“Better, Mother dear?” Felicia asked, curling down on a footstool at Mrs. Sturgis’s feet.
“Rather, thank you,” said her mother, and fell silent, patting the arm of the chair as though she were considering whether or not to say something more. She said nothing, however, and they sat quietly in the falling dusk, Felicia stroking her mother’s white hand, and Ken humming softly to himself at the window. Kirk and his book were almost lost in the corner—just a pale hint of the page, shadowed by the hand which moved hesitantly across it. The hand paused, finally, and Kirk demanded, “What’s ‘u-g-h’ spell?”
“It spells ’Ugh’!” Ken grunted. “What on earth are you reading? Is that what Miss Bolton gives you!”
“It’s not my lesson,” Kirk said; “it’s much further along. But I can read it.”
“You’ll get a wigging. You’d better stick to ’The cat can catch the mouse,’ et cetera.”
“I finished that years ago,” said Kirk, loftily. “This is a different book, even. Listen to this: ’Ugh! There—sat—the dog with eyes—as—big as—as—’”
“Tea-cups,” said Felicia.
“‘T-e-a-c-’ yes, it is tea-cups,” Kirk conceded; “how did you know, Phil?—’as big as tea-cups,—staring—at—him. “You’re a nice—fellow,” said the soldier, and he—sat him—on—the witch’s ap-ron, and took as many cop—copper shillings—as his—pockets would hold.’”
“So that’s it, is it?” Ken said. “Begin at the beginning, and let’s hear it all.”
“Ken,” said his mother, “that’s in the back of the book. You shouldn’t encourage him to read things Miss Bolton hasn’t given him.”
“It’ll do him just as much good to read that, as that silly stuff at the beginning. Phil and I always read things we weren’t supposed to have reached.”
“But for him—” Mrs. Sturgis murmured; “you and Phil were different, Ken. Oh, well,—”
For Kirk had turned back several broad pages, and began:
“There came a soldier marching along the highroad—one, two! one, two!...”
Little by little the March twilight settled deeper over the room. There was only a flicker on the brass andirons, a blur of pale blossoms where the potted azalea stood. The rain drummed steadily, and as steadily came the gentle modulations of Kirk’s voice, as the tale of “The Tinder-Box” progressed.
It was the first time that he had ever read aloud anything so ambitious, and his hearers sat listening with some emotion—his mother filled with thankfulness that he had at last the key to a vast world which he now might open at a touch; Ken, with a sort of half-amazed pride in the achievements of a little brother who was surmounting such an obstacle. Felicia sat gazing across the dim room.
“He’s reading us a story!” she thought, over and over; “Kirk’s reading to us, without very many mistakes!” She reflected that the book, for her, might as well be written in Sanskrit. “I ought to know something about it,” she mused; “enough to help him! It’s selfish and stupid not to! I’ll ask Miss Bolton.”