Come and Find Me by Elizabeth Robins (Chapter 3)
Come and Find Me by Elizabeth Robins
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Come and Find Me by Elizabeth Robins, Chapter 3
Not for several years had Mar made mention of the far northern experience which, beside laming him for life, had as yet but one visible effect upon his circumstances--that of ruining his credit as a man of judgment among those nearest to him.
People had recognized Nathaniel Mar as one mareked out for misfortune, when, upon his father's death, he had been obliged to give up his theological studies, and come back from college, to take the first thing that offered him a little ready money for the assisance of his mother. His modest salary as surveyor's clerk was presently augumented, in recognition of his good draftsmanship and his surprisingly quick mastery of the new field. But it was not till the work he did the following year, over in the Rock Hill district, brought him the friendship of the prosperous young mine owner Galbraith, that Mar found an opportunity of following the more scientific side of his new profession. It was Galbraith who got him the post on the Coast Survey, that led to Mar's joining the Russian-American Expedition.
After his return the handsome schoolmistress, who had reluctantly said "no" to the penniless surveyor, consented to look with favor upon the Discoverer of Gold in the new territory of Alaska.
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But she warmly opposed Mar's design of going to Rock Hill to share the great secret with his friend Galbraith. No, indeed! The Rock Hill mining maganate was in small need of "tips." It was clearly Mar's duty to give the men of Miss Trennor's family the first chance of joining in this glorious scheme that was to enrich them all.
When Harriet Trennor called the Trennor brothers "the men of her family," she made the most of what was a second cousinship. It was even the case that she was not on very good terms with those go-ahead young gentlemen; for the Trennors, in spite of their prosperity, had never, as she expressed it, "done anything" for her. It had been for the sake of her old father that they had bestirred themselves sufficiently to recommend Harriet for the post of assistant superintendent of the Girls' College of Valdivia. But after providing her with an opportunity to leave their common birthplace in St. Joseph, Missouri, the Trennors and their respective wives had, in point of fact, neglected Miss Harriet to such a degree, that there would be a certain magnificence in her heaping coals of fire on their heads. She, the poor relation, whom they had so little regarded, would put it in the way of men merely well-off to become millionaires. They would learn her worth at last!
Yes, yes, Nathaniel must keep the great secret close, till the Trennors (who were in New York on their yearly business trip) should have returned. But the affairs of the brothers took them to Mexico, and their home coming was further delayed.
While they tarried acute pneumonia appeared upon the Rock Hill scene, and carreid off John Galbraith. Little part in Mar's grief at the loss of his best-loved friend
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was played by the thought that now he could not count upon his "backing." Galbraith took with him out of the world something that to a man of Mar's temparament meant more. And at that time he looked upon himself as possessor of a secret that any capitalist in the country would hold himself lucky to share. It was not till the return of his wife's cousins that he found there could be exceptions to this foregone conclusion.
As enterprising dabblers in real estate and mining, and with the Palmas Valley Bank behind them, the Trennor brothers were constantly being approached by people with schemes for making millions. Such persons, though almost invariably as Mar, were not often, the Trennor brothers agreed, ready with propositions so fantastic.
Alaska was in those days further away from men's imaginations than Patagonia. The few people who had anything to say about the newly acquired territory, used it only as a club to belabor the then secreatry of state. What had he been thinking of to advise his follish country to pay seven millions for the barren rocks and worthless ice-fields that astute Russia, after one hundred and twenty-six years' attempt at occupation, was so ready to abandon!
"Worthless!" retorted Secretary Seward's friends. "Why, the Seal Islands alone--"
"Yes, yes, the Seal Islands are alone on the credit side of the transaction. Seward gave those seven millions for the two little Pribyloffs, and the value of Alaska may be gaged by the fact that it was just thrown in."
