IN the early morning the schoolhouse was a quiet place, and there Miss
Virginia Smith went to study. No one knew why she worked so hard,
though Marian often wondered. It was her delight to please Miss Smith,
and when the teacher waited several mornings until a certain mail train
passed and the letters were distributed, Marian offered to stop at the
post-office and get the mail.
“Are you sure you won’t lose anything?” asked Miss Smith.
“Sure,” promised Marian. “You go to school early as you used to do and
I’ll bring your letters when I come.”
Usually the postmaster gave Marian something to carry to Miss Smith,
and all went well until a few days before school closed. Elizabeth
Gray called for Marian that morning and together they went to
the post-office where they waited on tiptoe for the postmaster to
distribute the mail. There was one letter for Miss Smith, a thin,
insignificant looking letter.
“That’s nothing but an old advertisement,” declared Elizabeth; “it
wasn’t worth waiting for.”
“I guess you’re right,” agreed Marian, “see what it says in the corner.
What’s a seminary, anyway? Do you know?–‘Young Ladies’ Seminary.’ Some
kind of a new fashioned place to buy hats, may be, come on.”
“Yes, let’s get started before the Prior kids and the Perkinses catch
up with us. I can’t bear that Tommy Perkins.”
“We could play De Soto if we had a crowd,” suggested Marian. “You and
I could be the head leaders and the Priors and the Perkins could be
“How do you play De Soto?” asked Elizabeth. “I never heard of it.”
“You’ve heard of De Soto, the man that discovered the Mississippi
River, I hope.”
“Of course, he’s in the history.”
“Well, Elizabeth, I’ve been reading about him in one of Mr. Golding’s
books about early explorations and I knew in a minute that it would be
fun to play De Soto on our way to school. Now, I’m De Soto.”
“No, I’m going to be De Soto,” insisted Elizabeth.
“You don’t know how, Elizabeth Jane Gray, and you didn’t think of it
first. All right, though, you be De Soto if you want to. What are you
going to do? Begin.”
“You always want to be the head one in everything, Marian Lee. You
needn’t think I’m Tommy Perkins!”
“I don’t, Elizabeth, I think you’re that brave Spaniard Moscoso who
was leader of the soldiers after De Soto died and was buried in the
Mississippi River where the Indians couldn’t find him. But if you want
to be De Soto, go on, only I don’t believe you know a thing about him
except what the history says. Well, you’re De Soto.”
“You’ll have to tell me what to do, Marian.”
“I guess not, Miss Elizabeth, if you’re De Soto you ought to know.”
Elizabeth walked on in silence for a few moments until seized by an
inspiration. “I’ll be De Soto to-morrow morning,” she remarked; “it’s
your turn first, of course, because you thought of the game. I’m–who
did you say I am, Marian?”
“You’re Moscoso, one of my officers, Elizabeth. Well, I’m De Soto and
I have had wonderful adventures in my life. I was with Pizarro in the
conquest of Peru and I went back to Spain rich, rich, rich. Now I am
the Governor of Cuba and Florida and not long ago I had orders from
Spain to explore Florida. Of course, Moscoso, you remember all about
it, how we left Cuba with nine ships and landed at Tampa?”
“I remember it, Soty, just as well as if it was yesterday,” and
Moscoso, laughing merrily, swung his dinner pail in a perfect circle.
“Don’t laugh, Moscoso, at serious things,” continued De Soto; “and I
think you really should call me Governor and I’ll call you General.
Well, General, we sent most of our ships back to Cuba, and now we’re
searching for gold in Florida, not in our little State of Florida, but
the big, wide, long Florida that used to be. Now, Elizabeth, we’ll
play wander around for three years, living in Indian villages winters
and camping out summers and having fights and discovering new birds
to write to Spain about and having all kinds of adventures, until we
get to that big ditch at the four corners and that will have to be the
Mississippi River, and we’ll cross it. We can tie our handkerchiefs to
sticks for banners.
“Let’s play all the trees are Indians and all the little low bushes are
wild beasts. The fences will do for mountains and I guess we’ll think
of other things to play as we go along. We’ll have trouble with our
soldiers, of course, they always do when they are hunting for gold. All
these fields and woods, no, not woods, forests, I mean, are what you
call the interior. Dandelions and buttercups will be gold that we steal
from the Indians. We’ll be awfully disappointed because this isn’t a
gold country like Peru, but we will take all there is, and I think we
had better talk some about going home to Spain. Of course I don’t know
I’m going to die of fever beyond the Mississippi and you don’t know
you’ll have to go back to the coast without me. I wish we could talk a
little bit of real Spanish, don’t you, Elizabeth?”
