Mother Emeritus by Octave Thanet

THE Louders lived on the second floor, at the head of the stairs, in the Lossing Building. There is a restaurant to the right; and a new doctor, every six months, who is every kind of a healer except "regular," keeps the permanent boarders in gossip, to the left; two or three dressmakers, a dentist, and a diamond merchant up-stairs, one flight; and half a dozen families and a dozen single tenants higher—so you see the Louders had plenty of neighbors. In fact, the multitude of the neighbors is one cause of my story.

Tilly Louder came home from the Lossing factory (where she is a typewriter) one February afternoon. As she turned the corner, she was face to the river, which is not so full of shipping in winter that one cannot see the steel-blue glint of the water. Back of her the brick paved street climbed the hill, under a shapeless arch of trees. The remorseless pencil of a railway has drawn black lines at the foot of the hill; and, all day and all night, slender red bars rise and sink in their black sockets, to the accompaniment of the outcry of tortured steam. All day, if not all night, the crooked pole slips up and down the trolley wire, as the yellow cars rattle, and flash, and clang a spiteful little bell, that sounds like a soprano bark, over the crossings.

It is customary in the Lossing Building to say, "We are so handy to the cars." The street is a handsome street, not free from dingy old brick boxes of stores below the railway, but fast replacing them with fairer structures. The Lossing Building has the wide arches, the recessed doors, the balconies and the colonnades of modern business architecture. The occupants are very proud of the balconies, in particular; and, summer days, these will be a mass of greenery and bright tints. To-day, it was so warm, February day though it was, that some of the potted plants were sunning themselves outside the windows.

Tilly could see them if she craned her neck. There were some bouvardias and fuchsias of her mother's among them.

"It IS a pretty building," said Tilly; and, for some reason, she frowned.

She was a young woman, but not a very young woman. Her figure was slim, and she looked better in loose waists than in tightly fitted gowns. She wore a dark green gown with a black jacket, and a scarlet shirt-waist underneath. Her face was long, with square chin and high cheek-bones, and thin, firm lips; yet she was comely, because of her lustrous black hair, her clear, gray eyes, and her charming, fair skin. She had another gift: everything about her was daintily neat; at first glance one said, "Here is a person who has spent pains, if not money, on her toilet."

By this time Tilly was entering the Lossing Building. Half-way up the stairway a hand plucked her skirts. The hand belonged to a tired-faced woman in black, on whose breast glittered a little crowd of pins and threaded needles, like the insignia of an Order of Toil.

"Please excuse me, Miss Tilly," said the woman, at the same time presenting a flat package in brown paper, "but WILL you give this pattern back to your mother. I am so very much obliged. I don't know how I WOULD git along without your mother, Tilly."

"I'll give the pattern to her," said Tilly, and she pursued her way.

Not very far. A stout woman and a thin young man, with long, wavy, red hair, awaited her on the landing. The woman held a plate of cake which she thrust at Tilly the instant they were on the same level, saying: "The cake was just splendid, tell your mother; it's a lovely recipe, and will you tell her to take this, and see how well I succeeded?"

"And—ah—Miss Louder," said the man, as the stout woman rustled away, "here are some Banner of Lights; I think she'd be interested in some of the articles on the true principles of the inspirational faith——" Tilly placed the bundle of newspapers at the base of her load—"and—and, I wish you'd tell your dear mother that, under the angels, her mustard plaster really saved my life."

"I'll tell her," said Tilly.

She had advanced a little space before a young girl in a bright blue silk gown flung a radiant presence between her and the door. "Oh, Miss Tilly," she murmured, blushing, "will you just give your mother this?—it's—it's Jim's photograph. You tell her it's ALL right; and SHE was exactly right, and I was wrong. She'll understand."

Tilly, with a look of resignation, accepted a stiff package done up in white tissue paper. She had now only three steps to take: she took two, only two, for—"Miss Tilly, PLEASE!" a voice pealed around the corner, while a flushed and breathless young woman, with a large baby toppling over her lean shoulder, staggered into view. "My!" she panted, "ain't it tiresome lugging a child! I missed the car, of course, coming home from ma's. Oh, say, Tilly, your mother was so good, she said she'd tend Blossom next time I went to the doctor's, and——"

"I'll take the baby," said Tilly. She hoisted the infant on to her own shoulder with her right arm. "Perhaps you'll be so kind's to turn the handle of the door," said she in a slightly caustic tone, "as I haven't got any hands left. Please shut it, too."

