"Where did you get them, I say?" repeated my father.
"Up in the lumber-room," I stammered, faintly and sheepishly.
"Go, put them back where you found them! Then, come to me. As I was saying, James—"
He went on with his directions to the gardener.
I slunk away, forgetful of everything except my personal discomfiture, dodging from one clump of shrubbery to another, lest I should be seen from the windows of the house, going almost on all-fours in exposed stretches of walk or garden-beds, and so making my retreat to the side door of the north wing. I had stripped off the hateful masquerade habiliments and rolled them into a compact bundle, but anybody who met me would ask what I was carrying under my arm, and I could bear no more that day. Unable to contain myself a minute longer, I sank down in the solitude of the steep staircase leading to the lumber-room, and had my cry—if not out—so nearly to the end that I felt adequate to making my judge see reason,—if only he would not look at me as if he were ashamed of his daughter! Was it very wrong to take those things on the sly? Would I be punished for it? Had he told my mother yet? And did Mary 'Liza know about it? I could never, never tell her that I had worn the nasty bonnet and cloak as mourning to Musidora's funeral. I would be whipped first.
Crying again in anticipation of the dilemma, I trudged slowly up the steps, and pushed back the door, which stuck fast again although I did not recollect shutting it.
"Just's if somebody was leaning against it!" said I, pettishly, and flung my whole weight against the lower panel.
The door flew back and I fell headlong, face downward, on the floor, the bundle flying ahead of me clear to the hearth. I picked myself up, rubbed my smarting palms and, in a vile humor, recovered the detestable cause of all the trouble. I boxed the lop-ears of the bonnet, and gave the apron a vicious shake, in restoring them to their respective pegs. Then, I backed down from the chair on which I had been standing, and started for the door. A feeble cry stopped me as if a shot had passed through me.
The room was in afternoon shadow, and the blinds of the larger of the two windows had blown shut. The cry quavered out again, and at the same instant I saw—or verily believed that I saw with my natural eyes—Cousin Mary Bray seated in the rocking-chair between the hearth and the window, holding a baby in her arms. She was rocking gently back and forth, her face was pale and peaceful, and she wore a sort of dim gray dress. Thus much I had seen when my father called loudly to me from the bottom of the steps:—
"Molly! what are you doing up there? Come down directly! do you hear?"
The apparition disappeared on the instant, and as I moved toward the door, I stumbled over something soft that mewed miserably. In a second I had it in my arms,—a rack of bones covered with muddy, tangled gray fur,—and rushed down the stairs.
"I told you so, father! don't you see? It is Alexander the Great. Now, isn't it?"
Will it be believed that the commotion attendant upon the recognition of the wanderer, the talk, conjectures and questions, the nursing and feeding, and cosseting the creature who was at the point of death from starvation and fatigue—put all thought of revealing what I had beheld in the haunted chamber out of my head, until, when I recalled it in all its vividness, I simply could not speak of it? It was all like a swift, bad dream, the telling of which might revive the unpleasant sensation it created in passing. I do not pretend to explain a child's reserve on subjects which have gone very far into the deeps of a consciousness that never lets them go. Perhaps the solution is partly in the poverty of a vocabulary which lags painfully behind the development of thought and emotion. Certain it is that I was a woman grown before I ever confided to a living soul what I thought sat in the rocking-chair in the haunted room, brooding peacefully above a quieted baby.
Lucy's cat—guided by what instinct only his Creator and ours knows—had found his way to her grave over two hundred miles of fen, field, and forest. Not finding her there, he had tracked me to the room where she had last played with him. When carried to other parts of the house, he cried piteously all day and all night. When the north wing was locked against him, he went back to the grave and could not be coaxed away. Finally, my mother proposed that he be allowed to stay there, until cold weather. He was the plantation-pet all summer, growing plump, but never playful, with nourishing food and rest. His meals were sent to him twice a day, but he partially supported himself by catching birds and field-mice in the burying-ground, which he never left. We got used to his presence there after a while, and his habit of patrolling the top of the wall, several times a day, for exercise, or under the impression that he was guarding the short green mound where he slept every night.
As the winter approached repeated efforts were made to tempt him to the house, and when they were ineffectual my father took him there in his own arms. The cat refused food and sleep, keeping the household awake with his cries, and in the morning flew so savagely at his jailers that we were obliged to let him go.
The fiercest tempest known in mid-Virginia for forty years beset us on the anniversary of Lucy's death, and raged for three days. When the drifts in the graveyard melted, we found Alexander the Great dead at his post.
Just For Fun
The floor of the summer-house at Uncle Carter's was of lovely white sand, and did not soil my clean pink gingham frock, although I sat down flat upon it. Under one of the three benches that furnished it, I had dug a vault yesterday. It was modelled upon the description given in The Fairchild Family of one belonging to a nobleman's estate. My self-education was essentially Squeersian. When I read a thing, I forthwith went and did it. The gardener had lent me a trowel, and I had found a thin, flat stone that served as a cover. Digging was easy work in the top-dressing of sand and the substratum of loose, dry soil.
There were eight niches in the vault—two on a side. When all was finished, I sallied forth in quest of occupants. My vault was stocked by nightfall. In one niche was a dead sparrow my cousin Burwell had shot by mistake and thrown away. In a second was a frog on which a horse or cow had trod, crippling it so badly that Uncle Carter mercifully killed it with a blow of his stick. The poultry-yard and an epidemic of pip supplied me with two more silent tenants. A mouse-trap strangled a fifth, the gardener's mole-trap yielded up a sixth. Nos. 7 and 8 were land-terrapins ("tar'pens," in negro dialect), which I knew must be dead when I found them, although I could discern no sign of violence. Their shells were shut so tightly that I could not force a straw between the upper and lower, and no amount of kicking and thumping elicited any sign of life.
An innovation upon the Fairchild pattern was the deposit in the bottom of the vault of a tumbler full of flies which Aunt Eliza told the dining room servant to throw into the kitchen fire. A primitive snare for these destroyers of the housewife's peace was made by filling a tumbler within an inch of the brim with strong soap-suds, and fitting upon the top a round cover of thick "sugar-loaf paper," with a hole in the middle. Molasses was smeared all around this hole upon the under side of the paper, and an alluring drop or two on the top attracted attention to the larger supply of sweets. At least a quart of flies, per day, were caught in this way in the height of the season before window and door screens were invented.
I waylaid the man and tumbler in the back porch.
"Are they dead, sure enough?" I whispered.
"Dead as a door-nail, little mistis."
"Give 'em to me, please! I'll bury them."
He complied, good-naturedly. I poured the contents of the glass into the vault, and strewed fine dry sand over them an inch deep. Then I fitted on the flat stone, and said nothing to anybody of my new branch of industry.
I was tired of being called "an old-fashioned child!" My mother's oft and resigned ejaculation—"What next, I wonder!" was to my ears a covert reproach for not being "steady" and "a comfort," like Mary 'Liza. Even my less critical father's shout of laughter at any unusual freak or experiment abraded my moral cuticle sometimes. At home the colored children would have entered heartily into my mortuary enterprise,—yes! and kept my counsel. The reticence of the serf exceeds in dumb doggedness that of a misunderstood child. But I did not play with Uncle Carter's little negroes. Every Southern child comprehended the distinction between "home-folks" and other people's servants.
Not that I was ever lonely. What I called "things" were an unfailing resource to me. An ant-hill was entertainment for a whole forenoon; I watched bees and their hives by the hour; my vault kept me busy and happy all day. If Cousin Molly Belle suspected what I was about, she asked no questions, and refrained from spying upon me. When dressed clean in the afternoon, for the second time since breakfast,—the manufacture of mud-pies, puddings, and cakes, and the baking of several batches in the sun, having engrossed the morning,—I took The Fairchild Family out into the summer-house and reread, for the tenth time, the account of the opening of the family vault.
Why, I reasoned within myself, should innocent dumb creatures be thrown away like dead leaves, when they have stopped living? It would be kind in me, or in anybody, to bury them in vaults, and to write Bible verses and all that on their tombstones. I would dig another vault to-morrow and look around for things to put into it,—and still another the next day. I had, in imagination, honeycombed the space under the benches with catacombs, and my book was clean forgotten, before I saw a movement in the sandy flooring, close to the edge of the flat stone sealing the mouth of the vault. I leaned forward to inspect it more nearly. The stone had been undermined at one side, and a hole left there, through which a line of flies, gray with dust, was feebly crawling into the sunshine. There seemed to be a thousand of them, all dusty, but some more active than others. As soon as they were quite clear of the hole, they dispersed in various directions, some alighting upon twigs and blades of grass, some flying up to the benches, where they sat cleaning their bodies and wings with their feet and mouths.
I worked my hands into the hole and raised the stone. A cloud of resurrected flies arose in my astonished face. The vault was quick with them. The dry sand, warmed by the sun, that I had sifted over them, had acted as a hot blanket upon the chilled body of a dying man. When I got rid of the swarm I examined the vault. Both of the terrapins were missing. The sapping and mining was their work. Through the tunnel thus excavated they had regained their liberty, and released a mighty host of fellow-captives.
"The rest of you are dead, anyhow!" said I, aloud, intensely chagrined at the cheat practised upon my benevolent nature, and I shoved the stone back over the violated vault.
