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Quicksilver Sue

Laura Elizabeth Howe Richards






  Author of "Captain January," etc.

  Illustrated by W. D. Stevens

  New YorkThe Century Co.1901

























  "Mother! Mother! he has a daughter! Isn't that perfectly fine?"

  Mrs. Penrose looked up wearily; her head ached, and Sue was so noisy!

  "Who has a daughter?" she asked. "Can't you speak a little lower, Sue?Your voice goes through my head like a needle. Who is it that has adaughter?"

  Sue's bright face fell for an instant, and she swung her sunbonnetimpatiently; but the next moment she started again at full speed.

  "The new agent for the Pashmet Mills, Mother. Everybody is talkingabout it. They are going to live at the hotel. They have taken thebest rooms, and Mr. Binns has had them all painted and papered,--therooms, I mean, of course,--and new curtains, and everything. Her nameis Clarice, and she is fifteen, and very pretty; and he is realrich--"

  "_Very_ rich," corrected her mother, with a little frown of pain.

  "Very rich," Sue went on; "and her clothes are simply fine;and--and--oh, Mother, isn't it elegant?"

  "Sue, where have you been?" asked her mother, rousing herself. (BadEnglish was one of the few things that did rouse Mrs. Penrose.) "Whomhave you been talking with, child? I am sure you never hear Mary Hartsay 'isn't it elegant'!"

  "Oh! Mary is a schoolma'am, Mother. But I never did say it before, andI won't again--truly I won't. Annie Rooney told me, and she said it,and so I didn't think. Annie is going to be waitress at the hotel, youknow, and she's just as excited as I am about it."

  "Annie Rooney is not a suitable companion for you, my daughter, and Iam not interested in hotel gossip. Besides, my head aches too much totalk any more."

  "I'll go and tell Mary!" said Sue.

  "Will you hand me my medicine before you go, Sue?"

  But Sue was already gone. The door banged, and the mother sank backwith a weary, fretful sigh. Why was Sue so impetuous, so unguided? Whywas she not thoughtful and considerate, like Mary Hart?

  Sue whirled upstairs like a breeze, and rushed into her own room. Theroom, a pleasant, sunny one, looked as if a breeze were blowing in itall day long. A jacket was tossed on one chair, a dress on another.The dressing-table was a cheerful litter of ribbons, photographs,books, papers, and hats. (This made it hard to find one's brush andcomb sometimes; but then, it was convenient to have the other thingswhere one could get at them.) There was a writing-table, but thesquirrel lived on that; it was the best place to put the cage, becausehe liked the sun. (Sue never would have thought of moving the tablesomewhere else and leaving the space for the cage.) And the closetwas entirely full and running over. The walls were covered withpictures of every variety, from the Sistine Madonna down to a splendidfour-in-hand cut out of the "Graphic." Most of them had somethinghanging on the frame--a bird's nest, or a branch of barberries, or atangle of gray moss. Sometimes the picture could still be seen; again,it could not, except when the wind blew the adornment aside.Altogether, the room looked as if some one had a good time in it, andas if that some one were always in a hurry; and this was the case.

  "Shall I telephone," said Sue, "or shall I send a pigeon? Oh, I can'tstop to go out to the dove-cote; I'll telephone."

  She ran to the window, where there was a curious arrangement of wiresrunning across the street to the opposite house. She rang a bell andpulled a wire, and another bell jingled in the distance. Then she tookup an object which looked like (and indeed was) the half of a pair ofopera-glasses with the glass taken out. Holding this to her mouth, sheroared softly: "Hallo, Central! Hallo!"

  There was a pause; then a voice across the street replied in muffledtones: "Hallo! What number?"

  "Number five hundred and seven. Miss Mary Hart."

  Immediately a girl appeared at the opposite window, holding the otherbarrel of the opera-glass to her lips.

  "Hallo!" she shouted. "What do you want?"

  "Oh, Mary, have you heard?"

  "No. What?"

  "Why, there's a girl coming to live at the hotel--coming to stay allsummer! Her father is agent of the Pashmet Mills. She is two yearsolder than we are. Isn't that perfectly fine, Mary? I'm just asexcited as I can be about it. I can't stand still a minute."

  "So I see," said Mary Hart, who had a round, rosy, sensible face, andquiet blue eyes. "But do try to stand still, Sue! People don't jump upand down when they are telephoning, you know."

  "Oh! I can't help it, Mary. My feet just seem to go of themselves.Isn't it perfectly splendid, Mary? You don't seem to care one bit. I'msorry I told you, Mary Hart."

