"Didn't I tell you not to touch that?" he thundered, all the stored-up anger of weeks coming to the surface, and, springing forward, he caught her by the shoulder, gave her a furious shake, and pushed her from him with all his strength. With a frightened scream she fell backwards, striking her head against the edge of the half-open door.
"You wicked boy!" cried Bess, greatly shocked; "perhaps you have killed her."
But Helen's cries told that it was not so bad as this. Everybody came running to see what the matter was, and Joanna picked her up and carried her into Aunt Zelie's room, where it was found that a large lump on her head and a bruise on her arm were the worst of her injuries. Bess told how it happened.
"I can't think what ails Carl lately," said Louise.
"He is a mean, hateful boy," sobbed Helen; "I don't care if I did spoil his composition."
Feeling that it would be of no use to talk to her then, Aunt Zelie left her to the tender ministrations of her sisters and Joanna, and went to seek the chief offender.
He was still in the girls' room, standing his ground defiantly.
The moment's fright lest he had hurt Helen badly had passed, and the sight of his composition stirred his anger afresh.
"Is it true that you threw your sister down?" His aunt stood before him with a look in her dark eyes which it was not pleasant to meet.
Carl glanced down, but answered, "Yes, and here is what she did!" holding up the blotted paper.
"Does that excuse your unmanliness, your—you might have killed her, you know. I can't talk to you now, Carl; you'd better go to your room. I can't tell you how disappointed I am."
He never thought of not following her suggestion; indeed, he was glad to get away from those indignant eyes.
"Of course," he muttered to himself, "I am all to blame and nothing is said to Helen about spoiling my work. Boys are always found fault with, but girls can do anything."
Down in his heart he knew this was not true, but he chose to think it. He flung himself into a chair by the window. It was a gloomy, thawing day; the snow, as if aghast at the trouble it had caused, was melting sadly away. There was nothing in the prospect to make him feel cheerful. After awhile he went to work on his composition again, and as he wrote he felt more and more like a martyr. When it was finished he folded it and put it away, and began to think it must be near lunch-time. With the door closed, there in the third story he could not hear the bell; however, he would not go down; if they wanted him they might send for him. By two o'clock he was feeling deeply injured. Nobody cared whether he starved or not. Then he remembered that Uncle William was to take them to see Hermann that afternoon. By this time they must have gone without him. Carl threw himself on the bed and shed some tears of vexation and disappointment. All the while something was whispering to him that he deserved to be unhappy. The afternoon dragged slowly; he grew very hungry, and at last saying to himself that he would go and get some biscuit, and "Tom Sawyer," one of his favorite books, he went softly downstairs.
The house was so quiet that the sight of Mr. Smith asleep on a hall chair was a positive relief. After visiting the pantry he went to the library for his book. The door was half open, and when he reached it he suddenly stopped, for there was Aunt Zelie by the table with her head bowed on her arms. Evidently she had not heard him, and Carl almost held his breath. He thought she was crying; he was not sure, but certainly she was unhappy. It came to him in that moment, as it never had before, how tender and sweet and helpful she was. She had sorrow of her own, he knew, and who was there to comfort her as she comforted others? And he had disappointed her—had behaved shamefully. As he stood there it seemed to him that he must have been crazy. He could not endure the sight of that sorrowful figure, and turning to go away, instead; the next minute he was kneeling beside her saying, "Aunt Zelie, I am so sorry."
She was startled, for she had not heard him; but she turned and put her arms around him for a moment, without speaking.
"Aunt Zelie, I know how contemptible I am; you ought not to have anything to do with me," Carl exclaimed in a great burst of contrition. She took his hand and held it fast as she answered, "I can't throw stones at you, dear, but perhaps I can help you to learn the lesson I have had to learn many times."
He never forgot that afternoon. How he sat beside her with his head on her shoulder, while she talked to him as she had never talked before. How his face glowed with mingled shame and pride as she said that, of all the children, he was, if possible, the dearest to her.
"But I have more fear for you than for the others. I long to have you grow up a strong, true man—master of yourself in every sense. If you do not, I shall feel that in some way it is my fault."
"I will try to be what you want me to be—like Uncle Carl—if I can; and nobody in the world could help me as you do."
"I shall not leave you till you leave me," Aunt Zelie said, smiling rather wistfully at the tall boy.
"That will be never, and I will always take care of you," answered Carl, laying his cheek against her hand. He told her about the trouble at school too, finding it a relief to confess everything and she listened gravely.
"For a little misunderstanding like this, a little hateful pride, pleasant friendships are given up, and the good times we expected to have in the club this winter! Have my Good Neighbors forgotten their motto already?"
"I'm afraid so," Carl said, thinking how hard it would be to make things right again.
"Have you told Father?" he asked.
"No, he did not come to lunch."
"Then I shall have to tell him," with a sigh.
This was not an easy thing to do. That they were the best of companions and friends made it all the harder, for he felt he had forfeited the right to this good-fellowship.
Carl told his story with such evident shame and repentance that, though he listened with a grave face, Mr. Hazeltine could not find it in his heart to be very severe.
"I did not think," he said, "that my only son could be guilty of such a cruel and ungentlemanly act."
Carl winced at this.
"You see," his father continued, laying his hand on his shoulder, "I always had such a tender feeling for my little sister that it is hard for me to understand how you could be so unkind."
It was Carl's private opinion that Aunt Zelie could never have been so trying as Helen, but he did not say so. They had a serious talk, and for a week after, Carl was seen only at the table, for he and his father decided that as he had sinned against the happiness of the family, he must forfeit the privileges of the family life for a while.
Everybody was glad when the week was over, Carl most of all.
No one else knew how lonely those evenings were, spent in his room, or how he longed to join the group around the library fire.
Helen was deeply impressed by her brother's humble apology, and decided that after all she wasn't glad she had spoiled his composition, but very sorry she had been so meddlesome.
Carl lost no time in starting out to find Ikey and make friends.
It was on Monday morning, and they met just outside the gate.
"Hello!" said Carl.
"Hello!" replied Ikey.
"Know your Latin?"
"Hope so, I have studied it a lot," and they walked down street together as if nothing had happened.
"Where were you going this morning when I met you?" Carl asked when his neighbor came in, in the old way, with his books that afternoon.
"I was coming over for you. I was tired of it."
"Were you? Why, I was going for you!"
DORA'S BRIGHT IDEA.
One thing troubled Carl. It was that Dora knew all about it. She came to lunch that dreadful Saturday to go with the others to see Hermann, and of course Helen's bruises and his own absence had to be accounted for.
On his way home from school one morning he saw her and her mother coming towards him on the other side of the street. When they were within speaking distance, Mrs. Warner bowed, but Dora looked in another direction as if she wished not to see him.
Carl was hurt and mortified, for he was sure he knew the reason.
"I don't care, it is mean to be so hard on a fellow. Aunt Zelie isn't," he said to himself.
He did care, however, and was silent and gloomy at lunch. As he left the room on his way upstairs to study he heard Bess say, "Dora had such an accident to-day." But he did not wait to hear what it was.
An hour later, having an errand to do up town, he went off alone instead of asking Ikey to go with him as usual.
The clear, cold air was making him cheerful in spite of himself, when, as he drew near home after a long walk, he saw two familiar figures in front of him. His spirits immediately fell, for they were Ikey and Dora chatting together most sociably. Carl suddenly felt jealous.
He knew they were great friends, and he never had dreamed of objecting till now that he was himself out of favor. He began to walk slowly that he might not overtake them, his pride keeping him from turning back and going home some other way.
They paused a moment when they reached the corner; then Ikey, with his politest bow, left her and crossed the street. Dora stood waiting. Carl advanced, trying to look unconscious and indifferent.
Her smile changed to a puzzled look, and then became positive astonishment when he was passing without a word.
Always straightforward, she exclaimed, "Why, Carl! Aren't you going to speak to me? I am on my way to your house."
"I thought you would not care to speak to me, you didn't this morning," he answered somewhat loftily.
"Not speak to you? I don't know what you mean."
"You would not this morning," he persisted.
"Oh, I know now! How absurd! Didn't the girls tell you about my glasses getting broken? It must have been when I was going to have them mended. You know I am so near-sighted I can't see across the street without them."
Carl looked rather foolish. Dora had worn glasses only a short time, and he had not noticed their absence.
"You knew I would not do such a thing; how could you be so silly?" She was decidedly vexed with him.
"I thought perhaps you really did not care to have anything to do with me after—"
"You thought I would stop speaking to you for that!" she exclaimed. "Why Bess told me how sorry you were, and at any rate it would have been acting as if I never did wrong myself."
"You wouldn't do anything so horrid."
"I was a little surprised at you," Dora, acknowledged, "but it is so disagreeable not to be friends with people. I am glad you and Ikey have made up; he was telling me about it."