A shadow fell upon the white sand. Looking up, I saw a young gentleman in the door of the summer-house, smiling down at me. At the first glance I took him for my cousin Burwell, who was at home on his vacation. A second undeceived me. I scrambled to my feet and stared hard at the stranger who stood with his hands behind him, still smiling, but not saying a word. He was nattily dressed in a blue cloth coat and trousers, and a white waistcoat. A white satin stock of the latest style encircled a slender neck; he wore shiny boots, a leghorn hat was set jauntily above a crop of black curls. I was never shy, having been accustomed from my birth to meeting strangers and to "entertaining company" when called upon to do so. Yet I was strangely embarrassed by the merry eyes fixed silently upon me.
"How do you do, sir!" I said, dropping a little courtesy, as well-bred children still did in that part of the civilized world.
Still without speaking, the stranger drew nearer and stooped to kiss me. This was going several steps too far. I clapped one hand over my mouth and pushed him away with the other.
"Cousin Molly Belle! oh, Cousin Molly Belle!" I screamed between my fingers.
She was the only member of the family at home, my uncle, aunt, and their two sons having gone on an all-day visit to a plantation some miles away.
"Why, Namesake! don't you know me?"
Her voice answered in my very ear, her arm held me as I ceased struggling.
I laughed like a mad thing in the excess of my relief and surprise, and when she sat down, I climbed to her knee for a good look at her disguise.
"Cousin Burwell's clothes!" I said analytically. "And his hat. But your hair is black."
She lifted the hat to show that she had on a black wig.
"It belonged to poor Grandpapa when he was young. He had a fever and his head was shaved. I found it in a box on the top shelf of mother's closet, and tried it on just for fun. I liked myself so well in the glass that I thought I'd see how I would have looked if Burwell had been the girl, and I the boy. I know now that I ought to have been. I mean to be—just for fun—until they all come home. I'm in exactly the humor to do something outrageous. I'm tired to death of everyday doings and everyday people, and my everyday self. You and I are going to have a real spree, a glorious frolic, and nobody else is to know a single thing about it. Flora" (her maid) "helped me on with this rig. She is as close as wax, and you never tell tales,—Oh, yes! I know—" as I opened my mouth eagerly—"you would have your tongue pulled out by the roots before you would get me into trouble. And there would be all sorts of trouble if I were found out."
She tied my sunbonnet, made of the same pink gingham as my frock, under my chin, and we set forward gleefully upon our spree. To begin with, we jumped over the yard palings, so that we should not have to pass in sight of the house and kitchen, in order to get into the lane leading to the public road. We called it "a lane." Now it would be an avenue, or drive. The finest Lombardy poplars in Powhatan County bordered it; sheep mint, pennyroyal, sweetbrier, and wild thyme grew up close to the wheel-track and gave out a goodly smell as we brushed by and trod upon them. I was in a high gale of spirits, and prattled as fast as my tongue could run, flattered beyond expression by the choice of myself as an accomplice in the frolic.
"It's a pity you can't change places with Cousin Burwell!" I regretted. "You'd be a heap handsomer gentleman than he is. And it must be just fine not to have to hold up your frocks when you want to run fast, and to climb trees and jump fences. Would it be sure-enough wrong—I don't mean not lady-like—but would it be sinful for you to dress that way all the time?"
"People seem to think so, Namesake. They think so so much that it is against the law for a woman to wear a man's clothes, or for a man to wear a woman's. Though why any man with a grain of sense in his head should ever want to put on skirts, I can't see. If I were to meet a magistrate while I have on these—things,"—flicking her trousers with a switch she had cut from a hickory sapling,—"he would have a right to put me in jail."
"Oh, Cousin Molly Belle!" squeezing her hand hard. "S'pose we should!"
"I'm Cousin Burwell until we get home. No 's'pose,' you little goosie! If we did, we'd take to the woods, and outrun him. Or, we'd climb a tree."
We were in the highroad, striding the ruts and skipping over stones like two boys on the way home from school. There was pleasanter walking in bridle-paths and wood-roads branching off from the thoroughfare every few rods. I think the madcap chose the rutty and mud-holey route because there was, at least, a chance that we might have to plunge into the bushes to hide, or to brave the scrutiny of strangers and acquaintances. The sauce of danger made the escapade the more attractive.
Half a mile from home a creek, shallow, but broad, crossed the road. We could not pass over dry-shod and had to go up the bank into the low grounds to find a long log laid from side to side of a narrower part of the stream. My companion hoisted me upon her back and ran along the uncertain bridge as fleetly as a squirrel.
"How far are we going?" I asked, as she set me down.
"Around by Tom's Hill, and then cut across the field home. It's more than a mile. Can you walk so far?"
"I walked two miles at a time, once!" I boasted.
"You are a brave little lightwood knot!"
She was "fey"—exaltee—in the state of lighthearted-and lightheadedness for which sober, literal, decorous English has no synonym. As we went, she danced and sang, and laughed out joyously at everything and at nothing, and talked the most fascinating nonsense—all in the role of "Cousin Burwell." She could imitate him to perfection; her strut and swagger and slang threw me into paroxysms of delight. We picked huckleberries, and dived into the woods to feast upon wild plums that had ten drops of syrupy juice between tough skins and flinty stones encased in the pulp of bitterness, and gathered handfuls of wild flowers because their beauty tempted sight and touch, and with no intention of taking them home with us. Two of Pan's dryads turned loose for a holiday could not have sported more irrationally.
We met neither man nor beast until we had climbed Tom's Hill, a stony eminence from the top of which, as the neighbors were proud of saying, one could see six dwelling-houses, each with its group of outbuildings, representing six fine plantations. A saddle-horse was tied to a persimmon tree a hundred yards or so down the other side. He whinnied at sight of us, and Cousin Molly Belle ran up to him.
"Well done, Snap! old fellow! clothes don't make any difference to you—do they?"
It was Mr. Frank Morton's riding horse, and the fence by which he stood bounded an extensive tobacco field belonging to Mr. Frank Morton's brother. About the middle of the field was a tobacco barn, and by climbing upon the top rail of the fence so as to overlook a row of sassafras saplings, I could see a group of men about the door. Their backs were toward us, and if they had looked our way they could not have seen us, when I got down.
Cousin Molly Belle's eyes were two dancing stars. She clapped her hands in riotous glee. Without a word she untied the bridle from the tree, vaulted into the saddle, drew me up in front of her, and before I could put a question we were pacing briskly down the hill. At the bottom we struck into a cross-road leading to Uncle Carter's plantation. Cousin Molly Belle was laughing too heartily to speak distinctly, and I joined in with all my heart, with a very imperfect appreciation of the extent of the practical joke. Mr. Frank Morton would not have to walk home. He had only to go to his brother's house when he missed Snap and borrow a horse, and Snap would be sent back safely to him in good time.
"What d'you s'pose he'll say when he comes to the fence and Snap isn't there?" queried I, at length.
"Oh, don't I wish I were hiding somewhere near enough to hear and see him!" another and yet more infectious outburst. "That would be the best part of the joke. I'm going to turn Snap loose when we get to our outer gate, and hit him a crack with my switch and start him toward home. He'll not tell tales out of school—will you, old boy?" slapping his neck affectionately. "Mr. Frank Morton will never guess why the horse thief let such a fine animal get away from him, when once he had got him. I can hear him now, telling me the story, and I'll look as grave as a dozen judges, and wonder as hard as he does—and—Hark!"
We were, perhaps, half a mile from the place where we had found Snap, but, as I have said, Tom's Hill was a stony ledge, running like a sharp backbone between fertile fields, and we heard from afar off the clattering hoofs of a horse pressed to his utmost speed.
My First Lie, and What Came of It.
"He is after us!" exclaimed Cousin Molly Belle, and brought down her switch stingingly upon Snap's flanks.
Tightening her arm about me, she urged him from canter to gallop, from a gallop to a run. The trees swept by us like lightning; the wind tore the breath from our lungs, but I had no thought of fear. My cousin was a fearless rider, and the perfectly broken hunter under us flew as steadily and as straight as a blue martin. Against the back of my head Cousin Molly Belle's heart was pounding like an unbalanced trip-hammer. I wondered if it were possible that she was frightened, and twisted my face around to get a glimpse of hers. It was as white as a sheet, and her teeth were set hard upon her lower lip. Within a stone's throw of Uncle Carter's outer gate she brought the horse down to a walk, then to a full stop, and slipped to the ground. Her face was so pale and rigid as she set me upon my feet that I began to tremble.
"Are you scared?" I faltered.
"Scared to death, child! Hush!"
She turned Snap's head in the direction from which we had come, and struck him smartly with her switch, in letting go of the bridle.
"Go home, sir! Go!"
He galloped off, stirrups and mane flying, and she drew a deep, agitated breath.
"If ever I get into such a scrape again!"
She bent low and listened; the scared look settled again upon her face. Through the stillness of the summer afternoon, we heard a sharp "Whoa!" faint but clear, when, as we judged, Snap neared our pursuer. The pause of a second ensued, and the hoofs, doubled in number and resonance, sounded nearer and nearer, thundering over the soft ground, clicking against the stones, like a charge of cavalry. Cousin Molly Belle was so white that a few freckles, never seen through her usually brilliant complexion, made a line of sallow dots across her cheek bones and the bridge of her nose. Clutching me more roughly than she had ever touched me before, she thrust me well into the heart of a tall cedar whose lowest boughs grew out horizontally and swept the earth.
"Don't move or speak!" she whispered fiercely and forced her way to the hole of the tree.
I heard the grating of the bark under her feet, and felt the branches shake, then grow quiet. She was well up the tree, and hidden by the bushy foliage. The tumultuous beat of the charging hoofs echoed more and more loudly. The rider would be upon us in another minute. Escape through the gate and down the avenue to the house was out of the question. We would have been in sight from the road for several hundred yards, and a few seconds would be lost in opening the gate.
