LITTLE P. D.
BIG P. D.
LITTLE P. D.
BIG P. D.
Four people sat in the big, shining automobile. Three of them were men. The fourth was a little girl. The little girl’s name was Maida Westabrook. The three men were “Buffalo” Westabrook, her father, Dr. Pierce, her physician, and Billy Potter, her friend. They were coming from Marblehead to Boston.
Maida sat in one corner of the back seat gazing dreamily out at the whirling country. She found it very beautiful and very curious. They were going so fast that all the reds and greens and yellows of the autumn trees melted into one variegated band. A moment later they came out on the ocean. And now on the water side were two other streaks of color, one a spongy blue that was sky, another a clear shining blue that was sea. Maida half-shut her eyes and the whole world seemed to flash by in ribbons.
“May I get out for a moment, papa?” she asked suddenly in a thin little voice. “I’d like to watch the waves.”
“All right,” her father answered briskly. To the chauffeur he said, “Stop here, Henri.” To Maida, “Stay as long as you want, Posie.”
“Posie” was Mr. Westabrook’s pet-name for Maida.
Billy Potter jumped out and helped Maida to the ground. The three men watched her limp to the sea-wall.
She was a child whom you would have noticed anywhere because of her luminous, strangely-quiet, gray eyes and because of the ethereal look given to her face by a floating mass of hair, pale-gold and tendrilly. And yet I think you would have known that she was a sick little girl at the first glance. When she moved, it was with a great slowness as if everything tired her. She was so thin that her hands were like claws and her cheeks scooped in instead of out. She was pale, too, and somehow her eyes looked too big. Perhaps this was because her little heart-shaped face seemed too small.
“You’ve got to find something that will take up her mind, Jerome,” Dr. Pierce said, lowering his voice, “and you’ve got to be quick about it. Just what Greinschmidt feared has come—that languor—that lack of interest in everything. You’ve got to find something for her to do.”
Dr. Pierce spoke seriously. He was a round, short man, just exactly as long any one way as any other. He had springy gray curls all over his head and a nose like a button. Maida thought that he looked like a very old but a very jolly and lovable baby. When he laughed—and he was always laughing with Maida—he shook all over like jelly that has been turned out of a jar. His very curls bobbed. But it seemed to Maida that no matter how hard he chuckled, his eyes were always serious when they rested on her.
Maida was very fond of Dr. Pierce. She had known him all her life. He had gone to college with her father. He had taken care of her health ever since Dr. Greinschmidt left. Dr. Greinschmidt was the great physician who had come all the way across the ocean from Germany to make Maida well. Before the operation Maida could not walk. Now she could walk easily. Ever since she could remember she had always added to her prayers at night a special request that she might some day be like other little girls. Now she was like other little girls, except that she limped. And yet now that she could do all the things that other little girls did, she no longer cared to do them—not even hopping and skipping, which she had always expected would be the greatest fun in the world. Maida herself thought this very strange.
“But what can I find for her to do?” “Buffalo” Westabrook said.
You could tell from the way he asked this question that he was not accustomed to take advice from other people. Indeed, he did not look it. But he looked his name. You would know at once why the cartoonists always represented him with the head of a buffalo; why, gradually, people had forgotten that his first name was Jerome and referred to him always as “Buffalo” Westabrook.
Like the buffalo, his head was big and powerful and emerged from the midst of a shaggy mane. But it was the way in which it was set on his tremendous shoulders that gave him his nickname. When he spoke to you, he looked as if he were about to charge. And the glance of his eyes, set far back of a huge nose, cut through you like a pair of knives.
It surprised Maida very much when she found that people stood in awe of her father. It had never occurred to her to be afraid of him.
“I’ve racked my brains to entertain her,” “Buffalo” Westabrook went on. “I’ve bought her every gimcrack that’s made for children—her nursery looks like a toy factory. I’ve bought her prize ponies, prize dogs and prize cats—rabbits, guinea-pigs, dancing mice, talking parrots, marmosets—there’s a young menagerie at the place in the Adirondacks. I’ve had a doll-house and a little theater built for her at Pride’s. She has her own carriage, her own automobile, her own railroad car. She can have her own flying-machine if she wants it. I’ve taken her off on trips. I’ve taken her to the theater and the circus. I’ve had all kinds of nurses and governesses and companions, but they’ve been mostly failures. Granny Flynn’s the best of the hired people, but of course Granny’s old. I’ve had other children come to stay with her. Selfish little brutes they all turned out to be! They’d play with her toys and ignore her completely. And this fall I brought her to Boston, hoping her cousins would rouse her. But the Fairfaxes decided suddenly to go abroad this winter. If she’d only express a desire for something, I’d get it for her—if it were one of the moons of Jupiter.”
