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CHAPTER XXIII A MISSIONARY HEROINE
Accordingly, that afternoon we bearded the lion in his den. The road we took was a beautiful one, for we went "cross lots," and we enjoyed it, in spite of the fact that we did not expect the interview with Mr. Campbell to be a very pleasant one. To be sure, he had been quite civil on the occasion of our last call upon him, but the Story Girl had been with us then and had beguiled him into good-humour and generosity by the magic of her voice and personality. We had no such ally now, and Mr. Campbell was known to be virulently opposed to missions in any shape or form.
"I don't know whether it would have been any better if I could have put on my good clothes," said Cecily, with a rueful glance at her print dress, which, though neat and clean, was undeniably faded and RATHER short and tight. "The Story Girl said it would, and I wanted to, but mother wouldn't let me. She said it was all nonsense, and Mr. Campbell would never notice what I had on."
"It's my opinion that Mr. Campbell notices a good deal more than you'd think for," I said sagely.
"Well, I wish our call was over," sighed Cecily. "I can't tell you how I dread it."
"Now, see here, Sis," I said cheerfully, "let's not think about it till we get there. It'll only spoil our walk and do no good. Let's just forget it and enjoy ourselves."
"I'll try," agreed Cecily, "but it's ever so much easier to preach than to practise."
Our way lay first over a hill top, gallantly plumed with golden rod, where cloud shadows drifted over us like a gypsying crew. Carlisle, in all its ripely tinted length and breadth, lay below us, basking in the August sunshine, that spilled over the brim of the valley to the far-off Markdale Harbour, cupped in its harvestgolden hills.
Then came a little valley overgrown with the pale purple bloom of thistles and elusively haunted with their perfume. You say that thistles have no perfume? Go you to a brook hollow where they grow some late summer twilight at dewfall; and on the still air that rises suddenly to meet you will come a waft of faint, aromatic fragrance, wondrously sweet and evasive, the distillation of that despised thistle bloom.
Beyond this the path wound through a forest of fir, where a wood wind wove its murmurous spell and a wood brook dimpled pellucidly among the shadows - the dear, companionable, elfin shadows - that lurked under the low growing boughs. Along the edges of that winding path grew banks of velvet green moss, starred with clusters of pigeon berries. Pigeon berries are not to be eaten. They are woolly, tasteless things. But they are to be looked at in their glowing scarlet. They are the jewels with which the forest of cone-bearers loves to deck its brown breast. Cecily gathered some and pinned them on hers, but they did not become her. I thought how witching the Story Girl's brown curls would have looked twined with those brilliant clusters. Perhaps Cecily was thinking of it, too, for she presently said,
"Bev, don't you think the Story Girl is changing somehow?"
"There are times - just times - when she seems to belong more among the grown-ups than among us," I said, reluctantly, "especially when she puts on her bridesmaid dress."
"Well, she's the oldest of us, and when you come to think of it, she's fifteen, - that's almost grown-up," sighed Cecily. Then she added, with sudden vehemence, "I hate the thought of any of us growing up. Felicity says she just longs to be grown-up, but I don't, not a bit. I wish I could just stay a little girl for ever - and have you and Felix and all the others for playmates right along. I don't know how it is - but whenever I think of being grown-up I seem to feel tired."
Something about Cecily's speech - or the wistful look that had crept into her sweet brown eyes - made me feel vaguely uncomfortable; I was glad that we were at the end of our journey, with Mr. Campbell's big house before us, and his dog sitting gravely at the veranda steps.
"Oh, dear," said Cecily, with a shiver, "I'd been hoping that dog wouldn't be around."
"He never bites," I assured her.
"Perhaps he doesn't, but he always looks as if he was going to," rejoined Cecily.
The dog continued to look, and, as we edged gingerly past him and up the veranda steps, he turned his head and kept on looking. What with Mr. Campbell before us and the dog behind, Cecily was trembling with nervousness; but perhaps it was as well that the dour brute was there, else I verily believe she would have turned and fled shamelessly when we heard steps in the hall.
It was Mr. Campbell's housekeeper who came to the door, however; she ushered us pleasantly into the sitting-room where Mr. Campbell was reading. He laid down his book with a slight frown and said nothing at all in response to our timid "good afternoon." But after we had sat for a few minutes in wretched silence, wishing ourselves a thousand miles away, he said, with a chuckle,
"Well, is it the school library again?"
Cecily had remarked as we were coming that what she dreaded most of all was introducing the subject; but Mr. Campbell had given her a splendid opening, and she plunged wildly in at once, rattling her explanation off nervously with trembling voice and flushed cheeks.
"No, it's our Mission Band autograph quilt, Mr. Campbell. There are to be as many squares in it as there are members in the Band. Each one has a square and is collecting names for it. If you want to have your name on the quilt you pay five cents, and if you want to have it right in the round spot in the middle of the square you must pay ten cents. Then when we have got all the names we can we will embroider them on the squares. The money is to go to the little girl our Band is supporting in Korea. I heard that nobody had asked you, so I thought perhaps you would give me your name for my square."
Mr. Campbell drew his black brows together in a scowl.
"Stuff and nonsense!" he exclaimed angrily. "I don't believe in Foreign Missions - don't believe in them at all. I never give a cent to them."
"Five cents isn't a very large sum," said Cecily earnestly.
Mr. Campbell's scowl disappeared and he laughed.
"It wouldn't break me," he admitted, "but it's the principle of the thing. And as for that Mission Band of yours, if it wasn't for the fun you get out of it, catch one of you belonging. You don't really care a rap more for the heathen than I do."