  "Oh, no, you're not!" said Mary, good-naturedly. "But how can I tellwhether it is splendid or not, Sue, before I have seen the girl? Whatis her name?"

  "Oh! didn't I tell you? Clarice Packard. Isn't that a perfectly lovelyname? Oh, Mary, I just can't wait to see her; can you? It's soexciting! I thought there was never going to be anything excitingagain, and now just see! Don't you hope she will know how to act, anddress up, and things? I do."

  "Suppose you come over and tell me more about it," Mary suggested. "Imust shell the peas now, and I'll bring them out on the door-step;then we can sit and shell them together while you tell me."

  "All right; I'll come right over."

  Sue turned quickly, prepared to dash out of the room as she had dashedinto it, but caught her foot in a loop of the wire that she hadforgotten to hang up, and fell headlong over a chair. The chair andSue came heavily against the squirrel's cage, sending the door, whichwas insecurely fastened, flying open. Before Sue could pick herselfup, Mister Cracker was out, frisking about on the dressing-table, anddangerously near the open window.

  "Oh! what shall I do?" cried Sue. "That horrid old wire! Cracker, nowbe good, that's a dear fellow! Here, I know! I had some nutssomewhere--I know I had! Wait, Cracker, do wait!"

  But Cracker was not inclined to wait, and while Sue was rummagingvarious pockets which she thought might contain the nuts, he slippedquietly out of the window and scuttled up the nearest tree, chatteringtriumphantly. Sue emerged from the closet, very red in the face, andinclined to be angry at the ingratitude of her pet. "After all thetrouble I have h
ad teaching him to eat all kinds of things he didn'tlike!" she exclaimed. "Well, at any rate, I sha'n't have any more eggsto boil hard, and Katy said I couldn't have any more, anyhow, becauseI cracked the saucepans when I forgot them. And, anyhow, he wasn'tvery happy, and I know I should just hate to live in a cage, even witha whirligig--though it must be fun at first."

  Consoling herself in this wise, Sue flashed down the stairs, andalmost ran over her little sister Lily, who was coming up.

  "Oh, Susie," said Lily, "will you help me with my dolly's dress? Ihave done all I can without some one to show me, and Mamma's headaches so she can't, and Katy is ironing."

  "Not now, Lily; don't you see I am in a terrible hurry? Go and play,like a good little girl!"

  "But I've no one to play with, Susie," said the child, piteously.

  "Find some one, then, and don't bother! Perhaps I'll show you aboutthe dress after dinner, if I have time."

  Never stopping to look at the little face clouded with disappointment,Sue ran on. There was no cloud on her own face. She was a vision ofsunshine as she ran across the street, her fair hair flying, her hazeleyes shining, her brown holland dress fluttering in the wind.

  The opposite house looked pleasant and cheerful. The door stood open,and one could look through the long, narrow hall and into the gardenbeyond, where the tall purple phlox seemed to be nodding to thetiger-lilies that peeped round the edge of the front door. The doorwas painted green, and had a bright brass knocker; and the broad stonestep made a delightful seat when warmed through and through by thesun, as it was now. The great horse-chestnut trees in front of thehouse made just enough shade to keep one's eyes from being dazzled,but not enough to shut out the sunbeams which twinkled down in greenand gold, and made the front dooryard almost a fairy place.

  Mary came out, bringing a basket of peas and a shining tin dish; shesat down, and made room for Sue beside her with a smile.

  "This is more satisfactory than telephoning," she said. "Now, Sue,take a long breath and tell me all about it."

  Sue breathed deep, and began again the wonderful tale:

  "Why, I met Annie Rooney this morning, when I went down for the mail.You remember Annie, who used to live with us? Mamma doesn't like hermuch, but she was always nice to me, and she always likes to stop andtalk when I meet her. Well! and so she told me. They may be here anyday now, Mr. Packard and his daughter. Her name is Clarice--oh! I toldyou that, didn't I? Don't you think it's a perfectly lovely name,Mary? It sounds like a book, you know, with long, golden hair, anddeep, unfathomable eyes, and--"

  "I never saw a book with golden hair," said Mary, "to say nothing ofunfathomable eyes."

  "Mary, now stop teasing me! You know perfectly well what I mean. I amsure she must be beautiful with a name like that. Oh, dear! I wish Ihad a name like that, instead of this stupid one. Susan! I don't seehow any one could possibly be so cruel as to name a child Susan. WhenI grow up, Mary, do you know what I am going to do? I made up my mindas soon as I heard about Clarice Packard. I'm going to appear beforethe President and ask him to change my name."

  "Sue, what do you mean?"

