Susan Coolidge.

A Round Dozen



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Emmy Gale was her aunt Emma's namesake, but, as it happened, she had never been at Elliott's Mills, though her elder sisters, Bess and Jean, had made many visits there. This was partly accidental, for twice it had been arranged that she should go, and twice illness had prevented. Once, her cousin Lena had measles, and the other time Emmy herself had scarlet fever. Nobody was in fault either time, still it rankled in Emmy's mind that she should never have seen the place about which Bess and Jean were forever raving. And now her time was come; she was actually packing her trunk. No wonder she was pleased.

I must just say one word about Emmy before I start her on her journey. She was very tall of her age, thin, and rather awkward, as overgrown girls are apt to be. A passionate desire to be liked was one of the ruling motives of her nature, but she was very apt to fancy that people did not like her, and to worry and grieve over it in a morbid manner. When quite at her ease, she was an attractive girl, loving and bright and funny, but poor Emmy was seldom quite at ease. She could only be that when she forgot herself, and that was not often; for what with wondering if people would approve of her, and vexing herself with the idea that they did not, and fidgeting as to why they did not, she contrived to be the subject of her own thoughts for a considerable part of the time.

Her escort was an old gentleman, a friend of her father's. He did not say much to Emmy, but he was very polite as old gentlemen go, and in the course of the long day's journey bought for her three illustrated papers, half a dozen beautiful red apples, and a "prize package of pop-corn," which, had it chosen to live up to its label, might have had a gold bracelet in it, but in reality contained nothing better than a brass ring. Emmy liked the apples, and did not at all resent her escort's lack of conversation. In fact, she scarcely noticed it, so busy was she in thinking of the joys to come. With her eyes fixed on the long reaches of soft red and yellow woods which seemed to be running past the train as the train ran by them, she made pictures to herself of what was going to happen. Lena would come down at the carriage to meet her, she was quite sure. And perhaps Bess or Jean, who had been at Elliott's Mills for the past month, would come too. It would be about half-past five when the train was due, so they could reach the house just before supper, which is always a pleasant time to arrive anywhere. It all seemed most promising as she thought it over.

The first bit of ill luck which befell Emmy was that the train proved to be behind time. There were tiresome stops and unaccountable delays. At noon the conductor owned to being two hours late, so they kept on losing time. Railroads are like a dissected puzzle – if one piece gets out of its place it makes the other pieces wrong. They had to wait for all the other trains, and telegraph and stand still. Tired and vexed, Emmy sat with her nose pressed against the window, looking out into the deepening dusk as the engine puffed and snorted and ran the train slowly back and forward, on to sidings and off them.

Her impatience grew and grew, till it seemed as if she must jump out and push something, the locomotive or the conductor – she didn't care which – anything to make them go on; and when eight o'clock came and nine, with the Mills station still far ahead, she felt so worn out and discouraged that she could easily have cried, except that girls of fourteen do not like to cry in public. The only thing that diverted her from her woes was watching two girls of her own age who sat in front of her, and were "capping verses" to pass away the time. The train made a great deal of noise, so that they had to scream to make themselves heard; then the roar and rumble ceased suddenly in that queer way which is common to all railroads, and a very high-pitched voice was heard to shriek out the following extraordinary question, —

"Pray how was the Devil dressed? D – " Everybody jumped, and Emmy's old gentleman put on his spectacles and gazed long and solemnly at the young ladies who seemed to be conversing on such extraordinary topics, while they hid their faces and giggled violently for two miles.

It was exactly ten when they finally reached the Mills station. The old gentleman helped Emmy out, the train rushed on, and she found herself standing alone on a wet platform beside her trunk. Her aunt's man William came to meet her, swinging a lantern.

"Didn't any one come down to meet me?" she asked.

"No, miss. Mr. Tom drove down for the two o'clock express, and sent back word that your train would be late, and I must be sure to fetch a big lantern, for the road is all washed away by the freshet. Is that your box, miss? We'd better start at once, for it's going to take us two hours and a half to get over to the village."

"Two hours and a half!" gasped Emmy.

"Yes, miss, because of the roads. They're almost dangerous. We'll have to walk nearly the whole way, for it's so dark that we can't see where we're going."

It was quite two hours and a half before they reached the house. Emmy had fallen asleep half a dozen times, and waked up to be conscious that she was stiff, chilled, and aching in every bone, and that William was walking at the horses' heads, holding the lantern up high to make sure of the road. At last they turned in at a gate and he came to the window to say encouragingly, "Just there, miss."

