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Jack and Jill by Louisa May Alcott

Part 2 out of 6

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"Have I got more than one?"

"I guess you'll think so when they are handed down. The bell was
going all day yesterday, and the girls kept bringing in bundles for
you; I see seven now," and Jack rolled his eyes from one
mysterious parcel to another hanging on the laden boughs.

"I know something, too. That square bundle is what you want ever
so much. I told Frank, and he got it for his present. It is all red and
gold outside, and every sort of color inside; you'll hurrah when
you see it. That roundish one is yours too; I made them," cried Jill,
pointing to a flat package tied to the stem of the tree, and a neat
little roll in which were the blue mittens that she had knit for him.

"I can wait;" but the boy's eyes shone with eagerness, and he could
not resist firing two or three pop-corns at it to see whether it was
hard or soft.

"That barking dog is for Boo, and the little yellow sled, so Molly
can drag him to school, he always tumbles down so when it is
slippery," continued Jill, proud of her superior knowledge, as she
showed a small spotted animal hanging by its tail, with a red
tongue displayed as if about to taste the sweeties in the horn

"Don't talk about sleds, for mercy's sake! I never want to see
another, and you wouldn't, either, if you had to lie with a flat-iron
tied to your ankle, as I do," said Jack, with a kick of the well leg
and an ireful glance at the weight attached to the other that it
might not contract while healing.

"Well, I think plasters, and liniment, and rubbing, as bad as
flat-irons any day. I don't believe you have ached half so much as I
have, though it sounds worse to break legs than to sprain your
back," protested Jill, eager to prove herself the greater sufferer, as
invalids are apt to be.

"I guess you wouldn't think so if you'd been pulled round as I
was when they set my leg. Caesar, how it did hurt!" and Jack
squirmed at the recollection of it.

"You didn't faint away as I did when the doctor was finding out if
my _vertebrums_ were hurt, so now!" cried Jill, bound to carry her
point, though not at all clear what vertebrae were.

"Pooh! Girls always faint. Men are braver, and I didn't faint a bit
in spite of all that horrid agony."

"You howled; Frank told me so. Doctor said _I_ was a brave girl, so
you needn't brag, for you'll have to go on a crutch for a while. I
know that."

"You may have to use two of them for years, may be. I heard the
doctor tell my mother so. I shall be up and about long before you
will. Now then!"

Both children were getting excited, for the various pleasures of the
day had been rather too much for them, and there is no knowing
but they would have added the sad surprise of a quarrel to the
pleasant ones of the day, if a cheerful whistle had not been heard,
as Ralph came in to light the candles and give the last artistic
touches to the room.

"Well, young folks, how goes it? Had a merry time so far?" he
asked, as he fixed the steps and ran up with a lighted match in his

"Very nice, thank you," answered a prim little voice from the dusk
below, for only the glow of the fire filled the room just then.

Jack said nothing, and two red sulky faces were hidden in the dark,
watching candle after candle sputter, brighten, and twinkle, till the
trembling shadows began to flit away like imps afraid of the light.

"Now he will see my face, and I know it is cross," thought Jill, as
Ralph went round the last circle, leaving another line of sparks
among the hemlock boughs.

Jack thought the same, and had just got the frown smoothed out of
his forehead, when Frank brought a fresh log, and a glorious blaze
sprung up, filling every corner of the room, and dancing over the
figures in the long chairs till they had to brighten whether they
liked it or not. Presently the bell began to ring and gay voices to
sound below: then Jill smiled in spite of herself as Molly Loo's
usual cry of "Oh, dear, where _is_ that child?" reached her, and Jack
could not help keeping time to the march Ed played, while Frank
and Gus marshalled the procession.

"Ready!" cried Mrs. Minot, at last, and up came the troop of eager
lads and lasses, brave in holiday suits, with faces to match. A
unanimous "O, o, o!" burst from twenty tongues, as the full
splendor of the tree, the room, and its inmates, dawned upon them;
for not only did the pretty Christ-child hover above, but Santa
Claus himself stood below, fur-clad, white-bearded, and powdered
with snow from the dredging-box.

Ralph was a good actor, and, when the first raptures were over he
distributed the presents with such droll speeches, jokes, and
gambols, that the room rang with merriment, and passers-by
paused to listen, sure that here, at least, Christmas was merry. It
would be impossible to tell about all the gifts or the joy of the
receivers, but every one was satisfied, and the king and queen of
the revels so overwhelmed with little tokens of good-will, that
their beds looked like booths at a fair. Jack beamed over the
handsome postage-stamp book which had long been the desire of
his heart, and Jill felt like a millionaire, with a silver fruit-knife, a
pretty work-basket, and oh!--coals of fire on her head!--a ring from

A simple little thing enough, with one tiny turquoise forget-me-
not, but something like a dew-drop fell on it when no one was
looking, and she longed to say, "I'm sorry I was cross; forgive me,
Jack." But it could not be done then, so she turned to admire
Merry's bed-shoes, the pots of pansies, hyacinths, and geranium
which Gus and his sisters sent for her window garden, Molly's
queer Christmas pie, and the zither Ed promised to teach her how
to play upon.

The tree was soon stripped, and pop-corns strewed the floor as the
children stood about picking them off the red threads when candy
gave out, with an occasional cranberry by way of relish. Boo
insisted on trying the new sled at once, and enlivened the trip by
the squeaking of the spotted dog, the toot of a tin trumpet, and
shouts of joy at the splendor of the turn-out.

The girls all put on their necklaces, and danced about like fine
ladies at a ball. The boys fell to comparing skates, balls, and
cuff-buttons on the spot, while the little ones devoted all their
energies to eating everything eatable they could lay their hands on.

Games were played till nine o'clock, and then the party broke up,
after they had taken hands round the tree and sung a song written
by one whom you all know,--so faithfully and beautifully does she
love and labor for children the world over.


"What shall little children bring
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day?
What shall little children bring
On Christmas Day in the morning?
This shall little children bring
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day;
Love and joy to Christ their king,
On Christmas Day in the morning!

"What shall little children sing
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day?
What shall little children sing
On Christmas Day in the morning?
The grand old carols shall they sing
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day;
With all their hearts, their offerings bring
On Christmas Day in the morning."

Jack was carried off to bed in such haste that he had only time to
call out, "Good-night!" before he was rolled away, gaping as he
went. Jill soon found herself tucked up in the great white bed she
was to share with her mother, and lay looking about the pleasant
chamber, while Mrs. Pecq ran home for a minute to see that all
was safe there for the night.

After the merry din the house seemed very still, with only a light
step now and then, the murmur of voices not far away, or the jingle
of sleigh-bells from without, and the little girl rested easily among
the pillows, thinking over the pleasures of the day, too wide-awake
for sleep. There was no lamp in the chamber, but she could look
into the pretty Bird Room, where the fire-light still shone on
flowery walls, deserted tree, and Christ-child floating above the
green. Jill's eyes wandered there and lingered till they were full of
regretful tears, because the sight of the little angel recalled the
words spoken when it was hung up, the good resolution she had
taken then, and how soon it was broken.

"I said I couldn't be bad in that lovely place, and I was a cross,
ungrateful girl after all they've done for Mammy and me. Poor
Jack _was_ hurt the worst, and he _was_ brave, though he did scream.
I wish I could go and tell him so, and hear him say, 'All right.' Oh,
me, I've spoiled the day!"

A great sob choked more words, and Jill was about to have a
comfortable cry, when someone entered the other room, and she
saw Frank doing something with a long cord and a thing that
looked like a tiny drum. Quiet as a bright-eyed mouse, Jill peeped
out wondering what it was, and suspecting mischief, for the boy
was laughing to himself as he stretched the cord, and now and then
bent over the little object in his hand, touching it with great care.

"May be it's a torpedo to blow up and scare me; Jack likes to play
tricks. Well, I'll scream loud when it goes off, so he will be
satisfied that I'm dreadfully frightened," thought Jill, little
dreaming what the last surprise of the day was to be.

Presently a voice whispered,--

"I say! Are you awake?"


"Any one there but you?"


"Catch this, then. Hold it to your ear and see what you'll get."

The little drum came flying in, and, catching it, Jill, with some
hesitation, obeyed Frank's order. Judge of her amazement when
she caught in broken whispers these touching words:--

"Sorry I was cross. Forgive and forget. Start fair to-morrow. All
right. Jack."

Jill was so delighted with this handsome apology, that she could
not reply for a moment, then steadied her voice, and answered
back in her sweetest tone,--

"I'm sorry, too. Never, never, will again. Feel much better now.
Good-night, you dear old thing."

Satisfied with the success of his telephone, Frank twitched back
the drum and vanished, leaving Jill to lay her cheek upon the hand
that wore the little ring and fall asleep, saying to herself, with a
farewell glance at the children's saint, dimly seen in the soft
gloom, "I will not forget. I will be good!"

Chapter VII

Jill's Mission

The good times began immediately, and very little studying was
done that week in spite of the virtuous resolutions made by certain
young persons on Christmas Day. But, dear me, how was it
possible to settle down to lessons in the delightful Bird Room,
with not only its own charms to distract one, but all the new gifts
to enjoy, and a dozen calls a day to occupy one's time?

"I guess we'd better wait till the others are at school, and just go in
for fun this week," said Jack, who was in great spirits at the
prospect of getting up, for the splints were off, and he hoped to be
promoted to crutches very soon.

"_I_ shall keep my Speller by me and take a look at it every day, for
that is what I'm most backward in. But I intend to devote myself to
you, Jack, and be real kind and useful. I've made a plan to do it,
and I mean to carry it out, any way," answered Jill, who had begun
to be a missionary, and felt that this was a field of labor where she
could distinguish herself.

"Here's a home mission all ready for you, and you can be paying
your debts beside doing yourself good," Mrs. Pecq said to her in
private, having found plenty to do herself.