By this time they had reached the gate, and Carl said, "I don't think the girls are at home; they were going out with Aunt Zelie, but you might come in and wait, if you don't mind talking to me while I look over some books for father."
"I don't mind talking to you," she answered, laughing, "but I can't stay long. I want 'Water Babies.' Louise said I could have it to read."
"Come in, then, and I'll find it for you."
They went up to the star chamber together, and Dora sat down in the west window, where a little wintry sunshine still lingered, while Carl looked for the book.
"I can't see how you could be such a goose as to think I would not speak to you," she said presently.
"I suppose I knew I deserved it." Carl laid "Water Babies" on her lap, and, kneeling on the floor with his elbows on the window-sill and his chin in his hands, looked thoughtfully out at the bare branches of the maples.
"I'll tell you what it is," he said after a minute's silence, "Aunt Zelie is a trump."
"I know that, only I'd call her a prettier name," said Dora, smiling.
"You can't know really till you have been very had. She was so good to me. It makes a fellow feel awfully when somebody like her cares a lot for him and he goes and disappoints her."
"But you won't again, I'm sure."
"You see," Carl went on, "she cares for me particularly because I am named for Uncle Carl. Has Bess or Louise ever told you about him?"
Dora shook her head.
"He was Mamma's brother, you know, and he was splendid. I thought there was nobody like him when I was a little fellow. He used to be here a great deal, and we were glad when he married Aunt Zelie because we were so fond of them both. The only thing we did not like about it was that Aunt Zelie went away to live, but they came to see us very often. Then Uncle Carl died. He was skating with some people, and a friend of his went where the ice wouldn't hold, and broke through. Nobody knew just what to do, it was so hard to get to him on the broken ice, and the man couldn't swim. Uncle Carl saw that he would drown before help came, so he went right into the freezing water and held up his head till they brought ropes."
"He wasn't drowned, was he?" Dora asked in an awestruck voice.
"No, but he was in the water so long that it made him ill. The other man got well. It happened not long before Mamma died. Then, you know, Aunt Zelie came back to us."
"You must be glad you are named for him."
"Yes, I am, only I am not good enough. I am afraid I shall never do anything brave like that."
"I think, perhaps, little things have to come first," said Dora wisely, adding, "He was helping, wasn't he?"
"I had not thought of that," said Carl.
As she walked home an idea came into Dora's head, which interested her so much that "Water Babies" lay unopened on her lap for half an hour that night. Next day she confided it to Bess and Louise, who highly approved.
"Why, Dora, you are very clever. When you are grown up you will be as good at thinking of things as Aunt Zelie," said Bess.
"You think of pretty good things yourself, Bess," added Louise.
"And so do you, for you first thought of trying to help the harp man," said Dora merrily.
"The G.N. Club meets to-night, and we'll ask the boys to let us in. You come over to dinner," Louise suggested.
"They won't do it," said her sister positively.
"Oh, perhaps they will if we are very polite; we will try."
The weekly meetings of the G.N. Club had begun again with great interest. No one enjoyed them more than Aunt Zelie, and nothing was allowed to interfere with this engagement with the boys if she could help it. However, it happened this evening that some old friends of the family who were passing through the city on their way south called, and it was impossible to excuse herself, so the boys were left to their own devices.
Though the star chamber looked as cheerful as usual and Carl did his best as host, it was not quite the same without her.
Jim recalled with wonder that first evening when he hoped she would not come. The rehearsals for the harp man's benefit had made them all feel very well acquainted with her and one another.
They were beginning work on some screens for the Children's Hospital when there came a knock at the door. Ikey opened it and Carie walked in.
"I came to bring you a letter," she announced, handing Carl a folded paper, and shyly surveying the rest of the company from behind him.
He read it aloud.
To the G.N.C.:
We should like to come to your meeting this evening, if you will let us. We have a splendid plan to tell you. Dora thought of it. Send reply by bearer.
"Shall we let them come?" he asked.
"Of course," said Jim, and as nobody was actively opposed, Carl scribbled, "Come on," on the back of their elegant note.
Within five minutes the girls were established in their midst, quite as if they belonged there.
When the screens were duly admired and their offers of help politely declined, Bess explained the object of their visit.
"We think it would be nice, now that we haven't secrets any more, and because you helped us with the harp man's benefit, for our clubs to be friends and meet together sometimes. Dora has thought of a beautiful plan. Won't you tell about it yourself, Dora?"
"It is nothing very great," she began modestly. "You know in the days of chivalry how all the knights belonged always to some order,—like the Knights Templars in 'Ivanhoe,'—and perhaps there are some now; I don't know."
"There is the Independent Order of Odd Fellows," suggested Will, and Carl added, "Joanna's young man belongs to the Ancient Order of something."
"Then I don't see why we shouldn't have one," Dora went on, laughing. "My idea was to unite our two clubs in an order, and call it the Order of the Big Front Door. We both have the same motto and are trying to help, so it would not be anything really new, except that we could have a badge to remind us, and have meetings together sometimes. The story of the Magic Door put it into my head."
"Good for you, Dora! I'm for it!" cried Ikey.
The funny name took the boys' fancy, and the plan of having joint meetings was not altogether objectionable. The story of the Magic Door had to be explained to some of them, and while Bess was doing this Aunt Zelie came in. She was surprised and delighted to see the visitors, and when the new project was told again for her benefit, she thought it a very good one.
"I was trying myself to think of some way of keeping our motto in mind, and now you must let me furnish the badges. The name, Order of the Big Front Door, has given me an idea about them."
"What, Aunt Zelie?" asked Louise. "I am sure it is lovely."
Her aunt only laughed, and would not tell.
"Just as soon as I can get them," she said, "I'll call a meeting of the Order."
"I wonder what they are going to do this afternoon," said little John Armstrong.
He sat in his usual place in the bay-window, with his drawing materials and his books beside him, but the doings of certain girls and boys who constantly passed to and fro interested him more than any story book.
John was twelve years old and had never had a friend of his own age. That sad disease paralysis laid its hand upon him when he was only a baby, so instead of going to school, and running and playing like other children, he sat in a wheeled chair and looked on.
He was not exactly unhappy, for he had a quick, bright mind, and a love of knowledge which made his lessons a pleasure. Everything that love could suggest was lavished upon him by his father and mother, but they did not guess how he longed for the companionship of other children.
They feared the contrast between himself and them would only make him miserable. So in the eighteen months since Dr. Armstrong had been preaching in the church on the corner, John had hardly spoken to a child. The M.Ks. and the G.Ns. never dreamed how eagerly they were watched that winter. Some of them seeing him always at the window fell into the way of nodding to him as they passed.
He knew their names from hearing them call each other, and his favorites were Louise, Ikey, and Jim.
On this particular Saturday afternoon John felt that something unusual was going on. Dora passed with her work-bag, to be met at the Hazeltines' gate by Bess and Louise, and they seemed to have something very interesting to talk about as they crossed the street together.
A moment later Elsie and Constance went up the Brown house walk. This happened every Saturday, but when nearly an hour had gone by Jim Carter appeared. His whistle brought Ikey, and then Carl and Aleck, and they stood talking almost in front of John's window. How he did wish he could hear what they said! Presently they were joined by Will and Fred, and finally by Mrs. Howard, who had a package. Each of the boys apparently offered to carry this for her, but she declined. Then they, too, crossed the street and disappeared within the Brown house.
This was all John saw, except that Louise and Ikey came and sat in the window and seemed to be laughing, but that was not unusual.
It was the first meeting of the Order of the Big Front Door, that was being held at Miss Brown's this afternoon.
As the M.Ks. were still at work on Aunt Sallie's afghan, their meeting was put at half-past two in order to give them an hour and still leave time for the other. When this had passed the knitting was put away and more chairs brought in, for the Brown house sitting-room was not a spacious apartment, and twelve visitors quite filled it.
Much excitement was caused by the box which Aunt Zelie carried, for of course it held the long-expected badges.
"It is good of you to meet here," said Miss Brown, giving the G.Ns. a cordial welcome.
"It is good of you to let us," replied Mrs. Howard. "You belong to the new Order, and must have your badge as well as the rest of us. And now the meeting will please be in order, especially the members on the window-sill.
"The first business before us is the election of a President. The Tellers will please distribute the ballots."
This office was performed by Elsie and Aleck, who also collected and counted the votes, and announced the election of Will Archer. In the same way Bess was made Secretary and Ikey Treasurer. It was decided that the G.Ns. would give up their club once a month for the meeting of the Order, when reports from both clubs would be made. When this business was finished Aunt Zelie took up her box, saying, "The next thing is the distribution of badges; but before I take them out I want to say a word."
