A HOME STORY
BY FANNIE BELLE IRVING
ILLUSTRATED BY F. T. MERRILL
BOSTON DANA ESTES AND COMPANY PUBLISHERS
Copyright, 1882, By Estes and Lauriat.
University Press: JOHN WILSON AND SON, CAMBRIDGE.
I. UNDER THE TREES 7
II. AROUND THE FIRE 18
III. A FOUNDATION THAT BROUGHT KAT TO GRIEF 38
IV. IN CONFIDENCE 51
V. ONE DAY 65
VI. A STRANGER 80
VII. MR. CONGREVE SURPRISES HIMSELF AND EVERYBODY ELSE 97
VIII. ODDS AND ENDS 113
IX. WHAT OLIVE HEARD 128
X. THE LITTLE BLACK TRUNK 148
XI. WHERE IS ERNESTINE? 168
XII. THE STORY 188
XIII. A YEAR LATER 202
XIV. STUDY OR PLAY? 221
XV. CONGREVE HALL 240
XVI. UNDER THE SHADY GREEN-WOOD TREE 257
XVII. SEVERAL THINGS 284
XVIII. AT THE OPERA 306
XIX. COMING HOME 336
XX. A SAD STORY 355
XXI. MY LADY 368
XXII. TO REAR, TO LOVE, AND THEN TO LOSE 380
XXIII. WHEN GOD DREW NEAR, AMONG HIS OWN TO CHOOSE 406
XXIV. TWO SECRETS 420
XXV. MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL, AND TO ALL A GOOD-NIGHT—FIVE YEARS LATER 437
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
FROM AUNT TREMAYNE AND RALPH Frontispiece
"O ERNESTINE, HOW LOVELY!" 17
KAT AND KIT 49
THE OLD GENTLEMAN LIFTED JEAN UP ON THE POST 92
"NOW LET'S SEE WHAT'S IN THIS WONDERFUL TRUNK" 167
"WHY, HOW DO YOU DO, MY DEAR CHILD?" 244
"WHAT IS THE MATTER? WHAT HAS HAPPENED?" 267
MR. CONGREVE WOULD COME INTO THE GALLERY 314
UNDER THE TREES.
There were ripples of sunshine all tangled in the glowing scarlet of the geranium bed and dancing blithely over the grass. A world of melody in quivering bursts of happy song came from the spreading canopy of leaves overhead, and as an accompaniment, the wind laughed and whispered and kept the air in one continual smile with a kiss on its lips, born of supreme contentment in the summer loveliness.
In the cool, deep shade, cast by the grandest of old beech trees, a girl sat, her white dress in freshest relief against the green surroundings, a piece of sewing in her nimble fingers, and the wind tossing her loosened hair all about her face and shoulders. She was quite alone, and seemed just the setting for the quiet, lovely surroundings, so much so, that, had an artist chanced to catch the sight, he would have lost no time in transferring it to canvas,—the wide stretch of grass, alternately steeped in cool shadows and mellow sunshine, the branching, rustling canopy of leaves, the white-robed figure with smiling lips and busy fingers, and just visible in the back-ground an old house wrapped in vines and lying in the shade.
Somebody came from among the trees just at this moment and crossed the grass with a peculiarly graceful and swaying step, as though she had just drifted down with the sunshine and was being idly blown along by the wind, another girl in the palest of pink dresses, with ripples of snowy lace all over it, and a wide-brimmed hat shading her eyes. And speaking distance being gained, she said, with a breezy little laugh: "Sewing? Why, it's too warm to breathe."
"That's the reason I sew," returned the other, with a nod of energy. "I should suffocate if I just sat still and thought how warm it is. Where have you been?"
"Down to the pond, skipping stones, and wishing that I could go in," answered the new-comer, sitting down on the grass with a careful and gracefully effective arrangement of her flounces and lace. "I don't see why papa won't let us take the boat; it did look too tempting. Suppose we go and do it, anyhow, Bea, and just let him see that we can manage it without being taught. The pond is all in the shade now, and a row would be delicious."
"Why, Ernestine!" Bea said, with a glance of surprise; "You wouldn't, I know. Papa will teach us right away, and then we will have delightful times; but when he has been so good as to get us the boat and promise to have us learn to manage it, I'm sure I wouldn't disobey and try alone."
Ernestine laughed again her pretty saucy laugh and threw her head back so that it caught a dancing sunbeam and held it prisoner in the bright hair.
"I would," she said flippantly. "I'd like to, just for the sake of doing something. Do you know, Bea,"—knitting the arched brows with a petulant air,—"Sometimes I think I'll do something dreadful; perfectly dreadful, you know, so as to have things different for a little bit. It's horrible to live right along, just so, without anything ever happening."
"Well I'm sure," said Bea, laying down her sewing and surveying her sister slowly, "you have just about as good and easy a time as ever I heard of a girl's having. What are you all dressed up so for?"
"Just for something to do. I've tried on all my dresses and hats, and wasted the blessed afternoon parading before the glass," laughed Ernestine, swinging her pretty hat with its shirrings of delicate pink, around on her white hand. "I do think this dress is lovely, so I made believe I was being dressed by my maid and coming out to walk in my park like an English lady, you know."
"English fiddlesticks!" said Bea, with energy. "You are a goosey. Suppose you had to work and couldn't have pretty things and waste your time trying them on?"
"What misery," cried Ernestine, jumping up and whirling around on her heel with an airy grace that the other girls might have practiced for in vain. "I wouldn't want to live; it would be dreadful, Bea," falling into an attitude with the sunshine over her, "wouldn't I do well on the stage? I know I was born for it; now look here, and see if I don't do as Miss Neilson did. Just suppose this ring of sunshine is a balcony and I'm in white, with such lovely jewels in my hair and all that:
"Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?"—
and away went Ernestine with a tragically pathetic energy that made Bea watch and listen, in spite of the disapproving laugh on her lips.
"Don't I do it well?" Ernestine asked complacently, after she had gone through the entire balcony scene, with great success in the management of two characters.
"Yes, you do; how can you?" asked Bea, won from disapproval by wondering admiration.
"Easiest in the world. I've been through it ever so many times since papa took us to the city to see her. Oh, Bea! how happy she must be! I'd give worlds and worlds to be in her place," cried Ernestine, with longing energy, and pacing restlessly up and down the grass. "I wonder if I ever can."
"Indeed!" said Bea with decision. "The idea! what would papa and mama say; you, Ernestine Dering, parading out on a stage before crowds of people, and flying around like she did. Mercy on us!"
"I'd do it in a minute, and if I can't now, I will sometime anyhow," Ernestine exclaimed with emphasis. "I wasn't born to be smuggled up in this little musty town all my life and I won't, either. Some day I'll do something desperate; you see if I don't."
"Well, I do declare!" said Bea slowly, having never witnessed quite such an energetic ending to Ernestine's spells of restless dissatisfaction. "What talk! I think you'd better sit down and cool off now. Where are Olive and Jean?"
"Olive is sketching out on the roof, and crosser than thirteen sticks. Jean is asleep on the porch, and mama is out showing Huldah how to make cream puffings."
"Dear me," said Bea, by way of answer and looking up with a slight pucker to her smooth forehead, "Just look at those girls; I never saw the like."
Ernestine looked up, to catch a glimpse of two flying figures just clearing the fence, and come dashing across the grass like unruly arrows, to throw themselves under the shade of the beech, with a supreme disregard for flesh and bones.
"Goodness gracious!" gasped Kittie.
"Gracious goodness!" panted Kat.
"No sir, I did."
"You didn't! I was on this side of the fence before you jumped."
"Just listen! why I was pretty near to the tree before you got to the fence."
"Why Kat Dering! You know better."
"Well I'd fight about it," said Ernestine, as the two sat up and faced each other with belligerent countenances. "You are a pretty looking couple anyhow. I'd be ashamed."
"Don't care if you would. I beat anyhow," said Kat with decision.
"Indeed you didn't; I did myself," said Kittie with equal certainty, but smiling more amicably as she fanned energetically with her hat. "Oh girls such fun! I must,——"
"Now Kittie," cried Kat with a warning jump and scowl.
"Bless us, I'm going to tell; indeed I am. You're a trump, Kat, and they shall hear all about it; don't you want to girls?"
"To be sure, go on," said Bea with interest and creasing down a hem with much satisfaction in the thought that her hands looked very pretty and white, almost as pretty as Ernestine's.
"Well you see," began Kitty, as Kat retired under her hat in a spasm of unusual modesty, "when we came in from recess this afternoon, Kat wanted to sit in my side of the seat, and told me to act as if I was she, so I thought it was to be a lark of some kind and did, but dear me——"
"Well go on," said Ernestine with languid curiosity, as Kittie paused to laugh at some recollection.
"Just as soon as we got in Miss Howard told us to put books away; then she gave us the breeziest lecture and was as solemn as an owl. I couldn't imagine what was up. Susie Darrow was crying with her handkerchief to her nose, Kat looked as if she was sitting on pins and needles, and I really thought that Sadie Brooks and May Moor would eat us up, the way they actually glared at us. Well, the first thing I knew, Miss Howard was saying something about a needle in Susie Barrow's pen, that she had stuck her nose with, and she wanted whoever had put it there to come to her desk. That's the way she always does, you know; never calls a name unless she finds she has to, and bless you! who should I see walking off but Kat, and what does Miss Howard do but take her ruler and give her fifteen slaps on the hand. Kat, I'm meaner'n dirt, and you're a jewel; you did beat, I'll own up."
"No such thing, you beat yourself," came in a sepulchral growl from under the hat.
"Well I'm sure I don't see the point," said Ernestine with impatience. "It was very rude and unlady-like to put a needle in Susie's pen and you deserved your fifteen slaps."
"Just wait 'till I finish, will you," cried Kittie, as the hat maintained perfect silence, "Kat didn't do it, but she heard that I did, and that I was going to be whipped, so she took my seat and jumped up the minute Miss Howard spoke, and the only way I found out was when Miss Howard said, 'Now Kittie you must beg Susie's pardon before the school.' Then I knew something was up, and just popped right out of my seat and said that that was Kat, not me, and didn't it make a hub-bub, and didn't Miss Howard look funny!"
"It was lively," broke in Kat, and coming out from under the hat as if inspired with the recollection, "Miss Howard looked as blank as you please, and like to have never gotten at the straight of it; but after awhile lame Jack told how he had seen Sadie and May fix it themselves, and plan to tell it was Kittie, and oh didn't they look cheap, and didn't they creep off to-night and take every book along?"
"But wasn't Kat just too dear and good to take a whipping to save me," cried Kittie, throwing both arms around her twin in a hug full of devotion. "I'll never forget it, Kat Dering, never!"
