Read ALLY of A Flock of Girls and Boys, free online book, by Nora Perry, on ReadCentral.com.

CHAPTER I.

“What have you done with those new overshoes, Ally?”

“Put ’em away.”

“Well, you can just go and get ’em, then. Come, hurry up, for I want to wear ’em down town.”

But Ally didn’t move.

“Ally, do you hear?” cried her cousin Florence.

“Yes, I hear, but I ain’t a-going to mind you. The rubbers are mine, and you’ve worn ’em about enough already; you’re stretching ’em all out, for your foot is bigger than mine.”

“No such thing. I’m not hurting them in the least.”

“Yes, you are; and you are taking the gloss all off ’em, too, and I want ’em to look new when I wear ’em in Boston.”

“Well, I never heard of such selfish, stingy meanness as this. It’s raining hard, and you’d let me go out and get my feet sopping wet rather than lend me your new rubbers.”

“Why don’t you wear your own old ones?”

“Because they leak.”

“They’ve leaked ever since I got this new pair!” retorted Ally, scornfully. “But it isn’t these rubbers only; you’re always borrowing my things. There’s my blue jacket; you’ve worn it till the edge is threadbare, and you’ve worn my brown hat until it looks as shabby and there! you’ve got my silver bangle on now! You’re no better than a thief, Florence Fleming!”

“A thief! that’s a nice pretty thing to say to me! I should like to know who buys your things for you? Isn’t it my father and Uncle John? I should like to know where you’d be, Alice Fleming, if it wasn’t for Uncle John and father. Here, take your old bangle and keep it, and everything else that you’ve got. I never want to see anything of yours again; and I’m glad you’re going off to Boston to Uncle John’s for the rest of the winter, and I wish you’d stay there and never come back here, I do!”

“I wish so too. Nobody in Uncle John’s family would ever be so mean as to fling it in my face that I was a poor little beggar of an orphan.”

“Uncle John’s family! Uncle John’s wife said the last time she was here that she dreaded the winter on your account, there!”

“Aunt Kate said that?”

“Yes, she did; I heard her.”

A strange look came into Ally’s eyes, and all the pretty color faded from her cheeks, as she cried out in a hoarse, passionate voice,

“You’re a cruel, bad girl, Florence Fleming, and I hope some day you’ll have something cruel and bad come to you to punish you!” and with these words the excited child flung herself across her little bed, and burst into a paroxysm of stormy sobs and tears.

“Here, here, what’s the matter now?” called out Mrs. Fleming, Florence’s mother, coming across the hall and pushing the bedroom door open.

“Ask Ally,” answered Florence, coolly, so coolly, so calmly, that it was quite natural to suppose that she was much less to blame in the present disturbance than her cousin; and as poor Ally was past speaking, Florence had a double advantage, and Mrs. Fleming, glancing from one girl to the other, thought she understood the situation perfectly, and in consequence said rather sharply,

“I do wish, Ally, you would try to control your temper a little more!” and with these words the lady turned and left the room, her daughter Florence following her. As they crossed the hall, Ally unfortunately overheard her aunt say to Florence, “I am thankful that you two are to be separated to-morrow for the rest of the winter. I hope by spring some other arrangement can be made to keep you apart. We shall never have any peace while ”

The rest of the sentence was lost to Ally. But she was quite sure it was “while Ally is with us;” and a fresh gust of stormy sobs and tears shook the child’s frame, as she thus concluded the sentence. A fresh gust also of stormy resentment and self-pity shook the girl. “Oh, yes, it’s always Ally, always Ally, that’s to blame,” she said to herself. “It would be very different if I wasn’t a poor little beggar of an orphan; yes, indeed, very different. If I was a rich orphan, if papa and mamma had left a lot of money to be taken care of with me, I guess things would be different, I guess they would. I guess Florence Fleming and her mother wouldn’t lay everything that goes wrong to me then, and I guess Aunt Kate wouldn’t say that she dreaded the winter on account of me, no, I guess she wouldn’t! Oh, oh!” with a fresh sob, “I wish some other arrangement could be made away from ’em all. They don’t any of ’em want me, not any of ’em, and I’d rather go to an orphan asylum. I’d rather I’d rather oh, I’d rather go to jail than to them!” and down into the pillow again went the fuzzy yellow head of this little hot-tempered Ally Fleming, who called herself so pityingly “a poor little beggar of an orphan.”

