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Title: Among the Lindens
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AMONG THE LINDENS



_By the Same Author._


THE LITTLE LADY OF THE HORSE.

  _Illustrated by Frank T. Merrill._


THE MUSHROOM CAVE.

  _Illustrated by Victor A. Searles._


A CAPE MAY DIAMOND.

  _Illustrated by Lilian Crawford True._

  Square 12mo. Cloth, extra. $1.50.


THE LITTLE RED SCHOOLHOUSE.

  _Illustrated by Victor A. Searles._

  Square 12mo. Cloth. $1.25.


[Illustration: BEARING IN HER ARMS THE BASKET OF CHRYSANTHEMUMS.]



  AMONG THE LINDENS

  BY

  EVELYN RAYMOND

  AUTHOR OF

  “THE LITTLE LADY OF THE HORSE,” “THE MUSHROOM CAVE”
  “A CAPE MAY DIAMOND,” “THE LITTLE RED
  SCHOOLHOUSE,” ETC.

  Illustrated

  BY VICTOR A. SEARLES


  BOSTON
  LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY
  1898



  _Copyright, 1898_,
  BY LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY.

  _All rights reserved._


  University Press:
  JOHN WILSON AND SON, CAMBRIDGE, U.S.A.



CONTENTS.


  CHAPTER                                      PAGE

      I. A KINDLY DEED                            1

     II. PINK PETALS AND BRIGHT VISIONS          13

    III. A CHRYSANTHEMUM DINNER                  28

     IV. A GENEROUS CONSPIRACY                   41

      V. IN OLD TRINITY                          54

     VI. “HUMPTY-DUMPTY’S” NOVEL EXPERIENCE      67

    VII. DINING IN STATE                         81

   VIII. PROPOUNDING A RIDDLE                    94

     IX. THE FIRST EVENING IN THE NEW HOME      108

      X. ANOTHER LITTLE EPISODE                 121

     XI. MISS JOANNA                            136

    XII. BITS OF NATURAL HISTORY                150

   XIII. GETTING DOWN TO REALITIES              161

    XIV. APIS MELLIFICA                         175

     XV. STREAKS OF HUMAN NATURE                187

    XVI. A MODERN KING ARTHUR                   201

   XVII. ROLAND’S PROJECT                       217

  XVIII. ROBERT’S OCCUPATION GONE               229

    XIX. ROBERT’S HAPPY GUESS                   244

     XX. WISTARIA                               261

    XXI. THREE YEARS LATER.--THE RESULT         277



ILLUSTRATIONS.

FROM DRAWINGS BY VICTOR A. SEARLES.


                                                                    PAGE

  “BEARING IN HER ARMS THE BASKET OF CHRYSANTHEMUMS”      _Frontispiece_

  “HE CAST A SUPERCILIOUS GLANCE ABOUT UPON THE SPECTATORS”           94

  “‘WULL, BE YOU THE EGG WOMAN?’”                                    145

  “‘LET ME ASK YOU ONE OR TWO THINGS. MAY I?’”                       184

  “‘WHY, FOLKS! WHAT’S ALL THIS?’”                                   233

  “THERE WAS NO ANSWER, AND MISS JOANNA TURNED ABOUT SWIFTLY”        267



AMONG THE LINDENS.



CHAPTER I.

A KINDLY DEED.


“Look out! Oh, look out, sir!”

“Is the man senseless?” cried a second voice.

“This way, sir--this way--quick! Dear me! Are you hurt?”

The school-girl who had uttered the first exclamation darted suddenly
forward into the midst of the crowd, and pulled from under the very
hoofs of the horses, attached to a heavy dray, the queer little old
gentleman who had occasioned her outcry.

Every New Yorker knows how thronged is that particular point, at
the southwestern corner of pretty Madison Square, where Broadway,
Fifth Avenue, and Twenty-third Street--all favorite thoroughfares of
the shoppers--meet to shake hands, as it were; while each adds its
complement of humanity on foot and humanity in vehicles to swell the
current eddying about the corner.

A gay and lively place it was, on that early afternoon. All the
curbstone merchants had come out with their mechanical toys, forever
getting under the pedestrians’ feet, tripping them up, and threatening
more than one with mischance.

Among such was an old gentleman whose dress was quaint and out of
style, while his manner was that of one unused to scenes of confusion.
For some moments he had stood upon the sidewalk, watching with curious
interest what went on about him; but when a papier-maché monkey gave
a realistic spring from the end of an elastic cord, and clasped his
ankle, he stepped boldly forth into the whirlpool of wheels. For half
the short distance between curbs all went well; then he slipped upon
the slimy pavement, and just where hoofs and wheels were in most
hopeless tangle, he fell.

There was an outcry of horror from many throats.

The policeman piloting a party of women over the crossing turned
hurriedly, just in time to see what had happened, as well as a slim
girlish figure spring to the rescue.

“Stop! That’s dangerous! Why should two be killed?”

There were groans and execrations from the drivers of carts and
carriages, the swiftly forming blockade which follows any break in
the routine of city transit, and the patrolman was back, seizing the
old man’s shoulder and demanding why he should make so much more
disturbance than was necessary by tumbling down in that ridiculous
manner. Or if the policeman did not put his inquiry in just those
words he made it distinctly evident to Mr. Philipse Chidly Brook that
visitors who could not conduct themselves any better than he had done
might likely find themselves at the station-house, to be cared for at
the public expense.

“Come this way with me, will you? Come this way just for a moment!”
cried the old gentleman, and seized upon Bonny’s hand so forcibly that,
whether she would or no, she had to follow where he led. This was
into the flower-shop close by, and she obeyed readily enough, after
all; for she loved an adventure dearly and therefore--so her sister
declared--was always meeting with one.

Isabelle, who had been with her all along, now interposed: “Bonny! What
are you doing? You must not go anywhere with a stranger. Come away at
once!” and she laid her hand in firm remonstrance upon thoughtless
Beatrice’s shoulder.

“Yes, Belle; directly. But I must see if he is hurt. Come along, too.”

“Yes, certainly; come along, too,” repeated Mr. Brook, turning toward
the elder miss.

“Thank you. It is impossible. Come, Bonny.”

But fun-loving Bonny had already followed the man into the shop; where,
with a smile of gratitude upon his very muddy face, he asked: “Who are
you, my dear?”

“Oh! no matter about that, sir. Are you hurt?”

“Not at all, I think. Time will tell. I might have some cracked bones
about my anatomy somewhere, and yet not know it, amid all this whirl
and racket. Five-and-twenty years since I set foot in the streets of
New York before, and I find them greatly changed. But I must know
your name, please. I must know to whom I am indebted for my life. I
should have been killed but for your courage, my dear; or have been
arrested and sent to the lock-up, than which I would almost think death
preferable.”

“Bonny! Bonny Beckwith! Come at once! Mother would be very much
displeased! The idea of your following a stranger about in this
way!” cried Belle, now opening the door of the shop, and looking
threateningly at her sister.

“Directly, dear. Now, sir, can you tell me where you are stopping? If
you are such a stranger here, I should think you would better take a
carriage to your home--or hotel. After twenty-five years the town must
seem like a new world to you, or, I mean--”

“Bonny!”

“Can I serve you, miss?” asked a clerk, coming forward, and Miss
Beatrice interpreted his tone to mean: “If I can I wish to do so at
once. If I cannot I would like to have the store vacated. This is no
rendezvous for adventurers.”

“No, I need nothing,” said Bonny, and moved to the door, nodding her
head brightly toward her old gentleman, but casting rather wistful
glances at the counters full of beautiful blossoms as she passed them
on her way.

“Wait a moment! Wait a moment, my dear! I have heard your name, you
see. Your sister spoke it. Here is my card; and if you will not tell
me where you live that I may call and thank you, at least let me give
you a posy before we part. Pick out what you like. Pick out what you
like, my dear, and I will pay for it. Here is my card,--Philipse Chidly
Brook, New Windsor, New York. Everybody thereabouts knows me, as
everybody hereabouts used to know me half a century ago,

  ‘When I was young as you are young,
  And love-lights in the casement hung.’”

Bonny dropped her hand from the door-knob. “Why, that is Thackeray,
sir! So you know him, too?”

“Beatrice Beckwith! Will you--or will you not--come? I--am--going!”
cried the indignant Isabelle, moving slowly away from her ill-conducted
little sister. She was greatly shocked and mortified by Bonny’s
readiness to take up with anything and anybody, and was quite justified
in her feeling; for in most cases there is danger in any girl following
a stranger, for even so slight a distance as Bonny had done, in a great
city like New York.

But this time she happened to be safe enough. Old Chidly Brook was a
gentleman if ever one lived; and queer and quaint as he now appeared,
time had been when he was a great favorite even in the most exclusive
circles of New York’s best society.

“My dear, my age is sufficient guaranty of my honor. Do allow me to
give you a little bouquet of some sort. No? Then--have you a mother?”

“Certainly. I have a dear, dear mother, who will be troubled if I stay
from home longer. Good-by.”

“Her name? Her number? I must be allowed to call and pay her my
respects!” In his eagerness, which was almost childish, the old man
laid his thin hand upon Bonny’s wrist.

She glanced down upon it; its delicacy and refinement appealed to her;
she longed to know more of its owner, and replied: “My mother is Mrs.
Rachel Beckwith, Number Blank, Second Avenue.” Then she darted out of
the shop and tried to look defiantly into the vexed face of her pretty
sister Belle.

But it was of no use. The defiance faded soon, and a whimsical humility
took its place. “I’m sorry, I’m awfully sorry, dear, that I didn’t mind
you. I’m sorry I didn’t let the dear old fellow lie there to be hurt.
I-- No, I don’t mean that. But I’ll try to behave next time. I truly
will.”

“H’m-m!” replied Isabelle; and vouchsafed nothing further till they had
reached their home, a cosey if small and plainly furnished “flat” at
the location which Bonny had given Mr. Brook.

That old gentleman, left in the flower-store after his young rescuer
had departed, turned at once to the clerk. “I saw the child cast her
eyes rather longingly, I thought, upon that vase of salmon-colored
artemisias. Are they for sale?”

“Certainly,” replied the attendant, and moved the vase forward upon the
counter. “They are the same thing as artemisias, sir, but the popular
name is chrysanthemum. These are prize flowers, from the late show. A
rare color. One of our own originating.”

“H’m-m, h’m-m. Very pretty, but roses suit me better. However, she
looked at these more than she did at the roses and pinks, and I’ll take
them. How much are they?”

“Seventy-five cents each.”

“W-h-a-t? How--much?”

“Seventy-five cents each. Chrysanthemums are the fashionable flower
now. All the people at the horse-show--”

“That’s what I came into town to see. Thinks I to myself, Old fellow,
brace up yourself a bit and take one more look at life before you step
behind the curtain. A great town, young man, and full of pitfalls.”

“Yes, sir,” respectfully. “Will you take more than one of the blooms,
sir?”

“More than one! What do you think of me, lad? If you were going to send
a posy to a pretty little girl, would you send her a pitiful, solitary
blossom? If you would you ought to be ashamed of yourself!”

The salesman laughed pleasantly, and awaited directions, which came
promptly.

“Pick me out the prettiest and biggest basket you have in the shop.
Then fill it with these artemisias--if there are enough. If not, finish
out with white ones. She looked just like a pretty pink and white
blossom herself, with her rosy cheeks and white teeth. And what eyes
she had--did she not? Yes, yes; a big basket of posies is a small price
to pay for old bones saved from breaking! It must be of the best.”

“How will this please you?” asked the attendant, showing a pretty
willow affair, shaped like the baskets seen in old-fashioned “Annuals”
as held by the hands of high-coiffured dames with sloping shoulders and
simpering mouths.

Mr. Chidly Brook was charmed directly. “That’s it! That is just the
very thing! Some of the good old notions have survived these silly
later fashions, then? Glad to hear it! I am exceedingly glad to hear
it. Now, young man, will you lend me a pen and paper, if you have such
a thing handy?”

“Certainly. Will you, please, step to the desk?”

“Just to write a little note, you know. A sort of _billet-doux_, as
we called them in the old days. I was a hand--I was a master hand at
writing _billet-doux_ then. Let me see. Number Blank, Second Avenue. A
most aristocratic neighborhood, is it not?”

“Well--sir--I don’t know. It might be. It was once, they say. I--”

“Enough. I hate these eternal ‘was onces’! No matter. What will do
for a home for that little girl must be a pretty sort of place any
way. On our farm, my uncle’s, it was just above that grand street of
millionaire residents-- Fourteenth-- What are you staring at, sir?”

“Nothing. Nothing whatever, beg pardon. But you must have known New
York for many years. Fourteenth Street is now a synonym for a street
of cheap lodging-houses and such; that is, the resident portion. The
business part is fine enough. It will take about forty-three or five
chrysanthemums to fill this basket. But we have smaller ones, sir, of
the same shape. Will you look at them?”

“I said the biggest. I didn’t mean the smallest. Thank Heaven, Philipse
Chidly Brook is still able to pay for a decent basket of posies for his
little lady, I should hope! Thank you. I will have the note written by
the time the basket is filled. And I wish to have especial care used in
the delivery of the same. The _billet-doux_ is important. I would not
have it lost.”

“It shall not be. But the filling of the basket will take some time, a
half-hour at least.”

“No matter. I am not pressed for time. Yet. I will wait.”

He did wait, with what those better acquainted with him would have
considered an unusual amount of patience; but the truth was that
the old fellow had had a pretty severe shaking-up, and now that his
excitement over the accident began to ebb, he was more and more
conscious of pains and bruises.

Finally, when the basket, perfect in its beauty, was tendered for his
inspection, he rose very stiffly and barely looked at it.

“Here is the bill, sir. Forty-three chrysanthemums at seventy-five
cents, thirty-two dollars, twenty-five cents; one basket, five--”

“The amount, lad! The amount! I hate detail.”

“Thirty-nine dollars, twenty-five cents.”

“All right. Two twenty-dollar pieces. Keep the change and buy one posy
for your girl!” And with this fine sarcasm, as he considered it, the
old gentleman left the flower-shop, entered the cab which a cash-boy
had called for him, and gave the direction: “Astor House. At once.”



CHAPTER II.

PINK PETALS AND BRIGHT VISIONS.


“Yes, Mother; if you cannot persuade Beatrice to behave herself upon
the street, I really think she should not be allowed to go out. Her
goings on are very mortifying to me, and she is sure to get us into
some dreadful sort of scrape yet, worse than that small-pox scare last
week--”

“Sweet maiden, all severe! Don’t! That is a sensitive point with
your unfortunate sister! The less said upon it the more agreeable!”
interrupted Bonny, skipping across the narrow parlor of the Beckwith
home, whither they had just returned, and catching the tall Isabelle
around the waist with a persuasive little hug.

“What have you been doing now, Beatrice?” asked the gentle little
widow, looking up from a piece of wonderful embroidery, and fixing a
half-amused, half-apprehensive gaze upon the younger girl’s face.

“Nothing, dear Motherkin, but a simple act of charity. I happened to
see a funny old gentleman tumble down in the middle of the street, and
I pulled him out of harm’s way. Isn’t that a right sort of thing to do?”

“But that is only the beginning,” added Belle. “She was not contented
with a really kind and brave rescue, but she must go off with her
protégé into a store and tell him all about ourselves, and--”

“Isabelle! Not ‘all.’ I merely told him where we lived. And it was
really an act of charity to ourselves. He will make a delightful and
very salable model for Motherkin’s embroidery. Lend me your pencil,
dear. Let me show you!”

“Beatrice, have you done this foolish thing? Did you go with any
stranger into a shop?”

“Please don’t interrupt the flow of art, Motherkin!”

“If you did, you must never do so again. Leave the person you have
assisted to go his way and you go yours. And of all people to get into
such affairs you are certainly the most unfortunate child I ever knew.”

“I’ll try to be good, Mother dear. Only it will be very difficult. He
was a nice old man. This looks very like him. You must do his legs in
burnt sienna. See? And his coat--his coat was like a ‘picter.’ All
tight down the back and very high-shouldered as to sleeves, which also
were very long and narrow. Do his coat in Prussian blue. His ‘weskit’
was yellow ochre, touched up with umber; and his hat--alas! his hat had
disappeared! His face--Motherkin, he had a nice face. A good face, a--”

“Like the tramp you let into the house, while we were out, to steal
our last half-dozen silver spoons! He, I remember, ‘had a good face, a
really intellectual face’!” remarked Belle, gibingly. Her good nature
was now quite restored by the pleasure of finding some excuse for
teasing Beatrice, who liked to tease them all.

“There, Motherkin! Isn’t that ‘sweetly pretty’? Can you not work
him into a landscape of trees and cows and clouds and other country
things?” demanded Bonny, ignoring her sister, and laying the really
clever little sketch in her mother’s lap.

“How do you get on with your singing, dear?” asked that lady, smiling,
and taking time from her work to pat the soft cheek of her merry
daughter.

“Badly. There is a terrible discrepancy between my chest notes and my
head notes. When T try to stretch one up and the other down, something
appears to give way--cr-r-rick-crac-c-k-screech! Shall I illustrate,
Mother dear?”

“No, no, I beg! My nerves are in bad condition to-day. But if you’ll
sing something without nonsense, I shall be glad to hear you. It would
rest me, I think.”

Beatrice’s gay face sobered instantly, and Isabelle laid down her book.
“Are you so tired, Motherkin?”

“Oh! no, indeed! Only it is a bit monotonous stitching, stitching all
day with nobody to talk to. Never mind. Here comes Roland. I wonder why
so early.”

The inquiry was in her eyes as she raised them to meet her son’s when
he entered, full three hours before his usual time of home-coming. But
she saw instantly that he was not ill, and, that anxiety allayed, she
smiled brightly upon him. “Well, my boy! what good fortune has given
you a holiday?”

“Ill, not good fortune, Mother. I--I have been discharged. I have lost
my place.”

Then, indeed, did a significant silence fall upon the family group.
Lost his place! Could anything have been more unfortunate!

“Why, ‘Laureate,’ have you been writing more soap-poetry?”

“No, Bonny; but I had a row with the boss, and he talked to me so
rudely that I made up my mind no gentleman would stand it. So I bolted.
That’s all. I was going to leave, anyway, after the holidays.”

“Oh, you were, eh? Going into soap-poetry for a business? If it pays as
well as your first venture--”

“Be still.”

“Yes, my dear. But I’ll just make a note of your new words. You will
have quite a vocabulary if you keep on. ‘Row,’ ‘boss,’ ‘bolted,’ will
rhyme admirably with ‘cow,’ ‘toss,’ ‘moulted.’ I shall take to writing
for soap-prizes myself soon. I’ve always had a notion that my genius
would develop in a direction not at present suspected by my family.
Mother thinks I am an embryo prima-donna; Belle knows I am a fine
dressmaker; Bob is sure I was born for no other purpose than to make
boys’ kites, and Roland must acknowledge he never would have won the
soap-poem prize if I hadn’t furnished at least one missing rhyme. But--”

“Bonny, do keep still! If I were as fond of talking as you, I’d--”

“Talk! Hark! There goes the door-bell. I hope nobody has come to
call, for--” The chatterbox did not wait to express her inhospitable
reasons, but darted down the narrow passage to answer the summons,
and was back almost directly, bearing in her arms the basket of
chrysanthemums which Mr. Brook’s messenger had just brought.

“Beatrice!”

“For mercy’s sake!”

“What in the world!”

“What’s that?”

“Oh, oh, oh!” cried the delighted girl, dancing about so that nobody
could get more than a glance at her burden of lovely blossoms, until
she finally dropped in a little heap at her mother’s feet and placed
the basket on the drawing she had laid upon her mother’s knee. “Such
a handy table your lap makes, Motherkin!” she often remarked; but the
truth was that everything must be shared with this sympathizing woman
or it lost in value.

“Isn’t it lovely, lovely?”

“Lovely, indeed! But it cannot possibly be meant for you, dear. Where
did it come from? How did you get it?”

“Of course it is meant for me. It came from the store I visited in
company with my old gentleman. And I took it out of a messenger boy’s
hand. Oh! the beauties! the darlings! Now, Miss Isabelle Beckwith,
don’t you wish you had not been so impatient? Maybe his royal
highness--he must be that, at least, or he couldn’t afford such a
gift--would have sent you one wee blossom all for yourself.”

“But I do not understand. I do not know that it is right for you to
keep it, dear,” remarked Mrs. Beckwith, between the rapid exclamations
which fell from the lips of all three young people.

“Now, Motherkin! Of course it’s right! It’s the very prettiest
compliment I ever had in all my life. Don’t go for to spoil it with
your proper notions, that’s a good Mother! But--see here! Here’s a
_billet-doux_! or I’m a sinner!”

If Mr. Philipse Chidly Brook could have witnessed the delight with
which his offering was received, and could have heard the running
comments bestowed upon it, he would have been repaid a thousand times.
For when his courtly little note, with its old-fashioned writing, was
read aloud, even the careful mother had no further reproof for her
adventure-loving Beatrice, not all whose chivalrous escapades ended as
comfortably as this.

  FAIR, KIND, AND MOST RESPECTED MISS,--Allow me to present you with
  this slight token of my gratitude; which I hope to express more
  fully when I call, this evening, to make my regards to your Mother
  and her family.

  I have the honor to subscribe myself

                                  Your Obedient Servant,
                                                  PHILIPSE CHIDLY BROOK.

  Of NEW WINDSOR, N. Y., _November Twenty-third, Eighteen hundred and
      eighty-one_.

  To MISS BEATRICE BECKWITH.

“My obedient servant! My blessed old Prince of Givers! That’s what
he should have signed. Seventy-five cents each, Motherkin mine! All
lavished on your troublesome girl!”

Mrs. Beckwith did not immediately reply. She took the note from Bonny’s
hand and gazed at it musingly, as if trying to clear some confusion of
memory. “I have heard that name before--somewhere--besides in history.
Let me think!”

“I hope you will hear it again--‘somewhere’! Here comes my
‘Humpty-Dumpty’! I was wishing he could enjoy this.”

“Hello! Bon! What the dickens is that?”

“Hello! Bob! It’s chrysanthemums, not dickens!”

“Whose is it?”

“Mine!”

“Stuff! That can’t be yours! Where did you get it?”

“It can be mine, it shall be mine, it is mine. It is a reward of merit,
the first instalment of many I hope to receive.”

“Tell a feller!” pleaded the eight-year-old boy, who was very like
Beatrice, only that his hair was a little rougher, his dark eyes even
brighter, his general appearance a trifle more dilapidated.

“I have told a ‘feller,’ and if a ‘feller’ can’t believe I am not to
blame.”

“Don’t bother! Tell the hull concern!”

Beatrice slipped her arm around the little chap as affectionately as if
his costume were not plentifully bedaubed with street mud, and kissed
his retroussé nose squarely on its tip; after which she gave him a
history of the afternoon’s incident, told as only Bonny would have told
it.

“Jimminy-cracky! He must be richer’n thunder!”

“Robert! Where do you learn such talk? Why will you use such words?”

“Dunno, Mother. They seem to grow somehow. Say, Bon! That basket is
worth a heap of money!”

“My brother, you should not look a gift horse in the mouth!”

“You’re doing it yourself, aren’t you? I saw you counting all the time
you were talking. So was I. But some of ’em seemed to get away. I bet
they is more’n forty. S’pose they cost much as five cents apiece?”

“Five cents! Seventy-five is the price of that particular shade
everywhere. Think of it! Do it,--a nice little sum for a nice little
boy for a nice little girl who pulled a nice little man out of a nice
little crowd on a nice little corner of a nice--”

“Bonny, Bonny! Don’t be silly! But, indeed, I don’t wonder! The sight
of so much beauty has raised my own spirits till I feel able to fight
the world afresh--for you, my children! But Bonny is right; don’t,
don’t ‘count the teeth’ of this lovely ‘gift horse,’ dears. Put the
basket on that white cloth I just finished embroidering, right in the
centre of the table. Then let us gather about it and study it. We will
all work the better for the lesson.”

“Motherkin! you are the dearest, wisest body in the world. Here’s
your chair--right up front. And say! let’s every one tell what she or
he sees in the flowers. I suppose that present represents something
different to each; don’t you?”

“I suppose with all your practical sense you are still a fanciful
child!” responded Mrs. Beckwith, smiling fondly upon the active
Beatrice, who was, indeed, her mother’s “right hand” of dependence in
their every-day life.

“Well, if I am, I think it is a case of heredity--like I was reading
about in last night’s paper. When you were left to make faces at
fortune, with four troublesome youngsters pulling at your skirts,
you might have dropped your mouth-corners and put on a doleful
expression--but you did not. You just rolled up your sleeves and put
on your thimble and shut your eyes to the old dame’s frowns and went
to work. I remember, Motherkin, once when ‘Humpty-Dumpty’ was in the
cradle, and I was rocking him to sleep, you sang so loud and so long
that I told you I wouldn’t rock him any more if you didn’t keep still;
and you turned on me with such a look! Your eyes were full of tears and
your lips were trembling; but yet you were smiling as brave as could
be. ‘I dare not stop, darling!’ you said; ‘if I did I should cry!’ I
tell you, Motherkin, I never forgot that, and I never will! But what do
you see in the ‘posy,’ dear Mother?”

“I see an old-fashioned garden, with an old-fashioned dame walking in
it. An old-fashioned gentleman is bending before her, and presenting
her with chrysanthemums--of just this shade. It is early winter--or
late, late fall. There is hoar-frost on the dead leaves in the path,
hoar-frost upon the hair of these two people, and a touch of winter’s
cold has nipped their thin cheeks. Yet they smile and are lovingly
courteous still. They know that the chrysanthemums will fade; that the
hoar-frost will change to ice on which they must slip downwards over
the dead-leaf path--out of sight. But they will be brave and beautiful
to the end; and their memory will be like the strange and spicy
fragrance of their chosen flowers.”

“Oh, how pretty, Mother! Call the picture ‘Artemisias.’ That is the
old-time name for ‘Mums.’ And I hope when it is done some rich, rich
person who has leisure to study the meaning of beautiful things will
buy your drapery and hang it on a wall alone, close to a cheery wood
fire; and that he will sit down before it many times and learn all that
you have put into it.”

“Belle, next! What says the basket to you, Miss Beauty?”

“I see a big, big ball-room. It is filled with handsome women and
gentlemanly men. They are all, like Bonny’s ‘rich one,’ at leisure and
at rest. They say courteous things to one another, and they feel them.
The women have never known what it means to wear patched shoes and
soiled gloves. They have travelled everywhere. They know everything
that happy mortals need to know. They have never heard that there was
poverty in the world which they could not relieve, nor suffering they
could not soothe. They have never had their tempers spoiled and their
faces lined by want of any sort. I am there in the midst of them, as
care-free, as beautiful, as soft-spoken as any of them. As happy, too.
I wear a lovely gown of just that chrysanthemum shade, but no jewels. I
have the blossoms in my hair, on my corsage, in my hands. I love them.
I am wholly, wholly content. I have nothing left to wish for.”

“Happy mortal! Come, ‘Laureate’! But cut it short. Because, you know,
my poet, you are inclined to be a little long-drawn-out sometimes.”

“Hush! impious spirit! Fright not the muse away!” retorted Roland,
in a very unpoetic tone. “I am in Japan. There are lovely fountains,
perfect gardens, beautiful maidens--and lots of time! I don’t get up
in the morning till I choose. I write soap or even stove-polish poems,
unrebuked by my irreverent sister. I have plenty of money to buy my
mother gowns covered with embroidery which she doesn’t have to do
herself, and to fill the cupboard with food which she doesn’t have to
cook. There are wonderful kites which Bonny does not make, but which
‘Humpty-Dumpty’ does fly, from the top of a funny little house as tall
as a table, into a blue sky which rests on the top of his head--”

“Enough! Now, Bob?”

“Oh! I dunno. No school, fer one thing. No grammar talk when I get
home. Plenty of fire-crackers an’ pistols an’ guns an’ turkey an’
everything I want! Say, Bonny Beckwith! Ain’t we never a going to have
any supper?”

“At once, small sir. It is a matter of economy to feed you immediately
you feel the need of being fed. The longer the delay the greater the
cavity. Now, dreamers, all move back, please. Your humble servant has
the floor, and must have the table, seeing that it is the only one the
house of Beckwith possesses.”

With a smile they all pushed back; but the gentle widow laid her hand
caressingly upon Beatrice’s shoulder with the question: “Had the
chrysanthemums no visions for your eyes, sweetheart?”

“Heaps of ’em, Motherkin! But some other time.”

“No fair, no fair, Bon! What do you want?”

“A home in the country!”

“Whew! I reckon I’ll get my Japanese tour first!” said Roland, as
he placed the basket of flowers upon the top of the sewing-machine
amid a pile of unmended stockings. “Gracious! How much depends upon
surroundings! That isn’t half as suggestive up there!”

“Hark! What’s that row in the street? Hear that awful thumping!” cried
Bob, seizing his hat and bounding down the stairs, two steps at a time.

Bonny also hurried to the window, but turned from it in instant dismay.

“For the goodness’ sake! It’s my old gentleman, and a policeman has him
by the collar!” And before anybody could interpose she had followed her
small brother.



CHAPTER III.

A CHRYSANTHEMUM DINNER.


A second time in one day was Bonny Beckwith destined to come to the
rescue of the unfortunate Mr. Brook; for she laid her hand appealingly
upon the policeman’s sleeve and cried: “Oh, sir! What are you doing?
This gentleman is all right!”

The bright-faced girl was no stranger to the officer, who probably knew
all the residents of his “beat,” and he asked, in surprise: “Why, do
you know him, Miss?”

“Certainly. He is a friend of ours.”

“Then you’d better give him some lessons in conducting himself on the
street; that’s all.” With this the roundsman loosened his hold of his
victim, and flourished his hand to disperse the crowd of urchins and
sight-seers who had gathered on the spot.

“What did he do?”

“Thumped on the door of ---- as if he were trying to break it in. Why
didn’t he ring if he wanted to, instead of creating a disturbance?”

“Were you looking for us, Mr. Brook?”

“Of course I was. And I should like to know how in the world you get
into these houses. There is no bell, and the door-knob won’t turn, and
I’d stood here as long as I dared with the wind blowing forty miles
an hour. I sent cabby off to walk his horses up and down, and he’s
disappeared entirely. I left my man at the hotel, in bed with the
rheumatism; and--if there’s any way of getting into this prison and if
you really live here, I should like to be admitted.”

“Certainly. Beg pardon for keeping you so long. See--this is the
way. Touch one of those little knobs, the one opposite the card with
‘Beckwith’ on it and the door will open almost immediately. Electric
bells, you know.”

“Unluckily, I didn’t know! I hate these new-fangled ‘conveniences’ that
are ten times as much trouble as old-fashioned things. I’m not quite a
fool, my dear, though I may have been presented to you in that light
on both occasions of our meeting. I simply did not know how to get in;
but I concluded that if I made noise enough somebody would hear and
answer,” said Mr. Brook, smiling merrily, now that the door had opened
noiselessly, as if by spirit hands, and a hallway with orthodox stairs
was revealed.

“And somebody did!” returned Bonny, quite as gayly; while Robert, who
had slipped up and thrown his arm about his sister’s waist, laughed
outright.

“Humph! Who are you, sir? You were one of the boys who jeered the
loudest, if I’m not mistaken,” said the visitor, turning with a savage
frown toward the lad.

“I’m her brother.”

“Yes. My brother Robert. He isn’t as bad as he looks, Mr. Brook.
Perhaps you would better wait a moment and get your breath. It is
pretty high up--on the fifth floor.”

“Good gracious! Is this one of those ‘flat’ houses I hear about?”

“Yes.”

“Some of the finest old houses in the city stood here a quarter of a
century ago. It is a shame, a perfect shame.”

“Yes, I suppose so. There are some beautiful residences still left in
the neighborhood, and we often look at them and try to imagine the
lives that used to be lived in them. But a fifth-story flat is all we
can afford, so you must prepare yourself for a plain little place.”

They had ascended as far as the fourth floor, and Mr. Brook had paused
on each landing to regain his wind; but Bob, at a nod from Beatrice,
had sped upwards to announce the coming of the guest.

“Ah! plainness does not disturb me, my dear; and you are a little
gentlewoman, no matter where you live. I hope I have not chosen an
inopportune hour for my call.”

“You have given us all a great, great pleasure by your beautiful
gift which came this afternoon; and we are glad to have you come and
receive our thanks, whenever it suits you best.” Bonny did not add, as
she might, that if he had deferred the call for one hour longer their
simple dinner might have been gotten out of the way, and the home made
ready for his reception.

The first thing that greeted the old gentleman’s eyes as he entered the
room, which was dining-room and parlor in one for the Beckwiths, was
his own basket of chrysanthemums replaced upon the snowy cloth in the
centre of the table, with the soft glow of a shaded lamp falling upon
it. If Mrs. Beckwith had arranged this with a view to blinding stranger
eyes to the bareness of the room otherwise, her ruse succeeded, for Mr.
Brook gazed upon the flowers and for a space saw nothing more.

“My mother, Mr. Brook,” said Bonny, bringing forward the one really
strong chair which the room afforded.

“Your humble servant, madam. I consider myself honored in making
your acquaintance. You are the mother of a most charming daughter.
Daughters, I should say;” for at that instant Isabelle moved gracefully
forward, with a friendliness meant to drive any awkward memories from
the guest’s mind, and extended her slim hand in greeting.

At which “Humpty-Dumpty,” from a point behind Mr. Brook’s back,
contorted his freckled face and rolled his black eyes so horribly that
Bonny was forced to smile.

“We have much to thank you for, and must consider that a fortunate
accident which resulted in our receiving so delightful a gift,”
answered the hostess, placing herself near her visitor, “unless your
fall of this afternoon resulted in some injury to yourself. I hope it
did not.”

“No, oh! no. That is, nothing to mention. A few bruises and scratches,
and a bit of stiffness. But I thank you. I should not have been alone,
only Dolloway, my man, has the rheumatism and I couldn’t think of
taking him out in the cold. He stayed at the hotel. If he had been
with me he would have prevented my making an exhibition of myself.
However, ‘all’s well that ends well;’ and I have been congratulating
myself ever since that I may have been thus led to trace an old friend.
Did you ever hear of one Conrad Honeychurch Beckwith?”

A responsive smile illumined the widow’s pale face, and the last
misgiving she had about thus receiving a stranger into her home
vanished. “There could be but one Conrad Honeychurch Beckwith, I think.
Such was the name of my husband’s father.”

“I thought so! I thought so! Your husband is--was--”

“Charles Honeychurch Beckwith. The only son of Conrad who grew to
manhood.”

“Madam, your hand again! We are old, old friends! Or we should be.
Conrad was the chum of my youth, the Damon to my Pythias. We even went
‘Forty-Nining’ together; but he soon left California and returned to
his dying wife in New York. I stayed--awhile. He wrote me a few times,
then ceased to even answer my letters, which after a while I ceased to
write. From that day to this I have never heard of him. I have hunted
Beckwiths without number, till people have thought me Beckwith mad; but
my Conrad was never among them, and I had given him up. How strange,
how strange, and also how fortunate, that I stood gaping at the sights
till I was knocked down and Conrad’s grandchild was sent to pick me up!
Come here, my dear! Come here and let me look at you!”

Mr. Brook’s excitement communicated itself to all the household, always
alert to anything which varied the monotony of their pinched lives.
Roland came forward and gazed wonderingly upon the man who, fast
slipping out of life, yet remembered so faithfully the friend of his
youth. Belle felt the elation of a real romance; Bonny was dancing with
delight; and Robert, the “terrible,” was eagerly speculating whether
this was the sort of an old gentleman one read of in story-books, duly
appreciative of small attentions and liberal as to tips.

