THERE were five of them abreast. The Marberrys, Hazel, Starlight, and Flutters, but no one was saying a word. The Marberrys had twice religiously tried to start up matters, but had failed utterly, and new they were anxiously bothering their little minds with the same question, so often reiterated by the Van Fleet parrot, of “Oh, dear, what can the matter be?” Starlight was chuckling inwardly, like the inconsiderate youngster that he was. Hazel was very angry, as she imagined with just cause, and Flutters was inwardly fluttering, almost outwardly, in fact, so sorry was he to have offended his adored little mistress. If she would only say something. It was not his place to speak first, but he feared he would have to, for to his sensitive nature the silence was unbearable. Fortunately, however, just at this point, Hazel’s indignation found vent; she came to a sudden stand-still, and although naught save the one word “Flutters” escaped her, it doubled the five-abreast parallel line into a circle in less than a second.
“What have I done, Miss Hazel?”
“Done!”—then impressively lowering her voice—“you have lied, Flutters” (the Marberrys winced). “Yes, I know it is a dreadful word, but there is no other word for it.”
“What did I lie about?” Body-servant or no, Flutters knew when his little mistress was overstepping all legitimate bounds.
“You told me you had never been to church, and let me find all the places for you, when you knew all about it just as well as I did,” and the little mistress was so greatly excited, that she felt very much afraid she should break right down and cry, which would certainly prove a most undignified proceeding.
“Did I tell you, Miss Hazel, that I had never been to church?” Flutters was able to speak calmly and was astonished at his own self-control, but then he knew he was in the right, and calmness comes easier when you know that. Hazel grew uncomfortable under Flutters’s direct gaze. She had hardly expected this courageous self-defence. Come to think of it, had he actually said he had never been to church. Could it be, she wondered, that her imagination had led her off on another wild chase in the wrong direction? Yes, it could, foolish little Hazel, though you yourself are not yet ready to admit it.
“Perhaps you did not tell me so, Flutters,” Hazel answered, “but you let me think it, which was very wrong and mean of you.”
“Look out, Hazel,” chimed in Starlight, shaking his head significantly, “ten to one you never gave him a chance to say a word about it. You have an awful, rushing way, sometimes, of taking things for granted.”
So Starlight was siding against her too, and Hazel looked toward the Marberrys for sympathy; but they were so ignorant of the facts of the case, and always so kindly disposed toward that little waif, Flutters, that both of them wore the most neutral expression possible.
Flutters’s face flushed gratefully under Starlight’s warm championship.
“No, Miss Hazel,” he said, slowly, “you never gave me a chance to tell you, and until you caught hold of my wrist in the vestibule, and told me what I must do and what I mustn’t, I did not know that you even thought I had never been to church.”
“Didn’t you really? Well, that’s very queer,” for when an idea was firmly implanted in Hazel’s mind, she felt as though every one ought, somehow or other, to be intuitively aware of it. However, she was going to try to be reasonable, and so she descended from a tone of evident displeasure into one of grieved forbearance.
“But, Flutters, if what you say is true”—Flutters straightened up under this insinuation, but unbent right away as Hazel wisely added, “and of course it is, then why, when I found the first place in the Prayer-Book for you, did you not whisper, ‘You need not bother, Miss Hazel, I know about the Prayer-Book,’ or something like that, instead of letting me go on and find place after place for you?”
For a moment Flutters seemed at a loss what to answer, then looking her frankly in the face, he said, with charming simplicity, “I thought it would be more respectful not to say anything; and better to let you, being my little mistress, do just as you pleased without interfering.”
Hazel showed she was touched by this confession; but Starlight could not resist the temptation to add, “besides, I warrant you, you told Flutters not to speak, when you collared him there in the vestibule.”
“Yes, you did, Miss Hazel,” said Flutters, truthfully.
“That maybe,” Hazel admitted with much dignity, “but, Job Starlight, I never collared anybody, if you please.”
“Don’t be touchy, Hazel. You know what I mean.”
