Tabitha at Ivy Hall
by Ruth Alberta Brown
1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse







To My Mother


























"She leaned far out on the window-sill, And shook it forth with a royal will.

'Shoot, if you must, this old gray head, But spare your country's flag,' she said."

The black eyes of the little speaker burned with fiery indignation as she hurled these words of defiance at a ten-quart pail of blackberries standing in the middle of the dusty road where she had set it when the emotion of her recital had overcome her to such a degree that mere words were no longer effective and gestures had become absolutely necessary. She was living it herself. What did it matter that there was no rebel army confronting her, what did it matter that the town of Frederick lay hundreds of miles away, what did it matter that she was merely a slip of a girl living fifty years after the terrible scenes of war which inspired the words she was reciting?

The whole picture lay as vividly before her as if she had been Dame Barbara herself, and she entered into the spirit of the production with such vim that her actual surroundings were forgotten. Her thin, peaked face, browned by sun and wind, was glorified with patriotism, and her voice rang sharp with the intensity of feeling. Having no flag to shake in the face of the approaching enemy, she pulled a mullein stalk growing among the tall grass and flaunted it so vigorously that in leaning over her imaginary window-sill she lost her balance and was nearly capsized into her pail of luscious berries.

A rude laugh interrupted her and she was brought to earth with a suddenness that left her breathless and crimson with embarrassment beside the road, digging her bare toes into the gray dust and waiting for the jeers she knew were to follow.

Then her face changed and the defiance flashed back into the big black eyes. Her tormentor was not the person she had evidently expected it to be, and her courage rose accordingly. Again the boy laughed insolently and the girl's fists clenched involuntarily as she looked up into the sneering face above her and realized that after all she could do him no harm for he was perched in the branches of a tree just out of reach over her head. His bare legs dangled tantalizingly among the green leaves, and all she could do to show her fierce hatred was to grimace at him. The effect was most startling. Her tormentor lost his hold on the upper bough and slid from his seat. There was a lively scratching and clawing among the branches; while below, the black-eyed girl held her breath in expectancy. Oh, if only he would tumble! But he did not fall, and her expression of jubilation changed to disappointment.

Carefully he righted himself on the limb where he had landed, and, peering down at the child in the road, tauntingly cried,

"Don't we think we are smart, Tabby Catt, Tabby Catt? Don't we think we are smart?"

The girl's lips curved scornfully, but her hard fists tightened until her knuckles stood out like white balls.

"How's Thomas Catt today?" continued the boy, swinging his feet dangerously near the tattered sunbonnet, which half concealed the angry little face below.

Still she deigned no reply, though her eyes blazed furiously and her breath came quick and short. She took a step nearer the tree and he cautiously drew his feet up to the branch on which he sat; but apparently she did not notice this move, as she stood measuring the distance from the ground to the limbs above and wondering whether or not she could reach him and give him the drubbing he deserved before he had a chance to escape or call for help. She could climb like a squirrel and run like a deer, but in the pasture beyond this fringe of trees was the boy's big brother, and she had no desire to meet him, having once had a taste of his great whip.

Perhaps the boy in the tree guessed her thoughts, for once more he lowered his feet and kicked viciously at her as he chanted:

"Tabby Catt, Tabby Catt, Drink some milk and make you fat, Skinny, scrawny Tabby Catt."

The faded calico bonnet caught on his toes and he tossed it high in the air, letting it fall far out in the dust of the road. Never pausing to see what was the fate of her possessions, the child let out one scream of animal rage, and with a tiger-like spring caught the feet of her enemy and jerked the coward off his perch.

Taken off his guard, he fell heavily into the road, crushing her beneath him, and raising such a cloud of dust that both were nearly smothered; but with a dexterous twist she freed herself, and, unconscious of the dust, the boy's screams or the sound of answering shouts in the pasture nearby, she fell to pummelling her helpless victim with relentless fists, all the while screaming at the top of her voice,

"I am a Tabby Catt, am I? I am scrawny and skinny, am I? Well, you're a coward, a good-for-nothing coward, and so is your big brother. He wouldn't dare fight Tom, and you wouldn't dare say such things to me if Tom was anywhere near. You're a bully, an overgrown baby, a 'fraid-cat! Yes, that's what you are! I may be a Tabby Catt, but I'm not a 'fraid-cat. I may be skinny and scrawny now, but I reckon you will be, too, when I get through with you, Joe Pomeroy! You're the sneakin'est sneak that ever lived—except your brother. 'Fraid-cat, sneak, sneak, sneak, s-n-e-a-k—"

Words failed her. What could she say mean enough to express her contempt for the howling coward almost twice her size pinned under her knees, making no attempt to defend himself against the rain of blows falling wherever the avenging fists could strike?

Suddenly she felt herself snatched from the back of her victim, held high in the air so her feet did not touch the ground, and shaken to and fro as a terrier shakes a rat. She twisted and turned and writhed and squirmed to free herself, thinking this must be the big brother punishing her for the drubbing she had given hapless Joe, and expecting any instant to feel the lash of his heavy herder's whip. But no whip struck her, and with one great tug she broke loose from the hand that gripped her shoulder, and confronted—not Sneed Pomeroy, the bully, but a tall, swarthy-faced man with a long beard and snapping black eyes, very much like her own, had she taken the time to notice it, who held her transfixed for a moment with his angry gaze. Amazed to find Joe's rescuer—for such he appeared to her—some one other than the big brother Sneed, and angered at the vigorous shaking he had given her, the child found vent for her outraged feelings in a horrible grimace at the stalwart man in front of her. With an exclamation of anger the stranger raised his hand as if to strike the girl, but she dodged the blow, and screamed in disdainful defiance:

"Slap, if you dare, you old gray head, I'll scratch like a—cat—till you'll wish you were dead."

She hesitated a moment before choosing that word, and as it fell from her lips, she glanced apprehensively at the blubbering Joe still lying in the dust, and saw for the first time that this rescuer, whoever he might be, was evidently unknown to Joe, for the coward's bloody face was even more scared than when she had been pounding it, and he looked as if he, too, expected to receive some punishment from the hands of the mysterious stranger.

"Tabitha Catt!"

She whirled toward the man in frightened silence, and her clenched hands dropped nerveless at her side. It was her father! What a change the heavy beard made in his appearance; and then besides, it was almost a year since she had seen him. No wonder she had failed to recognize him in her anger. It would have taken more than one glance had she met him under ordinary circumstances.

"Put on your bonnet and march home. We will settle matters there."

His words sounded so ominous that she hastily did as he bid, wondering dully whether at last her day of reckoning had come.

"Here, boy, take your berries and be off, but if I ever catch you hec—"

"Those are my berries," Tabitha found courage to say, suddenly remembering the pail heaped full of the fruit she had toiled all the morning to pick; and the man, glancing down at her bony hands, scratched and scarred by blackberry thorns, thrust the heavy pail into her arms and without a word followed her in the dusty march toward the house a quarter of a mile distant; nor did he once offer to help her with her load, though the way was rough, the day intensely hot, and the weight too much for the slender shoulders of the child. Once she stubbed her toe, and he pulled her roughly to her feet, but released his hold on her arm when she fixed her black eyes full of scorn and anger upon his face; and a grim smile played an instant about his lips, but was gone again before the child could see it.

The house was reached at last, and with a sigh of relief Tabitha dropped her burden in the doorway and sank down beside it.

At the sound of steps on the gravel walk, a fussy, fidgety little woman appeared from the room beyond, and stopped in astonishment at sight of the giant coming up the steps. Before she had a chance to express her surprise, however, he spoke, addressing the panting child fanning herself with her bonnet:

"Close that screen. Can't you see those flies coming in? Go to my room, I want to have an understanding with you. Maria, Tabitha isn't to have a taste of those berries. I just found her in the middle of the road down here fighting with a boy, like the rowdy she is."

Accustomed to obey this stern father, Tabitha had withdrawn into the house, and started for the room where punishment awaited her. At his command in regard to the berries, however, she paused; then turned to where the pail stood just inside the screen, seized it, and before either of the two spectators understood what she was about, she flung bucket, berries and all into the dooryard and ground the shining fruit into the sand with her bare feet.

"There, Manx Catt," she exclaimed, "I reckon you won't have a taste of them either!"

A gasp of dismay escaped the frightened woman, but again the grim smile flitted across the face of the father, though he looked like a thunder cloud as he roared at the child, "Go straight to your room and to bed! You shall not have a thing to eat today!"

With her feet stained a dirty purple, Tabitha marched into the house and upstairs, rushed to her little bed in the corner, and threw herself full length on the counterpane, regardless of the fact that drops of berry juice still dripped from her brown legs. For fully ten minutes she lay there, fighting back the angry tears and battling with the fierce rage against her father.