"Well you'd better," said Kat, on whom praise and glory rested uneasily, though she looked pleased and returned the hug with interest. "You'd have done it for me, I know, and I would again for you any day. Let's go out on the roof; it's much cooler than here."
"You'd better not," laughed Ernestine. "Olive's out there sketching, and she'll take your head off with her usual sweetness, if you bother any."
"Who cares? I'm going. Come on Kittie."
"No let's not; it's cool here," returned Kittie lazily. "Where have you been Ernestine, all rigged in your best?"
"Been at home pining for some place to go," said Ernestine drawing the sewing from Bea's hand, and leaning over into that sister's lap with a caressive gesture. "Say Bea, dear, Miss Neilson is going to be in New York next week, and I want you to ask pa if he won't take us again; won't you?"
"Not fair," cried Kat; "this is our turn."
"You, indeed; nothing but children! Will you, Bea? He will listen more if you ask because you're not so frivolous as I am."
"Yes, I'll ask. I'd love to go again," said Bea with girlish delight in anticipating such a bliss as the repetition of going to the city and to the theatre. "What play would you like to see?"
"Romeo and Juliet again," cried Ernestine eagerly. "Oh Bea, beg him to, for there are some other parts that I want to see how to do."
"Do!" echoed Kittie, "Whatever do you mean?"
"Just what I say. I'll show you how they do; shall I, Bea?" exclaimed Ernestine, springing gayly into the sunshine and striking an attitude.
"Yes, go on; you do it beautifully," said Bea; so Ernestine plunged blithely into the play, thoroughly entrancing her three listeners with the ease and grace with which she spoke and acted, and receiving showers of applause as she paused.
"How delightful," cried Kittie, in a longing rapture.
"Nonsense," exclaimed Kat, who had listened intently with her nose steadily on the ascent, "It looks all very pretty and nice here, but I should think anybody would feel like a fool to get out on a stage and go ranting about like that."
"Oh! it's too delightful," cried Ernestine, as Bea passed no comment except a little sigh. "I shall run away some day sure as the world and become a great actress; then I'll be rich and famous and you'll all forgive me."
"I thought you always wanted to sing," said Kittie, chewing grass thoughtfully, as she meditated on this new and startling talent and wondered what would next develop.
"So I do, but I shall sing and act both. Now then pretend that I am Marguerite, in Faust, you know, and see if you don't think I can do both, as well as one." So they all looked and listened, while she sang and sang, 'till the very birds hushed their music in envious listening, and the rustling leaves seemed to grow still in very amaze. The sunshine danced over her bright hair, and the lovely face flashed with a radiant excitement that showed how deep an enjoyment even the pretense was to her.
Rapturous applause followed, and a new voice cried out, "Oh! Ernestine, how lovely; do it over," and turning, they beheld an additional three to the audience. Jean leaning on her little crutch, wild with delight; Olive, tall and still with a curl on her lip to match the scowl on her forehead; and mother,—but what was the matter with mother, Bea wondered. She was very pale, and though she smiled, it did not hide the tremble that hung to her colorless lips.
AROUND THE FIRE.
A September twilight was coming on slowly, and in the grass the crickets chirped back and forth to each other. The house was all open, and through the windows came a merry chatter, a few rattling notes of the piano, and something that sounded very much like a warm argument, for a game of chess was going on by one window. Out on the broad porch that ran all along the front of the house, and was shrouded with vines, stood a girl, leaning idly against the post and watching the shadows gather across the long walk. She was not a pretty girl, nor one that you would care to look at twice, because of any pleasure it gave you; though had you really studied her face there might have been something found in it after all. There was a drawn, discontented look about her mouth, that made the lips look thin and snappish; it even spoiled the shape of her really pretty nose, which was straight and finely cut. The brows, straight and black, held a heavy frown between them, and the eyes beneath had an unsatisfied, sour look, not at all attractive. Her forehead was altogether too high for beauty of any kind; and as though there was a relief in making herself look just as ugly as possible, all her hair was drawn back painfully smooth, and tucked into a net. Everything about her, from the crooked look of her necktie to the toe of her slipper, with its rosette gone, plainly indicated that she was dissatisfied with herself and aided nature by her own carelessness and indifference, to make herself just as unattractive as possible. Some one came up behind her as she stood there indulging in thoughts anything but pleasing and laid a gentle touch on her arm.
"What makes you like to stay by yourself so much, and where it isn't so nice? The yard is getting so dark, and it's real chilly. Don't you ever get afraid?"
"Afraid here on the steps? That's silly, Jean."
"Perhaps 'tis, but I'm such a big coward; I suppose it's because I couldn't run if anything ever was to happen;" and Jean gave a little sigh, as she smoothed the padded top of her crutch.
Olive gave a little start, half impatient, and turned around to ask, almost wistfully, "Jean, do you never get tired or impatient, or think sometimes that you'd rather be dead than always walk on a crutch and have your back grow crooked?"
"Why, Olive!" Jean lifted her beautiful eyes to look at her sister's restless face, "I couldn't be so wicked as that, could you?"
In the twilight Olive flushed at the question and at the clear eyes searching her face. How many, many times had she wished she was dead, and for nothing except that she was ugly and awkward, and bound to see everything with the darkest side up.
"I'm not as good as you," she answered evasively.
"Oh I'm not good," said Jean, with a little laugh, half a sigh, "I do get real tired sometimes, Olive, and I do want to be straight and well so much; but Miss Willis told me something in Sunday-school last Sunday, that has made me feel so good; she said, 'Jeanie, don't get impatient or discouraged, for God has a reason why he wants you to be lame; it is to be for the best some way, and perhaps sometime you will see it;' and she said that when I tried to be happy and bear my lame back, it made God very happy; and when I was cross and fussy, it made him sad."
Olive gave her eyes a swift brush with the back of her hand, and asked with a little choke, "Do you believe all that, Jean."
"Why, Olive, yes! Don't you?"
"I don't know,—who is that?" was Olive's rather disjointed answer, as the click of the gate sounded through the still evening air.
"It's Ernestine, I know, 'cause she went up town;—yes, there she is;" answered Jean, as a figure appeared under the foliage and came toward the steps.
How different she looked from Olive and Jean. Such a slim, graceful figure, with a proud little head and sunny shining hair, in loose puffs and curls and a jaunty hat. A face like a fresh lily, and beautiful brown eyes, the sweetest voice, and the vainest little heart ever known to a girl of fifteen, had Ernestine Dering; and yet she was a favorite, with all her little vanities, and home, without Ernestine's face, would have been blank to all the girls. She came running up the steps and stopped.
"Oh, Olive, such laces!" she cried, with a longing sigh. "They are selling out at cost, and the ribbons and laces are just going for almost nothing; if I had just had a little spending money I would have been in clover. One clerk just insisted upon my taking an exquisite lace scarf; oh it was so becoming! but I told him I didn't know they were selling out, and that I would have to come again."
"Pretty way of talking!" snapped Olive ungraciously. "You know you won't have any more money another day than you have this; why couldn't you say no?"
"Say that I couldn't afford it?" cried Ernestine gayly. "Not I. Besides, I reasoned that if one of you would loan me some, I'd have more another day."
"Suppose one of us won't," said Olive, looking darkly over her sister's pretty hat.
"I didn't suppose you would," laughed Ernestine "But fortunately for me, I have some obliging sisters," and with that shot, Ernestine went in, singing like a mocking bird, and Jean followed slowly, looking back once or twice to Olive's motionless figure.
Oh how it cut! Olive grew flushed and white, then her brows came together darkly and her lips shut tight. "Ernestine is too frivolous to live," she said grimly; then looked straight off into the evening sky and was silent. But down to her proud, sensitive heart she was hurt, and in it was the longing wonder, "Why don't she come to me and ask as she does of Bea and the others. I would loan it to her;" but this feeling she fiercely refused to countenance, and shut her heart grimly, as she did her lips.
The broad old hall that ran clear through the house was growing quite dark with shadows; the game of chess had ended, and the players left the window, and presently Olive turned slowly and went into the house. Through the sitting-room came a lively chatter, and as she passed the door some one shouted, "Halloo!"
"Well I'm not deaf. Do you want me?"
"Pining to have you; come sit on my lap."
Olive passed in, but disregarded the hospitably inclined young lady who lounged in a big chair, and passed on to a dusky corner, where she curled up on the lounge.
"Olive," volunteered Kittie, who was in the window-sill, "mama has a plan; she's going to tell us after supper, and we've all been trying to guess what it is; what do you think?"
"I don't think anything."
"What a glorious lack of curiosity," laughed Kat.
"I suppose I'm just as contented as any of you with your guessing," returned Olive.
"Well I wish," said Ernestine with an energy that brought instant attention, "I wish papa was going to increase our allowances. Two dollars a month is a shameful little."
"But it amounts to ten dollars when paid to five girls," added Beatrice quickly, "besides Jean's twenty-five cents."
"A girl isn't supposed to spend two dollars every month for foolishness," said Olive severely. "You might call it a little if you had to live on it."
"I exist on my pretty things almost as much as I do on my food," answered Ernestine flippantly, "and what does two dollars buy?"
"Suppose you go awhile without spending it, then you'll have more," suggested Kittie practically.
"Yes," added Kat with a laugh. "Kittie saved fifty cents last month, and I saved just three; why don't you do as we do and economize."
"How much have each of you saved altogether since papa began paying us?" asked Beatrice. "I have nine dollars and thirty-four cents."
"Whew!" whistled Kittie. "I've got just three. I tell you caramels are disastrous to my pocket money."
"I wear out my gloves, love butter-scotch, and lost my head over a certain pair of slippers; consequence, two dollars and eight cents in my treasury," moaned Kat, with great self reproach.
"Well, I do everything that is frivolous, and unwise, and extravagant, but I have a good time, and the result is that I haven't a cent, and am in debt a dollar," laughed Ernestine, kicking out her pretty foot with its fancy little slipper, as if in defiance to anyone's criticisms or reproofs.
"Two more to hear from yet," said Beatrice, as silence fell. "Jeanie, have you spent all your quarters?"
"No," said Jean slowly and with much hesitation, "I had two dollars and spent one for a sash."
"And I borrowed the other," interrupted Ernestine, seeing that the child did not want to tell on her. "How much have you, Olive?"
"I made no promise to tell," leaped to Olive's lips; but instead of speaking it, she electrified them by saying, with a quiet smile of satisfaction, "Thirty dollars."
It did more than surprise them; it was almost a stun for a minute or two; then Ernestine slowly opened her lips: "Why, Olive Dering! wherever did you get it? If you'd never spent a cent of your allowance, papa hasn't been paying us long enough for it to amount to that."
