BACK of the rectory there was a splendid, long hill. The ground receded until the rectory garden was reached, and the hill was guarded on either flank by a thick growth of pines and cedars, and, being a part of the land appertaining to the rectory, was never invaded by the village children. This was considered very fortunate by Mrs. Patterson, Jim′s mother, and for an odd reason. The rector′s wife was very fond of coasting, as she was of most out-of-door sports, but her dignified position pre- vented her from enjoying them to the utmost. In many localities the clergyman′s wife might have played golf and tennis, have rode and swum and coasted and skated, and nobody thought the worse of her; but in The Village it was different.
Sally had therefore rejoiced at the discovery of that splendid, isolated hill behind the house. It could not have been improved upon for a long, per- fectly glorious coast, winding up on the pool of ice in the garden and bumping thrillingly between dry vegetables. Mrs. Patterson steered and Jim made the running pushes, and slid flat on his chest behind his mother. Jim was very proud of his mother. He often wished that he felt at liberty to tell of her feats. He had never been told not to tell, but real- ized, being rather a sharp boy, that silence was wiser. Jim′s mother confided in him, and he re- spected her confidence. "Oh, Jim dear," she would often say, "there is a mothers′ meeting this after- noon, and I would so much rather go coasting with you." Or, "There′s a Guild meeting about a fair, and the ice in the garden is really quite smooth."
It was perhaps unbecoming a rector′s wife, but Jim loved his mother better because she expressed a preference for the sports he loved, and considered that no other boy had a mother who was quite equal to his. Sally Patterson was small and wiry, with a bright face, and very thick, brown hair, which had a boyish crest over her forehead, and she could run as fast as Jim. Jim′s father was much older than his mother, and very dignified, although he had a keen sense of humor. He used to laugh when his wife and son came in after their coasting expeditions.
"Well, boys," he would say, "had a good time?"
Jim was perfectly satisfied and convinced that his mother was the very best and most beautiful per- son in the village, even in the whole world, until Mr. Cyril Rose came to fill a vacancy of cashier in the bank, and his daughter, little Lucy Rose, as a matter of course, came with him. Little Lucy had no mother. Mr. Cyril′s cousin, Martha Rose, kept his house, and there was a colored maid with a bad temper, who was said, however, to be inval- uable "help."
Little Lucy attended Madame′s school. She came the next Monday after Jim and his friends had planned to have a chicken roast and failed. After Jim saw little Lucy he thought no more of the chicken roast. It seemed to him that he thought no more of anything. He could not by any possi- bility have learned his lessons had it not been for the desire to appear a good scholar before little Lucy. Jim had never been a self-conscious boy, but that day he was so keenly worried about her opinion of him that his usual easy swing broke into a strut when he crossed the room. He need not have been so troubled, because little Lucy was not looking at him. She was not looking at any boy or girl. She was only trying to learn her lesson. Little Lucy was that rather rare creature, a very gentle, obedient child, with a single eye for her duty. She was so charming that it was sad to think how much her mother had missed, as far as this world was con- cerned.
The minute Madame saw her a singular light came into her eyes — the light of love of a childless woman for a child. Similar lights were in the eyes of Miss Parmalee and Miss Acton. They looked at one another with a sort of sweet confidence when they were drinking tea together after school in Ma- dame′s study.
"Did you ever see such a darling?" said Madame. Miss Parmalee said she never had, and Miss Acton echoed her.
"She is a little angel," said Madame.
"She worked so hard over her geography lesson," said Miss Parmalee, "and she got the Amazon River in New England and the Connecticut in South America, after all; but she was so sweet about it, she made me want to change the map of the world. Dear little soul, it did seem as if she ought to have rivers and everything else just where she chose."
"And she tried so hard to reach an octave, and her little finger is too short," said Miss Acton; "and she hasn′t a bit of an ear for music, but her little voice is so sweet it does not matter."
"I have seen prettier children," said Madame, "but never one quite such a darling."
Miss Parmalee and Miss Acton agreed with Ma- dame, and so did everybody else. Lily Jennings′s beauty was quite eclipsed by little Lucy, but Lily did not care; she was herself one of little Lucy′s most fervent admirers. She was really Jim Patter- son′s most formidable rival in the school. "You don′t care about great, horrid boys, do you, dear?" Lily said to Lucy, entirely within hearing of Jim and Lee Westminster and Johnny Trumbull and Arnold Carruth and Bubby Harvey and Frank Ellis, and a number of others who glowered at her.
