“If you please, I’ve come,” said a small girl, as she walked into a large room where three ladies sat at work.
One of the ladies was very thin, one very stout, and the youngest very pretty. The eldest put on her glasses, the stout one dropped her sewing, and the pretty one exclaimed, —
“Why, it must be little Rosamond!”
“Yes, I’ve come; the man is taking my trunk upstairs, and I’ve got a letter for Cousin Penelope,” said the child, with the sweet composure of one always sure of a welcome.
The stout lady held out her hand for the letter; but the little girl, after a keen look at the three faces, went to the old lady, who received her with a kiss, saying, —
“That’s right; but how did you know, dear?”
“Oh, Papa said Cousin Penny is old, Cousin Henny fat, and Cousin Cicely rather pretty; so I knew in one minute,” replied Rosamond, in a tone of innocent satisfaction at her own cleverness, and quite unconscious of the effect of her speech.
Miss Penelope hastily retired behind the letter. Miss Henrietta frowned so heavily that the gold-rimmed eye-glasses flew off her nose with a clash, and Cicely laughed outright, as she exclaimed, —
“I’m afraid we have got an enfant terrible among us, though I can’t complain of my share of the compliments.”
“I never expected to find Clara’s child well mannered, and I see I was quite right. Take your hat off, Rosamond, and sit down. It tires Sister to lean on her in that way,” said Miss Henny in a severe tone, with no offer of any warmer welcome.
Seeing that something was amiss, the child quietly obeyed, and perching herself in an ancient arm-chair crossed her short legs, folded her plump hands over the diminutive travelling-bag she carried, and sat looking about the room with a pair of very large blue eyes, quite unabashed, though rather pensive, as if the memory of some tender parting were still fresh in her little heart.
While Miss Penny slowly reads the letter, Miss Henny works daisies on a bit of canvas with pettish jerks of her silk, and Miss Cicely leans in the sofa-corner, staring at the newcomer, we will briefly introduce our small heroine. Her father was cousin to the elder ladies, and being called suddenly across the water on business, took his wife with him, leaving the little girl to the care of these relatives, thinking her too young for so long a journey. Cicely, an orphan niece who lived with the old ladies, was to have the care of Rosy; and a summer in the quiet country town would do her good, while change of scene would console her for this first separation from her mother. How she fared remains to be seen; and we need only add that the child had been well trained, made the companion of a sweet and tender woman, and was very anxious to please the parents whom she passionately loved, by keeping the promises she had made them, and being “as brave as Papa, as patient and kind as dear Mamma.”
“Well, what do you think of it, Missy?” asked Cicely, as the blue eyes came back to her, after roving round the spacious, old-fashioned, and rather gloomy room.
“It’s a pretty large, dark place for a little girl to be all alone in;” and there was a suspicious quiver in the childish voice, as Rosy opened her bag to produce a very small handkerchief, evidently feeling that she might have sudden need of it if some one did not speak to her very soon.
“We keep it dark on account of Sister’s eyes. When I was a little girl, it wasn’t considered polite to say rude things about other people’s houses, especially if they were very handsome ones,” said Miss Henny, with a stern glance over the eye-glasses at the young offender, whose second remark was even more unfortunate than her first.
“I didn’t mean to be rude, but I must tell the truth. Little girls like bright places. I’m sorry about Cousin Penny’s eyes. I will read to her; I do to Mamma, and she says it is very well for a child only eight years old.”
The gentle answer and the full eyes seemed to calm Miss Henny’s wrath, for her size was her tender point, and the old house her especial pride; so she dropped the awe-inspiring glasses, and said more kindly, —
“There is a nice little room ready for you upstairs, and a garden to play in. Cicely will hear you read every day, and I will teach you to sew, for of course that most useful part of your education has been neglected.”
“No, ma’am, I sew my four patches every day, and make little wee stitches, and I can hem Papa’s hank’chifs, and I was learning to darn his socks with a big needle when — when they went away.”
Rosy paused with a sudden choke; but too proud to break down, she only wiped two drops off her cheek with the long ends of her little gray silk glove, set her lips, and remained mistress of herself, privately planning to cry all she liked when she was safely in the “nice little room” promised her.
