From Harper's Monthly Magazine Vol. CVI No. DCXXXI (December, 1902)
Old Lysander Avery passed out of Ebbit's store with his arms full of parcels, when Ebbit himself started and called after him: “Hullo! Hold on a minute, Lysander; there's a letter for you in the post-office.”
Old Lysander turned slowly.
Ebbit came up with the letter, eying it himself as he advanced. “It's a letter from your daughter, I guess,” he said; “I 'most forgot it.”
“It ain't the day for the letter,” remarked old Lysander, anxiously. He took the letter and examined the superscription. “Hope she ain't sick, nor nothin',” he muttered.
“It's her handwriting,” said the storekeeper, encouragingly.
“Yes, 'tis,” said old Lysander, and put the letter carefully in his pocket.
The storekeeper and his gossips stood back, while old Lysander passed out.
“S'pose he's been buyin' all that truck for his little grandchild.”
The storekeeper nodded. “Sets his eyes by her,” he said; “thinks she's just about perfection.”
Old Lysander plodded homeward. The snow was deep, and trodden as hard as a floor. The weather was very clear and freezing. Lysander's garments were old but warm, and his blood was still reasonably quick. He clasped numerous parcels to his sides; others dangled by their strings from his fingers.
It was quite a pretentious old farm-house which Lysander Avery owned, and which his grandfather and father had owned before him. It was the struggle of Lysander's life to keep this place in perfect repair on his tiny income. He eyed it with pride and affection as he drew near.
He went around to the door upon the south side. He saw a toss of yellow past the kitchen window, then the door flew open and little Lucy stood there, her blue frock fluttering, and her yellow fleece floating, and her two little hands waving with welcome.
Little Lucy did not say one word, but she looked at her grandfather coming with his bundles, and her face seemed to deepen with joy, rather than smile. Not a muscle of her little, serious mouth seemed to move, but she was radiant all at once. Old Lysander regarded her with adoration. “Well, ducky darlin', there you be,” said he. “Guess you'd better stand back and let grandpa in; it's dreadful cold.”
A woman's voice echoed his: “Yes, stan' back and let your grandpa in; you're coldin' the house all off,” said the voice, which was admonitory, but not coercive.
Old Lysander carefully unloaded his packages on the kitchen table, his wife assisting. Little Lucy stood delicately aloof, rising slightly on the tips of her toes, bending forward with the air of timid curiosity of a bird. Lysander looked at her, then he nudged his wife, and she looked.
“What you watchin' out so sharp for, ducky darlin'?” asked old Lysander. Little Lucy bent her head and turned her face to one side, until only the curve of one baby cheek was visible; then she laughed, very softly, as if to herself. “I s'pose she thinks grandpa has got somethin' in them bundles for her Christmas,” said the old man, with infinite enjoyment of the situation.
“Mebbe she does,” said his wife, rapturously.
“And I don't see why she should, nuther,” said Lysander.
His wife laughed, her mouth widening in a curve of inane innocence, like a baby's. Sylvia Avery was small and exceedingly thin, with the sort of thinness which suggests old china. Little Lucy resembled her. They moved and spoke alike; both voices had a trick of always dropping at the last syllable.
“You'd better set down in your little chair by the stove and keep warm, ducky darlin',” said old Lysander.
“Yes, you sit down, Lucy, and mebbe you can finish your dolly's apron before supper,” said Sylvia.
Little Lucy obeyed. She seated herself in the tiny rocking-chair. It was in a warm corner near the cooking-stove, where the waning light from a Western window fell. There was a clear, golden sunset, with rose and violet at the horizon-line, visible beyond her.
The old man and woman looked at her, then at each other, with a rapture of acquiescence over their common idol; then they went with the packages into the icy sitting-room across the hall.
In the sitting-room they began stowing away the parcels in a chimney closet, when suddenly old Lysander started. “I declare I forgot all about it, with all this to-do about Christmas,” he said. “I've got a letter from Emma. Ebbit ran after me with it when I was goin' out of the store.”
Sylvia turned pale. “It ain't the day for the letter. Oh, Lysander, you don't suppose she's sick, do you?”
“It's her writin',” said Lysander.
Sylvia opened the letter, and began to read eagerly. “She ain't comin',” she quavered.
“I was afeard so when I saw the letter.”
“Yes; the woman they expected to take her place, the one that worked there so long before she was married, is sick. They won't let Emma off. She can't come.”
Old Lysander's face was gloomy. He stood looking at his wife.
“That ain't all,” she said, faintly. “She — wants little Lucy —”
“Wants little Lucy?”