The facts of the case were these: Ally’s father and mother had both died when she was seven years old, leaving her to the care of her two nearest relatives, her father’s two brothers, Mr. Tom and Mr. John Fleming. As her father had little or nothing to leave her, he had requested that the burden of her maintenance should be equally divided between the uncles, the child to live alternately with each family, six months with one and six with the other. She had been old enough when she was thus transplanted from her own home to realize more or less the peculiar condition of things; and as she was quick-tempered and sensitive, she very soon began to take note of any comment or remark regarding herself that was dropped in her hearing, and very often misunderstood or made too much of it. But there was no denying, whichever way you looked at it, that it was rather a difficult situation for both sides, and that the Fleming aunts and uncles and cousins had something to put up with, as well as Ally. But that Ally was the most to be pitied there was also no denying, for she could remember with unfading vividness being the centre of love, the one special darling in one home, and now she hadn’t even one home, and was nobody’s darling. As she lay there on the bed shaken by her sobs, she pictured to herself, as she had pictured many, many times in these three years, the happy home that she had lost. For three years this once petted child had been learning what it was to be one of many, or, as she herself put it, one too many.

CHAPTER II.

The next day at noon Ally was on her way to Boston, where she was to live for the next six months in her uncle John’s family. Both her uncle Tom and his wife, Aunt Ann, had gone to the station to see her off, and both of them had kissed her good-by, and given her various messages to deliver to the Boston relations. Everything was going on as pleasantly as possible until Aunt Ann at the very last stooped down and said,

“Now, try, Ally, try while you are with your aunt Kate to control your temper. You mustn’t fly up at every little thing, and expect to have your own way with everybody. It is very difficult to live with people who act like that, and nobody can love them. Remember that, Ally;” and with these words, Mrs. Fleming bent still lower to touch Ally’s lips with a final farewell kiss. But Ally at this movement turned suddenly, and the kiss that was meant for her lips fell upon her cheek.

“Such an uncomfortable disposition as that child has, I never met before, never!” ejaculated Mrs. Fleming, as she joined her husband outside the car.

“What’s she done now?” asked Uncle Tom.

His wife described the girl’s swift evasive movement away from her.

Uncle Tom laughed, and then sighed. “Poor little soul,” he said; “she’s going to have a hard time of it in life, I’m afraid.”

“She’s going to make those who live with her have a hard time,” answered Aunt Ann, resentfully thinking of her rejected kiss.

“‘Mustn’t fly up at every little thing!’” repeated Ally to herself, as she was left alone in her seat. “She’d better give Florence some of her good advice. She’d better tell her not to aggravate folks ’most to death, and then stand off so cool, and make everybody else seem in the wrong. Hard to live with! Mebbe I am hard to live with; but I don’t play double like that; and as for nobody’s loving me, these relations of mine never loved me any of ’em from the first.”

As Ally came to this conclusion in her thought, she happened to look out of the car window, and there, why, there was her aunt Ann and uncle Tom outside on the platform, standing at another car window farther down, talking and laughing in the liveliest manner with some friends they had met. Uncle Tom didn’t seem in the least haste now, and ever so many minutes ago he had said to her, “Well, good-by, Ally!” and rushed off as if there wasn’t another minute to spare, not another minute; and here was a gentleman in front of her, saying to a friend of his at that very instant, “There’s plenty of time; it’s ten minutes before the cars start;” and then she heard a lady say to another lady, “There’s no need of my leaving you yet; we’ve got oceans of time;” and all about her, Ally now noticed various groups of friends and relations lingering lovingly together until the last moment; and noting all this, a bitter little look came into Miss Ally’s face, and a bitter little thought came into her heart, a thought that said tauntingly, “There, this shows you, Ally Fleming, what kind of relations you’ve got; this shows you how much they care for you!”

