TWO YEARS AFTERWARD
It was a pleasant morning in early June. A warm wind was rustling the trees, which were covered thickly with half-opened leaves, and looked like fountains of green spray thrown high into the air. Dr. Carr's front door stood wide open. Through the parlor window came the sound of piano practice, and on the steps, under the budding roses, sat a small figure, busily sewing.
This was Clover, little Clover still, though more than two years had passed since we saw her last, and she was now over fourteen. Clover was never intended to be tall. Her eyes were as blue and sweet as ever, and her apple-blossom cheeks as pink. But the brown pig-tails were pinned up into a round knot, and the childish face had gained almost a womanly look. Old Mary declared that Miss Clover was getting quite young-ladyfied, and "Miss Clover" was quite aware of the fact, and mightily pleased with it. It delighted her to turn up her hair; and she was very particular about having her dresses made to come below the tops of her boots. She had also left off ruffles, and wore narrow collars instead, and little cuffs with sleeve-buttons to fasten them. These sleeve-buttons, which were a present from Cousin Helen, Clover liked best of all her things. Papa said that he was sure she took them to bed with her, but of course that was only a joke, though she certainly was never seen without them in the daytime. She glanced frequently at these beloved buttons as she sat sewing, and every now and then laid down her work to twist them into a better position, or give them an affectionate pat with her forefinger.
Pretty soon the side-gate swung open, and Philly came round the corner of the house. He had grown into a big boy. All his pretty baby curls were cut off, and his frocks had given place to jacket and trousers. In his hand he held something. What, Clover could not see.
"What's that?" she said, as he reached the steps.
"I'm going up stairs to ask Katy if these are ripe," replied Phil, exhibiting some currants faintly streaked with red.
"Why, of course they're not ripe!" said Clover, putting one into her mouth. "Can't you tell by the taste? They're as green as can be."
"I don't care, if Katy says they're ripe I shall eat 'em," answered Phil, defiantly, marching into the house.
"What did Philly want?" asked Elsie, opening the parlor door as Phil went up stairs.
"Only to know if the currants are ripe enough to eat."
"How particular he always is about asking now!" said Elsie; "he's afraid of another dose of salts."
"I should think he would be," replied Clover, laughing. "Johnnie says she never was so scared in her life as when Papa called them, and they looked up, and saw him standing there with the bottle in one hand and a spoon in the other!"
"Yes," went on Elsie, "and you know Dorry held his in his mouth for ever so long, and then went round the corner of the house and spat it out! Papa said he had a good mind to make him take another spoonful, but he remembered that after all Dorry had the bad taste a great deal longer than the others, so he didn't. I think it was an awful punishment, don't you?"
"Yes, but it was a good one, for none of them have ever touched the green gooseberries since. Have you got through practising? It doesn't seem like an hour yet."
"Oh, it isn't—it's only twenty-five minutes. But Katy told me not to sit more than half an hour at a time without getting up and running round to rest. I'm going to walk twice down to the gate, and twice back. I promised her I would." And Elsie set off, clapping her hands briskly before and behind her as she walked.
"Why—what is Bridget doing in Papa's room?" she asked, as she came back the second time. "She's flapping things out of the window. Are the girls up there? I thought they were cleaning the dining-room."
"They're doing both. Katy said it was such a good chance, having Papa away, that she would have both the carpets taken up at once. There isn't going to be any dinner today, only just bread and butter, and milk, and cold ham, up in Katy's room, because Debby is helping too, so as to get through and save Papa all the fuss. And see," exhibiting her sewing, "Katy's making a new cover for Papa's pincushion, and I'm hemming the ruffle to go round it."
"How nicely you hem!" said Elsie. "I wish I had something for Papa's room too. There's my washstand mats—but the one for the soap-dish isn't finished. Do you suppose, if Katy would excuse me from the rest of my practising, I could get it done? I've a great mind to go and ask her."
"There's her bell!" said Clover, as a little tinkle sounded up stairs; "I'll ask her, if you like."
"No, let me go. I'll see what she wants." But Clover was already half-way across the hall, and the two girls ran up side by side. There was often a little strife between them as to which should answer Katy's bell. Both liked to wait on her so much.
