"I DON'T mind giving up an hour or two to go and read to sick folks," exclaimed Kate crossly, "if they'll only keep their rooms half decent."
"Why, what's the matter now, Kate," asked her mother, "isn't it pleasant at Mary's?"
"Pleasant! it's simply horrid! Such a room I never saw! Furniture covered with dust, tables loaded with medicine things and dirty dishes, every chair with something on it, and I don't believe the windows were ever washed."
"But, my dear," said her mother, "you must remember
that Mary's mother is poor,
"But she might be clean," interrupted Kate.
"And she has her hands full to take care of all those children."
"Some of them are big enough to help," said Kate.
"There's that Bess! great lazy thing! with an apron a pig would be ashamed to wear!"
"Who is this Mary?" quietly asked Miss Faith, a lady who had come to visit Kate's mother only the day before.
"One of Kate's schoolmates," said Mrs. Barlow, "who fell on the ice and was hurt last winter. She is obliged to lie perfectly still, but the doctors hope she will be well after some months."
"Poor, did you say?" went on Miss Faith.
"Well, not beggars," said Mrs. Barlow, "but they have close work to get along. Her mother is a widow with four or five children, on a small income."
"And she does her own work," put in Kate, "what little's done; but I don't believe she ever clears up Mary's room. I should think she'd die; I should."
"And it wouldn't do, I suppose, to speak to her about it?" suggested Miss Faith.
"Dear me, no!" said Mrs. Barlow; "she's a high-spirited woman; has been used to better times. She would be mortally offended."
"I've seen such cases," said Miss Faith, with a smile, "and I know what to do for them. Kate, I think I can help you."
"I don't know what you can do," sighed Kate; "it seems to me a hopeless case."
"I'll use magic!" said Miss Faith, smiling.
"What!" exclaimed Kate and her mother in one breath.
"I'll send Mary a present," went on Miss Faith, "that shall work magic in the house; you'll be surprised at the result."
"If it clears up that house it'll be magic, sure enough," said Kate.
"It will!" said Miss Faith quietly. "I never knew it to fail. It will not take ten days to accomplish all you can ask."
"I must say I'd like to see it," said Kate, half unbelieving.
"Come up to my room and I'll show you," said Miss Faith, rising.
Kate followed her eagerly to her room, where she unlocked and opened her trunk. The contents of the trunk were rather unusual, but then Miss Faith was rather an unusual person. For dress she cared very little, yet she always was accompanied on her journeys by a big trunk. Kate had often wondered what was in it, and now she looked on with curiosity as Miss Faith took out one thing after another: a pile of children's clothes; three or four pairs of shoes of different sizes; several books—children's books; toys of a cheap and durable kind, and other things equally strange for an elderly lady to carry about in her trunk.
Kate could not help an exclamation of surprise, as these various objects came to light. Miss Faith smiled.
"Queer, isn't it, dear, but these are my magical tools, and here I think I have the particular one you need," and she opened a small wooden box, took out a quantity of soft pack-jug paper, and thus uncovered a little bisque figure. It was not more than eight inches high, and, of course, it was not very costly, but it was a lovely, graceful thing, the figure of a beautiful child.
"Oh! how pretty!" cried Kate; "what a beautiful face! and such a snowy white! Do you really mean to send Mary that? It'll look fearfully out of place in her dingy room."
"So I hope," said Miss Faith; "it would show no magic qualities otherwise."
"Well, it's perfectly lovely, and Mary'll be crazy over it, but how it's to clear up that house I must say I can't see."
"You will see," said Miss Faith, smiling. "Will you take it over to her with my love?"
"Oh, yes!" said Kate warmly; "I'd like to see what she says."
Kate took the pretty gift to Mary, and was gratified to report the delight and happiness it caused.
"She had me set it on her bureau," said Kate, "where she could lie and look at it, and I had to move a dozen things aside to find room for it."
"Near the window?" asked Miss Faith. "Close by the window," answered Kate, "with horrid dirty muslin curtains, too."
"H'm!" said Miss Faith, "I shouldn't wonder if that magic began to work to-night."
In truth it began sooner than Miss Faith thought, for hardly was Kate out of the house when Mary said to her mother, who had come up from the kitchen to see the new treasure, "Mother, I could see it better if there weren't so many things on the bureau. I wish you'd take some off."
