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A Flock of Girls and Boys by Nora Perry

Part 4 out of 4

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"Yes, you are; and you are taking the gloss all off 'em, too, and I want
'em to look new when I wear 'em in Boston."

"Well, I never heard of such selfish, stingy meanness as this. It's
raining hard, and you'd let me go out and get my feet sopping wet rather
than lend me your new rubbers."

"Why don't you wear your own old ones?"

"Because they leak."

"They've leaked ever since I got this new pair!" retorted Ally,
scornfully. "But it isn't these rubbers only; you're always borrowing my
things. There's my blue jacket; you've worn it till the edge is
threadbare, and you've worn my brown hat until it looks as
shabby--and--there! you've got my silver bangle on now! You're no
better than a thief, Florence Fleming!"

"A thief! that's a nice pretty thing to say to _me_! I should like to
know who buys your things for you? Isn't it _my father_ and Uncle John?
I should like to know where you'd be, Alice Fleming, if it wasn't for
Uncle John and father. Here, take your old bangle and keep it, and
everything else that you've got. I never want to see anything of yours
again; and I'm glad you're going off to Boston to Uncle John's for the
rest of the winter, and I wish you'd stay there and never come back
here,--I do!"

"I wish so too. Nobody in Uncle John's family would ever be so mean as
to fling it in my face that I was a poor little beggar of an orphan."

"Uncle John's family! Uncle John's wife said the last time she was here
that she dreaded the winter on your account,--there!"

"Aunt Kate--said that?"

"Yes, she did; I heard her."

A strange look came into Ally's eyes, and all the pretty color faded
from her cheeks, as she cried out in a hoarse, passionate voice,--

"You're a cruel, bad girl, Florence Fleming, and I hope some day you'll
have something cruel and bad come to you to punish you!" and with these
words the excited child flung herself across her little bed, and burst
into a paroxysm of stormy sobs and tears.

"Here, here, what's the matter now?" called out Mrs. Fleming, Florence's
mother, coming across the hall and pushing the bedroom door open.

"Ask Ally," answered Florence, coolly,--so coolly, so calmly, that it
was quite natural to suppose that she was much less to blame in the
present disturbance than her cousin; and as poor Ally was past speaking,
Florence had a double advantage, and Mrs. Fleming, glancing from one
girl to the other, thought she understood the situation perfectly, and
in consequence said rather sharply,--

"I do wish, Ally, you would try to control your temper a little more!"
and with these words the lady turned and left the room, her daughter
Florence following her. As they crossed the hall, Ally unfortunately
overheard her aunt say to Florence, "I am thankful that you two are to
be separated to-morrow for the rest of the winter. I hope by spring some
other arrangement can be made to keep you apart. We shall never have any
peace while--"

The rest of the sentence was lost to Ally. But she was quite sure it
was--"while Ally is with us;" and a fresh gust of stormy sobs and tears
shook the child's frame, as she thus concluded the sentence. A fresh
gust also of stormy resentment and self-pity shook the girl. "Oh, yes,
it's always Ally, always Ally, that's to blame," she said to herself. "It
would be very different if I wasn't a poor little beggar of an orphan;
yes, indeed, very different. If I was a _rich_ orphan, if papa and mamma
had left a lot of money to be taken care of with me, I guess things
would be different,--I guess they would. I guess Florence Fleming and
her mother wouldn't lay everything that goes wrong to _me_ then, and I
guess Aunt Kate wouldn't say that she dreaded the winter on account of
me,--no, I guess she wouldn't! Oh, oh!" with a fresh sob, "I wish some
other arrangement _could_ be made away from 'em all. They don't any of
'em want me, not any of 'em, and I'd rather go to an orphan asylum. I'd
rather--I'd rather--oh, I'd rather go to _jail_ than to _them_!" and
down into the pillow again went the fuzzy yellow head of this little
hot-tempered Ally Fleming, who called herself so pityingly "a poor
little beggar of an orphan."

The facts of the case were these: Ally's father and mother had both died
when she was seven years old, leaving her to the care of her two nearest
relatives,--her father's two brothers,--Mr. Tom and Mr. John Fleming. As
her father had little or nothing to leave her, he had requested that the
burden of her maintenance should be equally divided between the uncles,
the child to live alternately with each family, six months with one and
six with the other. She had been old enough when she was thus
transplanted from her own home to realize more or less the peculiar
condition of things; and as she was quick-tempered and sensitive, she
very soon began to take note of any comment or remark regarding herself
that was dropped in her hearing, and very often misunderstood or made
too much of it. But there was no denying, whichever way you looked at
it, that it was rather a difficult situation for both sides, and that
the Fleming aunts and uncles and cousins had something to put up with,
as well as Ally. But that Ally was the most to be pitied there was also
no denying, for she could remember with unfading vividness being the
centre of love, the one special darling in _one_ home, and now she
hadn't even one home, and was nobody's darling. As she lay there on the
bed shaken by her sobs, she pictured to herself, as she had pictured
many, many times in these three years, the happy home that she had lost.
For three years this once petted child had been learning what it was to
be one of many, or, as she herself put it, one _too_ many.

CHAPTER II.

The next day at noon Ally was on her way to Boston, where she was to
live for the next six months in her uncle John's family. Both her uncle
Tom and his wife, Aunt Ann, had gone to the station to see her off, and
both of them had kissed her good-by, and given her various messages to
deliver to the Boston relations. Everything was going on as pleasantly
as possible until Aunt Ann at the very last stooped down and said,--

"Now, try, Ally, try while you are with your aunt Kate to control your
temper. You mustn't fly up at every little thing, and expect to have
your own way with everybody. It is very difficult to live with people
who act like that, and nobody can love them. Remember that, Ally;" and
with these words, Mrs. Fleming bent still lower to touch Ally's lips
with a final farewell kiss. But Ally at this movement turned suddenly,
and the kiss that was meant for her lips fell upon her cheek.

"Such an uncomfortable disposition as that child has, I never met
before, never!" ejaculated Mrs. Fleming, as she joined her husband
outside the car.

"What's she done now?" asked Uncle Tom.

His wife described the girl's swift evasive movement away from her.

Uncle Tom laughed, and then sighed. "Poor little soul," he said; "she's
going to have a hard time of it in life, I'm afraid."

"She's going to make those who live with her have a hard time," answered
Aunt Ann, resentfully thinking of her rejected kiss.

"'Mustn't fly up at every little thing!'" repeated Ally to herself, as
she was left alone in her seat. "She'd better give Florence some of her
good advice. She'd better tell her not to aggravate folks 'most to
death, and then stand off so cool, and make everybody else seem in the
wrong. Hard to live with! Mebbe I _am_ hard to live with; but I don't
play double like that; and as for nobody's loving me, these relations of
mine never loved me--any of 'em--from the first."

As Ally came to this conclusion in her thought, she happened to look out
of the car window, and there, why, there was her aunt Ann and uncle Tom
outside on the platform, standing at another car window farther down,
talking and laughing in the liveliest manner with some friends they had
met. Uncle Tom didn't seem in the least haste now, and ever so many
minutes ago he had said to her, "Well, good-by, Ally!" and rushed off as
if there wasn't another minute to spare,--not another minute; and here
was a gentleman in front of her, saying to a friend of his at that very
instant, "There's plenty of time; it's ten minutes before the cars
start;" and then she heard a lady say to another lady, "There's no need
of my leaving you yet; we've got oceans of time;" and all about her,
Ally now noticed various groups of friends and relations lingering
lovingly together until the last moment; and noting all this, a bitter
little look came into Miss Ally's face, and a bitter little thought came
into her heart,--a thought that said tauntingly, "There, this shows you,
Ally Fleming, what kind of relations you've got; this shows you how much
they care for you!"

