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- Lovey Mary - 2/15 -


want to be good, yet tempted her constantly to rebel against her environs. It was just the world-old spirit that makes the veriest little weed struggle through a chink in the rock and reach upward toward the sun.

"What's the matter with your hair, Lovey Mary? It looks so funny," asked a small girl, coming up the steps.

"If anybody asts you, tell 'em you don't know," snapped Lovey Mary.

"Well, Miss Bell says for you to come down to the office," said the other, unabashed. "There's a lady down there--a lady and a baby. Me and Susie peeked in. Miss Bell made the lady cry; she made her wipe the powders off her compleshun."

"And she sent for me?" asked Lovey Mary, incredulously. Such a ripple in the still waters of the home was sufficient to interest the most disconsolate.

"Yes; and me and Susie's going to peek some more."

Lovey Mary dried her tears and hurried down to the office. As she stood at the door she heard a girl's excited voice protesting and begging, and Miss Bell's placid tones attempting to calm her. They paused as she entered.

"Mary," said Miss Bell, "you remember Kate Rider. She has brought her child for us to take care of for a while. Have you room for him in your division?"

As Lovey Mary looked at the gaily dressed girl on the sofa, her animosity rekindled. It was not Kate's bold black eyes that stirred her wrath, nor the hard red lips that recalled the taunts of other days: it was the sight of the auburn curls gathered in tantalizing profusion under the brim of the showy hat.

"Mary, answer my question!" said Miss Bell, sharply.

With an involuntary shudder of repugnance Lovey Mary drew her gaze from Kate and murmured, "Yes, 'm."

"Then you can take the baby with you," continued Miss Bell, motioning to the sleeping child. "But wait a moment. I think I will put Jennie at the head of your division and let you have entire charge of this little boy. He is only a year old, Kate tells me, so will need constant attention."

Lovey Mary was about to protest, when Kate broke in:

"Oh, say, Miss Bell, please get some other girl! Tommy never would like Lovey. He's just like me: if people ain't pretty, he don't have no use for 'em."

"That will do, Kate," said Miss Bell, coldly. "It is only pity for the child that makes me take him at all. You have forfeited all claim upon our sympathy or patience. Mary, take the baby up-stairs and care for him until I come."

Lovey Mary, hot with rebellion, picked him up and went out of the room. At the door she stumbled against two little girls who were listening at the keyhole.

Up-stairs in the long dormitory it was very quiet. The children had been marched away to Sunday-school, and only Lovey Mary and the sleeping baby were on the second floor. The girl sat beside the little white bed and hated the world as far as she knew it: she hated Kate for adding this last insult to the old score; she hated Miss Bell for putting this new burden on her unwilling shoulders; she hated the burden itself, lying there before her so serene and unconcerned; and most of all she hated herself.

"I wisht I was dead!" she cried passionately. "The harder I try to be good the meaner I get. Ever'body blames me, and ever'body makes fun of me. Ugly old face, and ugly old hands, and straight old rat-tail hair! It ain't no wonder that nobody loves me. I just wisht I was dead!"

The sunshine came through the window and made a big white patch on the bare floor, but Lovey Mary sat in the shadow and disturbed the Sunday quiet by her heavy sobbing.

At noon, when the children returned, the noise of their arrival woke Tommy. He opened his round eyes on a strange world, and began to cry lustily. One child after another tried to pacify him, but each friendly advance increased his terror.

"Leave him be!" cried Lovey Mary. "Them hats is enough to skeer him into fits." She picked him up, and with the knack born of experience soothed and comforted him. The baby hid his face on her shoulder and held her tight. She could feel the sobs that still shook the small body, and his tears were on her cheek.

"Never mind," she said. "I ain't a-going to let 'em hurt you. I'm going to take care of you. Don't cry any more. Look!"

She stretched forth her long, unshapely hand and made grotesque snatches at the sunshine that poured in through the window. Tommy hesitated and was lost; a smile struggled to the surface, then broke through the tears.

"Look! He's laughing!" cried Lovey Mary, gleefully. "He's laughing 'cause I ketched a sunbeam for him!"

Then she bent impulsively and kissed the little red lips so close to her own.

CHAPTER II

A RUNAWAY COUPLE

"Courage mounteth with occasion."

For two years Lovey Mary cared for Tommy: she bathed him and dressed him, taught him to walk, and kissed his bumps to make them well; she sewed for him and nursed him by day, and slept with him in her tired arms at night. And Tommy, with the inscrutable philosophy of childhood, accepted his little foster-mother and gave her his all.

One bright June afternoon the two were romping in the home yard under the beech-trees. Lovey Mary lay in the grass, while Tommy threw handfuls of leaves in her face, laughing with delight at her grimaces. Presently the gate clicked, and some one came toward them.

"Good land! is that my kid?" said a woman's voice. "Come here, Tom, and kiss your mother."

Lovey Mary, sitting up, found Kate Rider, in frills and ribbons, looking with surprise at the sturdy child before her.

Tommy objected violently to this sudden overture and declined positively to acknowledge the relationship. In fact, when Kate attempted to pull him to her, he fled for protection to Lovey Mary and cast belligerent glances at the intruder.

Kate laughed.

"Oh, you needn't be so scary; you might as well get used to me, for I am going to take you home with me. I bet he's a corker, ain't he, Lovey? He used to bawl all night. Sometimes I'd have to spank him two or three times."

Lovey Mary clasped the child closer and looked up in dumb terror. Was Tommy to be taken from her? Tommy to go away with Kate?

"Great Scott!" exclaimed Kate, exasperated at the girl's manner. "You are just as ugly and foolish as you used to be. I'm going in to see Miss Bell."

Lovey Mary waited until she was in the house, then she stole noiselessly around to the office window. The curtain blew out across her cheek, and the swaying lilacs seemed to be trying to count the china buttons on her back; but she stood there with staring eyes and parted lips, and held her breath to listen.

[Illustration with caption: "'Come here, Tom, and kiss your mother.'"]

"Of course," Miss Bell was saying, measuring her words with due precision, "if you feel that you can now support your child and that it is your duty to take him, we cannot object. There are many other children waiting to come into the home. And yet--" Miss Bell's voice sounded human and unnatural--"yet I wish he could stay. Have you thought, Kate, of your responsibility toward him, of--"

"Oh! Ough!" shrieked Tommy from the playground, in tones of distress.

Lovey Mary left her point of vantage and rushed to the rescue. She found him emitting frenzied yells, while a tiny stream of blood trickled down his chin.

"It was my little duck," he gasped as soon as he was able to speak. "I was tissin' him, an' he bited me."

At thought of the base ingratitude on the part of the duck, Tommy wailed anew. Lovey Mary led him to the hydrant and bathed the injured lip, while she soothed his feelings. Suddenly a wave of tenderness swept over her. She held his chubby face up to hers and said fervently:

"Tommy, do you love me?"

"Yes," said Tommy, with a reproachful eye on the duck. "Yes; I yuv to yuv. I don't yuv to tiss, though!"

"But me, Tommy, me. Do you love me?"

"Yes," he answered gravely, "dollar an' a half."

"Whose little boy are you?"

"Yuvey's 'e boy."

Satisfied with this catechism, she put Tommy in care of another girl and went back to her post at the window. Miss Bell was talking again.

"I will have him ready to-morrow afternoon when you come. His clothes are all in good condition. I only hope, Kate, that you will care for him as tenderly as Mary has. I am afraid he will miss her sadly."


Lovey Mary - 2/15

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