The Project Gutenberg eBook of Little Miss Mouse

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Title: Little Miss Mouse

Author: Amy Ella Blanchard

Release date: March 8, 2024 [eBook #73121]

Language: English

Original publication: New York: Hurst & Company, 1906


Transcriber's note: Unusual and inconsistent spelling is as printed.






Author of "Little Maid Marian," "Little Miss Oddity,"
"Little Sister Anne," "Mistress May," etc.




Copyright, 1906, by


Published August, 1906

All rights reserved

Printed in U. S. A.


















"AUNT HESTER, do you like to make buttonholes?" Ruth asked with interest in her tones.

"No," was the answer, "I hate to make them." Aunt Hester bit off her thread fiercely. "I hate them," she repeated, reaching for her spool which had fallen under the chair.

Ruth made a scramble for it, picked it up and laid it in Aunt Hester's lap.

"If you don't like to make them, what's the reason you do it?" she went on. "I thought grown-up people could do just what they liked."

Aunt Hester gave a little scornful laugh. "That's where you are mistaken. When I was a little girl like you I thought so, too, and when my mother made me sit by her and sew as I make you, I used to think that when I grew up I'd never touch a needle."

"Oh, and now you have to do it nearly all day." There was sympathy in Ruth's tones.

"Never you mind what I do all day. You chatter too much. Go on with your work."

And Ruth returned to the slow and tedious task of picking out the threads from a coat. The threads stood up in a long row down the seam. Ruth called them Indians on account of the fancied resemblance to the feathered decorations on the heads of the savages in a picture in her geography.

She and Aunt Hester were sitting in the latter's bedroom where the two always spent an hour together on Saturday afternoons. Ruth always resented being kept indoors on this holiday, but Aunt Hester was obdurate.

To be sure Billy had to stack wood or chop kindling or do some such task at the same hour so he wouldn't be on hand to play with, anyhow. Lucia Field had to help her mother; Annie Waite's mother kept her busy, and it seemed as if there was a combined intention on the part of the older people to give this unhappy hour to children.

It was probable that they had decided to do it at some mothers' meeting, Ruth concluded, and she always felt a sudden rebellious pang whenever Aunt Hester prepared to go forth to one of these gatherings, for just after, there was sure to be a period of extra strictness, and certain little tasks that perhaps had been gradually slighted during the month were enforced more rigidly.

Ruth looked up at the clock. It still wanted fifteen minutes to three and there were many Indians still poking up their heads along the line of brown cloth. She ventured another remark. It was out of reason to sit silent more than ten minutes at a time.

"What are you going to do with this, Aunt Hester?" she asked.

"Make a coat for Billy."

"Whose did it use to be?"

"My father's."

"Oh." Ruth's mind wandered to the time when the coat had been new. It must have been a long time ago, she considered. She wondered what old Major Brackenbury kept in his pockets, and surreptitiously slipped her hand in the one which was still hanging to the piece of cloth upon which she was at work. He might have been fond of peppermint lozenges, she thought, like Dr. Peaslee who never failed to produce one when he met Ruth. But no lozenges of any kind were to be found; only some siftings of tobacco and particles of dust did Ruth's hand bring forth from the deep pocket.

She worked away diligently for a few minutes, then her tongue wagged again. "Was your father like Dr. Peaslee?" she questioned.

"Not a bit," sighed Miss Hester. "He was tall and slim, though not too slim. He carried a gold-headed cane. I can see him now," she stretched forth her hand and smoothed the cloth which lay in Ruth's lap. "I can see him now in that very coat coming out the gate with Bruno at his heels."

Ruth's eyes followed hers to the big house across the way. The tall white pillars were visible through the evergreens. It had been a pleasant place to live in.

"I know all about Bruno," she said, "but tell me some more. I am so tired of unripping."

"Of ripping, you mean. You couldn't unzip, you know. You have only five minutes more, so I can't begin to tell tales now. I want you to find Billy and tell him I want him to go to the store when he has finished his task."

"May I go to the store, too?"


Ruth settled back contentedly. Only five minutes more to fight the Indians. She would try to get to the end of the seam before the clock in the kitchen struck. So her fingers flew along the stretch of brown cloth and there were but a few more threads to pull when one, two, three, strokes sounded solemnly and slowly from the tall clock in the corner of the kitchen.

Ruth looked up inquiringly and Aunt Hester nodded her head.

"Fold up your work and put it in the big chest," she said, "and then you may go and find Billy. When he has finished his work, tell him to come to me."

Ruth did as she was bid. She found Billy industriously stacking wood.

"Whew," he cried as he saw the little girl, "there's a lot of it, isn't there? See how much I have already piled up."

"You're 'most through, aren't you?" said Ruth. "How hard you must have been working, Billy."

Billy smiled appreciatively. When Billy smiled, you forgot his red hair and snub nose, for his bright blue eyes were squeezed up so merrily and his whole face showed such a sunny expression that, you felt like smiling in return.

Ruth, on the contrary, was a sombre looking little mite with burning dark eyes, a small thin face and serious mouth. Her greatest beauty was her chestnut hair which rippled in shining waves to her waist when it was unplaited, but Miss Hester insisted upon smooth braids and was very particular that every hair should be in place, so the shimmering masses were generally confined in two plaits and tied tightly by a black ribbon.

"I'll help," said Ruth after she had watched Billy sturdily working to get his pile completed. "Aunt Hester wants to send you to the store and I'm going, too. Billy, did you know she hated to make buttonholes and her father had a gold-headed cane?"

"I know; I saw it once, the cane I mean. I didn't know about the buttonholes. She won't have to make 'em when I am a man."

"Why? What for?" asked Ruth, struggling with a stick of wood.

"'Cause, she has to do 'em now, so she can buy things for us."

"Oh, I didn't know that was why."

Ruth placed her stick of wood so that it rolled down from the pile. She thrust it back again and stood looking very thoughtful, then she said soberly, "She's awful good, isn't she, Billy?"

"You bet she is. She's a Jim dandy, if she does make a fellow work Saturday afternoons. Where'd you and me be, if it wasn't for her?"

"You'd be selling papers and I'd be in an orphan asylum, I suppose," returned Ruth readily. She was accustomed to this reminder from Billy.

"That's just what," he returned settling Ruth's wobbly stick more securely in place.

"Tell me where you saw the cane," said Ruth, picking up a stick more suited to her abilities.

"I saw it at Dr. Peaslee's; but don't you tell. She might not like us to mention it. It's my opinion she sold it to him."

"Maybe, when the claim is settled, she'll buy it back again. I wish it would hurry up and get settled; I'd love to live over there again." Ruth nodded her head toward the big house with the pillars. "We didn't stay long enough to get used to it."

"If she can stand it here, we can," returned Billy eyeing his wood-pile critically. "That's all now, Ruth. I've just got to chop up a little kindlin' and then we can go 'long."

"I'll pick up some chips," said Ruth, stooping to fill her apron with the splinters and bits of bark which lay around.

Then, following Billy, who, with arms piled high, strode toward the kitchen, she rejoiced that the real work of the day was over for them both. To be sure she must dry the tea things and help put them away, but that was active employment and did not come in the same list with sitting still for an hour laboriously picking out stitches.

Ruth and Billy were not in any way related to each other. They were found deserted in the streets of a large city near-by and when an appeal was made at a Home Missionary meeting in their behalf, Miss Brackenbury had offered to take them both. That was a year or more previous to this special Saturday afternoon and Miss Hester had then lived in the big house across the way.

Old Major Brackenbury was alive then, though blind and helpless, quite a different person from the one described to Ruth as wearing the brown coat. He lived but three months after the children became members of the household, and the next thing the neighbors knew, the big house was given up and Miss Hester was taking her young charges to a tiny home across the way.

Miss Hester shed many tears at leaving her old home in which she had expected to pass the remainder of her days. She had believed herself comfortably provided for, but, when her father's affairs were settled, there was very little left.

Ruth, awe-stricken, believed the tears were all because of the major's death, but Billy, wise before his time with a knowledge of what poverty meant, knew better. He had overheard a conversation between Miss Hester and Dr. Peaslee and he knew there were many things to cause Miss Hester's lips to tremble and her eyes to overflow, for had he not heard the good doctor trying to persuade her to give up Ruth and Billy and had she not replied:

"No, I have pleased myself in taking them. I was lonely and wanted them for my comfort. Shall I give them up now when I pledged myself to take them? The Lord sent them to me and He means me to keep them. Would I desert my own flesh and blood under like circumstances? Would I not work my fingers to the bone for children of my own and shall I do less by these whom Heaven has given me?"

The doctor coughed and wiped his eyes but he did not give up. "They will be well cared for in some institution, Hester," he said. "Or they may perhaps find good homes. You need not return them to the streets and what is left will not be enough for you three."

Miss Hester set her lips firmly. "I'll make it enough. I am not the only woman who has had to work for her living."

"But what can you do, Hester? What can you do?" said the doctor in a troubled way.

Miss Hester thought for a moment. "I can make buttonholes beautifully and do all sorts of fine sewing and embroidery. Hand-work is very much in vogue now and I surely ought to eke out my income; and then you know there is the claim," she added with a little smile.

"Pshaw!" said the doctor, as he brought his stick down hard, but he did not try to urge her further, though he shook his head and sighed.

And so it was that, with the best and choicest of her belongings, Miss Hester removed to the tiny house with its bit of front yard and its roomier back lot.

It was not long before the fine sewing daily work, was the main part of Miss Hester's daily work, for the doctor spread the information far and near that Miss Brackenbury made beautiful buttonholes and did exquisite hand-work, and that she would be willing to help out those of her neighbors less accomplished.

Then Maude Fowler came over to know if Miss Hester would help with her trousseau; Mrs. Ayres brought a dozen baby's frocks; Mrs. Baker wanted a fine shirtwaist, and so it went on till Miss Hester had about all she could do, and managed to have enough to supply the wants of herself and her adopted children, though their food was plain enough.

Billy did not forget what he had heard, and, though he never said a word of it to Ruth, he faithfully kept alive the fact that they owed a great deal to Miss Hester. He brought a cheerful presence into her life, showing an awkwardly expressed, but perfectly true, affection which Miss Hester recognized and returned.

As for Ruth, she was younger and did not show her feelings so easily. She had been brought up in a different school, too, and was used to a fond mother's caresses. To this mother's memory she clung, and Miss Hester often wondered if she cared at all for her or indeed for any one.

"She hasn't those big, burning eyes for nothing," said Dr. Peaslee. "She may be undemonstrative, but she is not shallow, I'll warrant you."

So Miss Hester was watching the growth of this little bud, wondering if it would ever show a heart full of warmth and color, and if, in the long run, Ruth would really love her as Billy did. Miss Hester was not of the gushing sort herself, but, once in a while, she would pass her hand over Ruth's shining head or would pat Billy's shoulder. Then Billy would give her one of his beaming smiles as he snuggled up against her. But Ruth would only turn her great eyes upon Miss Hester with a questioning look and would invariably slip off into some corner after such a caress.

This autumn afternoon, after they had deposited their burdens in the wood-box, they were given directions by Miss Hester with a list of things to be brought from the store.

"Now, don't loiter by the way," was the charge given. "I want the things as soon as I can get them, Billy."

"What do you suppose they are?" asked Ruth as they passed out the gate. "Do you reckon it is anything good, Billy? Maybe she has the claim."

"Ah, say, you've got bats in yer belfry," returned Billy. "She ain't got no claim. I'm only goin' to get oatmeal and rice and things like that."

"Oh." Ruth sighed. It would have been pleasant to anticipate materials for gingerbread or some such luxury. "I wish it had been raisins and currants and citron and all that like we had last Thanksgiving," she said.

"Never you mind," returned Billy. "It's all right. What we have every day is heaps better than that old crust you had for dinner the day they found you on the corner, a beggar."

"Hush, Billy Beatty," cried Ruth stamping her foot. "I told you never, never to speak about that again. I just hate to have you, I do. I wasn't a beggar, I wasn't. I never asked anybody for anything and I never will. I'd die first."

"Well, you needn't get so mad about it," replied Billy. "I couldn't help it. I might have if I had been there, and if I hadn't sprained my ankle like I did; that's 'why I couldn't get along. It hurt like the mischief and I couldn't run after people like the other boys, so I didn't sell a single paper that morning, and I didn't have a copper to get anything to eat, so that's why I keeled over the way I did, and they picked me up with the wits sorter knocked out of me, and just then that preacher, or whatever he was that had you by the hand, come along. And when Dr. Peaslee was goin' me over, he told him I'd just sorter fainted 'cause I hadn't had no chicken pie for dinner, and he had us both took to that place where they looks after young uns what ain't got nobody else to look after 'em; Children's Aid Society, they call it, and they fed us up slick, didn't they?"

"Now, you're talking as you did when I first knew you," said Ruth disdainfully, "and not the way Aunt Hester likes you to talk. Don't let's go back to that dreadful time. Billy, do you suppose your relations will ever come after you?"

"Ain't got none."

"But I've a father, you know."

"Maybe you have and maybe you haven't. What's the matter with his being killed in an accident? You wouldn't care much, would you?"

"I don't know. It would be nice to have somebody your very own." Ruth spoke wistfully. "He wasn't bad. Mother said he'd come back; she knew he would. She said that the day before she went to heaven."

The child's lip trembled and she bent over to pick up a scarlet leaf in her pathway that she might hide her feelings.

"He won't come," declared Billy positively. "As for me I like it here all right and I'm goin' to stay and keep a store here myself when I grow up."

"Oh, good! And will you sell candy—that kind that's all pink and soft?"

"Sure," returned Billy. "We'll move back into the big house and have rice puddin' with raisins in every day, if we like."

"I'd rather have that lovely other kind of pudding like we had last Thanksgiving."

"We'll have that too, sometimes."

"Maybe we won't have to wait till you grow up, Billy," said Ruth, to whom so long a vista of years seemed an eternity; "you know there's the claim. What is a claim, anyhow, Billy?"

Billy hesitated. He didn't like to show his ignorance but he was not at all sure that he knew what it meant. "It's government," he said presently, "government," he repeated more importantly.

Ruth look puzzled. It did not seem much plainer to her than before. "But how will that make us able to go into the big house?" she asked.

"Oh, they'll give a lot of money to Aunt Hester so she won't have to sew any more."

"Oh, who'll give the money, Billy? Who is 'they'?"

"Oh, I don't just know their names. Maybe the president does it or he gets somebody, some big general, to do it for him." Billy's notions of such things were very vague.

"Oh my!" Ruth was much impressed; her imagination immediately flew to the possible arrival of some magnificent creature in regimentals, riding a coal black steed. He would draw rein before the door and she would run out and open the gate for him. "Do you suppose he would know where she lives, that she's not living in the big house any more?" she asked after a moment.

"Of course." Billy spoke confidently.

He did not like to be questioned as closely as Ruth had an inconvenient way of doing, so he changed the subject.

"I'll race you to the store," he said, "and I'll give you a start from here to the corner."

Therefore, Ruth set off and the two reached the store neck and neck. They entered breathing hard between quick bursts of laughter.


The Pocket

THE next Saturday there was another long seam of stitches to pick out. To this piece of cloth also was hanging a pocket of rather pretty pink and white stuff. Ruth thought it would make a good frock for her one doll, Henrietta. She meant to ask Aunt Hester if she could have the pocket.

Miss Brackenbury had been called into the next room by the arrival of a visitor. Ruth could hear the sound of their voices, Miss Brackenbury's low and quiet; Miss Amanda Beach's high and shrill. She heard a word or two now and then which made her think they were talking of herself and Billy. Then the subject changed and she heard payments and receipts and lawyers talked about.

She wondered how grown-up people could be interested in such dull subjects, so she let her thoughts wander to the striped pocket which would perhaps make a frock for Henrietta. The doll was named for Miss Hester's twin sister who had died when she was about Ruth's age and Ruth realized that Miss Hester had a tenderer feeling for the little waif because of this much loved twin sister.

"And then," Ruth said to herself, "I can make a sunbonnet for my doll like the one Henrietta used to wear, a pink one. I have some scraps of pink gingham that Lucia Field gave me. I wish I knew whether I could have the pocket."

She heard a stir of chairs in the next room and supposed that Miss Beach was about to go, but she was mistaken in this for the next moment Miss Hester came into the room where Ruth was, and going to an old writing desk, took from it a lot of papers.

Ruth improved the opportunity. "Are you going to use this pocket, Aunt Hester?" she asked. "It has a hole in it, a little one. Will you want it for Billy's coat?"

"No, I'd better make new ones," was the answer.

"Then, may I have this for Henrietta?"

Miss Hester glanced down. "Yes, you may have it," she answered. Then she went back to the living-room.

"I think I'll rip out the pocket," thought Ruth. "I can do it without hurting the cloth, for I'll be careful not to cut anything but the striped stuff."

She ripped away industriously till the pocket came off readily and made a gaping place between the lining and the cloth of the coat. Ruth slipped her hand down into the hole.

"How deep it goes down," she thought.

Her fingers touched the corner and discovered that something had lodged there.

"I suppose it's tobacco," she said disgustedly, but her fingers drew forth a little wad of paper which time had creased and worn. "It isn't anything after all," said Ruth. "If it had been tobacco, I could have given it to old silly Jake when he comes to saw wood."

She threw the bit of paper on the floor, then remembering Miss Hester's orderliness, picked it up again and slipped it into the pocket she had ripped out.

"I'll throw it in the fire when I get through this," she said, "but I don't want to go into the kitchen 'spressly for that."

However, both paper and pocket were forgotten half an hour later when Billy came blustering in.

"Say, Ruth," he cried, "come along out when you get that done. I've got something to show you."

Billy's excitement promised no ordinary thing.

"Oh, what is it?" cried Ruth, her eyes shining.

"Wait and see."

"I'm 'most through," said the little girl, eagerly. "I won't be a minute, Billy. Miss Beach is going, too, so Aunt Hester can come and say the hour is up, for it is striking three now."

She folded her work, stowed it away in the chest, picked up the striped pocket and ran into her little room with it, where she tucked it away in her box of scraps for doll clothes.

As she came running back the door closed after Miss Beach. "It's three o'clock, Aunt Hester, and I picked out every stitch and put away the coat. Now may I go?" asked Ruth as Miss Hester came in.

Miss Hester looked around to make sure that all was in order. She held a parcel in her hand and as she sat down she murmured, "More buttonholes."

Ruth came closer and laid her small hand upon Miss Hester's arm. "And you hate them so," she said sympathetically. "Are you afraid you will have to make them all your life, Aunt Hester?"

Miss Hester sighed. "I am afraid so."

"No, you won't," Ruth assured her. "You can teach me to make them when I am bigger and then, when Billy gets to keeping store, we won't either of us have to make them, for, when we get hungry we can go down to Billy's and eat crackers and raisins and things. I'm coming, Billy."

For Billy, grown impatient, had gone out into the yard and was calling her.

Miss Hester looked after her as she ran out. "Amanda need not discourage me about Ruth," she said with a faint little smile; "I'll have the child's love and confidence yet." Then she sat down to her old desk and pored over a little pile of papers which she drew from a pigeon-hole.

Meanwhile, Billy had preceded Ruth to the wood-shed and was standing over something in a dark corner.

"Look," he whispered, "ain't they the cunningest you ever did see?"

And Ruth, tiptoeing nearer, saw four little fat puppies cuddled up against their small mongrel mother.

"Oh, aren't they dear?" exclaimed the child. "Where did they come from, Billy? Who does the mother belong to?"

"Nobody, I reckon. She's just a stray."

"Oh, like us," said Ruth in a sympathetic voice, as she leaned down to stroke the little creature. "Has she had anything to eat, Billy?"

"No, but I'm going to give her my supper."

"Oh, I'll give half mine and then you needn't give but half yours, so we won't any of us three be very hungry. Oh, Billy, do you think there is any chance of Aunt Hester's letting us keep her and the babies?"

"I'm afraid not," replied Billy, soberly.

"You haven't told her?"

"Not yet."

"If we could keep just one," said Ruth, clasping her hands, "maybe we could find homes for the rest. I'll tell you what, Billy; let us get her to tell us more about Bruno. You know how she loved him and then we'll tell her about these and ask her if she doesn't want one in Bruno's place."

"That's a scheme," cried Billy. "We'll do that very thing. You see we'll have to let her know if we mean to take our suppers out to the little mother."

"So we will. You shall have something pretty soon, you nice little doggie," said Ruth, caressingly, as she stroked the soft brown ears of the small creature lying in the straw. The dog lifted her wistful eyes gratefully and licked Ruth's fingers in response. "See how friendly she is," said Ruth, delightedly. "I'd like to keep you, dear little doggie; I would so. Does any one know but us, Billy?"

"Not a soul."

"Then don't let's tell just yet, till we know what Aunt Hester says, for some of the boys might pick out the very one we like before we get a chance to know if we can keep one."