And by and by, as the cars started up and sped along, this bitter little
thought also sped along, carrying in its wake all the bitter little
thoughts of yesterday and to-day. Ally was quite accustomed to
travelling by herself on this trip to and from New York. It was a
perfectly simple thing to sit in the car-seat where she had been placed
by one uncle, until at the end of the trip she was met by the other
uncle, and taken charge of,--a perfectly simple, easy matter, and Ally
had heretofore quite enjoyed it; but now, looking about her, and seeing
the groups of other people's relations going home to Thanksgiving, she
began to think it was a very lonesome thing to be travelling all alone
by herself; and just as this occurred to her, what should happen but
that one of these groups should turn inquisitively to her and ask, "Are
you travelling all by yourself, little girl?" and when Ally had
answered, "Yes," this inquisitive person commented upon her being such a
little girl to travel all by herself; and then, when Ally told her
rather proudly that she was ten years old, the inquisitive person had
said, "Well, I don't know what _my_ little ten-year-old girl would think
to be sent off to travel all alone. I shall tell her when I get home
what a brave little girl I met."

Ally thought all this was said out of pity and wonder, and that the lady
thought her very much neglected and forlorn. But instead of that, the
lady meant only to praise and compliment her; and thus, in this way and
that way, the bitter little thoughts kept growing and growing, as the
cars sped on, until long before the end of her journey came, poor Ally
felt that there never was a much more friendless girl than she was; and
when the cars steamed into the Boston station, she said to herself, "I
wonder if Uncle John is dreading the winter on my account, as Aunt Kate
is?" and with this thought she stepped out on the platform. But where
_was_ Uncle John? She expected to see him at once, coming forward to
lift her from the steps. Where _was_ he now? and Ally looked at the
faces before her with wondering scrutiny. She jumped down--for people
were pressing behind her--and moved on, scanning the face of every
gentleman she saw with anxious eyes. No one of them, however, was that
of Uncle John. What _was_ the matter? Didn't he know the train she was
to take? Of course he did, for Uncle Tom had told her that he had
telegraphed that he would meet her at the Boston station at five
o'clock. Of course he knew, so he must have forgotten her. Yes, that was
it,--he had forgotten all about her! Ally was not a specially timid
child; but as she stood in the big station-building, and realized that
there was not a soul she knew there to look out for her, a feeling of
dismay overtook her. If it were in the morning or at noonday, it
wouldn't have seemed so dreadful; but though the electric lights flashed
everything into brilliance, it was a November day, and half-past five
o'clock was after nightfall. What _should_ she do? There was no sign of
Uncle John, and the passengers who had arrived with her were fast
disappearing. Very soon the people in the station would begin to notice
her, to ask questions, and then perhaps some police-officer would take
her to the police-station, as a lost child. She'd heard that that was
what they always did. It was just as this thought came into her head
that she caught sight of one of those very big burly blue-coated
individuals. He had his hand on the collar of a boy about her own age,
and she heard him say to him in a big burly voice,--

"What yer hangin' 'round here for? Lost, eh? That's a likely story.
Come, off with yer, if yer don't want ter be locked up!"

Poor little Ally didn't stop to reason,--to think of the difference in
the outward appearance of herself and the boy,--to see that the
policeman knew the boy perfectly well for a mischievous young scamp who
was up to no good. She didn't stop to consider anything; but with those
words, "If yer don't want ter be locked up," ringing in her ears, she
turned and ran from the station-building as fast as her legs could carry
her. As she came out upon the sidewalk, she saw the colored lights of a
street car. Oh, joy, it was the very up-town car that would take her
close to Beacon Street! But oh, horror! She suddenly recollected that
Uncle John no longer lived on Beacon Street. He had moved last month
into a new house on Marlborough Street, and oh, what _was_ the number?
She "had heard Uncle Tom read it from a letter. It had a lot of 9's in
it. Nine hundred and--why--99--999, three 9's; yes, yes, that was it;"
and with this conviction, Ally gave a hop skip and a jump into the car,
just as it was about to start off, for this very car she knew would take
her nearer to Marlborough Street than to Beacon Street. Her spirits rose
as she felt herself carried along; and in due time she found the three
9's, and tripped up the steps of the house in Marlborough Street bearing
that number. Her heart beat very fast with a sense of relief and injury,
mixed with a certain elation at her own enterprise, as she rang the
bell. Wouldn't they be surprised, and wouldn't Uncle John--But some one
opening the door scattered her questioning thoughts; and--why, who was
this somebody? It must be a new servant with the new house, and a
manservant too. Uncle John must be getting better off,--they had had
only two maids before. It never entered Ally's head to ask the strange
servant if Mr. Fleming lived there. Why should she ask what she was so
sure of? She simply asked, "Where's Uncle John and Aunt Kate and the
rest of them?"

The man looked bewildered, and repeated, "Uncle John?"

"Yes, Uncle John and Aunt Kate. I'm Ally, and Uncle John telegraphed
that he would meet me at the five-o'clock train, and he wasn't there,
and I came up all alone. Where are they? In the parlor?" and Ally
stepped in over the threshold.

"I guess there's some mistake," said the man; "I guess your uncle
John--"

"No, there wasn't any mistake, for he telegraphed to Uncle Tom. He must
have forgotten."

"But your uncle doesn't--"

"What is it, James? What is wanted?" interrupted some one here. The
"some one" was a big, tall gentleman coming down the stairs, whom Ally,
as she looked up in the rather confusing half light of the lower hall,
at once took for her uncle, and rushing forward she ran up to meet him,
crying,--

"Oh, Uncle John! Uncle John! I was so scared not to find you at the
station, and I came up here all alone on the street car!"

But in the very next instant she started back and gasped: "But--but it
isn't--you're not--you're not Uncle John! Where is he, oh, where is he?"

"You've made a mistake, my little girl!" exclaimed the gentleman,--"a
mistake in the house. This isn't your uncle John's, but--"

"Not Uncle John's? Why--why--this is 999!" interrupted Ally,
tremulously.

"Yes; but--"

"Oh! oh!" cried poor Ally, as a fresh flash of memory overcame her,
"that must be the--the--" She was going to say, "the old Beacon Street
number," when, confused and dismayed, she gave another step backward,
her foot slipped, and she fell headlong to the foot of the stairs, where
she lay white and motionless, not a sigh or moan escaping her as she was
lifted and carried into the parlor.

CHAPTER III.

The sun was shining brightly into the pretty new dining-room on
Marlborough Street where Uncle John lived, and swinging in its beams a
great gray parrot named Peter kept calling out, "Ally's come, Ally's
come! give her a kiss! give her a kiss!"

The room was empty when the parrot began; but presently Uncle John and
Aunt Kate came in. At sight of them the parrot screamed, "Hello! hello!"
and then repeated louder than ever, "Ally's come! Ally's come! give her
a kiss! give her a kiss!"

"For pity's sake, put the bird out!" exclaimed Uncle John. "I can't
stand _that now_!"

"Yes, put him out, do!" said Aunt Kate to the servant who was just then
bringing in the coffee.

In a few moments the three daughters of the family--Laura and Maud and
Mary--appeared.

"Have you heard anything about her this morning?" asked the
eldest,--Laura,--as she took her seat at table.

Uncle John shook his head.

"And the police haven't got a clew yet?"

"No, nor the detectives."

"What I _can't_ understand is why she didn't wait in the ladies' room
until you came, papa. She might have known you _would_ come _sometime_."