Dear little Lucy hesitated. She did not wish to hurt the feelings of boys, and the question had been loudly put. Finally she said she didn′t know. Lack of definite knowledge was little Lucy′s rock of refuge in time of need. She would look adorable, and say in her timid little fluty voice, "I don′t — know." The last word came always with a sort of gasp which was alluring. All the listening boys were convinced that little Lucy loved them all individually and gen- erally, because of her "I don′t — know."
Everybody was convinced of little Lucy′s affec- tion for everybody, which was one reason for her charm. She flattered without knowing that she did so. It was impossible for her to look at any living thing except with soft eyes of love. It was impos- sible for her to speak without every tone conveying the sweetest deference and admiration. The whole atmosphere of Madame′s school changed with the advent of the little girl. Everybody tried to live up to little Lucy′s supposed ideal, but in reality she had no ideal. Lucy was the simplest of little girls, only intent upon being good, doing as she was told, and winning her father′s approval, also her cousin Martha′s.
Martha Rose was quite elderly, although still good-looking. She was not popular, because she was very silent. She dressed becomingly, received calls and returned them, but hardly spoke a word. People rather dreaded her coming. Miss Martha Rose would sit composedly in a proffered chair, her gloved hands crossed over her nice, gold-bound card- case, her chin tilted at an angle which never varied, her mouth in a set smile which never wavered, her slender feet in their best shoes toeing out precisely under the smooth sweep of her gray silk skirt. Miss Martha Rose dressed always in gray, a fashion which the village people grudgingly admired. It was undoubtedly becoming and distinguished, but savored ever so slightly of ostentation, as did her custom of always dressing little Lucy in blue. There were different shades and fabrics, but blue it always was. It was the best color for the child, as it re- vealed the fact that her big, dark eyes were blue. Shaded as they were by heavy, curly lashes, they would have been called black or brown, but the blue in them leaped to vision above the blue of blue frocks. Little Lucy had the finest, most delicate features, a mist of soft, dark hair, which curled slightly, as mist curls, over sweet, round temples. She was a small, daintily clad child, and she spoke and moved daintily and softly; and when her blue eyes were fixed upon anybody′s face, that person straightway saw love and obedience and trust in them, and love met love half-way. Even Miss Martha Rose looked another woman when little Lucy′s innocent blue eyes were fixed upon her rather handsome but colorless face between the folds of her silvery hair; Miss Martha′s hair had turned prematurely gray. Light would come into Martha Rose′s face, light and animation, although she never talked much even to Lucy. She never talked much to her cousin Cyril, but he was rather glad of it. He had a keen mind, but it was easily diverted, and he was engrossed in his business, and concerned lest he be disturbed by such things as feminine chatter, of which he certainly had none in his own home, if he kept aloof from Jenny, the colored maid. Hers was the only female voice ever heard to the point of annoyance in the Rose house.
It was rather wonderful how a child like little Lucy and Miss Martha lived with so little conversa- tion. Martha talked no more at home than abroad; moreover, at home she had not the attitude of wait- ing for some one to talk to her, which people outside considered trying. Martha did not expect her cousin to talk to her. She seldom asked a question. She almost never volunteered a perfectly useless obser- vation. She made no remarks upon self-evident topics. If the sun shone, she never mentioned it. If there was a heavy rain, she never mentioned that. Miss Martha suited her cousin exactly, and for that reason, aside from the fact that he had been devoted to little Lucy′s mother, it never occurred to him to marry again. Little Lucy talked no more than Miss Martha, and nobody dreamed that she sometimes wanted somebody to talk to her. Nobody dreamed that the dear little girl, studying her lessons, learn- ing needlework, trying very futilely to play the piano, was lonely; but she was without knowing it herself. Martha was so kind and so still; and her father was so kind and so still, engrossed in his papers or books, often sitting by himself in his own study. Little Lucy in this peace and stillness was not hav- ing her share of childhood. When other little girls came to play with her. Miss Martha enjoined quiet, and even Lily Jennings′s bird-like chattering be- came subdued. It was only at school that Lucy got her chance for the irresponsible delight which was the simple right of her childhood, and there her zeal for her lessons prevented. She was happy at school, however, for there she lived in an atmos- phere of demonstrative affection. The teachers were given to seizing her in fond arms and caress- ing her, and so were her girl companions; while the boys, especially Jim Patterson, looked wistful- ly on.
