Hastening toward her, Helen extended her hand as she said,
"I am so glad to see you, Mrs. Seymour, are you acquainted with this dear friend of mine? I thought you were conversing when you stepped upon the platform."
"We have had no introduction," said the old lady, smiling, "but we became acquainted on the car just before we reached Boston."
"And she promised to take me to her home if you did not arrive," said Randy.
"I am glad that I was prompt, that you might know how eager I was to see you, but had I been late, I could have asked for no kinder friend, or more charming home for you, Randy, than this which was so sweetly offered you to-night."
After formally introducing them, and thanking Mrs. Seymour for her kindness, Miss Dayton led Randy through the depot to a side entrance, where her carriage stood waiting.
The coachman opened the door, and soon the little country maiden was being whirled through the city streets, and the blaze of lights from the huge store windows caused Randy to ask in wide-eyed wonder if there was "anything special going on."
"Oh, no," said Helen, "the streets are brightly lighted every night, and the people are walking, hurrying, rushing back and forth, looking into the windows of the great stores, as eagerly as if the doors were open for customers; then hastening away to some place of amusement, or to their homes."
Randy leaned luxuriously against the cushioned back of the coupe, and with her hand in Helen's, she continued to watch the hurrying throng, and to wonder vaguely if there were a sufficient number of houses to shelter them all if they happened to think of retiring.
After what seemed to Randy to be a very long ride, the carriage stopped.
Together they ascended the broad sandstone steps, and as the butler opened the door, the soft light in the hall showed the glowing red of the walls above the carved oak wainscoting, and the odor of flowers floated out to greet them.
Then down the stairway came a beautiful old lady, whose grace and dignity bespoke the grand dame, as with gentle courtesy she moved toward Randy, extending her hand in greeting. Without waiting for an introduction she said,
"My dear, I am sure that you are Randy, and I am going to tell you that I am Helen's aunt, and that I think I have been as eager to have you with us as Helen has been."
Randy placed her hand in the one extended toward her, and looking frankly up into the fine old face she said,
"It is nice to have you so glad to see me, will you let me love you while I stay? I think I cannot help it."
"While you stay, and always," was the quick response accompanied by a firm pressure of the young girl's hand, and Randy felt as if at once among friends.
Miss Dayton who had been giving the coachman instruction in regard to Randy's trunk, turned in surprise to see her aunt and Randy engaged in conversation.
"I waived the ceremony of an introduction," said the elder woman with a smile, "and I do assure you, Helen, that we are already quite well acquainted."
"While I thought Randy was just behind me waiting until her belongings were safely housed," Helen answered with a gay laugh, for she saw at a glance, that her friend had found favor in Aunt Marcia's eyes; those discriminating eyes which never failed to recognize the frank and the true, or to detect the sham, however skillfully concealed.
"How lovely she is," thought Aunt Marcia, as Randy with Helen ascended the staircase toward the room which was to be Randy's own, during her stay in Boston.
"How handsome your dear old aunt is," said Randy to Helen, as they walked along the upper hall. "Her hair is like the frost, and her eyes just twinkle, twinkle, like stars when the night is cold."
"Why, what a pretty thought," said Helen. "Aunt Marcia was a great beauty, and a portrait of her when she was presented at court, hangs in the drawing-room. Sometimes I think she is even handsomer now, with her fine gray eyes and waving hair. If you are pleased with her, Randy, I assure you that she is delighted with you; and now here we are at the room which is to be yours while you are with us."
"Oh, what a lovely room," cried Randy. "Roses, pink roses on the walls, and real roses in the vase on my table, and such a dear little bed. Why, the quilt has roses on it, too! 'Tis like a fairy tale, and makes me feel like a princess. Oh, if mother and father and little Prue could see—"
Again a sob arose in her throat, although she bravely repressed it.
"Not a tear to-night, Randy dear," said Helen, "but instead let me tell you what will cheer you, and make you feel nearer to them all to-night. This little desk is for your use, and all your letters home will be written here, where you will find paper and pens and ink awaiting you. Now, would you not like to write just a little note, saying that you arrived safely, and Thomas shall post it, so that it shall reach its destination as soon as possible. You are too tired to-night to write much of a letter, but to-morrow you can write twenty pages if you choose."
"And if I did, in all the twenty pages I could not tell them how much I miss them, and yet how glad I am to be here," said Randy. "Isn't it odd to be glad and sorry at the same time?
"Well, I'll write the little note now, that they may receive it as soon as possible."
"And when it is written, come down to the hall where I will meet you, and when we have given the note to Thomas, we will have dinner."
"Dinner!" said Randy, "why I thought everyone had dinner at twelve o'clock!"
"In the city we have dinner at six, and lunch at one, and never a supper at all," said Helen, smiling at Randy's frank look of surprise. "To-night dinner will be later, because your train was delayed, and I wished you to have time for your note."
Randy hastened to write the little letter, and then proceeded to freshen her toilet, and when with the envelope in her hand she tripped down the hall where Helen stood waiting, she looked every inch the fresh, sweet Randy of the New England hills. Her cheeks were flushed, her eyes bright, and the soft little ringlets curled over her temples in a manner most bewitching.
Oh, how grand the dining-room looked to the girl who had never seen anything finer than the parson's house in the country village.
The dinner was a simple one, but to Randy the room with its fine furnishings, the rare flowers in the centre of the table, the noiseless tread of the servant with his silver salver, the soft light from the great chandelier, all seemed a part of the fairyland of which she had so often read in the old volume of "Grimm's Tales" at home.
It was remarkable, however, that with all that was new and beautiful about her, Randy seemed as much at ease as if always accustomed to her present surroundings.
So innocent was she in her frank enjoyment of all the beautiful things which she saw, and the absence of affectation in her manner made her sincere admiration so delightful, that Helen felt that Randy was even more charming than when they had last met, and Aunt Marcia completely captivated, at once decided that never before had a young country girl appeared to so great advantage when transplanted to a city home.
After dinner Helen sang some pretty ballads for Randy, and Aunt Marcia told with evident delight reminiscences of her youth.
Randy admiring the full length portrait of the dear old lady as she had appeared in earlier days, looked frankly up in her face and said,
"You were lovely then, but I think you are grander now," which of course delighted Aunt Marcia.
When at last Randy lay in her dainty bed, the light from the great street lamps shone across the room, and on the wall before her, she could see the rose vines upon the paper, and counting the blossoms, she fell asleep.
When the sun came in at her window, Randy awoke with a start, and turning toward the little clock which ticked upon the table she was surprised to find that it was quite time to dress. When Miss Dayton had told her that breakfast would be served at eight, Randy had wondered at the lateness of the hour, remembering that at home, seven o'clock was considered to be as late as any energetic person would think of breakfasting.
"To think that I shall have just time to make myself presentable, and at home I should have been awake long ago, and by this time have dressed Prue and myself and have eaten breakfast. Whatever made me sleep so soundly?"
On the stairway she met Helen, and together they entered the dining room, where before the crackling fire in the grate stood Aunt Marcia, waiting to greet them.
During breakfast, Helen proposed a drive to the shopping district when she could make a few purchases and at the same time show Randy the wonders of the great stores.
"The school will not open until next week," said Helen, "and we will make this week a succession of little pleasure trips. We will visit the places of interest and endeavor to make you wholly at home in our city, and before school opens I shall invite some of the girls who will be your classmates to meet you, so that on the opening day you will feel that you have some acquaintances in the school."
At ten o'clock Randy seated beside Miss Dayton in the coupe, was riding through the city streets and feeling the wildest excitement as she saw other fine carriages threading their way among scores of pedestrians, hurrying throngs passing in and out of the great stores, electric cars and carriages, and indeed everything which was new and strange to her.
While Helen and Randy were driving about the city, an animated conversation was in progress in a home not far from Miss Dayton's.
The leader, was a tall, slender girl of about Randy's age, whose dark eyes spoke of truth and loyalty. She made a graceful picture when having braided her long, dark hair she proceeded to tie it firmly with a bright scarlet ribbon.
"Of course I shall call upon her," she was saying. "I wonder that you ask such a question. She is Miss Dayton's friend, and that, in itself, is enough to make me wish to go. Miss Dayton is all that is lovely and I would do much to please her; but aside from that, this girl is a stranger and I am asked to give her my friendship. I shall call upon her the day which she has set, and I shall go intending to like Miss Randy Weston."
She gave the ribbon a determined twitch and a tactful person would have considered the matter settled, as Nina Irwin usually meant what she said; but Polly Lawrence was as tactless as she was fickle, which was saying much, therefore she persisted in her questioning.
"Isn't Randy a queer name, Nina? No name in particular is it?"
"Very likely her name is Miranda, and Randy is just a cute little pet name," said Nina. "Some people might question if Polly was much of a name, when you were really named Mary, and here is Margaret whom we all call Peggy, much to her disgust."
