But Lucina pressed forward, thrusting in his very face her little precious cup of treasure. “Please take this, boy,” said she, and her voice rang soft and sweet as a silver flute. “It is money I’ve been saving up to buy a parrot. But a parrot is a noisy bird, mother says, and maybe I could not love it as well as I love my lamb, and so its feelings would be hurt. I don’t want a parrot, after all, and I want you to take this and buy some shoes.” So said little Lucina Merritt, making her sweet assumption of selfishness to cover her unselfishness, for the noisy parrot was the desire of her heart, and to her father’s eyes she bore the aspect of an angel, and he swallowed a great sob of mingled admiration and awe and intensest love. And indeed the child’s face as she stood there had about it something celestial, for every line and every curve therein were as the written words of purest compassion; and in her innocent blue eyes stood self-forgetful tears.
Even the boy Jerome, with the pride of poverty to which he had been born and bred, like a bitter savor in his heart, stared at her a moment, his eyes dilated, his mouth quivering, and half advanced his hand to take the gift so sweetly offered. Then all at once the full tide of self rushed over him with all its hard memories and resolutions. His eyes gave out that black flash of wrath, which the poor little Lucina had feared, yet braved and forgot through her fond pity, he dashed out the back of his hand so roughly against that small tender one that all the silver pieces were jostled out to the floor, and rushed out of the door.
Squire Eben Merritt made an indignant exclamation and one threatening stride after him, then stopped, and caught up the weeping little Lucina, and sought to soothe her as best he might.
“Never mind, Pretty; never mind, Pretty,” he said, rubbing his rough face against her soft one, in a way which was used to make her laugh. “Father ’ll buy you a parrot that will talk the roof off.”
“I don’t—want a parrot, father,” sobbed the little girl. “I want the boy to have shoes.”
“Summer is coming, Pretty,” said Squire Eben, laughingly and caressingly, “and a boy is better off without shoes than with them.”
“He won’t—have any—for next winter.”
“Oh yes, he shall. I’ll fix it so he shall earn some for himself before then—that’s the way, Pretty. Father was to blame. He ought to have known better than to let you offer money to him. He’s a proud child.” The Squire laughed. “Now, don’t cry any more, Pretty. Run away and play. Father’s going fishing, and he’ll bring you home some pretty pink fishes for your supper. Don’t cry any more, because poor father can’t go while you cry, and he has been delayed a long time, and the fishes will have eaten their dinner and won’t bite if he doesn’t hurry.”
Lucina, who was docile even in grief, tried to laugh, and when her father set her down with a great kiss, which seemed to include her whole rosy face pressed betwixt his two hands, picked up her rejected silver from the floor, put it away in the little box in which she kept it, and sat down in a window of the south room to nurse her doll. She nodded and laughed dutifully when her father, going forth at last to the still pools and the brook courses, with his tackle in hand, looked back and nodded whimsically at her.