The Queer Little Thing
By Eleanor Hoyt Brainerd
Bonita Allen was a queer little thing. Everyone in the school, from
Miss Ryder down to the chambermaid, had made remarks to that effect
before the child had spent forty-eight hours in the house, yet no one
seemed able to give a convincing reason for the general impression.
The new pupil was quiet, docile, moderately well dressed, fairly good
looking. She did nothing extraordinary. In fact, she effaced herself
as far as possible; yet from the first she caused a ripple in the
placid current of the school, and her personality was distinctly felt.
"I think it's her eyes," hazarded Belinda, as she and Miss Barnes
discussed the new-comer in the Youngest Teacher's room. "They aren't
girl eyes at all."
"Fine eyes," asserted the teacher of mathematics with her usual
Belinda nodded emphatic assent. "Yes, of course; beautiful, but so big
and pathetic and dumb. I feel ridiculously apologetic every time the
child looks at me, and as for punishing her—I'd as soon shoot a deer
at six paces. It's all wrong. A twelve-year-old girl hasn't any right
to eyes like those. If the youngster is unhappy she ought to cry
twenty-five handkerchiefs full of tears, as Evangeline Marie did when
she came, and then get over it. And if she's happy she ought to smile
with her eyes as well as with her lips. I can't stand self-repression
"She'll be all right when she has been here longer and begins to feel
at home," said Miss Barnes. But Belinda shook her head doubtfully as
she went down to superintend study hour.
Seated at her desk in the big schoolroom she looked idly along the
rows of girlish heads until she came to one bent stoically over a
book. The new pupil was not fidgeting like her comrades. Apparently
her every thought was concentrated upon the book before her. Her
elbows were on her desk, and one lean little brown hand supported the
head, whose masses of straight black hair were parted in an unerring
white line and fell in two heavy braids. The face framed in the smooth
shining hair was lean as the hand, yet held no suggestion of
ill-health. It was clean cut, almost to sharpness, brown with the
brownness that comes from wind and sun, oddly firm about chin and
lips, high of cheekbones, straight of nose.
As Belinda looked two dark eyes were raised from the book and met her
own—sombre eyes with a hurt in them—and an uncomfortable lump rose
in the Youngest Teacher's throat. She smiled at the sad little face,
but the smile was not a merry one. In some unaccountable way it spoke
of the sympathetic lump in her throat, and the Queer Little Thing
seemed to read the message, for the ghost of an answering smile
flickered in the brown depths before the lids dropped over them.
When study hour was over the Youngest Teacher moved hastily to the
door, with some vague idea of following up the successful smile, and
establishing diplomatic relations with the new girl; but she was not
quick enough. Bonita had slipped into the hall and hurried up the
stair toward the shelter of her own room.
Shrugging her shoulders, Belinda turned toward the door of Miss
Ryder's study and knocked.
The voice was not encouraging. Miss Lucilla objected to interruptions
in the late evening hours, when she relaxed from immaculately fitted
black silk to the undignified folds of a violet dressing gown.
When she recognized the intruder she thawed perceptibly.
"Oh, Miss Carewe! Come in. Nothing wrong, is there?"
Belinda dropped into a chair with a whimsical sigh.
"Nothing wrong except my curiosity. Miss Ryder, do tell me something
about that Allen child."
Miss Lucilla eyed her subordinate questioningly.
"What has she been doing?"
"Nothing at all. I wish she would do something. It's what she doesn't
do, and looks capable of doing, that bothers me. There's simply no
getting at her. She's from Texas, isn't she?"
The principal regarded attentively one of the grapes she was eating,
and there was an interval of silence.
"She is a queer little thing," Miss Lucilla admitted at last. "Yes,
she's from Texas, but that's no reason why she should be odd. We've
had a number of young ladies from Texas, and they were quite like
other school girls only more so. Just between you and me, Miss Carewe,
I think it must be the child's Indian blood that makes her seem
"Indian?" Belinda sat up, sniffing romance in the air.
"Yes, her father mentioned the strain quite casually when he wrote.
It's rather far back in the family, but he seemed to think it might
account for the girl's intense love for nature and dislike of
conventions. Mrs. Allen died when the baby was born, and the father
has brought the child up on a ranch. He's completely wrapped up in
her, but he finally realized that she needed to be with women. He's
worth several millions and he wants to educate her so that she'll
enjoy the money—'be a fine lady,' as he puts it. I confess his
description of the girl disturbed me at first, but he was so liberal
in regard to terms that——"
Miss Lucilla left the sentence in the air and meditatively ate another
bunch of grapes.
"Did her father come up with her?" Belinda asked.