"That's so," agreed Billy. "We won't tell yet. I like that little fellow with the spots; see him nose my hand."

"I like the one with brown ears like its mother," declared Ruth. "When will they have their eyes open, Billy?"

"Not for nine or ten days yet. There's Aunt Hester calling; we will have to go. Don't say a word till supper time."

Not a word was said to Miss Hester just then, although Billy grew very red when she asked what they were doing in the wood-shed, but he rose to the occasion by answering: "Oh, just playing."

Later on, when Ruth was setting the table, she drew Miss Hester into telling about her childhood days.

"And did you have Bruno then?" asked Ruth.

"Not then, but we had another dog named Stray, a smaller dog."

"That's a nice name for a dog," commented Billy with satisfaction.

"You'd like to name one that, wouldn't you?" said Ruth with a little laugh which she smothered when Billy frowned at her.

"Tell about Stray," said the boy.

"He was a dog my sister and I had."

"Was he not very big with brown ears and eyes?"

"Why yes. Did I ever tell you about him?"

"No," answered Ruth, confusedly, "but I thought maybe he was; I like that kind."

"Well, that was the kind Stray was. He was a lively little fellow and we were very fond of him, although he was not a thoroughbred."

"What is a thoroughbred?" asked Ruth.

"It is a dog or a horse or any animal which is very fine of its kind. A thoroughbred dog wouldn't have the head of a setter and the tail of a collie and the legs of a fox-terrier," said Miss Hester, smiling.

"Did Stray have all those?" asked Ruth.

"Well, not exactly. He was a cross between a spaniel and a fox-terrier and my father used to laugh at him."

"Where did you get him?" asked Ruth eagerly.

"He came into the yard one day looking very thin and miserable. My sister and I took him something to eat, and after that he followed us everywhere, so we begged to be allowed to keep him."

"You begged your father, didn't you?" Ruth asked.


"And he let you keep him. He must have been a very nice man, a very nice man indeed," decided Ruth with a glance at Billy.

"He was a nice man, my dear; the kindest in the world. It was his kind-heartedness that lost us the old home," Miss Brackenbury sighed.


"I don't know that you would understand; but he raised money to help a friend out of difficulties, and, though I am quite certain he paid back all that he owed, after his death, I could find no record of any payment and the man from whom the money was borrowed insisted upon payment. It took nearly everything."

"What a dreadful, selfish man not to let you keep your house," said Ruth savagely. "I'd like to crush him down to the earth and stamp on him."

"Why, Ruth, what a terrible way to talk."

"I would, I would," declared Ruth. "If he was a wicked man, why shouldn't I want to? The children of Israel liked to kill wicked people and idolaters; I know that man is an idolater; I'll bet he has a brazen image."

"Why, Ruth, you know nothing of the kind. You must not talk so." Miss Hester spoke severely, but there was a flicker of a smile around the corners of her mouth.

"Oh, keep quiet, Ruth," put in Billy. "I want to hear about Stray."

But Ruth's indignation was still burning.

"I'll bet if that man had been your father, he wouldn't have let you keep Stray," she continued.

"Very likely he would not have, but never mind about that. Stray lived to a good old age and died long after my little sister did. My father got Bruno for me because I mourned so for Stray."

"If—if—" Ruth looked at Billy and slipped a cold trembling little hand into his. The critical moment had come. She swallowed once or twice and began again: "If—if you and your sister had found Stray with four little puppies in the wood-shed, do you think your father-would have let you keep them all? Was he as good as all that?"

"He was good enough to do anything that was right and just, Ruth, but I don't think he would have consented to our having five dogs."

"I don't think five are a great many," Billy spoke up. "Dr. Peaslee has six or eight."

"He has a pack of hounds, I admit, but they are hunting dogs and are not house pets."

Ruth gave a long sigh. "How many do you suppose he would have let you keep?" she asked.

"Not more than one, or two at the most."

"Two would do, you know," exclaimed Ruth carried beyond discretion, "the mother and one of the puppies, Billy."

"What are you talking about?" said Miss Hester, in surprise.

Ruth's cheeks began to burn and she fingered Miss Hester's apron nervously.

That lady quietly lifted one of the cold hands. "What icy fingers, Ruth," she said. "Are you so cold?"

"No, Aunt Hester, I'm not cold only—only there are four puppies, you know, and the mother. We do want so much to keep two. Oh, won't you be as good as your father and let us keep them? They are in the wood-shed and we are going to give them half our supper."

"Four puppies and their mother in the wood-shed!" exclaimed Miss Hester in astonishment. "How did they get there?"

"They just came," said Billy, eagerly coming into the conversation. "I found them there this afternoon. She's awfully nice, Aunt Hester; you ought just to see her lick your hand, and the puppies are great; there's one with spots—"

"And one with brown ears," Ruth chimed in. "I'd love that one. It looks like its mother. She has brown ears and eyes just like Stray."

"I must see about this," said Miss Hester. "I am sorry, children, but I am afraid we cannot afford to keep any of them, for it would mean another mouth to feed."

"But we'd give half our supper to them," argued Billy.

Miss Hester shook her head sadly. "I couldn't allow that, Billy, for you children do not have more than you ought as it is."

"Sho!" exclaimed Billy, "We have a heap more than we used to have, and we got 'long then. Why, Aunt Hester, two years ago we'd have thought ourselves regular swells if we'd had three meals a day."

But Miss Hester was obdurate, though she finally consented to allow the children to share their meals with the little mother until her babies were big enough to give away, Billy declaring that there were plenty of the boys who would be glad to have one of the puppies.

So, after supper, they all went out to the wood-shed, Billy and Ruth each bearing a pan of porridge and milk, for each had so insisted upon the right to feed the dog, that Miss Hester was obliged to hunt up two old pans into which was poured strictly half of their supper. This was eagerly eaten by their small pensioner who seemed half-starved.

"Poor little thing," said Miss Hester, wistfully. "I really wish we could keep her, but how could we feed her when we eat up everything so clean that we have no scraps."

"Oh, if I could only make buttonholes," said Ruth fervently, "I'd make enough to buy her all she needed."

Yet a way was provided for the entire family of dogs, for the next day Billy came flying home from school, a pack of boys at his heels. These were escorted to the wood-shed and therefrom came a great clamor of voices.

Ruth hovered on the outskirts eager for the first news.

After a while, the boys filed out all talking at once. As they went out the gate, they shouted back, "We'll be sure to be on hand to-night, Billy."

And then Billy's red head appeared. The boy's face wore a pleased smile.

"Oh, Billy, tell me," cried Ruth, wild with curiosity.

"It's all right," said Billy; "I've made a bargain with the fellows, and they've got to keep to it, too. Come on, let's tell Aunt Hester. I've got 'em all to promise, and they've got to sign in ink, too." He strode importantly into the house, Ruth dancing at his heels.

"We can keep any one we want, Aunt Hester," he announced, "and it won't cost one cent, either. There's five dogs, ain't there? Well, there's four of the boys that's agreed to give me scraps for one dog, every day as I come home from school, to pay for the puppy he is to have, and if a fellow don't keep his word I'm to take back his dog, and I'm goin' to do it, too, for Sam Tolman's awful anxious for one and there ain't enough to go round. So now can't we have one to keep?"

"Why, yes. You're a real good hand at a bargain, Billy," said Miss Hester, looking pleased. "Of course, if you can feed the dog, you can keep it."

"The boys are goin' to bring the stuff here while the little pups are with their mother, so she can get fed. Charlie Hastings likes her best of any and says he'd rather have a grown-up dog than a pup. He says he knows his mother will let him have her 'cause they had a dog much like her that got runned over last summer and they all felt awful 'bout it. He says they'll call this one Flossy after the one they had."

"Oh, I am so glad she will have a good home," cried Ruth, clasping her hands. "Which are we to have?"

"Well, I reckon we'll keep the one with brown ears 'cause Art Bender wants the spotted one and Art's father is awful rich, so that we'll get more scraps from them than anybody, and I thought it would be better to let him have Spot."

He spoke quite soberly, but Miss Hester put back her head and laughed more merrily than the children had heard her since they had come to the little house.


Henrietta's Red Coat

FOR a long time after this, Henrietta was neglected and the striped pocket lay unheeded in the box of pieces, for Stray was the absorbing interest to both Ruth and Billy. Generous little Billy had declared the puppy must belong half to Ruth, and, therefore, she always went with him when, tin pail in hand, he called at the different houses where the promised scraps were to be collected. Sometimes, the scraps which the other puppies left were few, but there was always enough for the not too fastidious appetite of Stray, or, if it seemed a very slim supper, both Ruth and Billy cheerfully set aside a portion of theirs, consequently Stray throve and grew apace.

Miss Hester confessed that he was great company for her while the children were at school, and he came to consider her as close a friend as Ruth or Billy.

Before winter came on, the major's old overcoat was fashioned into a warm one for Billy, and for Ruth, Miss Hester contrived comfortable frocks from her discarded ones. But there was no coat for her, till one day Ruth discovered Miss Hester bending over an old chest in the attic. The tiny house held but four rooms below and the attic above. One end of the attic was curtained off for a room for Billy; the rest was stored with chests and bandboxes, trunks and old furniture.

It was rather a fearsome place to Ruth, that dark end of the attic, though she did venture in there once in a while when she was hiding from Billy. Now, however, Stray could always find her so that it was no longer any fun to hide there.

Upon this particular day, she had a message from Miss Amanda Beach, and was in a hurry to deliver it lest she forget it.

"Aunt Hester, Aunt Hester," she called, "where are you?"

An answer came from the dark end of the attic; "Here, child."

Ruth groped her way along the dusky aisles. A spinning wheel's flax brushed her face; an old leghorn bonnet was set swinging from the rafters as she felt her way with uplifted hands; a string of dried peppers, hanging from a beam, caught in her hair. Ruth stood still.

"I don't see you," she said anxiously; the peppers had seemed like something alive.

"Over here," repeated Miss Hester, standing up, and Ruth saw her figure dimly in the gloom.

She picked her way along with more assurance as her eyes became accustomed to the half light.

"Miss Amanda wanted me to be sure to tell you that there is to be a meeting of the mothers this afternoon at the minister's house and you mustn't forget to come, she says. You are just the same as a mother, Billy's and mine, aren't you, Aunt Hester?"

"I hope so," returned Miss Hester groping among the bundles in the chest before which she was kneeling. "There, this is what I am looking for."

"Oh, what a cunning little hood," said Ruth picking up a soft cashmere affair, trimmed with swansdown. "Was it yours when you were a little girl, Aunt Hester?"

"No, all these things belonged to my little sister Henrietta. They have been in this chest ever since she died. My mother put them there with her own hands."

"Oh." Ruth leaned over to look more closely at the neat piles of garments. Miss Hester sat on the floor and pushed back a lock of hair which had fallen over her eyes. She was a tall, slender woman with dark hair, hazel eyes and a sad expression about the mouth.

"Were they all Henrietta's?" asked Ruth with interest. "Aunt Hester, if you had had a little girl you would have named her Henrietta, wouldn't you?"

Miss Hester smiled. "Very likely."

"'Most everybody calls me Ruth Brackenbury, don't they? Do you like to have them call me that, Aunt Hester?"

"Do you?"

"I do, if you do," returned Ruth shyly. Then her thoughts turned to Miss Amanda and she said again, "You are just the same as our mother, Billy's and mine, aren't you?"

"I try to be the same as a mother to you."

"Then, Aunt Hester, could I be named Ruth Henrietta Brackenbury, and if anybody asks my name can I tell them it is that?"

"Why, my dear," Miss Hester arose and hung over her arm the garment she had taken from the chest, "yes, if you like."

"Would you like?" asked Ruth wistfully.

Miss Hester did not answer at once, but picked her way back to where it was lighter.

"Try this on," she said holding out a dark red coat trimmed with fur.

Ruth slipped her arms into the sleeves and then softly stroked the fur trimming.

"It fits perfectly," said Miss Hester, with satisfaction, "so you can wear it Sunday. I will hang it out in the air to get rid of the smell of camphor, and to-morrow I will press out the creases."

"For me? For me?" cried Ruth. "Henrietta's coat for me? Oh, Aunt Hester!"

"Yes, for you, and I think all those little clothes will fit you. It will save me many stitches and what good are they hoarded away?" she said half to herself.

Ruth clasped her arms around Miss Hester's waist. "Please kiss me as if I were Henrietta," she said, "and let me put her name next to mine."

Miss Hester stooped to kiss the quivering lips. "I will ask the minister about the name," she answered. "I am not sure whether it would be right, but I'd like it. Yes, I'd like very much for you to have it."

"May I wear the coat down-stairs?" asked Ruth. "Then you won't have to carry it."

"You may wear it down, then take it off and lay it on my bed."

"Ruth Henrietta Brackenbury," whispered Ruth to herself as she stepped down the narrow stairs behind Miss Hester, avoiding the plain black skirt which swept each step in front of her.

Ruth loved color. Rich clothes and dainty fare likewise appealed to her. It was bitterness to the proud little soul to feel that she had been taken from the streets. She envied the little Henrietta who had been a Brackenbury and who had lived her short life in the fine old house with white pillars. The child felt that in some way she would more fairly possess that little sister's inheritance if she could include Henrietta's name in her own.

Little Ruth gave a fierce loyalty to the mother she had loved so dearly, and, though she never failed to stand up for her father, and was ready with excuses whenever Billy or any other assailed him, in her inmost heart she felt a bitter rage against the man who had left her and her mother to suffer. She excused him partly because of pride and partly because she knew her mother would wish it. But, to herself, she considered that a great injustice had been done and resented bitterly the fact that those who commended Miss Hester for her great charity, felt that Ruth and Billy belonged to the same class.

Billy did not care what any one thought. His life had been a hard one from babyhood. He had never been warm in winter, nor had he had enough to eat at any time of year. He had been kicked and battered about from this one to that till he could not tell to whom he really did belong, so that when he drifted into this haven of peace, he had but one feeling and that of thankfulness.

With Ruth it was different. She remembered when she had worn pretty clothes and when a sweet and dainty mother had fed her choice bits from a well-appointed table, when a tall father had taken her to drive behind a gray horse. She remembered, too, a pretty house and garden which had been home to her. She could not recollect how it happened that all changed, but so it did, and, by degrees, the place she and her mother called home, became poorer and poorer till a garret under the eaves of a tall building was their habitation.

When it came to this, there was no father there to see the manner of it; only a pale and sad mother who wept constantly and who coughed often as she sat over a table, writing, writing. After a while there was less to eat, no fire and the cough grew worse. Then they took her mother away one morning after she had lain for hours very pale and still. Ruth could not rouse her.

Some one came in and whispered: "She is dead, poor thing."

And then Ruth knew what was the matter. In a turmoil of terror and grief she had rushed down the steps and out into the street. Her mother could not be dead. It needed but a doctor to make her well, and it was a doctor the desperate little child was seeking when she was discovered by a city missionary, exhausted and weeping and weary with wandering.

At first, she had repelled all advances from Miss Hester, and had no words even for Billy, but his good nature at last brought a response and she accepted his companionship, while for Miss Hester there was springing up a deep affection. She was no longer jealous for the mother who had become an angel, for she was fading into a sweet and lovely dream.

She no longer resented the fact that Miss Hester had taken her in from charity, for she was beginning to realize that something more than cold duty prompted Miss Hester's kind acts. To-day for the first time she understood in what light Miss Hester really regarded her, for, could she have given to any one that she did not love, the clothing of the long mourned little twin sister, Henrietta?

The child took off the coat, carefully laid it on Miss Hester's bed, then she fingered it gently. It was lined with soft wadded silk, and in the little pocket was a folded handkerchief. Ruth drew it out and silently held it out to Miss Hester.

"You can use that, too," Miss Hester told her.

And Ruth put it back again. It gave her a truer sense of taking Henrietta's place to know that it was there.

She wore the red coat proudly to church the next Sunday, and though, at any other time she would have allowed Stray to take such liberties as pleased him, she spoke to him quite sharply when he attempted to jump upon her with not too clean paws.

"Proudy," whispered Billy.

Ruth shot him a look of defiance from under her black brows. "You'd be proud, too, if you had on Henrietta Brackenbury's coat," she said.

"Well, I guess I've got on the major's," returned Billy triumphantly.

"Oh, but it's made over," returned Ruth, as if that settled the question and made all the difference in the world.

In fact, so complacent was Ruth in her new rig that, a few days later, her pride had a fall, such a tumbledown as was followed by serious consequences.

It was when Lucia Field invited her to a party which was strictly select, it being her birthday. Annie Waite was there as well as Nora Petty, Angeline McBride and Charlotte Thompson. Ruth was glad to see them all except Nora and Angeline, for these two had never been very agreeable to her at school. Once or twice, Nora had made some little mean remark which Ruth had overheard and which had made her very angry. She had told Billy about it, but he only laughed. She had not forgotten, however, and held herself rather loftily when she entered Lucia's house, clad in the red coat and a fine plaid poplin which had been Henrietta's.

"Doesn't Ruth look nice?" whispered Annie to Nora.

"So, so," was the reply given with a toss of the head.

"I wonder where she got her clothes," said Angeline. "They are kind of old-fashioned, but they are awfully pretty."

"She didn't bring 'em with her when she came to town, that's one thing sure," said Nora behind her hand.

And Angeline giggled.

By this time, Ruth had laid aside her coat and hat in the best bedroom, and had stepped down the broad stairway into the room where the other girls were gathered, waiting for the party to begin. Mrs. Field was there and her cousin, Miss Fannie, a young lady in a blue dress, who smiled invitingly at each of the girls and said they must have some games. Then the fun began, and for an hour or more went steadily forward, Miss Fannie being at the head and front of everything. Then came simple refreshments; home-made cakes, ice-cream and bonbons.

Ruth was just thinking that she had never had a better time in her life, when Lucia came forward with a birthday book which her cousin Fannie had given her.

"Now, before you go," she said, "I want you all to write your names in my birthday book."

Ruth's color came and went as she stood waiting her turn.

Nora looked at her, nudged Angeline and giggled. She knew it was an awkward moment for Ruth, though Lucia had not dreamed of such a thing. She really was very fond of Ruth, and admired her much more than she did Nora.

Annie and Charlotte had bent themselves to their task. Annie's was a crooked scrawl slanting unevenly across the page opposite March 12. Charlotte's signature was very black and round.

"Now it is your turn," said Miss Fannie to Ruth. "When is your birthday, dear?"

"November the fifteenth," said Ruth weakly.

"Oh," exclaimed Nora, "how do you know?"

Ruth bit her lip, then she made answer: "It is written in my mother's Bible."

"Of course," said Miss Fannie. "Right here, dear. You have a nice quotation, too."

Ruth hesitated, dipped her pen in the ink and then wrote quite firmly: Ruth Henrietta Brackenbury.

"Oh, oh," cried Nora, looking over her shoulder, "see what she has written. Her name isn't Brackenbury at all, Miss Fannie. People call her that, but her name isn't that at all."

"It is, it is," cried Ruth, her eyes flashing, "and the Henrietta is for Aunt Hester's little sister; she said so."

Miss Fannie, who did not know Ruth's history, looked puzzled. "Why do you say it isn't her name, Nora?" she asked.

"Why because it isn't. Everybody knows Miss Brackenbury took her from charity; she took her out of the streets. My mother was at the meeting when the letter came about her and Billy Beatty, and she said she didn't see how Miss Brackenbury could be willing to take in any one she didn't know anything about. She wouldn't let me play with her at first, and I don't think she ought to be allowed to call herself something she is not."

But before the speech was ended, Ruth had rushed up-stairs, with hurried, trembling fingers had put on her hat and coat and, without stopping for a word with any one, had flown out of the house and up the street, the tears running down her cheeks and her heart beating with a fierce resentment.

Miss Hester was not at home when she arrived at the door, and she was obliged to go around the back way, take the key from its hiding-place under the door-mat, and let herself in.

An hour later Miss Hester found her alone in the dark, lying prone on the floor, sobbing broken-heartedly.

"Why, my poor little girl, what is the matter?" she said lifting her up. "What has happened? Are you hurt? Has anything happened to Billy or Stray?"

"No, no," replied Ruth between sobs; "it's only me."

"Only you? But only you are very important to your Aunt Hester. I'll take off my things and then you must come in where it is warm and tell me all about it."

Ruth's room was heated from Miss Hester's where a wood stove supplied the heat night and morning. Now that the weather had grown colder, Miss Hester sat in the living-room or the kitchen, for she must save fuel.

It was not long before Ruth's tears were dried, as with head nestled on Miss Hester's shoulder, she sat in her lap and told her story.

"It was very unkind of Nora," Miss Hester said.