"I suppose, for a girl that isn't a fool, there are more ways of getting money than sitting down with her hands folded and letting her father give it to her," retorted Olive with a snap.
"That's so, Olive," echoed Beatrice, with a heartiness that made them jump. "But what did you do? tell us quick; see every one of us stiff with curiosity."
It just occurred to Olive to let them remain stiff with curiosity, but perhaps an amount of satisfaction in the way she had earned her money is what changed her mind; at any rate, she began more readily than the others expected: "I sold the old iron out in the barn, and several bags of rags; then I've done some writing for papa's clerk, because he was hurried; and last week I sold my picture. Of my allowance I only spent enough for two pairs of gloves, that have lasted me with mending; so that's how I made my money."
"Blessings on you!" cried Kat enthusiastically. "I look upon you as a model, Olive, a living——"
"Nothing of the kind," interrupted Olive sharply, and rising up out of her corner, as if warming to the subject. "I'm only trying to be sensible; we're all old enough to be that, and be something more too. I wonder if we are never going to do anything but sit here at home, with papa to feed and dress us, besides giving us an allowance for little things and nonsense. I think it's wrong, and lazy, and a namby pamby way of being a useless thing, just because you are a girl! Besides, papa is worried and troubled; yes he is;—" warming still more at the breathless attention given her. "The other night, he and mama talked for hours, and I couldn't help hearing a little, because the transom was open. His voice was troubled, so was mama's, and sad, and he said something about 'lessening expenses,' and the difficulty of getting any ready money, and all that, and I believe in my heart that we ought to help him!"
Into the stunned silence that followed this outburst from short-spoken, reticent Olive, there came a new voice; such a sweet, lovely voice with a tender ring that made every one start to welcome the speaker.
"How dark you are, dears. Are all my steps here?"
"All here, solemnly engaged," answered Kat, unfolding herself from the big chair to make a seat for mother.
"And just think," cried Kittie, with a lurch that pretty near tipped her out of the window. "Olive——"
"Has done wonders," interrupted Beatrice. "Be still all of you! Let's not tell mama yet."
Mrs. Dering laughed cheerily, at the sudden popping of a secret into the air, but announced that supper was ready, at which there was such a stampede as only a lot of hungry, healthy girls can make, and the sitting-room was left dark and still.
You see there were six of them—five strong bright girls, and one little lame sister, to laugh and sing, and make that big, roomy, comfortable, old home happy. Beatrice, seventeen; Ernestine, sixteen; Olive, fifteen; then Katherine and Kathleen or Kittie and Kat, twelve, and lastly, little Jean, with her flower-like, patient face and poor crooked little back. To help and guide them, was the dear, loving mother who called them her 'steps;' and the strong, helpful father, who romped and played, or read and studied with them and called Kittie and Kat 'his boys;' Olive his 'right hand man;' Ernestine, 'his picture;' Beatrice, his 'little woman,' and Jean his 'little pansy.' So now that you know them a little better, let us go into the dining-room and see what they are doing. Meetings at the Dering table are always lively ones, "Good for digestion and spirits," said papa Dering, so everybody talked and laughed and ate heartily, and went away without sour faces or sour stomachs. To-night, though, there is a change. Mr. Dering had a remark for each of the girls as they came in, then lapsed into silence, and stirred his coffee absently. Even Mrs. Dering could not hide a little anxiety, though she tried to be gay and interested in the girls' talk, as usual. With Olive's words fresh in their minds, the rest closely watched the faces of both parents, and each girl had thoughts and made plans, in every way characteristic of their respective selves.
Mr. Dering presently broke a silence by asking to be excused, as he must go back to the store—two most unusual things; for he always sat and talked at supper 'till all were through, and rarely ever let anything take him away from an evening at home; so no wonder the meal was shortened, and the party broke up.
"Oh how nice!" cried Jean, as they returned to the sitting-room, where in their absence, a bright fire had been built in the grate, and filled the room with a warm rosy glow. "Here's my seat."
"We'll tell our secrets by the first fire of the season," said Mrs. Dering, as the girls all followed Jean's example, by pulling their chairs into the circle of warmth and light. "I thought it was so chilly this evening that firelight would be more cosy and cheerful than a lamp. Now then, who shall begin?"
"Oh you, please," cried Kittie. "We are so anxious."
Every face warmly seconded her words, so Mrs. Dering began, after a moment's silence.
"When you were all little children mama never let anything worry or disturb you if she could help it, and if anything ever did, you came right to her to be comforted and helped. Papa never let you be cold or hungry, and without clothes, or be sick, if he could help it, and they both loved you tenderly, didn't they?"
"Why goodness, yes!" cried Kat, with glistening, astonished eyes.
"And now that you have become such big daughters, they love you none the less, but more if possible; because now they must give you more thought as you grow to womanhood. Now if——"
"Oh you needn't say another word!" cried Beatrice impulsively. "You look as if you didn't know how to tell us; but we know. Your secret is the same as ours; papa is worried, and we are all, every one of us, ready to help him!"
"Why my dear girls!" cried mama, with her eyes full of tears. "How did you know?"
"Olive saw, and then heard the other night," cried Kittie excitedly. "She's got thirty dollars already, and was giving us a regular lecture just before supper. Now I'm going to——"
"Wait a minute, dear," said mama, laughing as she shook her finger. "I knew Olive was saving her allowance, and that she had earned some money, and I was very much pleased; but I am more than happy to find that she was doing it for papa."
To every one's surprise, Olive grew scarlet and turned her face clear away from the light; but she brought it back in a minute, and said, with lips that tried to be stiff and firm—for praise was dear to Olive—"I didn't do it for papa—I didn't know then—I——" and then, sooner than cry, Olive stopped, and left them to think what they would.
"But you are willing for it to go to papa now," finished Mrs. Dering, smiling brightly, and bringing some of the cloud from Olive's eyes. "That is just as noble, dear," and with these skillfully thrown in words, mother smiled again, for only she understood her daughter's peculiar disposition.
"When I was a girl," went on Mrs. Dering, "Grandpa was very wealthy, you know, and of course gave me every advantage. I took music from the most distinguished professors, also painting and the languages, and at the age of eighteen, was handed over to society as finished in every way. I loved the gayeties that surrounded me, just as well as ever a girl could, but after a while, it struck me as being such an idle, aimless life, for a well educated, sensible girl to live, so I determined to make use of all that I had received. I had a small class in music, and one in painting and drawing; some of them paid, and some, members of my Sunday-school class, did not. After that, I felt so much happier and more contented, and enjoyed all my fun so much more, so I decided that if ever I had any daughters, they should be fitted to be independent, whether it was ever necessary or not. I have never been able to supply you with masters as I was, but I have taught you thoroughly myself, and while I did not intend that you should begin quite so early, the time has come suddenly, when we must all help. So you, my older girls, I want you to choose as your choice lies, and fit yourselves so as to make it your stand-by, in this and other times of trouble."
"Oh," exclaimed Ernestine, with a sudden smile; she had looked very much worried, for work or self-denial was distasteful, and yet it seemed so near. But now she smiled and nodded brightly, "I know what I will do, mama. I'll go on cultivating my voice and work hard, so that I may take a position in some city church, where everything is so elegant and prima-donnas get such immense salaries."
"Yes, dear, music is unmistakably your talent," said Mrs. Dering, and if they had only noticed it, she did not smile, and her eyes, fixed on the fire, were tinged with deep sadness for a moment. "Cultivate your voice, and your fingers too; for the positions as prima-donnas are sometimes lacking, then you have a little class to fall back on."
When no one was looking, Ernestine gave her head a decided little shake. It would be altogether touching and delightful, to stand up in a choir before a beautiful congregation, with a pale lily in your hat, the sunlight through a stained glass falling all around, and sing something pathetic, that would make people cry, and then have everyone say: "Such a noble young girl, she does it to help her father." But a class! A lot of little children to talk to, and teach, no one to ever see, or compliment;—no! Ernestine would never cultivate her fingers; that was sure.
"I'm a sort of jack at all trades," said Beatrice breaking a thoughtful pause with a little sigh. "I play a little, sing a little, draw a little, but I've no talent for either, or anything else."
"I know some one who is very fond of books and children," said Mrs. Bering, with a suggestive smile.
"Oh! to be sure," cried Beatrice, brightening. "Teach, so I could. Well now, I'll go right on, harder than ever with my studies, and work up the French; I never can get German; I haven't the necessary twist to my tongue."
Olive was studying the fire with an intense dreamy gaze. She did not say what she would do, but every one knew, or at least supposed they knew. Olive's talent lay in her pencil. Such wonderful pictures as she could rapidly sketch, when the different moods took her!
"Well, I should like to know," cried Kittie abruptly. "What will Kat and I do? We haven't got a shadow of a talent of any kind, and don't really know how to behave ourselves yet; why, mama——,"
"I have you all fixed, dear," interrupted mama. "Just wait a minute."
"There isn't anything that I can do either," said Jean, with a pathetic little smile. "But I will give up my quarter every month; perhaps that will help papa a very little bit."
"That's it, Jeanie," cried Kat, with a startling suddenness. "We'll do it too, Kittie, and that will make four dollars and a quarter less for papa to hand over every month. Second the motion, Kittie?"
"Done!" echoed Kittie, and every body had a hearty laugh as the twins shook hands violently over the table.
"But, mama," said Olive's quiet voice, breaking in upon the racket, "You say papa is worried now, and yet what the girls have decided to do, they can only do when they have fitted themselves for it; can't we do anything to help right away?"
"Quite right, dear," answered Mrs. Dering. "You can all help right away; though in a way that papa will strongly object to, for he does not like to deprive home of any pleasures, or little luxuries that he can afford. But we will go ahead and make our plans and take him by storm. First, there is the horse and carriage; it will seem hard and strange for a while without it, but it is a great expense, together with Jack's wages. Papa has an opportunity of selling the buggy, and Mr. Phillips will take 'Prince' until we can afford to keep him again. Are you willing?"
"Yes, mama," in a rather feeble chorus, with Ernestine's voice lacking. 'Prince' was such a pet—O dear!
"And then, Lizzie," continued Mrs. Dering, apparently not noticing the way all faces were going down. "We can get along with one girl, if we all make up our minds to work. The house is large and it will take all of our hands to do the necessary cleaning; but we can, can't we?"
"Yes, mama." A little more energy this time. Only Ernestine sighed dolefully, and laid her hands out on her lap. Such slim little hands and so white. It was perfectly horrible to be poor and have to go to work; yes it was, and she privately resolved to shirk just as much as possible.