But the mother understood best the desire of the old man’s heart to
learn all there was to tell, and set herself to gratify it. “My dears,
suppose you go on with the dinner-getting. I am sure Mr. Brook will
pardon our necessity, and I hope will share our meal. You see, we are
rather cramped for room; so, while table is being made ready, those of
us not engaged in the task generally retreat to this corner and call
it the ‘withdrawing room.’ But maybe you know the inconveniences of a
small city flat?”

“No, indeed. Thank the Lord, I live in the country. Even in my best
days I would get out of town nearly every night to sleep at home;
though I was a beau here, when I first came back from the coast with my
pockets full of nuggets. I used purposely to have my name in the papers
as often as might be, hoping that thus, if I could not find Conrad, he
would find me. But it was of no use. Five-and-twenty years ago I left
the town for good. I never meant to come back. But of late a terrible
uneasiness has possessed me, and I finally yielded to it. I understand
what it meant now.”

They had moved to the corner which Mrs. Beckwith had designated, and
though the guest appeared to notice nothing of what the young folks
were doing, he was, nevertheless, very watchful; and while his hostess
related all the simple history of two discouraged men, her husband
and his father, yielding to a fate which seemed too hard for them and
dying, each in his prime,--ay, even before what most would call the
prime,--the wise old visitor read between her periods the tale of her
own bravery, and wondered how best he could second her efforts.

“And that is all. I am sorry we have not better entertainment to offer,
but such as we have I see is ready.”

The widow rose as she spoke, and it was not many paces Mr. Brook need
follow her before he reached the table.

With a commendable view to eking out a short supply, Bonny had placed
the basket of flowers again upon the board, though she had had to
substitute a coarse tablecloth for the daintily embroidered fabric
which was intended for a richer household; and, at the first glance,
the guest almost believed that the posies were to be their only repast.

However, this was not the case. There were roasted potatoes, bread,
butter, and a fragrant cup of tea; the last a luxury, and the one
addition which had been made to the regular fare. Now tea was an
abomination to the palate of Philipse Chidly Brook, and potatoes he
never ate, when he could help himself; but this being an occasion when
he evidently could not, he put a brave face on the matter, and accepted
them as if they were the rarest of delicacies. Suddenly he looked up
from his plate, and beheld the dark eyes of Robert fixed upon him with
critical attention.

“Well, my lad! Out with it! A penny for your thoughts.”

For once the graceless boy was scared. The prospect of possible tips
depended upon his present behavior, and he choked back the remark that
had almost escaped his lips. “I--I haven’t any. I--I mean--I dassent
tell ’em.”

“Not for the penny?”

“No, sir, not fer a nickel.”

“You needn’t. I can guess them. In any case I never go above the
traditional price of thoughts.”

“I bet--you can’t guess ’em!”

“How much will you bet?”

“Robert!” remonstrated Mrs. Beckwith, while Belle began “talking eyes”
at her most rapid rate, certain that the boy was about to disgrace them
all.

“I’ll bet all I’ve got. Two cents ag’in two of yourn, if you say so.”

“Mr. Brook, our little brother attends the primary department of a
highly esteemed parish school. Hence the elegant language which you
must have observed,” remarked Bonny, hoping to divert attention from
the subject of “thoughts” to education.

“He is well enough. For a boy. He looks like you.”

“Motherkin says I behave like her, too,” asserted Bob, triumphantly;
and Beatrice felt her effort worse than wasted.

“H’m-m. You were wondering how old I am. Wasn’t it so?”

“Ginger! How did you know?”

“I was a boy once.”

“What did you use to do? Did you play marbles? Er fight?”

“I played marbles and I flew kites. When I could get any money to buy
them with, or coax my mother to make them. And I used to drive the cows
when I visited my uncle, on his farm, not far from here. It may be that
I have trotted barefooted over the very spot on which this house now
stands. Seventy years ago, that was; seventy years ago! Then I was a
child like you.”

“My gracious! An’ you’re alive yet!”

“Not only that--I am happy yet! Doubly happy now that I have found
somebody who may become like a little grandson to me; for I have none
of my own.”

“Why haven’t you?”

“Probably because I never had a wife. I would like to ‘adopt’ my
Conrad’s grandson, in a way, if he will let me.”

“Who’s him?”

“Yourself.”

“Pooh! You wouldn’t want me, I guess. An’ I know ’bout ’doptingness.
They was a woman in this house, she ’dopted a baby, an’ it squalled.
Nen she got tired of it. Nen she wanted to give it back an’ the folks
wouldn’t take it. Nen she put it in the Norphan ’Sylum. An’ it’s there
yet. I’m too big, anyway. I’m going on nine. Ain’t I, Mother? When will
I be as old as nine?”

“Next Fourth of July, dear. You certainly are too old for adoption, as
you mean it. But if Mr. Brook hasn’t any odd, small people to make him
both glad and sorry, all in a minute, you might supply the deficiency.”

“H’m-m. I guess I’d better not. I ain’t very good. I don’t have time to
be.”

“Indeed? What keeps you busy?” asked the amused old gentleman.

“Folks. An’ fun. Bonny ’most wears me out, some days. She sends me to
do things. I sell papers; an’ I hold horses, when I can get ’em to
hold. Some men say I ain’t big ’nough, an’ I think that’s mean. I’m as
big as I can be, ain’t I?”

“Quite!” answered the unwise Beatrice, who did her daily best to spoil
the child by alternate teasings and pettings.

“Nen I get mad. Nen Motherkin’s heart acts up. An’ they is a gen’ral
miscomfort in the house, so I go outdoors. I learn bad words outdoors,
an’ I come home an’ say ’em, an’ get ’proved. But we get along. Hello,
Motherkin! What’s the matter? Ginger! There she goes ag’in! It’s one of
her sick times, I s’pose! Oh! Mother! You’re dead--you’re dead!”

Unobserved by all but her small son, Mrs. Beckwith had fallen
gently forward till her colorless face rested upon the basket of
chrysanthemums, and the guest thought the boy had spoken the sorrowful
truth.



CHAPTER IV.

A GENEROUS CONSPIRACY.


“Don’t, Robert! Remember, it is best to be quiet!” said Isabelle, with
an admirable self-control which not only gave Mr. Brook a new idea of
her character, but the knowledge that this could not be the first time
such a trouble had befallen the household.

And, a moment later, Beatrice had taken time to whisper in the little
fellow’s ear: “It is no worse than usual, darling. Mother is reviving.”

Then the child heard a trembling question, eager and low: “Has she ever
been like this before? Is it my visit that has caused it?” and looking
up through his fingers he saw the disturbed face of their guest bent
close above him.

“Yes. No. ’Tain’t your visit. She’s this way often. But she always
looks like dead, an’ the doctor-man says she will die if she don’t
stop sewin’ an’ live outdoors. But she can’t let the sewin’ go, ’cause
we have to eat an’ wear clothes. We don’t eat any more’n we can help,
but we’re always hungry. We try not to be, but we are. So she has to
’broider the things an’ sell ’em, you see.”

The two were quite alone then in the little parlor, for Roland had, at
the first instant, lifted his mother in his arms and carried her into
the small bedroom which was her own, and had stationed himself beside
her to chafe her face and hands and administer the medicine which
Isabelle had promptly prepared. They were evidently accustomed to such
emergencies; but Bonny had disappeared in pursuit of a doctor, though
she knew this action to be against her mother’s wish, expressed in view
of such an event as this.

“But how can I help it!” argued the girl, dashing down the long flights
of stairs two steps at a time. “How can I see her suffer so and not try
to get somebody who knows more than we do to relieve her! Even though
it will take her many hours of hard labor to pay for the physician’s
visit.”

Meanwhile Robert led Mr. Brook into the corner, dignified by the
name of “withdrawing room,” and the old gentleman laid his hand
affectionately upon the boy’s shoulder. “My dear, I would like to help
you all, if I can. I do not wish to ask you anything which your mother
would not be willing you should answer; but anything that you can tell
me about your affairs, anything which your conscience does not warn you
had best be kept to yourself, I wish you would tell me. Remember I was
the friend of your grandfather, and try to feel as if you were talking
to him.”

This speech was better suited to the ears of the elder son than to
those of “Humpty-Dumpty,” and in the first case would have been
answered judiciously; but judgment and reticence were qualities unknown
to this small boy, and he now made as clean a breast of family matters
as he was capable of doing. If there was anything he did not tell, it
was something he had forgotten.

Mr. Brook listened with sympathy and some compunction; and as soon
as the physician whom Beatrice had summoned pronounced Mrs. Beckwith
“out of danger for the present,” took his leave, hunted up the
long-suffering cab-driver who had brought him thither, and returned to
his hotel.

There he burst rather excitedly into his own apartments, with the
exclamation “I’ve found them, Dolloway! The Beckwiths, at last!”

“You don’t say so!” returned the other old fellow, who had left his
bed for a cushioned chair close to a grate fire, and who had the name
of being Mr. Brook’s servant, but was, at times, his master--through
rheumatism, which mastered both.

“But I have. That must be what my anxiety to see the horse-show meant.
Else why, after all these years, should I have been suddenly rendered
too uneasy to abide at home, and must needs not only put myself out but
you as well? How goes it, Dolloway?”

“Bad, sir; about as bad as it can be. But a body must expect that who
goes a trapesing off after will-o’-wisps, at our time of life, leaving
good, respectable feather beds to sleep on boards in a barn of a place
like this.”

“Not boards, Dolloway. The best mattresses the city affords, the
manager assures me; and comfortable enough to those who like them. Yes,
yes, yes. In some ways it is a pity. Yet--it is the most fortunate
thing. Had any supper, Dolloway?”

“Don’t want any, sir. Thank you.”

“Pooh! I do. They had what they called supper, I suppose, poor things!
And I’m ashamed to mention it; only I feel hungrier than if I hadn’t
eaten anything; so, since you have not, take a cup of coffee with me,
man, and lay aside formality for once. What will we have besides the
coffee, Dolloway?”

“I couldn’t eat a bite, sir.”

“But you’d not refuse to please your old master, would you, lad? When
we have taken all this trouble we want to make our holiday seem a bit
like old times. Eh? In the old days, Dolloway, you could out-eat and
out-drink me. Yes, yes, you could, indeed! What shall it be?”

“Well, if I must I must, and I’m obliged to you, sir, though I only do
it to please you. I heard one of the waiters saying there was a lot of
nice venison come in from the West, sir. If it were not spoiled in the
cooking a venison steak--done to a turn, sir, done to a turn, as you
like it yourself, Mr. Brook--might relish a little. Eh?”

“The very thing, lad, the very thing! I will ring and order it
immediately.” Without waiting to be served by his servant, who remained
composedly in his arm-chair, Mr. Brook pulled the rope, which he
preferred to any modern “button” for bell-ringing purposes, and gave an
order for a meal that would have made the Beckwith family’s eyes open
in astonishment.

“A fine thing to have such an appetite as ours, Dolloway, at our age!
A very fine thing, indeed. Eighty I shall be on my next birthday, and
you but two years younger. And I warrant me there are no two other old
chaps in this town who will sit down to this kind of a dinner with the
relish we will. Eh? That’s the best of using gifts and not abusing
them. And my waist measures no more than it did in my youth, lad; which
shows I have not been a gourmand, though the truth is I like good
living. I like good living immensely. I would like to tell you what a
pretty family of five had prepared. Potatoes! nothing but potatoes,
except, of course, the inevitable bread and butter and the detestable
tea. I don’t wonder the woman had heart-failure, poor thing! And the
air of that ‘flat’--it was enough to stifle a body. After our air at
home, man.”

“Humph! Then I suppose I am not to know anything about Mr. Conrad’s
folks, save what you choose to tell me in driblets, sir,” remarked
Dolloway, in the injured tone of one suffering ungratified curiosity.

“You shall know all that I do myself, old fellow; but let us take it
over our dinner. I want your advice, too. I am sorry to say that Conrad
left his people poorly off.”

“Mr. Beckwith is dead, then, sir?”

“Dead this forty years, lad. Dead for forty years--that boy!” And Mr.
Brook sank into a chair opposite his companion, and at the same time
into a reverie so deep that even the highly privileged Dolloway dared
not interrupt the current of his master’s thought.

Small Robert was in bed and should have been asleep; but Beatrice,
listening, heard a forlorn little yawn and knew that the excitement of
the evening or the tea-and-chrysanthemum dinner had been too much for
his nerves. This suited her exactly; and watching her chance she stole
into the room, or bed closet, known as “the boys’,” and perched herself
on the pillow where Roland’s head would repose somewhat later.

“Hello, Bob! Asleep?”

“You know I ain’t. What’s up?”

“I am. I’ve something to say to you.”

“I hain’t done nothin’. What have I done?”

“Nothing but goodness, small sir. Bonny doesn’t scold, does she?”

“Sometimes,” answered the truthful child.

“Well, she isn’t going to now. She wants your assistance.”

“I’m goin’ ter sleep.”

“Pooh! I don’t want you to do anything to-night. I want to consult
with you. Bob, are you awake?”

“If it ain’t nothin’ ter bother a feller at night, I be.”

“Sit up in bed. Here, put my jacket around you. I’ve a scheme--a
splendid scheme!”

“Don’t like your schemes. Last one didn’t turn out worth a snap.”

“This one will. I see how you and I can make some money. Sit up.”

“I am sitting up. How can we make it?” asked the cash-greedy child,
interested at last.

“You know those chrysanthemums?”

“Yep.”

“Well; here, let me whisper. We--can--sell--them! And make a lot of
dollars--maybe. Make something, anyway. Enough to pay for the doctor’s
visit.”

“Beatrice Beckwith! They was give to you!”

“Don’t speak so loud. Mother is asleep, Roland is writing, Belle
studying. Only you and I are to know about this. Yes, I know they were
given to me. To _me_, understand. That is why I dare do this thing. And
don’t reproach me for parting with them. It breaks my heart to do it;
only it don’t break it into such little bits as it gets broken into
every time I think of Motherkin and how hard she works. To come to
the point. I want you to get up with me early to-morrow and go on the
street and try to sell the flowers. Will you?”

“Gracious! Would you--_you_ yourself?”

“I would--I myself. I would do anything rather than be so idle. The
flowers are mine. We have all enjoyed them. They did us good that way;
now I want to make them do us good some other way.”

“Humph! How much will you give me fer my share?”

“Mercenary little wretch! not a cent! I want every single cent for
Motherkin. You wouldn’t take anything away from Motherkin, would you,
Bob?”

“Not that way. I wouldn’t no quicker’n you would. But if I had a little
‘capital’ I could sell papers like the other kids do on Fourteenth
Street an’ round.”

“Robert, you are not a ‘kid.’ You are a well-born boy. I thought you
did sell papers, anyway, almost every day.”

“Fer the other fellers, that’s all. I don’t make my livin’. If I had
enough I could make a pile.”

“Well, we’ll see. But those chrysanthemums. Think of the value. Forty
times seventy-five cents! Forty times porterhouse steaks all round the
family. About one hundred and twenty tip-top oyster stews. Potatoes,
galore. Bread--bread enough to pave the street from here to Union
Square. And six weeks’ rent. Think of it, ‘Humpty-Dumpty,’ and cease to
wonder that I can hardly wait till daylight to set about the business.
Will you help me?”

“Yep, if Mother’ll let me.”

“You blessed little stupid! Mother is not to know a word about it,
till it is past forbidding. Else she has such peculiar ideas about
politeness that she might stop us. If you do as I want, as well as you
can, I’ll give you all you can make out of the best flower in the lot.”

“It’s a bargain. What time ’ill I start?”

“Not till after breakfast. Not till you go to school. Then, instead
of going to school, go with me up on Twenty-third Street, and there
we’ll seek our fortune. Stay! I’ve a splendid thought now! We’ll go to
the very store where they were bought and sell them back. They, the
store folks at least, would know the value. Then we wouldn’t either
of us have to stay away from school, and we could meet somewhere on
the way home and come in together, with flying colors. So, if Mother
wasn’t especially pleased at first, we could brace each other up in
coaxing her round to look at the matter as we do and eating one of her
chrysanthemums turned into oysters for her dinner that very day.”

“H’m-m. But-- Wull.”

“Wull me no wulls, my son!”

“Motherkin don’t coax worth a snap. An’ what if she should be
‘grieved’? I wouldn’t mind her talking, so much; but when she sits
round an’ don’t say anything, only look solemn, it--it--breaks me all
up.”

“That isn’t a nice expression for a nice little boy. Say ‘it disturbs
me’; that is more elegant.”

“Who cares for el’gunce! I hate them times when lumps come in throats.
I’ve had ’em. I’d ruther be whipped, like other kids is; I would, so!”

“Look here, Robert Beckwith. I _can_ do this thing all by myself.
I don’t need to ask you or anybody to help me, but I thought you’d
like to do something nice for Motherkin. If you don’t like to it’s
all right;” and Bonny rose to go, with that independent air which
experience had taught her would invariably bring her small brother to
terms.

“Hello! Who’s a not wantin’ ter? But--if--”

“If trouble comes I’ll take all the blame, as I should, for it belongs
to me. And I’m glad Mother is in bed now, so I can take the basket out
of the room without anybody asking questions. Good-night. Not a word,
now, to Roland when he comes in!”

“H’m-m. You might know I ain’t a blabber, anyway!”

“Of course you’re not. I depend on you. Good-night.”

Beatrice passed into the parlor and lifted her treasure from the table,
then turned to leave as quietly as she had entered.

“Where are you going with those, Bonny?” asked Isabelle, drowsily; and
her sister started as if she had been guilty of wrong-doing.

“I think they will keep better if I take them out of the basket and put
them in a pail of water,” replied Bonny, hastily.

“I suppose they would. But it seems a pity to disturb such a perfect
arrangement, and I do not think they would wither even that way very
soon. They last well.”

“I am glad of that. I would not have them wither for anything!” replied
the innocent conspirator, feeling as if she wanted to bury her face in
the flowers and cry; only she reflected that salt water was supposed to
be injurious to delicate petals and refrained. But when she went to bed
that night she had taken each chrysanthemum carefully from its mossy
nest and, after clipping its stem slightly, plunged it into a pail of
fresh water and placed it in the coolest place the house afforded.



CHAPTER V.

IN OLD TRINITY.


“Flowers? Flowers? Chrysanthemums? Any, madam?”

“How much?”

“Seventy-five cents apiece.”

“Girl, you must be crazy! I’ll give you ten.”

Beatrice turned on her heel with all her native dignity and some that
she had prepared for this especial occasion; having confided her
intention to the newspaper-woman on the corner, who also occasionally
sold flowers, and received the advice to “not be beat down by nobody.
Some is ladies an’ some is trash, what goes a shopping on th’ Aveny,
an’ you jest hold on patient,--the right one’ll come along an’ take the
hull lot, mebbe. Some woman ’at’s goin’ ter give a party er sunthin’ is
the most like ter buy; er young gells. Young gells is good customers,
if they happen ter have any money. Good luck go with you, honey; an’ I
don’t want ter see you bringin’ home a single posy!”

With this good-speed sounding pleasantly in her unaccustomed ears, the
novice at flower selling set her face westward with her basket on her
arm and her small brother presumably following her; though, as he was
sometimes in sight but oftener not, she had doubts on the subject.

“Anyway I only wanted him for company. It seems so--so sort of dreadful
to do this. I tremble every time I open my mouth, and I am afraid I
shall not sell a single blossom, except at the flower-shop. I hate to
go there, though! It seems so mean to sell things that have been given
you, and when you can have no chance to explain, though, of course, I
wouldn’t explain anyway. Robert!”

“Hi! Here am I!”

“Why can’t you walk along beside me respectably? Eh?”

“Wull, wull--why, Bon! what makes you look that way?”

“What way?”

“Just as if you was a-goin’ ter cry.”

“I don’t. I’m not. I--I hate it!”

“What makes you, then?”

“I hate other things worse, like Mother’s pale face over her work.
I don’t mean I hate, but-- Oh! I thought it would be easy, last
night when we talked it over, and it isn’t. I expect every minute
to meet some of the ‘Conservatory girls,’ then I should about die of
mortification.”

“Well, I’m beat! If girls ain’t the queerest things! A wantin’ ter do
things an’ not a wantin’ ter at the same time. Here, give me a bunch.
I’ll show you. This is the way! Flowers! _Flowers!_ Here they go!
Nicest an’ puttiest chrysms in the city! Cheap at seventy-five cents!
Only one place in town where a feller can get ’em! Here, young feller!
Don’t you want a button-holer?”

“Too dear!” replied the good-natured clerk whom Robert had intercepted
on his way down town.

“H’m-m. You don’t seem to succeed any better than I do, Bob.
Chrysanthemums! The rarest shade in the city!”

The two amateur flower-sellers had soon traversed all the distance
between their home and the very corner where their stock had been
purchased, and yet not one blossom had been exchanged for the desired
cash that was to buy the oyster dinner. When they came to the place
where Bonny had met Mr. Brook she paused, undecided whether to cross
into the next block or to take her stand there; but was finally decided
to do the latter by the fact that a well-dressed woman had paused
to examine the cluster of flowers and to admire them. She would even
have bought one apparently, but as she opened her purse, Bonny gently
mentioned the price, and the purse was closed with a snap.

“Sev-en-ty-five-cents! I think you must be new to the business, or you
would never ask such an absurd amount as that! H’m-m. Seventy-five
cents for one chrysanthemum!” And the woman with the plethoric
pocket-book had passed on.

“I’m going into the store. I can’t bear this!” cried poor Beatrice,
feeling utterly discouraged as her bright castle in the air fell
tumbling in ruins. “They will take them, anyway, I’m sure. The clerk
said yesterday to a customer that he could not supply the demand for
blossoms of this shade. Come on, Bob! The worst he can do is stare a
little, and it’s none of his business, certainly.” Thus swallowing her
pride, which she felt was silly enough, Beatrice led the way into the
shop which she had visited in Mr. Brook’s company the day before.

Robert followed, whistling gayly. Anything which kept him from school
was matter of rejoicing to him, and though he realized that they were
having very hard luck he felt no more shame in selling posies than
newspapers; but his hilarity was suddenly checked by the dandified
salesman calling out sharply: “Out of here, boy! We can’t have any boys
in here!”

“I should like ter know why not? What yer givin’ us?” demanded Bonny’s
“darling,” with all the roughness and assurance of a regular street
gamin.

“Hush, dear! Here, let me take yours, too. You just step outside and
wait for me till I come. I won’t be a minute now,” whispered the
sister, persuasively.

But “Humpty-Dumpty’s” blood was up. What were stores for if not for
people to enter? How did that unmannerly clerk know but that he,
Robert, wanted to buy out all the stock piled upon those loaded
counters? He’d show him! One man was as good as another, in this world.

“No, I won’t wait, neither. I’m a-goin’ where you go, an’ I’m goin’ ter
stay as long as I like. Say, boss! How much fer them roses, yonder?”

“Clear out of here, you impudent little scalliwag! You wish to buy no
roses.”

“No. But I wish to sell some chrysanthemums, sir,” interposed Beatrice,
gently. “These flowers were purchased here yesterday. I should like to
resell them to you.”

The dapper young man who had glanced admiringly at the pretty girl
on the occasion of her previous visit, under Mr. Brook’s escort, now
stared at her superciliously. “Bought here? Ah! Well, we never take
second-hand goods, you know. And flowers are an article that could not
be handled a second time, even if we did. Is that all?”

“But, sir, you told a lady, yesterday, that you could not supply the
demand for this color. I have kept these very carefully. See? They are
not withered in the least.”

“Impossible, Miss. If that boy belongs to you, you had better take him
outside before he gets into any further mischief. He has knocked down a
pile of baskets already, and if he damages--”

Poor Bonny did not wait to hear the conclusion of the matter. With a
desperate fear at her heart that her small and independent brother
would be the cause of some dreadful trouble, she seized him firmly by
the collar and forced him before her out of the shop.

The door closed behind them with the dull thud which baize-muffled
doors give, and it seemed to her sounded the knell of her “flowery
hopes,” as she herself grimly expressed it.

“Well, I say, Bon! I did think you had some snap! What’d a feller
do if he hadn’t no more grit’n a girl, I’d like to know? Here, come
on, I’ll show you. Let’s go over to the hotel there. That’s the Fifth
Avenue, where rich folks stays. I’ve sold papers for Jeemsy there,
sometimes. They’s a decent crowd goes in an’ out. Mebbe they ain’t all
so horrid stingy as they ’pear ter be on this side. But, Bon! We’ll
have ter come down on the price. They ain’t nobody, ’less he’s jest
another such old man as Mr. Brook, goin’ ter pay such a pile as that
fer posies--second-hand ones, too.”

“Robert, where did you get all this wisdom, and you but eight?”

“Oh! I’ve been around,” said Robert, with an inimitable little swagger,
which brought a fleeting smile to Beatrice’s face.

“All right. Let’s try the hotel, that is, if the people will let us.
I think I have heard that the curbstone merchants--as we are now,
dear--have each a self-appropriated place with which he allows nobody
else to interfere. We may get upon somebody’s ‘stand,’ but if we
do, from our morning’s experience, I don’t fear but we shall be so
informed.”

They did take their places opposite the entrance to the hotel, and so
respectable and quiet-looking were they that nobody molested them; and
as they were the only flower-sellers upon that corner they did after a
while exchange some of their wares for cash; but it was, as Robert had
advised, at a great reduction, and Beatrice was heartily discouraged.
Worse than that, a feeling of regret that she had undertaken this thing
without her mother’s knowledge and consent began to trouble her as it
had not done while the first enthusiasm of unselfishness lasted.

“I wish--I wish I had not slipped out of the house, as if I were doing
something wrong!” murmured the girl, half aloud.

“Hey?” asked Robert. “Ain’t it getting cold? Ginger! My toes is ’most
froze. This ain’t half the fun newspapers is. A feller can keep warm
that way. He can jump on street-cars, and off when the conductor
catches him. Let’s go home!”

“You go, dear, if you are cold. I am not. That is I--I-- No, I will not
give up beaten this way. I will sell these flowers if--”

“You can!” interjected Robert, just in time to prevent Bonny’s making a
very rash vow.

She substituted a rather forced laugh for the vow, and again urged
her brother to go and leave her. “There is no need for us both to be
miserable. Besides, if you should take cold I should never forgive
myself. Do go; there’s a dear, and I am ever and ever so grateful to
you for what you have already done.”

“No, sir-ee. I guess I’ve got grit if you haven’t. But if you don’t
mind I’ll just run around the block ter start my toes up, an’ I’ll be
back so’s you can run, too.”

Off bounded the child, and, small as he was, Beatrice felt no fear that
he would be lost even in a neighborhood of which he knew so little; but
as she watched him out of sight, a voice spoke in her ear.

“What lovely, lovely chrysanthemums! Are they for sale, miss?”

“H’m-m. She doesn’t think I look like a regular flower-girl,” thought
Bonny, complacently, and answered promptly: “Yes, madam. They are, as
you have noticed, a very peculiar shade.” Then she raised her eyes, and
met--those of the richest girl in her class at the Conservatory, the
very one who was to sing with her at the next reception.

“Goodness! Miss Beckwith! Beg pardon! I did not notice. I thought it
was a flower-girl standing here.”

Beatrice gasped, tried to smile, felt her face flame, and her
courage--or temper, she didn’t know which--rise at the same time.
“There is no mistake, Miss Agnew. I _am_, temporarily, a flower-girl.
These chrysanthemums _are_ for sale. But I have had rather bad luck.
They prove to be a more expensive sort than most passers-by care for.”

Miss Agnew’s own color rose a little. She was a gentle, high-bred girl,
and she saw at once that there was something out of the common in her
classmate’s action. If the flowers had cost all there was in her purse,
she would have taken some of them then. “Indeed? I have never seen any
like them, except at the show last week. How much are they?”

“They cost seventy-five cents each, yesterday, and I was told they were
prize flowers. They are--anything I can get for them--now!”

“Oh! I don’t call that high! I often have to pay a dollar or more for
roses at holiday time. Of the sort I like. I think these would just
suit Mamma. I will take a dozen, please. I was sorry you were not at
class to-day. The Professor went over our duet with me, and I gathered
some new ideas from him. He is very anxious it should be a success; and
naturally I am. Will you be there next lesson?”

“Yes, I think so. At least, I shall not be absent for the same reason
as to-day,” said Beatrice, with a return of something like her natural
manner.

“That’s good! I can sing so much better with you than with anybody
else,” remarked Miss Agnew, smiling pleasantly, nodding cordially, and
passing onward immediately.

“Well! I’m in for it now! If Helen Agnew is inclined to tell, the whole
class can ‘point the finger of scorn’ at me to-morrow. But how cold it
is! How warm _she_ looked! She had evidently been having luncheon at
this great hotel, for she came out, or rather she walked along with
a ‘rocky’-looking old gentleman, using a toothpick. I suppose he was
her father. How nice it must be to have a father! And think of being
able, a school-girl, out of one’s own pocket money, to buy a dozen
chrysanthemums for one’s mother--at such a price! Yet, after all,
selling them for one’s mother may be just as noble. I’ll ‘play pretend’
it is, any way. And I am quite refreshed. I’ll ‘buckle tae’ with a good
will now! There are only twenty-five left; and--”

Beatrice fell to ruminating. She forgot that she was on a street
corner, presumably to sell flowers. She paid no attention to the rude
pushes and jostles that she received, but swayed this way and that,
accommodating her slight person to the needs of the crowd, till one
more urgent pedestrian than the others suddenly caught the handle of
his walking-stick in that of her basket and ruthlessly tore it from her
grasp.

Beatrice aroused herself with a scream. “My flowers! Oh, my flowers!
Please, please, don’t tread upon them, people! Please give me time to--”

“Eh! Bon, what’s the matter? Who took ’em? This chap?” demanded Robert,
who had returned, and eagerly catching hold of the wrong person. “Look
a here, man! You’d better look out how you steal my sister’s chrysms!
I’ll let you know I-- Ginger! There’s the old fellow himself!”

Alas! the inevitable crowd! Nobody can utter a sound above the natural,
but dozens of itching ears must pause to learn why.

“Beg pardon, Miss. It was an accident. I am extremely sorry. Are they
injured? Ah! I see. Hopelessly. The price, please, I will make good the
loss; but I am in a hurry-- Yes, Dolloway, directly. Keep close to me,
Dolloway. I’ll look out for you. Eh? Hey? What?”

Bonny was stooping to gather up her ruined treasure, but something in
the voice startled her, a peculiar softness of the _r_’s, and a broad
inflection of the _a_’s.

“It is the corner of Fate!” cried the girl, recklessly, and lifted
herself face to face with Mr. Chidly Brook.

“Why, Miss Beckwith! It is, indeed!”



CHAPTER VI.

“HUMPTY-DUMPTY’S” NOVEL EXPERIENCE.


“Oh, sir! Will you ever forgive me?”

“Forgive you, my dear! I am the one to be forgiven, I should think. And
I appreciate your wearing my gift, and am exceedingly sorry I ruined
the flowers. However, they can easily be replaced. Odd that we should
meet just here again! Were you returning from your school? And how is
your mother to-day?”

“Mother is better, thank you, though I have not seen her since early
morning. But I am not returning from school, and I was not wearing your
flowers. I cannot let you think anything so kind of me as that. I was
selling them!”

The four people of the group had retreated to the wall of the hotel,
aside from the passing throng, and Mr. Dolloway had been eyeing Robert,
who returned the stare, very much as a big dog eyes a little one before
making acquaintance. If there was one object in the world of the old
fellow’s special detestation, it was the average small boy. He was
always ready to ascribe to them all the sins of the decalogue with
many original additions; and he now suspected the little brother of
Beatrice of having caused Mr. Brook’s detention for some evil purpose
of his own. He was not even convinced otherwise when presently his
master recovered sufficiently from the astonishment Bonny’s words
had caused to explain: “These are Conrad Beckwith’s grandchildren,
Dolloway.”

“Humph! How do you do?” asked the old servant, feeling he must say
something.

“First-rate!” responded Bob, heartily. “Howdy yourself?”

“H’m-m, I’m well enough, but they’s a cold wind blows round this
corner, sir.”

“Yes, lad, I know it. But did you wish to say anything further to me,
Miss Beckwith?” asked the considerate Mr. Brook, trying to make his
manner as cordial as it had been, but failing signally.

Beatrice felt desperate. She must make this kind, gentle old man
understand that she had not been selling his gift for a mean, selfish
reason; yet how was she to do so? It was unkind to keep him standing in
that bleak place any longer, nor did she wish to visit any more stores
in his company.

“Yes; I do want to tell you about it. I would be glad to talk with you
about everything; but where can I? Will you go back to my mother’s
house with me? Or where can I go with you?”

“My child, do not distress yourself about these trumpery posies. They
were yours. You had a perfect right to do with them as you chose.”

“But I want to explain. I am not so mean as you think me, and yet I am
a great deal worse. I played truant to-day, like a bad little boy, and
persuaded Robert to do the same. My poor mother knows nothing about
this affair, and she will be mortified when she hears. Besides, I would
like to ask your advice, somebody’s advice anyway, and you say you were
grandfather’s friend. I--”

“Wait a moment, my dear. Have you had your dinner yet?” Mr. Brook
glanced from the sister to the brother, as he spoke, and the
brightening of Robert’s black eyes was sufficient answer.

“No, sir. But we will get that as soon as we get home.”

“Then I have it! Let us take a carriage down to my hotel, where I am
sure of being served as I like, and you two take dinner with me there.
Then we can have ample time to talk, as well as a comfortable place to
do it in. Will you? What do you say, Robert?”

“I say yes an’ thank you,” answered the child promptly, and with more
civility than might have been expected.

“I do not like to give you that trouble and--and expense,” said Bonny
naïvely, alert as poverty had made her to the value of money. “Besides,
we should be going home soon.”

“If you have played truant for a little while, you may as well continue
a bit longer. I am as anxious to talk with you as you can possibly be
with me, and I will be responsible to your mother for this added delay;
that is, if you are not positively needed at home.”

“Thank you. No, I am not needed now. I am not of much account there
anyway; and we shall be very happy to accept your invitation,” added
Bonny, with a sudden change of determination induced by a hasty study
of her little brother’s face. How hungry he did look! How good a real
dinner would taste to the child! Well, if people didn’t mean what they
said they should be punished by being believed!

Yet Mr. Brook’s smile at her acceptance told certainly enough how
sincere had been his invitation; and in a few seconds more the
whole party were driving down Broadway, and Robert felt himself of
considerable more importance than when he had interviewed pedestrians
on the flower question.

“Do you like riding, lad?” asked Mr. Brook, amused at the earnest
expression of the boy’s face.

“Like it! You bet! It’s bully!”

Dolloway frowned and sniffed. “Talk English, can’t you?”

“He knows what I mean; so do you,” replied “Humpty-Dumpty” instantly.

“Rob! don’t be impertinent!” cried Beatrice, warningly.

“Ain’t impertinent. I do like it. Bully means tip-top. I don’t mean
anything out the way, only it does bother me to talk c’rect. I will
when I get older, mebbe.”

“Train up a child in the way--” said Dolloway; but got no further, for
Robert’s exclamations effectually stopped all other conversation, even
if his elders had been inclined to converse; and pleasant though the
ride was, all save the boy were glad when the carriage drew up before
the substantial old hostelry where Mr. Brook felt was the only positive
comfort to be found in the city.

“This is our parlor, my dear. Isn’t it a good, old-fashioned room? Our
bedrooms open off from it. I have put up at this ‘inn’ for many years;
that is, I used to do so when I was in the habit of spending much of my
time in town. Did I mention to you that we return home in the morning?”