As the young mother opened the door, Tilly entered the parlor. For a second she stood and stared grimly about her. The furniture of the room was old-fashioned but in the best repair. There was a cabinet organ in one corner. A crayon portrait of Tilly's father (killed in the civil war) glared out of a florid gilt frame. Perhaps it was the fault of the portrait, but he had a peevish frown. There were two other portraits of him, large ghastly gray tintypes in oval frames of rosewood, obscurely suggesting coffins. In these he looked distinctly sullen. He was represented in uniform (being a lieutenant of volunteers), and the artist had conscientiously gilded his buttons until, as Mrs. Louder was wont to observe, "It most made you want to cut them off with the scissors." There were other tintypes and a flock of photographs in the room. What Mrs. Louder named "a throw" decorated each framed picture and each chair. The largest arm-chair was drawn up to a table covered with books and magazines: in the chair sat Mrs. Louder, reading.

At Tilly's entrance she started and turned her head, and then one could see that the tears were streaming down her cheeks.

"Now, MOTHER!" exploded Tilly. Kicking the door open, she marched into the bed-chamber. An indignant sweep of one arm sent the miscellany of gifts into a rocking-chair; an indignant curve of the other landed the baby on the bed. Tilly turned on her mother. "Now, mother, what did you promise—HUSH! will you?" (The latter part of the sentence a fierce "ASIDE" to the infant on the bed.) In a second Mrs. Louder's arms were encircling him, and she was soothing him on her broad shoulder, where I know not how many babies have found comfort.

Jane Louder was a tall woman—tall and portly. She had a massive repose about her, a kind of soft dignity; and a stranger would not guess how tender was her heart. Deprecatingly she looked up at her only child, standing in judgment over her. Her eyes were fine still, though they had sparkled and wept for more than half a century. They were not gray, like Tilly's, but a deep violet, with black eyelashes and eyebrows. Black, once, had been the hair under the widow's cap, now streaked with silver; but Jane Louder's skin was fresh and daintily tinted like her daughter's, for all its fine wrinkles. Her voice when she spoke was mellow and slow, with a nervous vibration of apology. "Never mind, dear," she said, "I was just reading 'bout the Russians."

"I KNEW it! You promised me you wouldn't cry about the Russians any more."

"I know, Tilly, but Alma Brown lent this to me, herself. There's a beautiful article in it about 'The Horrors of Hunger.' It would make your heart ache! I wish you would read it, Tilly."

"No, thank you. I don't care to have my heart ache. I'm not going to read any more horrors about the Russians, or hear them either, if I can help it. I have to write Mr. Lossing's letters about them, and that's enough. I've given all I can afford, and you've given more than you can afford; and I helped get up the subscription at the shops. I've done all I could; and now I ain't going to have my feelings harrowed up any more, when it won't do me nor the Russians a mite of good."

"But I cayn't HELP it, Tilly. I cayn't take any comfort in my meals, thinking of that awful black bread the poor children starve rather than eat; and, Tilly, they ain't so dirty as some folks think! I read in a magazine how they have GOT to bathe twice a week by their religion; and there's a bath-house in every village. Tilly, do you know how much money they've raised here?"

"Over three thousand. This town is the greatest town for giving—give to the cholera down South, give to Johnstown, give to Grinnell, give to cyclones, give to fires. The Freeman always starts up a subscription, and Mr. Bayard runs the thing, and Mr. Lossing always gives. Mother, I tell you HE makes them hustle when he takes hold. He's the chairman here, and he has township chairmen appointed for every township. He's so popular they start in to oblige him, and then, someway, he makes them all interested. I must tell you of a funny letter he had to-day from a Captain Ferguson, out at Baxter. He's a rich farmer with lots of influence and a great worker, Mr. Lossing says. But this is 'most word for word what he wrote: 'Dear Sir: I am sorry for the Russians, but my wife is down with the la grippe, and I can't get a hired girl; so I have to stay with her. If you'll get me a hired girl, I'll get you a lot of money for the Russians.'"

