Honorable Tommy

Mary E. Wilkins Freeman

From Woman's Home Companion Vol. XLIII No. 12 (December, 1916)

It was the day before Christmas, long ago, when Christmas was seldom observed in New England. There were two houses in the village separated by a wide yard in which the grass, of a dirty dun color, lay like a frost-woven mat underfoot, crunching when the children sped over it.

It was difficult to understand what the boy and girl found amusing in that dismal wintry yard, flanked on one side by the Dunbar farmhouse, with its enormous barns and outbuildings, on the other by the more modern house where the Roseberrys lived. There was probably nothing except the indomitable spirit of youth. The boy, Tommy Dunbar, and the girl, Cora Roseberry, raced back and forth between the leafless, creaking old cherry trees. They made leaps over a ledge of rock. The girl gave little squeals of merriment from time to time. The boy, although radiant, was silent. They were pretty children, but the fashions of their day detracted from their beauty.

The girl, charmingly graceful, pink and white, with long blond curls, wore a hoop skirt and a frock of royal Stuart plaid. She wore white stockings and ugly half-low shoes, a red knitted hood, and a shawl over her mother's sontag. As she ran, the fringed corners of the blue and green plaid shawl flew out.

“You will catch cold,” said the boy thoughtfully. “Stop, Cora; you must let me tie the ends of your shawl.”

“It is cold,” agreed the girl; “but I have on Mother's sontag under the shawl.” She glanced down admiringly and guiltily at the brilliant circle of her royal Stuart skirt. “Mother didn't know I was going to wear this dress,” said she.

“What made you?” asked the boy soberly. He was smaller than the girl, although of the same age. He was also paler. His attire was as absurd: trousers which seemed a queer evolution from skirts, an uncouth jacket, and wool cap and muffler. His features were good, but their expression of extreme seriousness baffled. His blue eyes under a high forehead were almost aggressively thoughtful for a mere child.

“Will your mother scold you?”

“My mother scold me!” The girl burst into a roulade of laughter. “Mother never scolds me, neither does Father. Everybody loves me, you know,” she said prettily.

Tommy Dunbar gazed reflectively at Cora. He was considering what would have happened to him had he clad himself, without permission from his aunts Nancy and Sarah and his uncle Reuben, in the bright blue broadcloth suit with a white frill round the neck which he wore Sundays.

Cora looked at him curiously. “Do your folks treat you bad if you do things you want to,” she inquired. Tommy was silent.

“Why don't you answer?”

“My folks do the way they think is right, I guess,” said Tommy, with a stolid air.

Cora gave her long curls a toss. She dismissed the subject.

“You can't catch me, running around every one of the cherry trees three times,” declared she, and was off.

Cora ran round the trees, with Tommy following at a fixed distance, according to his code of honor, then stopped, squealing with glee. “Couldn't! Told you so,” said she. Cora was charming. She conquered her ugly clothes. In a way, Tommy Dunbar conquered his. There was a very noble, manly expression on his young face above the uncouth jacket and muffler.

Cora sniffed. “What are they cooking over at your folks'?” said she.

“They're doing pig work,” replied Tommy. “That's lard trying out you smell.”

“Seems to me funny work to be doing the day before Christmas,” said Cora. Tommy stared.

Cora stared back. “You look as if you'd never heard of Christmas,” said she. “Are you going to have a tree, or hang up your stocking?”

Tommy hesitated; then he said feebly: “I guess I'll hang up my stocking.”

“That's what I'm going to do this Christmas.” Cora lowered her voice. “That's really what Mother went to Boston for,” she whispered. “You see, I know perfectly well that Father and Mother and Aunt Emmy and Grandpa and Cousin Ellen give the things that go in my stocking. But I like to make believe it's Santa Claus, and it pleases the others, so I do.”

To Tommy the remark was enigmatical, but he made no comment.

“I shall hang my stocking by the fireplace in the sitting-room,” said Cora. “Where will you hang yours?”

“Guess I'll hang mine by the fireplace in the sitting-room, too,” muttered Tommy; but he had an anxious, bewildered expression.

It did not dawn upon Cora that Tommy Dunbar had never in his life hung up his stocking, but so it was.

Cora saw her mother getting out of the stagecoach, and summarily ran home. Tommy also went home, sniffing the smell of lard and roast meat.

