Breakfast was always the same. Oatmeal porridge, which Valancy loathed, toas_nd tea, and one teaspoonful of marmalade. Mrs. Frederick thought tw_easpoonfuls extravagant—but that did not matter to Valancy, who hate_armalade, too. The chilly, gloomy little dining-room was chillier an_loomier than usual; the rain streamed down outside the window; departe_tirlings, in atrocious, gilt frames, wider than the pictures, glowered dow_rom the walls. And yet Cousin Stickles wished Valancy many happy returns o_he day!
"Sit up straight, Doss," was all her mother said.
Valancy sat up straight. She talked to her mother and Cousin Stickles of th_hings they always talked of. She never wondered what would happen if sh_ried to talk of something else. She knew. Therefore she never did it.
Mrs. Frederick was offended with Providence for sending a rainy day when sh_anted to go to a picnic, so she ate her breakfast in a sulky silence fo_hich Valancy was rather grateful. But Christine Stickles whined endlessly o_s usual, complaining about everything—the weather, the leak in the pantry,
the price of oatmeal and butter—Valancy felt at once she had buttered he_oast too lavishly—the epidemic of mumps in Deerwood.
"Doss will be sure to ketch them," she foreboded.
"Doss must not go where she is likely to catch mumps," said Mrs. Frederic_hortly.
Valancy had never had mumps—or whooping cough—or chicken-pox—or measles—o_nything she should have had—nothing but horrible colds every winter. Doss'
winter colds were a sort of tradition in the family. Nothing, it seemed, coul_revent her from catching them. Mrs. Frederick and Cousin Stickles did thei_eroic best. One winter they kept Valancy housed up from November to May, i_he warm sitting-room. She was not even allowed to go to church. And Valanc_ook cold after cold and ended up with bronchitis in June.
"None of _my_ family were ever like that," said Mrs. Frederick, implyin_hat it must be a Stirling tendency.
"The Stirling's seldom take cold," said Cousin Stickles resentfully. _She_ad been a Stirling.
"I think," said Mrs. Frederick, "that if a person makes up her mind _not_ t_ave colds she will not _have_ colds."
So that was the trouble. It was all Valancy's own fault.
But on this particular morning Valancy's unbearable grievance was that she wa_alled Doss. She had endured it for twenty-nine years, and all at once sh_elt she could not endure it any longer. Her full name was Valancy Jane.
Valancy Jane was rather terrible, but she liked Valancy, with its odd, out-
land tang. It was always a wonder to Valancy that the Stirlings had allowe_er to be so christened. She had been told that her maternal grandfather, ol_mos Wansbarra, had chosen the name for her. Her father had tacked on the Jan_y way of civilising it, and the whole connection got out of the difficulty b_icknaming her Doss. She never got Valancy from any one but outsiders.
"Mother," she said timidly, "would you mind calling me Valancy after this?
Doss seems so—so—I don't like it."
Mrs. Frederick looked at her daughter in astonishment. She wore glasses wit_normously strong lenses that gave her eyes a peculiarly disagreeabl_ppearance.
"What is the matter with Doss?"
"It—seems so childish," faltered Valancy.
"Oh!" Mrs. Frederick had been a Wansbarra and the Wansbarra smile was not a_sset. "I see. Well, it should suit _you_ then. You are childish enough i_ll conscience, my dear child."
"I am twenty-nine," said the dear child desperately.
"I wouldn't proclaim it from the house-tops if I were you, dear," said Mrs.
Frederick. "Twenty-nine! _I_ had been married nine years when I was twenty-
" _I_ was married at seventeen," said Cousin Stickles proudly.
Valancy looked at them furtively. Mrs. Frederick, except for those terribl_lasses and the hooked nose that made her look, more like a parrot than _arrot itself could look, was not ill-looking. At twenty she might have bee_uite pretty. But Cousin Stickles! And yet Christine Stickles had once bee_esirable in some man's eyes. Valancy felt that Cousin Stickles, with he_road, flat, wrinkled face, a mole right on the end of her dumpy nose,
bristling hairs on her chin, wrinkled yellow neck, pale, protruding eyes, an_hin, puckered mouth, had yet this advantage over her—this right to look dow_n her. And even yet Cousin Stickles was necessary to Mrs. Frederick. Valanc_ondered pitifully what it would be like to be wanted by some one—needed b_ome one. No one in the whole world needed her, or would miss anything fro_ife if she dropped suddenly out of it. She was a disappointment to he_other. No one loved her. She had never so much as had a girl friend.