“She wants — little Lucy to come to-morrow, and spend Christmas with her. She's dreadful disappointed, she's been lottin' so on comin' home; she says it's makin' her about sick, an' she says she thinks we might let her have little Lucy. She says Lucy can go to the store with her some. Then she says she'll have one evenin' that she can take her to the theatre to see Cinderella, and a woman that boards to the same place wants to take her to an afternoon performance to see Jack and the Bean-stalk, and the other boarders want to get up a little Christmas tree for her. She says she can see all the stores trimmed up for Christmas, and she'll have a better time than she ever had in her whole life.”
Old Lysander Avery looked at his wife. “We've been lottin' a good deal on havin' of her here Christmas,” he said.
“Yes, we have,” said Sylvia. Her mild blue eyes looked suddenly pink around the lids.
They continued to look at each other. Sylvia shivered perceptibly. “You're ketchin' your death of cold, mother,” said Lysander, with sudden tenderness.
“I s'pose we've got to make up our minds quick, if — she's goin' to-morrow,” chattered Sylvia.
“Yes, I s'pose so.”
“S'pose she'd have — a beautiful time; it would be somethin' for her to remember all her life,” she said, with little nervous gasps for breath.
“Yes, I s'pose so,” said Lysander.
“And I do s'pose it would be a sight of comfort to poor Emma.”
“Mebbe it would.”
Then the two, hand in hand, passed out of the cold room, across the little entry to the warm kitchen, where little Lucy sat. Old Lysander approached little Lucy and stood over her.
“Well, grandpa has got somethin' real nice to tell little Lucy,” said he. She looked up inquiringly at him, while Sylvia shut the oven door and lighted a lamp. “It's somethin' real nice,” he went on, in a voice of unfaltering cheerfulness. “Lucy's aunt Emma that she 'ain't ever seen, because she's only been living with grandpa and grandma six months, and Aunt Emma 'ain't been home, wants her to come and stay with her in the big city where she lives. Aunt Emma was comin' here to spend Christmas, but they can't spare her from the store where she works at the glove-counter, 'cause the lady that was goin' to take her place is sick, and she feels real bad, and she wants little Lucy to come and see her. Mother, you'd better tell her what her aunt Emma says.”
Sylvia went over the list of promised joys in a quavering voice, with faithful, wistful eyes fixed on the child's changing face. “You want to go, don't you, Lucy?” she asked, after she had finished the list.
“You and grandpa goin' too?” inquired little Lucy.
Old Lysander looked at Sylvia. “No, ducky darlin',” he said.
“I don't want to go unless you an' grandma are goin' too,” Lucy said.
The old people exchanged glances of rapture.
“Grandpa an' grandma are too old to go traipsin' round the country in sech dreadful cold weather,” said Lysander. “They can keep real nice and quiet here, and have a real nice Christmas, thinkin' how little Lucy an' Aunt Emma are enjoyin' themselves.”
“An' you'll love Aunt Emma jest as well as you love us, when you come to see her,” said Sylvia. It ended in little Lucy, with her inborn docility, acceding to the plan for her visit. Early the next morning they started for the railway station.
Old Lysander dragged little Lucy to the station on a sled. Sylvia kissed her good-by, then she went in and shut the door hurriedly. Little Lucy was so well wrapped against the cold that she looked like a shapeless bundle of love and woe as she sat on the sled. She swallowed hard to keep the sobs back as she slid along over the creaking snow behind her grandfather, and stared through tears at the early winter morning. It was clear and very cold, and the smoke arose from the chimneys in straight columns of rose-flushed blue.
When they reached the railroad station the train was already coming in. Old Lysander hurried little Lucy onto the train. “Good-by,” he said, in a husky voice. “Mind you don't lose your ticket, and don't you get off till you get there.” Then he rubbed his rough cheek hard against her little soft one, and little Lucy was in the train going to Boston. Old Lysander stood on the platform watching the train as it rolled out of the station. “She got a seat by the winder,” he told Sylvia when he got home.
Little Lucy, travelling to Boston, sat close to the window and gazed out earnestly. In spite of herself the sight of the swiftly moving unfamiliar landscape amused her, and diverted her mind from the terror of the strange new world into which she was plunging, a little tender girl all alone by herself. When the conductor took her ticket he gave her a friendly little pat on the shoulder, and said, “Going on a journey, sis?” and no one else spoke to her. She ate her luncheon by-and-by, and continued looking out of the window. Presently it began to snow, then it snowed steadily all the rest of the way. It grew dusky early in the afternoon. Little Lucy nestled into her corner and watched gravely the rapid recedence of the telegraph-poles and shadowy trees and houses through the driving veil of the snow. At last the train entered the great station in Boston, and everybody gathered up their belongings and arose, and then little Lucy became conscious and heard a roaring in her ears, and her heart seemed to shake her with its beating. She rose, clutching her little bag very tightly. Her knees trembled, her forehead puckered, she felt a sob in her throat. She followed the other passengers out of the car and off the train. The red-faced conductor jumped her down the high steps.
