"Aunt Izzie, may I ask Imogen Clark to spend the day here on Saturday?" cried Katy, bursting in one afternoon.
"Who on earth is Imogen Clark? I never heard the name before," replied her aunt.
"Oh, the loveliest girl! She hasn't been going to Mrs. Knight's school but a little while, but we're the greatest friends. And she's perfectly beautiful, Aunt Izzie. Her hands are just as white as snow, and no bigger than that. She's got the littlest waist of any girl in school, and she's real sweet, and so self-denying and unselfish! I don't believe she has a bit good times at home, either. Do let me ask her!"
"How do you know she's so sweet and self-denying, if you've known her such a short time?" asked Aunt Izzie, in an unpromising tone.
"Oh, she tells me everything! We always walk together at recess now. I know all about her, and she's just lovely! Her father used to be real rich, but they're poor now, and Imogen had to have her boots patched twice last winter. I guess she's the flower of her family. You can't think how I love her!" concluded Katy, sentimentally.
"No, I can't," said Aunt Izzie. "I never could see into these sudden friendships of yours, Katy, and I'd rather you wouldn't invite this Imogen, or whatever her name is, till I've had a chance to ask somebody about her."
Katy clasped her hands in despair. "Oh, Aunt Izzie!" she cried, "Imogen knows that I came in to ask you, and she's standing at the gate at this moment, waiting to hear what you say. Please let me, just this once! I shall be so dreadfully ashamed not to."
"Well," said Miss Izzie, moved by the wretchedness of Katy's face, "if you've asked her already, it's no use my saying no, I suppose. But recollect, Katy, this is not to happen again. I can't have you inviting girls, and then coming for my leave. Your father won't be at all pleased. He's very particular about whom you make friends with. Remember how Mrs. Spenser turned out."
Poor Katy! Her propensity to fall violently in love with new people was always getting her into scrapes. Ever since she began to walk and talk, "Katy's intimate friends" had been one of the jokes of the household.
Papa once undertook to keep a list of them, but the number grew so great that he gave it up in despair. First on the list was a small Irish child, named Marianne O'Riley. Marianne lived in a street which Katy passed on her way to school. It was not Mrs. Knight's, but an ABC school, to which Dorry and John now went. Marianne used to be always making sand-pies in front of her mother's house, and Katy, who was about five years old, often stopped to help her. Over this mutual pastry they grew so intimate, that Katy resolved to adopt Marianne as her own little girl, and bring her up in a safe and hidden corner.
She told Clover of this plan, but nobody else. The two children, full of their delightful secret, began to save pieces of bread and cookies from their supper every evening. By degrees they collected a great heap of dry crusts, and other refreshments, which they put safely away in the garret. They also saved the apples which were given them for two weeks, and made a bed in a big empty box, with cotton quilts, and the dolls' pillows out of the baby-house. When all was ready, Katy broke the plan to her beloved Marianne, and easily persuaded her to run away and take possession of this new home.
"We won't tell Papa and Mamma till she's quite grown up," Katy said to Clover; "then we'll bring her down stairs, and won't they be surprised? Don't let's call her Marianne any longer, either. It isn't pretty. We'll name her Susquehanna instead—Susquehanna Carr. Recollect, Marianne, you mustn't answer if I call you Marianne—only when I say Susquehanna."
"Yes'm," replied Marianne, very meekly.
For a whole day all went on delightfully. Susquehanna lived in her wooden box, ate all the apples and the freshest cookies, and was happy. The two children took turns to steal away and play with the "Baby," as they called Marianne, though she was a great deal bigger than Clover. But when night came on, and nurse swooped on Katy and Clover, and carried them off to bed, Miss O'Riley began to think that the garret was a dreadful place. Peeping out of her box, she could see black things standing in corners, which she did not recollect seeing in the day-time. They were really trunks and brooms and warming-pans, but somehow, in the darkness, they looked different—big and awful. Poor little Marianne bore it as long as she could; but when at last a rat began to scratch in the wall close beside her, her courage gave way entirely, and she screamed at the top of her voice.