And by and by, as the cars started up and sped along, this bitter little thought also sped along, carrying in its wake all the bitter little thoughts of yesterday and to-day. Ally was quite accustomed to travelling by herself on this trip to and from New York. It was a perfectly simple thing to sit in the car-seat where she had been placed by one uncle, until at the end of the trip she was met by the other uncle, and taken charge of, a perfectly simple, easy matter, and Ally had heretofore quite enjoyed it; but now, looking about her, and seeing the groups of other people’s relations going home to Thanksgiving, she began to think it was a very lonesome thing to be travelling all alone by herself; and just as this occurred to her, what should happen but that one of these groups should turn inquisitively to her and ask, “Are you travelling all by yourself, little girl?” and when Ally had answered, “Yes,” this inquisitive person commented upon her being such a little girl to travel all by herself; and then, when Ally told her rather proudly that she was ten years old, the inquisitive person had said, “Well, I don’t know what my little ten-year-old girl would think to be sent off to travel all alone. I shall tell her when I get home what a brave little girl I met.”

Ally thought all this was said out of pity and wonder, and that the lady thought her very much neglected and forlorn. But instead of that, the lady meant only to praise and compliment her; and thus, in this way and that way, the bitter little thoughts kept growing and growing, as the cars sped on, until long before the end of her journey came, poor Ally felt that there never was a much more friendless girl than she was; and when the cars steamed into the Boston station, she said to herself, “I wonder if Uncle John is dreading the winter on my account, as Aunt Kate is?” and with this thought she stepped out on the platform. But where was Uncle John? She expected to see him at once, coming forward to lift her from the steps. Where was he now? and Ally looked at the faces before her with wondering scrutiny. She jumped down for people were pressing behind her and moved on, scanning the face of every gentleman she saw with anxious eyes. No one of them, however, was that of Uncle John. What was the matter? Didn’t he know the train she was to take? Of course he did, for Uncle Tom had told her that he had telegraphed that he would meet her at the Boston station at five o’clock. Of course he knew, so he must have forgotten her. Yes, that was it, he had forgotten all about her! Ally was not a specially timid child; but as she stood in the big station-building, and realized that there was not a soul she knew there to look out for her, a feeling of dismay overtook her. If it were in the morning or at noonday, it wouldn’t have seemed so dreadful; but though the electric lights flashed everything into brilliance, it was a November day, and half-past five o’clock was after nightfall. What should she do? There was no sign of Uncle John, and the passengers who had arrived with her were fast disappearing. Very soon the people in the station would begin to notice her, to ask questions, and then perhaps some police-officer would take her to the police-station, as a lost child. She’d heard that that was what they always did. It was just as this thought came into her head that she caught sight of one of those very big burly blue-coated individuals. He had his hand on the collar of a boy about her own age, and she heard him say to him in a big burly voice,

“What yer hangin’ ’round here for? Lost, eh? That’s a likely story. Come, off with yer, if yer don’t want ter be locked up!”

Poor little Ally didn’t stop to reason, to think of the difference in the outward appearance of herself and the boy, to see that the policeman knew the boy perfectly well for a mischievous young scamp who was up to no good. She didn’t stop to consider anything; but with those words, “If yer don’t want ter be locked up,” ringing in her ears, she turned and ran from the station-building as fast as her legs could carry her. As she came out upon the sidewalk, she saw the colored lights of a street car. Oh, joy, it was the very up-town car that would take her close to Beacon Street! But oh, horror! She suddenly recollected that Uncle John no longer lived on Beacon Street. He had moved last month into a new house on Marlborough Street, and oh, what was the number? She “had heard Uncle Tom read it from a letter. It had a lot of 9’s in it. Nine hundred and why 99 999, three 9’s; yes, yes, that was it;” and with this conviction, Ally gave a hop skip and a jump into the car, just as it was about to start off, for this very car she knew would take her nearer to Marlborough Street than to Beacon Street. Her spirits rose as she felt herself carried along; and in due time she found the three 9’s, and tripped up the steps of the house in Marlborough Street bearing that number. Her heart beat very fast with a sense of relief and injury, mixed with a certain elation at her own enterprise, as she rang the bell. Wouldn’t they be surprised, and wouldn’t Uncle John But some one opening the door scattered her questioning thoughts; and why, who was this somebody? It must be a new servant with the new house, and a manservant too. Uncle John must be getting better off, they had had only two maids before. It never entered Ally’s head to ask the strange servant if Mr. Fleming lived there. Why should she ask what she was so sure of? She simply asked, “Where’s Uncle John and Aunt Kate and the rest of them?”

