Dicky spoke in the wistful tone with which he always related the deeds of stronger children. Maida knew exactly how he felt—she had been torn by the same hopes and despairs.
"Oh, wouldn't it be grand to be able to do just anything?" she said. "I'm just beginning to feel as if I could do some of the things I've always wanted to do."
"I'm going to do them all, sometime," Dicky prophesied. "Doc O'Brien says so."
"I think Rosie the beautifullest little girl," Maida said. "I wish she'd come into the shop so that I could get acquainted with her."
"Oh, she'll come in sometime. You see the W.M.N.T. is meeting now and we're all pretty busy. She's the only girl in it."
"The W.M.N.T.," Maida repeated. "What does that mean?"
"I can't tell?" Dicky said regretfully. "It's the name of our club. Rosie and Arthur and I are the only ones who belong."
After that talk, Maida watched Rosie Brine closer than ever. If she caught a glimpse of the scarlet cape in the distance, it was hard to go on working. She noticed that Rosie seemed very fond of all helpless things. She was always wheeling out the babies in the neighborhood, always feeding the doves and carrying her kitten about on her shoulder, always winning the hearts of other people's dogs and then trying to induce them not to follow her.
"It seems strange that she never comes into the shop," Maida said mournfully to Dicky one day.
"You see she never has any money to spend," Dicky explained. "That's the way her mother punishes her. But sometimes she earns it on the sly taking care of babies. She loves babies and babies always love her. Delia'll go to her from my mother any time and as for Betsy Hale—Rosie's the only one who can do anything with her."
But a whole week passed. And then one day, to Maida's great delight, the tinkle of the bell preceded the entrance of Rose-Red.
"Let me look at your tops, please," Rosie said, marching to the counter with the usual proud swing of her body.
Seen closer, she was even prettier than at a distance. Her smooth olive skin glistened like satin. Her lips showed roses even more brilliant than those that bloomed in her cheeks. A frown between her eyebrows gave her face almost a sullen look. But to offset this, her white teeth turned her smile into a flash of light. Maida lifted all the tops from the window and placed them on the counter.
"Mind if I try them?" Rosie asked.
Rosie wound one of them with an expert hand. Then with a quick dash forward of her whole arm, she threw the top to the floor. It danced there, humming like a whole hiveful of bees.
"Oh, how lovely!" Maida exclaimed. Then in fervent admiration: "What a wonderful girl you are!"
Rosie smiled. "Easy as pie if you know how. Want to learn?"
"Oh, will you teach me?"
"Sure! Begin now."
Maida limped from behind the counter. Rosie watched her. Rosie's face softened with the same pity that had shone on the frightened little dog.
"She's sorry for me," Maida thought. "How sweet she looks!"
But Rosie said nothing about Maida's limp. She explained the process of top-spinning from end to end, step by step, making Maida copy everything that she did. At first Maida was too eager—her hands actually trembled. But gradually she gained in confidence. At last she succeeded in making one top spin feebly.
"Now you've got the hang of it," Rosie encouraged her, "You'll soon learn. All you want to do is to practice. I'll come to-morrow and see how you're getting on."
"Oh, do," Maida begged, "and come to see me in the evening sometime. Come this evening if your mother'll let you."
Rosie laughed scornfully. "I guess nobody's got anything to say about letting me, if I make up my mind to come. Well, goodbye!"
She whirled out of the shop and soon the scarlet cape was a brilliant spot in the distance.
But about seven that evening the bell rang. When Maida opened the door there stood Rosie.
"Oh, Rosie," Maida said joyfully, throwing her arms about her guest, "how glad I am to see you!" She hurried her into the living-room where Billy Potter was talking with Granny. "This is Rosie Brine, Billy," she said, her voice full of pride in her new friend. "And this is Billy Potter, Rosie."
Billy shook hands gravely with the little girl. And Rosie looked at him in open wonder. Maida knew exactly what she was thinking. Rosie was trying to make up her mind whether he was a boy or a man. The problem seemed to grow more perplexing as the evening went on. For part of the time Billy played with them, sitting on the floor like a boy, and part of the time he talked with Granny, sitting in a chair like a man.
Maida showed Rosie her books, her Venetian beads, all her cherished possessions. Rosie liked the canaries better than anything. "Just think of having six!" she said. Then, sitting upstairs in Maida's bedroom, the two little girls had a long confidential talk.
"I've been just crazy to know you, Maida," Rosie confessed. "But there was no way of getting acquainted, for you always stayed in the store. I had to wait until I could tease mother to buy me a top."
"That's funny," Maida said, "for I was just wild to know you. I kept hoping that you'd come in. I hope you'll come often, Rosie, for I don't know any other little girl of my own age."
"You know Laura Lathrop, don't you?" Rosie asked with a sideways look.
"Yes, but I don't like her."
"Nobody likes her," Rosie said. "She's too much of a smarty-cat. She loves to get people over there and then show off before them. And then she puts on so many airs. I won't have anything to do with her."
From the open window came the shrill scream of Miss Allison's parrot. "What do you think of that?" it called over and over again.
"Isn't that a clever bird?" Rosie asked admiringly. "His name is Tony. I have lots of fun with him. Did you ever see a parrot that could talk, before?"
"Oh, yes, we have several at Pride's."
"Pride's Crossing. That's where we go summers."
"And what do your parrots say?"
"One talked in French. He used to say 'Taisez-vous' so much that sometimes we would have to put a cover over the cage to stop him."
"And did you have other animals besides parrots?" Rosie asked. "I love animals."
"Oh, yes, we had horses and dogs and cats and rabbits and dancing mice and marmosets and macaws and parokets and—I guess I've forgotten some of them. But if you like animals, you ought to go to our place in the Adirondacks—there are deer preserves there and pheasants and peacocks."
"Who do they belong to?"
Rosie considered this. "Does he keep a bird-place?" she asked in a puzzled tone.
"No." Maida's tone was a little puzzled too. She did not know what a bird-place was.
"Well, did he sell them?"
"I don't think he ever sold any. He gave a great many away, though."
When Rosie went home, Maida walked as far as her gate with her.
"Want to know a secret, Maida?" Rosie asked suddenly, her eyes dancing with mischief.
"Oh, yes. I love secrets."
"Cross your throat then."
Maida did not know how to cross her throat but Rosie taught her.
"Well, then," Rosie whispered, "my mother doesn't know that I went to your house. She sent me to bed for being naughty. And I got up and dressed and climbed out my window on to the shed without anybody knowing it. She'll never know the difference."
"Oh, Rosie," Maida said in a horrified tone, "Please never do it again." In spite of herself, Maida's eyes twinkled.
But Rosie only laughed. Maida watched her steal into her yard, watched her climb over the shed, watched her disappear through the window.
But she grieved over the matter as she walked home. Perhaps it was because she was thinking so deeply that she did not notice how quiet they all were in the living-room. But as she crossed the threshold, a pair of arms seized her and swung her into the air.
"Oh, papa, papa," she whispered, cuddling her face against his, "how glad I am to see you."
He marched with her over to the light.
"Well, little shop-keeper," he said after a long pause in which he studied her keenly, "you're beginning to look like a real live girl." He dropped her gently to her feet. "Now show me your shop."
CHAPTER V: PRIMROSE COURT
But during that first two weeks a continual rush of business made long days for Maida. All the children in the neighborhood were curious to see the place. It had been dark and dingy as long as they could remember. Now it was always bright and pretty—always sweet with the perfume of flowers, always gay with the music of birds. But more, the children wanted to see the lame little girl who "tended store," who seemed to try so hard to please her customers and who was so affectionate and respectful with the old, old lady whom she called "Granny."
At noon and night the bell sounded a continuous tinkle.
For a week Maida kept rather close to the shop. She wanted to get acquainted with all her customers. Moreover, she wanted to find out which of the things she had bought sold quickly and which were unpopular.
After a day or two her life fell into a regular programme.
Early in the morning she would put the shop to rights for the day's sale, dusting, replacing the things she had sold, rearranging them often according to some pretty new scheme.
About eight o'clock the bell would call her into the shop and it would be brisk work until nine. Then would come a rest of three hours, broken only by an occasional customer. In this interval she often worked in the yard, raking up the leaves that fell from vine and bush, picking the bravely-blooming dahlias, gathering sprays of woodbine for the vases, scattering crumbs to the birds.
At twelve the children would begin to flood the shop again and Maida would be on her feet constantly until two. Between two and four came another long rest. After school trade started up again. Often it lasted until six, when she locked the door for the night.
In her leisure moments she used to watch the people coming and going in Primrose Court. With Rosie's and Dicky's help, she soon knew everybody by name. She discovered by degrees that on the right side of the court lived the Hales, the Clarks, the Doyles and the Dores; on the left side, the Duncans, the Brines and the Allisons. In the big house at the back lived the Lathrops.
Betsy was a great delight to Maida, for the neighborhood brimmed with stories of her mischief. She had buried her best doll in the ash-barrel, thrown her mother's pocketbook down the cesspool, put all the clean laundry into a tub of water and painted the parlor fireplace with tomato catsup. In a single afternoon, having become secretly possessed of a pair of scissors, she cut all the fringe off the parlor furniture, cut great scallops in the parlor curtains, cut great patches of fur off the cat's back. When her mother found her, she was busy cutting her own hair.
Often Granny would hear the door slam on Maida's hurried rush from the shop. Hobbling to the window, she would see the child leading Betsy by the hand. "Running away again," was all Maida would say. Occasionally Maida would call in a vexed tone, "Now how did she creep past the window without my seeing her?" And outside would be rosy-cheeked, brass-buttoned Mr. Flanagan, carrying Betsy home. Once Billy arrived at the shop, bearing Betsy in his arms. "She was almost to the bridge," he said, "when I caught sight of her from the car window. The little tramp!"
