Pleasant Street was full of swaying shadows, for the wind had risen and the electric light on the corner swung slowly to and fro. Charlotte held to the gate a moment to steady herself; she seemed swaying, too. Not a single person was to be seen. For the first time in her life she was alone on the street at night. She told herself there was nothing to fear, but she looked wistfully at the lighted windows of the houses along the Terrace, and the cheerful glow that shone from the little shop across the way; but she did not think of going back. It was not far to the street-car, which would take her to the door of the station; after that all would be perfectly simple.
It was still early when Miss Sarah rolled up her work, saying her aunt was not well and must not be left any longer alone.
After she had gone Miss Virginia moved about the drawing-room, pushing chairs back into their places, changing by a few inches the position of some ornament, and rearranging the folds of the curtains. Meanwhile she was thinking that, in part at least, the problem that had been weighing upon her was about to be solved. She had not felt so cheerful in weeks.
At last she was to have a chance to redeem herself and silence that troublesome conscience which continually reminded her she was shirking her duty. Her relief was not unmixed, for at times she felt convicted of disloyalty.
Ever since the episode of the spool of twist Caroline had been a little disagreeable, though in an intangible way that hardly stood analysis. Where Charlotte was concerned, Miss Virginia considered her sister's severity extreme, and she had been hurt that her own protest and plea of extenuating circumstances should have been so scornfully dismissed. Now if events turned out as they promised, all would be well again. If only she dared give Charlotte a hint. The child looked pale and unhappy.
Could there be any harm in saying to her that something was about to happen which would make everything right? Miss Virginia resolved to do it. There could be no reasonable doubt as to what Caroline's decision would be. She ran upstairs light-heartedly.
Charlotte's door was closed, perhaps she was already asleep. Softly Miss Virginia turned the knob. The room was dark, except for the outside electric light that threw a vivid shadow of the window-frame and curtain on the opposite wall. She crossed the room to lower the blind, and as she did so, discovered the bed was unoccupied.
With nervous haste she searched for the matches. Why did she tremble so? It seemed an age till she found them. No, Charlotte was not there; but how absurd to be alarmed, she must be somewhere in the house. Mechanically Miss Virginia began to fold a ribbon that lay on the dressing-table. Then her eye fell on a folded paper addressed to herself. Scarcely able to breathe, she sank into a chair and opened it. It was written in a large, schoolgirl hand.
"DEAR AUNT VIRGINIA: I am going away to Uncle Landor. I am sorry to give you so much trouble. I am going to ask him to send me to boarding school, because I can't stand it any longer. I know how to go to Philadelphia, and I have money enough. I did not mean to be deceitful, but Miss Alex said I was, and that I was making you miserable, so I think I ought to go.
"Your niece, "CHARLOTTE CRESTON."
To Philadelphia—that child! Miss Virginia, who never travelled alone, was overcome with the terror of it. What could she do? Was it too late to stop her? Oh, for some one to help! She ran out into the hall, but something checked her first impulse to call the servants. At what hour did the evening train leave for the north? She hastened downstairs for the paper.
"It is all my fault! all my fault!" she murmured to herself, as with trembling hands she searched for the railroad column. It was too late; the train must have left half an hour ago.
She must consult somebody. Surely, something could be done. Opening the front door, she looked out into the night. A bright light shone from the Russells' across the way. Forgetting to close the door behind her, she hurried over the street and rang the bell.
She told the servant tremblingly that she wished to speak to Miss Alex, who presently came to her in evident surprise.
"Why, Miss Virginia! Is anything the matter?"
"Oh, Alex, something dreadful has happened!" In her agitation it was not possible to say more.
"Is any one ill?"
"No, it is Charlotte—she has gone!"
"Gone?" echoed Alex. "But do come in, Miss Virginia."
"I can't; I left the door open. I don't want people to know. Oh, Alex, what shall I do?"
"I'll go back with you," said Alex. "I don't understand yet what has happened. Where has Charlotte gone?"
Once inside her own door, Miss Virginia thrust Charlotte's note into Alexina's hand. "What shall I do?" she cried. "That long journey alone, and it is all my fault!"
"Don't say that; I am afraid it is partly mine. I was hard on her this afternoon, but I didn't dream— There must be some way to stop her,—by telegraphing ahead, you know. I wonder— It should be done at once. The train left half an hour ago, you say?"
Miss Virginia nodded; words were beyond her.
And now into the drawing-room, where they stood in agitated uncertainty, walked Miss Pennington, the shopkeeper. Her face was flushed, her hair a little disordered by the wind, but she was smiling, and somehow her presence seemed at once to relieve the tension.
"Perhaps you can help me," cried poor Miss Virginia, hardly knowing what she said.
"I am sure I can," answered the stranger, going to her and taking the trembling hands in her own firm ones. "Are you worried about Charlotte? If you are, I have come to tell you she is safe, and is not going to Philadelphia to-night."
"You are sure? How do you know?" cried Miss Virginia, in bewilderment.
Alex drew near in surprise. She had not at first recognized Miss Pennington.
"I'll tell you about it as quickly as I can, but you must sit down;" and Norah drew her to a sofa, where, sitting beside her, she explained that her friend, Miss Carpenter, had had occasion that night to go to the station with her maid, whose nephew was to pass through the city on his way to a western army post. In the waiting-room her attention had been attracted by the efforts of a man to annoy a little girl. Finally it became so marked, and the child seemed so alarmed, that Miss Carpenter interfered, and appealed to a passing official. Then, surprised that a girl of her appearance should be travelling alone at night, she questioned her; and thoroughly frightened, Charlotte had revealed the fact that she was running away.
"Miss Carpenter is a very decided person, and when she understood the matter, would not let her go, but instead brought her home, where we talked it over. I hope you won't think me very presuming when I say that it seemed to us if there were any way of keeping it quiet, it would be so much better. It was just the momentary rebellion of a high-spirited girl. I know she is sorry now."
"Caroline need never know a thing about it," exclaimed Miss Virginia, looking at Alex.
"I am sure that would be best. I'll never speak of it," answered Alex.
"Then I'll bring her over," said Norah, rising. "She is a good deal excited, so I offered to come over and pave the way."
"You can tell her I will be as good to her—things are going to be very different." Tears came into Miss Virginia's eyes.
"I am sure you are always good. I haven't the least doubt she was naughty, but girls are very foolish sometimes." Norah looked at Alex as if she might be expected to agree to this.
* * * * *
A very pale, subdued Charlotte made her appearance soon after. There was nobody to receive her but Aunt Virginia, who waited at the door.
Little was said that night. "We'll just pretend it never happened, dear," Aunt Virginia said tearfully, as she took her into her arms and kissed her. "You didn't know it, but your Aunt Caroline is going away for the winter," she added. "It is a secret yet, but she is going very soon; and I was thinking you and I would have such a good time, and then—" They both fell to crying over this in a manner to suggest to one unenlightened that a good time without Aunt Caroline would prove but a dreary affair.
"I am so sorry, and I am going to be good," Charlotte whispered, when her aunt came to tuck her in. "And oh, Aunt Virginia, they are lovely! They were so good." This, of course, referred to the shopkeepers.
"I didn't thank Miss Pennington; I didn't say one word, so far as I remember," exclaimed Miss Wilbur, "and she was certainly kind. I shall have to go over and express my appreciation. Judging from her appearance she is a charming young woman."
The newly built fire crackled and blazed merrily, putting to rout what little daylight sifted through the slats of the window-shutters. How pleasant to lie there safe and warm! Charlotte hugged her pillow in thankfulness.
Far from being the heroine she had imagined herself, she realized she was only a foolish little girl. For once she felt the truth of that objectionable phrase. The experience of the night before had subdued her. She went all over it as she lay there, waiting for the rising bell.
On her way to the station the persistent stare of a man who sat opposite in the street-car made her uneasy; and when at the station, after she had bought her ticket, he again appeared and attempted to talk to her, even following her when she changed her seat, her uneasiness became alarm.
The dreadful loneliness of that great station, with its hurrying crowds, she would not soon forget. If it had been day, Charlotte was sure she would have been braver. In her despair Miss Carpenter came to her rescue. She recalled vividly how the young lady swept down upon her tormentor, with blazing eyes, demanding imperiously what he meant by annoying a little girl; and then Charlotte, clinging to the friendly hand held out to her, had allowed herself to be led meekly away. It was all over in a moment, and in a quiet corner out of the crowd she was replying brokenly to the questions of her rescuer.
Why was it that under the serious gaze of those dark eyes all her self-confidence and determination had oozed away? Miss Carpenter's manner was kind, but her decision had been prompt and final. It seemed to Charlotte no one could have resisted her.
"My child," she said, still holding Charlotte's hand, "you cannot take such a journey alone. I cannot let you. Come home with me, where we can talk it over. We'll find some way out of the trouble." And she added: "You live on the corner of Pleasant Street and the Terrace, don't you? I think I have seen you there. I am Miss Carpenter of the shop."
In a sort of bewilderment Charlotte had submitted, and escorted by Miss Carpenter and the elderly maid she rode back to the Terrace. And that half-hour in the shop, where they found Miss Pennington comfortably established by the fire with a book! Charlotte could still feel the atmosphere of sympathy and reason that enveloped her as she poured out her story to these strangers with all the pent-up unhappiness of the past week. How gently they had pointed out that running away would only add difficulties to the situation.
Her face grew hot now at the thought of how silly she must have seemed to them. And she wished these young ladies to think well of her,—which, of course, they never could do.
