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CHAPTER III: Miss Melville's Visitor
s will be readily supposed, Gypsy's name was not her original one, though it might have been, for there have been actual Billys and Sallys, who began and ended Billys and Sallys only.
Gypsy's real name was an uncouth one- Jemima. It was partly for this reason, partly for its singular appropriateness, that her nickname had entirely transplanted the lawful and ugly one.
This subject of nicknames is a curiosity. All rules of euphony, fitness, and common sense, that apply to other things, are utterly at fault here. A baby who cannot talk plainly, dubs himself "Tuty," or "Dess," or "Pet," or "'Honey," and forthwith becomes Tuty, Dess, Pet, or Honey, the rest of his mortal life. All the particularly cross and disagreeable girls are Birdies and Sunbeams. All the brunettes with loud voices and red hands, who are growing up into the " strong-minded women," are Lilies and Effies and Angelinas, and other etherial creatures; while the little shallow, pink-and-white young ladies who cry very often and "get nervous," are quite as likely to be royal Constance, or Elizabeth, without any nickname at all.
But Gypsy's name had undoubtedly been foreordained, so perfectly was it suited to Gypsy. For never a wild rover led a more untamed and happy life. Summer and winter, seed-time and harvest, found Gypsy out in the open air, as many hours out of the twenty-four as were not absolutely bolted and barred down into the school-room and dreamland. A fear of the weather never entered into Gypsy's creed; drenchings and freezings were so many soap-bubbles,-great fun while they lasted, and blown right away by dry stockings and mother's warm fire; so where was the harm ? A good brisk thunderstorm out in the woods, with the lightning- quivering all about her and the thunder crashing over her, was simple delight. A day of snow and sleet, with drifts knee-deep, and winds like so many little knives, was a festival. If you don't know the supreme bliss of a two-mile walk .on such a day, when you have to shut your eyes, and wade your way, then Gypsy would pity you. Not a patch of woods, a pond, a brook, a river, a mountain, in the region (and there, in Vermont, there were plenty of them), but Gypsy knew it by heart.
There was not a trout-brook for miles where she had not fished. There was hardly a tree she had not climbed, or a fence or stone-wall- provided, of course, that it was away from the main road and people's eyes-that she had not walked. Gypsy could row and skate and swim, and play ball and make kites, and coast and race, and drive, and chop wood. Altogether Gypsy seemed like a very pretty, piquant mistake; as if a mischievous boy had somehow stolen the plaid dresses, red cheeks, quick wit, and little indescribable graces of a girl, and was playing off a continual joke on the world. Old Mrs. Surly, who lived opposite, and wore green spectacles, used to roll up her eyes, and say What would become of that child ? A whit cared Gypsy for Mrs. Surly? As long as her mother thought the sport and exercise in the open air a fine thing for her, and did not complain of the torn dresses oftener than twice a week, she would roll her hoop and toss her ball under Mrs. Surly's very windows, and laugh merrily to see the green glasses pushed up and taken off in horror at what Mrs. Surly termed an "impropriety. "
Therefore it created no surprise in. the family one morning, when school-time came and passed, and Gypsy did not make her appearance, that she .was reported to be "making a raft" down in the orchard swamp.
"Run and call her, Winnie," said Mrs. Breynton. "Tell her it is very late, and I want her to come right up,-remember."
" Yes mum," said Winnie, with unusual alacrity, and started off down the lane as fast as his copper-toed feet could carry him. It was quite a long lane, and a very pleasant one in summer. There was a row of hazel-nut bushes, always green and sweet, on one side, and a stone-wall on the other, with the broad leaves and tiny blossoms of a grape-vine trailing over it. The lane opened into a wide field which had an apple-orchard at one end of it, and sloped down over quite a little hill into a piece of marshy ground, where ferns and white violets, anemones, and sweet-flag grew in abundance. In the summer, the water was apt to dry up. In the spring, it was sometimes four feet deep. It was a pleasant spot, for the mountains lay all around it, and shut it in with their great forest-arms, and the sharp peaks that were purple and crimson and gold, under passing shadows and fading sunsets. Andy then, is there any better fun than to paddle in the water ?
Gypsy looked as if she thought not, when Winnie suddenly turned the corner, and ran down the slope.
She had finished her raft, and launched it off from the root of an old oak-tree that grew half in the water, and, with a long pole, had pushed herself a third of the way across the swamp. Her dress was tucked up over her bright balmoral, and the ribbons of her hat were streaming in the wind. She had no mittens or gloves on her hands, which were very pink and plump, and her feet were incased in high rubber boots.
