A PLEASANT SURPRISE.
ON Monday afternoon Kathie hurried home from school to help her mother finish some sewing. She had hardly seated herself and found her thimble and scissors, when there was a jingle of hells before the door. She sprang up and ran to the window.
" 0 mamma, it's Charlie and Miss Jessie Darrell! and Miss Jessie's coming in. 0 mamma, if we only had a fire in our parlor! "
" Never mind about that, my dear ; go to the door at once."
Kathie obeyed, thinking that there did n't a great many people live in their kitchens altogether.
Miss Jessie was smiling and social. She wished Kathie good afternoon, and asked if she could see her aunt. Miss Conover.
So there was no other course but to invite her into the kitchen. She wore a beautiful gray empress-cloth that looked like heavy silk, trimmed with scarlet velvet; her cloak was lovely pearl-colored. , material, with tiny blue and scarlet dots; and Kathie knew that she had an elegant velvet one beside. Her white French felt hat was trimmed with bands of scarlet velvet and a dainty scarlet plume. She looked so very pretty that she almost shamed the plain, faded room.
And yet she never appeared to notice it at all. She sat down in the rush-bottomed chair and made herself quite at home, inquiring very cordially how both ladies were, and talking of the fine weather and the delightful sleigh-riding. Then she asked Miss Conover about the embroidering.
"Mrs. Thomas will have quite a good deal," she said, " and she is willing to pay liberally to some one who will do it neatly; and so I thought I 'd see you about it."
Miss Jessie's sweet voice and gracious manner made this seem a real compliment. Aunt Ruth colored with a flush of gratified feeling.
"I could undertake it after a week or two," she answered. Then she asked Kathie to get some pieces of needlework from a drawer in the front room.
" These are very handsomely done," Miss Jessie said ; " I know Mrs. Thomas will be pleased to have hers in such neat hands. I'll tell her to-morrow."
Aunt Ruth thanked her for the kind interest.
" Are you as well as you. were in the summer ? " Miss Jessie asked next.
" Not quite," said Aunt Ruth; " I can't have as much air and exercise. In this slippery weather I don't dare to go out at all."
" It would be a great deprivation to me, and I dare say it is to you. And, now that it happens to be so very convenient, suppose you and Kathie should take a little ride with us ? We were just going out for pleasure."
" Oh! " exclaimed Kathie, her eyes as bright as stars. Aunt Ruth looked rather doubtful.
" Please don't disappoint me. Charlie will be delighted to have a sleigh full, and our horse is very gentle. It is n't bitterly cold either, and, now that the' weather is beginning to moderate, the sleighing may soon come to an end."
Jessie's face was so sweet and entreating that Aunt Ruth found it very hard to resist.
" I 'm quite a trouble," she answered, " and Rob is n't here to help."
" But I could," exclaimed Kathie, eagerly. " 0 Aunt Ruth, please do go. I 've been wishing something nice would happen to you, and this is splendid."
" I heard of your being a fairy godmother the other day, so I suppose you have only to desire anything and it comes to pass. I think I must have happened in answer to your wish."
Miss Jessie smiled in such a lovely fashion that Kathie's heart was won.
" I 'd like to he able to wish nice things for everybody, and have them come to pass," she said.
" You 'll have to get your wand and touch Aunt Ruth, so that she can he transported to the sleigh."
"This wand," said Kathie; and her arms were around Aunt Ruth's neck, while the eager lips kissed a reluctant assent.
" I 'm afraid Miss Jessie will think us a good deal of trouble."
"0 no, indeed. Kathie, will you run and tell Charlie to tie the horse and come in a moment?" Kathie was off like a flash.
" I thought you were n't ever coming," Charlie exclaimed, for he had begun to grow impatient " But I 'm so glad. Now, Dolly, we 'll be off in a trice."
Mrs. Alston bundled her sister up nice and warm, and Charlie helped her into the sleigh with the air of a gentleman. Jessie took a seat behind her, saying,
" We'll put Kathie in front to keep off the wind " ; at which Charlie laughed.
There was Kathie in her scarlet and white hood, looking pretty enough for any fairy in the land. Charlie tucked her in with a soft blanket and drew up the wolf-skin.
" I suppose Charlie drives a good deal," Aunt Ruth said. The first dash rather started her.
" 0 yes. Papa trusts him with all our horses except one. We have a very fiery fast horse that is rather beyond Charlie."
" You won 't mind if we go fast; will you, Aunt Ruth ? " Kathie asked, after she and Charlie had been indulging in a whispered consultation.
" No "; and Aunt Ruth smiled. She was beginning to feel quite courageous.