"What is that?" said Dr. Carr, who had just come in, and was on his way up stairs.
"It sounds as if it came from the attic," said Mrs. Carr (for this was before Mamma died). "Can it be that one of the children has got out of bed and wandered up stairs in her sleep?"
No, Katy and Clover were safe in the nursery; so Dr. Carr took a candle and went as fast as he could to the attic, where the yells were growing terrific. When he reached the top of the stairs, the cries ceased. He looked about. Nothing was to be seen at first, then a little head appeared over the edge of a big wooden box, and a piteous voice sobbed out:
"Ah, Miss Katy, and indeed I can't be stayin' any longer. There's rats in it!"
"Who on earth are you?" asked the amazed Doctor.
"Sure I'm Miss Katy's and Miss Clover's Baby. But I don't want to be a baby any longer. I want to go home and see my mother." And again the poor little midge lifted up her voice and wept.
I don't think Dr. Carr ever laughed so hard in his life, as when finally he got to the bottom of the story, and found that Katy and Clover had been "adopting" a child. But he was very kind to poor Susquehanna, and carried her down stairs in his arms, to the nursery. There, in a bed close to the other children, she soon forgot her troubles and fell asleep.
The little sisters were much surprised when they waked up in the morning, and found their Baby asleep beside them. But their joy was speedily turned to tears. After breakfast, Dr. Carr carried Marianne home to her mother, who was in a great fright over her disappearance, and explained to the children that the garret plan must be given up. Great was the mourning in the nursery; but as Marianne was allowed to come and play with them now and then, they gradually got over their grief. A few months later Mr. O'Riley moved away from Burnet, and that was the end of Katy's first friendship.
The next was even funnier. There was a queer old black woman who lived all alone by herself in a small house near the school. This old woman had a very bad temper. The neighbors told horrible stories about her, so that the children were afraid to pass the house. They used to turn always just before they reached it, and cross to the other side of the street. This they did so regularly, that their feet had worn a path in the grass. But for some reason Katy found a great fascination in the little house. She liked to dodge about the door, always holding herself ready to turn and run in case the old woman rushed out upon her with a broomstick. One day she begged a large cabbage of Alexander, and rolled it in at the door of the house. The old woman seemed to like it, and after this Katy always stopped to speak when she went by. She even got so far as to sit on the step and watch the old woman at work. There was a sort of perilous pleasure in doing this. It was like sitting at the entrance of a lion's cage, uncertain at what moment his Majesty might take it into his head to give a spring and eat you up.
After this, Katy took a fancy to a couple of twin sisters, daughters of a German jeweller. They were quite grown-up, and always wore dresses exactly alike. Hardly any one could tell them apart. They spoke very little English, and as Katy didn't know a word of German, their intercourse was confined to smiles, and to the giving of bunches of flowers, which Katy used to tie up and present to them whenever they passed the gate. She was too shy to do more than just put the flowers in their hands and run away; but the twins were evidently pleased, for one day, when Clover happened to be looking out of the window, she saw them open the gate, fasten a little parcel to a bush, and walk rapidly off. Of course she called Katy at once, and the two children flew out to see what the parcel was. It held a bonnet—a beautiful doll's bonnet of blue silk, trimmed with artificial flowers; upon it was pinned a slip of paper with these words, in an odd foreign hand:
"To the nice little girl who was so kindly to give us some flowers."
You can judge whether Katy and Clover were pleased or not.
