The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Hester's Up-Bringing Part 4
by Ada M. Trotter
One day early in December the family were all assembled at the breakfast table, with the exception of Bob, who was always late in his appearance at the morning meal. The doctor, as usual, devoured his morning paper with his muffins, and hastily digested the news of the hour ere he began his day's work.
Hester's seat at table was at the doctor's right hand, to her great joy, for nothing gave her such unqualified pleasure in this new life as the performance of small acts of service to this kind friend and benefactor. Much of this the doctor divined, smiling indulgently as he found his toast buttered, his eggs prepared ready for eating, everything he could possibly want handed to him just as he wanted it.
But this morning, as he scanned he columns of the journal, he coloured, looked excessively annoyed, and pushing aside his coffee cup untasted, rose suddenly from the table, went into his consulting room and shut the door. The paper lay open on the table, and his sister, guessing that something must have transpired to annoy him, signed to Hester to hand the paper to her.
Scarcely had she read the head-lines than she too pushed her breakfast aside.
"Disgraceful. Scandalous! Bob ought to be ashamed of himself," she cried, sternly.
"Whatever has happened?" cried both Mildred and Mab together, while Hester sat with round staring eyes and spoon suspended in mid-air.
"It's that dreadful club," said Almira. "There has been a disgraceful affair there. 'Gambling, drinking and a free fight,' that is what the heading says. Bob's name as President in flaring letters! Nothing would touch your father more keenly than this. He comes of a strictly abstemious family, and holds such strong views on the subject of medical men even making use of alcohol freely as remedies for diseases. To think of his son involved with a set like that!"
At this moment, Hester's spoon went down on her plate with a crash, and she kicked a footstool over that happened to be near her under the table. Almira looked at her severely, in fact all eyes were turned on her. Hester was grinning her forbidden grin; so wide was it that her eyes disappeared from sight, and her mouth appeared to be nothing but a slit from ear to ear.
"I think, Hester, that you could show a little feeling for us," said Almira, sternly. "Do you know that to laugh at a misfortune like this is to show yourself destitute of every point of nice feeling?"
"Bob warnt there." said Hester, calling her face to order. "Ain't it a joke? He warnt there!"
"Are you sure of what you say, Hester?" said Almira, severely.
Hester nodded like a Chinese Mandarin. Had Almira only known how to read the signs, she would have known that this return to the faults so studiously avoided of late showed that Hester was feeling intensely, was off her balance for the nonce. But Almira was more provoked than she chose to show with these barbarities, and the lapse from grace.
"Try and look and act reasonably, Hester," she said; "you are sure Bob was not in this—disgraceful affair?"
"If you slep' under him as I do, guess you'd be sure too," was the reply. "My, does he think he done them things?"
She was referring to the doctor, and Almira suddenly remembered that her brother was enduring anguish under the thought. Hester, without asking permission, left her seat, and rushed clumsily out of the room. For once Almira excused the overturned chair, which happened in Hester's path, and the banged door. She, however, hardly dared breathe until the girl's words had further confirmation.
"If Hester says he was not there, you may be sure he was not," observed Mab, "and so I shall go on with my breakfast. May I ring for warm muffins, auntie?"
"How can you think of eating when we are so worked up," said Mildred, as the child buttered her muffins daintily.
Hester, without a by-your-leave, bounced into the consulting room, where the doctor sat cowering over the log fire, an uncut magazine upside down on his knee. His face, curiously drawn, seemed to have aged in these few minutes. He waved his hand in dismissal as Hester plunged into the room, but, in spite of this, she boldly advanced.
"She read the piece out to us," she began hurriedly, too much excited to choose her words, "so I come to say Bob warnt in it. You needn't to be worried about it," she went on, in her homely, reassuring manner, "our Bob warnt there."
The doctor turned deliberately in his chair and fixed such a keen gaze on Hester, that, had she not spoken from the very fount of truth, she must have quailed. But Hester met the fire and grinned. Nothing could have been more reassuring to her friend.
"I guess he's pretty much given up on bein' President for them fellows," she continued, her reprehensible interest in the doings of her neighbours having led her from various data to form this conclusion, thus crudely advanced. "Anyway, he was walking up and down his room last night, poundin' about till midnight."