"That comes of having brothers," remarked Peggy. "No one ever thought of calling me anything but Margaret until Jack started it, and every one seems bent upon doing as Jack does. Even Polly has decided to wear nothing but red, since that is Howard's color. Alas! My big brother is turning things topsy turvy, when every friend I possess is wearing red, regardless of the color of her hair or complexion."
"I've always liked red," remarked Polly, "and as to this call, I suppose I shall make it. No girl can afford to offend the beautiful Miss Dayton, as it might mean the loss of some fine invitations."
"I intend to please Miss Dayton because I like and admire her, and not for any invitations which I might otherwise miss," said Nina. "In her kind little note she speaks of Miss Weston as charming, and if she charms Helen Dayton, she surely will be able to interest me."
"We might call together," remarked Peggy, with a lazy little drawl. "If I promise to call for you, Nina, I shall surely get there, you are so energetic."
"I'll call for you, Peggy, and together we'll call for Nina," said Polly. "I confess I've no great interest in a country girl, so, if I'm going, I'll go with you, and perhaps the three of us will be able to make the call a bit lively."
"I, for one, anticipate meeting this friend of Miss Dayton's, and as she asked us to call on an afternoon of this week, I think we might go to-morrow," said Nina.
Accordingly on the following day, the three girls sat in the reception room, each wondering just what Miss Randy Weston would be like.
"Do you fancy that she is light, or dark? Let's guess, girls," whispered Polly, but at that moment Miss Dayton entered with Randy's hand in hers. With a bright smile of welcome, Randy extended her hand to each girl as she was presented, and as Nina gave the hand a cordial pressure, Randy said,
"I am so glad that you have come, because you see I have left all my friends at home," there was a little tremor in her voice, "and to find new friends here, will make it less lonely when I enter the school next week."
"You have gained three friends to-day," said Nina, "and when we meet at school you will soon know all the other girls."
"We could call for you on the first day," ventured Peggy, completely won by Randy's sweet face and frank manner.
"Oh, if you would," said Randy, with such evident delight, that Polly more than half wished that she had made the suggestion.
How they talked and chattered that afternoon, and when the three girls took leave of Randy and Helen and walked briskly down the avenue, Nina, with twinkling eyes, said to Polly,
"I think she is one of the sweetest girls that I know, and Polly, did she seem very countrified to you?"
"Now, Nina," Polly answered in a crestfallen tone,
"Who knew that she was a regular beauty, and who for a moment supposed that she would be dressed like a city girl?"
"I said that if Miss Helen Dayton called her charming, I had no doubt about it," said Nina, "and I am willing to say that she is even more pleasing than I had imagined."
"It is her pretty, truthful manner that makes me like her," said Peggy, "and I mean to be her friend while she is here."
Miss Dayton had seen at once that Randy was making a pleasant impression upon the girls, and wondered if Randy was equally pleased with them.
"Well, Randy," she said after the girls had left, and together they stood before the fire-place.
"Oh, I liked them," was Randy's quick reply. "They were so friendly. I like Nina Irwin best, but they were all so pleasant that perhaps I should not like one better than the others."
"Nina has always been a favorite with me," said Helen, "and as you really liked the others I do not see that it matters that of the three Nina is the favored one.
"They were evidently pleased with you, so you see you already have three friends for school and two for home, for Aunt Marcia and I claim your dearest love."
"Oh, I love you best," said Randy, "I care for you next to the dear ones at home."
THE LITTLE TRAVELERS
The crisp air stirred the bright yellow leaves which clung lovingly to the birches, and a few dull red leaves still rustled upon the stout branches of the oaks, but many of the trees were bare, and under foot there lay a thick carpet of dried foliage through which the children delighted to scuff their way toward school.
The squirrels scampered about the woodland, busily hoarding their winter store of nuts, and in the field the crows flew around the ancient scare-crow, cawing derisively at his flapping garments as if laughing at his attenuated figure and mockingly asking him to partake of the husks of the garnered corn.
Overhead the sky was blue and cloudless and upon the eaves of the farm-house the tiny sparrows chirped a greeting to little Prue who stood irresolutely upon the threshold, a wistful expression in her pretty brown eyes, as she twisted one of her short curls and looked over her shoulder to say good-bye to Tabby who lay in her accustomed place upon the large braided rug beside the kitchen stove.
"Good-bye Tabby," she called, "it isn't any fun to go to school, now Randy isn't here."
Aunt Prudence, who, true to her promise, had arrived at her brother's home on the day after Randy's departure, now appeared in the doorway.
"Just starting for school Prue?" said she, "why you said good-bye to yer mother an' me some time ago."
"Well, it takes me longer to get started than when Randy was here," said Prue. "It's diffe'nt now. I used to hurry to keep up with my Randy, but now I don't care when I get there long as Randy isn't in the school 't all. I want a letter from her, too, and I wonder why she doesn't be sending me one."
"Why, Prue, Randy sent you one yesterday, don't you remember? You took it to bed with you last night," said Aunt Prudence.
"But I want another one this morning," said Prue, and seeing tears upon her cheeks, Aunt Prudence, with unusual gentleness, sat down upon the threshold beside the wee girl, and endeavored to make it clear to her, that having received a letter from Randy upon the afternoon of one day, it would be impossible for another one to arrive on the morning of the next.
"Well, I've got my Randy's letter buttoned inside my jacket," said Prue, "but all the same I want another now, and oh I want my Randy more than anything."
It required a deal of coaxing to induce Prue to start for school and she went reluctantly, saying as she turned to wave her hand to Aunt Prudence, "I used to like school, but tisn't any fun 't all without my Randy."
She walked down the road swinging her little lunch basket, and thinking of the dear sister whom she so wished to see. At recess Prue left her little mates and Hi Babson, searching for her, found her outside the yard sitting disconsolately upon an old stump, her basket beside her, and her luncheon untouched.
"What's the matter, Prue," said Hi, "I want yer ter play squat tag with us."
"I don't want to play," said Prue, "I want my Randy."
"But she's in Boston, ain't she?" asked Hi.
"Yes, and I want her, I'm tired of going to school without her."
"I'm tired of goin' ter school at all," said Hi. Then a peculiar light appeared in his small black eyes.
"I'll tell yer what we'll do," said he, "We'll go and see Randy, you 'n me. I know the way to the deepot, Prue, Yes sir, we'll go'n see Randy. I guess she'll be glad 'nough ter see us 'n wont you be glad to see her, though?"
Little Prue's eyes grew round with delight. Since Randy was to be away from home, of course the best thing would be to go to her.
"Do you truly know the way?" asked Prue, eagerly, laying her little hand upon Hi's arm.
"Guess I do. Ain't I been to the deepot times 'nough?" was the confident reply. "You jest come 'long with me, Prue, an' I tell ye we'll find your Randy. I'm bigger'n you be 'n I know."
"When will we go, Hi?" asked Prue, now confident that her little champion could take her safely to Randy.
"Now," said Hi, "right off now. I don't know my lessons, so I don't want ter go back ter school, an' teacher's a ringin' the bell this minute. Pick up yer lunch basket, I've got some cookies I hooked out 'n the cupboard an' a big apple that Belindy gave me, an' we'll eat 'em when we're in the cars." So the two children trudged down the road; Prue happier than she had been for days because of the delightful prospect of seeing Randy, and Hi, knowing that he was naughty in staying away from school, but easing his little conscience by thinking that he was comforting Prue.
It was true that he was larger than Prue, but they were of the same age, and as unlike as two children could possibly be.
Prue was lovely in face and disposition, small of her age and graceful in her movements. Hi was a plain, sturdy looking country boy; stubborn, full of mischief and large for a boy of six.
Down the road they walked, a resolute little pair; Prue chattering and laughing, Hi rather silent until well out of sight of the schoolhouse, when his spirits rose and he cheered the way by telling his little companion wonderful tales of the delights of a journey in the cars.
Having twice enjoyed a long car ride, he considered himself quite a traveled personage, and he continued to enlarge upon the pleasures of the trip to Boston until Prue's eyes danced, and she skipped along the road unable from sheer delight to walk without an occasional little hop.
"If we stay with Randy, we won't have ter go ter school," said Hi, "an' you'n me can play all day."
"And see my Randy every day," said Prue, "and oh, Hi, you don't know how lovely she looked in her new clothes she had to go to Boston with."
"Randy looked nice in anything," said Hi, "and I'll like ter see her, but the best of it is, I ain't er goin' ter school. I hate school, anyway."
"I like school when my Randy's in it, but I don't like anything where my Randy isn't," said Prue, stoutly, "and now we're going to see her."
As she danced along, her hand tightly clasping that of her companion, she hummed merrily, and Hi accompanied her with a discordant whistle, cheerfully unaware that he was quite off the key.
