Friday was a comfortable day in the household of King. Everybody was in good humour. The Story Girl sparkled through several tales that ranged from the afrites and jinns of Eastern myth, through the piping days of chivalry, down to the homely anecdotes of Carlisle workaday folks. She was in turn an Oriental princess behind a silken veil, the bride who followed her bridegroom to the wars of Palestine disguised as a page, the gallant lady who ransomed her diamond necklace by dancing a coranto with a highwayman on a moonlit heath, and "Buskirk's girl" who joined the Sons and Daughters of Temperance "just to see what was into it;" and in each impersonation she was so thoroughly the thing impersonated that it was a matter of surprise to us when she emerged from each our own familiar Story Girl again.
Cecily and Sara Ray found a "sweet" new knitted lace pattern in an old magazine and spent a happy afternoon learning it and "talking secrets." Chancing--accidentally, I vow-to overhear certain of these secrets, I learned that Sara Ray had named an apple for Johnny Price--"and, Cecily, true's you live, there was eight seeds in it, and you know eight means 'they both love' "--while Cecily admitted that Willy Fraser had written on his slate and showed it to her,"If you love me as I love you, No knife can cut our love in two"-- "but, Sara Ray, NEVER you breathe this to a living soul." Felix also averred that he heard Sara ask Cecily very seriously, "Cecily, how old must we be before we can have a REAL beau?" But Sara always denied it; so I am inclined to believe Felix simply made it up himself.
Paddy distinguished himself by catching a rat, and being intolerably conceited about it-until Sara Ray cured him by calling him a "dear, sweet cat," and kissing him between the ears. Then Pat sneaked abjectly off, his tail drooping. He resented being called a sweet cat. He had a sense of humour, had Pat. Very few cats have; and most of them have such an inordinate appetite for flattery that they will swallow any amount of it and thrive thereon. Paddy had a finer taste. The Story Girl and I were the only ones who could pay him compliments to his liking. The Story Girl would box his ears with her fist and say, "Bless your gray heart, Paddy, you're a good sort of old rascal," and Pat would purr his satisfaction; I used to take a handful of the skin on his back, shake him gently and say, "Pat, you've forgotten more than any human being ever knew," and I vow Paddy would lick his chops with delight. But to be called "a sweet cat!" Oh, Sara, Sara!
Felicity tried--and had the most gratifying luck with--a new and complicated cake recipe
-a gorgeous compound of a plumminess to make your mouth water. The number of eggs she used in it would have shocked Aunt Janet's thrifty soul, but that cake, like beauty, was its own excuse. Uncle Roger ate three slices of it at tea-time and told Felicity she was an artist. The poor man meant it as a compliment; but Felicity, who knew Uncle Blair was an artist and had a poor opinion of such fry, looked indignant and retorted, indeed she wasn't!
"Peter and I will attend to the milking for one evening," said Uncle Roger. "You can all go. I have an idea that a raspberry pie for to-morrow night, when the folks come home, would hit the right spot."
Accordingly, after tea we all set off, armed with jugs and cups. Felicity, thoughtful creature, also took a small basketful of jelly cookies along with her. We had to go back through the maple woods to the extreme end of Uncle Roger's farm--a pretty walk, through a world of green, whispering boughs and spice-sweet ferns, and shifting patches of sunlight. The raspberries were plentiful, and we were not long in filling our receptacles. Then we foregathered around a tiny wood spring, cold and pellucid under its young maples, and ate the jelly cookies; and the Story Girl told us a tale of a haunted spring in a mountain glen where a fair white lady dwelt, who pledged all comers in a golden cup with jewels bright.
"And if you drank of the cup with her," said the Story Girl, her eyes glowing through the emerald dusk about us, "you were never seen in the world again; you were whisked straightway to fairyland, and lived there with a fairy bride. And you never WANTED to come back to earth, because when you drank of the magic cup you forgot all your past life, except for one day in every year when you were allowed to remember it.""I wish there was such a place as fairyland--and a way to get to it," said Cecily. "I think there IS such a place--in spite of Uncle Edward," said the Story Girl dreamily, "and I think there is a way of getting there too, if we could only find it."
Well, the Story Girl was right. There is such a place as fairyland--but only children can find the way to it. And they do not know that it is fairyland until they have grown so old that they forget the way. One bitter day, when they seek it and cannot find it, they realize what they have lost; and that is the tragedy of life. On that day the gates of Eden are shut behind them and the age of gold is over. Henceforth they must dwell in the common light of common day. Only a few, who remain children at heart, can ever find that fair, lost path again; and blessed are they above mortals. They, and only they, can bring us tidings from that dear country where we once sojourned and from which we must evermore be exiles. The world calls them its singers and poets and artists and story-tellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland.
As we sat there the Awkward Man passed by, with his gun over his shoulder and his dog at his side. He did not look like an awkward man, there in the heart of the maple woods. He strode along right masterfully and lifted his head with the air of one who was monarch of all he surveyed.
The Story Girl kissed her fingertips to him with the delightful audacity which was a part of her; and the Awkward Man plucked off his hat and swept her a stately and graceful bow."I don't understand why they call him the awkward man," said Cecily, when he was out of earshot.
"You'd understand why if you ever saw him at a party or a picnic," said Felicity, "trying to pass plates and dropping them whenever a woman looked at him. They say it's pitiful to see him."
"I must get well acquainted with that man next summer," said the Story Girl. "If I put it off any longer it will be too late. I'm growing so fast, Aunt Olivia says I'll have to wear ankle skirts next summer. If I begin to look grown-up he'll get frightened of me, and then I'll never find out the Golden Milestone mystery.""Do you think he'll ever tell you who Alice is?" I asked. "I have a notion who Alice is already," said the mysterious creature. But she would tell us nothing more.
When the jelly cookies were all eaten it was high time to be moving homeward, for when the dark comes down there are more comfortable places than a rustling maple wood and the precincts of a possibly enchanted spring. When we reached the foot of the orchard and entered it through a gap in the hedge it was the magical, mystical time of "between lights." Off to the west was a daffodil glow hanging over the valley of lost sunsets, and Grandfather King's huge willow rose up against it like a rounded mountain of foliage. In the east, above the maple woods, was a silvery sheen that hinted the moonrise. But the orchard was a place of shadows and mysterious sounds. Midway up the open space in its heart we met Peter; and if ever a boy was given over to sheer terror that boy was Peter. His face was as white as a sunburned face could be, and his eyes were brimmed with panic."Peter, what is the matter?" cried Cecily.
"There's--SOMETHING--in the house, RINGING A BELL," said Peter, in a shaking voice. Not the Story Girl herself could have invested that "something" with more of creepy horror. We all drew close together. I felt a crinkly feeling along my back which I had never known before. If Peter had not been so manifestly frightened we might have thought he was trying to "pass a joke" on us. But such abject terror as his could not be counterfeited."Nonsense!" said Felicity, but her voice shook. "There isn't a bell in the house to ring. You must have imagined it, Peter. Or else Uncle Roger is trying to fool us."
"Your Uncle Roger went to Markdale right after milking," said Peter. "He locked up the house and gave me the key. There wasn't a soul in it then, that I'm sure of. I druv the cows to the pasture, and I got back about fifteen minutes ago. I set down on the front door steps for a moment, and all at once I heard a bell ring in the house eight times. I tell you I was skeered. I made a bolt for the orchard--and you won't catch me going near that house till your Uncle Roger comes home."
You wouldn't catch any of us doing it. We were almost as badly scared as Peter. There we stood in a huddled demoralized group. Oh, what an eerie place that orchard was! What shadows! What noises! What spooky swooping of bats! You COULDN'T look every way at once, and goodness only knew what might be behind you!"There CAN'T be anybody in the house," said Felicity. "Well, here's the key--go and see for yourself," said Peter. Felicity had no intention of going and seeing. "I think you boys ought to go," she said, retreating behind the defence of sex. "You ought to be braver than girls." "But we ain't," said Felix candidly. "I wouldn't be much scared of anything REAL. But a haunted house is a different thing."
"I always thought something had to be done in a place before it could be haunted," said Cecily. "Somebody killed or something like that, you know. Nothing like that ever happened in our family. The Kings have always been respectable.""Perhaps it is Emily King's ghost," whispered Felix. "She never appeared anywhere but in the orchard," said the Story Girl. "Oh, oh, children, isn't there something under Uncle Alec's tree?" We peered fearfully through the gloom. There WAS something--something that wavered and fluttered--advanced--retreated--
"That's only my old apron," said Felicity. "I hung it there to-day when I was looking for the white hen's nest. Oh, what shall we do? Uncle Roger may not be back for hours. I CAN'T believe there's anything in the house."
"Maybe it's only Peg Bowen," suggested Dan.
All at once--something--leaped from the bough of a tree and alighted before us. We split the air with a simultaneous shriek. We would have run, one and all, if there had been anywhere to run to. But there wasn't--all around us were only those shadowy arcades. Then we saw with shame that it was only our Paddy."Pat, Pat," I said, picking him up, feeling a certain comfort in his soft, solid body. "Stay with us, old fellow."
But Pat would none of us. He struggled out of my clasp and disappeared over the long grasses with soundless leaps. He was no longer our tame, domestic, well acquainted Paddy. He was a strange, furtive animal--a "questing beast."
Presently the moon rose; but this only made matters worse. The shadows had been still before; now they moved and danced, as the night wind tossed the boughs. The old house, with its dreadful secret, was white and clear against the dark background of spruces. We were woefully tired, but we could not sit down because the grass was reeking with dew."The Family Ghost only appears in daylight," said the Story Girl. "I wouldn't mind seeing a ghost in daylight. But after dark is another thing."
"There's no such thing as a ghost," I said contemptuously. Oh, how I wished I could believe it!
"Then what rung that bell?" said Peter. "Bells don't ring of themselves, I s'pose, specially when there ain't any in the house to ring."
Uncle Roger did not come until nearly ten. Never was there a more welcome sound than the rumble of his wheels in the lane. We ran to the orchard gate and swarmed across the yard, just as Uncle Roger alighted at the front door. He stared at us in the moonlight."Have you tormented any one into eating more bad berries, Felicity?" he demanded. "Oh, Uncle Roger, don't go in," implored Felicity seriously. "There's something dreadful in there--something that rings a bell. Peter heard it. Don't go in."
"There's no use asking the meaning of this, I suppose," said Uncle Roger with the calm of despair. "I've gave up trying to fathom you young ones. Peter, where's the key? What yarn have you been telling?""I DID hear a bell ring," said Peter stubbornly. Uncle Roger unlocked and flung open the front door. As he did so, clear and sweet, rang out ten bell-like chimes. "That's what I heard," cried Peter. "There's the bell!" We had to wait until Uncle Roger stopped laughing before we heard the explanation. We thought he never WOULD stop.
"That's Grandfather King's old clock striking," he said, as soon as he was able to speak. "Sammy Prott came along after tea, when you were away to the forge, Peter, and I gave him permission to clean the old clock. He had it going merrily in no time. And now it has almost frightened you poor little monkeys to death."We heard Uncle Roger chuckling all the way to the barn. "Uncle Roger can laugh," said Cecily, with a quiver in her voice, "but it's no laughing matter to be so scared. I just feel sick, I was so frightened." "I wouldn't mind if he'd laugh once and have it done with it," said Felicity bitterly. "But he'll laugh at us for a year, and tell the story to every soul that comes to the place."
"You can't blame him for that," said the Story Girl. "I shall tell it, too. I don't care if the joke is as much on myself as any one. A story is a story, no matter who it's on. But it IS hateful to be laughed at--and grown-ups always do it. I never will when I'm grown up. I'll remember better."
"It's all Peter's fault," said Felicity. "I do think he might have had more sense than to take a clock striking for a bell ringing."
"I never heard that kind of a strike before," protested Peter. "It don't sound a bit like other clocks. And the door was shut and the sound kind o' muffled. It's all very fine to say you would have known what it was, but I don't believe you would.""I wouldn't have," said the Story Girl honestly. "I thought it WAS a bell when I heard it, and the door open, too. Let us be fair, Felicity." "I'm dreadful tired," sighed Cecily.
We were all "dreadful tired," for this was the third night of late hours and nerve racking strain. But it was over two hours since we had eaten the cookies, and Felicity suggested that a saucerful apiece of raspberries and cream would not be hard to take. It was not, for any one but Cecily, who couldn't swallow a mouthful."I'm glad father and mother will be back to-morrow night," she said. "It's too exciting when they're away. That's my opinion."
Felicity was cumbered with many cares the next morning. For one thing, the whole house must be put in apple pie order; and for another, an elaborate supper must be prepared for the expected return of the travellers that night. Felicity devoted her whole attention to this, and left the secondary preparation of the regular meals to Cecily and the Story Girl. It was agreed that the latter was to make a cornmeal pudding for dinner.
In spite of her disaster with the bread, the Story Girl had been taking cooking lessons from Felicity all the week, and getting on tolerably well, although, mindful of her former mistake, she never ventured on anything without Felicity's approval. But Felicity had no time to oversee her this morning.
"You must attend to the pudding yourself," she said. "The recipe's so plain and simple even you can't go astray, and if there's anything you don't understand you can ask me. But don't bother me if you can help it."
The Story Girl did not bother her once. The pudding was concocted and baked, as the Story Girl proudly informed us when we came to the dinner-table, all on her own hook. She was very proud of it; and certainly as far as appearance went it justified her triumph. The slices were smooth and golden; and, smothered in the luscious maple sugar sauce which Cecily had compounded, were very fair to view. Nevertheless, although none of us, not even Uncle Roger or Felicity, said a word at the time, for fear of hurting the Story Girl's feelings, the pudding did not taste exactly as it should. It was tough--decidedly tough--and lacked the richness of flavour which was customary in Aunt Janet's cornmeal puddings. If it had not been for the abundant supply of sauce it would have been very dry eating indeed. Eaten it was, however, to the last crumb. If it were not just what a cornmeal pudding might be, the rest of the bill of fare had been extra good and our appetites matched it."I wish I was twins so's I could eat more," said Dan, when he simply had to stop. "What good would being twins do you?" asked Peter. "People who squint can't eat any more than people who don't squint, can they?" We could not see any connection between Peter's two questions. "What has squinting got to do with twins?" asked Dan. "Why, twins are just people that squint, aren't they?" said Peter.
