"But during all those weeks of weary work Klara had a chance to think. She saw for the first time what a naughty little girl she had been and how she had worried the kindest mother in the world. Her longing for her mother grew so great at times that she had to sit down and cry. But after a while she would dry her eyes and go at the hunt with fresh determination.
"One day she caught a glint of something shining from a clump of bushes. She had to dig and dig to get at it for about these bushes the ashes were packed down hard. But finally she uncovered a pair of iron keys. On one was printed in letters of gold, 'I'M SORRY,' on the other, 'I'LL NEVER DO SO AGAIN.'
"Klara seized the keys joyfully and ran all the long way back to the great door. It had two locks. She put one key in the upper lock, turned it—a great bolt jarred. She put the other key into the second lock, turned it—a great bolt jarred. The door swung open.
"'I'm sorry,' Klara whispered to herself. 'I'll never do so again.'
"She had a feeling that as long as she said those magic words, everything would go well with her.
"Extending out from the door was the Wake of Gold. Klara bounded through the opening and ran. She turned back after a few moments and there was the old lady with her cat and her broomstick standing in the doorway. But the old lady's face had grown very gentle and kind.
"Klara did not look long. She ran as fast as she could pelt across the golden path, whispering, 'I'm sorry. I will never do so again. I'm sorry. I will never do so again. I'm sorry. I will never do so again.'
"And as she ran all the little mer-people came to the surface of the water to encourage her. The little mer-maidens flashed their mirrors at her. The little mer-boys played wonderful music on their harps. The mer-king gave her a jolly smile and the mer-queen blew her a kiss. All the little mer-princesses and all the little mer-princes held up their pets to her. Even the mer-baby clapped her dimpled hands.
"And farther on all the little sea horses with the sea urchins on their backs assembled in bobbing groups. And farther on all the little rainbow fishes gathered in shining files. As she ran all the scratches and gashes in her flesh healed up.
"After a while she reached her own window. Opening it, she jumped in. Turning to pull it down she saw the old lady disappear from the doorway of the moon, saw the door close upon her, saw the Wake of Gold melt and fall into the sea where it lay in a million gleaming spangles, saw the moon float up into the sky, growing smaller and smaller and paler and paler until it was no larger than a silver plate. And now it was the moon no longer—it was the sun. Its rays were shining hot on her face. She was back in her little bed. Her mother's arms were about her and Klara was saying, 'I'm SORRY. I WILL NEVER DO SO AGAIN.'"
For a long time after Billy finished the room was very quiet. Then suddenly Rosie jumped to her feet. "That was a lovely story, Billy," she said. "But I guess I don't want to hear any more now. I think I'll go home."
CHAPTER IX: WORK
It was still raining when Maida got up the next day. It rained all the morning. She listened carefully at a quarter to twelve for the one-session bell but it did not ring. Just before school began in the afternoon Rosie came into the shop. Maida saw at once that something had happened to her. Rosie's face looked strange and she dragged across the room instead of pattering with her usual quick, light step.
"What do you think's happened, Maida?" Rosie asked.
"I don't know. Oh, what?" Maida asked affrighted.
"When I came home from school this noon mother wasn't there. But Aunt Theresa was there—she'd cooked the dinner. She said that mother had gone away for a visit and that she wouldn't be back for some time. She said she was going to keep house for father and me while mother was gone. I feel dreadfully homesick and lonesome without mother."
"Oh Rosie, I am sorry," Maida said. "But perhaps your mother won't stay long. Do you like your Aunt Theresa?"
"Oh, yes, I like her. But of course she isn't mother."
"No, of course. Nobody is like your mother."
"Oh, yes; there's something else I had to tell you. The W.M.N.T.'s are going to meet at Dicky's after school this afternoon. Be sure to come, Maida."
"Of course I'll come." Maida's whole face sparkled. "That is, if Granny doesn't think it's too wet."
Rosie lingered for a few moments but she did not seem like her usual happy-go-lucky self. And when she left, Maida noticed that instead of running across the street she actually walked.
All the morning long Maida talked of nothing to Granny but the prospective meeting of the W.M.N.T.'s. "Just think, Granny, I never belonged to a club before," she said again and again.
Very early she had put out on her bed the clothes that she intended to wear—a tanbrown serge of which she was particularly fond, and her favorite "tire" of a delicate, soft lawn. She kept rushing to the window to study the sky. It continued to look like the inside of a dull tin cup. She would not have eaten any lunch at all if Granny had not told her that she must. And her heart sank steadily all the afternoon for the rain continued to come down.
"I don't suppose I can go, Granny," she faltered when the clock struck four.
"Sure an you can," Granny responded briskly.
But she wrapped Maida up, as Maida herself said: "As if I was one of papa's carved crystals come all the way from China."
First Granny put on a sweater, then a coat, then over all a raincoat. She put a hood on her head and a veil over that. She made her wear rubber boots and take an umbrella. Maida got into a gale of laughter during the dressing.
"I ought to be wrapped in excelsior now," she said. "If I fall down in the puddle in the court, Granny," she threatened merrily, "I never can pick myself up. I'll either have to roll and roll and roll until I get on to dry land or I'll have to wait until somebody comes and shovels me out."
But she did not fall into the puddle. She walked carefully along the edge and then ran as swiftly as her clothes and lameness would permit. She arrived in Dicky's garret, red-cheeked and breathless.
Arthur and Rosie had already come. Rosie was playing on the floor with Delia and the puppy that she had rescued from the tin-can persecution. Rosie was growling, the dog was yelping and Delia was squealing—but all three with delight.
Arthur and Dicky sat opposite each other, working at the round table.
"What do you think of that dog now, Maida?" Rosie asked proudly. "His name is 'Tag.' You wouldn't know him for the same dog, would you? Isn't he a nice-looking little puppy?"
Tag did look like another dog. He wore a collar and his yellowy coat shone like satin. His whole manner had changed. He came running over to Maida and stood looking at her with the most spirited air in the world, his head on one side, one paw up and one ear cocked inquisitively. His tail wriggled so fast that Delia thinking it some wonderful new toy, kept trying to catch it and hold it in her little fingers.
"He's a lovely doggie," Maida said. "I wish I'd brought Fluff."
"And did you ever see such a dear baby," Rosie went on, hugging Delia. "Oh, if I only had a baby brother or sister!"
"She's a darling," Maida agreed heartily. "Babies are so much more fun than dolls, don't you think so, Rosie?"
"Dolls!" No words can express the contempt that was in Miss Brine's accent.
"What are you doing, Dicky?" Maida asked, limping over to the table.
"Making things," Dicky said cheerfully.
On the table were piles of mysterious-looking objects made entirely of paper. Some were of white paper and others of brown, but they were all decorated with trimmings of colored tissue.
"What are they?" Maida asked. "Aren't they lovely? I never saw anything like them in my life."
Dicky blushed all over his face at this compliment but it was evident that he was delighted. "Well, those are paper-boxes," he said, pointing to the different piles of things, "and those are steamships. Those are the old-fashioned kind with double smokestacks. Those are double-boats, jackets, pants, badges, nose-pinchers, lamp-lighters, firemen's caps and soldier caps."
"Oh, that's why you buy all that colored paper," Maida said in a tone of great satisfaction. "I've often wondered." She examined Dicky's work carefully. She could see that it was done with remarkable precision and skill. "Oh, what fun to do things like that. I do wish you'd show me how to make them, Dicky. I'm such a useless girl. I can't make a single thing."
"I'll show you, sure," Dicky offered generously.
"What are you making so many for?" Maida queried.
"Well, you see it's this way," Dicky began in a business-like air. "Arthur and Rosie and I are going to have a fair. We've had a fair every spring and every fall for the last three years. That's how we get our money for Christmas and the Fourth of July. Arthur whittles things out of wood—he'll show you what he can do in a minute—he's a crackajack. Rosie makes candy. And I make these paper things."
"And do you make much money?" Maida asked, deeply interested.
"Don't make any money at all," Dicky said. "The children pay us in nails. I charge them ten nails a-piece for the easy things and twenty nails for the hardest. Arthur can get more for his stuff because it's harder to do."
"But what do you want nails for?" Maida asked in bewilderment.
"Why, nails are junk."
"And what's junk?"
The three children stared at her. "Don't you know what junk is, Maida?" Rosie asked in despair.
"Junk's old iron," Dicky explained. "And you sell it to the junkman. Once we made forty cents out of one of these fairs. One reason we're beginning so early this year, I've got something very particular I want to buy my mother for a Christmas present. Can you keep a secret, Maida?"
"Well, it's a fur collar for her neck. They have them down in a store on Main street every winter—two dollars and ninetyeight cents. It seems an awful lot but I've got over a dollar saved up. And I guess I can do it if I work hard."
"How much have you made ordinarily?" Maida asked thoughtfully.
"Once we made forty cents a-piece but that's the most."
"I tell you what you do," Maida burst out impetuously after a moment of silence in which she considered this statement. "When the time comes for you to hold your fair, I'll lend you my shop for a day. I'll take all the things out of the window and I'll clean all the shelves off and you boys can put your things there. I'll clear out the showcases for Rosie's candy. Won't that be lovely?" She smiled happily.
"It would be grand business for us," Dicky said soberly, "but somehow it doesn't seem quite fair to you."
"Oh, please don't think of that," Maida said. "I'd just love to do it. And you must teach me how to make things so that I can help you. You will take the shop, Dicky?" she pleaded. "And you, Rosie? And Arthur?" She looked from one to the other with all her heart in her eyes.
But nobody spoke for a moment. "It seems somehow as if we oughtn't to," Dicky said awkwardly at last.