"How do you know?" from the doctor, tossing the magazine on to the table and stretching his feet out to the blaze.
Hester chuckled. "I'd ought to—when he sleeps over me. He's real noisy in his room, speaks his pieces, bits of 'em, at a bellow. And when he takes off his shoes, he shies 'em at that old image you gave him."
The doctor, touched with the sense of inexpressible humour at the picture presented of his hopeful son by Hester, all but "bellowed" himself with laughter. The valuable bust of Jupiter—"that old image!" When he could command his visible faculties enough to speak, he recurred again to the subject of Bob.
"Hester, you are sure. You are not trying to screen Bob?"
"No," she replied simply. "Ef he'd done it, he'd have to stand to it for all me. But then he aint. He's home most evenings. I guess she don't know. He comes in quiet with his latch-key while Mildred is strumming then old snortas (sonatas), and he goes up to his room without a word to anyone. That's why I said he'd given up being President. He can't be in two places to onst," she concluded, judgmatically.
"That's a self-evident proposition," replied the doctor, smiling at her simple logic. "I consider you have proved your point. And there is the surgery bell." He half rose as he spoke, but Hester made a dive in his direction, and pressed him back into his chair.
"You ain't going to work without your breakfast. Let 'em wait, it's early yet," she said. "I'll bring it here right off."
The doctor very willingly promised to await her good offices, and Hester ran off, ungracefully enough perhaps, but so full of good will, the graciousness which only goodness of heart can give, that no idea of criticising her clumsy movements occurred to the doctor.
Almira was so relieved at the effect of Hester's statement with regard to the delinquent Bob, that she permitted her a free hand in what she now desired to do. So Hester found a tray, disposed a dainty repast swiftly thereupon, and smilingly carried it off to the consulting room. Almira was bound to observe how dexterously, even deftly this service was performed. Mab opened her lazy eyes approvingly, and Mildred wished aloud that she had thought of taking her father his breakfast, but she had been afraid of annoying him.
The doctor was cutting the pages of a review when Hester appeared, and as she laid the tray on the table and carried it to his side, he handed over the book for her to complete the task. Hester watched the breakfast disappear with delighted eyes, and as the surgery bell became more and more insistent, and the hour struck when the doctor must appear at his post, he rose, bent over Hester, and kissed her brow.
"When Bob comes down tell him I must see him, and now run back and finish your breakfast, daughter."
Hester's cup of happiness was full, she had been able to relieve his mind, to bring him his breakfast, and he now had called her "daughter." In truth, no daughter could ever have been more passionately devoted to him than this poor child from the Hill Farm who owed so much to his consideration of her mental deficiencies. She went back to her place at table in a happy mood, the whole atmosphere changed about her to brightness, and she was the cause of it. Not even Almira had a word of reproof for her gaucheries this morning.
When Bob came down, just in time to snatch a hasty meal before going to his classes, Almira silently placed the paper beside him. He coloured with annoyance, and was naturally very angry, and wanted to know if they believed such a dastardly lie about him. Hester was now at her lessons with Miss Johnstone, and the girls were already starting for school, so Almira gave a short account of the effect of the paragraph upon the family, and of Hester's quick defence of him.
"I must see father at once," said Bob, in a lordly manner. "Of course, had I been there, it would not have happened. I can keep those fellows in check. The club has gone down since I withdrew my name as one of the directors."
To this boast Almira wisely made no reply, and Bob rushed off manfully enough to his father's study.
"You know I was not in it, father," he cried seizing his father's outstretched hand.
"Yes, thanks to Hester's championship, I do know it, to my infinite pleasure and relief," said his father. "Until she gave me her word with regard to your presence in your room last evening, I endured anguish, my son."
Bob squeezed his father's hand as in a vice. He said nothing.
"And now, my lad, I must prepare you for the fact that the lie will be largely credited; you will have an uncomfortable time ahead of you."
"I see," said Bob, "qui s'excuse, s'accuse."
"I shall know what to put in the paper," said the doctor, "but, by many, the delicious bit of gossip will be preferred to facts."
Bob winced as he realised the truth of these words.
The doctor laid one arm about his son's shoulders and turned him towards the light.