They had a long evening's talk over the coming change and how they were going to do, but at ten o'clock, as Mr. Dering was still absent, they separated for the night, and mama carried sleepy little Jean off to bed in her arms.
Beatrice and Ernestine roomed together in the front room, the twins in one next, and Olive alone across the hall. Generally, while getting ready for bed, the doors were left open, and a merry conversation carried on; but to-night, they were full of thought, and had not much to say, so everything settled into quiet very soon after the "good nights" had been spoken.
In the front room, the girls were wakeful. Beatrice, as the oldest sister, felt, in her quiet thoughtful way, that perhaps, the way she did in the coming change, would act as an example to the others; and that an extra duty rested on her, to be as patient and willing as possible, in whatever might be necessary for them to do, and to be all to mother, that an elder daughter should be, in time of trouble. Ernestine was also deep in thought, and had twisted her pillow into such a position, that the moonlight made quite a halo around her yellow hair and made her face, with its beautiful eyes, look like a cameo in golden setting. She knew it, too, just as well as Beatrice, who at that moment, turned and looked at her, and furthermore, she knew just how to go on with what she wanted to accomplish.
"Bea," she said, with her voice dropped to its sweetest, "I want you to do something for me."
"You said you had nine dollars, will you loan me five?"
"How? I was going to give it to papa to-morrow."
"You know he wouldn't take it," began Ernestine, impatiently; then smoothed her voice carefully again, and went on: "Papa won't have us give up everything, Bea. We are all willing to lessen expenses at home, but we are not to scrimp and pinch ourselves all to pieces. I'll pay you back just as soon as——"
"It isn't that," interrupted Bea, "But I don't see how you can want to spend it now."
"But I do; there are the loveliest lace scarfs——"
"Lace scarfs;" cried Bea again, in shocked surprise. "Would you, Ernestine?—Five dollars?"
"Certainly! Since we've made my old black silk over, it looks so nice, and I've nothing fit to wear around my neck. I'm sure its not much and I'm going to work this winter, am I not?"
Bea turned her pillow over and laid her head down thoughtfully. Was Ernestine selfish, or had she much heart? The question had often come silently up, and been put as silently down, but now it lingered persistently, though Bea moved her head restlessly, as if to get rid of it. If Ernestine wanted anything, she left no avenue untried, and got it if possible, no matter at whose expense or self-denial. All through fifteen years of her life, she had kept a clear unfaltering eye on herself, her wants, and her welfare, and after they were all supplied, she was ready and willing to help any one else; but no one must ever ask, or expect it at the expense of her personal comfort or plenty. Yet with her candies, the girls had lion shares; her pretty things,—and somehow all of Ernestine's things were so pretty and graceful,—she loaned willingly, and was never too tired or unwilling to help the girls' dress on great occasions; for though Olive was the artist, Ernestine had the artist's quick eye for graceful draping, harmony of colors, and picturesque structures of hair. Moreover, she was always good natured, nothing ever ruffled her, except for a passing moment, and any hour of the day, you might hear her voice, just like a bird's, filling the house with music, while her lovely face made sunshine; so it came, that she received the credit for making home happy, when she did it with no such intention, or exertion, only because she loved to sing, and it was perfectly natural for her to be gay and untouched by anything.
"I'm sure," she said, speaking suddenly, as Bea gave a restless twist to her head. "You needn't, if you don't want to, Bea. Perhaps you want to buy——"
"You know better," cried Bea, flying up from her rumpled pillow. "I don't want to buy anything, and if you want to spend five dollars for a lace scarf, why you're welcome to my money. That's all. Good night."
Next Sunday, when the girls went to church, Ernestine wore a cob-webby scarf of ivory white over her "made-over" silk, and put a creamy day lily in her yellow hair, and the girls looking at her, silently thought: "No wonder papa calls her his picture!"
A FOUNDATION THAT BROUGHT KAT TO GRIEF.
Slam! went the gate, knocking the dead leaves right and left, and whiz! went two girls up the walk, like unruly sky-rockets, with the odd ends flying. Rattle-de-tap, went four feet with steel-capped heels over the old shady porch, and bang! went the door back against the wall; then:——
"Jean, hurry;—let me tell first. Miss——"
"I beat to the steps, I ought to tell," shrieked Kat, as Kittie choked for breath. "Miss Howard is going to give us a,——"
"Nutting party!" shouted Kittie, with a triumphant breath. "Hurrah, three cheer-r-s!"
"Mercy on me," cried a voice from up stairs. "What is the matter; what are you doing?"
"Kittie's dancing a jig, and Kat's sliding down the bannisters," exclaimed a horrified voice from somewhere else. "Mercy! Bea, call mama; I think they've gone crazy."
"Nutting party," cried Kittie, dancing furiously and nodding her head like a demented monkey. "To-morrow,——want to go?"
The girls had all collected by this time around the boisterous pair, and Bea flapped her sewing warningly, as Kat came whizzing down the bannisters for a final time, and landed with a dexterous jump, in the middle of the group.
"I'm going down town," said Ernestine, after hearing of the near and great event. "I can't go."
"Of course not," said Kittie, with great scorn. "You'd rather go down town, and be all the afternoon buying a shoe string, than get a Saratoga trunk full of nuts; but you'll want some of mine this winter."
Olive was busy on a picture, Bea had some sewing, so the twins must represent the Dering family, and accepted the matter quite blissfully, to judge from the way they raced off for parts unknown, and remained absent for some time, as if strange and wonderful preparations were necessary, and being undergone for to-morrow. They came back when the tea-bell rang, at least Kittie did, slowly and solemnly through the back yard, and lingered several minutes on the porch, with many mysterious signals to some one, down where the long yard sloped to the pond, and a fringe of willows shaded the water.
"Where's Kathy," inquired Ernestine, who strongly objected to the extremely abbreviated form of 'Kat.'
"Down at the pond, she's coming," answered Kittie, with a strangely worried look; but Ernestine flitted by without noticing it, and pretty soon Kittie quit leaning over the lattice and went in slowly.
Just as Mrs. Dering was leaving her room to go down to tea, she heard a peculiarly suspicious noise out in the back hall, unmistakably the careful opening of a window, as of someone on the low roof without, and pausing to listen, Mrs. Dering became convinced, that someone was surely making entrance to the house in that questionable manner. A midnight burglary was a rare occurrence in Canfield, but one in the early fall of evening, was beyond imagination, and yet Mrs. Dering was conscious of a little trepidation, as she tiptoed her way round to the back hall, and fancy pictured a man, with sly intent, coming over the window-sill. Whoever the intruder was, he was working with great care, and wholly unconscious of any one's approach, for when Mrs. Dering reached the corner and peeped around, the intruding head was just leveled, and coming through, carefully followed by a nimble body, but not clothed in the habiliments usually donned by burglars; instead, there appeared a blue calico much drenched and ornamented with wet weeds, an apron wholly unrecognizable as to color or design, and a drabbled hat hanging to the intruder's neck. As this queer apparition landed on the floor, Mrs. Bering stepped around the corner, whereupon the bold burglar jumped and screamed faintly, and the lady laughed, though she said with grave inquiry:
"Why Kathleen! What does this mean?"
"Oh, mama!" gasped the burglar, with a despairing glance at her dripping self. "I didn't want you to see me."
"Nor any one else, from the way you came in I should think. What is the matter?"
Kat grasped her wet hat, and looked desperately sorry and resigned all at once.
"Why, I went out in the boat," she said, twisting the wet ribbons around her fingers and dropping her eyes to the floor, with a little flush of shame, "and it upset, and I had to wade in, but I couldn't get it, and it's sailing upside down, way out in the pond. I don't know whatever you'd better do to me, I'm sure."
"Disobeyed papa. O Kathleen!"
"Well I didn't mean—," there Kat stopped, and swallowed several times very hastily; she would rather have been shaken, than to have heard that grieved tone. "I was only going to ride a little ways, but the wind blew me out; I know it was wrong, though, cause pap said, not to touch it."
"Go to your room and get off your wet clothes as quickly as possible, and after supper I will come and talk to you about it," said Mrs. Dering, turning away to hide the smile, that poor, dripping, shame-faced Kat could not but provoke.
The announcement that "Water-Rat" was face down out in the pond, caused dire dismay at the supper-table, so that when the meal was finished, and Mrs. Dering went up to talk to repentant Kat, the rest of the family all hurried down to the pond to view the disaster. There was the gayly painted boat, floating idly back and forth with the wind, out in the pond, and the girls expressed their great dismay in a dismal chorus of "Oh's," long prolonged, as it floated farther away. "Never mind," said papa Dering, briskly. "We'll get her all safe again, a little bath won't hurt her. Here Kittie, you're the best runner, go to the house and bring me the largest hammer and longest nails in the tool-chest. Be quick now." Kittie was off like a flash, and when she came back, there were three or four logs lying ready for use, with some planks and a long pole, and Mr. Bering with coat off, fell to work with a will and such speed, that in ten minutes, a small raft lay in the water, and Mr. Dering was making preparations for his voyage, by pulling off his boots and tucking his pants up.
"You don't suppose you could get drowned, do you papa," questioned Jean, somewhat overcome with these unusual proceedings, and clinging to her seat in a low willow with some trepidation.
"Not much, little one. I guess if Katty can wade out of this water, papa can, providing he's tipped in. Now good-bye, girls. Wish me well."
Kittie in the willow, and Bea and Ernestine on a log, gave three parting cheers with such force, that Kat, crying forlornly up in her room, ran to the window to see the fun, and watched with great interest the rescue of the "Water Rat," which Mr. Dering effected with great skill and many flourishes, to the delight of his audience. After being pulled out on the grass, face up again to dry, the rescued "Rat" was left to the twilight, while the party returned to the house.
The new arrangements had been in hand about a week, and so far, the girls were delighted and enthusiastic over "helping," though they did miss "Prince" and the buggy very much. As Mrs. Dering had said, papa decidedly objected to any such arrangements and privations, but one man against seven determined women!—oh, my! just think of it! So they had their way, and it was such a comfort to see, that already he began to look a little less worried and anxious when out of the store.
That night, when the girls went to bed, Kat was very much subdued, and kept her face quite persistently out of sight. Kittie administered comfort in broken and complete doses, but without much effect, for just now, when under the new enthusiasm, every one was doing her best in all ways, Kat felt her disgrace, more deeply than was customary for her, who fell into it, and out again pretty nearly every day, and so she refused to be comforted. Perhaps there was another reason for the complete and deep contrition. At any rate, she whispered to Kittie with a choke, that fought against being a sob,—before they went to sleep; "Oh, Kittie!—I can't go—go, nutting!"