On my part, the adventure was, thus far, pure fun, and the excitement delicious. I giggled in my sleeve in the anticipation of hearing the furious hoofs sweep past and lose themselves in the distance on the false scent. I had not had time to speculate as to why my companion was "scared to death."
The clatter was abreast of, and behind me in the road when the imperative "Whoa!" again arrested it. I knew the voice now. A man leaped to the ground; hasty footsteps struck across the turf edging the highway; dry sticks cracked, my bushy covert was jarred, and Mr. Frank Morton stood before me, parting the branches to get a good look at me. My pink gingham had betrayed me.
"Molly Burwell! what are you doing here?"
As if prompted by a telepathic despatch from the fugitive overhead, I began to pick the bluish white berries studding the twigs and to cram them into my mouth.
"Picking cedar-berries!" I retorted coolly, cocking a saucy eye at him.
"Who came with you?"
I stood on tiptoe to tug at a fat cedar-ball, glossy, brown, and deeply pitted.
"Oh, Mr. Frank! won't you please cut it off for me?"
He whipped out his knife and severed the twig.
"Did you come all the way from the house alone?"
I had never, within my memory, told a deliberate lie. My cheeks burned like fire; my eyes dropped guiltily. My tongue did not trip or tangle.
There was a dread silence. My ears rang, my heart was sinking slowly and sickeningly into my heels. I had bethought myself just as he put the question, that Cousin Molly Belle might be put in jail if he found out that she had been with me, and had on her brother's clothes. As a well-tutored child in a Presbyterian family, I knew what becomes of liars when they leave off living and lying together. My teeth ceased to chatter and met with a snap. The loyal heart rallied to the help of the guilty tongue. I raised my eyes in sullen defiance.
"It isn't so dreadful far! I came all by my loney-toney self!"
My friend laughed.
"My dear little girl, there is no great harm in that. Only, I wouldn't run away again if I were you. Your aunt might be uneasy if she missed you."
"She isn't at home," I answered incautiously. "She 'n' Uncle Carter 'n' Cousin Burwell 'n' Cousin Dick have gone to Mr. Cunningham's."
"Ah!" The ejaculation was not regretful. "Isn't Miss Molly Belle at home? You would be sorry to make her anxious, I know."
The cedar-branches thrilled slightly, as at the flight of a startled bird. Mr. Frank did not notice it, but the movement nerved me. I spoke hastily, walking away from the tree toward the gate.
"Oh, yes, she's at home! I reckon she must have been taking a nap when I came away. I'm going right back now."
I had never dreamed that lying was such an easy performance.
"I'll take you home. Wait a minute!"
Snap was grazing on the roadside. Another saddle-horse stood by with drooping head, his bridle hanging loosely in the bend of Mr. Frank's arm. I was lifted to Snap's back; my escort walked beside me through the gate, and along the lane, one hand on me, and leading the second horse.
"I suppose you are wondering what I am doing with two horses," he said lightly. "It is a very funny story. I'll tell you and Miss Molly Belle when we get to the house. It will make you both laugh."
He had given me Snap's bridle to hold, as if I were riding all by myself. He thought it would please me. In other circumstances I should have been glad and proud to be so mounted, and by him. But from my lofty seat I could see over his head across the field of corn which lay to the left of the road. Something or somebody was running between the close rows in a straight line from the plantation gate to the house. Running like a deer, or a greyhound—or Cousin Molly Belle. She must get home and up to her room before we got there.
"Oh, Mr. Frank!" I cried. "I have dropped my cedar-ball!" And when he had picked it up, "Won't you please make Snap walk very slow? I am afraid I might fall off."
"What has got into you to-day, little Duchess?" He had a dozen pet names for me, and my heart smote me sore at sight of his kind, honest face. "It isn't like you to be afraid of horses,—and you and Snap are old friends. You will never be such a rider as Miss Molly Belle if you learn to be nervous."
Not another sound fell from my lips until I was put down gently at the front gate of my uncle's house, and Flora bustled out, cross lines in her forehead and cross tones in her voice.
"I do declar', Miss Molly—(How-you-do, Mars' Frank?) I do declar', Miss Molly, you're enough to drive anybody crazy with you' wild tomboy ways. Me 'n' Miss Molly Belle, we've been jes' raisin' the plantation fo' you, and hyar you come home a-riding Mars' Frank Mo'ton's horse, gran' as you please, and nobody knowin' whar you been ever sence dinner-time. Miss Molly Belle 'll be mighty obleeged to you for fotchin' of her home, Mars' Frank. She'll be down pretty soon for to tell you so herself. Walk into the parlor, please, sir. Jim, you take Mr. Mo'ton's horses to the stable. And Miss Molly, you jes' stay thar 'n' ent'tain Mr. Mo'ton like a little lady tell you' cousin comes down sta'rs."
I obeyed with docility that must have surprised the autocrat. Meek and miserable, I preceded the guest to the parlor, although every minute spent under his unsuspecting eyes was a danger and a pain. I made no attempt to "entertain him." Seated upon a high chair, my feet swinging dolefully six inches above the floor, I fingered the wretched cedar-ball, redolent of rosin through much bruising, my pink sunbonnet hanging from the knotted strings to the small of my back, and with difficulty refrained from crying. I had never been wretched just in that way before. Two imperative duties had met plump and face to face, with a shock that jarred all preconceived principles of belief and action out of plumb. Cousin Molly Belle had trusted me to keep her secret, and I saw no way of doing it except to lie outright and repeatedly. The sin lashed my conscience until I could have located in my corporeal frame the exact whereabouts of the uncomfortable possession. So absorbed was I by individual upbraidings that Flora's barefaced fabrication of the search her young mistress and she had had for the runaway passed unrebuked by so much as a look. It was no comfort to me to hear another person lie even more glibly than myself. Flora was an ignorant colored person, I, a baptized white child of the covenant who could read the Bible for herself.
Mr. Morton tried to make me talk by well-concerted questions. Children are best approached through the interrogative mood. It offers just so many nails set in a sure place upon which to hang conversation. He was a handsome, well-set-up young fellow, and, if somewhat graver by nature and habit than most of Cousin Molly Belle's beaux, suited my taste best of them all. Yesterday I should have been tickled clean out of the proprieties by the chance of talking to him all by myself for twenty minutes, sitting up in Aunt Eliza's parlor, just like grown folks.
The twenty minutes were like one hundred in sloth and weight before the tap of high heels on the oaken stairs and the swish of skirts against the banisters advised us who was coming.
She walked into the room with her head high and chin level; her eyes shone and her coloring was superb. She had never been more beautiful, and never so dignified. Her admirer felt both of these facts, and was moved to mute inquiry into the cause of the singular mood. His glowing eyes questioned hers while she shook hands with him and then sat down, and held out her hand silently to me, without a smile. I went as straight to her as a wounded bird to shelter, dropped upon a stool beside her and rested my cheek against her knee, my hand in a grasp that was close and loving, and—or so I fancied—monitory. My heart retorted upon writhing conscience that she was worth sinning for. I added, dogged and desperate, that I would do it again, if she needed to have it done.
"Flora says that you have been very uneasy about this little lady," said Mr. Frank, the dumb questioning still in his eyes, while he led the talk into safer paths. "And that you have been hunting for her all over the plantation."
"Flora said what was not true. I knew where she was, and did not look for her at all or anywhere."
The metallic quality in her voice did not belong to it, and her articulation was carefully clear, not at all like the gliding vowels and consonantal elisions that help make musical the speech of the Southern girl.
Mr. Frank looked puzzled. Had I not been present, he would have got at the answer to the enigma. I felt this, but my hand was still in Cousin Molly's, and I comprehended that she willed me to stay where I was.
"I have had an adventure, if she has not," resumed Mr. Frank, merrily. "You may have seen me arrive with two saddle-horses? I was on my way here, riding Snap. As I passed John's upper tobacco-field, I saw him at the barn. So I tied Snap to a tree and went to speak to John. While we were talking a negro ran up, all out of breath, to say that a man and a woman had stolen my horse. The negro was too far off to recognize the fellow, but he saw him untie Snap, mount him, help a little woman in a red dress to get up behind him, and then ride away at a rattling pace. Fortunately, John's riding-horse was standing at the barn door. I was in the saddle before the story was done, put him at the nearest fence, and was after the thieves. I must have gained upon them—Wildfire can outrun any other horse in the county, and I did not spare him—for the rascals left their booty and got away with whole skins. I met Snap just this side of Willis's Creek, going home like the sensible creature he is. He had been ridden hard, and there were welts on his sides where he had been whipped, but I got him back safe. It was a risky thing—their stealing him. Everybody about here knows the star in his forehead and his white hind foot. The first white man that met the thieves would have taken them up. I have no doubt that they belonged to a gang of gypsies that are roaming through this neighborhood. A wagon-load of them passed our house yesterday and camped last night at the Crossroads. I saw them there last night as I went home from Court. On my way back this evening I'll give them a call and let them understand that this is an unhealthy country for that sort of gentry. Horse-thieves and grapevines are found conveniently near to one another, sometimes."
In the horror of the hearing, I must have cried out but for the warning squeeze that made my finger-joints slip upon each other and the bones ache. The muscles of my face stiffened until I felt it losing all resemblance to Molly Burwell. I was sure that it looked like a gray old woman's, and instinctively turned it into the folds of my cousin's skirt. Suppose Mr. Frank had called upon the gypsies before coming here! If he had not come to us at all to-day—what would have happened? Would he have had the innocent strangers hanged upon the convenient grapevine? Could he be prevented from doing this now unless the truth were told him? That, of course, was not to be thought of. Better have the gypsy gang driven out of the county and a man and a woman strung up, than let Cousin Molly Belle go to jail for wearing men's clothes. She would die sooner than confess to any man, least of all to this one, that she had worn—pantaloons!—and ridden Snap as people who wear the things always ride.