"Oh, we do," protested Cecily. "We do think of all the poor little children in Korea, and we like to think we are helping them, if it's ever so little. We ARE in earnest, Mr. Campbell-indeed we are."
"Don't believe it - don't believe a word of it," said Mr. Campbell impolitely. "You'll do things that are nice and interesting. You'll get up concerts, and chase people about for autographs and give money your parents give you and that doesn't cost you either time or labour. But you wouldn't do anything you disliked for the heathen children - you wouldn't make any real sacrifice for them-catch you!"
"Indeed we would," cried Cecily, forgetting her timidity in her zeal. "I just wish I had a chance to prove it to you."
"You do, eh? Come, now, I'll take you at your word. I'll test you. Tomorrow is Communion Sunday and the church will be full of folks and they'll all have their best clothes on. If you go to church tomorrow in the very costume you have on at present, without telling anyone why you do so, until it is all over, I'll give you - why, I vow I'll give you five dollars for that quilt of yours."
Poor Cecily! To go to church in a faded print dress, with a shabby little old sun-hat and worn shoes! It was very cruel of Mr. Campbell.
"I - I don't think mother would let me," she faltered.
Her tormentor smiled grimly.
"It's not hard to find some excuse," he said sarcastically.
Cecily crimsoned and sat up facing Mr. Campbell spunkily.
"It's NOT an excuse," she said. "If mother will let me go to church like this I'll go. But I'll have to tell HER why, Mr. Campbell, because I'm certain she'd never let me if I didn't."
"Oh, you can tell all your own family," said Mr. Campbell, "but remember, none of them must tell it outside until Sunday is over. If they do, I'll be sure to find it out and then our bargain is off. If I see you in church tomorrow, dressed as you are now, I'll give you my name and five dollars. But I won't see you. You'll shrink when you've had time to think it over."
"I sha'n't," said Cecily resolutely.
"Well, we'll see. And now come out to the barn with me. I've got the prettiest little drove of calves out there you ever saw. I want you to see them."
Mr. Campbell took us all over his barns and was very affable. He had beautiful horses, cows and sheep, and I enjoyed seeing them. I don't think Cecily did, however. She was very quiet and even Mr. Campbell's handsome new span of dappled grays failed to arouse any enthusiasm in her. She was already in bitter anticipation living over the martyrdom of the morrow. On the way home she asked me seriously if I thought Mr. Campbell would go to heaven when he died.
"Of course he will," I said. "Isn't he a member of the church?"
"Oh, yes, but I can't imagine him fitting into heaven. You know he isn't really fond of anything but live stock."
"He's fond of teasing people, I guess," I responded. "Are you really going to church to-morrow in that dress, Sis?"
"If mother'll let me I'll have to," said poor Cecily. "I won't let Mr. Campbell triumph over me. And I DO want to have as many names as Kitty has. And I DO want to help the poor little Korean children. But it will be simply dreadful. I don't know whether I hope mother will or not."
I did not believe she would, but Aunt Janet sometimes could be depended on for the unexpected. She laughed and told Cecily she could please herself. Felicity was in a rage over it, and declared SHE wouldn't go to church if Cecily went in such a rig. Dan sarcastically inquired if all she went to church for was to show off her fine clothes and look at other people's; then they quarrelled and didn't speak to each other for two days, much to Cecily's distress.
I suspect poor Sis wished devoutly that it might rain the next day; but it was gloriously fine. We were all waiting in the orchard for the Story Girl who had not begun to dress for church until Cecily and Felicity were ready. Felicity was her prettiest in flower-trimmed hat, crisp muslin, floating ribbons and trim black slippers. Poor Cecily stood beside her mute and pale, in her faded school garb and heavy copper-toed boots. But her face, if pale, was very determined. Cecily, having put her hand to the plough, was not of those who turn back.
"You do look just awful," said Felicity. "I don't care - I'm going to sit in Uncle James' pew. I WON'T sit with you. There will be so many strangers there, and all the Markdale people, and what will they think of you? Some of them will never know the reason, either."
"I wish the Story Girl would hurry," was all poor Cecily said. "We're going to be late. It wouldn't have been quite so hard if I could have got there before anyone and slipped quietly into our pew."
"Here she comes at last," said Dan. "Why - what's she got on?"
The Story Girl joined us with a quizzical smile on her face. Dan whistled. Cecily's pale cheeks flushed with understanding and gratitude. The Story Girl wore her school print dress and hat also, and was gloveless and heavy shod.
"You're not going to have to go through this all alone, Cecily," she said.
"Oh, it won't be half so hard now," said Cecily, with a long breath of relief.
I fancy it was hard enough even then. The Story Girl did not care a whit, but Cecily rather squirmed under the curious glances that were cast at her. She afterwards told me that she really did not think she could have endured it if she had been alone.
Mr. Campbell met us under the elms in the churchyard, with a twinkle in his eye.
"Well, you did it, Miss," he said to Cecily, "but you should have been alone. That was what I meant. I suppose you think you've cheated me nicely."
"No, she doesn't," spoke up the Story Girl undauntedly. "She was all dressed and ready to come before she knew I was going to dress the same way. So she kept her bargain faithfully, Mr. Campbell, and I think you were cruel to make her do it."
"You do, eh? Well, well, I hope you'll forgive me. I didn't think she'd do it - I was sure feminine vanity would win the day over missionary zeal. It seems it didn't - though how much was pure missionary zeal and how much just plain King spunk I'm doubtful. I'll keep my promise, Miss. You shall have your five dollars, and mind you put my name in the round space. No fivecent corners for me."
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER XXIV A TANTALIZING REVELATION