Dorothy's House Party
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“That’s not my reason, dearie. I think it has been a mistake, kindly meant, to dress her as you have; that is for longer than was necessary to freshen her own soiled things.” She paused and Alfy remarked:
“She’s the proudest thing for them bright colors. Red, and green, and blue – ary one just sets her smilin’. Besides, once Dinah tried to put back her old brown dress and Luna wouldn’t let her. Just folded her arms up tight and didn’t – didn’t look a mite pleasant.”
Those who had seen Luna on the rare occasions when she showed anger smiled at this mild description of her appearance then.
“I don’t know as Dinah would be bothered with her, Aunt Betty, and Norah has a sick headache. But – I’ll stay and take care of her if you don’t want her to go,” said Dorothy.
It was an effort to say this and dreading that her offer might be accepted the girl turned her face away to hide her disappointment; but whatever Mrs. Calvert’s answer might have been she was not to hear it then.
Because there was Jim Barlow beckoning to her in a mysterious manner from behind a great hydrangea bush and looking vastly excited over something. So it was a relief to murmur: “Excuse me a minute, Aunt Betty,” and to respond to that summons.
“Dolly, there’s a man here wants to see you.”
“A man? To see me? and not Aunt Betty? Who is he?”
Jim answered rather impatiently to this string of questions.
“I said a man, didn’t I. He said he’d rather see you because he knows you, that is you gave him a lift on the road once in your pony cart and talked real sensible – ”
“Couldn’t have meant me, then, could he, Jim?”
“Don’t fool, Dorothy. He looks as if he was in some trouble. He’s the head man from Oliver Sands’s grist-mill. Some relation to the miller, I’ve heard, and lives with him. Hurry up and don’t hender the raft of us any longer’n you can help. Tell him, whatever his business is, ’twill have to wait, ’t we’re going to the Fair and all the teams are ready – ”
“Yes, I’ll hurry. Where is he?”
“In that little summer-house beyond the lily pond. That’s where he said he’d go. Get rid of him quick, for the horses don’t like to stand after they’re harnessed.”
“All right, I’ll try!” Gayly waving her hand in the direction of the piazza, she sped across the lawn to a group of silver birches, and the spot in question. Solidly roofed, with vine covered sides, and good board floor, the out-of-door building was a pleasant place, and had been greatly enjoyed by all the House Party. It was well furnished with wicker tables, chairs, and lounges, and heavy matting covered the floor. It was empty now except for the old man awaiting Dorothy, and his first remark showed that he appreciated this bit of outdoor comfort.
“It’s real purty in here, ain’t it? Anybody could spend a night here and take no hurt, couldn’t she?”
“Why, ye-es, I suppose so; if anybody wished. James told me you asked for me.What is it, please, for we’re just on the point of starting for the County Fair, and I don’t like to delay the others.”
“Hmm. Yes. I suppose so. Hmm. Yes. Thee is the little girl that’s had such a story-paper kind of life, isn’t thee? Don’t remember me, but I do thee. Gave me a ride once after that little piebald nag thee swopped Oliver’s calf for. Thee sees I know thee, if thee has forgot me and how my floury clothes hit the black jacket thee wore, that day, and dusted it well, ‘Dusty miller’ thee laughed and called me, sayin’ that was some sort of plant grows in gardens. But I knew that. Dorcas has a whole bed of it under her kitchen window. Hmm. Yes.”
Dorothy tapped her foot impatiently, but did not sit down. Would the man never tell his errand? Finally, as he lapsed into a reverie she roused him, saying:
“What is your errand, please?”
“It’s to help an old man in trouble. It – the – I don’t find it so easy to begin. But – is there a little old woman here, no bigger than a child? Is she here? Is she safe?”
This was a question so unexpected that Dorothy sat down the better to consider it; then greatly wondering, answered:
“Yes, there is an afflicted little creature here. Why? What do you know about her?”
“All there is to know, child! All there is to know. Thee sees a most unhappy man before thee, lass.”
“Who is Luna? How came she here? Tell me, quick, quick; and if you know her home?”
“Verily, I know it, since it’s my own, too. It’s a long story, a long lane, but the worm turned. Ah! yes. It turned.”
Dolly began to think her visitor was crazy and springing up ran toward the house, saying:
“I’m going for Aunt Betty. I’d rather you told your errand to her.”
The man did not object, and, greatly surprised by the imperative summons though smiling at her darling’s excitement, Mrs. Calvert left her guests and followed the girl through the shrubbery to the arbor where the vines hid her from the curious glances of those she had left.
“Something’s up! I wonder what?” exclaimed Monty Stark.
“Whatever it is, if it concerns us we shall be told in due time; and if it doesn’t – Hmm,” answered Helena.
“Stand corrected, Miss Montaigne; but bet a cookie you’re as curious as all the rest of us.”
“Well, yes, I am; though I never bet – even cookies. Now let’s talk of something else till they come back. I know they’ll not be long.”
Nor were they; for down in the summer-house, with Elisabeth Calvert’s compelling gaze upon him, the visitor told his tale.
