Aunt Kipp by
Louisa M. Alcott
"Children and fools speak the truth."
"What's that sigh for, Polly dear?" "I'm tired, mother, tired of
working and waiting. If I'm ever going to have any fun, I want it
now while I can enjoy it."
"You shouldn't wait another hour if I could have my way; but you
know how helpless I am;" and poor Mrs. Snow sighed dolefully, as she
glanced about the dingy room and pretty Mary turning her faded gown
for the second time.
"If Aunt Kipp would give us the money she is always talking about,
instead of waiting till she dies, we should be so comfortable. She
is a dreadful bore, for she lives in such terror of dropping dead with
her heart-complaint that she doesn't take any pleasure in life herself
or let any one else; so the sooner she goes the better for all of us,"
said Polly, in a desperate tone; for things looked very black to her
"My dear, don't say that," began her mother, mildly shocked; but a
bluff little voice broke in with the forcible remark,—
"She's everlastingly telling me never to put off till to-morrow what
can be done to-day; next time she comes I'll remind her of that, and
ask her, if she is going to die, why she doesn't do it?"
"Toady! you're a wicked, disrespectful boy; never let me hear you say
such a thing again about your dear Aunt Kipp."
"She isn't dear! You know we all hate her, and you are more afraid of
her than you are of spiders,—so now."
The young personage whose proper name had been corrupted into Toady,
was a small boy of ten or eleven, apple-cheeked, round-eyed, and
curly-headed; arrayed in well-worn, gray knickerbockers, profusely
adorned with paint, glue, and shreds of cotton. Perched on a high
stool, at an isolated table in a state of chaos, he was absorbed in
making a boat, entirely oblivious of the racking tooth-ache which had
been his excuse for staying from school. As cool, saucy, hard-handed,
and soft-hearted a little specimen of young America was Toady as you
would care to see; a tyrant at home, a rebel at school, a sworn foe
to law, order, and Aunt Kipp. This young person was regarded as a
reprobate by all but his mother, sister, and sister's sweetheart, Van
Bahr Lamb. Having been, through much anguish of flesh and spirit,
taught that lying was a deadly sin, Toady rushed to the other extreme,
and bolted out the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,
at all times and places, with a startling abruptness that brought
wrath and dismay upon his friends and relatives.
"It's wicked to fib; you've whipped that into me and you can't rub it
out," he was wont to say, with vivid recollection of the past tingling
in the chubby portions of his frame.
"Mind your chips, Toady, and take care what you say to Aunt Kipp, or
you'll be as poor as a little rat all the days of your life," said
"I don't want her old money, and I'll tell her so if she bothers me
about it. I shall go into business with Van and take care of the whole
lot; so don't you preach, Polly," returned Toady, with as much dignity
as was compatible with a great dab of glue on the end of his snub
"Mother, did aunt say anything about coming this week?" asked Polly,
after a pause of intense thought over a breadth with three darns, two
spots, and a burn.
"Yes; she wrote that she was too feeble to come at present, as she had
such dreadful palpitations she didn't dare stir from her room. So we
are quite safe for the next week at least, and—bless my soul, there
she is now!"
Mrs. Snow clasped her hands with a gesture of dismay, and sat as if
transfixed by the spectacle of a ponderous lady, in an awe-inspiring
bonnet, who came walking slowly down the street. Polly gave a groan,
and pulled a bright ribbon from her hair. Toady muttered, "Oh,
bother!" and vainly attempted to polish up his countenance with a
"Nothing but salt fish for dinner," wailed Mrs. Snow, as the shadow of
the coming event fell upon her.
"Van will make a fool of himself, and ruin everything," sighed Polly,
glancing at the ring on her finger.
"I know she'll kiss me; she never will let a fellow alone," growled
Toady, scowling darkly.
The garden gate clashed, dust flew from the door-mat, a heavy step
echoed in the hall, an imperious voice called "Sophy!" and Aunt Kipp
entered with a flourish of trumpets, for Toady blew a blast through
his fingers which made the bows totter on her bonnet.
"My dear aunt, I'm very glad to see you," murmured Mrs. Snow,
advancing with a smile of welcome; for though as weak as water gruel,
she was as kind-hearted a little woman as ever lived.
"What a fib that was!" said Toady, sotto voce.
"We were just saying we were afraid you wouldn't"—began Mary, when a
warning, "Mind now, Polly," caused her to stop short and busy herself
with the newcomer's bag and umbrella.
"I changed my mind. Theodore, come and kiss me," answered Aunt Kipp,
"Yes'm," was the plaintive reply, and, closing his eyes, Toady awaited
his fate with fortitude.
But the dreaded salute did not come, for Aunt Kipp exclaimed in
"Mercy on us! has the boy got the plague?"
"No'm, it's paint, and dirt, and glue, and it won't come off," said
Toady, stroking his variegated countenance with grateful admiration
for the stains that saved him.