"Hullo!" said Winnie, walking out on the root of the oak.
"Hilloa!" said Gypsy.
" I say-that's a bully raft."
" To be sure it is."
" I haven't had a ride on a raft since-why since 'leven or six years ago when I was a little boy. I shouldn't wonder if it was twenty-three years, either."
"Oh, I can't bear people that hint. Why "don't you say right out, if you want a ride?"
" I want a ride," said Winnie, without any hesitation.
"Wait till I turn her round. I'll bring her up on the larboard side," replied Gypsy, in the tone of an old salt of fifty years' experience.
So she paddled up to the oak-tree, and Winnie jumped an board.
"I guess we'll have time to row across and "back before school," said Gypsy, pushing off.
Winnie maintained a discreet silence.
" I don't suppose it's very late," said Gypsy.
"Oh, just look at that toad with a green head, down in the water! " observed Winnie. They paddled on a little ways in silence.
"What makes your cheeks so red?" asked Gypsy.
"I guess it's scarlet fever, or maybe it's appleplexy, you know."
Just then Winnie gave a little scream.
" Look here-Gyp. ! The boat's goin' down. I don't want to go very much. I saw another toad down there."
"I declare!" said Gypsy, "we're going to be swamped, as true as you live! It isn't strong enough to bear two,-sit still, Winnie. Perhaps we'll get ashore."
But no sooner had she spoken the words. than the water washed up about her ankles, and Winnie's end of the raft went under. The next she knew, they were both floundering in the water.
It chanced to be about three feet and a half deep, very cold, and somewhat slimy. Gypsy had a strong impression that a frog jumped into her neck when she plunged, head first, into the deep mud at the bottom. After a little splashing and gasping, she regained her feet, and stood up to her elbows in the water. But what she could do, Winnie could not. He had sunk in the soft mud, and even if he had had the courage to stand up straight, the water would have been above his head. But it had never occurred to him to do otherwise than lie gasping and flat on the bottom, where he was drowning as fast as he possibly could.
Gypsy pulled him out and carried him ashore. She wrung him out a little, and set him down on the grass, and then, by way of doing something, she took her dripping handkerchief out of her dripping pocket and wiped her hands on it.
" 0-o-oh! " gasped Winnie; " I never did-
you'd ought to know-you've just gone'n drownded me!"
"What a story!" said Gypsy; "you're no more drowned than I am. To be sure you are rather wet," she added, with a disconsolate attempt at a laugh.
"You oughtn't to have tooken me out on
that old raft," glared Winnie, through the shower of water-drops that rained down from his forehead, "you know you hadn't ! I'll Just tell mother. I'll get sick and be died after it, you see if I don't."
"Very well," said Gypsy, giving herself a little shake, very much as a pretty brown spaniel would do, who had been in swimming.
"You may do as you like. Who teased to go on the raft, I'd like to know ? "
"Besides," resumed Winnie, with an impressive cough; "you're late to school, 'cause mother, she said you was to come right up when she sent me down, only I-well I guess, I b'lieve I forgot to tell you,-1 rather think I did. Anyways, you're late,-so ! "
Gypsy looked at Winnie, and Winnie looked at Gypsy. There was an awful silence.
"Winnie Breynton," said Gypsy, solemnly, " if you don't get one whipping! "
"I don't care to hear folks talk," interrupted Winnie, with dignity, " I am five years old."
Gypsy's reply is not recorded.
I have heard it said that when Tom espied the two children coming up the lane, he went to his mother with the information that the: fishman was somewhere around, only he had sent his fishes on ahead of him. They appeared to have been freshly caught, and would, he thought, make several dinners „ but I cannot take the responsibility of the statement.
It was very late, much nearer ten o'clock than nine, when Gypsy was fairly metamorphosed into a clean, dry, very penitent-looking child.
She hurried off to school, leaving Winnie and his mother in close conference. Exactly what happened on the occasion of that interview, has never been made known to an inquiring public.
On the way to school Gypsy had as many as six sober thoughts; a larger number than she was usually capable of in forty-eight hours. One was, that it was too bad she had got so wet. Another was, that she really supposed it was her business to know when school-time came, no matter where she was or what she was doing. Another, that she had made her mother a great deal of trouble. A fourth was, that she was sorry to be so late at school-it always made Miss Melville look so; and then a bad mark was not, on the whole, a desirable thing. Still a fifth was, that she would never do such a thing again as long as she lived-never. The sixth lay in a valiant determination to behave herself the rest of this particular day. She would study hard. She would get to the head of the class. She wouldn't put a single pin in the girls' chairs, nor tickle anybody, nor make up funny faces, nor whisper, nor make one of the girls laugh, not one, not even that silly Delia Guest, who laughed at nothing,-why, you couldn't so much as make a doll out of your handkerchief and gloves, and hang it on your pen-handle, but what she had to go into a spasm over it.