"No, he sent her with friends who happened to be coming—highly
respectable couple, but breezy, very breezy. They told me that Bonita
could ride any broncho on the ranch and could shoot a jack-rabbit on
the run. They seemed to think she would be a great addition to our
school circle on that account. Personally I'm much relieved to find
her so tractable and quiet, but I've noticed something—well—unusual
As Belinda went up to bed she met a slim little figure in a barbaric
red and yellow dressing gown crossing the hall. There was a shy
challenge in the serious child face, although the little feet, clad in
soft beaded moccasins, quickened their steps; and Belinda answered the
furtive friendliness by slipping an arm around the girl's waist and
drawing her into the tiny hall bedroom.
"You haven't been to see me. It's one of the rules that every girl
shall have a cup of cocoa with me before she has been here three
evenings," she said laughingly.
The Queer Little Thing accepted the overture soberly and, curled up in
the one big chair, watched the teacher in silence.
The cocoa was soon under way. Then the hostess turned and smiled
frankly at her guest. Belinda's smile is a reassuring thing.
"Homesick business, isn't it?" she said abruptly, with a warm note of
comradeship in her voice.
The tense little figure in the big chair leaned forward with sudden,
"I'm going home," announced Bonita in a tone that made no
Belinda received the news without the quiver of an eyelash or a sign
"When?" she asked with interest warm enough to invite confession and
not emphatic enough to rouse distrust.
"I don't know just when, but I have to go. I can't stand it and I've
written to Daddy. He'll understand. Nobody here knows. They're all
used to it. They've always lived in houses like this, with little back
yards that have high walls around them, and sidewalks and streets
right outside the front windows, and crowds of strange people going by
all the time, and just rules, rules, rules, everywhere. Everybody has
so many manners, and they talk about things I don't know anything
about, and nobody would understand if I talked about the real things."
"Perhaps I'll understand a little bit," murmured Belinda. The Queer
Little Thing put out one hand and touched the Youngest Teacher's knee
gently in a shy, caressing fashion.
"No, you wouldn't understand, because you don't know; but you could
learn. The others couldn't. The prairie wouldn't talk to them and
they'd be lonesome—the way I am here. Dick says you have got to learn
the language when you are little, or else have a gift for such
languages, but that when you've once learned it you don't care to hear
"Who's Dick?" Belinda asked.
"Dick? Oh he's just Dick. He taught me to ride and to shoot, and he
used to read poetry to me, and he told me stories about everything. He
used to go to a big school called Harvard, but he was lonesome
there—the way I am here."
"The way I am here" dropped into the talk like a persistent refrain,
and there was heartache in it.
"I want to go home," the child went on. Now that the dam of silence
was down the pent-up feeling rushed out tumultuously. "I want to see
Daddy and the boys and the horses and the cattle, and I want to watch
the sun go down over the edge of the world, not just tumble down among
the dirty houses, and I want to gallop over the prairie where there
aren't any roads, and smell the grass and watch the birds and the sky.
You ought to see the sky down there at night, Miss Carewe. It's so big
and black and soft and full of bright stars, and you can see clear to
where it touches the ground all around you, and there's a night breeze
that's cool as cool, and the boys all play their banjos and guitars
and sing, and Daddy and I sit over on our veranda and listen. There's
only a little narrow strip of sky with two or three stars in it out of
my window here, and it's so noisy and cluttered out in the back
yards—and I hate walking in a procession on the ugly old streets, and
doing things when bells ring. I hate it. I hate it."
Her voice hadn't risen at all, had only grown more and more vibrant
with passionate rebellion. The sharp little face was drawn and pale,
but there were no tears in the big tragic eyes.
Belinda had consoled many homesick little girls, but this was a
"I'm sorry," she said softly. "Don't you think It will be easier after
The small girl with the old face shook her head.
"No, it won't. It isn't in me to like all this. I'm so sorry, because
Daddy wants me to be a lady. He said it was as hard for him to send me
as it was for me to come, but that I couldn't learn to be a lady with
lots of money to spend down there with only boys and him. There wasn't
any lady there on the ranch at all, except Mammy Lou, the cook, and
she didn't have lots of money to spend, so she wasn't the kind he
meant. I thought I'd come and try, but I didn't know it would be like
this. I don't want to be a lady, Miss Carewe. I don't believe they can
be very happy. I've seen them in carriages and they don't look very
happy. You're nice. I like you, and I'm most sure Daddy and Dick and
the boys would like you, but then you haven't got lots of money, have
you? And you were born up here and you don't know any better anyway.
I'm going home."
The burst of confidence ended where it had begun. She was going home,
and she was so firm in the faith that Belinda, listening, believed
"But if your father says no?"
The dark little face was quiet again, all but the great eyes.
"I'll have to go," the Queer Little Thing slowly said.