Aunt Virginia had been good, too. A wave of warm affection surged up in Charlotte's heart, and with it a determination to be a comfort to her after this. As she dressed, she wondered if she would ever again be free from this dreadful feeling of shame. She hated to go down to breakfast, even though Aunt Caroline did not know.
Later in the day Aunt Virginia called her into her room and closed the door. There was a pretty flush on her face as she sat erect in an arm-chair which, like the other furniture in the room, had been her grandmother's. Beside her on a table was an old Bible with yellow leaves, and some ancient books of devotion.
"I have been talking to your Aunt Caroline," Miss Wilbur began.
"I do not mean about last night. While I feel almost deceitful in keeping it from her, I have decided to do it. As I told you, your Aunt Georgiana is out of health and must go to California, and it seems Caroline's duty to go with her. This will leave you in my charge. You were really put in my charge at first, but I felt inexperienced and—" Miss Virginia hesitated, then continued: "What I have been thinking is this. I should like to try again, starting fresh and forgetting all that has happened. I think if you would promise always to be frank with me, and perhaps put up with some things that seem to you foolish and old-fashioned notions, that we could get along together. I loved your mother, and I want to love you and have your affection. But if you cannot be happy, I will write to Mr. Landor and explain—"
"Aunt Virginia, I do love you. I don't want to go away. I am so sorry about last night!" Charlotte buried her face in her aunt's lap.
"Don't cry, dear. It is all over, then, and we will forget it." Miss Virginia caressed the brown head.
"But I am so ashamed. It hurts—I can't forget."
"Well, dear, perhaps you had some excuse. Caroline overlooked the fact that you have lived an unusually independent life, and I think she did not just understand how you felt about Lucile. I don't mean you were right to go there, but— Well, from now on you are my charge, and the punishment is over. After this we'll try to understand and trust each other."
"I am going to be good; you'll see," Charlotte whispered, her arms about her aunt's neck.
She felt impatient to show Aunt Virginia she was really in earnest. What could she do? As she dressed for the evening an idea occurred to her. With many a pang she shook out her wavy brown hair and combed it resolutely back from her face. It had always taken an absurd length of time to arrange that drooping mass in just the proper manner, but Lucile had commended her skill. It was much easier to brush it back in a way to show how prettily it grew about her forehead, but Charlotte really considered herself a fright as she tied a blue ribbon on her long braid.
The change gave her rather a chastened look, combined as it was with a timid self-consciousness when she entered the dining-room. Her aunts surveyed her with evident astonishment.
"Well, Charlotte," Mrs. Millard remarked, affably, "you are really a nice-looking little girl when you let yourself alone."
Aunt Virginia patted her hand and said nothing, but Charlotte felt sure she understood.
MRS. MILLARD DEPARTS
Relieved and thankful though Miss Virginia felt, and confident, too, that she and Charlotte would now get on very well together, she still had something on her mind. The feeling that she was concealing something from her sister weighed upon her, but not so heavily as her sense of obligation to the shopkeepers. In her agitation she had hardly thanked Miss Pennington; and the more she considered it, the more remarkable their kindness and thoughtfulness appeared. Would Caroline call it officiousness?
Mrs. Millard had gone so far as to acknowledge the shopkeepers seemed to be persons of refinement, and their effort to make a living was, of course, creditable; but she feared they did not quite know their position. Perhaps they were from some small town, where social distinctions were overlooked.
"Perhaps they are well born, but have lost their money and have to do something," Miss Virginia suggested, thinking that the manners of the young women in question were not in the least rustic.
Ignoring this her sister continued: "It is quite evident to my mind that they are pushing. Why else should they have come into a neighborhood like this, instead of going where they belong, among other shops? They evidently hope for some social recognition, and this is why I lay stress upon not giving them our patronage in any respect. I see plainly they will leave no stone unturned to ingratiate themselves."
Did this account for Charlotte's rescue? Miss Virginia shivered at the thought. It had seemed to her the extreme of neighborly kindness. One thing was certain,—Miss Carpenter had not invented the occasion. Had she seized it in the hope of advancing her own interests? Miss Virginia felt this was silly.
How friendly and helpful Miss Pennington had seemed! Could a commonplace, pushing young woman have so won Miss Virginia's heart? She lay awake at night thinking about it, wondering how she could suitably express her gratitude and at the same time preserve a distant dignity. In the silence and darkness all sorts of dreadful possibilities floated through her mind. Perhaps these harmless-looking young women were adventuresses, come into the neighborhood with some deep scheme, and the attractive shop as a blind. They might be burglars. One read of astonishing things done by women in these days.
Miss Virginia felt impatient over this new problem, and her irritation caused a display of unusual spirit when her sister began to give her parting instructions.
"You'd better send the drawing-room curtains to Lucinda in January," said that lady, thoughtfully, balancing her pencil above the pad on her knee. "I have made a list—"
"It is quite unnecessary, Caroline," interrupted Miss Virginia; "I kept house for a good many years without you, and you can't expect to run things here while you are in California."
"It seems to me, Virginia, you use very unbecoming expressions. I have no desire to run things; I only supposed you would be glad of a few suggestions."
"I am sure I don't wish to be rude, but I will be frank and tell you, Caroline, that I mean to do as I please while you are away."
Mrs. Millard gazed at her in surprise. "Why, Virginia, one would suppose you had been a captive in chains! Very well, I wash my hands of it all,—only," relapsing into a tone of pathetic reproach, "you do such singular things at times, you know."
She was manifestly shaken by this declaration of independence, but she was committed to her older sister. It was too late to change her plans. She ventured one parting injunction. "Pray, Virginia, do not patronize the shop. Let me beg of you, if you have any regard for me."
* * * * *
In Mrs. Millard's sudden departure the Terrace naturally felt an interest.
"So Caroline's going to leave us," Judge Russell remarked at the breakfast table. "We shall be free to do as we please this winter. I'll have that poplar set out in February."
"Aren't you ashamed, grandfather!" laughed Madelaine. "As if you had not strength of mind to do as you like."
The judge smiled as he stirred his coffee. "Caroline is a forceful woman; and then, too, she is generally right. It may be, as she says, the tree will not grow, but I want to try it."
"I wonder she is willing to leave Virginia all the responsibility of Charlotte. She is such a headstrong child, and so northern," said Mrs. Russell.
"Now, mother," expostulated Alexina, "isn't that dreadfully narrow?"
"What harm is there in liking your own part of the country best?" asked her sister.
"I did not mean any such thing," cried Alex. "I only insist that no locality has the monopoly of nice people."
"But some peculiarities are northern and some are southern, and I don't see that it is narrow to prefer one sort above the other," Madelaine persisted. "How can Mrs. Millard make up her mind to leave the shop?" she continued. "Miss Sarah has gone over to the enemy, and Alex is going."
"I don't understand about that shop," said her grandfather, not for the first time, by any means. "I told you about that young lady who so kindly picked up my books,—a most intelligent person, and as pretty as—as Madelaine." This with a smile at his youngest granddaughter.
"Here is another conversion," laughed Madelaine.
"I can't understand about the shop," the judge repeated.
"Why isn't keeping a shop just as respectable as teaching or keeping boarders?" asked Alex. She had in truth been strongly attracted to Miss Pennington that evening at Miss Wilbur's, and had a secret desire to see more of her.
* * * * *
Wayland Leigh brought the news of Mrs. Millard's proposed departure to his two aunts. He had it from Madelaine Russell.
"I wish you could have such a trip, Sarah," said Mrs. Leigh. "It would do you a world of good. As Aunt Nancy used to say, you are so thin you have to stand up twice to cast a shadow."
"Caroline is going from a sense of duty, you may be sure. And what would my boarders do while I was skylarking in California?" her niece demanded. This was a mild joke, for the boarders had not as yet materialized.
"I wish you would give up that idea, Aunt Sarah," growled Wayland.
"You agree with Mrs. Millard, I suppose. She thinks it involves the whole Terrace in a downward step. But what am I to do? Caroline assured me she could secure the position of matron at the Children's Home for me, but what would you and Aunt Sally do then, poor things?"
"Oh, it is easy to laugh—" began Wayland.
"Is it? Then I wish you would favor us sometimes, my dear nephew."
"I was going to say," continued Wayland, with dignity, "that it was easy to make fun of Mrs. Millard, but she is my idea of an elegant woman."
"Far be it from me to deny Caroline's elegance. I am often proud to know her. I believe there could be no emergency great enough to make her say 'hello!' over the telephone, and I saw her on one occasion put up her lorgnette when she answered a call."
"Now, Sarah," said Mrs. Leigh, laughing.
The two ladies talked on about neighborhood affairs, but Wayland paid little heed, being absorbed in his own thoughts. He was in an impatient and critical mood. What he considered his aunt's oddity annoyed him. He wished she would dress like other people,—meaning Mrs. Millard. He was twenty years old, and was working in a bank for fifty dollars a month, with small chance of promotion. He had wished to go to college,—not so much, however, as his aunt had wished it for him,—but now this was overshadowed by the ambition to be rich. And all for Madelaine. Sometimes he fiercely resolved that he would be rich; and again he lost heart at the thought that lovely, dainty Madelaine was certain to find another palace long before his was built. Her frank worldliness did not weaken his adoration, strange to say.
"Miss Norah, I am afraid Miss Marion is falling back." Susanna stood in the doorway, a tea towel in one hand, a cup in the other.
Norah, who was putting in order certain shelves before the day's work began, asked, "Why do you think so, Susanna?"
