|CHAPTER III. -- RUTH RUDD.|
RUTH, standing by a long wooden bench, in the neat, brick-paved yard, was engaged in watering some plants that were her especial pride.
Hearing a noise at the fence, she turned, and recognizing Flora, smiled and asked:
"Won't you come in?"
"Thank you," replied Flora, smiling in return. "I think I will."
Jem looked on wonderingly as her sister and the visitor, whom she considered her especial property, chatted.
She could not understand how they knew each other. At length, as they took no notice of her, she determined to assert herself; so, going up to Flora, she demanded:
"What do you think of my yard?"
"Oh," said Flora, recollecting for what purpose they had come, "I like it very much indeed, Jem."
"It's a pretty good yard, I think," said Jem, with
"This is a gibonia," she continued, pointing with her fat finger to the flower named.
"You mean a `begonia,' don't you, Jem? "said Flora.
"Yes," answered Jem, without changing countenance in the least, or seeming in any way abashed; "and this is a gerangum."
"A geranium," corrected Flora. "Yes, I see."
"And this is a chipoonia," pointing to a petunia, "and-- Oh, there's Pokey!" and breaking away in the midst of her explanations, she gave chase to a fat little gray kitten that just then scampered across the yard, and into the house.
"What a cute little girl Jem is," said Flora to Ruth; "is she your sister?"
"Yes, that is, she is my half-sister; her mother was not my own mother, you know."
"Oh, she is your step-mother," said, Flora.
"She was," corrected Ruth; "but she has been dead ever since Jem was a little baby. My own mother died
"Who keeps house for you?" asked Flora, in surprise.
"I do," replied Ruth. "I keep house for father, and take care of Jem. She is all the company I have." "What a smart girl you are. How old are you, Ruth?"
"I'm sixteen, but I feel ever so much older. You see, it is a great responsibility to have everything at home resting upon one," and Ruth looked very wise.
"I should think so," said Flora, thoughtfully. "I am sixteen too."
"Are you? That's nice. We ought to be good friends," returned Ruth, smiling.
"Yes, I am sure we shall be," replied Flora, earnestly. " I like you ever so much, Ruth. I am very lonely here. I know nobody in this place except my home folks."
"How strange," said Ruth, in a puzzled way. "Tell me about it."
Flora was glad to tell her story.
"You poor child!" exclaimed matronly Ruth, taking
"Are you?" said Flora, laughing nervously, for she felt more like crying. "I was just feeling sorry for you." "Sorry for me? Why?"
"Because you have to live here all alone, or almost alone, and have so many responsibilities. You must get very lonely."
"Oh, but my responsibilities keep me so busy I have no time to be lonely. Besides, I like responsibilities."
"You do? Perhaps if I had a few I wouldn't be so lonely either; but then you see I have none."
"I think you have," returned Ruth, soberly, and added, after a moment's thought, " I think you have a great many."
"What are they?"
"Your mother, and father, and brothers, and your home. You are responsible for your conduct toward your parents. It is your duty to be a good daughter. There's your home, it is your duty to make it pleasant and comfortable. And there are your brothers--"
"Oh, do stop, Ruth! " cried Flora. "You have told me enough. You talk as if you were thirty years old
"I wasn't going to say any more about them," said Ruth. "I was only going to ask you to come into the house, for I must begin to prepare our supper."
"No, thank you!" replied Flora; " I must go now; but I should like to come again soon."
"Indeed, come as often as you please; the oftener you come the better I shall like it. Come right, through the fence whenever you want to; you will almost always find and me here."
"Thank you." said Flora. She bade Ruth good-bye, and returned home the same way she had come, entirely unconscious of the look of disapproval with which little Jem was regarding her from the window of an upper room, whither she had retreated with her precious Pokey.