Katy came to meet them as they entered. Not on her feet: that, alas! was still only a far-off possibility; but in a chair with large wheels, with which she was rolling herself across the room. This chair was a great comfort to her. Sitting in it, she could get to her closet and her bureau-drawers, and help herself to what she wanted without troubling anybody. It was only lately that she had been able to use it. Dr. Carr considered her doing so as a hopeful sign, but he had never told Katy this. She had grown accustomed to her invalid life at last, and was cheerful in it, and he thought it unwise to make her restless, by exciting hopes which might after all end in fresh disappointment.
She met the girls with a bright smile as they came in, and said:
"Oh, Clovy, it was you I rang for! I am troubled for fear Bridget will meddle with the things on Papa's table. You know he likes them to be left just so. Will you please go and remind her that she is not to touch them at all? After the carpet is put down, I want you to dust the table, so as to be sure that everything is put back in the same place. Will you?"
"Of course I will!" said Clover, who was a born housewife, and dearly loved to act as Katy's prime minister.
"Sha'n't I fetch you the pincushion too, while I'm there?"
"Oh yes, please do! I want to measure."
"Katy," said Elsie, "those mats of mine are most done, and I would like to finish them and put them on Papa's washstand before he comes back. Mayn't I stop practising now, and bring my crochet up here instead?"
"Will there be plenty of time to learn the new exercise before Miss Phillips comes, if you do?"
"I think so, plenty. She doesn't come till Friday, you know."
"Well, then it seems to me that you might just as well as not. And Elsie, dear, run into papa's room first, and bring me the drawer out of his table. I want to put that in order myself."
Elsie went cheerfully. She laid the drawer across Katy's lap, and Katy began to dust and arrange the contents. Pretty soon Clover joined them.
"Here's the cushion," she said. "Now we'll have a nice quiet time all by ourselves, won't we? I like this sort of day, when nobody comes in to interrupt us."
Somebody tapped at the door, as she spoke. Katy called out, "Come!" And in marched a tall, broad-shouldered lad, with a solemn, sensible face, and a little clock carried carefully in both his hands. This was Dorry. He has grown and improved very much since we saw him last, and is turning out clever in several ways. Among the rest, he has developed a strong turn for mechanics.
"Here's your clock, Katy," he said. "I've got it fixed so that it strikes all right. Only you must be careful not to hit the striker when you start the pendulum."
"Have you, really?" said Katy. "Why, Dorry, you're a genius! I'm ever so much obliged."
"It's four minutes to eleven now," went on Dorry. "So it'll strike pretty soon. I guess I'd better stay and hear it, so as to be sure that it is right. That is," he added politely, "unless you're busy, and would rather not."
"I'm never too busy to want you, old fellow," said Katy, stroking his arm. "Here, this drawer is arranged now. Don't you want to carry it into Papa's room and put it back into the table? Your hands are stronger than Elsie's."
Dorry looked gratified. When he came back the clock was just beginning to strike.
"There!" he exclaimed; "that's splendid, isn't it?"
But alas! the clock did not stop at eleven. It went on—Twelve, Thirteen, Fourteen, Fifteen, Sixteen!
"Dear me!" said Clover, "what does all this mean? It must be day after to-morrow, at least."
Dorry stared with open mouth at the clock, which was still striking as though it would split its sides. Elsie, screaming with laughter, kept count.
"Thirty, Thirty-one—Oh, Dorry! Thirty-two! Thirty-three! Thirty-four!"
"You've bewitched it, Dorry!" said Katy, as much entertained as the rest.
Then they all began counting. Dorry seized the clock—shook it, slapped it, turned it upside-down. But still the sharp, vibrating sounds continued, as if the clock, having got its own way for once, meant to go on till it was tired out. At last, at the one-hundred-and-thirtieth stroke, it suddenly ceased; and Dorry, with a red, amazed countenance, faced the laughing company.
"It's very queer," he said, "but I'm sure it's not because of anything I did. I can fix it, though, if you'll let me try again. May I, Katy? I'll promise not to hurt it."