"Does it take long to get to Boston?" asked Prue, abruptly.
"No, I guess not," said Hi, "but it's a little longer'n I thought to the deepot."
"Don't you know the way?" she asked when upon reaching a fork in the road Hi stopped and stared about him as if puzzled as to which to choose.
"Oh, yes, I know the way to the deepot," said Hi, "only I was a thinkin' which was the nearest way. Last time I went there with Uncle Joshua he said, 'We'll go this way 'cause it's a short cut,' an' I guess this is it, Prue, so come along."
And away they went down the road which led directly away from the Centre. Naughty little Hi was far from sure that they were walking in the right direction, but he knew that they were not going toward school, and that in itself was delightful, and a glance at Prue's smiling face assured him that he was making her happy, so on they trudged, singing and whistling as before.
The sun was high overhead, and the light breeze blew the curls about Prue's little face, until Hi looking at her said,
"You're the nicest girl I know Prue; will ye give me some er your lunch, if I'll give you half er my apple?"
"Oh, yes," assented Prue, "I'm getting hungry too. Here, let's divide this gingerbread first."
Upon the low stone wall they perched, and a pretty picture they made, sharing their lunch and throwing the crumbs to the sparrows that twittered in the dusty road.
"We've been walking so long, we must be most to the deepot, Hi," said Prue.
"I guess so," the small boy answered, "so now we've finished the lunch, we'll just start along. Gim me yer hand, Prue; I'm a big boy, 'n I'm takin' care er you."
"Yes, you're taking care of me real good," Prue answered sweetly, "and I love you fer taking me to my Randy, but Hi," she continued, "I'll have to sit down a minute, my feets are so tired."
"Oh, there's time 'nough," said Hi. "We'll rest a while, an' then, after we've walked a little ways, fust thing you'll see'll be the deepot. Then when we git inter the cars, we shall sit on the soft seat and jest rest 'til we get ter Randy's."
"Well, then, let's hurry," said Prue, "I'm some rested now, and if we run we'll get there all the sooner."
But Prue was more weary than she knew, and her little legs refused to run, so, settling into a jog trot the two tired children pushed onward, each step carrying them farther from the depot and at the same time farther from home.
* * * * *
When the pupils filed into the schoolroom after recess, Miss Gilman missed Prue and Hi, and questioned a number of scholars in regard to them.
"I seen 'em a-settin' on a stump back er the school," volunteered one small boy, "Want me ter go'n look for 'em?"
Permission given him, the boy ran out, delighted with the thought that he might thus elude one recitation; but a long search failing to discover the missing children, he was obliged to return with the information that he had looked everywhere and they weren't "anywheres 'raound the place."
"Possibly they have gone home," said Miss Gilman, but a vague uneasiness took possession of her, and when the afternoon session commenced with both children absent, she determined to call after school at the Weston's and see if Prue were safe, at the same time sending the Babson girls home in haste to learn if Hi could be found.
When Prue did not return at noon, Mrs. Weston was not alarmed, as the little girl often stayed at the school when, as on this day, she had in her little basket a hearty lunch, and before Prue could have possibly reached home in the afternoon Miss Gilman, with a desperate attempt to appear calm, called to ask if the little girl had been unable to attend the afternoon session.
"Ill? Why no, indeed! Why, what is it you say, Miss Gilman? That Prue has not been at school since the morning recess?"
The color left Mrs. Weston's cheek, and she leaned heavily upon the table, while Aunt Prudence, speaking with more confidence than she really felt, exclaimed,
"Now it's no use gettin' frightened. She's likely enough in someone's house as safe as can be, and what we've got ter do is ter harness up an' call at the houses where Prue is acquainted an' she'll be with us before dark, I'll warrant ye."
Just at this point, Belinda Babson breathless and excited, ran in at the door crying wildly,
"Oh, Miss Gilman, Mrs. Weston! Little Hi isn't at our house and a man just told father that he saw Hi and Prue sitting on the stone wall away over on the mill road, and that was long before noon time. Where can they be now? Mother's just wild and Aunt Drusilla's lost every idea she ever had. She's just wringing her hands and crying, and a saying that she's afraid that they're lost and wont be found."
Mr. Weston, coming in from the barn, heard Belinda's words and saw her frightened face.
With a grave expression in his kind gray eyes, he said,
"There, there mother, I wouldn't get too frightened. Prue's out of sight? Well, I'll start out ter find her, and we'll hope that she is not so far off but that I shall soon bring her home." But to the mare he muttered as he adjusted the harness,
"This is bad business, Snowfoot. Two little folks lost and no idea where ter look for 'em."
And while two households were wild with fear, while Mr. Weston and Joshua Babson were driving in every direction, stopping at the door of the farm-houses to enquire if the children were there, or had been seen, the two little ones who were the cause of all this commotion were still walking wearily down the road, Prue hoping yet to see the cars which should take her to Randy, and Hi beginning to think that he had lost his way. The last glint of yellow had faded from the western sky, as Hi proposed that they cut through the woods to "gain time," he said.
"Oh, I'm 'fraid to go into the woods when it's getting dark," wailed Prue.
"But me'n Uncle Joshua did the day we went the shortest way," said Hi, "an' this looks just like the place. I ain't 'fraid so you needn't be, an' we've got ter go the quickest way because it's gittin' late."
Prue gave her hand to Hi, and together they entered the woods, trudging wearily on toward the place where, between the distant trees they could see the western sky. Their tired little feet stumbled on, tripping over fallen twigs, and gnarled roots of the great trees. Prue was crying now and Hi, anxious to keep up, at least a semblance of the big boy and protector, made desperate efforts to swallow the lump in his throat which was growing larger every moment. Prue had lost her lunch basket, but she held Randy's letter tightly clasped in her hand, and the basket was forgotten in her eagerness to keep a firm hold upon the treasured missive.
"Oh, Hi, I've got to sit down again, I'm so tired, and I'm cold, too," she cried.
Hi, with all his faults, was a kind-hearted little fellow, so with a deal of gallantry he pulled off his jacket, saying,
"This'll make ye warm, Prue, I'm a big boy so I don't mind."
Hi heaped a mass of dry leaves together, saying,
"We might lay down on these leaves jest a few minutes 'til we're a little warmer, an' then when we're rested we'll go on again. We must be 'most there now, Prue."
By snuggling closely beside her, the boy endeavored to make up for the loss of his coat, and so completely tired out were the two little wayfarers, that sleep overtook them, and in their dreams Prue saw her beloved Randy, while Hi seemed floating through space upon one of the red plush car seats on the way to Boston.
After fruitless calls at the farm-houses Mr. Weston, now thoroughly alarmed called upon his neighbors for assistance, and searching parties with lanterns and torches commenced to scour field and wood.
In and out between the great trees they wandered, their torches and lanterns looking like giant fire-flies; and in every direction they searched for the two little travelers; now at the margin of the woodland, then in again to the heart of the forest. One man recounted to his companion how several years before two children had been lost, and although desperate search was made, they were not found until the pond was dragged. Another farmer, determined not to be outdone, told, with bated breath, of a bear which had been seen coming down the mountain, and that when two hunters had given chase, he had disappeared in the woods.
"I shouldn't like to have the children meet him," said the man.
"Be still!" commanded his companion, "do ye want Square Weston ter hear ye? He's 'nough worried now without yer tales er bears an' drowndings."
As Mr. Weston passed them, his lantern revealed the pallor of his face, and one man muttered to the other,
"Ef they're not ter be faound alive, then I hope it'll not be the Square that finds 'em."
"That's so, man," the other returned, "'tho' it would be a hard job fer any of us ter larn that aught had befallen little Prue, and even that little scamp, Hi Babson, I'd hate ter think of a hard fate fer him, he was so brimmin' over with fun."
One man had strayed from the party, and with his torch held above his head was slowly making his way through the underbrush, when, emerging from the thicket, his foot touched something which but softly resisted it. Thinking it to be some old and mossy log, he shifted his torch to the other hand, and was preparing to step over the obstacle whatever it might be, when, as the smoke blew backward, the flaming torch revealed the sleeping children, Prue still holding Randy's letter in her hand, Hi with a protecting arm about his little companion.
"Well, of all the pretty sights!" he ejaculated. "Safe an' saound an' warm I'll bet ye, but haow on airth come they over here?"
Then with another look at the sleeping children, he hastened to rejoin the party and to tell the joyful news that the little ones were found.
When the crowd of torch-bearers hastened to the spot and gathered about the wanderers, Prue and Hi sat up and rubbed their eyes, evidently wondering what had caused such a commotion.
"How did ye git lost?" asked a farmer of Prue.
"We wasn't lost," answered Prue, "How could we be lost when we knew where we was going? We was going to Boston to my Randy, and we're 'most to the cars, but we're just resting a little while first."