Was it to be believed, the Trennors asked, was it likely there was gold in a place where fellows with such
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keen noses as the Russians--they shook their heads. Both of them shook their heads, for the Trennor brothers always did everything together. Who could believe it had been left for a man like Mar--besides, that gold should be up there was dead against the best geologic opinion of the day. The precious metal had never been found under these conditions. There were reasons, scientific reasons, as anybody but Mar would know, why gold couldn't exist in just that formation (they spoke as if the vast new real boasted but one). And, finally, even if there was gold in such a place, how the dickens was it going to be got out?
It was in the talk about mining facilities that Mar's own faith suffered the first of many hurts.
He was obliged to concede that these astute young men were well-informed as regards the difficulties and disappointments of mining, even in a land where transport was easy, food, cheap, and labor plentiful--a land blessed by running water and perpetual summer. No less was Mar constrained to admit that this gold he believed he had found was hidden in a barren corner of the uttermost North, where not even an occasional tree promised timer for sluice boxes, where the winter was nine months long, and where, even in summer, the soil six inches below the surface was welded with the frost of ages.
They were surprised, the Trennors said, that any one should expect them to take stock in such a--
Oh, he didn't (Mar hastened to defend himself), he didn't at all expect-- it was only that his wife had begged him to come to them first.
And they smiled. They always smiled when Mar's
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mad notion was mentioned. Even after it ceased to be actually mentioned, they had for his mere name a particular kind of tolerant, distant-cousin-by-marriage smile that said "poor Mar," with an accent on the adjective.
The new Mrs. Mar was at first boundlessly indignant with her kinsman. "Never mind," she adjured her husband, with flashing eyes; as soon as he should be aboe to travel, they would go up there themselves. She seemed unobservant of the fact that his spirits were not raised by her kind proposition. They would have no trouble, she assured him, in finding worthier partners to join them in the great scheme when once they had "made sure."
"Made sure?" said Mar, wincing; "but I have made sure."
"Yes, yes, of course. Still you did lose the nugget--and the gold dust, too."
For the first time Mar changed the submect.
"You have n't anything to show," she persisted. To which he answered nothing.
Shortly after they were married, Mar's mother became very ill. The following spring she died. Mar's onw health and spirits were a good deal lowered by the surgical torment he was called on periodically to undergo, as amputation followed amputation.
Meanwhile, without waiting to "go up there and make sure," two efforts on Mrs. Mar's part to interest moneyed men in her husband's discovery, resulted not alone in failing to convince any one else that this was a fine opportunity for investment, but ultimately in undermining her own faith.
With the coming of her first child she prepared to cast
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overboard the wild hope (she saw now that it was wild) of a fortune up yonder in the ice-fields, and showed herself wisely ready to make what she could out of the saner possibilities life presented in Valdivia. Her cousins had been right. She would n't admit it to them--not yet--but it was a crazy scheme, that notion of gold in the arctic regions!
Dreamer as he was, Mar missed nothing of the intended effect when she first ceased to talk about his discovery--ceased to plan all life with that fact for its corner-stone. Her initial silence hurt him probably more than the half-veiled taunts of a later time. It was all the difference between the shrinking of an open wound and the dull beating of an ancient cicatrice.
Not only, as time went on, did she resent the illusion she had been under, but as is common with women of her type, her husband's greater significance since motherhood had come to her, made her increasingly dread that foolish infatuation of his. She foresaw that a continued faith in the value of his "find" would stand betwen him and energetic pursuit of fortune in any other direction. So it was that the North was not merely for her, as time went on, the type of a shattered dream--it came to be her and her babies' rival in this man's thoughts. This man--who owed to them all his thoughts, all his faith and energy--he was divided in his allegiance.
And not in dreams alone might he desert them. He might even conceivably insist, against all rational advice and plain duty, he might insist on going back there! The mere idea of his fatuous clinging to the old plan came to exercise over her an almost uncanny power for misery. Not that he continued openly to admit his pre-
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occupation. But it was there--she was sure of that--in his head, more properly in his heart, his refuge, his darling, his delight. She came to feel for it the hatred, and to have before it the involuntarily nerve recoil, that lies for some wives in the thought of another woman. What if she never sicceeded in rooting the fancy out of his brain? How was she at least to make sure of preventing his squandering time and money in pursuit of it?--now, when she could not go too, and when his going would mean (as she honestly thought) disaster to her and to the children and the humiliation of falling back for cousinly help on those wise young Missourians, who had seen at once the madness of the scheme.