“Here we are, sis,” he said. “Anybody expecting you?”
“My aunt Emma,” replied Lucy, chokingly.
“All right,” said the red-faced conductor. “Guess you'll find her in the waiting-room right ahead.”
But Lucy, trotting along in the wake of the other passengers with nervous haste, did not reach the waiting-room.
Suddenly from a group of waiting people drawn up at the side of the platform sprang a most beautiful and rather young lady.
“Here she is, here she is, Agnes,” she exclaimed, in a very soft voice, and she came straight with a sort of gentle rush at little Lucy. She stood looking down at her, smiling out of her fluff of fur and wave of plumes, then outstretched her soft velvet arms, and little Lucy was clasped close, and was dimly conscious in the midst of her surprise and joy of the scent of violets, and the singing of silken skirts, and the soft tickle of fur against her cheeks. Then the lady bent down and kissed her with a delicate caress. “Dear little Lucy, I knew you the minute I saw you,” she murmured; “little darling. So you've come to see your auntie, haven't you, all alone such a long distance? Are you tired, darling? Of course you're tired. We'll go straight home, and you shall have your supper and go to bed. Agnes dear, it is little Lucy. You are little Lucy, aren't you, dear?”
“Yes, ma'am,” replied Lucy, her voice muffled against the soft velvet and lace and fur at the lady's neck.
“Of course you are. I knew you the minute I saw you. You are just like your dear mamma. Agnes, isn't she a darling?”
Then another young lady, very much like the first, only she was taller and younger, and not quite so pretty, welcomed little Lucy, and also kissed and embraced her; and then a man in a sort of uniform, which made Lucy think of him as a soldier and wonder where his gun was, came in response to a gesture from the first lady, and Lucy was instructed to give him her check, and then she was swept away by the two ladies, who seemed to hover around her and envelop her, into a beautiful dark blue carriage with little pictures on the doors. Then she sat beside the first lady on a very soft cushion, and the other lady sat opposite, and both beamed at her.
“Dear little thing,” said the lady called Agnes. “Isn't she a dear, Sister?”
“I think she's a dear,” responded the other lady, with enthusiasm, and she put her arm around little Lucy as they sat in the carriage and drew her lovingly into the soft nest of velvet and fur which smelled of violets. “How are they all — grandmother and grandfather?” said she.
“Yes, how did you leave them, sweetheart?” asked Agnes.
“They are very well, I thank you,” replied little Lucy, shyly; and that question soothed a certain wonder which had come over her to hear her aunt Emma called sister by the lady named Agnes. She knew Aunt Emma's only sister had been her own mother.
“You dear, quaint little thing!” said the lady who had been called sister. “Hasn't she a dear, precise little way of speaking, just like her grandmother, Agnes?”
“Hasn't she?” responded Agnes, admiringly.
“I don't know what John will say to her,” said sister. “I expect she will make him forget his aches and pains. Do you want to see Uncle John, darling?”
Little Lucy regarded her with intense bewilderment.
“Why, don't you want to see Uncle John?” repeated Sister; and Lucy hurriedly replied,
“Yes, ma'am”; but she was still dazed.
Then came another question which puzzled her still more. “How is your dear papa, sweetheart?” asked Agnes.
Little Lucy turned pale, and stared at her.
“How is your dear papa? Didn't he feel pretty badly to have his little girl go away without him?” asked Sister.
Little Lucy looked at her with a shocked, grieved, reproachful stare.
“Why don't you answer, darling?” Sister said, with her face close to Lucy's.
“Papa is — dead!” Lucy burst out, with a great sob of excitement and sorrow. “Papa is dead!”
Sister gave a start, then she held her off and looked at her, and then she and Agnes looked at each other, and both of them were very white.
“Sister, what does she mean?” gasped Agnes.
“I don't know,” gasped Sister. “Darling,” she said, very gently, to Lucy, “I asked you how your dear papa was. You mistook. You did not mean to say that —”
“My papa is dead,” repeated little Lucy, with painful and reproachful firmness.
The ladies looked at each other.
“Sister, it is impossible,” said Agnes — “impossible. We had the telegram when she started, and certainly nothing had happened then. Dear, your papa was quite well when you left him, was he not?”
“My papa is dead,” repeated little Lucy, and then she began to cry.
Sister immediately fondled her and soothed her. “There, there, you darling! you shall not be troubled any more about it,” she said. “You are all tired out with your journey, and you don't know what you are talking about. Agnes, speak to Thomas to drive a little faster. We will go straight home, and you shall have some nice dinner, and go to bed and get rested. Poor little soul, it was cruel to send her such a long journey alone.”