"Well, Miss Norah, I caught her walking around the house with her eyes shut, feeling her way like she was trying to get used to it." Susanna advanced and spoke in a whisper, "And she hasn't had a smile for anybody this last day or two. Haven't you noticed it?"
"To tell the truth, I have, Susanna; but, after all, it is not unnatural. The excitement of getting settled and beginning work made her forget, and now the novelty is wearing off she has, as you say, slipped back. All this rain and fog is in itself depressing. Don't worry, Susanna. Hasn't everything I promised you come true up till now?"
"I suppose so, Miss Norah," was the reluctant answer.
"Then don't worry, and I'll let you keep shop this afternoon."
Where the shop was concerned, Susanna was like a child; and nothing pleased her more than to be left in charge for an hour or so. Her own domain, the three bedrooms, dining room, and kitchen, she kept in spotless order, creating the daintiest repasts as if by magic, and seeming always to have time to spare.
She went back to her dishes, and Norah worked away with a thoughtful frown. Presently Marion entered and dropped into a chair with a weary sigh. "It is a horrid day," she said.
"There is a bit of blue in the west; by afternoon it may be pleasant," Norah responded.
When one is immersed in gloom, the sight of determined cheerfulness is irritating. So Marion found it.
"The air is so heavy one can hardly breathe," she went on. "I believe I'll let Susanna attend to the plants; I am tired."
"I have time to do it," said Norah, closing the door of the case.
Marion rose impatiently. "You shall not touch them. If Susanna cannot do them, I will."
"Susanna would cut off her hand if you asked it; but I know she has more than usual to do this morning, and we agreed the shop was to be our part. I am not in the least tired. Please, Marion!" Norah stood between her and the door.
"Very well. I shall attend to it myself," and Marion swept by her.
"O dear!" sighed Norah, "I feel like a tyrant; but she must not give up."
Marion returned presently and began washing the palms and clipping away the dead leaves. She worked listlessly, her face wore an expression of deep melancholy.
A diversion was created by the entrance of James Mandeville. He had been kept in several days by a cold, and the joy of release radiated from his small person.
"Mammy says she reckons the sun's going to shine by and by, so she let me come," he announced.
"Mammy and I are of the same opinion, then," said Norah, helping him off with his coat. "Can't you think of something to cheer Miss Marion? She is very tired of this rainy weather."
"I'll sing her a song, that's what I'll do," James Mandeville cried eagerly. "You wait."
He disappeared into the next room, where presently his voice was heard uplifted in "Onward, Christian Soldiers," and if the tune was a trifle uncertain, nothing was lacking in spirit. Through the open door he marched, holding the morning paper before him, and proceeding the length of the shop.
"One in hope of doctor, one in cherry tree,"
he proclaimed lustily.
Even Marion must smile a little at this.
"It is beautiful," said Norah, "though I don't quite understand it. I seem to feel a sort of connection between the doctor and the cherry tree, too."
"There's a heap more of verses," James Mandeville assured her. "Do you feel better?" This to Marion.
Who could resist? She laughed as she drew him to her and kissed him. "I am cross this morning, and you are a nice boy to sing for me. I make life very hard for Miss Norah. Suppose you go tell her I am sorry."
James Mandeville trotted off obediently to find Norah, who had left the room a moment before. Marion, having finished with the plants, was absently looking out of the window when the door opened with a jerk and some one bounced into the shop. Turning with a start, she recognized the personage Norah called Giant Despair.
"What do you mean?—" he began, then paused and stared about in bewilderment. "Where am I?" he demanded; and as Marion advanced he removed his hat, displaying a massive head covered with shaggy gray hair.
"We call this the Pleasant Street Shop," she answered.
"See here—I thought it was the plumber's. I am getting so blind I shall soon have to be led around. So you call this a shop? Does it belong to you? For I can tell you now you have made a mistake in coming here." His voice was gruff, and as he spoke he peered this way and that, as if to get some idea of his surroundings.
"If we can't make a success here, we will go elsewhere, but we are doing very well," Marion said, "The plumber is on the next block."
"I know that now. I am not losing my mind as well as my sight."
Something impelled Marion to say, "I am sorry about your eyes. Can't something be done?"
"Sorry? How can you be sorry? Nobody knows anything about it who hasn't tried it."
"I have lived in constant fear of blindness for a year." Marion seldom spoke of her eyes, but the sight of trouble like her own broke down her usual reticence.
The old man softened. "You have? A young thing like you?" He peered at her in his intent way. "I guess you have grit," he said.
"Not much," she answered. "But my eyes are better, they tell me. Time will show. Can't something be done for yours?"
"Oh, yes, they are going to operate on the right one in the spring, but it is not likely to do any good; and then I shall have just half an eye left."
Norah and James Mandeville now entered unobserved.
"I have got to row up that plumber," Giant Despair continued, looking at his hat. "As I told you, I don't approve of a shop in this neighborhood, but I don't see anything that looks like one. Good day," and with a grim smile he went out more quietly than he had entered.
"Who would ever have expected a visit from Giant Despair?" cried Norah, "and he seems to have a bit of humor about him, too."
"I am sorry for him. He looks as if he had no one to take care of him, and he is nearly blind, as you can tell," said Marion.
When Mammy Belle came for her charge at noon, Marion asked her if she knew anything about old Mr. Goodman.
"Yes'm," answered Belle, "I knows him, Miss Marion," smoothing her apron.
"Does he live alone in that big house on the Terrace?"
"Yes'm, and he's mighty rich and crusty. He don't waste no pleasant words, and he don't waste no money. Law, Miss Marion, he's got rusty dollars layin' up in bank."
"Rusty dollars?" repeated Norah.
"Yes, honey, been layin' thar so long they's rusty. Get up offen the floor, James Mandeville. You won't have no skin on your knees, fust you knows."
"Then will I have to be born again to get some?" inquired the small boy, sitting back on his heels to consider the matter.
"Law, chile, what you talkin' 'bout? You mus' think you's Nickorydemus! Miss Norah's settin' there laughin' at you. Come 'long home with mammy."
"Isn't there a delightful variousness about our neighborhood?" said Norah. "Do you see that sun? Tell me I am not a prophet!"
"You are an angel to put up with me," sighed Marion, but her face was no longer gloomy.
"I have been constructing a grab-bag, and you shall have the first grab;" and Norah brought out a bag made of rainbow ribbons. "This is outwardly symbolic of the cheer within. The principle on which it works is simple. Whenever I find a consoling sentiment, I write it on a card and drop it in, then when I am low in my mind, I take one out. Help yourself."
"What an absurd person you are!" said Marion, obediently putting her hand in and drawing out a card. She read:—
"Cleave ever to the sunnier side of doubt, And cling to faith."
Norah looked over her shoulder. "That is good, isn't it?"
Marion caught her hand. "You preacher," she said, adding, "I accept it, dear, and I'll try." The visit of Giant Despair seemed the culmination of Marion's depression. It was Saturday afternoon, and leaving Susanna in charge, they set out on an exploring expedition in the mood of two light-hearted children.
With the departure of Mrs. Millard a season of repose came to the Terrace. Charlotte and Miss Virginia actually found life a little tame after the excitement, for their neighbors were just then absorbed in their own affairs.
Miss Sarah and her aunt had some new boarders on which to expend time and thought, and Alexina was living a life of rigid usefulness, studying shorthand in secret and helping with the house work, for the Russell mansion was large and servants not numerous. She also made dainty things for that radiant butterfly Madelaine. Alex was a born milliner, but she rather despised her gift, even while acknowledging its usefulness.
The fame of the corner shop was spreading abroad till it was in a fair way to become fashionable. Charlotte, from her window where she studied, could see people passing in and out, and not infrequently a carriage stood before the door. Sometimes she would forget her lesson in the interest of recalling her evening visit there. How cheery and cosey it had looked in the lamplight! Should she ever see it again? Miss Pennington bowed and smiled in a friendly way when they occasionally met, Miss Carpenter she had not seen again.
It occurred to Charlotte quite suddenly one day that it was something of a coincidence that there should be a Miss Carpenter across the street here, and while she was thinking about it she was called down to see—of all persons!—her guardian. Having business in the South, Mr. Landor had made it convenient to stop over a day or two.
She was so glad to see him she came near crying, a most unusual thing for Charlotte, and her guardian eyed her closely as she drew him into the library and seated herself on an ottoman beside his chair. Miss Wilbur was out, and there was nothing to interrupt them.
With her elbow on the arm of his chair, and her chin in her hand as she looked up at him, Charlotte at first had a dozen questions to ask concerning Cousin Frank and Mrs. Wellington, and Spruce Street affairs generally. But after a little, Uncle Landor began to ask the questions, and then came the confession.
She unfolded the whole story, trying not to spare herself, though unable to conceal some resentment against Aunt Caroline. Mr. Landor listened in grave silence, and continued to look at her thoughtfully after she had finished. Charlotte's eyes fell under his scrutiny, but she quickly lifted them again.
"Was I deceitful? I did not mean to be."
"What do you think yourself?"
"I—but I tried to tell."
"Things were rather against you, Charlotte. I like to see you loyal. Do you still think this girl the sort of friend you care to have?"
Charlotte hung her head. "I don't know," she faltered. The truth was, Lucile's excess of devotion was beginning to grow tiresome. There were other of her schoolmates who, she could not help seeing, were more desirable as friends, but they now held aloof. It was hard to acknowledge that Aunt Caroline had been at least partly right.
