EFFIE, who said her head ached too much for study, was leaning out of the schoolroom window, kicking her toes against the wainscoting, while she waited for Ellen to finish the third declension. “ Do hurry up with your old regibuses, ” she called over her shoulder, and a moment later seized Ellen’s hand and went skipping from the room, much to the relief of weary Miss Dace.
Effie had a suggestion to make: “ Let ’s go down to the back parlor and play house under the sofa.”
“Won’t it make your head ache more? ” Ellen said, faintly polite, for playing house under the sofa was great happiness.
“ No, ” Effie assured her; “ it ’s only those old stupid declensions that make my head ache. Mamma ’s awfully afraid I ’ll overwork; so I always tell her when I think I ’m going to have a headache. Is n’t your grandmother afraid you ’ll overwork? ”
“ No,” Ellen said bitterly.
But for once Effie forgot to be sympathetic. “Oh, Nellie,” she said, “ come look at the idol. Somebody brought it from China for papa.”
Site pulled Ellen across the room, where, in a dim corner, mounted on an ebony pillar, a small bronze Buddha sat on his jade throne. Under oblique and cynical eyebrows, his half-shut, dreaming eyes seemed to stare with strange contempt at the two children.
Ellen caught her breath and made a clutch at Effie’s arm. The dark god was looking, from under those puffed and drooping eyelids, straight at her.
“ Oh, Effie !”
“ Is n’t he ugly? ” Effie inquired calmly. “And he ’s really an idol. He used to be in a temple with lots of little roofs on it, all strung with bells that rung when the wind blew, papa says. And he had things sacrificed to him, —lice and things.”
Ellen made no answer. So much came into her mind — scenes from Little Henry and his Bearer, and various other unpleasant and morbid stories, full of that cheap sentiment which once ministered to childish piety — that she did not find it easy to talk. She said she would not play house under the sofa; and, followed by Effie’s reproaches, went home to think about the god. She was very silent at tea, and she lay awake that night for certainly a quarter of an hour, listening to the rain dripping on the leaves of the woodbine about her window, and thinking of the bronze image with his strange, still smile. She shut her eyes, and fancied the pagoda with its roofs strung with jangling bells; the hot, white sunshine pouring on the dusty streets; the palm-trees standing like great feathers against the sky, and the figures of people wearing their clothing all wrapped about them, like the paper spills she made for lamp-lighters. Her mind was a jumble of terms — palanquins, rupees, coolies, litters — gathered from the India stories of the Lady of the Manor. The Arabian Nights came in, too, and beautiful slaves and cream tarts and roc’s eggs danced through her mind with bewildering interest. But with them all she seemed to see, sitting in the shadows of the temple, with rice and flowers spread before him, and joss-sticks filling the air with heavy fragrance, the dark, squatting figure of the god, smiling cruelly under his tilted eyebrows. She pictured his wonder now at Mr. Temple’s drawing-room, his contempt for the two little girls who had Stood and looked at him that afternoon, his homesickness for his worshipers, his anger because no sacrifices were offered him. And then came a delightful and terrible thought, — a thought which made Ellen say to herself that she was very wicked ! After that she fell asleep, but the thought came back to her the next morning, when she opened her sleepy eyes to the sunshine.
“ He must miss those sacrifices. There wouldn’t be any harm in doing it, —just for fun. And if all those heathen people think it ’s right to sacrifice things to him, why, may be it would be safer to ? ”
More and more delightful did the plan appear of taking some flowers and laying them down in front of him. Yet it was a week before she confided it to Effie.
“Oh, yes, let ’s worship him! ” Effie agreed with enthusiasm.
But Ellen shrank at the word. “Oh, no, that would be wicked; let ’s only pretend.”
It was Saturday afternoon, and there was no one at hand to interfere with the strange rites which the two children began to enact in the back parlor, where, cross-legged upon his jade cushion, the bronze god watched them from under his sleepy eyelids.
It was curious to see the difference in Ellen and Effie as revealed in their relation to their little drama. To Effie, until she grew tired of it, it was a play; to Ellen it was tasting sin, with the subtle, epicurean delight of the artistic temperament.
They made great preparations for their service. They lit the candles in the sconce in the corner where Buddha sat, and then a row of bedroom candles, stolen from the table in the back entry. Ellen made a larkspur wreath, sticking one blue horn into another, until the whole rested in her little palm, a flat, thin crown, just large enough for Buddha’s head. Then she brought a dozen of those dark red and deeply sweet roses whose stems are thick with thorns, and put them in his lap. The cool dusk of the room was pierced by thin lines of sunlight, creeping between the bowed shutters of the west windows, and falling in tremulous pools upon the floor. Each line was so clear in the dusk that Ellen chose to think they were golden barriers to the temple, and she must crawl under them to reach the inner court of worship. She did it, solemnly, her little head touching once or twice the slanting sunbeam above her, so that for a moment her forehead and eyes were glorified; then she dropped down on her knees and looked up into the still, dark face. She forgot that she was “making believe; ” the god became horribly real to her; she felt the sombre mirth of his cruel eyes following her when she stepped back and forth before him, and the desire to propitiate him grew into actual terror. Effie brought some rice and scattered it in front of the image, and watched Ellen bowing and bending and muttering to herself a little pagan prayer which spoke suddenly in her soul,
The perfumes offered some difficulty, but Effie solved it by stealing into her mother’s room and bringing down a long green bottle of cologne, which Ellen, with a lavish hand, sprinkled all about the god.
“We ought to sing, and we ought to have a mat to kneel on, ” she said in a whisper to Effie, who reflected, and then said she would go and get something. A moment or two later she came back with a green crape shawl in her hands.
“ It came from China,” she explained : “ aunty said so. It ’s just the thing.”
Ellen was too absorbed to question the propriety of taking Miss June’s shawl, nor did she notice that she ’was staining the delicate “mat” at her feet when, with solemn gestures, she pressed the bottom of the oil-can from the sewing-machine, so that they might offer a libation of oil. “We must sing to him,” she said, her eyes wide with excitement; but only Christian words suggested themselves to her. “ Heathen god, ” she began, “ you — you — shall —
Doth his successive journeys run ;
Your kingdom stretch from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.’ ”
Ellen’s eyes were vague with the vision of the words. She saw the yellow sun journeying through the silent sky; she saw water, heaving and swelling, gray and misty, lapping the shores of the world; she saw the thin and melancholy moon, curving like a sickle in dun clouds— “wax and wane no more — no more!" — an end of all things — emptiness — darkness —and this dreadful god unmoved and smiling at the desolation! She began to cry, under her breath.
“What is the matter? ” said Effie.
“Hush! ” Ellen whispered. “ He ’ll hear you! ”
She was standing before Buddha, waving her arms over her head, and saying in a voice shaken with feeling the first long words that occurred to her — “Justification — sanctification
— predestination! ” She did not know what they meant, but they were out of the catechism, and so were proper to say to a god.