"Did he git a girl? I mean Mr. Lossing."

"No, ma'am. He said he'd try if it was the city, but it was easier finding gold-mines than girls that would go into the country. See here, I'm forgetting your presents. Mother, you look real dragged and—queer!"

"It's nothing; jist a thought kinder struck me 'bout—'bout that girl."

Tilly was sorting out the parcels and explaining them; at the end of her task her mind harked back to an old grievance. "Mother," said she, "I've been thinking for a long time, and I've made up my mind."

"Yes, dearie." Mrs. Louder's eyes grew troubled. She knew something of the quality of Tilly's mind, which resembled her father's in a peculiar immobility. Once let her decision run into any mould (be it whatsoever it might), and let it stiffen, there was no chance, any more than with other iron things, of its bending.

"Positively I could hardly get up the stairs today," said Tilly—she was putting her jacket and hat away in her orderly fashion; of necessity her back was to Mrs. Louder—"there was such a raft of people wanting to send stuff and messages to you. You are just working yourself to death; and, mother, I am convinced we have got to move!"

Mrs. Louder dropped into a chair and gasped. The baby, who had fallen asleep, stirred uneasily. It was not a pretty child; its face was heavy, its little cheeks were roughened by the wind, its lower lip sagged, its chin creased into the semblance of a fat old man's. But Jane Louder gazed down on it with infinite compassion. She stroked its head as she spoke.

"Tilly," said she, "I've been in this block, Mrs. Carleton and me, ever since it was built; and, some way, between us we've managed to keep the run of all the folks in it; at least when they were in any trouble. We've worked together like sisters. She's 'Piscopal, and I guess I'm Unitarian; but never a word between us. We tended the Willardses through diphtheria and the Hopkinses through small-pox, and we steamed and fumigated the rooms together. It was her first found out the Dillses were letting that twelve-year-old child run the gasoline stove, and she threatened to tell Mr. Lossing, and they begged off; and when it exploded we put it out together, with flour out of her flour-barrel, for the poor, shiftless things hadn't half a sack full of their own; and her and me, we took half the care of that little neglected Ellis baby that was always sitting down in the sticky fly-paper, poor innocent child. He's took the valedictory at the High School, Tilly, now. No, Tilly, I couldn't bring myself to leave this building, where I've married them, and buried them, and born them, you may say, being with so many of their mothers; I feel like they was all my children. Don't ASK me."

Tilly's head went upward and backward with a little dilatation of the nostrils. "Now, mother," said she in a voice of determined gentleness, "just listen to me. Would I ask you to do anything that wouldn't be for your happiness? I have found a real pretty house up on Fifteenth Street; and we'll keep house together, just as cosey; and have a woman come to wash and iron and scrub, so it won't be a bit hard; and be right on the street-cars; and you won't have to drudge helping Mrs. Carleton extra times with her restaurant."

"But, Tilly," eagerly interrupted Mrs. Louder, "you know I dearly love to cook, and she PAYS me. I couldn't feel right to take any of the pension money, or the little property your father left me, away from the house expenses; but what I earn myself, it is SUCH a comfort to give away out of THAT."

Tilly ran over and kissed the agitated face. "You dear, generous mother!" cried she, "I'LL give you all the money you want to spend or give. I got another rise in my salary of five a month. Don't you worry."

"You ain't thinking of doing anything right away, Tilly?"

"Don't you think it's best done and over with, after we've decided, mother? You have worked so hard all your life I want to give you some ease and peace now."

"But, Tilly, I love to work; I wouldn't be happy to do nothing, and I'd get so fleshy!"

Tilly only laughed. She did not crave the show of authority. Let her but have her own way, she would never flaunt her victories. She was imperious, but she was not arrogant. For months she had been pondering how to give her mother an easier life; and she set the table for supper, in a filial glow of satisfaction, never dreaming that her mother, in the kitchen, was keeping her head turned from the stove lest she should cry into the fried ham and stewed potatoes. But, at a sudden thought, Jane Louder laid her big spoon down to wipe her eyes.

"Here you are, Jane Louder"—thus she addressed herself—"mourning and grieving to leave your friends and be laid aside for a useless old woman, and jist be taken care of, and you clean forgetting the chance the Lord gives you to help more'n you ever helped in your life! For shame!"