Now Jill made one great mistake at the outset--she forgot that she
was the one to be converted to good manners and gentleness, and
devoted her efforts to looking after Jack, finding it much easier to
cure other people's faults than her own. Jack was a most engaging
heathen, and needed very little instruction; therefore Jill thought
her task would be an easy one. But three or four weeks of petting
and play had rather demoralized both children, so Jill's Speller,
though tucked under the sofa pillow every day, was seldom looked
at, and Jack shirked his Latin shamefully. Both read all the
story-books they could get, held daily levees in the Bird Room, and
all their spare minutes were spent in teaching Snowdrop, the great
Angora cat, to bring the ball when they dropped it in their game.
So Saturday came, and both were rather the worse for so much
idleness, since daily duties and studies are the wholesome bread
which feeds the mind better than the dyspeptic plum-cake of
sensational reading, or the unsubstantial _bon-bons_ of frivolous

It was a stormy day, so they had few callers, and devoted
themselves to arranging the album; for these books were all the
rage just then, and boys met to compare, discuss, buy, sell, and
"swap" stamps with as much interest as men on 'Change gamble in
stocks. Jack had a nice little collection, and had been saving up
pocket-money to buy a book in which to preserve his treasures.
Now, thanks to Jill's timely suggestion, Frank had given him a fine
one, and several friends had contributed a number of rare stamps
to grace the large, inviting pages. Jill wielded the gum-brush and
fitted on the little flaps, as her fingers were skilful at this nice
work, and Jack put each stamp in its proper place with great
rustling of leaves and comparing of marks. Returning, after a brief
absence, Mrs. Minot beheld the countenances of the workers
adorned with gay stamps, giving them a very curious appearance.

"My dears! what new play have you got now? Are you wild
Indians? or letters that have gone round the world before finding
the right address?" she asked, laughing at the ridiculous sight, for
both were as sober as judges and deeply absorbed in some doubtful

"Oh, we just stuck them there to keep them safe; they get lost if we
leave them lying round. It's very handy, for I can see in a minute
what I want on Jill's face and she on mine, and put our fingers on
the right chap at once," answered Jack, adding, with an anxious
gaze at his friend's variegated countenance, "Where the dickens _is_
my New Granada? It's rare, and I wouldn't lose it for a dollar."

"Why, there it is on your own nose. Don't you remember you put it
there because you said mine was not big enough to hold it?"
laughed Jill, tweaking a large orange square off the round nose of
her neighbor, causing it to wrinkle up in a droll way, as the gum
made the operation slightly painful.

"So I did, and gave you Little Bolivar on yours. Now I'll have
Alsace and Lorraine, 1870. There are seven of them, so hold still
and see how you like it," returned Jack, picking the large, pale
stamps one by one from Jill's forehead, which they crossed like a

She bore it without flinching, saying to herself with a secret smile,
as she glanced at the hot fire, which scorched her if she kept near
enough to Jack to help him, "This really is being like a missionary,
with a tattooed savage to look after. I have to suffer a little, as the
good folks did who got speared and roasted sometimes; but I won't
complain a bit, though my forehead smarts, my arms are tired, and
one cheek is as red as fire."

"The Roman States make a handsome page, don't they?" asked
Jack, little dreaming of the part he was playing in Jill's mind. "Oh,
I say, isn't Corea a beauty? I'm ever so proud of that;" and he gazed
fondly on a big blue stamp, the sole ornament of one page.

"I don't see why the Cape of Good Hope has pyramids. They ought
to go in Egypt. The Sandwich Islands are all right, with
heads of the black kings and queens on them," said Jill, feeling
that they were very appropriate to her private play.

"Turkey has crescents, Australia swans, and Spain women's heads,
with black bars across them. Frank says it is because they keep
women shut up so; but that was only his fun. I'd rather have a
good, honest green United States, with Washington on it, or a blue
one-center with old Franklin, than all their eagles and lions and
kings and queens put together," added the democratic boy, with a
disrespectful slap on a crowned head as he settled Heligoland in its

"Why does Austria have Mercury on the stamp, I wonder? Do they
wear helmets like that?" asked Jill, with the brush-handle in her
mouth as she cut a fresh batch of flaps.

"May be he was postman to the gods, so he is put on stamps now.
The Prussians wear helmets, but they have spikes like the old
Roman fellows. I like Prussians ever so much; they fight
splendidly, and always beat. Austrians have a handsome uniform,

"Talking of Romans reminds me that I have not heard your Latin
for two days. Come, lazybones, brace up, and let us have it now.
I've done my compo, and shall have just time before I go out for a
tramp with Gus," said Frank, putting by a neat page to dry, for he
studied every day like a conscientious lad as he was.

"Don't know it. Not going to try till next week. Grind away over
your old Greek as much as you like, but don't bother me,"
answered Jack, frowning at the mere thought of the detested

But Frank adored his Xenophon, and would not see his old friend,
Caesar, neglected without an effort to defend him; so he
confiscated the gum-pot, and effectually stopped the stamp
business by whisking away at one fell swoop all that lay on Jill's

"Now then, young man, you will quit this sort of nonsense and do
your lesson, or you won't see these fellows again in a hurry. You
asked me to hear you, and I'm going to do it; here's the book."

Frank's tone was the dictatorial one, which Jack hated and always
found hard to obey, especially when he knew he ought to do it.
Usually, when his patience was tried, he strode about the room, or
ran off for a race round the garden, coming back breathless, but
good-tempered. Now both these vents for irritation were denied
him, and he had fallen into the way of throwing things about in a
pet. He longed to send Caesar to perpetual banishment in the fire
blazing close by, but resisted the temptation, and answered
honestly, though gruffly: "I know I did, but I don't see any use in
pouncing on a fellow when he isn't ready. I haven't got my lesson,
and don't mean to worry about it; so you may just give me back my
things and go about your business."

"I'll give you back a stamp for every perfect lesson you get, and
you won't see them on any other terms;" and, thrusting the
treasures into his pocket, Frank caught up his rubber boots, and
went off swinging them like a pair of clubs, feeling that he would
give a trifle to be able to use them on his lazy brother.

At this high-handed proceeding, and the threat which accompanied
it, Jack's patience gave out, and catching up Caesar, as he thought,
sent him flying after the retreating tyrant with the defiant

"Keep them, then, and your old book, too! I won't look at it till you
give all my stamps back and say you are sorry. So now!"

It was all over before Mamma could interfere, or Jill do more than
clutch and cling to the gum-brush. Frank vanished unharmed, but
the poor book dashed against the wall to fall half open on the
floor, its gay cover loosened, and its smooth leaves crushed by the

"It's the album! O Jack, how could you?" cried Jill, dismayed at
sight of the precious book so maltreated by the owner.

"Thought it was the other. Guess it isn't hurt much. Didn't mean to
hit him, any way. He does provoke me so," muttered Jack, very red
and shamefaced as his mother picked up the book and laid it
silently on the table before him. He did not know what to do with
himself, and was thankful for the stamps still left him, finding
great relief in making faces as he plucked them one by one from
his mortified countenance. Jill looked on, half glad, half sorry that
her savage showed such signs of unconverted ferocity, and Mrs.
Minot went on writing letters, wearing the grave look her sons
found harder to bear than another person's scolding. No one spoke
for a moment, and the silence was becoming awkward when Gus
appeared in a rubber suit, bringing a book to Jack from Laura and
a note to Jill from Lotty.

"Look here, you just trundle me into my den, please, I'm going to
have a nap, it's so dull to-day I don't feel like doing much," said
Jack, when Gus had done his errands, trying to look as if he knew
nothing about the fracas.

Jack folded his arms and departed like a warrior borne from the
battle-field, to be chaffed unmercifully for a "pepper-pot," while
Gus made him comfortable in his own room.

"I heard once of a boy who threw a fork at his brother and put his
eye out. But he didn't mean to, and the brother forgave him, and he
never did so any more," observed Jill, in a pensive tone, wishing to
show that she felt all the dangers of impatience, but was sorry for
the culprit.

"Did the boy ever forgive himself?" asked Mrs. Minot.

"No, 'm; I suppose not. But Jack didn't hit Frank, and feels real
sorry, I know."

"He might have, and hurt him very much. Our actions are in our
own hands, but the consequences of them are not. Remember that,
my dear, and think twice before you do anything."

"Yes, 'm, I will;" and Jill composed herself to consider what
missionaries usually did when the natives hurled tomahawks and
boomerangs at one another, and defied the rulers of the land.

Mrs. Minot wrote one page of a new letter, then stopped, pushed
her papers about, thought a little, and finally got up, saying, as if
she found it impossible to resist the yearning of her heart for the
naughty boy,--

"I am going to see if Jack is covered up, he is so helpless, and
liable to take cold. Don't stir till I come back."

"No, 'm, I won't."

Away went the tender parent to find her son studying Caesar for
dear life, and all the more amiable for the little gust which had
blown away the temporary irritability. The brothers were often
called "Thunder and Lightning," because Frank lowered and
growled and was a good while clearing up, while Jack's temper
came and went like a flash, and the air was all the clearer for the
escape of dangerous electricity. Of course Mamma had to stop and
deliver a little lecture, illustrated by sad tales of petulant boys, and
punctuated with kisses which took off the edge of these afflicting

Jill meantime meditated morally on the superiority of her own
good temper over the hasty one of her dear playmate, and just
when she was feeling unusually uplifted and secure, alas! like so
many of us, she fell, in the most deplorable manner.

Glancing about the room for something to do, she saw a sheet of
paper lying exactly out of reach, where it had fluttered from the
table unperceived. At first her eye rested on it as carelessly as it
did on the stray stamp Frank had dropped; then, as if one thing
suggested the other, she took it into her head that the paper was
Frank's composition, or, better still, a note to Annette, for the two
corresponded when absence or weather prevented the daily
meeting at school.

"Wouldn't it be fun to keep it till he gives back Jack's stamps? It
would plague him so if it was a note, and I do believe it is, for
compo's don't begin with two words on one side. I'll get it, and
Jack and I will plan some way to pay him off, cross thing!"

Forgetting her promise not to stir, also how dishonorable it was to
read other people's letters, Jill caught up the long-handled hook,
often in use now, and tried to pull the paper nearer. It would not
come at once, for a seam in the carpet held it, and Jill feared to
tear or crumple it if she was not very careful. The hook was rather
heavy and long for her to manage, and Jack usually did the fishing,
so she was not very skilful; and just as she was giving a
particularly quick jerk, she lost her balance, fell off the sofa, and
dropped the pole with a bang.

"Oh, my back!" was all she could think or say as she felt the jar all
through her little body, and a corresponding fear in her guilty little
mind that someone would come and find out the double mischief
she had been at. For a moment she lay quite still to recover from
the shock, then as the pain passed she began to wonder how she
should get back, and looked about her to see if she could do it
alone. She thought she could, as the sofa was near and she had
improved so much that she could sit up a little if the doctor would
have let her. She was gathering herself together for the effort,
when, within arm's reach now, she saw the tempting paper, and
seized it with glee, for in spite of her predicament she did want to
tease Frank. A glance showed that it was not the composition nor a
note, but the beginning of a letter from Mrs. Minot to her sister,
and Jill was about to lay it down when her own name caught her
eye, and she could not resist reading it. Hard words to write of one
so young, doubly hard to read, and impossible to forget.