We thought he was trying to be funny, until we found out that he was quite in earnest. Then we laughed until Peter got sulky.
"I don't care," he said. "How's a fellow to know? Tommy and Adam Cowan, over at Markdale, are twins; and they're both cross-eyed. So I s'posed that was what being twins meant. It's all very fine for you fellows to laugh. I never went to school half as much as you did; and you was brought up in Toronto, too. If you'd worked out ever since you was seven, and just got to school in the winter, there'd be lots of things you wouldn't know, either."
But Peter was not to be conciliated, and took himself off in high dudgeon. To be laughed at before Felicity--to be laughed at BY Felicity--was something he could not endure. Let Cecily and the Story Girl cackle all they wanted to, and let those stuck-up Toronto boys grin like chessy-cats; but when Felicity laughed at him the iron entered into Peter's soul.
If the Story Girl laughed at Peter the mills of the gods ground out his revenge for him in mid-afternoon. Felicity, having used up all the available cooking materials in the house, had to stop perforce; and she now determined to stuff two new pincushions she had been making for her room. We heard her rummaging in the pantry as we sat on the cool, spruce-shadowed cellar door outside, where Uncle Roger was showing us how to make elderberry pop-guns. Presently she came out, frowning.
"Cecily, do you know where mother put the sawdust she emptied out of that old beaded pincushion of Grandmother King's, after she had sifted the needles out of it? I thought it was in the tin box.""So it is," said Cecily. "It isn't. There isn't a speck of sawdust in that box."
The Story Girl's face wore a quite indescribable expression, compound of horror and shame. She need not have confessed. If she had but held her tongue the mystery of the sawdust's disappearance might have forever remained a mystery. She WOULD have held her tongue, as she afterwards confided to me, if it had not been for a horrible fear which flashed into her mind that possibly sawdust puddings were not healthy for people to eat-especially if there might be needles in them--and that if any mischief had been done in that direction it was her duty to undo it if possible at any cost of ridicule to herself."Oh, Felicity," she said, her voice expressing a very anguish of humiliation, "I--I--thought that stuff in the box was cornmeal and used it to make the pudding."
Felicity and Cecily stared blankly at the Story Girl. We boys began to laugh, but were checked midway by Uncle Roger. He was rocking himself back and forth, with his hand pressed against his stomach.
"Oh," he groaned, "I've been wondering what these sharp pains I've been feeling ever since dinner meant. I know now. I must have swallowed a needle--several needles, perhaps. I'm done for!"
"Felicity, if I die from the effects of eating sawdust pudding, flavoured with needles, you'll be sorry you ever said such a thing to your poor old uncle," said Uncle Roger reproachfully. "Even if there were no needles in it, sixty-year-old sawdust can't be good for my tummy. I daresay it wasn't even clean.""Well, you know every one has to eat a peck of dirt in his life," giggled Felicity.
"But nobody has to eat it all at once," retorted Uncle Roger, with another groan. "Oh, Sara Stanley, it's a thankful man I am that your Aunt Olivia is to be home to-night. You'd have me kilt entirely by another day. I believe you did it on purpose to have a story to tell."Uncle Roger hobbled off to the barn, still holding on to his stomach. "Do you think he really feels sick?" asked the Story Girl anxiously.
"No, I don't," said Felicity. "You needn't worry over him. There's nothing the matter with him. I don't believe there were any needles in that sawdust. Mother sifted it very carefully."
"I know a story about a man whose son swallowed a mouse," said the Story Girl, who would probably have known a story and tried to tell it if she were being led to the stake. "And he ran and wakened up a very tired doctor just as he had got to sleep."'Oh, doctor, my son has swallowed a mouse,' he cried. 'What shall I do?'
"'Tell him to swallow a cat,' roared the poor doctor, and slammed his door. "Now, if Uncle Roger has swallowed any needles, maybe it would make it all right if he swallowed a pincushion."We all laughed. But Felicity soon grew sober. "It seems awful to think of eating a sawdust pudding. How on earth did you make such a mistake?"
"It looked just like cornmeal," said the Story Girl, going from white to red in her shame. "Well, I'm going to give up trying to cook, and stick to things I can do. And if ever one of you mentions sawdust pudding to me I'll never tell you another story as long as I live."
The threat was effectual. Never did we mention that unholy pudding. But the Story Girl could not so impose silence on the grown-ups, especially Uncle Roger. He tormented her for the rest of the summer. Never a breakfast did he sit down to, without gravely inquiring if they were sure there was no sawdust in the porridge. Not a tweak of rheumatism did he feel but he vowed it was due to a needle, travelling about his body. And Aunt Olivia was warned to label all the pincushions in the house. "Contents, sawdust; not intended for puddings."
An August evening, calm, golden, dewless, can be very lovely. At sunset, Felicity, Cecily, and Sara Ray, Dan, Felix, and I were in the orchard, sitting on the cool grasses at the base of the Pulpit Stone. In the west was a field of crocus sky over which pale cloud blossoms were scattered.Uncle Roger had gone to the station to meet the travellers, and the dining-room table was spread with a feast of fat things. "It's been a jolly week, take it all round," said Felix, "but I'm glad the grown-ups are coming back to-night, especially Uncle Alec." "I wonder if they'll bring us anything," said Dan. "I'm thinking long to hear all about the wedding," said Felicity, who was braiding timothy stalks into a collar for Pat. "You girls are always thinking about weddings and getting married," said Dan contemptuously. "We ain't," said Felicity indignantly. "I am NEVER going to get married. I think it is just horrid, so there!" "I guess you think it would be a good deal horrider not to be," said Dan.
"It depends on who you're married to," said Cecily gravely, seeing that Felicity disdained reply. "If you got a man like father it would be all right. But S'POSEN you got one like Andrew Ward? He's so mean and cross to his wife that she tells him every day she wishes she'd never set eyes on him.""Perhaps that's WHY he's mean and cross," said Felix. "I tell you it isn't always the man's fault," said Dan darkly. "When I get married I'll be good to my wife, but I mean to be boss. When I open my mouth my word will be law." "If your word is as big as your mouth I guess it will be," said Felicity cruelly. "I pity the man who gets you, Felicity King, that's all" retorted Dan. "Now, don't fight," implored Cecily.
"Who's fighting?" demanded Dan. "Felicity thinks she can say anything she likes to me, but I'll show her different."
Probably, in spite of Cecily's efforts, a bitter spat would have resulted between Dan and Felicity, had not a diversion been effected at that moment by the Story Girl, who came slowly down Uncle Stephen's Walk.
The Story Girl was barefooted and barearmed, having rolled the sleeves of her pink gingham up to her shoulders. Around her waist was twisted a girdle of the blood-red roses that bloomed in Aunt Olivia's garden; on her sleek curls she wore a chaplet of them; and her hands were full of them.
She paused under the outmost tree, in a golden-green gloom, and laughed at us over a big branch. Her wild, subtle, nameless charm clothed her as with a garment. We always remembered the picture she made there; and in later days when we read Tennyson's poems at a college desk, we knew exactly how an oread, peering through the green leaves on some haunted knoll of many fountained Ida, must look.
"Felicity," said the Story Girl reproachfully, "what have you been doing to Peter? He's up there sulking in the granary, and he won't come down, and he says it's your fault. You must have hurt his feelings dreadfully.""I don't know about his feelings," said Felicity, with an angry toss of her shining head, "but I guess I made his ears tingle all right. I boxed them both good and hard." "Oh, Felicity! What for?" "Well, he tried to kiss me, that's what for!" said Felicity, turning very red. "As if I would let a hired boy kiss me! I guess Master Peter won't try anything like that again in a hurry." The Story Girl came out of her shadows and sat down beside us on the grass.
"Well, in that case," she said gravely, "I think you did right to slap his ears--not because he is a hired boy, but because it would be impertinent in ANY boy. But talking of kissing makes me think of a story I found in Aunt Olivia's scrapbook the other day. Wouldn't you like to hear it? It is called, 'How Kissing Was Discovered.'""Wasn't kissing always discovered?" asked Dan. "Not according to this story. It was just discovered accidentally." "Well, let's hear about it," said Felix, "although I think kissing's awful silly, and it wouldn't have mattered much if it hadn't ever been discovered."
The Story Girl scattered her roses around her on the grass, and clasped her slim hands over her knees. Gazing dreamily afar at the tinted sky between the apple trees, as if she were looking back to the merry days of the world's gay youth, she began, her voice giving to the words and fancies of the old tale the delicacy of hoar frost and the crystal sparkle of dew.
"It happened long, long ago in Greece--where so many other beautiful things happened. Before that, nobody had ever heard of kissing. And then it was just discovered in the twinkling of an eye. And a man wrote it down and the account has been preserved ever since.
"There was a young shepherd named Glaucon--a very handsome young shepherd--who lived in a little village called Thebes. It became a very great and famous city afterwards, but at this time it was only a little village, very quiet and simple. Too quiet for Glaucon's liking. He grew tired of it, and he thought he would like to go away from home and see something of the world. So he took his knapsack and his shepherd's crook, and wandered away until he came to Thessaly. That is the land of the gods' hill, you know. The name of the hill was Olympus. But it has nothing to do with this story. This happened on another mountain--Mount Pelion.
"Glaucon hired himself to a wealthy man who had a great many sheep. And every day Glaucon had to lead the sheep up to pasture on Mount Pelion, and watch them while they ate. There was nothing else to do, and he would have found the time very long, if he had not been able to play on a flute. So he played very often and very beautifully, as he sat under the trees and watched the wonderful blue sea afar off, and thought about Aglaia.
"Aglaia was his master's daughter. She was so sweet and beautiful that Glaucon fell in love with her the very moment he first saw her; and when he was not playing his flute on the mountain he was thinking about Aglaia, and dreaming that some day he might have flocks of his own, and a dear little cottage down in the valley where he and Aglaia might live.
"Aglaia had fallen in love with Glaucon just as he had with her. But she never let him suspect it for ever so long. He did not know how often she would steal up the mountain and hide behind the rocks near where the sheep pastured, to listen to Glaucon's beautiful music. It was very lovely music, because he was always thinking of Aglaia while he played, though he little dreamed how near him she often was.
"But after awhile Glaucon found out that Aglaia loved him, and everything was well. Nowadays I suppose a wealthy man like Aglaia's father wouldn't be willing to let his daughter marry a hired man; but this was in the Golden Age, you know, when nothing like that mattered at all.
"After that, almost every day Aglaia would go up the mountain and sit beside Glaucon, as he watched the flocks and played on his flute. But he did not play as much as he used to, because he liked better to talk with Aglaia. And in the evening they would lead the sheep home together.
"One day Aglaia went up the mountain by a new way, and she came to a little brook. Something was sparkling very brightly among its pebbles. Aglaia picked it up, and it was the most beautiful little stone that she had ever seen. It was only as large as a pea, but it glittered and flashed in the sunlight with every colour of the rainbow. Aglaia was so delighted with it that she resolved to take it as a present to Glaucon.
"But all at once she heard a stamping of hoofs behind her, and when she turned she almost died from fright. For there was the great god, Pan, and he was a very terrible object, looking quite as much like a goat as a man. The gods were not all beautiful, you know. And, beautiful or not, nobody ever wanted to meet them face to face."'Give that stone to me,' said Pan, holding out his hand. "But Aglaia, though she was frightened, would not give him the stone. "'I want it for Glaucon,' she said. "'I want it for one of my wood nymphs,' said Pan, 'and I must have it.'
"He advanced threateningly, but Aglaia ran as hard as she could up the mountain. If she could only reach Glaucon he would protect her. Pan followed her, clattering and bellowing terribly, but in a few minutes she rushed into Glaucon's arms.
"The dreadful sight of Pan and the still more dreadful noise he made, so frightened the sheep that they fled in all directions. But Glaucon was not afraid at all, because Pan was the god of shepherds, and was bound to grant any prayer a good shepherd, who always did his duty, might make. If Glaucon had NOT been a good shepherd dear knows what would have happened to him and Aglaia. But he was; and when he begged Pan to go away and not frighten Aglaia any more, Pan had to go, grumbling a good deal--and Pan's grumblings had a very ugly sound. But still he WENT, and that was the main thing."'Now, dearest, what is all this trouble about?' asked Glaucon; and Aglaia told him the story. "'But where is the beautiful stone?' he asked, when she had finished. 'Didst thou drop it in thy alarm?'
"No, indeed! Aglaia had done nothing of the sort. When she began to run, she had popped it into her mouth, and there it was still, quite safe. Now she poked it out between her red lips, where it glittered in the sunlight."'Take it,' she whispered.
"The question was--how was he to take it? Both of Aglaia's arms were held fast to her sides by Glaucon's arms; and if he loosened his clasp ever so little he was afraid she would fall, so weak and trembling was she from her dreadful fright. Then Glaucon had a brilliant idea. He would take the beautiful stone from Aglaia's lips with his own lips."He bent over until his lips touched hers--and THEN, he forgot all about the beautiful pebble and so did Aglaia. Kissing was discovered!
"What a yarn!" said Dan, drawing a long breath, when we had come to ourselves and discovered that we were really sitting in a dewy Prince Edward Island orchard instead of watching two lovers on a mountain in Thessaly in the Golden Age. "I don't believe a word of it.""Of course, we know it wasn't really true," said Felicity. "Well, I don't know," said the Story Girl thoughtfully. "I think there are two kinds of true things--true things that ARE, and true things that are NOT, but MIGHT be." "I don't believe there's any but the one kind of trueness," said Felicity. "And anyway, this story couldn't be true. You know there was no such thing as a god Pan." "How do you know what there might have been in the Golden Age?" asked the Story Girl. Which was, indeed, an unanswerable question for Felicity. "I wonder what became of the beautiful stone?" said Cecily. "Likely Aglaia swallowed it," said Felix practically. "Did Glaucon and Aglaia ever get married?" asked Sara Ray.
"The story doesn't say. It stops just there," said the Story Girl. "But of course they did. I will tell you what I think. I don't think Aglaia swallowed the stone. I think it just fell to the ground; and after awhile they found it, and it turned out to be of such value that Glaucon could buy all the flocks and herds in the valley, and the sweetest cottage; and he and Aglaia were married right away.""But you only THINK that," said Sara Ray. "I'd like to be really sure that was what happened." "Oh, bother, none of it happened," said Dan. "I believed it while the Story Girl was telling it, but I don't now. Isn't that wheels?"