"Hear! Hear!" murmured Carl.
"No preaching!" begged Aleck.
"Do, Mrs. Howard, he needs it," said Dora.
"Yes, I am going to preach a little. I want you to remember that these badges are to keep our motto before you. They mean that you promise to be helpers, and that is something more than getting up entertainments as we did for the harp man. It means being good-tempered and kind at home and in school, doing little thoughtful things for people. You remember in the story of the Magic Door it was because they forgot this that the lock grew rusty and useless, so it seemed to me that the most appropriate badge would be this." As she spoke she took from the box a tiny silver key. On close inspection it proved to be a pin so prettily and ingeniously made that anybody might be pleased to wear it. On one side was engraved a part of their motto—"They Helped"—and on the other, the letters O.B.F.D.
So great was the enthusiasm that all order went to the winds.
"Aren't they lovely?" "Tiptop!" "Dandy!" "Too pretty for anything!"
And no one was more pleased than Miss Brown.
"I am afraid I can never be half so good to my neighbors as they are to me," she said, "but I'll try."
"As if you were not the nicest neighbor we ever had!" cried Louise.
"Let's give Mrs. Howard a vote of thanks," proposed Jim.
Ikey looked at him with envy. Jim always thought of the right thing.
"We ought to thank Dora too, for it was her idea," said Carl as the clapping subsided.
"I did not dream of anything so nice," said Dora, patting her little key.
"I am glad you are pleased, and I hope they will open some rusty locks," said Aunt Zelie.
"And now, if you please, we'll adjourn into the dining-room," said Miss Brown. "This is a very special occasion, you know," she added, in reply to a grave shake of the head from Mrs. Howard.
They drank success to the new Order in chocolate, and munched crisp little sugar cakes which were cleverly twisted into M's and K's. Mary had long ago become a friend of the children, and this was her contribution to the occasion.
"There is something I should like to suggest," their hostess said as Carl passed the peppermints. "I feel an interest in people who, like myself, can't get about easily, and I have noticed that little lame boy over the way, and I wonder if these silver keys could not open a door of pleasure for him."
"Will suggested it long ago, but our Christmas work put it out of our thoughts," Mrs. Howard replied.
"Suppose we go now and take him some M.Ks.," Louise said merrily.
"We don't know him," objected Elsie.
"Let Louise and Ikey go, and I will put up some cakes and peppermints for him," said Miss Brown.
Ikey, though shy when left to himself, was always willing to follow Louise, and they went off together in high spirits, not in the least subdued by Aunt Zelie's remark that she hardly thought she would care for a visit from two such geese.
John was still at his window waiting for the meeting to be over, and laughed at the sight of Louise chasing Ikey around the garden. They seemed to be disputing over something that was done up in a napkin. It ended by the former getting possession, and then, still laughing, they came out of the gate and crossed the street.
John's heart almost stopped beating for a second. Could they be coming to see him? He felt both glad and frightened when the maid announced that some children wanted to see him, but he told her gravely to ask them up. Louise's friendliness was irresistible, and when she came straight to his side holding out her hand and saying, "How do you do, John? We have been having a meeting at Miss Brown's, and she has sent you some sugar cakes. Ikey and I have brought them," John forgot his shyness and felt that she was an old acquaintance. He could not think of much to say, but he smiled cordially at them.
When the cakes were undone it was of course necessary to explain the meaning of so many M's and K's, and this led to an account of the other club, and the Order of the Big Front Door. It was like finding the missing pages of a fascinating story.
"And that is what you were doing this afternoon?" asked John, admiring the little keys. "I did so wonder what was going on when I saw the boys go in."
"I didn't know you were watching us," said Ikey.
John's face flushed as he replied, "I hope you do not mind. I often do."
Mind! Of course they did not!
The visit was a decided success. When Mrs. Armstrong came hurrying in, feeling that she had left John a long time alone, she found him with very bright eyes, eating sugar cakes.
This was only the beginning; it soon became an established thing for one or two of the Order to spend an afternoon each week with the lame boy; and at such times the pleasure was by no means all on one side.
"I believe I'll go to see little John this afternoon," said Louise.
"You can take him the last 'St. Nicholas' if you do. I'd rather have you go there than to Dora's or Elsie's, for then I shall not wish so much that I could go with you," answered Bess, who was to spend the afternoon at the dentist's.
Louise found the magazine and then walked as far an the Armstrongs' gate with her sister and Joanna.
"Good-by," she said; "I hope Dr. Atmore won't hurt you."
Several hours later Bess entered the room where Mrs. Howard was taking off her wraps, and asked, "Do you know where Louise is, Aunt Zelie?"
"Why, no, I have only just come in; can't you find her?"
"No, Auntie, and I have looked everywhere."
"Surely she must be in the house; it is nearly dark. Did you have your tooth attended to?"
Bess forgot everything else in the interest of relating her afternoon's experience, but when the story was finished she began again to wonder what had become of Louise.
"I think Carl has just come in—I hear his whistle; perhaps she is with him," said Aunt Zelie. But upon inquiry he had not seen her since lunch.
"And you have looked everywhere? In the star chamber, and the library, and—"
"Yes, and I have asked Sukey and James, and they have not seen her," Bess replied.
"It is a little strange, for she knows I do not like to have her out late. She was going to John's, wasn't she?"
"I know she went there, for she walked as far as the gate with me. Perhaps some of the boys are there and will bring her home," said Bess.
"We will wait a quarter of an hour, and if she does not come I'll send over to the Armstrongs'," said Mrs. Howard.
The minutes slipped away, but no Louise; and Joanna, who was sent in search of her, returned with the news that she had left there about four o'clock.
"Oh, dear! She must be lost!" Bess exclaimed.
"Louise get lost! Nonsense! She could find her way anywhere," said Carl.
"I hardly think she can be lost, but I am worried about her. Joanna, you'd better go to Mrs. Warner's, and, Carl, suppose you run over to Miss Brown's, she may be there," and Aunt Zelie walked to the window and looked out into the darkness. "It is beginning to snow," she said.
Neither Miss Brown nor the Warners had seen Louise, nor had she been heard of at the Morrises', and they were trying to think what to do next when Mr. Hazeltine came in.
"Father, she must be lost, don't you think so?" asked Bess, when matters were explained to him.
"I don't know what to think," he answered. "Louise is not the kind of a child to get lost easily."
"So I say," added Carl.
"Then somebody has stolen her like Charlie Ross, and I'll never see her again."
"It is too soon to despair, dearie," said Aunt Zelie, as Bess looked ready to cry.
"Suppose we have some dinner, and then if we hear nothing in the meantime, I'll go to the Armstrongs' and try to find a clue to start with," said Mr. Hazeltine.
It was not a cheerful meal, in spite of Aunt Zelie's effort to hide her anxiety and talk of other things. It seemed as if Louise's bright face must appear each minute; but dinner was over and no word of her.
The snow was falling fast when Carl and his father started out. Little John could tell them nothing more than that Louise had been there for an hour, and then said she must go, as there was something she wanted to do. He watched her out of the gate and thought she went home.
"It is a great puzzle," said Carl when they were on the street again.
"It is indeed," his father replied, looking up and down irresolutely.
"Are you worried? What do you think can have happened to her?"
"I don't know, my son; yes, I am very much worried. I wish William was not away from home. I think, perhaps, the best thing I can do is to see Roberts." Roberts was a detective, and Carl began to feel that the situation was serious.
There was nothing for Aunt Zelie and Bess to do that long evening but wait and try to be patient. Mr. Hazeltine promised to telephone the moment he discovered the least clue to her whereabouts.
And where was Louise?
While she and John were playing checkers she overheard Mr. Armstrong talking to his wife about a book which he evidently was very anxious to have, and which he seemed unable to find either at the library or the bookstores.
At the first mention of the title Louise was sure she had seen it on their own library table at home, and remembered hearing her father and uncle discuss it. "I know father will lend it to him," she thought, and was about to say so to Mr. Armstrong, when she recollected that Uncle William had borrowed it.
"I am sure he has finished it," she thought, "and at any rate he has gone to Chicago. I'll go home and ask Aunt Zelie to let me get it." Eager to do this kindness, she ran off as soon as the game was finished.
But everybody was out. James was at work in the cellar; Mandy so occupied with her pantry shelves that she did not know when Louise passed through the kitchen; Sukey had taken Helen and Carie for a walk, and Aunt Zelie was at a lecture. What should she do?
She went up to the star chamber, hoping to find Carl and coax him to go with her, but he was not there. She wanted very much to get that book for Mr. Armstrong. He wished to make use of it in a lecture he expected to give on Monday night, so it was important that he should have it as soon as possible. She knew the way to Uncle William's perfectly, but she and Bess never went so far by themselves.