“So soon!” exclaimed Beatrice, and wondered why she felt so sorry.

“We have been here for several days. My sister will expect us. Now,
my dear, I want you to tell me anything you wish. Rest assured I will
advise you to the utmost of my wisdom.”

Bonny looked up and saw Mr. Dolloway’s eyes fixed curiously upon her.
There was not a particle of sympathy in his face and it was evident
that girls were not much more to his taste than boys. She felt that she
could not say a word before him, and she did not know how to place him,
whether as friend or servant of her host.

Perhaps Mr. Brook saw this hesitation and rightly interpreted it;
for he rose almost at once and said: “I would like to go down to old
Trinity before I return home. I’ll leave you, Dolloway, and our young
friend Robert to order the dinner, and Miss Beckwith and I will walk
down to the church,--that is, if she will favor me with her company. By
the time we come back, dinner will be ready to serve, and I shall be
able to satisfy Joanna’s questions about her old place of worship. Does
that plan suit everybody?”

Bonny sprang up instantly. “I think you have a gift for plans which
please everybody, dear sir! I was never in Trinity Church but once,
though I was born and have always lived in New York. I should like to
go very much.”

“Then let us be off. Will the arrangement suit Robert? If not--”

“I’d rather stay here, thank you, sir,” said the boy; “and did you mean
’at I could have _anything_ I wanted to eat?”

“Bob!”

“Certainly. Order anything you wish, that is in market. I remember how
hungry I used to get when I was a school-boy. I’m hungry still; so
don’t forget to look out for me, too. Good-by for a little while;” and
nodding gayly to the lad, Mr. Brook led the way into the street and
down it to the church.

“I like this old place. I can remember it for so long. To step into
it out of the rush of Broadway is almost like being recreated,” said
Mr. Brook, reverently, as they entered and passed slowly up the broad
aisle.

Bonny could say nothing. Her mind was in a ferment of eagerness to tell
this new-old friend everything concerning herself and her dear ones.
She felt that he would understand and be able to explain the “muddle”
in which she found herself without her saying a word, and yet she
wanted to leave nothing for him to guess at.

“Will you sit down here with me, Mr. Brook?”

“Certainly.”

They took the places Beatrice had designated, and as she looked up into
the kindly, interested face all her trouble passed away. “You must
have seen, sir, that we are very poor. When I looked at that basket
of flowers I thought it was dreadful to have anything of such value
wasted in that way, while my precious mother is toiling her life out to
keep her family in simple necessaries. Then it came into my head that
I might sell them. I never did such a thing before, though I would not
have been ashamed to if-- No, that isn’t quite honest. I don’t like to
earn money that way, but I would be glad to earn it regularly, by any
straight-forward, hard work, if I might be allowed.”

“How ‘allowed,’ my dear? Can you not work if you will?”

“No; that is just it. Mother thinks her geese are all swans, and
must not swim in common mill-ponds. So she is just killing herself to
keep Isabelle at the fashionable school where she studies art, in pay
for her--Belle’s--looking after ‘primaries.’ That way it doesn’t cost
anything for the instruction; but clothes do cost, such clothes as my
sister must wear if she goes fitly among such rich pupils, cost a great
deal for us. Roland is the happiest of all, maybe; because he does
generally earn his own way. That is, what he earns has mostly paid the
rent, only now he’s lost his place. I think it was the knowledge of
that which upset Mother, last night. Her courage has been stretched so
much that it is wearing out.”

“How did he lose his position? What was it?”

“He was some sort of a clerk in a wholesale dry-goods house. I suppose
he quarrelled with his employer. He hated it. He said it would have
seemed a great deal manlier to him to sell stoves or steam-engines, or
something not so womanish as silks and velvets; but I fancy it would
have made no difference. He was born to live out of doors. He’s a
different boy when he happens to get an outside ‘job,’ once in a while.”

“How old is he?”

“Sixteen. Belle is one year older than he.”

“What do you study, my dear?”

“Nothing much but music, now. Mother has a friend who is interested
in the best Conservatory here, and I have the benefit of instruction
there. I have an idea that this lady, this friend, pays my expenses, or
advances the money to Mother for that purpose, though I do not know.
I asked once, but was not told. Mother is certain I have a fortune in
my voice, and she is killing herself to keep me in training. I cannot
say I have not. I have no wish to run down my only legitimate stock in
trade, but I don’t believe I’m a Patti or a Jenny Lind. I may be, of
course. Brother Robert is too little to be anything but the dearest,
sweetest small chap in the world. So there you have us. We are not
beggars, exactly; for Mother has a little bit of an income which ekes
out the embroidery money, and so we manage. But it isn’t as it should
be, and what I want to know is: Could such a family as ours make a
living in the country somewhere? Do you think our ‘talents’ could be
put to any sensible use? And--do you forgive my selling your flowers?”

“My dear, I am glad if they brought you one bit of additional money. I
wish you had had double the number--”

“Oh dear! I don’t! That sounds saucy. But I never in the world could
make my salt that way. I haven’t the patience, and I have too much
pride. But I did get quite a nice little sum for them, and I am sure it
will do Motherkin a lot of good. Only her pride will suffer, and her
heart ache a little that I could do anything without telling her first.
We never have any secrets in our small household; and I have been so
low-spirited all day over mine. Only, of course, I shall make a clean
breast of the business as soon as I get home.”

“Miss Beckwith, or Beatrice, if you will let me call you so, I thank
you for your confidence in me. I want to prove myself to you all that
my Conrad would have been to any one dear to me, if I can. But I see
very clearly that your mother is proud and self-reliant. She is not of
the sort to whom one can offer pecuniary aid without offering a sting
as well. I am of the same kind myself. I should not like to receive
benefits at all, unless I had a chance of repaying them. I agree with
the doctor that Mrs. Beckwith would be better in the country; but I
dare not propose my poor knowledge of what is best for you youngsters
against a mother’s wish and wisdom. Still, continue to trust me for a
little while. Some way will open to help you; and Joanna will advise
me. I never take any important step without consulting her.”

Bonny looked her surprise. Mr. Brook was a hale, strong-hearted man of
eighty years. How odd that he should need to take counsel of anybody,
least of all of a woman! “Is Joanna the sister of whom you spoke?”

“Yes. A wise and dear friend she has been to me all my life. She and I
live together at the old homestead in New Windsor with the servants who
have been long in our employ. I hope you will know her soon. You are
certain to love her if you do.”

Bonny’s quick sympathy sent a momentary moisture to her bright eyes,
which Mr. Brook saw clearly enough, even without his glasses, which had
fallen from his nose. “Why, what, my dear?”

“Nothing--nothing, sir! Only that is so beautiful! I wonder if my
Roland will love me like that when he is old, and I am! We are the
‘closest chums’ now; but--do you suppose it will last?”

“Let us hope it will last, my dear. And it certainly will if you do
your sisterly share to make it. Never for one moment allow yourself to
forget that you are children of one mother,--the brave little mother
who has toiled to keep you in one fold. Then I am as positive it ‘will
last’ as that our dinner must be waiting us now!”

Bonny sprang up at once. “Thank you, Mr. Brook. And if your sister does
not see how to help us into a sensible way of living, still I shall
always remember you gratefully; and I will try to be to my Roland what
Miss Brook has been to you. I will, indeed. But I am glad to go back
to Robert. He is rather uncertain in his behavior, though the dearest
little fellow in the world!”

“Indeed?” laughed Mr. Brook, dryly; and with so much of mischief in
his fine old face that again Beatrice was reminded of the picture her
mother had seen in the chrysanthemums, and she beguiled the way back
to the hotel by a description of the little scene when the basket had
arrived.

“That was pretty, very pretty. Joanna must certainly know your mother;
and I have a scheme in my mind that, meeting her approval, will bring
many happy days to all of us, I trust.” The old man looked up cheerily,
and caught Bonny’s wondering gaze fixed upon his face. “Ah, ha, my
dear! You see that youth has no monopoly of ‘looking forward.’ A man
may be a deal happier at eighty than he ever was at eighteen. I am.”

They reached the hotel none too soon. Dinner had been ready for some
moments, and both Mr. Dolloway and Robert were in the condition of
temper which hungry men, of any size, not possessing more than the
usual amount of “grace” commonly exhibit.

“Bonny! I want to go home! Right away! That horrid old man
has--sp-sp-spanked--me!”



CHAPTER VII.

DINING IN STATE.


“Impossible!” cried Beatrice, catching the angry boy in her arms, and
casting a defiant glance toward the irate Mr. Dolloway.

“Well, when a young one don’t know any better than to sass his elders
he’d ought to be spanked. So I done it. An’ I’ll do it again, if I ever
have occasion to.”

“Dolloway!”

Beatrice was surprised to hear how stern Mr. Brook’s voice could
become, and she was delighted to see the other old fellow wince
visibly. The sternness had gone home to the servant’s guilty heart, as
it should.

“Truth, sir. Begging your pardon for sayin’ so. Here was I, laying
myself out to entertain the boy; a telling stories till my jaws ached,
and answering questions by the thousand till I couldn’t talk no more.
Then I remembered the checker-board we’d brought along, and I tried to
learn him how to play. The sass he give me--beat all! He knows more’n
I do; more’n you do, sir; more’n the President of these United States
and Queen Victory into the bargain.”

“I--I--I don’t! I--never!” sobbed Robert.

“You did. You do--er you think you do! Didn’t you conteradict me plain
to my face about them moves? Didn’t you just as good as say I cheated?”

“Wull--wull--wull--you did!”

“Hush, Bob! Let the old man tell his story first.”

“If--if he gets his in fust--who’s a-goin’ ter b’lieve mine?” demanded
“Humpty-Dumpty,” with renewed energy. “Fust off he knocked me down
with the checker-board. Think I was goin’ ter stan’ that? I guess not!
So I hit him with my fist. That’s all they was to it. An’ I’d a been
satisfied nen to quit an’ begin over again, if he’d a played fair. But
he wouldn’t. Nen--he--he caught me up--an’--”

“Never mind, now. Try not to think about it. And if you have been
naughty you must apologize to Mr. Dolloway.”

“This--this is distressing!” exclaimed poor Mr. Brook, who hated a
quarrel. “Try, both of you, to forget all about it. You were probably
both almost starved. So I’ll order in the dinner at once, and that
will set us all straight. Come here, my little man. Here is a quarter
for you.”

But the “little man” was beyond the allurements of tips. He had
sustained an indignity which it seemed to him he could never forget. It
had been part of Mrs. Beckwith’s gentle rule that no physical violence
should ever be visited upon her children. In the street the boys had
taken their share of rough-and-tumble fighting with other boys, but in
their own home or at their schools neither had ever received a blow.
The fact and the method of Mr. Dolloway’s punishment was, therefore,
the more infuriating and humiliating to the really proud little boy,
who was at heart as “good” as his doting sister constantly declared him.

“Go, darling!” whispered Bonny. “Don’t make poor Mr. Brook feel any
worse. He is unhappy about his man’s rudeness to you. Go! Be generous,
and take it!”

This was putting the matter in a new light; and Robert despised
anything like want of generosity. He hesitated but a second longer,
till Bonny added, “Go, dear!” and then he marched straight to Mr. Brook
and laid his soiled hand confidingly upon that gentleman’s knee.

“Wull--I’ll take it to ’blige you, not him. I ain’t a takin’ no pay
fer what he done, an’ I’ll lick him yet, if I get big enough. Thank
you, sir. There comes the waiter man. He’s been in here a lot o’ times
a’ready. I guess it’s dinner, don’t you?”

“I guess it is. In fact, I know it is. Now, my son, what did you order?
And I hope you did not forget me. I’m as hungry as a bear.”

“Are bears hungry?”

“They have that reputation. I am not acquainted with any bears myself,
so I cannot speak from experience. Come, Dolloway, here is your
especial bit of venison steak again, I see. Come, draw up to the table,
all.”

Mr. Dolloway sniffed, “After you is manners for me, sir.”

“Stuff and nonsense, lad! Waive formality for once, and take a bit of
dinner with an old friend--not after him. Come.”

“No, no, sir; thank you, I never could relish my victuals with young
ones to the table.”

“Dolloway! sit up. That is enough of nonsense. And show the ill-taught
child how he should behave--if you know how yourself.”

To Beatrice’s surprise, Mr. Dolloway did not apparently resent this
speech of Mr. Brook’s, and he immediately obeyed it. She saw then
that, familiar and almost equal as the two had seemed to her, one was
still the master, the other the man.

The dinner began in silence, broken only by the host’s attempts at
conversation, which fell without much response; for Dolloway was
stubbornly speechless, and the young Beckwiths were too much impressed
by the strangeness of their surroundings to have leisure for words.
Even restaurant service, to which most young city folk become early
accustomed, was unknown to them, for their simple meals had always
been taken at home; and the deft movements of the waiter, perplexity
as to the use of the various utensils with which he provided them,
and a close observation of Mr. Brook and his manner of using the big
or little forks and spoons, occupied them to the exclusion of almost
everything else, even food.

“Try a few of those oysters. They are delicious, my dear, they are
indeed,” urged the entertainer, pushing the plate of half-shells gently
toward Bonny’s place.

Then she rallied herself. “I must not seem ungrateful, and the
food does smell so good! Only there is so much of it! One of these
‘courses,’ I suppose they are, would make enough for once at home. I
wish Motherkin had some oysters like these! And she shall. I will buy
some on my way back.” Then she turned to her host, and exerted herself
to be as entertaining as Bonny Beckwith certainly could be if she
willed, and before he knew it even Mr. Dolloway was laughing.

In that laugh the hatchet was buried; or rather the last ill-temper
which Robert had retained vanished, and he turned merrily toward his
enemy with the words: “My eye! This turkey is an awful good one, ain’t
it? I wish I could have you tell me what to order, every day!”

“When I was a boy I liked turkey,” answered Dolloway, graciously.

“Tell me ‘when you was a boy,’ please. If you will I won’t be sassy no
more, an’ I won’t beat you no more.”

“Some time. Not now. I did tell you all I knew, ’most.”

“He says you have horses of your own, Mr. Brook!” said “Humpty-Dumpty,”
suddenly remembering this communication and wishing to have it verified.

“Yes, I have a number; seven in the stables now, I think. But all are
not mine; one pair is my sister’s. Some day I hope you will come and
see them.”

“Ginger! Do you? Honest Injun?”

“Certainly. Why should you doubt it?”

“Oh--because I hit _him_, an’ I’m a ‘young one,’ an’--I’m gen’ally
doin’ somethin’ I hadn’t oughter. But if you mean it I’ll come, if my
mother will let me.”

“I shall ask her,” said Mr. Brook, cheerfully. “I have hopes she will
say ‘yes.’ Then Dolloway, here, shall teach you how to ride.”

“No, I sha’n’t teach nobody to break his neck.”

“Perhaps you may have a horse of your own, some day,” calmly pursued
Mr. Brook, undisturbed by Dolloway’s present rebellion against
authority.

Robert gasped. Such a “perhaps” literally took his breath away. Then he
asked:

“Could I ride him bareback?”

“I presume you would attempt it.”

“If I ’tempted it I’d do it. They ain’t no back down ter me; I’ve got
grit, I have. Bonny, here, she would ’a’ give up--kerflummux! a sellin’
those chrysms, but I made her hold on. If it hadn’t ’a’ been fer me she
wouldn’t ’a’ made nothin’, hardly.”

Bonny winced. The least said about chrysanthemums the better she liked
it now. But she answered: “How about the dozen which Miss Agnew
bought? Where were you at that time?”

Robert ignored the inquiry. He had now eaten all that his capacity
permitted, and he began to think of home. Not that homesickness
troubled him, but a longing to boast of that day’s experience over the
humdrum, matter-of-fact life which had probably gone on in the Second
Avenue flat.

“Say, Bon! It’s time fer a feller ter go! Motherkin’ll be gettin’
worried ’bout us.”

“If Mr. Brook will excuse us we will go at once, before the up-town
cars get crowded.”

“Golly! Will you ride? Eh?”

“Yes, dear. We are a long way from our own neighborhood now.”

“I know that. But I’ve walked it before, when I didn’t have no such
good dinner inside of me. I’d laugh if I couldn’t now!”

“Very well. We’ll try it, then.”

But they were not to be permitted. When they turned to bid their host
good-by, they found him with his hat on, ready to accompany them to the
street. “You must allow me to put you in a cab, my dears. Yes, yes.
Indeed, I shall permit nothing else. You are to say all kind things
to the family for me, and I will write your mother or you, after I
reach home and have seen Joanna. One thing, remember. I am not a new
acquaintance. I am an old and tried friend. You can trust me. You can
expect to see a great deal of me, if you will. Good-by.”

“Good-by.” “Good-by! Don’t forget about my visit to you!” “Thank you.
Good-by.”

Around whirled the cab, and off up the street sped--no, crawled--the
vehicle, among the lines of trucks and wagons, street-cars, hacks, and
carriages, till Beatrice felt she could have outstripped that pace on
her own light feet.

“But it’s riding, all the same, Bon! Let’s play pretend it’s our own
carriage and we have been down town to buy a horse.”

“No; a house in the country.”

“Horses too. An’ we’re goin’ ter live ‘swell’ forever after. We’re
goin’ ter have turkey every day.”

“Every other day, dear; it would be better for our digestion.”

“What’s digestion?”

“It is the one thing which the impecunious young Beckwiths have in
perfection.”

“Pooh! What’s the use of saying words a mile long? An’ why don’t you
give a real answer?”

“I like to use long words. It’s the only luxury I can afford. And the
real answer is, the prime condition of our ‘insides,’ which allow us to
eat anything from ‘A to Izzard.’ There, let’s get out at this corner. I
want to invest a little of my money in a few oysters for Motherkin, as
well as to pay you the seventy-five cents I promised.”

They dismissed the cab at the corner of Third Avenue and hurried into
the nearest market, where Bonny selected with utmost care a dozen of
the very finest “bivalves” she could find; but when she offered the
promised reward to her little brother he surprised her by refusing to
take it.

“Why, Bob! Why not? Are you ill? What is the matter?”

“No, I ain’t ill. Can’t a feller do a gen’rous thing ’ithout his folks
’cusin’ him o’ bein’ sick? But, say! Wait a minute! I will take it,
too. I’ll take it an’ give it to my mother myself. I earned it fair an’
square, didn’t I?”

“Of course you did. And you are a perfect darling that you do not
wish to waste it on yourself. Mother will be delighted with your
unselfishness! If it weren’t in the street I’d kiss you, sweetheart!”

“Well, you needn’t. An’ I’ve got a quarter, anyway. That is more’n I’ve
had in a dog’s age before. Do you s’pose my mother will scold me for
running away from school?”

“As you draw near home your conscience begins to prick you, doesn’t it?
Mine does. I didn’t feel half as guilty before.”

There was such a sympathy in this matter that despite its being on the
“street” and a place where exhibitions of affection were out of place,
the brother and sister clasped hands with an eagerness that told how
much they really feared the quiet glance of disapproval which Mrs.
Beckwith would make her only punishment.

But it was not Beatrice’s habit to acknowledge herself worsted till
compelled; and she dashed into the little parlor of their flat crying,
as gayly as she could: “Fairy gifts, Motherkin! I’ve discovered the
secret of transmuting posies into pounds, petals into pennies, and
chrysanthemums into oysters! Behold--and believe!”

“Ahem! Miss Beatrice, this is truly fortunate. I had begun to despair
of seeing you.”

The girl wheeled suddenly about, and there, spectacles on nose and
music-roll in hand, sat the Professor of Voice Culture who was training
her for “her career,” and whom she had faithfully promised to meet
that day for “a particular reason of obligingness to me myself; that
may mean a much of benefit to the poor old Herr Doctor.”

Until that instant she had utterly forgotten the teacher’s request and
her promise, and the regret with which she now recalled it effectually
banished all affected hilarity. Dropping her package of “saddle rocks,”
she held out both hands to the shabby-looking German, with an accent
of such keen distress in her voice that he forgave her on the instant:
“Oh, sir! I am so sorry. But--I never thought of it, not once. Has it
made a great difference?”

“No, no,--not so great--but the mother--”

Bonny turned once more, this time to be confronted by another visitor,
and oddly enough another teacher, the head master of the parochial
institution where Robert was supposed to learn more refinement than he
could at the public schools of the city.

“My dear, Mr. Benton. He has called about Robert’s absence, fearing he
was ill. He also has a broken engagement to explain. Where have you
both been all day?”

“Mother! must I tell--now--before these?”

“I know of no reason why you should not. I hope my children have not
absented themselves from their duties for any cause which they would
be ashamed to mention.” There was both pride and pain in the widow’s
tone, and Bonny opened her lips to “make a clean breast of the matter,”
but a second thought restrained her. What she had done might have been
unwise, but she saw no reason to explain their actual poverty to “all
the world.” For the first time in her life she refused to answer her
mother’s question, and a spot of heightened color burned on each cheek
as she bowed and murmured: “I cannot give the reason now, dear. Please
do not press me;” and immediately quitted the apartment.

But alas for the Beckwith pride! In her haste Beatrice forgot that she
had left the garrulous “Humpty-Dumpty” behind her.



CHAPTER VIII.

PROPOUNDING A RIDDLE.


“Ginger! If Bon hasn’t dropped them oysters down kerflump!” cried
Robert, picking up the brown paper parcel and laying it on his
mother’s lap. Then he plunged one pudgy hand deep in the corner of his
pocket, where the hole had been pinned together, and produced four
silver quarters. “Hi! there, Motherkin! See _them_?” and he cast a
supercilious glance about upon the spectators, as if pitying the envy
which must thrill their breasts.

“I see, dear. But go and make your excuses to Mr. Benton. I have had
none to make for you.”

Robert immediately crossed to the master’s side and explained: “I
couldn’t come ter school to-day, sir, ’cause my sister had ter go an’
sell some chrysms on the Avenue, an’ I didn’t like ter let her go
alone. It ain’t nice fer girls to go ter places alone, my mother says.”

When the child had reached this point in his disclosures Isabelle
rose rather hurriedly and left the room by the same door which had
covered Bonny’s exit.

[Illustration: HE CAST A SUPERCILIOUS GLANCE ABOUT HIM.]

“Well, my boy. If you have a valid reason for your absence we will have
to see about getting you excused. But there has been too much of this
truanting, and we have resolved to put a stop to it. We have not quite
the authority which the public school teachers have, else we should
not be so troubled. An examination for promotion is to be held next
week, and I felt that Robert had no time to lose if he wished to go
forward with his class. Besides, he had promised to assist me a little
in preparing for an evening entertainment in aid of the school, and I
depended on him. He was to have been a little ‘Red Cross Knight,’ but
owing to his absence I was obliged to give his place to another boy.”

Five minutes later both the Professor and Mr. Benton had departed,
and Bonny immediately reappeared. “Mother! don’t look at me so
grieved. I am bad, I know; as bad as I can be. But I don’t mean it,
and I really felt as if I were doing something very praiseworthy when
I set out on my adventures this morning. I was in quite a glow of
self-righteousness. I was, indeed!”

“How about the glow now, my child?” asked the mother, gently stroking
the flushed face resting on her knee.

“It’s gone. But--but this remains;” and she counted out the contents of
her little purse, which amounted to about ten dollars. “That isn’t so
very bad, though it’s about one fourth of what I anticipated bringing
home. As it is, nine dollars of this came from one person.”

“Beatrice! Not from Mr. Brook, I hope!”

“No, Motherkin. But _will_ you forgive me? I’ll never do so again. I
promise you. And I’ve so much to tell. I can’t wait till I tell it, yet
it doesn’t come easy with that sort of a wall of displeasure and sorrow
between us. Please take your bad girl back, down deep into the happy
place in your heart again, Mother darling! I hate to feel unhappy! I
do, awfully!”

Her whimsical entreaty covered a regret so sincere that Mrs. Beckwith
understood, and stooping kissed very tenderly the tumbled curls of her
energetic daughter. There was a trace of tears in her own eyes as she
lifted her head, but there was no further word of blame or repentance
between them; yet Beatrice never forgot that hour, nor did she ever
again test any scheme, no matter how brilliant its promise, without
taking her mother into confidence first.

“Well, then, that’s settled and done with. I feel better, very much
better. And Robert is not to be blamed at all. Nor am I, even, for
part of my badness. I forgot that. Mr. Brook has part of the blame. He
claims it, and I’m sure I’m willing he should enjoy it.”

“My daughter, have you been to see Mr. Brook?”

“Yes,’m, I have. I’ve dined with him. At the Astor House. In a private
parlor. But that wasn’t the beginning of the story. You should let
people begin at the beginning, Mother dear.”

“Begin at the beginning, Beatrice.”

The recital was given, amid the comments and illustrations of the
youngest Beckwith; no details were omitted, and it ended with the
question: “If this good friend of our grandfather’s finds some place
that we could live in the country, would you go, Mother?”

“For my own part, I should be glad to go. But your education, the
different careers which may be open to you here, my children, these
must be considered first. All the young people are leaving the country
places and flocking to the towns, if we are to believe the articles we
read. If those who have been born and reared in the country cannot
make a decent livelihood there, how can we expect to do so?”

“Well, you see, Motherkin! we’re all geniuses! That’s the theory we are
living on now; and a genius can do what no less gifted mortal can! But
all jesting aside, Mr. Brook agrees with the doctor that your health
would be a great deal better in a country place than here; and I’ll
risk the rest of the question for that great gain. So should you, if
you love us.”

“Well, well, dearie. The question is not to be met to-night. But those
oysters you brought in and dropped so disdainfully upon the floor will
taste very nicely to us who have _not_ dined at the Astor House upon
roast turkey and other good things galore. Would you object to broiling
me a few?”

After all, the day ended merrily. The Beckwiths had a faculty of
making mirth out of trifles, and it kept them all from growing sour
or cross-grained over the inevitable hardnesses of their lot in life.
Roland brought out his banjo and forgot the day’s hopeless search for
a new situation in the picking up of a melody that had caught his ear.
Belle worked hard to make a realistic “study” of chrysanthemums from
the two or three which Beatrice had left behind her that morning on
her mother’s kitchen table. Mrs. Beckwith “outlined” a pattern against
the next day’s finer embroidering; Robert played at jack-straws till
he had “beaten himself” a satisfying number of times; while Beatrice
moved everywhere about the little home, putting away scattered papers
and books, dusting carefully each nook and corner, and finally sitting
down to peruse a cook-book in the hope of finding some desirable dish
for the next day’s dinner which would cost next to nothing in the
concocting.

A busy week followed, busy for all save Roland, and yet even for him,
though his labors were without apparent result; and then the postman
brought the letter which all except Bonny had nearly forgotten, the
letter that Mr. Brook was to write after consultation with his sister,
Miss Joanna.

It was “Humpty-Dumpty” who received the communication from the
messenger and flew upstairs with it, crying out: “I bet this is the
country letter! I bet it’s Mr. Brook has found a home for us an’ a
horse! Read it, won’t you, Motherkin, quick?”

“It is very brief, my dears; but it contains an invitation for Roland
to go up and see Mr. Brook at his own home. He writes that there are
some things much better discussed in person than by mail, and unless
he hears to the contrary he will send a carriage to meet my son at the
railway station nearest his house on Thursday--why, that is to-morrow!
He adds that he trusts the meeting will not be fruitless of good to all
concerned, else he would not suggest it. Well, well.”

“‘Well’ means ‘yes,’ doesn’t it?” demanded Bonny, eagerly.

“I wonder how much it will cost!” remarked Roland, reflectively.

“No matter, sir. We’ll write another poem on somebody’s medicine and
earn the price of the trip, maybe! Anyway, there is the chrysanthemum
money which my mother has punished me by refusing to touch; you shall
take that. Then Mr. Brook can feel that he has paid your way and will
have no scruples about that matter. In his heart of hearts, the dear
old gentleman has been worried over it, I know, just as well as if I
had heard him say: ‘But, Joanna, they are so poor! What if he goes to
the expense for nothing!’ and she has comforted him by saying: ‘Never
mind, Chidly dear, we will make it up to them in some way. The young
man must come, of course.’ You see how it is, don’t you, Motherkin?”

“I see that, among you, you would wheedle the foolish old Motherkin
into letting all of you sacrifice your own best interests because
you happen to think a country life is best for her!” answered Mrs.
Beckwith, smiling fondly upon them all. “But Roland must go. No
matter if we could afford it even less than by Bonny’s exploit we are
fortunately able, it would be a rudeness not to accept the invitation.
Yet, Roland, remember; it is no light task you are undertaking, and you
must not bring back rose-colored reports unless the facts will bear
them out; that is, I want you to look at everything with practical
eyes.”

“I’ll try, Mother. But my opinion cannot decide the question.”

“Your opinion may soon have to decide all family matters, my son,”
answered Mrs. Beckwith, with a gravity that woke a sudden terror in
their loving hearts.

But Bonny would have none of this! Trouble--sorrow--should not come
to them, not such sorrow as her mother’s tone suggested; and with the
swift rebellion of her hopeful nature she turned upon her brother
playfully. “Yes, my Laureate. Just take the poetical part of you off
and give it to me. I’ll lock it safely up in my own bureau till you
return. And, see; here’s the money! Oh, Bob! don’t you wish you were
the big brother instead of the little one? Think of seeing your friend
Mr. Dolloway again!”

Three days later Roland had made his journey and returned; and the
first glance Bonny gave to his face set her heart to beating gayly.
“Oh! I see it’s good news you bring, Laureate! You needn’t try to look
so solemn, you’re so happy you could dance!” which was the one thing
Roland never attempted to do.

“Here he is, Motherkin! And he _is_ rose-colored, though he tries not
to be.”

“Ah, my son! We have missed you greatly. But did you have a pleasant
time?”

“Mother, it’s delightful! It is. Just the plain, common-sense side of
it is too good to be true. It is all so much better than we any of us
dreamed that I hardly know how to begin.”

“I know, Roland!” interposed Robert. “Begin as we like stories to do:
‘Once upon a time.’”

“All right, little chap. ‘Once upon a time’ there was an old gentleman
that had a great deal of money, much more than he needed himself,
and he liked to do good with it. He was a peculiar old gentleman,
too. He didn’t believe in the actual giving away of this money, as
we sometimes give to the street beggars; but he would help those who
wanted to help themselves. He said that was the Lord’s own way, and he
certainly could not improve upon it. So all his life long he has been
putting tumble-down people on their feet, and educating ignorant ones,
and building little homes for homeless folks, who generally plucked up
courage enough to earn the cost of the homes themselves at last. All
which the splendid old fellow didn’t tell me himself; but I found out
by asking more questions of everybody I met than even Bob could ask in
the same length of time.”

“You couldn’t!” said Robert, indignantly.

“I did, small sir. I’ll prove it by anybody who saw me while I was in
New Windsor town! Well, sure enough, when I got to the station there
was a cosey carriage waiting for me, and in it, not just the servant I
had expected to see, but Mr. Brook and the sweetest-faced old lady I
ever saw.”

“Roland! _Did_--you go and take that poetry-side out of my drawer
before you started?” asked Bonny, pathetically.

“No, miss. This is plain, unvarnished fact. Miss Brook is like her
brother, only--more so! She looks like him, with a little smaller
features and a bonnet on. She wears white curls each side her face,
and her bonnet is big enough to cover her head, and she had on a
soft-colored old shawl; India, I think she called it. She is very
decided and quick, but not harsh. It is only that her mind seems to go
as fast as Bonny’s does, though more wisely.”

“Thanks. Next chapter, please,” remarked the object of comparison,
slipping her arm within her brother’s.

“Well, I will skip the rest, for a minute, and hurry to the ‘plan.’
Mr. Brook has a house he would like to rent us. It stands on the
land adjoining his own place, and was owned by some city people who
got dissatisfied and left. He bought it partly as an investment, and
partly to prevent undesirable persons coming to live there. It is
old and picturesque, but it is in good order. It has a revolutionary
history,--that is, the west side has; the eastern half is more modern.
It stands almost upon the river bank, though on a bluff above it, and
the orchard slopes quite down to the water. The rent is two hundred
dollars a year, which is one hundred less than we pay now. It seemed
to me that there was more room in it than we needed, but Mr. Brook
said he thought not. And Bob’s friend, Dolloway, who went through the
house with us, remarked: ‘I should think you’d be glad to have room
enough to swing a cat in for once!’ and I concluded that it might be
pleasant. The house is partly furnished; that is, there are curtains
of some sort at the windows, and matting on the floors. There are
closets everywhere, and one room is just as General Somebody used it.
I declare, I was ashamed to find my history so rusty, for the whole
locality is historic. And-- Oh, Mother, I do hope you will think
favorably of it!”

“The main question is earning our living there; that is, if I can bring
myself to take you away from your schools.”

“We talked that all over. There are ten acres with the house. There is
also a little greenhouse, where Mr. Brook thinks we could raise early
vegetables and flowers for market. Miss Brook says that you could do
your embroidery there as well as here, and that if it seemed best the
girls could come into the city for their lessons once or twice a week.
They said we ought to keep one cow and a horse, and they had a plan by
which we could make the horse pay for its keep; that is, if we were
willing to work.”

“Are you, my dears? Remember it is not congenial work, nothing to do
with books and music and art. But I was brought up in the country
myself, and I know that the only way to get a living out of land is,
as my guardian used to say, ‘dig it out.’ It seems strange for us,
with our ignorance, to go back and attempt to do what the real country
people have given up as a failure. I am more than doubtful about our
success.”

“Mother, I never knew you to be so undecided about anything! I have
always felt you knew long beforehand just what was best; don’t let us
think of this thing at all if it troubles you,” said Isabelle, gently.

“There was never so much at stake before, my dear. But I will waver no
longer. Let us each make the most of our last winter in the city, and
in the spring we will go to New Windsor. Now, my Beatrice, if that soup
of yours is ready we will have our dinner.”

They rose promptly, but soberly. Even Bonny could not shake off the
influence of her mother’s thoughtful words, though she tried to jest
as usual, and began to sing a gay little melody that Belle liked,
till Roland interrupted her by saying: “Oh, I forgot; here is a little
letter for you, from Mr. Brook,” and gave her an unsealed envelope.

“For me? How nice! But--how queer! Listen to this, all of you!”

  MY DEAR MISS BEATRICE,--The name of the place where I hope you will
  live, is The Lindens, from the trees which surround it. You will find
  your fortune in those trees if you search for it. I leave your quick
  wit to solve the riddle.

                                Faithfully Yours,
                                                  PHILIPSE CHIDLY BROOK.



CHAPTER IX.

THE FIRST EVENING IN THE NEW HOME.


A few months later, when the spring was just opening, Beatrice and
Roland stood on the wide porch of the old house in New Windsor,
eagerly watching the approach of a carriage which was bringing to the
Lindens the rest of their family. The girl’s feet could not keep from
dancing, and the lad’s spirits found vent in a whistle so merry and so
spontaneous that old Mr. Dolloway, hearing it, muttered grimly: “I hope
he can keep on a feeling that way after he’s tried farming a spell. I
don’t see any great fun in hard work myself, an’ that’s what he’ll get,
an’ plenty of it.”

“Oh! I hope Motherkin will not be disappointed! Think of her trusting
everything to her children, and saying that what we like will certainly
suit her! Was there ever such a love of a mother in this world?”

“No, Bonny, I don’t believe there ever was. I can imagine no human
being more perfect than our mother.”

“I mean she shall have a splendid rest now. This air is perfectly
delicious! It fairly tingles through my veins, it is so pure and
brilliant!”

The brother fell to whistling again.

“See! The buds are really swelling on my lindens! I wonder what their
secret is.”

“I thought you professed to having found out?”

