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discard her lessons. Her half-hour of sewing, another of reading
history, and an hour's practising, mamma thought might as well be
kept up; but she no longer devoted herself to her books and writing
as she had done: indeed, this would have been quite impossible if
she properly fulfilled her new and pleasant duties as mamma's little
housekeeper. There seemed so much to be done; and Nellie was quite
amazed to find what a help she could be, and how interested she felt in
having things in nice order.

One morning, Mrs. Ransom said she would have the store-room cleaned,
and put in thorough order. But first various drawers, bins, boxes, and
other receptacles must be looked over; and this Nellie could do, with
Catherine to assist her, and move such articles as were too heavy or
cumbersome for her. Mrs. Ransom went herself to the store-room, and
gave both Nellie and the cook some general orders, but she was feeling
more than usually languid that day, and soon tired of the bustle; so
she returned to the library, telling Nellie to send to her if she was
in any difficulty, or at any loss to know what to do. Nellie determined
that mamma should be troubled as little as possible, and, with a
pleasant sense of responsibility and happiness, set about her task.

Catherine humored her as much as possible; for Nellie, with her
pleasant, gentle ways, was a favorite with all her inferiors, and every
servant in the house was ready to oblige her, or do her bidding.

Carrie and Daisy were very busy too, of course, and trotted many times
between kitchen, pantry, and store-room, carrying articles that were to
be thrown away or put in other places.

"There now, Miss Nellie, I think you can get along without me for a
bit," said Catherine, at last. "I have my bread to see to, and you
could be overhauling all these boxes and pots the while, and setting by
what you're sure Mrs. Ransom will want emptied. If ever I see sech an
untidy set as must have had this house afore us, and a shame to them it
is to be laving things this way, and they calling themselves ladies and
gentlemen."

And, with her arms full of "rubbish," away walked the good-natured
Irishwoman, whose tidy soul was, as she had said, sorely vexed by the
slovenly way in which the house had been left by those who had lived in
it before Mrs. Ransom's family.

"Here, Daisy," said Nellie, who thought it necessary to find incessant
occupation for the busy little fingers of her smallest "helper" lest
they should find it for themselves, - "here, Daisy dear, you may sort
those corks. Pick out all the large ones and put them in this jar, and
put the small ones in this. That will be a great help."

"I'd rafer help fissing sugar," said Daisy, raising herself on tiptoe
with one hand on the edge of the sugar-barrel, and peeping longingly
within its depths.

"Yes, I dare say you would," laughed Nellie, "but then the sugar is to
stay where it is. But I'll tell you, Daisy. Run and ask mamma if I may
give you the largest lump of sugar I can find when the corks are done."

Away scampered Daisy, and did not return for some minutes, her
attention being attracted on the way with something else than her
errand, for one thing at a time was not Daisy's motto.

Having at once eased her own mind on the subject of the sugar by
receiving mamma's permission to have "the largest lump that Nellie
could find," she thought that both sugar and corks would keep till
it suited her convenience to return to the store-room, and, seeing a
large parcel lying upon the hall-table, she was seized with a thirst
for information respecting its contents. She walked round and round it,
inspecting it on every side; then ran back to her mother.

"Mamma," she said, "there's oh! _such_ a big bundle on the hall-table."

"Yes, I know it," said mamma.

"And with writing on it," said Daisy. "I fink the writing says, Miss
Daisy Ransom, with somebody's respects."

"No," said her mother, smiling: "it says John Ransom, Esq."

"Is that our Johnny?" asked Daisy.

"No, it means papa," answered her mother.

"Are you going to open it, mamma. Papa is away."

"No, we'll leave it till papa returns. He will be here to-morrow
evening."

"I don't fink it's a good plan to wait. It makes people tired," said
Daisy, plaintively.

"But it is right to wait when papa did not tell us to open it," said
Mrs. Ransom. "Little girls must not be too curious."

"Is it kurous to make a little hole in the paper and peek in?" asked
Daisy, after a moment or two of deep reflection.

"Yes, curious and very naughty," said Mrs. Ransom. "That would be
meddlesome. Ask Nellie to tell you a story she knows about a meddlesome
girl."

Daisy obeyed, but with less alacrity than usual, lingering for three or
four moments longer about the parcel; although, with the fear of being
thought "curious and meddlesome," she did not venture to touch it. At
last with a long sigh she departed.

