AT CHRISTMAS TIME.
"Hurrah!" said the Spectacle Man, "Mark's coming home for Christmas." He waved a letter above his head as he spoke, and looked as if he might be going to dance a jig.
"Is he? I am very glad," replied Frances, who had run down to speak to the postman, and now paused in the open door of the shop.
"I was really afraid we couldn't manage it, travelling costs so much, but one of his friends has given him a pass. Mark is a great fellow for such things!" Mr. Clark's face beamed with pleasure.
Frances wished she might bring her books and study her lessons in the shop, it was so sunny and cheerful, with Peterkin stretched out in lazy comfort before the fire, his master busy at his work-table over some lenses.
"Mother, do you know it will be Christmas in two weeks?" she asked, as she entered the sitting room; "and Mark is coming home," she added. "Do you think he will be nice?"
"We may as well give him the benefit of any doubt," said Mrs. Morrison, answering the last question. "What do you want to do for Christmas, Wink?"
"What can we do without father?" the little girl exclaimed, thinking of the merrymakings of other years in which he had always been prime mover.
"We are so glad to know how well and strong he is getting that we can manage to have some sort of a happy time without him, I think," her mother replied. "Suppose you ask Miss Sherwin if she and Miss Moore will be here through the holidays."
The air was full of Christmas plans, the streets were full of Christmas shoppers, and the dwellers in the house of the Spectacle Man could not escape the contagion. The girls on the third floor were not going home, and were very willing to unite with their neighbors in a little festivity.
Miss Moore proposed a tree, which, in kindergarten fashion, they should all unite in trimming. Emma and Frances immediately offered to string pop-corn and cranberries, and went to work with great ardor, having at the same time to bribe the General to attend to his own affairs, with wonderful stories of Santa Claus, and the toys he had in store for good boys.
Emma was as happy as a lark. In past years the Sunday-school tree had been all she had to look forward to, and the thought of having one in the house was almost too much. Gladys also condescended to help with the pop-corn, although she was rather scornful of such home-made decorations.
"I suppose I may invite Gladys to our tree, mayn't I?" Frances asked one evening of the busy circle gathered around the table in Miss Sherwin's studio.
"I should think so," her mother replied.
"I know a girl I'd like to ask. She is in my class, and she lives in Texas, and I do not believe she has a single friend in the city." As she spoke, Miss Moore carefully smoothed out the photograph she was mounting.
"You do it beautifully," said Mrs. Morrison, looking over her shoulder.
"It is the 'Holy Night' by Plockhorst, as you see; we are going to give one to each of our infants, and I offered to mount them. I like to paste; it is my one talent."
"For a Christmas picture, this is my favorite," and Miss Sherwin took from a portfolio a photograph of the Magi on the way to Bethlehem.
Emma and Frances left their cranberries to look at it.
"How wonderfully simple and dignified it is! The wide sweep of the desert, and the stately figures of the Wise Men, as they follow the star," remarked Mrs. Morrison.
"But no one has answered Miss Moore. Wouldn't it be nice to invite her girl?" said Frances, going back to her work again.
"Why, of course, and perhaps we'll find some one else who is not likely to have a happy day," her mother answered.
"There's Mrs. Gray," said Frances meditatively; "I wonder if she likes Christmas trees?"
So it began, and before they knew it the original plan was quite outgrown.
When Mark arrived he proved to be a tall, bright-faced boy of sixteen, overflowing with good spirits, who contrived to get acquainted with all the inmates of the house before twenty-four hours had passed.
He took a lively interest in the tree, and suggested having it in his uncle's study. Then on Christmas Eve the cases could be moved out of the way in the shop, and both rooms be given up to the frolic.
As the Spectacle Man was more than willing, this was decided upon; and as it would give them so much more room, Miss Moore thought she'd like to ask two other young women, who were studying in a business college, and boarded in the same house with her Texas friend. Mark knew two fellows he'd like to have, and his uncle wished to invite a young man who had come once or twice to his Bible class, and who was a stranger in town.
"Perhaps," said Mrs. Morrison, when they were discussing it, "we had better limit our invitations to those who are not likely to have a merry Christmas."
"My young man doesn't look as if he knew the meaning of merry," said Mr. Clark.
"My girls may know its meaning, but they haven't much chance to practise it, in the dingy boarding house," added Miss Moore.
"I am sure Mrs. Gray doesn't have any fun," said Frances, who clung to her idea of asking the old lady.
There couldn't have been found a merrier party in the whole city than that at work in the Spectacle Man's study on Christmas Eve. Mark had brought in a quantity of cedar and mistletoe, and while Mrs. Morrison and Miss Sherwin trimmed the tree, the children and Miss Moore turned the shop into a bower of fragrant green.
Mark was full of mischief, and romped with Frances, and teased Emma until she wished she could crawl under the bookcase as Peterkin did under the same circumstances. The General trotted about in a gale of delight, getting in everybody's way, and was most unwilling to leave the scene of action when his mother came to take him to bed.
Mrs. Bond lifted her hands in dismay at so much work for nothing.
"But isn't it pretty?" asked Mrs. Morrison, from the top of the step-ladder.
"It is pretty enough, but it all has to come down, and then what a mess!" was the reply.
"Still, it is fun, and Christmas comes but once a year. Here, Mark, this is to decorate the immortal George. Can you reach?" and Miss Moore held out a beautiful branch of holly.
"You'll come to the party, won't you, Mrs. Bond?" Frances asked.
"Come? of course she will; no one in this house can be excused," said Mr. Clark, entering the room with some interesting packages under his arm.
The little girls were extremely curious about some work Miss Sherwin and Mrs. Morrison had been doing, which they kept a secret from everybody, and now the sight of a number of flat parcels in tissue paper tied with red ribbon excited them afresh.
"Is that what you have been making?" asked Frances.
"Just part of it," Miss Sherwin replied, as she hung them on the tree.
"Emma, what do you suppose they are? Everybody is to have one, for I have counted," Frances whispered.
"I don't know, I am sure; but isn't it fun!" and Emma spun around like a top in her excitement.
"And she says it is only part," continued Frances.
"I believe we have done all that can be done to-night," said Mrs. Morrison, crossing the room to get a better view of the tree.
"It will be a beauty when it is lighted. I think even Gladys will admire it," remarked Miss Moore.
Wilson, who had come in to sweep up, looked at it critically. "We had a tree at the Institute last year that was lighted with inclandestine lights," he said.
Mark giggled, and Mrs. Morrison looked puzzled for a minute, then she smiled as she said, "Yes, I have heard of lighting them by electricity, but ours is a home-made affair."
"Isn't Wilson absurd?" laughed Miss Sherwin as they all went into the next room. "What do you think he said to me the other day? He complained that Mrs. Bond was too unscrupulous to live with, and when I asked him what he meant, he said she required him to wash off the front porch every morning before he went to school, and that made him late for his Greek lesson, and in his opinion it was very unscrupulous."
"If it wasn't for Zenobia I think he would try to find a place where more respect was shown to Greek," said Mrs. Morrison.
Mrs. Marvin's housekeeper came in to see Mrs. Bond that evening, and on her way out she had full view of the study, where work was still going on. Seeing Frances and recognizing her, she asked her name, and seemed very much surprised at Mrs. Bond's reply.
"Frances Morrison!" she repeated, "why that is—" she checked herself, but stood watching the group as if deeply interested.
"Do you know her?" asked Mrs. Bond.
Caroline shook her head. "The name's familiar, that is all," she replied.
Christmas Day was gloomy as to weather, but that was a small matter with so much merriment going on indoors. After the excitement of examining stockings was over the party was the event of the day, and was looked forward to with eager anticipation by the children.
It was to be an early party, the guests having been invited to come at six o'clock. Gladys was the first to arrive, and the three little girls sat on the big hall sofa and waited for the others to come. The shop was brilliantly lighted and looked quite unfamiliar with all the show-cases moved back against the wall, and its trimmings of cedar and holly. In the centre of the room on a table was the secret which had so excited Emma and Frances. A dozen or more cards were arranged around a central one, upon which was printed, "A Christmas Dinner"; on each of the other cards was a picture representing some part of the dinner. Miss Sherwin presided over this, and Frances presented each guest, as he or she arrived, with a pencil and a blank card on which the names of the various dishes were to be written as they were guessed. The one guessing the largest number was to have a prize, and everybody was to try except Mrs. Morrison and Miss Sherwin, who had prepared the pictures, and of course knew what they meant.
This served to break the ice, and Miss Moore's girls, and Mark's friends, and the Spectacle Man's shy student, all became sociable directly, as they moved about the table.
To the delight of Frances, Mrs. Gray came. She was quite apologetic over it, saying it seemed ridiculous for her to be going anywhere, but she didn't know when she had seen a Christmas tree, and so at the last minute she had decided to come.