This was when Katy was six years old. I can't begin to tell you how many different friends she had set up since then. There was an ash-man, and a steam-boat captain. There was Mrs. Sawyer's cook, a nice old woman, who gave Katy lessons in cooking, and taught her to make soft custard and sponge-cake. There was a bonnet-maker, pretty and dressy, whom, to Aunt Izzie's great indignation, Katy persisted in calling "Cousin Estelle!" There was a thief in the town-jail, under whose window Katy used to stand, saying, "I'm so sorry, poor man!" and "have you got any little girls like me?" in the most piteous way. The thief had a piece of string which he let down from the window. Katy would tie rosebuds and cherries to this string, and the thief would draw them up. It was so interesting to do this, that Katy felt dreadfully when they carried the man off to the State Prison. Then followed a short interval of Cornelia Perham, a nice, good-natured girl, whose father was a fruit-merchant. I am afraid Katy's liking for prunes and white grapes played a part in this intimacy. It was splendid fun to go with Cornelia to her father's big shop, and have whole boxes of raisins and drums of figs opened for their amusement, and be allowed to ride up and down in the elevator as much as they liked. But of all Katy's queer acquaintances, Mrs. Spenser, to whom Aunt Izzie had alluded, was the queerest.
Mrs. Spenser was a mysterious lady whom nobody ever saw. Her husband was a handsome, rather bad-looking man, who had come from parts unknown, and rented a small house in Burnet. He didn't seem to have any particular business, and was away from home a great deal. His wife was said to be an invalid, and people, when they spoke of him, shook their heads and wondered how the poor woman got on all alone in the house, while her husband was absent.
Of course Katy was too young to understand these whispers, or the reasons why people were not disposed to think well of Mr. Spenser. The romance of the closed door and the lady whom nobody saw, interested her very much. She used to stop and stare at the windows, and wonder what was going on inside, till at last it seemed as if she must know. So, one day she took some flowers and Victoria, her favorite doll, and boldly marched into the Spensers' yard.
She tapped at the front door, but nobody answered. Then she tapped again. Still nobody answered. She tried the door. It was locked. So shouldering Victoria, she trudged round to the back of the house. As she passed the side-door she saw that it was open a little way. She knocked for the third time, and as no one came, she went in, and passing through the little hall, began to tap at all the inside doors.
There seemed to be no people in the house, Katy peeped into the kitchen first. It was bare and forlorn. All sorts of dishes were standing about. There was no fire in the stove. The parlor was not much better. Mr. Spenser's boots lay in the middle of the floor. There were dirty glasses on the table. On the mantel-piece was a platter with bones of meat upon it. Dust lay thick over everything, and the whole house looked as if it hadn't been lived in for at least a year.
Katy tried several other doors, all of which were locked, and then she went up stairs. As she stood on the top step, grasping her flowers, and a little doubtful what to do next, a feeble voice from a bed-room called out:
"Who is there?"
This was Mrs. Spenser. She was lying on her bed, which was very tossed and tumbled, as if it hadn't been made up that morning. The room was as disorderly and dirty as all the rest of the house, and Mrs. Spenser's wrapper and night-cap were by no means clean, but her face was sweet, and she had beautiful curling hair, which fell over the pillow. She was evidently very sick, and altogether Katy felt sorrier for her than she had ever done for anybody in her life.
"Who are you, child?" asked Mrs. Spenser.
"I'm Dr. Carr's little girl," answered Katy, going straight up to the bed. "I came to bring you some flowers." And she laid the bouquet on the dirty sheet.
Mrs. Spenser seemed to like the flowers. She took them up and smelled them for a long time, without speaking.
"But how did you get in?" she said at last.
"The door was open," faltered Katy, who was beginning to feel scared at her own daring, "and they said you were sick, so I thought perhaps you would like me to come and see you."
"You are a kind little girl," said Mrs. Spenser, and gave her a kiss.
After this Katy used to go every day. Sometimes Mrs. Spenser would be up and moving feebly about; but more often she was in bed, and Katy would sit beside her. The house never looked a bit better than it did that first day, but after a while Katy used to brush Mrs. Spenser's hair, and wash her face with the corner of a towel.
I think her visits were a comfort to the poor lady, who was very ill and lonely. Sometimes, when she felt pretty well, she would tell Katy stories about the time when she was a little girl and lived at home with her father and mother. But she never spoke of Mr. Spenser, and Katy never saw him except once, when she was so frightened that for several days she dared not go near the house. At last Cecy reported that she had seen him go off in the stage with his carpet-bag, so Katy ventured in again. Mrs. Spenser cried when she saw her.