Meanwhile Nellie and Carrie were opening the various boxes, jars, &c.,
and inquiring into their contents.

"I wonder what's in this," said Nellie, who was standing on a chair,
and reaching down things from a shelf. "I thought I heard something
rustle in it. There it is again. Why! I wonder if there's any thing
alive in it," and she looked with some trepidation at a wooden box
which stood on the shelf before her. The lid was not shut down quite
tight, and again as she looked at it came that rustle from within.

Nellie took up the box rather gingerly; raised the lid a little, just
enough to peep within; then, with an exclamation, quickly closed it
again.

"Why! what is it?" asked Carrie, gazing up at her.

"There are mice in it, and one almost jumped out," answered Nellie,
crimson with the little start and excitement, although she was not in
the least afraid of mice. "I'm not quite sure, I had such a little
peep; but I think there's a big one, and some little tiny ones."

"How do you suppose they got in?" asked Carrie.

"I expect the cover has been left partly open, and then they have
gnawed a place large enough to pass in," said Nellie, turning the box
around in her hand. "See here," and she showed Carrie where the lid was
gnawed away.

"What shall we do with them?" asked Carrie.

"I don't know," said Nellie, "they'll have to be killed, I s'pose. They
must be put out of the way before mamma knows any thing about them, and
I think it is best not to tell her, Carrie. It would only trouble her
to know there had been any about the house."

"Oh! it's too bad," said Carrie. "Must they be killed?"

"Yes, I'm afraid so," said Nellie. "I am sorry too: they are such
cunning little things."

"Why couldn't we keep them, and take them down to the garden-house
where Daisy's white mice are?" asked Carrie.

"Oh, no!" answered Nellie: "it would never do, Carrie. I do not
believe they would stay there, and they might come back to the house,
and perhaps frighten mamma. They must be killed. Just take the box
to Catherine before Daisy comes back: she might let it out to mamma
without meaning to."

"What will Catherine do with them?" said Carrie, taking the box from
her sister's hand, and lingering with it.

"I don't know. Drown them, I suppose. I don't like to think about it,
but it can't be helped. Besides, mice _have_ to be killed, you know,
they are so mischievous. Tell Catherine not to speak about them before
mamma."

Carrie passed slowly out of the store-room, feeling very unwilling to
have the mice killed; not only from pity for the poor little creatures,
but also because she had a strong desire to keep them as pets.

Daisy had her white mice, and was allowed to keep them: why should she
not have these little animals, so long as they were kept out of mamma's
way? Belle Powers had her tame mouse: why could not she tame these as
well? And rebellious thoughts and wishes began to rise in Carrie's
breast as she lingered half way between the store-room and the kitchen,
unable, or rather unwilling, to make up her mind to do as Nellie had
told her, and carry the box to Catherine.

"I don't see why mamma need be so afraid of a harmless, cunning
little mouse," she said to herself. "I know grandmamma said she was
frightened into convulsions once, when she was a little girl, by a bad
servant-girl putting one down her back; but I should think she'd had
plenty of time to grow out of being afraid of them, now she's grown
up; and if she don't know it, I don't see why I can't keep them in
the garden-house, or - or - somewhere else. 'Cause I s'pose if I did
take them to the garden-house, there would be a fuss about it; and
the other children would say I ought not to keep them, and maybe tell
mamma. It's a shame to kill the dear, pretty little things. Belle
Powers' papa just lets her have every thing she wants. I wish my papa
and mamma did. And Daisy has her own way too, 'most always; and it's
not fair. I'm older than she is. If she can have white mice, I don't
see why I can't have gray ones. One isn't any more harm than the
other. Besides, I don't have to mind Nellie. She needn't be telling
me I _must_ take the mice to Catherine. She thinks herself so great
ever since she's been mamma's housekeeper; but I'm not going to
mind her when I don't choose to. I shan't let them be drowned now;
and - and - I've just a good mind."

Turning hastily about, Carrie ran down a short side entry which led to
a dark closet where Catherine kept wood for daily use; thrust the box
in a far corner; and then, with fast beating heart, returned to the
store-room.

"How long you stayed!" said Nellie. "I began to be afraid you were
waiting to see Catherine drown the mice, and yet I didn't think you
could bear to."

"No, I didn't," said Carrie, in a low tone, glad that Nellie had not
said any thing that would have forced her either to confess, or to tell
a deliberate falsehood. She persuaded herself that she was not acting
untruthfully now, but she could not make her voice as steady as usual.