"Burning the midnight oil, my lad?"
"It's about time," said Bob, colouring, losing some of his self-possession.
"You are racing old Father Time, eh, Bob?"
"It's a hard-working class," said Bob hurriedly, "and the professors expect no end of work this term."
There was silence for a moment, then Bob said, "I resigned from the club two months ago, and since then have not entered the doors. It's gone down since I left."
"What did it stand for when you directed its counsels?" asked the doctor, mischievously. "What did you accomplish for yourselves and the country at large?"
"We held political discussions, essentially patriotic," said Bob.
"Well, history repeats itself, and patriots, so-called, often disgrace their country by excesses. Believe me, neglect of every-day duties will never produce true patriots, my son. Can you say there was no smoking or drinking when you drove the team?"
"It was all kept within gentlemanly bounds, father."
"Have any of the patriots distinguished themselves at college?" was the next question.
"Oh, it was not the grinding set," replied he, flushing.
"Not brains, but tongues for the country's service," said his father. "Well, Bob, I congratulate you on your excellent good sense in withdrawing from such a doubtful set. But where am I to place you now, my son?" quizzically.
"Well," said Bob, with admirable good temper, "I feel much inclined to reply by a quotation from the immortal one, 'Write me down an ass.' "
"I will do so with a light heart," replied his father cheerfully, showing Bob an exact appreciation of all he wanted to say and could not express as to his position with regard to his work in the past. Then he added, as he went back to his patients, "I shall live to be proud of my son, since he has such clear insight into his mental status."
With that father and son parted, each more drawn to the other than had ever before happened. Bob sallied forth, holding his head a little higher than usual as he passed along High Street.
It was something to have a distinguished father like Dr. Dyke at his back, his word would carry the town. So Bob whistled softly to himself as he went, and presently seeing a young lady of his acquaintance, took of his hat with the airy grace which characterized his movements. Now Cecilia Hastings to whom this salute was addressed, a rather haughty girl who made it difficult for young men to hold themselves on a friendly footing with her, looked Bob full in the eyes as she passed on without the faintest sign of recognition. At first Bob, who had been a favourite in her family circle, imagined she must have been absent-minded and could not really have seen him. Then the dreadful situation broke upon him, bringing the hot colour to his cheeks. She believed him unworthy of notice, believe the lie. He held up his head higher than ever and walked on more briskly, losing his debonair grace which gave such an indolent lounge to his movements. Soon afterwards he met Susie Brown, who giggled familiarly and gave Bob an appreciative and condescending nod. Bob went on, inwardly raging—even when the Browns held him in contempt.
Nor were things any better when he entered the university. Students gave him a familiar greeting who heretofore would not have dared approach the young man.
"So, you had a high old time last night, eh, Bob?" and some pointed the remark with a softly whistled "As we go rolling home."
Not one word did Bob say. He took his seat as usual, and made an immense effort to rise above his difficult position, to abstract his thoughts from the undertone of conversation aimed at him by the class-mates.
The first hour was given to the Professor of Mathematics; nothing could have been a harder tax on Bob, whose strong point did not lie in abstract science. But the thought held him in strong control, that he could not better disprove the libel to his professors than by showing himself particularly clear-headed on such subjects. He therefore pulled himself together, making such an effort at attention that beads of perspiration rolled down his forehead. The faithful work which he had of late devoted to this study stood him in good stead. The professor looked at him with pleased surprise as he gave accurate and thoughtful answers to his questions. As he passed the young man on leaving the classroom, he remarked—
"You could distinguish yourself in mathematics, Dyke."
"I fear not," said Bob honestly, "you do not know what an effort it is to me to concentrate my mind on formulae."
"That is mere matter of habit. It would cease to be an effort after a time. Think of what I have said."
As Bob gratefully acknowledged the kind words, he wondered at himself for caring so much for what the "dull old fellow" (as he had always termed him mentally,) thought of him. With a lighter heart he prepared for his next class. Here also he gave his fullest attention; never in his life had he made such efforts to show ability, clear-headedness. He scarcely saw or noticed his fellow-students, he felt as though he were fighting a battle for his life. He the leader of a drunken set of rowdies! How it mortified him to think of that disgusting paragraph. The old German professor called him to his side, took his hand, holding it with a regretful, almost reproachful touch.