To Uncle Joshua Babson, little Hi looked for pardon for this latest prank.
"I wasn't naughty this time," he said, "I knew the way to Boston, and Prue felt so lonesome 'thout Randy that I was goin' ter take her there."
"Never mind that, my boy," Uncle Joshua answered, "the main thing is ter git ye home, an' stop yer mother's frettin'. She's in the mood ter forgive most anything, sence yer safe and sound."
Tired little Prue lay in her father's arms, crying softly, her face hidden upon his breast.
"There, there, don't cry, Prue, ye're all safe now. See, I have ye in my arms, an' soon we'll be home with mother an' Aunt Prudence."
"But if you take me home now," wailed Prue, "it'll be to-morrow 'fore I could start again to find Randy, and we meaned to get there to-night."
"But mother's 'bout sick a worryin' sence ye went off with Hi and didn't tell where ye was goin'. Did ye think of it, Prue, that mother misses Randy, so couldn't spare ye, too?"
"Oh, I never thought," Prue answered, "I wanted to see my Randy, but I didn't 'member that if I went to Boston there wouldn't be any girls 't all in our house."
With his lantern on his arm and his little daughter clasped to his breast, Mr. Weston tramped along the rough road escorted by two neighbors who with their torches made a path of light before him. As they reached the house, two white-faced women saw them, but while Aunt Prudence hastened to open the door Mrs. Weston drew back.
"I want some supper," exclaimed a very energetic little voice and the mother sprang forward to take her lost one in her arms.
"Oh Prue, don't ye leave us again," she cried, her tears dropping upon the soft curls.
"But I was going to get my Randy and bring her home to you," said Prue, "and I forgot that when I was away to Randy's there wouldn't be any girls to take care of you 'n Tabby."
That night, as an especial favor, Prue was allowed to take Tabby to bed with her, and as she lay with her arms about the cat, she thought that, although her journey to Boston was prevented, there yet were comforts at home, and Tabby accustomed to sleeping in the shed, must have thought the millennium had come.
JUST A ROSE
It had been an easy task to convince little Prue that she must not again attempt to run away to Randy, but must try to be a little comfort to those at home; but no amount of reasoning could make her less lonely, until such a delightful thing happened.
A box addressed to Miss Prue Weston arrived one morning, and when its cover was removed, there lay the loveliest dolly, evidently sound asleep. As Prue lifted her from the box, her eyes opened wide, causing the little girl to jump and exclaim,
"My! Did you see her wink? Is she alive?"
It was the first modern doll which Prue had seen, and she could hardly believe that aught but a living thing could open and shut its eyes, or smile so radiantly, thereby showing little pearly teeth. Oh the wonder of the soft curling hair, the turning head, and jointed arms and legs!
Her dress was made from a lovely shade of blue satin, and her hat was a fine specimen of doll's millinery. In her hand she held a tiny envelope which enclosed a letter from Randy to Prue,—printed, that the little sister might have the pleasure of reading it for herself.
"DEAR LITTLE PRUE:—I send this pretty doll to you. Her name is Randy Helen Weston, named for two whom I know you love dearly. You will make me very happy while I am here in Boston, if you are good at school, and a little comfort to mother at home. Let the Randy doll help you to wait cheerfully until I return, and I shall be glad that I sent her. Print little letters to me, telling me what is happening at home and at school, and remember that I am
"Your loving sister, RANDY."
All the children were invited to come on Saturday and see the wonderful doll, and Randy Helen Weston was made to open and shut her lovely eyes, to turn her head, to extend her beautifully jointed arm to her callers; to cry, to stand alone upon her daintily-slippered feet, and, in fact, to astonish them as much as possible and allow them to depart, glad of Prue's happiness, or green with envy, according as their dispositions prompted them.
Prue was wild with delight, and was about to print a letter for Randy, when it was proposed at school that the long letter from her schoolmates should be written and little Prue was invited to have a part in it.
The letter was a most amusing one, and Randy and Helen laughed heartily as they saw the characteristics of the writers, as manifest, as if each had been present.
They had taken half sheets of paper and pasted the ends together so that a long strip of writing paper was obtained. Then each friend had written and signed his contribution, and truly the result was unique. Prue had been given ample space for her part of what she termed the "party letter," and with great care she printed it. Her spelling was phonetic.
"DEAR RANDY:—Nobudy ever had a dolly so lovely as mine you sended me. I ust tu take Tabby tu bed wiv me but now I take mi dolly. 1 day Tabby washed her hare, I meen my dollys hare I gess she thort it waz 1 of her kittns. Tabbys got tu kittns. They has not got thay ize open yet, so I tryd tu pick um opn, but arnt Prudence sed that wood be cruil. If thay cant git thay ize opn thayselfs why aint I good tu pick um opn wiv my fingus
"Yor little PRUE."
"What will Prue do next, I wonder?" said Randy.
"The idea of thinking that because those little cats could not open their eyes, it would be a fine idea to 'pick' them open!"
Randy pitied those kittens, but she could not help laughing as she thought of Prue's efforts to help them.
"She is probably wild to have those kittens see her new doll," said Miss Dayton.
The long letter from her schoolmates at home had reached Randy on a stormy Saturday morning, when the wind was blowing the snow against the windows with such force that it sounded like hail. She thought of the horses harnessed to the rough snow ploughs "breaking out" the roads at home, of the pine trees laden with what looked to be giant masses of white fruit, of the snow-capped mountains and of little Prue, with hood and mittens, at play with Johnny Buffum, and she wished to be borne there by some magician, if only for a moment, that she might see it all as she had seen it, ever since she could remember.
Randy was, from the first, one of the most promising scholars at the private school which she had entered a week after her arrival in Boston, and her letters to father and mother, Aunt Prudence and to her friends at the little district school were full of enthusiasm for study and ambition to excel.
Saturdays she spent in recreation, but this day she had especially wished might be fair. Aunt Marcia had predicted snow the night before, but Randy had laughingly refused to listen to it, preferring to believe that the sun would shine.
There was to be a fine concert in the afternoon, and Helen had secured tickets for Randy, Aunt Marcia and herself, and as this was the first concert that Randy had ever dreamed of attending, she was naturally anxious for a fine day.
"It blows a gale," said Aunt Marcia, at the breakfast table. "Really, Helen, if it is such a hurricane as this, I would not advise you to go this afternoon."
"There are always concerts which are well worth attending," said Helen, "so if it continues to blow and snow like this, I think we shall stay cosily at home and attend some other concert next Saturday."
To Helen one concert more or less meant little; but Randy watched the sky with anxious eyes, and just before eleven, a tiny bit of blue sky was visible. How she watched it! At half past eleven it was a large blue opening, and when the soft chiming of the clock announced in silvery tones that twelve o'clock had arrived, there was no doubt that the afternoon would be fair.
Lunch was served earlier than usual, and Randy hastened to her room to dress for the concert. Twice she stepped from the dressing case to the window to see if the blue sky was still visible, and when at last the sunlight lay upon the carpet she laughed, and pinning her blue hat with its soft feathers securely in place she hurried from the room and down the stairway where in the hall she waited for Helen.
Usually Randy thought it luxurious to nestle close to Helen in the carriage, but this afternoon she wished that she might have walked, just because her excitement made it difficult for her to placidly ride to the great hall where Miss Dayton had told her that she should hear the sweetest of music. As they rode along, Randy wondered if all the carriages which she saw, were conveying their occupants to the concert, and she was conscious of a mild regret for pedestrians who were wending their way in an opposite direction.
"They are not to enjoy the concert," she thought.
"A penny for what is in your mind, Randy," said Helen, laying her hand upon Randy's arm.
"I was just wondering how many of the people whom I see on foot and in carriages are going to the concert," said Randy.
"Does the concert mean so much to you?" said Helen.
"I cannot tell you how much," Randy answered, "but I have watched the clouds, and hoped it would be fair this afternoon, and when I saw the sunlight upon the floor, just before we started, I danced across my room and down the stairs to meet you. I have heard you play and sing, oh, so sweetly, I have heard little Janie's bird-like voice at home, and Sandy McLeod has often played his pipes for me, but to-day I am to hear the violins and listen to the great singer of whom you have told me. Oh, I can hardly wait to get there, and to hear the music."
"Well you haven't much longer to wait," said Helen, as the carriage stopped before the entrance to the great hall.
As the crowd surged toward the doorway, Randy began to think that all the people whom she had seen and many more had decided that the concert was too great a treat to miss.
Once in their seats, Randy looked about her, and found great delight in studying the faces and costumes of the vast audience. She smiled as she thought of that summer day when in old Nathan Lawton's front parlor she took part in the school exhibition and received the prize in the presence of an assemblage of fifty persons, and considered it a "crowd."