"I s'pose she thought I wanted to be deceitful, and she always likes to tell on people. She's always telling on the girls at school the least little thing they do. She didn't like it 'cause the girls said my coat was pretty. She asked me where I got it and I told her you gave it to me, and she said she wondered how you could afford to give me anything as good as that. She began to say something else but Lucia hushed her up. Oh, Aunt Hester, was I deceitful? I am your little girl now; you said so."

"Yes, dear, you are my own little girl. You love Aunt Hester a little bit, don't you?"

"I love you, oh, I do love you, but—but you don't want me to forget mother, do you?"

"A thousand times no. Remember your dear mother to your dying day."

"She's an angel now," returned Ruth, "and I can't tell her I love her, but I can tell you and I want to stay with you forever 'n' ever and be called Ruth Henrietta Brackenbury."

"And so you shall. I must see Dr. Peaslee," she added musingly, "and Squire Field; they'll know how I must make it legal."

She put on her hat that very evening and went out, leaving Billy and Ruth to study their lessons.

When she came back Dr. Peaslee was with her. He brought a pocketful of roasted chestnuts for the children and told them such funny stories that they went laughing to bed.

Sometime later came an important looking envelope through the mail. Ruth brought it in. "Such a great big letter, Aunt Hester."

Miss Hester took it, opened it and looked over the contents. Then she called Ruth to her. "Ruth Henrietta Brackenbury," she said taking the child's face between her two hands, "that is your real name now and no one can dispute it. You shall never change it unless," she added with a little twist of a smile, "you should get married some day."

"But I never shall," returned Ruth soberly, "for I shall always want my name to same as yours. Is it really, really mine?"

"It is really yours in law, and you are my own little girl in the eyes of the law exactly the same as you would be any mother's."

"Oh, I am so glad, so glad," said Ruth.

Then they sat and hugged each other very tight till Billy came in with the wood.


One Friday Afternoon

"AND what about Billy?" said Ruth. "You are his aunt, too, you know."

Ruth looked across the room at the cheerful Billy stowing away the wood for the morning's fire. "You know I am really and truly named Brackenbury for always and forever," said the little girl exultantly.

"I know," returned Billy. "It's all right for a girl."

"Billy is quite content to remain Billy Beatty. He says he would rather not have any other name, and, under the circumstances, I think it is just as well," said Miss Hester.

"I've always been called Bill Beatty and I'm always a-goin' to be," maintained Billy sturdily. "Why, the first week I was here, I licked a feller for callin' me sumthin' else."

"Why, Billy," said Miss Hester chidingly.

"Yes, I did. I didn't tell you nor Ruth neither. 'Twa'n't no use. You're awful good to me and I'm tickled to death to call you aunt, not having no kin, but aunts don't always have the same name as their nephews, I told the fellers. Besides I ain't just the Brackenbury kind like Ruth is."

"You are a very good kind, Billy," said Miss Hester, warmly.

"Oh, that's all right," returned Billy uneasily, moving off at the suggestion of a compliment.

It was quite natural that Billy, the street urchin, should not appeal to Miss Hester in the same way as did Ruth, the daughter of a refined and gentle mother, though to sturdy Billy, Miss Hester gave a warm affection while her sense of duty never allowed her to slight him or to lessen his opportunities.

But it was Ruth who shared her future when she sat over her sewing planning for the days to come. It was Ruth whose love she craved and of whom she felt that she could be proud.

Billy should be reared to be self-reliant that he might go forth into the world and make a name for himself. He should be sent to school, should have good moral instruction, and Miss Hester prayed that through her efforts, he would become a good man.

Ruth should stay with her and be as her own daughter, and one day they might go back together to the old home.

At school, Billy not only held his own among his comrades, but fought Ruth's battles as well, so that no one dared so much as hint that she had not a right to her new name.

That question came up one day not long after Lucia Field's birthday party, for one day at recess, there was a great discussion over in one corner of the playground.

Nora Petty and Annie Waite were contradicting each other and Ruth, who was eating her lunch with Lucia, heard "She has," from the one, and "She hasn't," from the other, repeated over and over again, the voices rising with the tempers of the two little girls who were quarreling.

"What do you suppose is the matter?" said Lucia. "Let's go over, Ruth, and find out."

So, with apples in hand, they crossed the playground.

"There she comes now," said Annie; "you can ask her."

"Oh, they are talking about us," said Lucia, in a low tone. "Ask who what?" she said, as she came up.

"Why, you know," began Nora, "this morning we had new copy-books given out, and we all had to write our names on them. I say Ruth has no right to the name she wrote on hers and Annie declares she has. Everybody knows Ruth's real name is Mayfield, and that it isn't the same as Miss Hester's and that she isn't one bit of relation to her."

"But it is her real name," cried Lucia, triumphantly. "That's the second time you have tried to hurt Ruth's feelings about it, and you've just got to stop it; she's my best friend, I'll have you to know."

"It isn't her name, either!"

"It is, too. I reckon my grandfather knows. He told me the law gave her that name and she is just exactly the same as if she were born with it, for Miss Brackenbury has legally adopted her, and if she ever gets back her old home, it could go to Ruth just the same as if she were her own child, so there. I reckon my grandfather ought to know if anybody does."

As Squire Field was the acknowledged authority upon most matters, Nora had not a word to say. She only stood and stared. The other children had gathered around.

One of the boys nudged Billy. "Is that so?" he whispered.

Billy nodded. "Sure pop."

"How about you?"

"Oh, I'm not in it. She's a girl and it's all right for her, and I can get along with any name. I told Aunt Hester I'd rather keep to Beatty. But I'd just like to see," he spoke up in a loud voice. "I'd just like to see anybody, boy or girl, say that Ruth hasn't a right to be called Brackenbury; I'll make it hot for 'em."

The girls shrank back and the boys hastened to assure Billy that no one doubted his word. Billy had made good use of his fists for too many years for his fighting qualities to be despised by his schoolmates.

"Come," said Lucia, putting her arm around Ruth, "let's go back and finish our lunch. I've got some nice little spice cakes in my basket. I made the cook put two in for you."

She glanced over her shoulder at Nora as she said this, for there had been a time when she and Lucia had eaten lunch together, but, since her Birthday Party, Lucia had chosen to ignore Nora and had invited Ruth to share the enticing contents of her lunch basket.

Every one knew that Lucia Field brought nicer lunches than any one else, and Nora felt herself distinctly snubbed. A great anger against Ruth arose in her heart. Ruth, whom she despised as an interloper and of whom she was wildly jealous, to be preferred before her was too much, and she determined that if there was any way to annoy her that the chance of doing so should not be lost.

Not long after this, her chance came, for on Friday afternoons the little girls brought their dolls to school at the request of the teacher who gave sewing lessons upon that day, and who had cut out and put into the hands of each a petticoat to hem, gather and sew on a band.

Ruth had learned to sew very nicely under Miss Hester's instructions and made so neat a hem as to call forth the teacher's praise.

"That is very well done," she said. "See, Nora, what neat little stitches Ruth has taken. Try to make yours look as well. I am afraid you will have to pick out half of what you have done. You are in too much of a hurry. If you want to sew neatly, you must take more time."

Nora pouted and gave her shoulders a twitch as the teacher turned away. She did not dare say anything but she gave Ruth so black and threatening a look as to make that young person wish she could change her seat, it being, unfortunately, next to Nora's. The best she could do, however, was to turn half way around toward Lucia who sat on the other side and who gave Ruth a pleased smile when Miss Mullins praised her.

Henrietta, though a less magnificent person than Lucia's Annabel Lee or Nora's Violetta was, nevertheless, quite as well dressed as her smiling neighbors who, staring at the maps on the wall, sat up stiffly on the desks in front of their several owners. Miss Hester, previous to the last Christmas, had given many a spare moment to the exquisite needlework which Henrietta's clothes displayed, and her dainty cambric underwear and pink frock were quite the admiration of Ruth's schoolfellows. To be sure, Lucia had excused the appearance of her doll by saying, "An only child as yours is, Ruth, must expect to dress better than the others. Now with my six, I find it hard to keep them all properly clothed and sometimes they even have to wear each other's clothes. I can't get enough clean things to go around."

Then little Ruth had embraced Henrietta tenderly, for she was indeed her only child and her coming had been one of Ruth's greatest joys, for though she remembered her babyhood's dolls, these were all broken and lost long before Ruth had come to Miss Hester's to live, and a forlorn rag-baby was her only plaything at the time her mother died. What had become of the rag-baby, she never had found out, for when she looked for it that sad day when the good doctor took her for a last time to the empty attic, there was no rag-baby to be seen. Possibly some even less fortunate child had found it and had treasured it. This Miss Hester told her for her comfort, but because Ruth so mourned her lost darling, that first Christmas in the big house, Henrietta was given to her.

Miss Hester had little money to spend, even then, and the doll was the first thing taken from the old chest which held the possessions of the little sister Henrietta and which was destined to furnish Ruth with many comforts and pleasures. The doll Henrietta, having been in the world some years longer than her neighbors, was rather an old-fashioned beauty. She was not of the bisque of which the more modern dolls are made, but a sort of composition and wax gave her a soft expression. Her eyes were large and beautiful and her hair long and curling. Ruth admired her beyond measure and because she was different from the rest, the girls all admired her immensely, and it was considered quite a privilege to be allowed to hold her.

On this Friday afternoon, Ruth stole a pleased glance every now and then to Henrietta sitting in silent state upon her desk. Nora's doll in silk attire she did not think near so lovely, for Violetta had an unkempt frowsy appearance. Lucia's Annabel Lee was a sweet insipid creature with very light hair and an innocent smile which showed two of her tiny teeth. She was clad in blue cashmere somewhat streaked and faded from Lucia's attempt to wash the frock for this occasion. Her efforts had not turned out well, but, as she confided to Ruth, it was clean, which was more than could be said of some costumes. Between two such representatives as Violetta and Annabel Lee, it was no wonder that Ruth viewed Henrietta with complacency.

The room was very quiet, for the girls were not allowed to talk without permission. Once in a while, there was a subdued whisper from one corner or Miss Mullins's low tones were heard as she bent over the work of some pupil. There was an odor of geraniums from the plants in the window. Sometimes, when a desk lid was raised there was a sudden spicy whiff from a hidden apple. Outside the sparrows were twittering in the vines and the rumble of wagons sounded indistinctly. It was a very quiet, orderly class indeed, thought Miss Mullins.

Suddenly from one corner came a crash, a distressed cry followed by wild sobbing. Miss Mullins looked up quickly. There was a disturbance in the direction of Ruth's seat. Miss Mullins went quickly to the scene of trouble. Crouching on the floor and holding fragments of a broken doll in her lap was Ruth wailing "She's dead! She's dead! She can never come to life again."

"You shall have mine, my Annabel Lee," Lucia was saying as she placed her own doll in Ruth's lap.

"No, no," wept Ruth, "I don't want any one but Henrietta. There was only one like her in the whole world, and she's dead, she's dead forever."

"Let me see, Ruth;" Miss Mullins bent over the weeping child. "Perhaps she can be mended."

"She can't, she can't," sobbed Ruth. "She's all broken to bits."

And indeed poor Henrietta was in a very sorry state for, though the body, legs and arms were not injured, most of the head was a total wreck.

"How did it happen? Did you let her fall?" asked Miss Mullins sympathetically.

"No, I didn't do it. Nora pushed her off my desk on purpose."

Miss Mullins straightened herself from her bending position. "Nora," she said gravely, "is that true?"

Nora, looking honestly ashamed, hung her head. "I did knock her off, but I—I didn't do it on purpose."

"But how came you to be meddling with Ruth's doll?"

Nora was silent.

"I had just taken her up for a minute," Ruth began to explain. "I wanted to measure the band around the waist, and I laid her down just for a second while I cut the band, and Nora leaned over and jogged her elbow just so and Henrietta went sliding off before I could catch her."

Miss Mullins looked again at Nora. "If that is true, it was a wicked thing to do, Nora, and I am greatly grieved that one of my class could purposely destroy another's doll."

Nora began to sniffle and look aggrieved. "I didn't think she would break. I just wanted to scare Ruth."

"You should have known that a doll was liable to break, if it fell from any distance upon a hard floor, and, in any event, you intended to do wrong. Even in trying to scare Ruth, you were to blame." Miss Mullins stood looking from the culprit to the mourning Ruth.

"The only thing I can think of that you can do to make reparation, is that you give Ruth your doll," she continued.

Ruth scrambled to her feet. "Do you suppose I would take anything she had played with? Do you suppose her horrid Violetta could take the place of my dear lovely Henrietta? And I wouldn't touch that ugly greasy old silk dress with that common cotton lace on it. I would be ashamed to be seen with such an untidy looking thing."

"Ruth, Ruth," Miss Mullins's hand was laid on her shoulder, "this will not do. I realize that you are much grieved and excited, but you must not talk so. The only way Nora can make any sort of reparation is to give you her doll, and I want her to do it."

"She can send it to the heathen or the missionaries; I don't want it, and I won't have it. Miss Mullins, do you think your mother would want to change you for some one that looked like Nora's Violetta?"

Miss Mullins tried to hide a smile.

Ruth was so fierce and contemptuous and, though she felt very sorry for her, she could not but be amused at the same time that she tried to be stern.

"You must try to curb that violent tongue of yours, Ruth," she said. "I see nothing else to be done. I am sure we are all very sorry for you, and regret what has happened. I will excuse you from sewing any more to-day and, if you and Lucia will speak in whispers, you two may take that empty seat by the door, and I will give you permission to speak to one another, if you do not disturb the rest of the class. Nora, you may come to the platform and sit by me. I want to speak to you after school is dismissed."

Bearing the fragments of her broken doll, Ruth made her way to the seat her teacher had pointed out, Lucia following with her own and Ruth's sewing materials.

At sight of the unfinished petticoat, the tears welled up into Ruth's eyes again.

"Henrietta will never need it," she sobbed, burying her face in her hands.

Lucia put her arms around her. "Don't cry," she whispered. "You can have any of my other dolls if you don't care for Annabel Lee."

Ruth gave her friend's hand a little squeeze. "You are awfully good, Lucia," she whispered. "I don't mean that your dolls aren't lovely when I say I don't want any of them, but you know there isn't any other one like Henrietta in the whole wide world. She isn't near so big as your Annabel Lee nor so 'spensive, maybe, but she isn't like anybody else and now I shall never, never see her again." And the tears flowed more plentifully.

Lucia tried to whisper comforting words though there seemed little consolation to offer.

"You can have the petticoat for your Marie; it will just fit her," said Ruth after a pause. "I shall never need it."

"Oh, no, I couldn't take it," returned Lucia, though she secretly admired the neat work.

"Please do; it will always remind me of this dreadful day and I couldn't stand it. It is nearly done, you see, and I can easily finish it."

So, realizing that Ruth really desired to give her the small garment, Lucia accepted it, determining that some day when time had softened Ruth's grief, she would again offer her one of her dolls.

It was not long before school was dismissed; then the girls gathered around Ruth with many expressions of sympathy for her and sharp censure for Nora.

"I'd never speak to her," said one.

"I wish I didn't ever have to see her face again," returned Ruth.

"I don't see how you can bear to sit by her; she was always hateful to you;" this from Annie Waite.

"I'm going to ask Miss Mullins if Lucia and I can't change our seats," returned Ruth.

But this she did not have to do, for on Monday, to her relief, she found Nora established on the other side of the schoolroom in a seat by herself, this being Miss Mullins's punishment for what she realized was a spiteful and cruel act.

Ruth, escorted by a band of sympathizing comrades, bore her doll solemnly home that fateful afternoon and poured forth her pitiful tale in the ears of Miss Hester and Billy.


Billy and The Doll

MISS HESTER did her best to comfort the grieving Ruth, and, if the truth were told, felt nearly as badly as the child herself at the destruction of the doll which had belonged to her twin sister. She took the broken doll in her hands and looked at it tenderly.

"We had them exactly alike," she told Ruth, "only mine was dressed in blue and Henrietta's in pink; we always dressed them so to tell them apart. My father brought them to us once when he had been to New York, and we thought there never were dolls like them."

"What became of yours?" asked Ruth interested. "Did you break it?"

Miss Hester smiled a little wistfully. "No, I didn't break it. I gave it to some one. Some one who used to play with me when I was a little girl."

"Did you give it away after your little sister died?"

"Yes, many years after; when I was a woman grown."

"And has the somebody you gave it to—has that somebody the doll now?"

"I think so. Don't you think, Ruth, we would best take this poor broken Henrietta and put her back in the chest from which we took her?"

"Yes," Ruth answered soberly, "I should like to know that she was laid away with Henrietta's things, the broken cup and saucer and the mittens with the thumbs worn out and all the rest of the things she used to have."

"And some day when I can afford it, I will get you a new doll."

"Lucia offered to give me any one of hers that I would choose if I ever wanted another one, but I don't feel now that I ever shall."

Ruth drew a long sigh. "I loved Henrietta so." Her chin quivered and then the tears flowed again as they did at intervals all the evening.

And at bedtime, when there was no Henrietta sitting in her little wooden chair smiling into the dimness, came the most piteous weeping of all, till Ruth's pillow was wet with tears, and when Miss Hester peeped in at midnight—so many buttonholes had there been that day—she found the child wide awake, the drops still burdening her long lashes.

"Poor baby," she said bending over to give her one of her gentle kisses, "would you like to come in and sleep with me?"

"It wouldn't seem so lonely," said Ruth, sitting up, "but you don't like any one to sleep with you, Aunt Hester."

"I'd like it to-night." So Ruth found her comfort in the clasp of Miss Hester's arm and went to sleep cuddled close.

Billy had listened with kindling eyes and with angry exclamations, to Ruth's account of the disaster, and the next day, on their way to the store, he confided to Ruth that he meant to "do up" that Nora Petty. Just what the process of doing up might mean, Ruth didn't know, but she believed in Billy's prowess and was sure it was something too dreadful for any girl to endure. If it had been a boy, now, who had done this thing, she would willingly have allowed Billy to punish him as he might see fit, but a girl battered and banged by Billy's tough little fists was something altogether too awful to be thought of, so she tried to make him promise that he would let Nora alone, saying, rather grandly, that boys ought not to fight girls.

"Ah, look a-here, I didn't mean to knock her down and pommel her," said Billy, "but I'll tell all the fellows how mean she is and if Frank Crane gives her any more apples, I'm mistaken. They won't, any of the other fellows, you can bet your boots. I guess we can find a way to give her a dose without our fists."

"Well, it won't do any good now," returned Ruth, resignedly. "Billy, I wonder who has that other doll that was Aunt Hester's."

"You can search me," replied Billy.

"Just think of it, she's the only one in the world like my Henrietta, and I do wish I could have her. Do you suppose the person loves her very much, as much as I would?"

"Ask me somethin' easy. Maybe there are some others somewhere like that one." Billy was thoughtful.

"Where? You know Aunt Hester said they didn't make that kind nowadays."

"Oh, I don't know just where. There might be some left over."

"I never saw one."

"That's not sayin' there ain't any. Some old person might know where one could be had."

"Oh, do you really think so?"

"Might. Can't say for sure, but somebody might happen to know."

"But Aunt Hester didn't know. Do you mean some one as old as she is?"

"Yes, or older."

"How old do you suppose she is?"

"About forty-four, I guess. Ye know on the headstone over the twin sister's grave it says: 'Born February 10, 1860, died March 21, 1868.' Now ye know they were twins, and if she was born in 1860, that's forty-four years ago."

"Oh, how smart you are about figures, Billy. I never could have thought of that. Forty-four is quite old, of course."

The two trudged along without saying anything for some minutes. Each one was busily thinking. Billy had a scheme he was pondering over, and Ruth was supposing. She did a great deal of supposing, "what if-ing" she and Lucia called it. What if some one knew where a doll like Henrietta could be bought, and what if some day as she was going to the store she should look down and find a silver dollar, a doll couldn't cost more than a dollar.

She stopped short and looked at the ground searchingly; it might be there at that very moment, and this might be the day when she would find it.

"What ye lookin' for?" asked Billy.

"Oh, nothing. I was just thinking what if I should find a silver dollar in the road."

"Pshaw!" exclaimed Billy. "That's foolishness."

"But people do find money sometimes."

"They don't so often when they're lookin' for it. I've often looked and I never found but a nickel in my life. No, sir, the only way you're sure of gettin' money is to work for it."

"I can't do that very well, and besides it would be much nicer to find it."

Billy did not answer; he seemed preoccupied. "There ain't much to carry home," he said. "I'll take it as far as the gate and then you can take it in. I want to see somebody before dark."

"One of the boys?" asked Ruth.

But there was no reply for by that time the store was reached.

This place was about a quarter of a mile from Miss Hester's small house which stood on the edge of the town upon a street which became a road just beyond. The town was not a large one. The houses stood far apart and many of them were surrounded by pretty gardens. In the centre of the town, just opposite the store and the post-office, stood Dr. Peaslee's house, a square brick building with as square a porch before the front door. The doctor was not married, and his mother, an invalid, was so rarely seen that most persons had forgotten her existence, and thought that a housekeeper held sway.