"Dear Lizzie,--Jack continues to do very well, and will soon be up
again. But we begin to fear that the little girl is permanently
injured in the back. She is here, and we do our best for her; but I
never look at her without thinking of Lucinda Snow, who, you
remember, was bedridden for twenty years, owing to a fall at
fifteen. Poor little Janey does not know yet, and I hope"--There it
ended, and "poor little Janey's" punishment for disobedience began
that instant. She thought she was getting well because she did not
suffer all the time, and every one spoke cheerfully about "by and
by." Now she knew the truth, and shut her eyes with a shiver as she
said, low, to herself,--

"Twenty years! I couldn't bear it; oh, I couldn't bear it!"

A very miserable Jill lay on the floor, and for a while did not care
who came and found her; then the last words of the letter--"I
hope"--seemed to shine across the blackness of the dreadful
"twenty years" and cheer her up a bit, for despair never lives long
in young hearts, and Jill was a brave child.

"That is why Mammy sighs so when she dresses me, and every one
is so good to me. Perhaps Mrs. Minot doesn't really know, after all.
She was dreadfully scared about Jack, and he is getting well. I'd
like to ask Doctor, but he might find out about the letter. Oh, dear,
why didn't I keep still and let the horrid thing alone!"

As she thought that, Jill pushed the paper away, pulled herself up,
and with much painful effort managed to get back to her sofa,
where she laid herself down with a groan, feeling as if the twenty
years had already passed over her since she tumbled off.

"I've told a lie, for I said I wouldn't stir. I've hurt my back, I've
done a mean thing, and I've got paid for it. A nice missionary I am;
I'd better begin at home, as Mammy told me to;" and Jill groaned
again, remembering her mother's words. "Now I've got another
secret to keep all alone, for I'd be ashamed to tell the girls. I guess
I'll turn round and study my spelling; then no one will see my

Jill looked the picture of a good, industrious child as she lay with
her back to the large table, her book held so that nothing was to be
seen but one cheek and a pair of lips moving busily. Fortunately, it
is difficult for little sinners to act a part, and, even if the face is
hidden, something in the body seems to betray the internal remorse
and shame. Usually, Jill lay flat and still; now her back was bent in
a peculiar way as she leaned over her book, and one foot wagged
nervously, while on the visible cheek was a Spanish stamp with a
woman's face looking through the black bars, very suggestively, if
she had known it. How long the minutes seemed till some one
came, and what a queer little jump her heart gave when Mrs.
Minot's voice said, cheerfully, "Jack is all right, and, I declare, so
is Jill. I really believe there is a telegraph still working somewhere
between you two, and each knows what the other is about without

"I didn't have any other book handy, so I thought I'd study awhile,"
answered Jill, feeling that she deserved no praise for her seeming

She cast a sidelong glance as she spoke, and seeing that Mrs.
Minot was looking for the letter, hid her face and lay so still she
could hear the rustle of the paper as it was taken from the floor. It
was well she did not also see the quick look the lady gave her as
she turned the letter and found a red stamp sticking to the under
side, for this unlucky little witness told the story.

Mrs. Minot remembered having seen the stamp lying close to the
sofa when she left the room, for she had had half a mind to take
it to Jack, but did not, thinking Frank's plan had some advantages.
She also recollected that a paper flew off the table, but being in
haste she had not stopped to see what it was. Now, the stamp and
the letter could hardly have come together without hands, for they
lay a yard apart, and here, also, on the unwritten portion of the
page, was the mark of a small green thumb. Jill had been winding
wool for a stripe in her new afghan, and the green ball lay on her
sofa. These signs suggested and confirmed what Mrs. Minot did
not want to believe; so did the voice, attitude, and air of Jill, all
very unlike her usual open, alert ways.

The kind lady could easily forgive the reading of her letter since
the girl had found such sad news there, but the dangers of
disobedience were serious in her case, and a glance showed that
she was suffering either in mind or body--perhaps both.

"I will wait for her to tell me. She is an honest child, and the truth
will soon come out," thought Mrs. Minot, as she took a clean
sheet, and Jill tried to study.

"Shall I hear your lesson, dear? Jack means to recite his like a
good boy, so suppose you follow his example," she said, presently.

"I don't know as I can say it, but I'll try."

Jill did try, and got on bravely till she came to the word
"permanent;" there she hesitated, remembering where she saw it

"Do you know what that means?" asked her teacher, thinking to
help her on by defining the word.

"Always--for a great while--or something like that; doesn't it?"
faltered Jill, with a tight feeling in her throat, and the color coming
up, as she tried to speak easily, yet felt so shame-stricken she could

"Are you in pain, my child? Never mind the lesson; tell me, and I'll
do something for you."

The kind words, the soft hand on her hot cheek, and the pity in the
eyes that looked at her, were too much for Jill. A sob came first,
and then the truth, told with hidden face and tears that washed the
blush away, and set free the honest little soul that could not hide
its fault from such a friend.

"I knew it all before, and was sure you would tell me, else you
would not be the child I love and like to help so well."

Then, while she soothed Jill's trouble, Mrs. Minot told her story
and showed the letter, wishing to lessen, if possible, some part of
the pain it had given.

"Sly old stamp! To go and tell on me when I meant to own up, and
get some credit if I could, after being so mean and bad," said Jill,
smiling through her tears when she saw the tell-tale witnesses
against her.

"You had better stick it in your book to remind you of the bad
consequences of disobedience, then perhaps _this_ lesson will leave
a 'permanent' impression on your mind and memory," answered Mrs.
Minot, glad to see her natural gayety coming back, and hoping that
she had forgotten the contents of the unfortunate letter. But she
had not; and presently, when the sad affair had been talked over
and forgiven, Jill asked, slowly, as she tried to put on a brave look,--

"Please tell me about Lucinda Snow. If I am to be like her, I might
as well know how she managed to bear it so long."

"I'm sorry you ever heard of her, and yet perhaps it may help you to
bear your trial, dear, which I hope will never be as heavy a one as
hers. This Lucinda I knew for years, and though at first I thought
her fate the saddest that could be, I came at last to see how happy
she was in spite of her affliction, how good and useful and

"Why, how could she be? What did she do?" cried Jill, forgetting
her own troubles to look up with an open, eager face again.

"She was so patient, other people were ashamed to complain of
their small worries; so cheerful, that her own great one grew
lighter; so industrious, that she made both money and friends by
pretty things she worked and sold to her many visitors. And, best
of all, so wise and sweet that she seemed to get good out of
everything, and make her poor room a sort of chapel where people
went for comfort, counsel, and an example of a pious life. So, you
see, Lucinda was not so very miserable after all."

"Well, if I could not be as I was, I'd like to be a woman like that.
Only, I hope I shall not!" answered Jill, thoughtfully at first, then
coming out so decidedly with the last words that it was evident the
life of a bedridden saint was not at all to her mind.

"So do I; and I mean to believe that you will not. Meantime, we
can try to make the waiting as useful and pleasant as possible. This
painful little back will be a sort of conscience to remind you of
what you ought to do and leave undone, and so you can be learning
obedience. Then, when the body is strong, it will have formed a
good habit to make duty easier; and my Lucinda can be a sweet
example, even while lying here, if she chooses."

"Can I?" and Jill's eyes were full of softer tears as the comfortable,
cheering words sank into her heart, to blossom slowly by and by
into her life, for this was to be a long lesson, hard to learn, but very
useful in the years to come.

When the boys returned, after the Latin was recited and peace
restored, Jack showed her a recovered stamp promptly paid by
Frank, who was as just as he was severe, and Jill asked for the old
red one, though she did not tell why she wanted it, nor show it put
away in the spelling-book, a little seal upon a promise made to be

Chapter VIII

Merry and Molly

Now let us see how the other missionaries got on with their tasks.

Farmer Grant was a thrifty, well-to-do man, anxious to give his
children greater advantages than he had enjoyed, and to improve
the fine place of which he was justly proud. Mrs. Grant was a
notable housewife, as ambitious and industrious as her husband,
but too busy to spend any time on the elegancies of life, though
always ready to help the poor and sick like a good neighbor and
Christian woman. The three sons--Tom, Dick, and Harry--were big
fellows of seventeen, nineteen, and twenty-one; the first two on the
farm, and the elder in a store just setting up for himself.
Kind-hearted but rough-mannered youths, who loved Merry very
much, but teased her sadly about her "fine lady airs," as they called
her dainty ways and love of beauty.

Merry was a thoughtful girl, full of innocent fancies, refined tastes,
and romantic dreams, in which no one sympathized at home,
though she was the pet of the family. It did seem, to an outsider, as
if the delicate little creature had got there by mistake, for she
looked very like a tea-rose in a field of clover and dandelions,
whose highest aim in life was to feed cows and help make root

When the girls talked over the new society, it pleased Merry very
much, and she decided not only to try and love work better, but to
convert her family to a liking for pretty things, as she called her
own more cultivated tastes.

"I will begin at once, and show them that I don't mean to shirk my
duty, though I do want to be nice," thought she, as she sat at supper
one night and looked about her, planning her first move.

Not a very cheering prospect for a lover of the beautiful, certainly,
for the big kitchen, though as neat as wax, had nothing lovely in it,
except a red geranium blooming at the window. Nor were the
people all that could be desired, in some respects, as they sat about
the table shovelling in pork and beans with their knives, drinking
tea from their saucers, and laughing out with a hearty "Haw, haw,"
when anything amused them. Yet the boys were handsome, strong
specimens, the farmer a hale, benevolent-looking man, the
housewife a pleasant, sharp-eyed matron, who seemed to find
comfort in looking often at the bright face at her elbow, with the
broad forehead, clear eyes, sweet mouth, and quiet voice that came
like music in among the loud masculine ones, or the quick,
nervous tones of a woman always in a hurry.

Merry's face was so thoughtful that evening that her father
observed it, for, when at home, he watched her as one watches a
kitten, glad to see anything so pretty, young, and happy, at its play.

"Little daughter has got something on her mind, I mistrust. Come
and tell father all about it," he said, with a sounding slap on his
broad knee as he turned his chair from the table to the ugly stove,
where three pairs of wet boots steamed underneath, and a great
kettle of cider apple-sauce simmered above.

