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CHAPTER V A MINIATURE
“Jessica! Ho! Jessica-a. Olive is looking for you-u, Jessica. She’s gone into the library now.” Sybil Deering’s high, laughing voice, rilling and trilling on terminal vowels like the spring note of a meadow-lark, rang up the broad staircase of the Deering mansion.

“Oh! is she? I’m coming. I’ll be down in just a minute,” sang back the girlish tones which had called the Bluebird on the playground; in the smallest of the guest-rooms upstairs—a pretty nest, like Olive’s bedroom—Jessica Holley laid down a paint-brush, closed a box of water-colors which looked as if it had seen service in other hands than hers, thrust aside a smeared palette, daubed with burnt sienna, yellow and black, on which she had been experimenting with colors in order to get something like the right shade for a Camp Fire Girl’s ceremonial dress of khaki and, forthwith, proceeded to the library.

“Jessica, when are we going to take those things to the little deaf-and-dumb girl, the frock you made for her—which you exhibited at the Council Fire last night—and the shoes I bought? I’m just longing to see her in them,” said Olive directly she showed her nose within the realm of books.

“Immediately after luncheon; I’ve got a plan. I’m going to call up Arline and Sally—Betty Ayres wants to come with us, too—and tell them about it; we’ll time our start so’s to arrive on the playground a little after two o’clock, before the playground teachers get back from dinner, and if little ’Becca is there (did I tell you I had found out that her name is Rebecca?) we’ll just inveigle her into a shed and dress her up in the new finery, throw away the old shoes, perhaps, the grey frock, too—then, when the teachers turn up and the dancing begins, the other children won’t know her.”

“She won’t know herself. Did you find out whether she was born deaf and dumb?”

“No. She became stone-deaf at four years old after scarlet fever; then she gradually lost the power of speech, too, so her mother told one of the playground teachers. Her parents are Russian Jews who have only been a couple of years in this country. The teacher thinks that some of the croaking sounds she makes are fragments of words in her own tongue that she remembers. And once when some boys were shouting ‘Swing! Swing!’ upon the playground, ’Becca said ‘Swing!’ quite clearly, as if she caught some vibration of the sound.”

“I should think she could be taught to speak again by and by.” Olive looked hopeful. “Come out of your dreamland, Jessica,” she added laughingly; “stick to Rebecca and the playground plan! Whenever you’re in the library, morning, noon or night, you’re staring at that stained-glass window. I believe you’ve fallen in love with the young scribe who’s bending over a parchment book in it.”

“No, but I’m in love with his brown robe.” Jessica’s eyes went up to the rich gold-brown of the young monk’s habit. “I’ve just been trying to get something like that tint on my palette up-stairs, so as to paint the ceremonial dress on the figure of a Camp Fire Girl. Besides”—the blue-grey eyes of Morning-Glory rested reverently upon the soft radiance of the painted window through which the daylight flickered, glorified—“besides, as you know, Olive, my father was a stained-glass artist; he designed beautiful windows like that, worked out his designs in water-colors on paper and afterward—when the great sheet of glass had been properly prepared—painted the window itself—oil-painting, using metallic paints.”

“Is that how it’s done?” queried Olive. “I love this library window. And I like to study the stained-glass windows in church, too—sometimes I forget to say my prayers when I’m looking at them!” in merry penitence.

“I, too! My father used to paint the saints’ and cherubs’ heads so beautifully, painting both sides of the glass, the figure in some dull tint, brown or grey, on the right side, to face the people and the brilliant, the illuminating colors, as he called them, upon the back, the other side of the sheet of glass, so’s to shine through,” looking up at the translucent rays streaming through the brown monkish figure.

“Did you use to watch him while he was painting?”

“Occasionally I did, perched on a chair beside his tall, oblong easel that had the glass upon it.... He let me when he could, because he had it all planned out that I—too——”

The last words were very thin and low and broke off, their snapped thread being lost in the rich tangle of colors, ruby and gold, with other glories wonderfully interwoven, which bathed that corner of the room where the pictured medieval scribe sat poring over his written book.

Olive moved a little uneasily. She felt uncomfortable when Jessica spoke of her father, because, having lost a mother herself, she understood what bereavement meant, but to lose both parents, as the other girl had done, to have absolutely no nearer living relative than Cousin Anne, related to Jessica through her mother’s mother as she was to Olive through her father’s father; that was terrible, indeed!

Therefore out of her fidgetings Olive evolved a remark which led away from the glorious window and stained glass in general.

“Do you know, I think that it was just too awfully good of you to spend all day yesterday sewing upon that white frock for little ’Becca, the dumb child,” she said with girlish gush.

“Oh! that was nothing; I enjoyed doing it. Cousin Anne deserves more than half the praise; ’twas she who bought the material; I—I didn’t have the money!”

Jessica spoke rather absent-mindedly, her gaze still wavering between the ruby window-nook and Olive.

