The last stroke of the bell was dying away when Linda Dahl walked timidly across the schoolroom floor, and sat down in the nearest empty
"O, my, my!" whispered Jennifer Wilson across the aisle to her chum. "She is the plainest-looking girl I ever saw."
Elizabeth nodded her head very positively, and two or three others exchanged knowing glances. A few moments later a little piece of paper fluttered down at Jennifers feet from a desk top. On it was written: "Shes so plain. Shes Rocky Mountainy--all ridges and bubbles."
Meanwhile Linda sat very still, her great black eyes fixed on the teachers face.
Have you ever held a frightened bird in your hand, and felt its heart beat? That is the way Lindas heart was going. She was a stranger. Her father had moved to this place from a distant town, and she had walked to school that morning with a student who lived on the same street, but who had fluttered away into a little group of children almost as soon as she had shown the new girl where to hang her coat; and Linda, naturally a bit sensitive, felt very much alone.
This feeling was heightened when the bell struck, and one by one the students filed past into the schoolroom, with only a rude stare or indifferent glance, as if she were some specter on exhibition, When the last one had passed her, she clasped arid unclasped her hands nervously. "it is because I am so homely!" she thought.
A month or more went by. Somehow Linda and her schoolmates had not made as much progress in getting acquainted as one would have thought. The new girl was unobtrusive, attended strictly to her studies, and made few demands on those about her; yet it was true that there was among them at least an unacknowledged conspiracy to taboo her, or an understanding that she was to be ignored almost completely. This treatment Linda attributed to her looks, Ever since she could remember, she had been called "homely," "ugly," "plain," and similar names. Now, though she preserved a calm exterior, she could not help being unhappy because she was thus slighted.
One Monday morning a little flurry of excitement was visible among the pupils of the uptown grammar school. Elizabeth Weston had announced a party to come off later in the week, arid several of them had been invited.
"Will you invite Linda Dahl?" asked Jennifer, bending over her friend.
"I have been thinking about it," Elizabeth answered, slowly. "Miss Somers says she has the best lessons of any one in her class, and then she was so nice to Jimmy Flanders that day he sprained his arm. I have half a mind to." And so she did.
That night when Linda was telling her mother of the invitation she had received, she said, doubtfully, "I think I shall not go."
"Why not?" was the reply. "It can do "o good to stay away, and something may be gained by going."
So it chanced that Linda found herself at Elizabeth's home on the evening of the party. Her hostess met her smilingly. "She is really glad that 1 came," thought Linda. And she felt her soul suddenly warm to life, just as the thirsty earth brightens and glows and sends up little shoots of new green at a patter of summer rain.
The long parlor was decorated in green and white. The bright lights, the merry figures moving beneath, and the shining faces, half of which were strange to Linda, formed a pretty picture, and the girl moved here and there in the constantly shifting kaleidoscope with a freedom and happiness she had not known since coming to the town.
At last she found herself, with the others, sitting very quietly and listening to two girls play a duet on the piano. Then one of them sang a Scotch song. Within the warmth and richness of the song it seemed you could hear the warbling of birds and the melody of brooks. Linda heard a half-sigh close beside her. "I wish I could sing! Ive always wanted to be able to sing!"
Then for the first time she saw who sat there--a tall, beautiful, gracefully dressed girl whom she had noticed several times during the evening, and to whom everybody seemed to defer. She had heard vaguely that this was Elizabeths cousin, Sarah, and wondered if it was for her that Elizabeth had given the party. "And cant she asked, evincing instant interest. The girl turned toward her with a smile. "Not at all," she answered.
"Sometimes I used to try when no one heard, and once when I was in the hammock with my brothers little girl, I joined her in the song she was singing. She looked at me in a minute with a rueful countenance and said, 'Aunt Sarah, I cant sing when you are making such a noise! " Linda laughed. "1 havent tried much since," the tall girl added.
"We have singing lessons at school twice a week," Linda said, presently, "but I like the everyday lessons better."
"Do you?" asked Sarah. "I like mathematics and using a hammer and nails and saw. Mother says I should be a carpenter."
"But you dont look like one," Linda smiled, critically; and then continued: "We began physical geography this term. It is so interesting. And Miss Somers makes language beautiful; I cant help liking grammar!"
"Is that right," said Sarah. "1 never could understand it!"
Linda was laughing again. The tall girl turned more fully toward her inquiringly. "I was thinking of what Johnny Weeks said down in the primary room the other day," Linda explained. "The teacher asked him what 'cat was. I guess he was not paying attention. He looked all around, and finally said he did not know. She told him it was a noun. "There, he said, after some deliberation, 'kitten must be a pronoun. "Thus the conversation continued between plain Linda and Sarah.
An hour afterward, all the lights but one in the house were out. Elizabeth sat with her cousin talking over the events of the evening.
"And how do you like Linda Dahl?" she asked, and lent an eager ear, for Sarahs word could make or mar things irretrievably.
"Like her? I have never liked anyone better. Perhaps I would not have noticed, had you not spoken particularly about her."
"Well," said Elizabeth, "how is that?"
"Oh, she is all life and vivacity." said Sarah. "I thought you said she was so quiet and backwoodsy."
"But she was." defended Elizabeth. "1 never saw her-like this before."
"Then something must have awakened her. If anyone seemed ill at ease or lonely, she went to him or her, and before long they were talking and happy! I saw some of her schoolmates look at her wonderingly, and at least ~ne sneered, but I watched. She had just one thought, and that was to make everyone happy. You could have spared any one of the girls better; in fact, any three of them."
Long after Sarah had gone to sleep, Elizabeth lay thinking. "Jimmy Flanders," she said, and counted off one finger. Then she recalled another good deed of Linda, and then another. After all, it was wonderful how many she could reckon up, and all so quietly done. Strange she had never thought of them all together before. How could Linda be so happy and giving among so many frowns and slights?
The next forenoon session of the grammar school was well under way. Linda opened her history, and in it was a little slip of paper that she had used as a book-mark since that first morning. An odd spirit seized her, and almost before she knew it, she had gone up the aisle and laid it on Elizabeths desk. The next instant she would have given much to withdraw it. Elizabeth glanced down and flushed painfully. There it was: "Shes so plain. Shes Rocky Mountainy--all ridges and hubbles." But Linda was back at her work again, evidently unruffled. -
When the bell tapped for intermission, Elizabeth went to her. "Linda, I did write it. Oh, I am so ashamed!" she cried, and burst into tears. She hid her face on Lindas shoulder.
One of those smiles that somehow have the power of transforming the harshest features, swept over Lindas face, she squeezed Elizabeths hand. From that day, Linda slipped into the queenly place she had a right to occupy, and it was not long before everyone forgot her plainness.
Thai was the beginning. But as the years went by, the strangest thing began to happen to Linda, though she did not seem to notice. As she grew older and matured, the rough lines mellowed and softened; the short figure stretched upward until she was as beautiful as her dearest wish had pictured. But her real beauty always remained her gracious spirit of love and unselfishness and her tender regard for others. That is a beauty that never withers away, for its roots are planted in the soul.