Dolly pricked up her ears, shook her glossy mane, and started off, skimming over the snow like a bird. The roads were in a very fine condition, and the air keen. and. bracing without the sting of the coldest days. A faint pink came to Aunt Ruth's cheeks. Her memory went back to the time when she had been as young as Miss Jessie, and enjoying a happy, care-free life. Brave Brother Robert had been her escort in those days, — dear Rob sleeping somewhere under an Indian sky, the fortune lost, and generous-hearted Fred Alston dead. What changes there had. been since Bob left them, ten years before !
Kathie was wild with delight. For children the present is all sufficient, and to see Dolly flying along, her slender legs looking like a mere thread, and hear Charlie Darrell's pleasant voice, was enjoyment enough. The warm blood seemed to race from pulse to pulse, her heart beat rapidly with her great joy, and the fresh wind made her rosy cheeks rosier than ever. Down the south went the sun, and presently dropped out of sight. They were homeward bound. Miss Jessie took good care that Aunt Ruth should be comfortable.
"Has n't it been splendid!" ejaculated. Kathie, in a breathless fashion. " 0 Miss Jessie, I 'm so thankful !"
" And I am very glad to have given you so much pleasure. Some time we will try it again."
Charlie thought that he would like to have Kathie know how much of the plan was his, but he did n't see any good way of telling it.
So they were both helped out, and Rob was there to receive them. He had. half a mind to drive back with Charlie, but on. the whole he concluded it was best to resist the temptation, as his mother was preparing supper.
Kathie was in the gayest spirits, praising the ride, the horse, and most of all Miss Jessie.
" I say," put in Fred, rather aggrieved, " it 's real mean that you did n't take me. I could have crowded down in. the blankets."
" But you were n't here, Fred."
" Well, you might have waited a teeny little while. I did come home real soon."
" Hush, Fred," said his mother. " Kathie had nothing to do with it except to go when she was asked."
Aunt Ruth was quite tired, and after supper lay on the lounge. Kathie caught sight of the unfinished. work, and her tender conscience smote her.
" Mamma," she began, "I meant to help you sew this afternoon, and. I ran off and forgot all about it."
" I did n't expect you to stay at home; indeed, I should not have allowed you to."
" But the forgetting, mamma, and when I am trying so hard to remember ! " Kathie's eyes filled with tears.
" Never mind, my dear; I don't know as any one ever becomes so perfect as always to think of everything."
" But I'll sew now."
" No, Kathie, it is n't worth while. After being out in the wind for so long you 'll soon find yourself getting sleepy. I'll take the kind will for the deed."
After putting Fred to bed, Kathie drew a stool up to the lounge and talked to Aunt Ruth. Some way the conversation turned upon the lost Uncle Robert.
Kathie had heard the story many times before, but to-night it seemed to interest her specially.
"Don't you believe he ever will come back?" Kathie asked, earnestly. " Would n't it be nice if some day he took us all by surprise, and came home rich as Mr. Darrell ? "
Aunt Ruth sighed. " That will never be, dear. Robert was n't the man to forget his sisters so many years."
" But you never heard that he was dead ? "
"True, only we know if he had been living he would have written."
Kathie wanted to be a fairy more than ever, and bring Uncle Robert back in some queer way that would astonish them all. And then she wondered if lie was like Brother Rob or Charlie Darrell. What a dear, lovely afternoon it had been! How delightful it was to be well and have pleasant things happen to you, and — There was a rosy mist before Kathie's eyes and a weight settling upon her brain. Over came the little head on Aunt Ruth's arm.
"I am sleepy, sure enough," said Kathie, with a little laugh. " I guess I'll go to bed. Good night, mamma; good night, dear Aunt Ruthie. Let's all pray that God will send Uncle Robert back."
How many vain prayers had passed Aunt Ruth's lips! Yet Kathie's sweet, cheery voice seemed to stir hope again.
" What a comfort the child is! " she said to Mrs. Alston. " For her sake I wish we were more prosperous. I sometimes wonder how you will get them all educated."
" We must trust in God," Mrs. Alston replied.
" And not worry about the bridge until we have to cross it. But poor Rob ! I wonder if he found any friends at the last."
"Let us hope that he did," was the tremulous reply.
At times life seemed a hard burden indeed to Mrs. Alston. Her husband had died after a short illness, just as he was beginning to prosper, and when Freddy was but a month old. To this shock succeeded a long and severe illness, and when she was able to resume her place once more, it was but to hear of fresh misfortunes. The income that had been left to Ruth and herself from her father's property was swept away by a financial reversion, and they found themselves nearly penniless. Mr. Alston's partner offered them, in lieu of money, a house in a pretty country town, which he represented as likely to increase in value, and eloquently set forth the advantages of having a home; and just then, feeling that it made no difference to her where she went, she accepted his proposal. In the mean while Ruth had a severe and dangerous fall, which was likely to leave her a cripple for life. Discouraged to the uttermost, it was with a heavy heart that Mrs. Alston removed to Brookside. Here a fresh disappointment awaited her. The house was old and out of repair, and she was indeed a stranger in a strange land. If she could have sold again, she would have returned immediately to the city, where she had some friends; but that was quite impossible. She had parted with her most valuable furniture, so with the remnants she tried to give the place a homelike look. Ruth recovered slowly, and Mrs. Alston soon found that her small income would not support them all. She could think of nothing but sewing, and she managed to earn considerable by this, while Ruth did embroidering and various kinds of needlework. They did not want for any of the necessaries of life, but they had not many of its luxuries.
