Susan Warner.

Trading finishing the story of The house in town. online

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Produced by Daniel Fromont. HTML version by Al Haines.

[Transcriber's note: This is the fourth of a series of four novels by
Susan Warner, all of which are in the Project Gutenberg collection:

1. What She Could
2. Opportunities
3. The House in Town
4. Trading]






"WALKS FROM EDEN," &c., &c.

"For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country,
who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods."





Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1872, by


In the Office of the Librarian of Congress at Washington.





Christmas day was grey with clouds; on the roofs of the city and in the
streets the sun never shone all day. People called it cold. Sarah
Staples found it so on her crossing. Inside Mrs. Lloyd's front-door,
however, it seemed to Matilda to be nothing but sunshine. She had not
leisure to look at the grey sky, and to be sure the temperature was
that of summer. Matilda had a great deal to do. Her various parcels
were to be neatly tied up in white paper, with the names of the persons
they were for nicely written thereon, and then committed to Mrs.
Bartholomew for arranging on the Christmas tree. Then the presents for
Anne and Letitia were to be directed and sent; Maria's basket packed
and put in charge of the express-man; and several little letters
written, one to Mr. Richmond. Till all these things were done, Matilda
had no time to think of the weather; then she found that the snow was
beginning to fall and coming thick.

"Yes," said Norton, to whom she announced her discovery; "and it's
stinging! and coming on to blow. It will be a night! I like it. That
feels like Christmas."

"Then there'll be no party?" said Matilda, rather more disappointed
than she wanted to shew.

"Party?" said Norton, "what about the party? It won't snow in _here_.
Pink. What are you thinking of? The party'll be all the merrier. I tell
you, it feels like Christmas."

"But will they come, through all the storm?"

"They'd come, if the hailstones were as big as eggs," said Norton. "You
never saw one of grandmother's Christmas trees, Pink; and they never
did anywhere else. No fear but they'll come, every one of them. You go
along and get dressed."

Matilda ran upstairs, glancing out of the hall window as she passed
with a thrill of delight and mystery. The air was darkening already
with the falling snow, and the wind swept it past the house in a white
mass; by contrast the evening splendours seemed greater than ever. She
dressed in a trembling excitement of pleasure, as far as her own part
of the preparation went; then Mrs. Laval's maid came in to finish her
toilette, and Mrs. Laval came to superintend it. Matilda had only to
stand still and be curled and robed and sashed and slippered; till the
work was done, the maid went, and Mrs. Laval took the child in her arms
and asked if she was happy?

"_Very_ happy," Matilda said.

"It does not take much to make you happy, love."

"Why, mamma!" said Matilda looking down at her white ruffles and then
at her adopted mother, "I have so much that I don't know what to do!"

Mrs. Laval smiled and sighed, and kissed her again.

"And yet Christmas night is only beginning," she said. But the wind and
the hail dashed at the windows as if answering her that it had indeed
begun outside. Mrs. Laval went away to her own dressing, and Matilda
stood a moment at the window listening. It was long after dark now; but
she could hear the whistle of the sleet as the wind bore it past, and
the rush of ice and snow against the window-panes, and even through the
close-fining sash she could feel a little gush of keen air. And for one
moment Matilda's thoughts darted to Sarah, at her crossing and in her
cellar home all that day and night. The contrast was as sharp as that
little gush of icy air. Was it right? Matilda thought. Was it right,
that her dainty white dress should be so pretty on her and the
Christmas party so fine, when Sarah and others like her were in cold
and wet and rags? It was too disagreeable to think about, as Matilda
could not help it; and she went downstairs.

How the house was lighted up! it was a second daylight, only more
splendid. What delicious warm air filled every room, and every
staircase, and every lobby! How handsome looked the marble floor of the
hall, with its luxurious mats at every door! But as her foot touched
the marble Matilda found something else to think of. Norton came out.
He looked her up and down.

"What's the matter, Norton?" said Matilda, a little wanting to know his

"Nothing," said he nodding. "You'll do."

"This will be a very funny dress for me to play proverbs in, - don't you
think so? I don't look much like Judy's Satinalia."

"Not much," said Norton. "You don't look much like Judy's anything. O
Pink! do you know we are going to have a witch here to-night?"

"A witch?" said Matilda.