She patched up the breach with her two kinsmen, and induced them to offer her husband a small position in their bank.
That would hold him.
But although she succeeded in seeing the cripple made teller--as a first step, she was firmly convinced, on the road to a partnership--she was not delivered from her fear. The unspoken dread that he might throw aside the humble, though precious, "sure thing" for this chimera beckoning from the North--the dread of it became the main factor in their spiritual relation. For not onlly did she never free herself from her grudging love of the man--and never, therefore, from her shrinking at the prospect of separation--not only did she conceive of him in the American way as the property of his family and bound as bondsmen are to serve them to the end, but in addition to all that, more and more as the years went on, did she come profoundly to disbelieve in the validity of his story.
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"Do you still think you my go back there one day?" she burst out on one occasion, looking darkly at the reconnaissance map that hung on the dining-room wall. Mar mumbled something about the satisfaction in the verifying of an impression.
"Verifying what? How do you verify pure fancy?" Then turning suddenly upon him, "If ever you do go, you 'll only be giving a fantastic reason for a restless man's longing to leave his home."
At moments conceived by her to be critical, she would toss at him the roproach of his well-known visionariness, and all their old foolish hope and its utter loss would be held up to scorn in her saying, apropos of something quite foreign: "That 's like some one I once knew who wanted people to believe in a miracle. But not without proof, he said. He had proof--absolute proof--only he'd lost it." Or, less offensive, but for Mar no less pointed, the form of skepticism his loss of the nugget had crystalized for her, "You 've got to have something to show to a Missourian."
This was later not only adopted by her boys as a favorite family gibe, but introduced into their school, and thence spread abroad as a foolish and pointless saying sometimes will, no one auite knowing why, till all of that generation, whatever their origin, would say with a wag of the head: "You 've got to show me--I 'm from Missouri," whenever they wished to announce themselves acute fellows by no means to be taken in.
As to the particular matter that gave rise to the saying, Mrs. Mar's strong personal feeling about it was augmented by outside circumstances. Stories of failure in gold mining were too rife and too well-attested not to
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have a significance difficult to disregard. Blameless misfortune as well as wholesale swindling, were so much the order of the day in the West, that men of business like the Trennors, when they wanted to promote some mining scheme, must needs have recourse to the gorgeous East. New York had plenty of money for "wildcat" schemes. But no place, the wise would tell you, like conservative old Boston for floating a risky concern. New Englanders were at that distance which lends enchantment. For them gold mining is still a form of romance--the mere thought of it goes to the head like wine.
But Valdivia was neither near enough to the mining centers to catch the fever, nor yet so far away but what her citizens mightily feared infection. Had not their townsman, Ben White, lost his head and his fortune over at Huerfano Creek? Was n't there young Andrews for a warning!
No catastrophe of this kind in their little world lost through Mrs. Mar's agency any of its ironic usefulness as illustration. She succeeded not only in making her husband doublt the wisdom of giving up a sure thing in the bank, to claim an unworkable gold mine, but little by little, as the rain and the weather wear away the sharp outlines of a stone inscription, so for Nathaniel Mar the years and the unbelief about him brought a gredaul blurring of the picture, till even to himself its early outlines were a little dimmed.
To revive its actuality, more than for any other purpose, nearly ten years after he had told the story to little Jack Galbraith, he told it again to Mr. Elihu H. Cox. The man listened with such a look in his big, fishy eyes, in a silence so galling, that mar interposed hurriedly:
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"Andy there 's one capital thing about it. It 's safe enough. If the gold 's there, it certainly won't run away," and abruptly changed the subject; though to hear himself saying "if it 's there," rankeld in his memory like apostasy. He would never tell the story again till his boys were grown and he told it to them. They would believe him. They, with youth and four sound legs between them, they would go up there and justify the long faith.