"I hate him, I hate him!" she told herself over and over again. "It's bad enough to have him name me Tabitha without his acting so hateful every time he comes home. I wish he would go off to the mines and stay forever. He might take Aunt Maria, too, though she ain't so bad. We could get along with her all right; sometimes she is splendid, even if she is so fussy. Oh, dear, why can't we have a nice mother like other children have? I reckon ours wouldn't have died if she had known Aunt Maria would have to take care of us and Dad would be so horrid."

Her list of woes was fast increasing, and the tears were very near the bubbling-over point, when she heard heavy steps on the stairs.

"Oh, my sakes! that's Dad. Wonder if he will lick me this time. I 'spect he will some day, and Tom says he licks awful hard. Wonder if he will use a whip like sneaky Sneed Pomeroy. Wisht I was as big as Tom; he don't get licked any more, he's too big. Dad told me to go to bed and I ain't undressed. Maybe it's just as well if he's going to lick me."

The steps had reached the upper floor now, and she cowered in a trembling heap in the middle of her bed waiting for the door to open and let her father enter. But they continued down the hall without so much as pausing before her door, and now as her heart began to beat normally again, she heard Aunt Maria's voice saying, "There's a dreadful clutter to move if we take everything. Some of those boxes we brought from Dover have never been opened though we've been here two years now. Doesn't seem as if we had to take all that truck with us wherever we go. There hasn't been a thing in the stuff that we've needed."

"Then don't take it," cut in the man's heavy voice. "Where is it?"

Cautiously creeping off the bed, Tabitha pressed her ear to the keyhole to catch the rest of this interesting conversation, but as she listened, her face paled and a rebellious look came into the expressive black eyes.

So they were going to move away! Where would they go this time? It seemed to her that moving was all they ever did. Not that she minded the moving part of it—that was fun—but—. Here the tears came in earnest. It was her dreadful name that she minded. It didn't make any difference where they went, everyone made fun of her name, and folks no sooner got used to seeing her odd little figure and hearing her still odder name than they moved to some other town, and the same thing had to be lived over. Oh, it was too bad!

All the hot afternoon father and aunt busied themselves in the adjoining rooms, tearing open boxes, sorting, re-packing, and bundling things around generally, until finally the noise became so great that only an occasional word of the conversation could be heard by the little listener at the keyhole. As the day waned, however, and the supper hour approached, both workers ceased their pounding and went downstairs, leaving Tabitha alone with her tearful reflections in the gathering dusk. Here Tom found her, still huddled in a heap beside the door.

"Oh, Tom," she greeted him, "I thought you would never come. What made you so late? Did you know Dad had come home again? Haven't you something in your pocket to eat? I'm hungry as a wolf."

"Hush!" he said, slipping inside the door and closing it softly behind him. "Dad would be awfully mad if he knew I was here. I just got home. Had an errand across the pond after the store was closed. Here's a biscuit and some cheese. Why aren't you in bed? Aunt Maria said Dad sent you there at noon." As he spoke, the boy lifted the little sister to her feet, brushed out her crumpled dress, smoothed back her tangled hair and slipped the biscuit saved from his own supper into her eager hands.

"I did go to bed," mumbled Tabitha, with her mouth full of bread.

"You aren't undressed."

"Dad didn't say I had to undress, and he didn't say I had to stay in bed, either."

Tom grinned at her understanding of the law, but the darkness hid his face, so his amusement was lost to the small sister eating so ravenously.

"Did he lick you, Puss?"

"Nope. I thought he was going to, for he looked right mad, but I reckon I was so mad it wouldn't have hurt much."

"But it does hurt to have him whip. At least, it used to hurt me. Do be careful, Puss. I don't want him to begin whipping you. How did you make him so mad?"

The child briefly recounted the story of the morning's tribulations between bites of biscuit and cheese, growing so angry over her recital that the flood gates were opened again and she sobbed aloud in her tempest of grief.

"It's all on account of my horrid name," she told him. "I just can't be good when folks say such mean things. Joe Pomeroy is a sneak anyway, and I've been itching to lick him for a long, long time—ever since Sneed hit me with the whip he uses to drive the cows with."

"Did Sneed hit you with a whip?"

"Yes. Oh, Tom, I never meant to tell you that! Now you'll go and fight him and he will hurt you, 'cause he's so much bigger than you are, and then Dad will whale you for fighting. Thrash Joe, but don't tackle Sneed. Oh, please!"

Tom laughed ironically. "Hm, what satisfaction would it be to me to thrash someone that you have licked, Puss?" he asked.

"Please, Tom, don't touch Sneed," she begged, crying harder than ever; and to still her sobs, he promised, though in his heart he vowed vengeance.

"How did you happen to go blackberrying without me?" he asked to divert her attention from her anxiety over him. "I thought you wanted me to go with you."

"Why, you're so busy at the store that we don't have time to get more than a handful at night when you can go, and the bushes were just loaded with them just below Pomeroy's pasture. I never thought about Joe's being there to tease me. I did want the berries so much, for Aunt Maria said she would make some jelly and some jam if I would pick the berries. She won't gather 'em 'cause the thorns tear her hands so. I got the pail full—heaped up so they kept tumbling off—and now they are all spoiled and I've scratched my hands to pieces all for nothing."

Tom expected a fresh wail would follow this statement, for though Tabitha was not ordinarily a cry-baby, the day of trials had been too much for her; but he was surprised when after a moment of silence in which he was vainly trying to think of something consoling to say, she remarked, "Well, I don't know's I care much about the berries, 'cause we're going to move, and I s'pose if we had a lot of jelly put up, Dad would say it wasn't any use to take it with us, and we would have to leave it along with the rest of the truck they've been sorting out today."

"Move?" the boy interrupted, as the realization of what she was saying dawned upon him. "Who says we're going to move? What do you mean? They never told me!"

"I heard Dad tell Aunt Maria we would leave the last of the week for the place where he has just come from, and they have been packing all the afternoon."

Tom was silent and in the darkness Tabitha could not see his face, but she seemed to understand how he felt about it, and after a moment she slipped a thorn-scratched little hand into his, as she said,

"You don't like it, do you, Tommy? I'm sorry, too. I wanted to stay here. The people who have moved in the big red house by the pond have two of the nicest children. They are cousins and have the prettiest names—Rosalie Meywood and Rosslyn Fennimore—and they are almost my age. I hated to tell them my name, but they didn't laugh a bit, Tom. They didn't even look queer at each other, and Rosslyn said they had a kitten they called Tabby and it was the smartest cat they ever saw. They have taught it tricks and Rosalie invited me over to see it. I met them down in the blackberry patch. They were picking just for fun and they helped me a little—not much, 'cause they were so slow. Neither of them knows how to pick berries and they took only those out in sight, while the very best ones are most always way in under the vines. We are all in the same classes in school and we planned such nice times together when lessons begin again. I never get to knowing any nice people but we move away. Do you s'pose we will ever have any friends, Tom?"

Tom's thoughts were very busy, and he only half heard the child's lively chatter. In the dim long ago, when he was only six years old, one morning a white-aproned woman with a gentle face had called him to her and led him into a room where lay his own dear mother with a little white bundle on her arm, and when the covers were turned down he had looked into a tiny, red, wrinkled face with blinking, black eyes and was told that this was a baby sister come to be a playmate for him. Then the nurse went away and left them for a little while and his mother talked to him in her soft voice that he could remember best in the little lullaby she used to sing to him:

"I'm tired now, and sleepy, too, Come put me in my little bed."

She had laid the baby's little fisting hands into his and told him that he must always take good care of little sister. He never saw the mother again, but after days of hushed voices and light steps in the big house, Aunt Maria had come to take care of them, and they moved away to another town.

The baby lived and had grown from year to year until she was now past eight years old, and he had tried his best to take care of her. But she had never known a mother's love nor a father's. Oh yes, the father was living. Tom could remember the tall, dark man having once seized him in his arms and pressed passionate kisses upon his lips, but he had never seen him caress the little helpless bundle the mother had left when the angels carried her away. Sometimes it seemed as if he could faintly recall having heard the father say bitterly to that unconscious babe, "You have killed your mother." And then it seemed as if a woman's voice answered him accusingly, "You killed her yourself when you named the child Tabitha." Tom was fourteen years old now, but some of these memories were so dim that he could not be sure they were really memories and not dreams that had come to him in the night and clung, as so often such fancies do.

There had been no one to ask, for Aunt Maria had not come until later, and even then, she did not talk to the children very much, so he had grown accustomed to thinking of these things just to himself. Tabitha was too young to be made his confidante in such matters; indeed, he could never tell her some things. They would only make her hate the austere father more than ever. So he sighed. This was the fifth time they had moved from one town to another since the mother had died, and each place was worse than the last. No sooner were they well established in one city than the restless spirit seized the father and they moved again. How would it end?

"Do you, Tom? This is the third time I have asked you that."

"I'm sorry, Puss. I was thinking about something else just then. What is it?"

