It was nearly two years since a certain visit made by Johnnie to Inches Mills, of which some of you have read in Nine Little Goslings.not to mention the referral to Miss Inches ("Mamma Marion") at the end of In the High Valley? What was Nine Little Goslings? Was there another Carr family novel?
It was years before I found out that Nine Little Goslings was not a "Katy" book, but a collection of short stories by Miss Coolidge, one of which was about Katy and the Carr family, specifically about Johnnie Carr.
With all the public domain books digitized to e-books these days, I still had no success in finding Nine Little Goslingsuntil today! So for all of you who have wondered what happened to Johnnie at Inches Mill, here is
When a little girl is six and a little boy is six, they like pretty much the same things and enjoy pretty much the same games. She wears an apron, and he a jacket and trousers, but they are both equally fond of running races, spinning tops, flying kites, going down hill on sleds, and making a noise in the open air. But when the little girl gets to be eleven or twelve, and to grow thin and long, so that every two months a tuck has to be let down in her frocks, then a great difference becomes visible. The boy goes on racing and whooping and comporting himself generally like a young colt in a pasture; but she turns quiet and shy, cares no longer for rough play or exercise, takes droll little sentimental fancies into her head, and likes best the books which make her cry. Almost all girls have a fit of this kind some time or other in the course of their lives; and it is rather a good thing to have it early, for little folks get over such attacks more easily than big ones. Perhaps we may live to see the day when wise mammas, going through the list of nursery diseases which their children have had, will wind up triumphantly with, “Mumps, measles, chicken-pox,—and they are all over with Amy Herbert, The Heir of Redclyffe, and the notion that they are going to be miserable for the rest of their lives!”
Sometimes this odd change comes after an illness when a little girl feels weak and out of sorts, and does not know exactly what is the matter. This is the way it came to Johnnie Carr, a girl whom some of you who read this are already acquainted with. She had intermittent fever the year after her sisters Katy and Clover came from boarding-school, and was quite ill for several weeks. Everybody in the house was sorry to have Johnnie sick. Katy nursed, petted, and cosseted her in the tenderest way. Clover brought flowers to the bedside and read books aloud, and told Johnnie interesting stories. Elsie cut out paper dolls for her by dozens, painted their cheeks pink and their eyes blue, and made for them beautiful dresses and jackets of every color and fashion. Papa never came in without some little present or treat in his pocket for Johnnie. So long as she was in bed, and all these nice things were doing for her, Johnnie liked being ill very much, but when she began to sit up and go down to dinner, and the family spoke of her as almost well again, then a time of unhappiness set in. The Johnnie who got out of bed after the fever was not the Johnnie of a month before. There were two inches more of her for one thing, for she had taken the opportunity to grow prodigiously, as sick children often do. Her head ached at times, her back felt weak, and her legs shook when she tried to run about. All sorts of queer and disagreeable feelings attacked her. Her hair had fallen out during the fever so that Papa thought it best to have it shaved close. Katy made a pretty silk-lined cap for her to wear, but the girls at school laughed at the cap, and that troubled Johnnie very much. Then, when the new hair grew, thick and soft as the plumy down on a bird's wing, a fresh affliction set in, for the hair came out in small round rings all over her head, which made her look like a baby. Elsie called her “Curly,” and gradually the others adopted the name, till at last nobody used any other except the servants, who still said “Miss Johnnie.” It was hard to recognize the old Johnnie, square and sturdy and full of merry life, in poor, thin, whining Curly, always complaining of something, who lay on the sofa reading story-books, and begging Phil and Dorry to let her alone, not to tease her, and to go off and play by themselves. Her eyes looked twice as big as usual, because her face was so small and pale, and though she was still a pretty child, it was in a different way from the old prettiness. Katy and Clover were very kind and gentle always, but Elsie sometimes lost patience entirely, and the boys openly declared that Curly was a cross-patch, and hadn't a bit of fun left in her.