Sure enough. Kat ate her breakfast with red eyes and a poor appetite the next morning, while the sun shone, as it surely never did before, and Kittie gayly laughed and chatted, but trying to be not too happy, as was consistent with the deep sympathy felt and expressed for suffering Kat, who had vanished beyond the power of sight or search, when at eight o'clock, a merry party halted at the gate, and the home girls, gayly escorted Kittie and her baskets down the walk.
That was a dismal morning to be sure. Kat did her portion of the work before any of the other girls came up stairs, and no one saw her again that morning, for with a volume of history, "St. Elmo," and six apples, she departed for the back roof, where she sat down and cried as hard as ever she could for five minutes, then opened the history, and took a fierce bite out of the biggest apple.
"There, I won't cry another tear, it's a blessing that I wasn't shut up for the day, instead of being allowed to roam around, when I can't let things alone that I'm told to. I'm going to learn a chapter of this history, now, before I read a word of 'St. Elmo,' though I don't see the use. Whatever do I care about the Edwards' and Henrys' and all that!" And then Kat shook herself, opened her book, and valiantly attacked Henry the Fifth, with every possible intention of doing just exactly what she said; but in about ten minutes a little puff of wind sailed across the roof, tossed open the cover of 'St. Elmo,' fluttered the leaves, then flew away, leaving them open, just where Edna goes to the old church for the last time, and Kat's eyes strayed right down to the tempting words, and somehow they did not come back at once.
That old roof was just like all the rest of the house, roomy, shady and cool. The flourishing top of a huge apple-tree reached over one side of it, with tempting seats in its boughs, and on another side, was the wide roomy window, with its worn sill, that led into the garret of the main part of the house. Solid comfort had it always been to the girls, and sometimes on warm Sunday afternoons, all the family might be found, distributed over its flat, roomy surface, with old comforts and pillows, and a good supply of books and fans.
Crash! went something suddenly and away sailed "St. Elmo," to bump his villainously fascinating head against the chimney, while Kat jerked her history open again and heard the profoundest and most melancholy sigh.
"What's the use! 'Henry the Fifth was born,'—I wonder who cares, dear me, I wish Kittie was here! 'Was born on'"—But, as if in answer to that wish so heartily uttered, there came two arms around her neck, and there was Kittie, laughing gayly as she nodded her head.
"I just wonder if you thought I would go to a nutting party, when you couldn't," she exclaimed. "I guess I haven't forgotten who was whipped in school the other day to save me. Bless me! Studying history!"
"Why, Kittie Dering!" was all the answer, she received from astonished Kat, "Didn't you go!"
"Looks as if I didn't, don't it?"
"And just for me?"
"Just for you!"
Thereupon, Bea, who was watching at the window, went down stairs, and reported that Kittie and Kat were having a "love feast" out on the roof.
That afternoon, amusements flagged. It was unusually warm for so late in the year, and Kat stretched lazily out on a bench, under the trees, while Kittie sat on the grass, and enjoyed herself pleasantly with nothing. "I tell you," exclaimed the latter, with a hearty jump, occasioned partly, by a new idea, partly by the sight of a huge spider, that was lumbering over the grass towards her. "Let's go over to the new church."
"Walk on the foundation; it's all finished and splendid to race on all the way round."
"Jolly idea," cried Kat, jumping from her bench, forgetting a previous assertion, that it was, "too hot to move!" and away they went, down the walk, at the usual break-neck speed taken by them, when in a hurry; Kittie rushing through the gate, while Kat nimbly cleared the fence.
Nobody was around to see, or be horrified, for it was on the edge of town, and anyhow, it seemed utterly impossible to convince these girls that they were nearly thirteen years' old, and ought to stop being such hoydens. Bea's little cautions, Ernestine's careful talks and examples of grace and dignity, Olive's open ridicule, and Jean's childish wonder, were all set aside, by a quiet smile from mama, or papa's hearty exclamation of—"let them alone—they're the only boys I've got." So Kittie and Kat romped to their heart's content, while mama took care that it did not make them too rude, and mended their torn clothes, with a patient smile, sometimes saying to herself: "Never mind, it makes them happy and strong; so, as long as I am well, and have the time, I'll not complain of a few rips and tears."
The new church, was only around the corner in a large green field, and the foundation, broad, and not too nigh, was a tempting place to run; so they clambered up, and raced back and forth, and all around several times, 'till out of breath, then Kat paused, and looked about with a contemplative and venturesome air.
"See here, Kittie, I'm going to walk across that narrow wall, where they haven't finished."
"Pretty high; you'd better not;" replied Kittie, measuring the proposed walk with a careful eye. "How will you get up?"
"Climb; it's only a step or two higher than this."
Kittie leisurely followed the more adventuresome twin, and called out suddenly: "Kat, there's an immense mud-hole at one side; looks as if it might be deep too; better hold on."
"Hurrah!" shouted Kat, in answer, as she balanced herself on the top of the narrow wall. "Here I go!" And there she did go, sure enough, for turning to nod triumphantly at Kittie, away went her balance, and after two or three of the wildest, most fearful struggles, down came Kat, head and heels right into the mud-hole.
"Oh, my goodness,—ha, ha,—my gracious; Oh-h! Kat Dering!" shrieked Kittie, dancing wildly up and down. "Oh, Kat; if I ever—what a—a sight! Oh—my!" and away went Kittie in another shriek, that pretty nearly knocked her off the wall, and even made Kat smile while the tears trickled down her muddy cheeks.
"I'm sunk clear to my knees," she cried despondently. "And my wrist feels so funny; Kittie, come, help me."
Kittie jumped down in a hurry; examined the limp and already swelling wrist with anxious gravity, and then nearly strangled with laughter when, after several vigorous tugs and struggles, Kat came out of the mud, leaving both her slippers hopelessly buried, and her clothes so heavy she could hardly walk.
"Oh, Kittie! what shall I do," she cried, giving up entirely, between the sharp pain in her wrist, and the speedy arrival of this second disgrace. "It's only yesterday, that I crawled into the house in this fix; I can't go again."
"Never mind; I'll go," said Kittie, lost in sympathy. "Everybody is in the front part of the house, and I'll slip in the back way, go in over the roof, and bring you some clothes. Just sit down here and wait; I'll hurry, and it'll be all right."
So Kat sat down, quite pale with the painful wrist, and meditated, in a desperate fashion, on her inability to keep out of trouble and mischief; But Kittie was back in an incredibly short space of time, all flushed and panting, and with a little bundle of clothes tucked under her arm.
"Here Kat is a skirt, and dress, and stockings, and my slippers," she cried, running inside the wall where Kat sat forlornly.
"No one saw me; here hurry. How's your wrist?"
"Hurts," said Kat briefly, finding tears inclined to obstruct her utterance; and then they were silent, while the muddy garments were hastily laid aside and the dry ones slipped on; and the two started round-a-bouts for home.
A little while later, Kittie appeared at the sitting-room door, where the girls were sewing with mother, while Ernestine trilled and warbled at the piano. Mrs. Dering came out to the hall in answer to Kittie's beckon, and received this somewhat incoherent report:
"Kat's upstairs; we walked the foundation, and she fell off the high part; I took her some clothes, but I don't know what she's done to her wrist;" and Mrs. Dering did not waste any time trying to get a straighter report, but hurried up stairs, where Kat was lying on the bed, moaning and trying not to cry, with the painfully swollen wrist, laid out on a pillow. Twenty minutes' later the doctor was there with splints and bandages, and Kat, looking into his eyes with a vague alarm, asked, after he had examined it: "How long before I can use it?"
"Many weeks, Kathleen."
"Why, is it badly sprained?"
"Worse, I think, my dear little girl, for it is pretty badly broken."
Olive's door was locked.
Jean saw her go in, and heard the bolt slide swiftly across after the door shut, and just the glimpse that the little girl had of her sister's face, showed tears on the sallow cheeks, and hanging to the lashes. Olive was bitterly opposed to having any one know that she cried, and above all things to have any one see her employed in that manner; she herself, could not have told why perhaps, except that she did not want it. All of her feelings were so carefully hidden, and herself so wrapped in a cloak of reserve, that the surface was as delicately sensitive, as gossamer, and at every touch that left its impress, she retired farther within herself, and left less room for touch of any kind. Now, when she caught a glimpse of Jean's face, she shut the door sharper than was necessary, and going over to the window, sat down and stared moodily off into the yard, where the scarlet tops of the maples nodded to a golden, glowing sky. Surprised and curious, Jean lingered a moment, with her hand on the bannister, surveying the door thoughtfully, then limped carefully across, and knocked softly.
"Who is it?" came tartly from within.
"Me, Olive. Are you sick?"
Jean turned away a little hurt. "Why need Olive speak so shortly?" she wondered, with the usual after-thought "Bea, never does, or the others."
Olive listened to the little crutch going slowly down stairs, and waited until everything was quiet, then she went over to a small trunk and sat down before it, lifted the lid, and supporting her chin in her hand, looked steadily into it, all the moody bitterness in her eyes changing slowly to a sadness that was almost despair.
"Oh, I don't see why it is!" she cried suddenly, laying her head down on the trunk's sharp edge, and breaking into a passionate sobbing, all the stronger for having been long denied. "I surely try, but, they are unkind; they are, I know." And then the thick sobs broke vehemently forth, and echoed out into the quiet hall; but Olive was alone upstairs, and she knew it; besides, I doubt if she could have controlled herself now, even had the whole of the amazed family confronted her. Poor, sensitive, unfortunate Olive; was it her fault wholly, that her sisters seemed able to be happy, quite regardless of her, and that she seemed to fill no place in home except as "that queer, homely Olive," as she had once heard herself called? This afternoon, the girls had all dressed gayly, and gone for a ride behind "Prince" with Mr. Phillips. He had said, "all the girls," when asking for them, but Olive so seldom joined in any of their little gayeties outside of home, that it really seemed strange and out of place for her to go with them; so she waited, when the time came to dress, wondering, and half hoping that one of them would express a little desire that she should go. Such a thought, however, occurred to no one; for so many times had she flatly refused to go, that they had all gradually ceased asking, supposing that she would do as she pleased. Once, to be sure, Bea did run up to the arbor, seeing her there, with the question on her lips, but Olive saw her coming, and fearing that the new desire and expectation would show in her face, bent her eyes to her book, quite unconscious of the heavy scowl on her brow; so, after one glance, Bea withdrew in a hurry, remembering frequent complaints for disturbance. At the hasty disappearance, Olive looked up with a bitter little smile, that would have instantly disclosed to an observer, how she was construing the act, and how she was hurt in spite of herself.
