by Annie Fellows
With a sigh of relief Alida Gooding saw the dentist put away his
instruments. Her nerves seemed all aquiver as she slowly rose and went
into the little dressing-room to put on her hat and coat, and to wait
for the family carriage which was to call for her at this hour.
She was a plain-looking girl of eighteen, with homely, irregular
features, a sallow complexion, and a reserved, haughty manner that
tended to repel all friendly advances. All that clothes could do to
improve a girl's appearance had certainly been done for her. Every
part of her costume, from her fashionable gown to her stylish hat,
indicated wealth and good taste; but the face that looked wistfully
back at her from the little dressing-room mirror was not pretty.
The door into the adjoining parlour was slightly ajar, and she could
hear some one pacing restlessly about, awaiting his turn. "I'll be
ready for you in about three minutes, Charley!" called the dentist
from the inner room; and Alida heard the reply, "No hurry. I want to
speak to one of the boys I see coming down the street."
The voice was a familiar one. She recognised it as belonging to
Charley Jarvis, a friend of her sister. The next instant she heard a
window thrown up, and a shrill whistle sounded out on the snowy air.
Peering cautiously out of the window where she stood watching for the
carriage, she saw another acquaintance, Phil Bently, look up and wave
his hand in response to the whistle. A moment later he came bounding
up the stairs, three steps at a time, and into the adjoining parlour.
"What's up, old fellow?" he asked. "What's wanted now?"
"I've been trying to see you for three days," answered Charley, "but
they told me that you were out of town when I inquired at the office.
Mrs. Lancaster has a pretty little girl visiting her from Alabama, and
she intends to give an old-fashioned valentine party for her
entertainment next week. I am helping with the invitations. Here's
the list of the boys she wants, and each one is to bring one of the
girls of our set as his valentine, in fancy costume, you know. I've
seen all the boys but you and Ben Fuller, and they've chosen the girls
they want to invite."
"Who's left for us?" queried Phil. "Let me see the list a minute.
Nannie Mason," he read, slowly. "No wonder she was left to the last;
she's such a silly little thing and does nothing but giggle. Alida
Gooding! Jarvis, you haven't left me much choice. Alida's the
homeliest girl in town. It is a pity that she is so ugly when her
sister May is such a beauty. Now if it were only May who was one of
the left-overs, I'd jump at the chance. Any fellow would be proud to
"But you see," interrupted Charley, with a tantalising drawl, "May is
my valentine. Come on, now, which do you choose—Nannie or Alida?
Ben is good-natured; he'll take whoever is left."
"Well, then—Nannie," said Phil, in a martyrlike tone. "Ben can escort
the comic valentine."
"Oh, I say, Bently," exclaimed his friend, "you needn't talk about
the girl that way! She can't help being so plain!"
"That's so. It's brutal of me, and I'm sorry I said that. But she
might at least be jolly," answered Phil. "You wouldn't want to take a
girl that wasn't even—"
Alida did not hear the rest of the sentence. The moment that she
realised they were talking about her, she had begun to struggle into
her coat in order to leave. Without looking into the mirror,—her eyes
were too full of tears to see, even if she had done so,—she pinned on
her hat and hurried out into the hall. The coupé had just drawn up at
the curbstone, and with a curt order to the coachman to drive home as
rapidly as possible, she sank down on the cushions, shrinking back
from the carriage windows.
Mortified by the cruelly careless speech that she had overheard, she
gave herself up to an uncontrollable fit of crying. "I know that I've
always been uh-uh-ugly," she sobbed, "but I never knew before that
people felt and talked that way about me! I'll never show my face
outside of the house again, and Ben Fuller shall certainly be spared
the mortification of escorting a 'comic valentine' to Mrs.
Lancaster's party. Oh, I would rather be dead than so homely and
She was still sobbing when she reached the house, and stood shivering
on the steps in the chill February wind while she waited for the front
door to open. A cheerful wood fire blazed in the fireplace in the wide
reception hall. A bowl of hothouse violets greeted her with their
fragrant springlike odour; but heedless of the luxurious warmth and
cheer that pervaded the house, she hurried up-stairs, with the gloom
of the cloudy winter day in her tear-stained face.
"Lunch is served, Miss Alida," said the maid, meeting her in the upper
"Tell mamma that I don't want any," she answered, passing into her own
room. "I'm going to lie down. My head aches, and I do not wish to be
disturbed by any one."
A slight expression of annoyance crossed Mrs. Gooding's handsome face.