One afternoon she was lying on the sofa with The Wide Wide World in her hand. Her eyelids were very red from crying over Alice's death, but she had galloped on, and was now reading the part where Ellen Montgomery goes to live with her rich relatives in Scotland.
“Oh, dear,” sighed Johnnie. “How splendid it was for her! Just think, Clover, riding lessons, and a watch, and her uncle takes her to see all sorts of places, and they call her their White Rose! Oh, dear! I wish we had relations in Scotland.”
“We haven't, you know,” remarked Clover, threading her needle with a fresh bit of blue worsted.
“I know it. It's too bad. Nothing ever does happen in this stupid place. The girls in books always do have such nice times. Ellen could leap, and she spoke French beautifully. She learned at that place, you know, the place where the Humphreys lived.”
“Litchfield Co., Connecticut,” said Clover mischievously. “Katy was there last summer, you recollect. I guess they don't all speak such good French. Katy didn't notice it.”
“Ellen did,” persisted Johnnie. “Her uncle and all those people were so surprised when they heard her. Wouldn't it be grand to be an adopted child, Clover?”
“To be adopted by people who gave you your bath like a baby when you were thirteen years old, and tapped your lips when they didn't want you to speak, and stole your Pilgrim's Progresses? No, thank you. I would much rather stay as I am.”
“I wouldn't,” replied Johnnie pensively. “I don't like this place very much. I should love to be rich and to travel in Europe.”
At this moment Papa and Katy came in together. Katy was laughing, and Papa looked as if he had just bitten a smile off short. In his hand was a letter.
“Oh, Clovy,” began Katy, but Papa interposed with “Katy, hold your tongue;” and though he looked quizzical as he said it, Katy saw that he was half in earnest, and stopped at once.
“We're about to have a visitor,” he went on, picking Johnnie up and settling her in his lap,“a distinguished visitor. Curly, you must put on your best manners, for she comes especially to see you.”
“A visitor! How nice! Who is it?” cried Clover and Johnnie with one voice. Visitors were rare in Burnet, and the children regarded them always as a treat.
“Her name is Miss Inches,Marion Joanna Inches,” replied Dr. Carr, glancing at the letter. “She's a sort of godmother of yours, Curly; you've got half her name.”
“Was I really named after her?”
“Yes. She and Mamma were school-friends, and though they never met after leaving school, Mamma was fond of her, and when little No. 4 came, she decided to call her after her old intimate. That silver mug of yours was a present from her.”
“Was it? Where does she live?”
“At a place called Inches Mills, in Massachusetts. She's the rich lady of the village, and has a beautiful house and grounds, where she lives all alone by herself. Her letter is written at Niagara. She is going to the Mammoth Cave, and writes to ask if it will be convenient for us to have her stop for a few days on the way. She wants to see her old friend's children, she says, and especially her namesake.”
“Oh, dear!” sighed Johnnie, ruffling her short hairs with her fingers. “I wish my curls were longer. What will she think when she sees me?”
“She'll think“There is a little girl, and she has a little curlsaid Dr. Carr, laughing. But Johnnie didn't laugh back. Her lip trembled, and she said,
Right in the middle of her forehead;
When she is good she is very, very good,
And when she is bad she is horrid—”
“I'm not horrid really, am I?”
“Not a bit,” replied her father; “you're only a little goose now and then, and I'm such an old gander that I don't mind that a bit.”
Johnnie smiled and was comforted. Her thoughts turned to the coming visitor.
“Perhaps she'll be like the rich ladies in story-books,” she said to herself.
Next day Miss Inches came. Katy was an experienced housekeeper now, and did not worry over coming guests as once she did. The house was always in pleasant, home-like order; and though Debby and Alexander had fulfilled Aunt Izzie's prediction by marrying one another, both stayed on at Dr. Carr's and were as good and faithful as ever, so Katy had no anxieties as to the dinners and breakfasts. It was late in the afternoon when the visitor arrived. Fresh flowers filled the vases, for it was early June, and the garden-beds were sweet with roses and lilies of the valley. The older girls wore new summer muslins, and Johnnie in white, her short curls tied back with a blue ribbon, looked unusually pretty and delicate.