"There! she was afraid she'd have to ask me something about it, if she came in, so she got out in a hurry. But they needn't worry; I'll not force myself in; I'm queer, and ugly, and had better stay by myself;" and with that, Olive shut her lips fiercely tight, and did not once lift her eyes, when, a little while later, they all went laughing down the walk, never heeding her or once regretting her absence. It often happened so now, and Olive missed the coaxings with which they had once tried to draw her out, never once dreaming that she had done away with them herself, by shortly, tersely, and repeatedly asking, to "be let alone."
No, this never occurred to her, as she sat there crying bitterly, but her broken words revealed the track of her thoughts.
"They never let Ernestine stay home! Indeed not, and there's the greatest commotion raised if she speaks of such a thing. She's pretty and graceful, and loves to dress up like a doll, while I'm ugly, and awkward, and always do things wrong, and disgrace them, I suppose. I don't see what I'm crying for, I'm sure. I can be happy without them as well as they without me!" and Olive raised her head defiantly, and flung the tears from her lashes, for having cried; the burden seemed lighter, and the little hurt and loneliness less hard. "I've plenty to think of besides them, and I might as well go to work." So out of the trunk came a box, and Olive's tears were as quickly gone as they had come. This box held a collection of sketches, many of them originals, some of them copies, but all bearing marks of a strong talent, rude and somewhat hasty as yet, but capable of much, when the young artist should have studied, and brought a few happy ideas to color the faces and scenes that grew from under her fingers. Now they clearly betrayed the unhappy spirit that prompted them, for there was not one glad sunshiny picture among them; instead, there were several faces of women, in various attitudes of defiance or despair, with a stern relentless sorrow darkening their eyes, and hardening their lips; then there was an old boat over-turned in the shadow of a half-broken tree, and various sketches of home scenery from the different windows of the house. Olive had selected one, somewhat larger than the rest, and had gone to work rapidly, pressing her lips tightly in the earnestness of her work and thoughts, and the room was perfectly silent for a long time. Presently she stopped abruptly, and balancing her pencil on her finger, looked out of the window with a troubled longing in her eyes.
"I wonder if I ever can," she murmured slowly. "How hard it is to be patient, and wait, it's three months yet until I am sixteen, and they never will let me I know, because it's too dangerous for a girl. I'm sorry I am one anyhow; it makes everything go wrong. Now, there's my money, I'm glad I've got it to give to papa. Dear papa, I don't believe he or mama cares because I'm so ugly; I'll give it to him to-night, and then while I'm waiting, I'll work and earn some more, so as to have enough;" and, after ending this slightly enigmatical speech with an abrupt nod, Olive looked a little brighter and fell to work so rapidly, that she shaded a dimple until it looked like a bullet-hole in the cheek of her fair subject.
Nothing further was heard for over an hour, then there came chattering voices, the slam of the gate, much laughter, and much spattering and crunching of gravel, that announced a race up the walk, between the festive twins, for though Kat's disabled arm swung gracefully in a sling, she had, after the first day or two, returned to all her romping with undiminished ardor, thereby keeping the family in constant terror, lest the necessary appendage be forever disabled. Jean had reported to Bea, the fact that Olive had locked her door and was crying, and with her conscience reproving her, Bea ran hastily up stairs, and knocked at the door. "Olive, may I come in?"
"Well, just to talk a little," Bea replied, knowing better than to give Jean's report.
Olive unlocked the door, after having first surveyed her face to see that no tears were visible.
"Come in, if you want to; I'm drawing," and Bea accepted the ungracious invitation, thinking to herself, as Olive straightway took her seat and pencil, and returned to work—
"Now Olive's in one of her moods, I wonder if I can say anything," for though not yet seventeen, Bea was womanly and thoughtful, and Mrs. Dering had sometimes talked with her, about the unfortunate peculiarities of this sister's disposition, and asked her help in being patient, and trying to overcome it.
"We had a delightful time," began Bea, anxious to work aright. "'Prince' was such a dear old fellow and Mr. Phillips so kind. I'm so sorry you didn't go, Olive."
Nothing but pride kept Olive's face from brightening a little at this; she turned away, made a fierce dab at her subject's nose, and thought grimly:—"It's all very well to be sorry now, when the thing's all over; I wonder if she thinks that I believe she's sorry, anyhow."
"We went around by the river, and way up on the hill," continued Bea, after waiting a reasonable length of time for an answer. "Mr. Phillips says we may ride often."
"Yes, wasn't it kind? you know Mrs. Phillips and the girls are going away and 'Prince' will need exercising."
"Hasn't mama come home yet?"
"I don't know."
"Perhaps Mrs. Dane is worse."
"It's almost supper time, I should think she would be here," and with that, Bea got up, somewhat discouraged with the one-sided conversation; but paused again at Olive's side.
"Oh! what a lovely face," she exclaimed, bending over the artist's shoulder. "Where did you get it, Olive?"
"Made it up."
"Well, I really envy you such a talent; I have none at all. Why do you make her look so sad?"
"That's the way she looked to my mind and I drew her so. Perhaps it's because she has no sisters," answered Olive, spoiling the meaning conveyed in the words by the sarcasm that crept into the voice, and Bea drew back, hurt and half inclined to be angry; but with her, a tender heart always went ahead of a quiet temper and ruled, so she walked to the door, saying as she went out: "You better put up your things; supper's nearly ready."
After tea Olive whispered something to Mr. Dering, and to everyone's curiosity, they went off together to the library. This was only a small room, but very cozy, with a dark green carpet on the floor, the chairs of various shapes, with the previous covering worn threadbare, neatly covered with green cloth, a cover of like shade on the table, and one side of the wall well packed with books; for Mr. Dering having never been wealthy, had only by care, and much time, collected the books which now formed a faultless, small library. It was Ernestine's idea, having the room green, and bestowing upon it the important sounding name of "library," for it suited her fancy by sounding stylish, and pleased her artistic eye by being all of one shade; so after much patient drilling, she got them all to call it "library," excepting Olive, for that sister, disapproving of Ernestine's notions in general, did not like to yield to this one, and insisted on calling it "study."
Well, in here came Mr. Dering, Olive following with a light, saying, as she placed it on the table:
"Papa, this is to be a secret."
"Oh! oh! and you expect me to keep it?"
"Of course, at least a part of it," and Olive looked so serious, as she came and stood by his chair, that he became attentive in an instant, saying heartily:—"Well, go on dear, I'm listening, and promise to keep the secret."
Olive hesitated an instant, but she always hated to show any feeling, especially of embarrassment, so pitched into her subject abruptly, with her eyes down. "You know, papa, that we know that you have been troubled with the hard times, and wanted to help you."
"Yes, Olive, and I can never forget the way that my girls and their dear mother anticipated, and have done to help me."
"No," Olive answered, almost impatiently. "We have done nothing; it most all falls on mama; she helps us with the work, and as for 'Prince,' of course, we loved him, but we girls are able to walk, it's only mama, who is denied; so all the help it is, she gives, not we."
"Then we should love her all the more, dear," said Mr. Dering; and the tenderness and love that shone in his face would have gladdened the heart of the wife of thirty years, had she seen it.
"I don't think we can ever love her enough," answered Olive heartily; then hesitated again, while her hand went slowly into her pocket, and came slowly out again.
"Hold your hand, papa."
He did so, and after placing a little roll in it, and closing his fingers over it, she said hurriedly: "It is only a little, papa; just thirty dollars that I have saved, but I want you to take it, and——"
"But Olive, my dear child——"
"Don't, please;" she interrupted hastily. "I know what you want to say, but it's not denying me anything, and what if it was? I want you to have it. You never gave us our allowance to buy our clothes with, and as for fancy things, I don't care for them; I don't care to go out as the other girls do, and I do not need it for anything. I only wish it was more."
There may have been many reasons why Mr. Dering said nothing as he drew her on to his knee, and kissed her tenderly, but the right one would not have been hard to guess had any one seen his eyes full of tears. Olive's heart was beating happily, and she went on quite gayly: "And another thing, papa; now don't say anything until I finish; I want to have all my own way to-night. You know, sometime ago I helped Mr. Hess with some writing, and he said that if I would draw his little girl's head, he would teach me how to keep books; well, he did, you know, and now I want you to dismiss him, and let me be your book-keeper. It would help you, and oh, I should love to so much; it seems as if I wasn't a bit of use the way I live now, with nothing in particular to do."
"Why, my dear little girl," cried Mr. Dering, as she paused for breath. "Do you think they could spare you to me all day, down in that dusty old store?"
"Oh, yes, indeed!" and into Olive's brightened eyes crept a little of the old bitterness, as she recalled the afternoon.
"And I'm to pay you——"
"Nothing of course, papa."
"No, my dear, I cannot consent to that."
"Please; I want to help you now. You may pay me when you are not troubled any more about business."
"Ah, yes; when!" said Mr. Dering sadly to himself.
"Papa," Olive put an arm about his neck. "Is it so bad as that? I'm not sixteen yet, but oh, I feel so much older, I can understand if you tell me."
It really seemed so, as he looked into that grave, serious face, so unlike a merry, careless girl; and while a sigh crossed his lips, his eyes looked trustingly into hers.
"Yes, dear, I think you can. You deserve, and I am happy to give you, my confidence; besides, I want to show you how you have helped me to-night. I am troubled very seriously, I have a note of six thousand to meet within sixty days, or the store goes, I see no way of raising it. There is four thousand in the bank in mama's name, but I do not want to touch it, because if anything should happen to me, you would not have one cent left in the world. Still, if one or two ways which I have in mind now, do not yield me something, I shall be obliged to take it, so as to save part of my business, and replace it as soon as possible. Thank God, the home is safe; it can never be taken from you, and never would I consider it my duty to rob my wife and children of home and happiness, to liquidate my debts. I owe my creditors a duty which I will work to fulfill, while I live; but, I owe my family a greater one; so Olive dear, the old home is always safe. To-night I am more thankful to hold thirty dollars, than two months ago, I would have been to hold a hundred, and only to-day I told Mr. Hess that I would have to do without him, and that I would try the book-keeping myself."
He paused here, and the joy that mastered trouble in Olive's face, found vent as she laid her head on his shoulder and cried heartily, "Oh papa I am so glad, so glad!"
"You know more now, dear, than mama," continued Mr. Dering, appreciating the caress, knowing how rare they were for any body from Olive. "I see she is just as careful of home expenses as though she knew it all, and I do not want to give her the added trouble until I see that I cannot fight my way through, and that it must be known."
"Papa, isn't there some other way that I can help you?"
"My noble little girl, no, the load is already too heavy for your young shoulders; but, I do so warmly appreciate your womanly interest, and your desire to help is precious indeed, while you see how great a help it is to me."