"Go and wash this moment, sir. Thank Heaven, I've got no boys,"
cried Aunt Kipp. as if boys were some virulent disease which she had
With a hasty peck at the lips of her two elder relatives, the old lady
seated herself, and slowly removed the awful bonnet, which in shape
and hue much resembled a hearse hung with black crape.
"I'm glad you are better," said Mary, reverently receiving the
"I'm not better," cut in Aunt Kipp. "I'm worse, much worse; my days
are numbered; I stand on the brink of the tomb, and may drop at any
Toady's face was a study, as he glanced up at the old lady's florid
countenance, down at the floor, as if in search of the above-mentioned
"brink," and looked unaffectedly anxious to see her drop. "Why don't
you, then?" was on his lips; but a frown from Polly restrained him,
and he sat himself down on the rug to contemplate the corpulent
"Have a cup of tea, aunt?" said Mrs. Snow.
"Lie down and rest a little," suggested Polly.
"Can we do anything for you?" said both.
"Take my things away, and have dinner early."
Both departed to perform these behests, and, leaning back in her
chair, Aunt Kipp reposed.
"I say, what's a bore?" asked Toady from the rug, where he sat rocking
meditatively to and fro, holding on by his shoe-strings.
"It's a kind of a pig, very fierce, and folks are afraid of 'em," said
Aunt Kipp, whose knowledge of Natural History was limited.
"Good for Polly! so you are!" sung out the boy, with the hearty
child's laugh so pleasant to most ears.
"What do you mean, sir?" demanded the old lady, irefully poking at him
with her umbrella.
"Why, Polly said you were a bore," explained Toady, with artless
frankness. "You are fat, you know, and fierce sometimes, and folks
are afraid of you. Good, wasn't it?"
"Very! Mary is a nice, grateful, respectful, loving niece, and I
shan't forget her, she may depend on that," and Aunt Kipp laughed
"May she? well, that's jolly now. She was afraid you wouldn't give her
the money; so I'll tell her it's all right;" and innocent Toady nodded
"Oh, she expects some of my money, does she?"
"Course she does; ain't you always saying you'll remember us in your
will, because father was your favorite nephew, and all that? I'll tell
you a secret, if you won't let Polly know I spoke first. You'll find
it out to-night, for you 'd see Van and she were sweethearts in a
"Sweethearts?" cried Aunt Kipp, turning red in the face.
"Yes'm. Van settled it last week, and Polly's been so happy ever
since. Mother likes it, and I like it, for I'm fond of Van, though
I do call him Baa-baa, because he looks like a sheep. We all like it,
and we 'd all say so, if we were not afraid of you. Mother and Polly,
I mean; of course we men don't mind, but we don't want a fuss. You
won't make one, will you, now?"
Anything more expressive of brotherly good-will, persuasive frankness,
and a placid consciousness of having "fixed it," than Toady's dirty
little face, it would be hard to find. Aunt Kipp eyed him so fiercely
that even before she spoke a dim suspicion that something was wrong
began to dawn on his too-confiding soul.
"I don't like it, and I'll put a stop to it. I won't have any
ridiculous baa-baas in my family. If Mary counts on my money to begin
housekeeping with, she'll find herself mistaken; for not one penny
shall she have, married or single, and you may tell her so."
Toady was so taken aback by this explosion that he let go his
shoe-strings, fell over with a crash, and lay flat, with shovel and
tongs spread upon him like a pall. In rushed Mrs. Snow and Polly, to
find the boy's spirits quite quenched, for once, and Aunt Kipp in a
towering passion. It all came out in one overwhelming flood of words,
and Toady fled from the storm to wander round the house, a prey to
the deepest remorse. The meekness of that boy at dinner-time was so
angelic that Mrs. Snow would have feared speedy translation for him,
if she had not been very angry. Polly's red eyes, and Aunt Kipp's
griffinesque expression of countenance, weighed upon his soul so
heavily, that even roly-poly pudding failed to assuage his trouble,
and, taking his mother into the china-closet, he anxiously inquired
"if it was all up with Polly?"
"I'm afraid so, for aunt vows she will make a new will to-morrow, and
leave every penny to the Charitable Rag-bag Society," sighed Mrs.
"I didn't mean to do it, I truly didn't! I thought I'd just 'give her
a hint,' as you say. She looked all right, and laughed when I told her
about being a bore, and I thought she liked it. If she was a man, I'd
thrash her for making Polly cry;" and Toady shook his fist at Aunt
Kipp's umbrella, which was an immense relief to his perturbed spirit.
"Bless the boy! I do believe he would!" cried Mrs. Snow, watching the
little turkey-cock with maternal pride. "You can't do that: so just be
careful and not make any more mischief, dear."
"I'll try, mother; but I'm always getting into scrapes with Aunt Kipp.