"Do you s'pose we will ever have any friends? Rosalie says next week three of her little friends where they used to live are coming to stay with her until school begins in September; and when she asked me if I ever had any friends come to visit me, I had to tell her I never had any friends. She seemed ever so surprised, and I did want to stay in one place long enough to have some friends. But I s'pose it is my name that keeps folks from being friends with me. No one would want to say, 'My chum's name is Tabitha Catt.' Would they? Everybody would laugh and maybe they would sing:

'Tabby Catt, Tabby Catt, Drink some milk and make you fat, Skinny, scrawny Tabby Catt.'

Wouldn't that make the friend feel awful? Am I very skinny, Tom?"

Poor Tom! How could he answer the avalanche of questions? At fourteen one is not very wise, but Tom squeezed the rough hand still holding his, and answered hopefully, "Some day we will have some friends, Pussy. And some day when I get big and can work for you, we will settle down and live in one town, and people will come to see us, and they won't care anything about our names."

Something in his tone made Tabitha say questioningly, "Do you still mind your name, Tom?"

"Not as much as I used to, Puss. Now you must go to bed. It's getting late and pretty soon Dad and Aunt Maria will be coming upstairs. Good-night." With another gentle squeeze of her hand he was gone.



The day was done. The crimson sunset glow still hung over the whole world, touching the brown, parched hills with a rainbow of colors and reflecting itself in the cloudbank massed high in the eastern sky. Tom, hurrying home through the fields from his last errands at the store, was whistling softly and enjoying the beauty of the early evening, wondering all the while why the little sister was not running to meet him, and half expecting to see her jump out at him from behind some clump of bushes. But Tabitha was nowhere in sight.

"Poor Puss! Wonder if she has been punished again today. Wish I could keep her with me all the time. She wouldn't get into so much mischief."

He anxiously scanned the house as he approached it for some glimpse of lively Tabitha, but was disappointed. Suddenly from overhead came a soft bird trill, followed by a suppressed snicker. He looked up quickly, and there in the branches of the wide-spreading sycamore tree by the corner of the house was a flutter of white which, upon closer inspection, proved to be Tabitha's nightgown, and Tabitha was inside it!


"Sh!" came the instant command. "Eat supper and come up to my room. I've got something to show you."

Tom obediently followed her instructions, and some minutes later his head appeared at the window, and he demanded, "Puss, are you still working for that licking?"

"Nope," she answered serenely. "We don't have to talk in whispers now, for Dad has gone up the road and I heard him tell Aunt Maria he wouldn't be home until late."

"What does this mean? What are you doing out in that tree, and why are you in your nightgown? It's getting damp and you will catch cold sitting out there like that."

"I ain't undressed," came the scornful reply. "I poured a cup of coffee down Dad's collar and burned his neck—oh, I didn't do it on purpose, Thomas Catt! 'Twas really his fault, for he joggled my elbow just as I was reaching up to set it on the shelf to cool. Aunt Maria was going to make coffee cake for supper. But of course he blamed me, and he sent me up to bed again. Reckon he guessed that I didn't put on my nightgown yesterday, for he told me that I had to do it this time and to get into bed. He didn't say I had to undress, though, so I just put on my gown and crawled into bed for a second. That was all he really told me to do, now Tom. I can't stay in bed in the daytime, so I came out here to sit. I've got on all my clothes and my nightgown besides, so I won't catch cold on this hot night. Goodness! I should hope not. One time I had a sneezing spell and Aunt Maria made me sit for ages with mullein leaves dipped in hot vinegar stuck onto my feet. Said she was afraid maybe I was going to have a bad cold or a fever. We'd been running races and my face was red and hot."

Tom laughed, though the details of the episode were very fresh in his mind yet. He had escaped a similar fate only because he was so big that the fussy little aunt could no longer force him to take her vile doses.

"Well, what is the wonder you have to show me? I confess I am curious. Have you found another history you didn't know belonged to us, or has one of that missing bunch turned up?"

"Yes, no; it's a Bible." There was a scraping among the branches and through the parted leaves Tom saw a huge volume hanging on a bough in some mysterious manner.

"Goodness gracious, Puss! How did you get that thing out there?"

"I did have quite a time of it," confessed the child, tugging at the heavy book to keep it from slipping out of her hands to the ground below, and at the same time trying to balance herself on the smooth bough. "I guess you will have to pull it in the window again. I have broken its back getting it out here."

"What will Dad say?"

"It was thrown out among the stuff we are going to leave here, so I guess he won't care. I'd like to take it, though, Tom, for it has the loveliest names in it. Just listen here,—'Theodora Marcella Folwell'—ain't that grand? And here's another, 'Gabrielle Flora Folwell'—"

"What in the world are you reading?" asked the puzzled boy, craning his neck out of the window to see what sort of a Bible it could be with such names as these in it.

"Aunt Maria said it was an old Bible that we've carted around for years and it is such a nuisance to move that they don't mean to pack it this time at all. There are a lot of names in the back and some awfully homely pictures. I rubbed my finger on one and it smooched the nose clear off and blurred both eyes, but he wasn't good looking anyway. It isn't much worse now. On one page it says 'Births,' and on another 'Deaths,' and on the third 'Marriages.'"

"Oh!" Tom was suddenly enlightened. "Hold the book fast now and I'll come down where you are and get it. Don't fall."

His instructions were unnecessary. Tabitha's legs were curled around the big bough so tightly that it would have taken a cyclone to dislodge her, and the mammoth Bible hung suspended by its broken back from an adjacent branch in such a fashion that as long as its heavy binding held it could not fall. But it took considerable effort to haul it up into the house again, and this was finally accomplished only after Tabitha had crawled back through the window to tug at it from above, while Tom pushed at it from below, swaying and bumping in the sycamore until both children held their breath for fear boy and Bible would land in a heap on the ground.

"There!" breathed Tabitha with a sigh of relief when at last the volume lay safe on the wide window-sill. "Now you can see all the names yourself. I never heard such grand ones before. How do you pronounce A-m-a-r-i-a-h? And here's a perfectly beautiful one D-i-o-n-y-s-i-u-s Carpenter. It has him down under the marriages with Pen-e-lope Miranda Folwell. Don't you think that is pretty? They are all so different from John and Frank and—and—Thomas and Tabitha. I wish I could pick out a pretty name for my very own and have folks call me that always. Don't you?"

Tom was intently studying the records penned in faded ink on the yellow pages, and now he raised his head and looked into the eager black eyes upturned to his, as he said slowly,

"Puss, this must be the family Bible that belonged to Mother's folks. I can remember Dad used to call her Dora, and I have an old letter I found in a book a long time ago that has the name Folwell on it. Yes, here's the record. See, Puss? 'Theodora Marcella Folwell and Lynne Maximilian Catt, married Sept. 10th, 18—,' it's blurred so I can't read the rest of it. But that must be Dad. His name is Maximilian, you know, though I never heard the Lynne part of it before."

"Lynne," repeated Tabitha, half to herself. "That might be a pretty name if it belonged to anyone but a Catt man. Lynne Catt—hm! Lean cat. That's what everybody would call him. I bet that's why he used his middle name. I'd rather be nicknamed 'Manx cat' than to be called 'lean cat,' wouldn't you? 'Skinny, scrawny Tabby Catt'—that's what they call me, Tom. My name might as well have been 'Lynne.'"

"Never mind, Puss. When we get moved to Silver Bow, people won't know about that rhyme."

"Maybe they will think up something worse yet. It was bad enough to have the children of Conroy sing, 'Once there was a little kitty,' and then the folks at Dover used to say, 'Pussy cat, Pussy cat, where have you been?' It gets worse every place we go."

Her lip quivered suspiciously, and Tom hastily changed the subject by asking, "What would you choose for a name if you could take your pick of all the pretty ones you ever heard?"

Tabitha drew a long breath, shook the black hair out of her eyes, folded her lean brown arms across the nightgown, which looked considerably the worse for her climb in the sycamore tree, and hesitated.

"A name could have more than one part, couldn't it?" she finally asked.

"I suppose so; most people have more than one."

"Well, it's rather hard to choose, for I have heard so many names, though never any as grand as these in the Bible. Even 'Rosalie' isn't so grand; do you think so? I—believe—I'd—like—to be called"—Tom waited expectantly as she shifted from foot to foot and tried to make the important decision.—"Theodora Marcella Gabrielle Julianna Victoria Emeline. Say, Tom, will you call me that? Just when we're alone, of course, so Dad wouldn't hear it."

Tom caught his breath as if a dash of cold water had suddenly struck his face. "Gracious, Puss! I never could remember all that. Say it again, can you?"

"Of course! That's easy, and so pretty. Theodora Marcella Gabrielle Julianna Victoria Emeline. Why, it sounds just like a princess, Tom! I believe I could be good and not get mad all the time if I had a name like that. I know I could. I wouldn't envy Rosalie Meywood one bit. Don't you think that is a perfectly grand name, Tom?"