Since their arrival in Brookside they had not heard from their brother, who had gone to China some three years before. He had rambled about considerably, their last news of him being dated at Bombay, and Mrs. Alston knew at once that he had missed a letter from Ruth detailing their misfortunes. Several times afterward they sent letters to him, but no answers ever came. And now little Freddy was eight years old, — eight years of sorrow, care, and trouble. This was not all. There was a future to be considered. Rob was nearly fourteen, a smart, bright fellow, but rough, impatient, and thoughtless. In another year it would be necessary for him to go at some kind of business, and in this little town there was nothing scarcely to do. Must she send him away from home, or would another removal have to take place ? Often did she ponder these things, never reaching any definite conclusion. 0 for some trusty friend to advise and comfort ! She had been out of the world so long that she scarcely knew how to take an important step.
She thanked God in her prayers that night for womanly little Kathie, the comfort of her weariest hours, and she tried to trust for the dark future that she could not see.
But Kathie, young and bright and cheerful, was not troubled with anxious forebodings. Only she could not help thinking that it would be very pleasant and comfortable to have a pretty house and plenty of money. If mamma could dress up and be a lady, for she was as pretty as anybody, and if Freddy could have a play-house full of toys, and Bob all the boats, dogs, turning-poles, and various other things that he wanted, how happy they would all be !
But these items could not be had without money, and there was no way to get it until Rob grew to be a man.
Rob was wild to be a sailor. He passed by Kathie's fairy-books with a disdainful smile, and turned his attention to wonderful adventures or sea voyages. Sometimes being an Indian hunter quite divided his regard, but he generally came back to his first love. How much these desires pained his mother's heart he never knew.
A few days after the ride Mrs. Thomas called with her embroidery. She was a young and pretty woman, quite chatty and agreeable. Aunt Ruth's needlework delighted her. She mentioned the price she had been used to paying, " but it was n't done as handsomely as yours," she said, " and yours is worth more. It will be quite a treat to have such beautiful work."
" I heard that you did plain sewing, Mrs. Alston," she went on, " and I have a great pile of sheets and pillow-cases to make up. Having a little baby, I can't find time for much myself, so if you are not very busy, I think I'll send them over to you."
Mrs. Alston expressed her readiness to take them.
" Quite a bright rift in the clouds," said Aunt Ruth when they were alone. " Kathie, I do believe that we shall be able to have a new parlor carpet in the spring."
"I'll do all I can to help," was Kathie's delighted rejoinder.
ONE day Rob came home with what he declared to be a splitting headache. His face was flushed, his temples throbbing, and there was n't a spot in his whole body but what pained.
" You must have taken a dreadful cold," his mother said. " I hope you are not going to be sick."
" Just let me lie down on the lounge and be quiet," was all he could say.
She bathed his feet and put on mustard draughts, gave him some hot tea, and tied a napkin round his head wet with vinegar and water. So there he lay turning and tumbling about and wishing he could sleep.
Poor Rob ! By morning his fever was higher, and Kathie was sent for the doctor.
" A touch of bilious fever," said Dr. Page. " He is a good deal out of order and has taken a severe cold."
" But do you. think it will prove dangerous ? "
" 0 no. He will be about again in a fortnight."
So Mrs. Alston had Rob's bed brought down to the parlor and a fire made there. Aunt Ruth watched him during the day, and his mother took care of him at night.
Kathie had a double share of work, - all the errands to do, coal to bring in, kindling-wood to split, and to amuse Fred, who hung after her continually, as there was no wonderful Rob to follow about.
For a week Rob was pretty sick. He did n't take much notice of any one, but tossed about restlessly, and wondered if he never should be cool again; but after a while he grew more tranquil, and began to think of something to eat. His mother toasted him a piece of bread.
He chewed with very long teeth, as people say After two or three mouthfuls he said, slowly, " Mother, is n't this bread a little bitter ? "
" No," she answered; " it is because you are still feverish."
" I 'd like a drink of cold tea, I believe."
But that did n't quite come up to the mark either.
" I wonder if soup would n't be better ? "
" Perhaps so. When the butcher comes I'll get a piece of meat and make you some nice broth."
Rob thought of the broth for the next three hours.
It had such an appetizing fragrance that he was sure it would taste good. Alas for his hopes !