"I can go all the way on the cars," she said to herself. "Nothing could happen to me, and I can't ask Aunt Zelie when she isn't here." Trying to satisfy her conscience in this way, she found her pocket-book and started out. It happened that she saw nobody she knew as she waited on the corner for the car, feeling very independent.
The afternoon was cold and cloudy, and the ride seemed longer than usual.
"I wish I had asked Dora to come with me," she thought; "I shall have to hurry to get hack before dark."
"I want to go to the library just a minute, Bruce," she said to the man who opened the door.
He looked somewhat surprised to see her alone, but made no comment, only replying, "I am afraid it is rather cold there; we are having the furnace cleaned to-day."
"I only want to get a book. I'm not going to stay. And you needn't wait, Bruce. I can let myself out," she said.
The library was at the end of the hall, almost opposite the front door, but somewhat cut off from the rest of the house, as it communicated with no other room.
As Louise entered she pushed the door to behind her. Yes, there was the volume she wanted on the table. Taking it up and turning to go, her eyes fell on the corner where Uncle William kept his story books—books intended for his young guests, which he very much enjoyed reading himself sometimes, and to which he was constantly adding. As there seemed to be some new ones, Louise sat down to examine them, and before she knew it became absorbed. When at length she looked up it was beginning to grow dark.
"Dear me! what will Aunt Zelie say? I must hurry," she exclaimed, and running to the door she stopped in bewilderment, for there wasn't any knob, and yet it was securely latched. She was very much puzzled. For a few minutes it seemed rather funny to be fastened up in Uncle William's library, but when all her attempts to open the door failed it did not seem so much like a joke. She tried pounding on it, but any noise such small hands might make could not be heard twenty feet away. Louise soon realized this; the servants she knew were on the other side of the house and might not come near the library till the next day. She thought of the windows, and tried them one after another, standing on tiptoe on the sill, but she could not move the fastenings. The one that faced the street was too far back for any possibility of attracting the attention of passers-by.
"What shall I do? They won't know what has become of me," she said. She wondered if Bruce would not come to turn on the light in the hall, only to be disappointed again, for when she peeped through the keyhole it was already burning. Again and again she tried to move the latch with a pen-knife, and then with a paper-cutter, but without success.
Then she sat down to think. There was nothing to do but wait. She was a brave little person, but as she saw how dark it was growing and thought of home with all its light and cheer she could not keep the tears out of her eyes.
How foolish she had been, and naughty, too! What right had she to the book? She ought to have asked her father's permission before she thought of going for it. This was all quite clear now.
The room was cold, and outside the wind whistled about the house. The snow had begun to fall so thickly that when she went to the window she could not see the street. It was some comfort to turn on the electric light, but it did not keep her from being cold and tired and hungry. The clock said a quarter past six; in a few minutes more they would be eating dinner at home. Somebody must come; she couldn't stay there all night.
She went to the door again and called "Bruce! Bruce!" till she was tired. Slowly the hands of the clock moved on: seven; half-past; eight. Her excited imagination began to bring to her mind all the stories of burglars she had ever heard. Suppose some one should come to rob the house, knowing the family were away! She was afraid to take her eyes off the door, and much as she longed for release she almost dreaded to see it open. She sat on the floor, pulling a great bear-skin rug over her, and by and by she fell asleep with her head on a chair. Then she dreamed that she was out in a sleigh in a furious snow-storm. Carl was with her and Bruce was driving, and they were chased by wolves. (This was probably suggested by the story she had been reading, which was one of Russian adventure.) The wolves gained upon them, though they seemed to be going like the wind; she felt their hot breath on her face as they climbed over the back of the sleigh. Just as she was being dragged out she thought Carl cried, "There goes Louise!" Then she opened her eyes to find herself on the library floor, with Mr. Caruth and Bruce standing over her, and Dan, the big mastiff, trying to lick her face. The clock on the mantel said half-past ten.
About half an hour earlier Mr. Caruth, going home on a street-car, met an acquaintance who remarked that he had just seen Mr. Hazeltine, who was much worried over the disappearance of his little girl. His informer did not know which of the children it was, or any particulars, and after riding another block Mr. Caruth rang the bell and got off, intending to go hack to the Hazeltines and learn the truth of the matter.
On his way to take the down-town car he passed Mr. William Hazeltine's house. He noticed that only a dim light burned in the hall, and recalled the fact that they were out of town, but happening to glance in the direction of the library he was surprised to see it brilliantly illuminated. Hesitating for a moment, he turned and went up the steps. "I'll take occasion to ask Bruce if he knows anything about one of the children getting lost," he said to himself.
After some minutes the door was opened by the sleepy-looking man, who was not disposed to be quite amiable. In reply to Mr. Caruth's question he said he knew nothing about it.
"Well, see here, Bruce, what does that light in the library mean? Mr. and Mrs. Hazeltine are both away, aren't they?"
The man looked at him in surprise, and said there wasn't any light in the library.
"Just come out here, then, and tell me what you call this," and Mr. Caruth led the way to the corner of the house.
"I haven't been near the library since morning, sir," the astonished man exclaimed.
"How about the other servants?"
"They are all away but the cook, and she went to bed an hour ago. There was a man here attending to some locks, but he left about noon."
"It can't be burglars, for they wouldn't leave the blinds open. We must look into this," said Mr. Caruth, as they entered the house.
The dog had followed Bruce to the door, and under his protection they entered the library.
A more unexpected sight could hardly have met their gaze—Louise fast asleep on the floor, with the bear-skin partly covering her!
Dan's cold nose aroused her, and she started up with wide-open, bewildered eyes.
"Don't be frightened, it is only Dan," said Mr. Caruth, lifting her into a chair. "Get wide awake and then tell us why you are spending the night here. I am afraid from what I hear that they are worried about you at home."
"I'm awake now and I must go. You will take me, won't you?" said Louise, rising and pushing back her hair, and looking about for her hat. "I did not mean to stay here," she added, "but I couldn't get out—there isn't any knob on the door."
Bruce, who had been standing open-mouthed, turned at this to examine the door, and sure enough there was a knob on the outside, but not on the inside. He could not explain why it had been left so; he only knew that the man who came to make some change in the door-knobs had said that something was wrong and he could not finish the work till the next day.
A long ring at the hell startled Mrs. Howard, and aroused Bess from a troubled doze on the sofa. They ran into the hall just as Joanna, who was on the watch, opened the door with a scream of delight.
"Louise! Louise! Where have you been? Where did you find her, Mr. Caruth?" Bess laughed and cried at the same time, and Aunt Zelie was almost as bad. Louise was hugged and kissed and asked the same questions over and over again, because it was impossible to take in anything more than the glad fact that she was found.
In the midst of it Carl rushed in, exclaiming, "We can't find a trace of her, and Roberts says—"
"The next time you want a detective you'd better employ me," remarked Mr. Caruth calmly.
SOMETHING ELSE HAPPENS.
Louise's adventure resulted in a cold that came near being pneumonia, and kept her housed for more than a week. As she paid so dearly for her thoughtlessness, no one had the heart to scold her; indeed, she received an unusual amount of petting.
Mr. Hazeltine did suggest that the next time she wished to help one of her neighbors it might be as well to count the cost, and her meek "Yes, Father," showed that she saw her mistake.
"I wonder what will happen next," said Carl one day, a week later, speaking from the depths of the wardrobe, where he was rummaging.
"Nothing, I hope," remarked Bess, who sat in the window with Louise, supervising a new mansion for the Carletons.
"Not even something nice?" asked her brother.
"Nothing really nice has happened since Aunt Zelie gave us our silver keys," said Louise. "There is the postman; I am going to see if he has anything for us," and putting aside her papers she ran downstairs.
She and the postman were great friends, and always had some merry words to exchange when they met.
"I treat you vell to-day," said the cheery Dutchman; "I bring you two letter."
"Thank you, but they aren't for me. They are for my aunt. You must bring me one for myself."
"Dot is too bad, I vill haf one for you next time." He trotted off, and Louise carried the letters in and laid them on the library table, as Aunt Zelie was not at home, and then went back to her drawing. Just before dark Mrs. Howard came in, bringing Cousin Helen with her to spend the night. The children were delighted at this, for it meant a merry evening if nobody came to call. The one provoking thing about Cousin Helen was that she had so many friends.
Bess was charmed to discover that it was beginning to rain.
"Now we can sit around the fire after dinner and tell stories," she said, putting away her papers in an old checker-board.
Their cousin, like their aunt, was generally willing to do what the children wished, so they made a sociable group in the library after dinner.
"Let's play something first," suggested Miss Hazeltine, taking possession of the sleepy-hollow chair.
"'I Have a Thought,'" Aunt Zelie proposed; "little Helen likes that."
