Read Chapter X of The Very Small Person , free online book, by Annie Hamilton Donnell, on ReadCentral.com.

The Child

The Child had it all reasoned out in her own way. It was only lately she had got to the end of her reasoning and settled down. At first it had not been very satisfactory, but she had gradually, with a child’s optimism, evolved from the dreary little maze a certain degree of content.

She had only one confidant. The Child had always lived a rather proscribed, uneventful little life, with pitifully few intimates, none of her own age. The Child was eight.

The confidant, oddly, was a picture in the silent, awe-inspiring company-room. It represented a lady with a beautiful face, and a baby in her arms. The Child had never heard it called a Madonna, but it was because of that picture that she was never afraid in the company-room. Going in and out so often to confide things to the Lady had bred a familiarity with the silent place that came to amount in the end to friendliness. The Lady was always there, smiling gently at the Child, and so the other things did not matter the silence and the awe-inspiringness.

The Child told the Lady everything, standing down under the picture and looking up at it adoringly. She was explaining her conclusions concerning the Greatest Thing of All now.

“I didn’t tell you before,” she said. “I wanted to get it reasoned out. If,” rather wistfully, “you were a a flesh-and-bloody lady, you could tell me if I haven’t got it right. But I think I have.

“You see, there are a great many kinds of fathers and mothers, but I’m only talking of my kind. I’m going to love my father one day and my mother the next. Like this: my mother Monday, my father Tuesday, mother Wednesday, father Thursday right along. Of course you can’t divide seven days even, but I’m going to love them both on Sundays. Just one day in the week I don’t think it will do any harm, do you? Oh, you darling Lady, I wish you could shake your head or bow it! I’m only eight, you see, and eight isn’t a very reasonable age. But I couldn’t think of any better way.”

The Child’s eyes riveted to the beautiful face almost saw it nod a little.

“I haven’t decided ’xactly, but perhaps I shall love my mother Sunday mornings and my father Sunday afternoons. If if it seems best to. I’ll let you know.” She stopped talking and thought a minute in her serious little way. She was considering whether to say the next thing or not. Even to the Lady she had never said why-things about her father and mother. If the Lady knew and she had lived so long in the company-room, it seemed as if she must, then there was no need of explaining. And if she didn’t know suddenly the Child, with a throb of pride, hoped that the Lady did not know. But perhaps some slight explanation was necessary.

“Of course,” the Child burst out, hurriedly, her cheeks aflame, “of course it would be nice to love both of ’em the same day, but but they’re not that kind of a father and mother. I’ve thought it all over and made the reasonablest plan I know how to. I’m going to begin to-morrow to-morrow is Tuesday, my father’s day.”

It was cold in the company-room, and any moment Marie might come and take her away. She was always a little pressed for time.

“I must be going,” she said, “or Marie will come. Good-bye. Give my love to the baby.” She always sent her love to the baby in the beautiful Lady’s arms.

The Child’s home, though luxurious, had to her the effect of being a double tenement. An invisible partition divided her father’s side from her mother’s; her own little white room, with Marie’s alcove, seemed to be across the dividing line, part on one side, part on the other. She could remember when there had not been any invisible partition, but the intensity of her little mental life since there had been one had dimmed the beautiful remembrance. It seemed to her now as a pleasant dream that she longed to dream again.

The next day the Child loved her father, for it was Tuesday. She went about it in her thorough, conscientious little way. She had made out a little programme. At the top of the sheet, in her clear, upright hand, was, “Ways to Love My farther.” And after that:

“1. Bringing in his newspaper. “2. Kissing Him goodmorning. “3. Rangeing his studdy table. “4. Putting flours on " " “5. Takeing up His male. “6. Reeching up to rub My cheak against his cheak. “7. Lerning to read so I can read His Books.”

There were many other items. The Child had used three pages for her programme. The last two lines read:

“Praing for Him.
“Kissing Him goodnight.”

The Wednesday programme was almost identical with this one, with the exception of “my mother” instead of “my farther.” For the Child did not wish to be partial. She had always had a secret notion that it would be a little easier to read her mother’s books, but she meant to read just as many of her “farther’s.”

During the morning she went in to the Lady and reported progress so far. Her cheeks were a delicate pink with excitement, and she panted a little when she spoke.

“I’m getting along splendidly,” she said, smiling up at the beautiful face. “Perhaps of course I can’t tell for sure, but I’m not certain but that he will like it after he gets used to it. You have to get used to things. He liked the flowers, and when I rubbed my cheek ’gainst his, and when I kissed him. How I know he did is because he smiled I wish my father would smile all the time.”

