes, I'm going to do it, and don't; so I wait till my birthday, and then I don't. It seems as if I'd tried about a thousand New Years and birthdays to turn over that leaf."
Grandma smiled, but did not interrupt Susy.
"I think I should be real good," continued the child, "if it wasn't such hard work. I can't be orderly, grandma—not much; and then Dotty upsets everything. Sometimes I have to hold my breath to keep patient.
"Well, grandma, my birthday comes to-morrow, the 8th of April. I like it well enough; only there's one reason why I don't like it at all, and that is a Bible reason. It's so dreadful that I can't bear to say it to you," said Susy, shuddering, and lowering her voice to a whisper; "I don't want to grow up, for I shall have to marry Freddy Jackson."
Grandma tried to look serious.
"Who put such a foolish idea into thy head, child?"
"Cousin Percy told me last night," answered Susy, solemnly. "How can you laugh when it's all in the Bible, grandma? I never told anybody before. Wait; I'll show you the verse. I've put a mark at the place."
Susy brought her Bible to her grandmother, and, opening it at the thirty-first chapter of Proverbs, pointed, with a trembling finger, to the eighth verse, which Mrs. Read read aloud,—
"Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction."
"Now Percy says that's a sure sign! I told him, O, dear! Freddy ought to marry a dumb woman; that would be properest; but Percy says no—anything has got to 'come to pass' when it's foreordinationed!"
"And could thee really believe such foolishness, my sensible little Susan? Does thee suppose the good Lord ever meant that we should read his Bible as if it were a wicked dream-book?"
"Then you don't think I shall have to marry Freddy Jackson," cried Susy, immensely relieved. "I'm so glad I told you! I felt so sober all day, only nobody noticed it, and I was ashamed to tell!"
"It is a good thing for thee to tell thy little troubles to thy older friends, Susan: thee'll almost always find it so," said grandma Read, stroking Susy's hair.
"Now, my child, I have a piece of news for thee, if thee is ready to hear it: thy cousin, Grace Clifford, has a little sister."
"A baby sister? A real sister? Does mother know it?"
"Yes, thy mother knows it."
"But how could you keep it to yourself so long?"
"Thee thinks good news is hard to keep, does thee? Well, thee shall be the first to tell thy father when he comes home."
Susy heard steps on the door-stone, and rushed out, with the joyful story on her lips. It proved to be not her father, but callers, who were just ringing the bell; and they heard Susy's exclamation,—
"O, have you heard? Grace has a new sister, a baby sister, as true as you live!" with the most provoking coolness.
But when Mr. Parlin came, he was sufficiently interested in the news to satisfy even Susy.
Prudy was really getting better. Mrs. Parlin said she should trust a physician more next time. The doctor declared that all the severe pain Prudy had suffered was really necessary.
"Believe me, my dear madam," said he, "when the poor child has complained most, she has in fact been making most progress towards health. When the sinews are 'knitting together,' as we call it, then the agony is greatest."
This was very comforting to Mrs. Parlin, who thought she would not be discouraged so easily again; she would always believe that it is "darkest just before day."
There was really everything to hope for Prudy. The doctor thought that by the end of three months she would walk as well as ever. He said she might make the effort now, every day, to bear her weight on her feet. She tried this experiment first with her father and mother on each side to support her; but it was not many days before she could stand firmly on her right foot, and bear a little weight on her left one, which did not now, as formerly, drag, or, as she had said, "more than touch the floor." By and by she began to scramble about on the carpet on all fours, partly creeping, partly pushing herself along.
It was surprising how much pleasure Prudy took in going back to these ways of babyhood.
Faint blush roses began to bloom in her cheeks as soon as she could take a little exercise and go out of doors. Her father bought a little carriage just suitable for the pony, and in this she rode every morning, her mother or Percy driving; for Mrs. Parlin thought it hardly safe to trust Susy with such a precious encumbrance as this dear little sister.
She had been willing that Susy should manage Wings in a sleigh, but in a carriage the case was quite different; for, though in a sleigh there might be even more danger of overturning, there was not as much danger of getting hurt. Indeed, Susy's sleigh had tipped over once or twice in turning too sharp a corner, and Susy had fallen out, but had instantly jumped up again, laughing.
She would have driven in her new carriage to Yarmouth and back again, or perhaps to Bath, if she had been permitted. She was a reckless little horsewoman, afraid of nothing, and for that very reason could not be trusted alone.
But there was no difficulty in finding companions. Percy pretended to study book-keeping, but was always ready for a ride. Flossy was not steady enough to be trusted with the reins, but Ruth Turner was as careful a driver as need be; though Susy laughed because she held the reins in both hands, and looked so terrified.
She said it did no good to talk with Ruth when she was driving; she never heard a word, for she was always watching to see if a carriage was coming, and talking to herself, to make sure she remembered which was her right hand, so she could "turn to the right, as the law directs."
Prudy enjoyed the out-of-doors world once more, and felt like a bird let out of a cage. And so did Susy, for she thought she had had a dull season of it, and fully agreed with Prudy, who spoke of it as the "slow winter."
But now it was the quick spring, the live spring. The brooks began to gossip; the birds poured out their hearts in song, and the dumb trees expressed their joy in leaves.
"The bobolink, on the mullein-stalk, Would rattle away like a sweet girl's talk."
The frogs took severe colds, but gave concerts a little way out of the city every evening. The little flowers peeped up from their beds, as Norah said, "like babies asking to be took;" and Susy took them; whenever she could find them, you may be sure, and looked joyfully into their faces. She could almost say,—
"And 'tis my faith that every flower Enjoys the air it breathes."
She said, "I don't suppose they know much, but perhaps they know enough to have a good time: who knows?"
Susy took long walks to Westbrook, and farther, coming home tired out, but loaded with precious flowers. There were plenty of friends to give them to her from their early gardens: broad-faced crocuses, jonquils, and lilies of the valley, and by and by lilacs, with "purple spikes."
She gathered snowdrops, "the first pale blossoms of the unripened year," and May-flowers, pink and white, like sea-shells, or like "cream-candy," as Prudy said. These soft little blossoms blushed so sweetly on the same leaf with such old experienced leaves! Susy said, "it made her think of little bits of children who hadn't any mother, and lived with their grandparents."
Dotty was almost crazy with delight when she had a "new pair o' boots, and a pair o' shaker," and was allowed to toddle about on the pavement in the sunshine. She had a green twig or a switch to flourish, and could now cry, "Hullelo!" to those waddling ducks, and hear them reply, "Quack! quack!" without having such a trembling fear that some stern Norah, or firm mamma, would rush out bareheaded, and drag her into the house, like a little culprit.
It was good times for Dotty Dimple, and good times for the whole family. Spring had come, and Prudy was getting well. There was a great deal to thank God for!
It is an evening in the last of May. A bit of a moon, called "the new moon," is peeping in at the window. It shines over Susy's right shoulder, she says. Susy is reading, Prudy is walking slowly across the floor, and Dotty Dimple is whispering to her kitty, telling her to go down cellar, and catch the naughty rats while they are asleep. When kitty winks, Dotty thinks it the same as if she said,—
"I hear you, little Miss Dotty: I'm going."
I think perhaps this is a good time to bid the three little girls good-by, or, as dear grandma Read would say, "Farewell!"