Betsy never seemed to mind being caught. For an instant the little rosebud that was her mouth would part over the tiny pearls that were her teeth. This roguish smile seemed to say: "You wait until the next time. You won't catch me then."
Sometimes Betsy would come into the shop for an hour's play. Maida loved to have her there but it was like entertaining a whirlwind. Betsy had a strong curiosity to see what the drawers and boxes contained. Everything had to be put back in its place when she left.
Next to the Hales lived the Clarks. By the end of the first week Maida was the chief adoration of the Clark twins. Dorothy and Mabel were just as good as Betsy was naughty. When they came over to see Maida, they played quietly with whatever she chose to give them. It was an hour, ordinarily, before they could be made to talk above a whisper. If they saw Maida coming into the court, they would run to her side, slipping a hot little hand into each of hers. Attended always by this roly-poly bodyguard, Maida would limp from group to group of the playing children. Nobody in Primrose Court could tell the Clark twins apart. Maida soon learned the difference although she could never explain it to anybody else. "It's something you have to feel," she said.
Billy Potter enjoyed the twins as much as Maida did. "Good morning, Dorothy-Mabel," he always said when he met one of them; "is this you or your sister?" And he always answered their whispered remarks with whispers so much softer than theirs that he finally succeeded in forcing them to raise their shy little voices.
The Doyles and the Dores lived in one house next to the Clarks, Molly and Tim on the first floor, Dicky and Delia above. Maida became very fond of the Doyle children. Like Betsy, they were too young to go to school and she saw a good deal of them in the lonely school hours. The puddle was an endless source of amusement to them. As long as it remained, they entertained themselves playing along its shores.
"There's that choild in the water again," Granny would cry from the living-room.
Looking out, Maida would see Tim spread out on all fours. Like an obstinate little pig, he would lie still until Molly picked him up. She would take him home and in a few moments he would reappear in fresh, clean clothes again.
"Hello, Tim," Billy Potter would say whenever they met. "Fallen into a pud-muddle lately?"
The word pud-muddle always sent Tim off into peals of laughter. It was the only thing Maida had discovered that could make him laugh, for he was as serious as Molly was merry. Molly certainly was the jolliest little girl in the court—Maida had never seen her with anything but a smiling face.
Dicky's mother went to work so early and came back so late that Maida had never seen her. But Dicky soon became an intimate. Maida had begun the reading lessons and Dicky was so eager to get on that they were progressing famously.
The Lathrops lived in the big house at the back of the court. Granny learned from the Misses Allison that, formerly, the whole neighborhood had belonged to the Lathrop family. But they had sold all their land, piece by piece, except the one big lot on which the house stood. Perhaps it was because they had once been so important that Mrs. Lathrop seemed to feel herself a little better than the rest of the people in Primrose Court. At any rate, although she spoke with all, the Misses Allison were the only ones on whom she condescended to call. Maida caught a glimpse of her occasionally on the piazza—a tall, thin woman, white-haired and sharp-featured, who always wore a worsted shawl.
The house was a big, bulky building, a mass of piazzas and bay-windows, with a hexagonal cupola on the top. It was painted white with green blinds and trimmed with a great deal of wooden lace. The wide lawn was well-kept and plots of flowers, here and there, gave it a gay air.
Laura had a brother named Harold, who was short and fat. Harold seemed to do nothing all day long but ride a wheel at a tearing pace over the asphalt paths, and regularly, for two hours every morning, to draw a shrieking bow across a tortured violin.
The more Maida watched Laura the less she liked her. She could see that what Rosie said was perfectly true—Laura put on airs. Every afternoon Laura played on the lawn. Her appearance was the signal for all the small fry of the neighborhood to gather about the gate. First would come the Doyles, then Betsy, then, one by one, the strange children who wandered into the court, until there would be a row of wistful little faces stuck between the bars of the fence. They would follow every move that Laura made as she played with the toys spread in profusion upon the grass.
Laura often pretended not to see them. She would lift her large family of dolls, one after another, from cradle to bed and from bed to tiny chair and sofa. She would parade up and down the walk, using first one doll-carriage, then the other. She would even play a game of croquet against herself. Occasionally she would call in a condescending tone, "You may come in for awhile if you wish, little children." And when the delighted little throng had scampered to her side, she would show them all her toy treasures on condition that they did not touch them.
When the proceedings reached this stage, Maida would be so angry that she could look no longer. Very often, after Laura had sent the children away, Maida would call them into the shop. She would let them play all the rest of the afternoon with anything her stock afforded.
On the right side of the court lived Arthur Duncan, the Misses Allison and Rosie Brine. The more Maida saw of Arthur, the more she disliked him. In fact, she hated to have him come into the shop. It seemed to her that he went out of his way to be impolite to her, that he looked at her with a decided expression of contempt in his big dark eyes. But Rosie and Dicky seemed very fond of him. Billy Potter had once told her that one good way of judging people was by the friends they made. If that were true, she had to acknowledge that there must be something fine about Arthur that she had not discovered.
Maida guessed that the W.M.N.T.'s met three or four times a week. Certainly there were very busy doings at Dicky's or at Arthur's house every other day. What it was all about, Maida did not know. But she fancied that it had much to do with Dicky's frequent purchases of colored tissue paper.
The Misses Allison had become great friends with Granny. Matilda, the blind sister, was very slender and sweet-faced. She sat all day in the window, crocheting the beautiful, fleecy shawls by which she helped support the household.
Jemima, the older, short, fat and with snapping black eyes, did the housework, attended to the parrot and waited by inches on her afflicted sister. Occasionally in the evening they would come to call on Granny. Billy Potter was very nice to them both. He was always telling the sisters the long amusing stories of his adventures. Miss Matilda's gentle face used positively to beam at these times, and Miss Jemima laughed so hard that, according to her own story, his talk put her "in stitches."
Maida did not see Rosie's mother often. To tell the truth, she was a little afraid of her. She was a tall, handsome, black-browed woman—a grown-up Rosie—with an appearance of great strength and of even greater temper. "Ah, that choild's the limb," Granny would say, when Maida brought her some new tale of Rosie's disobedience. And yet, in the curious way in which Maida divined things that were not told her, she knew that, next to Dicky, Rosie was Granny's favorite of all the children in the neighborhood.
With all these little people to act upon its stage, it is not surprising that Primrose Court seemed to Maida to be a little theater of fun—a stage to which her window was the royal box. Something was going on there from morning to night. Here would be a little group of little girls playing "house" with numerous families of dolls. There, it would be boys, gathered in an excited ring, playing marbles or top. Just before school, games like leap-frog, or tag or prisoners' base would prevail. But, later, when there was more time, hoist-the-sail would fill the air with its strange cries, or hide-and-seek would make the place boil with excitement. Maida used to watch these games wistfully, for Granny had decided that they were all too rough for her. She would not even let Maida play "London-Bridge-is-falling-down" or "drop the handkerchief"—anything, in fact, in which she would have to run or pull.
But Granny had no objections to the gentler fun of "Miss Jennie-I-Jones," "ring-a-ring-a-rounder," "water, water wildflower," "the farmer in the dell," "go in and out the windows." Maida used to try to pick out the airs of these games on the spinet—she never could decide which was the sweetest.
Maida soon learned how to play jackstones and, at the end of the second week, she was almost as proficient as Rosie with the top. The thing she most wanted to learn, however, was jump-rope. Every little girl in Primrose Court could jump-rope—even the twins, who were especially nimble at "pepper." Maida tried it one night—all alone in the shop. But suddenly her weak leg gave way under her and she fell to the floor. Granny, rushing in from the other room, scolded her violently. She ended by forbidding her to jump again without special permission. But Maida made up her mind that she was going to learn sometime, even, as she said with a roguish smile, "if it took a leg." She talked it over with Rosie.
"You let her jump just one jump every morning and night, Granny," Rosie advised, "and I'm sure it will be all right. That won't hurt her any and, after awhile, she'll find she can jump two, then three and so on. That's the way I learned."
Granny agreed to this. Maida practiced constantly, one jump in her nightgown, just before going to bed, and another, all dressed, just after she got up.
"I jumped three jumps this morning without failing, Granny," she said one morning at breakfast. Within a few days the record climbed to five, then to seven, then, at a leap, to ten.
Dr. Pierce called early one morning. His eyes opened wide when they fell upon her. "Well, well, Pinkwink," he said. "What do you mean by bringing me way over here! I thought you were supposed to be a sick young person. Where'd you get that color?"
A flush like that of a pink sweet-pea blossom had begun to show in Maida's cheek. It was faint but it was permanent.
"Why, you're the worst fraud on my list. If you keep on like this, young woman, I shan't have any excuse for calling. You've done fine, Granny."
Granny looked, as Dr. Pierce afterwards said, "as tickled as Punch."
"How do you like shop-keeping?" Dr. Pierce went on.
"Like it!" Maida plunged into praise so swift and enthusiastic that Dr. Pierce told her to go more slowly or he would put a bit in her mouth. But he listened attentively. "Well, I see you're not tired of it," he commented.
"Tired!" Maida's indignation was so intense that Dr. Pierce shook until every curl bobbed.
"And I get so hungry," she went on. "You see I have to wait until two o'clock sometimes before I can get my lunch, because from twelve to two are my busy hours. Those days it seems as if the school bell would never ring."