She and May were alone at lunch, and when the servant had left the
room she said impatiently to May: "I particularly wanted Alida to go
out with us this afternoon to call on Mrs. Lancaster's guest. She
takes so little interest in people outside the family, and it really
mortifies me to see how silent and stiff she is in company. She always
has some excuse to stay at home. She can never overcome her reticence
unless she goes out more. Oh, May, I wish she were more like you!"
As Alida lay up-stairs, battling with her tears and a throbbing
headache, a note was brought to her. It was from Ben Fuller, asking
her to be his valentine at Mrs. Lancaster's party. By this time she
had worked herself up to such a state of morbid sensitiveness that she
could not even write a gracious refusal. It was so curt and cool that
Ben gave a low whistle of surprise when he received it.
"I shall never ask her to go anywhere again!" was his mental
comment, as he tossed the note into the fire.
All the rest of the week Alida stayed in her room as much as possible.
Phil Bently's speech so rankled in her mind that she could take no
pleasure in anything, not even in the making of May's costume, in
which all the family were interested. It was an odd affair—a white
silk gown dotted with red hearts and bordered with dozens of
old-fashioned lace-paper valentines, with their bright array of
cupids and doves and flowers; and to May it was most becoming.
"Where did you ever get all the things to put on it?" asked her father
as she slowly revolved before him the night of the party.
"Oh, I saved them as an Indian brave does his scalp-locks," she
answered. "They were sent to me ages ago, before I left the nursery. I
had them all packed away, and had forgotten them until I began
planning this costume. I wonder if Charley Jarvis will recognise that
row, or Phil Bently remember when he sent this. They were barely out
of the kindergarten then."
The judge looked at the trophies with an amused smile. "I remember
sending valentines to your mother once upon a time. It is too bad the
custom is dying out. Young people seem to be discarding their patron
"Oh, no, indeed, father," answered May. "We have got beyond hearts and
darts and lace-paper affairs; but cast your judicial eye over that
table at all I have received to-day: books and music and boxes of
candy and no end of flowers."
"Where is your share, Alida?" asked the judge, kindly, peering over
his eye-glasses at his youngest daughter. "What did St. Valentine
"Nothing," answered Alida, rising suddenly to leave the room, lest he
should notice the tears she could not force back. "He's like everybody
else," she added, bitterly, as she reached the door. "He doesn't care
for homely people."
The judge looked annoyed. "I wish she were not so self-conscious and
sensitive!" he exclaimed.
"She hasn't seemed well for some time," said her mother,
apologetically. "It might be a wise thing to have the doctor see her
soon. The next time Agnes drops in I shall speak to her."
"If the child is ailing, have her come at once," said the judge,
decidedly, and a few minutes later he was at the telephone, sending a
message for Doctor Agnes Mayne to call that evening, if possible.
Instead of going to her own room, Alida opened the door of the old
nursery, turned on the gas, and began searching through closets and
drawers. At last she found the object of her search, a little
portfolio in which she had laid away some of her childish treasures,
as her older sister had done. Kneeling on the floor beside it, she
took out the valentines it contained and counted them. There were only
six—all that she had ever received; and now she noticed that each
little lace envelope was addressed in her father's familiar
handwriting. She had failed to see that in those earlier years.
"So, really, St. Valentine has never brought me anything," she
thought, bitterly, "and he never will! I wonder how it feels to be
loved and admired by everybody, as May is!"
Going into her own room, she sat down before her little mahogany
dressing-table, and tilting back the oval mirror, studied the
reflection in it. As she looked, the tears began to roll down her
cheeks, and finally she crossed her arms on the table and laid her
head on them with a choking sob. There was a knock at the door
presently, but she paid no attention. It was repeated, and then some
one came in softly, pausing as she saw the girl's dejected attitude.
Alida looked up, "Oh, Doctor Agnes!" she exclaimed; then, despite a
strong effort to control her nervous tears, down went her head on the
table, and she sobbed harder than before.
Doctor Agnes Mayne was the warm friend of all the family, and on the
most familiar footing with them. As she was a woman of strong
personal magnetism, and knew just how to win Alida's confidence, it
was not long before her judicious questions had drawn out the reason
of the girl's grief. After Alida had finished her recital of the
conversation at the dentist's, there was a long silence.
"Well, Alida," said Doctor Agnes at last, "what you need is a dose of
definitions, and I am going to give them to you at once. I wish you
would go to your dictionary and look for the word 'homely.' That seems
to be such a bugbear to you."
