Chapter XIV. The Cactus Blooms
 
    "I tell thee love is nature's second sun,
     Causing a spring of virtues where he shines."

It was June again, and once more Lovey Mary stood at an up-stairs window at the home. On the ledge grew a row of bright flowers, brought from Miss Viny's garden, but they were no brighter than the face that smiled across them at the small boy in the playground below. Lovey Mary's sleeves were rolled above her elbows, and a dust-cloth was tied about her head. As she returned to her sweeping she sang joyfully, contentedly:

      "Can she sweep a kitchen floor,
         Billy boy, Billy boy?
       Can she sweep a kitchen floor,
         Charming Billy?"

"Miss Bell says for you to come down to the office," announced a little girl, coming up the steps. "There's a lady there and a baby."

Lovey Mary paused in her work, and a shadow passed over her face. Just three years ago the same summons had come, and with it such heartaches and anxiety. She pulled down her sleeves and went thoughtfully down the steps. At the office door she found Mrs. Redding talking to Miss Bell.

"We leave Saturday afternoon," she was saying. "It's rather sooner than we expected, but we want to get the baby to Canada before the hot weather overtakes us. Last summer I asked two children from the Toronto home to spend two weeks with me at our summer place, but this year I have set my heart on taking Lovey Mary and Tommy. They will see Niagara Falls and Buffalo, where we stop over a day, besides the little outing at the lake. Will you come, Mary? You know Robert might get choked again!"

Lovey Mary leaned against the door for support. A half-hour visit to Mrs. Redding was excitement for a week, and only to think of going away with her, and riding on a steam-car, and seeing a lake, and taking Tommy, and being ever so small a part of that gorgeous Redding household! She could not speak; she just looked up and smiled, but the smile seemed to mean more than words, for it brought the sudden tears to Mrs. Redding's eyes. She gave Mary's hand a quick, understanding little squeeze, then hurried out to her carriage.

That very afternoon Lovey Mary went to the Cabbage Patch. As she hurried along over the familiar ground, she felt as if she must sing aloud the happy song that was humming in her heart. She wanted to stop at each cottage and tell the good news; but her time was limited, so she kept on her way to Miss Hazy's, merely calling out a greeting as she passed. When she reached the door she heard Mrs. Wiggs's voice in animated conversation.

"Well, I wish you'd look! There she is, this very minute! I never was so glad to see anybody in my life! My goodness, child, you don't know how we miss you down here! We talk 'bout you all the time, jes like a person puts their tongue in the empty place after a tooth's done pulled out."

"I'm awful glad to be back," said Lovey Mary, too happy to be cast down by the reversion to the original state of the Hazy household.

"Me an' Chris ain't had a comfortable day sence you left," complained Miss Hazy. "I'd 'a' almost rather you wouldn't 'a' came than to have went away ag'in."

"But listen!" cried Lovey Mary, unable to keep her news another minute. "I'm a-going on a railroad trip with Mrs. Redding, and she's going to take Tommy, too, and we are going to see Niag'ra and a lake and a buffalo!"

"Ain't that the grandest thing fer her to go and do!" exclaimed Mrs. Wiggs. "I told you she was a' angel!"

"I'm right skeered of these here long trips," said Miss Hazy, "so many accidents these days."

"My sakes!" answered Mrs. Wiggs, "I'd think you'd be 'fraid to step over a crack in the floor fer fear you'd fall through. Why, Lovey Mary, it's the nicest thing I ever heared tell of! An' Niag'ry Fall, too. I went on a trip once when I was little. Maw took me through the mountains. I never had seen mountains before, an' I cried at first an' begged her to make 'em sit down. A trip is something you never will fergit in all yer life. It was jes like Mrs. Reddin' to think about it; but I don't wonder she feels good to you. Asia says she never expects to see anything like the way you shook that candy outen little Robert. But see here, if you go 'way off there you mustn't fergit us."

"I never could forget you all, wherever I went," said Lovey Mary. "I was awful mean when I come to the Cabbage Patch; somehow you all just bluffed me into being better. I wasn't used to being bragged on, and it made me want to be good more than anything in the world."