He enjoyed his supper of crisp roast spare-ribs, turnips, baked potatoes and pumpkin pie. At the table were his uncle Reuben and his aunts Sarah and Nancy. His grandmother was confined to her room with a cold, otherwise things would have been different. Tommy's grandmother could not have connived in the after-happenings of that day. Before going up-stairs to bed Tommy stopped to say good night to her. She sat propped up in her great bed, with a white shawl over her shoulders, and she was knitting. She smiled serenely at Tommy.

If anything, serenity was a fault in Grandmother Dunbar. No minor trials of life disturbed her, and she often assumed erroneously that they did not disturb other people. However, she was the mother of children, and when a child was in question the surface of her sweet calm could be ruffled. If only she had known — but she did not know. She smiled at Tommy, and her large pink-and-white face, framed in white ruffles, represented to the child personified love. His mother had died when he was a baby, his father two years ago, and Tommy had speeded to this grandmotherly shelter.

Tommy kissed her good night with effusion. It was a pity that he did not confide in her; but he was very shy and shamed before the unwonted idea in his mind. His grandmother gave him a peppermint, and told him not to forget his prayers, and he climbed up-stairs to his own bedroom. It was an icy room, and almost reproachfully neat.

Tommy said his prayers and went to bed, but not to sleep. His room was over the sitting-room. He could hear the hum of conversation below. He knew each voice, although he could not distinguish one word. Aunt Nancy's was very shrill, punctuated by frequent bursts of laughter. Aunt Sarah's was of lower pitch. Uncle Reuben had a deep bass growl. Tommy listened. Presently they would all go out in the back kitchen to grind sausage meat.

Soon silence settled down upon the floor below. They were all out in the back kitchen. Tommy crept very softly out of bed. He took one of his knitted blue yarn stockings, and he went down-stairs, padding on his bare feet. Tommy wore a red flannel nightgown. When he opened the sitting-room door and the firelight on the hearth illumined him, he looked like a little Fra Angelico angel. His fair hair, crested smoothly over his forehead, caught the light. His pale cheeks were rosy with the reflection.

He tiptoed across the floor and hung the blue yarn stocking in the fireplace. Then he beat a retreat; but he had been discovered. His aunt Nancy, whose hearing was almost preternatural, had heard the stairs creak under his little feet and had pulled the others along with her. They were all peeking around the kitchen door. However, they were out of range of the fireplace. They only saw Tommy approach, then steal away in that flickering red light. Reuben held them back until the sitting-room door was closed, and the pit-pat of Tommy's bare feet had ceased upon the stairs. Then the three hearty, healthy, kindly, but obtuse, young people entered the sitting-room.

“He certainly was fussing about something in the fireplace,” said Nancy. Suddenly she made a pounce. She pointed. She shook and bent with stifled laughter. The others looked. They saw poor Tommy's blue stocking, symbolic of childish faith, hanging in the fireplace. Nancy laughed, and Sarah laughed, but cautiously. Reuben stared.

“What's the stockin' doin' there?” he inquired, with no lowering of his deep voice.

Tommy up-stairs heard him, and trembled. Then he heard no more, for his aunts hushed his uncle peremptorily. They pulled him out into the kitchen.

“What in creation —?” began Reuben.

“Reuben, do hush up. He'll hear you,” gasped Nancy. “It's — it's —”

“It's what? What did he come down like that for, and hang his stockin' there? Is he crazy?”

“It's Christmas to-morrow,” replied Nancy, choking with laughter.

“And he was out in the yard with Cora this afternoon, and she must have told him she was going to hang her stocking, and put him up to it,” said Sarah between giggles.

“Grace went to Boston this morning,” said Nancy. “I know she went to buy presents for Cora. They're just spoiling that child.”

Reuben scowled. “If,” said he, “Grace wants to fill her child's head with such nonsense, I do wish she would tell her not to talk to Tommy. Hangin' his stockin' in the chimney!”

However, Reuben, who was not an ill-natured man, grinned as he spoke. Into his small brown eyes leapt a spark of malicious mischief.

“I'll fix up his stockin'; I vum I will,” declared Reuben. He began to laugh. They all laughed.

“What are you going to do, Reuben?” inquired Nancy.

Reuben whispered. The heads of the three conspirators were close together. When Reuben finished, they all laughed until the tears ran down their cheeks. Reuben's plan seemed to them such a joke.

The three, stifling their laughter, filled the blue yarn stocking. When it hung bulging, they fairly clung together and reeled, they were so overcome by the fun of the thing.