“What are you talking about? ” demanded Effie. “Let ’s play something else. I ’m tired of this. Besides, I think it’s wicked. Oh, there’s aunty! Hide the shawl.”
But it was too late. Miss Jane came in, kindly curious, to see that the two little girls were having a happy time. The half-burned candles, the roses on Buddha’s lap, the scattered rice, and her own crape shawl, crumpled under Effie’s feet, made her silent for a moment with astonishment.
“ We were playing heathen, ” Effie explained hastily. “ Ellen wanted to.”
“ Where did you get my shawl, children? ” said Miss Jane indignantly.
“ Ellen said we had to have a mat; she put it there. It ’s an ugly old shawl, anyway! ”
Miss Jane had lifted it with anxious hands. “And you have spotted it with something! Oh, Ellen, how could you be so naughty ? ”
“ I ’m so sorry — I — I did n’t know ” — Ellen began to cry.
“ There, my dear! ” said Miss Jane, with remorseful forgiveness. “I didn’t mean to be cross, my child; only — I—I — value it very much. A friend of mine gave it to me,” she tried to comfort the child; “ it is n’t any value in itself, but a friend of mine gave it to me, — a friend whom I have not seen for many years. There, dear, don’t cry; we won’t say anything more about it.” But her voice trembled.
Effie had run away, glad to leave reproof or reproach to Ellen, and glad to escape what the housemaid called “ redding up the mess ” she had helped to make about the idol. As for Ellen, she went home very soberly. The excitement of “making believe ” over, the hideous fact of idolatry presented itself to her mind.
This was the beginning of remorse to Ellen, that most intolerable pain of life. The thought of her sin began to lurk under all innocent pleasures; ready to spring out upon her like some terrible wild beast when she was most unconscious of it, or most forgetful. When she read, or worked, or played, there would come, suddenly, a pang in the breastbone, and the thought of the god.
“Thou shall not make unto thyself any graven image, ” poor little Ellen said to herself again and again; “thou shalt not bow down to it or worship it, ” and then she would follow over and over one line of reasoning which traveled in a circle through justification back to pain.
“ If the heathen think it ’s right to bring rice and flowers, and to pray to him, why, it can’t he wrong for them to do it. So there is no need to confess to grandmother.” She would draw a breath of relief here, and then the stab would come: “But I’m not a heathen! I didn’t think it was right.” The accusation and excuse, repeated and repeated, grooved into the child’s mind. Once she had a shivering glimpse of a possible wreck of all her little faith; a vague, dull pain that grew into the question, “How do we know we are right? We can’t do anything more than think so, and that ’s what the heathen do! ” But this faded almost as soon as it came, with the reassurance, “Oh, yes; the Bible says so, and so does grandmother; ” and so far as faith went she was satisfied, but her sin remained. Once, in a passion of pain, she burst out into confession to Miss Jane, who flushed a little, but said, “Oh, Ellen, dear, never mind ; I took the spots out.”
“ I didn’t mean that,” Ellen whispered, hiding her face on that kind shoulder. “We — we played heathen, you know. ”
“ Well, dear ? ” said Miss Jane cheerfully.
“ Was it — was it — very wicked ? Oh, shall I go to hell ? Will it be visited upon the third and fourth generation? Oh, Miss Jane, will all my children go to hell, too ? ”
Miss Jane drew a breath of silent laughter above the brown little head that pressed against her bosom. “No, dear, no; it was only playing, of course. Why, my little Ellen, don’t cry so.” She stopped Ellen’s tears, but the child knew that Miss Jane had not really understood.
When Miss Jane Temple interrupted the worship of Buddha, she carried the poor little stained shawl upstairs to her bedroom, and then stood and looked at it with eyes that were blurred with tears. It all came back to her, —the night that Mr. Tommy had brought this offering and ventured to ask her acceptance of it. She remembered the look of pride and relief that came into his face when she thanked him and said it was beautiful. How cruel it was that just because she was her brother’s sister she could have called such a look into his face! It cut her to the heart that Mr. Tommy had been afraid of her. It was not fair that he should have been made to feel she did not care for him because she felt herself better than he; it was not right that he should have thought her proud. Proud? Oh, how happy she could have been in those rooms above the apothecary shop, if duty had allowed her to think of her own happiness ! Something like resentment came into Jane Temple’s face. Her brother’s family might have permitted her this one friend. It would not have interfered with her services to them! With a trembling lip, she folded her shawl and laid it back in the bottom drawer of her bureau. She took some rose-geranium leaves from the bunch of flowers on her stand and laid them among its green soft folds.
After this episode of the god, Effie and Ellen were not so intimate for a little while. Ellen’s misgivings lest she had committed the unpardonable sin made her find Effie a less congenial companion, and Effie’s self-congratulation on having escaped the scolding she deserved made her more cautious. But the estrangement did not last very long, and the two children were soon confidential again. Effie told Ellen every possible family matter, and it was remarkable how many family matters she knew. She repeated again, dramatically, the story of Mr. Tommy’s interrupted proposal, although Ellen, with flaming cheeks, protested that she did n’t believe Miss Jane would like it, and she wished Effie would n’t! She was eloquent concerning Dick’s extravagances at college, and how her aunt had given him money to pay his debts, because he did n’t want to tell his father. She commented, too, with the alarming frankness of youth, on her father’s ill-temper. “Yes,” said Effie, “he’s horrid when he’s cross,” and then went on to mention her mother’s jealousy of “anybody papa likes; at least, of any ladies.” she ended calmly, with that peculiar and discriminating discernment which seems to belong to children and servants.
But for the most part the children talked of the hardships of Ellen’s life: that her hair was kept short; that she had to go to bed at half past eight; that she was obliged to do a little sewing everyday, hem a frill or backstitch a long seam. Effie, with fluent use of adjectives, pitied her for all these things, but she pitied her most of all because, on Mondays and Tuesdays, Ellen was obliged to make her own bed, and dust and tidy her little bedroom.
“Well,” cried Effie, when this cruel fact had been revealed to her, “before I ’d be a servant girl! ”
Ellen had never thought of it in that way before; it had only been “helping.” So, at least, she had been told. It had not seemed proper to Mrs. Dale to explain that her real reason for giving the child these little tasks was to teach her that any work was fitting for a lady that could be done with the line, old-fashioned delicacy which the women of Old Chester brought to every duty.
