A Jewel of Great Price
Every single member of the Spooner family with the exception of Jonah Bean, who declared he didn't have no time to waste a-pleasurin', were going to Emerald, to spend the day with Cousin Hannah Pratt and take part in the Harvest Home festival.
Cousin Hannah, having heard of the new phaeton, declared that now Mrs. Spooner didn't have an earthly thing to prevent her coming to town, and she had sent such urgent entreaties by Roy, that at last the mistress of the ranch was prevailed upon to accept the invitation.
"But I can only spend the day," she declared, "we can't all be spared at once; Jonah is just able to be about, we mustn't leave him too much work to do. The Babe and I will come back in the afternoon, and the girls can stay--and you, Roy?"
There was a little note of interrogation in her voice as she laid her hand affectionately upon the boy's shoulder. She was almost sure that he wouldn't want to go to a party that his grief was too recent.
Roy patted her hand, smiling a little sadly as he shook his head. "I don't feel equal to parties yet," he said.
"And as to both Ruth and me staying, that's out of the question," decided Elizabeth. "There'll be a hundred and one things to do, and you'll try to do them every one. Ruth's going to stay all night because it's her turn--Mary and I went last year. So that's settled, mother."
After some argument, Ruth--who really did want to stay very much, yielded. If Elizabeth wouldn't stay, why she would, and be glad to.
"And you may carry my fan," said Elizabeth generously, "nobody--not even Maudie, will have such a beautiful one. And you shall wear my pink girdle, too, it's newer than your sash."
The Babe sighed. She was having a mental struggle as to whether she could practise self-denial enough to lend her sister the string of coral beads that were the delight of her heart. The situation finally resulted in a compromise.
"And I'll lend you my beads--after I've wore 'em all day. But you mustn't forget to feel every now and then for the catch, to see if it's fastened," she warned.
"Thank you, Babe, I will," laughed Ruth, "and I'll take good care of your fan, too, Elizabeth. Dear me, won't I be fine! Pink coral, and pink girdle, a Spanish fan and my drawn-work handkerchief!"
"I don't approve of girls borrowing things from each other," said Mrs. Spooner, doubtfully. "I've known serious trouble to result from such practices. There's always danger of losing or injuring the things, you know. But, if you sisters want to lend, I won't object. Only be very careful, because you couldn't replace them if they were lost."
"I'll be careful as care, mother--don't you worry." And Ruth ran happily away, to pack her suit-case and get together her simple finery.
There were various attractions to be at the celebration. A brass band from a big town would play in the public square, between speeches by noted members of the State Grange. Pony-races by cowboys from the neighboring ranches, the inevitable roping match, a big open-air dinner for the public, and, to wind up with a dance at night in the town-hall, where the various exhibits from the farms--the grain, fruits and vegetables--were displayed.
As the Spooners desired to see all these spectacles, they started out bright and early; Mrs. Spooner, the Babe and Ruth's suitcase in the phaeton, the girls and Roy riding their ponies.
Cousin Hannah, whose husband--a mild little man, quite overshadowed by his big, bustling wife--was a rancher without a ranch, spending most of his time taking cattle to the fattening ranges above, or to market in other states, lived in a big, flimsily built frame house in the little prairie town of Emerald. Mrs. Pratt boarded the station-agent, the telegraph operator, the school-teacher, and nearly all of what might be termed the floating population of the town.
Maudie, the Pratt's only child, was a girl about Elizabeth's age, rather pretty and very much spoiled by her mother and her grandmother, who lived in another state, and who often had Maudie come and visit her.
Mr. Pratt, who happened to be at home for the festival, with his wife, came out to meet their guests, welcoming them with much hospitality.
"The sight of you's sure good for sore eyes, Jennie," exclaimed Cousin Hannah, as she folded Mrs. Spooner in her ample embrace. "I'm tickled to death to see you! And ain't that buggy a sight. It looks 'most as good as new, I declare!"
"It's not a buggy, Cousin Hannah--it's a phantom," said the Babe, with dignity.
Almost as good as new, indeed! Where were Cousin Hannah's eyes? Very few phaetons looked so new and delightful, to the Babe's vision, anyway, as this vehicle, in whose loving rejuvenation every one of them had been allowed to have a hand.