A smile of exaltation, of lofty resolution, erased the worry lines on her face. "Why, it might be to save twenty lives," said she; but in the very speaking of the words a sharp pain wrenched her heart again, and she caught up the baby from the floor, where he sat in a wall of chairs, and sobbed over him: "Oh, how can I go away when I got to go for good so soon? I want every minnit!"

She never thought of disputing Tilly's wishes. "It's only fair," said Jane. "She's lived here all these years to please me, and now I ought to be willing to go to please her."

Neither did she for a moment hope to change Tilly's determination. "She was the settest baby ever was," thought poor Jane, tossing on her pillow, in the night watches, "and it's grown with every inch of her!"

But in the morning she surprised her daughter. "Tilly," said she at the breakfast-table, "Tilly, I got something I must do, and I don't want you to oppose me."

"Good gracious, ma!" said Tilly; "as if I ever opposed you!"

"You know how bad I have been feeling about the poor Russians———"

"Well?"

"And how I've wished and wished I could do something—something to COUNT? I never could, Tilly, because I ain't got the money or the intellect; but s'posing I could do it for somebody else, like this Captain Ferguson who could do so much if he just could get a hired girl to take care of his wife. Well, I do know how to cook and to keep a house neat and to do for the sick——"

Tilly could restrain herself no longer; her voice rose to a shout of dismay—"Mother Louder, you AIN'T thinking of going to be the Ferguson's hired girl!"

"Not their hired girl, Tilly; just their help, so as he can work for those poor starving creatures." Jane strangled a sob in her throat. Tilly, in a kind of stupor of bewilderment, frowned at her plate. Then her clouded face cleared. If Mrs. Louder had surprised her daughter, her daughter repaid the surprise. "Well, if you feel that way, mother," said she, "I won't say a word; and I'll ask Mr. Lossing to explain to the Fergusons and fix everything. He will."

"You're real good, Tilly."

"And while you're gone I guess it will be a good plan to move and git settled——"

For some reason Tilly's throat felt dry, she lifted her cup. She did not intend to look across the table, but her eyes escaped her. She set the coffee down untasted. The clock was slow, she muttered; and she left the room.

Jane Louder remained in her place, with the same pale face, staring at the table-cloth.

"It don't seem like I COULD go, now," she thought dully to herself; "the time's so awful short, I don't s'pose Maria Carleton can git up to see me more'n once or twice a month, busy as she is! I got so to depend on seeing her every day. A sister couldn't be kinder! I don't see how I am going to bear it. And to go away, beforehand——"

For a long while she sat, her face hardly changing. At last, when she did push her chair away, her lips were tightly closed. She spoke to the little pile of books lying on the table in the corner. "I cayn't—these are my own and you are strangers!" She walked across the room to take up the same magazine which Tilly had found her reading the day before. When she began reading she looked stern—poor Jane, she was steeling her heart—but in a little while she was sniffing and blowing her nose. With a groan she flung the book aside. "It's no use, I would feel like a murderer if I don't go!" said she.

She did go. Harry Lossing made all the arrangements. Tilly was satisfied. But, then, Tilly had not heard Harry's remark to his mother: "Alma says Miss Louder is trying to make the old lady move against her will. I dare say it would be better to give the young woman a chance to miss her mother and take a little quiet think."

Tilly saw her mother off on the train to Baxter, the Fergusons' station. Being a provident, far-sighted, and also inexperienced traveller, she had allowed a full half-hour for preliminary passages at arms with the railway officials; and, as the train happened to be an hour late, she found herself with time to spare, even after she had exhausted the catalogue of possible deceptions and catastrophes by rail. During the silence that followed her last warning, she sat mentally keeping tally on her fingers. "Confidence men"—Tilly began with the thumb—"Never give anybody her check. Never lend anybody money. Never write her name to anything. Don't get out till conductor tells her. In case of accident, telegraph me, and keep in the middle of the car, off the trucks. Not take care of anybody's baby while she goes off for a minute. Not take care of babies at all. Or children. Not talk to strangers—good gracious!"