After leaving Ruth at the gate of their home, Billy retraced his steps, and, crossing the street when he came to the store, he went directly to Dr. Peaslee's door. The good doctor's mud-spattered buggy stood before the gate, so Billy knew that he should find the doctor at home, and he was not mistaken for he was in his office.

"Well, Billy boy," he exclaimed, looking up over his glasses, "what brings you here? Any one ill up your way? Not Miss Hester, I hope."

There was a little anxious ring in his tone.

"Nobody's sick," returned Billy. "I came over to consult you."

"About yourself? What's your particular indisposition, Mr. Beatty?"

The doctor and Billy had been good friends ever since that day when Billy had been picked up in the streets of the city and had wakened to consciousness to see the doctor's kind face bending over him.

"'Tain't nothin' the matter with me," returned Billy, grinning. "I'm all right."

"Don't want to be fashionable and part with your appendix?" asked the doctor fingering some sharp instruments which lay on the table before him.

Billy gave a little squirm but faced the doctor's glance sturdily. "I ain't achin' to be no subjick at a 'orspital," he returned. "I reckon the doctors kin learn their trade without foolin' with my in'ards."

The doctor laughed. "Well then, proceed to business. What's troubling you, governor?"

Billy looked down at the stubby toes of his shoes. He was thinking just how he would best conduct his system of inquiries. Presently he looked up and said: "You've known Aunt Hester a long time, haven't you, doctor?"

"Ever since we were smaller kids than you and Ruth."

Billy nodded. "Did you ever see them dolls her and her sister used to have, waxy ones, dressed in pink and blue?"

The doctor looked at him sharply and answered in a more reserved manner, "Yes, I remember them."

"Well, have you any idea who Miss Hester gave hers to? She said she didn't give it away till she was grown-up, and I thought maybe you might know."

The doctor drummed thoughtfully upon the arm of the desk chair which he had swung partly around toward Billy. "Why do you want to know?" he asked presently. "And why do you ask me?"

"Well, I knew you were an old friend; you've got the major's cane, you know, and I didn't know but you could tell something about the doll. This is why I want to know." And he launched forth into a tale of Ruth's trouble.

The doctor did not interrupt him, but at the close of the story, he muttered under his breath:

"Humph! That's just like a Petty." He looked Billy over with a smile. "See here, youngster," he said, "you were a wise little owl to come to me with that tale, for the fact is that I do know to whom Miss Hester gave that doll and I also happen to know that it is still in existence."

"Do you think the person that has it would sell it? I'd work all day Saturdays, all the time I mean from my regular chores, to pay for it. You haven't got any odd jobs to be done, have you, doctor? I'm real strong. Feel my muscle."

He spoke eagerly and stretched out an arm which in truth showed more muscle than flesh.

The doctor gravely responded to the invitation and nodded assent. "You'll do," he said. "Well, sir, I'll tell you what I'll do: I'll try to arrange the matter for you. I'll see about bargaining for the doll; I can probably make a better deal than you, and I'll have some jobs ready for you, if not here, somewhere. Now mind, I'm not sure that we can make the trade, but I'll see how the land lies, and if the doll can be given up without any hurt feelings or anything of that kind, we'll get it."

Billy's face beamed. "Thank you, sir," he said, getting up from his chair. "I just felt sure you could help a fellow out. Say," he paused after picking up his hat, "I heard the other day that it was one of them Pettys that's keepin' Miss Hester out of her house."

"See here, youngster," returned the doctor rising, "you see and hear too much. Such an old head as yours must have broader shoulders to carry it before you tackle such matters as that."

Billy stood still. "I guess maybe I have got an old head," he replied soberly. "I don't guess I ever was a baby. I don't remember any time when I didn't have to look after myself, and it's come kind of natural, so now it seems as if I ought to be lookin' after her when she's so good to me."

The doctor softly pinched the boy's ear. "That's all right, governor, but I reckon she has one or two friends that are not so old yet but that they can give an eye to Hester Brackenbury's affairs. You think about your lessons and your little chores and things, so that when the time comes for we old fellows to step out, you can step in. Oh, yes, when shall you come again? Let me see, this is Saturday. Come in Tuesday and I'll tell you if we're on the track of the doll."

Billy departed in high spirits.

The doctor looking after him said to himself, "Smart little rascal, keen as a razor, and, if I'm not mistaken, he's going to turn out to be Hester's right hand man. She'll make a good boy out of him if any one can."

And the doctor turned back to his desk.

Billy trotted home well satisfied with his call. He would not tell Ruth yet, but he chuckled as he thought of what a joyful surprise it would be to her if such a thing were to happen as that he could produce the doll in a blue frock. It must be confessed that there was a measure of feeling against Nora Petty which prompted him in being most energetic in trying to find the doll.

He had heard whispers of Miss Hester's transactions with the Pettys. It had been told him that old Mr. Petty had been the one to press his claim against Major Brackenbury's estate and that there were suspicions of there having been some sharp practice. It was known that the major, in his last years, was very forgetful, and, moreover, being an honest man himself, was too ready to trust others, so that he had not been as careful as he should have been in business matters.

The result of this was that after his death there were outlying debts which Miss Hester believed to have been paid, but for which no receipts could be found. Among these debts was a sum of money claimed by old Simon Petty. Miss Hester was sure her father had paid it, for it was a large amount, and she remembered hearing the major say one day that he would be clear of that debt before twenty-four hours were over.

Yet, when they came to look for the receipt, it could not be found, neither was any amount of money corresponding to that due, to be discovered remaining to the major's credit in bank or elsewhere. Every one felt that there was a fraud somewhere, but it could not be ferreted out, and, therefore, the old home passed into Simon Petty's hands and Miss Hester went to live in the little brown house.

It was the Sunday after Billy's call upon the doctor, that this gentleman overtook Miss Hester and the children on their way home from church.

The doctor was in his buggy. He checked his horse and called: "Jump in here, Hetty, and I'll take you home."

Miss Hester hesitated, but the doctor insisted saying, "I've something very important to talk to you about, and I don't know when I'll get another chance."

So Miss Hester left the children to go home together while she and the doctor drove off.

They must have taken a long way around, however, for the children had reached the house and were setting the table for dinner when the buggy stopped at the door. There was a little wistful smile on Miss Hester's face all during dinner, and she was evidently thinking of something besides the food upon her plate. The children thought it must be the sermon of which she thought and would have been rather surprised if they could have known that her old doll occupied her mind, and that the doll at that moment lay in a drawer in the doctor's desk.

It had been there many a year, and the doctor valued it highly, for had it not taken part in the adventures of little Hester Brackenbury and Tommy Peaslee, years before? Had it not often been taken a-nutting in the woods with the two, and once rescued from a watery grave by Tommy who could not stand Hester's tears and who got himself wet to the skin in his valiant effort to save the sinking doll? At another time had it not proved a benefactor when they had lost their way and a stream of sawdust from the doll's body served as a clue to lead them back to the right path? Hester's mother had restored the sawdust and had mended the leak so that this particular thinning out did not happen again. These and many more incidents came to Miss Hester's mind as she ate her dinner.

The last time she had seen her childhood's treasure was when Tommy went to college and had begged the doll as a mascot. "It will help to keep me straight, Hetty," he said, and she had given it to him laughing at his whim.

On his visits home, he had told her of the doll's honored place in his room, of the jokes of his fellow students concerning it, of how he had nearly fought some one because of it, and of how the scoffer had been made to offer an humble apology to Miss Doll as satisfaction.

She had never asked it back again. So many things had happened since; trouble had come to them both, and these two had never married because of them. So, on this Sunday morning, Dr. Tom Peaslee told Miss Hester of Billy's quest for her old doll and asked her if it would please her were he to give the doll to Billy for Ruth.

"It was dear of Billy to think of getting it," said Miss Hester. "Yes, Tom, if you can spare your mascot, it will give great happiness to little Ruth."

"I must confess that I still want it, old idiot that I am," he answered, "but Hester, the good luck I hoped it would bring seems never to be mine and so—"

"But you are greatly blessed, Tom," Miss Hester interrupted quickly. "You have a good practice and are so well beloved. Yes, you are greatly blessed."

"In all things but in a wife, Hester," said the doctor, sighing.

"Your mother is just the same?"

"Just the same; exacting, querulous, domineering, yet clinging to me and dependent upon me for all that makes life at all worthwhile to her. She is my mother, and we love each other."

"She needs you, Tom, just as my father needed me, and we have neither of us failed in our life-work. My two children are a great comfort to me."

"They are uncommonly nice little youngsters, considering how you happened to find them. I shall keep an eye on that boy," said the doctor. "He has a future before him, or I'm mistaken. I think it will be as well, perhaps, if I let him earn the doll."

Miss Hester agreed. "I want him to learn to be self-respecting. He has good instincts, is shrewd and ambitious; he continually astonishes me by exhibiting some new and very hopeful trait. I liked the way, at the first, that he was willing to go to school and be placed in the class with boys so much smaller, for he knew very little. He had learned to read, and is quick as lightning at figures, so he is fast pushing his way up into the higher classes."

"He's all right," commented the doctor. "I hope you will have as great satisfaction from that little mouse of a girl."

"Ruth, once her love is won, is the dearest child in the world," Miss Hester hastened to say. "I think she will be like a real daughter to me. Oh, yes, Tom, I shall be very happy to see her joy over the doll, and it is good of you to be willing to give it up, though we are too old now to be sentimental over such things."

The doctor sighed. "I have other treasures and memories, Hester, and most precious of all are the memories. I wish I could save you that everlasting needlework. I remember you always did hate buttonholes."

"They are a good discipline," returned Miss Hester, smiling. "I probably need them for my development. Won't you come in?"

The doctor declined. "God bless her," he murmured, as he drove away.


Miss Hester Meets an Old Acquaintance

ON Tuesday, Billy hied him forth again to the doctor.

When he returned, he had a package carefully tucked under his arm.

It was a mild day and Ruth was sitting on the steps with Stray in her lap. She had pinned a small shawl around him, and was now holding him like a baby, in which position, he seemed most comfortable.

Ruth looked up as Billy came in. "I am pretending that Stray is my child. He is the only doll I have now to play with," she said.

Billy laughed a little gleeful laugh as he stopped to look at the patient Stray whose brown paws hung helplessly outside the shawl. "He ain't got quite such a pretty complexion as your other doll," said Billy. "He's as dark as a Dago. Maybe he is one."

"Oh, no, he's not," returned Ruth, looking down, a little out of conceit with her baby.

"I'd rather play a dog was a dog," said Billy.

"Oh, no, you wouldn't, not if you were a girl and hadn't any doll. What would you do then?"

"I'd get one, with a blue dress on," answered Billy, going into the house laughing.

Ruth felt that this was an unnecessarily cruel taunt, and did not follow him. Great would have been her surprise if she had seen him enter Miss Hester's presence, joyfully holding out his package and crying: "I've got it, I've got it, and I'm goin' to work Saturdays, an hour every Saturday for a month, to pay for it. Ain't that fine? I tell ye Dr. Peaslee is a brick."

Miss Hester held out eager hands. "Let me see, Billy," she said.

He handed her the package which she carefully unwrapped and disclosed to view a doll about ten inches long, dressed in a faded blue frock. What memories it brought back to the gentle woman whose eyes filled with tears as she sat holding the doll in her hand. She said never a word, at which Billy wondered, but at last she drew a long sigh.

"It makes me remember so many things, Billy dear," she said. "I forgot where I was for the moment, for I went back to those old days when my father brought Henrietta and me our dolls, then later on there were so many things, so many things. Never mind, it is all over now. Where is Ruth, Billy? Are you going to give her the doll right away?"

"Yes, don't ye think I'd better? I certainly want to see her when she gets it. She's sittin' out on the steps nursin' Stray. She hadn't an idea what I had under my arm. I'll tell ye what let's do: Let's wait till supper time and then set the doll in her chair. I'll put a pile of books in it, and then won't she stare to see Miss Doll sittin' in her place?"

Miss Hester smiled assent and the two plotted together while Ruth sat outside on the steps watching the sun go down.

A golden afterglow was lighting up the sky when Billy came out to her.

"Supper's ready, Ruth," he said rubbing his hands together in a pleased manner. "Come on, hurry up, we're goin' to have somethin' good."

"Are we, really?" Ruth forgot that she was slightly miffed at Billy's former remark.

Billy nodded, and Ruth, unpinning the shawl from Stray, set him down on the ground where he stretched himself, wagged his tail and started off to find some exciting thing to do, after his hour of rest in Ruth's arms.

The kitchen in which they ate their meals, except on high days and holidays, was a comfortable place. A neat rag carpet covered the floor; there were white curtains at the windows, and, now that Miss Hester had lighted the lamp, there was a cheerful brightness in the room.

"Old Mrs. Perkins sent me a nice pot of apple-butter this morning, and some fresh sausage," said Miss Hester as Ruth came in. "We are going to have some of the apple-butter to-night and some of the sausage in the morning. I don't know any one who makes better apple-butter and sausage than she does. She used to send it to my father who always praised it highly, and now she seems to be keeping up the custom by sending it to me. Come, Ruth."

"Doesn't it look good?" said Billy viewing the dish with hungry eyes, "and it will taste as good as it looks, so spicy and sweet. Hallo, who's that sittin' in your chair, Ruth?"

Ruth, who had been sniffing the apple-butter from the other side of the table, went quickly to her place and gave a little scream of surprise and delight.

"Oh, Billy! Oh, Aunt Hester! Where did it come from? It is my dear Henrietta's twin sister, I am sure. Oh, how did you get her?"

"Ask Billy," said Miss Hester.

Ruth turned a questioning face toward Billy.

"You'll never guess," he said. "Dr. Peaslee got it for me."

"For you? Did you tell him? Oh, you dear Billy. Go on, tell me all about it."

"I got it for ye," said Billy, "and I am goin' to pay for it by workin' an hour on four Saturdays for the doctor. I am to rake leaves for him and do some clearin' out in his garden." He spoke in an off-hand manner. "Isn't she the very livin' image of the other one?"

Ruth examined the doll critically. "Yes, as near as could be. She has just a little different expression, but she is just as lovely. Oh, you dear Billy, how good you are to do this for me. I am so happy. I could never in the world do anything half so nice for you. If only you didn't hate to be kissed, I'd come right over there and kiss you. I'll hug you anyhow."

"Oh, now," began Billy, "that's just like a girl," though any one could see that he was not ill-pleased when Ruth rushed to him and gave him as mighty a hug as she was capable of.

The apple-butter was a thing of small consideration by the side of this wonderful thing that had happened, and Ruth had so many questions to ask about the how and why of it all that she ate very little supper and her eyes constantly traveled to the doll which she had sitting beside her in another chair, and she chattered so constantly about it, that her appreciation was good to see.

"Weren't you 'sprised and glad to see her again, Aunt Hester?" she asked. "I should think you would love to have her back again living in the same house with you. Do you suppose the person you gave her to was very sorry to give her up?"

"Rather sorry, I think," returned Miss Hester with a faint little flush coming to her cheeks.

"Maybe she needed the money more than the doll," Ruth consoled herself by saying. "Of course, as long as she must be a grown person now, she would be likely to want a new bonnet or frock, and that's why she was willing to sell the doll."

"I've a notion it was the doctor himself," said Billy, his mouth full of bread and apple-butter.

"Why, Billy Beatty, what in the world would he want with a doll?" exclaimed Ruth, surprised at such a suggestion. "Did he have it, Aunt Hester?"

"Why, my dear—" Aunt Hester began, when she was interrupted by a knock on the door, and Billy rushed tumultuously to answer, being very anxious to get back to the bread and apple-butter.

It was Dr. Peaslee himself who entered.

"Hallo!" he cried cheerily. "I was driving by and I thought I would drop in and see if this young man got home safely with his purchase. What's this? Apple-butter? I declare that takes me back to the old days, Hester, when we used to come back hungry from our romps in the woods and would make raids on the crock of apple-butter in the pantry. Do you remember how old Polly used to scold us because we always preferred that which Mrs. Perkins had sent and which Polly always reserved especially for the major?"

"And this is some of that very Mrs. Perkins's make," Miss Hester told him. "Sit down, Tom, and have some."

Glad as the children were to see him, and honored as they felt by his presence at their supper table, they were struck with consternation at the amount of apple-butter he consumed and considered that at that rate, the crock would last but a short time.

The doctor, catching sight of Billy's eyes fixed anxiously upon him as he helped himself to a fourth slice of bread which he lavishly spread with apple-butter, threw back his head and laughed.

"You think I've a pretty good appetite, don't you, governor?" he said. "This is positively my last slice. I have had a long ride 'way out in the country to see a sick woman and this is my first bite since breakfast."

He was as good as his word, and when he had finished he turned to Ruth and said, "You haven't told me how you like this young lady."

He picked up the doll and looked at it with such interest that Ruth said, "Was it really yours, doctor? Billy says he believes it was."

The doctor laughed. "Billy is too smart. Don't you think it would be rather funny for an old bachelor to be playing with dolls? Ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies. The truth is, Miss Mouse, the person to whom it belonged would rather keep the ownership a secret."

Ruth looked a little disappointed; she would like to have had a history of the doll's career since it left Miss Hester's hands. She was too polite, however, to press the question and only said: "I am sure it was very nice of whoever it was to give it up to me, and I am very much obliged to you for getting it for Billy and me. I thought maybe she belonged to a lady who needed a new winter hat and that was why she was willing to sell the doll."

"I need a new winter hat, don't you think so?" said the doctor, drawing attention to his old felt hat the worse for wear, and trying to turn the subject.

"Yes, but you can buy one whenever you want. All you have to do is to go to the bank and they will give you the money."

The doctor laughed. "That's your idea of it, is it?"

"Why, of course. All gentlemen have money in the bank," she answered confidently.

The doctor laughed again. "Then I suppose if I want to keep up my reputation for being a gentleman, I'd better not contradict you," he said.

"What would you name the doll?" asked Ruth, changing the subject to one with which she was more familiar.

"How do you like Little Mascot?"

Ruth considered this very seriously. "I don't think I quite like that," she decided.

Then lest she might be hurting his feelings, she hastened to say: "I think what you call Aunt Hester sometimes is a pretty name."

"What do I call her?"

"Hetty. I'd like to call her that, I think."

"Then suppose you do. I'm sure that will satisfy us all."

And so Hetty was the name decided upon.

"It seems to me she needs a new frock," suggested the doctor.

"A blue one," Ruth agreed.

"Yes, that should be the color. Some day I'll take you down-town and we'll buy the stuff for one, then Miss Hester can help you make it."

Ruth looked at Miss Hester wistfully. "But she has to sew so much," she said, "though now I can wear Henrietta's clothes, there is not so much to do for me, and Billy's overcoat is all done, and it looks fine."

Miss Hester colored up a little and said: "Never mind about that, Ruth."

The doctor grumbled something about its being a crying shame to cheat a woman, and after that, he and Aunt Hester went into the living-room while Ruth and Billy washed the dishes, Hetty sitting well propped up on a chair watching them.

Once in a while the children caught the words, "old Petty" and "Squire Field," and knew that the two in the other room must be talking either about the lost receipt or the government claim.

"When we get back to the old house," said Ruth, as she washed the last plate, "we can have apple-butter every night for supper and the doctor can come and have all he wants, but I wish he had had his dinner to-day," she added.

"So do I," said Billy, with feeling.

"Oh, you dear beautiful love," Ruth turned to Hetty. "You are going to have a lovely new frock some day. Oh, Billy, don't you just love Dr. Peaslee?"

"He's fine," responded Billy. "Maybe I'll be a doctor, Ruth, if I don't keep a store."

"Oh, I'd rather you'd keep the store," decided Ruth, "for then you won't ever have to go without your dinner."

The doctor stayed for an hour or more and then it was bedtime for Ruth. She would fain have taken Hetty to bed with her, but at the dreadful suggestion from Billy that she might roll over on her in the night, she concluded that Hetty would be safer elsewhere, so a bed was made for her on a chair by Ruth's bedside so that she could be near at hand.

"I thought of taking her up to see poor Henrietta," Ruth told Miss Hester, "but then I thought she might feel too badly to see how dreadful she looks after all these years, and so I am not going to let her know where she is. Please, Aunt Hester, I want to say God bless Billy over again. I didn't say it slowly enough, and maybe He'll think I didn't mean it."

So she added to her prayer: "Please God, bless Billy a great deal more than you did before and make him grow up to be like Dr. Peaslee, only let him keep a store, please."

She was not usually so expansive, and Miss Hester realized that her heart was very full, and that into it she had taken for all time, not only herself, but Billy Beatty and Dr. Peaslee.