"You have done so well, my son. It was genius, that translation. Tell me, how comes it that last night—" He paused, shaking his head. Bob looked into his eyes.
"I was not in it," said he, quietly.
There was instant change in the Professor's face.
"Ach, Gott! I do rejoice myself. For your father's sake I could weep for joy. He is so fine, so noble. A son that could be drunken and smash windows and be captured by police—it is so low. Now I can be happy, and tell the gossipy people who point at you, 'He was not there.' "
"I shall talk," said he, "but it is hard to catch a lie and stop it. There are many who prefer to believe in the worst. But never mind, my son, I shall tell the faculty, I shall tell everyone I know."
Bob squeezed the old man's hand affectionately as he left the classroom, grateful in his heart of hearts for this generous championship.
Curiously enough, as he went, he heard in the far-off distance the echo of the high shrill tones of the country maid, "Pa's mejum; can't you get anything easier to do?"
He awoke to the consciousness that, far from disliking the grind he had undertaken, spurred by the ignorant sympathy of the girl whose gaucheries he had found so entertaining, at this moment it appealed to him as far more worthy and agreeable than the former easy going drifting existence. He became, for the first time, enthusiastic about his work; ambition rose within him.
"I'll stand in the first rank, or—die in the attempt," was his mental determination. He looked doggedly over the schedule of work for the next day, and gathered his books and his forces together.
Whatever further annoyance was felt by the doctor at the affair, he kept to himself, seeing from Bob's face that he was having a hard experience to win through on his own account. Once or twice, friendly patients laughed lightly as the subject of the Pioneer Club and its extinguishments came up, saying "boys will be boys." To this came the brief calm reply, "I am glad my boy was not in it. The writer of the article in the paper was misinformed. Bob spent that evening at home, in fact he has not been a member of the Club since the college year began."
But it is hard, as the professor said, to catch a lie and disprove it. This delicious bit of gossip clung to Bob for years in the minds of some people. It was just as impossible, however, for him to go about telling people that he was not guilty of such rowdyism, as it would have been to make Hester understand that he was a youth of remarkable ability, who could shine as a scholar if he would, when she accepted him at his own valuation as a "mejum" boy. It simply had to be lived down.
The Hastings gave a very select party on Cecilia's birthday. Bob was not invited; hitherto he had been life and soul of these retherchè gatherings, nothing could be done without Bob. He was too proud to show that he cared, but in reality, it cut deep, as showing that the family had accepted the story against him without taking any pains to learn whether or no it might have been incorrect. His sisters felt the slight for him even more than he felt it for himself and held themselves proudly aloof from Cecilia and her set; came and went from school without deigning a word of explanation to the girls.
Hester, however, was not proud. All she cared for was to set folks right when they were wrong, and though too timid to take the initiative with these stylish young girls, she could be brave in the cause of justice, and, led by her heart rather than her head, precipitated herself into the centre of a malicious circle as Bob's champion.
It was a wet afternoon, and Hester had volunteered to take umbrellas and rain cloaks to the gymnasium for the girls. She went early, for as yet she had not been present at a session, and she wanted to see what "antics" her cousins might be up to in those short skirts to the visitors' gallery, and, open-mouthed, sat and enjoyed the drill. To her surprise, she saw the lazy Mab excel all others, put to stand in front as leader, and, when on the trapeze, floating along with such ease and grace, her fair hair falling to the hem of the crimson skirt, that she looked a perfect little fairy.
The elder girls, tired of their work, came trooping up to the gallery, ready to rest themselves in watching and criticising the others. Exclamations of admiration of Mab's beauty and skill broke from all.
"Don't she look sweet? But they are a handsome family. Mildred's as pretty as a picture, and Mab might pose for an angel with that hair; put her some wings and you'd think she was flying at this moment."
Hester grinned to herself with gratification; she was unnoticed in her corner.
"The doctor's about as handsome for a man as Mab is for a girl, and Bob"—
There was a giggle. "Guess we shan't hear from Mr. Bob this season."
"They say he can't hold his head up, he's that ashamed."
"But he's good-looking, too. They all are; and clever."
