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- Many Kingdoms - 20/34 -
"But yes, surely, sometimes," she admitted.
"Does it fall always through the window--every day?"
"But yes, surely, if it is in the right place."
The community's sunbeam sighed.
"Does it fall on flowers and on boys and girls?" he persisted.
"But yes, it falls on everything that is near."
A look of pained surprise dawned upon the features of Ivan Ivanovitch.
"Always?" he asked, quickly. "Always--it falls on _everything_ that is near?"
Fraulein von Hoffman placidly counted her stitches, confirming with a sigh her suspicion that in dozing she had dropped three.
"Not always," she murmured, absently. "But no. Only when the sun is shining."
Ivan carried this gleam of comfort with him when he went away, and it is very possible that he longed for a darkened world. But if, indeed, his daily task was difficult, as it frequently proved to be as the days passed, there were compensations--in the school games, in the companionships of his new friends, in the kindness of those around him. Even Augustus Adolphus was good to him at times. Unquestioningly, inscrutably, Ivan absorbed atmosphere, and did his share of the community's work as he saw it.
The theories of the community were consistently carried out. In the summer, after their few hours of study, the children were left to themselves. Together they worked out the problems of their little world; together they discussed, often with an uncanny insight, the grown-ups around them. Sometimes the tasks of the others were forgotten; frequently, in the stress of work and play, Augustus Adolphus's wood-box remained unfulfilled; Josephine's flowers were unwatered. But the mission of Ivan as a busy and strenuous sunbeam was regularly and consistently carried out--all the children saw to that. Regularly, that is, save on dark days. Here he drew the line.
"Fraulein says it only falls on things when the sun shines," he explained, tersely, and he fulfilled his mission accordingly. Fraulein wondered where he had accumulated the choice collection of bumps and bruises that adorned his person; but he never told, and apparently nobody else knew. Mrs. Eltner marvelled darkly over the destruction of her favorite nasturtium-bed. Daily the stifled howls of Augustus Adolphus continued to rend the ambient air when the sunbeam fell on him; but he forbore to complain, suffering heroically this unpleasant feature of the programme, that the rest might not be curtailed. Once, indeed, he had rebelled.
"Why don't you fall on some one else?" he had demanded, sulkily. "You don't have to fall on me all the time."
The reply of the sunbeam was convincing in its simple truth.
"I do," he explained. "Fraulein has said so. It must fall always on the same place if it is there."
Augustus Adolphus was silenced. He was indeed there, always. It was unfortunate, but seemed inevitable, that he should contribute his share to the daily entertainment so deeply enjoyed by all.
It was, very appropriately, at Thanksgiving-time that Ivan's mission as an active sunbeam ended. He was engaged in his usual profound meditation in the presence of Miss Clarkson, who had come to see him, and who was at the moment digesting the information she had received, that not once in his months at Locust Hall had he been seen to smile. True, he seemed well and contented. His thin little figure was fast taking on plumpness; he was brown, bright-eyed. Studying him, Miss Clarkson observed a small bruise on his chin, another on his intellectual brow.
"How did you get those, Ivan?" she asked.
For some reason Ivan suddenly decided to tell her.
"I fell through the window. This one I got yesterday"--he touched it-- "this one I got Monday; this one I got last week." He revealed another that she had not discovered, lurking behind his left ear.
"But surely you didn't fall through the window as often as that!" gasped Miss Clarkson. The small boy surveyed her wearily.
"But yes," he murmured, in unconscious imitation of Praulein. "I must fall through the window every day when the sun shines."
Miss Clarkson held him off at arm's-length and stared at him.
"In Heaven's name, _why?_" she demanded.
Ivan explained patiently. Miss Clarkson listened, asked a few questions, gave way to a moment of uncontrollable emotion. Then she called together the other children, and again heard the story. It came disjointedly from each in turn, but most fluently, most picturesquely, most convincingly, from the lips of Augustus Adolphus Schmidtt and the fair Josephine. When they had finished their artless recital, Miss Clarkson sought Fraulein von Hoffman. That afternoon, beside the big open fire in the children's winter play-room, Fraulein von Hoffman addressed her young charges in words brief but pointed, and as she talked the mission of Ivan at Locust Hall took on a new significance, clear to the dullest mind.