Maida's lip trembled. At first she could not understand. Here she was aching to do a kindness to these three friends of hers. And they, for some unknown reason, would not permit it. It was not that they disliked her, she knew. What was it? She tried to put herself in their place. Suddenly it came to her what the difficulty was. They did not want to be so much in her debt. How could she prevent that? She must let them do something for her that would lessen that debt. But what? She thought very hard. In a flash it came to her—a plan by which she could make it all right.
"You see," she began eagerly, "I wanted to ask you three to help me in something, but I can't do it unless you let me help you. Listen—the next holiday is Halloween. I want to decorate my shop with a lot of real jack-o'-lanterns cut from pumpkins. It will be hard work and a lot of it and I was hoping that perhaps you'd help me with this."
The three faces lighted up.
"Of course we will," Dicky said heartily.
"Gee, I bet Dicky and I could make some great lanterns," Arthur said reflectively.
"And I'll help you fix up the store," Rosie said with enthusiasm. "I just love to make things look pretty."
"It's a bargain then," Maida said. "And now you must teach me how to help you this very afternoon, Dicky."
They fell to work with a vim. At least three of them did. Rosie continued to frisk with Delia and Tag on the floor. Dicky started Maida on the caps first. He said that those were the easiest. And, indeed she had very little trouble with anything until she came to the boxes. She had to do her first box over and over again before it would come right. But Dicky was very patient with her. He kept telling her that she did better than most beginners or she would have given it up. When she made her first good box, her face beamed with satisfaction.
"Do you mind if I take it home, Dicky?" she asked. "I'd like to show it to my father when he comes. It's the first thing I ever made in my life."
"Of course," Dicky said.
"Don't the other children ever try to copy your things?" Maida asked.
"They try to," Arthur answered, "but they never do so well as Dicky."
"You ought to see their nose-pinchers," Rosie laughed. "They can't stand up straight. And their boxes and steamships are the wobbliest things."
"I'm going to get all kinds of stuff for things we make for the fair," Maida said reflectively. "Gold and silver paper and colored stars and pretty fancy pictures for trimmings. You see if you're going to charge real money you must make them more beautiful than those for which you only charged nails."
"That's right," Dicky said. "By George, that will be great! You go ahead and buy whatever you think is right, Maida, and I'll pay you for it from what we take in at the fair."
"That's settled. What do you whittle, Arthur?"
"Oh, all kinds of things—things I made up myself and things I learned how to do in sloyd in school. I make bread-boards and rolling pins and shinny sticks and cats and little baskets out of cherry-stones."
"Jiminy crickets, he's forgetting the boats," Dicky burst in enthusiastically. "He makes the dandiest boats you ever saw in your life."
Maida looked at Arthur in awe. "I never heard anything like it! Can you make anything for girls?"
"Made me a set of the darlingest dolls' furniture you ever saw in your life," Rosie put in from the floor.
"Say, did you get into any trouble last night?" Arthur turned suddenly to Rosie. "I forgot to ask you."
"Arthur and Rosie hooked jack yesterday, in all that rain," Dicky explained to Maida. "They knew a place where they could get a whole lot of old iron and they were afraid if they waited, it would be gone."
"I should say I did," Rosie answered Arthur's question. "Somebody went and tattled to my mother. Of course, I was wet through to the skin and that gave the whole thing away, anyway. I got the worst scolding and mother sent me to bed without my supper. But I climbed out the window and went over to see Maida. I don't mind! I hate school and as long as I live I shall never go except when I want to—never, never, never! I guess I'm not going to be shut up studying when I'd rather be out in the open air. Wouldn't you hook jack if you wanted to, Maida?"
Maida did not reply for an instant. She hated to have Rosie ask this question, point-blank for she did not want to answer it. If she said exactly what she thought there might be trouble. And it seemed to her that she would do almost anything rather than lose Rosie's friendship. But Maida had been taught to believe that the truth is the most precious thing in the world. And so she told the truth after a while but it was with a great effort.
"No, I wouldn't," she said.
"Oh, that's all right for you to say," Rosie said firing up. "You don't have to go to school. You live the easiest life that anybody can—just sitting in a chair and tending shop all day. What do you know about it, anyway?"
Maida's lips quivered. "It is true I don't go to school, Rosie," she said. "But it isn't because I don't want to. I'd give anything on earth if I could go. I watch that line of children every morning and afternoon of my life and wish and wish and WISH I was in it. And when the windows are opened and I hear the singing and reading, it seems as if I just couldn't stand it."
"Oh, well," Rosie's tone was still scornful. "I don't believe, even if you did go to school, that you'd ever do anything bad. You'd never be anything but a fraid-cat and teacher's pet."
"I guess I'd be so glad to be there, I'd do anything the teacher asked," Maida said dejectedly. "I do a lot of things that bother Granny but I guess I never have been a very naughty girl. You can't be very naughty with your leg all crooked under you." Maida's voice had grown bitter. The children looked at her in amazement. "But what's the use of talking to you two," she went on. "You could never understand. I guess Dicky knows what I mean, though."
To their great surprise, Maida put her head down on the table and cried.
For a moment the room was perfectly silent. The fire snapped and Dicky went over to look at it. He stood with his back turned to the other children but a suspicious snuffle came from his direction. Arthur Duncan walked to the window and stood looking out. Rosie sat still, her eyes downcast, her little white teeth biting her red lips. Then suddenly she jumped to her feet, ran like a whirlwind to Maida's side. She put her arms about the bowed figure.
"Oh, do excuse me, Maida," she begged. "I know I'm the worst girl in the world. Everybody says so and I guess it's true. But I do love you and I wouldn't have hurt your feelings for anything. I don't believe you'd be a fraid-cat or teacher's pet—I truly don't. Please excuse me."
Maida wiped her tears away. "Of course I'll excuse you! But just the same, Rosie, I hope you won't hook jack any more for someday you'll be sorry."
"I'm going to make some candy now," Rosie said, adroitly changing the subject. "I brought some molasses and butter and everything I need." She began to bustle about the stove. Soon they were all laughing again.
Maida had never pulled candy before and she thought it the most enchanting fun in the world. It was hard to keep at work, though, when it was such a temptation to stop and eat it. But she persevered and succeeded in pulling hers whiter than anybody's. She laughed and talked so busily that, when she started to put on her things, all traces of tears had disappeared.
The rain had stopped. The puddle was of monster size after so long a storm. They came out just in time to help Molly fish Tim out of the water and to prevent Betsy from giving a stray kitten a bath. Following Rosie and Arthur, Maida waded through it from one end to the other—it seemed the most perilous of adventures to her.
After that meeting, the W.M.N.T.'s were busier than they had ever been. Every other afternoon, and always when it was bad weather, they worked at Maida's house. Granny gave Maida a closet all to herself and as fast as the things were finished they were put in boxes and stowed away on its capacious shelves.
Arthur whittled and carved industriously. His work went slower than Dicky's of course but, still, it went with remarkable quickness. Maida often stopped her own work on the paper things to watch Arthur's. It was a constant marvel to her that such big, awkward-looking hands could perform feats of such delicacy. Her own fingers, small and delicate as they were, bungled surprisingly at times.
"And as for the paste," Maida said in disgust to Rosie one day, "you'd think that I fell into the paste-pot every day. I wash it off my hands and face. I pick it off of my clothes and sometimes Granny combs it out of my hair."
Often after dinner, the W.M.N.T.'s would call in a body on Maida. Then would follow long hours of such fun that Maida hated to hear the clock strike nine. Always there would be molasses-candy making by the capable Rosie at the kitchen stove and corn-popping by the vigorous Arthur on the living-room hearth. After the candy had cooled and the pop corn had been flooded in melted butter, they would gather about the hearth to roast apples and chestnuts and to listen to the fairy-tales that Maida would read.
The one thing which she could do and they could not was to read with the ease and expression of a grown person. As many of her books were in French as in English and it was the wonder of the other W.M.N.T.'s that she could read a French story, translating as she went. Her books were a delight to Arthur and Dicky and she lent them freely. Rosie liked to listen to stories but she did not care to read.
Maida was very happy nowadays. Laura was the only person in the Court who had caused her any uneasiness. Since the day that Laura had made herself so disagreeable, Maida had avoided her steadily. Best of all, perhaps, Maida's health had improved so much that even her limp was slowly disappearing.
In the course of time, the children taught Maida the secret language of the W.M.N.T.'s. They could hold long conversations that were unintelligible to anybody else. When at first they used it in fun before Maida, she could not understand a word. After they had explained it to her, she wondered that she had ever been puzzled.
"It's as easy as anything," Rosy said. "You take off the first sound of a word and put it on the end with an ay added to it like MAN—an-may. BOY—oy-bay. GIRL—irl-gay. When a word is just one sound like I or O, or when it begins with a vowel like EEL or US or OUT, you add way, like I—I-way. O—O-way. EEL—eel-way. US—us-way. OUT—out-way."
Thus Maida could say to Rosie:
"Are-way ou-yay oing-gay o-tay ool-schay o-tay ay-day?" and mean simply, "Are you going to school to-day?"
And sometimes to Maida's grief, Rosie would reply roguishly:
"O-nay I-way am-way oing-gay o-tay ook-hay ack-jay ith-way Arthur-way."
Billy Potter was finally invited to join the W.M.N.T.'s too. He never missed a meeting if he could possibly help it.
"Why do you call Maida, 'Petronilla'?" Dicky asked him curiously one day when Maida had run home for more paper.
"Petronilla is the name of a little girl in a fairy-tale that I read when I was a little boy," Billy answered.
"And was she like Maida?" Arthur asked.
"How?" Rosie inquired.
"Petronilla had a gold star set in her forehead by a fairy when she was a baby," Billy explained. "It was a magic star. Nobody but fairies could see it but it was always there. Anybody who came within the light of Petronilla's star, no matter how wicked or hopeless or unhappy he was, was made better and hopefuller and happier."
Nobody spoke for an instant.
Then, "I guess Maida's got the star all right," Dicky said.