“Not quite. I did think, from the stories I have read about
Revolutionary times here, that perhaps Mr. Brook believed there was
a buried treasure underneath those trees somewhere. But last night
I asked him, and he laughed so gayly that I knew I was on the wrong
track. Miss Joanna laughed, too, and asked me if I thought all the poor
old soldiers had money to bury, because she had certainly heard of
enough being searched for to supply the whole army with wealth, and yet
history told us that they suffered great privations. There _have_ been
some ‘pots of gold’ resurrected right here in this New Windsor town,
but they did not hold enough to enrich anybody, and their contents are
preserved more as curiosities than used to supply common wants.”

“So you give up that idea entirely?”

“Entirely. There they come. Oh, Mother! Here at last!”

Considerate in all things, Mr. Brook had sent his own carriage to the
station to bring Mrs. Beckwith and Belle with little Robert, but he
had not accompanied it himself. He wanted the first glimpse of her new
home should be an impartial one on the lady’s part, and he was too
prejudiced a person to refrain from pointing out this or that favorable
feature of the spot he loved so well. So the family were quite by
themselves, and free to express their thoughts as they were inclined
without fear of wounding anybody’s preferences, had there been any
danger of their doing so. But there was not. As Roland had said, when
he returned from that first visit of the autumn before, “It is all so
much better than one could have dreamed!” was the one and only feeling
of the brave little woman who stepped down from the carriage with happy
face and shining eyes.

“Here at last, my darling! All together once more. Are you not tired
out with all your hard work? And, Roland, my son, it actually seems to
me you have grown, even in these few days!”

“Grown in importance, Motherkin. He’s really very ‘masterful’ up here.
He feels that he is the head of the family now, in good earnest. You
should hear him say: ‘Bonny! that room _must_ be my mother’s. It is the
very sunniest, pleasantest in the whole house!’ in such a tone. As if
a body wished to dispute his royal highness! But--how _do_ you like it?
And how did you manage in the boarding-house, after we came away with
the ‘things’?”

“Oh, we managed nicely. Did everything come? Don’t you think you are
very smart, you two, to take the whole responsibility of settling a
house, and such a big house as this? How nice it looks! How pretty,
nay, how beautiful, it all is! See the delicate green of those
tree-buds! And that clump of willows by the river-side. What an
exquisite color! And the plashing of the water at the foot of the
bluff! I had no idea it was so lovely!”

“Now, Motherkin! That’s charming of you; but you don’t wish to waste
all your enthusiasm out of doors, I hope. As for those willow boughs,
I can tell you exactly what to do them in. Cadmium, Motherkin, cadmium
yellow, number two, with shadows of _terre verte_ and umber. Oh! I
know! I was taken with just such an artistic spasm the other day when
I was scrubbing the kitchen pantry, and I sat right down and made a
study of those willows on the back of the moulding-board. I didn’t
quite finish it, though, for Roland called to me to help him with
the stove-pipe, and that sort of dampened my spirits for a while.
Stove-pipes have a depressing influence on mankind generally, I
believe; for we couldn’t get it right, though we tried never so, and
after a little while Roland had to call on Mr. Dolloway for advice.
He-- I fancy I had best not tell what he said. It wouldn’t have been
allowed in polite society. He--”

“Bonny, do keep still! Mother, she talks all the time up here. That is
one drawback I have discovered to this paradise. It is either talk or
sing with Beatrice; she cannot keep still a minute.”

“Never mind! A _happy_ racket never is disturbing to _me_. So this is
my room? Well, I thank you for selecting one so big and cheerful. How
well our old furniture does look, after all! And what pretty matting!
It--seems like a dream. And there is almost as much space in this
one apartment as in the whole of our little flat. I feel like a Mrs.
Crœsus! And what a light for my embroidery!”

“Motherkin, you are not to embroider one stitch for one whole week.
True. Roland has said so, and you will not dare to disobey the
Laureate--and the head of the family--combined!”

It was indeed a cheerful, picturesque old farm-house, and could not
have been situated more pleasantly. To the east, across the river,
the highlands were violet in the light of the setting sun, and the
broad stream itself was flecked here and there by the white-sailed
boats which had awaked from the winter’s sleep with the opening of
navigation, and now darted busily up and down intent upon making lost
time good. Barges and steam-tugs, a steamer or two, and the rattle of
trains on both banks of the Hudson gave what Roland called “an American
flavor to an idyllic picture,” and convinced them all that in turning
their backs upon the city they had not left behind them all connection
with its stirring life.

“Now the greenhouse, Mother! Then you may have your supper. Miss Brook
invited us there to-night, but I asked her to excuse us. I thought you
would be tired and would like to eat your first meal in your new home.
Though we are all to go there to dine to-morrow, and she is coming over
to see you ‘early in the morning,’ which means early, too! Those two
people have not a thing to do except please themselves; and how do you
think they do it? One of the ‘hows’?”

“Don’t tire us with conundrums, Bonny!” pleaded Isabelle, who had made
a swift tour of the whole premises and now returned to the empty little
glass house where the rest had gathered.

“By having their breakfast at seven o’clock the year round!”

“Then during the week you have passed with them you have either
suffered or been impolite!” said Mrs. Beckwith, with conviction.

“I wasn’t impolite, Motherkin. I didn’t keep them waiting,--they
wouldn’t have waited, though,--but I was on hand every morning, sharp.
So was Roland. Oh! that youth is a changed young man! If it only lasts!”

“Now, here,” said Roland, paying no attention to Bonny’s banter, “is
where I have sowed my celery seed. Here is lettuce; there radishes;
there onions, tomatoes, and by this side a few early potatoes. Isn’t
that like living?”

“Roland, how did you know what to do? And how have you had time to
accomplish so much since you came? Shall you like it?”

“Mother, you are almost as curious as Bob! It does me good to hear
it. I was taught what to do by Mr. Brook’s gardener. And we have not
wasted any of the hours during this past week, anyway. And I shall like
it--immensely. I never felt so much a man in all my life.”

“Why, you ain’t a man, Roland! You’re only a boy,” remarked Robert,
feeling a bit jealous of this big brother who had had a whole
week at the Lindens, while he had been forced to remain in a city
boarding-house till Beatrice and the “Laureate” prepared the home for
their mother’s coming. “And don’t it look funny to see our old things
in this new house! I found my own bed the first thing. It’s in a room
all by my own self, ’cause Bon said so. That bed is new if nothin’ else
ain’t, an’ I’m as much ’count as you if I can have a bedroom too.”

“I think that is one of the luxuries of the situation, that each member
of the household can have his or her own little apartment to do in just
as he pleases.”

“To do in not at all as he pleases, you mean! That girl has fidgeted
herself sick lest there should be a speck of dirt left anywhere for
your eyes to find, Mother. And if I laid a single thing down in my
room--so-called--she’d pounce upon it and hang it up or hide it away,
lest the place should ‘look like fury.’”

“Well, she has her reward. I really think she has done wonders, as well
as you. And now I think I smell a cup of tea. If your supper is ready,
Miss Housekeeper, I should be pleased to eat it.”

They had not been allowed to enter the dining-room before. Bonny had
prepared her table and then locked the door. She wanted that room, next
to the mother’s the most cheerful room in the house, to be a surprise
to them; and she now opened the door with a flourish of arms, then
stood back to enjoy the look of pleasure she was sure her mother’s face
would show.

“Oh, how pretty! My dear, you _have_ kept the best to the last. And
this will be our living-room, our ‘home’ room; and as we break bread
together in it for the first time, let us each resolve that into this
room, whatever of sorrow may come, there shall never come an angry word
or an unloving thought. Three times each day, God willing, we will
gather here _in peace_.”

“Then let’s call it the ‘peace-room’ Motherkin!” cried “Humpty-Dumpty,”
touched for almost the first time in his life to a bit of sentiment by
the sweet solemnity of his mother’s face.

“Good for you, small sir! It’s a compact! Your hand upon it, little
brother! And whenever you get into a scrape, if ever such an
unheard-of thing should happen, remember this room shall be a retreat
where you will be safe. I, too; and between us--”

“It will not be often unoccupied!” said Belle, saucily, and moved her
mother’s chair to its place.

“What a great, big fireplace! And ain’t it wicked to burn so much wood,
Roland? Must ’a’ cost a heap!” remarked Bob, leaning his head on his
hands, and gazing reflectively into the bright wood fire which flamed
on the hearth.

He had voiced his mother’s own thought, and she looked toward the elder
son for explanation.

“No, Bob; it cost nothing but a little labor. That fire is made
of driftwood which washed up on our own land. I dragged it to the
wood-house and cut it up myself. Of course, Mr. Brook had a hand in
the business, as he has in all this good fortune. He lent me his saw
and axe; and I am to keep them till I can buy some of my own. Think of
having anybody lend you anything! It is a new experience for us.”

“We do not want to become borrowers, on the strength of it, more than
is necessary, my dear,” said Mrs. Beckwith.

“Don’t you fear. I am quite as independent as you, by nature. But I’ve
found out something, Mother. There is as much kindness in accepting
favors, sometimes, as in conferring them. Mr. Brook feels that he is
responsible for our being here. He wishes to help us get started and
everything running smoothly, and then I think he means to leave us to
stand on our own feet. He has sent his man over every day to help me
about the grounds, and Mr. Dolloway--oh! Mr. Dolloway!”

Bonny echoed her brother’s groan in so comical a manner that Robert
demanded instantly: “What’s he done, Bon? Has he been a lickin’ you?
’Cause--”

“’Cause why, my lad?”

“’Cause he’d better not! I’ll lick him back if he ’tempts it! I studied
that out coming along.”

“No; he doesn’t ‘lick’ me. It would be a relief if he did. He simply
stands and prophesies evil till I am about distracted. Then I get mad
and long to ‘sass’ him--but don’t. For a man who has lived with such a
master as long as he has he is the grumpiest old chap you can imagine.
He seems to be glad to have us here, thinks ‘it’s a fine thing to have
the prop’ty let, after lyin’ idle so long, yet is sure it will go to
wrack and ruin bein’ took care of by a passel o’ young ones an’ one
lorn female.’ My goodness! Here he comes now. Speaking o’ angels, you
know. And what has he brought this time--but--a cat!”

“Yes, I always feel a place never can look homelike without a cat
around,” explained the visitor, when questioned by Beatrice, “so I
fetched this one over. She’s a good mouser, an’ if you don’t feed her
too much’ll do well. H’m-m. Hope you like the looks o’ things, ma’am,”
said Mr. Dolloway, after he had been brought in and duly presented
to Mrs. Beckwith and Belle. As for Robert, the child’s presence was
utterly ignored; and finding this the case, he sauntered out of the
room on a tour of private inspection, or for some reason of his own
which he did not care to mention.

“I do like the looks of things very, very much. I am sure we shall be
very happy here if only our plans for earning our livelihood do not
miscarry. To-night I feel as rich as a queen in a new palace.”

“H’m-m. Just keep a feelin’ so, ma’am. Our folks are powerful glad
you’ve come, an’ things’ll go. But I dunno how they would ’a’ gone if
it hadn’t been for me looking after these childern you sent up here.
They mean well, but-- My soul! What in the world!”

The horrible sounds which had interrupted Mr. Dolloway’s discourse
appeared to come from the rear of the house, and thither everybody
rushed to learn their cause.

“Burglars!” thought Mrs. Beckwith, trembling.

“Tramps!” echoed Isabelle, recalling all the outrages of that
fraternity which she had ever seen recorded in the newspapers.

“Sounds like some wild animal!” cried Roland, and tried to open the
door backwards, in his haste.

“My soul! It’s a cat! My--cat--I--believe!” exclaimed the visitor,
wildly.

“Oh! where is Robert? My little boy--my baby!” wailed the anxious
mother, as the sounds continued, and grew even fiercer.

Where was he, indeed! Till that moment they had not missed him, but now
each face paled with apprehension as his absence was discovered.

“Oo-row-mur-rrow-screech! -s-spst! Ee-e-yo-ouw!”

“Humph! It’s my opinion that that sound and my small brother are
connected!” said Bonny, composedly.

“Oh! if they should be!” cried Mrs. Beckwith, now actually sobbing with
terror.



CHAPTER X.

ANOTHER LITTLE EPISODE.


“Even if they should be, we have lived long enough to know that
‘Humpty-Dumpty’ is all right. He has as many lives as a cat.”

“Beatrice!”

By the time they reached the outer kitchen, whence the terrible sounds
proceeded, Robert had been collared by Mr. Dolloway and was being
shaken violently to and fro, while Roland was pitifully caressing the
cat which their guest had brought, and which cowered in its rescuer’s
embrace, hiding its head beneath the friendly arm and shivering as if
in an ague.

“Mr. Dolloway! What are you doing? Can you and my darling never meet
but you must come to an open battle? It is perfectly scandalous!”
cried Bonny, indignantly, and taking upon herself the reproof of the
troublesome neighbor.

“Yes, miss! That is what I say! It is a burning shame and a scandalous
outrage! I’ll teach him, the little whelp! They’s a society of
Prevention folks up here, and I’ll hand _his_ name in afore I’m many
days older, or _my_ name ain’t spelt John Dolloway!”

“Will--you--lemme--’lone? I’ll--I’ll--”

Hereupon Mrs. Beckwith laid her hand upon the old man’s arm, and he
instantly released his hold of the unhappy “Humpty-Dumpty.”

“Robert, what did you do?”

“I--I jest--I--He said--Oh! oh!”

“Silence, my son. Wait till you can collect yourself, then answer me.”

For the space of a few seconds the little boy’s sobs and moans
continued, then he looked up as brightly as if trouble were a thing
unknown. “He said they was room to swing a cat, an’ I was a measurin’
to see how much that was; that’s all.”

“How did you attempt the measurement?”

“Why--why--I held her by the tail an’ swung her roun’; that’s all.”

“All! Why didn’t you stop when she yelled and you saw it hurt her?”
demanded Roland, severely.

“Why--’cause.”

“Because what?”

“I--I liked ter hear it. It did sound so funny. I thought I should
laugh myself sick--she was so mad!”

“Robert, go to your room. You know which it is.” Mrs. Beckwith’s voice
was stern, and her small reprobate immediately prepared to obey it, but
unfortunately cast one glance Beatrice-ward, and changed his mind.

“She said it was a ‘retreat’ when folks was in a scrape. I--I bet I’m
in one now; so I--I’d rather go to the peace-room, Motherkin,” said the
child, sweetly. “If you are willing, Mother dear.”

Mrs. Beckwith could not restrain a fleeting smile, and Roland laughed
outright; but the mother’s “no” had always been “no,” with no sign of
wavering about it, and she did not begin their new life with any lax
discipline, much as she would have so preferred. “No, Robert. You have
been cruel, and I cannot excuse you. Remain upstairs until I come to
you. Now, Mr. Dolloway, please accept my sincerest apologies for this
unkindness. I do not seek to lessen my little boy’s fault, but if you
will trust us and leave the poor cat here, I am sure I can promise you
that no such maltreatment will ever be given it again.”

“Well, ma’am, I must say you have spoke like a lady. An’ I hain’t no
wish to be behind-hand in my neighborliness. But--though I hain’t
no right to mention it, so bein’ ’s you’re his mother--if that there
shaver ain’t born ter be hung I’m mistook.”

“I trust you are mistaken. But come into the dining-room, again,
please. I should like to have you tell me anything you happen to think
of about our new home. I am so great a stranger to the locality that I
am as eager as a child to hear its history. Will you not?”

“Thank you, ma’am. I guess not. I just stepped across to say if they
was anything any of us could do for you we was to be notified. Them was
Mr. Brook’s own words. An’ him an’ her both hopes you will rest well
an’ find things comfortable. I left a basket of late-keepin’ apples in
the pantry, an’ I make my good evenin’s to you, ma’am.”

The door had scarcely closed behind him before Bonny began to laugh.
“You really must let me have it out, Motherkin, or I shall be sure to
do it before Bob. That will make him think lightly of his sin. But now
you can foresee how delightfully the monotony of our existence will be
varied by the ‘little episodes’ between that ancient worthy and our
small sinner.”

“Beatrice, it is really too miserable an occurrence to jest over.”

“But just _sub rosa_ this way. And I warn you, you are deluded into the
impression that you know your own mind and that you can manage your own
house. But it will be left for Mr. Dolloway to convince you that you
do not. He takes a lively interest in all his master’s schemes, and in
us--his latest--particularly. He will be the thorn to this rose, the
rod of correction to our careless lives. Fortunately in this case not
like master is the man. Well, I’ll clear away the tea-things now;” and
Beatrice departed kitchenward to put on a big apron.

Isabelle proffered her assistance, but it was laughingly declined as
“not available.” “No, dear, not to-night. You’re company, and I am in
an angelic mood. You’d better enjoy it while it lasts; so run out and
take another walk with the ‘head of the family,’ whom I see strutting
about over his garden patch as if he were king of the whole earth. My
big brother _is_ a poet; but he is also a born farmer. He loves the
smell of the soil, and I know it was the making of him to come up here.
He’d have grown into a disappointed, narrow-minded tape-seller if he’d
stayed in town always. Now--well, I hardly dare tell you all I foresee
in my Roland’s future!”

“Oh, Bonny! hasn’t all this hard work you have been doing taken
the enthusiasm out of you yet? It seems lovely up here, and oh, so
peaceful! But isn’t it just a bit too quiet and humdrum?”

“Trot along, miss! To-morrow when I hand over the housekeeping to you
the humdrumness will disappear!”

“Why--what do you mean, Beatrice?”

“Coming events cast no shadows before in this case. When I have
finished my dishes, Mother will be down again with her youngest in a
beatific state of mind, looking as sweet and innocent as if he had
been the sinned against instead of the sinner; then I’ll call you and
Roland in, and we’ll talk over everything and arrange a fair division
of labor.”

“Why, Bonny! One would think you had all the responsibility of this
undertaking, to hear you talk! Isn’t my mother to have a word of
influence, miss?”

“She is to have all the words she wants, but none of the work that I
can help. Well, I don’t mean that exactly; but wait, and I’ll tell you
what I do mean. Now, trot!”

Thus dismissed, Isabelle joined her brother in the garden. To her, at
present, it seemed but a patch of muddy ground, though to the natural
gardener who was to labor in it, it already presented a picture of
thrift and greenness. “Think of it, Isabelle Beckwith! A week ago we
had not a fraction of an acre over which to rule, now we have ten whole
ones! I’m like Motherkin, as rich as Crœsus!”

“I’m afraid we shall get so sick of it. And we have cut loose now
from so much that it would be hard to get back into even the old,
modest places we held in the city. One never steps down for a moment
but somebody else steps up into one’s place. As soon as I told the
principal of our school that I would have to resign mine, she appointed
somebody else at once. I could not get back the position if I would.”

“You must not look backward, Belle. We have done what seems the best
for all, what certainly will be the best for our mother’s health, and
that should cover all regrets. Besides, I am sure we shall succeed,--in
making a living, at least. That is all we could have hoped to do if we
had stayed in town.”

“I don’t know. Nobody can guess how I hated to give up my art class!
The Professor said I would certainly make a name for myself if I kept
on.”

“Why, Belle! I did not dream you felt so blue about this change!
And I should like to know what is to hinder your ‘making a name’ for
yourself here as well as there? Don’t all the artists, the landscape
ones anyway, go into the country to study? And as for portraits, where
can you find more original models than along these country lanes? If
you have enough rudimentary knowledge, and talent, to make your teacher
express himself like that, you ought to be ashamed of yourself if you
can’t conquer the rest!”

“H’m-m. Since when did you become philosopher?”

“No matter. You have always laughed at my ‘poetical talent;’ Bonny has
not. But I tell you that if there is any real poetry in me, so real
that it must find expression, it will find it here just as certainly
as if I were to spend my days in study and all my evenings scribbling
verses.”

“Then you disparage education?”

“I begin to think there are different sorts of education. One kind I
am going to attempt is learning the land. I will have to begin at the
A B C of it, just as I did in reading printed stuff. But the earth is
printed, too, and by a Hand that does nothing in vain. Most boys run
away from the country because there is no money in it. I am going to
hunt for something which will beat money.”

“Youth! my brother! Just youth. After a while I suppose you will find,
as old Dolloway says, that ‘money beats sentiment.’”

“Yes--and malaria beats both! I’ve been warned against too much
night-dew, if I want to keep my health.”

“Why, isn’t this a healthful place?” cried Isabelle, in quick alarm.
“If it isn’t we should never have brought Mother here!”

“It is. Mr. Brook is eighty years old, and he has lived here almost all
his life. But he spoke to me about our being careful, particularly at
first. He said, and truly, that our health is our capital; and that if
we use reasonable precaution we shall never suffer.”

“Well, I know now that you have grown wise! I cannot remember when I
ever heard you mention health as a thing to be guarded,--our health, I
mean. You have been solicitous enough about Mother’s, except--”

“Except in what? Don’t throw cold water on me now, after warming my
vanity like that!”

“Except when you gave up your situations so readily, because your
‘boss’ ‘sassed’ you!”

“I think it’s time to go in, Isabelle.”

“So do I. I couldn’t have supported any more wise remarks! They sound
so--so un-Roland like.”

“Hark! There’s Bonny calling. Mother and the ‘Hopeful’ have probably
come down to the ‘peace-room.’ And, do you know I think that’s a mighty
pretty fancy of hers? Let’s try to please her and remember it.”

“All right. I’ll try; but I’m not a bit perfect!”

Roland forbore the retort that rose to his lip. Just at present he
was still in the first glow of his incipient manhood, when the idea
of being the “head of the family” had a charm of pride and importance
about it that made trifles of heavy burdens. Isabelle wondered how long
his ease-loving temperament would endure the strain of actual labor
and hardship which would inevitably be laid upon it; but still, like
Beatrice, she saw a change in Roland, and she could but believe that
he had “come unto his own” in coming to dwell in the wide, beautiful
country.

“Well, you dreamers! Here have Motherkin and the bad ones been sitting
for full five minutes, waiting for you to come in. We are to hold a
conclave of forces and decide upon the tactics of this camp! Hi!
there! brother Bob! Does that sound warlike enough for you? I motion
Mother takes the Chair! All in favor-- Aye!”

“My daughter, I decline all posts purely honorary! You may be Chairman
of the occasion; for whether we will or no, you will be bound to have
the most to say!”

“Now, Motherkin! But Roland knows, as well as I, what we have thought.
Let him tell our plans, and if they agree with yours, all right; if
not, we’ll hear whatever amendments the house has to offer.”

“What you talkin’ ’bout?” asked Robert, sleepily.

“Exactly. Roland, begin, please.”

“Where?”

“On the money question, of course.”

“Well, the first expense we shall have to meet is for garden tools
and some sort of a wagon. Mr. Brook has an old horse for which he has
little use, and he will be glad to have us use it for a while, and pay
him nothing but its keep.”

“My son, we must try to stand upon our own feet. We are not to depend
upon Mr. Brook as if _we_ had no independence at all. There is a small
sum of money, you know,--a few hundred dollars. We are to use all of
it that is necessary in making this experiment a success. Go on, dear.”

“As much as is necessary, Motherkin, but no more. This is no especial
benevolence on our patron’s part. He is as good and generous as he can
be, but he is also wise. He wants us to keep our self-respect and his,
at the same time. Well, this way of getting the use of a horse is quite
common among country people. I have inquired and satisfied myself that
it is so. He hasn’t a cow to work for its keep, so that we shall have
to buy. But--”

“Oh, Roland, you are so slow! Listen to me, Motherkin! I, Beatrice
Beckwith, who never earned a penny in her life--but once, a
flower-girling!--am going to be one of the bread-winners! True, true,
true!”

“Why, Bonny! what do you mean? And how happy you seem!”

“Well, I should think I am happy! Wasn’t I the very bottom and
beginning of this whole country business? Didn’t I go a talking to my
dear old gentleman, and didn’t he fall in with the country notion, hot
foot? Then it rests on me to make the thing a ‘go;’ and I mean to do
it.”

“It rests upon us all equally, Beatrice.”

“Well, I have a situation. I am a private secretary, if you please!--I
mean, if you will please! That was why I was so anxious to shorten up
the music practice and take the other lessons at the Y. W. C. A. rooms
during the last three months. Mr. Brook divulged the scheme to me in
one of his letters, which you didn’t ask to see and I didn’t offer
to show you. And we have kept it a secret from you on purpose to be
a delightful surprise to you now. I am to have a dollar a day for my
services. Think of that! I, the harum-scarum, am going to settle down
into a regular money-grubber.”

“Why does he need a private secretary?” demanded Isabelle, rather
anxiously.

“To help him put his collection of bugs and things into shape. You must
know that our Mr. Chidly Brook is a known naturalist,--the one whose
papers we have liked so much, over the signature of ‘Windsor.’”

“Is it possible?”

“True. He is the most modest of men, though, and he never speaks of his
work as anything but insignificant. However, he has been appealed to,
on behalf of some museum in Boston, to allow them to buy his collection
when he has done with it. Of course, he isn’t going to do that; he will
give it to them, instead; but he is going to put it into first-class
order first, as if it weren’t now! and I am to make catalogues, take
down notes, do anything and everything which will aid him. Now--don’t
all speak at once!”

The mother opened her lips to express her praise, but her first words
were drowned in a series of knockings as sudden as imperative.

“Rat-a-tat-tat! Tum-tum-tum!”

“For goodness’ sake! Who can be coming to visit us! At this hour, too!”

But when Roland reached the door and opened it, there was not a person
to be seen. The moonlight fell in a broad sheet across the threshold
and illuminated the sloping lawn before it.

“Rat-a-tat-tat!”

The sounds came from that side of the house. There was no doubting
that, and Bonny joined her brother in the search.

But though they tried both front and rear doors, even the little side
porch which led to the eastern rooms, there was no intruder visible,
and they returned to the place they had left, only to hear the strange
summons repeated almost continually for a full half-hour; after which,
too disturbed to discuss their plans any further that night, the elder
brother lifted the sleeping Robert from his corner of the hearth-rug,
and followed the rest upstairs.

All night, at varying intervals, the uncanny rappings were repeated,
till even the sensible mother began to feel that there was something
supernatural about them, and to speculate if this were the reason that
the former residents had found the house unsuitable and vacated it in
such disgust.

But Roland sighed for a gun; and at midnight, arming himself with a
fishing-rod and a broom, he determined to descend to the “peace-room”
and stand guard till morning.

There, presently, the weary lad went sound asleep; to awake startled
by the apparition of a white-clad figure before him, and to hear the
sibilant whisper, “How--do--you--like--to--live--in--a--haunted--house?”



CHAPTER XI.

MISS JOANNA.


“Oh! did I frighten you? Don’t--for mercy’s sake! don’t hit me!
Why--it’s I--Bonny!”

“Well! I should think you might be better employed! Why didn’t you stay
in your own room?”

“Couldn’t sleep. Why didn’t you?”

“Same reason. Besides, if the household is in danger I am the one to
defend it. Go to bed.”

“I am the one to help you. Aren’t you glad we didn’t try to sleep over
here alone, as we wanted to? I wonder if Mr. Brook knows anything about
this! He would not allow us, do you remember? He said we would be more
comfortable at their home, even after we had gotten the beds set up.”

“I do not think he knew. I am sure if he did he would have warned us.
Hark! There it goes again! It is--it certainly is just by that west
door. It sounds as if it came from the earth.”

“It sounds as if it came from everywhere.

  ‘Black spirits and white
  Red spirits and gray’--

Oh! How my flesh creeps! Isn’t it a perfectly delightfully thrilling
sensation?

  I have had dreams, but not of this,
  That I should share the wondrous bliss
  Of meeting ghostses in the air,
  And have them set on end my hair--

That last line is rather faulty. It’s lost a foot or a leg-- Oh, my!
Hark!”

“Bonny!”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Who is down there with you?”

“Nobody. I’m down here with Roland. The honor of this exploit is his.”

“Come up to bed, both of you. You’ll take cold.”

“Oh! we’re all gooseflesh now, both of us. But Roland is dressed, and
so am I; that is--partly.”

“We can do nothing about this matter to-night. I will see Mr. Brook
to-morrow and get an explanation. Else we will make a business of
investigation for ourselves. Come, both of you, at once.”

“Motherkin’s voice sounds kind of chattery, too, doesn’t it? But we had
better mind her promptly. Good-night.”

“What’s the use of going to bed, Mother? Cannot I sit up?” pleaded
Roland, as he reached the upper landing of the stairs.

“You will be asleep in five minutes, if you make up your mind to it.
The noises have continued now for some hours, and nobody is the worse
for them. Good-night.”

It was a rather serious party which gathered about the breakfast-table,
for even to nineteenth-century folk the idea of living in a “haunted
house” had its drawbacks. But as nothing had been known of the
night’s disturbance by little Robert, nothing was now mentioned in
his presence, and the talk took up again the interrupted “division of
labor.”

“Roland is to be the farmer, of course. He is to raise as much as he
can in his little greenhouse, or cold frame it will be this spring. Oh!
I forgot, I didn’t mean to tell his part for him. Fire ahead yourself,
Roland!”

“For a young lady who has been promoted to a private secretaryship, you
are not over-choice in your language, Beatrice.”

“Excuse me, Motherkin, I’ll try. But it seems so long to wait before
you know all we have thought out.”

“Yes,” said Roland, “our friends think I can sell a good deal of green
stuff. Mr. Brook has lent me lots of books on ‘gardening for profit,’
and his gardener has told me more. He, the gardener, has offered to
teach me by overseeing my work, and I shall be very grateful to him.”

“He’s a cranky old soul, Mother. I wonder Roland has the patience to
endure his ‘you musts’ and ‘you must nots;’ I couldn’t.”

“No, I should expect little endurance from you--in the patience line,
my daughter. That’s your rock of stumbling.”

“Never you mind, Mother. I’m going to blast it out of the way with the
dynamite of hard work. See if I don’t! Proceed, Roland.”

“Miss Joanna says that in such a busy household even the youngest is
sure to want to do something; so what do you think she has planned for
you, Bob?”

“I dunno. I--I ain’t sufferin’ ter do no work. I--I’d rather fish an’
go swimmin’.”

“Yes; but this is a co-operative establishment. Every member must
contribute something to the general support. Your share is to
be--eggs!”

“Eggs! I ain’t no hen. I can’t lay no eggs, can I?”

“You can study grammar and take care of poultry at the same time. Miss
Brook has a famous stock of poultry. It is one of her amusements; but
she is going to start you off with a few ordinary fowls, and see how
you manage them. Then, if you are industrious, after you have paid for
the first ones, she will let you have a better lot. I am to repair the
old poultry-house, down at the foot of the barnyard, and you are to do
the rest. I suppose, at first, mother would be as willing to buy her
eggs and chickens of you as of anybody else. What do you say?”

“I say--I say--I dunno. I--well, I guess I’ll let her.”

“See here, ‘Humpty-Dump’! It just begins to dawn upon me that you are a
spoiled child. Mr. Dolloway has remarked so several times, and I have
indignantly denied it. I hope you will be a little gentleman to Miss
Brook, no matter whether your business ideas differ from hers or not.
She is coming here very soon, and I don’t want her to think my Bob is
anything less perfect than I have painted him.”

“H’m-m. Don’t that Mr. Dolloway man live to her house?”

“Yes; certainly. Why?”

“Then they ain’t no use. He’s told her the hull cat an’ checker-board
story ’fore this time. I guess I won’t need to bother an’ behave no
diff’runt from every day. She wouldn’t believe me if I did. She’d be a
’spectin’ I’d do somethin’ naughty all the time. She wouldn’t have no
conf’dunce in a feller after that man has talked to her.”

“Pooh! Is that all the courage you have? If I were you I’d show her
that the old gentleman was mistaken. I’d take her chickens an’ say,
‘Thank you.’ I’d set every mother biddy on a pile of fresh eggs, and
I’d have little downy chickens running all around. I’d teach the hens
to respect me and come to me every time I called them; and I’d make my
Motherkin think she had the smartest little boy in Orange County, which
is where you live now, my dear!”

“Is it? Would you, Bon?”

“I would!”

“Wull--wull--I guess you’re ’most always square. An’ I will. I’ll let
Miss Brook be good ter me if she wants ter.”

“Magnanimous soul! Now, Isabelle. I--I dread to glance your way.”

“Why? I thought that Roland was going to tell us the rest of the
planning. You are a great monopolist, Bonny.”

“I am silent; I say no more.”

“Well, Roland? What is my share?”

“You are to be housekeeper. To stay with mother and take the home-work
from her hands.”

There was a moment of really anxious waiting. “Bonny has always been
the house-worker,” said the elder girl, at length. “Why should she not
continue and let me go as secretary to Mr. Brook? I took a course of
typewriting before she did, if you’ll remember. I don’t like housework,
and I shall make a botch of it. I shall worry mother more than help
her.”

“I wish I could do both!” cried Beatrice, with her impulsive
generosity. “And I can, some of it. You hate dish-washing the worst of
any part. Well, leave the dishes till I get home at night and I will do
them then. So you can get more time for your painting.”

Mrs. Beckwith said nothing. She waited to let the two settle the matter
between themselves if they could; but she was quite ready with the
decisive word should it need to be spoken.

“No; we must be more fair than that. If you do the housework I must do
the writing; or _vice versa_. I do not see what difference it makes,
why he should mind the change; and you keep mother in better spirits
than I do.”

Bonny opened her lips, blushed, and said nothing. Yet Roland came to
her aid very promptly. He loved both of his sisters better than many
lads would have been willing to confess, but Bonny was his other self.
Though they were always bandying jests with each other, they had never
had a really angry word. Isabelle, while being far more ladylike and
quiet, was also much more selfish; and Roland had suffered from this
fault of hers more than once. He was not sorry, therefore, to be able
to defend his favorite and discipline Belle at the same time. “I’ll
tell you what difference it makes. Mr. Brook loves Bonny best. Yes, he
has told me that he really loves her. They have a community of tastes.
You know she was always fond of studying natural history when she had a
chance, and when people are _en rapport_ it makes everything else easy.
With you it would be a real task for him to dictate and direct. It
would be just as hard for you. But with Bonny it will seem almost like
play,--to him, at least. I only hope he won’t keep my sister too long
at her work. He may forget that she is not as enthusiastic as himself.”

“But--” began Isabelle.

“But--Mr. Brook has made his own choice. We owe him for much kindness.
There is nothing more to be said about it,” said Mrs. Beckwith, rising.
“Here comes a lady walking. Is it your ‘Miss Joanna,’ children?”

“Yes, oh! yes! Look at her, before she spies us watching. Isn’t she a
sweet old lady? Isn’t she the lady of your chrysanthemum dream?”

Over the lawn where the grass was just springing into greenness came
the tall, graceful figure, which despite its seventy-odd years was
still as straight as Isabelle’s, who, looking curiously, remembered her
brother’s words of the evening before, “If you want models, where can
you find them better than here?”

Ah! indeed, Miss Joanna would be a model fit to inspire a genius! Her
face was like the tint of a late blush rose, frost-faded. Her eyes
were dark, her mouth firm and sweet, and her snowy hair, parted on
either side her temples, framed them in silver. On her head she wore
a big gray hat, tied primly under her chin, and over the soft gray
morning-gown a shawl of the same neutral tint, which clothed--not
hung upon--her shoulders. But it was the expression of her countenance
that captivated them all, even the matter-of-fact Robert.

[Illustration: “Wull, be you the egg woman?”]

Mindful of past advice, the youngster slipped down from his place, set
the door wide, and advancing held out his crumby hand. “Wull, be you
the egg woman? I’m very glad to see you. Come right in. We’ve just done
eatin’ breakfas’. This is Motherkin, an’ these is the rest of us.”