Wheels it was. Two wagons were driving up the lane. We rushed to the house--and there were Uncle Alec and Aunt Janet and Aunt Olivia! The excitement was quite tremendous. Every body talked and laughed at once, and it was not until we were all seated around the supper table that conversation grew coherent. What laughter and questioning and telling of tales followed, what smiles and bright eyes and glad voices. And through it all, the blissful purrs of Paddy, who sat on the window sill behind the Story Girl, resounded through the din like Andrew McPherson's bass--"just a bur-r-r-r the hale time."
"Well, I'm thankful to be home again" said Aunt Janet, beaming on us. "We had a real nice time, and Edward's folks were as kind as could be. But give me home for a steady thing. How has everything gone? How did the children behave, Roger?""Like models," said Uncle Roger. "They were as good as gold most of the days." There were times when one couldn't help liking Uncle Roger.
"I've got to go and begin stumping out the elderberry pasture this afternoon," said Peter dolefully. "I tell you it's a tough job. Mr. Roger might wait for cool weather before he sets people to stumping out elderberries, and that's a fact.""Why don't you tell him so?" asked Dan. "It ain't my business to tell him things," retorted Peter. "I'm hired to do what I'm told, and I do it. But I can have my own opinion all the same. It's going to be a broiling hot day."
We were all in the orchard, except Felix, who had gone to the post-office. It was the forenoon of an August Saturday. Cecily and Sara Ray, who had come up to spend the day with us--her mother having gone to town--were eating timothy roots. Bertha Lawrence, a Charlottetown girl, who had visited Kitty Marr in June, and had gone to school one day with her, had eaten timothy roots, affecting to consider them great delicacies. The fad was at once taken up by the Carlisle schoolgirls. Timothy roots quite ousted "sours" and young raspberry sprouts, both of which had the real merit of being quite toothsome, while timothy roots were tough and tasteless. But timothy roots were fashionable, therefore timothy roots must be eaten. Pecks of them must have been devoured in Carlisle that summer.
Pat was there also, padding about from one to the other on his black paws, giving us friendly pokes and rubs. We all made much of him except Felicity, who would not take any notice of him because he was the Story Girl's cat.
We boys were sprawling on the grass. Our morning chores were done and the day was before us. We should have been feeling very comfortable and happy, but, as a matter of fact, we were not particularly so.
The Story Girl was sitting on the mint beside the well-house, weaving herself a wreath of buttercups. Felicity was sipping from the cup of clouded blue with an overdone air of unconcern. Each was acutely and miserably conscious of the other's presence, and each was desirous of convincing the rest of us that the other was less than nothing to her. Felicity could not succeed. The Story Girl managed it better. If it had not been for the fact that in all our foregatherings she was careful to sit as far from Felicity as possible, we might have been deceived.
We had not passed a very pleasant week. Felicity and the Story Girl had not been "speaking" to each other, and consequently there had been something rotten in the state of Denmark. An air of restraint was over all our games and conversations.
On the preceding Monday Felicity and the Story Girl had quarrelled over something. What the cause of the quarrel was I cannot tell because I never knew. It remained a "dead secret" between the parties of the first and second part forever. But it was more bitter than the general run of their tiffs, and the consequences were apparent to all. They had not spoken to each other since.
This was not because the rancour of either lasted so long. On the contrary it passed speedily away, not even one low descending sun going down on their wrath. But dignity remained to be considered. Neither would "speak first," and each obstinately declared that she would not speak first, no, not in a hundred years. Neither argument, entreaty, nor expostulation had any effect on those two stubborn girls, nor yet the tears of sweet Cecily, who cried every night about it, and mingled in her pure little prayers fervent petitions that Felicity and the Story Girl might make up."I don't know where you expect to go when you die, Felicity," she said tearfully, "if you don't forgive people." "I have forgiven her," was Felicity's answer, "but I am not going to speak first for all that." "It's very wrong, and, more than that, it's so uncomfortable," complained Cecily. "It spoils everything." "Were they ever like this before?" I asked Cecily, as we talked the matter over privately in Uncle Stephen's Walk. "Never for so long," said Cecily. "They had a spell like this last summer, and one the summer before, but they only lasted a couple of days." "And who spoke first?"
"Oh, the Story Girl. She got excited about something and spoke to Felicity before she thought, and then it was all right. But I'm afraid it isn't going to be like that this time. Don't you notice how careful the Story Girl is not to get excited? That is such a bad sign.""We've just got to think up something that will excite her, that's all," I said. "I'm--I'm praying about it," said Cecily in a low voice, her tear-wet lashes trembling against her pale, round cheeks. "Do you suppose it will do any good, Bev?" "Very likely," I assured her. "Remember Sara Ray and the money. That came from praying."
"I'm glad you think so," said Cecily tremulously. "Dan said it was no use for me to bother praying about it. He said if they COULDN'T speak God might do something, but when they just WOULDN'T it wasn't likely He would interfere. Dan does say such queer things. I'm so afraid he's going to grow up just like Uncle Robert Ward, who never goes to church, and doesn't believe more than half the Bible is true."
"Which half does he believe is true?" I inquired with unholy curiosity.
"Oh, just the nice parts. He says there's a heaven all right, but no--no--HELL. I don't want Dan to grow up like that. It isn't respectable. And you wouldn't want all kinds of people crowding heaven, now, would you?""Well, no, I suppose not," I agreed, thinking of Billy Robinson.
"Of course, I can't help feeling sorry for those who have to go to THE OTHER PLACE," said Cecily compassionately. "But I suppose they wouldn't be very comfortable in heaven either. They wouldn't feel at home. Andrew Marr said a simply dreadful thing about THE OTHER PLACE one night last fall, when Felicity and I were down to see Kitty, and they were burning the potato stalks. He said he believed THE OTHER PLACE must be lots more interesting than heaven because fires were such jolly things. Now, did you ever hear the like?""I guess it depends a good deal on whether you're inside or outside the fires," I said.
"Oh, Andrew didn't really mean it, of course. He just said it to sound smart and make us stare. The Marrs are all like that. But anyhow, I'm going to keep on praying that something will happen to excite the Story Girl. I don't believe there is any use in praying that Felicity will speak first, because I am sure she won't."
"But don't you suppose God could make her?" I said, feeling that it wasn't quite fair that the Story Girl should always have to speak first. If she had spoken first the other times it was surely Felicity's turn this time."Well, I believe it would puzzle Him," said Cecily, out of the depths of her experience with Felicity. Peter, as was to be expected, took Felicity's part, and said the Story Girl ought to speak first because she was the oldest. That, he said, had always been his Aunt Jane's rule. Sara Ray thought Felicity should speak first, because the Story Girl was half an orphan.
Felix tried to make peace between them, and met the usual fate of all peacemakers. The Story Girl loftily told him that he was too young to understand, and Felicity said that fat boys should mind their own business. After that, Felix declared it would serve Felicity right if the Story Girl never spoke to her again.Dan had no patience with either of the girls, especially Felicity. "What they both want is a right good spanking," he said.
If only a spanking would mend the matter it was not likely it would ever be mended. Both Felicity and the Story Girl were rather too old to be spanked, and, if they had not been, none of the grown-ups would have thought it worth while to administer so desperate a remedy for what they considered so insignificant a trouble. With the usual levity of grown-ups, they regarded the coldness between the girls as a subject of mirth and jest, and recked not that it was freezing the genial current of our youthful souls, and blighting hours that should have been fair pages in our book of days.
The Story Girl finished her wreath and put it on. The buttercups drooped over her high, white brow and played peep with her glowing eyes. A dreamy smile hovered around her poppy-red mouth--a significant smile which, to those of us skilled in its interpretation, betokened the sentence which soon came."I know a story about a man who always had his own opinion--"
The Story Girl got no further. We never heard the story of the man who always had his own opinion. Felix came tearing up the lane, with a newspaper in his hand. When a boy as fat as Felix runs at full speed on a broiling August forenoon, he has something to run for--as Felicity remarked."He must have got some bad news at the office," said Sara Ray. "Oh, I hope nothing has happened to father," I exclaimed, springing anxiously to my feet, a sick, horrible feeling of fear running over me like a cool, rippling wave. "It's just as likely to be good news he is running for as bad," said the Story Girl, who was no believer in meeting trouble half way. "He wouldn't be running so fast for good news," said Dan cynically.
We were not left long in doubt. The orchard gate flew open and Felix was among us. One glimpse of his face told us that he was no bearer of glad tidings. He had been running hard and should have been rubicund. Instead, he was "as pale as are the dead." I could not have asked him what was the matter had my life depended on it. It was Felicity who demanded impatiently of my shaking, voiceless brother:"Felix King, what has scared you?" Felix held out the newspaper--it was the Charlottetown _Daily Enterprise_. "It's there," he gasped. "Look--read--oh, do you--think it's--true? The--end of--the world-is coming to-morrow--at two--o'clock--in the afternoon!"
Crash! Felicity had dropped the cup of clouded blue, which had passed unscathed through so many changing years, and now at last lay shattered on the stone of the well curb. At any other time we should all have been aghast over such a catastrophe, but it passed unnoticed now. What mattered it that all the cups in the world be broken to-day if the crack o' doom must sound to-morrow?
"Oh, Sara Stanley, do you believe it? DO you?" gasped Felicity, clutching the Story Girl's hand. Cecily's prayer had been answered. Excitement had come with a vengeance, and under its stress Felicity had spoken first. But this, like the breaking of the cup, had no significance for us at the moment.
The Story Girl snatched the paper and read the announcement to a group on which sudden, tense silence had fallen. Under a sensational headline, "The Last Trump will sound at Two O'clock To-morrow," was a paragraph to the effect that the leader of a certain noted sect in the United States had predicted that August twelfth would be the Judgment Day, and that all his numerous followers were preparing for the dread event by prayer, fasting, and the making of appropriate white garments for ascension robes.
I laugh at the remembrance now--until I recall the real horror of fear that enwrapped us in that sunny orchard that August morning of long ago; and then I laugh no more. We were only children, be it remembered, with a very firm and simple faith that grown people knew much more than we did, and a rooted conviction that whatever you read in a newspaper must be true. If the _Daily Enterprise_ said that August twelfth was to be the Judgment Day how were you going to get around it?"Do you believe it, Sara Stanley?" persisted Felicity. "DO you?" "No--no, I don't believe a word of it," said the Story Girl.
But for once her voice failed to carry conviction--or, rather, it carried conviction of the very opposite kind. It was borne in upon our miserable minds that if the Story Girl did not altogether believe it was true she believed it might be true; and the possibility was almost as dreadful as the certainty.
"It CAN'T be true," said Sara Ray, seeking refuge, as usual, in tears. "Why, everything looks just the same. Things COULDN'T look the same if the Judgment Day was going to be to-morrow.""But that's just the way it's to come," I said uncomfortably. "It tells you in the Bible. It's to come just like a thief in the night."
"But it tells you another thing in the Bible, too," said Cecily eagerly. "It says nobody knows when the Judgment Day is to come--not even the angels in heaven. Now, if the angels in heaven don't know it, do you suppose the editor of the _Enterprise_ can know it--and him a Grit, too?"
"I guess he knows as much about it as a Tory would," retorted the Story Girl. Uncle Roger was a Liberal and Uncle Alec a Conservative, and the girls held fast to the political traditions of their respective households. "But it isn't really the _Enterprise_ editor at all who is saying it--it's a man in the States who claims to be a prophet. If he IS a prophet perhaps he has found out somehow."
"And it's in the paper, too, and that's printed as well as the Bible," said Dan.
"Nobody might have known when the Bible was written," said Dan, "but maybe somebody knows now. Why, the Bible was written thousands of years ago, and that paper was printed this very morning. There's been time to find out ever so much more."
"I want to do so many things," said the Story Girl, plucking off her crown of buttercup gold with a tragic gesture, "but if it's the Judgment Day to-morrow I won't have time to do any of them.""It can't be much worse than dying, I s'pose," said Felix, grasping at any straw of comfort.
"I'm awful glad I've got into the habit of going to church and Sunday School this summer," said Peter very soberly. "I wish I'd made up my mind before this whether to be a Presbyterian or a Methodist. Do you s'pose it's too late now?""Oh, that doesn't matter," said Cecily earnestly. "If--if you're a Christian, Peter, that is all that's necessary."
"But it's too late for that," said Peter miserably. "I can't turn into a Christian between this and two o'clock to-morrow. I'll just have to be satisfied with making up my mind to be a Presbyterian or a Methodist. I wanted to wait till I got old enough to make out what was the difference between them, but I'll have to chance it now. I guess I'll be a Presbyterian, 'cause I want to be like the rest of you. Yes, I'll be a Presbyterian.""I know a story about Judy Pineau and the word Presbyterian," said the Story Girl, "but I can't tell it now. If to-morrow isn't the Judgment Day I'll tell it Monday."
"If I had known that to-morrow might be the Judgment Day I wouldn't have quarrelled with you last Monday, Sara Stanley, or been so horrid and sulky all the week. Indeed I wouldn't," said Felicity, with very unusual humility.
Ah, Felicity! We were all, in the depths of our pitiful little souls, reviewing the innumerable things we would or would not have done "if we had known." What a black and endless list they made--those sins of omission and commission that rushed accusingly across our young memories! For us the leaves of the Book of Judgment were already opened; and we stood at the bar of our own consciences, than which for youth or eld, there can be no more dread tribunal. I thought of all the evil deeds of my short life--of pinching Felix to make him cry out at family prayers, of playing truant from Sunday School and going fishing one day, of a certain fib--no, no away from this awful hour with all such euphonious evasions--of a LIE I had once told, of many a selfish and unkind word and thought and action. And to-morrow might be the great and terrible day of the last accounting! Oh, if I had only been a better boy!
"The quarrel was as much my fault as yours, Felicity," said the Story Girl, putting her arm around Felicity. "We can't undo it now. But if to-morrow isn't the Judgment Day we must be careful never to quarrel again. Oh, I wish father was here.""He will be," said Cecily. "If it's the Judgment Day for Prince Edward Island it will be for Europe, too." "I wish we could just KNOW whether what the paper says is true or not," said Felix desperately. "It seems to me I could brace up if I just KNEW."