" Did you put in any salt ? " he asked, languidly, after he had taken a few spoonfuls.
" Yes, it is very well seasoned," replied his mother.
It was n't quite right, however.
" I wish you 'd put in some more," he said presently. Mrs. Alston obeyed his behest.
"And some more pepper."
" Pepper is n't very good, Rob."
" But a little would n't hurt me."
Rob was so weak that he felt babyish, and when his mother saw the slow tears coming in his eyes she yielded against her better judgment.
He managed to swallow a little, then he turned to his pillow again.
" Mother," he said, just as she was settled at her sewing, " is n't there some currant jelly ? "
" Yes, Rob."
" Could n't I have a taste ? You know I like bread and currant jelly so much."
His mother rose and went to the closet where she kept her preserves, uncovered the jar, and took out some.
" I 'II. just bring you the bread," she exclaimed, " and you can put it on or eat it alone."
She arranged a little tray on the bed and left Rob to help himself.
Though bread and jelly might be royal for a hungry boy, it held no potent charm for him now. Then he tried it alone. That tasted quite good; but now he was taken with a fit of thirst.
" 0 mother," he began, " don't you know what nice drinks you used to make out of currant jelly and water ? Won't you fix me some ? "
Mrs. Alston had sewed about an inch. She waited upon her son again.
" That's real good, the best thing I 've had yet ! "
His smile, faint though it was, rewarded her. He sipped in a pleased fashion, declaring that it looked like wine.
" Mother," about ten minutes after, " don't you think I could sit up a little while ? "
" Why, yes, if you feel like it."
" I believe I do."
She drew up the large rocking-chair, put a blanket over it and a pillow at the back. Then she helped Rob to get up, put him comfortably in and covered him nicely,
" That's splendid! I feel as if my bones were 'most worn through. I've been pretty sick; have n't I, mother ? "
"Quite sick, Rob"
" Any of the boys been to see me ? "
" 0 yes, - Charlie Darrell, Harry Cox, and several of the others, and Dick Grayson too ; but you were a little delirious most of the time, so you couldn't talk to them."
"Was I ? What did I say?" Rob thought that quite an exploit.
" You built snow-houses, went sledding, played ball and marbles, and scolded Freddy."
"Did I?" Rob smiled a little at that. "But, mother, you don't know what a bother Fred is. He thinks he must do just as the big boys do, and some- times I can't stir without his being in my way. Seems to me little children ought always to play with girls."
" Because girls have more patience, Rob ? "
A faint tinge of color came to Rob's cheek.
" Well, not exactly that, mother, but boys are always running or doing something hard, and little ones get hurt."
" All children are a good deal of care and trouble." Rob felt quite sure that he was n't very much, but he began to grow tired of talking and could n't argue the point.
" I wish you 'd get my Robinson Crusoe, mother," he said a few minutes after.
There was a book-rack in the parlor, and each of the children had a shelf. His mother dropped her sewing and looked the books over.
" It is n't here. Rob," she said.
" 0 yes, it must be, mother. I always put it there," he exclaimed, confidently.
" But it certainly is not here now."
" 0, I know; I had it up stairs. It's on one of my shelves."
" I think it is n't best for you to read," was his mother's rejoinder.
" I don't want to read, I only want to look at the pictures. It's so tiresome to sit here and do nothing." The ready tears came again to Rob's eyes.
" And you 're quite sure it is up stairs ? "
" 0 yes. I remember taking it one night when I went to bed. It had been lent to Jamie Hall."
So Mrs. Alston trudged up to Rob's room. No Robinson Crusoe on the shelves or in the closet. Then she searched his box of odd traps with no better success.
" How long she stays ! " he exclaimed, impatiently.
"I think you keep her pretty busy, Rob," said Aunt Ruth. "I don't believe she has been quiet more than fifteen minutes at one time to-day."
" Why, I have n't asked her to do more than two or three things for me, and I 'm sure I 'd a great deal rather be well and help myself," replied Rob, in an injured tone.
It would only fret him to argue the point, so Aunt Ruth kept the peace.
Mrs. Alston returned in a little shiver. She had not expected to be detained so long, and had thrown nothing around her shoulders. Her face looked quite cold and blue.
" I could n't find it anywhere, Rob," she said, going to the fire to warm her hands.
"Did you look in my little box?"
" Yes, and in the closet. It is n't in the room."
" But, mother, I am quite sure Jamie brought it home. He put a blue paper cover on it, you know."
" I believe I remember the circumstance, but you must have lent it again."
" No, mother, I 'm sure I have n't."
"I do not think it is in the house."
" But it must be," said Rob, growing flushed and positive. " It was my Christmas gift! 0 dear! if it 's lost, - and so many splendid pictures in it too! I never saw a Robinson Crusoe I liked half as well."
" Maybe it will come to light some time. It cannot be lost unless you have mislaid it."