Mr. Landor lifted the downcast face, and his gaze was kindly. "I believe you are learning your lesson, little girl, but it has been a sharp one. It is always a mistake not to be straightforward. In all your life I fear you have never truly learned to obey. You are fast growing up now, and the responsibility will rest more and more upon yourself. Are you going to listen to the voice that speaks in your heart, and obey when the conflict comes?" He laid his hand on the brown head. "In spite of it all, you have improved, Charlotte."
"Do you mean my hair?"
"Have you done anything to your hair? I didn't know; it is very pretty hair. No, you have grown more gentle and womanly."
"I am happy with Aunt Virginia. She is a dear, and I feel so ashamed and sorry when I think how she would have felt if I had run away. Uncle Landor, is it that voice you spoke of—in our hearts—that makes us feel so dreadfully ashamed sometimes?"
"I suppose we may say it is in this instance. It is the judgment of the higher self upon the lower self."
Mr. Landor was a reserved and somewhat silent man, and never before had he talked to Charlotte just as he did this afternoon. Till now she had been only a child to be petted or reproved. To-day he gently pointed out her faults, showed her how from now on it rested largely with herself what she would make of her life; he spoke of the guiding voice that all may hear who listen and who keep their hearts pure and loving, and last of all he put into her hand a little pocket Testament, in which he said he had marked certain things which had served him as guide-posts on the way, and might help her.
Charlotte was touched and pleased, and took the book with a very earnest promise to read it and follow its guidance.
After this they went on to talk of other matters. Charlotte pointed out the shop over the way, and gave an account of the neighborhood which showed such a keen appreciation of individual foibles, that her guardian found himself laughing heartily.
"Uncle Landor, I wish you would ask Aunt Virginia to let me go to the shop," she said. "I liked Miss Carpenter and Miss Pennington so much, and they were very good to me."
Mr. Landor spent several days in town, and before he left, Miss Virginia herself asked his opinion as to the proper attitude toward the shopkeepers.
"They did me a great service, and in the excitement of that evening I cannot recall thanking Miss Pennington. I went into the shop the day after Caroline left, meaning to give some expression to my gratitude, but both the young women were out. I feel uncomfortable about it. I can't think as Caroline does, that they are trying to force themselves upon our notice. They really seem to be ladies. What would you advise?"
A smile illumined Mr. Landor's usually grave countenance at Miss Wilbur's earnestness.
"It is a thrifty-looking little shop," he said; "Charlotte pointed it out to me. And I should say, Miss Virginia, that you are perfectly safe in following your own instincts in the matter. To suppose their motives in helping Charlotte other than kindly seems to me both ungracious and absurd. You say they appear to be ladies. They probably are, but however that may be, you and Charlotte and I owe them our thanks."
Miss Virginia told Charlotte afterward that she was greatly relieved. "For Philadelphia people are not likely to go too far in a matter of this kind. Then, too, Mr. Landor is a man, and able to judge whether they could possibly be dangerous persons."
Charlotte opened her eyes. "How could they be dangerous?"
"Well, my dear, they might be burglars, come to spy out the neighborhood, with the shop for a blind."
"Oh, Aunt Virginia!" laughed Charlotte.
"I am sure I have read of such things," the lady insisted stoutly.
Not long after this Charlotte received a letter from Cousin Francis.
"Father tells me you have been having your own troubles, little Char," he wrote. "Well, keep up a good heart and work hard. This is what I am doing just now. Things have not gone my way at all, but in spite of it I am going to try to do something worth while this winter. I often wish you were here to be my admiring critic."
A letter came from Mrs. Wellington also, relating chiefly to a package Aunt Cora had commissioned her to send, but at the end she said: "Perhaps you will be interested to know the Carpenter house is closed. Miss May has gone away—not to be home for a year, they say—so if you were here, you could not watch for her as you used to do."
Was it on account of Miss Carpenter that things were not going Cousin Frank's way? Charlotte wondered, and began to think once more of the rose that was out of reach.
AN EVENING CALL
"Alex, I am glad to see you. I was about to send Martha over for you; I am alone this evening. How very nice you look!"
It was an understood thing that if Alex had no other engagement, she was to take supper at the Wilburs' on Fridays. She stood before Miss Virginia pulling off her long gloves, looking indeed unusually handsome in a gown of pale gray and a plumy black hat, which she had made herself with a sort of reluctant pleasure in its becomingness.
"I simply had to go to the Burtons'," she explained. "Madelaine was receiving, and mother insisted if I never went anywhere, people would begin to say she pushed me into the background and showed partiality. There is no arguing with her when she is in that state of mind, so I went."
"And enjoyed it, I am sure," said Miss Virginia. "I suppose I should have gone if Caroline had been at home, but to tell the truth, I forgot it. Charlotte was asked to a party,—one of her schoolmates,—and I was interested in seeing her dressed. I am glad the child is to have a little diversion; she has been as good as gold lately."
"I am certain you will not have any more trouble with her; Charlotte is a nice child," Alex replied with a half sigh. She felt that Charlotte had never quite forgiven her for her severity, and that Madelaine without any effort or care had won the place she had meant to hold in the little girl's regard.
Madelaine occasionally joined the Friday tea-party; to fascinate was as natural to her as to breathe, and Charlotte had been quickly won.
"You look sweet with your hair back," Madelaine had said, loosening the waves about Charlotte's forehead with fairy touches. "It was too extreme before. We could hardly see your eyes, and they are too pretty to hide."
Silly flattery, Alex thought, but she knew Charlotte would never return to the old way.
As she poured the coffee, Miss Virginia told Alex about Mr. Landor's visit and his decision in regard to the shopkeepers. "I was so surprised," she concluded, "for Philadelphians are so exclusive, you know."
"I think he is sensible. I wish one could do the natural, simple thing always," sighed Alex, "without thinking of dignity or position. It might be much more entertaining to associate with persons whose social position was different from one's own."
"Do you think so, Alex? If it were done generally, there would not be any social positions, would there?" Miss Virginia spoke as one who faced a deep problem.
"It would be heaven," answered Alex; adding, "suppose we go this evening."
"Alex! will you go with me? I am so relieved."
Later it appeared that unsuspected difficulties lurked in the seemingly simple matter of an evening call.
"Shall I take a card?" Miss Virginia paused on the stairway to inquire. "It is not quite an ordinary call, you know."
"I should take one if I were you; and let me put my name on it," Alex answered, laughing.
On the porch Miss Wilbur paused again. "Shall we ask them to come to see us?"
"Need we mention it at all? Let them do as they see fit."
"Of course. You are very sensible, Alex." Miss Virginia sighed.
At the gate there was another delay. "I am afraid your mother will not like it. I don't want to lead you into mischief, Alex."
"Now, Miss Virginia, I proposed going with you, and I am going whether you go or not," and Alex linked her arm in her friend's, and drew her toward the corner.
"I don't know what Caroline would say; but then, she does not know the circumstances." After this remark, they crossed the street in silence, broken only by another sigh from Miss Virginia, as Alex touched the bell.
The maid who admitted them showed some surprise, but ushered them toward a half-open door at the end of the small hallway, Miss Wilbur's card in her hand.
"We'll just refer the matter to the rich Miss Carpenter," a laughing voice was announcing as they entered a room, the first impression of which was that of a pleasant library, with its shaded lamps, open fire, and happy mingling of books and work; a second glance showed it to be simply the shop in evening dress.
The voice belonged to Miss Pennington who now came forward with a cordial greeting, and presented Alex and Miss Virginia to her friend, Miss Carpenter. Miss Carpenter's manner was somewhat distant in contrast, but seen without the disfiguring glasses she usually wore, Alex found her unexpectedly handsome.
"I have wanted so much to have an opportunity to thank you," Miss Virginia began, an evident victim to a terrible fit of shyness. "I came one afternoon, but you were out. You were both so kind to my niece," she looked at Miss Carpenter.
"I beg you not to think of it again. It was nothing at all. I happened to be at the station, and seeing how frightened she was, went to her rescue." Miss Carpenter spoke as one who dismissed a trivial matter.
"We were so interested in her," put in Miss Pennington. "It occurred to Miss Carpenter that it might be possible to avoid the trying ordeal of explanations, so she brought her here to talk it over."
"Charlotte is a dear child," said Miss Virginia, "and all the trouble is over now." Then she added with a sudden accession of self-possession: "It may seem a small matter to you, Miss Carpenter, but perhaps you can understand it would have been a most serious and unhappy thing for me if the child had carried out her plan. I can't be thankful enough."
"I do see it, and I am very glad that, by a happy accident, I was able to be of service." Miss Carpenter's manner changed, her tone was soft, her smile winning. Alex, who was playing the part of spectator, suddenly warmed to her.
"I met your grandfather several weeks ago, Miss Russell," said Miss Pennington, turning to her. "He had an armful of books, and seemed to think I had done him a wonderful favor in picking up two he dropped in getting out of the car."
"He told me," Alex answered. "He was so pleased that you appreciated the value of his find."
"And he was so disappointed when he found I kept a shop," laughed Norah.
Alex smiled and flushed. "Grandfather has old-fashioned ideas about women supporting themselves, and then, too, the neighborhood was rather opposed to having a shop built here."
"I know," answered Miss Pennington, "but as it is here we flatter ourselves nothing could be less objectionable than our shop."
"You are undoubtedly winning us over. It seems to me a delightful occupation, but I suppose it is not so easy and pleasant as it looks."
"Of course it is work, but we find it pleasant. For several years I taught, but to keep a store has always been my ambition since I was three years old, and I at last persuaded my friend to join me in an experiment."
"You don't make all your lovely baskets, surely?" Alex asked, her eyes on the strings of raphia and an unfinished basket that lay on the table.