All this while the children had stood in a little circle right in the middle of the road, and more than one passer-by had looked on with an amused smile, wondering what was the cause of so much evident excitement. The Marberrys had noticed this, and now that matters were cooling down a trifle, suggested that they should walk on, so as not to attract so much attention. So they walked on, but of course they talked on too, and although Hazel was fast relenting toward Flutters, she was not quite ready to cease hostilities. One or two matters still required explanation. “Look here, Flutters,” she said, “if you thought it was more respectful not to say anything, why didn’t you keep quiet; and there’s another thing I should like to have you tell me, and that is, how did you know it was the eighteenth?”
“Miss Hazel, when I saw you did not know what Sunday it was, I thought that as I happened to know, I ought to tell you.”
“Oh, that was it; but, Flutters, people don’t just happen to know things. They generally know how they came to know them.”
Flutters looked troubled, and the Marberrys and Starlight felt very sorry for him, and wished Hazel would stop. But Hazel wouldn’t. That’s one of the troubles with strong and independent natures, no matter whether they belong to big or little people. They feel everything so deeply, and get so wrought up, that on they go in their impetuosity hurting people’s feelings sometimes, and doing lots of mischief. To be strong and independent and to know where “to stop,” that is fine; but Hazel had not yet learned that happy combination. But Hazel’s heart was all right; she wanted above everything else in the world to grow some day to be a truly noble woman, and there is not much need for worry when any little body really hopes and intends to be that sort of a big body. But you need not think that while I have been saying this little word behind Hazel’s back (which, by the way, is not meant at all unkindly), that you have been missing any conversation on the part of our little church-goers. There hasn’t been any conversation for ever so many seconds. Hazel is waiting for Flutters to speak, and Flutters is getting ready. At last he attacks the subject in hand, in short, quick little sentences, as if it was not easy to say what must be said.
“Miss Hazel, when I was at home I used often to go to church. I had a little Prayer-Book of my own. Somebody gave it to me; somebody that I loved. When I was in the circus I kept my Prayer-Book with me. Every Sunday I read it, from love of the somebody. Once in a great while when we would put up near a church I used to get leave to go to it. I went the very Sunday before I left the circus. I went to that very church where we have been to-day. I sat in the back seat, and I heard their father preach (indicating Milly and Tilly). It was a lovely sermon ‘bout bearing things. That was five weeks ago, and that was the thirteenth Sunday after Trinity, so I calculated up to to-day, and, Miss Hazel, when I ran away from the circus and dared not go back there were only two things I minded about—the Prayer-Book and old Bobbin. To run away from a dear little book that you loved, that’s been a real comfort to you, when you hadn’t scarce anybody to turn to—why, it seems just like running away from a dear old friend.”
So that was the explanation of it all. Even Starlight felt touched by Flutters’s narration, while actual tears stood in the little Marberrys’ eyes. Hazel felt humiliated, an uncommon, but most beneficial sensation for that hot-headed little woman.
“Who gave you that Prayer-Book, Flutters?” asked the Marberrys—being blessed with less tact than sympathy.
“Flutters would have told us if he had wished us to know,” said Hazel. And that considerate remark completely re-established the old friendly relations between Flutters and herself, and then for a while the five children trudged along in silence. Four out of the five were probably pondering over all that Flutters had told them, and wishing that they knew more about him. Flutters, feeling greatly relieved, was turning over in his mind a perplexing question suggested by something the Rector had said in his sermon that morning, for he was a thoughtful little fellow, and when a matter bothered him was not content to dismiss it without settling it to his own satisfaction.
“Do folks believe?” he said, after the manner of one who has slowly thought himself up to the point of putting a question, “do folks believe that God makes everything happen?”
“Of course they do,” said Milly Marberry. Tilly pressed her lips firmly together and nodded “yes,” in a way that meant there was no doubt whatever on the subject.
“Well, suppose a poor woman had just one little boy, and the little boy took the scarlet fever and died, did God make that happen?”
“Yes, He did,” replied Milly and Tilly together, feeling, perhaps, that, as daughters of the Rector, the answering of such a question belonged to them. Starlight and Hazel willingly kept silent. They thought Flutters was leading up to something, and preferred not to commit themselves.
“Well, then,” said Flutters, but not irreverently, “I’d like to know what He did it for.”
Milly and Tilly showed their surprise at this question, but did not at once reply, trying, perhaps, to decide what answer their good father would make under similar circumstances.
“Perhaps God saw the little boy would not grow up to be a good man,” Milly ventured, feeling sure she had heard something like that said.