"I have a thought that rhymes with deep," announced Carl.
"Is it what Cousin Helen will do if she sits in that chair?" asked Bess.
"Thank you, miss, I am not such a sleepy-head as you think," said her cousin, with pretended indignation.
It was not till some one had a thought rhyming with "better" that Louise was reminded of the letters the postman left.
"There are two, Auntie," she said, bringing them; "one is from Father."
"Yes, just a note to say he will be at home to-morrow at three. I don't know this writing," opening the other.
"Why, it is from Miss Lyons, Aunt Mary's companion!" she exclaimed, looking at the signature.
"You are frowning, Aunt Zelie," remarked Carl.
"Don't keep us in suspense, Zelie. Is there anything wrong?" asked her cousin.
"Nothing really serious. Aunt Mary fell and broke her ankle, and will have to stay in bed for several weeks; but the trouble is Miss Lyons's brother is very ill and she has to go to him."
"So that is it? And she wants some one to take her place for a while, I suppose. I'd go in a minute if Father and Mother were not away."
"Of course you could not go, Helen. I am the one. Frank will be at home, and Sukey is here to take care of the children. I wish I had had this sooner; I must telegraph to Miss Lyons that I will take the nine o'clock train to-morrow."
While she was speaking the children were silent from astonishment, but a wail arose presently.
"Why can't Aunt Mary take care of herself?"
"What shall we do without you?"
"Don't go, please don't go!"
"Children, I must; think of poor Miss Lyons."
"If you put on such long faces when she is only going sixty miles away for a few weeks, what would you do if she should go away to live?" asked Cousin Helen.
"But she never will do that, for she has promised," said Carl confidently.
Bess's face suddenly brightened. "It will be helping, to let her go, won't it?"
"I suppose so," sighed Louise, "but it is such a dreadful thing."
"Oh, no, not dreadful at all!" and Aunt Zelie laughed at the doleful faces. "You can help, all of you, by being cheerful. And think what nice letters you can write me!"
"What will the club do?" Carl demanded.
"Conduct itself with propriety, to be sure; and now I must pack my trunk."
"Think of your wishing that something would happen!" said Bess reproachfully to her brother as they went upstairs.
It was very forlorn next morning to say good-by, knowing that when they came from school Aunt Zelie would not be there; but they remembered their promise and tried to be cheerful. How the rest of the day passed Bess told in a letter written that evening:
DEAR AUNT ZELIE: You have been gone ten hours. Carl counted it up, and we miss you very much. Father has come home, so that is one comfort. He is reading the paper now. It was lonely at lunch with only us, but Nannie came over with a note from Miss Brown asking us to come and take five o'clock tea, Carie and all. We had a good time. Miss Brown told stories and showed us some funny old things that belonged to her aunt. There was some jewelry that Louise and I would like to have to play Queen Mary in. Carl liked an old "Pilgrim's Progress" that was printed more than a hundred years ago, but Ikey said he would rather have a new one.
Carie was good as could be, and we had tea out of the little cups. We are grateful to Miss Brown. I think she was being a good neighbor, don't you? Father says it is bedtime, so good-night, dear Aunt Zelie.
From your loving nieces,
BESS and LOUISE.
Several days later she received one from Carl:
DEAR AUNT ZELIE: I have not written before because there was nothing of interest to tell you. We are getting on very well, though I think Joanna is too bossy, and mammy is nearly as bad. But we have been pretty good on the whole. Cousin Helen was not going to let Aleck stay Friday night, for fear he would cut up, but Father said, "Nonsense!" so he came. We had a better time at the club than we expected. The boys were dreadfully sorry you were not there. Our screens are coming on finely, though Ikey pasted a dragon on upside-down. Will read the last chapter of "The Talisman" aloud while we worked. Then Father came up and was as jolly as could be. He advised us to read the "Life of Washington" next, and we decided to begin it next week. Father is coming up again if he can. The O.B.F.D. will meet next week, so we can't have the club; I forgot. Some of us will write you about it. I hope Miss Lyons's brother will soon be well and Aunt Mary too. Good-by,
Your devoted nephew,
WILLIAM CARLETON HAZELTINE.
A week or two later Aunt Zelie received two long letters in the same envelope, from her nieces:
DEAR AUNTIE: We have so much to tell you that we are going to divide it between us. Aunt Marcia has just been here and has asked Father to let Helen go with her to Florida. Isn't that lovely? Uncle William said he wished he could take us all, but I don't believe Aunt Marcia does. Louise and I wish we could go. Aleck wants Helen to bring him an alligator. Another thing we have to tell you is that Louise went to hear Patti sing, with Mr. Caruth. He was going to take Cousin Helen, but she was sick, so he came and asked Louise if she would go instead. Aunt Marcia said it was a great compliment to such a little girl, and that she must wear her white silk dress. I couldn't help wanting to go, because we always go together, and she was sorry too. Mr. Caruth brought her some flowers just as if she was a young lady, and I heard him tell Father she was a beautiful child. She had a lovely time, but she was sleepy next day. Now Louise is going to tell you about the meeting of the Order.
Your devoted niece,
DARLING AUNT ZELIE: Bess says I must tell you about the O.B.F.D. It met yesterday afternoon. We trimmed the star chamber with our flags, and Carl cut some big letters out of gilt paper,—O.B.F.D.'s I mean,—and put them on the wall. Everybody came, and we had a nice time. Carl made a speech of welcome; and Jim played on the banjo, and then we had reports. We each wrote on a piece of paper how we were trying to help, and Will read them. We didn't put our names, because Bess said it would seem as if we were proud of ourselves. Connie said some poetry and Aleck sang a funny song. Ikey and Will both had to pay fines. We are each going to pay ten cents a month and give the money to the Children's Hospital. When we thought it was all over Jim got up and said he had a present for us, and what do you think it was? Our motto painted in colors. Father says it is illuminated, and little John did it. Jim had it framed. We hung it on the wall, and we think perhaps we will ask John to belong to the Order. I liked Patti very much, but I wished Bess could go.
With a great many kisses and lots of love,
AUNT SUKEY'S STORY.
"It is a whole month since Aunt Zelie went away, and nearly a week since we had a letter. I wonder if Miss Lyons's brother is not well yet;" Bess sighed, for time was beginning to drag.
"Suppose Miss Lyons couldn't go back at all, would your aunt have to stay?" asked Dora, who had come in to spend the afternoon.
"Dear, no! Aunt Mary would have to get another companion; Aunt Zelie belongs to us," answered Carl, who sat on the floor showing Carie pictures.
There was one supposed to represent the drowning of Pharaoh and his host which interested her deeply, and her brother made it even more thrilling by singing in an explosive manner one of Sukey's songs:
"Oh! didn't old Pharaoh get drowned— Oh! didn't old Pharaoh got drowned— Oh! DIDN'T old Pharaoh get drowned in the Red sea?"
"Is Carl here?" asked Louise, looking in; "here's Ikey."
"What are you boys going to do this afternoon? Don't you want to play something?" asked Bess.
"No, thanks, we have something else on hand," was the unsatisfactory reply.
"What?" said Louise.
"Never mind; little girls mustn't ask questions," responded Carl paternally, as he and Ikey left the room. A moment later he returned to call through the half-opened door, "I know something I'm not going to tell."
"Never mind, I can get it out of Ikey," responded Louise.
"Unfortunately he doesn't know it," came from the third-story stairs.
"Perhaps Mandy will let us make some candy; let's ask her, and not tell the boys," Louise suggested.
So while Joanna carried Carie off for a walk the others went down to the kitchen.
It was a large, bright room, and it was Mandy's pride to keep it shining. Aunt Sukey sat by one of the windows with the mending basket beside her, and the presiding genius stood at the spotless table rolling out croquettes.
"Mandy, we are so lonely without Auntie! mayn't we make some candy to amuse us?" Louise put on her most coaxing expression.
"The kitchen ain't the place for young ladies to get their dresses dirty in, and their fingers burned," said Sukey severely.
"But we aren't young ladies, mammy, and we will be careful," urged Bess.
"I don't think anyone could get dirty in this kitchen," Dora added in honest admiration.
This compliment pleased Mandy, and furthermore it was her kitchen, so she said good-naturedly, "You can make all the candy you want, so long as you get through before dinner-time."
With this permission the sugar and molasses were soon simmering in a saucepan, sending forth a pleasant fragrance.
When it was well begun Bess sat down by Sukey, saying, "Now tell us a story, mammy."
"Oh, go 'long, I tole you all my stories long ago! You all's getting too big for stories. Looks like it was just yesterday that Miss Zelie was askin', 'Mammy, tell me a story,' same as you."
"Was Auntie pretty when she was a little girl?" asked Bess.