"When I've helped clear up, I'll come and talk. Now, mother, you
sit down and rest; Roxy and I can do everything," answered Merry,
patting the old rocking-chair so invitingly that the tired woman
could not resist, especially as watching the kettle gave her an
excuse for obeying.

"Well, I don't care if I do, for I've been on my feet since five
o'clock. Be sure you cover things up, and shut the buttery door, and
put the cat down cellar, and sift your meal. I'll see to the
buckwheats last thing before I go to bed."

Mrs. Grant subsided with her knitting, for her hands were never
idle; Tom tilted his chair back against the wall and picked his teeth
with his pen-knife; Dick got out a little pot of grease, to make the
boots water-tight; and Harry sat down at the small table to look
over his accounts, with an important air,--for every one occupied
this room, and the work was done in the out-kitchen behind.

Merry hated clearing up, but dutifully did every distasteful task,
and kept her eye on careless Roxy till all was in order; then she
gladly went to perch on her father's knee, seeing in all the faces
about her the silent welcome they always wore for the "little one."

"Yes, I do want something, but I know you will say it is silly," she
began, as her father pinched her blooming cheek, with the wish
that his peaches would ever look half as well.

"Shouldn't wonder if it was a doll now;" and Mr. Grant stroked her
head with an indulgent smile, as if she was about six instead of

"Why, father, you know I don't! I haven't played with dollies for
years and years. No; I want to fix up my room pretty, like Jill's. I'll
do it all myself, and only want a few things, for I don't expect it to
look as nice as hers."

Indignation gave Merry courage to state her wishes boldly, though
she knew the boys would laugh. They did, and her mother said in a
tone of surprise,--

"Why, child, what more can you want? I'm sure your room is
always as neat as a new pin, thanks to your bringing up, and I told
you to have a fire there whenever you wanted to."

"Let me have some old things out of the garret, and I'll show you
what I want. It _is_ neat, but so bare and ugly I hate to be there. I do
so love something pretty to look at!" and Merry gave a little shiver
of disgust as she turned her eyes away from the large greasy boot
Dick was holding up to be sure it was well lubricated all round.

"So do I, and that's a fact. I couldn't get on without my pretty girl
here, any way. Why, she touches up the old place better than a
dozen flower-pots in full blow," said the farmer, as his eye went
from the scarlet geranium to the bright young face so near his own.

"I wish I had a dozen in the sitting-room window. Mother says they
are not tidy, but I'd keep them neat, and I know you'd like it,"
broke in Merry, glad of the chance to get one of the long-desired
wishes of her heart fulfilled.

"I'll fetch you some next time I go over to Ballad's. Tell me what
you want, and we'll have a posy bed somewhere round, see if we
don't," said her father, dimly understanding what she wanted.

"Now, if mother says I may fix my room, I shall be satisfied, and
I'll do my chores without a bit of fuss, to show how grateful I am,"
said the girl, thanking her father with a kiss, and smiling at her
mother so wistfully that the good woman could not refuse.

"You may have anything you like out of the blue chest. There's a
lot of things there that the moths got at after Grandma died, and I
couldn't bear to throw or give 'em away. Trim up your room as you
like, and mind you don't forget your part of the bargain," answered
Mrs. Grant, seeing profit in the plan.

"I won't; I'll work all the morning to-morrow, and in the afternoon
I'll get ready to show you what I call a nice, pretty room,"
answered Merry, looking so pleased it seemed as if another flower
had blossomed in the large bare kitchen.

She kept her word, and the very stormy afternoon when Jill got
into trouble, Merry was working busily at her little bower. In the
blue chest she found a variety of treasures, and ignoring the moth
holes, used them to the best advantage, trying to imitate the simple
comfort with a touch of elegance which prevailed in Mrs. Minot's
back bedroom.

Three faded red-moreen curtains went up at the windows over the
chilly paper shades, giving a pleasant glow to the bare walls. A red
quilt with white stars, rather the worse for many washings, covered
the bed, and a gay cloth the table, where a judicious arrangement
of books and baskets concealed the spots. The little air-tight stove
was banished, and a pair of ancient andirons shone in the fire-light.
Grandma's last and largest braided rug lay on the hearth, and her
brass candlesticks adorned the bureau, over the mirror of which
was festooned a white muslin skirt, tied up with Merry's red sash.
This piece of elegance gave the last touch to her room, she
thought, and she was very proud of it, setting forth all her small
store of trinkets in a large shell, with an empty scent bottle, and a
clean tidy over the pincushion. On the walls she hung three
old-fashioned pictures, which she ventured to borrow from the
garret till better could be found. One a mourning piece, with a
very tall lady weeping on an urn in a grove of willows, and two
small boys in knee breeches and funny little square tails to their
coats, looking like cherubs in large frills. The other was as good as
a bonfire, being an eruption of Vesuvius, and very lurid indeed, for
the Bay of Naples was boiling like a pot, the red sky raining rocks,
and a few distracted people lying flat upon the shore. The third
was a really pretty scene of children dancing round a May-pole, for
though nearly a hundred years old, the little maids smiled and the
boys pranced as gayly as if the flowers they carried were still alive
and sweet.

"Now I'll call them all to see, and say that it is pretty. Then I'll
enjoy it, and come here when things look dismal and bare
everywhere else," said Merry, when at last it was done. She had
worked all the afternoon, and only finished at supper time, so the
candles had to be lighted that the toilette might look its best, and
impress the beholders with an idea of true elegance. Unfortunately,
the fire smoked a little, and a window was set ajar to clear the
room; an evil-disposed gust blew in, wafting the thin drapery
within reach of the light, and when Merry threw open the door
proudly thinking to display her success, she was horrified to find
the room in a blaze, and half her labor all in vain.

The conflagration was over in a minute, however, for the boys tore
down the muslin and stamped out the fire with much laughter,
while Mrs. Grant bewailed the damage to her carpet, and poor
Merry took refuge in her father's arms, refusing to be comforted in
spite of his kind commendation of "Grandma's fixins."

The third little missionary had the hardest time of all, and her first
efforts were not much more satisfactory nor successful than the
others. Her father was away from morning till night, and then had
his paper to read, books to keep, or "a man to see down town," so
that, after a hasty word at tea, he saw no more of the children till
another evening, as they were seldom up at his early breakfast. He
thought they were well taken care of, for Miss Bathsheba Dawes
was an energetic, middle-aged spinster when she came into the
family, and had been there fifteen years, so he did not observe,
what a woman would have seen at once, that Miss Bat was getting
old and careless, and everything about the house was at sixes and
sevens. She took good care of him, and thought she had done her
duty if she got three comfortable meals, nursed the children when
they were ill, and saw that the house did not burn up. So Maria
Louisa and Napoleon Bonaparte got on as they could, without the
tender cares of a mother. Molly had been a happy-go-lucky child,
contented with her pets, her freedom, and little Boo to love; but
now she was just beginning to see that they were not like other
children, and to feel ashamed of it.

"Papa is busy, but Miss Bat ought to see to us; she is paid for it,
and goodness knows she has an easy time now, for if I ask her to
do anything, she groans over her bones, and tells me young folks
should wait on themselves. I take all the care of Boo off her hands,
but I can't wash my own things, and he hasn't a decent trouser to
his blessed little legs. I'd tell papa, but it wouldn't do any good;
he'd only say, 'Yes, child, yes, I'll attend to it,' and never do a

This used to be Molly's lament, when some especially trying event
occurred, and if the girls were not there to condole with her, she
would retire to the shed-chamber, call her nine cats about her, and,
sitting in the old bushel basket, pull her hair about her ears, and
scold all alone. The cats learned to understand this habit, and
nobly did their best to dispel the gloom which now and then
obscured the sunshine of their little mistress. Some of them would
creep into her lap and purr till the comfortable sound soothed her
irritation; the sedate elders sat at her feet blinking with such wise
and sympathetic faces, that she felt as if half a dozen Solomons
were giving her the sagest advice; while the kittens frisked about,
cutting up their drollest capers till she laughed in spite of herself.
When the laugh came, the worst of the fit was over, and she soon
cheered up, dismissing the consolers with a pat all round, a feast of
good things from Miss Bat's larder, and the usual speech:--

"Well, dears, it's of no use to worry. I guess we shall get along
somehow, if we don't fret."

With which wise resolution, Molly would leave her retreat and
freshen up her spirits by a row on the river or a romp with Boo,
which always finished the case. Now, however, she was bound to
try the new plan and do something toward reforming not only the
boy's condition, but the disorder and discomfort of home.

"I'll play it is Siam, and this the house of a native, and I'm come to
show the folks how to live nicely. Miss Bat won't know what to
make of it, and I can't tell her, so I shall get some fun out of it,
any way," thought Molly, as she surveyed the dining-room the day
her mission began.

The prospect was not cheering; and, if the natives of Siam live in
such confusion, it is high time they were attended to. The
breakfast-table still stood as it was left, with slops of coffee on the
cloth; bits of bread, egg-shells, and potato-skins lay about, and one
lonely sausage was cast away in the middle of a large platter. The
furniture was dusty, stove untidy, and the carpet looked as if
crumbs had been scattered to chickens who declined their
breakfast. Boo was sitting on the sofa, with his arm through a hole
in the cover, hunting for some lost treasure put away there for safe
keeping, like a little magpie as he was. Molly fancied she washed
and dressed him well enough; but to-day she seemed to see more
clearly, and sighed as she thought of the hard job in store for her if
she gave him the thorough washing he needed, and combed out
that curly mop of hair.

"I'll clear up first and do that by and by. I ought to have a nice little
tub and good towels, like Mrs. Minot, and I will, too, if I buy them
myself," she said, piling up cups with an energy that threatened
destruction to handles.

Miss Bat, who was trailing about the kitchen, with her head pinned
up in a little plaid shawl, was so surprised by the demand for a pan
of hot water and four clean towels, that she nearly dropped her
snuff-box, chief comfort of her lazy soul.

"What new whimsey now? Generally, the dishes stand round till I
have time to pick 'em up, and you are off coasting or careering
somewhere. Well, this tidy fit won't last long, so I may as well
make the most of it," said Miss Bat, as she handed out the required
articles, and then pushed her spectacles from the tip of her sharp
nose to her sharper black eyes for a good look at the girl who stood
primly before her, with a clean apron on and her hair braided up
instead of flying wildly about her shoulders.