"Oh, no. It is work Miss Carpenter can do at times,—her eyes allow very little of any sort,—but most of our stock comes from a Mothers' Club in a settlement in which we are both interested. I lived there for a time. You can't think how much it has meant to those women. They bring their babies with them, and they sing while they work, and the babies sleep or are entertained by their surroundings. Many of the patterns are original, and they have developed a wonderful sense for color and form in some instances."
"How interesting!" exclaimed Alex. "I don't see how you ever happened to come to a stupid town like this."
"Our pottery has a history, too. It is designed and decorated by two young women, and it has taken very well wherever it has been exhibited. But I do not mean to go on talking shop all the evening," and Norah paused with a smile.
"I like to hear about it. It has been such a puzzle to me to know what I could do to support myself. There seemed to be nothing but teaching or stenography, and I should hate both, I am afraid."
"If possible, do the thing you like to do, is my theory. There are a good many fields in these days, and still in almost any paper you can find a young lady who wishes to be a companion and is willing to travel."
Alex laughed. Miss Virginia was rising, and she reluctantly followed her example. "May I come again sometime?" she asked.
While Miss Wilbur and Alex were talking over their call, Charlotte came in in a flutter of gayety, her checks matching her rose-colored ribbons.
"I wish I could have gone with you," she said when she had heard of the visit. "Did they say anything about me?"
"You were mentioned," her aunt replied, pinching her cheek; and adding, "they are certainly very pleasant young women."
"They are charming," said Alex.
"I wonder if this Miss Carpenter could be any relation to the one who lives across the street from Uncle Landor?" said Charlotte.
"Did you hear what Miss Pennington was saying when we went in, Miss Virginia?" asked Alex.
"It was something about the rich Miss Carpenter, wasn't it?"
"My Miss Carpenter is rich," said Charlotte, and she related the romance, almost forgotten of late, which she had built upon Aunt Cora's remarks about the little portrait and upon Mrs. Wellington's stories.
"She is the granddaughter of Peter Carpenter," Miss Virginia said. "I have often heard my father speak of him. They were college mates. He was very rich and rather peculiar. He had a half-sister much younger than himself who once visited here on her way South. She and my oldest sister, Georgiana, were friends and used to correspond, but that was years and years ago. Mr. Carpenter—for some reason he was always called Peter—had only one child, a son, who was killed in a railroad disaster, probably twenty years ago. Your Miss Carpenter, Charlotte, must be his daughter."
"Carpenter is a common name; there may be a number of rich Miss Carpenters," said Alex, "but it would be a little odd if they should turn out to be connected in any way."
"I don't think they cared to talk about themselves," continued Miss Virginia, referring to the shopkeepers. "I am sure Caroline was wrong when she called them pushing."
THE ADVENTURES OF A BIRTHDAY CAKE
In a great, handsome, dreary room sat Giant Despair. The December day was damp and cheerless, and the coal fire in the ugly old-fashioned grate beneath the elaborate marble mantel burned in a grudging, spiritless way. Above the uncurtained windows, with their shutters thrown wide upon a view of moist, bare garden, the heavy gilt cornices seemed to frown. Giant Despair was frowning as he searched in a massive black walnut secretary for a missing paper.
Things had gone wrong to-day. His housekeeper who knew his ways was absent on her annual vacation, and for the carelessness and stupidity of the servants he could find no adequate words. In truth he had exhausted his vocabulary early in the day, and now was reduced to inarticulate growls.
Against one of the maids in particular his anger burned. He had mislaid a paper brought to him the evening before by his business agent; and now that it could not be found, the luckless maid was accused of making way with it.
She was a Swiss girl with a meek manner and eyes that belied it. Giant Despair could not see the eyes, and the manner annoyed him.
"If you please,—did you this day order a birthday cake?"
"What? Order what?" cried Giant Despair, turning in great rage to face the unfortunate maid.
She stood her ground. "A cake,—white, with candles of pink."
"Did I order a pink cake? What do you mean by asking such a question? You know I didn't." His frown was terrible.
"Candles of pink," corrected the girl, and holding up her hand she counted, "One, two, three, four, five."
"What is the woman talking about?" demanded Giant Despair.
"De con-fectionaire man bring it. He say it vas for here. He comes not back."
"Then telephone him to send for it at once. Why do you come bothering me about it?"
"We know not who sends it."
"Bring the thing here and let me see what you are talking about."
The maid retired, returning presently carrying a small cake covered with an elaborate white icing, and further decorated, as has been said, with five pink candles. This she set upon the desk, and, a gleam of—was it malice or mischief? in her eyes, slipped away.
"Humph!" growled Giant Despair, peering at the strange object, even resorting to his big magnifying glass that he might see it the better.
An innocent, saucy little cake, it was a wonder it did not shrivel and disappear amid those strange surroundings, beneath that unfriendly gaze.
Could this be a joke some one was playing on him? Giant Despair wondered. But who thought enough about him even for that?
"Take it away," he commanded; but Annie had vanished, and so the cake had a chance to tell its story.
In this gloomy, tiresome world, somebody was five years old to-day. Not very much of a story, but somehow it impressed Giant Despair strangely. He leaned back in his chair, his frown relaxing a trifle.
He did not care for children; they were meddlesome and noisy. He waged continual warfare against certain naughty boys on Pleasant Street, who, divining his dislike, resorted to all sorts of teasing tricks. They carried off his door-mat, unhinged his gate, favored him with uncomplimentary valentines, and robbed his grape arbor,—each in its season.
So far as this went, however, he could not be called a favorite with older persons. In the large drug company where he was still senior partner he was held responsible for the policy of extorting just as much work as possible for just as little pay.
Persons of forbidding countenances are fated to be harshly judged; and the sins of others may have been laid at his door sometimes; but while his defective sight might be the cause of his frown, it remained that Giant Despair seldom spoke a kindly word.
The sympathy of that young woman in the shop, into which he stumbled by mistake, had touched him. She knew. It was not pity,—that he despised,—but a sort of fellowship in misfortune, and he had seized upon it hungrily, even while he called himself a fool. Perhaps it was this slight but softening experience which made possible to-day the faint regret that a little child was to be disappointed about this cake.
Such feelings could not find a harbor for long in that impatient breast. Becoming aware of sounds in the hall, Giant Despair strode across the room and flung open the door, intending to demand the instant removal of the cake. He was confronted by a small boy in a red coat and cap who cried excitedly, "Has you got my birfday cake?"
"Hey? So it is yours, is it? And who are you?"
But its owner had caught sight of it through the open door; and pushing past Giant Despair, he lifted up his voice in a paean of joy. "It's here! it's here! it's here!" he cried, standing before the desk with clasped hands and uplifted eyes, like a worshipper before a shrine. "Somebody give it to me! It's mine!"
"Where did that child come from?" asked Giant Despair, as he spoke becoming aware of the presence of some one else in the hall.
"I brought him, Mr. Goodman. It is Miss Carpenter of the shop." Marion advanced. "It is James Mandeville Norton, a small friend of ours, to whom we had promised a birthday cake. He was on the watch for it and was quite sure he saw it carried in here, and to pacify him I ventured to come and inquire."
If Giant Despair could ever be said to be affable he became so at this moment, to the evident astonishment of Annie, the maid. She could not know of the bond of sympathy that existed between this graceful young lady and her surly master.
"Why, how do you do? Come in;—ridiculous mistake. Glad to find the owner," he stammered, offering her a chair. "Fearful weather," he added, poking the fire.
"Very Novemberish," Marion agreed, declining the chair. "We won't trouble you further," she said.
"Somebody please give me my cake. It's mine; I know it's mine." James Mandeville's voice betrayed anguish of soul.
"He will let you have it, dear. Mr. Goodman doesn't want it. It was brought here by mistake," said Marion, reassuringly putting her arm around the child.
That any one could see such a cake and not want it was naturally beyond James Mandeville's powers of belief. He stood silent, looking from Marion to Mr. Goodman.
"Of course you can have it. What do I want with it?" asked the old man, grimly.
James Mandeville moved forward and slipped his small, soft hand into Giant Despair's big, hard one. "I'll tell you," he said, "you can come to the party, and I'll let you have a slice of it; and you can help blow out the candles."
The little voice was eager, but the confiding touch of the dimpled hand did most execution.
"We shall be glad to have you, Mr. Goodman," Miss Carpenter said, laughing. "The party is to be in the shop, and very select for the reason that our circle of friends is limited."
"There's going to be candy," added James Mandeville.
Giant Despair was embarrassed. "Thank you," he said; "I have not been to a party for a hundred years, and I am in too bad a humor to-day." Then it seemed necessary to explain the cause,—the lost lease that had been burned or thrown in the ash barrel.
Miss Carpenter stood beside a table on which lay several large volumes; from the leaves of one of them the edge of a folded paper was visible. "Could this be it?" she asked.
"Pshaw! I put it there myself. Confound my eyes and my memory!" cried the old man.
* * * * *
Of course Giant Despair had no idea of going to the party, yet, strange to relate, he went. Miss Sarah Leigh met him striding down the street with two long, gray flannel ears and a beady eye visible above a bulging overcoat pocket. She turned to look after him, and was much amazed to see him disappear presently within the shop.
It was Jack, the flannel donkey, who really won the day. After the visitors had left, Giant Despair stumbled over him as he lay forgotten on the floor. The strange object was at first puzzling. He turned and twisted and felt it, until at length getting the right point of view he recognized it to be a donkey.
