Miss Theodosia's Heartstrings
ANNIE HAMILTON DONNELL
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY
WILLIAM VAN DRESSER
[Illustration: Slowly her delicate
fingers undid the ravages of
Stefana's patient endeavors. FRONTISPIECE.]
To MY HUSBAND
WHO COULD WRITE SO MUCH
BETTER A BOOK AND
DEDICATE IT TO
Slowly her delicate
fingers undid the ravages of Stefana's patient
"We've all got beautiful names, except poor Elly"
"If you are thinking of putting me anywhere, put me into a story like
Evangeline established a stage of action outside the window
Miss Theodosia's Heartstrings
The last utterance
was Miss Theodosia Baxter's. She was a woman of few
words at all times where few sufficed. One sufficed now. The child on
her front porch, with a still childlier child on the small area of her
knees, was not a creature of few words, but now extreme
speech. She was stricken
with brevity,--stricken is the word--to match
Downward, upward, each gazed into the other's surprised face. The
childlier child, jouncing pleasantly
back and forth, viewed them both
It was the child who regarded the situation, after a moment of mental
adjustment, as humorous. She giggled softly.
"Mercy gracious! How you surprised me' 'n' Elly Precious, an' me 'n'
Elly Precious surprised you! I don't know which was the whichest! We
came over to be shady just once more. We didn't s'pose you would come
home till to-morrow, did we, Elly Precious?"
"I came last night," Miss Theodosia replied with crispness. She stood in
her doorway, apparentlywaiting
for something which--apparently--was not
to happen. The child and Elly Precious sat on in seeming
"Yes'm. Of course if you hadn't come, you wouldn't be standin' there
lookin' at Elly Precious--isn't he a darlin' dear? Wouldn't you like to
look at his toes?"
It was Miss Theodosia Baxter's turn to say "Mercy gracious!" but she did
not say it aloud. It was her turn, too, to see a bit of humor in the
situation on her front porch.
"Not--just now," she said rather hastily. She could not remember ever to
have seen a baby's toes. "I've no doubt they are--are excellent toes."
The word did not satisfy her, but the suitableadjective
was not at
"Mercy gracious! That's a funny way to talk about toes! Elly Precious's
are pink as anything--an' six--yes'm! I've made consid'able money out of
his toes. Yes," with rising pride at the sight of Miss Theodosia's
surprise, "'leven cents, so far. I only charged Lelia Fling a cent for
two looks, because Lelia's baby's dead. I've got three cents out o' her;
she says five of Elly Precious's remind
her of her baby's toes. Isn't it
funny you can't make boys pay to look at babies' toes, even when they's
such a lot? Only just girls. Stefana says it's because girls are
ungrown-up mothers. Mercy gracious! speakin' of Stefana an' mothers,
little voice stopped with a suddenness that made the woman in
the door fear for Elly Precious; it seemed that he must be jolted from
his narrow perch.
Miss Theodosia had wandered up and down the world for three years in be
search of something to interest her, only to come home and find it here
upon the upper step of her own front porch. She stepped from the doorway
and sat down in one of the wicker rockers. She had plenty of time to be
interested; there was really no haste for unpacking and settling back
into her little country rut.
"What about 'Stefana and mothers'?" she prodded gently. A cloud had
settled on the child's vivid little face and threatened to overshade the
childlier child, as well. "I suppose 'Stefana' is a Spanish person,
isn't she?" The name had a definitely
"Oh, no'm--just a United States. We're all United States. Mother named
her; we've all got beautiful names, except poor Elly. Mother hated to
call him Elihu, but there was Grandfather gettin' older an' older all
the time, an' she dassen't wait till the next one. She put it off an'
off with the other boys, Carruthers an' Gilpatrick--he's dead. She just
couldn't name any of 'em Elihu, till Grandfather scared her, gettin' so
old. She was afraid there wouldn't be time, an' there wasn't any to
spare. Grandfather's dead now--she's thankful
enough she didn't wait any
longer. He was so pleased. He said he could depart this life easier,
leavin' an Elihu Flagg behind him. An', anyway, Mother says Elly can
call himself his middle name, if he'd ruther, when he's twenty-one--his
middle name's Launcelot."
Elihu Launcelot, at this juncture, toppled over against the little flat
breast of his nurse, asleep--or in a swoon; Miss Theodosia had her
fears. There seemed sufficient swooning cause.
"Stefana," she prompted again, her interest advancing at a rapid pace,
"Stefana's our oldest. She's goin' to run us while Mother's away. She's
got a job before her! All I can do is 'tend Elly Precious--we're all
boys, but us. But, of course, runnin' the family isn't the real
trouble--not what made Mother cry."