“You are Robert! No need to tell me that!” responded the visitor,
smiling, and not refusing the proffered handshake, though she looked
regretfully at her soiled glove the second afterward. “I have heard of
you, and the pleasure of acquaintance is mutual. Good-morning, Mrs.
Beckwith--Isabelle--Roland, and my girl. I hope you have rested well.”

“Good-morning. Will you sit down here, or come into the other room? My
Beatrice has scarcely told us which is ‘best-room’ as yet. They all
seem so fine and comfortable to us.”

“I’m glad of that. I was afraid you might find them small; but it does
indeed look very bright and cheery. Anywhere; here, if you like. We
are so very glad to have you for neighbors, I could not defer any
longer to come and bid you welcome. Does the house please you?”

“It pleases me perfectly. But, since you ask if we rested well, I must
tell you our strange experience;” and she very briefly narrated the
unaccountable knockings.

Miss Brook listened curiously, with the utmost astonishment depicted
on her countenance. The current of her thoughts was not particularly
flattering to Mrs. Beckwith’s common-sense, had it been known, but of
course it was not; nor did anybody observe the interest with which
Robert received his first intimation of what had occurred.

“Well, I have never heard anything like it, and, of a certainty, it
must have some rational explanation. What that may be we will find as
soon as possible.”

“Now, Miss Brook, do let us believe it’s haunted!” cried Bonny,
coaxingly. “It’s so delightful and uncommon in America. I feel just
like a heroine this morning.”

“You look like one, my dear, with those shining eyes and pink cheeks.
You may be tired, but you are physically better than when you came a
week ago. But ghosts! Oh, no! we have no ghosts in New Windsor.”

“Still they’re so inspiring!” said Bonny, with a comical glance at
Roland.

“Yes, dear Miss Joanna, will you believe that my matter-of-fact sister
came down into the dining-room in the middle of the night, listened
to the ‘rappings,’ and immediately burst into rhyme? Shall I repeat,
Beatrice?”

“At the peril of your life! Beg pardon, Miss Brook. I will not talk any
more, at present.”

“I like to hear you, my child, I like to hear you. It does old ears
good to listen to youthful chatter. I’m sure it’s better than hearing
much that is said which may be more sensible.”

Everybody smiled, Bonny most demurely; and the mother understood
at once what was the bond of sympathy between these two bright
maidens,--one at the end of life, the other at its beginning. “I think,
my dear, that you have been charmingly answered. But, Miss Brook, what
do you imagine to be the cause of our disturbance? Have you any theory?”

“No, none. I am not a theoretical person. I leave all that to my
brother. However, I’ll send a man over to help Roland look about.
Master Robert, I suppose that your brother has mentioned to you my plan
for your helping the others of this self-helpful family, has he not?”

“What, ma’am?” asked the little boy, quite at a loss to understand.

“Oh, I forget! I am not used to talking with small people. Has Roland
told you about the hens?”

“Yes,’m. When can I have ’em?”

“Just as soon as the poultry-house is repaired, and the pickets on the
fence. It will not do for them to run about anywhere they please, for
that would be to ruin this fine garden that is to be.”

“But there are few seeds in it yet, Miss Brook. Will it make any
difference so?”

“Yes, my farmer. If the hens are not trained as they should be in the
beginning, they will certainly go astray; in which they are exactly
like little boys--and gray-haired girls,” said Miss Joanna, smiling
down upon the small lad, who had remained close beside her from the
moment of her arrival, but who seemed neither to disturb her nor to
wish to do so; which, to his family, was inexplicable.

“Let’s go see how much will have to be ’paired. Will you?”

“With pleasure, if your mother is willing.”

“Oh, she don’t care, do you, Motherkin? ’ness we break our necks.”

“I do not intend to break mine. I haven’t done with it yet,” returned
Miss Brook gayly, and left the house with her crisp, clean step, that
somehow made Beatrice think of everything pure and sweet.

“Isn’t she lovely, Mother? Here, let me get your bonnet and you go with
them. It will be safer, on Bob’s account, and you are to begin this
very morning to take the doctor’s prescription, ‘Live out of doors all
that you can.’ Here is a hat, dear,--no matter if it is mine; and I
declare you are almost as pretty as--Miss Joanna.”

“You sauce-box! You deserve that I should not kiss you! But I will.
How delightful the air is! How good it is to be here!” Mrs. Beckwith’s
careworn face lighted with glad thanksgiving, and with a wave of her
hand to her daughters on the wide porch she stepped briskly down the
path her guest had followed.

But she had not gone more than a dozen yards when her feet were
arrested by Robert’s shrill cry; a cry of such distress and fear that
her heart stood still in dread. Then, mindless of physician’s orders,
she bounded forward frantically. “The river--I’m sure he’s drowned!”



CHAPTER XII.

BITS OF NATURAL HISTORY.


“Robert! where are you?”

“H-he-re, Moth-er!”

“Here” proved to be upon the sloping roof of the little poultry-house,
where the child looked safe and rather ridiculous in his fright; and
relieved of one anxiety, Mrs. Beckwith passed through the building
toward the yard beyond in pursuit of Miss Brook.

“Why, what is the matter?”

“Snakes! That’s all. A nest of black snakes. I’m trying to kill them.”
Miss Joanna was, indeed, laying about her lustily with a heavy stick
she had seized, and her delicate face was flushed with excitement.

“But they’ll bite you! My dear madam, do come away!” Poor Mrs.
Beckwith herself was thrilled with fear, as her eyes fell upon the
tangle of writhing, sinuous creatures to whom her neighbor was dealing
destruction so vigorously.

“Oh, no, indeed! Not until I have made an end of them! Robby was
terribly frightened, though he had no cause to be. I’ve finished two,
I’ll have done presently. There! don’t let that one get away, please!”

The reptile was crawling sluggishly toward the spot where Mrs. Beckwith
stood, and, with a scream that closely resembled her son’s, she leaped
aside and retreated through the doorway.

Miss Joanna looked up in unfeigned surprise, and for a moment relaxed
her murderous labor. “Why, are you afraid of these creatures?”

“Af-ra-id! Of course--I am!”

“They are harmless. You need not be.”

“Harmless! Why, then--”

“Do I destroy them? My statement must be qualified. They can hurt
no person and they are timid; but they infest poultry-houses, steal
eggs, make trouble in the dairy, and altogether accomplish so much
more injury than benefit to a household that I think them best dead.
My brother would not agree with me. He says they pay for their
depredations by ridding us of meaner creatures. He would be quite
distressed at my present action; only--” And the lady laughed lightly.
“He has already as large a collection of reptiles as he should have.
The sight of them terrifies nearly everybody, as these have you.”

The city woman could scarce believe her own ears; that anybody
occupied as Miss Brook was at that moment could go on complacently
giving a dissertation on the merits and demerits of so obnoxious an
animal was amazing. Finally she found voice to inquire, “Are they
plentiful hereabout?”

“Oh! yes. But these are the first I have seen this spring,” answered
Miss Joanna, cheerfully. “I am always glad for one reason to meet my
first snake. I’m pretty sure of warm weather coming. These have just
crawled out of their winter quarters, somewhere near, and have been
sunning themselves in this shallow pool of water. If they had been in
usual activity, I should have had a chase to capture them. Poor things!
that’s the end.”

“Be they all dead, every single one?” demanded Robert from his slippery
perch.

“I think so; you can come down now.”

He did so rather gingerly, lifting his feet very high when he stepped
upon the moist earth of the poultry yard, and almost expecting to see
a small head arise beneath his every footprint. “You’re a awful funny
lady, Miss Brook.”

“Why so, dear?” asked that person, continuing her examination of the
place and mentally determining the cost of the needed repairs.

“’Cause you’re sorry for things, yet you keep on a killin’ ’em, an’
’cause you ain’t afraid of snakes. I never saw any before, ’cept up to
the park, in the menagerie. I--I--” He paused, looked anxiously toward
his mother, thrust his hands in his pockets, turned quite red in the
face, and finally blurted out: “I ain’t a-goin’ to keep no hen things,
I ain’t.”

“Why, Robert!” and “Why, Robert?” fell from both women’s lips at the
same instant.

“Because, an’--’cause, I--I know it sounds awful cowardy, but I don’t
like snakes, an’ there ain’t no use pertendin’ I do. I wouldn’t dast to
come here alone.”

“Is it possible! The boy who boasts he is afraid of nothing!”

“Wull--wull--you see. Why, Mother, you’re afraid yourself! You must
know how it seems. If one should bite your little boy, how dretful bad
you’d feel! Wouldn’t you?”

“I suppose I should. But Miss Brook has just told us that these snakes
are harmless. And I am not a boy. I’m only a woman, you know.”

“That’s so. Wull--I--I s’pose I will. I said I would, an’ I ain’t a
goin’ to lie, nohow.”

“That is right! That is fine!” cried Miss Joanna, impulsively. “A
little lad who has a love of the truth so strong that it will overcome
personal fear is the sort of boy for me!” Then she went on to explain
so clearly to the child all the habits of the hated reptiles now
lying dead in the yard of Robert’s “own poultry-house” that he became
intensely interested.

“Wull, if a snake, just a nasty black snake, has got such a lot of
int’rusting things about it, I s’pose rabbits an’ such fellers must
have a heap more. Don’t they?”

“I should say they did! And you must ask my brother all about any sort
of living creature you wish to become acquainted with, and he will be
delighted to tell you. He is a very wise man, for all he is so quiet
about it.”

“Does he know ’bout hens?”

“Everything, I fancy, though he likes snakes better. Wild things are
more to his notion than tame ones. Now I am ready to tell your big
brother just what must be done here, and if he can manage to get the
place fixed to-day you can begin your poultry business to-morrow. Now
is just the time to make a pleasant and profitable commencement.”

“Why?”

“Because it is ‘sitting time.’ Every mother biddy in the flock, or
nearly every one, is now thinking about her coming family, and wanting
to ‘sit.’”

“Does hens think?”

“My son, you must not tire Miss Brook with your questions. Ask some of
us, who understand you better; and we will try to answer, as wisely as
we know, though I begin to think our ignorance is mountainous, about
country life at least.”

“No, no; I beg, dear Mrs. Beckwith! Don’t discourage inquisitiveness of
this sort, not on my account. I am a lonely old woman who will be as
glad to answer questions as a genuine boy is to ask them. I like it,
please.”

The mother smiled gratefully. As for Robert, he slipped his hand again
into his new friend’s, and looked up into her face encouragingly.
“That’s a nice lady! And I’ll be good; I’ll ask you every single thing
I can think of.”

Before that summer was over it seemed to poor Miss Joanna that he
had fully redeemed his word; and yet the days on which this living
interrogation point was out of her sight grew to be the loneliest days
the gentle old lady knew.

Mr. Brook was as much at a loss to understand the mysterious rappings
that had so disturbed his new tenants’ peace during their first night
at The Lindens, as was anybody else; but he set himself to examine
every part of the house and grounds, and, like his sister, declared his
faith in a rational explanation of the occurrence.

It was left to Mr. Dolloway to solve the riddle. He had, to Mrs.
Beckwith’s relief and Robert’s disgust, declared his intention
of passing the following night in the old house, and, should the
disturbing noises be repeated, searching for the cause till he found
it. In his own words: “I’ll find the spirits or I’ll be a spirit
myself!”

“That sounds large and reassuring, doesn’t it!” remarked Bonny to
Belle. “I can imagine Mr. Dolloway in the condition of hunger necessary
to make him ‘spiritual.’ For his sake and our own, I hope success will
crown his efforts before he gets to the verge of starvation.”

The evening passed without any “manifestations.” Roland twanged his
banjo for the amusement of their self-invited guest, Isabelle brought
out her portfolio of drawings, Beatrice made character sketches of
the different persons present, and so aptly that Robert remained in
a hilarious condition that precluded his feeling any of the fear he
had expected; and by nine o’clock, tired out with another day of
“settling,” the whole family retired to their chambers.

Save and except Mr. Dolloway. “I will not lie down nor shut an eye,
lad; there isn’t any use of urging me. I’ve come over here to ferret
out this thing, an’ I’ll ferret it wide awake an’ dressed.” With that
he settled himself in the most comfortable chair in the room, put his
feet upon the fender, and in five minutes was sound asleep.

Bonny heard his snores as she lay awake in her bed, and laughed; then
she heard something which did not add to her mirth. She had brought
the kitchen poker with her, and, armed thus valiantly, she rose and
summoned Roland. “Let’s be as still as mice, I think the rest are all
asleep, and we’ll steal a march on them and Brother Dolloway as well.
Listen to him, will you? he quite out-rackets the ‘spirits.’”

Mrs. Beckwith silently joined the company, and when the three met on
the stairs, each expressed surprise that the other had not gone quietly
to sleep as usual, and each was attired exactly as during the day. Mrs.
Beckwith bore the traditional weapon of womankind, a broom; and when
Belle added her presence to the others, she was likewise equipped.

At the door of the sitting-room somebody dropped her article of defence
with such a clatter that Mr. Dolloway sprang from his chair, angrily
demanding: “What in the world do you mean coming into a man’s room in
this way, without warning?” Then recollecting himself, he laughed at
his own blunder, and changed his question to, “Why did you get up when
there has been no rapping?”

“But, excuse me, there has been rapping, even louder than last night,”
responded Beatrice, shivering a little.

“What’s that? Haven’t I been here all the time? If the thumps had come
don’t you s’pose I’d ’a’ heard ’em?”

“Possibly you fell asleep.”

“Fell asleep! H’m-m. When I set out to watch, I watch!”

“But--”

Rat-a-tat, a-tat! The unseen disturbers of the peace interfered to
prevent any further misunderstanding between the volunteer protector
and the protected.

Mr. Dolloway held up his hand for silence. Again the sounds were
repeated, this time with redoubled force it seemed to the strained ears
of the listeners.

The next they knew the old man was back in his arm-chair, laughing
violently and swaying to and fro in his paroxysm of mirth. “Ha, ha,
ha! That’s the best joke I ever heard, the very best. And to think Mr.
Brook himself didn’t guess at it!”

“Well, but what is it?”

“Don’t you know? Hark!”

Even Mrs. Beckwith began to lose patience with what seemed to her
ill-timed mirth, and replied with conviction, “Of course we do not know
or we should have disturbed nobody to inform us.”

“Your pardon, ma’am. I really s’pose you don’t know, bein’ brought up
in the city, so to speak. Well, ma’am, my opinion o’ them sounds is:
what master would call _mephitis_, what common folks name--skunks.”

Nobody said anything for a moment; and seeing the look of astonishment
upon the faces about him, as well as hearing the “thump, thump,”
continued, Mr. Dolloway explained: “The _mephitis_--I learn my names
from Mr. Brook, because he says the other ones are ‘local,’ an’ not
spoke everywhere,--the _mephitis_ is a burrowin’ animal. They was
a nest of snakes woke up in the hen-yard, Miss Brook told me this
morning, and they’s a nest of the other fellows woke up under your
door-sill, or, maybe, under that big flat stun used for a step. The
noise is made by their tails a flap-flap-flapping against the hard
ground or sunthin’. They won’t do any harm there till morning, and then
I’ll get the men to have ’em rousted out. They’ll have to be shot; an’
now you all might as well go to bed again.”

“Will not you go upstairs, too, Mr. Dolloway? There is an extra room,
you know; and I should feel proud to be able to entertain anybody over
night, after having to economize space as I did in our ‘flat.’”

The guest consented, and everybody was soon asleep, satisfied that Mr.
Dolloway’s explanation was probably the correct one, unromantic as it
proved to be.

“To think my ‘haunt’ turned out to be so perfectly horrid! It’s cured
me of superstition, anyway!” sighed Beatrice, as she kissed her mother
good-night. “One by one my dreams forsake me; one by one--”

“You’d best get to bed as soon as possible.”

“Oh, Motherkin! not even poetry allowed?”

“Not at this hour of the night, for working girls.” And the candle was
blown out.



CHAPTER XIII.

GETTING DOWN TO REALITIES.


“Well, Mother dear, I’m off! Please wish me good luck!”

“I wish you patience and wisdom. These will bring the only sort of
‘luck’ worth having.”

“But I dread it so!”

“Why, Beatrice! Dread beginning your work for Mr. Brook? I thought you
were very happy about it.”

“So I am, in one way. I love him dearly already, I do, indeed.
That is why I shall feel so anxious to please him exactly; and
since I have been with him more I find he is rather--well, sort
of--um-m--particular, you know! And I--I never could do anything alike
twice. I’m excellent for spurts of energy and hap-hazard industry, but
the regular, day-after-day, early-in-the-morning, late-at-night kind is
what will try my soul.”

“And Isabelle is grieving herself half-sick over the ‘drudgery’ of
housework! After all, I wish that our good friend had not been quite
so explicit in his desires; for you don’t object to what tries Belle’s
spirits, and she could do the mechanical part of your labor as well as
you; the typewriting and note-taking, I mean.”

“Well, dear, it can’t be helped. Even you, I fancy, don’t find country
housekeeping quite a picnic. It’s so much easier to run to the corner
bakery for a loaf of bread than to make it one’s self. Oh! your girl
has seen that wrinkly look come on your face, Motherkin, lots of times
during this last week; and-- Dear, are you sorry we came?”

“No,--no, indeed! Not in the least. I am foolishly sorry that I cannot
make everything smooth for you all. It is up-hill work getting into a
settled way of living; but the Beckwiths ‘never say die,’ and a little
more patience is all any of us need, except Roland. He, it seems to me,
is in no want of more. He is an example to me, and a revelation. He,
certainly, has found his right place; and it should be all the reward
any of his womenkind could desire to know that. I never saw a love of
the country and all appertaining to it so marked in anybody. Listen
to him now, whistling away! He has broken his plough; but instead of
losing his temper over it he has gone to work to ‘tinker’ it up the
best he can. And his poor hands, unused to manual labor, are blistered
so that it must give him physical pain every time he touches anything.
Oh, no, I cannot be sorry that we came.”

“Bless the dear old Laureate! I’ll pattern after him if I can. But--it
isn’t all rose-color, is it?”

“Sit down here one moment; you have five to spare. I want to remind
you that though our Mr. Brook is so delightful and seems so young, he
is still an old, old man. Be very gentle with him, even if he should
get impatient and say sharp things to you. I do not know that he will;
I only suggest what is liable to happen. Will you try to put your own
impatience out of the question, dear?”

“I’ll leave it at home with you, Motherkin. I’ll be perfectly angelic,
if I can. And I’m going to say, ‘A dollar a day, six dollars a week!’
to myself, continually. That’s going to be my rock of salvation,
Motherkin! Six dollars a week for a whole year will be over three
hundred dollars toward our home! And we’re all agreed on that. We all
look forward to the day when we can go to Mr. Brook and say, ‘Please,
sir, we’d like to buy The Lindens!’ Oh! I’m not afraid now; and I’m
getting as mercenary as a Jew.”

“H’m-m! No comparisons. And I foresee that the money part will soon be
the last in your mind as connected with your labor. However, time’s up!
Off with you!”

“One moment more, Motherkin. What are you doing with that thing?”

“It is a rude little frame I tacked together to fade some embroidery
silk upon.”

“Fade silk? Why?”

“Because I have none of the right shade for the work I have in hand;
so the sunshine is to help me out. I will wind the threads from these
spools about the frame, then place it in the sunshine--by that south
window, I think--till it pales to the right tint.”

“H’m-m! If I could only run into the art store and buy you the right
sort without all this trouble!”

“I’d rather have this fine light for my task than anything out of the
art store, dearie. And I am so much stronger than when I came, a week
ago.”

“Really stronger, Motherkin darling?”

“Really stronger, sweetheart.”

“That’s glorious! Away goes my silly regret for the things that were!
And that thought will make me able to laugh inside, if I dare not
outside, should my ‘master’ seem stern or hard to please.”

“Don’t go to the opposite extreme. Mr. Brook will never be harsh, or
even ‘stern,’ I fancy, with you. But your ignorance concerning what is
so simple to him may try his patience. That’s all. Now I must go to
Belle. Have you seen Robert lately?”

“Not since breakfast.”

“He is very quiet somewhere.”

“Then of course he’s in mischief. But he’ll come out all right; he
always does, you know. Good-by.” Off she ran, trilling in her rich
young voice the first bars of “Edinboro Toon;” and Mrs. Beckwith rose
with a smile to seek her other, less light-hearted daughter.

Belle stood over the kitchen sink, her sleeves pushed above elbows far
too white and dainty, as she herself thought, to be plunged in a deep
pan of hot suds, and with a “mop” was trying to wash the morning’s
cups and saucers without touching her hands to the detested water. Her
expression was so lugubrious that, despite a sincere sympathy, the
mother could scarce repress a smile, and the girl faced about just
in time to catch the amused expression and to guess at its cause. A
sudden burst of tears followed, and Mrs. Beckwith was at her daughter’s
side instantly.

“My poor, misguided child! Don’t, I beg of you, allow yourself to weep
over--a pan of soiled dishes!”

“As Bonny would say, I’ll spoil the water! Is that it, Mother?” cried
Belle, beginning to laugh almost hysterically.

“Because it is so unworthy of you, my artist.”

“Artist! This looks like it, doesn’t it?”

“Exactly like it. It is your very finely strung nature which makes
these trivial trials so distasteful to you. It isn’t laziness or
selfishness or vanity; no, I am sure it is not.”

Belle dropped the wooden-handled dish-cloth with a splash, and gazed at
her mother in astonishment. “Why--Mother! Did--you--think it was?”

“No, darling, I did not. Others might think so.”

“Motherkin, I--hate it!”

“You must kill the hatred.”

“I can’t; it’s born in me.”

“Unfortunately, it is the fault of my mistaken training.”

“No, no, no. Please don’t say that. I am ashamed of it, but I can’t
help it.”

“A girl who has the talent, nay, more, the genius, that you have is too
strong a person to say that, mentally too strong.”

“Mother, if I am talented, as you flatter me by saying--”

“I never flatter, dear. Flattery is untruth.”

“Well, if I have talent isn’t it wasted here?”

“I think not. I have never had patience with the theory that geniuses
should be exempt from the general burdens of life. The greater the
intelligence the greater the endurance and courage should be. I don’t
believe the dear Lord ever made a nature lop-sided; though there are so
many lop-sided folks in the world, it sometimes seems so.”

“Tell me what you mean, Mother. I don’t want to be a kill-joy in the
family, but I felt five minutes ago as if I were ready to give up life,
if it were to be all--housework!”

Mrs. Beckwith began unwinding her spools of silk and rewinding them
on her rude frame preparatory to the bleaching process, and Isabelle
watched her curiously.

“I think it is this way. A body has one characteristic more marked
than another; and straightway his or her mistaken friends set about
developing it to the detriment of all the other characteristics, which
being less pronounced are left without training and cultivation till
they really become insignificant. We were in danger of just that for
you, but dish-washing happened in time to prevent. That ‘hated’ task
will make you a symmetrical and noble woman, my Belle, mentally, as you
bid fair to become physically.”

“Mother, you are the dearest, oddest little reasoner in the world!”

“Thank you. But let’s look at this matter practically. Is there not
some way by which you can lessen the distastefulness of your task? Can
you not study nature, landscape ‘effects,’ at the same time, or learn
something of your favorite authors?”

“I see no way. That is why--one why--it is disagreeable. I am here in
the midst of a lovely country, but if I do the housework as it should
be, as Miss Brook assures me it should be, I shall have no time for
anything else.”

“There you go again, twisting your mind out of balance toward the other
side. If I were you, I would certainly combine art with dish-washing
and literature with my other domestic duties. You can, easily.”

“Please tell me,” begged Isabelle, now interested and smiling, and in
this new mood forgetting to take account of her hands otherwise than
that they fulfilled their present task well.

“That window over the sink looks out upon as lovely a bit of country as
God ever made. Now, suppose you take a large sheet of wrapping-paper
and cover the lower sash before which you stand, leaving out the size
of one pane. Then through that loop-hole, as it were, do your studying.
Take the foliage, as it expands. Note the different tones and shades
of green; the forms of the young buds, their manner of growth from
the first appearing to the full perfection. It seems to me that will
give you a knowledge of detail which will help you wonderfully in your
‘technique’ when you come to put your brush to canvas. So with the
cloud and sky tints; they are never-ending in variety. I would keep
a little note-book beside me and jot down the colors your studies
suggest to you; then when you have leisure verify these suggestions
by actual trial. You can vary your outlook continually, and I think
you will become so interested in the experiment that you will acquire
the other knowledge--of how to despatch the dish-washing neatly and
rapidly--without thinking much about it.”

Belle mused for a few moments; her face softening under the conviction
that she would not thus be debarred from all connection with the one
sort of labor she had heretofore loved. Then she asked: “You said
literature, too. How can I read while about the house?”

“This way. Have a wide piece sewn across the bottom of your gingham
aprons, with pockets stitched in it; and in these pockets carry one of
your ‘Handy Volume’ series or one of your art ‘Primers.’ Take out your
book from time to time and memorize anything which pleases you. You can
thus, if you choose, gain more actual understanding of the world’s best
minds during one dinner-getting than during a class-hour at school. I
know; I’ve tried it myself.”

“Oh, Mother! is that the way you came to know so many of the poets by
heart?”

“Yes, dearie, the very way. And the knowledge has been ‘meat and drink’
to me many and many a time. When you were all small, and my darkest
hours were upon me, I had to get right straight out of myself to
enable me just to live. If I had dwelt upon my own hardships, I should
have broken down physically long ago. But I just wouldn’t. I said to
these sweet singers and teachers: ‘You must bear my burdens for me.
God made you stronger than He made me, and I shall utilize you!’ The
beauty of it was that they did support me, and lost no whit of strength
themselves.”

“My set of poets is so nicely bound. They were my prizes at school, you
know. If I had a cheaper edition--”

“Darling, would you rather have a white book or a white soul?”

“Why, Motherkin!”

“Which?” asked Mrs. Beckwith, persistently, gently winding at her bits
of skeins.

“The soul, of course. But--”

“Ah, yes, I thought so. If I had an _edition de luxe_, even, of any
author who had words of cheer for me, I would not hesitate to put it
to the use I have suggested,--not for the twentieth part of a second.
Oh! I could groan sometimes, over the books that are wasted by lying on
library shelves unread, when there are so many hungry minds going unfed
through life.”

Mrs. Beckwith had waxed enthusiastic, as was her wont when books were
her subject; but she had succeeded in banishing the dolorous expression
from her daughter’s face and the forebodings which had troubled her
from her own mind. She rose and fastened her stretcher of silken
thread in the southern window, and then she went out, remarking: “It
is time I looked after Robert. He has been ominously quiet ever since
breakfast-time.”

She sought him in the poultry-house, where, despite his fear of snakes,
he passed much of his time watching the sitting hens with which Miss
Brook had stocked his establishment. He repaired thither each morning
with a firm belief that nature must work a miracle on his behalf, and
that the ordinary three weeks of time required to change eggs into
chickens would be shortened to one, “’cause no little boy ever wanted
chicks so bad.”

“Robert!” called the mother, entering the little house.

There was no reply.

“I wonder, would he disobey me and go fishing or swimming after he had
promised not!”

One of the prospective mother biddies clucked loudly as if to suggest,
“No strangers allowed!” and Mrs. Beckwith retreated.

Just outside the yard she met Mr. Dolloway. “Good-morning, ma’am.
Where’s that boy?”

“I’m looking for him now.”

“H’m-m! I came to tell him he’d probably addled all them eggs a
handling ’em so much, and I’d brought him a few fresh ones. Yesterday
he took a whole nest full and punched a pin-hole in ’em, to see the
chicks inside. He’s--he’s a great one!”

Mr. Dolloway’s tone betokened more amusement than anger, and Mrs.
Beckwith eagerly exclaimed: “I was sure you would like my little son,
after you understood him thoroughly.”

“H’m-m! I defy anybody to do that, ma’am,--understand him, begging your
pardon for my freedom. Ho--hello! What--what-- Look yonder!”

The mother wheeled about anxiously, and followed her neighbor’s gaze
houseward. There on the ridge-pole of the old roof sat the lad they
sought. The house was three stories high in one part, but sloped
downward to within a few feet of the ground on the “Revolutionary”
side, after the fashion of buildings of that period. This long slope
of roof was on the north, and almost directly below the eaves was the
cistern, which for purposes of cleaning and repairing was that morning
uncovered.

“Oh! my boy! if he should slip!”

“As he probably will.”

At that instant Robert stood up to examine the ancient weather-cock
which had attracted him to his perilous perch, and forgetting where he
was began to twist the dingy “chanticleer” upon its rod.

Suddenly there was a rush, a cry--a sudden downward flash of
knickerbockered legs, and “Humpty-Dumpty” had disappeared in the
cistern.



CHAPTER XIV.

APIS MELLIFICA.


“Good-morning, my dear, good-morning. I am pleased to see you so
punctual.”

Bonny looked up brightly. There was surely nothing stern or forbidding
about the fine old face which smiled genially upon her from the museum
window, and she was instantly ashamed of her earlier “dread” concerning
the new task that day to be begun. “Good-morning, Mr. Brook. Of course
I would be punctual this first day. The trouble will be to keep it up.
I’m a lazy sort of a girl.”

“Humph! I’ve seen no evidence of it heretofore, and I shall not watch
for faults. How is the good little mother this morning?”

“Well; really growing stronger, thank you. I have her own word for it.”

“Then we can get to work with a light heart. I’ve laid out a pile of
it, I assure you. Like many other people who defer what they should
not till over-late in life, now I’ve set myself the task I am all
impatience to get through it. Come in, please.”

Beatrice knew the way well enough. Till that morning the great
apartment had been a fascinating wonderland to her, with its rows
of shelves and cases, each filled with creatures curious, ugly, or
beautiful; and the thought that she was now to learn all about them
in a business way did appear quite formidable. However, she reminded
herself of her mother’s frequent advice, “Take one thing at a time,”
and found comfort in the knowledge that she could write of only one
insect at one instant. Collectively they might be something dreadful;
individually they were poor little dried-up affairs!

Then her eye fell upon the table by the opposite window and her face
brightened. “The typewriter! When did it come?”

“Last evening. The man brought it down from Newburgh and put it into
working order for you. I am anxious to see you use it. He did so for a
moment, but I did not like to detain him. It is a wonderful instrument,
is it not?”

“I suppose so. Anyway I am very fond of using it.” The girl sat down
before the firm little table which the machine agent had prepared
for her, and, placing a sheet of paper in position, clicked off
Mr. Brook’s name and address with a rapidity and correctness which
delighted him.

“Really, my dear! That is fine! If you can do as well with the rest as
with that, you will be a grand success, you will, indeed.”

“But I shall not be able. We may as well face that matter first as
last. At the beginning I shall be very stupid. I shall spell every
Latin name wrong, perhaps, and not know the difference.”

“Ah, my dear! Do you think I have not prepared for that? Why, you must
know that the change of a single letter in some names or descriptions
would result in the utmost confusion; and in any scientific work
perfect orthography is absolutely necessary. But I have picked up a few
little primers on the subject of our task, and you are to consult them
continually. You will soon see that there is a general principle in
the construction of all terms, and that spelling Latin is, after all,
easier than spelling English. It is to me. I frequently have to pause
to think out an English word, oftentimes the simpler the more puzzling,
but a Latin one never.”

“Happy mortal--I mean, sir! I fear I shall be a terrible trial to you.
And you must know that you can send me about my business at the first
blunder, if you feel so inclined. Dear me! That doesn’t sound right!
What I want to say, only I am such an old stupid, is: Please do not let
your friendship for us prevent your dismissing me if I don’t suit you.”

“Why! Why, my dear!” exclaimed Mr. Brook, very much surprised. “I
thought you were a girl whose vocabulary did not contain the word
‘fail.’”

“It used to be that way. But now--I guess I’m not as conceited as I was
awhile ago. The older I get the less I feel that I know. And--”

“Tut, tut! Though that is an excellent state of things, too. There
is hope of a person conscious of his own deficiencies. But all this
in due time. By the way, have you yet discovered the secret of the
linden-trees, the source of your wealth that is to be?”

Beatrice opened her eyes widely at this abrupt change of subject, but
answered promptly: “Oh, no, indeed! I had almost forgotten that! But
what lovely trees they are! They will soon be in bloom!”

“So I suppose, so I suppose. Therefore we will make our first lesson,
or our first day’s work, upon the _Apis mellifica_. You are upon my
mind; after I get your affairs settled more satisfactorily, I shall be
better able to attend to my own. Yes, yes, that matter first; the other
in due time.”

Bonny could not conceal her astonishment. How Mr. Brook’s talk did
wander, from technical and scientific terms to a fable of hidden wealth
in a row of old trees! She wondered if her mother had ever observed
anything like this, and if that were what she meant when she so
earnestly counselled patience. Was her beloved old friend in his second
childhood?

He lifted his bright eyes from the page he had been reading and caught
her own questioning gaze. “Out with it, my dear, out with it! How have
I surprised you?”

The young secretary hesitated, then answered frankly, “I did not see
the connection between my ‘treasure’ and your science.”

“If you are not a deal more stupid than I have taken you to be, you
will see it within the next few hours. And you need not fear, I am all
right mentally, my dear; thank God, quite sound-minded, if I am an
octogenarian.” And the queer old gentleman crossed the room, laughing
so mischievously that Bonny was forced to join him, though believing
that she was making mirth at her own expense.

Mr. Brook came back to his own table beside that of his secretary,
bearing an open case of what she considered very uninteresting “dried
bugs,” and placing the case before her pointed to one and another of
the objects therein with kindling enthusiasm. “These are different
specimens of the _Apis_, in perfect forms, in abnormal ones, in
portions, and groups. Every organ is here represented; this minute
affair, for instance. Ah! you cannot see it as it is, even with your
young eyes. Take the magnifier. See? Isn’t it wonderful?”

Beatrice took the magnifying-glass and examined the speck of insect
anatomy which her employer had designated. “Why, it looks like a little
saw!”

“Exactly, exactly. A saw so tiny, yet so thorough in its work that it
can pierce a heavy buckskin glove if the mechanic who wields it so
desires. Ah! I have been studying these little fellows for many years,
yet I am freshly amazed each time I see them.”

The enthusiasm was inspiring. Bonny took up the different cards from
the case, and began to examine them through the microscope. She had
always loved to watch living creatures, but dead ones had heretofore
held little interest for her. She found her ideas rapidly changing.
“Has this queer little saw a name, a common name, that would mean
something to me?”

“Certainly. It is a sting, a bee’s sting. _Apis mellifica_ is
honey-bee.”

“And it is that mite of a thing which hurts?”

“Exactly. A point so small that the finest cambric needle is larger,
yet look! Here are the two hollows between the saws which, lying face
to face, form a pipe for the poison to flow through. This is the
poison bag. These curious little affairs are the handles which pump
the sting, the saws, down into the flesh. One side first, making a
wedge-like opening, through which the other saw is promptly forced.
Then by another motion down goes the fluid which poisons, or the sac
itself is pushed into the wound. Talk about guns and cannons! Here you
have something far more complete than either, and in proportion to its
size far more dreadful in its effects. Why, one of these stings has
sometimes killed a man, though I did not mean to refer to that! Such
cases are rare, indeed. And usually a bee-sting amounts to very little.”

“Well, but you need not reassure me, dear Mr. Brook! After this
exhibition I shall not interfere with any bees whose acquaintance I
may chance to make.”

“Don’t be too positive, my dear, don’t be too positive. You may have to
change your mind.”

“Why, I thought our work lay among dead things, all these of your
collection. I did not know that we were to hunt among _new_ fields.”

“_We_ are not; but _you_ may, of your own accord, before I have done
with you. I hope so. Yes, I foresee that you will often leave me in the
midst of a very busy day just because of my friend _Apis_, alive and
buzzing.”