Tom bit his lip to keep from laughing as he soberly answered, "Tip-top, Puss. I'll call you that sometimes—that is, as much of it as I can remember, if you want me to; just in play, you know. Won't Dora be enough?"

"Oh no! Why, that's hardly any of it. Dora is a pretty name, but Theodora is grand. If you forget part of it, remember the Theodora Gabrielle part. That is the best of it. Wouldn't you like to have me call you something else besides Tom? There are some awfully nice boys' names written in that Bible. Which did you think were the grandest?"

"Oh, I like Ulysses first rate. That was Gen. Grant's name, you know, and he was a trump. He made some regular splendid fights."

Tabitha was evidently disappointed at his selection, and he hastily asked, "What do you think is the best name for a boy?"

"The grandest name I think is Di—what did you call it? Dionysius? Wouldn't Dionysius Ulysses Humphrey Llewelyn be splendid? Or would you like some more? There are six parts to my name—"

"Oh, no," Tom interrupted hastily. "That is long enough for me. Men don't need as many names as girls, I reckon. You may have to remind me what my name is to be, for I am afraid I shall always be forgetting it. Suppose we shorten it to Ulysses. You cut yours down a little, you know."

"That was just so you could remember it, and as I have to do the remembering of your name anyway, I reckon I will call you the whole thing. It's a heap prettier than Thomas Catt."

"Well, all right, Puss; but don't think about it so much that you will call me that when Dad is around. He won't like it. I think I will keep this Bible, though. Don't tell. I can put it in the bottom of the old trunk where I keep my things and no one will ever know but you."

So he marched away with the precious volume under his arm, and Tabitha crawled happily into bed to dream of grand names and a happy future in the unknown home where they were going.



"What's your name?"

Tabitha wheeled with a start, lost her balance, and toppled off the great rock to the hard ground, where she lay staring up at the fair-haired stranger bending over her with anxiety and alarm filling the pretty blue eyes.

"Are you hurt?" inquired the soft voice. "I didn't mean to make you jump. I'm lonesome and when you moved in the nearest house to ours I was glad to think there was another girl about my size, for maybe you will play with me. Will you?"

Still Tabitha made no reply, but lay as she had fallen, not daring to trust her ears or believe her eyes—it was not unusual for anyone to make friendly advances toward her, though she had longed all her lonely little life for a playmate. Why, it couldn't be possible! They were on the desert now in a forlorn little mining town located in a hollow between two mountain ranges and straggling over a vast area of barren, rocky hills, with not a tree in sight anywhere, except the ugly, uncompromising yuccas, and they could scarcely be dignified by the name of trees. Nothing but sagebrush, greasewood, mesquite and cactus; not even a sprill of grass!

To poor homesick Tabitha it seemed as if they had dropped off the earth into nowhere. She had never seen such a place in all her life, nor even dreamed that towns like that existed. Wherever they had gone heretofore, there had always been trees and flowers, which in a measure took the place of the friends she had never known but always missed. Now there was not even to be this solace; how could there be any friends?

So she remained silent and the little blue-eyed girl was puzzled, almost frightened. Then a bright idea came to her.

"Are you an Indian?" she asked timidly, wondering if she had better run, supposing the black-eyed child should prove to be the daughter of a redman.

"No, I ain't an Indian!" Tabitha bounced on the ground with a startling suddenness that froze the other child in her tracks.

Poor Tabitha! Tormented ever since she could remember because of her unfortunate name, and now to be called an Indian! She had sprung to her feet with fists clenched and eyes blazing, yet somehow she seemed to understand that this plump little body was different from the teasing children who had made the days miserable for her wherever she went, and she could not strike the avenging blow. But the insult, unintentional as it evidently was, rankled bitterly nevertheless; and dropping to the ground again, she hid her face in her faded skirts.

Instantly two soft arms slipped around her and she heard the gentle voice saying sorrowfully, "Oh, please don't cry, little girl! I didn't mean to make you mad. Of course you aren't an Indian, 'cause your hair curls some, and Indians have awful straight, stiff hair, and they are redder than you are. I guess you've lived on the desert until you are real brown."

"I never lived on the desert before, and I hate it, hate it, hate it! Almost as bad as I do Dad! I ain't crying, and I ain't mad—at you." Tabitha lifted her head and the other child saw two very bright, black, beautiful eyes in the thin tanned face, but the tears she expected to see were not there.

They sat and stared at each other in silence a moment and then the strange girl said, "My name is Carrie Carson. What's yours?"

"Theodora Marcella Gabrielle Julianna Victoria Emeline Catt."

Carrie gasped. So did Tabitha, but for a different reason. Carrie was amazed at the length of the name and the ease with which its owner spoke it. Tabitha was astonished to think the idea of dropping her own obnoxious name and adopting a new one had never occurred to her before. No thought of deception ever entered her mind; she merely hated "Tabitha" with all the strength of her passionate nature; she had found a name that filled her with delight; she had adopted it at first in play, but it had become very real to her, and now as she spoke the words that were so beautiful to her, it seemed as if they belonged to her.

"How do you ever remember them all?" asked Carrie. "Must people use that whole long name when they speak to you?"

"Not unless they want to," answered Tabitha with restored composure. "Theodora Gabrielle is enough."

"Well, Theodora Gabrielle, have you got any sisters?"

"No, only one brother, To— Dionysius Ulysses Humphrey Llewelyn."

"My! what long names you do have in your family! Will you say it again, please? I couldn't quite make it out."

So Tabitha repeated the words slowly, adding, "I always call him all of them, but he would just as soon folks would call him Ulysses. He was named after General Grant who fought in the Civil War. To— Dionysius Ulysses Humphrey Llewelyn taught me how to read, 'cause we move so much that sometimes we miss a lot of school, and I've gone clear through the United States history. Have you?"

"Mercy, no!" ejaculated Carrie in astonishment. "I'm not through with geography yet."

"Oh, I don't s'pose I am, either, but we have three histories and no geographies at our house, so I couldn't read up geography. To— Dionysius Ulysses Humphrey Llewelyn explains when I don't understand, and he draws maps to show how the battles were fought. We learn poetry about fights, too. To— my brother is going to be a soldier when he gets big."

The name with which she had so generously supplied her brother was becoming very hard to manage, and she sat silently eyeing her bare feet while she tried in vain to think of some way out of the dilemma. She had told Carrie that she always called her brother his full name. What could she do but prove it?

Carrie's voice interrupted her meditations. "Don't you hate to speak before people—I mean, speak pieces? It always scares me so I forget half of my verses and then papa is so disappointed. Mamma always says, 'Never mind, dearie,

'If at first you don't succeed, Try, try again.'

So I keep on trying and maybe some day I can remember them all right."

"Oh, I just love to speak!" Tabitha cried. "I've just learned Barbara Fritchie, and it is grand!

"'who touches a hair in yon gray head Dies like a dog! March on!' he said."

Carrie clapped her hands. "Oh, say the whole of it, Theodora Gabrielle, please!"

So Tabitha flew to the top of the rock from which she had been surveying the waste of desert when Carrie had first put in appearance, and with ringing voice declaimed the stirring words to her admiring audience.

That was the beginning of the first real friendship poor Tabitha had ever known, and the world that opened before her was a beautiful fairyland. The Carson home was so unlike her own that unconsciously she held her breath whenever she entered the big house where the superintendent of the Silver Legion Mines lived, fearing that she might wake up and find it after all only a dream—the sweet-faced mother who kissed little Carrie every day, the smiling, genial father who always had some pretty gift in his pocket for his only child, the dainty furnishings of the big house which seemed so gorgeously splendid to the neglected girl, and particularly the wonderful toys and story-books that belonged to the flaxen-haired fairy who opened the door of this wonderland for her to enter.

Having never known a mother's love herself, Tabitha regarded dainty Mrs. Carson with a feeling of awe which deepened into worship as the acquaintance progressed, but proved to be a great barrier between them for a long time. She spoke of her in a hushed voice, treasured every smile as if it had been some precious gem, and hungered for the caresses so freely bestowed upon little Carrie, but feared to approach near enough this beautiful goddess to receive them herself.

Mr. Carson she could understand better. He was another Tom grown up, only where Tom was silent and shy, this man was jolly and friendly. He laughed a great deal, said funny things, never teased little girls except in a playful way that made one like to meet him, and was always very, very kind. She never heard him say a cross word to anyone, and once when she asked Carrie if he ever got mad and punished her, the blue-eyed girl was very indignant.

"My papa is never mad," she stoutly declared. "When I do naughty things, he just looks so disappointed and says, 'I am so sorry,' in such a way that it makes me sorry, too."

To Tabitha this seemed a very queer way for a father to act, but for big brother Tom it was perfectly natural; so in her scale of relationship, Mr. Carson slipped down a peg and became a brother, bringing him much closer to her than he would otherwise have been, and making his influence over her much greater.

