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DRAWN BY W. L. METCALF.

«HE TOOK OUT HIS EYEGLASS TO STUDY IT.» (SEE PAGE 829.)

W

A LITTLE FOOL.

BY THE AUTHOR OF «OUR TOLSTOI CLUB.»

HAT, my dear Marian! And do you really and truly mean to say you thought of taking the girl without going to ask her character? >> «There are so many difficulties about it. You see, she lived last with Mrs. Donald Craighead for two years, and that would be quite enough for a character. They all went abroad in a great hurry on account of Mr. Craighead's health, and Mrs. Craighead promised to give her one, but forgot it, and she could n't bear to bother them when they were all in such trouble. I know myself that all that about them is true.>>

«So do I; but that does not prove that she ever lived with them. Cannot she refer to any of the family? »

«No; she did nothing but laundry-work there, and never saw any of their friends, I fancy; but she does have a written character from the family she lived with before them, very nice people in South Boston.>>

What's their name?»

"I don't remember,» said Miss Marian Carter, blushing, «but I have it written down at home.»

<< I should certainly go there if I were you.» «It is so far off, and I never went there in my life.»>

«Well, you ought. It sounds very suspicious. Of course there are a few nice people in South Boston; they have to live there because they own factories and things, and have to be near them; but then, again, there are such dreadful neighborhoods there. Most likely she depends on your not taking the trouble, and you will find the number she gave you over some low grog-shop.»>

«Oh, I should be so frightened! I really do not think I can go!»

«You surely ought not to risk taking her without, and very likely have her turn out an accomplice of burglars, like that Norah of mine, through whom I lost so much silver.» "I thought you had a character with her.» "So I did, or I should not have taken her. I make it a principle not to. It only shows how great the danger is with a character; without one it amounts to a certainty.»>

VOL. LII.-104.

«She was such a nice-looking girl

<<That makes no difference. I always mistrust maids who look too nice. They are sure to have some story, or scrape, or something, like that Florence of mine, who looked so much of a lady, and turned out to be a clergyman's daughter, and had run away from her husband-a most respectable man. He came to the house after her, and gave no end of trouble.>>

<< But this girl did not look at all like that; not a bit above her place, but so neatly dressed, and with a plain, sensible way about her; and her name is Drusilla Elms-such a quaint, old-fashioned, American-sounding name, quite refreshing to hear.»>

<< It sounds very like an assumed name. The very worst woman I ever had was named Bathsheba Fogg; she turned out to have been a chorus girl at some low theater, and must have picked it up from some farce or other.>> «Then you really think I ought to go to South Boston? »

«I should do so in your place,» replied Mrs. William Treadwell.

This gave but scant encouragement, for Marian could not but feel that the result of her friend's going, and that of her own, might be very different; and Mrs. Treadwell, as she watched her visitor off, smiled good-humoredly, but pityingly. «Poor dear Marian! What a little fool she is to swallow everything that she is told in that way! It is a wonder that the Carters ever have a decent servant in their house.>>

However much of a wonder it might be, it was still a fact; but it did not occur to Marian, as she bent her way homeward, to revive her feeble self-confidence, crushed flat by her friend's scorn, with any recollection that such fearful tales as she had just heard were without a parallel in her own experience. It is to be feared that she was a little fool, though she kept her mother's house very well and carefully, if, indeed, it were her mother's house. Nobody but the tax-gatherer knew to whom it really belonged, and he forgot between each assessment. It stood on Burroughs street, Jamaica Plain, a neighborhood that still boasts an air of dignified repose. It was

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without the charm of a really old-fashioned home on a vacation from his work in the house, or even such as may be possessed by a modern imitation of one; indeed, it bore the stamp of that unfortunate period which may be called the middle age of American architecture, extending, at a rough estimate, from 1820 to 1865; but it was a well-built house, and looked, as at present inhabited, a pleasant abode enough, of sufficient size to accommodate a numerous female flock-Marian's grandmother and her great-aunt, her mother and her aunt, her widowed sister and two children, a trained nurse who was treated as one of the family, three servants, and Marian herself to make up the round dozen. The grandmother had lost the use of her limbs, and the great-aunt that of her mind; the mother and the trained nurse were devoted to them, and the aunt to philanthropic objects, and the sister to her children; so the housekeeper's duties devolved on Marian, though she was still but a child in her elders' eyes, and were well discharged, as they all allowed, though qualifying their praise with the remark that it was easy enough to keep a house without a man in it.»

As Marian Carter passed along bustling, suburban Centre street, she looked a very flower of the Western world of feminine liberty; fine and fair, free and fearless, coming and going at her own pleasure, on foot or by the horse-cars, those levelers of privilege; no duenna to track her steps, no yashmak or veil to hide her charms. Yet the fact was that she knew less of men than if she had lived in a harem or a convent. She had no sultan, no father confessor. She could not, like Miss Pole of Cranford memory, claim to know the other sex by virtue of her father having been a man, for Marian's father had died before she was born. Her sister Isabel and she had had friends, and had gone into society in a mild way, and being pretty girls, had met with a little general attention, but nothing ever came of it. The family neverentertained, except now and then an old friend to tea, their means and opportunity being small; nor could young men venture to call. The grandmother had been a great invalid before she lost the use of her limbs, and the great-aunt a formidable person before she lost that of her mind, while Aunt Caroline from her youth upward had developed a great distaste for the society of men, even when viewed as objects of philanthropy.