How little I knew her was to be proved.
She let go my fingers all at once, pressed her palms together hard, and sat up very straight, settling her eyes upon Mr. Frank's. When she spoke, the metallic ring was that of a taut piano-string.
"You will please not go near the gypsies. I stole your horse. Just for fun, you know. And wretched fun it was. I saw him standing there, and the temptation to play a trick upon you was too much for me. I meant to let him go and send him back when I got to our gate. I did it sooner than I expected, because I heard you coming and knew in a minute that you must be on Wildfire, and that Snap stood no chance of keeping ahead of him."
The listener's face was a study. He stood up and stared down at her, at first in incredulous stupefaction, then, frowningly.
"You—took—my—horse! You were that 'little woman,' then? Who was the man?"
"There was no man. The negro did not see straight, or he told you a lie. Molly was with me, and, as you see, her frock is pink. We were out walking. We both got on the horse. It was a silly, silly prank, and all my fault."
The frown disappeared; the perplexity remained. He glanced at me, and my eyes fell. I so wanted Mr. Frank Morton to think well of me!
"But Molly said—" he began.
She took him up quickly.
"I know what Molly said. I was close by and heard every word. She was trying to shield me. I told her that I could be put in jail if anybody knew what I had done. I tempted the poor, loyal, loving little soul to tell the first falsehood that ever soiled her tongue. It was a wicked—a vile—a mean thing in me! I loathe myself when I think of it. Oh, Namesake!"—encircling me suddenly with her arm—"we will ask God together to forgive us. I am the sinner—not you!"
I was wetting her sleeve with tears, shed more for her distress than for my sin.
Mr. Frank Morton made a step toward her.
"I don't comprehend you yet—quite. You could not have imagined that you could ever go to jail if you had stolen every horse in my stable—and everything else I have? Don't give another thought to the matter. It was a harmless bit of fun that hurt nobody. As to Molly's fibbing—I was the tempter. What was the child to do? I think all the more of her for standing between you and possible trouble."
"I tempted Molly to tell her first lie!" She waived aside the hand he would have laid upon my head. "I shall recollect that as long as I live. I deserve to suffer for it. And I mean to punish myself by telling you the whole truth."
In the energy of her resolve, she, too, arose to her feet. A sort of ague went from her head to her feet. For an instant there was not a sign of color in her cheeks, then, a great billow of blushes beat her face down upon her hands. If I had not been clinging to her skirt I could hardly have got the meaning of the muffled words. Her lover had to bend his head to catch them.
"I had on a suit of Burwell's clothes!"
She threw up her head so abruptly that her face almost touched his before he could start back.
"Now"—she flung out passionately—"you will despise me! And you ought to!"
Her rush toward the door was intercepted by his quicker action. He seized both of her hands and would not let her pass.
"On the contrary, I never respected you before as I do this moment. You shall believe this, Molly Belle!"
Not a symptom of a "Miss"! And he the most punctilious of men in everything pertaining to polite address and chivalric reverence for women! His eyes had strange flashes in them when he turned to me. He was grave, but with a gravity that overlaid smiles. His voice was very gentle:—
"Molly, run away to play—there's a dear child!"
As I obeyed, I saw that he had not let go of Cousin Molly Belle's hands.
Like my games, my stockings, and my frocks, they were home-made. We had no caged birds. Our yards and woods thrilled with bird-song all day long for eight months of the year, and mocking-birds filled June and July nights with music sweeter and more varied than the storied strain of the nightingale. I had never seen a canary, and knew nothing of him except as I had read of one in what I called a "pair of verses" to which I took a fancy. I used to sing them to a tune of my own making when grown-uppers were not listening:—
"Mary had a little bird, Feathers bright and yellow, Slender legs—upon my word He was a pretty fellow.
"Sweetest songs he often sung Which much delighted Mary, And often where his cage was hung She stood to hear Canary."
I classed Mary 'Liza with the grown-uppers. She loved cats, adopting two when they were blind kittens, and bringing them up in just such staid habits as made her incomparable among children. At six months of age they would doze at her feet on the rug while she studied, or ciphered, or read aloud, or stitched upon those everlasting chemises. When she took a walk for exercise (she never ran, or hopped, or skipped) they trotted demurely in the path, beside or behind her, indifferent to butterflies and grasshoppers, and as intent upon Behavior as their mistress. They were always fat and sleek, and ate civilized victuals,—bread, milk, and cooked meats cut into decent, miminy-piminy mouthfuls. Not one of them was ever known to commit the vulgarity of catching a mouse. Mary 'Liza considered it cruel, and eating raw flesh "a dirty habit." She, the cats, and Dorinda composed a Happy Family in which—barring the Rozillah episode—no accidents ever happened.
From earliest childhood my love for living creatures as companions and pets was a passion that wrought much anguish to me, and more casualties in the dumb animal kingdom than would be credited, were I to set down the full tale of my bantlings, and the fate of each. At a tender age, I sturdily refused to "call mine" the downiest darlings of the poultry-yard. There would be a few weeks of having, and loving, and fattening, and then the axe and the bloody log at the woodpile, and the stormy tears of bereavement. It mattered not to Aunt 'Ritta that my foster-children had names to which they answered, that they would feed from my hand, and hop on my shoulder, and run quacking, or squawking, or piping, or chirping, at my heels across the yard, and follow me to the field like dogs. When the day and the hour—always unexpected to me—came, I "called and they answered not again," until, taught by bitter experience, I "struck" petting tame and edible living things, once and finally.
The miniature menagerie I then set up on my own account, and, as I shall show, to the detriment of everything entered upon the rolls, was stocked principally by the services of my colored contingent.
Among the first inmates—they all became patients in the long, or short run—were two striped ground squirrels (chipmunks) who were caught in a box with a falling door, and presented to me by Barratier. He lent me the box to keep them in. I fed and watered them warily and successfully for a couple of days by lifting the door an inch, having previously rapped upon it to scare the prisoners to the other end, then slipping in the dish of water and the nuts, sugar, or fruit that were the day's rations. Supposing that kindness and comfortable quarters had tamed them into appreciation of my services and intentions, I raised the door two inches higher on the third day, and took a good look at the beauties huddled trembling in their safe corner. Their bright eyes were alluring, their quiescence was encouraging. I spoke to them in dulcet accents, and advanced a friendly hand. They met it more than half-way, one leaping upon my bare arm, running up to my shoulder, and, with one bound over my head, regaining his lost freedom. I caught his less active brother by the tail as he was sneaking under the door, and held him tight. In a quarter-jiffy he whisked his little body around and dug his teeth into my finger, and, as I still held on to his tail, incontinently shed the skin of the same, leaving it in my grasp. The last I ever saw of him was the flaunt of a gory, ghastly pennant, as the bearer vanished under a heap of stones. I flung the bloody casing from me with abhorrence. Now I can hope that another grew upon the denuded bones. Then I hoped it would not. The insult was gross.
The immediate successor of the ingrates was a mouse bestowed upon me by one of the stable hands. I named the waif "Caspar Hauser" forthwith, being fresh from the perusal of the history of that engaging fraud, and inducted him into a spare rat-trap set about closely with wires. A horsehair sparrow's nest was lined with raw cotton and put in one corner, a toy saucer of water in the other, and in the third a toy plate filled with cracked hickory nuts, interspersed with bits of sugar. Then I sat down upon the floor beside him, and began the business of taming him by getting him used to seeing me, cultivating his acquaintance by poking my finger between the bars, talking and singing to him, and endeavoring, by other ingenious devices, to make him feel at home. He scampered around the confines of his domicile, as in a treadmill, all the time I was thus employed, and could not be induced to touch his food.
Mary 'Liza and I had outgrown the trundle-bed, and had a room to ourselves upstairs. Into this I surreptitiously conveyed the improvised cage that night and hid it under the bed. When my bedfellow had fallen asleep, I got up softly, lighted a candle, and took a peep at my pet. He had gone regularly to bed after disposing of some of the nuts and scattering the remnants in every direction, and now lay curled up in the cotton-wool in the prettiest, most homelike way imaginable, fast asleep.
I hung over him, entranced. He was tamed! Before long he would be following me all over the house, playing hide-and-seek in corners, sitting upon his hind legs beside my plate at table, and nibbling such tidbits as I might give him. One particularly bright picture of our common future was of taking him to church, smuggling him into the pocket of my Sunday frock, and after settling myself comfortably upon my knees before a corner seat during the "long prayer," taking Caspar Hauser out and letting him play on the bench. What a boon his society would be—what a relief his antics while Mr. Lee droned through innumerable "We pray Thees!"
After I went back to bed I pursued these and other enchanting visions into dreamland. The next day I took Caspar Hauser into the garden for air and sunshine. His liveliness was something inconceivable by the human imagination. He chased himself frantically around the cage, regardless of my tender exhortations, until I began to fear that taming was a more tedious process than I had supposed. I set the cage upon the grass where the sun was hottest, withdrawing myself into the shade as less in need of light and warmth, and read a volume of Berquin's Children's Friend in full sight of Caspar Hauser. Whenever I turned a page I would stick my finger between the wires and chirrup encouragingly to the captive, all with a single eye to getting him used to me. His speed and staying powers were equally extraordinary, but I was cheered, when the forenoon was spent and I picked up the cage to take him in, by observing that he ran more deliberately and with occasional pauses. By the time I got him upstairs he lay down for a nap. He was still slumbering at my supper-time, and had not got his nap out when I went to bed, nor yet when breakfast was eaten and lessons said, next morning.