"Sure, tis a foine little pig OI'm growing now," Granny said.
"And as for sleeping—" Maida stopped as if there were no words anywhere to describe her condition.
Granny finished it for her. "The choild sleeps like a top."
Billy Potter came at least every day and sometimes oftener. Every child in Primrose Court knew him by the end of the first week and every child loved him by the end of the second. And they all called him Billy. He would not let them call him Mr. Potter or even Uncle Billy because, he said, he was a child when he was with them and he wanted to be treated like a child. He played all their games with a skill that they thought no mere grown-up could possess. Like Rosie, he seemed to be bubbling over with life and spirits. He was always running, leaping, jumping, climbing, turning cartwheels and somersaults, vaulting fences and "chinning" himself unexpectedly whenever he came to a doorway.
"Oh, Masther Billy, 'tis the choild that you are!" Granny would say, twinkling.
"Yes, ma'am," Billy would answer.
At the end of the first fortnight, the neighborhood had accepted Granny and Maida as the mother-in-law and daughter of a "traveling man." From the beginning Granny had seemed one of them, but Maida was a puzzle. The children could not understand how a little girl could be grown-up and babyish at the same time. And if you stop to think it over, perhaps you can understand how they felt.
Here was a child who had never played, "London-Bridge-is-falling-down" or jackstones or jump-rope or hop-scotch. Yet she talked familiarly of automobiles, yachts and horses. She knew nothing about geography and yet, her conversation was full of such phrases as "The spring we were in Paris" or "The winter we spent in Rome." She knew nothing about nouns and verbs but she talked Italian fluently with the hand-organ man who came every week and many of her books were in French. She knew nothing about fractions or decimals, yet she referred familiarly to "drawing checks," to gold eagles and to Wall Street. Her writing was so bad that the children made fun of it, yet she could spin off a letter of eight pages in a flash. And she told the most wonderful fairy-tales that had ever been heard in Primrose Court.
Because of all these things the children had a kind of contempt for her mingled with a curious awe.
She was so polite with grown people that it was fairly embarrassing. She always arose from her chair when they entered the room, always picked up the things they dropped and never interrupted. And yet she could carry on a long conversation with them. She never said, "Yes, ma'am," or "No, ma'am." Instead, she said, "Yes, Mrs. Brine," or "No, Miss Allison," and she looked whomever she was talking with straight in the eye.
She would play with the little children as willingly as with the bigger ones. Often when the older girls and boys were in school, she would bring out a lapful of toys and spend the whole morning with the little ones. When Granny called her, she would give all the toys away, dividing them with a careful justice. And, yet, whenever children bought things of her in the shop, she always expected them to pay the whole price. You can see how the neighborhood would fairly buzz with talk about her.
As for Maida—with all this newness of friend-making and out-of-doors games, it is not to be wondered that her head was a jumble at the end of each day. In that delicious, dozy interval before she fell asleep at night, all kinds of pretty pictures seemed to paint themselves on her eyelids.
Now it was Rose-Red swaying like a great overgrown scarlet flower from the bars of a lamp-post. Now it was Dicky hoisting himself along on his crutches, his face alight with his radiant smile. Now it was a line of laughing, rosy-cheeked children, as long as the tail of a kite, pelting to goal at the magic cry "Liberty poles are bending!" Or it was a group of little girls, setting out rows and rows of bright-colored paper-dolls among the shadows of one of the deep old doorways. But always in a few moments came the sweetest kind of sleep. And always through her dreams flowed the plaintive music of "Go in and out the windows." Often she seemed to wake in the morning to the Clarion cry, "Hoist the sail!"
It did not seem to Maida that the days were long enough to do all the things she wanted to do.
CHAPTER VI: TWO CALLS
One morning, Laura Lathrop came bustling importantly into the shop. "Good morning, Maida," she said; "you may come over to my house this afternoon and play with me if you'd like."
"Thank you, Laura," Maida answered. To anybody else, she would have added, "I shall be delighted to come." But to Laura, she only said, "It is kind of you to ask me."
"From about two until four," Laura went on in her most superior tone. "I suppose you can't get off for much longer than that."
"Granny is always willing to wait on customers if I want to play," Maida explained, "but I think she would not want me to stay longer than that, anyway."
"Very well, then. Shall we say at two?" Laura said this with a very grown-up air. Maida knew that she was imitating her mother.
Laura had scarcely left when Dicky appeared, swinging between his crutches. "Maida," he said, "I want you to come over to-morrow afternoon and see my place. You've not seen Delia yet and there's a whole lot of things I want to show you. I'm going to clean house to-day so's I'll be all ready for you to-morrow."
"Oh, thank you," Maida said. The sparkle that always meant delight came into her face. "I shall be delighted. I've always wanted to go over and see you ever since I first knew you. But Granny said to wait until you invited me. And I really have never seen Delia except when Rosie's had her in the carriage. And then she's always been asleep."
"You have to see Delia in the house to know what a naughty baby she is," Dicky said. He spoke as if that were the finest tribute that he could pay his little sister.
"Granny," Maida said that noon at lunch, "Laura Lathrop came here and invited me to come to see her this afternoon and I just hate the thought of going—I don't know why. Then Dicky came and invited me to come and see him to-morrow afternoon and I just love the thought of going. Isn't it strange?"
"Very," Granny said, smiling. "But you be sure to be a noice choild this afternoon, no matter what that wan says to you."
Granny always referred to Laura as "that wan."
"Oh, yes, I'll be good, Granny. Isn't it funny," Maida went on. The tone of her voice showed that she was thinking hard. "Laura makes me mad—oh, just hopping mad,"—"hopping mad" was one of Rosie's expressions—"and yet it seems to me I'd die before I'd let her know it."
Laura was waiting for her on the piazza when Maida presented herself at the Lathrop door. "Won't you come in and take your things off, first?" she said. "I thought we'd play in the house for awhile."
She took Maida immediately upstairs to her bedroom—a large room all furnished in blue—blue paper, blue bureau scarf covered with lace, blue bed-spread covered with lace, a big, round, blue roller where the pillows should be.
"How do you like my room, Maida?"
"It's very pretty."
"This is my toilet-set." Laura pointed to the glittering articles on the bureau. "Papa's given them to me, one piece at a time. It's all of silver and every thing has my initials on it. What is your set of?"
Laura paused before she asked this last question and darted one of her sideways looks at Maida. "She thinks I haven't any toilet-set and she wants to make me say so," Maida thought. "Ivory," she said aloud.
"Ivory! I shouldn't think that would be very pretty."
Laura opened her bureau drawers, one at a time, and showed Maida the pretty clothes packed in neat piles there. She opened the large closet and displayed elaborately-made frocks, suspended on hangers. And all the time, with little sharp, sideways glances, she was studying the effect on Maida. But Maida's face betrayed none of the wonder and envy that Laura evidently expected. Maida was very polite but it was evident that she was not much interested.
Next they went upstairs to a big playroom which covered the whole top of the house. Shelves covered with books and toys lined the walls. A fire, burning in the big fireplace, made it very cheerful.
"Oh, what a darling doll-house," Maida exclaimed, pausing before the miniature mansion, very elegantly furnished.
"Oh, do you like it?" Laura beamed with pride.
"I just love it! Particularly because it's so little."
"Little!" Laura bristled. "I don't think it's so very little. It's the biggest doll-house I ever saw. Did you ever see a bigger one?"
Maida looked embarrassed. "Only one."
"Whose was it?"
"It was the one my father had built for me at Pride's. It was too big to be a doll's house. It was really a small cottage. There were four rooms—two upstairs and two downstairs and a staircase that you could really walk up. But I don't like it half so well as this one," Maida went on truthfully. "I think it's very queer but, somehow, the smaller things are the better I like them. I guess it's because I've seen so many big things."
Laura looked impressed and puzzled at the same time. "And you really could walk up the stairs? Let's go up in the cupola," she suggested, after an uncertain interval in which she seemed to think of nothing else to show.
The stairs at the end of the playroom led into the cupola. Maida exclaimed with delight over the view which she saw from the windows. On one side was the river with the draw-bridge, the Navy Yard and the monument on Bunker Hill. On the other stretched the smoky expanse of Boston with the golden dome of the state house gleaming in the midst of a huge, red-brick huddle.
"Did you have a cupola at Pride's Crossing?" Laura asked triumphantly.
"Oh, no—how I wish I had!"
Laura beamed again.
"Laura likes to have things other people haven't," Maida thought.
Her hostess now conducted her back over the two flights of stairs to the lower floor. They went into the dining-room, which was all shining oak and glittering cut-glass; into the parlor, which was filled with gold furniture, puffily upholstered in blue brocade; into the libraries, which Maida liked best of all, because there were so many books and—
"Oh, oh, oh!" she exclaimed, stopping before one of the pictures; "that's Santa Maria in Cosmedin. I haven't seen that since I left Rome."
"How long did you stay in Rome, little girl?" a voice asked back of her. Maida turned. Mrs. Lathrop had come into the room.
Maida arose immediately from her chair. "We stayed in Rome two months," she said.
"Indeed. And where else did you go?"
"London, Paris, Florence and Venice."
"Do you know these other pictures?" Mrs. Lathrop asked. "I've been collecting photographs of Italian churches."
