Mrs. Ripwinkley was just simply glad to see him; so she was to see Kenneth Kincaid, who came a few minutes after, just as Luclarion brought the tray of sweetmeats in, which Mrs. Ripwinkley had so far innovated upon the gracious-grandmother plan as to have after tea, instead of before.
The beautiful cockles and their rhymes got their heads all together around the large table, for the eating and the reading. Mr. Geoffrey and Uncle Titus sat talking European politics together, a little aside. The sugar-plums lasted a good while, with the chatter over them; and then, before they quite knew what it was all for, they had got slips of paper and lead pencils before them, and there was to be a round of "Crambo" to wind up.
"O, I don't know how!" and "I never can!" were the first words, as they always are, when it was explained to the uninitiated; but Miss Craydocke assured them that "everybody could;" and Hazel said that "nobody expected real poetry; it needn't be more than two lines, and those might be blank verse, if they were very hard, but jingles were better;" and so the questions and the wards were written and folded, and the papers were shuffled and opened amid outcries of, "O, this is awful!" "What a word to get in!" "Why, they haven't the least thing to do with each other!"
"That's the beauty of it," said Miss Craydocke, unrelentingly; "to make them have; and it is funny how much things do have to do with each other when they once happen to come across."
Then there were knit brows, and desperate scratchings, and such silence that Mr. Geoffrey and Uncle Titus stopped short on the Alabama question, and looked round to see what the matter was.
Kenneth Kincaid had been modestly listening to the older gentlemen, and now and then venturing to inquire or remark something, with an intelligence that attracted Mr. Geoffrey; and presently it came out that he had been south with the army; and then Mr. Geoffrey asked questions of him, and they got upon Reconstruction business, and comparing facts and exchanging conclusions, quite as if one was not a mere youth with only his eyes and his brains and his conscience to help him in his first grapple with the world in the tangle and crisis at which he found it, and the other a grave, practiced, keen-judging man, the counsellor of national leaders.
After all, they had no business to bring the great, troublesome, heavy-weighted world into a child's party. I wish man never would; though it did not happen badly, as it all turned out, that they did a little of it in this instance. If they had thought of it, "Crambo" was good for them too, for a change; and presently they did think of it; for Dorris called out in distress, real or pretended, from the table,—
"Kentie, here's something you must really take off my hands! I haven't the least idea what to do with it."
And then came a cry from Hazel,—
"No fair! We're all just as badly off, and there isn't one of us that has got a brother to turn to. Here's another for Mr. Kincaid."
"There are plenty more. Come, Mr. Oldways, Mr. Geoffrey, won't you try 'Crambo?' There's a good deal in it, as there is in most nonsense."
"We'll come and see what it is," said Mr. Geoffrey; and so the chairs were drawn up, and the gray, grave heads looked on over the young ones.
"Why, Hazel's got through!" said Lois, scratching violently at her paper, and obliterating three obstinate lines.
"O, I didn't bother, you see! I just stuck the word right in, like a pin into a pincushion, and let it go. There wasn't anything else to do with it."
"I've got to make my pincushion," said Dorris.
"I should think you had! Look at her! She's writing her paper all over! O, my gracious, she must have done it before!"
"Mother and Mr. Geoffrey are doing heaps, too! We shall have to publish a book," said Diana, biting the end of her pencil, and taking it easy. Diana hardly ever got the rhymes made in time; but then she always admired everybody's else, which was a good thing for somebody to be at leisure to do.
"Uncle Oldways and Lilian are folding up," said Hazel.
"Five minutes more," said Miss Craydocke, keeping the time with her watch before her. "Hush!"
When the five minutes were rapped out, there were seven papers to be read. People who had not finished this time might go on when the others took fresh questions.
Hazel began reading, because she had been ready first.
"'What is the difference between sponge-cake and doughnuts?' 'Hallelujah.'"
"Airiness, lightness, and insipidity; Twistiness, spiciness, and solidity. Hallelujah! I've got through! That is the best that I can do!'"
There was a shout at Hazel's pinsticking.
"Now, Uncle Titus! You finished next."
"My question is a very comprehensive one," said Uncle Titus, "with a very concise and suggestive word. 'How wags the world?' 'Slambang.'"
"'The world wags on With lies and slang; With show and vanity, Pride and inanity, Greed and insanity, And a great slambang!'"
"That's only one verse," said Miss Craydocke. "There's another; but he didn't write it down."
Uncle Titus laughed, and tossed his Crambo on the table. "It's true, so far, anyway," said he.
"So far is hardly ever quite true," said Miss Craydocke
Lilian Ashburne had to answer the question whether she had ever read "Young's Night Thoughts;" and her word was "Comet."
"'Pray might I be allowed a pun, To help me through with just this one? I've tried to read Young's Thoughts of Night, But never yet could come it, quite.'"
"O, O, O! That's just like Lilian, with her soft little 'prays' and 'allow me's,' and her little pussy-cat ways of sliding through tight places, just touching her whiskers!"
"It's quite fair," said Lilian, smiling, "to slide through if you can."
"Now, Mr. Geoffrey."
And Mr. Geoffrey read,—
"'What is your favorite color?' 'One-hoss.'"
"'Do you mean, my friend, for a one-hoss shay, Or the horse himself,—black, roan, or bay? In truth, I think I can hardly say; I believe, for a nag, "I bet on the gray."
"'For a shay, I would rather not have yellow, Or any outright, staring color, That makes the crowd look after a fellow, And the little gamins hoot and bellow.
"'Do you mean for ribbons? or gowns? or eyes? Or flowers? or gems? or in sunset skies? For many questions, as many replies, Drops of a rainbow take rainbow dyes.
"'The world is full, and the world is bright; Each thing to its nature parts the light; And each for its own to the Perfect sight Wears that which is comely, and sweet, and right.'"
"O, Mr. Geoffrey! That's lovely!" cried the girl voices, all around him. And Ada made a pair of great eyes at her father, and said,—
"What an awful humbug you have been, papa! To have kept the other side up with care all your life! Who ever suspected that of you?"
Diana and Hazel were not taken so much by surprise, their mother had improvised little nursery jingles for them all their baby days, and had played Crambo with them since; so they were very confident with their "Now, mother:" and looked calmly for something creditable.
"'What is your favorite name?'" read Mrs. Ripwinkley. "And the word is 'Stuff.'"
"'When I was a little child, Looking very meek and mild, I liked grand, heroic names,— Of warriors, or stately dames: Zenobia, and Cleopatra; (No rhyme for that this side Sumatra;) Wallace, and Helen Mar,—Clotilda, Berengaria, and Brunhilda; Maximilian; Alexandra; Hector, Juno, and Cassandra; Charlemagne and Britomarte, Washington and Bonaparte; Victoria and Guinevere, And Lady Clara Vere de Vere. —Shall I go on with all this stuff, Or do you think it is enough? I cannot tell you what dear name I love the best; I play a game; And tender earnest doth belong To quiet speech, not silly song.'"
"That's just like mother; I should have stopped as soon as I'd got the 'stuff' in; but she always shapes off with a little morriowl," said Hazel. "Now, Desire!"
Desire frantically scribbled a long line at the end of what she had written; below, that is, a great black morass of scratches that represented significantly the "Slough of Despond" she had got into over the winding up, and then gave,—
"'Which way would you rather travel,—north or south?' 'Goosey-gander.'"
"'O, goosey-gander! If I might wander, It should be toward the sun; The blessed South Should fill my mouth With ripeness just begun. For bleak hills, bare, With stunted, spare, And scrubby, piney trees, Her gardens rare, And vineyards fair, And her rose-scented breeze. For fearful blast, Skies overcast, And sudden blare and scare Long, stormless moons, And placid noons, And—all sorts of comfortablenesses,—there!'"
"That makes me think of father's horse running away with him once," said Helena, "when he had to head him right up against a brick wall, and knock everything all to smash before he could stop!"
"Miss Kincaid, I think," said Mr. Geoffrey. He had been watching Dorris's face through the play, flashing and smiling with the excitement of her rhyming, and the slender, nervous fingers twisting tremulously the penciled slip while she had listened to the others.
"If it isn't all rubbed out," said Dorris, coloring and laughing to find how badly she had been treating her own effusion.
"You see it was rather an awful question,—'What do you want most?' And the word is, 'Thirteen.'"
She caught her breath a little quickly as she began:—
"'Between yourself, dear, myself, and the post, There are the thirteen things that I want the most. I want to be, sometimes, a little stronger; I want the days to be a little longer; I'd like to have a few less things to do; I'd better like to better do the few: I want—and this might almost lead my wishes,— A bigger place to keep my mops and dishes. I want a horse; I want a little buggy, To ride in when the days grow hot and muggy; I want a garden; and,—perhaps it's funny,— But now and then I want a little money. I want an easy way to do my hair; I want an extra dress or two to wear; I want more patience; and when all is given, I think I want to die and go to heaven!'"
"I never saw such bright people in all my life!" said Ada Geoffrey, when the outcry of applause for Dorris had subsided, and they began to rise to go. "But the worst of all is papa! I'll never get over it of you, see if I do! Such a cheat! Why, it's like playing dumb all your life, and then just speaking up suddenly in a quiet way, some day, as if it was nothing particular, and nobody cared!"
With Hazel's little divining-rod, Mrs. Ripwinkley had reached out, testing the world for her, to see what some of it might be really made of. Mrs. Geoffrey, from her side, had reached out in turn, also, into this fresh and simple opportunity, to see what might be there worth while.
"How was it, Aleck?" she asked of her husband, as they sat together in her dressing-room, while she brushed out her beautiful hair.
"Brightest people I have been among for a long time—and nicest," said the banker, concisely. "A real, fresh little home, with a mother in it. Good place for Ada to go, and good girls for her to know; like the ones I fell in love with a hundred years ago."
"That rhymed oracle,—to say nothing of the fraction of a compliment,—ought to settle it," said Mrs. Geoffrey, laughing.