"I will," said the mother, pleased to see Mary interested, and she went to the bureau and in two minutes had it completely cleared.
"Thank you," said Mary in a pleased tone; "that is nice, it looks lovely now."
The magic worked on. The next morning Mary lay in her room alone, looking with untiring interest on the beautiful gift. It was so delicate, so white; suddenly she noticed that the curtains which hung near it looked extremely dingy by contrast. "Mother," she said when she was eating her breakfast a little later, "couldn't you have my curtains washed? They're awful dirty."
"They do look a little dingy," said her mother with a sigh, "but washings are so big that I kind o' put off things."
"Couldn't Bess help?" suggested Mary.
"Could if she had a mind to," said her mother; "but you know what Bess is, I can't make the least impression on her if I scold from morning to night."
"I suppose not," said Mary thoughtfully. "I wish I
"But you can't," interrupted her mother, "and you mus' n't fret about it, dearie. I'll get the curtains washed somehow," for to keep Mary from fretting under her tiresome confinement was her mother's great anxiety.
"Don't you do it, Mother," said Mary. "I'll get Bess to do it—if I can," she added doubtfully.
"Well, you may try her," said Mrs. Benton, "and if she won't do it, I will."
After studying up a plan, Mary went to work quite skillfully on her easy-going sister. She talked about the figure, drew her on to tell how much she admired it, and then called her attention to the dingy looks of the curtains beside it.
"If I was only able," she ended with a sigh, "I would have them washed and ironed before night," and then in a sudden way she offered Bess a book of hers if she would do it.
Bess wanted the book, and moreover was sorry—in her lazy way—for her sister, and, after a moment's thought, she consented.
The curtains were soon down and in the wash-tub, and then Mary had a chance to notice the windows.
"Why, how dirty they are!" she said to herself; "they ought to be washed while the curtains are down. Mother's busy and Bess'll be too tired," she reflected. Then her eyes fell on a little sister, eight years old, who was playing on the floor. "Susy," she said, "I wonder if you couldn't wash the windows for sister."
"Well; suppose you do it then," went on Mary coaxingly, "and see if you can't get it all done to surprise mother when she comes up."
Charmed to do grown-up work, Susy went at it eagerly. Under Mary's instructions she brought warm water and other things, and was soon very busy indeed. After a good deal of rubbing, and many directions on Mary's part, Susy managed to get the lower panes pretty clean, but the upper ones Mary dared not let her climb up to try. It was not very satisfactory, to be sure, for the clear glasses only made the others look worse than before.
"Why, Susy!" exclaimed the mother when she came up and heard who had been washing windows, "how nicely you've made the panes look! Mother'll have to wash the upper ones herself to match them." And she did too, so that before night Mary had clean windows and clean white curtains.
Kate, who came the next day to read to Mary, went home with wide-open eyes. "Why, Miss Faith, I do believe it is magic! If you'll credit me, they've begun to clean up; really, clean windows and spick-and-span white curtains. I could hardly believe my eyes."
"I told you it would work," said Miss Faith quietly. "It isn't done yet."
Truly it was not, for the next day Mary began to notice the littered appearance of the room, the medicine bottles and cups, and the confusion generally.
"The windows look so nice," she said to Susy, who was her most constant attendant, "that I wish you would clear up a little more."
"What shall I do?" asked good-natured Susy.
"Well," began Mary, "first take all the dirty dishes out, and set them in the hall where mother or Bess can take them downstairs."
Many times back and forth trotted the busy little feet before this was done.
"Now you can take all the empty bottles," said Mary, "and put them on the shelf in the hall cupboard." So they went on, Mary directing and Susy working, and after an hour's labor the room was much improved.
"Why, how slick you look up here! What's got into you all of a sudden!" exclaimed Mrs. Benton, when she came up.
"Why," explained Mary, "the windows looked so clean it made the rest of the room seem very mussy, and Susy's been clearing up for me; hasn't she done it nicely?"
"Very," assented her mother, "and it does seem more attractive."
"When I don't see anything else," added Mary in a low tone.
"Sure enough, poor child!" said her mother. "We won't let the room get so again."
That day again Kate rushed home with a tale of wonders done by that magic gift.