"Umph!" was all the comment that Miss Bat made on this unusual
neatness, and she went on scraping her saucepans, while Molly
returned to her work, very well pleased with the effect of her first
step, for she felt that the bewilderment of Miss Bat would be a
constant inspiration to fresh efforts.

An hour of hard work produced an agreeable change in the abode
of the native, for the table was cleared, room swept and dusted,
fire brightened, and the holes in the sofa-covering were pinned up
till time could be found to mend them. To be sure, rolls of lint lay
in corners, smears of ashes were on the stove hearth, and dust still
lurked on chair rounds and table legs. But too much must not be
expected of a new convert, so the young missionary sat down to
rest, well pleased and ready for another attempt as soon as she
could decide in what direction it should be made. She quailed
before Boo as she looked at the unconscious innocent peacefully
playing with the spotted dog, now bereft of his tail, and the lone
sausage with which he was attempting to feed the hungry animal,
whose red mouth always gaped for more.

"It will be an awful job, and he is so happy I won't plague him yet.
Guess I'll go and put my room to rights first, and pick up some
clean clothes to put on him, if he is alive after I get through with
him," thought Molly, foreseeing a stormy passage for the boy, who
hated a bath as much as some people hate a trip across the

Up she went, and finding the fire out felt discouraged, thought she
would rest a little more, so retired under the blankets to read one
of the Christmas books. The dinner-bell rang while she was still
wandering happily in "Nelly's Silver Mine," and she ran down to
find that Boo had laid out a railroad all across her neat room, using
bits of coal for sleepers and books for rails, over which he was
dragging the yellow sled laden with a dismayed kitten, the tailless
dog, and the remains of the sausage, evidently on its way to the
tomb, for Boo took bites at it now and then, no other lunch being
offered him.

"Oh dear! why can't boys play without making such a mess,"
sighed Molly, picking up the feathers from the duster with which
Boo had been trying to make a "cocky-doo" of the hapless dog. "I'll
wash him right after dinner, and that will keep him out of mischief
for a while," she thought, as the young engineer unsuspiciously
proceeded to ornament his already crocky countenance with
squash, cranberry sauce, and gravy, till he looked more like a Fiji
chief in full war-paint than a Christian boy.

"I want two pails of hot water, please, Miss Bat, and the big tub,"
said Molly, as the ancient handmaid emptied her fourth cup of tea,
for she dined with the family, and enjoyed her own good cooking
in its prime.

"What are you going to wash now?"

"Boo--I'm sure he needs it enough;" and Molly could not help
laughing as the victim added to his brilliant appearance by
smearing the colors all together with a rub of two grimy hands,
making a fine "Turner" of himself.

"Now, Maria Louisa Bemis, you ain't going to cut up no capers
with that child! The idea of a hot bath in the middle of the day, and
him full of dinner, and croupy into the bargain! Wet a corner of a
towel at the kettle-spout and polish him off if you like, but you
won't risk his life in no bath-tubs this cold day."

Miss Bat's word was law in some things, so Molly had to submit,
and took Boo away, saying, loftily, as she left the room,--

"I shall ask father, and do it to-night, for I will _not_ have my
brother look like a pig."

"My patience! how the Siamese do leave their things round," she
exclaimed, as she surveyed her room after making up the fire and
polishing off Boo. "I'll put things in order, and then mend up my
rags, if I can find my thimble. Now, let me see;" and she went to
exploring her closet, bureau, and table, finding such disorder
everywhere that her courage nearly gave out.

She had clothes enough, but all needed care; even her best dress
had two buttons off, and her Sunday hat but one string. Shoes,
skirts, books, and toys lay about, and her drawers were a perfect
chaos of soiled ruffles, odd gloves, old ribbons, boot lacings, and
bits of paper.

"Oh, my heart, what a muddle! Mrs. Minot wouldn't think much of
me if she could see that," said Molly, recalling how that lady once
said she could judge a good deal of a little girl's character and
habits by a peep at her top drawer, and went on, with great
success, to guess how each of the school-mates kept her drawer.

"Come, missionary, clear up, and don't let me find such a glory-hole
again, or I'll report you to the society," said Molly, tipping
the whole drawer-full out upon the bed, and beguiling the tiresome
job by keeping up the new play.

Twilight came before it was done, and a great pile of things
loomed up on her table, with no visible means of repair,--for
Molly's work-basket was full of nuts, and her thimble down a hole
in the shed-floor, where the cats had dropped it in their play.

"I'll ask Bat for hooks and tape, and papa for some money to buy
scissors and things, for I don't know where mine are. Glad I can't
do any more now! Being neat is such hard work!" and Molly threw
herself down on the rug beside the old wooden cradle in which
Boo was blissfully rocking, with a cargo of toys aboard.

She watched her time, and as soon as her father had done supper,
she hastened to say, before he got to his desk,--

"Please, papa, I want a dollar to get some brass buttons and things
to fix Boo's clothes with. He wore a hole in his new trousers
coasting down the Kembles' steps. And can't I wash him? He needs
it, and Miss Bat won't let me have a tub."

"Certainly, child, certainly; do what you like, only don't keep me. I
must be off, or I shall miss Jackson, and he's the man I want;" and,
throwing down two dollars instead of one, Mr. Bemis hurried
away, with a vague impression that Boo had swallowed a dozen
brass buttons, and Miss Bat had been coasting somewhere in a
bath-pan; but catching Jackson was important, so he did not stop to

Armed with the paternal permission, Molly carried her point, and
oh, what a dreadful evening poor Boo spent! First, he was decoyed
upstairs an hour too soon, then put in a tub by main force and
sternly scrubbed, in spite of shrieks that brought Miss Bat to the
locked door to condole with the sufferer, scold the scrubber, and
depart, darkly prophesying croup before morning.

"He always howls when he is washed; but I shall do it, since you
won't, and he must get used to it. I will not have people tell me he's
neglected, if I can help it," cried Molly, working away with tears in
her eyes--for it was as hard for her as for Boo; but she meant to be
thorough for once in her life, no matter what happened.

When the worst was over, she coaxed him with candy and stories
till the long task of combing out the curls was safely done; then, in
the clean night-gown with a blue button newly sewed on, she laid
him in bed, worn out, but sweet as a rose.

"Now, say your prayers, darling, and go to sleep with the nice red
blanket all tucked round so you won't get cold," said Molly, rather
doubtful of the effect of the wet head.

"No, I won't! Going to sleep _now!_" and Boo shut his eyes wearily,
feeling that his late trials had not left him in a prayerful mood.

"Then you'll be a real little heathen, as Mrs. Pecq called you, and I
don't know what I shall do with you," said Molly, longing to
cuddle rather than scold the little fellow, whose soul needed
looking after as well as his body.

"No, no; I won't be a heevin! I don't want to be frowed to the
trockindiles. I will say my prayers! oh, I will!" and, rising in his
bed, Boo did so, with the devotion of an infant Samuel, for he
remembered the talk when the society was formed.

Molly thought her labors were over for that night, and soon went to
bed, tired with her first attempts. But toward morning she was
wakened by the hoarse breathing of the boy, and was forced to
patter away to Miss Bat's room, humbly asking for the squills, and
confessing that the prophecy had come to pass.

"I knew it! Bring the child to me, and don't fret. I'll see to him, and
next time you do as I say," was the consoling welcome she
received as the old lady popped up a sleepy but anxious face in a
large flannel cap, and shook the bottle with the air of a general
who had routed the foe before and meant to do it again.

Leaving her little responsibility in Miss Bat's arms, Molly retired to
wet her pillow with a few remorseful tears, and to fall asleep,
wondering if real missionaries ever killed their pupils in the
process of conversion.

So the girls all failed in the beginning; but they did not give up,
and succeeded better next time, as we shall see.

Chapter IX

The Debating Club

"Look here, old man, we ought to have a meeting. Holidays are
over, and we must brace up and attend to business," said Frank to
Gus, as they strolled out of the schoolyard one afternoon in
January, apparently absorbed in conversation, but in reality waiting
for a blue cloud and a scarlet feather to appear on the steps.

"All right. When, where, and what?" asked Gus, who was a man of
few words.

"To-night, our house, subject, 'Shall girls go to college with us?'
Mother said we had better be making up our minds, because
every one is talking about it, and we shall have to be on one side or
the other, so we may as well settle it now," answered Frank, for
there was an impression among the members that all vexed
questions would be much helped by the united eloquence and
wisdom of the club.

"Very good; I'll pass the word and be there. Hullo, Neddy! The D.C.
meets to-night, at Minot's, seven sharp. Co-ed, &c.," added Gus,
losing no time, as a third boy came briskly round the corner, with a
little bag in his hand.

"I'll come. Got home an hour earlier to-night, and thought I'd look
you up as I went by," responded Ed Devlin, as he took possession
of the third post, with a glance toward the schoolhouse to see if a
seal-skin cap, with a long, yellow braid depending therefrom, was
anywhere in sight.

"Very good of you, I'm sure," said Gus, ironically, not a bit
deceived by this polite attention.

"The longest way round is sometimes the shortest way home, hey,
Ed?" and Frank gave him a playful poke that nearly sent him off
his perch.

Then they all laughed at some joke of their own, and Gus added,
"No girls coming to hear us to-night. Don't think it, my son.

"More's the pity," and Ed shook his head regretfully over the
downfall of his hopes.

"Can't help it; the other fellows say they spoil the fun, so we have
to give in, sometimes, for the sake of peace and quietness. Don't
mind having them a bit myself," said Frank, in such a tone of
cheerful resignation that they laughed again, for the "Triangle," as
the three chums were called, always made merry music.

"We must have a game party next week. The girls like that, and so
do I," candidly observed Gus, whose pleasant parlors were the
scene of many such frolics.

"And so do your sisters and your cousins and your aunts," hummed
Ed, for Gus was often called Admiral because he really did possess
three sisters, two cousins, and four aunts, besides mother and
grandmother, all living in the big house together.

The boys promptly joined in the popular chorus, and other voices
all about the yard took it up, for the "Pinafore" epidemic raged
fearfully in Harmony Village that winter.

"How's business?" asked Gus, when the song ended, for Ed had not
returned to school in the autumn, but had gone into a store in the

"Dull; things will look up toward spring, they say. I get on well
enough, but I miss you fellows dreadfully;" and Ed put a hand on
the broad shoulder of each friend, as if he longed to be a
school-boy again.