Cicely, though a lazy, selfish young lady, was touched by the child’s pathetic face, and said in a friendly tone, as she patted the couch where she lay, —
“Come here, dear, and sit by me, and tell me what kind of a kitten you’d like best. I know of a sweet yellow one, and two grays. Our Tabby is too old to play with you; so you will want a kitty, I’m sure.”
“Oh yes, if I may!” and Rosy skipped to the new seat with a smile which plainly proved that this sort of welcome was just what she liked.
“Now, Cicely, why will you put such an idea into Rosamond’s head when you know we can’t have kittens round the house for Sister to stumble over, not to mention the mischief the horrid things always do? Tabby is all the child needs, with her doll. Of course you have a doll?” and Miss Henny asked the question as solemnly as if she had said, “Have you a soul?”
“Oh yes, I have nine in my trunk, and two little ones in my bag, and Mamma is going to send me a big, big one from London, as soon as she gets there, to sleep with me and be my little comfort,” cried Rosy, rapidly producing from her bag a tiny bride and groom, three seedcakes, a smelling-bottle, and a purse out of which fell a shower of bright cents, also crumbs all over the immaculate carpet.
“Mercy on us, what a mess! Pick it all up, child, and don’t unpack any more in the parlor. One doll is quite enough for me,” said Miss Henny, with a sigh of resignation as if asking patience to bear this new calamity.
Rosy echoed the sigh as she crept about reclaiming her precious pennies, and eating the crumbs as the only way of disposing of them.
“Never mind, it’s only her way; the heat makes her a little cross, you see,” whispered Cicely, bending down to hold the bag, into which Rosy bundled her treasures in hot haste.
“I thought fat people were always pleasant. I’m glad you ain’t fat,” answered the little girl, in a tone which was perfectly audible.
What would have happened I tremble to think, if Miss Penny had not finished the letter at that moment and handed it to her sister, saying as she held out her arms to the child, —
“Now I know all about it, and you are to be my baby; so come and give me some sweet kisses, darling.”
Down dropped the bag, and with a little sob of joy the child nestled close to the kind old heart that welcomed her so tenderly at last.
“Papa calls me his button-rose, ‘cause I’m so small and pink and sweet, and thorny too sometimes,” she said, looking up brightly, after a few moments of the fond and foolish cuddling all little creatures love and need so much when they leave the nest, and miss the brooding of motherly wings.
“We’ll call you anything you like, darling; but Rosamond is a pretty old name, and I’m fond of it, for it was your grandmamma’s, and a sweeter woman never lived,” said Miss Penny, stroking the fresh cheeks, where the tears shone like dew on pink rose-leaves.
“I shall call you Chicken Little, because we have Henny and Penny; and the girls and Tab downstairs can be Goosey-Loosey, Turkey-Lurkey, and Cocky-Locky. I’ll be Ducky-Lucky, and I’m sure Foxy-Loxy lives next door,” said Cicely, laughing at her own wit, while Miss Henny looked up, saying, with the first smile Rosy had seen, —
“That’s true enough! and I hope Chicken Little will keep out of his way, no matter if the sky does fall.”
“Who is it? A truly fox? I never saw one. Could I peep at him sometimes?” cried the child, much interested at once.
“No, dear; it’s only a neighbor of ours who has treated us badly, at least we think so, and we don’t speak, though we used to be good friends some years ago. It’s sad to live so, but we don’t quite see how to help it yet. We are ready to do our part; but Mr. Dover should take the first step, as he was in the wrong.”
“Please tell about it. I have horrid quarrels with Mamie Parsons sometimes, but we always kiss and make up, and feel all happy again. Can’t you, Cousin Penny?” asked the child, softly touching the little white curls under the lace cap.
“Well, no, dear; grown people cannot settle differences in that pretty way. We must wait till he apologizes, and then we shall gladly be friends again. You see Mr. Dover was a missionary in India for many years, and we were very intimate with his mother. Our gardens join, and a gate in our fence led across their field to the back street, and was most convenient when we wanted to walk by the river or send the maids on errands in a hurry. The old lady was very neighborly, and we were quite comfortable till Thomas came home and made trouble. He’d lost his wife and children, poor man, and his liver was out of order, and living among the heathen so long had made him melancholy and queer; so he tried to amuse himself with gardening and keeping hens.”
“I’m glad! I love flowers and biddies,” murmured Rosy, listening with deep interest to this delightful mixture of quarrels and heathen, sorrow, poultry, mysterious diseases, and gardens.