I had made up my mind by now that he was sick, and carried him into the garden once more. I had read that wild creatures physic themselves if allowed to seek such plants as instinct tells them are specifics for their ailments. Lifting Caspar Hauser from his woolly bed, I stroked him and called him by name. He was so tame by now that he did not struggle upon my palm. Only the rise and fall of his furry sides showed that he was alive. He was limp and helpless, and to me very lovable. I laid him upon a strip of turf hot with the sunshine that had steeped it for five hours. He had a liberal choice of healing herbs. Parsley, sage, mint, tansy, peppergrass, catnip, and sweet marjoram, rue and bergamot and balsam, flourished within a hundred lengths of his small body. While I watched him he stretched himself as a baby at awakening, and began to crawl weakly toward the tansy bed. To save him needless exertion I pulled a handful of the yellow heads and offered them to his inquisitive nose. Mam' Chloe had given me tansy tea for a bad cold last winter. It tasted nasty, but I got well. Instinct had "indicated" tansy to Caspar Hauser. He refused the panacea dumbly, and made, still feebly, for the parsley patch. I let him go a yard or more, when, fearing lest he might lose himself in the maze of luxuriant herbage, I dragged him tenderly back by the tail to the hot turf.
He had grown so tame that he never moved again.
The funeral took place that afternoon. We buried him next to Musidora. I had had enough of vaults, regarding them, with reason, as uncertain places of sepulture for the presumably defunct. I had never heard, or read, of cremation. I had had the misfortune to break my slate a few days before, and the biggest fragment made a nice tombstone for Caspar Hauser. With a nail and with infinite toil I produced a suitable epitaph.
HERE LIES HIS AFLICTED MISS M. BURWELL'S FATHEFULL LIT TLE FREND AN D TAME PLA YFELOW AND SUFFERER C. H.
There was not room for the whole name, but, as I told my fellow-mourners when I read the inscription to them, since we all knew it, the omission was of no consequence. I could have wished that the slate had broken straight, so that the inscription would have gone in better. However, one cannot control circumstance when it takes the shape of a fracture.
Within twenty-four hours after Caspar Hauser's decease he was succeeded by Bay. His name in its entirety, was Baffin's Bay. The alliterative unctuousness of the title pleased me, as Mary 'Liza pronounced it smoothly in her geography lesson, the day on which Hamilcar, the carriage driver, drove over a young "old hare" in the road, and knocked one of the poor thing's eyes out. It was taken up for dead, but presently began to kick, and the ownership reverted to me. It lived a week, and for hours at a time was so nearly comfortable as to eat sparingly of milk, lettuce, cabbage, and clover, with which I supplied it lavishly twice a day. I likewise treated the wounded eye with balsam-capeiva and balm of Gilead ointment, sovereign appliances for the bruises and cut fingers of that generation. A lemon box, with slats nailed across the front by faithful Barratier, was the hospital in which I laid Bay up for repairs. Him, too, I carried daily into the garden, for change of air. He condescended to approve of the parsley patch, limping through it as gracefully as the long tape tied to his right hind leg would allow.
When, upon the third day of his residence in civilized quarters, he had a convulsion in the very middle of the parsley patch, I thought it a playful antic, and was amused and gratified thereat. The second time this happened, James, the gardener, chanced to witness the performance and informed me, brutally, that "that old hyar had throwed a fit, and was boun' to die 'fore long.
"That 'ar lick on de side o' de hade done de bizness fur him, sure. De brain am injerred. Mighty easy thing fur to injer a Molly Cottontail's brain. He ain't got much, an' hit lies close to de top o' de hade."
For forty-eight hours before Bay died, the spasms were distressingly frequent, but I would not have him killed. James might be wrong. Good nursing and plenty of fresh air might bring my patient around. For fear my parents might insist that he should be put out of his misery, I removed the hospital to the playhouse, and gave him the range of the place, forbidding the colored children to tell what was going on. His agonies were nearly over when, in the distraction of anxiety, I took Cousin Frank Morton into confidence. He had ridden over with a message from Cousin Molly Belle.
(Have I mentioned that they had been married for six months?)
The message was to the effect that I must spend the day and night with her. My mother gave ready consent.
"Molly has been too pale for several days, and has little or no appetite," she said, looking affectionately at me. "The change will do her good, and there is no other place where she enjoys a visit more than at your house. Molly! can't you thank Cousin Frank for taking the trouble to come for you?"
Strained by conflicting emotions, I fidgeted awkwardly about Cousin Frank's chair, pinching the hem of my apron into folds, and shifting from one foot to the other.
"I want to go dreadfully!" I got out at length, almost ready to cry. "But—Cousin Frank—wouldn't you like to look at Bay? He's an old hare that I am taming."
While speaking, I started for the door, and he came after me. My mother exclaimed, provoked, yet laughing, that I was "getting more ridiculous every day," but I knew my man, and did not stop.
Bay was throwing a particularly hard fit when we got to him. His cries had something humanlike in them that pierced ears and heart.
"My dear child!" uttered the shocked visitor. "How long has this been going on?"
Upon hearing that the poor thing had never seemed really well from the day he was hurt, and had been "going on like this for four days, hand-running," he was quite angry—for him.
"I wonder that your mother let you keep him when he was in this state," he said seriously; and, seeing the tears I could not drive back, he sat down on my chair and drew me up to him. "It would be better to kill the poor creature, at once, dear. He can never be better."
I begged him not to tell my mother about Bay's sickness. I had become very fond of him, and he was so sweet and patient—and tame,—and I just couldn't bear to have him killed. Whether he would have granted my petition or not was not to be tested. While I was speaking, Bay uttered a shrill scream, leaped up high in the air, and fell over on his back, dead.
We hurried on the funeral that I might go home with Cousin Frank that evening. I pulled up the tombstone from the head of Caspar Hauser's grave and made an epitaph on the other side for Bay. There might not be another slate broken in the family for months. At the present rate of mortality among my pensioners, it behooved me to be economical. I had not time to indite such an elaborate testimonial to the worth of the deceased as graced Caspar Hauser's last resting-place. Yet I thought the tribute not amiss, and the drop into poetry elated me and electrified my audience. The lines were engraved perpendicularly upon the slate to give the rhyme effective room:—
"Alas! and Alack A DAY! Poor Litle BAFFINS BAY!"
My visit lasted three days instead of one and a half. I brought back with me something worthy of the pride that swelled my happy heart to aching. One of Cousin Frank's men had taken two young hares alive, and given them to his mistress a week ago, and she and Cousin Frank had arranged a pleasant surprise for me. Before I had been in the house an hour I was taken to the dining room to see the dear little things already housed in a cage, made by the plantation carpenter. None of your lemon-box makeshifts, but a strong case in the shape of a cottage, of planed wood, painted white on the outside. There were two rooms in it with a round door in the dividing wall. One was half full of soft, sweet-smelling hay for Darby and Joan to sleep upon. Their names were ready-made, too. The other room was a parlor where they were to eat and to live in the daytime. Broad leather straps by which the box could be carried were made to look like chimneys.
The whole family collected to admire my treasures when I got home, and Mary 'Liza was so much interested in Darby and Joan that she brought up her cats, Cinderella and Preciosa, to be introduced and make friends with "their new cousins"—so she said. Cinderella was black-and-white, Preciosa yellow-and-white, very large, and with long fur as soft and fine as raw silk. Mary 'Liza put them down close to the cottage.
"You must be very good and never hurt either of the beautiful hares—you hear?" she said, and we all looked on to see what they would do.
Bless your soul! they walked once around the cottage in a lazy, indifferent, supercilious way, hardly glancing at their "new cousins," then Preciosa yawned, tiptoed back to her place on the rug, doubled her toes in under her, and half closed her "greenery-yallery" eyes in real, or simulated slumber. Cinderella purred about her mistress until she seated herself again to work upon her seventh chemise, then jumped up into her lap and composed herself to slumber.
After that, I had no fear that the well-fed, pampered creatures would molest my pets. Everybody sympathized in my good fortune. The weather was intensely warm, and Uncle Ike's own august hands rigged up a shelf against the garden fence, making what I called a "situation" for my cottage. Not even Argus could get at them there, had he been evilly disposed, and he had excellent principles for a puppy. Darby and Joan nibbled lettuce and cabbage from my fingers inside of three days, and if they were in the bedroom when I approached their dwelling, would bustle out to see if it were milk, or greens, or, maybe, clover blossoms that I had for them.
The happy, happy days went by, and I announced to my father one evening as we sat at supper that I really "began to believe the curse was lifted from my pets."
"The curse! Mary Hobson Burwell! what a word!" cried my mother.
My father held up his hand.
"One moment, if you please, mother! Explain yourself, Molly!"
"I mean," answered I, bravely, "that it used to seem as if a wicked fairy had cursed a curse upon anything I took a fancy to. Like the girl in the song, and her tree and flower, and dear gazelle, you know. But Darby and Joan make me hope—"
The words were blasted upon my tongue by a terrible scream.
The garden gate was close to the dining-room windows, and the windows were not high above the ground. I rushed for the nearest. The moon was bright, and I was in time to see three cats jump down from the shelf on which the cottage was "situated," and dart away in as many different directions. One ran close along the wall of the house, and I recognized Preciosa. Hurling myself over the window-sill, I was the first of our startled party to reach the scene of the tragedy.