"I haven't even a gift for friendship," she had once admitted to hersel_itifully.
"Doss, you haven't eaten your crusts," said Mrs. Frederick rebukingly.
It rained all the forenoon without cessation. Valancy pieced a quilt. Valanc_ated piecing quilts. And there was no need of it. The house was full o_uilts. There were three big chests, packed with quilts, in the attic. Mrs.
Frederick had begun storing away quilts when Valancy was seventeen and sh_ept on storing them, though it did not seem likely that Valancy would eve_eed them. But Valancy must be at work and fancy work materials were to_xpensive. Idleness was a cardinal sin in the Stirling household. When Valanc_ad been a child she had been made to write down every night, in a small,
hated, black notebook, all the minutes she had spent in idleness that day. O_undays her mother made her tot them up and pray over them.
On this particular forenoon of this day of destiny Valancy spent only te_inutes in idleness. At least, Mrs. Frederick and Cousin Stickles would hav_alled it idleness. She went to her room to get a better thimble and sh_pened _Thistle Harvest_ guiltily at random.
"The woods are so human," wrote John Foster, "that to know them one must liv_ith them. An occasional saunter through them, keeping to the well-trodde_aths, will never admit us to their intimacy. If we wish to be friends we mus_eek them out and win them by frequent, reverent visits at all hours; b_orning, by noon, and by night; and at all seasons, in spring, in summer, i_utumn, in winter. Otherwise we can never really know them and any pretence w_ay make to the contrary will never impose on them. They have their ow_ffective way of keeping aliens at a distance and shutting their hearts t_ere casual sightseers. It is of no use to seek the woods from any motiv_xcept sheer love of them; they will find us out at once and hide all thei_weet, old-world secrets from us. But if they know we come to them because w_ove them they will be very kind to us and give us such treasures of beaut_nd delight as are not bought or sold in any market-place. For the woods, whe_hey give at all, give unstintedly and hold nothing back from their tru_orshippers. We must go to them lovingly, humbly, patiently, watchfully, an_e shall learn what poignant loveliness lurks in the wild places and silen_ntervales, lying under starshine and sunset, what cadences of unearthly musi_re harped on aged pine boughs or crooned in copses of fir, what delicat_avours exhale from mosses and ferns in sunny corners or on damp brooklands,
what dreams and myths and legends of an older time haunt them. Then th_mmortal heart of the woods will beat against ours and its subtle life wil_teal into our veins and make us its own forever, so that no matter where w_o or how widely we wander we shall yet be drawn back to the forest to fin_ur most enduring kinship."
"Doss," called her mother from the hall below, "what are you doing all b_ourself in that room?"
Valancy dropped _Thistle Harvest_ like a hot coal and fled downstairs to he_atches; but she felt the strange exhilaration of spirit that always cam_omentarily to her when she dipped into one of John Foster's books. Valanc_id not know much about woods—except the haunted groves of oak and pine aroun_er Blue Castle. But she had always secretly hankered after them and a Foste_ook about woods was the next best thing to the woods themselves.
At noon it stopped raining, but the sun did not come out until three. The_alancy timidly said she thought she would go uptown.
"What do you want to go uptown for?" demanded her mother.
"I want to get a book from the library."
"You got a book from the library only last week."
"No, it was four weeks."
"Four weeks. Nonsense!"
"Really it was, Mother."
"You are mistaken. It cannot possibly have been more than two weeks. I dislik_ontradiction. And I do not see what you want to get a book for, anyhow. Yo_aste too much time reading."
"Of what value is my time?" asked Valancy bitterly.
"Doss! Don't speak in that tone to _me."_
"We need some tea," said Cousin Stickles. "She might go and get that if sh_ants a walk—though this damp weather is bad for colds."
They argued the matter for ten minutes longer and finally Mrs. Frederic_greed rather grudgingly that Valancy might go.