Chapter XX. Faith Makes A Friend
 

NEXT day in school was a hard one for Faith. Mary Vance had told the tale of Adam, and all the scholars, except the Blythes, thought it quite a joke. The girls told Faith, between giggles, that it was too bad, and the boys wrote sardonic notes of condolence to her. Poor Faith went home from school feeling her very soul raw and smarting within her.

"I'm going over to Ingleside to have a talk with Mrs. Blythe," she sobbed. "She won't laugh at me, as everybody else does. I've just got to talk to somebody who understands how bad I feel."

She ran down through Rainbow Valley. Enchantment had been at work the night before. A light snow had fallen and the powdered firs were dreaming of a spring to come and a joy to be. The long hill beyond was richly purple with leafless beeches. The rosy light of sunset lay over the world like a pink kiss. Of all the airy, fairy places, full of weird, elfin grace, Rainbow Valley that winter evening was the most beautiful. But all its dreamlike loveliness was lost on poor, sore-hearted little Faith.

By the brook she came suddenly upon Rosemary West, who was sitting on the old pine tree. She was on her way home from Ingleside, where she had been giving the girls their music lesson. She had been lingering in Rainbow Valley quite a little time, looking across its white beauty and roaming some by-ways of dream. Judging from the expression of her face, her thoughts were pleasant ones. Perhaps the faint, occasional tinkle from the bells on the Tree Lovers brought the little lurking smile to her lips. Or perhaps it was occasioned by the consciousness that John Meredith seldom failed to spend Monday evening in the gray house on the white wind-swept hill.

Into Rosemary's dreams burst Faith Meredith full of rebellious bitterness. Faith stopped abruptly when she saw Miss West. She did not know her very well-- just well enough to speak to when they met. And she did not want to see any one just then--except Mrs. Blythe. She knew her eyes and nose were red and swollen and she hated to have a stranger know she had been crying.

"Good evening, Miss West," she said uncomfortably.

"What is the matter, Faith ?" asked Rosemary gently.

"Nothing," said Faith rather shortly.

"Oh!" Rosemary smiled. "You mean nothing that you can tell to outsiders, don't you?"

Faith looked at Miss West with sudden interest. Here was a person who understood things. And how pretty she was! How golden her hair was under her plumy hat! How pink her cheeks were over her velvet coat! How blue and companionable her eyes were! Faith felt that Miss West could be a lovely friend- -if only she were a friend instead of a stranger!

"I--I'm going up to tell Mrs. Blythe," said Faith. "She always understands-- she never laughs at us. I always talk things over with her. It helps."

"Dear girlie, I'm sorry to have to tell you that Mrs. Blythe isn't home," said Miss West, sympathetically. "She went to Avonlea to-day and isn't coming back till the last of the week."

Faith's lip quivered.

"Then I might as well go home again," she said miserably.

"I suppose so--unless you think you could bring yourself to talk it over with me instead," said Miss Rosemary gently. "It is such a help to talk things over. I know. I don't suppose I can be as good at understanding as Mrs. Blythe--but I promise you that I won't laugh."

"You wouldn't laugh outside," hesitated Faith. "But you might--inside."

"No, I wouldn't laugh inside, either. Why should I? Something has hurt you-- it never amuses me to see anybody hurt, no matter what hurts them. If you feel that you'd like to tell me what has hurt you I'll be glad to listen. But if you think you'd rather not--that's all right, too, dear."

Faith took another long, earnest look into Miss West's eyes. They were very serious--there was no laughter in them, not even far, far back. With a little sigh she sat down on the old pine beside her new friend and told her all about Adam and his cruel fate.

Rosemary did not laugh or feel like laughing. She understood and sympathized- -really, she was almost as good as Mrs. Blythe--yes, quite as good.

"Mr. Perry is a minister, but he should have been a butcher," said Faith bitterly. "He is so fond of carving things up. He enjoyed cutting poor Adam to pieces. He just sliced into him as if he were any common rooster."

"Between you and me, Faith, I don't like Mr. Perry very well myself," said Rosemary, laughing a little--but at Mr. Perry, not at Adam, as Faith clearly understood. "I never did like him. I went to school with him--he was a Glen boy, you know--and he was a most detestable little prig even then. Oh, how we girls used to hate holding his fat, clammy hands in the ring-around games. But we must remember, dear, that he didn't know that Adam had been a pet of yours. He thought he was just a common rooster. We must be just, even when we are terribly hurt."