The attack had been made from the three exposed sides of the cottage, the cats thrusting their claws between the bars and dragging my darlings up against these.
My father opened the cottage door and took out the mangled, palpitating bodies.
"Oh, father!" I shrieked. "Are they killed?"
"Yes, my daughter."
Then I went crazy. So raging and raving crazy that when I came partially to my senses, I did not recollect what I had been saying or doing since I heard the awful truth. I had been removed from the dark and bloody ground in some way and by somebody, for I was lying on my mother's bed. The consciousness of where I was had in it some drops of the oil of consolation. Next to the close embrace of the mother's arms there is no other resting-place on earth that so aptly typifies the safety and healing grace of Heaven to the child of whatever age, as Mother's Bed.
In our house, to be laid upon that miracle of elastic fluffiness was to become, in fancy, a blessed ghost, cradled upon a cloud. The sick child, the hurt child, the repentant child—were received into that holy asylum without other certificate than his or her need.
Finding myself there made me feel that there might still be something worth living for, and to care for. My mother was by me and her arm was under my head; my father stood at the foot of the bed, kind and compassionate; Mam' Chloe was putting a bottle of hot water to my feet, and there was a strong smell of cologne in the air. I was very weak; my head felt queer and light, and although I was not crying, something seemed to grab me inside and shake me every little while—a short, sharp shake that made me gasp. Before I could open my eyes I heard my mother's voice say:—
"I wish the dear child did not take things so much to heart. It will bring her a great deal of sorrow in her future life."
Ah, blessed mother of mine! for so many years beyond the sight and hearing of the vicissitudes of that life, then new and all untried—yours was but a partial prophecy. Against the sorrows born of "taking things so much to heart," I set a wealth of joy and beauty and love that have been made mine own by the same nature and habit.
What she said or meant was little to me at that moment, for as I blinked confusedly about me, I saw Mary 'Liza, neat and upright, in her own especial chair by the window, and Preciosa was on her lap.
An electric bolt quivered through me. I started up and pointed at the placid pair, my hand shaking like a leaf, my voice thick with spluttering wrath:—
"She did it! I want her killed."
"Dear child, lie down, don't talk, you are dreaming," cooed my mother, trying to force me gently down to the pillow.
I put her aside, and tried to form articulate words.
"That, cat, did, it! I saw her. I'll kill her! Let me get up."
My father came to my mother's help.
"Take the cat out of the room, Mary Eliza," he ordered calmly. And to me—"Now, Molly, we will hear what you have to say."
He heard and weighed the evidence before I was put to bed in my own room. My head still went around queerly when I raised it, but my mind was clear. He sat by me and stroked my hand gently while he got my testimony. His kindness to his orphaned niece was unfailing, but he seldom caressed her, and nobody ever romped with her. He listened to my story first, and as patiently as if he were not to hear any other.
I was hotly positive that the big cat I had seen jump from the shelf and dash by the window so close to me that I could have touched her by leaning over the sill, was Preciosa. There was no other cat of her size and color on the plantation. Beyond this conviction the prosecution had not a scrap of testimony to offer. On the side of the accused were the record of a blameless life; the lack of motive, inasmuch as the accused was fed abundantly with daily bread far more convenient for her than the raw flesh she had never desired before,—and, as a "clincher," an alibi was set up by Preciosa's mistress, who, coming into the chamber a few minutes after the disaster, had found the cat sleeping upon the rug just as she had left her when the supper bell rang,—and with never a speck of blood on her paws and fur.
"She had licked it off, then!" I stormed. "I tell you I did see her! I did! I did! I DID! Father! you know I wouldn't tell a story about it—don't you?"
"I believe that you think you saw her, my daughter. We all believe that. But you may have been mistaken. You were very much excited, and the cat ran fast, and it was in the night, recollect, and the moon is not as bright as the day. Altogether, we must take it for granted that Preciosa is not guilty, and keep a sharp lookout for the strange cat that did the mischief."
"It was Preciosa—hateful old thing!" I insisted, angry and sullen. "She ought to be killed!"
My father arose with decision that showed the case was concluded.
"Mother! you will see that our little daughter does not talk any more about this to-night? She will, I hope, feel differently in the morning."
I did not. In saying my prayers at bedtime I pointedly omitted—"Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." I did not mean to forgive Preciosa. Furthermore, I was not at peace with her mistress and advocate. The more I mused, the hotter the fire burned, until I was ready to convict my father of injustice, and my mother of rank favoritism for the alien. I sulked violently at breakfast, and as I was not reproved, grew so stubborn and disrespectful over my lessons that I was sent to my room to stay there until dinner was ready. The term of banishment had still an hour to run, and I was leaning, listless and wretched, out of the window when Mam' Chloe and Uncle Ike met in the yard directly beneath, and part of the low dialogue reached me.
"Ef I could onct ketch that Precious-O-sir in some o' her tricks, you'd see the fur fly,—mind!" said the butler.
"I suttinly is mighty sorry for po' Miss Molly," answered his wife. "Looks-if hur heart is pretty nigh broke. It's right down pitiful to see how much sto' she sot by them young old hyars. You mus' see ef you can't get her some mo'."
I dropped my head on the window-sill and cried out the tears that scalded my lids at the unexpected touch of sympathy. Then I fell to thinking and with a purpose.
I went down to dinner with a tolerably composed countenance, a good appetite, and a well-digested scheme of vengeance in my mind. Uncle Ike was my only co-conspirator. I think I can see him now as he rolled back against the garden fence to laugh as I unfolded my design.
"Ef you ain't the beater!" he chuckled, his pepper-and-salt poll tilted to one shoulder, and eyeing me with undisguised admiration. "An' you say nobody ain' put it into your hade?"
"I haven't said a word about it to anybody else, Uncle Ike. You'll help me,—won't you?"
He doubled himself up like a dyspeptic jack-knife, the ingenuity of the plot gaining upon his imagination.
I pressed my advantage:—
"And don't tell Mam' Chloe—please! She'll think it is cruel. But it isn't. It's just only justice. And it can't bring them back."
I clenched my fists, and my eyes filled.
"That's so, Miss Molly, that's so," sobering instantly. "It is mighty hard on you—powerful hard."
"And, Uncle Ike,"—hurrying to get it out lest my voice should fail,—"please don't let anybody give me any more old hares, or any 'live things to keep. They'll just die, or be murdered by other folks' cats—or something. It's no use making myself happy for a little while just to be sorry for ever and ever so long afterward."
With which epigram I ran away, afraid to try to utter another word.
That evening we were all on the front porch. The air was breezeless, the moon as yellow as brass through sultry fogs. My mother, in a white dress, lay back in her rocking-chair and fanned herself languidly. My father smoked his Powhatan pipe upon the steps, leaning against one pillar of the roof. Mary 'Liza in pale-blue lawn, occupied the other end of the step. Her hands were in her lap. Cinderella dozed upon a fold of her skirt. Dorinda had been undressed and rocked to sleep at sunset. Preciosa had gone upstairs at the same time. I saw her lying upon the foot of our bed after supper, her eyes narrowed to slender slits with sleep or slyness. I had a shrewd impression that if I were to go upstairs now I should not find her in the same place. Instead of verifying the surmise in this way I stole noiselessly out of the family group, sauntering along carelessly until I turned the corner of the house, after which I ran like a lapwing to the garden gate, the rendezvous agreed upon between Uncle Ike and myself.
He was there with the various "properties" I had ordered.
Imprimis, a big dish-pan; second, a monstrous black pot from which steam arose into the hot night; third, a stout twine, to one end of which was attached a brick; a lump of raw liver dangled at the other. By my directions the pan was balanced upon the shelf where the cottage had stood, so that a slight pull would overset it, the brick was laid in the bottom, the string with the liver attachment hanging over the side. Lastly, Uncle Ike mounted upon the stool I was wont to use when I visited my murdered dears, and filled the pan from the pot. All being ready, we conspirators withdrew to the unlighted dining room, and stationed ourselves at a window.
Our watch was not tedious. I was the first to discern a moving speck in the dim vista of the walk leading from the gate far down the garden. It enlarged and assumed a definite form, slowly. Evidently it was a scout, and the advance a reconnoissance. Feline artifice was in every line and motion. A ray of misty moonlight lay athwart the entrance to the garden. The gate was propped open. As the cat crossed it, we recognized a wily and wicked old Tom from the stable, a disreputable plebeian prowler, never tolerated in the house grounds. I hardly smothered an ejaculation as dainty Preciosa glided into the illuminated area and took part in the furtive inspection of the preparations made for the reception of last night's marauders. A third, and yet a fourth, miscreant joined the first two, and heads were laid together in a council of war.
The liver hung high. Tom rose upon his hind feet, clawed the air futilely and came down sheepishly upon all fours. Next, a small, nimble black cat jumped and fell short of the bait. Uncle Ike snickered, and I drew in my breath excitedly, as the pampered exquisite, My Lady Preciosa, tripped mincingly into the open. The moon shone out obligingly to let us see her fall into position, her head upraised toward the tempting morsel—(pig's liver, and none too fresh at that)—her crouching body thrown well back upon the haunches, her tail, enlarged to double the usual size, waving sinuously from side to side in leisurely calculation of distance and chances. Suddenly she launched her supple body into space like a catapult, caught the meat between her claws, swung in the air for a victorious half-second—and then, the deluge!
A chorus of screeches, a frantic stampede in all directions, and the arena was clear of all except the home-made infernal machine,—the empty dish-pan upside down on the ground, the brick, the string, and the raw meat lying under it.