"We don't know yet that she got as far as Boston," said Mrs. Fleming.

"Why, Uncle Tom's telegram in answer to papa's that he saw her off on
the 11.30 train proves that."

"It doesn't prove that she came through to Boston."

"'Came through'! Why, upon earth, should she leave the cars before she
reached Boston?"

"She might have made the acquaintance of some young people, and stepped
off at a restaurant station with them to buy fruit, and so got left."

"But she would have taken a later train then, and papa has been to the
later ones."

"Don't--don't wonder and speculate any more why a little girl of ten
years didn't do exactly as a grown-up person would have done," burst
forth Uncle John. "The whole blame lies with us, or with Tom and me. We
should never have allowed such a child to be sent off alone like that."

"But, papa, it isn't an uncommon thing for a child of her age to travel
like that."

"It isn't very _common_, and it ought not to be."

"Maybe she's run away," suddenly exclaimed the youngest of the
daughters,--a girl of fourteen.

"Mary!" cried the other two; and "How can you make fun like that _now_?"
said Mrs. Fleming, reprovingly.

"I didn't say it to make fun," protested Mary,--"I didn't, truly;
but--but Ally was very queer sometimes. She took up everything so, and
got offended, or thought you didn't care for her. One day I asked her
why she didn't take things as _I_ did,--spat, and forget it the next
minute, and she said, 'Because I'm not like you, _I only happened
here_'! Wasn't that droll?"

"Droll!" exclaimed Uncle John. "I think it's the most pathetic thing I
ever heard. What have we all been doing that she should feel like this?"

"But she liked being _here_ better than at Uncle Tom's. Florence was
always tormenting her one way and another."

"The trouble with her is that she was an only child, and, transplanted
suddenly into two large families, she couldn't fit herself to the new
circumstances," said Mrs. Fleming.

"And the trouble with _us_ has been," spoke up Uncle John, "that we
didn't take that fact into consideration enough, and try to help her to
fit into the new circumstances. Poor little soul, if we ever get her
back again--"

"Oh, don't, don't talk like that,--'if we ever get her back again!' as
if she were a Charley Ross child that had been kidnapped," burst forth
Mary, with a breaking voice. "_I_ meant to be good to Ally, and that's
why I taught Peter to say, 'Ally's come, Ally's come! give her a kiss!
give her a kiss!' I thought it would be such a pretty welcome, and
Ally'd be so pleased, she'd believe we _did_ care for her when she heard
that."

"You're a little trump, Mary," declared her father, with a suspicious
moisture in his eyes. "I only hope if--_when_ Ally comes back--But,
hark, there's the door-bell!" as a sharp peal rang through the house.
"It may be one of the detectives."

"A gentleman to see you in the parlor, sir," said the maid a moment
later, as she brought in a card.

Uncle John glanced at the card, and then, uttering an exclamation of
surprise, passed it over to his wife, and, jumping up hastily, left the
room.

"Is it the chief of the detectives?" asked Laura, animatedly.

"It isn't a detective at all; it's Dr. Phillips."

"You don't mean _the_ Dr. Phillips,--_Bernard_ Phillips?"

"Yes."

"How strange, and at this hour in the morning! It must be something
about Thanksgiving exercises," interposed Maud.

"But we're not _his_ parishioners. We don't go to _his_ church!"

"Oh, dear!" cried Mary; "I'm _so_ disappointed. I did hope it was the
detective bringing Ally back."

"Kate!" called Uncle John's voice here, "will you come into the parlor?"
and Mrs. Fleming, obeying this call, found herself a minute after
exchanging greetings with the unexpected visitor.

"I want you to tell her, Doctor, just what you've told me exactly,"
said Uncle John. "It's about Ally, my dear," to his wife. "She's found,
and--and--"

"She is at my house," took up the Doctor; and then he told of the little
girl who had come to his house the night before, of her grievous
disappointment, and the accident that had befallen her,--an accident
that had robbed her of consciousness for a time, and from which she had
only sufficiently recovered within the last few hours to answer the
questions that were put to her in regard to her relations, that steps
might be taken to restore her to them.

"And she is seriously hurt,--she couldn't come with you?" broke in Aunt
Kate, breathlessly.

"No, she was not seriously hurt," he assured her; and then came that
most delicate and difficult part of the Doctor's task,--to tell, in what
gentle phrase he could, that this wilful child refused to accompany him;
that she had taken a foolish fancy into her head that her relations did
not care for her,--a fancy that had been strengthened into positive
belief when she failed to find her uncle at the station, and had
suggested to her a wild little plan of going away from them altogether,
into some orphans' home that she had heard of, where she was sure a
place could be found for her. Very gentle, indeed, was the phrasing of
all this,--so gentle and full of sweet human consideration for
everybody's shortcomings and mistakes that Aunt Kate forgot that the
Doctor was a stranger; and with this forgetfulness the sharp pang of
humiliation at a stranger's knowledge of such a family difficulty, and
the little sting of resentment at Ally's attitude towards them all, was
overborne to such an extent that she could frankly admit that her
husband was right, and that none of them had had love and patience
enough to help the child to fit into the new circumstances of her life.

It was an added pang, but there was no resentment in it, when she saw
Ally's sudden shrinking from her as she entered the Doctor's parlor with
him a little later.

To think that they had, though unwittingly, hurt and estranged the child
like this, was Mrs. Fleming's first thought; and the tears came to her
eyes, and her voice broke as she cried impulsively, "Oh, my little girl,
my little girl!"

Ally started at the sight of these tears, at the sound of this tenderly
breaking voice. And there was Uncle John; and _he_ was crying too, and
_his_ voice was breaking as he said something. What was it he was
saying?--that it was not forgetfulness, it was not neglect of her, that
had made him fail to meet her at the station, but an untoward accident
to the streetcar he was in that had delayed him. And what was that Aunt
Kate was saying? That they _did_ care for her, that they _did_ want her,
and that they had set the telegraphic wires all over the country to hunt
for her and bring her back to them.

"But--but--Florence told me," faltered Ally, "that you dreaded the
winter on my account,--I was so--so bad-tempered--so hard to live with."

"Dreaded the winter on your account! Florence told you I said that?"
cried Mrs. Fleming, in amazement.

"She said she heard you say it to her mother."

A light broke over Mrs. Fleming's face. "Oh, I remember now perfectly.
It was just after you were so ill with that bad throat, and I was
speaking to your aunt Ann about it, and I said to her, 'I dread the
winter on Ally's account.' How could--how _could_ Florence put such a
mischievous meaning to my words?"

"Perhaps she only heard just those words," replied Ally, who would never
take advantage of anybody.

"But why should she want to tell you what would hurt you like that?"

"We'd been quarrelling," answered Ally, with an honest brevity that was
very edifying.

"But, as you see now it was for your bad throat, and not for your bad
temper, that I dreaded the winter," said Aunt Kate, with a smile, "you
will come back with us, and let us both try again. We meant to be good
to you, dear; but we did not think enough that you had been unused to a
big family,--that you were a little ewe lamb that had been transplanted
into a great crowded fold, and left to find your place with the crowd;
and you misunderstood this, and took us too hardly; but we're going to
do better. We're going to be more thoughtful of one another, and you'll
come home with us now, and we'll have our Thanksgiving dinner together,
won't we?"