“Thee can look upon me, lady, as the worm that turned. I am a poor relation of Oliver Sands and he felt he owned me.”
“That man? Are we never to hear the end of Oliver Sands? He’s the ‘Old Man of the Mountain’, in truth, for his name is on everyone’s lips,” cried Mistress Betty, crisply, yet resigning herself to the chair Dorothy pushed her way.
“Thee never said truer. He is the biggest man up-mounting in more ways’n one. I’ve not wasted more love on him than many another but I hadn’t no call to break his heart. Hark, thee. I’ll be as short as I can.
“When Oliver’s mother died he was a boy and I was. She – ”
“Beg pardon, please; but this afternoon I really have no time to learn the family history of my neighbor.”
“But I have to tell thee part, to make thee understand. When his mother died, a widow, she left them two children, Oliver and Leah. He was a big boy, smart and trustable, and Leah was almost a baby. Her mother knew then that the child wasn’t like others, she’d talked it with me, I bein’ older’n him; but he didn’t know it and from the time she was born he’d just about worshiped that baby. When she was dying Mehitabel made him promise, and a Friend’s promise is as good as another man’s oath, ’t he’d always take care of little Leah and love her better’n anybody in the world. That nobody, even if he should grow up and marry and have children of his own, should ever come betwixt her and him. Well, ’twas a good spell before he found out ’t he was brother to a fool. That’s plain speech but I’m a Quaker. When he did find out, ’twas a’most more’n he could bear. He give out to anybody that asked, how ’t she was sickly and had to be kept private.
“Elisabeth Calvert, she has been kept private, all her life long, till I let out the secret. He and Dorcas and me, and the children while they lived at the farm, we was the only ones ever had to do with care of her or saw her even. I worked on for him, he makin’ the money, I gettin’ shorter wages each year, besides him investin’ ’em for me as he pleased.
“But I’m old. I want a home of my own; and lately I’ve been pestering him to let me go. He’d always make excuse and talk plausible how ’t he couldn’t spare me nohow. I knew he told the truth, since if I left he’d have to get in strange help and it might get out ’t his sister’s sickness was plain want of brains. That’d have nigh killed him, he’s so proud; to be pointed at as ‘Oliver Sands, that’s brother to a fool’.”
“Well, well. This is exceedingly painful to hear, but to what does it tend?” asked Mrs. Calvert.
“Just this, Elisabeth. One day I got nursin’ my wrongs and forgettin’ my blessings, and the devil was on hand to give me the chance. Dorcas was off nursing a sick neighbor, Oliver was to Newburgh on some Fair business, and there wasn’t nobody in the house but me and Leah. I took an old horse and wagon, ’t he’d been meaning to sell, to the sales-stable at the Landing; and I coaxed Leah to come take a ride. She come ready enough. She didn’t have much fun, anyway, except sitting with him in the office such times as he was lookin’ over his accounts and reckonin’ his money. She liked that. She always liked to handle money. That proved her a Sands, even if she was imbecile!
“Thinks I, I’ll break his pride. I’ll make him know ’t he ain’t no better than other folks, even if he does speak in meeting. I meant to carry her clear to the Landing and let things take their chance while I cleared out for good. But when I’d got as far as here I begun to get scared on her account. I’d set out to humble Oliver but I liked Leah, poor creatur’! and I’d forgot I might be hurtin’ her the worst. She’d never been ’mongst folks and they might treat her rough. So then I remembered this little girl, and how there was talk ’round about her having a passel of young folks to visit her. So I thought Leah would have a chance amongst ’em and I fetched her in and laid her right in this summer-house, on that bench yonder and covered her with a shawl I saw. She was asleep as she is a lot of the time, and didn’t notice.
“Then I went on to the Landing, left the rig to the stable, and took the cars for York. I’ve been there ever since. I never meant to come back; but there’s something about this mountain ’t pulls wanderers’ feet back to it, whether or no. And – is Leah here?”
“Rather it was your own guilty conscience that brought you back. Yes, I suppose it is ‘Leah’ – the witless waif my Dorothy found. And now I understand my poor neighbor’s trouble. I am proud myself. Ah! yes I can understand! After the silence of a lifetime, how he shrank from publishing what he seems to have considered a disgrace to a gossiping world. But he was wrong. Such pride is always wrong; and he has spent a most unhappy time, searching with his own eyes everywhere but never asking for his lost Leah! but he was cruel in that, as cruel as misguided; and as for you, sir, the sooner you get upon your wicked feet and travel to Heartsease and tell its master where the poor thing may be found – the better for yourself. I think such an act as you committed is punishable by the strictest rigor of the law; but whether it is or not your own conscience will punish you forever. Now – ”
Mrs. Calvert stopped speaking and rose. She had never been so stately nor so severe and Dorothy pitied the poor old man who cowered before her, even while she was herself fiercely indignant against him. By a clasp of Mrs. Betty’s arm she stayed her leaving:
“Wait a moment, Aunt Betty, please. It’s just as bad as you say, he’s just as bad; but – he’s terrible tired and old. He looks sick, almost, and I’ve been thinking while he talked: You let me stay at home, take Portia and the pony cart and carry Luna – Leah – and him back to Heartsease right away. May I, please?”