Nellie did not notice it. She was just then absorbed in trying to
extract a small jar from one but little larger, into which it had been
thrust. Succeeding in her endeavors, she took up again the low song
which her words to Carrie had interrupted.

"I wish Nellie would stop that everlasting singing," said Carrie to
herself, feeling irritable and out of humor with every one and every
thing. "I've a good mind not to help her any more."

She had been pleasant, happy, and interested in her work, but a few
moments since. Can you tell what had made such a change in so short a
time?

"Daisy has forgotten about her corks and sugar, I think," said Nellie
presently, interrupting herself again in her song. "Oh, no! here she
comes;" then, as Daisy's little feet pattered into the store-room, "Did
you forget the corks, pet?"

"No, and mamma says I can have the biggest lump of sugar, Nellie; and
there's a very big bundle on the hall-table, but it's papa's."

"Is it?" said Nellie.

"Yes," answered the little one, settling herself to the task of sorting
the corks, "but I wasn't kurous or messeltome."

"Wasn't what?" asked Nellie.

"Messeltome. Mamma said to touch what wasn't ours, or to peek, was
messeltome; but I didn't do it. Tell me about that messeltome girl,
Nellie. Mamma said you would."

"Very well," said Nellie, understanding Daisy's definition.

"Tell it a long, long story, - tell me till your tongue is tired, will
you?" pleaded Daisy, for whom no story could ever be too long.

"I'll see," said Nellie; and she began her tale, but had made but
little headway in it when a servant came and told Daisy that Master
Frankie Bradford was waiting to see her.

"What shall I do?" said Daisy, in a state of painful indecision between
the conflicting claims of business and society. "The torks are not
done, and I didn't have my sugar."

"You can take the corks with you, and the sugar too: perhaps Frankie
would like to help you," said Nellie, dismounting from her perch, and
fishing out the largest lump from the sugar-barrel. "There, I suppose
you will want a lump for Frankie too."

"No," said Daisy, "mamma said only one lump. If Frankie does half the
torks he shall have half my sugar;" and away she ran, carrying corks
and sugar with her.

"What a dear, honest little thing Daisy is!" said Nellie, when she was
gone. "I don't believe she could be tempted to do the least thing she
thought mamma would not like, or take any thing she thought was not
quite fair. And she's so sweet and thoughtful about mamma. Just see how
much pains she's taken not to cry for little things since I told her it
troubled her."

Carrie turned away her face, feeling more uncomfortable than ever,
bitterly reproached by Nellie's unconscious words, no less than by the
uprightness and loving dutifulness of her almost baby sister.

Daisy found Frankie in the library with her mother. Mrs. Bradford had
sent her nursery maid to ask if Mrs. Ransom would drive with her in the
afternoon, and Frankie had decided to accompany her.

"Mamma said I could stay and play with Daisy, if you asked me," was the
young gentleman's first remark, after he had greeted Mrs. Ransom.

"Oh!" said Jane, the maid, much mortified, "Master Frankie, I'm
ashamed of you. Mrs. Bradford never expected he'd do that, ma'am."

"No, I suppose not," said Mrs. Ransom, smiling; "but Daisy will be very
glad to have you stay, and so shall I."

Daisy was called, as you have heard, and made her appearance in great
glee, delighted to see Frankie, and at once inviting him to share her
labors, and their reward.

The sugar had its attractions, but Frankie privately regarded the
cork business with disdain. Having come, however, with the intention
of making himself especially agreeable to Daisy, he did not refuse to
enter into partnership; and they were soon seated on the upper step of
the piazza, and busily at work.

"Frankie," said Daisy presently, luxuriating in thus having him all to
herself, and in this condescending mood, "would you rafer go to heaven,
or stay here and sort torks?"

"Well, I don't know as I care much about either," answered Frankie.
"I'd rather dig clams. But, then, I'd want you to dig them with me,
Daisy," he added, sentimentally.

The proposal was alluring certainly, but it had its objections in
Daisy's eyes; and she said, in a corresponding tone, -

"I b'lieve I couldn't. They might think I was a boy if I digged clams.
But, Frankie, if I went to heaven wifout you, would you cry?"

"No," answered Frankie, indignantly, "men don't cry about things like
that. Maybe I wouldn't laugh much that day, but I would not cry."

Daisy was silent for a moment, then suddenly put one of those startling
questions for which she was famous.

"Frankie, if I went in to bafe, and Jonah's whale came and swallowed me
up, how could God get my soul out of him?"

Frankie considered for a little; then not seeing his way clear to a
satisfactory answer, and unwilling to confess ignorance on any point,
he said gravely and reprovingly, -

"That's not a proper question for you to ask, Daisy."

Daisy looked abashed, and said, -

"I didn't mean to ask improper kestions."

"No, I don't s'pose you did, so I thought I'd better tell you," said
Frankie. "We'll talk about something else."

"They're all done," said Daisy, meaning the corks, "now we'll eat the
sugar."

But the dividing of the sugar proved a difficult matter; for the lump
was large and thick, and resisted the efforts of both pairs of little
hands.

"I'll crack it with this stone," said Frankie; and, suiting the action
to the word, he laid it upon the step and gave it a blow with the stone.

One part of the much prized morsel remained in very good condition,
but the rest suffered severely under this violent treatment, and was
reduced very nearly to powder.

"Just see what this horrid old stone did!" said Frankie, looking at his
work in much disgust.

"Never mind," said Daisy, "you can have the whole piece, and I'll eat
the mashed."

The swain made a feeble resistance to this generous offer, feeling in
duty bound to do so; but Daisy insisted, and he was so moved by the
magnitude of her self-sacrifice that he said, -

"Daisy, I shall make those other girls wait till you're dead, and marry
you first, 'cause you're the best of all the lot."

Here Carrie joined them, for she had soon quitted Nellie, telling her
that she was tired; but the true reason was that she feared her sister
might say something that would force her to confess that she had not
obeyed orders about the mice.

But, wherever she went, it seemed somehow as if things would be said to
make her feel self-reproached and uncomfortable.

"Oh! but you're a help, Miss Carrie, and your mother'll be proud to see
the forethought of you and Miss Nellie," said Catherine, when Carrie
brought out her last load to the kitchen.

"What dear, helpful little girls I have!" said mamma, with a loving
smile, as Carrie paused for a moment at the open door of the library,
not feeling as if she could pass it without seeming to notice her
mother, and yet ashamed and afraid to go in. "It almost helps me to
feel stronger to see you all so considerate and anxious to do all you
can for me."

Carrie smiled faintly in reply; then passed out upon the piazza. She
would be safe with Daisy and Frankie, she thought, from speeches that
would make her feel guilty and uncomfortable.

But no.

"What shall we do now?" asked Daisy, when the last crumb of sugar had
been disposed of.

"Where are the white mice? Let's play with them a little while," said
Frankie.

"Down in the garden-house," answered Daisy.

"What a funny place to keep them!" said Frankie. "Let's go and bring
them up here."

"Oh, no! we mustn't," said Daisy: "we can go and play wif 'em; but they
can't come here, 'cause mamma don't like 'em."

"We won't take them in the house, Daisy, only out here on the piazza."

"No, no," said Daisy, decidedly, "not out of the garden-house. Mamma
might see 'em, and they would make her feel, oh! dreffully! I should
fink we _wouldn't_ do any fing mamma don't like, would we, Carrie?" she
added, lifting her great, innocent eyes to her sister's face.

Carrie turned quickly away without an answer, and was glad when the
next moment the two little things ran hand in hand down the path which
led to the garden-house.

Carrie was not happy, - no, indeed, how could she be? A great many
uncomfortable feelings were in her young breast just then. Jealousy
of her little sister, whom she chose to consider more petted and
indulged than herself; envy even of her motherless little playmate,
Belle Powers; irritation which she dared not show against Nellie, for
bidding her take the mice to Catherine; fear that her secret would be
discovered, and the doubt what she was to do with the mice now that she
had them: all were making her very restless and miserable.

What though she did persuade herself that Nellie had no _right_ to give
her orders; what though mamma had never forbidden her to have the mice;
what though she did believe she could keep them safely hidden in some
place where they need never trouble her mother, - was she any the less
guilty and disobedient? And where should that place be that she was to
hide them, not only from mamma, but from every one else?

[Illustration]




[Illustration]




VII.

_THE BLACK CAT._


"NELLIE, dear," said Mrs. Ransom's gentle voice at the store-room door.