But Effie left no doubt in Ellen’s mind that she had been “ imposed upon, ” and was doing a servant’s work. Once, very soon after her eyes had been opened to this, Ellen confided her wrongs to Lydia, but was met with blank wonder, which she was quick to resent as “airs; ” and the other child’s protest, “If mother thinks it right, Ellen. I guess it is, ” only made her quarrel with Lydia, and “not speak ” for several days. She was alert to discover further “impositions; ” and as such a search is always rewarded, she found many, and was in a chronic state of injured feelings, —a state which expressed itself by sullen looks and neglect of many small and pleasant duties; she grew irritable with the constant effort to “stand up for her rights.” “I don’t know what ’s the matter with our Ellen.’ Betsey sighed, more than once; “she ’s awful good, but she’s that contrary ! ” The “ goodness ” had reference only to Ellen’s devotions, which at this time were very marked. Betsey had never been obliged to wait so long with the bedroom candle while Ellen said her prayers. This was partly for the relief of complaining to her Maker; partly because she knew she was not behaving well, and was constrained to balance her naughtiness by a little extra religion; and partly because, most often at night, the thought of her idolatry assailed her, and urged upon her works of supererogation in the form of prayers and promises. No doubt much of her naughtiness grew out of these religious impulses, which satisfied themselves in visions of good deeds, and never crystallized into anything so commonplace as obedience. She was constantly planning great self-sacrifices; heroic bravery, sublime devotion. Such dreams were very concrete; as, for instance, what her conduct would be if the house were on fire; she would rush into the flames, and save — everybody! She gave herself up to such visions one Monday morning; she had left the breakfast-room and gathered some posies for the little blue jug that stood on her dressing-table, and then, forgetting the work in her bedroom, stopped, and got into the swing under the front porch, Ellen was very fond of this latticed inclosure under the high porch, from the rafters of which hung the little swing, that creaked with a dry and dusty rhythm when started by her foot; perhaps part of its charm was a lack of the austere order of the rest of Mrs. Dale’s household. It still bore the traces of Eben Dale’s light-hearted and inconsequent life: under the rafters above the swing were his long bamboo fishing-rods, still with the lines wound in careful spirals from the quivering ends to the stout silver-clasped handles. As Ellen swung back and forth, they shook and trembled, as they had done, no doubt, long ago, on some green bank beside a trout pool. A loop of line from a broken reel hung just above the child’s eyes, and through it, in delicious abstraction of great purposes, she looked out, across the sunshine on the side lawn, at the watering-trough in the stable yard, and at the pigeons strutting and cooing on the ridgepole of the barn.
She was saying to herself, with a swelling heart, " Suppose Betsey Thomas should have smallpox ?” And then she went on to reflect upon how tenderly she would nurse her, how bravely, even though her grandmother and all her friends should implore her not to run such a risk. Ah, how they would appreciate her when they saw how noble she was! Very likely she would catch the dreadful disease, and lie for days between life and death; and then how saintly site would be, what hymns she would repeat, what appropriate texts!
quoted Ellen, her eyes brimming with delightful melancholy, and curling her arms about the ropes of the swung, so that she leaned sideways, comfortably.
To leave the weary road,
To join the brotherhood on high ’ —
1 'd say that,” she thought, very sorrowfully. But when she recovered (on the whole, she thought she should recover) she would be very beautiful; not a single scar would mar her face; and how Betsey Thomas would love her!
She paused in planning her saintly revenge long enough to look at the diamonds of sunlight falling through the lattice, and lying on the black, hard earth of the floor; how much nicer it was here, under the porch, than in the parlor! There were garden tools in the corners, and on one side of her playroom, like a long, red cornucopia encrusted with crumbling earth, were flower-pots of lessening sizes fitted into one another. Ellen could scrawl a large E on the dusty top of an old chest of drawers that stood against the wall of the house; it had scarcely been touched since Dr. Dale had put his flies away, after his last fishing trip. Some of the drawers were half open, and there were packets of flower-seeds scattered about in them, and one or two books in yellow paper covers, dog-eared and torn. Ellen had looked at them with a view to improving her mind by reading some of grandpapa’s wise books; but alas! they were in French, so that aspiration had been checked. On top of the chest was a china bowl half full of water; Ellen had coiled a dozen horsehairs in it, and was waiting to see them turn into snakes. She kept her paper dolls in a cupboard hanging on the wall; its sagging doors and rattling shelves could not have given the tissue ladies a sense of security, but Ellen liked to think that they were sheltered there, when she, safe in her little bed, heard the wind blow, and caught the murmuring complaint of the giant in the locust-trees. The dolls, she saw fit to say, were in a fort, and they were in great terror lest one of the pythons coiled in the white china tank should crawl out, and up to their little shelter, and open his horrible jaws and hiss at them! Ellen shivered for very horror of the situation, but did not abate her care for the horsehairs, nor put a better fastening on the cupboard door. She liked to think that the beat of wind or rain was the assault of pirates upon the unhappy paper ladies, and the idea of their distress when the door banged gave her all the exhilaration of danger, without its personal element. “If pirates were to break into our house, ” said Ellen, her foot tapping a diamond of sunshine every time she swung forward, “ I would say, ‘Sir, kill me, but save grandmother — save ’ ” —
But at that moment Betsey Thomas came hurrying out to look for her. Betsey was busy, and not in the best temper; her patience had been sorely tried that morning because Ellen had seen fit to pour water on the floor when she had been dressing her, for the purpose of discovering whether it would run under her instep. “If it does,” said Ellen, holding up her skirts and dabbling her little bare foot in the water, “it shows I ’m very aristocratic, Betsey, and would have had my head cut off in the French Revolution.” Betsey had been most unsympathetic, and there had been a tussle, followed by a truce; and now the maid would rather have done Ellen’s work herself than get into any discussion with her. But Mrs. Dale had bidden her remind Ellen that her bed was not made, and it was after nine.
Ellen, with a very red face, jumped out of the swing. “I just wish you’d do your work yourself, Betsey Thomas, so there! ” she said.
Betsey looked at her soberly. “Ellen, you ought n’t to talk that way, ’deed you ought n’t; ’t ain’t right.”
“Well, it isn’t your place to tell me what I ought to do, anyhow,” Ellen answered.
The chambermaid put her red arms akimbo on her hips and gazed at Ellen with real concern. She was a pleasantlooking maid-servant, with an honest Welsh face and curly red-brown hair; she wore a brown calico gown, and a long blue apron with a bib pinned up over her ample bosom. “I don’t know what ’s the matter with you, these days, Ellen,” she said. “Come, now; be a good girl, and do your work nice, and please your grandmother.”
Ellen made no answer, but she followed the maid upstairs.
“ You know well enough, Ellen, you ain’t behavin’ as you ought, nowadays, ” Betsey went on. “You ought to think what the Good Man likes little girls to be. My! I never see any little girl so sassy as you! ”
” Will you be quiet, Betsey Thomas? ” said Ellen, turning suddenly upon her.
“Why, Ellen Dale! ” cried Betsey, dropping admonition, in personal affront; “you’re real impudent. I ’ve a good mind to tell your grandmother! ”
Ellen’s face was white. “You are a low, mean, miserable, lazy woman, ” she said in a high, quivering voice, “and if you speak another word more to me I ’ll kill you! ”
This was so awful that Betsey was shocked into real dismay. “Ellen, I ’ll have to tell your grandmother, ” she said reluctantly.