"What time is it?" asked Emmy.

"Nigh on to one, miss."

"Oh dear, and they will all be in bed!" thought Emmy; but she was really too tired to care much about it. A sleepy-looking maid was sitting up to receive her. Mrs. Elliott had left her love, she said, and the young lady must take some hot soup and get to bed as fast as possible. It was not at all the reception which Emmy had dreamed of, but she was so worn out with fatigue that bed seemed the only thing in the world worth thinking of just then, and there, with the assistance of the maid, she soon found herself.

When she woke, the room was bright with sun, which streamed into the window with such an "up a long time ago" expression, that Emmy knew she must have slept late. She was still tired, and lay quietly looking about her and recognizing all the little conveniences and devices of which she had heard from her sisters, till a little tap sounded, the door softly opened, and Aunt Emma's kind, handsome face looked in.

"Good morning, my dear; I hope you are rested," she said, with a kiss. "I would not let any one wake you, for you must have been tired out. Now you must have some breakfast." And in another moment, with the ease which seemed to characterize all arrangements in which Aunt Emma had a share, in came a napkin-covered tray borne by a neat little maid, with such a nice breakfast! A big pink-and-white cup full of hot cocoa, broiled chicken, delicious potato stewed with cream, two white rolls, and a baked pear in a saucer. Nothing could have been more tempting to hungry Emmy, but even as she sipped the first spoonful of cocoa, the question at her heart found its way to her lips: "Aunty, where are the girls?"

"The girls," said aunty in her pleasant, decided voice, "are gone to Niagara for two or three days. A party was made up for some friends of your cousin May's who are staying with us, and Bess and Jean and Lena went too. They will be back day after to-morrow, and meanwhile you will have a chance to get thoroughly rested."

"Gone to Niagara!" exclaimed Emmy. "Oh, why didn't they wait till I came!"

"That would not have been possible, my dear," said her aunt. "The Jarvises, for whom the party was made, only stay with us till next Thursday, and May expects other guests early in the week, so she could not be away later." Then some one called her, and Aunt Emma went away, just saying kindly as she walked off, "Make a good breakfast, dear!"

Poor Emmy! she was too hungry not to eat, but the meal was literally mingled with tears. She sobbed with each mouthful, and more than one salt drop hopped down her nose to flavor the baked pear. It was foolish of her, I admit, but disappointments are hard to bear when one is only fourteen years old and very tired into the bargain, and this was a really great disappointment. Three whole days all alone with aunty, and the others away enjoying themselves at Niagara without her! She was rather afraid of her aunt, and, though very desirous to win her good opinion, this hidden fear made Emmy so shy and awkward that she never appeared at her best when in her company.

Sadly and languidly she got up and began to dress, feeling as if the heart was taken out of everything. Raising the lid of the soap-dish, there on the nice little pink cake of soap lay a note with "Emmy" written on it. Much wondering, she opened. It was from her sister Bess, and it read: —

"Dear Emmy, – Don't be poky because you find us gone. It's only for a day or two, and we shall be back almost before you miss us." ("Not much chance of that!" reflected Emmy, dolorously.) "Be a good girl, laugh and talk with aunty, pet Uncle Tom, don't poke, and be glad to see us on Saturday night.

"Your loving
"Bess."

"How can I help poking, and what does she mean anyway?" thought Emmy. However, this proof that she had been remembered cheered her a little, and she went on with her dressing in better spirits. A long folded slip of paper was pinned round the handle of the water-jug. Another note! from Jean this time.

"Dear little Emmy," (Emmy was half a head taller than Jean!) – "We hate to go away and leave you, and we wouldn't if it were not so perfectly splendid to see Niagara. It won't be long before we come back, and you mustn't be lonely. Aunty is so nice, and, dear, if only you wouldn't be afraid of her! She doesn't like shy people, so don't be shy. There's a lovely story-book in the bookcase in the dining-room: 'The Dove in the Eagle's Nest.' It's on the third shelf from the top. Do read it while we are away! You will like it, I am sure.

"Your affectionate "Jean."

Jean was the kindest little soul in the world, but this hint about Aunt Emma's not liking shy people was a mistake. It made Emmy more frightened and ill at ease than ever.

Washing over, she went to the dressing-table to braid her hair. Behold! another billet on the pincushion. This was in rhyme: —

 
"O Emmy tall, O Emmy fair,
Don't forget to brush your hair.
Pin your ruffle neat and straight,
Be down to breakfast at half-past eight;
Don't crook your shoulders when you sit down,
Don't rip the gathers of your gown,
Don't set up to be lonesome, pray,
Because we girls are gone away,
But cheer up auntie and Uncle Tom,
And we'll be back anon, anon!"
 