No, she wouldn't do a single funny thing all day. She would just sit still and look sober and sorry, and not trouble Miss Melville in the least. Her mind was quite made up.
Just as she had arrived at this conclusion she came to the school-house door. Gypsy and a number of other girls, both her own age and younger, who either were not pre- pared to enter the high school, or whose parents preferred the select school system, composed Miss Melville's charge. They were most of them pleasant girls, and Miss Melville was an unusually successful teacher, and as dearly loved as a judicious teacher can be. The school-house was a bit of a brown building tucked away under some apple-trees on a quiet by-road. It had been built for a district school, but had fallen into disuse years ago, and Miss Melville had taken possession of it.
Gypsy slackened, her pace as she passed under the apple-boughs, where the tiny, budding leaves filled all the air with faint fragrance. It was nearly recess time; she knew, because she could hear, through the windows, the third geography class reciting. It was really too bad to be so late. She went up the steps slowly, the corners of her mouth drawn down as penitently as Gypsy's mouth could well be.
Just inside the door she stopped. A quick color ran all .over her face, her eyes began to twinkle like sparks from a great fire of hickory, and, in an instant, every one of those six sober thoughts was gone away somewhere -nobody could have told where; and the funniest little laugh broke the silence of the entry.
The most interested observer could not have told what Gypsy saw that was so very amusing. The entry was quite deserted. Nothing was to be seen but a long row of girls' " things," hanging up on the nails-hats and bonnets. tippets, sacks, rubbers, and baskets; apparently as demure and respectable as hats, bonnets, tippets, sacks, rubbers, and baskets could be. Yet there Gypsy stood for as much as a minute laughing away quietly to herself, as if she had come across some remarkable joke.
About ten minutes after, some one knocked at the school-room door. Miss Melville laid down her geography.
"Cape Ann, Cape Hatteras, Cape-may I go to the door ? " piped little Cely Hunt, holding up her hand. Miss Melville nodded and Cely went. She opened the door-and jumped.
"What's the matter, Cely?-Oh!" For there stood the funniest old woman that Cely or Miss Melville had ever seen. She had on a black dress, very long and very scant, that looked as if it were made out of an old water-proof cloak. Over that, she wore a curious drab-silk sack, somewhat faded and patched, with all the edges of the seams outside. Over that, was a plaid red-and-green shawl, tied about her waist. There was a little black shawl over that, and a green tippet wound twice around her throat with the ends tucked in under the shawl. She had a pair of black raits on her hands, and she carried a basket. Her face no one could see, for it was covered with a thick green veil, tied closely about her bonnet.
Cely gave a little scream, and ran behind the door. Miss Melville stepped down from the platform, and went to meet the visitor.
" Good arternoon," said the old woman, in a very shrill voice.
" Good afternoon," said Miss Melville, politely.
"I come to see the young uns," piped the old woman. " I ben deown teown fur some eggs, an' I heerd the little creaturs a sayin' of their lessons as I come by, an' thinks says I to myself, says I, bless their dear hearts, I'll go in an' see 'em, says I, an' I'll thank ye kindly for a seat, for I'm pretty nigh beat out.'"
The scholars all began to laugh. Miss Melville, somewhat reluctantly, handed her visitor a chair by the door, but did not ask her upon the platform, as the visitor seemed to expect.
"There's a drefful draught here on my neck," she muttered, discontentedly; "an' I'm terribly afflicted with rheumatiz mostly. Can't see much of the young uns here, nuther."
" I doubt if there is much here that will interest you," observed Miss Melville, looking at her keenly. " You may rest yourself, and then I think you had better go. Visitors always disturb the children."
"Bless their dear hearts!" cried the old woman, shrilly. " They needn't be afraid of me-I wouldn't hurt 'em. Had a little angel boy once myself; he's gone to Californy now, an' I'm a lone, lorn widdy. I say-little gal! " and the stranger pointed her finger (it trembled a little) at Sarah Rowe, who had grown quite red in the face with her polite efforts not to laugh. "Little gal, whar's yer manners?- laughin' at a poor ole creetur like me! Come out here, and le's hear ye say that beautiful psalm of Dr. Watts-now!
" How doth the little busy bee ! "
But just then something happened for which the old woman and the scholars were equally unprepared. Miss Melville looked through the green veil straight into the old woman's eyes, and said just one word. She said it very quietly, and she said it without a smile. It was "Gypsy!"
