The cat and kitten were both eating supper and Marian was watching them. Her own supper of bread and milk she had finished, and had taken the remains of it to Tippy and Dippy. Marian did not care very much for bread and milk, but the cat and kitten did, as was plainly shown by the way they hunched themselves down in front of the tin pan into which Marian had poured their supper.
In the next room Grandpa and Grandma Otway were sitting and little bits of their talk came to Marian's ears once in a while when her thoughts ceased to wander in other directions. "If only one could have faith to believe implicitly," Grandma Otway said.
"If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, and should say to that mountain, be ye removed," quoted Grandpa Otway.
Marian sighed. They talked that way very often, she remembered, and she herself had grown to consider it quite as difficult as did her grandmother, to exercise complete faith. She had made numberless mighty efforts, and yet things did not come out as she supposed they ought. She sat gravely watching the cat and kitten lap up the last drop of milk and carefully clean the sides of the pan in a manner quite inelegant for humans, but no doubt entirely a matter of etiquette in cat society, and then when Tippy, having done her duty by the pan, turned her attention to making Dippy tidy, Marian walked slowly away.
The sun was setting behind the hills, and touching the tops of the trees along their base; further away the mountains were very dark against a yellow line of sky. Marian continued her way thoughtfully toward the garden, turned off before she reached the gate and climbed a ladder which leaned against the side of the old brick wall. From the ladder one could reach a long limb of a scraggy apple tree upon which hung early apples nearly ripe. Marian went up the ladder very carefully, taking care not to catch her frock upon a nail or a projecting twig as she crept along the stout limb to settle herself in a crotch of the tree. From this spot she could see the distant sea, pinky purple, and shimmering silver.
Marian did not gaze at this, however, but turned her face toward the mountains. She clasped her hands tightly and repeated firmly: "Be ye removed into the midst of the sea. Be ye removed into the midst of the sea." Then she waited, but the mountain did not budge an inch, though the child kept her eyes fixed upon it. Twice, three times, she repeated the words, but the mountain remained immovable. "I knew it; I just knew it," exclaimed the child when she had made her final effort, "and now I want to know how large a mustard seed is. To-morrow I'll go ask Mrs. Hunt."
It was to Mrs. Hunt that she took all such questions, for she hesitated to talk of very personal things to her grandparents. They would ask her such sharp questions, and sometimes would smile in a superior way when they did not say: "Oh, that is not a subject to discuss with children; run along and play with Tippy." She did not always want to be playing with Tippy when such mighty problems were uppermost. She had many times tested her faith with the mountain, but had always come away humiliated by the thought that her faith must be too weak.
Though she brought her test to bear upon the mountain there was another thing she did not dare to experiment with, though she always intended to do so when the mountain should answer her command to be removed. To be sure it would not make much difference to her if the mountain should remove into the sea; it probably looked quite as well where it was, and Marian supposed that no one would care to have its place changed, but it made a great and mighty difference to her about this other thing. She had never breathed her ardent wish to any one, not even to Mrs. Hunt, and now that this fresh test of faith had failed she would have to gather up a new stock before she could try again.
The purple and pink and gold were fading; the sea looked gray; the distant mountain was hidden under a cloud when Marian climbed down from her perch to answer her grandmother's call: "Marian, Marian, where are you? Come in out of the night air; the dew is falling." Dippy was chasing moths in the garden as Marian took her way toward the house. She watched him leaping up as each soft-winged creature flitted by. When he failed to catch his prize he opened his mouth in a mute meow, and looked at Marian as if asking her to help him.
"You mustn't catch moths, Dippy," said Marian. "They might disagree with you. I should think anyhow, that they would be very dry eating, and besides it is wicked to destroy innocent little creatures. Come, you must go in with me." But this was the time of day when Dippy liked specially to prance and jump and skurry after dusky, shadowy, flitting things, so before Marian could pounce upon him, he was off and away like a streak and could not be found. Then Marian went in obediently at her grandmother's second call to spend the rest of her evening sitting soberly by, while her grandmother knitted and her grandfather read his evening paper.
She had tidied up her room, fed the cat and kitten, and darned her stockings the next morning before she was free to go to Mrs. Hunt's. Grandpa would go for the mail, and there were no errands to do, except to return a plate to Mrs. Parker. It had come with some spicy cakes for grandma, and must be taken back promptly.