She's worse than measles, any day,—such an old aggrawater! Van's
coming this afternoon, won't he make her pleasant again?"
"Oh, dear, no! He will probably make things ten times worse, he's so
bashful and queer. I'm afraid our last chance is gone, deary, and we
must rub along as we have done."
One sniff of emotion burst from Toady, and for a moment he laid his
head in the knife-tray, overcome with disappointment and regret.
But scorning to yield to unmanly tears, he was soon himself again.
Thrusting his beloved jackknife, with three blades and a file, into
Polly's hand, he whispered, brokenly,—
"Keep it forever 'n' ever; I'm awful sorry!" Then, feeling that the
magnitude of this sacrifice atoned for everything, he went to watch
for Van,—the forlorn hope to which he now clung.
"Sophy, I'm surprised at your want of judgment. Do you really mean
to let your girl marry this Lamb? Why, the man's a fool!" began Aunt
Kipp, after dinner, by way of opening a pleasant conversation with her
"Dear me, aunt! how can you know that, when you never saw him?" mildly
returned Mrs. Snow.
"I've heard of him, and that's enough for me. I've a deal of
penetration in judging character, and I tell you Van Bahr Lamb is a
The amiable old lady thought this would rouse Polly, against whom her
anger still burned hotly. But Polly also possessed penetration;
and, well knowing that contradiction would delight Aunt Kipp, she
completely took the wind out of her sails, by coolly remarking,—
"I like fools."
"Bless my heart! what does the girl mean?" ejaculated Aunt Kipp.
"Just what I say. If Van is a fool, I prefer simpletons to wiseacres.
I know he is shy and awkward, and does absurd things now and then. But
I also know that he has the kindest heart that ever was; is unselfish,
faithful and loving; that he took good care of his old parents till
they died, and never thought of himself while they needed him. He
loves me dearly; will wait for me a dozen years, if I say so, and work
all his days to make me happy. He's a help and comfort to mother, a
good friend to Toady, and I love and respect and am proud of him,
though you do say he is a fool," cried Polly heartily.
"And you insist on marrying him?" demanded Aunt Kipp.
"Yes, I do."
"Then I wish a carriage immediately," was the somewhat irrelevant
"Why, aunt, you don't mean to go so soon?" cried Mrs. Snow, with a
reproachful glance at the rebellious Polly.
"Far from it. I wish to see Judge Banks about altering my will," was
the awful answer.
Polly's face fell; her mother gave a despairing sigh; Toady, who had
hovered about the door, uttered a suppressed whistle of dismay; and
Mrs. Kipp looked about her with vengeful satisfaction.
"Get the big carryall and old Bob, so the boy can drive, and all of
you come; the trip will do you good."
It was like Aunt Kipp to invite her poor relations to go and "nip
their own noses off," as she elegantly expressed it. It was a party of
pleasure that just suited her, for all the fun was on her side. She
grew affable at once, was quite pressing in her invitation, regretted
that Sophy was too busy to go, praised Polly's hat; and professed
herself quite satisfied with "that dear boy" for a driver. The "dear
boy" distorted his young countenance frightfully behind her back, but
found a balm for every wound in the delight of being commander of the
The big carryall appeared, and, with much creaking and swaying Mrs.
Kipp was got into the back seat, where the big bonnet gloomed like a
thunder-cloud. Polly, in a high state of indignation, which only made
her look ten times prettier, sat in front with Toady, who was a sight
to see as he drove off with his short legs planted against the boot,
his elbows squared, and the big whip scientifically cracking now
and then. Away they went, leaving poor Mrs. Snow to bewail herself
dismally after she had smiled and nodded them out of sight.
"Don't go over any bridges or railroad crossings or by any saw-mills,"
said the old lady, as if the town could be suddenly remodelled to suit
"Yes'm," returned Toady, with a crack which would have done honor to a
It was a fine day, and the young people would have enjoyed the ride in
spite of the breakers ahead, if Aunt Kipp hadn't entertained the
girl with a glowing account of the splendors of her own wedding, and
aggravated the boy by frequent pokes and directions in the art of
driving, of which she was of course, profoundly ignorant. Polly
couldn't restrain a tear or two, in thinking of her own poor little
prospects, and Toady was goaded to desperation.
"I'll give her a regular shaking up; it'll make her hold her tongue
and do her good," he said to himself, as a stony hill sloped
temptingly before him.
A sly chuck, and some mysterious manoeuvre with the reins, and Bob
started off at a brisk trot, as if he objected to the old lady as much
as her mischievous little nephew.
"Hold him in! Keep a taut rein! Lord 'a mercy, he's running away!"
shrieked Aunt Kipp, or tried to shriek, for the bouncing and bumping
jerked the words out of her mouth with ludicrous incoherency.
"I am holding him, but he will go," said Toady, with a wicked
triumph in his eye as he glanced back at Polly.