There was a great hush. Sarah Rowe was the first to break it.
' ' Why, that's my sack turned wrong side out! "
"And those are my mitts!" said Agnes Gaylord.
"If you please, Miss Melville, that's my black shawl,-I know it by the border," piped a very little girl in mourning.
' ' I do believe that's my waterproof, and Lucy's plaid shawl," giggled Delia Guest.
"Did you ever?"
"And my green veil," put in somebody else, faintly.
Miss Melville quietly removed the veil, and Gypsy looked up with her mischief bright all over her face. Her eyes fell, however, and her cheeks flushed crimson, when she saw the look about Miss Melville's mouth.
"You may go and put away the things, Gypsy," said Miss Melville, still without a- smile. Gypsy obeyed in silence. The girls stopped laughing, and began to whisper together behind the desk-covers.
"The school will come to order," said Miss Melville. "Cely, what is the largest river in New England?-Next."
Gypsy hung up the things, and came slowly back into the room. Miss Melville motioned her to her seat, but took no further notice of her. Gypsy, silent and ashamed, took out her spelling-book, and began to study. The girls. looked at her out of the corners of their eyes, and every now and then Delia Guest broke out afresh into a smothered laugh, but no one spoke to her, and she spoke to nobody.
The spelling-class was called out, but Miss Melville signified, by a look, that Gypsy was to keep her seat. Recess came, but Miss Melville was busy writing at her desk, and took no notice of her, further than to tell the group of girls, who had instantly clustered buzzing and laughing about her, that they were all to go out doors and play. They went, and Gypsy sat still with her head behind the desk-cover. Something in Miss Melville's manner said,. louder than words, that she was displeased. It was a manner which made Gypsy feel, for once in her life, that she had not one word to say.
She busied herself with her books, and tried to look unconcerned when the scholars came back. The arithmetic class recited, but her teacher did not call for her; the history class, but no one spoke to Gypsy. The disgrace of this punishment was what Gypsy minded the most, though it was no slight thing to see so many "absent "marks going down on her report, when she was right in the room and had learned her lessons.
After what seemed to her an interminable time, the morning passed and the school broke up. The children, controlled by that something in Miss Melville's manner, and by Gypsy's averted head and burning cheeks, left the room quickly, and Gypsy and her teacher were alone.
"Gypsy, "said Miss Melville.
There was no answer.
There came a faint "Yes'm" from behind the desk-cover. Miss Melville laid down her pencil, closed her own desk, and came and sat down on the bench beside Gypsy.
"I wonder if you are as; sorry as I am," she said, simply.
Something very bright glittered on Gypsy's lashes, and two great drops stood on her hot cheeks.
"I don't see what possessed me!" she said, vehemently. " Why don't you turn me out of school ? "
" I did not think you could willingly try to make me trouble," continued Miss Melville, without noticing the last remark.
The two. great drops rolled slowly down Gypsy's cheeks, and into her mouth. She swallowed them with a gulp, and brushed her hand, angrily, across her eyes. Gypsy very seldom cried, but I fancy she came pretty near it on that occasion.
" Miss Melville," she said, with an earnestness that was comical, in spite of itself; "I wish you'd please to scold me. I should feel a great deal better."
"Scoldings won't do you much good," said Miss Melville, with a sad smile; "you must cure your own faults, Gypsy. Nobody else can do it for you."
Gypsy turned around in a little passion of despair.
"Miss Melville, I can't!" It isn't in me- you don't know! Here this very morning I got late to school, tipping Winnie over in a raft-drenched through both of us, and mother, so patient and sweet with the dry stockings she'd just mended, and wasn't I sorry? Didn't I think about it all the way to school-the whole way, Miss Melville? And didn't I make up my mind I'd be as good as a kitten all day, and sit still like Agnes Gaylord, and not tickle the girls, nor make you any trouble, nor anything ? Then what should I do but come into the entry and see those things, and it all came like a flash how funny it would be'n I'd talk up high like Mrs. Surly 'n you wouldn't know me, and-that was the last I thought, till you took off the veil, and I wished I hadn't done it. It's just like me-I never can help anything anyhow."
"I think you can," said her teacher, kindly.
"You certainly had the power, when you stood out there in the entry, to stop and think before you touched the things."
" I believe there's a bolt left out of me some- where," she said, as they left the school-house together; " what do you suppose it is ? "
"It is the strong, iron bolt, 'stop and think,' Gypsy."
"Um-yes-perhaps it is," said Gypsy, and walked slowly home.
On to chapter four
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