STARLIGHT,” said Hazel, seriously, next morning, as they sat side by side on the porch, “I’ve been thinking.”
“Yes,” said Starlight, dryly; “most people do.”
“I’ve been thinking, Starlight,” Hazel continued, “that perhaps I am not doing quite right by Flutters.”
“You’re doing mighty kind by him, I’m sure, and he thinks so, too. You’ve given him a home and clothes and plenty to eat, and all he has to do is to wait on your ladyship and take charge of the pony. I shouldn’t call that work, nor Flutters doesn’t, either. He says it is all just fun, and if there’s a finer family anywhere than the Bonifaces he’d like to see’em, only he knows he never shall see’em, because there isn’t such a family.”
“Are you making that up, Job Starlight?”
“Well, I guess not. Flutters says something of that sort every time we’re left alone together. It seems as though his heart was so overflowing that he just had to ease it whenever he got a chance.”
“Well, it’s certainly very pleasant to have him feel like that.”
“Why, he just worships the ground—”
Starlight paused to shy a stone at a guinea hen that was encroaching on one of the flower beds—“your mother treads on.”
Starlight knew well enough that he ended this sentence quite differently from what Hazel had expected; but Hazel was wise enough not to show her surprise, and besides, if there was any worshipping to be done, she was about as glad to have Flutters worship the ground her mother trod on as that over which her little feet had travelled.
“No, but I’ve been thinking,” she said, resuming her own line of thought, “that, for all we know, Flutters may be a regular little heathen, for I have an idea that the mulattoes are a very savage tribe. Did you ever hear him say a word about religion, or what he believed, and things like that?”
Starlight scratched his head, by way of helping his memory. “Never a word, come to think of it.”
“Well, now, Starlight, that is very strange, and I believe I’ll take him to church this very morning, and see how he acts.”
“Yes, let’s,” said Starlight, taking most kindly to the project. “If he’s never been in one, it will be awful fun to see how he takes it.”
“People don’t go to church to have awful fun. If that’s what you’re going for, you had better stay home.”
Starlight clapped his hand over his mouth, as though to suppress a most explosive giggle. “My gracious, Hazel! What has come over you?”
“Nothing has come over me, and you know it. I always love to go to church, and I love everything they do there; and I think it’s beautiful where they sing, ‘Lord, have mercy upon us,’ after the commandments, and everybody keeps their head bowed.”
Starlight did not answer. It was evident Hazel was launching upon one of what he called her “high-minded moods;” and, indeed, child though she was, Hazel did have times when she thought very deeply—times when the soul that was in her seemed to reach out after things eternal. It was not at all an unusual experience. It does not always need even ten round years to bring a child to a point of knowing for itself that there is a longing that this world, all wonderful and beautiful though it be, does not fully satisfy. Such a knowing does not make a child less a child, or rob it of an iota of its joyousness, only sometimes lends a sweet and earnest depth to the little God-given life. But to matter-of-fact Job Starlight, it must be confessed that such a mood was not at all satisfactory. He did not comprehend it, and standing in awe of Hazel’s “high mindedness,” always endeavored to bring her down to his own level as quickly as possible by means of some diverting subject. This time he fortunately spied it in the shape of two prim little maidens, Prayer-Book in hand, who came demurely walking, side by side, down the path that skirted the roadway.
“Why, there come the Marberrys,” he remarked.
“Sure enough,” said Hazel, flying to the gate. “Are you going to church?” she called over it.
“Yes,” answered the little Marberrys simultaneously; indeed, they were a pair of simultaneous children. In the first place, they were twins; in the second place, they were as alike in appearance as peas in a pod, and, in the third place, one little brain seemed to be the perfect fac-simile of the other. It was no uncommon thing for them to utter the same thought, in the same words, at the same time; and when this did not happen, one would generally echo what the other had said. They had been christened Mathilde and Clothilde; but Milly and Tilly had been the outcome of that, and of course the similarity in the sound of the two names led to much confusion, since the initial letter was all that distinguished them.