Maida went about identifying the places with little cries of joy. "Ara Coeli—I saw in there the little wooden bambino who cures sick people. It's so covered with bracelets and rings and lockets and pins and chains that grateful people have given it that it looks as if it were dressed in jewels. The bambino's such a darling little thing with such a sweet look in its face. That's St. Agnes outside the wall—I saw two dear little baby lambs blessed on the altar there on St. Agnes's day. One was all covered with red garlands and the other with green. Oh, they were such sweethearts! They were going to use the fleece to make some garment for the pope. That's Santa Maria della Salute—they call it Santa Maria della Volute instead of Salute because it's all covered with volutes." Maida smiled sunnily into Mrs. Lathrop's face as if expecting sympathy with this architectural joke.
But Mrs. Lathrop did not smile. She looked a little staggered. She studied Maida for a long time out of her shrewd, light eyes.
"Whose family did you travel with?" she asked at last.
Maida felt a little embarrassed. If Mrs. Lathrop asked her certain questions, it would place her in a very uncomfortable position. On the one hand, Maida could not tell a lie. On the other, her father had told her to tell nobody that she was his daughter.
"The family of Mr. Jerome Westabrook," she said at last.
"Oh!" It was the "oh" of a person who is much impressed. "'Buffalo' Westabrook?" Mrs. Lathrop asked.
"Did your grandmother, Mrs. Flynn, go with you?"
Mrs. Lathrop continued to look very hard at Maida. Her eyes wandered over the little blue frock—simple but of the best materials—over the white "tire" of a delicate plaided nainsook, trimmed with Valenciennes lace, the string of blue Venetian beads, the soft, carefully-fitted shoes.
"Mr. Westabrook has a little girl, hasn't he?" Mrs. Lathrop said.
Maida felt extremely uncomfortable now. But she looked Mrs. Lathrop straight in the eye. "Yes," she answered.
"About your age?"
"She is an invalid, isn't she?"
"She was," Maida said with emphasis.
Mrs. Lathrop did not ask any more questions. She went presently into the back library. An old gentleman sat there, reading.
"That little girl who keeps the store at the corner is in there, playing with Laura, father," she said. "I guess her grandmother was a servant in 'Buffalo' Westabrook's family, for they traveled abroad a year with the Westabrook family. Evidently, they give her all the little Westabrook girl's clothes—she's dressed quite out of keeping with her station in life. Curious how refinement rubs off—the child has really a good deal of manner. I don't know that I quite like to have Laura playing with her, though."
The two little girls returned after awhile to the playroom.
"How would you like to have me dance for you?" Laura asked abruptly. "You know I take fancy dancing."
"Oh, Laura," Maida said delightedly "will you?"
"Of course I will," Laura said with her most beaming expression. "You wait here while I go downstairs and get into my costume. Watch that door, for I shall make my entrance there."
Maida waited what seemed a long time to her. Then suddenly Laura came whirling into the room. She had put on a little frock of pale-blue liberty silk that lay, skirt, bodice and tiny sleeves, in many little pleats—"accordion-pleated," Laura afterwards described it. Laura's neck and arms were bare. She wore blue silk stockings and little blue-kid slippers, heelless and tied across the ankles with ribbons. Her hair hung in a crimpy torrent to below her waist.
"Oh, Laura, how lovely you do look!" Maida said, "I think you're perfectly beautiful!"
Laura smiled. Lifting both arms above her head, she floated about the room, dancing on the very tips of her toes. Turning and smiling over her shoulder, she bent and swayed and attitudinized. Maida could have watched her forever.
In a few moments she disappeared again. This time she came back in a red-silk frock with a little bolero jacket of black velvet, hung with many tinkling coins. Whenever her fingers moved, a little pretty clapping sound came from them—Maida discovered that she carried tiny wooden clappers. Whenever her heels came together, a pretty musical clink came from them—Maida discovered that on her shoes were tiny metal plates.
Once again Laura went out. This time, she returned dressed like a little sailor boy. She danced a gay little hornpipe.
"I never saw anything so marvelous in my life," Maida said, her eyes shining with enjoyment. "Oh, Laura how I wish I could dance like that. How did you ever learn? Do you practice all the time?"
"Oh, it's not so very hard—for me," Laura returned. "Of course, everybody couldn't learn. And I suppose you, being lame, could never do anything at all."
This was the first allusion that had been made in Primrose Court to Maida's lameness. Her face shadowed a little. "No, I'm afraid I couldn't," she said regretfully. "But—oh—think what a lovely dancer Rosie would make."
"I'm afraid Rosie's too rough," Laura said. She unfolded a little fan and began fanning herself languidly. "It's a great bother sometimes," she went on in a bored tone of voice. "Everybody is always asking me to dance at their parties. I danced at a beautiful May party last year. Did you ever see a May-pole?"
"Oh, yes," Maida said. "My birthday comes on May Day and last year father gave me a party. He had a May-pole set up on the lawn and all the children danced about it."
"My birthday comes in the summer, too. I always have a party on our place in Marblehead," Laura said. "I had fifty children at my party last year. How many did you have?"
"We sent out over five hundred invitations, I believe. But not quite four hundred accepted."
"Four hundred," Laura repeated. "Goodness, what could so many children do?"
"Oh, there were all sorts of things for them to do," Maida answered. "There was archery and diabolo and croquet and fishing-ponds and a merry-go-round and Punch and Judy on the lawn and a play in my little theater—I can't remember everything."
Laura's eyes had grown very big. "Didn't you have a perfectly splendiferous time?" she asked.
"No, not particularly," Maida said. "Not half such a good time as I've had playing in Primrose Court. I wasn't very well and then, somehow, I didn't care for those children the way I care for Dicky and Rosie and the court children."
"Goodness!" was all Laura could say for a moment. But finally she added, "I don't believe that, Maida!"
Maida stared at her and started to speak. "Oh, there's the clock striking four?" was all she said though. "I must go. Thank you for dancing for me."
She flew into her coat and hat. She could not seem to get away quick enough. Nobody had ever doubted her word before. She could not exactly explain it to herself but she felt if she talked with Laura another moment, she would fly out of her skin.
"Mother," Laura said, after Maida had gone, "Maida Flynn told me that her father gave her a birthday party last year and invited five hundred children to it and they had a theater and a Punch and Judy show and all sorts of things. Do you think it's true?"
Mrs. Lathrop set her lips firmly. "No, I think it is probably not true. I think you'd better not play with the little Flynn girl any more."
The next afternoon, Maida went, as she had promised, to see Dicky.
She could see at a glance that Mrs. Dore was having a hard struggle to support her little family. In the size and comfort of its furnishings, the place was the exact opposite of the Lathrop home. But, somehow, there was a wonderful feeling of home there.
"Dicky, how do you manage to keep so clean here?" Maida asked in genuine wonder.
And indeed, hard work showed everywhere. The oilcloth shone like glass. The stove was as clean as a newly-polished shoe. The rows of pans on the wall fairly twinkled. Delicious smells were filling the air. Maida guessed that Dicky was making one of the Irish stews that were his specialty.
"See that little truck over there?" Dicky said. "That helps a lot. Arthur Duncan made that for me. You see we have to keep our coal in that closet, way across the room. I used to get awful tired filling the coal-hod and lugging it over to the stove. But now you see I fill that truck at the closet, wheel it over to the stove and I don't have to think of coal for three days."
"Arthur must be a very clever boy," Maida said thoughtfully.
"You bet he is. See that tin can in the sink? Well, I wanted a soap-shaker but couldn't afford to get one. Arthur took that can and punched the bottom full of holes. I keep it filled up with all the odds and ends of soap. When I wash the dishes, I just let the boiling water from the kettle flow through it. It makes water grand and soapy. Arthur made me that iron dish-rag and that dish-mop."
A sleepy cry came from the corner. Dicky swung across the room. Balancing himself against the cradle there, he lifted the baby to the floor. "She can't walk yet but you watch her go," he said proudly.
Go! The baby crept across the room so fast that Maida had to run to keep up with her. "Oh, the love!" she said, taking Delia into her arms. "Think of having a whole baby to yourself."
"Can't leave a thing round where she is," Dicky said proudly, as if this were the best thing he could say about her. "Have to put my work away the moment she wakes up. Isn't she a buster, though?"
"I should say she was!" And indeed, the baby was as fat as a little partridge. Maida wondered how Dicky could lift her. Also Delia was as healthy-looking as Dicky was sickly. Her cheeks showed a pink that was almost purple and her head looked like a mop, so thickly was it overgrown with tangled, red-gold curls.
"Is she named after your mother?" Maida asked.
"No—after my grandmother in Ireland. But of course we don't call her anything but 'baby' yet. My, but she's a case! If I didn't watch her all the time, every pan in this room would be on the floor in a jiffy. And she tears everything she puts her hands on."
"Granny must see her sometime—Granny's name is Delia."
"Hi, stop that!" Dicky called. For Delia had discovered the little bundle that Maida had placed on a chair, and was busy trying to tear it open.
"Let her open it," Maida said, "I brought it for her."
It took a long time, but Delia sat down, giving her whole attention to it. Finally her busy fingers pulled off so much paper that a pair of tiny rubber dolls dropped into her lap.
"Say 'Thank you, Maida,'" Dicky prompted.
Delia said something and Dicky assured her that the baby had obeyed him. It sounded like, "Sank-oo-Maysa."
While Delia occupied herself with the dolls, Maida listened to Dicky's reading lesson. He was getting on beautifully now. At least he could puzzle out by himself some of the stories that Maida lent him. When they had finished that day's fairy-tale, Dicky said:
"Did you ever see a peacock, Maida?"
"Oh, yes—a great many."
"I saw ever so many in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris and then my father has some in his camp in the Adirondacks."
"Has he many?"
"I'm just wild to see one. Are they as beautiful as that picture in the fairy-tale?"