"Rhymes have been the order of the evening. I expect to talk in verse for a week at least."
And then he told her about the "Crambo."
A week after, Mrs. Ledwith was astonished to find, lying on the mantel in her sister's room, a card that had been sent up the day before,—
"MRS. ALEXANDER H. GEOFFREY."
Hazel was asked to the Geoffreys' to dinner.
Before this, she and Diana had both been asked to take tea, and spend an evening, but this was Hazel's little especial "invite," as she called it, because she and Ada were writing a dialogue together for a composition at school.
The Geoffreys dined at the good old-fashioned hour of half past two, except when they had formal dinner company; and Hazel was to come right home from school with Ada, and stay and spend the afternoon.
"What intimacy!" Florence Ledwith had exclaimed, when she heard of it.
"But it isn't at all on the grand style side; people like the Geoffreys do such things quite apart from their regular connection; it is a sort of 'behind the scenes;'" said Glossy Megilp, who was standing at Florence's dressing-glass, touching up the little heap of "friz" across her forehead.
"Where's my poker?" she asked, suddenly, breaking off from the Geoffrey subject, and rummaging in a dressing box, intent upon tutoring some little obstinate loop of hair that would be too frizzy.
"I should think a 'blower' might be a good thing to add to your tools, Glossy," said Desire. "You have brush, poker, and tongs, now, to say nothing of coal-hod," she added, glancing at the little open japanned box that held some kind of black powder which had to do with the shadow of Glossy's eyelashes upon occasion, and the emphasis upon the delicate line of her brows.
"No secret," said Glossy, magnanimously. "There it is! It is no greater sin than violet powder, or false tails, for that matter; and the little gap in my left eyebrow was never deliberately designed. It was a 'lapsus naturae;' I only follow out the hint, and complete the intention. Something is left to ourselves; as the child said about the Lord curling her hair for her when she was a baby and letting her do it herself after she grew big enough. What are our artistic perceptions given to us for, unless we're to make the best of ourselves in the first place?"
"But it isn't all eyebrows," said Desire, half aloud.
"Of course not," said Glossy Megilp. "Twice a day I have to do myself up somehow, and why shouldn't it be as well as I can? Other things come in their turn, and I do them."
"But, you see, the friz and the fix has to be, anyhow, whether or no. Everything isn't done, whether or no. I guess it's the 'first place,' that's the matter."
"I think you have a very theoretical mind, Des, and a slightly obscure style. You can't be satisfied till everything is all mapped out, and organized, and justified, and you get into horrible snarls trying to do it. If I were you, I would take things a little more as they come."
"I can't," said Desire. "They come hind side before and upside down."
"Well, if everybody is upside down, there's a view of it that makes it all right side up, isn't there? It seems to be an established fact that we must dress and undress, and that the first duty of the day is to get up and put on our clothes. We aren't ready for much until we do. And one person's dressing may require one thing, and another's another. Some people have a cork leg to put on, and some people have false teeth; and they wouldn't any of them come hobbling or mumbling out without them, unless there was a fire or an earthquake, I suppose."
Glossy Megilp's arguments and analogies perplexed Desire, always. They sometimes silenced her; but they did not always answer her. She went back to what they had been discussing before.
"To 'lay down the shubbel and the hoe,'—here's your poker, under the table-flounce, Glossy,—and to 'take up the fiddle and the bow,' again,—I think it's real nice and beautiful for Hazel—"
"To 'go where the good darkies go'?"
"Yes. It's the good of her that's got her in. And I believe you and Florence both would give your best boots to be there too, if it is behind. Behind the fixings and the fashions is where people live; 'dere's vat I za-ay!'" she ended, quoting herself and Rip Van Winkle.
"Maybe," said Florence, carelessly; "but I'd as lief be in the fashion, after all. And that's where Hazel Ripwinkley never will get, with all her taking little novelties."
Meanwhile, Hazel Ripwinkley was deep in the delights of a great portfolio of rare engravings; prints of glorious frescoes in old churches, and designs of splendid architecture; and Mrs. Geoffrey, seeing her real pleasure, was sitting beside her, turning over the large sheets, and explaining them; telling her, as she gazed into the wonderful faces of the Saints and the Evangelists in Correggio's frescoes of the church of San Giovanni at Parma, how the whole dome was one radiant vision of heavenly glory, with clouds and angel faces, and adoring apostles, and Christ the Lord high over all; and that these were but the filling in between the springing curves of the magnificent arches; describing to her the Abbess's room in San Paolo, with its strange, beautiful heathen picture over the mantel, of Diana mounting her stag-drawn car, and its circular walls painted with trellis-work and medallioned with windows, where the heads of little laughing children, and graceful, gentle animals peeped in from among vines and flowers.
Mrs. Geoffrey did not wonder that Hazel lingered with delight over these or over the groups by Raphael in the Sistine Chapel,—the quiet pendentives, where the waiting of the world for its salvation was typified in the dream-like, reclining forms upon the still, desert sand; or the wonderful scenes from the "Creation,"—the majestic "Let there be Light!" and the Breathing of the breath of life into Man. She watched the surprise and awe with which the child beheld for the first time the daring of inspiration in the tremendous embodiment of the Almighty, and waited while she could hardly take her eyes away. But when, afterward, they turned to a portfolio of Architecture, and she found her eager to examine spires and arches and capitals, rich reliefs and stately facades and sculptured gates, and exclaiming with pleasure at the colored drawings of Florentine ornamentation, she wondered, and questioned her,—
"Have you ever seen such things before? Do you draw? I should hardly think you would care so much, at your age."
"I like the prettiness," said Hazel, simply, "and the grandness; but I don't suppose I should care so much if it wasn't for Dorris and Mr. Kincaid. Mr. Kincaid draws buildings; he's an architect; only he hasn't architected much yet, because the people that build things don't know him. Dorris was so glad to give him a Christmas present of 'Daguerreotypes de Paris,' with the churches and arches and bridges and things; she got it at a sale; I wonder what they would say to all these beauties!"
Then Mrs. Geoffrey found what still more greatly enchanted her, a volume of engravings, of English Home Architecture; interiors of old Halls, magnificent staircases, lofty libraries and galleries dim with space; exteriors, gabled, turreted and towered; long, rambling piles of manor houses, with mixed styles of many centuries.
"They look as if they were brimfull of stories!" Hazel cried. "O, if I could only carry it home to show to the Kincaids!"
"You may," said Mrs. Geoffrey, as simply, in her turn, as if she were lending a copy of "Robinson Crusoe;' never letting the child guess by a breath of hesitation the value of what she had asked.
"And tell me more about these Kincaids. They are friends of yours?"
"Yes; we've known them all winter. They live right opposite, and sit in the windows, drawing and writing. Dorris keeps house up there in two rooms. The little one is her bedroom; and Mr. Kincaid sleeps on the big sofa. Dorris makes crackle-cakes, and asks us over. She cooks with a little gas-stove. I think it is beautiful to keep house with not very much money. She goes out with a cunning white basket and buys her things; and she does all her work up in a corner on a white table, with a piece of oil-cloth on the floor; and then she comes over into her parlor, she says, and sits by the window. It's a kind of a play all the time."
"And Mr. Kincaid?"
"Dorris says he might have been rich by this time, if he had gone into his Uncle James's office in New York. Mr. James Kincaid is a broker, and buys gold. But Kenneth says gold stands for work, and if he ever has any he'll buy it with work. He wants to do some real thing. Don't you think that's nice of him?"
"Yes, I do," said Mrs. Geoffrey. "And Dorris is that bright girl who wanted thirteen things, and rhymed them into 'Crambo?' Mr. Geoffrey told me."
"Yes, ma'am; Dorris can do almost anything."
"I should like to see Dorris, sometime. Will you bring her here, Hazel?"
Hazel's little witch-rod felt the almost impassible something in the way.
"I don't know as she would be brought," she said.
Mrs. Geoffrey laughed.
"You have an instinct for the fine proprieties, without a bit of respect for any conventional fences," she said. "I'll ask Dorris."
"Then I'm sure she'll come," said Hazel, understanding quite well and gladly the last three words, and passing over the first phrase as if it had been a Greek motto, put there to be skipped.
"Ada has stopped practicing," said Mrs. Geoffrey, who had undertaken the entertainment of her little guest during her daughter's half hour of music. "She will be waiting for you now."
Hazel instantly jumped up.
But she paused after three steps toward the door, to say gently, looking back over her shoulder with a shy glance out of her timidly clear eyes,—
"Perhaps,—I hope I haven't,—stayed too long!"
"Come back, you little hazel-sprite!" cried Mrs. Geoffrey; and when she got her within reach again, she put her hands one each side of the little blushing, gleaming face, and kissed it, saying,—
"I don't think,—I'm slow, usually, in making up my mind about people, big or little,—but I don't think you can stay too long,—or come too often, dear!"
"I've found another for you, Aleck," she said, that night at the hair-brushing, to her husband.
He always came to sit in her dressing-room, then; and it was at this quiet time that they gave each other, out of the day they had lived in their partly separate ways and duties, that which made it for each like a day lived twice, so that the years of their life counted up double.
"He is a young architect, who hasn't architected much, because he doesn't know the people who build things; and he wouldn't be a gold broker with his uncle in New York, because he believes in doing money's worth in the world for the world's money. Isn't he one?"
"Sounds like it," said Mr. Geoffrey. "What is his name?"
"Nephew of James R. Kincaid?" said Mr. Geoffrey, with an interrogation that was also an exclamation. "And wouldn't go in with him! Why, it was just to have picked up dollars!"
"Exactly," replied his wife. "That was what he objected to."
"I should like to see the fellow."
"Don't you remember? You have seen him! The night you went for Ada to the Aspen Street party, and got into 'Crambo.' He was there; and it was his sister who wanted thirteen things. I guess they do!"
"Ask them here," said the banker.
"I mean to," Mrs. Geoffrey answered. "That is, after I've seen Hapsie Craydocke. She knows everything. I'll go there to-morrow morning."