“It isn’t anything you can give her,” Dr. Pierce said impatiently; “you must find something for her to do.”
“Say, Billy, you’re an observant little duck. Can’t you tell us what’s the matter?” “Buffalo” Westabrook smiled down at the third man of the party.
“The trouble with the child,” Billy Potter said promptly, “is that everything she’s had has been ‘prize.’ Not that it’s spoiled her at all. Petronilla is as simple as a princess in a fairy-tale.”
“Petronilla” was Billy Potter’s pet-name for Maida.
“Yes, she’s wonderfully simple,” Dr. Pierce agreed. “Poor little thing, she’s lived in a world of bottles and splints and bandages. She’s never had a chance to realize either the value or the worthlessness of things.”
“And then,” Billy went on, “nobody’s ever used an ounce of imagination in entertaining the poor child.”
“Imagination!” “Buffalo” Westabrook growled. “What has imagination to do with it?”
Next to her father and Granny Flynn, Maida loved Billy Potter better than anybody in the world. He was so little that she could never decide whether he was a boy or a man. His chubby, dimply face was the pinkest she had ever seen. From it twinkled a pair of blue eyes the merriest she had ever seen. And falling continually down into his eyes was a great mass of flaxen hair, the most tousled she had ever seen.
Billy Potter lived in New York. He earned his living by writing for newspapers and magazines. Whenever there was a fuss in Wall Street—and the papers always blamed “Buffalo” Westabrook if this happened—Billy Potter would have a talk with Maida’s father. Then he wrote up what Mr. Westabrook said and it was printed somewhere. Men who wrote for the newspapers were always trying to talk with Mr. Westabrook. Few of them ever got the chance. But “Buffalo” Westabrook never refused to talk with Billy Potter. Indeed, the two men were great friends.
“He’s one of the few reporters who can turn out a good story and tell it straight as I give it to him,” Maida had once heard her father say. Maida knew that Billy could turn out good stories—he had turned out a great many for her.
“What has imagination to do with it?” Mr. Westabrook repeated.
“It would have a great deal to do with it, I fancy,” Billy Potter answered, “if somebody would only imagine the right thing.”
“Well, imagine it yourself,” Mr. Westabrook snarled. “Imagination seems to be the chief stock-in-trade of you newspaper men.”
Billy grinned. When Billy smiled, two things happened—one to you and the other to him. Your spirits went up and his eyes seemed to disappear. Maida said that Billy’s eyes “skrinkled up.” The effect was so comic that she always laughed—not with him but at him.
“All right,” Billy agreed pleasantly; “I’ll put the greatest creative mind of the century to work on the job.”
“You put it to work at once, young man,” Dr. Pierce said. “The thing I’m trying to impress on you both is that you can’t wait too long.”
“Buffalo” Westabrook stirred uneasily. His fierce, blue eyes retreated behind the frown in his thick brows until all you could see were two shining points. He watched Maida closely as she limped back to the car. “What are you thinking of, Posie?” he asked.
“Oh, nothing, father,” Maida said, smiling faintly. This was the answer she gave most often to her father’s questions. “Is there anything you want, Posie?” he was sure to ask every morning, or, “What would you like me to get you to-day, little daughter?” The answer was invariable, given always in the same soft, thin little voice: “Nothing, father—thank you.”
“Where are we now, Jerome?” Dr. Pierce asked suddenly.
Mr. Westabrook looked about him. “Getting towards Revere.”
“Let’s go home through Charlestown,” Dr. Pierce suggested. “How would you like to see the house where I was born, Maida—that old place on Warrington Street I told you about yesterday. I think you’d like it, Pinkwink.”
“Pinkwink” was Dr. Pierce’s pet-name for Maida.
“Oh, I’d love to see it.” A little thrill of pleasure sparkled in Maida’s flat tones. “I’d just love to.”
Dr. Pierce gave some directions to the chauffeur.
For fifteen minutes or more the men talked business. They had come away from the sea and the streams of yellow and red and green trees. Maida pillowed her head on the cushions and stared fixedly at the passing streets. But her little face wore a dreamy, withdrawn look as if she were seeing something very far away. Whenever “Buffalo” Westabrook’s glance shot her way, his thick brows pulled together into the frown that most people dreaded to face.
“Now down the hill and then to the left,” Dr. Pierce instructed Henri.
Warrington Street was wide and old-fashioned. Big elms marching in a double file between the fine old houses, met in an arch above their roofs. At intervals along the curbstones were hitching-posts of iron, most of them supporting the head of a horse with a ring in his nose. One, the statue of a negro boy with his arms lifted above his head, seemed to beg the honor of holding the reins. Beside these hitching-posts were rectangular blocks of granite—stepping-stones for horseback riders and carriage folk.