It was half an hour before the carriage stopped, before some tall stone steps of a tall house. Another soldier opened the carriage door, helped Sister and Agnes to get out, then lifted out little Lucy and carried her up the steps as if she were a baby. The soldier carried her into a warm, beautiful hall like a room, with a great fireplace full of blazing logs, and a carved stair rising out of it. Up this carved stair little Lucy was carried into the loveliest little room, which seemed to fairly float out to meet her, with draperies of lace and pink silk at the windows and on the bed. The carpet was all strewn with roses, and there was a little couch with a quantity of pillows all roses, and there were little china dishes all sprinkled with roses on the dresser. Little Lucy was carried over to the couch in front of the fire blazing on a little white-tiled hearth, and a pretty girl with a tiny white cap and white apron, whom Sister and Agnes called Louise, took off her little coat and red hat, and her mittens and rubbers and leggings. Then her feet were lifted, and she was bidden to lie down and rest.
Then Sister came and sat down beside her, and kissed her, and held her little hands. “Auntie's little darling,” she said, and little Lucy felt that she loved her very much. She smiled timidly, and her little fingers clung to Sister's. “You blessed little soul,” cried Sister; “she did get all tired out with her journey, didn't she? No, don't try to talk, darling. Just lie still and get rested.”
Then Louise brought a cup of chocolate and a most delicious little cake on a lovely plate, and while she sipped and ate she became aware of a tall, brown-bearded gentleman with a stick, upon which he leaned quite heavily, regarding her from the doorway. “Here she is, John,” said Sister. “Here is Uncle John, darling.”
The tall gentleman advanced and spoke very kindly to Lucy. “Well, little one,” said he, “had a pretty hard journey all alone, did you not?” Then before Lucy could say anything he turned to Sister.
“I've said all along it was cruelty to children to send her here all alone,” he said. “Frank ought to be ashamed of himself. He isn't fit to take care of a child. Never will be anything but a boy himself. She never would have come alone if I had not been laid up with this confounded rheumatism, I can tell you that much. Of course she is about used up with it. Doesn't take half an eye to see that. I've telephoned Frank. He's all right. I told him that Lucy had arrived in a very alarming condition, and we had sent for the doctor at once; that she was out of her —” But Sister, and Agnes, who had just entered, stopped him.
“Don't, don't, I beg of you, John,” cried Sister, with an alarmed glance at Lucy, and Agnes echoed her. “John,” she said, with a warning touch on his shoulder, “you forget that the child can hear.”
John desisted with a sort of growl. “Well,” he said, “Dr. Jerrold is coming. They telephoned that he was in and would be here right away. I think that child had better go to bed.”
“Perhaps she had, John,” agreed Sister. “I will have her put to bed.”
“And have some gruel and beefsteak,” said Uncle John, as he went out of the room.
At last the doctor came. “I suppose your papa is pretty lonesome without you,” he said, with a view to professional facetiousness, and the child made her reply as before, with a piteous reiteration.
“We have just telephoned, and he is quite well,” whispered Agnes.
“All right, little one,” said the doctor, hastily, and directly, with a bewildering inconsequence, inquired of little Lucy if she liked dolls.
“It is a very perplexing case,” he owned to Sister and Agnes and Uncle John outside the room. “She seems to be in a perfectly normal condition. Her pulse is a little quick, and there are slight symptoms of cerebral excitement, but very slight, and easily accounted for. She is very young, and a very nervous child to travel alone.”
“What shall we do when she says her papa is dead?” inquired Agnes, almost weeping.
“Don't contradict her on any account,” said the doctor, impressively, — “not on any account.” The doctor was a handsome, fair, keen young man, with a very impressive, nervous manner. “Not on any account,” he repeated; “and if she should make other statements which you have reason to know are erroneous, let her have her way. Don't contradict her in the slightest degree.”
“She will be all right to-morrow, I dare say,” said Uncle John, when the doctor had gone; “but all the same, Frank ought to be ashamed of himself, and I mean to tell him so, sending that little thing all that way alone.”
“Isn't she a dear little thing?” said Agnes, effusively.
“Dear enough,” replied Uncle John; “and dear or not, a child ought to be treated like a child, and not like a grown-up woman sufragist, coming all that distance alone.”
Sister sighed. “There is another topic on which the dear child is not quite herself,” she said. “She said, when I alluded to Cleveland, that she had not come from Cleveland, but from Brookfield, Massachusetts, and had started this morning.”
“I hope you did not contradict her, Sister,” said Agnes, anxiously.
“No; I immediately changed the subject, and talked about taking her to see Cinderella, and she seemed delighted.”