Jim Patterson was in love, a charming little poetical boy-love; but it was love. Everything which he did in those days was with the thought of little Lucy for incentive. He stood better in school than he had ever done before, but it was all for the sake of little Lucy. Jim Patterson had one talent, rather rudimentary, still a talent. He could play by ear. His father owned an old violin. He had been in- clined to music in early youth, and Jim got per- mission to practise on it, and he went by himself in the hot attic and practised. Jim′s mother did not care for music, and her son′s preliminary scra- ping tortured her. Jim tucked the old fiddle under one round boy-cheek and played in the hot attic, with wasps buzzing around him; and he spent his pennies for catgut, and he learned to mend fiddle- strings; and finally came a proud Wednesday after- noon when there were visitors in Madame′s school, and he stood on the platform, with Miss Acton playing an accompaniment on the baby grand piano, and he managed a feeble but true tune on his violin. It was all for little Lucy, but little Lucy cared no more for music than his mother; and while Jim was playing she was rehearsing in the depths of her mind the little poem which later she was to recite; for this adorable little Lucy was, as a matter of course, to figure in the entertainment. It therefore happened that she heard not one note of Jim Patterson′s pain- fully executed piece, for she was saying to herself in mental singsong a foolish little poem, beginning:
There was one little flower that bloomed Beside a cottage door.
When she went forward, little darling blue-clad figure, there was a murmur of admiration; and when she made mistakes straight through the poem, saying,
There was a little flower that fell On my aunt Martha′s floor,
for beginning, there was a roar of tender laughter and a clapping of tender, maternal hands, and every- body wanted to catch hold of little Lucy and kiss her. It was one of the irresistible charms of this child that people loved her the more for her mistakes, and she made many, although she tried so very hard to avoid them. Little Lucy was not in the least brilliant, but she held love like a precious vase, and it gave out perfume better than mere knowledge.
Jim Patterson was so deeply in love with her when he went home that night that he confessed to his mother. Mrs. Patterson had led up to the subject by alluding to little Lucy while at the dinner-table.
"Edward," she said to her husband — both she and the rector had been present at Madame′s school entertainment and the tea-drinking afterward — "did you ever see in all your life such a darling little girl as the new cashier′s daughter? She quite makes up for Miss Martha, who sat here one solid hour, hold- ing her card-case, waiting for me to talk to her. That child is simply delicious, and I was so glad she made mistakes."
"Yes, she is a charming child," assented the rector, "despite the fact that she is not a beauty, hardly even pretty."
"I know it," said Mrs. Patterson, "but she has the worth of beauty."
Jim was quite pale while his father and mother were talking. He swallowed the hot soup so fast that it burnt his tongue. Then he turned very red, but nobody noticed him. When his mother came up-stairs to kiss him good night he told her.
"Mother," said he, "I have something to tell you."
"All right, Jim," replied Sally Patterson, with her boyish air.
"It is very important," said Jim.
Mrs. Patterson did not laugh; she did not even smile. She sat down beside Jim′s bed and looked seriously at his eager, rapt, shamed little boy-face on the pillow. "Well?" said she, after a minute which seemed difficult to him.
Jim coughed. Then he spoke with a blurt. "Mother," said Jim, "by and by, of course not quite yet, but by and by, will you have any objection to Miss Lucy Rose as a daughter?"
Even then Sally Patterson did not laugh or even smile. "Are you thinking of marrying her, Jim?" asked she, quite as if her son had been a man.
"Yes, mother," replied Jim. Then he flung up his little arms in pink pajama sleeves, and Sally Patterson took his face between her two hands and kissed him warmly.
"She is a darling, and your choice does you credit, Jim," said she. "Of course you have said nothing to her yet?"
"I thought it was rather too soon."
"I really think you are very wise, Jim," said his mother. "It is too soon to put such ideas into the poor child′s head. She is younger than you, isn′t she, Jim?"
"She is just six months and three days younger," replied Jim, with majesty.
"I thought so. Well, you know, Jim, it would just wear her all out, as young as that, to be obliged to think about her trousseau and housekeeping and going to school, too."