* * * * *
"'Behind' is a pretty good way to get in—to some places," said Desire Ledwith, coming into the rose-pink room with news. "Especially an omnibus. And the Ripwinkleys, and the Kincaids, and old Miss Craydocke, and for all I know, Mrs. Scarup and Luclarion Grapp are going to Summit Street to tea to-night. Boston is topsy-turvey; Holmes was a prophet; and 'Brattle Street and Temple Place are interchanging cards!' Mother, we ought to get intimate with the family over the grocer's shop. Who knows what would come of it? There are fairies about in disguise, I'm sure; or else it's the millennium. Whichever it is, it's all right for Hazel, though; she's ready. Don't you feel like foolish virgins, Flo and Nag? I do."
I am afraid it was when Desire felt a little inclination to "nag" her elder sister, that she called her by that reprehensible name. Agatha only looked lofty, and vouchsafed no reply; but Florence said,—
"There's no need of any little triumphs or mortifications. Nobody crows, and nobody cries. I'm glad. Diana's a dear, and Hazel's a duck, besides being my cousins; why shouldn't I? Only there is a large hole for the cats, and a little hole for the kittens; and I'd as lief, myself, go in with the cats."
"The Marchbankses are staying there, and Professor Gregory. I don't know about cats," said Desire, demurely.
"It's a reason-why party, for all that," said Agatha, carelessly, recovering her good humor.
"Well, when any nice people ask me, I hope there will be a 'reason why.' It's the persons of consequence that make the 'reason why.'"
And Desire had the last word.
* * * * *
Hazel Ripwinkley was thinking neither of large holes nor little ones,—cats nor kittens; she was saying to Luclarion, sitting in her shady down-stairs room behind the kitchen, that looked out into the green yard corner, "how nicely things came out, after all!"
"They seemed so hobblety at first, when I went up there and saw all those beautiful books, and pictures, and people living amongst them every day, and the poor Kincaids not getting the least bit of a stretch out of their corner, ever. I'll tell you what I thought, Luclarion;" and here she almost whispered, "I truly did. I thought God was making a mistake."
Luclarion put out her lips into a round, deprecating pucker, at that, and drew in her breath,—
"Well, I mean it seemed as if there was a mistake somewhere; and that I'd no business, at any rate, with what they wanted so. I couldn't get over it until I asked for those pictures; and mother said it was such a bold thing to do!"
"It was bold," said Luclarion; "but it wasn't forrud. It was gi'n you, and it hit right. That was looked out for."
"It's a stumpy world," said Luclarion Grapp to Mrs. Ripwinkley, afterward; "but some folks step right over their stumps athout scarcely knowin' when!"
Desire Ledwith was, at this epoch, a perplexity and a worry,—even a positive terror sometimes,—to her mother.
It was not a case of the hen hatching ducks, it was rather as if a hen had got a hawk in her brood.
Desire's demurs and questions,—her dissatisfactions, sittings and contempts,—threatened now and then to swoop down upon the family life and comfort with destroying talons.
"She'll be an awful, strong-minded, radical, progressive, overturning woman," Laura said, in despair, to her friend Mrs. Megilp. "And Greenley Street, and Aspen Street, and that everlasting Miss Craydocke, are making her worse. And what can I do? Because there's Uncle."
Right before Desire,—not knowing the cloud of real bewilderment that was upon her young spiritual perceptions, getting their first glimpse of a tangled and conflicting and distorted world,—she drew wondering comparisons between her elder children and this odd, anxious, restless, sharp-spoken girl.
"I don't understand it," she would say. "It isn't a bit like a child of mine. I always took things easy, and got the comfort of them somehow; I think the world is a pretty pleasant place to live in, and there's lots of satisfaction to be had; and Agatha and Florence take after me; they are nice, good-natured, contented girls; managing their allowances,—that I wish were more,—trimming their own bonnets, and enjoying themselves with their friends, girl-fashion."
Which was true. Agatha and Florence were neither fretful nor dissatisfied; they were never disrespectful, perhaps because Mrs. Ledwith demanded less of deferential observance than of a kind of jolly companionship from her daughters; a go-and-come easiness in and out of what they called their home, but which was rather the trimming-up and outfitting place,—a sort of Holmes' Hole,—where they put in spring and fall, for a thorough overhaul and rig; and at other times, in intervals or emergencies, between their various and continual social trips and cruises. They were hardly ever all-togetherish, as Desire had said, if they ever were, it was over house cleaning and millinery; when the ordering was complete,—when the wardrobes were finished,—then the world was let in, or they let themselves out, and—"looked."
"Desire is different," said Mrs. Ledwith. "She's like Grant's father, and her Aunt Desire,—pudgicky and queer."
"Well, mamma," said the child, once, driven to desperate logic for defense, "I don't see how it can be helped. If you will marry into the Ledwith family, you can't expect to have your children all Shieres!"
Which, again, was very true. Laura laughed at the clever sharpness of it, and was more than half proud of her bold chick-of-prey, after all.
Yet Desire remembered that her Aunt Frances was a Shiere, also; and she thought there might easily be two sides to the same family; why not, since there were two sides still further back, always? There was Uncle Titus; who knew but it was the Oldways streak in him after all?
Desire took refuge, more and more, with Miss Craydocke, and Rachel Froke, and the Ripwinkleys; she even went to Luclarion with questions, to get her quaint notions of things; and she had ventured into Uncle Titus's study, and taken down volumes of Swedenborg to pry into, while he looked at her with long keen regards over his spectacles, and she did not know that she was watched.
"That young girl, Desire, is restless, Titus," Rachel Froke said to him one day. "She is feeling after something; she wants something real to do; and it appears likely to me that she will do it, if they don't take care."
After that, Uncle Titus fixed his attention upon her yet more closely; and at this time Desire stumbled upon things in a strange way among his bookshelves, and thought that Rachel Froke was growing less precise in her fashion of putting to rights. Books were tucked in beside each other as if they had been picked up and bestowed anyhow; between "Heaven and Hell" and the "Four Leading Doctrines," she found, one day, "Macdonald's Unspoken Sermons," and there was a leaf doubled lengthwise in the chapter about the White Stone and the New Name. Another time, a little book of poems, by the same author, was slid in, open, over the volumes of Darwin and Huxley, and the pages upon whose outspread faces it lay were those that bore the rhyme of the blind Bartimeus:—
"O Jesus Christ! I am deaf and blind; Nothing comes through into my mind, I only am not dumb: Although I see Thee not, nor hear, I cry because Thou mayst be near O Son of Mary! come!"
Do you think a girl of seventeen may not be feeling out into the spiritual dark,—may not be stretching helpless hands, vaguely, toward the Hands that help? Desire Ledwith laid the book down again, with a great swelling breath coming up slowly out of her bosom, and with a warmth of tears in her earnest little eyes. And Uncle Titus Oldways sat there among his papers, and never moved, or seemed to look, but saw it all.
He never said a word to her himself; it was not Uncle Titus's way to talk, and few suspected him of having anything to say in such matters; but he went to Friend Froke and asked her,—
"Haven't you got any light that might shine a little for that child, Rachel?"
And the next Sunday, in the forenoon, Desire came in; came in, without knowing it, for her little light.
She had left home with the family on their way to church; she was dressed in her buff silk pongee suit trimmed with golden brown bands and quillings; she had on a lovely new brown hat with tea roses in it; her gloves and boots were exquisite and many buttoned; Agatha and Florence could not think what was the matter when she turned back, up Dorset Street, saying suddenly, "I won't go, after all." And then she had walked straight over the hill and down to Greenley Street, and came in upon Rachel, sitting alone in a quiet gray parlor that was her own, where there were ferns and ivies in the window, and a little canary, dressed in brown and gold like Desire herself, swung over them in a white wire cage.
When Desire saw how still it was, and how Rachel Froke sat there with her open window and her open book, all by herself, she stopped in the doorway with a sudden feeling of intrusion, which had not occurred to her as she came.
"It's just what I want to come into; but if I do, it won't be there. I've no right to spoil it. Don't mind, Rachel. I'll go away."
She said it softly and sadly, as if she could not help it, and was turning back into the hall.
"But I do mind," said Rachel, speaking quickly. "Thee will come in, and sit down. Whatever it is thee wants, is here for thee. Is it the stillness? Then we will be still."
"That's so easy to say. But you can't do it for me. You will be still, and I shall be all in a stir. I want so to be just hushed up!"
"Fed, and hushed up, in somebody's arms, like a baby. I know," said Rachel Froke.
"How does she know?" thought Desire; but she only looked at her with surprised eyes, saying nothing.
"Hungry and restless; that's what we all are," said Rachel Froke, "until"—
"Well,—until?" demanded the strange girl, impetuously, as Rachel paused. "I've been hungry ever since I was born, mother says."
"Until He takes us up and feeds us."
"Why don't He?—Mrs. Froke, when does He give it out? Once a month, in church, they have the bread and the wine? Does that do it?"
"Thee knows we do not hold by ordinances, we Friends," said Rachel. "But He gives the bread of life. Not once a month, or in any place; it is his word. Does thee get no word when thee goes to church? Does nothing come to thee?"
"I don't know; it's mixed up; the church is full of bonnets; and people settle their gowns when they come in, and shake out their hitches and puffs when they go out, and there's professional music at one end, and—I suppose it's because I'm bad, but I don't know; half the time it seems to me it's only Mig at the other. Something all fixed up, and patted down, and smoothed over, and salted and buttered, like the potato hills they used to make on my plate for me at dinner, when I was little. But it's soggy after all, and has an underground taste. It isn't anything that has just grown, up in the light, like the ears of corn they rubbed in their hands. Breakfast is better than dinner. Bread, with yeast in it, risen up new. They don't feed with bread very often."
"The yeast in the bread, and the sparkle in the wine they are the life of it; they are what make the signs."