" But I 'm sure I took care of it the last time I had it."
Kathie entered just then, bright and rosy. " 0, Rob, actually sitting up! " she exclaimed, gayly. " Dear Rob! Do you feel a good deal better ? But 0, how white you look! "
" 0, Rob 's out of bed! " put in Freddy, loudly. " Rob, are you all well ". Can't you go out to play to-morrow ? "
" 0 Freddy, your voice goes through my head like a trumpet. Mother, can't you put me back to bed again ? I 'm getting tired."
Mother had just sat down and taken up her needle. She rose and obeyed her son's request.
" The bed feels so good," he exclaimed. " Freddy, do keep still ! "
" Get yourself good and warm, and you may go out to play a little while," his mother said, gently.
" 0 Kathie," began Rob again, " have n't you lent my Robinson Crusoe to somebody ? Mother can't find it anywhere. I would n't have it lost for anything."
" No, Rob, I have n't had it. Let me see, - Jamie Hall brought it home ? "
"Yes, I 'm sure. It 's gone, and some one has taken it away. It 's real mean ! " and poor Rob was getting excited.
Kathie thought a moment or two. " 0 Rob, I believe I know. The day you were taken sick you had it at school, drawing a picture out of it."
Rob looked perfectly amazed. It came over him like a flash. He had n't quite finished the man Friday, so he put the book in the corner of his desk. He could see it all like a picture.
" Don't you remember ? " and Kathie glanced at him. Something in her bright eyes said " Giants " ; and Rob was filled with confusion.
" Yes," he rejoined, faintly, and then he lay very still.
" Kathie," her mother said, " I wish you 'd sew a little. I 'm quite behindhand."
A tear dropped from Rob's eyes to the pillow. How much trouble and interruption he had caused his mother! That about the book was altogether his own fault. How could he have been so careless as to forget ! He had worried himself too, for his head was beginning to ache, and little pains kept crawling down his back. And he could n't help thinking that he ought to fight giants as well as Kathie.
"I must try to remember," he said to himself. There was quite a wet spot on the pillow; and presently he turned his face over to the wall, and, being completely tired out, fell asleep.
He little guessed how much pains they all took to keep quiet. Freddy didn't think it much fun to play alone, and soon came in, and Aunt Ruth read him a story to keep him still. Kathie sewed industriously until twilight, and then went out to do a few errands. Fred desired to go, of course. At first Kathie wanted to object; but then she thought it would n't be much worse for her to be bothered with him than Aunt Ruth and mamma.
But he proved a great plague, all because she was in a hurry, it seemed. He would stop and slide; then he fell down, and she had to halt and pick him up -and comfort him.
" 0, I 've hurt my hand I " he cried. " Look at it, Kathie ; is n't it bleeding? "
"It's so dark I can't see. No, I guess not. Put on your mitten again."
" It hurts so, it hurts so ! 0 dear ! "
" If you had n't run back to slide, you see, it would n't have happened; and sister's in a hurry too. Where's your mitten ? "
" I laid it down there when I hurt my hand. 0 dear! I wish I had n't come. Kathie, what made you bring me ? "
" I 'm sure I did n't want to, for you 're a great bother. Let's go back and find the mitten, if we can, - your nice new ones that Aunt Ruth just knit I and she would be very sorry if you lost one."
" I'll sit here and cry while you go, Kathie. I 'm so cold, I 'm 'most frozen."
Kathie was out of patience, and wanted to give him a good shaking and a good scolding; hut she thought of the giant just in time. She felt around the spot where Freddy had fallen, and soon found the lost article.
" Sow, Fred, if you 've had a good cry, we 'll run home, and I'll tell you a story about a little boy "; and Kathie made quite a ludicrous affair out of his accident.
" 0, that's me," he said, laughing. " I was a great baby. My hand don't hurt any now, and I guess it's all well."
When Rob opened his eyes the lamp was burning, and he heard a subdued stir as of supper-dishes. He felt quite hungry, and thought of his broth, and was just going to call, when a little reflection made him pause.
" I'll wait till mother's through," he decided, which was quite a great effort for him.
" Kathie, go see if Rob is still asleep," his mother said presently.
" So, I 'm awake, and hungry as a bear. Can I have some broth ? "
His mother had it on the stove, keeping warm. She poured. it into another bowl and brought it to him.
He took two or three spoonfuls ravenously and then stopped. "Mother, this is as salt as brine; just taste of it."
She smiled. " You would have it made salt, you know, but I have some other, only you must wait until it gets warm."
" I'll wait," he said, very pleasantly, though it seemed to him he would have to eat up the sheet and pillows, he was so nearly starved.
" Mother," he said, when she returned, " sick people are very queer ; are n't they ? "
" Yes, Rob "; and she drew a long breath.