"They're as beautiful as—as—" Maida groped about in her mind to find something to compare them to "—as angels," she said at last.
"And do they really open their tails like a fan?"
"That is the most wonderful sight, Dicky, that you ever saw." Maida's manner was almost solemn. "When they unfurl the whole fan and the sun shines on all the green and blue eyes and on all the little gold feathers, it's so beautiful. Well, it makes you ache. I cried the first time I saw one. And when their fans are down, they carry them so daintily, straight out, not a single feather trailing on the ground. There are two white peacocks on the Adirondacks place."
"White peacocks! I never heard of white ones."
"They're not common."
"Think of seeing a dozen peacocks every day!" Dicky exclaimed. "Jiminy crickets! Why, Maida, your life must have been just like a fairy-tale when you lived there."
"It seems more like a fairy-tale here."
They laughed at this difference of opinion.
"Dicky," Maida asked suddenly, "do you know that Rosie steals out of her window at night sometimes when her mother doesn't know it?"
"Sure—I know that. You see," he went on to explain, "it's like this. Rosie is an awful bad girl in some ways—there's no doubt about that. But my mother says Rosie isn't as bad as she seems. My mother says Rosie's mother has never learned how to manage her. She whips Rosie an awful lot. And the more she whips Rosie, the naughtier she gets. Rosie says she's going to run away some day, and by George, I bet she'll do it. She always does what she says she'll do."
"Isn't it dreadful?" Maida said in a frightened tone. "Run away! I never heard of such a thing. Think of having a mother and then not getting along with her. Suppose she died sometime, as my mother did."
"I don't know what I'd do without my mother," Dicky said thoughtfully. "But then I've got the best mother that ever was. I wish she didn't have to work so hard. But you wait until I get on my feet. Then you'll see how I'm going to earn money for her."
When Maida got home that night, Billy Potter sat with Granny in the living-room. Maida came in so quietly that they took no notice of her. Granny was talking. Maida could see that the tears were coursing down the wrinkles in her cheeks.
"And after that, the poor choild ran away to America and I niver have seen her since. Her father died repenting av his anger aginst her. But ut was too late. At last, in me old age, Oi came over to America, hoping Oi cud foind her. But, glory be, Oi had no idea 'twas such a big place! And Oi've hunted and Oi've hunted and Oi've hunted. But niver a track of her cud Oi foind—me little Annie!"
Billy's face was all screwed up, but it was not with laughter. "Did you ever speak to Mr. Westabrook about it?"
"Oh, Misther Westabruk done iv'ry t'ing he cud—the foine man that he is. Advertisements and detayktives, but wid all his money, he cudn't foind out a t'ing. If ut wasn't for my blissed lamb, I'd pray to the saints to let me die."
Maida knew what they were talking about—Granny had often told her the sad story of her lost daughter.
"What town in Ireland did you live in, Granny?" Billy asked.
"Aldigarey, County Sligo." "Now don't you get discouraged, Granny," Billy said, "I'm going to find your daughter for you."
He jumped to his feet and walked about the room. "I'm something of a detective myself, and you'll see I'll make good on this job if it takes twenty years."
"Oh, Billy, do—please do," Maida burst in. "It will make Granny so happy."
Granny seemed happier already. She dried her tears.
"'Tis the good b'y ye are, Misther Billy," she said gratefully.
"Yes, m'm," said Billy.
CHAPTER VII: TROUBLE
The next week was a week of trouble for Maida. Everything seemed to go wrong from the first tinkle of the bell, Monday morning, to the last tinkle Saturday night.
It began with a conversation.
Rosie came marching in early Monday, head up, eyes flaming.
"Maida," she began at once, in her quickest, briskest tone, "I've got something to tell you. Laura Lathrop came over to Dicky's house the other day while the W.M.N.T.'s were meeting and she told us the greatest mess of stuff about you. I told her I was coming right over and tell you about it and she said, 'All right, you can.' Laura said that you said that last summer you had a birthday party that you invited five hundred children to. She said that you said that you had a May-pole at this party and a fish pond and a Punch and Judy show and all sorts of things. She said that you said that you had a big doll-house and a little theater all your own. I said that I didn't believe that you told her all that. Did you?"
"Oh, yes, I told her that—and more," Maida answered directly.
"Laura said it was all a pack of lies, but I don't believe that. Is it all true?"
"It's all true," Maida said.
Rosie looked at her hard. "You know, Maida," she went on after awhile, "you told me about a lot of birds and animals that your father had. I thought he kept a bird-place. But Dicky says you told him that your father had twelve peacocks, not in a store, but in a place where he lives." She paused and looked inquiringly at Maida.
Maida answered the look. "Yes, I told him that."
"And it's all true?" Rosie asked again.
"Yes, it's all true," Maida repeated.
Rosie hesitated a moment. "Harold Lathrop says that you're daffy."
Maida said nothing.
"Arthur Duncan says," Rosie went on more timidly, "that you probably dreamed those things."
Still Maida said nothing.
"Do you think you did dream them, Maida?"
Maida smiled. "No, I didn't dream them."
"Well, I thought of another thing," Rosie went on eagerly. "Miss Allison told mother that Granny told her that you'd been sick for a long time. And I thought, maybe you were out of your head and imagined those things. Oh, Maida," Rosie's voice actually coaxed her to favor this theory, "don't you think you imagined them?"
Maida laughed. "No, Rosie," she said in her quietest voice, "I did not imagine them."
For a moment neither of the two little girls spoke. But they stared, a little defiantly, into each other's eyes.
"What did Dicky say?" Maida asked after awhile.
"Oh, Dicky said he would believe anything you told him, no matter what it was. Dicky says he believes you're a princess in disguise—like in fairy-tales."
"Dear, dear Dicky!" Maida said. "He was the first friend I made in Primrose Court and I guess he's the best one."
"Well, I guess I'm your friend," Rosie said, firing up; "I told that little smarty-cat of a Laura if she ever said one word against you, I'd slap her good and hard. Only—only—it seems strange that a little girl who's just like the rest of us should have story-book things happening to her all the time. If it's true—then fairy-tales are true." She paused and looked Maida straight in the eye. "I can't believe it, Maida. But I know you believe it. And that's all there is to it. But you'd better believe I'm your friend."
Saying which she marched out.
Maida's second trouble began that night.
It had grown dark. Suddenly, without any warning, the door of the shop flew open. For an instant three or four voices filled the place with their yells. Then the door shut. Nothing was heard but the sound of running feet.
Granny and Maida rushed to the door. Nobody was in sight.
"Who was it? What does it mean, Granny?" Maida asked in bewilderment. "Only naughty b'ys, taysing you," Granny explained.
Maida had hardly seated herself when the performance was repeated. Again she rushed to the door. Again she saw nobody. The third time she did not stir from her chair.
Tuesday night the same thing happened. Who the boys were Maida could not find out. Why they bothered her, she could not guess.
"Take no notuce av ut, my lamb," Granny counselled. "When they foind you pay no attintion to ut, they'll be afther stopping."
Maida followed Granny's advice. But the annoyance did not cease and she began to dread the twilight. She made up her mind that she must put an end to it soon. She knew she could stop it at once by appealing to Billy Potter. And, yet, somehow, she did not want to ask for outside help. She had a feeling of pride about handling her own troubles.
One afternoon Laura came into the shop. It was the first time that Maida had seen her since the afternoon of her call and Maida did not speak. She felt that she could not have anything to do with Laura after what had happened. But she looked straight at Laura and waited.
Laura did not speak either. She looked at Maida as if she had never seen her before. She carried her head at its highest and she moved across the room with her most important air. As she stood a moment gazing at the things in the show case, she had never seemed more patronizing.
"A cent's worth of dulse, please," she said airily.
"Dulse?" Maida repeated questioningly; "I guess I haven't any. What is dulse?"
"Haven't any dulse?" Laura repeated with an appearance of being greatly shocked. "Do you mean to say you haven't any dulse?"
Maida did not answer—she put her lips tight together.
"This is a healthy shop," Laura went on in a sneering tone, "no mollolligobs, no apple-on-the-stick, no tamarinds, no pop-corn balls, no dulse. Why don't you sell the things we want? Half the children in the neighborhood are going down to Main Street to get them now."
She bustled out of the shop. Maida stared after her with wide, alarmed eyes. For a moment she did not stir. Then she ran into the living-room and buried her face in Granny's lap, bursting into tears.
"Oh, Granny," she sobbed, "Laura Lathrop says that half the children don't like my shop and they're going down to Main Street to buy things. What shall I do? What shall I do?"
"There, there, acushla," Granny said soothingly, taking the trembling little girl on to her lap. "Don't worry about anny t'ing that wan says. 'Tis a foine little shop you have, as all the grown folks says."
"But, Granny," Maida protested passionately, "I don't want to please the grown people, I want to please the children. And papa said I must make the store pay. And now I'm afraid I never will. Oh, what shall I do?"
She got no further. A tinkle of the bell, followed by pattering footsteps, interrupted. In an instant, Rosie, brilliant in her scarlet cape and scarlet hat, with cheeks and lips the color of cherries, stood at her side.
"I saw that hateful Laura come out of here," she said. "I just knew she'd come in to make trouble. What did she say to you?"
Maida told her slowly between her sobs.
"Horrid little smarty-cat!" was Rosie's comment and she scowled until her face looked like a thunder-cloud.
"I shall never speak to her again," Maida declared fervently. "But what shall I do about it, Rosie?—it may be true what she said."
"Now don't you get discouraged, Maida," Rosie said. "Because I can tell you just how to get or make those things Laura spoke of."