"If they only gave it out fresh, and a little of it! But they keep it over, and it grows cold and tough and flat, and people sit round and pretend, but they don't eat. They've eaten other things,—all sorts of trash,—before they came. They've spoiled their appetites. Mine was spoiled, to-day. I felt so new and fussy, in these brown things. So I turned round, and came here."
Mr. Oldways' saying came back into Mrs. Froke's mind:—
"Haven't you got any light, Rachel, that might shine a little for that child?"
Perhaps that was what the child had come for.
What had the word of the Spirit been to Rachel Froke this day? The new, fresh word, with the leaven in it? "A little of it;" that was what she wanted.
Rachel took up the small red Bible that lay on the lightstand beside her.
"I'll will give thee my First-Day crumb, Desire," she said. "It may taste sweet to thee."
She turned to Revelation, seventh chapter.
"Look over with me; thee will see then where the crumb is," she said; and as Desire came near and looked over her upon the page, she read from the last two verses:—
"They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more.
"For the Tenderness that is in the midst of the Almightiness shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of water; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes."
Her voice lingered over the words she put for the "Lamb" and the "Throne," so that she said "Tenderness" with its own very yearning inflection, and "Almightiness" with a strong fullness, glad in that which can never fall short or be exhausted. Then she softly laid over the cover, and sat perfectly still. It was the Quaker silence that falls upon them in their assemblies, leaving each heart to itself and that which the Spirit has given.
Desire was hushed all through; something living and real had thrilled into her thought; her restlessness quieted suddenly under it, as Mary stood quiet before the message of the angel.
When she did speak again, after a time, as Rachel Froke broke the motionless pause by laying the book gently back again upon the table, it was to say,—
"Why don't they preach like that, and leave the rest to preach itself? A Sermon means a Word; why don't they just say the word, and let it go?"
The Friend made no reply.
"I never could—quite—like that about the 'Lamb,' before," said Desire, hesitatingly. "It seemed,—I don't know,—putting Him down, somehow; making him tame; taking the grandness away that made the gentleness any good. But,—'Tenderness;' that is beautiful! Does it mean so in the other place? About taking away the sins,—do you think?"
"'The Tenderness of God—the Compassion—that taketh away the sins of the world?'" Mrs. Froke repeated, half inquiringly. "Jesus Christ, God's Heart of Love toward man? I think it is so. I think, child, thee has got thy crumb also, to-day."
But not all yet.
Pretty soon, they heard the front door open, and Uncle Titus come in. Another step was behind his; and Kenneth Kincaid's voice was speaking, about some book he had called to take.
Desire's face flushed, and her manner grew suddenly flurried.
"I must go," she said, starting up; yet when she got to the door, she paused and delayed.
The voices were talking on, in the study; somehow, Desire had last words also, to say to Mrs. Froke.
She was partly shy about going past that open door, and partly afraid they might not notice her if she did. Back in her girlish thought was a secret suggestion that she was pushing at all the time with a certain self-scorn and denial, that it might happen that she and Kenneth Kincaid would go out at the same moment; if so, he would walk up the street with her, and Kenneth Kincaid was one of the few persons whom Desire Ledwith thoroughly believed in and liked. "There was no Mig about him," she said. It is hazardous when a girl of seventeen makes one of her rare exceptions in her estimate of character in favor of a man of six and twenty.
Yet Desire Ledwith hated "nonsense;" she wouldn't have anybody sending her bouquets as they did to Agatha and Florence; she had an utter contempt for lavender pantaloons and waxed moustaches; but for Kenneth Kincaid, with his honest, clear look at life, and his high strong purpose, to say friendly things,—tell her a little now and then of how the world looked to him and what it demanded,—this lifted her up; this made it seem worth while to speak and to hear.
So she was very glad when Uncle Titus saw her go down the hall, after she had made up her mind that that way lay her straight path, and that things contrived were not things worth happening,—and spoke out her name, so that she had to stop, and turn to the open doorway and reply; and Kenneth Kincaid came over and held out his hand to her. He had two books in the other,—a volume of Bunsen and a copy of "Guild Court,"—and he was just ready to go.
"Not been to church to-day?" said Uncle Titus to Desire.
"I've been—to Friend's Meeting," the girl answered.
"Get anything by that?" he asked, gruffly, letting the shag down over his eyes that behind it beamed softly.
"Yes; a morsel," replied Desire. "All I wanted."
"All you wanted? Well, that's a Sunday-full!"
"Yes, sir, I think it is," said she.
When they got out upon the sidewalk, Kenneth Kincaid asked, "Was it one of the morsels that may be shared, Miss Desire? Some crumbs multiply by dividing, you know."
"It was only a verse out of the Bible, with a new word in it."
"A new word? Well, I think Bible verses often have that. I suppose it was what they were made for."
Desire's glance at him had a question in it.
"Made to look different at different times, as everything does that has life in it. Isn't that true? Clouds, trees, faces,—do they ever look twice the same?"
"Yes," said Desire, thinking especially of the faces. "I think they do, or ought to. But they may look more."
"I didn't say contradictory. To look more, there must be a difference; a fresh aspect. And that is what the world is full of; and the world is the word of God."
"The world?" said Desire, who had been taught in a dried up, mechanical sort of way, that the Bible is the word of God; and practically left to infer that, that point once settled, it might be safely shut, up between its covers and not much meddled with, certainly not over freely interpreted.
"Yes. What God had to say. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God. Without him was not anything made that was made."
Desire's face brightened. She knew those words by heart. They were the first Sunday-school lesson she ever committed to memory, out of the New Testament; "down to 'grace and truth,'" as she recollected. What a jumble of repetitions it had been to her, then! Sentences so much alike that she could not remember them apart, or which way they came. All at once the simple, beautiful meaning was given to her.
What God had to say.
And it took a world,—millions, of worlds,—to say it with.
"And the Bible, too?" she said, simply following out her own mental perception, without giving the link. It was not needed. They were upon one track.
"Yes; all things; and all souls. The world-word comes through things; the Bible came through souls. And it is all the more alive, and full, and deep, and changing; like a river."
"Living fountains of waters! that was part of the morsel to-day," Desire repeated impulsively, and then shyly explained.
"And the new word?"
Desire shrunk into silence for a moment; she was not used to, or fond of Bible quoting, or even Bible talk; yet sin was hungering all the time for Bible truth.
Mr. Kincaid waited.
So she repeated it presently; for Desire never made a fuss; she was too really sensitive for that.
"'The Tenderness in the midst of the Almightiness shall feed them, and shall lead them to living fountains of water.'"
Mr. Kincaid recognized the "new word," and his face lit up.
"'The Lamb in the midst of the Throne,'" he said. "Out of the Heart of God, the Christ. Who was there before; the intent by which all things were made. The same yesterday, and to-day, and forever; who ever liveth to make intercession for us. Christ had to be. The Word, full of grace, must be made flesh. Why need people dispute about Eternity and Divinity, if they can only see that?—Was that Mrs. Froke's reading?"
"Yes; that was Rachel's sermon."
"It is an illumination."
They walked all up Orchard Street without another word.
Then Kenneth Kincaid said,—"Miss Desire, why won't you come and teach in the Mission School?"
"I teach? Why, I've got everything to learn!"
"But as fast as you do learn; the morsels, you know. That is the way they are given out. That is the wonder of the kingdom of heaven. There is no need to go away and buy three hundred pennyworth before we begin, that every one may take a little; the bread given as the Master breaks it feeds them till they are filled; and there are baskets full of fragments to gather up."
Kenneth Kincaid's heart was in his Sunday work, as his sister had said. The more gladly now, that the outward daily bread was being given.
Mr. Geoffrey,—one of those busy men, so busy that they do promptly that which their hands find to do,—had put Kenneth in the way of work. It only needed a word from him, and the surveying and laying out of some new streets and avenues down there where Boston is growing so big and grand and strange, were put into his charge. Kenneth was busy now, cheerily busy, from Monday morning to Saturday night; and restfully busy on the Sunday, straightening the paths and laying out the ways for souls to walk in. He felt the harmony and the illustration between his week and his Sunday, and the one strengthening the other, as all true outward work does harmonize with and show forth, and help the spiritual doing. It could not have been so with that gold work, or any little feverish hitching on to other men's business; producing nothing, advancing nothing, only standing between to snatch what might fall, or to keep a premium for passing from hand to hand.
Our great cities are so full,—our whole country is so overrun,—with these officious middle-men whom the world does not truly want; chiffonniers of trade, who only pick up a living out of the great press and waste and overflow; and our boys are so eager to slip in to some such easy, ready-made opportunity,—to get some crossing to sweep.
What will come of it all, as the pretenses multiply? Will there be always pennies for every little broom? Will two, and three, and six sweeps be tolerated between side and side? By and by, I think, they will have to turn to and lay pavements. Hard, honest work, and the day's pay for it; that is what we have got to go back to; that and the day's snug, patient living, which the pay achieves.
Then, as I say, the week shall illustrate the Sunday, and the Sunday shall glorify the week; and what men do and build shall stand true types, again, for the inner growth and the invisible building; so that if this outer tabernacle were dissolved, there should be seen glorious behind it, the house not made with hands,—eternal.
As Desire Ledwith met this young Kenneth Kincaid from day to day, seeing him so often at her Aunt Ripwinkley's, where he and Dorris went in and out now, almost like a son and daughter,—as she walked beside him this morning, hearing him say these things, at which the heart-longing in her burned anew toward the real and satisfying,—what wonder was it that her restlessness grasped at that in his life which was strong and full of rest; that she felt glad and proud to have him tell his thought to her; that without any silliness,—despising all silliness,—she should yet be conscious, as girls of seventeen are conscious, of something that made her day sufficient when she had so met him,—of a temptation to turn into those streets in her walks that led his way? Or that she often, with her blunt truth, toward herself as well as others, and her quick contempt of sham and subterfuge, should snub herself mentally, and turn herself round as by a grasp of her own shoulders, and make herself walk off stoutly in a far and opposite direction, when, without due need and excuse, she caught herself out in these things?