"A capital witch. It's a capital idea too, for it's a new thing; and
it's so hard to get hold of something new. I expect this'll be the
party of the season."

"What do you mean?" said Matilda.

"You'll see," said Norton. "Only don't be frightened. The witch won't
hurt you."

And here came Judy, and took a good silent stare at Matilda. The two
girls were dressed alike. Norton watched them with a sly glance.
Without any remark or salutation Judy passed them with a toss of her
head, and went into one of the drawing-rooms.

"She'll do," said Norton, with a competent nod of his head in Judy's
direction. "That is, she'll do the insolent, whenever she has a mind
to. She is a case, is Judy Bartholomew. Well, come, we must get out of
the way, Pink. Somebody'll be here soon."

So they strolled into the lighted drawing-rooms, where Judy and David
were; and strolled about, consulting arrangements for the play, till
the doors opened and other white dresses, and coloured sashes, and
gallant white-trowsered young gentlemen began to pour in and claimed
their attention. And ladies accompanied them, not a great many, but a
few favoured mothers and aunts and elder sisters; and soon the
drawing-rooms were all alive with motion and colour, and noisy with the
hum of many voices.

It was a wonderful scene to Matilda. She forgot that she had so little
to do with it, and was so left out of it by the gay little throng. She
did not at first think of that. To be sure she was a stranger; it was
quite natural, as it seemed to her, that she should be left out. The
pleasure was great enough, merely to look on. Everybody else was very
busy talking and laughing and moving about the rooms, - all except
herself. Matilda had never seen such a display of very young ladies and
gentlemen; the variety of styles, the variety of dresses, the diversity
of face and manner, were an extremely rich entertainment. She noticed
airs and graces in some, which she thought sat very ill on
them; - affectations of grown-up manner, tossings of curls, and
flaunting of white gloves, and waving of fans, at which Matilda's
simplicity was greatly astonished. Little gentlemen stood before little
ladies, with hands behind their backs, and entertained them in
conversation which appeared to be of the politest sort. And Judy's blue
scarf flitted from end to end of the rooms, dipped to the floor as she
courtesied to new comers, and fluttered with delight as she darted to
speak to some favourite or other. The rooms grew very lively. The gas
lights shone upon all the colours of the rainbow, moving and changing
as if Mrs. Lloyd's house had been a kaleidoscope. David and Norton were
not in the company. Suddenly Norton stood at Matilda's side.

"What are you doing here, Pink?"

"Nothing." Matilda looked and smiled at him. "Only looking at

"But you ought to be _in it_, Pink."

"In what?"

"Why! in the work; in the talk. What are you sitting in a corner here

"You know, Norton, I do not know anybody."

"Hasn't Judy introduced you? Not to any one?" said Norton. "Left you
here? Judy Bartholomew! if it wasn't Christmas night and an
inconvenient time to make a row" -

"Hush, hush, Norton. I am having a very good time," said Matilda,
looking as she felt, like a very happy little girl.

"Well," said Norton, "there are two odd people here to-night. One of
'em's Judy Bartholomew, and the other is - somebody you don't know.
Come! come here. Esther Francis! - this is my sister, my new sister
Matilda. Hasn't Judy introduced you?"

Norton had caught by the arm, as she was passing, a girl of about
Judy's age, whom he thus brought face to face with Matilda. She was
sweet-faced and very handsomely dressed, and she had no sort of shyness
about her. She took Matilda's hand and looked at her with a steady look.

"Take care of her, will you?" Norton went on. "I have got to go and
arrange things with Davie; and Judy has her head full. Tell Matilda
who's who; she does not know the people yet."

The two girls stood a minute or two silently together; Esther giving
however a side glance now and then at her companion.

"You have not been long in town?" she said then, by way of beginning.

"Only three weeks."

"Of course then you are quite a stranger. It is very disagreeable,
isn't it, to be among a whole set of people that you don't know?"
Esther said it with a little turn of her pretty head, that was - Matilda
could not tell just what it was. It shewed the young lady very much at
her ease in society, and it was not quite natural; that was all she
could make out. Matilda answered, that she did not find anything
disagreeable. Esther opened her eyes a little wider.

"Do you know all about the arrangements to-night?" she whispered.

"I suppose I do."