"We take it as a great compliment," Mrs. Morrison said, helping her with her wraps and leading her to Mr. Clark's arm-chair.
She was a sweet-looking old lady in her white cap and embroidered kerchief, and Miss Sherwin said her presence gave just the grandmotherly touch their party needed. Miss Moore decorated her with a sprig of holly, and every one tried to make her have a good time. The guests were all brought to her corner and introduced, and then, while the rest were busy trying to guess the menu, Mr. Clark came and sat beside her and talked of old times, and the changes that had come to the city since they were young.
It may have been an odd sort of party, but it was a success; and the shy young man proved himself more clever than any one else, for he guessed all the dishes. Some of them were very easy, the first, for instance, which was simply some points cut out of blue paper and pasted on a card.
"I know what they are," said Mark, "but three wouldn't be enough for me."
Every one knew the map without a name must be Turkey, but the small strips of different shades of green did not at first suggest olives; a cat on the back of a chair puzzled some, but meant catsup at once to others. An infant in a high chair yelling for dear life, was of course ice cream, but the medical student was the only one to guess the meaning of a calf reposing on the grass. He explained his cleverness by saying that his mother often made veal loaf, and he was very fond of it.
When he had received his prize, which was a box of candy, it was time for the tree. While they were all thinking of something else, Mr. Clark had slipped in and lighted it, and there it was, all in a blaze of glory!
The Spectacle Man was master of ceremonies, and it was worth something to see his face as he stepped about taking things from the tree and calling out names.
For each there was a photograph of the Magi on the way to Bethlehem, and, besides these, there were other things both useful and amusing, that had been picked up at the ten-cent store, or manufactured at home.
No one enjoyed it more than Mrs. Gray, unless it was the General, whose enthusiasm knew no bounds, and who pranced about with a woolly lamb in one hand and a Japanese baby in the other. Even Mrs. Bond relaxed, and for at least an hour did nothing but look on and be amused.
When the tree was exhausted they had some light refreshments, and then played old-fashioned games in which all could join.
"I don't know when I have had such a good time," said Mrs. Gray, as she was getting ready to go; "and I don't see how you happened to think of me."
"We had made up our minds to be lonely and homesick, but we have laughed so much I don't see how we can ever be doleful again," remarked Miss Moore's friend.
"It is the funniest party I ever went to," Gladys whispered to Frances, "but I have had the loveliest time!"
The shy student had enjoyed himself more than he could express in words, and his face spoke for him as he said good night.
"I am going to have a Christmas tree every year of my life till I die," the Spectacle Man declared; and if he had had the least encouragement, he would have gone to work on the spot to plan another party.
ONE SUNDAY AFTERNOON.
In Frances' very own book there was a story of a boy who had a beautiful voice, and who with a great many other boys sang in the choir of Christ Church. The story was somewhat sad, for the boy, who loved dearly to sing, lost his sweet voice one day and never found it again; but the memory of the music as it floated up to the Gothic arches, and of the sunlight from the great stained window falling a shaft of crimson and gold across the chancel at vesper service, remained with him, and out of it grew the story.
And the story became very real indeed to Frances when one Sunday afternoon her father took her to the very church where the boy used to sing. It was such a pleasure to her that after this she and her mother often went together, and Frances pretended that one of the choir boys, who happened to have dark eyes and a high clear voice, was little Jack, and there were certain hymns she loved to hear because he used to sing them.
It was the Sunday after Christmas, and Emma had just come up to know if she might go to church with Frances, when Gladys walked in, gorgeously arrayed in velvet and silk. Though rather over-dressed she looked very pretty, but as soon as she spoke it became evident that she was not in a very good humor.
"I don't like Sunday," she asserted, with the air of wishing to shock somebody.
Emma exclaimed, "Oh, Gladys!" and looked at Mrs. Morrison to see the effect of this remark upon her; but apparently it hadn't any, for the lady went on turning the leaves of the book she held, half smiling.
"I do; why don't you like it, Gladys?" asked Frances.
"You can't do anything you want to do, and everybody is cross or taking a nap. Mamma has a headache, and she said I shouldn't come over here, but I just told her I was coming. I knew she wouldn't care if I didn't bother her."
"Your mother is pretty funny, Gladys," Frances observed.
"Suppose you go with us to service this afternoon and hear the Christmas music; we can stop and ask your mother on the way," Mrs. Morrison suggested.
"Do come, Gladys, it is lovely to hear the choir boys, and perhaps they will sing 'O little town of Bethlehem,'" said Frances, adding, with a nod to Emma, who knew the story, "That is one of them."
Gladys did not decline the invitation, but she did not seem enthusiastic, and presently announced, "Emma says you ought to like to go to church better than to the circus, or anywhere, to any entertainment, but I don't."
"Oh!" exclaimed Frances, with a long-drawn breath, "I suppose you ought to, but— Mother, ought you to like church better than tableaux? Don't you remember those beautiful ones we saw in North Carolina?"
Emma again looked at Mrs. Morrison, confident in the strength of her position. "Oughtn't you?" she urged.
"Let me ask you a question. Which would you rather do, stay at home to-morrow afternoon, or go to see 'The Mistletoe Bough'?"
"'The Mistletoe Bough!'" cried three voices.
"Does that mean that you care more for tableaux than you do for your homes?"
"No, mother, of course not, only—" Frances hesitated.
"No, of course you do not, but for the time the tableaux are more amusing. It seems to me we must make a distinction between caring for things and finding them entertaining. You may care a great deal for church and yet not find it as amusing as some other places."
"I never thought of it in that way," said Mark, who had come in while they were talking.
"We ought not to care too much for amusement, but try to learn to take pleasure in other things," continued Mrs. Morrison. "We do not love persons or things because we ought to, but because they seem to us lovely; and yet when we think for how long people have gone on building churches—plain little chapels, grand cathedrals—and have worshipped God in them, and found help and blessing, surely we ought not to be willing to say, 'I don't like church,' but should try to find out its beautiful meaning for ourselves."
"I am afraid I am a good deal like Gladys; I have found it rather a bore," said Mark.
"You remember our Christmas picture of the Wise Men," Mrs. Morrison went on. "They had learning and wealth and distinction, and yet they took that long, weary journey for what?"
"The star," said Gladys.
"To find Jesus," said Frances.
"Yes, with all their riches and learning they felt the need of something else, and the star was sent to guide them. And to-day each one of us has some heavenly vision which he must obey and follow as the Wise Men followed the star."
Frances shook her head. "I never had a vision," she said.
"Yes, I think you have sometimes felt what a beautiful thing it would be to be good. Perhaps when you have listened to the Christmas story you have determined to let the Christ-Child into your heart. If you have, it is your vision; and if you obey it, it will grow stronger and clearer. In the midst of all our work and play, the vision often grows dim, but going to God's house and thinking of Him and what He wants us to do, helps to keep it bright."
"I wish we had a real star to follow; it would be easier," said Gladys.'
"We'd probably forget to watch it," said Mark. "I know how it is at school. A fellow makes up his mind to grind away and do his very best, and then before he knows it, the edge of his resolution wears off, and he finds himself skinning along, taking it easy."
Mrs. Morrison smiled. "Yes, that is the way with most of us: we forget so easily. And now let's go to church and try to think what the Christmas star means for us."
The Spectacle Man who happened to be at the shop window when the little party started out, smiled to himself at sight of Mark walking beside Mrs. Morrison. "That is just what my boy needs," he said. "It isn't much influence an old uncle can have."
The church was fragrant and beautiful in its Christmas dress, the light came softly through the stained windows, and above the festoons and wreaths of cedar shone the brilliant star. The children sat very still, with earnest faces, till the service began, then, to Frances' delight, the processional was "O little town of Bethlehem."
With their heads together over the book, she and Gladys sang too. At the last stanza Frances, who knew the words, gazed straight at the star, forgetful of everything but the music:—
"We hear the Christmas Angels The great glad tidings tell; Oh, come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel."
But at the Amen something drew her eyes to the other side of the aisle where, stately and handsome, stood Mrs. Marvin, watching her. She longed to call her mother's attention to this lady of whom she had thought and talked so much, but as Gladys sat between it was not possible.
All through the short service she kept stealing glances across the aisle, but Mrs. Marvin did not turn again. The sight of the bright child face had stirred the memory of an earnest little chorister who used sometimes to smile at her over his book as he passed, and she did not want to remember those old days; she wished she had not come.
Gladys, who did not often go to church, was interested and touched by the simple service. She slipped her hand into Mrs. Morrison's when it was over and whispered, "I am glad I came, and I mean to be good."
Perhaps her ideas of goodness were somewhat vague, and certainly there was much in her surroundings to cloud the vision, but who can tell what fruit an earnest wish may bear.
Frances hoped Mrs. Marvin would speak to her, but the crowd separated them, and though she kept a careful watch she did not see her again.