"I know it," said Jim, with a pleased air. "I thought I was right, mother."
"Entirely right; and you, too, really ought to finish school, and take up a profession or a busi- ness, before you say anything definite. You would want a nice home for the dear little thing, you know that, Jim."
Jim stared at his mother out of his white pillow. "I thought I would stay with you, and she would stay with her father until we were both very much older," said he. "She has a nice home now, you know, mother."
Sally Patterson′s mouth twitched a little, but she spoke quite gravely and reasonably. "Yes, that is very true," said she; "still, I do think you are wise to wait, Jim."
When Sally Patterson had left Jim, she looked in on the rector in his study. "Our son is thinking seriously of marrying, Edward," said she.
The rector stared at her. She had shut the door, and she laughed.
"He is very discreet. He has consulted me as to my approval of her as daughter and announced his intention to wait a little while."
The rector laughed; then he wrinkled his forehead uneasily. "I don′t like the little chap getting such ideas," said he.
"Don′t worry, Edward; he hasn′t got them," said Sally Patterson.
"I hope not."
"He has made a very wise choice. She is that perfect darling of a Rose girl who couldn′t speak her piece, and thought we all loved her when we laughed."
"Well, don′t let him get foolish ideas; that is all, my dear," said the rector.
"Don′t worry, Edward. I can manage him," said Sally.
But she was mistaken. The very next day Jim proposed in due form to little Lucy. He could not help it. It was during the morning intermission, and he came upon her seated all alone under a haw- thorn hedge, studying her arithmetic anxiously. She was in blue, as usual, and a very perky blue bow sat on her soft, dark hair, like a bluebird. She glanced up at Jim from under her long lashes.
"Do two and seven make eight or ten? If you please, will you tell me?" said she.
"Say, Lucy," said Jim, "will you marry me by and by?"
Lucy stared at him uncomprehendingly.
"Will I what?"
"Marry me by and by?"
Lucy took refuge in her little harbor of ignorance. "I don′t know," said she.
"But you like me, don′t you, Lucy?"
"I don′t know."
"Don′t you like me better than you like Johnny Trumbull?"
"I don′t know."
"You like me better than you like Arnold Carruth, don′t you? He has curls and wears socks."
"I don′t know."
"When do you think you can be sure?"
"I don′t know."
Jim stared helplessly at little Lucy. She stared back sweetly.
"Please tell me whether two and seven make six or eleven, Jim," said she.
"They make nine," said Jim.
"I have been counting my fingers and I got it eleven, but I suppose I must have counted one finger twice," said little Lucy. She gazed reflectively at her little baby-hands. A tiny ring with a blue stone shone on one finger.
"I will give you a ring, you know," Jim said, coaxingly.
"I have got a ring my father gave me. Did you say it was ten, please, Jim?"
"Nine," gasped Jim.
"All the way I can remember," said little Lucy, "is for you to pick just so many leaves off the hedge, and I will tie them in my handkerchief, and just be- fore I have to say my lesson I will count those leaves."
Jim obediently picked nine leaves from the haw- thorn hedge, and little Lucy tied them into her handkerchief, and then the Japanese gong sounded and they went back to school.
That night after dinner, just before Lucy went to bed, she spoke of her own accord to her father and Miss Martha, a thing which she seldom did. "Jim Patterson asked me to marry him when I asked him what seven and two made in my arithmetic lesson," said she. She looked with the loveliest round eyes of innocence first at her father, then at Miss Martha. Cyril Rose gasped and laid down his newspaper.
"What did you say, little Lucy?" he asked.
"Jim Patterson asked me to marry him when I asked him to tell me how much seven and two made in my arithmetic lesson."
Cyril Rose and his cousin Martha looked at each other.
"Arnold Carruth asked me, too, when a great big wasp flew on my arm and frightened me."
Cyril and Martha continued to look. The little, sweet, uncertain voice went on.
"And Johnny Trumbull asked me when I ′most fell down on the sidewalk; and Lee Westminster asked me when I wasn′t doing anything, and so did Bubby Harvey."
"What did you tell them?" asked Miss Martha, in a faint voice.
"I told them I didn′t know."
"You had better have the child go to bed now," said Cyril. "Good night, little Lucy. Always tell father everything."
"Yes, father," said little Lucy, and was kissed, and went away with Martha.