A slight commotion caused Randy to turn just in time to see the members of the great orchestra taking their places. Then some late arrivals attracted her attention. Two ladies with a beautiful little girl were seating themselves on the opposite side of the aisle, and the child's face, with her soft curls and brown eyes reminded Randy of the little sister at home. Then a strange hush pervaded the hall, and as the director swayed his baton, twenty bows were drawn across the strings of as many violins in one grand chord of sweetest harmony.
Randy started, and laid her hand upon Helen's, while with parted lips she gazed at the musicians who were making the fairy-like music which so enthralled her. Her sensitive lips quivered, and her breath came quickly as the orchestra played the varying movements of a grand sonata.
Enraptured with the music, tears filled her eyes during the gentle adagio, and a bright smile chased away the tears when the next movement, a brilliant polacca, filled the hall with its tripping measures. When the last chord had died away Randy turned toward Helen and whispered, "Oh, I never heard anything like that! Will they play again?"
With a smile, Helen pointed to the other numbers upon the program which the orchestra would perform, and Randy, with a contented little sigh, leaned back to await the next number, when the Prima Donna, a vision of loveliness, came forward to sing.
Randy watched and listened and wondered, vaguely, if an angel could sing like that.
Her solo ended, the singer, bowing low, retired, but not for long, for others beside Randy realized the beauty of the song and the wonderful voice of the vocalist, and round after round of applause pleaded for her return.
Yet more applause, and again she stood before them, gracefully bowing her acknowledgment of the compliment.
Again the sweet notes filled the hall, and Randy leaned eagerly forward to catch each silvery tone.
When the song was finished, Helen said "Was not that a wonderful bit of music?"
"Oh, yes," said Randy, "how I wish that I could tell her that I think her voice is like the violins."
"I know her very well," Helen replied, "and I will tell her how her singing has entranced you."
"Tell her," said Randy, eagerly, "that I think nothing in all the world was ever half so sweet."
Then another number by the orchestra held Randy's attention and thus through the afternoon until she felt as if her pulses were throbbing with the rhythm of the music. She marveled that between the numbers many of the vast audience talked and chatted merrily. The lovely little girl across the aisle was fast asleep. Why were they ready to talk after listening to such grand music, and how could anyone, even a child, sleep when there was yet another witching air to be sung, another composition for those wonderful musicians to execute!
Miss Dayton found it an interesting study to watch Randy's face, and to see portrayed there the varying movements of each composition.
Just before the last selection was rendered, Helen penciled a hasty note upon her card, and giving it to an usher, bade him take it to the great singer and wait for a word in reply. The man took the card and hastened to the room at the rear of the stage returning almost immediately with the card which bore upon the reverse side these words,
"A cordial welcome after the concert to Miss Helen Dayton and her friend."
Leaning toward Helen, Randy read the invitation signed by the name of the singer, and she caught her breath as she realized that she was about to meet one who seemed to her so far above the realm of ordinary mortals.
When the audience began to leave the hall and Helen led the way to the dressing room, Randy walked beside her, sure that no girl was ever before so favored. To hear the wonderful voice was rapture, to talk with the singer,—Randy could hardly believe that in a few moments she should experience so great a pleasure.
When at last they reached the pretty room, they found the great vocalist chatting merrily with the lovely child who had sat opposite Randy and had slept through half of the afternoon.
"And so you became tired," the lady was saying.
"Not when you were singing," said the little girl, frankly, "but when the violins and flutes and all the other things had played and played, they made me sleepy, and I just lay back in my seat and shut my eyes a minute when mama said:—
"'Come Marguerite, it is time to go, if you wish to see Madam Valena.' and that made me open my eyes wide, I did so wish to see you."
Quite like a miniature lady she made the little courteous speech, but she was every inch a child as she clambered up into a chair where, upon tip-toe she offered her lips for a kiss. Then away like a gay little butterfly she flew to join her friends.
Helen, taking Randy's hand, led her across the room and presented her.
The singer and Miss Dayton's mother had been firm friends, and Helen was always accorded a most cordial welcome.
The table was heaped with flowers, and Randy, seeing such a profusion of blossoms, wondered that she had thought for a moment of offering the lovely rose which she held in her hand, to one to whom a single blossom must seem of little value.
With the cordial greeting and firm handclasp, Randy realized that the sweet face bending over her, belonged to a woman as lovely in character, as in person, and she gathered courage to speak the words which were nearest her heart.
"I did not know that any living being could sing as you sang this afternoon," she said, "it made me think of the birds in the trees at home, of the brook in the woods, of the white rose in my hand, and I longed to give it to you, but when I saw all these lovely flowers, I felt that you would not care for my one blossom, you would not understand,—" with a queer little break in her voice, Randy ceased speaking and looking up into the brilliant face was surprised to see two bright tears upon her cheek.
"Not care for your flower? I want it more than all of these," she said, gently taking the rose from the slender hand which held it, and placing it in the folds of lace upon her breast.
"With all the honors which I have won, with all the praise for my work which I have received, no compliment ever offered me was more genuine, or sincere, and this rose I shall keep in memory of the girl who gave it.
"Let me give some of my flowers to you, in return for your words which have moved me more than you think.
"O! Helen," she continued. "I received my first inspiration from the birds and the brook at home, when as a little country girl I listened to their voices, and longed to make my tones as pure as theirs. This young girl has brought it all back to me so clearly, that I see myself, a little barefoot child, wading in the brook and mocking the birds which sang in the branches above me."
A maid approached, and laid a long fur wrap about Madam Valena's shoulders, at the same time announcing that her carriage was waiting.
Clasping the great cluster of brilliant blossoms closely, Randy said as they parted,
"I shall never forget you," and looking from her carriage window the singer smiled as she said,
"I shall keep your rose in memory of you."
As they rode homeward Helen told Randy much of Madam Valena's life as her mother had known her, of her close application to study, and of her success, and when at home they found Aunt Marcia seated before the fire place, placidly watching the dancing flames, Randy rushed in, and sitting upon a low hassock, she related all the wonders of the afternoon, ending with,
"And oh, I wish that you had been there to see and hear it all."
"Why, Randy, child!" exclaimed Aunt Marcia laughing, "I thought it rather cold this afternoon, and stayed cosily at home instead of accompanying you and Helen, but now your eyes shine like stars, and I begin to believe that I missed much by not attending the concert. I knew the program was a fine one, and Madam Valena is truly a most charming person."
"Indeed she is," assented Randy, "and she looked so queenly, I never thought she would really talk to me, but oh, do you know that she was once a little country girl? When I looked at her I could not imagine it."
"I know a little country maid, who no one would suppose had not spent all her life in the city," said Aunt Marcia, with a smile, "only that she enjoys every pleasure with a keen delight unknown to the girl who feels that she has seen all that there is to be seen many, many times."
"I shall never feel that way," said Randy, "how could I tire of the sweet music, or of watching the crowd in the city streets? I was never tired of listening to the birds at home and I'm sure," she added with a laugh, "I even enjoyed watching the people coming into our little church. There is always something new everywhere; and I am looking for it."
"That is a part of the secret of your happiness, Randy," said Aunt Marcia, "you intend to be delighted and usually succeed."
"Why, I am still holding the flowers which Madam Valena gave me," said Randy, "I must place them in water," and she hastened to find a suitable vase in which to arrange them. They formed a brilliant bit of color in the centre of the table when dinner was served, and caused Randy to talk once more of the concert.
"It was all so charming that I suppose I stared; at least Polly Lawrence said that I did."
"I saw Polly with you just as we were leaving the hall," said Helen, "what did you say that she said?"
"She said, 'Why Randy Weston, you are staring at everybody and everything as if you'd never attended a concert before!'"
"How singularly rude," said Aunt Marcia, little pleased that Randy should be thus spoken to.
"And what did you say to that, Randy," asked Helen, wondering if Polly's speech had cut deeply.
With a frank smile Randy answered,—"I said, 'Well this is my first concert. Possibly you would be surprised if you had never before experienced such a pleasure.'"
Helen and her aunt were much amused that Randy could answer so readily a remark which was intended to embarrass her, and they realized that Randy's frankness in admitting herself a country girl quite unused to city pleasures, would disarm a girl like Polly, more successfully than any amount of artifice or pretense.
A SCOTCH LINNET
The sky was a cold, leaden gray, and down from the mountains swept a pitiless wind, which whistled through the bare branches of the trees and tossed a few dried leaves before it, as it hurried on as if with a fixed determination to reach every corner of the village and chill everything which it could touch.
It leveled the few standing cornstalks and caused the dry twigs to rap a tattoo upon the windows of the farm houses. It attacked the shivering form of a lonely little cur who took his tail between his legs and scurried away down the road in search of some sheltering barn or shed; it nipped little Hi Babson's ears and snatching his cap, tossed it over the wall and across the field where it lay, held fast in a clump of bushes.