Jem felt quite slighted. Flora and Ruth had been so much occupied with each other as to forget entirely her important little self, and she determined to severely punish "Sister Ruth" for her conduct. She immediately
Ruth found her there fast asleep, when she went to look for her at teatime. Ruth was well acquainted with Jem's various modes of punishing her, and she readily guessed the cause of her little sister's present displeasure; and likewise knowing her well, she decided to let her alone until she was ready to come down. At last Jem came down while Ruth was washing the dishes. She was in perfectly good spirits, for she felt satisfied that her sister had been sufficiently punished in having been deprived of her company for so long a time. She sat down quietly and ate her supper, which had been set aside for her. She did not say anything about the events of the afternoon and neither did Ruth, who was busy thinking about Flora. Strangely enough, influenced by some unseen power, Flora was at the same moment thinking of Ruth. When our young friend entered her home, she found her father had returned in her absence. Her mother was hurrying about in an aimless, impatient way, trying to get supper and at the
Harry and Alec were both in the dining room; the former sitting by the window reading, and the latter whittling a bit of wood with his pocket-knife, and letting the chips fly and settle where they would. It was not a very inviting picture, but with Ruth's gentle face before her, and her words "It is your duty to be a good daughter" in her mind, Flora stoutly determined she would begin immediately and undertake her responsibilities in the very best way she could. With these thoughts she quietly said to her mother she would finish setting the table. It was not much to do, but she felt a great deal better in making this first effort to be of use in her home.
"What have I been thinking about not to have been doing this before? It is an actual treat to be busy," she continued to herself, as she placed the plates, cups, and saucers on the table. She did not know it, but both Harry and Alec were watching her whenever they were sure she was not looking.
The boys had not paid any attention to their sister since her return home; in fact, they both thought it a bother to have a girl about the place. Moreover, Flora had
Although Flora was not aware of all this, she did not fail to notice there was a difference from the ordinary meal. The boys refrained from their usual snappish behavior, the mother was less peevish, and her father's face wore a look of quiet approval. On the whole, there was change enough to cause Flora to determine she would follow out the suggestion of her friend Ruth, and endeavor to make her home what she desired it to be.
When supper was over, Harry and Alec took their hats and went out, no one asking where they were going, or when they would return.
"How queer," thought Flora, who had volunteered to clear the table and wash the dishes, "how queer, that neither mother nor father seems to care where the boys
When Flora retired to rest that night, she felt quite pleased with her experience of the afternoon and evening, and she intended that this should be the beginning of a new departure in her life; and she felt glad that she had found such a friend as Ruth. She arose early the next morning, and was downstairs before her mother was stirring. It was Sunday, and the entire family were in the habit of rising later than usual on that day.
"What a dingy old place this is, to be sure," said Flora. " "I'll make the fire and straighten things up a little."
When she had finished she looked about, and shook her head.
"It doesn't look a bit comfortable, or homelike. No wonder the boys go out every evening. I do wish I knew where to begin to improve things, but I don't, and I have no one to ask about it, except Ruth; yes, I will talk to her about things. Perhaps she can help me."
When Mrs. Hazeley came downstairs, to her surprise and unbounded delight she found the fire burning, the
"Why, Flora! I did not know you were up," she said, looking around, well-pleased with the generally improved condition of the room.
"I do believe your aunt has made quite a housekeeper of you," she continued, a moment later, as she inwardly congratulated herself upon the circumstances which had sent her daughter home.
Flora flushed at this unexpected, and for her mother, somewhat unusual word of commendation, but made no reply, for the simple reason that she did not know what to say. In spite of this feeling of pleasure that her effort was appreciated, she could not help wishing herself back in her aunt's home,--got as it now stood, with Aunt Sarah at its head, but as it had been under Aunt Bertha's gentle control. The more she thought of it, the more intense became the longing to be there in the old, happy, care-free life at Brinton. But there was nothing to be gained by wishing: Aunt Bertha was dead; Aunt Sarah was there, and there to stay; and she was at home, and here to stay; so there was nothing to do but to make the best of things, and get as much comfort out of