Again that gay laugh, and again Beatrice’s utter mystification.

“Well, well, well. Suppose we read a bit of natural history this
morning; or, rather, I will dictate to you and you take down
what I have to say. I am writing a little treatise on the fellow
_Apis_,--something quite apart from the collection, as a whole. I mean
to publish it for the benefit of just such bright girls and boys as you
and your brothers. Yes; I’ll give you a chapter now.”

There was more business in this arrangement, and it was business which
Bonny had come for; so she rapidly made ready, and with fingers poised
above the keys of her machine waited for the opening sentence.

“‘Foods for the Honey-bee.’ That is the chapter title, and its number
is seven. The other half-dozen are already prepared, though in my own
handwriting. You will have to copy them sometime, before publication;
but--ready?”

“Quite.”

The dictation began. Mr. Brook found it a little difficult to keep his
current of thought as clear as usual, for the racket of the typewriter
was so foreign to his accustomed quiet; and besides this the frequent
liftings of the typewritist’s head, the amused glances of her dark
eyes, were so distracting to the lover of young folks that he felt more
than half inclined to give up the task for a while and go out upon a
search for the new “subjects” they two might find together. However, he
did his best, and at the end of a few paragraphs Bonny sprang up from
her chair in a state of great excitement.

“Oh! I’ve guessed it, I have, I have! I know what my ‘source of wealth’
will be!”

“Hoity, toity! I thought you were writing from dictation!” returned her
old patron, smiling quite as brightly as herself.

“Yes, sir. Oh, yes, in a minute. Just, please, let me ask you one or
two things. May I? Can I?”

“How am I to prevent a headstrong young woman like yourself?”

“Do you believe I could manage them all myself?”

“Manage what? Here, Joanna, please!” called the pleased old gentleman
to his sister crossing the veranda.

Miss Brook came and leaned upon the window-ledge, and smiled in upon
them. “Well, I must say I don’t know which is the more enthusiastic!
Brother, dear, how old are you? Do you contemplate going into the
business for yourself?”

“Eighty, my dear, eighty, if a day! But look at the child! Hear her
ask me, ‘Can she? May she?’ when already she is feeling herself a
millionaire.”

All this time not a word which an outsider could have understood had
been spoken; and as this thought flashed over Bonny she laughed again.
“Dear Mr. Brook, I thought at first that you were ‘not quite yourself’
this morning! Beg pardon, but I did. And now I am as bad. Maybe, after
all, we are not talking about the same thing.”

“Maybe not! Oh! I dare say not,” replied the merry old gentleman,
pacing rapidly back and forth.

[Illustration: “‘LET ME ASK YOU ONE OR TWO THINGS. MAY I?’”]

“And quite difficult for me, I think!” added Miss Joanna, smiling too.

“Will you please tell me _your_ thought, Mr. Brook?” asked Beatrice,
eagerly.

“With pleasure. I would have done so long ago, only you didn’t ask it.
I think the scheme I have formulated--”

“But I have not heard it in words, Brother!”

“The scheme I have formulated, Joanna, will keep this growing girl out
of doors, as she should be, and make a wise recreation after her hours
of labor here. It will teach her more of real natural history than I
can preach to her, and will make her far more interested in my work.
It will fill her small pocket with some needed extra cash. Last, but
not least, it will give that unquiet small brother of hers a chance
to get rid of his surplus energy in a legitimate way. He can do all
the tree-climbing, for which I should, if I were a girl with such an
irrepressible relative, give him a small share in the business. It-- Go
on, Miss. How can you wish to interrupt such a flow of argument?”

As if he had been the grandfather he had himself suggested, Bonny
crossed swiftly to her employer’s side and laid her hand upon his
shoulder. “Because I thank you for showing me how to help myself. The
one word which will tell _my_ thought is--”

At that moment Mr. Dolloway’s solemn face appeared above Miss Joanna’s
own with such suddenness that Bonny’s “word” waited for his. He had
evidently come freighted with ill news.

“Oh, sir, what is it? Is my mother--”

Mr. Dolloway shook his head dolefully, but a genuine distress was in
the gesture. “’Tain’t your mother, Miss Beatrice. It’s that pesky, dear
little brother of yours.”

“What’s happened him? Anything new? The hens?”

“Hens! If it was only hens! But hens it isn’t this time. It’s roofs an’
cisterns an’ bangs an’ black-an’-blues. If he ain’t dead--”

Poor Bonny did not pause to remember that she was a salaried employee,
but, without leave or license, darted from the house and across the
fields with an aching heart.



CHAPTER XV.

STREAKS OF HUMAN NATURE.


“It must be something dreadful this time! Roland has left his
ploughing, and the old horse is walking about as she pleases. The men
are not working upon the cistern, and-- Can it be he is drowned?”

These thoughts flashed through the sister’s mind as she hurried
homeward, past the field of sweet-smelling, freshly turned sods where
her brother’s plough stood idly in the furrow; and as she burst into
the sitting-room her face was white and her breath well spent.

But nothing so very dreadful met her gaze. Robert was, indeed, lying
upon the lounge well wrapped in blankets, but his dark eyes were the
first to discover Bonny’s entrance, and his voice the one to demand:
“What you home for, Bon?”

“Why--why--you precious darling! Aren’t you killed?”

“Wull--wull--I guess not! What’s the matter with you, anyway? What’s
the matter with everybody? Can’t a feller slide offen a roof ’ithout
stirrin’ up the hull neighborhood, I’d like to know!”

Belle had been sitting, watching the patient, but at this outburst of
remonstrance she laughed and left her post. “I’ll find Mother now, and
tell her you’ve come in. I think Bob is all right, anyway.”

“Course I am. Who said I wasn’t?”

“Your ‘chum,’ Mr. Dolloway.”

“H’m-m! What’d he say?”

“I don’t remember exactly. Oh, yes, I do, too. He said ‘roofs,’
‘cisterns,’ ‘bangs,’ ‘blacks and blues,’ etc. What did he mean?”

“Nothin’. Only I slid offen the roof into the cistern. Nen he an’ my
mother come an’ made a dretful time. They said I was ’bout killed, but
I wasn’t. An’ my mother she sent Roland off fer a doctor-man, ’cause
she’s boun’ I’ve broke some o’ my insides. She says a feller couldn’t
jest slide that little bit ’ithout hurtin’ hisself somehow. It wasn’t
no use I tellin’ her. Roland went quick as lightnin’. Nen the carpenter
an’ mortar man they went away to get some more stuff to fix the thing
up so’s I can’t slide in no more; an’ that’s all.”

“All! Robert, you certainly will scare my mother to death with your
behavior, even if you don’t get killed yourself. And if you’re not
hurt, why are you lying here wrapped up this fashion?”

“’Cause my mother made me. What’s more, she took my clothes away, an’
says they’ve got to be washed an’ I’ll have ter lie still till they
dry. I think it’s mean I can’t wear my Sunday ones; don’t you?”

“I think it is a wise precaution. But how in the world did you manage
to slide off the roof? What were you doing up there? Tell me the whole
story.”

“I wanted ter make the rooster turn round faster. He’s rusty on his
hinges, Mr. Dolloway says, ’cause he, the rooster, is awful old, old
as Mr. Brook maybe. An’ I got my mother’s oil-can, ’cause he said old
things needs oilin’, an’ I clumb up. I was goin’ to s’prise you all,
an’-- It’s mean. I can climb like anything now, Bon.”

“How did you fall? On your head?”

“Pooh! What fools girls is! If I’d ’a’ fell on my head, I would ’a’
been hurt, you bet. But I just slid inter that pile o’ mortar the men
had mixed ter fix the cistern with. My feet went in clear up to my
waist! Nen, when my mother caught hold o’ me, she had a nawful job to
pull me out. She got all over dirt herself, too; so she’s got to have
her clothes washed too!”

“But the bruises? Where are they?”

Robert struggled to unwind himself from the folds of blanket in which
maternal anxiety had enswathed his plump little limbs and displayed
those members with a look of triumph.

“Shades of Jacob’s coat--Joseph’s, I mean! There is not an inch of
originally colored skin upon you! But see here, young man! Those are
not all _new_ bruises; though, if Mr. Dolloway saw them, I don’t wonder
he thought you were about killed. Those are the scars of many battles
with misfortune, if I’m not much mistaken!”

“Wull, who said they wasn’t? That yeller an’ green patch, that come the
time I fell out the cherry-tree, the first day I got here. That--”

“Never mind the enumeration. You are beautifully mottled, sort of like
a tortoise-shell cat. And I’ve run away from my work, scared poor Miss
Joanna into a fit, and behaved altogether badly, just because you slid
off a roof! Now I must take my bit of lunch quickly and get back. And,
by the way, Bob, if you’ll promise not to do anything more to plague
Motherkin all this day till I get home again, I’ll tell you a secret,
a good one.”

The child’s face lighted eagerly, and a rash promise was on his
tongue’s end, but he bethought himself of the chrysanthemum affair and
paused in time. “Pooh! I s’pose it’s som’thin’ to get me inter another
scrape. Nen--”

“Don’t be so wise, my dear. I am going to tell my mother the first. But
I thought it would please you to know, too, and you could be making
happy plans while you were obliged to lie here. Heigho! There comes
Roland and somebody in a phaeton! The doctor, I suppose. Now, my sweet,
you’re in for it! I hope it will be a lesson to you!”

“Oh, Bon, don’t go away! You wouldn’t leave a feller in a trouble,
would you? An’ if he should, mebbe he will, find I was smashed up
inside somewhere, how bad you’d feel about fersakin’ your poor little
brother, wouldn’t you? I--I wish you’d stay, Bon!”

“I must let the professional gentleman in first, then find my mother.
But if you behave like a little soldier he won’t hurt you very much,
not so _very_ much!”

Beatrice felt a little guilty in frightening the unlucky child as she
was doing; still she believed that it might result in future relief
to the rest of the family, and persisted. Robert had never been placed
under a physician’s care before; for the innumerable bumps and bruises
he had suffered at the mischance of fate or his own mischief had been
cared for by maternal hands alone. Ditto all the childish diseases
with which he, in common with the rest of the juvenile world, had
been afflicted; and it was, perhaps, one of the reasons for the young
Beckwiths’ good health that their mother had been too poor to dose them
with drugs, but had relied as far as might be on Doctor Nature instead.

“She must have been terribly frightened this time, to have sent for a
physician!” thought Beatrice, as she admitted the gentleman; and it was
not until she had questioned Isabelle that she learned how serious the
boy’s hurt had at first been supposed.

“He lay unconscious for more than an hour, Bonny; and I never saw
Mother so distressed. She thought he had been injured internally, and
could not rest until she had somebody examine him. Poor little chap!
he’ll be felt of from head to foot now; and I, too, hope it will be a
lesson to him. I actually fear he will be killed sometime in some of
these ‘accidents.’”

“Not a bit of it! At least I don’t think so now, though Mr. Dolloway
did frighten me. But what a pretty little luncheon you have set out!
Did you make that batch of biscuits, or Motherkin?”

“I--I myself. And, Bonny, I’m sorry I was so hateful about the
housework. Mother has been talking with me and showing me how I can
manage. She thinks after I have learned I may be almost as quick as
you; and if I plan my work systematically from day to day, that I will
be able to get some hours each day for painting or sketching. If I do
not have to give up all I dreamed, I shall not mind it so much.”

Bonny threw her arms about her sister’s neck, and gave her a loving
kiss. “I think that’s splendid of you, Belle! I have wished I could do
both your share and that for which Mr. Brook has offered me payment.
But I cannot; and something I read the other night may be a help to
all of us. It was about ‘traditions,’ binding ourselves to do just as
everybody has settled is the best way for the majority to do. I am not
a lucid explainer, but it is like this: I’ve heard you quote dear Miss
Joanna for authority in housekeeping matters, country housekeeping;
and her servants say she is a ‘model.’ Certainly the great mansion
is always spick and span from top to bottom; but that is for _her_,
not for _us_. There are so many things we can let go, or rather,
never undertake, that are wholly unnecessary. The article said that,
given a perfect cleanliness, many other ideas about ‘dirt’ were just
‘fussiness.’ In the first place, she who wishes to do something else
with her time besides housekeeping should never burden her rooms with
knick-knacks. ‘Trash,’ that writer called the lots of things one
generally strews about on tables and shelves. Every extra article put
into a room means so much extra dusting and cleaning, and so much time
to do that in. And a lot more talk like that. It seemed to me, when I
had finished reading, that housework might be made ever so much simpler
and shorter if one studied how in the same way one studies to learn
anything else. For instance, when I began my typewriting it seemed to
me that I should never be able to write fast enough to earn my salt;
but after a while it came easier, till, for a girl of my age, I really
think I do quite well both at that and lecturing! Don’t you?”

“I think you have certainly talked faster than you have eaten; but the
notion is a good one. It is ever so much like what Mother told me this
morning. Must you go? Won’t you wait to see her first?”

“I ought not. She is closeted with the doctor, and bent upon finding
broken bones somewhere about Bob’s anatomy. With that end in view she
will be unseeable for some time to come. And look! Roland is chasing
that nag, the first time I ever saw her gallop in her life! Poor boy!
Give him my kindest regards, accept the same for yourself, and believe
me, yours truly, Bon! Really, Belle, I think you’re splendid, and your
lunch was fine; and Roland is a pattern,--my mother says so,--and
Robert is the dearest, roughest, most exciting little chap in the
world. We are a brilliant family! And I have another fine scheme which
I will divulge to the assembled multitude this evening. No; it’s not my
scheme, either, it’s Mr. Brook’s; so, sure to be right. Good-bye.”

“Farewell! But, say, Bonny!”

“Well?” turning upon the doorstep, with a bit of impatience showing on
her merry face.

“Do you talk all the time when you are at Mr. Brook’s, or--”

“Isabelle!” called Mrs. Beckwith’s voice from the sitting-room.

“Yes, Mother.”

“Please make a cup of tea and bring it to the doctor, with a plate of
biscuit. He has a long drive before him, and must not be let to go
without something.”

“Dear, dear me! My mother’s hospitality is something formidable! The
very first biscuits I ever made! And this tea doesn’t taste like that
we used to get in town! But if she had only a glass of cold water and
a bit of hard-tack, she’d offer it to the Queen of England, with just
that same easy grace. Well, one thing I foresee in the country is the
frequency of ‘droppers in,’ as Mr. Dolloway calls them. But the next
caller who comes shall have better biscuits than these, even if Bonny
did praise them. And after all, it’s rather pleasant to think people
are willing to be social with you, as country folks seem inclined,
without knowing all about your past life. That’s one thing I like!
And there’s something very pleasant in the word ‘neighbor.’ I love
to hear Miss Joanna say it, in her low voice; and if I am to be a
house-mistress I’m going to be a good ‘neighbor,’ too, with her for a
pattern as well as my little Motherkin.”

Whether the reflections with which Isabelle prepared her tray of simple
refreshments had anything to do with the grace of the serving may
be guessed; certainly, instead of the half-frown which Mrs. Beckwith
feared to see, the girl’s manner was so genial and withal so modest
that the plain fare acquired a keen relish for the hungry physician,
who had still many miles to drive before he could find leisure for his
own table; and he went away with the thought in mind: “That family
is an addition to the town. I like them. I like them all, from the
fragile-looking mother down to the rough little boy. But he’s a shaver!
I took good care to punch hardest on the sorest places, for he needs a
lesson! Well, that may be my first visit, but I think it will not be my
last to The Lindens, under the new régime!”

“Dear, I am pleased with you!” said Mrs. Beckwith, warmly, giving her
daughter a motherly caress. “I was afraid you would find it a trial to
be hospitable.”

“It was, Motherkin! But I--conquered.”

A second kiss followed the first, and Isabelle resolved that the next
tax put upon her “neighborliness” should not be matter of so much
surprise to her little mother.

“Is Bob all right?”

“Yes, fortunately, though he is badly scared. And he is the strangest
child. He will never climb upon that slippery roof again, but he is
as certain to do something quite as bad and not to be anticipated, the
moment he has his liberty. I wish there was a good school near; but
that is the drawback to this place.”

“Bonny used to be almost as ingenious for mischief, didn’t she? I
remember when some ‘flats’ were building on the block next our home you
forbade her ‘ever playing on that pile of lumber again.’ She never did,
but she played on another pile which you hadn’t mentioned and broke her
arm. Still, she is a pretty good sort of a girl now, and very clever,
everybody says. She was the youngest, you know, in our typewriting
class, and I shouldn’t wonder if she were the very first to get a
situation.”

“Oh, yes, I have faith, perfect faith, in all my dear ones, Isabelle.
But now, if there are any more of those biscuits left, please call
Roland in and we will have our lunch. This has been one of the days
when housekeeping could not go by rule and measure.”

“I hope there won’t be many such!” exclaimed the daughter, earnestly,
and went to summon her elder brother. But she presently returned with a
disappointed face. “He says he cannot come, that he does not care for
anything to eat. He has lost so much time already, and he had set out
to accomplish just so much of that ploughing this morning.”

There was a moment’s hesitation; then Mrs. Beckwith herself went to the
door and called pleasantly: “Roland! lunch is ready.”

“I’m not coming, Mother; I can’t.”

“You must. I cannot allow you to go without eating regularly, now that
you are doing hard labor for the first time in your life. Please come
at once, and do not hinder Isabelle any longer. She, too, has had a
disappointing morning in some ways.”

Now Roland was but seventeen. If he had been ten years older, he would
not have answered as he did. “Oh, Mother, I wish you’d let me alone!
I’m not a baby to be ordered like Robert! And I am not--going--to
eat--one mouthful till I--am ready.”

Isabelle could scarce believe that she heard the words, which were only
too distinct through the open doorway. “Humph! That’s what comes of
making a stripling the ‘head of the family.’ That sounds like one of
those young roosters of Miss Joanna’s trying to crow. That’s what comes
of sacrificing ‘womenkind to our young man.’ The horrid thing!”

“Isabelle!”

Startled by the sharpness of pain which the tone evinced, Belle looked
swiftly into her mother’s eyes, and read there that the matter was not
a theme for jest.

“Poor little woman!” thought the girl, as she cleared away the lunch
things; “how it does hurt her when she discovers that we _are_ coarse
barnyard fowls, after all! Poor little woman! She’d die for any
of us, if it were necessary, but we just make her heart ache with
‘cussedness’! H’m-m! I begin to think the Beckwiths are not that
brilliant collection of perfections Bonny claimed! Bob spoiled the
morning, and now Roland has finished the afternoon! Though I must admit
_I_ began the list of sorrows by behaving like a selfish, silly thing,
crying over the dishes!”

For somehow upon the bright spring landscape a shadow seemed to have
fallen; and though Roland carried his point and finished the number of
furrows he desired, the sods he turned no longer greeted his nostrils
with that sweet odor which had given him such pleasure heretofore, and
between himself and the ground appeared all through that afternoon the
gentle reproachful face of a mother aggrieved.



CHAPTER XVI.

A MODERN KING ARTHUR.

  “The ploughman he’s a bonny lad,
    His mind is ever true, jo;
  His garters knit below his knee,
    His bonnet it is blue, jo.
      Then up wi’ my ploughman lad,
      And hey my merry ploughman!
      Of all the trades that I do ken,
      Commend me to the ploughman.”


Bonny brought her song to an end beside her brother at the door of the
little stable, whither, at the close of the afternoon, he had guided
his horse; and though her rich young voice was music in his ears,
Roland turned toward his sister a face which did not respond to the
mirth of hers.

“Hello, Bon! Back? Well, how does it seem to be a day-laborer?”

“Ah! my laddie, how does it seem to be a ploughman? Prettier in song
than reality, eh? Why, Roland!”

“Well, what?”

“What’s the matter?”

“Nothing.”

“Stuff!”

“I tell you there isn’t anything the matter with--me. I’m not
accountable for other people’s whims.”

The lad dropped the head-stall, and Nan, set free of her harness,
walked quietly into her own place; while Beatrice, perching herself
upon the manger’s front, threw her arms about her brother’s neck and
gave him a resounding smack.

“There! That’s for ‘my ploughman, my jo’! Say, my dear, you have the
heart-ache!”

“Don’t bother, Bon!”

“I’d rather bother Roland! What is it, Laureate? You will have to tell
me sometime, you know; you might as well now. Besides, I’m dying to
tell you something in return.”

“Well, tell. Then, maybe--”

“‘A swarm of bees in May is worth a load of hay!’ How did you guess?”

“Guess what? I wish you wouldn’t be silly, Bon. My head aches, I’m
awfully tired, and I’m crosser than cross.”

“That last is an axiom,--a self-evident fact, you know; and I’m sorry
for the head, but sorrier for the heart. Something has gone wrong,
ever so far wrong. What is it, Bubsey?”

“Beatrice, if you don’t stop using that ridiculous name for me, I’ll--”

“Kiss me, Roland, and make up. I declare it makes me feel as
down-spirited as Mr. Dolloway in a rheumatic attack to come home all
full of my scheme and have you throw cold water on me this way. Really,
dear, you must tell me. You know I always tease till I find out.”

Roland looked at her angrily; but there was something so genuinely
loving and sympathetic in the piquant face before him that he felt
moved to unburden his mind of the load it had carried. Not a very big
load, some lads might think, but, to a nature as earnest and chivalrous
as Roland Beckwith’s, quite bitter enough. “Well, then, I have behaved
outrageously to my mother.”

“Roland--Beckwith! You!”

In two minutes the little story had been told.

“What did Motherkin say?”

“Not one word. If she’d only scold!”

“No; that’s one disobliging thing about our mother. I ‘sym,’ dear; I’ve
been there myself. I’ve often felt as if a good, downright nagging
wouldn’t hurt one-thousandth part as much as one of those astonished
glances of hers. They cut like a knife just home from the sharpener’s.
Well, so you didn’t have any luncheon?”

“I didn’t want any; I couldn’t have eaten it, after that.”

“That accounts for the headache; so both head and heart pains are
settled for. Now, the cure. Come along with me.”

“No, I’d rather not. If Mother happened out here, I’d talk it over with
her. I’m a confounded idiot, Bon. I felt so big and manly, somehow,
thinking I had the whole ‘farm’ under my own control; and then I was
mad at that young one everlastingly getting into trouble for somebody
else to be plagued with; and I’d made up my mind to accomplish just so
much of the ploughing, no matter what happened. And it _is_ awful hard
work. I wouldn’t acknowledge it before; but it seems sometimes as if I
couldn’t drag one foot after the other. And look at my hands!”

The flood-gates of his pride and reserve opened at last, all the trials
and actual sufferings the untaught lad had experienced during his brief
experiment of farming tumbled over Roland’s lips in a torrent of words.
He felt perfectly secure in making these confidences, for whatever her
faults might be, Beatrice “never blabbed,” and she loved him so dearly
that all he felt was shared by her in almost a stronger degree. When he
had finished there were tears in her bright eyes; and she forced Roland
to take a portion of the sharp-edged seat she occupied, so that she
might “cuddle to him” with her warm sympathy.

“I’ll tell you what it is, Laureate! Brother Dolloway is right! ‘Life
isn’t all catnip! They’s consid’able burdock an’ puss’ley mixed through
it.’ But we’ve got to get along with it the best we can; and all the
matter with us is we’re too ‘all-fired’ smart!”

“Bon! don’t laugh!”

“If I don’t I shall cry; and I’m only copying my respected mother
when I say I’d ‘ruther laugh.’ But I mean it. We’re smart. We’re
dangerously clever, and we know it; that’s all the trouble. You are
a seventeen-year-older and you’ve been attempting to do and to be a
grown-up man,--I mean, to do what a man long trained to hard work would
do; and that has made you feel as if you were a man in every respect.
If you can just get back to be Roland the lad, you’ll be all right. And
I’m not a-preachin’ no sermons what I isn’t willin’ ter take home to
myself. No, sir. I’ve been that conceited an’ ‘sot up’ that I actually
felt as if there could nobody take my place at home; yet at the same
time there was nobody could take my place abroad, so to speak, and
abroad being Mr. Brook’s study. But I’ve been a dunce. All I have to do
for Mr. Brook anybody with a reasonable amount of intelligence--not so
much as mine, of course! but an ordinary capacity, like anybody’s not a
Beckwith--could do. I made heaps of blunders when we really set to work
this afternoon, and my blessed old gentleman came mighty near losing
his temper. He didn’t quite lose it, however, though he danced around
on the edge of the precipice for a few minutes, and it would have gone
over, I think, if Miss Joanna hadn’t appeared. It all came from my
self-conceit, every bit of it. I read a few rules for the orthography
and then I thought I knew it all; and off I dashed, hot foot, and had
three whole pages to rewrite, besides the annoyance to my employer of
the wasted time. But _that_ won’t happen again. I’ve put on the brakes
and I mean to go slow next time, probably too slow; but--”

Roland knew that the only way to stem the current of Beatrice’s talk
was to interrupt, which he did without ceremony. “Do you suppose my
mother would come out here to me?”

“I suppose she would walk on her head if we asked her; but I shouldn’t
think it a manly thing to do.”

“Why not? I hate to make a talk before Belle and--everybody.”

“Roland, don’t think I’m hateful, but you didn’t hesitate to speak
horridly to Mother before ‘everybody,’ did you?”

“I was mad then.”

“And you’re sad now. No, a King Arthur kind of a fellow would go just
as manfully to make his apologies as he did to commit his error. It
will make Mother happy to hear your regret, no matter how you express
it; but it will make her proud as well if you do so openly. Besides,
what a shining example you will be to Bob-o’-Lincoln!”

“Dear little chap! I thought he was a goner, this morning. I tell you
he looked awful when we got him out of that mortar heap!”

“I should think he must! But if Nan has enough to eat, let’s go into
the peace-room and have a happy time. I do wonder, every time I’m bad,
why I can’t remember then how horrid it feels to be unhappy. I never
do, and good resolutions aren’t worth very much above par in my case.”

For a moment Roland did not answer, but went about putting his
little stable into order for the night, and finding in the sense of
proprietorship this gave him a slight solace for his wounded pride. For
it was that, rather than actual repentance, which had tortured him all
that afternoon. His nature, prone to idealize everything, had set up
a standard of perfect gentlemanliness to be achieved, and the thought
that he had been so petty as to lose temper with a woman, and that
woman his mother, whom he was most bound to protect, had mortified him
intolerably. It may not have been the highest sort of standard, but it
was ennobling as far as it went.

When he could find no further excuse for loitering, he went to the pump
and begged his sister to dash a stream of cold water over his aching
temples; then rising, shook himself like a young water dog, and strode
valiantly out of the building.

Bonny did not glance at him again, but taking up her Scottish melody
went carolling into the house as if to herald a coming joy.

“Well, darling! Home again! After a long day of work. It is sweet of
you to come so gayly, for you must be very tired.”

“And it is perfectly lovely of you, Motherkin, to take each little
bit of decency in your offspring and magnify it into a virtue. But
you’ll have your reward, my Madonna! You’re going to have part of
it--instantly!” cried the girl, nodding her head sagely, and crossing
immediately to Robert’s lounge, where she dropped down and fell to
caressing that imprisoned piece of activity.

Roland did nothing by halves. He walked directly toward his mother,
and said in a clear voice, so that the dreaded “everybody” might hear:
“Mother, I beg your pardon. I behaved like a ruffian.”

The ready tears sprung to the mother’s eyes as her tall son bent to
kiss her, but she answered as she would have answered any other who had
trespassed upon good manners: “Don’t mention it, dear. And I’m glad you
are both in together, for Isabelle and I have been experimenting in the
kitchen, and by the odor from thence I think our chicken-patties are
done and ripe for eating!” Then she rose, took the arm of her “knight,”
and led the way to the table.

“Wull, wull, ain’t I a-goin’ ter have nothin’?” demanded the “invalid,”
indignantly, as Bonny rose also, and he was threatened with apparent
neglect.

“Mother, don’t you think it’s about time for Sunday clothes?” asked
that young person, coaxingly.

“Ye-s; if Robert will be--”

“I’ll be as good as a gold boy, Motherkin! I’ll be as good as Roland,
if I can!”

A general laugh greeted this promise, and under cover of it, Bonny
lifted her little brother from his couch of punishment and bore him
aloft, to return in about five minutes looking perfectly cherubic in a
clean face and the aforementioned holiday attire.

“Now,” said Bonny, after the supper things had been cleared away and
the little household had gathered before the blaze upon the hearth,
which partly Mrs. Beckwith’s fondness for it and partly the still
chilly evenings rendered a nightly affair,--“now have I at last the
permission of the household to relieve my mind of its terrible tension?
I have been keeping a secret for--six--mortal--hours and if I can’t
tell it soon I shall be ill, maybe.”

“The Secretary has the floor!” responded the now joyful mother.

“Then, it has been proposed to me-- No, that isn’t the best, the most
mysterious way of beginning. Ahem! Has anybody found out the hidden
source of my promised wealth? Has anybody learned the secret of The
Lindens?”

“Yep,” answered Robert, promptly, “skunks.”

“Oh, you horrid youngster! Say ‘Mephitis’ whenever you have occasion to
mention so inodorous a subject. No, you are not right. Next?”

“Knowledge under difficulties,” volunteered Belle.

“You’re away off--a thousand miles, though it _will_ be knowledge under
difficulties--exceedingly painful ones, too, probably. I’ll explain
that ambiguity later. Now, next?”

“Contentment, which is better than any riches,” suggested Mrs.
Beckwith, quietly.

“No, Motherkin. Sorry to send you ‘down foot,’ but obliged to do it,
you know. Roland? Have you no ideas to be ventilated?”

“They are quite like Mother’s. Health, independence, and happiness will
come to us here under a lot of hard toil. And, yes, my ‘express wagon.’”

“What? What is that? Have you a secret too?”

“Of course I have.”

“Tell it.”

“Ladies first.”

“You’re too gallant!”

“You were ‘dying to explain’ a moment since!”

“All right. My secret is--a bee, _Apis mellifica_,--a most lively
little fellow with a saw in his latter end.”

“Beatrice!”

“Beg pardon. But I’m so excited! Mr. ‘Humpty-Dumpty’ and I are almost
immediately to become apiarists!”

“Child, what has put such a notion as that into your head?”

“Our beloved Mr. Brook, and Miss Joanna also. They saw a chance for
us to make some money, which we all agree we need, and suggested that
method. They have explained the whole transaction to me, as well as
anybody can explain by just talking, and to-morrow, if you approve, we
are to drive a few miles into the country and visit a famous apiary of
which Mr. Brook knows. There I can see the practical working of the
thing, and I am assured that we can find a market for our honey--when
we get it! What do you say, Motherkin?”

“What can I say, dearie, with so little knowledge of the subject as I
possess?”

“But if Miss Brook and Mr. Brook and even Mr. Dolloway approve, you’ll
say yes, won’t you?”

“I will always say yes to reasonable things. I foresee that I shall yet
do so to this new scheme. But what is the connection between bees and
lindens?”

“The same that there was between your hungry girl and Isabelle’s
chicken-patties. The trees furnish the bees a favorite food in great
abundance. Then, to supplement them, Roland will plant some crops which
will be useful to Mr. Apis or Mrs. Apis, and that will also be good
for us. The honey they take away will not hurt any crop he can raise.
Robert is to be the one to help swarm the bees and to look after them
while I am away. He is to share in the business.”

“If he makes it such a success as the hen affair, I am sure we shall be
millionaires eventually!” laughed the elder sister, teasingly.

“Give the youngster time, Madam Housekeeper! His hens are going to come
out all right; aren’t they, ‘Humpty-Dump’?”

“Course. Belle doesn’t know, does she?”

“Belle never kept any hens, did she? and Robert did!” returned Bonny,
gayly. Whatever the others might think, she never lost faith in either
brother.

“But will it not cost a great deal to begin the business, much more
than we ought to spare at present?” asked Mrs. Beckwith.

“No, I think not. Mr. Brook suggests that I use my own earnings for
the purpose, if you will allow me. He is confident I shall get back
more than a fair interest upon the investment. You see, he isn’t
telling anything he has not already verified. He’s a wonderful man, is
Mr Brook!” responded Beatrice, falling into a reverie, which lasted so
long that Roland interrupted.

“We’ve all acknowledged that long since. What now has roused your
admiration?”

“Why, everything he thinks will be a help to somebody he experiments
with himself first. It was so with bee-keeping. There was a crippled
man with a delicate wife and lots of children, in whom our patron was
interested. The man was hurt in a railway accident, or something like
that, and could never afterward do any hard work. Mr. Brook’s study of
bees and their habits made him think that an apiary would be just the
thing for this family, who had a bit of a place a few miles from here,
the same place he wishes me to visit to-morrow. So he tried the thing
himself, and demonstrated that it was a paying thing; then he handed
his bee outfit over to those people, and they are now living very
comfortably, besides being able to educate their children.”

“Just from bees?”

“Just from bees. And it is not a business so overstocked that others
need fear to enter it. If Mother is willing, I shall be so glad to try
it.”

“It will need a great deal of patience, and you will get terribly
stung.”

“Everything needs patience, seems to me! The very quality of which
I have the smallest stock is continually in demand. And as for the
stinging, some people scarcely feel the stings, others have been killed
by them.”

“Beatrice! you are not using a good argument in favor of your scheme,”
remonstrated the careful mother.

“Wull, wull, if I’m goin’ ter be stung ter death, I’d ruther stick to
hens,” remarked Robert, sagely.

“That was only to put the very worst foot forward, my dearie. The
persons stung to death may have been one out of a million. Besides, you
have already been stung a dozen times since we came here, by one bug or
other, and you are still very much alive, as witness your escapade of
this morning.”

“Mother, can I have a drink of milk?” asked “Humpty-Dumpty,” desiring
to change the subject.

“If Beatrice will get it for you.”

“Of course I’ll do anything for my partner!” replied the girl, gayly.
“But, just by way of getting down to facts, how many drinks of milk
have you already had since you left your bed this day--this morning, I
mean?”

“It’s good for him, dear,” commented Mrs. Beckwith, pleasantly; “and
such a luxury that we have a cow, and milk of our own to drink.”

Bonny danced out of the room, and down the stairs cellarward, either
not hearing or not obeying her mother’s suggestion that she would
better take a candle with her. The others, left before the cheerful
firelight, sat idly musing over the bee project or some other hopeful
plan, even the milk-hungry boy was silent, when there came the sound of
a heavy fall, the crashing of china, and the shrill shriek of Beatrice,
in a mingled confusion that sent every person to a standing posture and
chilled every heart with fear.

“She’s fallen downstairs! She must have broken her bones!”

“My custard! my custard!” cried Belle.



CHAPTER XVII.

ROLAND’S PROJECT.


“Bonny, are you hurt?”

“Bonny, have you spilled my custards?”

“Bonny, have you broken down the stairs?”

For answer to all these anxious inquiries, which indicated the
particular dread of each inquirer, there presently came up from the
region of darkness below a ripple of hysterical laughter, which rapidly
increased in volume till the hearers were forced to join in it.

This was more than Robert could patiently endure, and, regardless of
Sunday clothes, he bounded down the stairs, and so noisily that he did
not hear Beatrice’s swift remonstrance: “Don’t, Bob! For mercy’s sake,
don’t come down here! There, you’ve finished it!”

Mrs. Beckwith quietly and cautiously followed the headlong flight of
her youngest child, and half-way to the lower floor stopped in utter
dismay. There, at the bottom of the flight, sat Bonny, with Robert in
her lap, whither he had fallen promptly, amidst a pile of broken cups,
and with each of the unfortunates plentifully splashed with some sort
of sticky, yellowish liquid.

“Well, what have you done?”

“Why, spilled the custards!”

“What were you doing with them?” demanded Isabelle, sharply, from the
head of the stairs.