Billy was very interested in the secret language. At first when they talked this gibberish before him, he listened mystified. But to their great surprise he never asked a question. They went right on talking as if he were not present. In an interval of silence, Billy said softly:
"I-way onder-way if-way I-way ought-bay a-way uart-quay of-way ice-way-eam-cray, ese-thay ildren-chay ould-way eat-way it-way."
For a moment nobody could speak. Then a deafening, "es-yay!" was shouted at the top of four pairs of lungs.
CHAPTER X: PLAY
But although the W.M.N.T.'s worked very hard, you must not suppose that they left no time to play. Indeed, the weather was so fine that it was hard to stay in the house. The beautiful Indian summer had come and each new day dawned more perfect than the last. The trees had become so gorgeous that it was as if the streets were lined with burning torches. Whenever a breeze came, they seemed to flicker and flame and flare. Maida and Rosie used to shuffle along the gutters gathering pocketsful of glossy horse-chestnuts and handfuls of gorgeous leaves.
Sometimes it seemed to Maida that she did not need to play, that there was fun enough in just being out-of-doors. But she did play a great deal for she was well enough to join in all the fun now and it seemed to her that she never could get enough of any one game.
She would play house and paper-dolls and ring-games with the little children in the morning when the older ones were in school. She would play jackstones with the bigger girls in the afternoon. She would play running games with the crowd of girls and boys, of whom the W.M.N.T.'s were the leaders, towards night. Then sometimes she would grumble to Granny because the days were so short.
Of all the games, Hoist-the-Sail was her favorite. She often served as captain on her side. But whether she called or awaited the cry, "Liberty poles are bending—hoist the sail!" a thrill ran through her that made her blood dance.
"It's no use in talking, Granny," Maida said joyfully one day. "My leg is getting stronger. I jumped twenty jumps to-day without stopping."
After that her progress was rapid. She learned to jump in the rope with Rosie.
They were a pretty sight. People passing often gave them more than one glance—Rosie so vivid and sparkling, in the scarlet cape and hat all velvety jet-blacks, satiny olives and brilliant crimsons—Maida slim, delicate, fairy-like in her long squirrel-coat and cap, her airy ringlets streaming in the breeze and the eyes that had once been so wistful now shining with happiness.
"Do you know what you look like, Maida?" Rosie said once. Before Maida could answer, she went on. "You look like that little mermaid princess in Anderson's fairy tales—the one who had to suffer so to get legs like mortals."
"Do I?" Maida laughed. "Now isn't it strange I have always thought that you look like somebody in a fairy tale, too. You're like Rose-Red in 'Rose-Red and Snow-White.' I think," she added, flushing, for she was a little afraid that it was not polite to say things like this, "that you are the beautifulest girl I ever saw."
"Why, that's just what I think of you," Rosie said in surprise.
"I just love black hair," Maida said.
"And I just adore golden hair," Rosie said. "Now, isn't that strange?"
"I guess," Maida announced after a moment of thought, "people like what they haven't got."
After a while, Rosie taught Maida to jump in the big rope with a half a dozen children at once. Maida never tired of this. When she heard the rope swishing through the air, a kind of excitement came over her. She was proud to think that she had caught the trick—that something inside would warn her when to jump—that she could be sure that this warning would not come an instant too soon or too late. The consciousness of a new strength and a new power made a different child of her. It made her eyes sparkle like gray diamonds. It made her cheeks glow like pink peonies.
By this time she could spin tops with the best of them—sometimes she had five tops going at once. This was a sport of which the W.M.N.T.'s never tired. They kept it up long into the twilight. Sometimes Granny would have to ring the dinner-bell a half a dozen times before Maida appeared. Maida did not mean to be disobedient. She simply did not hear the bell. Granny's scoldings for this carelessness were very gentle—Maida's face was too radiant with her triumph in this new skill.
There was something about Primrose Court—the rows of trees welded into a yellow arch high over their heads, the sky showing through in diamond-shaped glints of blue, the tiny trim houses and their tinier, trimmer yards, the doves pink-toeing everywhere, their throats bubbling color as wonderful as the old Venetian glass in the Beacon Street house, the children running and shouting, the very smell of the dust which their pattering feet threw up—something in the look of all this made Maida's spirits leap.
"I'm happy, happy, HAPPY," Maida said one day. The next—Rosie came rushing into the shop with a frightened face.
"Oh, Maida," she panted, "a terrible thing has happened. Laura Lathrop's got diphtheria—they say she's going to die."
"Oh, Rosie, how dreadful! Who told you so?"
"Annie the cook told Aunt Theresa. Dr. Ames went there three times yesterday. Annie says Mrs. Lathrop looks something awful."
"The poor, poor woman," Granny murmured compassionately.
"Oh, I'm so sorry I was cross to Laura," Maida said, conscience-stricken. "Oh, I do hope she won't die."
"It must be dreadful for Laura," Rosie continued, "Harold can't go near her. Nobody goes into the room but her mother and the nurse."
The news cast a deep gloom over the Court. The little children—Betsy, Molly and Tim played as usual for they could not understand the situation. But the noisy fun of the older children ceased entirely. They gathered on the corner and talked in low voices, watching with dread any movement in the Lathrop house. For a week or more Primrose Court was the quietest spot in the neighborhood.
"They say she's sinking," Rosie said that first night.
The thought of it colored Maida's dreams.
"She's got through the night all right," Rosie reported in the morning, her face shining with hope. "And they think she's a little better." But late the next afternoon, Rosie appeared again, her face dark with dread, "Laura's worse again."
Two or three days passed. Sometimes Laura was better. Oftener she was worse. Dr. Ames's carriage seemed always to be driving into the Court.
"Annie says she's dying," Rosie retailed despairingly. "They don't think she'll live through the night. Oh, won't it be dreadful to wake up to-morrow and find the crape on the door."
The thought of what she might see in the morning kept Maida awake a long time that night. When she arose her first glance was for the Lathrop door. There was no crape.
"No better," Rosie dropped in to say on her way to school "but," she added hopefully, "she's no worse."
Maida watched the Lathrop house all day, dreading to see the undertaker's wagon drive up. But it did not come—not that day, nor the next, nor the next.
"They think she's getting better," Rosie reported joyfully one day.
And gradually Laura did get better. But it was many days before she was well enough to sit up.
"Mrs. Lathrop says," Rosie burst in one day with an excited face, "that if we all gather in front of the house to-morrow at one o'clock, she'll lift Laura up to the window so that we can see her. She says Laura is crazy to see us all."
"Oh, Rosie, I'm so glad!" Maida exclaimed, delighted. Seizing each other by the waist, the two little girls danced about the room.
"Oh, I'm going to be so good to Laura when she gets well," Maida said.
"So am I," Rosie declared with equal fervor. "The last thing I ever said to her was that she was 'a hateful little smarty-cat.'"
Five minutes before one, the next day, all the children in Primrose Court gathered on the lawn in front of Laura's window. Maida led Molly by one hand and Tim by the other. Rosie led Betsy and Delia. Dorothy Clark held Fluff and Mabel held Tag. Promptly at one o'clock, Mrs. Lathrop appeared at the window, carrying a little, thin, white wisp of a girl, all muffled up in a big shawl.
The children broke into shouts of joy. The boys waved their hats and the girls their handkerchiefs. Tag barked madly and Rosie declared afterwards that even Fluff looked excited. But Maida stood still with the tears streaming down her cheeks—Laura's face looked so tiny, her eyes so big and sad. From her own experience, Maida could guess how weak Laura felt.
Laura stayed only an instant at the window. One feeble wave of her claw-like hand and she was gone.
"Annie says Mrs. Lathrop is worn to a shadow trying to find things to entertain Laura," Rosie said one night to Maida and Billy Potter. "She's read all her books to her and played all her games with her and Laura keeps saying she wished she had something new."
"Oh, I do wish we could think of something to do for her," Maida said wistfully. "I know just how she feels. If I could only think of a new toy—but Laura has everything. And then the trouble with toys is that after you've played with them once, there's no more fun in them. I know what that is. If we all had telephones, we could talk to her once in a while. But even that would tire her, I guess."
Billy jumped. "I know what we can do for Laura," he said. "I'll have to have Mrs. Lathrop's permission though." He seized his hat and made for the door. "I'd better see her about it to-night." The door slammed.
It had all happened so suddenly that the children gazed after him with wide-open mouths and eyes.
"What do you suppose it's going to be, Maida?" Rosie asked finally.
"I don't know," Maida answered. "I haven't the least idea. But if Billy makes it, you may be sure it will be wonderful."
When Billy came back, they asked him a hundred questions. But they could not get a word out of him in regard to the new toy.
He appeared at the shop early the next morning with a suit-case full of bundles. Then followed doings that, for a long time, were a mystery to everybody. A crowd of excited children followed him about, asking him dozens of questions and chattering frantically among themselves.
First, he opened one of the bundles—out dropped eight little pulleys. Second, he went up into Maida's bedroom and fastened one of the little pulleys on the sill outside her window. Third, he did the same thing in Rosie's house, in Arthur's and in Dicky's. Fourth, he fastened four of the little pulleys at the playroom window in the Lathrop house.
"Oh, what is he doing?" "I can't think of anything." "Oh, I wish he'd tell us," came from the children who watched these manoeuvres from the street.
Fifth, Billy opened another bundle—this time, out came four coils of a thin rope.
"I know now," Arthur called up to him, "but I won't tell."
And, sure enough, "You watch him," was all Arthur would say to the entreaties of his friends.
Sixth, Billy ran a double line of rope between Maida's and Laura's window, a second between Rosie's and Laura's, a third between Arthur's and Laura's, a fourth between Dicky's and Laura's.
Last, Billy opened another bundle. Out dropped four square tin boxes, each with a cover and a handle.
"I've guessed it! I've guessed it!" Maida and Rosie screamed together. "It's a telephone."