“Hush,” warned the General from Spain. “I hear Indians. Let’s play the
wind in the trees is Indian talk, Marian.”
“Sure enough, Elizabeth, we must advance cautiously, General Moscoso,
they always ‘advance cautiously’ in the books, or else ‘beat a hasty
retreat.’ We won’t dare play retreat or we’ll never get to school. Oh,
they’re friendly Indians, General, how fortunate.”
De Soto had crossed the Mississippi when he grew pale as death and
suddenly deserted his followers. The banners of Spain trailed in the
dust. “Elizabeth Jane Gray, where’s that letter?”
Two little girls gazed at each other in dismay.
“Have you lost it?” gasped Elizabeth.
“If I haven’t, where is it?” asked Marian.
“Can’t you remember anything about it?” Elizabeth went on, “when you
had it last, or anything?”
“No, I can’t. Let’s go straight back over the road and hunt. I must
have dropped it and perhaps we may find it if we look. I can’t believe
it is really lost. Oh, Elizabeth, what shall I do if it is? I adore
Miss Smith and what will she think?”
“She won’t think anything if you keep still, Marian; the letter was
only an old advertisement, anyway.”
“Oh, dear, dear, dear!” wailed Marian. “This is dreadful. I don’t see
a thing that looks like a letter anywhere. I am going to climb a tree
and look way off over the fields.” Although the children searched
faithfully, they could not find the letter.
“We’ll hunt at noon,” suggested Elizabeth, deeply touched by Marian’s
distress, “and if I were you I wouldn’t say a word about it.”
“But Elizabeth, what if she asks me if there was a letter?”
“Fib,” was the response.
“It’s enough to make anybody, Elizabeth.”
“You’ll be a goose, Marian, if you own up. I won’t tell on you and the
letter didn’t amount to anything, anyway. Let’s run for all we’re worth
and get there before school calls if we can. Sure’s we’re late she’ll
Just as the bell was ringing, two breathless little girls joined their
schoolmates. Their faces were flushed and their hair was tumbled.
Miss Smith smiled when she saw them, but asked no questions. Noticing
Marian’s empty hands, she said evidently to herself, “No letter yet!”
“You’re going to get out of this as easy’s pie, just keep your mouth
shut,” whispered Elizabeth.
“I shall have to tell,” groaned Marian.
“Don’t be silly,” Elizabeth advised.
During the morning exercises Marian determined to confess no matter
what happened. When the chart class was called to the recitation seat
she raised her hand and was given permission to speak to Miss Smith.
Marian didn’t glance towards Elizabeth Gray as she walked to the desk.
Elizabeth had never stolen cookies. “Miss Smith,” said Marian, “you
had a letter this morning and I lost it.”
“You dear child, I am so glad you told me,” and Miss Smith who had so
often insisted that a school-teacher must never have favorites, put her
arms around the little girl and kissed the soft, brown hair. “Now tell
me what was printed on the envelope if you can remember.”
Word for word Marian described the letter.
“It is the one I was expecting,” said Miss Smith, and while the chart
class waited, their teacher wrote a letter, stamped it and sent it to
the post-office by Tommy Perkins.
Two days later, Marian carried Miss Smith a letter exactly like the one
she had lost. Miss Smith read it, smiled and asked Marian to stay after
“You’re going to get your scolding at last,” predicted Elizabeth. “I
told you not to tell.”
At four o’clock the children trooped out and flew down the road like
wild birds escaped from a cage, leaving Marian uneasily twisting her
handkerchief while she waited for Miss Smith to speak. Nothing was
said until the sound of childish voices came from a distance. Then Miss
Smith looked up and laughed. “Can you keep a secret for a few days,
Marian?” she asked. “Come here, dear, and read the letter you brought
me this morning.”
Marian read the short letter three times before she asked, “Are you
“Going,” echoed Miss Smith; “that is the position I have long wished
for, Marian. Only think how I shall enjoy teaching botany and English
in a boarding-school. You see what they say, Marian, they want an
immediate reply or it will be too late. If you hadn’t told me about the
letter you received the other day, I should have lost the position. I
imagined what the letter was and sent for a copy. If you hadn’t told me
the truth, Marian, only think what a difference it would have made!”
“I just have to tell the truth,” said the little girl.
“I believe you, dear, I never saw a more truthful child in my life.”
“Would you dare say I am the most honest child in school?” asked
Marian, a sudden light making her face beautiful. “Will you write it
down and sign your name?”