Childish and ignorant of the world's ways, as her wild idea in regard to
her right to a place in an orphans' home proved her, Ally had a great
deal of sense in other directions, and she began to perceive that she
had not been the wilfully neglected and abused person she had thought
herself, and to think, too, that perhaps Aunt Kate _might_ have had
something to bear from _her_. At any rate, her good sense made her see
that her aunt had come to her with kind and generous intentions, and
that the least she could do was to respond with what grace was in her
power; and so with a little smile that had something pathetic in it to
those who saw it, it was so tremulous with that pitiful doubt that had
been born of the last three unhappy years, she put her hand into Mrs.
Fleming's, and signified her readiness to go with her. And then and
there, as she met that smile, Kate Fleming vowed to herself that never
again through fault of hers should this child suffer for lack of loving
care; and with this resolve warm in her heart, she clasped the little
hand in hers more closely, and said brightly,--

"You'll see how glad the girls will be to see you, Ally, when we get
home."

But Ally had no response to make to this. A great dread had seized her
as she felt herself going to meet them. Uncle John's and Aunt Kate's
assurance of regard was one thing, but Uncle John and Aunt Kate were
not the girls, and poor Ally was quite sure that no one of them had ever
cared very much for her, though Mary had alternately petted and laughed
at her, and now--why, now, they might dislike her for making such a
fuss, for Laura had often said she did dislike people so who made a
fuss, and Maud would agree with Laura, and Mary would laugh at her more
than ever. Oh, dear! oh, dear! if she could only go back! if she could
only get that dear good Doctor to find her a place in--But, "Here we
are, Ally!" said Uncle John; and "Here she is!" exclaimed three girlish
voices; and there, standing in the doorway, were Laura and Maud and
Mary; and at sight of their faces, at sound of their voices, Ally's
dread began to vanish. And then, just then, it was that Peter, who had
been banished to the hall, called out uproariously, "Ally's come! Ally's
come! give her a kiss! give her a kiss!" and Mary called out after him,
"I taught him to say that; I taught him more 'n a month ago."

"'More 'n a month ago'! Oh!" breathed Ally under her breath, "she liked
me well enough for this _more 'n a month ago_!"

Uncle John and Aunt Kate and Laura and Maud and Mary were looking on,
and they knew what Ally was thinking of,--the very words of it,--by that
sudden radiant smile upon her face; and Mary was so pleased thereat, she
had to cry out,--

"Oh, what a jolly Thanksgiving this is! Could anything be added to make
it jollier?"

But something _was_ added. When they were all at the dinner-table that
night,--mother and father and girls and the three boys who had just come
up from their boarding-school that very morning,--this telegram was
brought in from Uncle Tom,--

"Thanks for word of Ally's safety. All send love. Florence is writing to
her."

Ally's eyes opened wide with astonishment at this conclusion. Florence!
Aunt Kate read the meaning of that astonished look, and sent a glance to
Ally that said as plainly as _words_ could say, "You see, even Florence
didn't mean as badly as you thought."

AN APRIL FOOL.

CHAPTER I.

"Have you written it, Nelly?"

"Yes, I have it here in my pocket. I'll show it to you when I get a
chance."

"Oh, show it now! There's as good a chance now as you'll have, for the
rest of the girls are all on the other side of the room. Come;" and
Lizzy Ryder held out her hand coaxingly.

Nelly sent a quick glance around the school-room, and then took from her
pocket a small square envelope. The envelope was directed to Miss Angela
Jocelyn. Lizzy Ryder gave a little giggle as she read this name; but as
she drew forth the note-sheet and read written upon it in a slender
pointed handwriting, "Miss Marian Selwyn requests the pleasure of Miss
Angela Jocelyn's company on the evening of April 1st," her giggle became
a smothered shriek, and she said to her cousin,--

"Oh, Nelly, it's perfect; she'll never suspect. It looks just like
Marian Selwyn's writing. Wouldn't it be too good if we could somehow get
hold of Angela's acceptance and keep it back, and have her actually _go_
to the party. What _do_ you suppose Marian would say to her when she
walked in?"

"She wouldn't _say_ anything, but she'd _look_ so astonished, and she'd
be so stiff that Miss Angela would very soon find out she wasn't very
welcome. But we can't keep back the note very well, even if we could get
hold of it,--it might get us into trouble, for it would be against the
law; but there's no law against an April Fool letter of our own, and
'twill be just as good fun in the end, for Marian Selwyn, of course,
will set Miss Angela right in double quick time after she receives her
note. Oh, I can just imagine the top-lofty style in which she will
inform Miss Angela that there must be some mistake."

"And then, of course, they'll both find out that somebody's been
April-fooling them."

"Of course. But that isn't going to interfere with our fun. Miss Angela
will be set down by that time just where I want her, when she discovers
that her invitation is nothing but an April fool on her. I wish--But,
hush, somebody's coming this way;" and in an instant Nelly had whisked
into her pocket the note she had written, and the cousins were walking
down the room, talking in a loud tone about their lessons. The "somebody
coming" was a very quiet but a very observing girl, who, as she saw the
sudden start of Lizzy and Nelly, also caught sight of the little white
missive as it was whisked into Nelly's pocket, and immediately
thought,--

"There's some mischief going on. I wonder what it is."

"That sly Mary Marcy, she's always spying 'round," whispered Nelly to
her companion, as they passed along. Then in a high voice, thinking to
mislead Mary, she cried, "Oh, Lizzy, now I've shown you _my_ composition
you must show me yours."

Mary Marcy was a shrewd girl as well as an observant one, and she
laughed in her sleeve as she heard this.

"Composition! that was no school composition", she said to herself; and
when a few minutes later the bell rang for the close of recess, and she
saw Nelly send a significant glance to Lizzy as the two hurried to their
seats, this shrewd, observant Mary was surer than ever that there was
mischief going on, and when she went home that afternoon she told her
mother what she had seen and heard, and how she felt about it,--for Mary
was very confidential with her mother, and told her most of her school
secrets. Mrs. Marcy listened to this telling with that placid Quaker way
of hers, and remarked in her quaint Quaker phrase, "Thee mustn't be too
suspicious, my dear; it maybe harmless mischief, after all." And then
Mary had replied, "I shouldn't be suspicious of any of the other girls,
mother; but Lizzy and Nelly Ryder are always doing and saying the
mischievous things that have a sting in them;" and Mrs. Marcy, spite of
her Quaker charity, then admitted that she had never quite liked the
ways of those girls, and had often been sorry that they were in the
Westboro' High School; "but, poor things," she added the moment she had
made this admission, "they are more to be pitied than the persons they
hurt, for _they_ can get over the hurt, but these poor girls can't get
over their own wrong-doing so easily. It makes a black mark on them
every time, and black marks are hard to rub off; and thee'll see if they
are up to any wrong-doing now, it will leave a mark, and so they'll get
the worst of it in the long run."

"But it's always _such_ a long run before a mark of that kind shows,"
laughed Mary. "Girls of that sort seem to succeed in making everybody
but themselves uncomfortable, and these two specially always appear to
be so gay and full of good times with their giggle and chatter."

"But the Bible says, Mary, 'for as the crackling of thorns under a pot,
so is the laughter of the fool;' and thee can think of this the next
time thee hears the chatter, and then thee can say to thyself, 'It _may_
be nothing but foolish folly, after all.'"

"Yes, it _may_ be nothing but that," Mary allowed; but when the next
morning she heard it again, her first doubts and suspicions returned in
full force, and she said to herself, "I'm perfectly sure that there's
something more than mere foolishness in this crackling of thorns. I'm
perfectly sure there's mischief with a sting in it. I feel it in the
air, and I'm just going to watch out and see if I can't stop it as I did
that horrid St. Valentine business last winter."

