There was one dream, however, that even conscientious Aunt Frances never tried to analyze, because it was too sad. Elizabeth Ann dreamed sometimes that she was dead and lay in a little white coffin with white roses over her. Oh, that made Aunt Frances cry, and so did Elizabeth Ann. It was very touching. Then, after a long, long time of talk and tears and sobs and hugs, the little girl would begin to get drowsy, and Aunt Frances would rock her to sleep in her arms, and lay her down ever so quietly, and slip away to try to get a little nap herself before it was time to get up.
At a quarter of nine every week-day morning Aunt Frances dropped whatever else she was doing, took Elizabeth Ann's little, thin, white hand protectingly in hers, and led her through the busy streets to the big brick school-building where the little girl had always gone to school. It was four stories high, and when all the classes were in session there were six hundred children under that one roof. You can imagine, perhaps, the noise there was on the playground just before school! Elizabeth Ann shrank from it with all her soul, and clung more tightly than ever to Aunt Frances's hand as she was led along through the crowded, shrieking masses of children. Oh, how glad she was that she had Aunt Frances there to take care of her, though as a matter of fact nobody noticed the little thin girl at all, and her very own classmates would hardly have known whether she came to school or not. Aunt Frances took her safely through the ordeal of the playground, then up the long, broad stairs, and pigeonholed her carefully in her own schoolroom. She was in the third grade,—3A, you understand, which is almost the fourth.
Then at noon Aunt Frances was waiting there, a patient, never-failing figure, to walk home with her little charge; and in the afternoon the same thing happened over again. On the way to and from school they talked about what had happened in the class. Aunt Frances believed in sympathizing with a child's life, so she always asked about every little thing, and remembered to inquire about the continuation of every episode, and sympathized with all her heart over the failure in mental arithmetic, and triumphed over Elizabeth Ann's beating the Schmidt girl in spelling, and was indignant over the teacher's having pets. Sometimes in telling over some very dreadful failure or disappointment Elizabeth Ann would get so wrought up that she would cry. This always brought the ready tears to Aunt Frances's kind eyes, and with many soothing words and nervous, tremulous caresses she tried to make life easier for poor little Elizabeth Ann. The days when they had cried they could neither of them eat much luncheon.
After school and on Saturdays there was always the daily walk, and there were lessons, all kinds of lessons—piano-lessons of course, and nature-study lessons out of an excellent book Aunt Frances had bought, and painting lessons, and sewing lessons, and even a little French, although Aunt Frances was not very sure about her own pronunciation. She wanted to give the little girl every possible advantage, you see. They were really inseparable. Elizabeth Ann once said to some ladies calling on her aunts that whenever anything happened in school, the first thing she thought of was what Aunt Frances would think of it.
"Why is that?" they asked, looking at Aunt Frances, who was blushing with pleasure.
"Oh, she is so interested in my school work! And she understands me!" said Elizabeth Ann, repeating the phrases she had heard so often.
Aunt Frances's eyes filled with happy tears. She called Elizabeth Ann to her and kissed her and gave her as big a hug as her thin arms could manage. Elizabeth Ann was growing tall very fast. One of the visiting ladies said that before long she would be as big as her auntie, and a troublesome young lady. Aunt Frances said: "I have had her from the time she was a little baby and there has scarcely been an hour she has been out of my sight. I'll always have her confidence. You'll always tell Aunt Frances everything, won't you, darling?" Elizabeth Ann resolved to do this always, even if, as now, she often had to invent things to tell.
Aunt Frances went on, to
the callers: "But I do wish she weren't so thin
and pale and nervous. I suppose it is the exciting
modern life that is so bad for children. I try
to see that she has plenty of fresh air. I
go out with her for a walk every single day.
But we have taken all the walks around here so
often that we're rather tired of them. It's often hard
to know how to get her out enough. I think
I'll have to get the doctor to come and see
her and perhaps give her a tonic." To Elizabeth Ann
she added, hastily: "Now don't go getting notions in your
head, darling. Aunt Frances doesn't think there's anything very much
the matter with you. You'll be all right again soon
if you just take the doctor's medicine nicely. Aunt Frances
will take care of her precious little girl.
So one day, after this had happened several times, Aunt Frances really did send for the doctor, who came briskly in, just as Elizabeth Ann had always seen him, with his little square black bag smelling of leather, his sharp eyes, and the air of bored impatience which he always wore in that house. Elizabeth Ann was terribly afraid to see him, for she felt in her bones he would say she had galloping consumption and would die before the leaves cast a shadow. This was a phrase she had picked up from Grace, whose conversation, perhaps on account of her asthma, was full of references to early graves and quick declines.
And yet—did you ever hear of such
a case before?—although Elizabeth Ann when she first stood
up before the doctor had been quaking with fear lest
he discover some deadly disease
in her, she was very
much hurt indeed when, after thumping her and looking at
her lower eyelid inside out, and listening to her breathing,
he pushed her away with a little jerk and said:
"There's nothing in the world the matter with that child.
She's as sound as a nut! What she needs is
Elizabeth Ann stood up before the doctor.
Of course Aunt Frances didn't let him off as easily as
that, you may be sure. She fluttered around him as
he tried to go, and she said all sorts of
fluttery things to him, like, "But Doctor, she hasn't gained
a pound in three months
The doctor said
back to her, as he put on his hat, all
the things doctors always say under such conditions: "More beefsteak
And just then something happened which changed Elizabeth Ann's life forever and ever. It was a very small thing, too. Aunt Harriet coughed. Elizabeth Ann did not think it at all a bad-sounding cough in comparison with Grace's hollow whoop; Aunt Harriet had been coughing like that ever since the cold weather set in, for three or four months now, and nobody had thought anything of it, because they were all so much occupied in taking care of the sensitive, nervous little girl who needed so much care.
And yet, at the sound of that little discreet cough
behind Aunt Harriet's hand, the doctor whirled around and fixed
his sharp eyes on her, with all the bored, impatient
look gone, the first time Elizabeth Ann had ever seen
him look interested. "What's that? What's that?" he said, going
over quickly to Aunt Harriet. He snatched out of his
little bag a shiny thing with two rubber tubes attached,
and he put the ends of the tubes in his
ears and the shiny thing up against Aunt Harriet, who
was saying, "It's nothing, Doctor
The doctor motioned her very impolitely to stop talking, and listened very hard through his little tubes. Then he turned around and looked at Aunt Frances as though he were angry at her. He said, "Take the child away and then come back here yourself."
And that was almost all that Elizabeth Ann ever knew of the forces which swept her away from the life which had always gone on, revolving about her small person, exactly the same ever since she could remember.