For fear that he might die before they were old enough to be indoctrinated, he wrote out as curcumstantial an account as he could between intervals of black despair at finding how dim were certain details. He grappled with the horror and saw it recede before the draftsman's skill and his peerless satisfaction in preparing careful diagrams and a map to larger scale. There was an effect of mathematical accuracy about these illustrations of his account that gave him back his confidence. If there was any trifling difference between these data and those furnished upon his return, the apparent discrepancy lay in the essential impression of mere words. The compass and the rule can't lie. He put the precious document away with his will, in the vault of the Palmas Valley Bank, but he did not put away the thought of it. On the contrary, he kept it by him day and night, turning it over in his mind with the rich comfort of the man who reflects that he will leave to his children a handsome inheritance and a fund of gratitude. Something in this case that partook of the nature of a paternal life-insurance--the kind of thing that had not profited, could not profit the giver, except as it profited him to feel that for all his appearance of being one of life's failures, he yet
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had insured his children against the meaner assualts of fortune. For this "policy" that he held for them was "paid up." Oh, yes, Nathaniel Mar had paid heavily--not yearly, but daily, almost hourly, for his lien upon the riches of the North.
The thought of the gold-shotted creek between the Great Stone Anvil and the arctic circle comforted him not least when he looked at this little daughter. It was good to know--the knowledge helped him through many a difficult hour--that HIldegarde would never be forced to join the ever fuller ranks of the bread-winning women. It would be no hurt to her that, however great an heiress she might be, she had been frugally brought up.
There was something large and fine and tranquil about the Scandinavian-looking girl, whom her parents had called by the stately northern name with more luck than attends many a christening--since it is well-known Victoria is, like as not, to take on an aspect depressed and down-trodden; Grace to turn out clumsy and hideous; while Ivy shows a sturdy independence, and Blanche and Lily grows swarthy as a squaw.
But the fact was that the little Mar girl was named Harriet Hildegarde, and was even called "Hattie" till she was nearly twelve, when, after remarking one day, "I don't look like a Hattie, and I 'm not going to be a Hattie," she refuse thereafter to hear the obnoxious diminutive and quietly but firmly coerced her family and her schoolmates into saying "Hildegarde," if they wanted her to notice them.
Mrs. Mar was grieved to find that her only daughter had no conspicuous talents, and was not even a girl of
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spirit--lacked, moreover, the will to cultivate that affectation of being spirited, which goes in America by the name of "brightness." But she was not a bad sort of little girl after all; she got her lessons, and played games with a certain boyish gusto, and gardened with a patient defotion that her mother thought worthy of a better cause. But Mrs. Mar consoled herself for the girl's lack of brilliancy by reflecting that Hildegarde was probably going to be handsome and that men were great donkeys and might never find out that she was slow.
Hildegarde herself was conscious of her shortcomings--without the knowledge overwhelming her. Life was going to be very good, even if she was n't at the head of the class, or a shining light at the school commencements. She had no talent for music, and quite as little for recitation. It was something to hear her saying, in the famous garden scene--
"Geh' falsche gleissnerische Königin
Wie du die Welt so täusche' ich Dich--"
i n a tone of unruffled ourtesy and with a brow serene. When the fiery Madeleine Smulsky took her off with, "This is Hildegarde laying dark plots--now she's doing foul murder," and proceeded to translate her friend's large tranquillity inot the feverish terms of picturesque wickedness, the effect was distinctly diverting. Even Hildegarde laughed. For she got over "minding." It was when she was quite little that she had suffered most, and from the scorn of her own family. Her brothers were both "such very bright boys," and her mother she knew to be enormously clever. It had been painful to
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feel that beside these richly dowered ones, she was "next door to an idiot." She made not outward struggle against the verdict of her family, accepting it as many a young creature will, without a doubt of its being as just as final. But, fortunately, hers was a nature too sane and sunny for her to run the risk many children do of coming nervously to dread, and so making true, a prophecy having no foundation in necessity. When she discovered that she had competent hands--hands with which she could perform all manner of pleasant domestic miracles--that gradually, and because of her, the house was transformed and the garden made to smile; that, moreover (assuring her of a hold upon the fine arts, too), she could tell ghost stories that made her school friends gibber with excitement, the girl felt agreeably conscious that her distiny after all was maybe larger than the family eye had been able to discern.