Miss Inches, a wide-awake, handsome woman, seemed much pleased to see them all.
“So this is my name-child,” she said, putting her arm about Johnnie. “This is my little Joanna? You're the only child I have any share in, Joanna; I hope we shall love each other very deeply.”
Miss Inches' hand was large and white, with beautiful rings on the fingers. Johnnie was flattered at being patted by such a hand, and cuddled affectionately to the side of her name-mamma.
“What eyes she has!” murmured Miss Inches to Dr. Carr. She lowered her voice, but Johnnie caught every word. “Such a lambent blue, and so full of soul. She is quite different from the rest of your daughters, Dr. Carr; don't you think so?”
“She has been ill recently, and is looking thin,” replied the prosaic Papa.
“Oh, it isn't that! There is something else,hard to put into words, but I feel it! You don't see it? Well, that only confirms a theory of mine, that people are often blind to the qualities of their nearest relations. We cannot get our own families into proper perspective. It isn't possible.”
These fine words were lost on Johnnie, but she understood that she was pronounced nicer than the rest of the family. This pleased her: she began to think that she should like Miss Inches very much indeed.
Dr. Carr was not so much pleased. The note from Miss Inches, over which he and Katy had laughed, but which was not shown to the rest, had prepared him for a visitor of rather high-flown ideas, but he did not like having Johnnie singled out as the subject of this kind of praise. However, he said to himself, “It doesn't matter. She means well, and jolly little Johnnie won't be harmed by a few days of it.”
Jolly little Johnnie would not have been harmed, but the pale, sentimental Johnnie left behind by the recently departed intermittent fever, decidedly was. Before Miss Inches had been four days in Burnet, Johnnie adored her and followed her about like a shadow. Never had anybody loved her as Miss Inches did, she thought, or discovered such fine things in her character. Ten long years and a half had she lived with Papa and the children, and not one of them had found out that her eyes were full of soul, and an expression “of mingled mirth and melancholy unusual in a childish face, and more like that of Goethe's Mignon than any thing else in the world of fiction!” Johnnie had never heard of “Mignon,” but it was delightful to be told that she resembled her, and she made Miss Inches a present of the whole of her foolish little heart on the spot.
“Oh, if Papa would but give you to me!” exclaimed Miss Inches one day. “If only I could have you for my own, what a delight it would be! My whole theory of training is so different,you should never waste your energies in house-work, my darling, (Johnnie had been dusting the parlor); it is sheer waste, with an intelligence like yours lying fallow and only waiting for the master's hand. Would you come, Johnnie, if Papa consented? Inches Mills is a quiet place, but lovely. There are a few bright minds in the neighborhood; we are near Boston, and not too far from Concord. Such a pretty room as you should have, darling, fitted up in blue and rose-buds, orno, Morris green and Pompeian-red would be prettier, perhaps. What a joy it would be to choose pictures for it,pictures, every one of which should be an impulse in the best Art direction! And how you would revel in the garden, and in the fruit! My strawberries are the finest I ever saw; I have two Alderney cows and quantities of cream. Don't you think you could be happy to come and be my own little Curly, if Papa would consent?”
“Yes, yes,” said Johnnie eagerly. “And I could come home sometimes, couldn't I?”