Much surprised, Alida crossed the room and opened the ponderous volume
on her writing-table. While she ran her finger slowly down the page,
the doctor continued: "It has several definitions, but the original
meaning was homelike, and it is only in that archaic sense that I
want you to take it. Now, what is given as the definition of
"Comfortable; cheerful; cozy; friendly," read Alida.
"Now look for comfortable," directed the doctor. "Not any modern
meaning. I want the good old ones that have become obsolete."
"Strong; vigorous; serviceable; helpful," read Alida again.
"Now just one word more," said the doctor. "Find cozy, the meaning
that the English give it."
Alida searched the columns a moment and then read: "Chatty; talkative;
"There!" exclaimed the doctor, taking the girl's feverish wrist in her
firm, cool hand. "That is my prescription for you. Take those
definitions faithfully to heart for a year, and you will become so
homely, in the good old sense of the word, that by another St.
Valentine's day you will find yourself admired by everybody."
Alida shrugged her shoulders so incredulously that the doctor took out
her watch and showed her a picture inside the case. "There is my
proof," she said. It was the picture of a sweet, kindly old face,
plain in features, but with a beauty of expression that made Alida's
eyes soften as she looked at it.
"My mother," said Doctor Agnes, gently. "She might be called a homely
woman in both senses of the word. Every one feels the cheer of her
presence as of a warm, comfortable fire-side. Nobody can come into
contact with her without being helped by her sunny, friendly interest.
People feel at home—at their easiest and best—with her, and she is
the 'cozy corner' they naturally turn to, old and young alike."
"Then she must have been born with such a nature," interrupted Alida.
"No, she was as reserved and timid as you are—always worrying about
her appearance and thinking that people were criticising her, until
she went to visit an eccentric old aunt, who spent her time in finding
employment for friendless young girls.
"Aunt Winifred soon found that mother was in as great need of
employment as the poorest little seamstress on her list. So she
interested her in her charities, drawing her by degrees into the
active work of them until her unhappy little niece had learned the
beautiful gospel of self-forgetfulness. Afterward, when mother was
married and had the happiness of her five daughters at heart, she
induced each one of us to take up something of absorbing interest, in
order that there might be no empty, idle days when discontent could
creep in. That is how I came to study medicine, and that is how I
learned to love the word 'homely' in its first and best sense. She
taught me the definitions which I have just given you."
Half an hour later Judge Gooding was surprised to see Alida and Agnes
Mayne coming gaily into the room with their arms around each other.
There was more animation in Alida's face than it had shown for days.
"Papa, I am going to study medicine," she announced. "Doctor Agnes has
told me so many interesting things about her profession, and the cases
she has in the children's hospital, that I can hardly wait to begin.
She has promised to take me round with her and lend me all her books.
I think I shall begin to-morrow morning."
The judge smiled indulgently. "I have no fears of your going into the
practice of medicine seriously," he said. "I should not like a
daughter of mine to do that; but if you think you would enjoy the
study as a pastime and Doctor Mayne recommends it, I shall not object
if your mother is willing."
The family thought that "Alida's fad," as they called it, would not
last long; but under Agnes Mayne's wise supervision it became an
unfailing source of pleasure to the girl. Winter slipped into spring,
and the crocuses gave way to the summer roses, and still her interest
grew daily. She even begged not to be taken to the seashore, where the
family always spent their summers.
"Mrs. Mayne has asked me to stay with her," she said, "and she has
such a dear little house, and I am sure that the children at the
hospital would miss me now if I were to go away. There is so much that
I can do to make the poor little things happier."
Alida had her own way finally. She studied on through the summer,
learning much about anatomy and physiology from the doctor's big books
in the office, but unconsciously learning the higher wisdom of a
spiritual hygiene from her sweet-souled old hostess, the doctor's
mother. It cleared her mental vision. It made her quick to understand
other people, warm in her sympathies, and forgetful of self in her
intercourse with them.
"She do be such a comfortable sort of body, that young doctor," said a
poor washerwoman, suffering from a scalded arm, as Doctor Mayne made
her rounds alone one morning. "She is that chatty and sociable that I
forget the pain while she is about, and it would do your heart good to
see how she do cozy up the place before she leaves it."
Doctor Mayne repeated this to Alida. "You are getting on bravely with
your definitions," she said, with an approving pat on her shoulder.
"What do you think of 'Alida's fad' now?" she asked Mrs. Gooding,
several months later. It was a dull December day, and she had called
for a hasty visit.