When Isabel was four-and-twenty she went to New York to visit some cousins, and though they lived very quietly, she made the acquaintance of a young civil engineer, at

United States of Colombia, who had married and borne her off after the briefest possible courtship, never to see her old home again till she came back, ten years after, a widow with two children, to eke out her small means by the shelter of the family abode. I cannot delay the humiliating confession, postponed as long as may be for the sake of the artistic unity of my picture, that the youngest of these children was a boy, if, as his mother was wont to plead, «a very little one.»> He was dressed in as unboyish a fashion as possible, and being christened Winthrop, was always called Winnie. He was a quiet, gentle child, kept down by his position; but though thus made the best of, he was felt to be an inconvenience and an encumbrance, if not now, certainly in the future. There was no end to the trouble it would make when Winnie grew older, and required a room to himself, and would be obliged to go to a boys' school, which might even lead up to the direful contingency of his «bringing home other boys.>>

After Isabel's departure, Marian, though the prettier of the two, found it dull to go about alone. No one asked her to New York; the cousin had died, and the cousin's husband had married again; and when she grew past the dancing age, perhaps earlier than she need, she went nowhere where she had any chance of meeting any men but the husbands of one or two married friends, and she was such a little fool that she fancied they despised her for being an old maid. She knew she was five-and-thirty on her last birthday, and was foolish enough to be afraid and ashamed of owning to it. She need not have done so, for she did not look a day older than twenty-five; but the memories of her contemporaries were pitiless.

She enjoyed her housekeeping, which gave her life some object, and her intercourse with her butcher, a fine young fellow who admired her hugely, was the nearest approach to a love-affair in which she had ever indulged, so much sentiment did he contrive to throw about the legs of mutton and the Sunday roast. Though honestly thinking herself happy, and her position a fortunate one, she relished a change, which seldom came, and was glad of the prospect of a visit to South Boston, now that she could conscientiously say she ought to go since Emma Treadwell had ordered it. The excitement of going off the beaten track was heightened by the mystery which invested the affair. Marian had not dared to confess to her managing

mission to

friend that the «written character» to which she referred had struck her rather oddly when the neat, civil, young, but not too young woman whose appearance had so favorably impressed her had handed it to her with an air which seemed to indicate that nothing more need be said on the subject, although it only said, «Drusilla Elms refers by perHayward, City Point, South Boston,» in a great, scrawling, masculinelooking hand. The name was easy enough to read, a painful effort having evidently been made to write thus much legibly; but the title, be it Mr., Mrs., or Miss, was so utterly unreadable that Marian, who dreaded, like most timid people, to put a direct question, ventured upon an indirect one:

«Is-Mr. Hayward a widower? » «Oh, dear, no, ma'am!» replied Drusilla, emphatically.

«And-they-still live there? >> «Oh, dear, yes, ma'am!»

MARIAN was very glad that the Saturday she chose for her expedition was Aunt Caroline's day for the Women's and Children's Hospital, and that Isabel had taken Minna and Winnie for holiday trip into town to see the Art Museum, which left fewer people at home to whom to explain her errand, and to whose comments to reply. Mrs. Curtis said it was silly to go so far, and if she could n't be satisfied to take the girl without, she had better find some one near by. The trained nurse, who was slowly but surely getting the whole household under her control, said that Miss Carter's beautiful new spring suit would be ruined going all the way to South Boston in the horse-cars; and Mrs. Carter, who would never have thought of this herself, seconded her. Marian did not argue the point, but she wore the dress nevertheless. She never felt that anything she wore made any impression on any one she knew, but she could not help fancying that if she had the chance she might impress strangers. No one she knew ever called her pretty, and perhaps five-andthirty was too old to be thought so; and yet, if there was any meaning in the word, it might surely be applied to the soft, shady darkness of her hair and eyes, and the delicate bloom of her cheeks and lips, set off by that silver-gray costume, with its own skilfully blended lights and shades of silk and cashmere, and the purple and white lilacs. that were wreathed together on her small bonnet. She made a bad beginning, for while still enjoying the effect of her graceful draperies as she entered the horse-car for Boston,

she carelessly caught the handle of her nice gray silk sunshade in the door, and snapped it short in the middle. She could have cried, though the man who always mended their umbrellas assured her, with a bow and smile, that it should be mended, when she called for it on her way back, «so that she would never know it »; but it deprived her costume of the finishing touch, and she really needed it on this warm sunny day; then, it was a bad omen, and she was foolish enough to believe in omens. Her disturbance prevented her from observing much of the route after she had drifted into a car for South Boston, and had assured herself that it was the right one. Perhaps this was as well, as the first part of the way was sufficiently uninviting to have frightened her out of her intention had she looked about her. When at last she did, they were passing along a wide street lined with sufficiently substantial brick buildings, chiefly devoted to business, crossed by narrower ones of small wooden houses more or less respectable in appearance; but surely no housemaid who would suit them could ever have served in one of these. Great rattling drays squeezed past the car, and Chinese laundrymen noiselessly got in and out. The one landmark she had heard of in South Boston, and for aught she knew the reason of its existence, was the Perkins Institution for the Blind, which her Aunt Caroline sometimes visited. But she passed the Institution, and still went on and on. That the world extended so far in that direction was an amazement in itself; she knew there must be something there to fill up, but she had had a vague idea that it might be water, which is so accommodating in filling up the waste spaces of the terrestrial globe. Finally the now nearly empty car came to a full stop at the foot of a hill, the track winding off around it, and the conductor, of whom she had asked her way, approached her with the patronizing deference which men in his position were very apt to assume to her: «Lady, you'll have to get out here, and walk up the hill. Keep straight ahead, and you can't miss it.»

« And can I take the car here when I come back?» asked Marian, clinging as if to an ark of refuge.

«Oh, yes,» said the man, encouragingly; «we 're along every ten minutes. It ain't far off.»

Marian slowly touched one little foot, and then another, to the unknown and almost foreign soil of South Boston. She looked wistfully after the car till it turned a corner, and left her stranded, before she began slowly

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