The caterwauling, Uncle Ike's "ky-yi!" and my scream of laughter, brought the porch-party to the spot. By previous agreement neither of us mentioned Preciosa's name. I had to pinch myself violently to contain the unseemly mirth bottled up in my wicked soul when Mary 'Liza was "so glad the horrible creatures were punished," and "hoped" gently "that Molly was convinced, now, that poor, dear Preciosa was innocent."
"By the way, where is Preciosa?" asked my father.
"She seemed so sleepy that I gave her her supper, and put her to bed, when I took Dorinda upstairs," said her surety.
Perhaps my father partly interpreted the gleam in my eyes and the quivering muscles about my uncontrollable mouth, for he glanced keenly at me and made as if he would let the inquiry drop. Not so my mother. She bade Mary 'Liza run upstairs and make sure that Preciosa was there.
"I want my dear little girl to be entirely satisfied that her cousin was right, and that she did the cat an injustice," she said with judicial mildness.
Preciosa was not in our room, and she stayed out all night, greatly to her owner's alarm and distress. Her habits were so regular, her deportment was always so impeccable that the circumstance assumed the proportions of an Event by breakfast time. My mother was anxious, Mary 'Liza sorrowful, and my father shook his head more gravely than the occasion seemed to warrant.
"Molly may not have been so far wrong after all," he observed to my mother, "in spite of the array of circumstantial evidence against her."
My mother was unconvinced.
"Previous good behavior should count for much in such a case," she urged. "And our little Molly is too apt to jump at conclusions. We cannot be too careful how we accuse others of sins which they may never have committed."
I understood what they said perfectly. They never talked down to us. That was one reason we were called "old-fashioned" and "precocious" by people who had one set of words for their own use, and another for children. My parents considered, and I think rightly, that the best and most correct forms of speech should be taught to mere infants, that it is as easy to train a child to be grammatical as to let it lapse into all sorts of slovenly inaccuracies that must be unlearned at school, and in society. So, when they talked of "circumstantial evidence" I had a fair inkling of what the phrase conveyed. Preciosa was upon trial for misdemeanor, and I for backbiting.
I ate away industriously to keep from "answering back,"—a cardinal offence in nursery government. Mary 'Liza had no appetite, but she, also, remained silent, and there was moisture under her eyelids.
"We will suspend judgment—" began my father, and interrupted himself to ask—"What have you got there, Ike?"
The butler grinned from ear to ear, and broke into uncontrollable cachinnations in depositing his burden upon the floor.
"One of the stable-boys foun' it in the lof', suh."
He could say no more, and would not have been heard had he gone on, for my father roared, my mother fairly shrieked with laughter, and I went into hysterics, while Mam' Chloe and Gilbert joined in the general racket from the doorway.
An abject nondescript cringed at Mary 'Liza's feet, whimpering piteously. The devil's broth concocted by Uncle Ike, according to my receipt, was warm starch, made blue with indigo. A few red peppers were boiled in it to dissuade the cats from licking it off before it could dry. It adhered to every individual hair of Preciosa's body. She looked like an azure porcupine. I had thought, at first, of using soot as coloring matter, but the thought of the blue appealed to my sense of the congruous ridiculous. I was more than content with the result. Why a blue cat should be more mirth-provoking than a yellow may not be explicable, but the fact remains. Even Mary 'Liza shrank from contact with the absurd object, and the moisture condensed into falling drops.
"Oh, Aunt Mary! do you think it can be Preciosa? It looks like a—monster!"
With tears running down his cheeks, and his sides shaking with gusts of merriment, my father took me upon his knee, and gave me the funniest kiss I ever had—a jerky kiss, as if a bee had bobbed against my mouth.
"You'll be the death of me yet, child!" And after another series of side-shakings—"So much for circumstantial evidence!"
The morning was biting cold. A northwest wind had been busy for hours sweeping and dusting the sky until, now that it was resting from its labors, the blue vault was as clean and bright as our mahogany dining-table after Uncle Ike had polished it with beeswax and rosin.
At the breakfast-table the butter splintered off under the knife, and the milk was frozen so hard that Mary 'Liza and I sugared it and made believe it was ice-cream. When Gilbert, the under dining-room servant, brought in the buckwheat cakes and waffles from the kitchen, he had to cover them with a hot plate, and then run as hard as he could go across the yard to the house, to keep them from chilling on the way.
There are no buckwheat cakes nowadays, like those that Aunt 'Ritta made—glossy brown, all of a size, and porous as a sponge. It was great fun to butter them, and then press them with the flat of a knife-blade, to see spurts and spouts rise from the surface like so many hot oil geysers.
That was the morning when I made the eight-cakes-and-one-sausage speech that passed into a family proverb. The night before I had thrown a candle-end, four inches long, into the fire, and my mother had told me it was a Christian duty to be economical, defining the word for me. Bent, as usual, upon practising what I learned, I divided my sausage into eight bits, and ate one with each cake.
Cousin Molly Belle and Cousin Frank Morton had stayed all night with us, and the talk at table was so lively that nobody noticed what I was about. We were not allowed to chatter during meals when others than the family were present, or, indeed, at any other time if grown people were talking, until invited by them to take part in the conversation. So I waited for a lull in the chat to say aside to my mother at whose left hand I sat:—
"Mother! I have made one sausage do for eight buckwheat cakes. Wasn't that economical?"
Even Cousin Molly Belle laughed, the "aside" being more audible than I meant to have it. True, she hugged me the next minute, her chair being next to mine on the other side, but her eyes were lively with amusement, and I saw that she was ready to break out again.
My poor dainty mother actually blushed. It was not fashionable then for ladies, and little girls who were going to be ladies, to have hearty appetites. School-girls were instructed that no well-bred young lady ever ate more than two biscuits at breakfast or supper, and one was more refined than two. The pinion of a partridge sufficed the Lydia Languish of that day for the meat course of a dinner, and to be hungry was to be coarse. My mother was a sensible matron who did not lean to extreme views on any subject, but she did not rise superior to a mortification such as this. When she said distressfully:—
"Molly! Eight cakes! I am ashamed that you should be so greedy!" I comprehended that my offence was rank, and that not her taste alone, but her sensibilities, suffered.
I got hot all over, as was my custom when self-convicted of sin, and sat abashed, appetite and spirits put to flight together.
My father pulled his face straight.
"Never mind this time, mother! Better pay meat bills than doctor's bills. And, on a cold day, a restless little body like hers needs a great deal of carbon to keep the fires going. Eight buckwheat cakes and a thumping big sausage represent just so much animal heat."
By and by, when I got a chance to speak to him alone, I asked him what carbon was, and what he meant by the fires and animal heat. He was at work at his table in "the office" in the yard, the Mortons having gone home, but he put down his pen and talked to me for quite a while upon nutrition and food values. He did not use those terms. They had not come into vogue even with medical men and writers upon anatomy. Still, his simple lecture made me comprehend that what I ate kept me alive and warm and active, and how certain kinds of food made blood, and others, muscle, and others were of little or no use in keeping up animal heat, without which there could be no life.
I asked him if we could keep a dead thing warm if it would come to life again. I was thinking of all my dead pets. It was pathetic,—the familiarity of a seven-year-old with death and dissolution,—but of this I was not aware.
He answered very gravely:—
"We cannot keep dead things warm, daughter. When animal heat goes, life goes."
"And when animal heat comes, does life come?" I queried. "Is that what makes things alive?"
"Yes, dear. I have not time to explain it to you now. I am very busy. Some other time we will talk more about it."
I carried a spandy new idea, and a stirring, into the garden with me at noon, as a chicken runs away to a corner with a crumb. The sun shone brightly, and I easily kept comfortable by skipping up and down a long walk, bordered on the northern side by an arbor-vitae hedge. I did not know that resinous evergreens really give out warmth, but I had found out, for myself, that this was the warmest nook of the grounds in winter, and haunted it exceedingly.
"When animal heat comes, life comes," I repeated aloud, in dancing along.
The sentence sounded important, and pleased my ears. Presently, I would set about getting all the meaning I could extract from it, and experiment upon my acquisition. All my mental currency went into active circulation.
An odd-looking thing lay in the middle of the path, that was not there when I came down awhile ago. I thought, at the first glance, that it was a hedgehog. I had seen pictures of the animal, and knew that when hunted so closely that it cannot escape it rolls itself into a prickly ball. This queer object was an oblong roll, about six inches in length and two inches thick, and covered with very coarse brown fur or wool. I picked it up. It was very cold. Then it could not be alive. It was light as a puffball. Then it was empty. For the rest it was a puzzle. I ran with it to Mam' Chloe, who was getting Bud to sleep in my mother's chamber.
She cast a look at my "find," and sniffed impatiently.
"Always huntin' and foolin' long some trash or nuther! Fetchin' er ole dade sunflower in ter show me when I'm doin' my bes' ter git this blessed sugar-plum pie to sleep so's I ken git to my mendin'. Go 'long, Miss Molly!"
I was used to her moods, clement and adverse, and I stood my ground.
"Are you sure it's a sunflower, mammy?"
"What you take me fur, chile? Don' I know a sunflower that's run ter seed las' summer, an' is empty an' dade as Furious [Pharaoh] now? I got no time to steddy 'bout sech foolishness."
I walked off,—not crestfallen, but blithe. One word had shunted my ideas upon a new track. She called this nondescript—which might, or might not, be the dried and warped disk of a sunflower that had cast its seeds—"dead." What should hinder me from making it alive? It looked like a hedgehog, or some other animal. It should be an animal! Food of the right kind, and plenty of heat, were all it needed.