"Better give it up and go to college with me next year," said Frank,
who was preparing for Boston University, while Gus fitted for

"No; I've chosen business, and I mean to stick to it, so don't you
unsettle my mind. Have you practised that March?" asked Ed,
turning to a gayer subject, for he had his little troubles, but always
looked on the bright side of things.

"Skating is so good, I don't get much time. Come early, and we'll
have a turn at it."

"I will. Must run home now."

"Pretty cold loafing here."

"Mail is in by this time."

And with these artless excuses the three boys leaped off the posts,
as if one spring moved them, as a group of girls came chattering
down the path. The blue cloud floated away beside Frank, the
scarlet feather marched off with the Admiral, while the fur cap
nodded to the gray hat as two happy faces smiled at each other.

The same thing often happened, for twice a-day the streets were
full of young couples walking to and from school together, smiled
at by the elders, and laughed at by the less susceptible boys and
girls, who went alone or trooped along in noisy groups. The
prudent mothers had tried to stop this guileless custom, but found
it very difficult, as the fathers usually sympathized with their sons,
and dismissed the matter with the comfortable phrase, "Never
mind; boys will be boys." "Not forever," returned the anxious
mammas, seeing the tall lads daily grow more manly, and the
pretty daughters fast learning to look demure when certain names
were mentioned.

It could not be stopped without great parental sternness and the
danger of deceit, for co-education will go on outside of school
if not inside, and the safest way is to let sentiment and study go
hand in hand, with teachers and parents to direct and explain the
great lesson all are the better for learning soon or late. So the
elders had to give in, acknowledging that this sudden readiness to
go to school was a comfort, that the new sort of gentle emulation
worked wonders in lazy girls and boys, and that watching these
"primrose friendships" bud, blossom, and die painless deaths, gave
a little touch of romance to their own work-a-day lives.

"On the whole I'd rather have my sons walking, playing, and
studying with bright, well-mannered girls, than always knocking
about with rough boys," said Mrs. Minot at one of the Mothers'
Meetings, where the good ladies met to talk over their children,
and help one another to do their duty by them.

"I find that Gus is more gentle with his sisters since Juliet took him
in hand, for he wants to stand well with her, and they report him if
he troubles them. I really see no harm in the little friendship,
though I never had any such when I was a girl," said Mrs. Burton,
who adored her one boy and was his confidante.

"My Merry seems to be contented with her brothers so far, but I
shouldn't wonder if I had my hands full by and by," added Mrs.
Grant, who already foresaw that her sweet little daughter would be
sought after as soon as she should lengthen her skirts and turn up
her bonny brown hair.

Molly Loo had no mother to say a word for her, but she settled
matters for herself by holding fast to Merry, and declaring that she
would have no escort but faithful Boo.

It is necessary to dwell a moment upon this new amusement,
because it was not peculiar to Harmony Village, but appears
everywhere as naturally as the game parties and croquet which
have taken the place of the husking frolics and apple-bees of olden
times, and it is impossible to dodge the subject if one attempts to
write of boys and girls as they really are nowadays.

"Here, my hero, see how you like this. If it suits, you will be ready
to march as soon as the doctor gives the word," said Ralph, coming
into the Bird Room that evening with a neat little crutch under his

"Ha, ha, that looks fine! I'd like to try it right off, but I won't till I
get leave. Did you make it yourself, Ral?" asked Jack, handling it
with delight, as he sat bolt upright, with his leg on a rest, for he
was getting on capitally now.

"Mostly. Rather a neat job, I flatter myself."

"I should say so. What a clever fellow you are! Any new inventions
lately?" asked Frank, coming up to examine and admire.

"Only an anti-snoring machine and an elbow-pad," answered Ralph,
with a twinkle in his eye, as if reminded of something funny.

"Go on, and tell about them. I never heard of an anti-snorer. Jack
better have one," said Frank, interested at once.

"Well, a rich old lady kept her family awake with that lively music,
so she sent to Shirtman and Codleff for something to stop it. They
thought it was a good joke, and told me to see what I could do. I
thought it over, and got up the nicest little affair you ever saw. It
went over the mouth, and had a tube to fit the ear, so when the
lady snored she woke herself up and stopped it. It suited exactly. I
think of taking out a patent," concluded Ralph, joining in the boys'
laugh at the droll idea.

"What was the pad?" asked Frank, returning to the small model of
an engine he was making.

"Oh, that was a mere trifle for a man who had a tender elbow-joint
and wanted something to protect it. I made a little pad to fit on,
and his crazy-bone was safe."

"I planned to have you make me a new leg if this one was spoilt,"
said Jack, sure that his friend could invent anything under the sun.

"I'd do my best for you. I made a hand for a fellow once, and that
got me my place, you know," answered Ralph, who thought little
of such mechanical trifles, and longed to be painting portraits or
modelling busts, being an artist as well as an inventor.

Here Gus, Ed, and several other boys came in, and the
conversation became general. Grif, Chick, and Brickbat were three
young gentlemen whose own respectable names were usually
ignored, and they cheerfully answered to these nicknames.

As the clock struck seven, Frank, who ruled the club with a rod of
iron when Chairman, took his place behind the study table. Seats
stood about it, and a large, shabby book lay before Gus, who was
Secretary, and kept the records with a lavish expenditure of ink, to
judge by the blots. The members took their seats, and nearly all
tilted back their chairs and put their hands in their pockets, to keep
them out of mischief; for, as every one knows, it is impossible for
two lads to be near each other and refrain from tickling or
pinching. Frank gave three raps with an old croquet-mallet set on a
short handle, and with much dignity opened the meeting.

"Gentlemen, the business of the club will be attended to, and then
we will discuss the question, 'Shall girls go to our colleges?' The
Secretary will now read the report of the last meeting."

Clearing his throat, Gus read the following brief and elegant

"Club met, December 18th, at the house of G. Burton, Esq. Subject:
'Is summer or winter best fun?' A lively pow-wow. About evenly
divided. J. Flint fined five cents for disrespect to the Chair. A
collection of forty cents taken up to pay for breaking a pane of
glass during a free fight of the members on the door-step. E.
Devlin was chosen Secretary for the coming year, and a new book
contributed by the Chairman."

"That's all."

"Is there any other business before the meeting?" asked Frank, as
the reader closed the old book with a slam and shoved the new
one across the table.

Ed rose, and glancing about him with an appealing look, said, as if
sure his proposition would not be well received, "I wish to propose
the name of a new member. Bob Walker wants to join, and I think
we ought to let him. He is trying to behave well, and I am sure we
could help him. Can't we?"

All the boys looked sober, and Joe, otherwise Brickbat, said,
bluntly, "I won't. He's a bad lot, and we don't want any such here.
Let him go with chaps of his own sort."

"That is just what I want to keep him from! He's a good-hearted
boy enough, only no one looks after him; so he gets into scrapes,
as we should, if we were in his place, I dare say. He wants to
come here, and would be so proud if he was let in, I know he'd
behave. Come now, let's give him a chance," and Ed looked at Gus
and Frank, sure that if they stood by him he should carry his point.

But Gus shook his head, as if doubtful of the wisdom of the plan,
and Frank said gravely: "You know we made the rule that the
number should never be over eight, and we cannot break it."

"You needn't. I can't be here half the time, so I will resign and let
Bob have my place," began Ed, but he was silenced by shouts of
"No, no, you shan't!" "We won't let you off!" "Club would go to
smash, if you back out!"

"Let him have my place; I'm the youngest, and you won't miss me,"
cried Jack, bound to stand by Ed at all costs.

"We might do that," said Frank, who did object to small boys,
though willing to admit this particular one.

"Better make a new rule to have ten members, and admit both Bob
and Tom Grant," said Ralph, whereat Grif grinned and Joe
scowled, for one lad liked Merry's big brother and the other did

"That's a good idea! Put it to vote," said Gus, too kind-hearted to
shut the door on any one.

"First I want to ask if all you fellows are ready to stand by Bob, out
of the club as well as in, for it won't do much good to be kind to
him here and cut him at school and in the street," said Ed, heartily
in earnest about the matter.

"I will!" cried Jack, ready to follow where his beloved friend led,
and the others nodded, unwilling to be outdone by the youngest

"Good! With all of us to lend a hand, we can do a great deal; and I
tell you, boys, it is time, if we want to keep poor Bob straight. We
all turn our backs on him, so he loafs round the tavern, and goes
with fellows we don't care to know. But he isn't bad yet, and we
can keep him up, I'm sure, if we just try. I hope to get him into the
Lodge, and that will be half the battle, won't it, Frank?" added Ed,
sure that this suggestion would have weight with the honorable

"Bring him along; I'm with you!" answered Frank, making up his
mind at once, for he had joined the Temperance Lodge four years
ago, and already six boys had followed his example.

"He is learning to smoke, but we'll make him drop it before it leads
to worse. You can help him there, Admiral, if you only will,"
added Ed, giving a grateful look at one friend, and turning to the

"I'm your man;" and Gus looked as if he knew what he promised,
for he had given up smoking to oblige his father, and kept his word
like a hero.

"You other fellows can do a good deal by just being kind and not
twitting him with old scrapes, and I'll do anything I can for you all
to pay for this;" and Ed sat down with a beaming smile, feeling
that his cause was won.

The vote was taken, and all hands went up, for even surly Joe gave
in; so Bob and Tom were duly elected, and proved their gratitude
for the honor done them by becoming worthy members of the club.
It was only boys' play now, but the kind heart and pure instincts of
one lad showed the others how to lend a helping hand to a
comrade in danger, and win him away from temptation to the
safer pastimes of their more guarded lives.

Well pleased with themselves--for every genuine act or word, no
matter how trifling it seems, leaves a sweet and strengthening
influence behind--the members settled down to the debate, which
was never very long, and often only an excuse for fun of all sorts.

"Ralph, Gus, and Ed are for, and Brickbat, Grif, and Chick against,
I suppose?" said Frank, surveying his company like a general
preparing for battle.

"No, sir! I believe in co-everything!" cried Chick, a mild youth,
who loyally escorted a chosen damsel home from school every

A laugh greeted this bold declaration, and Chick sat down, red but

"I'll speak for two since the Chairman can't, and Jack won't go
against those who pet him most to death," said Joe, who, not being
a favorite with the girls, considered them a nuisance and lost no
opportunity of telling them so.

"Fire away, then, since you are up;" commanded Frank.