"Oh, can you, Rosie. What would I do without you? I'll put everything down in a book so that I shan't forget them."
She limped over to the desk. There the black head bent over the golden one.
"What is dulse?" Maida demanded first.
"Don't you know what dulse is?" Rosie asked incredulously. "Maida, you are the queerest child. The commonest things you don't know anything about. And yet I suppose if I asked you if you'd seen a flying-machine, you'd say you had."
"I have," Maida answered instantly, "in Paris."
Rosie's face wrinkled into its most perplexed look. She changed the subject at once. "Well, dulse is a purple stuff—when you see a lot of it together, it looks as if a million toy-balloons had burst. It's all wrinkled up and tastes salty."
Maida thought hard for a moment. Then she burst into laughter, although the big round tear-drops were still hanging from the tips of her lashes. "There was a whole drawerful here when I first came. I remember now I thought it was waste stuff and threw it all away."
Rosie laughed too. "The tamarinds you can get from the man who comes round with the wagon. Mrs. Murdock used to make her own apples-on-the-stick, mollolligobs and corn-balls. I've helped her many a time. Now I'll write you a list of stuff to order from the grocer. I'll come round after school and we'll make a batch of all those things. To-night you get Billy to print a sign, 'apples on the stick and mollolligobs to-day.' You put that in the window to-morrow morning and by to-morrow night, you'll be all sold out."
"Oh, Rosie," Maida said happily, "I shall be so much obliged to you!"
Rosie was as good as her word. She appeared that afternoon wearing a long-sleeved apron under the scarlet cape. It seemed to Maida that she worked like lightning, for she made batch after batch of candy, moving as capably about the stove as an experienced cook. In the meantime, Maida was popping corn at the fireplace. They mounted fifty apples on skewers and dipped them, one at a time, into the boiling candy. They made thirty corn-balls and twenty-five mollolligobs, which turned out to be round chunks of candy, stuck on the end of sticks.
"I never did see such clever children anywhere as there are in Primrose Court," Maida said that night with a sigh to Granny. "Rosie told me that she could make six kinds of candy. And Dicky can cook as well as his mother. They make me feel so useless. Why, Granny, I can't do a single thing that's any good to anybody."
The next day the shop was crowded. By night there was not an apple, a corn-ball or a mollolligob left.
"I shall have a sale like this once a week in the future," Maida said. "Why, Granny, lots and lots of children came here who'd never been in the shop before."
And so what looked like serious trouble ended very happily.
Trouble number three was a great deal more serious and it did not, at first, promise to end well at all. It had to do with Arthur Duncan. It had been going on for a week before Maida mentioned it to anybody. But it haunted her very dreams.
Early Monday morning, Arthur came into the shop. In his usual gruff voice and with his usual surly manner, he said, "Show me some of those rubbers in the window."
Maida took out a handful of the rubbers—five, she thought—and put them on the counter. While Arthur looked them over, she turned to replace a paper-doll which she had knocked down.
"Guess I won't take one to-day," Arthur said, while her back was still turned, and walked out.
When Maida put the rubbers back, she discovered that there were only four. She made up her mind that she had not counted right and thought no more of the incident.
Two days later, Arthur Duncan came in again. Maida had just been selling some pencils—pretty striped ones with a blue stone in the end. Three of them were left lying out on the counter. Arthur asked her to show him some penholders. Maida took three from the shelves back of her. He bought one of these. After he had gone, she discovered that there were only two pencils left on the counter.
"One of them must have rolled off," Maida thought. But although she looked everywhere, she could not find it. The incident of the rubber occurred to her. She felt a little troubled but she resolved to put both circumstances out of her mind.
A day or two later, Arthur Duncan came in for the third time. It happened that Granny was out marketing.
Piled on the counter was a stack of blank-books—pretty books they were, with a child's head in color on the cover. Arthur asked for letter-paper. Maida turned back to the shelf. With her hand on the sliding door, she stopped, half-stunned.
Reflected in the glass she saw Arthur Duncan stow one of the blank books away in his pocket.
Maida felt sick all over. She did not know what to do. She did not know what to say.
She fumbled with trembling hands among the things on the shelf. She dreaded to turn for fear her face would express what she had seen.
"Perhaps he'll pay for it," she thought; "I hope he will."
But Arthur made no offer to pay. He looked over the letter-paper that Maida, with downcast eyes, put before him, decided that he did not want any after all, and walked coolly from the shop.
Granny, coming in a few moments later, was surprised to find Maida leaning on the counter, her face buried in her hands.
"What's the matter with my lamb?" the old lady asked cheerfully.
"Nothing, Granny," Maida said. But she did not meet Granny's eye and during dinner she was quiet and serious.
That night Billy Potter called. "Well, how goes the Bon Marche of Charlestown?" he asked cheerfully.
"Billy," Maida said gravely, "if you found that a little boy—I can't say what his name is—was stealing from you, what would you do?"
Billy considered the question as gravely as she had asked it. "Tell the policeman on the beat and get him to throw a scare into him," he said at last.
"I guess that's what I'll have to do." But Maida's tone was mournful.
But Granny interrupted.
"Don't you do ut, my lamb—don't you do ut!" She turned to them both—they had never seen her blue eyes so fiery before. "Suppose you was one av these poor little chilthren that lives round here that's always had harrd wurruds for their meals and hunger for their pillow, wudn't you be afther staling yersilf if ut came aisy-loike and nobody was luking?"
Neither Billy nor Maida spoke for a moment.
"I guess Granny's right," Billy said finally.
"I guess she is," Maida said with a sigh.
It was three days before Arthur Duncan came into the shop again. But in the meantime, Maida went one afternoon to play with Dicky. Dicky was drawing at a table when Maida came in. She glanced at his work. He was using a striped pencil with a blue stone in its end, a blank-book with the picture of a little girl on the cover, a rubber of a kind very familiar to her. Maida knew certainly that Dicky had bought none of these things from her. She knew as certainly that they were the things Arthur Duncan had stolen. What was the explanation of the mystery? She went to bed that night miserably unhappy.
Her heart beat pit-a-pat the next time she saw Arthur open the door. She folded her hands close together so that he should not see that she was trembling. She began to wish that she had followed Billy's advice. Sitting in the shop all alone—Granny, it happened again, was out—it occurred to her that it was, perhaps, too serious a situation for a little girl to deal with.
She had made up her mind that when Arthur was in the shop, she would not turn her back to him. She was determined not to give him the chance to fall into temptation. But he asked for pencil-sharpeners and pencil-sharpeners were kept in the lower drawer. There was nothing for her to do but to get down on the floor. She remembered with a sense of relief that she had left no stock out on the counter. She knelt upright on the floor, seeking for the box. Suddenly, reflected in the glass door, she saw another terrifying picture.
Arthur Duncan's arm was just closing the money drawer.
For an instant Maida felt so sick at heart that she wanted to run back into the living-room, throw herself into Granny's big chair and cry her eyes out. Then suddenly all this weakness went. A feeling, such as she had never known, came into its place. She was still angry but she was singularly cool. She felt no more afraid of Arthur Duncan than of the bowl of dahlias, blooming on the counter.
She whirled around in a flash and looked him straight in the eye.
"If there is anything in this shop that you want so much that you are willing to steal, tell me what it is and I'll give it to you," she said.
"Aw, what are you talking about?" Arthur demanded. He attempted to out-stare her.
But Maida kept her eyes steadily on his. "You know what I'm talking about well enough," she said quietly. "In the last week you've stolen a rubber and a pencil and a blank-book from me and just now you tried to take some money from the money-drawer."
Arthur sneered. "How are you going to prove it?" he asked impudently.
Maida was thoroughly angry. But something inside warned her that she must not give way to temper. For all her life, she had been accustomed to think before she spoke. Indeed, she herself had never been driven or scolded. Her father had always reasoned with her. Doctors and nurses had always reasoned with her. Even Granny had always reasoned with her. So, now, she thought very carefully before she spoke again. But she kept her eyes fixed on Arthur. His eyes did not move from hers but, in some curious way, she knew that he was uneasy.
"I can't prove it," she said at last, "and I hadn't any idea of trying to. I'm only warning you that you must not come in here if you're not to be trusted. And I told you the truth when I said I would rather give you anything in the shop than have you steal it. For I think you must need those things very badly to be willing to get them that way. I don't believe anybody wants to steal. Now when you want anything so bad as that, come to me and I'll see if I can get it for you."
Arthur stared at her as if he had not a word on his tongue. "If you think you can frighten me,—" he said. Then, without ending his sentence, he swaggered out of the shop. But to Maida his swagger seemed like something put on to conceal another feeling.
Maida suddenly felt very tired. She wished that Granny Flynn would come back. She wanted Granny to take her into her lap, to cuddle her, to tell her some merry little tale of the Irish fairies. But, instead, the bell rang and another customer came in. While she was waiting on her, Maida noticed somebody come stealthily up to the window, look in and then duck down. She wondered if it might be Billy playing one of his games on her.
The customer went out. In a few moments the bell tinkled again. Maida had been leaning against the counter, her tired head on her outstretched arms. She looked up. It was Arthur Duncan.
He strode straight over to her.
"Here's three cents for your rubber," he said, "and five for your pencil, five for the blank book and there's two dimes I took out of the money-drawer."
Maida did not know what to say. The tears came to her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. Arthur shifted his weight from one foot to the other in intense embarrassment.
"I didn't know it would make you feel as bad as that," he said.
"I don't feel bad," Maida sobbed—and to prove it she smiled while the tears ran down her cheeks—"I feel glad."
