THE WHITE TRUTH.
DOTTY continued to go to Mrs. Gray's every night with the milk. Sometimes Katie went with her, and then they always paused a while under the acorn-tree and played "King and Queen." Dotty said she wished they could ever remember to bring their nipperkins, for in that case the milk would taste a great deal more like nectar. The " nipperkins " were a pair of handled cups which the children supposed to be silver, and which they always used at table.
Dotty knew she was doing wrong every time she played "King and Queen." She knew the milk was not hers, but Mrs. Gray's; still she said to herself, "Ruthie needn't give so much measure, all pressed down and run over. If Queenie and I should drink a great deal more, there would always be a quart left. Yes, I know there would."
Mrs. Gray never said anything about the milk; she merely poured it out in a pan, and gave back the pail to Dotty, asking her at the same time as many questions as the child would stay to hear.
One night Dotty begged Prudy to go with her; she wished her to ask for the ducks' eggs. When they reached the acorn tree Dotty did not stop; she would never have thought of playing "King and Queen" with Prudy; she was afraid of her sister's honest blue eyes.
I am not quite sure Mrs. Gray would have given the eggs to Dotty, though Mrs. Parlin promised her several times the amount of hens' eggs in return. Mrs. Gray did not think Dotty was "a very sociable child;" and then so many people were asking for eggs! But Mrs. Gray could not say " No " to Prudy; she gave her thirteen eggs, with a hearty kiss.
"Now whose will the ducklings be?" asked Dotty on the way home.
" Yours and mine," replied Prudy; " half and half. Six for each, and an odd one over."
" Then," said Dotty, " we'll give that ' odd one over' to Katie."
" But they may not all hatch, Dotty."
" 0, dear! why not ? Then we can't tell how many we shall have. Perphaps there will be two or three odd ones over; and then what shall we do, Prudy ?"
Prudy laughed at the idea of "two or three odd ones." The eggs were put in a barrel under the white hen; and now began a trial of patience. It seemed to all the children that time stood still while they waited. Would the four weeks never be gone ?
One day Dottie stood with Katie by the back-door blowing bubbles. The blue sky, the white fences, the green trees, and even the people who passed in the street, made little pictures of themselves on the bubbles. It was very beautiful. Dotty blew with such force that her cheeks were puffed as round as rubber balls. Katie looked on in great delight.
" See," she cried, " see the trees a-yidin' on that bubbil!"
Dotty dropped the pipe and kissed her.
"Dear me," said she, the next minute, " there's Miss Polly coming !"
Katie looked along the path, and saw a forlorn woman tightly wrapped in a brown shawl, carrying a basket on her arm, and looking sadly down at her own calf-skin shoes, which squeaked dismally as she walked.
" Is um the Polly ?" whispered Katie; " is um so tired ?"
" No, she isn't tired," said Dotty; " but she feels dreadfully all the whole time; I don't know what it's about, though."
By this time the new-comer stood on the threshold, sighing.
" How do you do, you pretty creeturs ?" said she, with a dreary smile.
" Yes, 'um," replied Katie; " is you the Polly, and does you feel drefful ?"
The sad woman kissed the little girls,— for she was fond of children,—sighed more heavily than ever, asked if their grandmother was at home, and passed through the kitchen on her way to the parlor.
Mrs. Parlin sat knitting on the sofa, Mrs. Clifford was sewing, and Miss Louise crocheting. They all looked up and greeted the visitor politely, but it seemed as if a dark cloud had entered the room. Miss Polly seated herself in a rocking-chair, and began to take off her bonnet, sighing as she untied the strings, and sighing again as she took the three pins out of her shawl.
" I hope you are well this fine weather," said Mrs. Parlin, cheerily.
"As well as ever I expect to be," replied Miss Polly, in a resigned tone.
Then she opened the lids of her basket with a dismal creak, and took out her knitting, which was as gray as a November sky. Afterwards she slowly pinned a corn-cob to the right side of her belt, and began to knit.
At the end of every needle she drew a deep breath, and felt the stocking carefully to make sure there were no " nubs " in it. She talked about the " severe drowth " and some painful cases of sickness, after which she took out her snuff-box, and then the three ladies saw that she had something particular to say.
" Where is your little boy, Maria ? "
She always called Mrs. Clifford Maria, for she had known her from a baby.
" Horace is at Augusta; I left him there the other day."
" Yes," said Polly, settling her mournful black cap, " so I heard ? I was very, very sorry," and she shook her head dolefully, as if it had been a bell and she were tolling it -- " very, very sorry ! "
Mrs. Clifford could not but wonder why.
"It is a dreadful thing to happen in a family! I'm sure, Maria, I never heard that stealing was natural to either side of the house! "
" Stealing ! " echoed Mrs. Clifford.
" What in this world can you mean, Polly Whiting ? " said Aunt Louise, laughing nervously ; for she was a very lively young lady, and laughed a great deal. Miss Whiting thought this was no time for jokes. Her mouth twitched downward as if there were strings at the corners. Mrs. Clifford had turned very pale.
