Housebreaking




Where was the pale Rose, the faded Rose, that crept noiselessly down from her room, wanting neither to speak nor to be spoken to! Nobody ever knew. She vanished forever, and in her place a thing of sparkles and dimples flashed up the stairway and closed the door softly. There was a streak of moonshine lying across the bare floor, and a merry ghost, with dressing-gown held prettily away from bare feet, danced a gay fandango among the yellow moonbeams. There were breathless flights to the open window, and kisses thrown in the direction of the River Farm. There were impressive declamations at the looking-glass, where a radiant creature pointed to her reflection and whispered, "Worthless little pig, he loves you, after all!"

Then, when quiet joy had taken the place of mad delight, there was a swoop down upon the floor, an impetuous hiding of brimming eyes in the white counterpane, and a dozen impassioned promises to herself and to something higher than herself, to be a better girl.

The mood lasted, and deepened, and still Rose did not move. Her heart was on its knees before Stephen's faithful love, his chivalry, his strength. Her troubled spirit, like a frail boat tossed about in the rapids, seemed entering a quiet harbor, where there were protecting shores and a still, still evening star. Her sails were all torn and drooping, but the harbor was in sight, and the poor little weather-beaten craft could rest in peace.

A period of grave reflection now ensued,--under the bedclothes, where one could think better. Suddenly an inspiration seized her,--an inspiration so original, so delicious, and above all so humble and praiseworthy, that it brought her head from her pillow, and she sat bolt upright, clapping her hands like a child.

"The very thing!" she whispered to herself gleefully. "It will take courage, but I'm sure of my ground after what he said before them all, and I'll do it. Grandma in Biddeford buying church carpets, Stephen in Portland--was ever such a chance?"

The same glowing Rose came downstairs, two steps at a time, next morning, bade her grandmother good-by with suspicious pleasure, and sent her grandfather away on an errand which, with attendant conversation, would consume half the day. Then bundles after bundles and baskets after baskets were packed into the wagon,-- behind the seat, beneath the seat, and finally under the lap-robe. She gave a dramatic flourish to the whip, drove across the bridge, went through Pleasant River village, and up the leafy road to the little house, stared the "To Let" sign scornfully in the eye, alighted, and ran like a deer through the aisles of waving corn, past the kitchen windows, to the back door.

"If he has kept the big key in the old place under the stone, where we both used to find it, then he hasn't forgotten me--or anything," thought Rose.

The key was there, and Rose lifted it with a sob of gratitude. It was but five minutes' work to carry all the bundles from the wagon to the back steps, and another five to lead old Tom across the road into the woods and tie him to a tree quite out of the sight of any passer-by.

When, after running back, she turned the key in the lock, her heart gave a leap almost of terror, and she started at the sound of her own footfall. Through the open door the sunlight streamed into the dark room. She flew to tables and chairs, and gave a rapid sweep of the hand over their surfaces.

"He has been dusting here,--and within a few days, too," she thought triumphantly.

The kitchen was perfection, as she always knew it would be, with one door opening to the shaded road and the other looking on the river; windows, too, framing the apple-orchard and the elms. She had chosen the furniture, but how differently it looked now that it was actually in place! The tiny shed had piles of split wood, with great boxes of kindlings and shavings, all in readiness for the bride, who would do her own cooking. Who but Stephen would have made the very wood ready for a woman's home-coming; and why had he done so much in May, when they were not to be married until August? Then the door of the bedroom was stealthily opened, and here Rose sat down and cried for joy and shame and hope and fear. The very flowered paper she had refused as too expensive! How lovely it looked with the white chamber set! She brought in her simple wedding outfit of blankets, bed-linen, and counterpanes, and folded them softly in the closet; and then for the rest of the morning she went from room to room, doing all that could remain undiscovered, even to laying a fire in the new kitchen stove.

This was the plan. Stephen must pass the house on his way from the River Farm to the bridge, where he was to join the riverdrivers on Monday morning. She would be out of bed by the earliest peep of dawn, put on Stephen's favorite pink calico, leave a note for her grandmother, run like a hare down her side of the river and up Stephen's, steal into the house, open blinds and windows, light the fire, and set the kettle boiling. Then with a sharp knife she would cut down two rows of corn, and thus make a green pathway from the front kitchen steps to the road. Next, the false and insulting "To Let" sign would be forcibly tweaked from the tree and thrown into the grass. She would then lay the table in the kitchen, and make ready the nicest breakfast that two people ever sat down to. And oh, would two people sit down to it; or would one go off in a rage and the other die of grief and disappointment?

Then, having done all, she would wait and palpitate, and palpitate and wait, until Stephen came. Surely no property-owner in the universe could drive along a road, observe his corn leveled to the earth, his sign removed, his house open, and smoke issuing from his chimney, without going in to surprise the rogue and villain who could be guilty of such vandalism.

And when he came in?

Oh, she had all day Sunday in which to forecast, with mingled dread and gladness and suspense, that all-important, all-decisive first moment! All day Sunday to frame and unframe penitent speeches. All day Sunday! Would it ever be Monday? If so, what would Tuesday bring? Would the sun rise on happy Mrs. Stephen Waterman of Pleasant River, or on miserable Miss Rose Wiley of the Prier Neighborhood?



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