“She will be all right in the morning,” said Uncle John.
But poor little Lucy was not all right in the morning. She had her breakfast in bed, much to her amazement, as that was something which she had never done. There was another thing which puzzled Lucy beyond anything. She could see by the little clock on her mantel-shelf that it was nine o'clock, and why was not Aunt Emma at the store, at her glove-counter? Why was she remaining at home so late in the morning, when she had not been able to leave to go home to Brookfield? Lucy supposed that Agnes must work at the glove-counter with Aunt Emma, and she also was still at home. Finally little Lucy, having suddenly decided that Aunt Emma was staying home on her account, because she seemed to think that she was sick, timidly said something about it.
It was almost the first question that she had volunteered. “Aunt Emma,” she said, in a little, trembling voice.
“Did you speak, sweetheart?” asked Sister, looking at her in a bewildered way, with a glance of alarm at Agnes.
“Yes, Aunt Emma,” said Lucy, and both of the ladies turned pale; but Sister spoke up quite bravely and collectedly.
“Yes, dear; what is it?” she asked.
“I wondered,” said little Lucy, “why you did not go to the store, when it is so late.”
“The store?” said Sister, vaguely.
“The store?” echoed Agnes.
Lucy looked at her. “The store where you sell gloves,” said she, comprehensively.
The two ladies gasped. But Sister did not lose her self-command.
“We are going very soon, darling,” said she, “very soon; don't worry.”
“I ain't sick,” said little Lucy.
“No, of course you are not, sweetheart,” said Agnes, hastily.
“Very soon we will all go to the store and see the pretty Christmas things,” said Sister.
But very soon the two ladies went out of the room and clutched each other in the hall.
“Louise! Louise!” cried Sister, and Louise came hurrying out of her room. “Telephone immediately and bid Dr. Jerrold hurry up here at once,” said Sister, faintly. Then she whispered to Agnes, when Louise had slipped hastily away, “She is terribly out of her head this morning.”
“Yes, she is,” assented Agnes.
“The store and the glove-counter!” gasped Sister.
“But it was wonderful how you kept your presence of mind and did not contradict her,” said Agnes, admiringly.
“I am going to have Dr. Jerrold send us a trained nurse,” said Sister. “I don't feel competent to deal with such a dangerous case. And Frank must be telegraphed at once.”
“I think I had better see John and have that done without any delay,” said Agnes.
However, when the doctor arrived, he said in his opinion Lucy was better, and it was not necessary to have the nurse; but the telegram was already sent.
“Let him come,” growled Uncle John, whose rheumatism was worse. “It will do him good to worry all the way here; teach him a lesson, and he can spend Christmas with Lucy.”
“She will enjoy seeing the shop-windows,” said Agnes. “She quite brightened up when I spoke of that.”
It was still snowing, but that made no difference. Little Lucy went with Sister and Agnes in a covered sleigh, and the city streets in the shopping district were cleared away to enable them to drive about without much trouble.
“It is very fortunate that little Lucy was not blocked. I hear that they are having a great deal of trouble with the Western trains,” remarked Sister.
“I don't know what you would have done if you had been kept days in a snow-bank away from your aunties, do you, darling?” said Agnes.
They visited all the large stores, and saw the beautiful Christmas decorations, and purchased lovely, dainty things for Lucy's wardrobe. But she became more and more sober and perplexed. How could Aunt Emma be out shopping, buying things instead of selling them? Why was she not at her glove-counter? Lucy knew quite well the name of the store where her aunt Emma worked. At last they came to it and entered, and then she thought that Aunt Emma would surely remain, go in behind the glove-counter and sell gloves. But Sister and Agnes walked straight past the glove-counter. Lucy stopped. She looked hard at the counter. It was a long one, with a number of girls and women. One of them, a middle-aged woman, looked the way she would have imagined her aunt Emma to look had she not been walking with Aunt Emma.
She pulled Sister's dress timidly. Sister and Agnes stopped.
“Isn't this where you work, Aunt Emma?” asked little Lucy. Sister and Agnes exchanged glances.
“Yes, dear,” replied Sister.
“Of course,” said Agnes, hurrying along.
“Are you going in behind that counter and sell gloves?” asked little Lucy, with wide, innocent eyes on Sister's face.
“Oh yes, of course, dear, very soon,” replied Sister.
“Very soon,” echoed Agnes. “Oh, Lucy darling, look at that beautiful little muff! I think a muff would be sweet for her, Sister.”
“So it would,” cried Sister. “Do you want a muff to keep your dear little hands nice and warm, darling?”
“Won't you lose your place if you don't go in behind that counter and sell gloves, Aunt Emma?” persisted little Lucy. “I ain't sick.”