“Nothing--that is, ‘I didn’t go for to do nothing’ with them! When I
went away to work yesterday morning, there were two pans of milk on
that swing-shelf. I could have gone in the dark and found them easily;
so I did!” And away went Beatrice into another peal of laughter as
infectious as it was ridiculous.

“Mother told you to take a light!”

“I didn’t hear her. Besides, it didn’t seem worth while to go to that
trouble. Why did you put custards in the milk’s place? And also, if you
have custards, why don’t you feed them to your family instead of laying
pitfalls with them to catch unwary maidens? When I was housekeeper I--”

“When you were housekeeper you did exactly as you pleased, and nobody
durst interfere!” said Belle, quickly. “You see, Mother! It’s of no use
trying. There I worked extra hard to-night, so that I would not have to
take my precious morning light to-morrow to prepare dessert. I knew
that our dinner was to be a very plain one, and so I thought I would
piece it out with a little second course. All for nothing!”

Mrs. Beckwith made no comment upon this exclamation. The damage which
Bonny’s thoughtlessness had done was, she feared, far greater than the
loss of a little daylight or one day’s dessert. “Gather up your frock
as carefully as you can, so that the stuff will not drip upon these
clean stairs, then go directly out of doors; that is, if you are not
hurt. I will come out on the grass and help you there. Here, Robert!
Put this apron about you and follow Bonny. Your unfortunate Sunday
clothes! They are ruined, I am afraid.”

Isabelle retreated in a flood of tears, and Roland ran away to compose
a sonnet to a “Maiden in Distress;” that being a safety-valve to let
off his mirthfulness over the absurd affair. But Beatrice picked
herself up stiffly and obeyed her mother without a word. Her fun had
quite evaporated, and she felt heartily ashamed of herself.

“It’s that eternal, undying conceit of mine, Motherkin! If I’d had any
sense I’d have taken a lamp, even though I did not hear you. But no!
I--Bonny Beckwith--could go down cellar in the darkest night and do
anything I wished! I wasn’t afraid,--I! But I’m so sorry, so awfully
sorry about your pretty cups, Mother. You have had them so long and
kept them so carefully. I don’t understand yet how it happened.”

“The explanation is simple enough. After Isabelle had made her custard,
she poured it into the cups, and, it being hot, set them in an empty
pan to carry the better downstairs. She had used the milk from the pan
on the swing-shelf, and it was a convenient place to keep her dessert
until to-morrow, safe and high above the reach of the cat or any stray
mice.”

“It was high enough, in all conscience! I had to reach above my head to
take the pan down, and I thought it felt amazing heavy then; but not
until I reached the foot of the stairs and stumbled did I hear the cups
rattle and realize that it wasn’t just milk I carried.”

“There, turn around. The other side is all messed with it, too.”

“Is it spoiled, Mother? Is my new clothes no more good?” wailed Robert,
ruefully regarding the liberal dash of water which his mother gave
those cherished articles.

“They will never look well again, but they will be wearable, I hope.
Bonny’s fresh frock is unfit for further use, however, until after it
is laundered again. What will you wear to-morrow, child?”

“The old winter one, I suppose.”

“But if you are going away with your employer, will it answer?”

“The best one, then. When a body has just one good gown and two
week-day ones, she hasn’t much trouble in making her decisions. I care
only about the cups.”

“Don’t think of them again. I am thankful you were not hurt. But, my
darling, is there nothing else you are sorry for?”

“Oh! I--suppose--so! The quarrel with Belle. But she was as much to
blame as I. She shouldn’t have put the pan there if she didn’t want it
tipped over.”

“Broken cups may be replaced, and soiled frocks made clean. These are
trivialities; but a wounded spirit--I believe I can trust my Beatrice,
can I not? Now come indoors. Roland has, also, a ‘secret’ to tell, or
a statement to explain. He is probably impatient to do so. About the
express wagon. Come, Robert. It is almost your bedtime, anyway.”

“Mother, if anybody isn’t good who lives with you, she ought to be
‘kicked by cripples’! You--”

“Beatrice, where do you learn such expressions?”

“That came from Brother--I mean Mr.--Dolloway’s vocabulary. He has a
choice lot of ‘Sayings’ which he repeats on each and every occasion.
This morning he said something about somebody being as ‘queer as Dick’s
hat-band;’ and when I asked him how queer that was he answered, as
quick as a flash, ‘Went half-way round and tucked under.’ He’s very
original, and ever so funny.”

“He may be; but his expressions on your tongue are not funny, but
silly. Why cannot you pattern after Miss Joanna? You hear only good
English from her careful lips.”

“Natural depravity, Motherkin. But I’ll try. I think myself that
Dollowayisms do not sound as well on ‘Humpty-Dump’s’ lips as they do on
the ‘original Jacob’s.’ There it goes again! Mother, what does make me
so thoughtless?”

“Dearie, I wish I knew!”

“I’ll find out! And I’ll conquer myself if--I can! I will, dear Mother,
if you will keep faith in me.”

“My faith in you will only fail with my life, darling. You must have
faith in yourself, and not settle down to the belief that you cannot
make yourself all that you would be. But--a truce to lectures for
to-night! I want to hear what Roland has to say.”

They went into the “peace-room” again, and Beatrice placed her little
brother beside herself on the rug before the fire “to dry off,” while
Mrs. Beckwith roused Roland from his writing to tell them all about his
new venture.

“Well, you see, Mr. Brook told me that there was no stage running from
this place to Newburgh. There are two, or more, which do go from the
town below us to the city above, but just here there is nothing of the
kind. He proposed that I start a little ‘express route,’ fetching and
delivering parcels for the New Windsorites,--those who either have
no horses of their own, or do not care to trouble to drive regularly
into the city. He will speak to several persons for me, and even a few
families would be a good beginning. He says I can probably buy a small
covered cart at the salesroom in Newburgh, second-hand, but adapted to
my purpose; and that it will not hurt Nan to do the work. He proposes
my making the trips three times a week at first, while I am busy
getting in my crops--”

“Hear! hear!” interrupted Bonny.

“Then later on I can go every day if it seems to be profitable. He also
suggests that I begin right away, and offers to go into town with me
and help me select my vehicle, if you approve. Mr. Dolloway says it
will ruin me; that I’ve ‘undertook more’n a common man’d lay out ter
do, anyhow;’ but I assured the old gentleman that I did not consider
myself a ‘common man’ by any means, but that I was my mother’s son and
meant to be worthy of my parentage.”

“Motherkin, that flattery is intended to wheedle the price of the
‘express wagon’ out of your pocket!” cried Beatrice, again, divining at
once the thought of her mother’s mind.

Not that “wheedling” had any connection with the anxiety of the widow,
but that she reflected, with grave doubts of its wisdom, how deeply she
was dipping into their small sinking fund. She looked up smilingly, but
asked seriously enough, “How much will that cost?”

“From thirty to forty dollars.”

“It will take you many days to get back that much money, even if the
experiment proves a success. The houses are very scattered, and most
of the people about us either very wealthy or very poor,--mill-workers
and farm-employees, Miss Brook told me. How can either class need such
service?”

Roland’s countenance fell. He felt the wide difference between the
caution of maturity and the impulse of youth, and already foresaw
that he would be obliged to relinquish his plan, for the want of that
“paltry sum.” But he hated to give up, and offered a suggestion: “I’m
sure, since he proposed it, that Mr. Brook will lend me the money.”

Mrs. Beckwith’s answer was swift and decided: “Dismiss that notion at
once. With my consent my children shall never run into debt. What we
have of our own, what we can earn, that we may use; but the moment we
begin to use other people’s funds, that moment we not only sacrifice
our own dignity but our freedom. Mr. Brook is a rich man. I do not
doubt that he would give you outright the cart you wish; but you must
be as honorable as he. Poverty need make no difference that way, thank
God. We have sometimes gone pretty hungry, but we have never owed
anybody yet. If you think I seem niggardly about the little left of our
‘insurance money,’ it is because I dare not reduce our rainy-day stock
by any further great amount. However, I will myself see Mr. Brook in
the morning and talk the matter over with him. I have no desire to be
over-prudent, but there are some questions I should like to ask. Now,
Beatrice, if you are ‘dried,’ please open the piano. It is high time a
band of toilers went to rest.”

The devotions of the little family were very simple, and the mother
always led them. It was mostly a service of song, and sent each heart
away into the silence of the night the better and happier for its
sweetness. This time, despite the resolution that it should not last
long, it was prolonged, indeed, until brought to a sudden terminus by
Robert going to sleep in an upright position at his mother’s elbow,
and losing his balance, falling headlong against the piano keys with a
discordant crash!

“Finale! Positively the last appearance, and therefore the last
accident, for the day of ‘Mr. Humpty-Dump’!” cried Roland, and
unceremoniously picked up his small brother and started stairwards with
him.

“Ain’t asleep! Sleep ’self! Lemme ’lone! I want--I want a bee--a
chick--a--a--h-e-n--”

In five minutes the little fellow was in his own cosey “nest,”
unconscious how he arrived there, and dreaming of a poultry-house full
of downy chickens helping him to eat honey from a broken custard-cup.

The last to fall asleep that night under the old-time roof was
Isabelle. Long after the others were at rest she sat by the uncurtained
window of her “studio,” watching the clouds in the sky, and feeling
anything but happy.

“All the others are so busy, and all are earning their own money except
me! Oh! nobody knows how hard it is! To give up everything I liked and
bury myself alive in a horrid country town, which isn’t even a village,
but a collection of scattered tenements, with people living in them who
never call upon their neighbors, except, of course, the Brooks. But
they ought to be kind; they enticed us here! Though I did think this
morning it all was going to be better and easier; to-night I’m utterly
discouraged. If it weren’t for breaking my mother’s heart, I’d run
away!”

Poor Isabelle! She had been the “show pupil” of her class, and the real
talent she did possess had been magnified by injudicious praise into
what was “genius” in her own estimation. She had been the only one who
had disliked the country project, and she found her trials even greater
than she had anticipated.

Presently, by dwelling upon the dark side of her lot, she had worked
herself up into a most unenviable state of mind, and had thrown herself
dramatically upon the floor to sob her grief away. But after a while
she became conscious of some noise outside the building, and timidity
very promptly banished melodrama.

She sat up and strained her ears to hear.

Crunch! crunch! crunch!

“Why--it--sounds--like--like--wheels!” she murmured with chattering
teeth.

“Whack! bang!”

Surely that was a muttered imprecation which she caught!

Thieves? Housebreakers?

She neither dared to move nor cry out; but the five minutes she
remained where she was seemed to her a lifetime. At the end of that
space the echo of retreating footsteps was so plain that she rallied
her courage and ran into Bonny’s room, crying: “Wake up! wake up! We’ve
been robbed! Burglars-- Oh!”

“Yes, dear, I’m sorry. I won’t do it again!” responded Beatrice,
sleepily.



CHAPTER XVIII.

ROBERT’S OCCUPATION GONE.


It was such an absurd answer that Isabelle laughed. In the laughter
much of her fear, and all of her anger against her sister, vanished.
With the quick rebound of her loving nature she clasped her arms about
the neck of the sleepy Beatrice and kissed her heartily.

The disturbed secretary sat up and demanded: “What is the matter, eh?
Oh, I remember. Well, I’m sorry, Belle. It was horrid of me, though I
didn’t intend to do it. I’d make you some more custards if Mother would
let me; but I suppose she would say we could not afford so much luxury
twice in the same week.”

It does not matter what the elder girl replied. The reconciliation
was complete, and once more two young hearts were beating high with
aspirations after better things, although, it must be confessed,
Bonny’s ideas were rather vaguely exalted, owing to her drowsiness; but
Belle was keenly self-reproachful, and exclaimed earnestly: “I wonder
why we never learn to be what we mean to be. It seems as if life were
one long season of acting hatefully and trying to make amends. Why
can’t we be good?”

“Give it up.” Yawn. “And, dearie, I’m so sleepy I don’t know what to do
with myself. Aren’t you?”

“I dare not go to sleep, I expect we have been robbed of everything we
possess!” As the recollection returned to her of the real cause for her
present visit, Isabelle felt her timidity also return, and, shaking
her sister to keep that drowsy one’s eyes open till she could tell the
whole story, repeated what she had already tried twice to make the
somnolent secretary comprehend.

“Ye-es. H’m-m!” Yawn. “Well, we’re--all--right, aren’t--we?”

“Don’t you understand? Won’t you understand? We have been robbed!
B-u-r-g-l-a-r-s!” cried the other, spelling the terrible word letter by
letter.

“Yes, that’s right. I used to--spell it--l-e-r-s. I spelled--
‘Coleoptera’--with a K; and Mr. Brook nearly had a spasm. I--I--won’t do
it again, I promise you.” Yawn.

“Goodness! She’s asleep already! I don’t believe she will remember
one single thing of this in the morning. I wonder if I ought to tell
Mother! But Roland is the one, I suppose; only--”

The thought entered the girl’s mind, what if she told nobody, but kept
her knowledge to herself and watched for more evidence before she
aroused the weary sleepers? Wouldn’t that be the more unselfish way?
And if she were really in earnest about trying to be as noble as her
mother desired, was not unselfishness a bottom principle, and might she
not begin then as well as later?

She answered her own questioning by casting one more smiling glance
upon the sleeper before her, and, by the light of the shaded lamp,
which was always kept burning in the central hall from which all their
bedrooms opened, making her way noiselessly back to her own apartment.

There she listened critically; but all was silent without, save for the
peaceful sounds of insects in the trees and the plashing of the river
at the foot of the bluff. Then she carefully dressed herself and sat
down to await developments.

“Dear me! Nothing does happen, after all! And how cold it seems sitting
about alone in the night-time! I--I believe I’ll just creep inside the
bed covers and watch there! It would be safer as regards taking cold,
and fan more comfortable!”

Deluded girl! As she crept into bed in her full, every-day attire, and
the strength of her brave resolution, she put herself deliberately
in temptation’s way. Nature revenged herself, and in less than three
minutes the burglar watcher was as sound asleep as Beatrice across
the hall. When she was aroused again the sunlight of another day
shone through her little skylight, and Bonny was shouting from below
stairs: “Hurrah! hurrah! Isabelle! Is-a-belle! Wake up and come down!
Glory--magnificence--Hurry! No matter about clothes! Come!”

Next an onrush of small limbs up the winding staircase, and Robert
bounded into the room to precipitate himself headlong upon his sister’s
bed. “Why don’t you come, Belle? Here we’ve all been yelling at you
like ever’thing! They’s-- My jimminy, Belle! Do you go to bed with your
clothes on? I bet, if my mother knew that, she’d punish you! Eh? What’s
the matter? What makes you stare so?”

“Clothes? Why, is it morning?”

“Is it morning? I should say it’s most noon! An’ a wagon-- But I won’t
tell. Only-- Mother! Belle went to bed in her clothes, an’ they’re all
wrinkly up!”

[Illustration: “WHY, FOLKS! WHAT’S ALL THIS?”]

“Go downstairs at once, Robert!” commanded the sister as sternly as she
could, and dragged herself to the window. But from that side of the
house nothing unusual was to be seen, and, beginning to think over her
last night’s fright, she smiled at her own plight. “Mother will be sure
to ask why I did this, and my freshly ironed gown is sadly tumbled,
after all. Humph! I wonder if I dreamed the whole thing!”

Ten minutes later, after a hasty toilet and freshening of her garb, she
descended to the lower floor only to find it deserted and the whole
family congregated on the west side of the house, gazing with surprise
and perplexity upon a shining “express wagon” which stood there.

“Why, folks! what’s all this?”

“That’s exactly what we wish to find out,” returned Mrs. Beckwith,
turning a very smiling face toward her belated daughter. “Some fairies
must have been at work here during the night, and we cannot guess who
they are. Rather, we may guess, but I do not feel at all sure. See!
isn’t it really handsome?”

There was no mistaking that the vehicle was intended for one of them;
for on the brand-new curtains which covered its sides was plainly
painted, “Parcel Express,” and on the box of the wagon, at the back, a
modest legend: “Beckwith, The Lindens, New Windsor, N. Y.”

“Of course it’s from the Brooks,” asserted Isabelle, promptly.

“Of course it isn’t,” returned Beatrice, her feet beating a restless
tattoo to her joyful thoughts, “because here is a note pinned to the
cushion of the seat.” And she tossed the other the paper, which each of
the family had scrutinized in turn.

  “To whom it may concern: This cart is for the young farmer. It does
  not come from either Mr. or Miss Brook, but from another well-wisher,
  who hopes it will be accepted in the same spirit with which it is
  offered.

                                                             “A FRIEND.”

“A friend, I should think so!”

“Isn’t it queer that none of us heard it brought here?” asked Roland,
whose eyes were shining even more dazzlingly than the varnish of the
“express” in the sunshine.

“But one of us did; I heard it,” said Belle.

“And didn’t tell us?”

“I thought it was burglars.”

“Burglars! Pshaw! If you’d only looked out you might be able to tell
who rolled the thing here. I can’t wait to know to whom I am indebted,
to thank him or her. Mother, are you sure it isn’t you?”

“Perfectly sure; besides, my son, you have asked me that question
already a half-dozen times, and each time I have answered that I knew
no more about the matter than you do. I wish I did; I don’t quite
like--”

“Now, Motherkin! Of course you will let us keep it! I know what you are
thinking; but if my Laureate has enough sense to be willing to drive
an ‘Express Parcel’ or a ‘Parcel Express’ for the good of the house of
Beckwith, I hope you won’t put rocks in his road!”

“It is from somebody who knew how much I wanted it; that is plain. It
_must_ be from the Brooks!”

“No, dears; I do not think they would stoop to a falsehood even to
confer a kindness. At least, if they would, I am disappointed in them.”

“Wull, wull, ain’t we never goin’ ter eat our breakfasses?” demanded
Robert, suddenly.

“Yes, yes, indeed. For work-a-day folks we are very late. But,
Isabelle, what is this about your sleeping in your clothes?”

“Oh, Mother, it seems awfully silly to tell!”

“No secrets in this household, Belle!” cautioned Bonny.

Thus adjured, the whole story came out, and it was many a long day
before Isabelle heard the last of her going to bed to watch burglars.

Everybody would turn her or his chair at table so that the new
possession was in sight, and their tongues wagged so continually
that the meal was long protracted; and before it was through Mr.
Dolloway had come across fields to pay his regular morning call. He
had an unexpressed opinion that the “new family” would come to griefs
indescribable if he did not keep a protecting guard over them.

“Hoity, toity! What’s this? What--in--the--world is this? Must be
getting millionaires over here!” exclaimed the old man, in apparently
intense surprise.

“Oh! Mr. Dolloway! Do _you_ know anything about it?” cried Bonny,
running to the window and leaning eagerly out.

“I never saw the thing in my life before.”

“You didn’t? Then away goes my last idea! Of course, if either Mr. or
Miss Brook had given it, you would have known!”

Mr. Dolloway did not comment upon this opinion. He merely began to walk
about the new vehicle and examine it with the eye of a connoisseur in
express wagons. “H’m-m! ’Pears to be purty well put together.”

“Well put together!” exclaimed Roland, joining their visitor. “It’s
perfect. Whoever picked it out knew what was what!”

“Humph! I should like to know what you, a city feller, know about
wagons!”

“Well, if I never owned one I have seen them by the thousands, yes,
the millions, I suppose; and I know this looks exactly like those the
dry-goods’ houses send out. And the one at the last store I worked in
might have been first cousin to the ‘Beckwith.’”

“H’m-m! Sounds kind of top-lofty, don’t it? You, a little, ign’runt
sprat, a comin’ into a town an’ a settin’ up a business that never was
set up there afore!”

Roland was in too good humor to resent the unpleasant candor of his
old neighbor, so he merely whistled a bar from the “Mikado,” and went
on to call Mr. Dolloway’s attention to the various merits of his new
possession.

“Humph! Hain’t hitched her up yet, have you?”

“No; but I will, right away. Unless-- Mother, is there anything I can
do for you before I go to work?”

“Nothing, thank you, my son.”

Roland thereupon turned stableward, and his old friend walked with him,
smiling grimly.

“I s’pose you don’t never forget to ask that question, do ye?”

“Not often. I don’t like to let my mother do any lifting if I can help
it, and now that Bonny is away so much she might if I didn’t look after
her.”

“H’m-m! That’s right. An’ I reckon you’re a purty level-headed kind of
a chap, after all, if I do take you to do now and again; yes, yes, I
do. So you hain’t _no_ notion who gave you the wagon?”

“Unfortunately, no. Though, despite the neatly written note which
declares to the contrary, and my mother’s faith in its assertion, I
think it must be one or other of the kindly Brooks. You see we know
nobody else hereabout who would trouble to be kind to us.”

“Hey, diddle diddle! You don’t, hey? Well, I guess them folks hain’t
got a monopoly of all the goodness there is in the world!”

“That sounds as if you resented my thinking it was a gift from them!”

“An’ I do, lad, I do. I hain’t a claimin’ no superiority to your ma’s
jedgment when I say that she is old enough to look further than one
family afore she gives up findin’ out.”

“Well, we mustn’t quarrel over it, anyway. Somebody, I do not know who,
has been very, very generous to us; and I am too grateful and happy
to question very deeply into the matter now. It is sure to come out,
sooner or later. So I think, and I shall watch as sharply as I can for
indications of the giver. Hello, Nan! You’re in luck to-day! You’re to
try a brand-new business!”

There was a loud houp-la! and Robert had joined them. “Say, Mr.
Dolloway! Don’t you s’pose my chickens ’ill be out to-day?”

“Humph! I don’t s’pose anything of the sort. But I am so everlasting
tired of hearing about them that I fetched you over a brood already
hatched out. What do ye say to that?”

“Gol--I mean--hurra! Did you? Honest Injun?”

“I ain’t give to makin’ no statements I don’t mean.”

“Where are they?”

“Where’s the place for chickens, anyway?”

Off bounded the delighted lad, but half-way to the poultry-house turned
and ran back again. “Will you come with me, Mr. Dolloway?”

“H’m-m! Well, I guess I’ll get you taught some kind of manners if
I keep on, I really do. In course I’ll come, an’ show you how to
tend ’em. But I’ll tell you, first off, I hain’t goin’ to have any
tomfoolery with ’em.”

“I--I dunno what you mean!”

“You don’t, hey?”

“No,” answered Robert, so honestly that the old man believed him.

“You may not know _now_, you may have forgot; but you knowed yest’day.
What was you a-doin’ with a fish-line in the hen-house, hey?”

“It ain’t your hen-house! I mean--that’s sassy, but--”

“Ha, ha, ha!” chuckled the veteran. “Got caught, hain’t ye? S’posin’ I
tell your ma?”

“Humph! I’d jest as soon tell her myself, only I forgot it. I will, the
first time I remember. Anyhow, it didn’t do no harm!”

“What is it, Mr. Dolloway?” asked the widow, who made it a point
herself to visit the poultry-house immediately after breakfast and see
that the fowls were properly fed, and who now joined them there.

“Hello, Motherkin! I--yest’day--I-- Wull, it didn’t do no harm.”

“’Tain’t so easy as you thought, eh, Bubby?”

“Easy ’nough. Yest’day I had some fun with the hens; that’s all.”

“What kind of fun, Robert?”

“Wull, I had a fish-line, an’ you wouldn’t lemme fish, not fer fish; so
I fished fer hens, that’s all.”

“Fished--for--hens!”

“Yep. My cracky! you’d ’a’ died a laughin’! I put the hook through a
kernel of corn and throwed it to ’em, and they’d gobble at it like
anything! Then I’d pull ’em in; but it mostly came out of their mouths
before I landed ’em.”

“Robert Beckwith! I can scarcely believe my own ears! How _do_ you
learn such cruelty? It must be born in you, though, for you certainly
never copied it from your elder brother. In all his life I never knew
Roland to wilfully hurt a creature of any kind; but you--”

“Oh, Motherkin! You wouldn’t scold your dear little boy fer a little
thing like that, would you? It didn’t hurt the hens, not a bit.”

“No, no! It didn’t hurt the hens; but why, you shaver?” demanded Mr.
Dolloway, who greatly enjoyed his small tormentor’s predicament, yet
who really was growing very fond of him.

“’Cause a man--he come an’ told me to stop. But I had some more fun
’at he didn’t get onto, afterwards!”

Mrs. Beckwith sighed and dropped upon a bench. There were times when
her “dear little boy” tried her very soul.

“What else did you do?” demanded Mr. Dolloway, sternly.

“A boy come along an’ I asked him in. That’s p’lite, wasn’t it?”

“Robert, you are to invite no visitors without my knowledge.”

“Wull, I won’t again, then. But you hadn’t told me, er I’d forgot. An’
he showed me how to put ’em to sleep. You just take a hen er a chicken
an’ put its head under its wing fer it, an’ shake it up lively--side to
side, like, a keepin’ its head tight under--an’ you can stan’ ’em up in
reg’lar rows. When I get a lot I’m goin’ to make ’em play soldier, that
way. Soldiers asleep, though, they’d be, wouldn’t they?”

“You’ll do nothing of the kind with any of my hens an’ chickens!”
exclaimed Mr. Dolloway, hotly, and picking up the basket which
contained the family of fluffy little creatures he had brought for a
gift, he started toward the door.

“Please, Mr. Dolloway! I’ll be good! I’ll be as good as I can be! Won’t
you leave ’em?”

Mrs. Beckwith knew how one feels to have a gift returned upon one’s
hands, and she quietly interposed: “Yes, Mr. Dolloway, please consider
the matter for a moment. I assure you that I had no idea my boy was
torturing the poor creatures committed to his charge, and I have always
overlooked their feeding for myself. But, after hearing what I have
just now, only one course is left to me. I now take the poultry away
from Robert altogether. He will be allowed no further connection with
this business; but if you can trust _me_ with your pretty present, I
will do my best to rear the chickens safely. Until a boy learns the
first simple rule of ‘doing as he would be done by,’ he is unfit for
any post of honor.”

“That is spoke like a lady, as I always found you, Mrs. Beckwith; an’ I
think myself ’at Bobby is too young to be let have sech full swing, an’
it’ll do me proud to leave the brood to you.” Saying which, the kind,
if gruff old fellow bowed profoundly to the lady, but cast a withering
glance upon his worsted foe.

“Mother, Mother! do you mean it? Ain’t I no hen-keeper no more?”

“No, my dear; and it is your own fault that this is so.”



CHAPTER XIX.

ROBERT’S HAPPY GUESS.


“Only six weeks at The Lindens and I feel as if it had been home
forever!” cried Bonny, returning from her day of service in Mr. Brook’s
study. “The old life in that Second Avenue flat seems like a dream.”

“That is the result of your busy life, my dear; and I am most sincerely
thankful that our venture here does not really lose its charm for us,
as time passes. We are all happier than Isabelle, though; and I regret
her feeling more than I can say.”

“She’s trying ever so hard to be contented, Motherkin, and I hoped she
was succeeding.”

“She will succeed. No honest effort ever failed of a certain success.
She may never be as happy here as we are, however, for her nature
is different. She craves luxuries and refinements which we could do
without. I wish I could control them for her!” And Mrs. Beckwith sighed
gently.

“Now, dearie, don’t go for to yearn for the moon. Be satisfied that so
many of your brood are doing well, and maybe Isabelle will work out her
own contentment some way. Oh! before I forget it and get bee-stung to
the exclusion of other thoughts, Miss Joanna is to give a dinner-party
to-morrow. She handed me the invitation for you and Belle yesterday,
and I didn’t think to take it out of my pocket last night. You see, the
bees were swarming, and that was all I wanted to do then.”

“My dear! and I suppose she expected an acceptance or the reverse this
morning.”

“Yes; but I assured her you would come.”

“You had no right to do that, for I cannot avail myself of her kindness
to this extent.”

“I should like to know why not?”

“Many reasons why not. I do not wish her to feel any compulsion in
social matters, regarding us. We are not rich people, and all of the
Brooks’ guests are. Our especial host and hostess would doubtless enjoy
our coming, as they always seem to do, but I should not enjoy putting
myself upon a false standing. My self-respect would not permit; though
I will write a note at once, and one of you must take it across fields
to Miss Brook.” Mrs. Beckwith rose as she spoke, and Beatrice hastened
to clasp her mother’s waist with restraining arms.

“Please, Motherkin, I haven’t finished my story; I had only begun.
You know it takes forty times as many words for me to tell a thing in
as for anybody else. Miss Joanna foresaw just this behavior on your
part, Motherkin darling, so she was forearmed. She says she shall take
it as positively unneighborly if you do not come. She wishes you to
meet these ‘old families,’ folks who have been aristocrats so long
that they have forgotten how to be snobbish, if they ever knew. You
will enjoy them, and they you. Our friends were very, very emphatic
in their urgency. But that isn’t all; she wanted to know if I thought
Isabelle would come over to-morrow early, and arrange her rooms for
her. She says she has watched Belle, and everything she touches takes
on a different look from what anybody else can give it. Of course,
the old furniture is not to be disturbed. Miss Brook would as soon
think of laying aside her own gray gown as banishing one stick of
that venerable, upholstered stuff. But it’s flowers and things; some
new pictures, and--Motherkin! such a surprise! I’m not going to tell
you--not even Miss Brook knows--but I hope with all the hope that is in
me that my sister will not refuse to go.”

“Certainly she will not refuse to do so simple a neighborly act for
Miss Brook. The dining there is another matter.”

“All right; if she’ll only go the first time, in the morning, that is
all I ask. The rest will follow; it is positively certain. Will you ask
her?”

“Yes. But are you going to the bees before supper?”

“I must. This is the time of greatest need for watching. Yet I’m tired!
Hard work isn’t all fun, is it, Motherkin? and I’ve worked awfully hard
to-day!”

“More busily than usual?”

“It seems so. Good Mr. Brook does get so interested in his catalogue,
and he is apparently so delighted with my superior merits as a
secretary, that he forgets himself and would keep me writing right
along till midnight, I believe, if it weren’t for dear Miss Joanna or
interfering Mr. Dolloway. By the way, Mother, something is wrong with
that man. He’s offended with the Beckwiths, root and branch. I fancied
it was only his normal condition to be so ‘all-fired’ cross, but Mr.
Brook informed me that he was suffering from a worse attack than
common. He also hinted that we were responsible for it, and mentioned
unappreciated kindness.”

“Why, Beatrice! I thought we had tried to express our gratitude
continually. He is, in truth, very kind, though sometimes a bit
officious, it seems to me. I do not suffer from this officiousness
personally, but it annoys the others, especially Roland. The lad is
trying so hard and is growing so manly and reliable that I can’t bear
to have him fretted. However, I will try to be even more particular in
future to express our obligation. If you are going among the hives now,
call Robert to go with you. He is out of doors somewhere.”

Robert called himself, though, for he appeared at the open doorway with
a very red face and an excited manner. “At it again, Bon! Hurry up an’
get your bee clothes on! I’ve got mine here! I do hope they ain’t a
goin’ to swarm on top of no more trees, anyhow!”

“I thought you liked the danger of climbing to the top, Lieutenant!”
returned Bonny, hastily donning her veil and gloves, and taking her
long-handled net in her hand.

Robert also put on his protectors, in his haste getting the hat wrong
side to the fore, and trying to wear the thumb of his glove on the back
of his hand; but such trifling irregularities as these were nothing to
him, and he followed his sister hastily.

“Alas! They aren’t going to light! And we’ve nothing to do but walk
around after them and await their good pleasure!” cried Bonny, in
disgust, after a half-hour’s loss of time.

“Pooh! I hate bees, anyway! An’ I guess I’ll give up the business!”

“‘Humpty-Dumpty’! Leave poor Bonny all alone?”

“Wull, wull, a body can’t work hisself to death, can he? Here I have
to go ridin’ round all every other day with the ’spress wagon. Roland
thinks he can’t get nothin’ done if I don’t go to hold the horse an’
pick up parcels, an’--an’--I’ll quit.”

“Pooh! your own self. You couldn’t be hired to let that cart go out of
the grounds without your small highness perched up in front. And if I
had nothing to do but drive around the country three times a week and
a little studying on the off days, I should think I was a lucky boy.
Besides-- There they go! Up with you! Softly, now! Oh dear! I wish
I could climb as fast as you, and had as great a gift with bugs and
things!” cried the sister, enviously.

Robert paused half-way up the trunk of the tree he was ascending, and
cast an inquiring glance Bonnyward, but, seeing that she was really
sincere in her admiration, he condescended to proceed on his way. At
last, in the “bee business” there did appear to be a fitting field for
the restless boy’s energy. Thus far he had been very faithful to his
part of the work, the watching over the apiary--as they called their
few hives of bees--during Beatrice’s absence at Mr. Brook’s; and the
lesson he had learned by having his poultry taken away from him seemed
fruitful of good results.

It was an hour later that the two young apiarists entered the
dining-room and sat down to the delayed supper for which their
appetites had been ready long before.

“Why, Motherkin! Strawberries? Where did you get them?”

“A gift, my dears! I saved them till you two came in, that we might eat
them all together. Another gift from the generous, gruff Mr. Dolloway.
He offered them in the oddest way. Said he had been to Newburgh to
order some things for Miss Joanna, which could not be left for Roland’s
trip to-morrow, and saw these early berries in the market. He ‘didn’t
know why we shouldn’t eat strawberries early in the season as well as
anybody else!’ and more to the same point. I wish I knew what was the
matter with him, and he must indeed be very fond of some of us, if he
continues to lavish kindnesses upon us, even while he believes he has
reason to be offended. The strange, poor old man!”

They had none of them perceived a face looking in at the open window,
for the lighted lamp upon their table left them illuminated while
causing the world outside the window to remain in darkness; but,
finally, a scraping Ahem! brought every glance about, and Robert paused
with a spoonful of berries half raised toward his mouth.

“Hello! Who’s there? Oh! Dolloway--Mr. Dolloway, I mean--what you doin’
scarin’ folks that way?”

“Hearin’ my neighbors’ honest opinion of me.”

There was an awkward silence, which Mrs. Beckwith broke by saying
gently: “You could not have heard anything inimical to you, Mr.
Dolloway, though you must have learned our perplexity. Please come in,
and share the feast you have so generously provided us. But, what is
far more my desire, please explain frankly in what we have hurt your
feelings or seemed ungrateful for all your neighborliness. Will you
not?”

The old servant--for such he considered himself still, though he was
treated quite as an equal by nearly all who knew him--rarely refused
a request of Mrs. Beckwith. He had come intending to sit an hour in
that cheery “peace-room,” and though he had been momentarily angered by
hearing himself the subject of discussion, he now swallowed his pique
and entered.

Robert jumped down from the table and ran with a dish of the fragrant
fruit to the visitor, but was waved grimly away. “No, I don’t give
things an’ then come an’ eat ’em up.” Nor could any persuasions prevail
upon him to change his mind.

In almost any other household the situation would have been highly
uncomfortable; for, as Belle fancied, Mr. Dolloway sat jealously
watching every morsel vanish, and looking as if he had conferred an
everlasting obligation upon them all; but they were too really sincere
in their liking for the odd old man and too busily occupied with their
own interests to pay really much attention to this.

Suddenly the guest demanded, “Goin’ parcellin’ to-morrow, young man?”

“Yes, sir; I expect to do so.”

“H’m-m! Like the wagon, I s’pose?”

“I do like it very much. It is perfect for my business, so light and
yet so strong; and the canvas cover makes such a good shelter from
rain in case of these sudden showers.”

“H’m-m!” said Mr. Dolloway, gruffly, “h’m-m!”

Robert, having devoured all that he could find, now concluded that he
was satisfied with his supper, and leaving his place crossed over to
the lounge and perched himself beside Mr. Dolloway. “Say, I bet _you_
know who give us that wagon!”