A Surprise Party

THE news was soon noised abroad among Ruth's playmates that she had another doll "zackly like Henrietta," and, because there was some mystery about it as well as because the doll was unlike others of the period, Hetty was quite a belle for a time, though Ruth determined never to take her to school again, lest Nora's spite should work her ill.

She did take her over to Annie Waite's one day where she found Nora, who, with some other little girls, had been invited to spend the afternoon. Perceiving her enemy, Ruth ran home again after a whispered consultation with Annie. Nora looked rather shamefaced when Ruth returned without her doll, but she said nothing, and, as Annie lent Ruth one of her dolls to play with, every one was supplied.

This was really a surprise party for Ruth, for Annie had found out that it was her birthday, and, knowing that Miss Hester could not very well afford parties, had begged her mother to let her have a simple little affair with Ruth as guest of honor.

It was a great occasion for Ruth who did not remember ever having a party before, and she was quite overcome when she came back and found that both Annie and Lucia had provided gifts for her.

Lucia gave her a box of candy temptingly tied up in white paper with blue ribbons, and Annie gave her a doll prettily dressed and small enough to carry in her pocket while Charlotte Bingham brought her a big bunch of chrysanthemums.

"Let's dress up," proposed Annie, suddenly, when they were at the end of their resources, having played "Mother" and "Old Witch" and a dozen other things. "I'll get sister to let us have some of her old things and we'll be ladies."

"No, let's be queens," put in Lucia.

"We don't all want to be queens," returned Annie. "It would be funny to have so many; some ought to be maids of honor."

"Then we'll choose a queen. I vote for Ruth; it's her birthday."

"I vote for her, too," chimed in Annie.

"Humph!" exclaimed Nora, tossing her head. "I don't then. I reckon I'm not going to be maid to any cha—"

"You just hush," cried Lucia, putting her hand over Nora's mouth. "She is just as good as you are and a great deal better. Her grandfather never—" she paused, for she realized that it was very rude to quarrel with Annie's guests. So she turned and said: "I'll tell you what we'll do, Annie; we'll have two queens. You and I will be Ruth's maids of honor, and the others can choose their queen, then we can go on splendid journeys to visit each other."

"All right," agreed the rest. "That will be fine. We'll choose you, Nora," said Angeline McBride, "won't we, Charlotte?"

Charlotte consented and Annie rushed off to get the proper trappings for their play. Her sister, Isabel, always had a store of these on hand for just such occasions, so presently, Annie returned with her arms piled high with all sorts of stuff; old velveteen skirts, discarded evening wraps, scarfs, shawls and jackets. She threw these down in a heap on the lounge.

"Now help yourselves," she said. "Queens take first choice, maids next. Go ahead, Ruth, and pick out what you want."

"I'm just as much a queen as she is," grumbled Nora.

"But Ruth was the first chosen," argued Lucia.

"I don't care if she was. I won't play if I can't have first choice," pouted Nora who had her eye on a blue velvet skirt.

"Oh, let her choose first if she wants to," said Ruth, with some disdain. "She'll need the best things she can get to make her look like anybody," she said in an aside to Lucia.

Lucia giggled and Nora shot them an angry look, but began to turn over the things on the lounge selecting this, discarding that till finally Lucia broke in with, "Here, here, you can't do that way, Nora. Can she, Annie? She is picking out the very best things and isn't leaving anything for any one else. She can't wear two velvet skirts."

"No, that's not the way," said Annie, seeing how things were going. "You can only choose one thing at a time."

Nora protested but was over-ruled by the others, so she stood undecided between a blue velveteen skirt and a red fur-trimmed cloak, finally deciding upon the former and Ruth was awarded the cloak.

Nora's next choice fell upon a pink silk waist while Ruth chose a dim old brocaded skirt with golden lights through it.

At this, Nora had cast a contemptuous look, but in it Ruth saw possibilities and added to her choice a pale green waist and a floating scarf. She found, too, a gold crown which fitted her little head and some dazzling ornaments.

It took some time to select, and then the two queens with their finery, carried by their maids, took possession of different rooms. There was some squabbling as to who should be the visiting queen, but finally Nora carried the day.

When she entered Ruth's presence, however, she was sorry she had not elected to remain in her own kingdom, for Ruth, seated upon a gilt chair which was mounted upon a window-box covered with rugs, arose to meet her in such magnificence as quite crushed Nora for the moment. Upon her head glittered the crown, her rippling chestnut hair falling below it, a gold embroidered scarf floated from her shoulders while the red fur-trimmed cloak swept as a long train far behind her, opening in front to show the brocaded skirt. Around her waist was a jeweled belt and in her hand she held a sceptre which Miss Isabel had hastily prepared for her from a stick and some gold paint.

Nora's rather short blue velvet train was held up by Charlotte. Her pink waist looked somewhat dowdy and contrasted badly with the blue skirt. She wore no crown upon her head, only a chiffon hat trimmed with mussed flowers, and the cloak which she wore, being of a terra-cotta hue, gave a combination of colors which was anything but pleasant to look upon.

"Doesn't she look a sight?" whispered Lucia.

Ruth nodded and then swept to meet her guest with a haughtiness which was not all put on.

Nora tried to courtesy, but in doing so bumped against Charlotte who still held the train, and the two tumbled over together to the amusement of the rest.

"I think it is a silly, horrid play," cried Nora, picking herself up, "and I'm not going to be in it."

"I shouldn't think you would want to be," said Lucia, scornfully.

And Nora dashed from the royal presence in anything but a dignified manner.

"The idea of her trying to look like a queen," said Lucia, loftily. "She looks more like an old crazy woman. Now Ruth is just as queenly as anything. Isn't she fine, Angeline? She knew just what would look well."

"She does look nice," Angeline confessed.

Ruth extended her sceptre. "You may ask a favor of us," she said after the manner of a fairy queen she had read about. "Your wish shall be granted."

Angeline laughed. "I don't believe you could grant many wishes."

"Oh, let's just pretend," put in Annie.

"Well, I wish for a pony."

"We will conduct our guest to the royal stable and let her select for herself," said Ruth, quick to perceive a toy horse in the closet at the end of the room, for this, being the playroom, held the children's toys. She walked with great stateliness across the floor and flung open the closet door, disclosing a horse and cart, a horse on wheels and a tin affair with two horses abreast dragging a fire-engine.

The girls shrieked with laughter, but Ruth turned a grave countenance upon them. "Oh, do pretend," she said. "What's the use of playing if we don't make-believe? You mustn't laugh that way; it keeps it from being real."

But as no one possessed sufficient imagination to see anything but the funny side of it, Angeline's wish was not granted.

"I wonder what's become of Charlotte and Nora," said Annie. "They went back to my room to take off their hats and things."

"I don't believe they are going to play queen any more," said Angeline.

"We might have tableaux or charades," suggested Lucia.

"I'll go find the others and tell them," said Annie. "You be picking out a play while I'm gone."

They were talking the matter over when Annie returned with her two missing guests.

"We are going to play robbers or something and carry off a lovely lady to a cave," announced Lucia. "Ruth's the smallest and she'll be the easiest to carry."

"Oh, I think that's line," said Annie. "What will you be, Lucia?"

"I am going to be the young knight who rescues her."

"And I'll be the chief of the robber band," said Nora, "or maybe I'll be the old woman that's always ready to receive the prisoners; you know there is always one like that in the stories."

Annie, Charlotte and Angeline, therefore, resolved themselves into a band of robbers and Ruth in her queenly robes was dragged off unmercifully.

Annie's room became the robber's den and the closet therein the special corner where the princess was bestowed. It was a large light closet with a transom over the door and held, besides clothing, a trunk and several boxes.

"Now, don't you let any one come and take away our prisoner or steal our treasure," ordered the robbers, when Ruth had been safely disposed in the den.

"Shall we bind her hand and foot?" asked Charlotte.

"Oh, yes," Nora was ready to add anything she could to Ruth's discomfort. She had quite enjoyed the process of dragging Ruth to the den and treating her harshly.

"No, we won't bind her," Annie decided. "It will be too uncomfortable; it's bad enough to shut her up."

"So then, Ayesha," said Lucia, addressing Nora, "we will go and hunt wild beasts. Guard the prisoner well and you shall have part of the ransom."

With this the three stalked off leaving Nora in possession.

With Ruth safe under lock and key, and, the knight not to be expected just yet, for there was to be a fight on the borders of the forest before he could arrive, Nora found it rather stupid in Annie's room. Upon the bed lay Ruth's red coat which Nora secretly admired. She tried it on and viewed herself in the glass. She filled out the coat more than Ruth did and considered that she looked vastly better in it.

Tired of admiring herself, she turned to something else to amuse her. There was the daintily wrapped box which Lucia had given Ruth, and which she had begged Ruth not to open till she reached home. Nora's curiosity got the better of her. She would like to see just what was in it. Listening all the while, she stealthily untied the blue ribbons and lifted the lid. The candies looked delicious. She took out one and smelled it. Just then the robbers came clamoring up and she hastily threw Ruth's coat over box and lid.

"Is all well, Ayesha?" asked Annie in a gruff voice.

"All's well," she answered, her heart beating fast.

"There are no skulking thieves about to rob us of our gains?"

"No, sir," returned Nora, cringingly.

"She actually acts as if she were afraid of us," laughed Angeline, who with fierce burned cork eyebrows and mustache looked quite terrible.

"Guard our cave well; there are plunderers about," charged Annie. "Come, comrades, we must to the chase."

"Let no one so much as put a foot across the sill, my honest Ayesha," said Angeline. "We can trust you with our treasures but no one else. If so much as a dog approaches, drive him out." And they clattered off again.

Nora listened till they were out of hearing, then she lifted the coat and drew forth the box.

She could not resist popping one very fat chocolate into her mouth; it would never be missed. It tasted very good. She wished that it were her birthday and that some one had brought her such a box of candy. She shook the box a little and some of the pieces being disarranged the lid would not shut down tightly. Nora could not set aside the opportunity which this gave her. One tall and toothsome piece of candy seemed to be the specially annoying one which prevented the lid from fitting. She would eat that and even then the box would look full.

But just as she had slipped it into her mouth a voice from somewhere above her—it sounded in mid-air—said mockingly, "Honest Ayesha!"

Overcome with fright, Nora dropped the box on the bed and the contents rolled out.

"Let me out! Let me out, you mean piggy child," came from the top of the closet, and looking up, Nora saw Ruth's face at the transom. She had piled up some of the boxes upon the trunk, and had climbed upon them to peep through, thinking to surprise Nora, which she very effectually had done.

"Let me out this minute," she cried, "or I will tell on you."

"Oh, please don't," begged Nora overcome with shame. "I—I—was only just going to taste them; they looked so good."

"Oh, I saw you," declared Ruth. "I saw you when you opened the box and when you tried on my coat that you pretend you don't like; you seemed to think you looked very fine in it."

"Oh, Ruth, please don't tell the others," whimpered Nora.

"Let me out then so I can pick up my candies. I don't want you to touch another one. Hurry up now, or the others will be back."

Thus admonished, Nora unlocked the door, and Ruth, with a haughtiness to which the costume added effect, swept past her. She carefully replaced the candies, tied up the box and put it on a shelf in the closet.

"I don't dare trust you," she told Nora. "You are just the one to play at being a robber, only you don't have to play at it. You needn't lock me in; I'll stay, for I don't like your company."

Nora was quite crushed.

Ruth had her in her power, and, though she inwardly raged, she knew that words would only bring future mortification to her. She was very sure that Ruth would not tell, though there was no reason that she should not, she was obliged to acknowledge, and her thoughts were far from agreeable.

She did not have long to sit in silence for presently the robbers came storming back, followed by the rescuing knight who slew then; one by one, so that they fell in a limp heap just inside the door, and, with no sort of protest from the guarding Ayesha, Ruth was delivered from her imprisonment.

At this moment came word that certain good things were ready to be served in the dining-room, so there was much flurry in getting rid of superfluous garments, burned cork mustaches and such things. In the confusion and hurry, no one noticed Nora's extremely meek demeanor nor Ruth's contemptuous looks.

It was, however, an occasion which neither one ever forgot, and Ruth's former dislike to Nora was increased that day for more than one reason. After this, Nora no longer openly annoyed her, but, in fact, tried to avoid her and consequently there were more peaceful times at school for Ruth.

However, she did not refrain from expressing her scorn of Nora to Billy when she reached home after her surprise party.

"She is a piggy child," she said. "She looked all over the plate of cake and took the best piece, and she did the same way when the grapes were passed; she took the biggest, nicest bunch. All the girls noticed it. She may call me a charity child if she likes but I call her a piggy child. Aunt Hester tells us it is ill-bred to act so greedily. Lucia and Annie never do so; they always leave the best for others. Nora is a piggy child and I never want to have anything to do with her."

Truth to tell, circumstances soon arose which forbade Ruth for a long time having more to do with any of her schoolmates, for there were changes in store for her.


A Strange Visitor

IT was the next day after her surprise party that Ruth was running after Stray who had wriggled under the gate and had scampered down the street with Ruth in hot pursuit and calling:

"Stray, Stray, naughty dog, come back."

The little girl knew that he would probably come back in his own good time, but she and Billy did not like him to associate with certain evilly disposed curs around in the next street, and moreover, he was still such a little fellow, ready to make friends with any one who encouraged a friendship, that they were afraid he might be picked up and carried off. Fast though Ruth's legs hurried, Stray's four carried him faster, but his career came to a full stop when a man coming in an opposite direction caught him and held him fast till Ruth ran up panting.

"Oh, thank you for catching Stray," she said. "He is only in fun, of course, but we don't like him to get into the next street; there are so many bad dogs there."

"And you must look out for his morals," returned the man, lifting himself from where he was bending over holding the squirming Stray. "What's your name?" he asked sharply and dropping his jocose tone while he bent a keen look upon the child.

"Ruth Henrietta Brackenbury," came the reply promptly enough.

The man drew in his breath sharply. "Ruth," he said, "that was her name too, and I think she would have looked much like you."

"Your little girl, do you mean? Is she—is she dead?" Ruth asked.

"I am afraid so."

"Oh, don't you know?"

The man shook his head and walked along by Ruth's side as she dragged the unwilling Stray toward home. "Do you live near here?" he asked presently.

"Yes, just around the corner. We used to live in that big house," she nodded toward the white pillars which showed between the russet brown leaves of the oaks.

"And why did you leave there?" asked the man pleasantly.

"The major died, and Aunt Hester didn't have enough money to live there, so she and Billy and I came to the little brown house. It is a nice little house, only it isn't very big."

"Billy is your brother?"

"No, not exactly; he is almost though," returned Ruth a little doubtfully. She did not want to seem to deny Billy. "His name is Billy Beatty," she added.

"I suppose then he is a nephew of your aunt as you are her niece."

"Yes." Ruth felt that this was quite the truth.

"Your aunt's name is Brackenbury, then, or is it Beatty?" asked the man abruptly after a few minutes' silence.

"It is Brackenbury." Ruth wondered at the many questions. "This is where I live," she told him when they had reached the gate. "Goodbye. Thank you very much for helping me catch Stray."

Then, as the man stood looking at her with that same searching expression, she felt impelled to ask: "What was your little girl's name?"

"It wasn't my own little girl of whom I was thinking, but of the child of my dead brother, my little niece, Ruth Mayfield, who might well have looked like you."

Very pale and with eyes burning, Ruth backed away, then turned and fled into the house giving but one backward fearful look. The man looked after her thoughtfully for a moment and then slowly moved away.

Ruth ran through the kitchen to her own little room which opened out of it. She took off her hat and coat and threw them on the bed; then she crowded herself behind a chair into a corner as if she would get out of sight of and as far away as possible from every one. She felt much as she did when a certain bad dream haunted her. In it she was always fleeing from a crazy man who pursued her with a sword. She was troubled and afraid. Mayfield, that was her own name before she had been given that of Brackenbury. She crouched in her corner thinking, thinking.

Who was this man? Not her father, of course, because he had said it was his niece of whom she reminded him. Any relatives that she might have had she remembered but vaguely. She had a dim recollection of a grandmother, of a Christmas day when she was about three years old and when uncles and aunts had given her presents, but a child forgets such things very soon, and relationships are difficult to grasp at a tender age.

Of course, this man might be her own uncle or perhaps there were other little Ruth Mayfields in the world. At all events, she determined to say nothing about the man to Miss Hester or Billy, for a great fear was in her heart that he might want to take her away. If he did attempt such a thing and she were warned of it, she reflected that she would hide somewhere till he gave up the search.

She sat long in her corner pondering over these dreadful possibilities till it began to grow dusk and she heard Miss Hester stirring about the kitchen, making ready for supper. Then duty called her; she must set the table, and she crept out blinking as she faced the light in the room.

"What a little mouse you have been. Were you asleep, Ruth?" said Miss Hester as she came in.

"No, Aunt Hester," returned the child soberly, "I was only thinking."

"You were so quiet that I didn't even know you were in the house. How long have you been in? I was just thinking of sending Billy to hunt you up. No wonder Dr. Peaslee calls you Miss Mouse, you slip around just like one."

"I've been in—oh, I don't know just how long. It wasn't a bit dark when I came."

"I saw you running after Stray and that was my last glimpse of you."

"I came right back; pretty soon I mean, and then I came in the house after I had shut Stray in the wood-shed. I must go let him out, poor doggie. He was so miserable, Aunt Hester, for he knew he was being punished for running away."

Just then Billy came in, Stray at his heels. The dog nosed Ruth fawningly with much wagging of tail and twisting of body as if trying to become on good terms with her again. Presently a knock at the front door sent Billy to answer.

He came back directly. "A gentleman wants to see you, Aunt Hester," he reported.

Ruth started and looked around tremblingly. "What does he look like?" she whispered when Miss Hester had left the room.

"I couldn't see very well," Billy answered.

"Was he tall, and did he wear a gray overcoat? Oh, Billy—" She paused.

"What's the matter? You look like something was after you," said Billy.

"Maybe something is," returned Ruth.

"Oh, you silly," Billy spoke contemptuously. "Do you hear a mouse, or what is the matter?"

"No, I don't hear anything, but—oh, never mind, I'll tell you some time."

"You girls are always getting up some mystery," said the boy. "Say, I'm awful hungry, and that man is stayin' the mischief of a time. What do you suppose he wants?"

Ruth hesitated, then she fixed her solemn eyes upon Billy. "He wants me, I expect," she said impressively.

Billy gave her a look. "Say, look here, what are you up to? Is it some sort of make-believe like you and Lucia are always playing?"

"No, it isn't. Come over here by the wood-box, Billy, and I'll tell you if you promise not to breathe it to a soul."

"All right. Fire ahead."

"Cross your heart you won't tell."

Billy went through the ceremony with due solemnity, and then Ruth poured forth her surprising story ending with, "And so, I'm awfully afraid he has come to take me away."

"Maybe he's got loads of money," returned the practical Billy. "And maybe he's got a fine house and a horse and carriage and all that."

"Oh, I don't believe that, and anyhow, do you suppose if he has that I would want to leave Aunt Hester?" The same passionate love and loyalty that Ruth had given her mother she was beginning to bestow upon Miss Hester. "Besides," she went on, "I'm named Brackenbury now, and I can't have two names any more."

"Oh, well, don't let's suppose any more till we know for sure," said Billy. "Perhaps it isn't the same man at all, and, if it is, perhaps he wouldn't want you to leave here. Say, don't let's wait for her to come out to supper. I'm half-starved and we won't have time for our lessons before bedtime if we don't begin soon. You can keep the tea hot, can't you?"

"Yes, of course. We might eat our supper, I suppose, and then we can wash up the dishes we have soiled and let Aunt Hester's stand."

This they concluded to do, and it was well they did, for nearly two hours passed before the door closed behind the stranger, and the children had finished studying their lessons when Miss Hester returned to them.

Billy was nodding over his spelling-book but Ruth's eyes were big and bright. She put down her geography and ran to Miss Hester, clasped her waist and looked up into her face with pleading eyes. Miss Hester stooped to kiss her, but she gave no explanation of her visitor's errand.

"You ate your supper?" she said. "That was right. I didn't realize how late it was."

She drunk a cup of tea and ate a bit of bread as if she were not aware of what she was doing, her face very thoughtful meanwhile. After her meal, she sat still lost in thought, Ruth watching her furtively.

Presently Miss Hester roused herself. "It is time you children were in bed," she said. "Run along, Billy, you look sleepy enough to drop off on the stairs. Come, Ruth."

She arose to give Billy his good-night kiss after which he stumbled up the stairway, and then she sat down again and held out her arms to Ruth who threw herself into them and hid her face. "You knew, my little girl, didn't you?" said Miss Hester, softly. "I saw that you did as soon as I came in."

Ruth's arms went tight around her neck. "Will he take me away? Will he, Aunt Hester?" she began to sob. "Oh, don't let him. Don't."