When Martha returned, her cousin looked at her severely. He was a fair, gentle-looking man, and severity was impressive when he assumed it.
"Really, Martha," said he, "don′t you think you had better have a little closer outlook over that baby?"
"Oh, Cyril, I never dreamed of such a thing," cried Miss Martha.
"You really must speak to Madame," said Cyril. "I cannot have such things put into the child′s head."
"Oh, Cyril, how can I?"
"I think it is your duty."
"Cyril, could not — you?"
Cyril grinned. "Do you think," said he, "that I am going to that elegant widow schoolma′am and say, ′Madame, my young daughter has had four proposals of marriage in one day, and I must beg you to put a stop to such proceedings′? No, Martha; it is a woman′s place to do such a thing as that. The whole thing is too absurd, indignant as I am about it. Poor little soul!"
So it happened that Miss Martha Rose, the next day being Saturday, called on Madame, but, not being asked any leading question, found herself abso- lutely unable to deliver herself of her errand, and went away with it unfulfilled.
"Well, I must say," said Madame to Miss Par- malee, as Miss Martha tripped wearily down the front walk — "I must say, of all the educated women who have really been in the world, she is the strang- est. You and I have done nothing but ask inane questions, and she has sat waiting for them, and chirped back like a canary. I am simply worn out."
"So am I," sighed Miss Parmalee.
But neither of them was so worn out as poor Miss Martha, anticipating her cousin′s reproaches. However, her wonted silence and reticence stood her in good stead, for he merely asked, after little Lucy had gone to bed:
"Well, what did Madame say about Lucy′s pro- posals?"
"She did not say anything," replied Martha.
"Did she promise it would not occur again?"
"She did not promise, but I don′t think it will."
The financial page was unusually thrilling that night, and Cyril Rose, who had come to think rather lightly of the affair, remarked, absent-mindedly; "Well, I hope it does not occur again. I cannot have such ridiculous ideas put into the child′s head. If it does, we get a governess for her and take her away from Madame′s." Then he resumed his reading, and Martha, guilty but relieved, went on with her knitting.
It was late spring then, and little Lucy had at- tended Madame′s school several months, and her popularity had never waned. A picnic was planned to Dover′s Grove, and the romantic little girls had insisted upon a May queen, and Lucy was unani- mously elected. The pupils of Madame′s school went to the picnic in the manner known as a "straw- ride." Miss Parmalee sat with them, her feet uncomfortably tucked under her. She was the youngest of the teachers, and could not evade the duty. Madame and Miss Acton headed the pro- cession, sitting comfortably in a victoria driven by the colored man Sam, who was employed about the school. Dover′s Grove was six miles from the vil- lage, and a favorite spot for picnics. The victoria rolled on ahead; Madame carried a black parasol, for the sun was on her side and the day very warm. Both ladies wore thin, dark gowns, and both felt the languor of spring.
The straw-wagon, laden with children seated upon the golden trusses of straw, looked like a wagon- load of blossoms. Fair and dark heads, rosy faces looked forth in charming clusters. They sang, they chattered. It made no difference to them that it was not the season for a straw-ride, that the trusses were musty. They inhaled the fragrance of blooming boughs under which they rode, and were quite ob- livious to all discomfort and unpleasantness. Poor Miss Parmalee, with her feet going to sleep, sneezing from time to time from the odor of the old straw, did not obtain the full beauty of the spring day. She had protested against the straw-ride.
"The children really ought to wait until the season for such things," she had told Madame, quite boldly; and Madame had replied that she was well aware of it, but the children wanted something of the sort, and the hay was not cut, and straw, as it happened, was more easily procured.
"It may not be so very musty," said Madame; "and you know, my dear, straw is clean, and I am sorry, but you do seem to be the one to ride with the children on the straw, because" — Madame dropped her voice — "you are really younger, you know, than either Miss Acton or I."
