The End of a Coil
The End of a Coil
The End of a Coil
The door stands open of a handsome house in Walnut Street – the Walnut Street which belongs to the city of William Penn; and on the threshold stands a lady, with her hand up to her brows, shielding her eyes from the light. She is watching to see what will come out of a carriage just driving up to the curbstone. The carriage stops; there descends first the figure of a handsome, very comfortable-looking gentleman. Mrs. Eberstein's eyes pass over him very cursorily; she has seen him before; and there is hardly a curl on his handsome head which his wife does not know by heart. What comes next? Ah, that is she! – the figure of the expected one; and a little girl of some eleven years is helped carefully out by Mr. Eberstein, and comes up the steps to the waiting and watching lady. A delicate little thing, delicate in frame and feature alike, with a fair, childish face, framed in by loose light brown curls, and a pair of those clear, grave, wise, light hazel eyes which have the power of looking so young and so spiritually old at once. Those eyes are the first thing that Mrs. Eberstein sees, and they fascinate her already. Meanwhile kind arms are opened wide, and take the little one in.
"Come at last, darling! And do you remember your Aunt Hal? and are you half as glad to see her as she is to see you?" So Mrs. Eberstein gives her greeting, while she is drawing the child through the hall and into the parlour; gives it between kisses.
"Why, no," said her husband, who had followed. "Be reasonable, Harry. She cannot be so glad to see you as we are to see her. She has just come from a long stage-coach journey; and she is tired, and she is hungry; and she has left a world she knows, and has come to a world she doesn't know; hey, Dolly? isn't it true? Tell your Aunt Hal to stop asking questions, and give you something to eat."
"I have come to a world I don't know," repeated the little girl by way of answer, turning her serious small face to her questioner, while Mrs. Eberstein was busily taking off coat and hat and mufflers.
"Yes, that's what I say!" returned Mr. Eberstein. "How do you like the look of it, hey?"
"I wonder who is asking questions now!" said Mrs. Eberstein. "There, darling! now you are at home."
She finished with another kiss; but, nevertheless, I think the feeling that it was a strange world she had come to, was rather prominent in Dolly. She suddenly stooped to a great Maltese cat that was lying on the hearthrug, and I am afraid the eyes were glad of an excuse to get out of sight. She touched the cat's fur tenderly and somewhat diligently.
"She won't hurt you," said her aunt. "That is Mr. Eberstein's pet. Her name is Queen Mab."
"She don't look much like a fairy," was Dolly's comment. Indeed, Queen Mab would outweigh most of her race, and was a magnificent specimen of good feeding.
"You do," thought Mrs. Eberstein. Aloud she asked: "What do you know about fairies?"
"Oh, I know they are only stories. I have read about them."
"Fairy tales, eh?"
"No, not much fairy tales," said Dolly, now rising up from the cat. "I have read about them in 'Midsummer Night's Dream.'"
"'Midsummer Night's Dream,' you midget!" exclaimed Mrs. Eberstein. "Have you read that? And everything else you could lay hands on?"
She took the child in her arms again as she spoke. Dolly gave a quiet assent.
"And they let you do just what you like at home? and read just what you like?"
Dolly smiled slightly at the obviousness of the course of action referred to; but the next minute the smile was quenched in a mist of tears, and she hid her head on Mrs. Eberstein's shoulder. Kisses and caresses of course followed, not successfully. At last Mr. Eberstein's repeated suggestion that food, in the circumstances, would be very much in place, was acted upon. Supper was served in the next room, which did duty for a dining-room; and the little family gathered round a bountifully spread table. There were only those three; and, naturally, the attention of the two elder was very much concentrated upon the third new member of the party; although Mr. Eberstein was hungry and proved it. The more Mrs. Eberstein studied her new acquisition, however, the more incitement to study she found.