What he would have answered to this she never knew. For at that moment the door flew open. The little rowdy boys who had been troubling her so much lately, let out a series of blood-curdling yells.
"What's that?" Arthur asked.
"I don't know who they are," Maida said wearily, "but they do that three or four times every night. I don't know what to do about it."
"Well, I do," Arthur said. "You wait!"
He went over to the door and waited, flattening himself against the wall. After a long silence, they could hear footsteps tip-toeing on the bricks outside. The door flew open. Arthur Duncan leaped like a cat through the opening. There came back to Maida the sound of running, then a pause, then another sound very much as if two or three naughty little heads were being vigorously knocked together. She heard Arthur say:
"Let me catch one of you doing that again and I'll lick you till you can't stand up. And remember I'll be watching for you every night now."
Maida did not see him again then. But just before dinner the bell rang. When Maida opened the door there stood Arthur.
"I had this kitten and I thought you might like him," he said awkwardly, holding out a little bundle of gray fluff.
"Want it!" Maida said. She seized it eagerly. "Oh, thank you, Arthur, ever so much. Oh, Granny, look at this darling kit-kat. What a ball of fluff he is! I'll call him Fluff. And he isn't an Angora or a prize kitty of any kind—just a beautiful plain everyday cat—the kind I've always wanted!"
Even this was not all. After dinner the shop bell rang again. This time it was Arthur and Rosie. Rosie's lips were very tight as if she had made up her mind to some bold deed but her flashing eyes showed her excitement.
"Can we see you alone for a moment, Maida?" she asked in her most business-like tones.
Wondering, Maida shut the door to the living-room and came back to them.
"Maida," Rosie began, "Arthur told me all about the rubber and the pencil and the blank book and the dimes. Of course, I felt pretty bad when I heard about it. But I wanted Arthur to come right over here and explain the whole thing to you. You see Arthur took those things to give away to Dicky because Dicky has such a hard time getting anything he wants."
"Yes, I saw them over at Dicky's," Maida said.
"And then, there was a great deal more to it that Arthur's just told me and I thought you ought to know it at once. You see Arthur's father belongs to a club that meets once a month and Arthur goes there a lot with him. And those men think that plenty of people have things that they have no right to—oh, like automobiles—I mean, things that they haven't earned. And the men in Mr. Duncan's club say that it's perfectly right to take things away from people who have too much and give them to people who have too little. But I say that may be all right for grown people but when children do it, it's just plain stealing. And that's all there is to it! But I wanted you to know that Arthur thought it was right—well sort of right, you understand—when he took those things. You don't think so now, do you, after the talking-to I've given you?" She turned severely on Arthur.
Arthur shuffled and looked embarrassed. "No," he said sheepishly, "not until you're grown up."
"But what I wanted to say next, Maida," Rosie continued, "is, please not to tell Dicky. He would be so surprised—and then he wouldn't keep the things that Arthur gave him. And of course now that Arthur has paid for them—they're all right for him to have."
"Of course I wouldn't tell anybody," Maida said in a shocked voice, "not even Granny or Billy—not even my father."
"Then that's settled," Rosie said with a sigh. "Good night."
The next day the following note reached Maida:
You are cordully invited to join the W.M.N.T. Club which meets three times a week at the house of Miss Rosie Brine, or Mr. Richard Dore or Mr. Arthur Duncan.
P.S. The name means, WE MUST NEVER TELL.
Maida dreamed nothing but happy dreams that night.
CHAPTER VIII: A RAINY DAY
The next day it rained dismally. Maida had been running the shop for three weeks but this was her first experience with stormy weather. Because she, herself, had never been allowed to set her foot outdoors when the weather was damp, she expected that she would see no children that day. But long before the bell rang they crowded in wet streaming groups into the shop. And at nine the lines disappearing into the big school doorways seemed as long as ever.
Even the Clark twins in rubber boots, long rain-capes and a baby umbrella came in to spend their daily pennies.
"I guess it'll be one session, Maida," Dorothy whispered.
"Oh goody, Dorothy!" Mabel lisped. "Don't you love one session, Maida?"
Maida was ashamed to confess to two such tiny girls that she did not know what "one session" meant. But she puzzled over it the whole morning. If Rosie and Arthur had come in she would have asked them. But neither of them appeared. Indeed, they were not anywhere in the lines—Maida looked very carefully.
At twelve o'clock the school bell did not ring. In surprise, Maida craned out of the window to consult the big church clock. It agreed exactly with the tall grandfather's clock in the living-room. Both pointed to twelve, then to five minutes after and ten and fifteen—still no bell.
A little later Dicky came swinging along, the sides of his old rusty raincoat flapping like the wings of some great bird.
"It's one-session, Maida," he said jubilantly, "did you hear the bell?"
"What's one session, Dicky?" Maida asked.
"Why, when it's too stormy for the children to go to school in the afternoon the fire-bells ring twenty-two at quarter to twelve. They keep all the classes in until one o'clock though."
"Oh, that's why they don't come out," Maida said.
At one o'clock the umbrellas began to file out of the school door. The street looked as if it had grown a monster crop of shiny black toad-stools. But it was the only sign of life that the neighborhood showed for the rest of the day. The storm was too violent for even the big boys and girls to brave. A very long afternoon went by. Not a customer came into the shop. Maida felt very lonely. She wandered from shop to living-room and from living-room to chamber. She tried to read. She sewed a little. She even popped corn for a lonesome fifteen minutes. But it seemed as if the long dark day would never go.
As they were sitting down to dinner that night, Billy bounced in—his face pink and wet, his eyes sparkling like diamonds from his conflict with the winds.
"Oh, Billy, how glad I am to see you," Maida said. "It's been the lonesomest day."
"Sure, the sight av ye's grand for sore eyes," said Granny.
Maida had noticed that Billy's appearance always made the greatest difference in everything. Before he came, the noise of the wind howling about the store made Maida sad. Now it seemed the jolliest of sounds. And when at seven, Rosie appeared, Maida's cup of happiness brimmed over.
While Billy talked with Granny, the two little girls rearranged the stock.
"My mother was awful mad with me just before supper," Rosie began at once. "It seems as if she was so cross lately that there's no living with her. She picks on me all the time. That's why I'm here. She sent me to bed. But I made up my mind I wouldn't go to bed. I climbed out my bedroom window and came over here."
"Oh, Rosie, I wish you wouldn't do that," Maida said. "Oh, do run right home! Think how worried your mother would be if she went up into your room and found you gone. She wouldn't know what had become of you."
"Well, then, what makes her so strict with me?" Rosie cried. Her eyes had grown as black as thunder clouds. The scowl that made her face so sullen had come deep between her eyebrows.
"Oh, how I wish I had a mother," Maida said longingly. "I guess I wouldn't say a word to her, no matter how strict she was."
"I guess you don't know what you'd do until you tried it," Rosie said.
Granny and Billy had been curiously quiet in the other room. Suddenly Billy Potter stepped to the door.
"I've just thought of a great game, children," he said. "But we've got to play it in the kitchen. Bring some crayons, Maida."
The children raced after him. "What is it?" they asked in chorus.
Billy did not answer. He lifted Granny's easy-chair with Granny, knitting and all, and placed it in front of the kitchen stove. Then he began to draw a huge rectangle on the clean, stone floor.
"Guess," he said.
"Sure and Oi know what ut's going to be," smiled Granny.
Maida and Rosie watched him closely. Suddenly they both shouted together:
"Right you are!" Billy approved. He searched among the coals in the hod until he found a hard piece of slate.
"All ready now!" he said briskly. "Your turn, first, Rosie, because you're company."
Rosie failed on "fivesy." Maida's turn came next and she failed on "threesy." Billy followed Maida but he hopped on the line on "twosy."
"Oi belave Oi cud play that game, ould as Oi am," Granny said suddenly.
"I bet you could," Billy said.
"Sure, 'twas a foine player Oi was when Oi was a little colleen."
"Come on, Granny," Billy said.
The two little girls jumped up and down, clapping their hands and shrieking, "Granny's going to play!" "Granny's going to play!" They made so much noise finally, that Billy had to threaten to stand them on their heads in a corner.
Granny took her turn after Billy. She hopped about like a very active and a very benevolent old fairy.
"Oh, doesn't she look like the Dame in fairy tales?" Maida said.
They played for a half an hour. And who do you suppose won? Not Maida with all her new-found strength, not Rosie with all her nervous energy, not Billy with all his athletic training.
"Mrs. Delia Flynn, champion of America and Ireland," Billy greeted the victor. "Granny, we'll have to enter you in the next Olympic games."
They returned after this breathless work to the living-room.
"Now I'm going to tell you a story," Billy announced.
"Oh! Oh! Oh!" Maida squealed. "Do! Billy tells the most wonderful stories, Rosie—stories he's heard and stories he's read. But the most wonderful ones are those that he makes up as he goes along."
The two little girls settled themselves on the hearth-rug at Billy's feet. Granny sat, not far off, working with double speed at her neglected knitting.
"Once upon a time," Billy said, "there lived a little girl named Klara. And Klara was the naughtiest little girl in the world. She was a pretty child and a clever child and everybody would have loved her if she had only given them a chance. But how can you love a child who is doing naughty things all the time? Particularly was she a great trial to her mother. That poor lady was not well and needed care and attention, herself. But instead of giving her these, Klara gave her only hard words and disobedient acts. The mother used sometimes to punish her little daughter but it seemed as if this only made her worse. Both father and mother were in despair about her. Klara seemed to be growing steadily worse and worse. And, indeed, lately, she had added to her naughtiness by threatening to run away.