"That's so," said Mrs. Wiggs. "You can coax a' elephant with a little sugar. The worser Mr. Wiggs used to act, the harder I'd pat him on the back. When he'd git bilin' mad, I'd say: 'Now, Mr. Wiggs, why don't you go right out in the woodshed an' swear off that cuss? I hate to think of it rampantin' round inside of a good-lookin' man like you.' He'd often take my advice, an' it always done him good an' never hurt the woodshed. As fer the childern, I always did use compelments on them 'stid of switches."

Lovey Mary untied the bundle which she carried, and spread the contents on the kitchen table. "I've been saving up to get you all some presents," she said. "I wanted to get something for every one that had been good to me, but that took in the whole Patch! These are some new kind of seed for Miss Viny; she learned me a lot out of her garden. This is goods for a waist for you, Miss Hazy."

"It's rale pretty," said Miss Hazy, measuring its length. "If you'd 'a' brought me enough fer a skirt, too, I'd never 'a' got through prayin' fer you."

Mrs. Wiggs was indignant. "I declare, Miss Hazy! You ain't got a manner in the world, sometimes. It's beautiful goods, Lovey Mary. I'm goin' to make it up fer her by a fancy new pattern Asia bought; it's got a sailor collar."

"This here is for Chris," continued Lovey Mary, slightly depressed by Miss Hazy's lack of appreciation, "and this is for Mrs. Schultz. I bought you a book, Mrs. Wiggs. I don't know what it's about, but it's an awful pretty cover. I knew you'd like to have it on the parlor table."

It was the "Iliad"!

Mrs. Wiggs held it at arm's-length and, squinting her eyes, read: "Home of an Island."

"That ain't what the man called it," said Lovey Mary.

"Oh, it don't matter 'bout the name. It's a beautiful book, jes matches my new tidy. You couldn't 'a' pleased me better."

"I didn't have money enough to go round," explained Lovey Mary, apologetically, "but I bought a dozen lead-pencils and thought I'd give them round among the children."

"Ever'thing'll be terrible wrote over," said Miss Hazy.

The last bundle was done up in tissue-paper and tied with a silver string. Lovey Mary gave it to Mrs. Wiggs when Miss Hazy was not looking.

"It's a red necktie," she whispered, "for Billy."

When the train for the North pulled out of the station one Saturday afternoon it bore an excited passenger. Lovey Mary, in a new dress and hat, sat on the edge of a seat, with little Robert on one side and Tommy on the other. When her nervousness grew unbearable she leaned forward and touched Mrs. Redding on the shoulder:

"Will you please, ma'am, tell me when we get there?"

Mrs. Redding laughed. "Get there, dear? Why, we have just started!"

"I mean to the Cabbage Patch. They're all going to be watching for me as we go through."

"Is that it?" said Mr. Redding. "Well, I will take the boys, and you can go out and stand on the platform and watch for your friends."

Lovey Mary hesitated. "Please, sir, can't I take Tommy, too? If it hadn't 'a' been for him I never would have been here."

So Mr. Redding took them to the rear car, and attaching Lovey Mary firmly to the railing, and Tommy firmly to Mary, returned to his family.

"There's Miss Viny's!" cried Lovey Mary, excitedly, as the train whizzed past. "We're getting there. Hold on to your hat, Tommy, and get your pocket-handkerchief ready to wave."

The bell began to ring, and the train slowed up at the great water- tank.

"There they are! All of 'em. Hello, Miss Hazy! And there's Asia and Chris and ever'body!"

Mrs. Wiggs pushed through the little group and held an empty bottle toward Lovey Mary. "I want you to fill it fer me," she cried breathlessly. "Fill it full of Niag'ry water. I want to see how them falls look."

The train began to move. Miss Hazy threw her apron over her head and wept. Mrs. Wiggs and Mrs. Eichorn waved their arms and smiled. The Cabbage Patch, with its crowd of friendly faces, became a blur to the girl on the platform. Suddenly a figure on a telegraph pole attracted her attention; it wore a red necktie and it was throwing kisses. Lovey Mary waved until the train rounded a curve, then she gave Tommy an impulsive hug.

"It ain't hard to be good when folks love you," she said, with a little catch in her voice. "I'll make 'em all proud of me yet!"