As they walked home in the twilight Mark, who was still beside Mrs. Morrison, said, "I'm afraid I don't care enough for church and that sort of thing, and though I know of course there must be a great deal in it for some people, I never thought of trying to find out what it was, as you said. It seemed to me it was something that came of itself, if it came at all." He spoke with real earnestness.
"Yet it doesn't seem quite logical to take care of our minds and bodies and never think of our souls, does it?" his companion asked. "I remember my own schooldays well enough to know how difficult it is not to be entirely absorbed in what are called secular things. But after all, it is the motive of a life that makes it fine; and if, in all you do, you follow the best you know, are faithful and true and kind, that is religion. The caring for church and things called sacred will come in time; you can't be grown up spiritually all at once, any more than you can physically."
"You make it seem reasonable and almost easy," Mark said; "but I thought one had to understand a lot of things. You see my mother died when I was a little chap, and there was only Aunt Emily. Uncle George is very kind, but you can't believe he knows how a boy feels; people forget."
"Perhaps they remember more than impatient young persons give them credit for," answered Mrs. Morrison, smiling. "There is one thing, Mark: whatever you do, be in earnest."
In the city streets the electric lights had come out one by one, and overhead the stars were shining. They walked the last block in silence, and when they separated at the door, Mark said, "Thank you, Mrs. Morrison."
"What was he thanking you for?" Frances asked.
"I don't know, Wink, unless it was for some advice."
"I think Mark is a nice boy; I am glad he came home," Frances remarked as she took off her hat.
At the same moment, down in the study, Mark was saying: "How did you ever happen to find them, Uncle George?— Mrs. Morrison and Frances, I mean. They are not like—everybody; they are the real thing. That Frances is a regular little princess! How did they happen to come here?"
"I, too, have wondered at it, my boy, but I have learned to take the good things that come my way without asking many questions," was the old man's reply.
THREE OF A NAME.
Frances stood thoughtfully looking out of the window. To-morrow would be New Year's Day and also her mother's birthday, and she had not remembered it till this morning. She wondered if she could not in some way get some flowers for her. She had her Christmas money from Uncle Allan in California, and there was nothing her mother enjoyed more than flowers, but who would go with her to get them? Zenobia was busy, and Emma was taking care of the General, who had had an attack of croup.
As she stood there Mark came up the walk and lifted his hat to her. "Perhaps he will take me," she said, and running into the hall she called from the head of the stairs: "Mark, are you very busy? Could you do something for me?"
"I am at your ladyship's command," was the reply.
"Then I'll come down and tell you, for it is a secret."
"Is it? Well, I'm splendid at keeping secrets."
Descending, Frances stated the case, and Mark not only said he would be glad to go with her, but he knew a place where she could get flowers much cheaper than down town.
"I'm so much obliged to you, and now I must ask mother if I can go," Frances said. "I can say you want me to go, can't I? It will be true, won't it?" she stopped halfway up the steps to inquire.
"Nothing could be truer," said Mark, laughing.
It did not take long to get her mother's permission, and in a very few minutes she came flying down to join her escort at the door.
As they walked up the street, talking merrily, more than one passer-by smiled at the pleasant sight, and turned to look again at the tall boy and the bright-eyed little girl.
In these two weeks they had come to be great friends. Frances rather enjoyed his teasing ways, which so alarmed Emma, and had always a saucy reply of some sort ready. She liked to be called your ladyship, and accepted his mock homage with a most regal air.
"What kind of flowers are you going to buy?" Mark asked.
"Violets, I think, because mother is specially fond of them."
"Aren't they rather expensive?"
"I don't know. I have two dollars; won't that be enough?" she asked anxiously.
"Dear me, I had no idea you were so rich! Are you going to spend all that?"
"I don't think that is too much to spend on your mother," she replied with emphasis.
"Certainly not, I wasn't objecting in the least."
"No, it wouldn't do any good," she asserted with dignity.
Mark laughed, and inquired what flowers she liked best herself.
"Great big red roses," was the prompt answer.
"Commend me to a princess for extravagant tastes!" Mark exclaimed, laughing.
The greenhouse was an enchanting place, and after the violets were ordered Frances wandered up and down the fragrant aisles, quite unwilling to leave. Mark at length grew impatient. "I am afraid it is going to storm; we must go," he said.
Sure enough, before they had gone two blocks it began to rain. Mark glanced uneasily at the clouds and then at his companion. Neither of them had thought of bringing an umbrella.
"We can take the car at the next corner unless it begins to pour; in that case we shall have to go in somewhere," he said, taking her hand.
They were hurrying down the avenue when they heard some one call, "Frances! Frances!" and there was Mrs. Marvin just leaving her carriage at the gate. "You must come in and wait till the storm is over," she said, and almost before they knew what had happened they found themselves standing on the porch with her, while the rain swept down in torrents.
"I am grateful to the wind for blowing you in my direction," Mrs. Marvin said, looking at Frances with her intent gaze.
The little girl smiled, and then remembering that Mrs. Marvin did not know Mark, she introduced him.
The lady was very gracious and asked him in to wait till the storm was over, but Mark said he had an engagement at home to meet a friend, and did not mind the rain for himself; so, being provided with an umbrella, he went off, promising to return for Frances when it cleared. This Mrs. Marvin assured him would not be necessary, as she would send her home.
"I am always getting caught in the rain," said Frances, as she went upstairs, her hand clasped in Mrs. Marvin's. "That was the way I happened to get acquainted with the Spectacle Man."
"I am glad something brought you to me; I have been wondering if I should ever see you again."
When her own room was reached the lady sat down and drew the child to her. "Have you forgotten me in all these weeks?" she asked.
"Oh, no, I couldn't do that," was the reply.
"You couldn't? Why not?" and she was drawn closer.
Frances thought this was not the sort of person to be easily forgotten, but she only smiled.
"I'd better not take it off," she said, as Mrs. Marvin began to unfasten her coat. "Mark will be back."
"But you couldn't go out in such a storm, dear; you are going to take lunch with me."
Clearly there was nothing to do but submit, and Frances was not unwilling. Mrs. Marvin looked at her fondly; the slender little figure in the blue sailor suit quite satisfied her fastidious taste. It puzzled her, too, for such daintiness and grace seemed to her altogether incompatible with what she had heard of the child's surroundings. Her sympathies were narrowed by her sensitiveness to anything that fell below her own standard of taste. She had yet to learn that there was a broader culture than hers. No wonder she was bewildered as she listened to Frances' frank chatter.
That this young person was very much of a chatterbox could not be denied. Her father often said it would not take a Philadelphia lawyer to find out all she knew, and on this occasion she had an interested hearer.
"Emma and I think this is a lovely house," she remarked, as they went down to lunch. "I like our flat," she added loyally, "only of course there isn't so much room in it."
This, to her, made the chief difference,—more room, more things. Her own home life had always been harmonious, had expressed grace and refinement in a simpler way, indeed, but as truly as Mrs. Marvin's; and so having always had the emphasis laid upon the best things, she felt no embarrassment, but only a frank enjoyment in this beautiful house.
When lunch was over, Mrs. Marvin led the way to the library, where the wood fire burned, and the little girl smiled down from above the mantle, and a great bunch of American Beauties bent their stately heads over a tall vase. What a combination of delights! Frances hung over the flowers with such pleasure in her eyes that her hostess said: "Do you like roses? You must take those with you when you go."
Mrs. Marvin took out a portfolio of photographs she thought might be interesting, and they went over them together. She knew perfectly how to be entertaining, and Frances enjoyed it very much, but when they came to the last one she said: "Mrs. Marvin, won't you tell me now about that portrait? I like it better than any picture I ever saw."
"Why, certainly, dear; that is my mother when she was a child. It is one of my greatest treasures."
Frances felt disappointed. "Then she is not a little girl now," she said.
"No; the picture was painted many years ago, in London, when my grandfather was Minister to England. My mother was an only child."
"I am an only child, too," Frances remarked, her eyes fixed on the portrait.
"Perhaps you will be interested to know that her name was the same as your own."
"Was it? And your name, too, is Frances, isn't it?"
"Yes, we are three of a name," was Mrs. Marvin's answer.
"I suppose—" Frances hesitated.
"I was going to ask if the little girl was alive now."
"No; she lived to grow up and marry, and died while she was still very young and beautiful, leaving three little children."
It was hard to realize that so much had happened to this bright-eyed girl; Frances wrinkled her brow in the effort, and sat very still. After a while she said, "I am glad her name was Frances; she always makes me think of the Girl in the Golden Doorway."
"What is that?" Mrs. Marvin inquired.
"It is one of father's stories," was the answer, and without much urging she told it, and told it well, because she was so fond of it. "It makes me want to see him so," she added with a sigh, at the end.
Mrs. Marvin listened, her face almost hidden by the screen she held. "Did your father ever tell you anything more of his childhood?" she asked.