A toy animal was no less out of place in that house than a birthday cake. He was going out for his daily walk; he would leave it at the shop door. But once at the door he was lost, for James Mandeville seized upon him joyfully and would not be denied.
It was Saturday afternoon, and so a half holiday in the shop; and it seemed to Giant Despair, as he stumbled in looking anything but festive, yet unable to resist his small captor, that there were a great many people assembled.
It turned out that the only guest was Charlotte Creston, who had been the first to discover James Mandeville bewailing the disappearance of his cake before Mr. Goodman's gate, some hours earlier, and after trying to console him had taken him back to his friends. This seemed to entitle her to an invitation, which she delightedly accepted. Mammy Belle and Susanna were there, also, to look on.
It is certain that never before in his life had Giant Despair participated in a scene of such childish gayety. He was exceedingly gruff and awkward, but no amount of gruffness could dismay James Mandeville.
The sight of Giant Despair seated at the small table, personating the fifth guest for whom Miss Pennington assured him they had been on the lookout, and drinking a cup of tea in lieu of the goodies the young host pressed upon him, was one not soon to be forgotten. After a time he succumbed to the humor of it, and blew out his candle with the rest.
James Mandeville did his best to be entertaining. He sang, and recited Mother Goose, after which he climbed on Giant Despair's knee and asked for a story.
This was something Giant Despair couldn't do, but he showed the big seals on his watch chain, and dropped some bright new five-cent pieces into the chubby hand.
The old man walked home in a somewhat dazed condition. He told himself roughly that he had turned fool; and yet more than once that evening, as he sat by his lonely fireside, he felt again the pressure of James Mandeville's warm little body upon his knee and heard the childish voice, prompted by Mammy Belle, saying, "Thank you for coming to my party, Mr. Goodman."
TEA AND TALK
"I used to think if ever I kept a shop there would be a bell on the door to jingle cheerily whenever a customer entered." Norah spoke from the window where she was occupied in making some changes. Outside the rain fell steadily, the terrace gardens had a soaked, dismal look, and the street was almost deserted, except for an occasional wagon.
"If it will add to your happiness, we will have it put in; but I doubt if you would be able to find one that would ring cheerily,—they usually jangle."
"I suppose that depends somewhat on the hearer; however, we must confine ourselves for the present to the strict necessities of life. Did it ever occur to you, Marion, how the old-fashioned bell is passing? When I was a child, the milkmen heralded their approach with bells; and maids would appear with bowls and pitchers and have the milk measured out to them from large tin cans."
"Your youth must have been in the Dark Ages. I never heard of such a thing."
"I am often impressed by your ignorance of simple matters. Yesterday, out in the southwestern part of this very town, where I went to look for a seamstress, I heard again one of those bells rung lustily, and there was the tin can, as of old, riding majestically on the front seat of the wagon; but probably as a concession to modern prejudice the milkman was supplied with bottles, too. Come and tell me what you think of my rainy-day window."
Marion crossed the room. "It looks cheerful," she said, "but I hardly think it will bring us many customers to-day. It is too bad even for James Mandeville."
Norah had ransacked their stock for the brightest draperies, gayest baskets, and oddest jars, making of them a sort of barbaric medley not ungrateful to the eye, which she regarded with satisfaction.
"Well," she said, "if we have no customers, I shall have all the more time to give to collars. I am sorry I could not find a seamstress. I did not dream there would be such a demand."
"And there is probably some one who would be glad to do them if we only knew," said Marion. "Would it be worth while to advertise?"
Not troubled with much custom, the shopkeepers were working and chatting in the south window that afternoon, when Miss Sarah Leigh put her head in at the door.
"I hate to come in, I'm so wet," she said; "I'll leave my umbrella outside."
"You need not mind," said Norah, rising. "As you see, we have a large rubber mat and an umbrella-stand, and this is the first time we have needed them."
"Thank you. I had to go to the grocery, and as Aunt Sally was out of knitting cotton, I dropped in to get some. It is a dreadful day."
Norah pushed a chair to the fire, "Sit down and have a cup of tea. Miss Carpenter and I are just going to have some."
Miss Sarah accepted the chair. "I have no business to,—I have a thousand things to do; but this seems a veritable haven of rest."
Susanna now entered, a model of the respectable, elderly maid, carrying a tray which she placed before Marion.
"Another cup please, Susanna," said Marion; and while she poured the tea, Norah coaxed the fire into a blaze, remarking that it had fallen into the way of sympathizing with the weather.
"Are you in the habit of treating your customers in this fashion?" Miss Sarah asked, accepting the cup and helping herself from the plate of warm tea-cakes with which Susanna returned.
"This is a reward to rainy-day callers," answered Marion, smiling.
"Well, you are the most astonishing people I ever came in contact with. I hope you don't mind my saying it," Miss Sarah spoke confidentially. "I don't mean in respect to tea."
"Not at all," laughed Norah. "We, too, have our impressions of the neighborhood."
"I shouldn't be surprised if you had." Miss Sarah joined in the laugh. "Of course it is no secret to you that the neighborhood did not very much want you, and the way in which you are winning us over is a miracle. Miss Wilbur, Charlotte, Alex, and now you have captured Mr. Goodman. Charlotte told me about the party. How do you do it?"
"It has all come about through the merest accident," Marion explained.
"Such accidents don't happen to everybody. I think you practise witchcraft."
"James Mandeville and the birthday cake captured Giant Despair," said Norah, the name slipping out before she thought.
"So that is what you call him! Have you named us all? It suits him, too; but poor man, he has had his troubles, as have some of the rest of us." Miss Sarah looked meditatively into the fire. "Soon after he built his house in the Terrace," she continued, "his daughter, an only child, was burned to death. It was a sad thing,—she was just eighteen. Then a nephew whom he adopted turned out a scamp, and now he has lost faith in everything."
While she was speaking the shop door opened to admit Alexina and Charlotte, rosy and wet from a walk in the rain.
"I want a spool of twist," Charlotte announced merrily.
"Won't a cup of tea do? We are serving that at present," Norah asked.
"How pleasant!" Alex exclaimed as they slipped off their wet waterproofs. "Are you always cheerful over here?"
Charlotte sought Miss Carpenter's side. "I like tea," she said, the blue eyes showing, however, a fondness for something more than that innocent beverage. Just now this young lady had a profound fascination for her. Miss Alex and Aunt Virginia might prefer Miss Pennington, Miss Carpenter had her admiration.
"If you need anything more in the way of cheer, I will bring forth the grab-bag," said Norah, as she handed Alex some tea.
"That sounds interesting; do let us have it," begged Miss Sarah.
"You will be disappointed," Marion put in, mischievously, while Norah went for the rainbow bag. "You expect amusement and get a sermon. Its variegated hues give symbolic expression to the truth that 'behind the clouds the sun is still shining.'"
"You might add that its existence destroys the pleasing idea that we are always cheerful," Miss Pennington added, holding out the bag to Alex.
"Am I to take something?" Alex asked; and putting her hand in, she drew out a card. "'If we live truly, we shall see truly,'" she read. "But it seems to me it ought to be the other way. If we could see truly, we could live truly. It is such a puzzle. Do you think this is true? And what does it mean to live truly?"
"You are an animated problem, Alex," Miss Sarah remarked.
"It is a little like something Uncle Landor said to me, that if we try to do right and keep our hearts pure, we will hear a voice telling us which way to go." Charlotte spoke shyly.
Marion took her hand in a soft clasp, and Norah gave her a friendly smile. "Yes," she said, "that is it. I will tell you what it means to me. It means that if I go straight on, doing each day the thing that comes to me, not allowing myself to become entangled in fears for to-morrow, that little by little the path will be made plain to me."
"I am afraid I want to know where I am going. It might be such a waste of time," said Alex.
"Its very simplicity makes it hard, but I believe it is the best way," Norah answered.
"Are we allowed to have only one helpful sentiment at a time?" asked Miss Sarah.
"Certainly; one is as much as anybody can live up to at a time."
"It is not for lack of moral sentiments, however," Marion added. "The supply is constantly renewed. They naturally gravitate to Norah."
"I wish," remarked Norah, "that a seamstress capable of making stocks and collars would gravitate to me."
"Here is one at your side." Miss Sarah leaned over to examine her work. "I think I could do it."
"She can do anything," said Alex, waking up from a brown study. "But how would you find time, Miss Sarah?"
"If you could do only a few, it would be a help," the shopkeepers cried in the same breath, and Norah began at once to explain what was wanted, and unfold patterns.
Susanna carried away the tea things, and Alex joined Charlotte and Marion, who were talking about James Mandeville and Mr. Goodman.
"He has won the old man's heart," Marion was saying. "They have been walking together several times, and James Mandeville always returns with a bag of what he calls finger ladies."
Miss Sarah's voice interrupted presently. "I don't know when I have spent such an eventful hour. I must take my knitting cotton and go. I know now where to come when I have the blues."
"It is worth while to give Miss Sarah a little pleasure," Alex said as the door closed behind her. "She is the bravest, brightest person, and her life is anything but easy." Then she returned to the consideration of the card she had drawn. "I am dreadfully puzzled over what I ought to do. I want to make my own living, and yet it is hard to go against the wishes of everybody at home. Do you really think if I just go on doing what comes to me that the way will open? It sounds lazy."
"No, it sounds serene. If I were you, I'd try it," said Norah.
Many things combined in the Terrace to proclaim the season of the year. Great was the seeding of raisins, shelling of nuts, and slicing of citron for fruit-cake and puddings,—matters these housekeepers were wont to attend to themselves. Neighborly consultations were held also, and the relative merits of last year's cakes discussed.