"Clever! What the use of brains if you don't use them," cried a girl spitefully. "He's an idle young scamp—you girls have spoilt him; there's nothing to Bob, he can dance and philander around and look handsome, and that's all."
Into this group came Hester with the velocity of a cannon ball, all but incoherent with indignation. She saw now for the first time that Cecilia Hastings, pale and silent, stood behind the rest, and, without knowing that the conversation had been pointed by that spiteful remark for the express purpose of paining Cecilia, caught and fixed her attention to her outburst. Cecilia had offended by admitting Bob to a greater degree of intimacy than she had accorded the brothers of other school friends. Somehow Hester felt as though she were speaking to Cecilia especially; she felt even in the midst of the stormy atmosphere about her, that the girl cared.
"You've no right to talk of Bob like that," she cried. "It shows you don't know the first thing about him. He's real clever at home, and it's all a lie about him getting drunk at the club and making a row, and being taken in charge by the police and all that. Bob warnt there. He sleeps over me and he walks about when he's studying and speaks his languages out loud, and I could'nt get to sleep, till he give up, and I heard the clock strike 'leven and twelve, and he never once left his room that night."
Hester saw the tension in Cecilia's face as she listened; her lips moved, but she did not speak.
"It's none of your business whether he works or shirks," continued Hester, "but if you want to know the truth, I'll tell you. He's give up the club two months ago, and though he don't talk, I know he's a worker."
The girls tittered, and glanced from Hester to Cecilia, who, stooping over her mocassin, seemed engaged in tying the strings.
"You seem a red-hot champion," said a girl spitefully. "I expect like some other girls we know, you're a little gone on Bob yourself."
Hester's slow mind did not at once take in this idea; when she did, her face broadened with a grin of doubtful character.
"Wall," she said, "wall I'm sorry I spoke—you are a silly lot. I don't care now what you think of Bob, nor he wouldn't. You aint worth troubling over—nor speaking to," and with that she turned her back on the group, and went back to her corner of the gallery.
The girls teased Hester's withering scorn with a burst of laughter, and having made their point—that of annoying Cecilia all they could—ran downstairs, and Hester breathed more freely thinking herself alone. Presently a gentle hand touched her shoulder. She turned, it was Cecilia.
"You are a good brave little girl," said she with difficulty. "They are a silly set—but I am glad you spoke to them. And I am sure you would not try to screen Bob by saying what is not true."
"No," said Hester, "if he had done it, he'd have had to stand to it for me, but he didn't. He couldn't when he warnt there."
"I thank you for speaking out," said Cecilia, "I—I despised him, and I showed it. It's my way; I can't help myself. When people disappoint me, I don't want ever to have anything to do with them again. And Bob had always been so superior."
"Guess you might have asked him ef 'twas true, then, before you went and believed in it," said Hester, severely. "Pa, he says, 'the prisoner always got the benefit of the doubt.' He'll always let even the little ones tell what they done, before he lets ma punish them."
Cecilia coloured. Tears stood in her eyes, at the words of this severe mentor.
"I wish—I wish you'd tell him how it was—that I did not know," she began, "I mean—if he should speak of it."
"Well," said Hester, "he'll never do that. Besides, I guess Bob's all right. He's working like a beaver, and I don't suppose he'd care for me to go stirring up the old business, just for folks that turned the cold shoulder on him when that lying paper came out."
And with this she rose to join the girls who had now retired to the dressing room, Mab, as usual, taking all the time of the attendant to wait on her, put on her boots and fasten her gown.
But it was not very long after this conversation with Cecilia, that Hester, being at the window (she always did happen to be there when anything of interest transpired), saw Cecilia and Bob deep in converse stroll up the street together. They parted at the door with a close hand-clasp, and Bob came cheerily into the room and up to the window, Hester's vantage-point.
"Hester," he said, quietly, "Cecilia has been telling me how you flew out at the girls that were talking about me. I shan't forget it. You are worth a dozen of Mildred and Mab. They'd never have done it, I know."
"Wall," said Hester, as though weighing the value of his speech, "It was a little different for them, Bob. They're too near to you, and too proud, like yourself. Guess you might have contradicted more than you've done, eh? And I wouldn't have stood up for you, Bob, ef you'd done it. But you hadn't. I knew that because I heard you racketing around till all hours that night."