But to whom could we appeal? Uncle Alec was away and would not be back until late that night. Neither Aunt Janet nor Uncle Roger were people to whom we cared to apply in such a crisis. We were afraid of the Judgment Day; but we were almost equally afraid of being laughed at. How about Aunt Olivia?
"No, Aunt Olivia has gone to bed with a sick headache and mustn't be disturbed," said the Story Girl. "She said I must get dinner ready, because there was plenty of cold meat, and nothing to do but boil the potatoes and peas, and set the table. I don't know how I can put my thoughts into it when the Judgment Day may be to-morrow. Besides, what is the good of asking the grown-ups? They don't know anything more about this than we do.""But if they'd just SAY they didn't believe it, it would be a sort of comfort," said Cecily. "I suppose the minister would know, but he's away on his vacation" said Felicity. "Anyhow, I'll go and ask mother what she thinks of it." Felicity picked up the _Enterprise_ and betook herself to the house. We awaited her return in dire suspense. "Well, what does she say?" asked Cecily tremulously.
"She said, 'Run away and don't bother me. I haven't any time for your nonsense.'" responded Felicity in an injured tone. "And I said, 'But, ma, the paper SAYS to-morrow is the Judgment Day,' and ma just said 'Judgment Fiddlesticks!'""Well, that's kind of comforting," said Peter. "She can't put any faith in it, or she'd be more worked up." "If it only wasn't PRINTED!" said Dan gloomily. "Let's all go over and ask Uncle Roger," said Felix desperately.
That we should make Uncle Roger a court of last resort indicated all too clearly the state of our minds. But we went. Uncle Roger was in his barn-yard, hitching his black mare into the buggy. His copy of the _Enterprise_ was sticking out of his pocket. He looked, as we saw with sinking hearts, unusually grave and preoccupied. There was not a glimmer of a smile about his face."You ask him," said Felicity, nudging the Story Girl.
"Uncle Roger," said the Story Girl, the golden notes of her voice threaded with fear and appeal. "the _Enterprise_ says that to-morrow is the Judgment Day? IS it? Do YOU think it is?""I'm afraid so," said Uncle Roger gravely. "The _Enterprise_ is always very careful to print only reliable news." "But mother doesn't believe it," cried Felicity. Uncle Roger shook his head.
"That is just the trouble," he said. "People won't believe it till it's too late. I'm going straight to Markdale to pay a man there some money I owe him, and after dinner I'm going to Summerside to buy me a new suit. My old one is too shabby for the Judgment Day."He got into his buggy and drove away, leaving eight distracted mortals behind him. "Well, I suppose that settles it," said Peter, in despairing tone. "Is there anything we can do to PREPARE?" asked Cecily.
"I wish I had a white dress like you girls," sobbed Sara Ray. "But I haven't, and it's too late to get one. Oh, I wish I had minded what ma said better. I wouldn't have disobeyed her so often if I'd thought the Judgment Day was so near. When I go home I'm going to tell her about going to the magic lantern show."
"I'm not sure that Uncle Roger meant what he said," remarked the Story Girl. "I couldn't get a look into his eyes. If he was trying to hoax us there would have been a twinkle in them. He can never help that. You know he would think it a great joke to frighten us like this. It's really dreadful to have no grown-ups you can depend on."
"We could depend on father if he was here," said Dan stoutly. "HE'D tell us the truth." "He would tell us what he THOUGHT was true, Dan, but he couldn't KNOW. He's not such a well-educated man as the editor of the _Enterprise_. No, there's nothing to do but wait and see.""Let us go into the house and read just what the Bible does say about it," suggested Cecily.
We crept in carefully, lest we disturb Aunt Olivia, and Cecily found and read the significant portion of Holy Writ. There was little comfort for us in that vivid and terrible picture."Well," said the Story Girl finally. "I must go and get the potatoes ready. I suppose they must be boiled even if it is the Judgment Day to-morrow. But I don't believe it is." "And I've got to go and stump elderberries," said Peter. "I don't see how I can do it--go away back there alone. I'll feel scared to death the whole time." "Tell Uncle Roger that, and say if to-morrow is the end of the world that there is no good in stumping any more fields," I suggested. "Yes, and if he lets you off then we'll know he was in earnest," chimed in Cecily. "But if he still says you must go that'll be a sign he doesn't believe it."
Leaving the Story Girl and Peter to peel their potatoes, the rest of us went home, where Aunt Janet, who had gone to the well and found the fragments of the old blue cup, gave poor Felicity a bitter scolding about it. But Felicity bore it very patiently--nay, more, she seemed to delight in it.
"Ma can't believe to-morrow is the last day, or she wouldn't scold like that," she told us; and this comforted us until after dinner, when the Story Girl and Peter came over and told us that Uncle Roger had really gone to Summerside. Then we plunged down into fear and wretchedness again.
"But he said I must go and stump elderberries just the same" said Peter. "He said it might NOT be the Judgment Day to-morrow, though he believed it was, and it would keep me out of mischief. But I just can't stand it back there alone. Some of you fellows must come with me. I don't want you to work, but just for company."It was finally decided that Dan and Felix should go. I wanted to go also, but the girls protested.
"YOU must stay and keep us cheered up," implored Felicity. "I just don't know how I'm ever going to put in the afternoon. I promised Kitty Marr that I'd go down and spend it with her, but I can't now. And I can't knit any at my lace. I'd just keep thinking, 'What is the use? Perhaps it'll all be burned up to-morrow.'"
So I stayed with the girls, and a miserable afternoon we had of it. The Story Girl again and again declared that she "didn't believe it," but when we asked her to tell a story, she evaded it with a flimsy excuse. Cecily pestered at Aunt Janet's life out, asking repeatedly, "Ma, will you be washing Monday?" "Ma, will you be going to prayer meeting Tuesday night?" "Ma, will you be preserving raspberries next week?" and various similar questions. It was a huge comfort to her that Aunt Janet always said, "Yes," or "Of course," as if there could be no question about it.
Sara Ray cried until I wondered how one small head could contain all the tears she shed. But I do not believe she was half as much frightened as disappointed that she had no white dress. In mid-afternoon Cecily came downstairs with her forget-me-not jug in her hand--a dainty bit of china, wreathed with dark blue forget-me-nots, which Cecily prized highly, and in which she always kept her toothbrush."Sara, I am going to give you this jug," she said solemnly. Now, Sara had always coveted this particular jug. She stopped crying long enough to clutch it delightedly. "Oh, Cecily, thank you. But are you sure you won't want it back if to-morrow isn't the Judgment Day?" "No, it's yours for good," said Cecily, with the high, remote air of one to whom forgetme-not jugs and all such pomps and vanities of the world were as a tale that is told.
"Are you going to give any one your cherry vase?" asked Felicity, trying to speak indifferently. Felicity had never admired the forget-me-not jug, but she had always hankered after the cherry vase--an affair of white glass, with a cluster of red glass cherries and golden-green glass leaves on its side, which Aunt Olivia had given Cecily one Christmas."No, I'm not," answered Cecily, with a change of tone. "Oh, well, I don't care," said Felicity quickly. "Only, if to-morrow is the last day, the cherry vase won't be much use to you."
"I guess it will be as much use to me as to any one else," said Cecily indignantly. She had sacrificed her dear forget-me-not jug to satisfy some pang of conscience, or propitiate some threatening fate, but surrender her precious cherry vase she could not and would not. Felicity needn't be giving any hints!
With the gathering shades of night our plight became pitiful. In the daylight, surrounded by homely, familiar sights and sounds, it was not so difficult to fortify our souls with a cheering incredulity. But now, in this time of shadows, dread belief clutched us and wrung us with terror. If there had been one wise older friend to tell us, in serious fashion, that we need not be afraid, that the _Enterprise_ paragraph was naught save the idle report of a deluded fanatic, it would have been well for us. But there was not. Our grownups, instead, considered our terror an exquisite jest. At that very moment, Aunt Olivia, who had recovered from her headache, and Aunt Janet were laughing in the kitchen over the state the children were in because they were afraid the end of the world was close at hand. Aunt Janet's throaty gurgle and Aunt Olivia's trilling mirth floated out through the open window."Perhaps they'll laugh on the other side of their faces to-morrow," said Dan, with gloomy satisfaction.
We were sitting on the cellar hatch, watching what might be our last sunset o'er the dark hills of time. Peter was with us. It was his last Sunday to go home, but he had elected to remain."If to-morrow is the Judgment Day I want to be with you fellows," he said. Sara Ray had also yearned to stay, but could not because her mother had told her she must be home before dark. "Never mind, Sara," comforted Cecily. "It's not to be till two o'clock to-morrow, so you'll have plenty of time to get up here before anything happens." "But there might be a mistake," sobbed Sara. "It might be two o'clock to-night instead of to-morrow." It might, indeed. This was a new horror, which had not occurred to us. "I'm sure I won't sleep a wink to-night," said Felix. "The paper SAYS two o'clock to-morrow," said Dan. "You needn't worry, Sara."
But Sara departed, weeping. She did not, however, forget to carry the forget-me-not jug with her. All things considered, her departure was a relief. Such a constantly tearful damsel was not a pleasant companion. Cecily and Felicity and the Story Girl did not cry. They were made of finer, firmer stuff. Dry-eyed, with such courage as they might, they faced whatever might be in store for them.
"I wonder where we'll all be this time to-morrow night," said Felix mournfully, as we watched the sunset between the dark fir boughs. It was an ominous sunset. The sun dropped down amid dark, livid clouds, that turned sullen shades of purple and fiery red behind him."I hope we'll be all together, wherever we are," said Cecily gently. "Nothing can be so very bad then."
"I'm going to read the Bible all to-morrow forenoon," said Peter. When Aunt Olivia came out to go home the Story Girl asked her permission to stay all night with Felicity and Cecily. Aunt Olivia assented lightly, swinging her hat on her arm and including us all in a friendly smile. She looked very pretty, with her big blue eyes and warm-hued golden hair. We loved Aunt Olivia; but just now we resented her having laughed at us with Aunt Janet, and we refused to smile back."What a sulky, sulky lot of little people," said Aunt Olivia, going away across the yard, holding her pretty dress up from the dewy grass.
Peter resolved to stay all night with us, too, not troubling himself about anybody's permission. When we went to bed it was settling down for a stormy night, and the rain was streaming wetly on the roof, as if the world, like Sara Ray, were weeping because its end was so near. Nobody forgot or hurried over his prayers that night. We would dearly have loved to leave the candle burning, but Aunt Janet's decree regarding this was as inexorable as any of Mede and Persia. Out the candle must go; and we lay there, quaking, with the wild rain streaming down on the roof above us, and the voices of the storm wailing through the writhing spruce trees.
Sunday morning broke, dull and gray. The rain had ceased, but the clouds hung dark and brooding above a world which, in its windless calm, following the spent storm-throe, seemed to us to be waiting "till judgment spoke the doom of fate." We were all up early. None of us, it appeared, had slept well, and some of us not at all. The Story Girl had been among the latter, and she looked very pale and wan, with black shadows under her deepset eyes. Peter, however, had slept soundly enough after twelve o'clock.
"When you've been stumping out elderberries all the afternoon it'll take more than the Judgment Day to keep you awake all night," he said. "But when I woke up this morning it was just awful. I'd forgot it for a moment, and then it all came back with a rush, and I was worse scared than before."Cecily was pale but brave. For the first time in years she had not put her hair up in curlers on Saturday night. It was brushed and braided with Puritan simplicity. "If it's the Judgment Day I don't care whether my hair is curly or not," she said. "Well," said Aunt Janet, when we all descended to the kitchen, "this is the first time you young ones have ever all got up without being called, and that's a fact."
At breakfast our appetites were poor. How could the grown-ups eat as they did? After breakfast and the necessary chores there was the forenoon to be lived through. Peter, true to his word, got out his Bible and began to read from the first chapter in Genesis."I won't have time to read it all through, I s'pose," he said, "but I'll get along as far as I can."
There was no preaching in Carlisle that day, and Sunday School was not till the evening. Cecily got out her Lesson Slip and studied the lesson conscientiously. The rest of us did not see how she could do it. We could not, that was very certain.
"If it isn't the Judgment Day, I want to have the lesson learned," she said, "and if it is I'll feel I've done what was right. But I never found it so hard to remember the Golden Text before."
The long dragging hours were hard to endure. We roamed restlessly about, and went to and fro--all save Peter, who still steadily read away at his Bible. He was through Genesis by eleven and beginning on Exodus.
"There's a good deal of it I don't understand," he said, "but I read every word, and that's the main thing. That story about Joseph and his brother was so int'resting I almost forgot about the Judgment Day."
But the long drawn out dread was beginning to get on Dan's nerves.
If we had eaten little at breakfast we could eat still less at dinner. After dinner the clouds rolled away, and the sun came joyously and gloriously out. This, we thought, was a good omen. Felicity opined that it wouldn't have cleared up if it was the Judgment Day. Nevertheless, we dressed ourselves carefully, and the girls put on their white dresses.
Sara Ray came up, still crying, of course. She increased our uneasiness by saying that her mother believed the _Enterprise_ paragraph, and was afraid that the end of the world was really at hand.
"That's why she let me come up," she sobbed. "If she hadn't been afraid I don't believe she would have let me come up. But I'd have died if I couldn't have come. And she wasn't a bit cross when I told her I had gone to the magic lantern show. That's an awful bad sign. I hadn't a white dress, but I put on my white muslin apron with the frills."
"That seems kind of queer," said Felicity doubtfully. "You wouldn't put on an apron to go to church, and so it doesn't seems as if it was proper to put it on for Judgment Day either.""Well, it's the best I could do," said Sara disconsolately. "I wanted to have something white on. It's just like a dress only it hasn't sleeves."
"Let's go into the orchard and wait," said the Story Girl. "It's one o'clock now, so in another hour we'll know the worst. We'll leave the front door open, and we'll hear the big clock when it strikes two."