"I really have no business making fruit-cake this season," Miss Sarah Leigh remarked over her grocery bill. "Everything is so expensive."
"Why, Sarah Leigh, who ever heard of Christmas without fruit-cake!" her aunt exclaimed.
"But you don't eat it, Aunt Sally."
"I shall this year."
Wayland ate it, if his aunt did not. He would be disappointed if she did not have one as usual; perhaps she could save in some other way, Miss Sarah thought. "After all, my saving will be a good deal like Mrs. Green's keeping Lent," she told Miss Virginia. "She never, under any circumstances, went anywhere, and she didn't have dessert except on Sunday, and then she seldom ate it on account of her rheumatism, so there really seemed to be no way to deny herself any further."
Nevertheless, Miss Sarah ordered the raisins and other good things, and at night she sat up making collars and belts for the shop.
At the shop James Mandeville lay on the floor, poring over a profusely illustrated copy of "'Twas the Night before Christmas," bursting forth tunefully, now and then, with "Susanna in the highest."
There was no manner of use in correcting him, he preferred his own versions, and stuck to them.
The window of the shop presented an ever changing variety of wares, from posters and colored photographs to baskets, bags, and pottery, all unique in their way. Besides the other things, Norah had done a motto in black and red letters, "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine," and hung it in the midst.
The popularity of the place increased. Susanna was often called in to help, and one day a society reporter, out for news, and directed there by Madelaine Russell, dropped in and interviewed them.
An elaborate description, with mention of the charming and intelligent young women who had it in charge, appeared next day in one of the papers. Miss Sarah immediately sent a marked copy to Mrs. Millard.
"We are becoming famous," laughed Norah, as she read it to Marion.
"I wish it did not have to be," said Marion, discontentedly.
"Ungrateful person that you are!" cried Norah.
The newspaper article brought Mrs. Leigh to the shop. Heretofore her opposition had been consistently maintained; but now, early one morning, she walked in, a picture of an old lady, with a close-fitting bonnet over her silvery puffs, a black silk circular lined with gray squirrel, and an old-fashioned reticule on her arm.
"I have just come to look around," she told Norah. "I have heard so much of this shop, and it is not in the least like anything I ever saw before,—and neither are you, for that matter."
Then, as Norah laughed, she added, "I mean you are entirely too pretty for a shopkeeper. I'd like to know what you are doing it for, but of course you won't tell me."
"Oh, yes, I will. I am doing it for a living."
"Well, in my day a pretty girl like you wouldn't have had a chance to make her own living for long, but it is different now. I don't know whose fault it is."
All the while she was walking about, seeing everything, admiring or finding fault with equal frankness. Norah, who was delighted with her visitor, urged her to sit down and rest a few moments.
"Thank you, I believe I will. I am on my way out to my niece's to show her how to make a plum-pudding." She laughed a little, reminiscently, and Norah looked interested.
"It makes me think of the time my husband was invited to dine at Dr. Gray's to meet a distinguished clergyman who had arrived unexpectedly. It was on Saturday, and when Mr. Leigh came home that evening he couldn't say enough about Mrs. Gray's plum-pudding. It was the best he ever ate, and I must get the receipt. I didn't say anything until next day. Mr. Leigh was mighty fond of dessert; and when he found there wasn't any for Sunday dinner, he looked terribly disappointed, and wanted to know why. 'The reason is, Mr. Leigh,' I said, 'because you ate it yesterday. I intended to have plum-pudding to-day, but as Mrs. Gray had unexpected company, I sent it over to her; and my own opinion is, it is more than you deserved to have had a taste of it.'
"Maybe you think he wasn't teased. He didn't hear the last of that very soon. Yes, indeed, it was all true. Mrs. Gray and I were good friends and often helped each other out in an emergency. Well, you will think me a most unprofitable customer; here I have talked a blue streak, as Sarah says, and haven't bought a thing."
"Nevertheless, I hope you will come again soon, and I wish success to the pudding," Norah said, following her visitor to the door.
Being off the beaten track of trade, the rush at the shop was over before Christmas Eve, and Marion and Norah, leaving Susanna in charge, went down town on a lark, as Norah said, and came home loaded with holly and mistletoe.
It was after their late dinner and Norah was putting up the last bit of holly, when Mammy Belle came in. "Miss Norah, honey, kin you trim a Chris'mus tree?" she asked.
"Why, yes, I have trimmed many a one."
"I done promise James Mandeville he should have one, for him an' his papa in the mawnin',—Marse Tom's comin' home; but look like I ain't got good sense, and I seed Miss Maimie do it las' year." Mammy Belle's tone was despairing.
"Never mind, we'll do it for you. I might have thought of it, only I have been so busy," said Norah. "Don't you want to go, Marion?"
Marion was more than ready for anything so in keeping with the night, and gathering up some unused holly and a box of ornaments for the tree, they accompanied Mammy Belie to the small house, half a block distant on Pleasant Street.
It was a tiny place, quite simply and tastefully furnished, but betraying in many trifling ways the absence of the mistress. James Mandeville was fast asleep in his crib upstairs, where Mammy Belle conducted them to peep at him.
"I hope Miss Maimie won't mind our doing this," Norah whispered, as they went down again.
"I don't believe she will," Marion answered, moving about the tiny parlor, changing the position of a table here, a chair there, till the whole room had taken on a new look. The tree in the corner by the window bore melancholy witness to Mammy Belle's lack of ability in that line, but under Norah's fingers it began at once to revive.
They were in the midst of the dressing, Mammy Belle looking on in delight, when there was a ring at the door, and of all persons, who should it be but Mr. Goodman with a large package under his arm!
"It is a horse for that little rascal," he explained, puffing and embarrassed.
"Come in and see our tree, Mr. Goodman," called Norah.
The old man stood in the doorway. "I have been stumbling round trying to find this place for half an hour," he growled. "I took this thing to the shop, but you weren't there, and that Susan woman tried to direct me where to go."
"Ought you to go about by yourself at night?" Marion asked. "Won't you come in and wait for us? We are nearly through."
"And do look at this beautiful horse!" cried Norah, unwrapping a stately animal with flowing mane and tail. "Won't James Mandeville rejoice? Jack will be nowhere."
"I suppose boys like horses," said the old man, accepting the chair Mammy Belle brought forward, and evidently not indifferent to the admiration his gift excited.
The tree trimming went on, and presently returning to his usual attitude of mind, Mr. Goodman remarked that there was a sinful waste of money at this time of year.
"That is true," said Norah, pausing to study the effect of a paper angel in tinsel, "but also there is the money that might be spent to make people happy, and isn't."
"Come, Norah, really, we must not stay any longer. You have done quite enough," Marion was saying, partly in the wish to cut off a possible argument, when the front door opened with a startling suddenness, and a young man with a bag in his hand stepped into the hall and faced the scene in the parlor,—the gay Christmas tree, the holly; Norah standing on a chair, with her laughing face over her shoulder; Marion, tall and stately, by the fireplace; and grim-looking Giant Despair in the chair of state.
"Why, Marse Tom," gasped Mammy Belle, "I done spect you in de mawnin'."
It was Marion who made the explanations,—their friendship for James Mandeville and Mammy Belle's difficulty with the tree, and she did it with a gracious charm of manner that was irresistible.
Mr. Norton's boyish yet careworn face flushed. "You are very kind to my little boy," he said. "I wish his mother were here to thank you."
"Why, Norton, is that you?" exclaimed Giant Despair, waking up. "Do you mean to tell me that James Mandeville is your boy? Upon my word!"
"It is fortunate you know Mr. Norton, for now you can testify to our good intentions in invading his house, Mr. Goodman," said Norah, laughing.
Mr. Norton was embarrassed. "I travel for Mr. Goodman's drug house," he said. Clearly he was not in the habit of meeting his employer socially.
* * * * *
"And you say they keep a shop, mammy?" This was after the guests had departed, and Belle had done her best to explain.
"Dey is ladies, anyhow," she insisted stoutly.
"That is very evident," said Mr. Norton.
"Jus' you ax James Mandeville in the mawnin'," added Mammy Belle. "He 'lows dat Miss Marion and Miss Norah done put the moon up, shore."
THE RICH MISS CARPENTER
Miss Virginia was writing to her sister. She had a great deal that was pleasant to relate, and her pen moved on smoothly. There was Charlotte's Christmas party which, with the assistance of Alex and Madelaine, had gone off successfully.
Lucile Lyle had been one of the guests, for as a classmate of Charlotte's it seemed necessary to ask her; but this Miss Virginia did not mention. She did say, however, that Charlotte's interest in Lucile seemed to have abated. This was quite true; indeed, there was a growing coolness between the once devoted friends.
The cause of this was a little girl, a year younger than Charlotte, who with her father and mother had recently come to board at the Leighs'. The Reeds were strangers in the city, and Miss Sarah had asked Charlotte to do what she could to make Helen feel at home.
They had taken a fancy to each other, and Charlotte enjoyed playing chaperon to Helen when she was entered at Miss Barrows's school. Helen was a bright girl with sweet, gentle manners, inclined to look up to Charlotte as older and more experienced than herself; and in their daily walks back and forth the friendship grew. Lucile chose to be jealous, and something very like what in schoolgirl language is called a fuss, followed. They no longer wore each other's rings, and Lucile sang no more of beauteous eyes.
Miss Virginia knew all about it, and took pleasure in mentioning to her sister that Charlotte's good sense had come to the rescue, and an intimacy was no longer to be feared. That Mrs. Millard had small confidence in her powers of discipline, Miss Virginia was well aware; but Charlotte's excellent school reports spoke for themselves.