"A phantom, is it?" laughed Cousin Hannah. "Well, you come in here to the dining-room and find out whether these cookies are phantoms. The big girls want to go up to Maudie's room, I know. Run along, honies, I'll take care of your ma and the Babe, and Mr. Pratt'll look after Roy. Maudie ain't come out, yet; she's feelin' poorly, and wants to save up her strength for to-night. Maudie's right delicate."
"Come in!" called out Maudie, when Elizabeth and Ruth, with the suit-case between them, rapped at her door.
The young lady sat at her dresser, attired in a much trimmed and flowered kimona, leisurely "doing" her nails with a silver-handled polisher from an elaborate dressing-case spread open before her.
"Hello! If it ain't Elizabeth and Ruth!" she greeted, with somewhat condescending cordiality. "You all come in to see the country jays celebrate? Emerald's such a pokey little hole folks are glad to see most anything, for a change."
"If you think Emerald's dull, Maudie, what would you do out on our ranch?" asked Elizabeth, laughingly.
Maudie shuddered. "Horrors! Don't mention it--such a fate would be too unspeakable!"
"Yet Elizabeth and I manage to stand it--and I reckon we're as happy as most girls," protested Ruth, stoutly.
"O, that's because you don't know any better. You've never enjoyed the advantages of city life, as I have," said Maudie superiorly.
"I suppose your grandmother gave you a heap of pretty things, as usual," said Elizabeth, anxious to change the subject.
"O yes, a good many," carelessly replied Maudie. "How do you like this diamond ring? She gave me this on my birthday."
She held out her hand, which was adorned with several rings, one of them a small but showily set diamond.
Elizabeth and Ruth viewed the jewel with admiring amazement. Neither one of them had ever seen a diamond before, and to their untutored eyes it represented splendor indeed.
"Try it on," said Maudie affably, pleased with their exclamations of delighted wonder. It was much too large for Elizabeth's slender finger, but it fitted Ruth's plumper one pretty well.
Maudie replaced the ring on her own finger, and lifted out the tray of her trunk. "What are you girls going to wear to-night?" she asked carelessly.
"I'm not going to stay, but Ruth will wear her white dress," said Elizabeth. Somehow Ruth felt as if she couldn't speak of her poor little frock among all Maudie's radiant treasures.
"Oh," Maudie's eyebrows lifted slightly. "Let me show you what I'm going to wear." And she unfolded and shook out the shimmering breadths of a pale blue summer silk, lavishly trimmed with lace and ribbon.
"O-o-o!" breathed Ruth, rapturously, "I never saw such a perfectly beautiful dress, Maudie!"
And Elizabeth echoed, warmly, "A beautiful dress--and just the color I'd like, if I ever had a party dress."
"It is rather pretty, I think," acknowledged Maudie, with the air of a person to whom silks are a matter of course. She took out more dresses, dazzling the eyes of her country cousins with the sight of so much magnificence, and making poor Ruth feel very shabby indeed.
"My pink challis or blue mull would fit you exactly, Elizabeth--you're tall as I am. Stay all night and I'll lend you either one of them you want. I'd like to have you stay, too--the girls here are so common."
Elizabeth's cheeks flushed redly. Evidently Cousin Hannah had made no further disclosures. To Maudie, Elizabeth was still her cousin, and a Spooner--the name that had once seemed so commonplace and now so beautiful compared to that of the despised movers.
"O, but really I can't stay, Maudie; it's good of you to want me, and to offer to lend me your beautiful clothes, but mother can't spare us both very well, and Mary and I came last year, you know!"
"O, well, if you won't you won't. But I should think you'd jump at the chance of going to a party," said Maudie, who did not bother over consideration for her own mother.
Just then Cousin Hannah poked her head in at the door. "Maudie, honey," she asked, conciliatingly, "can't you just run in and set the table when dinner's ready, so's I can stay up town with your Cousin Jennie and the girls? And if the telegraph operator comes in give him his dinner? You know he has to have it early."
"Why on earth can't the cook give him his dinner?" frowned Maudie, petulantly. "I hate that old operator, anyway. Isn't the cook hired to set the table? I ain't feeling well, and I don't want to overdo so's I can't go to the hall to-night."
"O, well," said her mother, resignedly, "I reckon I'll hurry back and 'tend to it myself, if you ain't feelin' well."