When Hildegarde was sixteen a new pupil appeared at the Valdivia School for Young Ladies. A little girl hardly twelve, delicate, pretty, appealing, yet self-sufficing; so backward in some of her studies, and so advanced in others, that she could not be entered in either the upper primary or lower academic classes, but was sent to recite arithmetic and geography with the infants, Latin with the first academic girls, and French with the second collegiates--young ladies four to six years older than little Bella Wayne.
She was a boarder, and it was said her parents had put her under the special care of Miss Gillow, the principal. She even had special dishes cooked for her, and the fact that thse "milk puddings" (as it seemed they were called) were plainer than the food set before the other
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boarders, did nothing to mitigated the offensiveness of the distinction. Certainly the principal accorded the "new girl" so many privileges that a strong party sprang up against her.
Hildegarde, even before a certain day of wrath, had found herself unconsciously absorbed in watching this thin slip of prettiness, who looked as if a puff of wind would blow her away, who ought to have carried herself humbly, if not actually depressed, in her capacity of unclassifiable new-comer, and who yet walked about with her little nose in the air, as if she despised Valdivia, and especially scorned the critical young ladies of Valdivia's celebrated school.
It did not help her good standing that she showed herself indifferent to an opportunity of joining the Busy Bees. Now, the Bush Bees were a very popular organization which not only sewed on alternate Saturday afternoons at the rectory, but danced with an equal regularity, in various other places, and organized a bazaar once a year in the Masonic Hall. Besides the gaiety of this function, there was a fine flavor of philanthropy about the regular application of the proceeds to the clothing and educating of a little Hindu girl, who was able strangely soon to write pious letters to the young ladies of Valdivia--letters in which she seemed to get even with her benefactors by saying that she never forgot to pray for them. The Bees had had the joy of deciding by what name their prot&eactue;gé should be christened. As there were three Marys and six Trennors among them, the little Hindu was called Maryh Trennor, and every properly constituted girl felt pledged for Mary Trennor's material and spiritual welfare--that is, every girl in Valdivia
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whose fortunate social condition mermitted her to aspire to wear the badge of the Golden Bee. It followed that the new girl was not properly constituted when she declined the honor. It was even apparent that her heart was not in the right place. For when Beatrice Trennor most forbearingly showed the new girl the framed photograph of the Hindu convert, in order to stimulate interest in the cause, Miss Bella Wayne turned from it with the observation, "She 's ugly. I shan't do a single thing for such a hideous little girl. I don't think they ought to be encouraged."
IT was plain, therefore, that she thought too much of good looks, and was a stony-hearted monster.
"Serves her right," said the primaries, adademics and collegiates all with one voice, when Bella Wayne, having for a week daily put the arithmetic class to shame, was banished to Miss MacIver's room to spend two hours in austere solitude over the lesson of the day.
Hildegarde had got special permission to go for ten mi8nutes after school hours to visit Madeleine Smulsky (also a boarder), who was in bed with a violent cold. Coming down-stairs as Hildegarde passed Miss MacIver's room she saw the door cautiously open. A spectacled eye gleamed strangely low down in the aperture for one of Miss MacIver's height, and then the owner of the eye, as if reassured by the look of things outside, opened the door a little wider, and the apparition stood fully revealed. Miss MacIver, many inches shorter than anybody had ever seen her before, and narrowed in proportion, the familiar crochet shawl hanging dowdily over one shoulder, the stiff-held head ornamented with the front of sandy curls, a gouty finger held crookedly
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up, the effect of cold in the nose faithfully reproduced as the voice twanged out:
"Neow young ladies, observe--" It was the arithmetic teacher to the life, only it was Bella Wayne, with her perky little nose supporting huge round spectacles, and her baby mouth pursed in severity repeating the rule, "One or bore of the decibal divisiods of a unid are galled a decibal fragtion."