The garden did not attract her just then, for it looked much less mysterious by daylight. There was a fine array of poppies, larkspurs, phlox and snapdragons; the oleander in its green tub was all a-bloom, and there were six newly opened buds on the rose-bush. Dippy was fast asleep in the sunshine, as if he, too, realized that the garden was not so alluring by morning light.
It seemed no time to exercise faith upon the mountain, for a haze covered it, and one could not feel even the near presence of a thing one could not see, so why attempt to address a command to it to be removed; to all intents and purposes it was removed when it was out of sight.
Marian thought all this over as she trotted down the village street to Mrs. Hunt's. Hers was one of a line of long low white houses set back among trees. A border gay with nasturtiums, sweet peas, and marigolds flourished each side the front door, but Marian did not pause there; she went around to the kitchen where she knew Mrs. Hunt would be this time of day. There was a strong odor of spices, vinegar and such like filling the air. "Mrs. Hunt is making pickles," said Marian to herself; "that is why she was gathering cucumbers the last time I was here. I would rather it were cookies or doughnuts, but I suppose people can't make those every day."
True enough, Mrs. Hunt was briskly mixing spices, but she turned with a smile to her little visitor. "Well, chickadee," she said, "how goes it to-day?"
"Oh, very well," returned Marian vaguely. "Mrs. Hunt, how big is a mustard seed?"
For answer Mrs. Hunt put her fingers down into a small wooden box, withdrew them, opened Marian's rosy palm, and laid a pinch of seeds upon it. "There you are," she said. "I wish I could get at all the things I want to see as easy as that."
Marian gazed curiously at the little yellow seeds. "They're not very big, are they?" she said.
"Then you wouldn't have to have much faith," Marian went on, following out her thought.
Mrs. Hunt laughed. "Is that the text that's bothering you? What are you, or who are you, trying to have faith in? Tippy? Has she fooled you again by hiding another batch of kittens?"
"No, Mrs. Hunt," Marian shook her head "it isn't Tippy; she is all right, and so is Dippy, but you know if you want a thing very much and don't see anyway of getting it ever, till you are grown up and won't care about it, why it makes you feel as if—as if"—she lowered her voice to a whisper and looked intently at her listener, "as if either you were very wicked or as if—that about the mustard seed—as if"—she hesitated, then blurted out hurriedly, "as if it weren't true."
"Why, Marian Otway, of course it must be true," declared Mrs. Hunt.
"Then I'm very wicked," returned Marian with conviction.
"Why, you poor innocent, of course you are not. We are all more or less imperfect creatures, I suppose, but—well, all is, if I were your grandma, I wouldn't let you bother your head about such things. It is hard enough for the preachers to settle some things for us and themselves, so how do you suppose a baby like you is going to get the gist of it?"
"If you were my grandma what would you do?" asked Marian coming to the point.
"I'd give you interesting story-books to read, and see that you had healthy-minded playfellows. You ought to be going to school; you are enough bigger than my Annie was when she first went." This was a point upon which Mrs. Hunt felt very keenly. She thought Mr. and Mrs. Otway had not the proper ideas about bringing up children and that Marian was too much with older persons. "I would send her off to school quick as a wink," she had more than once said to Mrs. Otway, but her remark had been received with only a smile, and one could not follow out an argument when another would not argue, so kind Mrs. Hunt had been able only to air her opinions to Mrs. Perkins and her other neighbors, and once in a while to let Marian know how she felt about her.
She had lost a little girl about Marian's age and made a point of being especially good to the old-fashioned child who lived in the brick house at the end of the street. The other houses were all white or gray or brown, built plainly, and were either shingled or clap-boarded affairs so that the brick house was a thing apart and its occupants were usually considered the aristocracy of the place. The older men called Grandpa Otway, "Professor," and the younger ones said, "Good-morning, doctor," when they met him.