"Poll," said she, "do speak, and tell me what you have heard ? It is all a mystery to me."
" You don't say so," said Miss Whiting, looking relieved. "Well, I didn't more than half believe it myself; but the story is going that your Horace stole his Aunt Louise's breastpin, and sold it to a pedler for a rusty gun."
Miss Louise laughed merrily this time.
" I did lose my pearl brooch," said she, " but Prudy found it yesterday in an old glass candlestick."
"What an absurd report!" said Mrs. Clifford, quite annoyed. " I hope the children are not to be suspected every time their Aunt Louise misses anything! "
" They said you had decided to take Horace to the Reform School," added Miss Whiting, " but your friends begged you to leave him at Augusta in somebody's house locked up, with bread and water to eat."
" Now tell me where you heard all this," said Aunt Louise.
"Why, Mrs. Grant told me that Mrs. Small said that Mrs. Gordon told her. I hope you'll excuse me for speaking of it; but I thought yon ought to know."
Miss Polly Whiting was a harmless woman, who went from family to family doing little "jobs" of work. She never said what was not true, did no mischief, and in her simple way was quite attached to the Parlins.
" I heard something more that made me very angry," said she, following Miss Louise into the pantry. "Mrs. Grant says Mrs. Gray is very much surprised to find your mother doesn't give good measure when she sells milk!"
Aunt Louise was so indignant at this that she went at once and told her mother.
"It is a little too much to be borne," said she; " the neighbors may invent stories about Horace, if they have nothing better to do, but they shall not slander my mother!"
The two little girls, who were the unconscious cause of all this mischief, were just returning from Mrs. Gray's.
"0, grandma," said Dotty, coming in with the empty pail; " she says she don't want any more milk this summer, and I'm ever so glad! Come, Prudy, let's go and swing."
" Stop," said Mrs. Parlin; " why does Mrs. Gray say she wants no more milk ?"
" 'Cause," replied Dotty, " 'cause our cow is dry, or their cow is dry, or Mrs. Gordon has some to sell. I don't know what she told me, grandma; I've forgot!"
" Then, my dear, she did not say you brought too little milk ?"
Dotty winced. " No, grandma, she never."
" Ruth," said Mrs. Parlin, " you are sure you have always measured the milk in that largest quart, and thrown in a gill or two more, as I directed ?"
"0, yes, ma'am, I've never failed."
" Then I'm sure I cannot understand it," said Mrs. Parlin, her gentle face looking troubled.
"Unless the children may have spilled some," remarked Mrs. Clifford. " Dotty, have you ever allowed little Katie to carry the pail ?"
" No, Dotty don't; her don't 'low me care nuffin—there now!" cried Katie, very glad to tell her sorrows.
" She's so little, you know, Aunt 'Ria," murmured Dotty, with her hand on the door-latch.
There was a struggle going on in Dotty's mind. She wished very much to run away, and at the same time that " voice " which speaks in everybody's heart was saying,—
"Now, Dotty, be a good girl, a noble girl. Tell about drinking the milk under the acorn tree."
" But I needn't," thought Dotty, clicking the door-latch! " it won't be a fib if I just keep still."
" Yes, it will, Dotty Dimple !"
" What! When I squeeze my lips together and don't say a word ?"
" 'Twill be acting a fib, and you know it, Alice Parlin! I'm ashamed of you ! Take your fingers out of your mouth, and speak like a woman."
"I will, if you'll stop till I clear my throat.—O, Grandma." cried Dotty, "I can't tell fibs the way Jennie V[sic]
'Twas we two did it, as true as you live !"
" Did what, child? Who!"
" The milk."
" I don't understand, dear.,"
Dotty twisted the corner of her apron, and looked out of the window.
"Drank it—Katie and me—under the acorn tree."
"Yes, she did,' chimed in Katie; "and 'twasn't nuffin but moolly's cow milk, and her 'pilled it on my shoe!"
Grandmamma really looked relieved.
" So this accounts for it! But Dotty, how could you do such a thing?"
" I telled um not to," cried Katie, " but her kep' a-doin' an' a-doin'."
"Ruthie gives too much measure," replied Dotty, untwisting her apron—" 'most two quarts; and when Katie and I ask for some in our nipperkins, Ruthie says, ' No,' she must make butter. I was just as thirsty, grandma, and I thought Mrs. Gray never would care; I did certainly."
" Yes, gamma, we fought Mis Gay would care; did cerdily !"
" My dear Dotty," said Mrs. Parlin, "you had not the shadow of a right to take what belonged to another. It was very wrong; but I really believe you did not know how wrong it was."
Dotty began to breathe more freely.
"But you see, child," interposed Aunt Louise, " you have done a deal of mischief; and I must go at once to Mrs. Gray's and explain matters."
Dotty was distressed at the thought of Mrs. Gray, whose nose she could seem to see " going up in the air."
"Don't feel so sorry, little sister," said Prudy, as they walked off with their arms about each other's waist; "you didn't do just right, but I'm sure you've told the real white truth."
" So I have," said Dotty, holding up her head again ; " and mother says that's worth a great deal!"
On to chapter 4