“What!” breathed the latter. “Oh, you poor dear! Jessica, Father never thought of it, I’m sure, but I’m going to drop a hint to him, this very day, that he might make you a monthly allowance for pocket-money, now that you’ve come to live with us for a year or two, just as he does with Sybil and me. Oh-h! you wouldn’t like it, eh?” in crestfallen echo.

“Olive!” The Morning-Glory’s arms fell limply to her sides. Her skin, naturally clear and colorless as a pure white specimen of her name-flower, looked wan in the gold and crimson shafts of light streaming from the stained window. “Oh-h! Olive, I wouldn’t have you do that, hint anything—not for the world. Oh, don’t you think I feel it enough—that I——”

The gusty words splashed through the first drops of a tear-fall so sudden that it seemed as if the rainbowed colors had begun to drip.

A wet and crumpled-up Morning-Glory, all draggled upon its vine of girlish courage, dropped into a library chair, turning a streaming face to hide against the leather chair-back.

“Oh, honey, I never—meant——” came brokenly from Olive.

“I know—I know you never meant to be anything but lovely to me!” sobbed the figure in the chair. “But, oh”—wildly weeping—“if my father or my mother could have lived! I know that your father, Olive—that Mr. Deering—invited me to come here for this last year or so that I’ll be in high school, when he had never even seen me, simply because Cousin Anne was so worried about my having nowhere—nowhere to go after Auntie (of course, she wasn’t really my auntie, only a friend of Mother’s who took me in after Mother died) sailed for China with her husband who’s a missionary. They didn’t think that China, the part that she’s going to, would be good for me!” pathetically.

“I’m sure it wouldn’t—pig-tails and Boxers and stuff!” wailed Olive helplessly, her face wet too, as if the window’s melting shafts of color dripped upon it. “There, Jessica! There, Jess darling; you know we all just love to have you with us!” perching upon the arm of the library chair, laying her beautiful dark head with the ringlet curl against the stricken brown one.

The curl tickled Jessica’s neck; impulsively she caught and kissed it, fondled it like a flower against her wet cheek.

“Yes, ev-er-ybody has been so good to me,” she gasped, reviving enough for heartfelt emphasis. “You’ve shared things with me, Sybil and you; and Cousin Anne insists on giving me a little pocket-money from time to time, just as she gives me clothes—she’s so dear!—and just as she’s insisting on paying my camp-board in that seashore camp, so that I may have the fun of going with the other girls to those beautiful Sugarloaf sand-dunes.”

Sugarloaf! Never did sugar-lump drop into a tart cup with more ameliorating sweetness than dropped that word, now, into the troubled waters pulsing to and fro between the girls’ hearts, although it breathed of brine, not sugar.

Olive started, sat up straight upon the chair-arm. She had thought of more words to conjure with, to win back joy or, at any rate, distract from sorrow.

“Jessica!” she said solemnly, “I’ve got a teeter-ladder in my brain. Ever since we visited the playground that day I’ve had a teeter-ladder in my head.”

Jessica choked upon the next sob which mixed itself up with her startled breath. Her nose ceased burrowing in the leather nest of a chair-button. She sat up and turned her face round.

“Oh! you needn’t stare at me; I’m not going out of my mind; I haven’t got a giant stride there, too,” laughingly. “But the ladder keeps seesawing all the time; it’s like a game of ‘Jenkins: Hands up! Hands down!’ One minute the ladder teeters down toward the Sugarloaf, and the hotel, that Father proposed our going to this summer, Sybil and I, is away up in the air, with the teacher of modern dancing from whom we’re to take lessons, crowing on top: Cock-a-doodle-doo! Tooraloo! Like that!

“Next minute down with the hotel—up with the Sugarloaf and the Camp Fire Girls dancing the Leaf Dance among the white dunes!”

Olive had stars in the dreamy black of her eyes, now; they were gazing far away.

“What on earth do you mean: not that you’re thinking of becoming a Camp Fire Girl—joining our Morning-Glory Camp Fire? Oh, you know how I’ve wanted you to do that, Olive!” A little lightning-spurt of excitement flashed through Jessica’s tears. “Oh, Sugarloaf and sugarloons!” she gasped, shaky laughter beginning to patter like crystal hail through the rain-drops, the end of the shower. “Why, ’twould just be sugar through and through that camping trip if Sybil and you should come with us.”

“I’m not so sure of that,” Olive shook her head sagely. “If I were to try my hand at the camp cooking, I’m afraid the effects would be bitter, not sweet,” with a grimace. “You know Father says that my cookery ought to be tried first on the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals before any member of the animal kingdom should be allowed to partake of it!” Here, even the satiny ringlet curling down Olive’s white neck on to the shoulder of her white dress laughed—she clung to that black curl since she put her hair up, for good, six months before.