The next minute the words were quite true; for, as he spoke, two or
three distracted hens flew squalling over the wall and scattered
about, under, over, and before the horse, as only distracted hens
could do. It was too much for Bob's nerves; and, taking matters into
his own hands, or feet, rather, he broke into a run, and rattled the
old lady over the stones with a velocity which left her speechless.
Polly laughed, and Toady chuckled, as they caught glimpses of the
awful bonnet vibrating wildly in the background, and felt the frantic
clutchings of the old lady's hands. But both grew sober as a shrill
car-whistle sounded not far off; and Bob, as if possessed by an
evil spirit, turned suddenly into the road that led to the railroad
"That will do, Toady; now pull up, for we can't get over in time,"
said Polly, glancing anxiously toward the rapidly approaching puffs of
"I can't, Polly,—I really can't," cried the boy, tugging with all his
might, and beginning to look scared.
Polly lent her aid; but Bob scarcely seemed to feel it, for he had
been a racer once, and when his blood was up he was hard to handle.
His own good sense might have checked him, if Aunt Kipp hadn't
unfortunately recovered her voice at this crisis, and uttered a
succession of the shrillest screams that ever saluted mortal ears.
With a snort and a bound Bob dashed straight on toward the crossing,
as the train appeared round the bend.
"Let me out! Let me out! Jump! Jump!" shrieked Aunt Kipp, thrusting
her head out of the window, while she fumbled madly for the
"O Toady, save us! save us!" gasped Polly, losing her presence of
mind, and dropping the reins to cling to her brother, with a woman's
instinctive faith in the stronger sex.
But Toady held on manfully, though his arms were nearly pulled off,
for "Never say die," was his motto, and the plucky little lad wouldn't
show fear before the women.
"Don't howl; we'll do it! Hi, Bob!" and with a savage slash of the
whip, an exciting cry, a terrible reeling and rattling, they did do
it; for Bob cleared the track at a breakneck pace, just in time for
the train to sweep swiftly by behind them.
Aunt Kipp dropped in a heap, Polly looked up at her brother, with a
look which he never forgot; and Toady tried to say, stoutly, "It's all
right!" with lips that were white and dry in spite of himself.
"We shall smash up at the bridge," he muttered, as they tore through
the town, where every one obligingly shouted, waved their hats, and
danced about on the sidewalks, doing nothing but add to Bob's fright
and the party's danger. But Toady was wrong,—they did not smash up at
the bridge; for, before they reached the perilous spot, one man had
the sense to fly straight at the horse's head and hold on till the
momentary check enabled others to lend a hand.
The instant they were safe, Polly, like a regular heroine, threw
herself into the arms of her dishevelled preserver, who of course was
Van, and would have refreshed herself with hysterics if the sight of
Toady hadn't steadied her. The boy sat as stiff and rigid as a wooden
figure till they took the reins from him; then all the strength seemed
to go out of him, and he leaned against his sister, as white and
trembling as she, whispering with an irrepressible sob,—
"O Polly, wasn't it horrid? Tell mother I stood by you like a man. Do
tell her that!"
If any one had had time or heart to laugh, they certainly would have
done it when, after much groping, heaving, and hoisting. Mrs. Kipp
was extricated and restored to consciousness; for a more ludicrously
deplorable spectacle was seldom seen. Quite unhurt, though much
shaken, the old lady insisted on believing herself to be dying, and
kept the town in a ferment till three doctors had pronounced her
perfectly well able to go home. Then the perversity of her nature
induced her to comply, that she might have the satisfaction of dying
on the way, and proving herself in the right.
Unfortunately she did not expire, but, having safely arrived, went to
bed in high dudgeon, and led Polly and her mother a sad life of it for
two weary days. Having heard of Toady's gallant behavior, she solemnly
ordered him up to receive her blessing. But the sight of Aunt Kipp's
rubicund visage, surrounded by the stiff frills of an immense
nightcap, caused the irreverent boy to explode with laughter in his
handkerchief, and to be hustled away by his mother before Aunt Kipp
discovered the true cause of his convulsed appearance.
"Ah! poor dear, his feelings are too much for him. He sees my doom
in my face, and is overcome by what you refuse to believe. I shan't
forget that boy's devotion. Now leave me to the meditations befitting
these solemn hours."
Mrs. Snow retired, and Aunt Kipp tried to sleep; but the murmur of
voices, and the sound of stifled laughter in the next room disturbed
"They are rejoicing over my approaching end, knowing that I haven't
changed my will. Mercenary creatures, don't exult too soon! there's
time yet," she muttered; and presently, unable to control her
curiosity, she crept out of bed to listen and peep through the
Van Bahr Lamb did look rather like a sheep. He had a blond curly
head, a long face, pale, mild eyes, a plaintive voice, and a general
expression of innocent timidity strongly suggestive of animated
mutton. But Baa-baa was a "trump," as Toady emphatically declared, and
though every one laughed at him, every one liked him, and that is
more than can be said of many saints and sages. He adored Polly, was
dutifully kind to her mother, and had stood by T. Snow, Jr., in many
an hour of tribulation with fraternal fidelity. Though he had long
blushed, sighed, and cast sheep's eyes at the idol of his affections,
only till lately had he dared to bleat forth his passion. Polly loved
him because she couldn't help it; but she was proud, and wouldn't
marry till Aunt Kipp's money was hers, or at least a sure prospect
of it; and now even the prospect of a prospect was destroyed by
that irrepressible Toady. They were talking of this as the old lady
suspected, and of course the following conversation afforded her
"It's a shame to torment us as she does, knowing how poor we are and
how happy a little of her money would make us. I'm tired of being a
slave to a cruel old woman just because she's rich. If it was not for
mother, I declare I'd wash my hands of her entirely, and do the best I
could for myself."
"Hooray for Polly! I always said let her money go and be jolly without
it," cried Toady, who, in his character of wounded hero, reposed with
a lordly air on the sofa, enjoying the fragrance of the opodeldoc with
which his strained wrists were bandaged.
"It's on your account, children, that I bear with aunt's temper as I
do. I don't want anything for myself, but I really think she owes it
to your dear father, who was devoted to her while he lived, to provide
for his children when he couldn't;" after which remarkably spirited
speech for her, Mrs. Snow dropped a tear, and stitched away on a small
trouser-leg which was suffering from a complicated compound fracture.
"Don't you worry about me, mother; I'll take care of myself and you
too," remarked Toady, with the cheery belief in impossibilities which
makes youth so charming.
"Now, Van, tell us what to do, for things have come to such a pass
that we must either break away altogether or be galley-slaves as long
as Aunt Kipp lives," said Polly, who was a good deal excited about the
"Well, really, my dear, I don't know," hesitated Van, who did know
what he wanted, but thought it might be selfish to urge it. "Have
you tried to soften your aunt's heart?" he asked, after a moment's
"Good gracious, Van, she hasn't got any," cried Polly, who firmly
"It's hossified," thoughtfully remarked Toady, quite unconscious of
any approach to a joke till every one giggled.
"You've had hossification enough for one while, my lad," laughed Van.
"Well, Polly, if the old lady has no heart you'd better let her go,
for people without hearts are not worth much."
"That's a beautiful remark, Van, and a wise one. I just wish she could
hear you make it, for she called you a fool," said Polly, irefully.
"Did she? Well, I don't mind, I'm used to it," returned Van, placidly;
and so he was, for Polly called him a goose every day of her life, and
he enjoyed it immensely.
"Then you think, dear, if we stopped worrying about aunt and her
money, and worked instead of waiting, that we shouldn't be any poorer
and might be a great deal happier than we are now?" asked Polly,
making a pretty little tableau as she put her hand through Van's arm
and looked up at him with as much love, respect, and reliance as if he
had been six feet tall, with the face of an Apollo and the manners of
"Yes, my dear, I do, for it has troubled me a good deal to see you so
badgered by that very uncomfortable old lady. Independence is a very
nice thing, and poverty isn't half as bad as this sort of slavery. But
you are not going to be poor, nor worry about anything. We'll just be
married and take mother and Toady home and be as jolly as grigs, and
never think of Mrs. K. again,—unless she loses her fortune, or
gets sick, or comes to grief in any way. We'd lend her a hand then,
wouldn't we, Polly?" and Van's mild face was pleasant to behold as he
made the kindly proposition.
"Well, we'd think of it," said Polly, trying not to relent, but
feeling that she was going very fast.
"Let's do it!" cried Toady, fired with the thought of privy conspiracy
and rebellion. "Mother would be so comfortable with Polly, and
I'd help Van in the store, when I've learned that confounded
multiplication table," he added with a groan; "and if Aunt Kipp comes
a visiting, we'll just say 'Not at home,' and let her trot off again."
"It sounds very nice, but aunt will be dreadfully offended and I don't
wish to be ungrateful," said Mrs. Snow, brightening visibly.
"There's no ingratitude about it," cried Van. "She might have done
everything to make you love, and respect, and admire her, and been a
happy, useful, motherly, old soul; but she didn't choose to, and now
she must take the consequences. No one cares for her, because she
cares for nobody; her money's the plague of her life, and not a single
heart will ache when she dies."
"Poor Aunt Kipp!" said Polly, softly.
Mrs. Snow echoed the words, and for a moment all thought pitifully of
the woman whose life had given so little happiness, whose age had won
so little reverence, and whose death would cause so little regret.
Even Toady had a kind thought for her, as he broke the silence, saying
"You'd better put tails on my jackets, mother; then the next time we
get run away with, Aunt Kipp will have something to hold on by."