"Not very much. He went to live somewhere else, I think, and I don't know what became of the picture. There is something about it I don't understand, but some time I know he will tell me. I think a certain person has something to do with it."
"Whom do you mean by a certain person?"
"It is some one who was once a friend of father's, but is not now. That is all I know, except that I heard him tell mother he did not mind our staying here, because a certain person was abroad; but I guess maybe I oughtn't to say anything about it," Frances concluded uneasily.
The conversation was interrupted by a servant who announced a young man to take the little girl home.
"It is Mark," Frances exclaimed, jumping up.
While they had been talking the wind had grown quiet, and the rain had turned to a wet snow. Mark had brought her waterproof and overshoes, but Mrs. Marvin insisted upon ordering the carriage. She held Frances in her arms and kissed her as if she could not bear to let her go.
"I have had a beautiful time, and I am so much obliged for the roses," the child said, when at last she was released.
They drove home in state through the wet streets. "I tell you this is fine!" said Mark; "I mean to be rich some day."
"So do I," replied Frances from behind her roses, and neither of them dreamed what a lonely heart they had left behind them in that beautiful house.
This second encounter with Mrs. Marvin both annoyed and puzzled Mrs. Morrison. It had come about naturally enough, yet she could not help feeling that this lady's interest in a child she had not seen or heard of six weeks ago was extraordinary; and though she did not wish to spoil Frances' pleasure in her roses, she shook her head at the thought of what they must have cost.
The violets which arrived early on New Year's morning gave great satisfaction, although they were, after all, the cause of her disquietude. Half an hour later came an express package from Honolulu, containing some trifles of native manufacture in sandalwood and ivory, a number of photographs, and a long birthday letter.
"I almost wish," Mr. Morrison wrote, "that our new home was to be on this enchanting island. The box is for Frances' jewels when she gets them, the other things to be divided as you see fit. If it were not for the thought of two small persons in the house of the Spectacle Man away off in the United States, I should be strongly tempted to run over to China, it seems so near. But never mind! when Frances is grown we'll make a journey around the world."
"I think father is so nice," Frances remarked, as if she had but recently made his acquaintance, locking and unlocking her box with as much pleasure as if it had been full of jewels.
Mrs. Morrison laughed happily; she knew what her daughter meant but could not express the charm of sympathetic companionship. "Oh, Frances!" she exclaimed quite gravely the next moment, "it has been good for us to do without him for a while. We are so happy together I am afraid it makes us selfish."
Mark left for school the first of the next week. His parting words to Mrs. Morrison were: "You have been awfully good to me, and I'll not forget some of the things you have said. The house has been a different place with you and the Princess here, and I hope I shall find you when I come back."
"I don't know about that," was the reply. "Just at present we are wanderers, but we must look out for a home before long; and wherever it is we'll be glad to see you."
After this, things quieted down into the old routine, only now Frances began to count the weeks that must pass before her father's return. By the first of April, if not sooner, he had promised.
She came down from her drawing lesson in great glee one morning. "Miss Sherwin's story has been taken, mother, and they are going to print it in March; aren't you glad? And they like the illustrations, too, and say they will be glad to hear from her again; I saw the letter."
"It shows their good taste; I must go up and congratulate her," said Mrs. Morrison.
"She did not seem to care much about it, mother. I don't think she is quite happy," Frances remarked with an air of great penetration.
Mrs. Morrison had become very fond of Lillian. Over their Christmas work they had found each other out, and a real friendship had begun. Beneath the girl's somewhat cold and reserved manner there was a genuine sweetness and charm which had at once responded to the unaffected friendliness of the older woman.
Miss Moore professed to be extremely jealous, saying that already Lillian cared more for Mrs. Morrison than she did for her; and on the other hand, although she herself had been sociable to the last degree with her neighbors, they openly preferred her taciturn companion. "It is well that virtue is its own reward, for it certainly does not get any other, in my experience," she remarked whimsically.
"Don't be such a goose, Mary; you know everybody likes you," replied Miss Sherwin.
"Oh, yes, they like me, and say I am good-natured, because there is nothing else to be said. It is my fate to be commonplace, and I must make up my mind to it," and Miss Moore hurried away to her afternoon class with her usual cheery face. Her moody friend was a puzzle to her, and she by no means begrudged her any companionship that would make her happier.
Miss Sherwin sat at her desk. Before her lay the envelope containing the check in payment for "The Story of the Missing Bridge," but she did not look like one whose efforts had been crowned with success. After a few ineffectual attempts to go to work, her head went down among the papers, and it was thus Mrs. Morrison found her.
"I knocked and thought I heard you answer," she said, "but even if I did not, I can't go away now without trying to comfort you."
The pressure of the arm around her, the touch of the soft hand, was too grateful to be resisted; Lillian leaned her head against her friend as she sobbed, "It is only that I am such a goose!"
"I know all about that, dear, we so frequently are," Mrs. Morrison replied, smiling a little all to herself. "But," she added, "you ought to be happy to-day. I came up to congratulate you on your story."
"I have had three taken this week, and instead of being happy I hate it all!" Lillian's head went down on the papers again.
By dint of much patient encouragement and real sympathetic interest the story came out by degrees; all the hidden sorrow of months found an outlet in the broken little confession. Not very clearly told, it was yet plain enough in a general way.
A boy and girl friendship had grown into something stronger. Only a year ago they had made happy plans for the future they meant to spend together. Then came the misunderstanding—a trifling thing in the beginning, but which grew until she was convinced she had made a mistake, that she had never really cared. She felt she needed freedom to go her own way and do her own work. She would be independent and try life for herself.
He had laughed at first, and this hurt her pride. She would show him she was not a weak dependent creature, and with some bitter words they had parted.
"I thought I did not care—that I could be happy in my work. I meant to be famous and I did not mind being lonely," said Lillian; "but now that I am having a little success it means nothing because—" she hesitated, and Mrs. Morrison said softly—
"Success doesn't mean much unless there is some one to share it and be glad with us.
"Yes, that is it. Perhaps if I were a genius it would be different, but I have only a poor little talent, after all. And I see how I was most to blame. I was hateful and proud—and now there is no help for it. I don't know why I should tell it, except that you are so kind, for it cannot be undone, and I must learn to bear it."
"It is so much better for you to speak of it, dear. And do you know what I am thinking? That it is not easy to destroy the bridge between two hearts that really love; isn't that it? All you can do is to wait and be patient, going on with your work and making yourself worthy of the best that can happen to you."
"But when one makes a mistake one has to bear the consequences," said Lillian, sadly.
"The pain and self-accusation—yes, but how often we are given the opportunity of undoing our mistakes. It is a hard, hard lesson you have to learn, but isn't there a star of hope somewhere that you can fix your eyes upon. Forgive me for pressing your own moral upon you, but it has helped me and I want you to take comfort."
As Mrs. Morrison went slowly down stairs again, she said to herself, "Poor little girl! I wish I could help her; but if her lover is what he ought to be, he will come back, I am sure."
Bad weather was predicted by the almanac for the first week in February, and bad weather prevailed both indoors and out.
Frances had an attack of grip which came near being pneumonia, and caused her mother some anxious days. Miss Sherwin, going in one evening to ask Zenobia about the patient, found Mrs. Morrison herself in the kitchen, crying as if her heart would break, her face buried in one of her little daughter's white aprons that lay on the ironing-board.
"Is she worse?" Lillian exclaimed, much alarmed, for surely it must be something serious to unnerve this bright, hopeful person.
"I don't know—the doctor didn't say so—but she is ill, and one can never tell. Oh, my darling baby!—if she should get worse, and Jack away—why did I let him go!" she began a trembling search for her handkerchief. "I left her with Zenobia— I couldn't stand it any longer, but I must go back now," she said, wiping her eyes. "I know I am foolish, but I can't help it."
"You are not foolish at all, but tired and anxious, poor child," said Lillian, with her arms around her. "Now listen to me; Frances is going to pull through, I am certain of it. The doctor would have said so, if he thought her very ill; but I am going to stay with you. I am a good nurse,— I took care of my little cousin only a year ago, in just such an attack, and you may lie on the sofa and watch me."
"Oh, thank you, but—"
"Please don't say a word, dear, for I know I can help. I am going to take Zenobia's place now, and you may come when you have bathed your face."
There was strength in Lillian's quiet, confident tone; Mrs. Morrison smiled through her tears: "You will think me a great fraud, after all my good advice to you. Like the physician who gave up his profession to enter the ministry, I find it easier to preach than to practise."
"I am glad you are human," Lillian answered, and dropping a kiss on her forehead, she went to relieve Zenobia.
She was quite right in thinking she could help, and during the few days while Frances lingered on the brink of a serious illness she was a tower of comfort and strength. The experience drew them closer together; and when the worst was over, and the patient convalescing, Mrs. Morrison said she believed it was worth all the anxiety to have found out this side of Lillian.
