"Tomorrow I will begin," thought Katy, as she dropped asleep that night. How often we all do so! And what a pity it is that when morning comes and to-morrow is to-day, we so frequently wake up feeling quite differently; careless or impatient, and not a bit inclined to do the fine things we planned overnight.
Sometimes it seems as if there must be wicked little imps in the world, who are kept tied up so long as the sun shines, but who creep into our bed-rooms when we are asleep, to tease us and ruffle our tempers. Else, why, when we go to rest good-natured and pleasant, should we wake up so cross? Now there was Katy. Her last sleepy thought was an intention to be an angel from that time on, and as much like Cousin Helen as she could; and when she opened her eyes she was all out of sorts, and as fractious as a bear! Old Mary said that she got out of bed on the wrong side. I wonder, by the way, if anybody will ever be wise enough to tell us which side that is, so that we may always choose the other? How comfortable it would be if they could!
You know how, if we begin the day in a cross mood, all sorts of unfortunate accidents seem to occur to add to our vexations. The very first thing Katy did this morning was to break her precious vase—the one Cousin Helen had given her.
It was standing on the bureau with a little cluster of blush-roses in it. The bureau had a swing-glass. While Katy was brushing her hair, the glass tipped a little so that she could not see. At a good-humored moment, this accident wouldn't have troubled her much. But being out of temper to begin with, it made her angry. She gave the glass a violent push. The lower part swung forward, there was a smash, and the first thing Katy knew, the blush-roses lay scattered all over the floor, and Cousin Helen's pretty present was ruined.
Katy just sat down on the carpet and cried as hard as if she had been Phil himself. Aunt Izzie heard her lamenting, and came in.
"I'm very sorry," she said, picking up the broken glass, "but it's no more than I expected, you're so careless, Katy. Now don't sit there in that foolish way! Get up and dress yourself. You'll be late to breakfast."
"What's the matter?" asked Papa, noticing Katy's red eyes as she took her seat at the table.
"I've broken my vase," said Katy, dolefully.
"It was extremely careless of you to put it in such a dangerous place," said her aunt. "You might have known that the glass would swing and knock it off." Then, seeing a big tear fall in the middle of Katy's plate, she added: "Really, Katy, you're too big to behave like a baby. Why Dorry would be ashamed to do so. Pray control yourself!"
This snub did not improve Katy's temper. She went on with her breakfast in sulky silence.
"What are you all going to do to-day?" asked Dr. Carr, hoping to give things a more cheerful turn.
"Swing!" cried John and Dorry both together. "Alexander's put us up a splendid one in the wood-shed."
"No you're not," said Aunt Izzie in a positive tone, "the swing is not to be used till to-morrow. Remember that, children. Not till to-morrow. And not then, unless I give you leave."
This was unwise of Aunt Izzie. She would better have explained farther. The truth was, that Alexander, in putting up the swing, had cracked one of the staples which fastened it to the roof. He meant to get a new one in the course of the day, and, meantime, he had cautioned Miss Carr to let no one use the swing, because it really was not safe. If she had told this to the children, all would have been right; but Aunt Izzie's theory was, that young people must obey their elders without explanation.
John, and Elsie, and Dorry, all pouted when they heard this order. Elsie recovered her good-humor first.
"I don't care," she said, "'cause I'm going to be very busy; I've got to write a letter to Cousin Helen about somefing." (Elsie never could quite pronounce the th.)
"What?" asked Clover.
"Oh, somefing," answered Elsie, wagging her head mysteriously. "None of the rest of you must know, Cousin Helen said so, it's a secret she and me has got."
"I don't believe Cousin Helen said so at all," said Katy, crossly. "She wouldn't tell secrets to a silly little girl like you."
"Yes she would too," retorted Elsie angrily. "She said I was just as good to trust as if I was ever so big. And she said I was her pet. So there! Katy Carr!"
"Stop disputing," said Aunt Izzie. "Katy your top-drawer is all out of order. I never saw anything look so badly. Go up stairs at once and straighten it, before you do anything else. Children, you must keep in the shade this morning. It's too hot for you to be running about in the sun. Elsie, go into the kitchen and tell Debby I want to speak to her."
"Yes," said Elsie, in an important tone, "And afterwards I'm coming back to write my letter to Cousin Helen."
