THE NEW CLOTHES FAIL
 ALL the little girls went early to
school the next day, eager for the first glimpse of
'Lias in his new clothes. They now quite enjoyed the
mystery about who had made them, and were full of
agreeable excitement as the little figure was seen approaching down
the road. He wore the gray trousers and the little
blue shirt; the trousers were a little too long, the
shirt a perfect fit. The girls gazed at him with
pride as he came on the playground, walking briskly along
in the new shoes, which were just the right size.
He had been wearing all winter a pair of cast-off
From a distance he looked like another child.
But as he came closer. . . oh! his face!
his hair! his hands! his finger-nails! The little
 fellow had evidently tried to live up to his beautiful
new raiment, for his hair had been roughly put back
from his face, and around his mouth and nose was
a small area of almost clean skin, where he had
made an attempt at washing his face. But he had
made practically no impression on the layers of encrusted dirt,
and the little girls looked at him ruefully. Mr. Pond
would certainly never take a fancy to such a dreadfully
grimy child! His new, clean clothes made him look all
the worse, as though dirty on purpose!
The little girls
retired to their rock-pile and talked over their bitter disappointment, Ralph
and the other boys absorbed in a game of marbles
near them. 'Lias had gone proudly into the schoolroom to
show himself to Miss Benton.
It was the day before
Decoration Day and a good deal of time was taken
up with practising on the recitations they were going to
give at the Decoration Day exercises in the village. Several
of the children from each school in the township were
to speak pieces in the Town Hall.
 Betsy was to recite Barbara Frietchie, her first love in that
school, but she droned it over with none of her
usual pleasure, her eyes on little 'Lias's smiling face, so
unconscious of its dinginess.
At noon time the boys disappeared
down toward the swimming-hole. They often took a swim at
noon and nobody thought anything about it on that day.
The little girls ate their lunch on their rock, mourning
over the failure of their plans, and scheming ways to
meet the new obstacle. Stashie suggested, "Couldn't your Aunt Abigail
invite him up to your house for supper and then
give him a bath afterward?" But Betsy, although she had
never heard of treating a supper-guest in this way, was
sure that it was not possible. She shook her head
sadly, her eyes on the far-off gleam of white where
the boys jumped up and down in their swimming-hole. That
was not a good name for it, because there was
only one part of it deep enough to swim in.
Mostly it was a shallow bay in an arm of
the river, where the water was
 only up to a little boy's knees and where there was almost
no current. The sun beating down on it made it
quite warm, and even the first-graders' mothers allowed them to
go in. They only jumped up and down and squealed
and splashed each other, but they enjoyed that quite as
much as Frank and Harry, the two seventh-graders, enjoyed their
swooping dives from the spring-board over the pool. They were
late in getting back from the river that day and
Miss Benton had to ring her bell hard in that
direction before they came trooping up and clattered into the
schoolroom, where the girls already sat, their eyes lowered virtuously
to their books, with a prim air of self-righteousness. They
were never late!
Betsy was reciting her arithmetic. She was
getting on famously with that. Weeks ago, as soon as
Miss Benton had seen the confusion of the little girl's
mind, the two had settled down to a serious struggle
with that subject. Miss Benton had had Betsy recite all
by herself, so she wouldn't be flurried by the others;
 begin with had gone back, back,
back to bedrock, to things Betsy absolutely knew, to the
2 x 2's and the 3 x 3's. And then,
very cautiously, a step at a time, they had advanced,
stopping short whenever Betsy felt a beginning of that bewildered
"guessing" impulse which made her answer wildly at random.
After a while, in the dark night which arithmetic had always
been to her, Betsy began to make out a few
definite outlines, which were always there, facts which she knew
to be so without guessing from the expression of her
teacher's face. From that moment her progress had been rapid,
one sure fact hooking itself on to another, and another
one on to that. She attacked a page of problems
now with a zest and self-confidence which made her arithmetic
lessons among the most interesting hours at school. On that
day she was standing up at the board, a piece
of chalk in her hand, chewing her tongue and thinking
hard how to find out the amount of wall-paper needed
for a room 12 feet square with two doors and two
 windows in it, when her eyes fell
on little 'Lias, bent over his reading book. She forgot
her arithmetic, she forgot where she was. She stared and
stared, till Ellen, catching the direction of her eyes, looked
and stared too. Little 'Lias was clean, preternaturally, almost wetly
clean. His face was clean and shining, his ears shone
pink and fair, his hands were absolutely spotless, even his
hay-colored hair was clean and, still damp, brushed flatly back
till it shone in the sun. Betsy blinked her eyes
a great many times, thinking she must be dreaming, but
every time she opened them there was 'Lias, looking white
and polished like a new willow whistle.