"Yes, mamma," answered Nellie, from the top of a row of drawers where
she had climbed to reach some jars from a shelf above her head.

"I think you have worked long enough, my daughter; and I do not wish
you to take down those jars. Hannah is at leisure now, and she may come
and attend to the rest of the things."

"Oh! but mamma," pleaded Nellie, "if you would just let me do it all
myself. It would be so nice to tell papa that I cleared out the
store-room entirely, except the very heavy things; and Hannah might be
doing something else that would be a help to you."

"It would be no help to me to have you make yourself ill, dear; and
papa would not think it at all nice to come home and find you tired and
overworked. And it is dangerous for you to be reaching up so high. I
had rather you would leave the rest to the servants."

Nellie was very sorry to stop; and for a moment she felt a little
vexed. But it was only a fleeting cloud that passed over her face, and
almost before her mother could mark it, it was gone. If she wanted
to be a real help to mamma, she must do as mamma wished, even though
it did not seem just the best thing to herself. It would have been
delightful, she would have been proud to tell papa she had done as much
in the store-room as mamma herself could have done if she had been well
and strong; but it would not prove a real service if she troubled her
mother, or made her feel anxious. Nellie did not herself think that she
ran any danger of injury; but since mamma did, there was but one thing
that was right to do.

"Very well, mamma," she said cheerfully, "I'll come down," and taking
the hand her mother offered for her assistance, she descended from her
perch.

Still it was with a little sigh that she left her task, as she thought,
incomplete, and Mrs. Ransom could not help seeing that it was a
disappointment to her.

"You look warm and tired now, dearie," she said, pushing back the hair
caressingly from her little daughter's flushed face, "go upstairs and
be washed and dressed. Then if there is nothing else you prefer to do I
should very much enjoy hearing you read from one of your new books. I
feel tired, and should like to lie on the sofa and listen to you."

Nellie brightened immediately, inwardly as well as outwardly. She could
be useful to mamma still, if she must leave the store-room; and she
ran away to remove the traces of her late toil, and make herself neat
and nice.

She was in her own room, washing her face, when she heard a short,
quick step running along the hall. She thought it was Carrie's, and
called aloud, meaning to tell her she was going to read to her mother,
and to ask if she would like to hear the story.

"Carrie!" she called from out of the folds of the towel where she had
just buried her face.

No answer; but the step paused for a moment, then ran on.

"Carrie!" this time louder and clearer, for her voice was no longer
smothered in the towel.

Still no answer; but Nellie heard the door at the foot of the garret
steps softly closed.

"Why! how queer," she said to herself, "what can Carrie be going up to
the garret all alone for? I don't believe it was Carrie, it must have
been Johnny going up to his printing-press or something."

For Johnny was the only one of the family who much frequented the
garret, he having a printing-press, carpenter's tools and other
possessions up there.

Nellie did what she could for herself; then went into the nursery to
have her dress fastened, and sash tied.

"Would you stop a minute and mind baby while I call Carrie to be
dressed?" said the nurse; "I might as well do it now, for there's Daisy
to be dressed afterwards, and I suppose they'll both have to be hunted
up."

"Daisy is playing somewhere with Frankie Bradford," said Nellie; "but I
thought I heard Carrie go up to the garret a few moments ago. But I'm
not sure."

"I thought I heard her run along the entry, too," said the nurse.

She went to the foot of the garret-stairs, and opening the door, called
Carrie three or four times. But no answer came, and closing the door
again, she went away downstairs to look for her.

Baby was just beginning to take notice, and as it lay in the cradle,
followed with its eyes the bright-colored worsted ball which Nellie
dangled in front of them, cooing softly in reply to the gentle, playful
tones of its sister's voice, as she talked "baby" to it.

But this did not prevent Nellie from presently hearing again the
closing of the garret door, closed very softly as by a hand which did
not wish that the sound should be heard. Nellie was a little startled,
and it was in a tone of some trepidation that she called again.

"Johnny! Carrie! who is that? Do speak."

A step along the hall, and Carrie appeared at the open door of the
nursery.

"Where did you come from? was that you went upstairs?" questioned
Nellie, looking with surprise at Carrie's crimson, rather troubled face.

"Yes, I went upstairs," answered Carrie.

"And didn't you hear Ruth calling you?" asked Nellie.

"I'm not going to be screeched all over the house by the servants. I
should think I was big enough to go where I chose," muttered Carrie,


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