The Child did not leave the room when she had finished her report, but fidgeted about the great silent place uncertainly. She turned back by-and-by to the Lady.

“There’s something I wish you could tell me,” she said, with her wistful little face uplifted. “It’s if you think it would be polite to ask my father to put me to bed instead of Marie just unbutton me, you know, and pray me. I was going to ask my mother to-morrow night if my father did to-night. I thought I thought” the Child hesitated for adequate words “it would be the lovingest way to love him, for you feel a little intimater with persons when they put you to bed. Sometimes I feel that way with Marie a very little. I wish you could nod your head if you thought it would be polite.”

The Child’s eyes, fastened upon the picture, were intently serious. And again the Lady seemed to nod.

“Oh, you’re nodding, yes! I b’lieve you’re nodding yes! Thank you ve-ry much now I shall ask him to. Good-bye. Give my love to the baby.” And the little figure moved away sedately.

To ask him in the manner of a formal invitation with “yours very truly” in it appeared to the Child upon thoughtful deliberation to be the best way. She did not feel very intimate yet with her father, but of course it might be different after he unbuttoned her and prayed her.

Hence the formal invitation:

“Dear farther you are respectably invited to put yore little girl to bed tonite at 1/2 past 7. Yores very truely

Elizabeth.

“R s v p.

P.s. the little girl is me.”

It was all original except the “R s v p” and the fraction. The Child had asked Marie how to write “half,” and the other she had found in the corner of one of her mother’s formal invitations. She did not know what the four letters meant, but they made the invitation look nicer, and she could make lovely capital “R’s.”

At lunch-time the Child stole up-stairs and deposited her little folded note on top of her father’s manuscript. Her heart beat strangely fast as she did it. She had still a lurking fear that it might not be polite.

On the way back she hurried into the company-room, up to the Lady. “I’ve done it!” she reported, breathlessly. “I hope it was polite oh, I hope he will!”

The Child’s father ate his lunch silently and a little hastily, as if to get it over. On the opposite side of the table the Child’s mother ate hers silently and a little hastily. It was the usual way of their meals. The few casual things they said had to do with the weather or the salad. Then it was over and they separated, each to his own side of the divided house.

The father took up his pen to write it seemed all there was left to do now. But the tiny folded note arrested his hand, and he stared in amazement. The Child had inadvertently set her seal upon it in the form of a little finger-print. So he knew it was hers. The first shock of hope it had awakened subsided into mere curiosity. But when he opened it, when he read it

He sat a long time very still indeed so still he could hear the rustle of manuscript pages in the other writing-room across the hall. Perhaps he sat there nearly all the afternoon, for the shadows lengthened before he seemed to move.

In the rush of thoughts that came to him two stood out most clearly the memory of an awful day, when he had seemed to die a thousand deaths, and only come to life when a white-capped nurse came smiling to him and said, “It is a little girl,” and the memory of a day two years ago, when a man and a woman had faced each other and said, “We will try to bear it for the child.”

The Child found her answer lying on her plate at nursery tea. Marie, who was bustling about the room getting things orderly for the night, heard a little gasp and turned in alarm. The Child was spelling out her letter with a radiant face that belied the gasp. There was something in the lonely little figure’s eagerness that appealed even to the unemotional maid, and for a moment there was likelihood of a strange thing happening. But the crisis was quickly over, and Marie, with the kiss unkissed on her lips, went on with her work. Emotions were rare with Marie.

“‘Dear Little Girl, Who Is You,’” spelled the Child, in a soft ecstasy, yet not without dread of what might come, supposing he thought she had been impo

“‘Dear Little Girl, Who Is You,’” she hurriedly began again, “’your farther will be happy to accept your kind invitation for 1/2 past 7 this evening. Will you please call for him, as he is a little b-a-s-h-f-u-l’ Marie, what does b-a-s-h-f-u-l spell?” shrilled the eager voice. It was a new word.

Marie came over to the Child’s chair. “How can I tell without I see it?” she said. But the Child drew away gently.

“This is a very intimate letter you’ll have to ’xcuse seeing it. Never mind, anyway, thank you, I can guess it.” And she guessed that it spelled the way she would feel when she called for her father at half-past seven, for the Child was a little bashful, too. She told the Lady so.

“I don’t dread it; I just wish it was over,” she explained. “It makes me feel a little queer, you see. Probably you wouldn’t feel that way if you was better acquainted with a person. Fathers and mothers are kind of strangers.”