At first the Carsons did not much favor the friendship that had sprung up between the two girls, for Tabitha seemed so wild and passionate they feared her association with their little daughter might not be for the best; but by chance the superintendent met Tom one day in the surveyor's office, where the boy had found employment running errands and doing other odd jobs, and he was delighted with the unusual intelligence of the lad, as well as with the ambition Tom had for an education.

Like Tabitha, Tom craved fellowship with understanding people, and his appreciation of real kindness was as touching as it was keen. Mr. Carson made inquiry concerning the boy, learned the unfortunate circumstances of his starved life, and became his fast friend. So the two girls were allowed to play together unrestricted, each helping the other unconsciously in the building of character,—Carrie being taught reliance and self-confidence, while Tabitha was learning to subdue the fierceness of her untamed nature and to overcome her extreme sensitiveness.

Though Mr. Carson knew the truth about the unhappy names of brother and sister, he never so much as smiled, nor did he betray Tabitha's secret; and while he never called Tom by the name she thought so grand, he always addressed her as Theodora Gabrielle; and she was happy.

So for many precious weeks the world looked very bright to the black-eyed girl. The father was miles away most of the time, prospecting among the mountains; Aunt Maria seldom called her anything but Child; Tom's pet name, when he forgot her grand title, was Puss; and she began to think the hateful Tabitha was forever laid aside and forgotten.

The dreariness of the desert which had so oppressed her when they first arrived in Silver Bow slipped from her; she forgot the lack of trees and grass; the yuccas and Spanish bayonets lost their grimness; she grew to like the queer place with its queer vegetation; and the sunrises and sunsets were a source of intense delight to her, as they are to many another soul—for where in all the world are there such beautiful cloud pictures as on the desert with the mountains beyond, mysterious and wonderful in their purple haze or in the glistening white of the snow?

The Catts arrived at Silver Bow only a few weeks before school began, and owing to the fact that the cottage they had rented stood half hidden from the rest of the town by one of the many hills, with only the Carson house and a vacant bungalow for neighbors, Tabitha made the acquaintance of none of the other children in town until the commencement of the fall term. Usually this was an event to be dreaded by the sensitive girl, but it was with a feeling almost of pleasure that Tabitha accompanied pretty Carrie to the old weather-beaten schoolhouse of the mining camp the first Monday of September for the opening session.

Tom was too far advanced for the branches taught in the little school, so he was to remain with the surveyor and study in the evening under Mr. Carson's direction; but he knew from former experience what a scene Tabitha usually created before she could be persuaded to begin school each year, and dreaded the ordeal almost as much as did the passionate little sister.

Tabitha had confessed to Tom that Carrie called her by the wonderful name, Theodora Gabrielle, but he thought it was just in play and rejoiced that the superintendent's charming little daughter was so friendly and kind. He was unusually busy with his own thoughts and plans, for Mr. Carson had laid out a course of study for him by which he might prepare himself for college, the goal of his ambitions; and the world was looking very bright to him as well as to Tabitha, so perhaps he was excusable if he day-dreamed a little. But he never forgave himself for relaxing his vigilance over the small sister even in this slight measure, for it cost her many hours of bitter anguish. If only he had inquired about the name Tabitha had adopted, and discovered how real it had become! But intent upon his own thoughts, he missed this part of Tabitha's confession, and watched her set out for school hand in hand with Carrie, serene in the belief that all was well, and happy at her unexpected behavior in regard to school.

"Well, I'm beat!" Aunt Maria exclaimed as the two girls skipped joyously up the path and disappeared over the summit of the hill. "I thought sure she'd raise a fuss, but she never said a word."

"She is so wrapped up in Carrie that she has forgotten all about her name," answered Tom in his ignorance.

The aunt sighed, "Well, it's a shame she has to answer to it when she despises it so; though I can't see that it is much worse than Maria. I never paid much attention to my name that I remember. But if I'd had my way about it, I should have called you Peter Augustus, and her Aurora Isadena," (she pronounced them "A-roo-rie Isi-deen-ie") "but your pa had different notions. Said he'd suffered torment all his days being called Manx Cat and he was going to get even with folks for once; though I can't see how naming innocent children such names would help him any in his grouch against the world."

Neither could Tom, but it was seldom that Aunt Maria volunteered any information of this sort, and he made the most of his opportunity by asking, "Is Dad's other name Lynne?"

"Yes, but the boys plagued him when he was little calling him 'lean cat,' so he took to going by his middle name, Maximilian, but folks nicknamed that, too, and he got sulky." Then as if fearing she had said too much, she added, "That assaying man will be looking for you if you don't get up to the office pretty quick."

So though Tom had any quantity of questions he wanted to ask, he put on his cap and left the house. The school-bell was ringing its final summons when he reached the top of the hill, and he paused to look down the steep slope into the yard where the children were marching in double file into the building, smiling as he saw Tabitha's long, lean legs keeping step behind the short, plump ones of little Carrie, and mentally hoping that the day would go well with the little spitfire sister.

It did. A bright-faced woman stood at her desk and received the children as they entered, shook hands with them and gave them their seats, smiling all the while until Tabitha thought she had never seen anyone so pretty, except Mrs. Carson.

"Now children, my name is Miss Brooks," the new teacher began with an important air which would have told an older observer that this was her first experience in teaching. "I shall expect you always to address me in that manner. If I ask you a question, you must say, 'Yes, Miss Brooks,' or 'No, Miss Brooks,' for that is polite. Now, the first thing I intend to do this morning is to take down your names and get you classified. This little girl in the front seat of the outside row, what is your name?"

"Theodora Marcella Gabrielle Julianna Victoria Emeline Catt, Miss Brooks." Tabitha responded in one breath without a break, her voice ringing clearly through the silence of the room, for everyone was craning to see the new scholar and listening to catch her name.

The teacher gasped, the children tittered, and Tabitha crimsoned angrily, but before she had even time to clench the little fists that were accustomed to fight her battles, Carrie saved the day. "That's her whole name, Miss Brooks, but we call her just Theodora Gabrielle. She is a lovely speaker."

The flush of annoyance on the teacher's face died instantly, and she smiled down into the beautiful eyes of the child before her as she said, "That is a very pretty name, I am sure. Now tell me where you are in your studies."

An answering smile came to Tabitha's face, and she replied with more confidence, "I've finished United States history, which is grand, 'specially Grant; I've reached Europe in geography, which isn't bad; I've got to 'emotion' in language, which is horrid; and in 'rithmetic I am stuck in decimal fractions, which is the worst yet. My brother, Dionysius Ulysses Humphrey Llewelyn, taught me history when he was studying it. I hain't had it in school yet."

This time the scholars as well as the teacher were silent in astonishment, but no one laughed; and seeing the surprised faces all around her, Tabitha again assumed a belligerent attitude, thinking they did not believe her.

"Well, that's so," she exclaimed defiantly, glaring at the strange children.

"Yes," added Carrie, "and she has read through the Fourth Reader and knows lots of pieces. You ought to hear her speak Barbara Fritchie."

"But I'm an awful speller," admitted the mollified Tabitha.

At this the teacher smiled again, and laying her hand on the black head she said, "You are a little girl to be so far along in your lessons. I am afraid I can't classify you just now. We will have to wait until I get the other girls and boys arranged according to studies, and then we will see where to put you. Now, children, I hope you will follow Theodora Gabrielle's example and study hard."

"Teacher's pet," whispered the boy across the aisle, but Tabitha was soaring in the realms of bliss and the teacher's smile, so she did not hear or care what the others might say. The world was growing very bright and she was finding how sweet the days could be.




The child was curled in a forlorn heap on the little front stoop which took the place of piazza to their cottage, staring with gloomy eyes toward the radiant sunset, but for once unaware of the glorious beauty of the skies. Her heart was very heavy. In two days more the school was to give their first exhibition—that was what Miss Brooks called it—in the town hall; and all the parents and friends were invited to come and hear them speak the pieces and sing the songs they had been learning ever since school had commenced, six weeks before. Miss Brooks thought it helped the scholars to have public exercises occasionally, for it brought the parents in closer touch with their boys and girls and encouraged the children to do better work; so she had planned to have these exhibitions every six weeks or two months in the town hall. The school house was too small to seat many visitors if all the scholars were present.

Tabitha was to recite a long selection all by herself, and she had taken great pride in learning it with appropriate gestures, conscious of the fact that she was the best speaker in the room, and happy in the teacher's unstinted praise and her playmates' envious admiration.

But now! Miss Brooks had asked the girls to wear white dresses, and Tabitha had none! What a calamity! She had expected to wear her new green gingham. It wasn't a very pretty color, to be sure, or very becoming, but she had coaxed Aunt Maria to make it after the fashion of Carrie's dainty dresses and was delighted with the result. Now the rest of the girls would be in white, and it would look dreadful to have one green dress in the splendid array on the platform. What could she do?