"I know I was restless and had more than I could well get ready for the next day. But anyway, you have done me a great service, and I shall not forget it either. If there is anything I can do for you—"
"Well," replied the literal one, "guess you might leave off shying your shoes about when you take 'em off. You make noise enough to wake the seven sleepers."
Bob broke into a hearty laugh such as the house had not echoed with ever since that unfortunate occurrence, which had put him under a cloud.
"I'll try to remember who's under me," he said, as he went out, and to do him justice, Hester's request was not forgotten. In fact, he had already grown to like as well as respect this simple maid from the Hill Farm, who had neither looks nor brains to recommend her to his mightiness's hyper-critical notice.
"She's no end of a character," he had said to Cecilia, "I don't believe it would be possible for her to lie, or to think or act any way that was not true through and through. I used to think she looked dreadfully stupid, but that she certainly is not."
"No, indeed," said Cecilia. "And she has the courage of her opinions. I don't know if she will ever forgive me for not giving you the benefit of the doubt, but if she does, I shall be glad to know more of her."
Bob sauntered into the consulting room from which his father had just dispatched his last patient. Here he gave Cecilia's account sufficiently humorous of Hester's championship. The doctor nodded his head wisely, and looked at his son with an amused twinkle in his eyes.
"So you are going to owe your reinstatement in the most exclusive circle in town to our little country maid," he remarked. "Well, what next!"
The "next" for Hester was an invitation to take lunch with Cecilia the very next Saturday. Almira, who was not in the secret, marvelled.
Was Hester going to be a social success?
Certainly so far as the Hastings family was concerned, Hester's frank simplicity, and naïve manner of expressing her opinions, which were different enough from the cut-and-dried affairs of society to bear the stamp of originality, made her a welcome guest. The elder members of the family liked her, and the little ones clung about her, never indulged by her, but kept within strict lines of what Hester believed it meant to "behave."
When the Hastings gave their next party, Bob was not excluded. Still he refused to accept the invitation.
"I have not an evening to give up," he owned up to Cecilia. "I have a dreadful struggle before me if I am to accomplish what I have made up my mind to do this year. It's an ambitious class, and I have had so much work to make up, I am looking forward to the Christmas vacation as an opportunity to bring myself up to time."
"I am so glad," said Cecilia.
"Glad I am not coming to your party?"
"Yes, I think so," replied Cecilia, sincerely. "If to come means to hinder your work, I am glad that you will not be there. We—I should be so disappointed if you were not in the van—"
"Oh, you must not expect too much—of an idler," said Bob, blushing.
"At any rate we shall have the consolation of knowing you have worked," she replied.
"Yes, but those plodding fellows, who have been steady workers for years, have the pull over me," said Bob.
"However," doggedly, "we shall see."
"No mejum for me," he said to himself as he went up to his room. "Mathematics again! I am a mathematical idiot!"
Christmas drew near, with its atmosphere of cheer and of secrecy investing all the young people, as plans were worked out for surprises. In the midst of this full season, Almira devoted several days to choosing and packing gifts destined for Hester's family far away on the Hill Farm. How much Hester would have enjoyed a finger in this pie! But Almira did not admit of suggestions from young folk, and indeed it did not occur to her that Hester could better her judgment as to what would be acceptable in the smallest degree. Thus, many of the valuable gifts were received with doubtful gratitude by the recipients, who really did not know enough to value certain books. Christmas meant everything jovial to the "Children of Israel." Not that Santa Claus would have brought much to the tribe but for the unfailing Christmas box from Almira. But all the children contrived to make simple gifts, Amos being particularly brilliant in suggestion as to what "Ma'd like," and helpful in the construction of the object. Then there was the turkey dinner. Amos fed that turkey himself, until it was a creditable size; the "Children of Israel" saw to it that the bird of their hopes should not stray. Ma made "sass" and a pudding. The woods furnished nuts carefully hoarded for the festal hour, also the big black log which made such cheer on Christmas eve. Snow and wind there might be without—the more the better—but within the farm kitchen was comparative luxury, warmth and feasting. This year, Hester would not be there.