"That's the answer," Billy confessed. He went from house to house fastening a box to the lower rope.
"Now when you want to say anything to Laura," he said on his return, "just write a note, put it in the box, pull on the upper string and it will sail over to her window. Suppose you all run home and write something now. I'll go over to Laura's to see how it works."
The children scattered. In a few moments, four excited little faces appeared at as many windows. The telephone worked perfectly. Billy handed Mrs. Lathrop the notes to deliver to Laura.
"Oh, Mr. Potter," Mrs. Lathrop said suddenly, "there's a matter that I wished to speak to you about. That little Flynn girl has lived in the family of Mr. Jerome Westabrook, hasn't she?"
Billy's eyes "skrinkled up." "Yes, Mrs. Lathrop," he admitted, "she lived in the Westabrook family for several years."
"So I guessed," Mrs. Lathrop said. "She's a very sweet little girl," she went on earnestly for she had been touched by the sight of Maida's grief the day that she held Laura to the window. "I hope Mr. Westabrook's own little girl is as sweet."
"She is, Mrs. Lathrop, I assure you she is," Billy said gravely.
"What is the name of the Westabrook child?"
"Elizabeth Fairfax Westabrook."
"What is she like?"
"She's a good deal like Maida," Billy said, his eyes beginning to "skrinkle up" again. "They could easily pass for sisters."
"I suppose that's why the Westabrooks have been so good to the little Flynn girl," Mrs. Lathrop went on, "for they certainly are very good to her. It is quite evident that Maida's clothes belonged once to the little Westabrook girl."
"You are quite right, Mrs. Lathrop. They were made for the little Westabrook girl."
Mrs. Lathrop always declared afterwards that it was the telephone that really cured Laura. Certainly, it proved to be the most exciting of toys to the little invalid. There was always something waiting for her when she waked up in the morning and the tin boxes kept bobbing from window to window until long after dark. The girls kept her informed of what was going on in the neighborhood and the boys sent her jokes and conundrums and puzzle pictures cut from the newspapers. Gifts came to her at all hours. Sometimes it would be a bit of wood-carving—a grotesque face, perhaps—that Arthur had done. Sometimes it was a bit of Dicky's pretty paper-work. Rosie sent her specimens of her cooking from candy to hot roasted potatoes, and Maida sent her daily translations of an exciting fairy tale which she was reading in French for the first time.
Pretty soon Laura was well enough to answer the notes herself. She wrote each of her correspondents a long, grateful and affectionate letter. By and by, she was able to sit in a chair at the window and watch the games. The children remembered every few moments to look and wave to her and she always waved back. At last came the morning when a very thin, pale Laura was wheeled out into the sunshine. After that she grew well by leaps and bounds. In a day or two, she could stand in the ring-games with the little children. By the end of a week, she seemed quite herself.
One morning every child in Primrose Court received a letter in the mail. It was written on gay-tinted paper with a pretty picture at the top. It read:
"You are cordially invited to a Halloween party to be given by Miss Laura Lathrop at 29 Primrose Court on Saturday evening, October 31, at a half after seven."
But as Maida ceased gradually to worry about Laura, she began to be troubled about Rosie. For Rosie was not the same child. Much of the time she was silent, moody and listless.
One afternoon she came over to the shop, bringing the Clark twins with her. For awhile she and Maida played "house" with the little girls. Suddenly, Rosie tired of this game and sent the children home. Then for a time, she frolicked with Fluff while Maida read aloud. As suddenly as she had stopped playing "house" she interrupted Maida.
"Don't read any more," she commanded, "I want to talk with you."
Maida had felt the whole afternoon that there was something on Rosie's mind for whenever the scowl came between Rosie's eyebrows, it meant trouble. Maida closed her book and sat waiting.
"Maida," Rosie asked, "do you remember your mother?"
"Oh, yes," Maida answered, "perfectly. She was very beautiful. I could not forget her any more than a wonderful picture. She used to come and kiss me every night before she went to dinner with papa. She always smelled so sweet—whenever I see any flowers, I think of her. And she wore such beautiful dresses and jewels. She loved sparkly things, I guess—sometimes she looked like a fairy queen. Once she had a new lace gown all made of roses of lace and she had a diamond fastened in every rose to make it look like dew. When her hair was down, it came to her knees. She let me brush it sometimes with her gold brush."
"A gold brush," Rosie said in an awed tone.
"Yes, it was gold with her initials in diamonds on it. Papa gave her a whole set one birthday."
"How old were you when she died?" Rosie asked after a pause in which her scowl grew deeper.
"What did she die of?"
"I don't know," Maida answered. "You see I was so little that I didn't understand about dying. I had never heard of it. They told me one day that my mother had gone away. I used to ask every day when she was coming back and they'd say 'next week' and 'next week' and 'next week' until one day I got so impatient that I cried. Then they told me that my mother was living far away in a beautiful country and she would never come back. They said that I must not cry for she still loved me and was always watching over me. It was a great comfort to know that and of course I never cried after that for fear of worrying her. But at first it was very lonely. Why, Rosie—" She stopped terrified. "What's the matter?"
Rosie had thrown herself on the couch, and was crying bitterly. "Oh, Maida," she sobbed, "that's exactly what they say to me when I ask them—'next week' and 'next week' and 'next week' until I'm sick of it. My mother is dead and I know it."
"Oh, Rosie!" Maida protested. "Oh no, no, no—your mother is not dead. I can't believe it. I won't believe it."
"She is," Rosie persisted. "I know she is. Oh, what shall I do? Think how naughty I was! What shall I do?" She sobbed so convulsively that Maida was frightened.
"Listen, Rosie," she said. "You don't know your mother is dead. And I for one don't believe that she is."
"But they said the same thing to you," Rosie protested passionately.
"I think it was because I was sick," Maida said after a moment in which she thought the matter out. "They were afraid that I might die if they told me the truth. But whether your mother is alive or dead, the only way you can make up for being naughty is to be as good to your Aunt Theresa as you can. Oh, Rosie, please go to school every day."
"Do you suppose I could ever hook jack again?" Rosie asked bitterly. She dried her eyes. "I guess I'll go home now," she said, "and see if I can help Aunt Theresa with the supper. And I'm going to get her to teach me how to cook everything so that I can help mother—if she ever comes home."
The next day Rosie came into the shop with the happiest look that she had worn for a long time.
"I peeled the potatoes for Aunt Theresa, last night," she announced, "and set the table and wiped the dishes. She was real surprised. She asked me what had got into me?"
"I'm glad," Maida approved.
"I asked her when mother was coming back and she said the same thing, 'Next week, I think.'" Rosie's lip quivered.
"I think she'll come back, Rosie," Maida insisted. "And now let's not talk any more about it. Let's come out to play."
Mindful of her own lecture on obedience to Rosie, Maida skipped home the first time Granny rang the bell.
Granny met her at the door. Her eyes were shining with mischief. "You've got a visitor," she said. Maida could see that she was trying to keep her lips prim at the corners. She wondered who it was. Could it be—
She ran into the living-room. Her father jumped up from the easy-chair to meet her.
"Well, well, well, Miss Rosy-Cheeks. No need to ask how you are!" he said kissing her.
"Oh papa, papa, I never was so happy in all my life. If you could only be here with me all the time, there wouldn't be another thing in the world that I wanted. Don't you think you could give up Wall Street and come to live in this Court? You might open a shop too. Papa, I know you'd make a good shop-keeper although it isn't so easy as a lot of people think. But I'd teach you all I know—and, then, it's such fun. You could have a big shop for I know just how you like big things—just as I like little ones."
"Buffalo" Westabrook laughed. "I may have to come to it yet but it doesn't look like it this moment. My gracious, Posie, how you have improved! I never would know you for the same child. Where did you get those dimples? I never saw them in your face before. Your mother had them, though."
The shadow, that the mention of her mother's name always brought, darkened his face. "How you are growing to look like her!" he said.
Maida knew that she must not let him stay sad. "Dimples!" she squealed. "Really, papa?" She ran over to the mirror, climbed up on a chair and peeked in. Her face fell. "I don't see any," she said mournfully.
"And you're losing your limp," Mr. Westabrook said. Then catching sight of her woe-begone face, he laughed. "That's because you've stopped smiling, you little goose," he said. "Grin and you'll see them."
Obedient, Maida grinned so hard that it hurt. But the grin softened to a smile of perfect happiness. For, sure enough, pricking through the round of her soft, pink cheeks, were a pair of tiny hollows.
CHAPTER XI: HALLOWEEN
Halloween fell on Saturday that year. That made Friday a very busy time for Maida and the other members of the W.M.N.T. In the afternoon, they all worked like beavers making jack-o'-lanterns of the dozen pumpkins that Granny had ordered. Maida and Rosie and Dicky hollowed and scraped them. Arthur did all the hard work—the cutting out of the features, the putting-in of candle-holders. These pumpkin lanterns were for decoration. But Maida had ordered many paper jack-o'-lanterns for sale. The W.M.N.T.'s spent the evening rearranging the shop. Maida went to bed so tired that she could hardly drag one foot after the other. Granny had to undress her.
But when the school-children came flocking in the next morning, she felt more than repaid for her work. The shop resounded with the "Oh mys," and "Oh looks," of their surprise and delight.
Indeed, the room seemed full of twinkling yellow faces. Lines of them grinned in the doorway. Rows of them smirked from the shelves. A frieze, close-set as peas in a pod, grimaced from the molding. The jolly-looking pumpkin jacks, that Arthur had made, were piled in a pyramid in the window. The biggest of them all—"he looks just like the man in the moon," Rosie said—smiled benignantly at the passers-by from the top of the heap. Standing about everywhere among the lanterns were groups of little paper brownies, their tiny heads turned upwards as if, in the greatest astonishment, they were examining these monster beings.