Olive was smiling happily, even while her heart was filled with anxiety and many thoughts; so they sat there for some time in silence, then there came a tap on the door, and a sepulchral voice through the keyhole:
"If you don't want the whole family to come swarming over the transom, you'd better come out and tell us what that tremendous secret is. Speak quick, a single word."
"Shovels!" shouted Mr. Dering, implicitly obeying the threatening command.
"Very good; you may live, providing you come out immediately and give me a dime to buy some butter-scotch," returned the voice.
"The request betrays the speaker," laughed Mr. Dering as he stood up and unlocked the door. "Clear out, you begging Kat; you always——"
"Hurrah," cried the beggar shrilly. "Can't tell us apart yet; there's Kat on the stairs; now, whenever we demand it, you have to give us a dime a piece; fine, you know."
"Yes; I know, you mercenary little monkeys; come in the sitting-room if you want to hear our secret."
Kittie and Kat rushed promptly in, and Mr. Dering spoke, indicating Olive by a wide flourish.
"Ladies and gentlemen—I suppose I must represent the gentlemen:—Let me introduce you to my future book-keeper and business confidante."
Olive lifted her eyes, as he bowed again, and first saw her mother's face so happy and pleased, then Ernestine's so full of something that was almost ridicule, and in an instant, without looking farther, her own darkened, and withdrawing her hand, she walked over to her accustomed corner, thinking bitterly, while they all commented and applauded.
"There! now every one but mama, thinks I'm a fool, and they needn't be saying, 'how splendid' and 'oh! Olive,' for didn't Ernestine look as if she wanted to laugh, and as if she would be ashamed of me if I worked, even in papa's store. But I don't care what any of them say or think," and having turned bitterly against all the girls, merely because of the unconscious smile on Ernestine's astonished face, Olive crushed all the joy from her own face, and nearly all from her heart.
"Well, surely there never was such a pokey family," exclaimed Ernestine, lounging into the room where the girls were gathered, one bleak dreary morning, early in November. "Nothing ever happens, any more than as if we were in back-woods. Kittie, I'll change seats with you."
"I suppose you will," returned Kittie, keeping her chair and frowning over her slate and book. "You'll always change if you get the best by it; get out of my light will you."
"I wish you'd shut the door, Ernestine," growled Kat over the top of a bandage bound round her head and face; "I wish your tooth was ready to jump out of your mouth, and some one would leave the door open on you."
"I'd try and set you a good example, by being polite at least," laughed Ernestine, who really never could be cross or blue, very long at a time. "How grum we are; what's the matter Bea?"
"I've an awful headache," answered Bea, who shared in the general depression, and was considerably ruffled over not being able to set a puff straight on her skirt. "Be quiet, please, and sit down; it was still enough before you came in."
"So I should think, from the way you all look like tomb-stones. Nobody looks peaceful, but Jean, and she's asleep; and Olive is the only one that looks natural, because she always looks solemn and cross, no matter what's up."
Olive turned from the window with a jerk. She had such a cold, that she could not go down to the store, and her face was swollen most unbecomingly.
"Perhaps if you had a little more sense, you might be able to look at least reasonably solemn sometimes," she said sharply.
"Oh, mercy," cried Ernestine, with her gay laugh, far more tantalizing than the sharpest words. "If having sense would make me look like you, I'd never want it,—never."
Olive jumped from her seat with a force that knocked the chair over, and startled the whole company.
"Ernestine Dering," she cried fiercely, and as though the words almost choked her. "You are the most heartless, selfish, senseless creature, that ever lived; I never will forgive you! You haven't got a thought above looking like a wax doll, and acting like a ninny, and I hate you;—there!"
"Well—if—I—ever," cried Kittie, as Olive vanished with a bang of the door that woke Jean and made Bea clap her hands to her aching head.
"You ought to be ashamed," exclaimed Kat, glaring over her bandage. "Olive's the best one of the lot, and I've three minds to go and tell her so."
"And have your head taken off for your pains," said Ernestine, walking over to the glass, and smiling at her own unruffled image. "Olive's a touchy goose, but I didn't mean to hurt her feelings, and I'm sorry for it; so that's the best I can do now, isn't it?"
"I suppose so, unless it is to think once in a while, that there is some one in the world with feelings, besides yourself," answered Bea, jerking her unruly sewing, and getting crosser than ever as she ran her needle into her finger.
"Dear me," cried Ernestine, throwing her hands up, and admiring them in the glass. "It's a sure sign that something is going wrong with this family, when you get cross, Bea."
"I'm not an angel," grumbled Bea, then threw her sewing down, and gave herself a shake, both mentally and physically. "But there's no need of my acting like a bear, and I'm really ashamed. Come sit on my lap, Jean, you look terribly grieved."
"Well, 'tisn't very pleasant with mama gone, and you all fussing so," answered Jean, limping over with her crutch, and laying her head on Bea's shoulder with a sigh. "If you all were lame awhile, you'd be so glad to get straight again, that you never would fuss or scold, never."
Bea sucked her bruised thumb, and thought more heartily than ever, that they ought to be ashamed; but a little witch of impatience and petulance lurks in the gentlest of feminine hearts, and though Bea had resolved to hush talking, and be patient, the little meddling temper was wide awake, much aggravated at the gloomy weather, and bound to make mischief if possible. Ernestine turned away from the glass in a moment, and strolled over to the lounge.
"I don't see," she exclaimed, "why everything should be denied us. I'd like to live for awhile just as I want to."
No one answered, for just then Kittie threw down her slate, and burst into impatient tears.
"What's the use! I can't understand such fractions, and I never will; I'd like to smash that slate, and burn this old book!"
"Doesn't Miss Howard show you?"
"O yes, she shows and shows, and talks and explains, 'till my head spins like a top; but I can't understand, and after a while she says, in such a surprised way, as if she thought I was the biggest dummy in the world—'Why, Kittie, don't you see it yet?' and I don't see it any more than ink in the dark, but I'm ashamed, so I pretend that I do, and that's the way it always is," and Kittie cried despairingly.
"How the cheerfulness increases," laughed Ernestine, jumping up. "I'm going down stairs, and I sha'n't come up again until I can say something that will please you all. By-by," and away she went, nodding brightly.
The morning wore slowly away. Jean, with a pain in her back, lay in Bea's arms until she fell asleep again; then after laying her down, Beatrice went back to her sewing, made patient and penitent by contact with that frail, peaceful little sister, and, after viewing her unmanageable puff determinedly for a few minutes, saw her mistake, and immediately went to work and finished it with no trouble. Kat, after much grumbling, finally brought her tooth to comparative submission, and went to sleep, while Kittie fled from the field of fractions, and spent her morning in the swing, which hung in the shed.
Just before dinner, the door-bell rang, and in a minute Ernestine came flying up stairs.
"There," she cried, waving a tinted paper. "I've something to please you with. Just listen:—'Mrs. Richards would be pleased to see Miss Dering, Miss Ernestine and Miss Olive for tea next Wednesday Eve!' I expect they'll dance. Won't it be fun?"
"I don't see any use of your waking me up, I'm not invited;" exclaimed Kat, sinking back on to her pillow, when she found that she was not included in the coming bliss.
"I hope you didn't expect it, only a child," said Ernestine, as Bea took the magic paper in great delight.
"Child, indeed!" cried Kat. "I'm tall as you."
"More's the pity, for you're only twelve, and as wild as a boy."
"I don't care; I'm going if mama says so; can't I Bea?"
"Why no; Mrs. Richards didn't ask you."
"What's the difference? She likes me just as well as she does you and would be just as glad to see me."
"Of course; but girls of twelve are never invited out in the evening," expostulated Bea, re-reading the delightful invitation, for events were rare in Canfield, and then it was so nice to be called "Miss Dering."
"I don't care, I think it's real mean!" and Kat vented her resentment by punching her pillow into a helpless knot.
"Go, call Olive, Ernestine," continued Bea, all smiles and complacency; "and just say, by the way, that you're sorry you hurt her feelings; it's quite the proper thing to do, you know."
"All right," and Ernestine ran down the hall.
"Oh, Olive! come with us; here's an invitation from Mrs. Richards. I'm sorry I hurt your feelings; come on."
"I don't care for anything that you said, and I've something to think about besides invitations. Go away, will you?"
"Oh, certainly," and having glibly uttered her penitent speech, Ernestine cared nothing about its reception, but hurried back to discuss their dress with Beatrice.
"But mama has not said that we can go," said Bea, caressing the tinted paper, as she interrupted an enthusiastic speech that was making Ernestine's eyes glow like diamonds.
"But she will; why shouldn't she? Any how I'm going to believe that she will, I will wear my silk and my new scarf, and borrow mama's laces for the sleeves, and her white comb, and jewelry with the bracelets, if she will loan them;—do you suppose she will?"
"No, I know she won't; she'll think it's too much dress for a young girl. Wear flowers."
"Nonsense! I won't. I want the jewelry. What will you wear?"
"My cashmere; it's all I've got," and Bea sighed a little, for she did love to look nice. "The sleeves are dreadfully worn, and the over-skirt isn't the latest; but it can't be made over again, and I can't afford to spend a cent."
"Never mind," said Ernestine, who could, and did readily advise what she disliked to practice. "Brush it up good, put ink over the little hole in the sleeve, and I'll loop the over-skirt so that it looks later in style, and loan you my blue bows."
"I suppose you will," returned Bea petulantly, for the temper, though appeased, was still awake and alert. "You're quick enough to loan me what you don't want yourself, and to say for me to go in an old-fashioned dress, with the holes inked up, and no jewelry; when you want silk and laces, and all the jewelry; you are generous."
"Oh, well, you may have the—the things if she will loan them; don't get fussy," said Ernestine, not a trifle abashed. "Who do you suppose will be there?"
"Whoever she invites, I suppose," answered Bea, still ruffled.
"And I expect Dell will be dressed beautifully; oh, dear, how nice it would be to be rich," sighed Ernestine.
"I don't think it's fair for some girls to have so much, and others to have to scrimp and pinch, and then have nothing," cried Bea, exaggerating her woes, as is usual, when one is determined to think one's self the worst abused of all mortals. "I wonder if Olive is going, and how she will dress."
"Just like she always does, I suppose, in that old green, with a big white collar, and her hair pulled straight back, and as smooth as a door-knob, no ornaments, and look fierce enough to chew every body up. I do wonder what Olive is good for anyhow, she isn't any comfort to anybody," and, as Ernestine spoke, her eyes went slyly over to the glass, where her pretty attitude in Jean's chair, and the sunshine lying warm on her hair, were reflected.