"Anon-y-mous."

This made Emmy smile, and she did her hair quite cheerfully. When she opened the top drawer to put away her comb and brush, she spied a small parcel directed to herself, and laid there to catch her eye. She gave a little laugh. How nice in the girls to do this for her!

The parcel was from Lena. It contained a very pretty velvet pincushion, mounted on a fluted shell, and a note.

"Dear Emmy, – We are so sorry not to be here when you come, but we shall only be gone a little while. Marian Jarvis is such a nice girl! She wants to see you dreadfully. I do hope you will like her. You must do everything pleasant that you can think of till we come back.

"Your loving
"Lena."

One more surprise awaited Emmy. She was just leaving the room when she spied a large piece of brown paper pinned to the wall. On it was the following mysterious inscription, —

"N. E. corner of room, under edge of carpet. Search rewarded."

It took her some time to make out which was the northeast corner; when at last she identified it, all that appeared from under the carpet was a similar bit of paper with another mysterious inscription, —

"S. W. corner of room, under edge of carpet. Search rewarded."

The reward of search in this instance was a long narrow parcel containing two brand-new hair-pins and a single line of writing, —

"Behind looking-glass on bureau."

Highly diverted, Emmy hastened to tip the glass, and there, stored away behind it, she beheld a small white jam-pot. A label tucked in between lid and jar said succinctly, —

"Plum jam at bedtime eaten with a hair-pin is goloptious! Try it!"

All these jokes and surprises raised Emmy's spirits so that she ran down-stairs quite gleefully. But there things went wrong again. Aunt Emma was deep in household accounts. She nodded kindly to Emmy and said a few pleasant words; then she became absorbed in her reckonings and forgot her for the moment. Emmy was by no means one of those children who can be trusted to entertain themselves in the room where any one else is sitting. She was too self-conscious, too apt to imagine that people were criticising what she did or said. She wanted to ramble about the house and identify the things and places she had heard described, and if she had done this simply and naturally as Jean would, or Bess, no one would have been disturbed, least of all Aunt Emma. But a sense of shy awkwardness prevented, and what she did was to wait till her aunt was in the very middle of a long column of figures, and then say timidly, —

"Aunt Emma, may I – may I – go into the dining-room?"

Mrs. Elliott stopped, lost her count, and after trying in vain to recover it, said with a little natural impatience, —

"My dear, never interrupt any one who is adding up a sum, if you can help it. You have lost me all my last ten minutes' work. What did you say? go into the dining-room? why, of course, go just where you like." Then she began to cipher again.

This was quite enough to make Emmy miserable. She had done wrong. She had put Aunt Emma out. Aunt Emma did not love her. She never would love her as she loved the other girls! These reflections passed through her mind as she sat before the glass door of the bookcase, not even trying to look up the story which Jean had recommended. Uncle Tom coming into the room noticed her melancholy attitude, and said in his hearty voice, "Well, my little maid, you look dumpy. All your contemporaries gone, heh! Never mind; they will all be back soon, and meanwhile you must cheer up the old folks." Jean or Bess would have dimpled and giggled at such an address, and perhaps run across the room and given Uncle Tom a kiss; but Emmy only shrank a little and said nothing; so that her uncle, as he drank his glass of Apollinaris water, said to himself, "A sulky child, I'm afraid." So easy it is to be misjudged in this world.

At dinner, Emmy's evil angel took possession of her again. She answered in monosyllables when her uncle and aunt spoke to her, and poked her food into her mouth with a nervous haste which brought on a fit of choking. This mortified her deeply, for she imagined that Aunt Emma was thinking, "What an ill-mannered girl she is!" whereas Aunt Emma was really thinking, "Poor thing! what can I do to make her feel more comfortable?" It would be a convenience, sometimes, if we might have glass panes in our hearts, so that people could look in and see what we are really feeling.

The evening seemed dreadfully long. Emmy pretended to read "The Dove in the Eagle's Nest," but a sort of spell of stiff misery was over her all the while. She was conscious of her knees and elbows, her upper lip kept twitching, she neither acted nor spoke naturally. Mrs. Elliott pitied her, but she could not help saying to herself, "What a self-conscious child she is; how different from Jean and Bess!" And what was worse, Emmy suspected that aunty was thinking exactly that, and suffered accordingly.