" I 've made you. a good deal of trouble this afternoon," he went on, penitently. " I 'm sorry, only I did feel so sure about the book. I don't see how I came to forget."
"Very easily on that day, Rob. You. were not well, and then being so sick immediately after, it was not at all strange. That is n't near so bad as being positive when you are well and ought to remember."
It was a great excuse of his to say that he forgot.
More than once the picture of Kathie fighting her giant had entered his mind. He was older, and ought to do as much, surely.
" When I get well I'll try and be more careful," he said, in a low tone. " You 're so good and patient, mother! "
She bent over to kiss him, and he clasped his arms tightly around her neck.
" 0 mother, if you were dead, what would become of me! It 's so nice to have you " ; and Rob sobbed softly. "When I 'm a man you shall not work at all. I'll have a nice house and a servant to wait on you."
" If I have a good boy, and a good, honorable, useful man, I shall be satisfied."
Rob lay still for a long while and thought. Without meaning to be, he was a great, boisterous, selfish fellow, not half as useful as Kathie. Of course she was a girl, and - but Rob's conscience told him that it was rather cowardly to expect girls to do all the work, and practise all the virtues, simply because they were girls. If he could get well, Kathie should n't run of all the errands while he was off having fun. He meant to make her a black ring, and lend her his drawing-pencils whenever she wanted them. And he would n't laugh at her, nor be rough, nor- And in the midst of his resolves , Rob fell asleep.
THE next morning it rained. It was Saturday, too, and Freddy had to stay in the house. Rob felt much improved, and thought he would like to get up and have his breakfast.
"And while you 're eating it I'll sweep the parlor," said Kathie, "if you don't mind being taken out in the kitchen."
" 0 no, I shall like it; I am about tired of this room."
Kathie brought out a little stand and put a fresh white towel over it; then she begged her mother to let Rob have a china cup and plate. Mrs. Alston had kept a set of odd, antique china that had been her mother's, and Kathie thought them marvels of beauty and daintiness.
She washed Rob's face and brushed his hair. Her little fingers were so soft and gentle that be felt like kissing them. And there was his breakfast looking as tempting as if it had been set for a prince.
"I didn't have any toast nor any jelly," said Fred, surveying it with longing eyes.
" But you 're not sick," was Kathie's answer.
" 0, I wish I was; sick people always have such nice things."
"And they also have headaches and pains, and take dreadful medicine. That part of it isn't very nice, Freddy," Bob rejoined.
" Did your head ache? "
" Well, I 'd like to have a headache," Freddy said, reflectively ; " then I could smell out of Aunt Ruth's nice little bottle."
" Don't lean on Rob's table," said Aunt Ruth; " you 'll tip it over."
" And that would be table-tippings," suggested Rob, with a smile.
" Do you want all the toast ? "
Freddy had edged round to Rob's vicinity.
" Run away," said his mother; " you must n't stand here teasing Rob."
Aunt Ruth poured, the tea. Breakfast tasted excellently to Rob. Beside the jelly, he had a little piece of meat broiled, and altogether be was making quite a meal. Indeed, he thought he would have felt well but for a curious lightness in his head and a weakness in his limbs.
Freddy was balancing himself on one leg of the bench. By and by there was a crash; over went Freddy and the bench. Rob was weak and nervous, and gave a jump.
" 0 Freddy," said his mother, " you have been told not to do that!"
" 0 dear! 0 dear ! my head is split open! No, it 's got a great bump. 0 dear! "
" It served you just right, Freddy, for disobeying mamma. Now, stop crying; it makes too much noise for Bob."
"0 dear! if he had his head hurt-"
"Hush, or I shall send you up stairs in the cold."
Freddy cried to himself a little while, but that was n't much fun. Presently he looked up at the table. " There, you 've eaten all the toast ! " he ex- claimed, ruefully.
" And not had enough. Mamma must toast me some more, and if you 'll sit still five minutes you shall have a piece."
Fred mounted a chair, feet and all. He wore a pair of old shoes because they were so much less noisy than his boots; and now he espied the string dangling from one, and thought lie would take a quiet play at horse while he was waiting. So he trotted the one foot up and down, holding the strings as reins; and though he did want to sing out, " Two forty on the plank-road," by a great effort he managed to say it softly, though it was n't half as good. The pony came home, and he tied him up 'in the stable. This process was fastening the strings to the chair-back.
" Is n't it five minutes ? " he asked, looking round.
" Not quite; but you 've been a tolerably good boy, so here's some toast and jelly."
Fred gave a bound of delight. Alas! down he came sprawling on the floor, with the chair over him. Pony, at this juncture, broke the rein, and freed himself by a vigorous kick.
" 0 Fred ! what is the matter ? " and his mother picked him up. He cried pretty hard at first; but, finding that he was not much hurt, began to vary the exercises by talking at the same time. A queer jumble he made of his horse in the stable and the toast; and it was some time before matters could be explained satisfactorily.