Poor Miss Parmalee could almost have dispensed with her few years of superior youth to have gotten rid of that straw-ride. She had no parasol, and the sun beat upon her head, and the noise of the children got horribly on her nerves. Little Lucy was her one alleviation. Little Lucy sat in the midst of the boisterous throng, perfectly still, crowned with her garland of leaves and flowers, her sweet, pale little face calmly observant. She was the high light of Madame′s school, the effect which made the whole. All the others looked at little Lucy, they talked to her, they talked at her; but she remained herself unmoved, as a high light should be. "Dear little soul," Miss Parmalee thought. She also thought that it was a pity that little Lucy could not have worn a white frock in her character as Queen of the May, but there she was mistaken. The blue was of a peculiar shade, of a very soft material, and nothing could have been prettier. Jim Patterson did not often look away from little Lucy; neither did Arnold Carruth; neither did Bubby Harvey; neither did Johnny Trumbull; neither did Lily Jennings; neither did many others.
Amelia Wheeler, however, felt a little jealous as she watched Lily. She thought Lily ought to have been queen; and she, while she did not dream of competing with incomparable little Lucy, wished Lily would not always look at Lucy with such wor- shipful admiration. Amelia was inconsistent. She knew that she herself could not aspire to being an object of worship, but the state of being a nonentity for Lily was depressing. "Wonder if I jumped out of this old wagon and got killed if she would mind one bit?" she thought, tragically. But Amelia did not jump. She had tragic impulses, or rather im- aginations of tragic impulses, but she never carried them out. It was left for little Lucy, flower-crowned and calmly sweet and gentle under honors, to be guilty of a tragedy of which she never dreamed. For that was the day when little Lucy was lost.
When the picnic was over, when the children were climbing into the straw-wagon and Madame and Miss Acton were genteelly disposed in the victoria, a lamentable cry arose. Sam drew his reins tight and rolled his inquiring eyes around; Madame and Miss Acton leaned far out on either side of the vic- toria.
"Oh, what is it?" said Madame. "My dear Miss Acton, do pray get out and see what the trouble is. I begin to feel a little faint."
In fact, Madame got her cut-glass smelling-bottle out of her bag and began to sniff vigorously. Sam gazed backward and paid no attention to her. Ma- dame always felt faint when anything unexpected occurred, and smelled at the pretty bottle, but she never fainted.
Miss Acton got out, lifting her nice skirts clear of the dusty wheel, and she scuttled back to the up- roarious straw-wagon, showing her slender ankles and trimly shod feet. Miss Acton was a very wiry, dainty woman, full of nervous energy. When she reached the straw-wagon Miss Parmalee was climb- ing out, assisted by the driver. Miss Parmalee was very pale and visibly tremulous. The children were all shrieking in dissonance, so it was quite impossible to tell what the burden of their tale of woe was; but obviously something of a tragic na- ture had happened.
"What is the matter?" asked Miss Acton, tee- tering like a humming-bird with excitement.
"Little Lucy —" gasped Miss Parmalee.
"What about her?"
"She isn′t here."
"Where is she?"
"We don′t know. We just missed her."
Then the cry of the children for little Lucy Rose, although sadly wrangled, became intelligible. Ma- dame came, holding up her silk skirt and sniffing at her smelling-bottle, and everybody asked ques- tions of everybody else, and nobody knew any satis- factory answers. Johnny Trumbull was confident that he was the last one to see little Lucy, and so were Lily Jennings and Amelia Wheeler, and so were Jim Patterson and Bubby Harvey and Arnold Carruth and Lee Westminster and many others; but when pinned down to the actual moment everybody disagreed, and only one thing was cer- tain — little Lucy Rose was missing.
"What shall I say to her father?" moaned Ma- dame.
"Of course, we shall find her before we say any- thing," returned Miss Parmalee, who was sure to rise to an emergency. Madame sank helpless be- fore one. "You had better go and sit under that tree (Sam, take a cushion out of the carriage for Madame) and keep quiet; then Sam must drive to the village and give the alarm, and the straw- wagon had better go, too; and the rest of us will hunt by threes, three always keeping together. Re- member, children, three of you keep together, and, whatever you do, be sure and do not separate. We cannot have another lost."
It seemed very sound advice. Madame, pale and frightened, sat on the cushion under the tree and sniffed at her smelling-bottle, and the rest scattered and searched the grove and surrounding underbrush thoroughly. But it was sunset when the groups returned to Madame under her tree, and the straw- wagon with excited people was back, and the victoria with Lucy′s father and the rector and his wife, and Dr. Trumbull in his buggy, and other carriages fast arriving. Poor Miss Martha Rose had been out calling when she heard the news, and she was walk- ing to the scene of action. The victoria in which her cousin was seated left her in a cloud of dust. Cyril Rose had not noticed the mincing figure with the card-case and the parasol.