It was useless to ask for a white gown, and even if there were any possibility of getting the new material it was too late to make it up in time for the exhibition, for Aunt Maria wasn't a great success as a seamstress, and it took her a long time to make a dress. Why, she had worked more than a week on the green gingham, and that was just tucked! If there could be a white dress it would have to have ruffles on it; all the other girls' white dresses had ruffles on them somewhere. Carrie's had two ruffles on the skirt, and Mamie Cole's had three. Bertha Dean's had only one ruffle around the shoulders and the skirt was tucked, but it was very pretty; and if Tabitha could not have ruffles on the skirt, she would want at least a shoulder ruffle with lace around it. Well, there was no use in planning, she could not have a white dress. But how could she face all those people in a green gingham and be the only odd girl there?

"Tabitha Catt!" The voice was sharp and insistent, and at the sound of the hateful name almost forgotten now, the child came suddenly out of her unhappy reverie.

"What is it, Aunt Maria?"

"Where in the world have you been? I've called you half a dozen times already. Go to my trunk and bring me that box of odd pieces just under the tray. I want to mend this dress before dark. Mind you are careful now. The tray is broken; lift it carefully."

Tabitha rose slowly to do her bidding, still thinking of the dress she did not have. Under ordinary circumstances she considered it a great honor to be allowed even to lift the cover of the big, old trunk in the corner, for it contained many wonderful relics for childish eyes, and sometimes Aunt Maria would let her look at some of the treasures, and even tell her a little about them on rare occasions. Today, however, even this prospect was not alluring, and with listless hands Tabitha pulled the rickety tray out of its place and bent over the trunk in search of the box in question. There were several boxes under the tray, but Aunt Maria never remembered this, and it was always necessary to open them to discover which was the one wanted. So the child seized the nearest and pulled off the cover. No pieces in that. But in the act of replacing the cover she noticed something shining in a mass of white, and paused to investigate. It was a string of glistening beads, and as she lifted them from their crushed tissue wrappings there lay disclosed the shimmering folds of a white silk dress, carefully laid away with dried "Sweet Mary" leaves.

"Child, are you making those pieces?" The girl started guiltily, dropped the cover over the box and pulled open its neighbor. There were the scraps Aunt Maria wanted, and with these in her hands she scurried out into the kitchen where the fussy old lady sat sewing in the waning light.

"There are seven boxes just under the tray, Aunt Maria," she announced. "I opened the wrong one by mistake, and there was a silk dress inside." She hesitated, not knowing how to ask for the information she desired, for the aunt, like the father, never encouraged the asking of questions.

"That was my first silk dress," the woman said reminiscently. "My grandfather gave it to me when I was a little girl so I could go to my favorite aunt's wedding. I never wore it but twice, for my mother did not believe in finery for children, and this being white, she was afraid it would get soiled. Did you close that trunk?"

Tabitha went back to put things in order again, but could not resist one more peep at the enticing box. How beautiful the silk looked, and how daintily it was made! To be sure, there were no ruffles adorning the soft folds, but the bottom of the skirt was beautifully scalloped, so even and nice, and each scallop bound with a narrow strip of the same material.

She lifted the dress out of its box and looked at it with shining eyes. How rich one must be to own a silk dress! How she wished it belonged to her! If it had been hers, she should have worn it more than twice—such a dainty, pretty thing as that—and it was white. White? Yes. And she wanted a white dress so much.


"Yes, Aunt Maria."

"What are you doing? I want you to set the table. It is almost supper time and Thomas will soon be here."

Tabitha dropped the dress hastily on the rug beside the trunk, put the cover on the empty box and slipped it back in its place with the other six. Down went the tray on top of them, the lid of the trunk fell with a snap, and the white silk dress was no longer inside. With beating heart and red face she carried the garment into her own tiny room and hung it in the very darkest corner of the closet. Then she ran to set the table.

How the next day ever passed she never knew, for before her eyes wherever she looked danced that lovely, quaint old gown of shimmering silk, and she could think of nothing else. It hid the map of Europe when she opened her geography, it played leap-frog among common fractions when she tried to do her sums, it waved at the head of the Continental Army while she led those brave men to victory, and when it came to spelling class she could think of nothing but "s-i-l-k."

But Exhibition Day came at last. Aunt Maria was not going, as Tabitha well knew, so would not see her in the borrowed gown until too late to raise any objections. She had no intention of wearing the dress without Aunt Maria's knowledge, but she did intend to wear it first, and tell about it afterwards, accepting whatever punishment the woman saw fit to give her for the transgression. So she smuggled the gown out of the house in her school-bag, and up among the tall boulders beyond the Carson place, where there was no possibility of anyone finding her. Here she dressed, and under one great rock hid the once admired but now despised green gingham. Then with her long cape covering her quaintly gowned figure, she hurried up to Carrie's door to call for her playmate, having waited until the last minute in the hope that her friends would be gone. Nor was she disappointed. The doors were locked and no one came to answer her knock; so with flying feet she sped toward the hall, noting that only a few people were bound in that direction, and knowing that most of the expected visitors were already seated within.

"Oh, Theodora Gabrielle!" exclaimed the teacher as the child flew up the aisle to her place on the platform, "I was so afraid something had happened to keep you away. It would never do to have our best speaker absent, you know;" and she smiled into the shining black eyes of the breathless Tabitha; but the next instant the smile faded. Tabitha had loosened her cape, and Miss Brooks caught sight of the quaint, queer old gown underneath. "Child!" she cried involuntarily. "Whatever possessed you to put on that rig?"

The beloved silk dress called a "rig!" Tabitha was dismayed, and the tears came welling into the bright eyes, as with quivering lip she confessed, "It was the only white dress I could get, Miss Brooks. I thought it would be very 'propriate, for I am to speak a war piece, you know. Aunt Maria had this when she was a little girl, and she must be pretty much older than the war."

"I meant that the silk was too good for common wear, dear," fibbed the teacher, seeing the sorrow in the thin, brown, wistful face. "It is a pretty idea to wear a dress that was made in war times, and I never would have thought of it myself. But we must take off the ribbons from your hair, Theodora, and fix it in the old-fashioned way to go with your gown. I remember a picture of my mother with her hair done in the queerest braids. Come, we will have to hurry."

As this inspiration flashed through the young teacher's mind, she saw a way out of the dilemma so that neither child nor school should be ridiculed because of Tabitha's mistake; and she hurriedly completed the small girl's "war times toilette" so that when Tabitha emerged from under her skillful hands she was the admiration and envy of all her mates. And truly she presented a pretty picture as she stood before the none too critical audience and recited Sheridan's Ride with such vim and spirit that every heart was fired with patriotism and the applause was so prolonged that Miss Brooks told her she must speak another piece, even though it was not on the program. Purposely the teacher had left Tabitha's part in the exercises well toward the last, knowing that she could be depended upon to make a fitting climax for the afternoon's program, nor was she disappointed; and she fairly beamed upon the little girl as she gently pushed her toward the front of the platform to respond to her encore.

Having done so well with one war piece, Tabitha decided that Barbara Fritchie was a most appropriate selection to recite this second time, besides being quite in keeping with her old-fashioned dress. So she began the familiar lines:

Up from the meadow rich with corn Clear in the cool September morn,

The clustered spires of Frederick stand Green-walled by the hills of Maryland.

How she loved that poem, how vividly the whole scene seemed to lie before her, and how her very soul thrilled as she gave life to the stirring words!

Quick, as it fell, from the broken staff Dame Barbara snatched the silken scarf.

She leaned far out on the window-sill, And shook it forth with a royal will.

Suddenly from among the audience one face seemed to leap before her eyes,—white, set, terrified. Tom! And beside him, leaning forward as he stood near the door, his face grim and threatening, was her father! Her surroundings were forgotten; she seemed to be standing beside the dusty road again with a pail of blackberries at her feet; and with gaze rivetted upon those two figures in the back of the hall, she recited:

Slap, if you dare, you old gray head, I'll scratch like a—cat—till you'll wish you were dead.

Was there a titter behind her, were the faces in the audience smiling? Was Miss Brooks speaking her name, were someone's arms around her trying to drag her to her seat? It seemed an age that she stood there, words frozen on her lips, heart that seemed to have ceased its beating, and eyes that looked without seeing. Then, pausing for neither hat nor cape, she plunged down from the platform, fled blindly through the aisle and rushed out of the open door.

Up the rocky path she stumbled, but stopped on the summit of the first rise. What was the use of running away? He would find her and the punishment would come sooner or later. It might as well come now and be over with. Up on the nearest boulder she crept and waited, a heap of frozen misery. Would he remain until the exercises were over? How would he punish her?

The waiting was short, although to her it seemed hours before the parents and children came out of the hall and dispersed to their various homes. A few passed her on the trail, but she did not see them—not even Carrie, sobbing aloud as she stumbled along beside her mother.

When they were all gone, her father suddenly stood before her. When he came, or how he got there, she did not know.

"Tabitha Catt," she heard his even tones saying, "get down from there."