Rob laughed till the tears came in his eyes, the affair seemed so comical to him.
" Keeping a fast horse is rather dangerous, Fred; and trying to keep you still is almost impossible."
" But I was still. I never spoke a word but softly, and I did n't make a bit of noise."
" And came down with a crash at last. Since you did n't break your neck nor the chair, we 'll try to stop your mouth with the toast, and be thankful; only next time you fall I think you 'll split my head open."
Fred looked as if he was considering how it could be done. His mother tied his shoe, wiped the tears from his face, and gave him strict injunctions about his future behavior. Then he was allowed to have the toast and jelly.
" Now," said Aunt Ruth, " suppose you get your picture-book and sit down on the floor a little while. You can't very well fall there."
Freddy obeyed with alacrity.
" Aunt Ruth, here's Harry and his dog. The dog pulled Harry out of the water and he gave him a silver collar."
" Who, the dog ? " asked Bob.
" Yes, the dog."
" And the dog led Harry around by a chain which was fast to the silver collar ! "
" No, he did n't; Harry led the dog. I 'm telling Aunt Ruth, not you."
Bob concluded he would try the lounge awhile. He could begin to help himself.
Fred went on with his story, raising his voice at every new sentence.
" Not quite so loud," said Rob.
" I 've read my book all through," Fred began presently. " Can t I play with my blocks ? "
" I 'm afraid you will make too much noise."
" No, I won't. I 'll be just as still as a mouse or a squirrel."
" We 'll take the mouse part," said Rob.
So Fred began to build a tower. Of course, before he could get the top block on, down came the whole edifice with a crash. Rob, being just on the point of a doze, nearly sprang " out of his skin."
" Oh ! " Fred exclaimed, aghast. " I was so sure it would n't tumble down ! "
" Don't build a high one," said Aunt Ruth, softly.
" Just one more, auntie. I 'll be very sure that it won't fall down."
" No, not one."
Fred knew he must obey that tone. At first he had a mind to kick the blocks to the four corners of the room, but a second thought warned him that such a course would not be prudent. But somehow he could n't get any low houses to suit. Presently he made a long inclined plane, when a happy thought popped into his head. He went very softly to his box, so as not to wake up Rob, took out some marbles and dropped them down the little square at the upper end. They rattled along, fell off the step at the bottom and rolled round the floor.
" 0 Freddy! " said Rob, " you are the noisiest boy that I ever saw."
" It's real mean for you. to be sick! A fellow can't have any fun at all ! " and Fred gave the nearest marble a vigorous kick that made it bound up against the wall.
Kathie had finished the parlor, and was going up stairs to sweep.
" I guess I 'll take Fred along and amuse him," she said, " and maybe Rob can get asleep."
Freddy was delighted. He trudged up stairs, carrying the dust-brush as a great favor. Kathie made the beds, put away a pile of clean clothes, and then began to sweep. Freddy would run, to be sure, and when he helped dust, for he was delighted to work with Kathie, it proved a rather noisy operation, though she hoped they did not hear the sound very plainly down stairs.
She had just finished the rooms and put her dust-pan in the little square hall, when Freddy, who was following fast upon her and asking a multitude of questions, stepped upon something that tilted and made him jump. Clatter, clatter went the pan down stairs, bumping every step and spilling the dust.
" You. put it right there in the way," began Fred, anxious to justify himself.
" I did n't think it was going to be in the way. I quite forgot about an unlucky little boy who meets with accidents on every side."
" That's because Rob 's sick."
" The very reason why we ought to be still."
" But don't you know everything always happens when you don't want it ? " said Fred, with great earnestness.
" I believe it does. Now I 've only the stairs to sweep, and you 'll be in my way. Run in the kitchen and be just as good as you can until I come." Fred went very reluctantly.
" Well, General," said Rob, " what was the last explosion ? "
"There wasn't any-any-splutter," Fred returned, slowly.
" We heard a great one and thought you had knocked the chimney over. Or was it you bouncing down stairs ? "
Fred looked rather sulky and made no answer. It was a fine thing for Rob to lie abed and scold about everybody.
" I think Fred is the noisiest boy that was ever created," Rob went on; " don't you, mother ? "
" Boys in general have a faculty of making a racket very easily."
" Don't you. Aunt Ruth ? "
Aunt Ruth smiled. Just then Kathie entered the room.
" I 'll leave it to you all," said Rob, " if Fred does n't make more noise in. a day than I ever made in a week."
A wise and roguish light came into Kathie's eyes, and Rob remembered their Sunday-night talk before he was sick.
" Do you really think I ever made such a continuous racket ? " he went on, loath to give up his cause.
" Why, it seems to me that Fred has n't been still three minutes since he was out of bed."