Katy went slowly up stairs, dragging one foot after the other. It was a warm, languid day. Her head ached a little, and her eyes smarted and felt heavy from crying so much. Everything seemed dull and hateful. She said to herself, that Aunt Izzie was very unkind to make her work in vacation, and she pulled the top-drawer open with a disgusted groan.
It must be confessed that Miss Izzie was right. A bureau-drawer could hardly look worse than this one did. It reminded one of the White Knight's recipe for a pudding, which began with blotting-paper, and ended with sealing-wax and gunpowder. All sorts of things were mixed together, as if somebody had put in a long stick and stirred them well up. There were books and paint-boxes and bits of scribbled paper, and lead-pencils and brushes. Stocking-legs had come unrolled, and twisted themselves about pocket-handkerchiefs, and ends of ribbon, and linen collars.
Ruffles, all crushed out of shape, stuck up from under the heavier things, and sundry little paper boxes lay empty on top, the treasures they once held having sifted down to the bottom of the drawer, and disappeared beneath the general mass.
It took much time and patience to bring order out of this confusion. But Katy knew that Aunt Izzie would be up by and by, and she dared not stop till all was done. By the time it was finished, she was very tired. Going down stairs, she met Elsie coming up with a slate in her hand, which, as soon as she saw Katy, she put behind her.
"You mustn't look," she said, "it's my letter to Cousin Helen. Nobody but me knows the secret. It's all written, and I'm going to send it to the office. See—there's a stamp on it;" and she exhibited a corner of the slate. Sure enough, there was a stamp stuck on the frame.
"You little goose!" said Katy, impatiently, "you can't send that to the post-office. Here, give me the slate. I'll copy what you've written on paper, and Papa'll give you an envelope."
"No, no," cried Elsie, struggling, "you mustn't! You'll see what I've said and Cousin Helen said I wasn't to tell. It's a secret. Let go of my slate, I say! I'll tell Cousin Helen what a mean girl you are, and then she won't love you a bit."
"There, then, take your old slate!" said Katy, giving her a vindictive push. Elsie slipped, screamed, caught at the banisters, missed them, and rolling over and over, fell with a thump on the hall floor.
It wasn't much of a fall, only half-a-dozen steps, but the bump was a hard one, and Elsie roared as if she had been half killed. Aunt Izzie and Mary came rushing to the spot.
"Katy—pushed—me," sobbed Elsie. "She wanted me to tell her my secret, and I wouldn't. She's a bad, naughty girl!"
"Well, Katy Carr, I should think you'd be ashamed of yourself," said Aunt Izzie, "wreaking your temper on your poor little sister! I think your Cousin Helen will be surprised when she hears this. There, there, Elsie! Don't cry any more, dear. Come up stairs with me. I'll put on some arnica, and Katy sha'n't hurt you again."
So they went up stairs. Katy, left below, felt very miserable: repentant, defiant, discontented, and sulky all at once. She knew in her heart that she had not meant to hurt Elsie, but was thoroughly ashamed of that push; but Aunt Izzie's hint about telling Cousin Helen, had made her too angry to allow of her confessing this to herself or anybody else.
"I don't care!" she murmured, choking back her tears. "Elsie is a real cry-baby, anyway. And Aunt Izzie always takes her part. Just because I told the little silly not to go and send a great heavy slate to the post-office!"
She went out by the side-door into the yard. As she passed the shed, the new swing caught her eye.
"How exactly like Aunt Izzie," she thought, "ordering the children not to swing till she gives them leave. I suppose she thinks it's too hot, or something. I sha'n't mind her, anyhow."
She seated herself in the swing. It was a first-rate one, with a broad, comfortable seat, and thick new ropes. The seat hung just the right distance from the floor. Alexander was a capital hand at putting up swings, and the wood-shed the nicest possible spot in which to have one.
It was a big place, with a very high roof. There was not much wood left in it just now, and the little there was, was piled neatly about the sides of the shed, so as to leave plenty of room. The place felt cool and dark, and the motion of the swing seemed to set the breeze blowing. It waved Katy's hair like a great fan, and made her dreamy and quiet. All sorts of sleepy ideas began to flit through her brain. Swinging to and fro like the pendulum of a great clock, she gradually rose higher and higher, driving herself along by the motion of her body, and striking the floor smartly with her foot, at every sweep. Now she was at the top of the high arched door. Then she could almost touch the cross-beam above it, and through the small square window could see pigeons sitting and pluming themselves on the eaves of the barn, and white clouds blowing over the blue sky. She had never swung so high before. It was like flying, she thought, and she bent and curved more strongly in the seat, trying to send herself yet higher, and graze the roof with her toes.
