It was the morning after that Sunday when Matilda had been baptized. The girls came down to prepare breakfast as usual; Maria in a very unsettled humour. She was cloudy and captious to a degree that Matilda could not understand. The kitchen was hot; the butter was soft; the milk was turned; the bread was dry. All things went wrong.
"It is no wonder the bread is dry," said Matilda; "it has been baked ever since last Friday."
"Thursday. I didn't say it was a wonder. Aunt Candy will have the bread dry. I hate it!"
"And it is no wonder the butter is soft, if you keep it up here in the kitchen. The kitchen must be hot, with this hot stove. But the milkman will be along directly."
"No, he won't. We always have to wait for him; or take the old milk. And I can't be bothered to keep the butter down cellar and be running for it fifty times in an hour. I have enough to do as it is. Whatever possessed Aunt Erminia to want corn bread this morning!"
"Does she want corn bread?"
"Well, corn bread is nice. I am glad of it."
"You wouldn't be glad if you had to make it. There! I knew it would be so. There isn't a speck of soda. Put on your bonnet, Matilda, and run round to Mr. Sample's and get some soda, will you? – and be quick. We shall be late, and then there will be a row."
"There won't be a row, Maria. Aunt Candy is always quiet."
"I wish she wouldn't, then. I hate people who are always quiet. I would rather they would flare out now and then. It's safer."
"For what? Safer, Maria?"
"Do go along and get your soda!" exclaimed Maria. "Do you think it will be safe to be late with breakfast?"
Maria was so evidently out of order this morning, that her sister thought the best way was to let her alone; only she asked, "Aren't you well, Maria?" and got a sharp answer; then she went out.
It was a delicious spring morning. The air stirred in her face its soft and glad breaths of sweetness; the sunlight was the very essence of promise; the village and the green trees, now out in leaf, shone and basked in the fair day. It was better than breakfast, to be out in the air. Matilda went round the corner, into Butternut Street, and made for Mr. Sample's grocery store, every step being a delight. Why could not the inside world be as pleasant as the outside? Matilda was musing and wishing, when just before she reached Mr. Sample's door, she saw what made her forget everything else; even the mischievous little boy who belonged to Mrs. Dow. What was he doing here in Butternut Street? Matilda's steps slackened. The boy knew her, for he looked and then grinned, and then bringing a finger alongside of his nose in a peculiar and mysterious expressiveness, he repeated his old words —
"Ain't you green?"
"I suppose so," said Matilda. "I dare say I am. What then? Green is not the worst colour."
The boy looked at her, a little confounded.
"If you would come to Sunday-school," Matilda went on, "you would be a better colour than you are – by and by."
"What colour be I?" said the boy.
"You'd be a better colour," said Matilda. "Just come and see."
"I ain't green," the boy remonstrated.
Matilda passed on, went into Mr. Sample's and got her soda. She had a few cents of change. A thought came into her head. Peeping out, she saw that Mrs. Dow's boy was still lingering where she had left him. Immediately Matilda requested to have the worth of those cents in sugared-almonds; and with her little packages went into the street again. The boy eyed her.
"What is your name?" said Matilda.
"Hain't got none."
"Yes, you have. What does your mother call you at home?"
"She calls me – the worst of all her plagues," said the fellow, grinning.
"No, no; but when she calls you from somewhere – what does she call you?"
"She calls me out of the garding and down from the attic."
"Look here," said Matilda, showing a sugar-plum; "I'll give you that, if you will tell me."
The boy eyed it, and her, and finally said —
"Your name is Lem?"
"There, Lem, is a sugar-plum for you. Now if you'll come to Sunday-school next Sunday, and stay and behave yourself, I'll give you three more."
"Three more?" said the boy.
"Yes. Now come, and you'll like it."
And Matilda sped home with her soda.
"I should think you had been making the soda," said Maria; "you have been long enough. What kept you?"
"How do they make soda, I wonder?" said Matilda, looking at it. "Do you know, Maria?"
"I have enough to do to know how to get breakfast. Tilly, run and grind the coffee and make it – quick, will you? now I am in a hurry."
Matilda thought Maria might have done it herself, while she was waiting for the soda. But she said nothing of that. In ten minutes more the coffee was made, the corn bread was ready, and the ladies came down.
Matilda was in a mood as gentle as the morning, and almost as cloudless. Her morning's work and walk and the meeting with Lem Dow had given her an appetite; and the work of the night before had left a harmony in her spirit, as if sweet music were sounding there. Her little face was thus like the very morning itself, shining with the fair shining of inward beauty; in contrast with all the other faces at the table. For Clarissa's features were coldly handsome and calm; Mrs. Candy's were set and purposeful; and poor Maria's were sadly clouded and out of humour. Matilda took little heed of them all; she was thinking of Lemuel Dow.
"Matilda," said her aunt, suddenly – "I wish you to come to me every morning to read. A person who has taken the step you took last night, is no longer a child, but deserves to be treated as a woman. It is necessary that you should fit yourself for a woman's place. Come to me at ten o'clock. I will have you read to me some books that will make you better understand the things you have taken upon you, and the things you have done."
"Why, I am a child yet, Aunt Candy," Matilda answered in some dismay.
"You think so, do you?"
"Yes, ma'am, – I feel so; and I am."