For a moment Katy hesitated. Clover pulled her sleeve, and whispered, "Don't!" Then seeing the mortification on Dorry's face, she made up her mind.
"Yes! take it, Dorry. I'm sure you'll be careful. But if I were you, I'd carry it down to Wetherell's first of all, and talk it over with them. Together you could hit on just the right thing. Don't you think so?"
"Perhaps," said Dorry; "yes, I think I will." Then he departed with the clock under his arm, while Clover called after him teasingly, "Lunch at 132 o'clock; don't forget!"
"No, I won't!" said Dorry. Two years before he would not have borne to be laughed at so good-naturedly.
"How could you let him take your clock again?" said Clover, as soon as the door was shut. "He'll spoil it. And you think so much of it."
"I thought he would feel mortified if I didn't let him try," replied Katy, quietly, "I don't believe he'll hurt it. Wetherell's man likes Dorry, and he'll show him what to do."
"You were real good to do it," responded Clover; "but if it had been mine I don't think I could."
Just then the door flew open, and Johnnie rushed in, two years taller, but otherwise looking exactly as she used to do.
"Oh, Katy!" she gasped, "won't you please tell Philly not to wash the chickens in the rain-water tub? He's put in every one of Speckle's, and is just beginning on Dame Durden's. I'm afraid one little yellow one is dead already—"
"Why, he mustn't—of course he mustn't!" said Katy; "what made him think of such a thing?"
"He says they're dirty, because they've just come out of egg-shells! And he insists that the yellow on them is yolk-of-egg. I told him it wasn't, but he wouldn't listen to me." And Johnnie wrung her hands.
"Clover!" cried Katy, "won't you run down and ask Philly to come up to me? Speak pleasantly, you know!"
"I spoke pleasantly—real pleasantly, but it wasn't any use," said Johnnie, on whom the wrongs of the chicks had evidently made a deep impression.
"What a mischief Phil is getting to be!" said Elsie. "Papa says his name ought to be Pickle."
"Pickles turn out very nice sometimes, you know," replied Katy, laughing.
Pretty soon Philly came up, escorted by Clover. He looked a little defiant, but Katy understood how to manage him. She lifted him into her lap, which, big boy as he was, he liked extremely; and talked to him so affectionately about the poor little shivering chicks, that his heart was quite melted.
"I didn't mean to hurt 'em, really and truly," he said, "but they were all dirty and yellow—with egg, you know, and I thought you'd like me to clean 'em up."
"But that wasn't egg, Philly—it was dear little clean feathers, like a canary-bird's wings."
"Yes. And now the chickies are as cold and forlorn as you would feel if you tumbled into a pond and nobody gave you any dry clothes. Don't you think you ought to go and warm them?"
"Well—in your hands, very gently. And then I would let them run round in the sun."
"I will!" said Philly, getting down from her lap. "Only kiss me first, because I didn't mean to, you know!"—Philly was very fond of Katy. Miss Petingill said it was wonderful to see how that child let himself be managed. But I think the secret was that Katy didn't "manage," but tried to be always kind and loving, and considerate of Phil's feelings.
Before the echo of Phil's boots had fairly died away on the stairs, old Mary put her head into the door. There was a distressed expression on her face.
"Miss Katy," she said, "I wish you'd speak to Alexander about putting the woodshed in order. I don't think you know how bad it looks."
"I don't suppose I do," said Katy, smiling, and then sighing. She had never seen the wood-shed since the day of her fall from the swing. "Never mind, Mary, I'll talk to Alexander about it, and he shall make it all nice."
Mary trotted down stairs satisfied. But in the course of a few minutes she was up again.
"There's a man come with a box of soap, Miss Katy, and here's the bill. He says it's resated."
It took Katy a little time to find her purse, and then she wanted her pencil and account book, and Elsie had to move from her seat at the table.
"Oh dear!" she said, "I wish people wouldn't keep coming and interrupting us. Who'll be the next, I wonder?"
She was not left to wonder long. Almost as she spoke, there was another knock at the door.
"Come in!" said Katy, rather wearily. The door opened.
"Shall I?" said a voice. There was a rustle of skirts, a clatter of boot-heels, and Imogen Clark swept into the room. Katy could not think who it was, at first. She had not seen Imogen for almost two years.