"There never was a child as good-looking from first to last. Louise favors her, and it looks like I forget sometimes that it ain't Miss Zelie; but pretty is as pretty does, that's the truth, and she was pretty in manners as well as face."
"Go on and tell us about her," begged Louise, for though they had heard it all many times there was nothing they liked so well to listen to. Nor was there anything Sukey liked so well to tell, so as she sorted and turned and rolled the stockings in a leisurely way, she began.
The sunshine came in at the window and rested on Louise's bright head and Dora's dark one, as they sat together in the same chair. Bess's seat was an upturned earthen jar, and the same sunlight fell on her small folded hands and on the brown wrinkled ones at work with the stockings.
"Well, you know how Miss Zelie's ma died when she wasn't as big as little Carie, and the last thing she said to me was, 'Sukey, you mind my baby.' Miss Elizabeth always set great store by me, and I 'lowed that freedom or nothin' could take me from old Master's family. It was powerful lonesome in this big house in those days. Your grandpa took your grandma's death mighty hard, and he had to travel a good deal for his health, so Miss Zelie didn't have any one to look after her but Mr. William and me. Mr. Frank, your pa, was away at college. Then Mr. William got married. Miss Marcia is a good woman and kind-hearted, but she ain't any gift at managin' children, and that's the truth. Miss Zelie was a smart, lively child with a temper of her own, and if I do say it she would have had a hard time if it had not been for her old mammy. When she was ten years old Mr. Frank—he had been home from college a year—come to me and says, 'Sukey, I'm goin' to be married.'
"I didn't know whether to be glad or sorry, but I wished him good luck, an' he went back up North for his wife."
"That was Mamma, you know," Louise explained to Dora.
"I remember how Miss Zelie come to me, and says she, 'Mammy, do you think she will love me?'
"About that time Miss Marcia took it into her head to go to Europe. She said something about taking Miss Zelie along, but I up an' tole her that where my child went I went too, an' she 'lowed she didn't want me.
"It was the prettiest kind of a day when they came home, and we was out on the porch watchin' for them. They drove up presently with your grandpa, and Miss Elinor she came up the walk ahead of Mr. Frank, smiling as sweet us could be, an' she says, 'So this is my little sister.' I knew that minute they'd be friends.
"Your ma was dreadful fond of children, and she made a great pet of Miss Zelie, and she was as happy as a bird."
"Isn't it interesting to think of Aunt Zelie being a little girl?" said Bess; "but go on, Sukey, and tell about when Carl was born."
"Well, it did seem like she was just too happy when the baby came. He was a fine child, and Miss Elinor said Miss Zelie might name him. Well, she and your grandpa would sit and argue about that name, and after I don't know how long they settled on William Carleton. That was the name of Miss Elinor's only brother, and William was old Master's name too. Mr. Carl used to come down right often, and he and Miss Zelie was great friends, though he was eight years older. Well, when—"
Just at this moment the kitchen door opened; the children had their backs to it, but Sukey sat facing it, and her story came to a sudden stop. Bess, turning to look, was clasped from behind. Could it possibly be? Yes, it certainly was Aunt Zelie herself.
"You darling! When did you come?" asked Louise, holding her fast.
"This very minute. I wrote to Frank that I would be home to-morrow, and then found that I could get off to-day."
"And is Miss Lyons's brother well?" inquired Bess.
"Almost, and she sent her thanks to you for letting me take her place."
"She is welcome, now you are at home again," laughed Louise, with another hug.
The candy was almost forgotten in the delight at Aunt Zelie's return, and would have been spoiled if Mandy had not taken it in hand.
When the traveller went to change her dress Louise had a little triumph over Carl which pleased her exceedingly.
Going up to the star chamber, she called, "Well, I have found out your secret, Mr. Carl. It is that Auntie is coming home to-morrow."
"Who told you?" he demanded.
"Never mind, I told you I'd find out," and she ran away without giving him a chance to ask any more questions.
An hour later, when the boys came downstairs, there was Aunt Zelie looking as if she had never, never been away, and the girls quite consumed with delight at their surprise.
"Louise, that was mean!" Carl cried. "How long have you been here, I'd like to know?" with one of his bearlike hugs.
"I did not mean to be mean, really, and you and Ikey can have all the candy you want," said Louise generously.
Mrs. Howard had certainly no reason to doubt her popularity. The news of her arrival spread, and the next day in the afternoon she held an impromptu reception.
One after another the boys and girls dropped in, till the whole eleven were there. The first to arrive was Jim, with a great bunch of roses, at which extravagance Aunt Zelie shook her head, though she could not help appreciating their beauty and Jim's thoughtfulness.
Ikey wished that he could do magnificent things like that,—he sometimes dreamed of it,—but alas! he was in a chronically penniless state. He had nothing for her but a message from his mother, but when he screwed up sufficient courage to deliver it it seemed to please her as much as the roses. The message was: "Thank Mrs. Howard for being so good to my boy. Some day I hope to see her and tell her how I love her for it." Ikey's heart fairly glowed when Aunt Zelie said that it was only a pleasure to be good to such a nice boy.
Last of all came Cousin Helen and Aleck, who stayed and spent a merry evening.
"It is so nice to have Aunt Zelie back, I am almost glad she went," Bess was heard to say.
And that lady herself thought that such a welcome quite made up for the four rather lonely weeks in the country with her invalid aunt.
THE ORDER OF THE BIG FRONT DOOR.
On the afternoon of the meeting at Miss Brown's, when the silver keys were distributed, Jim had walked home with Aunt Zelie and said as they reached the gate, "Thank you very much for the pin, Mrs. Howard; I mean to remember the motto and be a helper if I can."
"I am sure you do, and you are more than welcome," she replied, thinking, as she looked into the bright, handsome face, "He wants to please me now, but perhaps it will grow into a higher motive."
Jim was quite in earnest when he said this. Three months in the Good Neighbors Club had somewhat changed his point of view. He might still be inconsiderate and thoughtless, but he no longer defended himself by saying that every fellow must look out for himself.
The friendship of little John Armstrong was doing much for him. A strong liking had sprung up between the two, rather to the surprise of everybody. From the first John showed a decided preference for Jim, who was so big and strong and capable, everything he himself was not; and in the same way the helpless weakness of the invalid made its appeal to the boy who in all his life had never been ill.
Certainly Miss Brown was right when she said that the silver keys could open a door of pleasure to the lame boy.
The children could not guess the happiness their companionship gave him. He listened with eager interest to all they told him of their life at home and at school, and when they were gone he lived it over again in imagination. He cherished a secret desire to belong to the Order, but would not have mentioned it for the world, for how could he help? He wrote the motto in his note-book, and then for weeks spent all his spare time copying it on parchment in letters taken from an old English missal, one of his father's treasures, drawing and coloring them with greatest care. When it was done it was really beautiful, and Jim, who was in the secret, had it nicely framed and presented it, as we know, at the next meeting of the Order.
But John wanted to be a real helper. He thought about it a great deal, but everything was done for him; there seemed to be no chance.
One day he noticed a lot of magazines which his father had been looking over, and left lying on the floor when he was suddenly called away. They belonged on the lower shelves of the bookcase, and it occurred to him that he might replace them. He rolled his chair over to that side of the room, and with a good deal of effort put them back in order on the shelves. Then when Dr. Armstrong thanked his wife that evening for putting them away, and she answered that she had not even seen them, John had the great delight of surprising them. It sent him to bed with a happy heart. However, next day he began to doubt whether so small a thing would count, and when Jim dropped in in the afternoon he asked his opinion. "Of course, you see, I can't do much of anything, but I'd like to help a little," he said.
"Count?" said Jim, the despiser of trifles; "of course it does; everything counts."
He told the boys and Aunt Zelie about it at the next meeting of the G.N. Club. "I can't help feeling sorry for the little fellow; I never thought before how hard it would be not to be able to do things like other people, but just sit still and be waited on; so I told him I thought it would count. Don't you think so?" Jim looked at Aunt Zelie appealingly, half afraid the boys would laugh at his soft-heartedness.
"I certainly do," she answered, and Will said, "There are a great many things he could do, I am sure. Did he ever show you his scrap-books? They are beautifully done. He could make some smaller ones for the hospital."
"Why couldn't we make him a member of the Order? He would be so pleased," said Jim.
"He couldn't come, could he?" asked Ikey, not meaning to object.
"Why couldn't he?" said Carl; "some of us could carry him over as easily as not."
"I say let's talk it over with the girls and have him here next Friday," said Will.
The girls entered into it willingly. "Of course he ought to belong, for he made us that beautiful motto," said Elsie.
"And we must get up something interesting for him," said Louise, who with Jim was on the entertainment committee.