“He will come down by dawn to find it,” giggled Nancy. She and Sarah slept on the ground floor, Reuben above.

“I will sleep with one ear open,” said he. “I shall hear him come down-stairs.”

“Mind you don't let him hear you,” cautioned Sarah. “Nancy and I will be on the lookout.”

Soon the house was still. The street was still, hushed by an evening of fast-falling snow. Everybody slept except Tommy. He lay awake in a sort of ecstasy. He did not know what he expected. Afterward he was never able to define the nature of his joyful expectancy, but he lay awake in one of the transports of awaited happiness which do not come often in a lifetime. All the beautiful symbolism of Christmas was astir in him, like a strain of wonderful music. Little new England boy, who had never known a Yuletide, it may be that ancestral memory had been awakened in him, that the joy of his ancestors over the merry holy time of the year thrilled him.

The storm clouds had passed. He could see a great star from his window. He gazed at it so steadily that its rays became multiplied. Finally the star, to his concentrated vision, seemed surrounded by a halo of rainbows. He lay there waiting for the dawn, in such bliss as he might never again in his whole life attain, since that bliss was to be dashed back into the very face of his soul with a shock as of spiritual ice.

That Christmas morning the dawn was beautiful, and Tommy's window faced the east. He saw first a pallor of light along the horizon; then beams of cowslip-gold, rose and violet shot upward like an aurora. Tommy crept out of bed. He padded down-stairs. The cold was bitter, but he did not feel it. The poor little man in his red flannel nightgown entered the sitting-room. There was a faint glow on the hearth. He stole near. Yes, his stocking was full, bulging with unknown treasures.

He did not hear his uncle Reuben coming down-stairs behind him, then hiding observant in a dark corner of the front entry. He did not see his aunts' faces peering around a crack of their bedroom door. He clutched the stocking. He was trembling with delight. He had intended to run up-stairs and discover his wealth in his own room, but he could not wait. He sat down on the hearth and began to explore.

When it was over, just one little sharp sound broke the silence. Nancy said afterward it sounded as if somebody had stepped on a very little dog and killed him. After that, silence came again. Somehow the watchers did not feel like laughing. Tommy stood up. The dawn light fell full upon his white, stern little face. He crammed the miserable travesties of Christmas treasures back into the stocking. He went straight to the outer door. He shot the bolt. He went out.

“Mercy on us!” gasped Nancy.

“He will catch his death of cold going out in his nightgown,” said Sarah. She was very pale.

Reuben came into the room. He looked frightened. “Where has he gone?” he demanded.

Sarah and Nancy hushed him and drew him into their own room. They peered out, and saw the boy, with the stern white face of a man, march in. He held his blue yarn stocking dangling limply. He went up-stairs. They heard his door close. The three went together into the sitting-room. Nancy was almost weeping, Reuben scowled, Sarah's pale face wore a puzzled expression.

“I did not think he would take it like that,” half sobbed Nancy. Sarah looked accusingly at her brother.

“I don't see why you did it,” she said.

“You thought it was as good a joke as I did,” retorted Reuben. He shook himself, took his cap from a peg, and went out.

Nancy and Sarah, left alone, stood and stared at each other in dismay. They did not give speech to it, but at that moment both realized that childhood was a land left far behind them. Nancy's lover had died two years before. Queerly enough, she thought of him now. Sometime he had been a little boy like poor Tommy.

“I s'pose we ought to have known better,” Sarah thought. All she said was, “I guess Grace Roseberry with think we're heathen.”

“Perhaps he — won't — tell,” said Nancy hesitatingly.

“Children always tell,” returned Sarah. “Let him tell. It is all Grace's fault, spoiling Cora and having her put such ideas into Tommy's head. Come, it's time to get breakfast. You go in and see how Mother is; if she had a good night.”

“Mother wouldn't like it,” murmured Nancy.

“She'll give him some pep'mints and coddle him up when he tells her,” said Sarah.

“Perhaps he won't tell,” returned Nancy.

“Of course he'll tell; children always tell. Let him. I've done nothing that I'm ashamed of. It was only a joke. It will cure him of being so silly, too. I'll start the breakfast while you look after Mother.”

Then Tommy was heard on the stairs. He entered the room, clad in his uncouth suit, and went soberly through on his way to the woodshed. It was his morning task to chop up the kindling wood. Tommy's face was still white and unchildlike, and the sisters regarded each other with something like fear when he had disappeared.