Usually, Bea would have taken up her sister's cause, and uttered some conclusive defence, but now she felt abused, and didn't care much what was said of anybody, so after a moment, Ernestine went on—
"I wish I knew the 'German,' I'm going to ask Dell to teach me, she does it beautifully. I think it is so hateful in Olive not to dance, it spoils a set for us, so that we can never dance quadrilles ourselves."
"I suppose she has a right to do as she pleases," answered Bea, revelling in the questionable luxury of being as cross as she could. "I don't care whether mama lets us go or not, I haven't a thing to wear, and of course if I don't go, you can't."
"Oh, but she will, I'll fix you so pretty, that you'll blush to look at yourself, and you know Mrs. Richards said last summer, that you looked like an angel in white, and you may have quillings off my bolt of footing to put in your basque, and around the pleatings;" and, with these skilfully thrown in words, Ernestine ran off to look over her little collection of ribbons and laces, while Bea turned her eyes slowly to the glass, just as her pretty sister had done a moment before, only not with such an air of perfect satisfaction.
"How pretty Ernestine is, and even if she is selfish, she's always so willing to loan things, that any one doesn't think that it's just because she doesn't happen to want them herself. I hope if Olive does go, she will fix up a little," and with a sigh Bea turned away from her reflection, and after covering Jean with a shawl, went down to see if dinner was not nearly ready.
If they could have seen Olive, they would never needed to have asked if she was going. All the afternoon she walked slowly up and down her room, sometimes increasing her gait, as the thoughts crowded and doubled the deep trouble in her face; and, in her mind was one thought that mastered every other, and that often formed itself into words and crossed her lips in a whisper of shivering dread.
"The sixty days are almost gone, and papa has not got the money! What will he do? oh! what will he do?"
Being with him constantly in the store, Olive saw, what he struggled to hide from those at home,—the utter despair that was mastering a patient hope;—and she knew that as the days went so swiftly by, that to him, the end was growing more certain. Once she saw him eagerly tear open a letter, and after reading a few lines, drop his head on his hands, and, unconscious of her nearness, groan despairingly. It weighed on her mind terribly, and her great desire to be of help, faced by the fact of her perfect inability, made her almost desperate, at times.
Beatrice spent the afternoon in fussing with her dress, and Ernestine in watching for her mother, who was spending the day with a sick friend, so as she was still absent, when the tea-bell rang, the meal was rather gloomy; for the three older girls were busy with thoughts; Kat's tooth still ached, Kittie had caught cold, and their resentment at not being included in the invitation, being mutual, they devoted themselves exclusively to each other, and Jean dismayed at the unusual silence, ate her bread and milk with a pathetic air of loneliness, quite touching.
"Ernestine, won't you sing just a little something," she asked, as they went into the sitting-room, where the fire burned low. "It's so lonesome without mama, when you're all so still. Seems to me everything has gone wrong all day, what's the matter?"
"Everybody's in the blues, it's in the air," laughed Ernestine, sitting down to the piano, and skimming the keys. "Sit down chickie, and I'll sing 'Three Fishers.'"
Jean curled in a chair, with a pleased smile, and Ernestine began the plaintive song, with the firelight flitting over her face, showing that she sang with more feeling than usual.
"For men must work, and women must weep, And the sooner 'tis over, the sooner to sleep."
The door-bell rang just there, and made them jump, then Bea went to the door, for though quite dark, it was not seven yet.
A man stood just outside, a stranger, and as Bea opened the door with no light, but the fire from the sitting-room, he did not seem to know what to say.
"Is Mrs. Dering here,—that is,—is she home?"
"No, she is not, but will you come in, perhaps I will do," answered Bea, peering beyond him, and starting, as she caught the outline of other figures on the steps.
"I do not think you will, I,—in fact we,—" and there he paused, and looked behind him, and a vague chilling alarm struck Bea, and made her voice tremble as she asked—
"Is it anything so particular, any——,"
"Bad news," he said, as she hesitated. "Yes Miss,—Dering, I presume, I do bring bad news, your father——;"
Ernestine stood in the sitting-room door, and as the words were uttered, she saw Bea rush out, heard a faint scream, and a strange voice say, "catch her, she's falling;" then there came a tramp of feet across the porch, and four men crossed the hall, and came into the room with a strange burden; a rude litter, with a motionless figure on a mattress! Bea had fainted, for she had followed it, but as the men set their burden down with pitying faces, there came a shrill scream and a fall, for Ernestine dropped to the floor, and Jean continued to scream with her face hid. The three girls from up stairs came flying down, Huldah ran from the kitchen, and in the dire confusion, the strangers stood, not knowing what to do, or whom to address, for every one seemed to have lost self-possession in the overwhelming shock. So thought the gentleman who seemed to be leader, but at that minute a hand touched his arm, and a voice startlingly hushed, asked: "Is he dead?"
"He is, madam."
A spasm of pain crossed her set-white face, as her lips opened slowly, and the next question came with a gasp of dread:
"By—by his own hand?"
"Oh, no, madam, no indeed," cried the gentleman eagerly, glad to give that relief. "He was on the train going down to the city, which was wrecked twenty miles this side of it. His death was instant and painless, a blow on the left temple."
She uttered it slowly, and almost below her breath, then lifted her eyes from the peaceful face so life-like in death, and looked around the room. Ernestine lay moaning on the lounge, Kittie and Kat locked in each others arms crouched in the corner, tearless, because paralyzed with fright, Jean shook as with a spasm in Bea's lap, while Huldah stood by the lounge, with her apron over her head; and the men stood hushed and abashed with their eyes down.
"Take Jean out," Olive said again in that strange still voice. "Huldah carry Ernestine to her room, and Kittie, you and Kat go out to the steps and watch for mama."
How instantly they all obeyed her, as though recognizing one with authority, and how curiously the gentleman scanned her stonily white face, so worn in this brief moment of suffering, and listened to her last words with wonder.
"Then you are not Mrs. Dering?"
"No!" Olive did not seem surprised at the question, but her eyes went to his face slowly, and her lips began to twitch. "How will we ever tell her; oh! how will we?" she murmured, clasping her hands tightly; but the stranger heard the low words, and spoke hurriedly, with his eyes on the dead face.
"If you are expecting her, some one had better go to prepare her, for the shock might prove——"
Olive did not wait for more, but snatching a shawl from the chair, saying as she vanished:
"I will go, only stay 'till we come back."
The moon was coming slowly through a bank of clouds, and the wind sighing mournfully through the bare treetops, as she sped swiftly down the path and through the gate, whose familiar slam sounded dreary and dull, though it hardly reached her, as she ran down the quiet street.
In just a few minutes she saw another figure wearing a familiar shawl in the moonlight.
"Why, Olive," cried Mrs. Dering. "Were you all worried about me. Mr. Dane wanted to walk home with me, but I told him I would stop at the store for papa, and when I got there, the boy told me he had taken the afternoon train to the city; some sudden business I suppose. Why dear, how you have run!"
"Oh, mama!" it was Olive's only utterance, but it told its own story, for Mrs. Dering instantly grasped the hand held out to her and inquired sharply:
"What is it, quick,—any trouble at home?"
"What,—I heard them talking of an accident,—Oh! Olive!"
"Papa," said Olive, growing calm as she saw her mother blanch and tremble in the pale light; but Mrs. Dering waited for no more; grasping Olive's hand still tighter, she broke into a swift run, that did not slacken, until the steps were reached, and the sobbing within reached their ears; then Olive forcibly held her back an instant.
"Oh, mama,—wait,—let me tell you,—"
"No,—he is dead, I know it;" and breaking from the detaining hold, Mrs. Dering ran in, and when Olive reached the door, she was kneeling beside the litter, with one dead hand pressed to her hidden face.
In a moment they knew that she was praying, and feeling in the presence of something sacred, each man bent his head reverently, and covering her face, Olive too, tried to pray, and shed her first tears.
On the day of the funeral, the sun came up and flashed over the grey chill earth, with a spring-like warmth and radiance, and crept through the open windows with a broad glad smile, as though no sorrow darkened the home and hushed the merry voices.
Many times in these three days of crushing sorrow, when heart and hand seemed powerless to act, had Ernestine thought in a vague, wondering way, of her words: "I wonder what Olive is good for, she is no comfort to any one." Why, she herself, shivering and white, clung to her; Bea went to her; Mrs. Dering turned to them all for comfort, but to Olive for help and advice; Huldah came to her for orders; callers with offers of flowers and help saw her, and all said when questioned; "ask Olive, she can tell you;" "where is Olive?" "Olive knows all about it, don't disturb mama;" and so for once, home without Olive, would have known its greatest need.
On the evening of that last day, when all the sorrowful farewells were over, and the grief stricken family had returned to their saddened home; there came a stranger into Canfield, and after inquiring the way, stalked briskly out to the Dering house. All the heavy foliage being gone, Jean saw him coming through the gate, and turned from the window.
"Some one is coming, Olive," and Olive reached the door, just as the stranger gave a vain pull at the muffled bell. He was a strange, odd looking old gentleman, erect as a picket, scrupulously dressed, and looking at her with fierce grey eyes from under the bushiest lashes.
"Is Mrs. Dering in?" he inquired with a tap of his cane.
"Yes, sir, but——,"
"Well, that's all I want to know now, I'll ask the rest after I get in," and emphasizing the words with another sharp tap of his cane, in he walked.
"But, sir, my mother cannot see you to-night," said Olive, somewhat startled, but speaking with decision, and still holding the door open.
"Tut, tut, tut! I haven't come three hundred miles to be turned out into the night. Come, come, young woman, lead the way to where there's a fire and light, then take this card to your mother, and if she won't see me, give me a good comfortable bed, and I'll wait 'till morning for her."
Olive began to feel as though she had little to say in the matter, besides, he stamped his cane and looked at her so fiercely, that she thought he might be an escaped lunatic, and perhaps she had better humor him. So she led the way into the sitting room, poked the fire till it glowed brightly, then the old gentleman sat down, but jerked his head around quickly as the sound of Jean's retiring crutch fell on his ear.
"Ha, hum; come here little girl;" and his voice sharp and rough, softened wonderfully; but Jean only lifted her tear-stained pale little face, for an instant, then vanished; whereupon he pulled out a scarlet silk handkerchief, and blew his nose fiercely, then turned to Olive as if he expected to demolish her instantly with the card in his fingers.
"Here girl, take that to your mother and be quick."
Olive took it and unconsciously dropped her eyes to the name—
"ROGER RIDLEY CONGREVE."
Even the old gentleman started as she looked up, for pale as her face had been before, it was positively ashy now, and her eyes glared at him like a young lioness at bay. Somewhat amazed the old man rose and approached her; but she started back, threw the card at his feet, crying chokingly with a frantic gesture of her hands: