The little girl couldn’t understand

JUNE sent her messengers early. Every blade of grass that pushed its
way through the brown earth, every bursting lilac bud or ambitious
maple, spoke to Marian of June. Returning birds warbled the story and
the world rejoiced. Teachers and pupils alike talked of June until it
seemed to Marian that all nature and educational institutions had but
one object, and that was to welcome June. She dreaded it. June meant
Aunt Amelia and the end of all happiness. Yet Marian was only one.
Ninety-nine other girls were looking eagerly forward to the close of
school. They talked of it everywhere and at all hours.

It was the one subject of conversation in which Marian had no share,
one joy beyond her grasp. Try hard as she would, Marian couldn’t
pretend to be glad she was going home. That was a game for which she
felt no enthusiasm. The mother, the little sister and the baby brothers
in the golden frames would soon be gone, and gone forever. “We’re all
going back West just as soon as school closes,” Florence had told her.
“Next winter we will be home.”

Nor was that all that Florence told Marian. She pictured the beautiful
home in the West in the midst of her father’s broad lands. She
described her room, all sunshine and comfort, and the great house
echoing with music and laughter. She told Marian of the gardens and
the stables, of the horses, ponies and many pets. She described the
river and the hills and the mountain peaks beyond. Florence almost
forgot the presence of her wide eyed roommate in telling of the holiday
celebrations at home and of the wondrous glory of the annual Christmas
tree. Best of all, Florence spoke tenderly of her mother and her voice
grew tender in speaking of the woman who never scolded but was always
gentle and kind; the beautiful mother with the bright, gold hair.
Florence had so much to say about the little sister, brother and the
baby, that Marian felt as if she knew them all.

Thus it was that Florence Weston was going home and Marian Lee was
returning to Aunt Amelia. Miss Smith understood all about it and it
grieved her. She had seen Aunt Amelia and that was enough. She didn’t
wonder that Marian’s eyes grew sad and wistful as the days lengthened.
At last Miss Virginia Smith thought of a way to win smiles from Marian.
The botany class had been offered a prize. A railroad president,
interested in the school had promised ten dollars in gold to the member
of the botany class who made the best herbarium. Marian might not
win the prize, but it would give her pleasure to try. She would have
something more agreeable to think of than Aunt Amelia.

It was with some difficulty that Miss Smith obtained permission from
the principal for Marian to enter the class, and but for the experience
in the country school, the objection that Marian was too young would
have barred her out. Miss Smith was right. Marian was delighted and for
hours at a time Aunt Amelia vanished from her thoughts. The members of
the botany class were surprised that such a little girl learned hard
lessons so easily, but Miss Smith only laughed.

In the beginning when the spring flowers came and every wayside bloom
suggested a specimen, fully half the class intended to win the prize,
Marian among the number. One by one the contestants dropped out as
the weeks passed, leaving Marian with perhaps half a dozen rivals. At
that early day, Miss Virginia Smith, who had no favorites, rejoiced
secretly in the belief that Marian would win the prize. The commonest
weed became beautiful beneath her hands and the number of specimens
she found on the school grounds alone, exceeded all previous records.
There was never so much as a leaf carelessly pressed among Marian’s
specimens. At last the child began to believe the prize would be hers
and for the first time, going home lost its terrors.

If she won the prize, Uncle George would be proud of her and she would
be happy. Finally Marian wrote to her uncle, telling him of the glories
of commencement week. She was to recite “The Witch’s Daughter” at the
entertainment, to take part in the operetta and to sing commencement
morning with three other little girls. More than that, she was sure to
win the prize, even her rivals admitted it. “Now Uncle George,” the
letter proceeded, “please be sure and come because I want somebody that
is my relation to be here. Florence Weston says her father would come
from Honolulu to see her win a prize, so please come, Uncle George, or
maybe Florence will think nobody cares for me.”

Marian was scarcely prepared to receive the answer that came to her
letter from Aunt Amelia. Uncle George was too busy a man to take so
long a journey for nothing. Aunt Amelia would come the day after
commencement and pack Marian’s trunk. So far as winning the prize
was concerned, Uncle George expected Marian to win a prize if one
were offered. That was a small way to show her gratitude for all that
had been done for her. The child lost the letter. Janey C. Hopkins
found and read it. Before sunset every one of the ninety-nine knew
the contents. When night settled down upon the school, one hundred
girls were thinking of Aunt Amelia, one in tears, the ninety-nine with
indignation.

The following morning Marian replied to her aunt’s letter, begging to
be allowed to go home with Dolly Russel and her mother, and assuring
Aunt Amelia that she could pack her own trunk. Even that request was
denied. Aunt Amelia would call for Marian the day after commencement
and she wished to hear nothing further on the subject. She might have
heard more had she not been beyond sound of the ninety-nine voices.
Marian was too crushed for words. That is, she was crushed for a day.
Her spirits revived as commencement week drew near and Miss Smith and
the ninety-nine did so much to make her forget everything unpleasant.
Marian couldn’t understand why the girls were so kind nor why Janey
C. Hopkins took a sudden interest in her happiness. The Sunday before
commencement Marian wore Janey’s prettiest gown to church. It was
rather large for Marian but neither she nor Janey found that an
objection. Miss Smith approved and Sunday was a bright day for Aunt
Amelia’s little niece.

Monday, Dolly Russel’s mother came and thanks to her, Marian appeared
in no more garments that had disgraced the hooks in her closet. She
danced through the halls in the daintiest of Dolly’s belongings, and
was happy as Mrs. Russel wished her to be.

Every hour brought new guests and in the excitement of meeting nearly
all the friends of the ninety-nine and being kissed and petted by
ever so many mothers, Marian forgot Aunt Amelia. Tuesday evening at
the entertainment she did her part well and was so enthusiastically
applauded, her cheeks grew red as the sash she wore, and that is saying
a great deal, as Dolly’s sash was a bright scarlet, the envy of the
ninety-nine.

Florence Weston’s father and mother were present at the entertainment,
but Marian looked for them in vain. “They saw you just the same,”
Florence insisted when she and Marian were undressing that night, “and
mamma said if it hadn’t been so late she would have come up to our room
to-night, but she thought they had better get back to the hotel and
you and I must settle down as quickly as we can. I can hardly keep my
eyes open.” Florence fell asleep with a smile upon her face. Marian’s
pillow was wet with tears before she drifted into troubled dreams of
Aunt Amelia.

“Isn’t it too bad!” exclaimed Florence the next morning. “They are
going to present the prize in the dining-room at breakfast and my
father and mother won’t be up here until time for the exercises in the
chapel. I wanted them to see you get the prize. I’m so disappointed.
Never mind, though, you will see mamma all the afternoon, because she
is going to pack my things. We leave to-morrow. I am going down-town
with papa and mamma when we get through packing and stay all night. You
will have the room all to yourself. What? are you crying, Marian? Why,
I’ll come back in the morning and see you before I go. I wouldn’t cry
if I were you!”

It was easy enough for a girl who had every earthly blessing to talk
cheerfully to a weary little pilgrim.

Marian experienced the bitterest moment of her life when the prize
was presented in the dining-room. There were many fathers and mothers
there, and other relatives of the ninety-nine who joined in cheering
the little victor. Yet Marian wept and would not be comforted. Even
Miss Smith had no influence. In spite of the sympathetic arms that
gathered her in, Marian felt utterly forsaken. She had won the prize,
but what could it mean to a motherless, fatherless, almost homeless
child? After breakfast, Marian, slipping away from Miss Smith and the
friendly strangers, sought a deserted music room on the fourth floor
where she cried until her courage returned: until hope banished tears.
Perhaps Uncle George would be pleased after all.

“Where have you been?” demanded Florence when Marian returned to her
room. “I have hunted for you everywhere. What a little goose you were
to cry in the dining-room. Why, your eyes are red yet.”