"I found the front door open," explained Imogen, in her high-pitched voice, "and as nobody seemed to hear when I rang the bell, I ventured to come right up stairs. I hope I'm not interrupting anything private?"
"Not at all," said Katy, politely. "Elsie, dear, move up that low chair, please. Do sit down, Imogen! I'm sorry nobody answered your ring, but the servants are cleaning house to-day, and I suppose they didn't hear."
So Imogen sat down and began to rattle on in her usual manner, while Elsie, from behind Katy's chair, took a wide-awake survey of her dress. It was of cheap material, but very gorgeously made and trimmed, with flounces and puffs, and Imogen wore a jet necklace and long black ear-rings, which jingled and clicked when she waved her head about. She still had the little round curls stuck on to her cheeks, and Elsie wondered anew what kept them in their places.
By and by the object of Imogen's visit came out. She had called to say good-by. The Clark family were all going back to Jacksonville to live.
"Did you ever see the Brigand again?" asked Clover, who had never forgotten that eventful tale told in the parlor.
"Yes," replied Imogen, "several times. And I get letters from him quite often. He writes beautiful letters. I wish I had one with me, so that I could read you a little bit. You would enjoy it, I know. Let me see—perhaps I have." And she put her hand into her pocket. Sure enough there was a letter. Clover couldn't help suspecting that Imogen knew it all the time.
The Brigand seemed to write a bold, black hand, and his note-paper and envelope was just like anybody else's. But perhaps his band had surprised a pedlar with a box of stationery.
"Let me see," said Imogen, running her eye down the page. "'Adored Imogen'—that wouldn't interest you—hm, hm, hm—ah, here's something! 'I took dinner at the Rock House on Christmas. It was lonesome without you. I had roast turkey, roast goose, roast beef, mince pie, plum pudding, and nuts and raisins. A pretty good dinner, was it not? But nothing tastes first-rate when friends are away.'"
Katy and Clover stared, as well they might. Such language from a Brigand!
"John Billings has bought a new horse," continued Imogen; "hm, hm, hm—him. I don't think there is anything else you'd care about. Oh, yes! just here, at the end, is some poetry:
"'Come, little dove, with azure
And brood upon my breast,'
"That's sweet, ain't it?"
"Hasn't he reformed?" said Clover; "he writes as if he had."
"Reformed!" cried Imogen, with a toss of the jingling ear-rings. "He was always just as good as he could be!"
There was nothing to be said in reply to this. Katy felt her lips twitch, and for fear she should be rude, and laugh out, she began to talk as fast as she could about something else. All the time she found herself taking measure of Imogen, and thinking—"Did I ever really like her? How queer! Oh, what a wise man Papa is!"
Imogen stayed half an hour. Then she took her leave.
"She never asked how you were!" cried Elsie, indignantly; "I noticed, and she didn't—not once."
"Oh well—I suppose she forgot. We were talking about her, not about me," replied Katy.
The little group settled down again to their work. This time half an hour went by without any more interruptions. Then the door bell rang, and Bridget, with a disturbed face, came up stairs.
"Miss Katy," she said, "it's old Mrs. Worrett, and I reckon's she's come to spend the day, for she's brought her bag. What ever shall I tell her?"
Katy looked dismayed. "Oh dear!" she said, "how unlucky. What can we do?"
Mrs. Worrett was an old friend of Aunt Izzie's, who lived in the country, about six miles from Burnet, and was in the habit of coming to Dr. Carr's for lunch, on days when shopping or other business brought her into town. This did not occur often; and, as it happened, Katy had never had to entertain her before.
"Tell her ye're busy, and can't see her," suggested Bridget; "there's no dinner nor nothing, you know."
The Katy of two years ago would probably have jumped at this idea. But the Katy of to-day was more considerate.
"N-o," she said; "I don't like to do that. We must just make the best of it, Bridget. Run down, Clover, dear, that's a good girl! and tell Mrs. Worrett that the dining-room is all in confusion, but that we're going to have lunch here, and, after she's rested, I should be glad to have her come up. And, oh, Clovy! give her a fan the first thing. She'll be so hot. Bridget, you can bring up the luncheon just the same, only take out some canned peaches, by way of a dessert, and make Mrs. Worrett a cup of tea. She drinks tea always, I believe.
"I can't bear to send the poor old lady away when she has come so far," she explained to Elsie, after the others were gone. "Pull the rocking-chair a little this way, Elsie. And oh! push all those little chairs back against the wall. Mrs. Worrett broke down in one the last time she was here—don't you recollect?"
It took some time to cool Mrs. Worrett off, so nearly twenty minutes passed before a heavy, creaking step on the stairs announced that the guest was on her way up. Elsie began to giggle. Mrs. Worrett always made her giggle. Katy had just time to give her a warning glance before the door opened.
Mrs. Worrett was the most enormously fat person ever seen. Nobody dared to guess how much she weighed, but she looked as if it might be a thousand pounds. Her face was extremely red. In the coldest weather she appeared hot, and on a mild day she seemed absolutely ready to melt. Her bonnet-strings were flying loose as she came in, and she fanned herself all the way across the room, which shook as she walked.
"Well, my dear," she said, as she plumped herself into the rocking-chair, "and how do you do?"
"Very well, thank you," replied Katy, thinking that she never saw Mrs. Worrett look half so fat before, and wondering how she was to entertain her.
"And how's your Pa?" inquired Mrs. Worrett. Katy answered politely, and then asked after Mrs. Worrett's own health.
"Well, I'm so's to be round," was the reply, which had the effect of sending Elsie off into a fit of convulsive laughter behind Katy's chair.
"I had business at the bank," continued the visitor, "and I thought while I was about it I'd step up to Miss Petingill's and see if I couldn't get her to come and let out my black silk. It was made quite a piece back, and I seem to have fleshed up since then, for I can't make the hooks and eyes meet at all. But when I got there, she was out, so I'd my walk for nothing. Do you know where she's sewing now?"
"No," said Katy, feeling her chair shake, and keeping her own countenance with difficulty, "she was here for three days last week to make Johnnie a school-dress. But I haven't heard anything about her since. Elsie, don't you want to run down stairs and ask Bridget to bring a—a—a glass of iced water for Mrs. Worrett? She looks warm after her walk."
Elsie, dreadfully ashamed, made a bolt from the room, and hid herself in the hall closet to have her laugh out. She came back after a while, with a perfectly straight face. Luncheon was brought up. Mrs. Worrett made a good meal, and seemed to enjoy everything. She was so comfortable that she never stirred till four o'clock! Oh, how long that afternoon did seem to the poor girls, sitting there and trying to think of something to say to their vast visitor!
At last Mrs. Worrett got out of her chair, and prepared to depart.
"Well," she said, tying her bonnet-strings, "I've had a good rest, and feel all the better for it. Ain't some of you young folks coming out to see me one of these days? I'd like to have you, first-rate, if you will. 'Tain't every girl would know how to take care of a fat old woman, and make her feel to home, as you have me, Katy. I wish your aunt could see you all as you are now. She'd be right pleased; I know that."
Somehow, this sentence rang pleasantly in Katy's ears.
"Ah! don't laugh at her," she said later in the evening, when the children, after their tea in the clean, fresh-smelling dining-room, were come up to sit with her, and Cecy, in her pretty pink lawn and white shawl, had dropped in to spend an hour or two; "she's a real kind old woman, and I don't like to have you. It isn't her fault that she's fat. And Aunt Izzie was fond of her, you know. It is doing something for her when we can show a little attention to one of her friends. I was sorry when she came, but now it's over, I'm glad."
"It feels so nice when it stops aching," quoted Elsie, mischievously, while Cecy whispered to Clover.
"Isn't Katy sweet?"
"Isn't she!" replied Clover. "I wish I was half so good. Sometimes I think I shall really be sorry if she ever gets well. She's such a dear old darling to us all, sitting there in her chair, that it wouldn't seem so nice to have her anywhere else. But then, I know it's horrid in me. And I don't believe she'd be different, or grow slam-bang and horrid, like some of the girls, even if she were well."
"Of course she wouldn't!" replied Cecy.