"I do want you and Jack to know each other," she said, and this meant that her new friend had been taken into the inner circle.
About this time the Spectacle Man sat at his desk in the room below with an anxious look on his usually cheery face. The storm cloud had settled upon him, too, and his trouble was a question of money.
The directors of a certain institution in which he owned a good deal of stock had thought it wise to pass their semi-yearly dividend, and with hard times affecting everything more or less, he could not see how Mark was to be kept at school. Sitting there, he tortured himself with the thought of what he might have done if he had only foreseen. He called himself an old fogy, and wished he might be twenty years younger.
"The bridge is broke and I have to mend it."
The song rose to his lips unconsciously, and he hummed it in a dreary fashion that caused Peterkin to open his eyes. At least he did open them, and there was something in the serenity of those yellow orbs that recalled the Spectacle Man to himself.
"You are right, Peterkin, I am foolish, and I thank you for telling me so," he said, stooping to caress the smooth head. "There is always a way, and you'll find it if you'll keep your eyes open, and don't let the clouds of despair and distrust gather and hide it," he continued to himself, and he began to sing again, this time in a cheery tone.
That same evening he went to see Mrs. Gray. It was a business call, for the old lady needed some stronger glasses, and could not get out in bad weather to attend to it herself; but after he had tried her eyes, they fell to talking about other matters.
Mrs. Gray was lonely and unhappy. Her only son was going to be married, and she knew she was a burden to him, and she wished she was dead. She had not meant to tell it, but the benevolent face of the Spectacle Man invited confidence.
He confessed to being blue himself, and then he told her briefly the story of the bridge.
"You may say it is all made up, but some way I know it is true," he added earnestly. "There is always a way, if only we are patient and don't give up. You haven't begun to be a burden yet, and I haven't had to bring Mark home. We can't see the way, but if we go on a step at a time, we'll find it."
Emma was also having a taste of bad weather. In the first place, the General had an illness much like Frances', and this meant that he must be kept in bed and amused from morning till night. Then Emma's teacher decided to have her pupils give an entertainment on Washington's Birthday, and Emma was selected among others to take part. It was an event of great importance to the school children, and at recess nothing else was talked about.
As Emma expressed it, she had never been in anything before in her life, and no prima donna was ever more excited over her debut than she at the thought of this little recitation; but her pleasure met with a sudden check upon the discovery that a white dress would be necessary. She hadn't a white dress, and she knew it was hopeless to think of getting one in time, still she couldn't help mentioning it to her mother.
"A white dress! Will you tell me how on earth you could get one? Even if I had the money to buy it, where would I find time to make it? It is all nonsense anyway." Mrs. Bond was tired out and spoke with more emphasis than she would otherwise have used.
Her daughter turned away quite crushed by the pitiless logic. She should have to tell Miss Ellen and the girls that she couldn't be in it because she hadn't any dress. She couldn't help shedding some bitter tears, and that was how the Spectacle Man found out about it.
Her mother sent her into the shop to get some change, and his supply being low Mr. Clark despatched Dick to get some; then noticing the red eyes, he asked what the trouble was, and something in his kind, sympathetic face drew forth the story.
As he listened an idea came to the Spectacle Man. "Now, Emma," he said, "don't worry any more about this till—well, till Monday morning. This is Friday, so you won't have to do anything about it till then, and in the meantime something may happen. Indeed, I'm almost sure something will."
All this may not have been very logical, but Emma carried away her change with a much lighter heart.
That evening when Mrs. Morrison went in to pay her rent, she stopped to chat with the optician. Frances was eating oyster soup upstairs with Miss Sherwin and Zenobia in attendance, and her mother was feeling very happy.
"Mrs. Morrison," Mr. Clark began in a somewhat embarrassed manner as she was about to leave, "you know more of the value of such things than I do; do you think any of these old belongings of mine are worth anything? In money, I mean." By a wave of his hand he seemed to indicate all that was in the room.
"I should think so. The portrait, of course, is, and that cabinet looks very handsome to me. Are you thinking of selling?" she asked.
"I may have to, the times are so hard, and Mark must be kept at school. Some of my investments aren't paying anything now." He paused a moment, then added, "You wouldn't believe what a foolish old fellow I am, but I'd rather set my heart on giving that portrait to some collection. I have liked to think how it would look on the catalogue,—'Presented by George W. Clark'—all nonsense, of course. Some ladies were here to-day to ask if I would exhibit it. The Colonial Dames are to have a Loan Exhibit."
"I hope you will not have to sell it, but if you should, that will be an excellent way of advertising it. Oughtn't you to let Mark know the state of affairs? Don't spoil him; he is such a fine fellow," answered Mrs. Morrison.
"There's time enough for that," said Mr. Clark, and then added, "I want to speak to you about something else," and he told the story of Emma's trouble. "I thought perhaps you could—"
"Yes, indeed, I'm sure I can. Thank you for telling me," she held out her hand. "How kind you are, Mr. Clark! Good night."
This makes it quite plain how Mrs. Morrison happened to walk into Mrs. Bond's domain the next day with a white dress over her arm.
"I want you to look at this, Mrs. Bond," she said. "It is a dress I had made for Frances last spring, and by a mistake it was cut so short it had to be faced. Now she has outgrown it, and nothing can be done. Do you think Emma could wear it? Frances is a good deal taller. I have thought of offering it to you before, and now it has occurred to me that Emma may not have a dress ready to wear to the school entertainment,—Gladys was telling us about it yesterday,—and if you will accept it, it will be doing me a great favor. I dislike so to have it wasted."
"It is a very pretty dress; it is too bad Frances can't wear it," Mrs. Bond remarked, examining it critically.
"Then you will let me give it to Emma?"
Emma's mother was not hard hearted; she liked to see her children happy, but she had a stern feeling that hardship was likely to be their lot in this world, and the sooner they became used to it the better. However, when her pride was convinced that Mrs. Morrison could not use the dress, she accepted it gratefully.
Emma's joy was beyond words, and she very much wondered how the Spectacle Man could have known that something was going to happen.
When the eventful day came, Mrs. Morrison rolled her hair for her and tied her long braids with butterfly bows of red, white, and blue, and when she was dressed, Frances said, "Why, Emma, I believe you are as pretty as Gladys!"
Certainly no little girl waved her flag with more enthusiasm, or rejoiced more truly in the celebration of Washington's Birthday.
AT THE LOAN EXHIBIT.
Before the end of February there began to be hints of spring in the air; now and then there came a day so mild and fair it seemed to belong to April, and as the winter passed it carried with it some at least of the cares that had for a while rested upon the inmates of the optician's house.
Frances and her mother rejoiced because every day brought nearer their traveller's return; Miss Moore, busy with the Easter work in her kindergarten, was finding a new meaning in the season; and even Lillian Sherwin felt now and then a thrill of joy that was like a prophecy of days to come, to her sore heart.
Mr. Clark was cheerful because he loved sunshine; and though he could not as yet see the way through his difficulties, he felt sure it was there, and that in good time he should find it.
The pleasure of Washington's Birthday lingered with Emma; the General, restored to health and amiability, was no longer such a care, and she found time once more to spend in that haven of delight upstairs with Frances.
George Washington was sent to the Loan Exhibit, together with the cabinet, some silver candlesticks, and the Wedgwood cream jug and sugar dish. With the blank space over the mantel the study looked deserted; and the owl, deprived of his resting-place on the cabinet, perched forlornly on a corner of the bookcase.
Frances took great interest in the Exhibit, and insisted upon going, chiefly it seemed for the purpose of seeing how Washington looked in his new surroundings. As Mrs. Morrison was housed with a cold, Miss Sherwin offered to take her.
They found a beautiful display of valuable and interesting things arranged in a large, handsomely decorated hall; but not until Frances had viewed the portrait and made a diligent search for Mr. Clark's other possessions would she give any attention to less familiar things.
She and Lillian were bending with delight over a case of miniatures when she heard her name spoken, and turning, saw Mrs. Marvin.
"Do you like the miniatures?" the lady asked. "Then come over to the other side; there is one there I want you to see."
She pointed out a picture, set in diamonds, of a lovely young woman.
"How pretty! Is it you?" Frances asked, seeing a resemblance to the handsome face beside her.
Mrs. Marvin smiled. "No, it is my mother,—the little girl you are so fond of, after she was grown. They wanted the portrait too," she added, "but I have decided not to trust it out of my hands again."
She pointed out several other miniatures in which she thought Frances would be interested, all the while keeping the child's hand clasped in her own. Miss Sherwin, seeing her charge had found an acquaintance, moved on down the aisle.
"Your friend seems to be interested in the manuscripts; suppose we rest a few minutes," and Mrs. Marvin drew Frances down beside her on a settee that stood near a tall case of lace and embroidery.
"Who is the young lady with you?" she asked.
Frances' explained, and Mrs. Marvin remarked that she was a handsome girl.