The man looked bewildered, and repeated, “Uncle John?”

“Yes, Uncle John and Aunt Kate. I’m Ally, and Uncle John telegraphed that he would meet me at the five-o’clock train, and he wasn’t there, and I came up all alone. Where are they? In the parlor?” and Ally stepped in over the threshold.

“I guess there’s some mistake,” said the man; “I guess your uncle John ”

“No, there wasn’t any mistake, for he telegraphed to Uncle Tom. He must have forgotten.”

“But your uncle doesn’t ”

“What is it, James? What is wanted?” interrupted some one here. The “some one” was a big, tall gentleman coming down the stairs, whom Ally, as she looked up in the rather confusing half light of the lower hall, at once took for her uncle, and rushing forward she ran up to meet him, crying,

“Oh, Uncle John! Uncle John! I was so scared not to find you at the station, and I came up here all alone on the street car!”

But in the very next instant she started back and gasped: “But but it isn’t you’re not you’re not Uncle John! Where is he, oh, where is he?”

“You’ve made a mistake, my little girl!” exclaimed the gentleman, “a mistake in the house. This isn’t your uncle John’s, but ”

“Not Uncle John’s? Why why this is 999!” interrupted Ally, tremulously.

“Yes; but ”

“Oh! oh!” cried poor Ally, as a fresh flash of memory overcame her, “that must be the the ” She was going to say, “the old Beacon Street number,” when, confused and dismayed, she gave another step backward, her foot slipped, and she fell headlong to the foot of the stairs, where she lay white and motionless, not a sigh or moan escaping her as she was lifted and carried into the parlor.

CHAPTER III.

The sun was shining brightly into the pretty new dining-room on Marlborough Street where Uncle John lived, and swinging in its beams a great gray parrot named Peter kept calling out, “Ally’s come, Ally’s come! give her a kiss! give her a kiss!”

The room was empty when the parrot began; but presently Uncle John and Aunt Kate came in. At sight of them the parrot screamed, “Hello! hello!” and then repeated louder than ever, “Ally’s come! Ally’s come! give her a kiss! give her a kiss!”

“For pity’s sake, put the bird out!” exclaimed Uncle John. “I can’t stand that now!”

“Yes, put him out, do!” said Aunt Kate to the servant who was just then bringing in the coffee.

In a few moments the three daughters of the family Laura and Maud and Mary appeared.

“Have you heard anything about her this morning?” asked the eldest, Laura, as she took her seat at table.

Uncle John shook his head.

“And the police haven’t got a clew yet?”

“No, nor the detectives.”

“What I can’t understand is why she didn’t wait in the ladies’ room until you came, papa. She might have known you would come sometime.”

“We don’t know yet that she got as far as Boston,” said Mrs. Fleming.

“Why, Uncle Tom’s telegram in answer to papa’s that he saw her off on the 11.30 train proves that.”

“It doesn’t prove that she came through to Boston.”

“‘Came through’! Why, upon earth, should she leave the cars before she reached Boston?”

“She might have made the acquaintance of some young people, and stepped off at a restaurant station with them to buy fruit, and so got left.”

“But she would have taken a later train then, and papa has been to the later ones.”

“Don’t don’t wonder and speculate any more why a little girl of ten years didn’t do exactly as a grown-up person would have done,” burst forth Uncle John. “The whole blame lies with us, or with Tom and me. We should never have allowed such a child to be sent off alone like that.”

“But, papa, it isn’t an uncommon thing for a child of her age to travel like that.”

“It isn’t very common, and it ought not to be.”

“Maybe she’s run away,” suddenly exclaimed the youngest of the daughters, a girl of fourteen.

“Mary!” cried the other two; and “How can you make fun like that now?” said Mrs. Fleming, reprovingly.

“I didn’t say it to make fun,” protested Mary, “I didn’t, truly; but but Ally was very queer sometimes. She took up everything so, and got offended, or thought you didn’t care for her. One day I asked her why she didn’t take things as I did, spat, and forget it the next minute, and she said, ’Because I’m not like you, I only happened here’! Wasn’t that droll?”

“Droll!” exclaimed Uncle John. “I think it’s the most pathetic thing I ever heard. What have we all been doing that she should feel like this?”