“Every year,” replied Miss Inches. “We'll take such lovely journeys together, Johnnie, and see all sorts of interesting places. Would you like best to go to California or to Switzerland next summer? I think, on the whole, Switzerland would be best. I want you to form a good French accent at once, but, above all, to study German, the language of thought. Then there is music. We might spend the winter at Stuttgard”
Decidedly Miss Inches was counting on her chicken before hatching it, for Dr. Carr had yet to be consulted, and he was not a parent who enjoyed interference with his nest or nestlings. When Miss Inches attacked him on the subject, his first impulse was to whistle with amazement. Next he laughed, and then he became almost angry. Miss Inches talked very fast, describing the fine things she would do with Johnnie, and for her; and Dr. Carr, having no chance to put in a word, listened patiently, and watched his little girl, who was clinging to her new friend and looking very eager and anxious. He saw that her heart was set on being “adopted,” and, wise man that he was, it occurred to him that it might be well to grant her wish in part, and let her find out by experiment what was really the best and happiest thing. So he did not say “No” decidedly, as he at first meant, but took Johnnie on his knee, and asked,
“Well, Curly, so you want to leave Papa and Katy and Clover, and go away to be Miss Inches' little girl, do you?”
“I'm coming home to see you every single summer,” said Johnnie.
“Indeed! That will be nice for us,” responded Dr. Carr cheerfully. “But somehow I don't seem to feel as if I could quite make up my mind to give my Curly Locks away. Perhaps in a year or two, when we are used to being without her, I may feel differently. Suppose, instead, we make a compromise.”
“Yes,” said Miss Inches, eagerly.
“Yes,” put in Johnnie, who had not the least idea of what a compromise might be.
“I can't give away my little girl,not yet,”went on Dr. Carr fondly. “But if Miss Inches likes I'll lend her for a little while. You may go home with Miss Inches, Johnnie, and stay four months,to the first of October, let us say.” (“She'll miss two weeks' schooling, but that's no great matter,” thought Papa to himself.) “This will give you, my dear lady, a chance to try the experiment of having a child in your house. Perhaps you may not like it so well as you fancy. If you do, and if Johnnie still prefers to remain with you, there will be time enough then to talk over further plans. How will this answer?”
Johnnie was delighted, Miss Inches not so much so.
“Of course,” she said, “it isn't so satisfactory to have the thing left uncertain, because it retards the regular plan of development which I have formed for Johnnie. However, I can allow for a parent's feelings, and I thank you very much, Dr. Carr. I feel assured that, as you have five other children, you will in time make up your mind to let me keep Johnnie entirely as mine. It puts a new value into life,this chance of having an immortal intelligence placed in my hands to train. It will be a real delight to do so, and I flatter myself the result will surprise you all.”
Dr. Carr's eyes twinkled wickedly, but he made Miss Inches the politest of bows, and said: “You are very kind, I am sure, and I hope Johnnie will be good and not give you much trouble. When would you wish her visit to commence?”
“Ohnow, if you do not object. I should so enjoy taking her with me to the Mammoth Cave, and afterward straight home to Massachusetts. You would like to see the Cave and the eyeless fish, wouldn't you, darling?”
“Oh yes, Papa, yes!” cried Johnnie. Dr. Carr was rather taken aback, but he made no objection, and Johnnie ran off to tell the rest of the family the news of her good fortune.
Their dismay cannot be described. “I really do think that Papa is crazy,” said Clover that night; and though Katy scolded her for using such an expression, her own confidence in his judgment was puzzled and shaken. She comforted herself with a long letter to Cousin Helen, telling her all about the affair. Elsie cried herself to sleep three nights running, and the boys were furious.
“The idea of such a thing,” cried Dorry, flinging himself about, while Phil put a tablespoonful of black pepper and two spools of thread into his cannon, and announced that if Miss Inches dared to take Johnnie outside the gate, he would shoot her dead, he would, just as sure as he was alive!
In spite of this awful threat, Miss Inches persisted in her plan. Johnnie's little trunk was packed by Clover and Katy, who watered its contents with tears as they smoothed and folded the frocks and aprons, which looked so like their Curly as to seem a part of herself,their Curly, who was so glad to leave them!
“Never mind the thick things,” remarked Dr. Carr, as Katy came through the hall with Johnnie's winter jacket on her arm. “Put in one warmish dress for cool days, and leave the rest. They can be sent on if Johnnie decides to stay.”