"You were very cruel to Ivan--ach, most cruel! And he is not to fall any more, anywhere, on anything, you understand," explained the German, clearly. "He has no tasks any more. He is but to be happy, and you should love him and take care of him, because he is so small. That is all."
Ivan exhaled a sigh of deep contentment. Then he looked around him. The great logs on the andirons were blazing merrily. In the hands of Josephine a corn-popper waved above them, the corn inside burning unobserved as she lent her ears to Fraulein's earnest words. Ten apples, suspended on strings, swung from the mantel, spinning slowly as they roasted. It was a restful and agreeable scene to the eyes of little Ivan.
Josephine felt called upon to defend her friends.
"We didn't mean to be cruel," she explained, earnestly, answering the one of Fraulein's charges which had most impressed her. "We love Ivan. We love him lots. We like to see him to be a sunbeam, an' we thought he liked to be one. He never said he didn't."
The faces of his little companions were all around him. Ivan surveyed them in turn. They loved him--lots. Had not Josephine just said so? And only yesterday Augustus Adolphus had played marbles with him. It was very good to be loved, to have a home, and not to be a little sunbeam any longer. Then his eyes met those of Miss Clarkson, fixed upon him sympathetically.
"Would you like to go away, Ivan?" she asked, quietly. "Would you be happier somewhere else?"
The eyes of Ivan widened with sudden fear. To have this and to lose it!--now, if ever, he must speak! "Oh _no_," he cried, earnestly; "no, _no_, madam!"
Reassured, she smiled at him, and as she did so something in her look, in the atmosphere, in the moment, opened the boy's closed heart. He drew a long breath and smiled back at her--a shy, hesitant, unaccustomed smile, but one very charming on his serious little face. Miss Clarkson's heart leaped in sudden triumph. It was his first smile, and it was for her.
"I like it here," he said. "I like it very much, madam."
Miss Clarkson had moments of wisdom.
"Then you shall stay, my boy," she said. "You shall stay as long as you wish. But, remember, you must not be a sunbeam any more."
Ivan responded in one word--a simple, effective word, much used by his associates in response to pleasing announcements of holidays and vacations, but thus far a stranger on his lips. He threw back his head and straightened his shoulders.
"Hurray!" he cried, with deep fervor. This was enough for Augustus Adolphus and the fair Josephine. "Hurray!" they shrieked, in jubilant duet--"Hurray! Hurray!"
The others joined in. "Hur-ray!" cried the nine small companions of Ivan. He looked at them for a moment, his thin mouth twitching. They were glad, too, then, that he was to stay! He walked straight to Miss Clarkson, buried his face in her lap, and burst into tears. For a moment she held him close, smoothing his black head with a tender hand. Almost immediately he straightened himself and returned to the side of Josephine, shy, shamefaced, but smiling again--a new Ivan.
"What did you cry for?" demanded that young lady, obtusely. "Because you feel bad?"
Augustus Adolphus replied for his friend, with an insight beyond his years.
"You let him alone," he said, severely. "He don't never cry when he feels bad; _he_ only cries when he feels good!"
IN MEMORY OF HANNAH'S LAUGH
His name was "'Rastus Calhoun Breckenridge," he announced the morning that he began his new duties as janitor of the Adelaide apartments, and he at once gave the tenants to understand that no liberties were to be taken with it. He preferred it _all_ when he was addressed in ordinary conversation, he explained to them, but he had no objections to the title, "Mistah Breckenridge," when they felt hurried. This interested every inmate of the Adelaide, and for a few days amazingly amused several, who gave play to their fancy in the use of abbreviations which struck them as humorous. Their jokes lost point, subsequently, when it was discovered that on no occasion did "Mistah
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