And while good kind Mary was thus "watching out" for this mischief,
there, only two or three seats away from her, sat Angela Jocelyn, about
whom all the mischief was gathering as a dark cloud gathers over a fair
sky. And Angela's sky was particularly fair to her just then, for she
had been made very happy by the invitation she had received that
morning,--so happy that she had said to her elder sister, Martha
Jocelyn, "To think of Marian Selwyn's inviting _me_. Isn't it beautiful
of her?" and Martha had answered back rather tartly, "I don't see why
you should put such an emphasis on 'me,' as if you were so inferior.
You're as good as Marian Selwyn."

"Yes, Martha, I know--it isn't that I feel inferior in--in myself,"
Angela exclaimed; "but the Selwyns have always had money and
everything--always, and we are poor and have lived so out of the way
that I say it's beautiful and kind of Marian, when she knows me so
little. Why, Martha, I never see her anywhere but on the street and at
Sunday-school."

"Well, she likes you, I suppose. She's taken a fancy to you, and she's
independent enough, I should hope, to invite any girl she likes, if the
girl _is_ poor and lives out of the way," was Martha's cool reply.

Liked her! Taken a fancy to her! How Angela's heart jumped at this
suggestion! Could it be possible that this lovely fortunate Marian
Selwyn, that she had always admired from afar off, had taken a fancy to
_her_,--poor, plain little Angela Jocelyn,--was her thought. And it was
with this thought quickening her pulses that she wrote a cordial
acceptance to the note of invitation; and it was this thought that sent
such a bright look into her face that morning, that Mary Marcy said to
her friend and seat-mate, Anna Richards, "Look at Angela Jocelyn, she is
really growing pretty;" and a little later at the recess that followed
directly after a recitation where Angela had easily led, as usual, Mary,
catching sight of the frowning faces of Lizzy and Nelly Ryder,
exclaimed: "Anna, if Angela Jocelyn is going to add good looks to her
braininess, those Ryder girls will be more jealous of her than ever."

"And they pretend to look down on Angela because she is poor and her
mother and sister take in sewing," responded Anna.

"All the same they don't look down on what Angela really _is_. She is
superior to them in brains, and they know it, and that makes them want
to pull her down," answered Mary.

"Yes, I heard Nelly Ryder say last week that Angela was altogether too
conceited, and ought to be 'taken down'; and it would be just like Nelly
Ryder to try to do it sometime."

"_Sometime_! I believe she is trying to do it now. I believe that that
is the mischief she and her cousin Lizzy are planning this moment,"
cried Mary.

"What _do_ you mean?"

"I'll tell you;" and Mary related, as she had related to her mother,
what she had seen and heard.

"Nelly Ryder has never forgiven Angela for getting the history prize;
Nelly thought herself sure of it,--she as good as told me so," was
Anna's only remark upon this.

"And now she's going to play some trick on Angela to take her down, as
she calls it; that's what you think, isn't it? And that's what _I_
think. Oh, Anna, I wish I could ferret out the mischief and stop it. It
will be something hateful and mortifying to poor Angela, I know. If I
could only get some clew to what it is, so as to warn her."

"Yes; but as we are not sure that there _is_ any mischief, after all,
you mustn't say anything to anybody yet."

"No, of course not; but I'll keep a sharp lookout, and I _may_ hear or
see something that will give me a hint. What fun it would be to outwit
one of the Ryder schemes!"

"Mary! with all your Quaker bringing-up, I do believe you are just
pining for what our Jack would call 'a scrimmage.'"

"Well, I am, if that means getting the better of mischief-makers," Mary
confessed with a laugh.

"But you won't succeed, if the mischief-makers are Nelly and Lizzy
Ryder, Those, girls seem to get the best of everything and everybody.
Think now, for one thing, of their being acquaintances of Marian
Selwyn's, and invited to her birthday party!"

"Oh, well, that is family acquaintance, Anna. The Ryders have always
known the Selwyns, just as we have. The Selwyns and Ryders and Marcys
have lived in Westboro', and visited each other for ages."

"I wish _I_ had, and then I might have been invited to this wonderful
birthday party," exclaimed Anna, with a certain earnestness of tone that
belied her gay little laugh, and made Mary say regretfully,--

"I wish I'd known you felt like this last week, I would have had you and
Marian 'round to tea, and then you would have got acquainted, and she'd
have been sure to have invited you; but it's too late now, for the party
comes off Thursday, you know."

"Thursday! Why, Thursday is the first of April.. How funny that one's
birthday should come on the first of April!"

"Funny--why?"

"Why? Because it's April-fool's day."

"Oh, I see; but I'm so used to Marian's birthdays, I don't always stop
to think of that."

"But don't some people think of it? Don't they sometimes play--Oh, oh,
Mary, Mary, mayn't this be your clew? Don't you believe that Nelly
Ryder has been planning an April-fool trick upon Angela in connection
with this party?"

Mary, who had been sitting on one of the wide window-seats in the
recitation-room, jumped to her feet at this, with a little scream of:
"Oh, Anna, you've hit it. I do believe it _is_ the clew. Why _didn't_ I
think of April-fool's day,--that it would be just the opportunity Nelly
Ryder would take advantage of to play a trick, because she could throw
it off from herself as a mere April joke, if her hand was found out in
it. Yes, yes, she has planned to drag Angela into some performance or
other on the birthday that will make her ridiculous and offensive to
Marian,--sending her on some fool's errand to Marian, perhaps the night
of the party, as somebody sent poor little Tilly Drake last year with a
silly message to Clara Harrington that made Clara furious, and mortified
Tilly dreadfully."

"Oh, well, Angela wouldn't be taken in like that; she's brighter than
Tilly."

"Angela is just the one to be taken in. She's one of the brightest
persons I ever saw about books and things of that kind, but she is very
innocent and unsuspecting. Anna, I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I'm
going to see Marian this noon, and I'm going to tell her what I
suspect."

"No, I wouldn't do that; it wouldn't be fair, for it's only our
suspicion, and we _may_ be on the wrong track altogether."

"But what am I to do? Sit still and let some horrid thing perhaps go on
that I might stop?"

"I'll tell you what you might do. You might say to Marian that you had
got an idea that somebody was going to play a trick on her
birthday,--upon her and some unsuspecting person; that you didn't know
_what_ the trick was to be, and you might be all wrong in your suspicion
that there was to be one, but you thought that you ought to put her on
her guard. You might say this to her without mentioning a name."

"Oh, Anna, Anna, what a cautious little thing you are with your 'mays'
and your 'mights;' but you are right, you are right, and I'll go to
Marian this noon, and say just what you've told me to say, and not a
word more."

CHAPTER II.

Mary thought it would be a very easy matter to say to Marian what Anna
had suggested, but it wasn't so easy as she thought. Marian was a year
older than herself, and that meant a good deal to a girl of fifteen,--a
year older and more than a year beyond her, with the experience of
Washington city life and schools during the winter months. In fact, to
Mary, who had not seen her for the past few months, she appeared so
experienced and grown-up, as she came into the room to meet her, that
that young person felt all at once very young and awkward, and as a
consequence made such a boggle of what she had to say, that Marian,
entirely misunderstanding, exclaimed in amazement,--

"You want me to get up an April joke on my birthday, Mary? I couldn't
think of such a thing; I hate April jokes."

"No, no, you misunderstand," burst forth Mary; and then, forgetting all
her awkwardness, she made her little statement over again, and this
time succinctly and clearly. And now it was _her_ turn to be amazed; for
before she had got entirely to the end of her statement, Marian starting
up pulled a note from her pocket and cried, "Read this, Mary! read
this!"

It was Angela's cordial note of acceptance.

"And she had no invitation from _me_. I never invited her, I scarcely
knew her," went on Marian.