Tilly felt a movement of impatience; there, after all her cautions, there was her mother helping an old woman, an utterly strange old woman, to pile a bird-cage on a bandbox surmounting a bag. The old woman was clad in a black alpaca frock, made with the voluminous draperies of years ago, but with the uncreased folds and the brilliant gloss of a new gown. She wore a bonnet of a singular shape, unknown to fashion, but made out of good velvet. Beneath the bonnet (which was large) appeared a little, round, agitated old face, with bobbing white curls and white teeth set a little apart in the mouth, a defect that brought a kind of palpitating frankness into the expression.

"Now, who HAS mother picked up now?" thought Tilly. "Well, praise be, she hasn't a baby, anyhow!"

She could hear the talk between the two; for the old woman being deaf, Mrs. Louder elevated her voice, and the old woman, herself, spoke in a high, thin pipe that somehow reminded Tilly of a lost lamb.

"That's just so," said Mrs. Louder, "a body cayn't help worrying over a sick child, especially if they're away from you."

"Solon and Minnie wouldn't tell me," bleated the other woman, "they knew I'd worry. Kinder hurt me they should keep things from me; but they hate to have me upset. They are awful good children. But I suspicioned something when Alonzo kept writing. Minnie, she wouldn't tell me, but I pinned her down and it come out, Eliza had the grip bad. And, then, nothing would do but I must go to her—why, Mrs. Louder, she's my child! But they wouldn't hark to it. 'Fraid to have me travel alone——"

"I guess they take awful good care of you," said Mrs. Louder; and she sighed.

"Yes, ma'am, awful." She, too, sighed.

As she talked her eyes were darting about the room, eagerly fixed on every new arrival.

"Are you expecting anyone, Mrs. Higbee?" said Jane. They seemed, at least, to know each other by name, thought Tilly; it was amazing the number of people mother did know!

"No," said Mrs. Higbee, "I—I—fact is, I'm kinder frightened. I—fact is, Mrs. Louder, I guess I'll tell you, though I don't know you very well; but I've known about you so long—I run away and didn't tell 'em. I just couldn't stay way from Liza. And I took the bird—for the children; and it's my bird, and I was 'fraid Minnie would forget to feed it and it would be lonesome. My children are awful kind good children, but they don't understand. And if Solon sees me he will want me to go back. I know I'm dretful foolish; and Solon and Minnie will make me see I am. There won't be no good reason for me to go, and I'll have to stay; and I feel as if I should FLY—Oh, massy sakes! there's Solon coming down the street——"

She ran a few steps in half a dozen ways, then fluttered back to her bag and her cage.

"Well," said Mrs. Louder, drawing herself up to her full height, "you SHALL go if you want to."

"Solon will find me, he'll know the bird-cage! Oh, dear! Oh, dear!"

Then a most unexpected helper stepped upon the stage. What is the mysterious instinct of rebellion to authority that, nine cases out of ten, sends us to the aid of a fugitive? Tilly, the unconscious despot of her own mother, promptly aided and abetted Solon's rebel mother in her flight.

"Not if I carry it," said she, snatching up the bird-cage; "run inside that den where they sell refreshments; he'll see ME and go somewhere else."

It fell out precisely as she planned. They heard Solon demanding a lady with a bird-cage of the agent; they heard the agent's reply, given with official indifference, "There she is, inside." Directly, Solon, a small man with an anxious mien, ran into the waiting-room, flung a glance of disappointment at Tilly, and ran out again.

Tilly went to her client. "Did he look like he was anxious?" was the mother's greeting. "Oh, I just know he and Minnie will be hunting me everywhere. Maybe I had better go home, 'stead of to Baxter."

"No, you hadn't," said Tilly, with decision. "Mother's going to Baxter, too, and if you like, minnit you're safely off, I'll go tell your folks."

"You're real kind, I'd be ever so much obliged. And you don't mind your ma travelling alone? ain't that nice for her!" She seemed much cheered by the prospect of company and warmed into confidences.