Suddenly, at the very highest point of the sweep, there was a sharp noise of cracking. The swing gave a violent twist, spun half round, and tossed Katy into the air. She clutched the rope,—felt it dragged from her grasp,—then, down,—down—down—she fell. All grew dark, and she knew no more.
When she opened her eyes she was lying on the sofa in the dining-room. Clover was kneeling beside her with a pale, scared face, and Aunt Izzie was dropping something cold and wet on her forehead.
"What's the matter?" said Katy, faintly.
"Oh, she's alive—she's alive!" and Clover put her arms round Katy's neck and sobbed.
"Hush, dear!" Aunt Izzie's voice sounded unusually gentle. "You've had a bad tumble, Katy. Don't you recollect?"
"A tumble? Oh, yes—out of the swing," said Katy, as it all came slowly back to her. "Did the rope break, Aunt Izzie? I can't remember about it."
"No, Katy, not the rope. The staple drew out of the roof. It was a cracked one, and not safe. Don't you recollect my telling you not to swing to-day? Did you forget?"
"No, Aunt Izzie—I didn't forget. I—" but here Katy broke down. She closed her eyes, and big tears rolled from under the lids.
"Don't cry," whispered Clover, crying herself, "please don't. Aunt Izzie isn't going to scold you." But Katy was too weak and shaken not to cry.
"I think I'd like to go up stairs and lie on the bed," she said. But when she tried to get off the sofa, everything swam before her, and she fell back again on the pillow.
"Why, I can't stand up!" she gasped, looking very much frightened.
"I'm afraid you've given yourself a sprain somewhere," said Aunt Izzie, who looked rather frightened herself. "You'd better lie still a while, dear, before you try to move. Ah, here's the doctor! well, I am glad." And she went forward to meet him. It wasn't Papa, but Dr. Alsop, who lived quite near them.
"I am so relieved that you could come," Aunt Izzie said. "My brother is gone out of town not to return till to-morrow, and one of the little girls has had a bad fall."
Dr. Alsop sat down beside the sofa and counted Katy's pulse. Then he began feeling all over her.
"Can you move this leg?" he asked.
Katy gave a feeble kick.
The kick was a good deal more feeble.
"Did that hurt you?" asked Dr. Alsop, seeing a look of pain on her face.
"Yes, a little," replied Katy, trying hard not to cry.
"In your back, eh? Was the pain high up or low down?" And the doctor punched Katy's spine for some minutes, making her squirm uneasily.
"I'm afraid she's done some mischief," he said at last, "but it's impossible to tell yet exactly what. It may be only a twist, or a slight sprain," he added, seeing the look of terror on Katy's face. "You'd better get her up stairs and undress her as soon as you can, Miss Carr. I'll leave a prescription to rub her with." And Dr. Alsop took out a bit of paper and began to write.
"Oh, must I go to bed?" said Katy. "How long will I have to stay there, doctor?"
"That depends on how fast you get well," replied the doctor; "not long, I hope. Perhaps only a few days.
"A few days!" repeated Katy, in a despairing tone.
After the doctor was gone, Aunt Izzie and Debby lifted Katy, and carried her slowly up stairs. It was not easy, for every motion hurt her, and the sense of being helpless hurt most of all. She couldn't help crying after she was undressed and put into bed. It all seemed so dreadful and strange. If only Papa was here, she thought. But Dr. Carr had gone into the country to see somebody who was very sick, and couldn't possibly be back till to-morrow.
Such a long, long afternoon as that was! Aunt Izzie sent up some dinner, but Katy couldn't eat. Her lips were parched and her head ached violently. The sun began to pour in, the room grew warm. Flies buzzed in the window, and tormented her by lighting on her face. Little prickles of pain ran up and down her back. She lay with her eyes shut, because it hurt to keep them open, and all sorts of uneasy thoughts went rushing through her mind.
"Perhaps, if my back is really sprained, I shall have to lie here as much as a week," she said to herself. "Oh dear, dear! I can't. The vacation is only eight weeks, and I was going to do such lovely things! How can people be as patient as Cousin Helen when they have to lie still? Won't she be sorry when she hears! Was it really yesterday that she went away? It seems a year. If only I hadn't got into that nasty old swing!" And then Katy began to imagine how it would have been if she hadn't, and how she and Clover had meant to go to Paradise that afternoon. They might have been there under the cool trees now. As these thoughts ran through her mind, her head grew hotter and her position in the bed more uncomfortable.