No better plan being suggested, we betook ourselves to the orchard, and sat on the boughs of Uncle Alec's tree because the grass was wet. The world was beautiful and peaceful and green. Overhead was a dazzling blue sky, spotted with heaps of white cloud."Pshaw, I don't believe there's any fear of it being the last day," said Dan, beginning a whistle out of sheer bravado. "Well, don't whistle on Sunday anyhow," said Felicity severely. "I don't see a thing about Methodists or Presbyterians, as far as I've gone, and I'm most through Exodus," said Peter suddenly. "When does it begin to tell about them?" "There's nothing about Methodists or Presbyterians in the Bible," said Felicity scornfully. Peter looked amazed. "Well, how did they happen then?" he asked. "When did they begin to be?" "I've often thought it such a strange thing that there isn't a word about either of them in the Bible," said Cecily. "Especially when it mentions Baptists--or at least one Baptist."
"Well, anyhow," said Peter, "even if it isn't the Judgment Day I'm going to keep on reading the Bible until I've got clean through. I never thought it was such an int'resting book.""It sounds simply dreadful to hear you call the Bible an interesting book," said Felicity, with a shudder at the sacrilege. "Why, you might be talking about ANY common book." "I didn't mean any harm," said Peter, crestfallen.
"The Bible IS an interesting book," said the Story Girl, coming to Peter's rescue. "And there are magnificent stories in it--yes, Felicity, MAGNIFICENT. If the world doesn't come to an end I'll tell you the story of Ruth next Sunday--or look here! I'll tell it anyhow. That's a promise. Wherever we are next Sunday I'll tell you about Ruth.""Why, you wouldn't tell stories in heaven," said Cecily, in a very timid voice. "Why not?" said the Story Girl, with a flash of her eyes. "Indeed I shall. I'll tell stories as long as I've a tongue to talk with, or any one to listen."
Ay, doubtless. That dauntless spirit would soar triumphantly above the wreck of matter and the crash of worlds, taking with it all its own wild sweetness and daring. Even the young-eyed cherubim, choiring on meadows of asphodel, might cease their harping for a time to listen to a tale of the vanished earth, told by that golden tongue. Some vague thought of this was in our minds as we looked at her; and somehow it comforted us. Not even the Judgment was so greatly to be feared if after it we were the SAME, our own precious little identities unchanged."It must be getting handy two," said Cecily. "It seems as if we'd been waiting here for ever so much longer than an hour."
Conversation languished. We watched and waited nervously. The moments dragged by, each seeming an hour. Would two o'clock never come and end the suspense? We all became very tense. Even Peter had to stop reading. Any unaccustomed sound or sight in the world about us struck on our taut senses like the trump of doom. A cloud passed over the sun and as the sudden shadow swept across the orchard we turned pale and trembled. A wagon rumbling over a plank bridge in the hollow made Sara Ray start up with a shriek. The slamming of a barn door over at Uncle Roger's caused the cold perspiration to break out on our faces.
"I don't believe it's the Judgment Day," said Felix, "and I never have believed it. But oh, I wish that clock would strike two."
Pat presently came galloping up the orchard, carrying in his mouth a big field mouse, which, sitting down before us, he proceeded to devour, body and bones, afterwards licking his chops with great satisfaction."It can't be the Judgment Day," said Sara Ray, brightening up. "Paddy would never be eating mice if it was." "If that clock doesn't soon strike two I shall go out of my seven senses," declared Cecily with unusual vehemence. "Time always seems long when you're waiting," said the Story Girl. "But it does seem as if we had been here more than an hour." "Maybe the clock struck and we didn't hear it," suggested Dan. "Somebody'd better go and see." "I'll go," said Cecily. "I suppose, even if anything happens, I'll have time to get back to you."
We watched her white-clad figure pass through the gate and enter the front door. A few minutes passed--or a few years--we could not have told which. Then Cecily came running at full speed back to us. But when she reached us she trembled so much that at first she could not speak."What is it? Is it past two?" implored the Story Girl.
"It's--it's four," said Cecily with a gasp. "The old clock isn't going. Mother forgot to wind it up last night and it stopped. But it's four by the kitchen clock--so it isn't the Judgment Day--and tea is ready--and mother says to come in."
We looked at each other, realizing what our dread had been, now that it was lifted. It was not the Judgment Day. The world and life were still before us, with all their potent lure of years unknown.
"I'll never believe anything I read in the papers again," said Dan, rushing to the opposite extreme.
"I told you the Bible was more to be depended on than the newspapers," said Cecily triumphantly.
Sara Ray and Peter and the Story Girl went home, and we went in to tea with royal appetites. Afterwards, as we dressed for Sunday School upstairs, our spirits carried us away to such an extent that Aunt Janet had to come twice to the foot of the stairs and inquire severely, "Children, have you forgotten what day this is?""Isn't it nice that we're going to live a spell longer in this nice world?" said Felix, as we walked down the hill. "Yes, and Felicity and the Story Girl are speaking again," said Cecily happily. "And Felicity DID speak first," I said. "Yes, but it took the Judgment Day to make her. I wish," added Cecily with a sigh, "that I hadn't been in quite such a hurry giving away my forget-me-not jug." "And I wish I hadn't been in such a hurry deciding I'd be a Presbyterian," said Peter. "Well, it's not too late for that," said Dan. "You can change your mind now."
"No, sir," said Peter with a flash of spirit, "I ain't one of the kind that says they'll be something just because they're scared, and when the scare is over go back on it. I said I'd be Presbyterian and I mean to stick to it.""You said you knew a story that had something to do with Presbyterians," I said to the Story Girl. "Tell us it now." "Oh, no, it isn't the right kind of story to tell on Sunday," she replied. "But I'll tell it tomorrow morning." Accordingly, we heard it the next morning in the orchard.
"Long ago, when Judy Pineau was young," said the Story Girl, "she was hired with Mrs. Elder Frewen--the first Mrs. Elder Frewen. Mrs. Frewen had been a school-teacher, and she was very particular as to how people talked, and the grammar they used. And she didn't like anything but refined words. One very hot day she heard Judy Pineau say she was 'all in a sweat.' Mrs. Frewen was greatly shocked, and said, 'Judy, you shouldn't say that. It's horses that sweat. You should say you are in a perspiration.' Well, Judy promised she'd remember, because she liked Mrs. Frewen and was anxious to please her. Not long afterwards Judy was scrubbing the kitchen floor one morning, and when Mrs. Frewen came in Judy looked up and said, quite proud over using the right word, 'Oh, Mees Frewen, ain't it awful hot? I declare I'm all in a Presbyterian.'"
August went out and September came in. Harvest was ended; and though summer was not yet gone, her face was turned westering. The asters lettered her retreating footsteps in a purple script, and over the hills and valleys hung a faint blue smoke, as if Nature were worshipping at her woodland altar. The apples began to burn red on the bending boughs; crickets sang day and night; squirrels chattered secrets of Polichinelle in the spruces; the sunshine was as thick and yellow as molten gold; school opened, and we small denizens of the hill farms lived happy days of harmless work and necessary play, closing in nights of peaceful, undisturbed slumber under a roof watched over by autumnal stars.At least, our slumbers were peaceful and undisturbed until our orgy of dreaming began.
"I would really like to know what especial kind of deviltry you young fry are up to this time," said Uncle Roger one evening, as he passed through the orchard with his gun on his shoulder, bound for the swamp.
We were sitting in a circle before the Pulpit Stone, each writing diligently in an exercise book, and eating the Rev. Mr. Scott's plums, which always reached their prime of juicy, golden-green flesh and bloomy blue skin in September. The Rev. Mr. Scott was dead and gone, but those plums certainly kept his memory green, as his forgotten sermons could never have done."Oh," said Felicity in a shocked tone, when Uncle Roger had passed by, "Uncle Roger SWORE." "Oh, no, he didn't," said the Story Girl quickly. "'Deviltry' isn't swearing at all. It only means extra bad mischief." "Well, it's not a very nice word, anyhow," said Felicity.
"No, it isn't," agreed the Story Girl with a regretful sigh. "It's very expressive, but it isn't nice. That is the way with so many words. They're expressive, but they're not nice, and so a girl can't use them"
The Story Girl sighed again. She loved expressive words, and treasured them as some girls might have treasured jewels. To her, they were as lustrous pearls, threaded on the crimson cord of a vivid fancy. When she met with a new one she uttered it over and over to herself in solitude, weighing it, caressing it, infusing it with the radiance of her voice, making it her own in all its possibilities for ever.
"Well, anyhow, it isn't a suitable word in this case," insisted Felicity. "We are not up to any dev--any extra bad mischief. Writing down one's dreams isn't mischief at all." Certainly it wasn't. Surely not even the straitest sect of the grown-ups could call it so. If writing down your dreams, with agonizing care as to composition and spelling--for who knew that the eyes of generations unborn might not read the record?--were not a harmless amusement, could anything be called so? I trow not.
We had been at it for a fortnight, and during that time we only lived to have dreams and write them down. The Story Girl had originated the idea one evening in the rustling, rainwet ways of the spruce wood, where we were picking gum after a day of showers. When we had picked enough, we sat down on the moss-grown stones at the end of a long arcade, where it opened out on the harvest-golden valley below us, our jaws exercising themselves vigorously on the spoil of our climbings. We were never allowed to chew gum in school or in company, but in wood and field, orchard and hayloft, such rules were in abeyance."My Aunt Jane used to say it wasn't polite to chew gum anywhere," said Peter rather ruefully.
"I don't suppose your Aunt Jane knew all the rules of etiquette," said Felicity, designing to crush Peter with a big word, borrowed from the _Family Guide_. But Peter was not to be so crushed. He had in him a certain toughness of fibre, that would have been proof against a whole dictionary.
"She did, too," he retorted. "My Aunt Jane was a real lady, even if she was only a Craig. She knew all those rules and she kept them when there was nobody round to see her, just the same as when any one was. And she was smart. If father had had half her git-up-andgit I wouldn't be a hired boy to-day.""Have you any idea where your father is?" asked Dan.
"No," said Peter indifferently. "The last we heard of him he was in the Maine lumber woods. But that was three years ago. I don't know where he is now, and," added Peter deliberately, taking his gum from his mouth to make his statement more impressive, "I don't care.""Oh, Peter, that sounds dreadful," said Cecily. "Your own father!"
"Well," said Peter defiantly, "if your own father had run away when you was a baby, and left your mother to earn her living by washing and working out, I guess you wouldn't care much about him either.""Perhaps your father may come home some of these days with a huge fortune," suggested the Story Girl.
"Perhaps pigs may whistle, but they've poor mouths for it," was all the answer Peter deigned to this charming suggestion.
"There goes Mr. Campbell down the road," said Dan. "That's his new mare. Isn't she a dandy? She's got a skin like black satin. He calls her Betty Sherman."
"I don't suppose the _Family Guide_ would think so," agreed the Story Girl lazily, with some sarcasm in her voice. The Story Girl never held the _Family Guide_ in such reverence as did Felicity and Cecily. They pored over the "etiquette column" every week, and could have told you on demand, just exactly what kind of gloves should be worn at a wedding, what you should say when introducing or being introduced, and how you ought to look when your best young man came to see you."They say Mrs. Richard Cook asked HER husband to marry her," said Dan.
"Uncle Roger says she didn't exactly ask him, but she helped the lame dog over the stile so slick that Richard was engaged to her before he knew what had happened to him," said the Story Girl. "I know a story about Mrs. Richard Cook's grandmother. She was one of those women who are always saying 'I told you so--'""Take notice, Felicity," said Dan aside.
"--And she was very stubborn. Soon after she was married she and her husband quarrelled about an apple tree they had planted in their orchard. The label was lost. He said it was a Fameuse and she declared it was a Yellow Transparent. They fought over it till the neighbours came out to listen. Finally he got so angry that he told her to shut up. They didn't have any _Family Guide_ in those days, so he didn't know it wasn't polite to say shut up to your wife. I suppose she thought she would teach him manners, for would you believe it? That woman did shut up, and never spoke one single word to her husband for five years. And then, in five years' time, the tree bore apples, and they WERE Yellow Transparents. And then she spoke at last. She said, 'I told you so.'""And did she talk to him after that as usual?" asked Sara Ray.
"Oh, yes, she was just the same as she used to be," said the Story Girl wearily. "But that doesn't belong to the story. It stops when she spoke at last. You're never satisfied to leave a story where it should stop, Sara Ray.""Well, I always like to know what happens afterwards," said Sara Ray. "Uncle Roger says he wouldn't want a wife he could never quarrel with," remarked Dan. "He says it would be too tame a life for him." "I wonder if Uncle Roger will always stay a bachelor," said Cecily. "He seems real happy," observed Peter.
"Ma says that it's all right as long as he is a bachelor because he won't take any one," said Felicity, "but if he wakes up some day and finds he is an old bachelor because he can't get any one it'll have a very different flavour.""If your Aunt Olivia was to up and get married what would your Uncle Roger do for a housekeeper?" asked Peter. "Oh, but Aunt Olivia will never be married now," said Felicity. "Why, she'll be twentynine next January." "Well, o' course, that's pretty old," admitted Peter, "but she might find some one who wouldn't mind that, seeing she's so pretty."
"It would be awful splendid and exciting to have a wedding in the family, wouldn't it?" said Cecily. "I've never seen any one married, and I'd just love to. I've been to four funerals, but not to one single wedding.""I've never even got to a funeral," said Sara Ray gloomily. "There's the wedding veil of the proud princess," said Cecily, pointing to a long drift of filmy vapour in the southwestern sky.
"And look at that sweet pink cloud below it," added Felicity. "Maybe that little pink cloud is a dream, getting all ready to float down into somebody's sleep," suggested the Story Girl."I had a perfectly awful dream last night," said Cecily, with a shudder of remembrance. "I dreamed I was on a desert island inhabited by tigers and natives with two heads."
"Oh!" the Story Girl looked at Cecily half reproachfully. "Why couldn't you tell it better than that? If I had such a dream I could tell it so that everybody else would feel as if they had dreamed it, too.""Well, I'm not you," countered Cecily, "and I wouldn't want to frighten any one as I was frightened. It was an awful dream--but it was kind of interesting, too." "I've had some real int'resting dreams," said Peter, "but I can't remember them long. I wish I could."
"Why don't you write them down?" suggested the Story Girl. "Oh--" she turned upon us a face illuminated with a sudden inspiration. "I've an idea. Let us each get an exercise book and write down all our dreams, just as we dream them. We'll see who'll have the most interesting collection. And we'll have them to read and laugh over when we're old and gray."