"She had no invitation from _you_, but she thought she had. It isn't
Angela who is playing a trick upon _you_. Somebody has played a trick
upon _her_,--has written in your name. Oh, don't you see? _She_ is the
innocent person I meant."

"But who--who is the guilty one,--the one who has _dared_ to do this?"
cried Marian.

"I can't tell you yet whom I think it is, because I haven't any proof,
and it wouldn't be fair to call names unless I had sure proof."

"Well, look here. All my notes were sealed with my monogram seal, but I
used a variety of colored wax. Everybody is interested in comparing
seals now, and so can't you make an excuse to Angela that you want to
compare the seals in the different colors, and borrow her note of
invitation, and then bring it to me? If I could see that note, I might
know the handwriting, and then I'd know who played this shabby, cruel
trick. And I ought to know, that I mayn't suspect an innocent person."

"But the note that Angela received may not be sealed with wax."

"Oh, yes, it will. Whoever sent that note had seen mine, I am certain,
and of course would use wax, as I did. Now, won't you do this little
service for me, Mary?" urged Marian, entreatingly.

Mary laughed. "Yes, I'll do it," she answered, "though I'm not very
clever at playing theatre. I've too much Quaker blood in me for that;
but it's a good cause, and I'll do the best I can, and I'll do it now,
for Angela's sure to be at home now;" and suiting her action to her
word, Mary started off then and there upon her errand.

And so surely and swiftly did she do her best on this errand that Marian
gave a little scream of surprise as she saw her coming back, and,
"You've not got it already?" she cried, running to meet her.

"Yes, here it is. Angela gave it to me at once."

"Just the size of _my_ paper, and the wax--you see I was right. There
_is_ wax, and a seal-stamp that looks like _my_ stamp, but isn't,"
exclaimed Marian. "Now for the handwriting!" One glance at the address
on the envelope; then, pulling out the note, she bent breathlessly over
it for a moment. In another moment she was calling out triumphantly: "I
know it! I know it! She tried to imitate mine, but I know these M's and
r's and A's. They're Nelly Ryder's! they're Nelly Ryder's! Look here;"
and running to her desk, the excited girl produced another note, and
placed it beside the one that Angela had received. It was Nelly Ryder's
acceptance of her invitation; and Mary, looking at the peculiar M's and
r's and A's saw as clearly as Marian herself the proof of the same hand
in each note.

"And I should know her 'hand' anywhere, for I've had hundreds of notes
from her, first and last," Marian went on. "But to think of her playing
such a trick as this! I never had any admiration for her, or her cousin
either; but I _didn't_ think either one of them could do such a
mischievous, vulgar thing. But _you_ did, Mary, for this is the girl you
suspected."

"Yes, because I had known more of her than you had,--going to school
with her every day;" and then Mary told what she had known, and what
she had seen herself, winding up with, "But I didn't like to tell you
all this before I had certain proof, for I wanted to be fair, you know."

"And you _have_ been fair, more than fair; and now--"

"Well, go on, what do you stop for--now what?"

"Wait and see;" and Marian nodded her head, and compressed her lips into
a firm, resolute line.

"Oh, Marian, are you going to punish Nelly?" cried Mary, a little
alarmed at these indications.

Marian nodded again.

"Yes, I'm going to punish her."

"Oh, how, when, where?"

"When? On Thursday night. Where? At the birthday party. How? Wait and
see."

CHAPTER III.

It was the evening of the first of April,--a beautiful, still, starry
evening, with all the chill and frost of early spring blown out of it by
the friendly winds of March, and all the lovely promises of summer
buddings and flowerings wafting into it from waiting May and June.

A "just perfect evening," said more than one girl delightedly, as she
set out arrayed in all her furbelows for the birthday party. A "just
perfect evening." And no one said this more emphatically, and felt it
more emphatically, than Mary Marcy and Angela Jocelyn,--Mary in her
pretty and becoming if rather plain white gown of China silk, and Angela
in her old white cambric that had been 'done over' for the hundredth
time, perhaps, and was neither pretty nor becoming, with its skimp skirt
and sleeves and shrunken waist. But a new gown had been out of the
question just then with the Jocelyns, and Angela had to make the best of
the old one; and it did not seem at all hard to make a very good 'best'
of it, when she stood in her own little bedroom, with Martha tying the
well-worn blue sash around the shrunken waist, and her mother looking on
and saying, "It really looks very nice, and that sash _does_ wash so
well."

But when she went up into the great brilliantly lighted bedchamber at
the Selwyns', and saw Mary Marcy in her perfectly fitting gown drawing
on her delicate gloves, and talking with several young ladies
beautifully dressed in fresh muslin and silk, the skimp skirt and
sleeves, the shrunken waist and washed sash, seemed all at once very
mean and shabby to Angela. They seemed still meaner and shabbier when
two other girls appeared in yet prettier costumes of fresh daintiness;
and when these two dropped their little hooded shoulder-wraps of silk
and lace, and she saw that they were the two Ryder cousins, poor Angela
suddenly began to feel a strange sense of awkwardness and unfitness.
This feeling increased as she noticed the unmistakable start that the
cousins gave as they caught sight of her, and heard Nelly's astonished
exclamation, "What! _you_ here?"

It was a bitter moment; but a bitterer was yet to come, when Lizzy
Ryder, with that innocent little way of hers, said,--

"Oh, if you've come to help take our things off, _do_ help me with this
scarf, Angela!"

If Angela could but have known then and there that this was only a petty
stab from one petty jealous girl! But she did not know. She heard the
words, apparently so innocently spoken, and said to herself, "They think
I am here as a servant, not as a guest!" and with a miserable confused
feeling that everything was wrong, from her acceptance of the invitation
to her shabby gown, she started back with all her confusion merging into
one thought to get away out of the sight of these well-dressed happy
girls. But as she started back, Mary Marcy, who had heard Lizzy Ryder's
speech, started forward and called out: "Oh, Angela, how do you do? I
didn't see you when you came in. I--I've been expecting to see you,
though; and now shall we go down together?"

Angela couldn't speak. She could only give a little nod of assent, and
yield herself to kind Mary's guidance, with a deep breath of relief. It
was only a partial relief, however. She had yet to go down into the
brilliant parlor with its crowd of Selwyn cousins, yet to face, in that
old shrunken gown with its washed sash, all those critical eyes. Oh,
what if all those eyes should look at her with a stare of astonishment,
such as Lizzy and Nelly Ryder had bestowed upon her? What if Marian
herself should give a glance of surprise at the old shabby gown? These
were some of the troubled questions that whirled through Angela's head
as she went down the stairs with Mary Marcy. And down behind them,
following closely, though Angela did not know it, came the two Ryder
girls, full of eager curiosity, for they were both of them now quite
certain that Marian had received no note of any sort from Angela. "She
didn't know enough to write an acceptance. How should she? I don't
suppose she's ever had an invitation to a party in her life," whispered
Nelly to her cousin in the first shock of surprise at seeing Angela in
the dressing-room.

"No, of course not," whispered back Lizzy; and so, confident and secure
in this belief, and in the anticipation of "fun," as they called the
displeased astonishment they expected to see Marian express at the sight
of her uninvited guest, and the guest's mortification thereat, the
conspirators stepped softly along down the stairs and across the great
hall into the beautiful brilliant parlor.