Papa looked so droll and gave such a large wink at the word “if,” that Katy and Clover felt their hearts lighten surprisingly, and finished the packing in better spirits. The good-by, however, was a sorry affair. The girls cried; Dorry and Phil sniffed and looked fiercely at Miss Inches; old Mary stood on the steps with her apron thrown over her head; and Dr. Carr's face was so grave and sad that it quite frightened Johnnie. She cried too, and clung to Katy. Almost she said, “I won't go,” but she thought of the eyeless fish, and didn't say it. The carriage drove off, Miss Inches petted her, everything was new and exciting, and before long she was happy again, only now and then a thought of home would come to make her lips quiver and her eyes fill.
The wonderful Cave, with its vaults and galleries hung with glittering crystals, its underground river and dark lake, was so like a fairy tale, that Johnnie felt as if she must go right back and tell the family at home about it. She relieved her feelings by a long letter to Elsie, which made them all laugh very much. In it she said, “Ellen Montgomery didn't have any thing half so nice as the Cave, and Mamma Marion never taps my lips.” Miss Inches, it seemed, wished to be called “Mamma Marion.” Every mile of the journey was an enjoyment to Johnnie. Miss Inches bought pretty presents for her wherever they stopped: altogether, it was quite like being some little girl taking a beautiful excursion in a story-book, instead of plain Johnnie Carr, and Johnnie felt that to be an “adopted child” was every bit as nice as she had supposed, and even nicer.
It was late in the evening when they reached Inches Mills, so nothing could be seen of the house, except that it was big and had trees around it. Johnnie went to sleep in a large bedroom with a huge double bed all to herself, and felt very grown-up and important.
The next day was given to unpacking and seeing the grounds; after that, Miss Inches said they must begin to lead a regular life, and Johnnie must study. Johnnie had been to school all winter, and in the natural course of things would have had holidays now. Mamma Marion, however, declared that so long an idle time would not do at all.
“Education, my darling, is not a thing of periods,” she explained. “It should be like the air, absorbed, as it were, all the time, not like a meal, eaten just so often in the day. This idea of teaching by paroxysms is one of the fatal mistakes of the age.”
So all that warm July Johnnie had French lessons and German, and lessons in natural philosophy, beside studying English literature after a plan of Miss Inches' own, which combined history and geography and geology, with readings from various books, and accounted for the existence of all the great geniuses of the world, as if they had been made after a regular recipe,something like this:The “lambent blue” of Johnnie's eyes grew more lambent than ever as she tried to make head and tail of this wonderful hash of people and facts. I am afraid that Mamma Marion was disappointed in the intelligence of her pupil, but Johnnie did her best, though she was rather aggrieved at being obliged to study at all in summer, which at home was always play-time. The children she knew were having a delightful vacation there, and living out of doors from morning till night.TO MAKE A POET.
Take a political situation, add a rocky soil, and the western slope of a great water-shed, pour into a mould and garnish with laurel leaves. It will be found delicious!
As the weeks went on she felt this more and more. Change of air was making her rosy and fat, and with returning strength a good deal of the old romping, hearty Johnnie came back; or would have come, had there been anybody to romp with. But there was nobody, for Miss Inches scarcely ever invited children to her house. They were brought up so poorly she said. There was nothing inspiring in their contact. She wanted Johnnie to be something quite different.
So Johnnie seldom saw anybody except “Mamma Marion” and her friends, who came to drink tea and talk about “Protoplasm,” and the “Higher Education of Women,” which wasn't at all interesting to poor Curly. She always sat by, quietly and demurely, and Miss Inches hoped was listening and being improved, but really she was thinking about something else, or longing to climb a tree or have a good game of play with real boys and girls. Once, in the middle of a tea-party, she stole upstairs and indulged in a hearty cry all to herself, over the thought of a little house which she and Dorry and Phil had built in Paradise the summer before; a house of stumps and old boards, lined with moss, in which they had had such a good time.