"I thought you were never coming any more," she said.
Katy was touched and flattered at having been missed, and after that she never lost a day. She always carried the prettiest flowers she could find, and if any one gave her a specially nice peach or a bunch of grapes, she saved it for Mrs. Spenser.
Aunt Izzie was much worried at all this. But Dr. Carr would not interfere. He said it was a case where grown people could do nothing, and if Katy was a comfort to the poor lady he was glad. Katy was glad too, and the visits did her as much good as they did Mrs. Spenser, for the intense pity she felt for the sick woman made her gentle and patient as she had never been before.
One day she stopped, as usual, on her way home from school. She tried the side-door—it was locked; the back-door, it was locked too. All the blinds were shut tight. This was very puzzling.
As she stood in the yard a woman put her head out of the window of the next house. "It's no use knocking," she said, "all the folks have gone away."
"Gone away where?" asked Katy.
"Nobody knows," said the woman; "the gentleman came back in the middle of the night, and this morning, before light, he had a wagon at the door, and just put in the trunks and the sick lady, and drove off. There's been more than one a-knocking besides you, since then. But Mr. Pudgett, he's got the key, and nobody can get in without goin' to him."
It was too true. Mrs. Spenser was gone, and Katy never saw her again. In a few days it came out that Mr. Spenser was a very bad man, and had been making false money—counterfeiting, as grown people call it. The police were searching for him to put him in jail, and that was the reason he had come back in such a hurry and carried off his poor sick wife. Aunt Izzie cried with mortification, when she heard this. She said she thought it was a disgrace that Katy should have been visiting in a counterfeiter's family. But Dr. Carr only laughed. He told Aunt Izzie that he didn't think that kind of crime was catching, and as for Mrs. Spenser, she was much to be pitied. But Aunt Izzie could not get over her vexation, and every now and then, when she was vexed, she would refer to the affair, though this all happened so long ago that most people had forgotten all about it, and Philly and John had stopped playing at "Putting Mr. Spenser in Jail," which for a long time was one of their favorite games.
Katy always felt badly when Aunt Izzie spoke unkindly of her poor sick friend. She had tears in her eyes now, as she walked to the gate, and looked so very sober, that Imogen Clark, who stood there waiting, clasped her hands and said:
"Ah, I see! Your aristocratic Aunt refuses."
Imogen's real name was Elizabeth. She was rather a pretty girl, with a screwed-up, sentimental mouth, shiny brown hair, and a little round curl on each of her cheeks. These curls must have been fastened on with glue or tin tacks, one would think, for they never moved, however much she laughed or shook her head. Imogen was a bright girl, naturally, but she had read so many novels that her brain was completely turned. It was partly this which made her so attractive to Katy, who adored stories, and thought Imogen was a real heroine of romance.
"Oh no, she doesn't," she replied, hardly able to keep from laughing, at the idea of Aunt Izzie's being called an "aristocratic relative"—"she says she shall be my hap—" But here Katy's conscience gave a prick, and the sentence ended in "um, um, um—" "So you'll come, won't you, darling? I am so glad!"
"And I!" said Imogen, turning up her eyes theatrically.
From this time on till the end of the week, the children talked of nothing but Imogen's visit, and the nice time they were going to have. Before breakfast on Saturday morning, Katy and Clover were at work building a beautiful bower of asparagus boughs under the trees. All the playthings were set out in order. Debby baked them some cinnamon cakes, the kitten had a pink ribbon tied round her neck, and the dolls, including "Pikery," were arrayed in their best clothes.
About half-past ten Imogen arrived. She was dressed in a light-blue barège, with low neck and short sleeves, and wore coral beads in her hair, white satin slippers, and a pair of yellow gloves. The gloves and slippers were quite dirty, and the barège was old and darned; but the general effect was so very gorgeous, that the children, who were dressed for play, in gingham frocks and white aprons, were quite dazzled at the appearance of their guest.