Hi secured the cap, and as he pulled it down about his ears he looked back in the direction from which the gust had blown, and shaking his little fist exclaimed,
"Nasty old wind! I hate ye and ye know it. 'F I'd a been 'lowed ter stay home an' whittle like I wanted ter, I wouldn't a lost my cap. I scratched my fingers gittin' it, an' that makes me mad."
Again he shook his little fist at his enemy, the wind, but as it did not cease blowing, he drew on his mittens and sulkily plodded on toward school. His cold fingers smarted where the briers had torn them, and he felt resentful that he should be on his way toward the despised school house, quite forgetting that by the fireside with his beloved whittling he usually managed to cut his fingers.
Whistling lustily, Jack Marvin came down the road, overtaking Hi as he stumbled along, a most disconsolate little figure.
"Hello, Hi," said Jack. "Why, look here little feller," as he noticed tears in the bright black eyes.
"'Most frozen, and didn't want ter come ter school, either? Say, gimme yer hand, mine are warm, an' you'n me'll be in school in no time. What's that? Ain't done yer sums? Well, now, little chap, you jist come along quick, an' 'fore ye know it ye'll be gittin' warm in the school room an' I'll show ye 'bout yer sums 'fore the bell rings. My, but it takes you'n me ter make good time over the road!"
Jack Marvin never could bear to see a child in tears, and his kind heart was delighted when little Hi skipped along beside him, laughing gaily, in spite of the traces of tears upon his cheeks.
Hi looked up to Jack as one of the best among the "big boys," and to race along beside him and be assured of help with his lessons, took every care from the little fellow's mind, and he laughed and whistled in company with Jack.
The boys turned up their collars or ducked their chins beneath the folds of woollen mufflers; and the girls drew their wraps about them and hurried on, eager to reach the schoolhouse and gain shelter from the icy blast.
About the great stove they hovered, scorching their faces, while they endeavored to get thoroughly warmed before the hands of the clock should point to nine. Two girls were missing from the group around the stove. Randy Weston, who had been at school in Boston for three months, and Phoebe Small, whose incessant teasing had at last prevailed, and who had six weeks before experienced the joy of going away to boarding school. It was not that Phoebe did not love her home, or enjoy the friendship of her mates, but she had long entertained the idea that a boarding school was the only school worth attending.
She had wished Randy good luck when she started for Boston, but she could not stifle a feeling of envy, and it seemed impossible for her to stay quietly at home attending the district school.
In vain Mrs. Small insisted that Phoebe would be homesick, that Randy was with friends, while at boarding school all would be strangers. Phoebe invariably answered,
"Well I'd just like to try it and see how it would seem. I could write letters home to the girls as Randy does, and I think that would be just grand."
At last it occurred to Mrs. Small that the best thing for Phoebe would be to grant her wish.
"I know that she will be homesick before she's been away a week," she said to her husband, "but she cannot be convinced, and perhaps if we allow her to try it, she will get all and more than she wants of it, and come home with a mind to be contented."
So one bright morning Phoebe was driven to the station on her way to a school for girls which was under the direction of two ladies who were friends of Mrs. Small. Immediately upon her arrival she sent a note to her mother in which she told in glowing words of the pleasure of her ride in the cars, and her reception by the two elderly ladies who presided over the school.
Then, after a week had passed another letter came the general tone of which was less cheerful. Then a fortnight slipped by, and a brief letter told only of her studies, and said not a word of the delights of boarding school life. Then, as time passed and the mail brought no letter from Phoebe, her mother became anxious.
"I do hope she's well, and I must say I wish I'd never consented when she begged to go," said Mrs. Small a dozen times a day, to which her husband would reply,
"Oh, she's all right. If she was sick they'd let us know. Most likely she's had 'nough of it, and hates ter say so."
"Well, all the same, if I don't get a letter from her to-day, I'll go after her to-morrow." Mrs. Small answered, as the wind whistled around the corner and down the chimney.
While this conversation was in progress at the Small homestead, the same subject was being discussed at the village school. Because of the intense cold, Miss Gilman permitted the scholars to enjoy the recess indoors and they formed little groups about the great stove, eating their lunch and discussing those topics which lay nearest their hearts.
"I guess my Randy knows 'most everything now," Prue was saying. "She has such long lessons, and studies late, and she's seen the big stores, and she's been to a concert full of fiddles where she saw a great big Primmy Dommy!"
"Why, what's that?" asked little Hitty Buffum. "Wasn't she 'fraid when she saw the Primny what yer call it comin'?"
"I do'no," said Prue, "she didn't say, but whatever 'twas, I guess 'twas pretty big, my Randy said so."
Evidently the children considered that in Boston one might see strange creatures of every type, and Randy Weston had been privileged to see one of the largest. Just at this moment Hi Babson joined the little group.
"Want ter know what I done Saturday?" he asked, his black eyes gleaming with mischief.
"I hadn't learnt my lessons fer Monday, and ma said I must stay up in the spare room 'til I knew 'em all by heart. I didn't like ter stay up there alone, but when I found I got ter, I set down on the mat an' 'twan't long before I'd learnt half of 'em. Just 'bout that time I heard a awful scratching an' then I 'membered that Uncle Joshua set a mouse trap down by the beaury. When I looked, there was a little mouse in it, an' all to once I knew what I'd like ter do.
"The bedclothes was pulled down over the foot-board, an' I could see the slit in the tick where they poke in their hands to stir up the straw. I put the trap with the mouse in it, in there among the straw, an' then I went down just as quiet as I could, an' got old Tom an' tugged him upstairs.
"When I put him on the bed an' held his head over the hole in the tick, you'd oughter seen his tail switch! The mouse was a runnin' 'round in the cage, an' Tom dove into the slit a scatterin' the straw all over the bed. My! Didn't it fly?"
"Why you naughty, bad boy," said little Hitty Buffum.
"What did they say to you," asked Prue.
"Ma didn't say much," said Hi. "I laid down on the floor and rolled over an' over, a laughin' like anything 'til ma come in, an' she jest looked at that bed, drove Tom out'n the room an' then she took hold er me, an' I,—I had ter stop laughin' ter cry 'n Grandma Babson said, 'That boy'll yet come to the gallus.'"
A group of the larger girls were comparing the letters which Randy had sent with those which they had received from Phoebe Small.
"Randy says that she misses the folks at home, and her friends here at school, but aside from that her letters are cheerful, and she feels that she is getting on so rapidly that it makes her contented," said Molly Wilson, "and she must enjoy the pleasant things which Miss Dayton plans for her Saturdays."
"We miss Randy," said Belinda Babson, "but of course we're glad that she is having such a lovely winter."
"She writes just as she talks, and when we get one of her letters it seems as if she were with us," said Jemima.
"I didn't know what to make of Phoebe Small's last letter," said Dot Marvin. "She commenced by saying that she could never do as she wished, that she didn't like her roommate and that the two ladies who kept the school watched them so closely that the girls could hardly breathe without asking permission. Then she wrote, 'I don't want to say that I'm homesick but,—' and then she signed her name. She didn't finish the sentence, but there were two blistered places just above the name, as if the paper had been wet, and I am sure that she was crying while she wrote."
Miss Gilman touched the bell, and the pupils took their places. Recess was ended, and for the remainder of the forenoon, recitations occupied their minds in place of the much discussed letters.
* * * * *
By the great fireplace heaped with blazing logs sat old Sandy McLeod energetically tugging at the straps of his great "arctics."
"It's a cauld day, lass," he was saying to little Janie.
"Will it be too cauld to venture out an' meet the music maester?"
His eyes twinkled, for he well knew that Janie was wild to sing for this man who would say if her voice were indeed worth training.
The teacher of whom Sandy spoke was a man well known in musical circles, whose instruction was eagerly sought, and upon whose judgment one could safely rely. He had been chosen director of a flourishing musical society in a large town some miles distant from Sandy's home, and on those days when he was present to direct rehearsals, he also tried the voices of those who asked permission to join the vocal club. Sandy had one day asked if he might bring little Janie to him, saying quietly,
"It's worth yer while, mon, ye ne'er heard sae blithe a voice as Janie's."
Half doubting, yet amused at the old Scotchman's manner, he had made an appointment for hearing Janie, and afterward wondered why he had done so, as he felt sure that he was to listen to the vocal efforts of a child whose singing chanced to please an old man whose knowledge of music was probably meagre.
Janie submitted to all the wrappings with which Margaret McLeod saw fit to envelop her, and when in his great fur coat, Sandy stood in the doorway and called to Janie that the sleigh was ready, she hurried toward him, an animated bundle of dry goods.
It was a long, cold ride, but Janie and her enthusiasm were both warm, and when they reached the building and mounted the long flight of stairs to the hall, her cheeks were glowing, and her eyes brilliant with excitement. She was granted a few moments for a hearing before the hour for the club rehearsal.