“I don’t care! ” cried Ellen. She stamped her foot, stood trembling, flew at Betsey and struck her with all her little might, and then dropped sobbing upon the floor.
Betsey was appalled, But angry also. She turned, and hurried out of the room to find Mrs. Dale.
“Oh, ma’am,” she said, coming breathlessly into the dining-room, “Ellen is acting awful! She beat and beat me, ma’am! She acted like as if she was possessed! ”
Mrs. Dale was sitting at the head of the long table with as much stateliness as though it were surrounded by guests, instead of merely holding a big basin of hot water, a mop, and glasstowels. “Tell me just what Ellen has done,” she said briefly, and then listened to the agitated complaint, but made no comment. “You may go, now,” she said, and proceeded calmly to wipe the teaspoons; she was in no haste to go upstairs. She knew that silence and reflection would be very alarming to Ellen.
Ellen, sobbing on the floor, was straining her ears for her grandmother’s step. By and by the waiting grew dreadful; she stopped crying and sat up, pushing her hair back from her eyes. The house was very silent. It seemed to Ellen as though everything held its breath to hear the reproof which was coming. At last she felt she could not bear it any longer, and she crept out into the entry and looked over the balustrade down into the wide hall. The front door was open, and she could see the hot, bright garden. Stretched out in a strip of sunshine that fell across the threshold into the hall was Rip, the red setter; his glossy side was stirred by his deep breathing, and once a paw twitched, as though he were running in some pleasant dream. Her grandmother’s work-table was beside the long sofa, which stood between the dining-room and library doors; there was some knitting on the table, and a book, with Mrs. Dale’s gold - bowed spectacles across an open page, and one of Ellen’s white aprons, waiting to be mended. The child felt a quick repentance. How naughty she had been ; how good her grandmother always was ; and even Betsey Thomas was sometimes kind ! She would go downstairs and ask to be forgiven; she would tell Betsey she was sorry; she would say — But at that moment, running lightly up the front steps, came Effie Temple. Rip, startled at the sound, rose, yawning and stretching, but Effie did not notice him. She had seen Ellen, and dashed at once upstairs.
“Why, what’s the matter ?” she demanded. “You have been crying! Why, Nellie, what’s the matter ?”
Ellen felt the tears stinging again, and all her anger came back with a rush. “Come into my room,” she whispered, and drew the eager Effie into her bedroom. “Oh, Effie, it ’s awful! ” she said in a trembling voice.
“What’s awful? ”
“I ’ve had such a time with Betsey Thomas; she —she — oh, she talked to me! ” Ellen caught her breath in a sob. She did not know whether she was more angry at Betsey, or frightened at the prospect of the interview with her grandmother.
“Oh, is that all? ” cried Effie. “I hope you talked back to her? ”
And Ellen straightway poured out the whole story. As she talked, her courage returned, and her anger burned more fiercely. Effie, sitting on the edge of the bed beside her, interrupted her now and then with exclamations of pity and indignation, and when Ellen had quite finished she was ready with advice. “I ’d make that girl get down on her knees and beg my pardon, ” she said shrilly. “Gracious, I wish you had some spirit, Nellie! ”
“Beg my pardon?” said Ellen. “Why, I ” — She was ashamed to finish the sentence.
“Of course; and if she should say she would n’t — well, then I know what I should do.”
“What? ” asked Ellen faintly.
Effie leaned towards her and whispered something in her ear.
“ Oh ! ” said Ellen.
For a moment after Effie’s whisper the two children looked at each other in guilty silence.
“Oh, would you. really ?” Ellen said at last, under her breath; but before Effie could answer the door opened and Mrs. Dale entered. A quick displeasure came into her face at the sight of Ellen’s guest, but she only said gravely, “Good - morning, Euphemia, ” and looked to see the child rise, as Ellen had done; but Effie, as she sat on the edge of the bed, swinging her foot to and fro and playing with her rings, only nodded, with a sheepish look, and said, “Oh, how do you do, Mrs. Dale? ”
Mrs. Dale put on her glasses and looked at her. “Euphemia, ” — Ellen caught her breath at the solemnity of the tone, — “I wish to talk with Ellen, so I must ask you to leave us. ”
“All right,” said Effie. She rose and shook her skirt, which had wrinkled a little, and gave a careless glance into the mirror as she put on her hat. “Mrs. Dale, may Ellen come over and take tea with me to-night? Mamma said I might ask her,” she added impatiently, having learned that such reference to her mother was a necessary formality in Old Chester.
“Oh, please! ” Effie teased, but was dismissed with a decision which ignored her coaxing.
Ellen’s face grew red and sullen as Effie left the room, and she stared at the carpet that she might not see her grandmother.
“Now, Ellen, tell me what this means. ”
“What what means? ” the little girl said in a low voice, still looking at the carpet.
“I am very much grieved, Ellen,” Mrs. Dale said, not noticing the question.
“Betsey Thomas tells me that when she spoke to you about putting your room in order you grew very angry, and — struck her. Ellen, no little girl could do such a thing, unless she had ” — Mrs. Dale spoke very solemnly — “unless she had the feeling of murder in her heart. Suppose you had had a knife in your hand when you struck Betsey? You might have killed her! You did not have a knife, but you had the feeling in your soul. Oh, Ellen,
I hope you will ask your Heavenly Father to give you a better heart.”
Ellen did not reply; her chin quivered, and she felt as though something was beating up in her throat. But her silence was not repentance; it was embarrassment at this talk about her “heart ” and her Heavenly Father.
Mrs. Dale sighed; she did not know what to say next. She had been prepared for the fluent and fatiguing excuses of an active imagination, and Ellen’s silence confused her. To show affection in such a crisis did not occur to her; she looked at the stubborn little face, and wondered how the child could be so hard. “She does not show a trace of feeling! ” thought Mrs. Dale, and sighed. She felt as though she stood outside this one heart in all the world that belonged to her, and sought an entrance in vain. There was a wistful disappointment behind the stern justice in her eyes. “Why have I never gained her love ?” she thought; but all she said was that Ellen must spend the rest of the day in her room; at five o’clock, if penitent, she might come downstairs and ask forgiveness. (“Such hardness can be conquered only by severity, ” Mrs. Dale was thinking sadly.) “I hope,” she ended, “that you will remember what I have said about the sin of anger; and that you may remember it, I have made out for you a list of verses in the Bible which speak of auger and passion. You will look them out during the day, commit them to memory, and repeat them to me when you come downstairs at five.”
She had written the references on a slip of paper, and, putting it down on the white work-table, left the room without another look at Ellen.
She was very much troubled. But it never occurred to her to prick the bubble of the child’s naughtiness by treating the matter lightly. She gave to the imagination of a foolish child the deference of earnest conscientiousness, and took the situation seriously. That Ellen might find it interesting never occurred to her, for Mrs. Dale could no more have been theatrical in her view of life than she could have been flippant. “I am too old,” she thought, with the painful and pathetic humility of age, “too old to manage children; and I cannot make her love me.” Her mouth looked stern and hard, for she pressed her lips together to keep them steady, and her glasses were so dim she did not see that some one was waiting for her in the hall, until she heard a voice say, “Good-morning, dear Mrs. Dale,” and found Miss Jane Temple ready to take her hand at the foot of the stairs.
