Chapter V. The Dawn of a Romance
 
     "There is in the worst of fortunes
      The best of chances for a happy change."

"Good land! you all're so clean in here I'm feared of ketchin' the pneumony."

Mrs. Wiggs stood in Miss Hazy's kitchen and smiled approval at the marvelous transformation.

"Well, now, I don't think it's right healthy," complained Miss Hazy, who was sitting at the machine, with her feet on a soap-box; "so much water sloppin' round is mighty apt to give a person a cold. But Lovey Mary says she can't stand it no other way. She's mighty set, Mis' Wiggs."

"Yes, an' that's jes what you need, Miss Hazy. You never was set 'bout nothin' in yer life. Lovey Mary's jes took you an' the house an' ever'thing in hand, an' in four weeks got you all to livin' like white folks. I ain't claimin' she ain't sharp-tongued; I 'low she's sassed 'bout ever'body in the Patch but me by now. But she's good, an' she's smart, an' some of her sharp corners'll git pecked off afore her hair grows much longer."

"Oh, mercy me! here she comes now to git her lunch," said Miss Hazy, with chagrin. "I ain't got a thing fixed."

"You go on an' sew; I'll mess up a little somethin' fer her. She'll stop, anyway, to talk to Tommy. Did you ever see anything to equal the way she takes on 'bout that child? She jes natchally analyzes him."

Lovey Mary, however, did not stop as usual to play with Tommy. She came straight to the kitchen and sat down on the door-step, looking worried and preoccupied.

"How comes it you ain't singin'?" asked Mrs. Wiggs. "If I had a voice like yourn, folks would have to stop up their years with cotton. I jes find myself watchin' fer you to come home, so's I can hear you singin' them pretty duets round the house."

Lovey Mary smiled faintly; for a month past she had been unconsciously striving to live up to Mrs. Wiggs's opinion of her, and the constant praise and commendation of that "courageous captain of compliment" had moved her to herculean effort.

But a sudden catastrophe threatened her. She sat on the door-step, white and miserable. Held tight in the hand that was thrust in her pocket was a letter; it was a blue letter addressed to Miss Hazy in large, dashing characters. Lovey Mary had got it from the postman as she went out in the morning; for five hours she had been racked with doubt concerning it. She felt that it could refer but to one subject, and that was herself. Perhaps Miss Bell had discovered her hiding- place, or, worse still, perhaps Kate Rider had seen her at the factory and was writing for Tommy. Lovey Mary crushed the letter in her hand; she would not give it to Miss Hazy. She would outwit Kate again.

"All right, honey," called Mrs. Wiggs; "here you are. 'T ain't much of a lunch, but it'll fill up the gaps. Me an' Miss Hazy jes been talkin' 'bout you."

Lovey Mary glanced up furtively. Could they have suspected anything?

"Didn't yer years sorter burn! We was speakin' of the way you'd slicked things up round here. I was a-sayin' even if you was a sorter repeatin'-rifle when it come to answerin' back, you was a good, nice girl."

Lovey Mary smoothed out the crumpled letter in her pocket. "I'm 'fraid I ain't as good as you make me out," she said despondently.

"Oh, yes, she is," said Miss Hazy, with unusual animation; "she's a rale good girl, when she ain't sassy."

This unexpected praise was too much for Lovey Mary. She snatched the letter from her pocket and threw it on the table, not daring to trust her good impulse to last beyond the minute.

"'Miss Marietta Hazy, South Avenue and Railroad Crossing,'" read Mrs. Wiggs, in amazement.

"Oh, surely it ain't got me on the back of it!" cried Miss Hazy, rising hurriedly from the machine and peering over her glasses. "You open it, Mis' Wiggs; I ain't got the nerve to."

With chattering teeth and trembling hands Lovey Mary sat before her untasted food. She could hear Tommy's laughter through the open window, and the sound brought tears to her eyes. But Mrs. Wiggs's voice recalled her, and she nerved herself for the worst.

"Miss Hazy.

"DEAR MISS [Mrs. Wiggs read from the large type-written sheet before her]: Why not study the planets and the heavens therein? In casting your future, I find that thou wilt have an active and succesful year for business, but beware of the law. You are prudent and amiable and have a lively emagination. You will have many ennemies; but fear not, for in love you will be faitful and sincer, and are fitted well fer married life."

"They surely ain't meanin' me?" asked Miss Hazy, in great perturbation.

"Yes, ma'am," said Mrs. Wiggs, emphatically; "it's you, plain as day. Let's go on:

"Your star fortells you a great many lucky events. You are destined to a brilliant success, but you will have to earn it by good conduct. Let wise men lead you. Your mildness against the wretched will bring you the friendship of everbody. Enclosed you will find a spirit picture of your future pardner. If you will send twenty-five cents with the enclosed card, which you will fill out, we will put you in direct correspondance with the gentleman, and the degree ordained by the planets will thus be fulfilled. Please show this circuler to your friends, and oblige

"Astrologer."