"And she is clever, too, for she writes lovely stories and illustrates them," said Frances, impressively.
"Does she, indeed?"
"Yes, she wrote one for us about a song the Spectacle Man—I mean Mr. Clark—sings. It is a fairy tale, and The Young People's Journal took it and are going to publish it next month. It has a beautiful moral to it."
"What do you know about morals?" laughed Mrs. Marvin.
"I found this one out when I had a quarrel with Gladys. Mr. Clark helped me to see it," was the reply; and then, as her companion looked interested, Frances continued:
"It is hard to explain it because you haven't read the story. It is called 'The Missing Bridge,' and is about a young man who couldn't get across the river that was between him and the girl he was going to marry, because there wasn't any bridge. That is he thought there wasn't, though it really was there all the time, and had just been made invisible by a magician.
"Well, you know Gladys said she never would speak to me again, and that was like having the bridge broken between us; don't you think so? But Mr. Clark said he thought it was only hidden by the clouds of anger and unkindness. I think it is very uncomfortable to quarrel, don't you?" then, seeing an odd expression in her companion's face, Frances hastened to add: "Of course I know you wouldn't quarrel with any one now, but I thought maybe you had when you were a little girl. But don't you think it is a nice moral? and—oh, yes—the last of it is that love and courage can always find a way."
"And how about you and Gladys?"
"We made up. If you would like to read the story, Mrs. Marvin, it will be out next week. The March number of The Young People's Journal, and it's only twenty-five cents."
Mrs. Marvin smiled. "I shall certainly get a copy," she said, adding, "I see your friend looking this way. Suppose we go to her; I should like to meet her."
Why she said this she couldn't have told, and she half repented it the next minute; but when Frances introduced Miss Sherwin she was all graciousness.
"Frances and I have an odd way of meeting every now and then, and have become great friends. I have been showing her a miniature of my mother, and she has been telling me about your story."
"Why, Frances!" said Miss Sherwin, a pretty color coming into her face.
This girl was extremely attractive, Mrs. Marvin decided, and found a good deal to say to her over the collection of ancient missals. After a while Frances wandered off to look at the portraits.
Mrs. Marvin's eyes followed her as, with her hands clasped behind her, she stood gazing at an old pioneer.
"She is a very charming child," she remarked.
"She is, and she ought to be, for her mother is one of the sweetest women in the world," Miss Sherwin responded, in eager praise of her friend, but the next moment she had the feeling of having somehow said the wrong thing. Was it some change of expression in the handsome face, or simply the silence that followed her little outburst, which caused her discomfort? She could not tell. She had been wonderfully charmed by this stately person, but now the spell was broken; with one impulse they moved toward Frances.
"I don't believe I like her, after all," Lillian thought; and yet there was a marvellous sweetness in the smile that greeted the child, and brought her with instant response to Mrs. Marvin's side.
As they were making their way to the door after taking leave of Mrs. Marvin, Miss Sherwin saw a lady step out from a group of people, and exclaim: "Why, Mrs. Richards! how do you do? It was only the other day I heard of your unexpected return." And the person to whom this greeting was addressed was no other than Mrs. Marvin herself. It puzzled her, but she said nothing about it to Mrs. Morrison when they related their morning's adventures.
THE MARCH NUMBER OF THE YOUNG PEOPLE'S JOURNAL.
Mrs. Marvin was in a sadly restless state of mind. She wished again and again that chance had not brought this child in her way. Having seen her, she could not forget her, and each meeting cost her fresh pain.
And what was to be the outcome of it? Nothing? Frances had said they would soon be going away. Perhaps then she might be able to settle down again into the old life of resolutely putting aside the past.
She was not so strong as she used to be, yet she must endure it as she had done for so many years. There was nothing she could do. Her pride told her this with added emphasis each time the half-formed question rose in her mind.
She actually fretted herself into a fever which the doctor pronounced malarial, advising change of air,—a prescription Mrs. Marvin had no thought of trying at present.
After several days in bed, she was lying on her couch weak and languid one morning, when she suddenly remembered the March number of The Young People's Journal. She would send for it and read the story.
When it was brought there came with it the swift recollection that Jack used to take it. She could see him now poring over the puzzle column, looking up with such a triumphant light in his brown eyes when he discovered an answer.
She held the paper for a long time without opening it, lying quite still with a desolate look on her face that was more than Caroline, her faithful nurse, could stand.
"I declare, if Miss Frances doesn't cheer up, I don't know what I shall do," she said to the seamstress.
After a while Mrs. Marvin began to turn the pages, till she found the story of "The Missing Bridge," with the gay little tune for a heading.
It is doubtful if under ordinary circumstances she would have had patience to read the simple story through, but to-day she found something soothing in its very simplicity.
"No power can destroy the bridge between true and loving hearts." She lay thinking of what Frances had said about her quarrel with Gladys. Ah! many another bridge had been made invisible by clouds of anger and pride. The paper slipped from her grasp. "I did love him so dearly," she cried, clasping her hands; "and I thought he cared for me, but now he has probably forgotten."
"Faith and courage can find the way—" so said the story.
"But I have neither," sighed Mrs. Marvin.
Her unquiet mind seized upon the words of the little song, and all through the day she said them over and over:—
"The bridge is broke and I have to mend it."
The clock ticked:—
"The bridge is broke and I have to mend it, mend it, mend it, mend it."
Even the horses' hoofs on the asphalt street rang out the same refrain.
Mrs. Marvin rose from her couch in some respects a changed woman. It seemed to her she had lived years in that illness of two weeks. In her soul a battle had been waged, and the struggle had left her passive and unresisting; she was waiting. The outward result was a strange, new gentleness of manner.
At the time of the Loan Exhibit she had been commissioned by a friend to purchase a wedding gift, which was to be, if possible, something antique. The silver candlesticks belonging to Mr. Clark rather pleased her; and thinking he might have other interesting things, she had written his address in her note-book, intending to go and see for herself, but her illness had interfered. When she was once more able to be out this was her first thought.
In the meantime the March Journal was being read by a good many persons who ordinarily never looked at it. The household at the Spectacle Man's naturally took a deep interest in it; and Miss Sherwin said she felt she ought to divide the profits, for if it had not been for the song and Mrs. Morrison's suggestion, the story would never have been written.
Frances laid emphatic commands upon her father to buy a copy the minute he landed in San Francisco; and Mr. Clark was also charged to remind Mark of the story, when he wrote.
In the hurry of sending telegrams, attending to his baggage, and making arrangements for an early start eastward, Mr. Morrison forgot this important matter, and it did not occur to him till, halfway on his homeward journey, he one morning saw the paper among others the train boy was carrying through the cars. He promptly purchased it, for it would never do to meet his little daughter without having read the story which was, she said, almost as good as one of his own.
Soon after leaving San Francisco, Mr. Morrison had made the acquaintance of a young civil engineer who was on his way to his home in Tennessee for a visit. He had frank, gentlemanly manners, and the cheerful, self-reliant air of a trained worker who loves his work, and the travellers were at once attracted to each other. As so often happens, they discovered mutual friends, and also that they had the same affection for Southern life and ways. Alexander Carter, as he gave his name, had recently accepted a position with a Western mining company,—a place of trust and responsibility of which he was justly proud in a modest way.
"You seem to have found something amusing," he remarked, seeing Mr. Morrison smiling over the magazine.
"Well, no, it happens to be a rather serious story, but something reminded me of my little daughter," was the reply. "By the way, Carter," he added, "it is odd, but the hero of this tale bears a remarkable resemblance to you—I mean in the illustration. See here!" Mr. Morrison held before him the picture of the young farmer as he knelt to release the white rabbit. "This is your profile exactly. Don't you see it yourself?"
Mr. Carter laughed. "I believe there is a faint likeness, which only goes to show that I have a very ordinary countenance."
"That is just what you have not, which is the curious part of it," said Mr. Morrison.
"Who wrote the story?" his companion asked.
"It is unsigned, and I have forgotten the name. She is a young lady of whom my wife and daughter are very fond."
At St. Louis the travellers separated with cordial good-byes, feeling like old friends, and Mr. Morrison rushed off to catch the train that would take him to his destination some hours earlier than he had expected to arrive.
Mr. Carter, gathering up his things in a more leisurely way, noticed The Young People's Journal lying on the seat, and put it in his bag.
"Expect me Wednesday evening; will wire from St. Louis," so read the telegram from San Francisco; and on Wednesday morning Frances had just exclaimed over her oatmeal, "O dear, what a long day this will be!" when the door opened and there stood a familiar figure, looking, oh, so bright and well!
After some moments of rapturous hugs and incoherent remarks, the traveller was allowed to have some breakfast, while Mrs. Morrison and Frances looked on, too happy to eat.
"I had to surprise you, for a despatch sent after I left St. Louis would have aroused you in the night, or else not have reached you till about this time," Mr. Morrison explained as he helped himself to a muffin.