Four days later Miss Lucilla Ryder called the Youngest Teacher into
"Miss Carewe, I'm puzzled about this little Miss Allen. I had a letter
from her father this morning. He says that she has written that she is
very homesick and unhappy and doesn't want to stay. He feels badly
about it, of course, but he very wisely leaves the matter in our
hands—says he realizes she'll have to be homesick and he'll have to
be lonesome if she's to be a lady. But he wants us to do all we can to
make her contented. He very generously sends a check for five hundred
dollars, which we are to use for any extra expense incurred in
entertaining her and making her happy. Now, I thought you might take
her to the theater and the art museum, and the—a—the aquarium, and
introduce her to the pleasures and advantages of city life. She'll
soon be all right."
With sinking heart Belinda went in search of the girl. She found her
practicing five-finger exercises drearily in one of the music-rooms.
As Belinda entered the child looked up and met the friendly,
sympathetic eyes. A mute appeal sprang into her own eyes, and Belinda
understood. The thing was too bad to be talked about, and the Youngest
Teacher said no word about the homesickness or the expected letter. In
this way she clinched her friendship with the Queer Little Thing.
But, following the principal's orders, she endeavored to demonstrate
to Bonita the joy and blessedness of life in New York. The child went,
quietly wherever she was taken—a mute, pathetic little figure to whom
the aquarium fish and the Old Masters and the latest matinee idol were
all one—and unimportant. The other girls envied her her privileges
and her pocket-money, but they did not understand. No one understood
save Belinda, and she did her cheerful best to blot out old loves with
new impressions; but from the first she felt in her heart that she was
elected to failure. The child was fond of her, always respectful,
always docile, always grave. Nothing brought a light into her eyes or
a spontaneous smile to her lips. Anyone save Belinda would have grown
impatient, angry. She only grew more tender—and more troubled. Day by
day she watched the sad little face grow thinner. It was pale now,
instead of brown, and the high cheek bones were strikingly prominent.
The lips pressed closely together drooped plaintively at the corners
and the big eyes were more full of shadow than ever; but the child
made no protest or plea, and by tacit consent she and Belinda ignored
their first conversation and never mentioned Texas.
Often Belinda made up her mind to put aside the restraint and talk
freely as she would to any other girl, but there was something about
the little Texan that forbade liberties, warned off intruders, and the
Youngest Teacher feared losing what little ground she had gained.
Finally she went in despair to Miss Ryder.
"The Indian character is too much for me," she confessed with a groan
half humorous, half earnest. "I give it up."
"What's the matter?" asked Miss Ryder.
"Well, I've dragged poor Bonita Allen all over the borough of
Manhattan and the Bronx and spent many ducats in the process. She has
been very polite about it, but just as sad over Sherry's tea hour as
over Grant's tomb, and just as cheerful over the Cesnola collection as
over the monkey cages at the Zoo. The poor little thing is so unhappy
and miserable that she looks like a wild animal in a trap, and I think
the best we can do with her is to send her home.
"Nonsense," said Miss Lucilla. "Her father is paying eighteen hundred
dollars a year."
Belinda was defiant.
"I don't care. He ought to take her home."
"Miss Carewe, you are sentimentalizing. One would think you had never
seen a homesick girl before."
"She's different from other girls."
"I'll talk with her myself," said Miss Lucilla sternly.
She did, but the situation remained unchanged, and when she next
mentioned the Texan problem to Belinda, Miss Lucilla was less positive
in her views.
"She's a very strange child, but we must do what we can to carry out
her father's wishes."
"I'd send her home," said Belinda.
It was shortly after this that Katherine Holland, who sat beside
Bonita at the table, confided to Belinda that that funny little Allen
girl didn't eat a thing. The waitress came to Belinda with the same
tale, and the Youngest Teacher sought out Bonita and reasoned with
"You really must eat, my dear," she urged.
"You'll be ill if you don't."
Belinda looked dazed.
"I'm afraid I don't understand."
"How soon will I be sick?"
"Very soon, I'm afraid," the puzzled teacher answered.
"That's good. I don't feel as if I could wait much longer."
"Do you mean to say you want to be ill?"
"If I get very sick Daddy will come for me."
The teacher looked helplessly at the quiet, great-eyed child, then
launched into expostulation, argument, entreaty.
Bonita listened politely and was profoundly unimpressed.
"It's wicked, dear child. It would make your father wretchedly
"He'd be awfully unhappy if he understood, anyway. He thinks I'm not
really unhappy and that it's his duty to keep me here and make a lady
of me, no matter how lonely he is without me. He wrote me so—but I
know he'd be terribly glad if he had a real excuse for taking me
Belinda exhausted her own resources and appealed to Miss Lucilla, who
stared incredulously over her nose-glasses and sent for Bonita.