What wonder that this stood in her way, for very pleasantness, when Kenneth asked her to come and teach in the school? That she was ashamed to let herself do a thing—even a good thing, that her life needed,—when there was this conscious charm in the asking; this secret thought—that she should walk up home with him every Sunday!
She remembered Agatha and Florence, and she imagined, perhaps, more than they would really have thought of it at home; and so as they turned into Shubarton Place,—for he had kept on all the way along Bridgeley and up Dorset Street with her,—she checked her steps suddenly as they came near the door, and said brusquely,—
"No, Mr. Kincaid; I can't come to the Mission. I might learn A, and teach them that; but how do I know I shall ever learn B, myself?"
He had left his question, as their talk went on, meaning to ask it again before they separated. He thought it was prevailing with her, and that the help that comes of helping others would reach her need; it was for her sake he asked it; he was disappointed at the sudden, almost trivial turn she gave it.
"You have taken up another analogy, Miss Desire," he said. "We were talking about crumbs and feeding. The five loaves and the five thousand. 'Why reason ye because ye have no bread? How is it that ye do not understand?'"
Kenneth quoted these words naturally, pleasantly; as he might quote anything that had been spoken to them both out of a love and authority they both recognized, a little while ago.
But Desire was suddenly sharp and fractious. If it had not touched some deep, live place in her, she would not have minded so much. It was partly, too, the coming toward home. She had got away out of the pure, clear spaces where such things seemed to be fit and unstrained, into the edge of her earth atmosphere again, where, falling, they took fire. Presently she would be in that ridiculous pink room, and Glossy Megilp would be chattering about "those lovely purple poppies with the black grass," that she had been lamenting all the morning she had not bought for her chip hat, instead of the pomegranate flowers. And Agatha would be on the bed, in her cashmere sack, reading Miss Braddon.
"It would sound nice to tell them she was going down to the Mission School to give out crumbs!"
Besides, I suppose that persons of a certain temperament never utter a more ungracious "No," than when they are longing all the time to say "Yes."
So she turned round on the lower step to Kenneth, when he had asked that grave, sweet question of the Lord's, and said perversely,—
"I thought you did not believe in any brokering kind of business. It's all there,—for everybody. Why should I set up to fetch and carry?"
She did not look in his face as she said it; she was not audacious enough to do that; she poked with the stick of her sunshade between the uneven bricks of the sidewalk, keeping her eyes down, as if she watched for some truth she expected to pry up. But she only wedged the stick in so that she could not get it out; and Kenneth Kincaid making her absolutely no answer at all, she had to stand there, growing red and ashamed, held fast by her own silly trap.
"Take care; you will break it," said Kenneth, quietly, as she gave it a twist and a wrench. And he put out his hand, and took it from hers, and drew gently upward in the line in which she had thrust it in.
"You were bearing off at an angle. It wanted a straight pull."
"I never pull straight at anything. I always get into a crook, somehow. You didn't answer me, Mr. Kincaid. I didn't mean to be rude—or wicked. I didn't mean—"
"What you said. I know that; and it's no use to answer what people don't mean. That makes the crookedest crook of all."
"But I think I did mean it partly; only not contrarimindedly. I do mean that I have no business—yet awhile. It would only be—Migging at gospel!"
And with this remarkable application of her favorite illustrative expression, she made a friendly but abrupt motion of leave-taking, and went into the house.
Up into her own room, in the third story, where the old furniture was, and no "fadging,"—and sat down, bonnet, gloves, sunshade, and all, in her little cane rocking-chair by the window.
Helena was down in the pink room, listening with charmed ears to the grown up young-ladyisms of her elder sisters and Glossy Megilp.
Desire sat still until the dinner-bell rang, forgetful of her dress, forgetful of all but one thought that she spoke out as she rose at last at the summons to take off her things in a hurry,—
"I wonder,—I wonder—if I shall ever live anything all straight out!"
PIECES OF WORLDS.
Mr. Dickens never put a truer thought into any book, than he put at the beginning of "Little Dorrit."
That, from over land and sea, from hundreds, thousands of miles away, are coming the people with whom we are to have to do in our lives; and that, "what is set to us to do to them, and what is set for them to do to us, will all be done."
Not only from far places in this earth, over land and sea,—but from out the eternities, before and after,—from which souls are born, and into which they die,—all the lines of life are moving continually which are to meet and join, and bend, and cross our own.
But it is only with a little piece of this world, as far as we can see it in this short and simple story, that we have now to do.
Rosamond Holabird was coming down to Boston.
With all her pretty, fresh, delicate, high-lady ways, with her beautiful looks, and her sweet readiness for true things and noble living, she was coming, for a few days only,—the cooperative housekeeping was going on at Westover, and she could not be spared long,—right in among them here in Aspen Street, and Shubarton Place, and Orchard Street, and Harrisburg Square, where Mrs. Scherman lived whom she was going to stay with. But a few days may be a great deal.
Rosamond Holabird was coming for far more than she knew. Among other things she was coming to get a lesson; a lesson right on in a course she was just now learning; a lesson of next things, and best things, and real folks.
You see how it happened,—where the links were; Miss Craydocke, and Sin Scherman, and Leslie Goldthwaite, were dear friends, made to each other one summer among the mountains. Leslie had had Sin and Miss Craydocke up at Z——, and Rosamond and Leslie were friends, also.
Mrs. Frank Scherman had a pretty house in Harrisburg Square. She had not much time for paying fashionable calls, or party-going, or party-giving. As to the last, she did not think Frank had money enough yet to "circumfuse," she said, in that way.
But she had six lovely little harlequin cups on a side-shelf in her china closet, and six different-patterned breakfast plates, with colored borders to match the cups; rose, and brown, and gray, and vermilion, and green, and blue. These were all the real china she had, and were for Frank and herself and the friends whom she made welcome,—and who might come four at once,—for day and night. She delighted in "little stays;" in girls who would go into the nursery with her, and see Sinsie in her bath; or into the kitchen, and help her mix up "little delectabilities to surprise Frank with;" only the trouble had got to be now, that the surprise occurred when the delectabilities did not. Frank had got demoralized, and expected them. She rejoiced to have Miss Craydocke drop in of a morning and come right up stairs, with her little petticoats and things to work on; and she and Frank returned these visits in a social, cosy way, after Sinsie was in her crib for the night. Frank's boots never went on with a struggle for a walk down to Orchard Street; but they were terribly impossible for Continuation Avenue.
So it had come about long ago, though I have not had a corner to mention it in, that they "knew the Muffin Man," in an Aspen Street sense; and were no strangers to the charm of Mrs. Ripwinkley's "evenings." There was always an "evening" in the "Mile Hill House," as the little family and friendly coterie had come to call it.
Rosamond and Leslie had been down together for a week once, at the Schermans; and this time Rosamond was coming alone. She had business in Boston for a day or two, and had written to ask Asenath "if she might." There were things to buy for Barbara, who was going to be married in a "navy hurry," besides an especial matter that had determined her just at this time to come.
And Asenath answered, "that the scarlet and gray, and green and blue were pining and fading on the shelf; and four days would be the very least to give them all a turn and treat them fairly; for such things had their delicate susceptibilities, as Hans Andersen had taught us to know, and might starve and suffer,—why not? being made of protoplasm, same as anybody."
Rosamond's especial errand to the city was one that just a little set her up, innocently, in her mind. She had not wholly got the better,—when it interfered with no good-will or generous dealing,—of a certain little instinctive reverence for imposing outsides and grand ways of daily doing; and she was somewhat complacent at the idea of having to go,—with kindly and needful information,—to Madam Mucklegrand, in Spreadsplendid Park.
Madam Mucklegrand was a well-born Boston lady, who had gone to Europe in her early youth, and married a Scottish gentleman with a Sir before his name. Consequently, she was quite entitled to be called "my lady;" and some people who liked the opportunity of touching their republican tongues to the salt of European dignitaries, addressed her so; but, for the most part, she assumed and received simply the style of "Madam." A queen may be called "Madam," you know. It covers an indefinite greatness. But when she spoke of her late,—very long ago,—husband, she always named him as "Sir Archibald."
Madam Mucklegrand's daughter wanted a wet-nurse for her little baby.
Up in Z——, there was a poor woman whose husband, a young brakeman on the railroad, had been suddenly killed three months ago, before her child was born. There was a sister here in Boston, who could take care of it for her if she could go to be foster-mother to some rich little baby, who was yet so poor as this—to need one. So Rosamond Holabird, who was especially interested for Mrs. Jopson, had written to Asenath, and had an advertisement put in the "Transcript," referring to Mrs. Scherman for information. And the Mucklegrand carriage had rolled up, the next day, to the house in Harrisburg Square.
They wanted to see the woman, of course, and to hear all about her,—more than Mrs. Scherman was quite able to tell; therefore when she sent a little note up to Z——, by the evening mail, Rosamond replied with her "Might she come?"
She brought Jane Jopson and the baby down with her, left them over night at Mrs. Ginnever's, in Sheafe Street, and was to go for them next morning and take them up to Spreadsplendid Park. She had sent a graceful, polite little note to Madam Mucklegrand, dated "Westover, Z——," and signed, "Rosamond Holabird," offering to do this, that there might not be the danger of Jane's losing the chance in the meanwhile.
It was certainly to accomplish the good deed that Rosamond cared the most; but it was also certainly something to accomplish it in that very high quarter. It lent a piquancy to the occasion.
She came down to breakfast very nicely and discriminatingly dressed, with the elegant quietness of a lady who knew what was simply appropriate to such an errand and the early hour, but who meant to be recognized as the lady in every unmistakable touch; and there was a carriage ordered for her at half past nine.
Sin Scherman was a cute little matron; she discerned the dash of subdued importance in Rosamond's air; and she thought it very likely, in the Boston nature of things, that it would get wholesomely and civilly toned down.