“Of course you are not, sweetheart,” cried Agnes, hurrying her along. Then she asked the saleslady to tell her the price of muffs.
Sister and Agnes were very glad when they reached home. It had been a sore trial to their nerves and their consciences.
“What do you suppose has put it into her head to call me Aunt Emma, and talk about a glove-counter?” asked Sister of Uncle John.
“Who is going to account for the freaks a child that has been allowed to travel all that way alone will take?” he replied, irritably.
The next day was Christmas, and the tree was to be in the afternoon.
“Dr. Jerrold's dear little girl is coming to your Christmas tree. I know you will love her, darling,” said Sister.
All that day Lucy was given the most delightful tasks to do; she strung pop-corn, she tied strings to paper angels, she filled candy-bags, she tied ribbons on packages for little Edith Jerrold. She would have been radiantly happy had it not been that the doubts, which had tormented her from the first, grew and grew. Then they reached a climax. Little Lucy had just tied a pink ribbon on a package containing a lovely little gold pin for Edith Jerrold. She had one like it, but that she did not know yet.
“Now, dear,” said Sister, “can't you print your name on that card to go with it? — Edith, with a Merry Christmas, from Lucy Hooper — this will be your Christmas present to Edith.”
Then little Lucy stared blankly at Sister, and dropped the package.
“What is it, dear?” asked Sister.
“That isn't my name!” said little Lucy, piteously.
Sister and Lucy and Uncle John looked at one another.
“What is your name, darling?” Sister asked, faintly.
“Lucy Ames,” replied little Lucy.
“Of course it is Lucy Ames,” said Uncle John, quickly. He walked off as if he were angry about something, and Sister and Agnes both said, “Of course, dear,” and she need not write her name on the card, after all; and they gave her a little picture-book to look at, though it was to have been one of her Christmas surprises.
But little Lucy was not quite satisfied. Suddenly she looked intently at Sister. “Are you my aunt Emma?” she said.
Sister caught her breath. She looked at Agnes. Then she turned to little Lucy, but her eyes fell before the child's innocent regard. “I am your aunt Alice,” she replied. “Not Aunt Emma, but Aunt Alice, darling. You had the name wrong.”
“Oh, Sister, what made you?” cried Agnes, as she saw the child's face quiver and pale.
“I can't help it,” replied Sister. “I could not, Agnes, really could not, point-blank. You had the name wrong, darling. It is Aunt Alice whom you have come to live with, and who loves you so much, and not your aunt Emma — not Aunt Emma, but Aunt Alice.”
Then poor little Lucy knew. She wailed out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry: “I want my aunt Emma! I want my aunt Emma!”
Uncle John came limping into the room, and when the story had been told him, he fibbed unhesitatingly.
“What made you tell Lucy your name was Alice, Emma?” he said, with a half-grin, in spite of his irascibility.
“Oh, John!” Sister cried, helplessly.
“You ought to be ashamed of yourself, fibbing so, Emma,” said Uncle John. “Why don't you have her put to bed and have a nap?”
“It would be a good idea,” said Agnes; “then she can rest before Edith Jerrold comes.”
Little Lucy, still sobbing under her breath that she wanted her aunt Emma, — for somehow Uncle John had not quite reassured her, — was put to bed, but she could not take a nap.
“I know she must be very ill,” Agnes said, after she had gone. “Why, John, only just now she had forgotten her name. She said her name was Ames and not Hooper.”
“I shall be glad when Frank gets here and looks after her,” said Uncle John.
“I don't feel as if I could endure telling such falsehoods much longer,” said Sister, tearfully.
“I am not sure myself that it is not wise to set her right when she has her name wrong. That is going a little too far,” said Uncle John.
“I think so too,” said Agnes.
When little Lucy came down stairs again they tried, in spite of the doctor's orders, to convince her that her name was Hooper and not Ames. At last they almost succeeded. The child was so docile and bewildered that she almost began to concede that she had been mistaken in her own identity. Finally, when Sister asked tenderly if she did not know her name was Lucy Hooper and not Lucy Ames, she replied, in a small, faltering voice,
“Oh, she is better,” cried Sister, in great delight. “You see, it was best to tell the truth. The truth is always best.”
“And you know that she is your aunt Alice, and not your aunt Emma, and that she doesn't work at a glove-counter in a store?” asked Agnes.
“Yes, ma'am,” said little Lucy.
“She is certainly better,” said Agnes.
“Oh, you precious darling, your aunties and your uncle John have been so worried about you!” cried Sister; “but now you are almost well again, and we shall all enjoy the Christmas tree.”