"Oh, Imogen, you look just like a young lady in a story!" said simple Katy; whereupon Imogen tossed her head and rustled her skirts about more than ever.
Somehow, with these fine clothes, Imogen seemed to have put on a fine manner, quite different from the one she used every day. You know some people always do, when they go out visiting. You would almost have supposed that this was a different Imogen, who was kept in a box most of the time, and taken out for Sundays and grand occasions. She swam about, and diddled, and lisped, and looked at herself in the glass, and was generally grown-up and airy. When Aunt Izzie spoke to her, she fluttered and behaved so queerly, that Clover almost laughed; and even Katy, who could see nothing wrong in people she loved, was glad to carry her away to the playroom.
"Come out to the bower," she said, putting her arm round the blue barège waist.
"A bower!" cried Imogen. "How sweet!" But when they reached the asparagus boughs her face fell. "Why it hasn't any roof, or pinnacles, or any fountain!" she said.
"Why no, of course not," said Clover, staring, "we made it ourselves."
"Oh!" said Imogen. She was evidently disappointed. Katy and Clover felt mortified; but as their visitor did not care for the bower, they tried to think of something else.
"Let us go to the Loft," they said.
So they all crossed the yard together. Imogen picked her way daintily in the white satin slippers, but when she saw the spiked post, she gave a scream.
"Oh, not up there, darling, not up there!". she cried; "never, never!"
"Oh, do try! It's just as easy as can be," pleaded Katy, going up and down half a dozen times in succession to show how easy it was. But Imogen wouldn't be persuaded.
"Do not ask me," she said affectedly; "my nerves would never stand such a thing! And besides—my dress!"
"What made you wear it?" said Philly, who was a plain-spoken child, and given to questions. While John whispered to Dorry, "That's a real stupid girl. Let's go off somewhere and play by ourselves."
So, one by one, the small fry crept away, leaving Katy and Clover to entertain the visitor by themselves. They tried dolls, but Imogen did not care for dolls. Then they proposed to sit down in the shade, and cap verses, a game they all liked. But Imogen said that though she adored poetry, she never could remember any. So it ended in their going to the orchard, where Imogen ate a great many plums and early apples, and really seemed to enjoy herself. But when she could eat no more, a dreadful dulness fell over the party. At last Imogen said:
"Don't you ever sit in the drawing-room?"
"The what?" asked Clover.
"The drawing-room," repeated Imogen.
"Oh, she means the parlor!" cried Katy. "No, we don't sit there except when Aunt Izzie has company to tea. It is all dark and poky, you know. Beside, it's so much pleasanter to be out-doors. Don't you think so?"
"Yes, sometimes," replied Imogen, doubtfully, "but I think it would be pleasant to go in and sit there for a while, now. My head aches dreadfully, being out here in this horrid sun."
Katy was at her wit's end to know what to do. They scarcely ever went into the parlor, which Aunt Izzie regarded as a sort of sacred place. She kept cotton petticoats over all the chairs for fear of dust, and never opened the blinds for fear of flies. The idea of children with dusty boots going in there to sit! On the other hand, Katy's natural politeness made it hard to refuse a visitor anything she asked for. And beside, it was dreadful to think that Imogen might go away and report "Katy Carr isn't allowed to sit in the best room, even when she has company!" With a quaking heart she led the way to the parlor. She dared not open the blinds, so the room looked very dark. She could just see Imogen's figure as she sat on the sofa, and Clover twirling uneasily about on the piano-stool. All the time she kept listening to hear if Aunt Izzie were not coming, and altogether the parlor was a dismal place to her; not half so pleasant as the asparagus bower, where they felt perfectly safe.
But Imogen, who, for the first time, seemed comfortable, began to talk. Her talk was about herself. Such stories she told about the things which had happened to her! All the young ladies in The Ledger put together, never had stranger adventures. Gradually, Katy and Clover got so interested that they left their seats and crouched down close to the sofa, listening with open mouths to these stories. Katy forgot to listen for Aunt Izzie. The parlor door swung open, but she did not notice it. She did not even hear the front door shut, when Papa came home to dinner.