“There, Pinkwink,” Dr. Pierce said; “that old house on the corner—stop here, Henri, please—that’s where I was brought up. The old swing used to hang from that tree and it was from that big bough stretching over the fence that I fell and broke my arm.”
Maida’s eyes brightened. “And there’s the garret window where the squirrels used to come in,” she exclaimed.
“The same!” Dr. Pierce laughed. “You don’t forget anything, do you? My goodness me! How small the house looks and how narrow the street has grown! Even the trees aren’t as tall as they should be.”
Maida stared. The trees looked very high indeed to her. And she thought the street quite wide enough for anybody, the houses very stately.
“Now show me the school,” she begged.
“Just a block or two, Henri,” Dr. Pierce directed.
The car stopped in front of a low, rambling wooden building with a yard in front.
“That’s where you covered the ceiling with spit-balls,” Maida asked.
“The same!” Dr. Pierce laughed heartily at the remembrance. It seemed to Maida that she had never seen his curls bob quite so furiously before.
“It’s one of the few wooden, primary buildings left in the city,” he explained to the two men. “It can’t last many years now. It’s nothing but a rat-trap but how I shall hate to see it go!”
Opposite the school was a big, wide court. Shaded with beautiful trees—maples beginning to flame, horse-chestnuts a little browned, it was lined with wooden toy houses, set back of fenced-in yards and veiled by climbing vines. Pigeons were flying about, alighting now and then to peck at the ground or to preen their green and purple necks. Boys were spinning tops. Girls were jumping rope. The dust they kicked up had a sweet, earthy smell in Maida’s nostrils. As she stared, charmed with the picture, a little girl in a scarlet cape and a scarlet hat came climbing up over one of the fences. Quick, active as a squirrel, she disappeared into the next yard.
“Primrose Court!” Dr. Pierce exclaimed. “Well, well, well!”
“Primrose Court,” Maida repeated. “Do primroses grow there?”
“Bless your heart, no,” Dr. Pierce laughed; “it was named after a man called Primrose who used to own a great deal of the neighborhood.”
But Maida was scarcely listening. “Oh, what a cunning little shop!” she exclaimed. “There, opposite the court. What a perfectly darling little place!”
“Good Lord! that’s Connors’,” Dr. Pierce explained. “Many a reckless penny I’ve squandered there, my dear. Connors was the funniest, old, bent, dried-up man. I wonder who keeps it now.”
As if in answer to his question, a wrinkled old lady came to the window to take a paper-doll from the dusty display there.
“What are those yellow things in that glass jar?” Maida asked.
“Pickled limes,” Dr. Pierce responded promptly. “How I used to love them!”
“Oh, father, buy me a pickled lime,” Maida pleaded. “I never had one in my life and I’ve been crazy to taste one ever since I read ‘Little Women.’”
“All right,” Mr. Westabrook said. “Let’s come in and treat Maida to a pickled lime.”
A bell rang discordantly as they opened the door. Its prolonged clangor finally brought the old lady from the room at the back. She looked in surprise at the three men in their automobile coats and at the little lame girl.
Coming in from the bright sunshine, the shop seemed unpleasantly dark to Maida. After a while she saw that its two windows gave it light enough but that it was very confused, cluttery and dusty.
Mr. Westabrook bought four pickled limes and everybody ate—three of them with enjoyment, Billy with many wry faces and a decided, “Stung!” after the first taste.
“I like pickled limes,” Maida said after they had started for Boston. “What a funny little place that was! Oh, how I would like to keep a little shop just like it.”
Billy Potter started. For a moment it seemed as if he were about to speak. But instead, he stared hard at Maida, falling gradually into a brown study. From time to time he came out of it long enough to look sharply at her. The sparkle had all gone out of her face. She was pale and dream-absorbed again.
Her father studied her with increasing anxiety as they neared the big house on Beacon Street. Dr. Pierce’s face was shadowed too.
“Eureka! I’ve found it!” Billy exclaimed as they swept past the State House. “I’ve got it, Mr. Westabrook.”
Billy did not answer at once. The automobile had stopped in front of a big red-brick house. Over the beautifully fluted columns that held up the porch hung a brilliant red vine. Lavender-colored glass, here and there in the windows, made purple patches on the lace of the curtains.
“Got what?” Mr. Westabrook repeated impatiently.
“That little job of the imagination that you put me on a few moments ago,” Billy answered mysteriously. “In a moment,” he added with a significant look at Maida. “You stay too, Dr. Pierce. I want your approval.”