“Perhaps,” said Tilly, for occasionally the twins did launch out on independent lines of thought, “perhaps she loved the little boy too much, and so God took him to make her trust more just in Him.”
Flutters waited a moment, as though to consider matters; then he said, seriously, “No, I do not believe what you say at all. I believe the little boy caught the scarlet fever from somebody, and just died because he wasn’t strong enough to get over it.”
“I don’t believe it’s right to think like that,” Hazel volunteered, for the Marberrys looked very much shocked, “it’s not believing in God at all.”
Now Flutters had not set out upon this discussion without first having thought it out pretty clearly for himself, and so he was ready to answer—“You are mistaken, I think, Miss Hazel,” with the same little air of respect he always assumed in speaking to her, “because I believe in God just as much as any boy could, and yet I think that. I think God lets things happen instead of making them. He lets sickness and trouble come into the world, and so the sickness and trouble find the people out, and sickness kills them if their bodies are weak, and trouble kills them if their hearts and heads are, and—”
“But, Flutters,” interrupted Starlight, “don’t you believe God watches over people and cares for ‘em?”
“Why of course I do, Starlight. If I hadn’t thought that I don’t know what I would have done sometimes; but this is what I think—I think He watches over us by helping us to bear things, and to get the best out of ‘em, and although I’m not very old, I’m old enough to know that sometimes there is more good in a trouble-some thing than in a thing that isn’t troublesome at all. The people who are the kindest are often the people who have had the most trouble.”
“Well,” said Tilly Marberry, with considerable censure in her tone, “I never heard a little boy talk like this.”
“Neither did I,” sighed Milly, “and I should say such things ought to be left to grown-up people.”
“Well, then,” Flutters replied, “thinking ‘bout things ought to be left to grown-up people, too, but it isn’t. I may think different when I’m grown up, but I don’t believe I’ll ever think harder than I do now, and I can’t help it either.”
Meanwhile Hazel had been ransacking her brain for a half-remembered text, and now she had it. “What do you make out of that verse about the Lord chastening whom He loves?” she asked.
For the moment Flutters looked puzzled. The Marberrys signalled each other by elevating their eyebrows as to the meaning of this last big word of Hazel’s, and asked, simultaneously, “What’s chastening?” Then for the moment Hazel looked puzzled, but Starlight came to her rescue.
“I think it’s taking away from a fellow lots of people whom he loves. Having his mother die, and then his father, and then his little sister, and things like that.”
This remark of Starlight’s flashed the light again in upon Flutters’s mind, and he found to his glad surprise that he was thoroughly prepared to answer Hazel after all; but he began by asking Starlight a question.
“But why, Starlight, does the Lord do that, do you think?”
“Why—so as to make a fellow resigned. I think that’s what they call it. To make him just give up his own will.”
“Excuse me,” said Flutters, with the air of one whose convictions are very strong, “but I don’t believe that either. I don’t believe the Lord would take my father and mother and sister out of the world just because He loved me and wanted to make me better. I don’t believe I’m important enough for that, nor anybody else. If they all died close together I should think it was because God’s time had come for them, quite outside of me, and that then the thing for me to do, the thing that He meant, was just to bear it as bravely as I could.”
This was a long speech for Flutters, but the children were sufficiently interested to follow every word of it, and Hazel asked, when Flutters ceased, “But then what does the chastening verse mean? It’s in the Bible, and I suppose you believe the Bible?”
“Of course I believe it, but I know chastening doesn’t mean anything like that. Perhaps it means letting all sorts of bothersome things come so as to have you get the best of them. A person what had never had any bother wouldn’t be much of a person, I suppose.”
“Well, we have had a talk,” said Starlight, for at this point the discussion seemed to come to a natural close; and besides, they had almost reached the Boniface gate. A moment later the Marberrys took an affectionate leave of Hazel, with a “Good-bye” to Starlight and Flutters, and trudged on to the rectory, half a mile farther up the road, wondering, perhaps, if what Flutters had said had been wrong, and provided they could remember it, if they ought not to tell their father.
“Heigh-ho!” sighed Hazel, carefully putting away her Sunday cloak and hat, “and to think that I thought the mulattoes were a savage tribe! Why, really, I believe I never knew a boy who seemed to think so right down into a thing as Flutters.”