Dr. Carr, stopping in the hall to glance over his newspaper, heard the high-pitched voice running on in the parlor. At first he hardly listened; then these words caught his ear:
"Oh, it was lovely, girls, perfectly delicious! I suppose I did look well, for I was all in white, with my hair let down, and just one rose, you know, here on top. And he leaned over me, and said in a low, deep tone, 'Lady, I am a Brigand, but I feel the enchanting power of your beauty. You are free!'"
Dr. Carr pushed the door open a little farther. Nothing was to be seen but some indistinct figures, but he heard Katy's voice in an eager tone:
"Oh, do go on. What happened next?"
"Who on earth have the children got in the parlor?" he asked Aunt Izzie, whom he found in the dining-room.
"The parlor!" cried Miss Izzie, wrathfully, "why, what are they there for?" Then going to the door, she called out, "Children, what are you doing in the parlor? Come out right away. I thought you were playing out-doors."
"Imogen had a head-ache," faltered Katy. The three girls came out into the hall; Clover and Katy looking scared, and even the Enchanter of the Brigand quite crest-fallen.
"Oh," said Aunt Izzie, grimly, "I am sorry to hear that. Probably you are bilious. Would you like some camphor or anything?"
"No, thank you," replied Imogen, meekly. But afterwards she whispered to Katy:
"Your aunt isn't very nice, I think. She's just like Jackima, that horrid old woman I told you about, who lived in the Brigand's Cave and did the cooking.
"I don't think you're a bit polite to tell me so," retorted Katy, very angry at this speech.
"Oh, never mind, dear, don't take it to heart!" replied Imogen, sweetly. "We can't help having relations that ain't nice, you know."
The visit was evidently not a success. Papa was very civil to Imogen at dinner, but he watched her closely, and Katy saw a comical twinkle in his eye, which she did not like. Papa had very droll eyes. They saw everything, and sometimes they seemed to talk almost as distinctly as his tongue. Katy began to feel low-spirited. She confessed afterward that she should never have got through the afternoon if she hadn't run up stairs two or three times, and comforted herself by reading a little in "Rosamond."
"Aren't you glad she's gone?" whispered Clover, as they stood at the gate together watching Imogen walk down the street.
"Oh, Clover! how can you?" said Katy But she gave Clover a great hug, and I think in her heart she was glad.
"Katy," said Papa, next day, "you came into the room then, exactly like your new friend Miss Clark."
"How? I don't know what you mean," answered Katy, blushing deeply.
"So," said Dr. Carr; and he got up, raising his shoulders and squaring his elbows, and took a few mincing steps across the room. Katy couldn't help laughing, it was so funny, and so like Imogen. Then Papa sat down again and drew her close to him.
"My dear," he said, "you're an affectionate child, and I'm glad of it. But there is such a thing as throwing away one's affection. I didn't fancy that little girl at all yesterday. What makes you like her so much?"
"I didn't like her so much, yesterday," admitted Katy, reluctantly. "She's a great deal nicer than that at school, sometimes."
"I'm glad to hear it," said her father. "For I should be sorry to think that you really admired such silly manners. And what was that nonsense I heard her telling you about Brigands?"
"It really hap—" began Katy.—Then she caught Papa's eye, and bit her lip, for he looked very quizzical. "Well," she went on, laughing, "I suppose it didn't really all happen;—but it was ever so funny, Papa, even if it was a make-up. And Imogen's just as good-natured as can be. All the girls like her."
"Make-ups are all very well," said Papa, "as long as people don't try to make you believe they are true. When they do that, it seems to me it comes too near the edge of falsehood to be very safe or pleasant. If I were you, Katy, I'd be a little shy of swearing eternal friendship for Miss Clark. She may be good-natured, as you say, but I think two or three years hence she won't seem so nice to you as she does now. Give me a kiss, Chick, and run away, for there's Alexander with the buggy."