Now, Miss Jane Temple had come to see Mrs. Dale with a purpose which had only taken definite form that day, although it had been smouldering in her heart for many weeks. She had gone that morning down into the village upon an errand, and had stopped absently at the little gate that shut Mr. Tommy Dove’s garden away from the dusty street. The garden was full of the sweet confusion of flowers which had been watched and tended for nearly a generation, and then suddenly left to untrained and untrammeled liberty. There were not many weeds, unless the Johnny-jump-ups growing outside the borders could be called weeds; or the portulaca, which had sown itself in the grass from the round bed that lay below the shop window, half in sunshine, blazing with crimson cups, and half in shadow, with tightly shut and shiningbuds. White petunias flared broadly between the flagstones of the path, and morning - glories were braided among the prickly branches of the moss rose; the friendly perennials were more decorous, and kept their old places; the queen - of - the - meadow still lifted her powdery crown, close to the gate; and the hollyhocks and bleeding hearts and peonies blossomed as they had blossomed on the same spot thirty years before.
Miss Jane Temple, leaning on the gate, remembered how she had stopped there one morning four years ago, just after old Mrs. Dove’s death, to tell Mr. Tommy she was sorry for his grief. She remembered that she had sat on the broad door-stone, which lay warm in the sunshine, and they had talked of many things. Effie was with her, and the little girl’s lip had curled with contemptuous amusement when Mr. Tommy tried to entertain her. The color came into Miss Jane’s cheek as she thought of the child’s rudeness; and then came the remembrance of that other rudeness to Mr. Dove, on the night when he had tried to tell her that he “cared,” — the rudeness of her brother, who, entering in the midst of those gentle, stumbling words, dismissed the apothecary with courteous contempt. She remembered how Mr. Tommy dashed into the darkness, leaving his sentence unfinished, and never coming back again, even to learn that, although she would not leave her brother’s family, she too “cared. ” At first there had been a faint reproach in her heart because he did not come back, but she had long since understood it; he wanted to spare her the sight of his mortification. She never supposed that disappointed love could long prey upon him. Miss Jane Temple had had snubs enough in her life to know that mortification leaves a pang more lasting than the serpent’s tooth or than disappointed love.
But she wished that he would come back to this neglected garden, this quiet, shabby house that seemed shrinking behind its lilac and sweet-brier bushes. She wished she knew where he was. In a dozen timid ways she had tried to find out, rather by suggesting the quest ion than by any direct inquiry. And yet, why should she not inquire? A question, boldly put, need not betray her; and her heart leaped at the very thought of hearing about him.
The mortar and pestle which hung above the shop door, and had long ago parted with any gilding they had possessed, creaked in a puff of wind. " I will find out! ” she said, and pushed open the gate and went across the deep tangle of the grass to the big thorny bush of yellow Persian roses. She picked one, resolution growing in her face; and then she went at once up the hill to Mrs. Dale’s house. “Mrs. Dale will tell me,” she said to herself.
But when the two ladies sat down by the work-table in the open hall, and Mrs. Dale, with a little sigh, took up Ellen’s apron to mend, Miss Jane began to talk of anything and anybody but Mr. Tommy Dove: the weather, first, and the gardener’s anxiety about the drought; her sister-in-law’s health, and her own regret that since the death of old Dr. King there had been only his son, a young boy of twenty eight or nine, to minister to physical ills in Old Chester.
“He can’t help being young, I know,” said Miss Jane, “but I am sure I hope my sister will not have to consult him this summer. I suppose young doctors must have some patients to practice on, or else they would never get experience, but I don’t want him to practice on sister.”
Mrs. Dale agreed with her, but in the tone of one who is liberal enough to put up with a necessity. “They ’ve got to be young some time,” she said.
“I suppose so,”Jane Temple admitted; “but really, even I know more about some things — chicken-pox, for instance — than Willie does. When Effie had it, I knew just what to do, and I am sure Willie had to ask his mother before lie dared prescribe. And then, in preparing medicine, a young man is apt to be careless. I wish some more experienced person ” — Miss Jane’s voice was not quite even — “some more experienced person had charge of the drugs. ”
Mrs. Dale glanced at her over her spectacles, keenly. “Indeed, dear Jane, you are needlessly concerned. Willie is really careful; and beside, his dispensing the medicines is only a temporary arrangement. Tommy Dove is our apothecary usually, and he is old enough, I am sure. He is absent just now, but he is a most capable person. Of course Old Chester would not encourage anyone who was not capable.”
Miss Jane bent down to pat Rip’s red-brown head. “Yes, he is capable; but — as you say, he is not here this summer? I noticed, the first time that I went down to the village, that his house was shut up, and all his pretty garden so neglected; it seemed so strange! I — I wondered where — I should say why — I mean where, he had gone ? ”
She stroked Rip’s ears rapidly, the color fluttering into her face.
“Dear me! one would think Jane was interested!” Mrs. Dale said to herself; but aloud she only observed that she was not surprised that her companion thought Mr. Tommy’s conduct strange. “In spite of his years, and in spite of the influences of his life, — though sometimes I think influences amount to very little, ” said Mrs. Dale, with a sigh, the thought of Ellen heavy upon her heart, — “in spite of everything, Mr. Tommy’s conduct shows, I fear, an ill-regulated mind.”
“Does it, indeed, ma’am ?” Miss Jane asked tremulously. “ He always seemed to me most estimable, —though of course I have n’t seen much of him,” she ended weakly.
“Oh,”said Mrs. Dale, putting down the little white apron and adjusting her spectacles, “he is, of course, a very estimable person in his walk of life. But, my dear Jane, his leaving Old Chester as he did shows a weak character.” She was very grave. “This is really very serious,” she thought. “Poor foolish girl! ”
“I had — I have — a great respect for Mr. Dove,” Miss Temple said.
“Everyone has,”Mrs. Dale agreed, resenting an unspoken reproach. “Indeed, I have sometimes thought I would invite him to tea.” Miss Jane drew in her breath, as if something hurt her. “He did the same thing about four years ago,” Mrs. Dale went on. “Let me see — why, it was the summer you were here. He disappeared without a word to anybody; such a sensational, foolish thing to do. Don’t you remember? ”
“I remember,” replied Miss Jane faintly.
”I heard,” Mrs. Dale continued, “that he was in Philadelphia this summer. I don’t know what he is doing. But even to see as little of the world as Philadelphia is good for Mr. Tommy.”
“No doubt he will come back some time, and then it will be our duty to let him see that we do not approve of him. Still, if he will settle down and marry a — a suitable person, you know, no doubt his conduct will be overlooked in time. But I doubt if we can have quite the confidence in him that we had; eccentricity is more dangerous than mere youth.”
“He must have had good reasons,” said Jane Temple, — “I am sure he must!” It occurred to her that she was betraying herself, but that did not matter. “I — I knew Mr. Dove quite well, and I — trust his judgment absolutely,” she said with emphasis, for anger had come to her aid.
“ You are too kind, dear Jane, ” said Mrs, Dale. She was sincerely troubled. “Dear! dear! ” she said to herself; “to think that Jane Temple can be so weak! Well, Mr. Tommy did right to go away! ”
Miss Temple’s indignation brought a fine glow into her cheek; her eyes shone; she began to feel a warmth about her heart that meant happiness, although she did not know it. She was defending him; how sweet it was to defend him! Never mind if she never saw him again, if he never knew that she “cared.” She did care, and that was happiness enough. Mrs. Dale’s condescension roused her to sudden self-knowledge. “I have a — a regard for him, and I have a right to my own life,” she thought.
“I think I must go now,” she said stiffly. She felt she must be alone to think this thing out, and decide what to do; for, without reasoning about it, she knew she was going to do something to make amends to this man, who had given up his home for her sake. Then, with an effort to seem at ease, she added, “I met Effie, as I came over, and she told me Ellen could not take tea with her to-night; I am so sorry.”
The mention of Ellen brought Mrs. Dale back from her consternation at Jane Temple’s folly to her own troubles. “I am afraid,” she said, “that I was a little stern to Euphemia when she came to make her request. I was obliged to send her home somewhat abruptly.” And then she explained that Ellen had been naughty, and it was necessary to punish her.
Miss Jane’s kind eyes filled with pity. “Dear little Ellen! ” she said.
The day was long and sad to Mrs. Dale; she was disciplining Ellen according to her light, but she was not hopeful. “She is repenting now,” she thought, “but she will have forgotten both her repentance and her naughtiness by to-morrow.” As it happened, however, Ellen was too interested in the situation to repent. She had made haste to commit to memory the verses her grandmother had brought her, meditating, as she studied, not upon the sacred words, but upon her wrongs. The verses memorized, she went over to the window and knelt down, her cheek resting on the sill.
She did not want to read any of her sedate little story-books. The Parent’s Assistant, or Harry and Lucy, or the Rollo books were not as entertaining as was her own misery. Oh, how long, how long was this cruel punishment to last ? For she would never beg Betsey’s pardon! Perhaps she should grow old, shut up here in this room. She fancied how, little by little, in the dusty solitude of the years, her clothes would wear out, her hair grow gray ; she had a vision of her children, and even her grandchildren, urging her to leave her prison; but she would never give in to Betsey Thomas ! A moment later, however, she decided that she should not like such a life, and determined that she would bring her punishment to an end: she would starve herself! She would not eat any dinner nor any supper. Probably she would die in a few days, and then how sorry everybody would be! She should be going to heaven, so she should not be Sorry.
said Ellen to herself. But before doing this she would forgive her enemies.
She pictured the scene. Her grandmother would find her lying, white and still, in her bed. She would see that Ellen had eaten nothing; then she Would implore her to eat — oh, anything! Yes, fruit cake, if she wished it! But no; Ellen would turn her head away, and whisper that she should rather go to heaven. (The tears were rolling peacefully down her face by this time.) At last her grandmother would say, “Oh, my darling Ellen, I have been very cruel to you; is there anything I can give you for a present ? ”
Here Ellen stopped crying, and reflected upon what she should accept to signify her forgiveness. “Yes,” she decided to reply, “yes, grandmother, you may give me a wig of long yellow curls, and — a Bible. ” What a pang that last word would give her grandmother! How it would betray the saintly character to which Mrs. Dale had been so blind! The Bible would not be of much use, as she was going to die immediately. But she might leave it to Effie? “Effie does n’t read her Bible as much as I do, ” Ellen thought, with solemn satisfaction. As for the lovely yellow wig, she would wear that when she was dead. At this thought she wept afresh.
She wondered what would be done with her “things,”—her china dishes, her best hat, her little iron bank, into which, on every birthday, her grandmother slipped a gold-piece.
“Why,” said Ellen to herself, “I ought to make my will! ”
She jumped up at that, thought, and began, with a blunt blue lead pencil, to inscribe her last wishes upon a large sheet of foolscap. “I leave my geography to Betsey Thomas, ” she wrote in a round, childish hand, and added, “but she’s a cross girl.” Here she paused to remember her legatees and her possessions; then, hurriedly, wrote Miss Jane Temple’s name, and bit the end of her pencil for two minutes before she could decide what to bequeath to her kind friend. The thought of Miss Jane awoke the remorse for her idolatry, and for a moment that horrible melancholy, which has a physical abiding-place just below the breastbone, dimmed her pleasure in the prospect of death. But to leave Miss Jane a lock of her hair, and Lydia Wright her paper dolls, cheered her to tears; for with a thrill of pride she felt her eyes blur with a sudden mist.
This touched her deeply, and she leaned forward and squeezed her eyes tightly shut, at which one single tear trickled down her cheek and splashed full upon the paper; it made a round blot with a little fringe all about it. She breathed on it to dry it; but, as the spot rose into a wet blister, she had a bitter moment of feeling that her heirs might not recognize it as a teardrop. She wondered how it would do to write “tear ” above it. She wished she could cry some more to make another blot; but alas! interest had dried her eyes, and she could only proceed to divide her property among those who appreciated her so little.
Her horsehair snakes she bequeathed to Mrs. Temple; Little Henry and his Bearer to Mr. Temple.
“I will give my bank to my grandmother,” she wrote, but, sighing, added, as older consciences have done before her, “the money in it is for the poor heathen.”
She paused here to note with satisfaction the perfection of her teardrop, and to look out over the garden. How hot and bright it was out of doors! There was a bed of scarlet poppies blazing in the sunshine; even the shadows looked hot. She could see, across the lane, the stone posts of Mr. Temple’s gate, and that made her think of Effie and of the Bible she must leave her.
Just then she noticed that the telegraph string was jarring and thrilling; that meant that Effie was at the other end of it, and was about to send her a note. The thought of communication with the outside world made her forget death; she dropped her will, and leaned out of the window. In a moment, slowly and with little jerks, came the bit of folded paper, floating over the sunny garden, catching for a perilous instant on the highest twig of the laburnum, and then landing safely among the leaves of the woodbine, below the window. Ellen, with trembling fingers, unfastened it, and, smoothing the crumpled paper, read, “ Come up to the somer hous after diner
She dropped it dismally. What was the use of Effie’s saying that? Why did n’t she sympathize?
“ Grandmother won’t allow me to go out of my room,” she wrote. “She says I must ask Betsey’s pardon.”