It was impossible to help laughing at the recollection of the old lady
clutching at the boy till he had hardly a button left, and at the
paternal air with which he now proposed a much-desired change of
costume, as if intent on Aunt Kipp's future accommodation.
Under cover of the laugh, the old lady stole back to bed, wide awake,
and with subjects enough to meditate upon now. The shaking up had
certainly done her good, for somehow the few virtues she possessed
came to the surface, and the mental shower-bath just received had
produced a salutary change. Polly wouldn't have doubted her aunt's
possession of a heart, if she could have known the pain and loneliness
that made it ache, as the old woman crept away; and Toady wouldn't
have laughed if he had seen the tears on the face, between the big
frills, as Aunt Kipp laid it on the pillow, muttering, drearily,—
"I might have been a happy, useful woman, but I didn't choose to, and
now it's too late."
It was too late to be all she might have been, for the work of
seventy selfish years couldn't be undone in a minute. But with regret,
rose the sincere wish to earn a little love before the end came, and
the old perversity gave a relish to the reformation, for even while
she resolved to do the just and generous thing, she said to herself,—
"They say I've got no heart; I'll show 'em that I have: they don't
want my money; I'll make 'em take it: they turn their backs on me;
I'll just render myself so useful and agreeable that they can't do
Aunt Kipp sat bolt upright in the parlor, hemming a small
handkerchief, adorned with a red ship, surrounded by a border of
green monkeys. Toady suspected that this elegant article of dress was
intended for him, and yearned to possess it; so, taking advantage of
his mother's and Polly's absence, he strolled into the room, and,
seating himself on a high, hard chair, folded his hands, crossed his
legs, and asked for a story with the thirsting-for-knowledge air which
little boys wear in the moral story-books.
Now Aunt Kipp had one soft place in her heart, though it was
partially ossified, as she very truly declared, and Toady was
enshrined therein. She thought there never was such a child, and loved
him as she had done his father before him, though the rack wouldn't
have forced her to confess it. She scolded, snubbed, and predicted
he'd come to a bad end in public; but she forgave his naughtiest
pranks, always brought him something when she came, and privately
intended to make his future comfortable with half of her fortune.
There was a dash and daring, a generosity and integrity, about the
little fellow, that charmed her. Sophy was weak and low-spirited,
Polly pretty and headstrong, and Aunt Kipp didn't think much of either
of them; but Toady defied, distracted, and delighted her, and to Toady
she clung, as the one sunshiny thing in her sour, selfish old age.
When he made his demure request, she looked at him, and her eyes began
to twinkle, for the child's purpose was plainly seen in the loving
glances cast upon the pictorial pocket-handkerchief.
"A story? Yes, I'll tell you one about a little boy who had a kind
old—ahem!—grandma. She was rich, and hadn't made up her mind who she'd
leave her money to. She was fond of the boy,—a deal fonder than he
deserved,—for he was as mischievous a monkey as any that ever lived
in a tree, with a curly tail. He put pepper in her snuff-box,"—here
Toady turned scarlett,—"he cut up her bestt frisette to make a mane
for his rocking-horse,"—Toady opened his mouth impulsively, but shut
it again without betraying himself—"he repeated rude things to her,
and called her 'an old aggrewater,'"—here Toady wriggled in his
chair, and gave a little gasp.
"If you are tired I won't go on," observed Aunt Kipp, mildly.
"I'm not tired, 'm; it's a very interesting story," replied Toady,
with a gravity that nearly upset the old lady.
"Well, in spite of all this, that kind, good, forgiving grandma left
that bad boy twenty thousand dollars when she died. What do you think
of that?" asked Aunt Kipp, pausing suddenly with her sharp eye on him.
"I—I think she was a regular dear," cried Toady, holding on to the
chair with both hands, as if that climax rather took him off his legs.
"And what did the boy do about it?" continued Aunt Kipp, curiously.
"He bought a velocipede, and gave his sister half, and paid his
mother's rent, and put a splendid marble cherakin over the old lady,
and had a jolly good time, and—"
"What in the world is a cherakin?" laughed Aunt Kipp, as Toady paused
"Why, don't you know? It's a angel crying, or pointing up, or flapping
his wings. They have them over graves; and I'll give you the biggest
one I can find when you die. But I'm not in a very great hurry to
"Thankee, dear; I'm in no hurry, myself. But, Toady, the boy did wrong
in giving his sister half; she didn't deserve any; and the grandma
left word she wasn't to have a penny of it."
"Really?" cried the boy, with a troubled face.
"Yes, really. If he gave her any he lost it all; the old lady said so.
Now what do you think?" asked Aunt Kipp, who found it impossible to
pardon Polly,—perhaps because she was young, and pretty, and much
Toady's eyes kindled, and his red cheeks grew redder still, as he
cried out defiantly,—
"I think she was a selfish pig,—don't you?"
"No, I don't, sir; and I'm sure that little boy wasn't such a fool as
to lose the money. He minded his grandma's wishes, and kept it all."