"Will there be dancing?"

"I have heard nothing about dancing," said Matilda. "I don't think
there'll be much time for it. I don't see how there can be."

"Are you very fond of dancing?" Esther asked, with her eyes at the
further end of the next room.

Matilda was conscious of feeling ashamed of her answer. Nevertheless
she answered. "I do not know how to dance."

"Not dance!" said Esther, with a new glance at her. "Did you never
dance? O there's nothing I care for at parties but to dance. And there
are just enough here to night; not a crowd. Aunt Zara will send you to
dancing-school, I suppose. But it isn't so pleasant to begin to learn
when you are so old."

"_Aunt_ Zara!" said Matilda. "Norton did not say you were his cousin."

"Norton's head was too full," said Esther with another movement of her
head that struck Matilda very much; it was quite like a grown-up young
lady; and gave Matilda the notion that she thought a good deal of
Norton. "Yes; we are cousins; that is why he told me to take care of

Matilda was tempted to say that Norton would save her that trouble as
soon as he was at leisure to take it upon himself; but she did not.
Instead, she asked Esther how old _she_ had been when she began to take
dancing lessons?

"I don't know; three and a half, I believe."

The deficiency of Matilda's own education pressed upon her heavily. She
was a little afraid to go on, for fear of laying bare some other want.

"Yes," said Esther after another interval of being absorbed in what was
going on in the next room; - "yes; of course, you know I began to learn
to dance as soon as I began to wear - stays," she uttered in a whisper,
and went on aloud. "The two things together. O yes; I was almost four
years old."

Here she broke off to speak to some one passing, and Matilda was lost
in wonderment again. A little uneasy too; for though the young lady
kept her post at the side of the charge Norton had given her, and
evidently meant to keep it, Matilda thought she had an air of finding
her office rather a bore. A young lady who had danced and worn stays
from the time she was four years old, must necessarily know so much of
life and the world that a little ignoramus of a country girl _would_ be
a bore.

"What are they going to do then to-night, if we are not to dance?"
resumed Esther when her friend had passed on. "Just have the Christmas
tree and nothing else?"

Nothing else _but_ a Christmas tree! Here was an experience!

"Norton and David are going to make a play," said Matilda; "acting a

"Oh!" said Esther. "A proverb! David is a good player, and Norton too;
excellent; that will be very good. I thought I heard something about a
_witch;_ what is that?"

"What is what?" said Judy, who found herself near.

"About the witch?" said Esther.

"It' - mystery."

"Then _is_ there to be a witch?"


"Who will it be?"

"Part of the mystery," said Judy. "Upon my word I don't know. I
couldn't find out. And I tried, too."

"What is she going to do?"

"That's the rest of the mystery. Without being a witch myself, how am I
going to tell?"

"I have heard sometimes that you were," said Esther.

"Ah! But there are witches and witches," said Judy; "black and white,
you know, and good and bad. I'm a black witch, when I'm any. It's not
my business to get people out of trouble."

"I shall never ask you," said Esther shaking her head. "But where is
the witch to be? and when will she appear?"

"She won't appear. She will be in her den. All who want to see her will
go to her den. So much I can tell you." And Judy ran off before another
question could be asked.

The elder ladies came in now, and there was a fresh stir. Mrs. Laval
introduced Matilda to several boys and girls in the company before many
minutes had gone; but there was time for little else beside an
introduction, for the boys were ready to play; and all the guests were
assembled in one room to leave the other free for their operations and
give a good view of them. In that room the lights were lowered too, to
make the scene of the play more brilliant by comparison.

The play was a great success. Matilda laughed for very delight, as well
as at the fun of the thing. David, who personated the poor man who had
come to sell a piece of ground, talked so admirably like a countryman,
and was so oddly crochety and cross and gruff and impossible to make
terms with; and then Norton, who was the rich man he had come to see
and who wanted the land, coaxed him so skilfully, and ordered all sorts
of good things to be brought to him, when he found he had come a good
way and was hungry; and the imaginary banquet was very funny, David
making inquiries and comments over the dishes he did not know and
Norton supplying him with others, till he was satisfied. Then, in
soothed good humour, David was easy to deal with, and let his land go a
bargain. The acting was really extremely good; both the boys being
clever and without any sort of embarrassment or any even shy
affectation. The proverb which Matilda and Judy were to have played was
given up for want of time. The boys' proverb was guessed by one of the
elder ladies - "It is ill talking between a full man and a fasting."
Matilda was very glad, for her part, that she and Judy were let off.

A hush of expectancy fell now upon the little company. It was time for
the tree to be displayed. Even talking hushed, while all eyes were upon
the folding doors leading to the last drawing-room to be thrown open.
Matilda was at the back of the crowd, but even there she could see the
blaze of light beyond as soon as this was done; and the whole company
pressed forward and peeped in. Such a beautiful sight then, her eyes
had never beheld. The tree was a generous, large, tall young fir, set
in a huge green tub; but whereas in the wood where it grew it had green
branches, with fringy, stiff, prickly leaves, now its branches were of
every colour and as it were fringed with light. From the lowest bough
to the topmost shoot it was a cone of brilliancy and a pyramid of
riches. Lights glittered from every twig, and among the lights, below
them and above them, near the stem and out at the tips of the bending
boughs and covering the moss which covered the tub, were trinkets or
toys or articles of wear or packages done up in white or coloured paper
and made gay with coloured ribbands. So bountiful a tree, so elegant a
tree, one so rich in its resources of pleasure, perhaps no eyes there
had ever seen; for when Mrs. Lloyd did anything she was accustomed to
do it thoroughly; and she had on this occasion two backers. One burst
of admiration from the whole little crowd was followed by accents of
delight and murmurs of expectation.

The tree stood in the middle of the large drawing-room, and the bright
crowd which formed round it was surely a pretty sight. A sight for the
elders alone; no child had eyes for anything but the tree. Eager eyes;
glad eyes; sparkling and glowing with delight and expectation; a
little, soft, rustling, hustling crowd, swaying gently, agitated, moved
here and there, to and fro, but all fastened to that brilliant centre
of a Christmas tree, as much as ever the planets to their centre. At
the very back of the crowd, as she was, Matilda stepped on an ottoman
to see better; and for her even expectation was almost lost in
bewildered fascination. In truth the Christmas tree was a beautiful
spectacle. The fairy-like beauty was what Matilda thought of at first;
then she began gradually to notice how its branches were laden with
other things besides lights, and how the little company was all on
tiptoe with eagerness. With a certain faint flutter at her own heart,
Matilda stood on her perch and watched.

Presently a tall young fellow, one of the oldest among the boys, took
his stand by the tree with a long gilt rod in his hand. The crowd fell
back a bit, and hushed its murmur and rustle. No danger of anybody
seeing Matilda; not an eye turned her way. The lad with the gilt rod,
who also was decorated with a favour of red and white ribbands, now
lifted down from the tree one of its many packages, looked close at it,
and called aloud the name written thereon. A name Matilda did not know.
The crowd stirred in out place and a little figure came forward and
took the package. Matilda wanted to know what it was, very much; but
the little girl herself made no haste to discover. A slight private
examination she gave, and with a smile and a blush clasped her little
hand upon the package and looked to see what would be next. The play
went on after this fashion; the presiding gilt rod was quick in its
operations, as indeed it had need to be; names were called out in rapid
succession; and presently the whole circle was astir, with coming and
going, explanations and questions and whispers of delight, now and then
a spring or a dance of exultation; and still the gilt rod went on
hooking down things from the tree and signalling the owners to come and
take possession.

"Mrs. Laval! - from Matilda. I suppose Mrs. Laval knows who Matilda
is?" - said the master of ceremonies. A new thrill went all through the
distant possessor of that name. "That's my obelisk!" she thought. "I
wonder if she will like it? Yes, she knows Matilda, a little."

"Norton Laval! - from his sister. I didn't know that Norton had a

"The things you don't know are always more than the things you do know,
Edward Foster," said Norton coming forward to receive his watch-guard.

"'You' meaning - whom?" said gilt rod, hooking down another
ribband-looped parcel. "By virtue of my office I know so many things
just now, that I grow conceited, and am surprised to find myself
ignorant any where. Matilda Laval! - from her mother."

With a great leap of her heart, Matilda jumped down from her ottoman
and made her way as she could through the throng. The tall boy with the
gilt rod presented to her a small square packet, sealed and tied.
Matilda's fingers clasped upon it as she stepped back; and then for the
first time that evening she found Judy at her side. Perhaps Judy would
have spoken, if the next call had not been,

"Matilda Laval! - from Mrs. Bartholomew."

Flushing and trembling, Matilda stepped forward again and received a
second little packet, much like the former. Then Judy herself was
called; everybody by this time was getting his hands full; and still
the Christmas tree blazed on as brightly as ever.

Presently Matilda got a third present; this was from David; much
larger. She was very much astonished; for without opening she could
guess that it was something valuable; it was hard and square and heavy.
Of all there, not a child was in such private ecstasies as she. Her
flushed cheeks told it; otherwise she was quite undemonstrative. Though
I say wrong; for eyes and lips were abundantly expressive of tremulous

"Is that my present?" said Judy, by her side again. "No, it is David's.
Do you know what it is?"

"No," Matilda whispered.

"I don't either. Why don't you look?"

"I will look by and by."

"Nonsense!" said Judy; but Matilda was called off again to take what
Judy had prepared for her.

"That isn't much," said that young lady, when Matilda fell back to her
former place; "it's only bonbons. What has aunt Zara given you?"

"I don't know yet, Judy."

"O look. And mamma. Mamma wouldn't tell me. Those are their gifts in
your hand there, aren't they? Look, and see. I can guess," said Judy
peering round Matilda to see the packets.

"No, you can't," said Norton at the other side. He was fastening his
guard-chain in its place. "_You_ don't know, and she don't know. I like
people who can keep cool, and not dash their heads under water the
first thing."

"Stuff!" said Judy. "I want her to get her head above water; she don't
see anything now, nor know anything."

"Her head's all right," said Norton composedly. "Knowledge'll come in
time. I guess there's a good deal of it to come, too."

"What has David got, Norton?"

"Loads of books," said Norton. "And a rifle."

"A rifle!" screamed Judy.

"And a dressing-case. And a dressing-gown. And a riding-whip. And a

"And what have _you_ got, Norton?" Matilda asked.

"Just what I wanted," said Norton, with a smile of confidence and
secret good fellowship which was most pleasant to Matilda; it made her
feel not quite so much alone in that crowd. "You shall see," he went
on. "Hallo! you're called. Give me some of your traps to hold for you,
Pink; you have not got a hand to take anything more."

So Matilda gave him her bonbons and box, if it were a box, to hold,
while she went for ward again. This present was from Norton, and of
itself filled her arms. Wrapped up in papers as it was, she could not
know more of it than that. She came back to Norton with high-coloured
cheeks and eyes very bright indeed.

"What's that?" said Judy. "What has Norton given you? it's big enough.
Pshaw! I know; it's a desk."

"A desk!" exclaimed Matilda in tones of delight.

"Keep your own counsel, Judy," said Norton coolly. "You have no idea of
keeping other people's."

"Norton," said Esther coming up to them, "who is the witch?"

"Can't tell, even if I know," said Norton. "I keep other people's

"But where are we to see her?"

"In her den, of course."

"Where's that?"

"You will know when the time comes."

"Then she won't come in here among us all?"

"I reckon not," said Norton. "She'll see only one at a time, I hear."

"What for?" said Esther.

"Ah, what for!" echoed Norton. "_I_ don't know, I can tell you. And
what's more, I don't know yet whose notion it is. Now, Pink, I propose
we go upstairs and put these things away. Supper will be in a few
minutes, and then what will you do with your hands full? Come!"

And away he and Matilda went, slipping out of the room as quietly as
they could, and then running upstairs, till they found a quiet corner
and breathing place in Matilda's room.

"Now, Pink, don't you want to look?" said Norton turning up the gas. He
had his own curiosity too, it seems. But he did not interfere with her;
he looked on, smiling and superior, while Matilda's trembling fingers
pulled off the papers, from his package-first. Judy had spoken truly;
it was an elegant little desk, all fitted and filled. Matilda's heart,
Norton could see, was quite full with that.

"Come!" said he gayly, "let us see David's choice. I don't know what it
is, David don't tell all his mind."

And he stopped, for Matilda uttered a little scream of pleasure.

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Online LibrarySusan WarnerTrading finishing the story of The house in town. → online text (page 1 of 15)