"I suppose so," admitted Faith. "But why does everybody seem to think it funny that I should have loved Adam so much, Miss West? If it had been a horrid old cat nobody would have thought it queer. When Lottie Warren's kitten had its legs cut off by the binder everybody was sorry for her. She cried two days in school and nobody laughed at her, not even Dan Reese. And all her chums went to the kitten's funeral and helped her bury it--only they couldn't bury its poor little paws with it, because they couldn't find them. It was a horrid thing to have happen, of course, but I don't think it was as dreadful as seeing your pet eaten up. Yet everybody laughs at me."

"I think it is because the name 'rooster' seems rather a funny one," said Rosemary gravely. "There is something in it that is comical. Now, 'chicken' is different. It doesn't sound so funny to talk of loving a chicken."

"Adam was the dearest little chicken, Miss West. He was just a little golden ball. He would run up to me and peck out of my hand. And he was handsome when he grew up, too--white as snow, with such a beautiful curving white tail, though Mary Vance said it was too short. He knew his name and always came when I called him--he was a very intelligent rooster. And Aunt Martha had no right to kill him. He was mine. It wasn't fair, was it, Miss West?"

"No, it wasn't," said Rosemary decidedly. "Not a bit fair. I remember I had a pet hen when I was a little girl. She was such a pretty little thing--all golden brown and speckly. I loved her as much as I ever loved any pet. She was never killed--she died of old age. Mother wouldn't have her killed because she was my pet."

"If my mother had been living she wouldn't have let Adam be killed," said Faith. "For that matter, father wouldn't have either, if he'd been home and known of it. I'm sure he wouldn't, Miss West."

"I'm sure, too," said Rosemary. There was a little added flush on her face. She looked rather conscious but Faith noticed nothing.

"Was it very wicked of me not to tell Mr. Perry his coat-tails were scorching?" she asked anxiously.

"Oh, terribly wicked," answered Rosemary, with dancing eyes. "But I would have been just as naughty, Faith--I wouldn't have told him they were scorching-- and I don't believe I would ever have been a bit sorry for my wickedness, either."

"Una thought I should have told him because he was a minister."

"Dearest, if a minister doesn't behave as a gentleman we are not bound to respect his coat-tails. I know I would just have loved to see Jimmy Perry's coat-tails burning up. It must have been fun."

Both laughed; but Faith ended with a bitter little sigh.

"Well, anyway, Adam is dead and I am never going to love anything again."

"Don't say that, dear. We miss so much out of life if we don't love. The more we love the richer life is--even if it is only some little furry or feathery pet. Would you like a canary, Faith--a little golden bit of a canary? If you would I'll give you one. We have two up home."

"Oh, I would like that," cried Faith. "I love birds. Only--would Aunt Martha's cat eat it? It's so tragic to have your pets eaten. I don't think I could endure it a second time."

"If you hang the cage far enough from the wall I don't think the cat could harm it. I'll tell you just how to take care of it and I'll bring it to Ingleside for you the next time I come down."

To herself, Rosemary was thinking,

"It will give every gossip in the Glen something to talk of, but I will not care. I want to comfort this poor little heart."

Faith was comforted. Sympathy and understanding were very sweet. She and Miss Rosemary sat on the old pine until the twilight crept softly down over the white valley and the evening star shone over the gray maple grove. Faith told Rosemary all her small history and hopes, her likes and dislikes, the ins and outs of life at the manse, the ups and downs of school society. Finally they parted firm friends.

Mr. Meredith was, as usual, lost in dreams when supper began that evening, but presently a name pierced his abstraction and brought him back to reality. Faith was telling Una of her meeting with Rosemary.

"She is just lovely, I think," said Faith. "Just as nice as Mrs. Blythe--but different. I felt as if I wanted to hug her. She did hug me --such a nice, velvety hug. And she called me 'dearest.' It thrilled me. I could tell her anything."

"So you liked Miss West, Faith?" Mr. Meredith asked, with a rather odd intonation.

"I love her," cried Faith.

"Ah !" said Mr. Meredith. "Ah!"