“Well, you are the queerest mortal,” exclaimed Miss Smith, but reaching
for a piece of paper and a pen, she wrote this:
“Marian Lee is the most truthful pupil in my school.
“VIRGINIA SMITH, Teacher.”
“It’s for Uncle George,” Marian explained. “He told me to try to
do something better than anybody else and I haven’t done it. He’s
coming for me Saturday and please do ask him to send me to your
boarding-school. He has often talked about sending me away to school,
but I used to be afraid to go and made a dreadful fuss, and then I had
Uncle George arrived on Friday in time to have a long talk with Miss
Smith before she left on the evening train. Had Marian known the nature
of their conversation, she might not have cried so bitterly when the
hour of parting came.
MARIAN had been home a month when Uncle George decided to send her to
“It is a curious thing,” he remarked to the child, “that other people
find it so easy to get along with you, and here at home there is no
peace in the house while you are in it.”
The man’s tones were savage and Marian cried. Tears always angered
Uncle George, and when Uncle George was angry with Marian, Aunt Amelia
generally sighed and straightway did her duty: and Aunt Amelia’s duty
towards Marian consisted in giving a detailed account of the child’s
faults and a history of her sins. She never failed to mention cookies.
When Marian was wise, she kept still. If she ventured a remonstrance
serious trouble was sure to follow. Out in the fresh air and sunshine,
the child managed to be happy in spite of everything: but within the
four walls of Aunt Amelia’s home it took courage to face life. She
didn’t know that her uncle had written to Miss Virginia Smith.
“They’re going to do something with you, I don’t know what,” confided
Ella. “I’ll let you know as soon’s I find out.” Ella was as good as
her word. “They’re going to send you to boarding-school,” was her next
secret announcement, “but when or where, I don’t know.”
One morning Marian went to her room after breakfast and sat long by the
open window, wondering what would become of her and why she had been
taken from the Little Pilgrim’s Home by an aunt who didn’t want her.
Tears splashed upon the window sill. Marian wiped her eyes quickly.
Young as she was, the child realized how dangerous it is to be sorry
for oneself. Without a backward glance, Marian walked from the room and
closed the door she was never to open again. When she came home from
school that night, the child played in the orchard until supper-time.
Then she wondered why Aunt Amelia didn’t send her to her room. An hour
passed before the woman looked at the clock and spoke. Instead of the
words Marian expected to hear, Aunt Amelia said calmly:
“Your trunk is packed and the carriage is waiting to take you to the
station. Get your coat and hat.”
“Where am I going and who is going with me?” demanded the child,
beginning to tremble so she could scarcely stand.
“I shall accompany you,” replied Aunt Amelia, “and it makes no
difference where you are going. You will know soon enough.”
Marian shot a grateful look towards Ella, who was sobbing in a corner.
But for the little cousin’s assurance, Marian would have believed she
was about to start for the long dreaded reform school. Nevertheless
it was a shocking thing to be suddenly torn from every familiar sight
and to be going so blindly into the unknown. Marian looked appealingly
at Aunt Amelia and Uncle George before she broke down and cried. Aunt
Amelia’s face was stony, Uncle George looked cross and annoyed.
Marian’s grief became wild and despairing.
“I wish I could have my mother’s picture to take with me,” she sobbed,
“I wish I could.”
“That’s a reasonable request and you shall have it,” said Uncle George.
“It will be time enough when she is older,” Aunt Amelia put in, while
Marian held her breath. Would she get the picture or not? A word might
ruin her chances, so she kept still, trying hard to smother her sobs.
“Are you going for the picture or shall I?” demanded Uncle George. Aunt
Marian was disappointed when she saw the small photograph of her father
and mother. She wished for the face in the oval frame. She would have
been more disappointed had she never seen the photograph, because
instead of giving it to the child or allowing her to look at the
picture, Aunt Amelia wrapped it in a piece of paper and put it in her
Outside in the cool, silent night, Marian stopped crying. There was
comfort in the steadily shining stars. During the first long hours on
the sleeping car, Marian tossed, tumbled and wondered where she was
going. Asleep she dreamed of reform school: awake she feared dreams
might come true. When trains rushed by in the darkness the child was
frightened and shivered at the thought of wrecks. At last she raised
her curtain and watched the stars. Repeating over and over one verse
of the poem she had recited the last day of school in the country, she
fell peacefully asleep. There were no more troubled dreams nor startled
awakenings. When Marian opened her eyes in the morning, the verse still
haunted her memory.
“I know not where His islands
Lift their fronded palms in air,
I only know I cannot drift
Beyond His love and care.”