Almost as soon as they got home, Miss Inches sent to Boston for papers and furniture, and devoted her spare time to fitting up a room for her adopted child. Johnnie was not allowed to see it till all was done, then she was led triumphantly in. It was prettyand queerperhaps queerer than pretty. The walls were green-gray, the carpet gray-green, the furniture pale yellow, almost white, with brass handles and hinges, and lines of dull red tiles set into the wood. Every picture on the walls had a meaning, Miss Inches explained.
“Some of these I chose to strengthen your mind, Johnnie, dear,” she said. “These portraits, for example. Here are Luther, Mahomet, and Theodore Parker, three of the great Protestants of the world. Life, to be worthy, must be more or less of a protest always. I want you to renumber that. This photograph is of Michael Angelo's Moses. I got you that too, because it is so strong. I want you to be strong. Do you like it?”
“I think it would be prettier without the curl-papers,” faltered the bewildered Johnnie.
“Curl-papers! My dear child, where are your eyes? Those are horns. He wore horns as a law-giver.”
“Yes, ma'am,” said Johnnie, not daring to ask any more questions for fear of making more mistakes.
“These splendid autotypes are from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, the glory of the world,” went on Miss Inches. “And here, Johnnie, is the most precious of all. This I got expressly for you. It is an education to have such a painting as that before your eyes. I rely very much upon its influence on you.”
The painting represented what seemed to be a grove of tall yellow-green sea-weeds, waving against a strange purple sky. There was a path between the stems of the sea-weeds, and up this path trotted a pig, rather soft and smudgy about his edges, as if he were running a little into the background. His quirly tail was smudgy also; and altogether it was more like the ghost of a pig than a real animal, but Miss Inches said that was the great beauty of the picture.
Johnnie didn't care much for the painted pig, but she liked him better than the great Reformers, who struck her as grim and frightful; while the very idea of going to sleep in the room with the horned Moses scared her almost to death. It preyed on her mind all day; and at night, after Johnnie had gone to bed, Miss Inches, passing the door, heard a little sob, half strangled by the pillows. She went in.
“What is the matter?” she cried.
“It's that awful man with horns,” gasped Johnnie, taking her head out from under the bedclothes. “I can't go to sleep, he frightens me so.”
“Oh, my darling, what, what weakness,” cried Mamma Marion.
She was too kind, however, to persist in any plan which made Johnnie unhappy, so Moses came down, and Johnnie was allowed to choose a picture to fill his place. She selected a chromo of three little girls in a swing, a dreadful thing, all blue and red and green, which Miss Inches almost wept over. But it was a great comfort to Johnnie. I think it was the chromo which put it into Mamma Marion's head that the course of instruction chosen for her adopted child was perhaps a little above her years. Soon after she surprised Johnnie by the gift of a doll, a boy doll, dressed in a suit of Swedish gray, with pockets. In one hand the doll carried a hammer, and under the other arm was tucked a small portfolio.
“I like to make your sports a little instructive when I can,” she said, “so I have dressed this doll in the costume of Linnæus, the great botanist. See what a nice little herbarium he has got under his arm. There are twenty-four tiny specimens in it, with the Latin and English names of each written underneath. If you could learn these perfectly, Johnnie, it would give you a real start in botany, which is the most beautiful of the sciences. Suppose you try. What will you name your doll, darling?”
“I don't know,” replied Johnnie, glaring at the wax-boy with very hostile feelings.
“Linnæus? No, I don't quite like to give that name to a doll. Suppose, Johnnie, we christen him Hortus Siccus. That's the Latin name for a herbal, and will help you to remember it when you form one of your own. Now take him and have a good play.”
How was it possible to have a good play with a doll named Hortus Siccus? Johnnie hated him, and could not conceal the fact. Miss Inches was grieved and disappointed. But she said to herself, “Perhaps she is just too old for dolls and just too young to care for pictures. It isn't so easy to fix a child's mental position as I thought it would be. I must try something else.”