The jack-o'-lanterns sold like hot cakes. As for the brownies, "Granny, you'd think they were marching off the shelves!" Maida said. By dark, she was diving breathlessly into her surplus stock. At the first touch of twilight, she lighted every lantern left in the place. Five minutes afterwards, a crowd of children had gathered to gaze at the flaming faces in the window. Even the grown-ups stopped to admire the effect.
More customers came and more—a great many children whom Maida had never seen before. By six o'clock, she had sold out her entire stock. When she sat down to dinner that night, she was a very happy little girl.
"This is the best day I've had since I opened the shop," she said contentedly. She was not tired, though. "I feel just like going to a party to-night. Granny, can I wear my prettiest Roman sash?"
"You can wear annyt'ing you want, my lamb," Granny said, "for 'tis the good, busy little choild you've been this day."
Granny dressed her according to Maida's choice, in white. A very, simple, soft little frock, it was, with many tiny tucks made by hand and many insertions of a beautiful, fine lace. Maida chose to wear with it pale blue silk stockings and slippers, a sash of blue, striped in pink and white, a string of pink Venetian beads.
"Now, Granny, I'll read until the children call for me," she suggested, "so I won't rumple my dress."
But she was too excited to read. She sat for a long time at the window, just looking out. Presently the jack-o'-lanterns, lighted now, began to make blobs of gold in the furry darkness of the street. She could not at first make out who held them. It was strange to watch the fiery, grinning heads, flying, bodiless, from place to place. But she identified the lanterns in the court by the houses from which they emerged. The three small ones on the end at the left meant Dicky and Molly and Tim. Two big ones, mounted on sticks, came from across the way—Rosie and Arthur, of course. Two, just alike, trotting side by side betrayed the Clark twins. A baby-lantern, swinging close to the ground—that could be nobody but Betsy.
The crowd in the Court began to march towards the shop. For an instant, Maida watched the spots of brilliant color dancing in her direction. Then she slipped into her coat, and seized her own lantern. When she came outside, the sidewalk seemed crowded with grotesque faces, all laughing at her.
"Just think," she said, "I have never been to a Halloween party in my life."
"You are the queerest thing, Maida," Rosie said in perplexity. "You've been to Europe. You can talk French and Italian. And yet, you've never been to a Halloween party. Did you ever hang May-baskets?"
Maida shook her head.
"You wait until next May," Rosie prophesied gleefully.
The crowd crossed over into the Court Two motionless, yellow faces, grinning at them from the Lathrop steps, showed that Laura and Harold had come out to meet them. On the lawn they broke into an impromptu game of tag which the jack-o'-lanterns seemed to enjoy as much as the children: certainly, they whizzed from place to place as quickly and, certainly, they smiled as hard.
The game ended, they left their lanterns on the piazza and trooped into the house.
"We've got to play the first games in the kitchen," Laura announced after the coats and hats had come off and Mrs. Lathrop had greeted them all.
Maida wondered what sort of party it was that was held in the kitchen but she asked no questions. Almost bursting with curiosity, she joined the long line marching to the back of the house.
In the middle of the kitchen floor stood a tub of water with apples floating in it.
"Bobbing for apples!" the children exclaimed. "Oh, that's the greatest fun of all. Did you ever bob for apples, Maida?"
"Let Maida try it first, then," Laura said. "It's very easy, Maida," she went on with twinkling eyes. "All you have to do is to kneel on the floor, clasp your hands behind you, and pick out one of the apples with your teeth. You'll each be allowed three minutes."
"Oh, I can get a half a dozen in three minutes, I guess," Maida said.
Laura tied a big apron around Maida's waist and stood, watch in hand. The children gathered in a circle about the tub. Maida knelt on the floor, clasped her hands behind her and reached with a wide-open mouth for the nearest apple. But at the first touch of her lips, the apple bobbed away. She reached for another. That bobbed away, too. Another and another and another—they all bobbed clean out of her reach, no matter how delicately she touched them. That method was unsuccessful.
"One minute," called Laura.
Maida could hear the children giggling at her. She tried another scheme, making vicious little dabs at the apples. Her beads and her hair-ribbon and one of her long curls dipped into the water. But she only succeeded in sending the apples spinning across the tub.
"Two minutes!" called Laura.
"Why don't you get those half a dozen," the children jeered. "You know you said it was so easy."
Maida giggled too. But inwardly, she made up her mind that she would get one of those apples if she dipped her whole head into the tub. At last a brilliant idea occurred to her. Using her chin as a guide, she poked a big rosy apple over against the side of the tub. Wedging it there against another big apple, she held it tight. Then she dropped her head a little, gave a sudden big bite and arose amidst applause, with the apple secure between her teeth.
After that she had the fun of watching the other children. The older ones were adepts. In three minutes, Rosie secured four, Dicky five and Arthur six. Rosie did not get a drop of water on her but the boys emerged with dripping heads. The little children were not very successful but they were more fun. Molly swallowed so much water that she choked and had to be patted on the back. Betsy after a few snaps of her little, rosebud mouth, seized one of the apples with her hand, sat down on the floor and calmly ate it. But the climax was reached when Tim Doyle suddenly lurched forward and fell headlong into the tub.
"I knew he'd fall in," Molly said in a matter-of-fact voice. "He always falls into everything. I brought a dry set of clothes for him. Come, Tim!"
At this announcement, everybody shrieked. Molly disappeared with Tim in the direction of Laura's bedroom. When she reappeared, sure enough, Tim had a dry suit on.
Next Laura ordered them to sit about the kitchen-table. She gave each child an apple and a knife and directed him to pare the apple without breaking the peel. If you think that is an easy thing to do, try it. It seemed to Maida that she never would accomplish it. She spoiled three apples before she succeeded.
"Now take your apple-paring and form in line across the kitchen-floor," Laura commanded.
The flock scampered to obey her.
"Now when I say 'Three!'" she continued, "throw the parings back over your shoulder to the floor. If the paring makes a letter, it will be the initial of your future husband or wife. One! Two! THREE!"
A dozen apple-parings flew to the floor. Everybody raced across the room to examine the results.
"Mine is B," Dicky said.
"And mine's an O," Rosie declared, "as plain as anything. What's yours, Maida?"
"It's an X," Maida answered in great perplexity. "I don't believe that there are any names beginning with X except Xenophon and Xerxes."
"Well, mine's as bad," Laura laughed, "it's a Z. I guess I'll be Mrs. Zero."
"That's nothing," Arthur laughed, "mine's an &—I can't marry anybody named ——'and.'"
"Well, if that isn't successful," Laura said, "there's another way of finding out who your husband or wife's going to be. You must walk down the cellar-stairs backwards with a candle in one hand and a mirror in the other. You must look in the mirror all the time and, when you get to the foot of the stairs, you will see, reflected in it, the face of your husband or wife."
This did not interest the little children but the big ones were wild to try it.
"Gracious, doesn't it sound scary?" Rosie said, her great eyes snapping. "I love a game that's kind of spooky, don't you, Maida?"
Maida did not answer. She was watching Harold who was sneaking out of the room very quietly from a door at the side.
"All right, then, Rosie," Laura caught her up, "you can go first."
The children all crowded over to the door leading to the cellar. The stairs were as dark as pitch. Rosie took the mirror and the candle that Laura handed her and slipped through the opening. The little audience listened breathless.
They heard Rosie stumble awkwardly down the stairs, heard her pause at the foot. Next came a moment of silence, of waiting as tense above as below. Then came a burst of Rosie's jolly laughter. She came running up to them, her cheeks like roses, her eyes like stars.
They crowded around her. "What did you see?" "Tell us about it?" they clamored.
Rosie shook her head. "No, no, no," she maintained, "I'm not going to tell you what I saw until you've been down yourself."
It was Arthur's turn next. They listened again. The same thing happened—awkward stumbling down the stairs, a pause, then a roar of laughter.
"Oh what did you see?" they implored when he reappeared.
"Try it yourself!" he advised. "I'm not going to tell."
Dicky went next. Again they all listened and to the same mysterious doings. Dicky came back smiling but, like the others, he refused to describe his experiences.
Now it was Maida's turn. She took the candle and the mirror from Dicky and plunged into the shivery darkness of the stairs. It was doubly difficult for her to go down backwards because of her lameness. But she finally arrived at the bottom and stood there expectantly. It seemed a long time before anything happened. Suddenly, she felt something stir back of her. A lighted jack-o'-lantern came from between the folds of a curtain which hung from the ceiling. It grinned over her shoulder at her face in the mirror.
Maida burst into a shriek of laughter and scrambled upstairs. "I'm going to marry a jack-o'-lantern," she said. "My name's going to be Mrs. Jack Pumpkin."
"I'm going to marry Laura's sailor-doll," Rosie confessed. "My name is Mrs. Yankee Doodle."
"I'm going to marry Laura's big doll, Queenie," Arthur admitted.
"And I'm going to marry Harold's Teddy-bear," Dicky said.
After that they blew soap-bubbles and roasted apples and chestnuts, popped corn and pulled candy at the great fireplace in the playroom. And at Maida's request, just before they left, Laura danced for them.
"Will you help me to get on my costume, Maida?" Laura asked.
"Of course," Maida said, wondering.
"I asked you to come down here, Maida," Laura said when the two little girls were alone, "because I wanted to tell you that I am sorry for the way I treated you just before I got diphtheria. I told my mother about it and she said I did those things because I was coming down sick. She said that people are always fretty and cross when they're not well. But I don't think it was all that. I guess I did it on purpose just to be disagreeable. But I hope you will excuse me."
"Of course I will, Laura," Maida said heartily. "And I hope you will forgive me for going so long without speaking to you. But you see I heard," she stopped and hesitated, "things," she ended lamely.