"Jack, how brown you are, and how well you look! It is a delight to see you," said his wife.
"I never was better in my life; but I can't tell you how I have wished for you and Frances."
"Next time you'll take me, won't you, father?" Frances asked.
"Yes, indeed. Wink, I believe you have grown a foot! You'll soon be a young lady, and I don't like it; people will begin to think your mother and I are elderly, when we are really in the heyday of youth."
In this irrelevant fashion conversation went on through the day. There were all the winter experiences to be related, and Frances could not rest till each person in the house had been brought in to see her father. First of all Mr. Clark ran up to say how glad he was to see the traveller back again; and on her way to school Miss Moore looked in with a merry greeting; then Emma and the General were waylaid in the hall and introduced, the former in a dreadful fit of shyness; and last, Miss Sherwin was pounced upon and dragged reluctantly into the sitting room.
To her Mr. Morrison's return meant the breaking up of the pleasant companionship of the winter, and she was not in the least glad to see him. Mrs. Morrison's exclamation as she entered was somewhat disconcerting.
"Jack, I want you to know Lillian, she has been so good to me!"
"Good! I?" Miss Sherwin cried in a tone that made them all laugh, and then her hand was given a cordial grasp by a tall man with a boyish face, who said, "We shall have to take each other on sufferance, Miss Sherwin, till we can find out for ourselves how much truth there is in what our friends say of us."
"I am very glad we came here; it has really been a delightful winter,—all but those two dreadful days when Frances was so ill,—but I don't think I can ever let you go again," Mrs. Morrison said. It was after lunch, and Frances had gone to get ready for a walk with her father.
"Then, will you go to New York with me next week?" asked her husband.
"I may have to stand that. It will depend on how soon we must leave here permanently. Jack, there is one rather strange thing I must tell you—" but just here Frances danced in, and her mother did not finish her sentence.
When they returned from their walk late in the afternoon they stopped in the shop for a moment to speak to Mr. Clark. Peterkin was the only person to be seen, but the door into the study stood open, and, supposing the Spectacle Man was there, Frances and her father entered. Some one was standing before the mantel looking up at the portrait of Washington, and Frances gave an exclamation of surprise, for it was not the optician, but, of all persons, Mrs. Marvin!
It was not very light, and for a second she thought she must be mistaken, then something very strange happened. Mrs. Marvin turned, and with a little cry stepped forward, holding out her hands appealingly. "Jack, O Jack!" she said.
The astonished child saw the light in her father's eyes as he exclaimed, "Auntie!" and then his arms were around her, her cheek pressed to his.
"Jack, I have wanted you so;" the words came with a sob.
"Dear auntie, I am so glad!"
Mrs. Marvin was not one to lose her self-control for long; she presently lifted her head, with one hand on his shoulder she looked at him. "You have not changed," she said, "but I have grown old."
In truth, she was very white now the first flush of excitement was fading, and with gentle hands Jack put her into the shabby leather chair, and drew another to her side.
"I wonder if I shall wake and find it a dream," she said, smiling up at him.
"It is better than any dream," he answered, bending over her.
"I have been so lonely,—it has been so long. I thought perhaps you had forgotten, and— I am sorry— Jack." It was the proud woman's surrender, and John Morrison was touched to the heart. Tears rose to his eyes.
"It was more my fault than yours, dear,—the years have taught me that, and I have often wished I could tell you so," he said.
Frances had stood an amazed spectator of this scene. What did it mean? Ought she to stay? It was plain she was forgotten. After a little she touched her father's arm, saying softly, "Daddy, I'm here, you know."
The plaintive tone recalled both her companions; her father drew her to his side, but before he could speak Mrs. Marvin took her hand.
"Frances darling, you will love me, won't you? You are my own little niece. The day when I first saw you in my library you reminded me of my dear Jack."
It was Mr. Morrison's turn to be surprised as his daughter impulsively threw her arms round the lady's neck, exclaiming, "I do love you, but I didn't know you knew father."
"And I didn't know you knew each other," he said.
"And I don't understand how you happened to come here," added his aunt.
"Why, we live here, Mrs. Marvin," Frances replied.
"Mrs. Marvin!" echoed Mr. Morrison.
"That is a mistake which I encouraged because I wanted to see more of her," his aunt said; adding, "Is this really the house of the Spectacle Man?"
There was so much to be explained it seemed almost hopeless; Mr. Clark came in and went out again unobserved. It was not an opportune time for selling candlesticks, evidently.
"We will not try to unravel the tangle all at once," Mr. Morrison said, rising. "Auntie, will you come upstairs? I want you to meet Katherine."
This was hardest of all. It brought back one of her old disappointments; and without doubt Katherine Morrison was aware how Jack's aunt felt about his marriage, but she did not hesitate. It was not her custom to do things by halves.
Mrs. Morrison, sitting in the twilight lost in happy thoughts, was aroused by Frances' excited voice: "Mother, what do you think has happened?"
Surprised at sight of the stranger, she rose; her husband met her and drew her forward: "Auntie, this is my wife, to whom I owe my greatest happiness."
His aunt understood. This fair, girlish looking little person filled the first place in his heart; whatever else was changed, this was not.
"You must try to love me for Jack's sake," she said, taking Katherine's hand with that new gentleness her nephew found so touching.
It won his wife. "I shall not have to try," she answered.
"Are you willing to forget and begin again?—that is what we are going to do, is it not, Jack?" his aunt looked from his wife to him. "It will make a great difference in my life," she continued; "I have been very lonely, and I want this little girl;" she put her arm around Frances.
"Then she will certainly have to take us, too; won't she, Katherine?" and Mr. Morrison laughed happily.
Frances still seemed puzzled. "If this is my Aunt Frances—" she said slowly, "who is the little girl? Is she the Girl in the Golden Doorway, truly?—the portrait, I mean.
"I think she must be, and she is also your great-grandmother," her aunt replied.
"Then who is a Certain Person. You said he was abroad, father." Frances evidently thought it time all mysteries were solved.
"Why, yes, auntie, how does it happen you are not abroad? I heard last summer on the best authority that you would spend the winter in Egypt," said her nephew.
"I fully expected to be gone eighteen months when I left, but the death of the mother of my friend, Mrs. Roberts, changed our plans. I did not wish to go alone."
Frances was listening intently. "Father! you don't mean Aunt Frances is a Certain Person?" she cried. "I thought it was a man."
"It is a character we are going to forget. I am your father's aunt and yours, dear, and I am not Mrs. Marvin, but Mrs. Richards. Mrs. Marvin is my cousin. You understand it all now, don't you?"
Frances was not quite certain of this, but there was no doubt about her pleasure in her new relative; and when her father went home with his aunt she was rather impatient at not being allowed to go too.
"Come sit beside me, Wink, and have a little talk," Mrs. Morrison suggested when they were alone.
Frances came and nestled down beside her mother; the day had been so full of excitement she found it hard work to keep still.
"You know, dear, that Aunt Frances and father have not seen each other for years,—not since before you were born,—and of course they have a great deal to say to each other. There was some trouble—a misunderstanding—but now it is over—"
"They have found the bridge like Gladys and me," Frances put in.
"Yes; but what I was going to say is this: we mustn't be selfish. We must let Aunt Frances have father to herself sometimes. Don't you think so?"
As they sat quietly there in the twilight Mrs. Morrison saw opening before her a path she would not have chosen. She was a person of simple tastes and wide sympathies, and the world of wealth and convention to which her husband would return so naturally had few attractions for her. She would have need of love and courage, she told herself.
"What do you think, Kate; auntie wants me to take you to New York with me and leave Frances with her!" said Mr. Morrison, coming in.
"She has never been away from me in her life. What do you say, Wink?" and her mother lifted the face that rested against her shoulder and kissed it.
"I don't know; I believe I'd like it, for then I could see the little girl every day," was the reply.
"I think her great-grandmother has cut out all the rest of her relations," her father remarked, laughing.
"I don't see how she could be my great-grandmother," Frances said meditatively.
Mrs. Richards remembered the candlesticks next day, and they gave her an excuse for an early visit to Mr. Clark. She felt in love and charity with all men, and, finding the optician at leisure, she entered into conversation with him in her most gracious manner. His old-fashioned courtliness pleased her, and she recalled him as one of the proprietors of the large jewellery store of Mason and Clark, years ago.
Mr. Clark remembered her father, Judge Morrison, and all together she spent an exceedingly pleasant hour looking over his valuables and talking of old times. She purchased the candlesticks, and also the two pieces of Wedgwood which exactly matched some her grandfather had brought from England.
"You have shown me all you care to sell?" she asked, rising.
"I believe there is nothing else, madam, except the house. I should like very much to sell it," was Mr. Clark's reply.
When Zenobia ushered her into the sitting room upstairs some minutes later, Mrs. Richards was struck with its cosey beauty. Truly, there were ways of living—pleasant ways—of which she had not dreamed.