Just at this moment, Rosamond, putting on her little straw bonnet with real lace upon it, and her simple little narrow-bordered green shawl, that was yet, as far as it went, veritable cashmere,—had a consciousness, in a still, modest way, not only of her own personal dignity as Rosamond Holabird, who was the same going to see Madam Mucklegrand, or walking over to Madam Pennington's, and as much in her place with one as the other; but of the dignity of Westover itself, and Westover ladyhood, represented by her among the palaces of Boston-Appendix to-day.
She was only twenty, this fair and pleasant Rosamond of ours, and country simple, with all her native tact and grace; and she forgot, or did not know how full of impressions a life like Madam Mucklegrand's might be, and how very trifling and fleeting must be any that she might chance to make.
She drove away down to the North End, and took Jane Jopson and her baby in,—very clean and shiny, both of them,—and Jane particularly nice in the little black crape bonnet that Rosamond herself had made, and the plain black shawl that Mrs. Holabird had given her.
She stood at the head of the high, broad steps, with her mind very much made up in regard to her complete and well-bred self-possession, and the manner of her quietly assured self-introduction. She had her card all ready that should explain for her; and to the servant's reply that Madam Mucklegrand was in, she responded by moving forward with only enough of voluntary hesitation to allow him to indicate to her the reception room, at the door of which she gave him the little pasteboard, with,—
"Take that to her, if you please," and so sat down, very much as if she had been in such places frequently before, which she never had. One may be quite used to the fine, free essence of gentle living, and never in all one's life have anything to do with such solid, concrete expression of it as Rosamond saw here.
Very high, to begin with, the ceiled and paneled room was; reaching up into space as if it had really been of no consequence to the builders where they should put the cover on; and with no remotest suggestion of any reserve for further superstructure upon the same foundation.
Very dark, and polished, and deeply carved, and heavily ornamented were its wainscotings, and frames, and cornices; out of the new look of the streets, which it will take them yet a great while to outgrow, she had stepped at once into a grand, and mellow, and ancient stateliness.
There were dim old portraits on the walls, and paintings that hinted at old mastership filled whole panels; and the tall, high-backed, wonderfully wrought oaken chairs had heraldic devices in relief upon their bars and corners; and there was a great, round mosaic table, in soft, rich, dark colors, of most precious stones; these, in turn, hidden with piles of rare engravings.
The floor was of dark woods, inlaid; and sumptuous rugs were put about upon it for the feet, each one of which was wide enough to call a carpet.
And nothing of it all was new; there was nothing in the room but some plants in a jardiniere by the window, that seemed to have a bit of yesterday's growth upon it.
A great, calm, marble face of Jove looked down from high up, out of the shadows.
Underneath sat Rosamond Holabird, holding on to her identity and her self-confidence.
Madam Mucklegrand came in plainly enough dressed,—in black; you would not notice what she had on; but you would notice instantly the consummate usedness to the world and the hardening into the mould thereof that was set and furrowed upon eye and lip and brow.
She sailed down upon Rosamond like a frigate upon a graceful little pinnace; and brought to within a pace or two of her, continuing to stand an instant, as Rosamond rose, just long enough for the shadow of a suggestion that it might not be altogether material that she should be seated again at all.
But Rosamond made a movement backward to her chair, and laid her hand upon its arm, and then Madam Mucklegrand decided to sit down.
"You called about the nurse, I conclude, Miss—Holabird?"
"Yes, ma'am; I thought you had some questions you wished to ask, and that I had better come myself. I have her with me, in the carriage."
"Thank you," said Madam Mucklegrand, politely.
But it was rather a de haut en bas politeness; she exercised it also toward her footman.
Then followed inquiries about age, and health, and character. Rosamond told all she knew, clearly and sufficiently, with some little sympathetic touches that she could not help, in giving her story.
Madam Mucklegrand met her nowhere, however, on any common ground; she passed over all personal interest; instead of two women befriending a third in her need, who in turn was to give life to a little child waiting helplessly for some such ministry, it might have been the leasing of a house, or the dealing about some merchandise, that was between them.
Rosamond proposed, at last, to send Jane Jopson in.
Jane and her baby were had in, and had up-stairs; the physician and attending nurse pronounced upon her; she was brought down again, to go home and dispose of her child, and return. Rosamond, meanwhile, had been sitting under the marble Jove.
There was nothing really rude in it; she was there on business; what more could she expect? But then she knew all the time, that she too was a lady, and was taking trouble to do a kind thing. It was not so that Madam Mucklegrand would have been treated at Westover.
Rosamond was feeling pretty proud by the time Madam Mucklegrand came down stairs.
"We have engaged the young woman: the doctor quite approves; she will return without delay, I hope?"
As if Rosamond were somehow responsible all through.
"I have no doubt she will; good morning, madam."
"Good morning. I am, really, very much obliged. You have been of great service."
Rosamond turned quietly round upon the threshold.
"That was what I was very anxious to be," she said, in her perfectly sweet and musical voice,—"to the poor woman."
Italics would indicate too coarsely the impalpable emphasis she put upon the last two words. But Mrs. Mucklegrand caught it.
Rosamond went away quite as sure of her own self-respect as ever, but very considerably cured of Spreadsplendidism.
This was but one phase of it, she knew; there are real folks, also, in Spreadsplendid Park; they are a good deal covered up, there, to be sure; but they can't help that. It is what always happens to somebody when Pyramids are built. Madam Mucklegrand herself was, perhaps, only a good deal covered up.
How lovely it was to go down into Orchard Street after that, and take tea with Miss Craydocke! How human and true it seemed,—the friendliness that shone and breathed there, among them all. How kingdom-of-heaven-like the air was, and into what pleasantness of speech it was born!
And then Hazel Ripwinkley came over, like a little spirit from another blessed society, to tell that "the picture-book things were all ready, and that it would take everybody to help."
That was Rosamond's first glimpse of Witch Hazel, who found her out instantly,—the real, Holabirdy part of her,—and set her down at once among her "folks."
It was bright and cheery in Mrs. Ripwinkley's parlor; you could hardly tell whence the cheeriness radiated, either.
The bright German lamp was cheery, in the middle of the round table; the table was cheery, covered with glossy linen cut into large, square book-sheets laid in piles, and with gay pictures of all kinds, brightly colored; and the scissors,—or scissorses,—there were ever so many shining pairs of them,—and the little mucilage bottles, and the very scrap-baskets,—all looked cozy and comfortable, and as if people were going to have a real good time among them, somehow.
And the somehow was in making great beautiful, everlasting picture-books for the little orphans in Miss Craydocke's Home,—the Home, that is, out of several blessed and similar ones that she was especially interested in, and where Hazel and Diana had been with her until they knew all the little waifs by sight and name and heart, and had their especial chosen property among them, as they used to have among the chickens and the little yellow ducks at Homesworth Farm.
Mrs. Ripwinkley was cheery; it might be a question whether all the light did not come from her first, in some way, and perhaps it did; but then Hazel was luminous, and she fluttered about with quick, happy motions, till like a little glancing taper she had shone upon and lit up everybody and everything; and Dorris was sunny with clear content, and Kenneth was blithe, and Desire was scintillant, as she always was either with snaps or smiles; and here came in beaming Miss Craydocke, and gay Asenath and her handsome husband; and our Rosa Mundi; there,—how can you tell? It was all round; and it was more every minute.
There were cutters and pasters and stitchers and binders and every part was beautiful work, and nobody could tell which was pleasantest. Cutting out was nice, of course; who doesn't like cutting out pictures? Some were done beforehand, but there were as many left as there would be time for. And pasting, on the fine, smooth linen, making it glow out with charming groups and tints of flowers and birds and children in gay clothes,—that was delightful; and the stitchers had the pleasure of combining and arranging it all; and the binders,—Mrs. Ripwinkley and Miss Craydocke,—finished all off with the pretty ribbons and the gray covers, and theirs being the completing touch, thought they had the best of it.
"But I don't think finishing is best, mother," said Hazel, who was diligently snipping in and out around rose leaves or baby faces, as it happened. "I think beginning is always beautiful. I never want to end off,—anything nice, I mean."
"Well, we don't end off this," said Diana. "There's the giving, next."
"And then their little laughs and Oo's," said Hazel.
"And their delight day after day; and the comfort of them in their little sicknesses," said Miss Craydocke.
"And the stories that have got to be told about every picture," said Dorris.
"No; nothing really nice does end; it goes on and on," said Mrs. Ripwinkley.
"Of course!" said Hazel, triumphantly, turning on the Drummond light of her child-faith. "We're forever and ever people, you know!"
"Please paste some more flowers, Mr. Kincaid," said Rosamond, who sat next him, stitching. "I want to make an all-flower book of this. No,—not roses; I've a whole page already; this great white lily, I think. That's beautiful!"
"Wouldn't it do to put in this laurel bush next, with the bird's nest in it?"
"O, those lovely pink and white laurels! Yes. Where did you get such pictures, Miss Hazel?"
"O, everybody gave them to us, all summer, ever since we began. Mrs. Geoffrey gave those flowers; and mother painted some. She did that laurel. But don't call me Miss Hazel, please; it seems to send me off into a corner."
Rosamond answered by a little irresistible caress; leaning her head down to Hazel, on her other side, until her cheek touched the child's bright curls, quickly and softly. There was magnetism between those two.
Ah, the magnetism ran round!
"For a child's picture-book, Mrs. Ripwinkley?" said Mrs. Scherman, reaching over for the laurel picture. "Aren't these almost too exquisite? They would like a big scarlet poppy just as well,—perhaps better. Or a clump of cat-o'-nine-tails," she added, whimsically.
"There is a clump of cat-o'-nine-tails," said Mrs. Ripwinkley. "I remember how I used to delight in them as a child,—the real ones."
"Pictures are to tell things," said Desire, in her brief way.
"These little city refugees must see them, somehow," said Rosamond, gently. "I understand. They will never get up on the mountains, maybe, where the laurels grow, or into the shady swamps among the flags and the cat-o'-nine-tails. You have picked out pictures to give them, Mrs. Ripwinkley."