“I suppose that if Mother had lived I’d have learned to do a great many things that I don’t know much about now,” she went on softly. “Cook never wanted us in the kitchen; so we stayed out of it. Cousin Anne says that I’m not a bit ‘domestic.’ But sometimes”—the dark eyes shone wistfully—“something just swells up so big in me that I feel as if I shall simply burst if I don’t get it out of my system!” becoming, in turn, tragically confidential. “I’ve tried working it off in the rhymes that Sybil laughs at; I persuaded Father to let me take painting lessons outside of school-hours, but I don’t believe I’ll ever paint anything that a cow would care to look at,” laughing ruefully, “whatever you may do! Cook (you know she cooked for Father and Mother before I was born and she’s Irish) saw one of my pictures and I heard her say to herself: ‘Tear an’ ages! looks as if that old guinea-hen had got some paint on her claws and scratched on the paper.’ Truth and honor! that’s what she did say!”

Jessica was now laughing spasmodically, the bright drops upon her eyelashes winking at the other girl’s gropings after self-expression.

“All I can do, it seems to me, is, as I heard Captain Andy singing to himself last night during part of the Council Fire program, to:
“‘Laugh a little and sing a little,
And work a little and play a little,
And fiddle a little and foot it a little,
As bravely as I can!’”

Olive laughingly footed it round the library, burlesquing her own limitations. “And I don’t know whether I could even ‘foot it’ very far if it came to a tramp,” she said over her shoulder. “Goodness! since Sybil and I have used the automobile so much, as Father drives himself in the smaller car, I don’t even ‘sing the song of feet’ except when I play tennis or go round the golf course with Dad.... Perhaps, if I joined the Camp Fire Girls, I might grow a few new wing-feathers, as Captain Andy wants his little niece to do—the niece that moons in an orchard and goes round with a pet pig and a duck for followers—she must be awfully ‘witchetty,’ eh?”

“I should think so!” came from a now smiling Morning-Glory in the leather chair.

“Gracious! there’s the luncheon bell and we must get through with the meal as quickly as we can if we’re to carry out your plan, Jess, of getting to the playground and dressing up little ’Becca before the teachers get back and the folk-dancing begins.”

“Oh! I must run and bathe my face.” Jessica made for the library-door in a flurry. “First—first, I want to hug you, Olive. And you won’t think, will you, that I’m not just too awfully grateful to you all for making me so—so happy here?

“It was meddling with Papa’s old paint-box this morning that broke me all up,” added the seventeen-year-old girl to herself, dashing up the broad staircase which she had descended a little while ago, to her own room. “That, and thinking of how I used sometimes to sit by him when he was painting a saint’s head on glass for some beautiful window!” (A vigorous splash with a cold sponge.) “Mother said he ran to Saints’ Heads!” (Splash and choke!) “And he used to say that I inherited his talent and love of color and that girls were taking up stained-glass work—window-painting—now, making a success of it, too. I only wish I could!” (Splash, splash, splash, and a girl forcing a dripping sponge into her mouth, to drown a returning sob, because she felt that it would not be “game” to depress with tears or the semblance of them the midday meal of those who had generously given her a home!) “And, whatever comes, I’ve got to be as brave as my great-gran’daddy!” she gasped the next minute, through her set teeth, glancing at a small table, on which, beside the disturbing paint-box, lay an old-fashioned, oval leather case, with a tarnished gold stripe round its edge.

Towel in hand, Jessica impulsively sprang toward the table, touched a spring and disclosed a small miniature, older still than the case, painted on ivory, set in gold, showing a face which, if the artist of ninety-odd years ago painted truly, was very like the Morning-Glory one now hanging over it: the same crest of light brown hair over the forehead, the same naturally laughing grey-blue eyes. “My mother’s grandfather, Captain Josiah Dee, you were a very handsome young man when that miniature was painted, let me tell you!” she gurgled, biting upon a corner of the damask towel in a fighting attempt to regain composure by forcing her thoughts to dwell lightly for a minute upon the manly shoulders in the blue coat with brass buttons and the high stock-collar under a dimpled chin—her own had a dimple like it! “You have such a living smile; you always seem to be alive and laughing at me when I feel blue! Well! You saved lots of lives when you commanded a big ship, but were drowned, yourself, at last. I must be as brave as you were! And, great-gran’daddy dear, let me tell you, too, I’m not altogether alone, because I’ve got Cousin Anne and I’m a Camp Fire Girl—and Olive’s a dear; wouldn’t she be a dream—just a Camp Fire Girl’s dream—in a ceremonial dress and beaded head-band, with her black hair in two long plaits and her dark eyes?”

The oval case shut with a click.

Olive’s hair and eyes looked as dreamily beautiful in a simple white dress as they would have done in gold-brown khaki when, three-quarters of an hour later, she wended her way, together with four other girls, toward that poor and crowded quarter of the city of Clevedon whose tall factory chimneys enshrined the public playground—largely a garden of foreign buds—whither their steps were bent.

Yet not one of her companions envied that hair its raven lustre or the grace of the small head it crowned, for if they were not all four beauties, at least they were true daughters of Columbia who, fair herself, seldom or never hatches an ugly duckling.

There was one point of envy among them, so far as Sally, Betty,