[Illustration: As the fresh arrivals appeared]

Marian was standing at the farther end of the parlor facing the doorway,
with two of the Selwyn cousins beside her, as the fresh arrivals
appeared. She was laughing joyously as they entered; but at her very
first glimpse of the approaching group, the laugh ceased, and a look of
sudden resolve flashed into her face,--a look that the Selwyn cousins,
who had been told the whole story of the fraudulent invitation,
understood at once to mean, "Here is my opportunity and I'll make the
most of it!" But to the others--to the four who were approaching--this
sudden change in their hostess's face was thus variously interpreted:
"She has seen Angela," thought the Ryder girls, triumphantly. "She has
seen the Ryder girls, and she is going to punish them," thought Mary,
nervously. "She is looking at my dreadful old gown," thought Angela,
miserably.

And moved thus differently by such different anticipations, the little
group came down the room, Mary's nervousness increasing at every
step,--for her shyness and the Quaker love of peace rose up within her
at the sight of Marian's face, that seemed to her to betoken a plan of
punishment for the approaching offenders more in accordance with the
fiery Selwyn spirit than any spirit of peace.

Just what Mary feared she could not have told; but she knew something of
this Selwyn spirit, and had often heard it said that the Selwyn tongue
could cut like a lash when once started. That the Ryders deserved the
sharpest cut of this lash she fully believed; but, "Oh, I _do_ hope
Marian won't say anything sharp _now_," she thought to herself. And it
was then, just then, at that very moment, that she saw Marian's face
change again, as the softest, sweetest, kindest of smiles beamed from
lips and eyes, and the softest, sweetest, kindest of voices said,--

"How do you do, Mary? I'm very glad to see you,--you know my cousins,
Bertie and Laura;" and in the next breath, "How do you do, Miss Jocelyn?
It's very nice to see you here.--Bertie, Laura, this is my friend Angela
Jocelyn, who is going to make one of our charade party next month if I
can persuade her."

One of that May-day charade party! Mary opened her eyes very wide at
this, and Angela wondered if she were awake. But the charming voice was
now speaking to some one else,--was saying very politely without a
touch of sharpness, but with a world of meaning to those who had the
clew, and those only,--

"How do you do, Lizzy? How do you do, Nelly? And, Nelly, I want to thank
you for a real service in connection with my birthday invitations. But
for you I should have missed a very welcome guest. I shall never forget
this, you may be sure."

"I--I--" But for once Nelly Ryder's ready speech failed her. Her cousin
tried to take up her words, tried to say something about April fun,
tried to smile, to laugh; but the laugh died upon her lips, and she was
only too glad to move on with Nelly into the room beyond, and there, out
of the range of observation for a moment, the two expressed their
astonishment and dismay at Marian's knowledge, and wondered how she came
by it.

"But to think of her taking an April joke so seriously as to make much
of Angela Jocelyn just to come up with _me_!" burst out Nelly.

"And to think," burst out Lizzy, with a sly laugh, "that it is _you_ who
have introduced Angela to Marian's good graces, and that it is _you_,
after all, who have been made the April fool, and not Angela!"

THE THANKSGIVING GUEST.

CHAPTER I.

"It is such a lovely idea, such a truly Christian idea, Mrs. Lambert.
How did you ever happen to think of it?"

"Oh, _I_ did not think of it; it wasn't _my_ idea. Didn't you ever hear
how it came about?"

"No; do tell me!"

"Well, my husband, you know, was always looking out for ways of doing
good,--lending a helping hand,--and he used to talk with the children a
great deal of such things. One day he came across a beautiful little
story that he read to them. It was the story of a child who made the
acquaintance of a poor, half-starved student and brought him home with
her to share her Thanksgiving dinner. It made a deep impression on the
children. They talked about it continually, and acted it out in their
play. But they were in the habit of doing that with any fresh story that
pleased them, so it was nothing new to us, and we hadn't a thought of
their carrying it further. But the next week was Thanksgiving week; and
when Thanksgiving Day came, what do you think those little things
did,--for they were quite little things then,--what do you think they
did but bring in just before dinner the half-blind old apple-pedler who
had a stand on the corner of the street?

"They were so happy about it, and they thought we should be so happy
too, that we couldn't say a word of discouragement in the way of advice
then; but later, when we had given the old fellow his dinner, and he had
gone, we had a talk with the dear little souls, when we tried to show
them that it would be better to let us know when they wanted to invite
any one to dinner or to tea,--that that was the way other girls and boys
always did. They were rather crestfallen at our suggestions; for, with
the keen, sensitive instinct of children, they felt that their
beautiful plan, as they thought it, had somewhere failed, and, though
they promised readily enough to consult us 'next time,' we could see
that they were puzzled and depressed over all this _regulation_, when we
had seemed to have nothing but admiring appreciation for the similar act
of the child in the story. My husband, seeing this, was very much
troubled to know just what to say or do; for he thought, as I did, that
it might be a serious injury to them to say or do anything to chill or
check their first independent attempt to lend a helping hand to others.
Then all at once out of his perplexity came this idea of allowing the
children from that time forward to have the privilege of inviting a
guest of their own choosing every Thanksgiving Day, and that this guest
should be some one who needed, in some way or other, home-cherishing and
kindness. They should have the privilege of choosing, but they must tell
us the one they had chosen, that we might send the invitation for them.
This plan delighted them; and from this start, five years ago, the thing
has gone on until it has grown into the present 'guest day,' where _each
one_ of the children may invite his or her particular guest. It has got
to be a very pleasant thing now, though at first we had some queer
times. But as the children grew older, they learned better how to
regulate matters, and to make necessary discriminations, and a year ago
we found we could trust them to invite their guests without any older
supervision, and they are very proud of this liberty, and very happy in
the whole thing; and such an education as it has been. You've no idea
how they have learned to think of others, to look about them to find
those who are in need not merely of food or clothing but of loving
attention and kindness."

"Well, it is beautiful, Mrs. Lambert, and what a Thanksgiving ought to
be,--what it was in the old pilgrim days at Plymouth, when those who had
more than others invited the less fortunate to share with them. It's
beautiful, and I wish everybody who could afford it would go and do
likewise."

"Speaking of affording it, I thought, when my husband died last spring,
I should have to give up our guest day with most other things, for you
know that railroad business that my husband entered into with his
half-brother John nearly ruined him. I think the worry and fret of it
killed him, anyway, and I told John so, and he has never forgiven me.
But I have never forgiven him, and never shall; for if it hadn't been
for John's representations, his continual urging, Charles would never
have gone into the business. Oh, I shall always hold John responsible
for his death, and I told him so."

"You told him so? How did he take that? What did he say?"

"Oh, you know John. He flew into a rage, and said he loved his brother
as well as _I_ did. As well as _I_ did! Think of that; and that he had
urged him into that business, thinking that it was for his
benefit,--that no one could have foreseen what happened, and that if
Charles lost, he also had lost, and much more heavily. But, as I was
saying, I thought at first I should have to give up our guest day; but
when matters came to be settled, I found there were other things I would
rather economize on."

"Where _is_ John now, Mrs. Lambert?"

"He is in--" But just at that moment a tall pretty girl of fourteen
entered the room. It was Elsie, the eldest of the Lambert children.

"Why, Elsie, how you have grown!" cried Mrs. Mason, who hadn't seen
Elsie for some months, "and you've quite lost the look of your mother."

"Yes, Elsie is getting to look like the Lamberts," remarked the mother.

"Everybody says I look just like Uncle John," spoke up Elsie.

"Oh, you were asking me where John was now," said Mrs. Lambert, turning
to Mrs. Mason. "He is in New York, dabbling in railroads, as usual, and
getting poorer and poorer by this obstinate folly, I heard last week.
_We_ don't see him, of course; for, as I told you, we don't forgive each
other. Oh!" as her visitor cast a questioning glance toward Elsie, who
had suddenly given a little start here, "Elsie knows all about it. Elsie
is my big girl now. But what is it, my dear?--you came in to ask me
something,--what is it?"