"Well," began Joe, feeling too late how much he had undertaken,
"I don't know a great deal about it, and I don't care, but I do _not_
believe in having girls at college. They don't belong there, nobody
wants 'em, and they'd better be at home darning their stockings."

"Yours, too," put in Ralph, who had heard that argument so often
he was tired of it.

"Of course; that's what girls are for. I don't mind 'em at school, but
I'd just as soon they had a room to themselves. We should get on

"_You_ would if Mabel wasn't in your class and always ahead of
you," observed Ed, whose friend was a fine scholar, and he very
proud of the fact.

"Look here, if you fellows keep interrupting, I won't sit down for
half an hour," said Joe, well knowing that eloquence was not his
gift, but bound to have his say out.

Deep silence reigned, for that threat quelled the most impatient
member, and Joe prosed on, using all the arguments he had ever
heard, and paying off several old scores by sly hits of a personal
nature, as older orators often do.

"It is clear to my mind that boys would get on better without any
girls fooling round. As for their being as smart as we are, it is all
nonsense, for some of 'em cry over their lessons every day, or go
home with headaches, or get mad and scold all recess, because
something 'isn't fair.' No, sir; girls ain't meant to know much, and
they can't. Wise folks say so and I believe 'em. Haven't got any
sisters myself, and I don't want any, for they don't seem to amount
to much, according to those who do have 'em."

Groans from Gus and Ed greeted the closing remarks of the
ungallant Joe, who sat down, feeling that he had made somebody
squirm. Up jumped Grif, the delight of whose life was practical
jokes, which amiable weakness made him the terror of the girls,
though they had no other fault to find with the merry lad.

"Mr. Chairman, the ground I take is this: girls have not the strength
to go to college with us. They couldn't row a race, go on a lark, or
take care of themselves, as we do. They are all well enough at
home, and I like them at parties, but for real fun and go I wouldn't
give a cent for them," began Grif, whose views of a collegiate life
were confined to the enjoyments rather than the studies of that
festive period. "I have tried them, and they can't stand anything.
They scream if you tell them there is a mouse in the room, and run
if they see a big dog. I just put a cockroach in Molly's desk one
day, and when she opened it she jumped as if she was shot."

So did the gentlemen of the club, for at that moment half-a-dozen
fire-crackers exploded under the chair Grif had left, and flew
wildly about the room. Order was with difficulty restored, the
mischievous party summarily chastised and commanded to hold
his tongue, under penalty of ejectment from the room if he spoke
again. Firmly grasping that red and unruly member, Grif composed
himself to listen, with his nose in the air and his eyes shining like
black beads.

Ed was always the peace-maker, and now, when he rose with his
engaging smile, his voice fell like oil upon the troubled waters,
and his bright face was full of the becoming bashfulness which
afflicts youths of seventeen when touching upon such subjects of
newly acquired interest as girls and their pleasant but perplexing

"It seems to me we have hardly considered the matter enough to be
able to say much. But I think that school would be awfully dry and
dismal without--ahem!--any young ladies to make it nice. I
wouldn't give a pin to go if there was only a crowd of fellows,
though I like a good game as well as any man. I pity any boy who
has no sisters," continued Ed, warming up as he thought of his
own, who loved him dearly, as well they might, for a better brother
never lived. "Home wouldn't be worth having without them to look
after a fellow, to keep him out of scrapes, help him with his
lessons, and make things jolly for his friends. I tell you we can't do
without girls, and I'm not ashamed to say that I think the more we
see of them, and try to be like them in many ways, the better men
we shall be by and by."

"Hear! hear!" cried Frank, in his deepest tone, for he heartily
agreed to that, having talked the matter over with his mother, and
received much light upon things which should always be set right
in young heads and hearts. And who can do this so wisely and well
as mothers, if they only will?

Feeling that his sentiments had been approved, and he need not be
ashamed of the honest color in his cheeks, Ed sat down amid the
applause of his side, especially of Jack, who pounded so
vigorously with his crutch that Mrs. Pecq popped in her head to
see if anything was wanted.

"No, thank you, ma'am, we were only cheering Ed," said Gus, now
upon his legs, and rather at a loss what to say till Mrs. Pecq's
appearance suggested an idea, and he seized upon it.

"My honored friend has spoken so well that I have little to add. I
agree with him, and if you want an example of what girls _can_ do,
why, look at Jill. She's young, I know, but a first-rate scholar for
her age. As for pluck, she is as brave as a boy, and almost as smart
at running, rowing, and so on. Of course, she can't play ball--no
girl can; their arms are not made right to throw--but she can catch
remarkably well. I'll say that for her. Now, if she and Mabel--and--
and--some others I could name, are so clever and strong at the
beginning, I don't see why they shouldn't keep up and go along
with us all through. I'm willing, and will do what I can to help
other fellows' sisters as I'd like to have them help mine. And I'll
punch their heads if they don't;" and Gus subsided, assured, by a
burst of applause, that his manly way of stating the case met with
general approval.

"We shall be happy to hear from our senior member if he will
honor us with a few remarks," said Frank, with a bow to Ralph.

No one ever knew whom he would choose to personate, for he
never spoke in his own character. Now he rose slowly, put one
hand in his bosom, and fixing his eye sternly on Grif, who was
doing something suspicious with a pin, gave them a touch of
Sergeant Buzfuz, from the Pickwick trial, thinking that the debate
was not likely to throw much light on the subject under discussion.
In the midst of this appeal to "Me lud and gentlemen of the jury,"
he suddenly paused, smoothed his hair down upon his forehead,
rolled up his eyes, and folding his hands, droned out Mr.
Chadband's sermon on Peace, delivered over poor Jo, and ending
with the famous lines:--

"Oh, running stream of sparkling joy,
To be a glorious human boy!"

Then, setting his hair erect with one comprehensive sweep, he
caught up his coat-skirts over his arm, and, assuming a
parliamentary attitude, burst into a comical medley, composed of
extracts from Jefferson Brick's and Lafayette Kettle's speeches, and
Elijah Pogram's Defiance, from "Martin Chuzzlewit." Gazing at
Gus, who was convulsed with suppressed merriment, he thundered

"In the name of our common country, sir, in the name of that
righteous cause in which we are jined, and in the name of the
star-spangled banner, I thank you for your eloquent and categorical
remarks. You, sir, are a model of a man fresh from Natur's mould.
A true-born child of this free hemisphere; verdant as the mountains
of our land; bright and flowin' as our mineral Licks; unspiled by
fashion as air our boundless perearers. Rough you may be; so air
our Barrs. Wild you may be; so air our Buffalers. But, sir, you air
a Child of Freedom, and your proud answer to the Tyrant is, that
your bright home is in the Settin' Sun. And, sir, if any man denies
this fact, though it be the British Lion himself, I defy him. Let me
have him here!"--smiting the table, and causing the inkstand to
skip--"here, upon this sacred altar! Here, upon the ancestral ashes
cemented with the glorious blood poured out like water on the
plains of Chickabiddy Lick. Alone I dare that Lion, and tell him
that Freedom's hand once twisted in his mane, he rolls a corse
before me, and the Eagles of the Great Republic scream, Ha, ha!"

By this time the boys were rolling about in fits of laughter; even
sober Frank was red and breathless, and Jack lay back, feebly
squealing, as he could laugh no more. In a moment Ralph was as
meek as a Quaker, and sat looking about him with a mildly
astonished air, as if inquiring the cause of such unseemly mirth. A
knock at the door produced a lull, and in came a maid with apples.

"Time's up; fall to and make yourselves comfortable," was the
summary way in which the club was released from its sterner
duties and permitted to unbend its mighty mind for a social
half-hour, chiefly devoted to whist, with an Indian war-dance as a
closing ceremony.

Chapter X

The Dramatic Club

While Jack was hopping gayly about on his crutches, poor Jill was
feeling the effects of her second fall, and instead of sitting up, as
she hoped to do after six weeks of rest, she was ordered to lie on a
board for two hours each day. Not an easy penance, by any means,
for the board was very hard, and she could do nothing while she
lay there, as it did not slope enough to permit her to read without
great fatigue of both eyes and hands. So the little martyr spent her
first hour of trial in sobbing, the second in singing, for just as her
mother and Mrs. Minot were deciding in despair that neither she
nor they could bear it, Jill suddenly broke out into a merry chorus
she used to hear her father sing:--

"Faut jouer le mirliton,
Faut jouer le mirlitir,
Faut jouer le mirliter,

The sound of the brave little voice was very comforting to the two
mothers hovering about her, and Jack said, with a look of mingled
pity and admiration, as he brandished his crutch over the
imaginary foes,--

"That's right! Sing away, and we'll play you are an Indian captive
being tormented by your enemies, and too proud to complain. I'll
watch the clock, and the minute time is up I'll rush in and rescue

Jill laughed, but the fancy pleased her, and she straightened herself
out under the gay afghan, while she sang, in a plaintive voice,
another little French song her father taught her:--

"J'avais une colombe blanche,
J'avais un blanc petit pigeon,
Tous deux volaient, de branche en branche,
Jusqu'au fate de mon dongeon:
Mais comme un coup de vent d'automne,
S'est abattu l, l'pervier,
Et ma colombe si mignonne
Ne revient plus au colombier."

"My poor Jean had a fine voice, and always hoped the child would
take after him. It would break his heart to see her lying there trying
to cheer her pain with the songs he used to sing her to sleep with,"
said Mrs. Pecq, sadly.

"She really has a great deal of talent, and when she is able she
shall have some lessons, for music is a comfort and a pleasure,
sick or well," answered Mrs. Minot, who had often admired the
fresh voice, with its pretty accent.

Here Jill began the Canadian boat-song, with great vigor, as if
bound to play her part of Indian victim with spirit, and not disgrace
herself by any more crying. All knew the air, and joined in,
especially Jack, who came out strong on the "Row, brothers, row,"
but ended in a squeak on a high note, so drolly, that the rest broke
down. So the hour that began with tears ended with music and
laughter, and a new pleasure to think of for the future.

After that day Jill exerted all her fortitude, for she liked to have the
boys call her brave and admire the cheerful way in which she
endured two hours of discomfort. She found she could use her
zither as it lay upon her breast, and every day the pretty music
began at a certain hour, and all in the house soon learned to love
and listen for it. Even the old cook set open her kitchen door,
saying pitifully, "Poor darlint, hear how purty she's singin', wid the
pain, on that crewel boord. It's a little saint, she is. May her bed
above be aisy!"