The door of the beautiful old house had opened and a man in livery came out to assist Maida. On the threshold stood an old silver-haired woman in a black-silk gown, a white cap and apron, a little black shawl pinned about her shoulders.
“How’s my lamb?” she asked tenderly of Maida.
“Oh, pretty well,” Maida said dully. “Oh, Granny,” she added with a sudden flare of enthusiasm, “I saw the cunningest little shop. I think I’d rather tend shop than do anything else in the world.”
Billy Potter smiled all over his pink face. He followed Mr. Westabrook and Dr. Pierce into the drawing-room.
Maida went upstairs with Granny Flynn.
Granny Flynn had come straight to the Westabrook house from the boat that brought her from Ireland years ago. She had come to America in search of a runaway daughter but she had never found her. She had helped to nurse Maida’s mother in the illness of which she died and she had always taken such care of Maida herself that Maida loved her dearly. Sometimes when they were alone, Maida would call her “Dame,” because, she said, “Granny looks just like the ‘Dame’ who comes into fairy-tales.”
Granny Flynn was very little, very bent, very old. “A t’ousand and noine, sure,” she always answered when Maida asked her how old. Her skin had cracked into a hundred wrinkles and her long sharp nose and her short sharp chin almost met. But the wrinkles surrounded a pair of eyes that were a twinkling, youthful blue. And her down-turned nose and up-growing chin could not conceal or mar the lovely sweetness of her smile.
Just before Maida went to bed that night, she was surprised by a visit from her father.
“Posie,” he said, sitting down on her bed, “did you really mean it to-day when you said you would like to keep a little shop?”
“Oh, yes, father! I’ve been thinking it over ever since I came home from our ride this afternoon. A little shop, you know, just like the one we saw to-day.”
“Very well, dear, you shall keep a shop. You shall keep that very one. I’m going to buy out the business for you and put you in charge there. I’ve got to be in New York pretty steadily for the next three months and I’ve decided that I’ll send you and Granny to live in the rooms over the shop. I’ll fix the place all up for you, give you plenty of money to stock it and then I expect you to run it and make it pay.”
Maida sat up in bed with a vigor that surprised her father. She shook her hands—a gesture that, with her, meant great delight. She laughed. It was the first time in months that a happy note had pealed in her laughter. “Oh, father, dear, how good you are to me! I’m just crazy to try it and I know I can make it pay—if hard work helps.”
“All right. That’s settled. But listen carefully to what I’m going to say, Posie. I can’t have this getting into the papers, you know. To prevent that, you’re to play a game while you’re working in the shop—just as princesses in fairy-tales had to play games sometimes. You’re going in disguise. Do you understand?”
“Yes, father, I understand.”
“You’re to pretend that you belong to Granny Flynn, that you’re her grandchild. You won’t have to tell any lies about it. When the children in the neighborhood hear you call her ‘Granny,’ they’ll simply take it for granted that you’re her son’s child.
“Or I can pretend I’m poor Granny’s lost daughter’s little girl,” Maida suggested.
“If you wish. Billy Potter’s going to stay here in Boston and help you. You’re to call on him, Posie, if you get into any snarl. But I hope you’ll try to settle all your own difficulties before turning to anybody else. Do you understand?”
“Yes, father. Father, dear, I’m so happy. Does Granny know?”
Maida heaved an ecstatic sigh. “I’m afraid I shan’t get to sleep to-night—just thinking of it.”
But she did sleep and very hard—the best sleep she had known since her operation. And she dreamed that she opened a shop—a big shop this was—on the top of a huge white cloud. She dreamed that her customers were all little boy and girl angels with floating, golden curls and shining rainbow-colored wings. She dreamed that she sold nothing but cake. She used to cut generous slices from an angel-cake as big as the golden dome of the Boston state house. It was very delicious—all honey and jelly and ice cream on the inside, and all frosting, stuck with candies and nuts and fruits, on the outside.
The people on Warrington Street were surprised to learn in the course of a few days that old Mrs. Murdock had sold out her business in the little corner store. For over a week, the little place was shut up. The school children, pouring into the street twice a day, had to go to Main Street for their candy and lead pencils. For a long time all the curtains were kept down. Something was going on inside, but what, could not be guessed from the outside. Wagons deposited all kinds of things at the door, rolls of paper, tins of paint, furniture, big wooden boxes whose contents nobody could guess. Every day brought more and more workmen and the more there were, the harder they worked. Then, as suddenly as it had begun, all the work stopped.
The next morning when the neighborhood waked up, a freshly-painted sign had taken the place over the door of the dingy old black and white one. The lettering was gilt, the background a skyey blue. It read:
MAIDA’S LITTLE SHOP