Instantly we all saw ourselves and each other by inner vision, old and gray--all but the Story Girl. We could not picture her as old. Always, as long as she lived, so it seemed to us, must she have sleek brown curls, a voice like the sound of a harpstring in the wind, and eyes that were stars of eternal youth.
The next day the Story Girl coaxed Uncle Roger to take her to Markdale, and there she bought our dream books. They were ten cents apiece, with ruled pages and mottled green covers. My own lies open beside me as I write, its yellowed pages inscribed with the visions that haunted my childish slumbers on those nights of long ago.
On the cover is pasted a lady's visiting card, on which is written, "The Dream Book of Beverley King." Cecily had a packet of visiting cards which she was hoarding against the day when she would be grown up and could put the calling etiquette of the _Family Guide_ into practice; but she generously gave us all one apiece for the covers of our dream books.
As I turn the pages and glance over the naïve records, each one beginning, "Last night I dreamed," the past comes very vividly back to me. I see that bowery orchard, shining in memory with a soft glow of beauty--"the light that never was on land or sea,"--where we sat on those September evenings and wrote down our dreams, when the cares of the day were over and there was nothing to interfere with the pleasing throes of composition. Peter--Dan--Felix--Cecily--Felicity--Sara Ray--the Story Girl--they are all around me once more, in the sweet-scented, fading grasses, each with open dream books and pencil in hand, now writing busily, now staring fixedly into space in search of some elusive word or phrase which might best describe the indescribable. I hear their laughing voices, I see their bright, unclouded eyes. In this little, old book, filled with cramped, boyish writing, there is a spell of white magic that sets the years at naught. Beverley King is a boy once more, writing down his dreams in the old King orchard on the homestead hill, blown over by musky winds.
Opposite to him sits the Story Girl, with her scarlet rosetted head, her beautiful bare feet crossed before her, one slender hand propping her high, white brow, on either side of which fall her glossy curls.
There, to the right, is sweet Cecily of the dear, brown eyes, with a little bloated dictionary beside her--for you dream of so many things you can't spell, or be expected to spell, when you are only eleven. Next to her sits Felicity, beautiful, and conscious that she is beautiful, with hair of spun sunshine, and sea-blue eyes, and all the roses of that vanished summer abloom in her cheeks.
Peter is beside her, of course, sprawled flat on his stomach among the grasses, one hand clutching his black curls, with his dream book on a small, round stone before him--for only so can Peter compose at all, and even then he finds it hard work. He can handle a hoe more deftly than a pencil, and his spelling, even with all his frequent appeals to Cecily, is a fearful and wonderful thing. As for punctuation, he never attempts it, beyond an occasion period, jotted down whenever he happens to think of it, whether in the right place or not. The Story Girl goes over his dreams after he has written them out, and puts in the commas and semicolons, and straightens out the sentences.
Felix sits on the right of the Story Girl, fat and stodgy, grimly in earnest even over dreams. He writes with his knees stuck up to form a writing-desk, and he always frowns fiercely the whole time.
Dan, like Peter, writes lying down flat, but with his back towards us; and he has a dismal habit of groaning aloud, writhing his whole body, and digging his toes into the grass, when he cannot turn a sentence to suit him.Sara Ray is at his left. There is seldom anything to be said of Sara except to tell where she is. Like Tennyson's Maud, in one respect at least, Sara is splendidly null. Well, there we sit and write in our dream books, and Uncle Roger passes by and accuses us of being up to dev--to very bad mischief.
Each of us was very anxious to possess the most exciting record; but we were an honourable little crew, and I do not think anything was ever written down in those dream books which had not really been dreamed. We had expected that the Story Girl would eclipse us all in the matter of dreams; but, at least in the beginning, her dreams were no more remarkable than those of the rest of us. In dreamland we were all equal. Cecily, indeed, seemed to have the most decided talent for dramatic dreams. That meekest and mildest of girls was in the habit of dreaming truly terrible things. Almost every night battle, murder, or sudden death played some part in her visions. On the other hand, Dan, who was a somewhat truculent fellow, addicted to the perusal of lurid dime novels which he borrowed from the other boys in school, dreamed dreams of such a peaceful and pastoral character that he was quite disgusted with the resulting tame pages of his dream book.
But if the Story Girl could not dream anything more wonderful than the rest of us, she scored when it came to the telling. To hear her tell a dream was as good--or as bad--as dreaming it yourself.
As far as writing them down was concerned, I believe that I, Beverley King, carried off the palm. I was considered to possess a pretty knack of composition. But the Story Girl went me one better even there, because, having inherited something of her father's talent for drawing, she illustrated her dreams with sketches that certainly caught the spirit of them, whatever might be said of their technical excellence. She had an especial knack for drawing monstrosities; and I vividly recall the picture of an enormous and hideous lizard, looking like a reptile of the pterodactyl period, which she had dreamed of seeing crawl across the roof of the house. On another occasion she had a frightful dream--at least, it seemed frightful while she told us and described the dreadful feeling it had given her--of being chased around the parlour by the ottoman, which made faces at her. She drew a picture of the grimacing ottoman on the margin of her dream book which so scared Sara Ray when she beheld it that she cried all the way home, and insisted on sleeping that night with Judy Pineau lest the furniture take to pursuing her also.
Sara Ray's own dreams never amounted to much. She was always in trouble of some sort
-couldn't get her hair braided, or her shoes on the right feet. Consequently, her dream book was very monotonous. The only thing worth mentioning in the way of dreams that Sara Ray ever achieved was when she dreamed that she went up in a balloon and fell out.
"If you hadn't woke up you'd have died," said Peter with a dark significance. "If you dream of falling and DON'T wake you DO land with a thud and it kills you. That's what happens to people who die in their sleep.""How do you know?" asked Dan skeptically. "Nobody who died in his sleep could ever tell it." "My Aunt Jane told me so," said Peter. "I suppose that settles it," said Felicity disagreeably. "You always say something nasty when I mention my Aunt Jane," said Peter reproachfully. "What did I say that was nasty?" cried Felicity. "I didn't say a single thing." "Well, it sounded nasty," said Peter, who knew that it is the tone that makes the music. "What did your Aunt Jane look like?" asked Cecily sympathetically. "Was she pretty?"
"No," conceded Peter reluctantly, "she wasn't pretty--but she looked like the woman in that picture the Story Girl's father sent her last week--the one with the shiny ring round her head and the baby in her lap. I've seen Aunt Jane look at me just like that woman looks at her baby. Ma never looks so. Poor ma is too busy washing. I wish I could dream of my Aunt Jane. I never do.""'Dream of the dead, you'll hear of the living,'" quoted Felix oracularly.
"I dreamed last night that I threw a lighted match into that keg of gunpowder in Mr. Cook's store at Markdale," said Peter. "It blew up--and everything blew up--and they fished me out of the mess--but I woke up before I'd time to find out if I was killed or not.""One is so apt to wake up just as things get interesting," remarked the Story Girl discontentedly. "I dreamed last night that I had really truly curly hair," said Cecily mournfully. "And oh,
I was so happy! It was dreadful to wake up and find it as straight as ever." Felix, that sober, solid fellow, dreamed constantly of flying through the air. His descriptions of his aerial flights over the tree-tops of dreamland always filled us with envy. None of the rest of us could ever compass such a dream, not even the Story Girl, who might have been expected to dream of flying if anybody did. Felix had a knack of dreaming anyhow, and his dream book, while suffering somewhat in comparison of literary style, was about the best of the lot when it came to subject matter. Cecily's might be more dramatic, but Felix's was more amusing. The dream which we all counted his masterpiece was the one in which a menagerie had camped in the orchard and the rhinoceros chased Aunt Janet around and around the Pulpit Stone, but turned into an inoffensive pig when it was on the point of catching her.
Felix had a sick spell soon after we began our dream books, and Aunt Janet essayed to cure him by administering a dose of liver pills which Elder Frewen had assured her were a cure-all for every disease the flesh is heir to. But Felix flatly refused to take liver pills; Mexican Tea he would drink, but liver pills he would not take, in spite of his own suffering and Aunt Janet's commands and entreaties. I could not understand his antipathy to the insignificant little white pellets, which were so easy to swallow; but he explained the matter to us in the orchard when he had recovered his usual health and spirits.
"I was afraid to take the liver pills for fear they'd prevent me from dreaming," he said. "Don't you remember old Miss Baxter in Toronto, Bev? And how she told Mrs. McLaren that she was subject to terrible dreams, and finally she took two liver pills and never had any more dreams after that. I'd rather have died than risk it," concluded Felix solemnly.
"I'd an exciting dream last night for once," said Dan triumphantly. "I dreamt old Peg Bowen chased me. I thought I was up to her house and she took after me. You bet I scooted. And she caught me--yes, sir! I felt her skinny hand reach out and clutch my shoulder. I let out a screech--and woke up.""I should think you did screech," said Felicity. "We heard you clean over into our room."
"I hate to dream of being chased because I can never run," said Sara Ray with a shiver. "I just stand rooted to the ground--and see it coming--and can't stir. It don't sound much written out, but it's awful to go through. I'm sure I hope I'll never dream Peg Bowen chases me. I'll die if I do.""I wonder what Peg Bowen would really do to a fellow if she caught him," speculated Dan. "Peg Bowen doesn't need to catch you to do things to you," said Peter ominously. "She can put ill-luck on you just by looking at you--and she will if you offend her." "I don't believe that," said the Story Girl airily.
"Don't you? All right, then! Last summer she called at Lem Hill's in Markdale, and he told her to clear out or he'd set the dog on her. Peg cleared out, and she went across his pasture, muttering to herself and throwing her arms round. And next day his very best cow took sick and died. How do you account for that?""It might have happened anyhow," said the Story Girl--somewhat less assuredly, though. "It might. But I'd just as soon Peg Bowen didn't look at MY cows," said Peter. "As if you had any cows!" giggled Felicity. "I'm going to have cows some day," said Peter, flushing. "I don't mean to be a hired boy all my life. I'll have a farm of my own and cows and everything. You'll see if I won't."
"I dreamed last night that we opened the blue chest," said the Story Girl, "and all the things were there--the blue china candlestick--only it was brass in the dream--and the fruit basket with the apple on it, and the wedding dress, and the embroidered petticoat. And we were laughing, and trying the things on, and having such fun. And Rachel Ward herself came and looked at us--so sad and reproachful--and we all felt ashamed, and I began to cry, and woke up crying.""I dreamed last night that Felix was thin," said Peter, laughing. "He did look so queer. His clothes just hung loose, and he was going round trying to hold them on."
Everybody thought this was funny, except Felix. He would not speak to Peter for two days because of it. Felicity also got into trouble because of her dreams. One night she woke up, having just had a very exciting dream; but she went to sleep again, and in the morning she could not remember the dream at all. Felicity determined she would never let another dream get away from her in such a fashion; and the next time she wakened in the night--having dreamed that she was dead and buried--she promptly arose, lighted a candle, and proceeded to write the dream down then and there. While so employed she contrived to upset the candle and set fire to her nightgown--a brand-new one, trimmed with any quantity of crocheted lace. A huge hole was burned in it, and when Aunt Janet discovered it she lifted up her voice with no uncertain sound. Felicity had never received a sharper scolding. But she took it very philosophically. She was used to her mother's bitter tongue, and she was not unduly sensitive."Anyhow, I saved my dream," she said placidly.
And that, of course, was all that really mattered. Grown people were so strangely oblivious to the truly important things of life. Material for new garments, of night or day, could be bought in any shop for a trifling sum and made up out of hand. But if a dream escape you, in what market-place the wide world over can you hope to regain it? What coin of earthly minting will ever buy back for you that lost and lovely vision?
Peter took Dan and me aside one evening, as we were on our way to the orchard with our dream books, saying significantly that he wanted our advice. Accordingly, we went round to the spruce wood, where the girls would not see us to the rousing of their curiosity, and then Peter told us of his dilemma.
"Last night I dreamed I was in church," he said. "I thought it was full of people, and I walked up the aisle to your pew and set down, as unconcerned as a pig on ice. And then I found that I hadn't a stitch of clothes on--NOT ONE BLESSED STITCH. Now"-- Peter dropped his voice--"what is bothering me is this--would it be proper to tell a dream like that before the girls?"I was of the opinion that it would be rather questionable; but Dan vowed he didn't see why. HE'D tell it quick as any other dream. There was nothing bad in it.
"But they're your own relations," said Peter. "They're no relation to me, and that makes a difference. Besides, they're all such ladylike girls. I guess I'd better not risk it. I'm pretty sure Aunt Jane wouldn't think it was proper to tell such a dream. And I don't want to offend Fel--any of them."So Peter never told that dream, nor did he write it down. Instead, I remember seeing in his dream book, under the date of September fifteenth, an entry to this effect:-- "Last nite i dremed a drem. it wasent a polit drem so i won't rite it down."
The girls saw this entry but, to their credit be it told, they never tried to find out what the "drem" was. As Peter said, they were "ladies" in the best and truest sense of that much abused appellation. Full of fun and frolic and mischief they were, with all the defects of their qualities and all the wayward faults of youth. But no indelicate thought or vulgar word could have been shaped or uttered in their presence. Had any of us boys ever been guilty of such, Cecily's pale face would have coloured with the blush of outraged purity, Felicity's golden head would have lifted itself in the haughty indignation of insulted womanhood, and the Story Girl's splendid eyes would have flashed with such anger and scorn as would have shrivelled the very soul of the wretched culprit.
Dan was once guilty of swearing. Uncle Alec whipped him for it--the only time he ever so punished any of his children. But it was because Cecily cried all night that Dan was filled with saving remorse and repentance. He vowed next day to Cecily that he would never swear again, and he kept his word.
All at once the Story Girl and Peter began to forge ahead in the matter of dreaming. Their dreams suddenly became so lurid and dreadful and picturesque that it was hard for the rest of us to believe that they were not painting the lily rather freely in their accounts of them. But the Story Girl was the soul of honour; and Peter, early in life, had had his feet set in the path of truthfulness by his Aunt Jane and had never been known to stray from it. When they assured us solemnly that their dreams all happened exactly as they described them we were compelled to believe them. But there was something up, we felt sure of that. Peter and the Story Girl certainly had a secret between them, which they kept for a whole fortnight. There was no finding it out from the Story Girl. She had a knack of keeping secrets, anyhow; and, moreover, all that fortnight she was strangely cranky and petulant, and we found it was not wise to tease her. She was not well, so Aunt Olivia told Aunt Janet.