" You notice everything so much more easily when you are ill," Aunt Ruth explained. " Fred has been rather unfortunate this morning, I will admit; but your mother and I have become so accustomed to noise that we hardly notice it. Though when one has a headache and the door slams - "
" That 's me, Aunt Ruth," Rob said, soberly. " It always seems so much handier to push a door than to stop and shut it; and even if you only give it the least mite of a touch it's sure to slam. But I guess I shall think of it hereafter."
" One learns many of these things by experience. It is good to be sick once or twice in the course of one's lifetime."
Rob thought, while the dinner was getting ready, that there were more giants than he had imagined at first. And then he watched Kathie, so cheerful and good-natured, with her bright look and ready smile and her quiet ways. He could n't be like that, for he was n't any kind of a girl-boy ; but he would begin to think a little about the comfort of his dear mother and Aunt Ruth.
He was quite sleepy after dinner, and took a good nap, shut in the parlor. Freddy had but one mishap, which was to tumble partially over the coal-scuttle in search of his ball. Kathie washed him, brushed his soft hair, and put on a clean blouse with a white linen collar. Aunt Ruth declared he was as sweet as a new pink.
After that, Rob thought he would try sitting up again. He was just nicely fixed in his chair when the Darrell carriage drove up. It had stopped raining, but was still cloudy and lowering.
Charlie helped Jessie out. She had a basket on her arm, and nodded smilingly as she caught the glance of Kathie's soft eyes. Then the little girl ran to the hall door.
" How is Rob getting along, Miss Kathie ? The doctor was in this morning to see grandma, and he said he did n't believe a little company would hurt Rob; so we came."
"He will be real glad to see you, and is sitting up."
This time she could usher Miss Jessie into .the neat parlor, which she did very gracefully. Charlie followed behind.
" Well, Rob," said the soft, pleasant voice, " you look quite thin and delicate, not altogether equal to building snow-houses."
"No"; and Bob gave a faint smile. "But I'm getting better. I 'll soon be out again."
Miss Jessie went to talk to Mrs. Alston and Aunt Ruth. Freddy sidled up to her and she kissed him. She seemed to be just as much at home as if she were some relative.
" We thought we would bring Rob a few things for a change," she began, taking the cover off her basket ; " there is a glass of strawberries that mother sent with her love, and they taste almost like fresh fruit; and there 's some wine jelly that Charlie and I made, and a nice cake that is n't very rich; and here, Kathie, you may undo this."
A parcel wrapped in white paper; but Kathie detected the fragrance at once. She drew a long breath of delight, and held it before Rob.
" 0 Miss Jessie ! " he exclaimed.
" Charlie said you liked flowers, so I thought I 'd bring you some. They look so pleasant in winter."
" What lovely roses ! Three.' Why, how many have you. Miss Jessie ? " Kathie exclaimed, her face in a glow.
" 0, perhaps a dozen out. We have quite a pretty flower-room. You must come and gee it some time."
Kathie arranged them very tastefully, - the three roses in the middle, a border of heliotrope, mignonette, and white alyssum, and a circle of rose- geranium leaves on the outside. Then she put them in a tumbler, and stood them on the mantelpiece.
" Why not have them on this little table, where Rob can see them better ? " Miss Jessie asked.
Kathie changed them with her winsome smile. Charlie and Rob had quite a school talk,-who had missed and who had kept their places, and all the details so pleasant to hear when one is shut out of the world, as it were. For it seemed to Rob as if he had been ill a month at least.
" Mrs. Alston, by next Saturday Rob will be well enough to go out, if he keeps on improving. Suppose he comes and spends the day with Charlie. It will make a pleasant change "; and Jessie's voice was almost irresistible.
" You are very kind," Mrs. Alston said.
" I 'll come for him in the carriage," announced Charlie, " and we 'll bundle him in the blankets so that he will not take a bit of cold."
There was nothing to do but consent. Kathie was delighted.
" And if you 'd come over in the afternoon," Jessie said to her, " it would be real pleasant. He might be getting homesick by that time."
Rob laughed at the idea.
They had a very delightful time and Rob was none the worse, having a good appetite for his supper.
" I used to think Charlie almost too girlish," Rob said to Kathie after he was lying comfortably in bed, "but I like him better than ever. He 's a real fine fellow, and I believe gentlemanly boys are the nicest, after all. Won't it be splendid to stay there a whole day?"
"I'm so glad they invited you," Kathie returned.
Rob was quite tired, but felt somewhat restless, so Kathie sang to him, and in a little while he was asleep. She put the curtain aside and glanced out of the window. It had cleared up and there were several stars twinkling in the rifts of blue sky. Was she shining on and on like the star ? Was she doing her duty and being patient, generous, and kind ?
" God help me to be just right in all things," she prayed, softly.
On to chapter 8
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