The teacher was seated at the piano when they entered, and as he arose to greet them he found it a task to refrain from laughing at the odd little figure wound so snugly in shawls and scarfs. When, however, her wraps removed, Janie stood before him, a typical little Scotch lass, with bright blue eyes and flaxen braids, he was aware of a charm about the pretty child which compelled him to believe that it was barely possible that she could sing.
"What are some of your songs, child?" he asked kindly.
"I'll sing, 'Comin' thro' the rye,' if it please you," answered Janie, simply.
"Very well," was the reply, and he played a brilliant little prelude. The music inspired Janie, and never had she sung as she sang that day. At the end of the first verse, the man paused, with his hands resting upon the keys, and surveyed the tiny figure as it stood before him, the little chin lifted, and the sweet eyes looking into his so eagerly, as if asking for a word of approval.
"Come nearer," he said, "and sing another verse."
"Willingly," said Janie, and again the fresh voice rang out,
"If a body meet a body Comin' frae the town If a body kiss a body Need a body frown."
At the last sweet note the man at the piano turned, and lifting her in his strong arms he exclaimed,
"Child, you have the voice of an angel! Mr. McLeod, I ask your pardon for doubting your statement that this little girl could sing."
"Oh, it's of no account whatever," answered Sandy, stoutly, "since ye're weel convinced."
The members of the club were beginning to arrive, and standing Janie upon a chair, the director stooped, and looking into the little face he asked.
"Would you be willing to sing once for these ladies and gentlemen, Janie?"
"Oh, I could na refuse if it was to gie them pleasure," she replied.
The director in a few words told those present that he had been listening to the child's singing, and that she had consented to sing for them. Some of the faces wore a look of curiosity, some of skepticism, others of genuine interest, but when turning toward them Janie commenced to sing, she held them spellbound, and when she stepped down from the chair they crowded around her and petted and praised her until Sandy was afraid that she would be completely spoiled.
Janie was delighted to have so pleased her audience, but her greatest joy lay in the fact that Sandy had arranged that once a week she should sing with the teacher, and had promised that there should be a piano for her to practice with.
With greatest care Sandy replaced Janie's numerous wraps, much as if she had been a valuable painting, or a choice bit of sculpture, and taking her hand, led her gently down the long stairway to the street. Then, lifting her into the sleigh, and tucking the bear skin about her, he drove briskly over the road toward home, not allowing the horse to slacken pace until he reached his own door.
Margaret McLeod was watching for them, and quickly left her seat at the window to welcome them.
"Weel, Janie, lass, and did the music maester think ye could sing?"
"Oh, yes, yes!" cried Janie. "I'm to study with him, and Sandy, our Sandy has promised to buy me a piano, so I shall know if I sing the right key, and I'm to sing the lang exercises wi' ne'er a song 'til,—weel I dinna when.
"There's' in a' the world nae ane like our Sandy."
"I've often thought the same mysel," said Margaret, with a droll smile at her husband.
"And between ye, ye mean tae spoil me completely, wi' yer flattery that I own is sweet tae hear."
"Ye canna be spoiled," said Margaret McLeod; "ye weel know ye're on a pinnacle sae high o'e'r ither men, there's nae chance o' spoiling ye."
"Oh, the prejudice o' a lovin' woman," Sandy replied, "is past the understanding o' an ordinary mon, but 'tis sunshine tae live in the light o' it."
Later, when Mrs. McLeod was making preparation for tea, little Janie followed her about, helping to set the table, at the same time telling over and over the fine things which the director had said of her singing, and yet again repeating the delightful fact that there was to be a fine piano "in that verra house."
"I wondered if the mon was a bit daft," said Sandy, "when he said tae Janie, 'Mind ye sing the lessons I gie ye, an naething else.'
"She's been singing the blithe Scotch ballads since she was a' most a bairnie, an' her voice has grown sweeter a' the time. I say again, I hope he's na daft."
"Sandy, Sandy!" cried Margaret, "ye must na question the great music maester. I doot not he knows a deal mair aboot music than we do."
"He says that he will make me sing just wonderful," said Janie.
"An' na doot he will," said Sandy, laying his hand lovingly upon Janie's head.
* * * * *
It seemed as if the gale increased in force as it blew the dust and twigs against the window, and hurried on with a shrill whistle around the corner.
After the table had been cleared, they took their places before the great fireplace, Sandy, Margaret and Janie making a group in the centre, while at one side sat the great brindle cat, Tam o' Shanter, and at a respectful distance, on the opposite side of the hearth stone, stood the Scotch Collie, Sir Walter Scott.
Tam, with his forepaws snugly tucked in, and his great yellow eyes blinking at the bright flames, was a picture of contentment.
Sir Walter looked eagerly at Sandy, and longed to go and sit beside him, but that would necessitate rather close proximity to Tam, and Tam usually resented such familiarity, so the dog kept his place, and as he listened to the conversation, seemed to understand what was being said.
"I'll put fresh logs on the fire," said Sandy, "tae keep the cauld oot, and I'm hopin' that there's nae ane abroad this night."
At the little depot at the Centre, the station master stood upon the platform looking anxiously up the track, hoping to see the light of an approaching train.
"'Most three hours late," muttered the man. "I'd like ter know if it ain't er comin' ter-night."
As he turned to re-enter the depot, a faint whistle made itself heard above the clamor of the wind and turning he saw the headlight of the engine coming around the bend.
"There she is naow," he remarked, and as the train stopped, the mail bag was quickly thrown out upon the platform and instantly picked up and carried into the depot.
The station agent did not dream that anyone would arrive so late in the village on such a night, so having secured the mail bag, he allowed the train to depart without even a glance at its receding form.
One passenger, however, stepped from the car who evidently was not expecting friends to meet her, as she immediately left the platform and walked briskly up the road as if familiar with the place, and sure of the direction which she must take to reach her destination.
What had been a high wind during the day, now became a gale, and the solitary figure wrapped her cloak closer about her and pushed resolutely on, never pausing, yet at times looking hastily over her shoulder as if fearful of a possible pursuer. As she passed a deserted farm house, a sudden gust of wind blew one of its dilapidated blinds against the window, shattering the glass with a resounding crash. With a scream the girl sprang forward, then, half wild with fright she ran with a headlong pace up the road.
The promise of the leaden sky was now fulfilled, the falling sleet cutting the girl's white cheeks, and serving to make the night more cheerless.
Again she tried to draw the folds of her cloak about her, but the wind snatched it from her fingers and blew it back and she was obliged to stop and, for a moment, turn her back to the gale until she could securely fasten the clasps which held it. Her hands shook with cold and fear, and when she turned about and tried once more to run she found that her limbs were weak with terror and that her progress must be slow. The great branches of the trees groaned in the wind, as if crying out against such rough handling, and the snow fell faster as the girl dragged herself along the lonely road.
* * * * *
"The cauld increases," said Sandy. "I'll stir the fire an' throw on anither log."
"It's snawin'," announced Janie, as she emerged from behind the window shade and ran to the fireplace, where she seated herself beside Sir Walter, her arm about his neck.
"Ain't ye glad ye're na scurryin' after the sheep at hame, ye big auld dear?" asked Janie.
The collie laid his head lovingly against her shoulder, as if agreeing, and Tam, seeing the caress, looked as if he thought Janie's taste in her choice of pets deteriorating.
"Ah, Tam, Tam," she cried with a laugh, "are ye sae selfish ye want a' my love? I love ye baith, an' I wad ye loved each ither."
"Hark, Sandy! Did some one knock?" asked Mrs. McLeod, as she looked toward the door.
"Nae ane's aboot this night—Ay, Margaret, ye're right as usual, there's a faint sound, an' I'll be seein',—"
"Oh, Mr. McLeod, let me come in," said a girl's voice.
"That I will, ye puir waif,—by all the saints, it's Phoebe Small! Here Margaret! Janie! the lass is faintin'."
"Oh, no I'm not," Phoebe answered, but her white face was not reassuring and Sandy and Margaret were obliged to lead her to the great chair by the fire.
Janie loosened her boots which were covered with snow, and removing them, set them to dry in a corner of the fireplace. Then she brought a cricket and, handy little maid, lifted Phoebe's feet upon it, that the heat from the fire might warm them.
Soon Margaret McLeod had made a cup of tea, and it seemed to Phoebe that nothing had ever tasted so delicious. Sandy stood beside her, offering the lunch which Margaret had prepared, insisting gently that she must eat heartily before going out into the night.
"For I shall take ye hame, lass, I know that's where ye wad be, and warm in the bear skin I'll wrap ye, an' in the sleigh 'twill be nae time before we'll be at ye're door."
"I could not stay away another day. The road from the depot was so lonely, and I was so afraid,—"
Phoebe was crying now, and Sandy laid his rough hand gently upon her shoulder.
