Chapter XI. A Dreadful Discovery
 

"WELL, you kids have gone and done it now," was Mary's greeting, as she joined them in the Valley. Miss Cornelia was up at Ingleside, holding agonized conclave with Anne and Susan, and Mary hoped that the session might be a long one, for it was all of two weeks since she had been allowed to revel with her chums in the dear valley of rainbows.

"Done what?" demanded everybody but Walter, who was day-dreaming as usual.

"It's you manse young ones, I mean," said Mary. "It was just awful of you. I wouldn't have done such a thing for the world, and I weren't brought up in a manse--weren't brought up anywhere --just come up."

"What have we done?" asked Faith blankly.

"Done! You'd better ask! The talk is something terrible. I expect it's ruined your father in this congregation. He'll never be able to live it down, poor man! Everybody blames him for it, and that isn't fair. But nothing is fair in this world. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves."

"What have we done?" asked Una again, despairingly. Faith said nothing, but her eyes flashed golden-brown scorn at Mary.

"Oh, don't pretend innocence," said Mary, witheringly. "Everybody knows what you have done."

"I don't," interjected Jem Blythe indignantly. "Don't let me catch you making Una cry, Mary Vance. What are you talking about?"

"I s'pose you don't know, since you're just back from up west," said Mary, somewhat subdued. Jem could always manage her. "But everybody else knows, you'd better believe."

"Knows what?"

"That Faith and Una stayed home from Sunday School last Sunday and cleaned house."

"We didn't," cried Faith and Una, in passionate denial.

Mary looked haughtily at them.

"I didn't suppose you'd deny it, after the way you've combed me down for lying," she said. "What's the good of saying you didn't? Everybody knows you did. Elder Clow and his wife saw you. Some people say it will break up the church, but I don't go that far. You are nice ones."

Nan Blythe stood up and put her arms around the dazed Faith and Una.

"They were nice enough to take you in and feed you and clothe you when you were starving in Mr. Taylor's barn, Mary Vance," she said. "You are very grateful, I must say."

"I am grateful," retorted Mary. "You'd know it if you'd heard me standing up for Mr. Meredith through thick and thin. I've blistered my tongue talking for him this week. I've said again and again that he isn't to blame if his young ones did clean house on Sunday. He was away--and they knew better."

"But we didn't," protested Una. "It was Monday we cleaned house. Wasn't it, Faith?"

"Of course it was," said Faith, with flashing eyes. "We went to Sunday School in spite of the rain--and no one came--not even Elder Abraham, for all his talk about fair-weather Christians."

"It was Saturday it rained," said Mary. "Sunday was as fine as silk. I wasn't at Sunday School because I had toothache, but every one else was and they saw all your stuff out on the lawn. And Elder Abraham and Mrs. Elder Abraham saw you shaking rugs in the graveyard."

Una sat down among the daisies and began to cry.

"Look here," said Jem resolutely, "this thing must be cleared up. Somebody has made a mistake. Sunday was fine, Faith. How could you have thought Saturday was Sunday?"

"Prayer-meeting was Thursday night," cried Faith, "and Adam flew into the soup-pot on Friday when Aunt Martha's cat chased him, and spoiled our dinner; and Saturday there was a snake in the cellar and Carl caught it with a forked stick and carried it out, and Sunday it rained. So there!"

"Prayer-meeting was Wednesday night," said Mary. "Elder Baxter was to lead and he couldn't go Thursday night and it was changed to Wednesday. You were just a day out, Faith Meredith, and you did work on Sunday."

Suddenly Faith burst into a peal of laughter.

"I suppose we did. What a joke!"

"It isn't much of a joke for your father," said Mary sourly.

"It'll be all right when people find out it was just a mistake," said Faith carelessly. "We'll explain."

"You can explain till you're black in the face," said Mary, "but a lie like that'll travel faster'n further than you ever will. I 've seen more of the world than you and I know. Besides, there are plenty of folks won't believe it was a mistake."

"They will if I tell them," said Faith.

"You can't tell everybody," said Mary. "No, I tell you you've disgraced your father."

Una's evening was spoiled by this dire reflection, but Faith refused to be made uncomfortable. Besides, she had a plan that would put everything right. So she put the past with its mistake behind her and gave herself over to enjoyment of the present. Jem went away to fish and Walter came out of his reverie and proceeded to describe the woods of heaven. Mary pricked up her ears and listened respectfully. Despite her awe of Walter she revelled in his "book talk." It always gave her a delightful sensation. Walter had been reading his Coleridge that day, and he pictured a heaven where

"There were gardens bright with sinuous rills Where blossomed many an incense bearing tree, And there were forests ancient as the hills Enfolding sunny spots of greenery." "I didn't know there was any woods in heaven," said Mary, with a long breath. "I thought it was all streets--and streets--and streets."

"Of course there are woods," said Nan. "Mother can't live without trees and I can't, so what would be the use of going to heaven if there weren't any trees?"

"There are cities, too," said the young dreamer, "splendid cities--coloured just like the sunset, with sapphire towers and rainbow domes. They are built of gold and diamonds--whole streets of diamonds, flashing like the sun. In the squares there are crystal fountains kissed by the light, and everywhere the asphodel blooms--the flower of heaven."

"Fancy!" said Mary. "I saw the main street in Charlottetown once and I thought it was real grand, but I s'pose it's nothing to heaven. Well, it all sounds gorgeous the way you tell it, but won't it be kind of dull, too?"

"Oh, I guess we can have some fun when the angels' backs are turned," said Faith comfortably.

"Heaven is all fun," declared Di.

"The Bible doesn't say so," cried Mary, who had read so much of the Bible on Sunday afternoons under Miss Cornelia's eye that she now considered herself quite an authority on it.

"Mother says the Bible language is figurative," said Nan.

"Does that mean that it isn't true?" asked Mary hopefully.

"No--not exactly--but I think it means that heaven will be just like what you'd like it to be."

"I'd like it to be just like Rainbow Valley," said Mary, "with all you kids to gas and play with. That's good enough for me. Anyhow, we can't go to heaven till we're dead and maybe not then, so what's the use of worrying? Here's Jem with a string of trout and it's my turn to fry them."

"We ought to know more about heaven than Walter does when we're the minister's family," said Una, as they walked home that night.

"We know just as much, but Walter can imagine," said Faith. "Mrs. Elliott says he gets it from his mother."

"I do wish we hadn't made that mistake about Sunday," sighed Una.

"Don't worry over that. I've thought of a great plan to explain so that everybody will know," said Faith. "Just wait till to-morrow night."