"Oh, I know what you heard. I said those things about you to the W.M.N.T.'s so that they'd get back to you. I wanted to hurt your feelings." Laura in her turn stopped and hesitated for an instant. "I was jealous," she finally confessed in a burst. "But I want you to understand this, Maida. I didn't believe those horrid things myself. I always have a feeling inside when people are telling lies and I didn't have that feeling when you were talking to me. I knew you were telling the truth. And all the time while I was getting well, I felt so dreadfully about it that I knew I never would be happy again unless I told you so."
"I did feel bad when I heard those things," Maida said, "but of course I forgot about them when Rosie told me you were ill. Let's forget all about it again."
But Maida told the W.M.N.T.'s something of her talk with Laura and the result was an invitation to Laura to join the club. It was accepted gratefully.
The next month went by on wings. It was a busy month although in a way, it was an uneventful one. The weather kept clear and fine. Little rain fell but, on the other hand, to the great disappointment of the little people of Primrose Court, there was no snow. Maida saw nothing of her father for business troubles kept him in New York. He wrote constantly to her and she wrote as faithfully to him. Letters could not quite fill the gap that his absence made. Perhaps Billy suspected Maida's secret loneliness for he came oftener and oftener to see her.
One night the W.M.N.T.'s begged so hard for a story that he finally began one called "The Crystal Ball." A wonderful thing about it was that it was half-game and half-story. Most wonderful of all, it went on from night to night and never showed any signs of coming to an end. But in order to play this game-story, there were two or three conditions to which you absolutely must submit. For instance, it must always be played in the dark. And first, everybody must shut his eyes tight. Billy would say in a deep voice, "Abracadabra!" and, presto, there they all were, Maida, Rosie, Laura, Billy, Arthur and Dicky inside the crystal ball. What people lived there and what things happened to them can not be told here. But after an hour or more, Billy's deepest voice would boom, "Abracadabra!" again and, presto, there they all were again, back in the cheerful living-room.
Maida hoped against hope that her father would come to spend Thanksgiving with her but that, he wrote finally, was impossible. Billy came, however, and they three enjoyed one of Granny's delicious turkey dinners.
"I hoped that I would have found your daughter Annie by this time, Granny," Billy said. "I ask every Irishman I meet if he came from Aldigarey, County Sligo or if he knows anybody who did, or if he's ever met a pretty Irish girl by the name of Annie Flynn. But I'll find her yet—you'll see."
"I hope so, Misther Billy," Granny said respectfully. But Maida thought her voice sounded as if she had no great hope.
Dicky still continued to come for his reading-lessons, although Maida could see that, in a month or two, he would not need a teacher. The quiet, studious, pale little boy had become a great favorite with Granny Flynn.
"Sure an' Oi must be after getting over to see the poor lad's mother some noight," she said. "'Tis a noice woman she must be wid such a pretty-behaved little lad."
"Oh, she is, Granny," Maida said earnestly. "I've been there once or twice when Mrs. Dore came home early. And she's just the nicest lady and so fond of Dicky and the baby."
But Granny was old and very easily tired and, so, though her intentions were of the best, she did not make this call.
One afternoon, after Thanksgiving, Maida ran over to Dicky's to borrow some pink tissue paper. She knocked gently. Nobody answered. But from the room came the sound of sobbing. Maida listened. It was Dicky's voice. At first she did not know what to do. Finally, she opened the door and peeped in. Dicky was sitting all crumpled up, his head resting on the table.
"Oh, what is the matter, Dicky?" Maida asked.
Dicky jumped. He raised his head and looked at her. His face was swollen with crying, his eyes red and heavy. For a moment he could not speak. Maida could see that he was ashamed of being caught in tears, that he was trying hard to control himself.
"It's something I heard," he replied at last.
"What?" Maida asked.
"Last night after I got to bed, Doc O'Brien came here to get his bill paid. Mother thought I was asleep and asked him a whole lot of questions. He told her that I wasn't any better and I never would be any better. He said that I'd be a cripple for the rest of my life."
In spite of all his efforts, Dicky's voice broke into a sob.
"Oh Dicky, Dicky," Maida said. Better than anybody else in the world, Maida felt that she could understand, could sympathize. "Oh, Dicky, how sorry I am!"
"I can't bear it," Dicky said.
He put his head down on the table and began to sob. "I can't bear it," he said. "Why, I thought when I grew up to be a man, I was going to take care of mother and Delia. Instead of that, they'll be taking care of me. What can a cripple do? Once I read about a crippled newsboy. Do you suppose I could sell papers?" he asked with a gleam of hope.
"I'm sure you could," Maida said heartily, "and a great many other things. But it may not be as bad as you think, Dicky. Dr. O'Brien may be mistaken. You know something was wrong with me when I was born and I did not begin to walk until a year ago. My father has taken me to so many doctors that I'm sure he could not remember half their names. But they all said the same thing—that I never would walk like other children. Then a very great physician—Dr. Greinschmidt—came from away across the sea, from Germany. He said he could cure me and he did. I had to be operated on and—oh—I suffered dreadfully. But you see that I'm all well now. I'm even losing my limp. Now, I believe that Doctor Greinschmidt can cure you. The next time my father comes home I'm going to ask him."
Dicky had stopped crying. He was drinking down everything that she said. "Is he still here—that doctor?" he asked.
"No," Maida admitted sorrowfully. "But there must be doctors as good as he somewhere. But don't you worry about it at all, Dicky. You wait until my father sees you—he always gets everything made right."
"When's your father coming home?"
"I don't quite know—but I look for him any time now."
Dicky started to set the table. "I guess I wouldn't have cried," he said after a while, "if I could have cried last night when I first heard it. But of course I couldn't let mother or Doc O'Brien know that I'd heard them—it would make them feel bad. I don't want my mother ever to know that I know it."
After that, Maida redoubled her efforts to be nice to Dicky. She cudgeled her brains too for new decorative schemes for his paper-work. She asked Billy Potter to bring a whole bag of her books from the Beacon Street house and she lent them to Dicky, a half dozen at a time.
Indeed, they were a very busy quartette—the W.M.N.T.'s. Rosie went to school every day. She climbed out of her window no more at night. She seemed to prefer helping Maida in the shop to anything else. Arthur Duncan was equally industrious. With no Rosie to play hookey with, he, too, was driven to attending school regularly. His leisure hours were devoted to his whittling and wood-carving. He was always doing kind things for Maida and Granny, bringing up the coal, emptying the ashes, running errands.
And so November passed into December.
CHAPTER XII: THE FIRST SNOW
"Look out the window, my lamb," Granny called one morning early in December. Maida opened her eyes, jumped obediently out of bed and pattered across the room. There, she gave a scream of delight, jumping up and down and clapping her hands.
"Snow! Oh goody, goody, goody! Snow at last!"
It looked as if the whole world had been wrapped in a blanket of the whitest, fleeciest, shiningest wool. Sidewalks, streets, crossings were all leveled to one smoothness. The fences were so muffled that they had swelled to twice their size. The houses wore trim, pointy caps on their gables. The high bushes in the yard hung to the very ground. The low ones had become mounds. The trees looked as if they had been packed in cotton-wool and put away for the winter.
"And the lovely part of it is, it's still snowing," Maida exclaimed blissfully.
"Glory be, it'ull be a blizzard before we're t'rough wid ut," Granny said and shivered.
Maida dressed in the greatest excitement. Few children came in to make purchases that morning and the lines pouring into the schoolhouse were very shivery and much shorter than usual. At a quarter to twelve, the one-session bell rang. When the children came out of school at one, the snow was whirling down thicker and faster than in the morning. A high wind came up and piled it in the most unexpected places. Trade stopped entirely in the shop. No mother would let her children brave so terrific a storm.
It snowed that night and all the next morning. The second day fewer children went to school than on the first. But at two o'clock when the sun burst through the gray sky, the children swarmed the streets. Shovels and brooms began to appear, snow-balls to fly, sleigh-bells to tinkle.
Rosie came dashing into the shop in the midst of this burst of excitement. "I've shoveled our sidewalk," she announced triumphantly. "Is anything wrong with me? Everybody's staring at me."
Maida stared too. Rosie's scarlet cape was dotted with snow, her scarlet hat was white with it. Great flakes had caught in her long black hair, had starred her soft brows—they hung from her very eyelashes. Her cheeks and lips were the color of coral and her eyes like great velvety moons.
"You look in the glass and see what they're staring at," Maida said slyly. Rosie went to the mirror.
"I don't see anything the matter."
"It's because you look so pretty, goose!" Maida exclaimed.
Rosie always blushed and looked ashamed if anybody alluded to her prettiness. Now she leaped to Maida's side and pretended to beat her.
"Stop that!" a voice called. Startled, the little girls looked up. Billy stood in the doorway. "I've come over to make a snow-house," he explained.
"Oh, Billy, what things you do think of!" Maida exclaimed. "Wait till I get Arthur and Dicky!"
"Couldn't get many more in here, could we?" Billy commented when the five had assembled in the "child's size" yard. "I don't know that we could stow away another shovel. Now, first of all, you're to pile all the snow in the yard into that corner."
Everybody went to work. But Billy and Arthur moved so quickly with their big shovels that Maida and Rosie and Dicky did nothing but hop about them. Almost before they realized it, the snow-pile reached to the top of the fence.
"Pack it down hard," Billy commanded, "as hard as you can make it."
Everybody scrambled to obey. For a few moments the sound of shovels beating on the snow drowned their talk.
"That will do for that," Billy commanded suddenly. His little force stopped, breathless and red-cheeked. "Now I'm going to dig out the room. I guess I'll have to do this. If you're not careful enough, the roof will cave in. Then it's all got to be done again."
Working very slowly, he began to hollow out the structure. After the hole had grown big enough, he crawled into it. But in spite of his own warning, he must have been too energetic in his movements. Suddenly the roof came down on his head.
Billy was on his feet in an instant, shaking the snow off as a dog shakes off water.