At the college where he had taught for many years he was still remembered as an absent-minded, gentle but decided person, strong in his opinions, proud and reticent, good as gold, but finding it hard to forgive the only son who left home and married against the wishes of his parents. When baby Marian's mother died her father had written home, asking that his motherless baby might be taken in and reared in the American land which he still loved. So one day Marian arrived in charge of a plain German couple, but her father had not seen her since and he still lived in far off Berlin. Once a year he wrote to his little daughter and she answered the letter through her grandmother. The letter always came the first of the year and the latest one had given an account of a German Christmas. It had enclosed some money for Marian to provide trinkets for her own tree the next year.
Yet, alas,—and here came the tragedy—Marian had never been allowed to have a tree; her grandparents did not approve of such things; the money must go to the missions in foreign lands, and when the next missionary box was sent Marian's Christmas money was sent with it in one form or another. Even if Grandpa and Grandma Otway had known what rebellious tears Marian shed and how she told Tippy that she hated the heathen, and that she didn't see why they couldn't go barefoot in a country as hot as China, and why they couldn't eat rice as well as she, and why missionaries had to have all sorts of things she didn't have, even if her grandparents had known that, they would have said that it showed a wrong spirit and that a little girl bid fair to become a hardened sinner, so she ought to be made to sacrifice her own pleasures to so good a cause.
That would have been the least of it, for there would also have been a long lecture from both grandfather and grandmother with a longer prayer following and there would probably have been an order that Marian must go without butter for a week that she might be taught to practice self-denial. So Marian had thought it wise to say nothing but to accept with as good a grace as possible the bitter necessity of giving up her Christmas tree.
With the mustard seeds folded in her hand she stood watching Mrs. Hunt tie up her spices, but the seeds were forgotten when Mrs. Hunt said: "What will you do with a teacher living in your house and you not going to school, I'd like to know. Mr. Hunt says he rather guesses you'll not stay at home, but Mrs. Perkins says like as not your grandma will have her teach you out of hours and pay her board that way. As long as she is the daughter of a friend your grandpa would want to make it easy for her and they'll fix it up some way."
Marian could scarcely believe her ears. "Coming to our house? Who is she? What is her name, Mrs. Hunt? When is she coming? Who told you?"
"Dear bless me, what a lot of questions. Take care and don't get your sleeve in that vinegar; it'll take all the color out. I'll wipe it up and then you can lean on the table all you want to. There. Well, you see it was Mrs. Leach told me. It seems this Miss Robbins is the daughter of one of the professors at the college where your grandpa was for so many years. He was one of the younger men, Mr. Robbins was, being a student under your grandpa when he first knew him. Now he is one of the professors with a big family and none too well off, so his girl is coming to teach our school and Mr. Robbins asked your grandpa if he wouldn't let her board at his house. She's the eldest, but she hasn't been away from home much because she's had to look after her younger brothers and sisters since her mother died. Professor Robbins feels sort of anxious about her; he is afraid of the wicked wiles of a big city like Greenville."
"Why, Mrs. Hunt, it isn't a big city, is it?" said Marian innocently.
"Ain't it?" laughed Mrs. Hunt. "At all events he didn't want her cast loose on it, and so he wrote to your grandpa, appealingly, I should say, for it's fixed up that she is to come to the brick house when the fall term begins and that's not far off."
"Oh!" Marian slipped down from the wooden chair upon which she had seated herself, "I'd better go home and ask about it," she remarked. "I'd much rather have some one beside grandpa teach me; he uses such terribly long words and talks so long about things I don't understand. Sometimes I can't make out whether I'm very stupid or whether the lessons are extra hard."
"I guess you're no more stupid than the usual run of children," said Mrs. Hunt stirring her pickles, "and I guess you will learn as much about Miss Robbins and her affairs from me as you will at home. But there, go 'long if you want to. Come in to-morrow; I'll be baking cookies," she called after the child.
Marian answered with a nod as she looked back. Between the door and the steps she halted once to open her hand and look for the mustard seeds, but in her interest in Mrs. Hunt's news she had let them fall to the floor and but one clung to her moist fingers. She tasted it and found it strong and biting. "It can't be the bigness," she murmured; "it must mean the hotness and strongness." This view of the matter gave her a better understanding, according to her own ideas, and she was glad she had tasted the small seed. After all, there were pleasant things opening up. What if she could not move mountains, there would be fresh cookies to-morrow and out of somewhere a beautiful young lady was advancing toward her, not exactly a playfellow, maybe, but some one much younger than Grandpa and Grandma Otway.