"I am kinder lonesome, sometimes, that's a fact," said she, "and I kinder wish I lived in a block or a flat like your ma. You see, Minnie teaches in the public school and she's away all day, and she don't like to have me make company of the hired girl, though she's a real nice girl. And there ain't nothing for me to do, and I feel like I wasn't no use any more in the world. I remember that's what our old minister in Ohio said once. He was a real nice old man; and they HAD thought everything of him in the parish; but he got old and his sermons were long; and so they got a young man for assistant; and they made HIM a pastor americus, they called it—some sort of Latin. Folks did say the young feller was stuck up and snubbed the old man; anyhow, he never preached after young Lisbon come; and only made the first prayers. But when the old folks would ask him to preach some of the old sermons they had liked, he only would say, 'No, friends, I know more about my sermons, now.' He didn't live very long, and I always kinder fancied being a AMERICUS killed him. And some days I git to feeling like I was a kinder AMERICUS myself."

"That ain't fair to your children," said Tilly; "you ought to let them know how you feel. Then they'd act different."

"Oh, I don't know, I don't know. You see, miss, they're so sure they know better'n me. Say, Mrs. Louder, be you going to visit relatives in Baxter?"

"No, ma'am, I'm going to take care of a sick lady," said Jane, "it's kinder queer. Her name's Ferguson, her——"

"For the land's sake!" screamed Mrs. Higbee, "why, that's my 'Liza!" She was in a flutter of surprise and delight, and so absorbed was Tilly in getting her and her unwieldy luggage into the car, that Jane's daughter forgot to kiss her mother good-by.

"Put your arm in QUICK," she yelled, as Jane essayed to kiss her hand through the window; "don't EVER put your arm or your head out of a train!"—the train moved away—"I do hope she'll remember what I told her, and not lend anybody money, or come home lugging somebody else's baby!"

With such reflections, and an ugly sensation of loneliness creeping over her, Tilly went to assure Miss Minnie Higbee of her mother's safety. She described her reception to Harry Lossing and Alma, later. "She really seemed kinder mad at me," says Tilly, "seemed to think I was interfering somehow. And she hadn't any business to feel that way, for SHE didn't know how I'd fooled her brother with that bird-cage. I guess the poor old lady daren't call her soul her own. I'd hate to have my mother that way—so 'fraid of me. MY mother shall go where she pleases, and stay where she pleases, and DO as she pleases."

"That makes me think," says Alma, "I heard you were going to move."

"Yes, we are. Mother is working too hard. She knows everybody in the building, and they call on her all the time; and I think the easiest way out is just to move."

Alma and Mr. Lossing exchanged glances. There is an Arabian legend of an angel whose trade it is to decipher the language of faces. This angel must have perceived that Alma's eyes said, with the courage of a second in a duel, "Go on, now is the time!" and that Harry's answered, with masculine pusillanimity, "I don't like to!"

But he spoke. "Very likely your mother does sometimes work too hard," said he. "But don't you think it would be harder for her not to work? Why, she must have been in the building ever since my father bought it; and she's been a janitor and a fire inspector and a doctor and a ministering angel combined! That is why we never raised the rent to you when we improved the building, and raised it on the others. My father told me your mother was the best paying tenant he ever had. And don't you remember how, when I used to come with him, when I was a little boy, she used to take me in her room while he went the rounds? She was always doing good to everybody, the same way. She has a heart as big as the Mississippi, and I assure you, Miss Louder, you won't make her happy, but miserable, if you try to dam up its channel. She has often told me that she loved the building and all the people in it. They all love her. I HOPE, Miss Louder, you'll think of those things before you decide. She is so unselfish that she would go in a minute if she thought it would make you happier." The angel aforesaid, during this speech (which Harry delivered with great energy and feeling), must have had all his wits busy on Tilly's impassive features; but he could read ardent approval, succeeded by indignation, on Alma's countenance, at his first glance. The indignation came when Tilly spoke. She said: "Thank you, Mr. Lossing, you're very kind, I'm sure"—Harry softly kicked the wastebasket under the desk—"but I guess it's best for us to go. I've been thinking about it for six months, and I know it will be a hard struggle for mother to go; but in a little while she will be glad she went. It's only for her sake I am doing it; it ain't an easy or a pleasant thing for me to do, either——" As Tilly stopped her voice was unsteady, and the rare tears shone in her eyes.

"What's best for her is the only question, of course," said Alma, helping Harry off the field.

