“It will be a fine opportunity for Edna,” said Mrs. Conway.
Edna did not like that word opportunity; it always seemed to her that it meant something unpleasant. She had noticed that when pleasant things came along they were rarely spoken of as “opportunities,” but were just happenings. So she sat with her little sturdy legs dangling down from the sofa, and a very sober look upon her round face, while her busy, dimpled hands were folded quietly.
Her mother leaned over, and took the plump little fingers in hers, giving them a squeeze. “It will be an opportunity,” she repeated, as her eyes rested fondly on the child by her side; “but she is only eight, and it seems like pushing her out of the nest before her wings are ready, poor birdie!”
“O, no it doesn’t,” replied Mr. Conway. “It will only be changing nests. Aunt Elizabeth will be just like a mother to her; it is not like a boarding-school, my dear.”
“I know,” replied Mrs. Conway, resting her cheek against Edna’s little dark head. “Should you like to go to Aunt Elizabeth’s, dear?”
“Cousin Louis will be there, you know,” put in Edna’s father, “and you’ll have fine times together. Suppose I read to you what Aunt Elizabeth says. ‘You write, my dear nephew, that it seems prudent, on account of your wife’s health, that you should go to Florida. I have received some such news from William who is about to take a trip to California in search of health. He has asked me to take charge of his son, Louis, during his absence. Should you not like to place Edna, also, with us during the time you are gone? She could then attend school and would find a pleasing companion in her cousin Louis, who, I fear, will be somewhat lonely with only myself and your Uncle Justus. The advantages of a city are great, and I need not say we will endeavor’—h’m—h’m—never mind the rest,” said Mr. Conway, laying down the letter. “You know, daughter, Aunt Elizabeth lives in a big city, where there are fine shops and beautiful parks; moreover, you would meet a lot of nice little girls in the school. It would be much nicer than for you to stay here with sister and the boys while we are gone. Don’t you think so?”
“Yes,” said Edna, her little fat hand enfolded in her mother’s, feeling very moist from the excitement of the prospect.
“Of course, I know it is best,” said Mrs. Conway, “and I know Aunt Elizabeth means to be as kind as possible.” Here a wistful look came into the mother’s eyes, but Edna only saw visions of gay shops, while she pictured romps with her cousin Louis.
She remembered very little of this great aunt, except that she had once sent her a most beautiful doll, with a cunning trunk filled with such neat, old-fashioned frocks and aprons, together with a real little slate and books. Aunt Elizabeth had written a tiny letter which the doll had brought pinned to her muff. In the letter the doll’s name was said to be Ada, and many instructions were given as to her behavior and studies. So Ada and Aunt Elizabeth were inseparably connected in Edna’s mind.
“I must go get Ada ready,” she said, jumping down from the sofa on which she had been sitting. “When shall I go to the city, papa?”
“Next week,” he answered; and the little girl, on business intent, ran to the playroom.
There was a great deal to do before she should go away. She reflected. She must clean house, and see that all Ada’s clothes were clean and whole, for it would never do to let Aunt Elizabeth find that they had not been kept carefully. “They are not all here,” said the child, sitting down on the floor. “Lilypaws tore up the muff, and Gyp ate up one of the books; then the wind blew away an apron and a skirt that day I washed them and put them out on the grass to dry. I’ll have to tell Aunt Elizabeth about that. She’ll know it was an accident. Maybe sister will make me some more. I’ll go ask her now.”
Leaving Ada with her wardrobe scattered over the nursery floor, Edna sought sister, who was studying her lessons, curled up on the window seat of her room. “I’m going to the city to live, next week,” announced Edna, importantly, “and I’ll have to get Ada’s clothes in order. Sister, won’t you help me?”
“Going to the city!” cried Celia, lowering her book in surprise. “What do you mean? O! you’re only playing make-believe.”
“No, I’m not. I am really and truly going. Papa and mamma said so. I’m going to live with Aunt Elizabeth while they are away in Florida, and, of course, Ada will have to go.”
“And, of course, I’ll help you,” replied Celia, “you poor little midget.”
“I’m not poor at all,” replied Edna, “for Cousin Louis is going to be there, and I’m going to play with him in the park, and I’m going to buy things in the beautiful shops. What shall I buy for you, sister?”
“O, I don’t know. Don’t buy me anything—or if you should see a belt buckle exactly like Grace Neal’s, I should like to have one, but only if it is exactly.”
“All right; I’ll buy that and send it to you,” decided Edna, very positively, while she made up her mind to notice Grace Neal’s buckle very particularly the next time she saw her.
There was much hurry and excitement for the next week. Edna did not go to school at all during that time, for the dressmaker was likely at any time to want her to stand up to be fitted, something Edna did not like at all. “I believe I’d just as soon go to school,” she fretted while Miss Marsh, with her mouth full of pins, pinched up here, and trimmed off there, bidding the little girl to “stand still.”
“I am standing as still as a mouse,” she protested.
“About as still as that canary bird,” returned Miss Marsh. “Don’t shrug your shoulders while I cut out this armhole. I might snip you with the scissors.”
That was something really to be dreaded, so Edna did stand very still while the cold steel points circled her plump shoulder. “O, dear!” she sighed, when the operation was finished, “I hope I sha’n’t need any more clothes for a year.”
But even the discomfort of dress-fitting did not do away with the pleasure the little girl felt in her pretty new frocks, and it seemed no time before her trunk stood ready packed and she had said good-bye to Gyp and Lilypaws, to Bobby in his cage, and to the chickens, each and every one; her own special pet hen, Snowflake, being entreated not to hatch out any new chickens till Edna should return.