“All I've got to say is, a child as silly as that ought to be taught sense, and I guess it's just as well it happened,” said Sarah.

“He's had time enough to tell Mother; but I don't believe he has.”

“Well, if he has told, Mother has coddled him; but he looked just the same.”

“Maybe we are making too much fuss over nothing,” said Nancy. Sarah went into the kitchen, stepping heavily and quickly, and Nancy entered her mother's room. The old woman was awake, and she smiled serenely at her daughter.

“He hasn't told,” thought Nancy with relief. When she joined her sister in the kitchen she said, “Sarah, he hasn't told Mother. He's a good boy.”

“He will tell,” returned Sarah grimly, “and he can, for all me.”

But Tommy did not tell, although as time went on he was subjected to a severe ordeal. It began that very morning, out in the yard under the cherry trees. The light fall of snow was not enough to admit of sleighing, but enough to make as good an excuse for using a Christmas sled as a child could wish. Out there, on the thin glistening rime of snow was Cora Roseberry, dragging a superfine sled, gaudily painted and named “Snow Bird.” Cora wore a set of furs, although the muff was dreadfully in her way. It was a Christmas present. She also wore a bright red cloak lined with plaid, another Christmas present, and on one hand a kid glove. The other hand was bare, because it was decorated with a gold ring with a garnet stone.

When she saw Tommy she hailed him. “Come here, quick, quick!” she called in her thin sweet voice.

“Oh, Tommy Dunbar, you are so slow!” she cried as he came up. “I want you to just look at my Christmas presents! See my sled, see my furs, see my red cape, see my kid gloves, real kid, the first I've had. And oh, Tommy, see my ring! See how it shines!”

Tommy nodded soberly. He was not jealous, but he could not bring himself to show hilarity after his own experience.

“And these ain't near all,” boasted Cora. “I've got two books, a red one and a blue one, with pictures, and a photograph album, and oranges, and candy, and a game, and lots of other things. Say, can't you come in our house and see them?”

“I guess I can't just now,” replied Tommy gravely.

“I've got a new doll with real hair and a pink spangled dress, and a stereoscope with lots of pictures. Say, Tommy, don't you want to look at the pictures through my stereoscope?”

Tommy shook his head. He would have liked to own a stereoscope.

“They're real pretty. They couldn't all go into my stocking. They were all round it on the floor. Say, Tommy, did you hang your stocking?”

Tommy hesitated just one moment. Then — he had the blood of honest soldiers in his veins — he nodded.

“Oh, Tommy, what did you have in your stocking?”

“Useful things,” replied Tommy gruffly.

“What kind of useful things? Mittens?”

“I said useful things,” replied Tommy with masculine dignity and finality. He walked away with the proud carriage of a victor leaving a hardly won battlefield, while Cora screamed after him. “Tommy Dunbar, I think you are real mean, so there!”

Nancy and Sarah had seen Tommy out in the yard talking to Cora.

“I wonder if Tommy's telling Cora,” said Nancy uneasily.

“Let him, if he wants to; I'm sure I don't care. This hanging stockings Christmas and talking about Santa Claus is silly and heathenish, anyway.”

Nancy still looked uneasy. When Tommy entered she did not hesitate. “What did Cora mean by speaking to you like that? What had you done?” she said.

“I hadn't done anything.”

“What did she mean?” persisted Aunt Nancy. Aunt Sarah was looking at him; so was his uncle.

The little boy looked at them. In his small face was an expression of scorn so high that it was entirely above all petty, childish resentment. “She said that because I wouldn't tell her what was in my stocking,” he replied.

“Why wouldn't you tell her?” inquired his aunt Sarah sharply.

“Because I am ashamed,” said Tommy. “I shall never tell anybody, because I am ashamed.”

“Ashamed of what?” demanded Sarah. Her face was flushed.

“Ashamed of you all,” replied Tommy simply.

Then Tommy walked out. Another morning task of his was replenishing the hearth fire and cleaning the hearth in the sitting-room. They heard him about it. The three looked at one another. A dim conception of the nobility of the trust of childhood and the enormity of its betrayal was over them. Nancy whimpered a little.

“We never ought to have done such a thing,” she said unsteadily.

Reuben echoed her. “No, we shouldn't.”

“Well, what's done can't be undone,” said Sarah, but she also looked disturbed.