"My dear Agnes," said Mrs. Gooding, "we are simply delighted! It has
waked her up and made a different creature of her. She is almost as
easy and sociable with May's friends now as May is herself. Yesterday
afternoon half a dozen of them came in with May to get warm after a
long sleigh-ride. Alida prepared a delicious little chafing-dish lunch
for them, and made herself so agreeable and entertaining that I was
"I thought that she looked almost pretty, too. Her complexion is so
clear now, since she has put to such good use what she has learned
about hygiene. She looked so bright and animated, laughing and
talking there in the firelight, that it did not seem possible she had
ever been a cold, reticent girl, who always repelled people."
One morning, not long after this conversation, the family were
surprised by Ben Fuller's driving up in his sleigh soon after
breakfast, and asking for Alida. They were all in the library, and he
announced his errand without taking a seat. "My sister Ada—Mrs.
Cranford, you know—is very anxious for you to come over for a little
while. She was so prostrated yesterday by the shock of what happened
in her absence that she couldn't talk coherently to you then; but she
feels that she must see you for a few moments, if possible, and she is
unable to come out this morning. May I take you over in my sleigh?"
Alida, showing no trace of surprise at the message, rose at once to go
up-stairs for her hat, but Mrs. Gooding plied him with astonished
"Is it possible that she has not told you?" he exclaimed. "My sister
is spending the winter here with her little daughter Doris. We all
idolise the child, and she is never left alone a moment. But yesterday
we were all out of town at a wedding, and Doris had to be left with
only the nurse. Nobody will ever know how it happened, but she slipped
away and got into the little cottage around the corner. There was a
child there that she had taken a fancy to from seeing it at the window
whenever she passed.
"Nobody can find out how long she was there, or what the two children
did. She says that they played party and had 'good fings' to eat that
they 'finded' by themselves. Miss Alida met her coming home about four
o'clock, and turned to walk with her and see her safely into the
house, for she suspected that Doris had run away. Doris was eating
some of the pink candy that she had brought home from the cottage,
although we did not know where it came from until this morning.
"She offered Miss Alida a taste out of the little pasteboard box she
carried. To Miss Alida's horror, she found it was a package of roach
paste, warranted to be a deadly poison to insects. Miss Alida hurried
the child into the house and set to work so skilfully that by the time
the doctor reached there, nothing was left for him to do. He said that
Doris would have died but for Miss Alida's medical knowledge and
immediate attention. If nothing had been done until he arrived, it
would have been too late to save the child.
"Ada got home about the time he pronounced Doris entirely out of
danger, and was so frightened when she heard what had happened that
she went from one fainting spell into another. This morning we found
where Doris got the poison, and learned that the little child at the
cottage died in the night. Ada is so unnerved that she is nearly
frantic, thinking how near she came to losing Doris. She is so
grateful to Miss Alida that she would go through fire and water to
serve her in any way. Well, we all would, in fact," added the young
man, with a suspicion of huskiness in his voice. "You see, Doris is
the only grandchild in the family, and we are almost foolishly fond of
Detaching a locket from his watch-chain, he handed it to the judge.
"Here is a miniature of her," he said. The judge looked at the
beautiful baby face framed in its golden curls, and then glanced up at
Alida, who had returned, dressed for her drive.
"HID HER FACE IN A GREAT BUNCH OF ROSES."
"Thank God for such a sensible little daughter!" he said with
fervour, as he rose and kissed her.
This was not the last time that Ben Fuller was sent to escort Alida to
his sister. Mrs. Cranford's gratitude grew into an intense affection
for the girl. All winter she sent for her on every possible occasion,
to drive with her, to dine, to go to the opera, or attend some
entertainment. She was constantly planning some new way to give Alida
pleasure. Finding her deeply interested in the children at the
hospital, she sent a beautiful tree out to them on Christmas day, in
Alida's name. When February 14th came again, a great package of
valentines found its way to Alida for the children—enough for every
child in every ward, and the finest that could be bought in the city.
Doctor Agnes came up to Alida's room to help her sort and address
them. "You certainly have your share this year," she said, laughing.
"Do you remember what a slough of despond you were in a year ago?"
Alida smiled happily, and then hid her face in a great bunch of roses
on her dressing-table. The little note that had come with the flowers
was still in her hand, and she had just reread it.
"St. Valentine has brought me something else," she said, hesitatingly.
"Doctor Agnes, I'm to be Ben's valentine at the party to-night, and
he—he thinks that I am really homely in the archaic sense."