It was rather a solemn moment, after all, when mamma hugged her and kissed her, with the tears running down her cheeks; when the cook, Jane, hoped they’d see her again; and when the boys thrust parting gifts into her hands—Frank a small mouth organ, and Charlie a wad of something which was afterward discovered to be taffy, wrapped in brown paper; when Celia winked away the tear-drops from her lashes and called her “precious little sister.” It was therefore with the very opposite of a smile upon her face that she climbed up the steps into the car. But the dimples soon came back again as the car moved off, and the boys, standing on a woodpile, cheered and waved their hats as the little head at the window nodded good-bye.
It was quite a long journey to the city to which Edna was going, a whole day and night to be on the cars, and after the first few hours the little girl began to get very restless. Even the picture papers her father bought her, and the little excitement of stopping once in a while at a station, where could be seen queer-looking people, did not serve to keep Edna from getting very tired; but it grew dark early, and when the porter came in to make up the berths she felt that she would be quite ready to clamber up into that funny little bed above her papa’s.
“It’s just like being put away on a shelf,” she laughed. “Suppose I should tumble out, papa?”
“Then I think it would be better for you to take the lower berth,” he replied.
“O, no. I like it best up here. I can peep out better. Are you going to bed, too, papa?”
“Not just yet. I am going to the smoking-car for a while. You go to sleep, daughter, and I’ll be back pretty soon.”
It was some time before the child could compose herself. The voices of the people in the car, the clatter of a passing train, the letting down of the berths, or the opening of a door, all tended to keep her awake, but after a little time she began to say over a rhyme she had learned at school, keeping time to the motion of the car as she repeated:
and before she knew it she was fast asleep.
How long she had slept she had not the slightest idea, when she was awakened, very suddenly, by a jerk of the car which nearly threw her from the berth. She sat up rubbing her eyes, wondering where she was, and for a moment it seemed as if she must be dreaming that she was packed away on a high shelf in such a queer place; but presently she was quite wide-awake, and found that there was a great commotion going on; men with lanterns hurried through the car; women began to scream, babies to cry.
“It’s all right!” some one shouted. “Don’t be alarmed!”
This was enough to frighten Edna, and she began to scramble on her clothes as quickly as possible, first peering down into the berth below, but seeing no papa there. “O, where is my papa? Where is my papa?” she whispered under her breath, as the little trembling fingers tried to fasten the buttons hurriedly.
Presently some one parted the curtains and looked in; it was the negro porter.
“‘Scuse me, Miss,” he said, “but de folks is all leavin’ de cyar. You better let me ‘sist you off.”
“I want my papa!” cried Edna, looking around distressedly. “O, please tell me what is the matter.”
“De engine an’ de baggage cyar was derailed,” explained the man, “an’ de smokin’ cyar cotched fire.”
“O! O! my papa is burned up!” cried Edna, helplessly.
“No, miss, I reckon he ain’t, but yuh see dey is sorter ‘stracted out dere; de women a-faintin’ an’ de men a-hollerin’, but nobody ain’t hurt so tur’ble. Yuh better come get off.” And picking her up in his arms the porter bore her from the car.
“Now I’ll set you down on dis ole stump, an’ yuh’ll be safe,” said he. And Edna found herself, at midnight, by the side of the railroad in what seemed to be a bit of woodland. She could hear the rushing of water and see the blazing car ahead. The rest of the train had been backed along the track, and some of the women and men, seeing the rear cars were not hurt, were climbing back into them. There was a crowd of people moving about farther up the railroad, and Edna made up her mind that she would try to find out what had become of her father. So she took her way toward the throng of people who were gathered about the baggage car, which lay over on its side by an embankment.
“You’d better go back to the rear cars, little girl,” said some one, as she came up. “Where is your mother?”
“She is at home,” replied Edna. “I want my papa. Is he burned up?”
“No, indeed; no one is burned up,” was the reply. “You go back and we’ll find your father. What is his name?”
“His name,” returned Edna, “is Henry Parker Conway.”
“Anybody about here by the name of Conway?” shouted the man.
But there was no one answering to that name in the crowd, and Edna picked her way back to the stump where the porter had placed her, feeling very lonely and miserable. “O dear!” she said to herself. “What shall I do? Suppose papa doesn’t come for me? That man said they had sent ahead for another engine, and that we should go on pretty soon; but I can’t go without my papa,” and the tears began to run down Edna’s cheeks. She was beginning to feel cold, and it was very forlorn to sit there alone on a stump all night. “I believe I’ll go back to the car,” she said, “but I don’t know where I belong.” By great effort she managed to climb up on the high step of the first car, then made her way inside and stood there looking wistfully around.
“Why, you poor little child,” said a lady, coming forward. “Where did you come from?”
“I came from the stump,” replied Edna, “and I want my papa,” she continued, her lip quivering and her eyes filling.
“Where is he?”
“I don’t know,” returned Edna, and putting her head against the arm which was placed sympathetically around her, she sobbed outright.
“There! There! Tell me all about it,” said her friend. “We’ll make it all right as soon as my husband comes in. Come, sit down here by me. Your father can’t be very far away, and you know no one has been very badly hurt.”
Edna gave the best account of herself that she could, and the lady comforted her and promised that she should be safely cared for.
After what seemed a long time, just as the morning was breaking, the train was again on its way. But no papa had appeared, although the husband of Edna’s new friend had gone through the cars to look for him.
Categories: English Literature