"Oh, mother, mother!" breathed the child regretfully, as she stood looking out on the snow-covered hills. Her mother's words came back to her.
"Its goin' to be hard for you Hester, and hard for me, but you never was a shirk."
The Doctor was so busy at this time that his family seldom saw him at the dinner table. But, after all, the busiest people seem always to have the most time to do the kindest, finest deeds, to notice a drooping spirit, to drop sympathy into bruised hearts and lift the sorrowful to their feet. Thus, to a mind reader like Doctor Dyke, one glance at Hester's vacant eyes told more of the language of the heart than his sister could have read in a year.
A few days before Christmas, the Doctor came in from his rounds, and without waiting to take off his overcoat, entered the library, giving a comprehensive glance at its occupants. Hester was seated at a side table stooping over a book of pictures, seeing, however, none other than the farm kitchen, her soul with "Ma" in the Christmas preparations, and for once did not greet her benefactor with a welcoming glance, not perceiving him until she heard Almira offer to help him remove his snowy overcoat.
"No, I have to go out again." His eyes travelled critically round the group. "Mildred, you are stooping. Stand up a moment. How tall you are growing, my child. Mab, hold your book farther from your eyes. Daughter (turning to Hester), I've left an important parcel in the hall. Run and get it for me."
He followed Hester's quick movement with a smile in his eyes. She left the door open as she went. Then there came a cry that brought suspicious moisture even to the eyes of Almira.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
A few weeks later, Amos stood chewing a straw and leaning over the broken gate, while his slow mind revolved the news just received in a long joint letter from the absent children, and a coherent statement from Aunt Almira.
The Doctor's house had always run on wheels hitherto, for Almira had the gift of finding and keeping valuable servants. But the marriage of the cook threw everything out of gear temporarily. While the mistress of the household was vainly searching a worthy substitute, everything seemed to go wrong. The furnace gave up, and went out day by day. And just when Almira was in despair, someone greased the wheels and filled in the hiatus. This someone was Dave, the "handiest lad" the authorities above and below stairs declared that had ever been seen. Before the end of the vacation, it was found impossible to get on without him. The Doctor solemnly declared he was indispensable to his comfort.
"It is not likely I am going to let him go," said he, whimsically. "I've found a boy I can trust at last, and I'm going to keep him."
"I'm doing chores for my board," wrote Dave, "and to go to school. When I'm old enough I'm going to study medicine, and work under uncle. Bob won't be a doctor, and so I can take the place. My! but I'm going to work! Hester says she'll train for nurse, so you see we can work together some day!"
"Waal," said Amos, swallowing much pride at the thought. "Waal! Shouldn't be surprised if Dave accomplished something before he's through; and Hester, waal, she was always kind of handy in sickness. Though I say it as shouldn't, out children take 'em all round has got considerable go to 'em. Now there's our Gus and Tom and Bill, regular go-aheads they be. And it's mighty curious that when it comes to takin' things easy and comfortable there ain't one on 'em a mite like me. I do believe them twins as ain't our own flesh and blood favour me more than t'others. Waal, it's kind of interestin' I call it, to look on and see what they're goin' to do with theirselves. I ain't one for interferin' with Providence and gettin' things criss-cross like some be. Now Roxany, she'll allays for puttin' in her oar, doin' something, moving things around and changin' everything, and the children take after her. I feel sometimes as ef I be goin' to get more comfort out of them twins than all t'others."
"Waal, their folk warn't much one way or t'other," suggested the neighbour whom he one day entertained by this monologue.
"Waal, they was mejum," said Amos, picking up his straw and beginning at the other end of it. "Yes, they was mejum. I kind of missed their pa when he took sick and died. Waal, you be in a hurry, I see, ain't you goin' to set down a while?"
As the neighbour passed on, it occurred to Amos he would do his stint of daily work, so he started for the barn, and looked at the door which had been off its hinges for a year.
"Seems to set down kind of firm," he said. "The cows can get in t'other side. There's no good wastin' time on an old door."
So he went back to the fence, chewed his straw and smiled at the "Children of Israel," sliding down the lot.
"Waal, there do seem a considerable lot of them," he said to himself as they passed and repassed in bewildering rapidity, "but they'll come through."
Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, August 2008
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