Frank would lift her gently on and off, with a kind word that
comforted her immensely, and gentle Ed would come and teach
her new bits of music, while the other fellows were frolicking
below. Ralph added his share to her amusement, for he asked leave
to model her head in clay, and set up his work in a corner, coming
to pat, scrape, and mould whenever he had a spare minute,
amusing her by his lively chat, and showing her how to shape
birds, rabbits, and queer faces in the soft clay, when the songs
were all sung and her fingers tired of the zither.

The girls sympathized very heartily with her new trial, and brought
all manner of gifts to cheer her captivity. Merry and Molly made a
gay screen by pasting pictures on the black cambric which covered
the folding frame that stood before her to keep the draughts from
her as she lay on her board. Bright birds and flowers, figures and
animals, covered one side, and on the other they put mottoes, bits
of poetry, anecdotes, and short stories, so that Jill could lie and
look or read without the trouble of holding a book. It was not all
done at once, but grew slowly, and was a source of instruction as
well as amusement to them all, as they read carefully, that they
might make good selections.

But the thing that pleased Jill most was something Jack did, for he
gave up going to school, and stayed at home nearly a fortnight
after he might have gone, all for her sake. The day the doctor said
he might try it if he would be very careful, he was in great spirits,
and limped about, looking up his books, and planning how he
would astonish his mates by the rapidity of his recovery. When he
sat down to rest he remembered Jill, who had been lying quietly
behind the screen, while he talked with his mother, busy putting
fresh covers on the books.

"She is so still, I guess she is asleep," thought Jack, peeping round
the corner.

No, not asleep, but lying with her eyes fixed on the sunny window,
beyond which the bright winter world sparkled after a fresh
snow-fall. The jingle of sleigh-bells could be heard, the laughter of
boys and girls on their way to school, all the pleasant stir of a new
day of happy work and play for the rest of the world, more lonely,
quiet, and wearisome than ever to her since her friend and
fellow-prisoner was set free and going to leave her.

Jack understood that patient, wistful look, and, without a word,
went back to his seat, staring at the fire so soberly, that his mother
presently asked: "What are you thinking of so busily, with that
pucker in your forehead?"

"I've about made up my mind that I won't go to school just yet,"
answered Jack, slowly lifting his head, for it cost him something to
give up the long-expected pleasure.

"Why not?" and Mrs. Minot looked much surprised, till Jack
pointed to the screen, and, making a sad face to express Jill's
anguish, answered in a cheerful tone, "Well, I'm not sure that it is
best. Doctor did not want me to go, but said I might because I
teased. I shall be sure to come to grief, and then every one will say,
'I told you so,' and that is so provoking. I'd rather keep still a week
longer. Hadn't I better?"

His mother smiled and nodded as she said, sewing away at
much-abused old Caesar, as if she loved him, "Do as you think
best, dear. I always want you at home, but I don't wonder you are
rather tired of it after this long confinement."

"I say, Jill, should I be in your way if I didn't go to school till the
first of February?" called Jack, laughing to himself at the absurdity
of the question.

"Not much!" answered a glad voice from behind the screen, and he
knew the sorrowful eyes were shining with delight, though he
could not see them.

"Well, I guess I may as well, and get quite firm on my legs before I
start. Another week or so will bring me up if I study hard, so I shall
not lose my time. I'll tackle my Latin as soon as it's ready, mother."

Jack got a hearty kiss with the neatly covered book, and Mamma
loved him for the little sacrifice more than if he had won a prize at
school. He did get a reward, for, in five minutes from the time he
decided, Jill was singing like a bobolink, and such a medley of
merry music came from behind the screen, that it was a regular
morning concert. She did not know then that he stayed for her
sake, but she found it out soon after, and when the time came did
as much for him, as we shall see.

It proved a wise decision, for the last part of January was so
stormy Jack could not have gone half the time. So, while the snow
drifted, and bitter winds raged, he sat snugly at home amusing Jill,
and getting on bravely with his lessons, for Frank took great pains
with him to show his approbation of the little kindness, and,
somehow, the memory of it seemed to make even the detested
Latin easier.

With February fair weather set in, and Jack marched happily away
to school, with Jill's new mittens on his hands, Mamma nodding
from the door-step, and Frank ready to give him a lift on the new
sled, if the way proved too long or too rough.

"I shall not have time to miss him now, for we are to be very busy
getting ready for the Twenty-second. The Dramatic Club meets
to-night, and would like to come here, if they may, so I can help?"
said Jill, as Mrs. Minot came up, expecting to find her rather low
in her mind.

"Certainly; and I have a basket of old finery I looked up for the
club when I was rummaging out bits of silk for your blue quilt,"
answered the good lady, who had set up a new employment to
beguile the hours of Jack's absence.

When the girls arrived, that evening, they found Mrs. Chairwoman
surrounded by a strew of theatrical properties, enjoying herself
very much. All brought such contributions as they could muster,
and all were eager about a certain tableau which was to be the gem
of the whole, they thought. Jill, of course, was not expected to take
any part, but her taste was good, so all consulted her as they
showed their old silks, laces, and flowers, asking who should be
this, and who that. All wanted to be the "Sleeping Beauty," for that
was the chosen scene, with the slumbering court about the
princess, and the prince in the act of awakening her. Jack was to be
the hero, brave in his mother's velvet cape, red boots, and a real
sword, while the other boys were to have parts of more or less

"Mabel should be the Beauty, because her hair is so lovely," said
Juliet, who was quite satisfied with her own part of the Queen.

"No, Merry ought to have it, as she is the prettiest, and has that
splendid veil to wear," answered Molly, who was to be the maid of
honor, cuffing the little page, Boo.

"I don't care a bit, but my feather would be fine for the Princess,
and I don't know as Emma would like to have me lend it to any one
else," said Annette, waving a long white plume over her head, with
girlish delight in its grace.

"I should think the white silk dress, the veil, and the feather ought
to go together, with the scarlet crape shawl and these pearls. That
would be sweet, and just what princesses really wear," advised Jill,
who was stringing a quantity of old Roman pearls.

"We all want to wear the nice things, so let us draw lots. Wouldn't
that be the fairest way?" asked Merry, looking like a rosy little
bride, under a great piece of illusion, which had done duty in many

"The Prince is light, so the Princess must be darkish. We ought to
choose the girl who will look best, as it is a picture. I heard Miss
Delano say so, when the ladies got up the tableaux, last winter, and
every one wanted to be Cleopatra," said Jill decidedly.

"You choose, and then if we can't agree we will draw lots,"
proposed Susy, who, being plain, knew there was little hope of her
getting a chance in any other way.

So all stood in a row, and Jill, from her sofa, surveyed them
critically, feeling that the one Jack would really prefer was not
among the number.

"I choose that one, for Juliet wants to be Queen, Molly would
make faces, and the others are too big or too light," pronounced
Jill, pointing to Merry, who looked pleased, while Mabel's face
darkened, and Susy gave a disdainful sniff.

"You'd better draw lots, and then there will be no fuss. Ju and I are
out of the fight, but you three can try, and let this settle the
matter," said Molly, handing Jill a long strip of paper.

All agreed to let it be so, and when the bits were ready drew in
turn. This time fate was evidently on Merry's side, and no one
grumbled when she showed the longest paper.

"Go and dress, then come back, and we'll plan how we are to be
placed before we call up the boys," commanded Jill, who was
manager, since she could be nothing else.

The girls retired to the bedroom and began to "rig up," as they
called it; but discontent still lurked among them, and showed itself
in sharp words, envious looks, and disobliging acts.

"Am I to have the white silk and the feather?" asked Merry,
delighted with the silvery shimmer of the one and the graceful
droop of the other, though both were rather shabby.

"You can use your own dress. I don't see why you should have
everything," answered Susy, who was at the mirror, putting a
wreath of scarlet flowers on her red head, bound to be gay since
she could not be pretty.

"I think I'd better keep the plume, as I haven't anything else that is
nice, and I'm afraid Emma wouldn't like me to lend it," added
Annette, who was disappointed that Mabel was not to be the

"_I_ don't intend to act at all!" declared Mabel, beginning to braid up
her hair with a jerk, out of humor with the whole affair.

"_I_ think you are a set of cross, selfish girls to back out and keep
your nice things just because you can't _all_ have the best part. I'm
ashamed of you!" scolded Molly, standing by Merry, who was
sadly surveying her mother's old purple silk, which looked like
brown in the evening.

"I'm going to have Miss Delano's red brocade for the Queen, and I
shall ask her for the yellow-satin dress for Merry when I go to get
mine, and tell her how mean you are," said Juliet, frowning under
her gilt-paper crown as she swept about in a red table-cloth for
train till the brocade arrived.

"Perhaps you'd like to have Mabel cut her hair off, so Merry can
have that, too?" cried Susy, with whom hair was a tender point.

"Light hair isn't wanted, so Ju will have to give hers, or you'd better
borrow Miss Bat's frisette," added Mabel, with a scornful laugh.

"I just wish Miss Bat was here to give you girls a good shaking. Do
let someone else have a chance at the glass, you peacock!"
exclaimed Molly Loo, pushing Susy aside to arrange her own blue
turban, out of which she plucked the pink pompon to give Merry.

"Don't quarrel about me. I shall do well enough, and the scarlet
shawl will hide my ugly dress," said Merry, from the corner, where
she sat waiting for her turn at the mirror.

As she spoke of the shawl her eye went in search of it, and
something that she saw in the other room put her own disappointment
out of her head. Jill lay there all alone, rather tired with the
lively chatter, and the effort it cost her not to repine at
being shut out from the great delight of dressing up and acting.

Her eyes were closed, her net was off, and all the pretty black curls
lay about her shoulders as one hand idly pulled them out, while the
other rested on the red shawl, as if she loved its glowing color and
soft texture. She was humming to herself the little song of the dove
and the donjon, and something in the plaintive voice, the solitary
figure, went straight to Merry's gentle heart.

"Poor Jilly can't have any of the fun," was the first thought; then
came a second, that made Merry start and smile, and in a minute
whisper so that all but Jill could hear her, "Girls, I'm not going to
be the Princess. But I've thought of a splendid one!"

"Who?" asked the rest, staring at one another, much surprised by
this sudden announcement.

"Hush! Speak low, or you will spoil it all. Look in the Bird Room,
and tell me if that isn't a prettier Princess than I could make?"

They all looked, but no one spoke, and Merry added, with sweet

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