"No, he didn't," roared Toady, tumbling off his chair in great
excitement. "He just threw it out a winder, and smashed the old
cherakin all to bits."
Aunt Kipp dropped her work with a shrill squeak, for she thought the
boy was dangerous, as he stood before her, sparring away at nothing as
the only vent for his indignation.
"It isn't an interesting story," he cried; "and I won't hear any more;
and I won't have your money if I mayn't go halves with Polly; and I'll
work to earn more than that, and we'll all be jolly together, and you
may give your twenty thousand to the old rag-bags, and so I tell you,
"Why, Toady, my boy, what's the matter?" cried a mild voice at the
door, as young Lamb came trotting up to the rescue.
"Never you mind, Baa-baa; I shan't do it; and it's a mean shame Polly
can't have half; then she could marry you and be so happy," blubbered
Toady, running to try to hide his tears of disappointment in the
coat-skirts of his friend.
"Mr. Lamb, I suppose you are that misguided young man?" said Aunt
Kipp, as if it was a personal insult to herself.
"Van Bahr Lamb, ma'am, if you please. Yes, thank you," murmured
Baa-Baa, bowing, blushing, and rumpling his curly fleece in bashful
"Don't thank me," cried the old lady. "I'm not going to give you
anything,—far from it. I object to you altogether. What business have
you to come courting my niece?"
"Because I love her, ma'am," returned Van, with unexpected spirit.
"No, you don't; you want her money, or rather my money. She depends
on it; but you'll both be disappointed, for she won't have a penny of
it," cried Aunt Kipp, who, in spite of her good resolutions, found it
impossible to be amiable all at once.
"I'm glad of it!" burst out Van, indignant at her accusation. "I
didn't want Polly for the money; I always doubted if she got it; and I
never wished her to make herself a slave to anybody. I've got enough
for all, if we're careful; and when my share of the Van Bahr property
comes, we shall live in clover."
"What's that? What property are you talking of?" demanded Aunt Kipp,
pricking up her ears.
"The great Van Bahr estate, ma'am. There has been a long lawsuit about
it, but it's nearly settled, and there isn't much doubt that we shall
get it. I am the last of our branch, and my share will be a large
"Oh, indeed! I wish you joy," said Aunt Kipp, with sudden affability;
for she adored wealth, like a few other persons in the world. "But
suppose you don't get it, how then?"
"Then I shall try to be contented with my salary of two thousand, and
make Polly as happy as I can. Money doesn't always make people happy
or agreeable, I find." And Van looked at Aunt Kipp in a way that would
have made her hair stand erect if she had possessed any. She stared
at him a moment, then, obeying one of the odd whims that made an
irascible weathercock of her, she said, abruptly,—
"If you had capital should you go into business for yourself, Mr.
"Yes, ma'am, at once," replied Van, promptly.
"Suppose you lost the Van Bahr money, and some one offered you a tidy
little sum to start with, would you take it?"
"It would depend upon who made the offer, ma'am," said Van, looking
more like a sheep than ever, as he stood staring in blank surprise.
"Suppose it was me, wouldn't you take it?" asked Aunt Kipp, blandly,
for the new fancy pleased her.
"No, thank you, ma'am," said Van, decidedly.
"And why not, pray?" cried the old lady, with a shrillness that made
him jump, and Toady back to the door precipitately.
"Because, if you'll excuse my speaking plainly, I think you owe
anything you may have to spare to your niece, Mrs. Snow;" and, having
freed his mind, Van joined Toady, ready to fly if necessary.
"You're an idiot, sir," began Aunt Kipp, in a rage again.
"Thank you, ma'am." And Van actually laughed and bowed in return for
"Hold your tongue, sir," snapped the old lady. "You're a fool and
Sophy is another. She's no strength of mind, no sense about anything;
and would make ducks and drakes of my money in less than no time if I
gave it to her, as I've thought of doing."
"Mrs. Kipp, you forget who you are speaking to. Mrs. Snow's sons love
and respect her if you don't, and they won't hear anything untrue
or unkind said of a good woman, a devoted mother, and an almost
Van wasn't a dignified man at all, but as he said that with a sudden
flash of his mild eyes, there was something in his face and manner
that daunted Aunt Kipp more than the small fist belligerently shaken
at her from behind the sofa. The poor old soul was cross, and worried,
and ashamed of herself, and being as feeble-minded as Sophy in many
respects, she suddenly burst into tears, and, covering her face with
the gay handkerchief, cried as if bent on floating the red ship in a
sea of salt water without delay.
"I'm a poor, lonely, abused old woman," she moaned, with a green
monkey at each eye. "No one loves me, or minds me, or thanks me when
I want to help 'em. My money's only a worryment and a burden, and I
don't know what to do with it, for people I don't want to leave it to
ought to have it, and people I do like won't take it. Oh, deary me,
what shall I do! what shall I do!"