She slid to the ground beside him.

"Come with me."

She turned and followed him, not down the hill to the cottage as she had expected, but back towards town. The day was warm, but she was shivering violently, and even her teeth chattered until it seemed as if the silent man at her side could not fail to hear them.

"What have you told these people your name was?" the same even tones demanded.

"Theodora Marcella Gabrielle Julianna Victoria Emeline. I never told anyone but Carrie and Miss Brooks."

A glimmer of a smile played around the man's stern mouth, hidden by his moustache.

"And Tom's? What name did you give Tom?"

"Dionysius Ulysses Humphrey Llewelyn."

"Hm, not as long as yours."

"He thought it would do. I had some more he might have had."

"So he called himself that jargon, did he?"

"Oh, no! He couldn't remember them. That was just my name for him."

"Well, Miss Tabitha Catt, you have told these people a lie."

Lie? Tabitha was startled. Lie? Was it a lie to change one's name—just one's first name? It had not appealed to her in that light before. But the relentless voice was still speaking. What was it saying?

"You have stolen your aunt's dress—"


"Not a word yet, Tabitha Catt. When I have finished, you will have a chance to explain. You are to go to every store and hotel in this town and say—listen now, so you will get it straight, 'I told you a lie. My name is Tabitha Catt and not Theodora Marcella Gabrielle Julianna Victoria Emeline; and my brother's name is Thomas Catt and not Dionysius Ulysses Humphrey Llewelyn.' Now go, and don't you miss a single store."

The child's black eyes flashed dangerously, but she obediently started down the main street of the town, counting on her fingers, "Two drug stores, three grocery stores—no, four—one butcher shop, two dry goods stores, one millinery shop, three hotels and the bakery."

The first in line was a hotel, Silver Bow Hotel, the largest in town, and the office was crowded when she entered. Every head was lifted and every pair of eyes looked curiously at the odd little figure in its quaintly scalloped dress and shining black braids. She hesitated, looked about her in desperation, saw no familiar face in all the crowd, and haltingly began her dreadful speech:

"I told you a lie. My name is Tabitha Catt—" Someone interrupted with a mocking laugh. She wheeled toward him, shook her tightly clenched fist, and with blazing eyes continued, "and not Theodora Marcella Gabrielle Julianna Victoria Emeline; and my brother's name is Thomas Catt and not Dionysius Ulysses Humphrey Llewelyn. My father's name is Lynne Maximilian Catt, but you can call him 'lean Manx Catt;' he doesn't like it, but it ain't any worse than ours. I have an Aunt Maria." She turned as if to go, but paused to throw back over her shoulder, "My mother's name was Theodora Marcella. She was a decent woman. The good die young." With a profound bow she was gone before the spell-bound group had recovered their breath The next place was a grocery store, and though near the supper hour, it chanced to be empty, except for the proprietor, whom she knew, and with him for her audience she spoke her little piece again, omitting none of it, and leaving him in a state of utter bewilderment. On down the long street she went, into every store and shop. Sometimes the people laughed at her, but more often absolute silence greeted her speech, for her eyes burned like live coals and her thin face was pale as death, except for a scarlet spot high on either cheek. In one shop she saw Miss Brooks, but though the teacher pitied the child with all her heart, and longed to comfort her, she knew this was no time to say anything, and was silent with the rest.

So at last the terrible ordeal was over and Tabitha dragged her feet wearily up the last slope toward home. Her father met her where she had left him, and greeted her with the remark, "Now, what have you to say for yourself, Tabitha Catt?"

She lifted her eyes full of scorching scorn and looked straight into his face so like her own, as she replied with passionate emphasis, "That you're a beast, lean Manx Catt, and I'm ashamed of you!"

"She's right," he said to himself, and in silence followed the fleeing form through the sunset glow toward home.



Tom had preceded her to the house and evidently had told Aunt Maria, for when the child burst into the kitchen trailing the green gingham which she had picked up on her way, the worthy woman said never a word of reproach, but with trembling fingers helped her out of the queer little rig and laid it away herself among its crumpled wrappings, while down her withered cheek stole two tears of pity for the unhappy Tabitha.

"Supper is all ready. Come and have something to eat. I opened a jar of jam just for you."

Tabitha shook her head, but gave her aunt a grateful look as she rushed away to her room, slammed the door and crawled into bed, where she lay trembling with anger and humiliation too great for tears. The beauty of the day was gone, her pride in her school achievements was ruthlessly swept away, happiness in these new surroundings was dead.

Her father had said she lied, he had made her tell everyone so, they would hate her now and have nothing to do with her, or else they would make the days miserable by rude taunts and hateful jeers as the children in other towns had done. Miss Brooks would be disappointed in her and give her only cold looks and maybe cross words. Probably even Carrie would no longer care to be her friend. At this thought the tears came, hot, passionate and bitter, and she sobbed convulsively under the pillow where she hid her head that no one might hear. It seemed as if her heart would break. Poor little Tabitha!

Outside the sunset colors faded, the twilight deepened and night came on. The birds twittered sleepily in their nests, a night-hawk screeched across the sky, in the distance the coyotes howled dismally, and the ceaseless throbbing of the mines filled the desert quiet.

In the kitchen Aunt Maria clattered nervously around, upset dishes, spilled the tea, burned the toast and forgot the potatoes entirely, for her perplexed thoughts were with the sobbing child in bed; and the minute the remnants of the evening meal were cleared away, the woman vanished into her room for the night.

Tom tried to eat his supper, but the food choked him, and finding rest impossible at the house, he went out of doors and up the slope to the office, hopeful of finding work there to take his attention; but the door was locked. He turned toward town with its dim, scattered lights, but they mocked him, and everywhere he looked he saw only the strained face of terrified Tabitha, seeming to reproach him for his relaxed vigilance, and he blamed himself bitterly for the calamity the day had brought upon her. At last he crept home again and went to bed, where in the anguish of his spirit, boy though he was, he dampened the pillow with a few salty tears.

But strange as it may seem, Mr. Catt had the worst time of all. For the first time in all his selfish life he seemed to see things as they really were and to realize, in a measure, what a failure he had made of his fatherhood. His slumbering conscience was roused and for a few hours he had an uncomfortable struggle with himself; but though he regretted his harshness, the habits of a lifetime are not laid aside in a moment, and in the end he regarded himself as more sinned against than sinning.

If only Fortune had favored him as it had some other people—if only his wife had been spared him—if only friends had been true to him, it might have been different. Maybe he had been too severe with the girl, but she must be taught obedience. She was too much of a spitfire already, and there was no telling what she might do if some restraint was not put upon her. Still, perhaps a lighter punishment would have served the purpose just as well. She was a bright child; yes, he would admit that. Maybe if she had looked a little more like the angel mother—and yet sometimes he could scarcely bear to look at the boy because in Tom's face he saw so often the warm tenderness that had endeared the mother to all who knew her, and the deep, soft brown eyes that always looked straight in one's face seemed to reproach him for his sternness and neglect. He had mourned because the boy had not inherited the black hair and eyes and the disposition of the Catts, and now he was sorry because the girl had. He sighed; if only—

From the next room came a deep, heavy, sobbing sigh, as if an echo of his. Tabitha had at last fallen asleep and in her slumber had tossed aside the suffocating pillow from her hot, throbbing head. He sat looking at the closed door for some minutes; then, hardly knowing why he did so, he rose and entered her room.

She was still lying in a huddled heap, face down upon the mattress, but her head was turned to one side, exposing the flushed, tear-stained cheek and swollen lids where the tears were scarcely dry. One thin arm was still curved beneath her head, but the other had slipped away from her face and lay stretched across the covers, the hand still loosely clutching a damp ball of handkerchief. The pathetic little figure, still quivering convulsively with every breath, touched the heart of the selfish man, and drawing a five-dollar gold piece from his pocket he slipped it inside the moist, brown fist. Then, as if realizing what a paltry thing gold is in comparison with love, he stooped over the flushed face and kissed it gently,—the first kiss he had ever given his little daughter. She stirred, and the coin slipped from her hand, but in his hasty retreat from the room he did not hear it fall to the floor, roll across the light matting and lodge in a crack out of sight. So he stilled the small, inner voice, and going to his room sought his couch almost satisfied with himself.

The next morning when Tabitha awoke he was gone again, back to the mines and their alluring gold, little realizing what a sore heart he had left behind him in the cottage on the desert. At first she could not think what had happened to leave such a heavy weight on her heart that the very atmosphere seemed charged with grief, but as she rubbed the sleep from her eyes, still hot and stinging from her cry, she remembered the whole dreadful story, and in the sympathetic pillow she again buried her face, too humiliated to meet the world, too discouraged to care.

She heard the clock on the mantel strike seven and lay dreading the call to get up. In the kitchen Aunt Maria was busy bustling about the morning work, getting breakfast, washing the dishes and sweeping. Once she heard Tom's voice, but though she strained her ears, she could catch the sound of no answering tones.