“But to miss the Fair? He should have the unpleasant task of confessing himself, and nobody else to shield him.”
“Please, Aunt Betty, please! I found her. Oh! let me be the one to give her back!”
Mrs. Calvert looked keenly into her darling’s eyes, and after a moment, answered:
“I might be willing; but should you desert your guests? And if you do, what shall I say to them for you?”
“Just this: that a messenger has come who knows where Luna belongs and that I’m going with him to take her home. That’ll make it all right. You might tell Dinah to keep Luna – Leah – I came pretty near her name, didn’t I? – to keep her contented somewhere till I come for her and to put on her own old clothes. I have a feeling that that proud old miller would like it better that way.”
There was a mist in Aunt Betty’s eyes as she stooped and kissed the eager face of her unselfish child; but she went quietly away and did as she was asked. Left in the summer-house alone with Dorothy Eli Wroth relapsed into silence. He had had hard work to make himself unburden his guilt and having done so he felt exhausted; remarking once only:
“Thee may be sure that the worm hurts itself too when it turns. Thee must never turn but kiss the cheek which smites thee.”
After which rather mixed advice he said no more; not even when all the other carriages having rolled out of the great gateway, Dorothy disappeared in search of Portia and the cart; nor did he cast more than one inquiring glance upon Leah, sitting on the front seat beside the girlish driver. As for the other, she paid him no more heed than she did to anything else. She might have been seeing him every day, for all surprise she evinced; and as for resentment against him she was too innocent to feel that.
The ride was not a long one, but it seemed such to Dorothy. At times her thoughts would stray after her departed friends and a wish that she were with them, enjoying the novelties of the County Fair, disturb her. But she had only to glance at the little creature beside her to forget regret and be glad.
Also, if her tongue was perforce silent, her brain was busy, and with something of her Aunt Betty’s decision, she intended to have her say before that coming interview was finished.
All was very quiet at Heartsease when she reached it. Even the twins were abnormally serious, sitting on the wide, flat doorstep of the kitchen entrance, and looking so comical that Dolly laughed. For the Fifth Day meeting Dorcas had clothed them properly. Her ransacking of old closets had resulted in her finding a small lad’s suit, after the fashion of a generation before. A tight little waist with large sleeves, which hung over the child’s hands, and a full skirt completed the main part of his costume; while his nimble feet were imprisoned in stout “copper-toes,” and a high-crowned, narrow-brimmed hat covered his already shorn head. Such was Benjamin, in the attire of his uncle at his own age.
As for Sapphira-Ruth, – a more bewitching small maiden could not be imagined. She wore her mother’s own frock, when that mother was five. Its cut was that of Dorcas’s own, even to the small cap and kerchief, while a stiff little bonnet of gray lay on the step beside her. Ruth’s toes also shone coppery from under her long skirt; and the restraint of such foot gear upon usually bare feet may have been the reason why the little ones sat sedately where they had been placed without offering to run and meet their old friend.
Eli Wroth started to get out of the cart, but Dorothy had a word to say about that.
“No, sir, please! You sit still with Leah and hold the horse. I’m going in first to speak to Mr. Sands, but I’ll come back.”
Tapping at the kitchen door, she stooped to kiss the twins, receiving no further response than to see Benjamin wipe her kiss away; Ruth, as a matter of course, immediately doing the same.
Nor was there any answer to her knock, and since the door was ajar she pushed it wide and entered. Dorcas sat there asleep; her work-worn hands folded on her lap, her tired body enjoying its Fifth Day rest.
Oliver was invisible but Dorothy softly crossed to a passage she saw and down that, stepping quietly, she came upon him alone in his office. The door to that inner, secluded room – Leah’s room, she understood at a glance – this door was open, and the miller sat as if staring straight into it. So gently Dolly moved that he did not hear her, and she had gone around him to stand before his face ere he looked up and said:
“Yes, I. Mr. Sands, I know the whole story, and I’m sorry for you. I’m more sorry though for the little old woman who belongs in that room. It’s pleasant enough but it has been her prison. It has deprived her of lots of fun. If I should bring her back to it, would you let her go out of it sometimes, into the world where she belongs? Would you let her come to visit me? Would you take her to meeting with you as is her birthright? Would you put your pride aside and – do right? If I would bring her back?”
For a moment he stared at her as if he did not understand; then all that gloom which had so changed him vanished from his face and he answered with that promise which to a Quaker is better than an oath:
“I would. I will! If thee can bring her!”
A moment later Leah’s hand was in her brother’s and Dorothy had left them alone, and thus the House Party neared its end, to become but a happy memory to its soon to be homeward speeding guests. The thoughts of the young hostess were even now turning wholly to the future, her brain teeming with marvelous plans. What these were and how fulfilled in “Dorothy in California,” to those interested, the story will be told.