Dolly was not like most children; one could see that immediately. Faces as pretty, and more pretty, could easily be found; the charm was not in mere flesh and blood, form or colour. Other children's faces are often innocent too, and free from the shadow of life's burdens, as this was. Nevertheless, it is not often, it is very rarely, that one sees the mingling of childish simplicity with that thoughtful, wise, spiritual look into life, which met one in Dolly's serious hazel orbs; not often that sweetness and character speak so early in the lines of the lips; utterly childish in their soft, free mobility, and yet revealing continually a trait of thoughtfulness or of strength, along with the happy play of an unqualified tender disposition. "You are lovely! you are lovely!" was Mrs. Eberstein's inner cry; and she had to guard herself that the thought did not come to too open expression. There was a delicate air of refinement also about the child, quite in keeping with all the rest of her; a neat and noiseless handling of knife and fork, cup and saucer; and while Dolly was evidently hungry as well as her uncle, she took what was given to her in a thoroughly high-bred way; that is, she made neither too much nor too little of it.
Doubtless all the while she was using her power of observation, as Mrs. Eberstein was using hers, though the fact was not obtruded; for Dolly had heart wants quite as urgent as body wants. What she saw was reassuring. With Mr. Eberstein she had already been several hours in company, having travelled with him from New York. She was convinced of his genial kindness and steadfast honesty; all the lines of his handsome face, and every movement of his somewhat ease-loving person, were in harmony with that impression. Mrs. Eberstein was a fit mate for her husband. If Dolly had watched her a little anxiously at first, on account of her livelier manner, she soon made out to her satisfaction that nothing but kindness, large and bounteous, lodged behind her aunt's face, and gave its character to her aunt's manner. She knew those lively eyes were studying her; she knew just as well that nothing but good would come of the study.
The meal over, Mrs. Eberstein took her niece upstairs to make her acquainted with her new quarters. It was a little room off the hall which had been destined for Dolly, opening out of her aunt's own; and it had been fitted up with careful affection. A small bedstead and dressing-table of walnut wood, a little chest of drawers, a little wardrobe; it was a wonder how so much could have been got in, but there was room for all. And then there were red curtains and carpet, and on the white spread a dainty little eider-down silk quilt; and on the dressing-table and chest of drawers pretty toilet napkins and pincushion. It was a cosy little apartment as ever eleven years old need delight in. Dolly forthwith hung up her hat and coat in the wardrobe; took brush and comb out of her travelling bag, and with somewhat elaborate care made her hair smooth; as smooth, that is, as a loose confusion of curly locks allowed; then signified that she was ready to go downstairs again. If Mrs. Eberstein had expected some remark upon her work, she was disappointed.
In the drawing-room, she drew the child to sit down upon her knee.
"Well, Dolly, what do you think you are going to do in Philadelphia?"
"Go to school – they say."
"Who says so?"
"Father says so, and mother."
"What do you think they want you to go to school for?"
"I suppose that I may become like other people."
Mr. Eberstein burst out into a laugh. His wife's eyes went over to him adjuringly.
"Are you not like other people now, Dolly?"
The child's sweet, thoughtful brown eyes were lifted to hers frankly, as she answered, "I don't know, ma'am."
"Then why do you say that? or why do they say it?"
"I don't know," said Dolly again. "I think they think so."
"I daresay they do," said Mrs. Eberstein; "but if you were mine, I would rather have you unlike other people."
"Why, Aunt Harry?"
"Yes," said Mr. Eberstein; "now you'll have to go on and tell." And Dolly's eyes indeed looked expectant.
"I think I like you best just as you are."
Dolly's face curled all up into a smile at this; brow and eyes and cheeks and lips all spoke her sense of amusement; and stooping forward a little at the same time, she laid a loving kiss upon her aunt's mouth, who was unspeakably delighted with this expression of confidence. But then she repeated gravely —
"I think they want me changed."
"And pray, what are you going to do, with that purpose in view?"
"I don't know. I am going to study, and learn things; a great many things."
"I don't believe you are particularly ignorant for eleven years old."
"Oh, I do not know anything!"
"Can you write a nice hand?"
Dolly's face wrinkled up again with a sense of the comical. She gave an unhesitating affirmative answer.
"And you have read Shakespeare. What else, Dolly?"