“But she liked being here better than at Uncle Tom’s. Florence was always tormenting her one way and another.”

“The trouble with her is that she was an only child, and, transplanted suddenly into two large families, she couldn’t fit herself to the new circumstances,” said Mrs. Fleming.

“And the trouble with us has been,” spoke up Uncle John, “that we didn’t take that fact into consideration enough, and try to help her to fit into the new circumstances. Poor little soul, if we ever get her back again ”

“Oh, don’t, don’t talk like that, ’if we ever get her back again!’ as if she were a Charley Ross child that had been kidnapped,” burst forth Mary, with a breaking voice. “I meant to be good to Ally, and that’s why I taught Peter to say, ’Ally’s come, Ally’s come! give her a kiss! give her a kiss!’ I thought it would be such a pretty welcome, and Ally’d be so pleased, she’d believe we did care for her when she heard that.”

“You’re a little trump, Mary,” declared her father, with a suspicious moisture in his eyes. “I only hope if when Ally comes back But, hark, there’s the door-bell!” as a sharp peal rang through the house. “It may be one of the detectives.”

“A gentleman to see you in the parlor, sir,” said the maid a moment later, as she brought in a card.

Uncle John glanced at the card, and then, uttering an exclamation of surprise, passed it over to his wife, and, jumping up hastily, left the room.

“Is it the chief of the detectives?” asked Laura, animatedly.

“It isn’t a detective at all; it’s Dr. Phillips.”

“You don’t mean the Dr. Phillips, Bernard Phillips?”

“Yes.”

“How strange, and at this hour in the morning! It must be something about Thanksgiving exercises,” interposed Maud.

“But we’re not his parishioners. We don’t go to his church!”

“Oh, dear!” cried Mary; “I’m so disappointed. I did hope it was the detective bringing Ally back.”

“Kate!” called Uncle John’s voice here, “will you come into the parlor?” and Mrs. Fleming, obeying this call, found herself a minute after exchanging greetings with the unexpected visitor.

“I want you to tell her, Doctor, just what you’ve told me exactly,” said Uncle John. “It’s about Ally, my dear,” to his wife. “She’s found, and and ”

“She is at my house,” took up the Doctor; and then he told of the little girl who had come to his house the night before, of her grievous disappointment, and the accident that had befallen her, an accident that had robbed her of consciousness for a time, and from which she had only sufficiently recovered within the last few hours to answer the questions that were put to her in regard to her relations, that steps might be taken to restore her to them.

“And she is seriously hurt, she couldn’t come with you?” broke in Aunt Kate, breathlessly.

“No, she was not seriously hurt,” he assured her; and then came that most delicate and difficult part of the Doctor’s task, to tell, in what gentle phrase he could, that this wilful child refused to accompany him; that she had taken a foolish fancy into her head that her relations did not care for her, a fancy that had been strengthened into positive belief when she failed to find her uncle at the station, and had suggested to her a wild little plan of going away from them altogether, into some orphans’ home that she had heard of, where she was sure a place could be found for her. Very gentle, indeed, was the phrasing of all this, so gentle and full of sweet human consideration for everybody’s shortcomings and mistakes that Aunt Kate forgot that the Doctor was a stranger; and with this forgetfulness the sharp pang of humiliation at a stranger’s knowledge of such a family difficulty, and the little sting of resentment at Ally’s attitude towards them all, was overborne to such an extent that she could frankly admit that her husband was right, and that none of them had had love and patience enough to help the child to fit into the new circumstances of her life.

It was an added pang, but there was no resentment in it, when she saw Ally’s sudden shrinking from her as she entered the Doctor’s parlor with him a little later.

To think that they had, though unwittingly, hurt and estranged the child like this, was Mrs. Fleming’s first thought; and the tears came to her eyes, and her voice broke as she cried impulsively, “Oh, my little girl, my little girl!”

Ally started at the sight of these tears, at the sound of this tenderly breaking voice. And there was Uncle John; and he was crying too, and his voice was breaking as he said something. What was it he was saying? that it was not forgetfulness, it was not neglect of her, that had made him fail to meet her at the station, but an untoward accident to the streetcar he was in that had delayed him. And what was that Aunt Kate was saying? That they did care for her, that they did want her, and that they had set the telegraphic wires all over the country to hunt for her and bring her back to them.

