Read CHAPTER I - MYRA’S DREADFUL CHILDREN of Pearl and Periwinkle , free online book, by Anna Graetz, on ReadCentral.com.

Miss Hetty Maise, having spent the night in fitful spells of slumber, at last awakened by the beams of sunlight, sat up in bed with a start, quite unrefreshed and possessed of an uncomfortable feeling that something unpleasant was about to happen. A venturesome sunbeam, casting its light upon a picture on the heavy walnut dresser, seemed to recall the cause of her sleepless night and present uneasy state of mind. Drawing her lips tightly together she frowned severely at the inquisitive intruder.

“Those children,” she thought, “Myra’s dreadful children! If the minister himself hadn’t insisted that it was my plain duty to take them I shouldn’t have done it. It seems almost a sin to take in two children who have been circus performers.”

Miss Hetty was up by this time, for she hated to be idle. In fact the minister’s son had once remarked that she was accustomed to stir her cake batter while she was reading her Bible; but then the minister’s son was inclined to be irreverent at times.

But even he would have felt sorry for Miss Hetty this morning. To adopt two children when you know nothing whatever about their care was by no means a pleasant prospect. Besides, these children were the son and daughter of the outcast of the family, an only sister half-forgotten though only two months deceased. The thing itself was pathetic, yet it seemed an imposition: above all to adopt two children who had traveled all their young lives with a circus was at least to Miss Hetty’s mind almost scandalous.

Often during the morning she absently folded her hand and in unaccustomed idleness gazed, as if dazed, down the quiet village street as if expecting help from that source. Once, having aroused herself, she had gone to an old trunk, her deceased mother’s, and drew out two faded pictures tied with an old ribbon and folded over a lock of yellow hair. The first picture, the face of a girl that smiled up at her so sweetly and trustingly, caused unbidden tears to well up in her eyes, just as it had always affected her mother. The second picture was regarded with more interest though with less affection. Here was the same loved face, but beside it the merry, dark face of the actor husband for whom she had left her home, and in her arms their first baby branded as Miss Hetty thought with the heathenish name of Periwinkle. A letter had accompanied this photograph, but it had never been answered. Several years later another letter had been received, telling of the death of her husband and of the illness of Periwinkle’s two year old sister, Pearl.

Though Myra had died but two months before and if perhaps then her younger sister had felt any pang of pity for the orphaned children, it did not enter her thoughts this morning. She plumped up the pillows on the prim horsehair sofa, painfully recalling the pillow fight she had once seen between her cousin’s children. Children were a nuisance, and these two Myra’s dreadful boy and girl were bound to be more than that.

Her sense of indignation reaching a higher pitch every minute, she spitefully slammed the front door and left the house just as the clock struck eleven. Her heels clicked on the sidewalk sharply in full sympathy with her state of mind as she walked down the street of the village. And then, as she might have expected, she met the one person whom she least of all desired to meet. An icy stare on her part, a stiff formal bow from the man passing that was all, but she knew that in that brief interval he had had ample opportunity to observe that she was worried and cross and looked every day of her twenty-nine lonely years; and of course it could not but give him much satisfaction. This disturbing thought crowded out the remembrance of the unloved, unwelcome niece and nephew until a sharp curve in the road brought into view the smoke begrimed depot and, drawn up before it, the train which had just come to a puffing, throbbing standstill like a wild horse unwilling to pause in its mad race.

Several of Miss Hetty’s acquaintances, gathered on the station platform, were not accorded the usual recognition, for her eyes were fixed intently on the childish pair alighting from the train. The one, a tall, slender lad of about thirteen, with curls of golden yellow hair clustering over a broad forehead, a mouth whose sensitive delicately modeled lips together with the shadowy depths of deep grey eyes indicated even in one so young the temperament of a dreamer, first engaged her attention. But little Pearl! Hair black as night when only one star is shining and eyes like the double image of that star; a figure as tiny as the dream of a fairy: that was Pearl.

It was not her childish charm however that made Miss Hetty gasp. It was the enormous bow, half covering her head, and the butterfly comb that caught back her curls. The ribbon seemed larger than the silk frock buoyant with many skirts and quite abbreviated, while the little high-heeled shoes seemed designed for anything rather than wear.

For a time the children stood quite alone on the platform. Their first appearance had held Miss Hetty spellbound at her position near the door. She felt rather than heard a suppressed chuckle run through the small crowd. Then suddenly her gaze met a pair of compelling brown eyes, not cold and scrutinizing as they had been when their owner had passed her a short time before, but sympathetic and friendly. She blushed furiously and, quickly walking toward the forlorn pair, extended to each a cold hand of welcome.

“Come Periwinkle, come Pearl,” she said, not ungently. “I am your Aunty Hetty and have come to take you home.” And holding her head high and her eyes straight ahead, she lead the strange pair past the tall gentlemen on the platform.

“Do you know, Aunt Hetty, I thought it was you,” said the boy eagerly as they left the station. “You look a little like our mother did. She told us lots about you, and so did the Fat Woman.”

“The fat woman,” exclaimed Miss Hetty somewhat in surprise. “Who is she?”

“She looked after us,” replied Pearl in a voice so sweet that in spite of her aversion to her duty Miss Hetty’s heart began to warm to her unwelcome charges. “Even while mother was living she cared for us, and she told us all we know. She got me all my clothes. She was so jolly and nice, and so was Mr. Barleydon, and I didn’t want to leave the circus, I didn’t, but Periwinkle did.”

“Why did Periwinkle want to leave,” asked Miss Hetty, now becoming much interested, although she did purse up her lips when she spoke the obnoxious name. Periwinkle answered for himself: “I didn’t like the trapèzes, nor the everlasting traveling. I wanted to be in a home like mother told us about and go to school. And besides that, I didn’t want Pearl to be like the spangled circus ladies, even if some of them were lovely and the Fat Woman perfectly grand; so was one of the clowns. You can’t imagine, Aunt Hetty, what a noble, charitable fellow Jerry was. I disliked to leave them. But how I hated the snake-charmer; you can’t imagine, Auntie.”

Aunt Hetty shivered at the mere mention of a snake-charmer. She could easily sympathize with Periwinkle in his aversion for her.

“You use pretty big words for a boy, Periwinkle,” was, however, all that she said.

“Yes, the Fat Woman said she couldn’t account for them, but she taught us, and she is a very brilliant woman. Little Pearl can read splendid. You can’t imagine, Aunt Hetty.”

“You said that the Fat Woman told you about me,” hinted Miss Hetty, forgetting that she didn’t wish to know anything about these worldly people.

“O yes,” replied Pearl, also desirous of furnishing her aunt with some more information concerning her friend, the Fat Woman. “She said as you would be different from the ladies we were used to, but you’d be our relation and mean all for our good, and we was to put up with you as you’d put up with us, and to respect you and love you like we did her. But you won’t mind just at first, will you, if we can’t love you quite so much as her, ’cause the Fat Woman was very dear to me and Periwinkle.”

A sudden something gushed up in the heart of Miss Maise, the something that makes the Fat Woman and the clown and all of us kin, but it died down as quickly, and she only said:

“I shall expect you to be good children and obey me, that is all.”

“Not love you?” asked her young nephew in surprise.

The hard look faded again from Aunt Hetty’s face as she yielding to such an irresistible entreaty, hesitatingly replied:

“Yes yes, a little if you can.”