Suddenly she became conscious that the glaring light from the window was shaded, and that the wind seemed to be blowing freshly over her. She opened her heavy eyes. The blinds were shut, and there beside the bed sat little Elsie, fanning her with a palm-leaf fan.
"Did I wake you up, Katy?" she asked in a timid voice.
Katy looked at her with startled, amazed eyes.
"Don't be frightened," said Elsie, "I won't disturb you. Johnnie and me are so sorry you're sick," and her little lips trembled. "But we mean to keep real quiet, and never bang the nursery door, or make noises on the stairs, till you're well again. And I've brought you somefing real nice. Some of it's from John, and some from me. It's because you got tumbled out of the swing. See—" and Elsie pointed triumphantly to a chair, which she had pulled up close to the bed, and on which were solemnly set forth: 1st. A pewter tea-set; 2d. A box with a glass lid, on which flowers were painted; 3d. A jointed doll; 4th. A transparent slate; and lastly, two new lead pencils!
"They're all yours—yours to keep," said generous little Elsie. "You can have Pikery, too, if you want. Only he's pretty big, and I'm afraid he'd be lonely without me. Don't you like the fings, Katy? They're real pretty!"
It seemed to Katy as if the hottest sort of a coal of fire was burning into the top of her head as she looked at the treasures on the chair, and then at Elsie's face all lighted up with affectionate self-sacrifice. She tried to speak, but began to cry instead, which frightened Elsie very much.
"Does it hurt you so bad?" she asked, crying, too, from sympathy.
"Oh, no! it isn't that," sobbed Katy, "but I was so cross to you this morning, Elsie, and pushed you. Oh, please forgive me, please do!"
"Why, it's got well!" said Elsie, surprised. "Aunt Izzie put a fing out of a bottle on it, and the bump all went away. Shall I go and ask her to put some on you too—I will." And she ran toward the door.
"Oh, no!" cried Katy, "don't go away, Elsie. Come here and kiss me, instead."
Elsie turned as if doubtful whether this invitation could be meant for her. Katy held out her arms. Elsie ran right into them, and the big sister and the little, exchanged an embrace which seemed to bring their hearts closer together than they had ever been before.
"You're the most precious little darling," murmured Katy, clasping Elsie tight. "I've been real horrid to you, Elsie. But I'll never be again. You shall play with me and Clover, and Cecy, just as much as you like, and write notes in all the post-offices, and everything else."
"Oh, goody! goody!" cried Elsie, executing little skips of transport. "How sweet you are, Katy! I mean to love you next best to Cousin Helen and Papa! And"—racking her brains for some way of repaying this wonderful kindness—"I'll tell you the secret, if you want me to very much. I guess Cousin Helen would let me."
"No!" said Katy; "never mind about the secret. I don't want you to tell it to me. Sit down by the bed, and fan me some more instead."
"No!" persisted Elsie, who, now that she had made up her mind to part with the treasured secret, could not bear to be stopped. "Cousin Helen gave me a half-dollar, and told me to give it to Debby, and tell her she was much obliged to her for making her such nice things to eat. And I did. And Debby was real pleased. And I wrote Cousin Helen a letter, and told her that Debby liked the half-dollar. That's the secret! Isn't it a nice one? Only you mustn't tell anybody about it, ever—just as long as you live."
"No!" said Katy, smiling faintly, "I won't."
All the rest of the afternoon Elsie sat beside the bed with her palm-leaf fan, keeping off the flies, and "shue"-ing away the other children when they peeped in at the door. "Do you really like to have me here?" she asked, more than once, and smiled, oh, so triumphantly! when Katy said "Yes!" But though Katy said yes, I am afraid it was only half the truth, for the sight of the dear little forgiving girl, whom she had treated unkindly, gave her more pain than pleasure.
"I'll be so good to her when I get well," she thought to herself, tossing uneasily to and fro.
Aunt Izzie slept in her room that night. Katy was feverish. When morning came, and Dr. Carr returned, he found her in a good deal of pain, hot and restless, with wide-open, anxious eyes.
"Papa!" she cried the first thing, "must I lie here as much as a week?"
"My darling, I'm afraid you must," replied her father, who looked worried, and very grave.
"Dear, dear!" sobbed Katy, "how can I bear it?"