"One night, it happened, Klara had been so bad that her mother had put her to bed early. The moment her mother left the room, Klara whipped over to the window. 'I'm going to dress myself and climb out the window and run away and never come back, she said to herself.'
"The house in which Klara lived was built on the side of a cliff, overlooking the sea. As Klara stood there in her nightgown the moon began to rise and come up out of the water. Now the moonrise is always a beautiful sight and Klara stopped for a moment to watch it, fascinated.
"It seemed to her that she had never seen the moon look so big before. And certainly she had never seen it such a color—a soft deep orange. In fact, it might have been an immense orange—or better, a monster pumpkin stuck on the horizon-line.
"The strange thing about the moon, though, was that it grew larger instead of smaller. It rose higher and higher, growing bigger and bigger, until it was half-way up the curve of the sky. Then it stopped short. Klara watched it, her eyes bulging out of her head. In all her experience she had never seen such a surprising thing. And while she watched, another remarkable thing happened. A great door in the moon opened suddenly and there on the threshold stood a little old lady. A strange little old lady she was—a little old lady with short red skirts and high, gayly-flowered draperies at her waist, a little old lady with a tall black, sugar-loaf hat, a great white ruff around her neck and little red shoes with bright silver buckles on them—a little old lady who carried a black cat perched on one shoulder and a broomstick in one hand.
"The little old lady stooped down and lifted something over the threshold. Klara strained her eyes to see what it was. It looked like a great roll of golden carpeting. With a sudden deft movement the little old lady threw it out of the door. It flew straight across the ocean, unrolling as swiftly as a ball of twine that you've flung across the room. It came nearer and nearer. The farther it got from the moon, the faster it unrolled. After a while it struck against the shore right under Klara's window and Klara saw that it was the wake of the moon. She watched.
"The little old lady had disappeared from the doorway in the moon but the door did not close. And, suddenly, still another wonderful thing happened. The golden wake lifted itself gradually from the water until it was on a level with Klara's window. Bending down she touched it with both her soft little hands. It was as firm and hard as if it had been woven from strands of gold.
"'Now's my time to run away from my cross mother,' Klara said to herself. 'I guess that nice old lady in the moon wants me to come and be her little girl. Well, I'll go. I guess they'll be sorry in this house to-morrow when they wake up and find they're never going to see me again.'
"Opening the window gently that nobody might hear her, she stepped on to the Wake of Gold. It felt cool and hard to her little bare feet. It inclined gently from her window. She ran down the slope until she reached the edge of the sea. There she hesitated. For a moment it seemed a daring thing to walk straight out to the moon with nothing between her and the water but a path of gold. Then she recalled how her mother had sent her to bed and her heart hardened. She started briskly out.
"From Klara's window it had looked as though it would take her only a few moments to get to the moon. But the farther she went, the farther from her the doorway seemed to go. But she did not mind that the walk was so long because it was so pretty. Looking over the edge of the Wake of Gold, deep down in the water, she could see all kinds of strange sights.
"At one place a school of little fish swam up to the surface of the water. Klara knelt down and watched their pretty, graceful motions. The longer she gazed the more fish she saw and the more beautiful they seemed. Pale-blue fishes with silver spots. Pale-pink ones with golden stripes. Gorgeous red ones with jewelled black horns. Brilliant yellow and green ones that shone like phosphorus. And here and there, gliding among them, were what seemed little angel-fish like living rainbows, whose filmy wing-like fins changed color when they swam.
"Klara reached into the water and tried to catch some of these marvelous beings.
"But at her first motion—bing! The water looked as if it were streaked with rainbow lightning. Swish! It was dull and clear again, with nothing between her and the quiet, seaweed-covered bottom.
"A little farther along Klara came across a wonderful sea-grotto. Again she knelt down on the Wake of Gold and watched. At the bottom the sand was so white and shiny that it might have been made of star-dust. Growing up from it were beds of marvelous seaflowers, opening and shutting delicate petals, beautiful seafans that waved with every ripple, high, thick shrubs and towering trees in which the fishes had built their nests. In and out among all this undergrowth, frisked tiny sea-horses, ridden by mischievous sea-urchins. They leaped and trotted and galloped as if they were so happy that they did not know what to do. Klara felt that she must play with them. She put one little foot into the water to attract their attention. Bing! The water seemed alive with scuttling things. Swish! The grotto was so quiet that she could not believe that there was anything living in it.
"A little farther on, Klara came upon a sight even more wonderful than this—a village of mer-people. It was set so far down in the water that it seemed a million miles away. And yet the water was so clear that she felt she could touch the housetops.
"The mer-houses seemed to be made of a beautiful, sparkling white coral with big, wide-open windows through which the tide drifted. The mer-streets seemed to be cobbled in pearl, the sidewalks to be paved in gold. At their sides grew mer-trees, the highest she had ever seen, with all kinds of beautiful singing fish roosting in their branches. Little mer-boats of carved pink coral with purple seaweed sails or of mother-of-pearl with rosy, mer-flower-petal sails, were floating through the streets. In some, sat little mer-maidens, the sunlight flashing on their pretty green scales, on their long, golden tresses, on the bright mirrors they held in their hands. Other boats held little mer-boys who made beautiful music on the harps they carried.
"At one end of the mer-village Klara could see one palace, bigger and more beautiful than all the others. Through an open window she caught a glimpse of the mer-king—a jolly old fellow with a fat red face and a long white beard sitting on a throne of gold. At his side reclined the mer-queen—a very beautiful lady with a skin as white as milk and eyes as green as emeralds. Little mer-princes and little mer-princesses were playing on the floor with tiny mer-kittens and tinier mer-puppies. One sweet little mer-baby was tiptailing towards the window with a pearl that she had stolen from her sister's coronet.
"It seemed to Klara that this mer-village was the most enchanting place that she had ever seen in her life. Oh, how she wanted to live there!
"'Oh, good mer-king,' she called entreatingly, 'and good mer-queen, please let me come to live in your palace.'
"Bing! The water rustled and roiled as if all the birds of paradise that the world contained had taken flight. Swish! It was perfectly quiet again. The mer-village was as deserted as a graveyard.
"'Well, if they don't want me, they shan't get me, Klara said. And she walked on twice as proud.'
"By this time she was getting closer and closer to the moon. The nearer she came the bigger it grew. Now it filled the entire sky. The door had remained open all this time. Through it she could see a garden—a garden more beautiful than any fairy-tale garden that she had ever read about. From the doorway silvery paths stretched between hedges as high as a giant's head. Sometimes these paths ended in fountains whose spray twisted into all kinds of fairy-like shapes. Sometimes these paths seemed to stop flush against the clouds. Nearer stretched flower-beds so brilliant that you would have thought a kaleidoscope had broken on the ground. Birds, like living jewels, flew in and out through the tree-branches. They sang so hard that it seemed to Klara they must burst their little throats. From the branches hung all kinds of precious stones, all kinds of delicious-looking fruits and candies.
"Klara could not scramble through the door quickly enough.
"But as she put one foot on the threshold the little old lady appeared. She looked as if she had stepped out of a fairy-tale. And yet Klara had a strange feeling of discomfort when she looked at her. It seemed to Klara that the old lady's mouth was cruel and her eyes hard.
"'Are you the little girl who's run away?' the old lady asked.
"'Yes,' Klara faltered.
"'And you want to live in the Kingdom of the Moon?'
"The old lady stepped aside and Klara marched across the threshold. She felt the door swinging to behind her. She heard a bang as it closed, shutting her out of the world and into the moon.
"And then—and then—what do you think happened?"
Billy stopped for a moment. Rosie and Maida rose to their knees.
"What happened?" they asked breathlessly.
"The garden vanished as utterly as if it were a broken soap-bubble. Gone were the trees and the flowers; gone were the fountains and the birds; gone, too, were the jewels, the candies and the fruits.
"The place had become a huge, dreary waste, stretching as far as Klara could see into the distance. It seemed to her as if all the trash that the world had outgrown had been dumped here—it was so covered with heaps of old rubbish.
"Klara turned to the old lady. She had not changed except that her cruel mouth sneered.
"Klara burst into tears. 'I want to go home,' she screamed. 'Let me go back to my mother.'
"The old lady only smiled. 'You open that door and let me go back to my mother,' Klara cried passionately.
"'But I can't open it,' the old lady said. 'It's locked. I have no keys.'
"'Where are the keys?' Klara asked.
"The old lady pointed to the endless heaps of rubbish. 'There, somewhere,' she said.
"'I'll find them,' Klara screamed, 'and open that door and run back to my home. You shan't keep me from my own dear mother, you wicked woman.'
"'Nobody wants to keep you,' the old lady said. 'You came of your own accord. Find the keys if you want to go back.'
"That was true and Klara wisely did not answer. But you can fancy how she regretted coming. She began to search among the dump-heaps. She could find no keys. But the longer she hunted the more determined she grew. It seemed to her that she searched for weeks and weeks.
"It was very discouraging, very dirty and very fatiguing work. She moved always in a cloud of dust. At times it seemed as if her back would break from bending so much. Often she had to bite her lips to keep from screaming with rage after she had gone through a rubbish-pile as high as her head and, still, no keys. All kinds of venomous insects stung her. All kinds of vines and brambles scratched her. All kinds of stickers and thistles pricked her. Her little feet and hands bled all the time. But still she kept at it. After that first conversation, Klara never spoke with the old lady again. After a few days Klara left her in the distance. At the end of a week, the moon-door was no longer in sight when Klara looked back.