  "My dear, it's true! It's what they do. I've read about it somewhere.It has to be done by act of legislature, and of course the Presidenttells Congress, and they see about it. I should _like_ to have thatsame name--Clarice. It's the prettiest name I ever heard of; don't youthink so, Mary? But of course I can't be a copy-cat, so I am going tohave it Faeroline--you remember that story about Faeroline? FaerolineMedora, or else Medora Faeroline. Which do you think would beprettiest, Mary?"

  "I like Sue better than either!" said Mary, stoutly.

  "Oh, Mary, you do discourage me sometimes! Well, where was I?"

  "You had got as far as her name," said Mary.

  "Oh, yes. Well, and her father is rich. I should think he must beenormously rich. And she must be beautiful,--I am quite sure she must;and--she dresses splendidly, Annie says; and--and they are coming tolive at the hotel; and she is fifteen--I told you that? And--well, Isuppose that is all I really know just yet, Mary; but I _feel_ agreat, _great_ deal more. I feel, somehow, that this is a very seriousevent in my life, Mary. You know how I have been longing for somethingexciting to happen. Only yesterday, don't you remember, I was sayingthat I didn't believe anything would ever happen, now that we hadfinished 'Ivanhoe'; and now just see!"

  "I should think they would try to get a house, if they are well off,"said practical Mary. "It must be horrid, living at a hotel."

  "Oh, Mary, you have _no_ imagination! I think it would be perfectlydelightful to stay at a hotel. I've always just longed to; it has beenone of my dreams that some day we might give up housekeeping and liveat the hotel; but of course we never shall."

  "For pity's sake! I should hope not, Sue, with a good home of yourown! Why, what would there be to like about it?"

  "Oh, it would be so exciting! People coming and going all the time,and bells ringing, and looking-glasses everywhere, and--and neverknowing what one is going to have for dinner, and all kinds of goodthings in little covered dishes, just like 'Little Kid Milk, tableappear!' Don't you remember? And--it would be so exciting! You know Ilove excitement, Mary, and I just hate to know what I am going to havefor dinner."

  "I know I am going to have peas for dinner," said Mary,--"at least, Iwant them. Sue, you haven't shelled a dozen peas; I shall have to goand get Bridget to help me."

  "Oh, no; I will, I truly will!" cried Sue; and she shelled with ardorfor a few minutes, the pods flying open and the peas rattling merrilyinto the tin basin.

  "Do you remember the three peas in the Andersen story?" she saidpresently. "I always used to wish I had been one of those--the onethat grew up, you know, and made a little garden for the sick girl.Wouldn't it be lovely, Mary, to come up out of the ground, and findyou could grow, and put out leaves, and then have flowers? Only, Iwould be sweet peas,--not this kind,--and look so lovely, just likesunset wings, and smell sweet for sick people, and--Mary! Mary Hart!who is that?"

  Sue was looking down the street eagerly. Mary looked too, and saw acarriage coming toward them with two people in it.

  "No one we know, I think," said Mary.

  "They are strangers!" cried Sue, in great excitement,--"a man and agirl. Mary Hart, I do believe it is Mr. Packard and Clarice! It mustbe. They are strangers, I tell you! I never saw either of them in mylife. And look at her hat! Mary, _will_ you look at her hat?"

  "I _am_ looking at it!" said Mary. "Yes, Sue; I shouldn't wonder ifyou were right. Where are you going?"

  "Indoors, so that I can stare. You wouldn't be so rude, Mary, as tostare at her where she can see you? You aren't going to stare at all!Oh, Mary, what's the use of not being _human_? You are too poky foranything. A stranger,--and that girl, of all the world,--and not havea good look at her? Mary, I do find you trying sometimes. Well, I amgoing. Good-by."

  And Sue flew into the house, and flattened herself behind thewindow-curtain, where she could see without being seen. Mary wasprovoked for a moment, but her vexation passed with the cracking of adozen pods. It was impossible to be long vexed with Sue.

  As the gay carriage passed, she looked up quietly for a moment, tomeet the unwinking stare of a pair of pale blue eyes, which seemed tobe studying her as a new species in creation. A slender girl, withvery light hair and eyebrows, a pale skin, and a thin, set mouth--notpretty, Mary thought, but with an "air," as Sue would say, and veryshowily dressed. The blouse of bright changeable silk, with numberlesslace ruffles, the vast hat, like a flower-garden and bird-shop in one,the gold chain and lace parasol, shone strangely in the peacefulvillage street.

  Mary returned the stare with a quiet look, then looked down at herpeas again.

  "What, oh, what shall we do,"

  she said to herself, quoting a rhyme her father had once made,--

  "What, oh, what shall we do With our poor little Quicksilver Sue?"