Kenneth Kincaid's scissors stopped a moment, as he looked at Rosamond, pausing also over the placing of her leaves.
Desire saw that from the other side; she saw how beautiful and gracious this girl was—this Rosamond Holabird; and there was a strange little twinge in her heart, as she felt, suddenly, that let there be ever so much that was true and kindly, or even tender, in her, it could never come up in her eyes or play upon her lips like that she could never say it out sweetly and in due place everything was a spasm with her; and nobody would ever look at her just as Kenneth Kincaid looked at Rosamond then.
She said to herself, with her harsh, unsparing honesty, that it must be a "hitch inside;" a cramp or an awkwardness born in her, that set her eyes, peering and sharp, so near together, and put that knot into her brows instead of their widening placidly, like Rosamond's, and made her jerky in her speech. It was no use; she couldn't look and behave, because she couldn't be; she must just go boggling and kinking on, and—losing everything, she supposed.
The smiles went down, under a swift, bitter little cloud, and the hard twist came into her face with the inward pinching she was giving herself; and all at once there crackled out one of her sharp, strange questions; for it was true that she could not do otherwise; everything was sudden and crepitant with her.
"Why need all the good be done up in batches, I wonder? Why can't it be spread round, a little more even? There must have been a good deal left out somewhere, to make it come in a heap, so, upon you, Miss Craydocke!"
Hazel looked up.
"I know what Desire means," she said. "It seemed just so to me, one way. Why oughtn't there to be little homes, done-by-hand homes, for all these little children, instead of—well—machining them all up together?"
And Hazel laughed at her own conceit.
"It's nice; but then—it isn't just the way. If we were all brought up like that we shouldn't know, you see!"
"You wouldn't want to be brought up in a platoon, Hazel?" said Kenneth Kincaid. "No; neither should I."
"I think it was better," said Hazel, "to have my turn of being a little child, all to myself; the little child, I mean, with the rest of the folks bigger. To make much of me, you know. I shouldn't want to have missed that. I shouldn't like to be loved in a platoon."
"Nobody is meant to be," said Miss Craydocke.
"Then why—" began Asenath Scherman, and stopped.
"Why what, dear?"
"Revelations," replied Sin, laconically. "There are loads of people there, all dressed alike, you know; and—well—it's platoony, I think, rather! And down here, such a world-full; and the sky—full of worlds. There doesn't seem to be much notion of one at a time, in the general plan of things."
"Ah, but we've got the key to all that," said Miss Craydocke. "'The very hairs of your head are all numbered.' It may be impossible with us, you know, but not with Him."
"Miss Hapsie! you always did put me down, just when I thought I was smart," said Sin Scherman.
Asenath loved to say "Miss Hapsie," now and then, to her friend, ever since she had found out what she called her "squee little name."
"But the little children, Miss Craydocke," said Mrs. Ripwinkley. "It seems to me Desire has got a right thought about it."
Mrs. Ripwinkley and Hazel always struck the same note. The same delicate instinct moved them both. Hazel "knew what Desire meant;" her mother did not let it be lost sight of that it was Desire who had led the way in this thought of the children; so that the abrupt beginning—the little flash out of the cloud—was quite forgotten presently, in the tone of hearty understanding and genuine interest with which the talk went on; and it was as if all that was generous and mindfully suggestive in it had first and truly come from her. They unfolded herself for her—these friendly ones—as she could not do; out of her bluntness grew a graciousness that lay softly over it; the cloud itself melted away and floated off; and Desire began to sparkle again more lambently. For she was not one of the kind to be meanly or enviously "put out."
"It seemed to me there must be a great many spare little corners somewhere, for all these spare little children," she said, "and that, lumped up together so, there was something they did not get."
"That is precisely the thing," said Miss Craydocke, emphatically. "I wonder, sometimes," she went on, tenderly, "if whenever God makes a little empty place in a home, it isn't really on purpose that it might be filled with one of these,—if people only thought."
"Miss Craydocke," said Hazel, "how did you begin your beehive?"
"I!" said the good lady. "I didn't. It began itself."
"Well, then, how did you let it begin?"
The tone was admissive, and as if she had said, "That is another thing!" She could not contradict that she had let it be.
"I'll tell you a queer story," she said, "of what they say they used to do, in old Roman Catholic times and places, when they wanted to keep up a beehive that was in any danger of dwindling or growing unprofitable. I read it somewhere in a book of popular beliefs and customs about bees and other interesting animals. An old woman once went to her friend, and asked her what she did to make her hive so gainful. And this was what the old wife said; it sounds rather strange to us, but if there is anything irreverent in it, it is the word and not the meaning; 'I go,' she said, 'to the priest, and get a little round Godamighty, and put it in the hive, and then all goes well; the bees thrive, and there is plenty of honey; they always come, and stay, and work, when that is there."
"A little round—something awful! what did she mean?" asked Mrs. Scherman.
"She meant a consecrated wafer,—the Sacrament. We don't need to put the wafer in; but if we let Him in, you see,—just say to Him it is his house, to do with as He likes,—He takes the responsibility, and brings in all the rest."
Nobody saw, under the knitting of Desire Ledwith's brows, and the close setting of her eyes, the tenderness with which they suddenly moistened, and the earnestness with which they gleamed. Nobody knew how she thought to herself inwardly, in the same spasmodic fashion that she used for speech,—
"They Mig up their parlors with upholstery, and put rose-colored paper on their walls, and call them their houses; and shut the little round awfulness and goodness out! We've all been doing it! And there's no place left for what might come in."
Mrs. Scherman broke the hush that followed what Miss Hapsie said. Not hastily, or impertinently; but when it seemed as if it might be a little hard to come down into the picture-books and the pleasant easiness again.
"Let's make a Noah's Ark picture-book,—you and I," she said to Desire. "Give us all your animals,—there's a whole Natural History full over there, all painted with splendid daubs of colors; the children did that, I know, when they were children. Come; we'll have everything in, from an elephant to a bumble-bee!"
"We did not mean to use those, Mrs. Scherman," said Desire. "We did not think they were good enough. They are so daubed up."
"They're perfectly beautiful. Exactly what the young ones will like. Just divide round, and help. We'll wind up with the most wonderful book of all; the book they'll all cry for, and that will have to be given always, directly after the Castor Oil."
It took them more than an hour to do that, all working hard; and a wonderful thing it was truly, when it was done. Mrs. Scherman and Desire Ledwith directed all the putting together, and the grouping was something astonishing.
There were men and women,—the Knowers, Sin called them; she said that was what she always thought the old gentleman's name was, in the days when she first heard of him, because he knew so much; and in the backgrounds of the same sheets were their country cousins, the orangs, and the little apes. Then came the elephants, and the camels, and the whales; "for why shouldn't the fishes be put in, since they must all have been swimming round sociably, if they weren't inside; and why shouldn't the big people be all kept together properly?"
There were happy families of dogs and cats and lions and snakes and little humming-birds; and in the last part were all manner of bugs, down to the little lady-bugs in blazes of red and gold, and the gray fleas and mosquitoes which Sin improvised with pen and ink, in a swarm at the end.
"And after that, I don't believe they wanted any more," she said; and handed over the parts to Miss Craydocke to be tied together. For this volume had had to be made in many folds, and Mrs. Ripwinkley's blue ribbon would by no means stretch over the back.
And by that time it was eleven o'clock, and they had worked four hours. They all jumped up in a great hurry then, and began to say good-by.
"This must not be the last we are to have of you, Miss Holabird," said Mrs. Ripwinkley, laying Rosamond's shawl across her shoulders.
"Of course not," said Mrs Scherman, "when you are all coming to our house to tea to-morrow night."
Rosamond bade the Ripwinkleys good-night with a most sweet cordiality, and thanks for the pleasure she had had, and she told Hazel and her mother that it was "neither beginning nor end, she believed; for it seemed to her that she had only found a little new piece of her world, and that Aspen Street led right out of Westover in the invisible geography, she was sure."
"Come!" said Miss Craydocke, standing on the doorsteps. "It is all invisible geography out here, pretty nearly; and we've all our different ways to go, and only these two unhappy gentlemen to insist on seeing everybody home."
So first the whole party went round with Miss Hapsie, and then Kenneth and Dorris, who always went home with Desire, walked up Hanley Street with the Schermans and Rosamond, and so across through Dane Street to Shubarton Place.
But while they were on their way, Hazel Ripwinkley was saying to her mother, up in her room, where they made sometimes such long good-nights,—
"Mother! there were some little children taken away from you before we came, you know? And now we've got this great big house, and plenty of things, more than it takes for us."
"Don't you think it's expected that we should do something with the corners? There's room for some real good little times for somebody. I think we ought to begin a beehive."
Mrs. Ripwinkley kissed Hazel very tenderly, and said, only,—
"We can wait, and see."
Those are just the words that mothers so often put children off with! But Mrs. Ripwinkley, being one of the real folks, meant it; the very heart of it.
In that little talk, they took the consecration in; they would wait and see; when people do that, with an expectation, the beehive begins.
* * * * *
Up Hanley Street, the six fell into pairs.
Mrs. Scherman and Desire, Dorris and Mr. Scherman, Rosamond and Kenneth Kincaid.
It only took from Bridgeley Street up to Dane, to tell Kenneth Kincaid so much about Westover, in answer to his questions, that he too thought he had found a new little piece of his world. What Rosamond thought, I do not know; but a girl never gives a young man so much as she gave Kenneth in that little walk without having some of the blessed consciousness that comes with giving. The sun knows it shines, I dare say; or else there is a great waste of hydrogen and other things.
There was not much left for poor little Desire after they parted from the Schermans and turned the corner of Dane Street. Only a little bit of a way, in which new talk could hardly begin, and just time for a pause that showed how the talk that had come to an end was missed or how, perhaps, it stayed in the mind, repeating itself, and keeping it full.