Aunt Zelie consulted Mrs. Armstrong and found she was not willing to let John go out at night, so the time of the meeting was changed to Friday afternoon. Nothing was said to John himself till that morning, when Carl stopped in on his way to school to invite him.
"Could I go? Do you think I could go, Mother?" he asked eagerly, and from then until lunch time he lived in delightful anticipation.
After that the minutes dragged till three, when the boys came for him, and the journey from the parsonage to the star chamber was easily accomplished. This apartment presented a festive appearance, decorated with flags and bunting which had done service in one of Aunt Marcia's numerous charitable entertainments.
"You see, John," Louise explained as soon as his chair had been placed in a corner from which he could see everything, "Aunt Zelie said we ought to have colors for our Order, and I thought, and so did Bess and Dora, that red, white, and blue would be nicest, because they are the colors of our country. Carl says it is silly, for we are not doing anything for our country, but I'm sure we would if we could."
As Louise chattered away John looked around him. His motto hung in the place of honor over the mantel. In front of this was a low platform which dated back to Uncle William's time, and had often done duty for tableaux and such things; on it were two chairs and a table for the President and Secretary. Chairs for the audience were arranged in rows facing this. It was a most exciting moment to John when Will took the chair and called the meeting to order in a business-like way. Bess read the minutes of the last meeting, and Ikey gave the Treasurer's report. Then came reports from the two clubs, given respectively by Elsie and Aleck. The M.Ks. were still at work on the afghan for old Aunt Sallie, which was nearly done, and Miss Brown was reading aloud to them "A New England Girlhood."
The G.Ns. had finished one of their screens and were at work on another while they listened to "The Life of Washington."
"Next in order is the election of new members," said Will, and John started and flushed and then felt ashamed that he could be so silly as to think he was meant.
Jim rose and said, "Mr. President, I nominate John Armstrong."
This was seconded by Ikey, and the President continued: "John Armstrong is nominated; all in favor will please say 'aye.'"
The "ayes" were overwhelming, and accompanied by such a clapping of hands that the President forgot to ask for the "noes."
When it was quiet again John found voice to say timidly, "I'm afraid I won't amount to much, but I am very much obliged and I'll try."
When Louise pinned a little silver key with a tiny bow of red, white, and blue ribbon on his coat no Knight of the Garter was ever prouder of his decoration.
The President announced that he had been told of a little girl who had to lie on her back for a year on account of some spinal trouble, and who had almost nothing to amuse her, so if anyone had scrap-books or toys and would send them to her it would be helping.
John's eyes grew bright; here was something for him to do.
After this the meeting adjourned, the table and chairs were removed from the platform, a white curtain drawn, the room darkened, and the audience, such as did not take part, were treated to shadow pictures.
John, who had never seen any before, laughed till he cried at "Lord Ullin's Daughter" and "The Ballad of the Oysterman." This last was performed with particularly fine effect by Carl and Louise, and everybody knows how funny it is when well done.
John was carried home again very tired, but with a radiant face, eager to show his silver key. As the spring days grew warm and pleasant his wheeled chair was often seen on the sidewalk, or in the Hazeltines' garden, where he liked to watch the games of tennis and croquet, drawing clever little caricatures of the players meanwhile. Somebody was always ready to wheel him about, and in the pleasure of young companionship he grew stronger, and his face lost much of its pathetic look.
About this time old Mr. Ford, whose eyes were growing dim, discovered that when the print of his paper was particularly fine a pair of strong young eyes were ready to lend their service. Sweet-tempered Ikey had always been willing enough to help when it occurred to him, but his thoughts were likely to be anywhere else than at home, so that the broadest hints were lost on him. Now, with the little key to remind him, he was oftener on the lookout for opportunities, and as the months passed his grandfather was heard to say: "Isaac is a fine boy, only a little mischievous," and Mrs. Ford added: "Yes, he is really growing like his father."
The letters that found their way across the sea were not homesick in these days, and Ikey's mother ceased to worry about him.
In ways like these the silver keys did their work. Their owners did not forthwith turn into models of helpfulness and unselfishness; such things need time to grow, and this is exactly what they began to do. Only little sprouts, hardly to be noticed at first, they gave promise of being sturdy plants some day.
WORK AND PLAY.
Miss Brown sat in her accustomed place by the window, where the sun was pouring in in a springlike way, though it was only February. Her sitting-room wore a festive air; the curtains looked crisp and white as if they were just hung, the old mahogany shone with more than its ordinary lustre, and on a table at her side stood a bowl filled with white carnations. She looked about her with happy eyes, for she had been away a month and had discovered that there was no place like home, after all.
From the pleasant room she turned to the window, and her glance went across the sunny street and rested on the Big Front Door.
It opened presently, as she rather expected, and Bess and Louise came out with their work-bags, and stood talking to Aunt Zelie, who followed them.
"Dear, dear, how those children are growing! It seems only yesterday that they broke my window and came to confess."
As she watched them Miss Brown thought, as she had so often before, what a happy home that was, and how much of its brightness found its way over to her!
"Come for us early this afternoon, Carl, for we want to go out to Uncle William's," said Bess to her brother, who had joined them and was carefully marking his aunt's height on the wall.
"You are not expecting me to grow any more, I suppose," said that lady, laughing.
"I simply wish to prove to you that I am two inches taller, so you can't lord it over me any longer, madam."
"I was under the impression that the lording came from quite a different quarter."
"That is a base slander; you know I am your humble slave, so take it back," and Carl gave her a hug that compelled her to cry for mercy.
"If you must embrace me, let it not be in public; what will the neighbors think?" she said, as he released her.
"They may think that I am very fond of you, and where is the harm?" following her into the hall and closing the door.
Over at Miss Brown's a few minutes later five work-bags were being opened, their owners all talking at once as they took out their thimbles and needles.
Though nearly two years and a half had passed since the day when the M.Ks. took their first lesson in knitting, the club still flourished, and after a month's holiday they were eager to begin the meetings again.
"We did hardly any work while you were gone, we were so afraid of making some mistake," said Louise, bringing her chair to Miss Brown's side.
"Uncle William's dreams ought to be sweet when he takes his nap under this; I believe Dora's stripe is the prettiest of all," and Bess held up her friend's work admiringly.
"Dora's stripes are always prettiest," said Elsie; "I wish I could do half so well."
"Aren't they absurd, Miss Brown, when it is only because daisies look particularly well on tan color?" said Dora, laughing.
"I think the skilful fingers have something to do with it, but I am proud of all the work."
"We have improved a little since we made the afghan for Aunt Sallie, haven't we?" remarked Constance.
"You have, indeed, but you were such dear little girls then, and now you are growing distressingly tall; I do not half like it." Miss Brown shook her head disapprovingly as she looked around the circle.
"I think it will be very nice to be grown up," said Elsie, who was already beginning to consider herself a young lady at fourteen.
"I'd much rather stay a little girl. I don't like growing up. Next year Carl is going away to school, and all our good times will be over," and Bess sighed as though the weight of years already rested on her shoulders.
"Well, we are only little girls yet, so what is the use of worrying?" said Louise, who, though she was tallest of all, was more of a child than any of the others.
Dora was perhaps more changed than any of her friends. She was growing very sweet and womanly, and her manners were as simple and frank as ever. Her mother's feeble health brought her more care than fell to the share of most girls of her age, and this made her seem older than she really was.
This afternoon she seemed somewhat preoccupied and silent. When appealed to she answered as brightly as usual, but a thoughtful, anxious look came to her face when she turned to her work.
Miss Brown noticed it and wondered what was troubling her.
"Girls," exclaimed Bess, "suppose we give Uncle William a party when we finish the slumber robe—just our set, you know."
This suggestion met with enthusiastic approval, and was discussed with great glee till Louise announced the arrival of the boys.
On pleasant Saturdays they often dropped in about five o'clock, and when work was put up went with the girls for a walk, a custom which Aunt Zelie encouraged, for she liked to have her boys and girls together.
Carl came across the street, followed by Will and Aleck; Ikey, who was waiting at his gate, joined them; and a moment later Jim came hurrying round the corner.
"Let's show them the slumber robe," proposed Louise. So they were called in while Bess and Elsie spread their work over a chair.
The boys went through the ordeal fairly well, being amiably desirous of pleasing the proud needlewomen.
Will brought down their scorn upon his head by saying it was pretty, as if it were not "lovely," and Aleck insulted Dora by examining her daisies with a critical air and then asking what sort of flowers they were.
For this stupidity Carl promised to punish him.
"Aren't you coming with us, Dora?" asked Bess when they reached the street, seeing that she turned toward home.
"I am sorry, but I can't this afternoon," she said.
They united in coaxing her, but she would not listen, and with a cheerful good-by walked briskly away.
"Mayn't I carry your parcel for you?" asked a voice at her side.