The clock struck eight. Aunt Maria never let her stay in bed that late, even on Sundays, when they all slept a little longer than usual. There was a knock at the kitchen door. Could it be Carrie on her way to school? Not very likely, as the Carson house was nearer town than their cottage, and it was always her place to call for Carrie. Besides, Carrie was never ready on time, and they always had to hurry to reach school before the last bell rang. Still, she held her breath expectantly when steps approached her door, and her heart sank when they stopped and no one entered.

Carrie? What could she be thinking of—she, who had told a lie, deceived people? Could she expect Carrie to call for her? Could she expect Carrie to be her friend after all that had happened? Down went her head into the pillow again and the hot tears flowed in a bitter flood.

The screen door banged, Tom had gone to work. The clock struck nine. There came another knock at the door, louder than the previous one, and for a long time she could hear Aunt Maria's voice speaking in low tones to someone who evidently stood on the steps outside.

Somewhere a sharp whistle sounded, and she flew up in bed startled to hear the clock on the mantel counting off the hour of twelve. She must have been asleep. Yes, she surely had been, for on the chair beside her bed stood a tray heaped high with bread and butter, cake and jam. A glass of milk was there also, and she drank it eagerly, for she was thirsty; but she could not touch the food.

So the long day passed. Once Tom slipped in and bent over her, but her eyes were closed, and thinking her asleep, he left a golden orange beside her and went away. Once Aunt Maria asked her if she didn't feel able to dress and go out of doors for the fresh air, but she turned wearily away and hid her face in the pillow, her only refuge.

The second morning someone had left her door ajar, and she heard Aunt Maria say to Tom, "I don't know what in the world to do with her. She will be sick if she stays that way much longer."

And in Tabitha's heart sprang the fierce longing to be sick, very sick, so sick that they would have to take her away from this horrible desert town. She had heard of such things happening; perhaps—

Tom's voice interrupted her thoughts.

"It is all my fault, Aunt Maria. She told me about the name, but I didn't pay enough attention to know that she had really taken it in place of her own. I ought to be thrashed instead of her being punished. Now she won't look at me or listen to me any more."

Tom took all the blame! Why, she had never for a moment thought of such a thing! It wasn't his fault, she would tell him so.


The scraping of his chair as he pushed it back from the table drowned the sound of her voice, and before she could call again he was gone. She jumped out of bed, threw on her clothes, and stopping only long enough to brush back her tangled hair, she rushed out of the house and up the hill toward the office of the surveyor.

Tom was standing by the big draughting table lettering a map, the surveyor was busy with some blueprints in the window, and Mr. Carson sat near by with a notebook in hand which he was searching industriously. All this Tabitha saw as she stumbled over the threshold, but without heeding either of the two men, she cast herself into Tom's arms with the wail, "O, Tom, you ain't to blame, and you don't deserve to be thrashed! I told a lie and I stole the white silk dress with those lovely scallops. But those were such grand names—yours 'specially, though mine was longer—and oh, I hate being a cat all my life! I said more'n Dad gave me to say and I told folks that his name was 'lean Manx Catt,' and I told 'em Aunt Maria's name. Miss Brooks won't like me any more, and I expect Carrie will hate me, too."

There was a stifled exclamation—she thought from Tom—then two strong arms closed around her, and she found herself crying into someone's vest pocket, but it wasn't Tom's. He had not yet attained the dignity of vests. Surprised, she hushed her sobs, though she still clung to the protecting arms, and in a moment she heard Tom say, "She will be all right now, sir. I will take her home."

But the big arms only held her closer and Mr. Carson's voice, trembling a little and husky with emotion, replied, "I want her for a little while, Tom. Leave her with me."

Laying aside the notebook with its fascinating rows of figures, the man led the amazed child out of the building and down the steep rocky path toward the Carson home, holding her hand fast in his own, and speaking gently, cheerily as they walked.

"It was all a mistake, little girl, and everyone makes mistakes. It wasn't a lie and it wasn't stealing. You ought to have asked someone about it and everything would have been all right, but you mustn't cry about it any more. Carrie loves you just the same and so does Mother Carson and so do I. I don't think Tabitha is a horrid name—"

"But Tabitha Catt!" quavered the tearful little voice. "Folks make fun of me and say hateful things and call me Tabby Catt—"

"Tabby cats are such nice pets," the man interrupted, "so gentle and nice and pretty."

"But I'm homely. If I was pretty maybe they wouldn't call me names."

"No, dear, it isn't that. When they plague you, you scratch; and so they like to tease. If you paid no attention to the thoughtless things they said, they would soon stop teasing."

"Do you really think they would? I thought it was because of the name. No one teased me much when my name was Theodora Marcella Gabrielle Julianna Victoria Emeline."

He smiled. The name sounded so perfectly incongruous for that slender slip of girl, more so than the despised Tabitha; but he understood what a charm the long, rhythmic words held for the child who had missed so much happiness in her short life, so he gravely answered,

"I am sure if you try to laugh with those who make fun of you, and won't get mad no matter what they say, they will soon forget all about the odd little name and will love you for what you are."

"That will be awfully hard to do," sighed Tabitha, thinking of the many times she had been tormented because of that name, "but if—you think it will work,—I'll try."

Before he had a chance to say anything further, the door of the Carson house flew open and happy-faced Carrie flew up the path to meet them, crying joyously, "Miss Brooks is here, and she wants to see you, 'cause we've missed you dreadfully at school."



"Oh, Tabitha, Tabitha, come over to my house and see what papa has brought me!"

Carrie's voice was shrill with joy; and hastily setting the last cup on the pantry shelf, Tabitha seized her sunbonnet and rushed away to join her excited playmate. "It's out here on the back porch, and oh, it's a perfect darling! Tell me what to call him. Isn't he a beauty?"

Talking and laughing and capering in delight, Carrie led the way to the rear of the house, and there in a box on the steps was a beautiful, black, shaggy pup, with the longest, silkiest hair and the prettiest brown eyes.

"Oh, Carrie Carson, aren't you the luckiest girl!" cried Tabitha, looking enviously at the treasure as she bent over it to smooth the soft, shaggy coat. "Just see what beau-ti-ful ears he has! And what a cunning nose! See him lick my hand!"

"He's kissing you. Isn't he cute? One of papa's men at the mine owned four of these little pups, and he sold this one for five dollars. He is to be my very own and I am going to teach him tricks when he is old enough. Isn't he a darling?"

"I should say he is! I wish he belonged to me." The black eyes grew very wistful and the brown face unusually sober as she examined this new toy, this live toy that could really play with its little mistress and understand, at least in a measure, whatever was said to it.

Carrie saw the longing glance and promptly said, "You can play with him, too, Puss, and help me teach him things,—to speak when he wants something to eat, and to bring us sticks or stones when we throw them for him to chase, and to jump through barrel hoops, and to shake hands, and to walk on his hind legs like Jimmy's dog, Sport, does, and to play sleep, and to stand on his hind legs—"

"That will be ever so nice, but it isn't the same as if he was mine, Carrie," interrupted the mournful Tabitha, completely wrapped up in this tiny specimen of puppyhood.

"No—that's so," answered the other child thoughtfully, watching the precious possession with jealous eyes as it curled up in Tabitha's arms and shut its eyes for a nap.

"He likes me already, doesn't he? I've always wanted a pet, but we've never stayed long enough in one place to have anything of this kind. I had a rabbit once, but a dog caught it, and I cried so hard Aunt Maria said I never should have another."

"I'll tell you what! Part of this dog can be yours," said Carrie generously, though it cost her an effort to speak those words.

"Oh, Carrie, you don't mean that?" cried the astonished Tabitha. "Really own part of your beautiful pup? What will your father and mother say?"

"They won't care a bit. The dog is all mine to do what I like with, and I like to give you a share of him. Course he will live here, and I will feed him, so papa can tell me what to give him, as pups are very hard to raise properly and it takes someone that knows how to do it. But you can really, truly own half of him."

"What a good girl you are, Carrie!" exclaimed the other part owner, much impressed at Carrie's grand air of knowledge. "If I had a dog all my own, I'm afraid I'd never want to share him with anyone else, except to play with. I'd want to keep all the ownership myself."

"Well, it would be different with you. All the pets you ever have had was a bunny, while I've had a Shetland pony until we came up here on the desert where there isn't anything for him to eat, and a little lamb out on grandma's farm, and two brown hens, and a pair of doves, and three kitties, and this makes the second dog."


"That's a lot of pets to have one person own, isn't it? But they didn't all belong to me at the same time, and this dog is the best of them all—except the pony. Dear little Arrow is at grandma's house now and when I go back to town to live, if I'm not too big I am to have her again."

"What a cute name for a pony! What are you going to call this pup?"

"I had thought of Ponto, but papa says he will grow up into a big dog, and he thought General would be a nice name."

1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse