On the Road to Crowninshield

ONE pleasant June morning, John Fay rode leisurely along the plain that leads from the south to the village of Crowninshield. His horse, which he had hired in a town below, was inclined to make the journey with philosophic ease ; and John, whose mission to Crowninshield was not a cheerful one, was content to let him have his will.

Above was the blue and white woof of the spring sky. Through a rent in its texture a handful of wool seemed to have fallen here and there, and to be floating on in a sea of air below, so near to earth that it looked as if it must be caught in passing the spires of the western hills.

A robin’s emphatic note or the plaint of the meadow lark was brought out sharply in relief against the stillness of the morning. A trio of crows passed over, their great wings beating the air to a slow, solemn measure, in keeping with their hoarse cries.

The soil of the road was sandy, and the vegetation by its side sparse and sere. The plain was evidently a desert in a fertile country, for in the near distance John could see fields of grass lying like bright green ribbons about the brown ploughed land.

A colony of sand violets had now and then taken possession of an eastern incline of the highway, and their variations of purple and blue sounded a pleasant color note in the sombre harmony. Now and then a daisy straggled out of the soil, and discovered its circle of gold to the sunlight.

A scanty pine woodland added shelter and picturesqueness to the road, and to the light morning breeze its sweet resinous odor. Occasionally there came an opening, through which he caught a glimpse of the village of Crowninshield, lying a white and green check of color at the base of the western and northern hills. Its three white spires — emblems of three diverse attempts of man to find God — were outlined prettily against the haze of amethyst which still veiled the hills. John drew rein at these points to look at the picture before him, with the quiet enjoyment of one who has been an exile from his native country for many years.

The road was leaving the plain at the edge of the village, when the horse stopped of his own accord, and bent his head toward a seeming obstruction in front. John glanced hastily down, to see a pygmy pattern of a child perhaps rising three. She showed a mass of short, very black hair, dressed in the chrysanthemum fashion, and a round dark face, serving as background for a pair of gleaming eyes which looked as if they had been stretched beyond their normal limits to accommodate them to the wonders of the world.

She stood directly in front of the horse’s feet, but evinced not the slightest fear, as with one hand she hugged a forlorn-looking kitten to her side, and with the other tried to make connection with the horse’s nose. Her circle of face had a generous smearing of sand, held fast by a primal coating of bread and butter, and her gown was sadly torn by briers ; but she looked beyond the horse to his rider with the most engaging unconsciousness and confidence.

“ Me want to pat him,” she said, — “gweat, big bonny.”

John laid his hand on the horse in some apprehension, but without cause. Ned had evidently much kindliness for the young of the race that had him in thrall. He bent lower toward the tiny upraised hand, but threw back his head, disconcerted, for at the touch of his sensitive nose she had drawn away her hand with a scream of mingled delight and fear. The hand was instantly raised again, however, and this time there was no outcry as Ned graciously submitted to its soft, awkward pats and strokings.

“ My ! ” she said, her tone swelling with admiration, “what a big, big bonny ! ”

John laughed, and she, catching his mood, laughed too, her shrill child’s merriment contrasting as oddly with his as the whir of the cicada with the drumbeat of the frog.

“Where are you going, midget,” asked John pleasantly, — “ you and the kitten ? ”

“ I ’se stoled the kitten,” she answered unblushingly, for her conscience was still rudimentary, it seemed, “ and I ’se wunned away.”

“Run away!” exclaimed John. “ Where from ? ”

“ Muvver,” she replied unhesitatingly.

John was tempted to another laugh, but, checking the impulse, inquired sternly, “ What did you run away for ? ” She looked about her a minute, as if trying to comprehend this delicate ethical question, but, failing, said irrelevantly, “ I ’se dot a little sudar wat at home,” her eyes once more beaming pleasure and confidence.

“ What is your name? ” asked John, for lack of another subject, and for ulterior purposes of identification.

“ Andelina Sofony.”

“ But the rest of it ? Angelina Sophronia — what ? ”

She shook her tangled hair a little impatiently. “ Dess Andel,” she said.

“ Where do you live ? ” he queried.

She turned about, and bent one crusted Lilliputian forefinger toward a house not far away, — a small brown oblong, guiltless of paint or piazza, and almost lost in apple trees.

John dismounted. “ Would you like to ride the bonny ? ” he asked persuasively.

She needed no persuasion. “ Oh ! ” she gasped inarticulately, clasping her hands rapturously in spite of the kitten’s resistance. He had seen many an actress, of the barn-storming variety, in the mining town where he had lived, make that same gesture with the hands, and had wondered if it were natural, or one of the stage properties; but he never doubted from that moment.

He lifted her as if she had been a toy, and, setting her on Ned’s back, walked on by her side, holding her in place. To his surprise, she was very still, benumbed perhaps by delight and some dim perception of peril. She hardly breathed, it seemed, but he had an odd misgiving that if her eyes opened any wider they would never shut peaceably again, when they reached the house, and she called out, “ Dere’s muvver ! ”

He had lifted her down when a woman of the same type as the child, even to the short, wavy black hair, darted out of the house, and pounced on her like a hawk on its prey. Her onset was such an excellent imitation of violence that only a most careful observer could have seen how gently her hand finally closed on the child’s arm. John’s first impulse was to attempt some mediation in the little girl’s behalf, when he noticed how unconscious of her mother’s presence she seemed, as she stood looking rather wistfully, he thought, at her late steed.

“Angel! ” exclaimed the little woman impetuously, in a voice so sweet that it drew the sting from the scolding. “ You imp of darkness, where’ve you been ? You little bad thing ! ”

Angel paid no heed to this flattering comment, but said something incoherent about a “ big bonny.”

“You’ve been and stole Nell Jennings’ kitten, too ! You little ragamuffin thief! ” she continued excitedly. “Just look at your dress, and your face! ” her voice rising to a clear, penetrating sweetness like a bird’s. “ I ’ll sell you to the next ragman that comes along.”

Angelina Sophronia was unmoved. She drew a long sigh, and, putting a forefinger in her mouth, looked doubtfully at John.

“ Me want more wide,” she said pleadingly.

“ More ride ! ” repeated the mother indignantly. “ I know what you want, and what you ’ll get. Here, give me the kitten. — I don’t let her have kittens,” said she, addressing John for the first time ; “ she squeezes ’em too tight. I got a calf for her to play with this spring,” she went on, nodding toward a pretty brown - eyed creature coming toward them. “ She can’t hurt that, squeezin’ it, so I tether ’em out to play together under the trees in the mornin’ ; but the little ungrateful thing, she’s got to be runnin’ away after kittens.”

She stooped to rescue the kitten from Angel’s encircling arm, but drew herself up suddenly with a cry of impatience ; for the calf, which, leechlike, was wont to attach itself by the power of suction to all available objects, had seized her apron strings, and was mouthing them contentedly.

“ My conscience ! ” she exclaimed vehemently. “ Cats, calves, and children ! Was ever a woman so tormented ! ”

John could not refrain from smiling at the humorous little face, — pretty, too, in its own piquant way, — now bent over its smaller facsimile in a second attempt to free the kitten, and wondered how she could allude to herself as a woman. She was plainly under twenty, and a “ kind of grown-up child at that,” he thought.

Her inclined posture carried with it a new temptation, it appeared ; for a hen that had been wandering about the yard, followed by a brood of chickens, came close to her now, and, seeing her within easy reach, flew up to her shoulder, and perched there very much at ease, peering around into her mistress’s eyes curiously, apparently to see if they were good to eat.

“ My conscience ! ” complained the little woman, who stood motionless, quite at the mercy of the feathered creature. “ Just look at this ! She ain’t got no respect for me, and she’s bringin’ up them eleven chickens not to have any respect for me, either.” The chickens were circling fearlessly about her feet, peeping their discontent at being thus forsaken. Providence now came to her aid in the shape of a yellow butterfly. The hen flew down and gave chase, followed by the disrespectful eleven.

“ There ! ” cried her mistress vindictively, when restored to her natural position. “ I ’ll serve you up for dinner if you don’t look out, you and the chickens in one pie ! ”

She returned again to the kitten, and, after much resistance and many protests, the imprisoning arm was made to release its captive. The mother, somewhat flushed with the contest, tucked the kitten’s head under her chin, as if it were a violin and she the player, while she stroked it in atonement for any ruffling of fur or tight squeezing it might have suffered.

“ The little nuisance ! ” she ejaculated, as she ran diagonally up the street, and, leaning over a fence, put it on the ground as gently as if it had been an egg. She returned hastily, for the kitten was pausing, attracted by this show of friendliness, and evidently hesitating between the old love and the new.

“ Come, Angel! ” she called excitedly. “ It ’ll be over here again in a minute. Let’s run in, so it won’t see us ! — I’m obliged to you for bringing her home,” turning to speak to John.

“ Will you tell me,” said John, “ where Mrs. Ben Hawkins lives, — Molly Hawkins ? ”

“ Molly Hawkins ? That’s me. Did you want to see me ? Come in, please.”

John tied his horse as quickly as his natural moderation would permit, and followed her into the house.

The room which they entered was the kitchen. It was of comfortable size, and well lighted from the south and east. The sunshine was coming in at the south now, and lay along the bare floor in rugs of yellow light. The wall paper was of diverse bright colors and patterns, — pieces begged or bought by Molly, shaped in odd figures and matched at leisure on the wall, so that at first glance the room looked as if it were fitted out with hangings of crazy work. On one side was a home-made lounge of rough workmanship, knowing no secrets of adaptation or compromise, but decked out gayly with red calico ; for Molly loved the warmth of red as a flower the sun.

John took a seat on this ascetic furnishing, though Molly offered him an easy-chair so large that it looked humorously out of proportion to its mistress.

“ Is — is it the mortgage ? ” she faltered wistfully.

“ No.”

“ I ’m glad of that,” she said briskly, brightening to her old manner. “ I know the interest ain’t been paid this long time. It’s terrible livin’ under a mortgage. What with Ben’s goin’ away ” — she paused, looking at him sharply, as if she wondered whether he knew — “ and this dead weight of a mortgage, I’ve come to be not much more than a bundle of live wires,” she said, laughing nervously.

Angel, who had caught up a cloth nondescript that answered her turn for doll, and was holding it where the kitten had left a vacancy, joined in with her shrill staccato.

“ Well, here I am,” exclaimed Molly vehemently, “ standin’ here, while that fallen angel of mine’s robbin’ the potato patch of half its due! Where’s the wash basin ? ” She moved about the room briskly, running up against various articles of furniture in her haste to remove the film of the earth’s crust that overlay Angel’s face.

Angel watched these preparations with much anxiety, and, seeing they surely boded no good to herself, wailed a protest.

“ Me don’t want to be washed ! ” she cried. She trudged across the room to John’s knee, and looked up anxiously into his face to see if she could find any signs of intercession. “ Me don’t want to be washed! ” she wailed again, as she evidently found no comfort there.

Molly flashed a glance of humorous indignation toward John. “ They never do. She never does,” she snapped, as if conjugating the verb do. “ They’ve all got a mild touch of hydrophoby when it comes to water, — except in puddles. They like it in puddles, — muddy ones,” she explained, shaking her head at thought of this depravity.

“ You come right here, now,” she said threateningly to Angel, “or I’ll drown your dollie,” she added viciously.

“ There’s the cam man ! ” said Angel, trying to create a diversion.

Molly listened for the sound of the horn.

“ He’s on the other street; besides, I don’t want any. I like clams,” she said, “ very much, —I think sometimes I have a kind of passion for ’em; but,” she concluded, with a furtive shamed glance toward John, “ I don’t get any. I can’t bear to put the little live things into the kettle. I ’m always thinkin’ how I should feel if I was one of ’em.”

John put an arm about the child, and beat her hand softly against his knee.

“ I’ve brought a message from Ben,” he said, as if the touch gave him courage.

“ Oh ! ” exclaimed Molly, seating herself by the table. He could see that she was trembling even then.

“ Yes. He hailed me as I was going by, one day, and said he’d heard I was going home ; and if I ever went up to Crowninshield, he wished I ’d tell Molly Hawkins that he’d kept that precious memento he took away with him, and it was a whole creed and confession of faith to him, and when he got to hankerin’ after Connecticut he just took it out and looked at it.”

Molly flushed angrily, and, when she spoke, stammered with the effort to suppress her rage.

“ It’s — it’s the doormat! He took it away with him ! I scolded him because he did n’t wipe his feet before he came in, one mornin’, and he just took the doormat and was off without a word. He had some money, too, — the last that came to me from father, — and I ’d given it to him to pay the interest on the mortgage. Did you ever hear of a man mean enough to steal a woman’s own money to run away from her with ? That’s Ben Hawkins ! He left me here alone with the baby — she was only three months then — and the mortgage. Someway I never toughened up as I was before, after Angel was ” — she hesitated, flushing ; “ and everything’s gone wrong,” she went on, her voice rising pathetically. “ The garden won’t stand a drought; and besides havin’to see the poor things die out there, I don’t have them to sell.”

She recovered her usual voice suddenly, and said shrewishly, “ If you ’re going back, you can just tell Ben Hawkins I’m waiting here for him to do just one respectable thing, so I can hold up my head here for having married him.”

“I’m not going back,” he said slowly. “ If I did, it would n’t be any use. He fell down the shaft of the Amethyst mine a day before I came away.”

“ He was ” —

“ Killed.”

Her hand on the table was trembling. He fancied he could almost see its pulse beating like the heart of a frightened bird. The little girl, as if divining that something was wrong, and he the probable cause, slipped away from him, and went to her mother’s side, where she stood peering out from under the table, her cheek on her mother’s knee.

There was something so intent, so curious, yet troubled, in their faces that he thought of two wild creatures that had never seen man, and, though wounded, had crept back to see the hunter and learn the cause of this new pain.

“ Then,” said Molly, and her voice sounded strangely far off, “ he won’t come back to say he’s sorry — or — or — to — hear me say I’m sorry.”

“ No.”

She threw out her hands with a low, prolonged cry, and, folding them upon the table, laid her forehead upon them there. The room went through that strange comparison when it becomes still, then more still.

He rose softly, and moved silently toward the door. He stopped there, and, looking back, thought he would have given some of the more unprofitable months of his life if he could have offered her any comfort; but he felt that his going was the only courtesy and consideration he could show her then.

As he stepped out of the house he was forced to brush away the eleven chickens, huddled on the doorstone, while their mother, outspread like a fan to half again her ordinary size, was in fierce pursuit of the kitten, that had unwisely returned.

To escape the anger of the hen, now returning victorious, he walked carefully along a strip of flowers, — great flaunting marigolds, busily weaving the rays of the sun to yellow velvet, — and as he thereby reached an open country, free from kitten, calf, or chicken, hastened through the yard to his horse. He stopped, however, at the gate, and lingered there, as if his feet were irresistibly stayed.

The color crept sluggishly into his fair, stolid face.

Such a child! And another child clinging to her skirts ! Such a vixen ! And for all the shrewishness, with a tenderness so exaggerated, so absurd, that it left her at the mercy of bird, kitten, or child, or any wind that blew!

The variety and piquancy of her moods, which by some magic her plastic face wrought out in flesh, had caught his fancy. Her dark eyes, brimming with light or shadow, flashing with mirth, coquetry, or indignation, as he had seen the gray clouds in the west suddenly quivering to life at the touch of the lightning, had stirred his dull imagination.

It would have been only his imagination, like the influence of picture or story, if he had not felt the underlying pathos. It is pain, after all, that dispels illusions, and brings us back to the bare cubic dimensions of what we see. Away from the glamour of the little drama of which he had been an interested spectator, that one heart cry had shown him, not the player going through her part for his entertainment, but the woman in need of pity, protection, and what the poets and story-writers call love. His people were of the kind that are reticent in matters of pure sentiment, avoiding its symbols as they might a pestilence, but dying sometimes for the reality itself.

He knew that there was this force in the world ; had felt its power in relation to his mother, now some time gone, and his regard for his brothers was strong; but he had always thought of it as carelessly as of the law of gravitation. For the rest, he had spent the years battling with the elements and the elemental rocks in mining camps of Colorado. He had been but a day or two at home, and was trying to take up again the threads of the old mode of living, as he had dropped them twenty years before.

When he had mounted and was riding on toward the village centre, his thought reverted to the man who had so cruelly and cravenly deserted his home. He was gone, however, to pay his reckoning, poor fellow ; and John had no disposition to follow, Dante-like, to the shades of the other world, to anathematize him there.

“ I should n’t have minded her scolding,” he thought, “ any more than the whistle of the south wind.”

After dining at the tavern, and calling on an acquaintance in the village, he went back on foot to Molly’s house. The curtains had been lowered, he observed as he came near. There was a bit of crape on the front door, and near the kitchen entrance she had thrown a black apron over the marigolds.

Angel and the calf were sleeping in pleasant companionship, Angel’s still unwashed face sketched against its shaggy red coat.

As he came to the door he hesitated, reluctant to knock, lest he should disturb the hush that seemed to have fallen on the house.

A sound attracted his attention, and, turning, he saw Molly coming toward him. Her sunbonnet had fallen away, baring her face, so that he saw it was still in half-light, and her lips were white and unmanageable. She nodded to him pleasantly.

“ I’ve just been buryin’ my weddin’ ring,” she said. “ I could n’t bear to see it and hear it. So I dug a little grave for it out there by the gillyflower tree, where it won’t be disturbed. I’d have been glad to slip my heart in, too, if it was n’t for Angel. Such women as me ought to have a little pen for themselves in a desert somewhere, where they can’t hurt other folks.”

“ Oh, don’t,” he said, “ don’t blame yourself so. Everybody needs forgiving at times. All the most of us can say is, we did n’t mean any harm.”

“ You don’t know how it is,” she pleaded, as she seated herself on the threshold. “ The dust gets into your eyes, someway, so you can’t see anything else till it’s gone ; and a cobweb ’s more ’n a mere cobweb, — it tangles up your thoughts so you can’t get away from it more ’n a fly. If he should come to-morrow, I’d tell him I’m sorry ; but when he came in I should ask him if he’d cleaned his feet. But he won’t come.” She cowered down in a corner of the threshold, and hid her face against the casing.

“ There ! there ! ” he said blunderingly. “ Please don’t! I — I ” —

“ I made so sure he’d come back,” she went on. “ All the winter, when I was diggin’ paths and worryin’ over the mortgage and carryin’ coal, I comforted myself practicing what I’d say to him when he did come back. And now it’s so different. I’d walk out to the mine to tell him I ’m sorry. When folks are dead they have us at such a disadvantage,” she added quaintly.

“ I’ve been burnin’ the letters he wrote me before we was married. I could n’t read ’em. It is n’t that I cared so much for him. I never cared so much after he went away. It’s the pity of it, — what I thought it was going to be, and what it was, and what it might have been, maybe. And it always hurts when you know any part of your life is ended and put away. I remember, before we went down into the parlor to be married, I looked out of the window on the lots, and thought how I never should be a girl again in short dresses, runnin’ there in the clover, and I cried. I was happy, too, but I was takin’ leave of the girl.”

“ Yes,” said John, “ I understand.”

“ He did n’t like me long. He got tired of me. He did n’t like my ways. He said I was like a cranberry ; God forgot to put any sweetenin’ in me when I was growin’. But he did n’t understand,” appealing wistfully, instinctively, to John.

“ Have you got a wife of your own ? ” she asked irrelevantly, looking up at him with eyes alive with curiosity.

“No ! ” he exclaimed, almost startled at her question. He took a step toward her. “ Molly,” he said, “ would you take the love of a man that did understand ? ”

She drew back her skirts as at the touch of fire. “No — n-no,” she stammered, “ not — not yet. I have n’t put on black and mourned for him yet. What good would there be in losin’ a man, if a woman could n’t mourn for him ? ” she said hastily, hardly reckoning with her words.

“ And when that ceremony is over,” he asked, “ what then ? ”

“ You would n’t really,” she said, “ now I’ve worried one man to death, give me another chance ? ”

“ Ah, would n’t I ? I should n’t mind your scoldin’ more than the rain on the roof. Besides, I should like you : that’s what makes the difference.”

By this time Angel was awake, and, seeing the stranger, had toiled up the slope to the door. She caught the skirt of his coat, and, pulling gently to attract his attention, upturned a sleepy but most serious little face.

“More wide,” she said.

He caught her in his arms, laughing, swung her as high as he could reach, then set her down gently by her mother’s side.

“ I must be goin’ on,” he said. “ Will you let me know when I can come, Molly ? ”

Molly feigned to be busy with the child, but he detected the faintest upward look and smile as he waited, and he went away content.

“ They said Roger Fox wanted to sell,” he meditated, as he rode home. “ It’s between Tom’s and Rob’s, too. I ’ll get it, I guess, and put some bay windows and balconies and L’s on. It ’ll keep me busy, and they like such furbelows. It’s got a big lawn, too, big enough for a little girl — and a calf,” he added, smiling.

He did not go to Crowninshield again that summer, but wrote many times, asking leave. He always received a brief answering “ No, not yet.” Late in the autumn a note came, with the chilling words: “ No, you must never come. Please don’t write again. It has come to me that what you offer is n’t fit for such as me. I’m always haunted by the memory of what I’ve done.”

John could not sound the depth and windings of the woman’s conscience. He only realized his own bitter sense of loss and bewilderment. His slow thought and fancy had been setting toward Molly all summer, till it seemed to him that the very sun rose in the east to bring her the morning, and set at night because she was tired and wanted rest.

There were some weeks following that missive which he never cared to recall. Work on the house was stopped, while he sat a half day idle in one of the unfurnished rooms, or wandered out over the fields as aimlessly as one lost in the mazes of a dream.

One afternoon he mounted Ned and rode toward Crowninshield. He would see Molly in spite of her protest.

As the road came toward the place where it left the plain and he had first seen the little girl, the same vision suddenly appeared, springing up out of some weeds by the roadside like a magnified Jack-in-the-box.

“ Angel! ” came a low, protesting voice from the bushes.

“ It’s the bonny ! ” she cried eagerly, running toward John. A doll which he had sent her was tight in her arms, and as she came up to him she bent it over, and, pointing rapturously at the closing eyes, cried, “ See! it does to seep ! ”

“ It’s black like herself,” said Molly, rising shyly from a tangle of cornel; “ she kisses the dirt off her own face onto it.” She laughed, hardly daring to meet John’s eyes. Her face was very thin, and the lines of her whole figure, even hat and shawl, drooped pitifully, he thought.

“ And what are you two doing here at dusk ? ” he asked. “ Not meaning to waylay travelers, I hope ? ”

“We came to get away from the house,” she said. “ They’ve foreclosed the mortgage, and we have to go soon, anyway. I ’m not grievin’ over that,” quickly, as she noticed an impatient movement of his hand. “ I can’t stay there any longer. It’s got so I can’t touch the dust for sorrowin’, and fear he ’ll see me,” she whispered. “ The house has come to be full of noises, — sharp, harsh things I’ve said to him. When I open a door the room’s full of them, and I can’t go inside. The house is dust-possessed ; it lies everywhere, like the snow on the trees in winter. And the ghost of the doormat’s come, too, and haunts the doorstone; and when I put my foot toward it, it’s there and frightens me. There ’s a memory in the house,” she said, trembling, “ that’s come to fill it so full there is n’t any room for us.”

“ What are you going to do ? ” he asked stolidly.

“ I’m thinking of going to Wilton, to the box factory. I’ve got an aunt there that would look after Angel. He won’t hurt her ! ” she exclaimed anxiously, for Angel had moved around toward the horse’s head, and was showing him, with the utmost confidence in his sympathetic interest, her wonderful doll with its gift for sleep.

“ Oh no,” said John. “ I bought him after I went back, that day — for her,” he added rather awkwardly. “ Could n’t you like me a little, Molly, a little, — just enough to begin on ? ”

“ That’s it,” she said, flushing and looking down. “ I was n’t so troubled till I began to be glad he was gone, — glad be was gone,” she whispered tragically, her face turning pallid. “ You were so differentAnd it ’s love that tempts us. There is a story about a woman in a garden, once, that lost the garden for the sake of an apple ; but there’s some mistake in the story, — it was love that grew on the tree.” She hid her face in the shawl.

He put an arm about her and drew her to him. “ There, there, little one ! ” he said. “ Don’t you know people hear what they listen for, in this world ? You don’t think that they hold ill will toward us, over there, and grudge us the scant happiness we get here ? Listen and see if you can’t hear Ben saying he’s sorry, and he wants you to be happy. Let’s go to the house now, and you put on a warmer dress, and I ’ll get a carriage and take you home. I’ve got a house of my own down in Stanton, with four bay windows, a big piazza, two balconies, and an L,” he added gayly. “ I’ll take you to brother Tom’s Mary ; she’s the nest best woman in the world.”

She hesitated, drawing away, yet looking back furtively, as Eve, perhaps, toward her lost Eden.

“ There’d be a place for Angel ? ” she asked falteringly.

“ Angel! ” he exclaimed. “ How can you ask me ? ”

He moved toward the child, who, with many ejaculations of pleasure and soft purrings, was stroking Ned’s nose, graciously lent for the purpose.

“ He’s dot teef ! ” she yelled, as if she had made an important scientific discovery.

“Is there any one who wants to ride the bonny ? ” asked John.

She scurried toward him, in her haste falling headlong at his feet. He picked her up and brushed her dress, casting a merry look at Molly.

“ Never mind,” he said. “ Pure dirt is one of the healthiest things in the world. Come, dear.”

So, holding Angel on Ned with one hand, and clasping Molly’s with the other, he went on in a little triumphal procession, that celebrated the victory he had won.

Dora Loomis Hastings.