"Carbon and animal heat!" uttered I, consequentially, swelling with the prospective joy of creation.
Already I foresaw, in imagination, the tremor of the coming breath running through the uncouth body that would then put out, from mysterious hiding-places, head and limbs and tail, as buds unfold into flowers. I would confide to nobody what I was going to undertake. But I would do it! I would keep up animal heat, hour after hour, day after day, until my—Creature—breathed and moved and grew!
Without delay I hied me to the kitchen, and begged a cold sausage and a pone of corn-bread from Aunt 'Ritta. She made no objection beyond asking why I "wanted sassage 'n' corn-bread in de middle o' de mawnin', 'stead o' piece o' cake, or somethin' sweet."
"Because the weather is so cold," I replied briefly, and got what I wished with a grunt of "Dat's so, honey!" Negroes are constitutionally averse to winter and cold, and recognize, without knowing why, the carboniferous properties of pork and pone. I bore my treasures off to the dining room, shut the door, and began my experiment in the hottest flare of the fireshine.
The sunflower disk was a curiosity to me. It had curled inward upon itself, leaving a considerable cavity within. I stuffed this with the bread and sausage, crumbled fine, ruminating, the while, upon the probability that the sausage and cakes I had devoured presented the like appearance by the time they reached my stomach. When the variegated and viscid compound was tucked away, I wound a soft string about the disk to keep it in shape, and enveloped it, first in raw cotton, then in a bit of red flannel. In my uncertainty as to which end would bourgeon into a head, and from which would be evolved the tail, I left both ends open that IT might be able to breathe when breath came. Lastly, I secreted it under my cricket. It was what was known as "a box cricket," and the enclosing sides came to within three inches of the floor. It stood at the warmest corner of the hearth, and I was well-nigh roasted by the time I had sat upon it long enough to read the chapter in Sandford and Merton that tells of poor soft Tommy's choice of the shorter end of the pole on which the load was hung, as likely to be the lighter. I guessed that it was now time for me to expect to hear the birth-cry of my Creature, or at least to detect some thrill of life. Lifting a corner of the mufflings, I insinuated a tentative finger.
IT was warm! And before I withdrew my finger from the rough brown coat I was confident that I felt a throb like a pulse heave ITS sides. It is not an exaggeration to say that I was faint with excitement as I replaced the wrappings. I had never heard of Pygmalion and his statue. It was thirty years thereafter before I read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. When I did read it I could not fail to recall the picture of the country-bred child, palpitating with awed delight in the belief that she had wrested Something from Nothing. Youth alone is absolutely fearless. The presumption of ignorance is akin to sublimity.
I sat down again to ecstatic dreamings. IT would be all my own when IT was made—a pet so much better worth the having and holding than any that had preceded it in my affections, that I thought of them—even of the ever-lamented Darby and Joan—with compassionate contempt. I pictured to myself the astonishment of the household, white and colored, in beholding the miracle; the sensation in the neighborhood and county when the news of what had come to pass was bruited abroad. From the outermost border of Powhatan, from Chesterfield, and mayhap from over the river separating Powhatan from Goochland, people would flock to see me and wonder. Grown-uppers, who had never heard my name until now, would tell other strangers what Mary Hobson Burwell, aged seven, had done. I should be CELEBRATED!
I sat and roasted, shifting my position occasionally that another side might get "done," and seemed to pore over my book until dinner was ready.
"You are eating next to nothing, Molly," remarked my mother, casually, during the meal. "Have you been to see 'Ritta since breakfast?"
"Yes, ma'am," I answered meekly; and she did not observe that I colored uneasily.
Back to my watch I went when the table was cleared, and the others had quitted the room. Uncle Ike replenished the fire, and commended my good sense in "huggin' the chimbley-corner in sech cole weather," before he left me to solitude, to Sandford and Merton, and to "Frank." I had resolved to name him for my dear cousin-in-law. When I came to read Frankenstein I marvelled at the coincidence. Frank continued warm, as I ascertained by quarter-hourly pokes, but he did not stir. I must be patient. Precious things were slow of growth.
Full as my mind and heart were of thoughts and hopes too big for expression, my behavior was so nearly normal that no troublesome questions were propounded. I had no difficulty in keeping my secret. Imaginative children have more secrets to guard than adults ever think of harboring.
I took Frank to bed with me, smuggling him under my pillow, and going to sleep with my hand on him. He was getting warmer every hour.
At midnight a cry—a series of cries—aroused the slumbering household, and drew my father and mother to my room. I had been awakened from sleep too sound for dreams by the bite of sharp teeth upon the thick of my thumb. Even the certainty that Frank had evolved a mouth, and that it was in good working order, could not cheat me into forgetfulness of the terror and pain of that awakening. I jerked my hand from under the pillow and shook Something off upon the floor. I heard it fall, and I heard it run. Frankenstein could not have conceived more intense horror and loathing for his foul, misshapen offspring than overpowered me at that terrible instant. The light in my father's hand showed blood streaming from my thumb and dripping upon the coverlet.
"A mouse, or maybe a young rat, has bitten her," my mother pronounced without hesitation. "And no wonder! See how greasy her hand is! Faugh! How very careless in Chloe to put the child to bed in such a state! Be quiet, Molly! This should be a lesson to you not to go to bed again without washing your hands. You are old enough to think of such things for yourself. My dear child, can't you stop crying? It is not like you to make so much noise over a little hurt."
"She is frightened out of her senses," said my father. "And you must admit that it was rather startling to be aroused by feeling a mouse's teeth nibbling at her hand."
I clung to his neck, shivering with fright and cold. My sobs were uncontrollable.
"It wasn't a mo-use!" I got out, presently. "Nor a ra-at, either!"
"Not a mouse or a rat! How do you know? Did you see it?"
"It was Fra-a-nk!" I gulped. "Oh! I'm afraid to stay here! He is in the room somewhere! He will come after me again!"
The scene was ended by my going in my father's arms to my mother's bed for the rest of the night. My mother stayed upstairs with Mary 'Liza.
"But I did not sleep well," was her grieved report at breakfast. "The pillows smelled horribly of sausage, I suppose because Molly's hands were so greasy. Marthy! see that the pillow-cases are changed this morning."
Before Marthy got upstairs, I mustered and dragooned sufficient courage to enable me to visit the room. Still trembling and full of loathing at what I must see, I turned over the pillow. The red flannel was there—and the raw cotton—and inside of all, IT—Frank no longer—as cold as a stone!
I took it up with the tongs and threw it out of the window—and said never a word about it to anybody.
My Prize Beet
I had been seven years old for so long that I alluded to myself habitually as "almost eight." We had our governess now, Miss Davidson, a handsome, amiable, and somewhat sentimental Bostonian recommended by a Richmond friend of my father. Four other girls studied with us. Two of them, Paulina and Sarah Hobson, were our second cousins. They stayed at our house from Monday morning until Friday evening, going home for Sunday, unless the weather were bad. Madeline and Rosa Pemberton were day scholars, the Pemberton plantation adjoining ours.
I was the youngest of the six, and while I fancy that I was rather a favorite with Miss Davidson, I endured much from the girls on account of my inferiority in age, as well as because of my "old-fashioned, conceited ways." That was one reason I spoke of being almost eight. I was trying to grow up to what they complained of as "getting above" myself.
The frank brutality of school children of both sexes, as contrasted with the unselfish forbearance (or the show of it) and the suave courtesy of well-bred men and women, is an instructive study in the evolution of ethics. The youngest boy or girl in class or college is the weakest wolf in the pack, the under dog in the fight. I had all of a little girl's natural desire for new playfellows and the dreamer's passion for more material for castle-building. The prospect of "the school" was ravishing. I constructed scenes and rehearsed conversations, with the cast of coming actors, until the quartette must have been super-or sub-human, had they come up to one tithe of my requirements.
In plain and very homely fact, they were four commonplace, provincial girls of average natural intelligence, in age varying from twelve to fourteen. They studied because they would be called upon to recite, and recited fairly well for fear of reproof and bad marks should they be derelict. Out of school, books and bookish thoughts were cast to the four winds of heaven. Their talk was cheery chatter, as brainless as the rattle of grasshoppers in the summer grass.
Mary 'Liza towered above them in scholastic attainments, although the junior of the youngest of them, keeping at the head of every class with unostentatious ease. I am afraid that I may have done my orphaned cousin seeming injustice in former chapters of this autobiography. Her temper was even, and her nature was finer than her prim, priggish ways would have led the casual acquaintance to suppose. She was ultra-conscientious, and naturally so exemplary that her good behavior was a snare. She could not sympathize with my temptations to naughtiness and many falls from good-girlhood. I mention this to introduce what was a surprise to me at the time. She never joined in the persecutions of me that were the labor and the pastime of the other girls. It would have been asking too much to expect her to champion me openly. I was affectionately grateful to her for holding herself aloof when baiting me was the amusement of the hour.
My mother had lamented that I took life so much to heart. It took itself to my heart now, uninvited. I was headstrong and headlong, hot in love, and honest in hatred; with a brain full of absurd fancies, all of which were beloved by their author. I had browsed at will in my father's library, poring by the hour over books twenty years too old for me, yet, by mental cuticular absorption, taking in and assimilating much that contributed to the formation of taste and character. My familiar use of language that sounded pedantic because I got it from books, my frequent references to characters I had known in print, were gibberish and vanity of vanities to my new associates. My very plays were unintelligible to girls who had never heard of William Wallace, and Robert Bruce, and Thaddeus of Warsaw, or read, on Sunday afternoons, of Tobias and the Angel, Judith and Holofernes, and Christiana and her children.