In a few days Tilly received a long letter from her mother. Mr. Ferguson was doing wonders for the Russians; the family were all very kind to her and "nice folks" and easily pleased. ("Of COURSE they're pleased with mother's cooking; what would they be made of if they weren't!" cried Tilly.) It was wonderful how much help Mrs. Higbee was about the house, and how happy it made her. Mrs. Ferguson had seemed real glad to see her, and that made her happy. And then, maybe it helped a little, her (Jane Louder's) telling Mrs. Ferguson ("accidental like") how Tilly treated her, never trying to boss her, and letting her travel alone. Perhaps, if Mrs. Ferguson kept on improving, they might let her come home next week. And the letter ended:

"I will be so glad if they do, for I want to see you so bad, dear daughter, and I want to see the old home once more before we leave. I guess the house you tell me about will be very nice and convenient. I do thank you, dear daughter, for being so nice and considerate about the Russians. Give my love to Mrs. Carleton and all of them; and if little Bobby Green hasn't missed school since I left, give him a nickel, please; and please give that medical student on the fifth floor—I forget his name—the stockings I mended. They are in the first drawer of the walnut bureau. Good-by, my dear, good daughter.

"MOTHER, JANE M. LOUDER."

When Tilly read the letter she was surrounded by wall-paper and carpet samples. Her eyes grew moist before she laid it down; but she set her mouth more firmly.

"It is an awful short time, but I've just got to hurry and have it over before she comes," said she.

Next week Jane returned. She was on the train, waiting in her seat in the car, when Captain Ferguson handed her Tilly's last letter, which had lain in the post-office for three days.

It was very short:

"DEAR MOTHER: I shall be very glad indeed to see you. I have a surprise which I hope will be pleasant for you; anyhow, I truly have meant it for your happiness.

"Your affectionate daughter,

"M. E. LOUDER."

There must have been, despite her shrewd sense, an obtuse streak in Tilly, else she would never have written that letter. Jane read it twice. The paper rattled in her hands. "Tilly has moved while I was gone," she said; "I never shall live in the block again." She dropped her veil over her face. She sat very quietly in her seat; but the conductor who came for her ticket watched her sharply, she seemed so dazed by his demand and was so long in finding the ticket.

The train rumbled and hissed through darkening cornfields, into scattered yellow lights of low houses, into angles of white light of street-arcs and shop-windows, into the red and blue lights dancing before the engines in the station.

"Mother!" cried Tilly's voice.

Jane let her and Harry Lossing take all her bundles and lift her out of the car. Whether she spoke a word she could not tell. She did rouse a little at the vision of the Lossing carriage glittering at the street corner; but she had not the sense to thank Harry Lossing, who placed her in the carriage and lifted his hat in farewell.

"What's he doing all that for, Tilly?" cried she; "there ain't—there ain't nobody dead—Maria Carleton———" She stared at Tilly wildly.

Tilly was oddly moved, though she tried to speak lightly. "No, no, there ain't nothing wrong, at all. It's because you've done so much for the Russians—and other folks! Now, ma, I'm going to be mysterious. You must shut your eyes and shut your mouth until I tell you. That's a dear ma."

It was vaguely comforting to have Tilly so affectionate. "I'm a wicked, ungrateful woman to be so wretched," thought Jane; "I'll never let Tilly know how I felt."

In a surprisingly short time the carriage stopped. "Now, ma," said Tilly.

A great blaze of light seemed all about Jane Louder. There were the dear familiar windows of the Lossing block.

"Come up-stairs, ma," said Tilly.

She followed like one in a dream; and like one in a dream she was pushed into her own old parlor. The old parlor, but not quite the old parlor; hung with new wall-paper, shining with new paint, soft under her feet with a new carpet, it looked to Jane Louder like fairyland.

"Oh, Tilly," she gasped; "oh, Tilly, ain't you moved?"

"No, nor we ain't going to move, ma—that's the surprise! I took the money I'd saved for moving, for the new carpet and new dishes; and the Lossings they papered and painted. I was SO 'fraid we couldn't get done in time. Alma and all the boarders are coming in pretty soon to welcome you, and they've all chipped in for a little banquet at Mrs. Carleton's—why, mother, you're crying! Mother, you didn't really think I'd move when it made you feel so bad? I know I'm set and stubborn, and I didn't take it well when Mr. Lossing talked to me; but the more I thought it over, the more I seemed to myself like that hateful Minnie. Oh, mother, I ain't, am I? You shall do just exactly as you like all the days of your life!"