Still the charm worked. The next day she found the floor swept and the furniture dusted; the third day Mary had a clean white counterpane in place of the old soiled one, and a white towel on her medicine stand; the fourth day a hole in the carpet over which Kate had several times stumbled, was neatly mended; the fifth day the hall was swept and the stairs washed, and the sixth day the whole house had an unwontedly clean air.
Nor was this all; the charm worked on the people as well as on the house. First Kate noticed that Susy had clean face and hands, next that her dress had been washed and mended. Then she saw an improvement in Bess's appearance, and later a gradual change in the looks of every one of the household, even to Mrs. Benton herself. Every day she went home with new wonders to tell, and fresh surprise at the simple cause of all the changes.
"Why, it's a real pleasure to go there now," she said one day, "and all the girls say so. Mary seems ever so much brighter too; I do believe she's better."
"No doubt she is," said Miss Faith; "there's no doctor so good as an interest in things around one. Does she still care for the bisque figure?"
"Care for it! why, she about worships it. That Bess—sure's you live—has patched up some sort of a bracket out of half a flour-barrel cover and some bits of cloth and bright braid, and you wouldn't believe it, but it's real pretty and bright, and she nailed it up between the windows, and on it stands that blessed figure. It really gives the room an air!"
"And I want to tell you, Miss Faith," Kate went on eagerly, "the girls in Mary's class, seeing how hard she tries to have her room pretty, have made a plan to fix it up nice for a Christmas surprise for her. We've talked it over a little, and it's going to be splendid. Carry Bates—her father keeps a paper-hanging store—says she's most sure he'll give paper enough to cover her wall, and perhaps a man to put it on, and Luly Jones is going to get some pretty cretonne out of her father's store, to cover the lounge and a pillow for it; we've got money enough among us to buy matting for the floor, and Mamma says I may give her my Persian rug; and then we're all going to give books and little pictures, and everything pretty we can get. We mean to make her room lovely. Isn't it grand!"
"Indeed it is, Kate!" said Miss Faith warmly, "and I'll help. What shall I do? You may decide."
A bright expression came into Kate's face, then a look of doubt.
"What is it, dear? Tell me just what you wish," said Miss Faith, watching her keenly.
"Would you spend some money?" began Kate hesitatingly, "a good deal, I'm afraid."
"What for?" demanded Miss Faith.
"Oh, for an invalid bed, that can be lifted up at the head, so she can most sit up, or lie down flat. We did want to buy one awfully! but we knew it would cost too much. The girls hadn't much money," Kate pleaded.
Miss Faith thought a moment.
"If I do that, Kate, it will take all my Christmas money," she said gravely. "All the young people to whom I usually make presents will have to go without."
"Oh, I'm sure, dear Miss Faith," said Kate warmly, "they would all be glad to, if they could only know how good it would be for Mary; and she has to lie there always," she added with a shudder. "Think how fearful that is!"
"Well," said Miss Faith, "I'll do it, Kate. You girls select the bed and have the bill sent to me. The magic works beyond Mary Benton's chamber, you see."
"Sure enough," said Kate thoughtfully; "it was that figure began it," and as she walked hastily down in the village to tell the girls the good news about the invalid bed, she thought the whole thing over, from the first day, less than two weeks ago, when Miss Faith had taken the bisque figure out of her trunk, till now. Wonderful indeed had been the changes, not only in Mary's room, but spreading over the house, and then among the school-girls who visited Mary. And at last, as she ran up the steps of Carry Bates's house, came her conclusion: "Well; there must have been magic about that little bisque figure."
It was now getting quite late in the evening, and Mamma, who was last in the circle, suggested that Kristy had heard stories enough for one evening, and that her story better be put off till some other time.
But a chorus of the story-tellers insisted that she should herself follow the rule she had so sternly enforced upon others. Kristy, too, would not hear of postponement. "I can make you tell me another to-morrow," she said, whereupon the audience laughed and applauded, and in the midst of this confusion Mamma knocked on the fire-dogs for silence.
"If I must tell the story, I wish to begin, for it is quite time my patient went to bed. I shall tell of a poor Irish woman I read about last winter in the papers."
"And went to see," whispered Kristy to Uncle John, who was arranging the fire.
Mamma did not hear her, but began at once.