The Christmas tree was very wonderful. Little Edith Jerrold came, and although Lucy was very much afraid of her, she loved her as soon as she saw her. There were presents and presents. Little Lucy was overwhelmed with riches. Her head whirled, and she doubted her identity more than ever. It did not seem as if she could see at all the old self which had been familiar to her small, untrained consciousness. This, more than anything, served to weaken her grasp of old memories. Previously the delusion had all been on the side of the older people, now it was beginning to infect her.
Poor little Lucy did not for the moment know surely whether she was Lucy Ames or Lucy Hooper, come here to live because her dear mamma was dead and had been the beloved Sister of the two ladies and Uncle John, and her papa could not well bring up a little girl, and her papa's parents were very old and feeble. She did not know whether she had come from Brookfield, Massachusetts, or from Cleveland, Ohio; whether she had an Aunt Emma who worked at a glove-counter, or an Aunt Alice who did not work anywhere.
She pondered over the strange problem all the afternoon, even while the presents were being distributed. She could not determine whether they were little Lucy Ames's presents or little Lucy Hooper's.
There was a grand Christmas dinner. Dr. Jerrold came as well as his little daughter. Little Lucy had never seen anything like this dinner, and she had never seen anything like herself as she looked in the mirror when she passed by. It seemed more than ever that she could not be the little Lucy whom she used to see there. She wore a new dress of red silk, and red silk stockings, and red shoes, and red ribbons in her hair, and Aunt Agnes pinned some holly with red berries on her shoulder, and told her she looked like a little Christmas carol.
They had finished dinner, but were still sitting over the nuts and raisins, with their paper bonbon-caps on their heads, when there was a loud ring at the door-bell; then Uncle John was called out, and a great noise of talking was heard in the hall.
Then into the dining-room came Uncle John with a gentleman and a little girl, who did not look unlike Lucy, although she was stouter and not quite so pretty.
Agnes and Sister sprang up from the table. “Frank! Frank Hooper! How do you do? We are so glad to —” Then before he could fairly return their greeting they stopped short and stared at the little girl, who looked very sleepy and tired, and had a great smooch of car-smoke across her nose. She rubbed her eyes, and returned the ladies' stare half pitifully and half sulkily.
“Frank,” said Sister, slowly, “who is this?” She pointed at the little girl.
Agnes stood looking; she seemed speechless.
“Why, that is little Lucy!” replied the rosy-faced gentleman.
Sister and Agnes and Uncle John all turned and pointed at the first little Lucy in a tragic fashion. “No!” said they — “no; that is little Lucy.”
“I don't know what you mean,” returned Mr. Frank Hooper.
“Mean!” cried Uncle John. “Why, it's plain enough what we mean.” He pointed again at little Lucy in the red silk frock. “That is your little Lucy!” said Uncle John, severely. “She came here all alone from Cleveland two days ago, and we don't know what you mean when you say this is little Lucy. There can't be two little Lucys.”
Mr. Frank Hooper laughed and scowled at the same time. “I don't know what you mean,” said he, eying the first little Lucy sharply. “This is my little Lucy, and though she started last Sunday, she has just fetched up here on the same train with me. Her train was stalled in the snow, and some people took her off and took care of her, and, as luck would have it, put her on my train. I don't know what it all means. I don't know why you telegraphed me that Lucy was sick. She wasn't sick, and if she had been, how would you have known? I'm the one who would like to know the meaning of it.”
“Who is that child over there?” demanded Uncle John, pointing to the little Lucy.
Sister went close to her and pulled the little yellow head down on her shoulder. “She's a darling, whoever she is,” she declared, half weeping.
“I don't know who she is,” declared Mr. Frank Hooper. “I never saw her before.”
“And she isn't your little girl?”
“I tell you no. Here is my little girl. What in creation is the matter with you all?” At that juncture the second little Lucy began to cry, and Agnes caught her up peremptorily.
“Poor child,” she said, “she is all tired out and hungry.”
“I expect she is,” said Mr. Frank Hooper, shortly.
“There, dear, don't cry,” said Agnes, pulling off the second little Lucy's hat and coat. “You shall have your dinner right away.”
“Who is that child?” asked Uncle John, vaguely pointing at the first Lucy.
Then Dr. Jerrold came forward. “I think there is a grave mistake here,” he said, “and I think I am partly to blame.” Then he turned to the first Lucy. “What is your name, my dear?” he said. “Speak up; don't be afraid; nobody is going to hurt you.”
“I rather think nobody will hurt her,” said Sister, kissing her.
“What is your name, dear?” asked Uncle John.
“Your whole name?” said the doctor.
“Lucy Ames,” little Lucy sobbed out.
“That is what she has said all along,” said Sister.
“And where were you going?” asked Dr. Jerrold.