Somebody poked her
hard in the ribs. She started and, turning, saw Ralph,
who was doing a sum beside her on the board,
scowling at her under his black brows. "Quit gawking at
'Lias," he said under his breath. "You make me tired!"
Something conscious and shame-faced in his manner made Betsy understand
at once what had happened. Ralph had taken
 'Lias down to the little boys' wading place and had
washed him all over. She remembered now that they had
a piece of yellow soap there.
Her face broke into
a radiant smile and she began to say something to
Ralph about how nice that was of him, but he
frowned again and said, crossly, "Aw, cut it out! Look
at what you've done there! If I couldn't 9 x 8
and get it right!"
"How queer boys are!" thought
Betsy, erasing her mistake and putting down the right answer.
But she did not try to speak to Ralph again
about 'Lias, not even after school, when she saw 'Lias
going home with a new cap on his head which
she recognized as Ralph's. She just looked at Ralph's bare
head, and smiled her eyes at him, keeping the rest
of her face sober, the way Cousin Ann did. For
just a minute Ralph almost smiled back. At least he
looked quite friendly. They stepped along toward home together, the
first time Ralph had ever condescended to walk beside a
"We got a new colt," he said.
 "Have you?" she said. "What color?"
"Black, with a white
star, and they're going to let me ride him when
he's old enough."
"My! Won't that be nice!" said Betsy.
And all the time they were both thinking of little
'Lias with his new clothes and his sweet, thin face
shining with cleanliness.
"Do you like spruce gum?" asked Ralph.
"Oh, I love gum!" said Betsy.
"Well, I'll bring you
down a chunk tomorrow, if I don't forget it," said
Ralph, turning off at the cross-roads.
They had not mentioned
'Lias at all.
The next day they were to have
school only in the morning. In the afternoon they were
to go in a big hay-wagon down to the village
to the "exercises." 'Lias came to school in his new
blue-serge trousers and his white blouse. The little girls gloated
over his appearance, and hung around him, for who was
to "visit school" that morning but Mr. Pond himself! Cousin
Ann had arranged it somehow. It took Cousin Ann to
fix things! During recess,
 as they were playing
still-pond-no-more-moving on the playground, Mr. Pond and Uncle Henry drew
up to the edge of the playground, stopped their horse,
and, talking and laughing together, watched the children at play.
Betsy looked hard at the big, burly, kind-faced man with
the smiling eyes and the hearty laugh, and decided that
he would "do" perfectly for 'Lias. But what she decided
was to have little importance, apparently, for after all he
would not get out of the wagon, but said he'd
have to drive right on to the village. Just like
that, with no excuse other than a careless glance at
his watch. No, he guessed he wouldn't have time, this
morning, he said. Betsy cast an imploring look up into
Uncle Henry's face, but evidently he felt himself quite helpless,
too. Oh, if only Cousin Ann had come! She would
have marched him into the schoolhouse double-quick. But Uncle Henry
was not Cousin Ann, and though Betsy saw him, as
they drove away, conscientiously point out little 'Lias, resplendent and
shining, Mr. Pond only nodded absently,
 as though he were thinking of something else.
Betsy could have cried
with disappointment; but she and the other girls, putting their
heads together for comfort, told each other that there was
time enough yet. Mr. Pond would not leave town till
tomorrow. Perhaps . . . there was still some hope.
But that afternoon even this last hope was dashed. As they
gathered at the schoolhouse, the girls fresh and crisp in
their newly starched dresses, with red or blue hair-ribbons, the
boys very self-conscious in their dark suits, clean collars, new
caps (all but Ralph), and blacked shoes, there was no
little 'Lias. They waited and waited, but there was no
sign of him. Finally Uncle Henry, who was to drive
the straw-ride down to town, looked at his watch, gathered
up the reins, and said they would be late if
they didn't start right away. Maybe 'Lias had had a
chance to ride in with somebody else.