Hazel had come to the wise conclusion “that, so far as possible, it was best just to say things that would do for both, because, like as not, if you meant to say something to Milly—it not being so understood—Tilly would answer, and vice-versa.” But these two little Marberrys were warm friends of hers, and in those days, when so many people were estranged from the Bonifaces, she set a specially high value upon their friendship. Not that the Marberrys were in any sense Tories; only, as Dr. Marberry was rector of St. George’s, they felt it their duty, as a family, to be kind to everybody in the church. Besides, it would have caused the twins a real pang to have been parted from Hazel, for, as they frequently asserted in the presence of less favored playmates, “Hazel Boniface was the cutest and nicest girl they had ever known.”
Starlight’s announcement of “Here come the Marberrys” had suggested to Hazel the idea of joining forces and all going along together. The children were delighted with the plan, as with any plan of hers, and sat down for a friendly chat with Starlight, while Hazel hurried away to summon Flutters. She found him feeding some withered clover heads to Gladys, as he sat comfortably on the top rail of the fence, enclosing the meadow where Gladys was allowed to disport herself on high days and holidays. She waited till she got close up to him, then she announced, “Flutters, you are to go to church with me this morning.”
“To church!” he said, surprised, for he had not heard her coming.
“Yes, go put on the other suit, and meet me at the gate quickly.”
She did not say “your other suit,” feeling, naturally, a certain sense of personal ownership, as far as Flutters’s outfit was concerned.
“All right, Miss Hazel,” he answered, moving off with the alacrity of a well-trained little servant.
“Perhaps you will not care to go with me, girls,” Hazel remarked, as she came down the path, some five minutes later, and looking very pretty in her dark red Sunday dress. “You see I am going to take Flutters.”
“And why should we mind that?” chirped Milly Marberry in a high musical little key, and Tilly remarked, “Yes, why should we mind that?”
“Because I have no idea how he will behave. When I told him just now that he was to go to church with me, he said, ‘To church!’ as though he was very much surprised and had never been in one in his life.”
“I suppose he’ll sit still, though, if you tell him to,” said Milly.
“Of course he will not speak if—” but Tilly’s sisterly echo was interrupted by a significant hush from Hazel, and the next second Flutters was with them. Then the little party set off, the boys ahead together, and the girls behind.
“Where does Flutters come from, anyway?” asked Tilly.
“Yes, where from?” piped Milly.
“From England,” Hazel answered, softly, “but he’s a mulatto.”
“A what?” simultaneously.
“A mulatto. They’re a kind of negro tribe.’
“Goodness gracious!”
“Gracious goodness!”
“Are the mulattoes wild and dangerous?” asked Milly, tremulously.
“Yes, I believe so; but then, of course, Flutters isn’t so now. Civilization has changed him.”
The Marberrys looked at Hazel with admiration; these occasional big words of hers constituted one of her chief charms in their eyes.
“But the truth is,” Hazel continued, “I do not know very much about Flutters. He does not seem to like to talk about his history, and mother says I have no right to pry into it.”
“I shouldn’t think anybody who had been wild and savage could speak such good English,” said Tilly, thoughtfully.
“Neither should I,” said Milly.
“Well, that is queer,” and Hazel looked puzzled. “I hadn’t thought of that; but I’m certain his grandfather, if not his father, must have been wild and savage. I’m very sure the mulattoes used to be very ferocious.”
“Where do the mulattoes live?” asked the Marberrys.
“I don’t know,” was Hazel’s truthful answer. The fact was, as you have discovered, Hazel did not know what she was talking about. She had a trick of mounting an impression, and then of giving rein to her imagination and letting it run away with her, so that the first thing she knew she was telling you something she really quite believed was fact, but which was nothing of the sort. As a result she was sometimes credited with fibbing, and got into many an unnecessary scrape, but, you may be sure, Mrs. Boniface was doing all that she could to correct this unfortunate tendency.