She really loved Johnnie and wished to make her happy, so the thought occurred of giving her a child's party. “I don't approve of them,” she told her friends. “But perhaps it may be possible to combine some instruction with the amusements, and Johnnie is so pleased. Dear little creature, she is only eleven, and small things are great at that age. I suppose it is always so with youth.”
Twenty children were asked to the party. They were to come at four, play for two hours in the garden, then have supper, and afterward games in the parlor.
Johnnie felt as if she had taken a dose of laughing-gas, at the sight of twenty boys and girls all at once, real boys, real girls! How long it was since she had seen any! She capered and jumped in a way which astonished Miss Inches, and her high spirits so infected the rest that a general romp set in, and the party grew noisy to an appalling degree.
“Oh, Johnnie dear, no more 'Tag,'“ cried poor Mamma Marion, catching her adopted child and wiping her hot face with a handkerchief. “It is really too rude, such a game as that. It is only fit for boys.”
“Oh, please!please!please!” entreated Johnnie. “It is splendid. Papa always let us; he did indeed, he always did.”
“I thought you were my child now, and anxious for better things than tag,” said Miss Inches gravely. Johnnie had to submit, but she pouted, shrugged her shoulders, and looked crossly about her, in a way which Mamma Marion had never seen before, and which annoyed her very much.
“Now it is time to go to supper,” she announced. “Form yourselves into a procession, children. Johnnie shall take this tambourine and Willy Parker these castanets, and we will march in to the sound of music.”
Johnnie liked to beat the tambourine very much, so her sulks gave place at once to smiles. The boys and girls sorted themselves into couples, Miss Inches took the head of the procession with an accordion, Willy Parker clashed the castanets as well as he could, and they all marched into the house. The table was beautifully spread with flowers and grapes and pretty china. Johnnie took the head, Willy the foot, and Dinah the housemaid helped them all round to sliced peaches and cream.
Miss Inches meanwhile sat down in the corner of the room and drew a little table full of books near her. As soon as they were all served, she began,
“Now, dear children, while you eat, I will read aloud a little. I should like to think that each one of you carried away one thought at least from this entertainment,a thought which would stay by you, and be, as it were, seed-grain for other thoughts in years to come. First, I will read 'Abou Ben Adhem,' by Leigh Hunt, an English poet.”
The children listened quietly to Abou Ben Adhem, but when Miss Inches opened another book and began to read sentences from Emerson, a deep gloom fell upon the party. Willy Parker kicked his neighbor and made a face. Lucy Hooper and Grace Sherwood whispered behind their napkins, and got to laughing till they both choked. Johnnie's cross feelings came back; she felt as if the party was being spoiled, and she wanted to cry. A low buzz of whispers, broken by titters, went round the table, and through it all Miss Inches' voice sounded solemn and distinct, as she slowly read one passage after another, pausing between each to let the meaning sink properly into the youthful mind.
Altogether the supper was a failure, in spite of peaches and cream and a delicious cake full of plums and citron. When it was over they went into the parlor to play. The game of “Twenty Questions” was the first one chosen. Miss Inches played too. The word she suggested was “iconoclast.”
“We don't know what it means,” objected the children.
“Oh, don't you, dears? It means a breaker of idols. However, if you are not familiar with it we will choose something else. How would 'Michael Angelo' do?”
“But we never heard any thing about him.”
Miss Inches was shocked at this, and began a little art-lecture on the spot, in the midst of which Willy Parker broke in with, “I've thought of a word,'hash'?”
“Oh, yes! Capital! Hash is a splendid word!” chorussed the others, and poor Miss Inches, who had only got as far as Michael Angelo's fourteenth year, found that no one was listening, and stopped abruptly. Hash seemed to her a vulgar word for the children to choose, but there was no help for it, and she resigned herself.