They all piled in, the horses stepped off, the wheels grated on the
stones. And just at
 that moment a dismal
sound of sobbing wails reached them from the woodshed back
of the schoolhouse. The children tumbled out as fast as
they had tumbled in, and ran back, Betsy and Ralph
at their head. There in the woodshed was little 'Lias,
huddled in the corner behind some wood, crying and crying
and crying, digging his fists into his eyes, his face
all smeared with tears and dirt. And he was dressed
again in his filthy, torn old overalls and ragged shirt.
His poor little bare feet shone with a piteous cleanliness
in that dark place.
"What's the matter? What's the matter?"
the children asked him all at once. He flung himself
on Ralph, burying his face in the other boy's coat,
and sobbed out some disjointed story which only Ralph could
hear . . . and then as last and final climax
of the disaster, who should come looking over the shoulders
of the children but Uncle Henry and Mr. Pond! And
'Lias all ragged and dirty again! Betsy sat down weakly
on a pile of wood, utterly disheartened. What was the
use of anything!
 "What's the matter?" asked the
two men together.
Ralph turned, with an angry toss of
his dark head, and told them bitterly, over the heads
of the children: "He just had some decent
clothes. . . . First ones he's ever had! And he was
lotting on going to the exercises in the Town Hall.
And that darned old skunk of a stepfather has gone
and taken 'em and sold 'em to get whiskey. I'd
like to kill him!"
Betsy could have flung her arms
around Ralph, he looked so exactly the way she felt.
"Yes, he is a darned old skunk!" she said to
herself, rejoicing in the bad words she did not know
before. It took bad words to qualify what had happened.
She saw an electric spark pass from Ralph's blazing eyes
to Mr. Pond's broad face, now grim and fierce. She
saw Mr. Pond step forward, brushing the children out of
his way, like a giant among dwarfs. She saw him
stoop and pick little 'Lias up in his great, strong
arms, and, holding him close, stride furiously
 out of the woodshed, across the playground to the buggy which
was waiting for him.
"He'll go to the exercises all
right!" he called back over his shoulder in a great
roar. "He'll go if I have to buy out the
whole town to get him an outfit! And that whelp
won't get these clothes, either; you hear me say so!"
He sprang into the buggy and, holding 'Lias on his
lap, took up the reins and drove rapidly forward.
They saw little 'Lias again, entering the Town Hall, holding fast
to Mr. Pond's hand. He was magnificent in a whole
suit of store clothes, coat and all, and he wore
white stockings and neat, low shoes, like a city child!
They saw him later, up on the platform, squeaking out
his little patriotic poem, his eyes, shining like stars, fixed
on one broad, smiling face in the audience. When he
finished he was overcome with shyness by the applause, and
for a moment forgot to turn and leave the platform.
He hung his head, and, looking out from under his
eyebrows, gave a quaint, shy
 little smile at
the audience. Betsy saw Mr. Pond's great smile waver and
grow dim. His eyes filled so full that he had
to take out his handkerchief and blow his nose loudly.
And they saw little 'Lias once more, for the last
time. Mr. Pond's buggy drove rapidly past their slow-moving hay-wagon,
Mr. Pond holding the reins masterfully in one hand. Beside
him, very close, sat 'Lias with his lap full of
toys, oh, full—like Christmas! In that fleeting glimpse they
saw a toy train, a stuffed dog, a candy-box, a
pile of picture-books, tops, paper-bags, and even the swinging crane
of the big mechanical toy dredge that everybody said the
storekeeper could never sell to anybody because it cost so
As they passed swiftly, 'Lias looked out at them
and waved his little hand flutteringly. His other hand was
tightly clasped in Mr. Pond's big one. He was smiling
at them all. His eyes looked dazed and radiant. He
turned his head as the buggy flashed by to call
out, in a shrill, exulting little shout, "Good-by! Good-by!
 I'm going to live with . . . " They
could hear no more. He was gone, only his little
hand still waving at them over the back of the
Betsy drew a long, long breath. She found
that Ralph was looking at her. For a moment, she
couldn't think what made him look so different. Then she
saw that he was smiling. She had never seen him
smile before. He smiled at her as though he were
sure she would understand, and never said a word. Betsy
looked forward again and saw the gleaming buggy vanishing over
the hill in front of them. She smiled back at
Not a thing had happened the way she
had planned; no, not a single thing! But it seemed
to her she had never been so happy in her
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