“He had no right to shut up our gate and forbid our crossing that little field, and no gentleman would have dared to do it after all our kindness to his mother,” exclaimed Miss Henny, so suddenly and violently that Rosamond nearly fell off the old lady’s lap with the start she gave.
“No, sister, I don’t agree there. Mr. Thomas had a perfect right to do as he liked with his own land; but I think we should have had no trouble if you had been willing to sell him the corner of our garden where the old summer-house is, for his hens,” began Miss Penny in a mild tone.
“Sister! you know the tender memories connected with that bower, and how terrible it would have been to me to see it torn down, and noisy fowls clucking and pecking where I and my poor Calvin once sat together,” cried Miss Henny, trying to look sentimental, which was an impossible feat for a stout lady in a flowery muslin gown, and a fly-away cap full of blue ribbons, on a head once flaxen and now gray.
“We won’t discuss the point, Henrietta,” said the elder lady with dignity; whereupon the other returned to the letter, bridling and tossing her head in a way which caused Rosy to stare, and resolve to imitate it when she played being a proud princess with her dolls.
“Well, dear, that was the beginning of the trouble,” continued Miss Penny; “and now we don’t speak, and the old lady misses us, I’m sure, and I often long to run in and see her, and I’m so sorry you can’t enjoy the wonders of that house, for it’s full of beautiful and curious things, most instructive for children to observe. Mr. Thomas has been a great traveller, and has a tiger skin in the parlor so natural it’s quite startling to behold; also spears, and bows and arrows, and necklaces of shark’s teeth, from the Cannibal Islands, and the loveliest stuffed birds, my dear, all over the place, and pretty shells and baskets, and ivory toys, and odd dresses, and no end of wonderful treasures. Such a sad pity you can’t see them!” and Miss Penny looked quite distressed at the child’s loss.
“Oh, but I guess I will see ‘em! Every one is good to me, and old gentlemen like little girls. Papa says so, and he always does what I want when I say ‘Please’ with my wheedulin smile, as he calls it,” said Rosy, giving them a sample of the most engaging sort.
“You funny little thing, do try it, and soften the heart of that tiresome man! He has the finest roses in town and the most delicious fruit, and we never get any, though he sends quantities everywhere else. Such a fuss over an old earwiggy arbor! It is perfectly provoking, when we might enjoy so much over there; and who knows what might happen!”
As Cicely spoke, she smoothed her brown curls and glanced at the mirror, quite conscious that a very pretty young lady of twenty was wasting her sweetness in the great gloomy house, with two elderly spinsters.
“I’ll get some for you,” answered Rosy, with a nod of such calm conviction of her own power, that Cicely laughed again, and proposed that she should go at once and view the battle-field.
“Could I run in the garden? I’d love to, after riding so long,” asked Rosy, eager to be off; for her active legs ached for exercise, and the close, shady room oppressed her.
“Yes, dear; but don’t get into mischief, or worry Tabby, or pick the flowers. Of course you wouldn’t touch green fruit, or climb trees, or soil your little frock. I’ll ring the bell for you to come in and be dressed for tea when it is time.”
With these directions and a kiss, Miss Penny, as Cicely did not stir, let the child out at the back door of the long hall, and watched her walk demurely down the main path of the prim old garden, where no child had played for years, and even the toads and fat robins behaved in the most decorous manner.
“It’s pretty dull, but it’s better than the parlor with all the staring pictures,” said Rosy to herself, after a voyage of discovery had shown her the few charms of the place. The sight of a large yellow cat reposing in the sun cheered her eyes at that moment, and she hastened to scrape acquaintance with the stately animal; for the snails were not social, and the toads stared even more fixedly at her than the painted eyes of her respected ancestors.
But Tabby disliked children as much as her mistress, and after submitting ungraciously to a few caresses from the eager little hands, she rose and retired majestically to a safer perch on the top of the high wall which enclosed the garden. Being too lazy to jump, she walked up the shelves of an old flower-stand moulding in a corner, and by so doing, gave Rosy a brilliant idea, which she at once put into action by following Tabby’s example. Up this new sort of ladder she went, and peeped over the wall, delighted at this unexpected chance to behold the enemy’s territory.
“Oh, what a pretty place!” she cried, clasping her grubby little hands with rapture, as the beauties of the forbidden land burst upon her view.