"I don't know what is the matter with the child," said the former anxiously. "She hasn't seemed like herself the past two weeks. She complains of headache, and she has no appetite, and she is a dreadful colour. I'll have to see a doctor about her if she doesn't get better soon.""Give her a good dose of Mexican Tea and try that first," said Aunt Janet. "I've saved many a doctor's bill in my family by using Mexican Tea."
The Mexican Tea was duly administered, but produced no improvement in the condition of the Story Girl, who, however, went on dreaming after a fashion which soon made her dream book a veritable curiosity of literature."If we can't soon find out what makes Peter and the Story Girl dream like that, the rest of us might as well give up trying to write dream books," said Felix discontentedly.
Finally, we did find out. Felicity wormed the secret out of Peter by the employment of Delilah wiles, such as have been the undoing of many a miserable male creature since Samson's day. She first threatened that she would never speak to him again if he didn't tell her; and then she promised him that, if he did, she would let him walk beside her to and from Sunday School all the rest of the summer, and carry her books for her. Peter was not proof against this double attack. He yielded and told the secret.I expected the Story Girl would overwhelm him with scorn and indignation. But she took it very coolly. "I knew Felicity would get it out of him sometime," she said. "I think he has done well to hold out this long."
Peter and the Story Girl, so it appeared, had wooed wild dreams to their pillows by the simple device of eating rich, indigestible things before they went to bed. Aunt Olivia knew nothing about it, of course. She permitted them only a plain, wholesome lunch at bed-time. But during the day the Story Girl would smuggle upstairs various tidbits from the pantry, putting half in Peter's room and half in her own; and the result was these visions which had been our despair.
"Last night I ate a piece of mince pie," she said, "and a lot of pickles, and two grape jelly tarts. But I guess I overdid it, because I got real sick and couldn't sleep at all, so of course I didn't have any dreams. I should have stopped with the pie and pickles and left the tarts alone. Peter did, and he had an elegant dream that Peg Bowen caught him and put him on to boil alive in that big black pot that hangs outside her door. He woke up before the water got hot, though. Well, Miss Felicity, you're pretty smart. But how will you like to walk to Sunday School with a boy who wears patched trousers?""I won't have to," said Felicity triumphantly. "Peter is having a new suit made. It's to be ready by Saturday. I knew that before I promised." Having discovered how to produce exciting dreams, we all promptly followed the example of Peter and the Story Girl. "There is no chance for me to have any horrid dreams," lamented Sara Ray, "because ma won't let me having anything at all to eat before I go to bed. I don't think it's fair." "Can't you hide something away through the day as we do?" asked Felicity. "No." Sara shook her fawn-coloured head mournfully. "Ma always keeps the pantry locked, for fear Judy Pineau will treat her friends."
For a week we ate unlawful lunches and dreamed dreams after our own hearts--and, I regret to say, bickered and squabbled incessantly throughout the daytime, for our digestions went out of order and our tempers followed suit. Even the Story Girl and I had a fight--something that had never happened before. Peter was the only one who kept his normal poise. Nothing could upset that boy's stomach.
One night Cecily came into the pantry with a large cucumber, and proceeded to devour the greater part of it. The grown-ups were away that evening, attending a lecture at Markdale, so we ate our snacks openly, without any recourse to ways that were dark. I remember I supped that night off a solid hunk of fat pork, topped off with a slab of cold plum pudding."I thought you didn't like cucumber, Cecily," Dan remarked.
"Neither I do," said Cecily with a grimace. "But Peter says they're splendid for dreaming. He et one that night he had the dream about being caught by cannibals. I'd eat three cucumbers if I could have a dream like that."
Cecily finished her cucumber, and then drank a glass of milk, just as we heard the wheels of Uncle Alec's buggy rambling over the bridge in the hollow. Felicity quickly restored pork and pudding to their own places, and by the time Aunt Janet came in we were all in our respective beds. Soon the house was dark and silent. I was just dropping into an uneasy slumber when I heard a commotion in the girls' room across the hall.
Their door opened and through our own open door I saw Felicity's white-clad figure flit down the stairs to Aunt Janet's room. From the room she had left came moans and cries. "Cecily's sick," said Dan, springing out of bed. "That cucumber must have disagreed with her."
In a few minutes the whole house was astir. Cecily was sick--very, very sick, there was no doubt of that. She was even worse than Dan had been when he had eaten the bad berries. Uncle Alec, tired as he was from his hard day's work and evening outing, was despatched for the doctor. Aunt Janet and Felicity administered all the homely remedies they could think of, but to no effect. Felicity told Aunt Janet of the cucumber, but Aunt Janet did not think the cucumber alone could be responsible for Cecily's alarming condition.
"Cucumbers are indigestible, but I never knew of them making any one as sick as this," she said anxiously. "What made the child eat a cucumber before going to bed? I didn't think she liked them.""It was that wretched Peter," sobbed Felicity indignantly. "He told her it would make her dream something extra." "What on earth did she want to dream for?" demanded Aunt Janet in bewilderment.
"Oh, to have something worth while to write in her dream book, ma. We all have dream books, you know, and every one wants their own to be the most exciting--and we've been eating rich things to make us dream--and it does--but if Cecily--oh, I'll never forgive myself," said Felicity, incoherently, letting all kinds of cats out of the bag in her excitement and alarm."Well, I wonder what on earth you young ones will do next," said Aunt Janet in the helpless tone of a woman who gives it up.
Cecily was no better when the doctor came. Like Aunt Janet, he declared that cucumbers alone would not have made her so ill; but when he found out that she had drunk a glass of milk also the mystery was solved.
"Why, milk and cucumbers together make a rank poison," he said. "No wonder the child is sick. There--there now--" seeing the alarmed faces around him, "don't be frightened. As old Mrs. Fraser says, 'It's no deidly.' It won't kill her, but she'll probably be a pretty miserable girl for two or three days."
She was. And we were all miserable in company. Aunt Janet investigated the whole affair and the matter of our dream books was aired in family conclave. I do not know which hurt our feelings most--the scolding we got from Aunt Janet, or the ridicule which the other grown-ups, especially Uncle Roger, showered on us. Peter received an extra "setting down," which he considered rank injustice.
"I didn't tell Cecily to drink the milk, and the cucumber alone wouldn't have hurt her," he grumbled. Cecily was able to be out with us again that day, so Peter felt that he might venture on a grumble. "'Sides, she coaxed me to tell her what would be good for dreams. I just told her as a favour. And now your Aunt Janet blames me for the whole trouble.""And Aunt Janet says we are never to have anything to eat before we go to bed after this except plain bread and milk," said Felix sadly. "They'd like to stop us from dreaming altogether if they could," said the Story Girl wrathfully. "Well, anyway, they can't prevent us from growing up," consoled Dan.
"We needn't worry about the bread and milk rule," added Felicity. "Ma made a rule like that once before, and kept it for a week, and then we just slipped back to the old way. That will be what will happen this time, too. But of course we won't be able to get any more rich things for supper, and our dreams will be pretty flat after this.""Well, let's go down to the Pulpit Stone and I'll tell you a story I know," said the Story Girl.
We went--and straightway drank of the waters of forgetfulness. In a brief space we were laughing right merrily, no longer remembering our wrongs at the hands of those cruel grown-ups. Our laughter echoed back from the barns and the spruce grove, as if elfin denizens of upper air were sharing in our mirth.
Presently, also, the laughter of the grown-ups mingled with ours. Aunt Olivia and Uncle Roger, Aunt Janet and Uncle Alec, came strolling through the orchard and joined our circle, as they sometimes did when the toil of the day was over, and the magic time 'twixt light and dark brought truce of care and labour. 'Twas then we liked our grown-ups best, for then they seemed half children again. Uncle Roger and Uncle Alec lolled in the grass like boys; Aunt Olivia, looking more like a pansy than ever in the prettiest dress of pale purple print, with a knot of yellow ribbon at her throat, sat with her arm about Cecily and smiled on us all; and Aunt Janet's motherly face lost its every-day look of anxious care.The Story Girl was in great fettle that night. Never had her tales sparkled with such wit and archness. "Sara Stanley," said Aunt Olivia, shaking her finger at her after a side-splitting yarn, "if you don't watch out you'll be famous some day."
"These funny stories are all right," said Uncle Roger, "but for real enjoyment give me something with a creep in it. Sara, tell us that story of the Serpent Woman I heard you tell one day last summer."
The Story Girl began it glibly. But before she had gone far with it, I, who was sitting beside her, felt an unaccountable repulsion creeping over me. For the first time since I had known her I wanted to draw away from the Story Girl. Looking around on the faces of the group, I saw that they all shared my feeling. Cecily had put her hands over her eyes. Peter was staring at the Story Girl with a fascinated, horror-strickened gaze. Aunt Olivia was pale and troubled. All looked as if they were held prisoners in the bonds of a fearsome spell which they would gladly break but could not.
It was not our Story Girl who sat there, telling that weird tale in a sibilant, curdling voice. She had put on a new personality like a garment, and that personality was a venomous, evil, loathly thing. I would rather have died than have touched the slim, brown wrist on which she supported herself. The light in her narrowed orbs was the cold, merciless gleam of the serpent's eye. I felt frightened of this unholy creature who had suddenly come in our dear Story Girl's place.When the tale ended there was a brief silence. Then Aunt Janet said severely, but with a sigh of relief, "Little girls shouldn't tell such horrible stories."
This truly Aunt Janetian remark broke the spell. The grown-ups laughed, rather shakily, and the Story Girl--our own dear Story Girl once more, and no Serpent Woman--said protestingly,"Well, Uncle Roger asked me to tell it. I don't like telling such stories either. They make me feel dreadful. Do you know, for just a little while, I felt exactly like a snake." "You looked like one," said Uncle Roger. "How on earth do you do it?" "I can't explain how I do it," said the Story Girl perplexedly. "It just does itself." Genius can never explain how it does it. It would not be genius if it could. And the Story Girl had genius. As we left the orchard I walked along behind Uncle Roger and Aunt Olivia. "That was an uncanny exhibition for a girl of fourteen, you know, Roger," said Aunt Olivia musingly. "What is in store for that child?"
"Fame," said Uncle Roger. "If she ever has a chance, that is, and I suppose her father will see to that. At least, I hope he will. You and I, Olivia, never had our chance. I hope Sara will have hers."
This was my first inkling of what I was to understand more fully in later years. Uncle Roger and Aunt Olivia had both cherished certain dreams and ambitions in youth, but circumstances had denied them their "chance" and those dreams had never been fulfilled. "Some day, Olivia," went on Uncle Roger, "you and I may find ourselves the aunt and uncle of the foremost actress of her day. If a girl of fourteen can make a couple of practical farmers and a pair of matter-of-fact housewives half believe for ten minutes that she really is a snake, what won't she be able to do when she is thirty? Here, you," added Uncle Roger, perceiving me, "cut along and get off to your bed. And mind you don't eat cucumbers and milk before you go."
We were all in the doleful dumps--at least, all we "young fry" were, and even the grownups were sorry and condescended to take an interest in our troubles. Pat, our own, dear, frolicsome Paddy, was sick again--very, very sick.
On Friday he moped and refused his saucer of new milk at milking time. The next morning he stretched himself down on the platform by Uncle Roger's back door, laid his head on his black paws, and refused to take any notice of anything or anybody. In vain we stroked and entreated and brought him tidbits. Only when the Story Girl caressed him did he give one plaintive little mew, as if to ask piteously why she could not do something for him. At that Cecily and Felicity and Sara Ray all began crying, and we boys felt choky. Indeed, I caught Peter behind Aunt Olivia's dairy later in the day, and if ever a boy had been crying I vow that boy was Peter. Nor did he deny it when I taxed him with it, but he would not give in that he was crying about Paddy. Nonsense!"What were you crying for, then?" I said. "I'm crying because--because my Aunt Jane is dead," said Peter defiantly. "But your Aunt Jane died two years ago," I said skeptically. "Well, ain't that all the more reason for crying?" retorted Peter. "I've had to do without her for two years, and that's worse than if it had just been a few days." "I believe you were crying because Pat is so sick," I said firmly. "As if I'd cry about a cat!" scoffed Peter. And he marched off whistling. Of course we had tried the lard and powder treatment again, smearing Pat's paws and sides liberally. But to our dismay, Pat made no effort to lick it off. "I tell you he's a mighty sick cat," said Peter darkly. "When a cat don't care what he looks like he's pretty far gone." "If we only knew what was the matter with him we might do something," sobbed the Story Girl, stroking her poor pet's unresponsive head. "I could tell you what's the matter with him, but you'd only laugh at me," said Peter. We all looked at him. "Peter Craig, what do you mean?" asked Felicity. "'Zackly what I say."
"Then, if you know what is the matter with Paddy, tell us," commanded the Story Girl, standing up. She said it quietly; but Peter obeyed. I think he would have obeyed if she, in that tone and with those eyes, had ordered him to cast himself into the depths of the sea. I know I should."He's BEWITCHED--that's what's the matter with him," said Peter, half defiantly, half shamefacedly. "Bewitched? Nonsense!" "There now, what did I tell you?" complained Peter. The Story Girl looked at Peter, at the rest of us, and then at poor Pat. "How could he be bewitched?" she asked irresolutely, "and who could bewitch him?" "I don't know HOW he was bewitched," said Peter. "I'd have to be a witch myself to know that. But Peg Bowen bewitched him." "Nonsense!" said the Story Girl again. "All right," said Peter. "You don't have to believe me."
"If Peg Bowen could bewitch anything--and I don't believe she could--why should she bewitch Pat?" asked the Story Girl. "Everybody here and at Uncle Alec's is always kind to her."
"I'll tell you why," said Peter. "Thursday afternoon, when you fellows were all in school, Peg Bowen came here. Your Aunt Olivia gave her a lunch--a good one. You may laugh at the notion of Peg being a witch, but I notice your folks are always awful good to her when she comes, and awful careful never to offend her."