Miss Theodosia sat forward in her chair.
"What made Mother cry?" she asked. The child shifted her heavy burden
the better to turn her head. She regarded the beautiful white lady
"You," she stated briefly.
This time Miss Theodosia said it aloud and with a surprising
ease, as if
of long custom--"Mercy gracious!"
"Oh, I didn't mean you're to blame; you can't help Aunt Sarah tumblin'
down the cellar
stairs an' Mother not bein' able to do you up."
"Yes'm--white-wash you. Mother was sure you'd let her, an' we were goin'
to send Carruthers to a deaf 'n' dumb school after you'd wore white
clo'es enough. He isn't dumb, but he's deaf. He can't hear Elly Precious
laugh--only yell. Mother heard that you always wore white dresses an'
she most hugged herself--she hugged us. She said you'd prob'ly find out
what a good white-washer she was an' let her white-wash you. But, now,
Aunt Sarah's went an' fell down cellar."
"Whitewash--whitewash?" queried Miss Theodosia.
"Yes'm, you didn't think Mother was a washwoman, did you? Of course she
could, but it doesn't pay's well. She only whitewashes--white clo'es,
you know, dresses an' shirtwaists. She says it's her talent
Lord's gave her, an' she's goin' to make it gain ten talents for
Carruthers. But Aunt Sarah--"
"Never mind Aunt Sarah. Unless--do you mean your mother has had to go
away from home?"
"Yes'm, to see to Aunt Sarah. They were twins when they were babies.
Mother cried, because she said of course you'd have to be done up while
she was gone, an' so she'd lost you. She said you'd been her bacon light
ever since she heard you was comin' home an' wore so many white clo'es."
The garrulous little voice might have run on indefinitely
but for the
abrupt appearance, here, of a slender
girl in an all-enwrapping gingham
apron. She came hurrying up Miss Theodosia's front walk.
"Well, Evangeline Flagg, I hope you're blushing crimson
red--helping yourself to folks's doorsteps that's got back from Europe!
I hope--" but the newcomer
got no further, for, quite suddenly, she
found herself blushing crimsonscarlet
red, in the grip of a
"I suppose it's just as bad to help yourself to doorsteps when folks
aren't here as when they are," she said slowly, "but you mustn't blame
Mother. She'd never've allowed Evangeline and Elly, if we'd had a single
sol-i-ta-ry tree. Or been on the shady side. Or had a porch. Elly's been
pindly, and Mother felt obliged to save his life. It's been terribly
hot. Here, Evangeline Flagg, you give Elly here, an' you run home an'
keep the soup-kettle from burning on. Don't you wait until it smells!
I've got an errand
to do here."
The child, Evangeline, relinquished her burden and turned slowly away.
But she halted at the foot of the steps.
"This is Stefana," she introduced politely. "Stefana, you ain't _goin'
to_? You look 'xactly as if you was. Mercy gracious!"
[Illustration: "We've all got beautiful names except poor Elly."]
"Yes," Stefana returned gravely, "I am. Now, you go. Remember the soup!"
Miss Theodosia's interested gaze left the retreating little figure and
came back to Stefana and Elly Precious. She was pleasantly
aware of her
daintiness in her crisp white dress. Only Theodosia
Baxter would have dreamed of arraying herself in white to unpack and
settle. Her friends declared she made a fetich of her white raiment; it
was a well-known
fact among them that she was extremely
"One, two, three," counted the slender
girl, over the baby's bald little
head, "only three tucks, an' the lace not terribly
full on the edges.
there aren't any ruffles, but, there, I suppose there are
on some o' the others, aren't there? I'll have to manage the ruffles. I
mean, if--oh, I mean, won't you please let me do you up? Just till Aunt
Sarah's bone knits--so to save you for Mother? I'll try so hard! If I
don't, Charlotte Lovell will--she's the only other one. She's a
and ironer, but none of her children are deaf, and she
hasn't any, anyway. I didn't dare to come over and ask you, but I kept
thinking of poor Mother and how she's been 'lotting on earning all that
money. There, I've asked you--please don't answer till I've counted ten.