“Suppose Reuben hitches up, and we go down to the store and get some things for him,” suggested Nancy timidly.

Reuben denied the motion peremptorily. “If you think you can salve over matters that way, with a boy like that, you are mistaken,” said he. “I could tell you that, both of you.”

There was the sharp tinkle of a bell, and Nancy started. “That's Mother's bell,” said she.

“I'll go see what she wants,” said Sarah.

Sarah entered her mother's room, and the old woman looked up at her from her feather-bed nest. “What did you ring your bell for, Mother?” Sarah asked.

“Is that door shut tight?” asked her mother.

“Yes, it is.”

“I don't want Tommy to hear. Sarah, what ails Tommy?”

Sarah was a truthful woman, but she hedged. “What do you mean, Mother?”

“I called him in here a minute ago to give him a pep'mint, and that child don't look a mite well. Has he been complaining?”

“No, he ain't.”

“You don't think he's et too much sassage?”

“I know he didn't.” Sarah's voice gained emphasis. She was relieve at being able to tell the truth without evasion.

“Well, all I've got to say is that child don't look right this morning,” said her mother. “If I was up and about I'd put him to bed and dose him. I'm afraid he's in for a sick spell. What's that?”

There had been a sound of a sudden fall in the sitting-room. The grandmother sat up. “I knew it!” said she. “I'm going to get up.”

“You keep still, Mother,” said Sarah, who had turned white.

“Then you run and see, and you leave my door wide open, or I'll get up.”

Sarah obeyed. On the floor in the sitting-room lay Tommy in a little sprawl of unconsciousness. Over him knelt Nancy and Reuben.

“Stop asking him what the matter is when he's fainted dead away, and fetch me the bottle of cordial from the top butt'ry shelf, Reuben; and you, Nancy, get the camphor bottle, quick,” commanded Sarah.

After a while Tommy was revived, but he was a sick little boy. He was put to bed in the little room out of his grandmother's, and the doctor was called. At that date the medical fraternity was not very anxious concerning shocks to the nerves. Tommy swallowed valerian and was afterward comforted with peppermints. He had a hot brick at his feet, and nobody spoke out loud anywhere near him.

“He is a very delicate child,” said the doctor out in the sitting-room with the door tightly closed. “Don't give him much to eat to-day.”

“A little jelly?” sobbed Nancy, who was quite overcome.

“Oh, yes, jelly and toast and weak tea when he wakes up,” said the doctor.

Tommy slept for hours. He was a delicate child, and his night of rapt wakefulness, his terrible disillusionment, his lack of food, for he had eaten no breakfast, had all been too much for him.

It was after the noon dinner when he awaked and had his tea and toast and jelly. He had just finished it when there was a sound of wheels and horse hoofs in the yard. The snow had all melted and the ground was quite bare. Nancy and Reuben ran to the windows.

“It's Tom Loring,” exclaimed Nancy. Tom Loring was Tommy's mother's brother, his uncle Tom.

Sarah came running out from Tommy's bedside. “He's better,” said she joyfully. “He has eaten every mite.”

“Tom Loring has come,” announced Nancy.

“I suppose now there will be a to-do. I suppose that child will tell the whole thing, and we can't ever make Tom Loring understand,” said Sarah.

“Tommy won't tell,” said Reuben grimly. He had not eaten much dinner himself, and he looked downcast. He was really fond of Tommy.

Sarah ushered Uncle Tom Loring into the sitting-room. He was a youngish man, stout and rosy. “Where's Tommy?” he demanded.

“Tommy had a little sick spell just before dinner,” said Sarah entering, wiping her hands on her apron. “How do you do, Tom?”

“Sick spell!” repeated Uncle Tom Loring.

Reuben followed after Sarah. He greeted Tom, who turned to him hopefully. “What do they mean by a sick spell?”

“Fainted dead away,” replied Reuben shortly.

Uncle Tom made an exclamation of dismay. “Why, I came out thinking I would take him back to Boston with me,” he said. “Sister Annie has come to live with me now her husband's dead and her children are all married; and I thought little Tommy could come and make us a visit, maybe live with us most of the time, if he likes it. And now he's sick! Annie will be dreadfully disappointed. She's got a tree all rigged up for him, and a big dinner, and everything.”

“He can go,” Reuben stated firmly.

“Oh, Reuben, do you think he's well enough?” gasped Nancy.