Miss Hester drew a long sigh, and held the child closer. "It is a difficult question, my little girl," she said.

"But—but, I am your own little girl. I am named Brackenbury. You said so. You told me you were just exactly the same as my mother and my mother wouldn't let me go. Oh, no, she would never have done it."

"And I shall not, if I can help it, dear. We will not talk of it to-night. I am to see your uncle again. One thing is sure, you shall not leave me unless you are willing to go."

"Then I never will." Ruth pressed her cheek against Miss Hester's. "I am yours, yours, your little girl, and nobody else's. My name is Ruth Henrietta Brackenbury. It is. It is."

"It surely is. Come, do not think about it any more to-night. You shall stay with me always, always, if after your uncle has talked to you it seems to be the thing that you most want to do."

Ruth felt sure that no amount of talking could shake her decision, and, if it depended upon herself, she need have no fears, so she felt comforted. "He is my real uncle then," she said.

"Yes, I think there is no doubt of it. Come, come, you must go to bed. Billy is probably asleep before this."

But though to bed Ruth went, it was not to go to sleep. Her eyes seemed propped wide open. There were a hundred questions she wanted to ask, and she was sure that she could never wait till morning to ask them. She heard the rockers of Miss Hester's chair going squeaky-squeak, squeaky-squeak upon a loose board in the floor. She wondered if she were at work upon the buttonholes she disliked so much, or what she was doing.

After what seemed to her hours of lying still, listening to the monotonous squeak, Ruth crept out of bed and stole to the door. Miss Hester, her head against the back of the chair, her eyes fixed on space was still rocking back and forth. Her hands held no work, her supper dishes stood unwashed. Such a condition of affairs displayed an unusual state of mind. Miss Hester was never idle and to leave one's supper dishes unwashed was a sign that something far beyond the ordinary must be the matter. If it were certain that Ruth was not to leave her adopted mother, why this anxious countenance, these troubled eyes and unsmiling mouth? The child crept nearer.

The slight noise she made aroused Miss Hester. "Why, child," she said, "what are you doing up? You should have been asleep long ago."

"I couldn't go to sleep," Ruth replied. "My eyes would pop open. I counted ever so many, up to a thousand, I think, and I tried to see sheep jumping over a fence, like you did that time you told the doctor you couldn't sleep, but I just wanted to ask you so many questions that I couldn't think of anything else."

"Get my big shawl to wrap around you and come satisfy your curiosity, if that is what is troubling you," said Miss Hester, smiling.

Ruth padded back to Miss Hester's room, found the shawl and trailed back with the fringe tickling her bare ankles. She climbed into Miss Hester's lap and stuck her feet out toward the stove in which a fire still burned.

"I want to know first," she began, "how that man knows he is my uncle."

"He was attracted to you by your likeness to your father and the name of Ruth. When he left you, he went back to the hotel and inquired into your history. Mrs. Green of course knew all about you and gave him a full account of how you came to be my little girl."

"When she told him that he ought to have been satisfied," Ruth commented. "He oughtn't to have come here bothering us. What did he do it for, when he knew I truly belonged to you?"

"Because he had promised your father to try to find you and your mother. He traced you both to Elder Street and learned that your mother had died there and that you had been taken away."

"What's become of my father, and why didn't he come back to us?" Ruth spoke resentfully.

"He meant to come, your uncle said, but he had a hard time of it and was not one to be very successful in this world. He was taken ill out west and, when he knew he could not live, he sent word to your uncle who went out and stayed with him till he died. Before that, your father had written to your mother but his letter was returned. It was just before he died that your uncle promised to find you and your mother, and if either were living to do all he could for you."

"Your uncle said that up to that time he had no idea that his brother had left home. He had not heard from him for two or three years, for they lived quite far apart, and your uncle, being a successful man, had no patience with your father who was unsuccessful. He felt that your father had been extravagant in spending all the money which had been left him by his father, and told him he must shift for himself. Do you understand all this, Ruth?"

"Yes, I think so. Mother said father wasn't a bad man."

"No, I don't think he was, only foolish and extravagant, with no idea of business. Instead of living simply on the income from his money, he lived beyond his means, invested his money foolishly and lost it all. Then with the idea that he could make another fortune, he left home only to become worse off and to die among strangers."

"I suppose," said Ruth sagely, after a short silence, "that he didn't like to come home till he had some money to bring mother, and he never came because he hadn't any to bring."

"That is about the way it was."

"It wasn't very kind, though, to leave mother alone," said Ruth. "I think he ought to have stayed to take care of her or else he ought to have taken us with him."

"It would seem so, dear, but I think he couldn't bear to have your mother earning money to support him. It would have been another to feed. Before he went away, she was earning a little by writing for newspapers."

Ruth nodded. She remembered the constant writing interrupted by the haunting cough. She sat thinking it all over. After a time she turned suddenly. "One more to feed does make a difference; Billy says so."

"Yes, I am sorry to say it does," returned Miss Hester with a sigh.

"Then I don't think father was so very wrong," said the child maturely. "I can love him and be sorry for him if that is why he went away, and I think that is the way mother felt, too. She knew he meant to come back. I will go to bed now, Aunt Hester."

She slipped down from Miss Hester's lap, but, as she trailed through the door to her room, she stopped.

"There's one more thing I'd like to ask, Aunt Hester. When is the man—my uncle, coming to see me?"


"How did he happen to come here to look for me?"

"He wasn't looking for you, but you happened to come in his way while he was in the town on business. He says, though, that he never has failed to look for you everywhere he has been. Now, is that all? You will not want to get up in the morning."

Ruth nodded gravely and crept into bed again, her mind full of old memories and new thoughts.


Uncle Sidney

THE next afternoon, Ruth and Billy had a long and earnest talk in the wood-shed. The visit of her uncle had been of enough importance for Ruth to be kept home from school and she was now in a very excited state of mind. She had waited with much impatience Billy's return from school, for there were many things which she must ask him, things which she felt she could not question Miss Hester about. She sat now upon a tall chest, her feet dangling dejectedly. There were marks of tears upon her face and she held her hands nervously clasped.

Billy sat upon an overturned box. From time to time, he flung a chip to Stray who, with head on one side, watched eagerly for the attention and, so soon as the chip was near enough, snatched at it, then grabbing it, played with it till it ceased to be a novelty. He then planted himself within Billy's range again looking inquiringly for the next chip. Neither Billy nor Ruth paid much attention to his antics.

"You see," Ruth was saying, "it is all for me to decide. Aunt Hester says she cannot do it, and says it must be as I say. My uncle talked and talked. He told me I should have music lessons and that I should be sent to a good school and all that. I am sure this school is good enough and I don't care a bit about the music lessons. I'd rather know how to draw pictures than to play the piano. You know, Billy, there is only one thing makes me think I ought to go, and that is Aunt Hester. You know what you said about another mouth to feed. I'm another mouth, you know, and if it makes Aunt Hester work so hard to feed me, maybe I ought not to stay."

Billy was silent for a moment and stopped throwing sticks to Stray. When he spoke, he said very thoughtfully, "I'm the one to go away, not you. I'm a boy and can make my own living."

"Oh, no, for you see you haven't any relations like my Uncle Sidney," returned Ruth. "And, besides, who would chop the wood and do the errands, Billy? Then if you went away, who would keep store and buy back the big house for Aunt Hester? It would be foolish for you to go when I have an uncle to take care of me."

With his duties as man of the house thus brought to his mind, Billy demurred. Perhaps after all, his place was here.

"If I only wasn't another mouth," Ruth went on, "or if I were a dog like Stray and could live on scraps, or if I were a cat and could catch mice."

"Then nobody would want you," said Billy.

"Indeed they would then. There are ever so many people who like cats if you don't. Aunt Hester does and so do I and so does Lucia. Oh dear, I should hate to give up Lucia. I wish I ought not to go instead of oughting to go."

"Maybe you'll like it awful much," said Billy, encouragingly. "Maybe your uncle has lots of boys and girls and you'll have fun with them."

"No, he hasn't. He has only one little boy about five years old. Billy, promise me on your sacred word and honor that you will come and get me just as soon as you begin to keep store, or, if Aunt Hester gets the claim, before that."

Billy nodded gravely. He wished it were not right to tell Ruth that it would be best for her to leave them. He felt that he would miss her sadly and that one small boy in the house with a grave elderly woman would not have as agreeable a time as when a youthful comrade like Ruth was on hand to take an interest in small matters beneath the notice of their elders.

Ruth had always a lively imagination and was vastly amusing at times. To be sure, she was very often absorbed in her doll or in Lucia Field, but, at other times, she and Billy had most exciting plays in which she was almost as good fun as a boy, he told her. He thought of all this now, but his loyalty to Miss Hester and his practical bent made him repeat:

"I guess you'll have to go, Ruth."

But Ruth had been thinking, too. "I'll go, but I'm not going to promise to stay. I'm coming back the first chance I get. If I find a thousand dollars that nobody wants, or if I do something like saving a train from running off the track, and they give me a whole lot of money for it, or if—or if—the claim comes out all right, I'll come straight back, so I just won't think that I'm going for good, and I am going in now to tell Aunt Hester so."

"Don't tell her it's because you know she can't afford to keep you," charged Billy, bluntly.

"Of course not," returned Ruth. She jumped down from her seat and went slowly back to the house. Miss Hester was sitting at the window of her room which looked out upon the street. She had her lap full of little garments upon which she was sewing a missing button here, a tape there.

"This isn't Saturday," said Ruth. "What are all these?"

She came nearer and put an arm around Miss Hester's neck.

"They are some of Henrietta's things. I didn't know but that you would need them," answered Miss Hester, soberly.

"Won't my uncle buy me any clothes?"

"He will probably buy all you need, but I don't want to have you go away unprovided for. I suppose you must go, Ruth. I should be doing you a wrong to encourage you to do otherwise."

"I'm not going for good," returned Ruth confidently. "I am going only for a little while till something happens. If you get the claim, you know, or if I find a whole lot of money, I will come back. Even if those things don't happen, Billy will come for me as soon as he is big enough to keep store."

Miss Hester smiled faintly. "I am afraid it will be many a day before that."

Ruth shook her head. "I'm not going to think I'll be gone long. I will tell my uncle that I am going to stay only a little while, that I am coming back to you and that I love you better than him or anybody."

The feeling that this departure was in the nature of a visit made her more cheerful. Like all children, she loved excitement and change, and, since she had decided that she was to return, there was only left a rather pleasant anticipation instead of a grief.

It was well for Miss Hester that the time for preparation was short for Mr. Mayfield could wait only another day, and so Ruth's belongings were hastily packed. That she might make a good appearance, the store of clothing in the chest up-stairs was drawn forth and all of Henrietta's things that were in good order were packed in a small trunk. Hetty, too, was given room, and Ruth begged that her box of pieces might go in.

"It will make me feel like home to see all my doll rugs," she said.

And Miss Hester stowed away the box just as it was.

At the last moment, Billy, who had been struggling between his love for Ruth and his love for Stray, came forward, insisting that Ruth must take the little dog with her, since he belonged half to her and could not be divided.

But, though Ruth would have liked dearly to have him, Miss Hester decided otherwise.

"You don't know that your uncle's wife would be willing to have a dog in the house. Indeed, I think it is quite unlikely that she would consent to your having him, for there is the little boy to be considered."

"I think you are awfully good, Billy, to want me to have him," Ruth declared, "and I'd just love to take him, but, you see, I have Hetty for company and you won't have anybody to play with but Stray."

But Billy was determined that she should receive some token, and, from his little hoard which he was saving up for Christmas, he took out sufficient to buy a gayly flowered mug upon which was written in gold letters: "From a Friend."

Ruth thought it was beautiful and begged Miss Hester to pack it very carefully.

"I will use it every day at table," she said.

Then, after whispering to Miss Hester, she left the room and returned with a red silk handkerchief which Dr. Peaslee had once brought her after a visit to the city.

"I want you to have this to remember me by," she said to Billy, and he accepted the gift solemnly.

At last the little trunk was packed and stood waiting.

Then Ruth went to make some hurried farewell calls. To all inquiries, she replied that she was going to her uncle's to make a visit, but that she expected to be back soon. So often did she repeat this that she persuaded herself it must be true until the last moment when the possibility of its not being merely a visit faced her, and she flung herself into Miss Hester's arms in a passion of weeping.

"I—don't want to go. I—I don't want to go," she sobbed.

"You needn't, dear, you needn't," whispered Miss Hester herself feeling very heavy hearted.

But just then Billy came rushing in shouting: "He's come in a carriage, Ruth, to take you to the station."

And the dignity of such a departure for the moment caused Ruth to check her tears. It would be a triumphant exit, she considered. And after one last frantic hug and the passionate reiteration, "I am coming back soon, I am, I am," she obeyed her uncle's call and was helped into the carriage, her trunk being already established by the side of the driver. She waved her handkerchief from the carriage window. Her last glimpse of the brown house showed Billy at the gate holding up Stray for her to see. Miss Hester was not in sight. She had gone indoors where no one would observe her tearful eyes.

Soon the carriage turned into the main street. The children were on their way to school, and to Ruth's satisfaction, they passed Nora Petty, to whom Ruth gave a condescending nod. She was riding away into new splendors where Nora could no longer twit and tease her.

As the train moved out of the station, there came over the child an overpowering desire to jump out and run back to Aunt Hester who loved her, to Billy and Stray, to the little brown house which she might never see again. The big tear drops rolled down her cheeks. She wiped them furtively away as she kept her head turned as if looking out the window. Her handkerchief became a damp little ball in her hand and the telegraph poles, as they flashed by, were seen through a watery mist. Her uncle wisely said nothing to her for a time, but absorbed himself in his newspaper, but, when the train boy came along, he bought some fine fruit and a box of chocolates saying cheerfully, "Here, little girl, don't you want to see what is in the box?"

Her thoughts diverted in such an agreeable way, the worst was over for Ruth and she turned to the sweets for solace. After a while her uncle began to talk to her, to tell her of his home, of his little boy, Bertie, and from this he went back to his own childhood when he and Ruth's father were playmates together. So the morning was not very long, though Ruth was glad when she climbed down from the cars to take luncheon at a station where they tarried for half an hour.

It was late in the afternoon when they arrived in front of her uncle's door. Ruth observed what to her was a very fine house, and, when she entered the hall, she was quite overcome, for, to her inexperienced eye, it appeared a mansion magnificent beyond her highest expectations.

They had hardly entered before a piping voice called out: "There's papa," and swiftly sliding down the baluster came the figure of a little boy. He came with such speed that he nearly fell off when he reached the big newel post, but his father caught him.

"You rascal," he cried, "what did I tell you about doing that?"

"It's so much the quickest way to get here, papa," said Bertie. "What did you bring me?"

"I brought a little new cousin."

Bertie turned and regarded Ruth with anything but an amiable expression. "I don't want her," he said. "I want something nice. Didn't you bring me any candy?"

Mr. Mayfield looked rather abashed. "To tell you the truth, son, I didn't," he began.

But Bertie interrupted him with a loud wail. "Mamma, mamma," he cried, "he didn't bring me any candy and you said he would." Then throwing himself down on the floor, he kicked and screamed violently.

Ruth heard the swish of silken skirts and down the stairs a lady came swiftly. She was very fair and looked quite young. Ruth had never seen any one dressed so wonderfully, and she stared with all her eyes at the vision.

"What is the matter with my darling?" cried the lady. "Oh, have you come, Sidney?" She gave Ruth's uncle a cheek to kiss. "What is my precious boy crying about?" she asked bending over the raging child.

"Papa didn't bring me any candy and you said he would," howled Bertie. "You are an old—"

"There, there," began his mother gathering him into her arms. "How could you be so forgetful of the precious child, Sidney?" she said reproachfully.

"Well, you see, Lillie, I had so much to think of. Oh, by the way, Ruth, this is your Aunt Lillie. Did you get my telegram, dear?"

"Oh, yes, it came all right, of course," replied Mrs. Mayfield petulantly. "You ought to have given me more notice."

"How could I? My letter explained why."

Ruth stood awkwardly by. She had not received a very warm welcome, for Mrs. Mayfield only nodded and said coolly, "How do you do, little girl?"

Bertie's howls continued.

"I wish I had something to give the child to pacify him," muttered Mr. Mayfield who saw that no one would receive much attention until Bertie's fit of rage was over.

He turned apologetically to Ruth. "You don't happen to have any candy, do you?" he whispered.

Ruth promptly produced the box of chocolates which was but half empty. She had been so much more abundantly fed than usual that she had not been able to eat all the candy.

"Just give them to Bertie," whispered Mr. Mayfield, "and I will get you some more."

Ruth obediently slipped the box into his hand and he gave her a smile.

"Here, Bertie," he said, "see what Cousin Ruth has for you. Papa didn't bring you any candy, but Cousin Ruth did."

At this Bertie rushed from his mother's embrace and grabbed the box from his father's hand.

"'Tain't but, half full," he whined. Then turning, he gave Ruth a push. "You mean old fing," he cried, "why didn't you bring me a whole box?"

"Now, Bertie," said his mother, "that's not a pretty way to talk. I am sure you ought to say, 'Thank you,' to your cousin. Won't you say, 'Thank you'?"

"No, I won't," returned Bertie, beginning to gobble down some of the chocolates as fast as he could.

Ruth was shocked. Such an ill-mannered child she had never seen. She felt mightily ashamed for him.

"I suspect Ruth is rather tired," said Mr. Mayfield. "You'd better show her to her room, Lillie."

For answer, Mrs. Mayfield touched an electric button and a neat maid appeared. "Take Miss Ruth to her room," said the lady, "and help her dress for dinner, Katie."

Ruth followed the girl up three flights of stairs, catching glimpses on the way of rooms whose elegant furnishings seemed to her fit for a palace. At the top of the house, she was ushered into a hall bedroom, comfortably, even prettily, furnished. It looked out upon the street, but it seemed to Ruth, accustomed to her little room adjoining Aunt Hester's, a long way off from any one, and she wondered if she would not feel afraid up there. She timidly asked Katie who had the next room.

"Nobody, miss," was the reply. "It's one of the spare rooms, but it ain't often used except when there's more company than common. But I sleep just down the hall in one of the back rooms."

This was comforting and Ruth felt relieved. The trunk having now arrived, Katie fell to unpacking it. She smiled at the old-fashioned clothes, but made no remark, being too well-trained a servant for that. She selected Ruth's very best frock, a cream-white delaine with small Persian figures upon it. The frock was trimmed with an old-fashioned gimp, heading a narrow fringe, but its quaintness suited Ruth and she looked very presentable, Katie thought, as she led her down-stairs when a soft-toned Japanese gong announced that dinner was ready.



IN spite of such luxuries as Ruth had never before enjoyed, and the fact that there was little restraint put upon her, she did not feel in her new home a real content.

After a week it was decided that she should not go to school, Mrs. Mayfield insisting upon a governess who could give some attention to Bertie. One was found who suited the lady but to whom Ruth took a dislike at first sight, and never thereafter did she feel comfortable when Mlle. Delarme's sharp eyes were fixed upon her. Lessons in French and music were those upon which Mademoiselle laid the most stress, the rest amounted to little.

Mademoiselle was sly and put forth her best efforts to please Mrs. Mayfield, and, consequently, made much of Bertie. Ruth, though well clothed and fed, starved for those things which she craved. She longed for her Aunt Hester's loving notice and appreciation. She sighed for Billy's bluff companionship, and she was very, very lonely. Her uncle was absorbed in business and she saw him seldom. He always gave her a kind smile when they met, asked if she were well, and if she needed anything and there the interest ended.

On several different occasions, he had given her money, telling her to spend it on whatever she liked, but she, with a wise frugality, had saved nearly every penny till her hoard amounted to nearly five dollars. At Christmas she would perhaps spend it to send home gifts to those she truly loved.

Mrs. Mayfield was fond of society and was rarely at home unless to entertain some guest. The children had their meals in the nursery with Mademoiselle, took their drives and walks with her, and although Bertie would not be kept within bounds and frequented any part of the house at will, Ruth rarely went beyond the confines of the nursery. She still had her little hall bedroom, and Mademoiselle was now given a room upon the same floor, though Ruth would have preferred her to be elsewhere.

"J'ai, tu as, il a," crooned Ruth one afternoon as she sat in the nursery, studying a lesson.

"Oh dear, I don't want to study French," she sighed. "It won't be a bit of use to me, for when I grow up I shall go back to Springdale. I may go sooner than that. None of the girls there will learn French. Well, perhaps Lucia will if she goes away to boarding-school, and perhaps Nora might. I reckon after all I'd better study it, for Nora might get ahead of me and say things to Lucia that I couldn't understand."

So she bent herself again to her task. "J'ai, tu as, il a. Nous avons, vous avez, ils ont." Her eyes wandered from her book.