“To Boston to see my aunt Emma,” replied little Lucy.
“And where was your aunt Emma in Boston?”
“She worked at the glove-counter in R. H. White's store,” sobbed Lucy.
“And where did you come from?”
“From Brookfield, Massachusetts.”
“That is what the dear little thing has kept saying from the very first, and we would not listen to her,” said Sister, fairly sobbing herself. “I call it a shame. We ought to have believed her.”
“It was my fault,” said Dr. Jerrold, “but I assumed that you knew.”
“We acted like a parcel of opinionated idiots,” growled Uncle John. “I don't know that you were to blame, doctor. I'm inclined to think other people were to blame. Children ought not to be let to travel alone, anyway.” Uncle John glared accusingly at Mr. Frank Hooper, who did not seem to notice it.
“But,” said Dr. Jerrold, “what is this Aunt Emma doing all this time?”
Then Agnes and Sister and Uncle John all jumped up at once.
“What is your aunt Emma's last name, dear?” inquired the doctor.
“Aunt Emma Avery,” replied little Lucy.
“She knew all about it all this time, and here she was dragged in here, whether or no,” said Sister, tearfully. “Don't you be afraid, darling.”
Uncle John rang the bell violently. “Well,” he said, “that woman shall not be kept waiting a moment longer than can be helped. I'll have the carriage out, and I'll find her. The janitor at R. H. White's will know.” But it was Dr. Jerrold and Agnes who finally went, on account of Uncle John's rheumatism.
They were not gone very long. It was hardly three-quarters of an hour before the carriage stopped before the house and the front door opened. The family were all in the great drawing-room where the Christmas tree stood. Sister was holding the first little Lucy in her lap and comforting her; Mr. Hooper was holding the second little Lucy, who had eaten her dinner, had her face washed, and looked happier. Now and then she and the first Lucy smiled shyly at each other. Uncle John and Mr. Hooper had been talking rather excitedly, but they hushed when the carriage stopped, and Mr. Hooper, who was somewhat impetuous, jumped up and ran to the drawing-room door. Then Dr. Jerrold and Agnes and a pale but very pretty woman in a black dress, who was Aunt Emma, and old Lysander and Sylvia entered.
Old Lysander saw little Lucy, and he went straight to her, and she slid down from Sister's lap.
“Oh, grandpa! grandpa!” she sobbed out.
Then old Lysander caught her up in his arms. Sylvia was crying very softly and unobtrusively, with her nicely folded best pocket-handkerchief pressed to her face. Aunt Emma was trying not to cry, and trying to respond politely to Agnes's and Sister's agitated apologies and explanations. As for old Lysander, he fairly shook little Lucy in his joy.
“Grandpa's ducky darlin',” he said, huskily. “Did she get lost, and not know where she was? And here's poor Aunt Emma been almost crazy, and it all happened because it snowed so hard the night little Lucy came, and made Aunt Emma's car late. And poor Aunt Emma sent for grandpa and grandma, and here they be.”
Finally, after much explanation and an amiable understanding, little Lucy was taken away in the carriage with her grandfather and grandmother and her aunt Emma to her aunt Emma's boarding-place. She stayed there three days, and the boarders gave her a little Christmas tree, and one lady took her to see Cinderella. Then Sister and Agnes and the other little Lucy came to see her, and they all went to see Jack and the Bean-stalk, and she went happily through all her aunt Emma's promised list of Christmas joys, with the additional joy of her grandparents' society.
On the Monday after Christmas, old Lysander and Sylvia and little Lucy all returned home to Brookfield. The next morning they were all in the kitchen keeping Christmas, though Christmas was several days old. Old Lysander said that they had not had their Christmas at home yet, and little Lucy had not received the presents which he had purchased at Ebbit's store. So that morning they were given to her, and that made the third set of Christmas presents.
“Three Christmases in one year, ain't it, ducky darlin'?” said old Lysander. He himself had some very nice presents from Aunt Emma and Sister and Agnes and Uncle John, and so had Sylvia. It was still very bitter weather, but clear and bright. The frosted window-panes shone like the pages of a missal, with the tints of jewels on leaves of silver. Sylvia was stirring something on the stove, which gave forth a sweet and spicy odor. Little Lucy sat in her tiny rocking-chair, with her arms full of dolls. She sat in the midst of incalculable riches of childhood, her face radiant with the utmost joy of possession, borne with the gentleness and gratitude of a gentle little girl. Old Lysander was in his arm-chair near her. The kitchen windows faced southeast, and soon the frost began to melt.
The sun shone broadly in athwart the yellow-painted floor; old Lysander and little Lucy, the good old man and the good child, at the close and beginning of innocent and peaceful lives, sat in the same beam of Christmas sunshine.