As the reading proceeded, Lovey Mary's fears gradually diminished, and with a sigh of relief she applied herself to her lunch. But if the letter had proved of no consequence to her, such was not the case with the two women standing at the window. Miss Hazy was re-reading the letter, vainly trying to master the contents.

"Mary," she said, "git up an' see if you can find my other pair of lookin'-glasses. Seems like I can't git the sense of it."

Mrs. Wiggs meanwhile was excitedly commenting on the charms of the "spirit picture":

"My, but he's siylish! Looks fer all the world like a' insurance agent. Looks like he might be a little tall to his size, but I like statute men better 'n dumpy ones. I bet he's got a lot of nice manners. Ain't his smile pleasant!"

Miss Hazy seized the small picture with trembling fingers. "I don't seem to git on to what it's all about, Mis' Wiggs. Ain't they made a mistake or somethin'?"

"No, indeed; there's no mistake at all," declared Mrs. Wiggs. "Yer name's on the back, an' it's meant fer you. Someway yer name's got out as bein' single an' needin' takin' keer of, an' I reckon this here 'strologer, or conjurer, or whatever he is, seen yer good fortune in the stars an' jes wanted to let you know 'bout it."

"Does he want to get married with her?" asked Lovey Mary, beginning to realize the grave importance of the subject under discussion.

"Well, it may lead to that," answered Mrs. Wiggs, hopefully. Surely only a beneficent Providence could have offered such an unexpected solution to the problem of Miss Hazy's future.

Miss Hazy herself uttered faint protests and expostulations, but in spite of herself she was becoming influenced by Mrs. Wiggs's enthusiasm.

"Oh, shoo!" she repeated again and again. "I ain't never had no thought of marryin'."

"Course you ain't," said Mrs. Wiggs. "Good enough reason: you ain't had a show before. Seems to me you'd be flyin' straight in the face of Providence to refuse a stylish, sweet-smilin' man like that."

"He is fine-lookin'," acknowledged Miss Hazy, trying not to appear too pleased; "only I wisht his years didn't stick out so much."

Mrs. Wiggs was exasperated.

"Lawsee! Miss Hazy, what do you think he'll think of yer figger? Have you got so much to brag on, that you kin go to pickin' him to pieces? Do you suppose I'd 'a' dared to judge Mr. Wiggs that away? Why, Mr. Wiggs's nose was as long as a clothespin; but I would no more 'a' thought of his nose without him than I would 'a' thought of him without the nose."

"Well, what do you think I'd orter do 'bout it?" asked Miss Hazy.

"I ain't quite made up my mind," said her mentor. "I'll talk it over with the neighbors. But I 'spect, if we kin skeer up a quarter, that you'll answer by the mornin's mail."

That night Lovey Mary sat in her little attic room and held Tommy close to her hungry heart. All day she worked with the thought of coming back to him at night; but with night came the dustman, and in spite of her games and stories Tommy's blue eyes would get full of the sleep-dust. Tonight, however, he was awake and talkative.

"Ain't I dot no muvver?" he asked.

"No," said Lovey Mary, after a pause.

"Didn't I never had no muvver?"

Lovey Mary sat him up in her lap and looked into his round, inquiring eyes. Her very love for him hardened her heart against the one who had wronged him.

"Yes, darling, you had a mother once, but she was a bad mother, a mean, bad, wicked mother. I hate her--hate her!" Lovey Mary's voice broke in a sob.

"Ma--ry; aw, Ma--ry!" called Miss Hazy up the stairs. "You'll have to come down here to Chris. He's went to sleep with all his clothes on 'crost my bed, an' I can't git him up."

Lovey Mary tucked Tommy under the cover and went to Miss Hazy's assistance.

"One night I had to set up all night 'cause he wouldn't git up," complained Miss Hazy, in hopelessly injured tones.

Lovey Mary wasted no time in idle coaxing. She seized a broom and rapped the sleeper sharply on the legs. His peg-stick was insensible to this insult, but one leg kicked a feeble protest. In vain Lovey Mary tried violent measures; Chris simply shifted his position and slumbered on. Finally she resorted to strategy:

"Listen, Miss Hazy! Ain't that the fire-engine?"

In a moment Chris was hanging half out of the window, demanding, "Where at?"

"You great big lazy boy!" scolded Lovey Mary, as she put Miss Hazy's bed in order. "I'll get you to behaving mighty different if I stay here long enough. What's this?" she added, pulling something from under Miss Hazy's pillow.

"Oh, it ain't nothin'," cried Miss Hazy, reaching for it eagerly. But Lovey Mary had recognized the "spirit picture."