"Never mind, lass, how ye got here, don't ye try tae tell it noo. If ye're warm enough we'll be startin', an' ye can tell the folks at hame all aboot it on the morrow."
Little Janie examined Phoebe's boots, and finding them to be dry, insisted upon putting them on and lacing them, and by the time that she had finished the task the sleigh stood at the door.
The ride was a short one, and soon Sandy was at the door of the Small homestead, one arm about Phoebe who seemed too weary to stand, and the other hand executing a rousing knock upon the panel of the door.
Mrs. Small answered the summons and without ceremony Sandy entered, gently pushing Phoebe before him.
"This package was delayed in arrivin'," he commenced, but there seemed to be no need of finishing the sentence.
As Phoebe stood held close in her mother's embrace, she cried,
"Oh, I never, never will go away to school again."
"You never shall," said Mrs. Small, "but Phoebe, child, how is it that you are here, and with Mr. McLeod at this time of night?"
"Oh, I told them yesterday that I must come home, but they said at the school, that you had paid for the term in advance, and that I could not leave until the end of that term.
"I said nothing, but this morning I ran away to the depot and when I had bought my ticket and was in the cars riding toward home I was happier than I had been for weeks. But the train was late and it was very dark when I left the cars at the Centre and started to walk home."
"The lass reached our door," said Sandy, "an' she was aboot faintin' when I lifted her in, and set her doon before the fire. An' noo, as I'm not necessary to ye're happiness," said Sandy with twinkling eyes, "I think I'll bid ye 'good night,' and be drivin' hame tae Margaret."
"I'm so glad to be at home again," said Phoebe, when Sandy had gone.
"I cannot tell you, Phoebe, how we've missed you," her mother answered. "Your father had to visit Boston yesterday and will be back to-morrow. When Sandy arrived with you, I was sitting here alone and wondering how long you would be willing to stay at boarding school."
"I never wish to see or hear about one again," said Phoebe. I shall never be discontented again.
"It was a hard lesson," said Mrs. Small, as she kissed Phoebe, "but perhaps it was a good one after all."
Randy had become a favorite among the girls at the school, and one and all declared that her frankness had been the trait which had first won their admiration.
"She always means what she says," said Nina Irwin. "I value a compliment which Randy gives, for she never flatters. If she says a pleasant word, it comes straight from her heart, and her heart is warm and loving."
Randy had made rapid progress in her studies, and it seemed as if her zeal increased as the months sped by. She had attended many concerts since the memorable one when she had given her single rose to Madame Valena, "and now the finest thing is yet to happen," she said in a letter to her mother.
Miss Dayton had sent out invitations for a little party to be given in honor of Miss Randy Weston, and in consequence there was much excitement at the private school.
To receive an invitation from Miss Dayton meant much, and Randy's friends talked of little else.
"What shall you wear, Nina," asked Polly Lawrence.
"Whatever mama suggests," replied Nina, with a laugh.
"Because," continued Polly, "I think we ought to dress, well—in a very showy manner, for Miss Dayton."
"Why, I do not see that," remarked another girl. "Miss Dayton dresses richly, but I should not say that 'showy' was a fitting word to apply to her refined taste."
"Indeed!" said Polly, sharply. "Well, I shall wear my red gauze over satin, and I fancy Peggy will not choose a very simple frock for the occasion."
"Just my blue silk, dear," Peggy remarked lazily, "and since you've all seen it you will not have to enthuse over it."
"What do you suppose Randy will wear?" asked Peggy.
"Something becoming, without a doubt," said Nina Irwin, "since everything becomes her."
At this point Randy entered, and the subject of conversation changed from dress to the lessons for the day.
"You always come with lessons prepared, Randy Weston," said Polly, "and you look decidedly cheerful, too."
"Why shouldn't I look cheerful, if I am ready for the recitations?" asked Randy, in surprise.
"Because," Polly answered, "it makes me cross to have to study, and you must work persistently to keep up such a record as you have this year."
"Miss Dayton helps me," Randy answered.
"But she cannot learn for you," said Nina Irwin, "and you seem to get on as well in those studies which are new to you, as in those which you had commenced in the district school."
"But I like all my studies," said Randy, "and anyone would be interested in new ones. There is another reason why I am working so diligently.
"Father and mother sent me here, believing that I would study faithfully. I should not be true to them if I wasted my opportunity. And little Prue is trying to be patient, although her funny little letters show how she misses me. I'll show you the last one which she sent me, only don't laugh at her original spelling, Nina. Remember, she is a little girl. Here it is:"
"How long wil it bee fore you cum hom I luv you an I wanto see you Me n Jonny slided on my sled an we ran intu a fense an got hurted I lern my lesons, but I cant spel big words yet When I say I want my Randy ma dont cry but her ize is wet and ant Prudence wipes her glassis Hi put sum gum in Jonys cap an it got stuk to his hare. When you cum hom I wil be so glad for I luv you
"Yor litle PRUE."
"The cunning little thing," said Nina, "her funny letter shows just how they miss you at home, and how dearly she loves you, Randy."
"That is what I meant when I said one day to you, Nina that it was hard, and at the same time delightful to be here. I love father, mother and dear little Prue more than it is possible to say; I love the dear home, too. Of course it is not like the homes which I have seen here, but nothing can make it less dear to me," said Randy.
"I enjoy all the pleasures which Miss Dayton plans for me, and I have become attached to the school and to the pleasant friends which I have made here in the city; but sometimes in the midst of my study, sometimes when listening to rare music, the thought of home brings the tears, and for the moment, I am homesick, so homesick that I think I cannot stay.
"Then I remember that father and mother wish me to excel in my studies, and I crowd back the tears, and by reminding myself that with the spring I shall return, I try to be cheerful."
As the bell called the girls to their seats, Nina whispered as she passed,
"O Randy! The longer I know you, the more truly I love you;" and the whispered words made Randy very happy.
* * * * *
On the day of the little party the decorators converted the drawing-room into a veritable rose garden, glowing and sweet, the lovely pink blossoms sending out their fragrance as if doing their utmost to honor Randy, who, until that season, had known only the garden roses which blossomed near the farm-house door.
The lights were softened by delicate pink shades, and upon a pedestal beneath Aunt Marcia's portrait, stood a huge jardiniere filled with roses the glowing petals of which seemed to repeat the color of the brocaded court gown in the picture.
In her little room, Randy, with sparkling eyes, and quick beating heart, stood before her mirror, mechanically drawing a comb through her soft brown hair. Her mind was far away and she did not seem to see the girl reflected there.
"If they were all here to-night,—" she murmured, and as the words escaped her lips, two bright tears lay upon her cheek.
"Oh, this will never do," said Randy, quickly drying the tears, and endeavoring to summon a smile.
"Mother and father would surely say,
"'Be cheerful to-night, Miss Dayton will wish it. Remember she is giving the party for you.'"
So, smiling bravely, she arranged her hair in the pretty, simple manner in which she usually dressed it, and proceeded to array herself in the white muslin which Janie Clifton had declared to be just the thing for a city party, and just the thing for Randy.
And Janie had spoken wisely. Nothing could have been more becoming, or served more surely to show Randy's fine coloring than the sheer muslin with its white satin ribbons.
As she stood looking at the transparent folds of the skirt, the tip of her shoe peeped from below the hem, and Randy laughed merrily. She had quite forgotten to change her street shoes for the silken hose and white slippers which Miss Dayton had given her.
"How could I forget them, the first pretty slippers which I ever owned?" She hastened to put them on, afterward surveying them with much satisfaction. They were such pretty slippers, decorated with white satin bows and crystal beading.
"Like Cinderella's," thought Randy, as she held back her skirts, the better to see them, and when later she paused on the stairway to look down upon the many rose hued lights in the hall below, she turned a radiant face toward Helen Dayton as she said:—
"Oh, how kind you are to give this lovely party for me, just me. I feel like Cinderella, only," she added laughing, "I am sure that I shall not lose my crystal slipper when to-night the clock strikes twelve."
"Nor shall you part with them at any time," Helen replied, "but keep them in remembrance of this night when you enjoyed your first party."
A fine trio they formed as they stood waiting to receive their guests; Aunt Marcia looking like an old countess in her stately gown of black velvet and diamonds, Helen, resplendent in turquoise satin and pink roses, and Randy in her white muslin and ribbons, a single rose in her hair.
Soon the young guests began to arrive, and very cordially were they greeted, Randy's bright face plainly showing how heartfelt was the pleasure which her words expressed as each new friend was presented.
One guest had been bidden to the party who had not yet arrived, and Helen Dayton could not refrain from occasionally glancing toward the door, with the hope of seeing the delinquent. The buzz of conversation and light laughter seemed at its height, when a late arrival was announced.