The village searched for little Lucy Rose, but it was Jim Patterson who found her, and in the most unlikely of places. A forlorn pair with a multi- plicity of forlorn children lived in a tumble-down house about half a mile from the grove. The man′s name was Silas Thomas, and his wife′s was Sarah. Poor Sarah had lost a large part of the small wit she had originally owned several years before, when her youngest daughter, aged four, died. All the babies that had arrived since had not consoled her for the death of that little lamb, by name Viola May, nor restored her full measure of under-wit. Poor Sarah Thomas had spied adorable little Lucy separated from her mates by chance for a few minutes, pick- ing wild flowers, and had seized her in forcible but loving arms and carried her home. Had Lucy not been such a silent, docile child, it could never have happened; but she was a mere little limp thing in the grasp of the over-loving, deprived mother who thought she had gotten back her own beloved Viola May.
When Jim Patterson, big-eyed and pale, looked in at the Thomas door, there sat Sarah Thomas, a large, unkempt, wild-visaged, but gentle creature, holding little Lucy and cuddling her, while Lucy, shrinking away as far as she was able, kept her big, dark eyes of wonder and fear upon the woman′s face. And all around were clustered the Thomas children, unkempt as their mother, a gentle but degenerate brood, all of them believing what their mother said. Viola May had come home again. Silas Thomas was not there; he was trudging slowly homeward from a job of wood-cutting. Jim saw only the mother, little Lucy, and that poor little flock of children gazing in wonder and awe. Jim rushed in and faced Sarah Thomas. "Give me little Lucy!" said he, as fiercely as any man. But he reckoned without the unreasoning love of a mother. Sarah only held little Lucy faster, and the poor little girl rolled appealing eyes at him over that brawny, grasping arm of affection.
Jim raced for help, and it was not long before it came. Little Lucy rode home in the victoria, seated in Sally Patterson′s lap. "Mother, you take her," Jim had pleaded; and Sally, in the face and eyes of Madame, had gathered the little trembling crea- ture into her arms. In her heart she had not much of an opinion of any woman who had allowed such a darling little girl out of her sight for a moment. Madame accepted a seat in another carriage and rode home, explaining and sniffing and inwardly resolving never again to have a straw-ride.
Jim stood on the step of the victoria all the way home. They passed poor Miss Martha Rose, still faring toward the grove, and nobody noticed her, for the second time. She did not turn back until the straw-wagon, which formed the tail of the little procession, reached her. That she halted with mad waves of her parasol, and, when told that little Lucy was found, refused a seat on the straw because she did not wish to rumple her best gown and turned about and fared home again.
The rectory was reached before Cyril Rose′s house, and Cyril yielded gratefully to Sally Patter- son′s proposition that she take the little girl with her, give her dinner, see that she was washed and brushed and freed from possible contamination from the Thomases, who were not a cleanly lot, and later brought home in the rector′s carriage. However, little Lucy stayed all night at the rectory. She had a bath; her lovely, misty hair was brushed; she was fed and petted; and finally Sally Patterson telephoned for permission to keep her overnight. By that time poor Martha had reached home and was busily brushing her best dress.
After dinner, little Lucy, very happy and quite restored, sat in Sally Patterson′s lap on the veranda, while Jim hovered near. His innocent boy-love made him feel as if he had wings. But his wings only bore him to failure, before an earlier and mightier force of love than his young heart could yet compass for even such a darling as little Lucy. He sat on the veranda step and gazed eagerly and rapturously at little Lucy on his mother′s lap, and the desire to have her away from other loves came over him. He saw the fireflies dancing in swarms on the lawn, and a favorite sport of the children of the village occurred to him.
"Say, little Lucy," said Jim.
Little Lucy looked up with big, dark eyes under her mist of hair, as she nestled against Sally Patter- son′s shoulder.
"Say, let′s chase fireflies, little Lucy."
"Do you want to chase fireflies with Jim, darling?" asked Sally.
Little Lucy nestled closer. "I would rather stay with you," said she in her meek flute of a voice, and she gazed up at Sally with the look which she might have given the mother she had lost.
Sally kissed her and laughed. Then she reached down a fond hand and patted her boy′s head. "Never mind, Jim," said Sally. "Mothers have to come first."