"Aunt Olivia would be good to any poor creature, and so would mother," said Felicity. "And of course nobody wants to offend Peg, because she is spiteful, and she once set fire to a man's barn in Markdale when he offended her. But she isn't a witch--that's ridiculous."
"All right. But wait till I tell you. When Peg Bowen was leaving Pat stretched out on the steps. She tramped on his tail. You know Pat doesn't like to have his tail meddled with. He slewed himself round and clawed her bare foot. If you'd just seen the look she gave him you'd know whether she was a witch or not. And she went off down the lane, muttering and throwing her hands round, just like she did in Lem Hill's cow pasture. She put a spell on Pat, that's what she did. He was sick the next morning."
We looked at each other in miserable, perplexed silence. We were only children--and we believed that there had been such things as witches once upon a time--and Peg Bowen WAS an eerie creature.
At first we were appalled by the suggestion. We didn't believe that Peg Bowen was a witch. But to go to her--to seek her out in that mysterious woodland retreat of hers which was invested with all the terrors of the unknown! And that this suggestion should come from timid Cecily, of all people! But then, there was poor Pat!
"Would it do any good?" said the Story Girl desperately. "Even if she did make Pat sick I suppose it would only make her crosser if we went and accused her of bewitching him. Besides, she didn't do anything of the sort."But there was some uncertainty in the Story Girl's voice. "It wouldn't do any harm to try," said Cecily. "If she didn't make him sick it won't matter if she is cross."
"It won't matter to Pat, but it might to the one who goes to her," said Felicity. "She isn't a witch, but she's a spiteful old woman, and goodness knows what she'd do to us if she caught us. I'm scared of Peg Bowen, and I don't care who knows it. Ever since I can mind ma's been saying, 'If you're not good Peg Bowen will catch you.'"
"If I thought she really made Pat sick and could make him better, I'd try to pacify her somehow," said the Story Girl decidedly. "I'm frightened of her, too--but just look at poor, darling Paddy."
We looked at Paddy who continued to stare fixedly before him with unwinking eyes. Uncle Roger came out and looked at him also, with what seemed to us positively brutal unconcern.
"I'm afraid it's all up with Pat," he said. "Uncle Roger," said Cecily imploringly, "Peter says Peg Bowen has bewitched Pat for scratching her. Do you think it can be so?""Did Pat scratch Peg?" asked Uncle Roger, with a horror-stricken face. "Dear me! Dear me! That mystery is solved. Poor Pat!" Uncle Roger nodded his head, as if resigning himself and Pat to the worst. "Do you really think Peg Bowen is a witch, Uncle Roger?" demanded the Story Girl incredulously.
"Do I think Peg Bowen is a witch? My dear Sara, what do YOU think of a woman who can turn herself into a black cat whenever she likes? Is she a witch? Or is she not? I leave it to you.""Can Peg Bowen turn herself into a black cat?" asked Felix, staring.
"It's my belief that that is the least of Peg Bowen's accomplishments," answered Uncle Roger. "It's the easiest thing in the world for a witch to turn herself into any animal you choose to mention. Yes, Pat is bewitched--no doubt of that--not the least in the world.""What are you telling those children such stuff for?" asked Aunt Olivia, passing on her way to the well. "It's an irresistible temptation," answered Uncle Roger, strolling over to carry her pail. "You can see your Uncle Roger believes Peg is a witch," said Peter. "And you can see Aunt Olivia doesn't," I said, "and I don't either." "See here," said the Story Girl resolutely, "I don't believe it, but there MAY be something in it. Suppose there is. The question is, what can we do?"
"I'll tell you what I'D do," said Peter. "I'd take a present for Peg, and ask her to make Pat well. I wouldn't let on I thought she'd made him sick. Then she couldn't be offended--and maybe she'd take the spell off.""I think we'd better all give her something," said Felicity. "I'm willing to do that. But who's going to take the presents to her?" "We must all go together," said the Story Girl.
"I won't," cried Sara Ray in terror. "I wouldn't go near Peg Bowen's house for the world, no matter who was with me."
"I've thought of a plan," said the Story Girl. "Let's all give her something, as Felicity says. And let us all go up to her place this evening, and if we see her outside we'll just go quietly and set the things down before her with the letter, and say nothing but come respectfully away."
"We mustn't offer her any money," said the Story Girl. "She's very indignant when any one does that. She says she isn't a beggar. But she'll take anything else. I shall give her my string of blue beads. She's fond of finery.""I'll give her that sponge cake I made this morning," said Felicity. "I guess she doesn't get sponge cake very often."
"I've nothing but the rheumatism ring I got as a premium for selling needles last winter," said Peter. "I'll give her that. Even if she hasn't got rheumatism it's a real handsome ring. It looks like solid gold.""I'll give her a roll of peppermint candy," said Felix. "I'll give one of those little jars of cherry preserve I made," said Cecily. "I won't go near her," quavered Sara Ray, "but I want to do something for Pat, and I'll send that piece of apple leaf lace I knit last week." I decided to give the redoubtable Peg some apples from my birthday tree, and Dan declared he would give her a plug of tobacco. "Oh, won't she be insulted?" exclaimed Felix, rather horrified.
"Naw," grinned Dan. "Peg chews tobacco like a man. She'd rather have it than your rubbishy peppermints, I can tell you. I'll run down to old Mrs. Sampson's and get a plug." "Now, we must write the letter and take it and the presents to her right away, before it gets dark," said the Story Girl.We adjourned to the granary to indite the important document, which the Story Girl was to compose. "How shall I begin it?" she asked in perplexity. "It would never do to say, 'Dear Peg,' and 'Dear Miss Bowen' sounds too ridiculous."
"Besides, nobody knows whether she is Miss Bowen or not," said Felicity. "She went to Boston when she grew up, and some say she was married there and her husband deserted her, and that's why she went crazy. If she's married, she won't like being called Miss.""Well, how am I to address her?" asked the Story Girl in despair. Peter again came to the rescue with a practical suggestion. "Begin it, 'Respected Madam,'" he said. "Ma has a letter a school trustee once writ to my Aunt Jane and that's how it begins."
"Respected Madam," wrote the Story Girl. "We want to ask a very great favour of you and we hope you will kindly grant it if you can. Our favourite cat, Paddy, is very sick, and we are afraid he is going to die. Do you think you could cure him? And will you please try? We are all so fond of him, and he is such a good cat, and has no bad habits. Of course, if any of us tramps on his tail he will scratch us, but you know a cat can't bear to have his tail tramped on. It's a very tender part of him, and it's his only way of preventing it, and he doesn't mean any harm. If you can cure Paddy for us we will always be very, very grateful to you. The accompanying small offerings are a testimonial of our respect and gratitude, and we entreat you to honour us by accepting them."Very respectfully yours, "SARA STANLEY." "I tell you that last sentence has a fine sound," said Peter admiringly. "I didn't make that up," admitted the Story Girl honestly. "I read it somewhere and remembered it." "I think it's TOO fine," criticized Felicity. "Peg Bowen won't know the meaning of such big words." But it was decided to leave them in and we all signed the letter.
Then we got our "testimonials," and started on our reluctant journey to the domains of the witch. Sara Ray would not go, of course, but she volunteered to stay with Pat while we were away. We did not think it necessary to inform the grown-ups of our errand, or its nature. Grown-ups had such peculiar views. They might forbid our going at all--and they would certainly laugh at us.
Peg Bowen's house was nearly a mile away, even by the short cut past the swamp and up the wooded hill. We went down through the brook field and over the little plank bridge in the hollow, half lost in its surrounding sea of farewell summers. When we reached the green gloom of the woods beyond we began to feel frightened, but nobody would admit it. We walked very closely together, and we did not talk. When you are near the retreat of witches and folk of that ilk the less you say the better, for their feelings are so notoriously touchy. Of course, Peg wasn't a witch, but it was best to be on the safe side.
Finally we came to the lane which led directly to her abode. We were all very pale now, and our hearts were beating. The red September sun hung low between the tall spruces to the west. It did not look to me just right for a sun. In fact, everything looked uncanny. I wished our errand were well over.
A sudden bend in the lane brought us out to the little clearing where Peg's house was before we were half ready to see it. In spite of my fear I looked at it with some curiosity. It was a small, shaky building with a sagging roof, set amid a perfect jungle of weeds. To our eyes, the odd thing about it was that there was no entrance on the ground floor, as there should be in any respectable house. The only door was in the upper story, and was reached by a flight of rickety steps. There was no sign of life about the place except-sight of ill omen--a large black cat, sitting on the topmost step. We thought of Uncle Roger's gruesome hints. Could that black cat be Peg? Nonsense! But still--it didn't look like an ordinary cat. It was so large--and had such green, malicious eyes! Plainly, there was something out of the common about the beastie!In a tense, breathless silence the Story Girl placed our parcels on the lowest step, and laid her letter on the top of the pile. Her brown fingers trembled and her face was very pale.
Suddenly the door above us opened, and Peg Bowen herself appeared on the threshold. She was a tall, sinewy old woman, wearing a short, ragged, drugget skirt which reached scantly below her knees, a scarlet print blouse, and a man's hat. Her feet, arms, and neck were bare, and she had a battered old clay pipe in her mouth. Her brown face was seamed with a hundred wrinkles, and her tangled, grizzled hair fell unkemptly over her shoulders. She was scowling, and her flashing black eyes held no friendly light.
We had borne up bravely enough hitherto, in spite of our inward, unconfessed quakings. But now our strained nerves gave way, and sheer panic seized us. Peter gave a little yelp of pure terror. We turned and fled across the clearing and into the woods. Down the long hill we tore, like mad, hunted creatures, firmly convinced that Peg Bowen was after us. Wild was that scamper, as nightmare-like as any recorded in our dream books. The Story Girl was in front of me, and I can recall the tremendous leaps she made over fallen logs and little spruce bushes, with her long brown curls streaming out behind her from their scarlet fillet. Cecily, behind me, kept gasping out the contradictory sentences, "Oh, Bev, wait for me," and "Oh, Bev, hurry, hurry!" More by blind instinct than anything else we kept together and found our way out of the woods. Presently we were in the field beyond the brook. Over us was a dainty sky of shell pink, placid cows were pasturing around us; the farewell summers nodded to us in the friendly breezes. We halted, with a glad realization that we were back in our own haunts and that Peg Bowen had not caught us."Oh, wasn't that an awful experience?" gasped Cecily, shuddering. "I wouldn't go through it again--I couldn't, not even for Pat."
"It come on a fellow so suddent," said Peter shamefacedly. "I think I could a-stood my ground if I'd known she was going to come out. But when she popped out like that I thought I was done for.""We shouldn't have run," said Felicity gloomily. "It showed we were afraid of her, and that always makes her awful cross. She won't do a thing for Pat now." "I don't believe she could do anything, anyway," said the Story Girl. "I think we've just been a lot of geese."
We were all, except Peter, more or less inclined to agree with her. And the conviction of our folly deepened when we reached the granary and found that Pat, watched over by the faithful Sara Ray, was no better. The Story Girl announced that she would take him into the kitchen and sit up all night with him."He sha'n't die alone, anyway," she said miserably, gathering his limp body up in her arms.
We did not think Aunt Olivia would give her permission to stay up; but Aunt Olivia did. Aunt Olivia really was a duck. We wanted to stay with her also, but Aunt Janet wouldn't hear of such a thing. She ordered us off to bed, saying that it was positively sinful in us to be so worked up over a cat. Five heart-broken children, who knew that there are many worse friends than dumb, furry folk, climbed Uncle Alec's stairs to bed that night."There's nothing we can do now, except pray God to make Pat better," said Cecily.
I must candidly say that her tone savoured strongly of a last resort; but this was owing more to early training than to any lack of faith on Cecily's part. She knew and we knew, that prayer was a solemn rite, not to be lightly held, nor degraded to common uses. Felicity voiced this conviction when she said,"I don't believe it would be right to pray about a cat."
"I'd like to know why not," retorted Cecily, "God made Paddy just as much as He made you, Felicity King, though perhaps He didn't go to so much trouble. And I'm sure He's abler to help him than Peg Bowen. Anyhow, I'm going to pray for Pat with all my might and main, and I'd like to see you try to stop me. Of course I won't mix it up with more important things. I'll just tack it on after I've finished asking the blessings, but before I say amen."
More petitions than Cecily's were offered up that night on behalf of Paddy. I distinctly heard Felix--who always said his prayers in a loud whisper, owing to some lasting conviction of early life that God could not hear him if he did not pray audibly--mutter pleadingly, after the "important" part of his devotions was over, "Oh, God, please make Pat better by the morning. PLEASE do."
And I, even in these late years of irreverence for the dreams of youth, am not in the least ashamed to confess that when I knelt down to say my boyish prayer, I thought of our little furry comrade in his extremity, and prayed as reverently as I knew how for his healing. Then I went to sleep, comforted by the simple hope that the Great Father would, after "important things" were all attended to, remember poor Pat.
As soon as we were up the next morning we rushed off to Uncle Roger's. But we met Peter and the Story Girl in the lane, and their faces were as the faces of those who bring glad tidings upon the mountains.
"Pat's better," cried the Story Girl, blithe, triumphant. "Last night, just at twelve, he began to lick his paws. Then he licked himself all over and went to sleep, too, on the sofa. When I woke Pat was washing his face, and he has taken a whole saucerful of milk. Oh, isn't it splendid?""You see Peg Bowen did put a spell on him," said Peter, "and then she took it off." "I guess Cecily's prayer had more to do with Pat's getting better than Peg Bowen," said Felicity. "She prayed for Pat over and over again. That is why he's better." "Oh, all right," said Peter, "but I'd advise Pat not to scratch Peg Bowen again, that's all." "I wish I knew whether it was the praying or Peg Bowen that cured Pat," said Felix in perplexity. "I don't believe it was either of them," said Dan. "Pat just got sick and got better again of his own accord." "I'm going to believe that it was the praying," said Cecily decidedly. "It's so much nicer to believe that God cured Pat than that Peg Bowen did."
"But you oughtn't to believe a thing just 'cause it would be more comfortable," objected Peter. "Mind you, I ain't saying God couldn't cure Pat. But nothing and nobody can't ever make me believe that Peg Bowen wasn't at the bottom of it all."Thus faith, superstition, and incredulity strove together amongst us, as in all history.