|CHAPTER X -- LOTTIE PIPER.|
FLORA had stood for some little time, mechanically caressing the vine, when she was surprised to hear near at hand, in a voice strangely familiar, the words:
"Well, I declare!"
Looking up quickly, but scarcely crediting her own eyes, she exclaimed:
"Flora Hazeley!" returned the voice, and in a moment the friends were locked in each other's arms.
"Where did you come from? What are you doing here?" asked Flora, eagerly, in her desire to account for Lottie's presence in the village.
"Only one question at a time, if you please," laughingly returned Lottie. "Can you not guess?" she added, glancing at her gown, and for the first time Flora noticed it was black.
The quick tears sprang to Flora's eyes.
"Oh, Lottie, who is it? Not your mother?" she said,
"Yes," returned Lottie, sadly," mother is dead. Father felt that he could not be happy at home, and so he went away out West, and left me with my aunt, Mrs. Emmeline Durand. And Flora, if you want to know what misery is, just you come and take my place for a while." And she looked at Flora with such a mingled expression of regret at her lot, and assumed resignation, that Flora was tempted to laugh, in spite of her sorrow in learning of the death of Mrs. Piper.
"If you want to laugh, you may," said Lottie, seeing her difficulty, and appreciating it, as was shown by the merry twinkle in her bright black eyes.
"No, no, I must not laugh," said Flora, squeezing her friend's arm affectionately. "I'm so sorry that your mother is dead. Where does your aunt live? I will come and see you."
"No, you--I mean you--can't--that is, she won't let you," stammered Lottie, blushing hotly.
"Yes, I understand. It is all right. It is not your fault," said Flora, hastily, appreciating the situation; and
"I don't know," answered Lottie, glad to find that Flora understood. "I hardly think she would let me come. I have not asked her to go anywhere, as yet. I have been with her about five weeks, and this is the first time I have been out, except on an errand. She says she doesn't approve of girls 'gadding the streets.' I must go now. I have stayed longer than I ought to already, for I had a long walk before I saw you. Flora," she added, an instant later, as she glanced at the window, "isn't that a potato in that jar?"
"Yes," answered Flora, "it is the same one you gave me when I was leaving Brinton."
"Really? The very same?"
"Yes. You know you told me not to eat it, and I didn't know what to do with it at first." Then I thought it would look very nice if I put it in the window; I did, and it has grown splendidly and has kept green all winter."
"I am so glad you thought of that, Flora, because that was what I first noticed as I passed. And I thought it looked like a sweet-potato vine. And then, you know," Lottie continued, "if you hadn't I should not have stopped or seen
She was sorry to go, as it was so good to meet somebody she knew--somebody connected with the old, happy home-life, for while Lottie's mother lived, she had been very happy. But now she was so lonely.
She hurried along the streets until she came to one near the suburbs of the town. This street had trees on either side, and was very quiet. The houses were small and nearly all set back from the street.
Lottie walked along briskly, turning deftly in and out, and at length arrived safe and sound at the little gate leading into her aunt's yard. This gate opened upon a small space, which doubtless had been intended by the builder of the house to be beautified with flowers; but Mrs. Durand's front yard was closely paved with red brick. Not a flower, or a vine, or a bush broke the monotony, which, however, was not wearisome, as the yard was small.
A high board fence enclosed the little yard on each side.
Lottie was nervous; she dreaded the reception she felt sure awaited her. The only thing that occurred to her to do was to knock, and she did so.
Receiving no responses, she knocked again and waited.
There was still no response, and thinking she had not been heard, she knocked again and again.
At length, just as she had decided that her aunt must be out, a calm voice from behind the door said in the deliberate tones:
"If you will take the trouble to turn the knob, the door might open."
This idea had not occurred to Lottie, and the knowledge that the door was not locked somewhat confused her. However, she opened the door, and went in.
"There is a mat in front of the door," suggested the voice in the same slow, measured tones.
After wiping off the infinitesimal amount of dust from her shoes, Lottie timidly ventured into the room.
"Go to your room, if you will, and lay aside your wraps," came the voice, in an authoritative way.
Without speaking, Lottie obeyed. She felt as she slowly climbed the stairs that she had become a veritable automation, without volition or energy, and compelled to do certain things. This grated on the sensitive nature of the girl, to whom, in the happy days that had passed, freedom to live in and enjoy the open air was everything. And now--and Lottie inwardly groaned at the thought--her actions were directed by one who seemed to forget her own girlhood, or that she had ever enjoyed the bright blue sky, the green fields, the merry, twittering birds, or the companionship of those who were of her own age.
Lottie had often wondered in her own mind if her aunt had ever been young, and if she had enjoyed her youth. There was no one to whom she could go for an answer. Had there been, Lottie would have been surprised to learn that she had been full of bright, merry fun, and had enjoyed life as she had at home.
"At home," Lottie thought, and paused, thinking of her mother, of the comforts and freedom of home, and then she looked in the glass to see if she was not old, for those happy days did , seem so far away.
Mrs. Durand had met with many disappointments and a great deal of trouble in her life, of which Lottie knew
For some moments Lottie had looked in the glass, musingly. Now, as her thoughts returned to herself and her surrounding, she saw a dreary, woe-begone face looking at her from the quaint, cracked, old-fashioned mirror on her bureau. It was so doleful and forlorn, that Lottie nearly cried in sympathy with the miseries of the face before her. In a moment, realizing that it was her own reflection she saw, and enjoying her mistake, she laughed heartily, where at the face in the mirror smile pleasantly in return.
"Humph!" said the voice downstairs.
"Oh dear!" exclaimed Lottie softly; "I have made her think that I don't care about staying out so long." And she slowly turned from the bureau and her mirth provoking vis a vis , and leaving her room, slowly descended the stairs to her aunt.
The room in which her aunt sat was furnished very plainly. Some cane-bottomed chairs, a black horse-hair sofa, a small wooden stand, adorned with a red cloth on which was the family Bible; two or three pictures upon the
Mrs. Durand herself was a small, thin, wiry woman. Her features could hardly be called attractive; her lips were thin and tightly shut; her eyes were colorless, and she wore three stiff, little curls on each side of her face. She wore a dark gown, over which was a black apron, and on her head was a black lace cap. She was busily engaged in making another mat to adorn the floor, from long, bright-colored stripe of cloth.
For sometime she continued her work in silence. Lottie would have spoken had she had anything to say.
Presently, to Lottie's great surprise and relief, her aunt remarked:
"You may as well set the table, as you are here."
Lottie was glad to have something to do, as she was so much happier when employed.
"She hasn't scolded me yet, but it will come, that's certain," she said to herself, as she placed the dishes on
While at supper, Mrs. Durand questioned her niece about her walk, and Lottie told her, not forgetting the chance of meeting with her friend, Flora Hazeley.
After supper, as was her duty, Lottie washed and put away the dished, without further conversation with her aunt. That done, she took up a book and began to read.