She looked out of the window to where a pair of sparrows were fussing and quarreling on a twig near-by. There was little else to be seen but roofs and chimneys, a church spire in the distance and a line of fence enclosing back yards. Her eyes returned to her book.

"J'ai, tu as, il a. I think I know that. Now those horrid exercises. Why should I care anything about the brother of his aunt? It doesn't make any difference to me whether she has a gold shoe or not. French is so silly. We never talk about such things."

At this moment, she heard Bertie's hurrying step upon the stair and presently he came dancing into the room crying: "Ya! Ya! Ya! I've got it."

Ruth looked up quickly to catch sight of Bertie jumping around the room holding aloft her precious Hetty. She sprang to her feet in an instant and snatched the doll away. Bertie flew at her in a transport of rage, but she held the doll tightly though he kicked and yelled.

The commotion brought Mrs. Mayfield who chanced to be at home. "What is it, precious?" she cried as she entered the room.

"Ruth won't let me have that old doll and I'm going to get it, I am. I'll smash it all to pieces," cried Bertie, dancing up and down in a fury.

"Why don't you let him have it, Ruth?" said Mrs. Mayfield. "I'll get you a better one."

"I don't want a better one," replied Ruth, fiercely. "I don't want any but this. There isn't another like her and you couldn't get me one that would be half so dear."

"Well, I am sure you are very disobliging," said Mrs. Mayfield. "Never mind, Bertie, if you want a doll to play with mother will get you one much prettier than this."

"Don't want it. Want one to smash," cried Bertie.

"Oh, but you don't want to smash Ruth's doll, do you?" asked his mother in a coaxing tone.

"Yes, I do, I do. It's ugly and I'm going to. Make her give it to me, mamma."

"Do give it to him, Ruth," continued Mrs. Mayfield. "I will give you a much handsomer one. You shall go down-town with Mademoiselle and choose any you want."

But Ruth held steadfastly to her own. "I don't want any other and I couldn't give this away to be broken up," she said. "She's the only one of the family I have here to remind me of my home, and I can't give her up."

Whereupon, Bertie burst into screams of anger and disappointment, flinging himself upon the floor in one of his fits of temper.

"After all your uncle has done for you, I think it is a very little thing to ask," said Mrs. Mayfield in an offended way, addressing Ruth. Then meeting no response, she took a different tone. "You must give it to him, Ruth. I wish you to obey me."

"Oh, Aunt Lillie, I can't." The tears came into Ruth's eyes as she held Hetty more tightly.

"I command you," returned Mrs. Mayfield, haughtily, and then all Ruth's defiance was aroused.

"I won't," she said. Then she started for the door. "I reckon you wouldn't give your child either, to be torn to pieces by a—by a—wicked Thing," she cried as she reached the door.

She hurried up-stairs feeling that here was an occasion which did not demand obedience, yet frightened at her speech. There was not a day when she was not called upon to give up something to Bertie, to sacrifice her pleasures, her time, her possessions to his whims.

"He is younger than you," was always the plea, and Ruth, though not always with a good grace, yielded the point. But here was an issue which she felt was a different one from any that she had been called upon to meet.

"It isn't right; it isn't," she said over and over to herself as she climbed the stairs. "Aunt Hester wouldn't make me do it. I know she wouldn't. Why Aunt Hester loves Hetty and Dr. Peaslee does and Billy, and—why they would think it as bad as throwing a baby to the crocodiles like a heathen mother. I'll have to hide you, Hetty darling, like Moses in the bulrushes or like they had to hide the babies from wicked old Herod. Bertie is just like Herod, so he is. I don't love him one bit, and I am going to write to Aunt Hester, and tell her all about it. Oh, where can I hide you, my darling Hetty, so the wicked evil foe will not seek you?"

Bertie's screams still ascended from the floor below and Ruth could hear his mother trying to comfort him.

"Did that naughty Ruth tease my baby? Wouldn't she let him have the ugly old doll? Never mind, mamma will let Katie take him down-town and get him something nice. What does baby want?"

"Want Ruth's doll," persisted Bertie.

"Oh, but wouldn't you like some nice candy and a pretty toy? Let Katie dress you and take you out to get you something nice? We won't get Ruth anything, will we? She shall not go with you and Katie."

Ruth's lip curled as she heard this. "Silly talk," she murmured. She had no great respect for her Aunt Lillie.

At last Bertie was pacified and was led away by the long-suffering nurse while Ruth remained in her room.

Mademoiselle was out for the afternoon, and when she had completed the task the governess had set her to do, she would be free to do as she chose.

Bertie seldom descended upon Ruth, and indeed, she was careful to have nothing within reach of his mischievous fingers, but to-day she had left Hetty sitting upon the bed and Bertie had discovered her. It would never do to leave her anywhere in sight again, nor could she keep her where an older person than Bertie might find her. Ruth did not trust Mademoiselle, and believed if Bertie persisted in wanting the doll, as he was very likely to do, that Mademoiselle would not hesitate to find Hetty and give her into the little boy's ruthless hands.

She closed her door softly and looked around the room for a hiding-place. None seemed possible at first, but at last Ruth discovered a safe one. A small window seat had been placed before the one window. It opened and shut like a box. Between the back of this box and the wall under the window there was a space over which a small board had been placed to cover the space which was caused by a slight jutting out of the window, making an irregular opening. Ruth found that she could lift the board, shove it back in place and cover it again with the cushion of the seat. She gave Hetty a loving kiss and stowed her away in this retreat.

"You mustn't be afraid, dearest," she said. "Nothing shall hurt you. I shall not let anything smite you by day nor by night. I'll pray that the angels will watch over you just as much as if they could see you in bed with me. I shall take you out every day and lock my door so we won't be disturbed."

And she went back to her French exercises with a cheerful face. When she had completed them, she heard the clamor of Bertie's return and ran back to her room.

Her aunt treated her with cold disdain when they next met and Ruth gave her head a little defiant toss.

"If she 'spises me, I reckon I can 'spise her," she told herself, and more than ever she kept out of the way.

She had been in her aunt's rooms but seldom, though the magnificence of them charmed her. On the dressing-table were such beautiful shining things; the soft couch was piled high with wonderfully embroidered cushions, and the whole place was always redolent with some faint sweet odor. The costumes which Mrs. Mayfield wore, too, were such as Ruth thought fit for a queen. Once or twice she had seen her sweeping down the stairway in exquisite evening dress and she wondered what Nora Petty would say if she knew Ruth were living in the same house as such a fairylike being.

Although she gave a wondering admiration to all the beautiful things with which her Aunt Lillie surrounded herself, Ruth gave her aunt no affection, for she did not demand it. She treated the child with tolerance but that was all. Bertie occupied the only place which she had in her heart for children, and him she spoiled and petted till all natural good in his nature was smothered by indulgence.

Bertie did not forgot the doll in spite of the candy and the new toy with which his mother had provided him, and the very next day he climbed the stairs to the top floor bent on finding Hetty. It was sufficient for Bertie to be denied a thing for him to want it beyond anything else. He looked around the room. No doll was in sight, but on Ruth's washstand stood the little flowery mug, Billy's parting gift. Possessing himself of this, he went down to the nursery where Ruth was reciting her "J'ai, tu as, il a."

"I want Ruth's doll," he said to Mademoiselle.

"He can't have it," returned Ruth quickly.

Mademoiselle looked sharply at her. "Vy not, mees?"

"Because he only wants it to break up and I can't have her smashed all to pieces."

"I want to play wif her. Mayn't I play wif her?" whined Bertie.

"You may play wis har, of course. Go get zis doll, zis poupée but say first what is doll. It is poupée, poupée. Repeat."

"Poupée, poupée," repeated Ruth obediently.

"Say, zen to your cousin, 'I give you my doll—Je vous donne ma poupée.' Repeat."

But Ruth did not repeat. Instead she stood silent.

Mademoiselle's little eyes snapped. "Repeat, I say. At once; toute de suite. Je vous donne ma poupée."

"I can't," replied Ruth in a low tone. "I would be telling a story, because I am not going to give him my doll."

"You are not when I say?" Mademoiselle sprang to her feet. "You sall, you mees, I make you."

Ruth faced her, very pale. "What will you do?" she asked slowly.

"I punish you."

"Then I will tell my uncle and I will ask him, too, if I must give my precious doll to Bertie to break up. I will tell him all about my Hetty and I know he will not make me give her up."

"You meeserable leetle mouse, you souris which pretend so shy and meek and have the viciousness of a rat, you sall not defy me, Antoinette Delarme."

Just at this moment, Bertie entered, having taken his cause into his own hands. "You'd better give me your old doll," he threatened, holding behind him the mug which he had brought from Ruth's room. "You'd just better or you'll be sorry."

"I shall not do it," said Ruth steadily.

For answer Bertie dashed out in the hall, held aloft the mug for a moment and then flung it down over the baluster. It went crashing into a hundred bits upon the marble tiling in the hall below. Having thus spent his fury, Bertie dashed away with an impish look over his shoulder.

Ruth flew down-stairs without a word from Mademoiselle. The butler was sweeping up the broken pieces.

"Oh, Martin," said Ruth, "it is my dear little mug. Bertie got it from my room and threw it down here. Can it be mended, do you think?"

With a grim smile Martin showed the pieces.

The tears came to Ruth's eyes. "And Billy bought it for me with his own money," she said, her lips quivering at the remembrance. "Oh, Martin, please let me have one little flowery piece to keep," she said.

The man held out the dust-pan and Ruth selected a piece upon which a rose still showed entire. "I'll keep this forever," she said. "Thank you, Martin."

The man shook his head as he looked after her making her way to the upper floor. "That spoiled young un," he muttered. "I'd just like to see him get one good spanking."

Mademoiselle sat up stiff and uncompromising when Ruth returned to the nursery. "Babee," she said contemptuously, as she perceived Ruth's tears. "What is it to weep for, a leetle cheap sumpsin as zat?"

"It wasn't because I thought it was very fine," said Ruth, "but it was because Billy gave it to me. I was going to drink my milk from it at the table, but I saw it looked funny with the other things and so I kept it in my room. Bertie knew I loved it."

"He is but an infant," returned Mademoiselle, "but because he have bestowed upon you a punishment, I will not more punish you for the disobeying me except that I make you a longer lesson to-morrow. You are repeat all the verb To Have, all, all."

"Oh, Mademoiselle, it will take me every minute to learn it."

"All, all," repeated Mademoiselle with a wave of her hand as dismissing the subject.

And Ruth, with a rebellious feeling in her heart, went to her task.

She listened that evening for her uncle's latchkey, hiding herself behind the heavy curtains of the library.

As his step rang upon the tiled floor, she went to meet him.

"Well, Ruthie," he said kindly, "are you the only one at home?"

"Aunt Lillie has gone to a tea," she replied, "and I don't know where Bertie is. Uncle Sidney, do I have to give him my doll?"

"Your doll? Bertie doesn't play with dolls, does he?"

"He wants mine."

And then Ruth told him how she came into possession of Hetty, of how Henrietta had come to grief, ending with, "And there isn't another one like Hetty in all the world, Uncle Sidney. I love her so dearly."

He put his hand on her head. "No," he said, "of course, you don't have to give her up. Lillian certainly spoils that boy," he added half to himself.

Then to Ruth. "If anybody wants to interfere with your belongings, little girl, just send them to me. I'll speak to your Aunt Lillie about this."

And Ruth was going away satisfied, leaving her uncle to his newspaper and the comfort of the library fire, when he called her back. "Here are some picture papers," he said, "don't you want to look at them?"

He produced a bundle of papers, unrolled them upon the table before her, and she felt a warmth of heart at the unwonted attention.

Mrs. Mayfield coming a few minutes later, looked with surprise at the child absorbed in the pictures. Ruth was rarely seen at that hour.

Mr. Mayfield glanced up from his paper. "See here, Lillie," he said, "don't insist upon Ruth's giving up her toys to Bertie. I won't have it. You spoil that boy."

"Oh," said Mrs. Mayfield giving Ruth a little contemptuous glance, "she has been telling tales, has she?"

"She has been defending her rights," returned Mr. Mayfield, "and I don't want the occasion for it to come again."

Mrs. Mayfield raised her eyebrows. "Such a tempest in a tea-pot," she said walking out of the room.

Ruth shot her a glance from under long lashes as the trailing velvet robes disappeared, a glance that was quite as scornful as Mrs. Mayfield could summon to her own face.


Signed, Simon Petty

IT was a week later that Ruth was in her room with Hetty sitting before her on the window seat. The house was very still. Bertie's howls did not cleave the air. The swish, swish of Mrs. Mayfield's silken petticoats was no longer heard; even Mademoiselle's high-pitched voluble French did not pierce the silence.

"I am very glad they didn't decide to take me, Hetty," said Ruth. "I'd much rather not go. Oh my, isn't it lovely to get rid of Bertie? Don't you feel glad that you don't have to stay down in your cave? Now that I haven't those hateful verbs to learn, I shall have time to sew for you, Hetty. I've hardly dared to more than take you out to look at you for a week, for although Uncle Sidney said I was not to give you up, Bertie would have come and taken you without the asking if you were within reach."

Hetty's smiling face seemed response enough to these confidences.

"Oh, Hetty," Ruth went on, "I am so glad that Mademoiselle is to be gone three whole days. For three whole days, we shall have everything to ourselves. I can take you down to the nursery when I have my meals and it will be so cozy, almost like being at home again. I wonder what they are doing there this minute. I haven't been very lucky yet in finding a whole lot of money to take us back, have I? I wonder when I shall go."

That morning Mrs. Mayfield in sudden alarm because of a cold Bertie had taken, insisted upon bearing him away to Lakewood for a week while Mr. Mayfield should be gone upon a business trip. Mademoiselle, feeling that this was a good opportunity to take a holiday, pleaded an ill friend and would be gone for three days.

"I simply cannot be bothered with two children in a hotel," Mrs. Mayfield had said to her husband, "and I don't believe Ruth would care a particle about going."

But Ruth's uncle consulted her before he settled the matter. He sought her out and asked:

"Do you want to go to Lakewood with your Aunt Lillie and Bertie, or would you rather stay here with the servants and Mademoiselle?"

Ruth hesitated for a moment. "I'd much rather stay here," she replied, "if—"

"If what?" asked her uncle.

"If Mademoiselle were not going to be here, too."

Mr. Mayfield laughed. "That's frank at least. Well, she is not to be here all the time. She is going away for three days. I shouldn't wonder if she stretched the time longer, and there will be only Katie to look after you. Mrs. Mayfield will take Minnie with her. The cook and Martin will have the house to see to. Can you stand a whole week in such company?"

"Oh, yes, for I'll have Hetty, you know."

"I may be back in two or three days myself."

"Then I should surely like to stay."

"Bless the child," murmured Mr. Mayfield. "I think then since you do not really care to go that we will leave you here," he added.

It was certainly an easy way to arrange affairs, for Katie was steady and conscientious. She could be relied upon to take good care of the little girl, and Mr. Mayfield promised himself a free afternoon when he would take his niece to a matinee and give her a little of the attention which he felt he had been rather chary of.

The quiet house was the result of all this, and Ruth was actually less lonely than when the coming and going of visitors, whom she never saw, the bustle of entertainments in which she had no part, and the noisy clamor of Bertie stirred the household.

"I think I'll take you down in the nursery now," she said to Hetty. "It's nice and warm there where the sunshine comes in the windows. I'll begin your new frock. Think of it, I have hardly looked at my box of pieces since I came. They will remind me of home so much. I shouldn't mind pulling out the stitches from old coats or doing anything, if I could only sit by Aunt Hester and hear Billy whistling in the wood-shed. There's that striped pocket; I'll use that."

Ruth unrolled the pocket. Something hard was in the bottom of it. She drew it out. She had forgotten the little wad of paper she had put there so long before. She pulled out the crumpled mass and began to smooth out the wrinkles. Something was written on the paper. She tried to read it, but the writing was too cramped and illegible for her childish powers. She could, however, make out the signature which was in quite different handwriting. The letters, big and black, were easily read.

"S-i-m-o-n—P-e-t-t-y," she spelled out. "I wonder what this is," she exclaimed. "I remember now I found it in the lining of the old coat. I think I will ask Martin if he can read it."

She folded the paper and stowed it away in her box of pieces, then, with Hetty carefully poised on her hand and the box under her arm, she went down to the nursery where she devoted the rest of the afternoon to the making of a striped pink frock for her doll.

At five o'clock it was quite dark. The lights in the hall were lighted and Katie came to turn them on in the nursery. Later, Martin appeared with Ruth's supper on a tray. At the sight of the lonely little figure, his dignity unbent.

"Lonely here, miss, by yourself?" he said.

"Oh, I am not so lonesome as if I didn't have Hetty, but I would like another little girl to play with. I wish you were a little girl, Martin."

Martin chuckled as he set down the tray.

"I can't say I quite echo your wish, miss. Cook made you a little cake just for yourself and she said I was to tell you the cream toast was special good. Is there anything else you would care for, miss? Oysters or a bit of cold ham?"

Ruth surveyed the tempting supper prepared for her: cream toast, broiled chicken, a small pot of cocoa, a fresh sponge cake scalloped and with a hole in the middle into which hole Martin had stuck a bunch of violets. Amber jelly and some fruit completed the bill of fare. Wouldn't Billy's eyes open if he could see all this served on beautiful cut glass and china? The thought of Billy reminded Ruth of the paper she had found in the pocket.

"There is only one thing I want, Martin," she said. "I wish you would read something for me."

She brought out the piece of paper and unfolded it before Martin. He screwed up his eyes, put his head to one side and scrutinized the paper carefully, turning it over to look at the reverse side.

"I can make out the Simon Petty," said Ruth by way of encouragement.

Martin nodded. "Yes, miss, that's plain enough. 'Tain't a very good plain fist, the rest of it, but as I make out, it's a receipt signed 'Simon Petty.'"

"What's a receipt?" asked Ruth quickly.

"It's to tell that some money has been paid. This here," he pointed to the paper, "seems to say that Francis Blackberry, or some such name, has paid Petty five thousand dollars—payment in full of money advanced. It reads like that."

"Couldn't it be Francis Brackenbury? Are you sure it's Blackberry?" said Ruth eagerly.

"Come to look at it I guess it might be Brackenbury, but it's such twistified sort of writing it's hard to tell, but I guess you are right and it's Brackenbury."

"He did pay it, he did," said Ruth excitedly. "Aunt Hester said so."

"You know the parties, then? How did you happen to get hold of this?"

"I found it in an old overcoat pocket. Aunt Hester ripped up the coat and I was picking out the Indians, the stitches, you know, and I forgot and stuck this in the pocket after I found it way down in a corner of the coat between the cloth and the lining. I was going to make a frock for Hetty out of the pocket. Oh, Martin, do you suppose it is worth anything?"

Martin scratched his head. "I ain't much of a lawyer, but it might be worth keeping, or it may be an old paper that nobody cares anything about. It might save a heap of trouble in case this here Blackberry died and Simon Petty was mean enough to claim his debt."

"Not Blackberry, Martin," said Ruth reproachfully.

"Well, never mind the name. You know sometimes when a man dies there's claimants comes forward for money that's been paid, and if he's a married man and his relic ain't got any receipt to show, why it makes trouble."

"What's a relic? It has something to do with war, hasn't it?"

"There is war relics, but this kind is a man's widow, the wife he leaves behind him."

"Suppose he doesn't leave any."

"Then he has heirs, sons or daughters, maybe."

"Major Brackenbury had a daughter and she's my Aunt Hester."

"You'd better send this to her, then. It might save paying out five thousand dollars a second time."

"Is five thousand dollars much money?"

"It would buy a pretty good house in some places. But your supper is getting cold, miss."

"Oh, well, I'll eat it. Thank you ever so much, Martin, for telling me all about the receipt. Tell Maria I am much obliged for the cake; it is so brown and lovely, and thank whoever put the dear little bunch of violets in the middle. You may go now, Martin."

She spoke in the little superior way in which Mrs. Mayfield gave her orders, and Martin smiled.

"It's a little lady," he said to the cook. "She didn't forget the 'Thank you' to send you, and was as pleased as Punch at the cake and flowers. She's a high and mighty way, too, when she needs it, and that's what a lady should have."

Much as Ruth enjoyed her supper, she would have given more thought to it, if she had not been so concerned about the receipt. She would send it to Miss Hester, or—no—if she could only know whether it meant that they could really go back to the big house, or that it would give enough to Miss Hester to allow of her taking Ruth back into her home, how quickly would the child hasten there. It would be a fine opportunity just now. If only Dr. Peaslee were here for her to consult. He had told her before she left Springdale that if ever she needed advice or help to write to him.

"I'll do it," she said. "I'll write to him this very evening and get Martin to mail the letter for me."