"It's about Tommy. He has told me who he is going to invite for next
week,"--next week was Thanksgiving week,--"and I knew you would not like
it, and I felt that I ought to tell you; it is that horrid Marchant
boy."

"Like it,--I should think not! Why, what in the world has put Tommy up
to that?"

"He says that Joe Marchant hasn't any home of his own this
Thanksgiving, because his father has gone out West on business, and left
Joe all alone with those people that his father and he boarded with just
after his mother died; and Tommy pities Joe so, he says he is going to
invite him here for next Thursday, and I knew you wouldn't want him."

"Of course not; the boy is ill-mannered and disagreeable, and he is
always quarrelling with Tommy."

"I told Tommy that," laughed Elsie, "and he said he guessed he'd done
_his_ share of the quarrelling, and that, anyway, Joe Marchant was the
under dog now, and he was going to forgive and forget."

"Dear little Tommy!" exclaimed Mrs. Lambert, admiringly.

"And he said, too, mother, that he knew you wouldn't object; that you
always told him that Thanksgiving Day was the very day to make up with
folks and be good to 'em, but I knew you _would_ object to Joe Marchant,
and so--"

"I--I don't know about it, Elsie. If Tommy feels like that, I--I don't
believe it would be wise for me to check him. No, I don't believe I can.
Tommy is nearer right than I am. He is doing a fine, generous thing,
and it _is_ the right thing, and I think we must put up with Joe
Marchant, Elsie, after all."

"Oh, _I_ don't mind, if _you_ don't, mamma; but I thought you wouldn't
like it, and it would spoil the day."

"No, nothing done in that spirit _could_ spoil the day; and, Elsie, I
hope the rest of you will make your choice of guests with as good reason
as Tommy has."

Elsie looked at her mother with an odd, eager expression, as if she were
about to speak. Then she suddenly lifted up her head with a little air
of resolution, and starting forward hurriedly left the room.

Mrs. Lambert laughed as the door closed.

"I think I know what Elsie is going to do," she said smilingly to Mrs.
Mason. "There is a young teacher in her school, Miss Matthews, who is
seldom invited anywhere, she is so unpopular. I've often asked Elsie to
bring her home, and she has always put it off; but I believe that this
act of Tommy's and what I've said about it has made such an impression
upon her that she has gone now to invite Miss Matthews to be her guest
next week. She was going to tell me about it at first, then she thought
better of it. They've all had this liberty for the last year--not to
tell--it's so much more fun for them; and I can always trust Elsie to
look out for things, she has such good sense with her good heart."

"Yes, and you _all_ seem to have such good sense and such good hearts,
Mrs. Lambert," said Mrs. Mason, as she rose to go; but as she walked
down the street she said to herself, "Such good sense and such good
hearts, overflowing with charity and forgiveness for everybody but John
Lambert!"

CHAPTER II.

It was Thanksgiving Day, and just three minutes to the dinner-hour at
the Lamberts', and all the guests had arrived except the one that Elsie
had bidden.

"Don't fret, Elsie," whispered Mrs. Lambert to her, as she noted the two
red spots burning in her cheeks and her anxious glances toward the
clock,--"don't fret; she's probably going to be fashionably exact on the
stroke of the hour."

Elsie gave a little start at this, and, laughing nervously, began to
talk to Joe Marchant, while tick, tock, the clock beat out the time.

"We'll wait five minutes for her," thought Mrs. Lambert. "If there
hasn't been an accident to detain her, she's very rude, and certainly
not fit to be a teacher of _manners_, and I don't wonder she's unpopular
with the girls."

The three minutes, the five minutes sped by, and the awaited guest did
not appear. To wait longer would be unfair to the others, and Mrs.
Lambert gave orders for the dinner to be served. It was seemingly a
very cheerful little company that gathered about the dinner-table; but
there was something pathetic in it, when one came to consider that each
one of these guests was for the time at least sitting at the stranger's
feast instead of with his own kith and kin on this family day. Mrs.
Lambert herself felt this pathos, and it brought back, too, the losses
and limitations in her home circle; for what with death and absence, her
five children had no one now but herself to look to, where once were the
dear grandparents, the fond father, and a score or more of other
relations. But she must not dwell on these memories with all these
guests to serve. She must put her own needs aside to see that little
Miss Jenny Carver had a better choice of celery, that Molly Price and
that big lonesome-looking Ingalls boy had another help to cranberry
sauce, and Joe Marchant a fresh supply of turkey.

It was while she was attending to this latter duty, while she was
laughing a little at Joe's clumsy apology for his appetite, and telling
him jestingly that she hoped to see him eat enough for two, because one
guest was missing,--while she was doing this, there came a great crunch
of carriage wheels on the driveway, and a great ring at the door-bell,
and, "There she is! there she is!" thinks Mrs. Lambert, with the added
thought: "It's rather putting on airs, seems to me, to take a carriage
when she is at such a little distance from us,--rather putting on airs,
but--What _are_ you jumping up for?" she calls out to Elsie, who has
suddenly sprung from her seat. "What are you jumping up for? Ellen will
attend Miss Matthews upstairs, and send her into us when she has removed
her wraps. Sit down, Elsie; don't be so fidgety. I will--" But the
dining-room door was here suddenly flung wide, and Mrs. Lambert saw
coming toward her, not, oh, not Miss Matthews, but a tall gentleman with
a thin, worn face crowned with snow-white hair; and, catching sight of
this snowy crown, Mrs. Lambert did not recognize the face until she felt
her hand clasped, and heard a low eager voice say,--

"I am so glad to come to you,--to see you and the children again,
Caroline. I was away when Elsie's letter arrived; but as soon as I got
into New York yesterday, I started off, and I am so glad to come, so
glad to come;" and here Mrs. Lambert heard the eager voice falter, and
saw the glisten of tears in the eyes that were regarding her and in the
next instant felt them against her cheek as a tender kiss was pressed
upon it. It was all in a moment, the strange surprise of look and word
and tone and touch, the joyful cries of "It's Uncle John, it's Uncle
John!" from some one of the children. Then all in a moment the
strangeness seemed to have passed, and John Lambert was taking his place
amongst them with the fond belief that he was his sister-in-law's chosen
guest. And she, with those warm, manly words of thanks, those joyful
cries of childish welcome in her ears, could she undeceive him,--could
she say to him: "It was not I who sent for you; I am the same as ever,
as full of wild regrets and bitter resentments"? Could she say this to
him? How could she, how could she, when over the wild regrets and bitter
resentments there kept rising and rising a flood of earlier memories of
an earlier time when this guest had been a welcome guest indeed, and she
had heard again and again those very words, "I'm so glad to come"? Those
very words, but with what a difference of accent, and what a difference
in the speaker himself,--only a year and his face so worn, his hair so
white, she had not known him! He must have suffered,--yes, and she--she
had suffered; but she had her children, and he had no one!

The dinner was over. They had all risen from the table, and were going
into the parlor, and Uncle John had his namesake Johnny on one side of
him and little Archie on the other. They had taken possession of him
from the first, when Elsie, hanging back, clung to her mother and
whispered agitatedly,--

"Oh, mamma, mamma, it was what you said last week about Tommy's
invitation that made me think of--of inviting Uncle John; but perhaps I
ought to have told you--have asked you."

"No, no, it is better as it is. Don't fret, dear, it--it is all right.
But there is Ann bringing the coffee into the parlor. Go and light your
little teakettle, Elsie, and make your uncle a cup of tea as you used to
do; he can't drink coffee, you know."

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