"Shall I tell you, ma'am?" asked Van, gently, for, though she was a
very provoking old lady, he pitied and wished to help her.
A nod and a gurgle seemed to give consent, and, boldly advancing, Van
said, with blush and a stammer, but a very hearty voice,—
"I think, ma'am, if you'd do the right thing with your money you'd be
at ease and find it saved a deal of worry all round. Give it to Mrs.
Snow; she deserves it, poor lady, for she's had a hard time, and done
her duty faithfully. Don't wait till you are—that is, till you—well,
till you in point of fact die, ma'am. Give it now, and enjoy the
happiness it will make. Give it kindly, let them see you're glad to
do it, and I am sure you'll find them grateful; I'm sure you won't be
lonely any more, or feel that you are not loved and thanked. Try it,
ma'am, just try it," cried Van, getting excited by the picture he
drew. "And I give you my word I'll do my best to respect and love you
like a son, ma'am."
He knew that he was promising a great deal, but for Polly's sake he
felt that he could make even that Herculean effort. Aunt Kipp was
surprised and touched; but the contrary old lady couldn't make up her
mind to yield so soon, and wouldn't have done it if Toady hadn't taken
her by storm. Having a truly masculine horror of tears, a very tender
heart under his tailless jacket, and being much "tumbled up and down
in his own mind" by the events of the week, the poor little lad felt
nerved to attempt any novel enterprise, even that of voluntarily
embracing Aunt Kipp. First a grimy little hand came on her shoulder,
as she sat sniffing behind the handkerchief; then, peeping out, she
saw an apple-cheeked face very near her own, with eyes full of pity,
penitence, and affection; and then she heard a choky little voice say
"Don't cry, aunty; I'm sorry I was rude. Please be good to Mother and
Polly, and I'll love and take care of you, and stand by you all my
life. Yes, I'll—I'll kiss you, I will, by George!" And with one
promiscuous plunge the Spartan boy cast himself into her arms.
That finished Aunt Kipp; she hugged him dose, and cried out with a
salute that went off like a pistol-shot,—
"Oh, my dear, my dear! this is better than a dozen cherakins!"
When Toady emerged, somewhat flushed and tumbled, Mrs. Snow, Polly,
and Van were looking on with faces full of wonder, doubt, and
satisfaction. To be an object of interest was agreeable to Aunt
Kipp; and, as her old heart was really softened, she met them with a
gracious smile, and extended the olive-branch generally.
"Sophy, I shall give my money to you at once and entirely, only
asking that you'll let me stay with you when Polly's gone. I'll do my
best to be agreeable, and you'll bear with me because I'm a cranky,
solitary old woman, and I loved your husband."
Mrs. Snow hugged her on the spot, and gushed, of course, murmuring
thanks, welcomes, and promises in one grateful burst.
"Polly, I forgive you; I consent to your marriage, and will provide
your wedding finery. Mr. Lamb, you are not a fool, but a very
excellent young man. I thank you for saving my life, and I wish you
well with all my heart. You needn't say anything. I'm far from strong,
and all this agitation is shortening my life."
Polly and Van shook her hand heartily, and beamed upon each other like
a pair of infatuated turtle-doves with good prospects.
"Toady, you are as near an angel as a boy can be. Put a name to
whatever you most wish for in the world, and it's yours," said Aunt
Kipp, dramatically waving the rest away.
With his short legs wide apart, his hands behind him, and his rosy
face as round and radiant as a rising sun, Toady stood before the fire
surveying the scene with the air of a man who has successfully carried
through a difficult and dangerous undertaking, and wasn't proud. His
face brightened, then fell, as he heaved a sigh, and answered, with a
shake of his curly head,—
"You can't give me what I want most. There are three things, and I've
got to wait for them all."
"Gracious me, what are they?" cried the old lady, good-naturedly, for
she felt better already.
"A mustache, a beaver, and a sweetheart," answered Toady, with his
eyes fixed wistfully on Baa-baa, who possessed all these blessings,
and was particularly enjoying the latter at that moment.
How Aunt Kipp did laugh at this early budding of romance in her
pet! And all the rest joined her, for Toady's sentimental air was
"You precocious chick! I dare say you will have them all before we
know where we are. Never mind, deary; you shall have my little watch,
and the silver-headed cane with a boar's head on it," answered the
old lady, in high good-humor. "You needn't blush, dear; I don't bear
malice; so let's forget and forgive. I shall settle things to-morrow,
and have a free mind. You are welcome to my money, and I hope I shall
live to see you all enjoy it."
So she did; for she lived to see Sophy plump, cheery, and care-free;
Polly surrounded by a flock of Lambkins; Van in possession of a
generous slice of the Van Bahr fortune; Toady revelling in the objects
of his desire; and, best of all, she lived to find that it is never
too late to make oneself useful, happy, and beloved.