After giving various items of neighborhood interest, she paused; glancing up, her eye fell on the shop across the way, and immediately a sensation of uneasiness took possession of her. With an elbow on her desk she continued to gaze out of the window, thoughtfully tapping her cheek with her penholder. She had warned her sister that she meant to do as she pleased; at the same time, she had not intended to buy most of her Christmas gifts at the shop, and more than this, to remain to chat on several occasions. And yesterday Charlotte had come in with the announcement that Miss Carpenter was willing to show Helen and her how to make baskets if they would come over some evening. They were very eager to go. Could she refuse? The question interrupted her flow of thought; she put aside the letter to be finished some other time, and went in to see the Leighs.
She found Alexina in the sitting room with Miss Sarah and her aunt. Old Mrs. Leigh had the quilt she was making spread out on the couch for admiration and suggestions. Miss Virginia, after paying tribute to its beauties, mentioned the basket making, and asked for advice.
"Caroline insisted that they would push themselves into notice, and while I cannot see that they are pushing, they are certainly—"
"Getting there," suggested Miss Sarah. "Do you know, Mr. Goodman has been in several times after the shop closed at five o'clock, to have Miss Norah read to him? Now, is that anything but pure kindness? I suppose Caroline would say they were after his money."
"I had not thought of his caring to be read to as he has John; but he told grandfather he got tired of John's reading, and there were some political articles in the Nineteenth Century Miss Pennington offered to read to him," said Alexina, who had made up her mind definitely that she wanted these shopkeepers for friends.
"I think that Miss Norah carries a cunning bag, as Malinda used to say," remarked Mrs. Leigh.
"They have not returned our call, Miss Virginia," said Alex.
"No, and if I could do just as I pleased, I'd like to know them better. I'd ask them to tea." Miss Wilbur spoke as one considering some daring departure from the path of propriety.
Miss Sarah laughed. "I wish you would," she said.
When Friday night came, Miss Virginia did not see her way clear to oppose the basket lessons, and in consequence found herself one of a merry party in the shop. Alex had come over with them, and presently Miss Sarah ran in.
Alex was in one of her bright moods, and Miss Sarah kept them laughing over her first experiences in paying her taxes. Miss Carpenter, as she separated long strands of raphia and initiated her pupils into the art of twisting and stitching, was almost as merry as Miss Pennington, whose infectious laugh, as she related James Mandeville's latest speeches, kept them all in a gale.
Once in the course of the evening, Norah said, in reference to a remark of somebody's, "That reminds me of our friend the rich Miss Carpenter." And when the lesson was over, and Miss Virginia, beginning to murmur something about its being late, Charlotte suddenly announced, "I know a Miss Carpenter in Philadelphia."
There was an odd silence for a moment until she added: "At least, I don't exactly know her, but I have heard a great deal about her. She lives across the street from my uncle, and last spring when I was there I used to see them take her out to drive. She had been ill, and I never really saw her. She is rich, and I wondered if she could be the Miss Carpenter you spoke of, Miss Norah."
It was Marion who answered the question. "She is the very one. Norah thinks a great deal of her, in fact,—is a little absurd about her."
"Why shouldn't I be? Hasn't she done everything for us?" cried Norah, stoutly.
"Then you have seen her," said Charlotte, delightedly. "Is she beautiful and—everything—as Mrs. Wellington said?" she looked at Marion.
"Ask Miss Pennington."
"I consider her handsome and charming, but Marion is a connection and ought to be able to tell you more than I."
"I am glad you know her, for I am very much interested in her because of a special reason."
"Charlotte, my dear," Miss Virginia spoke warningly, "it is really time we were going."
* * * * *
The discovery that Miss Carpenter of the shop was a relative of the Philadelphia Carpenters relieved Miss Virginia beyond measure. She sat down at once to finish her letter and convey the news to her sister. She was vindicated; once more her conscience was easy.
The Terrace in general received the news with approval. That the shopkeepers were not exactly ordinary persons had been felt all along. Everybody had heard of Peter Carpenter. Possibly the shop was simply another manifestation of family eccentricities on the part of this cousin. It was easily settled that Miss Marion was a cousin,—probably a second or third cousin; for Miss Virginia knew about the family, and Peter Carpenter had had but one son.
Mrs. Russell, who went to the shop with Alex one day, was greatly impressed with Marion's bearing. "Any one can see she is not an ordinary person," she said.
"That must be because you know she is well-connected, mother," Alex replied. "Mrs. Millard could not see it."
"I trust I am not quite so prejudiced," Mrs. Russell said.
"Undoubtedly our connection with the rich Miss Carpenter has affected our social position. The air is full of affability. Before we know it, we shall be in society." Norah looked up from her account-book to make this remark.
"As it is all your doing, I trust you are pleased," returned Marion.
"That pretty fraud, Madelaine Russell, asked me yesterday if she might not come with Alexina to the basket making next Friday," continued Norah. "Of course I had to say 'yes.' Now I think I'll ask that little type-writer girl I met at the mission. She is really a neighbor, for she boards in that tall, dreary house on the corner of Walnut and Pleasant streets."
"Why not ask her to dinner? I should really enjoy some company."
"A good idea, Marion. She looks hungry,—I don't mean for dinner, but for something besides work. She is from the country. What have you in that bag, Infinitesimal James?—some more 'finger ladies'?"
James Mandeville, who had at that moment entered, nodded his head, speech being for obvious reasons out of the question.
"Eating in the shop is against the rule, except at afternoon tea," said Marion. "You must go outside, or join Susanna in the kitchen."
"Did you happen to meet Mr. Goodman this morning?" asked Norah.
"Yes, he buyed the finger ladies," answered James Mandeville, helping himself again from the bag, and then passing it around. "I am going to buy him a valentine," he added.
"To be sure, he deserves one. We'll go down town this very afternoon and select it."
"Goody!" said James Mandeville, and in great spirits he carried his cakes out of doors, and was presently busily engaged in playing conductor on the doorstep, calling out in stentorian tones at intervals, "All on a board!"
Norah found the business of selecting valentines in company with a small boy, a lengthy one. James Mandeville's taste was exacting. At first the comic ones caught his eye, and he was with difficulty induced to consider more worthy specimens of art; then he bestowed his favor upon an elaborate white satin heart, a combination sachet and valentine, and again had to be diverted. At length his selection was made,—a gilt and lace affair with a border of roses and the touching motto, "To my own true love."
On their way home they stopped in a large jewelry store where Norah had left her watch to be repaired, and while she waited she saw Wayland Leigh bending in an absorbed manner over a collection of fans,—delicate mother-of-pearl and lace trifles, as frail as they were pretty. What business had he with such expensive things? she wondered. It was quickly forgotten, however, in the difficulties involved in making headway past the show windows, James Mandeville wishing to exhaust the beauties of each one before moving on.
The afternoon was nearly over when, after leaving her companion at his home, she entered the shop, where Marion was busy folding and putting away. Norah stood before the table, pulling off her gloves. Suddenly she stooped and picked up an envelope from the floor. "Did you get a letter from Dr. Baird?" she asked, as she read the address.
Marion's face flushed oddly. "No," she said, "it was just an enclosure."
"A valentine?" cried Norah; but Marion went on with her folding, and did not reply.
Norah walked to the window and looked out through the screen of plants at the Terrace and the faint rosy glow that lingered in the southwest. She guessed what it was her friend had received, and for a moment she was not quite happy. Then she asked herself inwardly, but sternly, "Are you a selfish beast, Norah Pennington?"
Presently Marlon came behind her and put an arm around her. "You don't mind my not showing it to you, Norah. It was only a—"
Norah turned, and with a sudden motion stopped the word on her lips. "Child, what is friendship worth if one minds things—like that? I invited Miss Martin," she added.
Louise Martin was a fair, fresh-looking girl, who had come from a country town several years before, and after a course in a business college had found a position as stenographer in a real estate office. Her gentle, refined manners had attracted Norah, who, persisting in the effort to make friends with her, had at length broken through the distant reserve with which she met all advances. The girl hesitated over the invitation, saying she did not often go anywhere; but Norah's friendly manner won the day, and promptly at half past six on Friday evening Susanna ushered her into the shop.
Norah met her and presented her to Marion. "And now you are to come upstairs to take off your things, for that always seems the sociable way to begin," she said.
Miss Martin looked about her in surprise. "When you said you kept a shop, I did not dream it was like this."
"We pride ourselves on not keeping an ordinary shop, but a most unpretentious one, as you see."
"And this is where you live?" Miss Martin exclaimed with a sigh of admiration, as she followed her guide into a very simple bedroom.
"We live all over the house. This is my room, however."
"It is the most beautiful place I ever saw," the girl said.
Remembering the dingy boarding-house, Norah understood. "It is all simple and inexpensive," she said. "Miss Carpenter and I pride ourselves on the large amount of comfort we have achieved for a small amount of money. You see we have matting on the floor, with a few rugs; as our landlord would not do anything to the walls, we had a frieze made of this big-flowered paper which cost next to nothing, and relieves the whiteness; the white iron beds and the dressing-tables were not expensive, nor the draperies, which are in our line, you know." While she talked Norah opened the door into the next room. "This is Miss Carpenter's," she said. "We are just alike, except that she is rose colored and I am blue."
There were some things Norah had not mentioned,—toilet articles such as Miss Martin had never seen outside of a show-case, and a silk dressing-gown of great daintiness that lay across a chair in Miss Carpenter's room.