Nobody said anything till they had crossed B—— Street; and then Dorris said, "How beautiful,—real beautiful, Rosamond Holabird is!" And Kenneth answered, "Did you hear what she said to Mrs. Ripwinkley?"
They were full of Rosamond! Desire did not speak a word.
Dorris had heard and said it over. It seemed to please Kenneth to hear it again. "A piece of her world!"
"How quickly a true person springs to what belongs to—their life!" said Kenneth, using that wrong little pronoun that we shall never be able to do without.
"People don't always get what belongs, though," blurted Desire at last, just as they came to the long doorsteps. "Some people's lives are like complementary colors, I think; they see blue, and live red!"
"But the colors are only accidentally—I mean temporarily—divided; they are together in the sun; and they join somewhere—beyond."
"I hate beyond!" said Desire, recklessly. "Good-night. Thank you." And she ran up the steps.
Nobody knew what she meant. Perhaps she hardly knew herself.
They only thought that her home life was not suited to her, and that she took it hard.
"SESAME; AND LILIES."
"I've got a discouragement at my stomach," said Luclarion Grapp.
"What's the matter?" asked Mrs. Ripwinkley, naturally.
"Mrs. Scarup. I've been there. There ain't any bottom to it."
Mrs. Ripwinkley knew that Luclarion had more to say, and that she waited for this monosyllable.
"She's sick again. And Scarup, he's gone out West, spending a hundred dollars to see whether or no there's a chance anywhere for a smart man,—and that ain't he, so it's a double waste,—to make fifty. No girl; and the children all under foot, and Pinkie looking miserable over the dishes."
"Pinkie isn't strong."
"No. She's powerful weak. I just wish you'd seen that dirty settin'-room fire-place; looks as if it hadn't been touched since Scarup smoked his pipe there, the night before he went off a wild-gandering. And clo'es to be ironed, and the girl cleared out, because 'she'd always been used to fust-class families.' There wasn't anything to your hand, and you couldn't tell where to begin, unless you began with a cataplasm!"
Luclarion had heard, by chance, of a cataclysm, and that was what she meant.
"It wants—creation, over again! Mrs. Scarup hadn't any fit breakfast; there was burnt toast, made out of tough bread, that she'd been trying to eat; and a cup of tea, half drunk; something the matter with that, I presume. I'd have made her some gruel, if there'd been a fire; and if there'd been any kindlings, I'd have made her a fire; but there 'twas; there wasn't any bottom to it!"
"You had better make the gruel here, Luclarion."
"That's what I come back for. But—Mrs. Ripwinkley!"
"Don't it appear to you it's a kind of a stump? I don't want to do it just for the satisfaction; though it would be a satisfaction to plough everything up thorough, and then rake it over smooth; what do you think?"
"What have you thought, Luclarion? Something, of course."
"She wants a real smart girl—for two dollars a week. She can't get her, because she ain't. And I kind of felt as though I should like to put in. Seemed to me it was a—but there! I haven't any right to stump you."
"Wouldn't it be rather an aggravation? I don't suppose you would mean to stay altogether?"
"Not unless—but don't go putting it into my head, Mrs. Ripwinkley. I shall feel as if I was. And I don't think it goes quite so far as that, yet. We ain't never stumped to more than one thing at a time. What she wants is to be straightened out. And when things once looked my way, she might get a girl, you see. Anyhow, 'twould encourage Pinkie, and kind of set her going. Pinkie likes things nice; but it's such a Hoosac tunnel to undertake, that she just lets it all go, and gets off up-stairs, and sticks a ribbon in her hair. That's all she can do. I s'pose 'twould take a fortnight, maybe?"
"Take it, Luclarion," said Mrs. Ripwinkley, smiling. Luclarion understood the smile.
"I s'pose you think it's as good as took. Well, perhaps it is—spoke for. But it wasn't me, you know. Now what'll you do?"
"Go into the kitchen and make the pudding."
"We are not stumped for then, you know."
"There was a colored girl here yesterday, from up in Garden Street, asking if there was any help wanted. I think she came in partially, to look at the flowers; the 'sturtiums are splendid, and I gave her some. She was awfully dressed up,—for colors, I mean; but she looked clean and pleasant, and spoke bright. Maybe she'd come, temporary. She seemed taken with things. I know where to find her, and I could go there when I got through with the gruel. Mrs. Scarup must have that right off."
And Luclarion hurried away.
It was not the first time Mrs. Ripwinkley had lent Luclarion; but Miss Grapp had not found a kitchen mission in Boston heretofore. It was something new to bring the fashion of simple, prompt, neighborly help down intact from the hills, and apply it here to the tangle of city living, that is made up of so many separate and unrecognized struggles.
When Hazel came home from school, she went all the way up the garden walk, and in at the kitchen door. "That was the way she took it all," she said; "first the flowers, and then Luclarion and what they had for dinner, and a drink of water; and then up-stairs, to mother."
To-day she encountered in the kitchen a curious and startling apparition of change.
A very dusky brown maiden, with a petticoat of flashing purple, and a jacket of crimson, and extremely puzzling hair tied up with knots of corn color, stood in possession over the stove, tending a fricassee, of which Hazel recognized at once the preparation and savor as her mother's; while beside her on a cricket, munching cold biscuit and butter with round, large bites of very white little teeth, sat a small girl of five of the same color, gleaming and twinkling as nothing human ever does gleam and twinkle but a little darkie child.
"Where is Luclarion?" asked Hazel, standing still in the middle of the floor, in her astonishment.
"I don't know. I'm Damaris, and this one's little Vash. Don't go for callin' me Dam, now; the boys did that in my last place, an' I left, don' yer see? I ain't goin' to be swore to, anyhow!"
And Damaris glittered at Hazel, with her shining teeth and her quick eyes, full of fun and good humor, and enjoyed her end of the joke extremely.
"Have you come to stay?" asked Hazel.
"'Course. I don' mostly come for to go."
"What does it mean, mother?" Hazel asked, hurrying up into her mother's room.
And then Mrs. Ripwinkley explained.
"But what is she? Black or white? She's got straight braids and curls at the back of her head, like everybody's"—
"'Course," said a voice in the doorway. "An' wool on top,—place where wool ought to grow,—same's everybody, too."
Damaris had come up, according to orders, to report a certain point in the progress of the fricassee.
"They all pulls the wool over they eyes, now-days, an sticks the straight on behind. Where's the difference?"
Mrs. Ripwinkley made some haste to rise and move toward the doorway, to go down stairs, turning Damaris from her position, and checking further remark. Diana and Hazel stayed behind, and laughed. "What fun!" they said.
It was the beginning of a funny fortnight; but it is not the fun I have paused to tell you of; something more came of it in the home-life of the Ripwinkleys; that which they were "waiting to see."
Damaris wanted a place where she could take her little sister; she was tired of leaving her "shyin' round," she said. And Vash, with her round, fuzzy head, her bright eyes, her little flashing teeth, and her polished mahogany skin,—darting up and down the house "on Aarons," or for mere play,—dressed in her gay little scarlet flannel shirt-waist, and black and orange striped petticoat,—was like some "splendid, queer little fire-bug," Hazel said, and made a surprise and a picture wherever she came. She was "cute," too, as Damaris had declared beforehand; she was a little wonder at noticing and remembering, and for all sorts of handiness that a child of five could possibly be put to.
Hazel dressed rag babies for her, and made her a soap-box baby-house in the corner of the kitchen, and taught her her letters; and began to think that she should hate to have her go when Luclarion came back.
Damaris proved clever and teachable in the kitchen; and had, above all, the rare and admirable disposition to keep things scrupulously as she had found them; so that Luclarion, in her afternoon trips home, was comforted greatly to find that while she was "clearing and ploughing" at Mrs. Scarup's, her own garden of neatness was not being turned into a howling wilderness; and she observed, as is often done so astutely, that "when you do find a neat, capable, colored help, it's as good help as you can have." Which you may notice is just as true without the third adjective as with.
Luclarion herself was having a splendid time.
The first thing she did was to announce to Mrs. Scarup that she was out of her place for two weeks, and would like to come to her at her wages; which Mrs. Scarup received with some such awed and unbelieving astonishment as she might have done the coming of a legion of angels with Gabriel at their head. And when one strong, generous human will, with powers of brain and body under it sufficient to some good work, comes down upon it as Luclarion did upon hers, there is what Gabriel and his angels stand for, and no less sent of God.
The second thing Luclarion did was to clean that "settin'-room fire-place," to restore the pleasant brown color of its freestone hearth and jambs, to polish its rusty brasses till they shone like golden images of gods, and to lay an ornamental fire of chips and clean little sticks across the irons. Then she took a wet broom and swept the carpet three times, and dusted everything with a damp duster; and then she advised Mrs. Scarup, whom the gruel had already cheered and strengthened, to be "helped down, and sit there in the easy-chair, for a change, and let her take her room in hand." And no doctor ever prescribed any change with better effect. There are a good many changes that might be made for people, without sending them beyond their own doors. But it isn't the doctors who always know what change, or would dare to prescribe it if they did.
Mrs. Scarup was "helped down," it seemed,—really up, rather,—into a new world. Things had begun all over again. It was worth while to get well, and take courage. Those brasses shone in her face like morning suns.
"Well, I do declare to Man, Miss Grapp!" she exclaimed; and breath and expression failed together, and that was all she could say.
Up-stairs, Luclarion swept and rummaged. She found the sheet and towel drawers, and made everything white and clean. She laid fresh napkins over the table and bureau tops, and set the little things—boxes, books, what not,—daintily about on them. She put a clean spread on the bed, and gathered up things for the wash she meant to have, with a recklessness that Mrs. Scarup herself would never have dared to use, in view of any "help" she ever expected to do it.
And then, with Pinkie to lend feeble assistance, Luclarion turned to in the kitchen.
It was a "clear treat," she told Mrs. Ripwinkley afterward. "Things had got to that state of mussiness, that you just began at one end and worked through to the other, and every inch looked new made over after you as you went along."