Hildegarde had stopped, stared, and was seized with uncontrollable giggles. Madeleine Smulsky, hearing these demonstrations, got up out of bed and made all haste to thrust her bare toes through the banisters, and crane a tousled head far enough over the rail to discover what was happening below. Her ecstatic merriment induced Miss Wayne to come further into the hall, and reprove her with a supple young finger stiffly crooked, and speaking not only with a cold in the head, but with that intolerable click in the nose of the sufferer from chronic catarrh--
"I would lige yeou do observe there is a sbezial beaudy aboud the laws of bathebadigs--" Again the dreadful noise in the impudent little nose. Madeleine's attempt to suppress her laughter brought on a fit of coughing, which, with a spasmodic suddenness, choked and died in her throat. For all of a sudden there were three figures in the hall below, and one of them was the real Miss MacIver, saying to herself in miniature:
"And now, Miss Wayne, you may take off my shawl, and my skirt, and my glasses." (Not a syllable about the opulent front.) "And in ten minutes go and report to the principal."
As the real Miss MacIver, six feet of indignation,
"It was the teacher of arithmetic to the life, only it was Bella Wayne"
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turned away trembling with fury, she looked back an instant over her shoulder to say: You or I, Biss Wayne, bust leave Valdivia--"
But Bella had already vanished into the room of penitence, and was feverishly pulling off her strange habiliments. The bare toes of Miss Smulsky had been hurriedly withdrawn from between the banisters, and any girl but Hildegarde Mar would have been fleeing down the staircase, "and so home." But she walked quietly away, her large deliberateness even a little emphasized as she went, weighted down by fearful speculation as to what form of retribution would overtake the wicked, new girl.
Hildegarde went to school the next morning ten minutes earlier than usual. No one yet in the big schoolroom, so she wandered restlessly through the empty halls, wishing she dared go up-stairs and compare notes with Madeleine. From a window at the back, looking out on a group of eucalyptus trees and a mass of syringa, she saw little Bella Wayne sitting very subdued on the top-most of two stone steps; slate on knee and pencil poised, but eyes fastened on a woodpecker tap-tap-tapping at the tree.
Hildegarde went out and spoke kindly to the unlucky little girl. "What 's happened since--?"
"Nothing much," and Bella put up her chin.
"Are you--are you going away?"
"Me? No." And with that she dropped her slate and pencil on the step, dropped her face into her two hands, and wept.
Hildegarde thought she had misheard--it must be that Bella was crying because she was expelled. After
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all Hildegarde had expected she would be expelled. What she had not expected was that she, one of the big girls, would be so sorry to hear that this was the last she should see of little Bella Wayne. Hildegarde picked up the broken slate, and tried to think of something comforting.
I was sure they 'd send me home," Bella sobbed. "But they w-won't! Not even if I d-don't beg her p-pardon."
"Any you want to be sent home!"
"Of course!" Bella got out a handkerchief three inches square and dapped her eyes.
"Was that why you did it?"
"No. It would have been if I 'd thought she 'd come and catch me. But--no--I did it because--oh, because there was n't any other earthly thing to do in that room!" she said, with a burst. Then, more collectively: "Were you ever in Miss MacIver's room?"
"No, I 've always been rather afraid of Miss MacIver."
"Well, wait till you 've seen her room--and her family! You 'll be 'fraider than ever. The only pictures she has in there are photographs of a lot of nightmarely people all just like her. Oh, it was dreadful being shut up there with millions of MacIers! I did everything I could think of to forget 'em. I looked at all her dull books. Then I smelt all her bottles-- they are n't so dull. Do you know she 's even got seventeen on her washstand?"
"Bottles. When I 'd smelt the all--some very queer--what else was there to take you mind off those pictures but to try on her things?"
