Grandma sent Ann out into the kitchen to put the loaves in the oven and lo and behold! the oven was full. Ann stood staring for a minute, with a loaf of election cake in her hands; that and the bread would be ruined if they were not baked immediately, as they were raised enough.
Mrs. Dorcas had taken Thirsey and stepped out somewhere, and there was no one in the kitchen. Ann set the election cake back on the table.
Then, with the aid of the tongs, she reached into the brick oven and took out every one of Mrs. Dorcas' pies and loaves. Then she arranged them deliberately in a pitiful semicircle on the hearth, and put Grandma's cookery in the oven.
She went back to the southwest room then, and sat quietly down to her spinning. Grandma asked if she had put the things in, and she said "Yes, ma'am," meekly. There was a bright red spot on each of her dark cheeks.
When Mrs. Dorcas entered the kitchen, carrying Thirsey wrapped up in an old homespun blanket, she nearly dropped as her gaze fell on the fireplace and the hearth. There sat her bread and pies, in the most lamentable half-baked, sticky, doughy condition imaginable. She opened the oven, and peered in. There were Grandma's loaves, all a lovely brown. Out they came, with a twitch. Luckily, they were done. Her own went in, but they were irretrievable failures.
Of course, quite a commotion came from this. Dorcas raised her shrill voice pretty high, and Grandma, though she had been innocent of the whole transaction, was so blamed that she gave Dorcas a piece of her mind at last. Ann surveyed the nice brown loaves, and listened to the talk in secret satisfaction; but she had to suffer for it afterward.
Grandma punished her for the first time, and she discovered that that kind old hand was pretty firm and strong. "No matter what you think, or whether you air in the rights on't, or not, a little gal mustn't ever sass her elders," said Grandma.
But if Ann's interference was blamable, it was productive of one good result--the matter came to Mr. Atherton's ears, and he had a stern sense of justice when roused, and a great veneration for his mother.
His father's will should be carried out to the letter, he declared; and it was. Grandma baked and boiled in peace, outwardly, at least, after that.
Ann was a great comfort to her; she was outgrowing her wild, mischievous ways, and she was so bright and quick. She promised to be pretty, too. Grandma compared her favorably with her own grandchildren, especially Mrs. Dorcas' eldest daughter Martha, who was nearly Ann's age. "Marthy's a pretty little gal enough," she used to say, "but she ain't got the _snap_ to her that Ann has, though I wouldn't tell Atherton's wife so, for the world."
She promised Ann her gold beads, when she should be done with them, under strict injunctions not to say anything about it till the time came; for the others might feel hard as she wasn't her own flesh and blood. The gold beads were Ann's ideals of beauty, and richness, though she did not like to hear Grandma talk about being "done with them." Grandma always wore them around her fair, plump old neck; she had never seen her without her string of beads.
As before said, Ann was now very seldom mischievous enough to make herself serious trouble; but, once in a while, her natural propensities would crop out. When they did, Mrs. Dorcas was exceedingly bitter. Indeed, her dislike of Ann was, at all times, smouldering, and needed only a slight fanning to break out.
One stormy winter day, Mrs. Dorcas had been working till dark, making candle-wicks. When she came to get tea, she tied the white fleecy rolls together, a great bundle of them, and hung them up in the cellar-way, over the stairs, to be out of the way. They were extra fine wicks, being made of flax for the company candles. "I've got a good job done," said Mrs. Dorcas, surveying them complacently. Her husband had gone to Boston, and was not coming home till the next day, so she had had a nice chance to work at them, without as much interruption as usual.
Ann, going down the cellar-stairs, with a lighted candle, after some butter for tea, spied the beautiful rolls swinging overhead. What possessed her to, she could not herself have told--she certainly had no wish to injure Mrs. Dorcas' wicks--but she pinched up a little end of the fluffy flax and touched her candle to it. She thought she would see how that little bit would burn off. She soon found out. The flame caught, and ran like lightning through the whole bundle. There was a great puff of fire and smoke, and poor Mrs. Dorcas' fine candle-wicks were gone. Ann screamed, and sprang down stairs. She barely escaped the whole blaze coming in her face.
"What's that!" shrieked Mrs. Dorcas, rushing to the cellar-door. Words can not describe her feeling when she saw that her nice candle-wicks, the fruit of her day's toil, were burnt up.
If ever there was a wretched culprit that night, Ann was. She had not meant to do wrong, but that, maybe, made it worse for her in one way.
She had not even gratified malice to sustain her. Grandma blamed her, almost as severely as Mrs. Dorcas. She said she didn't know what would "become of a little gal, that was so keerless," and decreed that she must stay at home from school and work on candle-wicks till Mrs.
Dorcas' loss was made good to her. Ann listened ruefully. She was scared and sorry, but that did not seem to help matters any. She did not want any supper, and she went to bed early and cried herself to sleep.
Somewhere about midnight, a strange sound woke her up. She called out to Grandma in alarm. The same sound had awakened her. "Get up, an'
light a candle, child," said she; "I'm afeard the baby's sick."
Ann scarcely had the candle lighted, before the door opened, and Mrs.