"Why, Carl, I thought you had gone with the others! It isn't dark. I do not need anyone."
"Please, ma'm, I'd like to walk with you if you don't mind."
Dora couldn't help smiling, though she said severely, "I don't believe you. It is because you think I am lonely by myself. I am much obliged to you, but I wish you would run after the others."
Carl coolly took possession of the work-bag. "You will have to make the best of it, for I am going home with you."
They walked on in silence for a minute; then he asked meekly, "Are you mad?"
"You know I am not."
"Then you might tell what is the matter. You don't know how much good, honest confession does one."
"Yes, I do, but I have nothing to confess. I am worried about something, but you cannot help me, and it is not worth speaking of, at any rate."
"Come home, then, and tell Aunt Zelie; she is pretty good at helping."
"I ought to know that; still I don't know what even she could do. It is not much, after all; I am just rather low in my mind, as Mrs. West says." Dora smiled with an attempt at cheerfulness not altogether successful.
"Don't fib; brace up and make a clean breast of it, and if you need advice I am full of it."
"Dear me, you are such a goose! I shall not have any peace till I tell you. Well, then, the beginning of it is that Mrs. West is going to Florida to live."
"I am sorry, but it seems to me matters might be worse," Carl answered gravely.
"Of course you don't understand it. It means that we must find another boarding place, where I am sure I do not know. We can't afford any that are near here, and Mamma does so hate to board, she is not a bit happy. I would give anything if we could have a little house all to ourselves."
"There is one thing certain, you shall not go away from this neighborhood. Don't worry about it, it will come out all right."
Dora felt a little comforted by Carl's sympathy, though she knew he could not help her.
"Are you sure you could not find a small house that would do?" he asked.
"Yes, I know that is quite out of the question. Even a small house would cost too much, and then it would be too lonely for Mamma, when I am at school. You see it was foolish in me to tell you, for it only bothers you for nothing."
"Just wait a minute, I have an idea," said Carl, putting his hands in his pockets and assuming an air of deep meditation.
"It is ever so much better than Mrs. West's!" he exclaimed presently. "I am glad the old lady is going. I shall not tell you what it is till I investigate, but I am sure it will do."
He was so interested in his scheme, whatever it might be, that he would not wait a moment, but rushed away as soon as the door was opened.
"Ridiculous boy! What can he be thinking of?" Dora said to herself as she went upstairs, her curiosity much stronger than her faith.
"Aunt Zelie, can't you come with me over to the bakery?" asked Carl, bursting in upon her five minutes later.
"If it is a matter of life and death I presume I can," she replied. "What is going on there?"
"Nothing; I'll tell you about it, only do get your things, or it will be dark."
As she put on her hat and coat he told her about Dora's trouble, which she could appreciate far better than he.
"She said she knew they could not find a house that would do," he went on, "and that reminded me that there is a 'For Rent' sign in the windows over the bakery. You know if they lived there Mrs. Smith would be good to them, and perhaps they could get their meals from her. So I want you to look at the rooms and see what you think. Dora would listen to you."
Very much amused, Aunt Zelie went with him, agreeing that it might be practicable.
Mrs. Smith, the wife of the confectioner, was delighted to show her rooms, and led the way through the store into the entrance hall at the side, and on upstairs. There were two large, bright rooms opening into the hall, with a bath-room adjoining. The rent was very reasonable, and she said she could furnish meals. Aunt Zelie was forced to admit that her nephew's plan had a good deal to recommend it.
Nothing would do but they must go and tell Dora about it before they went home.
She was very much surprised to see them, and listened with eyes that grew bright as the plan was unfolded.
"Didn't I tell you it would be better than staying here?" Carl asked triumphantly.
"It sounds as if it would be perfect; how did you come to think of it?" Dora said gratefully.
She could hardly wait till Monday afternoon to go and see for herself. Mrs. Howard went with her then, and so did Bess and Louise, but they only sat on the window-sill and built castles while the others made calculations and discussed carpets and curtains.
"They are such pleasant rooms, so much more so than the one we have now," Dora said. "I think, and the doctor said so too, that sunshine is the best thing for Mamma. I believe I have thought of everything, and it won't cost much more than boarding at Mrs. West's. If it were only on the other side of the street I could see the Big Front Door."
Aunt Zelie offered to take charge of the cleaning and getting ready, so that her lessons need not be interrupted, and nothing remained but to gain her mother's consent to the plan.
Mrs. Warner made no objection to it when she heard that Mr. Hazeltine and Mrs. Howard thought it wise, but she did not show the interest Dora hoped for.
Once it was decided upon, things seemed almost to arrange themselves. All her young friends took an interest in Dora's moving, and Elsie, who doubted the propriety of living over a store,—for as yet "flats" had not been heard of in this part of the country,—nevertheless confided to Bess that she was going to make her a beautiful pincushion. This suggested an idea to Bess.
"Don't you think it would nice for each of us to give Dora something for her housekeeping?" she asked at the dinner table that evening.
Uncle William and Aunt Marcia were there, and the Warners had just been spoken of. "A good suggestion," said the first-named; "suppose we do."
"I don't approve of this move at all," Mrs. Hazeltine announced; "Mrs. Warner must have lost her mind to consent."
"It is a great deal nicer than you imagine, Aunt Marcia," urged Bess.
"Dora doesn't care about being fashionable, and you can have more fun if you don't," observed Louise.
"You seem to care for nothing but fun," said her aunt, with dignity.
"At any rate we all admire Dora's energy and good sense, and would like to do something to help her," said Mr. Frank Hazeltine.
So they put their heads together and made their plans.
It was arranged that Mrs. Warner should come to her new quarters on Saturday morning, and Dora lingered long on Friday afternoon putting a few last touches here and there, arranging her little sideboard with some pretty glass and china, relics of her mother's early housekeeping, till everything was in dainty order.
"I do hope Mamma will think it pleasant," she said to Louise, who was helping.
"She will, I'm sure," Louise answered, looking around the room, which was indeed very attractive with the afternoon sunshine streaming in through the windows draped in their pretty muslin curtains.
"Everything is so sweet and cosey I almost envy you," she added, dusting the top of the clock with a tiny feather duster.
"Louise Hazeltine, how could you envy anybody?" Dora exclaimed. "There are two things I ought to have, and mean to sometime," she went on, "and they are some plants and a canary."
Louise looked out of the window to hide a smile.
One more peep had to be taken at the other room, where two snowy beds looked restful and inviting; then she locked the doors, leaving the key with Mrs. Smith that the fires might be made in the morning.
"I hope you will like it, Mamma," were her last words that night and her first thought next morning.
Mr. Hazeltine sent his carriage for Mrs. Warner, and short as the drive was it seemed tiresomely long to Dora.
"I am glad it is pleasant so that the sunshine will be in your windows; it is always there by eleven o'clock," she said.
Mrs. Smith was at the door to welcome them, with her small son Tommy to carry up any bundles.
"I declare," she remarked to her husband, "it doesn't look right for a woman that has a daughter like Miss Dora to be so terrible down-hearted."
In her eagerness to see how her mother was pleased, Dora hardly noticed anything herself when she opened the door.
A more hopelessly gloomy person than Mrs. Warner could not have failed to be impressed with the sweet, cheerful comfort which pervaded the room. The sunshine from the south windows lay in two great patches on the quiet carpet, and glistened in a corner of something that did not look quite familiar; the fire burned briskly, doing its best to add to the cheeriness.
"My dear daughter, how could you do all this?" she asked, her face brightening.
"Do you like it? I am so glad!" Then Dora began to look about in some bewilderment; something had certainly happened to the room since yesterday. In the corner by the fireplace was the dearest mahogany desk, and on it a card which read, "For a brave little girl, from Uncle William." Glancing up, her eyes rested on the sweet face of a Madonna, which she guessed at once came from Aunt Zelie.
"How good they are to me!'" she exclaimed, feeling almost like crying; but just then the canary in the window burst into a song, thus calling attention to himself and to the pot of ivy from Miss Brown.
It was a morning of surprises. While her mother sat in her easy-chair, with a more cheerful face than she had worn for years, Dora went about finding every now and then something new. There were hyacinths from Helen and Carie, Elsie's pincushion on the bureau, a table cover from Constance, and on the sideboard a cunning teapot, with this touching verse tied on the handle:
"Whene'er a cup of tea you drink, Of me I hope you'll kindly think. To make the memory more complete, Be sure to take it very sweet."
This effusion did not need Carl's initials to tell her where it came from. The last thing to be discovered was a beautiful chair to match the desk, from Carl's father.
Late in the afternoon a happy face looked in on Aunt Zelie, and a merry voice exclaimed, "It is going to be a success; and to-day has been better than Christmas!"