Frances was washing the sword fern while she recited her history lesson to her mother, who was sewing.
"I have come to take you home with me to lunch; I can't do without you," Mrs. Richards announced.
"Why don't you stay with us—auntie?" Frances spoke the new title hesitatingly.
"That will be much the better plan, and it will please Jack," added Mrs. Morrison, cordially, and Mrs. Richards stayed.
The next time she and her nephew were alone together she said to him: "Jack, there is something I want you to explain to Katherine. I do not think I could make any difference in my manner of living at my age, even if I wished to, and I do not; but I am beginning to see that there may be a charm about—other ways."
"Yes, auntie," as she paused, "the years I have spent knocking about without any money, having to work hard for Kate and the baby, have been the happiest and best of my life. There was only one drawback to it all—" he laid his hand on hers.
She smiled fondly at him. "I want you to say to Katherine that I know I must seem narrow to her; I realize that she may perhaps fear my influence upon Frances—" her nephew began a protest, but she silenced him. "No, let me finish. I have come to see things differently; I want you to live your own lives in your own way; I want Frances to go on as she has begun—sweet, generous, unconscious, and I only ask to be near you."
When Mr. Morrison repeated this to his wife, tears rose to her eyes. "I haven't been fair to her," she said. "I have been afraid, but I shall not be any more. I shall love her dearly."
"Well, I suppose you have heard the news?"
Caroline's pleasant face was more beaming than usual as Emma ushered her into the room where Mrs. Bond sat with her sewing, the General being safe in dreamland.
"No, I haven't heard any so far as I remember," was her reply.
Emma gave the visitor a chair, and retreated with her books to a corner behind her mother, in the hope that she might not be sent away. She knew something had happened.
"Then you don't know that Mr. Morrison has turned out to be our Mr. Jack, Miss Frances' nephew?"
"Who is her nephew, did you say?" asked Mrs. Bond, going on with her work.
"Mr. Morrison, to be sure, the father of little Frances, bless her!"
"He is Mrs. Marvin's nephew?"
"Yes," said Caroline, laughing; "only she isn't Mrs. Marvin at all, but Mrs. Richards. It is as good as a play."
Mrs. Bond actually dropped her hands in her lap, as she asked, "Do you mean there isn't any such person as Mrs. Marvin?"
"Of course there is a Mrs. Marvin. She was staying at our house while Miss Frances was abroad,—she is her cousin,—and the first sewing you did was for her. I did not think of explaining, so you went on supposing it was all for Mrs. Marvin. Then when Miss Frances found out that Frances thought she was Mrs. Marvin, she asked me not to tell you any different. I couldn't understand why, then."
"Why should she care who I thought she was?" Mrs. Bond asked, taking up her sewing.
"It is plain enough now. You see, she and Mr. Jack had had a quarrel years ago, and she had not seen or heard of him since; then one day, you know, Frances came to our house with Emma, and Mrs. Richards saw her and knew right away who she was, and was mightily taken with her, but she didn't want Frances or her mother to know that she was Mr. Morrison's aunt; don't you see?
"You may say it happened," Caroline continued, "but I say the Lord brought it about. Why should that child walk into the library and stand before her great-grandmother's portrait, and Miss Frances come in and find her there, looking as much like Mr. Jack when he was little as two peas! Isn't he a splendid man! and just his old self. Why, when he came out yesterday, he ran upstairs to my room calling out just as he used to do,—'Where's Caroline?' It made me too happy to sleep."
"Did Mr. Morrison live at your house once?" Emma ventured to ask.
"Of course he did. When his mother died Miss Frances adopted him. He was six years old, and it was the same year I went to live with her,—thirty years this spring. You see, Mr. Jack's father, who was Mrs. Richards' favorite brother, was thrown from his horse and killed when his little boy was only three. It was a dreadful blow to the whole family; his wife did not outlive him long, and his father, Judge Morrison, never recovered from the shock, for his only other son was an invalid.
"I used to think nobody had as much trouble as Miss Frances. She married very young and was left a widow before she was twenty-two, and it seemed as if Mr. Jack was her only comfort, for her father's mind began to fail, and the old home was so changed she couldn't bear to go there; but she was wrapped up in the child.
"In those days he wasn't hard to manage, though he had a quick temper; you couldn't help loving him on account of his sweet ways. He was devoted to Miss Frances, and gave up to her wonderfully, so I suppose she got to thinking she would always have things her own way with him, as she had with every one else.
"There were gay times, I can tell you, when he came home for his holidays, after he began to go away to school. He might bring home as many friends as he pleased, and there wasn't anything he couldn't have for the asking. Yet he wasn't half as spoiled as you'd think.
"The trouble began about the time he left college, but I didn't know much about it then. Miss Frances had set her heart on his being a lawyer like his grandfather; but though he studied it to please her, he did not take any interest in law. Then I think she wanted him to marry a niece of her husband's who used to be at the house a great deal. That is— I don't think she really wanted him to marry at all, but was just afraid he'd take to some one she did not like. He had always been fond of Miss Elsie, and it did look contrary in him to turn around and be so indifferent when he found how his aunt felt.
"Mr. Jack went abroad for a year, and it was soon after he came back that they had the trouble. I happened to pass the library door one evening when I heard Miss Frances say, 'If you have no regard for my wishes perhaps you had better provide for yourself in the future—' and he answered back as cool as you please, 'Thank you for suggesting it, Aunt Frances; I have been an idler on your bounty quite too long.' I never forgot those words. They didn't either of them mean what they said, but were too proud to take it back. Miss Frances had never denied him anything, and had more than enough for both, yet it was natural for her to think he ought to go her way.
"I never knew any more about it, except that Mr. Jack came to my room to tell me he was going, with a face as white as a sheet. He had some property of his own, though not much, for his grandfather made way with almost everything before he died—no one knew how. He had softening of the brain, brought on by grief.
"The next I knew Mr. Jack sent me a paper with a notice of his marriage. Mrs. Morrison was the daughter of one of the professors in the college where he went. But—" Caroline concluded, with a sigh of content, "it is all right now, and maybe it has all been for the best."
"I suppose they'll be going away soon?" said Mrs. Bond.
"Yes, Mr. Morrison and his wife are going to New York, and Frances is coming to stay with us."
Emma listened to this story with breathless interest. It seemed to her quite the most natural and suitable thing that such good fortune should come to Frances, but it made her feel sorrowful to think she was going away.
After their visitor had gone Mrs. Bond said, as she folded her work: "Now, Emma, I do not want you to be foolish. Make up your mind not to see anything of Frances after this, and you'll not be disappointed."
"Because they are rich and we are poor, and it is not to be expected that they will care for your society. I never go where I am not wanted, and I do not choose to have you. Understand, I am not saying anything against the Morrisons. Frances is a nice child, and her mother is very pleasant and kind, but you can't change the world; birds of a feather will flock together."
OVERHEARD BY PETERKIN.
Peterkin was taking a nap in one corner of the big sofa in the hall. It was a delightful spring afternoon and everybody was out; he knew this, for he had seen them go. First Miss Moore hurried away with some books under her arm; next Frances danced downstairs, followed by her father and mother; a little later Emma and the General started out for a walk; and last of all came Miss Sherwin, and sat beside him while she put on her gloves.
She stroked him gently for a minute before she left, and, bending over him till her face touched his soft fur, said, "Oh, pussy, pussy! so many things are happening, and it's going to be so lonely. It must be nice to be a cat."
Peterkin rubbed his head sympathetically against her hand, for her tone was sad. He had had confidences made to him before and knew how to receive them. He understood it all as well as if she had spent hours in the telling, an advantage a cat possesses over a human confidant.
He had been dozing undisturbed for a long time when he heard the door open again, and a man's voice he did not recognize say: "How fortunate that I met you! I seem to have had the wrong number."
It was Miss Sherwin who replied, "I am very much surprised; I did not know you were in this part of the country."
Then they came and sat on the sofa, and the stranger, who, Peterkin saw, was a pleasant looking young fellow, said he had been back only a short time. "I stopped in Maryville a day, and then at home for two more," he added.
"You have been to Maryville?" Miss Sherwin's voice showed surprise. Then she began to ask questions about the people there, and to talk of the delightful weather, in all of which her companion seemed to feel little interest. Presently there came a silence.
The young man leaned forward, one elbow on his crossed knee that he might the better look into Miss Sherwin's face, the light in the hall being a little dim. "Lillian," he began, "in this past year I have had a good deal of time for thinking, and naturally our—disagreement has been often in my mind. When I last saw you I thought it was all over forever, and though I had come to look at it differently in these months—feeling that perhaps there had been a mistake—still I don't know that I ever—that is— I mean the possibility of undoing it never occurred to me till I was on my way home. I hope you don't mind listening to this; I'll try to be brief.