She set to work as soon as her supper was over and managed a tolerably fair page to send to the doctor. The spelling was not so good as the handwriting, for the latter was something upon which Ruth prided herself.

   "Dear Doctor," she wrote, "I found a reseat sined Simon Petty I am going to send it to you but if you are coming to the sitty soon praps I'd better keep it till you come. I am very well and so is Hetty. We had supper together and there were vilets in the cake. If you had been here, I would have given you some. Hetty sends her love to you. Your loving friend,"


   "P. S. dont tell Aunt Hester about the reseat till we know more about it. She might be orfully disappointed if it should turn out not to be good. Wouldn't it be nice if it would get us all back in the big house."

It was rather a vague letter, but might have had its effect if the doctor had been at home when it arrived. He had gone to a convention, however, and, as he expected to return in a couple of days, he had ordered his mail to be held at home for him.

Ruth waited one, two, three days; then she took alarm. Suppose the letter had been lost. She knew such things did sometimes occur.

"I am glad I didn't send the receipt," she said to herself.

The child was growing very lonely. Her longing for love and companionship was waxing greater and greater.

There was no sign of Mr. Mayfield's immediate return. He had sent a brief note to Martin saying that he was still detained by business. Mademoiselle was lingering, making the most of her holiday and the days seemed very long to Ruth. She went to drive in state sometimes, or Katie took her for a walk, but it was cold weather to be sitting in squares where she fain would have tarried in the summertime.

And so the longing to see Aunt Hester and Billy, Lucia and Annie, Dr. Peaslee and all her well tried friends grew stronger each day. And at the end of the week, she had made her plans and had revealed them to Martin who, solemn and stiff enough in his office as butler, had nevertheless, a warm heart and did his best to cheer the loneliness of the little girl.

"How much does it cost to go to Springdale?" she asked him one afternoon.

"I don't exactly know, miss," was the reply. "But I can easy find out. I'll look it up this evening. I've got to go out before supper."

And so, when he brought up Ruth's supper to the nursery, Martin told her that a ticket would cost "a matter of four dollars."

Ruth counted out her store. "I have that much," she said, "and a little over. Oh, Martin, couldn't you put me on the train for Springdale?"

"Why, why, what's this, miss?"

"You know about that receipt. I wrote to Dr. Peaslee and he hasn't answered the letter, so I'm afraid he didn't get it, and I have been thinking how dreadful it would be if I should mail the receipt and it should get lost, so it seems to me I had better take it."

She paused a moment, then said wistfully: "And besides, Martin, I do so want to see Aunt Hester and Billy and all of them. I feel as if I couldn't stand it. You know if the receipt is all right I should go back anyhow. I don't believe any one here would miss me very much and I know they miss me there."

"Dear me, miss," said Martin, "I'm sure I should miss you mighty much."

"Thank you, Martin. You always say kind things and I wish you lived in Springdale instead of here."

"I can't say I wish that, but I shouldn't mind going there for a visit of a day. I've an old friend from England who has a shop there and I've promised to go to see him for many a long day."

"Oh, I wish you would go; I think it is very nice that you have a friend there. I wonder if I know him. What is his name, Martin?"

"John Fox, miss, and he keeps a green grocer shop."

"I think I know just who he is," said Ruth, in a pleased tone. "You see, Martin, I am really here only on a visit; I said that always, and that if ever something fine should happen I would go straight back to Aunt Hester. Maybe this receipt is just like finding money, and oh, how I should love to surprise them and be the one to take the receipt to Aunt Hester."

Martin stood with the carafe of water in his hand. He seemed to be thinking deeply.

"Do you think uncle would mind very much?" Ruth asked. "I know Aunt Lillie wouldn't, and when I 'splained about the receipt, it would be all right, wouldn't it, Martin?"

"I think so, miss. I'll have to think it over. I could get off for a couple days as well as not," he said half to himself. "James would see to things, I suppose. I'll speak to Katie when I go down," he said to Ruth. "I think perhaps Mr. Mayfield wouldn't mind if I took you there myself and brought you back."

"Oh, but—" Ruth began to say that maybe she would not come back, but she thought better of it. So she hastened to say: "I think you are as good as you can be, Martin."

In a little while Katie came up saying: "Martin tells me you and him is going on a lark. Well, I don't blame you, and I don't believe but what your uncle would like you to have a little change. What shall you want to take with you? I'll pack enough to last you for two or three days."

"I shall want to take Hetty," said Ruth.

"Of course. You'll be going to-morrow, Martin says, for Mr. Mayfield likely comes bank the first of the week."

"Oh, Katie, Katie, I am so happy. To-morrow, to-morrow I shall see them all. I want to go to bed very early so that morning will come soon."

"We'll go up and get you packed, then," said Katie, "and you'll have a good time, I'm sure. Faith, it's stupid enough for a child like you to be shut off from comrades of your own age. She'd never take the trouble to be findin' playmates foe you," she added, contemptuously.

Ruth knew well enough who the she meant, but she made no comment. What was Aunt Lillie to her now that she was to see Aunt Hester? She went to sleep and once laughed out loud because she dreamed that Stray, dressed up in Martin's livery, was taking her to see Dr. Peaslee.


A Journey

ALTHOUGH Ruth had still a very vague idea of the meaning of a receipt, she was still sufficiently impressed with its importance to hold to it very tenaciously and she carried it securely folded in a little old-fashioned bead bag which had belonged to Henrietta and which, in imitation of her Aunt Lillie, she had asked Katie to fasten securely to her belt.

It was a clear, cold winter's day. Katie had at first insisted upon dressing the child in her newer and more fashionable clothes which Mrs. Mayfield had provided for her, but Ruth begged so earnestly to be allowed to wear the red coat and plaid poplin dress that Katie yielded, compromising by placing upon the little girl's head a pretty beaver hat with its plumes which, as she said, gave her a bit of style.

Martin, shorn of his livery and in every-day clothes, lost some of his stateliness and looked an ordinary somebody. He rode on the box of the carriage with the coachman while Ruth, inside, was driven to the railway station, her heart beating fast and her eyes bright with excitement.

She put her hand confidently in Martin's when she was lifted from the carriage and possessing himself of the valise in which Katie had packed Ruth's clothing, the butler took his way to the cars, smiling down at the child as he seated himself by her side.

"Now, ain't this a frolic?" he said. "I don't know when I would have got to see John Fox if it hadn't been for you, and now here I'm travelin' off to Springdale with a young lady."

The hours seemed long but, as she drew nearer and nearer to her destination and certain points along the way began to look familiar, Ruth could scarcely restrain herself. She bobbed up and down in her seat, chattered like a magpie to Martin and once in a while gave a little squeak of pleasure as some well-known landmark caught her attention.

At the last stop before reaching Springdale, a portly gentleman entered the car where Ruth and her escort sat. As she caught sight of him Ruth sprang to her feet with an exclamation of surprise and pleasure.

"Dr. Peaslee," she cried in such shrill excited tones that persons turned their heads to see, and smiled when a little red-coated figure darted into the aisle and precipitated herself against the portly man with the humorous eyes and kind smile.

"Why, Ruth, little Ruth!" exclaimed the doctor, "Where under canopy did you come from and where are you going?"

"I'm going to Springdale; Martin is taking me."

The doctor piloted her to a seat across the aisle from the one in which she had been sitting.

"And who is Martin?" he asked.

"He is Uncle Sidney's butler. There he is over there." She indicated Martin by a nod in his direction.

"He is a nice man, a very nice man, indeed," Ruth went on. "He looks much finer in his livery, and he is very stern and straight when he is in the dining-room though you wouldn't think it to see him now when he looks just like any one else."

"But why is he taking you to Springdale?" asked the doctor.

"Oh, because there wasn't any one else to do it and it was a good chance for him to go to see John Fox. Do you know John Fox? Uncle is away on business and Aunt Lillie has taken Bertie to Lakewood. Bertie is horrid, doctor; he broke my dear little mug that Billy gave me just because I wouldn't let him have Hetty to break up. Would you have given her to him?"

"Hardly, I think, for that purpose."

"He is a dreadfully spoiled child," said Ruth sighing, "but Aunt Lillie thought he might get ammonia or something because he had a cold, and she took him away. Then Mademoiselle wanted to go see a sick lady, so I stayed with Katie and Maria and Martin because I didn't want to go to Lakewood. Did you get my letter?" she asked suddenly.

"Why no," the doctor answered. "Have you been writing to me? Then that is a pleasure I have in store for me when I get home. You see I have been away for several days. I am just getting back from a convention. I didn't think when I got on the train here at the junction that I should see you. What were you writing to me about? Anything in particular?"

"Yes, about the receipt," replied Ruth.

"What receipt?"

Ruth fumbled in her bead bag and drew forth the paper. "This," she said. "I didn't want to send it to Aunt Hester till I knew whether it was worth anything. Martin says it is a receipt from," she lowered her voice, "Simon Petty to Francis Brackenbury, only he will call it Blackberry. You know Uncle Sidney told them I was named Mayfield and they don't know I am really Ruth Brackenbury."

The doctor had taken the paper and was examining it carefully.

"The rascal!" Ruth heard him say under his breath. "The unmitigated scoundrel!"

"Is it worth anything?" asked Ruth, anxiously.

"I should say it was. Where on earth did you get it, Miss Mouse?"

Then Ruth told him the whole story; he nodded approvingly from time to time. At the close of her tale, he put the receipt carefully away in his pocketbook. "I'll take care of it," he said.

"Will it do Aunt Hester any good? Will it do her enough good for me to go back and live with her?"

"Do you want to go so much?"

"Oh, I do, I do. I would never have gone away only Billy said it would be better for Aunt Hester and she wouldn't have to work so hard."

The doctor's arm went around the child and he drew her close to him.

"Bless the little old woman," he said. "Well, Miss Mouse, I think, if I am not mistaken, it will mean that you can go back if you want to and if your uncle will consent, for this paper doesn't only mean that five thousand dollars have been paid but that all claims Simon Petty has pretended to hold were settled long ago."

"And can Aunt Hester have her house again?"

"I think so."

"Oh, good! Good! Is Simon Petty very mean?" she whispered.

The doctor was silent but he shook his head as if over the evil of the man. "He's a pretty sick mortal," the doctor told her, "and he has not long to live, but he will live long enough to set this matter straight or my name is not Tom Peaslee. Now you sit here; I want to go over to speak to your friend Martin."

He left Ruth sitting by herself, a little song in her heart which presently broke forth very softly from her lips.

"I'm going home, I'm going home. There's the church, and there's the steeple. Soon I'll see all my good people. I'm going home, I'm going home."

The train stopped. The doctor took Ruth by the hand. Martin followed with the baggage and in another moment the train was winding its way down the track leaving Ruth and her friends on the platform of the station at Springdale.

"You leave the little girl in my charge," said the doctor to Martin. "I will see her home. You will not have any too much time to hunt up your friends and so we need not tax you further. Thank you, Martin, for your kindness to our little girl."

He held out his hand and gave Martin's a hearty grip.

"Thank you so much, Martin," said Ruth. "The doctor knows the way to my house and he can take me."

"I'll come around for you to-morrow in time," said Martin as he bade the child good-bye.

But Ruth did not heed. For her there was no to-morrow, if it meant a return journey.

She skipped along by the side of the doctor till they came in sight of the little brown house. Then the child's desire out-ran the doctor's pace.

"Oh, would you mind if I went on?" she asked. "I can't stand it, if I don't."

The doctor loosed his clasp of her hand and she sped like an arrow toward the house. Her trembling fingers fumbled with the latch of the gate. She heard a sharp excited bark from Stray. It was a waste of time to knock at the front door, and she flew around to the kitchen bursting in half laughing, half crying.

"I've come back! I've come back!" she cried.

Stray precipitated himself upon her with joyful yelps of welcome. Billy stopped in his task of setting the table to rush forward calling:

"Aunt Hester, Aunt Hester, it's Ruth, it's Ruth."

Then from the next room, a figure came swiftly, arms extended. Ruth flung herself into them clasping Miss Hester's neck as if she would never let go.

"Oh, Aunt Hester, Aunt Hester," she sobbed, "nobody has kissed me since you did."

"My little girl, my little girl," murmured Miss Hester, kissing and kissing her. "I have missed you so much."

The sobs which Ruth had choked back broke forth then into a real fit of weeping. The love for which the little heart had been starving was here, and the child wept on Aunt Hester's shoulder gasping out:

"I can't help it, I can't help it, I am so glad."

At this moment, there was a thundering knock at the front door, and Billy ran to open to the doctor who cried out in his big voice:

"Where's that little runaway? Great Cesar, but I never saw a mouse scamper to its hole faster than she. Hello, Billy boy, where are the others?"

Aunt Hester with wet eyes and a tremulous smile around her mouth, came forward.

"Come in, Tom," she said. "How did you happen to bring back my little girl?"

"Let her tell you. I just stopped to say 'howdy,' then I'll be off. Come here, Ruth, I want to speak to you. Excuse secrets, Hetty."

He drew Ruth to one side. "Don't say anything about the paper till you see me again. I'll be back later in the evening."

Ruth nodded understandingly, and the doctor took his departure.

Billy busied himself in laying another place and bustled about like one accustomed to such service as setting tables and preparing supper. At intervals, he gave out pieces of news.

"Old Petty is awful sick; they say he can't live. Squire Field has got a new horse, a beauty, bay with one white stocking. Phil Reed's little dog is dead. Phil wanted to buy Stray but me and Aunt Hester couldn't part with him. There's a new teacher at our school; he's A No. 1, I tell you," and so on.

Meanwhile, Miss Hester and Ruth sat with arms around each other, Ruth answering the many questions and finding it hard to keep back the fact of the receipt.

"I say, you look like a howling swell in that hat," said the observant Billy. "Ain't you going to take it off and stay awhile?"

"Maybe I'll stay forever," returned Ruth with a happy laugh.

The simple little supper of porridge and milk was on the table when again a knock was heard at the door. Billy rushed to open and returned with a basket in his hand.

"Did you order these, Aunt Hester?" he asked.

"I ordered nothing," said Miss Hester in surprise. "It must be a mistake."

"There's a paper marked Miss Hester Brackenbury," said Billy. "I guess it is all right. The man's gone, anyhow. Let's open the basket."

"But Billy—"

"It's bought and paid for, the man said so, and he said it was for you."

Billy paused in the act of drawing forth packages.

Miss Hester flushed but did not forbid the unpacking of the basket. It held many dainties: a roasted chicken, a glass of jelly, fruit, crackers, cheese and a delicious cake.

"Let me see that paper," said Miss Hester.

Billy handed it to her. There was the name plain enough, and on the other side of the paper was written:

"In honor of Ruth's return."

"It's Tom Peaslee's doings," exclaimed Miss Hester. "There is no doing anything with him once he takes a notion."

So a festal array there was on the supper table that night, and Ruth enjoyed her meal more than any she had consumed in the house of her uncle.

The dishes were scarcely cleared away before Dr. Peaslee returned, bringing Squire Field with him. The squire drew Ruth to his knee.

"Little Ruth Brackenbury, tell us about this," he said, laying the receipt on the table.

And Ruth told him her story.

The squire turned to Miss Hester. "So, Hester," he said, "your father did pay off his debt to Simon Petty, fifteen thousand dollars in all. Tom Peaslee couldn't let me rest, but routed me from my supper table and said Simon might die before he acknowledged this, so he dragged me up there where we set matters right in a jiffy and this is yours. The old house goes back into your hands and we may thank this little lady for her sense in keeping that paper."

"But I was going to throw it away," declared Ruth in all honesty. "If I hadn't put it in the old pocket, it would be gone."

"Ah, yes, but you didn't throw it away; that's just the point," said the squire smiling.

He handed the paper to Miss Hester with others bearing the signature of Simon Petty.

Miss Hester took them with trembling hands. It seemed too good to be true. "Now," she said, "I can press the government claim. It only needed a little money to do that. Will you undertake it, squire?"

"Why didn't you say before this that you did not press it because you had no lawyer's fee?" asked the Squire sharply. "Didn't you know I would have taken the case on the chance of its coming out all right?"

"I didn't want my business done in that way," said Miss Hester proudly.

"Well, it will be put through now," returned the squire. "Get me the papers when you can and I'll do my best to strike while the iron is hot. You'll be living in your own home yet, Hester."

"And won't I, too?" asked Ruth. "Don't you know, Aunt Hester, I said I was only going to make a visit. Must I go back?"

"Not unless you want to," said Aunt Hester.

Then the squire and the doctor went away and the three left behind talked of the coming true of their old dream. The big house with the pillars would be Miss Hester's again. She would have enough to support herself and the children, and there would be no more buttonholes to make.

True to his promise, Martin came the next day but Miss Hester would not let Ruth go.

"I will write to Mr. Mayfield," she said.

She was not long in doing this, and as Mrs. Mayfield was by no means anxious that Ruth should make her home with her uncle, she persuaded him that it was best to leave Ruth with her adopted aunt. Mr. Mayfield came to Springdale to talk the matter over. He found Ruth so happy and so eager to remain where she was that he made no effort to take her away. He offered a certain sum to be paid yearly for her support, but Miss Hester refused proudly.

"She is my adopted daughter," she said. "She bears my name and I am able to do for her as I would for my own."

Therefore Mr. Mayfield went away determining that he would send Ruth a present once in a while and that he would not lose sight of her.

Lucia rushed over to welcome Ruth back and the girls at school listened eagerly to her tales of her French governess and of her life in the city.

"I don't see how you could give up all that," said some of them.

Although Miss Hester tried to keep the affair of the receipt a secret, it was generally known that Simon Petty had behaved very badly and had tried to cheat Miss Hester out of all her patrimony. Nora, knowing this, tried to keep out of Ruth's way, but, after her grandfather's death, the family left town.

It was one bright beautiful spring morning that the little brown house was deserted and Miss Hester set up her belongings again in the house across the street. Birds were singing in the tall trees on the lawn. Vines were in leaf and flowers blossomed in the borders.

"Isn't it a dear home?" said Ruth as she stood with Miss Hester on the porch looking around them. "It's yours forever now, isn't it, Aunt Hester?"

"Yes, dearie, and it will be yours, too, as long as you live."

"I think Hetty would like to go with me to see what Billy is doing," said Ruth going into the house and bringing out her doll. "Shouldn't you think she would feel very much at home, Aunt Hester, when she lived here so long ago? She told me last night that it did seem good to get back again. I wonder if she misses my dear Henrietta. Do you miss your Henrietta, your little sister, Aunt Hester?"

"I should miss her much more if I didn't have my little Ruth," returned Miss Hester. "You take her place, dear child, better than any one else could do."

Ruth smiled up at her. Then she walked down the broad path and around the house to where she heard Billy whistling cheerily.

"It's great, ain't it?" said Billy as she came up. "Aunt Hester says I can keep chickens and I'm makin' a coop for a hen I'm goin' to get from Fred Felton. I'm goin' to do some work for him to pay for it. He's no good doin' anything with tools and I told him I'd help him out and take my pay in stock. I'm goin' to try to get some eggs that way, too, and I'll set my hen and have some chickens, then I'll get other chickens. This is a fine place to keep them, there's so much room they can have a chicken yard and they won't get out to scratch up the flowers. Maybe if I am lucky with my chickens, I can save enough money to do somethin' worthwhile after a time."

Ruth sat down to watch the quick direct strokes of his hammer as he drove the nails into his coop.

"It will be too lovely to have chickens and flowers both," she said. "Shall you keep chickens or will you have a store when you grow up, Billy?"

"I can do both, maybe. I want to keep store more than ever."

"I don't think I want to make buttonholes," returned Ruth, laughingly. "Oh, Billy, did you see this tree? It has names all cut on it. Here's Thomas Peaslee and Hester Brackenbury and under it is Henrietta Brackenbury. Ruth Henrietta Brackenbury; Billy, I'd like to see that there, too."

"I'll cut it for you," said Billy viewing his copy with a satisfied air.

"And won't you cut Billy Beatty?"

Billy shook his head. "No, sir, I don't want my name in any such place. Where I want it is on a sign over a store door. William Beatty and Company in gold letters. I'll cut that name now. Where do you want it?"

"Right there under Henrietta's."

Billy began his work in a businesslike way, Ruth watching him admiringly. When he had finished and had walked away with his tools, she glanced around to see that no one was looking, and then she touched her lips softly to each name.

"That's for you, Dr. Peaslee, because you are so good. That's for you, Aunt Hester, because I love you so. That's for you, little Henrietta, because if you hadn't died, maybe I wouldn't be here."

She touched with her lips each letter of the name which Billy had just rudely carved upon the rough bark.

"That's for you, name," she continued, "because you are such a dear name."

She folded her hands after this ceremony and stood looking up at the soft blue sky across which fleecy clouds were drifting.

"You don't care, do you, mamma?" she whispered. "You would love Aunt Hester, too, because she loves me."