When we were little, Mother always said for us to; it was safer. One,
two, three--" she counted rapidly, then swung about facing Miss
Theodosia. "You can say 'no,' now," she said, with a difficult little
Miss Theodosia had been, in a way, counting ten herself. She had had
time to remember her very strict
injunctions to those to whom she
entrusted her beloved
white gowns--to pull out the lace with careful
fingers, not to iron it; to iron embroidered portions over many
thicknesses of flannel, and never, never, never on the right side; to
starch the dresses just enough and not too much. All these thoughts
flashed through her mind while Stefana counted ten. But it was without
accompaniment of injunctions that Miss Theodosia answered on that
wistful little stroke of ten. In her soul she felt the futility of
"Yes," answered Miss Theodosia.
Stefana whirled, at the risk of Elihu Launcelot.
"Oh--oh, what? You mean I can do you up, honest? Starch you, and iron
you, too--of course, I could wash you. Oh, if I could drop Elly Precious
I'd get right up and dance!"
"Give Elly Precious to me, and go ahead, my dear," said the White Lady
with a smile.
But Stefana shook her head. She was covertly studying the white dress
once more. It was very white--she could detect
creases, and she drew a sigh even in the midst of her rejoicing. If a
person only sat on porches, in chairs, how often did white dresses need
doing up? Miss Theodosia interpreted the sigh and look.
"Oh, I've three of them rolled up in my trunk; aren't three enough to
begin on? And shirtwaists--I'm sure I don't know how many of those. I'll
go and get them now."
In the hall she stopped at the mirror, jibing at the image confronting
her. "You've done it this time, Theodosia Baxter! When you can't bear a
wrinkle! But, there, don't look so scared--daughters inherit
mothers' talents, plenty of times. And you need only try it once, of
After Stefana had gone away, doubly
laden with clothes and bulky baby,
Miss Theodosia remained on her porch. She found herself leaning over and
parting her porch-vines, to get a glimpse
of the little house next door.
She had always loathed that little house with its barefaced poverties
and uglinesses, and it had been a great relief
to her to have it stand
vacant in past years. She had left it vacant
when she started upon her
last globe-trotting. Now here it was teeming with life, and here she was
aiding and abetting it! What new manner of Theodosia Baxter was this?
"You'd better get up and globe-trot again, Woman, and not unpack," she
uttered, with a lone woman's habit of talking to herself. "You were
never made to live in a house like other people--to sit on porches and
rock. And certainly, Theodosia Baxter, you were never made to live next
to that little dry-goods box. It will turn you gray, poor thing." She
felt a gentle pity for herself, then gentle wrath seized her. Why had
she come home, anyway? Already she was lonely
and restless. Why--could
anybody tell her why--had she weakly yielded to two small girls? Her
dear-beloved white dresses! And she could not go back on her
promise--not on a Baxter promise! There was, indeed, the release
going away again, back to her globe-trotting--
"I might write to Cornelia Dunlap," Miss Theodosia thought. "Maybe she
is sorry she came home, too."
Cornelia Dunlap had been her recent comrade of the road. They had
traveled to many far places together. What would Cornelia say to that
of three--and a baby--on the front porch?
"My dear," wrote Miss Theodosia, "you will think I have been swapped in
since I left you! 'That is no fellow tramp of mine,' you will
say, 'That woman being victimized by children in knee-high dresses!
Theodosia Baxter nothing!'"--for Cornelia Dunlap in moments of surprise
resorted sometimes to slang, which she claimed was a sturdyvehicle
speech. "You will set down your teacup hard," wrote on Miss
Theodosia,--"I know you are drinking tea!--when I tell you the little
story of the Whitewashing of Theodosia Baxter. But shall I tell it? Why
expose Theodosia Baxter's weaknesses when hitherto
she has posed as
strong? Soberly, Cornelia, I am as much surprised at myself as you will
be (oh, I shall tell it!). Do you remember your Mother Goose? The little
astonished old lady who took a nap beside the road and woke to find her
petticoats cut off at her knees? 'Oh, lawk-a-daisy me, can this be I!'
cried she. I'm not sure those were just her words, but they will do. Oh,
lawk-a-daisy me, can this be Theodosia Baxter! The Astonished Little Old
Lady, if I remember my Mother Goose, resorted to the simple expedient
going home and letting her little dog decide if she were she. But I have
no little dog.
"They were so earnest
to whitewash me, Cornelia! The whole scheme
such a plucky little one and Baxters, from the dawn of creation, have
admired pluck. The lively, chatterbox-one was 'Evangeline' and the quiet
one who should have been an Evangeline was what the other one ought to
have been,--a 'Stefana,' suggestive
of flashing, dark eyes under a lace
mantilla, with ways to match the eyes. So does fate play her little
jokes. The baby--but what do I know of babies or you know of babies? He
had six toes and I might have seen them for nothing; so do we miss our
opportunities. He was named for his grandfather
just in time, but the