"Why, Billy, you look like a snow-man," Maida laughed.
"I feel like one," Billy said, wiping the snow from his eyes and from under his collar. "But don't be discouraged, my hearties, up with it again. I'll be more careful the next time."
They went at it again with increased interest, heaping up a mound of snow bigger than before, beating it until it was as hard as a brick, hollowing out inside a chamber big enough for three of them to occupy at once. But Billy gave them no time to enjoy their new dwelling.
"Run into the house," was his next order, "and bring out all the water you can carry."
There was a wild scramble to see which would get to the sink first but in a few moments, an orderly file emerged from the house, Arthur with a bucket, Dicky with a basin, Rosie with the dish-pan, Maida with a dipper.
"Now I'm going to pour water over the house," Billy explained. "You see if it freezes now it will last longer." Very carefully, he sprayed it on the sides and roof, dashing it upwards on the inside walls:
"We might as well make it look pretty while we're about it," Billy continued. "You children get to work and make a lot of snow-balls the size of an orange and just as round as you can turn them out."
This was easy work. Before Billy could say, "Jack Robinson!" four pairs of eager hands had accumulated snow-balls enough for a sham battle. In the meantime, Billy had decorated the doorway with two tall, round pillars. He added a pointed roof to the house and trimmed it with snow-balls, all along the edge.
"Now I guess we'd better have a snow-man to live in this mansion while we're about it," Billy suggested briskly. "Each of you roll up an arm or a leg while I make the body."
Billy placed the legs in the corner opposite the snow-house. He lifted on to them the big round body which he himself had rolled. Putting the arms on was not so easy. He worked for a long time before he found the angle at which they would stick.
Everybody took a hand at the head. Maida contributed some dulse for the hair, slitting it into ribbons, which she stuck on with glue. Rosie found a broken clothes-pin for the nose. The round, smooth coals that Dicky discovered in the coal-hod made a pair of expressive black eyes. Arthur cut two sets of teeth from orange peel and inserted them in the gash that was the mouth. When the head was set on the shoulders, Billy disappeared into the house for a moment. He came back carrying a suit-case. "Shut your eyes, every manjack of you," he ordered. "You're not to see what I do until it's done. If I catch one of you peeking, I'll confine you in the snow-house for five minutes."
The W.M.N.T.'s shut their eyes tight and held down the lids with resolute fingers. But they kept their ears wide open. The mysterious work on which Billy was engaged was accompanied by the most tantalizing noises.
"Oh, Billy, can't I please look," Maida begged, jiggling up and down. "I can't stand it much longer."
"In a minute," Billy said encouragingly. The mysterious noises kept up. "Now," Billy said suddenly.
Four pairs of eyes leaped open. Four pairs of lips shrieked their delight. Indeed, Maida and Rosie laughed so hard that they finally rolled in the snow.
Billy had put an old coat on the snow-man's body. He had put a tall hat—Arthur called it a "stove-pipe"—on the snow-man's head. He had put an old black pipe between the snow-man's grinning, orange-colored teeth. Gloves hung limply from the snow-man's arm-stumps and to one of them a cane was fastened. Billy had managed to give the snow-man's head a cock to one side. Altogether he looked so spruce and jovial that it was impossible not to like him.
"Mr. Chumpleigh, ladies and gentlemen," Billy said. "Some members of the W.M.N.T., Mr. Chumpleigh."
And Mr. Chumpleigh, he was until—until—
Billy stayed that night to dinner. They had just finished eating when an excited ring of the bell announced Rosie.
"Oh, Granny," she said, "the boys have made a most wonderful coast down Halliwell Street and Aunt Theresa says I can go coasting until nine o'clock if you'll let Maida go too. I thought maybe you would, especially if Billy comes along."
"If Misther Billy goes, 'twill be all roight."
"Oh, Granny," Maida said, "you dear, darling, old fairy-dame!" She was so excited that she wriggled like a little eel all the time Granny was bundling her into her clothes. And when she reached the street, it seemed as if she must explode.
A big moon, floating like a silver balloon in the sky, made the night like day. The neighborhood sizzled with excitement for the street and sidewalks were covered with children dragging sleds.
"It's like the 'Pied Piper', Rosie," Maida said joyfully, "children everywhere and all going in the same direction."
They followed the procession up Warrington Street to where Halliwell Street sloped down the hill.
Billy let out a long whistle of astonishment. "Great Scott, what a coast!" he said.
In the middle of the street was a ribbon of ice three feet wide and as smooth as glass. At the foot of the hill, a piled-up mound of snow served as a buffer.
"The boys have been working on the slide all day," Rosie said. "Did you ever see such a nice one, Maida?"
"I never saw any kind of a one," Maida confessed. "How did they make it so smooth?"
"Pouring water on it."
"Have you never coasted before, Maida?" Billy asked.
"Well, here's your chance then," said a cheerful voice back of them. They all turned. There stood Arthur Duncan with what Maida soon learned was a "double-runner."
Billy examined it carefully. "Did you make it, Arthur?"
"Pretty good piece of work," Billy commented. "Want to try it, Maida?"
"I'm crazy to!"
"All right. Pile on!"
Arthur took his place in front. Rosie sat next, then Dicky, then Maida, then Billy.
"Hold on to Dicky," Billy instructed Maida, "and I'll hold on to you."
Tingling with excitement, Maida did as she was told. But it seemed as if they would never start. But at last, she heard Billy's voice, "On your marks. Get set! Go!" The double-runner stirred.
It moved slowly for a moment across the level top of the street. Then came the first slope of the hill—they plunged forward. She heard Rosie's hysterical shriek, Dicky's vociferous cheers and Billy's blood-curdling yells, but she herself was as silent as a little image. They struck the second slope of the hill—then she screamed, too. The houses on either side shot past like pictures in the kinetoscope. She felt a rush of wind that must surely blow her ears off. They reached the third slope of the hill—and now they had left the earth and were sailing through the air. The next instant the double-runner had come to rest on the bank of snow and Rosie and she were hugging each other and saying, "Wasn't it GREAT?"
They climbed to the top of the hill again. All the way back, Maida watched the sleds whizzing down the coast, boys alone on sleds, girls alone on sleds, pairs of girls, pairs of boys, one seated in front, the other steering with a foot that trailed behind on the ice, timid little girls who did not dare the ice but contented themselves with sliding on the snow at either side, daring little boys who went down lying flat on their sleds.
At the top they were besieged with entreaties to go on the double-runner and, as there was room enough for one more, they took a little boy or girl with them each time. Rosie lent her sled to those who had none. At first there were plenty of these, standing at the top of the coast, wistfully watching the fun of more fortunate children. But after a while it was discovered that the ice was so smooth that almost anything could be used for coasting. The sledless ones rushed home and reappeared with all kinds of things. One little lad went down on a shovel and his intrepid little sister followed on a broom. Boxes and shingles and even dish-pans began to appear. Most reckless of all, one big fellow slid down on his two feet, landing in a heap in the snow.
Maida enjoyed every moment of it—even the long walks back up the hill. Once the double-runner struck into a riderless sled that had drifted on to the course, and was overturned immediately. Nobody was hurt. Rosie, Dicky and Arthur were cast safely to one side in the soft snow. But Maida and Billy were thrown, whirling, on to the ice. Billy kept his grip on Maida and they shot down the hill, turning round and round and round. At first Maida was a little frightened. But when she saw that they were perfectly safe, that Billy was making her spin about in that ridiculous fashion, she laughed so hard that she was weak when they reached the bottom.
"Oh, do let's do that again!" she said when she caught her breath.
Never was such a week as followed. The cold weather kept up. Continued storms added to the snow. For the first time in years came four one-session days in a single week. It seemed as if Jack Frost were on the side of the children. He would send violent flurries of snow just before the one-session bell rang but as soon as the children were safely on the street, the sun would come out bright as summer.
Every morning when Maida woke up, she would say to herself, "I wonder how Mr. Chumpleigh is to-day." Then she would run over to the window to see.
Mr. Chumpleigh had become a great favorite in the neighborhood. He was so tall that his round, happy face with its eternal orange-peel grin could look straight over the fence to the street. The passers-by used to stop, paralyzed by the vision. But after studying the phenomenon, they would go laughing on their way. Occasionally a bad boy would shy a snow-ball at the smiling countenance but Mr. Chumpleigh was so hard-headed that nothing seemed to hurt him. In the course of time, the "stove-pipe" became very battered and, as the result of continued storms, one eye sank down to the middle of his cheek. But in spite of these injuries, he continued to maintain his genial grin.
"Let's go out and fix Mr. Chumpleigh," Rosie would say every day. The two little girls would brush the snow off his hat and coat, adjust his nose and teeth, would straighten him up generally.
After a while, Maida threw her bird-crumbs all over Mr. Chumpleigh. Thereafter, the saucy little English sparrows ate from Mr. Chumpleigh's hat-brim, his pipe-bowl, even his pockets.
"Perhaps the snow will last all winter," Maida said hopefully one day. "If it does, Mr. Chumpleigh's health will be perfect."
"Well, perhaps, it's just as well if he goes," Rosie said sensibly; "we haven't done a bit of work since he came."
On Sunday the weather moderated a little. Mr. Chumpleigh bore a most melancholy look all the afternoon as if he feared what was to come. What was worse, he lost his nose.
Monday morning, Maida ran to the window dreading what she might see. But instead of the thaw she expected, a most beautiful sight spread out before her. The weather had turned cold in the night. Everything that had started to melt had frozen up again. The sidewalks were liked frosted cakes. Long icicles made pretty fringes around the roofs of the houses. The trees and bushes were glazed by a sheathing of crystal. The sunlight playing through all this turned the world into a heap of diamonds.
Mr. Chumpleigh had perked up under the influence of the cold. His manner had gained in solidity although his gaze was a little glassy. Hopefully Maida hunted about until she found his nose.