Johnnie thought hash an excellent word. It was so funny when Lucy asked whether the thing chosen was animal, vegetable, or mineral? and Willy replied, “All three,” for he explained in a whisper, there was always salt in hash, and salt was a mineral. “Have you all seen it?” questioned Lucy. “Lots of times,” shouted the children, and there was much laughing. After “Twenty Questions,” they played “Sim says wiggle-waggle,” and after that, “Hunt the Slipper.” Poor, kind, puzzled Miss Inches was relieved when they went away, for it seemed to her that their games were all noisy and a fearful waste of time. She resolved that she would never give Johnnie any more parties; they upset the child completely, and demoralized her mind.
Johnnie was upset. After the party she was never so studious or so docile as she had been before. The little taste of play made her dislike work, and set her to longing after the home-life where play and work were mixed with each other as a matter of course. She began to think that it would be only pleasant to make up her bed, or dust a room again, and she pined for the old nursery, for Phil's whistle, for Elsie and the paper-dolls, and to feel Katy's arms round her once more. Her letters showed the growing home-sickness. Dr. Carr felt that the experiment had lasted long enough. So he discovered that he had business in Boston, and one fine September day, as Johnnie was forlornly poring over her lesson in moral philosophy, the door opened and in came Papa. Such a shriek as she gave! Miss Inches happened to be out, and they had the house to themselves for a while.
“So you are glad to see me?” said Papa, when Johnnie had dried her eyes after the violent fit of crying which was his welcome, and had raised her head from his shoulder. His own eyes were a little moist, but he spoke gaily.
“Oh, Papa, so glad! I was just longing for you to come. How did it happen?”
“I had business in this part of the world, and I thought you might be wanting your winter clothes.”
Johnnie's face fell.
“Must I stay all winter?” she said in a trembling voice. “Aren't you going to take me home?”
“But I thought you wanted to be 'adopted,' and to go to Europe, and have all sorts of fine things happen to you.”
“Oh, Papa, don't tease me. Mamma Marion is ever so kind, but I want to come back and be your little girl again. Please let me. If you don't, I shall die” and Johnnie wrung her hands.
“We'll see about it,” said Dr. Carr. “Don't die, but kiss me and wash your face. It won't do for Miss Inches to come home and find you with those impolite red rims to your eyes.”
“Come upstairs, too, and see my room, while I wash 'em,” pleaded Johnnie.
All the time that Johnnie was bathing her eyes, Papa walked leisurely about looking at the pictures. His mouth wore a furtive smile.
“This is a sweet thing,” he observed, “this one with the pickled asparagus and the donkey, or is it a cat?”
“Papa! it's a pig!”
Then they both laughed.
I think there was a little bit of relief mixed with Miss Inches' disappointment at hearing of Johnnie's decision. The child of theory was a delightful thing to have in the house, but this real child, with moods and tempers and a will of her own, who preferred chromos to Raphael, and pined after “tag,” tried her considerably. They parted, however, most affectionately.
“Good-by, dear Mamma Marion,” whispered Johnnie. “You've been just as good as good to me, and I love you so much,but you know I am used to the girls and Papa.”
“Yes, dear, I know. You're to come back often, Papa says, and I shall call you my girl always.” So, with kisses, they separated, and Miss Inches went back to her old life, feeling that it was rather comfortable not to be any longer responsible for a “young intelligence,” and that she should never envy mammas with big families of children again, as once she had done.
“So we've got our Curly Locks back,” said Katy, fondly stroking Johnnie's hair, the night after the travellers' return. “And you'll never go away from us any more, will you?”
“Never, never, never!” protested Johnnie, emphasizing each word by a kiss.
“Not even to be adopted, travel in Europe, or speak Litchfield Co. French?” put in naughty Clover.
“No. I've been adopted once, and that's enough. Now I'm going to be Papa's little girl always, and when the rest of you get married I shall stay at home and keep house for him.”
“That's right,” said Dr. Carr.
Come to think of it, this also solves the mystery of the Bible verse Dr. Carr sends to Johnnie before her wedding.