She was ready at seven o’clock, and sat, a little patient statue, watching the nursery clock. Marie, who had planned to go out and had intended setting the hands of the clock ahead a little, was unwarrantably angry with the Child for sitting there so persistently. “Come,” she said, impatiently; “I’ve got your night-gown ready. This clock’s too slow.”

“Truly, is it?” the Child questioned, anxiously. “Slow means it’s ’most half-past, doesn’t it? Then I ought to be going!”

“Yes, come along;” but Marie meant to bed, and the Child was already on her way to her father. She hurried back on second thought to explain to Marie.

“I’ve engaged somebody there’s somebody else going to put me to bed to-night. You needn’t wait, Marie,” she said, her voice oddly subdued and like some other little girl’s voice in her repressed excitement.

He was waiting for her. He had been ready since half-past six o’clock. Without a word with only an odd little smile that set the Child at ease he took her hand and went back with her. The door of the other writing-room was ajar, and they caught a glimpse as they went by of a slender, stooping figure. It did not turn.

“This is my room,” the Child introduced, gayly. The worst was over now and all the rest was best. “You’ve never been in my room before, have you? This is where I keep my clothes, and this is my undressing-chair. This is where Marie sits you’re Marie to-night!” The Child’s voice rang out in sudden, sweet laughter. It was such a funny idea! She was not a laughing Child, and the little, rippling sound had the effect of escaping from imprisonment and exulting at its freedom.

“You never unbuttoned a little girl before, did you? I’ll have to learn you.”

“Teach you,” he corrected, gently.

“Marie says learn you. But of course I’ll say ‘teach’ if you like it better,” with the ready courtesy of a hostess. “You begin with my feet and go backwards!” Again the escaped laughter. The Child was happy.

Down the hall where the slender figure stooped above the delicately written pages the little laugh travelled again and again. By-and-by another laugh, deep and rich, came hand in hand with it. Then the figure straightened tensely, for this new laugh was rarer even than the Child’s. Two years two years and more since she had heard this one.

“Now it is time to pray me,” the Child said, dropping into sudden solemnity. “Marie lets me kneel to her ” hesitating questioningly. Then: “It’s pleasanter to kneel to somebody ”

“Kneel to me,” he whispered. His face grew a little white, and his hand, when he caressed lightly the frolic-rumpled little head, was not steady. The stone mask of the man dropped off completely, and underneath was tenderness and pain and love.

“Now I lame me down to sleep no, I want to say another one to-night, Lord God, if Thee please. This is a very particular night, because my father is in it. Bless my father, Lord God, oh, bless my father! This is his day. I’ve loved him all day, and I’m going to again day after to-morrow. But to-morrow I must love my mother. It would be easier to love them both forever and ever, Amen.”

The Child slipped into bed and slept happily, but the man who was father of the Child had new thoughts to think, and it took time. He found he had not thought nearly all of them in his afternoon vigil. On his way back to his lonely study he walked a little slower past the other lonely study. The stooping of the slender figure newly troubled him.

The plan worked satisfactorily to the Child, though there was always the danger of getting the days mixed. The first mother-day had been as “intimate” and delightful as the first father-one. They followed each other intimately and delightfully in a long succession. Marie found her perfunctory services less and less in requisition, and her dazed comprehension of things was divided equally with her self-gratulation. Life in this new and unexpected condition of affairs was easier to Marie.

“I’m having a beautiful time,” the Child one day reported to the Lady, “only sometimes I get a little dizzy trying to remember which is which. My father is which to-day.” And it was at that bedtime, after an unusually active day, that the Child fell asleep at her prayer. Her rumpled head sagged more and more on her delicate neck, till it rested sidewise on the supporting knees, and the Child was asleep.

There was a slight stir in the doorway.

“’Sh! don’t move sit perfectly still!” came in a whisper as a slender figure moved forward softly into the room.

“Richard, don’t move! The poor little tired thing do you think you could slip out without moving while I hold up her head oh, I mean without joggling? Now oh, mamma’s little tired baby! There, there! ’Sh! Now you hold her head and let me sit down now put her here in my arms, Richard.”

The transfer was safely made. They faced each other, she with her baby, he standing looking down at them. Their eyes met steadily. The Child’s regular breathing alone stirred the silence of the little white room. Then he stooped to kiss the Child’s face as she stooped, and their kisses seemed to meet. She did not start away, but smiled instead.

“I want her every day, Richard!” she said.

I want her every day, Mary!”

“Then there is only one way. Last night she prayed to have things changed round ”

“Yes, Polly?”

“We’ll change things round, Dick.”

The Child was smiling in her sleep as if she heard them.