“But but Florence told me,” faltered Ally, “that you dreaded the winter on my account, I was so so bad-tempered so hard to live with.”

“Dreaded the winter on your account! Florence told you I said that?” cried Mrs. Fleming, in amazement.

“She said she heard you say it to her mother.”

A light broke over Mrs. Fleming’s face. “Oh, I remember now perfectly. It was just after you were so ill with that bad throat, and I was speaking to your aunt Ann about it, and I said to her, ’I dread the winter on Ally’s account.’ How could how could Florence put such a mischievous meaning to my words?”

“Perhaps she only heard just those words,” replied Ally, who would never take advantage of anybody.

“But why should she want to tell you what would hurt you like that?”

“We’d been quarrelling,” answered Ally, with an honest brevity that was very edifying.

“But, as you see now it was for your bad throat, and not for your bad temper, that I dreaded the winter,” said Aunt Kate, with a smile, “you will come back with us, and let us both try again. We meant to be good to you, dear; but we did not think enough that you had been unused to a big family, that you were a little ewe lamb that had been transplanted into a great crowded fold, and left to find your place with the crowd; and you misunderstood this, and took us too hardly; but we’re going to do better. We’re going to be more thoughtful of one another, and you’ll come home with us now, and we’ll have our Thanksgiving dinner together, won’t we?”

Childish and ignorant of the world’s ways, as her wild idea in regard to her right to a place in an orphans’ home proved her, Ally had a great deal of sense in other directions, and she began to perceive that she had not been the wilfully neglected and abused person she had thought herself, and to think, too, that perhaps Aunt Kate might have had something to bear from her. At any rate, her good sense made her see that her aunt had come to her with kind and generous intentions, and that the least she could do was to respond with what grace was in her power; and so with a little smile that had something pathetic in it to those who saw it, it was so tremulous with that pitiful doubt that had been born of the last three unhappy years, she put her hand into Mrs. Fleming’s, and signified her readiness to go with her. And then and there, as she met that smile, Kate Fleming vowed to herself that never again through fault of hers should this child suffer for lack of loving care; and with this resolve warm in her heart, she clasped the little hand in hers more closely, and said brightly,

“You’ll see how glad the girls will be to see you, Ally, when we get home.”

But Ally had no response to make to this. A great dread had seized her as she felt herself going to meet them. Uncle John’s and Aunt Kate’s assurance of regard was one thing, but Uncle John and Aunt Kate were not the girls, and poor Ally was quite sure that no one of them had ever cared very much for her, though Mary had alternately petted and laughed at her, and now why, now, they might dislike her for making such a fuss, for Laura had often said she did dislike people so who made a fuss, and Maud would agree with Laura, and Mary would laugh at her more than ever. Oh, dear! oh, dear! if she could only go back! if she could only get that dear good Doctor to find her a place in But, “Here we are, Ally!” said Uncle John; and “Here she is!” exclaimed three girlish voices; and there, standing in the doorway, were Laura and Maud and Mary; and at sight of their faces, at sound of their voices, Ally’s dread began to vanish. And then, just then, it was that Peter, who had been banished to the hall, called out uproariously, “Ally’s come! Ally’s come! give her a kiss! give her a kiss!” and Mary called out after him, “I taught him to say that; I taught him more ’n a month ago.”

“’More ‘n a month ago’! Oh!” breathed Ally under her breath, “she liked me well enough for this more ’n a month ago!”

Uncle John and Aunt Kate and Laura and Maud and Mary were looking on, and they knew what Ally was thinking of, the very words of it, by that sudden radiant smile upon her face; and Mary was so pleased thereat, she had to cry out,

“Oh, what a jolly Thanksgiving this is! Could anything be added to make it jollier?”

But something was added. When they were all at the dinner-table that night, mother and father and girls and the three boys who had just come up from their boarding-school that very morning, this telegram was brought in from Uncle Tom,

“Thanks for word of Ally’s safety. All send love. Florence is writing to her.”

Ally’s eyes opened wide with astonishment at this conclusion. Florence! Aunt Kate read the meaning of that astonished look, and sent a glance to Ally that said as plainly as words could say, “You see, even Florence didn’t mean as badly as you thought.”