The old fellow fairly jumped. “What’s that you say? What’s that?”

“I said I just bet a sixpence you know who give it to us! I--Ginger!
I--Mr. Dolloway--didn’t _you_ do it yourself?”

One could certainly have heard a pin drop, in the silence which
succeeded this question. Then the guest cried sharply, “What makes you
so much quicker witted than the rest o’ your folks?”

“Mr. Dolloway! Is it possible? Has Robert really guessed the truth?”
asked Roland, hurrying to the old man’s side.

“I hain’t nothin’ to say. I hain’t a single thing to say.”

“Just yes or no? Please, just yes or no!”

“Well, s’posin’ I do. What better off will you all be then?”

“This much better, that we shall at length have a chance to thank the
real donor. I have tried again and again to make Mr. Brook acknowledge
that he was our benefactor, but in that respect he has as steadily
denied the charge. But he, too, has intimated that we ought to know who
had been good to us. And--I never thought of you! I-- _Is_ it you, Mr.
Dolloway?”

Queer old man! All the anger and gruffness disappeared from his manner
instantly. His spare face softened and grew genial, his eyes beamed,
his smile became cheery. Still, not until Robert had climbed upon his
lap and with eager arms clasped about his neck had declared positively,
“I know it’s you just the same’s if I saw you, you can’t fool me any
longer!” did the truth out.

“Well, I thought it was a pity, seein’ you young folks so smart and
ambitious, that you didn’t have more of a lift. I know it ain’t my
master’s way to give things outright. He says folks don’t gen’ally like
it; but if I give I give, an’ that’s all they is to it.”

“But, dear Mr. Dolloway, why did you so mislead us? You said you had
never seen that wagon before you came over here the morning when we
found it!”

“An’ I told you the gospel truth. I never had.”

“But you did give it to us?”

“I--I--s’pose I did, seein’ as you ask me square.”

The delayed thanks were now offered with double earnestness, and each
word of gratitude was balm to the wounded spirit of the lonely old man.

“I s’pose you think it queer o’ me, ma’am, to have showed so much
feelin’ ’bout a trifle like that. But I don’t lay no claim to
perfection. I like to give things, but--I like to be thanked for ’em
when I do. I s’pose that’s carnal human natur’, but it’s the truth. An’
I did enjoy the surprise of you all, a plaguy sight; but when you got
to thinkin’, an’ nothin’ didn’t seem to alter the notion ’at nobody
’ceptin’ Mr. Brook or his sister could do a generous action, I was mad.
I ain’t nobody but a servin’-man, an’ I don’t make no pretence. But
I am what I am, in the right place, or the Lord wouldn’t ’a’ put me
there. An’ ’cause I am a servant don’t hender my givin’ a present, now
and again, if I want to, does it?”

“In one way--no. But, my dear sir, I feel as if this were too rich a
gift. You may have let your generosity silence your prudence. Ought
you to do so much for us? I hope you understand I mean this just as
gratefully.”

“I do understand you, ma’am. An’ I will say that I never met a lady
as was as considerate of the feelin’s of others as you be. Not even
exceptin’ Miss Brook, as is a lady every inch of her. But you needn’t
worry about the cost of that wagon. It didn’t take but one month’s
wages to pay for it. A pity I couldn’t do that much for old Mr.
Conrad’s sake. Though he was young Mr. Conrad when I knew him; and
many’s the bout we all have had together,--Master and him an’ me.
‘Waive formality for once,’ Master’d say; an’ down we’d sit to as big
a dinner as the city of New York could furnish. You see fellows that
was Forty-Niners together did get a little mixed up as to who was boss
and who wasn’t when they got to talkin’ over old times. Nothin’ like a
‘Vigilance Committee’ to take the nonsense out o’ folks, I tell you!”

Once started on his Californian reminiscences, experience had taught
them that Mr. Dolloway rarely left the theme till actually forced to
do so; and Bonny, foreseeing an extra dose of “California” coming now,
interrupted the discussion promptly. “Who did buy the wagon if you did
not?”

“Mr. Brook, Mr. Brook himself. I didn’t like to trust his judgment in
the matter, but I had to. I had the rheumatiz that day, an’ he was
goin’ into town, so he selected it. Then the wagon-makers fixed it up
fresh and sent it down. It was a brand-new one, though. It wasn’t none
of your ‘second hands.’ Was you a-thinkin’ it was?”

“We did not think so for a minute. We knew it must be a new one.”

“An’ business is fa’rly successful, ain’t it?”

“I think it is splendid. I am earning about three dollars a trip now,
clear profit; and I think I shall do still better later in the season,
when more of the city people get out here to their country homes.
You see, I flatter myself that I know how to do an errand well. I
try to be exact, and I know--of two things--which seems the newer or
better. I owe that to my late city training. Yes, I shall build up
a really profitable business, soon. Then I sell already a good many
early vegetables. I have sold all of one crop of pease, and have the
second one coming on. It is ‘the early bird catches the worm’ in the
green-grocer or market-gardener business, in truth. By and by, when the
people get their own gardens growing, my stock may have to go begging
for a purchaser.”

“Humph! Then I suppose you’ll let us have at least a smell of the
pease-pods!” exclaimed Bonny, laughing. “So far, I assure you, Mr.
Dolloway, the enjoyment _we_ have had in our ‘early vegetables’ has
been the satisfaction of seeing them grow. But I have been more
generous. I have given the family enough honey to make each member of
it sick!”

“Which was a long look ahead, my friend! Because the family appetite is
now cloyed, and honey may be left safely anywhere about without fear of
its diminishing in quantity.”

Mr. Dolloway laughed as heartily as the others, and, having stayed long
enough to “beat that young whipper-snapper of a Robert terribly” over
a game of checkers, departed homeward, in high good humor with himself
and all the world.

“How funny! If I had given anybody a surprise gift I don’t believe I’d
be angry if it proved the surprise!” exclaimed Roland, as he closed the
windows for the night.

“Don’t be too sure, my son. Almost everybody likes to be thanked for
kindnesses conferred, and Mr. Dolloway is an old man, to whom all
events are now great ones. The thing which worries me is his using his
money, he a wage-earner himself, for us. It doesn’t seem right.”

“Don’t worry about that, Motherkin. I have heard Mr. Brook say
that his ‘man’ has several thousand dollars in the bank. You see he
gets forty dollars a month, and his ‘keep.’ Besides that he has his
clothing given him, and he has no relatives of whom he knows. I think
my employer told me these facts, in view of our feeling just this way
about the wagon. It really will not hurt Mr. Dolloway to use some of
his money, for they will always take care of him, anyway.”

“Well, it must rest as it is for the present. Only let each be
carefully polite and attentive to the poor old fellow, that he may
fully understand we do appreciate our obligations to him.”

“Yes, Motherkin. But there’s somebody else who, I fancy, is deserving
of some gratitude,--Mr. ‘Humpty-Dumpty’! But for his brightness we
should still be at odds with our humble patron! All in favor of
thanking the Lieutenant of the Bee Squad, say, Aye!”

“Aye!” “Aye!”

“Yes, really, thank you, my little boy.”

“Don’t mention it!” returned Robert, with a complete imitation of
grown-ups and with his own inimitable little swagger.

Whereupon everybody laughed again, and Bonny moved the piano-stool into
place for her mother’s use.

“Belle, I always like to have something nice to go to sleep on,--to
think of, I mean, the last thing at night; so I want you to hear. You
are to go over to Miss Brook’s in the morning; and you are going to be
the very proudest, most delighted young woman in Orange County!”

So cried Bonny, tiptoeing into her sister’s room late that night, and
rousing that tired maiden from her first nap.

“Why, Beatrice! I was asleep. Haven’t you been in bed yet?”

“No; I was doing some bee sums. If one hive of bees--”

“Oh! I protest!”

“If all the other members of the family are happy bread-winners and
money-getters, why shouldn’t the ‘belle’ of the family be one, too?
Answer to that conundrum in the morning at the residence of Miss Joanna
Brook, spinster.”



CHAPTER XX.

WISTARIA.


“What a fine, substantial, aristocratic-looking old place it is!”

Isabelle’s thoughts, as she moved slowly up the long driveway to the
Brook mansion, were almost envious. She had come across fields to
fulfil the neighborly office which Miss Joanna had begged, and she
had attached little importance to Bonny’s prophecy of a “delightful
surprise” awaiting her.

Indeed, what would have made Beatrice extravagantly happy would have
scarcely appealed to Isabelle at all. The elder girl was fighting
valiantly to “down discontent,” but so far her efforts had not been
crowned with marked success. To accept the simple life which God had
ordered for her was a bitter trial. She was not the first who has
imagined it would “be easy to do just right if--” in some other way one
could arrange one’s life.

“Why couldn’t I have been born in such a home? Why need my mother toil
as she does? And Roland, Bonny, even little Bob, has to think each day
how best to increase the family income; while these old people, at the
very end of life, have ten thousand times more than they can use or
enjoy.”

It was, indeed, a “fine old place,” rich with the accumulations of
nearly a century of ownership by the same, always wealthy family. It
stood “four square to all the winds that blew,” its back and front
so exactly alike that it could not be said to put its “finest to the
world.” On either end, immense fluted columns rose to the roof, which,
extending over the wide veranda thus formed, gave protection to those
who would enjoy these “out-of-door rooms.”

The east veranda looked toward the river, the west upon the tree-lined
avenue which led from the road, a quarter of a mile distant, through
the park to the mansion. On either side, also, were gay parterres of
choicest flowers, while a “maze” of old-time box borders invited the
curious to tread its quaintly constructed paths for a full mile of
windings in and out, before one could emerge on the northern side, and
upon a well-kept bridle-road, which led through the great forest on
the bluff, down its sides to the river, the old “embankments” and the
well-preserved historic reminders of a day when the Chidly Brooks “had
fought and bled for freedom’s cause.”

The stables and outbuildings were well to the south of the mansion, and
on that side were also the kitchen offices, which in this well-ordered
establishment were as freely open to inspection as any other part of
Miss Joanna’s “kingdom.”

“Ah! my dear! It is good of you to come so early! That is exactly what
I like: plenty of time to do things neatly and completely.”

“But, dear Miss Brook! you are so quick and active I should think you
would not ever take much time for anything! You are certainly twice as
spry as I am!” responded Isabelle, surprised from her revery by the
salutation of her white-haired neighbor.

“I don’t know about that! I don’t know about that! I do know that the
only way of making haste which I understand is to take such thought
beforehand that I rarely make one blundering movement. I have never
had time, even in my long life, to ‘hurry,’ but I have managed to
accomplish about all I have set out to do.”

“And I do try to ‘hurry,’ but never succeed! I am slow-motioned--a
dreamer, my mother tells me; and once in a while I get so behind-hand
that I put on steam and then--a smash up!”

“Give it up, my child, give it up at once. Learn to use forethought
instead of haste and you’ll be thankful all your life for doing so.
But, dearie me! how old lips do love to preach, and how distasteful it
is to young ears to listen! No, no, my child. I do not think you are
impatient. It is only that I remember so distinctly how I disliked to
learn of anybody in this world--except Joanna Brook! But come in, come
in. I have as many of these May roses as I think we can use. The others
we will cut after these are in place. Did you ever see this earth more
lovely than it is this very morning? Oh, what a God! what a loving,
generous God!”

Isabelle looked up swiftly into the sweet old face before her. She
was sometimes startled by these sudden outbursts of feeling on Miss
Joanna’s part; a person who ordinarily never “preached,” but who seemed
so full to overflowing of the love of God that her natural speech
became, at times, as the speech of an alien.

“I suppose He is,” answered the girl, slowly.

Miss Brook darted a glance into the beautiful face of the girl, and
opened her lips quickly; but the words she would have said she altered
to the quiet remark: “If you do not know, but only ‘suppose,’ you will
know some day. You would know now if it were His will. But come in.
Let us begin at the front parlor first.”

They ascended the steps and entered the great hall, which ran through
the main floor of the house from back to front. Each entrance door
stood widely open, and the outlook either way was entrancing. Isabelle
forgot to be regretful for her own privations in the enjoyment of that
scene.

“How lovely! This would make such a pretty picture, if one might put it
on canvas. This great hall, with the curious staircase, the old-time
furniture, and that big, hospitable vista beyond! May I sketch it
sometime, Miss Joanna?”

“Yes, indeed! And we would feel honored. Ah! those old outside
galleries,--galleries we called them, when I was young,--many’s the
cotillon has been danced upon them, many the tea-party gathered there.
See this table! It is a century and a half old. It is only about four
feet in diameter, yet eighteen people have gathered about that bit of
mahogany to drink a cup of tea, when tea was tea, my dear! These are
the cups; they were my grandmother’s. See?”

The old lady stepped to a cabinet and took out a tiny cup and saucer of
delicate china, thin as an egg-shell and no larger than the smaller
end of one. “I often sit and muse over those old times. I can imagine
the whole scene so well, and sometimes I almost find myself talking
gossip with the dead-and-gone dames who drank to the success of ‘the
army’ in these same bits of cups. I must show you my grandmother’s
gowns and things some day, my dear; I think you would enjoy seeing
them, even trying them on, if you like. Eh?”

A moment’s thought flashed through Isabelle’s brain. Here were artistic
possibilities open to her that the city could not have furnished, and
her discontent vanished entirely. “I should be very grateful, dear
Miss Brook! It would be a treasure-trove to me! But sometime, after
I have worked very, very faithfully to do better things than I ever
have accomplished, will you sit to me for a sketch? It sounds like the
greatest presumption, yet would you?”

“Would I? Would I not? I should be delighted! Make a trial right away,
to-morrow if you can. I should love to give a new picture of myself to
Chidly. The last one I had painted was when I was middle-aged, in ‘my
prime’ some flatterers said, ‘neither hay nor grass,’ _I_ said. I had
outgrown the dimples of youth and I had not acquired the finish of
age. I’m in my prime now, I fancy, as near as I ever shall be until God
sends Azrael to lay the touch of perfect peace upon my restless lips.”

[Illustration: “THERE WAS NO ANSWER, AND MISS JOANNA TURNED ABOUT
SWIFTLY.”]

She led the way without another word into the wide eastern
drawing-room, and threw open the shutters to let in the morning
sunshine.

“Here you are, my child, free to do exactly as you please. Make the
rooms as pretty as you can, and I begin with this first, because it
is chief. You can call for one of the men to cut as many flowers as
you like. The bushes and trees are loaded with blossoms now. And,
oh! here is something you will like, at least I hope so. A gift from
the daughter of a dear old friend, herself as noble a woman as ever
drew breath though she couldn’t help be that, with such a mother! The
girl--dear me! she’s fifty, if a day, but a girl to me always!--this
girl is manager of one of the art rooms in the city, and she brought me
this for a birthday gift from there. Isn’t it pretty?”

There was no answer, and Miss Joanna turned about swiftly. She was a
woman who liked others to share her enthusiasms.

Isabelle was straining with clasped hands and parted lips, gazing
amazedly upon a threefold screen shielding the hearthplace. The
panels bore each a female figure, but the central one was that which
had engrossed the young artist’s attention to the exclusion of the
others; and its design was a golden-haired child in a delicate drapery
of heliotrope tint reaching upward to pull the bunches of wistaria
blooms from a vine wreathed above her head. The scheme of the coloring,
even to the framing of the screen, was of heliotrope and gold, and the
effect was of indescribable light and joy.

“Ah! I see you like it! We think it is beautiful, beautiful! and my
friend says that though they do not know the artist’s name now, the Art
Directors will make every effort to hunt her up and help her on; for I
suppose it must be a woman, since this is a Women’s Society.”

Still Isabelle did not speak, her words seemed utterly to have deserted
her; but there was one at hand who was never at a loss for language,
and with a rush and whirl Beatrice came waltzing into the great room,
her eyes dancing as gayly as her feet, and her lips bubbling over with
laughter.

“Oh! I couldn’t stand it any longer! I thought I should just burst with
impatience, so I told Mr. Brook he would have to excuse me a minute,
whether or no, and here I am! Now, Miss Isabelle Beckwith, what have
you to say for yourself? Didn’t I have a surprise for you, and isn’t it
just too glorious to be true?”

“I--I can’t believe it! Even yet!”

“Well, I should like to know what has come over you two children!”
exclaimed Miss Joanna, utterly at sea for an explanation of this odd
behavior.

Bonny stopped dancing, went up to her sister, threw her arms
impulsively about Isabelle’s neck, and kissed her heartily. Then she
asked, “Shall I tell her, or will you, dear?”

Belle blushed a little, but her eyes shone with pride as she turned
toward Miss Brook. “Since I have heard your opinion of the panel when
you did not know who painted it, I suppose I may tell you that your
words made me very proud. That ‘Wistaria’ is my own work.”

“My goodness! Is it possible! And to think that I never dreamed it! Yet
why should I? The only signature anywhere about the picture is a blade
of grass in one corner.”

“Yes,” laughed Isabelle, now as gay as she had been speechless before,
“that was the only one I dared use. I am such a mere beginner in art,
that I feel as if I really know nothing yet! Only I feel it within
me--strong, strong, strong!--that I shall sometime be able to put a
little of myself, my dreams and ambitions, into visible form! Oh! I am
so grateful and so humble. I am ready now, dear Miss Joanna, to say
with you, ‘God is so loving, so generous!’”

There was silence in the room for a moment, during which Bonny’s dark
eyes filled with an unwonted moisture; and rather than “sprinkle down
the occasion” she stole quietly away and to her own duty in that
big study, where natural history and she had such a tussle daily
to understand each other, but where a growing friendship had been
established between them under the wise instruction of Philipse Chidly
Brook, Esquire.

Beatrice’s departure broke the spell, and Miss Joanna moved swiftly
forward and clasped the trembling, success-humbled Isabelle in her
kindly arms. “Ah! my dear, if you can take your good fortune in such
guise, all things will be possible to you. I envy you; yes, even if
it is wicked! The feeling in your heart at this moment must be so
exquisite! To be conscious of one’s own power to transcribe a little
of this wonderful beauty all about us so that other eyes may read its
secret too, and to be assured that the dear God is approving by helping
one as He has helped you now, must be happiness indeed! My darling, I
congratulate you with all my heart!”

Belle looked up with glistening eyes. Where was now the envy that had
tormented her soul as she had approached that house but a few moments
before? Gone utterly. For ten times the wealth and pride of all the
Brooks who ever lived in those stately old rooms she would not have
given up one iota of the pure joy which now thrilled her heart.

“Dear lady, a bit of a while ago it was I who was envious. Now I
wouldn’t change places with you for the world! But, dear me! how horrid
that sounds!”

“No, no, no. Let it stand! You are like a young queen who has known
all along that her blood was royal, but whom the world has not
acknowledged. Now you are free to enter into your kingdom. In the name
of the people, welcome! See to it, crowned one, that you always, as
now, reverence your high estate!”

Miss Joanna kissed the girl gently on her white brow, then moved
quietly away; and Isabelle looked after her wonderingly. “I did not
dream that she had all that romance and fine feeling in her alert,
practical nature! Well, I shall know a new Miss Joanna now, and love
her dearly, dearly! But I came over here to work, not to dream; and
though I am so glad I can hardly keep still, I will do, exactly as
Motherkin would bid me, ‘the task that lies nearest the best that I
can.’”

Certainly no rooms were ever arranged with more loving delicacy of
touch and judgment than were these old parlors for Miss Brook’s
dinner-party; and when all was finished and Isabelle free at length to
go home, she approached her old friend with something of timidity in
her air.

“Miss Joanna, may I speak with you a moment?”

“An hour, if you will. It would take all that to express my pleasure in
everything, yourself included, if I were to try to put it into words.”

“Then will you understand me exactly, when I say, something, maybe
queer--”

“My dear, we have taken a peep each into the other’s soul this morning.
I am certain there will be no misunderstanding. You may say all you
wish.”

But even wise Miss Brook was not wholly prepared for what was
forthcoming, though secretly rejoiced at it.

“Well, you see, all of us, except myself, have some way of earning
money; there does not seem to be anything especial I can do, unless--
This arranging your rooms has put an idea into my head. Do you think
some of the other rich families about here, the ‘summer folks’ and all,
would give me an opportunity to help them get ready for their social
gatherings, as I have done for you? I want, this is what you must
certainly understand, I want to always fix your things if you will let
me, because it is the only way I can show-- No, that isn’t it! Because
I love you! You have from the first seemed to like me, and I have been
so glad of it. Bonny is so bright, and Roland so manly and good, and
little Bob so--”

“The least said about little Bob the better!” cried the old lady,
smiling so brightly that Isabelle was quite reassured. “We all love the
little scamp who teases the patience out of us a dozen times a day.”

“But for these other people, if I--who do understand the value of
beautiful things, even if I don’t own them--could take care of their
bric-à-brac, put their apartments in order after the maids have done
their sweepings, and as I imagine few servants are trained to do, at a
small price per hour, I should be very glad to do it.”

Miss Brook put on her spectacles and looked fixedly at her young
neighbor. “My dear, they said you were the proud one of the family.”

“So I am.”

“And yet you realize what you are asking?”

“Perfectly. It will be putting myself in a servant’s place.”

“I fancied you were even a little ashamed to have your brother drive
the ‘Parcel Express.’”

“I was ashamed of everything.”

“Well!”

“Now I am only ashamed of myself, ashamed of the ignoble shame I felt
then.”

“But the artist in you? Will you not be coining money by that talent
soon?”

“I think not. Those who do the best work are the least appreciated for
a while. It has been so in so many lives of real artists. No, indeed,
I am not dazzled by the sale of one panel! ‘One swallow doesn’t make a
summer.’ And if I can earn money in some other way, I can--I can keep
my soul clean. I need never earn ‘pot-boilers’ by a desecration of what
little power I possess, but I can always keep that channel to expand
in. Does that sound very presumptuous and conceited in me?”

“It sounds as I wish thousands of other workers felt. We should have
truer pictures, finer statues, loftier literature, if the greed for
money were kept out of the question. You are right. Roland is right. If
he is a poet, he will not be debarred his privilege to sing because he
ploughs the field or drives the ‘Parcel Express.’ If you are an artist,
you will work out your beautiful conception none the less because you
have to live in industry, not idleness. My child, I shall always call
upon you to help me gratuitously; but you shall help my neighbors at
the rate of thirty cents an hour! Do I understand you, think?”

Isabelle gave a quick, warm embrace to the kind creature beside her,
and, her task being done, escaped before she betrayed herself into any
more sentiment.

It was a very different girl who bounded homewards over the sun-dried
grass than she who had moved wearily, almost despondently, along the
regular paths a few hours before, and her heart rejoiced at sight of
her mother’s face watching for her from the kitchen door.

“Ah! the dear Motherkin! I can hardly wait to tell her. She will be as
glad, almost more glad than I!”

But what is that? At first sight of her daughter’s form approaching
The Lindens, Mrs. Beckwith had hurried forward, waving a strip of
paper above her head. She seemed quite as excited and eager as Isabelle
herself; and as soon as they had come within hailing distance, two
shouts crossed each other on the sun-lighted air.

“My daughter, good news, good news! A check--for you!”

“Oh, Motherkin! I was never so happy in my life!”



CHAPTER XXI.

THREE YEARS LATER.--THE RESULT.


Three years have passed since Isabelle ran gayly over the fields to
greet her mother and to receive the first money she had ever earned in
her life.

The little check made out in her mother’s name for “the unknown painter
of the Wistaria panel” had been used to supply its possessor with an
assortment of the best dusters, brushes, and chamois appliances for the
care of bric-à-brac and articles of virtu, and the balance had been
expended in colors and canvases.

Miss Joanna had been as good as her word. The dinner-party had been a
complete success, with Mrs. Beckwith and her elder daughter among the
guests, and with no end of admiring phrases concerning the graceful
decorations of the old house falling upon the decorator’s grateful
ears. Whereupon Miss Brook had started the ball rolling in a quiet
way, and within a few days Isabelle had already been called upon
three times to “help” some distracted hostess prepare for a social
entertainment.

Those who called upon her once, invariably did so the second time; and
before the end of her “first season,” as Bonny teasingly called her
sister’s early experiments, Miss Beckwith had become the fashion, but,
fortunately, a “fashion” so thoroughly useful and agreeable that she
was destined to outlive the common existence of “fads” and to be looked
upon as a necessity in New Windsor festivities.

Now three years had slipped away. “Almost imperceptibly, isn’t it,
Motherkin? We have been, we always are, so busy that it doesn’t seem
any time from one spring to another;” and there was to be a little
dinner-party at The Lindens itself.

“The list of guests is a short one, but big enough to cover our dearest
friends, after all; and that’s all a body, a work-a-day body, wants of
any company. If we hadn’t ‘waived formality for once’ and invited Mr.
Dolloway to dine with his ‘betters,’ we should have had an odd number
at table, and if there’s anything I dislike it is a lop-sided table.”

“Come, Beatrice! No trespassing on my preserves! I am the judge of what
a table should be, and if our third guest had proved as ‘contrary’
as I fully expected, I was going to crown my eighth chair with laurel
and set it up to the ‘Success of The Lindens and the Family Industry!’
However, I’d rather see a happy human face at the table’s foot than
any laurel wreath; and there they all come!” As she spoke, Isabelle
gave a satisfied glance about the “peace-room,” and the banquet therein
prepared.

“I don’t wonder you’re proud, Belle! Every dish of which we shall
partake has been prepared by your own fingers, as well as almost all
the lovely things in this room, except, of course, my masterpiece of
honey. The Bees, the Lieutenant, and your Humble Servant claim credit
for that golden pyramid! Ah, yes, and the Eggs, and the Chickens,
and the Boned Turkey,--these are the Motherkin’s! But all the rest--
They’re at the door, dear! Come and receive them.”

Arm in arm the sisters passed to the wide porch, and stood there
smiling welcome upon the three aged figures which came slowly up the
driveway.

“Ah, ha, my dears! That’s what I like! A welcome at the open door!
That’s hearty and old-fashioned, and as it should be. Between friends,
my dears, between friends. Of course, in a stately assemblage one must
do as custom dictates. And may I be allowed to pay you both a bit of a
compliment on this happy occasion!”

“Allowed or not, brother Chidly, you are certain to pay it; but they’ll
bear it. They’ll bear it without spoiling by it,” said Miss Joanna,
gayly. “Once in a way it does no harm to tell a girl she’s pretty,
when the beauty is offset, as in our dear ones here, by such good
common-sense. Three years, is it? Three days it almost seems to me!
Time goes so fast when one is old; though I’m not really old yet, am I?
Nor Chidly here, nor Dolloway, who consented, at last, to sit down to
our feast with us. Ah! here’s the Mother!”

At this moment Mrs. Beckwith--one had to look twice to be sure
that this round, plump matron was really the once fragile Mrs.
Beckwith--appeared to add her welcome to her daughters’. She leaned
proudly, as any mother might, upon the arm of a tall, broad-shouldered
youth of twenty, whose upper lip had just become interesting to himself
and an unfailing source of amusement to Mistress Beatrice! But the
air of real manliness, the honest courage and determination of the
bright eyes under the heavy brows, told of a character strong enough
to afford an occasional weakness, even to suspecting a mustache where
mustache there was none.

On the mother’s other side walked Robert, for once separated from
the rifle which had been his latest gift from the adoring Mr.
Dolloway, who declared again and again--and nobody had the heart
to contradict him--that if it had not been for that now historic
“spanking,” administered upon the occasion of his first meeting with
“Humpty-Dumpty,” a valuable citizen would have been lost to the world.

Did “Bob” resent this? Not a bit. He had long since learned to look
upon his old comrade as the most delightful, generous, indulgent person
in existence; and he now forsook his mother to clap Mr. Dolloway upon
the shoulder, exclaiming: “Say, Partner! Why didn’t you take that honey
out of that hive last night? If we’re going to let you share in the
business, you mustn’t expect to shirk, you know.”

“Robert! that is impertinent.”

“Well, I don’t mean it that way. Partner knows. But he told me to go
off and practise shooting at that sardine box on the lane gate-post and
he’d tend to the honey things for Bon. But he didn’t, and _I_ got the
lecture ’stead of _him_.”

“Well,” retorts “the partner,” “I had to watch the way you scored,
didn’t I? If I hadn’t you’d ’a’ claimed more’n I had myself! I wasn’t
going to allow that, you may believe!”

The others exchanged smiles. If there was any among the group who
showed signs of that second childhood which is given to great age,
it was gruff, kindly, honest old John. He did not feel, he rarely
appeared, any older than his young and constant companion. He still
“served” Mr. Brook, but would have been dumfounded had that generous
old “master” actually requested any service; and it was a saying in the
neighborhood that “Dolloway owned the whole Brook household.” Which was
not quite true; though this is true, that Mr. Chidly and Miss Joanna,
feeling profoundly grateful for the wonderful vitality and soundness
of intellect with which a good God and right living had blessed their
own old age, felt also a parental interest and care over the more
restricted powers of this venerable, faithful friend.

“The bees! I haven’t seen the apiary for a week!” exclaimed Mr. Brook.
“If it will not delay our hostess, let us visit that before the busy
workers have retired for the night. I am never tired, never, of
watching these tiny creatures, nor of learning from them. By the way,
Beatrice, that little article of yours on ‘The Mechanism of the Bee’s
Sting’ has just been published in the ‘Magazine of Natural History’ for
this month. Did you know it?”

Bonny made a little grimace, and pointed proudly toward the orderly
city of hives, which now really deserved the name of apiary, and
which had acquired a reputation throughout many States, so that the
“Beckwith” supplies of all sorts of bee-stock were in good demand
among the markets; which was only the beginning of what this ambitious
girl of seventeen hoped to accomplish. “For I will not stop, if I can
possibly help it, till I have earned and saved enough to give my little
brother a college education. The rest of us have had to do without, but
there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have one scholar in the family!”

To which Robert listened with perfect complacency and the reflection
that if he did “go to college he’d be the champion of the football
team, anyhow!”

He bade fair to excel in anything athletic, certainly, and, for Bonny’s
sake, let us hope he will in things scholastic. He did, indeed, stand
at the head of his class at the public school he attended, and his
mathematical powers were excellent. But, at his age, there is no
calculating with exactness what he may prove to be in the years to
come.

As they turned houseward again, after a close inspection of the
well-kept apiary, Mrs. Beckwith slipped an arm about her younger
daughter’s waist. “What is this I hear, dearie? Have you taken to
writing for the press?”

“If I had, Motherkin, I should have had to tell you at once. But it
was this way: Mr. Brook is kind enough to say I can put things quite
clearly on paper, with my little typewriter; and I happened to please
him with some notes I made. So nothing would answer but I must write
them out more fully and let him send them to the magazine he mentioned.
Of course, they wouldn’t refuse to publish anything _he_ sent!
So--that’s all there is to that story! Therefore, little Madam, don’t
lay the flattering unction to your soul that you are the parent of a
literary creature. You are not; only of a common-sense, happy, healthy,
hard-working little girl!”

There was a close pressure of the hand, and Mrs. Beckwith rejoined her
guests. Talk about queens! That little woman, with the soft gray hair
and the loving smile upon her lips, thought that there was never a
human being so rich and so blessed as she.

In five minutes more they were all seated at the well-arranged table,
the sight of which, Miss Joanna declared, “would give even a dyspeptic
an appetite!”

Yet Mr. Brook’s eyes wandered about the apartment curiously. “I never
enter this room but I find something new in it to admire. Joanna, look
behind you, please!”

Miss Brook wheeled swiftly about. What Chidly discovered admirable was
always doubly so to his sister.

“The chrysanthemum tapestry! The dream embodied at last!”

Just as her children wished, there hung upon the wall beside the wide
hearthplace, “where somebody could appreciate it,” the vision Mrs.
Beckwith had seen in Mr. Brook’s basket of chrysanthemums so long ago.

“Until to-day, a secret even from us, for whom she wrought it all!”
cried Isabelle, eagerly. “Isn’t it beautiful? Isn’t it perfect?”

Mr. Dolloway’s opinion had not yet been called for; but he was “the
privileged member” everywhere, and he coolly left the table, putting
on his horn-bowed spectacles as he did so. “Well, Master, I thought I
was right, even without my glasses! But I will say them is the best
picters you an’ Miss Brook has ever had took! Who done ’em?”

“Who could do them, who could use a needle so exquisitely, who in
this world, but our own blessed little mother?” answered Bonny,
enthusiastically.

“The needle! you don’t tell me them faces is _sewed_?”

“Certainly. Every particle of the work is done with a needle,--the
needle of a genius! her children think.”

“An’ I should think they might!” returned the old man, fixing his eyes
solemnly upon Mrs. Beckwith, who had always had his highest veneration,
but who now seemed to have been suddenly lifted off from the common
earth and placed upon a pedestal; and so overwhelmed in thought was he
that he began to eat his dinner without a word, even one “reminiscence”
of his beloved “California.”

“Well, my dears, are you all satisfied, quite satisfied, with our
experiment?” asked Mr. Brook, as they finally grouped about the
fireplace, preparatory to saying good-night. “Three years must have
proved the wisdom of it, seems to me.”

“Indeed, it has, dear friend. We are all well, happy, and I believe
useful. Isabelle has, through her domestic talents,--the very last
she dreamed that she possessed three years ago,--found entrance into
the households of the rich, and has there learned that no amount of
money can give happiness. She has by a despised faculty been enabled to
cultivate her highest; and it is one of the good things we have to tell
you to-night, that her last picture will be hung, ‘on its own merits’
_and on the line!_ at the forthcoming exhibition in the National
Gallery. This coming year she proposes to go into town regularly for
the instruction which she desires, and which her ‘servant wages’ will
pay for. But, Roland, speak for yourself. Mother does not wish to
monopolize the talk.”

“I have nothing to tell, Motherkin, except that I have had a few bits
of verse accepted at the _Criterion_, and am therefore satisfied that
it was a golden opportunity you offered me of coming into the country
and learning to be--a man! And I am grateful for the hard work which
kept me from writing trash till I could write some simple thing the
people would care to hear.”

“An’ I--I have got a hundred dollars in the bank!” cried Robert “the
mercenary,” at which all laughed.

“How about you, my Bonny? Do you regret that the only chance you have
to sing is in the house of God and in your own home?”

“Surely,” exclaimed Miss Joanna, “she cannot regret that! For, if she
did but know it, more people come to church of a Sunday to hear her
rich young voice in her solos than to hear the pastor’s sermon. The one
last Sabbath was heart-moving.”

“The more shame to them, then! And to me that I cannot do better. No, I
regret nothing, save my own limitations. But, like my sister, I think I
will also treat myself to a few lessons this coming year, and try to do
ever so much finer work. Though I shall never sing any more really--out
of my heart and because I can’t help it, you know--than I do now. Nor,
if the chance were offered me, which it won’t be, would I exchange my
life here for that of any _prima-donna_ living!”

“Preemer donners are awful rich, Bonny!” admonished Robert.

“Well, so are you, small sir, if you had sense enough to believe it! So
are we all, I think.”

“Amen!” said Miss Joanna, earnestly.

But Mrs. Beckwith quietly rose and struck a few chords on the well-used
instrument beside her. There was a moment’s hush; then out upon the
gathering twilight floated the first strains of the familiar Doxology.

Bonny led them, but the other voices followed swiftly. Even the
cracked, quavering tenor--that once had been--of old John Dolloway
feared not to yield its tribute of sweet “Praise God!” to Him who had
been, who ever would be, to each and all of them so close a Friend.



TRANSCRIBER’S NOTES:


  Italicized text is surrounded by underscores: _italics_.

  Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.

  Inconsistencies in hyphenation have been standardized.

  Archaic or alternate spelling has been retained from the original.



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