The only answer was a laugh as Marian bathed her tear-stained face.

“I want you to look pretty when mamma sees you,” continued Florence,
“so don’t you dare be silly again.”

In spite of the warning, Marian was obliged to seek the obscurity of
the fourth floor music room later in the day, before she thought of
another refuge–Miss Smith’s room. The sight of so many happy girls
with their mothers was more than she could endure and Miss Smith
understood. Even the thought of seeing Florence Weston’s mother was a
troubled one, for alas! she couldn’t beg to go with the woman as she
once did in the Little Pilgrims’ Home.

When the child was sure that Florence and her mother were gone and
while Miss Smith was busy in the office, she returned to her room. “The
trunks are here yet,” observed Marian, “but may be they won’t send for
them until morning,” and utterly worn out by the day’s excitement, the
child threw herself upon the bed and sobbed in an abandonment of grief.

Half an hour later the door was opened by a woman who closed it softly
when she saw Marian. “Poor little dear,” she whispered, and bending
over the sleeping child, kissed her. Marian was dreaming of her mother.

“Poor little dear,” repeated the woman, and kissed her again. That
kiss roused the child. Opening her eyes, she threw her arms around the
woman’s neck, exclaiming wildly,

“My mother, oh, my mother!”

“But I am not your mother, dear,” remonstrated the woman, trying to
release herself from the clinging arms. “I am Florence Weston’s mother.
I have come for her little satchel that we forgot. Cuddle down, dear,
and go to sleep again.”

At that, Marian seemed to realize her mistake and cried so pitifully,
Florence Weston’s mother took her in her arms and sitting in a low
rocker held Marian and tried to quiet her.

The door opened and Florence entered. “Why mamma, what is the matter?”
she began, but without waiting for a reply, she was gone, returning in
a moment with her father. “Now what is the matter with poor Marian?”
she repeated.

“Nothing,” explained Marian, “only everything.”

“She thought I was her mother, Florence, the poor little girl; there,
there, dear, don’t cry. She was only half awake and she says I look
like her mother’s picture.”

“You do, you look just like the picture,” sobbed Marian.

“What picture?” asked the man; “this child is the image of brother.
What picture, I say?”

“Oh, she means mamma’s miniature,” said Florence.

“I don’t mean the miniature,” Marian interrupted, “I mean my own
mother’s picture,” and the child, kneeling before her small trunk
quickly found the photograph of her father and mother. “There! doesn’t
she look like my mother?”

There was a moment of breathless silence as Florence Weston’s father
and mother gazed at the small card. The woman was the first to speak.

“Why, Richard Lee!” she exclaimed. “That must be a photograph of you!”

“It is,” was the reply, “it is a picture of me and of my dead wife, but
the baby died too.”

“Well, I didn’t die,” cried Marian. “I was two months old when my
father went away, and when my mother died, the folks wrote to the place
where my father was the last time they knew anything about him, and I
s’pose they told him I was dead, but I wasn’t, and that’s my mother.
Uncle George knows it—-”

“Uncle George, my brother George,” for a moment it was the man who
seemed to be dreaming. Then a light broke over his face as he snatched
Marian and said, “Why, little girl, you are my child.”

“And my mother will be your mother,” Florence put in, “so what are you
and mamma crying about now?”

“Didn’t you ever hear,” said Marian, smiling through her tears, “that
sometimes folks cry for joy?”

It was unnecessary for Aunt Amelia to take the long journey. Marian’s
father telegraphed for Uncle George who arrived the next day with
papers Marian knew nothing about, proving beyond question the identity
of the child.

The little girl couldn’t understand the silent greeting between the
brothers, nor why Uncle George was so deeply affected when she talked
of his kindness to her and the many happy days she thanked him for
since he found her in the Little Pilgrims’ Home. Neither could she
understand what her father meant when he spoke of a debt of gratitude
too deep for words.

Marian only knew that unpleasant memories slipped away like a dream
when Uncle George left her with her father and mother: when he smiled
and told her he was glad she was going home.