“Of course he is. What's a little fainting spell? He can go. The air will do him good. His grandmother will miss him, and we shall, too, but it will do him good to have a change.”

Just then Tommy, who had heard his uncle's voice and got into his clothes, came weakly out. Tom grabbed him and looked at him.

“Say, young man, you do look peaked,” he said.

Grandmother's voice was heard from her bedroom.

“Tom Loring, you take that child home with you. When I'm up again you can bring him back. He's all run down.”

“All right, Grandma,” called back Uncle Tom. He shook the boy lovingly. “Well, little Tommy, I'm going to take you back to Boston with me. Your aunt Annie is there, and there's a great Christmas tree all trimmed with candles. I suppose you didn't have a tree?”

“No, sir,” said little Tommy.

“Hung up your stocking, eh?”

“Yes, sir.”

Sarah and Nancy were pale. Reuben looked dogged. Then came the question direct.

“Well, what was in the stocking?”

“Useful things,” replied little Tommy.

Sarah was a courageous woman. She was really ashamed of the miserable joke they had tried on the child, but she was quite prepared to face the consequences.

“You tell your uncle what was in your stocking, Tommy,” said she.

Reuben echoed her. “No use beating about the bush,” said he, while Tom looked puzzled. “Go ahead and tell him, Tommy.”

“Useful things,” repeated stanch little Tommy.

Uncle Tom gave a shrewd glance at him. “Well, useful things are very good things to have,” said he; “but I think your aunt Annie has a lot of the other kind for you.”

“You get that child ready right away, Nancy and Sarah,” ordered Grandmother from the bedroom, “and mind you wrap him up warm. It's a cold ride to Boston.”

“I have a lot of fur robes,” said Uncle Tom. “And we are going to stop in at The Sign of the Lion on our way home, and get some hot milk for him, and anything else he wants.”

In a very short time little Tommy was riding away beside his uncle Tom. He was enveloped in furs. He had a hot brick at his feet. He was happy again, but his rapt ecstasy of the night before, which even without the after-shock of disillusionment had been a strain, had settled down into a deep peace of realization.

Nancy and Sarah were in their mother's room. They had told her. Nancy was sobbing and Sarah looked sober. Reuben stood in the doorway, looking soberer still.

“I wish he would tell,” sobbed Nancy.

“He never will, and we can't any of us have the comfort of thinking he is anywhere near as mean as the rest of us,” said Reuben gloomily.

“Don't you make too much of it, Reuben,” said Grandmother. “You didn't any of you mean any harm. You couldn't know that what seemed funny to you — and it was sort of funny — would be taken in dead earnest by a child like that. I could have told you.”

After that Christmas, Tommy lived much of the time in Boston with his uncle Tom and his aunt Annie. He spent the summers with his aunts and uncle on the farm. He seemed as fond of them as ever. Nobody mentioned the stocking.

When Tommy and Cora were grown up they fell in love and were married, and lived in Boston. One Christmas Day Cora asked Tommy a question. “Tommy dear, what was in that stocking you were so mysterious about when you were a little boy?” said she. “Tell me now, please.”

Tommy laughed, but he shook his head. “Just something useful, dear,” said he. The man was faithful to his code of honor of childhood.

Cora, however, remained curious. The next summer when she and Tommy were staying at the farm, she asked Sarah to tell her what had been in the stocking.

“Aunt Sarah,” said pretty Cora, “do please tell me what was in Tommy's stocking that Christmas when he was a little boy. He won't tell me, and I want to know.”

“You ought to know,” said Sarah. “We have always been ashamed of it, although we meant it to be only a joke, and never realized what we were doing. We did not understand how a child like Tommy might take it. We were doing pig work that Christmas, and” — Sarah laughed a little and colored — “we put in some pigs' ears nicely wrapped up, and a pig's tail, and a potato, and a turnip, and two beets.”

“Goodness!” said Cora.

“We were all ashamed of it,” said Aunt Sarah.

Cora went over and kissed her. “Don't you worry one bit,” said she. “Maybe Tommy's having such awful things in his stocking, poor little boy, made him better all his life. Perhaps his keeping still and not telling made him so honorable and honest. Aunt Sarah, it can't have done Tommy much harm, for he is certainly about the best man who ever lived now.”

“He certainly is,” said Sarah, “but if I had to live over again, I wouldn't try such a way of making him so, for my own sake.”