Meantime the boys walked ahead, conversing with no little earnestness as to the comparative merits of two tiny sloop yachts, one of which was taking shape under Starlight’s hand, and the other under Flutters’s, and whose same comparative merits were to be put to the test, when completed, by a race on the waters of the Collect. At this point in their walk a turn of the road brought St. George’s into sight.
“Ever been to church, Flutters?” Starlight asked, quite casually.
“Oh, yes, often.”
“Ye’ ep,” was Flutters’s unceremonious answer; “but how large are you going to make your foresail?” not willing to be diverted from the all-engrossing subject.
“I shall give her all the sail she can carry, you may be certain.” Starlight did not intend to furnish this rival yachtsman with any exact measurements. And so they talked on till they reached the little stone church, where service had already commenced. The Marberrys walked straight up to their pew, the very front one, but before they reached it each little face flushed crimson. At one and the same moment their two pairs of blue eyes met their father’s, for he was leading the General Confession, and did not need to have them upon his book. Judging from the crimson on their faces, the look must have said, “There is no excuse for this, my little daughters; I am ashamed that you should be so late.”
Hazel and Starlight and Flutters had the Boniface pew to themselves, but Hazel allowed Starlight to precede them into it, while she detained Flutters in the vestibule for a little seasonable advice. She had intended to administer it slowly and forcibly by the way. Now she had to compress it all into one hurried little moment. In her excitement she seized hold of Flutters’s brown wrist, as she whispered, hurriedly, “Flutters, this is a church, where people come to worship. You will have to sit very still and not speak, only get up and sit down when I do, because part of the time it’s wrong to sit down. So, Flutters, watch me very closely. I will find you the place in the Prayer-Book, but you had better not say the things that are written there, even if you can read them, ‘cause they’re probably things you do not understand at all, and don’t know anything about, so it would be best not to say you believed them. You can sing the hymns, though; there won’t be any harm in that, only sing very softly, for fear you don’t get the tune right. Now that is all, I believe,” putting her finger to her lip in a meditative way, and with an anxious frown on her face, as if fearing she had overlooked some important instruction. “Yes, that is all; now follow me in;” and Flutters following her, took his seat with a most decorous air, and without staring about with such gaping astonishment, as might, perhaps, be looked for in a boy of fourteen, who had never seen the interior of a church before, so that Hazel at once felt much relieved. Her first duty, of course, was to furnish him with the proper page in the Prayer-Book, and her second to anticipate all irregularities in the order of service, by taking the book from his hands in ample time to supply him with the right place at the right moment. Now it must be confessed that all this was accomplished by Hazel in rather an officious and patronizing manner, but, unfortunately for her, there came a time when she herself was at a loss.
She did not know which Sunday it was after Trinity. Flutters did, and seeing her confusion anticipated Dr. Marberry by whispering, “It’s the eighteenth Sunday, I think.”
Hazel thrust Flutters’s Prayer-Book back into his hand, giving him one look, and such a look! It was dreadful to think that a thorough-going little church-woman could ever look like that, much less while the service itself was actually in progress.
Flutters felt “queer.” He saw how much there was in that look of Hazel’s, and wondered if he had been greatly to blame in the matter. Starlight, of course, witnessed the whole proceeding, and heard Flutters’s whisper (as did every one else in the neighborhood), which betrayed his familiarity with the service, and Starlight himself wondered how he managed to be quite so well up on the subject.
But it was an awfully good joke on Hazel. When they had been discussing the matter, and he had said, “It would be awful fun to see how Flutters would act in church, provided he had never been there,” Hazel had, of course, been quite right in saying that “People did not go to church to have awful fun,” but he could not help thinking that he had had a little fun all the same, only at Hazel’s expense, and not Flutters’s.