Tom came home next day. He was an immensely tall, handsome, good-natured young man. Bess and Jean adored him, and were always telling stories about the things he said and did, but to Emmy he seemed a formidable person. He was fond of teasing and of banter, and it was another of his peculiarities to be particularly observant about a lady's dress. He noticed at once that the braid was ripped off the edge of Emmy's skirt so as to form a dangerous little loop, and told her of it. She went away at once, and sewed it fast, but she felt disgraced somehow, and marked out as a slattern, and could not help shedding a few tears as she worked. Then Tom, who saw everything, observed the red marks under her eyes, and the melancholy droop of her mouth, and he too set her down as sulky, and, supposing that she had taken offence at some of his harmless pleasantries, forbore to joke with her thenceforward. This made her sure that Tom did not like her either, which was another affliction, for Emmy was most anxious to be taken into the circle of his pets and favorites.

In the afternoon she had another mishap. Aunt Emma sent her to get a paper out of her writing-desk, and Emmy somehow managed to hamper the lock so that the key could not be turned. Nobody scolded her, but Mrs. Elliott looked sorry and perplexed, as well she might, with the nearest locksmith twenty miles distant, and Emmy felt that her cup of misfortune was full. That night she cried herself to sleep.

On the third day the party from Niagara came back, and the house all in a moment seemed to fill with bright life and gayety. Cousin May's friends, the Jarvises, were handsome, well-bred girls, with a great deal of air and style about all their appointments. Cousin May herself was a belle and beauty, and had always been the object of Emmy's wildest admiration. Several gentlemen were of the party, and there were Jean and Bess running about with the rest, on the friendliest terms with everybody, and as much at home as Lena. It made Emmy feel left out and lonely, for her shyness was by no means lessened by the arrival of all these strangers, and she had the painful sensation of being separated from the others by a sort of invisible wall, which she could not, and they would not, pass over. Jean and Bess did what they could to cheer her, but a great deal was going on in the large gay household, and they had not much time to spare for the little sister who could not explain even to herself why she felt so forlorn.

Lady Blacksnake was supposed to be Lena's own particular pony. Lena had a little wagon of her own too; and on Monday she took Emmy out with her. This went delightfully till, as they were coming home late in the afternoon, Emmy coaxed Lena to let her drive. What she did to Lady Blacksnake no one ever knew, but all in one minute that excellent animal put her head down and ran away.

"Oh," screamed Emmy, "shall we jump out?"

"No," said Lena, perfectly calm, though her face was very white. "Saw her mouth."

So she took one rein, and Emmy the other, and they sawed Lady Blacksnake's mouth with hard, regular pulls, till the wild pace slackened first to a gallop and then to a trot, and they were going along at their old rate, only Lady Blacksnake's heaving flanks and their own frightened countenances telling the tale of their late danger. It was real danger, for once during the run the hind wheel absolutely grazed the edge of a sharp bank, and had they met another carriage they could scarcely have escaped a collision; but they both agreed to make as light of the incident as they could when they got home, lest they should be forbidden to go out again by themselves. Their account of the accident therefore was given with a levity which quite angered Uncle Tom.

"Upon my word, young ladies," he said severely, "you seem to think it a fine thing to have been in danger of your lives. If you had really broken all your bones it would have been funnier still, I suppose. What on earth are you laughing at?" for somehow this address tickled the girls' half-hysterical mood into paroxysms of giggling which continued till they cried, and the more Uncle Tom frowned the more they giggled. Aunt Emma saw how it was, and ordered them off to bed, and next morning the reaction had come, and they were pale and nervous and depressed enough to please the most exacting friend who might be anxious to make them "sensible of their escape."

Wednesday, the day before the Jarvises were to leave, had been set aside for a picnic. Emmy had looked forward eagerly to this; so you can imagine her feelings when on Tuesday a hard toothache set in which kept her awake all night, and left her next morning still in such pain and with such a swollen face that it was manifestly impossible for her to leave the house. Kind little Jean offered to give up the picnic and stay at home with her; but neither Emmy nor Aunt Emma would hear of this, and it ended in everybody's going and leaving her in the care of old Eliza, aunty's housekeeper, who had been nurse to all the children in turn, from Tom to Lena, and liked nothing better than a chance to cuddle and cosset any one who was ill.

Her warm fomentations and roasted raisins and pettings and pattings were so effectual that by afternoon Emmy felt quite comfortable again. She grew very fond of kind old Eliza, and her heart being opened by the situation, she ended by telling her how miserable and "unlucky" she had been all the week.



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