But Ruth spoke up eagerly: "Let me do it, Cousin Hannah. I don't care about going up town--and I'd love to do it for you."
"Bless your heart--you're a reg'lar little help-all!" beamed Cousin Hannah, gratefully, and with Mrs. Spooner and Elizabeth, went on her way in great content, knowing that everything would go on well at home.
Maudie stayed in her room and spent her time deciding on her party finery, while busy Ruth swept and dusted the big dining room, that was always in a state of more or less disorder, laid the table carefully and had the operator's dinner ready punctually.
"Have a good time, little daughter," Mrs. Spooner said to Ruth, when at the close of a long day of sightseeing she and the Babe were once more seated in the phaeton. And Ruth replied happily that she would--she was certain of having a perfectly beautiful time.
That night she wiped the supper dishes for the cook, and, after she had dressed, helped to button Cousin Hannah into her own tight and unaccustomed dress-up clothes.
Maudie, who declared that she never liked to be among the first because it was more genteel to be late, took a long time to dress but really looked quite pretty in her pale blue frock; Ruth, with heartily sincere appreciation, told her so.
"Thank you," acknowledged Maudie, languidly, eyeing Ruth's laundered white dress and pink girdle with tolerant pity. Then her eyes falling on Elizabeth's fan her expression changed to eager covetousness.
"Where in the world did you get that fan?" she asked. "Do you--do you really think it matches your dress? It seems to me a fan like that is out of place with a wash dress. I haven't one. I lost mine when I was at grandmother's."
"This is Elizabeth's; father sent it from Cuba."
Ruth spoke rather hesitatingly; she would have offered to lend the ornament at once, if it had been her own, for she was a generous little soul, but she did not feel like risking Elizabeth's property.
"I say," spoke Maudie abruptly, "lend me the fan, Ruth, and I'll let you wear my diamond ring."
"O, Maudie!" gasped Ruth, hesitation in her heart but delight in her eyes, "I couldn't--I oughtn't to wear your ring. Something might happen."
"Not a thing'll happen," declared Maudie impatiently. "Here, let me put it on your finger. No it isn't too loose, either; my finger's just as small as yours. I wish this fan was mine. It would have cost a lot over here, but in Cuba it's different--or of course your father couldn't have afforded it."
She had coolly appropriated Elizabeth's fan, waving it to and fro with complacent admiration. All Emerald had seen the diamond, but the fan was entirely new, and she realized that it would be greatly admired.
Poor little Ruth, dazzled by the flashing ring, forgot her mother's disapproval of borrowing, and went to the hall with a light heart.
The Spooner girls had gone to school in Emerald when their father was at home, and they could be spared from the ranch, so she knew all the boys and girls who were present, and was soon having a very jolly and sociable time, while Maudie, as befitting a person accustomed to city life, was moving about among the crowd with a rather bored air, displaying her finery to the admiring eyes of her neighbors, and waving Elizabeth's fan languidly.
Still, for all her indifferent air, Maudie felt aggrieved that Ruth, in her shabby white lawn, should receive so much attention, while she in her blue silk was comparatively neglected.
As she sat beside her mother and watched Ruth dancing merrily to the music of the band, Maudie felt a growing rancor towards her unoffending cousin, finally deciding that she would put an end to the enjoyment she could not take part in.
"I want to go home, I'm tired of it all--it is so stupid," she complained to her mother. "Besides, I don't feel very well. Call Ruth and let's go right away."
"No use disturbing Ruth, she seems to be enjoying herself, if you ain't," remarked Mr. Pratt, mildly. "Any of the young folks'll see her home safe."
But Maudie flatly refused to go without Ruth, who was hastily summoned from her dance by Cousin Hannah, and hustled unceremoniously away from the hall.
"O, I did have such a good time!" said Ruth, radiantly. "I'm so sorry we had to come away so soon, Maudie."
"It takes mighty little to give some folks a good time," said Maudie, tartly. "I thought the crowd was awfully coarse and common, even for Emerald. I hope you took good care of my ring," she continued, sharply, for Ruth uttering an exclamation, of fear, had stopped and was groping wildly about in the sand at her feet.
"O, Maudie!" Ruth's voice quavered with fear, "O, Maudie--I've lost it!"