After the interview she called for the Youngest Teacher, and the two
failures looked at each other helplessly.
"It's an extraordinary thing," said Miss Lucilla in her most
magisterial tone—"a most extraordinary thing. In all my experience
I've seen nothing like it. Nothing seems to make the slightest
impression upon the child. She's positively crazy."
"You will tell her father to send for her, won't you?"
Miss Lucilla shook her head stubbornly.
"Not at all. It would be the ruination of the child to give in to her
whims and bad temper now. If she won't listen to reason she must be
allowed to pay for her foolishness. When she gets hungry enough she
will eat. It's a shame to talk about a child of twelve having the
stoicism to starve herself into an illness just because she is
homesick at boarding-school."
Belinda came back to her thread-worn argument.
"But Bonita is different, Miss Ryder."
"She's a very stubborn, selfish child," said Miss Ryder resentfully,
and turning to her desk she changed the conversation.
Despite discipline, despite pleadings, despite cajolery, Bonita stood
firm. Eat she would not, and when, on her way to class one morning the
scrap of humanity with the set lips and the purple shadows round her
eyes fainted quietly, Belinda felt that a masterly inactivity had
ceased to be a virtue.
James, the house man, carried the girl upstairs, and the Youngest
Teacher put her to bed, where she opened her eyes to look unseeingly
at Belinda and then closed them wearily and lay quite still, a limp
little creature whose pale face looked pitifully thin and lifeless
against the white pillow. The Queer Little Thing's wish had been
fulfilled and illness had come without long delay.
For a moment Belinda looked down at the girl. Then she turned and went
swiftly to Miss Ryder's study, her eyes blazing, her mouth so stern
that Amelia Bowers, who met her on the stairs, hurried to spread the
news that Miss Carewe "was perfectly hopping mad about something."
Once in the presence of the August One the little teacher lost no time
"Miss Ryder," she said crisply—and at the tone her employer looked up
in amazement—"I've told you about Bonita Allen. I've been to you
again and again about her. You knew that she was fretting her heart
out and half sick, and then you knew that for several days she hasn't
been eating a thing. I tried to make you understand that the matter
was serious and that something radical needed to be done, but you
insisted that the child would come around all right and that we
mustn't give in to her. I begged you to send for her father and you
said it wasn't necessary. I'm here to take your orders, Miss Ryder,
but I can't stand this sort of thing. I know the girl better than any
of the rest of you do, and I know it isn't badness that makes her act
so. Now she is ill—really ill. I've just put her to bed, and
honestly, Miss Ryder, if we don't send for her father we'll have a
tragedy on our hands. It sounds foolish, but it is true. If nobody
else telegraphs to Mr. Allen I am going to do it."
When the doctor came there were bright red spots on the Queer Little
Thing's cheeks, and she was babbling incoherently about prairie
flowers and horses and Dick and Daddy.
Meanwhile a telegram had gone to Daddy and the messenger who delivered
it heard a volume of picturesque comment that was startling even on a
"Am coming," ran the answering dispatch received by Miss Ryder that
night; but it was not until morning that Bonita was able to understand
"He's scared, but I know he's glad," she said and she swallowed
without a murmur the broth against which even in her delirium she had
One evening, three days later, a hansom dashed up to the school and
out jumped a tall, square-shouldered man in a wide-brimmed hat, and
clothes that bore only a family resemblance to the clothing of the New
York millionaires, though they were good clothes in their own
A loud, hearty voice inquiring for "My baby" made itself heard even in
the sickroom, and a sudden light flashed into the little patient's
eyes—a light that was an illumination and a revelation.
"Daddy," she said wearily, and the word was a heart-throb.
Mr. Allen wasted no time in a polite interview with Miss Ryder.
Hypnotized by his masterfulness, the servant led him directly up to
the sick-room and opened the door.
The man filled the room; a high breeze seemed to come with him, and
vitality flowed from him in tangible waves. Belinda smiled, but there
were tears in her eyes, for the big man's heart was in his face.
Belinda remembered an errand downstairs.
When she returned the big Texan was sitting on the side of the bed
with both the lean little hands in one of his big brawny ones, while
his other hand awkwardly smoothed the straight black hair.
"When will you take me home, Daddy?" said the child with the shining
"As soon as you're strong enough, Honey. The boys wanted me to let
them charge New York in a bunch and get you. It's been mighty lonesome
on that ranch. I wish to heaven I'd never been fool enough to let you
He turned to Belinda with a quizzical smile sitting oddly on his
"I reckon she might as well go, miss. I sent her to a finishing
school, and by thunder, she's just about finished."
There was a certain hint of pride in his voice as he added
"I might have known if she said she'd have to come home she meant it.
Harder to change her mind than to bust any broncho I ever tackled.
Queer Little Thing, Baby is."