Dorcas appeared in her nightdress--she was very pale, and trembling all over. "Oh!" she gasped, "it's the baby. Thirsey's got the croup, an' Atherton's away, and there ain't anybody to go for the doctor. O what shall I do, what shall I do!" She fairly wrung her hands.
"_Hev_ you tried the skunk's oil?" asked Grandma eagerly, preparing to get up.
"Yes, I have, I have! It's a good hour since she woke up, an' I've tried everything. It hasn't done any good. I thought I wouldn't call you, if I could help it, but she's worse--only hear her! An'
Atherton's away! Oh! what shall I do, what shall I do?"
"Don't take on so, Dorcas," said Grandma, tremulously, but cheeringly.
"I'll come right along, an'--why, child, what air you goin' to do?"
Ann had finished dressing herself, and now she was pinning a heavy homespun blanket over her head, as if she were preparing to go out doors.
"I'm going after the doctor for Thirsey," said Ann, her black eyes flashing with determination.
"O will you, will you!" cried Mrs. Dorcas, catching at this new help.
"Hush, Dorcas," said Grandma, sternly. "It's an awful storm out--jist hear the wind blow! It ain't fit fur her to go. Her life's jist as precious as Thirsey's."
Ann said nothing more, but she went into her own little room with the same determined look in her eyes. There was a door leading from this room into the kitchen. Ann slipped through it hastily, lit a lantern which was hanging beside the kitchen chimney, and was out doors in a minute.
The storm was one of sharp, driving sleet, which struck her face like so many needles. The first blast, as she stepped outside the door, seemed to almost force her back, but her heart did not fail her. The snow was not so very deep, but it was hard walking. There was no pretense of a path. The doctor lived half a mile away, and there was not a house in the whole distance, save the Meeting House and schoolhouse. It was very dark. Lucky it was that she had taken the lantern; she could not have found her way without it.
On kept the little slender, erect figure, with the fierce determination in its heart, through the snow and sleet, holding the blanket close over its head, and swinging the feeble lantern bravely.
When she reached the doctor's house, he was gone. He had started for the North Precinct early in the evening, his good wife said; he was called down to Captain Isaac Lovejoy's, the house next to the North Precinct Meeting House. She'd been sitting up waiting for him, it was such an awful storm, and such a lonely road. She was worried, but she didn't think he'd start for home that night; she guessed he'd stay at Captain Lovejoy's till morning.
The doctor's wife, holding her door open, as best she could, in the violent wind, had hardly given this information to the little snow-bedraggled object standing out there in the inky darkness, through which the lantern made a faint circle of light, before she had disappeared.
"She went like a speerit," said the good woman, staring out into the blackness in amazement. She never dreamed of such a thing as Ann's going to the North Precinct after the doctor, but that was what the daring girl had determined to do. She had listened to the doctor's wife in dismay, but with never one doubt as to her own course of proceeding.
Straight along the road to the North Precinct she kept. It would have been an awful journey that night for a strong man. It seemed incredible that a little girl could have the strength or courage to accomplish it. There were four miles to traverse in a black, howling storm, over a pathless road, through forests, with hardly a house by the way.
When she reached Captain Isaac Lovejoy's house, next to the Meeting House in the North Precinct of Braintree, stumbling blindly into the warm, lighted kitchen, the captain and the doctor could hardly believe their senses. She told the doctor about Thirsey; then she almost fainted from cold and exhaustion.
Good wife Lovejoy laid her on the settee, and brewed her some hot herb tea. She almost forgot her own sick little girl, for a few minutes, in trying to restore this brave child who had come from the South Precinct in this dreadful storm to save little Thirsey Wales' life.
When Ann came to herself a little, her first question was, if the doctor were ready to go.
"He's gone," said Mrs. Lovejoy, cheeringly.
Ann felt disappointed. She had thought she was going back with him.
But that would have been impossible. She could not have stood the journey for the second time that night, even on horseback behind the doctor, as she had planned.
She drank a second bowlful of herb tea, and went to bed with a hot stone at her feet, and a great many blankets and coverlids over her.
The next morning, Captain Lovejoy carried her home. He had a rough wood sled, and she rode on that, on an old quilt; it was easier than horseback, and she was pretty lame and tired.
Mrs. Dorcas saw her coming and opened the door. When Ann came up on the stoop, she just threw her arms around her and kissed her.
"You needn't make the candle-wicks," said she. "It's no matter about them at all. Thirsey's better this morning, an' I guess you saved her life."
Grandma was fairly bursting with pride and delight in her little gal's brave feat, now that she saw her safe. She untied the gold beads on her neck, and fastened them around Ann's. "There," said she, "you may wear them to school to-day, if you'll be keerful."
That day, with the gold beads by way of celebration, began a new era in Ann's life. There was no more secret animosity between her and Mrs.
Dorcas. The doctor had come that night in the very nick of time.
Thirsey was almost dying. Her mother was fully convinced that Ann had saved her life, and she never forgot it. She was a woman of strong feelings, who never did things by halves, and she not only treated Ann with kindness, but she seemed to smother her grudge against Grandma for robbing her of the southwest fire-room.
By Mary E. Wilkins Freeman