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The three-minute bell began to ring, and H( went back to the school-room.
Bella did not reappear among her kind for twenty-four hours. Some said she 'd already gone home. Others said no, she was waiting till her mother came for her. Certainly Miss MacIver made no sign; but her cold seemed better.
Upon resuming her place the next day, Bella, still with her nose in the air, publicly announced that she had begged Miss MacIver's pardon.
"How did they make you do it?" Hildegarde asked the little girl at recess.
The wicked Miss Wayne was again sitting solitary on the stone steps among the shrubbery at the back, holding on her knees a new slate, the lower part covered with neat little figures--the upper elegantly decorated with dragons.
"Nobody made me," answered Bella, while she carefull shaded the scaly coil on the monster's tail. "The door was a little bit open--Miss MacIver's door--and I saw her packing up. Then she looked out and caught me peeking at her."
"Heavens!" breathed Hildegarde, so overcome she sat down. "What happened then?"
"Oh, I went in."
"She called you?"
"You did n't go in without being made to?"
"Yes, I did."
"Gracious! How could you, Bella?"
"I thought I 'd better. I went in and asked her pardon.
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"What did she say?"
"She just" --the outrageous Bella made the obnoxious clicking in her nose. "Do you know she 's only got two dresses?"
"Yes, I've noticed."
"But she 's very well off for fronts!"
Bella nodded. "Got three."
"You don't mean to tell me, Bella Wayne, Miss MacIver 's got three false fronts!"
"Yes, she has. And the weest little, teenty-weenty trunk, she 's got. But it 's quite big enough. I could see she had n't anything, hardly, to put in it. Only bottles and fronts. After I 'd begged pardon, and was going out, I suddenly thought she must be pretty poor, even if she did have such a lot of--do you suppose it 's becasuse she can't afford hats? Well, I don't know. Anyhow I asked her what school she was going to after this. She said she did n't know. Then I looked at those nightmarey MacIvers and asked her if she was going home. She suddenly began to look awfuller than ever. I saw she was thinking about the MacIvers, too, and it was 'most more than she could bear. So I ran back and begged her not to go. I said I did so need her."
"You needed her?"
"Yes, to--to teach me decimal fractions." Bella brought out the words a little samefaced. Then, hurriedly, as if to forestall misapprehension: "Oh, I said I knew it was n't much of an attraction for her--of course, it must be perfectly horrid to have a girl like me in the arithmetic class. But, after all"--Bella paused, and then, with the air of a discoverer of one of the deeper mysteries of nature--"after all, Miss MacIver likes ham-
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mering those disgusting rules into girls. What she hates is to think there 's a girl going round without those rules somewhere inside her. So I just told her that wherever she was going she would n't find anybody who knew as little about fractions as I did. I was certain I told her, perfectly certain, that she could show me all about 'em if only she was n't going away. One think was sure as a gun--I was never going to let anybody else teach me! She said something about that. It was the first time she spoke, and she stood like this, with her flannel petticoat in one hand, and a bottle in the other. But I just said: 'Seven people have tried it already, and you know if they succeeded. There 's only one person in the world that can make me understand those disgusting rules.' And I went quite close to her, and I said: 'Miss MacIver, cross my heart and hope I may die, if ever I let anybody else speak to me about fractions!' So we agreed it was her duty to stay. But now the awful thing is I 've got to do these sickening sums! Is n't it terrible what a lot of trouble you can make for yourself, just all in a minute?"
"Well, I hope you 'll stick to your part of the bargain, Bella," said the big girl, smiling.
"Got to--got to!" said the luckless one, flourishing her pencil over the biggest of the dragons. "If I don't she 'll go away and starve with the rest of the MacIvers; or drink up all those medicine bottles, and die in a wink--like that!
"Look here, shall I just see if you 're going the right way about it?"
"Oh, thank you,"--Bella relinquished the state with alacrity--"only be careful not to rub out my dragons. They keep my mind off the MacIvers."
And that was how the friendship began.
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