She fastened her answer to the line, and watched it flutter back to Effie; but the excitement had faded from her face. “Effie knows grandmother won’t let me go up to the summer-house,” she said to herself. But Elbe’s next note explained her meaning.
“ Is the door loked ? Can’t you get out ? ”
“Goodness! ” said Ellen. She read it over and over. The door locked? Why, no, of course not. And after dinner her grandmother always took a nap; and Betsey Thomas would be carrying in the clothes from the lines on the kitchen green ; and there would be no one to see her leave her room! “I won’t do it,” she said to herself; “only, it would be easy to do it.” She was so absorbed and excited that she forgot to send an answer to the note. Very quietly, on tiptoe, she crossed the room and tried the door. It was not locked; but Ellen stood staring at it with great eyes. This punishment of being obliged to stay in her room she knew well; it had happened only too often before, although never, perhaps, for so serious an offense. But it had never occurred to her that it was voluntary. Site went back to the window with a bewildered air, and started to see another note awaiting her among the leaves.
“ Why don’t you anser ? Are you loked in ? ”
Ellen’s reply betrayed the agitation of a new idea,
“ I’m not locked in, but I can’t yet out. ”
She hoped and feared at once that Effie would not send any more notes, but a moment later another little folded temptation came over the string.
“ If you ’re not loked in, come up to the somer house right after diner. Your grandmother is wiled to shut you up in prizon. If you beg that servant girl’s pardon I ’ll never speak to you again. Anser if you’ll come up to the somer hous. ”
Effie, standing on the locust stump, on the other side of the wall, waited a long time for Ellen’s reply; the delay made her first angry, and then scared. Perhaps Mrs. Dale had come in and caught Ellen reading the notes! At this thought she was about to jump down from the stump and run away, when lo! there was an answer coming slowly along the line. Effie, in her eagerness to get it from the string, tore it a little, but she could read it in spite of that. “I will come.”
Ellen had been hurried into decision by hearing Betsey Thomas’s careful step upon the stairs, and then the sound of a tray bumping against the door. Betsey must not discover the correspondence, and the only way to prevent that was to consent to Elite’s wishes.
With excitement Ellen’s appetite had returned, and she was glad to eat the bread and butter and cold meat which had been sent her. The thought of the hot dinner downstairs made this severe diet seem a cruelty which justified rebellion.
As she ate, she was excitedly planning her “escape.” Ellen had many a time acted out her own fancies of adventure or peril, but she had never had the chance to make them real if she chose. Her skill in weaving romance blurred just now the actual fact of her naughtiness, and gave the whole situation an unreality and an interest that kept her conscience quiet.
She might as well look over her verses, she thought, until it was time to dismiss this exciting possibility. “'He that ruleth his spirit,”’ said Ellen, sitting in the big dimity-covered chair, her hands clasped above her head, her small heels swinging to and fro, “ ‘ is greater than he that taketh a city. ’ Oh ! ” She heard Mrs. Dale’s step upon the stairs, then the closing of her bedroom door.
Ellen sat with parted lips; the clock in the lower hall struck three. The great moment had come! She rose stealthily, and, opening her door, looked out into the hall. Then a sudden gush of determination took the little temptation she had played with and carried it into action. She was bewildered, absorbed, fascinated, to find herself yielding — yielding! She had not supposed she was really going to do it; her own possibility intoxicated her. Hardly breathing, she slipped on tiptoe out of the room, past her grandmother’s door, and then, step by step, downstairs.
It was a still August day. Far off, beyond the meadows at the foot of the terrace, came, through the thinning leaves, the sparkle and flash of the river; nearer, in the stone vase in the middle of the garden, a bunch of scarlet geraniums blazed and glowed. Rip lay stretched on the warm dust of the carriage road at the foot of the steps. There was a scent of hot sunshine in the hazy air. Ellen, palpitating with excitement, stood a moment on the porch and looked at it all; then she heard a step somewhere in the silent house, and darted like a bird out into the freedom of the sunshine! Three minutes later she had gained the summer-house, and Effie, awaiting her for half an hour, was crying out impatiently for particulars.
“ Wait till I — get — my breath ” — Ellen gasped. When she did get her breath, they talked in whispers, though there was no one nearer than Betsey taking the clothes off the lines down on the kitchen green; but, considering how astonished Betsey would have been could she have overheard that conversation, it was no wonder that they whispered.
Suddenly Ellen jumped up. “Oh, Effie, what time do you think it is? Oh, I ’m afraid it ’s late!
“No, it isn’t,” Effie reassured her; “only, may be you’d better go. Now don’t forget: if she doesn’t apologize to you, you are to be here to-morrow morning, with some clothes and food and your bank; and I ’ll be here with my things, and ” —
“Oh, Effie, I must run. Grandmother will be downstairs, and then what shall I do? Oh, Effie, I must go! ” Ellen stamped her foot with impatient fright.
But Mrs. Dale had not yet come downstairs from her nap, so Ellen was able to regain her room quite unobserved. There, with a wildly beating heart, she opened her Bible for a look at the verses; the habit of doing as she was bidden made this final study instinctive, but she could hardly see the words, much less take in their meaning.
“I will certainly do it,” she assured herself. “And oh, what will Lydia say? Yes, I will not come back until I am twenty years old. (' Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer : and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.) When I ’m twenty, grandmother will know that she can’t order me around, and starve me, and treat me so cruelly; and very likely Betsey Thomas will be married then, — in nine years.”
The two children had arranged how they were to support themselves during these years of absence, in which their families were to repent. “We’ll go to a city,” Effie had said vaguely. And once there, they were to be milliners. There had been a moment’s wavering in favor of a candy-shop, but reflection upon the amount of money Mrs. Temple paid for her bonnets decided them ; for, as Ellen pointed out, if they sold a dozen twenty-five-dollar bonnets a day, they could well afford to buy candy, instead of serving behind a counter for the chance to eat it. Effie explained incidentally that her reason for including herself in these delightful plans was that her aunt Jane made her life a burden, and tried all the time to make Mrs. Temple “cross.”
Everything being thus arranged, it only remained for Ellen to have firmness in the coming interview with her grandmother. It occurred to the child to consider, as an interesting possibility, what she should do if her grandmother were to have a change of heart before the carefully planned retribution could fall upon her. Suppose Mrs. Dale should say she was sorry? It would be disappointing, but such things had been, and it was well to be prepared. Suppose she were to say, “Ellen, I was very unkind, and Betsey Thomas shall beg your pardon. And what would you like me to do for you? ”
Ellen put her cheek down on the open Bible and meditated. She would like to have all the pin-wheels and firecrackers that she wanted; also torpedoes, — those little white bags of flame and noise. With these she would give an exhibition to the village, especially to the tannery hands. The thought of her own importance and beneficence, in thus officiating, filled her with a glow of self-approval which seemed to fade into a blur of general satisfaction; and the next thing she knew, she heard Betsey Thomas saying, “ Wake up, Ellen; your grandmother is waiting down on the porch to hear you say your verses. Wake up, and let me brush your hair and tidy you up a bit.”