She replaced his old set with some new orange-peel teeth and stuck his pipe between them. He looked quite himself.
But, alas, the sun came out and melted the whole world. The sidewalks trickled streams. The icicles dripped away in showers of diamonds. The trees lost their crystal sheathing.
In the afternoon, Mr. Chumpleigh began to droop. By night his head was resting disconsolately on his own shoulder. When Maida looked out the next morning, there was nothing in the corner but a mound of snow. An old coat lay to one side. Strewn about were a hat, a pair of gloves, a pipe and a cane.
Mr. Chumpleigh had passed away in the night.
CHAPTER XIII: THE FAIR
SAVE YOUR PENNIES A CHRISTMAS FAIR WILL BE HELD IN THIS SHOP THE SATURDAY BEFORE CHRISTMAS DELICIOUS CANDIES MADE BY MISS ROSIE BRINE PAPER GOODS DESIGNED AND EXECUTED BY MASTER RICHARD DORE WOOD CARVING DESIGNED AND EXECUTED BY MASTER ARTHUR DUNCAN DON'T MISS IT!
This sign hung in Maida's window for a week. Billy made it. The lettering was red and gold. In one corner, he painted a picture of a little boy and girl in their nightgowns peeking up a chimney-place hung with stockings. In the other corner, the full-moon face of a Santa Claus popped like a jolly jack-in-the-box from a chimney-top. A troop of reindeer, dragging a sleigh full of toys, scurried through the printing. The whole thing was enclosed in a wreath of holly.
The sign attracted a great deal of attention. Children were always stopping to admire it and even grown-people paused now and then. There was such a falling-off of Maida's trade that she guessed that the children were really saving their pennies for the fair. This delighted her.
The W.M.N.T.'s wasted no time that last week in spite of a very enticing snowstorm. Maida, of course, had nothing to do on her own account, but she worked with Dicky, morning and afternoon.
Rosie could not make candy until the last two or three days for fear it would get stale. Then she set to like a little whirlwind.
"My face is almost tanned from bending over the stove," she said to Maida; "Aunt Theresa says if I cook another batch of candy, I'll have a crop of freckles."
Arthur seemed to work the hardest of all because his work was so much more difficult. It took a great deal of time and strength and yet nobody could help him in it. The sound of his hammering came into Maida's room early in the morning. It came in sometimes late at night when, cuddling between her blankets, she thought what a happy girl she was.
"I niver saw such foine, busy little folks," Granny said approvingly again and again. "It moinds me av me own Annie. Niver a moment but that lass was working at some t'ing. Oh, I wonder what she's doun' and finking this Christmas."
"Don't you worry," Maida always said. "Billy'll find her for you yet—he said he would."
Maida, herself, was giving, for the first time in her experience, a good deal of thought to Christmas time.
In the first place, she had sent the following invitation to every child in Primrose Court:
"Will you please come to my Christmas Tree to be given Christmas Night in the 'Little Shop.' Maida."
In the second place, she was spying on all her friends, listening to their talk, watching them closely in work and play to find just the right thing to give them.
"Do you know, I never made a Christmas present in my life," she said one day to Rosie.
"You never made a Christmas present?" Rosie repeated.
Maida's quick perception sensed in Rosie's face an unspoken accusation of selfishness.
"It wasn't because I didn't want to, Rosie dear," Maida hastened to explain. "It was because I was too sick. You see, I was always in bed. I was too weak to make anything and I could not go out and buy presents as other children did. But people used to give me the loveliest things."
"What did they give you?" Rosie asked curiously.
"Oh, all kinds of things. Father's given me an automobile and a pair of Shetland ponies and a family of twenty dolls and my weight in silver dollars. I can't remember half the things I've had."
"A pair of Shetland ponies, an automobile, a family of twenty dolls, your weight in silver dollars," Rosie repeated after her. "Why, Maida, you're dreaming or you're out of your head."
"Out of my head! Why, Rosie you're out of your head. Don't you suppose I know what I got for Christmas?" Maida's eyes began to flash and her lips to tremble.
"Well, now, Maida, just think of it," Rosie said in her most reasonable voice. "Here you are a little girl just like anybody else only you're running a shop. Now just as if you could afford to have an automobile! Why, my father knows a man who knows another man who bought an automobile and it cost nine hundred dollars. What did yours cost?"
"Two thousand dollars." Maida said this with a guilty air in spite of her knowledge of her own truth.
Rosie smiled roguishly. "Maida, dear," she coaxed, "you dreamed it."
Maida started to her feet. For a moment she came near saying something very saucy indeed. But she remembered in time. Of course nobody in the neighborhood knew that she was "Buffalo" Westabrook's daughter. It was impossible for her to prove any of her statements. The flash died out of her eyes. But another flash came into her cheeks—the flash of dimples.
"Well, perhaps I did dream it, Rosie," she said archly. "But I don't think I did," she added in a quiet voice.
Rosie turned the subject tactfully. "What are you going to give your father?" she asked.
"That's bothering me dreadfully," Maida sighed; "I can't think of anything he needs."
"Why don't you buy him the same thing I'm going to get my papa," Rosie suggested eagerly. "That is, I'm going to buy it if I make enough money at the fair. Does your father shave himself?"
"Oh, Adolph, his valet, always shaves him," Maida answered.
Rosie's brow knit over the word valet—but Maida was always puzzling the neighborhood with strange expressions. Then her brow lightened. "My father goes to a barber, too," she said. "I've heard him complaining lots of times how expensive it is. And the other day Arthur told me about a razor his father uses. He says it's just like a lawn-mower or a carpet-sweeper. You don't have to have anybody shave you if you have one of them. You run it right over your face and it takes all the beard off and doesn't cut or anything. Now, wouldn't you think that would be fun?"
"I should think it would be just lovely," Maida agreed. "That's just the thing for papa—for he is so busy. How much does it cost, Rosie?"
"About a dollar, Arthur thought. I never paid so much for a Christmas present in my life. And I'm not sure yet that I can get one. But if I do sell two dollars worth of candy, I can buy something perfectly beautiful for both father and mother."
"Oh, Rosie," Maida asked breathlessly, "do you mean that your mother's come back?"
Rosie's face changed. "Don't you think I'd tell you that the first thing? No, she hasn't come back and they don't say anything about her coming back. But if she ever does come, I guess I'm going to have her Christmas present all ready for her."
Maida patted her hand. "She's coming back," she said; "I know it."
Rosie sighed. "You come down Main Street the night before Christmas. Dicky and I are going to buy our Christmas presents then and we can show you where to get the little razor."
"I'd love to." Maida beamed. And indeed, it seemed the most fascinating prospect in the world to her. Every night after she went to bed, she thought it over. She was really going to buy Christmas presents without any grown-up person about to interfere. It was rapture.
The night before the fair, the children worked even harder than the night before Halloween, for there were so many things to display. It was evident that the stock would overflow windows and shelves and show cases.
"We'll bring the long kitchen table in for your things, Arthur," Maida decided after a perplexed consideration of the subject. "Dicky's and Rosie's things ought to go on the shelves and into the show cases where nobody can handle them."
They tugged the table into the shop and covered it with a beautiful old blue counter-pane.
"That's fine!" Arthur approved, unpacking his handicraft from the bushel-baskets in which he brought them.
The others stood round admiring the treasures and helping him to arrange them prettily. A fleet of graceful little boats occupied one end of the table, piles of bread-boards, rolling-pins and "cats," the other. In the center lay a bowl filled with tiny baskets, carved from peach-stones. From the molding hung a fringe of hockey-sticks.
Having arranged all Arthur's things, the quartette filed upstairs to the closet where Dicky's paper-work was kept.
"Gracious, I didn't realize there were so many," Rosie said.
"Sure, the lad has worked day and night," Granny said, patting Dicky's thin cheek.
They filled Arthur's baskets and trooped back to the shop. They lined show case and shelves with the glittering things—boxes, big and little, gorgeously ornamented with stars and moons, caps of gold and silver, flying gay plumes, rainbow boats too beautiful to sail on anything but fairy seas, miniature jackets and trousers that only a circus rider would wear.
"Dicky, I never did see anything look so lovely," Maida said, shaking her hands with delight. "I really didn't realize how pretty they were."
Dicky's big eyes glowed with satisfaction. "Nor me neither," he confessed.
"And now," Maida said, bubbling over with suppressed importance, "Rosie's candies—I've saved that until the last." She pulled out one of the drawers under the show case and lifted it on to the counter. It was filled with candy-boxes of paper, prettily decorated with flower patterns on the outside, with fringes of lace paper on the inside. "I ordered these boxes for you, Rosie," she explained. "I knew your candy would sell better if it was put up nicely. I thought the little ones could be five-cent size, the middle-sized ones ten-cent size, and the big ones twenty-five cent size."
Rosie was dancing up and down with delight. "They're just lovely, Maida, and how sweet you were to think of it. But it was just like you."
"Now we must pack them," Maida said.
Four pairs of hands made light work of this. By nine o'clock all the boxes were filled and spread out temptingly in the show case. By a quarter past nine, three of the W.M.N.T.'s were in bed trying hard to get to sleep. But Maida stayed up. The boxes were not her only surprise.
After the others had gone, she and Granny worked for half an hour in the little shop.
The Saturday before Christmas dawned clear and fair. Rosie hallooed for Dicky and Arthur as she came out of doors at half-past seven and all three arrived at the shop together. Their faces took on such a comic look of surprise that Maida burst out laughing.
"But where did it all come from?" Rosie asked in bewilderment. "Maida, you slyboots, you must have done all this after we left."
But all Arthur and Dicky said was "Gee!" and "Jiminy crickets!" But Maida found these exclamatives quite as expressive as Rosie's hugs. And, indeed, she herself thought the place worthy of any degree of admiring enthusiasm.