"Lost my diamond ring!" Maudie shrilled wrathfully, "O, why was I such a goose as to lend it to you!"
"What's that? Your diamond ring that Grandma Pratt gave you? O, my me! Was Ruth wearing it? How'd that come? Whatever made you go and lose it, Ruth?" groaned Cousin Hannah, not waiting for a reply to any of her questions.
"It--it was too large," faltered Ruth, "it must have slipped off my finger. We'll find it in a minute. I know I had it on when we left the hail; I kept feeling of it because it didn't fit me very well."
"Then you'd no business to borrow it," scolded Cousin Hannah. "What made you wear it, if it was too loose?"
"Maudie wanted Elizabeth's fan," explained Ruth, miserably. "And--and she lent me the ring in place of it. I told her then it was too large."
"Yes, blame it all on me!" reproached Maudie, bitterly. "Here--take your old fan! I reckon it didn't cost more than a few cents, but at least I took care of it!"
"Think where you had it last, Ruth--think hard!" implored Cousin Hannah, distractedly, "I'd hate so for that expensive ring to be lost--just throwed away, you might say. I don't know what we could say to Grandma Pratt."
"I had it in the hall, I'm certain," said Ruth, dull with woe. "Of course I don't remember where or when it came off my finger."
"Then we'll go right back to the hall and search for it," decided Mr. Pratt. "Come along. No use in making so much fuss, Maudie. Wait till you're plumb certain it's gone for good."
Back to the still crowded hall they went, and poor Ruth, in bitter mortification, had to listen to Maudie's shrill announcement to all and sundry of the fact that Ruth had borrowed her diamond, and then lost it. Which came, she explained loudly, of lending things to people who weren't used to them, and couldn't understand their value.
"O," thought poor Ruth, in her despairing heart, "if I'd only listened to mother I never would have been in all this trouble--if I'd only listened to mother!"
Mr. Pratt, going to the young men who had charge of the hall, made known to them the loss, and there was much searching, but all without result--Maudie's ring was indeed gone!
Downheartedly the party trailed along home; Maudie in tears, sobbing wrathfully that she would never, never lend her things again--no matter if people did beg and pray her to do it. No indeed, she had learned a lesson!
And Cousin Hannah, with torturing insistence, kept asking over and over again if Ruth couldn't remember where she had lost the ring. She ought to try and remember, seeing that it was her own fault. She oughtn't to have worn a ring she knew was too loose for her finger.
To these questions Ruth could only answer, over and again, that she didn't know--she didn't know! Indeed she was fast becoming hysterical with fright and worry.
Then mild little Mr. Pratt astonished them all by speaking with authority that commanded attention.
"That's quite enough, Hannah," he said sharply. "Maudie, don't let's have any more noise from you! If your ring's gone it's gone, that's all there is to it. I told mother, when she asked me about it, that it was foolish to give you a diamond when you was so young. I don't know if I ain't glad it's lost, if you want my opinion. Now understand, I want an end to all this talk. No use in badgerin' poor Ruth to death, either, Hannah."
"For pity's sake, Jim!" exclaimed Cousin Hannah, "I didn't aim to badger the child. There, honey, don't cry over it--accidents will happen. I didn't aim to hurt your feelin's, no mor'n you aimed to lose the ring. I was jest sorter flustered-like." And she patted Ruth's hand soothingly.
Maudie, though sniffing dolefully, said no more at the moment, being warned by a certain unaccustomed note in her father's voice that his commands must be obeyed. But in the privacy of their room that night she turned the thumbscrews on poor Ruth with savage pressure.
"Of course people who are just a little above paupers can lose other people's property without worrying much about it," she remarked sarcastically.
And Ruth, in a burst of indignation at such aspersions on her family, answered spiritedly: "No such thing, Maudie Pratt! I intend to pay you for your ring, of course."
"Pay me?" Maudie jeered, scornfully. "O yes, it's likely you'll ever be able to pay me a hundred dollars for my diamond!"
Ruth gasped--the amount was so far above her calculation. But her fighting blood was up, for the honor of her family was at stake.
"I haven't the money on hand, but I'll certainly pay you by next Thanksgiving," she said, with proud resolution.
And the green cardboard box at home, containing all the money she possessed in the world, held just thirty-five cents!