Betsey was very much affected by observing that Ellen had fallen asleep upon the open page of her Bible, and she made haste to report the fact to Mrs. Dale, who was likewise somewhat impressed by it. It made her ready to forgive the child at once, and to hope that Ellen had been seeking a higher forgiveness.
Ellen gathered up her courage, and went slowly downstairs; and then, in her fresh white apron, her brown hair tucked smoothly behind her little ears, and her hands folded in front of her, she stood before Mrs. Dale, and repeated quite perfectly the half dozen verses she had been told to learn. With downcast eyes she listened in dutiful silence to her grandmother’s admonitions. “And now, Ellen,” Mrs. Dale said, with a sigh of relief that this trying day was ended, — “ now, Ellen, I hope that you will always remember your duty as a little Christian child, and never forget that a lady is as courteous to those whom God has placed in a different station as to her own friends. You may kiss me good-night, my child, and then go and tell Betsey Thomas that you are sorry. To-morrow morning you will turn over a new leaf and start out fresh.”
Ellen was quite pale. “No’m,” she said briefly.
“You mean it shall never happen again? I am very glad, my dear. And I am sure you have asked your Heavenly Father to forgive you, also? ”
Ellen’s response of silence to appeals of this kind always confused Mrs. Dale; like one who pronounces a magic formula and sees no result, she was vaguely disturbed. It had happened many, many times, but she never grew accustomed to the pain of it. “ Now go to Betsey Thomas,” she said, with the sternness which means embarrassment.
“No ’m ; I don’t want to, grandmother.”
In the explanation which followed this, and in the order that she was to go to bed without any supper, and spend the next day, until she apologized to Betsey, in her own room, it seemed to the child as though she could hear her heart beat. It did not occur to Mrs. Dale, grieved and anxious, and viewing the situation with a seriousness of which it was not worthy, that some patient reasoning might have brought the suggestion of apology from the child’s own lips, although she would have been the first to realize that such an impulse from within would have counted more in character than when it was the result of insistence from without.
Perhaps the whole difficulty was in Mrs. Dale’s lack of imagination; but, besides that, it must be admitted that it is not easy for a righteous and inflexible will to concede a point. Indeed, it would be interesting to know how often the sense of personal dignity is responsible for mistakes made in the training of children; mistakes which apparently do not injure the children very much, — for, after all, we most of us turn out pretty well, — but from which the characters of the elders certainly suffer.
Miss Jane Temple was strangely distrait that afternoon. She forgot her sister-in-law’s beef tea at four, and glass of sherry at six. She told Effie, briefly, that she should not play backgammon with her after tea. “I have — some writing to do,” she explained, in answer to the child’s impatient protest, and there was something in her voice that made Mrs. Temple look up and say, —
“Is there anything the matter, Janey? ”
“Oh, no, dear sister,” she answered. “Come, Effie, I ’ll play just one game; but I really am too busy to play any more than that.”
Effie ran for the board, but she was as nervous as her aunt, and the single game was more than enough for her. Her impatience worried her mother, so that she was sent to bed, stamping her foot as she went, to Mrs. Temple’s further annoyance.
“I don’t know why Effie is n’t like that dear little Ellen,” said Mrs. Temple, with a sigh. “Now she has gone, Janey, write down here, won’t you? Whom are you going to write to ? ”
Miss Jane’s face flushed suddenly and painfully. “I — well — I have to write to a — friend,” she stammered.
Mrs. Temple raised herself on her elbow, and looked at her with undisguised curiosity. “Why, Janey, one would think you were a girl writing to her lover.”
Miss Jane’s laugh was so forced and conscious that Mrs. Temple was fairly breathless with astonishment. “ Why, Jane Temple! ” she said. But the younger woman had hurried upstairs for her writing materials. Mrs. Temple fell back among her cushions with a puzzled face. “Why,” she said to herself, “what does it mean? Whom can she be writing to? That Dove man ? Is it possible ? ”
But when her sister-in-law came back with her little old rosewood writing-desk, which folded over on itself, and was lined with faded purple velvet, Mrs. Temple was quite apologetic. “I didn’t mean to seem curious, Janey; I did not know that you had any secrets of that kind. I ’m sure I beg your pardon ?” She could not help the question in her voice, nor an injured look.
“Of course, dear Eupliemia, I know that. I — I only just have a letter — of no importance, to write. I thought I would write it to-night, though.”
“ It is to Mr. Dove,” said Mrs. Temple to herself. “Dear me! I should not have thought that of Janey! Still, I don’t know why she should n’t be friendly to the poor little man; he would never dare to presume upon it. And Janey never would leave us. ” Mrs. Temple grew tearful at the thought, but Miss Jane was too absorbed in the composition of a very brief letter to notice the invalid. That love develops selfishness is readily granted by those who are not lovers.
Miss Temple wrote a line, and paused; then she made some straight marks on her blotting-paper, and looked at them thoughtfully; after that, she mended her pen, and took afresh sheet, and began her letter again, but stopped a moment to press down the curling corners of the worn velvet lining of her desk.
“You don’t write very much,” Mrs. Temple observed, with something like malice in her voice; and certainly, in a half hour, it was not unreasonable to suppose that more than half a page should be written.
“ There is my stamp box, Janey, dear,” she ventured, a little later; and Miss Jane thanked her, but said she had stamped her envelope.
“So it is n’t to anybody in Old Chester, ” Mrs. Temple assured herself. “Yes, it must be to Mr. Tommy! ” Mrs. Temple was growing interested and amiable.
“I ’m sure I don’t want to seem to pry, " she said, with a little cough behind her thin white hand, as, with a quickened breath, Miss Jane suddenly put down her pen and folded her letter; “I don’t want to pry, but it seems to me that a letter that puzzles one to write, as that has evidently puzzled you, should be — well, I should think you would want advice. Not that I want to give advice. 1 should he quite unwilling to advise; only I 'd — give it a good deal of thought, if I were you, ” she ended weakly.
“I have,” answered Miss Temple gently. Then the determination with which she had folded the letter seemed to desert her, and for a moment she held it with tremulous hesitation. “I have thought, ” she repeated absently. And then she seemed to come to herself and remember her duties. “ Are n’t you ready now for your gruel, dear sister? ” she said. “I ’ll go and get it.” She put the letter m her pocket and rose.
Mrs. Temple shut her eyes and whimpered, “I ’m sure I did n’t mean to be impertinent. You ’re very unkind to me, Janey”
Miss Jane was full of protestations. “Why, of course nothing you could say would be impertinent. Indeed,
I ’m always grateful for your interest. Now, won’t you sit up and take this gruel ?” Her voice was nervous with unspoken excuses.
She slipped her arm under the invalid’s head and held the bowl to her lips, and said she was sure Mrs. Temple was a little stronger, and she did think that gray silk wrapper was so becoming. But she did not mention the address of the letter.